Thursday, July 26, 2012

CIA Fall Guy by Phyllis Zimbler Miller: Excerpt & Guest Post

1997: A woman is called to CIA headquarters to identify someone from 25 years earlier when she lived in Germany.

When what she is told doesn't add up, she fears she may become a fall guy for the CIA and sets off on her own to discover what is really going on.

Her quest takes her to Europe and back again to the U.S., and pairs her with the man who may have been responsible for her husband's death.

Prologue – Berlin – 1997
The letters shimmered on the plain of the yellowed paper, the moisture in his eyes fogging the squiggles into botches.  Letters birthed by an ancient East German typewriter, standard issue. 
David Ward coughed.  The dust in these old East German Stasi — State Security Police — files penetrated his lungs.  He was alone in the basement room eight years after the fall of the Berlin Wall had brought down the Stasi.
He had taken precautions not to be recognized. 
A black trim wig enclosed his blond longish hair.  One of those ridiculous German hats with the little feathers, as if he were about to climb the Zugspitze, held itself up next to the file.  A cheap “East German” polyester suit hung loosely on his muscled body.  He had even padded his flat midriff with a cushion of cloth — the typical beer belly.  He could be mistaken for a gastarbeiter — foreign worker — or one of those worker drones of the former German Democratic Republic.  His clothes concealed his weapons.
He pushed his disguise glasses farther up the bridge of his nose, then rose to return the file.  He had people to see.
Day 1
Berlin 1997 —
Hans Wermer hunkered in a disintegrating armchair in the reception room of the CIA’s office in Berlin
The Library. 
At least that’s what his contact had called it more than 20 years ago — when he had a contact.  Then he passed reports of economic progress in the workers’ paradise across the Iron Curtain.  Before his fall from grace.  Did they still call it the Library?
He shifted his beer-fed figure in the chair — one seam had sprung a leak, the padding sprouting whiskers.  He was not good at waiting.  No, not good at all.
Three days ago he’d been informed by the liaison officer at the CIA reception center in Berlin, a young man speaking in school-learned German, that Hans’ case would take some time.  “Ist das klar?” the young man had asked.
It was not so simple.  No, not so simple as the other refugees: 
A short interview at the reception center, perhaps a few days, even a month, at a “hotel” the army maintained, then some marks and a “good luck and aufweidersehen.”
Sometimes there could be more, if the story were interesting enough.  He’d talked to old acquaintances so he understood this.
It was not gemutlich — cheerful — sitting around the army’s transit housing for foreigners waiting to talk to someone who would remember his past importance.  At last he had been invited here. 
The inner door opened and a young woman approached.  “Herr Smith will see you now,” she said in English. 
Although his mother had been British, he hadn’t spoken English in years.  All English-speaking in his Dresden home had stopped when Hitler marched into Poland on September 1, 1939.  “Englisch ist verboten,” his mother had said.  It was for his safety, she’d explained.  And although he was five at the time, he had understood what she meant.
 The woman led him through the door and down a narrow hallway.  She paused outside a closed door, opened it without knocking, and motioned him inside.
Herr Smith unfolded his tall body from his desk chair to shake hands in the proper German manner.  He appeared to be in his mid forties, his pin-striped suit jacket and pants tailored to his thin frame.  Hans was aware of the contrast with his own stocky figure, his shiny suit pulled across his stomach.  Herr Smith’s face could be German, round like his own.  Herr Smith’s accent, when he opened his mouth to say “Guten tag,” was definitely a foreigner’s.  Hans answered in his British-accented English, “Good day.”
Herr Smith’s face relaxed at the English reply.  “Please have a seat,” he said in English.
What did the man want from him?  Would he demand a lengthy recitation of the case history?  Or had he read the case beforehand? 
Herr Smith peered at the papers in front of him.  “We’ve reviewed your file.  Washington has reviewed your file.”  He paused.
“I don’t believe a word of it.”
Hans Wermer’s breath caught in his chest.  He had failed.
Herr Smith’s eyes pierced his own.
“They do.  We’ve booked you on an early plane to Washington tomorrow morning.  The people in Langley want to talk to you.”
Gut.  Sehr gut.  Hans’ caged breath hissed from his mouth.  He would be meeting with important people.  Much more important than Herr Smith in Berlin
Herr Smith stood.  “Here are your tickets and a German government-issued passport.  That’s all you’ll need.”
Hans stood too and took the documents.  He shook hands and inclined his head, then walked out of the office.
In the hall he smiled.  He had passed the first test.
Langley, Virginia, 1997 —
“We have no choice,” George MacIntosh said, eyeing the authorization lying on his desk top.  “He’s coming from Berlin tomorrow and she’s the only one alive who can possibly identify him.”  He fingered his CIA-issue pen.
“Why do we need to identify him?  Just tell him no, we’re not interested.  Send him a check if you want,” Kathleen Walters said.
She directed her words to Charles Trenchant seated on her left, but George knew he was her focus.  After almost forty years in this business George understood that Kathleen, the newest member of the team and a black woman, wouldn’t risk voicing her objections to him.  No, better to speak to another junior member of the team.
“He knows a lot — if he’s telling the truth.  We’ve got to be sure,” George said.
“She’s a civilian!” Kathleen said.
“He’s asking for a great deal of compensation.  We have to check out his story as well as we can.  Believe you me, if there were anyone else left to identify him, we’d use that person.”
“How can she possibly identify someone she saw only briefly over 20 years ago?” Kathleen said.
George flourished the signed authorization at Kathleen.  “If she can’t, we’re out of luck.”
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1997 —
Beth Parsons glanced in the mirror covering the entire end wall of the narrow room.  Her chin-length red hair hadn’t fizzed much.  On the other hand, her white gi — uniform — tied with her green belt looked like it could use a wash, thanks to the sweat of exertion and the humidity of May.  She hated the way the bulk of the gi was around her waist.  She worked out daily on an ab machine and her gi didn’t showcase her efforts.
The late afternoon sunlight slid across the wood floor, culminating at the bare feet of the shotokan karate sensei — instructor — Eitan, an Israeli who at 3rd dan black belt level was better than Beth could hope to be in three lifetimes.  He also had the cutest smile wrinkles around his eyes — unfortunately he was a good 10 years younger than Beth’s 49 years. 
The perennial tinge of guilt pinged.  Beth shook her head.  Noticing a man’s smile wrinkles was not betraying Stephen’s memory — noticing a man’s age in comparison to hers was.
Actually, Beth had more important things to worry about at the moment.  The green belts testing for the highest level of that color belt, the level she had already achieved, were almost done.  In a few minutes she and two others would be called up to test for the lowest level of brown belt.
From the corner of her eye where she sat on the mat waiting her turn she saw the dojo door open.  Two men in dark suits with briefcases entered.  It wasn’t unusual for people interested in starting karate to come by and check out the place.  Yet the suits and the briefcases seemed incongruous.  Maybe Eitan hadn’t paid the rent.
Now at a nod from Eitan she stood and took her place.  She tried to block from her consciousness the smirk on the face of Shmuel, a 1st dan black belt Israeli who rumor said had once been the leader of an Israeli commando unit and still had ties to Israeli intelligence.  To Beth all Shmuel represented was the black belt who most got on her nerves during training.  Once, after she had managed to bungle a particularly difficult maneuver, he had said to her, “On the street you’d be dead.”

I have always been interested in writing novels, perhaps because I have always been a huge fan of reading novels.  In fact, one summer during high school I typed (on a manual typewriter) the novel “They Lived in the White House” about children living in the White House.

Twenty years after my husband served his two-year Army R.O.T.C. commitment, I told two women movie producers the story of my first nine weeks as a new Mrs. Lieutenant in May 1970 during the Vietnam War.  They optioned the story, then told me I had to first write the book.

By the time I wrote the first draft of the “Mrs. Lieutenant” novel (to protect the identity of people), the producers had moved on to new projects.  Then I spent almost another 20 years writing and rewriting, getting rejected by agents and publishers, hiring an editorial consultant to figure out what was wrong with the story, etc.

(During the early 90s I did write three mystery novels that never got published.  I may yet dig out the manuscripts to these novels and see how they hold up.)

For my 60th birthday I decided to self-publish now that POD (print on demand) meant no longer having self-published books stacked in a garage.  At the same time I submitted “Mrs. Lieutenant” to the 2008 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award competition, and the novel was selected as a semifinalist.

It was then that I discovered blogging and social media sites, and I dove full force into learning as much as possible about online marketing.  Later I formed an online marketing company with my younger daughter to do for clients what we were doing for ourselves, including building WordPress websites, and we still do this at

Meanwhile I continued to learn as much as possible about the self-publishing world and about ebooks.  (Kindle appeared in November 2007 and I knew just enough when “Mrs. Lieutenant” was published in April 2008 to have a Kindle version created.)

Now in 2012 I am committed to controlling more and more of the publication process of my own books.  I actually did the html document for my newest novel, “CIA Fall Guy,” with the help of my daughter.  Then I did the html document for “Lt. Commander Mollie Sanders,” which had already been done by an ebook converter, but I wanted to make corrections in the text and practice what I had just learned.   

In terms of my writing style, I squeeze in time when I can.  I often write scenes in my head until I can sit down at the computer.  (At the moment I’ve been visualizing the opening scenes for a sequel to “CIA Fall Guy.”  I’ve even bought the domain name, although I’m not sure I would use this for the title of the sequel.)

I actually love to revise, looking for places where I can smooth out the text, eliminate excess words, tighten the action.  I taught newswriting courses and copyediting courses at Temple University Center City in Philadelphia many years ago, so I am pretty confident about my spelling and grammar.  (I deal with this very important subject in the first book of my three-book “How to Succeed” nonfiction series for teens and young adults.)

I read several fiction and nonfiction books at the same time, both in physical format and on a Kindle, depending on my mood.  And I am always looking to improve my writing.

One of the hardest things for me in writing is to do description.  I honestly do not notice what most people are wearing unless they are wearing something especially nice or especially ugly.  I do notice body movement and can usually identify someone I know from a block away before I can see the person’s face.  Alas, this “talent” does not help me in writing description.

Even when I read description in other people’s novels I have a hard time paying attention to this.  Whether someone has a square jaw or a pointed chin just does not resonate with me. 

I do get lots of my ideas from real life, then I mix-and-match elements to create fiction.  The May 1972 bombing of the U.S. Army’s Officers Club in Frankfurt, Germany, that is featured in “CIA Fall Guy” actually happened. 

In fact, it happened the day that my husband and I arrived in Frankfurt by train from Munich and immediately left by Army chartered plane for the U.S. without visiting the Officers Club.  (I read about the bombing in the news blurbs on the front page of The Wall Street Journal when we were back in the U.S.)

When I was in my second year at The Wharton School getting my M.B.A, I applied to the CIA.  The story of my passing up the opportunity for a two-day visit to the CIA is at

I’m still hoping that someday I’ll get to visit the CIA.  Of course, if I ever do, I probably won’t be allowed to write about the visit!

Phyllis Zimbler Miller is an author of fiction and nonfiction books as well as the co-founder of the online marketing company Miller Mosaic LLC.  She blogs at the company website at and at her author website at

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