Bug Job by James Heflin

A spy plants a bug on his German target in James Heflin's charismatic flash.

I planted the bug in his trousers. Necessity, invention, mother - you get the picture. The War had cooled; a tricky job didn't bring out the cheering generals in bristle-cuts like it used to. I'd been interrupted in mid-bug, ended up hanging by my fingernails out the picture window, Florsheims dangling over the headlights on the Kurfurstendamm till I found a ledge.

I knew not who the fellow was as I spied him in the gap between curtain and sill. He entered like a Cossack exploding from a Turkish bath. A strapping man: shiny head, stomach bowling-balled. His twiggy legs led to embroidered slippers.

What had he done?

They never told. Just sent us out with crumbling headphones, tapes reused so often the ghosts of targets past chattered in the electronic distance.

I watched him reveal potato haunches, pull up boxers with a pattern of repeating Schnausers. I held my breath when he reached for the trousers on the bed. He grabbed them with brio, and they took flight in an empty cartwheel. He shimmied right in, zipped the fly.

As he buttoned a starched shirt, his bottom lip crept out into a promontory of concentration. His eyebrows went north in sympathy. This kept up while a green knot of necktie took shape - Full Windsor.

The lip retracted when he reached for a cologne bottle on the dresser. Once he'd sheened himself with the stuff, he pulled on a dark coat that crowded the tie's swamp-green, rubbed against it like an optical illusion. Someone needed to tell him.

I looked forward to his stepping into the hallway so I could climb back in, but he paused at the door, big fingers at the light switch. He rushed to a table beside the bed, grabbed a picture frame and he gazed, passion brimming. He kept staring and staring. My right knee couldn't take much more; some little rocky point kept digging in. His eyes went red, his lip back out. My knees were busy thinking the pavement would get a new stain, but he finally relented.

When he left, I bumped the window open, dragged my shaky carcass in and lay on the carpet. I had to follow the guy eventually, but it was all for naught if the bug didn't work. I popped in the earpiece and brought out the receiver. It tuned up pretty well, showed me the general direction he'd gone. I hit the volume and heard surf drag in and out as the mic rubbed against his clothing with every step.

I sighed and got up, but then I caught sight of that picture frame. I had to turn it toward the streetlight to finally see. A crescent moon, up close. Craters. Nothing else. A crescent moon.

I put the picture down, walked over to the window. A breeze billowed the curtain. Below, the lights coursed down the Kurfurstendamm. In my ear, nothing but the surf, the rising and falling.


  1. absolutely fascinating, brilliantly descriptive.

    michael mccarthy

  2. I really love the line - "tapes reused so often the ghosts of targets past chattered in the electronic distance."

  3. I agree your opening is very strong. I also appreciate the pace of this story - terse, but not frantic.

  4. Very interesting vignette, a nice start to something more