Winter isn’t over, but area residents have been taking to the parks in surprising numbers these last couple of weeks. This sudden passion for the out-of-doors doesn’t stem from a desire for fresh air and exercise, though, but from recent news stories about accused spy Robert Hanssen. The double agent reportedly retrieved his cash payoffs at several Northern Virginia parks. As one visitor to Arlington’s Hidden Branch Nature Center put it: "It stands to reason that with this being a favorite drop, and him being arrested all of a sudden, well, there might just be a bundle of money still lying around."
Would he really keep money tainted by treason? "Of course not," the visitor assured us. "I would immediately spend it on American consumer goods. THAT would show those Russians a thing or two."
Even residents of Maryland and the District were patriotically peering under footbridges in their neighborhood parks, in case other spies had been using similar drops closer to home. "Nobody believes Hanssen was the only double-agent around," pointed out Landover resident Ron Thornton as he checked hollow stumps in a Prince George’s County park. "A few years ago they caught Ames. It took them a lot longer to catch Hanssen. The guy lived in an ordinary house in an ordinary neighborhood. I do, too. So for all I know my next-door neighbor Digby Wurble could be a spy, and there could be payoff money anywhere. ‘Course, Digby’s the dumbest guy I ever met, but that could be a ruse, right?"
Other area residents agree that there must be more moles living among us, their treason hidden beneath the disguise of ordinariness. Here in our neighborhood a lot of people have suddenly begun watching Patsy Enrick, who was an assistant director of the FBI until she quit to raise her family. Some people now question whether motherhood was the real reason for leaving, or whether she was forced out under suspicious circumstances. Others think she never left, but has been working under cover, using her kids as the perfect camouflage.
"If they really are her kids," says neighbor Bev Santoni, with a significant lift of her eyebrows. "Personally I always thought it was strange that they don’t look like her. Not that I would ever say anything to blow her cover; everyone knows what close friends we are. But isn’t it just too perfect that she heads the PTA hospitality committee, which happens to put her in contact with all kinds of people?"
If Patsy has been operating under cover all these years, her job has suddenly become much harder. When she goes grocery shopping, people peer around corners at her, speculating. Rumor has it that on the day following Robert Hanssen’s arrest, she was spotted in a restaurant known for its borsht; moreover, her conversation with the "waitress" was so full of obvious code words like "cooked" and "caught yesterday" that fellow patrons were amazed at her brazenness. One customer was so sure of his discovery that he began shadowing the waitress as tenaciously as a stalker; within the week she quit her job and moved away, reportedly to enter the waitress protection program.
Patsy, meanwhile, is pursuing her own suspicions. She has her entire neighborhood under surveillance, including several people who think they’re watching her. This has made it difficult for both sides. True, Patsy finds it easy to keep an eye on people who perch on ladders to look into her windows. But there have been awkward moments, such as when she was creeping through underbrush and came face-to-face with her also-creeping target, a heavy-set platinum blonde with a miniature dachshund, whom Patsy code-named "Call That Thing A Dog?" Later FBI headquarters in Washington received accounts from both of them, each detailing suspicious activity on the other’s part.
"But that’s typical of the phone calls we’ve been getting," says an FBI employee we encountered in a park, where she was searching for forgotten money to supplement her meager government income. "Our hot line operators hear so many nicknames they think they’re talking to the President. Frankly, it’s distracting us from catching the most devious mole we’ve ever dealt with, a man who makes Hanssen look like an amateur."
She dropped her voice. "All we know about him so far is that he uses the name Digby Wurble."