When Dr. Malenkov's email showed up in my inbox, I thought it was spam. I still shudder when I think about how close I came to deleting it.
It was written entirely in uppercase letters, a style I had come to associate with a particularly persistent junk email that had come to be known as the "Nigerian Scam." And the "from" address was a foreign-sounding name, another common characteristic of that particular scam.
I glanced at the first paragraph, which expressed a need to talk to me about a matter of urgent importance. If that didn't scream "spam," nothing did. My cursor was poised on the Delete button when a passage at the bottom of the page caught my eye:
YOUR BOOK HELPD MANY OF US SO VERRY MUCH.
YOUR IDEA OF HIDDN MSGS WAS VERRY SMART.
YOU SAVED MY LIFE AND NOW IS MY TURN.
I had received my first fan letter. And boy, was it a doozy.
I went back and read the rest of the note. And what I read there, frankly, scared the hell out of me.
In a few terse paragraphs, Dr. Malenkov informed me that:
- He was deliriously happy that he had tracked me down, because...
- I had to fly to Russia to meet with him, immediately, because...
- He had to tell me about a terrorist plot to blow up the world with nuclear weapons.
At first, I assumed the email was some kind of tasteless hoax. I wrote him back and told him that I was not amused. He wrote me back and said he was not trying to be funny. I asked him why he didn't contact the FBI or the CIA. He said that, given his position as a nuclear physicist, it was not safe for him to do that from inside Russia and that, at any rate, he didn't trust them. Why me? I asked. Because I do trust you, he said.
We went on like this for what may have been several hours I would send him an email, he would respond a few minutes later. His emails were ostensibly from a .RU domain, and the email headers seemed to be consistent with emails originating from inside Russia. But all of that information could have been spoofed pretty easily. And even if the headers were legitimate, that just narrowed the source of the email down to a hundred million Russians, not all of whom were really nuclear scientists wanting me to help them save the world from an impending nuclear holocaust.
At some point, I began to accept that he was who he claimed to be. He knew about the secret messages in my book, after all, and I had to believe that the group of people who met that particular qualification was very small. But even as I started to believe him, I couldn't bring myself to agree to fly to Russia. I kept thinking that it was a setup, that I'd be kidnapped or killed as soon as I stepped off the plane. But why would anybody want to kill me? It just didn't make sense.
In the end, I told him I'd meet with him, but not in Russia. Could he fly to Dallas? Out of the question, he said, "they" would never let him travel to the U.S. OK, then we could meet somewhere in between. London, perhaps? Good, he said, we will compromise. But he could no more fly to London than he could to Dallas.
Instead of Dallas or London, he suggested a small town in northeastern Poland. It was close to the Russian border, he could drive there for a holiday without raising any suspicions. It is very pretty there, he assured me. You should bring your family. Many lakes and parks, you can hike and rent canoes. You will all have a good time.
I'm not sure if I agreed because I actually believed him or if it was out of a sense of adventure I never knew I had. But for whatever reason, I soon found myself checking airline schedules and making hotel reservations. I even engaged the services of a guide to escort me from Warsaw. (A bodyguard might have been more appropriate, but I was trying not to be too paranoid. With limited success.)
As it happens, my ancestors had lived in Poland, so I told my family that, on the spur of the moment, I had decided to undertake a genealogical expedition to my ancestral homeland. They bought it. And why not? Why else would I be going to, of all places, Poland? If I had been going to, say, Paris, my girlfriend would have wanted to come with me, but Poland was another story entirely. I was welcome to make that trip all by myself.
And that's how it came to pass that I found myself flying to New York where I boarded a LOT Airlines 767 for the overnight flight to Warsaw.
I was excited. And I was nervous.
I was looking forward to meeting Dr. Malenkov. And I was terrified at the thought of meeting him.
I suspected that some of my fellow passengers were going to Poland on vacation. Some of them were probably going there on business.
Me, I was going there to save the planet.
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©2007 Henry Charles Mishkoff