How did Betty Pack, code name “Cynthia,” become the “unsung heroine of World War 2”? Thanks to Betty’s extensive journaling and records, Howard Blum makes readers feel like a fly on her Polish lover’s wall. Jennifer Lawrence is rumored to be starring in the upcoming movie Blum’s The Last Goodnight. It’s easy to imagine Jennifer lounging with champagne and caviar on a tiger-skin rug as she urges her lover to share his most precious secrets.
Read the excerpt from The Last Goodnight: A World War II Story of Espionage, Adventure, and Betrayal:
…Betty found a lover. It was a decision made without thinking too much about it, with neither guilt or regret. Edward Kulikowski was a young soulful romantic who, as Europe was careening to war, had remained focused on trying to mend his own broken heart. While serving at the Polish Embassy in Washington, he’d fallen in love with a well-connected American woman. But after she gave birth to his child, she not only broke off the relationship, but also denied that he was the father. Now he worked in the Polish Foreign Office, holding a senior position on the America desk. But his job held little interest for him; it was an almost irrelevant corner in his mournful, self-involved life.
In one another, Betty and Edward sought a way out of their predicaments. “I was never in love with him,” Betty would say… “I like to think he felt the same about me.” They were both adrift, and together they helped one another make their way.
Their evenings together in his apartment conveniently across the street from Betty’s were a shared comfort. Lying on the tiger-skin rug, caviar and vodka to help the mood along, Betty would listen with her eyes tightly closed as Edward played Chopin with the grace and authority of a virtuoso on the grand piano. He’d hit the final ardent chord, and with the nocturne still echoing in her mind, he’d take her hand, lift her to her feet, and lead her effortlessly to low, wide blue divan across the room.
It was on one of those evenings as they lay satisfied, still entwined in one another’s arms, the room illuminated by only the bright flames rising up in the fireplace, that their talk turned to politics. This was as inevitable, as natural, as their making love. Just days earlier Germany had marched into and occupied Austria, and Betty asked if Poland’s turn would come soon.
Soothing and considerate, Edward quickly allayed her fears. Czechoslovakia, he assured her, would be Hitler’s next target. The deal had already been made. A secret agreement had been signed. He had seen the papers in the embassy. “What’s more,” he added off-handedly, “Poland intends to take a bite of the cherry.”
Betty’s mind stirred to attention. Without even previously realizing she had been searching, she had at last found precisely what she had been looking for. It wasn’t companionship. It wasn’t love. It was something her wayward soul could believe in. This nugget that Edward had so casually offered, she at once understood, was the gold that would give her a purpose. And perhaps even buy her redemption.
First thing on the morning after Edward had unwittingly divulged his valuable secret, Betty rang up Shelley. Feel like a round of golf? she asked. It was a blustery March day, the Nazi army was on the march, and golf was undoubtedly the last thing on his or anyone’s mind. But the MI-6 man knew a cover story when he heard one; and at the same time he silently congratulated Betty for coming up with a pretext that would allow them to talk without worrying about being overheard by any long ears.
Brilliant, he told her. Wasn’t looking forward to being cooped up in the office today.
The golf course was just outside the city, and the fairways were unkempt and a bleak wintry brown. But they gamely played a few holes to keep up the disguise before Betty told the spy what she had learned. She had a strong memory, and she did not embroider. She simply told it word for word. In the same straight-forward way, she related the circumstances that had led to this disclosure.
Shelley was immediately excited. “Go right back and get any more stuff that you can,” he ordered. “It is going straight to British intelligence.”
Betty grasped the opportunity without hesitation. The ambiguity of what she was being asked to do, the tacit instructions to continue to betray her husband and their marriage by sleeping with her source did not concern her controller. Nor did it bother Betty. She had already decided she would do whatever she had to do, take whatever risks were required, because she had at last found the purpose and the excitement she needed to save her own floundering life.
That winter the long, low divan in Kulikowski’s apartment became her operational headquarters. In the spring, her mission took her to the grassy banks of the River Vistula. As a bottle of vodka chilled in the lazy water, the couple would make love on a blanket spread across the new fresh grass. And Betty, the resourceful secret agent, would keep her unsuspecting source talking.