Alger Hiss and Whittaker Chambers were skulking along a corridor in a top secret intelligence facility under cover of darkness when they heard, from a heavily padlocked chamber, the unmistakeable sound of hissing.
“What do you suppose that hissing sound is, Hiss?” whispered Chambers, “It sounds like a writhing tangle of asps.”
“I very much doubt that it is the hissing of asps, Chambers,” replied Hiss, “Consider where we are.”
Whittaker Chambers looked perplexed.
“You perplex me, Hiss,” he said, “How can I know where we are when the entire point about the siting of this top secret intelligence facility is that it is unmarked upon any map, and that to get here we had to crawl through subterranean tunnels which twisted and turned in such convolutions that all sense of direction, indeed all sense of mental balance, is lost, and lost utterly?”
Alger Hiss smiled at his alleged friend, and stooped to remove from the hollowed-out heel of his shoe a small mechanism, fitting easily into the palm of his elegant hand, that looked much like a compass.
“By heavens, Hiss!” hissed Chambers, “You have a compass!”
“Not so, Chambers,” replied Hiss, “This is in fact a miniature savage rotary magnetic machine, akin to the one devised by Dr Henry Hall Sherwood of New York but designed for quite a different purpose from his original.”
The pair were now directly outside the chamber door, and the hissing sound was louder, and more hissy than ever.
“Brilliant, Hiss!” whispered Chambers, “To use a magnetic machine of American design to help facilitate the ultimate overthrow of the capitalist system. Stalin would approve such cunning. But what does it tell us?”
“Well, Chambers,” said Hiss, “Note the savagery of its magnetism and rotation, which increases the closer we get to the door of the chamber. If I am not mistaken, beyond that door is the bottomless viper-pit of Gaar!”
Whittaker Chambers’s eyes nearly popped out of his head.
“The bottomless viper-pit of Gaar did you say, Hiss?” he said.
“I did, Chambers,” said Hiss.
“B-b-but how in the name of Lenin…?”
Alger Hiss told his alleged friend that the time for explanations would come later. For now, he said, it was enough that they had located the top secret bottomless viper-pit. It was time to turn back, make their way through the twisty turny subterranean tunnels, and meet up with their Soviet contact, in heavy disguise, at the cocktail bar of a swish hotel. He stowed the savage rotary magnetic machine back in his false heel, and, taking Whittaker Chambers by his shabbily-suited arm, led him away from the mysterious door, behind which the hissing of untold numbers of vipers continued, growing fainter and fainter as the duo skulked away along the corridor.