Saturday morning came early, as I gently climbed out of bed, knowing Mary would awaken but not stir enough to let me know she was. I didn’t require nearly as much sleep after the Nam as I had in my younger years and also had some form of sleep apnea my wife took full advantage of. She’d wake me at night to let me know Michael was crying. I’d immediately get up and go take care of whatever the problem was whether that was changing a diaper or simply picking him up and cuddling with a pre-filled bottle of Enfamil until he quieted. It was usually at that point that I came to full consciousness and figured out where I was. I never remembered being awakened or sent out on my mission. My wife would fall back asleep, knowing I was on the job. Once I was fully awake and aware I could carry Michael from his upstairs bedroom down to ours. The CIA crib had come in very handy, as it sat upstairs while our model was down near the foot of our bed.

I dressed in a pair of OP shorts and one of my fake Polo shirts. The shirts cost less than one-third of what they would have at a ‘real’ store, but Coronets was anything but a real store. It sold cheaply whatever it could get its hands on, which all of us who didn’t have a lot of money appreciated. The horse didn’t look quite right on the front and the things wore out and faded very quickly but when new they looked like the real thing.

I slipped downstairs, being as quiet as I could be since although Julie and Mary slept like rocks, Michael did not. I let the Volks roll backwards down the driveway with the clutch pedal pushed in, pointed the front downhill toward South Ola Vista but didn’t pop the clutch in second until I was a good hundred yards or so from the front of our home. Amazingly, the cheap air-cooled German piece of engineering always fired right up when I performed this operation.

When I stopped to turn right and head up Del Mar Avenue moments later I saw that even though I was almost half an hour early before the designated seven a.m. meeting, a Lincoln Town Car was already parked, slanted into the curb, in front of Galloways.

“Lombardi time,” I whispered to myself as I headed up to park near the shiny black vehicle. When I’d cooked for the Packers in spring training at St. Norbert College, I’d been able to spend some time standing on the sidelines of the football field watching the team practice. Later some of the players would head over to the student union where I worked in the kitchen, and I’d be able to catch some of their conversations as they had coffee and met a continuing litany of the college’s most beautiful female students. Lombardi time I’d learned was fifteen minutes early. Anyone arriving for practice or an appointment not fifteen minutes early was punished with running extra laps around the track field that bordered the field.

I shut the Volks off and headed for the door into Galloways, noticing as I passed the Lincoln that it had fully darkened side windows, unlike the compound limos where only the rear windows had been darkened to provide privacy.

Herbert was drinking a cup of coffee although Lorraine was nowhere to be seen. Since he sat at ‘my’ table, and it was before the restaurant normally opened I presumed that Lorraine had taken care of him. KRLA, the rock station out of L.A. played quietly in the background.

“I thought we were going to meet in the car,” I said, taking the seat next to him where guests of mine usually sat.

“We have plenty of time,” he replied, looking totally out of place, wearing a blue suit, red tie, and wing-tip leather shoes. I shuffled my flip-flops under the table uncomfortably. I hadn’t meant to make any other statement by wearing what I was wearing except I didn’t want to appear that I was working in an environment, like at the compound, where I was always reporting to superiors of great importance and rank.

Lorraine came hustling out of the back and around the counter, a coffee mug in her left hand. She grabbed one of the full coffee pots from the double Bunn burner. Herbert sipped and I waited while she set things up and poured.

“Good morning,” I said, beaming a smile up to her serious face. “This is Tony,” I said, grasping the full coffee cup in my right hand and gesturing toward Herbert with my left.

Herbert turned, put his cup of coffee down, and then smiled, extending his huge right hand.

“My friends call me Bob,” he said, looking over at me as they shook, high right eyebrow raised.

“Tony, Bob, it’s all the same to me,” Lorraine said, refilling Herbert’s cup and then turning away. “Might just as well be Mutt and Jeff,” she whispered, probably intending that we both heard her.

I thanked Tony again, for the bassinet, letting him know how we’d creatively found use for two of them.

“We going to do this?” I asked, not wanting to rush things but extremely curious about how all this was going to work and what the dates of action would be.

“Roger that,” he replied, finishing his coffee and standing up to leave.

Lorraine yelled from the back of the counter, turning up the volume on the radio. “Here’s the newest song from Joan Baez and you’re going to love it,” she exclaimed.

The wonderful melodious voice of Joan Baez filled the small space. Herbert walked through it like he hadn’t heard either Lorraine or Joan.

I waited, more out of respect for Lorraine than to hear the new song. Once it started though, I knew Lorraine knew me better than I’d thought. The words of the first stanza stopped me in my tracks: “Well, I’ll be damned, here comes your ghost again, but that’s not unusual. It’s just that the moon is full, and you happened to call, and here I sit, hand on the telephone, hearing a voice I’d known a couple of light years ago, heading straight for a fall.”

I realized immediately that I’d heard the song once before, but in the background playing through the inadequate system installed in the Volks, with the windows down at speed no less. It was called Diamonds and Rust. To me it was about me and the developing fact that I wasn’t going anywhere I was truly choosing to go. Was I heading straight for a fall, as the lyrics of the song seemed to indicate, although I tried to resist that kind of thinking? Following the lyrics of songs played on the radio and believing them to have meaning and provide direction in real life was a form of demonstrated schizophrenia, about the worst mental illness written about in the DSM, the psychology bible of mental illnesses. I’d spent almost a full day following a visit with Paul, at the library reading that bible, only to discover that about seven or eight sections seemed to apply to me in some way or other, from sleep habits, to suppressed rage, and on into my occasional night terrors and constant need to be ready, to run, to fight, to maintain and use firepower of all sorts. I didn’t report back to Paul about the reading, although the exercise made me sufficiently uncomfortable. I didn’t feel I could change but by knowing what was in the DSM I could avoid revealing any of my aberrancies to the outside world.

The Lincoln wasn’t locked, which surprised me. We both got in the back seat, Herbert entering through the door on the driver’s side.
I wondered about both of us being with the CIA but taking no measures to appear to be just regular people doing normal things. The Lincoln parked on Del Mar with nobody around, and he wearing an attorney’s costume, just didn’t seem to fit.

“Don’t refer to me by name in the future, if we meet in a public place,” Herbert began, working to open a leather Hartmann briefcase. “You can have a real name here but I can’t or shouldn’t. Not that there’s anything around here to fear, it’s just good practice. When you’re away, try to keep your real identity inside you, not just for you but for those you love and care about.”

I looked out through the front windshield and saw Lorraine standing in the window waving.

“I’ll be right back,” I said, opening my door. “Lorraine wants something and I’ve got to keep those things my real name is known for.” I jumped out and went to the restaurant door.

“I don’t know who that is,” Lorraine said, “I hope he’s not one of our new clients for a policy. He looks and acts dangerous, not someone you should be around.”

I laughed, “You mean I’m not dangerous too?” I asked, trying to tamp the emotional temperature of her words down.

“You’ve done dangerous things, I know, but no you’re not a dangerous man, not like that.”

I thanked Lorraine most sincerely and then headed back to the Lincoln. The car stuck out even more because I hadn’t bothered to close the door and it hadn’t closed itself because it was on the downhill side. I wasn’t a dangerous man, the words played back and forth through my mind as I crawled into the back seat and shut the door. That I did not emit danger in any way made me feel happy. Not happy about not being a dangerous man. I was all of that, dangerous and even lethal, but I was trying my very hardest not to be, or at least not give the impression that I was any of those things.

“You might have dressed down a bit,” I said, knowing that I was taking a risk, as the man appeared to want to be in command of everything and everyone around him.

“I wanted to appear as normal here in this environment as possible,” he said, his expression so serious I wanted to laugh out loud but restrained myself.

There was no way I was going to repeat Lorraine’s description of his visage to the man himself.

“You don’t work out in the field yourself, do you?” I asked, unable to stop myself.

“No, control officers are never from the field,” he replied, pulling a smaller stack of papers from his briefcase than I expected. “Field work tends to jade objective decision-makers back at Langley, or so they’ll teach you at charm school when you get there, which could be a while. Let’s lay out the plan.”

“Bamcis,” I said.

“Bamcis?” he repeated, looking over at me with raised eyebrows.“What in hell does Bamcis mean?”

“Bamcis is an acronym for: Begin planning, Arrange for reconnaissance, Make reconnaissance, Complete the plan, Issue the order, and Supervise. It’s a core tenet of Marine Corps leadership that all officers memorize and then learn in classroom and field exercises.” I finished talking, wondering if I’d gone too far.

Herbert started laughing. “You Marines. You come off dumb as posts half the time, and at other times, well, there’s a lot of reasons, like Bamcis, why your track record is what it is.”

I didn’t know whether to believe what the big man was saying or discount it as more of his macho, although not unintelligent or unpleasing presentation, not that it mattered.

“You don’t have to sign anything yet,” he said, holding out a single piece of paper with an official stamp on it. “That’s your ‘employment’ agreement,’ or what passes for it.

I took the paper and read it. That took all of ten seconds.

“It doesn’t really say anything other than my name, last week’s date, and some signature I don’t recognize.”

“Working in the field with the agency isn’t like having a real job in what you know as the real world,” Herbert said, taking the piece paper back and replacing it carefully in its file. You haven’t had a real job for a while.”

“I’m a Marine Officer with my I.D. card in my wallet. I’m a police officer for the City of San Clemente, I was working for the Western White House and I have a contract with Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company as an agent.”

Herbert laughed out loud again.

“You just don’t get it, do you” he asked, but then went right on not expecting an answer.

“You are none of those things, really. You’re a fake Marine Officer holding a real I.D. card. Your police credentials don’t even bear looking at, having attended a reserve academy of no consequence and being handed the title of Commander which, by the way, I know you just forced the new strange police chief here to give you back the title of. You aren’t even a real life insurance agent, forcing your prospects to buy policies because you extort the money in legal but hardly ethical ways.”

“So, why are we sitting here then,” I said back, my ego cut to the quick.

I grabbed the door handle but didn’t open the door.

“You just don’t get it,” Herbert said, no longer laughing. “You are none of those things but are perfectly comfortable and very successful of not only performing the functions necessary to hold the phony jobs but in getting everyone around you to believe they are all real…even heads of state, or close to it. You came well recommended to the CIA but it’s your record since the war, and back during that war which established a credibility and capability not normal to new recruits whatsoever. Now take your damned hand off the door handle and hold it out so you can read the title to your new home in Albuquerque.”

I dropped my hand slowly back to the seat, and looked at the second piece of paper the man was holding out before slowly raising my hand again and taking the document. I read what was on the paper, once again sealed over a signature at the bottom. It was a deed to a house located at 4416 Magnolia Drive Northeast.

“The CIA bought me a house?” I asked my tone one of near shock and incredulity.

“No, stupid, the CIA bought the CIA a house. You will be paying the CIA through a broker down the street to keep it at a reasonable interest rate as long as you don’t screw up.”

Herbert grabbed the paper back and put it into its own file before digging deeper into his bag of surprises.

He pulled out a blue plastic pouch with a zipper and tossed it to me.

“That’s yours to keep, open it up,” he said, waiting with a smile on his face.

I opened what looked for all the world like a bank money pouch and peered inside. It wasn’t filled with money. I turned it slightly and a small blue book fell into my lap, and then a very small paper envelope, like the kind one might get with a safety deposit key. The blue book wasn’t a book, however, nor was there a key inside the envelope.

“Open the small book,” Herbert said.

I did and took in one long breath at the same time. I was staring down at a photo of myself I’d never seen before.

“Your passport to the world,” Herbert said.

“But I’ve never applied,” I said, in shock. “Where did they get my picture and what about the forms that have to be submitted and money paid?” I asked, unable to stop myself.

“Welcome to the CIA,” Herbert said, smiling broadly. “The next item is even better. Open the envelope.

“I flipped the little flap open, and a card fell into my hand. It was an American Express credit card. I peered down at it closely. It had no name or other information other than a number and expiration date on it. Taped to the back side was a piece of paper with two numbers on it.

“The paper’s there so you can call CIA and give them your I.D. number, which is also written down. You tell them the name of your new company, the address, and all that junk about it, and, voila!”
“That’s 0104358, my Marine Corps Officer’s number.

“Welcome to the CIA, “Herbert repeated his earlier comment, a comment I was getting tired of hearing. “Oh, and when you give them the data, that same day you will have a genuine card generated and delivered to you. That card will have no limit on it. The phone number on the back of that card will not go to American Express but to an officer on duty to authorize any charge of any amount you might ever make. There is no limit. But that card is also a card that takes you either on a magic carpet ride in accomplishing missions or straight to the penitentiary if you abuse it in any way.

“I know, I know,” I said, after reflecting for a few seconds. “Welcome to the CIA.”

“One more thing,” Herbert said, pulling out one more piece of paper. “Raise your right hand and repeat after me, the CIA oath.”

I raised my right hand and then followed word for word out loud what he read to me: “I, James Strauss, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”

“You know that’s exactly the same as the Marine Officer’s oath I took years ago?” I asked.

“Okay, we’re done here,” Herbert said, closing his briefcase. Your memory is another asset to the agency, however, don’t blather on about wanting the agency to be original. The agency steals what it needs that it can’t get any other way, just like you Marines. The passport is good for ten years, not five and one will be delivered for your wife at your decision, request, and exercise of good judgment.”

“We’re done here. Look for me when I return for more details, the future scheduling of your initial travel, schooling, training, and weaponry. For now, you don’t need any weapons, not that you don’t already have.” Herbert opened the door and then slammed it and got into the driver’s seat.

I got out, closed my own door but knocked on the glass of the front passenger door. It rolled down smoothly.

“Why are you coming back and when can we expect to be moving and what do you guys do with the tapes you make of our conversations on the home phone?”

“I’ll be back when I come here. Open a corporation, get your card, and get ready to move. The agency doesn’t care about conversations you have with your wife, your parents, or your kids when they come of age but don’t ever forget that any classified or truly secret information you may give them will never likely harm the national security but might put them into extreme danger. Nobody will understand what, how, or why you are about to do the things you are about to do and everything’s recorded in your home, not just what goes in and out on the phones, don’t be shocked if you get weird stuff about people being asked about you. The special Top-Secret investigation will take a while, as I’m sure you already know, and the fact you already hold one means nothing to the agency.”

With that the window went up, the Lincoln went into reverse and Herbert pulled the car out and then headed east on Del Mar without any goodbye or wave, or any of that. I stared up the street at the disappearing black vehicle. I was reminded of the Black Beauty driven by the Green Hornet on early television when I was a kid, but it wasn’t, and I was neither a kid anymore nor could I simply change the channel if the show’s direction didn’t agree with me.

I thought back to Lorraine playing Diamonds and Rust over the radio while I was trying to meet with Herbert. The A Shau Valley had driven musical lyrics deep into my psychology and although I didn’t follow their lead I had bent many of them to follow my lead and that practice had been remarkably successful.

The Volks started right up but I didn’t pull out, instead turning the ignition off and getting out. Lorraine had been just too much, in giving me her opinion of Herbert while trying to protect me and also in letting me know that she would approve of him if I forced it upon her, or at least that was the feeling she gave me.

I went back to my table, long cleared and reset. Mike Manning walked in behind me as the opening hour for the stores up and down Del Mar was near at hand.

We sat at the table, Lorraine automatically bringing me coffee and Mike his now signature tea. He always believed that he was drinking Earl Grey and only a very few of us knew that Lorraine would cut open Lipton bags, put the tea debris in a filter, and then decant it hot into Mike’s cup.

There was nothing I could say to her, I realized, not with people coming in for breakfast. She went to the radio as I talked small talk with Mike. I didn’t know why I was there or what I seemed to be waiting for.

Lorraine went to her radio and turned it back on. I hadn’t realized it was off until it blared forth another song. The song was from an old Western I’d loved as a kid. I wanted to sing the words, as I could still remember them by heart. The song played. Mike and I grew silent as both of us listened: “Have Gun Will Travel reads the card of a man, a knight without armor in a savage land. His fast gun for hire heeds the calling wind, a soldier of fortune is the man called Paladin.”

The song finished but not inside my head. I knew, in spite of Paul’s comments about such things, that it was about me, just as Joan Baez had zeroed in on my interior with Diamonds and Rust. I wasn’t either diamonds or rust and not Paladin either…but I was all of those descriptors and adjectives declaring them to be a composite of what I was.

I left the restaurant after Mike took off to prepare his Uniquities shop for the business day ahead. Mary, Julie and now Michael would be stirring, and another sunny weekend day lay ahead, but it was too early to go home. I felt, watching the departure of Herbert’s Black Beauty Green Hornetmobile that I’d sold my life to the highest, and only, bidder. Herbert’s analysis of my entire existence upon coming home from the war was accurate and I knew it. I was not real at all. It was like I’d come home alright but instead of being a real person I was like a shadow of a real person…another childhood character I’d never expected to ever compare myself to.

“Only the Shadow knows…” I whispered to myself, starting the Volks and heading down Del Mar. At the first intersection, I turned right not knowing where I was going but not ready to head home. My wife, if I told her about the new home in Albuquerque would be angry as hell, no matter what the financial terms, as the home we lived in, was nothing something she would ever approve of having been chosen for her. That was going to be a problem. The not knowing what any kind of schedule or plan for what lay ahead would be another problem, especially since the care of a baby only a few days old would be her ultimate concern, and I understood but had no answers for that made any sense.

I was headed instinctively for a point along the coast where a lot of my life seemed to be steered toward with unaccountable people there who seemed rather inconsequential but were crucial to help me either decide what I was going to do or at the very least accommodate what life was throwing at me.
Paul wasn’t there, as I expected, so I drove down to the harbor. Richard’s flag flew high up at the top of his mast so he might be aboard his yacht but I didn’t want to meet with him. Butch was all I had left.

Minutes later I stood at the closed door of his trailer, the engine of the Volks making little snapping noises as began to cool behind me. The door opened before I could knock.

“What kept you?” he asked as if he knew things he couldn’t possibly know.

He poured me a cup of his bad coffee and put it in front of me without saying anything further. Sitting across from me he simply waited, as if he knew why I was there. I told him what had transpired between Herbert and me, and that I was not fully a member of whatever the CIA team was. In particular, I told him about the 4416 Magnolia address and how I could live there with a wife who would hate it on sight.

“This would be funny,” Butch said after I ran down. “Your first introduction to that organization which demands total secrecy and you blab everything to me only minutes later over a cup of coffee.”

“I’m trying to have a life here, there, or anywhere,” I replied, disturbed by the accuracy of his statement and the very first violation of my oath to the CIA.

It was like my first order in combat to the company when I was forced to not take the hill but tell the command that we had.

“Here’s what you do with the house thing,” Butch said, nodding his head like the other stuff didn’t matter. “You’re going to take her to Albuquerque, find a realtor you’ve already prepared and paid off, and then come upon that particular house for sale…sign out front and all. If the CIA bought it then you can believe it’s about ten times better than what you might be able to afford, you being new to the only real job you’d be able to use for credit purposes. Have the realtor show her some crummy places that you can afford, and then, upon the return to the better place, make sure the phony price is right in line with other places.”

I sat and pondered over his nearly ridiculous but fundamentally brilliant plan for a few minutes before replying with a question.

“My first mission with the CIA is to completely fool my wife?”

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