Table of Contents
Chapter One The Peers
“An eloquent name for a disease doesn’t lead to eloquent suffering anymore than an eloquent name for a war. Communism is a disease and we’re at war with it.”
He was a gymnast at dialogue. He twisted words gracefully in the air and he always stuck the landing. He ended like any successful gymnast would. He put his hands up and reveled in applause. They were the highest-ranking military hands in Brussels that were clapping.
“From this day ladies, gentlemen, you’re no longer a part of this world. You’re walking along side it,“ the Director said the line like natural, “From this day, you’re looking for a vantage point, always. You’ll never live in the world again. You’ll live outside it and spy on it.” There was no applause. There was no audience. Eight people heard the words—four women, four men. All were young, all in their twenties.
“We’ll go by suit name,” said the Director, “Both candidates step forward when their suit is called.” They were trained to follow instruction.
“First is Diamonds,” said the Director, “Hagan Gerard, Diane Connor.” Hagan and Diane stepped forward toward the table. Each was handed a large brown envelope with a metallic red diamond on the outside. They stepped back.
“Now Clubs,” said the Director, “Bryan Lawrence, Tanis Regel.” Bryan and Tanis stepped forward to receive their envelopes, each labeled with a black three-leaf clover.
“Hearts,” said the Director, “Alan Forsythe, Yvette Blanco.” Alan and Yvette stepped forward to receive envelopes emblazoned with a metallic red heart. The heart looked larger than the black spade on the two remaining envelopes.
“Spades,” he said, “Patrick Engel, Georgia Standing.” Patrick and Georgia stepped forward to receive envelopes with a shiny black spade on the cover.
“By now you know how we deal with most things,” said the Director, “That applies to this moment. It also applies to the celebration of this moment. And you should celebrate this moment. It’s the last time you will see each other all together, ever.” The words set in on them. They were in a row of eight—male, female. They didn’t break rank. There was a temptation to look left or right. No one did. They stood regal. The director applauded them, all eight of them. It was a sorted moment. They were all used to the many applauding the few. Now there was an audience of one. His thin physique misrepresented his power. His name was Arthur Witt, the CIA Deputy Director of Division Operations for the Northern Hemisphere. He clapped his hands together repeatedly. He clapped for forty seconds. Then he stopped and put his hands in his pockets.
“You’re operational this time tomorrow,” said Arthur, “You’ll have to be wise for the rest of your life. Spend the next twenty-four hours unwisely.” Arthur exited stage left. When he reached the door he turned back.
“Put your assignments away before you get carried away,” said Arthur, “Wouldn’t want any intelligence breaches.” The Director left the room. His presence stayed. The seriousness of the moment didn’t go anywhere. It was bolted to the floor. It stayed with them.
When the Director left, it was just the eight of them—young and talented. Some of them had applied to the Agency. Some of them had been approached. They were all Ivy League. They were multi-dimensional.
. They were called The Peers. The name came from the manner of selection. They weren’t selected every year. There was no requirement for selection. The Agency selected them when they found four desirable candidates of each gender. A Peer class was chosen an average of every three years. It had been eight years since the last class of Peers was assembled. The program was scuttled in 1967, a time when the Agency was worried about funding. The US Congress steadily increased the CIA’s budget over a seven-year period, making the Peers Program viable again. Deputy Director Arthur Witt submitted the proposal to bring back the program in January of 1975. With a bloated budget the Agency needed projects to throw money at. The Peer Program, though expensive, had always produced an above average success curve. Director Witt thought an increasingly provocative Soviet Union warranted the provocative program. The Agency agreed and requisitioned $7 million dollars for
Project Full House
. It was a lot of money for a program that produced only eight agents.
They were selected from new Agency recruits and began their training in November of 1975. They weren’t relegated to Camp Peary, like other recruits of the Directorate of Operations. They were at the sometimes-used Harvey Point testing facility in Perquimans County, North Carolina, aka The Point. The Point was owned by the United States Navy but used by the Agency for counter-intelligence and paramilitary training. The Peers were trained at The Point not to promote elitism but isolation. They didn’t train with other CIA operatives because they were meant to operate alone. Any Peer could be a one-man or one-woman intelligence gathering station. A single man or woman could be dropped in Siberia in the middle of winter and not only be expected to survive but return with enough solid intelligence to double the size of a manila file folder.
The Peers operated alone but were paired up as a matter of training protocol. At the beginning of their forty-two-week training, they were in the same room with Director Witt and same table. Four playing cards were laid on the table. The ladies were first. One by one, the women stepped forward and removed a card from the table. They put the card in their pockets and stepped back into ranks with the men. Four more playing cards were put on the table. Likewise the men stepped forward each taking a card from the table. They pocketed the cards and rejoined the women in echelon. Under the Director’s orders, they all removed their card from its pocket and held it in front of themselves, face side out. Then they had to look at the other cards and pair themselves up. It was a simple exercise, a practical application of intelligence gathering. There were eight cards at play. But they had no idea which card they were holding. They had to look at the other cards and partner up accordingly. It took fifteen seconds, start to finish. There were eight cards, four suits and two face cards—king and queen. The men selected their cards from the four kings. The women selected from the queens. They all figured out the king of each suit matched up with the queen of that suit. Seeing the other seven cards, made it easy to figure out which card was in hand. That’s how they were sorted and how they trained. They competed against each other. They started out competing as king and queen of a suit. Then they competed kings verse queens. Then they were blacks verse reds. They also played one against everyone else. In the end, they returned to their suits. It was all exercise, changing alliances and tactics. The training was physical. It was grueling for their muscles but more for their mind. They trained together to spend their careers apart. And the night was the last time their career paths were meant to intersect. They meant to celebrate.
Chapter Two Meant to Celebrate
They started off well. The liquor store had been called
. But the obvious religious reference upset the
Albemarle Christian Union
, a conservative church located twenty miles away in Elizabeth City. The church contacted other like-minded churches in the area, which pooled their pulpits and purses in an effort to shut
down. In 1976’s North Carolina, liquor stores didn’t shut down they changed names. The owner of
likened the abuse from local churches to the Salem Trials. There was only one name he could come up with,
Salem Fine Spirits
was located 10 miles from the Harvey Point Defense Center in the tiny town of Hertford, North Carolina. Although Hertford had a population of about 1,800, it could support a liquor store but just one.
supplied the whole town. The Peers didn’t live in Hertford. They lived at Harvey Point. But they drank in Hertford. There was a
Super 8 Motel
on the edge of Hertford along Ocean Highway. They rented three rooms and decided on an inexpensive send off. The Peers had a rule they agreed on. Although some came from money, they only spent their CIA salary—government pay.
Their staple was a budget-friendly beer called
was a popular beer on the American West Coast in 1972. By 1976, it had migrated east. Hagan stacked three six-packs of
on top of each other and looked for more room to carry more alcohol. Alan was a Forsythe. The Forsythes drank whiskey. Alan was used to
blended Scotch but was reminded of his CIA trainee paycheck. He put his hand on the bottle but took it off. He knew liquor stores usually put their low-priced bottles at the bottom, out of the line of sight. He glanced down to see bottles of strangers.
wasn’t the only blended Scotch but it was the only one he knew. He went with family tradition, forsaking the cheaper bottles at the bottom. He thought he could mix
to make it last.
was cheap. Georgia came down Alan’s aisle with Tanis. Georgia held up a bottle of
“I’m losing the budget,” said Georgia, “Just for one night.”
“Fuck the paycheck,” said Tanis carrying a bottle of
“Really?” said Alan.
“You gotta pay to play,” said Tanis, “It’ll take us a day to get drunk off bottom shelf. We only got one night.”
“My sentiments exactly,” said Alan holding up his
“That’s called strategic planning,” said Tanis.
“If you talk like that you’ll kill the party before it starts,” said Alan. Tanis smiled and threw her arm over Georgia’s shoulder as they headed to the cash register. Alan looked over the three aisles to see that most of the other Peers had made their selection. Patrick was at the back of the store. Instead of following Georgia and Tanis to the register, he headed to the back where Patrick was. The back corner had chilled drinks. Patrick opened the glass door to meet the cold refrigerated air. He grabbed two six-packs of wine coolers. Alan came with a bottle of
in his right hand. His left hand was free. Seeing Alan with a free hand Patrick asked if he would grab another pack of wine coolers. Alan grabbed the wine coolers and followed a silent Patrick to the front of the store. Diane was still at the register. Georgia and Tanis were waiting to help her carry her purchase. Yvette was outside. Diane had her money. She bought booze for both of them.
Bryan was in the parking lot behind the wheel of a coffee-colored 1973
. He drove the car like it was meant to be driven. The
was a bit sporty, a bit showy and a bit aggressive. Its styling didn’t fit for the CIA. But it fit the Peers. They were CIA agents but the emphasis was less on CIA and more on agents. A group of four young men driving around Hertford in the late afternoon, in a
stocked with booze, wouldn’t be associated with the Harvey Point Training Center ten miles away. Yvette drove for the women, a ‘71 rose-red
Morris Marina TC Coupe
wasn’t big but big enough for the women. It was a rolling honey trap. The women played the same game as the men. They came across as young women looking for a good time, unconcerned about their future or present. The truth was the exact opposite. The Peers looked like careless youngsters unprepared for their own futures. The reality was they were trained to play games in the present for a desired outcome in the future. They didn’t sport it. They didn’t show it. They didn’t look it. The styling of over-privilege and education hid the underlying training. They were the best of the best, hiding in plane sight.
Super 8 Motel
was relatively new. It opened in 1973 to get government traffic. Air Station Elizabeth City was a half-hour away across the river and Harvey Point was just over five minutes along Harvey Point Road. Anyone with any reason to visit either station without an assigned bunk could spend the night at the
. Anyone with a government paycheck could receive government-friendly prices, which didn’t include the Peers. Officially, they didn’t work for the United States government so they paid full price, split eight different ways. They rented three rooms: One for the boys; One for the girls and one for the person or persons who drank too much. For starters, they gathered in the boys’ room, 106.
“Back by popular demand,” said Bryan, “The best drinking game to ever disappear and reappear. You missed it so it’s back.”
“No one misses a drinking game,” said Tanis, “If it serves its purpose you shouldn’t remember it in the first place.” Georgia put her hand out toward Tanis as an open target. Tanis gave it a quick five.
“Let me say what the game is,” said Bryan, “Then you tell me if you’ve missed it.”
“It’s probably some East Coast prep school bullshit nobody’s ever heard of,” said Tanis.
“Who knows where a drinking game comes from,” said Bryan, “You learn it. You play it. You get drunk, simple.”
“If it’s from Long Island then surely Forsythe has heard of it,” said Yvette, “Don’t you guys own like half of it.”
“I’m not butting in this,” said Alan, “I’m gonna sit back and watch the banter between Bryan and Tanis till they get drunk enough to realize they should go to the spare room and get it over with.” Bryan looked at Tanis. Tanis looked back then threw her arm around Georgia, kissing her on the cheek.
“If I roll in the hay with anyone tonight,” said Tanis, “It’s gonna be this girl right here. She’s cuter than all of you.” A large wave of whistles and hands clapping exploded in the room. The boys whistled. The girls clapped. Diane was lying on the double bed behind Georgia and Tanis. She put one of her hands on each of their heads and rattled their cages.
“Bryan, we’ll let you take pictures but it’s fifty dollar a snap,” said Tanis. Diane lied on the bed laughing. Yvette got out of her chair and sandwiched Georgia between herself and Tanis.
“We three,” said Yvette, “That’ll be seventy-five bucks a snap.” Diane’s laugh was unusual because it was uncontrollable. Diane’s voice wasn’t low, but her laugh was. The sound came out but didn’t pierce the ear like a high-pitched scream. Her laugh didn’t travel but everyone in the room could hear it. They didn’t talk about it but all would have agreed it was a rare gem, a laugh that was pleasant to listen to. They had gotten to know each other during weeks of training but didn’t laugh, together or separate. They knew each others’ personalities but it was the first time they were able to enjoy themselves as themselves.
“If you’re going to be taking pictures of naked ladies caught in the act,” said Alan, “Your label should be Bryan Flynt. You can say you’re Larry’s cousin trying to join the family business.”
“Naw,” said Patrick, “Bryan would never make it as a pornographer. He’s so selfish, he’d pin the pictures to his wall to jerk off to. No publisher would want to handle those shots when he’s done.” Diane laughed. Tanis tried not to show it. She dipped her head between her knees as her body vibrated with laughter. Yvette leaned in on Georgia and put her head on Georgia’s lap. Diane rolled on the bed. The boys all made back-and-forth gestures to mirror Bryan’s purported habit.
“You’re only half right,” said Bryan, “I’d keep the pictures of Jackie O to jerk off to, the rest I’d sell at a premium.”
“You can’t sell premium stuff in the classified ads,” said Tanis. Hagan, who was in the bathroom organizing the alcohol, found that funny. His mezzo tenor voice could be heard bouncing around the bathroom. Georgia, an introvert, smiled and smiled harder but didn’t laugh.
“Alright, on with it,” said Yvette clapping her hands together, “What’s this drinking game?”
“Ok,” said Bryan, “Everybody shut up.”
“You should say
quiet on the set
, man. Remember you’re a pornographer,” said Alan. Diane kept the laughter coming. Hagan came from the bathroom and sat down on the boys’ twin bed to hear the rules of the game.
“Ok, Peanut Gallery,” said Bryan, “The game’s called
Words To Live By
“Tha fuck?” said Tanis, “What game is this?” Yvette chuckled with her head still on Georgia’s lap.
“What? No one believes in listening anymore,” said Bryan, “Forty-one weeks, three days and that’s it?”
“Shut up people,” said Hagan.
“Yeah,” said Alan, “C’mon.”
“Settle down now,” said Bryan.
“Settle down now,” said Patrick, “Who are you? Old Man Cartwright?”
“Shut up,” said Hagan.
“Alright,” said Tanis, “Let’s hear this.”
“Thank you,” said Bryan, giving Tanis a subtle wink that only she saw, she and Georgia.
“Ok,” said Bryan, “The game is called
Words To Live By
“We know that already,” said Yvette.
“Shut up,” said Alan, Diane and Hagan. Georgia patted Yvette on the shoulder, while Yvette rested her head on Georgia’s lap.
Words to Live By
,” said Bryan, “Is everyone gets a shot.”
“Shot of what?” asked Diane.
“Doesn’t matter but everyone has to have the same shot,” said Bryan, “So I’ll leave that to someone else to decide.”
“I nominate Hagan,” said Patrick.
“Accepted,” said Hagan.
“Ok,” said Tanis, “What are we drinking?”
“Wait and see,” said Hagan, “I’ll go prep the shots.
“Good man,” said Bryan, “Ok, now we need to determine an order we go in. We can draw names from a hat or just volunteer.”
“Let’s just volunteer,” said Tanis, “Saves time.”
“Cool,” said Bryan, “Now we go in order and we say a life quote.”
“What’s a life quote?” asked Alan.
“It’s a quote that you live your life by,” said Bryan, “You can use a quote from a historical figure or a personal quote or you can make some shit up. Patrick, that’s probably what you’re gonna do so I’m letting you know now. You’re good.”