I always think it best to start with the disclaimers. I am not now nor ever associated with any intelligence agency. Like most of my ilk, Folkies, I believe intelligence and government agency represents a tactless oxymoron.
That said, my friend and I were fixers, scroungers, and locators in a small way. We were not operating a racket. We were always running a little “commotion.” It was how we avoided gainful employment. We were careful to be just this side of legal and had a good sense of how far we could go and stayed to that line. But we always looked out for things that appeared to be out of place.
So there was a bit of trepidation when Brother Isaac pulled into our booth at the Harvard Gardens one evening.
Brother Isaac should not have been there. He was part of the Church of Revealed Disciples. They showed up once a month on a Saturday morning to attempt to lead our roommate John, to salvation. The rest of us inhabiting the exclusive Grove Street digs were never bothered, which was strange.
Brother Isaac sat down, grabbed the John by the arm, almost spilling a beer, and just said: “Johnnie, it’s all over. Won’t be seeing you again. Keep your nose out of bad snuff.” with that off, rode Brother Isaac into the sunset, and it was the last we heard of the Church of the Revealed Disciples. My friend sat there with a bemused expression. I figured it was none of my business and just sipped my beer.
Over the next year or so, I learned more about my friends. Both of them tasted intelligence operations at some point in their military years. I had pieced that together from things unsaid, said, people met, and uncommonly odd bits of knowledge. Their long-term association, our Folkie Flop House on Boston’s Beacon Hill, our forms of making a living, and our endless traveling habits all said Folkie. But, it did not add up. Pieces were missing from the puzzle, and what I could put together seemed nonsense. That something covert had or was going on became my operating theory about the bits of Theatre of the Absurd that was our lifestyle in those days.
The years passed. Our friend John, has become a conservative shock jock on the radio, my friend dies in an avoidable car accident in Baltimore, and I have begun to morph into a staid anthropologist. Then I went to grad school.
I began drinking with George, a former marine. Who, after taking in enough bourbon to float the ark, started talking about the Church of Revealed Disciples one night. The Church was a cover used by Naval Intelligence for a long-term operation. Not being as sloshed as he was, I coyly asked, ” So, how’s Brother Isaac doing these days?” Suddenly, not quite so high, outshoots: “Who’s Brother Isaac?” I replied, “You know – Church of the Revealed Disciples.” He claimed to have never heard of it, but he kept looking hard and deep at me for the remainder of the night. I tried a shot in the dark – “Have you heard from Mike the Vike recently?” I thought he’d explode – ” Jesu Christi!”
I smiled. The Vike had been another of the continual threads of life on Beacon Hill. The Vike was always in supply, always on the move, and never who he seemed to be. I was trying to dovetail bits and pieces that had troubled me, and I was surprised at how well they all fit.
Over the next few days, I spiced life up by dropping hints in George’s presence that implied I knew more than I did. His paranoia grew, but we became fast-drinking buddies. I recognized others in my anthropology department as former intelligence operatives through him. Being an anthropologist was a plus for employment at certain agencies operating abroad.
But nobody made me. I was an enigma, and George, one night in a DC hotel, pulled a little pearl-handled .32 and point-blank asked me whose dog I was. I flippantly answered, “The DARs.” * Not long after this, George passed out, and I secured the thirty-two where he wouldn’t find it and went back to my room. Our friendship was at an end. And my tiny brush with intelligence agencies and their operatives ended. I thought.
Life slipped into high gear after grad school. I eventually worked only a few miles from the old digs on Beacon Hill, but the cognitive distance was enormous. I rarely thought of John or my friend, Brother Isaac, strange churches that were fronts.
Eventually, I wandered into working for the federal government.
And that’s where it gets funny again. I was a GS-12 programming officer. I did not need classified information, but they required a clearance. I dutifully complied with the request for data, but the inquiries always came back unanswered. What was wrong with me? And I answered that, in truth, there was nothing. That was not wholly true. During my time in the Navy, I’d had a high-security clearance. Not because I was so essential a person but because the work my squadron was doing was, and presumably still is, sensitive. They would not grant me confidential clearance because my top secret was still operational. This item pissed off the local hierarchy. If a secret document came into the agency, a lowly GS-12 would be the only one allowed to read it.
Thinking about this, I realized that the evening in a DC hotel was explainable. Somebody had run my file and discovered I was a total cipher with an impressive clearance. To people of a certain mindset in intelligence agencies, that raised flags. Not only was I an anthropologist ( almost a requirement in those days for certain types of operatives), but I was also a pretty bland sort. Not James
Bond. Whose dog, indeed?
Everyone I’ve written about in this is dead. Convenient. So we’ll never be able to check it out, but if you are out there, don’t ask about the Church of the Revealed Disciples, and whatever you do, don’t get involved with Brother Isaac.
*Daughters of the American Revolution