Trade-craft for an intelligence operative can be considered to be easier in America. Especially, for those of us that were born here. Even more so if you are familiar with the city in which you are moving. Or, one might argue, the familiarity can be a distraction and keep the operative from staying vigilant. Familiarity working against your best interests. I would agree with both of those arguments and have – in my own mind – cautioned myself against complacency.
At least those were my thoughts as I was ferried ashore at three AM by two members of the embarked SEAL Team aboard the nuclear attack submarine USS Hawaii, Jerry and Tank. They joked about how they should be allowed to come ashore with me to act as my bodyguards…and get a good micro-brew from the Mad River Brewery. One of them – Jerry – had been to the Blue Lake casino and had visited the brewery. His favorite was the Slammin Salmon double IPA. I was sympathetic to his cause, but I had a job to do. A job I was puzzled by.
Before I forget, my name is Taylor Brean, I have had strange operational taskings during my tenure with the SOG (CIA’s Special Operations Group: many of their operatives come from Delta Force or The Teams). But, in most cases I chalk it up to the “need-to-know” syndrome. I only need to know enough to get my job done. Which in most cases is pretty much everything. It’s not very often that our leaders keep us in the dark as to the reasoning behind a mission. But, this one was different.
I was to meet up with and escort back to the submarine a man called Monopoly Man. I had the instructions about where to meet him and where our exfiltration would take place…the mouth of the Eel River…and that was about it. I had asked why, since this was the United States, why the FBI or the local police couldn’t just put the guy on a bus or Southwest to where ever it was they wanted to bring him. Crickets. They said that I would understand when I met the gentleman. The Monopoly Man? I was never very good at Monopoly; or Risk for that matter. Checkers, Battleship, Stratego, not many could beat me at Stratego. But, Monopoly? I just wasn’t gifted with that mentality. So, was this guy, a strategic genius in real estate negotiations? Was he a hyper-wealthy political contributor that had pulled some very subterranean strings? Can you even pull those strings. Can money buy a personal escort from a multi-billion dollar submarine taxi?
All of these thoughts raced through my head as I walked across Samoa Beach toward Cooper Lane. My contact was to meet me in the parking lot of the Samoa Cookhouse restaurant. Good eats! But, at four AM not open.
My contact was a student at Humboldt State University. We didn’t share names and hardly talked as he drove me over the Samoa Bridge into Eureka California. To anyone that would happen to be watching at four in the morning, I was just another hitch-hiker traveling up and down the Pacific Coast on highway 1. I was wearing well worn jeans, flannel shirt, gore-tex jacket, floppy hat, and carried my personal Cabela’s back pack.
The contact dropped me off at the McDonald’s on Highway 101. There were a number of people that looked just like me meandering up and down the highway, so I found a comfortable wall to lean my back pack against and checked my iPhone for messages. Nothing, and since I was scheduled to meet the Monopoly Man at nine AM I closed my eyes for a quick nap in the cold early June morning.
No matter how hard I try I cannot seem to sleep much beyond sunrise. Of course it doesn’t help to be attempting a nap on the ground in front of the McDonald’s on a main highway of a city along the Pacific Coast Highway. And, considering sunrise is before six in the morning here in northern California in June, that’s pretty early. I estimate I was able to sleep for maybe and hour. It would take me an hour or so to rent a car, but that should leave me plenty of time for a breakfast bagel at Los Bagels.
I love the north coast of California, Eureka, Ferndale, Patrick’s point state park, and many more places with memories attached to them. Many of those memories framed with tastes and people. Hopefully, none of those people would accidentally run into me. So the bagel was quick and I sat in my rental near the Samson House by eight-forty five.
Precisely at nine AM I walked over to the Samson House and wandered around the building. My instructions were to meet him here at the house. But, the instructions did not say anything about where at the house. Samson House is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Eureka. So I wondered about the intelligence of using such a site for a meet up like this. But, it was only a momentary thought.
I worked my way around the back of the building and checked to see if anyone was around and the place was deserted. No one standing near the building at all. Then I found myself in the parking lot facing the harbor and a tall sea wall that separated the house from the waterfront road. As I walked towards the sea wall I noticed something perched on a short decorative cement bullock that seemed to divide the parking lot into informal segments. It looked as though a homeless person had left a mess of McDonald’s wrappings and their drink container around the bullock. So I figured I would go over and clean up the mess.
As I leaned down to collect – what I thought were the wrappings – a voice said, “Conductor?”. Instantly I stepped back and said, “Engineer!?”
There on the bullock was a very short, maybe ten inch tall man with a handlebar mustache! He was standing on the bullock and what I had thought to be McDonald’s wrappings were a small paisley train satchel and matching suitcase and laptop bag. He was wearing brown dungarees, a tan muslin shirt covered by a worn, but comfortable looking leather vest, a leather safari hat, and expensive looking leather hiking boots. He held an ornate cane topped with a lion’s head and was pointing it at me. “Yes, that’s the correct response. I was beginning to think you were some kind of mindless vagrant or perhaps a zombie. The way you were approaching me. It seemed your mind was someplace else. Not very good trade-craft if I can be so bold to point out.” The last statement was said more as an observation not an actual request. And, considering the way I had reacted to this unorthodox situation, I would have to agree with the little guy. I hadn’t handled the surprise very well at all.
“Well, let’s get the show on the road, shall we? We do have a boat to catch!” The Monopoly Man said looking me in the eyes with a bit of concern tinging his words. The last “Boat to Catch” emphasized as if he was Yoda from Star Wars.
Quickly I reached down and gathered up his luggage and stood for a second as I wondered how this was all going to work. “Ah, do you want to walk or do you want me to carry you? How does this work? Want to ride on my shoulder? I don’t want to seem rude but, I am sure you must realize you have me at a bit of a disadvantage. It’s not every day that I meet someone like yourself. I mean, are you really the Monopoly Man? You look just like what I would imagine if he…you…were really alive? Are you really alive?” The words tumbled out as my mind tried to make sense of the moment.
“No, I don’t think I would like being carried. I can walk thank you!”, he smiled. “Try to keep up!” And, with that the Monopoly Man set off with a brisk pace, his minuscule brass tipped cane making a barely discernible tapping sound as he flew across the parking lot. I struggled to keep up!
But, soon we were sitting in the rented 2020 Toyota Rav4. I did not even attempt to ask him to put on his seat belt. And, he made no effort to put it on either. But, once we were in the car and the engine started he looked up from his seat and said, “Thank you for being on time. I know this is a bit unorthodox, but quite necessary. There are certain people that need my help and you are one of them. Those that work in high stress situations on a daily basis, and even those that live ordinary lives, but have people that depend on them, need me. You need me.”
We were scheduled to make the rendezvous at Crab Park by 9:30 AM, and so far I was questioning why it had been necessary to devote these kind of assets to picking up the remarkable man. What was the strategic necessity of bringing him in in such a covert manner. “Can you explain to me why you are so important to the government that someone like me has to come and get you? I can see that you are quite the impressive individual. And, beyond the questions about where you come from, and whether there are others like you out there somewhere. To me you look like a pretty fragile individual. For instance, what’s to stop me from reaching over there and breaking your neck? Forgive me for being blunt, but you are a pretty small dude!”
The Monopoly Man looked up and chuckled, “Looks can be deceiving. How old do you think I am?”
“Well, that sounds like a loaded question if I ever heard one,” I said. “If I think this out logically, then you must be as old as the Monopoly Board Game, right? What was that, the 1950’s or something? That would make you in your sixties, correct?”
Monopoly Man looked up at me and said, “Actually, the game was published in 1935, but I am much older than that. I have been around go and collected $200.00 for so many years I stopped counting the money. Not to mention the years.” He held up his hand and stopped me before I could question him on the time-line he was implying. “Monopoly is a game that mimic’s human endeavor. Buying and selling, greed versus… What is missing from a Monopoly Game Board? Think carefully before you answer.” The Man was now standing in his seat and bracing himself against the back of the seat as we had left Eureka and now were traveling down Highway 101 at freeway speeds.
I thought for a second and could not think of anything that wasn’t on the board, and said so, “I can’t think of anything that isn’t on the board.”
“Okay, I will tell you. There are no churches on the board.” Monopoly Man stopped talking and waited for my response.
“Huh! I blurted. “No churches? Wow, I never thought about that. That’s kind of strange. The most famous game about finances and philanthropy get’s left out?”
“That’s partly why I am here.