I read the credit card-sized advertisement on the back page of the TV Guide: “Are you looking for an exciting and challenging internship? Consider interning with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).”
The ad showed a well-dressed, dark-haired girl smiling at the camera. She looked like Mark Wahlberg’s girlfriend in the Ted movie, and we all know Wahlberg is a rich actor and can have any woman he wants, so I thought why not apply? Maybe the CIA would send me to another country, and I could finally get out of my mom’s house. Of course, I’d tell them don’t bother sending me to Mexico or New Mexico because I didn’t speak Mexican. I was okay, however, with traveling to England because I could speak Britain thanks to watching Austin Powers’ movies.
I filled out the online application and gave my name and birth date. It also asked about sex, and I wrote, “Hopefully with Mary Sue Allen or that girl in the Crest commercial.” Regarding the question about my weight, I wrote “How long?” I’m not making this up; the CIA really asked those questions.
Three years out of high school and I was still working part-time at Subway waiting for Justin to quit so I could become the assistant manager. He kept saying he hated working there because the owner was a Republican, but he liked eating a free sandwich every day in the little office in the back. Actually, I ate free sandwiches too, but the job sucked. A hundred times a day: “Do you want cheese with that? . . . Do you want it toasted?” It got so annoying I stopped washing my hands after I used the bathroom.
Two weeks later after submitting my application, two men in brown suits and striped ties stomped down the steps into my mom’s basement where I was watching television reruns – Rocky and Bullwinkle to be exact. I thought at first that Mom had stolen the neighbors’ lawn chairs again, and these guys had a search warrant. Instead, they showed me their CIA identification badges and glanced around the basement like they were looking for hidden cameras. I raised the volume on the set and pointed at the screen. “Tell me,” I challenged them, figuring worldly guys like them would know this. “Tell me that it’s not a dude doing the voice of Natasha Fatale. C’mon, what broad talks like that?”
They exchanged a look, and then the taller one said, “Is your name Brad Gointer?” His voice sounded like a television news guy.
“Then pack a bag.”
I stood up and clicked off the television. “Where am I going?” This was going to be awesome – I imagined shaking hands with the Vice-President, shooting a gun, and being given a cool spy name like Daxx Domino. Mom couldn’t complain anymore that I watched too much television or peed on the backyard lawn instead of using the upstairs bathroom. Like these guys who just walked into my house, I would be able to do anything.
They glanced quickly at each other again and then back at me. “You’ll go with us now and then to a foreign country,” the shorter one said. “Your internship begins today, Brad.” Neither smiled.
I knew they were serious. “It’s not Mexico, is it?”
The shorter one – with his stocky frame and bruised ears, he looked like he used to wrestle – shook his head. “No, you’re not going to Mexico. By the way, how many pushups can you do?”
I shrugged and got on hands and toes on the cold basement floor. I did about a hundred although the shorter one only counted out loud to fourteen. I kinda felt bad for him. He must have gone to a public high school like the one I attended.
“Good enough,” he said and patted my back after I collapsed breathless on the floor. Next to him, the taller agent peered up the stairs, listening. Mom, however, was probably gone. Today was Tuesday. She had to meet with her parole officer.
I sat up. “Do you want me to do anything else?”
The taller dude turned his head back to me. “Just pack a bag and don’t leave any note.”
So I did, and I didn’t.
In the black Lincoln Navigator, the shorter agent sat next to me in the back while the taller one drove. The former wrestler reached into a small, navy blue gym bag that rested on a clipboard on the seat between us. He pulled out a pistol and showed it to me. “Do you know how to use one of these?”
“I think so,” I said. I was confident because I’d seen 21 Jump Street, a documentary about police work, and last year I’d won a stuffed dog at the county fair shooting water into a clown’s mouth.
He turned the pistol so the barrel was directed away from me and pointed at the trigger. “Well, it’s pretty simple. Just pull this with your finger.” Then he handed me the pistol.
I held the gun and felt its weight – like maybe it weighed as much as can of soup, the chunky kind. I pointed it straight ahead. In the front seat, the taller guy ducked away, causing the car to swerve. “Don’t point that at me, you idiot.”
As ordered, I lowered the pistol into my lap. “Then where should I point it?”
The wrestler leaned into me, winked, and whispered. “At foreigners.”
He sighed. “Anyone who doesn’t look like an American.”
I remembered 8th grade world history. “Even the Greeks?”
The shorter one grimaced. “Well, yes, you . . ..” He paused to check a chart on the clipboard. “Wait, no.” His finger slid down a column of names. “The Greeks, they’re okay. Don’t shoot them.” He peered again at the chart to be sure and then glanced at me. “You do want to work for the CIA, don’t you, Brad?” He raised an eyebrow.
My packed bag was in the trunk. I had a pistol. I was finally done working at Subway. “For sure.” But I wasn’t a fool. In fact, I was pretty certain I had some leverage here. “But do I still have to pay taxes? I’m thinking that now since I’m working for the government, it’s like I’m paying my own salary, right? That doesn’t make any sense.”
“You have . . . We all have to. Wait . . ..” The wrestler reached into his pocket, pulled out a clipped paper – a paystub, I think – and studied it. He tapped the right shoulder of the tall guy driving. “How much federal tax do they take out of yours?”
The tall guy turned a corner and accelerated. “What? I don’t know. My wife handles all of that.” He took one hand off the steering wheel and extended a pamphlet to me. “Maybe all of that is explained in here.”
Inside it said, “In the CIA, you’ll find a supportive environment to help you grow and excel both professionally and personally. And a culture that expects you to do your personal best every day. Explore our world and imagine yourself working for the nation, in the center of intelligence.” But that was it.
“I still don’t think I should have to pay any taxes,” I told them. I was still thinking leverage. “Plus, I want a CIA badge like what you guys have so I can show it to my old high school principal. You know what that turd told me at graduation?” I didn’t wait for them to respond. “He said that the next time he saw me, he expected the conversation to end with him telling me to add fries to his order. Then I told him the whole school knew he was having sex with that Croatian lunch lady in the cafeteria after school. That’s against the law isn’t it? I want to scare the shit out of him.”
“Just keep the gun pointed down,” the wrestler said and zipped up the gym bag.
I couldn’t let it go, the memories still strong in my mind. “All that bullshit we were told, like you can do anything you put your mind to. A science teacher told us we could grow up to be like Lance Armstrong and walk on the moon. My social studies teacher said that maybe one of us could be President and end the cold war between Alaska and Russia. I watch the news, you know, and neither Alaska nor Russia are any warmer.” I spent the rest of the trip staring out the passenger window.
We reached a building they called HQ, and they led me inside to an empty room with a wrestling mat. When the shorter one with the banged up ears took off his coat and shirt, I saw a body resembling a fire hydrant plopped on top of two legs – yeah, he was a wrestler. He pointed at the navy blue mat. “C’mon, Gointer. Let me show you some things.”
The taller one left, and Mr. Fire Hydrant squeezed my head until I thought it would look like one big ear. Then he wrenched my shoulders so hard from now on I thought I would have to hear through my armpits. He showed me moves like the groin pull and barrel cruncher and lectured me, “Don’t ever let them barrel crunch you, or you won’t be able to shit for a week.”
The rest of the training wasn’t that tough. I had to read the pamphlet again, do more push ups, swim laps in a pool, and interpret ink blots of insects, a woman’s vagina, and the Eiffel Tower. I said they made me think of potato salad and the time two years ago when an old girlfriend handed me a STD pamphlet as she broke up with me. Plus, they made me study pictures of about a couple hundred bad men and women, one of whom I think was my third grade teacher Mrs. Anderson. Figures she was a communist, all the time talking about union rights with the other teachers in the hallway.
A week later I was on my first mission to Istanbul. Alone. I still had the pistol.
My assignment was to find out if the Turks were getting friendly with the Russians. Were the Turks our friends or our enemies? Plus, the CIA really wanted to know why the Turks sweated so much and if Noah’s Ark was on Mt. Ararat. We were a Christian nation and wanted it.
I began right away. I asked people at the airport what they thought of Russia, but after eating dinner with a group of them I found out they weren’t Turks. They were Dutch! I had gotten confused because they didn’t wear wooden shoes and they had a lot of nose hair, even the women. When I asked, they told me they considered Russia to be a nation of pornographers.
In Istanbul I did see a lot of sweaty men kissing each other on both cheeks, but I didn’t know for sure if one was Turkish and the other was Russian. I kept my gun inside my jacket and remained ready to shoot anyone who wasn’t a Greek. I did see a sailboat on a trailer but not the ark.
My second day in Istanbul a Turkish woman who looked like Pee Wee Herman’s older sister approached me while I was smoking dope in a hookah tavern. “Are you an American?” she asked, smiling warmly.
Finally! Someone who could tell me if the Turks liked the Russians. But then I thought for a moment. Maybe this was a trick, and she would try to seduce me into revealing classified secrets. Moreover, I didn’t want to blow my cover. I was travelling as Looney Ward, a volleyball and kneepads salesman. So I gave a half-smile and answered, “I’m not an American. I’m an Ohioan.”
She gently squeezed the top of my hand. “Come with me.” She turned, and her long, black hair fell down the back of her red spandex top. I didn’t get up right away because I’d been warned during my training to remain cautious about women who were beautiful – they’d shown me almost all the James Bond movies. Not the George Lazenby one, however. According to the CIA, he was a pussy.
Nevertheless, I was on a mission so I left the hookah bar with the woman and followed her down a narrow brick road into an alleyway. Mostly I followed her exotic scent, its warm fragrance a strong contrast to the fish gut incense my mother burned at home on Sundays so she could still get religion but not have to go to church. The Turkish woman looked back every few seconds to be sure I was following her, always giving me that same smile I saw in the hookah tavern.
At a steel door she stopped abruptly, turned, and faced me. “You here for fun, yes?”
I remembered my training: You ask the questions. Complete the mission. “I can’t tell you that. By the way, are you friendly with the Russians?”
“If he’s a man, I am friendly with him.” Actually she said, “Ef heez man, I am frenly weeth hem.” Then she waved a slender arm, prompting me to follow her, and opened the door. I liked being a CIA intern, but I pondered if I should shoot her because she wasn’t an American. She sorta did speak American, however, so I remain conflicted and kept the gun inside my jacket.
We walked into a room that had a weird purple light, and I stuck close to her because I could hardly see. In fact, I bumped into a chair without armrests, and she told me to sit.
Then she hovered over me, her knees straddling one of my legs. “Do you have money?” Her perfume washed over me. She caressed my cheek.
I had a hundred dollars in my jeans pocket, but I remembered my training: Spend wisely. Keep your receipts. “I only have ten dollars,” I answered.
Her hand went from my cheek to my shoulder. She sighed. “That is only enough for mouth.”
“I already have a mouth.”
She knelt in front of me. “What are you talking about?”
I remembered my training: Turn the tables whenever you can. “What are you talking about?”
She began unzipping my pants. “Okay, ten dollars,” she groaned and lowered her face into my groin.
I tried to get my bearings and recalled I represented the United States, the greatest nation on the planet. With my jeans at my ankles, I felt linked to other great American patriots like Clint Eastwood, Hulk Hogan, and James T. Kirk.
She abruptly stopped. “Is something wrong?” Which sounded like, “Eeez sumtheenk wronk?”
I took my hand off the top of her head. “Wrong?”
“Is it okay?” She pointed at my groin.
Then I understood. “No, it doesn’t get any bigger. That’s it.”
She looked up and smiled sympathetically. “Like a peanut with two peas.”
“At least it’s American,” I announced proudly and pushed her head down.
When I got back to CIA headquarters at the end of the week I told them I still wasn’t sure if the Turks did or did not like the Russians. They liked Americans however. A lot! The CIA guys were pissed, though, that I didn’t have a receipt for the ten-dollar expenditure.
Keith Manos has published ten books to date, including his debut novel My Last Year of Life (in School),which was published by Black Rose Writing in October 2015. Other books include Writing Smarter(1998, Prentice Hall) and 101 Ways to Motivate Athletes (2006, Coaches Choice). His fiction has appeared in national print and online in magazines such as The Mill, Visions, Attic Door Press, Hicall, Lutheran Journal, and Storgy. He was recognized as one of Ohio’s top writing teachers by Ohio Teachers Write magazine.