About Overworld
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   The world I grew up in was slightly different from the world you grew up in. My father was a senior United States intelligence official, or, if you prefer the lurid: a spymaster. I grew up all over the earth, and from when I was very young I had spies for uncles. By the time I was eleven, I'd learned to sit on the stairs in the dark and listen to my father and his men downstairs drinking into the night and saying things they thought no one else would hear. I grew up knowing secrets. I grew up knowing my family's telephones were monitored, our mail was intercepted. I grew up understanding everyone has the capacity to betray.

   And I grew up loving my father, but certain I didn't want a life like his. By my twenty-third birthday, I'd been recruited by the CIA, said no thanks, and set out to lead an entirely different sort of life. Yet I write this in a safe house. A safe house on a beach in Florida, where, at the moment, a gentle rain is falling.

   I am here, to put it simply-to hide and wait. That seems the only thing to do until my lawyers and the State Department have finally made a deal with a certain foreign power which has announced it wants to have a word with me. Until I'm satisfied I'll be safe and immune when I sit down with its authorities to help them make sense of various perplexing matters apparently of vital national importance to them, to help them, as they've written repeatedly in their propaganda and their demands for my cooperation, "winnow falsehood from truth."

   When the sun comes out, I like to cross the dunes to feed the gulls and watch the waves roll in, collapse at my feet, and drain backwards into the sea. I stand on the edge of America and face due east. Africa. Turn a little to the left and I'm facing Europe. Hard right is South America. It's been nice to think nothing but one unbroken stretch of water separates me from so many places, so many possibilities. My life is nothing now if not rich with possibilities. And if not all of them are good, well, I know it's never been otherwise for anyone.

   On this beach, I live in a big house that doesn't look big. Do you know the sort of house I mean? From every single point, it hides most of itself. Outside, it looks nothing special. My father taught me not to draw attention to myself in times like these.

   I have a deck and a pool, but so do most houses along this stretch of coast. Inside are Spanish tiles, wooden beams and shutters, and white plaster walls that change colors throughout the day. It's comfortable enough, a good place to read, to listen to the wind and rain, to wait.

   I don't know my neighbors. We've shaken hands. We wave occasionally, shout hellos; but that's as far as I let it go. Down the coast road a way and across the bridge, on the mainland, is a growing little town-which I visit at least a couple of times a week, to have a meal or buy supplies, groceries, books. An hour or so by highway through swamps and piney woods is a bigger town. It's not a metropolis. But it's got an airport, things to do, a nightlife. Whenever one of my lawyers or anyone else needs to see me, that's where we meet; and that, for now, is the furthest boundary of my shrunken universe. I spend much of my time now dreaming of another world.

   There are some who would argue my journey to this beach began on a summer's morning in New York, when Miles Copeland casually introduced himself to me. He was the CIA's first covert political operative, and he may or may not have been a friend of my father. Miles once told me that between political forces there will always arise problems which cannot be resolved by politicians-constrained as they are by their highly-principled public images. And that a problem such as these is best solved by a mysterious gentleman from afar who bounds onto the scene, does whatever needs to be done, and disappears. This beach is where I've disappeared to.

   One rainy Heathrow afternoon, we were next in line for takeoff and I was bound nonstop to a hero's welcome in far New Delhi, when the Boeing 747 into whose front seat I was strapped was pulled over by a speeding police car, then boarded by two deceptively-courteous detectives who took me off the plane, questioned me for hours, and let me go. Can that really be? Yes. It happened. And it was the first tug I felt of the currents that left me washed up like driftwood on this beach.

   How, I ask myself, did I get from there to here? From the bowels of Heathrow and the King of Saudi Arabia's palaces and billionaires' jets, from boxing with the Pope and kissing the rosy red tip of Saddam Hussein's nose, from secret meetings in the White House and in the winds and dust of the Khyber Pass, from speeding through Paris with my wife's cousin Dodi en route to shower his favorite belly dancer with hundred dollar bills, to a hermit's life in this house on a beach in Florida?

   I arrived here after a month on the run, hiding, being scared. Do you know what it feels like to go to bed every night in a different place with a different name, afraid you won't live through the night? You look around the cheap motel room, assess its layout, and, just before you go to sleep, you say to yourself, if tonight's the night they get me, they'll come through that door there, or that window, and there'll be at least two of them, and I'll barely have a chance-but everything's fine, go to sleep.

   Sometimes, sitting here in torpid isolation, it all seems so improbable. What things I saw and did! What amazing things I was allowed to see because I could be useful. What things I did to prove just how useful I could be. Nothing seemed impossible back then. Can that busy, jet-lagged fellow really have been me?

   During the long gray rains that come this time of year, I've had plenty of time to sit inside and ponder. I watch the weather and reflect. I try to make sense of the extraordinary people and events that brought me here. I try to winnow falsehood from truth.

   Outside, the rain has passed and the sun is coming out. Soon steam will rise from the sand, black skimmers will work the waves for fish, and when the air is warm and soft and perfect the gulls will begin to cry. I've come to know this place too well. I stare out past dripping palmettos to the sea and long to fly across it. There are so many places I want to go, so many things I want to do. I know I wasn't meant to stay here forever, trapped in memories like some demented keeper of the flame.

   Inside this house on a beach in Florida, I look forward to the great day someday soon when my lawyers, my government's lawyers, and my interrogators will sit down with me at a long table in a room without a window. When they will set up stenography machines and lights and video cameras to record my story, and one of them will look at me and say, "Start from the beginning."

   In the beginning, I was born the son of a spy. That's a crucial piece of evidence, and I've already decided I must withhold it from the interrogators.

Copyright 2004 Larry J. Kolb. All Rights Reserved.