The Day the CIA Approached Me to Write Backstories.
Canary Test? What’s a Canary Test?
My coffee is as cold as are my ideas. I walked up to the counter and ordered a refill. Trish, the barista, refilled my cup and handed it back to me. “You look like you need this. This cup is on-the-house.”
“Thank you.” If she only knew how broke I am. My last two submissions fell flat. My freelance job has dried up. I walked over to the area with the creamer, sugar, and various artificial sweeteners. After adding creamer and several packets of turbinado sugar to my coffee, I glanced over at Trish. She had a strange look on her face — a coy smile.
Her eyes followed me back to my table. I sat down in front of my laptop, then stared at the blinking cursor on the blank page.
I tried breathing exercises, a three-minute meditation, and focus music, but nothing jumpstarted my creative flow. Finally, out of frustration, I typed a stream of s’s across the page. My muse stuck his tongue out at me and continued giving me the silent treatment.
After another two minutes of fidgeting, I sat back and sighed. Wishing I had a shot of JD instead of Swahili roast, I took a big swig of the coffee and burned my mouth.
I set the cup down for another round of a staring contest between the Mac and me. The Mac won.
I stretched and arched my back. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Trish studying me. It felt awkward. Not that I believe she is into me. I am 45. My part neatly extends from my crown to my forehead and between both temples. My six-pack disappeared behind a layer of comfortable living.
Honestly, I love my wife and children too much to jeopardize our relationship.
Trish is a twenty-something blond with dreadlocks, piercing blue eyes, and a Yoga instructor bod. I guess I am from another generation. Besides her beauty, her tattoos, and piercings are not my things — to each their own.
During my last visit, I overheard two of the store employees discussing Trish. The rumor is that she is a trust fund kid on the outs with her daddy. He gave her an allowance to open a coffee shop. Well, until she comes to her senses and finishes grad school. The coffee shop opened two weeks ago.
I needed a fresh place for fresh ideas with this being my third visit to the Canary Cafe.
The old corporate coffee mill lost its magic. Baby boomers with hearing trouble have overrun my old hangout. While crocheting or playing board games, they shout their conversations. Over the top of the geriatric roar, the repulsive playlist bleeds passed my earbuds. Whatever happened to the days when people went to coffee shops to WRITE with subtle background music.
I glanced over as I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. Trish went to the front door, locked it, then turned the sign to closed. She looked at me with a strange smile. My spider-senses went on high alert. She then strutted to my table, kicked her leg over the chair across from me then slowly sat down.
I panned the place for other signs of life, not a soul but the two of us. Between my caffeine buzz peaking and adrenaline coursing through my body, sweat broke out on my forehead.
Trish sat and stared at me. Not knowing her intentions made me nervous. With her tongue in cheek, she reached across the table and pushed my laptop from between us. “Mr. Dandridge, I like you.”
“Trish, I am married and a faithful man who loves his wife and three children.”
“Laughing, She stood up and pulled her chair around to my side of the table to block me in. “Jerry, may I call you Jerry? We need to talk.”
I felt like she was toying with me. “Wait, how did she know my name?”
“Jerry, I know your writing career has crashed. I want to make it up to you.”
She leaned in and placed a hand on my leg and caressed my thigh. I jerked my leg and pushed her hand away. “Jerry, I am attracted to writers.”
Immediately, I stood and gathered my belongings to leave.
Trish stood up and backed away to give me space. She giggled then turned serious, “You passed the test. I want to hire you to write for an influential party.”
Immediately, my interest perked. I paused as I was about to put my laptop in the backpack. “Ghostwriter, maybe?”
I studied her face for sincerity, “Write what?
She nodded for me to sit down. “I had to test you first. I needed to know if you had the integrity for the job. Integrity is paramount to this client. You had to pass the Canary Test.”
“Trish, what is a Canary Test?”
She ignored me. “My employer completed a thorough background investigation of you. We looked at your military service. Your evaluations and decoration, speak well of you. We interviewed former CO’s — All attested to your stellar career.”
“Whoa, Trish, background investigation, I am a struggling fiction writer. Why would you need to complete a background investigation of me?”
“Jerry, let me finish then I will explain. You went to college in your thirties finished with a degree in literature. We even interviewed your wife — unknown to her — and also your two former girlfriends. The final phase — The Canary Test — YOU PASSED.”
Jerry interrupted, “You still haven’t explained the Canary Test.”
Trish sighed, “Patience I am about to get to that. You have to understand that foreign intelligence agencies enlist beautiful women to entice and extract valuable information from our agents. During the cold war, they called these female spies canaries. Some of our agents fell for their allurements.”
Trish reached over and patted Jerry on the back. “I am proud of you. You passed with flying colors. Though you were a bit comical to watch, I could hardly keep my composure.”
Jerry slumped a little in his seat. “Well, thanks a lot. No one has hit on me in years — maybe ever.”
Jerry scrunched his forehead. “Agents. Operatives. etc! I have seen a few spy movies. What does that have to do with me? I am an impoverished writer and have no desire to become an agent.”
Trish’s eyes lit up. “ I want you to create backstories for our agents. When the agent is in the field, he needs a good cover.”
Jerry nodded, Okay, I am listening.”
“I have seen your published work. Not that I am happy about snooping, but I have seen the encrypted files on your computer as well.”
“Hey, that is an invasion of my privacy!”
“I am sorry. But you would be responsible for many lives. I had to make sure you aren’t a security risk. You have a knack for creating characters with good backstories. THAT is why I need you. Before an agent heads into the field, you will create his or her backstory. You will get paid handsomely.”
Scratching my head, “Why me?”
“I am an unknown writer. Why not hire a credentialed published author or screenwriter?”
She responded, “Anonymity of style and they would want too much money. So, what do you say?”
Jerry shook his head in disbelief, So, who is the customer?”
Trish sat back and crossed her arms. “The CIA. You will be doing your country a great service.”
Jerry sighed, “Are you, CIA? I thought you were a trust-fund kid who opened a coffee shop.”
A devilish grin formed on Trish’s face, “If I tell you, I will have to kill you.”
“Jerry, Jerry, are you okay!”
I jerked up and wiped the drool off my face. Desiree, the library assistant, stood over me with a look of concern on her face. I glanced around to see if anyone stared at me. The heat from embarrassment rose off my face.
I fell asleep in the cubicle at the library again. “Thanks for checking on me. The baby has kept both of us awake at night.” Desiree smiled and walked away.
I wiggled the mouse to get my computer to wake up and reread my first sentence, “Trishssfdafafeewqerrv”