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 Chapter 15

Another Little Game

This game is a nautical version of one people used to play in Washington at the height of the Cold War. It's a little hard to describe, but easy to pick up once you start playing it.

Having been employed in a secret organization there in the late fifties, I was aware that the people who worked in such places had no real desire to associate with anyone else. It was partly that they could talk freely only with one another, and partly that they were entirely obsessed with some central concern. These ranged from playing spy games with the Soviets to planning nuclear war. And, of course, there was always one-upping one another in the organization.

This being the fifties, the staff members were mostly men, almost all married, and almost all engaged, in odd moments, in begetting hordes of usually rather unattractive children.

The wives, left out of almost everything, associated mainly with each other, usually in the presence of the children. One woman, typical of the time, was brought up somewhat short when she realized that she had just asked her friend, another well-educated adult woman, if she wouldn't like to have "a nice eggie."

The men, realizing that divorce might compromise secrecy, would occasionally try to rectify the situation. The following game, which seems to have come from the CIA, was an attempt to give the wives some entertainment without totally abandoning the areas in which their husbands felt competent and comfortable.

The Original Version of the Game

The game is played in a large house with the lights off, and only moonlight coming in through the windows. There were always people in the CIA who had lots of money and large houses. A few, like Aldrich Ames, got their money from the Soviets, but it's likely that the moles enjoyed the game as much as their colleagues, perhaps indulging themselves in occasional ironic smiles.

There are two teams, Red and Blue, each consisting of three persons, a Captain, Mate, and Yeoman. At the beginning, the Gamemaster, who isn't a participant, hands each person a slip of paper with his or her role and certain information.

A player isn't allowed to show this paper to anyone else. Some gamemasters urge people to memorize the information, and then eat the paper.

At the beginning, you don't know who's on your team. The object is to find one another and pool your information. That enables you to find a specified totem, such as a vase or framed photograph, and put it in a particular position, perhaps in the bowl of the ground floor toilet.

The first team to take the totem to the location turns on the lights and announces victory. However, if it turns out that the team has been infiltrated by a member of the opposite team, the "winning team" then becomes the losing team.

Sample assignment slips:

Red Mate

   Password: Ham

   Location: Master Bedroom

   Location: Ground floor toilet

Red Captain

   Password: Ham

   Counterpass: Grits

   Meeting place: Master Bedroom

    Jail: Third floor maid's room

Red Yeoman

     Password: Ham

     Counterpass: Grits

     Totem: Picture of Hostess' mother in children's playroom

     Blue jail: Second floor landing on back staircase

Each member of the team needs the others. One of the mate's locations is the Red meeting place, and the other is the location to which the totem must ultimately be taken. But the mate doesn't know which is which, and is likely to move between the two places in the hope of meeting the captain.

The captain, at the beginning, doesn't know what the totem is, or where it must be taken. The yeoman knows the totem, and, once they get together and find the mate, they know that the goal is the mate's location which is not the meeting place (which is known to the captain).

Here is the best way to lose quickly. Let us say that Sam, the Red mate, goes around loudly uttering sentences that all have the word, "ham", in them. Susie, the Blue yeoman, realizes that "ham" is the Red password. There is also a good chance that the room Sam is in is the Red meeting place. That gives her two of the three pieces of information that the Red mate is supposed to have, and neither the Red captain nor yeoman have any cross-check on the third piece, which would be the goal. Being more subtle than Sam, she finds the Red captain, and, after a good deal of maneuvering, utters the sentence,

"My children won't eat the usual things for breakfast. Just peanut butter sandwiches."

The Red captain, Aldrich, asks her what they won't eat, and is rewarded with the password. She then claims to be the Red Mate. Mates don't have the counterpass, so Aldrich gives it to her with the idea that they can together find the yeoman. Once they do, the yeoman tells them that the picture is the totem. They get it, and Susie leads them to the front portico, where, with a good view of the curving drive in the moonlight, the Red captain declares victory. And loses. Susie, revealing herself as the Blue yeoman, wins.

Suppose, however, that the Red captain is not Aldrich, but Angleton. Angleton is suspicious. He has also heard Sam mouthing the password, and, regrettable as it may be to have to associate with a loudmouth, he also has a great distrust of clever women. It is in his power, as a captain, to arrest Susie. He simply touches her on the arm and tells her that she is under arrest. He then leads her to the Red jail, whose location, as the Blue yeoman, she happens to know. Any player but the arresting captain can release her, but it's unfortunate that neither of the other Blue players know the location of the Red jail.

Players in jail aren't allowed to speak to anyone, but, since they have to remove their outer clothing and wait in their underwear, other players will understand. There was always an element of sexual titillation in anything the CIA did. They didn't have much time off from work, and they hardly got any exercise.

The only person a captain cannot arrest is the other captain, who will claim not to be subject to arrest. You can lie about anything else, but not that. In this way, Angleton can find out if Susie is the other captain. When she goes compliantly off to jail, that possibility is eliminated. However, she might still be his own mate, his own yeoman, the Blue mate, or the Blue yeoman.

If Angleton comes to believe that Susie is his own mate, he will have to find his own yeoman, and then get the yeoman to release her. Or, if she is his yeoman, he will have to find his mate and get the mate to release her. Alternatively, he might even trick a Blue player into releasing her. If convinced that Susie is, indeed, a Blue player, he will be happy to leave her in jail. As the jails are located in obscure places, her teammates may not find her.

Having dealt with Susie, Angleton joins with Sam, and, urging him to say as little as possible, they set out to find their yeoman.

Since many people wanted to play the game, I expanded it beyond the CIA version. In the expanded version there are three teams, and also a Triple Agent. The latter belongs to no team, but has the passwords to all three teams. The TA can win only by infiltrating one of the teams. Like the captains, he isn't subject to arrest. However, if someone tries to arrest him, he will respond as a captain would, by saying he isn't subject to arrest, and needn't admit who he really is.

The aquatic translation of the game is quite straight- forward. A secluded cove or bay will do nicely.

Almost any combination of boats will work, but it's best if the gamemaster has a lighted rowboat so that anyone who's confused about the rules can come up and consult with him. The players can also have rowboats (without lights), but rubber boats and kayaks are less conspicuous and handier.

The locations can be points of land, buoys, or islets and rocks, all within a mile or so of one another. The totem might be an anchor tossed on a rocky beach, and the winning team, flashing lights and shouting, will be quite conspicuous.

A Fictional Game

Mr. Wellington Ahab, a young municipal bond lawyer, arrives at Starbuck Cove in the early evening of a warm summer day. He there meets the other players. They embark in five kayaks and five rubber boats. The genial gamemaster, a recently retired prison guard, leads them on a tour of the cove in his rowboat. Brandishing the xeroxed map which everyone has, he points out the various landmarks which have been given names.


x x

x x

x x

x x


x x

x x

x x

x x

x Loc #4 x

x x

x x

x Loc #1 x

x x

x x

x x

x x

x x

x Loc #2 x

x xx x

x Loc x x x

x #3 x x x x

x x x

x Treasure x

x Island x

x x

x x

x x

x x

x x

x x

x x

Loc #1 = Cape Morris Jessup

Loc #2 = Point Barrow

Loc #3 = Cape Race

Loc #4 = Cape Farewell

After repairing to a local gourmet restaurant for dinner and the local wine, the group returns to the cove in darkness. Changing into dark clothes which make them look like a squad of frogmen ready to attach limpet mines to the hulls of the yachts, they get into their craft with a minimum of splashing and only one person falling overboard.

The gamemaster, with a candle sitting on the stern seat of his rowboat, has the players form a line which paddles and rows slowly past him. He gives each participant a crumpled piece of paper. Wellington Ahab, third in line, is paddling a Seda Impulse. The speed of his kayak allows him to quickly distance himself from the others, at which point he drifts and inspects the paper. In bold writing clearly visible in the moonlight, he finds the following information:

Black Captain

Meeting place: Cape Morris Jessup

Password: Violence

Counterpass: Retribution

Jail: Cape Farewell

The newly commissioned Captain Ahab considers his prospects. He's in easily the fastest boat, but he won't be able to begin to turn with the whitewater kayaks, not to mention the rubber boats. In order to arrest, he will have to touch the other craft with his hand, and anyone who sees him coming will be able to evade him.

It's also something of a waste to have a boat that will allow him to escape from anyone when, as a captain, he can't be arrested anyway. But not entirely a waste. When a captain has to say that he's not subject to arrest, he gives away information.

There are two plausible initial strategies. One is to approach other boats and strike up conversations in the hope of exchanging passwords. The other is to proceed directly to Cape Morris Jessup. He decides on the latter. He can get there first, hide, and see who else approaches.

Proceeding with powerful strokes across the cove, Wellington loses his sense of proportion. Treasure Island looms up like something the size of a Cayman Island, and he himself is in a fast pinnace of piratical bent with a battery of eighteen pounders on the gun-deck.

There's a little wooded high-tide cove at Cape Morris Jessup, and, grabbing some overhanging branches, Wellington pulls himself into it backwards, ready to dart out forward. Only the bow of the Impulse is sticking out, and, since it's black, he feels pretty invisible.

Peeking out between branches, Wellington watches while another kayak approaches. He recognizes Brewster Ambruster, an Episcopelian bishop who got a little drunk at dinner. He says nothing as Brewster paddles by only twenty feet away without seeing him. The bishop might be his mate giving one of his locations (in reality the meeting place) a look on the way to his other location. As he zig-zags away, Wellington decides to let him go. If he returns, thinks Wellington, I'll see what he has in the way of a password.

A few minutes pass and Wellington hears, in the otherwise complete silence, the faint splashing sounds of a rubber boat out in the darkness. He can see nothing in that direction. The sound continues, and then stops. And then continues and stops again. This person is observing the meeting place. Wellington darts out.

He soon comes upon a rubber boat over the stern of which are projecting the long legs of Sue June Terminale. A former prosecutor, she now produces colored wood sculptures of the faces of criminals she has convicted, using the mug shots to refresh her memory. Sue June carefully backs her boat well out of his way and calls out cheerfully,

"I'll talk with you if you toss your paddle over this way. You can trust me to give it back when you want to leave."

It's rumored that Sue June had an abortive affair with a man who refused to let her tie him up with an extension cord for sexual experimentation. Wellington, trusting where that man had been found wanting, stops his boat and sculls his paddle over to her. He then remarks,

"I saw in the paper this morning that two construction crews arrived at the same work site and had a fight to see who would do the work. That can happen only in New York."

Sue June responds,

"There's just too much violence of all kinds. A person's afraid to even go to the bingo hall at night."

The word, "violence", is the Black password, and the bit about the bingo hall might just be Sue June. If she is his yeoman, as opposed to the mate, she'll know the counterpass, "retribution." Wellington replies, somewhat circuitiously,

"If those men had been religious, they wouldn't have fought. Moreover, they'd be steadier citizens and wouldn't have to accept such low wages."

Sue June says that the minimum wage should be lowered to a dollar an hour. She obviously doesn't have the counterpass. She might still be his mate, or she might have overheard the word, "violence", from some other conversation. She might also be the Triple Agent, letting go all three passwords, and preparing, on the basis of whichever one he might take, to claim to be his mate. Wellington has his hands in the water, trying to use them unobtrusively to turn his boat toward Sue June's. However, as she now speaks to the question of rabbis proselytyzing in homeless shelters, she moves her boat to compensate for his slow turn. Finally deciding that she isn't on the black team, Wellington, in order to arrest her, suddenly reaches out to touch her boat. It turns out to be a little too far, and he goes over. He tries a hand roll, fails twice, and has to exit. Sue June smiles, tosses over his paddle, and rows off.

Having made his wet re-entry and rolled back up, Wellington heads for Treasure Island to land and get the water out of his boat. He is approaching, hull down with water sloshing back and forth in his boat, when he notices two rubber boats and a kayak close to Point Barrow. Since all the mates, Black, Red, and Blue would have one location in common (the goal), it's quite likely that they will, sooner or later, come together. Captains, not having that location, would arrive only be accident. Wellington can't see who's in the boats, but wonders if one might be Ambruster. Not wanting to be seen, he lands some distance down the shore of the island and dumps his boat.

Hiding the boat in the woods above the high and steeply- sloping rock shoreline of the island, Wellington moves carefully along the tree line, and then crawls out on the rock right above the three boats. He can hear everything they're saying, and one is, indeed, Bishop Ambruster.

The conversation seems to be quite frustrating for the participants, two of whom sometimes edge away from a third. If they are the three mates, none would share a password or counterpass, and they might only have the impression that they share a location. Ambruster keeps talking about violence, and is probably the black mate. But there's no need to make contact with him until the yeoman has been found. Wellington guesses that one of the other passwords is, or has something to do with, fraud or embezzlement. The third seems to concern divorce.

Having come almost half way around the little island, Wellington continues in the same direction with the idea of looking at another location, Cape Race, specified on the map. As he approaches, he notices something white in the dim moonlight on the rock headland, much like the one he has just used for eavesdropping on the mates. It turns out to be the white skin of a seated figure. Wellington, still unobserved, stops. The person, evidently unaware of his presence, stands up and reveals herself to be Miss Melissa Siren, a well-known marriage counsellor most of whose clients are psychiatrists. Miss Siren is dressed only in her bra and underpants, and looks rather cold despite the warmth of the evening.

Wellington's famous namesake, admittedly not known to be much affected by a slim elegant figure such as that of Miss Siren, might nonetheless have been tempted into rash action by the extreme whiteness of her skin. Wellington, however, pauses to consider. He has tentatively eliminated as possible black yeomen Sue June and the three mates. There are also the other two captains and the Triple Agent, none of whom can be arrested. But some of the people he has already counted may still turn out to be captains or the Triple Agent. Particularly Sue June. The chances are less than even that Melissa is his yeoman. It would be rash to release her from jail. Anyhow, he knows where she is if he needs her later.

On the other hand, it occurs to Wellington for the first time that he might be able to infiltrate another team. He therefore approaches Melissa, who seems a little surprised, and releases her. She gets dressed quickly, and, as she does so, he asks,

"Have you brought any psychiatrists back from the brink of divorce lately?"

"It helps that they're all afraid of paying alimony."

Melissa has spoken impulsively, and she smiles somewhat tentatively as she buttons herself up. Wellington replies,

"Fear of alimony is what keeps me single."

Melissa laughs delightedly, and Wellington remarks that it is ironic that she has gotten that password and counterpass. He adds,

"Since I'm the captain, you'll be safe with me. If one of the others arests you, I can release you. Which captain arrested you?"

"Joan Forester, the black captain."

Since he is himself the black captain, he pauses briefly before replying,

"I thought that Bishop Ambruster was the black captain. Joan can't lie about being a captain, but she could claim to be a different one."

"Yes. I suppose she must be the blue captain."

Now knowing that Melissa is the red yeoman, and that he has passed himself off as the red captain, he helps her into her rubber boat. If they find the red mate, they can proceed. On the other hand, if he comes across the black yeoman, Wellington can arrest Melissa, collect Ambruster, and win.

By the time that they round the point in consort there's only one boat where there had been three. The remaining player, in a little whitewater kayak, is Maynard Melton, a symphony musician and the president of the East Coast Association of Gay Violinists. Best of all, he's the one who had previously been talking about marital discord, and is most likely to be the red mate that they need.

Maynard is a big man, tightly squeezed into the little boat. As they approach, he tips over and remains upside down for a surprisingly long time. When he finally rolls up, he says,

"I got depressed over my divorce and decided to drown. Then, it occurred to me that I might get a good settlement, so I came back up."

This makes Wellington immediately suspicious. Maynard knows the red password, but he's hinting for the counterpass, which the red mate wouldn't know unless he has overheard it. The Triple Agent also wouldn't have been given it, but most Triple Agents, having nothing else to do, manage to pick up the occasional counterpass.

In order to settle the question, Ahab decides to make an arrest. He might be arresting his own mate, in which case he would have to convey him to the jail, half a mile away. Melissa could then release Maynard. It would waste time, but it can't be helped.

Wellington isn't terribly surprised when Maynard responds to his summons by saying that he isn't subject to arrest. He is, however, surprised, when Maynard takes a couple of quick strokes, and, almost running into Melissa's boat, arrests her. Maynard is, in fact, the red captain Wellington is pretending to be. It's doubly awkward because Melissa will be in the red jail, which might be anywhere, as opposed to the blue jail, where he previously found her. He could follow them, but it would take him out of the game too long. He waves goodby to the discomfited Melissa as she is towed away in custody and decides to go back to being the black captain.

Making good use of the speed of the Impulse, Wellington cruises the whole area, looking for someone who might turn out to be the black yeoman. He is also concerned about the Blue team. The red captain has just arrested his own yeoman, and it will take a long time to recover from that booboo. But the blue team might even now be taking the totem to the goal, which he now surmises to be Point Barrow on Treasure Island. As his wake curls out on both sides into the smooth black expanse, Wellington, feeling like a shark amidst the rubber boats, looks closely for a convoy of three boats.

What he finds is a twosome of rubber boats, Sue June and Howard Bledsoe. Howard, a very vague small man of great intellect, is an art historian of the sixteenth century. Unfortunately, whenever he's dealing with any century later than his chosen one, he blurts out any information he happens to have. He also believes anything anyone tells him. It is a source of chagrin to his various ex-wives that many things they would have preferred to conceal are known widely. But it is a comfort to each ex-wife to know that he will believe, and repeat, anything she tells him about the others.

Wellington sees immediately what must have happened. Sue June sought Howard out, probably at the very beginning, and asked him who he was. He told her, and then accepted at face value whatever fabrication she saw fit to give him. By this time, there aren't many possibilities left, and Wellington suspects that Howard is his yeoman.

Instead of having another try at arresting Sue June, Wellington decides to locate his mate, Ambruster. The others were headed for Treasure Island anyway, and, if he can bring Ambruster and Howard together and convince them of his identity, they can proceed from there.

Ambruster is again located near the cove behind Cape Morris Jessup where Wellington first hid, and Ahab makes his approach. The trouble is that Sue June has gotten to Ambruster first. She has, he says, recognized his password. Wellington responds,

"She probably recognized, by the way you spoke and emphasized it, that you were giving the password. She only pretended to have known it previously."

The bishop seems somewhat insulted at that suggestion, and reacts as he might if he were questioned by a bumptious junior colleague on a point of theology or church administration. Wellington doesn't mention the possibility that he might himself have compromised the password in his first meeting with Sue June.

It does no good to point out that they are at their team's meeting place. Ambruster replies that Sue June has been there earlier, and Wellington's comment that almost everyone has been there at some time or other falls on deaf ears. It seems that Ambruster is still suffering diminished rationality from the local wine, but he finally agrees to accompany Wellington to Treasure Island.

Howard and Sue June are there when they arrive, and the gamemaster, evidently sensing that the climax is at hand, is also present in his rowboat.

Howard, in the lead, lands on the shore and gets out of his rubber boat brandishing an anchor. Wellington realizes that it must be the totem. He hadn't realized that things had gone that far. However, in order to win, a team has to assemble all three members on shore with the totem. Ambruster, befuddled or not, is making good speed in his kayak, and would be impossible to cut off. Sue June, however, has some fifty yards to go. If Wellington can arrest her, he can conduct her to jail, and then come back to take his position as the black captain she has represented herself to be. She could dodge in her rubber boat, but, if he came up fast enough, he might still be able to reach out and touch her boat.

The very fact that Sue June is trying to avoid him might have convinced Howard and Ambruster that she isn't the black captain, or any captain at all. But the one is in the grip of blind faith, and the other isn't thinking clearly.

As he catches up rapidly, Sue June turns quickly behind the gamemaster's rowboat. Wellington, bracing hard with his right paddle blade and edging his boat hard left, manages a turn that surprises him, and then accelerates again. They are near shore, and near the rest of the black team, when Sue June does something devious. He is almost on her when she simply jumps out of her boat.

The rule is that one can arrest a person by touching his or her boat, but that applies only if the person is in the boat. In this case, Wellington will have to find Sue June in the water and touch her. As he looks for her, Sue June reaches up, grabs the bow of the Impulse, and flips him over.

Surprised but not entirely disconcerted, Wellington, sitting upside down in the water, prepares for his roll. He executes perfectly, but the boat hardly moves. He tries again with the same result. Running low on oxygen, he is preparing for his third try when he sees a vague shape near the bow underwater. Sue June is still holding the boat.

By the time Wellington exits and starts swimming, he's half choking with the water he's swallowed. Sue June is a good swimmer, and is well ahead.

When Wellington stumbles out on the rocks, retching and snorting, he's greeted with the sight of the black team declaring victory. Howard and Ambruster are both very pleased with themselves. Indeed, they seem hardly to understand when Sue June proclaims herself the Blue Mate. The gamemaster then confirms her claim.

Much of the excitement of espionage consists in the fact that it allows people to act out something that is probably buried deep in our genes: sneaking up behind people in the darkness. Our hopefully remote ancestors probably culminated a successful sneak with a thrust to the head or body with a sharpened stone implement. However, in our civilized times, it isn't necessary to maim or dismember people in order to get their attention.

In my experience, many people will react noticeably if you do sneak up behind them in the woods at night and yell as loudly as possible. This kind of reminder from the primeval past may, not only do them a world of metaphysical good, but allow the sinuses to run more freely and improve the working of the bowels (a bit later on, that is).

In fact, it isn't necessary even to yell. A quick and terse, "You're under arrest," will, not only capture what is old and instinctual in our makeup, but, in the course of a half second or so, make us wonder what financial crimes we might have committed in the city that day.

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