Photos from 2017 Dogwood Festival

Every year I find the Dogwood Arts & Crafts Festival in Huntington, WV, to be my favorite author event. The show has lots of enthusiastic visitors, as well as a large number of interesting vendors in attendance. In particular, the fudge and caramel popcorn that can be purchased there are the best I’ve ever eaten!

It’s also fun to hang out with other local authors at the Appalachian Authors booth we set up there. It’s even more fun to talk to the attendees, and to sell and autograph books for them! This year was no exception, and a huge thank you to all of you who purchased one or more of my books!

Below are just a few of the pictures I took during the show:

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View of our booth, then being manned by Carter Taylor Seaton, Pam Marie Thompson, and Tobi Doyle, who are clearly getting into the proper spirit.

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Our view from inside the booth, with Marsha Blevins and Carter Taylor Seaton sitting next to me.

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Aerial view of our booth and part of the Festival floor. Booth was then  being manned by Marsha Blevins, Tobi Doyle, and Rebecca Barray.

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Upcoming Appearance – April 2017

Dogwood

I will be at the Dogwood Arts and Crafts Festival in Huntington, WV on April 28 and 29. You can find me at the “Appalachian Authors” booth. On Friday the 28th, I’ll be there from 4PM until 8PM. On Saturday the 29th, I’ll be there from 12PM until 2PM. Both my books will be available for sale, and I’ll be happy to autograph any of my books. Hope to see you there!

Draft First Chapter from “Afghan Mirrors”

I’ve never done this before, but the writing of my next book, “Afghan Mirrors”, seems to be going so well, that I’ve decided to share a draft of the first chapter with you all. Be warned, it’s a DRAFT and subject to massive changes prior to the book’s final publication. Nevertheless, for what’s it’s worth, here it is:

1 A Trip to The Farm

This story is all about why I left the CIA. It starts with a simple bus ride, but ends with a death.

 

I’ve just boarded a bus parked at a side entrance of one of the CIA Headquarters buildings in Langley, VA on an early spring morning in 1983. This bus will take me to Camp Peary near Williamsburg, VA, a training facility best known within the CIA as The Farm.

After about a three hour ride, I’ll be starting a month’s education in basic paramilitary tactics. While stationed in Vienna, I had stumbled into a gun fight with a large group of KGB goons. The Station Chief then recommended that I receive paramilitary training. He especially wanted me to receive training in squad level tactics. No one had gotten shot during this shootout., but the Station Chief didn’t like my strategy of engaging the enemy completely solo. I hadn’t even considered the other team members. So I was scheduled to learn how to do it the CIA way – also known within the Agency as the “right way”.

The weather for that week at the Farm looked promising, with mild temperatures and no rain in the forecast. I didn’t relish having to slog around in cold mud during my training there. Given the typical April weather in Virginia it was going to happen to me sometime during my stay. After I got this training out of the way, it was very likely that I would quickly be sent off to my next overseas assignment. The rumor mill said that it would be at the giant CIA station in West Berlin. That made perfect sense. I had picked up some pretty decent German during my three years in Vienna,. The West Berlin Station was a beehive of intelligence activity. It was always in need of new officers to serve there. I was looking forward to working there. It would be an exciting fresh start for me, I hoped it would help me to gradually forget all about the defector I had managed to get killed.

I had boarded the bus early so that I could get a window seat on its right side and in the middle of the bus. I’m a little compulsive about never being late, and I always like to be able to have the seat of my own choosing. The bus was completely empty when I first boarded it.

I had a duffel bag with clothing and personal effects for my month-long stay at The Farm. It had already been loaded into the lower baggage compartment of the bus.

I sat quietly looking out the window at the Headquarters building. Fellow passengers gradually streamed out of the building in ones and twos. The bus slowly filled with a couple of dozen other CIA employees heading for The Farm. I hoped that no one would sit next to me. I really didn’t feel like chatting with anyone today.

Most of the passengers were much younger than my own 34 years. They were likely brand new recruits to the Agency’s Directorate of Operations. They would be heading off for their basic training. After many months spent at The Farm, they all hoped to go off on their first overseas assignment.. If they weren’t able to clearly show a talent for field work, they would end up with desk jobs at Headquarters. I felt a little ridiculous to be starting basic paramilitary training at my age. Hell, I was going to be celebrating my 35th birthday in a month.

At least I was in excellent physical shape. I had been running almost every day since I had returned from Austria and working out. I had learned Krav Maga hand-to-hand combat while in Vienna. I was also an excellent pistol shot, and could shoot an Uzi submachine gun better than most. I felt pretty confident that I would cruise through basic paramilitary training without embarrassing myself.

To my disappointment, a red-haired twenty-something young woman sat down in the seat next to me. She was dressed like a Barbie doll. She was about five and a half feet tall, slender, and appeared very clean-cut and very young to me. She looked more like a cheerleader than a future clandestine intelligence officer. She smelled like lavender.

She first put her personal items in the luggage rack above our heads. She then arranged herself in her own seat. She then turned, looked directly into my eyes, and asked, “Are you an instructor?”

We were not allowed to give our real names or to talk about our positions within the Agency during this bus ride. This was a pretty surprising way for her to start a conversation with me. I gave her a stern look of disapproval and she responded with a nervous laugh.

She then said, “Sorry, I know I shouldn’t have asked you that. I guess I’m a little more nervous about this trip than I realized. How many people on this bus do you think are going to wash out and end up behind a desk, or even be asked to leave the Agency?” She glanced around at her fellow passengers. She seemed to be evaluating each on their chances for success or failure at The Farm.

I relaxed a little, smiled at her and said, “You’ll do fine.” I actually wondered if she wasn’t some kind of plant meant to test me. In my years with the CIA I had learned to trust no one, especially not attractive young girls. One very charming young lady I had met in Vienna had turned out to be a STASI agent from East Germany. She drew me into an very dangerous situation. Of course, the young redhead sitting next to me might be exactly what she appeared to be – a very nervous young recruit.

It was also possible that her first training assignment was to see if she could get a fellow rider to make some type of compromising statement. Within the Agency, you never knew what anyone’s agenda was and it was best to always keep your guard up. My old Station Chief in Vienna once told me, “Everything in the CIA is a test, whether you realize it or not. Trust no one, assume the worst about their motives, and you will survive and prosper here.” I was definitely going to have to keep my wits about me during this trip to The Farm with little Miss Redhead sitting next to me.

Deciding that I was an instructor was actually a reasonable conclusion for her to make. I was much older than most of the others on the bus and was heading for the largest training facility of the CIA. With a mind like that, she might have what it took to make it as a clandestine intelligence officer. There she sat next to me, smiling and looking all innocent and a little embarrassed. Yes, she was either exactly what she appeared to be, or a first-grade candidate officer likely to be a huge success as a case officer. I suddenly laughed at this thought, and she looked surprised and a little shocked at first at my sudden outburst, but then joined me in a good laugh.

She reached out her hand to shake mine and said, “I’m Becky.”

My real name is Stephen Connor, but Matt Bradley would be my cover name during this training period. So, I replied, “I’m Matt, nice to meet you, Becky”, and took her hand in mine. It felt very soft, but she shook my hand with a firm grip.

She then said, “When’s this wagon going to roll?”

I glanced at my watch, and replied, “It should leave in about ten minutes, if it’s exactly on schedule, and the Agency is extremely good at running a bus service.” In fact, the Agency ran a huge fleet of buses all over the Washington, DC area. They were unmarked, and for some unknown reason they were all painted bright blue. You could hail one from the streets of DC or the suburbs, question the driver on where it was heading, and then show him a CIA ID to board and be on your way.

I had a book wedged into the side of my seat, so I took it out, opened and proceeded to start reading it. I thought that would discourage Becky, or whatever her real name might be, from further conversation. But that tactic failed. She immediately asked, “What are you reading?” She could obviously see the cover, so it was clear to me that I was not going to get away with not talking to her further. I replied, “Grant Takes Command, by Bruce Catton”.

“Oh, do you like history, Civil War history, or all military history?”, she said. So, there was no avoiding it, this was going to be a long three hour trip for me. At least she seemed bright enough.

“I like all history, all military history, and all Civil War history, assuming it’s well written and well researched.” She smiled and said, “I was a history major, myself. I actually prefer Shelby Foote’s writings to Catton’s. Have you read any of his books?”

“Yes, I’ve read his three volume narrative on the Civil War. It is a little easier read than Catton’s work.” I knew better than to ask what school she went to, as she would just have to lie. Keeping the topic on Civil War authors seemed safe enough to move our conversation on.

I closed my book, wedged it back into the side of my seat and said, “So, what else do you like to read? Spy novels?”

She seemed to genuinely laugh at that lame attempt at a joke, and actually started to blush a little,. She then said, “Oh, my guilty pleasure has always been James Bond. I’ve read all the Ian Fleming novels. I’m always anxiously awaiting the release of the next James Bond film. Even if they are now without Sean Connery, the best Bond ever!”

“What’s your favorite Bond novel, then?”

“Definitely ‘From Russia With Love’.”

“Your favorite movie?”

“That’s got to be ‘Goldfinger’.”

“’From Russia With Love’ is both my favorite novel and my favorite movie.”

“You like it better than the ‘Goldfinger’ movie?”

“I do.”

“Well, Octopussy is going to be coming out this summer. I can hardly wait for it!”, she replied excitedly, and then blushed again. Maybe she was just as clean-cut and innocent as she appeared to be. All that would change over the years if she kept working for the Agency.

So our conversation continued on during the entire bus trip. We talked about books, film, philosophy, politics, and even art. She was very intelligent, well read, and very well educated. I actually found myself enjoying my time talking with her. It made the bus trip go by quickly. She was so full of energy and seemed to have real passion for life and ideas. I couldn’t imagine why she had joined the CIA. She seemed more suited to a teaching job at a university than as a spy. I wished that we could be open and honest with each other. I wanted to find out what had drawn her to the dark world of intelligence.

My time conversing with her suddenly brought up a completely unexpected desire to have a serious relationship with a woman. While in Vienna, I had dated a few secretaries from the Embassy, but nothing really serious had developed. Now I felt a longing to have a woman as an integral part of my life. Someone I could come home to and have meaningful conversations. Someone with whom I could be completely honest and not have to filter every word I spoke. Someone to love, and who would love me just the way I was, warts and all. Was that even possible?

I tried to snap myself out of this absurd feeling. I had lots more important things to do than getting a girlfriend. Our bus was now pulling up to an entry gate of The Farm, and so I had an excuse for ending my interactions with Becky. I stared out the window and ignored her chattering. I intently watched the security people inspecting the bus. One officer rolled a mirror under it inspecting for bombs. Another officer walking along side the bus with a bomb-sniffing dog. Security at The Farm had been increased since my last visit here over three years ago.

Finally, the bus rolled forward again and we headed for a large reception building. Becky was still saying something to me, but I ignored her. I was studying the area around us, looking to see if I could catch glimpses of the facilities where I would be training. I saw what looked like a rifle range and off in the distance. I also saw glimpses of the infamous border crossing mock up, complete with high fences and guard towers. Becky finally noticed that I was ignoring her and stopped speaking.

We rolled up to the entrance of the reception building and the bus jerked to a stop. I stood to get Becky’s personal effects from the luggage rack above us, handed them to her, and sat back down again. I thought that I could at least act like a gentleman during our final moments together. I would never see her again, and she had at least entertained me during our journey together.

She gave me a radiant smile, and said, “Thanks so much, Matt. I really had fun talking with you. All my fellow trainees seem like self-centered children and I’ve really enjoyed talking with a real adult. It seems like no one has interest in ideas anymore. To find someone who is, but still likes James Bond, is so cool. I hope all goes well for you, whatever your business is here. I also hope we get a chance to run into each other again some day.” With that, she offered me her soft hand again for a shake and I took it in mine. Again, she gave me a firm handshake, then another radiant smile. She gathered her belongings, stood up, and started moving to the front of the bus. I watched the graceful way she was able to move down the confined bus aisle. She greeted a few other passengers as she walked down the aisle and reached the end of it. She turned once more and smiled back at me, and then stepped off the bus. I continued to watch her through the bus window. She strode up to the building entrance and entered through its glass doors.

I remained sitting in my seat staring out of the window until I realized that I was the last person on the bus. The driver had unloaded all the baggage onto the sidewalk next to it. The last of the passengers were gathering their belongings and heading for the building entrance. I had to get moving. I must be getting soft in the head. Why was I still sitting there?

I gathered my stuff, moved quickly down the aisle and off the bus, and grabbed my duffel bag. I took a deep breath of the chill, crisp air, and walked briskly towards the reception building entrance.

A large, muscular, man with a military crew cut was standing just inside the lobby doors holding a clipboard. As I entered, he quickly glanced down at it and then stepped towards me. He said in a deep voice that reminded me of a radio announcer’s, “Excuse me, sir. Could you please come with me? There is someone here who would like to speak with you.”

This unexpected request surprised me, but I said, “Sure, sure.” With that, the man grabbed the duffel bag right out of my hand, and started walking back towards the building entrance.

Suddenly I heard Becky’s voice from the milling group in the center of the lobby saying, “Matt, Matt!”. I saw her push her way out of the crowd and run up to me. I glanced towards the man with my bag disappearing out the door, but stayed where I was, awaiting her approach. As she came up to me, she reached her soft hand up to my neck, gently pulled my head down towards her face, and whispered into my ear, “My real name is Jo. Good luck and God bless.” She then kissed my cheek, turned, and walked quickly back towards the rest of the trainees. I was temporarily speechless and frozen in place. I finally turned and rushed out the door after the man who had walked off with my bag. He was now completely out of my sight.