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Story Notes:
(Note and Warning—this story takes place mostly in the summer of 1964 and before, during the Civil Rights movement. I use Negro as the term denoting people we now call black. I even occasionally use the “n-word” because it was everywhere in those days. You could regularly hear it on TV, with no disclaimer or opprobrium. That's how some people talked in those days. And I was alive then, make no mistake. Not as aware as I could have been, but my memories of all that came from TV, and what my parents and other adults said about it all, and people were presented very differently in those unenlightened days.

Obviously, I am a white female, so writing from the point of view of a black man is a stretch, but I feel I have gotten into Billy's head pretty deeply, and there are so few stories about him out there. He has a past at the Agency, and deducing from his age (assuming he was born in 1932) and his probable career—fighting in Korea, college and law school afterward and recruitment by Harry V. Thornton—I thought about what his career might have been like. And being on the ground at the start of the Civil Rights movement is a natural.

We all know the FBI and CIA had plants and informants in the movement. But presuming Harry was progressive—he did hire Billy—only the Agency would have black operatives in place. In the 60's the US Government was very concerned by the racial unrest—there was a strong feeling that there might be an actual race war that would tear the country apart. This was a real fear in the minds of the majority white populace at the time, both North and South. And after the assassination of President Kennedy, the stakes for violence had been upped exponentially. Activists like Martin Luther King and Malcom X were viewed as being the masterminds, having legions of negros behind them—people they could order about and send to incite violence whenever and whenever they needed it. Despite the message those men tried valiantly to preach. Perception was everything, and the perception was wildly out of sync with the real aims and goals of the movement.

This was a biased and warped view of what was going on in the early '60's. But there was little mixing in those days—even in the north segregation was the written or unwritten rule of the land. Negroes were present, mostly as waiters, porters, cooks, janitors, maids and other occupations that whites considered beneath them. Negro professionals, doctors, lawyers and so forth served their own community exclusively. Few whites would trust themselves to a 'colored' doctor. Few people were aware of—or even cared—about the day-to-day life of the negro race. Most whites felt they were benevolent, kind and very liberal in giving 'those people' jobs and hand-me-down clothes and goods. Kind white ladies took great pride in sending Christmas baskets to the Negro Churches every year. It was charity befitting good Christian people—like sending missionaries to Africa to convert the heathens.

So realize it was a very different world we are dealing with, and the restrictions and social conventions for a man like Billy were real and had heavy consequences for those who would buck the system. And that's what makes Harry and Billy such extraordinary people. They were pioneers in making a new world with their actions. It wasn't easy or even comfortable, but they were committed to making the US a better place, and by their actions they did what they could.

The events depicted are real. Billy and his friends have been inserted into the story, but there were many blacks in the movement who went unnamed and unremarked. Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael), Cleveland Sellers, H. Rap Brown, and Gloria Richardson are real players in the events that went down. Unrest was not confined to the South alone. Maryland was a Union state in the Civil War. But segregation was just as real there as in the South.)
Author's Chapter Notes:
Thanks are due to Jennifer C and Cheryl for their beta efforts. You guys make my stories better.
*DISCLAIMER** Scarecrow & Mrs. King is copyrighted to Warner Brothers and Shoot The Moon Production Company. The original portions of this story, however, are copyrighted to the author. This story is for entertainment purposes only and cannot be redistributed without the permission of the author. It is a labor of love. No infringement of copyright is intended.

You Win Some...

By Ermintrude

The hot sticky days were the worst. Not because of the heat and humidity per se—but because the smells seemed to be larger and bolder as the heat and humidity spiked. Billy prided himself on being a fastidious person—he liked to be clean and well dressed. But in this environment it was impossible.

Every afternoon when he finished his shift—before he wrote up his report—he showered. And showered and showered. And he still couldn't get rid of the stink of garbage. Well, that's why this job was 'traditional' for his people. And why he was there—to be the eyes and ears in the thick of it. To tell the truth of what was going on—not just let the FBI and their finks tell the tale. That was the job of Billy “Lancer” Melrose, field agent for the Agency under its Director Harry V. Thornton. Some days on the job were better than others, and picking garbage in the hot sun definitely made this one of the less-good days.

As he showered for the second time, he mused on how he ended up where he was, in the backyard shower of a shabby negroes-only rooming house in Cambridge, Maryland, in early May 1964. Nestled—in the 'colored side' of town, he worked as a garbage man, picking up the trash for the affluent whites on the better side of town. And mingling in the life of the ordinary negroes who lived in their separate side of town. His job was to gauge the mood of the black populace. And keep track of the movers and shakers in the negro community.


The Agency was a 'young' organization in the massive US bureaucracy. Signed into existence at midnight by Harry Truman in 1953—barely more than 10 years before. And the head of the Agency from its inception—Harry V. Thornton—was a progressive man. The FBI and CIA had been thoroughly segregated—that is no people of color, or 'negroes' as they were universally called in those days, were allowed as operatives—though they did clean the floors and toilets. And those workers had to have the same clearances as the operatives. They were just restricted to different duties. Just as vital, though more prosaic and unattractive to the majority white population. Even the covert operative population.

Harry realized early that if he wanted real information about the negro population, he needed negro operatives—people who would totally blend into the greater colored population and tell the real story of the people. The people who were not out front, who were not in the news, who were not openly activists.

Billy had served in the armed forces in Korea—a police action—though a war was a war no matter what you called it. He had, of course, served in a segregated unit—headed by white officers. Billy had managed to rise to the rank of Master Sergeant, no mean feat in a dirty, muddy, prejudiced environment. But he managed his troops well, got them to do the job, and yet be well-fed, well-housed and well-cared for. A certain MASH unit had helped a great deal, and he was ever grateful to those doctors and nurses who treated his men like people—not negroes but just people, same as the rest of the soldiers.

After he was discharged, he went to college at Hampton University in Virginia, then got his law degree at Howard Law School in DC and planned on a career defending his brethren in the courts. Nothing fancy or special, but an oppressed people needed good defenders. Then, while he was studying to pass the bar, he was approached by a man who was quiet, yet full of energy and enthusiasm. They first met by the study carrels at Howard's Law library. “Call me Harry—everyone does.” He seemed to cultivate Billy, and soon they would meet regularly for coffee at a local DC diner where segregation was politely ignored. Many lawyers and clients met there, and white and negro lawyers needed a neutral place to meet and work out the details of a case without raising the ire of segregationists who would balk at allowing 'one of those people' in their pristine offices.

So Billy and Harry would sit and talk—at first about passing the bar, and Harry made cogent suggestions on what was more important in the exams. At the time Billy never wondered how the man had that information. Later he realized he was being recruited and guided into what Harry wanted for him. Billy thought Harry was another lawyer, an older seasoned man who wanted to cultivate an up-and-coming negro attorney to help his practice with a possibly lucrative alliance. Later as the talk turned to the state of the world, and the US of A and finally race relations—something that few talked about in the late '50's—Billy began to wonder about the real motives of the man.

After he passed the bar in DC and Virginia (Maryland would hopefully come later), in the spring of 1960 Billy was offered a job by letter. He was to come to a Georgetown address at a certain time on a specified day. He knew he couldn't enter by the front door, but there was a well marked side entrance for janitors and the like, and he was nervous as he turned the knob and went into a small but clean foyer. He was dressed in his new suit as befitted an up-and-coming lawyer. An older negro woman, stern and ramrod straight sat at a desk, and inquired about his business. He proffered the letter, and introduced himself. She inspected the letter closely, and finally handed him a badge, and nodded toward a door. Her demeanor didn't invite any questions, so he meekly retrieved his letter and went through the door.

On the other side was a world he never imagined could exist there. He smelled the scent of drying paint and saw the facility was very new. New, elaborate and expensive. This was a state-of-the art facility. A Marine nodded at his presence, and inquired his business. Billy proffered the letter again, and was escorted into an elevator. The elevator went down and when it opened the Marine indicated Billy was to exit. He did and found himself—in a waiting area, well-appointed and nicely furnished. A young woman sat at a desk, and once again Billy handed the letter over. She read it through, nodded, and said in a polite tone—“Director Thornton will be with you shortly. Please have a seat. Would you like some coffee?”

The offer of coffee to a negro by a young white woman was so unexpected that he replied by rote. “Yes please, ma'am.”

“Do you take cream or sugar?”

“Both please, ma'am.” Billy replied. Was this a dream?

She poured coffee into a china cup, added cream and sugar, and handed it to him with a cloth napkin.

“Thank you, ma'am.” He accepted the coffee and sipped. It was very good, rich and thick, and Billy wondered what exactly this job offer was all about.

In a few minutes the inner door opened and two white men in suits emerged. One addressed the woman. “He's all yours, Caroline.”

“Thank you Agent Mossberg. How is his mood?”

The men exchanged a look, “He's frustrated, but we're making progress. Ben-Gurion can be a difficult guy to deal with, but he can see reason as long as we point out the advantages to Israel.”

She nodded at the information. Then she turned to Billy. “Please be patient, Mr. Melrose. He will see you soon. Just enjoy the coffee, and I'll be back shortly.” She smiled at him and entered the inner sanctum with a steno pad in hand.

Billy's head was reeling. “Mr. Melrose?” No white person had addressed him thusly—ever. The men sized Billy up.

“New recruit, huh?”

“Excuse me?” Billy replied.

“You must be a new recruit. Nobody else would make it this far unless the old man had passed them already.” The man offered his hand to Billy. “I'm George Mossberg.”

He put down the cup and saucer, stood and shook hands with the man. He was white, but with dark hair and a slightly dark complexion and Billy realized the man was probably Jewish.

“Billy Melrose, sir”

The other man offered a hand, “Ted Williams—not the ball player.” They shook and the man chuckled a bit self-deprecatingly.

“You must get that a lot, sir,” Billy offered.

“You have no idea.”

“Good luck—I think the old man is a bit crazy, but then his crazy lets me work here, so who am I to knock it?” George smiled at Billy in a way that he had rarely experienced from a white man. The man actually saw him as a person—not just another negro. What sort of weird place had he fallen into?

“Thank you, sir.”

The men called the elevator, and left. Billy stood in a daze. Had the world turned upside down? A place that hired negroes and Jews? And had them working side-by-side with white men as equals?

Billy regained his seat and sipped the coffee, thinking hard. Was this something to do with Harry—the lawyer he chatted with at the diner? He realized their conversations had ranged widely and were highly unusual for a white man and a negro. He realized Harry had come to think of him as an equal—well equal in the law possibly. Certainly not equal as men. That was unthinkable.

Caroline emerged from the inner office. “Director Thornton is ready to see you Mr. Melrose. Bring your cup with you and I'll be in to freshen your coffee shortly.”

“Thank you, ma'am.” Billy stood and entered the inner office. It was a typical lawyer's office, wood paneled, cases of law books and a large desk with chairs before it. There was also an alcove with a couch and chairs around a coffee table. Papers were laid out on the coffee table.

Then he saw the man sitting behind the desk. It was Harry—his lawyer friend from the diner. Harry stood and came around the desk to shake hands with Billy.

“Welcome, Melrose. I'm so glad you chose to take the offer we sent.”

Billy shook hands and his head reeled. He didn't think he had accepted any job yet. He didn't even know what the job was.

“Excuse me, sir, but I wasn't aware I had accepted any job yet.”

Harry chuckled. “Your presence here indicates you are just the man I need. And make no mistake, I need you and more men like you. We are fighting a war here—though it's one in the shadows. And I know you will be a great asset for this Agency.” Harry showed Billy to a chair in the alcove. “Have a seat and we'll talk. I suppose you have a few questions for me.”

Billy sat, and the door opened. Caroline had a carafe of coffee on a tray. She poured more for Billy, freshened his cream and sugar, and retrieved a cup from the desk and prepared it for her boss.

“Thank you Caroline. We are not to be disturbed. Unless war breaks out again.” He smiled and chuckled at his own joke.

“Yes sir.” She smiled at the two men and made her exit.

Billy goggled and was off balance. He didn't know where to start. Harry sat comfortably and waited for Billy to ask his questions.

“What Agency is this exactly, sir?” Billy finally decided to get to the point.

“Good question. And it shows I have not made a mistake. I knew from the first you would be a good fit here with us.”

“I wasn't aware I had accepted any job yet. I don't even know what job you would have for me, sir.”

“The same job all our agents have. I need you to be the eyes and ears of the government in places where little light shines. I need you and your unique skills and attributes.”

“Agent? What kind of agent, sir?”

“A covert operative.”

Billy digested this information. He was educated and well-read. “Do you mean some sort of a spy, sir? Like the people Wild Bill Donovan manages in the CIA?”

Harry winced. “Yeah, Wild Bill is a bit of a hip-shooter. And some of his boys are even more wild than he is. I prefer a man who is more calm and controlled, yet highly skilled and intelligent. I have your war record, and you rose to Master Sergeant in record time. You managed your troops well. I have a report from some MASH doctors about you and your quiet, polite determination to make sure your men were treated as well as possible under the circumstances. And your academic career is also noteworthy. You did your undergraduate work at Hampton University and graduated from Howard University School of Law here in DC. You have passed the bar in DC and Virginia, and are working on Maryland. The VA bill payed a lot of the tuition, but you also worked your way through school—mostly dishwashing or waiting tables. Occasionally by playing your sax. I realize you had expected to go into a private law practice. But I'm offering you something different, yet with potentially more impact than a small private law practice in DC.”

“I'm no spy, sir. I'm just a lawyer who wants to make a difference for my people.”

“And I'm offering you a greater chance for that than you would have as a mere lawyer.”

“You haven't answered my first question yet, sir.” Billy was being unimaginably bold. Challenging a white man, and a well-connected important white man at that. But in for a penny...

Harry chuckled and smiled. “You are right.” He sat quietly and waited.

Billy could play that game as well—it was an old lawyer's trick to wait in silence and let the person speak and incriminate themself. Two could play that game.

After a couple minutes while the men sipped their coffee in a companionable silence, Harry finally spoke. “Are you aware of the NSA?”

“NSA? The National Security Agency? Isn't that some super-secret government agency instituted by Truman? Nobody knows anything about them.” Billy sat and digested. “Are you telling me this is the NSA? And you are its Director?”

“Correct. And I'm offering you a job as one of our covert operatives.”

Billy decided to take Harry at face value. If this were a legitimate job offer, he needed to know exactly what he was getting into. “What would the job entail, sir?”

“You would work here, out of this building. At first you would analyze information gathered by our Agents and offer your insights and opinions. After your training was finished, you would take a place in our unit of local agents, and you would be assigned duties to gather intelligence wherever your skills and abilities would be best used. I can't be a lot more specific than that at present. Unless you accept the job and swear the oath, I'm constrained by conditions of national security.”

“What would the duties entail? How would I ever fit in as a spy?”

“Well, at present you are one of the most valuable people I can recruit. In the proper guise you can go most anywhere and gain information most other agents could never get.”

Billy made the connection. “In other words, I'd be a janitor, taking the trash out and delivering it to you and your people.” His voice indicated his disgust at the waste of his education and training.

“Probably yes.” Billy was taken aback at the directness of Harry's answer. Most white men would try to sugar-coat it. Harry continued, “But you'd be a highly-trained, highly-skilled janitor who could do things and be in places most of my other agents could never be. And then we also need people in Africa, where you would blend in better than a white agent.”

“Africa?” Billy was incredulous. “Does the NSA operate in foreign countries? Or just the USA?”

“Both. Our mandate is to protect the country and its citizens from those who would act against our aims and goals in the world. And as the world's policeman, we are obliged to operate wherever in the world people are plotting against us and our interests.”

“How does that differ from the FBI or CIA?”

“We are more covert and can go places and do things that those agencies might not be able to do. The FBI is restricted to our soil, and the CIA operates abroad. We can go anywhere the case leads, and not worry about borders or jurisdiction. Also we report directly to the commander-in-chief, and so can take on matters he thinks are more sensitive than he can trust to a wider bureaucracy. And, in special cases, we can even report on the FBI or CIA when they need oversight.” Billy raised his eyebrows. “Covertly, of course.” Harry added with a self-deprecatingly chuckle.

“That's a big mandate. Did Truman know what he was creating when he signed the NSA into existence?”

“Give-'em-Hell Harry was a lot more canny about the world than most gave him credit for. His talents were mostly wasted while FDR was alive, but once he assumed control he managed things remarkably well. He was the one who decided to use the bomb FDR had funded and end WWII probably a year or more before it would have had he stayed with conventional warfare. Think of all those boys in the Pacific who are alive today because of that decision. I'm one of them.”

“And yet think of all the poor civilians who were killed by the bombs.”

“That's true. Except every Japanese citizen was expected to defend their country and their emperor—up to giving their lives—the ultimate sacrifice. The few times our troops encountered Jap civilians, even the women were fanatical fighters. They'd throw their babies at our boys, and then when they caught the baby, follow through with a knife to the guts. The entire population was thoroughly brainwashed. That's what we were up against. We encountered the same thing in Korea—but you know all about that.”

Billy nodded. Negro soldiers were mostly ignored by the North Korean brainwashers, but he'd seen a few white soldiers who had spent time in their clutches, and it wasn't a pretty sight. They were hollow shells of themselves. Brainwashing was an ugly process, that stripped a man of his free will, and made him a tool of his handlers.

“OK, I agree there's a lot to be done in the world. But I am engaged to a wonderful woman. We want to be married in a couple of months. We waited for me to finish school and start a career. We want a family. Where does that fit in?”

Harry sighed. “Having a family life is not easy in this business. Some do manage it. And many of those marriages end from the pressure of the job. But some survive. It has as much to do with your wife as it does to you. It takes a special kind of woman to support her man in this business. I think your fiancee Jeannie is that kind of woman.” At Billy's start of surprise Harry continued, “Oh yes, we have thoroughly investigated you, those close to you, your families and friends. We have to even before we make a job offer. My talks with you at the diner were the final interviews for determining if you were the kind of man we want. And you are.”

“You mention a career. In government service. What does it pay?” There it was—the iron test. Would he be paid equally to his white peers?

“You're a lawyer, you know the law. Since Ike signed into law the 1960 civil rights act, we cannot discriminate in pay for federal workers, or workers under a Federal contract for racial reasons. You will start as a GS-6, go up to GS-7 after you successfully complete the training, and can work your way up from there. That's not a giant salary, but it's pretty good, and it's guaranteed and steady. Unlike the pay of an independent lawyer in private practice. And we'll help you find lodging, buy a house when you are ready and whatever else you need to make your home life as good as you can. We have an Agency credit union, a good pension plan, good insurance, and health care for you and your family. We take care of our own. All of our own. That can include you and your family if you take the job.”

Billy thought about all that Harry had said. It was tempting—except he wasn't sure he wanted to be a janitor or waiter all his life. Still, it was good steady pay, and he'd have support. He could see Harry was a man who watched out for his people. And things were changing in the good old US of A. Civil rights were becoming more of a real possibility every day. He was a participant in the movement—making a small contribution by giving pro bono legal advise to negroes who were in trouble with the law—sometimes for their activities in the movement—usually for the slights and indignities the law dealt negroes every day.

“Can I take a tour of the place, sir?” he asked. “I'd like to see the people I'd be working with every day.”

“Fair enough. But you can't tell anyone—and I mean anyone—about who or what you see here. National security. But I think you are a person who respects the law.”

“One more question—if I take the job, what can I tell Jeannie? She's going to be my wife.”

“Once you accept the offer, and take the Oath of Allegiance, you can tell her who you work for—and what you do, in a general way. You cannot share details of any case, or people you work with. We have a cover for the Agency here, and you will be trained in those skills and work in that capacity from time to time to help maintain your cover. As a lawyer, your role will be pretty easy for you, and will require little additional training. She will tell your friends and relatives you work for our cover company, and that is how you both will live your lives. Does that answer your question?”

“Yes it does. I appreciate your candor, sir.”

Harry and Billy stood. “Let's take that tour then, Melrose. I think you will like it here.”

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