Spy Tag

I rarely think of cold when remembering what is was like growing up in Williamsburg. As a middle school kid, winter was not that big of a deal. In seventh grade, though, there was one frigid day and six of us decided to meet in Merchant’s Square for a day of adolescent shenanigans. There were three boys, Brian, Greg, and me. There were three girls, Lori, Melanie, and Sandra. We were there to hang out, but for the guys, there was the thought that maybe our gathering could lead to something more. Hormones…

Times were tough in America. The economy was tanking. The country was disillusioned with the government and banking on newly elected President Carter. The death penalty returned and it snowed in Miami. The times were not good. However, all of that worldwide angst was good for Tidewater. The number of military bases in the area were kept busy with threats to American interests. One base that must have been active, although no one would know for sure because it was shrouded in secrecy, was Camp Peary. I had been on the base once, but all I remember about the camp was the deer and waiting for my grandmother to finish talking to some officer’s wives who lived on the base.

Camp Peary was rumored to be a training place for spies. A friend’s father claimed to have worked for a spy agency that trained at the base. He told us that future spies would play games of tag in Colonial Williamsburg. Their goal was to get as close to people as they could without blowing their cover. We never believed him because the Cold War seemed like it would be far away from Colonial Williamsburg. Even though the town was portrayed as the cradle of a revolution, Williamsburg had evolved into a maze of pancake houses, 7-11s, and cheap motels. On this abnormally cold day, when the hormones of youth were starting to flow, the Cold War would make an appearance on grounds fertile for starting revolutions.

We met outside of Casey’s department store. Four years previously, I spent hours in this store running up and down the stairs while my aunts looked for the Aigner boots or bags. There would be none of that today. After our initial awkwardness, we paired off and started walking down DOG Street. Ahead of us was a tourist group on a walking tour. The group looked to be from somewhere in the Middle East and given the times they stood out in lily white Colonial Williamsburg. There weren’t many people out due to the January chill which only added to the contrast of this small group of visitors.

“You guys, check out that dude over there,” said Sandra.

She pointed at a guy that was standing behind the wall of Bruton Parish Church. He has a camera and looked like a tourist, but he was taking pictures of the Middle Easterners. We walked to the Cooper Shop and watched the guy at the church. He would snap a photo and then write in a notebook. He wore jeans, a puffy ski jacket, and hiking boots. He gave off the image of traveling student, but his haircut was anything but college length in the mid-seventies. In fact, his closely cropped hair, coupled with his precision moves at following the group, led Brian to say, “I bet he’s one of those spies.”

Greg said, “Let’s follow him.”

So we did. Whenever the tourist group moved, the spy guy moved, and so we moved. We made sure to look at the sights and act foolishly. We went with this all the way down DOG Street until we got to the King’s Arms Tavern and Melanie had a bold idea.

“Who can get closest to Spy Guy?” she asked.

She took our game of hide-n-seek to another level. We were switching to tag. The girls didn’t want any part of the challenge which meant the guys were being put into some kind of evolutionary test of masculinity and potential compatibility. The three of us looked at each other and decided it was game on. Another tour group coming down the street. They were French speaking and making quite a ruckus. Brian was the first to cross the street and got to within twenty yards of Spy Guy before he peeled off. I got as close as Brian. Greg who was well on his way to touching Spy Guy when a couple of trench coat wearing enforcers grabbed Greg and took him behind the Raleigh Tavern. At the same time, the five of us were hustled into the Kings Arms Tavern by similarly stealth like goons. We had no idea what was going on, but the guys, with their cropped hair, big coats and dark sunglasses were wearing the wrong costume to be Colonial Williamsburg employees.

Through the window of the tavern I could see the French group and the Middle Eastern group come together. The two groups morphed and a man switched from the Middle Eastern group to the French rowdies. The Middle Easterners kept on going towards the Capital and the rowdies, with their new member, turned left on Botetourt Street and jumped into a van that took the defector away. A few minutes later we were reunited with Greg in the kitchen of the King’s Arms Tavern. Spy Guy was with him.

“You kids need to go home,” he said.

“What just happened?” I asked.

“Go home.”

With that we were back in the cold. Ten months later, the Shah of Iran was in town and the protesters were everywhere. Rumor has it that the Shah snuck out of the Lightfoot House to the Williamsburg Inn through an underground laundry tunnel. I’ve always wondered if there was a connection to our little game, but I’ll never know. For what its worth, none of us got dates either.

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