Chapter 38

Parallel Lives


In the summer of 1965, Morgan once again hitch-hiked his way to Homestead, Florida to spend part of his summer with Linda and her parents at the “Remote Lab.”

“Linda and I had a wonderful visit,” Morgan recalled. “We were both outrageously in love. We had gotten over the little hiccup we had earlier that year — what I had dubbed the ‘Do you love me Panic of 65’ with my tongue in my cheek, hoping to make light of a situation which had scared the bejeezus out of me. She had asked me that question during that brief visit in Zanesville, and I had back-pedaled like a champ. I don’t guess she heard exactly what she wanted to hear, but by the time summer had rolled around we were both a little gun-shy about broaching the subject again. I was pretty sure that ‘I love you’ was safely buried somewhere in the sand.”

Otherwise, “things were fairly standard,” Morgan said. “I was managing to have a pretty exciting thing going on with Linda. The company was wonderful. The scenery was worth the hitch-hiking to get down there. Linda had resolved her concerns and never mentioned the insecurities she had felt before. We loved each other. I learned also to appreciate her parents. I knew that Dr. Brown and Josephine had accepted me — or at least, had accepted their daughter’s decision to go in my direction.”

But Morgan knew, from the moment back in December when he’d stepped off the sailboat on Biscayne Bay — from the moment that Dr. Brown had told him that “Linda needs…. not to know” — that he and Linda Brown would be living parallel lives, lives that would truly converge only in their hearts. Morgan would long recall “hot summer nights, beach-combing, and pretending to be a pirate,” but his visit to Florida that summer was not all leisurely pursuits. The wheels that had started turning on the previous visit continued grinding their inexorable course toward Morgan’s unique and separate destiny.

* * *

Besides the time he spent with her, Linda noticed that Morgan was spending plenty of time with her father as well, “talking late into the evenings” in his ‘Remote Lab.’ After Morgan had been in Homestead for a few days, Townsend invited the two of them to join him on a little “business trip” that he would be making the next day to St. Augustine. As usual, Townsend was not even vague about the nature of his business. He just didn’t talk about it.

“It was just going to be a very long day trip,” Linda recalled. “Mother didn’t want to go, she said she had a bridge game that she didn’t want to miss. And Dad said something about the way Morgan had reacted to a pod of porpoises they had encountered while sailing on Biscayne Bay, and so he thought that we would enjoy a visit to Marineland — since he was going up there anyway. But that was all he said about why we were going.”

Linda had no reason to suspect anything ulterior, “living as I was, totally absorbed in the moment of Morgan’s company. It was as if I had thrown all my expectations away. I wasn’t worrying about the past or thinking about the future. I was just entirely focused on being with Morgan.”

Dr. Brown, Linda, and Morgan all piled into the Cadillac and made the long scenic drive up almost the entire length of Florida’s Atlantic coast, from Homestead near the southern tip of the state to St. Augustine, nearly 350 miles to the north to Marineland of Florida, “the world’s first oceanarium.”

Long before Disney World drew all of Florida’s theme-park traffic to Orlando, Marineland was Florida’s most popular and successful tourist destination. The park was originally constructed in the 1930s, to serve the motion picture industry with an “indoor ocean,” of tanks large enough to support underwater filming against a realistic marine-life background.


The founders who opened “Marine Studios” in 1938 were an unlikely quartet with backgrounds in adventure, filmmaking — and privilege: W. Douglas Burden was the great-great-grandson of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, as was Burden’s cousin, Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney; Sherman Pratt was heir to one of the founders of Standard Oil and Count Ilya Tolstoy was the grandson of the iconic Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy. Together these four men built what was at the time a pioneering facility, designed to serve as both a tourist attraction and a location for underwater cinematography. But by the mid-60s, the park’s heyday was well behind it.

After an early morning start — and, as Linda recalled “you know Dad… we made a couple of stops here and there…” along the way — the trio from Homestead managed to arrive at Marineland in time to take in the sights for an hour or so before finding a table at an outdoor patio for a late lunch.

“We had just gotten something to eat when this man just walked up,” Linda recounted. “Dad had not said that we were meeting anyone so I took it as pure chance — which, I am coming to understand was never really the case. This gentleman already had a sandwich or something so he just sat down with us. I didn't know how Dad knew this fellow but they were obviously old friends. Something was said about how proud he must be of the place, so I took it that he was a person of some importance with Marineland.”

The surprise lunch guest introduced himself as “Ilya Tolstoy” — one of the founders of Marineland.

“That’s certainly an illustrious name,” Morgan said.

“Indeed,” the man said. “My grandfather.”

After a bit more small talk around the table, Townsend made a suggestion. “Perhaps the two of you would enjoy conversing in Russian.” he said. “Morgan here has been studying the language for a couple of years. Maybe he could put some of that to use.”

Tolstoy nodded, and immediately started speaking in his native tongue. And suddenly Morgan found himself speaking in Russian with the grandson of the author of “War and Peace.”

“It sounded to me like the first couple of sentences were chit-chat,” Linda recalled, “and then all of the sudden it was if they went off a cliff together, and the dialog took on this very menacing tone. All I know is it was making me very uncomfortable because I couldn't understand what they were saying. But from their body language I could tell that it was not a friendly discussion.”

Sensing Linda’s discomfort, Townsend leaned over to her and said, “let’s go for a walk.”

“By the time we got back, the entire attitude had changed at that table,” Linda said. “They were laughing and Tolstoy amazed me with this big belly laugh which I would never have expected from him. When we finally left, I could tell Morgan was elated. His feet were just barely touching the ground.”

Of course, there was no way Linda could have known at the time that Morgan had just passed another test.

* * *

The following day, Townsend and Josephine and Morgan and Linda boarded a chartered Grumman “Flying Goose” seaplane and made the short flight from Miami to Nassau. Again, Linda had no way of knowing that there was a hidden agenda for what appeared to her to be just another day’s pleasure trip.

At the dock in Nassau, the foursome were met by a car and taken to a buffet brunch at the historic Greycliff Hotel, which until only a few years earlier had been the private winter home of Mr. and Mrs. Izaak Walton Killam — a Canadian financier who built a fortune from wood products and hydroelectric plants throughout Canada and South America. Killam was believed to be the richest man in Canada at one point in his life — and was, not surprisingly, a good friend of Sir William Stephenson.

“All operations have their command centers,” Morgan said later, “and for the Caroline Group, the Greycliff was it. It was the center of operations out of Nassau, a place where important men gathered and smoked fine cigars” — a blend of Nicaraguan, Dominican and Brazilian tobaccos that are still hand-rolled on the premises of the resort today. While they smoked their exclusive cigars, these patrons often played a “free ranging version of a card game called Russian Bank” while conducting their business.

Of course, to Linda, Greycliff was just an elegant 200-year-old hotel with a fabulous buffet spread. But as they finished their meal another distinguished looking gentleman, an attorney named Peter Graham, approached the table, at which point Townsend turned to the girls and, gesturing toward Morgan said, “will you ladies excuse us?” and started to rise from the table. Figuring that was their cue and that they would be on their own for the rest of the afternoon, Josephine and Linda went shopping.

Townsend and Morgan, meanwhile, accompanied Mr. Graham to downtown Nassau, to a place called the Rootes Building. And here again we see the scope of Stephenson’s network.

The Rootes Building was named for Lord William Edward Rootes, aka The 1st Baron Rootes of Ramsbury, an inventive and acquisitive soul who turned his father’s bicycle shop in Kent, England into an automotive empire. At its height, the Rootes Group included the Hillman, Humber, Talbot and Sunbeam marques, and was regarded as one of Britain’s “big 6” auto manufacturers. With the outbreak of the Second World War, the company expanded its influence even further by converting is operations to the manufacture of military vehicles, tanks and aircraft engines. By one account, the Rootes Group “provided Britain with 14% of its bombers, 60% of its armoured cars, 35% of its scout cars, 50,000 aero engines — and 300,000 bombs.”

“And that’s just what they were doing,” Morgan would say later, “on the surface…”

Like his friend Walt Killam, Rootes liked to spend winters in the former British protectorate in the Bahamas, and had real estate holdings in the islands. And so it comes to pass in the summer of 1965, in a place called the Rootes Building in Nassau, that Morgan had his second meeting with Sir William Stephenson. Morgan knew what was at stake by now, and was expecting a lengthy interview, a long and arduous interrogation. But Stephenson was only interested in one thing.

“He only asked me one question,” Morgan recounted. “He asked me, ‘What would you do if you found yourself in a life and death situation? Would you be able to draw and fire?’”

Morgan answered quickly: “I would do whatever it takes to stay above ground.”

In the years to follow, that answer gave Stephenson his standard greeting for Morgan. Whenever their paths crossed again Sir William would greet his young apprentice by saying, “Still above ground, I see…”

* * *

“After that,” Morgan said later, he and Linda “always had a third consideration in our lives. Other agendas. I know that we have done what we were supposed to do, but our relationship became contingent on our relationship with others that summer. It was all meant.”

Before the summer was over, Morgan said, “I was offered a job. I was shocked. The way it was outlined to me, I would be an ‘international security agent’ based out of Nassau, New York, Philadelphia, Boston and San Francisco. I was asked if that interested me. What, I was going to say, ‘no’ ? They gave me a chance to consider. And they said that the position was contingent upon my passing muster with somebody in Boston. Apparently he was going to be the last hurdle.

 

“Then — if I still wanted the job, I would report to a place called Camp Peary — that’s the CIA’s training facility, known in some circles as ‘The Farm’ — in the spring of 1966, almost a year away. When I asked if I would be working for the CIA, the man from Nassau said, ‘No. You’ll be trained right alongside others who will be CIA agents,’ but the training I was going to get would be more precisely focused. The training couldn’t start for almost a year because they expected it was going to take me that long to get my affairs in order — which meant disengaging from the rest of my life as I had known it.”

There was one other aspect of the world that Morgan was about to step into that he did not share with anybody until many years later.

“When Ilya Tolstoy and I first started speaking to each other in Russian — the part of the conversation that Linda overheard and found ‘menacing’ — he was making it perfectly clear to me what was at stake."

“You will be offered an opportunity,” Tolstoy had told Morgan, “that will change your life. But it will be a life-long commitment. You must either commit yourself to this opportunity now, or walk away now — because if you try to walk away later, somebody will kill you.”

* * *

After the meeting at the Rootes building, Townsend and Josephine flew back to Florida on the seaplane, and Morgan and Linda stayed overnight in Nassau.

“We just did touristy things,” Linda remembered, “mainly trying to find secluded beaches and marveling in the fact that the sand was really pink on some of them — pink, warm sand beneath our toes. We didn’t even rent a room or anything,” Linda said, “we just sorta stayed up all night, wandering the streets and the beaches. And we talked about everything.” They flew back to Florida together the following afternoon.

Back in Homestead, Morgan sensed how short the time was getting, all the while trying not to let on to Linda.

“By the time we got back from Nassau, I only had a few more days before I had to hitch home,” Morgan remembered. “On the one hand, I still had Linda’s good company; on the other, once she was asleep I would slip over to the lab to join Dr. Brown — who rarely was asleep early in the morning like that. We would talk about his loudspeaker and what it meant, and the role of this ‘organization’ that he said was protecting various aspects of his work. I still really didn't have any idea of the scope of things at the time; looking back, I can see how gradually the information I would need was being ‘metered out’ to me.

“Dr. Brown encouraged me to accept the offer. He said I had the right temperament, the right mind for it, and that I was sorely needed. But he also said that it was something that only I could decide. That’s why I would have so long, to either go in that direction — or not.

“And throughout it all, I continued to imagine how it was going to work with Linda. I couldn’t see any reason why it couldn’t work. I had this vision of me, going off for weeks at a time, doing my secret agent thing, and then, somehow, Linda was just going to be there, happy to see me come home. I didn’t realize at the time how naïve I was. I just could not fathom that “Linda needs… not to know” actually translated into “You have to walk away — it’s part of the job."

For his part, Dr. Brown, even as he was encouraging Morgan to come on board — how much he knew the Group needed a man like Morgan — he could not bring himself to truly tell Morgan what sort of trade-off he was about to make. “Dr. Brown had a tendency to simply gaze off,” Morgan said, “as if he was seeing something that nobody else in the room could see. I think he knew from the very start that the joy that Linda and I had found was going to be set aside.”

Appropriately, perhaps, it fell to Josephine to look out for her daughter’s welfare in the only way she knew how.

On the day of his departure, Josephine found Morgan in the room he’d been using adjacent to the “Remote Lab,” rolling up his sleeping bag and slipping things into his duffel.

“I could tell right away she had something serious on her mind,” Morgan recalled. “And she didn’t waste any time getting to the point.”

“Are you going to marry Linda?” Josephine asked.

Morgan continued rolling his things up, stuffing them in his bag, looking into the bag as if maybe he would find the answer for Josephine’s question there. He suddenly felt like he was still groping for an answer to the question Linda had confronted him with in Zanesville. Finally, when too much time had passed, Morgan offered the same sort of half-answer.

“Well,” Morgan said, “If I were to get married… I would marry Linda.”

“I wonder what would have happened,” he pondered later, “if I had simply straightened up from my chore and said what was really in my heart at that moment: ‘yes, I want to marry Linda…’ But of course, that's not what I said."

“If you’re going in that direction,” Josephine said quietly, referring to the offer from Nassau, “then you have to let Linda go. You have to break it off with her.”

Morgan just stared at his duffel bag, stunned by a sudden realization: He'd known along that this moment was coming. He just didn’t know how much it was going to tear him up once it came.

What Morgan could not have possibly known then was just how much Josephine actually knew of the life that he was now contemplating — indeed, had taken the first irreversible steps into. And now Josephine was faced with the doubly difficult task of asking what she must ask of Morgan without letting on what she knew — what she had learned from her own gut-wrenching lifetime of experience.

 


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