There are some things I can’t explain about Ray. Why did he drink too much? I don’t know. Why did he save my life at a moment when his own life had exhausted him?
He was not my father in the biological sense. Other people didn’t know that, because it was our cover. Even with friends inside the Agency, there was no need to discuss such things. Why would there be? We didn’t see a need, anyway. It is easier to live your cover if you live it all the time, day and night, in public and in private, and even when you’re alone.
But I can remember my previous parents, of course. I was seven when they were murdered by Simbas outside Stanleyville, along with my small brother and our Congolese housekeeper, Judith. I survived the massacre by hiding myself in an orange tree, where I still was clinging like a bat when Ray arrived in a yellow beer truck and spied me among the branches. He was someone who’d visited our place once or twice—an acquaintance of my father’s. He plucked me down. “N’ayez pas peur,” he told me in his Okie-inflected French. Don’t be scared. He walked all over the muddy yard with me shaking in his arms.
This was the summer of 1964, when the Simba rebellion was happening in the Congo. Many white people had left Stanleyville, and those who hadn’t left were stuck. Simbas controlled the airport and had overrun the U.S. Consulate. The consular staff, including some Agency men, were hostages. Ray worked under nonofficial cover, though, so he had no connection to the consulate. He was a manager with the Sheffield Beer Distributing Company. He hid me in a room at the Sheffield warehouse.
The Simbas, as I recall them, were a frightening mob of orphans high on cannabis and beer. They dressed in animal skins, ladies’ wigs, and secondhand military clothing, and they armed themselves with spears and stolen rifles. Their witch doctors worked a kind of magic that was said to transform bullets into water. Soon a pack of these sad killers searched the warehouse and found me. One of them had lipstick on his eyelids. Perhaps you can imagine my terror after what I had seen them do to my family. But Ray was there in an instant. He told them I was a drowned girl who had come back to life, and if any man touched me his body would dry up like a husk. He sent the boys away with a truckload of Sheffield ale.
I remember those weeks at the warehouse in pieces. There was chacha music on the radio, in between the death sentences that were announced several times every day. Once I cut my hand while trying to open a can of sardines, and I shrieked my lungs out while Ray poured alcohol over the wound and wrapped it. “Easy, Jumbo,” he said. Another time, I was sitting in the yard in some white sunlight when we heard trucks. Ray scooped me up off the ground and ran to put me inside. I felt both frightened and protected.
In November 1964, Belgian paratroopers retook Stanleyville. The Simba retreat was chaotic and bloody. The government in Leopoldville, unable to rely on its own army, had sent a column of white mercenaries to rescue all the Europeans and put them on planes. A pair of these mercenaries came to the warehouse, and Ray lifted me into the back of their truck. There was a nun back there with her ankle taped up. I thought Ray was coming in after me, but then he didn’t. I screamed when the truck pulled away without him.
The nun began to sing “Amazing Grace.” I don’t quite remember assaulting her, but evidently I did. She was bitten in places where she could not have bitten herself. I guess I did it. They turned the truck around.
I jumped down from the truck and ran calling for Ray. There was an office in the warehouse and that was where I found him, playing a record on his portable phonograph and holding a long, skinny pistol on his knee. He appeared confused to see me again. Hadn’t he just sent me away? Something was happening inside him that was too quiet for a seven-year-old girl to understand. I had interrupted something, but I could not guess what.
It didn’t matter. I grabbed him, and this time I wasn’t letting go.
The men with the truck had followed me in. “She will have to be hog-tied,” one of them said.
“It’s either that or leave her with you,” the other one said to Ray. “And then you will both have your livers eaten.”
I crawled up onto Ray’s lap, sniveling into his neck, begging him to come with me.
Whatever Ray’s plan had been—whatever it was he’d intended to do when the record finished playing—he set it aside. He took two passports from a locked drawer of the desk, and he carried me to the truck. This time he climbed in with me.
“I am sorry for my daughter’s behavior,” he said to the nun.
I can never express the gratitude and love I felt then and continue to feel.
“I have seen friends killed by children,” the nun said, “but I hadn’t expected to die at the hands of a white child.”
“Her name is Angela,” Ray said, and it has been ever since.
© 2011 James Whorton, Jr.
December 19, 1972
Dear Central Intelligence Agency:
Your polygraph examiner, Mr. Jerry Wicker, has just now left my house. After questioning me for two hours in the voice of a sleepy robot, he has declared me “unreliable” and “unnatural.” He calls me a “strange, dry girl.”
For two hours I sat at the dining room table, wired to his aluminum suitcase, watching a brown felt sideburn curl away from his cheek. Glue failure! Now he accuses me of lying to him. My “flat eye line” and “suspicious hand carriage” have given the game away.
Let me say this about lying. When a person is fourteen years old and traveling on her own by car, she has got to have some stories in her pocket. Every trucker with a tremor in his arm wants to know where that girl’s dad is. Even the clerk at the Lee-Hi Motor Hotel feels he is owed a piece of her life story, if only so he can repeat it when someone comes asking. So yes, I got into the habit of making things up. But the truth was always real to me. I never lied to make myself feel better.
Does somebody in Langley need to feel better?
That is not a good reason to lie.
Most people’s fathers aren’t perfect, and Ray Sloan is no exception. I don’t expect you to defend him in the papers. I admit I didn’t help matters any with my activities last summer when the FBI was looking for him. I was trying to lie low, but then I got involved in that other business with the terrorist hippies.
The fiasco at the Watergate was a surprise to me. It was a thing that Ray had really almost nothing to do with. Still, I will tell you what little I know about it, plus everything about the Chinese Communist girl known as Betty or Ding.
Please excuse my faulty typing. Having sat here these minutes beating this out, I have had the chance to remind myself that Mr. Wicker was only doing his job, perhaps to the best of his ability. I suppose he was following some important rule when he did not permit me to answer any of his questions beyond a yes or no. I thank you for your consideration in sending Mr. Wicker here, since driving to Langley for a lie detector test would have required me to miss a day of school. I have Mr. Wicker’s rubber mole that he left on the edge of the sink.
Now I am going to tell you what really happened. The whole thing. No stories. In order for it all to make sense, I will have to back up first. I will keep it as short as I can.
Because of the truthful and explicit nature of what follows, please consider this a Top Secret Correspondence.
© 2011 James Whorton, Jr.
Driving a Plymouth Scamp she has just learned to operate, Angela encounters strangers literally at every turn. A fugitive Chinese waitress won’t get out of the car. A jaded lady spy offers up free therapy and roadside assistance. A restless pair of hippies keeps preaching about the evils of monogamy. And an anteater lurks in the unlikeliest of places. But through all of her outlandish adventures, Angela keeps focused on one urgent wish: to reunite with her father.
Bold and quirky, Angela Sloan is a priceless coming-of-age story about stealing diner food and salvaging lost identities.
- Free Press |
- 224 pages |
- ISBN 9781451624403 |
- August 2011
Read an Excerpt
Reading Group Guide
It’s the summer of 1972 and one “strange, dry girl”—fourteen-year-old Angela Sloan—is on the run from the CIA, even though she is quite certain that her father, ex-agent Ray Sloan, had very little involvement in the Watergate fiasco. As Ray and Angela hit the road, sometimes together, more often apart, Angela, who prides herself on her ability to go unnoticed, finds herself in the company of rather unlikely car-fellows, such as a strange, pro-communist Chinese girl named Betty, and a bevy of not-so-laid-back hippies with their own hidden agenda. As she tries to dodge agents and find a way to reunite with Ray, Angela learns how to drive a car, smoke a cigarette, subsist on diner food, and charm a motel desk-keeper into giving her vital information; but most importantly, she comes to find that things are not always what they seem in this hilarious and poignant comedy of broken girls, stoic men, and mean hippies set amid the chaos of the Nixon era.
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