Patrick McGoohan, Danger Man, 1961. CBS

Secret Agent Man*

ASHTON WAS A GOOD-LOOKING kid, you had to admit. Had that big-city swagger too. He strutted around the Fort Jackson Army Induction Center in his civvies like he owned the place, with his Kooky Kooky Lend Me Your Comb hair styled just so. When they marched us to the Army barbers you should have seen the guy’s eyes light up that got Ashton in his chair. Maybe he thought shearing Ashton would trim his attitude like Delilah took Samson’s strength. Fat chance.

“Man this is it, this is what I’ve been waiting for,” he said. “Secret agents, man! James Bond stuff. Then he hummed a few bars of “Secret Agent Man” from that old TV series starring Patrick McGoohan. “Giving me a number, and take away my name,” he crooned. Swear to God.

The rest of us thought he should get a grip. No matter what the Army promised you, there was always a catch. Somebody dubbed Ashton “Double-0” in disgust, and the moniker stuck. It didn’t bother him a bit. He was insufferable from then on, suddenly full of all kinds of secret knowledge about the mission that sounded like bullshit from spy novels, and probably was. I heard that crap from Ashton all the way north on an old TWA Constellation prop job that bumped and rattled over air pockets like a stagecoach. At Fort Dix, N.J, they sequestered us “security police” away from other Army replacement troops moving through the repo depo. Then we were hustled onto a chartered 707 to Frankfurt, along with a bunch of Military Intelligence people in civilian clothes: cheap suits from J.C. Penney and Sears, Roebuck. They pulled the plane off by a hangar in Frankfurt to unload us. A buck sergeant wearing the first AWSCOM patch I had seen on his fatigues herded the MPs onto a military bus with the windows blacked out.

Of course Ashton had to put on a show of trying to talk to the girls. He got some smiles and a laugh or two, don’t ask me how, and claimed he had at least one girl’s Frankfurt phone number, in case he needed a “safe house” later. I’m telling you, he was out of control with that bullshit.

It was coming twilight again when our train was called. We loaded into first- class compartments behind one of those tootling electric locomotives bound for the hinterland. The conductor had his instructions; he wouldn’t let any civilians sit in our section. That got us a few dirty looks, and it also got Ashton going again. He whistled “Secret Agent Man” halfway across Germany. He did have a tuneful whistle.

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Bill Burkett

Bill Burkett

Professional writer, Pacific Northwest. 20 Books: “Sleeping Planet” 1964 to “Venus Mons Iliad” 2018–19. Most on Amazon for sale. Il faut d’abord durer.