I luuuuuvvvvvvv a good secret. I’m addicted to the intrigue of secrets, mostly. Secrets are so fun to be in on, yet so hard to, uh, keep secret. Not that I spread things; no way. If someone tells me something in confidence, I absolutely maintain that confidence. But then there are other times where I’ve been told something, not quite realized the gravity of the information, and then sort of spilled the beans, purely by happenstance.
Take for instance the spy episode…
Okay, somewhere out there, I know some people who have some spying background. Leave it at that. See! I’m keeping my secrets. So in the course of my knowing some people with some spying background, I learned some things, about covert versus overt, about “Need to Know Basis” and generally about keeping your big mouth shut. That sort of thing.
So one night we were at dinner with those distant espionage-ish people and another couple (I didn’t even know they were secret agent types!) who were talking with great pride about their son, Donny. Their son who lived in some obscure pocket of the world involving guerillas (not the cute hairy kind that swing in trees), sharpshooters, warring factions, and a very complex language that one doesn’t know but for on a, um, need to know basis.
Seemed Donny—who worked in “imports/exports”—got a promotion, and was headed off to another embattled nation with yet more guerillas, warring factions and an even more complex and arcane language that no one, but no one, knows. I don’t even think the people who live there know it. It’s that unknown. Upon learning this, even I was able to deduce that Donny’s job entailed far more than ensuring the safe shipping of Barbie dolls and tainted pet food in far away ports. No one becomes fluent in two bizarre languages without really good reason.
So at the dinner table that night, conversation was rolling merrily along, as we sipped our wine and exchanged jovial banter. But chatter ground to a screeching halt—I’m talking rush hour in Bangkok screeching halt—when I said:
“Oh, so Donny’s working imports/exports?” With a hyperbolic wink—one where my right eye squeezed shut really hard and the side of my lip raised up dramatically, forcing my cheek to scrunch up toward my forehead. You know the kind. The “hey, we’re all in on the big secret!” wink.
Suddenly a hostile silence embalmed the room as nine sets of squinting eyes glared at me, the dingbat who unwittingly broke the unspoken code of Need to Know.
Now, to backtrack. I sorta knew about the Need to Know. Like if you don’t need to know, you don’t. But I also thought that if you’re amongst everyone who Knew, then you didn’t quite have to tap dance around the inevitable. I mean, everyone at that table knew! But I didn’t know till then that that was the whole point. Everyone knew we weren’t supposed to let on we knew. It’s sort of the Omerta of the cloak-and-dagger world, I guess.
Thank goodness my lapse of tight lips happened in the land of the free and the brave. Sheesh, had I been sipping a macchiato in a cafe bar off a lovely little piazza in Sicily, or worse yet dining on Borscht served up by a matronly hostess with long chin hairs in frigid Minsk, my transgression could well have rewarded me with a bullethole between the eyes. And I would hate for my last supper to have centered around beets. I hate beets!
Now, just to prove to you that I can keep secrets, I’ll tell you one. You remember that woman, Valerie Plame? The one whose covert spy history was exposed by vengeful operatives in the White House? Well, I knew—I knew!—for the past 20-plus years that Val was a spy. And I didn’t tell a soul. Not a soul! Because I knew it was a Need to Know. But now that everyone knows, well, the cat’s out of that bag. And if you try to get out of me how I knew that information long before it was a glimmer in Karl Rove/Scooter Libby’s eyes, well, now, that I can’t tell you.
Then again, I suppose I could…But I’d have to kill you. And you wouldn’t want that.