A Short Story
COINTELPRO (derived from COunter INTELligence PROgram) was a series of covert and often illegal projects conducted by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation aimed at surveilling, infiltrating, discrediting and disrupting domestic political organizations.
The lovely Emerald Larsen from Oslo, Norway showed kindness to her fellow man. At Griffith Park love-ins she hugged trees. She kissed lonely-looking strangers on Hollywood Boulevard. He’d seen this on stakeouts through telephoto lenses. Emerald was as big of a hippie cliché as he’d ever encountered, and FBI Agent Nelson Embrey had encountered a lot of hippie clichés.
Emerald Larsen was also a dope dealer.
She sold Benzedrine, Methedrine, and various Bay Area LSDs, but mainly she pushed a potent and seedless brand of marijuana from Hawaii.
They were at the Venice motel. The wire was live. Embrey waited with agents Loxley and Carrington. Carrington, just a kid, was new to COINTELPRO, a recent transfer from Chicago.
“I hear this Emily Larsen’s foxy,” Carrington said. “Kind of like if Marilyn Monroe was still alive and became a hippie.”
Loxley to Carrington: “Statements on Subject Larsen need not be speculative. She is the secretive leader of a dangerous New Left organization. If clarification is needed regarding her appearance, which should not be an issue this close to adjudication point, refer to surveillance photography, which is ample.”
Embrey pulled a black and white 8 x 10 from a nearby file. It was Emerald, the commander of The Free Love Committee, with her blond hair flowing and a bright smile on her face, dancing in the center of a hippie drum circle in Fern Dell Park. Embrey held the picture before Carrington’s face. “I suppose that’s what Marilyn Monroe might look like if she were still alive and had turned Anti-Establishment. Son, it’s important not to fall prey to negativity but perhaps it’s a good thing Miss Monroe’s not around to witness the cultural detritus that’s taken root in this country.”
“Yes, sir,” Carrington agreed.
“Also, Emily Larsen is an alias she uses. The subject’s name is Emerald Larsen. Get it straight.”
The signal from the agent posing as the marijuana buyer in the adjoining motel room came over the wire: “Here she comes,” Flipper said. Flipper was really Agent Steadman. It was a Hell’s Angel-type persona created for the op.
Embrey slid the picture back in the folder. He sat down and put on his headphones. All three agents listened.
There was knock at the door. “Come in,” Flipper said. The door opened. Hiss came over the wire. They sat. Embrey pictured Emerald’s purse: tan, bulky, and covered with standard flowers and dopey peace signs.
Embrey, typically an FBI stickler, detail-oriented and able to recall mass amounts of intelligence facts at any given moment, went hazy here: He brain-tripped on Emerald’s curves, saw projections of her pale blue eyes, and considered the division of her fashion sense. She was one hippie target out of many that had broken through. This woman had him off his game.
They got to the deal quickly. “That’ll be two grand,” Emerald told Flipper.
Embrey fell back to earth. He stood and drew his O.N.I. revolver from his hip holster. “Remember, Subject Larsen should be considered armed and dangerous.” Loxley and Carrington drew their guns as well.
Two thousand cash was being exchanged for this Seedless Hawaiian Emerald was selling to finance the FLC’s upcoming kidnapping. Even though she professed love for everyone, there was no way she wasn’t packing that .38 she always carried.
Flipper gave her the cash. “I hope this is for a good cause,” Flipper said. That line was the signal that the deal had gone down. All they had to do was wait for her exit. “It’s for love,” Emerald told him. They made small talk about a heavy new LSD, exchanged opinions about a totally unrealistic timeline for when the Vietnam War would end, and Emerald left.
Embrey, Loxley, and Carrington walked out of the room and out onto the balcony. They pointed their firearms at Subject Larsen’s back.
“Emerald Larson,” Embrey said. Emerald stopped and turned. Today she looked sleek and mod in a pink and white striped go-go skirt.
Emerald smiled at him brightly and without fear.
“Flipper’s a Fed, huh? Bummer. The next thing I know you’ll be telling me his spirit animal isn’t really a dolphin.”
“The FBI is here today to give to a message,” Embrey said. “A message that comes straight from Director Hoover.”
The bag of Seedless Hawaiian sat on the bed. Carrington dug through her purse. He got the two thousand back and found a small healing crystal. He held it in his hand. “That can do a great deal to set you free,” Emerald told Carrington, so confident in her hippie superstition that Carrington briefly considered that this crystal might actually have the ability to alter reality. “As long as you believe.” Carrington put the crystal back and laid the purse down.
“Did you hear me, Miss Larsen?”
Emerald looked at Embrey. “Something about a message?”
Emerald sat on the end of the bed, looking confident. These clothes were far from her usual flower-power style. Embrey had never been so close to her. Her eyebrows looked sharper than he remembered.
“The message is this: Your side will lose.”
“It’s too early to say that and you know it.” All morning Embrey suspected she was going to act well-meaning and scared. Not this.
“There’s no weapon in here,” Carrington said.
“The Free Love Committee is against violence. How can Hoover beat us when he doesn’t understand our principles?”
“We’ve got you on tape for distribution.”
“There’s no way out from that,” Flipper, now Agent Steadman again, said.
“Unless you help us,” Embrey said.
“Become a snitch?”
Embrey: “Help us catch your group in the act of kidnapping Bruce Bryan Brigham, see that they all face prison on kidnapping charges, and you’ll walk.”
Bruce Bryan Brigham was the CEO of Brigham Industries, the oil refining company, a co-founder of the John Birch Society, and an outspoken supporter of the war in Vietnam. He was a friend of Nixon, a friend of Kissinger, a right-wing donator, the type of guy who watched the COINTELPRO films of Martin Luther King screwing hookers for laughs at parties. Word had come through multiple COINTELPRO-adjunct ops that the FLC planned to snatch him during his upcoming L.A. visit. Full motivation behind this supposed kidnapping remained unclear: It was some kind of anti-government, anti-war stunt, supposedly non-violent, and planned by Miss Larsen or some higher-up shadowy New Left figure. Brigham hit L.A. in two weeks. He was coming for a GOP fundraiser.
“For you: No charges. The Director’s honor,” Embrey said.
“The Director’s honor,” Emerald repeated.
She artfully tied her hair behind her head. Embrey studied the contours of her skull. He was an armchair scholar in Phrenology, the study of the link between the shape of the human skull and human behavior. In the old days Norwegians were called Square Heads as an epithet. Organs did not connect properly in their box-like skulls. Swaths of them were phrenologically unsound and this made them prone to anti-social behavior.
“Why not just bust us all now?” Emerald asked.
“Our mission isn’t just to protect this country from groups like yours, but to also circuitously educate the public at large about the menace you present. Mr. Hoover doesn’t just want you stopped, he wants a headline as well.”
“‘Hippie Kidnapping Foiled By FBI’,” Emerald said.
“Hearts and minds are at stake.”
“Sounds risky to me. If you really want to stop us, don’t let us get so close.”
“Consider any perception of control you might have for yourself misguided.”
“So all I have to do is turn on all my friends and betray all of my beliefs?”
“That is the situation you are in. Your side talks about ending the war but has no sense how peace is achieved.” Embrey was feeling confident in his famously mean way, like the master of psychological warfare that he was. Loxley, Carrington, and Steadman stood behind him and watched. “You carry yourself like you’ve got some great message to give the world, but I know the truth.” A stray golden hair hung along her cheek. Embrey slid it behind her ear. Emerald looked back at his dashing chin, his broad shoulders, and his haircut that was modeled after Johnny Unitas. “You crave being told what to do. Hippies need order more than a normal human. Love doesn’t motivate them, especially the women.”
“What motivates us?”
Embrey leaned in. He could smell the rosewater she’d dabbed on the sides of her neck. “You want to get fucked by a man in uniform,” he said.
Emerald looked at Steadman. Steadman nodded. “I’ll cooperate,” she told Embrey.
Emerald Larson became Bureau Informant #3416. She talked to him reluctantly and protected her informant status. Details of her life in Norway, which would be required for his summary report to Hoover, she didn’t speak of at all. Normally, at this point in dealing with an informant, Embrey was already well into the political re-education phase of his subject.
They sat at Coach & Horses on Sunset. In a back booth, secluded. He’d just given her the two grand back to hide her informant status from the FLC. Emerald said, “You look like you want to act out on some repressed desire, Agent Embrey.”
Embrey saw wet stains seeping out of her armpits. She wasn’t wearing deodorant. He coughed. “We were talking about the Brigham kidnapping,” he said.
“I hear there’s a lot of repression in the Bureau. Is Director Hoover really a homosexual?”
Embrey once again studied again the unorthodox shape of her skull, her square head, and tried to think of some Phrenology-based observation that would put her in her place. He couldn’t think of any. “J. Edgar Hoover is the driving force of order and security in this country. I take the vileness of your propaganda as a reminder of the importance of my mission for the bureau.”
“I didn’t intend to spread vile propaganda. I love homosexuals. I love everyone,” she said.
Embrey finished his club soda. Her tone suggested that they were in some sort of negotiation. Emerald thought she would one day return to Oslo to accept a Nobel Peace Prize. “Come with me,” he said.
Embrey drove south. The whites on the streets became coloreds. Embrey parked at 108th and San Pedro by a Black Panther storefront. Watts. Embrey pointed at a Negro on a corner. He was skinny, had an Afro, and wore John Lennon shades. He looked to be about 15. A pregnant junkie approached him. They both saw the hand-to-hand.
Embrey got out of his car. He caught the Negro quickly. He straddled him on his back and beat him with closed fists. The Negro went unconscious. Embrey searched him: He found a switchblade, six plastic-wrapped heroin bundles, and a wad of crumpled up cash. Embrey handcuffed him.
He threw the Negro’s limp, handcuffed body into the back seat. He showed Emerald the cash. “This ends up in the financial coffers of the Black Panthers. That’s how it is. And another young angry black life is ruined by subversive New Left organizations.” Embrey drove toward Newton and 77th Street Station. Emerald looked out the window and cried.
Embrey transferred the Negro to LAPD custody. The charge was heroin distribution. Years. Embrey started back north up the freeway. Emerald, sitting beside him, continued crying. This woman was guarding her inner freedom from him, successfully so far. Looking upon the tears that fell down her cheeks, Embrey suspected, with satisfaction, that making her watch that would be her freedom’s undoing. He was back on his game. During the drive, Emerald revealed the FLC plan:
The Brigham kidnapping was going to be preformed by the FLC’s top members: Father Efren Kakoa, a Hawaiian Catholic priest turned underground leftist/drug dealer (the seedless Hawaiian Emerald sold Agent Steadman came from his island connection), Leos Valderas, a Cuban weapons expert, and Jack and June Van Johnson, a married pair of MIT physics professors who abandoned their life for Emerald’s cause. They would kidnap Brigham at gunpoint just after he arrived at his Bel-Air Hotel, before he made it to the fundraiser.
For this kidnapping, the FLC would use guns. Just like the American soldiers in Vietnam they hated so much carried. Guns bought with drug money. Looking down as he drove, Embrey noticed that her .38 was in her purse right now.
He dropped her off on Western and watched her buy an avocado from a Mexican fruit stand. She put in her purse beside the .38 and walked around a corner.
Back at in his room at the Ambassador, Embrey worked on his summary report. The intelligence on her was still thin. He had nothing on her Norwegian origins. Nothing on what turned the Free Love Committee into a violent group. Mr. Hoover would find this lack of narrative unacceptable. He watched Wilshire Boulevard below him. The sky coated everything in rose and ultraviolet. He thought back to his early years in the Bureau, before he had become one of Hoovers most trusted agents. Basic details of his own past were foggy to himself. He could not recall them.
His career was all suppression now. The societal problem of the Negro and the hippie. His role in COINTELPRO was multi-faceted. He worked against the Black Panthers, the SDS, the Yippies, the Left Social Democrats (or LSD), the Weather Underground, even the SCLC — the FLC was only one cell, not as dangerous as any of the Negroes, but their planned kidnapping of Brigham was a problem. While standing beside a box of files, Embrey looked down and noticed that an erection had formed inside his pants.
He called his friend John Mitchell in Washington to assure him that the operation was on track. Mitchell was nervous about the idea of letting the kidnappers get caught in the act — he didn’t want the FLC to be allowed to get so close. It sounded reckless. “Everything will work out fine,” Embrey told Mitchell once again. Then Embrey fell asleep with a half-finished summary, content this time to let Mr. Hoover wait.
Two days later, he and Emerald spoke in a coffee shop on La Cienega.
“Your side can’t be allowed to win,” Embrey said.
Emerald wore her hippie clothes today. “Dominoes and so forth,” she said.
“Vietnam falls and the avalanche cascades. Communism is a threat.”
“The Free Love Committee does not agree.”
“How can you care about love between people and kidnap a man? How can you get kids hooked on drugs?”
“They aren’t decisions I take lightly. Do you lose sleep about violating people’s rights for a living? You know the heroin that boy was selling probably came from Vietnam.”
Embrey realized that he identified with Emerald Larsen, this woman of separate personalities because there were separate personalities inside him. He missed the man he was in his early Bureau years and wished he could summon that person back. Agent Embrey saw himself as the cliché, not her.
“If you’re going to do something bad, do it for love,” Emerald said.
Embrey cleared his throat. “On the day, tell your people you’ll be in position at the hotel but turn yourself in to me at the Hughes Airport lot. Don’t let me catch you anywhere near B.B. Brigham.”
A cordoned off Hughes Airport lot had been given to the FBI for this operation through some crazy Nevada Mormon responsible for looking after the reclusive tycoon in his crazy Vegas hotel room. It was a Mormon gesture of friendship to Hoover. The location would be Embrey’s base of operations for the prevention of kidnapping and the arrest of the FLC people.
“Yes. I understand,” Emerald said.
“We’ll wait there together. Once your cohorts have been apprehended and Brigham is safe, your release process will begin.” Embrey reached across the table and touched her hand. “You’re doing a good thing for America.”
Embrey stood in the Hughes lot. The air was cool and smelled like orange blossoms. It doesn’t feel like Dick Nixon’s in town at all, he thought. A mission control tower was in the distance. No planes were coming or going. The Hughes people knew the Feds were here. They would leave them alone. Radio updates from Loxley came in: “Brigham’s plane just landed at LAX,” Carrington said.
Emerald would arrive soon. He searched for the right words to say to this woman. Passionate and sincere language, he thought, would make his relationship with her exist as the universe intended it to, whatever that was. But the only words he could form in his head were dates, tactical considerations, and surveillance observations. It was objective surface-level terminology, like from all the Bureau summary reports he’d been writing for years. These were words Emerald would not respond to at all.
Embrey had to be in the Bay Area to supervise the burglary of a Black Panther home by ten tonight. He looked at his watch. It was one fifteen.
Emerald drove up and stepped out of her car. The wind made her white flower-print summer dress float on the air. She stood opposite him. Embrey felt a disordered swell of romantic passion. Then he remembered the mission. Young Agent Carrington was behind him by the radio, watching.
“You’re in contact with your men from here?” Emerald asked.
“Yes,” Embrey said.
“Tell them the plan has changed. The Free Love Committee will take Brigham on the 405 off ramp instead of the hotel.”
Carrington huffed. Garbled noise came over the nearby radio. “You’ve broken your part of the deal!” Carrington said.
“You should call them.”
Embrey unhurriedly walked to the radio. A change in plans like this didn’t really matter. These FLC goofs could be taken anywhere. The squawk coming over the line continued. As he got closer, he heard chaos on the other end. Agent Loxley was already trying to get ahold of him.
“Subject Larsen just showed up, repeat, subject Larsen is here! They didn’t try to kidnap Brigham at the hotel. They drove up beside him on the freeway and shot him! He’s dead, repeat, Emerald Larsen just murdered Brigham!”
Emerald Larsen stood before him. “What you are telling me can’t be true because Subject Larsen is with me. I’ve got eyes on her now.”
“No, Emerald Larsen is here with me!” Loxley said over the wire. There was a roaring shotgun blast. The radio went dead.
Embrey finally got it. Her life in Norway was a mystery, all her files thin.
The Free Love Committee will take Brigham on the 405 off ramp. The disparity in this woman became clear. Emily Larsen is an alias she temporarily uses. Emerald was kindness and decency. Emerald was criminal calculation and outright cold-bloodedness. This was because:
Emerald was two separate people.
The woman in front of him pulled her .38 from her purse. She fired her gun twice at Agent Carrington, hitting him in the chest. Cordite spread through the air. Powder burn scorched him. He fell onto his back. His skull cracked when it hit the pavement. Sizzling clouds of smoke trailed out of him and into the sky.
Emerald aimed her gun at Embrey.
“Are you the good sister, or the bad one?” Embrey asked.
Carrington’s chest, lying behind them in the ground, stopped heaving. His open eyes went still. “That was the first person I ever killed.”
Embrey understood. This was about a hit on Brigham and a hit on him. It always had been. “There’s still a chance it could be the last.”
“Brigham wanted to keep Vietnam going. He wanted to pay for it.”
“Killing Brigham won’t stop the war. There will always be another like him. And like me.” In her eyes he saw true belief. Continuing a debate would achieve nothing. “How far are you going to take this?”
“As far as we need to.”
A Cadillac sped through the gate. Steadman was driving. In the passenger seat was Emerald’s twin sister, Emily Larsen. Emily got out of the car. Emily wore army fatigues and a beret. She held a twelve-gauge shotgun with a pump action and stood beside Emerald. Steadman stood behind her, with them.
Embrey looked at Emerald. “It’s kind of sad that you gave up on yourself, don’t you think?”
“Shut up!” Emily said and raised her shotgun.
Embrey felt regret for driving Emerald Larsen to become a killer.
Emily said to Emerald, “We talked about this. Transcendence is achieved through action. True love means material achievement. Get it done.”
“Let’s get moving, ladies,” Steadman, or more accurately, Flipper, told them. Hughes people were moving in the tower. They’d heard the shots.
Embrey took a breath. Orange blossoms were heavy on the air. Emerald squeezed the trigger of her gun and Nelson Embrey’s brain stopped Emerald Larsen’s bullet.
Waves hit the passing Pacific shoreline. Emerald’s dream catcher swayed on the rear-view mirror. Their car was a run-down ’58 Corvette with mud-stained plates. In the backseat Flipper rolled a joint of Father Efren’s Seedless Hawaiian. “What a day,” he said. Emily drove them north to help the Panthers in the Bay. Flipper lit the joint.
The sisters were moving together in the open. Taking a risk like this was rare and would get rarer after today. Emily kept her .357 on the seat between them and bowie knife strapped to her ankle. Trailing behind them, in the van, were Father Efren, Leos, and the Van Johnsons. They’d just picked up some hitchhikers who’d been stranded on the beach.
Emerald and Emily Larsen: Twin sisters acting like one person.
This act began back in Norway: Let’s pretend like we’re the same person. People couldn’t tell the difference between them. The game was special. Their parents died young. They moved in with an eccentric, liberal aunt named Astrid. Astrid taught them politics. Astrid taught them optimism and nonviolence. Sleepwalking through life was not for either sister. They became women. They grew up Red. Emerald was the warm sister. Emily was the cold. They formed the Free Love Committee. They went underground and fogged over their true identities. Fights for love were necessary and had to be won. America called them. Revolution was in the air. The FLC blossomed in San Francisco. They connected with other New Left cells. The power for change was out there in the streets. Anti-war operations were planned. Bold actions were required. People underestimated their will. They did everything together. Emerald organized sit-ins, sang protest songs, and recruited people to the FLC. Emily stole and dealt drugs. She shot a dirty SFPD cop in the back of the head. Drug deals became their main financer. Their two-as-one act helped them get away with everything. It was a potent voodoo.
Flipper passed Emily the joint and Emily hit it. “Judy in Disguise” played on the radio. Number one on the charts these days. Flipper, still adjusting to this new world filtered through a weed lens, wondered: Was this woman in disguise a reference to Emily or Emerald? He sat in the backseat and pondered.
Emily passed Emerald the joint. A friend high up on the New Left food chain had given them a heads-up: FLC was on COINTELPRO’S radar. Learning about the FBI’s criminal war against the New Left solidified their convictions. An undercover Fed calling himself Flipper started showing up.
Emerald looked back at Flipper. She remembered how sweet and simple it was to have Flipper flip sides. He’d come so far so quickly. All she did was give him a blowjob and two hits of Blue Cheer and Flipper agreed to help them kill Embrey and begin COINTELPRO’s dismantling. Flipper thanked her for the blowjob and never asked for another. He’d destroyed the wire of the Venice drug deal. He dove off the grid and become only Flipper, forever. Flipper is a nice person, Emerald thought.
It was the Larsen twins vs. Agent Embrey. A showdown loomed. Embrey and his agents watched them. The twins watched them back. Emerald saw a man all but destroyed by his relationship with suppression and begging for someone to put him out of his misery. Ending his life would be an act of love. Emerald knew it had to be her. She had to carry her part of the weight on this important mission, and she did.
Emerald handed the joint back to Flipper. Smoke filled the car. Emerald’s hearing became weed-heightened. She could hear all their hearts beating, this trinity of love-warriors. She said: “We’ve got to find where the COINTELPRO files are kept and steal them. Then mail the files to the media.”
“Groovy,” Flipper said.
Here a wave of emptiness fell over Emerald. She’d broken her vow of nonviolence and tenderness that she’d made to Aunt Astrid so long ago. Today she didn’t watch Emily do the dirty work. Today she killed two people. Others died as well. Astrid would have told her to stick flowers down the FBI’s gun barrels, not to follow Emily toward violent revolution.
“When do you think they’ll find the bodies?” Flipper asked, concerned.
“A couple days at least,” Emily said.
Emerald picked up a healing crystal and passed it to their comrade in the back seat. “Thank you for helping us,” she said and smiled at him, feeling a return to her old self and thinking that she could never be truly empty if she had someone to care for.
Flipper tried to remember the Norwegian they’d taught him. “For kjærlighet,” he said. He squeezed the crystal in his palm and his concern faded.
Emerald thought about Embrey, whose spirit had left his body with a look of appreciation on his face, a look that said I’m glad it was you. The coastal highway stretched out before them and as they moved, the starlight above brightened up a few notches. These sisters, these twin hippie Marilyn Monroes, would never stray from their message until COINTELPRO was done, until Hoover had no more power, and the war was over. So they traveled on, confident that they’d helped America grow up just a little bit that day.
Flipper saw two moonlight glossed dolphins swimming in the Pacific, briefly showing themselves to the world. It looked better than anything he’d seen on acid so far. “Ladies, I think this will be our year,” he said.
ANDREW MILLER is a crime novelist, screenwriter, and essayist living in Los Angeles.
Originally published at mystericale.com.