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by John Wood
Reprinted with permission.
I was in junior high school in 1963 when I saw Sean Connery saunter into M’s office for the first time in Dr. No, and I thought it was the coolest walk I’d ever seen. I emulated that walk for weeks, until friends started asking me if I had thrown my back out, was I trying to imitate an ostrich, or was my mom making me wear her girdle? I gave up trying to be Bond after that. Until recently, when I read about Covert Ops—a Bond-style fantasy camp—and my heart leapt. I had once nailed his walk; why not acquire some of his deadly moves?
It’s not hard to spot my contact in the arrivals lounge at Tucson International Airport. She is beautiful, as I was told she would be. Long golden hair, the fresh sheen of a tan high on her cheekbones (Gstaad, perhaps?), a hint of a nose, and thin, lethal lips. “Is that the L.A. Times?” I ask as I was instructed. “It must be hard to find down here.”
“Do you want it?” she replies correctly. “I’m about finished with it.” She has a cruel, arrogant manner, which appeals to me. Too bad I’m in such a rush. I’d like to see how quickly that cold veneer would melt in my arms.
A message inside the paper instructs me to look for a dark blue Toyota Camry in the parking lot, get in the back, and wait. I do as instructed. Moments later a man with a trimmed white beard opens the driver’s side door and gets in. “Jeffrey Miller,” he says, extending his hand. “Welcome to Covert Ops.”
Miller heads out toward the desert. He is the commandant of the camp and has conducted national security operations in Algeria, Bosnia, Kuwait, Tunisia, and Latin America. After about 40 miles, we pull off onto a side road and draw up to an armed toll gate. A guard waves us through, and we enter the ex-CIA-training complex, which comprises a two-kilometer driving track, shooting range, running track, martial-arts training room, cafeteria, lounge, and dormitory-style facilities, all arranged in a U-shape around an open field.
I drop my bag in my room and head for the lounge, where Miller introduces me to the rest of the training cadre, all dressed in razor-starched camouflage fatigues. One is a former French undercover intelligence officer. Another is a former French Para-Marine mercenary. A third is a veteran racecar driver whose specialty is anti-kidnapping and contact-driving techniques. And the fourth one did three tours in Vietnam on recon missions across the border. He is built like Oddjob, has an 8th-degree black belt, and sports a white goatee. Colonel Sanders with extreme prejudice.
Beads of sweat start to roll down my forehead. These are the men who, in the next three days, will instruct our class in evasive-driving skills, counter-surveillance techniques, wilderness tracking, unarmed self-defense, and how to plan and execute a full-scale hostage rescue mission. I’m not just impressed; I’m overwhelmed. If this is fantasy camp, why am I getting a Vietnam flashback?
I toss and turn that night. Silly me. I thought I was coming here for fun and recreation. But I’ve signed up for the real thing. This is an actual secret security training base, our trainers are terrifyingly bona fide, and if I don’t gather my nerves together before tomorrow morning, I’m going to embarrass myself, my fellow trainees, and Ian Fleming (may he rest in peace).
Miller addresses us at the driving track the next morning. “This is your one chance in life to test yourself,” he says. “This is why you came here. So go for it.” The next two days are a blur of challenges.
“You’re being pursued by kidnappers,” instructors shout, “so punch it—no brake lights!” Unlike James Bond, I am a passive driver, I have never had a moving violation in my life, I am still trying to master parallel parking. Yet here I am doing slaloms, ramming through blockades, and snapping my car around in reverse 180s.
I’ve never fired a pistol before, but I score several bull’s-eyes on the firing range. In the martial-arts sessions I learn how to take a gun away from an assailant—and his finger with it. I’m so confident, I feel like trolling dark alleys with hundred dollar bills hanging out of my pockets. Colonel Sanders advises me not to do that.
The last night we gather for what everyone’s been waiting for all weekend—the hostage rescue mission. It’s hard to concentrate during the lecture because everyone senses something dramatic is about to happ—
The door suddenly bursts open and two masked men with rifles spray the ceiling with paintballs. Another masked man darts in from the rear, snatches one of the women in the class, and they all run out.
Chaos. “What you are experiencing is called adrenaline,” we’re told. “Calm down and decide what needs to be done.” A leader must emerge at this point, but I distance myself from the power struggle . . . and realize another thing about myself: I never seek to be the leader. This bothers me—didn’t I come here to be Bond?
One trainee volunteers to search for the hostage. That’s my cue; I join him. We grab a walkie-talkie and a car. We loop around the grounds and spot a lone figure in front of a darkened building. As we approach, the windshield is splattered with yellow paint. The man darts into a dark blue Camry, fishtails out, and guns toward us, high beams blinding us. How Bondian.
We bounce over bumper curbs, cut across the field, and spin back onto the road. The blue Camry is gone. We park in the bushes and creep back. I notice the building next door is dark except for one lighted window. On a hunch, I peek in and see . . . the hostage! I radio HQ. When we get back, two teams have been formed to enter the building. We move out.
On “Go!” we rush into a hail of paintfire. Moments later, two trainers are slumped over, yellow starbursts staining their overalls; another is spread-eagled on the kitchen floor. We’re elated—especially because the previous class shot the hostage.
A few days later everyone pesters me at work. “So, do you feel like Bond now?” No, I tell them regretfully. “I still can’t stand the taste of a martini. And women aren’t exactly swooning in my presence.”
When I do the photo shoot, I feel anything but Bondian. Who am I fooling, I say to myself, as attendants dress me, style me, and layer me with authentic Bond accoutrements: the same tuxedo, shirt, shoes, even watch (Omega) that he always wore. Then someone puts on a From Russia With Love CD, gives me an actual Walther PPK revolver, leads me to a mirror, and I have my first out-of-body experience. James Bond—or a reasonable facsimile—gapes back at me.
I’m then led, starry-eyed, to the set, placed in position, and asked to give them a typical Bond pose. There is only one. It’s the one at the beginning of every 007 film when the gun barrel follows Bond until he swings around and fires. I whip around as if it were second nature.
And I know, from the cheers all around me, that I nailed it.
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