I was more than a little uncomfortable sitting in the anteroom for the suite of senior offices. I was waiting for the Agency’s Assistant Deputy Chief of Operations. It was a new experience to be in the main office in Arlington. The closest I had come before was five months of training at the “Academy” at Quantico. I was intensely curious why I had been summoned to Northern Virginia. With only three years in as an agent assigned to a field office in Indiana, I had assumed that no one this far up the food chain had noticed me.

I was not alone in the anteroom. Sitting in a chair on the other side of the room was a woman who looked to be roughly my age. Partially because I had nothing else to do and partially because I had been trained to observe people, I looked at her as closely as I could without being obvious about it. The woman had shoulder-length brown hair. Her face reminded me of the actress Karen Allen from Raiders of the Lost Ark. From what little I could tell, I speculated that her conservative business suit covered a reasonably attractive body. Of course, I’d never find out. I was sure that she had nothing to do with me.

After a few minutes wait, a middle-aged woman came into the anteroom.

“Agents Carden and Stone?” she asked.

The woman who had been sitting across from me and I both stood up.

“Mr. Foley can see you now,” the middle-aged woman said. “Please follow me.”

We followed the woman out of the anteroom, and down a hallway until she gestured into an open doorway. “In here, please.”

As I followed the younger woman into the conference room, a compact man with short grey hair stood up and extended his hand.

“Good morning. I’m Peter Foley, Assistant Deputy Chief of Operations. You two have not met before?”

The young woman and I both shook our heads.

Turning to the young woman while gesturing at me , Mr. Foley said, “Agent Carden, meet Special Agent Harry Stone from Indianapolis.” Mr. Foley turned to me and said, “Agent Stone, this is Special Agent Liz Carden from Buffalo.”

I shook hands with Agent Carden. Mr. Foley said, “Please, be seated.” We sat at one end of a long rectangular conference table. Mr. Foley was, of course, at the head of the table. I sat to his right. Agent Carden sat across from me on Mr. Foley’s left.

Mr. Foley handed us each an 8 ½ x 11 color photograph. It was a picture of a man, in his fifties I’d guess. “This is John Smith,” Mr. Foley said.

I smiled. “John Smith” was a name we frequently used when we didn’t know a person’s real name. Mr. Foley obviously saw my smile.

“No,” Mr. Foley said, “John Smith really is his name. He was born in Asheville, North Carolina in 1963. He has a business degree from UNC-Wilmington. After he graduated, he became a boat salesman in Wilmington. He did very well and now owns several boat dealerships around the Southeast, selling everything from pontoon boats for the lake to sailboats for cruising the Caribbean. We also think that he’s the kingpin of a distribution network supplying much of the heroin in the Carolinas, North Georgia, Southwest Virginia, East Tennessee, and Eastern Kentucky. ”

Mr. Foley paused to let that sink in. After a moment, he resumed. “While we’re fairly certain that Smith is dirty in a big way, and we’ve been trying to get him for a couple of years, we have nowhere near enough to make an arrest. In fact, we don’t have enough directly tying Smith to justify a wire-tap or search warrant. This investigation has caught the attention of some of the new people at main Justice. They want us to run an intel gathering operation on Smith that will lead us to some real evidence.”

Mr. Foley paused. “Would either of you like coffee?” he asked. Agent Carden and I both said “no.” Mr. Foley pressed a button on a phone on the table. Into the phone he said, “Carol, would you please bring me coffee in the conference room?” Looking between the two of us, Mr. Foley asked, “Sure that you don’t want any?” Agent Carden and I both shook our heads. Mr. Foley said into the phone, “Just one for me. Thanks.”

We waited quietly for the three or four minutes that it took Carol to bring Mr. Foley his cup of coffee. Once he had it, he took a long sip. Setting his cup back into its saucer, Mr. Foley resumed.

“About eight months ago, Smith sold one of his dealerships in North Carolina. It looks like he did very well in that sale. Shortly afterwards, he bought a dealership in the Tampa Bay area that mainly sells larger power and sailboats. The kind of things you see on the Florida Gulf Coast. About two months later, Smith sold his house in Wilmington. He and his partner, Karen Lewis, bought a house in a walled and gated community near Tampa. That community is a nudist resort, pretty high-end I’m told. Here’s a picture of Karen Lewis. She and Smith now live in this nudist resort.”

Mr. Foley handed out two more pictures. The picture showed a woman whom I’d place in her mid to late forties with streaky blonde hair and a very tan face. Her expression in the photo was of someone entirely content with her life.

After Agent Carden and I had studied Lewis’s picture for a moment, Mr. Foley picked up again. He seemed slightly uncomfortable. “Anyway, the idea is to put a couple of agents into that resort to get close to Smith and see if he doesn’t give away something that will lead us somewhere.”

I could see where this was going and was not at all happy about it. Apparently, Agent Carden had made the same realization. She was blushing. “You want us to go into that nudist resort and befriend Smith?” she asked.

Mr. Foley fidgeted and said, “yes.”

Agent Carden blushed more deeply. “And you want us to go naked?”

Mr. Foley fidgeted more. “That is my understanding of what people do in nudist resorts, yes. I think that you would look very odd and suspicious if you stayed clothed.”

Agent Carden looked as if she might get sick.

“Why us?” I asked.

Mr. Foley relaxed a bit. This was a question that he was prepared to handle. “Several reasons. First, neither of you has been assigned anywhere in the area in which Smith operates. You haven’t worked on any investigations that would have brought you into contact with any of Smith’s people. Second, you are both relatively new agents so neither of you are known to the dealer community. These guys do talk to each other about whom to watch out for. Third, neither of you have gotten your names in the paper so an Internet search isn’t going to turn up an article saying that you are Federal agents. Finally, you are both single and, according to your SACs, not in any serious relationships. This assignment would be difficult for someone with a spouse or ‘significant other.'”

“Why try to approach Smith through the resort?” I asked.

Mr. Foley sighed. “The thinking on that is twofold. One, we assume that Smith won’t be expecting to encounter Federal agents naked in a nudist resort. Two, the resort is that this is a place where people let their hair down, so to speak; the usual rules don’t apply so we hope that he may be more voluble and open in such an environment. We don’t expect him to admit that he’s a drug dealer. What we do hope is to get information that will lead us to evidence proving that he is a drug dealer.”

Shit. The reasoning made at least a little sense.

“Can we decline this assignment?” Carden asked.

“Of course,’ Mr. Foley replied.

“But,” I asked, “if we decline, that will be a career black mark?”

“The Agency looks for team players,” Mr. Foley replied. “Career advancement comes to those people who put the mission of the Agency above their personal considerations.” Well, that message was clear: you can turn this down but your career will be fucked.

“If we do this,” Agent Carden asked, obviously having difficulty with even considering it, “will the details of the operation go into our personnel files. In other words, will I always be branded as agent bare-ass?”

“No,” Mr. Foley said firmly. “All your field offices have been told is that you are being considered for long-term undercover assignments. That is what will go into your files. No details. You will be supervised from Arlington. No one in any field office will know what you are doing.”

“Do we have any real choice?” I asked, just to make Foley say it.

Mr. Foley decided to level with us. “Yes, you can resign.”

Agent Carden and I looked at each other across the table. She had a look a little like a trapped animal.

“Look,” Mr. Foley said, “this is an intelligence gathering operation, not evidence gathering. We don’t expect you to ever take the stand and testify to something Smith told you and then be cross-examined about how you were both naked when he said it. Law enforcement officers have to do distasteful things in the line of duty. You both knew that, at least, by the time you finished training. Maybe this isn’t what you expected, but it is part of the job. You will play a key role in putting away someone who is helping people OD all over the upper South.”

Agent Carden put her face in her hands. After a minute, she looked up at me. I shrugged. I didn’t like this either, but I liked the idea of sacrificing my career even less. I suppose that Carden saw it the same way. After several minutes of silence, Agent Carden said, in a very small voice, “Ok. I’m in.”

Mr. Foley looked at me. In a weak gesture of independence, I said, “I really don’t appreciate the Agency putting me in this position, but I don’t see any choice. I’m in.”

Mr. Foley ignored my protest because he knew that it was meaningless. Instead, Mr. Foley punched four numbers on the phone. After a moment he said, “Would you come up to the executive conference room to meet with the agents for Operation Tarpon?” Putting down the phone. Mr. Foley said to us, Special Agent Kate Howley is coming up. She is in charge of this operation. You will report to her.”

Agent Howley was a stern-looking woman whom I guessed at 45. Mr. Foley left the conference room as she walked in carrying a file. After introductions, Agent Howley said, “So, you’ve both agreed to do it?” Seeing the looks on our faces, she added, “Shit. He didn’t give you any choice, did he?”

Howley sat down in a chair to my right. “One thing that you need to understand is that this operation came down from main Justice. You will recall that, during the campaign a year ago, the President was saying that Federal law enforcement was inept, unimaginative, and incapable of catching the really bad guys. After he took office, the President put a few political appointees in at Justice and Homeland Security specifically to remedy that problem. One of them came up with this idea. I suppose that it could work, but no one here thought that it was a good idea.”

Agent Howley went on, “I’m sure whatever Foley told you about why you were selected is true. I’m guessing that he didn’t tell you that no one wanted to dump this on more senior agents or that you were both picked because you are both physically attractive.” At least Howley seemed to be a straight-shooter.

Howley took us through the fairly elaborate cover-story, or “legend,” that the Agency was creating for us. In short, I was one of a group that had started a tech company in Cleveland. I was the guy bringing in new capital, which I could fake well enough. I had fallen out with the other founders and had been bought out for $5 million. That explained why I was obviously unemployed at a young age and not too worried about it. Agent Carden was to be my wife. She had quit her job at a small accounting firm in Cleveland when I was bought out. We were both looking around, trying new things, trying to decide where to go next in our lives.

“That explains how you will appear at the resort,” Howley said. “I’m assuming that neither of you spend much time sunbathing nude so you will have tan lines. You are trying out social nudism for the first time to see if you like it. By the way, I’ve done some research on the resort and it looks like it is a pretty nice place except, of course, that no one wears clothes. We’re seeing this as a long-term operation. We’ll review progress at the end of a year. If you can get close to Smith, the Agency is prepared to buy a condo unit at the resort and put you in full-time.”

Agent Carden put her face in her hands again. The prospect of going naked for a year and actually living in a nudist resort did not seem very appealing to her.

Howley’s briefing went on for a couple more hours. Then, we were dismissed to go home, transfer our files, and make whatever personal arrangements we needed to make to be gone for an extended time. The Agency had rented a house, through a front company, in a Cleveland suburb in Geauga County. This would be our official address and base for the operation. The story was to be that we leased the house after selling a luxury condo downtown near the lake. The house had the advantage of being well off of the street and three sides were screened by foliage. I was to meet Agent Carden there in ten days. We needed to become familiar enough with each other to act like we had been married to each other for four or five years.

While I usually travel very light, the potential duration of this assignment led me to show up in Cleveland with two large bags. I was a little embarrassed when Agent Carden showed up with one suitcase and a shoulder bag.

Agent Carden smiled at me. “I figured that I’d buy a small new wardrobe before we go south. If the Agency wants me to run around naked, it can at least buy me some new clothes. I’ve done some research on this resort and there are some things which I think that we will need.”

Agent Carden and I spent a week at the house getting to know each other. No, I don’t mean sexually. We slept in separate bedrooms. Instead, we learned each others’ backgrounds, which were as much our true life stories as the legend permitted. I learned that Carden had been a diver at a Division II school in upstate New York, and fairly good. She had actually gotten a degree in accounting, but joined the Agency because it sounded more exciting. I explained that I had played football at college in the Midwest. Fortunately, for this purpose, I never played enough to get mentioned in the media, but a four-year scholarship helped a lot.

In addition to our backgrounds, we had to learn each others’ habits and quirks, and what each other really meant with our tones of voice and body language. We had to be able to pick up on all of those non-verbal cues that are passed between a married couple. We needed to know what the other person liked and disliked. It was essentially the learning process which you go through while dating and then marrying someone. We had to get it done in a week or so.

As the week progressed, we went from “Agent Carden” and “Agent Stone” to “Liz” and “Harry.” Liz was an impressive person. She was very smart, very observant, and could be very funny. She was kind and slow to get angry. She was, and is, very beautiful. Liz didn’t get in your face with her beauty. Her attitude seemed to be more ‘if you figure out that I’m beautiful, great; if not, that’s ok.’ I’d rather not know what Liz learned about me.

In addition to preparing for our role as a married couple, we spent a great deal of time discussing ways to approach Smith and various contingencies which might arise. The one subject which we had silently agreed to put off limits was the prospect of being naked together.

I let Liz call the resort to make our reservation. I assumed that the resort would be more receptive to a woman than a man. With Howley’s approval, we had decided that our first trip to the resort would be for a week. We would have to come back to Cleveland in order to look like a normal couple on a vacation. How quickly we went back to the resort, how often, and for how long depended on how the assignment went.

Liz arranged for us to go to the resort starting on a Thursday. We’d fly out of Cleveland, through Atlanta, early that morning, arriving in Tampa around noon. Our thinking was that the resort would be less crowded on a Thursday, which would be easier for us initially and offer a better chance to meet Smith our first day in.

Liz made several shopping trips in the days before our departure. However, that Wednesday night, she had packed only the one suitcase and her carry-on shoulder bag. I had pared myself down to a small suitcase and a small canvass briefcase. We checked to make sure that we were carrying no Agency ID, that our guns were securely stored (they stayed in Cleveland), and that we both had all of our new, fake, ID. Then we went to our separate bedrooms.

We were both nervous by the time we got to Hopkins Airport the next morning. Being at the airport, it started to sink in that, before the day was over, we really would be naked in front of each other and a lot of other people. We were getting better at the married couple act. I knew without asking that Liz wanted Starbucks while we waited to board the first leg of our flight and I knew what she wanted.

The rental car counter at Tampa airport was the first test of our new ID. Our ID passed with no question at all. Liz navigated as I drove north into Pasco County towards the resort. Just before 2:00 p.m., we turned off of the main road onto the entrance road for the resort. Following the signs, we bore right and parked outside the main office. We were checked in by a very pleasant young lady who was, thankfully, clothed.

The young lady at the office obviously picked up on our nervousness, which had been growing as we drove closer to the resort. “Is this your first time at a clothing-optional resort?” she asked brightly.

“Yes,” Liz answered.

The young lady smiled. “You’ll be fine. Most of our first-timers have some anxiety, but it goes away quickly. You’ll love it. Everyone does.”

Back in the car driving towards the parking lot for the hotel, Liz mimicked the lady at the desk. “‘Your anxiety will go away quickly.’ Yeah, right. Mine isn’t. Mine’s getting worse.”

We took a long time getting our bags out of the car, finding our room, and putting our stuff away. Finally, we got up the courage to walk out onto the balcony of our room. Immediately below us were two sand volleyball courts, empty in the heat of a Florida June afternoon. A bit farther away to our right was a huge pool. There were people around the pool and two nearby smaller pools. There were also people at the beach bar beyond the pool. Except for hats or shoes, all of those people were obviously naked! I felt Liz grip my hand very tightly

We did useless things in the room, fully clothed, for another hour. Finally, Liz stopped, let out a deep breath, and said, “Staying in the room with our clothes on isn’t what we’re being paid to do.”

Liz reached down and pulled the tail of the polo shirt she was wearing out of her slacks. She started to pull the shirt over her head, but then let in fall back into place. “No, I can’t just strip naked in front of you. Not the first time.” Liz turned, went into the bathroom, and shut the door.

I walked back over to the sliding glass door between the room and the balcony. It actually looked like people were having fun out there. I knew that I couldn’t go out there with clothes on. And, as Liz had pointed out, we had a job to do. I let out a deep breath and kicked off my shoes. Here goes.

Several minutes later, I had all of my clothes off. I was standing with my back to the room looking out the sliding glass door. I heard the bathroom door open behind me and barely heard Liz’s bare feet on the carpet. Finally, Liz said, “Harry, turn around.”

I turned, giving Liz her first full-frontal nude of me. Liz was standing there wrapped in a large towel. She had her arms crossed in front of her, holding the towel to her body. Liz looked at me without saying anything for long enough that I got uncomfortable. Finally, the tension in her arms lessened. She took an edge of the towel in each hand, unwrapped herself, and let the towel drop to the floor.