This is the most unusual book yet written about the FBI. The chronicled journeys of the young FBI-agent author to Miami Beach and Canada during the early 1970s in search of the radical leaders of the New Left are reminiscent of those of Richard Burton to Mecca and the forbidden city of Harar in the 19th century. Both Payne and Burton, lonely adventurers, gained more intimate information about themselves and the subcultures they penetrated than their supervising authorities really approved of; but more importantly, as far as we are concerned, both took the time to write intriguing books about their experiences.
Burton, clothed in native attire and riding a camel, impersonated a religious pilgrim. Payne, with shoulder-length hair and wearing "hippie" clothing, posed as a dope dealer. His camel was a secondhand van with shag carpeting, secret compartments for drug and dangerous weapons, and a four-speaker stereo system blasting out taped music. Both Burton and Payne frequented low bazaars and communes in their travels and participated in the sex and drug activities found therein, in order to gain credibility and peer-group acceptance.
In 1968, when he came into the Bureau, Payne was certainly not recruited to be a hairy undercover agent. On paper and in person he looked like an untainted prototype of the special-agent role model as defined by J. Edgar Hoover. Born and raised of conservative Wasp parents, in a small town near Dallas, he obtained a degree in business administration from Texas Tech University, where he had also been a cheerleader, and later graduated from the University of Texas Law School. Tall, athletic, handsome and single, he arrived in the Los Angeles office in 1971 and shortly thereafter volunteered to work on the "hippie" squad investigating radical bombings at Isla Vista and other trouble spots in the L.A. area.
His street education proceeded faster than he might have liked. While mingling with the other demonstrators at the Republican Convention in Miami Beach in August 1972, he was brutally beaten by the police, sustaining injuries that required corrective surgery. However, he was frustrated afterward by being unable to identify his assailant and charge him with brutality; the arrest record had been conveniently lost. After that beating, J. Edgar Hoover's America began to look a bit like the New Left's America to Payne, but he nevertheless volunteered to go to Canada undercover when the opportunity arose.
In March 1973, using the alias "Bill Lane" and accompained by an LSD freak named Karen who had radical contacts in Canada, Payne aimed his van north from Seatlle. By then J. Edgar Hoover was dead, L. Patrick Gray was turning slowly in the Senate wind, and public interest in the fugitives was warning, but the Fbi brass still wanted the Weathermen holdouts badly. Unapprehended, they were a constant embarrassment to the Bureau.
Although Payne never found the elusive Weather people in the communes of Vancouver and the Canadian widlderness, he found a lot of other interesting characters: mystics, nature nuts, drug freaks of several varieties, and the Professor, an undercover contact who obtained for Payne an impeccably forged Canadian birth certificate, under the impression that Payne was a fugitive bomber from the States.
More important, however, were the discoveries that Payne made about himself, discoveries that changed his view of the Fbi and the world. He came to realize that undercover assignments were not romantic James Bond capers but lonely ordeals that took a tremendous toll on the human spirit. And he found that he could expect little or no help from his FBI superiors because the people-problems he encountered were foreign to their experiences and understanding.
When, after several months, he developed strong information indicating that his prey had fled to easteren Canada or abroad, he asked for return to the United States and release from undercover duties. Back in Texas, working as a field agent, he found himself an alien in that environment. Resigning in 1976, he moved to the Colorado ski country. Like Burton, the tinkle of the camel bell continued to beckon, but to Special Agent Cril Payne, alias Bill Lane, the price you paid to follow was too demanding, too difficult.