(The foul-mouthed, softball-playing, draft-dodging eighth graders from St. Priscilla’s are at it again.)

A sixth grade patrol boy wearing the orange belt of authority appeared at the door of the classroom accompanied by two men in black suits. Joe LaBenda, our teacher, came to the door to see what the commotion was about. The patrol boy pointed to Penis and left. The three men had a brief discussion. Mr. LaBenda told Penis to stand up. “Richard, would you please?” he said.

“That won’t be necessary,” the taller of the two men in black suits said. “I think we should still talk to him,” the other one said. The two men looked alike in their black suits, white shirts and ties that might have been black. Or blue. Or even dark green.

“An eighth grader?” the taller one said. ”Let’s go.”

The general consensus was that Penis was in trouble. Either that or he had been selected for some award. No one really knew for sure. The men had certainly not come to talk to Penis about an award. The minute they saw Penis he was no longer in trouble.

It all began with a school project.

Mr. LaBenda was a hands-off teacher. He liked to announce class assignments just to see what we would do with them. This time, he said, it’s cities of the world. Pick an international city, somewhere overseas and tell us about it. That was it. No further direction. We didn’t coordinate with each other, so there was a lot of duplication. This is stupid, Penis announced. He retreated to his 1911 Britannica with the fold-out maps and deliberately looked for a city that no longer existed. He soon realized that a project about a city that no longer existed would mean a trip to the public library, for him a clear impossibility.

Penis had been banned from the library for misbehavior. It goes without saying that he routinely failed to return books that he checked out, many of which were completely inappropriate for an 8th grader. Penis had somehow availed himself of a list of banned books and was reading them one by one. “You wouldn’t believe what’s in these things,” Penis told us. It was only when a watchful librarian refused Penis’ efforts to borrow a copy of The Sensuous Woman. She wrote a note to Penis’ parents and ordered him to take it to his parents. The note didn’t make it past the iron-grated garbage can in front of the Memorial Library.

Penis planned his revenge carefully; requesting books on reserve using false names that appeared innocent but when announced on the library’s speaker system caused much hilarity. At first the librarians wondered who Mike Hunt was and why he never came to the front desk for the books he requested. They figured it out though, and after that reserve book requests were no longer announced on the library’s PA system. To make things worse, one of the librarians saw Penis put in a reserve request slip and after that he was banned from the library.

With the customary research path cut off, Penis had to come up with an alternative. But first he needed to choose a city. “How about Saigon?” he asked. “That would work,” I told him. “Too much work,” he said. “It’s too far away.” Saigon was in the news every day; it just wasn’t exotic enough. South Vietnam wasn’t admitted to the UN and Penis had no idea how to get addresses for the South Vietnamese consulates, if there were even any in the country.

“I know,” Penis said. “Moscow.”

It was an inspired choice. Penis knew nothing about Moscow, except that it was the home of the Communists, our sworn enemy. He decided to write to the Russian delegation at the United Nations.

Penis went downtown to pick up a copy of the Chicago Seed and do research at the Chicago Public Library, one library that hadn’t banned him. All he needed was the address of the United Nations, but looking this up was too much work. He knew that the United Nations was in New York. There was a post office there. The mailmen in New York would know where to deliver the letter. The new Zip Codes are a pain, Penis said. No reason I can think of to use them.

None of us knew how to type. This was no impediment. Penis scrawled a letter and, feeling important, addressed it to Khrushchev himself c/o the Russian delegation to the United Nations. He put the letter in a blue letter box on a concrete pole near his house so he wouldn’t have to answer any annoying questions at the post office.

In those Spy vs. Spy days, mail to Russian missions in the United States was closely monitored; opened, photographed and sent on. This was a letter to the Soviet Premier himself. Reading through the lines, the agents judged that a personal letter to Khrushchev could only have been sent by a local agitator with an interest in emigrating. Even another Oswald, perhaps. The childish penmanship was further proof of a possibly deranged mind. That the penman had carelessly left his home address was further evidence of unbalance and ignorance of tradecraft.

Orders went out to the Chicago field office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Counter-Espionage Desk. The Desk was happy to get the assignment. There wasn’t much anti-commie work going on in the Midwest. Anti-war, sure, but that was boring. Surveillance of a possible Soviet reverse-defector was the big leagues. That the Counter-Espionage Desk lacked an incumbent wasn’t a particular concern. A tall agent who had little else to do was quickly assigned. The house of Penis was put under surveillance by the FBI.

The package from New York arrived a week later. The correspondent who answered Penis’ letter was deemed to be a a Soviet Political Officer (Contact #1), the tall agent wrote on the FBI Form 302.

Khrushchev could not answer the inquiry personally, the political officer apologized. He also pointed out that it had been a long time since Comrade Nikita had held that high office. But Comrade Kosygin had ordered that all requests for information were to be taken seriously and where possible, fulfilled by the relevant department concerned.

Included in the package were copies of Soviet Life with black and white pictures of smiling women wearing white turbans working the fields and driving tractors. There was even an article about chess, said to be the national sport, with pictures of skilled grandmasters alongside reports of annotated games in chess notation. Penis couldn’t understand why these skilled grandmasters didn’t all begin their games with rook lifts and why the Russians were so interested in a boring game. “They make it so complicated,” he told me.

There were articles about the triumphs of the Soviet Union in World War II, the iconic picture of the taking of Berlin and an article on the Russian language. That article explained that Moscow’s name, written in Cyrillic, was MOCKBA. Assuming that Cyrillic letters only disguised the same sounds in the Roman alphabet, Penis concluded that we were all incorrectly pronouncing the name of Soviet capital. “It’s mock-ba,” he said. “Mock as in mock, ba as in ba ba black sheep.” From that moment on, Moscow became Mockba.

FBI surveillance of Penis’ home revealed little. From time to time, a peculiar crew of twelve and thirteen year-olds showed up with putters and played miniature golf on an imaginary course set up around the house. They swore at each other and were poor miniature golfers. One of them wore apparently stolen bowling shoes, size 8. A suspected dead drop made from a tin can turned out to be the third hole. Besides that evidence of criminality, there was little evidence of contact with local Soviet sleeping agents. “Keep an eye out,” the tall agent’s partner counseled, “the contact will show up sooner or later.”

A federal magistrate judge signed off on the warrant to intercept telecommunications. The facts were sufficient to meet the low probable cause standard. A Communist sympathizer contacted the Soviet Premier in an effort to emigrate. His home, not far from the Nike missile base with its warheads aimed at Soviet territory, was under surveillance. A package containing subversive matter had been delivered to the address, a likely nest of communist agitation. It was no coincidence that the provocateur lived near the missile base. Sabotage or even a nuclear incident was not out of the question. Interception of all communications was urgently required in the interests of national security.

When the lines were tapped with the cooperation of the mysterious AT&T office on Vail Avenue, a bricked-up building with only one entrance and a door delineated by strangely opaque glass bricks. The agents noted that Lenny’s, a one-story candy store, was where members of the gang purchased, or claimed to purchase, cigarets. The surveilling agents noted that there never seemed to be any adults on the calls. The children who lived in the house mostly spoke nonsense on the phone, something about banned books, being thrown out of libraries and someone named Hunt. The teenage female at the residence mostly discussed cute boys, fights with her girlfriends, shoes she could not afford and make-up her mother did not allow her to apply.

Federal regulations required that personal conversations were to be “minimized,” which meant that the agents were on their honor not to listen, but they only turned off the tape recorders and listened anyway. The logs referred to these partial summaries which made little sense in the context of the investigation. Initially, the agents thought that “shoes” might be a code for explosives or narcotics, but the wide variation in footwear styles and designers put paid to this theory.

“Nothing about Contact #1?” the tall agent asked. “Not a thing,” the shorter agent answered after reviewing the logs. “There’s a lot of talk about someone named ‘Penis’ but we haven’t been able to identify him. Contact #1 never appeared on the tapes.” “Let’s put this “Penis” as “Contact #2” the tall agent ordered. Contact #1 worked at the United Nations under diplomatic cover and was already known to counterespionage. Contact #2, code-named “Penis” enjoyed no similar immunity.

In typical fashion, the Soviets learned that the FBI was conducting a counterespionage investigation whose goal was identifying a possible Soviet agent, code-named “Penis.” Afraid of a defector in their midst, the KGB initiated their own investigation, titled “Codename Пенис.”

Surveillance showed that other than going out to the grocery store, the adult resident of the monitored residence rarely went out. The two adolescent residents walked to the nearby middle school every day. One day, the young boy who lived at the residence took the commuter train downtown. The agent who tailed him noted that the young boy had purchased a copy of the Chicago Seed from an individual who was a known to the Bureau as a marihuana user.

Penis had more than enough information to put together his report for Mr. LaBenda. What he didn’t know, he simply made up. His report, titled Москва was a hit with our classmates, but Mr. LaBenda was skeptical, saying he doubted that chess was “big business” in Russia. He also did not believe that Hunt was a Russian surname, but Penis insisted. Mr. LaBenda gave Penis a “B” anyway for his report. He was a generous teacher.

Washington shut down the surveillance as unproductive. The agents decided to make a field visit to St. Priscilla’s. When they asked the patrol boy about someone named Penis, he offered to take them to his classroom. “I knew it,” the shorter agent said. It’s a teacher. Probably a perv too, with that name.”

That Penis was not a teacher was immediately obvious. Mr. LaBenda explained about the report project. To clear the matter up, they asked to see a sample of Penis’ handwriting. Mr. LaBenda accommodated their request, giving them a single sheet of scrawled notebook paper containing the phrase, “I will be quiet in class,” written twenty-five times. Penis’ scrawl matched the missive to the Soviet Premier.

The sheet of paper, now evidence, was bagged and attached to the 302’s, filed and forgotten by all. The investigation was marked “Closed.”

A decade and a half later, Richard applied to become a member of the Bar of the State of Virginia. In addition to possessing required academic credentials and a degree from a law school approved by the American Bar Association, applicants to the bar must undergo a character and fitness examination. As part of this examination, State Bar authorities conduct a background check to determine if applicants have a criminal record. A routine records check showed a hit from the FBI. Richard’s name had come up in a counterespionage investigation. The Bar adjudged that the matter merited further inquiry.

An investigator from the unified bar of the State of Virginia summoned Richard to bar headquarters in Richmond. Richard had passed the bar and wondered what all this was about. The Bar had made a further records request to the FBI which produced the 302’s.

“Who’s Penis?” the investigator asked.