The Spy Who Loved Me

New CIA #2 Pick Used to Read Anne Rice Aloud at Her Bookstore’s Erotica Night

CIA's new No. 2 Avril Haines used to hold erotica readings at a Baltimore bookstore she co-owned. Ben Jacobs and Avi Zenilman report.

Rex Features, via AP,Rex Features

The former host of “Erotica Night” at a Baltimore bookstore will be the first-ever female No. 2 official at the CIA.

On Wednesday, Barack Obama nominated Avril Danica Haines to be the deputy director of the CIA, replacing Michael Morell, who twice served as acting director of the agency but took much of the blame for editing the highly controversial talking points around the 2012 attack on the consulate in Benghazi. As a lawyer in the White House Counsel’s office, Haines oversaw the approval process for the CIA's covert actions, acting as a vital link between the CIA and the president.

But 20 years ago, Haines opened and co-owned Adrian’s Book Café in the Baltimore waterfront neighborhood of Fells Point. She opened Adrian’s after dropping out of a graduate program in physics at Johns Hopkins University. The store featured regular “Erotica Nights.” including dinner and a series of readings by guests of published work or their own prose, according to a 1995 report in the Baltimore Sun; couples could attend for $30, while singles paid $17.

"Erotica has become more prevalent because people are trying to have sex without having sex. Others are trying to find new fantasies to make their monogamous relationships more satisfying,” Haines, then in her 20s, told the Sun. “What the erotic offers is spontaneity, twists and turns. And it affects everyone." (She also told Baltimore Sun reporter Mary Corey that friends heckled “you just want a mass orgy in your bookstore, while she and her co-owner were initially worried only "dirty old men" would show up.)

The event Corey attended at the bookstore featured a room lit with red candles where guests held chicken tostadas, waiting to eat as Haines read aloud the opening pages of The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty, by Anne Rice writing under the pseudonym A.N. Roquelaire, which features passages such as:

“He mounted her, parting her legs, giving the white inner flesh of her thighs a soft deep pinch, and, clasping her right breast in his hand, he thrust his sex into her.

He was holding her up as he did this, to gather her mouth to him, and as he broke through her innocence, he opened her mouth with his tongue and pinched her breast sharply.”

But her bookstore was hardly defined by erotica (which was shelved between self-help and parenting), stocking titles from a variety of smaller publishing houses and local authors, and offering a café. Haines was also well respected in the close-knit waterfront neighborhood of Fells Point, according to former neighbors.

One of them, long-time neighborhood fixture Steve Bunker, who has since retired to Maine, raved about Haines to The Daily Beast, saying “She’s brilliant, has a genius IQ, is easy to work with, and reliable.” He recalled going to New Year’s Eve parties with her at the $22 million dollar townhouses then owned by her father, Dr. Thomas Haines, a liberal activist and noted chemist, on the Upper West Side of New York.

Another property owner in the neighborhood, Howard Barstop, raved about Haines’ work ethic, reminiscing about when she would rehab her apartment in “jeans or a pair of shorts.”

At an agency recently rocked by revelations about then-Director David Petraeus’s secret erotic emails while having an affair with his biographer, Haines’s bookstore past seems considerably more appealing, and about as racy as what a reader might find in a Lewis Libby or Jim Webb novel.

Although Bunker was somewhat surprised to learn that his old neighbor had gone from Baltimore bookstore owner to one of America’s top spies, “stranger things have happened,” he said, predicting that she’d do a great job at the agency. His wife, Sharon Bondroff, agreed, calling Haines “a sweetheart.”