Late November 1977
After completing my first Middle East trip I headed back to my home base of Karachi, Pakistan on the Thai International flight. It had only been about two weeks, but it seemed like two months. As the flight ascended to its thirty-some thousand feet cruising altitude, it forsook the stark blue of the Mediterranean for the more amiable azure sky.
It was a perfect environment to dig into John D. MacDonald’s The Deep Blue Goodbye where salvage consultant/Detective Travis McGee was on the trail of a new kind of sea treasure—a serial killer’s bounty. I had borrowed the mystery book at the Cairo guesthouse and forgot to return it (next visit).
I had at least fifteen more of MacDonald’s Travis McGee paperbacks to read before my Middle East tour ended. MacDonald’s super sleuth/salvage consultant resided on the “Busted Flush” at Slip F-18, Bahia Mar, in Florida. All titles included a color, a mnemonic device, which was suggested by his publisher so that when harried travelers (like me) in airports looked to buy a book, they could at once find those MacDonald titles they had not yet read. To date I had read Nightmare in Pink and A Deadly Shade of Gold while in Northern Virginia preparing for this assignment.
When the food cart neared I put the book away. Based on the few meals I had on Thai Airways I thought I was going to enjoy Thai food in Bangkok next month. I chose the yellow curry chicken with potatoes over the rice noodle dish.
<feature photo by pinterest.com
I settled back after the fine meal and sipped on a Thai Singha beer.
My first trip to the Middle East had mostly been a success. I had visited the American embassies at Cairo, Athens, Nicosia, Beirut, and Amman.
I had serviced the radio needs of four of our Top Five security threat posts. I’m sure my boss RSO Robert P. Roberson had been pleased, although I might get some flak about my decision to venture into Beirut city unescorted from the airport. I wouldn’t fault Bob for pushing me to cover all the bases. It’s our (CEO radio techs) job. Besides, but for a few mistakes, I felt really good about my first trip. I had accomplished a lot and had upped my score on the 40% side of my mentor Norm Bates’ 60/40 Hypothesis (despite my big error in judgment in Beirut). Basically, the 40% portion of his hypothesis was everything other than the technical requirements of my job. I got drowsy thinking about the percentages…
…The soft pings announcing our descent into Karachi International awoke. Groggy, I watched the Thai stewardesses prepare fore landing as if this were the King’s personal aircraft. I wiped the remnants of a dream out of my eyes. Back in Cairo RSO Childress had strapped me in a chair in the radio room. He held up a series of large photos and kept asking me, “Have you ever met with this man?” Each time I would say no to the Eastern European looking men…
… Until the last photo… It was the ex-radio tech whose photo I had seen in the journal hidden beneath a pile of radios in the radio room at RCO Karachi.
When I woke up I realized the last photo RSO Childress had shown me was my predecessor Charlie A.
* * *
As I entered the Karachi air terminal at close to midnight I suddenly felt a chill. The temperature had obviously dropped. My cohort Al had told me that Karachi could get cold in November through February, but I didn’t take him seriously, nor did I believe Karachi should fall under the category of tropical weather.
The Pakistani Con Gen driver was waiting for me at arrivals. After asking me if I had a good trip the driver remained quiet the rest of the trip. He traversed the twenty kilometers from the airport in the east of the city to my apartment in Clifton, near the Arabian Sea. The nighttime well-lit thoroughfare, gave one a more amiable impression of the sprawling city than the sun-drenched Karachi.
I don’t how my servant Basheer knew of my arrival time, but it was he, and not the guard, who opened the gate. He grabbed my suitcase and tool kit out of the trunk of the car at one a.m. When I turned around Basheer had already disappeared up the stairwell.
The door to my apartment stood open. When I walked through Basheer said, “Would you like something to eat, Sahib [he pronounced Sahib like the Swedish car—the Saab]?”
“No, thank you, Basheer,” I said. “I think I’ll chuck it in… I’m going to bed.”
Basheer gave me that slow turn of the head that meant, “As you like.”
“I’ll be going to work at the usual time tomorrow morning.”
“Yes, of course.”
After Basheer’s departure the apartment grew extremely quiet. It would take an hour or so before I’d be able to sleep. I grabbed John D. McDonald’s The Deep Blue Goodbye and relaxed on the couch.
I realized that this was the first time I had really been alone. In school, in the military, back in Northern Virginia, and even on a small island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. I had always shared a place with someone. Six weeks into my two-year assignment at Karachi and I was already thinking about leaving. Tomorrow I’d ask Bob to keep me on the road as much as possible. It hadn’t bothered me much staying for short periods at hotels before hitting the road again.