American Consulate General Karachi | February 1978
I stood in the middle of the fourth floor hallway at the American Consulate General Karachi with mouth agape. I had stopped the new girl in the hallway and hadn’t even bothered to introduce myself to her. She said that she worked, “Upstairs.” During our brief chat my brain had stopped working…
The sleek and attractive girl who I must conclude was a member of the C.I.A.—a spy—wore a handsome black and white pantsuit that I assumed was standard CIA attire. But get this… I was sure that I had met her before (while I was assigned to the Washington DC area), but I couldn’t place her.
It was driving me nuts. I stood there, unable to move.
An hour later I ate lunch at the radio shop workbench. Basheer had made tuna fish salad sandwiches. Al came up, smiled and said, “Did you see that new CIA chick?”
“Yeah, I ran into her in the hallway.”
“What’s her name?”
“I… I forgot.”
“What do you mean, ‘You forgot?’”
I put my hands up in defense.
“I just forgot. You want a tuna fish sandwich?”
Al gazed at me like I had forgotten the codes to the classified safes.
He shook his head and said, “Is she staying where we are in Clifton?”
My ignorance caused him to mutter, “Let me put it this way: ‘Is she single?’”
“I don’t know where she is staying. Since she wasn’t wearing a ring I assume she’s not married.”
There were nine CEO (Communications Electronic Officer) techs at the Karachi RCO (Regional Communications Office). Officially, Al and I were the only single guys. Since Al lived with his Thai girlfriend then unofficially it made me the only single guy.
I said, “I’ve met her before.”
Al’s expression reeked of excitement.
I leaned into the bench in preparation for backlash as I said, “I can’t remember?”
“What? You can’t remember? How could you not remember her?”
I shrugged and said, “I’ve got to get back to work. Looks like I’m going to have to return to Cairo on that radio repeater malfunction.”
“Hey man, that 100% government certified, CIA undisclosed tail in the hallway is way more better than squelch tail.”
Sometimes, Al had a way with words. “Squelch tail” alluded to the sound that a repeater made after it was keyed up.
He shook his head and left.
At close to five pm, Al brought me a message. The crypto tech Bill in Cairo had tried to fix the radio repeater and had missed his flight. He rescheduled to Karachi in two days. I offered to let him stay at my place. I would be on my way to Cairo by the time he arrived
Al told me he was working late so I should catch the Con Gen shuttle back to Clifton (I later learned that his delay was intentional. The techs had conspired for me to meet up with the CIA girl with no name).
The conspiracy worked. I got into the van to find the CIA girl sitting alongside two secretaries. I said hello to them and singled the CIA girl out.
“You’re staying at Clifton.”
I formally introduced myself. Her name was Allison (a good spy name, I thought).
When we got to Clifton I had Basheer take some bags she had stowed in the back of the van. She lived on the floor above, on the other side, and farther down. I gave Allison some helpful hints such as she would need a servant, the Con Gen would redo the apartment for her, and to make sure she dressed properly when she went out on the town. It turned out that one of the secretaries had already gotten her a servant. The rest of my banter I’m sure sure already knew. During a lag in the conversation I blurted out, “You should come down for dinner some evening. Basheer’s an excellent cook.”
“That would be nice. When?”
Her reply caught me by surprise. I said, “Basheer makes a mean Beef Wellington… Saturday night?”
I read her expression as: She was the confident CIA agent and I was the nervous tech guy.
It bothered me that I still couldn’t remember where I had met her. The memory was so close, but so far away.
Basheer’s eyes lit up when I told him I was having company on Saturday night.
Saturday Night Bizarre
I didn’t tell Al (or any of the techs) about my Saturday night dinner engagement with Allison. As far they were concerned I would head out to the Karachi Airport at one o’clock the next morning to catch the Pakistani Air flight to Cairo.
Allison arrived holding a bottle of wine she had bought at the Rome airport duty free shop. I gave her a peck on the cheek.
She gazed around at my decor. I had the GSO re-upholster the furniture in sky blue. The drapes were a light green color. She nodded her approval and said, “Nice.”
When I told her I didn’t have an wine opener Allison smiled. She pulled one out of the bag and said, “I figured this might be a rare item in Karachi.”
Before I had a chance to say anything she said, “Do you have wine glasses?”
“I’ve got some reasonable substitutes,” I said. “Hold on.”
I went to the kitchen and grabbed the two goblets left by a previous tenant. I couldn’t get rid of the smile pasted on my face. I glanced at my watch. I had five hours and five minutes before I had to head to the airport. Anything could happen, especially accompanied by a bottle of wine.
When I returned with two goblets Allison was seated at a dining table chair expertly opening the wine bottle. That image connected all those dangling synapses to the memory that I had tried so hard to retrieve.
Shocked, I stopped in my tracks…
(To be continued)