Coming in from the Cold
While at Doubledays in New York, my paranoia was entering an acute stage.
Convinced I was the object of a high-level feud between the CIA and FBI,
which were in disagreement about how "important" a case I was,
I began differentiating "agents" coming into the shop accordingly.
Telling the difference between them was easy: the former were civilized-looking
types that treated shop assistants like human beings; the latter rednecks
who treated them like they were dirt. One lot were the good guys, the
other the baddies.
Funny thing was I could tell who was what the minute they walked in.
One could also tell by the titles they asked for.
The baddies would ask for The Salzburg Connection, a pout thriller about
Nazi gold retrieved from an Austrian lake but gone missing since; the
goodies for Small Town in Germany, set in the West German capital of Bonn,
my hometown it so happened.
I'd get confused however if a cool black chick coming up to me asked
for Soul on Ice, by Eldridge Cleaver. Maybe she'd picked me just because
she liked my looks. Quite a few customers, both female and male, seemed
to. Not surprisingly, I ended up top salesman for several weeks running.
The Doubledays branch I worked in was on the corner of 53rd and Fifth,
two blocks from Tiffany's. So we also had some high society clientele
who didn't fit either category, but usually went for the nicest-looking
and best-dressed sales assistant anyway.
I usually wore a dark brown suit that I had acquired while briefly selling
ladies' shoes in the Del Monte Shopping Center at Monterey or a blue blazer
with gray flannels, my British outfit. I hadn't lasted long as a ladies'
shoe salesman because kneeling in front of them, and having to fetch new
ones to try on from the storeroom all the time, wasn't exactly my thing.
One day someone came into the shop whom I couldn't possibly take for
an agent: my former boss A.K. Peters, whose import-export firm I had worked
for before going into the army. It so happened, A.K. told me over lunch
at the University Club, that his right-hand man was about to leave to
start his own business. Would I like my old job back?
An amazing coincidence. Or was it? Knowing that A.K. Peters had worked
for the OSS during the war, the Office of Strategic Services (a forerunner
of the CIA), it seemed almost too much of one. But then, even if he did
have contacts to the CIA, Arthur King Peters by my own definition had
to be one of the good guys. So I said yes.
It was essentially a one-man business with only one assistant plus secretary.
Not only was I to be his new right-hand man, A.K. explained, but-since
he wanted to take a year off to work on a Ph.D. in French literature (that's
the kind of guy he was)-I was to run it for him in his absence.
My suspicions were aroused once more, however, when told he'd acquired
a new secretary, named Monika, who happened to be German. Strangely enough
too, she had Arab surname, being married to a Jordanian. An attractive
girl too-probably in the pay of the FBI.
Not wanting to let on that I suspected anything, I started making a big
play for Monika, bringing her flowers and taking her out to lunch, or,
convinced we were being followed, making a point of kissing her in public.
She didn't really seem to mind.
Invited for Sunday dinner at my boss's home in Bronxville, A.K. afterwards
took me into his study. Over coffee, cognac, and cigars, and with his
tape-recorder running, I told him a long involved story about anti-war
activities, drug-taking, militant black friends, and "surveillance"
by the FBI, assuming he'd pass this information on to the CIA.
The idea was to play the goodies out against the baddies. Nixon's chances
might be seriously damaged I thought if the FBI could be shown to have
made fools of themselves.
AK countered that they might have kept tabs on me for having associated
with a known "subversive" like Jerry Rubm, organizer of the
violent demos at the Democratic Convention in Chicago the previous August.
Trouble was, I began believing my own "disinformation." Over
New Year's, I rented a car and drove up to Hyde Park, FDR's former home
in upstate New York, now a museum. Seen to be paying homage to the Father
of the New Deal was meant as a signal to the "good guys" that
1 was ready to come out of the cold. That's how far gone I was.
Staying overnight at a nearby motel, I put in a transatlantic call (then
still very expensive) to my fatherly friend and mentor, the British colonel
who with his wife had come over for my graduation from Bowdoin, telling
him I was "in trouble."
For reasons of health (Jack had heart trouble), they were going to spend
the winter in Arizona, he told me. On the way back sometime in March they
would be stopping over in Boston to see one of their sons, at Fletcher
School of Diplomacy in Cambridge. How about meeting up then?
A brilliant idea I thought. But back in New York, I did something really stupid.