This is my barn jacket. Yes, it really is a German Police coat. It’s gore-tex with a zip out liner and about 10 pockets. How did I get this? Well, it was quite some time ago and it is almost an interesting story.
I was between jobs back in the early 80’s, living with some guys that were college friends and having monthly parties with old friends. Such was single life back then. At one of these parties one of our old classmates showed up and we were catching up on the last few years of our lives when, after a few beers, he mentioned that the work he was doing for the State Department had an opening for a temporary job. By the way, when we went to our 35th reunion years later he had just retired after his 30 years of service. Some guys have all the luck. Anyway, he said it involved travel and was only a two month position, but had something to do with an assist to Interpol and the pay was much better than I was used to.
I had a few irons in the fire, but really nothing solid and my savings were dwindling quickly, so he gave me his card to call and find out more. When the weekend was over I thought I should call and find out more. He set up an appointment with the German Consulate in downtown Minneapolis. I was having all kinds of James Bond thoughts going through my head what with Germany still being divided, Reagan having been inaugurated, the uprising in Gdansk, Poland, the year before, and the U.S. having boycotted the Moscow Olympics( Brezhnev was still in charge) also in the previous year. I was nervous, but dressed up in a coat and tie as I had no idea what all this was really about.
It was unlike any “interview” I had ever had as the three people in the office asked me all kinds of questions about my life in general. Not much about any of my work experience. There was pastry and coffee and it was just like getting to meet some new friends. After about fifteen or twenty minutes I asked them about the job itself. It turns out that there was a money laundering scheme going on with a Twin Cities connection that they had infiltrated, but still needed time to properly set up the sting operation in Germany. The only reason they needed me was to accompany one of their infiltrators on a couple of quick trips to Berlin. Apparently, this infiltrator was at a lower level of the operation, but they said it was still important for appearances to be nondescript. Well, that was me, Mr. Average, nondescript, nobody knows who the hell he is and he looks harmless. They wanted me to accompany their man a few times so that I would relax and they could keep up appearances.
So it was all not really a big deal. No exploding pens, fast cars, or Playboy models, just a few trips to Germany and that was it. They said they would call me in a few days and I thanked them for their interest and got the nerve to ask them who they were. They had been introduced as Herr so-and-so and I had already forgotten their names (I’m bad that way), but they informed me that they were a diplomat, a German cop, and an Interpol cop. I thanked them and said I was still interested, had the time, and was excited to go to Germany as I had never been there. I had only recently gotten a private pilot license at Wings, Inc. at the St. Paul Downtown Airport (Holmen Field) and loved flying whether or not it was me at the controls.
A few days passed and I got a phone call that offered me the position. I asked if anyone else was doing this and they said I didn’t need to know that. Okay, then. So there was still an element of secrecy, but when I asked them what to tell my friends if they asked they said just to tell them I was a short –time contractor for the State Department and that it required some travel. It was true, but they said keep any details, of which I hardly knew anyway, to myself. For my own safety, they added. That made me a little nervous, but apparently this was not really a big deal and they said that was just standard operating procedure. So when do I start?
A couple of days later I had a knock on the door and had to sign for an envelope that looked fairly plain other than the “signature required” part. Inside it were my airline tickets and hotel information. I checked to see that the plane tickets were for a round trip, they were, and there were what appeared to be some Deutschmarks in denominations from 5 to 1000, but only two of them were 1000 bills. I think the value was around fifty cents U.S. for a Mark, but I don’t remember exactly what it was back then. They had also put a note in there that told me to keep my receipts and to try and keep my purchases to “necessities.” Of course my mind was all over the place as to what constitutes a necessity. I “need” a new guitar and I “need” some new stereo equipment. I also “need” some new lenses for my camera. Somehow I figured their idea of need and mine were somewhat different.
It occurred to me that I had never asked, nor did they offer, to tell me exactly how much the job paid. I took a look at what was in my hands and thought for a moment about cashing in the tickets and converting the cash. It was about the equivalent of two months’ salary from my previous job, but this job was only going to be a couple of months. I decided to call the number they had given me for questions and contacts and ask. They wouldn’t be specific, but they said “adequate” since there were three agencies involved. At least that I knew of. Two days later a money order for a thousand dollars came in the mail with a note to say this would help cover my day to day living expenses until my actual paycheck was written. Since my share of the rent and utilities was about $250 a month back then I figured that I was going to be okay even if the pay itself wasn’t much. The fact that I would get a few quick trips to Germany in the meantime was really what I was looking forward to.
Three days later I was at the Minneapolis Airport (MSP) finding my way to the right concourse and to meet “my man” as he was referred to and begin. My passport was in hand and I found my way to the Lufthansa counter to check in my suitcase. It was a smaller one since the trip was only for a few days and my carry on was just a soft-sided briefcase. I was dressed casually as I waited in the short line to check in. When my turn came and I put my bag on the scale the uniformed woman at the counter informed me that my travel companion was waiting for me over there, pointing to an empty row of seats with a woman sitting at the end. She was an attractive, casually dressed woman with a large purse. As I approached her and began to extend my hand she got out of her seat and gave me a big hug which pleasantly surprised me. “I am Heidi,” she whispered in my ear. “Of course you are,” I thought, “I'm J...”, “Ssshhh, I know all about you," she whispered. I decided right then that this might be the best job I ever had.
To be continued...