I kept a haphazard journal on this trip, but as I read it now, all these years later it loosens the memories and one particular entry makes me laugh: I particularly like Jeanne. She’s from McLean, Virginia and she’s a real pistol of a woman. She’s very quiet and appears grandmotherly, but she likes to toss back a few beers every night before bed and there’s something about her, something I can’t put my finger on. Oh there was something about her alright . . .
I remember Jeanne vividly—she was small in stature and unassuming in every way, except that here she was alone on an eco trip to Belize and Guatemala. She fit the profile though . . . I had four other senior single women on the trip. She adored birds and didn’t seem to care too much for the Mayan temple stuff, she liked the jungle. All she told me about her life back home was that she worked for the government. That’s all. My info from ICO said the same, that she was a federal employee and had been an ICO member for several years. I, being the kid I was, assumed that Jeanne was some sort of bureaucrat’s secretary—really, that was her temperament. Boy was I wrong!
I’m going to tell you who she was long before I found out who she was in this story, because it might make you think about the effect her presence might have had on us. Two months after this trip was over and done with, after I had successfully defended myself to my boss and the ICO’s international trip managers against Miss Rockbottom’s accusations that I was a bumbler of the worst kind, I was watching TV one night. I was watching 60 Minutes, something I rarely did, but there I was watching a piece about Aldrich Ames, you know the American CIA analyst who was convicted for spying for the Soviets? And the story is going along very nicely and then, weirdly, they begin an interview with one of the CIA agents who was key to exposing Ames. And it was Jeanne. There she was on the television, the unassuming little grey lady who I drank beer with, watched birds with, brought anti-diareahl medicine to in the middle of the night in the jungle of Belize—she was a CIA agent. As Mike Wallace spoke to her, he asked her about places she had worked and she said that she had done some work in Central America at some point in her career. This made the hair on the back of my neck stand up . . . I had traveled on a bus full of American tourists in rural Guatemala with a CIA agent aboard.
When I think of it now, I think of Hitchcock’s 1938 mystery The Lady Vanishes . . . if all hell had broken loose, Jeanne, just as Miss Froy did, would have hummed a few notes for me and told me to memorize them because the safety of the Western World depended upon my remembering the little tune. And as Jeanne ran off into the Guatamalan jungle, there I would be repeating the little song over and over in my head as I hitchhiked for a ride on the Western Highway desperately trying to get to the U.S. Embassy in Belize City. But nothing like that happened, perhaps she really was on the trip just to watch birds and have some R&R after capturing one of America’s biggest spies—or perhaps she was there to deliver something to someone, I will never know.