Page Communications Engineers had more than 2,000 employees in Iran, all from various countries around the world. Each was paid their normal wages for the positions they held in their home countries, but with a per diem allowance that would cover their living expenses. To attract even more of the best workers, the pay package added a 15% bonus for completion of a one-year contract to give each worker the equivalent of a year’s pay saved in the bank at the end of their stint. But only if they lived within their standard economical means while in Iran. But a German engineer I had met in the hiring process in Munich, whom I’ll call Karl for the sake of his privacy, had chosen to live well above his standard economical means, a temptation to all of us but only practiced by a few.
While waiting for his newly wed wife to join him, Karl had chosen an expensive, two bedroom luxury apartment in a neighborhood filled with doctors, lawyers, statesmen and others who had garage-door openers and luxury automobiles. But because Karl’s wife would not arrive for a few more months, he was quite lonely in the apartment and was looking for a temporary roommate. Everyone he had asked had turned him down because of the price he was asking.
But I liked Karl. He was quite a genial fellow, tall and lanky, with dorkishly thick glasses and a fountain of straw-colored hair that stood up in the front, making him look a bit like a scarecrow on its way to Oz. He always had a wry smile and an instant, comical comment for what we both knew to be inept management that had no concern whatsoever for anything or anybody who stood in the way of profit-maximization. But as a brilliant engineer with a strong sense of fair play, he managed not only to make excellent contributions to the project, but to steer the management morons in better directions, in spite of their lame assessments of themselves and their present surroundings. Karl also saw the Iranian people as equal human beings with different forces forming their behavior patterns, not as people to ridicule, fear or despise. So when he made me an offer to live with him at a price slightly less than my one-and-a-half-star hotel, I quickly accepted and moved in, along with my only prized possessions, my portable stereo and black market cassette tapes of Woodstock musicians that I had acquired in Singapore on a previous adventure. But Karl’s naivety and lack of street smarts, mixed with his tendency to get his nose too deep into the bier mit schnapps every night, got him into a precarious situation one night with the local beat cops.
I had just returned from a field trip and found him sitting on the couch with two uniformed patrolmen who normally spent their evenings casually strolling the streets of the park-like neighborhood. In his thirst and loneliness, he had invited them in for a cold drink to while away their mutually boring hours. However, as I quickly realized, the two cops didn’t see him as a kind and hospitable neighbor. They saw him as a fool. Street cops in Iran were not normally considered potential friends by the upper class.
Their Bohemian greeting instantly gave them away. With their alcohol-laced breath preceding them, they lavished me with exaggerated bows and praises in bits of English and Farsi like I was their long-lost uncle returning from the war. As I politely turned down the offers to join them, I noticed their wrinkled, soiled and slightly frayed uniforms as they returned to the couch, insisting that Karl sit in the middle. As they put their arms around him, instantly offering to refill his glass after every sip, I assumed they would search for the presence of a feminine side to further enhance their evening. Assuming that Karl was a big boy and could handle himself, I excused myself to retire for the evening. On my way to my bedroom, I stopped in the half-bath connected to the dining room and noticed the cops’ garrison caps resting on the back of the toilet. I saw it as Fate giving me the opportunity for a bit of revenge.
While relieving myself, I released a slight drizzle into the satin upper lining of each cap. If not on them directly, I thought, then on them figuratively. I went to bed snickering under my breath.
When I awoke, I found Karl sprawled out on the couch and the door wide open with no sign of the two cops. I woke him up and went to make some coffee. When I returned, he was on the phone, apparently talking to the boss in his learning-stage English. One of his reasons for my reduced rate as a roommate was that I could help him improve his skill in the language of business, power, war and self. I got a good laugh hearing him tell his excuse for being late, “Ze alarm watch went off, but not me!” As I left for work, Karl said he would get cleaned up and be there in about an hour.
Karl arrived at the office with a very worried expression. He confided that his memory was a little fuzzy from the night before, and he couldn’t remember if he had given me any of the money he had owed me for a previous transaction. He had been paid the day before and had a month’s pay in his wallet. But when he checked it after I left that morning, the money was gone. I told him that he had indeed paid me what he owed me, and he was a bit relieved. But he was still missing the rest of the money. We immediately suspected the two cops. Karl was a bit reluctant to make a report, but I adamantly wanted to. He used the excuse of being too busy to avoid having to go to the cop shop, but I used the excuse of not yet having been assigned to a new problem to go immediately and make whatever kind of report I could.
The commissary was easy to find and the desk sergeant translated my attitude enough to send me to the captain who understood enough English for me to tell him what we thought had happened. Both he and the sergeant were well-groomed, wearing a clean and fresh uniforms and seemed greatly concerned that two of their officers would be drinking on duty, especially in that neighborhood. So the captain asked me if I could identify them. I thought that maybe I could, so I agreed to come back at seven o’clock that evening when the night shift came in for briefing before going out on the streets. Karl rejected the invitation with what I assumed to be fear of the unknown. This was not uncommon with engineers familiar only their home country and who’d been indoctrinated to their new one with only insipid propaganda. So I had to go alone.
When I arrived, the captain assembled about thirty officers in three ranks and asked me to inspect them to find the two who were in the apartment. As he ordered them to attention, my first thought was that I would not remember exactly what they looked like and wouldn’t be able to identify them positively. But a flash of memory shot into my head. I asked the captain if he could have them remove their hats and hold them in front of them with the insides showing forward. If I were unable to distinguish the features of the faces, perhaps I could distinguish the drizzles of piss from the sweat stains. At least it was worth a try.
I began pacing slowly along the first rank, looking into the eyes of the officers and then into their hats. All remained rigidly at attention. After passing the first few and seeing no stains at all, I could clearly see that perspiration would stay in the sweat bands and couldn’t reach the satin lining on the inside of the top. I became more confident and actually began enjoying it. For the first time in my life, the pigs were at my mercy. I remembered the harassment at the Vietnam demonstrations and the abuse of the war protesters in the United States by the police. I also knew that all cops weren’t alike; it was the inept few who made the whole force look bad. And now it was my turn to help root out a few of the rotten apples. I was elated. I began to think that the culprits’ guilt would also be a giveaway. So I concentrated more on their eyes, paying only casual attention to the condition of the cap linings.
Most of the faces remained calm and confident as I approached, and most of the hats were relatively clean. But about a third of the way through the second rank, I noticed one cop with wide eyes and his head slightly trembling from the neck. His uniform was also unkempt, unlike most of the others. I focused more directly on his eyes, which became wider as the trembling increased. I stopped and glanced into the hat. Sure enough, there were a few stains with a brownish border, possible only from drops of a foreign liquid. Looking directly into his eyes I said, “You! You were in my house last night.” He gasped as I told the captain he was definitely one of them. I decided I would have even more fun finding the second.
I began glancing into the hats three places ahead so that I could identify the second guilty officer before getting close enough to look into his eyes. And sure enough, I saw the condemning stains well in advance. But I nonchalantly passed by him to torture him with a slight sense of relief. I noticed the wide eyes and trembling neck slightly relax. But three clean hats later, I spun abruptly around and pointed back into his face. “You,” is all I said. Then I put my nose six inches from his. Tears welled in the corners of his eyes and I gave the captain the second positive identification. He released the rest of the officers to their duties, and as he walked me to the door, he told me they were indeed the two officers assigned to our neighborhood. An investigation would begin immediately. If the money was found in their possession and Karl could identify it by serial numbers or markings, it would be returned to him. But the thieves were probably smart enough to have it well hidden. Karl would also have to identify them from a standard police lineup, as in any normal criminal investigation. So there would be no chance of him seeing the stains. If he couldn’t identify them, but would testify that two officers were indeed in his house drinking alcohol, they would probably be dismissed on the weight of my positive identification.
Up until that time, most of the Page employees only thought of cops as the SAVAK agents, the secret police used to root out dissenters of the Shah. One of them was a driver for our department who, on the few instances we used him to ferry us to various events related to the project, would respect no traffic laws, drive on the sidewalk and even try to run over the toes of other cops trying to direct traffic. He was immune to any criminal prosecution. His example gave us all a bad taste for Iranian police in general. But like most people going about their business in most nations, we rarely had any other encounters with the police. I had hoped that my story about the reasonable and professional captain and sergeant would help my fellows realize that the Iranian people in general were well worth knowing as friends, and that we should not let the few that made a bad name for everyone spoil our opportunities to enjoy our stay.
I continued living with Karl until his wife arrived at about the same time my Australian girlfriend, Felicity, arrived from London where she had been studying midwifery. We rented a lovely little upstairs apartment in a home in a middle class neighborhood of Tehran. The elderly couple who owned the house became friends and, because we made so many field trips to the remote parts of Iran, we rarely spent any personal time with the engineers I served. I only saw Karl a few times again in the office while trying to sort out other problems on the project. We never spoke of the incident.
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