Early Saturday morning. I am entertaining myself by running the DVR in my head. It latched on to a memory from many years ago from back in old Peshawar. As posted before, I served in Pakistan and split my time between the road, Islamabad, and, my favorite, working in the consulate in Peshawar, most of the time as the only American.
Let me set the scene. Peshawar had only three consulates: Afghanistan, Iran, and USA. As I have noted before, Peshawar in the early 1980s, was a wild and wonderful place full of all sorts of characters. For anybody involved in consular work at any of the Western embassies and consulates in Pakistan one of the biggest headaches, aside from Western women who married Pakistani men and then desperately wanted to flee (more on that in another post), were the "world travelers." These drifters were often relatively young, late 20s to early 40s, with a few dollars and no sense, who somehow had made their way to South Asia. They would arrive in the oddest ways, often by bus from Europe via Turkey to Iran and sometimes through war-torn Afghanistan and to Pakistan. Some "world travelers" would go on to India, Nepal, Sikkim, Bangladesh and who knows where else. A few would stay in Pakistan to take advantage of the low prices and the easy availability of heroin. The stuff was sold openly in the ungoverned tribal areas, and made its way into the bazaars of Peshawar.
Back to our story. I was in Peshawar, and dead asleep, having gotten in late after a long road trip. The phone rang. It must have been around 3 am. Never a good sign. Nobody calls at 3 am to say you have won the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes. In keeping with the odds, this call was not good news. On the other end of the line was the consulate's head Foreign Service National (FSN) who told me in a hoarse, sleep-slurred voice that the owner of a local "hotel" (don't remember the name) had reported that he had a young dead American man in one of his rooms. I said, OK, asked him to call our chief local security man, get a driver, and meet at my residence in 30 minutes.
A little before 4 am, the men arrived. The security man, a big, bluff former Pakistani Army officer, asked me in a low voice, "OK, to take her?" Mohammed pointed at a cabinet.
"Her" was my M-1 carbine which he thought was the coolest, neatest looking gun on the planet. He much preferred having "her" slung over his shoulder than merely packing his 9mm Beretta. I agreed. He gleefully pulled "her" out of the cabinet, slapped in one of my 15-round mags, racked a 110 grain soft point round, and slung "her" over his shoulder. He was happy.
We climbed into the armored Suburban. I kept my eyes closed for most of the twenty or so minute trip down the narrow and very dark roads of the bazaar. We arrived at the "hotel," a narrow door in a wall, under a weak bare lightbulb, in the heart of the bazaar. The owner was waiting for us. I remember being struck by how much he looked like the executed former Prime Minister of Pakistan, Zulfikar Ali-Bhutto. We walked into the small poorly lit "lobby" which consisted of a cluttered desk and a rickety staircase which led to the rooms.
I asked "Zulfikar" about the dead American. He said he was upstairs. I asked how he knew the man was dead.
"He hasn't come out in four, maybe five days. Some friend of his was just here knocking on the door. There was no answer. He owes me rent."
"OK, let's go see."
"Zulfikar" led the way, with my carbine-bearing security officer next, and I last. Our FSN stayed in the lobby to call the duty officer at the Embassy in Islamabad to let him know we were working a dead citizen case.
We got to the door and stood there. We looked stupidly at each other for several seconds.
"Open the door, please," I said to "Zulfikar."
"I haven't a key. He has the only one."
"OK. What do we do?"
"Consulate doesn't have a key?"
"No. Why would we?"
The hotel owner seemed genuinely disappointed. His child-like faith in the mighty United States apparently had been rudely shattered.
Mohammed took charge of the situation.
Before "Zulfikar" could object, Mohammed delivered a swift kick to the flimsy door. It flew open, the frame exploding in a shower of splinters. We walked in. I remember the smell in that windowless room. It was strong and putrid; I had trouble not gagging. "Zulfikar," bemoaning his door, flipped on the bulb that hung from the ceiling.
"Oh, God," I blurted out.
In the harsh light, we could see dirty clothes, drug paraphernalia strewn about, and a clump of what looked like heroin on a piece of newspaper on the floor. On a charpoy against the wall lay the body of a young white man, now becoming a bit darker. The body had begun to swell giving the dead man a vaguely Hulk-like look.
He wore a dark and now tight shirt with a left-front pocket. Jutting from the pocket was what looked like a passport. I wrapped my hand in a Kleenex, and eased over to the body. Trying not to breathe, I pulled the booklet out.
"He's not ours!" I shouted. "We're out of here!"
"What about my door?" Zulfikar yelled after us as we thundered down the stairs. "I'll call the XXXX embassy. I am sure they'll pay."
Once back in the residence, I called the duty officer at our Embassy in Islamabad. Told him the dead man wasn't ours; he should call the XXXX embassy, tell them they had a dead citizen, and a door to repair.
A stupid and useless death for a young man in a remote place: Probably not how he had foreseen the arc of his life.