A CIA Hired Wife Bares Her Soul
A Story from
A Saigon Party:
And Other Vietnam War Short Stories
by Diana J. Dell
The very first job I had, besides begging when I was a waif, was as a bar girl when I turned 10 years old. I worked on Tu Do Street. My nerves were shot by the time I turned 16. All that caffeine in Saigon Tea was making me sleep-deprived.
My mother was really worried about me and suggested that I look around for another job. Besides, I was getting too old to be a bar girl anymore. I would have been out of work by the time I turned 18, anyway. So, I began scouring the help wanted ads in "The Saigon Post" and sending out resumes to massage parlors around town.
After a few months of interviewing, I was becoming desperate. Oh, do not get me wrong, I received plenty of job offers. It is merely that I was sick of working for someone. I wanted to be my own boss, but I did not know any business owners who made as much money as bar girls and massage workers.
Then, one day I was having lunch with an American girlfriend who worked at the Tan Son Nhut USO. Consuelo O'Keefe was her name. I was one of her junior volunteers, you know, those young women of high moral character who are hostesses at USO activities—dances, holiday parties, stuff like that. The USO can be choosy in America, but in Vietnam there was not a big supply of young women with high moral character. Consuelo was sticking her neck out by using bar girls as junior volunteers and made it very clear to us that there would be no soliciting in her club.
At any rate, Consuelo was chattering on about one of her boyfriends, Max, a Malaysian who sold Oriental rugs to CIA agents. And how he was so busy because business was booming that he never had time to take a vacation.
My interest was peaked. "Are there a lot of CIA agents in Saigon?" I asked. Consuelo laughed and pointed out 10 sitting in the restaurant that Max had sold carpets to.
"And they have money to burn," she added.
"Do they come from rich families?" I was intrigued.
"Some do, but that's not the source of their wealth," she answered.
Consuelo went on to explain how the CIA was accountable to no one in the United States government. Congress did not have a clue what money they had or how they spent it. That, essentially, the CIA was its own government with its own set of rules, and in wartime the agency had money to burn anyway they chose, no questions asked, national security and all that. Gosh! Consuelo's American civics lessons were always so informative and interesting.
"Now there's an easy job with plenty of free time to yourself," Consuelo said.
"Me, a spy?" I asked.
"No, silly, a hired wife for a CIA agent."
It was the first time I ever heard of such a position, and was not surprised in the least that Consuelo knew of a class forming titled "How to Be a CIA Hired Wife" that was going to be taught at the Saigon Community College by the language instructor from the USO.
The course was already filled, but since I was the president of the USO junior volunteers, Consuelo believed she could pull some strings and get me in the first class.
The lessons were taught by an elderly Vietnamese woman who had been a hired wife to OSS agents during and after World War II. When the OSS became the CIA, she made the easy transition for a few years, but decided to retire when she saw the writing on the wall.
I learned that the OSS agents were romantic and brave and daring and intelligent. They came from various kinds of professions and backgrounds before World War II and were hand-picked by General Donovan because the United States needed the best agents to win that specific war.
During the McCarthy-era red scare, the CIA became filled with only robots who spouted the party line. The right-wing Republican Party, that is. The agents all thought alike, dressed alike, looked alike. Anyone even remotely dashing was dashed. Anybody remotely romantic or daring was suspected of being a subversive.
Mrs. Trung, the teacher, knew that the glory days were over, so she took the money she had saved and bought apartment buildings in Saigon. She did not come out and say that exactly, but that was a rumor floating around school. Consuelo had an apartment in one of her complexes.
I remember this so vividly, as if there is a recorder in my head. Mrs. Trung began her class with: "Now, in the OSS days things were different. Those were real men who wanted real women. Every one of them was an individual and, oh my, so handsome and fearless. But those days and men are gone. The CIA is a bureaucracy made up of mediocre bureaucrats.
"At the moment, girls, I know you think spies are romantic. Precisely, they used to be. With that in mind, please take plenty of notes and ask any questions that might pop into your pretty little heads.
"I also am aware that some of you may be VC agents. Well, that is fine. If that is the case, I know you have been trained in complex ideas. Girls, brush all that out of your minds. With the men who spy for the CIA, remember one word: Mediocre. If you remember that, you will get along fine and make lots and lots of easy money.
"Girls, when I was an OSS hired wife, there was not nearly as much money floating around as there is now. What cash there was back then, the agents used to do their jobs. During World War II, they armed and fed and clothed the peasants who were fighting the Japanese. The OSS agents were part of a grand scheme, the big picture. They were fighting on the side of angels, and they were knights in shining armor.
"Oh, they got paid well, but they were generous to their hired wives and even to our relatives. The CIA agents these days have so much more money, none of it accountable. They use some of it to bribe village chiefs, plan assassinations, set up torture chambers, buy votes, rig elections.
"It has been estimated by my friends' daughters, who are highly successful hired wives as their mothers once were, that the CIA agents pocket 10 times what they actually spend for their jobs. Oh, yes, and they are the first ones on the scene after battles are fought around temples and pagodas. They get the first pickings of antiques and precious stones. Yes, these men are fabulously richer than the OSS agents and astonishingly stupid.
"Keep that in mind and you will become rich, too. Just remember, the OSS agents wanted hired wives who were mistresses. The CIA agents want hired wives to be exactly like the wives they have back in the States. Remember, girls, the key word is mediocre."
Breezing through the class, I aced every test. I learned how to nag, how to get what I wanted at all times, and when to hold back my sexual favors. There were stock phrases that I mastered:
"I've given you the best years of my life."
"You don't appreciate me."
"You never take me out."
"Take out the garbage."
"Take your feet off the coffee table."
One of the best phrases was "I am sick and tired of being the only one who picks up around here." Whenever I used that one, my employer husband would hire a new maid. And when I shrilled, "All I do is slave over a hot stove all day," he would recruit another cook.
Skillfully, I acquired the fine art of cooking lousy meatloafs and soupy casseroles. How to put face cream on right before going to bed. How to shop in haircurlers.
Now, I know this sounds all so drastic, but I kept in touch with a number of my classmates and found out they almost lost their meal tickets because their husbands grumbled that they did not act like wives. One hired wife tried to initiate sex when she knew perfectly well, from class, that it was imperative to always squawk about having a headache at bedtime.
To be on the safe side, and to make sure my husband felt married, I hired a mother-in-law from an agency. These older women were former hired wives during the OSS days.
To be even safer, I employed teenage kids who played rock and roll records very loudly, snapped gum, and broke things around the villa. As more insurance, I purchased a stained bathrobe from a store specializing in items for hired wives, went to Tupperware parties, and even became an Avon lady.
Besides my salary, I made plenty of money on the side. When my husband came back from one of his secret trips to Laos or Cambodia with a Ming vase or an Oriental rug, I would take the original and priceless object to a VC auction house, sell it, pocket the loot, and then buy a replacement from a cousin who sold great imitations.
I would bring girlfriends around the villa for him to find a mistress on the side, which meant guilt-gifts and guilt-money for me. I also got a cut from the gifts he gave the mistresses for birthdays and holidays. Then, too, my hired mother was always "sick" and needed frequent operations.
From the mother-in-law agency, I hired a brother-in-law. His job was to repeatedly hit up my husband for money for new business schemes. I, as usual, took my cut.
Religiously, I wore flannel pajamas to bed. Of course, when he was out of town on business, I would don my silk teddies and lace underwear. He almost caught me one time when he came back unexpectedly. But when I heard the key turning in the lock, I raced to the bathroom and changed, put curlers in my hair and face cream on, and grabbed my stained and tattered bathrobe. Whew! That was a close call.
Incessantly, I would nag about being in the house all day, and he would give me money to go to a movie with my girlfriend. That was good for quite a bit of extra cash.
If he gave me American money, I would exchange it at one of the illegal money exchanges and get four times its value. If he gave me piaster, I would keep my hand outstretched and he kept putting more in it. That nitwit never could get the hang of what piasters were worth.
To keep him happy, I learned to protest loudly about women's libbers. I would just repeat what he always said about how they hated men and that they did not shave their arm pits. During sex I would use one of the stock phrases from class like "I am not doing that!" or "Are you finished yet?"
His CIA friends, who were all interchangeable, would come over for barbecues and, I kid you not, call me his “better half.”
Of course, he had PX and commissary privileges. I would give him shopping lists that could have accommodated a hotel. One of my cousins would stop by in the mornings and buy 90 percent of it for resell on the Black Market. He had stands all over Saigon.
My first CIA husband played those damn Elvis Presley records of his. When he was gone, I would put on Chopin and Vivaldi or some jazz. I loved it when he went plundering with the boys and I could have some time to refresh my brain.
By selling secrets to a VC agent who was married to my sister, I also made a few bucks on the side. But it was chicken feed, because most of the information I heard him discuss when he thought I was out of earshot was already known by the VC or useless because it was not true.
Like a yo-yo, I had to gain weight and then always be on a diet. I joined health clubs and Weight Watchers. Once a week I went to a beauty shop, because that was what his real wife at home did. I was regularly thinking of ways to look more like the hausfrau he had in the States. For instance, I padded my ass when I wore pedal pushers.
Unceasingly, I griped about the hired help, and he would invariably give me money to pay the agency for new ones. Without delay, I would pocket the money and keep the same maids or cooks. The moron never even noticed.
To keep up the charade, I subscribed to movie magazines and "The National Enquirer" and watched the soaps on AFVN when he was home. When he left, I was so culturally deprived that I gorged on Voltaire and Dickens.
When he thought I was at health clubs, beauty shops, and Tupperware parties, in fact, I was attending classes at Saigon University. While employed by all my CIA husbands, I took classes and over the years picked up a law degree, a medical degree, and a Ph.D. in economics.
Two of my girlfriends, who were also hired wives, and I rented an apartment near the university where we studied and kept our books. Moreover, we held NOW meetings there. Actually, the three of us founded the first Saigon chapter.
I would grumble habitually about feeling unfulfilled, and my dimwit hubby would give me money and tell me to take a ceramics class. At the end of eight weeks of the supposed ceramics class, I would buy a cheap ashtray and proudly show it to him. Thank God, he never turned the damn thing over and saw the "Made in Taiwan" label. The class fee was a hundred bucks and the ashtray cost 50 cents. Quite a profit, no?
My fake mate sent his relatives back in the States those tacky ceramic elephants that every American just had to own. Before sending it, he would show it to me and brag how he, in his words, "Jewed them down." In fact, he always got cheated. And I mean big time. So I suggested that I shop for him, and he would give me the money he normally spent. Then, I would spend one tenth of what my bogus betrothed would have spent and just pocketed the change.
During my hired wife days, I was forever whining about something and he, as well as the others who came after him, predictably responded in the same way. He would give me money. It was so damn easy that it was becoming monotonous.
I visited every relative I had in South Vietnam, from the Delta to the DMZ and a few in North Vietnam as well. Not often, though, because I detested the traffic jams on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. After one too many fender-benders, I started to fly to Paris and then fly to Hanoi, using a forged passport, of course. One of my cousins was in that line of work. Still and all, the jet lag really got to me. Mostly, I stayed close to home and worked on my degrees and stock portfolio.
Quite frankly, I laughed a lot during those days. Mostly at his expense. Everything he said or did got back to me through the grapevine. Oh, he would tell his mistresses, my girlfriends, that his missus did not understand him or that he was separated. We all got a big hoot when he would answer a bar girl's question with his standard question, "Do I look married?"
The charade never stopped. I would bitch, "Do you have to smoke those smelly cigars in the house?"
And he was so predictable. The lord of the castle sat in his leather recliner and fell asleep watching football games nightly.
My cousin, pretending to be one of our maids, who was actually a VC agent, spent a week at our place, but decided that the information she picked up was not worth shit. She even asked me if my husband and his agent buddies were “for real” or talking in some kind of code, pretending they were imbeciles.
Let me explain. You see, the plan was for me to leave the house while the boys played poker. My husband thought the maid—my VC cousin—did not understand English, so he and his spy pals would speak as though she were invisible. My cousin, by the way, spoke nine languages fluently. Anyway, he and his CIA buddies would speak freely in front of her, as though she were a stick of furniture.
Imagine, if you will, the United States foreign policy being shaped by information gathered by these men. Let me give you a few sample remarks during one of their poker games:
"I don't want to be a Cassandra, but I think there's some corruption in Vietnam."
"Do you think any of the troops are smoking that marijuana stuff?"
"Do you think any of the Vietnamese elections are fixed, I mean, other than the ones we fix?"
"I've been hearing some talk, not much you understand, but some whispers about there maybe being a black market here."
"No way, Jose. The CIA would certainly be aware of it."
"I haven't seen anyone lately wearing black pajamas, so I think we're finally getting rid of the VC."
"Wasn't the body count the greatest idea since sliced bread. At last, an accurate way to calculate how well we're doing in this war."
"I don't trust that new man from Langley. He speaks Vietnamese for Christ's sake. He's a little too left for me. I told him to get information from the village chiefs but he spoke to the villagers. What the hell does he think he's going to learn from them. He doesn't even own a belted trench coat. He doesn't have a Vietnamese hired wife. And he dates an American civilian woman who works for the Quakers. They must have scraped the bottom of the barrel for him. But mark my words, he won't go far; he just doesn't fit in with the rest of us."
Let me think. What else do I recollect from my hired wife days with my first CIA husband? Oh, yes, his wife in the States and I both sent round-robin letters at Christmas. And he kept a diary for the memoirs he was going to publish someday. No Winston Churchill, he.
But mostly, you know what I found so amusing? How he and the other CIA agents would watch "Mission Impossible" episodes on AFVN and scoff that Hollywood did not get it right by portraying a Black man and a white woman as agents. My husband and his pals never met any working as agents for the Company.
However, they were definitely right about the sleuth show being fantasy. On it, there were intelligent white men. I personally never met any who worked for the CIA in Vietnam.
A Saigon Party:
And Other Vietnam War Short Stories
Barbie and Ken Experience the War
A Pedicab Driver Peddles Through History
A CIA Hired Wife Bares Her Soul
The Vietnamese Rock Star Interview on AFVN
Yolanda's Favorite Beggar
General Westmoreland's Houseboy (and VC Spy) Talks
The Library Card
A Saigon Warrior's Journal
Vietnam War at Amazon
Vietnam War on DVD at Amazon
Vietnam War Kindle Books
The Literary Hootch, Part 1
The Literary Hootch, Part 2
The Literary Hootch, Part 3
Vietnam War Destinations, Part 1
Vietnam War Destinations, Part 2
Vietnam War Destinations, Part 3
Vietnam War Destinations, Part 4
Vietnam War History, Part 1
Vietnam War History, Part 2
Vietnam War History, Part 3
Vietnam War History, Part 4
Vietnam War Research Material, Part 1
Vietnam War Research Material, Part 2
Vietnam War Research Material, Part 3
Vietnam War Research Material, Part 4
The French in Vietnam
Vietnam War Battles, Campaigns, Offensives, Operations, Programs
Vietnam War Aircrafts
Vietnam War Documents, Speeches, Papers
Vietnam War Cities, Districts, Installations, Places, Provinces
Vietnam War Weapons and Equipment
Vietnam and U.S. Presidents
Vietnam War Humor
The Media: Vietnam War
U.S. Allies in the Vietnam War
Vietnam War Antiwar
Political and Government Figures Involved in the Vietnam War
Trips to Vietnam
The Vietnamese: Vietnam War
Women and the Vietnam War
Vietnam War Films
Vietnam War Fiction Books
Vietnam War Books by Women Writers
Vietnam War Short Story Books
Vietnam War Screenplays
Military Leaders in the Vietnam War
Vietnam War Memorials
Vietnam War Battalions, Brigades, Corps, Divisions, Organizations, Units
Vietnam War Poetry
The Wall: Vietnam War
Vietnam War Quiz
Vietnam War Quotations
Vietnam War Books, Part 1
Vietnam War Books, Part 2
World War II Films (Part 1)
World War II Films (Part 2)
Memories Are Like Clouds
A Saigon Party:
And Other Vietnam War Short Stories