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Orleans, Massachusetts, in June of 1981.
Jack and I led an enchanted life. We had lived in Africa and Asia when Jack worked for The Boston International. Who could ask for anything more than to experience those two exotic continents: one with raw, untapped beauty and the other with centuries of unyielding classical architecture and history.
Hong Kong was a magical city. Our apartment overlooked the jade-green waters of the South China Sea at Repulse Bay. Through the mountain saddle to the downtown side, the skyscrapers were so close, they almost whispered to each other. Every inch of land, except the cricket field, was occupied by banks, hotels, and soaring office buildings. Apartment buildings for Europeans were terraced at different levels of the mountainside. At night, it was a fairyland. Western traditions melding with Eastern. The lights sparkled, and Chinese junks were silhouetted at sunset as the Star Ferry plowed through the inscrutable waters of the Hong Kong Harbor, landing on the Kowloon side and its cacophony of Chinese life.
Our lifestyle was one of idyllic dreams. We had an amah for the children, and a full time cook, who could prepare home style western menus or native exotic Chinese dishes.Each of his pastries was a work of art. We were spoiled. When the four day Chinese New Year holiday rolled around, all the westerners could barely cope with cooking and caring for their own children. Most of the journalists' wives were left alone in Hong Kong for 50 percent or more of every year while their husbands covered stories all over Southeast Asia as well as being China watchers. The ex-pat community was very close-knit.
I became a friend of The New York Times bureau chief's wife. Together, we wrote a musical about Mao Tse Tung and his power-hungry wife, Chiang Ching. On the side, I wrote a travel article about Bali for The Times. A British publisher saw it and hired me to write a book about that enchanted island.
At the time, I thought the worst day of my life had happened when we had to leave Hong Kong for Jack to become editor of The Boston International. I couldn't imagine what it would be like in the States after six years in Asia. I had come acclimated to the bustle of Hong Kong with its sights and sounds. I would miss the modern skyscrapers abutting centuries-old temples. And I would miss the multi-national cuisines that shaped and satisfied our taste buds.
Adjusting to American life was a huge hurdle at first. Tending to two growing children, though, made the time pass quickly. After almost ten years in a suburb of Boston, it was time to fulfill Jack's dream-owning a small newspaper on Cape Cod.
We pooled our resources and bought the Orleans Weekly, the town's namesake. It was in a typical gray, weathered, shingled building. The old rickety, one-story structure had rooms like a rabbit warren, but it was on the main thoroughfare at a great location. This humble piece of real estate housed a small press in the basement. When it began to hum, the blood in our veins, like ink on the presses, made the juices flow with excitement. Many a night we had to spend stuffing papers and bundling them with string when staffers walked off the job. Nevertheless, it was a good life-a satisfying one.
The house we found was a little Cape Cod jewel. Just five minutes away from the office, it was hidden down a long narrow drive and opened to a panoramic view of Nauset Beach and its sandbars, facing the Atlantic. There were three acres and a beautiful marsh that changed colors with the seasons. The house was small, and we shared a study, which wasn't ideal, but bearable since we lived seven days a week at the newspaper.
After four great years there, a life-changing telephone call came for Jack from Washington, D.C. The Russell Rowland administration was considering Jack as a political appointee to Secretary of State, Gavin Stanley. Jack was in contention to serve as his spokesman under the formal name of Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs. The news was so unexpected, we were stunned. A battery of D. C. telephone calls came to our newspaper office. For privacy, Jack had to go either into the closet or bathroom. The walls were paper thin. Everyone always heard each other's conversations.
"Ginny, THEY want my fingerprints," whispered Jack.
"How is that done?" I whispered back.
"They want me to go to the local police station."
"You can't. They will be so suspicious and start spying on you."
"I know. Wait a minute." Jack picked up his mail and quickly shuffled through it. "Guess what?"
"They said they had sent a fingerprint card to me in the mail." He ripped open the brown government-looking envelope on his desk. "This is it."
"Go ask Betsey if she has an ink pad." I went to the front desk and snatched away her ink pad without asking-for the sake of National Security! When I came back, I closed the door to Jack's office. He took the pad and rolled his fingertips on it. Then, I put the special card on his desk and he placed each finger in the noted space until it was full. Naturally, the tops of his fingers were covered in ink. He washed his hands in the bathroom sink and used a paper towel to rub off all traces of the ink stains. As I watched this process, I was struck by its symbolism. Jack was wiping the slate clean by exchanging the ink of a newspaper office for the global arena of the State Department. This seemed to be part of Jack's destiny, and we would treasure each step as it unfolded.
Jack held up the fingerprint card and said, "Looks professional to me."
"Me, too. If it doesn't work out at the State Department, you can always transfer to the FBI!" I teased.
'Thanks for your undying confidence!. We'll drop this in the mail on the way home."
"You can stop whispering!" I said.
The telephone rang again.
"Jack Hunter. Yes. Since 1945? That's a long time ago. I can't remember everything. I will. My books? I might have a couple of spare copies. What for? There's nothing provocative in them-just the truth. Where should I send them? I certainly will. Goodbye."
I asked, "What do they want from 1945?"
"All the places I've lived since then."
"Do they know that we lived in 41 different places during just six years in Africa? I can't remember all of them. What do they want your books on Africa and Indonesia for?" I asked.
"To go over them with a fine toothcomb to see if there is anything subversive in them," Jack said.
"They're thorough, I'll say that about them."
"Let's go home."
That was early spring. We had sent the very professional-looking fingerprint card and all the items and information they had asked for. We didn't hear anything else for a couple of months, but kept working, as if it weren't going to happen. Still, every once in a while, we found ourselves staring at each other and wondering if we would be leaving our home and our business. If it were to be, Max, our youngest, would go with us and finish high school there. Wanda would be entering college, living away from home. Would the Rowland administration be in office for four or eight years and would we be gone for the same? Would all our roots be pulled up once again? Could we adjust back to big city living? It was a lot to think about. And yet, the prospect was so exciting. As we waited for the next step, we kept one ear listening for the telephone to ring, bringing us news from Washington.
One afternoon we went home for a leisurely lunch on the deck. Jack installed an extension cord on our phone and pulled it out beside his chaise lounge. As we were drifting off into a semi-slumber, the telephone rang.
"Mr. Hunter, sorry to disturb you, but there's someone important at the front desk asking for you," said the receptionist.
"Who is it?"
"A Diplomatic Security Officer from the State Department."
"A State Department Security Officer?" Jack asked. I immediately sat up. "Should I come back to the office?"
"He says they don't want to talk with you, but to speak alone with everyone in the office."
"Of course. Okay. Just be sure our people cooperate. Use my office," said Jack calmly looking directly at me. He hung up and we stared unbelieving at each other. "Well, it's no longer a secret."
Little did we know, and didn't find out until hours later, that at the same time the officer arrived at the newspaper, he had help from the local FBI field agents, and they had set up a post at the elbow bend in the road, leading to our driveway. Instead of heading back to the office, we decided to stay put. Jack paced back and forth for hours until he finally went to work at his desk in the house. I couldn't concentrate and just lounged on the deck with a multitude of thoughts rushing through my mind.
The three FBI men in typical dark suits and conservative ties had the back of their black van open, so they could adjust all of their electronic devices, used for recording. They stopped and name-checked everyone who came down the road. There were only four or five houses on our secluded lane, so the activity couldn't have been that great. After an hour of no movement, one of the men decided to begin knocking on the neighbors' doors. A few moments later, our most elderly neighbor, a woman in her seventies, asked who was there. She had no idea that he was ready to take her statement.
"Excuse me, ma'am, we're from the FBI. Could you spare a few moments to talk with us?"
She skeptically opened the door, but wouldn't come out. "May I see your badge?" He politely, but authoritatively, showed it to her and she reluctantly came out on her porch. "How may I help you and what's this about?"
He said, "Your neighbor, Jack Hunter, is being considered for a high-level post in Washington, D.C."
"Washington, D.C.? That's awful," she blurted out.
"I beg your pardon?"
"Washington is such a rat race. I spent forty years there. Why would anyone want to leave paradise and go there?" she queried.
"Do you know Mr. Hunter?"
"Sadly I don't, but please give him my condolences," she said and turned to reenter her house and close the door. As far as she was concerned that's all she was going to say on that matter.
The agent smiled and went to join his colleagues to recount what had just happened. They all laughed. One of them said, "She could be right. It's pretty nice here." They nodded and waited for the next victim. Just as they were about to pack up, a bushy-haired teenager skidded around the corner on his blue bike. He was whistling and nearly ran the men down. They put up their hands to stop him.
"Hello there, young man, do you mind if we ask you a couple of questions?"
"Do you know the Hunters? Jack and Ginny Hunter?"
"Do they have any close relationships with any of your neighbors?"
"How old are you?"
"Well, do they have any friends?"
"No friends? Why not?"
"I dunno. Maybe because they work all the time-seven days a week."
"How do you know?"
"Who are you?"
"The Hunters' son?"
"What's your name?"
"Max. Max Hunter."
"I guess you know who we are."
"The police or the FBI. Would you excuse me? I need to do my homework, and get to my job," said Max.
"Where do you work?"
"At a local restaurant, washing dishes," Max answered.
"Good for you. We won't keep you any longer."
"Thanks. By the way, my Dad's a pretty terrific guy-for what it's worth."
With astonishment they watched him ride to his house, take off his knapsack, and go inside. They packed up and went for coffee.
The front door slammed.
"Max? I'm out on the deck," I said.
"I just got stopped by the FBI."
"We heard they were around. What did they ask you?"
"If you and Dad had any friends," smiled Max.
"Good Lord, what did you tell them?"
"That you didn't."
"Oh Max!" I exclaimed.
"Well, it's the truth."
"I know, but ..."
"Don't worry, I told them it's because you guys work all the time."
"Did you really tell them that?" I asked.
Just then, Jack walked back on the deck to greet Max. "How's it going, son? Any news?"
"Nothing, except the FBI stopped me."
"Did they ask you a lot of questions?" Jack asked.
"Not really. They were only interested in your friends. I told them you didn't have any."
"Good answer," Jack said.
"Oh, Jack," I said.
"You know how I feel about people. They are clawing at me all day. I deserve some peace and privacy in my own home with my own family."
"It just doesn't make sense. You're a newspaperman, who is making news this week. By the way, you are the most charming and witty person ever. You could attract any friend on earth," I said.
"You're prejudiced. Anyway, I save all my charm for you!" Jack said.
"Don't worry, Dad, I told them you didn't have any friends because you and Mom work so hard," Max volunteered.
"I think the other answer was more fun," Jack said with tongue in cheek.
"Oh, Jack, you're impossible," I said, shaking my head.
"Guess who just called me?" said Jack.
"Who?" I wanted to know.
"Bill Banner at The Boston International."
"What did he want? To beg you to come back?" I asked.
"The FBI agents are swarming all over the offices, finding out about their ex-editor. Bill said he gave them all the dirt."
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"They wanted to know if I took drugs."
"What did Banner say?"
"Hell, no, he hardly takes an aspirin," Jack stated.
I laughed really hard. So did Max before going upstairs to do some homework and get ready to wash dishes downtown.
"Well, I'm going to the office for a while. Want to come?" asked Jack.
"Nothing could stop me," I answered.
As we drove in our Ford Bronco, we joked all the way about the State Department and FBI spreading its men across Cape Cod and Boston and who knows where else. Swinging in front of the office to park, we noticed that everyone was about to leave for the day. One agent, who had conducted the interviews, looked like a young Marlon Brando.
"Mr. Hunter?" asked the agent movie star.
"I understand my colleagues have been posted on the road near your house."
"My son informed me," Jack replied.
"By the way, he's a cool customer, according to my men. Mr. Hunter, if all the things your employees say about you are true, you may be going to Washington very soon," he smiled.
"They were all coached," Jack quipped.
"If so, you did a great job."
"I didn't do the coaching, it was my lovely wife." Everyone laughed, and the handsome agent firmly shook my hand.
As the agents left, Jack and I headed for his office. Everyone-reporters, ad people, and production staff- crowded into the small room and asked him a million questions about the job he would be taking. Their eyes were shining with excitement. And of course, they wanted to know who would be running the paper in Jack's absence.
"You all should know that nothing is final. I haven't received a formal offer from D.C. But if it all works out, our capable manager, George Dwyer, will take the helm. We will be in constant contact, and Mrs. Hunter will probably return in summers to run the office. I'll come as often as I can. I know you are all capable of keeping everything running in tip-top condition. Otherwise, I wouldn't consider this new position if I didn't trust each and every one of you. You are the stars in my Orleans universe." They all responded with laughter and applause.
"Can we put an announcement in our paper?" asked the young editor.
"Only if you bury it on page six as a local interest story due to agents running around," insisted Jack.
"Not the front page?"
"Absolutely not!" Jack demanded.
Excerpted from Serious Fun with WHITE HOUSE SECRETS and State Department Antics by LIBBY HUGHES Copyright © 2009 by LIBBY HUGHES. Excerpted by permission.
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