Sunday, June 26, 2016

Chiclayo…A Spy Capital

It was a typical Chiclayo morning. Maribel and I had gotten up at 7:00 and were sitting at the breakfast nook we affectionately named ‘El Bistro’ drinking coffee and watching the activity on the street. People are creatures of habit. For the most part we see the same people doing the same thing every morning; mothers taking their kids to school, street thieves snatching cell phones, dogs snarling at each other over turf rights, and taxis slowly cruising the streets looking for customers…with one exception.

Every morning at exactly 7:55 the same taxi arrives and parks at the same corner at the same spot. At precisely 8:00 a young woman appears, seemingly out of nowhere always wearing neutral, non-descript clothing and frequently carrying a slim leather laptop briefcase. She gets into the back seat of the taxi, never smiling or saying anything to the driver. We often wondered if there was something mysterious going on. Where does she live and why doesn’t the taxi pick her up at her house? Why don’t we see her around in the neighborhood? Is she a married woman having an affair, or is something more sinister involved?

We were watching that same routine unfold last week when Maribel called my attention to something we hadn’t noticed before; the taxi’s registration number. It was there all the time, right in front of our faces. How could we have missed it? Is it possible that HMSS – 007 is a code for Her Majesty’s Secret Service and that the taxi driver is none other than James Bond? Is the woman – let’s call her Nikita a master spy?

With that premise in mind, other pieces we’d noticed fell into place. Nikita continually glances in all directions as she approaches the cab. The driver too seems on edge, constantly looking about. We also noticed that occasionally he eats a tamale for breakfast and throws the banana leaf wrapper out the window onto the street. Shortly after they leave a street sweeper shows up. Sometimes it looks to us as if she picks out the wrapper from her sweepings and places it in her pocket. That doesn’t make sense…unless that wrapper contains a secret message to be passed on to headquarters. I had to know. I had to know if Nikita, the taxi driver and street sweeper were part a spy network. I was all but certain they were but what was their purpose and who were they working for?

Two can play the spy game. At 7:45 am several days later I was standing on the corner dressed as a fruit vendor so no one would be suspicious. I had a pail of oranges to complete the disguise. What I had not planned on was women constantly distracting me and blocking my vision by offering to buy my oranges and then arguing with me about the price (I was asking 2 soles per kilo – they offered 1 sole). A second problem with my plan soon became apparent. I had made no provision for following the taxi. I watched helplessly as it disappeared down Calle Arizola.

Undaunted I was on the corner again at 7:45 the following day dressed as a fish peddler with a pail of smelly rotting fish to discourage any would-be buyers from bothering me. A local restaurant owner offered to buy the fish provided I gave him a 50% discount. We settled on 35%. My brother in law who owns and operates a moto was parked on the opposite corner, ready to pick me up on my signal and follow the taxi.

Everything worked as planned except for the ticket my brother in law was given by a policewoman because motos are not allowed in central Chiclayo. He was really angry. When I offered my sympathies he told me to, “…blow it out your burro!” Anyway, Nikita got out of the taxi at the Plaza de Armas and sat on a bench. She may have been checking to see if she’d been followed or perhaps she was waiting to surreptitiously pass information to an accomplice. I wouldn’t doubt that a drop did take place, but if so I didn’t see it. This woman was good…very, very good but I was determined to be better!

Ten minutes later Nikita crossed the street and entered a small restaurant. She sat at the counter rather than a booth or table. She ordered coffee and cabrito. Nobody eats cabrito for breakfast. Restaurants don’t even serve cabrito in the morning because it takes several hours for the goat meat to cook. Nikita had to know that. I suspected that ‘cabrito’ was a code word, and was sure of it when the waitress responded with, “We only serve cabrito on Sunday.” A clear sign and counter sign if there ever was one. I made a mental note to check out the waitress.

Nikita ordered chicken soup. That’s not a code word. If it was, half the people in the restaurant were spies. Chiclayanos like chicken soup for breakfast. Not the chicken soup that you and I are accustomed to. They like ‘sopa de gallina’ (soup of gallina). I can’t give you an English word for gallina. I don’t think there is one. As near as I can tell a gallina is a very old - make that ancient chicken that can’t lay eggs anymore so is consigned to a cooking pot. You can boil it for a week and it still comes out tough. Even the breast is like shoe leather. It’s another one of those things about Peru that I…………...this has nothing to do with the story, does it.

After placing her order Nikita went to the restroom, taking her briefcase with her. I’ve watched enough spy movies to know that restrooms are favorite places to leave secret stuff to be picked up by an accomplice. After she returned to the counter, and not seeing another woman enter the restroom I casually entered it myself when no one was looking. It was a two-staller. I entered the first one and searched everywhere I could think of. Nothing. Wanting to get out of there before being discovered I hastily opened the door to the second stall. An old woman sitting on the toilet began to scream and hit me with her purse. I later learned that pervertido is Spanish for pervert.

Exiting the restroom as quickly as possible I returned to my table located immediately behind Nikita. I saw that she was intently looking at a document. Had it been in her briefcase or did someone slip it to her while I was in the restroom? If so did that mean they were on to me? I had to see what that document said so I slowly stood, and moving directly behind her looked over her shoulder. At that moment the old woman emerged from the restroom, kicked me in the leg and shoved me. I bumped into Nikita, knocking her face into the hot sopa de gallina. Not wanting her to see my face I did the only thing I could think of. While she was screaming in pain I quickly ran from the restaurant shouting, “get out of my way!…the museum closes in five minutes!” If I’d had more time to think I would have chosen a different destination. Chiclayo doesn’t have a museum.

From my vantage point behind a tree in the park where I had taken refuge following my hasty departure (I ignored the dog peeing on the leg that the woman had kicked) I saw Nikita exit the restaurant. I knew it was her even though only her eyes were visible beneath the cotton gauze covering her entire face. Though she looked like a crowd scene extra from one of those cheap mummy movies she seemed composed and unconcerned. From the restaurant she walked two blocks west and stopped in front of a book store on Calle Juan Cuglievan. I knew that something was about to go down. Book stores and spies go together like ham and eggs. A moment later she went inside. It was a small store. I didn’t think I could go in without her noticing me so I stood outside at the window hoping to keep her in sight. There was no one else around except for a shoe shine man at his stand.

Nikita pretended to browse in different areas of the store, finally stopping in a back aisle.  She removed a book from the shelf. I could just make out the title…Espias Como Nosotros. She paged through the book for several minutes. Next she looked around, returned the book to its original position and took a step back. As she did the entire shelf slide to the left, exposing a hidden doorway! I was right all along! Here was the proof I needed! Nikita had disappeared through the doorway. I wanted desperately to get to that secret door before it closed so I began to run toward the store entrance.

A strong arm restrained me. It was the shoe shine man offering to shine my shoes. Flinging his arm aside I continued toward the door. As I ran images flashed through my brain …Chiclayo’s mayor presenting me with a ‘Hero of Chiclayo’ plaque. Peru’s President giving me the ‘Savior of Peru’ medal. There would be speaking engagements and a book (“How I Did It”) and a movie (“He Out-Spied the Spies”). The CIA would offer me a high paying job to train their agents. An invitation to speak at the United Nations would have to wait.

He grabbed me again, this time with both arms and hissing into my ear said, “Señor, your shoes are very dirty! Sit down now!” I saw that the shoe shine brush he was ominously pointing at me wasn’t a brush at all. It was a cleverly disguised gun. This was no shoe shine man! It was Nikita’s accomplice - the taxi driver James Bond!! How stupid of me. I should have realized there would be hidden security outside of their headquarters. I broke free and ran toward the park. I could hear Bond’s footsteps gaining on me. I had to do something, and fast!!

I’ll never know who Nikita works for or how extensive the spy ring is. There won’t be any awards for me. No speeches, no book, no movie and no high paying CIA job. Bond pumped three .38 caliber slugs into me. I died moments later.



  1. This is so funny!!! lmao the gallina soup thing xD glad I found your blog :)

  2. this is hilarious! xD