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July 14, 2011 / Karen Hill Anton

The “spy” who married me

The “spy” and me on the Amalfi coast in Italy

(May 2, 1997)

There were eight of us seated at the round table in the Chinese restaurant last winter. The man who offered me the seat next to him also offered his hand. “Nice to meet you too,” I said. We had never met before but had several friends in common.


“Excuse me?”

“When I saw your husband I said to myself: CIA.”


“Your husband. He’s with the CIA.”

It made me smile. Where this man had seen my husband was in a documentary film in which our family was featured. Although I thought I had an entertaining dinner partner, I said with clear certainty, “My husband is not with the CIA.”


“Don’t you think I would know?”

“Of course not! That’s the whole point.”

I thought I would try to reason with him while I ate my egg drop soup. “What makes you think he’s with the CIA?”

“He looks like the type.”

“What type is that?”

“Kind of bookish. Quiet.”

Bookish? Quiet? Billy?

“It’s perfect. Don’t you see?”

“No. I sure don’t.”

“American family living in the middle of Japanese community in rural Japan. Husband, in the background, low profile. Wife, in the pubic eye, high profile.”

“But we weren’t sent over here by the government.”

“You don’t think so.”

“I know so. Billy said ‘Let’s go to Japan’, and I said “OK.”

“Yeah. It’s supposed to look like that. Casual. Unplanned.”

“But we took a year just to get here.”

“You can be sure it was okayed at the top.”

By this time I was laughing out loud.

“But if he’s with the CIA how could he even do his work?”

“Work? Whatever work he does is not his work. It’s his cover.”

My table companion had been in the military (I think he said the Air Force). He told me he could recognize someone with “the Agency” a mile away.

I, of course, did not take him seriously, and found him thoroughly entertaining. Still, I continued to refute the allegations, offering facts that would prove I hadn’t married a spy.

“Look,” he said. “How long have you been writing that column? Seven years. In all that time, have you ever once mentioned what work your husband does?”


“Don’t you think that’s strange?”


“You don’t think you’ve been given a subliminal message to avoid the topic?”


By the time I bit into my spring roll it was cold.

“Let me put it to you like this:  Do you know where your husband was every day of his adult life?”

“No, of course not.”

“Of course not. And I bet you didn’t know he was being trained.”

“Trained for what?”

“To work undercover, of course.”

“You must be nuts.”

“Look. When you were traveling here, I bet he took a lot of pictures.”

“Wrong. We were on the road for one year and didn’t take even one photo. We didn’t have a camera.”

“You think his camera is going to look like a regular camera? Come on. Get serious.”

“And you think he could be carrying on a double life and I wouldn’t know it?”

“You won’t be the first wife.”

“But I’ve known him since I was 16.”

“All the better. You would never suspect him. It’s perfect. Just like I said.”



As I’ve said before, I write fiction — but I’ve never written it for The Japan Times.

This conversation actually took place!  

And, oh yeah — I had no reason for not writing in my column about Billy’s work other than affording him some small measure of privacy. He’s a university professor. 


© Karen Hill Anton and “Crossing Cultures” 1990-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Karen Hill Anton and “Crossing Cultures” with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


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