Tales of a Teenage Spy - The Life and Times of Gábor Rimner
And so the time came for the 'big trip' - my return home – and the start of my mission.
But first, there was the delicate job of breaking the news to my parents, which I knew would be a tough one.
I don't remember exactly how it was, but I had a very serious chat with them, I guess it must have been at the dining table, that's where we usually had these kind of conversations.
I knew my father was still intent on defecting, and settling in Germany. That's why he got citizenship for us, the German passports.
But I told them both that I didn't want to go to Germany, or Sweden, I was going back to Hungary.
They were both aghast.
“Are you crazy?” my father asked. We all knew what life was like back home, because my mother and my grandmother, who lived in Cegléd, regularly exchanged letters. And they knew life there was most definitely contrary to my mentality - they knew full well that I couldn't stand control and oppression.
Then, slightly to my surprise, my father said: “Ok, if you are not coming with us to Germany, and not going to Stockholm, you are supposed to be an adult, you can do whatever you want. I'll get your passport, tell me where you want your ticket routed, I'll buy it and give you some money and then you can go.”
I don't know if doubt lingered in his mind. I suspect it did, but for now, he seemed satisfied.
Then there were the Americans.
To their credit, they put a lot of thought into my return. Both Carol and Murad were firmly against arriving in Budapest from a western country. It would be far better, they reasoned, to fly in from somewhere in the Socialist bloc, which they thought would mean far less chance of a thorough customs check. Any discovery of my equipment, like micro-film lenses or the carbon paper we used would have been a tragedy – and put me straight behind bars.
Plus they wanted me to do some final training.
So we dreamed up this idea of going via Athens, where I'd stop off for the last training checks. And then to Sofia, in Bulgaria, because I had the great excuse that I would visit Nicolai, my Bulgarian pal.
My father couldn't really understand why it was so important for me to visit Sofia, but in the end he agreed and bought me the tickets.
I might add here that I paid an early price for my decision to work for the Americans. I left an awful lot of possessions in the Sudan. I had to be careful what I put in my luggage, partly due to weight, and partly because we didn't want any items that could make me suspicious.
For example, I had been fascinated by minerals as a kid. I had built up a collection of rocks and crystals from all over the world. It weighed, I guess, well over 100 kg. It all stayed in Khartoum.
So, in a very real way, It felt like I left my childhood behind me in Africa.
The flight to Athens was uneventful. The Americans had told me to stay in central Athens. So I found myself a comfortable hotel near the centre, and then, desperate to avoid any last-minute hiccups, went to Syntagma Square, opposite the Greek Parliament, to see the site where we were supposed to meet the next day.
The meeting point was on one of those big shopping streets in the Greek capital, with thousands of tourists running to and fro all the time. I think it was a shoe shop.
Anyway, next morning, I was looking at shoes in the shop window, and waiting for what seemed forever, until sure enough, an American gentleman appeared, and we exchanged passwords.
I forget exactly what it was, something about shoes, maybe the good quality on show, and other items in the window. It makes me laugh now, but at the time it seemed very, very covert and professional.
We got into his car, and we went to some sort of CIA hideout, a flat of theirs, which was nearby. And there we revised practically everything that we had spoken about in Khartoum, beginning with the mailboxes and contact sites. It was practically an examination, but I guess he wanted to be sure I hadn't forgotten any vital points.
At some point, the same psychiatrist that I'd met in Khartoum dropped in 'accidentally', and asked if I'd had any second thoughts on the mission, and whether I still considered it as important and necessary as earlier. Was I not now scared of the risks? You are going to ask what I said to that – but I can't remember! But we didn't have any problems, as I recall.
We also visited a US naval base near Athens one afternoon, and met two of the marines that I knew from Khartoum, and we had a small party, kind of spontaneous, although now I'm sure it wasn't. I guess it was a way of letting me feel that I was part of a big family.
They also insisted on giving me some cash, even though I told them that I had money on me. I forget how much they gave me, but in short, they wanted me to dazzle Nicolai, to let him show me Bulgaria, but I should finance the tour.
In my opinion, this was wrong thinking on their part. We had known each other for years as kids, and we knew, one day you've got pocket money, the next day you haven't. It's not a question of the Rockefeller bank account, and I'm absolutely sure if I had gone without a penny it wouldn't have mattered.
Whatever, my sojourn in Athens was soon over, and before I knew it, I was on a plane for the short hop to Sofia, the capital of Socialist Bulgaria.