The Frequent Flyer
by Frank Thomas Smith
End of previous chapter:
They saw me go with him to your restaurant the other day and they know he’s been there often…”
“Verdammt Mal, I knew that guy was trouble, a complete idiot.”
“Yeah, well, that’s why they talked to me, want me to find out what he – and you – are up to. It’s dangerous, Rachel, all they have to do is tip off the Argentine S.I.D.E., who know how to get everything you know from you, and then ‘disappear’ you afterwards.”
She sat there staring at her hands which rested between her legs. Finally, “I know,” she said. “but I don’t know what to do.”
“I’ve been thinking about it, and I see only two possibilities.”
Her eyes asked me what they were.
Go over to the CIA, ask for protection in exchange for information. I could arrange that.” She didn’t say anything, waiting for the second choice.
“Or,” I said, “leave the country, escape.”
She smiled. “They both sound so easy, Marvin, but I don’t think they are.”
“I didn’t say they’d be easy, but let’s examine them anyway. First, the CIA…”
“They would certainly want more than information,” she said, without the smile. “They’d want me to be a double agent, and I’m not prepared to do that – or do you think I should?” It hadn’t occurred to me, but I knew she was right. “Never mind,” she said, “and I wouldn’t want to give them information either. I’m not a traitor, Marvin.”
“This is different, Rachel. You must know by now that the German Democratic Republic is a corrupt satellite of the Soviet Union, and sooner or later it’s going down the drain. Thousands have defected to the west. Why not you?”
“I…I don’t know. I’m not just someone, one of the thousands, I’m a spy for God’s sake, Marvin.”
“Okay, let’s just look at the second alternative for a moment.”
“Escape? Where would I go? And Michelle?”
“Oh, well, she’d go with you of course. With false documents, I think I could get them, then to Mexico and finally across the border to the States – for example. There are other possibilities, I’m sure.”
“They’d find me, Marvin. I know too much.”
“Not if the CIA gives you a new identity and takes care of you there. I can talk to them, Rachel, say you definitely won’t be a double agent, but you’ll tell them all you know in exchange for getting out, new identity and protection. I can at least ask.”
She smiled at my naivety, which wasn’t really that, just grasping at straws. “That would be telling them what I am. They may suspect now, but they don’t know.”
I took one of her cigarettes, started to light it, threw it down and fished in my pocket for my pipe. She leaned forward and took my hand. “Let me think, Liebling, I need to think. Now I must go. Don’t call or come to the restaurant. I’ll contact you. She stood up. Ich liebe Dich, Marvin.”
“I love you too, Rachel, and…” She held her hand up, palm out like a policeman directing traffic, and said, “Don’t get up.”
“The room is still available,” I said. “Can you come back?” She shook her head, turned and walked out the door.
I thought it wiser to wait until the next morning to pay the hotel bill, pretending that Ms. Albrecht of IATA had stayed the night.
The next morning Marvin Jacks received a telex from his boss Brian Mayne telling him to go to Geneva right away for an important meeting. It was during that trip that he ran into Barkarian and Wilson, or whoever they really were, and which finally resulted in Ricardo Rico’s murder. Rachel said not to call her, that she’d contact him. She was right of course, so all he could do was tell his secretary to tell her when she called - Sra. Alemán was the named she’d used - that he had to leave on a business trip and would be back in a few days. He didn’t know then that it would be longer than a few days.
When he did return Gabriela gave him a list of calls: airline managers mostly, including Armstrong of Panam, a few personal ones, but no Sra. Alemán. Maybe she didn’t identify herself. He asked Gabriela if anyone had called without giving their name. His secretary thought a moment, then said no, not that she could remember. “Only a guy name of Rodriguez who wouldn’t say what he wanted. Said he’d call back. Do you want me to call anyone now, Marvin?” He shook his head. “Dictation?” He always dictated a report on his return from trips. He shook his head again, went into his office and when he was about to close the door she asked, “mate cocido?” – the bitter tea she knew Marvin liked. “Yes, thanks, Gabriela.”
There was a knock on the door – three times, with determination. “I’ll go,” he said. He looked through the peephole, one was careful those days. A short man stood in the hall in a rumpled suit under an open trench coat, cigarette dangling from his lips a la Bogart, only lacking the fedora. He seemed to be alone. “Sí?” Jacks called through an intercom. The man looked around for a microphone. “Just speak up, I’ll hear you,” Jacks said. The man took a wallet from his breast pocket, flipped it open and held it up to the peephole. “Rodriguez, S.I.D.E.” The Argentine state intelligence service. Jacks swore to himself and opened the door. “Sr. Hacks?” the man asked. He actually looked a little like Bogart, but his voice was more Peter Lorre.
“Yes. What can I do for you.”
“May I come in? I’d like to ask you some questions.”
Once in Jacks’ office, he closed the door, much to Gabriela’s disappointment.
“You are an investigator for the IATA?” Rodriguez said, something he obviously already knew.
“Yes,” Jacks replied, “And you are one for the S.I.D.E.?”
“Yes,” Rodriguez smiled, “so in a way we are colleagues, except for pay scale.”
Jacks smiled back, doubting that Rodriguez depended on his salary alone. “Would you like a mate cocido?
“Yes, thank you.”
“Gabriela, two mate cocidos, Jacks called out, letting Rodriguez know that the door was thin.
“Sí, Señor,” she called back.
“You are of course wondering why I am here, Mr. Hacks.” Jacks often had visits from police detectives investigating travel agency rip-offs or airline security, but this was the first time a S.I.D.E investigator had wanted to see him, so he was curious – and nervous. During the course of the past month he had become involved with STASI, CIA. and now S.I.D.E. He hoped that they weren’t all connected – but feared they were. Gabriela came in with two cups of mate cocido on a tray with a sugar bowl and a few cookies. The water must have been already hot, Jacks thought. When she left, leaving the door open, Rodriguez frowned and whispered, “This is very confidential, Sr. Hacks.” Jacks nodded. He called Gabriela, who appeared immediately in the doorway hoping to get in on the dirt. “Sí, Señor?”, the “Señor being for Rodriguez’s benefit.
“I forgot about your mother being sick. You can take the rest of the day off.”
“But…” Jack was glaring at her with his chin high.
“Muy bien, gracias,” with acid in the last word. She didn’t exactly slam the door behind her, just closed it with more force than necessary. They were silent until they heard the outside door close, with a definite slam.
“Thank you,” Rodriguez said and sipped from his cup. “I don’t wish to take up more of your time than is necessary, Sr. Hacks. So can you please tell me if you know a Vladimir and Marie Jakovski.” He pronounced it “Hakovski”.
Jacks thought a moment, then shook his head. “No, I don’t think so.”
They are the owners of a restaurant, Die Glocke, in the town of Florida.”
“Oh yes,” Jacks said with a slight smile, remembering his anti-interrogation techniques, which essentially consisted in remaining calm, “I do know them slightly but didn’t know that name.”
“You live in Florida, isn’t that right?”
“And you have been to the restaurant?”
“Yes, but only once.”
“Isn’t that unusual?”
“No, you see basically I only sleep in Florida. I eat in the city.”
He smiled. “Very understandable. But your name and number is listed in their telephone agenda, so we thought you might know them better.”
“I gave Frau Marie my card when she was introduced to me, something I am too much in the habit of doing I’m afraid.”
“Who introduced you?”
“Freddy Hussein. He invited me for lunch there.”
“Why did he invite you for lunch?”
“He’s in the airline business. Airline managers often invite me for lunch. Do you know him?”
“Not personally. And how well do you know Sr. Hussein?
“Not well at all.”
“I see you smoke a pipe, Sr. Hacks,” He was looking at Jacks’ row of pipes on his desk. "Do you mind if I smoke?”
“Not at all.” Jacks took one of the pipes from the rack and went through the tobacco filling ritual while Rodriguez lit a cigarette.
“I tried to switch to a pipe once, but couldn’t get used to it,” Rodriguez said.
“It takes a while.” Get on with it, you bastard, Jacks thought.
Rodriguez blew a noxious cloud of smoke from his blacks into the room and Jacks puffed mightily to cover the smell.
“We suspect that they are spies,” Rodriguez said suddenly, and Jacks had to concentrate to show the right mix of surprise and innocence.
“We know that Hussein is a spy, for anyone who will pay him, including us. Mr. And Mrs. Hakovski – Frau Marie, you know? – we suspect that they are East German spies.”
“East German spies – in Argentina?”
“Oh yes, we have all kinds of spies here, Czech, Polish, British, American and etcetera and etcetera, so why not East German as well?” Despite his Bogart appearance, this guy was a Peter Lorre type to the bones, complete with an oily smile.
Jacks smiled back as though appreciating the joke: “Why not?”
“What did you and Frau Marie talk about?”
“Nothing much. Let me think.” Yes, let me sift the weeds from the grain. “She told me they’d been in Argentina twice, from Hamburg I think, that the restaurant was doing well, that kind of thing.”
“And the husband?”
“No, we shook hands and he went back to the kitchen.”
“I think so, yes, that’s all.”
Rodriguez squeezed his nose, scratched an eyebrow and pulled an earlobe in classic interrogator coming-to-the-point mode. “Sr. Hacks, your country and mine are allies in the fight against communism, and it is for that reason that I am sure you will cooperate with us here on our battlefield.” He waited for Jacks’ reaction.
“Of course – and I’ve already told you all I know.”
“Yes, but we would like you to take advantage of your contacts with these people in order to find out more.”
“Sr. Rodriguez,” Jacks began, throwing caution to the wind, “I dislike communism as much as you do, but I also dislike military dictatorships, and…”
“But, Señor, we are in complete agreement,” Rodriguez said, smiling. “I also dislike dictatorships – except when they are necessary, when there is no other choice. And we have no other choice if we don’t want our country to be taken over by the Bolsheviks, and then the domino effect of the rest of the Latin American countries falling one after the other. You see that, don’t you?”
“Let’s just say I understand the argument,” Jacks replied, not wanting to get into a debate he had already had with many Argentines and Americans – especially not with a guy who could “disappear” people at will.
“Good,” Rodriguez said dryly, “at least that. But back to our spies – or should I say “alleged” spies. You see, for you alleged means nothing has been proven yet, but for us alleged is enough. We could simply arrest then and find out most of what we want using…mmm…other methods? Yes, we could do that, as some of my colleagues are recommending, strongly. But I? Well, I prefer more subtle methods. I like to find out more before the trail gets cold, which is what would happen if we arrested them now. And you can help me win the argument with my less subtle comrades. Do you follow me?”
Jacks stood, walked to the window and opened it wide to let some smoke out of the room, and to think. “Yes,” he said. Rodriguez, our professional interrogator, understood and waited. Jacks’ thoughts went something like this: If I agree now it will seem as though I want to protect them, or at least Frau Marie and if I hardly know her why would I care? why would I want to do that? So he breathed deeply at the window, then returned to his chair and looked at Rodriguez.
“So what do you say?” Rodriguez asked.
“You can all go to hell for all I care,” Jacks said as calmly as he could.
Rodriguez smiled. He seemed to really enjoy the little cat and mouse game. He had tried one avenue, but the mouse was more slippery than he thought. So he would fall back on a more effective trap. “I have no doubt that we are all in grave danger of going there, Señor, but I have faith, you see. You are not a Christian, I assume?”
Jacks knew that “Christian”, to these people meant Roman Catholic, and he said, “No, but I was once.”
“Once a Christian, always a Christian.”
“You mean Catholic.”
“Of course, yes, thank you for correcting me: Catholic. You see, I hope to avoid hell no matter how much time I must spend in purgatory, for I know my goal is true and the same as the Mother Church’s.”
God, thought Jacks, the man is mad. “Your confessor told you so?”
“As a matter of fact, yes. But I would have continued on the same path whatever he told me.”
“Or changed confessors.”
Rodriguez laughed out loud. “Yes, yes, I’m so glad to talk about such things with a man who has a sense of humor.” He sighed. “Unfortunately we haven’t time to go more deeply into such things, even if they are extremely important. Now, my apostate friend, please understand that we can make things difficult for you here.”
A direct threat, Jacks thought. Better. And for the first time it occurred to him to wonder if Armstrong had something to do with this visit.
“Really,” he said. “How?”
“Never mind how,” Rodriguez said. “Trust me, we can.”
They sat there for at least a minute smiling idiotically at each other. Rodriguez thinking that Jacks was imagining the terrible things they could do to him. Jacks, however, thinking, hoping, that he was bluffing. Jacks was, after all, a U.S. citizen, an ally with connections to his embassy and the representative of an important international organization of which Argentina’s national airline was a member. But he knew that there were certain unimaginably horrible things they could do to Rachel Baumgartner if they discovered her real identity and chose to take that avenue.
“Let me think about it,” he said, finally.
Continued in the next issue of Southern Cross Review.