3126

The Frequent Flyer

 

by Frank Thomas Smith

 

Last paragraph of Chapter 7:

 

Ricardo’s car was found a few days later in Segovia, about forty miles from Madrid. Wilson and Bakarian’s rented car showed exactly double that mileage used, which made sense, but the investigation got no farther than that, so I returned to Buenos Aires.

                   

Chapter 8

 

Fifteen years later.

 

Marvin Jacks had bought a house in the town of Florida – accent on the “i” in Spanish – which was really no more than a suburb of Buenos Aires. Theoretically he was now Director of Fraud Detection for the whole Western Hemisphere, but there was an Assistant Director in Miami who handled most of the North American cases, and reported to Jacks in Buenos Aires instead of directly to Geneva. Jacks had fought tooth and nail to avoid being moved to head office, claiming he could do the job better in the field, which was certainly true. Finally it came down to a dual between him and the Finance Director, whose idea of efficiency was to move everyone to head office and let them perform their miracles with modern communications technology. Jacks finally won by getting the support of the president of the national carrier, Argentine Airlines, a general who owed him a favor. That particular officer is still in jail for human rights abuses, so it wouldn’t be politic to mention his name or the favor here. The Director General of IATA personally overruled the Finance Director, whom he hated, after receiving a telephone call from the general, during which he, the general, said Marvin Jacks’ continued presence in Buenos Aires was essential to the survival of the airline industry – or words to that effect. Argentine generals are known to exaggerate.

            Florida was essentially a German town, that is, originally settled by German immigrants at the beginning of the twentieth century. The Second World War saw an influx of Germans, war veterans who had no wish to live in a destroyed Germany, Nazis, a few Socialists who had somehow survived the Third Reich, and some Jews who couldn’t get into Israel because of the British blockade. There had been Jews among the original settlers, so it wasn’t unnatural that these post-concentration camp German Jews also inclined towards Florida, although the majority settled in Buenos Aires itself.

            All that didn’t interest Marvin Jacks. He liked the place because it was clean and, at the time, property was relatively cheap there. Most of his time was spent traveling, but when he was in Buenos Aries at least he had a quiet place to sleep and restful weekends with a pool and plenty of sun. We must admit that women occasionally served to assuage his solitude. They were mostly airline employees, at that time called stewardesses rather than the politically correct “flight attendants”, or the more grounded airport personnel. None became permanent, perhaps because Marvin Jacks wasn’t, somehow, permanent himself. This is not mere background material, because Florida has much to do with our story.

            For public relations purposes airlines often gave cocktail parties, each company at least once a year, which meant an average of two a month. As the IATA representative, Jacks was always invited. Sometime he went, sometimes he didn’t. He was also invited to lunch, something he couldn’t refuse, although such invitations were seldom repeated because he never invited back. IATA had no budget for such things and he wasn’t selling anything anyway. The airline managers invited him in order to stay on his good side and, if possible, to obtain information. They received none, but Jacks did, and that was his main reason for accepting. The food didn’t interest him, it never did, but the wine, dessert and a good after-lunch Cuban cigar made everything bearable.

            And that brings us to Freddy Hussein. Freddy was the Lebanese General Sales Agent for LAN Chile. An unusual position, because LAN had its own ticket office and Chilean manager. Why, then, did they need a General Sales Agent as well? GSAs normally existed when the airline didn’t have its own sales office. The reason, it was generally assumed, was that LAN wanted Freddy because he was a good salesman, but couldn’t very well have a non-Chilean as manager. Marvin Jacks didn’t buy that, but didn’t care because LAN Chile was not an important player in the market. He wondered though, how a Lebanese who didn’t even speak Spanish could be a good salesman in a Spanish-speaking country, and decided it had something to do with politics. For some reason they wanted to legally give Freddy a percentage of sales. That was when the Marxist Salvador Allende was president of Chile and anything was possible. It didn’t occur to Jacks at first that Freddy Hussein was a spy.

            Freddy often phoned Jacks asking for interpretations of IATA rules, thereby admitting that he didn’t know much about the business. He also invited him to lunch every time he called. Jacks begged off with invented excuses, something he couldn’t do when an important airline manager was doing the inviting. Finally, at an Air France cocktail party, Freddy insisted so much that Jacks agreed.

            There’s an excellent German restaurant in Florida,” he said. “Do you like German food?”

            Marvin Jacks didn’t particularly like German food, pastries yes, but the fact that Freddy Hussein was inviting him to lunch in Florida caused him to put down his martini unfinished in order to be alert. Did Freddy know he lived in Florida? He hadn’t told any business associates, never gave out his home telephone number. Before he could think of a reply though, Freddy was telling him that he would pick him up at his office at twelve-thirty the next day. “It’s only fifteen minutes to Florida by car,” he said, as if Jacks didn’t know. So maybe he wasn’t aware that Jacks lived there.        

            Next day the phone rang at 12:25. Freddy Hussein’s secretary: “Mr. Hussein is leaving now, Mr. Jacks. He asks if you can wait downstairs so he won’t lose time parking.”  

            A new, chauffeur-driven Mercedes Benz. Freddy Hussein did okay for the GSA of a third world airline. That was just one of the thoughts that ran through Marvin Jacks’ head as Freddy talked incessantly on the way to the restaurant “Die Glocke” in Florida. The chauffeur dropped them off at the entrance on Florida’s main drag and disappeared. The restaurant was small but well appointed. About twenty tables, each with fresh, real flowers in expensive-looking vases on them. An aging, white clad, bow-tied waiter with a German accent greeted them at the door, Jacks in Spanish, then, to Hussein in German: “So nice to see you again, Herr Hussein. I will tell Frau Marie that you are here.” He seated them at a corner table. Jacks’ instinct told him to keep his back to the wall, but the waiter was holding the back-to-the-door chair for him. Freddy Hussein, it seemed, had similar instincts. The waiter recommended Eisbein, the specialty of the day, which Hussein accepted but Jacks passed on and selected Grüne Sosse, a Frankfurt specialty consisting of potatoes covered in herb sauce.

            Do you prefer German or Argentine wine, Mr. Jacks?” Hussein asked.

            “Argentine, no contest.”

            Hussein laughed. “A wise choice.”

            “You speak German, Mr. Hussein?”

            “Not really. Heinz greets all the guests in German, for atmosphere you know, like the waiters in Italian restaurants always say Bon giorno. Your Spanish seems excellent, I wish I could get the hang of it.”

            “Well, I’ve been here a long time.”

            “So I’ve heard,” Hussein said. “Isn’t that unusual? Foreign managers are usually transferred on after a few years.”

            “Just fate I guess.”

            Hussein laughed his high-pitched, hyena laugh. “Fate, yes, a wonderful thing. Do you think it exists?”

            “I don’t know, but at least it provides answers to the imponderables of life.”      

            “That’s interesting. I’ve often wondered if what I do is really determined by me or…well…fate. Did you ever ask yourself that question, Mr. Jacks?”

            Marvin Jacks had asked himself just that many times, but he wasn’t about to get personal with Freddy Hussein. “No,” he said. With his back to the restaurant floor, he didn’t hear her approach. Hussein looked up from Jack’s gaze and smiled: “Ah, Frau Marie. He jumped up and held out the chair between him and Jacks, who stood up for the coming introduction.

            “Frau Marie, may I present my colleague, Mr. Marvin Jacks, a very important person in the airline business.” She turned her smile to Jacks and it froze. Her hand was out to be shook but Jacks didn’t take it until Freddy Hussein, as an afterthought, said, “Mr. Jacks, this is Frau Marie, the owner of this wonderful eatery and wife of the best chef in Buenos Aires, which means of course in Argentina.” Jacks took her hand, but couldn’t say a word, his head was whirling. Nor did she. “Please sit with us a moment, Frau Marie,” Hussein said. If he wondered why they were staring at each other without a word, he may have attributed it to hormonal fascination, for Frau Marie was indeed beautiful.

            Hussein snapped his fingers for Heinz, the waiter, and asked him to bring another wine glass, then, when it arrived, proposed a toast: “To a meeting of cultures.” Marvin Jacks and Frau Marie, once know as Rachel Baumgartner and somewhat later as Annaliese Cornelius, drank considerably more than the traditional sip. Freddy Hussein was finding it hard keeping up three sides of the conversation, so decided to force participation. “Mr. Jacks is American but has been in Argentina a long time, isn’t it so, Mr. Jacks?”

            “Yes, quite a long time,” Jacks mumbled.

            “Oh? How long?” Frau Marie asked, just to say something.

            “On and off, a total of about twenty years.”

            “You must like it here then.”

            “One gets used to it. How about you?”

            She smiled for the first time. “On and off about twelve years. We came here fifteen years ago, but those were difficult times, you know, so we went back to Germany after a while. We earned some money there and came back with the idea of opening a restaurant. And well, we did.” It was like a script she had often repeated.

            “We?” Jacks said.

            “My husband Karl-Heinz and I. He learned to cook in Germany.”

            As though on cue, Karl-Heinz appeared at their table and greeted them with a slight bow in broken Spanish, and rushed back to the kitchen. Jacks had seen Lt. Cornelius through the one-way interrogation-room window at Camp King, but Cornelius, if he had ever seen Jacks at all, it was only as another soldier walking around the camp. Jacks wondered if he had heard his name.

            Even before the food arrived, Freddy Hussein’s chauffer came rushing in and said something to him on Arabic. “Oh, dear, isn’t this awful,” Hussein said, standing up. “A crisis has arisen and I must go immediately. Most unfortunate, my deepest apologies, Mr. Jacks. Frau Marie, could you be so kind as to entertain my guest?” He scurried out. Jacks finished off his second glass of wine and said, “Okay, so what the hell is going on, Annaliese?”       

   

Continued in the next issue of SCR