The Frequent Flyer
by Frank Thomas Smith
End of Chapter 9:
At around four the phone rang. “Marvin, a woman called for you and when I told her you weren’t in she asked where she could contact you, that it was urgent,” Gabriela said. “She was really insistent, as though it was a matter of life and death – so finally I said I’d ask you if I could give her your number. Was that all right? She’s going to call back soon.”
“What’s her name?” Jacks said after his daytime memory returned and wiped out an exciting dream forever.
“María Alemán is what she said.”
“Did she have an accent?”
“A little bit, I think.”
“Give her my number when she calls,” Jacks said. “Thanks, Gabriela.”
“Okay. You all right, Marvin?”
“Yes, fine.” He hung up.
It wasn’t until five-thirty that Gabriela called again. “She didn’t call back, Marvin. I have to go now.”
“Any other calls?” Jacks asked, just to cover his disappointment.
“Nothing that can’t wait.”
“Okay, Gabriela. See you tomorrow morning.”
It may see recherché to relate that these two people, Marvin Jacks and Rachel Baumgarten, a.k.a. Annaliese Cornelius and now, apparently, Marie Alemán, should meet again in another, quite opposite part of the world. Much too fortuitous and convenient for this story to be believed. Nevertheless, such things happen more frequently than you’d expect. Marvin and the then Annaliese were truly in love back in Germany when they were both very young. When Annaliese suddenly and seemingly disappeared from the face of the earth Marvin Jacks was devastated. Annaliese perhaps (how can we know?) even more so. The fact that they were living double lives spying on each other made them both suspect that they had been found out, which tortured their mutual consciences, although they were mistaken. Jacks had been ordered to keep an eye on Annaliese just in case she was more than an innocent East German refugee, and Annaliese, once her masters realized that Jacks was attracted to her, had ordered her to keep him on a string, find out what she could from him, even try to recruit him if it seemed possible. Now they were afraid that it might be starting all over again.
Annaliese, now Frau Marie, saw it coming as soon as she saw him, for she had been expecting Freddy Hussein to bring an American airline official to lunch in order to seduce him. Motive? They suspected he was CIA, at least Freddy Hussein had a hunch that he was. He couldn’t believe that an American who spoke three languages (he’d found out from the Lufthansa manager that Jacks spoke fluent German), living in Argentina and flying around Latin America and other parts of the world in a job that seemed, to him, without tangible objectives, could be only what he claimed to be. The job could therefore be a cover. If he was right it would be a feather in his cap; if he was wrong… well…what did he have to lose? Certainly not Frau Marie’s virginity.
Marvin Jacks didn’t see it coming until he received a phone call the next morning from John Armstrong (no one dared call him Jack), the Panam manager, who asked him to stop by his office at his convenience, which usually meant asap. Such calls were routine and were almost always motivated by an airline manager wanting to complain to Jacks about a competitor giving discounts or ask for his interpretation of an IATA rule, although the interpretation could usually be handled by phone, so Jacks expected the former reason. He was reluctant to leave the office and possibly miss another call from Frau Marie, but couldn’t stall Armstrong, at least not in good conscience, so he told him he’d be right over. Panam was, after all, one of the most important airlines in the market. He told his secretary he’d be back in an hour.
Armstrong ushered him into his office, had him sit in one of the leather easy chairs in the corner near the large window overlooking the Rio de la Plata, and offered him Colombian coffee and a Cuban cigar –Jacks accepted the coffee, passed on the cigar. He knew the corner was reserved for government ministers, important travel agents and clients. So Armstrong obviously wanted something badly, otherwise Jacks would be sitting across from him at his desk. He was a tall, thin man with a receding widow’s peak and hooked nose. His clothes had obviously been bought in the U.S. – loafers, pants not quite touching his shoe tops, button-down collar on a white shirt, regimental stripe silk tie.
“Marvin, we’ve known each other a long time now. How long has it been? Years. And we’ve grown to respect each other as honorable men, Americans to the core.” Jacks was immediately wary. He remembered how a few years earlier a Latvian friend who also lived in Argentina had confided to him that he once did some work for the CIA, and that Armstrong was his handler. The friend was rabidly anti-Soviet, as were all émigrés from the Baltic countries, so the CIA had no hesitation in recruiting them. They paid him a hundred dollars a month to “keep his ears open”. He accepted the money for six months but never heard anything to report, so his employment was terminated. Jacks had forgotten about it, and was never sure if it was true anyway
“So I’m going to tell you something now in strict confidentiality,“ Armstrong continued. “Can I depend on your keeping this to yourself?” IATA’s policy was never to divulge the name of the complaining airline when information was given about a competitors misdeeds. Armstrong knew this, so Jacks decided it was something else. But he said anyway, “You know our policy, John. That’s not a problem.”
“This has nothing to do with business, Marvin.” He opened an ivory inlaid cigarette box and offered it to Jacks, knowing he didn’t smoke cigarettes. Jacks shook his head, and took his pipe from a side pocket of his suit jacket. The pocket was strewn with loose tobacco and ashes, which he made a mental note to empty once outside. He took a tobacco pouch from another pocket, filled the pipe and lighted it with a Zippo. They blew smoke at each other and waited to see who would blink. It was Armstrong.
“Can I, Marvin?”
“I have to know what it is first, John. I’m sure you can understand that.”
“Yes, I can.” He sighed histrionically. “Okay, I know I can trust you Marvin, so here goes.” He took a deep drag, let the smoke out from his nose and said, “I lead a double life, Marvin. You see, I also work for our government.” He waited. Jacks had to say something.
“I see. In what capacity?”
“Central Intelligence Agency.”
If he’d expected Jacks to fall over in astonishment, he was mistaken. Instead Jacks said, “Good for you, but what’s that got to do with me?”
“A lot, Marvin. We want you to help us.”
“Are you trying to recruit me, John?”
Armstrong laughed as though he were enjoying the repartee, which he wasn’t. “Not exactly…or in a sense yes, but just for one case…although if you were interested after that, well, who knows?” Jacks started to say something, but Armstrong wasn’t finished. “You will be paid for your time of course…and, Marvin, that’s the first thing I would like you to keep secret – my association with the Agency.”
“Sure, no problem.”
“Good. Thanks. I know you were in military intelligence in the army and had a distinguished record.”
“That’s news to me,” Jacks said.
“That you were in M.I.?” Armstrong said, frowning, suddenly awake to the possibility that they’d checked the wrong man.
“No, that I had a distinguished record. Didn’t do anything distinguished that I can remember.”
“Well, let’s just say that your record is clean, that you were in interrogation, then special ops, meaning sending spies – I think you call them “sources” in the army – into East Germany, and debriefing them afterwards. Right?”
“Something like that,” Jacks replied, thinking back to those times and, inevitably, Annaliese.
“I love that answer, Marvin. It shows reserve and a sense of confidentiality even now.”
This guy is too much, Jacks thought. Why don’t I politely tell him to fuck off and get the hell out of here. “Not much to be confidential about,” he said though, wanting to keep his options open while he pondered the alternatives. “We couldn’t find a gasmask in a gasmask store.”
“Somehow the C.O. got information – probably from the Pentagon – that the Russians had a new gasmask that had been distributed to their troops in East Germany. So we were given the job of getting one. Why? Because it was there, I guess, like a mountain.” His pipe had gone out as it often did when he was talking, so he re-lighted it.
“So what happened?” Armstrong asked. “Did you get it?”
Jacks laughed. “No, we tried for over a year – until I left at least. Maybe they’re still trying.” He was curious about what they wanted him to do and what was so important that they checked his army record before even asking if he was open to the possibility. He decided to play it cool.
“I don’t know, John. I’ve had enough of that stuff, I think.”
Armstrong saw the opening in the last two words. “And I think you think wrong. It gets into your blood, man. We all know that…”
Curiosity turned to apprehension and his heart jumped. Could this have something to do with Annaliese? Armstrong was wrong about his blood though. He had really had enough of the cloak and dagger circus and, most of all, the people involved who seemed to like it. But…
“What do you want me to do?”
Armstrong slapped him on the knee. “Atta boy, I knew you were a patriot..”
“Wait a minute, John,” Jacks said. “I only asked you what you want. I didn’t say I’d do it. First of all, why did you think of me?”
“Right, Marvin, I’ll open up – totally. You were seen going into a restaurant in Florida – he opened a pocket notebook: Die Glocke – the other day with Freddy Hussein. Tuesday as a matter of fact, at twelve-thirty hours. Hussein left at twelve-forty five, alone, and you left at thirteen-fifteen, also alone. You went into a house there in Florida via a circuitous route, walking. You had the key. Is that right?”
“Sounds right, so what?”
“Could you tell me why?”
“Why you went to that particular restaurant with Hussein.”
“What the hell is this, an interrogation? Should I call my lawyer? Why were you following me?”
Armstrong smiled, having expected this kind of reaction. “No, Marvin,” he said, “it isn’t an interrogation. But you asked me why we thought of you. And we weren’t following you. We were following Freddy Hussein.”
Jacks thought a moment, but he had already decided that he’d have to find out what was going on. “Okay, I was there with Hussein because he invited me for lunch. In fact he’d invited me several times, and I always gave some excuse. He’s a pest, you know. So finally this time I thought I’d get it over with. He picked me up at my office in his car and we drove to Florida. He said he knew a great German restaurant there. I didn’t have much choice.”
“What about the house?”
“In Florida? I live there.”
“You live in Florida?”
“Yeah, anything wrong with that?”
“No, of course not. But you have no family – as far as I know – so I expected you’d live in an apartment in the Calle Florida in town rather than in a suburb.”
“I like it there.”
“Sure,” Armstrong said, smiling falsely again. “No offense meant. Why did Hussein leave before you, and quite early?”
“His chauffer came in and told him something n Arabic, some kind of emergency I guess, so Freddy said he had to leave, apologies, etcetera.” Jacks wondered if the conversation was being recorded. He guessed it was. So far he’d told Armstrong nothing but the truth.
“Uh, huh.” Armstrong looked down at his notebook. “Did anything happen in the restaurant?”
“Like anything. Did you talk to anyone?”
“Only the owner, a Frau Marie.”
“Marie Clements, wife of August Clements.”
“Didn’t meet him.”
“He’s the cook. What did you and Frau Marie talk about?”
“Small talk, Nothing.” There goes the truth, he thought.
“Small talk isn’t nothing, Marvin. Think.”
“She was sort of filling in for Hussein after he left. I don’t know, she asked me what airline I was with, and I explained IATA to her. She told me this was the second time they’d been to Argentina, that she loved it but everything was complicated. The usual. Oh, that she’s from Hamburg I think she said.”
“No, some people came in and she went to butter them up, seems like a good hostess. Now what’s this about, John?”
“Just one more question first. Why did you take the long way home?”
“I wanted to walk off the meal. I was very tired and decided to take the afternoon off. Don’t tell my boss.”
Armstrong laughed as though it were the best joke of the season. “Don’t worry, I wouldn’t think of it,” he said. “Now, what this is all about.” He paused for effect, and looked Jacks in the eye for too long. “Freddy Hussein is a spy.”
“Doesn’t surprise me,” Jacks said. “For whom?”
“We’re not sure, probably one of the East European intelligence services.”
“Too dumb for the Soviets?”
“How do you know?”
“He goes frequently to Die Glocke, seems to know the Clements well, which makes us suspicious of them as well.”
“Any other reason to suspect them?” Jacks asked, his heart pounding. “Not really. Oh yes, according to one of our German sources she talks more like an easterner than a Hamburger” – he smiled gloomily at the little joke – “from Berlin perhaps.”
“Maybe she was originally from Berlin and moved to Hamburg.”
“Possibly. That’s about all we know, but we’d like to know more. That’s why I’m asking you to help us.”
“How could I help?” Jacks asked.
“Freddy Hussein takes you to Die Glocke. He didn’t know you live in Florida, right?”
“I wonder why. Any ideas?”
“He said the food was great.”
“Well, it’s probably the only restaurant in Argentina where you can get grüne Sause.”
“A German dish,” Jacks replied. “The food’s good there, but I’m not a gourmet.”
“He doesn’t have to go to Florida for good food, does he?”
“You’re American, you have good contacts in the airline business, the police, probably even SIDE, a mysterious job. Why not try to recruit you? Or maybe you’re already one of us. Why not try to find out? If so, even better, try and turn you around.”
“I understand that Frau Marie is a very attractive, interesting woman.”
Jacks was surprised; he didn’t have to pretend. “Do you have any facts that lead you to such a conclusion, John, or is your imagination getting the better of you?”
“Why else would Hussein bring you out to Florida for lunch, introduce you to Marie Clements and disappear with a silly excuse? You tell me.”
Jacks’ pipe had gone out, so he lighted it again. Considering what he knew about the lady now known as Marie Clements, Armstrong was probably right.
“By the way, Marvin,” Armstrong said, “you might be out of a job soon, so that’s more reason to consider –“
I received a telex from New York just before you walked in. Didn’t have much time to think about it, but it doesn’t look good. It seem the U.S. CAB has revoked IATA’s anti-trust immunity – or is about to; the wording isn’t too clear.
Jacks and Armstrong stared at each other. It meant that the airlines could no longer set fares among themselves under the umbrella of IATA’s anti-trust immunity. “Damn fools,” Jacks finally said.
“They’re political, fools or not. I mean the airlines. Anyone in the business with any sense could see this coming. But what did we do? Nothing.”
“What could we have done?”
“Bring the consumers – passengers and air freight shippers into the process. I recommended it a year ago.”
“But no one listened?”
“They listened, but thought the European governments could pressure the United States not to go that route. They didn’t realize that the U.S. couldn’t care less what anyone else thinks. It’s gonna be dog eat dog now, John.” He was thinking that he probably had enough on his platter with security and fraud detection to keep working without tariff compliance. Panam, and John Armstrong with it, on the other hand was in deep trouble. Was it possible that they didn’t realize it yet?
“Yeah, well, back to Frau Marie,” Armstrong said. “We’d like you to contact her again somehow and try to see what she’s up to –“
“Right, if anything. What do you say, Marvin.”
Marvin Jacks knew his answer would be yes, but he also knew how to play the game. “Let me sleep on it, John,” he said.
“Yeah, I’ll let you know Tomorrow.”
Continued in the next issue of SCR.
Previous chapters may be viewed in Back Issues.