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The Frequent Flyer

 

by Frank Thomas Smith

 

Chapter 11       

            

               

Madelaine Albrecht, IATA Geneva,” Jacks secretary, Gabriela, called to Jacks with her hand over her receiver. Their offices were so small that they only used the intercom system when someone from outside was present. Only Gabriela and Jacks’ assistant, Lai Holm, in the outer office and Jacks in the inner one.

            “Mrs. Albrecht – who the hell is that?” Jacks mumbled to himself as he picked up his phone. She spoke in English with a Swiss accent, but he recognized her anyway. “Good morning, Marvin. I’m arriving tomorrow morning on Swissair. Please don’t pick me up, Argentine Airlines insists on having that honor.”

            Think fast, Marvin. “Fine, Madelaine, the Swiss get up too early for me anyway. What time and where should we meet?”

            Midday will be fine, I sleep badly on airplanes. You did make the hotel reservation for me I hope. Sheraton, wasn’t it?”

            “Of course.”

            “Call me before you come in case I’m still asleep – and don’t forget to bring  the pertinent files with you. We can have lunch in my room.”

            “Even though it’s all in my head?”

            “Yes, Marvin, even if it’s all in your head.”

            “Have a good flight, Madelaine. See you tomorrow.”

            Noonish.”

            “Right.”

            She thinks my phone is tapped, Jacks thought. And if it is, whoever is listening didn’t hear any hotel reservation being made. “Gabriela,” he called, “make a reservation for Mrs. Madelaine Albrecht at the Sheraton, in tomorrow for one night. IATA discount. I forgot all about it.

            “Who’s she, Marvin?”

            “Some new consultant working with the Human Resources Director. The usual bullshit.”

            “What usual bullshit?”

            “Never mind. Just make the reservation – and get the room number.”      

                         

            Dawn had finally arrived. Steaks of light probed stealthily through the room, hurried under chairs and tables like a spy with little time left. Marvin Jacks had hardly slept, so he was sitting in the dining room drinking his third coffee, thinking hard and getting nowhere or somewhere, he couldn’t decide which. One: Analiese was playing it very cloak and dagger, pretending on the telephone to be someone from IATA Geneva. It was good, but not very. If someone wanted to check it would be easy to find out that no such person existed. But they’d have to be suspicious first, and why should they be. Two: the CIA, in the person of John Armstrong, was suspicious of her. Three: Marvin Jacks was also suspicious. Conclusion: she’s still a spy for the German Democratic Republic. Big question: Was the rendezvous with him today at the Sheraton part of her clandestine duties, or was all the caution because it was above and beyond duty? No answer. Four: Was Marvin Jacks still in love with her? His head told him he better not be; his heart chuckled and told the truth, for better or for worse. He was. Five: Was she still in love with him, or, more accurately, was she ever? No answer. Six: Did John Armstrong know more than he told Jacks? No answer, but probably not. Seven: How should he answer Armstrong’s offer to work for the CIA in order to find out about her? The answer would have to wait until after his meeting with her this afternoon.

            Jacks had been writing it all down on a piece of paper like a quiz: question-answer. The result was more questions than answers, but at least now he knew what they were. He held a match to the paper and let the ashes fall into an ashtray. His head leaned slowly onto his chest and his eyes closed. At nine-thirty the phone rang. Jacks shook his head to get his bearings and answered on the fifth ring. “Marvin,” Gabriela said, “are you okay?”

            “Basically, yes,” he answered. “Slight headache, that’s all.”

            “Mr. Armstrong of Panam already called twice. I told him you should be in any minute. He wants you to call him urgently.”

            “If he calls again tell him that I had to go to…uh…Montevideo and that I’ll probably be back late this afternoon.”

            “Really, Marvin?”

            “Sure. Just tell him that, Gabriela.”

            “I could say you’re sick.”

            “Tell him what I just told you, it’s true,” Jacks insisted, thinking about the possibility that the phones were tapped. He hung up and turned on the answering machine in case Armstrong got hold of his unlisted home number, which wouldn’t be difficult. He had breakfast, showered, dressed, put Mozart on and went to his bookcase to select a book and kill time. To his own surprise he chose Plato over John Le Carré.

 

For I am quite ready to admit, Simmias and Cebes, that I ought to be grieved at death, if I were not persuaded in the first place that I am going to other gods who are wise and good (of which I am as certain as I can be of any such matters), and secondly (though I am not so sure of this last) to men departed, better than those whom I leave behind; and therefore I do not grieve as I might have done, for I have good hope that there is yet something remaining for the dead, and as has been said of old, some far better thing for the good than for the evil.

 

“Socrates was an optimist, Plato,” Jacks said to himself. Having lived alone most of his life, he had gotten into the habit of addressing authors out loud. “Or are you the optimist and Socrates just your fictional mouthpiece?” If so you did a good job. Know why? Because we’ll never know.” He straightened his tie and put on his suit jacket, then checked his appearance in the bathroom mirror. “How do I look, mirror, mirror on the wall? Good enough for whatever her name is?” He thought of shaving off his beard, which was showing signs of gray, to make himself look younger, then cursed himself for an idiot, slammed the bathroom door as well as the outside door and climbed into his red Ford Falcon. If it’s possible to tell a person’s character by the car he owns, Marvin Jacks would be pegged as a traditionalist, which wouldn’t be far from wrong.

 

He parked in his usual place, a parking lot around the corner from the office. “Little later today, Señor Yacks?” the attendant commented.

“Time is relative, Pedro. I could be early.” Pedro frowned at that. Then, as Jacks was walking out, he said, “Mr. Yacks, a question.”

“What is it, Pedro?”

“You have a moment?” Jacks looked at his watch. He had more than a moment. “Sure.”    

“Well, you know the Banco de la Nación she is paying almost fifty percent interest on what you call them…time deposits?”

“Yes, so?”

“I have some money saved, and I was thinking maybe…maybe I should put it in the Banco and then I have a lot more. What do you think?”

“I think it’s a big risk, Pedro.”

“Risk? Why? It’s in dollars.”

“They’re paying such high interest rates because no one wants to put their money there at normal rates. Fifty percent is for three months, the yearly rate is a hundred and eighty percent.” Pedro frowned harder. He didn’t understand.

“But that is the Banco de la Nación, Señor Yacks.”

“Uh, huh, and who is the president of the Nación? Never mind. Look, you might make some money on it, all I’m saying is that it’s a risk. Entiende?”

señor, muchas gracias.”

Thousands of people are putting their miserable little hoards in the bank, Jacks thought as he walked down Florida Street towards Retiro, the central train terminal. The big money is already out, moved to Miami or Zurich. If the Argentine treasury doesn’t go broke in thirty days and Pedro takes his double or nothing out then, he wins. If not he loses big, not much money, but all he has.

Retiro terminal is located directly across from the ex-Plaza de los Ingleses, now the Plaza de las fuezas armadas, on the other side of which is the imposing steel and glass slab known as the Buenos Aires Hilton. Why did she choose the Hilton of all places? Jacks wondered. Maybe because of its proximity to Retiro. If she took the train to town she’d have only to cross the plaza and enter the hotel. Less chance of meeting people she knows. Could be that simple. It’s also where an IATA person would go. Would she know that? He walked into the terminal, a huge European style structure. It reminded him of the Milan terminal, the same people running about like ants. He shrugged, lit his pipe and went to the terminal’s café for breakfast. He sat by a large window facing the bustling exhaust-filled street with a direct view across the plaza to the Hilton. It was too far away to identify anyone entering, but he would certainly recognize her leaving the terminal and crossing the plaza.

Jacks’ mind had wandered back to Frankfurt and their flat on Bockenheimer Landstrasse, where they made love every day for two weeks before she disappeared, simply didn’t show up, and neither he, the German police, nor M.I. had been able to find her or her husband. He finished his breakfast of croissants – called media lunas, half-moons, in Argentina – juice and coffee, and concentrated more on the stream of people coming from the terminal and passing by his window. Because of the dirty-blond wig and sunglasses, he almost missed her. But he recognized her walk, something lopsided about it. He remembered her mentioning that one leg was a little shorter than the other. She didn’t cross to the park, but kept on the street parallel to it, waited with the crowd at the red light, crossed and headed up the hill towards Avenida Sante Fe, Buenos Aires’s main shopping street. Must be going on a roundabout route through the crowds in order to double back to the hotel, Jacks thought. Jesus, is she being careful, wig and all. He looked at the large clock on the opposite wall, and checked it with his watch: eleven o’clock. She said noonish, okay he’d give her an hour, then go to the Hilton to see if she’d checked in yet. A perfectly normal question for him to ask about his colleague. She had no baggage though. How would she explain that? Well, she’s not dumb, that’s for sure. Of course, she couldn’t just walk in, she’d have to come by taxi, so she probably went to pick up a suitcase somewhere, then take a taxi back to the hotel.

Jacks paid for his breakfast and went into the terminal proper and walked through it slowly against the flow of arriving passengers. The flow would begin to move in the opposite direction after seven o’clock in the evening. It occurred to him that it was remarkable how one could walk through a crowd of moving bodies without bumping into any of them. Some kind of inner radar must be functioning. Then it happened – again. Marvin Jacks had the sensation that he was inside his body instead of being a unity of outside-inside. “He”, Jacks, was like a pilot in the cockpit of his head and his body was on automatic, threading itself through darting obstacles, avoiding crashes. He, his “I”, was merely an observer. He felt he could have risen to the high arched terminal ceiling and continue watching from there if he willed it enough. But he didn’t try; he stayed inside his head. Then Analiese re-entered his thoughts, not Frau Marie, but the younger Analiese from the Frankfurt time, and his state of self-awareness popped. He looked up at the huge terminal clock which, however, wasn’t working as usual. His watch read twelve o’clock. He had been wandering back and forth in the terminal for almost an hour.

It struck him as he was leaving the terminal that he didn’t have his attaché-case. Damn, he was supposed to be bringing some papers. Was it important? Only if his phone was tapped and he was being followed. Cursing himself for paranoid, he decided to go to the office and pick up his attaché-case and play the role to the hilt. It would only take fifteen minutes.

“Mr. Armstrong called again, Marvin,” Gabriela said when he walked in. “You okay?”

“Yes, if he calls again…just stall.” He opened the file cabinet in Gabriela’s office and took out the file marked “Admin-expenses”, knowing that she would check on which file he took and that one was as good as any. “Be back later.”

“Mrs. Albrecht also called – about ten minutes ago.” Jacks turned and stared at her. “She said she was in the Hilton, room…” she looked at a note paper on her desk “…712, and that she’s expecting you.”


Continued in the next issue of SCR. Previous chapters may be read in Back Issues.