The Frequent Flyer – 15
Frank Thomas Smith
Cerrado read the sign hanging slightly askew inside the upper glass part of Die Glocke’s door. What the hell, Jacks thought, it’s lunch time, how can they be closed. Something’s wrong. He peered through the glass and saw the old waiter sitting alone at a table reading the Freie Presse, a fascist German-language daily. He knocked on the window. The waiter looked up, startled and stared wide-eyed at the door. When he recognized Jacks he put down the paper, smiled, stood up heavily and opened the door after unlocking it.
“You called for a reservation,” he said in German, “nicht wahr?”
Jacks nodded. “Why is the restaurant closed? Has something happened?”
“Yes, I’m afraid so.” He pulled out a chair from the table he had been sitting at. “Please sit down, señor, I have a message for you from Frau Marie.” A typical “Belgrano-Deutsch” mixture of German and Spanish used by long time German residents. Jacks remained standing while the waiter hurried into the kitchen and returned immediately clutching a piece of notebook paper. He smiled. “They let her write it when she said it was instructions for picking up her daughter at school. They told me to translate it. They are really stupid, because if it was for me, which she said it was, why would she have to write it out. Anyway, here it is.“ Jacks read it. Herr Jacks, Bitte, holen Sie meine Tochter von der Schule ab, um halb-eins: Rudolf-Steiner-Schule, Warnes 1331. She signed it: Marie von Hakovski
“She told me to give it to you.”
“What happened? Where is she? What’s your name, by the way?”
“Schmidt – Federico Schmidt,” the waiter answered, somewhat intimidated by Jacks’ height and staccato questions. He, like us all, wanted to be loved.
“Now what happened, Federico?”
“They came about a half hour ago and took Frau Marie and Herr von Hakovski.”
Jacks sat down to calm himself. The waiter considered it a friendly gesture and sat across from him.
“Who took them?”
The waiter shrugged: “S.I.D.E. They didn’t say so, but you could tell by the green Falcon they parked outside, everyone knows that. Herr von Hakovski tried to escape out the back way, at least he went out the back door, but one of them was waiting out in the back, he must have entered through the neighbor’s garden, and brought him back in. He said he had gone out for a breath of fresh air, but I think he was trying to get away. Are you a friend of theirs? I remember seeing you here once.”
“Yes, a friend. Where’s the school?”
“Five blocks away,” the waiter told him and gave him the address. Jacks look at his watch: 12:15.
“What do you think will happen?” the waiter asked, wringing his fat hands. “What should I do?”
“It’s probably a mistake,” Jacks said. “You might as well go home and check here tomorrow to see if they’ve returned.”
“But what if they haven’t returned?”
Jacks stood up, said “Auf Wiedersehen, danke,” and strode to the door.
“Ich danke Ihnen, señor,” the waiter said as he let Jacks out.
The Rudolf Steiner Schule stood out in the neighbourhood because of its unusual design – nothing was square, not even the windows. The place looked like it had been built by a drunken bricklayer. Yet somehow it was stimulating. I marched into the room marked Oficina and handed the note to an oldish, hard-looking matron who read it myopically. She took off her reading glasses and stared at me a moment, then went into the corridor and yelled, “Herr Schmidt-Kameserl!” I looked around the small room cluttered with files and books, all in German. A large photo of a serious looking gent stared down at me from the wall over the lady’s desk: Rudolf Steiner, I presumed. A few moments later she returned followed by a tall, thin elderly man with gray hair touching his shoulders in a black suit with a black silk flowing artist’s bow-tie. I glanced back at the photo and saw the same tie on Dr. Steiner.
“Please have a seat, Herr Jacks,” he said in German.
“No thanks, I’m in a hurry really, must make a phone call.”
“You can use our phone if you like.” I hesitated. “Frau Fintelmann and I will be glad to step outside while you’re calling.”
I thanked him, they left and I dialled Panam. Bea told me that John Armstrong was at a meeting.
“Get him on the phone, Bea, it’s urgent.”
“He’s not here, it’s a Board of Airline Representatives meeting.”
“Ok, give me the B.A.R. number, I don’t have my address book with me.”
“Oh, it’s not at the B.A.R.”
“Where is it then?
“At the Sheraton?”
“The Sheraton? Why there?”
“Every year they have what they call a working lunch at some big hotel. You remember, Mr. Jacks. Mr. Armstrong never comes back to the office afterwards, so I guess they do more than work.”
“Give me the Hilton’s number, Bea,” I said, feeling desperate.
She took forever finding it. And it took me forever to finally get Armstrong on the line. He sounded half-bashed. “They took them already, John,” I began…
“Took who? Who took whom?”
“This phone isn’t secure, goddamn it –“
“Well this one sure as hell isn’t either.”
“They took the people we’re interested in … in Florida.”
“Oh, Frau Marie?”
What an idiot! “Yes, Frau Marie.”
“Yes. Did you do anything to avoid that?”
“Jeez, Marvin, we only talked about it an hour or so ago.”
“So you didn’t.”
“I couldn’t know it was so urgent.”
“Well, it is. So please get on it now to release them.”
“I’m undercover, Marv, can’t do that directly.”
“Even to S.I.D.E.?
“Even to them.”
“The guy at the embassy then.”
“He’s in Washington..Langely, that is.”
I took a deep, frustrated breath. “They got telephones is Virginia, John. Call him and tell him to get on it. It’s easy.”
“Well, he’s at important meetings there, and I –“
“This is important. You can’t get information from dead people.”
“Come on, Marvin, they’re not gonna kill East German spies, for god’s sake.”
“Maybe not…but everything but. For those guys gang rape is an interrogation method. “
“You seem inappropriately concerned, old buddy. The big man’ll be back in a few days, and… ”
I stopped listening. He was right. I shouldn’t be so worried. It didn’t make sense to him. I decided on a different tack while he rambled on. “Look, John, let’s put it this way. Do it for me as a personal favor.”
“Don’t tell me you got the hots for her already. Man, you’re slipping.”
“Not already. I knew her from before.”
“Way before, in Germany when I was in army intelligence there.”
It took a few moments for that to sink in. Then: “Whose side are you on anyway, Marvin?”
“Ours … but just do what I ask and I’ll get what you want.”
Every fucking thing you ever wanted to know about them. But that’s not the point. I’m asking you as a favor, John.”
Silence, then: “Okay, I’ll do what I can … and you’re gonna owe me big, buddy.”
I was sitting there with my head in my hands when Herr Schmidt-Something stuck his head in the door. “Are you finished telephoning?”
“Oh… yes, sorry.”
Frau Finkelfuck pushed in behind him glaring at me.
“How much do I owe for the calls?” I asked, just being polite.
“Two local calls, eighty centavos,” the dragon said.
“Oh,” Herr S-K said, “I’m sure we can absorb that, Agnes.”
“We can’t absorb anything, Herbert. “
I fished in my pocket and came up with a peso. “No, she’s right, here.”
She took the peso and opened a drawer in her desk. She dropped the peso in and started to hand me twenty centavos change. “That’s all right,” I said generously. It was almost insulting, like offering a tip. She dropped the twenty centavos back in the drawer without a word. Herr S-K opened the door and nodded to a child, who entered the room and fastened her eyes on me. She’s a miniature Analiese, I thought, surprised, though I knew I shouldn’t be, for why shouldn’t a daughter look like her mother.
“Do you know this gentleman, Micaela?” Herr S-K asked her. She didn’t answer immediately and I was about to explain why she didn’t know me, when she said, “Sí!”
“Who is he?” Herr S-K asked.
“A friend, “ she said, this time in German.
“Gut, you’re to go with him today,” Herr S-K explained. ”You mother is busy…I assume. Is that right, Mr Jacks?... Mr Jacks?”
“Oh, yes, she’s busy.”
Micaela continued to stare at me with her large brown eyes; I wouldn’t have remembered her name, the note read only “my daughter”.
“Well, we better get going,” I said. I shook Herr S-K’s hand, bowed barely perceptively at the Frau Dragon and stepped out into the midday sunlight followed by the girl. She took my hand and we walked along the street like family.
“Did you know that the sun is always north of us?” Micaela said is Spanish, grasping my hand tightly.
“I haven’t really thought about it, but yes, I suppose it must be.”
“It’s because we’re south of the equator,” she explained. “If you lived in the northern hemisphere it would always be to the south of you.”
“Why did you say that you know me, Micaela, and that I’m a friend?”
“Oh that. Well, you were in the Die Glocke once and I was in the kitchen watching you. You didn’t see me though. And after you left I asked Mamá who you were. She said you were a friend.”
“Well, that explains that,” I said – and thought: Now what the hell am I going to do with you?
“You speak both Spanish and German very well,” I said, just to make conversation.
“Yes, but I prefer Spanish.”
“Because I like the people better who speak Spanish – except for Mamá of course.”
She didn’t answer. I thought about that for a moment, then had an idea. “I know some people who mostly speak German, but are very nice.”
“Yes, but older. The lady cooks very well, too.”
“I don’t know, probably simpler things.”
“That’s nice, I like simpler things to eat.”
We got to my house where I gave Micaela a glass of water (she didn’t want coke), then I told her we were going next door to meet the nice people I told her about. The Neumann family were so-called Russian Germans. Mennonites, they were forced to leave Russia when the Soviets came to power, after having been forced to leave Germany a century earlier because of religious persecution. Some finally settled in Canada, others in Paraguay. The “Canadians” prospered, but those who went to Paraguay had a very hard start carving out the jungle for their settlement. The Neumans belonged to the latter group. They bore the Paraguayan hardships as long as they could and finally settled in Argentina where a relatively comfortable life was possible for people who knew how to work hard. The father was a mechanic and the four grown children all worked and contributed to the household economy, even though two of them had their own families to provide for. The father’s brother, an old man and crippled, was the most fundamentalist religious one, determined to keep their Mennonite beliefs alive. The children, however, were uninterested, including the youngest, an attractive heathen who liked to jump the fence separating their property from mine and right into my bed. This was a scrupulously kept secret, because her family would have been scandalized, might have thrown her out of the nest and certainly would never have spoken to me again. But what the hell, she was over 21.
While Micaela was engaged in conversation with Uncle David (the cripple, who was enchanted by children who spoke German, especially because his own grandchildren, although able to understand him, no longer spoke the language), I explained the situation to Frau Neuman and asked her if Micaela could stay with them until her parents’ problems had been resolved. I felt a bit guilty doing it, because I knew beforehand that she would agree, being a real Christian who would never refuse to help a child. When I began to mention money she interrupted, saying that they could never accept payment for such a charitable deed. But I insisted, maintaining that I wasn’t paying her for a service, but only covering expenses, and that I couldn’t accept her generosity otherwise. She finally agreed. I also promised myself to stop screwing her daughter.
Continued in the next issue of SCR.