The Frequent Flyer
Frank Thomas Smith
Last paragraph of previous chapter:
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.
I went back to my house, into the back garden, stripped off my clothes and plunged into the pool. I had a gardener, but the only thing I did myself back there was pool maintenance, which meant sweeping the bottom with an aquatic vacuum cleaner and polluting it with chlorine. I swam underwater the length of the pool and back, trying to be reborn, but it didn’t work. When I emerged I was as scared as ever just thinking of Anamarie – no, I resolved to call her by her real name – Raquel, in the hands of those beasts. Maybe the water did connect some neurons though, for I remembered Brigadier General Domingo Darío Santamaría, currently CEO of Argentine Airlines. Survival and success in Argentina had always depended on who you know, and it was more true than ever now with the military gorillas running the country. I got dressed, got my Mitsubishi out of the garage and sped onto the Pan American highway, only a few blocks away, in order to loop around the city and into downtown Buenos Aires as soon as possible. It occurred to me that I didn’t even know if Santamaría was in his office or even in the country. That showed how nervous I was and I made a mental effort to calm down. I parked in a restricted area a few blocks from the airline’s head office. A parking ticket didn’t bother me; I only hoped they wouldn’t tow away the car.
A year previously I had arranged for an intermediary to buy an Argentine Airlines test ticket at a fifty percent discount. Airlines and travel agents may give discounts to win passengers, but fifty percent is impossible unless something more serious is going on. I suspected that the ticket had been stolen, which was the only way I knew for such a large discount to be profitable. But I was mistaken. It turned out that the General, president of the airline, had been supplying his mistress – or mistresses – with free tickets, and one of them had turned such a freebee over to a travel agent for resale. When I discovered this it presented me with a problem. If I followed procedure and filed a complaint against the airline and the travel agent, I would have to tell the whole story, step by step, in a sworn affidavit, including the result of my investigation - that the General had simply given the ticket away. He would of course deny everything despite the overwhelming evidence. There would be a huge scandal which could have resulted in my being declared persona non grata in Argentina. In fact, that very thing had happened to an over-zealous colleague in another country. However, I couldn’t simply forget about it, because some people in the airline’s accounting department knew that their President had authorized the issuance of the free ticket which, although technically prohibited, was fairly common only when important political or military figures were the beneficiaries, which was far from the case here.
So I went to the General, showed him the evidence and asked if he had an explanation. His face got very red, but then he took a Havana cigar from a humidor, offered me one and we smoked in silence for a good five minutes while he decided what to do. I sincerely hoped that one option wasn’t opening a trap door for me to fall through. Finally, though, he said that he had obviously made a grave personal mistake and asked me if there was anything he could do for me that would convince me not to proceed. He was offering a bribe of course, but all I wanted was a way out. I told him I didn’t want to embarrass him, but I didn’t see a way out because those other people knew of the case. He almost jumped out of his chair and opened a cabinet behind him, selected a bottle of Napoleon cognac, poured for us both and said: “Mr. Jacks, they will be silent; I guarantee it.” I believed him. And from that moment on he owed me.
I got General Santamaría’s secretary on the phone – an accomplishment in itself. I identified myself, something she already knew because I had gone through three sub-secretaries to get to her. She told me (naturally) that the General was in a meeting, and asked what the subject of my need to speak to him was. “De qué asunto es?” a perennial question in the Spanish language business and political worlds. So I told her to please announce me, that the subject was confidential and extremely urgent. She told me to hold. It seemed like a half-hour, but was probably only a few minutes later that he came on the line. She probably had to wake him up. “Yes, Mr. Jacks, how are you and what can I do for you?” You might think that I should have just gone to his office and barged in. But you would be wrong. That would have been an inexcusable lack of etiquette in dealing with a person of his self-esteemed importance. Furthermore, I wouldn’t have gotten past the guards on the ground floor.
I told him I had to see him immediately, that the future of his airline and the nation as at stake. I implied it at least. “Well, let me see…” he began as though looking through his appointments schedule. “I’m across the street, mi general, if you’ll advise the guards I can be in your office in two minutes.” This was unheard of, but as the fog dissipated from his brain he was remembering that I knew something which he didn’t want anyone else to know. “Bueno,” he growled, make it five, and slammed down the receiver.
I left the public phone booth and sprinted down Avenida Colón. The guards asked for my ID, frisked me and let me ride up to the fifth floor in the elevator, but not alone; one of them accompanied me. They were exceedingly polite, figuring that anyone important enough to be seeing the General must have at least some residual importance. He kept me waiting fifteen minutes, something important people always do. The waiting calmed me though, and I was prepared to say what I had to say. He sat behind his enormous desk smoking a Havana cigar and wishing that I wasn’t there. I told him that the S.I.D.E. had fucked up by arresting Frau Marie and hubby because I was just about to get really top secret information from her for the CIA that would deal the Commies a blow they wouldn’t recover from that millennium, if ever. Yes, I was undercover CIA. What I didn’t mention, but was lurking in the noxious air, was that I still knew about the free tickets he gave to his girlfriends. He listened pulling on his earlobe and scratching his balls and when I finished he said, “Those guys (meaning S.I.D.E.) think they own the country,” He thought a moment, then added, “Call me in an hour – at this number, from a pay phone.” He scribbled a number on a slip of paper and handed it to me. “Mil gracias, mi general.” I mumbled as I backed out half-bowing.
I don’t remember what I did during that interminable hour, just walked around close to the Plaza de Mayo telephone center I guess. When I called him he said, “She’s out, but they wouldn’t release the tipo, he’s a KGB officer. Maybe she’s harmless, but that wouldn’t stop them. Anyway, they did me the favour. I hope it helps you, Señor Jacks.” Meaning that I really owed him now. I tried to sound only slightly elated, and assured him that it would help. Was I glad that her husband hadn’t been released? Yes. Did I feel guilty about it? No.
I decided to call from the same phone booth first Die Glocke, then her home, although I doubted that she’d be either place so soon. Then, if there was no answer, I’d go to my house, where she’d be looking for her daughter – and maybe even me. But she answered after the first ring from Die Glocke.
“I’d like to make a reservation for tonight,” I said in German.
“I’m sorry but we’re closed tonight,” she answered.
“This is Marvin Jacks…” They’d be expecting me to contact her anyway; now they’ll have to record the conversation and find someone to translate it, which will cause at least a short delay. “…In that case perhaps we could go some place together for dinner.”
“Yes, that would be nice, Herr Jacks.”
“But you’ll probably want to go home first to change.”
“That would be a good idea…er, do you know where my daughter is?”
“Yes, of course. I’ll bring her with me in, say, an hour? Oh, and I thought we might go to the seashore for the weekend. What do you think about that?”
“Yes. Thank you very much.”
“Good, then you can pack some things for Micaela and yourself.”
“See you in an hour then.”
Mostly I wanted her to pick up their passports, but didn’t dare mention it on the phone. I went home, threw a few things in an overnight bag, although I wasn’t coming back, put my passport in my breast pocket and strapped a 22 pistol around my ankle. If we ever got on an airplane I’d have to ditch it, but I wouldn’t be needing it by then anyway. Then I went to my neighbor’s, the Neuman’s, to get Micaela. She was sitting at a table in the patio under the grapevines drawing a picture with colored crayons. It was such a peaceful setting that I experienced a tinge of doubt as to whether I should take her away from such safety into the dangerous situation her mother and I were about to face. But it wasn’t for me to decide. If Raquel wanted to leave her, which I doubted, we could always stop by to drop her off before leaving for good.
“What are you drawing, Mica?” I asked her.
“Hola, Marvin. (I hadn’t told her my name, she must have asked Frau Neuman, who probably was surprised that she didn’t know it.) Don’t you see? It’s an angel.” Indeed it was.
“Yes, I see, and a beautiful one at that.” You’ll need him now, I thought, we all will.
“Let’s go, we’re going to pick up your mamá.”
She dropped the crayon and jumped up. “Is she all right?”
“Sure she is. Why do you ask?”
“I don’t know, she’s been kind of nervous lately.”
“Will Micaela be coming back here?” Frau Neuman asked. “She’s a delightful child and we’re glad to have her.”
I hated to lie to that kind lady, but had no choice. “Yes,” I said, “We’re just going to the Mar del Plata for the weekend.”
Raquel was ready to go when we got to her house. “I only packed a few things,” she said, still speaking in German, as though it were a continuation of our telephone conversation, probably because of the possibility that her house was bugged, “for the weekend.”
“Yes, that’s fine.” I took a pen from my pocket and signalled for paper, then wrote, in English, passports?. She nodded and took five passports from the bag. Two German passports showed her Frau Marie identity, one with a permanent Argentine visa, the other with no visas. Another showed a different, new-for-me identity, otherwise blank. Two passports were Micaela’s, one Argentine with the Frau Marie family name, the other German with the new identity family name. I held the new identity ones in one hand and wrote with the other: visas? She shook her head, reached into the bag and came up with a stamp and ink pad. She inked the stamp and pressed it onto my paper. It was a tourist entry stamp for Argentina. I nodded, crossed out the date and wrote the date to read two weeks previously. She took my pen, adjusted the date on the stamp, opened the passports and stamped Micaela and herself into Argentina two weeks previously under the names Micaela and Renate Mueller. This lady is well prepared to be a spy, I thought. I also had two U.S. passports, one without Israeli stamps for entering Arab countries. The other, with the Israeli entry stamps, was the one I normally used and contained my Argentine visa.
“I don’t think you’ll be needing these,” I said, indicating the other passports. If we were stopped and searched, they’d be fatal. Raquel nodded, took the passports and left the room, obviously to hide them in an undiscoverable place. Micaela sat through all this on the floor watching us intently.
We left the house smiling (on my instructions) with Micaela between us. I opened the doors for them and looked to the front, nothing, and behind. There it was – a green Ford Falcon with three goons in it. I had a crazy impulse to take out my 22 and shoot at them. Are they stupid or are they stupid? It was a dead giveaway that we were being followed. Well, maybe they didn’t care about that. But that car was the fastest tractor on the road and I could easily lose it. Now we’d have to head south towards the seashore, instead of north to freedom. An hour later we were on the highway approaching Chascamus, a sleepy town almost halfway to Mar del Plata. There was, as usual, a lot of Friday afternoon traffic. I gunned the Mitsubishi and left the Falcon way behind. I knew the road well and after a curve I pulled off the highway into Chascamus, went through the town and got onto a secondary rode going back north. It was slower and we probably could have gone back to the highway, but why take a chance. What if they’d seen us pull off and radioed the cops to watch for us in both directions. There were police controls on the highways, but very few on secondary roads. It took us two hours dodging potholes to get back to Buenos Aires, skirt around it and continue north. It was dark by then and had already been a long day.
Continued in the next issue of SCR