Camp King, Oberursel, West Germany, October 1953
Lieutenant Jacks reported to his Commanding Officer, Colonel G. Moultrie Banks, on the day after his arrival at Camp King.
"Just get in, Lieutenant?" Banks asked, reading his personal file.
"Yesterday, sir. We sort of met at the gym yesterday."
He looked up at Jacks and frowned. "Oh yes. I thought you were a friend of Quinn’s."
"No, sir. Never saw him before."
"Good ball player, Quinn."
"Sit down." Jacks sat down. "You're pretty good yourself."
"I could say the same for you, sir." It was the right thing to say. In fact, if Marvin hadn't used exactly those words at exactly that time and in that place and in that admiring but matter-of-fact manner, his whole life might have been different.
The Colonel smiled modestly. "Oh, I used to be pretty good, had a great hook shot if I do say so myself." He entered into a long account of his basketball prowess at Georgia Tech. "I don't regret turning down that pro offer because that's about when the really big guys came along and my hook-shot wouldn't've stood a snowball's chance in hell against them."
Marvin didn't dispute it. He waited.
Banks looked down again at his file. "My problem now is what the hell to do with you, Jacks."
"I see you're a Russian linguist. Three fluents.
"Do you have any suggestions as to what we're supposed to do with another goddamn Russian linguist around here?"
"Of course you don't. Are you expecting a war with Russia any time soon?"
"Neither am I. Of course we've got the shit squad, but there's already a Major and two Captains there who do nothing and three naturalized Russian Enlisted Men who do the work."
"The shit squad, sir?" Jacks asked, worried.
"We got spies who steal the garbage from the Russian garrisons in East Germany and send the papers to us by the truckload. And the Russians use anything they can get to wipe their asses with...get the point? But at least it's dry shit. So our shit squad reviews these...documents, we call them... for potential intelligence data. Ninety-nine per cent of it is shit, love letters, pleas to Mom to send food, and so forth. Every once in a great while something of remote intelligence value is found. Get the point?"
"Yes, sir," Marvin replied, more worried.
"Is that what you'd like to do?"
"Not really, sir." A spark of hope. Was he being given a choice?
"Would you like to infiltrate the Soviet Union?"
"Well, I speak fluent Russian, but I don't think I'd pass for a Russian. No, I don't think there'd be much point in that, sir." Worried again, very worried.
"No. But they keep sending me Russian linguists. Get the point?"
"Do you know what I need?"
"German linguists, sir?"
"Right, by God". He lit a cigarette and offered one to Marvin, who accepted it. "I knew you had a head on your shoulders. Do you know why?"
"I'd rather pass on that one, sir, as I don't know much about the operation yet. Except to say that we are in Germany, after all."
Banks grinned. "It's really obvious, isn't it? This here's an interrogation center. We get a Russian once in a blue moon and we get to keep him about two days before the CIA comes and grabs him. But we get loads of Germans: Volkspolizei, politicians, spies, double agents, phonies, the works. So they send me Russian linguists. I get some Germans, linguists I mean, but most aren't up to the job. Do you know why?"
"No balls." He waited for a reaction, but Jacks was impassive, feeling that was the appropriate stance for someone with balls. "They can be interrogators, but do you know what I really need?"
Jacks could tell that the Colonel was an experienced interrogator. "No, sir".
"Recruiters. Do you know what they do?"
"More or less. They mentioned the subject in Oberammergau."
"Yeah. Well, you gotta be able to drink beer and talk soccer to Germans to gain their confidence. Do you do those things?"
"Yes, sir," which was half a lie. He drank beer, who doesn't? But talk soccer, who does?
"Goddamn," Colonel Banks exclaimed. "You play soccer?"
"Used to. Not too much, but I could hold my own."
"High school." A lie, he'd never played soccer in his life and didn't know the first thing about it. He resolved to get a book on the game first thing if he got out of this interview without the Colonel asking technical questions and finding him out.
"Well, waddaya know. Can't stand the thing myself. Sorta sissy game, don't you think?"
"Not really, sir. Of course it's not football, but it can be rough and you have to be in good shape". Couldn't be anything wrong in that, he thought.
Colonel Banks sighed. "I guess you're right. The Germans aren't exactly pansies and they go for it big".
Jacks nodded wisely.
"You'd make a good recruiter, Jacks, but you don't speak German, do you?"
"As a matter of fact I do, sir."
Banks opened his eyes wide. "You do? Where’d you learn German?”
“From my mother. She was German.”
“Well, I’ll be dollgarned. Read and write it too?
“Not as well as speaking. But yes, though I make mistakes writing.”
“Who the hell doesn’t? How come that’s not in your records?”
“Don’t know, sir. I guess because they never asked.”
“Son, you have come to the right place. What do you know about interrogation?”
“What they taught us in Russian at the Language School. I guess the technique’s the same.”
“Yes, well, what they taught you and the reality aren’t exactly the same. But practice makes perfect, just like in basketball.
“You can observe interrogations for a while, then do some easy ones on your own. Meantime tell Quinn to set you up for the basketball team. Play baseball too?”
“OK, glad to have you aboard, Jacks.”
"That's good of you, sir." He was saying all the right things, he realized. Robert E. Prewitt of From Here to Eternity would act differently. Well, you have to watch your own ass in the real world.
Marvin Jacks was ebullient. He went to the Officers' Club because he was passing it and was thirsty after that throat-drying interview with Col. Moultrie Banks. It had been the German Officers' Club before the Americans took it over and it was opulent. Marvin passed an empty reading room and entered the bar. There was only one early bird in civilian clothes perched on a bar stool reading Stars and Stripes. Marvin did a double take: it was Jack Quinn. So he was an officer after all. What had made Marvin discount that possibility? Something straight, honest, unhypocritical about him? He was relieved and at the same time somehow disappointed. He approached smiling and said, "Hi, Jack." Quinn turned his head sideways, saw who it was, said "Hi", and resumed reading. A brush off.
“How's everything, Jack?"
Quinn looked at him stonily. "Look, top grade enlisted men can use the officers' club on this base, which I don't normally do. I'm waiting for Colonel Banks, who wants to talk to me about the sports program and this is his favorite place. That's just in case you're wondering what I'm doing here or in case you might confuse me with an officer."
Marvin ordered a beer and tried to think of what to say. It would be stupid to apologize, he had nothing to apologize for, rather it was Quinn who was being rude. Better be matter-of-fact.
"What rank are you, anyway?"
Without looking up from his paper, Quinn answered, "Master Sergeant."
That's who he reminded him of: the Master Sergeant Burt Lancaster played in From Here to Eternity. He despised officers, too. "You're pretty young to be a Master Sergeant," Marvin said.
Quinn sighed and closed the paper in a show of resignation. "Thank Korea," he said, "in case you've heard of it. Rank comes fast there if you stay long enough."
"How long were you there?"
"Long enough." Then, to the German barman, "Noch ein Bier, Hans, bitte."
"Do you speak German?"
"Everyone learns to order another beer after three days here. But as a matter of fact I do. That's why I'm in this outfit."
"No, my old lady.”
"German speakers being in such short supply,” Jacks said, “I'm surprised you aren't employed differently".
"I told you, Colonel Banks is a sports nut. Look, Jacks, I shot off my mouth yesterday about all that thinking you were...not knowing what you were. I'd appreciate your keeping it to yourself".
He talks to me as though he were the colonel, Marvin thought, but that's the way Master Sergeants are. "No problem," he said. “By the way, Colonel Banks told me to tell you to set me up for the basketball team.”
"Wow, good for you. You must have made a big hit with the old man. And it takes an expert ass-kisser to do that." Nasty.
"You seem to be pretty good at it yourself," Marvin retorted, giving up the attempt to be friendly, let alone make friends.
But he didn't know Jack Quinn, who frowned, then grinned. "The only genuine, successful ass-kissers in this man's army are officers, of which select group you are one. But maybe you're different. After all, you are from Brooklyn, so you can't be all bad".
Colonel Banks clapped Quinn on the shoulder. "Hello, Jack." He ignored Marvin Jacks.
"Hi, Colonel," Quinn greeted him. Marvin picked up his beer, mumbled an apology and slunk off. They didn't hear him.