“Are you comfortable in your quarters, Frau Cornelius?” Lt. Jacks asked the attractive young lady seated across from him in Bavarian-American accented German. It was his first interrogation on his own, but he had been advised that it was routine, she was merely a defector’s wife. The room was small but tastefully decorated and they sat in padded chairs. During the war the Germans had used it for the good-cop part of interrogation. If the P.O.W.s, American and British flyers, were not cooperative they went next to the dungeon below for a few days for softening up, no torture, just isolation, were then brought back up for more officer and gentleman treatment. Most stuck to the name, rank and serial number bit, but some were willing to discuss personal things like wives, children, home towns, with their interrogators, and this inevitably led to elements of military information. Either way, they all wound up in P.O.W. camps.
The East Germans the Americans questioned were told they were there voluntarily and were free to go at any time – which was partly true: they could leave, but if they didn’t return within twenty-four hours they would be picked up by the German police and turned over to West German Intelligence, where they were threatened with being sent back East, the result being that they rushed back to Camp King apologizing profusely.
Jacks had read her husband’s interrogation file and had to corroborate the personal information, then ask her about the Foreign Affairs Ministry, where she had worked in the travel department. Finally, what they asked all defectors: conditions in the German Democratic Republic.
She had it all down pat: told Jacks about her husband’s military career – going nowhere because of his lack of motivation, which created suspicion – the names of Foreign Affairs Ministry officials and their travel history, as well as she could remember. Mostly they traveled around the Eastern bloc, including Moscow; only the higher ups went to the west, and they were too important for her to handle. Conditions? She was supposed to tell the truth, and she did: shortages of almost everything, although she was privileged in that respect because of her job in the Ministry. But all her relatives and friends expected her to buy things for them, and she had to ask an official, which she didn’t like to do, especially as most of them expected sexual favors in return, which she refused to give. The Stasi informers were everywhere, so there was no freedom of speech, no freedom at all in fact. They had wanted her to be an informer and she refused, which made any possibility for advancement impossible. And everyone knows that the Russians are really in charge, that the so-called German Democratic Republic is nothing but a puppet and the Russians are hated. She added, almost as an afterthought, that if the wall came down the whole population might go over to the west. Did they already know that? She asked herself. Was she going too far?
Then the epiphany: it was all true, and yes, and she was happy to be out of it, and if she weren’t in the west as a spy she would be even happier, much happier. What had happened to her ideals, her father’s great communist ideals? Was it the Russians’ fault that they had been perverted, or were they rotten to begin with?
“Frau Cornelius,” her American interrogator was saying. “Is something wrong?” And she realized that there were tears in her eyes and she had almost forgotten his presence.
“No, I’m sorry, it’s just that…”
Marvin Jacks’ epiphany arrived somewhat later, when he realized that he was in love with her, not madly, no, not that, but the process had begun.
Lt. Marvin Jacks rented a room in a pension on Hamburger Allee in Frankfurt. He smiled at the street’s name. Did it make the love affair sound trite, even ridiculous? In German the reference was to the city of Hamburg, and he had every intention of keeping it a secret as far as his American compatriots were concerned. He didn’t want them installing bugs in the room. The only other person who knew about it was the lady in question: Frau Anneliese Cornelius. Lt. Cornelius and frau had been thoroughly debriefed and they were let loose to pursue their lives in West Germany. There was, however, a shade of suspicion, on the part of Master Sergeant Jack Quinn, that they might be Stasi agents.
Quinn hadn’t participated in any of the interrogations, but he'd read the reports, as Colonel Banks routinely asked him to do. Then the meeting with Banks and the two interrogators, the other being First Lt. Hamburg (sic). Although outranked by everyone, Quinn ran the meeting. Hamburg and Jacks had copies of the interrogation reports on their laps. Quinn had no papers, Banks looked bored.
“You guys say you’re satisfied these people are on the level, right?” Quinn asked, looking at the two officers one after the other. Actually neither had written exactly that in their reports. Like good bureaucrats covering themselves just in case, they had written that they found no indication that the Cornelius couple were not what they said they were: real defectors. Lt. Hamburg was annoyed by being treated as a subordinate by an enlisted man, Col. Banks’ favorite because he had a good jump shot. He also knew from experience, however, that Quinn had a nose for smelling lies. Not lies exactly – any interrogator worth his salt could do that – but half-truths, which were much harder to detect. Sgt. Quinn could detect them, he called it intuition. That’s why Col. Banks had him read all the interrogation reports before making final decisions. “I found no indication that they aren’t,” he said.
“Same difference.” Quinn brushed off Hamburg’s correction. He questioned Jacks with his eyebrows. “I found nothing in Frau Cornelius’s story to think otherwise,” Jacks said.
“Well, you might both be right, but something about this bothers me.” He looked at Col. Banks, seated behind his large desk, to see if he was paying attention. Banks was. “Go on, Sergeant,” he said, stroking his mustache wisely.
“Just for a moment let’s assume that they are Stasi agents,” Quinn said. “One’s an army officer, the other works in the Foreign Ministry, according to their cover story at least. This makes them interesting, right?”
“Certainly does,” Col. Banks agreed.
“They cross over and come to us. Why?” He directed the question at Lt. Hamburg.
“Because he’s army and we’re army,” Hamburg replied.
“Right. But why didn’t they go to the West German army? Did either of you ask that question?” He shook his head. “Never mind, it’s not in your reports. The question, then, is: Why not?”
“Goddammit, Colonel, I wish you’d remind Sgt. Quinn that we’re officers and he should address us as such.”
Col. Banks raised his eyebrows and smiled ever so faintly. Then, to Quinn: “He’s right, Sergeant. But this is an informal meeting, so let’s just get on with it.”
“Why not…Lieutenant?” he looked at Jacks.
Jacks suppressed the impulse to address Quinn as Sir, and said that he hadn’t thought of it.
“And you?” looking at Hamburg and infuriating him by omission.
“Because the answer is that the West Germans would have kept them in much less comfortable circumstances than we do, and for longer, and would have made him join the West German army to prove his loyalty, and as an Enlisted Man to boot.”
“Good reasons to come to us instead,” Quinn said, “especially the E.M. part. But how would he know that?”
“The grapevine, Quinn, probably everyone in the East German army knows it – the officers anyway.”
“So you assumed that was the reason and didn’t bother to ask, right?”
“And you, Lt. Jacks, didn’t think of it.”
Jacks nodded. He liked and admired Quinn, despite being on the hot-seat, couldn’t help it. Anyway, it was his first interrogation, and of the woman, not the army officer, so his seat wasn’t that hot.
“But there could be another reason for coming to us instead of the Germans,” Quinn went on, “an even better one.” He sat back like an actor waiting for his cue. Col. Banks supplied it: “What’s that, Sergeant?”
“The Germans are a hell of a lot better at this than we are. Sorry to admit it, Sir, but it’s true, inevitable.”
“Why inevitable,” Col. Banks asked, frowning.
“Because they’re Germans, know the German soul, can detect nuances that we can’t, know more about the East German army and Stasi. So German Military Intelligence, if there was even the whiff of suspicion, would have turned them over to the Bundessicherheitsdienst – their CIA. We don’t do that, to us they’re guests from hell who have recognized the evils of communism and are now friends. All we want is military information.
“That’s not true, Quinn,” Hamburg protested. “We look for agents, too, all the time.”
“True,” Quinn rejoined calmly, “but it’s not our priority; it is theirs. Furthermore, we got turnstyle interrogators and analysts. You do your tour of duty and leave or are transferred. The draftees go home just when they’re beginning to know what they’re doing. The Germans aren’t going anywhere.”
“What’s your point, Quinn?” Lt. Hamburg asked after an embarrassing silence.
“I thought it was obvious, Hamburg, but….”
“Col. Banks!” Hamburg almost shouted.
“We know you’re an officer, Hamburg,” Banks said calmly. “We can see the bars on your shoulders. Now just shut up and listen.”
Hamburg turned beet-red, and probably didn’t listen.
“Anyway,” Quinn went on, “they may have come to us for the reasons stated by Lt. Hamburg – or they may have come because they wanted to avoid a real, hard-ass interrogation by people who would at least suspect them.”
“You mean who have other priorities,” Col. Banks said.
“Yes, Sir,” Quinn smiled.
“So what do you suggest?”
“That we keep them under surveillance for a while.”
“Ah,” the colonel said, “and how do we do that?”
Hamburg woke up. “I can assemble a surveillance team, Sir.”
Banks raised his eyebrows and looked at Quinn.v
“A two-day course in Munich, which is the amount of training you guys get, doesn’t make a surveillance team, Hamburg.” Hamburg opened his mouth but nothing came out. “And if they are agents, they’ve been trained to spot amateur surveillance,” Quinn said. “No, we have to do it a different way.”
“Yes, Lt. Jacks?” Col. Banks said.
“Why don’t we just turn the case over to the CIA?” It was a rhetorical question; he knew they wouldn’t buy it.
Banks smiled and again looked at Quinn. He obviously didn’t want to be quoted.
“Because they’re worse than us, you can spot them as Americans a mile away. Anyway, they probably wouldn’t take it seriously. After all, we have no facts.”
“Only your intuition, Sgt. Quinn,” Banks said, “and that’s good enough for me. What other way?”
“Jacks can come on to the woman. Reading between the lines of his report, I detect a rapport.”
Marvin Jacks hoped his face wasn’t as red as Hamburg’s. They were all looking at him. He’d intended to get in touch with her anyway, now they were asking him to, but for a very different reason.
“Is that the case, Jacks?” Col. Banks asked.
“Sgt. Quinn is very perceptive,” Jacks said with a silly grin, “but yes, we got on well.”
“OK, go on, Sergeant Quinn.”
“We check her out for a few days, just to see if there’s a pattern of some place she goes where Jacks could bump into her, by accident you know. Then Jacks makes a date with her, starts an affair if possible, finds out if there’s anything to my intuition about them.”
“What about the husband?” Hamburg said, just to say something.
“Well,” Quinn answered, “if she’s a loyal wife and or a good agent, Jacks’ll get shot down – I don’t mean that literally. What do you think about that though, Lt. Jacks?”
“Her husband’s not the romantic type,” Jacks said. That did get a laugh.
“You willing, Lt. Jacks?” Col. Banks asked.
After a short pretense of thinking it over, “Yes, Sir.”
Quinn had a German driver employed by Camp King observe Frau Cornelius. He’d been in the Wehrmacht M.I. and had surveillance experience, was also smart, a friend of Quinn’s. After the first week he reported back that she went to the flea market in Bockenheim two or three times, bought some cheap stuff. Quinn asked him if she might be making a contact there. The driver shrugged. “Könnte sein,” he said, but he hadn’t noticed anything, though he admitted that it would be a perfect place for it. Quinn told Jacks to let her see and approach him, if possible. If she didn’t, he should approach her, but if he thought she wanted to avoid him they’d drop the whole thing. “And Jacks,” Quinn, damn him, said, but Jacks was used by then to being treated as his subordinate, “remember this is work, so don’t fall for her or you might be in trouble, if what I’m thinking is true, that is.”
“Don’t worry about that, Sgt. Quinn.” Why worry, when it had already happened?
The meeting came off perfectly. Jacks went to the Bockenheimer flea market the following Saturday in civvies. It was big and he didn’t look out of place, for there were other Americans there, servicemen looking for bargains. He saw her at a used books stand concentrated on a book she was leafing through. He strolled to the other side of the same stand until he was directly across from her. The book she held was the first volume of Goethe’s Complete Works. He leaned across and picked up the second volume and opened it. She saw his hand do it of course and looked up.
“Lt. Jacks!” she said.
He looked up innocently and pretended to be trying to place her. Then, “Frau Cornelius, what a surprise!” He walked around the stand and they shook hands.
“Are you interested in Goethe?” she asked him.
“I’d like to be more interested, but he’s a bit difficult for me, I need a dictionary at my elbow.”
She laughed. “It’s a good way to improve your German.”
“Undoubtedly. Are you going to buy that book?”
“No, the dealer will only sell the complete set. He’s right of course. Why break it up?”
Jacks saw his opening. “Oh? How much does he want?” The dealer, a skinny little man with a huge mustache, was watching them from his seat at the opposite corner of the stand. He smelled a sale.
“A hundred marks. That’s frightfully expensive for used books.”
“It depends on how you look at it. If they were new they’d cost a lot more, and the words are the same.”
“I suppose you’re right,” she said. “And they are quite beautiful, pre-war, of course.”
“Wait here,” Jacks told her. He went over to the dealer, greeted him cordially as one must, and asked if he could reserve the complete set with twenty marks, that he would return the next day with the rest of the money.
“Jawohl, Mein Herr, you certainly may,” the dealer said and held out his hand. Jacks gave him the twenty and he took a piece of cardboard from his pocket, printed GEKAUFT on it, and placed it on the center volume of the set. Jacks wondered if he could get the money back as confidential funds, but immediately decided against asking. She isn’t a spy, for God’s sake.
“I’ll pay him the rest tomorrow and the first volume is yours,” he told her when he was again at her side.
“But Lt. Jacks, I couldn’t accept that. Besides, you’ll want to keep the set complete.”
“Maybe you can help me with Goethe’s German in return.” She smiled, but didn’t answer.
“How about a coffee?”
She looked at her watch and said, “I have to go now, but…When will you pick up the books?”
“It’s Sunday tomorrow, so any time really.”
“Fine, it’s a date.”
“Auf Wiedersehen, Lt. Jacks,” she said and gave him her hand.
“Auf Wiedersehen, Frau Cornelius.” He watched her walk away. Not the Germanic type at all, he thought. Dark hair, petite, beautiful in her way.
They met the next day at the bookstall, he paid the remainder of the money to the dealer, who wrapped the ten volumes in two packages. She took one, he the other, and they walked off together. It was cold and they were thankful for the warm gemütlich café. Jacks ordered brandy with their coffee. She poured hers into the coffee and insisted that he try it. He did. They stayed there over an hour. One thing led to another. He asked her about her plans now in the west. She said that her husband was thinking of joining the army if they would recognize his commission. She had applied at several places as a secretary, but she had the impression that there was a certain prejudice against people from the east, so it wasn’t easy. She also admitted that she was thinking of leaving her husband. He was so, well, military. It wasn’t his fault really, but now that she was free, she wanted to be completely so. After a half dozen brandies they went to a nearby hotel and spent another hour there under the eiderdown. Jacks had fallen – hard. He rented the room on Hamburger Allee and they met there almost every day for a month. Then she disappeared.
That last day in their room on Hamburger Allee, Anneliese was especially loving, sexually and, later, tenderly. Jacks felt tears on her cheeks, but ascribed it to his excellent love-making technique which, if the truth be told, had improved immensely under Anneliese’s tutorage. He was twenty-one, she twenty, and he wondered if experience or natural talent had been her teacher – but he didn’t ask. The next day she didn’t show, nor the next. He noticed that both Goethe volumes, which they had begun reading together, were gone. Her phone didn’t answer and when he went to her apartment the landlord told him that Herr and Frau Cornelius had moved out two days ago, without leaving a forwarding address. He didn’t see her again until fifteen years later.
Continued in the next issue if SCR.