Love in the Life of Spies

by Frank Thomas Smith


Florida, Buenos Aires, Argentina

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 Marvin 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, Herr Jacks, I have a mensaje for you from Frau Marie,” he said in “Belgrano-Deutsch”, a 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 ein-uhr: Rudolf-Steiner-Schule, Warnes 1331. She signed it: Marie Clement

“She told me to give it to you,” the waiter said.

“What happened? Where is she? What’s your name, by the way?”

“Knoblauch – Federico Knoblauch,” the waiter answered, somewhat intimidated by Jacks’ height and staccato questions. He, like us all, wanted to be loved.

“Tell me what happened, Federico.”

“They came about an hour ago and took Frau Marie and Herr Clement.”

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., you know, state security. They didn’t say so, but you could tell by the green Ford Falcon they parked outside, everyone knows that. Herr Clement 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.”

“Will you pick up their daughter like she asks in the note?”

Jacks look at his watch: 12:45. “Yes, of course. It's almost one, I’ll have to hurry.”

“What do you think will happen?” the waiter asked, wringing his 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 square, not even the windows. The place looked like it had been built by a drunken bricklayer. Yet somehow it was attractive, stimulating. Jacks walked 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 him a moment, then went into the corridor and called out, “Herr Schmidt-Kersmecke!” Jacks looked around the small room cluttered with files and books, all in German. A large photo of a serious looking gent stared down at him from the wall over the lady’s desk: Rudolf Steiner the name under it indicated. 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. Jacks glanced back at the photo and saw the same tie on 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.” Jacks hesitated. “Frau Fintelfink and I will be glad to step outside while you’re calling.”

They left the room and Jacks dialled Panam. John Armstrong was the manager of Panam and a local CIA agent The secretary told him 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 Hotel?”

“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.” She giggled.

“Give me the Sheraton’s number, Bea,” Jacks said, feeling desperate. She took forever finding it. And it took Jacks forever to finally get Armstrong on the line. “They took them already, John,” Jacks began…

“Took who? Who took whom?”

“This phone isn’t secure, damn it –”

“Well this one sure as hell isn’t either.”

“They took the people we’re interested in, here in Florida.”

“Oh, Frau Marie?”

What an idiot! “Yes, Frau Marie.”

“And husband?”

“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 just like that.”

“Even to S.I.D.E.?

“Even to them.”

“Your boss at the embassy then.”

“He’s in Washington.”

Jacks took a deep, frustrated breath. “They have telephones in Washington, John. Call him and tell him to get on it. It’s easy.”

“Well, he might be 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…”

Jacks stopped listening. Armstrong was right. He shouldn’t be so worried, but he was. “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.”

“Before what?”

“Never mind that.”

“Whose side are you on anyway, Marvin?”

“Ours … but just do what I ask and I’ll get what you want.”

“Like what?”

“Every fucking thing you ever wanted to know about the GDR East German intelligence service. 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.”

He was sitting there with his head in his hands when Herr Schmidt-Something stuck his head in the door. “Are you finished telephoning?”

“Oh… yes, sorry.”

Frau Finkelfink pushed in behind him glaring.

“How much do I owe for the calls?”

“Two local calls, eighty centavos,” the dragon lady said.

“Oh,” Herr S-K said, “I’m sure we can absorb that, Agnes.”

“We can’t absorb anything, Herbert.”

Jacks fished in his 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 Jacks twenty centavos change. “That’s all right,” he 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 sat down at the table. “I know you're in a hurry, Herr Jacks. At least you said you are. But I've found that most people who say they're in a hurry would be much better off if they weren't, or didn't think there are.” Surprised, Jacks was about to answer angrily, but S-K didn't really pause. He smiled and said that Micaela's class had an extra hour today because they were rehearsing for a play. “Personally I think it's somewhat above their age group, but as you probably know, in our schools the teacher is king...or, rather, queen. He laughed as Jacks frowned.”Actually, I didn't know,” he said.

“Well,” Herr S-K went on, “Frau Clement must have forgotten to tell you, or forgot herself. Have you known Frau Clement long, Herr Jacks?”

“Yes,” Jacks said, surprising himself.

“An interesting woman, don't you agree?”

Marvin Jacks did not tell Herr Schmit-Kersmecke everything that follows below of course, but it did pass through his mind quickly and pictorially as they say when your life passes through your soul directly after death. He did give Herr S-K a radically condensed version though in the hour they spent waiting for Micaela to join them.