The Frequent Flyer
by Frank Thomas Smith
Marvin Jacks rented a room in a pension on Hamburger Allee in Frankfurt. Did the name 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 making jokes about it or, more seriously, installing bugs in the room. The only other person who knew about it was the lady in question: Frau Analiese 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 that they might be Stasi agents – thanks to Master Sergeant Jack Quinn.
Quinn hadn’t participated in any of the interrogations, but he read the reports, as Colonel Banks routinely asked him to do. Then the meeting with Banks and the two interrogators, the other being a 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 junior 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 weren’t what they said they were: real defectors. Lt. Hamburg, annoyed by being treated as a subordinate by an enlisted man, Col. Banks’ favorite because he had a good jump shot, said as much. 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. And that’s why Col. Banks had him read all the interrogation reports before making final decisions.
“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,” he answered.
“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 awake. Banks was. “Go on, Sergeant,” he said, stroking his moustache 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 asked 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 begin with.”
“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’s 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 bullshit, Quinn,” Hamburg protested vehemently. “We look for agents, too, all the time.”
“True,” Quinn rejoined calmly, “but it’s not our priority; it is theirs. Furthermore, we got turn-style 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 you 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 know what they’re doing.”
“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, in effect giving him the go-ahead.
“A two-day course in Munich, which is the amount of training you guys got, 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 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, nor did he want them to.
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 Analiese anyway, now it seemed 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 which no one responded to, “..er.. but yes, we got on well.”
“Ok, go on, sergeant.”
“We check her out – not him – 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, Lieutenant. What do you think about that though?”
“Her husband’s not the romantic type,” Jacks said. That did get a laugh.
“You willing, Lt. Jacks?” Banks asked.
After a short pretence 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, although 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 Bockenheim flea market the following Saturday in civvies. It was big and he didn’t look out of place, for there were other American there, servicemen looking for bargains or, more likely, girls. He saw her at a used books stall concentrated on a book she was leafing through. He strolled to the other side of the same stall 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 and looked up.
“Lt. Jacks!” she said.
“He looked up, surprised, saw her 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 moustache, 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 wasn’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, petit, beautiful in her way.
He had that strange feeling then for the first time as he walked toward the tram stop. He was a conductor within his body looking out his eyes as though they were windows on the world. He was strictly an observer.
They met the next day at the book stall, 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 out 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 amount of 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, it wasn’t his fault really, but now she was free and 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. Jack 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 nineteen, 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. Her phone didn’t answer and when he went to her apartment the landlord told him that Leutnant 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 of SCR