The Frequent Flyer - 14
Frank Thomas Smith
End of previous chapter:
Rodriguez laughed out loud. “Yes, yes, I’m so glad to talk about such things with a man who has a sense of humor.” He sighed. “Unfortunately we haven’t time to go more deeply into such things, even if they are extremely important. Now, my apostate friend, please understand that we can make things difficult for you here.”
A direct threat, Jacks thought. Better. And for the first time it occurred to him to wonder if Armstrong had something to do with this visit.
“Really,” he said. “How?”
“Never mind how,” Rodriguez said. “Trust me, we can.”
They sat there for at least a minute smiling idiotically at each other. Rodriguez thinking that Jacks’ was imagining the terrible things they could do to him. Jacks, however, thinking, hoping, that he was bluffing. Jacks was, after all, a U.S. citizen, an ally with connections to his embassy and the representative of an important international organization of which Argentina’s national airline was a member. But he knew that there were certain unimaginably horrible things they could do to Rachel Baumgartner if they discovered her real identity and chose to take that avenue.
“Let me think about it,” he said, finally.
Rodriguez stood, still grinning, shook Jacks’ hand, said, “Gracias por el mate cocido,” and left.
Jacks’ first impulse was to phone Armstrong, but then he thought the bastards might have his phone tapped, so he decided to take the subway for the two stops to Panam’s office. He bought a subway token for twenty centavos, but put it in his pocket and decided to walk. It would give him time to think. He made his way down the Calle Florida, a pedestrian zone, in bright autumn sunshine. A visitor who didn’t keep up with the news and who walked down that luxurious shopping street could never know that Argentina was run by a brutal military dictatorship and that the city of Buenos Aires was surrounded by a ring of shanty towns called villa miseries. When he reached Avenida Corrientes, a main traffic artery full of buses belching clouds of exhaust smoke and honking taxis, he turned right towards the obelisk at the Plaza de la República. He didn’t notice anything around him, for he was thinking of what he would say to Armstrong. He had to contain his anger first of all because he wasn’t sure that Armstrong was behind the S.I.D.E. guy’s visit and also because it wouldn’t do any good. He was more fearful than ever about Rachel’s safety. Now he could tell her that not only CIA but also the S.I.D.E. was on her trail and she had to move – and quickly. Not that easy because her phone was certainly tapped. He turned left automatically at the Plaza de la República when he reached the obelisk, walked down Diagonal Norte dodging pedestrians, crossed it and stepped into the Panam building.
“Oh, hello, Mr. Jacks,” Armstrong’s secretary said in perfect Anglo-Argentine English. “How are you today?” Jacks wondered if she was also CIA; after all, it would be hard to keep secrets from a personal secretary; better to recruit her.
“Fine, Beatrice, thanks.” Jacks knew the value of being on good terms with secretaries. They could open or close doors. “Gotta see John.”
“He’s in a meeting right now, Mr. Jacks,” she said apologetically. “You didn’t have an appointment, did you? We’ve been trying to contact you.”
“Who’s he meeting with?”
“The sales manager.”
“Ok, tell him I’m here and I have to speak with him urgently.”
“Well…” She frowned - all an act, Jacks knew.
She smiled. “All right, Mr. Marvin Jacks.” She swivelled towards him revealing slender unstockinged legs and a peek at her panties under a mini-miniskirt, stood and walked into the boss’s office. A minute later she came out, followed by the sales manager, a harassed looking guy whose name Jacks had forgotten, who shook Jacks’ hand, gratefully it seemed, because he got him out of Armstrong’s clutches.
“You can go in now, Mr. Jacks,” the secretary said, but he had already walked past her into the inner sanctum.
“Hi, Marvin,” Armstrong began, “You know, airline seats are the hardest things in the world to sell. They’re intangibles for godssake. Maybe I should go into the used car business. Sit down, what can I do for you?”
“Let’s go downstairs for a coffee,” Jacks said.
“What? Why? We have better coffee here…oh, I getcha. Don’t worry, pal, this place is debugged, completely and forever. So sit down and relax. He pushed the intercom button: “Bea, bring us two coffees, the Columbian stuff.”
Jacks remained standing. “A S.I.D.E. guy came to see me.” He watched Armstrong’s reaction, which consisted of a raising of eyebrows.
“No kidding,” he said. “What the fuck do they want? Sit the hell down, will you. You’re making me nervous.”
Jacks sat in an armchair across from Armstrong in the VIP corner and frowned at him. “They want me to work for them, find out about Frau Marie.”
“Jeez, that’s interesting,” Armstrong said. “Tell me more.”
“When I demurred he threatened me.”
“That’s what I asked him. He said I should trust him, they could do it.”
“I trust him,” Jacks said. “And I want to know if you had anything to do with it.”
“Me?” – The secretary walked in without knocking, carrying a tray with two cups of aromatic Columbian coffee, cream, sugar, the works. She set it down on the table between them. “Thank you, Bea,” Armstrong said with a smile. You could cut the silence until she left. “Why would I do something like that, Marvin?”
“You want me to do the same thing. Maybe this is a less than subtle way of saying I’m better off working for you than for them.”
“What exactly do you mean by ‘demurred’?” Armstrong asked.
“I said I didn’t like dictatorships.”
“Nice. Did you outright refuse?”
“I said I’d think about it.”
“Same answer you gave me. Okay, Marvin, I categorically deny having had anything to do with this. Furthermore…”
“I’m asking you yes or no, John, goddammit. I ‘m not interested in categorical denials.”
Armstrong stared at him a moment, then said, “No, definitely not, Marvin. I wouldn’t do that and I didn’t. That good enough for you?”
“Are you the boss here?”
“What do you mean – the boss?”
“Of the CIA in Argentina is what I mean.”
“There’s a Station Chief at the embassy of course. He wouldn’t do it, Marvin.” He paused and looked at the tray. “Our coffee’s getting cold. Cream and sugar?”
Armstrong poured, half filled his own cup with sugar, then said, “Well, maybe he would, but not without telling consulting me.”
“Get them off my back, John,” Jacks said as calmly as he could.
“We didn’t put them there, Marvin…but don’t worry, we’ll talk to them. What’s the guy’s name?”
“Rodriguez, here’s his card.”
“I’ll tell them you’re working for us then?”
“Don’t fuck with me, John.”
“I have to tell them something. Look, Marvin, we didn’t set it up, but it just turned out that way. We work with those bastards, sure, we have no choice, but that doesn’t mean we like them – or that they like us. So the only way we can convince them is to say that you’re already on the case – for us.”
Jacks wasn’t surprised at this turn of events, in fact he expected it. It was, after all, logical, whether the CIA was behind the S.A.D.E. intervention or not. All he needed now was for the KGB to show up.
“All right, John,” he said, trying to sound resigned. “What do you want me to do?”
“That’s my man!” Armstrong said. “We’re gonna drink to that.” He jumped up and pushed the intercom on his desk.
“Yes, sir,” his secretary answered,
“Bring in a small bottle of champagne – the French stuff.”
They sat in silence waiting for the toast. Jacks filled his pipe. When the champagne arrived a minute later, already opened with a white towel around it, Armstrong poured, handed a glass to Jacks and said, “To you Marvin; you won’t be sorry.”
Jacks sipped first, then downed the champagne in one gulp. “So what do you want me to do?”
“Suck up to Frau Marie, you’ve already got one foot in the door. Find out what they’re up to, who they really are, her and her husband I mean.”
“And you’ll call off the Argentines, the S.I.D.E.?
“Right, I’ll take care of that right away, don’t want them fucking things up.”
“You better call them off Frau Marie and hubby as well,” Jacks said. “I can’t very well find out anything if they’re hanging by their toes in some clandestine torture cell.”
“Good point, not as easily done, but good point. This is good stuff, isn’t it. The French may be assholes, but they sure know how to make champagne.” Armstrong looked at his watch. “How about lunch, Marvin?”
“No thanks, John. I have a week’s backlog of work at the office.”
But Jacks didn’t go back to his office. It was almost lunch time and he knew where he was going to eat. They – the CIA and the S.I.D.E. – were watching Die Glocke, but now that he was, theoretically at least, working for them both, one directly and the other indirectly, there was good reason for him to go there. Time was of the essence; he had to warn Analiese…Rachel. He wondered if he was being followed, not that it mattered now, but he wanted to know. He knew something about surveillance techniques from his M.I. training. There are several levels: if you want the target to know he’s being watched you stay very close on his tail, and one person can do it; if you prefer that he not know, but it’s more important that he not be lost, you stay close but not too close and you need at least two people, one on each side of the street. If you don’t want the target to know that he’s being tailed you need at least three people, preferably four, to keep changing positions. You could lose your target either accidentally or deliberately – on the target’s part, if he wanted to lose you. Jacks also knew something about avoiding surveillance. In Germany he had often gone through the motions but never really knew if he was being followed. The STASI, Germans in Germany, were experts. The M. I. People, like him, were amateurs, but losing a tail, called counter-surveillance, was much easier than doing the tailing. Like so much else in life, negation was the easy way.
Jacks crossed the wide Diagonal Norte with the traffic light and walked south in the general direction of his office. After a block he came to the subway entrance. He was at the hub of the Buenos Aires subway system where all the lines crossed and downstairs it was like a human beehive – hell for the followers. He stopped before a men’s clothing store and gazed into the shop window. In the glass’s reflection he saw a man directly across the street from him looking into the window of a store, a women’s lingerie shop. He was undoubtedly watching Jacks in the reflection. Good. Now Jacks turned his head left in the direction from which he had come. It wouldn’t do at all for a tail to stop as well and be identified. No, he would continue walking, pass the target, then turn a corner and wait for the target to pass him. The guy across the street would signal which way the target was going. Jacks, the target, kept his head turned left, watching everyone who passed him; he was waiting for everyone a half-block behind him to pass, with one eye on the guy across the street. When he was satisfied that everyone had passed and had time to get a safe distance beyond him, he turned and quickly walked down the steep stairs to the subway. He felt into his pocket for the token he had bought an hour ago but luckily hadn’t used. If he’d had to wait on line for a token they’d have had time to catch up. He pushed through the crowd, inserted the token into the turnstile and walked quickly to the line going north. When he got to the platform he wanted he was again lucky for a train was just pulling in. He boarded it, certain that he’d shaken his rather amateurish followers. He’d be picked up again at Die Glocke, but at least they’d know he was not to be fucked with.
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, the hard beating of his heart told him.
Continued in the next issue of SCR.
See the SCR Archives for previous chapters.