The Frequent Flyer - 17
Frank Thomas Smith
Last paragraph of previous chapter:
We left the house smiling (on my instructions) with Micaela between us. I opened the doors for them and looked to the front, nothing, and behind. There it was – a green Ford Falcon with three goons in it. I had a crazy impulse to take out my 22 and shoot at them. Are they stupid or are they stupid? It was a dead giveaway that we were being followed. Well, maybe they didn’t care about that. But that car was the fastest tractor on the road and I could easily lose it. Now we’d have to head south towards the seashore, instead of north to freedom. An hour later we were on the highway approaching Chascamus, a sleepy town almost halfway to Mar del Plata. There was, as usual, a lot of Friday afternoon traffic. I gunned the Mitsubishi and left the Falcon way behind. I knew the road well and after a curve I pulled off the highway into Chascamus, went through the town and got onto a secondary rode going back north. It was slower and we probably could have gone back to the highway, but why take a chance. What if they’d seen us pull off and radioed the cops to watch for us in both directions. There were police controls on the highways, but very few on secondary roads. It took us two hours dodging potholes to get back to Buenos Aires, skirt around it and continue north. It was
dark by then and it had already been a long day.
* * * *
The moon was full though, or almost full. It occurred to me that the moon would be full regardless of what happened to us, whether we escaped and lived happily ever after, or were captured, tortured and killed. That selfish moon, like Rhett Butler, doesn’t give a damn. Is death like that or is it alive like the sun and the stars?
I glanced to my right at my companion, who had been silent for a while, and saw that she was asleep, mouth slightly open, eyelids fluttering. “Frau Marie, Anamarie, Rachel – who cares about your name,” I whispered, “I love you, and I’ll tell you so when you’re awake,” although I knew I wouldn’t, not yet.
We drove all night on flat, bumpy secondary roads, through somnolent towns. Rachel took over the wheel for the last two hundred kilometres while I tried to sleep. Micaela had no problem sleeping all night in the back seat. We entered the border city of Corrientes at sunrise and got coffee and stale croissants at a gas station cafeteria. While tanking up I asked the attendant for directions to the border bridge to Paraguay. I had been to Asunción, the capitol, several times, but never to the twin cities of Corrientes on the Argentine side and Ciudad del Este in Paraguay. I knew, however, that Paraguay is the contraband capitol of the world, where you can buy anything tax-free and stolen. Most of the new cars stolen in Brazil and Argentina – and they are legion – wind up in Paraguay, where you can buy them at cut-rate prices in police stations. Hundreds of pedestrians and cars cross the bridge every day to shop and the border police and immigration officials are paid to keep the traffic moving, not to intercept thieves and smugglers. It was the perfect place for fugitives like us to leave Argentina.
As we approached the bridge, already full of cars and pedestrians crossing without the immigration people, who were ensconced in the booths slurping maté, paying attention to them, Rachel put her hand on my arm and said, “Stop for a minute, Darrell.” I pulled over to the side of the road. “They’re not stamping passports,” she said.
“No, not even looking at them,” I replied. “That might be dangerous for smugglers, thieves and fugitives – like us.”
“Yes, but if we intend to fly out of here we have to show our foreign passports that have no entry stamps.”
“We can say we came in here, over the bridge.”
“I know something about this place, Darrell,” she said. Micaela was listening carefully to this serious conversation. “Remember my real profession.” Her real profession, spy, wasn’t something she wanted her daughter to hear.
“Go on,” I said.
“This bridge is for people who cross with or without documents and who leave the same way at the same place. Air travel is different, as are all other border crossings. They won’t let us leave without an entry stamp.” She paused and stared at me, waiting for a reaction.
My head was empty. “So what do we do?”
“We ask the immigration guy to stamp us in, because like most tourists we like stamps in our passports.”
I nodded, then said, “But what if they’re looking for us?”
“The Paraguayans won’t be – not yet at least.”
“Okay, it’s worth the risk”, I said. “Give me your passports.”
She didn’t move.
“I think it would be better if you gave me yours. I’ll go in with Micaela. You stay in the car sulking because you think it’s silly to waste time for stamps. That’s what I’ll tell him.”
It was obvious that she could charm the pants off any guy better than I could, so I nodded approval and handed her my passport. She put a twenty dollar bill inside it. We drove past the Argentine immigration booth and stopped at the Paraguayan one fifty yards further on. Rachel and Micaela got out of the car and walked in. I watched her smiling at the guard and explaining, then pointing to me with a laugh. I scowled appropriately. The guard had stood up politely, then sat down again to look at the passports. He didn’t stamp them. He was talking now, and pointed back at the Argentine side. Rachel looked serious. She shook her head and pointed at me again. She picked up the passports and came back to the car clutching Micaela’s hand. She leaned into the window.
“He said he couldn’t stamp us in without an Argentine stamp stamping us out,” she whispered. “He said we should go back and get the Argentine stamp, that ‘no hay problema, señora’, if we give the Argentine the same present we gave him. I said you were already angry and I didn’t want to infuriate you, that I’d ask you.”
My brain started working again. “I don’t think it’s good idea.”
“Nor do I.”
“Get in and let’s get out of here.”
Rachel turned back to the guard, shook her head, shrugged her shoulders and got back into the car with Micaela.
“Have a good visit to Paraguay,” the guard called out, happy to have earned twenty bucks for nothing. After she and Micaela were in the car I drove off after wiping the sweat off my hands on my trousers.
“It’s suspicious,” I said.
“Yes, but he’s an idiot. No hay problema.”
“With him maybe not, but what do we do now?”
“I know a place in Asunción where we can get passports,” she said calmly, and I considered myself lucky to be in love with a spy.
Continued in the next issue of SCR.