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The Frequent Flyer

 

Frank Thomas Smith

 

Chapter 18

(Conclusion)

 

Following Rachel’s directions, Jacks drove to a slum section of Asunción and stopped at what looked like an oversized box made of rusty corrugated tin. They got out of the car and Micaela held her mother’s hand as they walked into the box without knocking. A skinny guy was working on a lathe so didn’t hear them come in until they were almost past him. Then he turned off the lathe, stepped in front of Rachel, who was in the lead, and said “Señora?”

“We’re going to see Augusto,” she said.

“Ah, is he expecting you?”

“No, just tell him that Marie from Buenos Aires is here.”

“Marie who?”

“Tell him,” she replied with an authority that surprised both the skinny guy and Jacks. He turned and walked to the far end of the box, about ten yards away, and knocked – two shorts and a long – and entered. They waited two minutes and the door opened and Augusto came out with a big smile on his fat face. He was wearing a tie and jacket, which he had probably just put on because the shirt under it was soaked with sweat, while the jacket was fresh.

Señora Marie!” he gushed in Spanish, such a pleasure to see you again.” He took her hand and kissed it, must have seen that in a movie. He patted Micaela’s head, looked at Jacks, then inquiringly at Rachel. “Un amigo,” she said.

“Ah. Well, please come into my den, said the fly to the spider.” He laughed alone at his own joke and led the way back to the den, a luxuriously appointed office in fact. He sat behind an oak desk and motioned for them to sit. Rachel remained standing, so Jacks did as well.

“We need three passports, Augusto,” she said, “pronto!”

His smile finally vanished. Business. “I see. For you three?”

“Yes.”

“When?”

“Yesterday.”

“Any particular nationality?

“What do you have?”

“Paraguayan, of course, then …let me think…German?”

“German will do.”

“I don’t have a child’s passport though.” Silence. So they were stolen passports and all he changed were the photographs. “But I may be able to get one. Wait.” He picked up his phone and pressed a button on the console, then spoke in a language Jacks guessed was Arabic. It took quite a while, but when he hung up he smiled his cheesy smile and said, “No hay problema.”  

“When will they be ready?” Rachel asked.

“After the photos, about an hour. You realize of course that the child’s passport will cost a bit more because…”

“The same price as always, Augusto, if you want to keep dealing with us.” Cold –  she really didn’t like this guy, which was easy to understand.

Augusto scowled, but said, “I will make the sacrifice for a lady.” He stood up with some effort and pulled back a curtain at one side of the office. “You first, young lady,” he said to Micaela, who looked at her mother. Rachel nodded and the child stood against a cream-colored plaque against the wall. Augusto snapped her picture and then ours.

“Deliver them to us at the airport,” Rachel said, forcing a smile. “We’ll pay the messenger. He’ll know us by the photos”

“As you wish, Señora Marie”, Augusto said. “Oh, by the way, I have the new passports here for your two friends, Barkarian and Wilson.” He opened a drawer in his desk and took out an envelope. "Do you want to take them with you or shall I send them? – if you’re going to Spain that is."

Jacks stared at the envelope upside down. It was addressed to a Spanish name and a post office box in Madrid. ESPAÑA was printed in large letters at the bottom.

“Send them the usual way,” Rachel said.

“Why don’t we take them with us?” Jacks said in German. “It’s faster and safer.” Augusto may or may not have understood him, but in any case he sounded like a boss from East Germany, he hoped.

She looked at him, surprised, and said. Ja, natürlich.” Jacks held out his hand to Augusto. He looked at Rachel, who nodded and he gave Jacks the envelope.

While they were driving to the airport, she asked, “Why do you want us to take those passports?”

Jacks was prepared for the question and had briefly considered telling her that it would help her credibility with the CIA, but decided to tell her the truth. “I know those guys, Barkarian and Wilson. They killed my colleague in Madrid.”

“I heard someone was killed,” she said calmly. “That’s why they need new identities. What are you going to do with them?” Jacks had expected a bit more sympathy, frankly.

“First I’m going to inform the Madrid police the names on the passports and the address on the envelope, then turn it all over to the CIA, or you can do that.” She didn’t reply, so he said, “If that’s all right with you?”

He meant it ironically, but she didn’t get it and only said, “Oh, sure. They’re only couriers, assholes, more trouble than they’re worth.”

“How much will the passports cost?” Jacks asked her once they got to the airport and saw that there was a Lineas Aéreas Paraguayas flight leaving in two hours for Miami.

“A thousand dollars a piece.”

He whistled. “Do we have that much?”

“Maybe, but I have no intention of paying that bastard Augusto that much.”

“How will we get the passports then?

“You’ll see, come on.”

She went to the currency exchange booth and changed a hundred dollar bill for small denominations, mostly singles. She bought a large envelope, put hundreds at both ends and singles and fives between them and sealed the envelope with strong glue.

“Won’t the messenger check?” Jacks asked her.

“I don’t think so. We’ll soon see.”

He didn’t. It was a kid who came on a motorbike. They were sitting near the entrance so he spotted them right away. “Señora María?” he asked.

“Rachel held out her hand and the boy put an envelope into it. She handed him the other envelope and a ten dollar bill. “For you,” she said. “Gracias, señora,” he said smiling, put the envelope in his backpack and sped off. They looked at the passports. Rachel and Jacks were Herr and Frau Müller and Micaela was Inge Schulz.

Rachel looked at Jacks. “Mein Gott, your passport name is different from your credit card name.”

Jacks smiled. “No hay problema.” He took the passports and strolled over to the L.A.P. future-ticketing counter. After waiting for the ticket agent to finish with a passenger, he handed her the three passports and his credit card. “I want tickets for these three passengers, Miami, one-way, open.” She would have to think he was some kind of unofficial travel agent and there was no law against buying tickets for clients. She made an imprint of the credit card, wrote out the tickets (L.A.P. couldn’t afford machines, apparently), he signed and said, “Oh, what’s the phone number of reservations again?”

“I can make the reservations for you,” she said.

“Yes, but this is for future reference, I’m travelling too and forgot my address book.” She wrote the number on a slip of paper. “Gracias,” he said. “Gracias a Ud., señor.”

He then strolled over to the telephone booths, which were all occupied. He waited. Finally a woman came out of one wiping her eyes. He dialled the number the clerk had given him and asked for three seats on the flight leaving in one hour for Miami. She asked if they could make it to the airport in time. Yes, he said, we’re very close. Reservations confirmed. He beckoned Rachel and Micaela over and they checked in for the flight. The agent checked her computer, revalidated their tickets and asked about baggage. Only carry-on, Jacks said. Unusual, but so what. “Let’s get through immigration before Augusto comes looking for us,” he said to Rachel.

 

“…We will be arriving at Buenos Aires International airport in approximately two and a half hours,” the intercom on the old Boeing 707 blared almost unintelligibly in Spanish and English. Jacks’ heart jumped and he pressed the overhead button for the flight attendant. There were no three seats together available, so Rachel and Micaela were seated a few rows ahead of him. Rachel was speaking to her daughter, and didn’t seem to have paid attention to the announcement.

“I thought this flight was going to Miami,” Jacks told the flight attendant who was holding onto the overhead baggage rack as she leaned down to hear him.

“We’re stopping in Buenos Aires first, señor,” she shouted into his ear, “to pick up passengers.” And she scuttled down the aisle to other passengers who probably had the same question. Of course, Jacks thought, L.A.P. didn’t have enough passengers from Paraguay directly to Miami, so they took a long detour in the opposite direction to pick up passengers in Argentina, where they sold tickets at hefty discounts. He’d forgotten about that.

He knelt alongside Rachel and told her that they would be landing in Buenos Aires, but would be in transit, so no problem. Her eyes opened wide as this sunk in, then she just shook her head and sighed, so he went back to his seat.

 

In the transit lounge at Ezeiza, Buenos Aires’s international airport, they sat facing the window looking out to the runways so their faces couldn’t be seen by passers-by. Refuelling would take an hour. A man crossed Jack’s view and sat next to him, although the lounge was half empty. Jacks didn’t look at him until he spoke in sotto-voce, in English, American accent.

“Hi, Marvin, or should I say Lt. Jacks, retired.” After Jacks looked at his profile it took a moment for recognition. He faced forward again and in the same tone, said, “Master Sergeant Jack Quinn I presume – without the stripes. What a coincidence.”

“I don’t believe in coincidences, Jacks; didn’t I ever tell you that?”

“Yes, and I’m beginning to agree. So why are we meeting again in this unlikely place?” He was keeping up the tough guy chatter, but his palms were sweating.

“I’m looking for a guy with your name who fits your description to a T, accompanied by a woman and a child who look like the two subjects on your right.” Micaela was next to Jacks, asleep with her head in Rachel’s lap, who couldn’t hear their conversation.

“Doesn’t sound like a coincidence then,“ Jacks said.

“Nope.”

“Let me guess. CIA?”

“Good guess. Station chief, Rio.”

“This is Buenos Aires.”

“Also me. When I got the request to advise all Brazilian entry points to pick up your little family and you on sight, I decided to come on down and look myself, since I can identify you. Our Argentine colleagues are still checking the roads, but I happen to know that you’re a frequent flyer.”

“So you’ve finally made it to the officer class,” Jacks said.

Quinn turned his head and looked at Jacks, “You’re not makin’ a very good impression, Marvin. And I think you’ll want to, under the circumstances. Goin’ to Miami?”

“Yes, obviously, I hope.”

“And then.”

“She’s defecting, Jack.”

“To you?” Quinn growled. "Who the fuck are you?"

“No, to you.”

He laughed. “Good one.”

“No, I mean it, I’m really glad to see you.”

“I should turn you, them that is, over to our friends here, and get them later when its our turn.”

S.I.D.E.?” You mean you’ll get what’s left. Give us a break, Jack.”

“How’d you get out of Asunción? They’re looking for you too.”

“I promise we’ll go straight to the CIA in Miami. In fact, you can give us the address.”

“Seems your girlfriend’s important, Marvin, runs the East German covert operation in Latin America.”

“Not her husband?

“Her! the hubby’s a hit man. You seem to be attracted to female spies. I remember something similar happening in Germany way back then.”

“It’s the same one, Jack.”

Quinn looked over at Rachel. “No shit? See what I mean? No coincidences.”

“Give us a break, Jack.”

“You got no problem,” he said. “Just a stupid American bystander.”

“It’s more complicated than that.”

“Okay, let’s have it.”

“We’re travelling with false documents.”

“So that’s how you got out of Paraguay.”

Jacks reached into his carry-on and pulled out the envelope with the Barkarian and Wilson passports. “That’s right, and here are forged passports for two GDR couriers, with their address in Madrid. They’re wanted by the Madrid police for murder, and in a minute I’ll give you the name and address of the forger in Asunción.” Rachel was tapping on her armrest nervously. Quinn glanced at the passports, put them back, and said, “Let’s change seats.” They switched seats and Quinn said to Rachel, in German, “Are you defecting to the United States of America?” She didn’t bother to look at Jacks for confirmation, just said, “Jawohl.”

“Trust me, Jack,” Jacks said, “we’ll check in at the CIA on arrival.”

“I trust you, Marvin, so much so that I’m gonna leave you alone here for a few minutes while I go downstairs to buy a ticket on this flight. Here’s my card. If anyone bothers you – this place is crawling with S.I.D.E. – tell them you’re waiting for me.” He stood up and started to walk away, then stopped and sat again on Jack’s side away from Rachel. “Are you sticking with her, I mean for good?”

“I guess so,” an answer that surprised even Jacks by its lack of enthusiasm.


During the long flight to Miami I had a revelation. I had been in love with Anneliese Cornelius a long tme ago, who wasn’t real then, and was even less real now as Frau Marie Klement. I didn’t know her very well and wasn't sure if I wanted to know Rachel Baumgartner, super spy, all that well either. Oh I’d stick with her all right, through her CIA interrogation hell, which would be a hell of a lot more comfortable than a S.I.D.E. one. A defector is treated much better than a captured spy; one is a repentant friend and the other a recalcitrant enemy. I was confident that my old buddy, ex-Master Sergeant Jack Quinn, would see to it that she was a defector. Although he said a few words to her and she responded with only one, the gleam in his eye when he looked at her indicated that he would much prefer to have her as a friend. She’d have a secret identity in the U.S. for a while, until the German Democratic Republic and its obscene Wall collapsed, which wasn’t so far in the future, I assumed, and then she’d want to go back to Germany, which isn’t for me. I guessed I’d just keep flying, frequently.             


 

This novella will soon be available as an Ebook.