Zygmunt Frankel



While Maria was still mopping up, there came a whistle from the pier, and then a shout:
"Ahoy, Sinbad! Captain on board?"
I recognized Yankele's voice and saw him standing there in the moonlight. Instead of his official - usually slightly crumpled and badly fitting - major's field uniform he was wearing a T-shirt with blue and white horizontal stripes, khaki shorts, and sandals over bare feet, although his pistol seemed to be there, uncomfortably tucked into his shorts under the overhanging T-shirt.

It was typical of Yankele to use what little he knew of the technical jargon or mother tongue of whoever he happened to be talking to; he believed that it gained friends, influenced people, and would, sooner or later, somehow or other, help him to get on. With the coast Bedouin who, after a few years of Israeli occupation, spoke good Hebrew, he would use his shaky Arabic. His German was slightly touched-up Yiddish. In English he said "sirs" instead of "gentlemen" and "mister" instead of "sir". He discussed camel breeding with the Bedouin, engines with garage mechanics, bait with fishermen, and medicine with doctors, causing a great amount of one-sided embarrassment. Tonight there was no need whatsoever for the "ahoy" and "captain on board". A real sailor would have settled for "Hello, Cobi, are you there?" I also thought he had chosen the striped T-shirt as the thing to wear on a visit to a yacht in port.

Another thing about Yankele is the double diminutive Yiddishism of the first name he lets himself be known by. Both of us are Ya'acovs. If unhappy with that, he could have been Yaki, or Cobi like myself, or, with a bit of snobbery, Jack. But Yankel is already something out of the Jewish stet'l, and Yankele is what their mothers used to call them when they were small. One should get rid of those syrupy diminutives before acquiring a scraggy graying moustache, a potbelly, thinning hair, and the rank of major in Southern Command Intelligence. The Yankeles are not alone. Together with the Moisheles, Duvideles, and Areles, they trail their umbilical cords behind the grown-up Moshes, Davids, Arons, and, of course, Cobis.

"Hide the squid in the galley," I whispered to Maria. "It's just for the two of us. I'll get rid of him as soon as I can."

My guess was that Yankele had a free evening and decided to spend it on board a yacht over a glass of cold beer and perhaps even some non-kosher delicaciy like squid or lobster tail. His official excuse would be briefing me on security matters before my tourists arrived; don't let them photograph any army camps or passing navy boats, don't give away any military secrets, and so on. All this, of course, if he found me on board. If Maria was here alone, one should not leave uninvestigated the chance of seducing a pretty German deckhand and maid of all work who, the rumour had it, did not always need that much persuasion. Particularly evil tongues even had it that I kept her on board not just for cooking and my own carnal pleasure but also as a sort of ship whore, making Sinbad a combined diving yacht and floating brothel.

Yankele came up the gangplank, greeted Maria warmly, and gave me a leering wink behind her back; a man of the world discretely approving of another's choice. I gave him a glass of beer in the dining room. We lit cigarettes and asked each other how we have been.

"Don't ask," he said. "Working like a slave, especially for the past three days. Arik is dropping in and everything's got to be spick and span for God's sake."

This was another habit of Yankele's, the dropping of first names, or, preferably, diminutives or nicknames. The "Arik" in this case was Ariel Sharon, the chief of the Southern Command, and it was a safe bet that Yankele, an elderly major bogged down in local trivia like small-scale hashish smuggling and observation posts with nothing to report, would address Sharon to his face as "sir" if he had the opportunity to address him at all. In Yankele's conversation, "Moshe" was Moshe Dayan, "Yitzhak" - Yitzhak Rabin, and "Khaimke" - Khaim Bar-Lev, the chief of staff. "Khaimke once told me..." was likely to mean that Bar-Lev really did say such a thing, but in a talk he gave to a large group of officers which happened to include Yankele.

To top it all, Yankele usually exuded this certain sort of optimism and good cheer which implied that everything was fine, or would be if only we were all good fellows and pulled together and helped one another. It's something you can put up with in a politician or a salesman, but not in an intelligence officer.

After some small talk, including a joke which he presented as the latest one and which I remembered from my school days, he asked, in a lowered voice, after having glanced around to make sure Maria was not listening:
"You're taking tourists from Europe on this cruise, aren't you?"
"How many? The full complement of eight?"
Here it was again. It was no great secret that Sinbad had four double cabins for guests, and an even lesser one that two times four made eight. Yankele just had to show that he knew.
"No, six only; there was a last-moment cancellation. But you can still show a modest profit with six; and of course it's less work filling tanks and cooking, and more individual attention per guest."
"Is one of your guests a Werner Bauer, from Hamburg?"
"Yes," I said, with genuine surprise this time. "How did you know?"
He did not answer at once, taking a leisurely sip of beer and letting the extent of his knowledge sink in.
"Look," he said at last, taking another look around and lowering his voice even more. "It's a secret but I am telling you because, first, you're allright securitywise - I have seen your file - and, second, because he will be under your care for the next fortnight."

It would not have been too difficult for the army intelligence to take a look at my army file and find me "allright securitywise". I had been a young first lieutenant in the Six-Day war and a reserves captain in the Yom Kippur one. By mentioning just a file and not the army file Yankele left open the possibility that they kept some special files on everyone or something of the sort.
"But," he went on, "you will keep all this strictly to yourself, won't you?"
"Of course."
"Do you know what his occupation is?"
"Judging from the letterhead, he's in some sort of engineering business, manufacturing or trading or both. He has the title of Dipl. Ing., which I believe is the German equivalent of B. Sc. in engineering."
"That's right. He owns a comparatively modest factory which makes small air-cooled petrol engines of the sort that drive light generators and compressors; nothing spectacular. But he's also into trading, a sort of import-export business, which does include his engines but also a lot of other, much bigger stuff made by others who prefer not to conduct direct business with Israel because of the Arab boycott. This makes him a confidential agent, with his factory perhaps no more than a cover for those deals. It is profitable but also involves some risk and takes a certain amount of guts. He also seems to be genuinely friendly to Israel. He did serve in the Wehrmacht during the war, first with Rommel in Africa and then at the Russian front; not in the trenches but as an engineer, I think, vehicle maintenance and repair, farther back, which must have helped him to survive the war; nothing to do with SS atrocities, anyway."
"Al right. I'll try to give him as good a time on this cruise as I can."
"That would be nice. Actually what I came to ask is slightly more than that. Please keep an eye on him to make sure that nothing happens to him while he is here, starting with accidental accidents - on this I rely on you fully - and ending with organized ones."
"What organized ones? You mean someone like the Red Brigades or the Palestinians would try to bump him off down here, right in the lion's den, instead of in Europe where it's so much easier?"
"Something of the sort."
"Yankele, is this beer too strong for you? Are you suggesting they might try to shoot Werner Bauer while we're having breakfast on deck in the middle of the Gulf of Akaba?"
"Or put a bomb on his plane, or stick a limpet mine under your boat, or stage a driving accident, or snipe him off his camel during that desert trip of yours. They can be quite inventive when they try."
"But down here, under the very nose of our world-famous Secret Service?"
"Cobi, the service may be world-famous but it is not infallible, and sometimes more relaxed at home than abroad, and they know it. It has come a cropper more than once, but of course it keeps quiet about the croppers and publishes its successes only, when it can. Just for argument's sake, name one of the latter."

"All right, Eichmann. Almost nobody knew who Eichmann was until they caught him and made him world-famous, and almost nobody knows how many good men the Secret Service had lost in South America looking for someone bigger and better known like, say, Mengele, because those guys were better protected. Eichmann was a part of the machine allright, but a comparatively minor one, in charge of transportation. Ben- Gurion just had to have a Nazi criminal at the time, partly because of German reparations, to shut up the opposition which was screaming blue murder about the government accepting blood money from Germany, and partly to educate the youth, so he asked the Service to get him the biggest one they could lay their hands on, and Eichmann is what they came up with. There's also a lot of other well-known fuck-ups like the Lavon affair, and the wrong man shot in Norway, and lack of readiness for the Yom-Kippur war, and they are only the tips of the icebergs. The submerged parts are even more hair-raising."

Yankele was letting himself get depressed. He must have been thinking about his lack of promotion and being buried in Eilat, and I refilled his beer mug.

"Most of the time," he went on, "there is an awful lot of boring routine, red herrings, bickering and intrigue in the office, arse-licking for promotion, and, although it may be difficult to believe of the world-famous service, a surprising amount of stupidity as well. Anyway, I don't really believe they'd try to get at Werner Bauer down here, either; but just in case they do, it's our job to see to it that they won't succeed. Now, who are you other passengers?"

I showed him the list. Coming with Werner Bauer was Helga Schmidt, a secretary, also from Hamburg. There was no way of knowing whether she was Werner's secretary or someone else's, but she was almost certainly his girlfriend because he had reserved a double cabin for the two of them. There was one other German, Max Hoffmann from Frankfurt, a young insurance agent who, as he said in his letter, has recently completed a diving course and was keen on seeing the wonders of the tropical seas he had heard and read so much about and seen on television and in the cinema. Then there were two Frenchmen from Marseilles, bearing the reliable but unexciting names of Pierre Dubois and Claude Duchesne. They worked in the same office, had taken the scuba course together, and had done some diving along the Riviera coast and at a Club Mediterranee in North Africa. Closing the list was Olaf Jorgensen, a Norwegian soldier with the UN contingent in Lebanon where nothing much was happening, coming down for his annual leave. All the guests were certified skindivers, but none had ever dived coral reefs before, which made it practically certain that the cruise would be exciting and a great success.

'No, not a suspect lot," Yankele agreed. "But do keep your eyes skinned all the same, will you?"
"Of course. And how are things with you in general?"
"Oh, a quiet life; nothing dramatic." He said it in a slightly mocking and superior voice, having recovered from his momentary depression and implying that his life was full of hair-raising things he was not free to discuss.

I saw him to the gangplank, and on the way, saying goodnight to Maria, he allowed himself the familiarity of lightly ruffling her mane of blond curls.

"It was nothing.," I told her after he left. "He's a bit of a bureaucrat and felt he had to remind me to tell our guests not to photograph military objects or patrol boats. But we may be having another visitor before we can get down to those squid."

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1997 Zygmunt Frankel - All Rights Reserved.
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