“I was born here, in Buenos Aires, to German immigrants,” said Fuldner. “But for a while, we went back to live in Germany, in Kassel, where I went to school. After school I worked in Hamburg. Then, in 1932, I joined the SS and was a captain before being seconded to the SD to run an intelligence operation back here in Argentina. Since the war I and a few others have been running Vianord—a travel agency dedicated to helping our old comrades to escape from Europe. Of course, none of it would be possible without the help of the president and his wife, Eva. It was during Evita’s trip to Rome, in 1947, to meet the pope, that she began to see the necessity of giving men such as you a fresh start in life.”
“So there’s still some anti-Semitism in the country, after all,” I remarked.
Kuhlmann laughed, and so did Fuldner. But Eichmann remained silent.
“It’s good to be with Germans again,” said Fuldner. “Humor is not a national characteristic of the Argentines. They’re much too concerned with their dignity to laugh at very much, least of all themselves.”
“They sound a lot like fascists,” I said.
“That’s another thing. Fascism here is only skin-deep. The Argentines don’t have the will or the inclination to be proper fascists.”
“Maybe I’m going to like it here more than I thought,” I said.
“Really,” exclaimed Eichmann.
“Don’t mind me, Herr Fuldner,” I said. “I’m not quite as rabid as our friend here wearing the bow tie and glasses, that’s all. He’s still in denial. To do with all kinds of things. For all I know, he still holds fast to the idea that the Third Reich is going to last for a thousand years.”
“You mean it isn’t?”
“Must you make a joke about everything, Hausner?” Eichmann’s tone was testy and impatient.
“I only make jokes about the things that strike me as funny,” I said. “I wouldn’t dream of making a joke about something really important. Not and risk upsetting you, Ricardo.”
I felt Eichmann’s eyes burning into my cheek, and when I turned to face him, his mouth went thin and puritanical. For a moment he continued staring at me with the air of one who wished it was down the sights of a rifle.
“What are you doing here, Herr Doktor Hausner?”
“The same thing as you, Ricardo. I’m getting away from it all.”
“Yes, but why? Why? You don’t seem like much of a Nazi.”
“I’m the beefsteak kind. Brown on the outside only. Inside I’m really quite red.”
Eichmann stared out the window as if he couldn’t bear to look at me for a minute longer.
“I could use a good steak,” murmured Kuhlmann.
“Then you’ve come to the right place,” said Fuldner. “In Germany a steak is a steak, but here it’s a patriotic duty.”
We were still driving through the dockyards. Most of the names on the bonded warehouses and oil tanks were British or American: Oakley & Watling, Glasgow Wire, Wainwright Brothers, Ingham Clark, English Electric, Crompton Parkinson, and Western Telegraph. In front of a big, open warehouse a dozen rolls of newsprint the size of hayricks were turning to pulp in the early-morning rain. Laughing, Fuldner pointed them out.
“There,” he said, almost triumphantly. “That’s Perónism in action. Perón doesn’t close down opposition newspapers or arrest their editors. He doesn’t even stop them from having newsprint. He just makes sure that by the time it reaches them the newsprint isn’t fit to use. You see, Perón has all the major labor unions in his pocket. That’s your Argentine brand of fascism, right there.”
Excerpted from A Quiet Flame by Philip Kerr. Copyright © 2006 by Philip Kerr. Excerpted by permission of Putnam Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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