“What’s in the bag?” he asked.
“Clothes. Toiletries. Some money.”
“Would you mind showing me?”
“No,” I said, minding very much. “I don’t mind at all.”
I heaved the bag onto a trestle table and was just about to unbuckle it when a man hurried up the ship’s gangway, shouting something in Spanish and then, in German, “It’s all right. I’m sorry I’m late. There’s no need for all this formality. There’s been a misunderstanding. Your papers are quite in order. I know because I prepared them myself.”
He said something else in Spanish about the three of us being important
visitors from Germany, and immediately the attitude of the two officials changed. Both men came to attention. The immigration clerk facing Eichmann handed him back his passport, clicked his heels, and then gave Europe’s most wanted man the Hitler salute with a loud “Heil Hitler” that everyone on deck must have heard.
Eichmann turned several shades of red and, like a giant tortoise, shrank a little into the collar of his coat, as if he wished he might disappear. Kuhlmann and I laughed out loud, enjoying Eichmann’s embarrassment and discomfort as he snatched back his passport and stormed down the gangway and onto the quay. We were still laughing as we joined Eichmann in the back of a big black American car with a sign, VIANORD, displayed in the windshield.
“I don’t think that was in the least bit funny,” said Eichmann.
“Sure you don’t,” I said. “That’s what makes it so funny.”
“You should have seen your face, Ricardo,” said Kuhlmann. “What on earth possessed him to say that, of all things? And to you, of all people?” Kuhlmann started to laugh again. “Heil Hitler, indeed.”
“I thought he made a pretty good job of it,” I said. “For an amateur.”
Our host, who had jumped into the driver’s seat, now turned around to shake our hands. “I’m sorry about that,” he told Eichmann. “Some of these officials are just pig-ignorant. In fact, the words we have for pig and public official are the same. Chanchos. We call them both chanchos. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that idiot believes Hitler is still the German leader.”
“God, I wish he was,” murmured Eichmann, rolling his eyes into the roof of the car. “How I wish he was.”
“My name is Horst Fuldner,” said our host. “But my friends in Argentina call me Carlos.”
“Small world,” I said. “That’s what my friends in Argentina call me. Both of them.”
Some people came down the gangway and peered inquisitively through the passenger window at Eichmann.
“Can we get away from here?” he asked. “Please.”
“Better do as he says, Carlos,” I said. “Before someone recognizes Ricardo here and telephones David Ben-Gurion.”
“You wouldn’t joke about that if you were in my shoes,” said Eichmann.
“The soaps would stop at nothing to kill me.”
Fuldner started the car and Eichmann relaxed visibly as we drove smoothly away.
“Since you mentioned the soaps,” said Fuldner, “it’s worth discussing what to do if any of you is recognized.”
“Nobody’s going to recognize me,” Kuhlmann said. “Besides, it’s the Canadians who want me, not the Jews.”
“All the same,” said Fuldner, “I’ll say it anyway. After the Spanish and the Italians, the soaps are the country’s largest ethnic group. Only we call them los rusos, on account of the fact that most of the ones who are here came to get away from the Russian czar’s pogrom.”
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.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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