Buenos Aires smelled of the summer sea. It was night, and a heavy fog rolled in from the Rio de la Plata Estuary over the municipal airport, blanketing the Third of February Park, covering Villa Crespo, and like some malevolent beast, oozed across the Federal District as far as Ezezia International Airport.
Many of the four million inhabitants of the great city slept. Some worked the night shift in factories, some were late party revelers, and a few were insomniacs. It was a Friday.
In other places in the city sleepy policemen in patrol cars crawled along the wide boulevards deserted not only because of the hour, but because of the heavy fog.
The shops were closed; the government house, Casa Rosado, on the Plaza del Congreso faced the national capital, Palacio del Congreso, in mute beauty, the buildings lit by spotlights dulled in the fog.
There was no one to see the short, dark, intense little manpark his Opel Rekord sedan one block away from the German Hospital in the Missiones Province just outside the Federal District. No one saw him peering through the fog to make sure he had not been followed, and no one noticed him hunch up his coat collar against the mist, and with hands stuffed deeply into his pockets, walk silently on rubber-soled shoes toward the hospital.
Since the late 1800s there had been a slow but steadily increasing exodus of Germans to the city. Before World War I and again during the depression that followed, the population of the Missiones Province increased sharply. These people who came to Argentina from the old country were mostly ordinary souls. Watchmakers, carpenters, bricklayers, farmers, merchants. Men with families who wanted a future in a new country. People for whom Germany no longer offered what they wanted.
Beginning as early as 1944, and lasting until as late as 1950, German immigrants of a different sort came to Buenos Aires. For the most part they were men who were wealthy, men who wanted to escape their Nazi past, especially the war trials and witch-hunt at Nuremberg. For them Argentina, which had been a pro-Axis country, was a safe haven.
It was these men who made the Missiones Province a wealthy district, almost exclusively German. And it was these men who had constructed the Missiones Hospital, whose patients and staff were almost exclusively German.
The dark man stopped in the shadows of a gift shop across a narrow street from the hospital, the hairs on the nape of his neck rising, his skin prickling. His fists clenched and unclenched in his coat pockets, but he held himself in check against the anger that threatened to blot out all reason and sanity.
He hated Buenos Aires and its people, although he and his wife and two children had lived here for eighteen months, operating a travel bureau downtown. He could notget used to the reversed seasons, he disliked the strange customs, and most of all he hated the Argentinians because of their pro-Axis stand during the war and their continued love affair with the Germans.
But the little man hated Germans more than anything. He hated what they had been, what they still were, and what they could become if they were left alone.
He slipped around the corner of the gift shop and hurried down the side street, keeping to the shadows as much as possible. At a point opposite the rear of the hospital building he crossed the narrow street and, making sure no one was coming, quickly climbed over a low stone fence. Crouching low, his heart pounding he worked his way along a line of shrubbery to the nurses' entrance, where he hesitated just outside the circle of illumination from a light over the door.
It was shortly after two in the morning, so all the shift changes had been completed, and the staff would be busy on its rounds. He had been assured there would be no one in the staff lounge or in the lower corridor. The thought of what he was about to do sickened him, but he knew it was necessary. Too much had gone on during the past three months to let this opportunity pass.
He patted his breast pocket, assuring himself that he still had the miniature tape recorder and the hypodermic syringe loaded with sodium Pentothal, took a deep breath, and silently entered the hospital.
A wide corridor ran to the front of the building. To the right was the staff lounge, to the left the rear stairwell. Soft music came from speakers set flush in the ceiling. The smell of disinfectant permeated the air. No one was in sight. The hospital seemed deserted.
The dark man started up the stairs, sweat forming on his upper lip.
He had been nothing but a watcher these past eighteen months. Because of his travel bureau, he had made contactswith all the major airlines at Ezezia and so knew the comings and goings of most foreigners to Buenos Aires.
Three months ago a man by the name of Ronald de Hoef, who was president of the All-America Insurance Corporation in Miami, Florida, arrived in Buenos Aires. He was identified as a possible former SS officer and probable member of Odessa.
There was no proof of that, of course; there never was. Which was why the American Department of Immigration had never made a move against him.
The dark man stopped at the third-floor landing, cautiously approached the steel door that led to the ward, and peered through the small glass window. Two nurses, their backs to the door, stood at the ward station talking. The dark man backed away from the window and leaned against the wall.
The day after de Hoef arrived in Buenos Aires, a man identified as Thomas Heinzman showed up. He was the assistant administrative director of the Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C. He too was a probable former SS officer.
Over the next week seven more men who were thought to be SS officers and Odessa leaders showed up, and the dark man had made his reports. In each case the men were met at the airport by a chauffeur-driven limousine, and in each case none of them were seen until one week ago when all of them but one left Argentina the same way they had come: by commercial airliner, each accompanied by several husky men who were in all likelihood personal bodyguards.
The dark man peered through the window again. The ward station was deserted. His heart hammered. He'd not been trained for this sort of thing. At home he had been a minor government clerk. He had done his stint in the Army, as had his wife, and he wanted only to settle down and raise his family.
He hesitated a moment longer at the door and once againnervously checked to make sure he still had the hypodermic syringe and tape recorder in his breast pocket.
Two days ago the man who had remained in Argentina had been admitted to this hospital. He was Albert Spanndig. Seventy-two years old. Retired in Lisbon, Portugal, from a highly successful fertilizer manufacturing company. He was probably an SS Oberst by the name of Albert Spannau who had worked in the Abwehr directly under Admiral Canaris during the war.
This afternoon a package had been delivered by messenger to the travel bureau containing the miniature tape recorder and the hypodermic syringe with instructions for its use. There were orders to enter the hospital, inject Spanndig, and question the old man about why the Odessa's top leadership had come to Buenos Aires.
The dark man had discussed his orders with his wife. Neither of them could understand why they were not getting help on this.
"The Odessa meeting was important," he said. "So why didn't they send a professional to break it up--or find out what was going on?"
But orders were orders. In six months he could return home and bring some semblance of order and sanity back into his life.
He checked the window again, and carefully opened the door. Making no noise, he hurried past the ward station and at the last door he stopped to listen. There were no noises from within, so he gently pushed open the door and slipped into the room.
The emaciated figure of a frail old man lay huddled beneath a sheet on the bed. He was surrounded by several pieces of equipment connected by wires and tubes to his nose, arms, and chest. The only light in the room came from the bulbs on the equipment, and from an oscilloscope screen over the bed across which a green trace monitored Spanndig's feeble heart.
For a brief moment the dark man's anger was replaced by pity for the dying man. But he thought of what Spanndig had done with his life, and what he represented, and the anger returned.
He went to the bedside, took the tape recorder out of his pocket, switched it to record, and laid it on the pillow next to Spanndig's head. The old man's breath came in ragged gasps. There was a powerful odor of age and death from him.
Next, the dark man withdrew the hypodermic syringe from its case, checked to make sure there was no air in the needle, then pulled the intravenous tube from the needle in the old man's arm.
Spanndig jerked on the bed, and his eyes opened as the dark man plunged the hypodermic directly into the intravenous needle taped to the old man's arm, and pushed the plunger.
Spanndig tried to cry out, but his head fell back on the pillow, and his eyes glazed over.
"Spannau," the man whispered. "I need your help, Spannau. The Fuehrer needs your help, Spannau."
The old man mumbled something indistinct.
"Where did you meet, Spannau?"
Again the old man mumbled something.
The man and his wife were the only ones stationed in Buenos Aires, so despite the fact that nine suspected Odessa members had shown up, he had not been able to follow them.
He pushed harder on the plunger, sending even more sodium Pentothal into Spanndig's bloodstream.
"The Fuehrer sends his greetings, Spannau, but he must know where you held your meeting."
"Aerie," Spanndig mumbled.
The dark man leaned closer. "Where is that?"
"Aerie," Spanndig mumbled again, spittle drooling from the corners of his mouth.
"What is the plan, Spannau? The Fuehrer must know what you have planned."
"We have found the man," Spanndig mumbled with obvious difficulty. "At long last ... two more years ... the man ..." The old man suddenly went rigid, his mouth opened wide as if to scream, but then he slumped back on the bed. Above his head the heart monitor showed a straight line. He was dead.
The dark man's eyes jerked up to the monitor and then to the door. Someone would be coming. There was no time left.
He withdrew the syringe and with shaking hands replaced the intravenous tube, grabbed the tape recorder, and went to the door just as it slammed open.
Framed in the light from the corridors, one of the nurses stood in the doorway. She started to cry out, but the man slammed his fist into her face and she went down, her head bouncing off the floor.
He jumped over her body and raced down the corridor toward the stairwell door as the other nurse came in a run from the opposite direction.
"Stop!" the nurse screamed, but the man flung open the door and took the stairs down three at a time, his heart hammering.
Spanndig had talked. He had not said much, but it was something. The tape would have to be saved at all costs.
Six steps from the ground floor the man lost his footing and pitched forward. A metal-edged tread smashed into his forehead, and in the next instant his left arm was beneath him, breaking with a sharp snap. Pain raged through his body like nothing he had ever felt.
He was conscious of someone shouting and of footsteps on the stairs above him as he dragged himself to his feet. Everything swam before him, and blood running into his eyes from a large gash in his head made it nearly impossible to see.
He somehow made his way to the rear door. Outside he half ran, half stumbled into the line of thick bushes that led to the low stone fence.
Someone shouted from behind him, and from the front of the hospital he could hear a car start and race off with squealing tires.
He was making too much noise. He knew it. Very soon they would have him, unless he could make it over the stone wall and somehow get back to his car.
A vision of Spanndig's emaciated body and cadaverous face swam before his eyes, and the bile rose from his stomach, gagging him. He had not wanted to do it. He had not wanted the assignment, but it had been given to him in such a way that he could not refuse.
And now what?
A light swept the bushes behind him, and he dropped to his knees, the sudden jar sending waves of pain from his arm throughout his entire body.
The tape. His mind locked on that one thing. At all costs it would have to be saved.
With his right hand he fumbled with the tiny front cover of the miniature recorder until he managed to get it open. When he pushed the eject button, the tape spool, no larger than a small sewing thimble, popped up. He ripped it out of the machine and put it in his mouth. He clawed at the dirt beneath one of the bushes, managing to dig a small hole. He pushed the tape recorder and the hypodermic syringe into the hole, covered them with dirt, then crawled as fast as he could to the stone wall.
A man shouted to his left, and a moment later the beam of a flashlight swept the stone wall over his head.
He leaped up and, using his right arm as a lever, managed to slip over the wall.
There were more shouts from behind him now. The dark man picked himself up and stumbled out into the narrowstreet in time to hear the engine of a large car. Headlights bore down on him.
He tried to make it out of the way, but at the last moment he knew he was a dead man, and he swallowed involuntarily, forcing the tape down his throat.