“My wife’s father was the same way. He will not vomit?”
“That is good.”
Along with the donkey and cart, I gave Esram my pistol, the pistol I had received from Ferenc. He had expressed the hope that I kill Kotacek with it, but that was not to be. “A gun for Macedonia,” I told Esram. “I know you will put it to good use.”
“I will treat the donkey with kindness and the gun with respect.”
“And here.” I gave him a variety of currency – Czech bills, Yugoslav bills, even some Austrian notes. “I don’t know how much this is. Someone can change it for you into dinars. Give it to Annalya, for the child when it is born. Tell her I think of her often. Tell her… you will think of things to tell her. Tell her I will come back someday.”
The train was slow, bouncy, boring. Kotacek and I were alone in our compartment for most of the way. Fortunately we were still alone when he came out of his fog.
“Where are we?”
“The Greeks are pigs. When we are in power-”
I put him out again. It was almost frightening how perfectly it worked.
Athens was the end of a long road. The Iron Curtain was rusted mesh, and we had wormed our way through it. There would be no more stolen cars, no more donkey carts, no more trains. In Athens we could obtain passports, and from Athens we would fly directly to Lisbon, and that would be that. I was about ready to do something the easy way for a change. I was tired, thoroughly exhausted.
Kotacek came to in the railway waiting room. I had managed to wrestle him off the train, again passing him off as a drunk, but I didn’t want to cart him all over the city that way. I put him on a bench and sat down beside him. I read a newspaper and waited for him to come to. The Greeks never bother a man who is reading a newspaper. No one bothered me, and I sat there for an hour and a half and read every word in that newspaper before Kotacek finally woke up.
I took him in turn to a restaurant, a lavatory, and the home of an Armenian moneylender named Sarkan Besmoyan. Sarkan and I had corresponded extensively for many years. Although we had never met before, I felt I knew him well enough to ask him to recommend a good passport artist, and he evidently felt he knew me well enough to oblige me. He gave me an address in the Turkish quarter.
I left Kotacek with him. “Please do not permit him to leave your house,” I said. “His family is worried about him. He is an old man and gets confused easily. I am to bring him back to his friends and family, and if he wanders about harm may come to him.”
“He is safe here,” Sarkan assured me.
I had a great deal of trouble finding the passport artist. First I couldn’t find the street, and then it developed that Sarkan had given me the wrong house number, 86 instead of 68. I finally found my man, a thin withered Turk with bad teeth and cloudy eyes. I told him that Sarkan Besmoyan had sent me, and that I required two American passports.
“Impossible,” he said. “I can let you have one.”
“I need two. How long a wait would there be?”
“An infinite wait. Perhaps forever.” He rummaged through a drawer and produced a blank passport. “Do you see this? Do you know what it is?” I did, and said no. “This is a reject. Do you see? The imperfection in the cover? When blank passports are produced, a certain number are rejected. They are destroyed. Except that in certain instances they are not destroyed, and instead they find their way to Athens. Or to Beirut – there is a gentleman in Beirut who obtains quite a number of them. But a good many come to Athens, to me. I pay very well for them, you see.”
“The production of a counterfeit passport is no simple matter. You see all of these lines in the paper? The intricate pattern? One cannot very easily draw in all of this. One is far ahead of the game when one has a blank passport at one’s disposal. Then one types in the necessary information, punctures a false passport number into the cover and first three leaves, attaches a photograph, impresses photo to paper with a duplicate of the Great Seal of the United States – but you do not want to listen to all of these details; that is not what you came for, eh?”
“It’s very interesting.”
“It is also profitable. I must charge five hundred American dollars for such a passport. If I had two of them, one thousand dollars. But I do not have two of them. To be honest, I must say that you are lucky I have one. Will British do? I have never been able to obtain blank British passports, but I have several stolen specimens. It is not a simple matter to remove the inks and photographs and substitute the proper data and a more suitable picture. And there is the added disadvantage that all of these passports have no doubt been reported stolen. The numbers are thus on file. The chance that someone will notice this is negligible, I grant you, but it exists.”
He went on in this vein for some time. I learned a great deal about the business of a passport forger but not very much about how Kotacek and I were going to get back to Lisbon. I finally wound up buying two passports, an American one for myself and a Brazilian one for Kotacek. I managed to get the pair for seven hundred fifty American dollars. It was the first good chance I’d had to spend the expense money I’d been given, and I didn’t really mind parting with it.
I gave the passport forger my name, age, height, and all the rest. I told him what entrance and exit visas to mark in the appropriate places. I still had my vaccination certificate, and from it I read off my passport number – F-886852.
I went back to Sarkan’s house, collected Kotacek, took him to a passport photographer and had our pictures taken. I dropped him back at Sarkan’s and took the photos to my forger. He put them in place and forged the proper seal on mine. In essence, I had managed to replace my own passport with an identical duplicate of it. The one the Czechs had taken from me – the one they had taken from my little French friend, to be precise – was now reborn from the ashes. True, it had cost me $500, but it seemed easier than going through channels.
The thought of Fabre reminded me that I still had his passport. I fished it from a pocket and offered it to the forger. He could always use French passports, he said, and would gladly pay me fifty dollars for it. One hundred, I suggested. We settled on sixty-five.
I took money and passports and left. Mine was perfect, good enough to carry me anywhere. I felt a good deal better having it in my possession; I could walk through the streets of Athens without the feeling that at any moment some policeman might tap me on the shoulder and ask for identification.
But I still didn’t feel very good about Kotacek. He was, according to his passport, a Brazilian national named Pedro Costa. But could he speak Portuguese well enough to fool them at Lisbon immigration? And could he refrain from speaking Slovak or German? And could he keep his mouth shut all the way? And, worst of all, would they by any chance recognize him? The Portuguese had certainly heard a lot about Kotacek recently. The abduction, the scheduled trial, the disappearance – it stood to reason that they might have published his photograph in the newspapers from time to time, and that the men in the customs and immigration service might well have seen it, and even studied it. If he was recognized, the game was up.
I went back to the house. He was waiting for me, delighted to see me. He intended to take a little nap, he informed me, but first he wanted me to see about getting him something to eat. I did, and he ate a hearty meal and had me poke some insulin into him.
“I have made a decision,” he said. “We are not going to Lisbon.”
“We go instead to the United Arab Republic. Think of it – would it not be absurd for me to return to Lisbon? The Czechs know my address there. They would make another attempt to abduct me.”
“But they think you are dead.”
“So let them think so. It would not do for me to reappear there. No, we will go to Egypt. Have you ever been to Egypt? Cairo is a beautiful city, very modern, very clean. We…”
I was sure I could talk him out of it but I didn’t even try. Because he would only talk himself into it some other time. And he would speak German to the stewardess and Slovak to the immigration officer, and everybody would recognize him, and he would shout “Heil Hitler” at some inopportune moment and deliver one of his little speeches about Jews to some Hassidic rabbi, and all the way, while I worried about all the embarrassing things he might do, he would talk and complain and boast and eat and drink and urinate.
The past week had spoiled me. I was used to having him unconscious, and now I had to contend with a wide-awake Kotacek all the way from Athens to Lisbon. It would be several hours’ worth of maneuvering him through situations in which he would have to maintain a front for the benefit of others. I was not at all sure he could do it.
“Listen,” I said, “just tell me where to get my hands on your records. Then maybe you can go on to Cairo after all, and I’ll go to Lisbon -”
“Ha! No, I think not. We will both go to Cairo.”
I hadn’t really expected that to work. I picked up his Brazilian passport and had a look at it. It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t the most perfect work in the world, either. If you held it so that the light hit it just right you could see where some of the writing had been removed and a new inscription added. It didn’t look too great right around the photograph; the original photo had been just a shade larger, and it looked funny there, as though someone had messed around with it, as indeed someone had.
These were minor flaws, and I didn’t think they would matter much in the normal course of events. Immigration officers and customs inspectors see hundreds of passports every day, and I doubt that one in ten thousand is a phony. So why should they look for it? A passport normally rates a glance and nothing more.
Unless something attracts their attention. And Kotacek seemed a good bet to attract attention. If only I could put him out, if only he could make the trip in the corpse-like state that I found so infinitely preferable to his real self. Alive, he was a pain. Dead, he was good company.
But there was a difference between palming him off as a drunk on a milk train from Naousa to Athens and playing the same game on an international airline.
I left the house and took a cab to the airlines terminal. I bought a pair of tickets to Lisbon. Lufthansa, the German line, had the best schedule, an early evening flight with no intermediate stops between Athens and Lisbon. I bought two tickets in the tourist section, one for Evan Tanner, one for Pedro Costa.
That night Kotacek went to sleep an hour or so after dinner. He seemed to need a great deal of sleep. Ten hours at a stretch during the night, and always a nap or two in the course of a day. Between this and his cataleptic fits, it struck me that the man might as well be dead. He only got to use a few minutes of the day anyway.
I stayed up with Sarkan. We played several games of backgammon, all of which he won, and did some not too serious drinking. We drank ouzo, which is one of the things I cannot drink too much of. Sarkan gave up eventually and went to bed, and I stayed downstairs reading and sipping coffee through the night. When dawn broke I went up to Kotacek’s room. I found my flashlight and sat in a chair next to his bed waiting for him to wake up.