Thomas Braddock chose the bar stool next to the brunette in the gold wing-laced cover up at the cabana. While the dress could barely allow him to see her polka dot print top, Braddock was able to admire her long, glistening legs from across the pool at the Pierre Marquise Hotel. He tossed a hard cover book and his Persol Ratti sunglasses on the bar and smiled at her as he took a seat.
“Two days in a row, I see. Are you following me, Mr. Bradley? It was Bradley, right? She was casually flipping through My 12 Years With JFK as she swirled a coconut cream margarita.
“Braddock actually, but you can call me Thomas,” he responded as he tried to get the bartender’s attention but to no avail. “And it looks like you’re almost empty, Lana.”
“Not really,” she said, smiling back. Lana wrapped her blue fingernails around the straw and took a deep, refreshing drink. “But you don’t look like a margarita man. And fortunately for you, I know the bartender.”
“Do I have competition?” Braddock joked.
“Perhaps, Thomas. Perhaps you just might.”
Typically sporting around Washington D.C. in his red, rusty brown leather overcoat over his mod grey suit and wingtip oxfords, Braddock had settled just fine into his faded orange bathing suit and vintage sandals.
The Acapulco breeze was perfect. He wished more Nazis went into hiding there. The rains fell mostly in the summer, which made the fall climate in Mexico one to be desired. Travel usually irritated Braddock because he had done it his entire life. Argentina was too damn hot. England too damn bitter. Germany’s weather was usually unpredictable. Yet there was the night life of Paris. And the women of Brazil. How he missed that month in Brazil.
Lana smiled again and motioned to the bartender. The 20-something nodded and gestured that he would be there in a moment. Impressed, Braddock nodded.
“What makes you so popular here?” Braddock asked.
“Nothing but sitting here for four straight days, I suppose. I like sitting by the bar. You can avoid all those creeps by the pool,” she teased. “Weren’t you by the pool?”
He laughed. “Was I too forward yesterday?”
“Of course not. Although I doubt you’re rarely a perfect gentleman, Thomas Braddock,” Lana said. “Besides, I just like the stories at the bar. Charlie’s father Dominic has a million, and he’s owned this place forever.”
She pointed to the older bartender, the one who hadn’t moved in four hours. He was holding court with a crowd of ten or so hanging on his every word. Acapulco had been a destination hot-spot for the elite since the 1950s. Everyone from Frank and Dean to Elvis vacationed there. And Dominic had apparently met them all. Yesterday, Braddock overheard the sixty year-old talk about the time he made martinis for the Rat Pack at 7 a.m., and how Dominic asked Dean if this was breakfast or a nightcap. Braddock missed Dean’s retort and the punch line to the story. The current tale involved Liz Taylor’s wedding to Broadway producer Michael Todd.
Braddock pointed to the picture of JFK on the front of her book. “A reader, I see. You know, he used to vacation here himself, I believe. I’m sure Dominic has a story about him too.”
“I’m sure he does,” she said. “And what about you, Mr. Braddock. Are you a reader?”
“Oh yes. You sort of have to be in my business.”
“And what business is that?”
Braddock slid the folder off of his book and handed it to Lana. He spun the book around and tapped at the back picture. “I’m somewhat of a writer actually.”
Lana looked suspiciously at the back cover and compared the picture of the author to the man in front of her. He cleared his throat ceremoniously and then laughed.
“Now what business is lucky enough to have you writing about them?” she asked as she looked at the size of the book.
“Public relations, huh? You seem suave and strategic enough to pull that off, I bet.”
Braddock laughed but corrected her. “Not public relations. Personnel recovery.”
Lana’s face turned confused as her blue fingernails tapped on the author’s bio.
“Thomas Braddock is considered one of the premiere authorities on the topic of World War II and the Third Reich, and in particular, at-large Nazi war criminals. He is a best selling author and collegiate lecturer.”
Lana drew the book back from her gaze. “Extremely impressive, Mr. Braddock. And here I thought you were an advertising sleaze enjoying his time away from his wife. Now I see you are an educated…um…”
“Sleaze? I’ve been called worse. And I don’t have wife anymore. Thankfully, you know?”
She smiled and flipped the book around and read the title slowly with confusion.
“Inside the Crimson Reich: Exposing The Rat Lines. Sounds intriguing, I guess.”
Braddock shrugged. “If you’re into that sort of thing.”
She spun the book back around and read the back. “Follow the capture of Denis Kruger, one of the SS’s most vicious concentration camp guards by one of America’s top Nazi hunters.” She tapped her fingernails on the bar. “Sounds like you have a very creative imagination, Tom.”
She handed the book back. “You know, this is one of the more creative pick up lines I’ve heard in a while.”
Braddock couldn’t help but grin. Charlie approached when his father’s story concluded and the laughter died down.
“Charlie, this is Mr. Braddock. My new friend.”
“So, are you the reason why I’ve been so unsuccessful with Ms. Lana?” Charlie asked as he approached the couple. “What’s your drink?”
“No, she’s just a hard catch apparently, and a sucker for a good story. How about something local. Surprise me.”
Braddock turned to Lana. “And no, Lana, it’s far from fiction. This story is frighteningly real.”
“Really? You know, you should work for the government.”
Braddock’s face nearly soured but he recovered quickly with a laugh. “Now please, don’t insult me! Yet I do actually I help out the WCPU often.”
“The WCPU?” she asked.
“The War Crimes Processing Unit. It was formed after the war by the government. Tracking down Nazis. Returning old antiquities. All that fun stuff.”
“Can you believe that Charlie? Our new friend here is a bounty hunter,” she teased as she rubbed Braddock’s arm.
“No, I don’t like that term. I don’t chase men for money. I don’t even carry a gun.”
“Then you are a rarity, my friend. We’re all interested in money. You must have inherited a ton of it,” Charlie said as he began mixing a drink, uninterested in Braddock’s background. “Be careful of this one over here, Lana.”
“I’m trying,” she said. “I’m still waiting for some man to get me away from this tourist attraction and take me to find some local cuisine.”
“You may already have,” Braddock said as he winked at her. He took a sip of the drink and nodded in approval at Charlie. “This drink. This reminds me of a Pisco Sour in Argentina? Have you ever been to Argentina?”
“I can’t say I have,” he said as he wiped the bar.
“Argentina is a fascinating place. The reason I bring it up is because I was just there last year. That’s where a lot of the contents of this book took place. It led to the capture of Denis Kruger. A very dangerous man in the Schutzstaffel.”
“The what?” Charlie said, uninterested.
“Sounds like a funny German car,” Lana laughed. “What is it?”
“No joking manner, Lana, is what it is,” Braddock said as he grabbed her hand softly. “The SS were Hitler’s personal bodyguards and considered elite soldiers. They were not under command of the German national army.”
Charlie nodded his head to someone as he went to make a drink. “Wait,” Thomas said as he gripped Charlie’s wrist with his other hand. “Call your father over. He likes stories. He’ll want to hear this one.”
Braddock released his grip as Charlie called for his father. Dominic was still in great shape. His head-to-toe sunburn actually highlighted his physique. He walked over and greeted his patrons with a handshake.
“I hear a story being told over here. And this is just the bar for it. We love stories here. Hell, that’s how we survive. That and men like you who think you have a chance with a woman like this,” Dominic said, laughing with Lana as he took her hand and kissed it.
“Survive. Such an interesting word to choose,” said Braddock.
“Mr. Braddock here works for the United States government,” said Charlie.
“Is that right? I’ve never been to the States. Been stuck down here since my dad brought me here in the 1920s.”
“Well, I don’t work for the government, but I do work with them on occasion. And I’m just giving the crowd a little history lesson,” said Braddock as he finished his drink. “This is wonderful, by the way. Please, another. Anyway as I was telling Lana and your son about the SS, and how it displaced Jews from their homes, stole assets, enslaved them for labor and eventually exterminated them, along with others, including Russians and Poles.”
Lana and Charlie hung on Braddock’s words, yet he stared at Dominic, who did not seem to be overly interested in the story.
“Sounds horrible. And this man was one of those?” asked Lana.
“He held a rank similar to a squad leader in the SS. He was an officer at Buchenwald, one of the first Nazi concentration camps. Nearly 60,000 died at that camp.”
Lana, Charlie and a few others groaned at the death total. Some shifted and took a long inhale. Dominic remained silent and unmoved. Just staring. The same way Denis Kruger did when Braddock testified in front of him a year ago. Kruger was a ninety-three year-old decomposing body that used an oxygen mask to breath in that courtroom. His authority was gone. His strength had vanished. His temper seemed tranquil. But he still had the stare, and he fixed it on Braddock as he took deep, long inhales from the air mask.
Dominic had a similar stare.
“After the war, there was a network of fascist sympathizers that led Nazis through Europe into South America and the U.S. We originally thought his route was Italy but it was actually through Spain.”
“It’s a shame what men are forced to endure during war. They draft you, and never tell you what you really have to do,” a patron next to Lana commented.
“Before 1943, service in the SS was voluntary,” countered Braddock with a stare at Dominick. “As were the atrocities that men like him committed.”
“I’ve read about those camps. Frightening places. Used for murder,” Lana said.
“Well, this was more of a labor camp. A labor camp where thousands dropped dead from exhaustion and hunger, or were executed when they no longer served a purpose. Denis Kruger [SH2] was identified by a dozen survivors as the man who organized hangings and crucifixions in the area behind the camp that later became known as the ‘singing forest,’ due to the screams of the victims.”
“My lord, Mr. Braddock. It’s 1 p.m. and you are surrounded by beautiful women on an Acapulco beach,” interrupted Charlie, who slammed the drink in front of Braddock. “We don’t tell stories like that here. Take it elsewhere.”
Braddock picked up his drink, took a sip, and let his audience know he enjoyed it. They began to go back to their own conversations.
“Charlie, your father may be curious to find out how it ends. You see, it seems Kruger had flown to Argentina quite often to visit a doctor who was, as we’ll say, Nazi friendly. He served as a[SH3] personal physician to these men who couldn’t really go elsewhere for treatment for [SH4] battle wounds. When we interrogated the doctor, he gave us a few other names. You see, they always give me a few names. Because when they do, I keep them in my country for as long as possible. For when they don’t, I turn them over to the Jews, who put them on trial in Israel. Sometimes, I turn them over to the Russians. I’m not quite sure what they do with them.”
“OK. I think we’ve had enough for one afternoon,” said Charlie. “Lana, I told you, be careful of the men down here…”
Braddock pulled a cigarette out from his shirt pocket. “If no one minds,” he said as he lit a match. “Well Charlie, one of the stories the doctor told me about was about [SH5] the grandson of a German cavalry general. He was a lieutenant, I believe. Trust me. Your dad will want to hear it. Wait. He already knows this one.”
Dominic didn’t answer. His eyes didn’t waiver. His hands began to scurry out of Braddock’s sight yet found nothing useful.
“Still keep one under the bar, Herr Eckert? Or did you think you wouldn’t need a pistol after all these years?”
The Nazi shook his head.
“Not here. Not in front of my son. I’ll go anywhere you want to go. Please. A special arrangement.”
Braddock understood the plea. His father had made a similar one fifteen years ago when the FBI arrested him at their Westchester, New York home.
Don’t watch, son. Please don’t watch.
Yet Thomas Braddock watched, and the FBI made no special arrangements. There would be no special arrangements for engineers who sell nuclear secrets to the Soviets.
And there would be no special arrangements for Nazis.
“I can’t do that, Klaus.”
The smile on Lana’s facehad faded long ago. “I’m sorry, I don’t understand. What exactly are you two talking about? Is this a story from your book?”
“Oh, I’m sorry Lana., this story hasn’t been published yet. You see, the Argentinian doctor told us about[SH6] a lieutenant who had had some shrapnel removed from his shoulder, maybe twenty years ago. That doctor helped this same lieutenant sell a painting he stole from an art dealer, Bernard Delacroix, in Paris in 1941. Apparently, Dominic often frequents Argentina. That’s where he sold the Albert Gleizes painting he stole from Delacroix in 1952.”
“Please. I beg you,” Dominic pressed.
“Lieutenant Klaus Eckert begs for forgiveness. The man who shot the mother of Bernard Delacroix in the face and ordered her mouth searched for gold teeth wants forgiveness. I wonder, what did you do with that painting for eleven years? Where are the other ones?”
“What do you want from me?”
“It’s time for you to come with me, Klaus. Time for you to share some stories with me. Or you know the alternative.”
“Since when does the American government work with the Soviets?”
“I’m not government. And I never said Soviets. I deal with Russians. Old money. Those who never forgave the Germans for 30 million dead comrades.”
“And if I am who you say I am, where is your gun? Why not read me my rights?”
“I don’t carry a gun. And who in the hell says you should have any rights after what you’ve done?”
“Dad?” Charlie asked silently. Dominic ignored him.
“A drink first, then,” he said. “But first, the boy goes away.”
Dominic put four shot glasses on the bar. He told Charlie to fetch him more ice, for the beers need to be kept cold, and the sun was not going to set for at least another six hours.
Charlie did so unwillingly. He slammed the bar’s swivel door and headed to the walk-in freezer, which was inside the hotel. Dominic waited for him to leave before he poured the tequila.
“To fathers and sons,” toasted Dominic.
“May they be able to understand each other one day in the afterlife,” said Braddock.
They clinked shot glasses. As Braddock downed the tequila, Dominic buried his hands deep in the mount of ice cubes in the freezer at his waist. He produced a weatherproof lock box that he quickly opened. His face went pale when his right hand found nothing inside.
In a fury, Braddock reached across the bar and grabbed Dominic’s thick wrist and turned it palm up. A skin deformity on his wrist was on display to everyone who was watching.
“Did I mention, Lana, that for years in Argentina they have been experimenting with tattoo removal? That doctor I was telling you about. It was one of his specialties,” Braddock said as he traced the scarring with a cigarette. “You see this right here. This used to be a tattoo. Nothing fancy. Not like the movies tell you. No skulls or swastikas. Instead, they would get a tattoo of their blood type on their arm in case they were wounded. A wise battlefield strategy that turned into a blunder for many Nazis arrested after the war. A mark that clearly our friend here had removed.”
Braddock forced his face into Dominic’s. “It’s funny how Holocaust survivors wear their tattoos as a badge of honor while you hide yours in shame. Understand that men like you cannot erase their past. It cannot be removed. It seeps into the blood and stains the soul.”
Braddock lightly let his cigarette burn Dominic’s arm. He then threw his hand back at him and sat down and made a gesture above his head. “We removed the pistol from the lock box last night. No easy way outs, Klaus.”
Five men who were observing casually around the bar brandished pistols and pointed them at Dominic. Braddock put his hand on Lana and told her not be alarmed.
“I kept my bargain. Not in front of your son. Sadly, he’ll have to suffer through the shame of the rest of it when he reads the book about your capture. That’s not on me. That’s on you.”
Dominic shoulders slumped as he was escorted away by the WCPU agents, but his eyes never left Braddock.
“See you shortly, Klaus. We have a lot to talk about. Unless you want to experience Russian winters.”
“Had enough of the dramatics, Braddock?” asked a man in a tropical shirt with a high and tight haircut. He began pointing and shouting out instructions to the arresting officers walked next to Klaus.
“You look good in orange, Agent Dolan. Probably sweating in those cheap khakis through,” Braddock responded. “Enjoy the rest of your vacation and send everybody down at WCPU a postcard for me.”
“Be thankful we let you create these performances. Good for the dramatic angle of your books I suppose. But one of these days, you’re going to push me too far,” Dolan said as he walked of.
“And one of these days, you are going to do your own research.”
“Is that your friend?” asked Lana as she watched Dolan begin to confer with other agents.
“Heaven’s no, my sweet Lana. Agent Dolan doesn’t have friends. The government forbids any human emotion from its employees.”
Braddock checked his watch and finished his drink. Twelve hours. He had twelve hours until his plane left and took him back to Washington. He rolled his eyes at the thought. The Acapulco ocean raged a few feet from him, and he’d forever regret it if he didn’t get to sink his toes into that perfect sand.
“Now Lana, I remember you mentioning something about local cuisine. Let’s say we head out of here, grab a bite, and then spend a day under that sun.”
Wide eyed, she left her book on the bar as she grabbed his arm. “Thomas Braddock. Oh the great lengths you’ll travel to impress a woman.”
“You have no idea,” answered Braddock as he put his Persol Ratti sunglasses on as the two strolled away, Lana’s legs still glistening under the Mexican sun.