Tanner's Tiger Page 4

“No one’s worried about the propaganda aspect, Tanner.”

“What is it, then?”

He closed his eyes for a moment. He opened them and said, “I wish to hell I knew.” He cleared his throat. “I keep losing track of things today. It’s this damned heat. It’s nearly as bad as Washington.”

“It’s this bad in Washington?”

“Worse, far worse.” He cleared his throat again. “The Cuban Pavilion. We’ve been receiving strange reports about their whole operation there. They seem to be using the pavilion as a base for some sort of secret operation. One story has it that they’re using it as an infiltration point for agents who then make their way into the States masquerading as American tourists. Another report suggests that they plan a big push in U. S. Negro and Puerto Rican neighborhoods, some sort of involvement in the riots. It sounds farfetched, doesn’t it? But they’ve blamed the damned riots on everyone else lately, I suppose they ought to charge Fidel with them. The point is this – any single one of these rumbles we’ve received would be worth permanent filing in the wastepaper basket. As it stands, though, we’re receiving too much static. We can’t discount all of it. The Cubans are doing something improper with that pavilion, and we don’t know what the hell it is, and we feel we ought to know.” He closed his eyes again. “Am I making sense to you?”


“I ask because I myself find it hard to take all of this as seriously as it probably in fact deserves to be taken. You see what the assignment boils down to, Tanner? I’d like you to take a look at the Cuban Pavilion. Stick your nose in, spend a bit of time there, try to get an idea what the hell is going on. Perhaps you can sort of worm your way in, develop some sort of contact with their employees. You speak Spanish-”

“That can’t be much help.”

“Won’t hurt. Your political background might be worthwhile. You might be able to… oh, I don’t want to tell you your job, Lord knows you’re a professional at this sort of thing. If anyone can sort the fact from the fiction, you can. But at the same time, I hate to have you waste your time in what might well be nothing for us at all. Have you got anything of your own on the fire? Anything really promising?”

What a marvelous opportunity to duck an assignment! He was very nearly begging me to cop out.

“Nothing at the moment.”

“Anything that could pop soon?”

“Not really.”

“Hmmmm. Would you like to give it a shot, then?”

Did I care what was happening at the Cuban Pavilion? No. Did I want to see the fair? No. Did I want to go to Montreal? No. Did I want to get out of New York?

“Yes,” I said.

He insisted on advancing me money for plane fare, chuckling as he pointed out that I never seemed to turn in expense requests after a trip. I told him that I usually managed to make expenses on assignments, and he chuckled again and muttered something about resourceful operatives and individual initiative. “But I can’t think you’ll find any personal profit in this trip, Tanner. After all, you’re only going to Canada.”

I told him that I thought I would take my little girl along. He said she would make a good cover, and advanced money for her ticket as well. I hadn’t thought of Minna as part of a cover, somehow. I just thought she’d like to see the damned fair and that it wouldn’t hurt her to get out of the oven that called itself New York.

I left him there with the leather. On 42nd Street I picked up tickets on the first available flight to Montreal, which was Tuesday night. Everything before then was booked solid. The clerk told me to take proof of citizenship. I already had Minna’s passport, having applied for it long before there was any specific place I wanted to take her. Anyone who doesn’t possess a passport in good order is a fool. No man is so secure that the possibility does not exist that someday he will find it necessary to go someplace far away in a hurry.

I took a cab back to my apartment. An air-conditioned cab. I hated to leave it. I climbed four flights of stairs. Warm air rises – the higher I climbed, the warmer it was. I let myself into my place and found Minna listening to the radio and reading a copy of the general orders of the Latvian Army-In-Exile. “Better brush up your French,” I said. “Tuesday night we leave for Montreal.”

“ Montreal!”

“Unless you don’t want to-”

“Oh, Evan! You’re taking me to Expo?”

“I’m taking you to Expo.”

But now it looked as though I weren’t.

Chapter 3

At Kennedy I carried Minna from the plane. One of my fellow passengers made cute faces at her; Minna, being asleep, fortunately missed them. “She’s a cutie,” he said. “Out cold, isn’t she?”

“So it seems.”

“Must have had a wonderful time at Expo. The kids all have a ball. You should have seen mine. Stay long?”

“Not very long,” I said.

Minna came awake while I waited for our suitcase. She wanted to know where we were and I told her we were in New York. For a few moments she fell silent. Then she asked, for the first time, why we had not been allowed to go to the fair. Because those men were stupid, I told her, and wouldn’t let us into their country.

“Did we do something bad?”


“Is it because I am not really your daughter?”

“No. It’s because I’m me.”

“I don’t understand.”

“It doesn’t matter.” I hefted the suitcase, which seemed to have gained weight in transit. “You must be exhausted.”

“What time is it?”

“Almost one.”

“The Expo is closed for the night now.”


She thought this over. “Where are we going now?”

“Where would you like to go?”

“The toilet.”

I waited for her outside the ladies’ room. She reappeared with a thoughtful expression on her face. “I suppose we ought to go home,” she said.



“We’re going to Canada.”

“But they won’t let us.”

“Well, the hell with them,” I said. “We’ll find a motel near here and… Minna, do you think you could sleep on an airplane?”

“I am not sleepy.”

“Uh-huh. Sure.” I steered her to a chair and told her to wait for me, then found my way to the American Airlines ticket counter. There I learned that we had just missed the last flight to Buffalo, that the first morning flight would leave at 4:55. I got us a pair of one-way tickets on it, checked our suitcase, and went back to Minna. She was sound asleep. She went on sleeping while I drank coffee and read the Times. When they ultimately called our flight, I carried her onto the plane, and she didn’t open her eyes until takeoff, when she sat bolt upright and began talking senselessly in Lithuanian, some gibberish about horses and pigs. I asked her what she was talking about and she closed her eyes and fell back asleep. She awoke again in the Buffalo airport. The sun was up, the early morning air already thick and humid.

The airlines still hadn’t lost our suitcase. I rescued it, and we had breakfast there at the airport and killed time until it was late enough to call people. I took a batch of dimes to the phone booth and started dialing. Two of the people I tried had moved, and four more were already at work, and I was beginning to run out of contacts. I looked up one of my less hopeful prospects in the telephone book and dialed his number, and the man who answered sounded as though he had been drunk for at least eight months.

I said, “Mr. Pryzeshweski?”


“Mr. Jerzy Pryzeshweski?”

“Yeah, thiz Jerry. Whozit?”

I said, “Mr. Pryzeshweski, my name is Evan Tanner. I don’t believe we’ve ever met, but I’m a very good friend of-”

He said, “See ya, friend,” and hung up.

I looked at the phone for a few seconds, then invested another dime and called him again. This time he sounded a little more awake. He told me I was a goddamned sonofabitch and he had to get some sleep.

So I said, in Polish, “Jerzy, comrade, my good friend Taddeusz Orlowicz told me to call you if ever I needed assistance in Buffalo. I am on vital business for the movement, Jerzy, and I am calling you because-”

“Jeez, you a Polack?”

“Yes, I-”

“You know Tad?”

“He is my good friend. I-”

“Well, what do you know!” He laughed loudly into the phone and I pulled it away from my ear. “How is the old drunk broadchaser? I’ll be a son of a bitch, Tad Orlowicz. I thought he was dead.”

“He’s not. He-”

“I didn’t see Tad since, oh, I don’t know how long. He went back to the old country, huh?”

“I saw him last year in Cracow.”

“No kidding. Still drinking the booze, huh? Still chasing the girls?”

I closed my eyes. “Same as ever,” I said.

“Same old Tad!”

“Same old Tad.”

“Well, what do you know. Wha’d you say your name was?”

“Tanner,” I said, “Evan Tanner.”

“Well, what’s it all about, huh?”

“I have to see you. I can’t talk on the phone.”

“No kidding?”

I closed my eyes again. There were, I thought, over a hundred thousand Poles in the city of Buffalo, still more in the surrounding suburbs. With such a large subculture to draw from, it was inconceivable that the Society for a Free Poland didn’t have a more efficient operative in the area. SFP had dozens of activists in and around Buffalo, but the others whose names I was able to remember had not been home.

I thought of hanging up and trying to find someone else or simply going ahead under my own steam. I couldn’t avoid the feeling that Jerzy Pryzeshweski would bungle any task assigned to him.

Still, though, he did seem to know Taddeusz, who was as fond of women and vodka as Jerzy said he was, and who combined a true patriot’s zeal for Polish freedom with irreverent contempt for the Polish people. Taddeusz had saved me from arrest and execution in Cracow and sent me on my way to Lithuania; maybe his chum Jerzy could handle the less burdensome chore of smuggling me into Canada.

So what I said was, “I need your help. Can I come to your home?”

“You in town?”


“Sure, come by my house. You know how to get here? Where are you, the bus? You got a car?”

“I’ll be right over,” I said.

He lived in a little ranch house in a neat little suburb called Cheektowaga. It was not far from the airport and the cabdriver found it easily. Jerzy was sitting on the front porch when we got there. He was wearing a pair of heavy brown shoes, khaki trousers, and a shiny yellow-green shirt that said Bowl-a-Lot Lanes on the back, Kleinman’s Bakery Products on the front, and Jerry Press on the pocket. He was sitting in an aluminum frame chair with green and yellow webbing, and he was drinking a can of beer, and he weighed close to three hundred pounds.

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