When Juan Weider disappeared in December of 1989, a small group of his admirers began to tell stories manufactured from their own dreams or nightmares. The legends varied greatly and some were truly outrageous, like most stories about cruel characters or emperors usually are. But the one most accepted by Weider’s strange circle of fans (if that’s what those kinds of people can be called), wanna-bes, and even the few living relatives of victims he’d left scattered in his wake unintentionally, was that he’d gone into the northeastern Andean highlands of Ecuador to record (for himself or posterity) the precise time of each morning the day’s first bird sang.
This story came replete with details such as: Juan Weider kept intricately detailed notebooks of the type genus of bird first to vocalize and highly accurate songbird times (to the millisecond, the idea was that he had a digital stopwatch, of course) written in ink made from particles of carbon black, shipped by mule from Quito to his one-room shack in the jungle. And: the only man authorized to deliver these types of shipments was of Chachi heritage who only spoke Cha’palaa—the Barbacoan language of his ancestors. Like the missionary P. Alberto Vittadello who had lived for seven years among the Chachi tribe, Juan Weider had fully immersed himself into the Amazon jungle of north Ecuador.
Juan Weider was an interrogator and a writer. Many thought he was brother of the Chilean skywriting poet cum legend Carlos, who had the same last name, served as executioner for the Pinochet regime, and who also disappeared in 1989, just before Pinochet stepped down. But he wasn’t. In fact, Juan Weider may have been a woman. His name may have been Ivana, according to some who worked with him (dull tasks such as stamping documents and paperwork and performed other menial administrative duties). If he wasn’t a woman after all, then some of his victims may have known him as inquisitor Ivanov. One thing’s for sure, if any of them ever answered to a certain Ivanov during their interrogations before they signed confessions, none would be alive to corroborate the name. Perhaps those rumors were born out of nightmares.
When Juan Weider wasn’t interrogating or torturing people in the basements of non-descript Eastern European government buildings, he was writing and publishing Samizdats filled with fiction criticizing the morals of high-level government officials—the same ones that employed his services. Yes, he would change names, but everyone knew that for example Ivan was Ivor, minister of security who liked to float in his large private bathhouse and have little boys suckling on his toes (like Caligula), Roxana was Ruxandra, wife of the interior minister who forced her lovers to walk on all fours, meowing like cats or whimpering like injured dogs, and so forth. The Samizdats circulated underground among various intellectuals and artists, and Juan Weider became a legend on par with the famous broadcaster from (banned) Radio Free Europe, Sebastian Blackbeard. During those days, Juan Weider wrote under the pseudonym Jean-Francois Ian.
Over the years, Juan Weider interrogated many of the same intellectuals and artists that were enamored of his illicit writing, most of whom (if not all) paying with their lives. None of them knew that he was Jean-Francois Ian, responsible for the same material that they were accused of possessing, reading, and propagating.
Before he disappeared in December 1989, Jean-Francois Ian published an interview with Juan Weider. The piece (which was in reality a self-interview) was a shattering expose of the interrogation and information extraction business that all governments (not just repressive regimes) conduct. It is because of this interview that some believe Juan Weider was a woman. No man could speak with such sensitivity and elegance, such complex sensibility and humanity about the psychological methods of interrogation, extracting (false) confessions, and torture of citizens as Juan Weider did in his interview with Jean-Francois Ian. Weider spoke of empathy. It was vital that a high degree of empathy exist within the interrogator for his subject. In fact, Weider said, the more sensitive an individual, the more stern and effective he would make an interrogator. And later even an official executioner, but that was a different position altogether that required a different set of sensibilities, skills, and a melancholic sense of history. This is why artists are perfect for this job, Weider said in his interview. Artists are the best at torturing people. Especially other artists. (Of course, themselves, as well.) It is in light of ideas such as this that some readers believed Juan Weider was a woman.
It is interesting that Juan Weider chose to walk into the Ecuadorian rainforest, the home to many fleeing Nazis after WWII. But perhaps with a name like that, Juan Weider’s decision was wise. The most efficient way to disappear is to simply live among other monsters like yourself. No one cares to notice. It’s as if everyone is living before a mirror. No one wants to see their own reflection. Certainly not anyone in the business that Juan Weider had been in: torture and writing.
It is also interesting why Juan Weider chose to disappear at all that late December 1989. It is true that the Wall had crumbled in Europe, and young idealists began to take it apart with hammers, screwdrivers, even sickles (ironically), but Weider had not been anyone important. He was just a usual functioning part in a terrifyingly voracious machine. Historically, he wasn’t on any kind of radar. At least he wasn’t anyone important enough to be stood in a courtyard, given a blindfold, and shot.
In fact, most of those deemed important enough usually to be executed during a regime change, the ones in charge of the oppression and inequities, switched sides. Or, rather even more simply, switched labels. Now they were democratic or liberal or leftist or green. Some of these people were bold or egotistical, and they announced their allegiance to the natural, conservative movement, banking on people’s sense of melancholy: remember how good it was when… But in the end they all made money, and more importantly they all retained power. The heads that rolled after the Wall came down continued to be of those that were never complicit in the dealings of government.
Juan Weider’s father stayed put for a while. He was an old dog, though not subtle or intelligent in the way one thinks of intelligence. He played on people’s vanity and charity, switching masterfully between the two as he needed. But all old dogs know the streets; they can tell which way things are going to go just from smelling the piss on the sidewalks or light poles.
After Juan Weider disappeared, his father went on to denounce him publicly (playing on the vanity of the Social Democratic Party, the group that grabbed power first after the revolution). He dedicated himself to freedom and people’s rights, although by that time he was an old man about to draw a pension from the state and had no usable skills to contribute to society—he had been a mediocre actor with a small theater company that never travelled outside the country but was known for putting on plays by Michel de Ghelderode.
In his days of retirement, the old man undertook a project that he thought would revolutionize not just the world of theater but that of art in general: he began to re-write de Ghelderode’s play Christophe Colomb. In the old man’s version, the explorer becomes addicted to visions of Saint Anthony in the New World due to his use of peyote and disappears among American Indians, never to return to Spain with the claimed land. The New World remains unknown, diseases are not introduced, and empires like the Inca go on to thrive for a few hundred years before they effectively destroy one another in war and genocide. (Like I said, he had no usable skills to contribute to society.)
In 1999, on the brink of a new millennium, Juan Weider’s father left for Germany. In the small town of Aachen (sometimes in English the city is referred to as Aix-la-Chapelle), he befriended a woman, an emigre hailing from the same area of the country in which he was born, although she was fifteen years younger. No one who knew them (there were very few) could say what they had in common. They barely spoke to one another in public. The woman was an invalid for some reason (he never cared to find out why), confined to a wheelchair and living with her mother in a small but conveniently located flat in the spa town.
The home was a small jewel, replete with all necessary amenities and perks that the town offered. For example, Juan Weider’s father could walk to the city square leisurely and take his Turkish coffee at any of the several cafes or browse books by obscure Slavic authors at his favorite used bookstore one block from the flat. If he wished, he could take a train into Brussels for that big city feeling some people yearn after, though provincial as he was, Juan Weider’s father never did. The train station, anyway, was a ten-minute walk from the flat.
The apartment belonged to the emigre’s elderly mother, and the arrangement between Juan Weider’s father and his woman in the wheelchair seemed to be this: he took care of the infirm woman and her mother, and when the mother died (which was to be soon, based upon her age and fragility), Juan Weider was to inherit the flat. But, as with everything in life, well-laid plans never materialize.
Juan Weider’s father met Niko by mistake. One damp and cold autumn afternoon, he took the wrong streetcar to a festival the town council was sponsoring in celebration of Oktoberfest. It was quite some time before Juan Weider’s father realized his mistake, as he had been lost for a while in his thoughts about the entire business of inheriting the flat. The invalid’s mother had not shown any signs of demise whatsoever, in fact just the opposite. It seemed as if a revival had occurred. She had taken to going out for hours-long walks by herself daily and even began to appreciate Wagner and Mahler with her afternoon cup of tea—a sure sign of longevity—for music most certainly adds years to a life. The woman was stronger than ever, and Juan Weider’s father was trapped now taking care of an invalid and her youthful mother who seemed to be living life in reverse.
Niko was an émigré from Sofia, Bulgaria. He had arrived in Aachen via sponsorship from a local Lutheran church. The church prided itself in doing God’s charity work by helping destitute political émigrés. Once arrived, those sponsored were offered food and lodging within the church’s confines, as well as some vocational training, language lessons, and a small stipend until the sods were mostly integrated into German society and let loose upon the world. In return, the refugees had to commit two evenings and every Sunday each week to service for the church.
It’s all bullshit, Niko told Juan Weider’s father on the wrong streetcar. But you know how that is. Yes, Juan Weider’s father said. You do what you have to do in order to eat. Before they parted ways, the two men agreed to form a partnership in an Import/Retail business of rabbit pelts. The idea seems odd, true, but given the latitude and harsh autumn and winter weather of their new country, Niko’s plan wasn’t at all bad. Through his connections in provincial Bulgaria, Niko would be able to procure for half the price of his stipend an egregious amount of rabbit pelts. The fur would then be used to manufacture warm hats, much like those worn by Russians in Siberia, and sold to the Germans. Juan Weider’s father, not having any prospects in life other than an invalid and her youthful mother, agreed to provide initially 500 DM ($1,000) for start-up costs and purchases of pelts, then a monthly sum of 100 DM commensurate with how fast (or slow) the business would grow.
After they shook hands like two old gentlemen having just engaged in a gentleman’s agreement, and Juan Weider’s father stepped off the streetcar, an euphoric feeling came over the old man. It was a feeling of validation and entitlement. He rushed to his flat among the mist and cold full of verve and vitality. He did not wait for the lift. Instead, he walked up the four stories two stairs at a time, not at all feeling the strain.
Inside, the invalid’s mother had fallen asleep in her room watching a television program. The door was shut but the volume reverberated throughout the entire apartment. Juan Weider’s father felt the tide rising inside of him like honey. It was vicious but it carried sweetness along with it. And after all, the old man now had a purpose and was going to make a name for himself within the town’s community.
In one brusque and resolute movement, he grabbed hold of the woman’s wheelchair at its handles, navigated the corners out of her room and around into the hallway, and picking up force and speed, headed for the door of the flat, which he had not bothered to close upon coming in. The woman first inquired confused then quickly protested as it seemed Juan Weider’s father was not intent on stopping short of the door. By the time they went through and into the hallway of the building, the old man was nearly running. With one satisfying, swift motion, he heaved the chair together with the woman down the stairs. The invalid toppled forward and immediately broke her neck, (Juan Weider’s father heard the snap—it was like breaking a putrid, rotten twig.) with the chair following closely and finally landing on her dislocated body, together the mess of bones and metal resting on the landing below.
Mutti, Liebling. I’m finished, der Schatz. The old man yelled back into the flat, but the invalid’s mother said nothing. Nothing could be heard over the volume of the television program. Juan Weider’s father shut the door to the flat and called up the lift from the lobby.
Unlike the old man, Juan Weider’s mother chose to stay and live what turned out to be an unremarkable life in the same apartment in which her son had been born. Having been divorced from Juan Weider’s father for quite a long time (Juan Weider was ten years of age when the court proceedings officially recognized the split.), the woman finally decided to go back to her maiden name: Rossetti.
In reality, her father’s name had been Rossettus—he was a Macedonian with Lebanese heritage—but as World War I broke out all over Europe, his family thought it unwise to keep a name associated with the Great Powers (the Ottoman Empire), so they changed it to the more Italian-sounding Rossetti when he was sixteen years of age. It was, in retrospect, the right idea. Two years later, the Italians along with the Allies prevailed.
Juan Weider’s mother, Rossetti, began and finished her career at AutoTractor, a company that would be bought eventually by Eicher, a West German manufacturer of agricultural machines, located near Munich. After the Wall came down in 1989 and Juan Weider disappeared, Rossetti welcomed the new change in ownership and management style. She found the Germans distant and efficient. She liked the intensity of the foreigners, and she especially enjoyed the punctuality with which monthly accounting meetings were held.
Rossetti often lulled herself to sleep at night imagining what she would do when she could travel to Bavaria to tour the facilities of her new employer. She dreamed of creamy desserts, of having coffee with a Berliner or slices of Buchtein. She dreamed of Black Forest Cake and Blachindla and Dampfnudel.
But Rossetti never travelled to Munich. Instead, she walked along side of Lake Herastrau every evening after work and often opted to buy her small supper in take-away containers from the restaurant across her flat. The establishment sold brown beer in bottles with twist-off caps—something that made Rossetti very happy for some reason that she couldn’t name. (It’s not as if she didn’t own a bottle opener.) To compensate for her lack of travel to Germany, she would often take-away two small, thin slices of schnitzel, which she would eat with mustard in front of the television in the evenings and wash down with Dortmunder Union beer.
Seven years after Juan Weider disappeared into the jungle of Ecuador, Rossetti had a left breast mastectomy. The cancer had spread to three lymph nodes in her armpit, so it was necessary to remove the breast altogether. She chose not to look at what had been left of her flesh after the operation for nearly two weeks. When she did, she felt queasy and ill and had to sit on the lid of the toilet for quite some time in order to get herself together. The mastectomy had left her disfigured, like a soldier who’d been eviscerated by shrapnel or a Bouncing Betty.
The flesh would eventually heal in uneven, sometimes bifurcated patterns, and years later, from time to time, Rossetti would rest on the side of the tub and observe her wound with great and gentle motherly care. The left side of her torso, she thought, resembled a gargantuan extraction site of copper or silver, seen from high above the Earth. This made her happy and sad. In fact, she couldn’t explain how or what she felt. The closest word she could find for what she felt was “melancholia.”
-twice-cooked pork with hoisin sauce
-cheap sunglasses, particularly those found on streets or beaches
-stuffed grape or cabbage leaves
-Johnnie Walker (Red) whisky
-royal lineage (especially the Romanov family)
-flossing her teeth
-putting on airs of nobility
-telling little white lies that she called “ruby drops”
-Pavarotti singing “Nessun Dorma” from the final act of Puccini’s opera, Turandot
Juan Weider’s mother never again married. She reconnected with her high school sweetheart, a famous geologist who travelled around the world frequently to attend and give speeches at symposia, (most often he was the symposiarch himself) and was hardly ever in the country. But on the very rare occasions he was, they conducted a unique relationship—that of husband and wife in going about domestic tasks only. He would come home for lunch and she would fix a plate and sit with him. Neither would say anything. Then he would thank her, kiss her on the cheek, and go back to work.
While he was in Lausanne, Switzerland, giving a presentation on megathrust quake faults and the degree of weakness observed (Stresses in subduction zones were found to be low, although the smaller amount of stress could still lead to a great earthquake.), Rossetti felt severely short of breath and began to cough incessantly. She developed aggressive lung cancer and often had to go to hospital for thoracentesis (every three days). Each session, the nurse would remove between one and one-and-a-half liters of lung fluid. Sometimes the needle would have to be inserted into the pleural space to remove air, instead. It was all quite fascinating, although Rossetti did not think it so.
In the end, Juan Weider’s mother could never explain to the geologist how she felt. The closest word she could find was “melancholia.” But she never mentioned it. Instead she stressed the importance of the small details found in a day that constructed a tolerable life and routine. And so the geologist continued to travel for his work, outlining important events that were always breaking through the surface of his discipline: outlining the fingerprints of sea level rise, presenting the first global antineutrino emission map, the development of a new model of Amazon seasonal cycles, Earth’s first CT scan, and so forth.
The geologist held onto Rossetti’s ashes for nearly a year. The box, which was inside another cardboard, inconspicuous box looking very much like a small package of paperback novels, was placed on the bottom shelf of his bookcase. Throughout the time that it remained there, the geologist had every intention to honor Rossetti’s last wishes: to be scattered onto the Black Sea and have a bouquet of sunflowers thrown in among the ashes. But he never brought himself to make the drive to the seaside.
One cold, winter morning, the geologist placed the box into his rubbish bin. He took the bag out into the hallway of his building, opened the chute, and dropped it down ten floors. The bag was incinerated later, along with all the other day’s rubbish of the apartment building.
In spring of 2015, Juan Weider resurfaced briefly but only by a strange proxy, as if one were digging for truffles and came upon a nest of red ants. His body and flesh were not altogether there, but evidence of his fingerprints and footprints was discovered. Or to be more accurate, literally his fingers.
Earlier that year, a local Ecuadorian author named Fernando Nuñez del Arco alleged that the country had been the hiding place of ten important Nazi war criminals and several hundred more of lower rank. Of course, Juan Weider was nowhere on the author’s list claiming this, as Juan Weider couldn’t have been a Nazi during the war; he had been born twenty years after its end. Juan Weider, in fact if anything, would have loathed the fascists. In any case, Nuñez del Arco’s insistence bordered on the maniacal, and so two investigators from the German government’s official Nazi-hunting agency, the Central Office of the Investigations of National Socialist Crimes, came to investigate.
The two men came from Berlin with the Ecuadorian government’s blessing. The investigators arrived in Quito and immediately went to work. They were: prosecutor Kurt Schrimm and police detective Uwe Blab. The men together physically, when standing side by side, invoked much laughter. Uwe Blab was nearly a giant, measuring six feet and ten inches. Kurt Schrimm was his exact opposite. It wasn’t known to anyone but Kurt Schrimm’s wife, but he wore inserts inside of his shoes, which gave him two or so additional inches to his stunted heights.
The investigators were diligent, nevertheless, no matter how funny they looked together. For the first few weeks the pair focused on Ecuadorian public archives and registries in an attempt to track down surviving suspects (privately, the investigators did not believe any existed), but also to get at the historical truth at how Nazi war criminals found refuge in the South American country.
This part was significant because, although it had always long been known that many Nazi had fled to South America following the defeat of the Third Reich, attention had always focused on other countries like Paraguay, Argentina, Brazil, and Chile. Until Fernando Nuñez del Arco’s allegations, Ecuador had largely flown under the radar.
Nuñez del Arco had always been a determined man. On the particular subject of unearthing his country’s dirty secrets, he had been on a one-man mission. He spent five years researching his book Ecuador and Nazi Germany. This is what he claimed:
-Walter Rauff, inventor of the mobile gas chamber hid in Quito from 1948-1958.
-Gestapo chief Heinrich Muller also lived (but has probably died since) in Ecuador.
-Hitler secretly awarded Ecuador’s foreign minister Julio Donoso the Order of the Eagle.
-Germany gave Quito a $34 million loan, seized from Jews.
Germany was a country that was always well respected culturally and very influential toward Ecuador, Nuñez del Arco said in his book. It held great prestige here while there was strong resentment in the U.S. and U.K., perhaps because of a kind of a Hispanic-Catholic nationalism. The Nazis’ influence in Ecuador was also strengthened by the fact that many senior officials in Quito at the time had studied in Germany before World War I. And during World War II, Germany was Ecuador’s principal trading partner, with Hitler’s war machine devouring raw commodities like balsa wood, rubber, coffee, and chocolate.
Nuñez del Arco had always been a thorough and determined man. One could even call him a savage detective. He went after his targets like a starving lion.
Upon their investigation of documents and government archives, the two German officials (Schrimm and Blab) came to the belief that the last Nazi to have been alive in Ecuador was of Dutch birth and that he died in Quito in 2008. But Nuñez del Arco had always been a determined man. He insisted they at least visit one small site in the Cayambe Coca Ecological Reserve forest at El Chaco. There, Nuñez del Arco claimed, they will see evidence of recent activity, perhaps of several years’ residence.
What kind of evidence, Blab asked.
The usual kind. Discarded cans, packaging of foodstuffs, even traces of a fire pit that had been used consistently for an extended period of time.
The Germans travelled with the author and two guides—men with brown skin and wide, honest, sunburnt faces wearing colorful ruanas, alluding to their Pasto ancestors—to the small town of El Chaco. They were surprised to find a small but comfortable hotel called Guarida del Coyote. The establishment served strong coffee all day long. It also offered a large choice of various types of omelets and freshly cut fruit.
This is a very fine little hotel, Schrimm said.
We have a very fine little country, you see, despite its dirty secrets, Nuñez del Arco smiled. Tomorrow we go see. And then you tell me whether the last Nazi died seven years ago.
The shack that Nuñez del Arco presented to the investigators (almost as if he were unveiling a new Mercedes Benz for an audience of buyers) had been abandoned for some time. Both Germans agreed with the author that someone had definitely lived there more recently than seven years previous. But the suspicion the investigators had was that the wooden shelter served in reality as the home base to a drug manufacturer—likely a jefe or a boss, not a notorious Fascist murderer on the run. They were sure they would find some type of home made lab or evidence of coca processing not too far from the shack. They were convinced that the Ecuadorian had not looked thoroughly enough.
Here, you see, is the outhouse, Nuñez del Arco said. If you examine the dung inside the hole, it’s soft still. The layer on top. It’s soft. I pushed on it with a branch when I came across this dwelling earlier. And there, you see, is the firepit I mentioned. The adobe is charred on the sides but from recent use. The soot is from recent fire. Do you agree.
Schrimm and Blab did.
I haven’t looked close, Nuñez del Arco said, because I was excited to first come upon this treasure and, after all, the job of forensics cannot be done properly by a writer. A writer can research and can find. A writer can write. Sometimes he can even do it well. But you will look close. That is your profession. And you will find…I’m sure…I wonder what you will find. Gentlemen, Nuñez del Arco said proudly and inflated his chest, I wonder what you will find indeed.
Juan Weider had been there but had left days ahead of the expedition. The team of detectives had found his trail, but neither Schrimm nor Blab nor Nuñez del Arco or the guides had any idea of who Juan Weider might have been. The evidence left behind, however, was more horrific than anything the Germans had seen in their inquiries throughout their entire careers. It wasn’t the song of birds Juan Weider had been documenting so precisely in the shack discreetly tucked there in the Andean highlands. It wasn’t that at all.
Right away Nuñez del Arco became giddy despite the images in the photographs and the rest of the physical evidence Schrimm and Blab excavated. He had, after all, found the work of a war criminal. You see gentlemen, what have I told you, he said.
Privately, the German investigators continued to believe that they had stumbled upon a narco’s very modest hideout. The men were not at all as excited as their host who became more and more animated with excitement at the horror unfolding within the evidence. Nothing is beyond the capabilities of the monsters living inside us not quite too deep, Blab reasoned as he flipped through the photographs that documented the period Juan Weider had spent in the forest. There will never be a shortage of nightmares. The factory always stays open.
Now this one is interesting, Schrimm said. See here. He laid the small photograph on the wooden table and wiped off dirt from its glossy face. The print was maybe two inches by two inches, and its geometric edges were cut in an elegant pattern resembling sinusoidal waves connected together ad infinitum. Blab thought it very much resembled the concept of ∞. It was meant to be a paper frame of sorts, like those used for historically famous paintings.
You see the fingers, Schrimm said. Blab squinted. The other German put a magnifying glass to the image. The hand captured on the emulsion was that of the photographer’s, Juan Weider. It was placed in the scene on purpose in order to indicate the size and perspective of the terrifying objects on display for edification. They were all smaller than a fingernail.
Do you see the digits better now, Schrimm said again.
Well, what do you notice.
Blab leaned in and adjusted the magnifying glass to better focus the image of the fingers. The hand is perfectly manicured, he said.
That’s right, the other German said. And the fingers…
They’re quite small and dainty, Blab said. Smooth, as well.
Seems that way. No discoloration or tan lines or any sign of ever having had rings on them.
They are a woman’s fingers nevertheless, Schrimm said. And a fairly young woman at that.
Alex Pruteanu is author of novella Short Lean Cuts, available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Powell’s Books. He is also author of Gears, a collection of stories from Independent Talent Group also available at the aforementioned retailers. He has published fiction in Guernica, [PANK], Specter Literary Magazine, The Prague Revue, The Stockholm Review of Literature, and others.