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They trailed behind.
The Colonel led, and congratulated and complimented the star attraction. The minders walked alongside their man, smug with satisfaction.
Perry Johnson let them go ahead, Ben Christie stayed with his major. The evening rain blustered against them. He knew the old boy was about to launch, felt sort of sorry for him, stayed with him to offer a shoulder and an ear. It had gone well, standing ovation. Only a taster, though, and the Americans were bigger players -- they'd get more when the man went to Washington. But, for all that, it was a taster, Ben could recognize quality material, the like of which seldom came their way, and it was German. The three warrant officers and the two sergeants, who had attended the briefing, held umbrellas over the guest and the Colonel, the Brigadier and the civil servants who were down from London. It was ritual to take an honored visitor to the officers' mess at the end of the day.
They weren't twenty-five paces from B block, not even within two hundred yards of the mess, before poor old Perry, the dinosaur, began to flush it out of his system.
"Look at him, so damn full of himself. Forget the past, all cuddle up together...I'd trust him as far as I could kick him...They were insidious, they were revolting. I used to lie awake at night when I was in Berlin, couldn't damn sleep because of them. Pushing, probing, testing us, every day, every week, every month. Had their creatures down at the gate at Brigade to photograph us going in and out, take our license plates. Used to pay the refuse people to drop off camp rubbish, then cart it to Left Luggage at the S-Bahn, and they'd take it back through the Wall, sift every last scrap of paper we threw out, notepaper headings, telephone numbers, signatures and rank. Had to employ West Berliners, German nationals, some very decent people, but imperative that we regarded them all as potential corrupted traitors, good women in Library or just cleaning your quarters, had to treat each of them as filth. Throwing 'defectors' at us, dropping 'refugees' into our laps, hoping to twist us up, bugger us about. Met some fine and courageous people but had to treat them like lying shit. Used to go across, guaranteed access under the Four Power Agreement, they'd watch you. You were alone, out of your car, dark, four thugs on you and a beating you'd remember a month...Cold bastards. I tell you, I like moral people, I can cope with immoral people if I have to. What I find evil is 'amorality,' no standards and no principles, that was them. You work up against the Stasi and you get to suspect the man, German or British, who sits next to you in the mess, in the canteen. Perpetually on guard...but it doesn't matter now because we're all bloody chums...You didn't get to Germany in the good old days -- Belfast, wasn't it? Nothing wrong with Belfast, but the heartbeat of the Corps was Germany. Straightforward enough life, whether in the Zone or Berlin -- us confronting an enemy. The threat, of course, was the Soviet military, but the real enemy was the Ministerium für Staatssicherheit, shorthand was Stasi. Stasi were the secret police of the former DDR. They came out of the heritage of the Gestapo and out of the training camps of the KGB. In intelligence gathering, in counterespionage, they were brilliant and ruthless. They ran the Bonn government ragged, they gave us a hell of a headache. They were the cream...Don't think I'm sentimental. They didn't play by our rules, nothing Queensberry. Their rules were intimidation, corruption, fear, the manipulation of the individual, the destruction of the human personality. Turn a man against his friend, a woman against her husband, a child against parents, no scruples. They bred psychological terror, their speciality, and if that failed they fell back on the familiar thuggery of basement torture, isolation cells and killings. That the clapped-out, no-hope East Germany survived for more than two summers was because of the Stasi. They kept that regime of geriatrics on its feet for forty-five years..."
"Led you a bit of a dance, did they, Perry?"
"Don't shortchange me, young man...It sticks in my throat, a bone in the gullet, socializing with 'new' friends. There's a generation in Germany that's been scarred by the Stasi. There's blood on their hands. What do I sound like? An emotional old fart? Probably am...So, the Wall came tumbling down and a hundred thousand full-time Stasi just disappeared off the face of the earth, bar a very few. A few had something to offer the arisen greater German empire. Counterespionage in Rostock, in bed with the Soviet military. Of course this bastard has something to offer."
They followed the group into the mess. The warrant officers and sergeants peeled away from forbidden territory. From the end of the wide corridor came the baying of laughter and voices spilling from the bar. They shook their coats. Not like the mess of the cavalry or artillery or the engineers, no battle paintings, no hanging portraits of men decorated for bravery, nothing to identify past success. The Colonel, the guest and the guest's minders had gone towards the window, with the Brigadier from London and the civil servants.
A big voice: "Perry, be a good chap, tunnel through that lot. I know what we want."
Perry Johnson, poor bugger, pleased that ridiculous name was used, went to his colonel, took the drinks order, looked helplessly at the crowd competing for the single bar steward. He copped out, came to Ben Christie. "It's like a bloody bingo night. Why's there only one chap on? Get Barnes down here."
Christie turned and hurried for the door. He heard Perry call out that reinforcements were on the way, stupid bugger.
He ran in the rain past F and H blocks, past the dreary little Portakabins. He ran down the corridor to G/3/29.
She was at her desk. It was cleared. There was a neat pile of letters to be signed, there was a note of telephone calls incoming and outgoing. His dog was sitting beside her knee with the wrapping paper of a biscuit packet under its paws.
"All right, Corporal? No crises? Went on a bit..."
She shrugged, not her business if it went on all night. Why should there be crises?
"Please, they're short of bodies in the mess. Major Johnson would be very grateful..."
She was expressionless. "Been waiting for you, thought you might."
"Nelson been good? Sorry..."
She was standing, gathering her coat off the hook, then smoothing her hair. "Stay there, big boy. Course he's been good."
She locked the outer door, went after him.
"Sorry...How did you know that we'd want you?"
They were out into the evening rain.
She said flatly, "Administration's got the audit team in, they're mob-handed. There's Major Walsh's leaving bash -- free drinks bring them out of their holes. The mess corporal, the spotty one, he's got flu. Penny's on holiday..."
He grinned. "Be a black day, the darkest, Corporal, if promotion ever claimed you."
"Just try to do my job. How did it go?"
The beginning of her day had followed the same precise routine as every working morning. It was sixteen minutes past seven when Corporal Tracy Barnes had unlocked the outer door to building G/3, gone down the empty corridor and used a second key to let herself into Room 29. She was always in G/3/29 before twenty past seven. The rest of them, Major Johnson, Captain Christie, the warrant officers, sergeants and clerks, would drift into G/3 before nine. She valued that time to herself: she always said it gave her the chance to get on top of each day.
She had put the kettle on. With her third key, and her knowledge of the combination, she'd opened the safe. She kept the coffee in it, the tea, biscuits and apples. The rooms of G/3 were the home of the unit of the Intelligence Corps at Templer Barracks, Ashford in Kent, dealing solely with the subject matter of russian federation/military/analysis, and they were the kingdom of Corporal Tracy Barnes. The kettle had boiled. She had crunched the biscuits and bitten at an apple. It was her place. She could put her hand on any sheet of paper, any map, any photograph in the wall of steel-plate filing cabinets, padlocked in the Major's office, the Captain's office and in the cubbyhole space between them where she worked. She could flit her way through the banks of information held in the G/3 computers that linked Templer Barracks with the London offices of the Chief of Defence Intelligence and the new Bedfordshire base at Chicksands. She knew every code that must be dialed in for the secure fax transmissions. They told her, Major Johnson and Captain Christie, that she was indispensable...
A drip of water had gathered on the ceiling beside the fluorescent strip light, fallen and spattered on the linoleum floor.
"Fucking hell," she'd said. "That's the fucking limit."
The roof always leaked when the rain came from the east. She'd seen another drip forming and the rain hammered harder on the windows. She'd been locking the safe -- the safe must always be locked when the section was unattended -- she had been about to go down the corridor to the wash-house for the mop and bucket, when the telephone had rung. The start of her day.
Outside the office, in the rain and the gloom, walking, it was so good to talk to her. Sensible, rational -- just a conversation without officer pips and corporal stripes. The rain was on the gold of Tracy Barnes's hair and the highlights made jewels there.
"Slow to start, thanks to the Colonel. We had to sit through his lecture on the Russian military threat, chaos and anarchy there, massive conventional and nuclear strength but with no political leadership to control the trigger finger. Seemed a bit remote -- am I supposed to tell you?"
"It's a profile of a Russian who's the Rasputin of the defense minister -- he was chummy with a Stasi chap back in the good old Cold War days. Seems that today the minister doesn't blow his nose or wipe his backside without the say-so of his staff officer -- he's Rykov, Pyotr Rykov, ex-para in Afghanistan and ex-CO of a missile base in former East Germany, and you could write on a postcard what we have on him. Our larder's bare, and the Germans come over with Rykov's chum, parade him as quality bloodstock -- Rykov's motivation, Rykov's ambition. If the military were to take over in Russia then this Rykov would be half a pace behind his minister and whispering in his little ear. The truth -- may hurt to say it -- the German chum was a high-grade HumInt source, the best I've ever heard...Perry's suffering, thinks we're supping with Lucifer. You'd know about the Stasi -- you were in Berlin, yes?"
"As a kid, first posting, just clerking...Jolly news for you, Captain. They've put you on a crash Serbo-Croat course, means you're booked for Bosnia. Mrs. Christie'll be well excited, eh? I mean, she'll have to look after the dog."
"It's on your desk."
They reached the mess block outer door. He forgot himself. He opened the heavy door for her to go through first.
She stayed put. He flushed. Bloody officer and bloody noncommissioned junior rank. He went through and she followed. Coats dumped on a chair in the corridor. They hit the noise.
Perry Johnson boomed, "Thanks, Ben. They're dying of thirst and restless -- Corporal, the order is three Glenlivets, ice and lemonade for our guests, seven gin tonics, two orange juice, one with ice, five beers. You'll need a tray."
A wry smile on her face, at the edge of impertinence. "Whose tab, Major? On yours?"
She was gone. Ben watched her. He thought she kicked Captain Wilson's shin. Definite, she elbowed Captain Dawson. He saw her reach past Major Donoghue's back and rap his right shoulder and when he turned right she'd wriggled past his left hip. She was at the front, arms on the bar and stretching. She caught the steward's arm, held it. Ben could have clapped her. No mucking, she was brilliant. He blinked. An officer and a corporal, a married officer and a single corporal, it would ruin him and ruin her...Yugoslavia. The guys who went there said it was seriously awful, said Belfast was a cake-run compared to a year in Sarajevo, Vitez, Tuzla...Shit. He'd ring Trish that night...Shit...She was tiny behind the bulk of the tray. He thought that if he tried to help her he'd just get in the way...There'd be all the usual tears with Trish...Must have been her sly kick, but Major Donoghue was backing off, and the shoe again because Captain Wilson was giving her space...and Trish would be screaming when he started up about her having to look after the bloody dog...She headed for Perry. The Colonel and a civil servant flanked the German. The German had his back to them. Hands groped to snatch the glasses off her tray. She was only a corporal so she wasn't thanked, and they wouldn't need her again. Major Walsh's "happy hour" would be finished in ten minutes, and his bar tab closed, be space then. He saw the two minders take their drinks, and then the Colonel. Only one drink on the tray, the last Glenlivet, ice and lemon. The Colonel touched the German's arm. Tracy was dwarfed behind the German's back. He turned, mid-conversation, smiling.
Ben saw them both, the German and Corporal Tracy Barnes.
Her face frozen, her eyes narrowed.
The German reached for the glass, smiling with graciousness.
And the ice of her face cracked, hatred. Her eyes blazed, loathing.
The glass came up into his face and the tray with it.
The German reeled.
The Colonel, the minders and the civil servants were statue still.
Corporal Tracy Barnes launched herself at the German, and he went down onto the mess-bar carpet.
Her body, on top of his, was a blur of kicking and kneeing, elbowing, punching and scratching.
Hissed, a she-cat's venom, "You bloody bastard murderer!"
Ben Christie watched. Her skirt had ridden up as she swung her knee, again and again, into his privates. She had the hair of his beard in her fingers and smashed his head, again and again, down onto the carpet floor.
Shrieked, a woman's cry for retribution, "Bloody killed him, you bastard!"
Blood on her hands, blood in her nails, and the German screamed and was defenseless. Her thumb and forefinger stabbed at his closed eyes.
Howled, the triumph of revenge, "How'd you like it? Bloody bastard murderer! What's it like?"
Only her voice, her voice alone in the silence. The minders reacted first.
A chopping blow to the back of her neck, a kick in her ribs. The minders dragged her clear, threw her aside.
The German was bleeding, gasping, cringing in shock.
He heard Johnson's shout, hoarse: "Get her out, Christie. Get the bitch under lock and key."
Their fists clenched, standing over their man, coiled, were the minders.
...He had started his day shitty cold and shitty tired.
Julius Goldstein knew of nowhere more miserable than a commercial airport in winter as the passengers arrived for the first flights of the day. They had flowed past him, businesspeople and civil servants, either half asleep or half dressed, either with shaving cuts on their throats or with their lipstick smeared, and they brought with them the shitty cold and shook the snow patterns off their legs and shoulders.
He had gazed out into the orange-illuminated darkness, and each car and taxi showed up the fierceness of the cavorting snow shower. Of course the bastard was late. It was the style of the bastard always to be late. He had managed to be punctual, and Raub had reached Tempelhof on time, but the bastard was late. He was tired because the alarm had gone off in the small room at the back of his parents' home at four. No need for his mother -- and him aged twenty-nine -- to have risen and put on a thick housecoat and made him hot coffee, but she had. And his father had come downstairs into the cold of the kitchen and sat slumped at the table without conversation, but had been there. His mother had made the coffee and his father had sat close to him because they continually needed to demonstrate, he believed, their pride in their son's achievement. The source of their pride, acknowledged with coffee and with a silent presence at the kitchen table, was that their son was a junior official in the Office for the Protection of the Constitution. Not bad for a little Jew boy -- maybe just a token to beef up the statistics of government employment for Jews, but he had made it there and they oozed pride. One night only in Helmstedt with his parents, giving them pleasure, and the cost to Julius Goldstein was that he had been on the autobahn at four-thirty, hammering on the gritted roadway to Berlin and Tempelhof, driving at stupid speed to be certain that he was not late. His mother had said that he would be cold, and had fussed around him, had tried to press on him his father's scarf from the hook on the kitchen door. He did not wear a scarf, or a tie, and his shirt of midnight blue was unbuttoned at the neck so that the gold Star of David hanging from a slight gold chain was clearly visible. He did not go to the synagogue. He had been only once to Israel, seven years before, and had loathed it. He wore the chain and the Star of David as his own personal small gesture towards the past. It made them squirm in the offices in Cologne.
Raub had stood beside him and whistled his annoyance through his teeth, so Goldstein had smiled as if there was no problem with the bastard being late. Raub wore an overcoat of mahogany brown, a silk scarf, a dark suit and a white shirt, and Goldstein had known what Raub would wear so he had dressed in casual outdoor shoes, designer jeans, an anorak and an open shirt. Raub had worn a tie, Goldstein had worn the Star of David. Raub had carried a polished leather attaché case, Goldstein had a canvas bag hooked over his shoulder. They were calling the flight, the last call. Raub had the tickets and the boarding passes.
The taxi had come to a halt in front of the glass doors, where it was forbidden to stop, the driver reaching back for his fare, his face lit with pleasure. It would be a good tip because it wouldn't be the bastard's own money, because it would go down on the expenses and for this bastard, high priority, expenses were a deep black hole. The bastard was out of the car, striding the few paces to the glass doors, which had swept open for him, and Goldstein had shuddered again as the cold caught him and the snow flurry settled on his face and his arms.
Goldstein and Raub were the minders from the BfV: they were the escort from the counterespionage organization.
He was a big man, as tall as Raub and taller than Goldstein, with broad shoulders. He kept his back straight, as if he had stood on a parade ground and commanded lesser men, and held his head high. His fair hair was neatly combed, his beard carefully trimmed. He had moved between his minders with the effortless step of arrogance, and Goldstein thought it a class act. They had gone straight to the head of the queue, paused long enough at the desk for Raub and Goldstein to flash their passports and identification cards at the girl. Hadn't waited for her permission, had gone on through. He never hurried. They had followed the lights and the indicator boards. They had taken the first flight of the day from Berlin Tempelhof to London Heathrow...
...Ernst Raub would have liked to say, "It's not Interflug, Doktor Krause. It's not Aeroflot. There are two knives..." He had said, "For an airline breakfast, the egg is very good."
It was the nature of his job to be polite to the man, but he despised him. He thought the man ate like a pig.
He would have liked to say, "With two knives you can use one for the scrambled egg and one for the roll and the marmalade..." He had said, "Personally, I would prefer jam, summer fruits, to marmalade, but the marmalade is acceptable."
They sat in business class. Goldstein, appallingly dressed, was by the window, then Krause. Ernst Raub was across the aisle, but after the stewardess had passed, he leaned towards the man.
He would have liked to say, "There are always two knives on Lufthansa, standard or business. Were they short of knives on Interflug and Aeroflot?" He had said, "Always so much better when you have breakfast inside you. Then you can face the world."
They were so ignorant, these people, so lacking in sophistication. Ernst Raub had a friend in Cologne, Army but on attachment to BfV, who told him that when people like Krause had been inducted to the Bundeswehr Inner Leadership Academy they were so naive that they did not know how to use a bank, how to buy insurance, did not know how to choose a bottle of wine for dinner. In Cologne, over a beer and a barbecue with his family and his friend's family, he used to shake with laughter when he was told how pathetic were these people.
He had leaned back in his seat, the aircraft was steady and cruising above the storm turbulence, closed his eyes. He had scratched at the sunburn on his face, but the peeling skin on his shoulders was worse, aggravated by the new shirt he wore. Two good weeks with his wife, the boys looked after by her parents, in the Seychelles...but fewer Germans there than when they had holidayed on the islands six years before, because too much money was leaking out of western Germany and into the swamp pit of eastern Germany, too much money going to these people who did not know how to work, and did not know how to use a different knife for their egg and for their roll and marmalade...Ernst Raub could not criticize the man, must only sweeten him. Ernst Raub, sixteen years with the Office for the Protection of the State, had gone too many times into the buildings of the Bonn ministries to seal offices and desks, filing cabinets, computers and bank accounts, to lead away junior officials to the interrogation rooms, to recite the charge of espionage to a gray-faced, trembling wretch. He had heard, too many times, the sobbed and stuttered confessions and the names, too many times, of those who had compromised and ruined those junior officials, the wretches. It demeaned him to escort and mind Doktor Krause, but the man must be sweet-talked, the man was a nugget of gold.
There were no formalities at London Heathrow. They were taken off the flight before the other passengers and down an open staircase onto the apron area where two unmarked cars had waited for them...
In abject misery, Major Perry Johnson walked in the rain, desolate, to the guardhouse.
Each image, sharp in his mind, was worse than the one gone before.
The Colonel had been on his knees beside Doktor Dieter Krause. "I really cannot apologize sufficiently. I'm quite devastated by what has happened to a guest of the Corps. I can only say how sincerely sorry I am, and all my colleagues, for this quite shameful and unwarranted assault. I promise, you have my word, Doktor Krause, that I will get to the bottom of this matter and that the culprit will be severely punished."
The Colonel had attempted to touch the German's shoulder, but the younger minder, the sallow Jewish boy, the one who had kicked the corporal, had blocked his hand.
The Colonel had stood and the minders had stayed close to their man, a snarl of contempt on the face of the older one. "Immediately, Captain Dawson, get Doktor Krause and his people down to Sick Bay. I want him treated, looked after. I want the best for him. Well, come on, stir yourself, man." And Captain Dawson had drifted, dreamlike, forward, had offered a hand to get the German to his feet and had been pushed aside. There was blood on the German's face and he walked bent because of the blows into his privates.
The Colonel had turned to the men and women in the mess. They stood, sat, in the silence of shock. "I don't have to tell you how shamed I am that such an incident should happen in our mess, to our guest. If anyone should think this a suitable subject for gossip inside or outside our barracks, then that person should know I will flay the living skin off their back." He had challenged them all, the Brigadier from London, the civil servants, the officers holding the last free drinks of Major Walsh's "happy hour," and the bar steward.
The Colonel, deliberately, had picked the tray, the broken glass, the cubes of ice, the two garish slices of lemon from the carpet, and carried them towards Johnson. There was only a small stain left behind on the burgundy and white patterns of the carpet, like the aftermath of a street stabbing, so little to say what had happened. He gave the tray to Johnson, who held it, hands shaking. "Your responsibility, I fancy, Perry, to clear up this shambles. I want your report to me within two hours. Your corporal, your responsibility. You'll not spare the rod, Perry. An honored guest has been grievously abused while taking the hospitality of the Corps, so you should consider the need to provide a goddamn good answer. What the hell was that about?"
The Colonel had allowed him to carry the tray to the bar, then boomed behind him, "You might feel it necessary, Perry, after you have reported to me, to seek out Major Walsh and offer him your personal apology -- because she is your corporal and your responsibility -- for having ruined what should have been a memorable evening to mark the completion of twenty-nine years' service in the Corps. You should do that before he leaves Templer in the morning. Beneath your damn dignity, was it, to queue and carry a tray of drinks?"
He'd never liked Harry Walsh -- Harry Walsh was brimful of Ireland, claimed Ireland was the core work of Intelligence, and that Germany, Russia, were merely academic self-gratification, called them a bloody wank from his corner at the bar. Perry Johnson had put only a fifty-pence piece in the collection bucket for the purchase of the crystal sherry decanter and glasses set.
He had gone out into the night. There was rain on his face, and there were tears. He walked fast.
He had been later than usual that morning, running behind his self-imposed schedule. Been talking on the telephone in his small room above the mess to his sister, and the woman, dear soul, had little sense of time and less idea of creating an agenda for a conversation. She'd rambled and he'd not been rude, had allowed her to talk, and now he was later than usual coming to his office in the G/3 building. But, then, Major Perry Johnson could hardly afford to be rude to his sister because in thirteen months he would be moving from bachelor quarters at Ashford to her cottage. Ambleside, the Lake District, would become his retirement home. Nowhere else to go but his sister's cottage and seasonal work with the National Trust if he was lucky...What a goddamn waste.
She hadn't looked up at him, looked instead at the big clock on the wall across her cubbyhole space, above the filing cabinets.
"Well, you know, running a bit late...Telephone call just when I was about to leave...Rotten morning."
He'd barked his excuse. He was fifty-three years old, a primary expert on the old Soviet Army and now on the new Russian Federation Army. He briefed the chief of staff one to one, and the chief of defense intelligence, and the secretary of state. He was fluent in German, Russian, the Pushtu language of the Afghan tribesmen, and he always felt the need to make an excuse to Corporal Tracy Barnes when he was late to work.
Her eyes had been on her screen. "Careful where you stand, Major, ceiling's leaking again. I've been on to Maintenance and bollocked them. They're sending someone over -- won't make any difference unless he comes with a bulldozer..."
"Of course, excellent -- what's my day?"
"On your desk, waiting for you. Oh, the Captain rang on his mobile, took the dog walking off camp, lost it -- his story..."
He'd unlocked his door.
"Don't take your coat in there, Major, get wet all over your carpet. I'll take it outside and shake it."
"Would you? Thank you."
"Dogs are as bright as their masters, if you ask me -- give us the coat."
She'd been beside him, reaching up and helping him off with it, tutting criticism because it dripped a stain on the carpet, and she was gone...Other than his sister, Corporal Barnes was the only woman he knew. Only went to his sister, the cottage near the water at Ambleside, for his three weeks' leave a year, but he was with Corporal Barnes for the other forty-nine. Four years she'd been with him -- didn't know where she went for her leave, never asked, assumed she went back to her mother. No one could say it was against her wishes, but he'd quietly put the cap on any question of her promotion to sergeant and he'd blocked any proposal for her transfer. He gazed around his room. Not much that was personal to him, other than the pictures. Leave charts for the section, night-duty rosters, photographs of their new armored personnel carriers and new mortars and their new minister of defense. The pictures were his own. He was not a happy man, and less happy now that the certain days of the Cold War were consigned to the rubbish bin, and certainly not happy that a working lifetime of deep knowledge was about to be ditched into the same bin.
The pictures represented the happiest time of his life. The Last Stand of the 44th Regiment at Gundamuck was his favorite, the little knot of men gathered round their officer who had tied the colors around his chest, their ammunition exhausted and bayonets their only defense, the tribesmen circling them in the winter snow of the Khyber Pass -- good stuff -- and The Remnants of an Army, Lady Butler's portrayal of the surgeon's arrival at Jalalabad a couple of days after the Gundamuck massacre, only chap to get through. The happiest time in his life had been in Peshawar, debriefing tribesmen, training them to kill Soviet helicopters with the Blowpipe air-to-ground system. Living in Peshawar, just across the Afghan-Pakistan border, watching from a safe distance the Soviets catch a packet, just as the 44th Regiment had 141 years earlier, at the heart of real intelligence gathering. Happy times, useful times...She had been hanging his coat on the hook.
"You haven't read your day, Major." She nagged at him. It was almost domestic. His sister nagged at him, not unpleasantly but just nagged away until he'd done his chores. Not a great deal of difference between his sister and Corporal Barnes.
"It's the German thing, isn't it?"
"On your desk -- it's all day, buffet lunch. Colonel's hosting. There's a load coming down from London. In lecture room B/19. Guest is the German with two spooks to hold his hand. Coffee at ten, kickoff half an hour after that. The background brief's on your desk as well."
"Have you enough to amuse yourself?"
She had snorted. There were those in the mess who told him that he permitted her to walk to the bounds of insolence, but he wouldn't have that talk, not in the mess or anywhere else. He had picked up the brief, two sheets, scanned it, and she was gazing at him, rolling her eyes.
"Don't know about amusement...There's the expenses from your Catterick trip. There's your leave application. I've got your paper for Infantry Training School to type up. Have to confirm your dentist. Got to get your car over to Motor Pool for valeting. The stuff you wanted from Library..."
He had seen the two cars go by, black and unmarked, glistening from the rain, heading towards the B-block complex.
"Morning, Perry...Morning, Corporal."
He quite liked to be called Perry. It gave him a sort of warmth. The use of his name made him feel wanted. In the mess he always introduced himself with that name, encouraged visitors to use it. He had a need for friends that was seldom gratified. He'd turned towards the door.
"Morning, Ben, bit off schedule, aren't we?"
"Morning, Captain," she'd intoned, as if he was out of order.
He was young. His hair was a mess. He was red-flushed in the face. The Labrador, black, was soaked wet, on a tight lead and choke chain, close to his heels, the tail curled under the stomach and mourning eyes.
"Went after the rabbits -- took a bloody age to catch him. Christ, we're up against it, aren't we? Should be moving, should we? Corporal, be an angel, Nelson's food's in the car. Half a tin, three handfuls of meal, warm water not boiling to mix in, lunchtime, okay? Oh, those biographies, 49th Mechanized Infantry at...God, where is it?"
"At Voronezh, Captain Christie. The 49th Mechanized Infantry is currently at garrison camp at Voronezh."
"It's updated, in the safe. Needs retyping -- hope you can read the writing. Look, I'm short of petrol vouchers. You'll give Nelson a walk. No titbits for him, nothing extra, supposed to be dieting...Be an angel."
"Time we made a move," the Major had said.
He walked under the lights, and away ahead of him were the high lamps over the wire. There was no one within the wall of wire around Templer Barracks in whom he could confide, so damned unfair, no one to comfort him.
It would be across the barracks within an hour. The whispering, giggling, gossiping and tittering would be sieved through the officers' mess, the officers' married quarters, the sergeants' mess, their married quarters, junior ranks' canteen, junior ranks' quarters. The Colonel had said that it was Perry Johnson's responsibility, and every bastard out there would have a little story, grist fed to the mill, about the liberties taken by Corporal Tracy Barnes towards her commanding officer. He had not the merest idea why she had attacked the German with such animal savagery.
The guardhouse sergeant snapped from his chair, stood to attention, but he was sure the damn man had smirked. On the table was a plastic bag holding a tie, a belt and a pair of shoelaces.
"Where is she?"
"Cell block number four, sir."
He went to the steel-barred door, and the dull-lit corridor stretched into shadows in front of him.
"Well, hurry up, Sergeant."
"Yes, sir. Captain Christie's with her, sir, but I've kept an eye out just in case she thumps him." The sergeant's face was impassive.
He smeared his eyes with his coat sleeve. Should have done it before entering the guardhouse. The wet would have been noted. He was admitted to the corridor of the cell block. Good material for the mill of gossip and more bloody tittering.
He went into the cell. Christie was standing inside the open door, white in the face. A central light shone down, protected by a close-mesh wire. The walls, tiled to waist height and whitewashed above, were covered in graffiti scrawls and line drawings of genitalia that were quite disgusting. He had only ever been in the cells once before, to escort a civilian solicitor when one of his corporals, a Russian-language translator, had confessed to selling off hire-purchase video recorders. A foul smell, urine and vomit. There was a window above her, reinforced opaque glass set into concrete.
"What's she said?"
"She hasn't said anything. I haven't asked her anything."
"Asked her anything, 'Major'..."
"I haven't asked her anything, Major."
A thin mattress was on the bed. The bed was a slab block of concrete. A blanket of serge gray was folded on the mattress. He felt raw anger towards her. She had destroyed him.
"Well, Barnes, what the hell is this about?"
She sat on the mattress. Her arms were around her knees, which were pulled up against her chest.
"Waiting, Barnes. Why, in God's name, did you do that?"
She was pale, except for the red welt at the side of her neck where the chop of the minder's hand had caught her.
"Don't act dumb with me. You're in a pit of trouble. Bugger me about and you'll be sorry. Why did you do it?"
She gazed back at him. Just once she breathed deeply, grimaced, and he remembered the kick she had taken in the ribs. Her body shook, her shoulders and her knees, but her face was expressionless. No insolence, no defiance, no fear.
"Assault, actual bodily harm, grievous bodily harm, could even be Official Secrets Act. Barnes, understand me, you're for the jump, so don't fuck with me."
Ben Christie glanced at him, contempt. "Tracy, you know us and we know you, you work with us and you trust us. Please, Tracy..."
She said nothing. She gazed at them, through them. She seemed so small, hunched on the mattress, so vulnerable.
"We'll squeeze it out of you, damn sure we will. Last time, what was it about?"
Ben Christie said gently, like he was talking with that damn dog, "All we want to do is help, Tracy, but we have to know why."
There was the shake in her shoulders and knees. It could have been the shock, but he'd have sworn that she was quite in control, so calm. The silence hung around them. The way she sat, the way she held her knees, he could see up her thighs. He turned away. The blood was in the veins of his cheeks.
"Don't damn well come back to me tomorrow, next week, with your story and expect sympathy from me. Made your own bed, Barnes, and you can bloody well lie on it."
Captain Christie reached out his hand to her, as if to touch her. "Please, Tracy, I meant it. I meant it absolutely when I said we wanted to help you..."
She flinched away. She rejected him, said nothing. Johnson looked at his watch. The Colonel had given him two hours and he'd eaten into that time. He turned on his heel and the Captain, no bloody spine, followed him out into the corridor. He called the sergeant and told him to secure the cell, no access, no visitors, without his express permission. Out again into the night...Maybe he should have belted her...He led. No small talk between them, Captain Christie stayed a pace behind.
They were on a gravel path, and Walsh came past them. He was carrying the big cardboard box that held his leaving present, flanked by his chums from Irish postings. He'd heard they were going on to dinner in Ashford. The clique stepped off the gravel, made way for him and Christie, stood silent like an honor guard. They walked on and heard belly laughs behind them. Into G/3. Past the small rooms where the warrant officers and the sergeants worked, doors all closed and locked, no light from underneath. They'd all know by now, in their mess, in their canteen, in their quarters, and damn good fun they'd be having with their knowledge. They'd all know that, in public, he'd been whipped like a clumsy recruit was whipped on the parade ground by a drill instructor...So bloody unfair. There was a scraping sound, and a whimpering. He unlocked the door. Christie's bloody dog bounded at him and he raised his knee to ward it off. Christie was muttering that he'd better take the dog to the grass. He flapped his hand, past caring where the dog peed. He went inside. He was alone. He thought the rooms of G/3/29 were like his mother's house, after she'd died. She'd used frail strength to clean her house the day before she had gone to the hospital. His room, Christie's, and the area between them were as ordered as his mother's house had been. He rocked. On her desk were the neat piles of paper -- his typed speech for the Infantry Training School, his expenses-claim form with the stapled receipts of his Catterick trip, her note in copperplate handwriting of the time and date of his dentist appointment, what time in the morning his car would be collected for valeting. Beside his pile was Christie's -- the revised appraisal of the 49th Mechanized Infantry Division at Voronezh, the petrol vouchers held together with a paper clip...The dog came from behind him, settled under the desk.
He said, grimly, "Search her area, your desk drawers, I'll do mine..."
"What are we looking for, Perry?"
He exploded, "How the hell do I know? How should I know why the best corporal in this whole bloody camp makes an unprovoked attack? I don't know, except that it's about the past."
"He leaves when I say so. Don't care who he is, when he's in my care he leaves when I'm satisfied that he's fit to go."
The Sick Bay was the territory of Mavis Fogarty. It was many years since she had left the farm near Balinrobe and enlisted as a nurse in the British Army. She seldom went home because it would embarrass her family, but she retained the big hands suited to work on the County Mayo bog fields. She had his trousers off him and his underpants at his knees, and with surprising gentleness examined the bruised testicles of Dieter Krause. She'd done time in the military hospitals at Dortmund and Soest, spoke passable German, and told him there was no lasting damage. She didn't ask how it was, during a social drink in the officers' mess, that he'd managed to get so thoroughly battered -- she'd learn later, in the canteen. She pulled up his pants, covered him. She started with sterile hot water and cotton wool to clean the raked nail slashes on his face. He wore a wedding ring. If her husband ever came home with scratches like that on his face then he'd be put to sleep in the garage. She'd earmarked a salve for the grazes at the back of his head where the bruising showed through his hair. The minders, sullen and watching her every move, were across the room from her. One nursed his ankle as if he'd kicked something heavy, and the other rubbed the heel of his hand as if he'd hit something solid. She wiped the scratch wounds and established her absolute authority over them.
"Funny thing, shock. Soldiers here get into Saturday night fights, get back to camp and think they're fine, then collapse. He stays here, right here, till I'm ready to let him go."
The accommodation block for junior ranks (female) knew, each last one of them, that Corporal Barnes was locked in a guardhouse cell. They also knew that she had done heavy damage in the officers' mess and had put a German guest into Sick Bay for repairs. Her major and the captain with wife trouble were in the block and searching her room. The traffic down the first-floor corridor was brisk, but the fourth door on the right was closed and there was a provost sergeant outside. Those who did pass could only feed to the rumor factory that the room was being ripped apart.
They ransacked the privacy of the sleeping area, but Ben Christie backed off when it came to the chest of drawers, left it to the Major. Perry Johnson, frantic, didn't hesitate, dragged the drawers clear, shook and examined each item of underwear: panties, bras, pantyhose and slips -- all so neatly folded away before Perry's hands were on them...and Trish just dumped her underwear into a drawer, out of sight and out of mind...So neat, so small, what she wore against her skin. Christie caught the Major's eye, hadn't intended to, but Perry had flushed red. The clothes were out of the drawers, the drawers were out of the chest and on the bed. The bed was already stripped. The sheets and blankets, with her pajamas, were heaped on the floor. The curtains were off the window. The rug was rolled away...He had taken each coat, skirt and blouse, civilian and uniform, from the wardrobe, checked the pockets, felt the collars and the waists where the material was double thickness, and hung them on the door. He would take the wardrobe to pieces because there was a double ceiling in it and a double floor. Out in the corridor a telephone was ringing. For Christ's sake, the bloody man Johnson was holding up a bra against the light. What was she bloody well going to hide in there? In summer she didn't wear a tie, or a tunic or a pullover, and she'd the top buttons of the blouse unfastened, and she'd have called him over to check her work on the screen before she printed it up, teasing, and he'd see the bra and what the bra held...There was a photograph of a cat, and of an elderly woman, taken from their frames, checked. There was a book, woman's saga, shaken and then the spine pulled off. Johnson looked at him, and Ben shook his head. Johnson knelt, grunted, and began to rip back the vinyl flooring. A knock.
"Please, sir, what do I do. It's Tracy's -- Corporal Barnes's -- mum on the phone for her."
Ben opened the door. "I'll take it."
"She always rings this night, this time, clockwork."
The girl, Lance Corporal Karen something, fat ankles, pointed down the corridor to the pay phone. The receiver was dangling. Just what he bloody needed...He went over and picked it up. He waved the hovering lance corporal away.
"Hello, Captain Christie here. Good evening...I'm sorry, Mrs. Barnes, very sorry, but she's not available...What? Could you speak up?...No, I can't say why. I can only say that Corporal Barnes is unable to come to the telephone...Afraid I don't know when she'll be available. Good night, Mrs. Barnes..." At every door on the corridor a face was watching him. He said, loudly, that if there were more calls from Corporal Barnes's mother, she was to be given the camp number and extension number of the Adjutant's office, manned through the night...The lie hurt him, hurt him as deeply as seeing bloody Johnson handling the underwear she wore against her skin.
Christie smiled, spoke gently. "It's Karen, isn't it? Come here, please. I'm not going to bite you. Actually, I need a bit of help."
The girl soldier with the fat ankles came, hesitating, forward.
"Corporal Barnes is in, I have to say it, a packet of trouble. Yes, you've heard, everybody's heard. I want to help her, but for me to help her then you have to help me. Please...did something happen this morning, anything, anything unusual? I need your help."
The blurted answer. "Nothing was different, it was all just usual. There was all the din in here at get-up time...You know how it is. Downes was bawling she was late with her period, Geraghty was giving out she'd got no clean underwear, Smythe's got a new CD player that's a right blaster. All bloody noise in the corridor. I went to her room, lost my tie. She gave me her spare. She was just sitting on the floor, hadn't got her skirt on, quiet as a mouse, in front of the fire. She was humming that bloody song, so old, what she always sings. She was all gruff, about the tie, but it's only an act. She comes over all heavy, but that's not real. She lent me the tie, she didn't give out that I was late on paying her what I owe her, what I borrowed last week. Under the gruff she's all soft. I owe her, half the girls in the block owe her, but she doesn't chase it. But for all that she won't be friends with us. I asked her to come with us to the pub tonight, no chance. Just sits in her room. She's done nothing in that room to make it her own like the rest of us have. No mess, no muck in there, everything tidied. She's older than the rest of us, right? Keeps herself to herself. We don't know nothing about her. Just her work, all she seems to live for, no boys, no fun. She pushes you away, but you get underneath and she's really kind...I brought her over a message from Admin this afternoon, for you. She was down on the floor with your dog, she was feeding him the biscuits she keeps in the safe. She was singing to the dog, same song...Some old Irish thing...She's sort of sad, really. She makes out she doesn't need us, doesn't need anyone. That's sad, isn't it? I can't help you, Captain, honest. Your question, there was nothing different about her...I'm sorry."
She fled down the corridor, past the watching faces.
He let himself into the room. He stepped over the bent-back vinyl. The sweat ran on Johnson's forehead. Johnson pointed to a board, lifted it and a section came away cleanly, as if the work of loosening it had been done long before. He reached into the hole and lifted out the black and white photograph protected in plastic wrapping. Grayed buildings, a grayed street, grayed and broken pavings, a grayed road sign. The light was in Tracy's face and on her cheeks and at her eyes, the love light. A boy held her, grinning as if proud to have her close to him. They were the brilliance in the grayness of a street, buildings and a pavement.
"Sorry," Perry Johnson said. Seemed so damn tired. "Old eyes aren't what they were, can't read that street sign."
Ben Christie held the photograph close to his face, squinted at it. "The sign is for the junction of Prenzlauer and Saarbrücker..."
"Thought so. Give it me back, please."
Up from his knees, Johnson brushed his uniform trousers. "Berlin. Prenzlauer Allee runs east from Alexanderplatz. A bit further up than Karl-Marx-Allee, on the other side, is Saarbrücker Strasse. She looks rather young -- I'd say it's ten years old. The junction of Saarbrücker Strasse and Prenzlauer Allee, ten years ago, was in East Berlin. That's the wrong side of the Wall, that's enemy ground...Oh, God..."
"Do we hear skeletons rattling?"
"Shit, man, do we need imbecile banalities?"
The room was to be sealed.
She had not moved, knees tucked against her chest and arms around her knees.
The drip of Johnson's questions: "You were posted to Berlin, start of '86 to end of '89?...This photograph was taken between the start of '86 and end of '89?...Who are you with in the photograph?...How did you know of former Stasi official Dieter Krause?...You accused Krause of murder, the murder of whom?"
No word from her, staring back at them, no muscle moving on her face.
Christie wanted only to give her comfort. "Tracy, you have to see that you're not helping yourself. If something happened in Germany, involving Krause, tell us, please."
Away down the corridor the radio played quietly on the sergeant's desk.
"You're a bloody fool, young woman, because the matter will now pass out of our hands, out of the hands of the family of the Corps." Johnson walked out of the cell.
Christie looked back at her. He looked for her anger, or for her bloody-minded obstinacy, or for fear, or for the cheek in her eye. She stared through him, as if he were not there.
Copyright © 1998 by Gerald Seymour