The Stasi File
Opera and Espionage: A Deadly Combination
BookRix GmbH & Co. KG
Sylvia Mazzoni stepped out the stage door of the Big House, the locals’ name for the Stuttgart Opera Theater. In her blue jeans and sweatshirt, she looked more like a member of the cleaning crew than a soprano leaving a rehearsal called solely on her account. She took several deep breaths, releasing the lingering tension with each exhalation. A gust of November wind whipped the trees around, causing shadows to thrust and parry in the dusky Schlossgarten Park. She shivered, pulled a long wool scarf from her shoulder bag, and wrapped it, Pavarotti style, around her throat. Anything to protect The Voice. She removed her hair clasp to allow heavy, dark tresses to cascade around her shoulders.
The music director had engaged her for two performances as Micaëla in Carmen after seeing her in the part at the regional opera in Ulm. She had done well this evening, but would she pass the real test tomorrow? Her debut at the renowned Stuttgart Opera could make or break her career. If she failed to impress, she’d be relegated once again to bit parts in provincial houses. She vowed not to let that happen. She had worked too hard for too long to fail now.
The park adjoining the theater, brimming with life all day, was deserted. Sylvia thought of waiting for a colleague to accompany her, but eager to catch the next streetcar, she ignored her intuition and stepped onto the cobblestone promenade along the lake. A glimmer of city lights filtered through the bare branches of giant oaks and sycamores. Dim sidewalk lamps cast long, crooked fingers across the dark water. To shake the foreboding image, she looked for the soft ripples that would precede swimming mallards and swans, but it was late even for them.
Sylvia peered up the dark path. A few meters ahead, the desiccated leaves of a giant poplar rustled in the night air. From there it was only a few minutes to the shopping arcade and the streetcar stop. She pressed on.
A burly man came around the bend, his right hand tucked inside the front of his leather jacket. Startled, Sylvia felt an adrenaline rush. She clutched her umbrella and stepped to her right to give him a wide berth. Out of the corner of her eye she caught a sudden movement, a lunge toward her. She spun around. Glinting metal ripped through her sweatshirt and slashed her left upper arm. She winced with pain as she jammed the metal tip of the umbrella as hard as she could into the attacker’s chest. He grunted. The impact jarred the umbrella from her hand and sent it clattering to the ground. Warm liquid trickled down her arm. Sylvia staggered onto the damp lawn. She fought to regain her balance but slipped and fell hard.
Frantic, she looked for the umbrella, but it had rolled down the path, beyond her reach. Get up, she exhorted herself in a panic, but too late. The towering figure came at her again. Heart thudding, Sylvia skidded backwards on the grass. She heard herself scream, “Help, help . . . help me!”
The man drew back the knife and slashed downward again. She rolled. Her face, covered by her tangled hair, flattened against the wet ground. She clawed the hair aside and saw the knife plunge to its hilt into the earth, at the spot where she had been a second ago.
“Damn you, traitor!”
She’d heard that guttural voice before. She raised her head and found herself staring into hate-filled eyes. Could it be . . . ? Before she finished the thought, his massive body crushed her, knocking the breath out of her. She opened her mouth to cry again for help, but could only spit blades of grass. Cold fingers dug beneath her scarf and closed around her throat. Muscular thighs straddled her hips, pinning her so that struggle was useless. She brought her hands up, trying to loosen his grip, but the vise only tightened.
“Ple . . .” Sylvia’s voice trailed off in a gurgle, her trachea compressed in his grasp. Blood rushed in her ears. The man’s menacing face became a distorted blur. Panicked, she fought for a breath. Her limbs went numb. Darkness swallowed her.
Then a sharp thump penetrated the void. Dead weight slumped against her chest. The vise at her neck loosened.
She gulped for air, fighting the crushing weight. One small breath came, then another. She opened her eyes. The attacker’s face pressed at an unnatural angle against her chest. Blood trickled from the man’s slack mouth. Repulsed, she pushed the stubbly face away and struggled to shove the corpse aside. It tipped for a moment, then rolled back on top of her. She shuddered.
Sylvia took several more ragged breaths, gathering her strength, but before she could make another attempt, someone lifted the body off her. Her chest heaved with relief.
“Frau Mazzoni, are you all right?”
She stared at the man. Then she recognized Intelligence Officer Dieter Schmidt.
“Herr Schmidt. What are you—?”
“You’re safe now.” He took her right arm to help her sit up, then pointed at the blood-soaked clothing on the other. “Can you move your arm?”
Sylvia gingerly lifted her left arm. The pain was tolerable. The sweatshirt’s damp sleeve clung to the wound, stemming the blood flow. “I guess it’s okay.”
“Good.” He motioned toward the lifeless body lying in the grass next to her. “Do you know him?”
She forced herself to look. “He’s with . . .” She took a deep breath. “He was with the RAF. Manfred Klau, a friend of Horst.” She shivered. For years she had looked over her shoulder expecting the Red Army Faction terrorists to come for her. They never had. Why now, twelve years later, just when she’d begun to think she was safe from their revenge?
Schmidt nodded. “I was afraid of that.” He bent down and felt for a pulse. After a few seconds he said, “His terrorist days are over.”
Sylvia stared at Schmidt. “Did you shoot him?”
He steadied her on her feet. “We’ll talk about this later. You have to get away from here now—before the police arrive.”
He scrutinized her face. “Can you make it back to your hotel by yourself?”
In a daze, she nodded.
“I have to take care of things here, but I’ll check on you as soon as I can.” He collected her bag and umbrella and thrust them toward her. “Frau Mazzoni, not a word about this to anyone. Go. Now!”
Sylvia stumbled in the direction of the shopping arcade.
Deep in thought about the motion for summary judgment he needed to finish today, Rolf Keller mumbled a hasty good morning to his secretary on his way into his office. She put up a hand. Startled, he stopped. His Friday would not go as planned.
Her expression a mixture of curiosity and concern, Betty said, “Mr. Stein’s secretary has already called twice. She left word to send you up to his office as soon as you came in.”
Betty Crandall had a checkered twenty-year history with Stein & Weston. She’d been continually reassigned from senior partners to junior ones, then to associates. As one of the new hires in 1982, Rolf was not given a choice. Betty became his legal secretary.
In her forties and unmarried, she was considered odd. Thinning red hair framed her high forehead and hollow cheeks. A sharp nose protruded over lips so thin they were almost invisible. At a few inches below six feet, she stood almost as tall as Rolf. She wore clothing she must have bought in the sixties, as age had not yet thickened her gangly frame and spindly legs. Rolf couldn’t decide whether she was motivated by frugality or simply lacked a sense of style.
He soon realized why the other lawyers didn’t like her. She was outspoken and dared to question word selection and grammar in legal documents. Occasionally, she even committed the unforgivable sin of calling attention to a mistake. The overblown egos of most lawyers couldn’t abide what they considered interference by an underling, but Rolf loved her directness. That’s why seven years later she was still his secretary.
Her voice interrupted his thoughts. “You’re not in trouble, are you, counselor?”
Rolf appreciated the quip. In contrast to the formal culture pervasive in the firm, Betty and Rolf had been on a first-name basis for a number of years. They abandoned that practice only in professional settings or to tease one another.
Harry Stein, founding partner, did not make it a habit of asking associates to his office. Of course, Rolf knew where it was—in the southeast corner of the twelfth floor—yet in seven years he’d been there only twice. Stein governed the firm with an autocratic hand through the other partners. Except for the annual Christmas party, he didn’t mingle with associates.
“Any idea what he wants, Betty?”
She shrugged. “Not a clue.”
Rolf’s eyes fell on the legal pad next to the inbox on his desk, yet he made no move to pick it up. Instead, he glanced at the coat hanger where he kept a dress shirt, coat and tie for court appearances or other occasions requiring last-minute changes to business attire.
“Are you changing for the big boss?”
Rolf sensed the challenge in her question. “Business casual should do, don’t you think?”
Not chancing another satiric remark, he stepped into the hallway and walked past support staff cubicles and lawyers’ offices. When he reached the interior spiral staircase that connected the three top floors of the downtown Washington office building Stein & Weston occupied, he hesitated, then decided to take the employee elevator instead. He couldn’t help speculating about the reason for being summoned. In his eighth year with the firm, he would be under close scrutiny for a potential partnership. The unspoken rule was that associates who hadn’t made partner by the end of their tenth year never would, and they were expected to leave of their own accord.
During the elevator ride, Rolf recalled the stories Betty had told him about associates who stayed on after they’d been passed over for partnership. They found themselves being assigned first-year lawyer duties like library research and shunned by partners and associates alike. Whispers eventually grew so loud even the most oblivious and stubborn got the message.
Rolf was determined not to let that happen to him. Vestiges of law partnership not only included prestige and marketability, but most important, increased financial rewards—crucial for him. He couldn’t keep paying alimony, child support, the house mortgage and his apartment rent on an associate’s salary. He had to make partner, and long before his tenth year.
When Rolf stepped from the elevator into the twelfth-floor wood-paneled corridor he considered the idea that Stein summoned him to tell him he made partner. He knew he’d performed well, but well enough to make it after only seven years? Not likely.
The generous size of the partners’ offices on the twelfth floor emphasized that not all lawyers were created equal, at least in Stein & Weston’s view of things. When he had wound his way to the southeast corner, Rolf spotted a brass name plate engraved with Harold Stein, Senior Partner, and one below bearing the inscription Mildred Reid, Secretary. The dark wooden door stood ajar.
All roads to Stein lead through his secretary, Rolf thought, as he peeked inside while giving the wood panel a half-hearted knock. And the roads were not necessarily smooth, judging by the piercing look Mildred shot his way. Assessing his status in the firm within a nanosecond, the woman in her fifties with the short-necked physique of a linebacker gave a slight nod in his direction, which he interpreted as a sign that his presence would be tolerated.
“Have a seat, Mr. Keller. I’ll let Mr. Stein know you’re here.” Her tone made the invitation a command. Lowering himself onto the edge of one of the black leather chairs facing her cherry-wood desk, he couldn’t help wondering what would happen if he didn’t comply. While he hadn’t seen her job description, he felt pretty sure it didn’t include being nice to associates.
He had hardly registered her voice on the phone announcing his presence, when he heard, “Mr. Stein will see you now.” She walked to a tall door behind her desk, opened it and motioned for him to pass. As she closed the door behind him, he fought the feeling of a schoolboy entering the principal’s office.
His shoes sank into the thick beige carpet of an office so spacious that, in addition to the usual desk and visitors’ chairs, it easily accommodated a conference table with six leather chairs and an oversized sleeper sofa, leaving plenty of room to maneuver in between. The room was bright, thanks to floor-to-ceiling windows spanning two walls.
Rolf squinted against the morning sun streaming through partially open blinds. The senior partner swiveled his leather chair in Rolf’s direction and rose from a reclining position. An easy smile spread over a gaunt face that was accentuated by a long nose, large ears, and a high forehead. When Harry Stein stood to offer a firm handshake, Rolf noticed how fit he looked in his custom-tailored navy suit, especially for a gray-haired man approaching sixty. Rolf guessed that at a couple of inches below six feet, he didn’t weigh over 160 pounds.
“Good to see you, Rolf. How are you?”
Surprised by the warm welcome, Rolf stammered, “Fine . . . sir.”
“Have a seat. Coffee?”
Following a hunch he’d be there for a while, Rolf replied, “Yes, please.”
Back behind his huge desk, Stein pressed the intercom button on a multi-line phone. “Mildred, coffee please.” Without awaiting a response, he turned and looked at Rolf. “I was sorry to hear that you and Lynn divorced. It’s tough to be back on your own, even if it’s for the better, isn’t it?”
Taken aback, Rolf groped for a response. He hadn’t imagined that his personal life would be a meeting topic. Mercifully, they were interrupted by a knock on the door, and Mildred wheeled in a coffee service cart. She served black coffee to her boss then moved the cart next to the visitor’s chair. Rolf poured from the carafe and stirred cream and sugar into his cup. He waited until the door closed behind her before he answered Stein. “Actually, I haven’t had a lot of time to think about it.”
“Your billable hours for the last quarter are among the highest in the firm. Of course, the partners like to see that for obvious reasons.” Stein leaned forward, resting his arms on the mahogany desk surface. “But I’m curious about the sudden increase.”
Rolf felt blood rush to his head and hoped to God he wasn’t blushing. He didn’t appreciate being made to feel like a witness under cross-examination. He set his cup on the cart to give himself time to think. Stein was no fool and would see through any attempt to placate. His response had to include a good part of the truth.
“To be honest, these last few months have been pretty rough. There’s been no reason to go home to an empty apartment, so I’ve been burying myself in work. And I started to think that now would be a good time to increase my billable hours.”
Stein leaned back in his chair to let the response sink in. He lifted his coffee cup from the desk pullout and took a sip. Resting the cup on the armrest, he swiveled his chair toward the corner window, apparently studying the vast array of office buildings bathed in early sunshine.
Rolf wondered if his answer, truthful as far as it went, would satisfy. He saw no point in volunteering how much he needed the partnership.
The senior lawyer swung back and replaced his cup on the pullout.
“You’re an independent sort, aren’t you?”
The way Stein looked him over, Rolf almost wished for his coat and tie. Definitely no partnership offer here, he thought, feeling foolish for having even entertained the idea.
Thus Stein’s next words surprised him all the more. “From what I hear about your courtroom practice, you stand your ground against tyrannical federal judges. Your briefs are excellent, thoroughly researched, well written, and show creative thinking.”
Rolf was thoroughly confused. Was partnership in the offing, after all?
As if he’d read Rolf’s thoughts, the senior lawyer continued. “You’ve been with this firm seven years now. As you know, the firm’s general practice is to wait ten years before an associate is offered partnership.”
Rolf’s heart sank.
“However, in your case I’m making an exception.”
Rolf had the distinct impression there was significance in the fact that Stein referenced the firm when he spoke of the usual practice, but referred to himself alone as the one deciding to deviate from the norm.
“A senior associate on the brink of partnership is usually assigned a complicated case.” Stein gave him a stern look. “The assignment I want you to handle is extremely sensitive. It’s not really a legal matter, but the skills it calls for are exceptional—the kind I’d like to see in a partner, and you’re uniquely qualified for the task. If you handle it well, you’ll be our newest partner.” He did not need to specify what would happen if Rolf failed.
Harry Stein’s voice took on a note of gravity. “Before I go into details, I need to ask you how you’re doing in your recovery program.”
Rolf’s mouth fell open. Was there anything this man didn’t know about his personal life? Before he could suppress his anger, he burst out, “Alcoholics Anonymous is just that, anonymous. I’m not going to talk about it.” He felt his body propelling itself out of the chair.
“Please sit down. I’m not prying into your AA program. But I do need to know what the odds are of your staying sober.”
How had Stein found out about him going to meetings? Had someone from AA broken his anonymity? Rolf fought his anger. Stein knew. Walking out of this office wouldn’t change that.
He struggled to regain his composure. “Well, a good percentage of people who practice the twelve steps stay sober. The ones who don’t work the program usually relapse.”
“I’m familiar with the statistics. I’m asking you. Are you going to stay sober?”
Stein had a litigator’s stare. Rolf could not avoid his eyes. He took a deep breath and lowered himself onto the chair. “One day at a time, you bet I am.”
He knew he had spoken the truth, and the lawyer behind the desk seemed to sense it too.
Harry Stein stood, walked over to the wood-paneled side wall, and slid two panels apart revealing a sizable safe. His upper body shielded the combination wheel from view. After a series of clicks and the sound of moving hinges, Stein reached into the open safe. He closed it and carried a manila folder to the conference table, motioning for Rolf to join him.
“Rolf, when did you give up your German citizenship to become a U.S. citizen?”
Although he suspected that Stein already knew the answer, he dutifully replied, “In 1982.”
“Do you still feel an allegiance to the country where you were born and grew up?”
Rolf tried not to let it show that he was caught off guard once again. “Well, not the kind of allegiance I feel toward the U.S., but I do follow what’s going on over there, the way one keeps up with an old friend after moving away. Of course, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, there’s been much speculation whether the two Germanys might be united.”
“What do you think? Will Germany be reunited?”
“I’d say chances are pretty good, provided the Germans can convince the World War II Allies that a united Germany poses no threat. But it’ll take astute political maneuvering on Chancellor Kohl’s part.”
“And do you think he’s up to the task?”
Rolf was surprised and flattered by Stein’s question. Although he was a native German, that did not make him an expert on German or global politics. “All I know is what I read in the newspapers. I gather that Helmut Kohl is quite a skilled politician. If anyone can do it, he can.”
Harry Stein nodded. “Yes, my client agrees that German reunification is imminent.”
Rolf noted that Stein had erroneously referred to reunification, as if Germany would be restored to its pre-World War II borders. In fact, there was no possibility of that. Only the states comprising Communist East Germany, the German Democratic Republic, were on the table, so it was more appropriate to refer to German unification. Rolf let it go.
Stein’s voice interrupted. “You need to catch this evening’s flight to Frankfurt, then fly on to Stuttgart in the morning.”
“But this is the weekend for me to have Ashley . . . my daughter.” Rolf suspected the clarification was superfluous, as Stein had shown he was intimately familiar with Rolf’s family life.
“Sorry. This is urgent.”
Rolf knew the firm did not tolerate refusal of any task, no matter how onerous to the associate’s private life. He realized Stein had arranged things without even considering the possibility that Rolf would refuse. Short of quitting the firm, there was no realistic alternative to going.
“You can make other arrangements for your daughter, can’t you?”
Rolf supplied the expected answer to the rhetorical question, “Yes, sir,” all the while dreading the thought of having to tell Ashley he was canceling their weekend visit. She’d grown distant lately, causing him to wonder whether she blamed him for the breakup. If there was a way to explain divorce to a seven-year-old, he hadn’t discovered it. Perhaps he lacked the courage.
When Stein walked over to the desk to retrieve his coffee, Rolf seized the opportunity to steal a glance at the file facing away from him. He strained to read the capital letters on the label and got as far as determining that there were three when Stein’s voice boomed across the room.
“I assume you’re familiar with the Stasi?”
Rolf spun around and noted with relief that Stein had his back to him.
Trying to sound nonchalant, Rolf responded, “Yes, the East German secret police.”
“What do you know about them?”
“They’re using blackmail and bribes to coerce East Germans to inform on one another. Spouses on spouses, children on their parents. They read the mail and listen in on phone calls. They’ve taken the Gestapo’s methods of extracting confessions from enemies of the state to new levels of sophistication. Torture is not just physical but psychological as well.”
Stein returned to the table, placing his cup and saucer next to the file. “You know they’re not just a police force?”
Rolf nodded. “They’re into domestic and international espionage, maybe terrorism as well.”
“You do know quite a bit.” Stein looked as pleased as a schoolteacher whose pupil has just passed the test. “You’re wondering what that’s got to do with your assignment.” He took a swig of coffee and returned the empty cup to its saucer with a loud clink. He rested his hands on the closed file. “There is a Stasi official who’s reached the same conclusion we have about the likelihood of reunification. He’s contacted the West German Federal Intelligence Service and offered to supply documents from the Stasi files.”
Rolf wondered how a law firm partner would know about matters of international intelligence but asked a different question. “What does he want in return?”
“I’m not privy to the negotiations. My guess is he wants to protect himself in the event Germany is united and the communist government and the Stasi are disbanded. Maybe he’s about to defect.”
“Why would the intelligence people want to involve a private person in espionage matters?” There, he had asked the question in a way that his boss wouldn’t take personally.
“Well, they really don’t, of course. It seems this Stasi informant insists on his terms regarding when, where and to whom he is willing to pass these papers.”
“I don’t follow how that relates to me.”
“The West Germans apparently have some information that leads them to believe you’re the ideal person to keep an eye on the receiver of these documents.”
“I still don’t get it.” Irritation crept into Rolf’s voice. “Why do they need an American lawyer to watch over the transfer of files?”
Stein was patient. “I understand your frustration. It sounds crazy, I know. It’ll make more sense once you know the details.”
“And when will that be?”
“A Mr. Schmidt will contact you at your Stuttgart hotel.”
“And who am I supposed to be watching?”
“Schmidt will tell you that.”
“I don’t suppose you know what’s in the Stasi documents.”
“No, and that’s what you need to focus on. My client needs to know and your job is to find out.”
“How do you expect me to accomplish that?”
“You’ll use those exceptional skills a partner would have.”
“Does this Schmidt know that I’ll be looking at these papers?”
“No. As far as he’s concerned, you’re just making sure the recipient delivers the documents to him. There’s no need to tell him otherwise. Follow his instructions, but at some point you’ll need to figure out a way to learn what these documents contain—even make copies.” Stein’s eyes bored into him. “But even more important, you must ensure the safety of the receiver.”
“Why is your client interested in that?”
“That’s confidential. And Schmidt is not to know that you’re keeping a watchful eye on more than the documents.”
Rolf put up his hand. “Mr. Stein, do you have any idea how ruthless the Stasi is? Why would I want to risk my life playing spy games in Communist Germany? I’d rather cut my partnership teeth on a thorny legal assignment.”
Stein looked straight at him. “I’m offering you a partnership three years early. That’s worth taking a risk, wouldn’t you agree?”
Rolf shifted in his chair. “I’ll think about it.”
“I must have your answer now.” Stein’s tone softened. “Look, I know you’re under some financial pressure. Who wouldn’t be after a divorce? When that plane takes off for Frankfurt this evening with you on board, there’ll be a hefty advance on your partnership earnings deposited in your bank account.”
Rolf studied the ceiling. He needed to think, but there was no time. He stared at Stein. If he was going to be bought, he might as well find out the price. “How much?”
“50,000 is a nice round number.”
“Okay, but not as an advance.”
Stein studied him, the firm set of his chin spelled no. Then, a smile warmed his eyes. “You’re a tough negotiator. I appreciate that. Here is what I will do for you. If you perform as I expect you to, the money is yours outright. If you don’t, you pay it back.”
Rolf realized he had Stein’s final offer. He nodded. “Fair enough.”
“Good. With that settled, I need to give you some ground rules. You are to report directly to me and to no one else in the firm. I want to be informed of all developments immediately, day or night, at one of these numbers.” Stein produced a card from his coat pocket and handed it to Rolf. “Memorize these. Use the first number during office hours; at other times, the second. And call me every day, even if you have nothing in particular to report.”
“How do I know what to report, when I don’t have any idea what I’m supposed to be doing?” Rolf protested.
Stein clearly meant to discourage Rolf from asking further questions. Rolf probed nevertheless. “What client name do I use for keeping track of my billable hours?”
Stein’s face was stony. “Send your hours to me and I’ll take care of it.” He rose. “Well, you’d better be going. Mildred has made the necessary arrangements.” He extended his right hand across the desk. “Good luck.”
During their handshake he added in a low voice, “Rolf, you’re clear about your mission then. Keep the receiver safe and find out what’s in these papers—every last detail. I don’t care how you accomplish that. Just make sure you do.”
“Yes, sir.” Rolf felt an enormous weight descend on him. He retreated toward the door, each step seeming more like a hike in wet sand than a walk on soft carpeting. Halfway to the door he turned. “How long will I be over there?”
Stein looked amused. “No telling. Be sure you pack more than casual clothes, perhaps something suitable for attending the opera. You like opera, don’t you, Rolf?”
Colonel Heinz Dobnik leaned against his fourth-floor window, observing the Friday evening exodus of the workforce from the Stasi headquarters in East Berlin. The figures below huddled against a stiff November wind that whipped through Normannenstraße. Dobnik remembered with a touch of cynicism that he now worked for the Office of National Security, not the Stasi.
In the face of mass demonstrations—until a few weeks ago unimaginable in this totalitarian state—the East German government desperately clung to power. Last Friday, eight days after opening the Wall, the parliament had changed the name of the Stasi, the most feared and hated state institution, to Office for National Security, and dismissed Erich Mielke, head of the Stasi for thirty-two years, in the hope that these cosmetic changes would ward off the citizens’ fury.
The public was not so easily duped, however, and its demands grew bolder by the day. With the Communist Party distancing itself from the Stasi, Mielke had tried in vain to stem the wave of demoralization sweeping the agency staff. Mielke’s successor, ever mindful of the unstable political environment, ordered the field offices to destroy mountains of documents containing information gathered through tapped phone lines and intercepted mail.
“Do you need anything else before I leave, Herr Oberst?”
Colonel Dobnik turned and looked at his secretary with a weary expression. “No thanks, Frau Ammer. Have a good weekend.”
Dobnik nodded an absent-minded goodbye, his thoughts already having returned to the plan. He went over it in his mind once again, wondering if he’d overlooked anything. The tiniest mistake could negate months of planning, raise suspicion among the West Germans, and expose him as a traitor. He did not want to take a bullet to the back of the head like the two Stasi officers and the navy military intelligence captain who had recently been caught attempting to make contact with the West.
With darkness setting in, his reflection in the window supplanted the view of the street below. He did not like what he saw: a short, stubby figure, bloated face, heavy pouches, double chin, and a receding hairline. He looked a decade older than his forty-four years. Years of being a workaholic had taken their toll, not only on his body, but on his marriage as well. Of course, in light of the precarious nature of his current undertaking, he considered himself fortunate to be free of family responsibilities.
The heels of his shoes clicked on the parquet floor as he trudged along his habitual path between desk and window. The cleaning crew could not seem to restore the dulled wood in this section to match the polish of the remainder of the floor. Dobnik had started the pacing a few years ago when he’d discovered East Germany was harboring and training terrorists. Mere hard work had turned into an obsession as he tried to find ways to put an end to his country’s coddling of terrorists. Yet how could he expect to effect policy changes in a political system that did not tolerate dissent?
Dobnik stopped in front of his desk and ran his fingers through his thinning hair. He wondered why he’d been picked for this project, ostensibly the brainchild of Major General Holger Frantz, the head of counterintelligence. Dobnik recalled how stunned he was by the major general’s remarks when summoned to his office that humid afternoon last September.
“Colonel, you’re one of our brightest officers, so what I’m about to tell you will not come as a surprise.”
Dobnik didn’t trust compliments from superiors. They were often followed by a “but” leading to unpleasant consequences. Since he didn’t know how to respond, he didn’t.
“For some time now we’ve been keeping an eye on the situation in the Soviet Union. Unfortunately, glasnost and perestroika are not mere slogans. Gorbachev seems to mean what he says.”
Dobnik held the general’s gaze. He too had been following the clues pointing to the decline of communism. When Mikhail Gorbachev intimated that the Soviet Union would no longer use its military power to prop up the totalitarian East German regime, Dobnik surmised that the days of the German Democratic Republic were numbered. But he would never have dared to express this sentiment to anyone.
The general continued, “We cannot afford to ignore the possibility that our government may fall or, at the very least, have to make radical changes.”
Dobnik could hardly believe the general would speak about a subject considered taboo in East Germany. Dobnik glanced around the room. Was someone listening, waiting for him to give himself away? He kept his mouth shut.
Frantz rose from his desk chair and approached Dobnik who remained seated and waited for the general, towering over him, to speak.
“There is already talk of uniting the two Germanys.” Dobnik heard incredulity and contempt in the general’s voice.
Returning to his chair, Frantz slammed his fist on the desk top. “We cannot let that happen! Do you understand?”
“Yes, sir.” Dobnik hoped his response sounded sufficiently emphatic.
Frantz lowered his hefty frame into the chair. Even sitting down, he presented an imposing figure. Dobnik was struck by the contrast between the general’s heavy, dark horn-rimmed glasses and his shiny bald head.
“Colonel, you’re going to help us stop this nonsense. There’ll be no unification.”
Dobnik’s heart sank. Whatever Frantz had in mind, it could ruin the personal plans Dobnik had been preparing for months.
“You are to pass information to West German intelligence.”
“I am to do what?”
The general appeared to relish his shock. “You’ll give them secrets we want them to have.”
“Exactly. But first, we have to make sure they trust you.” Frantz’s demeanor turned pensive. “You’ll give them good information at first. Earn their confidence and whet their appetite for what you bring when you ‘defect.’ ”
Dobnik squirmed in his seat.
“Before I go into details, I need to make sure you understand one thing. There are only three who know about this, General Mielke, you and I. As you know, we have a few spies embedded in the West, and we have to operate under the assumption that they may have infiltrated us as well. So, you cannot talk to anybody about this. You are to make all the arrangements yourself. Not even your secretary is to know. Is that clear?”
The general drew an envelope from the center drawer and tossed it across the desk. “Here are your travel papers. You’re on a morning flight to Trieste. I have you booked on a return flight the next day.”
“I’m going to Italy?”
“Yes. To be credible, you’ll have to initiate contact from outside East Germany. The West Germans surely know about our tapped telephone lines.”
“What if it takes me longer to establish contact?”
Frantz stared at him. “The agent I want you to contact is Dieter Schmidt. I know he’ll be at his headquarters during the next few days. But if you have trouble reaching him, call me.”
On his way home to pack, Dobnik thought about how certain the general had sounded when he talked about the West German agent’s whereabouts. The information must have come from a Stasi mole inside the Federal Intelligence Service. That meant Frantz might learn of any deal Dobnik tried to make with the West German spy agency.
Sleep deprived, Dobnik felt ill at ease when the airplane lifted off Berlin-Schönefeld’s runway the next morning, a feeling that stayed with him for the duration of the flight. He could have blamed the bumpy ride, but he knew better.
While his taxi driver fought the downtown Trieste traffic, Dobnik thought about the kind of low-budget hotel Frantz likely had reserved. He could hardly believe his eyes when he saw the lobby of Hotel Lombardi. Its dark wood-paneled walls and salmon-colored granite countertops spoke of luxury, almost opulence. He unpacked his carry-on to a growling stomach, reminding him he had not eaten lunch. Yet he wouldn’t find a restaurant open for dinner at a quarter to five. He hadn’t planned on contacting Schmidt until the next morning but the thought popped into his head that he might still be able to reach him before closing hours.
Dobnik picked up the phone next to the bed only to put it back on its cradle. Frantz’s arrangements for this fancy hotel might well include bugging his room and the phone. His room key dropped off, he crossed the hotel lobby, bypassing the phone booths off to the side. He joined the bustling crowd on the sidewalk. The rich display of wares in the shop windows caught his eye. Nothing like it could be found in all of East Berlin unless you were a party functionary living in Wandlitz.
Short on time, he quickened his pace and soon found what he was looking for: a hotel with private phone booths in the lobby. He had the operator call the number for the West German Federal Intelligence Service, known as the “BND,” in the small Bavarian town of Pullach near Munich. When he heard a female voice answer “Bundesnachrichtendienst,” he asked for Dieter Schmidt. By all accounts—and the Stasi had volumes of information on its sister spy agencies in West Germany—long-time BND agent, Dieter Schmidt, conscientious rather than brilliant, would suit their purposes.
“Who may I tell him is calling?”
Dobnik hesitated. “Tell him I have the information he’s been looking for.”
Static filled the line. He thought about what else he could say to persuade her to put him through, when she said, “Hold, please.”
After listening to canned music for what seemed several minutes, Dobnik expected the female voice to inform him that Schmidt was not available. Just when he concluded that his teaser hadn’t been explicit enough, a husky male voice asked, “What information do you have?”
“Yes. And who are you?”
Dobnik ignored the question. “I can provide files on several subjects of interest to you.”
“Where you can find the terrorists you’ve been looking for.”
Schmidt’s sharp intake of breath sounded over the line. After a second, he asked, “RAF?”
“And how would you know that?”
“I have copies of files that show where they trained and what they’re planning.”
The long pause told him Schmidt was trying to assimilate the information. Then his voice came over the line again. “Stasi files?”
Dobnik was impressed. Perhaps the Stasi analysts had underestimated Schmidt’s capabilities.
“Yes,” Dobnik responded.
“How would you have access to those?”
“I work there.”
“Give me some proof of that.”
“The proof will be in the first drop.”
Another long pause. Would Schmidt bite?
“What do you want?”
Dobnik responded without hesitation. “I want to relocate. Bavaria would be nice with a few amenities we can discuss later. And immunity.”
“Are you ready to relocate now?”
“Not for a few weeks. What about the immunity?”
“I’d have to see what you’ve got first.” Schmidt’s voice was firm.
Dobnik thought for a moment. “Okay. I’ll set up an initial drop. I’ll call you with the details.”
“Don’t wait too long. The communist regime’s days are numbered.”
Dobnik took a deep breath. When his annoyance at Schmidt’s dig had passed, he responded with an even voice, “I wouldn’t be so sure.”
“How soon can you make the drop?” Schmidt pressed.
“Soon,” Dobnik replied.
Apparently sensing that Dobnik was about to hang up, Schmidt said, “Wait. Call me at this number.”
Dobnik fumbled for a pen. He wrote the number on a page of the phone book spread out before him. “Got it.” Dobnik cut the connection and tore off the corner of the page containing his scribbles. Entering East Germany with the piece of paper was out of the question. He’d have no trouble memorizing the five-digit phone number and the four-digit area code for Pullach.
His mission accomplished, Dobnik treated himself to a sumptuous Italian dinner of several courses—cover, he told himself, rubbing his stomach. Afterwards he strolled through Trieste, digesting his meal. He found a bench on the promenade from which he could observe the busy port while licking the flavorful raspberry gelato he had bought from a street vendor and enjoying the late summer sun. Every time his thoughts turned to the problem of setting up the drop, he suppressed them. The planning could await his return to East Berlin. He would not let it spoil the rest of his visit.
The briny breeze, the cries of the sea gulls as they dove between the masts of fishing trawlers and sailboats dancing on the oily water, and the vitality of the Italian people fascinated him to such a degree that he lost track of time. When he noticed the shadow from the bench stretched across the path he stood, having soaked up as much atmosphere as he could. Returning to his hotel, he reflected on a successful and most agreeable day.
Back in East Berlin, Dobnik began planning in earnest. The more he thought about the details, the more his concern grew. He couldn’t put his finger on what exactly bothered him. Perhaps it was the way Frantz had presented the idea. His was a high-risk mission. Exposure as a fraud by the West Germans and possible betrayal by his own agency were real possibilities.
Smuggling the documents into West Berlin was too risky. If Frantz had it in for him, he would have him arrested as a double agent. He had to make the drop in East Berlin. But who could he use as recipient? Certainly no BND agents. He had no reason to trust Schmidt or whomever he might send. And the chances of a Western spy slipping into East Berlin, unnoticed by the Stasi, were remote. He had to find someone else. But who?
Weeks of racking his brain failed to produce the name of a suitable recipient. Then in the late afternoon of another day wasted in a fruitless search, Dobnik found himself reminiscing about his college days, mostly spent drinking with Horst Kreuzer and his leftist friends. No sooner had he thought of Horst than Sylvia Mazzoni’s image popped into his head. She probably didn’t even remember him. After all, he’d been just one of the countless drinking buddies of her boyfriend, Horst, during their wild student years in West Berlin. She wouldn’t have had any reason to suspect that he and Horst shared more than a taste for Berliner Weiβe beer—a political view considered radical left wing in the eyes of capitalist West Germany. They had chosen different paths to act on their political convictions. Kreuzer joined the Red Army Faction to fight West German society through terrorism. He, on the other hand, defected to East Germany and became a Stasi agent.
What had ever become of Sylvia? Since she’d been the lover of an RAF terrorist, the Stasi would have kept a file on her. With that thought Dobnik bolted from his office. The file room clerk took less than a minute to locate her file. Dobnik carried the folder to his office and closed the door. He flipped open the file cover. The document filed on top answered his question of what had become of her: an aspiring opera diva with a key performance scheduled at the Stuttgart Opera.
Dobnik leaned back in his chair and studied the ceiling. Could she be the intermediary he’d been looking for? He rifled through the rest of the file, which tracked her and Horst’s activities since their student days in the seventies. He smiled. She’d be the perfect carrier. An idea began to form how to get her to East Berlin. If she resisted, her file provided him with ample ammunition to coerce her. He sold Frantz on the idea of using Sylvia as an intermediary by embellishing her left-wing associations at the Free University Berlin, leaving the major general with the erroneous impression that Sylvia was in on her boyfriend’s terrorist activities. Dobnik needed her and was willing to do whatever it took to ensure her participation.
A Communist Party convention held in Belgrade in mid-October provided Dobnik the cover he needed for contacting Schmidt with the arrangements for the first document drop. Frantz approved the travel. Eager to phone Schmidt, Dobnik had to endure the usual first night social hour and dinner. He could not afford to miss it, lest he arouse suspicion. On the second day of the convention, he skipped the afternoon session and walked to a nearby downtown hotel. He recalled from a previous stay that it had phones in the lobby.
From memory, he asked the operator to dial Schmidt’s number. To his surprise, a female voice answered, “Wiedenmaier.”
Startled, Dobnik asked, “Is this Dieter Schmidt’s number?”
“It is, but he is out of the office. May I take a message?”
Dobnik didn’t know what to say.
“Hello, are you there?”
“Uh . . . yes. When do you expect him back?”
“In the morning.”
“Tell him I’ll call him tomorrow afternoon with news about relocation.”
He slammed down the phone. Another day wasted. Instead of returning to the convention, he walked a few blocks until he found another hotel with lobby phones for tomorrow’s call.
Wednesday afternoon, Schmidt answered on the first ring.
Dobnik got right to the point. “I’ve got everything arranged for the first drop. It’ll be on Monday, November 27 at the East Berlin Opera.”
“At the Opera?”
Dobnik relished Schmidt’s amazement and could hardly wait to hear his reaction to what he’d tell him next. “At the opera and to an opera singer.”
After a considerable pause, Schmidt said, “You are serious.”
“The singer’s name is Sylvia Mazzoni.” Dobnik waited. The long silence told him he’d delivered a shocker. He continued, “You remember her. Horst Kreuzer’s girl. You got to her and she turned him in.”
“She paid her debt twelve years ago.” Schmidt sounded angry. “Even if I wanted to go along with this ludicrous scheme of yours, how in the hell do you suppose I could persuade her to play spy in East Berlin?”
Dobnik had anticipated the objection. “Your outfit has never shied away from using appropriate methods of persuasion. She’s on the brink of a promising opera career. If her past association with an RAF terrorist became known . . .” He didn’t finish, letting Schmidt draw his own conclusion.
“Blackmail?” Schmidt’s voice held a tinge of disgust. “But I still don’t see how we get her into East Berlin.”
“Leave that to me. You just make sure she knows what happens to her career if she fails to cooperate.”
“Look, this is insane. Use a professional instead of an amateur.”
“It may be crazy, but that’s the only way you’re going to see what I’ve got.”
After another silence, Dobnik heard a faint sigh. “All right, have it your way. I’ll work on things at this end. Since you are an opera buff, use the code name ‘Mozart’ when making contact.”
“I’ll be in touch.” Dobnik hung up and left the hotel.
Colonel Dobnik hadn’t liked Major General Frantz’s scheme back in September, and now on this Friday evening in November, again running his fingers through his hair as he stood in the center of his office, he cared for it even less. He didn’t trust the general’s motives. Perhaps the West Germans were not the only ones being set up. He’d been careful to copy files after hours. But the high number of copies on the machine’s counter could have given him away. His secretary could well be an informant for Frantz.
Something else bothered him. Was this an official operation, sanctioned by Mielke? If so, had his successor been properly briefed? He had to find out whether they had authorized this mission or whether Frantz was pursuing an agenda of his own.
Reflecting on the relative ease with which he’d been able to plan the document drop for next week, Dobnik locked his desk, took his heavy overcoat off its hook on the back of the door and left his office. As he waited for the elevator, he thought about Sylvia’s performance in Stuttgart tomorrow evening. Hopefully, she’d sing well enough not to raise any questions about the engagement he’d arranged for her at East Berlin’s Staatsoper Unter den Linden.
Dobnik had no qualms about involving an unsuspecting Sylvia. Nor would he hesitate to use her in case he had to run.
Sylvia emerged from Schlossgarten Park and headed toward the shops. Her senses magnified, she was determined not to miss the slightest movement or sound. Heightened perception created the sensation of moving in slow motion, while in fact she had broken into a race walker’s stride. Her mind darted in many directions. Did the Red Army Faction still seek revenge for her betrayal twelve years ago? What had brought Federal Intelligence Agent Schmidt onto the scene? Was she under his agency’s surveillance and had he shot the terrorist?
Sylvia touched her throat and swallowed. Her voice seemed to have escaped the stranglehold without any serious damage. She thought of tomorrow night’s performance. Her voice would be there for her—it had to be. Approaching her mid thirties, she’d not likely get another chance to break through. Years of music school by day, waiting tables at night, singing at weddings and funerals—her hard work had to pay off tomorrow. Nor did she dare disappoint her mother, without whose monthly checks and unfailing emotional support she’d never have gotten this far.
She passed the streetcar stop and hurried toward the taxi stand alongside the park, shielding her blood-stained sleeve with the bag and umbrella. Her trembling fingers clutched the door handle of the Mercedes at the front of the line. She managed to open the door and slid into the rear seat, careful to keep her bloody arm from the shiny leather upholstery.
“Hotel Schwäbischer Hof, bitte.”
The heavy-set man in the driver’s seat turned around until his beer belly pressed into the steering wheel, his face straining from the effort. He gave her a quick look, nodded, started the engine, and sped away from the curb. By the time Sylvia turned to look out the window, Upper Schlossgarten Park had vanished like a bad dream. But thoughts of the attack had not. Grotesque images of the knife-wielding assailant, his stranglehold, his bloody corpse flashed unbidden into her mind. She couldn’t shake them. They haunted her for the duration of the ten-minute taxi ride.
Schwäbischer Hof, a traditional German hotel, stretched along the east side of the lower part of Schlossgarten Park. As the cab drew up to the entrance, Sylvia pressed a ten-mark note into the driver’s hand, stepped out and managed to slip inside the revolving glass door before the doorman noticed her. Now, if she could just make it through the lobby and collect her room key without questions.
Sylvia made eye contact with the young woman behind the teak-wood counter and, in a voice designed to discourage chitchat, said, “Room 785, please.”
She snatched the key, turned, and headed for the bank of elevators across the lobby. Just when she thought she’d gotten away unnoticed, she heard a baritone voice. “Frau Mazzoni, what have you done to your arm?”
Sylvia cursed under her breath, wondering what the manager was still doing at the hotel at this hour. She said through a forced smile, “Oh, it’s nothing, Herr Grell. Just a slight mishap.”
“Would you like to have a doctor look at it?”
But her brusqueness did not deter the balding man in his fifties. “The staff nurse is still here. I’ll have her come up to your room.”
Realizing that protest might draw suspicion, she tried to sound gracious. “Thank you, Herr Grell.”
He nodded and returned to the front desk.
In her room, Sylvia cautiously removed the blood-covered sweatshirt and undressed for a quick shower. Her tight grip in the taxi must have staunched the bleeding, and the water’s spray washed most of the blood from her arm. The wound was not serious, and the blood had begun to clot. She fought her fears and tentatively sang a few scales. Relief poured through her. Miraculously, her voice seemed unscathed by the ordeal.
Minutes later, wrapped in the terrycloth hotel bathrobe, Sylvia answered a knock on her door. A plump woman wearing a white nurse’s uniform and flat-heeled shoes gave her an appraising look before entering.
“Let’s take a look at that injury of yours.” It was not a request.
Sylvia bared her left arm.
The nurse inspected the wound, tugging at the surrounding skin from several directions. “Ah,” she exhaled. “You’re lucky. Not too deep. Knife?”
“My friend had been slicing cucumbers when she accidentally turned into me.”
Sylvia thought she caught a look of disbelief on the woman’s face but, without a word, the nurse reached into her bag, pulled out a bottle of iodine, and applied a few drops to the cut with a cotton swab. It reminded Sylvia how, as a child, she used to scream when her mother daubed it on her many scuffs and scrapes.
The nurse covered the wound with a cotton bandage. “Keep this on overnight,” she instructed. “I will look at it again tomorrow.” Her expression did not invite objection.
“And stay out of your friend’s kitchen,” the nurse muttered and disappeared.
“Would you care for a cocktail, sir?”
The question caught Rolf Keller off guard. He didn’t usually fly first class. The inviting manner of the stewardess seemed to admit only one answer, and he almost blurted out a yes. It had been a hell of a day and scotch and water sure sounded tempting. He could already feel the burning sensation traveling from his mouth down his throat, hitting his stomach, spreading relaxation into every cell. Trouble was, he knew only too well what would follow, and he could not afford that.
He forced “No, thank you” from his lips, hoping his voice didn’t signal regret. “Just water, please.”
The flight attendant nodded and turned toward the window passenger. His striped tie hung loose at the open collar of a starched white shirt—his concession to the rigors of the upcoming eight-hour flight. Rolf guessed late forties, either a business executive or perhaps even a fellow member of the bar. Rolf enjoyed being comfortable in his T-shirt and jeans. Why let his wardrobe advertise that he was a lawyer, a profession the public held on a level with politicians and used-car salesmen?
The Boeing 767’s steep ascent into the evening sky above Dulles Airport pressed Rolf into the seat. He tried to relax, but there were too many unanswered questions for his mind to cease churning. To begin with, why would the firm that preached flying tourist class book him to Germany in first? Why had he agreed to take on this crazy assignment? Rolf reclined his seat and closed his eyes, but he still could see Harry Stein’s inscrutable smile when telling him to dress for the opera.
♫ ♫ ♫
The faint light of dawn filtered into the first-class cabin through partially drawn window shades. Passengers began to stir. Rolf awakened from a brief slumber and rubbed his tired eyes. While three or four hours of napping didn’t amount to a good night’s sleep, he hoped it would be sufficient to hold jet lag at bay or at least to minimize its effects. From his prior travels he knew sunrise over the ocean meant breakfast would soon be served, with the descent to Frankfurt to follow in a couple of hours.
The flight attendant made her way down the aisle handing out care packages, which to Rolf’s surprise contained toothbrush and toothpaste. Being unfamiliar with the amenities of first class, he’d brought his own. When he returned from the restroom, his neighbor, a large man with coarse features, greeted him with a friendly, “Good morning. Looks like you’ve managed to get some decent rest.”
Rolf settled into his seat. “Yes, not bad. How about you?”
“No, I can’t sleep a wink on these flights. I’m envious.” The man stretched out his hand. “I’m Kent Ferguson.”
“Rolf Keller, pleased to meet you.” During their handshake Rolf noted that yesterday’s striped tie was gone—no doubt a casualty of a long night of chasing elusive sleep, as was the formerly crisp white shirt, now wrinkled and partially untucked over a protruding belly.
A flight attendant inserted snap-on tables into the armrests of their seats. After spreading white cloths over the tables, she took their coffee orders and left. The stranger turned a fleshy face, accentuated by thick lips and a pug nose, toward Rolf. “What takes you to Germany?” His eyebrows rose quizzically into a large forehead made more prominent by a receding dark hairline.
“Business.” Rolf expected the usual follow-up questions quizzing him about his occupation.
But Ferguson nodded. “Yes, November is not the season for holiday travel in Germany, is it?”
The stewardess returned carrying trays, which she placed on their tables. The steaming coffee, scrambled eggs, ham, croissants and orange juice looked inviting. As Rolf dug in, his seat mate mumbled between bites, “I gather you’re German.”
“I didn’t think I had an accent.”
“If you do, I didn’t catch it. It’s the way you use your knife and fork. Unlike us hand-switching Americans, you Continental Europeans keep your fork in the left and knife in the right hand while eating.” As if to demonstrate his point, he cut a piece of ham, put down his knife, and moving the fork from his left to right hand, scooped up the ham and scrambled eggs.
“I suppose that’s one habit I’ve kept.” European table manners felt so natural that Rolf couldn’t imagine eating any other way. “You’re very observant,” he complimented Ferguson, wondering what his profession might be.
“Well, I’ve traveled a fair amount in Europe. And I remember the old movie with Jimmy Stewart, The FBI Story, where the spy-in-training is taught to differentiate the table manners of Americans, Continental Europeans and the British.”
The chitchat ceased while they finished their breakfast. Afterward, Ferguson asked. “What part of Germany are you from?”
Rolf pushed back his tray. “Stuttgart. Do you know it?”
“All I know is that it’s in southwest Germany near the Black Forest and that Porsche and Mercedes are made there.”
“Yes. It’s the birthplace of the modern automobile. Gottlieb Daimler started kind of a handyman tradition among the local Swabians when he put together the world’s first motor car with an internal combustion engine. You can still see it in the Daimler-Benz Museum.” Enthusiasm permeated Rolf’s voice. “But what I love most about Stuttgart is the city’s atmosphere.”
Ferguson raised his eyebrows. “What do you mean?”
“The way it stretches across valleys and hills, the old houses and castles, the forests and vineyards—such a large city but with a small town’s ambiance.” Describing his former hometown gave Rolf a peculiar sense of pride. “You know it is almost as hilly as San Francisco.”
Ferguson handed his tray to the flight attendant while addressing Rolf. “Sounds like a nice place. Why did you leave?”
Rolf became pensive, not sure how much detail to tell the stranger. His words were measured. “Oh, after I finished university, I wanted to experience a different culture. I’ve been fascinated with the U.S. ever since I can remember. When I had the chance to get a visa, I jumped at it.”
“So you still have family in Stuttgart?”
Rolf thought he detected more than a casual interest in Ferguson’s tone. “No one I’ve kept up with.”
He hoped his brief response would discourage further questions about his kin. Rolf didn’t care to mention his deceased parents. Nor was it any of the stranger’s business that there had been more behind his decision to emigrate than an adventuresome nature. He was not proud of the way he had left in the face of Sylvia’s pleas for help. He had tried to drown the gnawing guilt, and for a while alcohol had helped. But no matter how much he drank, the feelings returned when the booze wore off. Then AA took away his excuses for getting drunk, forcing him to face his remorse and deal with it in some other way.
He had been apprehensive about returning to Germany. Now, for the first time, he considered the possibility that this assignment might offer him a unique opportunity to make peace with his past. He knew he couldn’t undo the pain he’d caused, but perhaps there was a way to make amends in some form.
Ferguson’s voice jolted Rolf back to the present. “What kind of business are you in?”
“Uh . . . I’m a lawyer.”
Ferguson’s chin dropped. “Oh, really? I never would have guessed.”
Rolf knew the reaction was not just based on his informal dress. When people learned of his profession, they often expressed disbelief. Some even told him he seemed too nice to be a lawyer.
Now that the stranger had broached the subject, Rolf felt free to ask, “What about you, what do you do for a living?”
“I’m a foreign correspondent covering Europe for several news organizations. That’s how I get to travel all over.” Evidently noticing Rolf’s surprise, he added. “Granted, I don’t dress like a journalist. But you aren’t exactly wearing a lawyer’s uniform either.”
“No, I hate to wear a suit and tie.”
They chuckled as their eyes met.
Rolf recovered first. “What do you report about?”
“As you know, German reunification is the hot topic. Right now I’m on the lookout for human interest stories, how people’s lives might be affected, both East and West Germans.”
“And what are you finding? Is everyone excited about the prospect of living in one Germany again after more than forty years?”
“I’d say most are, but not everybody. Some in the East are worried about losing their jobs, and West Germans are concerned about how high unemployment and reconstruction costs will affect their economy. So, there is a fair amount of opposition to reunification.”
“It’s always about the old pocketbook, isn’t it?”
Ferguson nodded. “Not only that. Some folks are quite nervous about what the Stasi files might hold. They’d just as soon spoil Chancellor Kohl’s bid to reunite Germany. Failing that, they wouldn’t mind a bit if there weren’t too many Stasi documents left by the time reunification comes around.”
The mention of the Stasi files caught Rolf off guard. He studied the stranger for any sign that this was more than a chance encounter. However, remembering the numerous news reports during the last few weeks speculating whether and when Stasi documents might be made public, Rolf relaxed. Of course, as a journalist Ferguson would be right on top of that story.
Trying his best to sound nonchalant, Rolf probed, “Making Stasi files public likely would blow the cover of many an East German spy.”
Ferguson looked around, and then spoke in a hushed tone, “Not only spies, but terrorists and other collaborators with the communist government. No one knows for sure how many there are, but the word is that the infiltration of West German society is widespread.”
Rolf puckered his lips into a silent whistle. “Looks like you’re well informed.”
“I do have my sources.” He exuded confidence without sounding arrogant. “I’d say Chancellor Kohl has a tough job selling the idea of a united Germany to the French and British. They are quite nervous at the prospect of their World War II enemy becoming powerful once again, both politically and economically. I hear Margaret Thatcher is dead set against it, and Gorbachev is lukewarm on the idea as well.”
After unbuckling his seatbelt, Ferguson strained to twist his massive body, which filled most of the first-class seat. He managed to reach into the back pocket of his slacks, pull out his wallet, and hand Rolf a card. “If you come upon anything newsworthy, give me a call.”
Though he couldn’t imagine that he would run across anything of interest to a journalist, Rolf glanced at the card before sticking it in his jeans pocket. “You’re in Berlin.”
“I just moved there, since that’s where the action is these days. How about you? Where is your legal business taking you?”
Rolf thought it a stretch to call his mission legal business. “Stuttgart, for starters,” he disclosed. Ferguson probably thought him secretive, but in fact Rolf didn’t know where his assignment would carry him.
Apparently not put off by Rolf’s reticence, Ferguson remarked. “Sounds like you may be over here for a while.”
“I really don’t know.”
Although that was the truth, Rolf intended his reply to signal that no more information would be forthcoming.
Ferguson obliged and closed down their chat. “Well, whatever your undertaking may be, I wish you good luck.”
“Thanks. I’ll need it.” Rolf surprised himself with the fervor in his voice, and he began to brood over just how much luck it would take to successfully complete this strange assignment. His apprehension had not abated by the time the pilot announced the Boeing 767’s approach to the Rhein Main Airport.
Between the closing elevator doors Sylvia spotted to her horror Horst Kreuzer. But hadn’t he died in prison? He sprinted toward her across the hotel lobby. Their eyes locked. His stare of recognition paralyzed her. He lunged forward but too late to trigger the sensor. In the split second before the doors clicked shut, she saw him spin and race for the stairs.
The elevator began its sluggish climb. Could he beat her to the seventh floor? She held her breath, hoping that this would somehow propel the ancient contraption faster. The side panel light labored from numeral to numeral. At last, the motor whined and slowed, the number seven lit up, and the car jerked to a stop. She restrained herself from pulling on the retreating steel doors, fearing she might cause a jam. Keys in hand, Sylvia squeezed through the opening and peered up and down the corridor. Not detecting any movement, she turned right and ran past the door leading to the stairwell. Her room was the third on the left.
As she turned the key, she heard the stairwell door smash against the wall. Sylvia charged into her room, slammed the door, and threw the deadbolt. In an instant, he was pounding on her door. She shut out the ever louder thumps. The door seemed to buckle. Terror filled her. There was no place to go.
Sylvia awakened with a start, her skin bathed in sweat. For a moment she didn’t know where she was. Then her eyes fell on the nightstand clock. It read 11:37. Before she could sink back onto the mattress, a noise at the door jolted her. Someone actually was knocking. Still woozy, she lowered her feet to the carpet, snatched the hotel bathrobe from the closet to cover her nightgown, and shuffled over to the peephole.
When she recognized Dieter Schmidt, she unlatched the chain and pressed down on the handle. The stocky man in his forties leaned into the door, charged across the threshold, and shut the door behind him.
He put up his hand. “Sorry to bother you this late. I was hoping you’d still be up.”
Protest caught in her throat. When she switched on the light, she saw rain droplets glistening on his moustache and fine brown hair. He shed his gray raincoat and folded it over his arm. His rumpled shirt and stubbly chin attested to a long day.
“Are you okay?”
Sylvia touched her upper arm. “A flesh wound. I guess I should thank you for shooting him. You saved my life.”
“I didn’t shoot him.”
“What?” She glared at him. “Then what were you doing there?
“I was trying to catch you after the rehearsal to talk to you about Berlin.”
“But if you didn’t kill him, who did?”
He ran his fingers through his wind-tousled hair in a feeble attempt to untangle it. “We’re working on it, but it’s better you don’t know about that. It’s who he was that matters. You called him a Red Army Faction terrorist.”
“He spent a lot of time with Horst Kreuzer.” Her cheeks flushed at the thought of her former lover.
“Do you think he wanted to settle a score?” Schmidt looked worried.
“I expected them to come after me. But why would they wait twelve years?”
He paced back and forth on the well-worn carpet. “If it’s not for revenge, then it’s possible the terrorists have found out about your mission.”
She clutched her bathrobe tight, as if to fend off his chilling words. “If that’s true then . . .” She gathered strength. “You’re going to have to get someone else to do your bidding.”
“You know we can’t. It has to be you. But we are going to implement the highest security measures for this operation.” Schmidt draped his coat over the high back of a chair by the window. He circled the chair and sank into its corduroy cushion.
“Does that mean you’re going to be here a while? I’ve got a big day tomorrow and would like to go back to sleep.”
“We need to talk.”
She sighed. “What about?”
“Have you told anyone about our conversation last week?”
“No way.” Sylvia’s posture stiffened. “How many at your end know that you’ve pressed me into service? Have you asked them the same question?”
“You know the Stasi defector insists on dealing with you and no one else. I did what I had to do.”
“And that makes it okay for you to blackmail me?”
Sylvia knew she had no option but to cooperate. When first approached by Schmidt to act as an intermediary, she had rebuffed him. “No, I don’t want any part in this.”
She could still hear his threat. “Seems to me someone with your past is not in any position to refuse.”
Her stomach tightened. “What do you mean? I’ve done nothing wrong.”
“You may have managed to forget your association with the Red Army Faction, but I can assure you we have not.”
Rage welled up inside her. “Who are you? Who are you working for?”
“My job has to do with national security. I’m with the Federal Intelligence Service.”
“If you really are in Intelligence, then you know perfectly well that I was never associated with any leftist terrorist group. Not with Baader-Meinhof and not with the RAF.”
“Does the name Horst Kreuzer ring a bell?”
“He was a college friend, so what?”
“Come now, Frau Mazzoni. We both know he was an RAF member . . . and your lover.”
“Since you’re so well informed, you’ll recall that I’m responsible for his getting caught.” She tasted bile as she recalled her betrayal.
“Yes, that’s why you were let off easy.”
“I had no idea what Horst was mixed up in. When I learned about it, I broke it off.”
Schmidt appeared as unmoved by her claim of innocence as the police had been twelve years earlier. Without acknowledging her assertion, he continued in a matter-of-fact voice. “I understand you’re scheduled to sing at the Stuttgart Opera.” His eyes narrowed. “We would not want to do anything to jeopardize that.”
Sylvia understood. Blackmail never ended. How could she have been so naïve as to think that the bad choice she’d made at twenty-two wouldn’t come back to haunt her? The police threatened to have her prosecuted as an accessory because she was the girlfriend of a terrorist. Her protestations that she knew nothing at all about Horst’s activities went unheeded. So she’d tipped them off to her ex-boyfriend’s lesser-known hangouts.
Now, twelve years later, she found herself bullied once more. This intelligence agent had coerced her into spying by threatening her. The management of the Stuttgart Opera would not look kindly on her past indiscretion, no matter that she viewed it as mere youthful folly. To make matters worse, the opera was 85 percent state subsidized, and the wishes of Schmidt’s employer would undoubtedly be heeded. In other words, if she didn’t cooperate, she could kiss her opera career goodbye, at least in Stuttgart. Sylvia slumped into the empty chair, cradling her aching arm.
Schmidt adopted a confessional tone. “There is something I haven’t told you, but it’s time you knew. I’m hoping the Stasi papers will provide us with clues about an assassination plot. Perhaps we can prevent the murder of yet another industrialist or government official.” He hesitated in an apparent search for the right words. “We must get our hands on these documents. Germany’s future may depend on it.”
“Yeah, right. I bet you tell that to all your recruits.”
They fell silent. Through the partially open window they heard the soft sound of falling rain, periodically interrupted by tires splashing on wet pavement below. The rain had a hypnotic, soothing effect.
Sylvia broke the silence. “I assume you have a plan as to how this document exchange is going to take place?”
There was a long pause. Schmidt shook his head as if to clear it. “That’s what we need to talk about. The Stasi informant is secretive. He will make the drop while you’re in East Berlin to sing at the Staatsoper. I don’t know when or where. Nor do I have any specifics about the materials you’re to receive.”
“You have no idea who he is?”
“No. I gave him the code name ‘Mozart,’ since he seems to be enamored of opera.”
“Do you know why he picked me?”
“No, not really. Maybe he knew you in college. Is that possible?”
Sylvia shrugged. “Horst had lots of friends, and they all liked to party. Some of them had leftist tendencies. So I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that one of them crossed over to East Germany. Could be anyone.” She leaned back. “When were you first contacted about the Stasi documents?”
Schmidt hesitated, apparently weighing whether to answer her. At last, he said, “In September.”
“And when did this Mozart first mention my name?”
Even more perplexed, Schmidt replied, “It’s been a month . . . Have you appeared in East Germany before? Isn’t that unusual for a singer from the West?”
She ignored his first question. “I was flabbergasted when the Stuttgart Opera Director told me that I’d been requested to cover two performances in East Berlin. I naturally assumed they wanted me because I’m singing that role here.”
Sylvia’s mind was racing. “There is something you haven’t told me.” She scanned his face for clues. “How could your informant know that . . . Oh, but of course! The arrangements for my appearance were made last month, about the time he gave you my name. He’s the one who set up the whole thing.”
Schmidt stared at her in amazement. “Not bad. An opera singer with a knack for intelligence.”
“I suspect intelligence is a bit like opera. Either you have natural talent for it or you don’t. Plenty of sopranos can sing the notes of Madama Butterfly’s aria ‘Un bel dì vedremo.&