Authors: Peter Lovesey
âRed,' he asked, âdo you think I'm wasting everybody's time?'
The answer from Red was not unhelpful. âI'm still here, aren't I, Cedric?'
Jane pounced at once. âBut you're not convinced yet? You're not really convinced?' Her eyebrows peaked in anticipation.
Red grinned. âI have my reputation to consider, don't I?'
Jane's posture relaxed a little. She glanced towards Red, then back to Cedric, and fingered a strand of her blonde hair.
âThe plain truth is that none of us is totally convinced,' Cedric conceded. âI've brought you together to investigate the story, to examine it, test it, probe for more evidence. To my knowledge, no other paper in the world has followed it up. OK, it's forty-three years on, but if there actually
a rebel group in this country doing deals with the Nazis, there must be people still alive who knew what was going on.'
âThis is sensitive ground,' said Dick. âA minefield.'
âBut one hell of a story,' said Red.
Cedric hoisted himself upright and went round with the brandy.
âWould you care to give us a scenario?' Jane suggested to Red, with irony.
âI don't mind making a stab at it,' he offered. âAs I see it, the Nazis through 1940 and '41 are definitely looking for a deal with Britain. Hitler has conquered Western Europe and driven the British Army out of France, and now he has his sights set on Russia. Winston Churchill doesn't want to know about it, but he's new in the job and they reckon the British won't go along with all that stuff about blood, toil, tears and sweat. The Nazis get intelligence reports of some right-wing people who would like to ditch Churchill. Hess makes some soundings through his spies and gets encouraging noises back.'
âFor which there's no evidence whatever,' put in Jane.
She stung Red into saying bitterly, âFor Christ's sake, you asked for a scenario, not a sworn statement.'
âWho were these people, then?'
âBig shots. We're not talking about a few eccentrics with Nazi leanings. These are establishment people. They have to be, else why weren't they exposed as traitors at the time? Why did MI5 erase them from Hess's memory?'
As no one responded, Red went on, âSo Hess devises this amazing plan to fly to Britain and make personal contact with these people behind Churchill's back. If they agree to ditch Churchill, Germany will offer them peace and guarantees about their property. That, or something like it, is the deal he offers the Duke of Hamilton on 11 May 1941. How am I doing, Cedric?'
âOK. Up to now, everything is shaping up, and then it all goes wrong. You see, Hess doesn't know that MI5 intercepted that letter to Hamilton. What can Hamilton do? He tries to get in touch with Sir somebody at the Foreign Office.'
âSir Alexander Cadogan,' said Dick.
âThanks. And by pure chance Churchill's private secretary comes in on the call. So it's curtains for Rudolf Hess. The whole plot is revealed to Churchill. A massive cover-up is ordered. Hess is handed over to the shrinks at Mytchett Place and soon forgets all about the people he came to meet. And just in case any of it comes back while he's at Nuremberg, Churchill's doctor and the Brigadier write that report saying his memory is unreliable.' Red stopped and folded his arms. âDid I leave something out?'
Nobody was emboldened to answer. As he had promised, Red had made a stab, and it was a strong stab, rough, but close enough to the target to impress even Jane. As a journalist, she found the storyline, told in one piece, hard to resist.
So the silence was not a void. It was filled with thoughts of what needed to be done to test the truth of the story. Soon they would be talking assignments.
Dick gave Cedric a long look. âBut you still have something to tell us, haven't you?'
Their editor-in-chief declined to answer for a moment, self-indulgently holding back, mindful that his hold on the story had to be relinquished.
âThere is something else, yes,' he admitted. âSomeone else. A possible contact.'
âWho is he?'
âThat's the first problem. He wouldn't wish to be identified. Used to work for MI5. Retired some time in the mid-seventies, so he's pretty old.'
âIs that the second problem?' asked Dick.
âNo. The second problem is that he's a cantankerous old sod who may not tell you a thing if he doesn't like your face.'
âSo it's a job for Jane,' said Red.
It was the nearest thing to a compliment she had heard from him and it infuriated her to realise that it pleased her. She didn't react.
Cedric shook his head. âI think not. He has a chapter in his book on why women and homosexuals can't be trusted, and it gets up
âHe's in print, then?' said Dick.
Cedric winced in an exaggerated way. âGod, no! It'll never be published. It's the most turgid stuff imaginable. He offered us the first serial rights. Marched into my office one Monday morning with the manuscript. That's how I got to know him. It sounded promising. Ex-MI5 agent tells all.' He gave a hollow laugh. âBugger all. Not a single name worth mentioning. Everyone in it is coyly described as a personage, so you have a personage from the north, a personage of foreign origin, even an ecclesiastical personage. I asked him if he meant a personage from a parsonage, and he didn't see the joke, didn't see it at all. The shame of it is that he's prepared to
pretty openly about personalities.'
Cedric nodded at Dick. âHe claims to know the inside story.'
âDid you try to open him up?'
âIt wasn't the moment,' answered Cedric. âI was mainly concerned to explain why we couldn't publish his abysmal stuff.'
âDid he throw a fit?' asked Red.
âHe expressed himself forcibly, and slammed the door as he left.'
âHow do we follow that?'
Cedric held up his right hand and rubbed the thumb against the forefinger. âHe has an expensive lifestyle for a civil service pensioner.'
âSo who gets the job?'
Cedric smiled. âI'll tell you in the morning.'
Red entertained the house-party until after midnight with tales of the divided city. Not wishing to crack another bottle of brandy, Cedric had produced some six-packs of lager. By tacit consent, no more was said about Hess. Everyone needed a break to let Cedric's startling theories shake down, so Red talked vividly about the
, the reckless characters who made a business of smuggling fugitives out of East Germany, sometimes for ideals, sometimes profit. The way he laughed off a suggestion that they were the Cold War heroes had the curious effect of revealing how closely he identified with them. Whilst not admitting to cross-border adventures of his own, he was vague about the way he had researched his highly original feature.
Jane was the first to leave the party, blaming the brandy for making her tired, and Dick moved off soon after, each of them taking one of the books about Hess which Cedric had thoughtfully distributed as bedtime reading. Eventually, Cedric left, muttering something about the bathroom. Red stretched out on the sofa for a last cigarette, and dozed.
When he stirred, it was 1.15 a.m. He stood up, picked up the book Cedric had left him, and on second thoughts put it down and picked up a lager instead, and made for the passage leading to the front door.
Outside, it was mild enough to let him take stock of the scene as he strolled towards the end cottage. He was amused to notice there were no lights at any of the windows; even Ginge was too tanked up to do the homework.
He let himself in, stripped and stepped into the shower, this time remembering to slide the door across. He was not too tired to enjoy the sensation of the cool jets striking his skin. He gave a thought to Jane, and the business earlier with the key of the connecting door. She amused him with her riding-school accent and Young Conservative opinions. For all that, a bit of a feminist, he guessed. Not the sort who would muck out the stables for the riding-master.
Out of curiosity, when he was dry and ready for bed, he tried the handle of the connecting door. It was locked from the other side. Grinning, Red got into bed and was soon asleep.
Some hours later, he woke and it was light, that pale suggestion of dawn that he only ever expected to see when nature called him to the bathroom after a heavy night's drinking. Out in the woods, the rooks sounded like a peace demo. At least it wasn't in his head. With a sigh, he heaved himself out of bed.
While he was drinking to take the dryness off his throat, he was pretty sure he heard a click, followed by the creak of boards next door.
His thoughts were not at their most agile, but on the way back he decided to try the door again.
It opened. Jane was in bed on the other side of the room staring at him, apparently not in panic.
She said in her best county accent, âNaked again, Mr Goodbody?'
Red answered truthfully, âI sleep like this.'
Jane said, âSnap,' and pulled aside the duvet.
Each time a statesman visits West Berlin and climbs the steps of the observation post at Potsdamer Platz to stare across the Wall and fifty metres of sand on the Eastern side, an image of the divided city is reinforced. Yet there is another strip of sand in Berlin that is rarely pictured, except in home movies and family albums. It has no barbed wire, mines, dog patrols, tank-traps, searchlights or watchtowers. It is the shoreline of the River Havel, some seven miles west of the city centre, running from north to south through broad areas of forest. In summer, Berliners flock there to bask and bathe along the east bank and beside the lakes.
Here, Heidrun Kassner had an appointment.
She took the 66 bus through the Grunewald Forest to Strandbad Wannsee, the largest and most developed of the Berlin beaches. As she stepped onto the promenade with its ice-cream vans and newspaper kiosks, a sense of guilt mingled with the curiosity she already felt. She was in forbidden territory. Days at the beach were prohibited to a serious sportswoman. All her time off work was scheduled for training and match practice. And she was not sure why it was necessary to come here.
She took off her trainers and jumped down to the beach among the sunbathers. The fine, dry sand was warm to the soles of her feet. In her blue teeshirt and white jeans, she was going to feel the heat if this went on for long. She made her way down to the water and rolled the jeans up to her calves. Then she took her bearings.
Wannsee is equipped with numerous wicker beach-chairs, each with a number painted on the side of the canopy. With a proper sense of order, they are ranged in rows along the beach. They are the most commodious public beach-chairs in Europe, two-seaters practically as big as beach-huts, with cushions, extending foot-rests and vast hoods with exotically-decorated linings.
Heidrun located the chair she had been told to find. It was occupied by a man in his fifties, silver-haired and in peacock blue shorts and white canvas sandals. He was leafing through a girlie magazine. He had two more on his lap. When Heidrun stopped by the chair, the man took off his sunglasses. She had met him before. His name was Kurt Valentin, and he was an East Berliner.
He remarked, âYou look hot, dressed up like that.'
âI can stand it.'
âWhy don't you take off your shirt?'
âI don't wish to.'
âLook around you. Plenty of other women let the sun get to their breasts.'
She scuffed the sand with her foot. âIs that why you chose to meet me here?'
He had grey eyes that took not a vestige of colour from the vivid sky. âI heard about the unfortunate accident to your table-tennis partner.'
âErich is a moron,' said Heidrun. âYou know how he broke his ankle? He got blind drunk the other night after training and fell down a hole in the road.'
âHow long is he going to be out for?'
âAt least six weeks.'
âAnd what do you propose to do about it?'
She gave Valentin a sharp glance. She could not understand the reason for his interest. He had never talked table-tennis to her before. âI suppose I shall have to team up with the guy from the second pair. His partner won't like it, but what else can I do?'
âWho is he?'
âHe slashes at anything that bounces high and his service is pitiful. Why do you want to know?'
âSo losing Ritter is a serious blow?'
âYou're not kidding,' said Heidrun irritably. She flopped down and made pits in the sand with her fists.
Valentin replaced his sunglasses and held out a bottle of Ambre Solaire. âIf you're worried about exposure, a light application of this will protect them.'
âI am not taking off my teeshirt.'
He moved smoothly back to the main topic. âThis sports club of yours. It apparently means a lot to you.'
âOf course,' answered Heidrun. âI've put a lot into it.' A suspicion leapt into her mind. âIf you think you can tempt me across with better sports facilities, forget it. I may not be in sympathy with the system here, but it's my home, and I'm staying.'
Valentin raised an eyebrow. âHave I ever suggested such a thing? You know that I have not.' He looked at his watch. âLet's take a walk along the promenade. There's something I'd like you to see.'
He reached for her arm as he stood up, and continued to hold onto her. It was like being claimed by a sugar-daddy, and she resented it, but she didn't struggle. She knew he would say it was only to create an impression. If they had stayed much longer on the beach, he would have used the same ploy to get her to show her breasts to him. She would have done it, too, because actually she was afraid of him.
They climbed the steps and walked sedately along the promenade for a couple of minutes. She wondered if he was going to buy her a drink, but she doubted it. Their previous meetings had not been characterised by generosity. Probably he spent his expenses on the girlie magazines. The only bare breasts in East Berlin were in the Pergamon Museum.