Sunday, 30 December 2012
There was something particularly pleasant about standing at the bedroom window at dawn and watching the sun rising over the East River. From this height Jim could watch the golden light catching the spars of bridges and masts of boats and glinting from the myriad windows in Brooklyn. He leant against the chill glass and watched a boat moving slowly, a dark figure unfurling the sails and letting them catch the wind. He itched, sometimes, to be out on a boat like that, even with the greyness of the water and the sprinkle of snow that lay on the streets and ledges of buildings. Life didn’t afford him much chance for sailing, despite the white-sailed sloop he kept down at the quay.
He stirred himself. The chill of winter was pushing straight through the glass and into his skin. Time for a shower and to get dressed. He’d light the fire when he got downstairs. It was the kind of morning for hot coffee, and perhaps a pastry warmed in the oven. Besides, there was no point lounging up here in his pyjamas when he had a mission to organise. He smiled at that. Perhaps it would be warmer in Barnstadt. He doubted it, though. Eastern European winters had never been kind things.
Cinnamon, Rollin, Barney and Willy. That would be his team. They almost always were his team. He had almost twenty folks on the books, but when it came down to it those four were simply the best. They were reliable. Barney was a downright genius when it came to anything technical. Rollin was a magician at disguise, and he could be as cold as that East River if he needed to be. Cinnamon too could be cold as ice when she had to. He worried sometimes about getting a woman into these things, but he had seen her raise a gun and shoot a man between the eyes without flinching. And then there was Willy. It was easy to underestimate Willy. The gentle giant, the strong man with few words. Willy was indispensable, reliable and loyal to the core. People trusted Willy’s open looks, and therein lay his ability to deceive. His mind worked just as fast as any of them and he could turn his hand to almost anything – he just didn’t feel need to talk about it.
The heat of the shower pushed the winter cold away and Jim felt more awake by the time he was dressed and moving out of the bedroom, thinking of coffee. He murmured under his breath as he walked down the stairs, ‘Kann ich bitte eine Tasse Kaffee haben? Und ein Brötchen?’
He didn’t really need to practice his German. Every other assignment seemed to send him to a country where the language was needed or useful. But it was the tiniest of slips that could ruin a mission. He had often had cause to thank his German grandmother for her insistence in talking in that language to him and having him talk it back to her. He had hated it when he was six, but now he was grateful for the ability to think in the language as well as speak in it.
He missed his Oma more than he missed sailing. It had been almost thirty years since she died, and he still missed those conversations in German and the food she cooked and the smell of her perfume.
Well, one day he would retire from all this, and get plenty of chance for sailing. He could do nothing about Oma except remember her and thank for the gift she had left him with. And he needed to get downstairs and start to plan this mission.
A chess board, black and white pieces sitting mutely apart. Coffee, black and strong, and a flaking, fragrant pastry on a white plate. A pad of paper resting beneath his left hand, and a pencil beside it, ready to jot down his thoughts.
So often that was the recipe for constructive thoughts. The coffee woke him up and the pastry quietened his stomach. The chess brought discipline to his mind, made him more analytical, more ordered in his thinking. Sometimes he imposed characteristics of the enemy – because there always was an enemy – on certain chess pieces, and as he played against himself he began to form a deeper understanding of both their psychology and of his own. And slowly he began to make notes on the pad of paper, the pencil sloping in his left hand, the coffee in his right, and gradually the plan took shape.
He touched a finger to the black bishop on the board in front of him. That was Bauer. Georg Bauer, politician, member of the far left Volkspartei. Barnstadt was crawling towards democracy, split from Germany after the ravages of the last world war, so close to the Iron Curtain that you could practically smell it. All it needed was for a guy like Bauer to get in on his promises of more jobs and more money and better welfare for the needy, and it would be swallowed up by the East as if it had never existed. The Secretary wanted the US to preserve its access to the country because of its strategic closeness to Russia and the Communist bloc. Jim’s sympathies lay with the people and the freedoms that they would lose if they voted Bauer into power.
The black bishop symbolised the man aptly. Jim had done plenty of intense research in the last twenty-four hours. Bauer was a family man with a beautiful blonde wife and three adorable children in their early teens. He was a moraliser and a health freak. He neither smoked nor drank and could be seen every morning exercising in the city park. He was not the most powerful man in the country. He was not the President, nor yet the Prime Minister, but he was seeking to move up through those positions until he could become a dictator over the eleven million souls that resided in his small land.
Jim laughed darkly, taking another mouthful of his coffee and pushing a sheaf of papers aside to look over another page of notes. Ten brothels in the city and a further thirty around the country were owned by Bauer. The places were usually fronted by nightclubs, rife with heavy drinking and sleazy entertainment, and Jim had it on reliable authority from a US agent that it was not unusual to see Bauer in his own clubs, downing hard liquor and watching the floor show with avid interest. Bauer was responsible for the abduction and import of hundreds of young woman to work in his clubs and brothels. And somehow, by Bauer’s employment of a certain amount of disguise and discretion, all this was kept close and under the carpet, never leaking to the press or his political rivals. The only element of the underworld that seeped through into Bauer’s political life was the money he reaped from it. His political campaigns were almost entirely financed by the revenue from his brothels.
There was something about that kind of man that Jim despised. Political aspirations were one thing. Everyone had different political views and he knew that he couldn’t change the entire world, man by man, no matter what the Secretary thought. It was the taking advantage of the weak and the needy that made him sick to his stomach. Taking women in desperate straits and trapping them into prostitution. Abducting women and forcing them to work in brothels in fear of their lives if they attempted escape. Pretending to be good and wholesome and perfect in public life when in fact you were low-level scum. Those were the things that made Jim angry. If he could take Bauer down, hundreds of women would be freed from his clutches and a misguided populace would be free of him too.
Jim leant back in his chair and blew smoke out through his mouth in a steady stream. He got to his feet and stalked over to the window, gazing out over the buildings around. There was more traffic moving down in the streets now, turning the light fall of snow into dark slush. There were people walking along the sidewalks, mostly clad in dark suits and hats, but occasionally there was a flash of the brightest pink or red or turquoise as some fashionable lady or misguided elderly woman walked amongst them. He took another mouthful of coffee, letting the sights of people and cars blur as he let a plan begin to form out of the tangle of facts in his brain.
Bauer, the black bishop. Adolf Rubens, the president – the white king on his chess board, almost irrelevant for now in his plans. He would be irrelevant until Bauer attempted to take his place, and if Jim was successful he would never get that far in his political aspirations. Rubens had a definite leaning toward democracy.
He was standing over the chess board again, his eyes on the queens, black and white. Mrs Bauer? She had hardly any place in this either. She and her children lived at the family retreat, a place out in the mountains. She was far away from the politics that her husband manipulated.
But then there was Liesl. Liesl Weismuller. She was another little detail that Jim had gained knowledge of from their agent in the country. Ostensibly she was Bauer’s secretary – but Jim knew that Bauer had a secretary, a very capable man named Kaufmann. But Bauer also had an attachment to a certain type of woman, a woman in the image of a girl he had once been involved with, who had died years before. Year after year he hand-picked women from the brothels that he ran, taken more as a concubine than an assistant. Bauer changed these women as soon as he got tired of them, as soon as they failed to live up to the image of his lost love, and Liesl had already been living in his town residence for six months. There were rumours that he was searching for a new woman, and Jim had a hunch that Cinnamon was just his type – or could be made to be his type.
He toppled the bishop with one finger, then looked down, startled, as if he had not realised he had even been touching the carved wooden piece. Inside his mind things were falling into place. The woman. The vice. The money. The woman could get close to him. The vice would undo him. The money was the rug that Jim could pull out from under him. It wouldn’t be simple – these things never were – but it would be possible.
They were all gathered in his apartment. Rollin, Cinnamon, Barney and Willy. Rollin always looked as if he were only thinly veiling the excitement at times like these. He didn’t like inactivity, unless it was the kind of inactivity you experienced sitting in an armchair late at night, with a drink, a cigarette, and quiet conversation. Jim understood how frustrated Rollin got between missions – he felt the same. Every time he got back Jim sighed relief at having got out alive, but after a day had passed he was itching to hear the phone ring, to get the call to a dead drop for a new assignment. Rollin was the same. Between missions Rollin used clubs and girls and music for his excitement, but it didn’t compare to the very real danger of loaded guns and espionage.
‘I’ve rented us two apartments in the same block,’ Jim was saying, sliding the documents over his desk towards the gathered team. ‘Less suspicious than us all bunking together. Cinnamon, while we’re in the apartment you’re my wife and Rollin’s your brother. Barney, Willy, you’re roommates down the hall. Construction workers working on the new stadium they’re building just out of town. That’ll give you plenty of cover for coming and going in the van. They’re not fancy rooms, but they’ll do for the time we’re there. People are always coming and going in these places and a couple of newcomers won’t be noticed.’
‘Looks perfect,’ Rollin said with an edge of sarcasm, dropping the documents back on the desk after scanning the contents. ‘Rats and cockroaches supplied for free.’
Jim snorted, returning the papers to the pile. ‘What about the flights, Rollin?’
‘I’ve booked them into Dresden. The visas weren’t too easy, but Barney’s sorted East German papers that will allow us to be able to drive over the border.’
‘I’ve also printed us all the papers we need to pass as ordinary Barnstadt citizens,’ Barney said, handing a sheaf of folded papers and passports over to Jim. ‘Plus Rollin’s international press permissions and identification as a reporter for the Berlin Daily. We’ve got all we need to get into the country and to pass in our various roles when there.’ He smiled. ‘As long as we keep each identification separate, that is, and don’t get confused.’
‘We won’t,’ Jim said confidently, leafing through the documents and then handing out the appropriate ones to each member of the team. ‘Have you devised a means of getting your hands on that money, Barney?’
Barney nodded succinctly. ‘I think so. Bauer keeps all of his funds in one place, in the safe at his biggest club. There’s a weak point at the back of the building where the sewers come under the foundations. Willie and I will set up as road workers a block away. We can drill into the safe from below and take the money out that way. Once we’ve got it in the van we’ll launder it through various banks, paying it into accounts owned by Bauer’s opposition as charitable donations. Even if he twigs he can’t do anything because he won’t risk revealing where the money comes from. He’s not supposed to have any connections with that club, or anywhere like it.’
‘Perfect, Barney,’ Jim nodded. He looked up at Cinnamon. ‘And are you ready, Cinnamon?’ he asked with a little more hesitancy in his voice.
She smiled and nodded. She took a lipstick out of her purse and began to apply it smoothly to her lips, then turned the gold case carefully to Jim to show him the pinhole lens.
‘I can take sixty pictures with this,’ she said. ‘Enough to incriminate him. I also have a ring with a knock-out spike, just in case, and a gun that looks like a perfume atomiser.’
‘Cinnamon, you’re going to have to – expose yourself – to a lot,’ Jim said doubtfully. ‘Bauer’s personal secretary is not – ’
‘Not just a secretary, I know,’ she said. ‘More of a concubine. A high class prostitute.’ She nodded. ‘I’m prepared, Jim. I understand what I’m letting myself into.’
‘As long as you do,’ Jim said. He tapped the stub of his cigarette out in the ashtray, and slipped another from his pocket. ‘Because I’m going to have to sell you to him, and I do not like that at all.’
Saturday, 29 December 2012
This post is almost entirely because Peter Graves has been reasserting himself in my consciousness after my detour on Route 66. I think the weights are evening out on the scales and things are becoming balanced, with Peter Graves and Route 66 and Star Trek all gaining some equilibrium in my mind.
The top picture is there because it's pretty, pretty, pretty. The bottom one is there because it popped up when I searched for the other one, and it's pretty pretty too. I've uploaded them before, but they deserve to be out on their own.
Today I completed a whole chapter of the Mission: Impossible fiction that I started months ago, that has been languishing on my computer, and I started a new chapter too. I thought a lot about how Peter Graves might look while washing in a cold bathroom.
In fact, Peter Graves is reasserting himself so strongly in my consciousness that last night I had a long and rambling dream about him that is very hard to recount. Mostly it was a kind of dream-type Mission: Impossible episode with lots of running around and going from place to place. But the best part took place in a large and weird hotel that had lots of floors covered in various types of gardens, going about at Jim's side as he did what needed to be done. At one point he needed to reach up to do something on the ceiling and that was when I noticed that he was completely naked from the waist down. I was standing behind him, so I only got that view, but what a fine view. He didn't seem self conscious at all. As he lifted his knees up and swung a little from whatever it was on the ceiling (god knows why) I noticed he had a bruise on his buttock. I told him about it (he had got it somehow in the line of duty) and he didn't seem too concerned about that. In fact about the only purpose to him being up there seemed to be so that I could stand behind him and admire his rather exquisite buttocks and the taut lines of his thighs and calves.
So, thank you brain. Happy dream.