Friday, 18 January 2013
MI Fanfiction: The Minister - Ch 2
Jim had been right. It was just as cold in Eastern Europe as it had been in New York. There was a little less of that bone-penetrating cold, perhaps. New York was practically on the sea, whereas Dresden was hundreds of miles from the European coast. But there were still drifts of snow on the ground and still those heavy white clouds blanketing the sky, and the breath still fogged out of his mouth as he walked across the tarmac toward the terminal.
He jingled the car keys in his pocket. Their contacts in East Germany had set them up with a suitable sedan and a utilitarian white van containing all the equipment that they would need, neatly disguised as tools and equipment belonging to migrant labourers. The papers were all in order to allow them to pass over the border, and everything was set.
Willy and Barney were somewhere behind him, but Jim didn’t look round. On the plane and now they had stayed in their separate groupings. It was best that they didn’t acknowledge each other publicly until they were settled in their lodgings. They were perfectly capable of looking after themselves.
He glanced at Rollin instead, and smiled. Rollin was carrying Cinnamon’s flight bag. Perhaps Jim should have been since she was posing as his wife, but he didn’t feel like arguing. After the all-night flight and the six hour time difference all he really felt like doing was drinking coffee or dropping into a soft bed. He didn’t even want to face the luggage carousel, let alone immigration. It was too bad that they had to drive into Barnstadt, but the place had no large airports and there had been no easy way to fly in without arousing suspicion.
‘I’ll take first turn behind the wheel,’ Cinnamon told him, holding up her hand as both Jim and Rollin began to argue. ‘No. I slept more on the plane than both of you. Besides, I always like driving in Germany.’
Jim had barely noticed that she had switched to fluent German now she was on the tarmac until he let her words run through his mind. He smiled and nodded, responding in kind.
‘That’s fine with me. It’d be a pity if we died in a road accident before we ever got across the border, huh?’
‘All right,’ Rollin acknowledged. ‘I’ll go second, Jim last. Maybe we can all catch up on some sleep that way. And the others – ’
‘Will be fine,’ Jim said, resisting the impulse to look over his shoulder. ‘Willy never seems to notice the time difference. I don’t know how he does it.’
‘Vitamins,’ Rollin said with a laugh. ‘He puts everything down to vitamins. He cornered me last week and tried to convert me.’
‘If he does me I might just take him up on it,’ Jim smiled tiredly. ‘Ah well.’
He looked up at the entrance to the terminal. Just a few more hurdles to cross, and he could sink into much needed sleep.
Time to sleep and time to eat and time for his body to crawl back from the cloying tendrils of jet lag that made his mind slow and sluggish. He always allowed time for recovery as long as the mission allowed it. There was no sense sending men into a situation in which they had to be constantly on the ball if half of their thoughts were in another time zone.
He rolled onto his side in the narrow bed, half-unconsciously pulling the sheets and blankets further up over his head. They were lucky this was an old fashioned place, twin beds in the double room and a single in the other. Cinnamon was sleeping in the single room, and this way he and Rollin didn’t have to share a bed. Rollin always tossed and turned too much for comfortable sleeping.
‘Shaken it off yet, Jim?’
He rubbed his eyes blearily and pushed the blankets down again. He could smell coffee. Rollin was standing there, a cup in his outstretched hand.
‘Shaken it off?’ he repeated.
‘Yeah, just about,’ Jim grunted, pushing himself up in the bed. ‘What time is it?’
‘About eleven a.m., local time. Cinnamon went out for supplies. There’s bread and salami if you fancy it. And plenty of coffee,’ Rollin added, proffering the cup again.
Jim smiled, taking the cup. Rollin’s Brooklyn accent had been pushed away by self-education and acting lessons, but he still said coffee with a shadow of the Brooklyn pronunciation.
‘Thanks,’ he said, taking a mouthful and letting the caffeine sink through his system.
He ran a hand through his hair and swung his legs out of bed.
‘Better get moving,’ he said. ‘Bauer won’t cause a scandal without our help.’
‘More’s the pity,’ Rollin added.
‘More’s the pity,’ Jim nodded. He looked down at his pale blue pyjamas, then took another mouthful of coffee. ‘I’ll be out in a minute.’ He lifted the cup toward Rollin, and smiled. ‘Thanks for this. I needed it.’
Half an hour later he was sitting at the small and chipped table in the main room, his hands around another cup of coffee and his eyes drifting to the view of the snowy street below through the grime-flecked window. There were very few people out in this weather and those who were, were anonymous bundles of coats and scarves and thick fur hats. The cold was permeating the glass and dropping to the floor in waves, creeping across the room despite the gas fire steadily burning only a few feet away.
‘Cinnamon, you have everything you need?’ he asked, raising his eyes to the woman opposite him.
She was impeccably dressed, as usual. She looked about as far from a prostitute as a woman could. Or perhaps, he corrected himself, as far from the kind of street-corner, down-and-out prostitute that he associated with the business. A little redressing and she would suit Bauer’s tastes perfectly. He wouldn’t want to keep her in the stables with the rest of his property.
‘I have everything I need,’ she nodded, a kind of sympathetic patience lightening her eyes. ‘You worry too much, Jim. I volunteered.’
Jim made a noncommittal noise over his coffee. He lit another cigarette and inhaled the hot, clean smoke, and felt a little better. He was good at looking calm and in control of these missions, but that didn’t stop him worrying about his people.
‘Besides, I’ll be hanging around the place keeping an eye on her,’ Rollin put in with his lopsided smile, patting a hand against the revolver in his pocket.
‘Not so much that you spook him,’ Jim warned. Rollin was as protective over Cinnamon as he was, or perhaps more so. ‘At least, not yet.’
‘Just enough to soak up the atmosphere,’ Rollin said, his grin widening.
The club was dark and warm, the air hazed with smoke and the scent of alcohol. It was a welcome contrast to the bright light glittering from the snowy streets outside. Jim pushed through the door with his hand firmly around Cinnamon’s upper arm, his lips set tight together in a determined line.
‘But really, I don’t want to – ’ she was protesting in a tremulous voice. ‘Please. Please, Otto.’
‘I told you to call me Mr Baum,’ he said roughly, giving her a shake. ‘Now, come on. You need this money. You owe me – and I own you.’
Her eyes were wide with fear. Jim was glad he knew it was all an act. She was good at the scared-kitten look, and it would have melted him had he not known better. Even when it was not a member of his team, someone he knew was acting, he had learnt over the years to mistrust such expressions deeply. It was too easy for a woman to manipulate a man with wide eyes and a terrified look.
‘Come on,’ he said, pulling roughly at her arm again, and she tottered forward into the dark and the drifting smoke. They reached the bar and he rapped his knuckles sharply on the counter to get the barman’s attention. ‘Mr Bauer,’ he said, raising his voice above the clamorous music from the stage show. ‘I want to see him.’
The man looked lazily at him for a moment, wiping a smear off a glass with a white cloth. Then he said, ‘And do you have an appointment?’
‘With what I’m bringing him?’ Jim asked, keeping his voice arrogant and loud. ‘I don’t need an appointment.’
The man’s eyes travelled from Jim’s face to Cinnamon’s, and back again.
‘What name shall I give?’
‘Baum,’ Jim said. ‘Otto Baum. I wrote him last week that I had some merchandise that would interest him.’
The barman’s eyes lingered on Cinnamon again, more lustfully this time. She affected a shudder, and dropped her gaze.
‘Come through to the back room,’ he said, putting the glass down on the bar. ‘I’ll see if he’s available.’
Of course, Bauer was available. Jim could see the gleam of his eye through the cracked open door even before the man came in. Bauer surveyed Cinnamon through that sliver and made his judgement before making himself known. And then he came in, swaggering and confident, his hands in his pockets and a smile on his face.
‘Well, Baum. What have you brought me?’ he asked.
Cinnamon looked small on her chair, terrified to her core. She was clutching at her small valise rather than putting it on the floor, holding it as if it were a comforter. He wished in a way that she was not so good at her job. In the brighter light of this back room it was obvious that her face was drained of colour, and now she had removed her coat the bruises on her arm were obvious too. They had constructed this carefully. It would look obvious that Otto Baum was rough with her, that she was scared of him. Bauer would be congenial, would offer her a refuge. It was his psychology to do so, and Jim was always silently amused by how rigidly people followed their own psychology.
The bruises on her upper arm were real. She had asked Jim to do them, but he hadn’t been able to bring himself to. She had threatened to do it herself, but in the end Rollin had done it, cloaking it in a mock rough seduction that had left them both laughing and gasping on the rug before the gas fire, his mouth open in a breathless grin and her eyes watering from the pain mixed with fun. Jim had sat watching them, drinking his scotch, wishing in a small part of himself that he could be like that. He worried too much about hurting his team, especially the women. He worried about letting go, losing control. All this was about control, about coming so close to the edge of it that the feeling was exhilarating, but never quite going so far as to let go. When he was forced to let go, something had gone wrong. Badly wrong.
‘Meat, Bauer,’ Jim said concisely. ‘Fresh meat. I think she will do you very well.’
Bauer smiled and scratched his cheek. ‘I’m not looking for new acquisitions, Baum. My businesses are quite well stocked.’
Jim leaned forward a little in his chair. Cinnamon flinched at his movement and he shot her a glare.
‘I’m not talking about your businesses, Bauer. I’m talking about you. Look at her.’
‘Yes,’ Bauer said smoothly, his eyes travelling to Cinnamon again. ‘She’s scared of you, Mr Baum.’
Jim snorted. ‘She wouldn’t need to be scared if she did as she were told,’ he said callously. ‘What do you say, Bauer? You want her, or shall I – ’
He gripped his hand tight around Cinnamon’s arm again, making as if to stand. She almost whimpered at the movement.
‘How much?’ Bauer asked abruptly.
Jim stopped, turning back to him. ‘How much? Twenty thousand marks. I’m not taking anything less.’
Bauer’s eyes widened briefly. He touched his hand to his pocket, looking between Cinnamon and Jim.
‘You have a very inflated opinion of your stock,’ he said. ‘Ten thousand.’
‘Fifteen, or she’s coming back with me.’
Bauer regarded them both again. Then he turned and brought a bottle of liquor and two glasses to the table. He poured one and pushed it over the table to Jim, before pouring out his own.
‘Fifteen,’ he nodded. ‘Fifteen will do nicely. Would you like to drink on it?’
Jim downed the alcohol in one, and then held out his open palm.
‘Fifteen. Cash. Now.’
Bauer regarded Cinnamon again, his eyes drifting across her face, down to the low-scooped neck of her dress and up again. He drank his own drink and stood up.
‘I won’t be five minutes,’ he said. ‘I don’t keep that kind of cash on me, you understand?’
‘I understand perfectly,’ Jim said.
He looked sideways at Cinnamon as Bauer left the room. She kept her eyes cast down, not daring to say anything that would give them away.
‘Oh, Otto, I don’t want to,’ she said after a moment. There were tears trembling at the edges of her eyes.
‘Mr Baum,’ he reminded her roughly. ‘Don’t worry, sweetheart,’ he added. ‘He’ll treat you better than I do – and better than I will if he sends you back. Remember that.’
He caught the slight sound of movement outside the room. Their caution had been justified. Bauer had been spying again. He heard movement on a staircase then, footsteps ascending, and then after a minute descending again. Bauer returned with a handful of bills, his eyes fixed on Cinnamon again.
‘Fifteen thousand,’ he said, putting the money onto the table with great care, as if he were dealing cards.
Jim picked it up and began to flick through the stack of bills, checking the amount and veracity of each one. They weren’t fake, and the amount was correct. He folded the wad and pushed it into his pocket. That was one of the perks of this job. There were all paid handsomely, expenses reimbursed, and he now had fifteen thousand Barnstadt marks in his pocket. It wouldn’t go far back in the US, but it would buy plenty here.
‘All right,’ he said with a quick nod. ‘Nice doing business with you, Mr Bauer. I’ll stop by again if I have anything else you might enjoy. Here,’ he said, flicking a card onto the table. ‘Call me if you have any problems with her. I can straighten her out.’
Concern prickled at the back of his neck as he walked out of the club. It always did when he left Cinnamon in a situation like this, no matter how well she could handle herself. But he didn’t show it. He kept his back straight and his hands pushed into the warmth of his pockets, and he stepped out into the bleak cold of the snow-draped street.