Friday, 18 January 2013
MI Fanfiction: The Minister - Ch 3
There was someone tailing him. He couldn’t see anyone, but still, he knew that someone was tailing him. It didn’t really matter. He was going back to his rented rooms. There was nothing suspicious in that. Nothing to be seen. But he was curious as to why someone would be following him. Bauer had no reason to be suspicious. If he did, then Cinnamon may be in danger.
Jim hesitated as he passed a café, looking through the window at the tables inside. No reason to worry about who was tailing him, but still…
Making a split second decision, he entered the café, seating himself at an empty table close to the door. It became immediately obvious to him why these tables near the front of the café were empty - the cold poured through the single glazed window and pushed away the heated air behind. But he wasn’t worrying about that. He kept his gloves on and kept his eyes directly obliquely toward the street.
He saw a man in a tightly buttoned overcoat walk past without a second glance. But then there was a woman, moving hesitantly, looking about herself as if she had lost something. Jim raised his eyes up to her and she saw him through the window. Her face flushed, but before she could move away he had opened the door and bowed his head to her.
‘A coffee, Fraulein?’ he asked her simply.
Her lips parted and she almost shook her head - but then she nodded swiftly, and followed him into the café.
‘Sit down, Fraulein,’ he said, pulling out a chair.
He recognised her as she removed her hat. Liesl Weismuller, Bauer’s current woman. He scrutinised her, seeing the fine lines about her eyes and the edges of her mouth that had not been evident in the photographs, contrasted by the bounce and thickness of her hair as it tumbled in a dark mass from beneath her fur hat. She wasn’t very old, but she had been made mature by working for Bauer. Working for? Slaving for? He wasn’t sure what to call it. The fact that she was here implied that she enjoyed a certain amount of freedom. He wondered if she enjoyed her duties, or whether she put up with them as an unavoidable price for staying alive.
‘You were following me, Fraulein,’ he said, before his thoughts could run too far. ‘Why?’
‘I – ’ she began hesitantly, and then seemed to steel herself and said, ‘I was watching you at the club, Herr Baum. Watching you selling that woman to Herr Bauer.’
‘Well?’ Jim asked her with a light shrug.
‘He sent me away,’ she said, and she couldn’t disguise the slight tremble of her lips. ‘I have nothing and nobody now, Herr Baum. Because you brought that woman to him.’
Jim’s eyes narrowed slightly as he tried to read her. He couldn’t risk betraying any feeling about her situation. She could still be attached to Bauer.
‘Well, what do you expect me to do about it?’ he asked. He glanced up as a waitress approached the table, saying curtly, ‘Two coffees, bitte.’
As he had expected, his tone sent the girl away without any extra fuss. He pulled a cigarette out of his pocket and lit it. The first inhale pushed away some of the chill that was drifting through the window, and he breathed smoke out into the air in a lazy cloud.
‘Well, Fraulein?’ he asked again. ‘What am I supposed to do with Herr Bauer’s cast offs?’
Her lips pressed together in a thin line. The waitress returned, putting down two cups of coffee on the table between them, and Jim nodded in a mute thank you.
‘I have nowhere to go, Herr Baum,’ Weismuller said, almost in the tone of a challenge. She looked up at him, her brown eyes defiant. ‘I came to Herr Bauer with nothing more than the clothes I stood in, and those were replaced almost immediately. I have left with nothing more than what I wear now. I have no family in this country. I have no money. I have no home.’
Jim took a deep swallow of his coffee, watching her over the rim of the cup. There was something about her – something he could not pin down. He could see why Bauer had wanted her. She wasn’t simply attractive. There was a spark of intelligence and defiance that brought her features to life. A shard of pity made itself felt deep inside him. It was his fault that she had been cast out. There were always sacrifices made on missions like this, but he didn’t have to like it. He never enjoyed the human cost of such things.
He pulled out the sheaf of money that Bauer had given him in exchange for Cinnamon. He leafed through the notes carelessly and watched Weismuller’s eyes widen a little, her lips parting as if she were hungry. She took a mouthful of her own coffee to cover her reaction, and he smiled.
‘Here,’ he said, tossing a couple of hundred mark bills onto the table. ‘That should set you up for a couple of days.’
She stared at them as if he had just thrown a dirty napkin toward her.
‘I don’t need your charity,’ she said tightly.
Jim looked at her. What was it about her? There was something in her face that made a part of him soften. It didn’t do to have feelings like that in these situations. It never helped.
He drank the last mouthful of his coffee and stood up, tossing a few coins onto the table for the drinks. Then he very deliberately placed two fingers on the bills and pushed them toward the woman.
‘If you don’t take them, Fraulein, the waitress will,’ he said pointedly.
He walked out of the café without waiting for a response. He didn’t turn his head toward the window as he walked past the front of the building, but he saw out of the corner of his eye Weismuller’s fingers moving cautiously toward the money. It was in her pocket before he had moved out of sight.
‘You think she was on the level, Jim?’
Rollin leant back in his chair and carelessly rested his feet on the arm of the chair next to him, blowing smoke out of his mouth in a slow cloud.
‘I think she was on the level,’ Jim nodded. He fanned out the cards he held in his hand, scrutinised the symbols, and then flung them down on the table. ‘I fold. You’ve got me beat, Rollin.’
Rollin swung his feet back to the floor and reached out to the table. He turned the cards over and looked at them with a grin.
‘You could usually out-poker a pro-gambler, Jim. What’s wrong with you?’
He threw his own cards down on the table. They weren’t playing for money, just for matchsticks that were scattered across the table. There was no vested interest in the game for either of them.
Jim scratched his head, taking a mouthful of his drink and grimacing at the taste of what passed for scotch in this place.
‘I don’t know, Rollin,’ he said. ‘Something bothers me about that woman. Not whether she was on the level,’ he said quickly, raising a hand. ‘No, I’m certain she was. Just – ’
‘Let me make a guess,’ Rollin said, leaning forward slightly. ‘She had long, dark hair and a figure that could stop clocks? She had that look in her eyes – that lost kitten look. It was cold outside and you had that wad of money in your coat, and you couldn’t leave her to freeze?’
‘It’s not like that, exactly,’ Jim said, suddenly disconcerted. Was it just her face and that look in her eyes that was bothering him? Was he really such an easy target for the lady-in-distress routine? But no. He had seen how she had taken that money, like a beggar child snatching food that had been dropped by a careless passer-by.
‘Forget about her,’ Rollin said pointedly, gathering up the cards and beginning to shuffle them with expert hands. ‘If she’s off his hands, she’s off ours too. She’s irrelevant. It proves Cinnamon’s played her part well.’
‘Hmm,’ Jim said slowly. ‘Barney and Willy checked in recently?’ he asked as a change of subject.
‘Not long before you came back,’ Rollin nodded. ‘They’ve got everything set up for the roadworks and all their permits checked out fine. They’re going to start the serious work tomorrow. Said they’ll be round here after dinner.’
‘Good,’ Jim said pensively. ‘That’s good.’
‘You’re worried about Cinnamon too?’ Rollin asked perceptively.
‘She can look after herself,’ Jim said, but his eyes met Rollin’s, and he knew they both understood one another.
‘Well, I’ll be introducing myself to Bauer tomorrow,’ Rollin smiled, leaning back in his chair again and taking out a cigarette. ‘I should catch sight of her then and see she’s all right.’
‘And Bauer should start feeling the squeeze,’ Jim said with a grim smile. ‘I know his type. Once he gets scared that it’s all going to come out, he’ll start getting careless. He’ll be thinking about you. No one else.’
Jim wondered sometimes if he did too much smoking and drinking on missions like this. Smoking, drinking liquor, and drinking coffee. He had too much time to think about things, not enough time to act. He stood at the window of his room, looking through the crack between the curtains at the apartment block opposite, watching the people going about their lives. He almost laughed as he watched each little person in their little square of light, acting as if they were in total privacy. He remembered watching a film like that a good ten years ago. Jimmy Stewart, was it? A Hitchcock film. A guy watching people to occupy his mind, and discovering a murder. Funny the things one watched for relaxation…
There was a couple there arguing about something. Another couple setting down cups on a clear table. A little boy bouncing up and down on his toes watching the light drifting snow, up too late and too excited. Jim’s eyes drifted up a storey, and he saw a light snap on, a woman walking across the room, loosening her dark hair with one hand. His focus tightened. Liesl Weismuller. She had perhaps got an apartment with that money he had given her. It was a shabby place across the street – shabbier even than this building – and was likely to be cheap.
He watched her as she moved across the room. She was looking about herself as if the place was unfamiliar. Her behaviour seemed consistent with her story in the café, at least. She had no bag but a paper one that was perhaps filled with groceries, and she looked tired and cold. She sat down at the table and started to unpack items. He was right – bread, some tins and packets, a few fresh vegetables. She took a cigarette out of a new carton and lit it. And then she looked over toward the window, stood up, and closed the curtains.
He watched for a few minutes longer, finishing his cigarette and just staring at the drawn curtains, watching her shadow moving behind them. He didn’t want to get involved. He knew he should not get involved. But – there was just something about her. Something that drew him to her.
He told himself not to be foolish. He turned away from the window and stubbed out his cigarette in the thick glass ashtray on the bedside table. He could hear Rollin and Barney and Willy next door, the poker game revived and their laughter and talk coming quietly and sporadic through the door. They never questioned the times that he needed to be alone. In some ways he wished perhaps that they would. But he always turned away from their concern. They were good friends, sticking to him through all of his unsociability.
He sighed. It was time to stop brooding. He opened his suitcase and rummaged through the neatly folded clothes in there. In the bottom, carefully wrapped in socks and underwear, were two bottles of proper, expensive scotch. He drew out one, gave the label a cursory glance, and pushed through the door back into the main room.
‘Jim, come join us,’ Rollin said immediately, patting an empty chair. ‘I need someone who can actually play this damn game.’
Jim laughed as Barney protested and Willy shot Rollin an injured look. He raised the bottle in his hand and said, ‘I brought out the good stuff. It seemed like the right time for it.’
‘Always the right time for the good stuff,’ Barney nodded, holding up his glass and examining the small amount of liquor at the bottom. ‘I don’t know what they call this, but it’s not good.’
‘Well,’ Jim said, turning to the cupboard and fetching himself a glass. ‘Finish off that and I’ll raise your spirits with this. We can drink to a smooth first day. Rollin said you got the works set up?’
‘Yeah,’ Willy said economically. ‘No trouble at all.’
‘I don’t think one hand knows what the other hand’s doing in this country,’ Barney added. ‘No one questioned us.’
‘Yeah, that’s the best way,’ Jim said, pouring himself a glass of clear amber liquid. ‘Why don’t they ever have ice boxes in these countries?’ he complained, peering into the refrigerator with his glass in one hand.
Rollin laughed. ‘They don’t need them,’ he said, getting to his feet. He opened the window and bitter air flooded in. He looked up, then knocked at something hanging from the window ledge above. ‘Here,’ he said, holding out an icicle as long as his forearm. ‘I guess you can do something with that.’
Jim’s eyes glinted. ‘That I can,’ he said. He took the icicle and put it on the counter, then knocked it into pieces with a meat tenderiser. ‘That really is on the rocks,’ he said as he slipped a couple of chunks into his glass and Rollin’s. He fetched Barney’s and Willy’s empty glasses and treated them in the same way, and then swept the rest of the ice into the sink.
Rollin took his glass, sat back down in the armchair and put his feet up on the coffee table. He lit a cigarette and took a long drag before lifting the glass to his lips and taking a sip. Then he grinned. ‘Best I’ve ever tasted. Good American scotch and pure European ice. What a combination.’
‘Deal me in,’ Jim said, regaining his empty chair. ‘I’m going to finish off the night by winning myself a fortune in matchsticks.’