Friday, 18 January 2013

MI Fanfiction: The Minister - Ch 4


4.

The morning light was thin through the curtains. Jim lay in bed staring at it, his eyes wide open. That blue light meant there was still snow outside, and perhaps more to come. He had been lying awake for half an hour, and his alarm clock still had another half hour before going off. His body clock was still messed up.

Finally he pushed the lever on the alarm and swung his legs out of bed. The air was freezing and he winced. He’d have to kick the heaters into life and push some of the cold out of the place.

He sat on the edge of the bed, listening for a moment. Rollin was quiet, probably still asleep, but there was no point in lying about here until he heard noises from his friend. If he didn’t force himself up the heaters would never get turned on and the place would never get warm.

He allowed himself a brief look out between the curtains. The sky was lightened by the gold streaks of the rising sun, but the streets were still dim and there were lights on in some windows. The snow was still thick on the ground. A new layer had fallen in the night. Liesl Weismuller’s curtains were closed, with no light showing behind them at all.

His eyes fell on the radio receiver by the bed as he turned back into the room. Cinnamon’s radio was disguised as a hair dryer, but his was just the ordinary pale blue box. So far, it had remained silent. That wasn’t unusual, he reminded himself. She would not risk calling unless there was a need. He couldn’t help wondering, though. Where had she slept that night? Had Bauer allowed her a period of grace? Was she coping with it all?

He had to trust her. That was the only way. She was a good agent. She used her femininity well. It was one of the most efficient weapons in her arsenal.

He turned away from the nightstand, fingering the buttons on his pyjama jacket. He didn’t have any urge to remove his warm nightclothes and swap them for new ones, but that was life. He couldn’t lie under a blanket all day worrying about the various women involved in this mission. He should be according the same worry to Barney and Willie, involved in what would probably be one of the most audacious robberies this country had ever seen. Theirs was a very different kind of danger to the danger that Cinnamon was in. If they ended up being caught and subjected to Barnstadt law, what might happen to them?

No. He couldn’t spend all his time worrying. If he did he would never take any of these missions. Certainly he would never succeed.

The bathroom was even colder than the bedroom. There was a sheen of condensation on the mirror and damp on almost every surface. The window, already frosted by design, was covered in a layer of real frost that made patterns of feathers and ethereal creatures that were much more beautiful than the repeated flower design that the window had been given in manufacture. A glimmer of early sunshine made each curlicue shine with gold that gave an illusion of warmth to the cold room.

He had to take the plunge. He started to run the hot tap, praying for the heat to actually come. As the pipes started to knock and gurgle and water gushed forth he quickly stripped off his pyjamas. Every hair on his body stood up at the cold and he jogged softly on the spot a couple of times to warm himself up until the water started steaming. Then he washed himself all over swiftly with a flannel, wishing heartily that there were a shower in this place. He rubbed himself dry quickly, wondering if he left the sheen of water on his skin if it would turn into curls and feathers like the ice on the window and Rollin would find him frozen there, a beautiful ice sculpture of no use at all.

He laughed softly at that and started to lather up soap for shaving. As he passed the razor carefully over the facets of his face he started to feel a little more human. Pretty soon he would pass as the respectable guy that everyone saw him as day to day, even if his mind still felt fogged and distracted by jet lag and worry.

He stared at himself in the water-smeared mirror, dabbing the last remnants of soap from his face with a towel and passing a comb through his sleep-mussed hair. His blue eyes looked pensive and there was a furrow in his forehead – but then he had started to get lines on his face in his twenties about the same time his hair started to grey. People always thought he was older than he was. It was something he was used to.

He put his shaving things back in the cabinet, wiped the basin clean of soap, and went to hurry back through the cold living room into his bedroom.

He found himself looking through the split in the curtains again as he got dressed. Liesl Weismuller’s curtains were open now and the room beyond was empty. Perhaps she had got up and gone out in haste, searching for a job, maybe, or a better place to live. He hoped it was a job rather than another place to live. He wanted to be able to keep an eye on her. He didn’t know why he cared, but something in the back of his mind told him he must. It was important, and he would find out why in time.

He pushed out through the bedroom door into the living room and stopped as he saw Rollin sitting in an armchair out there, enveloped in a dark silk dressing gown and smiling suavely at his friend.

‘You weren’t up when I went to shave,’ Jim commented, going over to the sink to pour water for coffee.

‘You underestimate the power of Barnstadt plumbing,’ Rollin said with a smile. ‘It’s a better alarm clock than man could conceive of. And the coffee’s already on,’ he said as he saw Jim looking about for the pot.

‘I’m sorry,’ Jim smiled. ‘I didn’t mean to wake you up.’

He had abstractedly noticed the gurgling and glugging of the pipes as he washed and shaved, but in his preoccupation he hadn’t thought of it waking Rollin.

‘No problem,’ Rollin replied. ‘Thanks for putting the heaters on, old boy.’

Jim couldn’t help but laugh quietly at Rollin’s restrained suavity. No matter where he was or what he was doing he always seemed to be able to fall into relaxed elegance if the moment allowed.

‘So you’re still thinking about her, huh?’ Rollin asked, and Jim turned in feigned confusion.

‘Who? Cinnamon? She can manage,’ he said briefly.

‘No,’ Rollin said pointedly. ‘Not Cinnamon. Your little foreign waif, Fraulein Weismuller. There’s a gallant streak in you a mile wide, Jim Phelps. Do what you like, but it won’t go away by wishing.’

Jim snorted quietly and sat down opposite Rollin. He wanted to deny it but he knew that Rollin could see through the hard fa├žade of the master spy. Ninety-nine percent of the time he could carry it through, could continue no matter what scruples and objections moved in his mind, but Rollin knew him well enough the glimpse that one percent chink in the armour.

‘Okay, I’m thinking about her,’ he nodded.

He wished to God that coffee would boil so he could get up and pour himself a cup. He lit himself a cigarette and drew in the hot, fresh smoke. That would have to do until he could get the caffeine running in his veins.

‘Is it going to do any good to the mission, Jim?’ Rollin asked him seriously.

‘I don’t know,’ Jim replied. ‘I just don’t know.’

‘Take care,’ Rollin said succinctly.

The pot suddenly began to spit and roil and Rollin unfolded himself from the chair to go and pour the dark, clear liquid into two mugs.

‘Cream? Sugar?’ he asked.

‘Black,’ Jim said, his eyes on the closed curtains.

When he received the mug from Rollin he found the coffee black but sweet. Rollin had known that he wanted sugar even though he hadn’t said so. He drank the mug in a few swift mouthfuls and then went in search of something quick and simple to eat.

‘You’re going to see Bauer as scheduled, then?’ he asked Rollin over his shoulder as he spread butter on a crusty slice of bread.

‘As scheduled,’ Rollin nodded. ‘I’ll slip in some reconnaissance first to see if it alters my plans. And you, Jim my old friend, are going to see that girl. There’s nothing else you need to be doing, is there?’

‘Nothing at all,’ Jim said with a degree of tightness.

Sometimes he felt most useless when they were actually on their missions, unless he had a pivotal role in the thing. There would be no mission without the plans that he devised, and he would be needed if anything went wrong – but right now his only job was to sit in the apartment and wait for the others to report back to him.

‘Don’t get yourself into any trouble, will you, Jim?’ Rollin asked him as he brought his breakfast over to the table.

‘I won’t,’ Jim promised. He patted Rollin on the shoulder. ‘Go on. Start snooping. The early bird catches the worm, you know.’

‘This worm will be a pleasure to catch,’ Rollin said, and Jim knew that he was thinking of Cinnamon in that’s man’s clutches. Rollin was right. This one really would be a pleasure to bring down.

******

The club was almost empty at this time in the morning, but then Rollin wasn’t going there for fun. He was going to check the lie of the land, to see what kind of place the man was running. It was later that he would come back and try to catch a glimpse of Bauer – and perhaps of Cinnamon too.

He was glad to get off the street, even if it was to go into a place like this. The sidewalks were thick with snow that was only slowly being trampled or swept away by pedestrians and shop owners. The cuffs of his pants were caked in hard little pieces of compressed snow, his feet were damp, and the cold was penetrating the clothes he had chosen to wear. He stamped some of the snow off on the mat and hoped that there would be heaters on in the place.

The heat that hit him as he opened the door told him that the place had been up and running for a while. There weren’t many people in there but somewhere a gramophone was putting out some kind of slow jazz and the heaters about the walls were making the air shimmer in the dim light. If this had been a place back home, if this weren’t a mission, if he hadn’t known the kind of activities that the club fronted, it might be a fun place to spend a few hours.

He walked up to the bar and asked rather slurringly for a brandy. The man behind the bar gave him a quick look up and down, but Rollin hadn’t dressed as a sharp and well-paid reporter this morning. He was wearing a dirty old corduroy jacket and old slacks and looked more like a down-at-heel drunk than anything else. His upper lip was covered with a thick but rather unkempt moustache, and he had aged his complexion significantly. Perfect for drinking at this time in the morning, perfect for rambling drunkenly to people and have them spew information back at him without thinking they might be letting anything go that was of value. Perfect for coming back later as a spick and span gentleman and having no one guess he was the same man.

Rollin threw a couple of coins onto the bar and took his drink away to a table where a few other patrons were sitting nearby. The barman certainly didn’t look the type to talk, but he might have some luck with the other early morning denizens of this place.

A few drinks later and he was leaning back in his chair and chatting companionably to an old man who was far more drunk than Rollin would allow himself to get, and who smelt of sweat and cigarettes and unwashed clothing. It wasn’t exactly a joy talking to him, but it was a fun character study, and he also gleaned a lot about Bauer’s activity in the place.

‘Oh ja, the boss. He’s always coming and going,’ the man slurred, nodding not towards the street door, but to the door behind the bar that led off to other rooms. None of the patrons seemed to know the Bauer by name, but referred to him as ‘the boss’ or ‘the old man.’

‘Tall fellow, isn’t he?’ Rollin asked, taking another swig of his drink. What a waste it was to drink brandy this fast – although this certainly wasn’t the best brandy he’d ever tasted. ‘Good looking old dog, isn’t he, even with that grey hair?’

He had inured himself over the years to alcohol. He had to drink a hell of a lot before it really made him let go. It was too dangerous in situations like this to let it get the better of him.

‘Ja, ja,’ the other guy nodded. ‘Always a girl on his arm. Always.’

Rollin made a sound of disgust and took another mouthful of the brandy.

‘Some guys have all the luck, huh?’

‘Oh, that’s true enough,’ his companion nodded, taking the opportunity to relocate himself and his drink to Rollin’s table.

Rollin steeled himself not to recoil at the odour of the man in such close proximity to him. After all, he probably had something of a similar smell after this much brandy and so many cigarettes and the old clothes that he had deliberately worn at the worst times to give them an authentic scent.

‘Buy you another?’ he asked, and of course the man nodded.

‘Oh, ja, your pockets must be deeper than mine.’

Rollin refreshed the drinks and settled himself in to a long morning of discovering exactly when Bauer would be around, on which days, and when he was most likely to have his latest companion on his arm. By midday he was feeling pleasingly sotted and in full grasp of plenty of information, and he knew it was time to leave before the liquor got the better of him. It would be a good idea to check up on Jim before he sorted himself out for the evening’s work. Jim and that girl, whatever she might turn out to be.



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