Saturday, 2 February 2013
MI Fanfiction: The Minister - Ch 7
Fraulein Weismuller looked up as if she had been electrified. Jim licked his lips, suddenly nervous. But he had already presented himself to her as someone who bought and sold women – someone who worked beneath the system, probably who crossed borders by night and thought little of immigration controls. It wasn’t a stretch that he would be able to take a woman from East to West.
But as Jim Phelps, as the team leader of his Impossible Missions force, as the top man in his cell, taking his orders from the Secretary; that was different. Ostensibly it would be even easier for him than for his alias – but in reality things weren’t that simple. It was a promise that would be tough and dangerous to back up – as much for her as for him. It could compromise his whole position in the IMF if he were found out.
‘Why would you take me to the West?’ she asked him bitterly, staring at him with nothing but distrust in her eyes. ‘To sell me to someone who’ll send me back east? What do men like you feel for women? We’re commodities. Nothing more.’
‘You are more,’ Jim said.
He wanted to bite his own tongue out. He was so perilously close to blowing his own cover. He was stupid, stupid, to even be here.
‘You don’t know me,’ she said.
‘No,’ he replied, reaching out a hand to her cheek, touching the drying tears there.
She turned away. Jim bit his lip into his mouth. He ought to turn around now and go. But Liesl walked across the room, filled the kettle and put it on the gas ring.
‘I owe you a cup of coffee, Herr Baum,’ she said with her back to him. Even in that over long jumper there was something about her shoulder blades and the set of her neck that made Jim want to go to her.
‘I’d like that,’ he said, aware that he was suddenly smiling like a schoolboy.
He pushed the expression off his face before she turned around. He had to act like Otto Baum, not Jim Phelps, and certainly not like a lovestruck Jim Phelps. He strode across the room and took a seat at the table without asking her. Perhaps he would be lucky. Perhaps Otto would repulse her, where Jim may not.
‘It must have been tough working for Georg Bauer,’ he remarked. ‘But he’s a lucky guy,’ he added, remembering to think as Otto. ‘He must have been crazy to give you up.’
Her shoulders stiffened.
‘Women are supposed to be protected in this world,’ she said. ‘They are supposed to be shielded. They are not. Women work the hardest of all, for least reward.’
Jim half-smiled. He wasn’t sure what to say to that.
After a time she brought the coffee in two cups, and sat down on one of the old, scratched wooden chairs.
‘Georg Bauer disgusted me,’ she said simply. ‘I would like to go to the police, go to the newspapers, tell the world what that man is. But no one would believe me. Besides, his men will be watching me.’
Jim stiffened, glancing momentarily over at the window, not that there was anything to see through a third-floor window.
‘Why do you think they’ll be watching you?’ he asked, keeping his tone casual.
‘Because he told me so,’ she said simply. ‘He made me aware how lucky I am to have my life.’
Jim clenched a hand under the table. He had known it was stupid to come here. He had known it. Never let personal feelings interfere with a mission. That was one of his first credos.
He got up and went to the window, looking down into the street below. The sky was still like slate and the streets were still covered in dirty snow. There was no one down there but pedestrians hurrying by. Still, it would be best to wait until dark before he left the building, and to leave by another exit.
‘I shouldn’t have come here,’ he said, coming back to the table.
‘Then why did you?’ Liesl asked him, regarding him over the top of her coffee cup.
He shrugged. He could allow some honesty. ‘Because I am a foolish man,’ he said. ‘Because I saw you in the café and I knew I must see more of you. I wanted to see that you were all right.’
Her lips turned upwards in a grim smile. ‘Are you a believer in love at first sight, Herr Baum?’
Jim shook his head. ‘I never have been,’ he told her.
She poured a little whiskey into her coffee, and then some into his.
‘It keeps the cold at bay,’ she said.
Jim took a mouthful from his cup. It wasn’t good coffee and it wasn’t good whiskey, but she was right. It did keep the cold at bay.
He glanced across at the windows of his own apartment, wondering how Barney and Willy were doing, if Cinnamon was safe, if Rollin was in there. As he watched he caught a sudden flash of light on binoculars, and realised that Rollin was there, and that he was reclining in the old armchair near the window, watching Jim. There could be men in any of those windows, watching. An uncomfortable feeling crept up his spine. He got up quickly and drew the curtains closed.
‘It keeps the heat in better,’ he said to Liesl as she shot him an enquiring look. He flicked the electric light on, and sat back down.
Whatever it was that magnetised him to Liesl Weismuller, it seemed to be a reciprocal attraction. There was no reason that she should trust any man, least of all a man she had seen selling a woman to Georg Bauer, but still she sat at the table with her eyes on him, leaning closer to him than she needed to. Jim tried again to tell himself that he was here for professional reasons, that she could tell him many useful things about Bauer and his household – but the only person listening to the lie was himself.
‘You lived in Georg Bauer’s house for a long time, didn’t you?’ he asked her. He could perhaps try to make some truth of his lie.
She nodded. ‘Almost seven months. A short time. A long time. It depends from which side you are looking.’
Jim half smiled. ‘You came straight from Berlin?’
Again she nodded. ‘I had known little of life,’ she said. ‘I only knew I wanted to get to the West, to be with what is left of my family. I had a great fault, Herr Baum. I trusted people.’
‘That’s not always a fault,’ Jim said, reaching his hand out across the table. Against all his expectations, she reached toward him and touched his fingers with her own. In some ways he despised himself. She was perhaps desperate for any kind of affection, and he was taking advantage of that.
Rollin lowered his binoculars as soon as Jim closed the curtains. He sat in the tired armchair, legs stretched out and crossed at the ankles, rubbing a finger against his lip. He was worried about Jim. At least he had had the sense to draw those curtains, though. If Rollin could see in to Fraulein Weismuller’s apartment, then so could anyone else. But he knew Jim. He didn’t fall easily, but when he did, he fell hard.
He got up and wandered over to the counter beside the sink. He had pushed away the effects of the morning’s alcohol with a good deal of coffee, and now he cut himself a few thick slices of bread and ate them covered in butter and honey. He had gleaned from his morning’s work that Bauer would almost certainly be at the club tonight, and would probably bring along his new trophy, Cinnamon. Rollin would welcome the chance to see that she was all right as much as he welcomed the chance to get some dirt on Bauer. He had a lipstick camera identical to Cinnamon’s. All he would have to do at the end of the night was to swap his with hers.
He had his reporter’s clothes laid out over a chair in his bedroom. That would give Bauer distraction enough, at least. Worried people thought that they were more careful. In fact, they were far, far more careless. With the thought of a reporter in his club Bauer’s mind would be far from the safe in the cellar and far from thoughts that his lovely new woman could be a plant. He would be watching Rollin, and nothing else.
He whiled away the afternoon playing solitary card games and occasionally taking a glance at those closed curtains across the street. He was hoping that Jim would return soon, but he didn’t. At around six he saw Willy and Barney returning, looking dirty and tired as they left their van and walked towards the front door of the building. He looked out into the corridor as they came past.
‘Like me to fix dinner for you fellers?’ he asked, acutely conscious of how he had spent the day drinking or relaxing while they had been down underground, digging out half-frozen earth.
‘Be there as soon as we’re clean,’ Barney responded with a grin, holding up mud-smeared hands.
Rollin grinned back, and turned back into the apartment. He didn’t have a lot to cook with, but he could make something with potatoes and sausage and canned tomatoes. It might even taste nice.
In the club later he was glad of the solid meal that helped to soak up yet more vodkas and brandies and cocktails. He nursed his drinks, but he didn’t want to look as if he was too obviously waiting around. Besides, it wasn’t such a hardship sitting at one of the round tables and watching the stage show, which was little more than girls in feathers and skimpy costumes performing rote dances to please the patrons. They did please, not so much for any innate talent but because they were some of the prettiest girls Rollin had yet seen in this country.
He tapped his glass quietly on the tabletop. Somewhere down below, outside the perimeters of the clubs walls, Barney and Willie were tunnelling again despite their long day’s work, in an effort to reach the safe as soon as possible. Up here he was still waiting for Cinnamon to appear. If she had snapped anything of note in the house or in the club that evening, he needed to be there to receive the lipstick camera from her and replace it with an identical one.
Rollin glanced towards the door to the back room. It was almost ten now, and Bauer still hadn’t appeared – but as he watched the door half opened and the man himself looked out, casting his eyes over the customers in the bar. Rollin stretched his legs out and lolled back in his chair, smiling. With the sharp suit and the camera around his neck and the notepad under his right hand, he looked every inch the press man.
It was only a few moments later when Bauer came over and sat down at his table.
‘Press,’ Bauer said simply.
Rollin tilted his head once, tapping his fingers on the notepad.
‘Why are you here?’
Rollin smiled. ‘This is one of the best clubs in the city, Herr Bauer. It is a place of interest to the people. I write reviews of places like this. Of course, it helps when the management are friendly.’
Bauer’s eyes narrowed momentarily. ‘Put my name once in your column and your editor will have you immediately fired,’ he said in a level voice. ‘Just a warning.’
‘Well, of course, Herr Bauer,’ Rollin replied smoothly, touching his hat. ‘I want to keep my job just as much as I imagine you want to keep yours.’
‘See that you do,’ Bauer said, and he stood up abruptly and pushed back in through the door to the back room. Rollin was certain that the room acted as a first stop for the business of prostitution, perhaps where patrons were vetted or money exchanged hands. There were enough hardened or abashed or self-conscious looking men slipping through to convince him of that.
Rollin sat back in his chair again and turned his attention back to the dancers, making some notes on his pad for the sake of appearances. He could see through that door. That was Cinnamon’s job.
It was almost eleven before Cinnamon appeared. Rollin caught sight of her as she slipped out through the door and walked up to the bar, ordering herself a tall drink. The barman asked for no money. It was obvious that he knew she was Bauer’s woman.
She turned around and leant against the bar, sipping the drink daintily and looking about the room. Her eye was caught for a while by the stage show, but then she put her drink down and began to move about the tables, leaning close to the patrons and speaking to them quietly. Rollin watched her, his hands clenched under the table as a couple of the guys made lewd remarks or reached out to touch her as she turned away. He certainly couldn’t leap to defend her honour, and if he could read Bauer right, he was probably watching and ready to come out himself at any sign of trouble.
Eventually she got to Rollin. She smiled and leant closer and said, ‘Are you having an enjoyable evening, sir?’
Rollin nodded and smiled, but he said in an undertone, ‘Are you all right?’
She nodded. ‘I’m very glad, sir,’ she said aloud.
Then Rollin said in a louder, rather drunk voice, ‘You need to freshen your make up, Fraulein. Too much kissing in the back room, eh?’
‘Oh,’ Cinnamon said, her tone and her smile still gracious. She reached into her small purse and brought out a compact and her lipstick, but she fumbled and dropped the little gold tube on the floor.
‘Let me,’ Rollin said as the tube rolled under the table. He bent down and swiftly shook the lipstick’s twin out of his sleeve, palming Cinnamon’s and straightening up to offer her the new one.
‘Thank you, sir,’ she smiled.
‘There you are. Much better,’ Rollin nodded as she carefully retouched her lips.
He could feel the little metal tube in his sleeve as she walked away. He watched her moving on to the next table, exchanging more pleasantries, acting every inch the hostess. She had spent a considerable time in the back, it seemed, and there must be something of value in the camera for her to risk passing it to him. Later he would set up the bathroom in his apartment as a makeshift darkroom, and he would find out exactly what it was that she had seen.