Saturday, 2 March 2013
MI Fanfiction: The Minister - Ch 8
[A.N. I have been trying to work on this. Really. I forgot I hadn't uploaded this chapter here, and I've taken far too long working on the next. Life. Children. Depression. Anxiety. Life. All those things. But I've got Ch. 9 started, at least.]
How much information could you get from someone when you were lying alongside them in a narrow bed, warm under blankets, naked as a creature in the wild? Jim asked himself that as he trailed his fingers along Liesl’s arm and touched the sudden swoop of flesh between ribs and hip and rested his nose against her neck and breathed in her scent. There was a sense of ease melted through his body that he only ever found after satiating himself like this.
Her eyes were closed, her head tipped back. She lay there with the contentment of a cat, her arms flung up onto the pillow behind her head.
‘It has never been like this,’ she murmured.
For a moment Jim felt an uncomfortable, primal unease with the knowledge of her seven months of servitude to Georg Bauer. But he didn’t own her, any more than Bauer had. No matter how you tried to enslave a person, you could never truly own them.
‘It never has,’ he murmured, touching his lips to her neck.
Perhaps it had. Perhaps he had been with women like this before. Perhaps she would blend into blurred memories of different women in different countries, of the forthright women back home in New York City, of the sultry women in Latin America, or the intensity of the Eastern Europeans. Perhaps in time she would be just another woman – but for now, this felt unique and irreplaceable.
He lay there in silence, letting time stretch out. It was almost midnight, and sleep threatened to seep into his mind. Rollin would be wondering where he was. Barney and Willy, if they were on schedule, would be finishing up and coming home for a short, hard sleep and another early start. And he was here, wrapped about a woman he barely knew, his skin sheened with sweat and the feeling of never wanting to move in his bones.
He had to move. He stirred himself and stretched and she moaned a little in protest. She was falling into sleep too. His flank touched the cold shock of the wall behind him, and he gasped. It was a good thing. The chill outside the blankets stopped the sleepiness in its tracks.
He lay there. He bit his lip into his mouth, two parts of his mind vying for control. Everything revolved around guilt. He should be making use of this connection for the good of the mission. He shouldn’t be risking everything by having a casual affair with this woman. But he didn’t want to use her. He didn’t want to hurt her. But he didn’t even know if he could truly trust her.
He wanted a cigarette, but the packet was in his jacket pocket on the other side of the room, through all that cold air. He sat up a little more in bed, letting the cold reach his bare chest. He bit his lip so hard that pain flooded him and made his eyes water.
‘Liesl,’ he asked. ‘What can you tell me about Georg Bauer?’
She stirred sleepily.
‘What?’ she murmured.
He put a hand on her shoulder, looking at the darkness of his fingers against the milky whiteness of her skin. He wondered what she would look like in the summer, with sun to tan her.
‘Can you tell me anything about Georg Bauer?’ he asked her in a low voice. ‘Anything that would help to – to bring him down.’
She gave a sudden harsh laugh that broke the warm atmosphere.
‘I could tell you a thousand things that would bring him down, and he would have me killed for each one,’ she said. ‘But why do you want to know, Otto? You don’t want to bring him down. You want to sell women to him.’
Jim felt that like a kick in the abdomen. Her voice had been free of bitterness up until now.
‘What if I did want to bring him down?’ he said in a low voice.
She suddenly became silent and very still. Jim didn’t need to hear her speak – he could read her feelings. She trusted no one. Suddenly she trusted him even less. He could have been sent there by Bauer. He could be one of Bauer’s men, about to betray her. Or, if she was still under Bauer’s influence – she could be about to betray him.
‘If you did,’ she said eventually, ‘I could tell you a lot of things, like where he gets his girls from, like how he makes sure every journalist in the country stays quiet about his work, like how he used to watch everything I did through spy holes and cameras and – ’
Jim felt something freeze inside him at that, but then someone knocked on the door so hard that the sound seemed to shatter the night. Jim sat straight up in bed, staring about in the dim light. Liesl sat too, her face drained of colour. She was obviously terrified.
‘He said he’d send men to check on me,’ she whispered. ‘He said I was to answer at any time. He said I wasn’t to see any man...’
‘You’re not seeing me,’ Jim said firmly.
His clothes were in a pile on the floor by the bed. He grabbed them in both hands and began to dress as quickly and efficiently as he could. Thank God his coat and jacket were in here, not in the other room.
‘Go to the door,’ he whispered.
‘But you – ’
‘Put my coffee mug in the sink. Leave yours on the table. Go to the door. Say you were asleep. I won’t be here.’
He had only given the place the briefest of once-overs before he found himself tussled in bed with Liesl. The whole evening had been spent in the luxury of sheets and blankets and naked skin. Now the cold was biting into him and he was dressed in pants and an unbuttoned shirt, his underwear and tie and socks thrust into his pockets, his shoes and jacket grasped in his right hand. There was no way out in the room but the window, and he would have to take it. No matter that he was three floors up. He would have to take it.
He slipped the window up in its frame and put his head out into the frigid air. There was no fire escape on this building. There were just not the regulations here that they had at home. But there was a thick, cast-iron drain pipe. Thank God. He dropped his shoes out to the street below and shrugged into his jacket and coat, then swung himself over the sill and out onto the pipe outside. He could hear Liesl in the other room calling out in response to the banging on the door, but she hadn’t opened it yet. As he pulled the sash window back down with scrabbling fingertips he heard the men finally burst in, and he ducked out of sight.
It was so cold he was afraid his fingers would lose grip. They already felt half numb. His feet were numbing where he was curling his toes into what grip he could find. He shimmied down the freezing pipe trying not to think about what might be going on in the room above. He had to get down before someone saw him, before his fingers gave way and he fell down.
His feet touched the snow-crusted sidewalk and he groped about for his shoes in the dim light. It was so cold his entire body hurt as he slipped his feet into his shoes and pulled the sides of his jacket together and walked briskly down the street. No running. He mustn’t run. He had to look as if he were simply walking home after a long evening rather than running from a woman’s apartment.
He was shaking as he rounded the end of the block and turned into another street. The air was frigid, his breath coming out in white clouds, and even though he had his coat buttoned tightly the shock to his body in comparison with the warmth of Liesl’s bed was too much. He carried on walking, stamping warmth into his legs, wishing he had had time to pull his sock on. But he would be back at the apartment soon. He had to take the long way to be sure he wasn’t being followed, but he wasn’t going to make it that long.
By the time he was approaching the front of the apartment building he was certain that there was no one behind him. He stopped just outside, leaning against the railings and lighting a cigarette, watching the street around him. There was no movement. He could see no telling footprints in the newly fallen snow, and pretty soon his own prints would be covered over.
He pushed the door open, and went inside.
There was a light on in the apartment. He opened the door slowly, always cautious, but it was just Rollin, sitting in his armchair with his feet up on the table, a glass of something that looked like scotch in his hand.
‘Well, Casanova,’ Rollin greeted him smoothly.
Jim pushed in through the door, running a hand over his head to brush the melting snow from his hair. It was warm inside, thank God. Rollin had the electric heater on, and Jim walked straight over to stand by the glowing elements, his palms spread to the heat.
He slipped his coat off and laid it over a nearby chair, and the heat started to press through into his jacket.
‘Hasty exit?’ Rollin asked.
Jim looked down at his unbuttoned jacket and shirt. His chest was bare beneath. He had been wearing an undershirt when he went out, hadn’t he? Damn. He bit his lip into his mouth. He must have left that somewhere in Liesl’s room.
‘Something like that,’ he nodded.
He went quickly across the room to the curtains and looked out between the crack. There was a light in Liesl’s apartment, but her curtains were still drawn and he couldn’t tell what might be going on. It was impossible to see if the men were still there.
‘Listen, Rollin, I need you to do me a favour,’ he said.
Rollin looked up at him from his chair.
‘Just check on that girl,’ Jim said. ‘Some guys came to her room – some of Bauer’s guys. They’re keeping tabs on her, seeing that she doesn’t spill anything about Bauer. I want you to go up there in the morning. Go up as a janitor, knock on her door, see she’s all right. I daren’t risk it.’
‘She really has got to you,’ Rollin said, rubbing a finger against his lip. ‘Jim, are you sure – ’
‘No, I’m not sure,’ Jim cut across him. ‘I’m not sure of anything. That’s why I want you to check on her.’
Rollin just looked at him. Jim shook his head, inwardly cursing himself. He had been a fool to get into this situation, to get at all involved with this woman.
‘I’ll check on her,’ he said eventually.
‘Good,’ Jim said.
He sat down in chair, thinking, barely noticing as Rollin got up to make coffee. The scent of coffee grounds drifted to him, but he was visualising Liesl’s apartment, seeing the yale lock on her door just beneath the handle, the positioning of the lights and furniture, the few sundry knick-knacks and ornaments around. They weren’t her ornaments, she had said. They had been there when she moved in.
He saw the lock again, the scratches on the metal. Not surprising it was scratched. A fumble with the keys would do that. He saw the ornaments in the main room and the bedroom... That ugly ceramic construction on the mantelpiece that looked as if it had been woven of strips of clay. The vase in the bedroom that Liesl gazed at and said, ‘It’s nice. It looks brand new. I was surprised this room had such things.’
He opened his eyes wide, staring at Rollin.
‘Her room was bugged. I was stupid...’
Rollin turned from the counter with two cups of coffee in his hands.
‘Are you sure, Jim?’ he asked, instantly serious.
Jim shook his head. ‘No, I’m not sure. I can’t be sure. But of course it was bugged. Bauer keeps such a close tab on his reputation. Of course she was being watched. She said he was going to send men to check on her. She said he watched her all the time before he let her go.’
‘That means he’s watching Cinnamon too,’ Rollin said in a dark voice. ‘Did she mention you by name, Jim? I mean, did she mention Otto Baum by name?’
‘Yes, she did,’ Jim said heavily. ‘She did.’