Friday, 31 May 2013
MI Fanfiction: The Minister - Ch 12
With the light of morning pushing through the curtains everything seemed far more positive. All going well, this should be the last day of the mission. If they got everything finished off they could be out of here by nightfall, and perhaps on a plane before the next dawn broke.
Jim stood in his room carefully folding and packing clothes back into his suitcase. He still had to wash and shave, but that would only take a couple of minutes, and soon everything would be packed in the trunk of his car, ready for a getaway. He would be dressed as a businessman in order to deposit his part of the money stolen by Barney and Willy. Cinnamon would be chic and well-presented and waiting for her portion of the funds in a small Volkswagen Beetle. After taking it to various banks around the city they would all rendezvous at a pre-arranged site in the warehouse district, and from there, with a swift change of licence plate on Jim’s non-descript car, they would leave the city.
Somewhere in Berlin Rollin would be putting together his story for the Berlin Daily. Liesl was probably safe and going through the process of rebuilding her life. Jim felt a moment of wistfulness for that kind of life. She could turn her back on things like this, hopefully forever. He pushed himself into them, of his own volition, every few weeks. But he didn’t feel right without that surge of adrenaline to keep him going. Too long at home and he went a little crazy.
The little pocket radio buzzed, and Jim snatched it up, instantly alert.
‘Something like that,’ Barney replied, his voice distorted through the speaker. ‘We’ve just got through to the back of the safe and I’ve punched one drill hole through, but there’s light in there, Jim. Someone must have the door open, and from the noises I think Bauer’s down there.’
Jim pressed his lips together, his gaze slipping to his suitcase and car keys lying nearby.
‘He might be gone in a couple of minutes, Barney,’ he suggested. ‘Can you see anything useful through the hole?’
‘Give me a moment, Jim.’ There was a muffled half-silence, and then Barney’s voice came again, ‘Jim, I think he’s counting the takings. He’s got the money out on the table. He could be there for a long time.’
‘Damn,’ Jim murmured. He hesitated, eyes unfocussed, considering what to do. ‘You and Willy hang on,’ he said abruptly. ‘Give me ten minutes, and I’ll get him out of there. But I don’t know how long I’ll be able to give you. Once he’s out of that room, move!’
The club was still closed when Jim arrived, the blinds drawn on the windows and the main door unyielding when he turned the handle. Jim stood for a moment before the blind-fronted building, then his eyes turned to the alley at the side. It was a grim place, half-blocked with dirty snow that had been blown or swept from the streets. But there was a side door down there, one that the dancers and musicians and bar staff used, and when he tried it he found that it was open and unguarded.
He stood for a moment with the door cracked open, looking inside. Then he pushed it open with a bang, letting it slam into the wall behind so hard that paint and plaster flaked to the floor. He swaggered into the corridor and through into the back rooms of the club, dressed in the guise of Otto Baum, last night’s stubble still on his cheeks, the scent of alcohol on his breath, and an ugly expression on his face.
‘Hey!’ he shouted roughly, banging his fist on one of the doors. ‘Hey!’
There was no indignant response, and he pushed further into the club, shouting more loudly. Eventually a wary looking man that Jim recognised as the barman came out into the corridor, holding a pint glass in his hand.
Jim paused momentarily, recognising that the glass could be turned into a nasty weapon with one strike against something hard. He would have to risk it.
‘Hey, I want to see Bauer,’ he growled, his voice slightly slurred as if he was reasonably drunk.
‘Herr Bauer’s not here,’ the man said, looking shifty.
‘He’s here. I know he is. I saw him come in,’ Jim lied. ‘Where is he? Where is the bastard?’
‘What do you want with him?’ the barman asked warily, shifting the glass from hand to hand.
‘I want Greta back,’ Jim growled, taking advantage of the man’s nervousness to push a little closer to him. ‘I want to see that bastard scum and I want him to give Greta back to me.’
‘Herr Bauer is busy,’ the barman told him, stepping backwards, edging a little closer t the door behind him.
In one movement Jim lunged forward and grabbed at the man’s throat with his right hand, pulling out a revolver with his left and levelling it at his head. The glass dropped to the floor and smashed as the man flailed and then registered the gun, and froze.
‘I want to see Bauer,’ he said again, his voice harsh and so low it was almost a whisper. He pulled the man a little toward him by his collar and then smashed him back against the wall. ‘So get him.’
‘All right, all right,’ the man said, all the fight gone from him at the sight of the revolver. ‘I’ll get him. He’s – downstairs. Just – just wait here.’
‘I’ll come, if it’s all the same to you,’ Jim told him.
He followed the man to the end of the corridor to a door marked ‘cellar.’
‘Don’t be stupid,’ Jim warned him as he saw the man glance at a payphone affixed to the wall nearby.
‘All right,’ the man said again. He opened the door and called, ‘Herr Bauer, there’s a man here – ’
A shout came up from below. ‘Not now, Friedrich, I’m busy.’
Jim pushed past the barman to look down into the brightly lit cellar where Bauer was stood by a table covered in neat piles of notes, intent on noting something down in a large cash book.
‘Now, Bauer,’ Jim said grimly, angling his gun down the tired wooden stairs at the man.
Bauer jumped at the new voice, almost sending a pile of notes tumbling.
‘Now,’ Jim repeated, giving the gun a meaningful jerk. ‘Up here where I can see you. I want to talk to you.’
Bauer’s eyes moved over the piles of cash and the open door of the safe behind him, then he looked back to the sleek black revolver, and nodded.
‘All right, Herr Baum,’ he nodded.
He closed the cash book and came up the stairs, taking great care to lock the cellar door behind him.
‘What do you want, Herr Baum?’ he asked once they were together in the tatty corridor.
‘You come in here,’ Jim said, kicking a door open with his foot and gesturing both men into the room behind. It looked like a dressing room for the dancers, full of mirrors and bulbs that were not switched on, the counters scattered with make-up and small items of costume.
‘What is this all about, Baum?’ Bauer asked again, glancing between Jim and the door as if he was anxious to get back to his money.
‘You sit down,’ Jim said, shoving Bauer roughly into a chair. ‘You too,’ he told the barman. ‘I want to talk to you about Greta, Bauer. I want her back.’
Bauer stared at him.
‘It was a simple transaction, Baum,’ he shrugged. ‘I don’t give girls back.’
‘Like hell you don’t,’ Jim growled. By now Bauer must know that Cinnamon had supposedly been taken by the police, but Jim didn’t expect him to admit to that. ‘I’ve heard about how you treat women in your house. Those ‘special’ rooms you have.’
Bauer looked even more bewildered, understandably so, since Jim had largely fabricated his drunken argument for Greta’s return on his way over here. Of all the things that could be said about Bauer, he rarely physically hurt the women in his possession – at least, not personally.
Of course, if Bauer knew the right place to look he would find the woman that he thought of as Greta Hoch just a few blocks away, sitting at the wheel of a small car, waiting to take his money and deposit it the accounts owned by Bauer’s political opposition. The plan had changed very little on the discovery that Bauer was in the cellar with the safe open as Barney and Willy were drilling through into it. The only problem was that Jim was dressed more like a bank robber than a sleek businessman now, complete with stubble and mussed hair, so Cinnamon would be depositing the money alone and meeting Jim and the others later.
Jim slipped a look at his watch. Bauer had been out of the cellar for about two minutes. He wanted to give Barney and Willy at least ten to complete the breach of the back of the safe and to get the money. He only hoped the hole would be large enough for one of them to scramble through and get the stuff off the table. But the door to the cellar was locked, at least. Only Bauer could get down there, so it was only Bauer he needed to keep out of the way.
‘I don’t know what you’re talking about, Baum,’ Bauer said carelessly, as if he could shrug away the gun and the angry man holding it. ‘There are no ‘special’ rooms in my house, and Fräulein Hoch is perfectly well treated.’
‘Yeah, that’s what you’d have me believe,’ Jim growled. ‘I want to see her, though. I want her back.’
‘Herr Baum, there is no – ’ Bauer began, but Jim lunged forward and grabbed hold of his jacket.
‘Get up,’ he said. ‘Get up and take me to her.’
‘I can’t take you to her,’ Bauer said eventually. ‘She’s not at the house today.’
‘I’m going to show you what happens to men that treat women like you do,’ Jim snarled, shaking the man by the front of his jacket.
Bauer tore himself away from Jim’s hands, looking to his barman and then back at Jim. Jim’s fear was that he would tell the barman to take the key and put the money back in the safe himself. Better that, Bauer would think, than that it was left out on the table. Jim didn’t want to end up shooting the barman and it was imperative that he didn’t kill Bauer and make a martyr out of him.
‘Come on,’ Jim told him fiercely, pushing him towards the door. ‘Outside, in the alley. And you can watch,’ he told the barman. ‘Just to see it’s all square.’
Once they were out in the alley he hauled off and punched Bauer as hard as he could. Bauer staggered back against the wall, then recovered, coming at Jim with his fists up. Briefly Jim recalled reading that Bauer had been a member of a boxing club during his university studies – and then Bauer hit him, and the explosion of pain in his jaw sent him stumbling into one of the icy piles of drifted snow.
The pain galvanised him, and he started forward again, letting adrenaline take over as he swung a fist into Bauer’s midriff. He needed to keep this up for maybe fifteen minutes – or to put Bauer out cold so he wouldn’t think of going back into that cellar for a while. But it was not going to be easy.
Near Barney and Willy’s fake roadwork signs Cinnamon waited in her little Volkswagen, her hands on the steering wheel in impeccable leather driving gloves. Every now and then she glanced at her watch as the second hand sped round, the minute hand following it with a sluggish pace. Any moment now Barney and Willy should be emerging with the cash, and she had her escape route committed to memory. Barney and Willy would strike the tent and the signs and get into the van, and no sign would be left above ground of what they had done.
She wondered how Jim was getting on. He hadn’t had time to be anything more than vague about his plan, which was about distracting Bauer in some way and then meeting up with the others as planned in the warehouse district at the pre-arranged time. Cinnamon was to deposit more money than previously planned at each bank, so that she wasn’t delayed with extra stops.
The tent flap moved, and Willy pushed out through the striped fabric, a canvas bag clutched to his chest. As Barney came out behind him Willy passed the bag through the car door to Cinnamon.
‘Any trouble?’ she asked quietly.
‘Jim kept it clear,’ Willy said concisely. ‘Go. We’ll meet you later.’
Cinnamon nodded, put the car into gear, and went.
The dirty snow in the alley was reddened with spots of blood as Jim hauled himself up off the floor, pressing a hand to his ribs. He wondered if one of them was broken, but he considered that a light punishment considering Bauer could have taken his gun from him once he’d felled him and shot him in the back. But Bauer was too much of the politician for that. He wasn’t beyond kicking a man he had already punched to the floor, but there was no need to go further. No need to involve himself in the nasty murder of a man who, left alive, wouldn’t dare to go to the authorities anyway because his only business was the illegal trafficking of women.
Jim stayed kneeling for a few moments, his hands splayed on the ground. Half of his face was numb from what he thought might have been a few minutes of unconsciousness in the snow. His nose had evidently been bleeding, but it had stopped now. He was alone. Bauer must have gone back inside. But he couldn’t help that. He just had to hope that Barney and Willy had completed their task in time, and got out before they were caught.
Jim jerked himself awkwardly to his feet and walked cautiously out of the alley, choosing to come out on the street behind the club instead of in front. If Bauer was inside now it was only a matter of time before he discovered the theft of his money, and there was a chance he might realise that ‘Otto Baum’ had been deliberately distracting him.
He glanced at himself in a window, seeing that the orbit of his left eye was bruised and swollen and there was blood smeared across his mouth and cheek. He pulled out a handkerchief and tried to gingerly wipe some of the mess away from his bruised face, but getting away from the club was more important than the blood on him. He turned his coat collar up, tilted his head down, and walked as fast as his throbbing ribs would let him.
He allowed himself the luxury of a hot-water wash and a shave before he changed and finished packing up to leave the apartment. He still looked as if he had been beaten up, but at least he was dressed now in a smart suit, his hair was brushed, and he was clean. He carried his case downstairs, and dropped off the key with the janitor on the first floor, parrying the man’s questions about the state of his face with an embarrassed-seeming few sentences about a night out drinking. Once out of the place he got into his car and drove towards the warehouse district to the pre-arranged rendezvous. Barney and Willy were already there, cleaned up and changed out of their workmen’s overalls, and they slipped into the back seat of Jim’s car and settled down.
‘You did it,’ Jim said, more as a statement than a question.
‘Thanks to you,’ Barney nodded, leaning forward to look harder at Jim’s reflection in the rear-view mirror. ‘Are you all right, Jim? What did you do?’
‘I distracted Bauer,’ Jim said succinctly, pressing a hand lightly to his ribs. When he had washed in the apartment he had seen the vivid flush of an impressive bruise on his chest in the shape of a man’s shoe.
‘You sure you can drive, Jim?’ Willy asked in concern. Always conscious of health and well-being, he had noticed instantly that Jim was avoiding twisting his torso.
‘I can drive,’ Jim nodded. ‘I’ll get it looked at once we’re over the border.’
In the mirror he caught Barney exchanging a glance with Willy.
‘Get in the back, Jim,’ Barney said firmly. ‘I’ll drive.’
Jim met his eyes in the mirror. He knew that tone. Barney didn’t often go against Jim’s orders, but when he did Jim knew he would be like a dog with a bone. He didn’t argue. He just got out of the driver’s seat and painfully got into the back of the car. It was as he was settling himself on the seat that Cinnamon’s Volkswagen drew up, and Willy vacated his back seat to allow her in to sit next to Jim.
‘Broken ribs, I reckon,’ Willy said succinctly at Cinnamon’s concerned look. ‘See what you can do for him.’
‘Really, you don’t need to – ’ Jim began, but Cinnamon reached under the seat in front and pulled out a first aid kit and began to rummage through for iodine and bandages.
‘Really, I do need to,’ she said as the car moved off.
‘You deposited the money all right?’ Jim asked her, wincing a little as she dabbed iodine on a split in his cheek.
‘And spoke to Rollin, too,’ Cinnamon said with a smile. ‘His story’s going to the presses as we speak. It’s going to be the front cover exposé of all of Georg Bauer’s little vices.’
Jim grinned, and then winced again at the movement of his bruised face muscles. Even Bauer wouldn’t easily talk that story down – not with the photographs that went along with it.