Brandenburg Gateby Henry Porter
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In this brilliant, multilayered, espionage thriller, the 2005 Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award winner Henry Porter captures the tense final moments before the fall of the Berlin Wall. September 1989. The Communist government in East Germany is on the brink of collapse. Even the Stasi, one of the most formidable intelligence agencies of all time, can’t stop the rebellion that ends in the fall of the Berlin Wall. Dr. Rudi Rosenharte, formerly a Stasi foreign agent, is sent to Trieste to rendezvous with his old lover and agent, Annalise Schering, who the Stasi believe Annalise has vital intelligence. The problem: Rudi knows she’s dead. He saw her lying in her own bloodied bathwater, and then kept her suicide a secret. As collateral for this mission, the Stasi have imprisoned Rosenharte's family. But the Stasi is not the only intelligence agency using Rosenharte. Soon the British and Americans encircle him, forcing him to choose between abandoning his beloved brother to a torturous death and returning to East Germany as a double agent. As the political pressures against the East German government rise, Rudi must face his own crises. Brandenburg Gate shows Henry Porter at the top of his game.
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By Henry Porter
Atlantic Monthly PressCopyright © 2005 Henry Porter
All right reserved.
Chapter OneEdge of the Void
The man in the straw hat dogged his footsteps from the first, keeping his distance, yet never bothering to hide himself. Rosenharte saw him loitering outside the hotel when he checked in, then at the conference centre and later sitting at a cafe in Piazza dell'Unità, a mournful fellow with a washed-out face, who wore the hat unconvincingly on the back of his head as though he'd just won it in a shooting gallery.
At times he got so close that Rosenharte could see the ventilation holes in the side of the hat and a mark on the narrow brim. He wanted to be seen - that much was clear - and once or twice Rosenharte thought he was going to approach, but then he seemed to decide against it and darted away into a side street.
He wondered if the man was the visible part of the Stasi's surveillance operation in Trieste, put on his tail to remind him of their presence. Though he didn't need it; they had made it clear to him that the city would be saturated with officers. Everything he did would be watched.
Perhaps the man was being fielded by a Western agency as some kind of ploy to draw out the Stasi surveillance. But that didn't make sense either. If the Americans or British were watching - which surely they were-they would know about the Stasiand include them in their calculations. Eventually he concluded that the straw hat was a detail, a side issue to something far more menacing.
He ignored the man and threw himself into the conference on the rise of artistic conscience in the late Renaissance, a theme that had drawn 150 academics from all over Europe. Between lectures and discussion groups, Dr Rudi Rosenharte explored the streets of the hot, carefree city that was so beautifully drenched in summer light. He took himself to the bars around the main square for cognac and espresso and watched the passing parade, marvelling at the unbelievable fullness and plenty of Italian life and - naturally - at the women. Even now his eyes were not dead to their charms, or to the contrast with life in East Germany where beauty was scorned as a bourgeois obsession and you couldn't buy a lemon from one month to the next.
Yet never for a moment did he forget that he had been brought to Trieste to rendezvous with an old lover - a lover who he knew had been dead for the best part of fifteen years but who the Stasi believed was alive.
On his third day in Trieste she made contact. Inside an envelope containing the daily conference bulletin was a handwritten note from Annalise Schering, which instructed him to walk unaccompanied to the end of 'Molo IV' - Pier Number Four - in the Old Port, where she would be waiting in the early evening with chilled champagne. There was much to admire about the letter: the handwriting was perfect, the romantic urgency of the sentiments just right and the location exactly the sort of desolate, neglected place Annalise would have chosen. It was as if the authors had bottled and preserved her essence. He read it several times before using the house phone in the hotel lobby to call Colonel Biermeier of the Stasi Main Directorate for Foreign Intelligence, the HVA, who was running the operation in Trieste. Biermeier came to his hotel room to examine the letter just after three that afternoon.
'It's an obvious fake; Rosenharte insisted to the back of Biermeier's head as he read it on the little balcony. 'It's a trap. They're trying to trick us. We should go back and forget the whole thing.'
The colonel shook his head and turned to him, his unhealthy white face and brilliantined dark-grey hair shining in the sunlight. He blew out his cheeks and flapped the front of his jacket against the heat. Rosenharte wasn't in the least fooled by these diversionary tactics. He returned a steady gaze, purposefully expelling the anxiety in his mind. Every pore of Biermeier leaked the Stasi odour, and Rosenharte briefly wondered how he had carried out so many operations in the West without being apprehended. 'No, Comrade Doktor, this is no fake. The handwriting matches our samples exactly. We will go ahead as Brigadier-General Schwarzmeer has ordered.'
'But if anything goes wrong, I'll be held responsible. You've got my brother in jail and he'll be punished. What justice is that?'
Biermeier smiled, came over to him and put an arm around his shoulder. 'Go, Rosenharte. See what the woman has to say. We believe there's much she can tell us.' He paused. 'Look, what's the problem? You give her dinner, win her affections as only you know how, and bring her back to us. Take her to bed, Rosenharte. Make her yours again.'
Rosenharte let out a bitter laugh, momentarily recalling the 'love tutorials' of the Stasi spy school. 'Make her yours again! You're still living in the fifties, Colonel.'
'You know what I mean. You were one of us before the Firm decided your talents lay elsewhere. You did this for a living. You, above anyone, know what to do with this woman. I don't have to remind you that you have an obligation to the state equal to that of a serving officer.'
Rosenharte lit a Marlboro and inwardly grimaced. He hated the way the Stasi called themselves the Firm in imitation of the way the CIA used the word Company. 'Then you'll keep to our agreement and allow my brother Konrad and his family to go free if I meet her?'
Biermeier didn't respond.
'You will release them?' Rosenharte persisted.
The colonel turned and permitted himself a nod - a deniable nod.
'That's a yes?'
Biermeier closed his eyes and nodded again.
'I don't want your people following me. Pier Four is deserted and very exposed. I went there earlier. She'll spot anyone on my tail.'
'That's doubtless why she chose it. No, we won't follow you. We're relying on you to bring her to us. It's all on your shoulders.'
There was a gentle knock at the door. Biermeier opened it to a young officer carrying a plastic bag. 'This is Schaub. He will show you how to operate the listening device. We've got better equipment since you were in the service. You'll be impressed how small it is.'
Rosenharte sat down on the bed heavily. 'You expect me to seduce this woman wired up to Normannenstrasse?'
'I'll be the only one listening. Anyway, when it comes to that part of the evening you go to the bathroom and take it off. It's the conversation before that interests me, not your lovemaking, Rosenharte.'
Schaub tested the microphone and transmitter, then Rosenharte removed his shirt and submitted with mild protests as Schaub towelled the perspiration from his skin and taped the equipment to his chest and back.
'Some part of you must feel pride,' Biermeier told him. 'After all, you're going back into harness for the state.'
'Nothing could be further from the truth,' said Rosenharte. 'I was never any good at this kind of work.'
The colonel exhaled impatiently. 'Ah well, of course now you count yourself a member of the intelligentsia. You speak fancily and affect an air of superiority, but remember, I know the man behind the facade. I read your file. What was it one of your many girlfriends said? "A clever, selfish bastard."'
Schaub smirked then got up and left.
'You mean she didn't mention my lovable sense of humour?' said Rosenharte. 'My skills as a cook, my steadfastness, my sobriety, my modesty ...'
Biermeier shook his head disdainfully.
'Well,' said Rosenharte, 'at least I'm a clever bastard who knows himself. How many of us can say that, Colonel?'
Biermeier shook his head and sat down.
'I'd like a shower before I meet her.' God, he was talking as if she was actually going to be there.
'Not possible,' the colonel said. 'Use that queer aftershave you bought for yourself.'
Before leaving Biermeier looked over the transmitter once more and fiddled with some tiny wires at the back of the microphone while Rosenharte held his arms up and looked out on the veranda. 'Remember to press the button at the side once you see her,' he said. 'It's easily forgotten.'
Just before six Rosenharte dressed, checked himself in the mirror and then left the hotel. He crossed the Piazza dell'Unità feeling the heat of the day still pulse from the stones beneath him and noticing the wheel of swifts in the sky. Did the Stasi know? Had they faked the letters from Annalise Schering to expose his great lie? No, no one in the GDR could possibly know that she had killed herself fifteen years before; that he was as likely to find her at the end of Molo IV that evening as Greta Garbo.
He saw Annalise now, as he walked. The little apartment in Brussels on a winter's evening, he picking his way through the plants and the clutter of holiday trophies, finding her in the bath surrounded by candles and roses, her head resting on one arm lying along the side of the tub. Dead. Bloodied water. Vodka bottle. Pills. Needle of the overheated stereo clicking round the centre of Mahler's Fifth. His feelings then, as now, were guilt and a kind of horror at the operatic bathos of her death scene. Annalise always overdid things, that was for sure.
He passed through a series of parallel streets that led down to the sea, and reached Via Machiavelli where he paused, mopped his forehead and unstuck the back and front of his shirt from his skin. He set off again, never obviously glancing back, and made for the deserted quays where the big-hearted seaport opened its arms to the steamers of another century. There he looked at his watch - he was early - and, laying his jacket across the back of a bench, sat down to smoke a cigarette and stare across the flat calm of the Gulf of Trieste. Some way out to sea a ship lay at anchor, the only point of reference in the haze that had been building up through the long, hot afternoon. As he absently tried to determine where sea and sky met, it came to him that he had reached the edge of the void that separated East and West, a decorous no man's land of grand cafes and squares that looked like ballrooms, which was every bit as treacherous as the killing zone between the two Germanys.
Konrad would relish the ambiguity of Trieste, a frontier town that tried to forget the communist world at its back; and he'd shake with laughter at the idea of his brother's tryst with a dead woman. Rosenharte allowed himself a quick, rueful smile, as though his brother was sitting on the bench beside him. It had the effect of briefly lessening his agitation but then he thought of his twin's plight as the Stasi's hostage. To ensure his cooperation and that he wouldn't defect, they were holding Konrad in prison. For good measure, they'd taken his wife Else in for questioning and placed Konnie's two boys in the care of the state. He wondered what Konrad would do in his situation and knew his brother would proceed with all caution and wait to see how things unfolded. There were always openings, he had said once. Even in the GDR no situation was ever hopeless.
He took a last drag on the cigarette and flicked it across the paving stones into the sea. A fish rose to the butt then darted away beneath the oily film of the harbour water. From the rear of the opera house behind him came the sound of a soprano warming up for the evening's performance. Rosenharte turned and listened with his head cocked and recognized Violetta's part from the first act of La Traviata. He looked up to the mountains that pressed Trieste to the sea and noticed columns of white cloud quite distinct from the haze that veiled the city.
His attention moved to a German-speaking couple, stout and sunburnt, who were sitting on a bench not far away swinging their legs like happy children. Stasi officers? He thought not: too well fed, too content. Austrian tourists, most likely. He watched them openly and the woman smiled back with a hint of admiration in her eyes. Then he rose and, hooking the jacket over his shoulder, he walked past, nodding to them both.
Ahead of him was Molo IV, a broad stone structure that protruded into the harbour with quays on both sides and a huge single-storey warehouse along its spine. He passed through a gate near the old seaplane terminal, lifting a hand to a man reading a paper in a little cabin, and turned left to walk up the pier. On the way, he noted the few people around - two workmen stripping something from a roof, a man rigging a fishing rod, and some teenagers kicking a ball in the vast abandoned marshalling yard. They all looked plausibly engrossed. He walked on twenty yards, rounded a temporary fence that protected some pumping machinery and trudged up the pier, picking his way through the rusting iron debris and tufts of dead weeds that grew in cracks between the stones.
'Here he is,' said Macy Harp, nudging Robert Harland with his elbow. 'Bang on schedule like the bleeding Berlin Express.'
They both moved back from the doorway that led onto one of the heavy iron walkways running along outside the disused warehouse. This huge nineteenth-century complex lay at a right angle to Molo IV. They were about 200 yards from Rosenharte, who was moving away from them. Harland trained his binoculars on Rosenharte and reflected that both he and his quarry had much to lose if this went wrong. He had only been British Secret Intelligence Service station chief in Berlin for a year, and he was still on probation. This operation was one hell of a risk to take when he knew that most of the senior people at Century House regarded him as a field man without the necessary reserves of prudence. They couldn't deny he always got results but these were attributed to flair and boldness, two characteristics less favoured M16 than either the public or the intelligence service imagined. The head of the European desk had given him a certain amount of support together with Macy Harp - the best odd-job man and, when required, all-round creator of mayhem that the service had to offer - but Harland knew as well as anyone that many in Century House were actively hoping for the operation to fail. Harebrained, wild, impetuous - those would be the words murmured by his superiors across the lunch table at the Travellers Club - and his career would effectively be over.
He shook himself and concentrated on Rosenharte. He was every bit the specimen that the Stasi had deployed in Brussels all those years ago. At the time of the Schering operation his fake passport had put him at thirty-two, which would make him about forty-seven now. He had looked after himself: he was tanned, still slim and there wasn't a trace of grey in the sandy hair. But he betrayed a certain edginess and Harland could see he was moving without enthusiasm to the rendezvous point, glancing back and to his side every few paces. 'How many Stasi have we got?' he asked quietly.
Harp's habitually cheerful face squinted into a notebook. 'About a dozen. Our Italian friends think there are more, as many as twenty, but that's based on the crossings from Yugoslavia over the last forty-eight hours, not on observation in Trieste.'
'And what do we make of the character with the straw hat?'
'At first we thought he was Stasi because we've seen him a couple of times. Jamie Jay took a look at him this morning, followed him to a fleapit hotel in the New Port.'
'But how does he manage to be here ten minutes before Rosenharte?'
Macy Harp withdrew one of a ration of five cigarettes from a slender silver case and lit up. 'It's simple. He saw Rosenharte out here when he did his recce this morning, realized he had started off on the same route this evening and decided to get here ahead of him.'
'Right,' said Harland doubtfully. 'But what the hell's he doing here?'
'Steady on, old chap. All will be revealed soon enough.'
'Having a drink over there on the seafront. He can see everything from where he is. The Italians have taken pictures, so we've got a complete gallery back at his place:
'He's too far away. Get him nearer.' Harland couldn't help showing his irritation.
Harp turned to him. 'Come on, Bobby, we're all doing this for the love of it - and you. Jay's taken leave to help out and Cuth Avocet's given up a week on the Tweed.'
'It's an official operation.'
'I know, I know. Still, you can't deny that the Office hasn't exactly given you all the support you need.'
Harland said nothing. Was it that obvious?
'Ah, I've got Jay,' said Harp a few moments later. 'He's lurking in one of the ruined sheds in the centre of the pier. You see him?'
'Right ... look, I appreciate you giving your time, Macy, but I want you to understand that this does have the chief's blessing. It's very important. Could save a lot of lives.'
'I'm sure you're right, Bobby,' said Harp amenably. He looked around and sniffed the air. 'Christ, this place smells. What the hell was stored in here?'
'Hides. Uncured leather, I imagine.'
Excerpted from BRANDENBURG GATE by Henry Porter Copyright © 2005 by Henry Porter. Excerpted by permission.
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My last name is Brandenburg.
It is always exciting to find a new author and I have found one in Henry Porter. This tale, set in East Berlin, was top notch. I will be on the lookout for his next offering.
Brandenburg Gate is a really good book and deserves to be on the best seller list. It is a great story, well written, good action and accurately researched. It is an intriguing cold war spy story, a can't-wait-to-get-back-to read.