The Iron Cageby Brian Freemantle
The CIA sends Hartman because he knows the target’s face. Hartman spent two years in Bergen-Belsen and knows camp commandant Fritz Lang’s face better than anyone. The Nazi has taken up residence in a Panamanian port, supplementing his realtor’s salary with monthly infusions from/b>
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The CIA closes in on an escaped Nazi hiding out in Panama
The CIA sends Hartman because he knows the target’s face. Hartman spent two years in Bergen-Belsen and knows camp commandant Fritz Lang’s face better than anyone. The Nazi has taken up residence in a Panamanian port, supplementing his realtor’s salary with monthly infusions from a numbered Swiss account. Despite Lang’s extensive plastic surgery, Hartman recognizes him. It’s a face he could never forget, and it’s time to make him pay. Rumors have circulated that, in the waning days of World War II, a KGB operative helped Lang and others escape the wrath of the Red Army in exchange for massive bribes. That operative is now the KGB’s top man, and getting the dirt on him would mean destabilizing all of Russian intelligence. Hartman’s task is not to arrest Lang, but to spook him and follow when he runs. This ebook features an illustrated biography of Brian Freemantle including rare photos from the author’s personal collection.
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The Iron Cage
By Brian Freemantle
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1983 Jonathan Evans
All rights reserved.
Cristobal has a deceptively respectable appearance, viewed from the port where the ships pause before entering the Panama Canal on their way from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Beyond the ocher- and yellow-washed buildings, French colonial with a suggestion of Beau Geste from the castellated balconies, it is an arm-grabbing, loosely lawed bazaar of a place. Inside the shops, robbery is disguised as good trading. Outside, it is ignored by the police. The shopkeepers consider themselves competitive. The muggers on the streets and alleys think they reflect the Panamanian irritation that it took the U.S. so long to recognize that this canal was not rightfully theirs.
There is a profusion of watch shops, selling the latest digital miracle from Tokyo, and the Indian traders blaze Bombay and Delhi silks from their open-fronted emporiums like fly-eating plants trapping prey with the brightness of their colors. Every street has its brothel, sometimes several. They have names like Eden and Paradise and Delight, but there are not enough local women to staff them. The government therefore engages on a six-month, medically guaranteed contract Colombian girls who work to raise the dowries for their white weddings in Bogota or Medellin or Barranquilla. The Catholic Church, practical as always, allows the arrangement to go uncriticized: the shame of not having a dowry is greater than the shame of having been a whore, and perhaps not surprisingly the training appears a useful basis for happy, contented marriages within the neighboring country.
Hartman supposed it was the nearest he would ever come to being in an American frontier town. He didn't want to come any closer. It made him nervous. The danger on the streets was greater after dark. Then the blackened alleys were full of movement and the pavement-jostling was more obvious, inviting challenge. Hugo Hartman never challenged.
He had rented a car, deciding it was necessary because it gave him some protection and, for tonight, some concealment as well. He'd locked it from the inside and sat low in the seat, a man who found it easy to be unobtrusive.
He wore suits with vests, to conceal the middle-aged thickness of his waist. The diabetes, which was not serious but merely a hazard of his age and easily controlled by pills, had nevertheless affected his eyes, making glasses necessary for any complicated work. He looked like a senior and rather self-satisfied clerk within window-shopping time of the retirement clock. This was misleading, but an appearance with which he was content: Hartman had never been self-satisfied and knew it would be difficult to retire, even though he wanted to, desperately.
Hartman, who had more reason than most men to know he was not brave, had been surprised at his response to the assignment. There had been fear, which had been natural enough: even an attempt to argue his way out of it in the air-conditioned calm of the CIA offices in the American Embassy in Paris. They had refused his objection, of course, arguing that someone who had spent two years in Bergen-Belsen was the obvious person for the final identification.
He'd expected to be terrified at his first sight of Fritz Lang: the numbing, unable-to-move-or-breathe type of horror that he had known so often in the camp. But it hadn't come; not fear anyway. There had been the stomach lurch of recognition, perhaps of apprehension, too, but that was all. It had taken Hartman several days to realize why, and he had grown annoyed at himself for confused thinking. Lang had been the commandant, the supreme arbiter over life and death, but removed from the inmates in the day-to-day running of the place. Lang hadn't been the man who had made Gerda his personal property, manipulating and goading and degrading her.
There was movement across the street, and Hartman squinted intently. Then he saw it was a whore and her client making their way toward a hotel, and relaxed. Would he get enough tonight to confirm the identity of the former Nazi? Not his doubt; Hartman didn't have any, not any longer. But he knew the CIA would demand more. The build of the man he had been sent to identify was heavier than he personally remembered from Belsen and from the dossier he had formulated after the war. And the face had been altered. But the ears were the same; Hartman often wondered why people bothering with the discomfort of plastic surgery always forgot how identifiable ears were. The man whose real-estate office Hartman was sitting opposite, and who now called himself José Lopez, had identical ears to the man in the faded SS picture of Friz Lang, which the Americans had given him at the briefing in Paris six weeks earlier.
It wouldn't have been enough on its own, of course. Hartman was a cautious man, in everything, and wanted as much as Washington further evidence than a vaguely matching stature and an apparent physical similarity. More, even, than the unexpected discovery that a small-town real-estate operator possessed a numbered Swiss bank account supplying him with a monthly income, which must exceed what he managed to earn promoting residential development in Cristobal. Hartman had been surprised how easy it had been to learn that; as surprised as his lack of fear at coming so close to Friz Lang.
A town as open and with as much moving population as Cristobal had obvious advantages for an on-the-run Nazi, but the corrupt environment also had inherent dangers. It had taken Hartman less than a week of observation to identify the regular mailman, two days to make his acquaintance, and just $500 to be given access, before delivery, to Lang's mail. The envelope with the Zurich postmark and the $400 bank draft had arrived two days after Hartman had established his interception. He'd copied the contents and replaced them in the envelope so quickly that the delivery to Lang's office was only five minutes later than normal.
Hartman shifted to ease the cramp and scrubbed his hand over the window to avoid it becoming misted up. So far it had been a very fortunate assignment; one of the luckiest he could recall. The information that had guided him to Lang had been provided by the CIA, a comparatively complete file which needed only his final confirmation. He'd stumbled across Werner Schleichner by accident. Not true, Hartman corrected himself. Not completely, anyway. He'd learned it by being thorough and because nearly all the first week of the assignment had been spent in mildewed, rat-running archives, until his weakened eyes had ached and his clothes had stunk from contact with the decayed paper of the naturalization applications that had been made to the Panamanian Ministry of the Interior.
There had been no record under Lang, and then he had remembered that the name of Lang's wife had been Siemens and decided to try the 'S' section. There had been no listing for the former camp commandant, but he'd found Werner Schleichner. He had recalled the man, just as he could remember every Nazi whose history had passed through his hands at the bureau formed in Vienna after the war. Schleichner was regarded as a relatively minor criminal, responsible only for the deaths of a hundred people at Dachau. But after what had happened to Hartman, no Nazi was unimportant.
He would have needed a guinea pig anyway, at some stage of the inquiry, and he thought of the medical-experimentation sections of the camp and savored the irony of employing Schleichner for the purpose. There had always been the risk of the two men knowing each other, even though Schleichner's detective agency was forty miles away at the other end of the canal in Panama. Schleichner might have been a corporal and Lang a commandant, and neither might ever have been attached to the same camp, but frequently links had been established after the war which had overlooked previous rank or position.
So Hartman had been circumspect at the first interview, intent for any indication from the man. There had been nothing: only proof of the lawlessness of the country in which Lang had chosen to hide himself. Perhaps nowhere but in South America would a man have accepted without question, as Schleichner had, that the way to prove a crime was to commit one. For $1,000, Schleichner had agreed to break into Lang's premises.
For a week, Hartman had watched Schleichner watching Lang. Not once had there been any sign of recognition between the former Nazis. But Hartman was convinced that Lang had identified the surveillance. It was going to be a useful test, seeing how the man reacted: a behavioral experiment of the sort with which Lang had once been so familiar.
Schleichner intended making the entry around midnight, when the streets began to get quiet, and Hartman strained through the darkness, trying to isolate Lang's one-roomed office from the others within the sleeping building. It was 11:55, so Schleichner must be inside. Would he obey the instructions explicitly? It was necessary that the man behave exactly as he had been told, in case Lang had put the place under guard. Tensed though he was, Hartman almost missed the movement when it came—it was little more than a shadow changing shape—and then Hartman identified the figure. Where was the envelope? Schleichner had to be carrying an envelope. Ten yards from Lang's office there was a bar that remained open later than all the rest. Colored bulbs were rainbowed over the entrance: some had blown, but in the uneven light that remained Hartman saw the manila shape in Schleichner's hand and nodded at the discipline that remained, even after so long.
The other watchers, whom Hartman had not isolated, must have seen the package at the same time and realized how close the man was to the mailbox. Their car started with a sudden, hurrying screech of tires, attracting Schleichner's attention. The man turned, at that stage no more than curious. Hartman couldn't see, but Schleichner was probably frowning toward the limousine, unsure why it was moving without lights.
"Go on!" urged Hartman, quietly, pumping his fist against the steering wheel. "Go on!"
Schleichner's hesitation seemed to last an interminable time. Then he began backing away and finally turned to run.
"The mailbox," implored Hartman. "Don't forget the mailbox."
Schleichner raced toward it, as if it were some sort of sanctuary where he would be safe. The car was very close now, traveling unnaturally fast for the narrow streets. As he fled in and out of the patches of light, head twisted for sight of those behind him, Schleichner created a bizarre kaleidoscope of terror. Schleichner reached the box seconds before the car got to him; the driver was pumping the horn, risking the attention in an effort to disorient the man before he had time to thrust the envelope through the slit.
The two events were practically simultaneous. The package went into the box as the car struck Schleichner. At the last moment, the Nazi screamed, more in fear than immediate pain, and tried to leap sideways to avoid the vehicle. The hood caught him at the base of the spine, arcing him backward so fast that Schleichner was lifted completely clear of the ground. His body thumped against the windshield and then appeared to be projected forward again. His arms were thrown out, in something like an embrace, and then he hit the display window of the watch emporium. Had the fender of the vehicle not hit it too, then it is unlikely that the force of Schleichner's body would have shattered the glass. The window caved inward, with a loud, cracking implosion, and at once the burglar alarms clanged out into the street.
The assassins' car began to reverse away from the obstruction of the window. Schleichner had landed in a crooked, upright sitting position and watches spilled all over him, so that he appeared like some obscene advertisement for the contents. There was a further brief hesitation as the occupants stared in at the watch-strewn body, to decide if there would be sufficient time to search it before the arrival of the police. Then they completed the reverse and accelerated away.
Unhurriedly, Hartman started his own car and drove carefully in the opposite direction. There would still be enough activity around the shop front when the box was emptied the following morning to prevent any interception by Lang's people. Neither would they have sufficient time to suborn the mailman as he had done. So the envelope was safe. Just as he was safe. It had been a sensible precaution, employing Schleichner; after thirty-five years, they were still very good at protecting themselves.
There was still no sign of the police when Hartman turned toward the waterfront. He paused at the intersection, glancing back; already a crowd had formed around the shop. By the time the police got there, a lot of watches would have been taken. Maybe even Schleichner's wallet. It was, after all, a very lawless place.
For a section head to travel all the way from Washington showed how important the CIA regarded the operation, and Peter Berman was aware of it. If only it could have been someone different from William Davidson. He was a neglected uncared-for man. His suits strained tightly around his bulging stomach, like a skin just about to split and be discarded. After every meal, most of which he ate messily, frequently spilling from his spoon or fork down the front of his already marked shirt, he picked his teeth, usually with a spent match. Berman thought he was disgusting and had decided that the man was a prick. Berman was a very ambitious man and regarded it as frightening that such a person controlled his future with the Agency. And Davidson did control it—jealously. Blocked from any further promotion and unable to accept the failed promise of his OSS career, Davidson apepared determined to go through the remainder of his operational life isolating others' mistakes to prove to his superiors how wrong they had been in not elevating him higher.
"I'm not at all sure it was the right decision to involve Hugo Hartman," said Davidson. "Not at all sure."
The man spoke as if he were addressing a large gathering and expected the words to be recorded for posterity.
"The information giving us the lead to Lang originated here in Paris," reminded Berman. "Hartman is attached to us and was actually imprisoned in Belsen. He was the obvious, logical choice."
"Should have been a CIA man. An American," insisted Davidson.
"Hartman is the best freelance we've got," said Berman, who had been the man's Control for five years. "Better than a lot of our own people."
"You're too impressed by him," protested Davidson. "Are you aware how we could use the information about Lang, if it all checks out?"
"Of course I am," said Berman irritably. Davidson was lapsing into his avuncular headmaster's pose. It was one of his favorites.
"Ivan Migal is head of the European Division of the KGB," lectured Davidson as if he had not heard Berman's assurance. "One of the three or four top men. If it can be proved, as our information suggests, that in the last stages of the war he worked clandestinely with Fritz Lang to get from Bergen-Belsen Russian prisoners-of-war whom the Soviet Union wanted to liquidate, we could throw so much shit into the fan that their service would smell for years!"
"I've had the whole operation outlined," said Berman patiently.
"You didn't tell Hartman of any Soviet involvement?" demanded Davidson hurriedly.
"Of course not," said Berman, not bothering to disguise his attitude. "His function is to identify Lang and then get the man to run. And we'll keep nicely in step to see which way he goes."
"We hope," warned Davidson.
"Yes," agreed Berman. "We hope."CHAPTER 2
Hartman had for a long time been accustomed to his wife's mental condition, but on his last visit to Connecticut, on the way to Cristobal, there had been a physical deterioration in Gerda which had alarmed him. The telephone exchange almost immediately opposite the dock gate is American-maintained and therefore efficient; Hartman reached his son's clinic on the outskirts of Thomsonville with only a minimal delay. Thoughtlessly, he had not made it a person-to-person call, so it actually took longer to locate David than it had to establish the connection.
David stressed the irritation when he finally came on to the line. "What do you want?"
"How's your mother?"
"Ill," said David. "I thought you knew that."
Hartman sighed, no longer angered by the boy's attitude. There might be reason enough, but sometimes it seemed David enjoyed expressing the contempt.
"She seemed physically ill last time," he said, making the distinction.
"She is," confirmed David. "Since your visit, she's developed a pleurisy."
"Everything is serious in someone as frail as she is."
"Is she still with you?"
"Of course. Why?"
"I thought she might have been moved to another hospital."
"We can care for physical as well as mental illness here," said his son.
Excerpted from The Iron Cage by Brian Freemantle. Copyright © 1983 Jonathan Evans. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Brian Freemantle (b. 1936) is one of Britain’s most acclaimed authors of spy fiction. His novels have sold over ten million copies worldwide. Born in Southampton, Freemantle entered his career as a journalist, and began writing espionage thrillers in the late 1960s. Charlie M (1977) introduced the world to Charlie Muffin and won Freemantle international recognition. He would go on to publish fourteen titles in the series. Freemantle has written dozens of other novels, including two featuring Sebastian Holmes, an illegitimate son of Sherlock Holmes, and the Cowley and Danilov series, about an American FBI agent and a Russian militia detective who work together to combat organized crime in the post–Cold War world. Freemantle lives and works in London, England.
Brian Freemantle (b. 1936) is one of Britain’s most acclaimed authors of spy fiction. His novels have sold over ten million copies worldwide. Born in Southampton, Freemantle entered his career as a journalist, and began writing espionage thrillers in the late 1960s. Charlie M (1977) introduced the world to Charlie Muffin and won Freemantle international success. He would go on to publish fourteen titles in the series. Freemantle has written dozens of other novels, including two about Sebastian Holmes, an illegitimate son of Sherlock Holmes, and the Cowley and Danilov series, about a Russian policeman and an American FBI agent who work together to combat organized crime in the post–Cold War world. Freemantle lives and works in Winchester, England.
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