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A New York Times Notable Book
A compelling, intelligent thriller that "places the reader in the vortex of the Cold War endgame in Eastern Europe...captivating." (New York Times Book Review).
One historic evening in November, Berlin erupts in giddy celebration as the Wall between East and West crumbles after twenty-eight long years. The borders have shifted. The rules have changed. But in this extraordinary novel--which follows a cast of men and women, spies and journalists, lovers and brothers, each caught up in the last days of the Cold War--triumph is accompanied by terror and freedom is laced with danger. From revelry in Berlin to riots in Prague, uneasiness in Budapest to uprising in Romania, this beautifully crafted thriller takes us back to a cataclysmic moment that changed our understanding of the world--and of ourselves.
* Includes a Readers Guide inside, as well as an exclusive interview in which John Marks addresses the political and social significance of the Wall
* Author's literary and journalistic talents combine to create a thriller that's both exciting and enlightening--filled with the authentic atmosphere gained from his five years in Berlin
* A "history lesson through fiction," a la Cold Mountain, Los Alamos, Memoirs of a Geisha, or An Instance of the Fingerpost
* Includes a map of central Europe and chronology of historic Cold War events
"Insightful...gripping...[Marks] manages to capture perfectly the heady mixture of hope and fear surrounding the collapse of the East German government in 1989."--Chicago Tribune
"A former Berlin bureau chief for U.S. News & World Report, Marks handles his involved story line with assurance. An intelligent, memorable and thoroughly engaging debut."--Publishers Weekly (starred review)
|Publisher:||Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated|
|Product dimensions:||6.18(w) x 9.28(h) x 1.25(d)|
Read an Excerpt
AT DUSK ON NOVEMBER 9, 1989, in the chief Allied listening post in West Berlin, Captain Nester Cates eavesdropped on a telephone conversation between two members of enemy intelligence seated in an office building on the eastern side of the Berlin Wall. Nester checked the hammer and sickle hands of his watch, 1838, Central European Time, and began to take notes. The enemy, it seemed, was talking about him.
"You've heard something about this officer--?" Nester looked over at Corporal Jerome Tunt, an ambitious young American from Jamaica who had alerted him to the conversation just moments before and was listening too on his own headset. Tunt gave a nod of acknowledgment. With a stub of pencil, Nester translated the conversation into English.
"Well, yes, something."
"Speaks German like a native." Nester pressed too hard on the pencil, and the nib broke. Tunt rolled him another one. The conversation would be recorded, but Nester wanted the words in his immediate possession, in case security considerations and red tape prevented him from getting a copy.
"Better than a native, supposedly, but I'm skeptical--"
"Jet Kraut, his own people call him." One of the men had broken into English, for an instant, to pronounce "Jet" incorrectly as "Yet," using the German sound for the letter J. "You know what it means--"
"It's meant as an insult, of course."
Nester caught a look of embarrassment on Tunt's face. It was a well-known nickname around field station.
The East Germans turned to questions of translation. "The black weed, it means, I think--"
"The black German. Much worse than weed."
"Anyway, as I said, I'm skeptical. Africans can't speak German well. Too many consonants--"
"He has a German mother--"
"She's from Hamburg. Pale as a Beelitz asparagus."
Shaking his head at the low grade of the information, Nester scrawled in caps: "Checotah, Oklahoma, black as Turkish coffee." Only the dead looked as pale as Beelitz asparagus.
A wretched little mistake, Nester thought, for one of the world's most effective covert agencies. He was brown-eyed, as even the most basic description of him would have told them. They must be slipping. Still, Nester was disconcerted that they had collected anything at all on him. He lived an obscure life in an even more obscure world. No one should know about him, not even such trivia as the color of his eyes, the quality of his German, or the race of his mother. It suggested a leak.
"So what about him?"
Exactly, Nester thought. What about me?
There came a long, significant silence, in which the East Germans appeared to wait for a comment, and in that instant, Nester experienced a rush of heat. He smelled the burning of human skin.
HE GLANCED LEFT. The man beside him, a civilian computer programmer from Bad Aiblingen, had caught on fire. Nester gripped the arms of his chair. For an instant, he could not move. The programmer had come that very day to transfer the contents of Terminal Sixteen, an old Japanese computer, onto a master disc. He was one of the very few civilians Nester had ever seen allowed into field station.
Clasping two hands that were flames to his beard, the programmer shrieked. His beard ignited.
Nester flung away his headset, leapt from his seat, and grabbed at the man's head.
"Jesus Christ!" he heard from the crackling lips.
"Motherfuck!" he heard around him, as the other soldiers in the Box comprehended.
The flames stung Nester's fingers. He reared back. The programmer writhed onto the linoleum floor and kicked at the underside of the desk as his pant legs blazed.
Nester snatched Tunt's phone, dialed a security code, and dropped the receiver.
Then he noticed Tunt, who had not moved an inch.
"What?!" he cried over the screams of the civilian. Tunt shook his head. There was a very specific panic in his eyes. "Do something, goddamn you! Help me!"
But Tunt froze. So did the others. Fifteen signals traffickers pressed back against the walls of the Box, a cramped space packed with computer consoles, fax machines, and telexes, and stared at the burning man in paralyzed fascination.
Nester wheeled on them: "Goddamn, people! Move!"
He took Tunt by the sleeve: "Get a fire extinguisher!"
Then, throwing one arm over his face, he tried with the other to grasp the programmer by a foot and pry him away from the cubicle, to no avail. The man had thrust himself as far beneath the desk as possible, as if to douse himself in darkness. Smoke and flames and moans of pain came from the underside of the cubicle. Nester knelt, closed his eyes, and muttered a surah for the dying.
SECURITY THUNDERED IN. The squad leader reached Nester. "What the hell--?!"
Weapons swung. Tunt came running. The fire extinguisher gushed.
"The guy just went up," Nester heard himself say.
The squad leader shook his head, uncomprehending. Nester knew it sounded insane, but he had no better explanation. Either the programmer had spontaneously combusted, or something had gone fantastically wrong with his machine, which had also been incinerated. The squad leader kept shaking his head back and forth as his men hustled the rest of the signals team out of the Box.
Terminal Sixteen was special. Tagged SCI, Sensitive Compartmentalized Intel, it was off limits to most people in the signals unit. Nester, an occasional visitor to the Box, did not have clearance. Coogan, his commanding officer, did, as, obviously, did the civilian. But Corporal Tunt, Nester's underling, who sat adjacent to the machine, could not have used it without a special dispensation.
A soldier tried to muscle Nester out of the area, but he resisted. He did not want to leave until he knew more.
The programmer's corpse sent up a vapor, a stinking mix of scorched meat and plastic. Nester tried to recall the man's name. Terry, Larry, Don? He realized he had never known it. The man had come from the intelligence outfit at Bad Aiblingen, that much Nester distinctly remembered. They had encountered each other in the field station lounge, exchanged a greeting, chatted about a bistro on Savignyplatz, nothing more.
Medical staff poured into the room. A few signalers peered through the door of the Box, murmuring among themselves. Nester realized he should get out of the room too; as an analyst, he did not really belong there, and someone might make much of this fact, especially if the destruction of the machine had been intentional, which, now that he thought about it, made sense. What would better explain the flash inferno?
But Nester couldn't bring himself to leave. A stretcher came bobbing between two medics. The man was pronounced dead. His eyes were covered.
With alarming speed, security sheathed the remains in a lead-lined bag. This being field station, and deeply covert, no one would ever hear of the programmer again. God's cigarette butt, Nester thought, stubbed out and trashed.
Now came a new unit, more security people. Tunt was among them, talking to them. These men focused on the computer. They crouched, muttered, glanced over at Nester but asked no questions. Tunt appeared to supply whatever they needed.
The other members of the signals team were to be kept out for a while. A bomb detail would come through. Despite the necessity for these precautions, Nester knew, Major Coogan would hate the thought of interruption. The Box functioned twenty-four hours a day, eight days a week, gathering information from East Berlin to Moscow, snatching from every frequency and every language, tapping telephone conversations, satellite transmissions, anything that moved within a thousand miles east of the station. And in this moment, of all moments, they could not afford to waver, not with East German citizens stampeding out of their own country, not with Gorbachev undermining his satellite governments...
Who knew what had already been missed in those few minutes of initial shock, much less what would be lost if the Box had to be shut down for a bomb sweep?
Nester gazed intently at the wreckage of the computer. Yes, he thought, the agent of destruction must have been a bomb, Semtex, most probably, the size of a pencil eraser.
A scenario would be developed. A technician would take blame for a breakdown in the computer's maintenance schedule. Theoretically, no one would know otherwise, but only fools would believe the story. It left the door wide open for speculation.
Nester was the ranking officer in the room at the moment of explosion and nominally in charge, though he was well out of his area of expertise. His office lay two floors below, but he ventured into the Box every now and then to steep himself in the nuts and bolts of data gathering. This time around, he had been invited. Tunt had tipped him to the transmission between the East Germans, and he'd run upstairs. Had he stopped to go to the bathroom, had another assignment beckoned, he would have missed the fire.
Tunt glanced over at him, and Nester was shamed. He had been wrong to lose his temper in front of the others, wrong to use curse words, to have shown such a lack of composure.
When he allowed himself to indulge in a little immodesty, he felt that he was the most courteous and alert American officer in the walled city of West Berlin. He had memorized every line of the service etiquette, and those under him marveled at his heartfelt finesse and had told him so. He squired around visiting brass as if they were secretaries of state. He never lost his temper, never used obscenities, and never treated his inferiors as less than equals. He had even been known to open doors for enlisted men, though his superiors frowned upon the practice.
He was so well spoken, so impeccably uniformed for every occasion, so mindful of protocol in all he did, that he might have been born with the service etiquette in his blood, and etiquette meant more than manners. It amounted to unceasing vigilance. No man should suffer on Nester's account. No job should go undone. Nester's father, who had immigrated to America from British Guiana in the 1950s, was a stickler for good behavior too, a pedant when you got right down to it, who took as much offense at an inappropriate word as a bad grade in school.
Nester's superior, Major Coogan, strode into the Box. With a dull whip of his head, he remarked on Nester's presence.
Fifteen minutes earlier, the major had left the room to attend a meeting--with whom, Nester did not know--and in that whisper of time, the computer had blown up. For those fifteen minutes, as luck would have it--after endless twenty-four-hour cycles during which Nester never showed his face in the Box--he had been the ranking officer in the room. What were the odds?
Corporal Tunt requested permission of Coogan to leave the Box. Coogan denied it. Instead, he looked over at Nester.
For a second, Nester contemplated defending himself, but against what? He could not say. With a salute, he left the Box.
AS SOON AS THE DOORS SHUT behind him, he tore off the Commie wristwatch given to him by his best friend, Lieutenant Stuart Glemnik, for his thirty-fifth birthday, and shoved it to the bottom of his pocket. Just an hour before, it had seemed a clever gag gift, an honorary timepiece from the People's Army of the German Democratic Republic. Now it felt like some kind of horrible mistake, an admission of laxity.
A vision of the fire-engulfed man returned to him. He clasped his left wrist with his right hand and waited for the revulsion to subside. He concentrated on something else, a minor worry, but sufficient to divert his imagination.
Where was Stuart? He had not been around in well over forty-eight hours. In fact, Nester had calculated, it was more like seventy-two. He had not answered the telephone when Nester called, had not come to the door when he knocked. Nester needed Stuart now, needed to talk to him, to sort this sudden mess out.
A marine guarded the sector elevator. He gave Nester wide berth. Nester pressed the button for free zone, the declassified area two floors down. For ten seconds, he was alone. He took deep breaths. Another marine monitored his exit from the elevator. The free zone corridor echoed beneath his footsteps. It seemed especially quiet all of a sudden, but then field station always had a deserted quality, even when at full alert.
Truth be told, Nester didn't like the place. He had been at the post about a year and had never become accustomed to its silences and pressures, as palpable as the treated air rushing through its vents. The listening station perched at the summit of a 115-meter-high artificial mountain known as the Teufelsberg, the Devil's Mountain, a pile of Hitler's war rubble. Thirty-seven years of landscaping, what the Germans called Begrunung, had disguised the rubble beneath the scrub, and now the construction looked more or less natural, an upsurge of bluff on the wide Brandenburg plain. In the winter, though, when the cold air stripped its leaves away, Nester could tell that the Teufelsberg didn't conform to its surroundings, and the recognition of a geographical lie made him uneasy. Maybe because that lie elaborated on another: that the field station did not officially exist.
In the lounge, a rectangular space with six red tables, six pairs of matching benches, a sink, and a soda machine, he made some coffee. In a corner, over the sink, hung a defaced centerfold. Nester gazed at the lace-cradled blonde in irritation.
When the coffee was ready, he flipped a first cup down his throat. A mote of energy shot up his spine. He was trembling.
It was now 1900 hours, which seemed impossible. Only twenty-two minutes had elapsed since the fire. If Nester remembered correctly, darkness had fallen at about 1720, but the exact moment hardly mattered. There were no windows at field station. Sunsets came and went without trace.
The chrome of the sink showed him a dim reflection. His bifocals were crooked. He adjusted them. He needed a shave. His skin took on some of the redness of the room and the silver-gray of the basin: plum, blood, metal. You're the color of the Rhine in thaw, his mother had once lyricized, when the creeks and streams of the Black Forest come ripping out of the mountains, spilling their mud, torn branches, and ice gravy into it. And in truth, Nester felt like an agitated river, as if all the strange, unseen rivulets of field station had poured into his soul and made him spill over his banks. He noted with chagrin how little hair clung to his head. In the course of two years, two of the worst of his life, he had practically gone bald.
Face facts. He had been kicked out of the Box, and that meant trouble. Coogan personally despised him of course, didn't like the mastery of the German language in a black man, loathed the combination of black skin and supergrade designation, a rarity in his tight little universe. But that was routine.
He also despised Nester's institutional origins. Nester came out of the Defense Intelligence Agency, a troubled bureaucracy that inspired derision among other branches of the service, and within that bureaucracy, he had worked for a particularly ill-regarded section, the UFO Working Group, a team of specialists chosen from every sector of the intelligence community and tasked with the sole purpose of addressing questions about extraterrestrial life. Nester had not volunteered. He had been drafted because of his association with a high-ranking Communist from Romania who had been exiled for admitting to a close encounter. The work was top-secret. It involved contacts across all branches and agencies and made him an insider far beyond his years. Coogan hated Nester for it.
But that too was pro forma, nothing new. Nester seated himself on a bench and concentrated on the detonated terminal.
Sixteen was old, he knew, and scheduled for removal. The rest of the Box had been upgraded the previous year, but for some reason, this terminal had not been addressed until now. The programmer, as Nester understood it, would have transferred the files from the hard drive onto a master disc, so that nothing would be lost during the upgrade, and by the following week, Sixteen would have been gone. Now, in high Wagnerian style, it was.
So what required its destruction? Had someone wanted to send a message to the Americans in their mountain retreat, or had the terminal itself been the point? Had the civilian been the target, perhaps? Nester could answer none of these questions with certainty.
A last question, more frightening than the others, crept into his head. Did the disaster have anything to do with him?
That did not seem likely, given his lack of access to the computer. He could not possibly have been sitting in front of Sixteen at the moment of detonation. But still, after days of absence from the Box, he had managed to appear just before the computer exploded, and the coincidence made him deeply uncomfortable. Why should he have been listening to a couple of East German buffoons at that precise instant? Jerome Tunt might have an answer to that question.
Nester shook his head. One way or another, he shouldn't have cursed the corporal like that. To a watchful eye, like Major Coogan's, such a breach of conduct would hint at panic, and panic might suggest guilt, though guilt over what, Nester could not begin to imagine; for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, perhaps, a Cold War crime par excellence. Suddenly, he felt exposed.
There had always been a downside to Nester's reputation for courtesy, and he knew it well. People thought him distant. He'd never understood it, but they did, as if hiding behind the manners lived a different man entirely, one who didn't take much comfort in interactions with other human beings and who substituted courtesy for genuine human warmth. His reputation for mastery of the German language accentuated the myth. Hence that despised nickname: "the Jet Kraut."
With his histrionics in the Box, he had just given everyone a new annal in the saga. The Jet Kraut had launched a blitzkrieg. That's how it would be related throughout field station. He had taken the Lord's name in vain! The thought lingered a moment, made him angry at himself. He must get some sleep. But Sixteen troubled him more with every passing minute. He could not shake the feeling that he had been summoned to its destruction for a reason.
HEELS SNAPPED. Nester looked up. Major Coogan stood in the doorway. Nester made a salute. The major returned an extremely formal one, a bad sign.
"In my office."
Coogan wore his khakis tight as a parade boot, and as he strode down the first subbasement corridor ahead of Nester, his entire body had a ceremony about it, as if he were not a man, but a foot planted and jerked by a marching leg.
The major, like Nester, was the son of a vet, an army brat through and through, and that allowed room for dialogue between the men. Nester's father wasn't Citadel, but he'd fought at the battle of the Ia Drang in Vietnam and had returned to Southeast Asia much later in the midst of the Tet Offensive, where he'd been wounded badly enough to receive oak clusters and a cushy desk job in Heidelberg. Nester had spent his formative years in that city, falling in love with German philosophy and the girls who liked to talk about it between smooch sessions on the Rhine. Here, the two men parted ways. Coogan disliked the Germans. He disliked every people on the earth but Americans, preferably white, and the Filipinos, whom he admired for their friendliness, their housework, and their readiness to speak English. But it didn't matter. The soldiers had a common heritage. They could hate each other's guts and still suffer a truce.
Nester entered the office and stood at attention until Coogan offered him a seat in a worn leather chair beside the desk. Another chair waited opposite. They were expecting company.
"No thank you, sir."
"That's right. Don't drink either, do you, Captain?"
"Nor do you eat pork, as I understand it."
"That's correct, sir."
The major found a pair of keys in the cupboard to his right and unlocked a file cabinet in his desk. Two images hovered on the wall behind his head. One was an aerial photograph of Berlin just after the war, blocks and blocks of gray, blasted building husks, at their center a single standing church, its steeple beheaded; the church, Nester knew, had functioned as an orientation point for bomber pilots in the air. That's why it had been spared. The other image, shining behind glass, was a vintage movie poster for a Marlene Dietrich film about the black market. Both had been bequeathed to the major by his father, who had been stationed in Berlin right after the war. Nester kept his eyes on Dietrich's chin. She kept her eyes on him.
"No pork, hunh? Is that a religious conviction, Captain? Are you a Muslim or a Jew?"
"Sammy Davis, Jr., was a Jew, wasn't he?"
"I believe so, sir."
Coogan pulled a bottle of whiskey from a drawer, unscrewed the cap and poured a slug into a coffee mug decorated with an 82nd Strategic Reconnaissance insignia. He drank, swirled, closed his eyes. "Then why?"
"The undiscovered country, sir. I fear it."
It was bad to quote Shakespeare in front of the major. Nester knew it. But he'd done it anyway. His superior suppressed a wave of disdain. Venomous light flickered in his eyes.
"Tell me what you saw, Captain, and be quick."
Nester crossed his arms. He could feel temper tensing his muscles. His mother had a temper too, and she'd always told him to tap three times on his wrist whenever it arose, and that would reverse the charge. He'd tried, but over the years, the three taps had turned into a propensity for scratching until the skin broke and his wrist bled.
Nester related what he had seen. Coogan poured himself another whiskey. All the time, he kept a clinical demeanor, as if he were dispensing medicinal tea into the coffee mug.
"And all this means what, Cates?"
The major chewed on his lower lip. Rumor had it he was just weeks away from admission to the Battle Command Training Program at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas; weeks away from a career track to the heights of military rank. The thought of this man as a general depressed Nester.
"It was a bomb, we can assume. So? You're the expert on our neighbors."
Nester thought it over. He was not yet prepared to say anything about the conversation he had overheard between the East German bureaucrats. Their words in reference to him could mean a leak of some kind, but not necessarily, and he did not want to provoke hasty judgments at that moment. Anyway, the notion that some branch of the East German government had tried to bomb field station, which the tone of Coogan's question implied, struck him as absurd. Such an act could serve no purpose. Before he could formulate a reply to this effect, the major changed the subject.
"Where is Glemnik, by the way?"
Coogan pulled a cigarette-making kit from another drawer in the desk, rolled one, lit it with a spare match, and dragged once. The brand was harsh, and its fumes clouded the room.
"I have no way of knowing that, sir."
The question rattled him. The hammer-and-sickle timepiece clicked in his pocket, as if its pulse too had quickened. Under the circumstances, anything could be used against him, including a friendship.
In many ways, Stuart Glemnik was Nester's opposite, and that had created a certain chemistry: two misfits at opposite ends of a behavioral pole. Stuart had grown up civilian with neither manners nor discipline. He had run away from home at the age of seventeen, received his high-school degree from the army but had never earned a college diploma. Though he spoke passable German and was nearly as well-read as Nester, he was self-educated and had risen through the ranks in spite of it. There would be a ceiling to his promotion, Nester knew, because many of his superior officers, while recognizing a certain genius for intelligence in Stuart, did not like him. He was a bit too anarchic for most military intelligence personnel, never quite able to conceal his contempt for the practical uses of the material, always theorizing about the ultimate meaning of his work; and it had to be said, he did not make much effort to endear himself to his fellow officers, except for Nester, who was a kind of mentor to him.
Beyond this, Coogan hated Stuart, as he did Nester, because of certain "affiliations" which protected Stuart, which were secret and, everyone assumed, quite powerful. Nester believed them to be real. Stuart had worked on the Syrian border, a highly classified sector of operations, and he still received the occasional visit from an old Company hand who had known him there. Whatever their actual status, these ties to other organizations made Stuart autonomous. He could leave town without much notice, unlike the other men in the command, who were bound by orders to stay in West Berlin. Even now, he might be on some confidential mission. That would explain his absence.
"Are you telling me, Cates, that you find nothing suspicious in the coincidence?"
"What coincidence is that?"
"Playing stupid will only get you into deeper shit, Captain. The coincidence I'm speaking of is the one between Glemnik's disappearance and this matter in the Box."
Nester shook his head. He had not given much thought to the coincidence. Now, unnerved, he did so. "If you don't mind my asking, Major, why exactly am I in `deep shit'?"
"Do you know a man named Styles over at the consulate?"
Nester motioned with his head. He knew the name.
"You know what they say about him?"
"He's CIA. Goes by the name of Rick Doyle. Got caught in an explosion in Lebanon a few years back. Jiri Klek's work, I believe. State Department hates him and has him stashed in a little office near the Zoo train station. In the Amerika Haus, if I'm not mistaken."
Coogan's face reddened, and his annoyance, which he had never been able to hide, not even from his enemies, spilled out. "I knew that sonuvabitch was an owl the minute I laid eyes on him."
Nester was surprised. In field station parlance, owl meant CIA, an ambiguous reference both to the agency's supposed wisdom and to its infinite foolishness. He'd never heard his superior use the term before, and it struck a false note. For whatever reason, Coogan, who most of the time liked to distance himself from the lowly minions of field station, and their slang, now wanted to emphasize his distance from this owl.
The major took another drag on his cigarette. "He's been asking questions about your buddy Glemnik. Now he's here, and he wants to talk to you. To me, that qualifies as some deep shit."
Coogan mashed the cigarette out in a piece of aluminum foil. He plucked up the phone receiver and punched three numbers.
"Come on, if you're comin'," he said.
Nester's eyes wandered through the maze of war-broken streets on the wall. He braced himself. The doorknob turned.
In sauntered a man with a shattered jaw. He was six feet four inches tall, or thereabouts, clothed in a black turtleneck, olive wool blazer, and black jeans, and his eyes pierced Nester right through. In them, with suspicion and rage, lurked ruefulness. Nester tried not to stare. From the crown of his head to his nostrils, this owl--Carlton Styles--had a normal, even handsome face, with dark, intelligent eyebrows, high cheekbones, and a full head of wavy chestnut hair. But below the nose, right where the face narrowed, the bones crumpled. Teeth protruded, three of them, like the exposed girders of a building struck by earthquake. It had happened three years ago on the Green Line in Beirut. The blast had almost killed him.
Styles took a seat in the other chair and clasped its arms with great purpose. "Stuart Glenmik's your friend. When did you last see him?"
Nester thought back. "Must have been a week ago."
"He's got a civilian visitor. Is that correct?"
"I believe so, sir. A brother."
"And a girlfriend with political ties?"
"She's been checked out, sir. Thoroughly. Far as I know, she was cleared. Sometimes she has tidbits for him about the local chapter of the Communist Party. Nothing too interesting lately, but she has been known to produce good things. It's in his dossier."
"I see. Does he pay her anything? Is she that kind of source?"
Nester realized he'd already said too much. The owl might reasonably ask why he was so well informed. "Not to my knowledge, sir. I do know Glemnik even made a note of her affiliations with someone at the Pentagon. Like I said, it's all in his dossier."
"I've read the dossier, Captain. Many times."
Nester tapped once on his wrist, and it helped. Coogan locked fingers together on his desk and gazed into the space enclosed between his hands as if deciphering hieroglyphs on the face of a rock. Nester prepared himself for the next question, for the owl to ask him about the connection between Stuart and the explosion in the Box, but for a while, no one spoke.
Then, Styles's left foot began to tap at an alarming rate. He ran a hand through his hair and cleared his throat.
"This is between the three of us, soldier. Understood? You never saw me here."
"Tell me what you know about Jiri Klek."
Nester shot a glance at Coogan, but the major averted his eyes. So he recited a short bio of the world's most elusive terrorist. In the all-time sweepstakes for political murder, Klek ranked second only to Carlos in his range of exploits. As an apprentice, he may have had a hand in the slaughter of Israeli athletes in Munich, circa 1972. He was said to have supplied the gun fired at Pope John Paul II in 1981, and the poisoned cane used to murder a Bulgarian dissident in London in 1985. He was attached like a clothespin to Lockerbie, stapled like a memo onto the car bomb that decimated American troops in Lebanon, thumbtacked to the heart of the La Belle Disco bombing in West Berlin a couple of years back.
No one had ever seen Klek's face. No one knew his approximate age. Some believed he did not exist.
Finally, after an internal deliberation, Nester mentioned the Beirut bombing that had damaged his interrogator's visage. At that point, Styles cut him off.
"To your knowledge, has Klek surfaced in Berlin since the disco bombing?"
"To my knowledge, admittedly scant, he is in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon. But I have heard rumors, none confirmed, that he is in East Berlin. Are you suggesting that Klek blew Sixteen?"
Styles and Coogan looked at each other, as if Nester's words had settled some argument between them. Nester tapped his wrist again.
"Not exactly," Styles replied. "What if I told you I had seen Klek myself, Captain? A little over a week ago, sitting in a cafe. I spoke with him, in fact."
Nester could not conceal his incredulity.
"You spoke with Jiri Klek?"
Styles dipped his head in affirmation.
"But no one has ever spoken with him," Nester stammered. "No one has even seen his face. How could you know it was him?"
The owl ignored the question.
"I have something else to ask you, Captain, an appeal to your particular expertise. In your opinion, have the East Germans any means of access at field station? Currently?"
Nester pressed his hands together to keep them from shaking. This was genuine trouble. It sounded to him as if something concrete had been uncovered, and Stuart was implicated. If so, Nester could be implicated too. With an effort of will, he stopped his mind from racing and reminded himself that this consular man Styles, this owl, might be jumping to conclusions. No one in the world was more paranoid than a CIA hand under diplomatic cover. It was their job to believe the worst of everybody.
"The East Germans?"
Styles moved his wreck of a jaw up and down.
"Do you have some specific authorization... ?"
"Just answer the question."
The phone conversation overheard between the East Germans had become crucial, Nester realized. But he must talk to Tunt first. The Jamaican would tell him what he needed to know, and then he would tell these men. "No sir, I have no reason to believe we've been infiltrated. Technologically, as you know, East German intelligence is still light-years behind us. If the East Germans are inside, they've done it the old-fashioned way. Either with wiretaps--which I seriously doubt--or with people."
Styles coughed into a fist.
"Well? And is there someone inside?"
"Does this have something to do with Sixteen, sir?"
"Answer me, Captain."
That did it. Technically, Styles had no jurisdiction over field station, and yet Coogan was indulging him. Nester had had enough. If need be, he would go over Coogan's head. He would go to Colonel Redding or even General Haddock. This whole thing had been conducted in a slapdash fashion. The military had its appropriate channels, as Coogan well knew, and they must be respected. "If you're curious," Nester replied in a dismissive voice, "you should launch an official inquiry."
Styles held him with that rueful stare. Nester tried not to blink.
"Captain." Styles reached a hand to the arm of Nester's chair. "I don't know why you were in the Box when that terminal was destroyed, and I really don't care, but I have it on good authority that you seemed particularly interested in getting to the man before he died. No one else moved, but you were all over him--"
"That's because he was burning alive, sir. Any soldier would have done the same."
Styles pulled himself still closer, leaning across the space between the two chairs until Nester could see the medication in his mouth, crumbs of Percodan or some other painkiller in the fissures between teeth. "Any soldier didn't. You did."
Nester felt perspiration break out on the back of his neck.
"You are Stuart Glemnik's best friend, and Stuart Glemnik has gone missing at a curious moment. In fact, he is our prime suspect. So you see, I have more than enough evidence to get you thrown into the stockade right now. But I'm going to cut you a break. I'm going to give you twenty-four hours to locate Stuart Glenmik and bring him in. If you do not, I will have no other recourse but to finger you as an accomplice in the bombing of a highly sensitive military installation."
"An accomplice? I know you can't be serious."
Styles settled back into his chair. He turned his face to Coogan, who said, very slowly and deliberately, "That's an order, soldier."
Nester realized the conversation had ended.
A MINUTE LATER, he was out of the room, racing up the stairs to the field station exit.
He tried to put the pieces together. A computer programmer had burned to death. Stuart was a suspect; Jiri Klek too.
The sky above West Berlin dangled close and dark, but Nester felt a rush of brightness. It was the first time he'd been outside in twelve hours. A chilly Baltic wind blew. The city's lights glittered like ice through the branches of trees. He took a path running along the outer perimeter fence of the compound, which separated it from pine woods. Off in the distance, helicopter blades juddered. He came to a bench overlooking the city and sat. He dug a finger into the softness of his left wrist.
The events that had just occurred had to be connected with the rising chaos, his gut told him. They had to be. The Warsaw Pact was crumbling; four decades of tension were building to an explosion.
Nester thought back to China, six months ago. In May, students had hijacked Tiananmen Square, and after a brief pause, the Chinese government sent in tanks. Some of the students had been killed, others imprisoned. A few had fled. Nester had experienced a dull revulsion at the familiarity of it all.
Revolt followed by tanks: that's how the game against the Soviets in his part of the world had been played for half a century, and Nester had thought back then, during the China suppression, that the world as it was would never change, not in any serious way. Russian tanks had been in Eastern Europe too long to go back home. They had been there ever since World War II when the armies of Stalin had penetrated into the heart of the continent, entering Hitler's Berlin before the Allies, liberating death camps, rolling into Warsaw, Prague, Budapest.
After the war, Moscow had squatted on the region, like a fat old peasant with a panzer-plated rear. Hundreds of thousands of her soldiers lay buried in the wretched ground between the Vistula and the Spree, planted in the dark earth like seeds. These men, numberless, faceless, moldering in countless military graveyards, had saved the world from Fascism, according to Soviet ideology. Their consecrated ground could not be left to the Poles, Czechs, Hungarians, and other quaint nations living on top of it; no, it must be defended against sacrilege. So in the years following the armistice, puppet regimes had taken the place of democratically elected bodies. Freedoms had been suppressed. Villages, towns, cities, and countries, half of Europe, had fallen into a bland darkness, becoming merely strategic, a buffer zone against the West.
That's why Nester was here, wasn't it? That's why his father had been stationed in West Germany. To wait, watch, and listen, to observe the Soviets with binoculars across the Wall, to listen for the heartbeat beyond the barbed wire and mines and border guards, beyond all the nauseating bric-a-brac of undeclared hostilities.
There had been moments of near conflict. In 1953, the East Germans revolted; in 1956, the Hungarians; in 1968 and 1981, the Czechs and the Poles. Each time, Moscow sank her ass upon them.
But after China--yes, definitely, Nester thought, right after that--things had begun to change. A geopolitical screw had loosened. In June had come the Polish elections, which were supposed to mark a gradual transition to a free vote. Instead, the Polish United Workers Party, Moscow's proxy, had been devastated by the results. Its leaders' names had been crossed off lists. None of them had been able to take power. For years, the Kremlin had been relaxing its muscles, taking ideological salt baths, using words like "openness" and "reform" to lower its own blood pressure, but these elections--they were something else. Nester found them deeply troubling. He did not trust the man who, finally, was responsible for them, this man with the strange birthmark on his forehead, this Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev.
Gorbachev seemed to be relinquishing power and territory without much thought to the consequences. That made him dangerous, as far as Nester was concerned. The Polish elections had brought an end to the monopoly of the Communist Party in that country. The party had always been the tool used by the Soviets to excuse their presence among the Poles; now it was smashed. What could Gorbachev be thinking? Didn't he grasp the implications? Nester was glad for the Poles, and like any other American soldier, he wanted to see Communism gutted, but God help him, when Nicolae Ceausescu, the Communist dictator of Romania, posed the question whether Moscow should invade Poland, Nester himself felt that the words had been taken right out of his mouth. He felt a deep need for suppression. It would have been ugly, but might have bought time for a reasoned negotiation, for a measured and more reliable step toward democracy.
Later that month, on June 16, the day Stuart Glemnik's brother showed up in West Berlin, something even more extraordinary occurred. The Hungarian government reburied a freedom fighter it had executed back in the 1950s, and masses of people, two hundred thousand, gathered to pay homage. This was a clear provocation to the Soviets, who had backed the regime that had murdered the man. But Gorbachev had approved.
It could not continue. Someone in the Kremlin would wake up. Or one of the Kremlin's stooges, Milos Jakes in Prague, Janos Kadar in Budapest, Erich Honecker in East Berlin, would fight back. War loomed. Nester could feel its approach, and in his worst moments of irrationality, he felt that only his vigilance could keep it at bay; if war broke out, a demon voice whispered, he alone would bear the responsibility.
Late summer had been tense. In August, Gorbachev had called up the head of the Polish United Workers Party and told him, in so many words, to let the anti-Communist opposition take power; the opposition leader fainted as he was being sworn in. Meanwhile, instead of going on vacation, thousands of East Germans decided to obtain West German passports. They flooded West German embassies in Hungary, East Germany, and Czechoslovakia, vaulting over walls, begging for help, until the embassies had to shut down. In May, the Hungarians had begun to dismantle the barbed wire and barricades along their border with Austria, and since then, East Germans on holiday had been sneaking over it. One day, two hundred of them went on a picnic near the border. When no one was looking, they hoisted up their picnic baskets and crossed into the West.
In September, the Hungarians made it official. They opened the border, and East Germans began to spill out by the thousands.
Now, in early November, West Berlin had filled with refugees, waiting for something. What did they know that Nester had not? What had made them so sure it was time to leave their country?
A mere month ago, in October, on the fortieth anniversary of the founding of East Germany, the East German dictator, Erich Honecker, had lifted a glass of red wine between clenched fingers and toasted the friendship of the Soviets and the East Germans against his will. In private, Gorbachev had already told Honecker he must reform his government or depart, just as he had told the Pole. The Soviet leader had grown tired of these dinosaurs. They had embarrassed him with their antiquated forms of repression for the last time. Consequently, Honecker's toast had been one of utter despair, as if the old revolutionist had been lifting a cup of his own blood to drink.
Nester had watched this moment with rising panic. On television, Honecker's voice had been timid. His words, for the very first time Nester could ever remember, dripped fear. At that very moment, outside the walls of the congenitally ugly Palace of the Republic, television cameras had shown in the darkness of East Berlin a small gathering of dissidents, two thousand or so, calling for their savior "Gorbi." They seemed harmless enough, but under the circumstances, of course, they weren't. They challenged the very foundation of the state, just as the students in Tiananmen Square had done, and the police descended on them with truncheons. That night, the representatives of the East German people, das Volk, scattered like rats, but the day after Gorbachev went home, they returned, seventy thousand of them in Leipzig alone. Did the Soviet leader have any idea what he had unleashed?
Nester needed no more proof. Civil war would descend. The horror of his own immediate experience in the Box felt like a foretaste of it, the first clean outbreak of fire, blood, and terror. After Gorbachev's departure, after those first demonstrations, the dictator Honecker had wanted to kill the agitators. He had wanted to send in the tanks, like the Chinese, but his own followers ousted him instead.
Now they must be having a change of heart. Ever since they had dumped Honecker, as October gave way to November, as the demonstrations swelled, as one half of the East German population rose against them in disgust and the other half abandoned the country for the West, these men too must have seen the sense in bloodshed. Nester was certain of it. To keep power, they would have to shoot their people, and when they did, the Soviets, with their hundreds of thousands of troops surrounding the two Berlins, would return their fire. Gorbachev's credibility with the West depended upon it.
That's how it would begin, this war. The seeds had been sown with Monday-night demonstrations following Gorbachev's visit. Hundreds of thousands of people had occupied the streets of Leipzig, Halle, and Dresden, bearing candles, waving banners, and singing "The Internationale" in the darkness. Hadn't World War II begun with Nazi parades, with mass demonstrations, long before Hitler's troops invaded Poland? Crowds were a prefiguration of armies, nothing more. His father disagreed, of course. When Nester told him that in the little city of Suhl, East Germany, a crowd of thirty thousand had sung "We Shall Overcome," his father had replied, "There's a step in the right direction, son. Even you can't deny it." With great respect, Nester had ventured to correct him: "We're talking about Europe, Daddy. Dr. King would have been shot before he ever reached Selma."
Wind rattled the razor wire atop the fences behind him. Beyond the wire rose antenna casings, billowy white spheres that boomed with every gust.
Treason, Nester thought. At a moment like this, I have been accused of treason against my country. The thought made him so bitter he had to spit the taste of it from his mouth.