Author Topic: A Cold War Novel  (Read 1111 times)

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Offline sargentodiaz

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A Cold War Novel
« on: May 26, 2015, 04:07:32 PM »
I wrote Waltzing in the Shadows in 2007 and recently took it off the shelf to rewrite and revise.

It is set toward the end of the Cold War in Vienna, Austria. For those old enough, this should bring back good - or bad - memories. For those too young, this first chapter should give you an idea what it was like to live in East Germany at the time.

I hope you enjoy and am curious as to your reactions.

Offline sargentodiaz

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Re: A Cold War Novel
« Reply #1 on: May 26, 2015, 04:08:33 PM »
CHAPTER ONE

The young woman known as Annaliese Hofbauer enters the next suite of offices to be cleaned. The light under the door to the inner office causes her to shudder.

Colonel Franz Heilmann, Chief of the European Intelligence Directorate, smiles when she walks into his office. The smile is not friendly. His smiles are never friendly. He then leers at her. He doesn't care that she is unattractive and drab. The fact that he can exercise his power over her is what pleases him. “You are late!”

Annaliese nods, not replying.

Heilmann frowns. “You know what to do.” He motions toward the sofa.

Annaliese complies. She suffers the humiliation in order to keep her job cleaning the third floor of the Ministerium für Staatssicherheit, known as the Stasi, in the Lichtenberg district of East Berlin. She removes the cushions and opens the part of the sofa that turns it into a bed, smoothing the thin blanket before edging to one side. She stiffly removes her clothing, fighting back the shame engulfing her.

Heilmann leers as he removes his uniform. He can't unsnap the corset hiding the flab of his midsection. “Get over here and help me,” he demands.

Annaliese trembles at touching the blubbery flesh and unhooks the stubborn clasp. Her lowered eyes watch the sweat-stained and dirty support fall to the floor. She moves to the bed, lies on her back, eyes open as she silently prays to Khâwandagâr, her Lord God.

Heilmann mounts her. He moves quickly and with all  his force, working until he brings himself to a peak and empties his seminal fluid into the human receptacle beneath him.

Annaliese can't shut out the pig-like noises or the sweaty smell of the man violating her. Her deep faith and belief in her mission keeps her from screaming.

Heilmann stiffens, groans and calls, “Oh God. Help me.”

That shocks Annaliese. She knows the colonel refuted any Supreme Being many years ago.

The colonel's weight drops onto her. His overwhelming reek enfolds her.

It takes a moment to realize he no longer breathes, the fetid smell of cheap cigarettes absent from her nostrils. She heaves the body to one side so she can slide out and stand.

“A heart attack?” She touches his jugular. No pulse.

She smiles. Have her prayers been answered? Then, she frowns. The colonel's death is not one of many contingencies Annaliese has considered.

She can't call building security to report the colonel's death. Minister of State Security Mielke's agents are never gentle with anyone they take into custody. They would drag her to the subbasement filled with dried blood stains and the sickening odor of tortured bodies. She had been there once when some towels went missing and the brutal men were determined to find the culprit. Hours chained to a wall watching the rats crawl in and out of the cracks in the wall had terrified her. She hates rats.

She gathers her clothes and hurries to the bathroom off the Colonel’s office. Annaliese steps into the shower and turns the water as hot as she can tolerate, spending the next few minutes fighting to remove the colonel from her body - and her soul.

She regrets the necessity of departing, as it will end her gathering information, the only reason she suffers through debasement by the German pig. She remembers how her father told the family about the prophesy as they sat around the table eating supper.

“We have suffered for a long time,” he had said. “Our people have been caught between many peoples for centuries. It is only our faith that someday the Seven Angels will come to announce with their trumpets the establishment of a homeland where we can worship freely and live without fear that drives us.”

She shared that faith and studied hard to do what many other members of The Society do, leave the mountain fastness to seek information of use to The Society. While she strongly wishes to continue her assignment, she's glad the abuse is over and she can return home to her family she hasn't seen for fifteen years.

A growing sense of urgency engulfs her as she dresses, returning to the main room. She cleans as if the body on the floor is sleeping. As the colonel always shreds his documents, there are no trash cans to empty, just the big, ugly ashtray filled with the remains of stinky cigarettes.

Annaliese has always know there might come a time when she faced being uncovered and would have to flee. She also knows she must move quickly even though nobody will disturb the colonel until seven o'clock when he aide will bring him morning coffee.

She moves to the corner of the room and seeks a piece of the ornate woodwork, carefully turning and removing a section to reveal a cubbyhole. It was created ten years earlier during the refurbishing of the building. The cache contains a tube of glue, a camera and five rolls of film. The rolls of film mysteriously reappear whenever she uses one to film secret documents.

Annaliese pulls on rubberized gloves and goes to the colonel's desk, after removing a key ring from his pants. All of the drawers are locked, so she checks the big one in the center. It contains two folders marked "Streng Geheim” or “Top Secret" and she carefully removes them. She photographs each page, using two rolls of film. She then opens the bottom drawer that contains a metal box. She lifts it out, setting it atop the desk. It contains three passports, all with Heilmann’s photo, but with various names. There are also several thick packets of bills, including East and West German Marks, British Pounds Sterling, and U.S. dollars. She estimates the amount of money at over thirty thousand Marks, more money than she’s ever seen.

She considers taking the money, not for herself but The Society. “No, it is too bulky and, in the event of a body search at checkout, the security officers would find it and take me into custody.”

A ledger at the bottom of the box contains the colonel's journal, a treasure. All entries are in cryptic shorthand, but she knows the people who will receive the photos can break the code, as they’d been breaking codes for centuries. She uses the remaining rolls of film and still doesn't record the full contents of the journal.

Annaliese replaces the box and locks the drawer, putting the keys back in the colonel’s pants. She goes to her tote bag and removes its contents, carefully prying the bottom loose to reveal a hidden compartment designed to hold five rolls of film. She sets the film in place and puts the bottom back. She replaces the camera in its niche, properly closing it.

Her fingers tremble. She must be quick – but also very, very thorough. After finishing the inner office she works on the outer where the biggest task is cleaning ashtrays piled high with cheap Warsaw Pact cigarettes.

The shift ends at two A.M. and Annaliese pushes her cart into the janitorial area in the basement where the cleaning carts are replenished and stored. She watches the second hand of the clock move in slow motion. Fighting back the desire to flee is almost impossible to overcome. What if one of the interior roving security patrols enters the colonel’s office and finds him? The alarms would sound and all exists will slam shut and be sealed.  Annaliese doesn’t fear what will happen to her as much as the loss of the information she's gathered.

Annaliese melds into the line of workers awaiting the exit inspection. Each passes between the pylons of a metal detector after placing their purses and bags on a conveyer through an ancient x-ray machine. Each individual then receives a patting down by one of the female Stasi security officers.

One guard thoroughly frisks Annaliese. Annaliese suspects the pig enjoys the inspection for more than professional reasons.

“I finish my shift shortly,” the security guard whispers. “Perhaps we can meet somewhere for a beer?"

Annaliese quickly says, “I am sorry, but I have an errand to run.”

The guard scowls and waves her through.

Annaliese goes to the corner to wait for the trolley. She anticipates its arrival, acutely aware of the passing minutes. The dreary, ten story high blocks of government apartment buildings rose from the rubble of war and are as much a blot as the debris of battle. They mirror one another. The only way to tell the gray buildings apart is by the large, block numbers Annaliese enters her building, nodding to the building monitor in her little glassed-in cubicle and trudges up the three flights of stairs to her floor, passing the open door of the floor observer.

She ponders on how wonderful it will be to be free of constant surveillance.

The dreary interior of the apartment holds no paintings, portraits, knickknacks or other items to indicate the persona of the occupant. The few things she possesses are neatly in their place. Annaliese drops her tote bag on the door-side table and passes through the combination living/dining/cooking area to her bedroom. She removes her clothes, carefully folding each item, placing it in a clothes hamper.
Ridding herself of the clothes is a catharsis. She sheds a shell to become the person she has hidden for so very long. Nude, she glows fresh from the womb, pure and unsullied.

She is Shilan Chelki for the first time in fifteen years.

*****

Shilan takes a box from the closet’s top shelf. She removes mens clothing and dons everything to include a pair of shoes with thick rubber soles. Her hair is braided into a tight bun covered by a wool cap. A trip to the bathroom ensures there is nothing to draw attention to her as anything but a young man. “I certainly make a better looking boy than a woman,” she softly says, with the surety that she can once again change her physical appearance when she reaches The Sanctuary.

Shilan takes nothing but her tote bag and turns off all the lights before slowly opening the door, trying not to draw the attention of the floor monitor. She silently walks to the other end of the hall and steps through the open window onto the fire escape. It is a short drop to the pavement. She moves in the shadows through the blocks of buildings, stepping onto the sidewalk at the far side. She’d practiced walking like a man. Few people are aware of the subtle differences, but someone might notice someone dressed like a man walking like a woman. Far too often, the little things trip one up.

A rattling tram comes and she steps aboard, riding it to the river Spee where she descends steps to the cobble-stoned walkway along the river's bank. At an area beneath one of the bridges, she selects a stone twelve from the bottom and eight from a cement ridge, applying pressure until the stone rotates to reveal an empty space.

The camera and film are wrapped in wax paper, further swathed in cloth. She places the package and a note written in the cuneiform symbols of a language thought to be extinct for hundreds of years into the space and closes the opening. She pauses to make a small mark on another stone with a piece of chalk. The appropriate person will come by, see the sign and, when safe to do so, retrieve the package and ensure it reaches its intended recipients.

With the most important part of her escape plan taken care of, Shilan boards another streetcar, this time to the eastern edge of Berlin where many people possess small plots of land they have turned into vegetable gardens in order to supplement the meager rations provided by the state. It is known and tolerated by the Party that the private gardens far out-produce state-owned farms.

The air is crisp a little before six A.M. and she is among a few people arriving to work their plots. She knows there is time before the colonel’s aide discovers the body. Once that happens, alarms will shut down the city and alert every official. Moreover, of course, Annaliese Hofbauer will be the primary suspect.

A small anonymous shed is at the back of a plot and she inserts a key in the rusty lock. The rusty hinges creak a bit as she steps inside and closes the door, making certain to secure the interior latch. She moves a bag of fertilizer aside to expose a small finger-hold she uses to lift a trapdoor. A stairwell is uncovered and she descends a few steps, closing the trapdoor behind her. She is now in a set of subterranean tunnels and rooms that have existed since their construction during the Third Reich. Now abandoned, very few know of them.

A flashlight she takes from a ledge gives off enough light to allow her to find her way to an unmarked door. She steps through into another tunnel; this one faintly lit with a series of light bulbs spaced exactly fifteen meters apart - a sign of German efficiency. That tunnel goes on for three hundred meters to another door, which Shilan opens with a different key. She closes and locks the door, watching a red warning light go off when it is secure.

Shilan sucks in a deep breath. The air somehow tastes of freedom.

It is an impressive complex. There are sleeping quarters with bunk beds covered with clean, fresh blankets and pillows. The suite includes a full bathing facility with hot and cold running water and a fully equipped kitchen with food in the refrigerators, including fruits, vegetables and fresh breads. Someone clearly regularly maintains the area.

Her eyes fill with tears when Shilan spies a small niche in a corner that holds an icon of an angel with a halo of seven stars. She knows she is safe as this is a haven for members of The Society of Seven Angels. She relaxes for the first time in many years. “Thank you, My Lord,” she whispers.

She is hungry and tired. She doesn’t know which urge is stronger and pours a large glass of orange juice to go with some bread she smears with fresh, unsalted butter and marmalade. As she eats, she remembers another evening dining in her home, her little brother making a mess of his food. As usual.

“Why do we hide away in these caves, Father?”

He stopped eating and looked deeply into Shilan’s amber eyes. “It is so we can carry out the mission of The Society, to prepare for the future of our people.

“We cannot do that in the outside?”

“No, little one. Some do not understand our beliefs and call us heretics because we follow the Old Ways. Those who follow Mohammed do not look kindly upon us.” He thought for several minutes before adding, “While most of our people follow the calls to Salah, we do not and that makes them hate us.”

Shilan’s mother chided, “Let her eat in peace, my husband. This is too deep for one so young.”

Her father smiled. “She asked, woman, and it is my duty to answer. It is the way of our society. We keep no secrets amongst us.”

Shilan finishes her repast, her eyes growing heavy. She finds a bunk and collapses on it, her tote bag on the bed beside her. One moment, she stares at the bunk above her and then falls into a deep, relaxed sleep. She is going home.