The Berlin ConspiracyA Novel
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Tom Gabbay
All right reserved.ISBN: 0060787856
In 1963, the world was divided into two camps, and Berlin was on the front line. They called it a "Cold War," but one spark in that divided city and it wouldn't be cold for long—the whole damn planet would go up in flames. Of course, I'd contributed more than my share to this nonsense doing contract work for the Company through the fabulous fifties, but after Cuba the shine had gone off and I dropped out of the insanity.
I found an agreeable retirement spot in a small bungalow near Pompano Beach, Florida, about forty miles north of Miami. At that time it wasn't much more than a couple of bars and a convenience store on a strip of sand off the highway, but it suited me fine. The idea was to get rich as a bestselling author of spy novels and then find more desirable living quarters. I had a typewriter and loads of material, but nothing ever came together in my head, let alone on paper. So I did a lot of fishing.
It wasn't the first time Sam Clay had phoned in the middle of the night, but it was the first time in a while. Sam was DDP (Deputy Director for Plans, in charge of covert operations) and as near to a real friend as I had, even though I'd only seen him once since I dropped out. I hadn't left the agency on the best of terms, not that Sam held any of that against me, but when you're out you have to be completely out. I'd made my own bed and didn't mind sleeping in it, if it wasn't for the cockroaches, that is.
Anyway, I was surprised to hear Sam's voice. He didn't waste time asking how the fishing was, just got to the point, which was a ticket waiting at the TWA desk in Miami for the morning flight to New York, connecting through to Frankfurt and Berlin. There would be a car waiting for me at the airport and he'd see me in a few days. That was it. No small talk, no explanation. Not that I would've expected one over the phone.
I hung up, sat on the side of the bed, and wished I had a Marlboro. There was an ocean breeze coming through the window and I got up, stood in front of the screen to let it wash across my bare chest. It was pretty black out there, just the sound of the waves slashing onto the beach. Why had I gone along with Sam? I may not have been cutting it as a writer—or as a fisherman, for that matter—but I had no desire to get back into the game. I'd had enough subversion and betrayal for one lifetime and I certainly had no wish to revisit the city of my youth. It might as well have been someone else's childhood memories knocking around in my brain, that's how removed I felt from it. There was nothing left of Berlin to revisit, anyway. The places I once knew had been reduced to rubble and rebuilt into something else that I didn't care about one way or another. It wasn't that I wanted to avoid my past, either. I just didn't give a damn.
I guess the easy answer was that I was tired of hauling in empty lures by day and staring at blank pieces of paper by night. A change of scenery would do me no harm. And I owed Sam. Anyway, whatever the reason, I packed my bag and thirty-six hours later I was back in the business of chasing shadows.
It would've been a routine operation if not for an unusual request, made in a letter written by an unidentified East German official and dropped in the car of a State Department staffer, somebody's secretary I think it was. The anonymous official said he had important information that he might be willing to share, under the "right circumstances." Those kinds of letters were fairly frequent in Berlin and the "right circumstances" usually meant the right price, which was invariably paid, even though the information was usually pretty lame. But the author of this particular enticement wasn't interested in money or even a one-way ticket west. He had just one demand: me. I was the only person he'd talk to.
And no one, especially me, had the slightest idea why.
It would be a significant understatement to say that the guys in Berlin were unhappy about this request. The chief of station at the time was a joker named James Powell. A midforties, tall, slender, tailored-suit kind of a guy with a head too big for his shoulders, he was a Yale man who thought he was a real smooth operator. I thought he was a pretentious asshole, but that didn't matter. You came across a lot of pretentious assholes in the intelligence business. I even liked a few of them. Not Powell, though.
He didn't care much for me, either, which was understandable for a man in his position. No station chief would've liked having an outsider brought in to handle a routine letter drop, but having me show up out of retirement (they called it exile) would've really got under his skin. He must have lobbied Washington hard to keep me out of it and been overruled. Everyone knew I'd ditched the agency and thought they knew the reason why, not that I cared what they thought. I was back for a limited engagement and didn't want to get into any of that old bullshit.
Still, I was curious about my mystery man. Why the hell would some East German official single me out for contact? I'd been out of the game for two years and I'd never worked Europe anyway. It must have intrigued Washington, too. Whoever the guy was, he had access to files on me, and he'd found something in one of them that got his attention. They must've figured he was a player, and it wasn't often that you got the real thing to volunteer. Usually they'd have to be bribed, extorted, or drugged into betraying their country, which took a lot of time and planning, and more often than not you still came up empty. This was a potential gift, one that would come at an extremely opportune moment. Hence the middle-of-the-night phone call from Sam and the pissed-off Berlin chief of station.