by Edward Ahern
There it was. Harald meant Irmgard of course. The young woman he had proposed to Peake eight years ago. They had sat in Bremen, in a bar much like this one.
Harald had pitched Irmgard to Peake hesitantly but with conviction. He recommended Irmgard for extraction from East Germany and debriefing, citing her valuable familiarity with police security procedures and operations. He described a teaser list of information she could provide.
He mentioned that he had approached Irmgard rather than the other way around, making it less likely that she was a plant. He mentioned that she seemed amenable to making a new life for herself in the west. He asked for quick action. He was an emotionally ruled idiot.
Harald was an intelligent work dog with bad teeth and the shape of a flop-house pillow. The concept that Harald had proactively recruited a much younger and apparently attractive woman was mildly absurd.
Under Peake’s prodding questions Harald admitted that he and Irmgard had become lovers three months previously and that he had intimated to her that he had contacts who could facilitate her departure. Bingo.
Phil Alanson was Walter Peake’s — real name John Swafford — section chief. A black-ops pro in Berlin before the Wall, Alanson had offered no wishful thinking. He and Walter gnawed through several sessions of the what-if’s in late spring.
“You realize John, that 327 is almost certainly blown?”
“I know. I’m thinking we can flip 327 into a stalking horse and keep three or four Stasi looking into dead ends. If they formally recruit him, we have him accept, and we give him enough to keep them looking in wrong directions.”
“And if he’s put in jail?”
“His information is tactical; anything more than a few weeks old is valueless to them and no threat to us. We trade him for a player to be named.”
“And what the hell do we do with this woman?”
“She should have at least minimal information value. My suggestion would be to try and send her back in with some bait and see what we flush out. Brief stay, with the promise of a bunch of goodies when she comes back out.”
Alanson was doubtful. “327 won’t go along with that. Now that he’s got steady sex he’s going to want to keep her close.”
“327 needs to be protected from himself. We’re the ones who’ve already been screwed. Harald is arguably blown, but he’s of limited value to our friends in the east. Let’s give this woman something tempting that might coax a few roaches out of the walls. I’d like to be able to do some screwing of my own.”
“What’s your bait?”
“Maybe a bite at me. I’m probably already tagged anyway.”
“And on the outside chance she’s legitimate?”
“We put her at some risk. I can live with that.”
And that’s the way it went down. Harald was told that Irmgard would be extracted and debriefed. On his next trip in he pitched the plan to Irmgard, who accepted with little hesitation. She made arrangements for a three-week summer holiday in Hungary, left Dresden by train and while underway used the documents and ticketing provided by Harald to switch trains and cross into Austria.
Harald met Irmgard at Güssing, near the Austrian border with Hungary, and escorted her to a hotel restaurant. Walter was waiting. Cloth table cover. Real flower in the bud vase. Better than Walter and Harald were used to.
Irmgard was firmly rounded and narrow-waisted. No angularities. Skin like softly weathered snow with faint blue veining that coated almost defined muscle. Heavy breasts that emphasized her points as she excitedly talked. Light brown hair, hazel eyes, mouth that split all the way across her face. Irmgard lived so much in the moment that Walter wondered if she could follow directions for tomorrow. She was about twenty years younger than Harald.
Irmgard was fully aware of her effect on both men. Not manipulative, not coy, just pleased with her impact.
And Harald. Harald sat, saying little, occasionally making unneeded motions while he waited for the meeting to be over so he could take Irmgard up to a room. Walter prolonged the meeting an unnecessary fifteen minutes to watch Harald begin to deconstruct. Irmgard gave Walter a complicit smile and continued the conversation, supporting the teasing.
“So, Irmgard, what do you want to do now that you’ve come over?”
“All the television shows and movies that we never could watch. I’ll leave the television always on, even when I’m in the bathroom or kitchen. Go to political rallies, any party, it doesn’t matter, so I can scream slogans and no one will stop me. Confront policemen, knowing they won’t arrest me.”
“You don’t believe it now, but within a few months you’ll become indifferent to politics and focus on your next vacation.”
“So many possibilities, so few rules. I feel like I could run naked down the Elbe Chaussee in Hamburg and no one else would care.”
“Oh, there are rules. You have to be able to afford what you want.”
As she spoke, her face, hands and body moved semi-independently of each other, as though the excitement had taken her body orchestra off tune in a still melodic way.
Walter grudgingly let them go, visualizing Irmgard undressed but unable to add Harald into that vision.
The next morning Irmgard and Walter went by train to a debriefing facility in Augsburg. After six days she was again moved, this time to a hotel in Frankfurt.
Walter was with Irmgard for the entire process, the good guy helping her through the intense interrogations and testing. During the process he painstakingly reviewed his action plan: the set-up, pitch, and return trip of Irmgard, the presumed double agent. Walter scheduled a lunch with her the day after Harald’s next departure into East Germany on business. She wore loose open clothing that showed Walter her bare arms and legs.
“Are you okay without Harald here?”
“I like Harald, but he’s too old. You’re younger than Harald, aren’t you?”
“By a few years.”
“Not so beat-up either. Do you have a German girlfriend?”
“Not right now.”
The lunch meeting never evolved into dessert and coffee. Before their butter-fried schnitzels were completely eaten, Irmgard had invited him up to her room. Between the restaurant and her hotel room Walter jettisoned much of his action plan. Once in the room Irmgard was immediately physical.
Through the two-hour bed-wallowing, neither mentioned Harald. As he meandered over her still sweaty body, Walter guessed that she was fond of but not emotionally attached to either Harald or him. She shaved her armpits but not her legs, and the hair on her calves was gossamer. Her breasts pendulumed left and right to make room for Walter’s head.
Harald had known that Walter was with Irmgard through her debriefing and polygraphing, which she passed, marginally. He did not know that the format was debriefing, dinner, and sex .
Irmgard began her post-coital conversations while Walter was still wandering through her body, examining moles and smallpox vaccinations and unpolished nails.
“How long have you been working like this, Walter? Do you handle many men like Harald? Do you ever come east yourself? (“Come,” Walter noted, not “go”). Is it always civilians or do you also work with military people?”
Walter told the truth when generalities were innocuous and used pre-cleared lies to inflate his importance to the intelligence effort. Might as well make himself an attractive target.
Despite his hints and prompts, Irmgard never let flicker any illumination that she was a Stasi plant. Walter played it at face value, a necessary trip for her to obtain additional and confirming information.
“Liebchen, why do I need to go back? I’ve told you everything I can remember. I don’t want to get caught.”
“You’re just coming back from vacation a little early. No one should be suspicious. I have to show our people that you’re worth the expense of keeping here, and that means your getting targeted information. Being unemployed here is worse than being unemployed in Dresden. Harald makes a modest living but could not afford to keep you.”
At their third dinner, while eating another butter-saturated schnitzel, Irmgard rephrased her objections from “if” to “how.”
“How would I be able to get back in and out? What happens if I’m delayed in Dresden?”
Walter cringed. Too easy, and much too soon. He had hoped that she would hold out another week, not so much for the prolonged sex, but to give him the faint hope that she was as she seemed, a bluntly erotic woman looking for a main chance. He was becoming fond of her.
“It’s a three-day trip, using documents for entry and exit that will be better than most real West German papers. We’ll be watching for you the whole time. You’ll never get caught, but if you do, we’ll trade you for someone they want back.”
Irmgard capitulated, again too easily. The next step was Harald, who would not consider sending her back until he was clearly told by both Irmgard and Walter that he had no power of refusal. Harald succumbed, realizing that his tenuous chance to keep Irmgard next to him was based on her being comfortable.
Irmgard patted, then stroked Harald’s hand. “Harald, I have to do this. It lets us both afford to be together. I can’t stay in a hotel room for the rest of my life.”
Harald had the last sex with Irmgard the night before she boarded a train from Austria back through Hungary to East Germany. But Walter was with them on the platform before the train departed. It was the last time either man saw Irmgard.
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Copyright © 2012 by Edward Ahern