Excerpt of Brandenburg Gate by Henry Porter
(Page 3 of 9)
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"Not possible," the colonel said." Use that queer aftershave you
bought for yourself."
Before leaving Biermeier looked over the transmitter once more and
fiddled with some tiny wires at the back of the microphone while Rosenharte
held his arms up and looked out on the veranda. "Remember to
press the button at the side once you see her," he said. "Its easily forgotten."
Just before six Rosenharte dressed, checked himself in the mirror and
then left the hotel. He crossed the Piazza dellUnità feeling the heat of the
day still pulse from the stones beneath him and noticing the wheel of
swifts in the sky. Did the Stasi know? Had they faked the letters from
Annalise Schering to expose his great lie? No, no one in the GDR could
possibly know that she had killed herself fifteen years before; that he was
as likely to find her at the end of Molo IV that evening as Greta Garbo.
He saw Annalise now, as he walked. The little apartment in Brussels
on a winters evening, he picking his way through the plants and the
clutter of holiday trophies, finding her in the bath surrounded by
candles and roses, her head resting on one arm lying along the side of
the tub. Dead. Bloodied water. Vodka bottle. Pills. Needle of the overheated
stereo clicking round the centre of Mahlers Fifth. His feelings
then, as now, were guilt and a kind of horror at the operatic bathos of
her death scene. Annalise always overdid things, that was for sure.
He passed through a series of parallel streets that led down to the sea,
and reached Via Machiavelli where he paused, mopped his forehead and
unstuck the back and front of his shirt from his skin. He set off again,
never obviously glancing back, and made for the deserted quays where
the big-hearted seaport opened its arms to the steamers of another
century. There he looked at his watch he was early and, laying his
jacket across the back of a bench, sat down to smoke a cigarette and stare
across the flat calm of the Gulf of Trieste. Some way out to sea a ship lay
at anchor, the only point of reference in the haze that had been building
up through the long, hot afternoon. As he absently tried to determine
where sea and sky met, it came to him that he had reached the edge of
the void that separated East and West, a decorous no mans land of
grand cafes and squares that looked like ballrooms, which was every bit
as treacherous as the killing zone between the two Germanys. Konrad would relish the ambiguity of Trieste, a frontier town that
tried to forget the communist world at its back; and hed shake with
laughter at the idea of his brothers tryst with a dead woman. Rosenharte
allowed himself a quick, rueful smile, as though his brother was
sitting on the bench beside him. It had the effect of briefly lessening his
agitation but then he thought of his twins plight as the Stasis hostage.
To ensure his cooperation and that he wouldnt defect, they were
holding Konrad in prison. For good measure, theyd taken his wife Else
in for questioning and placed Konnies two boys in the care of the state.
He wondered what Konrad would do in his situation and knew his
brother would proceed with all caution and wait to see how things
unfolded. There were always openings, he had said once. Even in the
GDR no situation was ever hopeless.
He took a last drag on the cigarette and flicked it across the paving
stones into the sea. A fish rose to the butt then darted away beneath the
oily film of the harbor water. From the rear of the opera house behind
him came the sound of a soprano warming up for the evenings performance. Rosenharte turned and listened with his head cocked and
recognized Violettas part from the first act of La Traviata. He looked up
to the mountains that pressed Trieste to the sea and noticed columns of
white cloud quite distinct from the haze that veiled the city.
His attention moved to a German-speaking couple, stout and sunburnt,
who were sitting on a bench not far away swinging their legs like
happy children. Stasi officers? He thought not: too well fed, too content.
Austrian tourists, most likely. He watched them openly and the woman
smiled back with a hint of admiration in her eyes. Then he rose and,
hooking the jacket over his shoulder, he walked past, nodding to them
Excerpted from The Brandenberg Gate, (c) 2006 Henry Porter. Reproduced with permission of Grove Atlantic. All rights reserved.