Günther Rauch had picked Tony Hanbury out easily back then, in the sixties. Everyone wearing fashionable jeans was from the other side. "You're being followed," Günther Rauch advised with the instant familiarity that's typical of students. "I've been watching them."
Hanbury required a moment to let this sink in. He was staring at a young man on a bench with a large head and a thick wild beard who looked like Karl Marx reincarnated. Hanbury did a slow full circle, as if admiring socialism's architectural efforts around Alexanderplatz. It was true. Two men in cheap, polyester knitted jerseys and baggy trousers stood nearby, looking past each other like bored girls scouring the horizon for action. "Who are you?" he asked.
Günther Rauch had a hoarse voice, like a scraping tool working on something hollow. "They won't do anything. Not to you. It'll be a different for me. Since I'm now exchanging words with you someone will be knocking on my door. Want to know what I'll tell them?" Hanbury asked with a slight turn of his head. "That I offered to open your eyes to the splendours of East Berlin." The student from the West laughed and the one from the East joined in. "I mean it," said young Marx. "Well, maybe not the splendours, but opening your eyes. I'll show you around if you want."
With another shrug, a young man falling in with unscheduled adventure, Tony Hanbury set off with Günther Rauch. Rauch's exaggerated hand movements pointed at streets and places and their historical significance. Generous sweeping circular motions of his arms linked the decrepitude of East Berlin to past political evil. The sight-seeing-cum-lecture continued for two, perhaps three hours, liberally enriched with references to the thoughts of the real Marx. Eventually they were back at Unter den Linden and turned south into a grim Friedrichstrasse, aiming for Checkpoint Charlie and the visitor's freedom. The security detail never left them. Seeing evil in the distance from the safety of the Potsdamer Platz platform was one thing; having it doggedly on your tail, hour after hour, was another. Hanbury wondered whether he'd get out as easily as he came in.
Günther Rauch must have noticed the unease. "Don't worry," he said. "They might detain you for a while to scare you. That's all. As for me. I'm in and out of jail all the time anyway. The Stasi don't know what to do with me." He gave a deep, barrel-chested laugh. "The first time they took me in was after I stood up in a university seminar and said the politburo was nothing but a bunch of fascists coloured red. The commotion! I was slapped into jail so fast the Gestapo could have learned from it. An interrogation followed. How to describe it? Well imagine an orchestral suite - a gentle serenade from the strings, some pleasing notes from the harps, then a blast of percussion." Günther Rauch chuckled. "Actually, I liked being the centre of attention. I tried to convert them to my way of thinking. When I was out, I told some friends about the treatment, which was enough to put me straight back in." Günther Rauch was suddenly sad. "One day I might find out which of my friends is not a friend."
As Checkpoint Charlie neared, Günther Rauch opened his arms forwards. "As I see it," he said, gesturing towards the barriers, "if I can become troublesome enough they'll jail me permanently until the day when they'll sell me to the West. They do that to my type. They doom us to a capitalist way of life." After more steps he muttered under his breath. "Alright. Let's rehearse our lines. If they press me, I'll tell them you urged me to become a good citizen of the Great Decaying Republic, while you tell them I opened your eyes to the magnificence of Marx."
And now, sailing along on the thick soles of his new shoes and crossing Unter den Linden, the consul almost imagined the polyester knits were after him again. At one point he even made the same slow turn as years before on Alexanderplatz. He thought he saw Sturm in the distance turning his back. But that was crazy. Times had changed.
Penetrating Friedrichstrasse southwards Hanbury ran into absolute devastation. It forced him to revise all he'd imagined about how new cities arise from where others stood. Poor Friedrichstrasse! It was no longer merely sullen, as when he walked there with Günther Rauch. Friedrichstrasse, Hanbury thought, was a wild science-fiction scene.
Before, when he'd seen it through Günther Rauch's lens on the human condition, he learned that before the Allied bombing Friedrichstrasse had been a vibrant, restless Berlin street. Up and down its length life spun around in whirlwinds. Cafes, entertainment houses, pubs. Friedrichstrasse was spicy, parts were scruffy, it never slept. The city lots were small, the owners numerous, which was why, in Günther Rauch's view, it was restless. Hundreds of different decisions on how to eke a living from the street constantly reset the stage. In pre-war days Friedrichstrasse worked, Günther Rauch theorized, because it was a place for people. After the war's carpet bombing, Friedrichstrasse was first a river of rubble, then a place where Soviet and American tanks stood nose to nose at Checkpoint Charlie. As for the future, Günther Rauch had said, look at it, look at the arid, the destitute thinking.
Now, Hanbury decided, the thinking was different again. The street was a self-contained tumultuous world of robots. Machines with jaws at the end of pneumatic necks - mechanized dinosaurs - were perched high on mountains of rubble. The long necks swayed, the jaws sought vulnerable spots in defenceless socialist architectural quarry and bit away. All along Friedrichstrasse the jaws clacked, probed under roofs, punched through walls, pecked at corners, ripped into the masonry, chewed through cables, nibbled at the edges of exposed floors. Debris plunged down. Below, robotic beetles, bulldozers with reinforced steel roofs, heaved rubble into serpentine lines of waiting trucks. A thunderous scene. Total demolition. A grey-brown mist rose from the steady cataract of bricks. Tiny men with fire-hoses scrambled around, spraying water on the rubble, trying to smother the dust.
Hanbury took in the scene. The spirit of Günther Rauch suddenly sprang up to explain: Mammon is speaking. His version of the bombs. His legacy of death and disfigurement in Berlin.
Elsewhere, the rubble had been hauled away and power shovels reached down into soft sand. The roots of Friedrichstrasse's next instalment would be planted deep. Further along the excavation was finished. The cacophony here was of drills and saws, cement pumps gurgling and rivets being hammered into steel. High above, the cranes drew elegant, slow circles, perilously passing each other, sweeping out great arcs, as if to bless the superstructures rising from the earth.
"The transcript of an interrogation - later that same day. - Observations made during lectures you attended at the Free University. - A report on a search in your apartment near Savignyplatz. - Reports obtained under a cooperation agreement with the KGB: San Francisco, Washington, Caracas, Kuala Lumpur. - GDR Embassy reports: Ottawa and Cairo."
Hanbury sat stone faced.
"Sound like you?" Stobbe asked with a vicious look.
"Christ yes," Hanbury said. He was chilled. The early fascination that he had a file had dried up. He wasn't even disoriented any more. Stobbe's recitation had put him into a free fall, a nightmare, where a pounding heart wakes the victim just before impact.
"Now you know what Ossis feel," Stobbe said brutally.
"It's as if I'm looking at my own embalmed corpse."
Once alone, Hanbury experienced the sickening feeling people have after engaging in something deeply private and finding out they were observed. Petty details and innocent acts were treated as grotesquely important. Everything had been sucked into the voracious file. Too much to read. Hanbury flipped through. The material was accurate but irrelevant too. The file slowly began to affect him at a different level. It seemed to say that he was something sadly shallow.
And now, in the cellar, Geissler looked as von Helmholtz said he did in the days when he could still hope to become an explorer. The distant, glassy stare seemed focussed on what might have been - a life dedicated to crossing continents. Hanbury waited patiently for the reverie to end. He looked around at the books piled up and under tables in dangerously leaning towers and strewn haphazardly on metal shelves. The cellar was a turbulent sea of books, too wild to cross in places. A hundred years of German literary output. Prominent in one corner were the cases of Nazi publications. Hanbury had noticed them the first time, but Geissler had directed him away.
"The other details?" Geissler said, suddenly back from an imaginary safari. He jerked his head savagely towards the consul.
"A reference was found by the police in a handwritten bibliography when they moved in on a war criminal," Hanbury said pleasantly, drawing on the script Schwartz had reviewed with him. "A major find. The items - numerous Nazi books and pamphlets - were being photo-reprinted in Taipei, from where they flooded back to neo-Nazi cells in the Americas, Western Europe and more recently Poland, Hungary and Russia. But the book on Nazi rites and decorations - the Orden book - though listed, wasn't in the Taipei reproductions. Blutkreis - Totenkopf - Ehrenkreuz was the title. Ring of Blood - Death Head - Cross of Honour. The printer was in Nuremberg - Weitling, is that possible? - the publisher was in Munich."
"Adolf and Hartwig Weitling. Brothers. Nazi printers. Lehrman in Munich did the publishing." Geissler turned and hobbled off. He had a painful way of walking, a shifting of weight from side to side, as if one leg was too short and had to be dragged up from behind. After some metres he stopped. "Come," he ordered the consul, gesturing with his one arm to the far part of the cellar.
Because he went so awkwardly, Geissler sent several of the leaning towers tumbling. He stopped each time to stack them with his one hand into higher, still more precarious monuments. Hanbury tried to help, but couldn't get past the bent body. Geissler muttered darkly about disorder. Approaching the far end of the cellar, Geissler became more hectic. A panic seemed to seize him, as if the century's evil miasma was reaching out.
"It really is a treasure you have," Hanbury said soothingly "Better than your cousin's in the Yukon."
Geissler was breathing hard. The struggle was wearing him out. "No," he said. "No." His elbow went up high, as a shield, as he stumbled past the Nazi cabinets. A door at the far end opened inwards. The bookseller went through, waving his arm before him like a blind man. He grabbed a string, yanked it and a bulb swinging from the ceiling lit. The room they entered was once used for storing coal. Wooden shelves, hastily knocked together from planks of different sizes, seemingly rummaged from rubble, lined the sooty walls. On these planks were still more books, two, sometimes three rows deep. Many of them had jackets decorated with swastikas, or eagles, or rifles with bayonets. Some of them sported the SS death head, the Totenkopf. "A bad room. Verbotene Bücher," said Geissler with apprehension about all his banned books. His forehead was lined with sweat.
"I'm causing you a lot of trouble," Hanbury apologized. "Maybe I can look for the volume. You can go back up. I'll be very careful."
"No," Geissler resolutely said. "I know where." In the scarce light, he inspected the titles. He swept a whole row violently onto the floor to get at the second row. A heap of books formed on the floor. The rampage continued. "Lehrman Verlag," Geissler kept muttering. "Lehrman Verlag. The Orden book."
Geissler intensified his destructive search and in the faint light Hanbury perused a few of the volumes. Neuadel aus Blut und Boden (Blood and Soil: The New Elite). Rassenkunde des deutschen Volkes (The Science of the Race of the German people). Der Führer schützt das Reich (The Führer Protects the Reich). Geburt des Dritten Reiches (The Birth of the Third Reich). Heilige Runenmacht (The Holy Power of the Runes). Wir und die Juden im Lichte der Astrologie (The Jews and Us: What Astrology Tells Us). Luzifers Hofgesindel (Lucifer's Court Servants). The intellectual underpinnings of the Third Reich were accumulating on the floor as if being prepared for the torch. From time to time the consul nudged a book aside with his shoe, or let the volume he was looking at drop down where it disappeared amongst the others.
Geissler suddenly cried with horror. Das einzige Exemplar! The only copy! He turned wildly towards the consul, shoved the thin volume at him as if he couldn't handle such corrosive poison and stumbled away bent over like a hunchback. Hanbury watched him scurrying off. Before the stairs, with his one arm Geissler sent more towers flying, as if even with only half Samson's divine strength the whole temple of Godless evil could be sent tumbling.
The consul methodically picked his way through the mess. The outwardly innocent little volume had disappeared into his suit pocket. Upstairs he wanted to have five more minutes with Geissler to settle him down. He thought of describing the tundra, but the owner of the books had fled.
Over lunch Sabine asked, "What happened down there? Herr Geissler came up as if he saw the devil. He ran into his office and slammed the door. Did you find what you were looking for?"
Hanbury was evasive. "It was a small book and difficult to locate in the bad light. He seemed tired. Maybe he was annoyed his time was wasted."
"Trabi is really flying," he yelled at Gundula. Her farewell dress for the Russians was all-white with a V-cut plunging front and back. A few grams of silk, no more. A political provocation.
"Let's hope he doesn't overheat," Gundula shouted back.
The noise level approached that of an open cockpit in a biplane. The exhilaration of flying along in Trabi, always on the edge of mechanical breakdown, must be, Hanbury speculated, the same as the early pilots experienced in their rickety test machines. "Think we'll see some Russians?" he yelled once more, as if they really were in a plane, flying low, maybe over the African savannah, as if in search of elephants.
"They're around." Gundula yelled at the top of her lungs, radiating a pilot's confidence. A few minutes passed. "Russians!" the pilot cried triumphantly.
Ahead on the autobahn a long column of military vehicles, camouflaged trucks transporting artillery pieces, darkened the right lane. Some kilometres later, they hit a more menacing column: three hundred armoured personnel carriers and heavy, self-propelled, wheeled guns, perfect for manoeuvring in cities, indispensable for suppressing revolution.
"Imagine how nervous everybody would get if this were going the other way," Hanbury said.
"What do you know about it?" Gundula demanded. "Was your country occupied by Russians?"
"It's our pleasure to have the Yanks close by."
"You can't compare them." In Gundula's opinion Russians were charming individually, but brutal as an army. Americans were the other way around.
Ten minutes later, a third column. This one had stalled. Stretching down the autobahn was an endless gypsy caravan. Trucks filled with civilian goods and hundreds of private vehicles - Ladas, Skodas, Trabis, Wartburgs - half of them in tow. The cars were stacked as full as the trucks. Cardboard boxes, piles of clothing, jerry cans, old radios and TVs, bits of furniture, heaps of random junk. The feared Russian army departing German soil was a rag-tag band on the move. Gundula said there was a rumour that they were even lifting runways off military airfields, carting the concrete slabs home.
They'd seen enough of the humiliation. Gundula swung off the autobahn. She knew an area to the south with lakes. They would picnic there. Half an hour later she drove into a thicket. Once Trabi was parked, Hanbury took the picnic bag and followed Gundula down a trail. The innocent summer sound of people frolicking on a beach drifted at them through the trees.
Bo Bilinski, like a caged Rocky Mountain cougar, was pacing back and forth along the bank of windows in his office. Elma was having trouble placing a call. The delay had brought him close to boiling.
This day, like the ones before, had started well enough. For a few weeks now Bilinski had been enjoying an inner peace he hadn't known for years. The fact was, he had bought a ranch. Because of that he was now spending a good part of each day before the windows, studying the distant Gatineaus, thinking quietly of the future.
Earlier this afternoon, he had slipped once more into a meditation. The Gatineaus didn't exactly remind him of the Alberta foothills. They were not as big, not rugged, certainly not dangerous. They lacked a spectacular unbroken mountain wall as soaring backdrop. But all the same, if he looked at them long enough - and made an imaginative jump - he could picture them as being emptier and wilder than they were. Which made him think of home. Here in the east, Sharon, the children, the whole family had bobbed on the surface of things too long. The little skiff that was their life had been battered by the unclean eastern sea. He was glad to be getting back west, back to purity and peace.
Bo had confided to Sharon that during the second half of his earthly existence he wanted to be surrounded by real things: open country, horses, cattle, the annual noise and dust of roundups. He went so far as to tell her that the years in government had made him feel polluted. It was because of Policy. Suppose, he asked her, that Policy's intangibility were transformed into some form of matter - what would it be? Festering mucous? Pus itself? And the nightmares hadn't helped. In them he experienced a slimy substance oozing from his pores. "The crap of government," he whispered to his wife during the hours of insomnia, "I tell you, Sharon, it's like sitting in a vat of goddamn filth." Bo Bilinski cracked his knuckles as he recalled the fateful confession. The next day Sharon left for Calgary to find a ranch.
The Service had been the final straw. With it the nightmares began. All along Bilinski had known that work in government could make you walk and talk and smell like Policy, if you weren't careful. But he had always managed to outrun its peculiar fetor. Hadn't he shot Tax Policy to pieces without being corrupted? And blown Competition Policy apart with his swagger undiminished? Even a thorough evisceration of Industrial Policy hadn't threatened his survival as a human being. But running Foreign Policy forced him to the conclusion it was time to quit. Foreign Policy was inconstant, a moving target, weaving and ducking, all the time. Even if he happened to land a blow it seemed he had only punched a bog, because foul vapours were suddenly released. Bo Bilinski swore that Foreign Policy sucked at him, drew him in, and the harder he struggled, the faster he got pulled down.
Sharon's resolve saved him. The end of all Policy was in sight. Thumbs stuck in his belt, meditating by the windows, motionless as a medicine man on an outcrop over the Great Plains, Bo thought of spiritual cleansing on his new Bo-Bil Ranch, and of the buffer - three hours hard riding - to the next-nearest sprinkling of civilization. His final weeks as high priest were characterized by one simple instruction to Elma. No goddamn calls.