This is the fifteenth part of a fiction serial, in 1175 words.
Despite a glowing report from Major Becker, and his recommendation that I be transferred to a plain clothes active unit, the wheels turned slowly. I was stuck at Stendal for the rest of the year, still listening to poor quality radio messages, and watching Walter get excited about nothing. During that time, it became glaringly obvious that we were little more than a branch of the Russian KGB, and that they were ultimately in charge of most of our operations.
My only diversion came from being allowed to go on trips into Stendal with Erich, the car driver. I was rather taken with the daughter of one of the town’s bakers, but with no decent transport, it was pointless asking her out on a date. Erich took pity on me, and put my name forward for an official driving course. That took place on the base, and was an intensive course for six days. I was pleased to pass it, but by the time my licence and permission to drive our allocated car came through, my transfer had also arrived.
Back to Berlin, to work at Stasi headquarters. I wasn’t complaining.
I was no longer stuck on surveillance. They put me on one of the arrest teams, led by Captain Teller. He was the golden boy of the Stasi at the time, and he had served in the Wehrmacht, as an infantry officer. But he embraced the new regime immediately, and had an uncanny knack of sniffing out Black Market operations, and dissidents. My sergeant was called Gunther, and when he found out I could drive, he made me one of the team drivers.
This was more like it. I felt like a policeman, going out on raids and arrests, threatening bad guys with my pistol, and slapping on handcuffs. We were usually accompanied by some others in uniform, which made it seem very official. I heard about interrogations lasting days, and some of the team talked about being involved in beatings too. But for some reason, I wasn’t asked to do that. My job seemed to end once they were handed over, and taken to the cells.
Back in the capital, the benefits of my new job became very apparent. I was allocated a small apartment within walking distance of headquarters, and I didn’t have to share it. There was access to extra food, and decent clothes too.
I also earned enough to pay a woman to clean my place and do my washing and ironing. She always seemed afraid of me, despite my youth, and was almost reluctant to accept her small salary when I paid her. My identity card and badge could open any door without the slightest argument, and for the first time in years, I felt relaxed. Perhaps I had found my niche, after all.
When I turned up for work one morning, the sergeant told me we were off to arrest a woman for ‘seditious utterances’. A female uniformed officer would accompany us, and it should be an easy job, as the accused was quite elderly. He showed me the name and address on the paperwork. It was Frau Winter, still living at our old place. I thought it best to tell him I knew her, and suggested it might be better if he took someone else to drive him. He shook his head. “Less trouble if you know the old cow. You can get her out without too much drama”.
On the way, he told me that Frau Winter had been reported for complaining about the government. She repeatedly said that life had been better under the Nazis, and didn’t mind who heard her. I mentioned that she had lost both sons in the war, and had been forced to move into her own basement room. Gunther shrugged. “Not so bad. She should have tried surviving time in a labour camp for being a Communist”.
I was sent in, accompanied by the sour-faced woman in uniform. I showed Frau Winter my badge and the arrest warrant, and realised she didn’t recognise me. “It’s me, Manfred. I used to live here”. She shrugged. “I had to move down here because of you three, and when you went they put a rough family into my nice apartment. Now you are working for them. What would your mother think of you arresting a woman who was kind to you”. She shocked me by suddenly spitting at my feet. “My mother is dead, Frau Winter”. She shrugged again. “And so are my sons”. My uniformed colleague grabbed her arm, and led her to the door. There was no need for handcuffs. She stayed silent all the way back to headquarters, but as she was led off to the cells, she stopped and turned, snarling at me.
“Think you’re a big man now, Manfred Kraus. You are no better than the Gestapo, boy. Your time will come, mark my words”.
Later that evening, I thought about what she had said. She had a point.
Fortunately, life wasn’t only about work. I caught the eye of an attractive barmaid one night when I stopped for beer and sausage on the way home. I stayed for an extra beer, and asked her name. It was Mona. I remembered my training, and asked more questions. Her surname, age, and where she lived. I didn’t just rattle off a list, but slowly worked them into the conversation. As I left, I casually said, “Might see you again soon”. She smiled rather coyly. “That would be nice”.
The next day, I checked her out. Mona Friedrich. We had nothing on her, and she wasn’t on any of our lists. A general check showed that she had told me her correct age and address, where she was shown renting a room in a large old house. Next chance I got, I popped into the bar again, and there she was behind the counter. I chatted normally at first, steering the conversation round to her working hours. But before I could suggest a date, she asked me a question. “So what do you do for a living, Manfred?” It wasn’t so much that we were not allowed to tell people what we did, more that it was often the kiss of death when it came to dating and romance. I saw no point trying to deceive her, so showed her my badge. “I’m with the SSD”. She smiled. “That’s a good job to have these days”.
And that was how I got myself a girlfriend.
More good news arrived. Inge was coming home for a holiday, after all this time. I said she could stay at my place, and I would sleep on the floor. Captain Teller approved my request for time off, allowing me five full days to spend with my sister. On my first date with Mona, I told her about my Inge, and how she was a leading gymnast in the national team.
I was looking forward to them meeting.