This is the nineteenth part of a fiction serial, in 1190 words.
Mona announced another trip to see her cousin. It was coming up at the weekend, and she would only be gone until Monday. “She’s still poorly, Manfred. I said I would go and help her, get her shopping, clean her house, that sort of thing”. I nodded. “That’s fine, give her my regards”.
When Mona was asleep that night, I did something I had never done before.
I crept into the living room, and picked up her handbag. Taking it into the bathroom so I could switch on the light, I searched through it carefully, making sure to leave everything in the same place. There was nothing remarkable, and I was just about to close it when I noticed a bulge in the leather at the back. I found a small zip along the side seam, and slid it open. Inside the small pouch was a flat leather holder of some sort, and I managed to slide it out, despite the very tight fit.
When I opened it, I almost dropped the bag.
In front of my eyes was a Stasi identity card, and a smaller version of the same badge I had. The name on the card was Lieutenant Hannah Ziegler.
It took a while until I had calmed down enough to carefully replace it in the zipped compartment. Then I switched out the light, and returned the bag to where I had found it. I went back to bed, but didn’t even try to sleep.
Something was very wrong.
She had left for work before I got up, and as soon as I was at headquarters, I hung around to see if Captain Teller needed me. He saw me hovering. “What’s up, Kraus? You waiting for me? I will be at least an hour, so you can go and get some breakfast if that’s what you want”. I waved my thanks, then headed straight down to the records office downstairs. The records clerks didn’t bother about me. They had seen me there plenty of times, and knew very well that I worked on the arrest squad with Teller, so my presence didn’t raise an eyebrow.
I checked out some old names I knew well, then turned to the staff records, casually sliding open the drawer marked ‘Z’. It didn’t contain many files, so I easily found one with the heading ‘Ziegler, H’. My suspicions were confirmed when I opened it to find a head shot photo of Mona, wearing the uniform of a Stasi lieutenant. Reading down the form, I was shocked to discover that she was shown as being married to a Heinrich Ziegler, who resided in Freiberg. Everything started to make sense, and I replaced the file slowly, showing little sign of being interested in it. As I hadn’t asked to remove it, I didn’t have to sign anything, and I nodded to the clerks as I left.
Sitting in the canteen with my hands wrapped around a coffee cup, I faced the truth.
It had all been a setup, right from the first time I noticed Mona in the bar. I had been there a few times before and never noticed her, but that night she had been right at the front, and very friendly and approachable. They had arranged for us to meet. Sure of my attraction to a pretty waitress, who would be amenable to being chatted up, asked out, and becoming my girlfriend. Then she could watch me, report on me, remember anything I said about my job, or something I might say that wasn’t in keeping with my position. Then there was my sudden and surprising promotion. In the know, as Captain Teller’s driver. What might I talk about? What secrets about the Captain might I divulge?
It had all been so easy. Mona had agreed very quickly to becoming my girlfriend, and she had been the one who suggested moving in too. Then the trips to Freiberg, no doubt to visit her husband. What sort of man lets his wife live with another man, just so she can spy on him? My problem was how to deal with what I knew. I would have to give that some thought. Meanwhile, I would have to go home to Mona that evening, and act as if all was normal. It didn’t surprise me that they would be watching me, even though I had done nothing wrong. It was just the lengths they had gone to that seemed excessive.
Early the next morning, I arrived outside the Captain’s apartment as usual. I had no end of trouble starting the car that morning, so left the engine running. The twenty year-old Mercedes was past its best, and the mechanics kept it running as well as they could, often having to make parts from scratch. When Teller didn’t appear, I went to the row of bells, and buzzed his name. A few moments later, his wife appeared. Her make-up from last night was still on her face, and smeared from where she had obviously been crying. With her lip quivering, she spoke quietly, almost as if she couldn’t breathe. “He isn’t here, sergeant. He went out late last night, and hasn’t returned. I am worried sick, as I am sure he wasn’t at work”. I replied politely. “Don’t worry, Frau Teller. I am sure there is nothing to concern yourself with. I will head into headquarters and check on him. Someone will telephone you”.
When I got into the office, I was very surprised to see Colonel Nagel siting in Teller’s chair. When he saw me, he beckoned me in. He looked intimidating in full uniform, with his rimless glasses, and slicked-back hair.
I stood to attention as he spoke.
“Ah, Sergeant Kraus, isn’t it? You can leave the car keys on the desk. It seems that Captain Teller no longer has any need of a driver. You speak fluent English, I understand? Good. Report to the translation office on the fourth floor. You are reassigned”. He waved his hand at me as if I was no more than an annoying fly.
I spent the rest of the day translating letters and documents from English into German. Sat next to me was a bored-looking woman in her fifties who typed on an old heavy machine as I spoke. Most of the papers I had to translate were personal. Insurance documents, old family letters from relatives, and recently intercepted letters, or those that had been found on detained suspects. It was dry stuff indeed, and I was left thinking how I would cope with years of doing this as a job.
When I got home that night, Mona was gone. Her things had all gone, and her side of the wardrobe was empty. The spare key was nowhere to be seen, and it was as if she had never been there. I sat down heavily in the armchair. First Teller, now Mona, and my crappy new job into the bargain. I wondered what the hell was going on, and if the day could possibly get any worse.
Then there was a knock at the door.