This is the twentieth part of a fiction serial, in 1190 words.
I answered the door with my heart in my mouth, and was relieved to find it was Inge. But the news she brought was far from welcome.
“Manfred, Aunt Greta and Ernst have left. They have gone to the west. I wrote to her recently, and when I got no reply, I telephoned her work. They tell me she has gone to Stuttgart, where Ernst has a new job. Now there is only us, no more family”. She didn’t cry, but was obviously upset. I didn’t know what to say. The day had been bad enough, and now my relative had apparently left for West Germany. I couldn’t imagine how they got permission, but I wasn’t about to go into work and ask any questions.
I calmed my sister down, and later walked her back to her room. I knew full well that my superiors would know all about Greta, and feared it would not go down very well at all.
Sure enough, when I arrived at the translation office the next morning, there was a note on my desk telling me to report to the office of Captain Graf, an officer in Internal Affairs. I walked up the stairs with a sense of dread. Many people summoned to see Graf had never been seen back at work. A heavy-set, cheerful man, his appearance belied his fierce reputation. In an organisation that worked in an atmosphere of suspicion, he was probably the most suspicious of all.
His secretary showed me in, and he indicated that I should sit opposite him as he continued to read through some papers in a file. Slapping it down with a loud crack he spoke in a friendly tone, his voice unnecessarily loud. “What are we to do with you, Sergeant? It seems you have been in some bad company. Captain Teller has fled to Austria, and I suspect he may have been working for the Americans all this time. Now your aunt and her husband have decided to live in the West. Your sister couldn’t manage to stay on the gymnastics team, and your former girlfriend and her husband vanished last night, location unknown. Do you have anything to tell me, Kraus?”
My mind was working overtime. So Mona had been working for Teller, keeping an eye on me. Or had she? Maybe she was working on surveillance of Teller, and he had arranged for her mysterious disappearance to cover his escape? In such a short time, my world had turned upside-down, and I had no idea what was going on. Mainly, I felt foolish, for not being aware of anything.
Graf tapped his fingers on the desk, and I quickly answered. “I only found out about my aunt and her husband last night, Captain. As for Captain Teller, I had no idea that he was anything other than the officer in charge of my arrest team. When I got home last night, my girlfriend had left, but I presumed she was visiting her cousin in Freiberg”.
I hadn’t even convinced myself, so though it unlikely that Graf would believe a word of it.
But to my relief, it seemed that he had. “I’m sorry to say that your aunt and her man are no loss to this country, Kraus. We are better off without the likes of them. And don’t be worrying too much about not knowing about Teller.
To be honest, he surprised us all. But I would be interested to know why your girlfriend disappeared. Did you know she was married? You must have suspected she was a Stasi officer, surely?” I wanted to act as surprised and outraged as I could, without overdoing it. But I went for a sad realisation instead.
“A Stasi officer, Captain? Mona? Of course I had no idea, I met her in the bar where she worked as a waitress. And as for her being married, I would never have lived with her had I known that”.
Because he was so affable, I was wary of being lured in to saying something I would regret. So I left it at that.
Graf threw me completely, by changing the subject. “You got sent to a new job, I understand. What do you think of working in document translation? Be truthful now”. I shrugged, and decided to be honest. “Well, it’s rather dull, Captain, but I suppose it has to be done, and I am able to translate from English quite well”. He leaned back in his chair, and lit a cigarette.
“Don’t look so worried, young man. If I suspected you were involved in anything, you would be in a cell, not sitting in my office. I count myself a good judge of people, and I judge that you were just used by others without your knowledge. My belief is that your ‘Mona’ has gone to wherever Teller has, and they were in it together all along. Can you believe he has left his poor wife behind to face interrogation? Not to mention his teenage son at university.
He was arrested in Leipzig, and will be brought here for questioning”.
Thinking it best to say nothing, that was precisely what I did.
In a very short time, everything I knew had changed. Teller was probably a spy, my Aunt had left the country, and I had no idea whether Mona had been spying on me, or on Captain Teller. I had fallen from grace, in every way possible. The bright future I had imagined had vanished as quickly as morning mist burned off by the sun.
Halfway through his cigarette, Graf leaned across the desk. “So, now you are supposedly guilty by association, and likely to spend your career pushing paper around on the lower floors. Well, I don’t think that’s right, and I am sure it is not what you want. How would you like to come and work for me instead? You wouldn’t credit how many Stasi officers are bad apples, and as for the paid informers, most are the scum of the Earth. You could help me to root out those who are supposed to be rooting out others, and not doing that. What do you say?”
What was I going to say? “No” was hardly an option.
“Thank you very much, Captain Graf, I would be very happy to accept”. He seemed inordinately pleased. “Good, very good. You will be my driver. Forget the translation office, and take the rest of the day off”. He slid a piece of paper across the desk. “Take this to the motor transport office, and they will give you the keys to a car. Pick me up at seven tomorrow at the address written there”.
As I was walking to arrange the car, I had a worrying sense of deja-vu.
But at least I wasn’t in a cell.
I had just joined the ranks of the most unpopular people in East Germany. It had been bad enough being just Stasi, but now I was one of the most hated and feared, the Stasi who policed the Stasi.
For some reason, it was strangely comforting.