This is the twenty-second part of a fiction serial, in 1100 words.
As I approached my thirtieth birthday, I was wondering where the last years had gone. Inge would soon be twenty-six, and was firmly established as a teacher. But she had never had a boyfriend, and when I spoke to her of loneliness and marriage, she told me that she could never trust a man as long as she lived. I felt sad for her, but she assured me that her life was good. I used my position to get her a few luxuries, but she would often refuse them, telling me to pass them on to someone more deserving.
My own love-life was non-existent too. The situation with Mona had made me too wary, too paranoid to embark on a relationship with another woman. I had to sadly reflect that the job I had chosen had made me distrust everyone I met. Other than Inge, I didn’t really have a friend in the world. Of course, I did have access to women, when I wanted or needed that. We had records on every prostitute working in the city, as well as the scores of women who were working for us by informing on their clients.
I found myself a decent widow, Maria. Short of money, she had attempted to work from her apartment, but had been informed on before she had managed to bring home a single client. It was a coincidence that her younger brother happened to be a policeman, so she was referred to our office for questioning.
I was supposed to talk about setting her up as an informer, someone who would chat to her clients, and report back to us if they said anything that could get them arrested.
Although she was considerably older than me, I took to her, and even felt sorry for her. So I made her a good offer. I would set her up in a different flat, pay the bills, and supply her with what she needed to get by. In return, I could go and see her anytime I wanted to, and my job would protect her from any prying neighbours. I expected her to hesitate, maybe ask for time to consider. But she accepted immediately. We couldn’t become a conventional couple of course, but she was happy with my infrequent visits to her, and liked the fact that we often just talked.
But I only ever spoke to her about the past, never about what I did, or what was going on. And I didn’t allow myself to become overly fond of her.
Just in case.
During those years, the new wall had caused a lot of work. It had become condemned internationally of course, and even those who had willingly stayed in the old Russian Sector were not convinced by the official explanation that it was an ‘Anti-Fascist Wall’, to keep our people safe from infiltrators or spies. Many would-be escapees were killed by soldiers or border guards trying to cross over. We had discovered elaborate tunnels that had been constructed to facilitate escapes, and had an increasing number of defectors in our own ranks, as well as from the Army and Police. Graf relished the challenge, seeing each new discovery as an opportunity to round up scores of people, and get more information about their networks.
Some days, I still felt as if I was drowning in paperwork and files.
At work, I spent more and more time with my boss. I had come to really like Graf, and to consider him a friend. He didn’t consciously use his position to intimidate anyone for no reason, and working alongside him made me feel more like a police detective, than a Secret Service Officer. And after all this time, I was also becoming well-known in our circles. Many considered me to be an important figure, an experienced Lieutenant in the company of those who wielded power. I didn’t see that at all. To me, I was just Manfred, a victim of circumstance who had gone along for the ride, with no realistic option to do otherwise.
But I was happy enough to use this new influence in my favour.
One decision I made was to get Inge somewhere better to live. Her tiny studio was depressing, at least to me. I got her name down for a one-bedroom flat only five minutes from where she was living, and she no longer had to share a bathroom. And for Maria I managed to obtain some decent lingerie and nylons, as well as some excellent make-up and hair products. All of this stuff had been confiscated from smugglers who had been arrested, and it was supposed to be destroyed. But I knew where to go, and who to talk to, and I could wander around the storeroom where it was kept, choosing my goods free of charge as if in a department store. Cigarettes, chocolate, wine and liquor, I could just turn up and select anything I wanted, no questions asked.
The one thing I didn’t do was to change my own apartment. I liked how central it was, and that it was in an old building, not one of the fast-appearing high rise blocks. I got to use the car too, if I wanted, but I generally left that at headquarters, and walked home. I would walk in the next morning, and collect it to go and pick up the boss. For me, the walking around gave a connection to the city, and also enabled me to keep an eye on the district. It didn’t hurt that local people knew full well who I was, and where I worked.
There was to be an important meeting, and Graf asked me to drive him there. “You should come in too, Manfred, listen to what is going on”. As we walked down the stairs, he stopped and rubbed his arm. “I feel sick, Manfred. Too much cognac last night, I suspect”. He started to smile, then suddenly sat down heavily, slipping down four of the stairs on his back. I was shocked. “What’s wrong boss? Shall I get help?” He didn’t respond, and his mouth was opening and closing like a fish taken out of water. I ran down to reception, and told them to call a doctor. By the time I got back, Graf’s face had turned blue, and I knew he was dead.
Two days later, I was told that I was now the Acting Captain, in charge of Graf’s department.
As I walked home, I felt cold.
I was going to have to step up, no mistake.