This is the twenty-third part of a fiction serial, in 1360 words.
The new job as Captain was confirmed after less than a month. I took my cue from Graf, and adopted his style. I had more people under surveillance than during his time, and listening to the secret microphones and phone taps was bringing in lots of names that were new to us. Rather than keep rounding everyone up, I advocated the use of informers and infiltrators. Remembering my own experience with Mona, we made good use of attractive women, often using them to have affairs with married officers we suspected of being disloyal. In a few cases, some of our agents even married the suspects, finding that once they were trusted as a wife, the real secrets began to be divulged.
Very soon, we were able to have a good idea just who was involved in any suspicious activity, as well as knowing all their contacts. This led to quite a few shocks. Very senior officers, important local government officials, even senior Party organisers. Some evenings I would sit alone in my office wondering if anyone was actually who we thought they were. There were occasional high-profile defectors too. Sports stars, famous writers or actors, all seemed to be taking any opportunity of travelling abroad to suddenly disappear.
After a high-profile meeting, we changed our policy. Rather than wait for these individuals to appear on western television celebrating supposed escapes, we started to expel them from East Germany. They were labelled undesirables, and it wasn’t unknown for some trumped-up charges to precede their expulsion. For most of them, life in the West was far from what they had expected. The fame or reputation they had enjoyed in their home country rarely followed them into their new life, and some became disillusioned very rapidly.
Some of those expelled were our own agents, who went to the West with a cover story, but were actually going to spy for us voluntarily. This proved very useful, resulting in the downfall of some senior West German politicians, and many other officials being implicated in scandals and disgraced.
Yet even after all those years, and all that work, escapes were still commonplace, and every so often someone would still be killed by the guards as they tried to cross the border. So we tightened the screws more than ever, letting people know just how closely they were monitored. At one meeting, it was proposed to put an informant into every apartment block and shared house, and the cost of paying these people was approved. It wasn’t long before I read the staggering statistic that we had one agent or paid informant for every six people in the republic. We had exceeded the control exerted by the Nazis, and made them look like amateurs.
Naturally, my bosses were very proud of this fact, and news that dissent was on the rise in Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary was scoffed at. It was never once imagined that we could have such problems. Despite the popular uprising in Prague in 1968, there was nothing remotely similar here, and life went on much as normal. But unknown to us in our Stasi bubble, the economy of the country was collapsing; crippled by debts, bad management, and lack of exports earning foreign currency. Finance was never on our minds. We did our job, and it cost what it cost. No request for resources was ever denied, and we continued to grow our numbers of double agents and other operatives with never a question asked.
Home life for me had not changed at all. The same apartment, regular visits to Maria, and checking in on Inge when I could. It never even occurred to me that I had no social life to speak of, as work took up too much of my time to worry about that. I was thirty-seven years old, relatively secure in my job, as much as any of us could be, and the war seemed like a memory. I wouldn’t say it out loud, but I was lonely.
I was also feared.
I guessed that my position would come with that, but I wasn’t really ready for the daily implications of it, once I became in charge of the department. I now had a driver, one I had chosen myself, after much investigation. Sergeant Bauer had served in the Army in 1946, and entered the Stasi after five years as a soldier. He was a little older than me, and was married to a woman who worked for the youth programme, the Free German Youth. Their credentials were impeccable, but I never opened up to him.
After all this time, I still trusted nobody except Inge.
It was obvious that he was afraid of me. He rarely spoke unless to reply, and jumped whenever I entered a room. He didn’t speak about his wife, or her job, and never mentioned doing anything outside of work. I was rather torn. Like most people, I wanted to be liked. After all, I had never tortured anyone, had only ever shot anyone in the line of duty, and I didn’t even participate in any of the tougher interrogations that went on. That was covered by another department. In many ways, I couldn’t understand why anyone could be afraid of Manfred, who had once been a schoolboy who looked after his mother and sister.
The other side of me rather relished that fear. It came with the job, and had to be maintained. Weakness was not allowed, and with any show of weakness came suspicion. Once a suspect, however small the suspicion, life could change in a heartbeat. I worked for the Stasi who policed the Stasi. But it was well-known in our circles that there was another department whose job was to police us. And probably yet another that policed them. Our organised paranoia was on an industrial scale, unheard of in the history of mankind.
I wasn’t about to let myself get entangled by doing anything that could be construed as weak or ineffective, that was for sure.
Just when I thought things had calmed down into a manageable routine, I was ordered to report to Colonel Nagel’s office.
Although I was now a Captain, and a relatively important figure, Nagel still treated me as if I was Teller’s driver. I would dearly have loved to have got something on him, but he had resisted all my attempts to plant an informer into his social life, and the secret recordings in his office and of telephone conversations had yielded nothing of interest. It seemed the man was whiter than white. He sat with his arms folded, and nodded at a file on his desk.
“Have a look at that, Kraus, and tell me what you have to say about it”.
I flipped open the file, and the colour drained from my face. It contained photos of Inge, with another woman. Nothing explicit, but they were holding hands in the park, then sitting on a bench, with Inge’s head on the older woman’s shoulder. More photos showed her walking into her apartment with the woman, then leaving the next morning together. It could all have been so innocent, if it wasn’t for the look on both their faces. I wasn’t about to let Nagel see I was bothered.
“So my sister has a friend. So what? She’s allowed to have a friend, isn’t she? Nagel grinned, and I knew he had something up his sleeve.
“Her name is Anna Pressler. She is the senior teacher at your sister’s school. Last month, she left her husband and moved into your sister’s apartment. She is forty-four years old, Kraus, and her husband has made a complaint that your sister has seduced his wife into an unnatural relationship. It doesn’t look good”. I shrugged, trying to appear nonchalant. “No doubt she was unhappy with her husband, Colonel. My sister is a kind girl, she probably offered to let her stay while she sorts out her problems”. Nagel bit his lip, and I realised that was all he had. I closed the file.
“Leave it with me, Colonel. I will go and speak to her”.