This is the twenty-fourth part of a fiction serial, in 1680 words.
I left it until the following weekend to go and see Inge. No point visiting her and Anna when they were both at work, and I certainly didn’t want to set tongues wagging by turning up in my car with Bauer.
To her credit, Inge made no attempt to conceal what was going on. She sat on the tiny sofa with Anna standing next to her, holding her hand. They were both still in their dressing gowns, and from the look on Anna’s face when I arrived, I guessed that I had interrupted something. I didn’t mince my words.
“They have a file on you, Inge. Photos, a complaint from Herr Pressler, and for all I know there could well be a microphone hidden in this flat. Even me coming here to discuss it with you will probably be monitored, so you have to tell me what you want to do”. I hadn’t seen Inge for a few weeks. She had filled out, and had some colour in her face. She looked something like the little girl I once knew. There was no mistaking that Anna was good for her. I put a finger to my lips to silence her as she started to speak. Adopting a cheerful tone, I spoke with a smile.
“Why don’t we go out for coffee and cake? That would be nice”. I nodded as I spoke, leaving her in no doubt that we had to get out of her apartment.
They went into the bedroom and dressed hurriedly, not bothering with any make-up or smart clothes. I walked between them not saying a word until we got to the small park nearby. I knew that the Stasi used lip readers, and often filmed conversations. I chose an outside table away from the counter, and at the side of the building. Anyone watching us would have had to show themselves to see our faces. When I had finished looking around, I nodded to my sister that it was safe to speak.
“Manfred, Anna and I are in love. It just happened over time, at work. Neither of us planned it, or even realised it was happening. She is not happy with her husband. He drinks too much, and is mean to her. She won’t go back to him, no matter how many times he complains. We are going to be together, whatever anyone says or does”. I looked across at Anna. She looked terrified, but her plain features softened when I spoke.
“You can stay living together, but you must try not to be so obvious. No hand-holding, or public affection. If anyone asks, you are giving Anna a place to stay. She should be registered at your address, and you must get a separate bed in the living room, so there can be no allegation that you share the same one in your bedroom. If you are interviewed by anyone else, you stick to the story that you are just friendly work colleagues. I will go and see Anna’s husband and warn him off. But you must promise me not to give anyone cause for gossip or suspicion in public. Can you do that?” Inge nodded, obviously unhappy about it, but with little choice in the matter. I carried on, looking at Anna this time.
“You do realise that your career is over, Anna? You will be lucky to keep the job you have now, and promotion will never happen. The same applies to Inge. You have both made a decision from which there is no going back. Are you certain? I need to know, because my sister’s happiness is important to me. Without sounding harsh, I don’t care what happens to you, but now you have involved my sister, and that has involved me. So you cannot suddenly change your mind. That is no longer a luxury”. She kept my gaze, and straightened up. “I love your sister, Herr Kraus. As long as we can be together, I don’t care what happens with my job. I am sorry if this has got you in trouble, I really am”.
I took a small notebook and pen from my coat pocket, and slid it across the table. “Too late for sorry, I’m afraid. My job now is to try to salvage something, and hope that you stop being of interest to the authorities. Write down your previous address, your husband’s full name and place of work. I will do my best to get him to withdraw the complaint, but I cannot promise to be successful. I put some money on the table and stood up. Inge jumped up and hugged me, whispering in my ear. “Thank you, darling Manfred”.
My decision was to tackle Wilhelm Pressler at his place of work, so I waited until Monday. Before leaving the office, I went down to check on the microphone authorisations in the records office, and was relieved to find that Inge’s name and address were not listed. Then I checked on Wilhelm Pressler. He was a Party member, and had never been in trouble. But he was noted by survelliance for frequently visiting prostitutes, many of whom were in our employ. That was something, but I would have liked more.
Bauer drove East across the city, to an industrial area in the suburbs. Pressler worked as an office manager for a small company making metal objects like buckets and pans. It was very noisy inside, and as I walked along the production line followed by Bauer, the people working on the machines eyed us nervously. In his small office, I flashed my badge quickly, not wanting him to see my name. He seemed happy to see me, and offered me a chair. I casually turned to Bauer. “You can wait in the car, Sergeant. I will deal with this”,
Once Bauer was out of earshot, I sat down and took a look at this man. I often wondered how some couples got together, and when I saw them on the street, I found it hard to believe that they had settled for each other. Pressler was no exception. Slim, smart, with thick hair slicked back, he looked nothing at all like the husband of someone so plain and dowdy like Anna. I knew he was the same age as his wife, but he looked at least ten years younger. He offered me a cigarette, and I shook my head. “So, I presume you have come about my complaint? The lesbian bitch who has stolen my wife.” He was beyond confident, even cocky.
I disliked him immediately, and let him know from my tone.
“Your wife has been interviewed. She tells us you have been unfaithful, and that you drink too much. You are also unkind to her. If this is the case, then may I ask why you are so concerned that she has left you?” He leaned across the desk, lowering his voice in a conspiratorial tone. “You know how it is, I’m sure. I couldn’t care less about the dumpy cow. I only married her because she was pregnant, then she lost the baby. But I’ll be damned if I will let myself be humiliated by her going off with a woman, and a younger one at that. If she wants to go, she can go with my blessing. But not to go and cuddle up to another woman. I’m not having that”.
When he leaned back, I opened my notebook. The page was blank, but he couldn’t see that. “Our report states that the young colleague is merely giving her a place to stay. They are good friends perhaps, but we have no evidence of anything inappropriate. Your wife has a bed in the living room, and they live together as friends until your marital situation is resolved one way or the other. It seems straightforward to me”. He was shaking his head before I finished speaking. “No, that’s not it. They are lovers. I have seen them walking hand in hand in the park, staring into each other’s eyes. believe me sir, I know what’s going on”. I looked blankly at him. “Your suspicions are one thing, but evidence is another matter. And we have none”. I flicked onto the second blank page in the notebook, and shook my head slowly.
“However, we do have evidence that you regularly visit prostitutes. Some of those women are believed to be agents of the West, or associated with conspirators here. What do you have to say about that?” His cockiness vanished in a heartbeat. “Sir, a man has needs. Have you seen my wife? I can tell you she doesn’t satisfy me. I can’t even get excited by looking at her, let alone the thought of doing anything with her. The girls I visit are not spies, I assure you. I’m a Party member, I would know”.
I closed the notebook. “I assure you you wouldn’t know which girls were doing what. If you continue with this complaint, then the evidence of your associations will have to be considered, and further investigations will be forthcoming. Why don’t you just accept that your wife has left you, and move on? You can get divorced in time, and start a new life with no black mark against your character. I can arrange for your records to disappear. As a loyal Party member, that’s the least I can do for you”.
He lit another cigarette, and I was trying to look unconcerned, though I was worried that my bluff might be called. He suddenly stood up, and extended his hand. “You’re a good man for doing that, put it there”. As I shook his hand, he smiled. “Let’s forget the complaint. Tell them I withdraw it. Tear it up. Anna can do what she wants, for all I care”. I wasn’t gloating as I left his office and walked back to the car.
I had managed to save my sister for now, but I knew it wouldn’t go away.