This is the twenty-sixth part of a fiction serial, in 1710 words.
The short school holiday meant that Inge and Anna were not missed until the first week of the new year, when they should have both reported for work. The school authorities at both locations followed the usual procedure after they did not turn up the second day. Someone went to Inge’s apartment and could get no answer, so reported her missing. Entry was forced, and when nobody was discovered inside, Anna was reported missing too. The civilian police submitted a report, which was flagged up for the attention of the Stasi. Anna was on their radar for the allegation made by her husband, and Inge because she was my sister. Very soon, the report landed on the desk of Colonel Nagel.
When I was called to see him, I still didn’t know for sure that they had both got away safely. I had checked the arrest reports regularly, and saw no sign of either their real names, or the ones on the fake papers I had supplied. As I sat outside Nagel’s office, I was calm and collected. He either had something on me, or he didn’t. I was ready for whatever happened.
He didn’t beat around the bush. “I take it you know your sister and her girlfriend have disappeared, Kraus? Tell me, what do you have to say about that?” I raised an eyebrow. “Disappeared, Colonel? I had no idea. Just lately, I have been too busy with work to contact Inge. I spent a lot of time at the end of last year setting up a new circle of agents to infiltrate the West, and there was no time for any family meetings”. He sat back and sighed. “Just tell me where they have gone. It will help you, I promise”. As I didn’t have a clue where they had gone, I didn’t have to lie. Perhaps that made my reply convincing. “I have no idea where she is, Colonel. My sister is a grown woman, and doesn’t account to me for her actions, or her whereabouts”.
Nagel looked as if he was about to bite through his lip, he was so furious. But he kept his temper. After all, he could hardly have me arrested because my adult sister had fled the country, no matter how much he would have liked to. I had never feared arrest. He would get his revenge by other means, I knew that. And he wouldn’t wait too long before doing so. “Very well, Captain. I suspected you would play dumb. To be honest, I don’t blame you. But however your sister managed to travel, and whoever helped her do that, you are still here. You are the one who must face the repercussions of her actions. I am sure you know that all too well. You do, don’t you?” I shrugged. “You have to do whatever you have to do, Colonel. It’s beyond my control”.
The waiting was the worst thing. I carried on with my job, wondering when the hammer would fall. Still unable to hear anything about Inge and Anna, or to make any contact with them, or those who had organised the escape, I went through the motions. It seemed unbelievable that I was just allowed to carry on regardless, and when it ran into months, I began to really wonder what was going on.
Then one day, Inge appeared on television in the West. She was being interviewed in Hamburg, and asked questions about her defection. She stuck to what we had discussed. Her brother was a Stasi Captain, and she was being persecuted in her job. We had access to the Western broadcasts, and I was soon told about it. I was happy. At least she was safe, though there was no sign of Anna, and no mention of her name. But I also knew that I was finished now, and waited for the call that would come any day.
It came the same day.
As I was leaving work, I was approached by a man I didn’t know. “You have to come with me, Captain. I have to take you to see Colonel Meyer. Are you going to come voluntarily?” I smiled at the man. “Of course, I have always wanted to meet him”. Colonel Meyer was almost a mythical figure. His name was mentioned in the same way that children are told about monsters under the bed, or the bogeyman. I had never met anyone who had seen him, though everyone seemed to fear him. In theory, he was the head of a department that nobody knew existed. The secret police who went beyond the remit of the Stasi. They really were secret. So much so, that I didn’t know anyone who had ever met one. For most of my career, I had considered that they might not exist, a mere invention to make sure we did our jobs.
It seemed that now I was about to find out I had been wrong.
He drove me in silence, a short distance across the city. When the car stopped outside a modest-looking house, he left the engine running. Turning to me in the back, he nodded at the door. “They’re waiting for you inside”. I walked the few steps from the car wondering if this would be the last walk I might ever take, and the door opened before I could knock on it. A bored-looking man in plain clothes pointed to a door at the end of the short hallway, and jerked his head. From the attitude of both of them, I had already gathered that they had no concern for my own rank or reputation.
Inside the door was a normal family kitchen. Colonel Meyer was a surprisingly old man, sitting at the dining table like a well-dressed grandpa. I guessed he was at least seventy, probably older. But when he spoke, it was with the voice of someone much younger; forceful, polite, and with perfect diction. “Please sit down, Captain. And don’t look so worried. There is no firing squad in the back yard”. He chuckled softly at his own remark as I slid out a chair, then he reached down and removed a thick file from a briefcase resting against the table leg. I saw my name on the front of it. Tapping the file with the arm of his spectacles, he shook his head. “I have to say I’m surprised. I read your file carefully. You have done exceedingly well, never put a foot wrong. You had a great career ahead, and would easily have made the rank of Colonel within the next few years”. I sat still, and said nothing.
“No doubt you are going to say that you had no idea your sister intended to leave our wonderful country. You didn’t see that much of her, and she was not about to tell you about her escape plans. She must have been a resourceful woman indeed. My information is that her and her friend were smuggled out posing as agents. Agents arranged by you, and your department. But you are going to say you know nothing about that, aren’t you?” I kept silent, and stared into his small blue eyes. I wanted him to keep talking, to find out what he knew before I made any reply. He was right about one thing though, I wasn’t about to confess.
The next thing he said made me want to fall out of the chair, but I kept quiet.
“I am sure that your mother must have told you about me. You can thank my fondness for her that you are not sitting in an interrogation room now, with a couple of heavies rolling up their sleeves about to beat the truth out of you”.
I swallowed hard, and tried to think fast. Of course, my mother had never mentioned his name. She had never mentioned any man’s name in that sense. But now those late meetings and overnight visits were beginning to make sense. I played the only hand I was holding, and secretly thanked him for dealing it.
“My mother may have mentioned someone, Colonel Meyer. But I could easily forget the name of that person. It was a long time ago, after all”. I sat back, considering his reaction. No wonder Mama had done so well. She had risen up the ranks in the Party, and appeared on more organising committees than you could shake a stick at. She had jumped the queue to get our new apartment, and Inge had been chosen to train in Russia. It was all falling into place.
She had been looking out for us, all that time ago, and Meyer had been the man who had made it all happen.
He placed the file back in the briefcase, and turned to me with a smile. “This is what is going to happen, Manfred. You are finished in Internal Affairs, I can do nothing about that. Nagel is after you, so I would be wary of him. I can let you keep your rank, but you can have no influence, no active role, and certainly no access to any important decisions, including foreign agents, or who to arrest. Your reputation has been tarnished by your sister’s actions, and it can never recover. Do you see that? I sincerely hope you do”. I nodded.
“So I have had to intervene, and find you a job. It is going to be a very boring job, I warn you now. But if I were you, I would just go and do it, say nothing, and keep your head down. You will be the Captain in charge of closed files. The staff will deal with the filing, all you have to do is sign the file to confirm that it is closed, and just turn up for work from Monday to Friday, between eight and four. And this is the last thing I will ever be able to do for you, is that clear”.
He closed his briefcase, and put his spectacles back on. I guessed the meeting was over, so I stood up. “Thank you, Colonel Meyer”.
Outside, the car had gone.
I didn’t mind the long walk home. I was still alive.