The audible click of a camera’s shutter release echoed loudly through the cold, dimly lit street of the rundown neighbourhood, surreptitiously hidden from most of the world in post-war East Berlin. It had been more than two years since the ruling Socialist Unity Party began constructing the dividing wall, signalling the beginning of the Cold War that separated East against West with an iron curtain of secrecy. The government in West Berlin labelled it as ‘The Wall Of Shame,’ but that mattered not to the Eastern puppet government of the Soviet Union. The concrete barricades had not been constructed to keep people out of the new East Germany. Their main purpose was to stop the migration of citizens escaping the poverty-stricken, Soviet-style regime. Coupled with the overbearing and repressive police state’s distrust of its own people, it was understandable to pursue a better life in the West. To the Soviets, this mass exodus deprived them of the much-needed work force desperately required for post-war construction. The dwindling population also created a ‘Brain Drain’ of highly educated people needed to grow the economy and culture. So, what better a solution than to box the remaining talent in behind concrete walls and barbed wire barricades. It demonstrated a great example of Soviet-block mentality…
Anthony Pratt held his breath in the aftermath of his camera’s shutter sounding like a gun being cocked. He knew he had been followed, after checking in through the temporary Christmas season reopening of the border crossing to East Berlin. The relaxation in rules provided a window of opportunity to complete a most secretive mission eighteen years in the making. Like a crouching tiger with aging arthritis, Pratt dutifully forced himself into action at the very first news of the relaxation of border rules. This would be his last foreign mission. A pair of slippers and pipe awaited him with his wife back in the English countryside. However, contrary to this warm and peaceful thought, retirement was most assuredly not in his plans. He refused to a mere spectator of the world’s endless turning cog. He still wanted to help turn that cog. Being home based was just the next phase of his contribution to society, because Anthony Pratt was going to continue to make his mark as a board game creator. His first innovation had quickly become a household name, putting pressure on him to follow it with something equal in entertainment value. However, the world of gaming would have to wait until the completion of a real-life adventure. His post-wartime contribution to ridding the world of Nazis continued to drive him forward, and tonight was the final step towards the conclusion of a long and arduous manhunt. This cat-and-mouse game of Nazi hunting had spanned the world for many years, pursuing an individual who was eventually discovered living deceptively close to home.
In the makeshift border hut on the East-West dividing line of Berlin, a scrutinised fake West German passport was finally authorised with the corresponding stamp of entry into East Germany. As Anthony Pratt – aka Helmut Muller -Textile Importer examined the line of visitors behind him, he knew he would be followed. His cover story of visiting relatives was a weak and a hastily concocted veil of deceit, but plausible enough to successfully traverse from West to East. Other individuals behind him were not so fortunate and were either shoved back towards the Western side of the gate and ejected, or taken into custody – presumably to be interrogated, then later released in the repetitive East-West exchanges of captured spies, or more tactically released as a double agent recruited by the East German secret police. For now, Pratt’s cover held, but as expected, it placed him loudly on the East German security services radar. This was a real-life game of hide-and-seek – but with deadly consequences. Many of the West’s best infiltrators into East Berlin never returned home. Pratt was all too aware of the dangers; however, he was never one to refuse a mission – especially one as important as this.
Expertly versed in evasive manoeuvres, it didn’t take long for Pratt to begin slipping his noticeable tail. Disappearing into the many dark shadows in the back alleys and slums of East Berlin, he had an address, and he had a photo, so he knew where he needed to be. The photo may have been nearly twenty years old but it was still a sufficient likeness to help identify his target, Colonel Kurt Zeitzler, ex-Chief of the German General Staff in Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany.
Pratt’s mission was simple:
…Get close enough to photograph Zeitzler and return to London where facial recognition experts would examine the photographic prints to validate positive proof of life...
Once identified, the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) was to inform Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, who without hesitation, would issue a covert kill order to its agents in East Berlin. The operation had been British-led since its inception; however, the length of time it took to track Zeitzler down exasperated the Israelis’ growing impatience to bring him to justice. As an olive branch to help restore relations between the two spy powers still splintered from the post war occupation of Israel by British Forces, the British government assumed the position of intelligence gathering, leaving the resolution phase up to Mossad.
The contrasting, illuminated tenement building across from Pratt’s abandoned apartment block position, provided a generous amount of colourful night light for the government voyeur from the Palace of Westminster to secretly snap away from the conveniently cloaked shadows. A specially adapted ring attachment to his camera lens provided impressive zoom abilities, allowing Pratt to ghost into the living room of his target and capture facial images in superb detail. The camera was of German-made precision, but the lens was of meticulous British design – a miniature version of a predecessor developed for use in high altitude reconnaissance missions. Post war technologies had advanced the photographic industries ten-fold, and camera sales were enjoying a post war boon; however, mass production had led to some cost-cutting corners, and one component - in particular, was the Italian-designed mechanism for releasing a camera’s shutter. Audibly invasive to quiet environments – especially on a cold Winter’s evening in East Berlin, Pratt hesitatingly winced at the tell-tale click of his Italian shutter release.
“…Guten Abend, Herr Pratt,” came the silence-piercing, gravelly female - Marlene Dietrich sounding voice from behind his right shoulder.
Shifting his head slightly to his right, Pratt cocked his ear toward the seductive German accent hiding a faint English public school lilt. He could just barely make out a figure standing in the shadow of a doorway two windows down. Swivelling in a defensive posture, hand in pocket, Pratt tightly gripped a bag of sour sweets brought along for sugary sustenance – as he pretended to be armed.
“No need for theatrics, Liebling. I won’t bite.”
“Show yourself,” demanded Pratt.
From out of the shadowy doorway into the dimly lit space below a dilapidated streetlamp, stepped an attractive young-looking woman in her forties, dressed in a red raincoat with hat and lipstick to match. Standing face to face with Pratt, she smiled a seductive, reassuring expression of friendliness that had an icy disposition lingering in her cold, calculating eyes.
“May I have one of those, please?” Pratt unconvincingly feigned ignorance. “Oh, come now, Mr Pratt. I recognise the sound of a rummaging sweet bag when I hear one. I haven’t had an English sweetie in my mouth since my drunken graduation night with the Cambridge Five… How I would kill to get my lips around an English lemon sour puss just one more time.”
“Such a dramatic measure, and quite unnecessary in the circumstances, Fräulein...?”
“Weiss… Frau Weiss.”
“Please excuse my blind ignorance… Frau Weiss.”
In a gentlemanly act of generosity, Pratt retrieved the bag of sweets from his trench coat pocket.
“Slowly please, Mr Pratt. I don’t want any premature surprises spilling from your crinkled sack.”
Carefully removing the bag from his coat pocket, he opened it to display an array of colourful, round sugary sweets piled high.
“With my compliments…”
“You’re too kind, Mr Pratt. I’ll take two of your little sour balls – if that is agreeable with you. One to gargle with now, and one to roll my tongue over later.”
“…We’ve just met; however, may I get personal with you, Frau Weiss?”
“Liebling, you had me when your hand was pointing straight up at me through your pocket.”
“Is everything you say going to be an innuendo?”
“Forgive me, Mr Pratt. It is a lingering habit from my days of croquet and strawberries on the plush lawns at Cambridge… Consider me as an oblique allusion of distraction. A cliché purveyor of insinuation. What some in our business would call, an Agent Provocateur. It is a little game I like to play. You must keep your adversary always guessing, don’t you agree? Of course, you do. You know all about games, don’t you…? I’ve read your file… although, Helmut Muller - Textile Importer lacked a certain imaginative quality in composition. Not anything of your making, I imagine. Feels more like the naïve imaginations of a junior clerk in the SIS, jah? I presume that was a hastily created character for our side of the walls’ Christmas opening, jah?”
“You have me at a disadvantage, Frau Weiss...”
“We have people on your side of the wall too, you know. You and your little games are well known to us. We play them ourselves too… So, what should I call this game being played now?”
“Well, I would imagine it all depends on what your next move will be…”
“First things first, Liebling… I would like to know what interest in photography brings you to this unsavoury neighbourhood. You seem very interested in the man in that window over there.”
“I’m interested in many people. It’s a lifelong hobby.”
“But zis one - in particular - is an important hobby, jah…? So, let me tell you what I understand about this game. Your Britisher Intelligence have sent you to find a person of interest, for reasons still unknown to us in the Stasi. Unless you are hiding something on you that needs igniting, I would hazard a guess and say that you are on a fact-finding mission unrelated to der passing of secret documents or even der subtle game of espionage.”
“Perhaps I am just a tourist looking to capture the essence of East Berlin on film.”
“Come come, Mr Pratt. Please don’t insult my intelligence. What is this man to you?”
“I’m sorry Frau Weiss, I am not at liberty to disclose any information – especially to you and your organisation.”
“I could hold you here in one of our five-star basement cells without food or water… or sleep, until you give me what I want… and that’s no innuendo, Mr Pratt. Alternatively, you could come clean and tell me exactly why you are here.”
“I do apologise wholeheartedly, Frau Weiss. As much as I want to satisfy your… curiosity, I’m afraid it’s against my better judgement.”
“Ah, I see you do the innuendo, too. Sehr gut, Mr Pratt. Very good… Then, perhaps I will pay a little visit to your interesting man and see who he is, and what it is he does, and why he would be of interest to your government… But first, hand over your passport and those papers you are trying to conceal from me.”
Reluctantly, Pratt placed the documents into the surprisingly charming woman’s hands. After a brief examination of his passport, she tore the cover from it and tossed it into the gutter.
“Quite redundant and evidently useless now…”
Briefly studying the piece of paper with the man’s address written on it, Frau Weiss paused at the old photograph. Taking a moment to think before deciding what to do, she flipped the photo over to read the information hand-written on the back.
“This is very enlightening, Mr Pratt. He is a Nazi… a very important Nazi… living in East Berlin… in plain sight. How cunning but so clever. What genius! Why do we not have a file on this man?”
Possessively snatching the photo from her hands, Pratt subsequently held both of his hands out in an act of submission – awaiting handcuffs.
“What now, Frau Weiss? A fast hooded ride to your five-star lockup?”
“Hooded ride? Bravo, Mr Pratt. How I miss English wit… No, Mr Pratt. Please put your hands away before I put them to good use. When it comes to Nazis, you will be surprised to hear that their enemies are my friends. Both my parents lost their lives in Dachau. Stripped naked, gassed, and burnt in Nazi ovens to be scattered among the falling ashes of an evil power… Please… der photo… may I see it again?”
Noticing a slight moistness in her softening eyes and an air of melancholy emoting from her voice, Pratt willingly handed the photo back.
“You know, we often play your board game at headquarters, and frequently use some of the elimination techniques in your game to bait and expose the truth.”
“I’m flattered and delightedly surprised. Is that a good thing?”
“For us, it is… Secrets are made to be discovered… There’s nothing more liberating than the telling of truth…”
Brushing the back of her hand down the front of her coat, Frau Weiss, snapped back into work mode, dusting away the sad, distracting memories of her parents.
“Do you know that my last name translated into English means White?”
“Yes, Ich spreche Deutsch… to a certain collegiate degree, of course.”
“Vielen Dank for trying, Mr Pratt. Your grasp of our language has made me tingly all over. What is a lovesick girl to do but… what is that lovely English saying you have…? Ah yes… Carry on!... and carry on is what I shall now do. Please wait right here, Mr Pratt. I shan’t be long... Pip pip and Tally Ho, jah? You have excited me beyond reprehension. Don’t worry, you are in no immediate danger, but please stay and don’t stray.”
Pratt watched silently as Frau Weiss purposefully crossed the road, then passed through the entrance of the building under his surveillance, and momentarily disappeared.
“What in the Dickens is she up to?” Pratt muttered to himself.
Looking through the viewfinder of his camera, he zoomed onto the window of the target apartment and was curiously surprised to see Frau Weiss come into frame, escorted into the room by the suspected Nazi. Through his zoom lens, Pratt witnessed Frau Weiss briefly talking to the man before showing the photo to him. As his facial expression turned to a concerning look of worried apprehension, Frau Weiss pointed in the direction of Pratt’s location. The alerted man moved to the window, attempting to peer through the darkness outside. With both hands cradling his eyes against the window glass, he squinted to get a clearer view, causing Pratt to take a step back into the shadows. Without warning, the window turned a splattering ruby-red colour in response to the sound of two muffled gunshots discharging twice over. A few seconds later, the room went dark as its ceiling light was turned off.
Before Pratt could come up with a plan of escape, Frau Weiss reappeared onto the old cobblestoned street, walking with a strutted gait and a swaying saunter, bordering on an attempt of seductive interpretive dance. A tingling sensation of fraught anticipation flooded over Pratt. He was a loose wheel now, and possibly surplus to Her Majesty’s requirements. Facing an uncertain future in the hands of the Stasi, he stood below the electrically challenged streetlamp’s dim light, and bravely waited for whatever Frau Weiss had in store for him.
“…Your work is done here, Mr Pratt… It was the man you sought. Plastic surgery had changed a few facial features, but his eyes gave him away. Guilt and shame are difficult to erase from der eyes… I presume that was the end game - to eliminate him, jah? I do hope I didn’t spoil the ending.”
“…On the contrary, Frau Weiss. It was an unexpected but necessary outcome.”
“Did you manage to get a few good holiday snaps of life imitating art just then, jah?”
“Sorry, I’m not sure I follow…”
“…Oh, Mr Pratt, please keep up… Mrs White in the kitchen with der revolver, Jah?”
Pratt lingered over the correlating connotation of the Frau’s declaration.
“Oh… I see… yes… very apropos, indeed…”
“I was here, you were here. It seemed like kismet, Jah…? and you without a clue, Jah? Oh, that’s most funny… You see, we East Germans do have a sense of humour, Jah?”
Pratt’s attention was quickly diverted to his right as the headlights of a car blindingly came to life in sync to its engine revving into action. Speeding straight towards him, it skidded to a halt under the streetlamp, causing him to step back onto the uneven curb, to avoid being splashed by the gutters’ disturbed running stream of water. With a hurried sense of extraction, the two female occupants – also dressed in red – jumped out, swiftly opening each rear door.
“May I offer you a lift back to the checkpoint, Mr Pratt? I’m wonderful company in a back seat…”
Never had Pratt been at such a complete loss of words around anyone. Usually, it was him that drove conversations forward, but this Cambridge educated woman seemingly propositioning him, left him unadulteratedly dumbfounded.
“…I’m a happily married man, Frau Weiss, but I will take you up on your free ride offer.”
“Excellent, Mr Pratt! It will give me time to suck on your little sweetie along the way…”
“Frau Weiss, please…”
“Sorry Liebling. I simply couldn’t resist one more…”