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Reiner checked his watch as he waited by the elevator. Within the next sixty seconds, the elegant Frau Dr. Sachs, her chic shoulder-length hair dyed the color of a concert grand, would leave her penthouse apartment for her office at number 18 on the fashionable Friedrichstrasse. Dr. Sachs was a creature of habit. That always made things easier.
The hallway had a thick, ice-blue carpet and smelled of fresh paint. Reiner liked these new Potsdamer Platz buildings, where a penthouse apartment cost a small fortune. With the doctor’s specialty of blackmail, he supposed, she could afford it. He himself didn’t mind helping people with problems when the price was right. The distinguished Hanoverian judge Gerhard Tempelmann had confided that he was in desperate need of help. Tempelmann’s whole world was about to come crashing down.
The judge explained that three weeks ago he had driven to Berlin to accept an honorary degree from Humboldt, the university of Marx, Engels, and the brilliant Einstein. That night on the way back to his hotel after celebrating with old friends, he got lost driving the dark, narrow streets sandwiched between the university and the river. Confused and slightly tipsy, he failed to see the bicycle rider. In his rearview mirror, her mangled, lifeless body lay smeared across the road. He was quite certain that the young woman was dead. There was nothing he could do to help her. But Dr. Sachs, out walking her poodle, Schatzy, near the banks of the Spree, had witnessed the accident and seen his car racing away across the bridge.
When the first letter arrived in his mailbox postmarked Berlin, it asked for ten thousand marks. The judge knew there would be others. One careless second and everything good and meaningful in his life seemed about to be destroyed. “If there’s anything you could do,” he begged Reiner. There would be no questions, he promised, and money was no object. The next day the judge had fifty thousand marks ready for Reiner. It was a pleasure to work for such a man.
As the penthouse door opened, Reiner hit the elevator button and the light popped on. He ran his hand over his long blond hair, straightened his silk Hermès tie. In a case like this it was always important to make a good first impression.
Dr. Sachs was dressed all in black leather. Even the expensive Italian briefcase she carried was black leather, probably bought in the west on the Ku-Damm at the sleek Mandarina Duck, the shop featuring specially treated calf leather, waterproof and scratch resistant. Utterly impervious to dangers of all sorts.
“Guten Morgen,” he said brightly.
“Morgen,” snapped Sachs. She had a busy day ahead of her. She banged the elevator button. “What’s keeping it?” She looked up at him and decided that she liked the young man’s tie, the directness of his gaze. He had the most compelling blue eyes she’d ever seen. He was worth a smile.
“Here we are,” said Reiner, as the door began to slide open. He motioned for her to go first, but Dr. Sachs hardly needed any prompting. She stepped forward and only at the last second saw the empty elevator shaft yawning at her feet. Frantic, she clawed the air and somehow managed to pull herself back.
“Scheisse!” she cried, struggling to catch her breath. “I almost fell in.”
A palm to the small of her back sent Sachs screaming down the shaft, her shrieks trailing after her like a torn parachute.
Élysée Palace, Paris
The great hall with its brilliant rows of crystal chandeliers, its gilded columns, its magnificent Gobelins tapestries and crimson drapes was empty. The reception for the African ambassadors wasn’t scheduled to begin for another hour. At the far end of the room, the French doors were flung open onto a garden laid out in tiered, semicircular rows, gradually ascending to a small pool with a fountain. Though still early for roses, the ordered arrangement of the plants usually did wonders for the president. Not this time.
Chirac angrily slammed down the receiver, nearly knocking the telephone off his desk. “The Chinese . . . they’ve just canceled their participation in the EU trade talks.”
The foreign minister, who had been conferring with the president when his telephone rang, asked, “Will you be making a statement?”
“I suppose I’ll have to.”
Chirac had feared something like this might happen as soon as he’d heard about the bombing of China’s embassy in Belgrade. The other day at his impromptu airport news conference in Helsinki, he’d called the bombing “unfortunate. A tragic blunder.” Hadn’t he, along with Clinton, Schröder, and the other NATO leaders, apologized? Yes, of course, of course he could understand the violent Chinese reaction, but what the hell did they want? Accidents happen.
Standing by the window of his sumptuous office in the palace, he gazed down at the sunlight dancing in the fountain and the gardener in blue overalls. He was reminded fleetingly of a painting by Monet at the Musée d’Orsay that he liked—the deep emerald shadows, the shimmering evanescent light. A luminous, peaceful moment in the Parc Monceau snatched from the general mess and imprecision of things. He thought of how much he’d counted on the enormous Chinese market to bolster the lagging French economy. No wonder he was losing his hair. What lousy timing!
The president knew that the Chinese would eventually come around—Jiang Zemin needed to be accepted by the World Trade Organization for his own survival—but could he himself wait that long without having his own plans unravel? He tried to reevaluate his position, approach the situation as coolly as if it were no more than a theoretical problem.
“If only there were some way to change their minds . . .” Chirac leaned toward the window and tapped impatiently on the glass. Some way, he mused, to make Jiang realize that not all of us were as dumb as the Americans—their CIA incapable of simply opening a 1999 Belgrade telephone book and seeing that they had targeted the Chinese embassy and not a damn Yugoslav arms factory. No doubt all intelligence services had their share of blockheads, even his own. Mitterrand hadn’t needed the Rainbow Warrior fiasco to realize he’d placed his trust in bunglers, fools, but it was a risk he had to take. Without those nuclear tests, France would have no M4 submarine missiles or tactical neutron bombs.
Though hardly a Socialist, Chirac too had his doubts about the Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure. What his intelligence service needed were fewer thugs and ex-cops, and more énarques—bright, young, well-educated professionals, experts who could think subtly, creatively. Burdened with mediocrities, how could he hope to deal with crises like these?
“If only . . .” he began. He ran his hand over his thinning hair the way he often did when faced with a particularly thorny problem. “If only there were some way—unofficially, of course—that we could discreetly let our Chinese friends know just how much we regretted what happened. Show them that we still could be helpful.”
The foreign minister, eager to be of help, pushed his chair closer.
Later, when he returned to the Quai d’Orsay, he reported the incident to his deputy, Simone Nortier. She had an idea for him.
Hotel Adlon, Berlin
His appointment was for 11:45 a.m. The arrangements made the usual way—a message with a name and a number to call. The difference this time was the luxurious meeting place and the French name. Reiner fancied himself an independent contractor. He felt no need to advertise, for there were always clients in want of his services: good people being blackmailed, wealthy couples facing excruciating divorces, successful businessmen desperate to dissolve a partnership, eager legatees with no patience.
The cautious Reiner checked with his French sources to confirm the legitimacy of the new client. The more he learned, the more intrigued he became with Émile Pellerin. This might be the sort of meeting worth his time and perhaps, he thought, even a good deal more.
The majestic Hotel Adlon, which survived all the violence of World War II without a scratch, burned down soon after the fighting ended. Once Berlin’s most famous meeting place—situated no more than a block away from the Reichstag, the Brandenburg Gate, and the Nazi chancellery—it had played host to Hitler, Mussolini, and both Theodore and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
The new Adlon, recently rebuilt on the same site, seemed quite elegant to Klaus Reiner as he strolled past its gleaming shopwindows showcasing Parisian silk scarves, Italian shoes, and fine antique jewelry. He stopped briefly to admire the sturdy German handbags and wallets. To Reiner, it seemed overnight that his world had changed, but actually it had been almost ten years now since the Wall collapsed and reunification began. Yet the East German supermarkets with their well-stocked shelves, not to mention the Porsches and BMWs daily crisscrossing Alexanderplatz, still amazed him. Everything was available now in the new Germany. If you had the money.
In the hotel lobby, he glanced around at the giant vases filled with flowers. Without bothering to stop for information at the crowded front desk, he went directly to the elevators. His appointment was on the fifth floor.
As the elevator door began to close, a striking young woman joined him. She was wearing black stockings and a stylish black satin dress—Berlin high fashion; her raven hair cut severely in bangs, her irresistible perfume filling the elevator. As self-absorbed as a mannequin. She too had an appointment. On the third floor, he stepped aside to let the lady out, and her seductive smile was a totally unexpected reward, reminding him of Hanna Schygulla, one of his favorite actresses. Reiner wondered what she charged for a quick afternoon romp. But business before pleasure.
In front of the gilt-framed oval mirror on the fifth floor, he stopped to straighten his ascot, brush off the lapel of his custom-tailored double-breasted blazer. Swiftly locating the staircases and making sure no one was loitering in the hallway, he followed the sign to 501 at the end of the corridor. Reiner hesitated at the door. There was more than one voice coming from within but, even though his French was excellent (almost as good as his Russian and Arabic), it was impossible to make out what they were saying. He glanced at his watch and knocked. The conversation inside stopped abruptly. After a short wait, the door opened.
“Ah, monsieur. Right on time. Entrez, entrez.”
Émile Pellerin—the smaller of the two men—had the sharp, comic face of a Pierrot, but his pale eyes were calm, watchful. He introduced his associate, Blond, a burly fellow with a balding scalp and long strands of thinning gray hair combed across it. Reiner took his proffered hand and felt the blunt, powerful fingers of a meat cutter.
The large suite they occupied overlooked Unter den Linden. Reiner estimated that for this super deluxe double they were probably shelling out a bundle. He knew before he came that money would not be a deal breaker.
“A nice hotel,” Reiner said, glancing around the room.
Pellerin smiled at his smartly turned out visitor, a solid athletic six-footer who was somewhat younger and better looking—in a blond German sort of way—than he had expected. He invited him to sit down, have some coffee.
Reiner shook his head. “I don’t drink coffee. How can I help you?”
Pellerin approved of his visitor’s businesslike manner and reported that monsieur came highly recommended. What they required was a man with his special talents. Above all, his discretion, ingenuity, and ability to remove someone so quietly that the sole question raised by the family and friends was where to send the flowers. The accident would have to occur before the end of the month and arouse no suspicion. Most important of all, it had to be terminal. Was he interested in the job?
“Who it is and where I have to go.”
Pellerin glanced at his associate. Hubert Blond shrugged in annoyance, climbed heavily out of his chair, and lumbered into the bedroom, returning with a large manila envelope. He thrust it at Reiner, who noted that he seemed to be sweating. Reiner examined the enclosed papers with care and looked up. “A nice part of your country, I’m told.”
“Especially at this season of the year,” Émile said, with a touch of nostalgia. “You’ll have a wonderful time. The duck confit. The cabécou. And the truffles are always amazing. Then there’s the delectable way they do rabbit with Armagnac, vin rouge, cream, and the rich pruneaux d’Agen. I envy you.”
A real bullshit artist! Reiner thought. He charged people like that extra for insulting his intelligence. Whatever he was getting into, it wasn’t going to be a vacation. He knew a snow job when he heard one.
Reiner went over to the serving cart, which held a gleaming silver coffee urn. Taking a sugar cube from the tray, he unwrapped it, jotted down some numbers on the inside of the wrapper, and casually handed it to Pellerin. A bit of theater—it was in his genes—never hurt in these situations. Especially when there were as many zeroes as he decided to add on the spur of the moment.
Reiner had learned from his foreign informants that Pellerin and Blond were French agents. It was clear that they needed an outsider—a pro with no police record, no ties to the victim, and, above all, someone who wasn’t French. Despite what Pellerin had neglected to tell him, Reiner assumed it was a political job. He didn’t like that. Nor was he crazy about working in a foreign country, where you didn’t know all the pieces in the game. Besides, he didn’t trust these two. All of which went into his bill. What they wanted was risky from start to finish but, like good sex, it would have its moments.
“My price.” His voice had no more edge than a butter knife. “The money to be paid in American dollars to the Swiss bank at that numbered account I’ve noted. Two equal installments. One before, the rest upon completion. Agreed?”
Pellerin was amused by the flat, take-it-or-leave-it way the German did business and even more by his cautious cloak-and-dagger manner. But then he remembered that almost every room in the old Adlon had been wired by American agents, scores of tiny electronic ears listening in the walls. It was as if Reiner, though seemingly too young to have lived through it, felt that World War II was still going on. But Pellerin ceased to be amused when he saw how much money the German wanted. Dumbstruck, he nodded.
“A pleasure,” said Reiner, closing the deal with a stiff handshake.
After their guest had left—carrying with him a Paris phone number to be called as soon as he’d taken care of the matter—Émile turned with a worried look to his friend.
“What do you think of Herr Reiner?”
“He dresses well.”
“He can afford to on what he charges. He may be an Ossi, but he behaves like a capitalist.”
Blond sneered. “I’ll say . . .”
“Okay—but I think he’s the right man for the job. Time to call the Quai d’Orsay. We can let Simone know we’ve made all the arrangements. Keep her up to speed.”
“And the price?”
“What the hell! If he’s as good as they say he is, he’s worth every centime to our friends. We’ll know soon enough.”