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About the Author
Brian Freemantle (b. 1936) is one of Britain’s most acclaimed authors of spy fiction. His novels have sold over ten million copies worldwide. Born in Southampton, Freemantle entered his career as a journalist, and began writing espionage thrillers in the late 1960s. Charlie M (1977) introduced the world to Charlie Muffin and won Freemantle international success. He would go on to publish fourteen titles in the series. Freemantle has written dozens of other novels, including two about Sebastian Holmes, an illegitimate son of Sherlock Holmes, and the Cowley and Danilov series, about a Russian policeman and an American FBI agent who work together to combat organized crime in the post–Cold War world. Freemantle lives and works in Winchester, England.
Read an Excerpt
Little Grey Mice
By Brian Freemantle
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1991 Brian Freemantle
All rights reserved.
A minor accident on Adenauerallee, just after she'd left the Chancellery, had delayed Elke Meyer. It was hardly an inconvenience, but it unsettled her, just as being summoned on a Saturday for a minor security infraction had unsettled her. Elke liked ordered routine and disruption offended her, even something as small as arriving slightly later than usual for her established Saturday morning visit to the Bonner Café, in the corner of Bonn's flower market.
She tried to hurry, tugging at Poppi's lead to urge him on, but there seemed to be more people than normal, crowds milling aimlessly around the stalls, blocking her way. Poppi, with the inbred nervousness of all miniature dachshunds, became frightened among careless feet and legs and began to resist, so finally Elke bent and scooped him up. As she eased her way through the alley from the larger vegetable market Elke started to worry that her usual table might be occupied. There was fresh annoyance at the possibility, but she tried to suppress it: it was absurd to invent difficulties in advance. She wasn't normally so tense: once a month, sometimes, but from her careful calendar note that wasn't due for another two weeks. Maybe, after all these months, the workload at the Chancellery from the coming together of the two Germanys was causing too much of a strain. She didn't really think so. She was very sure about her ability to do her job: it was the only thing she really did feel sure about.
Nearer the café, beyond the vivid glare of the flower displays, the crowds thinned and she lowered the protesting Poppi to the ground again. The pampered dog tried to scramble back into her arms but Elke refused him. She considered women who carried their pets in their arms to be drawing attention to themselves. All the outside tables at the Bonner were already occupied but it was a sparkling early spring morning, warm yet without the oppressive, valley-trapped heat that in the summer turned the West German capital into the 'Bonn kettle', so she'd guessed the pavement would be full. And anyway Elke never sat outside, on display. Her place was inside, where it was quieter and more proper for a woman to sit alone. She hesitated at the doorway, momentarily unable to focus against the inner darkness, before seeing her accustomed table was vacant with her accustomed waitress in smiling attendance. The girl, whose name she knew to be Clara although Elke never addressed her with such familiarity, gestured towards the waiting chair, as if she had reserved it for Elke's arrival. Elke smiled back gratefully and sat down. Poppi settled with a satisfied sigh beneath the chair and Elke had a matching relief at the reestablishment of routine. She was in surroundings she knew, where she was safe, and it didn't matter at all that she was late or that there were too many people swarming around outside. She had been stupid, letting silly things distress her. She hoped, belatedly, that no one had been injured in the Adenauerallee collision.
The waitress allowed a few moments for Elke to go through the pretence of studying the menu before taking the order for coffee and apple cake, which was what Elke had every Saturday.
What was she going to buy for the children? She had to take something, because she always did when she went to Ida's for lunch, so they expected it. But it wasn't easy any more, not at the age they were. At fourteen Georg drove her sister to distraction with his pop music, so a tape or a record was obvious, but Elke knew nothing about pop music: choosing the right one would be difficult. Doris, just a year younger, was slightly easier. Her niece was just becoming aware of herself, concerned about her appearance, and Elke decided upon a pair of hair-slides. The size or cost of the gift was unimportant, after all: it was the gesture.
The waitress offered cream with the apple cake and Elke smiled the anticipated refusal. The cake was fractionally burned at the bottom but Elke didn't complain: people who complained in public places embarrassed her. She cut away the charred pastry and chopped the remainder into neat, easily eaten squares. Maybe she should have ignored the cake as well as the cream today: the increase on the scales that morning wasn't too bad, less than half a kilo, but it definitely registered and Elke was careful about her weight as she was careful about everything involving her appearance. She hoped Ida hadn't prepared anything too heavy for lunch: on a day like today she'd prefer something cold, maybe with a salad. She could lose the weight over the next few weeks, without any difficulty. She knew herself capable of great determination: she'd learned, bitterly, from past experience.
'You should have said something.'
Elke raised her head, startled, to see Clara standing beside her table: the girl was looking down at the discarded, blackened pastry. 'It's not important: it doesn't matter.'
'It's a problem, with apples. They cook hot. It's the sugar, I think.'
'I know,' agreed Elke. 'It was very little.'
'I'll bring you another slice, without charge.'
'No!' said Elke, quickly. 'I couldn't eat any more. Really.'
'Next week then,' promised the girl.
How predictable she must be to people, thought Elke. She said: 'Maybe next week,' not wanting to make an outright refusal.
'Would you like your second coffee?'
Predictable again, thought Elke, who always had two cups. 'Please.' She leaned slightly forward over the table as it was served, twisting her arm to read her watch. She occasionally went from here to the cathedral in the Münsterplatz, but after the delay Elke didn't think she had time today if she was to get to Bad Godesberg promptly at one. The self-accusation came very quickly. She had more than enough time, if she wanted. But for what? She'd lighted all the candles for Ursula, and said all the prayers in all the side chapels, that she ever could. And Ursula was the only person she prayed for, no one else. She could always go to church tomorrow. Or the day after. Or next week. Or next month. Or the month after that. She had all the time she could ever use. Too much. She wished she could give it away: give almost all of it away. The musing drifted, aimlessly. Today's novelty gift, for Georg and Doris, she thought. Here you are, my darlings: empty time, to fill as you wish, like a sand bucket on a beach. A week, a month, take what you want. I don't need it. I've too much to occupy already.
Elke jerked away from the table, as if she were physically trying to slough off the self-pity. It had been forgivable with Ursula and everything that occurred, but finally Ida had told her to pull herself out of it and Elke imagined she had, long ago. She didn't want to slip back into the trough of easy despair: didn't want people talking and shaking their heads, not again. That period of her life was over: locked away and forgotten. All except Ursula. Ursula wasn't forgotten. Never would be. Couldn't be.
Wanting further movement to break her depression, Elke called for her bill, carefully concealing the crimson security pass in her handbag as she counted out the exact money, with an additional two Deutschmarks for a tip. The waitress wished her a happy week and Elke wished the girl the same in return and re-entered the bustle of the flower square. Poppi tugged for attention but Elke decided it wasn't necessary for the dog to be carried again.
She crossed the square directly to the Kaufhalle store and found the accessories section on the ground floor. The ribbons and scarves and economy jewellery blazed brighter than the flower stalls outside, a Technicolor of decoration. Doris had white-blonde hair so Elke selected the slides in contrasting harsh red and because it matched, forming the complete set, she also took the brooch shaped in the face of a lugubrious clown. Ursula's hair was blonde, although not so pale, and for several moments Elke fingered a second set, fantasizing how they would look in her own daughter's hair. Abruptly she replaced the slides, offering just the one set to the assistant to be wrapped. Small ornaments or jewellery, particularly anything fixed with a sharp pin, were dangerous for Ursula. Elke had to go back along the linking alley into the Markt to find a tape and record outlet in one of the permanent shops bordering its edge. A bored assistant perfunctorily recommended a tape by an American artist named Springsteen, which Elke bought without question.
Elke had parked her car, a Volkswagen Golf, among others on a meter bank just off Brudergasse. As she approached she automatically checked the gleaming blue bodywork for damage from another parking motorist less careful than herself, relieved there wasn't any. Poppi's blanket, protecting the rear upholstery, was neatly in place but Elke fussed it into further neatness before lifting the dog in. He settled into immediate sleep, seemingly exhausted by his enforced walk through the city. In the driving seat she fastened and checked the seatbelt against its lock, made a minute adjustment to her rear-view mirror and ensured both wing reflectors still gave the necessary back view. Satisfied, she edged out into the traffic stream to join Adenauerallee from Belderberg. The earlier accident had been at the junction with Hofgarten. The congestion was cleared now but one of the involved vehicles was still there, hauled off the road on to the pavement. One of its front wheels was buckled, making it impossible to drive, but the car itself seemed intact. None of the glass was smashed, either, so Elke guessed there had been no serious injury. Everyone in Germany drove far too fast: she'd heard the Transport Minister complaining about it to Günther only the previous week, as if it were somebody else's responsibility other than his own. Elke only ever used her superior's Christian name in her thoughts. In discussion or conversation with anyone – and certainly when talking directly to him – she always referred to him respectfully as Herr Werle or Herr Doktor, just as he with equal respect – but more importantly, great consideration – always addressed her as Frau Meyer. He was one of the few people outside her immediate family who knew about Ursula.
Elke got to Bad Godesberg early, and that allowed her to drive around Bonn's dormitory suburb to a safe car-park instead of risking the vehicle on another meter, where she'd read hit-and-run damage was most likely. It was some way from Ida's home on Stümpchesweg but the walk gave Poppi the opportunity to relieve himself: it was a nuisance – and a vague embarrassment – if he began demanding to be let out as soon as they got there.
The house Elke was approaching was a large but slowly decaying structure, three storeys high and with a basement in which her brother-in-law maintained an inferior wine cellar he couldn't afford, just as she suspected he couldn't afford the house itself. The paint was fading in odd, discoloured patches and in too many places had cracked away from the wood beneath, which was twisted and warped by exposure to the weather. That much of the front garden Elke could see was weed-strewn and overgrown because there was no regular gardener and he never got around to tending it himself. An outer fence sagged as if weary of trying to contain the mess. Horst Kissel had bought the house within a year of his promotion to Personnel Director of Federal communications, shortly after marrying Ida sixteen years earlier, and Elke could not recall his doing anything about its upkeep from its day of purchase. Occasionally she wondered what her sister, who was impatiently vibrant and sometimes over-demanding, had ever seen in the man. But only occasionally: Elke did not consider herself qualified to criticize another's choice in men.
Kissel was at the drawing-room window when Elke pushed through the creaking, path-scuffing gate, so he was already at the front door when she reached it. That creaked too. Kissel was a large, fat-bellied man whose hair had receded to the middle of his head and was rapidly retreating further. When he gave her the duty family kiss, Elke detected a cologne she hadn't smelled before.
'Beautiful, Elke!' enthused the man, expansively. 'Every time you look more beautiful. And that suit is superb: I haven't seen it before. Always so elegant!'
Elegant for what or for whom? wondered Elke. The suit was a green tweed, a British import: Kissel had admired it when she'd worn it to lunch two weekends before. Playing the expected role, Elke said: 'How's the world of big business?'
Kissel took her hand, which she wished he hadn't because she didn't enjoy physical contact, and led her into the drawing-room from which he had seen her approach. He said: 'Terrible: you couldn't believe the pressure. I arrive at eight and sometimes I don't leave until after seven. And I never look up, not for a moment. I don't remember the last time I left my desk for a proper lunch.'
'You shouldn't let them work you so hard.' Where were Ida and the children?
Kissel raised his shoulders and held them high, in a gesture which made him look oddly froglike. 'That's the dedication expected from senior executives. You should know that, surely!'
Elke hoped her sister would not be much longer. She said: 'The Chancellery has certainly been very busy, with so many changes in the East.' There was no indiscretion there.
'Yours are still the pampered lot,' dismissed Kissel. 'All glamorous trips and free lunches. They don't know what hard work is.'
It was a frequent sneer and Elke didn't respond. She didn't imagine her brother-in-law knew what hard work was, either.
'Let's drink some wine,' suggested Kissel, the anxious host. 'I've got something special: some excellent red from the Drachenfels slopes. You'd be amazed at the bargains there are if you know what you're buying, like I do.'
While the man was pouring, Ida thrust into the room with her usual exuberance, trailed by the children. Elke was kissed and hugged and kissed again before bending to be further kissed by the children, first Doris, then Georg. Elke presented the gifts and got more kisses in return. From Georg's reaction to the tape it seemed the assistant's recommendation had been a good one: the boy asked at once to go to his room and hurried out with Doris at his heels. Ida accepted the glass from her husband, sipped the wine and pulled a face.
'What's the matter with it?' demanded Kissel, defensively.
'It's beautiful, darling,' said Ida, easily. 'I just wish I had the palate to appreciate it like you do.' She led Elke towards a worn couch set in front of the windows. The light showed how badly the upholstery had faded.
Kissel frowned, suspiciously. To Elke he said: 'What do you think of it?'
'It's very good,' lied Elke. The wine was thin and sharp, souring her throat.
'You've got better taste than your sister,' smiled Kissel, gratefully. 'I'll open some more, for lunch.'
Ida waited until her husband left the room and said: 'It's your fault now that you'll have to drink this horse piss.' She squeezed her sister's hand, which she still held. 'You're looking good.'
From anyone else the remark would have sounded insincere, but Elke knew her sister meant what she said. It had always been this way between them, a deep closeness that neither bothered to define as love but which Elke supposed to be the only description: a genuine, unassailable, unbreachable love that no one else could understand or intrude upon. There had never been any jealousy or resentment or eroding, lasting anger, not even when they'd been children and might have been expected to fall out, as all children fall out. Older by two years, it seemed Ida had always been with her, always protective, always comforting. Just as there had never been jealousy or resentment or true anger, neither had there ever been criticism or judgement. And there'd certainly been the opportunity for critical judgement. Remembering that morning on the bathroom scales, Elke said: 'I'm putting on weight.'
'It doesn't show,' assured the other woman. 'You've no cause for concern. I'm the one who should be worried.'
Excerpted from Little Grey Mice by Brian Freemantle. Copyright © 1991 Brian Freemantle. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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