Giles Barrington couldn’t sleep the night before he was due to fly to Berlin. He was up long before the sun rose, didn’t bother with breakfast and took a taxi from his home in Smith Square to Heathrow hours before his flight was due to depart. First flights in the morning were almost the only aircraft guaranteed to take off on time. He picked up a copy of the Guardian in the first class lounge, but didn’t get beyond the front page as he drank a cup of black coffee and went over Walter’s plan again and again.
It had one fundamental weakness, what he’d described as a necessary risk.
He drank a cup of black coffee and went over Walter’s plan again and again. It had one fundamental weakness, what he’d described as a necessary risk.
Giles was among the first to board the aircraft and, even though the plane took off on time, kept checking his watch every few minutes throughout the flight. The plane touched down in Berlin at 9.45 a.m. and, as Giles had no luggage, he was sitting in the back of another taxi twenty minutes later.
‘Checkpoint Charlie,’ he said to the driver, who gave him a second look before joining the early morning traffic heading into the city.
Soon after they’d passed the dilapidated Brandenburg Gate, Giles spotted the white Mercedes coach Walter had told him to look out for. As he didn’t want to be the first person to board, he asked the taxi driver to stop a couple of hundred yards from the crossing point. Giles paid the fare and began to stroll around as if he were a tourist, not that there were any sites to look out for, other than a graffiti-covered wall. He didn’t start to make his way towards the coach until he’d seen several other delegates climb aboard.
Giles joined the line of foreign dignitaries and political journalists who had travelled from all over Europe to attend a ceremonial lunch and hear a speech by Erich Honecker, the new General Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party. He still wondered if he might once again be prevented from crossing the border and be left with no choice but to return on the next flight back to Heathrow. But Walter had assured him that since he was representing the British Labour Party as a former Foreign Minister, he would be made most welcome by his hosts. The East German regime, Walter explained, had been unable to open any meaningful dialogue with the present Conservative government and was desperate to forge some worthwhile alliances with the Labour Party, especially as it looked likely that they would soon be returning to power. When Giles reached the front of the queue he handed his passport to an official, who gave it a cursory glance before ushering him on board. The first hurdle crossed.
As Giles walked down the aisle, he spotted a young woman sitting alone near the back, looking out of the window. He didn’t need to check her seat number.
‘Hello,’ he said.
She looked up and smiled. He didn’t know her name, and perhaps it was better that he didn’t. All he knew was that she spoke fluent English, was an interpreter by profession, roughly the same age as Karin, and would be wearing an identical outfit to hers. But there was one thing Walter hadn’t explained. Why was she willing to take such a risk?
Giles looked around at his fellow delegates. He didn’t recognize any of them, and was pleased to see that no one showed the slightest interest in him. He sat down by his blind date, slipped a hand into an inside pocket and pulled out Karin’s passport. There was one thing missing, and that would remain in his wallet until the return journey. Giles leant forward to shield the young woman as she bent down and took a tiny square photo and a tube of glue out of her handbag. She completed the process in a couple of minutes. It was clear she had practised the exercise several times.
Once she’d placed the passport in her handbag, Giles took a closer look at the woman sitting next to him. He could immediately see why Walter had chosen her. She was a similar age and build to Karin, possibly a couple of years older and a few pounds heavier, but roughly the same height, with the same dark eyes and auburn hair, which she’d arranged in Karin’s style. Clearly as little as possible had been left to chance.
Giles looked up at the tall brick towers manned by armed guards who stared down on the crude concrete wall crowned with razor wire.
Giles checked his watch again. It was almost time for them to leave. The driver conducted a head count. He was two short. ‘I’ll give them another five minutes,’ he said, as Giles glanced out of the window to see a couple of figures running towards the bus. He recognized one of them as a former Italian minister, although he couldn’t recall his name. But then, there were a lot of former Italian ministers.
‘Mi dispiace,’ the man said as he climbed aboard. Once the two late-comers were seated, the doors closed with a soft hiss of air and the coach set off at a pedestrian pace towards the border crossing.
The driver came to a halt in front of a red-and-white striped barrier. The coach door swung open to allow two smartly dressed American military policemen to climb aboard. They carefully checked each passport, to make sure the temporary visas were in order. Once they’d completed their task, one of them said, ‘Have a good day,’ without any suggestion that he meant it.
The coach never got out of first gear as it progressed another three hundred yards towards the East German border, where it once again came to a halt. This time three officers in bottle-green uniforms, knee-length leather boots and peaked caps climbed on board. Not a smile mustered between them. They took even longer checking each passport, making sure every visa was correctly dated and stamped, before one of them placed a tick against a name on his clipboard and moved on to the next passenger. Giles displayed no emotion when one of the officers asked to see his passport and visa. He checked the document carefully, then placed a tick by the name of Barrington. He took considerably longer looking at Karin’s passport, and then asked her a couple of questions. As Giles couldn’t understand a word the guard was saying, he became more anxious by the second, until a tick was placed next to the name Karin Pengelly. Giles didn’t speak until all three officers had disembarked, the door had been closed and the coach had crossed a wide yellow line which indicated that they had crossed the border.
‘You’re welcome to East Berlin,’ said the driver, clearly unaware of the irony of his words.
Giles looked up at the tall brick towers manned by armed guards who stared down on the crude concrete wall crowned with razor wire. He felt sorry for its jailed inhabitants.
‘What did he ask you about?’ asked Giles.
‘He wanted to know where I lived in England.’
‘What did you tell him?’
‘Why Parson’s Green?’
‘That’s where I had digs when I was studying English at London University. And he must have thought I was your mistress, because your wife’s name is still on your passport as next of kin. Fortunately, being someone’s mistress isn’t a crime in East Germany. Well, not yet.’
‘Who would take a mistress to East Berlin?’
‘Only someone who was trying to get one out.’