Willie wheeled himself into his flat, immediately made his way to the phone, and pressed speed dial.
“D.Ops – at home.”
After so many years it was routine, even if no Op was in progress. Special Ops capability meant one always had to be ready to respond at a moment’s notice. Given the current political climate, that was doubly true, though possibly not against the Soviets, as in previous years. Willie had planned more than one Op in support of Gorbachev in the last couple of years. Not that the melting cold war made for fewer enemies. In fact it simply complicated the political landscape, and shifted priorities, in part toward the emerging Eastern European independents but largely to the Middle East.
Worrying about that was for another day, though. It was late, and while he had had some food at the office, he hadn’t really eaten properly. Besides, too much was happening really to relax; even if no crisis was apparent, the current unrest in Soviet satellite states made him twitchy. Willie rooted in his freezer for something to eat. He had not been shopping recently though, and his freezer contained a lot of frost and very little else: a frozen pizza that had seen better days and a bag of frozen broad beans. In disgust he closed the door and decided to order takeaway.
He was reading The Guardian while waiting for the local Indian to deliver when his door buzzer sounded.
Jeff Ross – what did he want at this hour? Willie shrugged. Well, the best way to find out was to let him in; but coming at this time of day did not bode well.
“Don’t you have a wife to go home to?” he greeted Ross with as he opened the door.
“And good evening to you too,” responded Ross as he entered. “Here,” he said, handing over a large brown paper bag, “I intercepted the delivery boy as I came up.”
“Want some?” asked Willie as he set out a series of foil containers on the counter.
Ross peered at their contents and sniffed. “Vindaloo! Don’t you know that much hot stuff rots holes in your stomach?”
“It’s not as hot as a jalapeno.”
“If I wanted to eat a hot pepper I’d have asked for a posting to Mexico. It may have escaped your notice but I’ve been in London the last 12 years.”
“There’s a chicken korma if you want something a bit milder,” offered Willie.
“Naaaw, that’s OK,” drawled Jeff, “I had a McDonalds before I came over.”
“Speaking of which, why are you here?” asked Willie, wheeling himself into the living room with his plate of food, while Jeff took the seat opposite. “As far as I know you don’t have an Op on.” His eyes met Jeff’s in query. Jeff nodded and shrugged agreement.
“And you have a wife to go home to, so….”
“As it happens, Jenny’s on holiday for the next two weeks seeing the kids at their college in Boston.”
“Just as it seems Neil’s decided to take a little holiday,” Jeff finally broached the reason for his visit.
“Oh, you know about that, do you?”
“Come on, Willie, one of my operatives spotted him in Berlin an hour ago. What’s he playing at, going there at a time like this? The last thing we need is Neil in Berlin if the authorities in East Germany decide to clamp down.”
Now it was Willie’s turn to shrug. Not that he entirely disagreed; but Ross was CIA after all and it was not the place of the Americans to criticise the decisions of the Chief of SIS. Still, it was unusual for Neil to take leave. Willie only knew of one other time he’d taken a holiday without being forced, and that had been several years ago. And to take leave to Berlin? It was widely known in the office that Neil loathed the place, though, after all these years, only Willie truly knew why. Though come to think of it, Ross also knew.
“The chances of a clamp-down are pretty low, though, you have to admit,” was all Willie said, however. They never spoke about events of the past.
“I think I will have some of that korma after all,” said Jeff, and crossed to the little kitchen where he spooned curry and rice onto a plate and found himself a fork. He turned the television on as he returned. Unsurprisingly it was tuned to the BBC news – did SIS Directors ever watch anything else? Though…he looked at his watch…it was somewhat late for the news… it was breaking news.
Jeff watched, fascinated as the force of popular opinion changed forever the map of Berlin. The news commentator explained the East German authorities had announced a little while before that they would open the border crossings and allow free movement. A mass of people had gathered and for a short while there had been a tense stand-off until the guards opened the gates, and people flooded through without check. The cameras panned showing happy, excited East Berliners dancing and hugging West Berliners who had come to share their joy. Several were painting slogans on the Berlin Wall itself. One camera zoomed in on “Die Mauer Ist Weg” painted in bright red capitals.
“There! Look, there!” Willie said, pointing at the top right corner of the television screen.
A number of the more nimble-footed and energetic of the crowd had climbed onto the wall and were dancing a jig. Behind, almost but not quite hidden, stood a slim unsmiling man dressed in a grey three piece suit: Neil Burnside.