August 24, 2012 by jamesessj
I was sent to Munich to assassinate Sigfrid. I didn’t ask why. It wasn’t my job to ask questions. It was my job to do as I was told. Questions could come later. Like: Why is airline service so lousy? And, Why was the chicken at the Aurhaus Restaurant bone-dry? And, Why do all German women look as if they’re survivors of their mothers’ attempts to abort them?
But these questions were far from my mind — except the one about the chicken, because I’d forgotten how bad it was the first time and had ordered it again, and was angry at myself — as I stalked the city streets for any sign of Sigfrid. Our last information had him at a safehouse on Stermerstrasse, but when I visited the address the structure had burned down. And collapsed in an earthquake. And been destroyed by a flood. I suspected foul play.
I talked to a woman in the apartment block across the street. She had a ravaged face that was all but indistinguishable from the rubble behind her. She said she’d seen a short skinny man with a hawk-face leaving the building just before the fire/earthquake/flood. Was she sure it was a hawk-face? I asked. Not a falcon-face, not an eagle-face, not a condor-face? No, she said, definitely a hawk-face.
Or I think that’s what she said. I don’t speak German, and she didn’t speak English.
A short skinny hawk-faced man. A perfect description of Simon Sigfrid.
* * *
Simon Sigfrid. Once the head of East German Intelligence, after starting as its left index finger and moving up through left elbow to right shoulder to vertebra. The most feared man in the world, at one time, and not only because of his incredible ugliness — it was said he had the mirrors in his house removed so he wouldn’t frighten himself — but because of his ruthless ambition and violent dedication to winning for East Germany the coveted “Best Soviet Satellite” Award at the annual Commies. And he’d succeeded, too — East Germany had won the title ten years in a row under his vicious leadership, beating out perennial favorites Albania and Bulgaria year after year.
His personal life was a mystery. Was he married? No one knew. Did he have children? No one knew. Had he taken a mistress? No one knew. Did he like his eggs poached or scrambled? No one knew. All that was known was that Sigfrid ruled East German Intelligence — and hence, East Germany — with an iron fist.
His hand had been blown off during an operation in Beirut in 1967. He’d had it replaced with an iron fist.
* * *
Guess I was lying when I said earlier that I didn’t know why Sigfrid deserved a bullet in the brain. I could think of at least thirty-six reasons without even trying. If I tried, thirty-eight or thirty-nine.
* * *
Sigfrid had gone underground. That was the consensus among the Munich whores, pimps, shopkeepers, delivery drivers, and hairdressers I questioned. He’d been living off the largesse of friends left over from the glory days of Communism, but when the safehouse had been compromised — by, scuttlebutt had it, the Israelis, in retaliation for anti-Semitic remarks the building had been overheard making — he’d panicked and flown. I tortured one or two ex-East German Intelligence agents for the heck of it, but they had nothing to offer. Sigfrid’s trail had gone cold.
And so was my blood running. Cold, that is. Because I knew the stakes.
* * *
Z had called me into his office four days before. I knew from the tone of his voice that this was a big assignment. He was using the unnatural bass he reserved for the really dodgy jobs.
“WE’RE GOING AFTER SIGFRID,” he bellowed.
I looked for any variation in the color of the blue dot that covered Z’s face. Through a special technology borrowed from American courtroom television, he’d had the dot permanently attached, so that no one should ever discover his true identity. What he hadn’t thought through was the “permanent” aspect. It’s easy to recognize a man with a blue dot for a head in the grocery. He’d taken to wearing a Nixon mask and calling his wife “Pat” when they were out in public.
“Why now?” I asked. “Isn’t he holed up in Munich? Haven’t heard a peep from him since 1996.”
“WE HAVE INTEL,” rumbled Z, “THAT SIGFRID IS ABOUT TO COME INTO POSSESSION OF A DOCUMENT DAMAGING TO THE NATIONAL SECURITY INTERESTS OF BOTH THIS COUNTRY AND THE UNITED STATES.”
“He’s got hold of the new Harry Potter?” I quipped.
“NOT AMUSING, QUINT. THE POTTER SERIES IS FINISHED, AND, IN ANY EVENT, MS. ROWLING IS RETIRED FROM THE SERVICE. THE DOCUMENT SIGFRID MAY GET HIS HANDS ON IS AN ULTRA-SECRET COMMUNIQUE FROM THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES TO THE PRIME MINSTER. IT WAS INTERCEPTED BY A TERRORIST CELL IN REYKJAVIK CALLED THE ICELANDCAPADES.”
I’d heard of the group. Upset, they were, that professional skaters hadn’t been paying their country royalties for the use of ice. A radical bunch, who’d do anything to embarrass the United States.
“What’s the document contain, sir? In what way is it damaging?”
Z shifted in his chair. The dot went a few shades darker. “THIS IS FOR YOUR EARS ONLY, QUINT.”
“Of course, sir.”
“THE DOCUMENT WAS A PERSONAL NOTE FROM THE PRESIDENT TO THE P.M. DETAILING THE PRESIDENT’S RECENT HOLIDAY IN QUEENS, NEW YORK — THUS THE MONIKER ‘THE Q DOCUMENT.’ ALONG WITH THE PRECIS WERE SEVERAL PHOTOS OF THE PRESIDENT WITH HIS CHILDREN — TOSSING A BASEBALL, CHOPPING WOOD, SCRATCHING HIS NOSE.”
“With respect, sir, I don’t see the problem.”
“HE WAS PERFORMING THESE TASKS, QUINT–”
“–WITH HIS LEFT HAND.”
“You don’t mean–”
“YES. THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES — IS LEFT-HANDED.”
* * *
“INDEED. IF THIS WERE TO LEAK, THE DAMAGE WOULD BE — INCALCULABLE. THE UNITED STATES IS NOT READY FOR A LEFT-HANDED PRESIDENT.”
“But it’s already got one.”
“BUT IT DOESN’T KNOW IT’S GOT ONE. AND IF IT BECAME PUBLIC THAT THE P.M. HAD KNOWLEDGE OF THIS, BUT KEPT IT TO HIMSELF — THE GOVERNMENT COULD COME CRASHING DOWN. WE CANNOT ALLOW THAT TO OCCUR.”
“How do we know the Icelandcapades intend to forward the document to Sigfrid?”
“WE INTERCEPTED ONE OF THEIR INTERCEPTS. AN INTRAINTERCEPT.”
“Then it appears I’m off to Munich.”
“FIND HIM, QUINT. FIND HIM AND ELIMINATE HIM AND BRING BACK THE Q DOCUMENT.”
* * *
On a whim I paid a visit to Johannes Drang, an old friend with his ear to the ground. His posture was appalling, and over the years his spine had twisted until now the side of his head dragged along the ground as he walked. But you probably saw that one coming.
“Sigfrid,” was all I said.
“Careful,” said Drang. “Or you may learn more than you want to know.”
“I’ll decide how much is too much. Talk.”
“Sigfrid has gone underground.”
“Talk some more.”
“But he hides in plain sight.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means — what it means.”
“Which is what?”
“That he hides in plain sight.”
“Drang, I won’t ask nicely a second time.”
“I’ve told you all I know.”
“Where is Sigfrid?”
“Underground! In plain sight!”
I put a bullet in his eye.
But jamming that shell into his eyesocket was no cakewalk. It was more like a bakerywalk, which is a series of cakewalks strung together.
He talked, then. He didn’t tell me what I needed to know, but he talked. He wouldn’t stop talking. Eventually I paid him two hundred thousand marks to shut up. He said if I’d just done that in the first place we could have saved all this bother. And his eye. Sigfrid, he revealed, was working at the Aurhaus Restaurant as a chef.
Now I knew why my chicken had been overcooked.
* * *
The Aurhaus is in Munich’s high-rent district. The buildings are ornate, the citizens are garbed in suits and long dresses, and the food is world-class. Which is why I should have known something was amiss with my dish. It’s like having Yo-Yo Ma hit a wrong note. Either he just broke up with his girlfriend or he’s the used-to-be Chief of East German Intelligence who’s trying to send you a message.
Sigfrid was a clever one, all right. He’d known I was in Munich from the beginning. But he hadn’t run — he’d sent me a challenge and I’d ignored it. Twice.
I knew he’d be waiting for me. So I dressed up as a barstool salesman and put on an Australian accent.
“G’day, mates!” I said as I stumbled in. I’d drunk half a Fosters to get the smell of beer on my breath.
“Hello — Quint.”
He sat alone at a table in the center of the room. He was, as advertised, short and skinny and hawk-faced. He was also old. Very old. Grandpa old.
“I went to a great deal of trouble for this disguise,” I said. “Congratulations on your perception.”
“There are no Australian barstool salesmen,” he replied. “Everyone knows that. The Aussies don’t like to have anything in the way when they fall over.”
His voice was strong. But with no trace of an accent. I said, “I want the Q Document, Sigfrid. Release it and — I’ll allow you to live. I’ll have to shoot you once or twice to prove I did attempt to stop you, but I can aim for the fleshy parts.” I trained my gun on him. “It’s the best deal you can hope for — from one professional to another.”
He sneered. “You’re too late, Quint. The Q Document is already on its way to Tehran. The Mullahs will make excellent use of it.”
“You’ve just signed your death warrant, Sigfrid.”
The table fell forward. Gunshots erupted from the Makarov Sigfrid had hidden underneath it. I jumped for cover and returned fire.
* * *
“THAT’S IT?” said Z. “THAT’S WHERE YOUR REPORT ENDS?”
“BUT WHAT BECAME OF SIGFRID? DID HE ESCAPE?”
“No, sir. He died in the Aurhaus. Of a self-inflicted wound to the head.”
“THEN THE MISSION WASN’T A TOTAL FAILURE.”
“Not — a total failure, no.”
“THE Q DOCUMENT IN THE CLUTCHES OF THE IRANIANS…I SHUDDER AT THE THOUGHT. –WHAT ARE YOU DOING, QUINT?”
“Screwing the silencer onto my Walther, sir.”
“MAY I ASK WHY?”
“Oh, I rather suspect you know the answer to that question, sir.”
“WHAT THE DEVIL IS GOING ON HERE?”
“No sudden moves, sir. Or ought I call you — Sigfrid?”
“WHAT? YOU’VE GONE MAD, QUINT!”
“No, I’ve simply done a little overdue detective work. Sigfrid was last heard of in 1996…you, sir, were appointed head of MI6 in 1997. And the blue dot was ingenious. Masked your face and no one suspected a thing.”
He said nothing.
“The most damning piece of evidence, however, is the supposed Q Document itself. Were you aware, sir, that the United States has had many left-handed presidents? Among the more recent of them Truman, Ford, the first Bush, Clinton…did the Q Document even exist, Sigfrid? Or was it an excuse to send me to Munich to kill off the imposter so that no one would ever suspect the truth and your position in MI6 would be forever after secure?”
He still said nothing.
“Who was the imposter, Sigfrid? A friend late of East German Intelligence? Well, he’s late now.”
Still, he said nothing.
“The Chief of Staff is on his way, Sigfrid. You’ll answer to him, if not to me.”
He moved suddenly, for a drawer in his desk. Where, undoubtedly, he’d secreted a pistol.
I fired my gun at the center of the blue dot.
It turned red.