You can read here the opening chapters of my new Berlin thriller, Blood Summit.
You can find Blood Summit on Amazon as a paperback or, for instant gratification, an e-book. For a sample, read on.
A novel by Robert Pimm
Two years earlier
There were children playing in the street outside her door. Turkish, Uli Wenger guessed from their dark skin and bright clothes. He walked around them. The first insect Uli ever killed had been a child. Today, he had more important business.
The surface of the door was rough with dirt and spray paint. Sixteen buzzers studded the wall. The target lived on the third floor. Uli pressed the button by her name.
There was a crackle. ‘Yes?’
‘Post,’ Uli said. ‘A package.’
‘OK.’ The door popped open.
The hallway was cool and dark and smelled of damp stone. Two bicycles stood against a wall. Uli climbed the stairs. At the second floor, he took from his shoulder-bag a cardboard carton and a blue and yellow postman’s jacket. Then he trudged up the final flight and rang the bell.
This was the moment. If another door on the landing should open, Uli would walk slowly back down the stairs. He counted the seconds. Patience was everything. She was behind the door. She was looking at him through the spy-hole.
The door opened.
‘Hello, is that – ‘
Uli Wenger barged into the apartment and wrapped his arm around the target’s face, crushing her nose and mouth. He reached for the knife at his belt. He had used it twice today already.
But unlike the men whose throats Uli had cut that morning, the woman did not struggle. She was a head shorter than him, wiry and angular. He never relaxed his grip. Suddenly she was dropping to the floor, a dead weight. He staggered. In that instant, she hooked one leg behind his and threw herself backwards.
Self-defence classes, Uli thought as he fell. It would make no difference. His head smashed into the bare floorboards. The woman landed on top of him. He lashed out instinctively with his free hand. His fist connected with her head, a solid, satisfying blow.
Uli jumped up. Already, the woman was scrambling to her feet, backing away. He edged towards her, fully alert. She would be dead in sixty seconds. Behind her on the wall he saw a poster of a man in a tunic brandishing a sword at an army of skeletons. The image meant nothing to Uli. He held his knife forward, ready to slash her throat. She must not scream. His fall had made too much noise already. The neighbours might be calling the police.
But the woman did not cry out. She lifted her hand to a drop of blood at the corner of her mouth. When she spoke, her voice was filled not with fear, but with anger.
‘What is this? Are you crazy?’
Uli felt a pulse of panic. It was as if she knew his history. His weakness. But that was impossible. Only Mouse had known, and she was dead. He hesitated, gripping the knife more tightly in his hand.
‘Leave me alone!’ An order. But then she made a mistake. ‘Please.’
The spell was broken. Uli stepped forward. She tried to trip him again, but this time he was ready: when she reached out her foot, he grabbed her and threw her down. She gasped as she hit the floor. For a moment, she lay still. It was enough. He fell on her, pressing his left hand over her mouth and slamming the knife into the carotid triangle at the base of her neck. When he jerked the blade free he was rewarded with a torrent of blood. For twenty seconds, he held her. Then he knelt, and cleaned the knife on her shirt.
The woman’s eyes were open.
‘Why?’ she whispered. ‘Why kill me?’
Uli did not know the answer. His employer had named today’s targets without giving a reason. The objective might be to test the efficiency with which Uli could kill. Or it could be something else entirely.
He shrugged. ‘Do you not know?’
Her eyes widened, but she could not speak.
‘I do not know either,’ Uli said. ‘And I do not care.’ He waited a few seconds longer, with his hand on her pulse. Then he rose and left the apartment.
Helen Gale was briefing the ambassador on the Children’s Summit when the first rock hit the window.
‘The Prime Minister flies in at 1500 tomorrow,’ she said. ‘The trouble is, Air Force One is due at 1450. Obviously, the German Federal Chancellor won’t have time to greet the President of the United States at the airport.’
‘Who wants to meet a child in a sandpit?’ the ambassador said.
‘The President’s been called worse things.’
‘Not by the Chancellor. After a speech on US foreign policy. When someone’s left the microphone on.’
‘So now the big story is when they’re going to kiss and make up.’ Helen shook her head. ‘Not literally, more’s the pity.’
‘Any idea who the Germans will send to greet the PM?’
‘No,’ Helen said. ‘The No.10 press office are insisting on a cabinet minister at least.’
‘They insist? Bully for them.’ Sir Leonard Lennox ran his fingers through the white thicket of his hair, making it wilder than ever. ‘And won’t you say three p.m.? We’re not soldiers. Though sometimes I wish we – ‘
‘What the hell is that?’ The ambassador was on his feet.
‘Stay away from the window.’
Now there were two stars in the wall of bandit glass which fronted the street. Helen fought the urge to run and look out. Remember Paris. She didn’t want to be diced alive by flying shards if a bomb went off outside. But the ambassador was already standing there.
‘If they had a bomb they’d not be throwing stones, would they, now?’ The lowland burr was calm. ‘The police are moving in already.’
‘What about the intelligence warnings?’ Helen said. ‘We know G8 targets are under threat.’
‘We can’t bolt for cover each time GCHQ eavesdrops on a seditionist.’ The ambassador shook his head. ‘Come and have a look-see. It’s not every day we’re attacked by a mob.’
Salvos of stones were rattling against the toughened glass. Because the panes were larger at one end of the ambassador’s office than the other, each impact had a different tone, like a monstrous xylophone.
Helen covered the distance to the window in three strides. ‘When the ambassador instructs a lowly first secretary to break the rules, she must obey.’
‘Don’t give me that nonsense, Helen. You don’t know what rules are.’
Thousands of faces stared up at them through the summer rain. JOBS NOT BOMBS, a banner read. GLOBALISATION WITHOUT US. Most of the protesters seemed peaceful. A child on someone’s shoulders carried a placard reading CHILDREN’S SUMMIT: JUST SAY NO. Helen smiled. If you took politics seriously, you’d go mad. Like the people across the street. A dozen masked figures were tearing up the cobblestones and flinging them at the embassy building. At her, Helen Gale. A phalanx of police officers was pushing towards them through the crowd.
How could the stone-throwers be so sure they were right? Helen’s own life held no such certainties. Eight months earlier, she had been unsure whether to move to Berlin. Only Nigel’s refusal to leave London had convinced her she must go to Germany. He had told her to quit her job, stay with him, and start a family.
Helen had longed to throw herself into the arms of the only man she had ever loved. She had also felt an urge to slam the door on the only man who sometimes roused her to hatred. At last, she had come to Berlin, despising Nigel for not understanding her, and despairing at herself for not making him understand. She watched the crowd. Did she belong inside the building looking down? Or out in the street, looking up?
‘How much longer will the glass hold?’ The ambassador might have been asking when the rain would stop.
‘In theory, it’s fine. But I’d hate any demonstrators to be injured by one of their own rocks falling on their heads. I’ll call Dieter Kremp.’
‘The most arrogant man in Berlin? Good luck.’
‘I like confidence in a man, up to a point. But you – ‘ Helen wagged her finger at the ambassador as she gave the mock order ‘ – must get away from the window. I’m telling you in my official capacity as Post Security Officer.’
‘Yes, miss.’ The ambassador raised his considerable eyebrows but did not move. Helen reached for her phone. Before she could dial, the door burst open.
Jason Short, Head of Political Section and Deputy Head of Mission, was Helen’s boss. He was, indeed, limited in stature: in an embassy where first names were standard, he was widely referred to as Mr Short. He was the proud owner of a colossal collection of fitted suits and silk ties and had long, thinning hair, like an ageing rock star. Short was always keen to impress Sir Leonard Lennox, and the Summit would coincide with a decision in London on the appointment of the next British ambassador to Bangkok. This was a job to which Short aspired. Unfortunately for Helen, Jason saw office politics as a zero-sum game in which the best way to look good was to make everyone else look as bad as possible.
He stared at her.
‘What are you doing here? Don’t you know there’s a riot on?’
‘I am aware, yes,’ Helen said.
‘You’re Post Security Officer. You should be talking to the staff, reassuring them.’
‘I’m trying to call Dieter Kremp at the Summit Security Unit.’ Helen held up the phone. ‘If you’ll give me a moment.’
‘Phoning your boyfriend?’
Short was avoiding eye contact, focusing on a point around Helen’s neck. Was he looking at the cornflowers on her cotton dress? Or was he staring at her breasts? She turned to Leonard Lennox.
‘Ambassador, we’re in your way here. Shall I make this call from my office?’
The ambassador shrugged. ‘You’re not in my way. Speed is of the essence.’
At that moment, something happened. Helen’s first impression was of a colossal thunderclap directly above her head. As she winced and started to bring her hands up to her ears, the lights dimmed. There was a click as the computer on the ambassador’s desk flickered and began to re-boot.
The ambassador. Helen whirled round. The toughened windows were intact except for a single tiny hole in the glass. Sir Leonard Lennox turned towards her. There was something wrong with the top of his head. Blood was streaming down so fast she could see it dripping from his chin onto his shirt. He lifted a hand to his forehead. Then, slowly, he fell to his knees.
‘A bomb,’ he said. ‘I think I’m hurt.’
It was not accident but design which made Uli Wenger so hard to see. His disguise was brilliant. Only one person in the crowd could recognise him. She would never tell a soul.
More marchers were appearing. The merciless punctuality made planning easy. Uli was in control. In thirty-six hours, he would hold a knife to the throat of the world. A few hours after that, the world would embrace him as its saviour.
Two minutes to go. Uli turned in his pocket the old D-mark coin Gustav had given him. The big man believed the euro currency had debased the fatherland. Uli was indifferent to Germany and the D-mark, but he’d taken the coin. Gustav and Martha were the most reliable killers in his Chaos Team.
He heard a crack of thunder and rain began to fall. Uli stood at the corner of Unter den Linden and waited. He must have line of sight. The demonstrators filled the road, trudging like a column of ants through the indifferent city. Flanking the procession, a handful of policemen sweltered in rain capes. The protesters carried banners: Uli saw something about unemployment. The US President in a sandpit with a missile in each hand. People hated the Americans because they seemed powerful. But sometimes power bred weakness. It only took one man to change history.
Suddenly a squad of trouble-makers in combat boots, their faces masked, started prising up the fist-sized cobblestones which made Berlin a rioter’s dream. Uli’s eyes narrowed. This was not part of the plan. If the police stepped in, the demonstration might be disrupted. Where was she? He scanned the crowd as the first stones flew towards the British embassy.
There. The trim figure looked out of place in the sullen mob. Her back was straight, her gaze fierce. And she was meant to be invisible. Uli cursed silently. He had thought she could work with him. He had been wrong. If any more proof were needed, this botched surveillance was it. Now to turn a problem into a solution.
The day-bag on the woman’s shoulder was fitted with a pinhole-lens video surveillance camera and two spare batteries weighing six hundred and fifty grams in total. It also contained, Uli knew, a half-litre bottle of Evian water which, when full, had weighed a further five hundred grams. By contrast, the military-grade C4 plastic explosive and radio-controlled detonator sewn into the lining of the bag weighed less than one hundred grams in total. It was a tiny bomb, but more than adequate to do the job. It lay directly against the target’s upper body.
At that moment, the woman saw him. She looked puzzled. Now was the time. It would be better if she were closer to the embassy. But that was a secondary objective. Uli put his other hand in his pocket, closed the contact, and stepped around the corner into Pariser Platz.
The sound of the explosion in the narrow street was immense. A long moment of silence followed. Then the screaming started.
Uli Wenger had just killed two birds with one stone.
Jason Short ran across the ambassador’s office and stood over Leonard Lennox.
‘Are you all right, sir?’
‘Of course he’s not all right,’ Helen said. ‘We must stop the bleeding.’ She grabbed a cloth from under a vase of flowers on a side-table, folded it, and pressed it against the wound.
‘Can you hold that in place?’
The ambassador nodded. ‘Yes.’
Helen dialled a number. ‘Ram? The ambo’s injured. Come quickly.’
‘It wasn’t a big bomb.’ Sir Leonard Lennox spoke slowly. ‘The bandit glass is intact. Maybe a bit of shrapnel hit me.’
A small bomb. She saw at once the ambassador was right. They wouldn’t be standing here if a car bomb had exploded. Yet who would attack a building using a hand-carried bomb in the street outside? It made no sense. And what about the protest?
‘My God,’ she said. ‘The demonstrators!’
‘At least they’ve stopped throwing stones.’ Short smirked.
‘We must evacuate the building,’ Helen said. ‘And call London. Can you phone them?’
Short nodded. ‘Of course.’
Ram Kuresh bustled into the room, a red plastic medical kit in his hand. He looked at the ambassador, then at Short hovering over him.
‘Out of the way, Mr Short,’ he said. ‘This is a job for trained hands.’ The first-aider radiated calm. He turned to the ambassador. ‘You poor thing. Let me look at that.’
The Tannoy crackled into life. ‘This is Eric Taylor, chief security officer. A bomb has exploded outside the embassy. Please leave the building and assemble in the courtyard.’
‘Probably a bomb there too, primed to go off in five minutes.’ The colour had returned to Short’s cheeks. He straightened his silk tie. ‘What does Helen think? Our Post Security Officer? Should we go out?’
Helen breathed deeply. She’d always been fond of Balfour’s dictum that nothing mattered very much and few things mattered at all. But this was different.
‘The courtyard is secure,’ she said. ‘Eric knows best.’ She turned to Ram. ‘What’s happening in the annex?’
‘Our rooms are clear.’ Ram continued to fuss over bandages. ‘A few people stopped to put their papers away, I’m afraid.’ The SIS office, of which he was the only avowedly gay member, was in a self-contained suite of rooms behind an old-fashioned Cambridge door. To ask the spooks to leave their papers out would be like telling the Pope to skip mass.
‘Will the ambassador make it down the stairs?’
‘He will. With luck, it is only a flesh wound, but we must get it checked. And heads bleed like crazy.’
Helen looked at Short, who had not moved. ‘Are you calling London?’
‘Helen. Try to stay calm.’ Short took out a phone and peered at the screen as if trying to recall its purpose. ‘I’m taking care of it.’
Leaving Short to report the bomb made Helen uneasy. But she could not take the job back. She left the room and descended the grand staircase to the exit.
The courtyard of the embassy was a grey granite chasm used as a turning circle for visiting vehicles. Now it was filled with bedraggled embassy staff, clustered around floor wardens in the rain. Helen moved among them, checking everyone was accounted for.
Her phone rang.
‘Helen. Blore here. Are you all OK?’
‘Yes, all good thanks. But wide awake. Did you hear it?’
‘Loud and clear.’ The US embassy, where Blore Harl worked, was around the corner. ‘I guess this confirms the warnings.’ He meant the secret intelligence they had both seen.
‘But a crowded street is a soft target,’ Helen said. ‘No-one’s allowed within half a mile of the Reichstag.’
‘Washington won’t like it.’
‘Let’s hope they cancel the bloody Children’s Summit.’ Helen wiped rain off her face. ‘Do you think it’s even possible to invest more effort for less results?’
‘Said a British embassy spokeswoman.’
‘Don’t get me started.’
‘I guess the Secret Service will decide,’ the American said. ‘Hey, I’ll get out your hair. See you on the security tour tomorrow.’
Helen rang off and moved towards the street. Something was nagging her. What had she been about to do when the bomb went off? Phone Dieter. The thought filled her with foreboding. But she had to call him.
The deputy head of the Summit Security Unit was expecting her.
‘I suppose this means you want even more security for the Reichstag?’ When Dieter Kremp was angry, his German sounded more clipped, more official.
‘I’m fine, Dieter, thanks for asking. No-one seriously injured.’
He ignored her. ‘For months, you and your American friends have been trying to frighten us with warnings about terrorists. Now there is a bomb. You must be happy.’
‘Can you send someone over? The Wilhelmstrasse’s a mess.’
‘Police, medics and a forensic team should all be there. And someone from the SSU. Are they not?’
‘I don’t know. I’m in the embassy.’
‘Who is the embassy contact point?’
Helen thought for a moment. ‘Better be me. Jason likes everything to go through him. But this is important.’
‘Is he still driving you insane?’
‘If he would lay off me, I could ignore him. But he’s obsessed with Bangkok.’
‘I, too am obsessed. Are you free tonight?’
The change of tack caught Helen off guard. ‘No idea. It’s the first time we’ve had a bomb the day before a summit.’ She grinned in the darkness. ‘But I have wine in the fridge.’
‘When will you be home?’
‘God knows. Ten. Maybe eleven.’
‘Sweet dreams.’ Dieter rang off.
Helen saw Eric Taylor looming out of the rain. The locally-engaged ex-squaddie was elderly, with a refreshing indifference to hierarchies. He held up a hand.
‘Hold it, Helen. Where are you going?’
‘The street. People may be injured.’
‘There’s a few down, aye.’ Eric inclined his close-cropped head towards her. ‘All on the other side of the road. Bloody odd way to blow up an embassy.’
Eric bent his head closer still. ‘They can’t get past the security bollards.’
‘I’ve done a first-aid course.’ Helen moved towards the entrance. ‘Maybe I could help.’
‘Do you think it’s safe to go out?’
‘We can’t just watch. Will you open the gate?’
‘What if I won’t?’
‘I’ll climb over the top. It’ll look weird on the evening news.’
‘OK.’ The security officer nodded. ‘But I’m shutting it behind you.’
The front guard desk, with its reinforced concrete pedestal and 35-millimetre bullet-resistant glass, was undamaged. Helen waited as Eric opened the ram-resistant steel gates enough for her to step through, then heard them slam shut behind her.
Outside was bedlam. Officers of the Bundespolizei, the Federal Police, were sealing off the street, submachine guns slung over their shoulders. A host of ambulances, police cars and fire engines had congregated beyond the traffic control bollards. Teams of orange-jacketed paramedics were clustered around the epicentre of the blast. A film crew from Wild TV had penetrated the cordon and was pointing a camera at a victim on a stretcher. A man in the charcoal-grey uniform of the Summit Security Unit stood talking on the phone.
Helen crossed the road towards the TV crew. They were filming a boy no more than five or six years old. She flashed on Nigel’s plea to start a family. The boy’s face was white with shock. A medic was bandaging his leg. Helen crouched down alongside him.
‘My knee hurts,’ the boy said.
‘The doctor will help you.’ She hoped it was true.
‘I am thirsty.’ His voice cracked. ‘Something to drink.’
The film crew seemed oblivious to what the boy was saying. The medic had his hands full of dressings. Helen rose.
‘I’ll fetch water,’ she said. ‘Hold on.’
She ran back to the embassy. Inside, Eric Taylor saw her and opened the gate.
‘Water,’ Helen said. ‘Quickly.’
‘In the back, love.’ The security officer jerked his thumb over his shoulder. ‘Glasses in the top cupboard.’
She had never before seen the kitchenette which led off the security booth. It seemed to take ages to find a glass, fill it with water at the sink, and carry it outside. By the time she stepped back onto the street, two paramedics were lifting the child’s stretcher. Helen moved closer, conscious of the water slopping onto the ground. As they carried the boy away, she heard someone say something about the bollards blocking access to the wounded.
A team of policemen was setting up a plastic awning to keep the rain off the site of the explosion. One of them approached Helen.
‘I saw you come out of the embassy. Please go back inside.’
‘Of course.’ Helen replied in German with an exaggerated English accent. She did not move, but looked up at the ambassador’s office, a pale-blue shard of steel and glass protruding from the sandstone cladding of the embassy. ‘Why do you think they set the bomb off on this side of the street?’
‘No idea,’ the policeman said.
‘But look. The walls of the embassy are solid concrete. What could they hope to achieve?’
‘Maybe they weren’t attacking the embassy,’ the policeman said. ‘Are you going now?’
‘Yes,’ Helen said. ‘I’m going. And thanks for your help. I think you just said something important.’
She turned and crossed the road to the embassy gates.
As he ran towards the Summit Security Unit command bunker, Dieter Kremp was reminded with a jolt how much he hated the logo for the Children’s Summit. A Berlin bear on its back, for Christ’s sake, balancing a cute kid on each of its sharp-clawed paws. The bear was grinning playfully – hungrily, more like – as it performed this unnatural act.
Dieter scowled. The politicians claimed that the package of economic reforms the Summit would agree was so revolutionary it would transform the lives not only of today’s children but of their children, too. That was why a hundred kids from across the world had been invited to attend the opening ceremony. Dieter didn’t care about that. But he hated the fact that one of the two-metre-high bears-with-children had been stuck to the steel plates which formed the perimeter of the Safety Zone. It made him curse each time he entered the Bunker: a mess on the metal, like bird-shit on a Porsche.
Dieter placed his eye to the retina scanner and the door slid open, releasing a chill blast of air. He could tolerate the stupid logo. Helen Gale was harder. Half the time he wanted to kill the blonde Englishwoman. The rest of the time he wanted to screw her. Either way, she drove him crazy.
The Bunker was nearly empty. That was part of Johann Frost’s security concept: SSU staff should be on the ground, not at desks. Inside was just one officer.
Katia Vonhof was monitoring the main security console. With her unkempt mane of black, shoulder-length hair and gaunt features, Katia barely registered with Dieter as a woman. But her mastery of computers and video surveillance technology was awesome. Where did Johann find these people?
Yet again, Dieter was filled with admiration for the charismatic boss of the Summit Security Unit. The name of Johann Frost was little known outside the counter-terrorism community. When he had first been appointed, senior figures in the police and military had questioned whether someone raised in what had been East Germany would have the qualities and connections for such a vital mission. Johann had confounded them all by filling the SSU with the best counter-terrorism specialists the country had to offer.
It had been Johann’s idea to extend the trawl for the twenty-four members of the new Summit Security Unit beyond GSG 9, the elite anti-terrorist squad in which both he and Dieter had been trained. The SSU chief had spent months travelling around Germany, selecting recruits from regional police forces, army formations, and even the Ministry of the Interior. Then, bringing to bear extraordinary leadership, he had melded the disparate elements of the unit into a team the equal of anything in Europe or beyond. In exchange training, members of the SSU nominated by Johann had held their own with the best the US Delta Force and the British SAS had to offer. Two of them, the brothers Lukas and Philipp Klein from Mainz, had finished top in the sniping competition at Fort Bragg. Dieter looked at Katia Vonhof. If there had been a surveillance technology event in North Carolina she would have won it blindfold.
‘Who is at the British Embassy?’ he asked her.
‘Johann has gone there.’ The young SSU officer did not look round, but continued to scan the images on her bank of monitors.
‘He went himself?’
Dieter sat down at one of the desks which ringed the room and keyed in his code. No-one had a dedicated terminal in the Bunker, any more than they had a single script to follow in the event of an emergency. Flexibility was the key. Flexibility, and vision. It had been Johann Frost’s vision to train a cadre so small, and so expert, that they could deliver security which was omnipresent yet invisible. Once the delegations entered the Safety Zone, the only armed forces on the ground would be the SSU team.
Almost. That was where the trouble had started. Within hours of the German government circulating the security concept for the Children’s Summit, the US Secret Service had stated that if they could not assign their own armed agents to protect the President inside the Reichstag, the President would not attend. End of discussion.
Dieter called it an insult to Germany; to the Summit Security Unit; to Johann Frost. But the Federal Chancellor had rolled right over. It was more important that the President attended the Summit than that Johann, the man responsible for security, could run his own show. Both Johann and Dieter had tendered their resignations. But when Interior Minister Tilo Pollex had called personally to ask them to stay on, the leader and deputy leader of the SSU had swallowed their pride.
Once they had got their way with the Secret Service agents, the Americans had started pushing everyone around. The next battleground had been the Threat Assessment Committee. That was where Dieter had first met Helen Gale.
Threat assessment was part of the planning for all international gatherings. The idea was to pool intelligence of possible dangers from terrorism and civil disturbance and assess the implications for security. It was meant to be a routine round of meetings and paperwork. Johann had delegated the job to Dieter without hesitating. But the Committee had become a nightmare.
The British alone had sent two representatives each from the Secret Intelligence Service and the Security Service, plus a bluff policeman with rolled-up sleeves from Scotland Yard’s counter-terrorist unit who’d looked as if he would happily kill with his bare hands any terrorists he might come across. This herd of experts had been corralled by the sixth member of the delegation: a freckled blonde in a short skirt from the British embassy in Berlin. Dieter had assumed Helen Gale to be someone’s secretary. Only later had he realised the magnitude of his mistake.
The French, Russian, Italian, Canadian and Japanese delegations were as bloated as the British team. But the Americans had sent three times as many: CIA, FBI, NSA, Department of Homeland Security, Secret Service – the list seemed endless. Sometimes Dieter wondered if terror groups measured their success not in how many people they killed, but in how many experts were siphoned off onto the futile treadmill that was counter-terrorism. By that measure, the terrorists had already won.
The telephone rang.
‘Johann here. Anything new on the embassy bombing? I am there now.’
Dieter glanced at his monitor. ‘No-one has claimed it.’
‘Call me if they do. I am talking to the forensic people: if we can ID the bomb, we can ID the bomb-maker. Can you send back-up? ‘
‘Only Katia is here.’
‘What about Petra? She should be finished at the US embassy by now.’
‘I haven’t seen her.’ Dieter checked the duty log. Johann was right, as usual. SSU officer Petra Bleibtreu had been running through sniper positions with the Secret Service. But her meeting had been due to finish an hour ago.
‘Maybe the Americans wanted more information,’ Johann said.
‘They do not ask for much, the Amis.’
Johann grunted. ‘Especially not the Secret Service. A pleasure to work with.’
‘How does it look in the Wilhelmstrasse?’ Dieter said. ‘The British say they have casualties.’
‘I cannot move for ambulances.’
‘Good. Will you update the Interior Ministry?’
‘Sounds bureaucratic. You do it.’ Johann rang off.
Dieter returned to his computer screen. Reuters were reporting that the police had rounded up a selection of prominent Islamists. As if the bombers would be sitting around at home. At least the Berlin cops could act without consulting the Threat Assessment Committee first.
If the size of the Committee seemed cumbersome, the meetings were unmanageable. The first few sessions had adopted a table-round format, each delegation vying to show that it knew more about the threats facing the Summit than anyone else. But it soon became clear that when it came to compiling blood-curdling intelligence, the Anglo-Saxons were in a league of their own.
Everyone knew that Washington and London devoted a grotesque proportion of their gross national product to amassing secrets. Some information came from actual human beings. But most came from electronic eavesdropping: by the National Security Agency on the part of the US, and by the Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ, on behalf of the British. Dieter had never heard anything like it. By the time he had sat through the first recitation of the threats which the CIA and SIS believed hung over the Summit, he found it hard to imagine that a single aggrieved individual, much less any terrorist group, could have been left off the list.
The result was that Dieter Kremp and the German staff of the Summit Security Unit found themselves engulfed in a tidal wave of advice on how to do their job. If one security airlock controlled access to the Reichstag, it should be two; if two, four. If SSU officers planned to wear body armour, had they considered the latest Kevlar products? And had the German authorities thought of adding a second ring of barriers around the Reichstag to deter suicide bombers? At the third meeting of the committee, Dieter announced straight-faced that Berlin had decided to retrofit the city’s entire fleet of police BMW saloons with Chobham composite armour at a cost of one million euro per vehicle. Only one person had smiled at his joke. Helen Gale.
It was the British diplomat’s intellect and unpredictability which made her so formidable. At some meetings she barely spoke, but doodled on a pad or gazed at her laptop as if she didn’t give a damn what the meeting decided. Other times, she would suddenly raise some intercepted phone call by terrorist group X, and ask how Dieter proposed to respond. That was always it. How he proposed to respond.
Whatever the threat might be, you could be sure this was the first Dieter had heard of it. And you could be certain that the entire 20-strong CIA contingent would speak right out in support of Helen Gale. Then the British and Americans would refuse to accept any response which didn’t increase security for the Summit. It became a joke in Berlin: if any more fortifications were added, the entire Reichstag would sink into the sandy subsoil.
Until three months ago, Dieter Kremp had viewed Helen Gale as more of a threat to the Summit’s success than any possible combination of terrorists.
Then Paris had happened. Helen Gale’s spook pals had let their distinguished Foreign Secretary step into a car outside their Paris embassy; allowed the ambassador, a security man and a driver to get in with him; surrounded the vehicle with diplomats; then covered their ears as four kilograms of what the French called le plastique ripped seven people to pieces. Thirty more had been hospitalised, many of them hit by flying debris. These were the experts telling the SSU how to run the Summit.
It would be too much to say that when the Threat Assessment Committee met the day after Paris, Helen Gale had been transformed. But for the first time, Dieter had seen her self-possession slip to reveal a hint of – what? Loneliness? Loss? Whatever it was, that glimpse of vulnerability had triggered in him a rush of desire. Was it possible that a dazzling, Cambridge-educated diplomat might be within reach of the son of a metal-worker from the Ruhr?
Dieter Kremp always made decisions quickly. After the meeting, he had taken Helen Gale to one side and asked her out for a drink. He had been surprised when she had accepted; and astonished when, after a meal, a club and more cocktails than he could count, she invited him back to her flat in the Voxstrasse. That night she had seemed desperate to have him. Maybe the bomb in Paris had shaken her; she had been willing to do anything that first night. Almost anything. She was passionate yet controlled; serious, but with flashes of deadpan humour; wild, yet determined to set the rules. That was a challenge: Dieter had never met a woman he could not dominate. Well, there was always time. The British embassy in Berlin had just been blown up, the day before the Summit
That was a tragedy. But for Dieter Kremp, it might be an opportunity. Would Helen Gale feel vulnerable tonight? It would be wrong to let a chance like this go by.
Helen watched Sir Leonard Lennox grow angry. It was a rare, but frightening sight. Even when the ambassador was calm, his rugged features tended to darken in response to obstacles or unreason. Now, the combination of brilliant white bandages and a choleric outburst made his face look black with rage.
‘They say what?‘
Basil Nutter grimaced, glanced around the conference table and said nothing. Decades of experience in the back rooms of embassies from Abidjan to Yerevan had left the wizened but career-challenged diplomat equipped with two convictions. The first was that the key to a contented life was to avoid drawing attention to yourself. The second was that efforts by governments to influence the media were at best pointless and in most cases counter-productive. Basil was arguably, therefore, ill-fitted to the job of embassy press officer. He seemed physically to have shrunk as the Summit loomed. This morning’s blast had left his brow, and his suit, more deeply creased than ever.
Helen had been thinking of the injured child in the street. She saw Basil’s plight and intervened.
‘Ambassador,’ she said. ‘You need a cigarette. Possibly two.’
‘First sensible idea I’ve heard all day.’ A lighter and a packet of Benson and Hedges were in the ambassador’s big hands in an instant. ‘And before you say anything, Jason, this is an emergency. Since the windows have been blown out by a terrorist bomb, we’re technically outside anyway.’
Jason Short said nothing, but looked at the overwhelmingly intact windows and pursed his lips.
The ambassador lit a cigarette, blew a stream of smoke towards the ceiling, and turned to Basil.
‘Tell me about this story.’
‘It’s on Wild TV,’ Basil said. ‘The demonstrators are blaming us for the blast.’
‘Bollocks.’ The ambassador was calmer already. ‘Do they think we blew up our own embassy?’
‘Uktam Zholobov has issued a statement supporting them.’
‘We can ignore Zholobov,’ Leonard Lennox said. ‘If he wants to influence the Summit, he should come and join in. God knows, the Russian government have invited him enough times.’
‘He won’t sit at the same table.’ Helen shook her head. ‘He says they want to destroy his dodgy energy empire.’
‘He’s probably right.’ The ambassador turned to Basil Nutter. ‘What are the demonstrators saying?’
‘They claim the embassy had an intelligence warning that a terrorist attack was imminent. But that we didn’t warn the organisers of the march.’
‘How the hell did they know about the intelligence?’ Short glared at Helen. ‘I suppose you told your pal Dieter Kremp.’
Helen sighed, and typed on her laptop the words KILL JASON.
‘It is my job to exchange intelligence with the Germans and other partners in the Threat Assessment Committee,’ she said. ‘There have been dozens of reports about attacks on the Summit. But no references to British targets.’
‘Did anyone tell the protesters about these warnings?’ Short said.
‘Well,’ Helen blinked. ‘It would look a bit odd if this embassy started putting out terror warnings to the German public. I’m not sure the German government would thank us.’
‘British embassy says, “Not our problem”,’ Short said. ‘That should calm things down.’
‘Hold it.’ The ambassador held up his hand. ‘Wild TV are always desperate for scoops. But are they talking out of their arses here? Or could someone really make a case against this embassy for not giving intelligence to the general public?’ He looked round the table. ‘Helen. You were in the Cabinet Office assessments staff, weren’t you? You must have seen a bit of secret intelligence.’
‘More than I ever want to see again.’ On Helen’s laptop, a fractal pattern was engulfing the screen. ‘That’s the trouble. Every day, intelligence services sift through millions of pieces of data. For every incident, there are a thousand false alarms. It’s hard to know when to publicise a threat.’
Short shook his head. ‘I don’t see how it’s our fault if someone blows themselves up outside our embassy.’
Helen ignored him. ‘The famous case was in 1988, when someone called the American embassy in Helsinki to say a Pan Am flight from Frankfurt to the US would be blown up in the next two weeks by the Abu Nidhal terrorist organisation. It was an unusually specific threat, so the US aviation authorities issued a warning. But not everyone heard about it. Two weeks later, Pan Am Flight 103 blew up over Lockerbie.’
‘I thought the Libyans blew up Pan Am 103,’ the ambassador said.
‘That was what the courts decided. They said the phone call was probably a hoax. There are always cranks posting bogus warnings that London or New York is about to be attacked with anthrax or bubonic plague. The families of Pan Am 103 couldn’t sue the bombers, because they didn’t know who they were. Instead, they sued Pan Am. Some people argued the US government was responsible for not publishing the Helsinki warning, or that the CIA were negligent for letting terrorists put a bomb on the plane.’
‘But you said there hadn’t been any warnings about attacks on the embassy,’ the ambassador said.
‘No. But there have been threats to the Summit, and we’re a member of the G8.’ Helen shrugged. ‘If someone wanted to play the blame game, they could point at us.’
‘Um, there is another problem,’ Basil said.
‘Let’s hear it.’ The ambassador lit a second cigarette.
‘Wild TV say the embassy’s security bollards prevented ambulance crews reaching the injured, and may have caused the death of the demonstrator.’ The press officer’s anxiety had transformed his expression into a fixed grin. ‘What with this and the intelligence story, the press may decide to bury us in ordure.’
‘What are the casualty figures?’ the ambassador said.
‘Twelve injured and one dead,’ Helen said. ‘But no way the delay caused the death. The dead woman was literally blown to pieces.’
‘Don’t we know who she is?’ Short said.
‘It’s a mystery. None of the demonstrators has identified the body. The police think it may have been a suicide bomber.’
‘A suicide bomber with a very tiny bomb,’ Short said. All the men laughed.
Helen took a deep breath. It was true she had spent two years in the Cabinet Office assessments staff in London. Her job there had been to spot connections where others saw confusion. What had the policeman in the street said? She pressed her lips together and felt blood course through them.
‘How do we know the bomb was aimed at us?’ she said.
Short shook his head. ‘London agree that this was an attack on the embassy.’
‘You told London we’d been attacked,’ Helen said. ‘That’s how assumptions become facts. But how did you know we were the target?’
The ambassador said nothing, but put one hand up to the bandages on his head. Jason Short laughed again.
Helen forged on. ‘In Paris, the bomb targeted the Foreign Secretary. He died, with six other people, four of them ours. Today, not one of the dead or seriously injured – without wanting to belittle your wounds, ambassador – was in the embassy. Doesn’t that strike you as odd?’
‘So, to summarise,’ Short said, ‘the ambassador has been injured by a terrorist bomb. The demonstrators blame us for not warning them, and for stopping help from reaching them afterwards. And Helen has a theory that the explosion outside the building had no connection to the embassy.’ He paused for effect. ‘What we need to decide is what to do next.’
Helen closed her laptop. No-one was listening. Time for Plan B.
‘We should go on the offensive,’ she said. ‘Show we care about the people who have been injured, rather than skulk indoors looking furtive. We do care about the protesters, don’t we?’
‘We do,’ Leonard Lennox said.
‘Then let’s show it.’
‘That could be the second sensible idea I’ve heard today.’ The ambassador lit another cigarette. ‘Tell me more.’
The flag car was a Mercedes. Helen was used to seeing the British diplomatic pennant fluttering alongside the three-pointed star. But Sir Leonard Lennox was from a different generation.
‘I know the Indians have Jaguar, and BMW’s making Rolls Royces,’ he muttered as the fat tyres bulged under the weight of the armour-plating. ‘But a black Merc. Where’s the fun in that?’
‘The Rolls was black, the Merc is black. What’s the difference?’ Helen said.
Leonard Lennox shook his head. ‘Sometimes, Helen, I don’t know whether you’re joking or not.’
Helen gazed out of the window. The guard outside the embassy had been augmented by heavily armed officers of the Bundespolizei, the Federal Police, in their dark-blue uniforms. A crowd of protesters had gathered by the bollards. A news crew from Wild TV stood recording it all. She shivered. The air-conditioning in the car was fierce after the damp heat outside.
She hoped there would be cameras at the hospital, for Basil’s sake. The press officer had been tearing around shouting into his phone as Ram Kuresh wrapped fresh bandages around the head of Leonard Lennox.
‘You’ve got to make people feel sorry for him without making him look pathetic,’ the shambolically-suited press man had urged between calls. ‘Think ambassadorial.’
‘Do not worry,’ Ram had said. ‘I am thinking maharajah.’
Basil was still calling press contacts when they reached the hospital. The main entrance was a futuristic modern portico tacked onto the front of a 1960s East German prefabricated block. The walls on either side were plastered with posters protesting against health-care reform, American military adventurism, and the costs of the Children’s Summit. The rain had stopped and the pavements were steaming in the sunshine.
‘I can’t see any news crews.’ The ambassador’s face was darkening again.
‘Perhaps they’re inside,’ Basil said.
‘Let us hope so.’
But when they entered the building, they saw only a clutter of hospital trolleys, outpatients and listless visitors. There was not a TV camera in sight.
The ambassador seemed inclined to make the best of things. ‘Sod it,’ he said. ‘We can still talk to some poor injured buggers.’ And like an auto-homing missile he was off, eyes bright with empathy, looking for a bed to stand by. Helen watched Basil tail him, tape recorder at the ready.
They had been walking for several minutes when she saw through a doorway a huddle of camera crews. Yes! They were all there: RBB, ARD, Wild TV again. At last. The audience the ambassador needed. She turned off to check it out.
The ward was quiet. Several beds were occupied by sedated bomb victims. Helen looked round for the injured boy. The hush lent the place a chill air. Then she saw him. Clad in a grey surgical gown on a bed surrounded by TV crews, the child looked more pitiful than ever. A tent of raised sheets covered the lower part of his body. A woman in a green pullover with a bandage on her forehead sat holding his hand.
Helen felt a surge of emotion. Her own concerns seemed irrelevant next to the grief of a mother for her child. She stepped closer. The boy seemed to be asleep.
Someone was talking. Helen saw a woman being interviewed among the TV cameras. It took her a moment to tune in to what she was saying.
‘…because his life has become a tragedy. Because it could have been prevented. And because responsibility is clear. Thank you.’
The knot of people loosened. Now to recruit some media interest for the ambassador. Helen tapped one of the cameramen on the shoulder.
‘Hi, I’m from the British embassy. Do you think your people would – ‘
The man reacted unexpectedly. Ignoring Helen, he turned towards the clump of journalists. ‘Guess what? She’s from the embassy.’
There was a stir. ‘The British embassy?’ A man’s voice. ‘Unbelievable.’ He sounded delighted.
‘Believe it.’ Helen smiled. A TV camera turned towards her, the recording light on. She sensed danger. A second lens turned her way, then a third, the cameras closing in.
The woman who had been interviewed turned to Helen. She was short, with big breasts and hips and straight dark hair down to her shoulders. She was dressed entirely in black: dense trousers, a long-sleeved army-surplus shirt tucked into a belt, and glasses with thick rectangular frames. At first sight, she projected an impression of immense severity. But behind the lenses her eyes were constantly moving.
‘You bastards have a nerve.’ The woman in black spat the words out.
Helen stood up straight. ‘What did you say?’
‘You are from the British embassy, is that right? You work for the British government?’
‘Yes, we – ‘
‘How does it feel?’ The woman’s voice rose a tone. ‘To have caused so much suffering?’
Helen licked her lips and nodded, to show she was listening. Was this being transmitted live? ‘Sorry. I don’t quite understand.’
‘Look at this child. Does that make you feel good?’
‘I feel pity for him.’
‘Do not play games. You are not sorry. Do you even know who he is? Have you taken the trouble to find out?’
‘I only just arrived at the hospital.’ Helen looked at the bed. Perhaps the boy would wake up and explain how Helen had tried to help him. But his eyes stayed closed.
‘Of course. An exercise in public relations.’ The woman used the English words. ‘Well, his mother says he just learned to ride a bicycle. He won’t be riding it anytime soon.’
‘I hope he recovers quickly.’
‘I bet you do. Because we are suing the British embassy for damages of fifty million euro, on behalf of the victims of today’s crime. Perhaps paying that will make you sorry.’
The TV cameras were still on. The woman in the rectangular glasses was breathing quickly and seemed unsteady on her feet. Was she nervous? Her arms were close to her sides.
‘I hope you’re not suggesting that the embassy is responsible for the bomb which exploded today,’ Helen said. ‘That would be crazy.’
‘Let us talk about what is and is not crazy. Do you deny that security barriers to protect British diplomats delayed ambulances from reaching victims of the bomb? Do you deny that the officer responsible for security in the embassy, Helen Gale, received intelligence warnings of a terrorist attack on a G8 target in Berlin? Do you deny that the embassy did nothing to warn the peaceful protesters outside?’
How did she know so much? ‘We don’t comment on intelligence matters.’
‘Perhaps you will have more to say when this comes to court.’ The woman paused, as if about to continue, then stopped. She took off her glasses and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. ‘OK, that is enough.’ She turned away.
Helen saw the lights on the cameras go out. She reached for the woman’s shoulder.
‘What’s this about suing the embassy?’
The woman spun round, shrinking from Helen’s touch. ‘Hands off.’ Without her glasses, she looked vulnerable and exposed.
Helen stepped back. ‘I’m sorry, I just – ‘
‘What do you want?’
‘Who are you?’
‘None of your business.’ The woman turned to go.
Helen lowered her voice. ‘I’m not your enemy, you know. I hate all this as much as you do.’
The woman turned back. She looked at Helen as if seeing her for the first time. ‘My name is Sabine Wolf. I work as a trauma counsellor for the Victims’ Legal Support Group. I try to repair the harm which the powerful do to the powerless. And you are wrong. You are my enemy.’
‘We should be fighting whoever did this, not each other.’
‘Your government did this. You did this.’
‘No.’ Helen glanced at the sleeping boy, and held out her card. ‘We’re on the same side.’
The woman studied the card. ‘You are Helen Gale. Strange. Well, I don’t need this.’ She took the crisp white rectangle and tore it in two. ‘And I don’t need any fake sympathy. All I want is your money.’ Sabine Wolf replaced her glasses and with them a brisker, business persona. ‘You understand you are the respondent in the case. The person we are saying is responsible for these injuries. The Victims’ Legal Support Group is suing you, Helen Gale, personally for fifty million euro. You had better start saving.’
One day, Uli Wenger thought, he would be tagged. If he lived that long. The technology existed: the state would inject a chip into each citizen and track them by satellite. If Uli were in charge, he would have people tagged tomorrow. He would want to know where everyone was, so he could torment them as they had tormented him.
But for now, there were no tags. That was good. Otherwise, what he planned for tomorrow would be impossible. The insects had saved him. The insects hated change. They liked their old-fashioned ID cards, which could be forged and bought and fixed. They did not want the government to know where they were. So Uli could stay what he wanted to be. Someone who officially did not exist.
On the path through the Grunewald forest he stopped in the shade of a tree and waited ten minutes. The man he was seeing today troubled him. Last time they had met, in an old Prussian fort in the west of the city, Ivan had tracked Uli all the way to the rendezvous point. Uli had seen nothing. That would not happen again.
He felt sweat prickle on his back. The afternoon was close and still. Every cop in Berlin was at the Reichstag, or the British embassy. The woods were quiet. Not even a snake could move silently amongst the twigs and leaves. Not even Ivan, surely. Uli listened, then resumed the gentle climb.
It was a shame he could not meet the man who was paying for all this. Herr Kraft, Uli called him, Mr Power. Uli thought he knew who it was. But for such a man to meet Uli Wenger was impossible. A personality, meeting an un-person. And so, today, Uli would meet another un-person. His name could not really be Ivan. That was too Russian, too generic. Somewhere nearby, he would be waiting, checking for the all-clear, like Uli. Ivan didn’t trust anyone either.
At a clearing, Uli stepped off the path, settled on a fallen log, and sat so still that after a few seconds a sparrow was within a metre of him, fussing among the leaves. He needed no book or newspaper to pass the time: he was content to stare ahead, eyes blank, mind roaming. Now he was watching them hurt Mouse and planning how he would strike back. Then, after he had rescued her, she had lain there in the bath-tub with her pale, perfect skin, eyes closed, so beautiful. Still, and silent. The water so red.
It took all his self-control not to move. Someone had spoken right in front of him. Yet he had seen nothing. Heard nothing.
‘Hello there.’ He glanced at the bushes by the path. No-one.
Ivan peered round the trunk of the tree behind which he was sitting, hidden from sight. ‘Hi. Good to see you again.’ His smile was so regular, his hair so blond, his back so straight, it gave Uli the creeps. He looked like a cop, or one of those perfect workers from the old socialist realism murals in East Berlin. Today it was the off-duty look: trainers, sweatshirt and jeans, dull colours for the June forest. No need to get excited. There were no Russian cops in Berlin these days. And not many cops gave you money to kill people.
The Russian walked towards him. Uli kept his hand in his coat pocket, as if he might have a weapon. The pocket was empty, of course. The cops would never search Uli. But if they did, they would always find him clean.
Ivan sat down next to Uli. Like a walker stopping to consult a map. He paused, listening perhaps, then pulled from his inside pocket a newspaper, the Süddeutsche Zeitung, folded to a certain page. Ivan was a professional too. Nothing to attract attention if he were stopped. The Russian spread the page out on his knee and pointed to eight faces among a panel of photographs, a group of men and women.
‘One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight.’
Uli looked at the faces. He recognised them all. He cared about none of them. He turned to Ivan. ‘Is that it?’
‘A personal request. No Russians.’
‘I cannot promise anything. We are not talking about a surgical strike.’
The Russian folded his newspaper. ‘Do what I say. I know who you are.’
You cannot conceive of who I am. ‘Some of my people hate Russians.’
‘You will answer for them.’ Ivan nodded. ‘Do you have something for me?’
‘Yes. Usual place.’ Uli did not need to say out loud the latest security reports for the Children’s Summit, sanitised as usual.
‘Your sources are good.’
‘Yes.’ Uli did not bother to smile.
‘Enjoy your walk.’ The Russian rose to go. ‘You remember? One to eight?’
‘No problem.’ Uli stood too. Nothing had changed hands: anything they needed physically to transfer passed through a series of left-luggage lockers at the Berlin Central Station. Not an incriminating word had been spoken: like Uli, the Russian was passionate about the threat of technical surveillance. Ivan did not say goodbye, but simply walked away. It was tempting to follow and find out where he went. But Ivan was crafty. And Uli had no time. If he did not return to town soon, others would be wondering where he was. That was a risk he could not take. Not when he stood on the brink of an achievement which would pay back everything. Even Mouse.
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