by Robert Downing
Any similarity to actual persons or events is coincidental.
“Yes, Ma’am, thank you for coming to look at the home. It’s a beautiful home and priced right. I hope you are able to make a decision soon.”
“My husband and I will surely consider it because it’s the nicest one we’ve seen. We will try to call you tonight, Mr. Stevens,” replied Mrs Clarenden, Link’s client for the past hour and a half. Link began gathering up his open house propaganda and sales contracts. Another Sunday spent conducting an open house on one of his listings in an ever-tightening real estate market. Having been a real estate agent for the past four years had allowed Link to become established in the community, but it still took every skill an agent could muster to get a sales contract completed.
The last ten years had seen a tremendous change in professions for Link. Leaving the Air Force in 1967, Link had successfully earned his college degree from the University of Houston, majoring in economics and Russian (a strange combination in itself.) After a stint with Sears, Roebuck, and Company, he branched out on his own and began dabbling in real estate sales, eventually becoming a licensed real estate broker. The new profession had been kind, and he and his family were living comfortably.
His only son, now ten years old, was the joy of his life, but his wife had shocked him a couple of months ago when she revealed she was pregnant again, much to their delight. They had wanted another child, but somehow the magic combination had never worked…until now. They were both excited at the prospect of a new baby in the house.
Bundling up the open house sign and brochures, Link threw them into the back of his 1976 Lincoln Town Car and headed home, looking forward to a quiet evening. After parking his car in his garage, he entered the lower level of his home headed toward the stairs to the upper level living area to greet his wife. As he passed through the family room to head up the stairs, the hallway phone rang.
Link answered, “Hello?”
“Is this the home of Lincoln H. Stevens?” the quiet voice asked.
“Yes, I am Link.”
“Tell me, Mr. Stevens, was your Air Force Identification Number AF18164175?”
“What? Well, yes, it was. Why do you ask?”
The voice continued, “And was your Air Force Specialty Code 20351?”
“It was,” Link guardedly replied.
“Mr. Stevens, is this a secure phone line?”
“Of course, it is not! This is a residential line!” Link had not heard the term “secure line” since he left the Air Force.
“Who is this?” Link continued, “and why are you calling?”
“Mr. Stevens, because this is an unsecured line, there is some information I cannot divulge to you at this time, but please be aware that I represent the United States government, and due to specific experiences you had while in the Air Force Security Service, primarily in Berlin, we have an opportunity for you that we would like for you to consider. You would be doing your country a great service. I would like to discuss it with you at your earliest possible convenient time.”
For a moment, Link was speechless, but his mind raced with a blizzard of flashbacks: the secret surveillances, Russian espionage, East German interrogation techniques, the hours of Russian language intercepting, translating, and processing. Looking back, he was proud of his service but did not want to repeat it. After all, he now had a family, an established job, and a new child on the way.
“Could we possibly meet tomorrow? It is very important,” the voice asked.
“Yes,” Link replied after a brief pause.
“Where could we meet that we would have a bit of privacy?”
“How about Benham’s Restaurant on North Center at noon,” suggested Link.
The voice said, “Fine, we’ll see you then, and thank you, Mr. Stevens. Have a good evening.”
“Wait! How will I know you?” Link questioned.
“That’s OK; we know you. We will meet at noon.” And the phone line went dead.
Although the evening went quietly as planned, Link’s mind continued to race and question. What job could he possibly do after ten years of military inactivity…especially now that he was living far from a military base and thousands of miles from Berlin. He doubted there was a Russian speaker within a 500-mile radius of his home. He finally decided that the job must involve some sort of language translation duties. But he went to sleep that night and dreamed of his 1967 interrogation at the hands of the East Germans, the fake intelligence drops at Breidenbach Platz, and the faceless man who picked up the bogus activity reports and who eventually lost his life.
It was not uncommon for Link to lunch with prospective clients during the week, so there was no surprise from his wife when he told her we would be busy at lunch. The morning went swiftly, and just before noon, he pulled into Brenham’s parking lot. As he walked to the entrance, no one approached him, and upon entering the waiting area, he saw no one who seemed to be looking for him. The hostess queried, “How many, please.”
“I think one more, but he isn’t here yet, so I will wait,” and Link sat down.
Ten minutes passed. No one. Link was about to decide the whole thing was a joke from someone when the hostess approached him and asked, “Excuse me, are you Mr. Stevens?”
“Yes, I am.”
“The person you are waiting for is already seated. Please follow me.”
The hostess led Link through the darkened dining room of Brenham’s to a door which led to a private dining area for smaller groups. In the room were about six tables, but only one was occupied and that by a single person. The man sat quietly, pondering the menu as Link sat down. He said only, “Good day, Mr. Stevens.”
The waitress approached, asked for drink orders, and quietly left. The man asked nonchalantly, “What’s good here?”
“This is the best steakhouse in town. You won’t go wrong with whatever you choose,” Link replied.
“Good, I’m starving for a good ribeye. Order what you want, Mr. Stevens. The U.S. Government is buying your lunch.” And he laughed good-naturedly.
“You can’t beat a good ribeye, so I’ll order what you’re ordering,” replied Link.
The waitress reappeared and in seconds took their identical orders and just as quickly disappeared. The men faced each other. The man Link faced was tall, slender, and slightly balding. Link guessed in his mid-forties. His complexion was rather pale, as if he spent little time in the sun. His suit was immaculately tailored, though, and Link knew he had not bought that suit off the rack. He was wearing a Longine-Wittnaur gold watch, and on his hand sparkled a sizeable diamond ring.
“Mr. Stevens, my name is Gerhardt Schroeder…here’s my government identification…and I am here because the United States government needs your help in a very particular sensitive matter. Please be aware of the following facts and requirements before you agree to participate:
(1) It will require you to travel to Europe, in particular, West Berlin. You will fly by commercial jet, and the whole trip should take no more than four days.
(2) You will be traveling as a civilian, but under the auspices of the United States Air Force Security Service.
(3) You will be travelling into East Berlin, but with civilian identification, under the guise of visiting a German relative of yours.
(4) Absolutely no one here at home must suspect what you are doing. You will need to create a reason to be out of town for four days. Upon return you must tell no one of your actions. If you divulge what you have accomplished, you will be in violation of your security oath, and you will go to jail for a long time.
(5) Because of the nature of your task, you will need to refresh your Top Secret Codeword clearance, but that is being undertaken as we speak.
Mr. Stevens, the United States government is asking you to contribute to the well-being and security of our country. Will you help?”
For a moment there was dead silence. Link thought to himself…what will I tell my wife? What reason can I use to disappear for four days? Plus, he had the nagging feeling that Mr. Schroeder was not telling him everything he wished he could know. Link, however, under it all, was patriotic, and the prospect of serving his country had strong appeal. In a few moments he said, “I’ll do it.”
“Excellent!” said Schroeder. “Can you meet me tomorrow at the Federal Building on Center Street. Come to room 321. Shall we say noon, again?”
“Agreed,” replied Link, and with perfect timing, their ribeyes magically appeared, and for the next thirty minutes they appeared to be simply two old friends chatting amicably over a great lunch.
At 11:59 the next morning, Link walked into the Federal Building and took the elevator to the third floor. Exiting the elevator, he looked for room 321, but the signs showed only 310-320. About that time, the door to room 315 (Federal Land Bureau) opened, and Link saw there was activity inside, so he inquired, “Excuse me, I’m trying to find room 321.”
The secretary looked at him quizzically and replied, “Go past 320 to the end of the hall, turn left, and you will find 321.
“Thank you,” replied Link and began walking. Arriving at 320, he noticed the hallway darkened slightly, but he continued to the end, and then turned left. Walking another thirty feet or so, he came to room 321. He was shocked to see the name of the agency on the door, “National Security Agency.”
The NSA is America’s watchdog. Most of the overt and covert intelligence gathered around the world eventually passes through NSA’s prying eyes for interpretation and dissemination. The NSA has agents around the world working under every branch of government and every military branch as well. Link remembered that even all the intelligence he helped gather in Berlin eventually made it to NSA’s main headquarters in Fort Mead, Maryland.
Walking up to the receptionist, Link say, “Good day, I’m Link Stevens, and I’m here to---”
“Oh, yes, Mr. Stevens, this way, please.” Walking over to a small machine, the receptionist said, “Please place your right hand over the darkened glass; the machine will read your fingerprints.” Link did as ordered.
“Thank you, Mr. Stevens. Please take a seat for just a moment.”
In three minutes, Gerhardt Schroeder appeared and beckoned Link into an office.
“You have been granted an extension of your USAFSS security clearance. If you are still willing to fulfill the mission, the next step is for you to swear the Oath of Allegiance. Are you prepared to do that?
“Please raise your right hand and place your left on this Bible. Repeat after me…”
Link repeated, “I, Lincoln H. Stevens, do solemnly swear to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States, to defend my country against all enemies, both foreign and domestic, and to maintain security of any information I may gather which could aid any potential enemy of the United States. I understand failure to honor this oath will result in personal punishment or imprisonment. I of my own free will affirm this oath, so help me, God.”
“Thank you, Link…may I call you Link? asked Gerhardt. “And you may call me Jerry…most of my friends do. Our paths are going to be closely intertwined for the next few days. Please come into my office.”
Upon entering Schroeder’s office, the first thing that Link noticed were large maps of East Germany and East/West Berlin dominating an entire wall. The rest of the office was relatively sparse. The Berlin map looked especially familiar to Link since he had traveled many of the roads, avenues, and back streets of the Island City. As always, Tempelhof Central Airport, home of the 6914th USAF Security Squadron was instantly noticeable with its nearly mile long arc of a building dominating the map. Memories flooded Link as he reminisced of midnight assignments, back alley rendezvouses, and near escapes.
“Tell me, Link, what can you tell me about an airman named Gary Morton?” asked Schroeder.
“Gary Morton? Oh, yes, I knew Gary. He and I went through basic training at Lackland together, then through Indiana University, on to Goodfellow AFB in San Angelo, and then to Berlin. He was on my Able Flight in Berlin and was probably my best friend. We spent a lot of time together on and off duty until my wife arrived about six months after I was stationed there. Even then, he visited my wife’s and my apartment occasionally. He was a great guy and a good Russian linguist. He was from Milwaukee. While we are both at Indiana, my wife and I even traveled with him to Milwaukee to visit his parents. He extended his duty at the 6914th and I came home after two years. Like a lot of military guys, we promised to keep in touch, but I haven’t heard from him since.”
“Link, do you know where Gary is today?” quietly asked Schroeder.
“As I said, I haven’t heard from him. No, I don’t.”
“Link, six months after you left, Morton defected to the other side…to the Russians.”
The stunning announcement left Link speechless for a few seconds. “What?” he stammered, “That can’t be…not Gary! He was as gung-ho as any guy I knew.”
Schroeder continued, “Shortly after you left, Morton was transferred from intelligence gathering duty to the Intelligence Analysis section on the sixth floor of HBE. It is not uncommon to place an airman into analysis after two years or so out in the field. It generally relieves them of two years of pressure with a less demanding duty. Anyway, Morton seemed to adapt to his analysis duties smoothly and was in line for another stripe on his arm when he simply disappeared. He was on a long change…you remember?...three days off…and never returned to the base. Our search people scoured West Berlin and his usual haunts to no avail. Finding no evidence of foul play, we assumed that he had either been hijacked to the East Side or voluntarily went over the wall, but until now, we’ve had no evidence to go on nor any knowledge of his whereabouts..”
“Until now…” Link quietly said.
“Three weeks ago, Morton was located. He is in East Berlin, not far from Schoenefeld Airport. Through a messenger, he has transmitted his desire to return to the West and give himself up. Apparently, life in the German Democratic Republic is not the bed of roses he expected after the Russians offered him money and luxury to defect. He is in a nondescript apartment receiving a meager pension from the state. My opinion is the Russkies and Vopos drained Morton of any useful military intelligence he possessed and then just stuck him into exile in his little apartment with a warning to stay put. He doesn’t speak German, so he can’t mingle, and the Russians won’t come near him for fear of a KGB response.”
Schroeder continued, “So he wants to get out of East Germany. We have contacted him, but he is spooked to the point that he doesn’t trust anyone, be he German, Russian, of even American. He fears that if his intent to come back home gets out, he will be sent to Siberia or locked up somewhere in limbo and die in exile. He is demanding someone to contact him whom he trusts.”
“Have you found someone who can fill the bill?” asked Link.
“I am looking at him,” pronounced Schroeder.
“Me? You want me to go see Gary?!” exclaimed Link.
“That’s exactly right.” Said Schroeder. “We need someone to go assure Morton that the people you are recommending are dependable, loyal, American agents, dedicated to his safe return to the United States. Once he is assured by you, we will take care of the details for slipping him back over the wall.”
“So what do you want me to do?”
“We will arrange a commercial flight for you from here to Berlin. You will have all the necessary identification papers along with the name of an East German woman who will pose as your great aunt. This woman is living in East Berlin not far from Morton. She has been one of our agents for many years. Should the East Germans attempt to verify your story, she has your name in her family tree Bible as a grandchild of parents who migrated to the United States fifty years ago. She will have a photo of you as a five-year-old in her photo album.
“Once you arrive in West Berlin, you will proceed to the Berlin Hilton where a room will be reserved in your name. You will have the evening to rest. The next morning you will take a taxi to Checkpoint Charlie, be cleared to pass through the wall, and take an East Berlin taxi to 27 Hellensdorferstrausse. Her apartment is number 323. Make sure you greet her enthusiastically; someone may have followed you to confirm where you went, and it needs to appear to be a joyous reunion.
“After about two hours, you and she will walk the short distance to Morton’s apartment. He will be expecting you. You have one task…simply assure him that this extraction operation is totally legitimate, and he will be back in the USA very soon. You must be convincing, and, if you are still friends, he should be convinced.
“Once you have completed your visit, you will go back to your imitation great aunt’s apartment and say your goodbyes, catch a taxi back to the checkpoint, re-inter the Western Sector through Checkpoint Charlie, and hail a cab back to the Berlin Hilton. The next morning, you will fly out of Tegel Airport and eleven hours later, you’ll be back home. By the way, you will be given adequate cash in both East and West German Marks and good old American dollars to cover your expenses. That’s it.”
After only a few seconds, Link asked, “When does all this go down?”
“When can you go?” asked Schroeder.
Link responded, “Just by luck, there is a real estate convention in Denver next week from Thursday through the weekend. I have been considering going. I am not obligated to report on the convention once I return, so it would be relatively easy to make a slight detour to Berlin.”
Schroeder responded enthusiastically, “That’s perfect! I will have a package delivered to your home tomorrow with airline tickets, all the necessary documents, and cash. You just need to get on the plane.”
“One more thing, Link,” Schroeder continued. “When you get to the Berlin Hilton, you will get a phone call from our agent in Berlin. Remember this callsign…his identification…Foxbat12. He will review your instruction with you and make sure everything is on schedule.”
The two men stood and faced each other. With a simple handshake the plan was settled. Schroeder closed with, “Once more, the government of the United States wishes to thank you for this service above and beyond the call of duty”
Link replied, “Tell me, Jerry. How can you have all the documentation of family heritage, tickets, passports, visas, etc. ready in just a day? These things take time.”
Schroeder replied, “Link, when you did your service in Berlin, you performed your duties in exemplary fashion, readily volunteering for activities which many other took a pass. You were quick to serve, and you served well. We hoped that same willingness to serve was alive and well. The documentation has been ready for ten days. We just needed to know when you could leave.”
The next evening over a quiet supper at home, Link quietly stated, “Honey, remember that convention that’s in Denver next week? I think I’ll be leaving Thursday around noon and see what the meeting has to offer.”
“OK, Link, do you need any clothes done before you leave,” asked his wife.
“Nope, I think I’m good.” Link told himself he hadn’t actually lied to his wife about his plans; he had just let her assume the details. “I should be back by sometime Sunday night.”
“OK, Darling,” she replied. “Oh, by the way, you got a package today. Looks like real estate papers or something.” And the die was cast. This was not going to be an ordinary weekend trip, for sure.
Friday, Day 2
The wheels of the big 747 squawked and strained to gain revolutions as the plane settled on the runway at Tegel International Airport, West Berlin. Link had traveled to Denver Thursday, then caught a midnight non-stop flight to Paris, then changed flights and continued to West Berlin. Although he left Denver around 7:00 p.m. Thursday, with the time differential, it was already noon, Friday, Berlin time when he walked into the terminal and traversed through customs.
It was still too early to check in to the Berlin Hilton, so Link made sure he had some West German Marks handy for payment and hailed a cab. Instead of telling the driver to drive to the Hilton, he gave him another address…Massmannstrausse 4, Steglitz. The driver, recognizing the address, began the short journey.
In a matter of a few minutes, he was in front of the apartment building he and his wife had shared in 1965 and 1966. He was surprised how little the neighborhood had changed, although the Lebensmittel (neighborhood grocery store) next to their ground floor apartment had closed and the service station at the end of the block was now an apartment building. He wondered if their German friends, Josef and Helga Yakowitz, still lived across the hall.
He instructed his driver, “Warten Sie heir einen Moment.” (Wait here a minute.)
He walked to the former Yakowitz’s door and knocked.
The door cracked slightly, “Ya?”
“Josef Yakowitz?” asked Link.
“Nein, nicht heir leben.”
“Vielen dank,” replied Link and walked back to the taxi.
“Columbiadamm, Flughaven Tempelhof,” Link instructed. The driver adeptly maneuvered through the traffic on Hauptstrausse, turned onto Columbiadamm and shortly began approaching the massive building that is Tempelhof, at one time the second largest building in the world.
“Gehen sie nicht zum zivilen Flughafen, aber weiter aft Columbiadann vorbei am militarischen Teil,” instructed Link. ( Do not go to the civilian airport, but continue on Columbiadamm past the military portion.)
The driver did as told and Link was able to see for the first time the Air Force base which was Tempelhof. He remembered where his room was which he shared with three other airmen in the months before his wife arrived and the months after his wife went home. Most notably, however, he saw the entrance to the 6914th Security Squadron, with its forest of antennas bristling from the sixth floor roof, and he flashed back to the moments of boredom and sheer panic which that location afforded. The 6914th was still an active unit, so Link was able to see a couple of airmen making their way up the stairs to the entrance. He longed to visit his old work rooms but knew he could never get in without major clearances. He knew he had no “need to know” so a visit was out of the question.
“OK, driver, Berlin Hilton, bitte.”
In a matter of minutes upon arrival at the Berlin Hilton, he was whisked up to his room. By this time, Link had been traveling and touring nearly 24 hours, and suddenly the weariness of travel fell like a heavy weight. He collapse on the bed and drifted away.
He awoke to the sound of his bedside phone ringing. For a moment he was confused with his whereabouts, but clearing his head, he answered the phone “Hello?”
“Mr. Stevens?” asked a gruff voice.
“This is Mr. Stevens.”
“My name is Nikolas Krautman. I am Foxbat12. May I come up to your room?”
“Yes,” replied Link.
In five minutes there was a knock, and Link opened the door and greeted his Berlin contact. Nikolas Krautman was a bear of a man, not tall but very overweight. His earthen brown suit was ill-fitting, and his tie was not pulled up nor his collar button connected. He wore a soiled fedora that had seen better days, and as he walked in, he wiped his forehead with a well-used handkerchief. His facial features were weather beaten, with a crooked mouth and oversized nose. In his mouth was a half-used cigarette. “You have whiskey? “were his first words.
Thinking that maybe his guest had already had his share of whiskey for the day, Link replied, “Nope, no liquor; I just got here. Have a seat.”
Krautman flopped down on the sofa which groaned under his weight. Wiping his forehead again, he stated simply, “I have your itinerary here.” He drew out a simple, single sheet of paper with times, locations, and further information about his long-lost great-aunt. “You will leave the hotel at 7:00 tomorrow morning and take a taxi to Checkpoint Charlie. Your documents are in order, but you need to be very familiar with them in case you are questioned. The address you are going to is 27 Hellersdorfstrausse in the district of Falkenberg, in Northeast East Berlin. The apartment number is 323, and your “aunt’s” name is Frieda Klammer. You must be familiar with the information I am giving you about her in case you are questioned.
"You will greet each other with a joyous reunion and emotion in case someone is watching. You will stay a minimum of two hours in her apartment, and then you two will decide to go for a walk. You will walk about three blocks to Marzahnerstrausse. Klammer knows where Morton’s apartment is, so she will guide you there. Once there, you and she will visit Morton where you will do your duty, which is to convince Morton that his coming extraction back to the west is on the up and up.
“Once you are convinced that he is satisfied, you and Klammer will walk back to her apartment where you will visit for a short time and then leave. Take a taxi back to Checkpoint Charlie and reverse your steps to get to the Berlin Hilton. You will be de-briefed tomorrow night and Sunday morning you will fly back home. Any questions?”
“No, it is clear.”
“One more thing. While you are in East Berlin do not vacate the taxi for any reason except at your destination. If you attempt to converse with a stranger on the street and they determine you are an American, they will assume you are rich and have money. Petty crime is rampant, and they will take everything you have, even some of your clothing.”
“I’ll be careful.”
“Good luck on your mission tomorrow. Remember, stay alert and focused, and you’ll get back to the west in one piece.”
Link and Krautman stood up and looked at each other one more time, shook hands, and Krautman slipped out the door, leaving Link alone with his thoughts.
“Not much sleeping tonight,” he thought to himself as he began to review his instructions and the brief information on his long-lost “great-aunt Frieda."
Saturday, Day 3
It was a typically chilly November morning as Link exited the Hilton and waved down a taxi. The sun had not yet risen, and the air was damp with a threat of rain. Heavy clouds were overhead and seemed to predict an ominous day. The Mercedes 200 Diesel taxi clattered up to the curb and Link slid into the back seat.
“Bist du ein Amerikanner?” asked the driver as he looked into the rear view mirror.
Startled for a moment, Link replied, “Yes, how did you know?”
“You have an American haircut and your clothes are not German. Now I can practice my English. Are you going into the East?”
“Yes, I am visiting an old relative,” responded Link.
“Be very careful, my friend. The Vopos do not laugh very much,” warned the driver.
“I will do that. My visit will be very short. I will be returning this evening..”
It was only a matter of a few blocks from the Berlin Hilton on Mohrenstrausse to Checkpoint Charlie on Friedrichstrausse, but in that six or seven blocks, one appeared to travel back in time approximately 25 years to the end of World War II. The closer one came to the vicinity of the ignominious wall, the more decrepit and depressing the buildings became. Buildings could be seen which had been destroyed due to Allied bombing or Russian invasion and had never been reclaimed, but rather stood as stark monuments to the destruction of war.
The taxi stopped at the intersection of Zimmerstrausse and Friedrichstrausse, with Checkpoint Charlie about half a block down the street. “This is as far as I can go, American,” spoke the driver. “I cannot approach the checkpoint. The guards get very nervous.”
“I understand,” Link replied. “How much do I owe you?”
“Fifteen Marks or five American dollars.”
Link knew that five dollars American was too much, but he paid him anyway.
“Thank you, my friend,” Link responded.
“Auf wiedersehen, Amerikaner.” And with that, the driver clattered away, and Link approached the American side of Checkpoint Charlie.
Going through any of the Berlin checkpoints during the height of the Cold War was always a bit of a gamble. Going from west to east, one had to pass through the Allied checkpoint first, manned by U.S. Army M.P.s (military police.) Travel papers and passports and visas were meticulously checked and had to be in perfect order. For a German or an American, the process was relative painless; the challenge began when one walked the fifty yards or so and met the East German/Russian counterparts, who were probably suspicious of anyone who even wanted to visit East Berlin. West Berlin by the seventies had miraculously rebuilt with the help of the Allied nations, but East Berlin and East Germany had no generous benefactors. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR…or more simply, Russia) considered East Germany a vanquished enemy and an occupied state to keep under close control. As a result, the cities of East Germany languished with the ravages of war being very slow to remove. East Berlin reflected the condition, and its buildings and streets were in severe need of repair and refurbishing. There was a depressing grayness to the area, and the people reflected the state of mild depression.
The Vopos on the east side of Checkpoint Charlie reflected this grim humorlessness, and the level of their questioning of visitors and documentation was legendary. Any refusal to answer questions or errors in documentation resulted in a quick refusal to allow entrance into East Berlin, and any semblance of suspicious behavior would require the traveler being turned over to the dreaded investigators whose job was to get the traveler to admit to some imagined crime.
Approaching the white checkpoint building, the young MP greeted Link, ”Morning, Sir, papers, please.”
Link handed over his passport.
“What is the purpose of your visit to East Berlin, Sir?” asked the MP.
“I have a great aunt I have never met whom I wish to visit.”
“What is her name? Do you have her address? How long will you be in the east?”
“Frieda Klammer; here is her address. I will be returning this evening.”
The MP wrote the information onto his records tablet and stated, “Thank you, Mr. Stevens. Have a nice visit, but please be careful. Be sure to follow any instructions given by our friends on the other side.”
Link retrieved his passport and began walking the fifty yards or so toward the east checkpoint. Everything appeared as it was the last time he was in this area ten years before. The mine fields, the anti-tank obstacles, the watchtowers with guards holding automatic weapons all looked familiar. What did look different was the wall itself.
When the wall was originally built in 1961,
it was hurriedly constructed with large slabs of concrete slopped together
unskillfully with tons of mortar. On top
of the wall were rolls of concertina barbed wire to deter any climbers of the
wall. There was no attempt to make the
wall esthetically pleasing; speed of construction was the main criteria. In the last ten years however, the East
Germans had tried to make the wall seem less ominous and removed the ugly,
original wall and replaced it with twelve foot tall smoothly-finished slabs of
concrete topped with a curved cap which made it difficult for anyone to grasp
to climb over. The concertina wire and
broken glass were gone. The original
wall was low enough that the guards could see over, and anyone approaching the
wall even from the west side was in danger of a guard firing
on them if the
guard felt threatened. The twelve-foot
wall, however, blocked the view of the west side of the wall from the guards,
and in the ensuing years, the west side of the wall became a miles-long
expression of West German frustration.
Graffiti and artwork made the wall become a canvass of colorful protest
to the wall, to East German suppression of its people, and to Russian
Link approached the east checkpoint. “Guten tag. Papiere, bitte,” the guard spoke with a business voice.
Link handed over his documentation. The guard stared at the passport and looked at Link. “Amerikaner?”
“Ein moment, bitte,” and the guard turned to another soldier behind him. The second soldier, apparently an officer, looked over the papers and looked at Link. He walked over to Link.
The officer, speaking English, asked, “What is the purpose of your visit to the German Democratic Republic?
Link repeated his story the second time.
“And your aunt has always lived in the GDR?” questioned the officer.
“Yes, I have never met her, but her children migrated to the United States in the early thirties. I wanted to meet her and give her a family lineage of the last fifty years. Most of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren she has never met.
“Her name and address, please,” requested the officer. “And how long will you stay in Berlin?”
After Link gave his information, the officer turned away and walked into another small room in the rear of the guardhouse. Eventually, he returned and stated simply, “Welcome to the German Democratic Republic, Mr. Stevens. Please obey our laws.”
Breathing a sigh of relief, Link gathered his passport and walked out to the curb of Friedrichstrausse. Parked there was a taxi, a ragged, old Trabant automobile, dingy gray in color. Trabants were East Germany’s answer to the VW, but rather than being cheap and easy to maintain, they were cheap, expensive to maintain, and prone to rust. But they were all the common East German could afford. Link walked to the passenger door of the two-door auto and addressed the man inside who was smoking a cigar and reading the East Berlin propaganda paper.
“Sind sie frei?” asked Link.
“Ya, wohen wilst du gehen?”
“27 Hellensdorferstrausse in Falkenberg..”
“OK,” responded the driver, and they clattered off.
In a few blocks they were on Grunerstrausse. As they left the central part of East Berlin, away from the GDR government buildings, the scenery seemed to grow even more bland as more and more apartment buildings appeared. Making a right turn on to Falkenbergerstrausse, the driver took a long drag on his cigar and threw the very short remains out the window. He laughed, “Rauchen verboten, ha!” Apparently he was not supposed to be smoking. After exiting Falkenbergerstrausse to a short stint on Dorfstrausse, Hellersdorferstrausse came into view, and in two blocks, the driver eased to the curb and said, “27 Hellensdorferstrausse hier.”
“Wieviel geld?” asked Link. (How much do I owe you?)
“50 GDR Marks or $10 Amerikaner.”
“American dollars?” Link did not know that dollars were the black market currency of choice.
Exiting the old Trabant, Link surveyed his surroundings. 27 Hellensdorferstrausse was the typical apartment complex found in every German city, east or west. Built pre-World War II, five to six stories tall, no elevators, rectangular styled with a courtyard in the middle so that every apartment had windows to the outside. The hallways were usually dark passageways, but most of the construction was stone, brick and mortar, even the interior walls, so that seldom did you hear your neighbor. Knowing that apartment 323 would be on the third floor, Link found the stairway and began the three-floor trek. Walking about fifty feet down the third-floor hall, Link came to apartment 323. He took a deep breath…and knocked.
There was a shuffling inside, and then the door cracked open just enough for the occupant to peer out while leaving the safety chain attached. “Ja?” the frail voice from the interior spoke.
“Frau Klammer, Ich bin Link Stevens aus Amerika,” replied Link.
“Oh, mein Gott! Bist du est wirklick? Komm herein! Komm herein!” And she joyously threw open the door and with arms outstretched, enthusiastically grabbed Link in a bearhug. “Endlich sehe ich einen Teil meiner schoenen amerikanischen Familie!” (Finally, I get to see part of my beautiful American family!) She drew him excitedly into her living room and closed the door.
Glancing around, Link saw what he expected: a standard one bedroom apartment, sparsely furnished. The single front room served as living room, kitchen and dining area. The “kitchen” consisted of simply a portion of a corner in which was a sink with an electric 2-litre water heater above the faucet, a 2-burner hot plate, and a small undercounter refrigerator. Adjacent was a dining table with two chairs. Across in the other nearby corner was the oil heater whose duty was to warm the entire apartment. The living area consisted of a sofa and a single chair. Next to the sofa stood a simple floor lamp, and across on the other wall was a black and white television, currently bringing the latest GDR news for its loyal citizens. On the wall was a dominant photo of Secretary Erich Honecker, the leader of the German Socialist Unity Party and as such, East Germany’s leader. Through a door Link could see the single bedroom with its clothes wardrobe and small bathroom tucked in a corner. All basic accommodations for the common citizenry of the GDR.
Link also took notice of his “great-aunt.” A small, frail woman in her mid-sixties, Link surmised. she walked with a slight stoop of the back with the aid of a cane. Her face showed the effects of years of hard work, but Link also sensed a certain glint in her eyes which gave him clue that her mind was still sharp. His observations were borne out with her next words.“Good day, Mr. Stevens. I hope our greetings outside convinced any curious onlookers that we were long-lost family members being reunited. You must remember this: outside this apartment I speak only German. No one knows I have a little fluency in English, and I need to keep it that way. So, if you inadvertently speak to me in English on the street, I will look at you stupidly and await a translation. Secondly, while on the street, if I give you instructions to turn left or turn right, or say something, you must do exactly as I instruct. Our lives may depend on it. Do you understand?” Her eyes seemed to be more piercing than before as she awaited his response.
“Yes, of course. I will do whatever you request.” Link responded.
“Good! Would you like some tea? We have a little time to visit. Tell me, what do you do for work in the United States? Do you have a family?
“I have a wife, a ten-year-old son, and my wife is expecting our second child. I sell real estate.”
“I have a wife, a ten-year-old son, and my wife is expecting our second child. I sell real estate.”
“Real…estate…what’s that?” she asked quizzically.
“Houses, homes…you know, where people live. The property they own. Sometimes families will sell one property and buy another. I just help them get the job done.”
“How interesting!” she opined. “Here we are born, we live, and we die in the same location. There is no place to go. The government will not allow moving about.”
“Tell me about yourself, Frau Klammer,” Link questioned. “How has your life been?”
“Under the circumstances, the less you know about me, the better, but I will tell you a few facts. I am what is left of the Great War Generation. I was a teenager when Hitler came to power in 1933, and, like many youths, I was swept away by the power of his speeches. When war broke out in 1939, I felt it was Germany’s destiny to rule Europe. It was in an Allied bombing raid over Dresden that my parents were killed, and I was left alone. By that time, I was serving as a nurse in the medical corps and had not seen my parents for nearly two years. When I received the news of their deaths, I hardly had time to grieve because the war had already started to go badly for Germany, and we were awash with injured soldiers.
"By 1944 Germans had begun to learn of the Jewish death camps, and we began to realize the folly of Hitler’s dream. But when the hated Russians crossed our borders and approached Berlin, I went to the front lines and fought like any soldier. Why I am still alive today I do not understand. What bothers me most today is I must show respect and deference to the hated Russians because we are the vanquished, and, as we all know, to the victors go the spoils.”
There was silence as the two acquaintances sipped their tea and nibbled on their biscuits with jam. Both seemed lost in thought as they contemplated their partner. Frau Klammer viewed her visitor as an innocent participant unused to hardship nor authoritarian rule, and Link sat quietly, wanting so desperately to hear of her experiences during the war and during the Russian occupation., but knowing that to relive such painful memories could only bring heartache.
As their visit approached the second hour, Frau Klammer said quietly, “We must go. It is time.”
Bundling up against the chilly Berlin November air, the twosome made their way down the two flights of stairs and exited into the gray overcast morning. The trees had long shed their summer foliage, and the monotony of the European winter had already set it. There was a skiff of light snow along the cobblestone walkway as they wordlessly strolled toward Morton’s nearby apartment. Crossing Marzahnerstrausse, they walked another two blocks to Birknersfelderstrausse. It was another two blocks beyond that they came to 27 Wittstockstrausse.
Link noticed that this area was even more modest than Frau Klammer’s neighborhood. The streets were narrow two-lane affairs which appeared as canyons between the tall six-story apartment buildings. There were no cars in sight since automobiles were a rare luxury in East Germany.
“He is in apartment 635 on the top floor,” said Frau Klammer as they entered the first dark hallway. A short distance down the hall, the stairs wound their circular climb to the sixth floor. On each floor as they ascended, a single wall lamp with a single dimly burning bulb barely marked their way. By the time the sixth floor was reached, Frau Klammer was laboring with short strained breaths. “This is very hard for an old woman; your man should have been more considerate,” she said, half-jokingly.
Reaching the door of 635, Link tapped on the worn paint. There was a shuffle, and then the door opened. Link was shocked by what he saw. The man standing before him was gaunt with hollow cheeks and thin arms. He obviously spent little time in the sun by the evidence of his pale complexion. His simple cotton shirt and sweater fit loosely, and for a brief moment there was confusion in his eyes as he looked at his visitors. Suddenly his eyes widened, and he quietly exclaimed, “My God!” He beckoned his visitors to come inside.
With a voice trembling with emotion he spoke, “Link, it is really you?”
“Yep, Gary, it’s me! In the flesh!” Link attempted to show enthusiasm to his old friend.
Instead of shaking his visitor’s hand, Gary threw his arms around Link in a brotherly embrace and began to sob, “I was so afraid that this day would never come! I have been promised things before!” And for a few moments there was only the sound of muffled weeping. Link held his former partner and let the emotion expend itself.
Finally, after regaining his composure, Morton gestured, “Come! Sit!” and pointed to a couple of worn chairs.
Link decided to ask the question which had dogged him ever since he first heard of Morton’s defection, “Tell me, Gary, what happened? How did you wind up in this situation?”
The directness of the question seemed to snap Morton back to attention, and he told his story.
“You and I were pretty good buddies, Link. After you left, I was a little lonely for good friends, One night as I was bar-hopping around Kurfurstendamm, I met a German. He could speak perfect English. He bought me a few beers, and we just seemed to hit it off. I told him I was military, but he laughed and said he could tell that by my haircut. Anyway, we visited for awhile and parted with a promise to meet again the next weekend. We did so, and this time he brough a girl for me to meet. You remember I was never very smooth with girls. Anyway, this girl laughed at my stupid jokes and seemed to like everything I liked…and I fell like a ton of bricks.
“We met again…and again…and again. I lost track of my German male friend who had introduced us, but I didn’t care. I was happy with her. We became more involve to the point that there were some occasions when I was late getting back to the base, and you know how security people feel about personnel who are not where they should be. I was given several warnings, and finally the commanding officer called me in and took away my sergeant’s stripe and busted me down a grade. Instead of straightening up, I got mad, and after the night shift was over, I left the base and found my lady and told her of my demotion.
“I was shocked by what she did. She went to her phone, made a call, and in ten minutes my German friend walked in the door. The two of them stood in front of me and revealed that they were Russian agents, and if I did not cooperate, they would reveal to the security people that I had been cavorting with the enemy. That would result, they said, in my instant court-martial and a possible death sentence. My only option was to defect to the east. Their government, they promised, would pay me handsomely for my security service knowledge, give me a place to live and a lifetime pension to allow me to live comfortably the rest of my life. They made it clear that the dreary descriptions of the East given by the Western Allies was simply propaganda, and I would enjoy my stay in the German Democratic Republic.
“I was scared out of my wits…although I think I was more scared of what the Air Force would do to me than what the Russians would do. I was still angry at my commander, and in a moment of insanity, I said OK I will go to the other side. In a matter of hours, they had slipped me through a breach in the wall. I was blindfolded during the operation and to this day have no idea where the wall breach was. For a few weeks after I went over the wall, they wined and dined me, constantly peppering me with questions about the mission of the 6914th and other Security Service sites. I had been placed in a luxury apartment, but in a matter of months, I was suddenly moved here, and here is where I have been for nearly ten years. I don’t go anywhere. Neither the Germans nor the Russians will talk to me. I know I will see prison when I get back home…but at least I will be in the United States."
Link sat for a few moments absorbing what he had just heard, and then spoke. “Gary, my mission here is simply to assure you that the people who will contact you and arrange your transfer are, in fact, representatives of the United States. I was told you were being hesitant about the transfer and needed confirmation. I am that confirmation. We will get you out.”
“You are the one person I believe. What do I do?” Morton quietly asked.
“Gary, I am not in the military and haven’t been for nearly ten years. There are others much more skilled than I who will take care of you. You simply need to be able to move on a moment’s notice and follow instructions to the letter.
“You’re not in intelligence anymore, Link?”
“Nope. Got out when my hitch was up.”
“Wow! I expected you to be a ‘lifer’ for sure!”
“Well,” laughed Link, “I did consider it, but life takes you different roads sometimes.”
“I guess I am living proof of that,” ruefully observed Morton.
“Just remember, sometime soon you will be contacted. Be ready.”
During this conversation, Frau Klammer had sat quietly watching the two comrades tell their stories. Finally, she stood and spoke. “We must leave. Mr. Stevens, you alone must leave first. At the entrance to the apartments you will find a taxi waiting…a green Trabant. The driver is an associate, and he will get you back to Checkpoint Charlie. Do as he says. I will stay here five more minutes and then walk home.”
The two old friends stood and faced each other. They silently shook hands, and then Link said, “I will see you in the states. Take care of yourself.”
“God bless you, Old Buddy!” Morton replied with a cracking voice.
Link walked down the five flights of stairs with a mind racing with scenarios involving Morton’s extraction to the west. How? When? Who? But he knew the operation would be in the hands of professionals far more skilled than he, and he tried to comfort himself that Morton would be in good company. He heard the clatter of the Trabant’s engine before he saw it.
“Hallo, steig ein,” (Get in.) the driver said simply as Link approached. The door of the old Trabant creaked as Link swung it open and slid onto the plain, well-work seat. With a lurch the car leapt forward and into the darkening evening. Dusk comes early in Berlin due to its far-north latitude, and the promise of another chilly, damp evening was already being fulfilled. The tiny heater in the old car offered little comfort.
The driver suddenly spoke, “Herr Stevens, there has been a change of plans. The border guards are waiting for you to arrive at the checkpoint so that you may be taken in for questioning. As a result, we will have to dispose of you in a different way; you will be taken through one of our secret tunnels we have available for when emergencies such as this arise. Of course, it is your choice. If you wish to take your chances at the border, you may do so, but please be aware the interrogation techniques of the Vopos do not conform to the requirements of the Geneva Convention.”
It did not take Link long to respond, “I have had previous experiences with our friends, the interrogators; I do not wish to renew my friendship with them. I am at your mercy.”
The driver continued, “In a few minutes as we drive on Berlinner Chaussee, I am going to turn quickly onto a side street and continue for about two blocks. As we approach a particularly dark length of the street, I will come to a stop next to another car. At that instant, you are to exit this car and enter the other car as quickly as you can. While you are doing so, a person in the other car will exit and take your place in my car. They are expecting to see a passenger in my car, and the gentleman has a resemblance to you. It will not become obvious he is not you until we approach the checkpoint and he exits the car. He is an East German with papers, so he will not be bothered. Do you understand these instructions?”
“They are clear,” Link said simply.
“They are clear,” Link said simply.
Wordlessly, the two men continued the drive along the chaussee. Abruptly, in what appeared to be an industrial area, the driver quickly turned left into a narrow street. There seemed to be not a parked car in sight as Link strained to see in the increasing darkness. However, two blocks further, next to a large tree adjacent to the road, sat a car, another well-worn Trabant. Link thought to himself, “Don’t these people have any decent cars?” As the driver approached the car, he suddenly slammed on his brakes and stopped next to the parked Trabant. The driver said simply, “Good luck, my friend.” Link jerked the door handle, threw open the door and took four steps quickly to the other car, just as the passenger in the other car did the same. In ten seconds, the trade was complete, and Link’s first taxi rattled off toward the checkpoint.
His new driver spoke in surprisingly good English, “Good evening, Herr Stevens. We have an exciting thirty minutes ahead of us. I hope you are ready.”
“I am ready,” Link replied, although he could feel his heart beginning to pick up the pace of his heartbeats.
“When we get to our destination, two men will assist you as you traverse under the wall in our tunnel. For the sake of security, you will forgive me if I do not tell you exactly where we will be; the less you know the better. But when you exit the tunnel on the western side, you will be met by two men who will escort you back to your hotel. At which point we shall all live happily ever after…at least we hope so.” He finished with a slight chuckle.
Driving along Jacques Duclos Strausse, the driver continued along darkened streets, finally crossing the River Spree and approaching Puschkin Allee. Crossing Puschkin Allee, the riders entered Elsenschtrausse. Link knew he was close to the wall, but in the darkness, keeping his bearings was becoming more difficult. Approaching the wall also meant that the buildings were becoming more war-damaged appearing and deserted. Suddenly, as they drove slowly by an abandoned-looking building, Link saw a garage door roll up. The driver adeptly swung the Trabant into the garage, and just as quickly the garage door rolled back down. Two flashlight beams appeared, and the driver said, “Herr Stevens, “This is far as I go. The two men will escort you to the tunnel. Remember… ‘Freiheit fur ganz Deutschland!’ (Freedom for all of Germany.) Goodbye.” And with a handshake, Link stepped out of the car.
The two men were dressed all in black with black toboggan caps and black gloves. One said, “”Follow, bitte,” and the two men began walking deeper into the building. Link followed, noticing that the building was becoming more in disrepair the farther they walked. As they approached an empty dark room, the men stopped and aimed their flashlights at the floor. Pulling back a worn section of carpet revealed a trap door with a heavy lock. One of the men used a key from his pocket to open the lock, and both men then grabbed the handle and strained as they lifted the heavy door. In the opening was a stairway.
One of the men in black pointed at the other and said, “Helmut will lead, you follow, I in back. We crawl, OK?" With an OK from Link, Helmut stepped into the opening. Taking only five steps down to the tunnel floor, he went to his hands and knees and motioned to Link to do the same. Link followed suit, and momentarily his second benefactor brought up the rear. The tunnel was very primitive with a rough floor and rough-hewn walls and ceiling. There was no lighting save the two flashlights which shakily showed the pathway. The floor of the tunnel was damp, and he knew if he made in back to the Hilton, he would be a miserable sight when he walked in the door. The three men crawled and grunted for fifteen minutes.
Suddenly Helmut stopped and whispered, “We under wall. Guards hear noises. Must be silent.” Link nodded silently, and they continued. Crawling and straining for another fifteen minutes, Link began to notice unusual sensations…very slight vibrations in the floor and a faint far-distant sound. But before he could begin to worry, Helmut stopped and pointed his flashlight upward. There was a door. He tapped twice. The trapdoor creaked open, and another flashlight flooded the space. The three men crawled out of the tunnel to be greeted by two more men, identically dressed in black. Helmut and his partner said simply to the two greeters, “Hier ist Stevens. Keine Probleme,” (Here is Stevens. We had no problems.) and they turned and disappeared back into the tunnel.
“Well, Mr. Stevens, you’ve had a decidedly exciting day, I’m sure! You are probably ready to get back to your hotel and relax for the evening!” one of the men said with a distinctly British accent.
With a sigh, Link replied, “I am truly that.
“We have to be devious for a few more minutes until we get a few blocks away from the wall. Our friends on the other side watch our side rather closely and are suspicious of autos moving around in the dark. They begin to snoop around if they get nervous. We’ve lost a few tunnels that way. We have an auto about fifty meters away, beautifully painted in a very flat non-reflecting gray, that we will enter and make our very silent getaway. Are you ready?”
“Let’s go,” said Link. At least now we are walking upright he thought to himself.
The three men loaded into the English Ford Cortina which appeared at this time like a Rolls-Royce compared to the Trabants he had been in. The engine silently came to life and in a matter of four blocks or so, they entered Sonnen-Allee, and turned toward the Hilton Hotel, only ten blocks or so away. It was noteworthy to Link that they passed close to Checkpoint Charlie, and he wondered how the other side would feel when they realized they had let one slip through their fingers. He also realized that the vibrations and slight sounds he had heard in the middle of the tunnel was simply the vibrations of the West Berlin traffic and the sounds of the city, both features which were decidedly different from the graveyard silence of East Berlin.
The lights of the Hilton greeted Link with a cheeriness which belied other parts of the city, but nevertheless, he could not feel but a sense of great relief when he realized he was back in familiar territory. He exited the Cortina and said, “Gentlemen, I want to thank you for what you have done. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for your efforts and for those men on the other side of the wall.”
“Quite all right, Old Chap. Glad to be of service. By the way, do you know that your friend is coming home tonight?”
“What! Who are you talking about?” exclaimed Link.
“The chap you went to visit…Morton is his name, I think. We are trading for him tonight.”
“I don’t understand…how?”
“Remember the most famous trade we ever made?…1961 it was. Your American U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers was traded for Russian spy Rudolph Abel whom the United States had captured in New York. The trade was completed at the Glienicke Bridge in Southwest West Berlin. From your dossier we see that you may have some familiarity with that location.”
Link was mildly surprised that there was a dossier concerning his history in West Berlin in the mid-1960’s but knowing the character of Berlin espionage, it did not come as a shock. It seemed paradoxical that in a city teeming with secret activities, everyone knew everything about the other guy.
The Brit continued, “We have had other, less noteworthy trades at the same Glienicke Bridge. Basically, each side in this game of chess trades any captured pawns because we’d rather have our man back in our hands than give the other side a chance to squeeze more information out of him. Besides, if he really was a traitor we can throw him into a dungeon for life to think about his errors, or if he was just doing his job and got caught, we can sometimes recycle him back into the system. That is what is happening tonight. Morton is a very low-level prize, but we have one of their men who has been of questionable value to us. The Russians think Morton has been drained of intel and is now a liability to the government, and they aren’t sure what their guy has told us, so they want to find out. We will do a quick trade tonight and both sides will get one of their pawns back. It won’t be like the Powers-Abel exchange with loads of military and intelligence people there. Just a two-person escort to drop their guy off and pick up Morton.”
“What time does the trade take place?” asked Link.
“0100 hours,” (1:00 a.m.) the Brit replied. “Well, Mr. Stevens. This ends our association, and we wish you a quiet evening. I understand you are leaving for to the United States tomorrow. Please have a good flight, and let me say that England and the Allied Powers here in West Berlin appreciate your contribution to this mission. Good night.” With a final wave, the two Englishmen slipped away in their Cortina, leaving Link at the curb to ponder his next move.
Link’s next move was to move quickly to his room without attracting too much attention because of his well-worn clothes. In the safety of his room, he realized he could not remember the last time he had something to eat. Not desiring to go out for the evening, he decided to order supper, and in short order his evening meal of wiener schnitzel with Austrian potatoes and sauerkraut arrived on a steaming tray. One bite of the wiener schnitzel reminded him of how much he loved authentic German food.
The time by now was approaching 9:00 p.m., and the effects of the day began to weigh heavily on Link. He decided to prepare for bed and get a good night’s rest before his long flight home tomorrow. He would not be leaving Tegel Airport until 11:00 a.m. Though his total flying time would be nearly twelve hours, flying westward meant he would gain seven time zones. Arrival in Denver was expected to be around 4:00 p.m. Sunday. Just enough time to get home right on schedule as if from the real estate convention. No suspicions should be raised, he thought to himself.
Although Link prepared himself for bed and slipped under the covers, sleep escaped him. The dramatic activities of the day were replayed in his mind over and over. What affected him the most was the sight of his old friend, Gary, barely ten years removed from active duty and still in his early thirties, yet for all appearances he looked twenty years older in frail health. Morton’s confinement in East Berlin had not gone well, and although Link could not excuse his friend’s actions in betraying his country, a certain compassion grew for his old comrade. Within an hour of his bedtime, Link made another decision: he was going to see his friend one more time…this time as he re-entered West Berlin at the Glienicke Bridge.
Dressing quickly, he prepared for the chilly Berlin night with gloves, scarf, and topcoat. By 11:00 p.m. the lobby of the Hilton was quiet as Link exited the elevator and went out to where the local taxis congregated. At the front of the taxi row sat the venerable Mercedes 200 Diesel, clattering quietly in the night air. Opening the rear door, Link entered, sat down, and said, “Konigstrausse, in Wannsee, Schlos Glienicke, bitte.”
The driver turned and replied, “Das ist eine lange Fahrt. Es wird zwanzig Mark kosten.” (That’s a long drive. It will cost twenty marks.)
“OK,” Link agreed and paid him.
Driving toward the Wannsee District of West Berlin, the driver stirred Link’s memories with landmarks they passed along the way: the KongressHalle and its contemporary architecture, where Link had listened to Count Basie and His Band; the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, a destroyed reminder of the terrors of World War II; the glitzy Kurfurstendamm, where Link and his wife had strolled and window-shopped as poor enlisted personnel. Entering the Avus Autobahn, the driver was able to pick up a little speed until exiting at Konigstrausse. From there it was but a very few minutes until the shadowy form of the Glienicke Bridge began to take shape.
About a block from the entrance to the bridge, Link spoke to the driver, “Hor hier auf und warte auf mich.” (Stop here and wait for me.)
The driver replied, “Ich brauche zwanzig Mark fur die Ruckreise. Yetzt.” (I will need twenty marks for the return trip. Now.)
Although that seemed a little unusual, Link paid and got out of the Mercedes. This area of far Southwest Berlin is heavily forested and a far cry from the bustle of the central area. Pedestrian and bike paths wind through the forest and with the Havel River as a border between East and West Berlin, it is a very scenic area. It is also very dark after dusk, and the only lights penetrating the evening were coming from the bridge itself, which appeared to be near-deserted. Upon closer approach, however, the familiar “You are leaving the American Sector” sign in its four languages greeted the walker, with its underlying message that beyond this bridge, freedom does not exist.
Because it is a checkpoint between East and West Berlin, there is no normal traffic on the bridge. Barricades stop traffic, and there is a military guardhouse with armed soldiers monitoring every traveler whether on foot or driving. Apparently, Link observed, a quiet night was expected by all, since there appeared to be a lone guard at his post next to the barricades. Link decided to stay in the shadows of the trees out of vision of the guard and wait for the expected transfer at 0100.
At 0050 hours, (12:50 a.m.) a Mercedes van slipped to the curb, and two men stepped out, both in civilian clothes and bundled against the night’s chill. Opening the back door of the van, they helped another man exit. Link noticed the third man was dressed warmly but not stylishly. The first two men escorted the third man to the barricade. Link watch from a distance of fifty meters as the two men approached the guard and showed him some papers while the third man stood quietly. The guard nodded and stepped back into his guardhouse while the three men waited outside next to the barricade.
As Link was watching the events unfold, he was surprised to see another car, a gray English Cortina, silently park about five meters away from the Mercedes van. The two occupants inside did not get out but seemed to be watching the proceeding on the bridge intently. In approximately two minutes, headlights appeared on the other side of the bridge. A vehicle drove to the barrier on the East Berlin side and stopped. The same scenario occurred again. Three men exited the car with two escorting the third. They stood at the barrier and waited.
As the two groups of men faced each other, one man in each group removed a flashlight from his coat and aimed it at the other group. A light was flashed on; a corresponding flash was seen from the other side. Two more flashes from the other side, and two responses. With the two signals completed, the man being escorted by the two men in the Mercedes began walking toward the center of the bridge, just as the escorted man on the other side began walking toward the American side. For a moment they exchanged glances in the middle of the bridge but continued their walks. As the man approaching the American side neared the two men waiting, Link recognized the familiar gait, the slight stoop to the back, and the clothing. It was Gary Morton.
Morton stood quietly in front of the two men. One of the men pulled out a stethoscope and checked Morton’s heart while the other shined a light into Morton’s eyes to check for light response. There was some conversation. Link caught snippets of the words, but he understood that the men were reading Morton his rights as a returned fugitive. In a moment, Morton nodded his head, and the trio began walking back to the Mercedes. During this period of time, the two men in the Cortina made not a move but watched the proceedings intently.
However, as the two men escorting Morton were intent on loading Morton into the back seat of their van and had their backs to the Cortina, the two men in the Cortina suddenly sprang from their car, raced to the Mercedes, and with two swift swings of small clubs knocked both of Morton’s escorts to the ground unconscious. Morton sat in stunned surprise in the back seat of the Mercedes, but just as quickly, the men grabbed Morton by the arms and began trying to extricate him from the vehicle. Morton tried to resist but in his weakened state was no match for the two men. They stood him up and began pulling him back to their car.
Link watched in horror as the drama unfolded and realized he had precious seconds to react if he wished to save his friend. Fortunately, the two ruffians had been so intent on Morton, they had not noticed Link in the shadows. Link rushed toward the man closest to him, and with his head down, hit him in the middle of his back with a blow that a NFL defensive tackle would have been proud of. The man let out a massive grunt and slammed to the ground, momentarily stunned. As he hit the ground, his pistol fell from his inside holster and slid across the sidewalk. Link scrambled to grab the pistol.
Link instantly recognized the weapon as a Mauser HSc 7.63, a pistol which was adopted and used extensively by the German Navy and Air Force. Deadly accurate at close range and with a hair trigger, it had been a favorite for operatives for nearly thirty years. In a single fluid movement, Link picked up the Mauser, pulled the slide to insure it was ready to fire, and swung around to meet the other man. Link brought the weapon to bear on the man…and froze.
The second man was standing next to the passenger door of the car. His weapon was drawn, and in that instant, each man had death pointed in his direction. But it was not the pointed weapon that froze Link. The man was familiar…the tailored suit, the Longine-Wittnaur watch, the diamond ring. It was Gerhardt Schroeder, the man who had recruited Link for this mission in the first place.
“You!” exclaimed Link.
“Stevens! What are you doing here?” Schroeder replied.
“I don’t understand. I thought you were NSA. Why are you here?” questioned Link.
“Suffice it to say I do not work for NSA anymore.” Schroeder paused and then quietly spoke, “Well, now, we seem to be at an impasse at this moment. I do not really want to kill you, and I suspect you are not the killing kind, either. So what are we going to do?”
“I cannot let you take Morton,” Link said resolutely and tightened his grip on the Mauser.
“I suspected as much. We wanted Morton back for two reasons: one, to double-cross the Americans on this trade, and two, we are not sure how much Morton knows about us. But I am not willing to die for such a low-level prize, and neither should you. I propose you let my man who’s there on the ground get into my car, and we will vanish into the darkness, and you can take your traitor back to the United States to live his life in prison.”
“Agreed. You will forgive me if I keep your man’s weapon trained on you until you drive out of sight,” warned Link.
“Fair enough. Schmidt!!” Schroeder yelled the name of his partner. By this time Schmidt began to groan and pull himself up from the ground and stand groggily.
“Steig ein. Lass uns gehen!” (Get in. Let’s go!)
Schmidt shuffled to the car, slid under the steering wheel, shook his head to clear the cobwebs and started the engine.
Schroeder bade goodbye, “Abschied. Veilleicht sehen wir runs wieder.” (Farewell. Perhaps we will meet again.)
“Not likely,” Link thought to himself…and then he remembered Morton and the two American agents. He had been so engrossed in the confrontation he had forgotten the other players.
Gary Morton was standing quietly as if too paralyzed to move. He had not moved nor said a word during the whole transaction, but now he looked at Link with pleading eyes. “What now?” he asked.
“Gary, we need to check on your two escorts.” They were still lying unconscious in the light snow on the sidewalk. Link went to the first man, pulled him into a sitting position and slapped his face. There was a slight movement. With nothing else to use, Link picked up a handful of snow and rubbed it on the man’s neck. In thirty seconds, the man groaned, “Oh, my head! What happened?”
“Sir,” Link said, “clear your head while I check on your partner.”
Link went to the second agent who was already beginning to stir, so Link helped him to sit upright. Once both agents were thinking clearly, Link described what happened.
The agent who was apparently in charge asked, “And you say you recognized one of the men?”
Link replied, “Yes. His name is Gerhardt Schroeder, and he allegedly worked for NSA. He’s the one who recruited me for this job.”
The agent questioned, “He recruited you? Are you Stevens? The guy from the states who went to see Morton?”
“I am Stevens.”
“Let me tell you first off,” continued the agent, “you’re very lucky he did not kill you. If an agent is recognized, he usually kills his identifier to protect his own identity.”
“At the time it was sort of a stalemate, so we both withdrew,” Link wryly replied.
With that, the agent turned to Morton and said, “OK, Morton, let’s go.” Morton slipped into the back seat of the Mercedes.
The agent then addressed Link, “Well, Mr. Stevens, shall we take you back to your hotel, or do you want to wander around the Wannsee for a while?”
“I am so ready to get back somewhere there is a bed,” and link slipped into the Mercedes back seat next to his old friend Gary Morton.
They traveled in silence for a while, until Morton asked Link, “Link, what were you doing out here?”
Link gently replied, “I just wanted to welcome my old friend and comrade back to freedom”
Tears came to Morton’s eyes, and he quietly spoke, “I hope you’ll come to see me when they decide what prison I will be at.”
“Gary, you can count on it. I’ll be there.”
The agent spoke up, “By the way, Mr. Stevens, it might be best if you give me the pistol you took from the other guy. You’ll have a hard time explaining where you got that when you go through customs tomorrow.”
Link cleared the weapon and gave it to the agent. “Sure would make a nice souvenir, though,” said Link.
Arriving at the Berlin Hilton, Link, for the second time in a single evening, bade goodbye to agents. Link and Gary faced each other for a moment, shook hands, and then closed with a heartfelt embrace. Once more, Morton quietly said, “God bless you, Link.” Link watched as the Mercedes slipped silently away from the curb.
At 5:00 a.m. Link closed his eyes in the comfort of his bed, but again the actions of the day spun wildly through his memory. Just as he seemed to slip into a peaceful sleep, the alarm rang. In an exhausted fog, he packed his clothing, checked out of the Hilton, and taxied to Tegel Airport.
The plane left on schedule, but Link remembered very little of the flight. Although he always had trouble sleeping in an airliner, this time he had no problem. Other than the interruptions of a couple of plane transfers, he slept the deep sleep that only extreme exhaustion can bring.
The plane landed in Denver right on time, and three hours later, Sunday evening about 7:00 p.m., he walked into his home.
“I’m home!” he announced to his wife and son. His son came running to greet his dad.
“I’m in the kitchen! Supper’s about ready!” exclaimed his wife.
Link walked into the kitchen, smelling the sweet savor of supper. His wife wiped her hands on her apron and kissed him. “Welcome home. Was it a usual meeting?” she asked.
Link did not look her in the eyes as he said, “Oh, yeah, you know how they are. Same old stuff. I’m glad to be back home.”