My brand-new thriller, PARALLAX VIEW, is now available. I'm very excited about this book and will be posting several preview chapters over the course of the day. Here's Chapter Five:
Klaus Hahn slipped the envelope into his breast pocket and picked his way through the crowd. American disco music blasted through tinny speakers in the background, and the temperature had skyrocketed inside the densely-packed tavern. He was sweating profusely, and not just from nervousness.
A veteran of more than a decade of service to the American CIA, Klaus looked forward to a time when his beloved Germany would be reunited. No more East and West, with the ugly concrete and barbed-wire barriers splitting the country arbitrarily and needlessly, in some cases literally tearing families apart, half living on the side of freedom and opportunity and half on the side of repression and paranoia. Klaus Hahn’s dream was to one day see the elimination of the fear and forced servitude on the eastern side of that wall.
Klaus had not hesitated on that day years ago when co-opted by his CIA handler, a man known to him only by his alias, “Mr. Wilson.” He had made no secret of his willingness to work in the name of freedom, and when approached by Mr. Wilson, had enthusiastically accepted the opportunity to contribute, even in some small way, toward a unified and free Germany.
The majority of the tasks Klaus had handled over the years were relatively small and risk-free. Most often his assignments had involved nothing more than funneling the names and addresses of hard-line Communist sympathizers to Mr. Wilson, or the names and contact information of other freedom-seeking individuals like himself.
Tonight was different, though. Mr. Wilson had approached Klaus with the offer of something much more substantial. Something big. So big, in fact, that Mr. Wilson had said this would be the last job Klaus would ever do for the CIA. Klaus would be toxic after this.
“Toxic.” That was the exact phrasing Mr. Wilson had used. If the job was completed successfully, Klaus could expect an uncomfortable night of questioning by local authorities and, quite likely, the Stasi, the German Democratic Republic’s feared secret police. If unsuccessful, well, Mr. Wilson had not spelled out any details under that scenario, but elaboration had not been necessary.
“Stick to your story when you’re questioned,” Mr. Wilson had told him. “Do not deviate from it. You stopped off at the club for a few drinks after work. You ran into an old friend from school, quite by accident. You do not even remember his name. You shared a drink and discussed sports, women, whatever. Then you left. They will not believe you, but there will be nothing they can do about it. After several hours of intense questioning, they will reluctantly release you. But you will be watched, and we can never meet again. Your work for us will be finished.”
Klaus had reluctantly agreed. He was not afraid of a night of questioning, by the police or by the Stasi. He was disappointed his work toward the cause of a reunified homeland was coming to an end, but he had no choice but to accept the assignment when Mr. Wilson stressed its importance. He wiped his brow with his sleeve, weaving through the crowded tavern, moving steadily toward the door.
Halfway across the floor, he turned sideways to allow a pretty young woman to pass by. It was his contact, and she was dressed provocatively, in skintight black leather pants and a silk blouse that did little to hide her considerable assets. She caught his eye and flashed a smile before rubbing her body up against his out of necessity—the crush of thirsty bar patrons crowded them from all sides.
They squeezed past each other. Klaus felt a brief tug and then the envelope was gone and so was the girl. He continued toward the door as he had been instructed by Mr. Wilson. He had been told not to look back but couldn’t help it—he took a quick peek behind as he exited the front door. The beautiful young girl was nowhere to be seen.
Klaus strolled into the cool Berlin night, glad to be free of the claustrophobia-inducing, sweat-soaked, sexually charged atmosphere, not to mention the annoyingly loud music. He turned left and began walking toward his car, moving faster now. Before he had made it five steps, a hand gripped his elbow. Attached to the hand was a tall, skeletal man dressed in a dark suit. An unbuttoned overcoat flapped in the chilly breeze.
The man said, “Where is it?”
Klaus answered, “Where is what?”
“Don’t play stupid. Where is the envelope?”
Klaus wrenched his arm free and turned, staring directly into the man’s eyes. The street lighting was dim and shadows running from the man’s hook nose across his face gave him the appearance of a vulture. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said.
“You’re coming with me,” the man answered, and Klaus knew his night of questioning had begun.