A Spy in Exile: Chapter 26


EAST OF BREMEN, DECEMBER 2014

 

From their position in the small clearing in the forest, they were hidden from the nearby road. The farm was about nine hundred meters away as the crow flies, but out of sight due to the steep incline of the terrain. Aslan surveyed the area meticulously while the others followed him with their eyes.

“There were three, or maybe four, people here,” he said. “Can you see the trampled grass? Those are tracks left by several pairs of shoes.” He slowly approached the embankment of rocks and earth. Beyond it were the woods, dense and uninviting. “I believe this embankment has taken a fair deal of gunfire.”

“Can you see any bullets?” Ya’ara asked.

“No, but look at the shards of rock. They appear fresh. Completely white.” He looked down at the ground in silence. “There may have been targets here. These holes in the ground appear to indicate so. The earth here is loose so the signs are a little unclear. But I think these are marks left by spikes that were pushed into the earth and later removed.”

“There are glass fragments here, too,” Sayid said quietly. “I’m no expert, but it looks like they haven’t been here for very long. They’re clean, without a layer of mud or dirt.”

“If they were shooting here, where do you think they were firing from?”

“From exactly where you are standing now, Ya’ara. It’s no more than fifteen meters. I think they fired from there in this direction, toward the embankment. They were shooting at targets and maybe beer bottles. Or wine.”

“I don’t see any spent cartridges . . .”

Aslan joined her, his eyes scanning the ground. “If they were standing here,” he mumbled, “then the casings must have flown off to the right.” He walked to the side, a meter or so away, and kicked at the earth with his shoe. And again. And one more time. Nothing. Just moist earth. “I’m pretty sure that the embankment here took gunfire. And I think it was the shooting that we heard yesterday. I think they must have collected the spent cartridges. That’s why we aren’t finding anything.”

“If they picked up the casings, they must be hiding something. They’re professionals. Or there’s a professional who’s instructing them,” Ya’ara said.

“Isn’t it dangerous to draw conclusions from the fact that there are no spent cartridges lying around?” Batsheva commented. “Excuse me for talking like a lawyer, but a lack of evidence isn’t really evidence.”

“You’re right,” Aslan replied, “but there appears to be shrapnel here from gunfire. And that’s something real. Concrete. And when you add that to the fact that there are no cartridges, it looks a little suspicious. No, it’s not evidence for a court of law, but it’s something that requires further investigation.”

“We should get out of here,” Ya’ara said. “If they were here yesterday, they might come back today. And if our assumptions are correct, then they are armed and we aren’t. It’s best we don’t run into them here.”

“If there’s a group of armed people here, perhaps we should pass on the entire matter to the German intelligence service?” Sayid wondered out loud.

“Maybe,” Ya’ara responded, “but we need a few more particulars and facts before calling in the cavalry.”

“The what?”

“It’s just an expression,” Ya’ara said. “What I meant was we need more proof before we mobilize forces to this shithole.” She omitted the fact that if their suspicions turned out to be justified, Matthias had become entangled in a far more dangerous affair than initially believed. Yes, perhaps this was precisely the right time to end the subterfuge and silence, but if Matthias was caught up in something of this nature, it would spell the end for him in his organization. She didn’t want to let go so easily.

“We’ll circle around and go to the surveillance point we were at yesterday. Then if they are on their way here, we won’t run into them and we’ll be able to see if anything’s happening at the farm.”

“I’m freezing to death. We’ll warm up a little if we move,” Batsheva commented. Her entire appearance indicated a readiness to spring into action right there and then. Even in her hiking boots she looked like someone who was in the habit of wearing high heels and socializing at parties. But Sayid, who took a long look at her, saw something more. On their way back, he asked if they should continue to memorize the relevant pages in the bird guide as Ya’ara had instructed.

“Remember,” Ya’ara said, “a good cover story is one that includes elements of truth. I expect you not only to know the birds, but to love them as well. If anyone asks, the only thing that brought us here was a burning desire to discover the nesting areas of the birds of Germany. We’re ornithologists, after all.”

 

  • • •

 

Aslan held the binoculars to his eyes and raised his hand to command the attention of the others.

“The door’s opening,” he whispered.

Ya’ara, Batsheva, and Sayid froze on the spot, hoping that the vegetation and branches were truly offering adequate cover. Ya’ara peered intently through her binoculars. The two cadets strained their eyes.

Six figures emerged from the farmhouse, one after the other. “Four men and two women,” Ya’ara said. Three men and one woman walked toward the barn. The remaining man and woman headed for the all-terrain vehicle parked in the yard.

“Can you make out their faces?”

“Barely. Certainly not well enough to positively identify them elsewhere.”

“Okay, they’re both blond, and they’re both wearing boots and khaki green jackets. They look like hunters.”

The woman sat behind the wheel. The man got in next to her and slammed the door. The sound of the engine was loud enough to be heard by the group observing them through the trees. The vehicle growled, leaped forward, made a U-turn, and exited the farm compound in the direction of the road. Ya’ara shivered as a cold gust of wind slammed into the thicket.

“Just a moment, they’re leaving the barn now,” Aslan whispered. The reddish barn door opened outward and two of the men closed it carefully behind them.

“Are you seeing what I’m seeing?” Ya’ara asked.

Aslan nodded.

“I can’t see a thing,” Batsheva whispered to Sayid.

One of the men was holding several steel rods that were fitted at one end with white pieces of cardboard. The man was struggling to manage them all, and for a moment it looked as if he was about to drop them. He tried to steady them, and almost managed to do so, but suddenly they started to wobble violently and the man almost fell to the ground.

“The wind must be blowing them around.”

The man bent down, placed the rods on the ground, rearranged them, and then gathered them up again, tightly together.

Swinging on the shoulder of the second man were two assault rifles.

“Kalashnikovs,” Ya’ara said.

The two men headed away from them down the slope. They appeared to be walking toward the woods.

“More shooting practice?”

“We’ll hear soon enough. I wonder where the other two are.”

And just as if someone had heard Aslan’s question, the barn door opened again and a man and woman emerged. The man looked middle-aged. His hair was white and long, and tied back. He had something that appeared to be a pistol in his hand. He and the woman followed in their friends’ footsteps. Ya’ara and Aslan kept track of them with the binoculars until they disappeared.

Aslan went quiet, and then asked: “Tell me something, Ya’ara, is Martina a blonde?”

Ya’ara responded softly, almost in a whisper. “Her hair in the pictures with Matthias is dark. Black. After finding pictures of her grandmother, ones that appeared in the press when she was arrested, I could see the resemblance between them. Truth be told, her grandmother looked a lot like Ulrike Meinhof herself. She dressed like her, at least, and they had similar hair, too. The only thing missing in the pictures of Martina are the horn-rimmed glasses.”

“When you briefed us, back in Berlin,” Batsheva suddenly said, “you said something about the vehicle that came to collect Martina from Matthias’s home.”

Ya’ara tensed up.

“You said Matthias described it as a militarylike vehicle, more suited to the desert than to the German army; you said it was a light color.”

“Like a vehicle from a cigarette commercial,” Sayid added.

“That’s definitely a significant detail,” Ya’ara said, still speaking softly. “I should have thought of it myself. Yes, under all that mud it’s covered in, that vehicle is the color of sand.”

“Shhhh,” Aslan quieted them.

Short bursts of gunfire could be heard on the wind.

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