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Authors: Edward Wilson

The Midnight Swimmer

BOOK: The Midnight Swimmer
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EDWARD WILSON

The Midnight Swimmer

For all my former students with fondest thanks.

Mama take this badge from me

I can’t use it anymore

It’s getting dark too dark to see

Feels like I’m knockin’ on heaven’s door …

Bob Dylan

Already darkness, and the end is in sight:

Ophelia crying in an empty hut.

And Hamlet walks to and fro with white headband

in order to be recognized by the Ghost in the gloom.

‘On the Sea-Shore, Smell of Iodine’
Regina Derieva

Near Brentford, Essex.
March, 1962

G
alen’s body was uncooperative, even resentful.
It seemed to want to stay curled up on the back seat of the Ford enjoying the
aftereffects
of a bottle of single malt whisky laced with sedatives.
It’s the sort of cocktail you have when you are worried about losing your job and when your love life is a complete mess.
At least that was the back story they were hoping to spread.
People usually don’t commit suicide when life is smelling of roses.

Catesby and Bone were wearing surgical gloves.
The plan was to leave as little evidence for the forensic team as possible.
It was part of the game.
Catesby put his arms under the corpse’s shoulders and began to slide the body off the red fake-leather seat.

‘Get his legs, Henry, and don’t bloody drop them.’

‘Who would have thought he was so heavy?’

In life Galen had been a small man with soft features; he seemed to gain most of his nourishment from whisky and porn.
Catesby, who had ample experience shifting cadavers, was surprised at the body’s heaviness.
Maybe, he thought, it was the weight of all those secrets that he was taking to the grave.

‘I can’t see the footpath,’ said Bone.

‘Okay, let’s swap positions.’
Catesby looked at the gravel beneath his feet.
It seemed shiny in the moonlight.
‘No, don’t.
If we put him down here his suit might pick up grease from the car park.
Just go straight ahead.’

‘I see a signpost.’

‘That’s it.’

Catesby knew that the footpaths of Weald Park were well marked.
He often stopped there for his sandwiches when driving between London and his home in Suffolk.
The landscaping of the estate,
including
the lake and deer park, had been carried out in the eighteenth century in the style of Capability Brown.
The result was a setting of exceeding beauty and peace – the perfect place to dump a body.

‘Can you manage, Henry?’

‘I’m fine,’ said Bone.
He seemed to have got his bearings.

‘You ought to come here during the day.
It’s the sort of place you would like.
You could bring your sketchbook.’
It wasn’t often that Catesby had the chance to patronise his boss and order him around, but body disposal was a job where the field operative was in charge.

The footpath was wide and well trod which was why Catesby had chosen it.
He didn’t want the cops to pick out suspicious footprints or disturbed undergrowth.

‘How much further?’
said Bone.

‘There’s a beech grove off to the left – we’ll take him in there.
You ought to see the bluebells in the spring.’
Catesby had once made love there.
The woman had told him she’d always dreamed of making love on a bed of bluebells.
Beech forests were picture-book romantic.
They were dark and private, but had little undergrowth to catch the hems of dresses.

‘Turn off here.
Don’t let his feet drag.’
They continued for about ten yards.
‘Here is fine.
Lay him on his back.’

‘Enough heavy lifting for the day.
Would you like a drink?’

‘Are you talking to me?’
said Catesby.

‘Very funny.’

‘I thought it was.’

Bone reached for his hipflask and passed it over.
He never laughed at Catesby’s ‘jokes’.

Catesby sipped the brandy.
It was good stuff, twenty-five-year-old VSOP.
Bone even had a bottle from 1812 and had once let Catesby have the tiniest sip.
It was pale and had lost all its flavour.
‘Not for drinking,’ explained Bone at the time, ‘I keep it for its rarity.
But now you can say you’ve tasted brandy looted from Napoleon’s stores.’

Catesby looked down at the body.
Only the collar of Galen’s white shirt and a tiny glint from his glasses were visible in the gloom.
He seemed already to have melted into the earth.
‘Can’t we just leave him the way he is?’

‘No, the drug that killed him won’t show up in the post-mortem – and the whisky and barbiturates he’s ingested aren’t sufficient on their own to cause death.
If the pathologists mess around long enough they just might discover traces of VX.
It’s not likely, but we can’t risk it.’

‘I think we should just leave him as he is.’

‘No, we’ve already decided.
You didn’t forget the knife, did you?’

‘No.’

Catesby reached in his coat pocket for the American switchblade.
It was sealed in an envelope so it wouldn’t pick up fibres from his clothes.
He tore the paper open and removed the knife.
‘I suppose you want me to cut him?’

‘You’ve got steadier hands and better eyes.’

‘By the way, was Galen left-handed or right-handed?’

Bone picked up both dead hands and compared them.
‘Righthanded, the fingers are slightly thicker.’

Catesby carefully put the knife in Galen’s right hand and moulded the fingers around the handle to leave fingerprints.

‘Cut the veins in the wrist lengthwise.’

‘How the bloody hell do you expect me to find them in the dark?
In any case, you can’t get veins up on a corpse.’

‘Just find the two tendons at the base of the palm – slash up between them.’

The knife was sharp and easily penetrated the flesh.
Catesby opened a deep gash about three inches long.

‘Now,’ said Bone, ‘comes the hard part.
Do you want to go first?’

‘Okay.’
Catesby leaned over the corpse and started doing closed cardiac heart massage.
When amateurs try to make an assassination look like a slit-wrist suicide they often forget that dead bodies don’t bleed.
‘How’s he doing?’

‘It’s coming out, but only a trickle.
Pump harder, but don’t crack a rib.’

The two men worked in turns.
It took nearly three hours to push out enough blood to create a credible suicide scene.
Both men were covered in sweat.

Bone wiped his brow and said, ‘I’m sure that’s enough.’

Catesby reached into his coat pocket for the theatre props: an empty whisky bottle and pill packets.
They had already covered the items with Galen’s fingerprints.
He arranged them next to the body.
And then for the
pièce de résistance
, a pair of frilly women’s knickers that he draped over Galen’s face.

Bone stared at their handiwork with his hands in his pockets.

‘I think,’ said Catesby, ‘the knickers are too much.’

‘Leave them.
It means the Americans will do all the more to keep it out of the papers.’

‘They’re not going to believe it in any case.
If he was going to top himself, why didn’t he do it in his own flat?’
They had, in fact, considered staging it there, but there were access problems and too many nosey neighbours.

Bone shrugged.
‘That’s not our problem.
It’s a problem for the coroner.
Let’s go.’

They made their way back to the cars.
Bone had followed Catesby in an Austin 30 with fake number plates in case they got spotted by a curious member of the public.
The plates traced the car to a minor East End villain.
They obviously had to leave Galen’s big left-hand drive Ford – with its US Diplomatic Corps number plates – near the scene of death.

‘The setting is quite apt,’ said Bone as he slid into the tiny Austin.

‘Why’s that?’

‘This is where Claudius defeated the ancient Britons in 44 AD.
I suppose you could say we’ve got our own back.’

Catesby looked at Bone in awe.
He suspected, not for the first time, that beneath Bone’s polished exterior of Whitehall mandarin lurked the soul of a wily rebel.

Berlin.
October, 1960

B
ack then, Catesby didn’t even know that Galen existed.
Like a lot of these things, you only see the connections through the hindsight telescope.
But it wouldn’t have made any difference.
Catesby wasn’t the playwright, he was just one of the players – like Andreas, Katya and Zhenka.
Sure, you could improvise a bit if you fluffed your lines, but the final act was still going to be the same.
The prince was still going to die.

It didn’t take Catesby long to realise that Andreas was a sleazy spiv.
This wasn’t a rare species in post-war Berlin.
As soon as the shooting stopped, chancer spivs like Andreas popped up all over the city like mushrooms after a wet summer.
They were still popping up fifteen years later.
As an intelligence officer, Catesby had grown to like the Berliner spivs.
They were honest about being dishonest.
They were easy to handle because they were primarily motivated by money and pleasure.
Sure, they could be cruel and vicious too – but maybe that was just a form of pleasure.
The worst characters to deal with were agents with political axes to grind.
They had secret agendas that you couldn’t control.

It was much more difficult to be a spiv in East Berlin than West Berlin.
Basically, there was a lot less stuff to nick and fewer rich people to cheat or buy your black market swag.
For this reason the spivs in the East usually turned to the spy game.

To be fair, Andreas didn’t really want to be a spiv or a spy.
He wanted to be an actor.
He went to drama school and wore a black roll-neck jumper and a fake leather jacket.
He tried to hang around with the Bertolt Brecht crowd, but they didn’t want to hang around with him.
Andreas wasn’t too popular with his drama school tutors either.
They thought he was lazy and ideologically unsound – or as one suggested, ‘an arrogant little bourgeois shit’.
In due course, the school director convened a meeting where Andreas was told that ‘he needed to become better acquainted with the working class’.

Catesby didn’t think that two years in an opencast coalmine had given Andreas more respect for the proletariat, but it certainly gave him more respect for the power of the authorities.
Catesby
actually
approved of the DDR’s way of dealing with problem students.
But this, like many of his views, was one that Catesby had to keep under his hat.
In fact, even saying DDR, shorthand for Deutsche Demokratische Republik, had become a problem.
Catesby had been told not to call it that in front of Americans.
The Yanks always called it East Germany.
When Brits said DDR, American eyebrows were raised.
It was as if using the country’s official name suggested being ‘soft on communism’.
It was the ideological version of ‘tomaytoes’ versus ‘tomahtoes’.

 

Andreas never made it big as an actor so he became a whore.
He liked his new job better than acting.
There were no boring lines to memorise and he was paid a lot more, but not by the women he made love to.
He was paid by the MfS, the East German secret
intelligence
service.

His first assignments were exchange students whom he was
supposed
to recruit to spy on their home countries when they returned.
But his most important seduction happened quite by chance.
At first, he was drawn to her by attraction and desire.
It never occurred to Andreas that she was going to be part of his job as an MfS ‘Romeo’ agent.
She was simply an elegant woman he had met at the debut of a film in which he had had a small role.
She seemed lonely, sad – and quite bored with the party.
Andreas knew that she was a Russian, but only later did he discover that she was the most important Russian wife in Berlin.

The affair began a week later.
The woman had invited Andreas for tea to an address in East Berlin’s most exclusive quarter.
The address turned out to be a large and luxurious flat.
The first thing that Andreas noticed when he was let in was a pair of black army boots in the entrance hall.
His disappointment grew when he saw a Soviet Army officer’s greatcoat hanging from a hook above the boots.
The shoulder boards on the coat bore the rank insignia of a
lieutenant-general
.
Disappointment turned to curiosity.
The coat obviously belonged to one of the highest ranking Soviet officers in the DDR.

The woman saw Andreas staring at the military apparel.
‘They’re my husband’s, but he’s not here.
He’s always working.
We are alone.’

Andreas followed the woman into a sitting room where a samovar was bubbling on a sideboard.
It wasn’t long, however, before the tea things were pushed aside and the pair were writhing with passion on the sofa.
Andreas soon had her dress up around her waist and was about to have her then and there, but she stopped him.
Her face was flushed.
‘No,’ she said.

‘No?’

‘I mean not here,’ she said.
‘Let’s go into the bedroom.’

The rest of the afternoon was the maddest and hungriest lovemaking that Andreas had ever experienced.
The woman clutched him with an almost deranged yearning as she finally shuddered to a prolonged orgasm.
And it wasn’t long before they began again.
Andreas was a little frightened by her passion.
He felt that she was never going to let go.
But after an hour of rosy madness she did let go and pushed Andreas away a little so she could see his eyes.

‘You must think,’ she said, ‘that I am a little strange.’

‘Strangely wonderful.’

‘In a way I have been very lonely.
Today was the first time … the first time I had an orgasm in years.’

‘Why?’

‘Don’t ask, I’m not going to tell you.
And do not think that I’ve been completely unhappy.’

‘But not for so many years …’

‘Do you believe me?’

‘Yes, of course.’

The woman smiled bleakly.

‘I don’t even know your name.’

‘Katya.
It’s a short form of Ekaterina.’

‘Your husband …’

‘Don’t talk about my husband.’

‘Sorry.’

‘I’m sorry I snapped at you.’
She looked away at an ornate mantel clock that featured a nineteenth-century hunter and his hound.
‘I think you must be going now.’

‘Will we meet again?’

She kissed him.

As she led him to the door Andreas looked once more at the Soviet greatcoat with the lieutenant-general’s insignia.
He knew he had to see her again.

Andreas reported his tryst with Katya to his MfS agent handler the very next day.
If she had been an ordinary Russian woman with a husband who had a dreary post in trade or transport, he would have kept the affair to himself.
But he knew from the uniform that her spouse must be one of the most important Soviet officers in Berlin.

‘He must,’ said Andreas, ‘be at least a corps commander.’

The agent handler was going through a large file.
‘What did you say the address was?’

Andreas told him again.

The handler turned another page in the file and ran his finger down a list.
Suddenly the MfS man’s face turned white.

‘What is it?’

‘Fuck.’

‘You found him.’

The agent handler looked across the desk at Andreas.
‘You’ve just been shagging the wife of Yevgeny Ivanovich Alekseev.’

‘Who’s he?’

‘He’s head of the bloody fucking KGB.’

‘In the world?’

‘No, silly, in Berlin.
The Russians call him the
rezident
.
It means chief of the
rezidentura
, the KGB station – and the Berlin
rezidentura
is one of the most important stations in the world.
This guy, Andreas, is one big fish.’

‘Should I continue to see his wife?’

‘That could be scary – I’d better clear it with the boss.’

 

The op request went straight to the desk of Mischa Wolf, the Head of the HVA – the foreign intelligence branch of the MfS.
In fact, it was Mischa’s film director brother, Koni Wolf, who had recruited Andreas in the first place.
The brothers enjoyed a symbiotic relationship.
Mischa protected Koni’s artistic freedom and Koni provided Mischa a steady stream of B to Z grade actors to serve as ‘Romeo agents’ and ‘honey traps’.

Mischa twirled his reading glasses and looked out the plate-glass window of his Normanenstrasse office over the dreary cityscape of Berlin.
The important thing was that Andreas was not an official MfS officer.
He was an IM, an
Inoffizieller Mitarbeiter
.
The IMs were a small army of ‘unofficial’ part-timers who were paid in cash and favours.
They were often recruited to do dirty tricks for which the
State could deny responsibility.
And when it came to seducing the wives of high-ranking Soviet officials stationed in East Berlin, the lack of a formal connection to the MfS was essential.
Maintaining fraternal DDR/USSR relations was important, but so was knowing the secrets that Moscow was keeping from Berlin.
In many ways spying on allies was just as important as spying on enemies.
Mischa decided to authorise the op.

 

As soon as Andreas’s agent handler received the go-ahead, he arranged a series of training sessions.
The first step was to teach Andreas how to use a Minox miniature camera for copying
documents
.
Ideally, there should be a four-legged copy stand to keep the camera in place, but this would make concealment and speed
difficult
.
Andreas was instructed to hold the camera as steady as possible and to use any available light from a lamp or window.

‘You’re shaking too much,’ said the handler as they tried a few practice snaps.

‘I can’t help it.’

‘Try breathing out, it helps keep the hands steady.
We teach snipers the same technique.’

When the training was finished Andreas was given a new Minox B that could be traced back to a factory in West Germany by its serial number.
There was also West German film to use with it.
If Andreas was caught, the camera’s origins would suggest he was working for a Western intelligence agency.
But, of course, Western agencies supplied their own agents spy gadgets of East bloc origins for the same reason.
The agent handler knew that the bluff and double bluff
procedures
fooled no one in the trade, but it was vitally important that nothing in Andreas’s possession pointed back to the East German state.

 

Oddly, Andreas found that his new role as a honey trap whore gave him more confidence as a lover.
It meant that he was no longer, as he had felt before, the inferior, less attractive partner in the
relationship
.
It also gave the lovemaking a certain slightly kinky frisson.
At first Andreas had felt that Katya was using him, now he felt that he was using her.
Otherwise he would have fallen hopelessly in love with her.

BOOK: The Midnight Swimmer
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