15 August 1966, Monday
It was the smell that would stay with him when he remembered this moment: grass—yes, and flowers. Strong, musty. Then, a glut of syllables. Rough tones. Eyes still closed, he tried to manage the sounds into words, then sentences.
“Stehen Sie auf!”
Guttural, crisp. Behind the voice, birds twittered.
And in his head something thumped, but the pain was manageable; he could hold in his hand and squeeze it into submission.
“Nicht tot, sind Sie? Nein.”
Pressure—a hand gripped his shoulder, then shook. First hesitantly, then with confidence.
“Jetzt gehen wir.”
He waited, because…he didn’t know why. He only knew he should wait, a few seconds, before opening his eyes and proving that he was, in fact, awake.
A bright sun and, as he suspected, grass. His cheek was buried in freshly trimmed blades, arms spread out. Hovering above, a heavyset man in a strange uniform smiled and scratched his mustache.
“Dort sind Sie. Stehen Sie jetzt auf.”
German, Austrian accent. He understood: There you are. Get up now.
The policeman helped him up, straightened his jacket and brushed grass off of him with quick, economical slaps.
“Grüss Gott, mein Herr.Ist gut?”
He nodded. “Ja, ja. Bin gut.”
He could speak it, but the language wasn’t his.
They were standing in a grassy semicircle bordered by geometric bushes that caged flowers. Roses or carnations—he couldn’t quite focus yet. Beyond the policeman were trees, a young couple walking hand-in-hand, students lying in the grass reading, and a white-bearded old man leaning against a tree, staring at them.
He shook his head. “Nein.”
He opened his mouth. The policeman waited, blinking.
“Documents? You have documents, ja?”
He patted his pockets and glanced behind himself: a small Greek temple with a statue on a plinth: a young, naked man looking to the side. In his breast pocket he found a typed card with a name.
The policeman squinted at it. “Bertrand Richter?”
“This is a library card. Anything else?”
He shrugged. “Sorry. At home.”
“What are you doing here, Bertrand?”
He had no idea. “I was out late last night. I guess I fell asleep.”
The policeman smiled again. “You have an interesting accent, Bertrand.”
“I travel a lot.”
“I buy and sell Persian rugs.”
The policeman considered him a moment, glanced into the sun, and returned the card. “Be a little more responsible in the future, Bertrand.”
“Of course. I apologize.”
The policeman smoothed his mustache with thick fingers. “Don’t apologize to me. It’s Vienna that doesn’t want drunks littering its parks. Need help getting home?”
“No. No, thank you.”
He did not sell Persian rugs, and his name was not Bertrand. Although he could not remember what his name was, he was sure that this was not it. He walked south through the park—der Volksgarten, he remembered, Garden of the People—toward the spires of the Hofburg Imperial Palace rising above the treetops. The vast square in front of its arc was speckled with tourists and businessmen drifting past the statue of a man on a rising horse—this, too, he knew: the monument to Archduke Charles.
He knew Vienna, its geography and its histories—that much was apparent. But this was not his home—walking its streets gave him a vague sense of agorophobia and the German he spoke was strange, from somewhere else.
Just past the Archduke he turned left, entering a tunnel that burrowed through the palace, where statues of long-dead royalty looked down from crevices, making him think of old wars on horseback.
And for a reason he could not place, those statues filled him with disgust.
He emerged on another square and sat in the shadow of a white church beneath a high clock tower, then touched the throbbing sore spot on the back of his head. Underneath, the hair was stiff from dry blood. In his jacket pockets he found a bundle of schillings—about eight hundred in all—and a slip of white paper, folded in half, with barely legible handwriting: Dijana Franković, followed by a telephone number.
He stared for a while, but could not remember her.
There was a telephone booth on the other side of the square, and he briefly considered it. But he felt that he should not call the number, and he was clear-headed enough to follow his muted instincts.
Between the church and the gloomy Reiffeisenbank, he followed Kohlmarkt down to Graben, a pedestrian shopping street choked with outdoor café tables where all of Vienna, it seemed, stared at him. He entered a café at random and found a clean toilet with three sinks. Beside him, a businessman in a clean suit checked his straight, white teeth in a rusting mirror, then left.
He splashed water on himself and stared at his wet face. Round, but thin, with three moles on his left cheek. He tried to guess his own age—somewhere in his forties, perhaps. But he felt much older.
He removed his jacket, then rolled up his sleeves. That was when he noticed the blood smeared down his right forearm; it wasn’t his blood. He washed it off.
It seemed that at this point he should panic, but he took in each new piece of information as if it were part of a checklist on a clipboard. Don’t know my name. Check. Woman’s phone number.Check. Don’t know age. Check. Someone else’s blood on me. Check.
He went though his pants, and in a back pocket found another slip of paper—small, one-inch square, a dry-cleaning ticket:
A phone booth directory told him that the Hotel Kaiserin Elisabeth was not far away—down Graben, then a right at the high, corroded Gothic of St. Stephen’s Cathedral. He paused at the “Huber tricot” clothing store, but by now the path was coming back to him. Left, just a few doors down, past cigarette- and gold-sellers’ storefronts. Weihburg-Gasse 3. The Kaiserin Elisabeth was plain-faced and white, the glass awning held together by an iron frame. A thin bellboy in green stood before the wooden doors, hands clasped behind his back. “Grüss Gott,” said the bellboy.
He nodded a reply, then went inside.
The narrow entry was lined in marble—to the left, an alcove with elevator and stairs; to the right, a reception desk, where a woman read a book. She smiled at him as he passed.
His instincts kept him shuffling ahead, beyond the desk. Which was strange. A reasonable course of action would be to approach the desk clerk and ask the simple questions: Do you recognize me? and What is my name? But, as with the phone number still in his pocket, he could not bring himself to do what was reasonable.
Through double doors he found an empty sitting room, where a regal, patterned carpet stretched beneath a domed glass ceiling. In a portrait above the cold fireplace, Queen Elisabeth looked as if nothing could amuse her. He settled on one of the padded chairs arranged around polished coffee tables and flipped absently through a copy the day’sKurier.
He could wait here for hours—but for what? Perhaps nothing. He read that a German writer named Pohl had just died; the Americans had begun broadcasting on Radio Free Asia; and in the back, a concerned reader had written in to protest US President Lyndon Johnson’s escalation of war in Vietnam.
But none of these could compare to his mystery. He folded the newspaper as the double doors opened, and the bellboy walked up to him. His loose blond hair hung low over his bright blue eyes, and his smile seemed completely insincere. “Can I help you, sir?”
“I just wanted to get my key.”
The boy winked. “Let me take care of that for you.”
“I appreciate it.”
He followed the bellboy back into the lobby and watched him approach the desk. “Drei-zwei-eins.”
The woman set her book aside and reached back to the wall of slots. She handed over a key on a weighted ring, and an envelope.
The bellboy gave him both items, saying of the envelope, “This was left for you last night.”
The bellboy looked back at the desk clerk. She said, “I wasn’t here last night.”
The bellboy shrugged. “Would you like me to accompany you, sir?”
“No, thank you.”
“As you like.”
He handed over a five-schilling note.
“Grüss Gott,” said the bellboy.
He took the elevator up three floors without opening the envelope. His patience was a surprise. The natural impulse was to rip it open, but instead he slipped it into his jacket pocket and walked down the hallway to the door marked 321.
The room was large and clean, but lived-in. He crossed the carpeted floor to an empty suitcase in the corner, and found that the wardrobe was filled with clothes. Inside the envelope was a wallet—old, the leather well worn—with more money, schillings and koronas (these pink and pale-blue bills began a trickle of associations) and a faded photograph of mountains he knew were the Carpathians.
There was no other identification in the wallet, but details were beginning to come to him. This room was familiar, and this—
He crouched beside the wardrobe and reached beneath. His fingers found it quickly, and he was soon peeling off the tape that attached a maroon passport to the underside of the wardrobe. He opened the passport and found a photograph of himself with his three moles. Above a name.
SEV, BRANO OLEKSY
Even now, with the evidence in front of him, his name was strange, three words that could not quite fit in his mouth. But his country—he was an Easterner, and that felt right. But not comfortable. He stepped over and locked his door.
A passport, wallet, and a phone number, which he took out of his pocket and read again. Dijana Franković. He lifted the phone.
It rang seven times before he hung up, and with each muted buzz another fragment came to him:
A party in a large, smoky apartment, full of people.
Him with a drink in his hand, asking a short, wrinkled man, Have you seen Bertrand? The man shakes his head and walks away.
A crowd of young people cross-legged on the living room floor around a longhaired man strumming an acoustic guitar. Everyone singing in unison: Love, love me do. You know I love you…
A drunk woman with striking brown eyes and black hair pulled behind her ear. Bertrand? she says. I tell him go to hell. Da. He is boring.
Awkward dancing—him with the brown-eyed one, who whispers into his ear. Brano Sev, I am in the—
Again with her, but the air is fresh, her arm linked with his as they make their way down the sidewalk. ‘Zbrka,’ she tells him, is Serbian word what mean…confusion. Da. What is confusion of too many thing.
Then blackness, but her voice: You want I should read your future?
He cradled the receiver and closed his eyes, trying without success to dredge up more.
In the shower he examined himself. There was no more blood, but a remarkable number of scars. A long white thread etched down his right thigh, and there were two punctures above his left breast. Drying himself in front of the mirror, he found more marks on his back and a knot of white tissue on his shoulder. He wondered how he could have earned all of them.
Then the telephone rang.
“Herr Sev?” said a woman’s voice.
“This is the front desk. A gentleman is coming up to speak with you.”
“I don’t know. But I felt you should know…he told me you had left town, and he was here to collect your things.”
Brano Sev was suddenly aware of his nudity. “My things?”
“Yes, sir. I told him you were in your room, and he seemed very surprised.”
He dressed quickly, slipping his wallet and passport into his pockets. He was buttoning his shirt when the rap on the door came.
A hesitant, deep voice, but not German. It was his own language, Slavic: “It’s me, Brano. Let me in.”
A pause. “You’re not going to pull that code-word crap with me, are you? It’s me, Lochert. Now open up.”
Brano unlocked the door and stepped back. “Come in.”
He was faced with a tall, blond man with a thin, halfhearted mustache above pursed lips. “Well?” said Lochert. “You want to hit me or something?”
That seemed to relieve the visitor, and he closed the door. “Look, Brano, I don’t know what happened last night. I guess we were attacked. But at least Gavrilo’s dead.”
“What are you getting at, Brano?”
“Just tell me who Gavrilo is.”
Lochert blinked a few times. “Gavrilo is the code-name for Bertrand Richter.”
Brano reached into his pocket and handed over the library card. Lochert examined it.
“Why is Bertrand Richter dead?”
Lochert rubbed the edge of the card with a thumb. “What’s going on, Brano?”
“I don’t remember.”
“What do you mean you don’t remember?”
“Just what I said. I don’t remember a thing. I woke up in the Volksgarten this morning and I don’t know how I got there. I’m not even sure who I am.”
Lochert cleared his throat and pursed his lips again. He sat on the bed. “Amnesia?”
“You don’t remember me?”
“Amazing.” Lochert stood again. “Incredible!” He walked to the door, then walked back, tapping Bertrand Richter’s library card against his thigh. “Okay, right. Don’t worry about anything, Brano. Where’s your phone?” Before he could answer Lochert had found it and was dialing. He covered the mouthpiece with a hand and said to Brano, “Pack.”
Brano stared at him, not understanding.
“Pack. You’re flying out of here.” Lochert uncovered the mouthpiece. “Yeah, this is Bertelsman. I’ve found him. No, but you won’t believe the condition.” He waved a hand at Brano and said to him, “Come on.”
Brano emptied out the wardrobe as Lochert spoke.
“Exactly.…Two o’clock, TisAir. Right. The main terminal.” Then he hung up. “The ticket’s reserved, all you have to do is pay for it.”
Brano stopped packing. “Where am I going?”
“You’re going home, Brano. Where you belong.”
They took care of the bill together, the flaxen desk clerk watching carefully. “A receipt, please,” said Lochert, and she made one out under his name. The bellboy opened the front door and nodded courteously when Brano handed him a tip.
They got into a white Mercedes parked further down Weihburg-Gasse, and Brano noticed the plates. “Diplomatic car?”
Lochert started the engine. “Lets me speed if I want. Useful.”
Brano watched the city slide by as they made their way along the Ringstrasse past enormous Habsburg monoliths. They didn’t speak for a while, until Brano asked, “Did I kill him?”
Lochert stared at the road a moment, then shrugged. “Yeah, of course you did.”
“Because, Brano, he was a traitor.” Don’t become moral on me, now. That man got what was coming to him.”
“But how was he a traitor?”
“He was selling us out to the Austrians. We used the code GAVRILO because we didn’t know who he was. Is that clear enough?”
Lochert tapped the wheel and looked over at him. “You really don’t remember a thing, do you?”
He shook his head.
“Both of us work for the Ministry for State Security, on Yalta Boulevard.”
“The Ministry for…” Tourists jogged across the road in front of them. “I’m a spy?”
Lochert laughed a loud, punchy laugh. “Listen to you! Major Brano Oleksy Sev asking me if he’s a spy!”
“What about Dijana Franković?”
He licked his lips. “She’s nobody, okay? A whore. And trouble. Forget about her. And stop with the questions. You’ll get all your answers soon enough.”
Lochert dropped him off at the Flughafen Wien departures door and handed his bag over from the back seat. Brano placed it on the curb. “You said it’s reserved?”
“Yeah,” said Lochert from inside the car. “Hand over your passport to TisAir, it’s the two o’clock flight.”
“Have a good trip, Brano,” he said. “Now close the door.”
Brano did this, and watched the Mercedes drive away.
The airport was cool, with a vast marble floor leading to a line of airline desks. He waited behind a businessman arguing with the young woman standing under the tisa aero-transport sign, until the man, frustrated, walked off. The woman smiled at Brano.
“May I help you?”
“I have a reservation.” He handed over his passport. “The two o’clock flight.”
The woman examined a list on the desk. “I’m afraid there’s no reservation for you, Herr Sev.”
“But my friend made the call.”
She read over the list again. “No, there’s not one here, but it doesn’t matter. There’s a free seat on the plane.”
He paid for the ticket, handed over his bag, and asked for the bathroom. “Just past the lounge,” she said, pointing.
He lit a cigarette as he passed tired-looking travelers sitting with their bags, some reading newspapers, others, books. Beside the bathrooms was a line of payphones, and he considered trying Dijana Franković’s number again. Much later, he would wonder if calling again would have changed anything that followed. But there’s never any way to know about these things.
He washed sweat from his face and stared at himself again in the mirror. He was becoming used to this round, flat-cheekboned face, and could even spot his ethnicity—Polish features. From the northern part of his country, perhaps. But that was all the mirror told him.
At the urinal, he felt dizzy again, the spot on the back of his head aching. A large man in a suit took the urinal next to him, then looked over.
“You all right?”
“I’m fine. Just a little dizziness.”
This Austrian, Brano noticed, didn’t unzip his fly. “You’re Brano Sev, right?”
“I—” He zipped himself up. “Do I know you?”
“No, Brano,” said the Austrian. He reached into his jacket pocket, but didn’t take the hand out. “Why don’t you come with me?”
The dizziness was intensifying. “Where?”
“We’ll have a little talk.”
“I have a plane to catch.”
As the Austrian stepped closer, his hand withdrew, holding a small pistol. “Forget about the plane, Brano.”
Brano head cleared, but he leaned forward, as if about to be sick.
“Hey, are you—” said the Austrian, crouching, but didn’t finish because Brano swung his head back up into the man’s nose, at the same time swinging a fist into the man’s stomach. The Austrian stumbled back, a hand on his bloody nose, the other trying to keep hold of the pistol. Brano kneed him in the groin and twisted the gun hand until he had the pistol. He stepped back.
The Austrian stared back, covering his nose and his groin.
“How many more,” said Brano.
“Jesus, Brano. I wasn’t trying to kill you.”
“How many more?”
The Austrian leaned against the sinks, then looked in the mirror, where his eyes were dripping and his nose bled. “Just one. He’s watching the front exit.”
“How long before he comes inside?”
“Fifteen minutes or so. Look at this god-damned nose!”
“And you. You know who I am?”
“I wouldn’t be any good if I didn’t know who you were. The new Kristina Urban, the Vienna rezident.”
“Who do you work for?”
The Austrian was becoming impatient. “Who do you think I work for?”
“Just answer the question.”
“The Abwehramt, obviously. What’s with all these questions?”
Everything Brano had done up in this bathroom had been automatic, as if he were being controlled from somewhere else. But now he tried to think. The Abwehramt was Austrian foreign intelligence, and they wanted him. He was the Vienna rezident, who controlled his country’s intelligence operations in Vienna. And he had killed a man named Bertrand Richter.
“Why do you want me?”
“Because we were told to get you.”
“Why were you told to get me?”
The Austrian finally let go of his groin and uncovered his nose. It was beginning to swell. “You’ve been in this business long enough know that we just do what we’re told, and we seldom know why.”
“Come here,” Brano said as he walked to one of the stalls. He opened the door. “Come on. Inside.”
He stepped back as the Austrian entered the stall and turned around.
“Face the wall.”
“Christ, Brano. There’s no need to shoot me.”
Brano swung the pistol into the back of the Austrian’s neck and watched him crumble to the toilet.
At the gate, he wondered when the man in the stall would wake up, rush out to his colleague or call airport security, and come to take him away. But over the next half hour no one came, and as he paced he thought about the name the Austrian had told him—Kristina Urban. The name, for some reason, made him think of flight. He tried to work through the details—a dead man, a woman’s phone number, a hotel, a man named Lochert. He was a spy, the Vienna rezident, and the Abwehramt were after him. He thanked the stewardess who stamped his ticket, then boarded the crowded plane.
His seat was next to a young Austrian—twenty, maybe—who lit a cigarette as soon as he sat down and refused to buckle his belt. “They make me feel trapped,” he said in a whisper.
Brano nodded, but at that moment he remembered why the name Kristina Urban evoked flight. Last month, the Abwehramt had tossed her from a high window of the Hotel Inter-Continental.
“Feeling trapped makes me anxious,” the young Austrian told him.
“You should try hashish. Settle you down.”
But Brano was no longer listening. The dizziness came back, and he leaned his head against the next seat.
“You all right?” said his companion.
The stabilizing pressure of take-off eased his sickness, and when the wheels left the ground he remembered more.
It had begun at home, in the Capital, in the office of a very old friend, Laszlo Cerny, a man with a thick, unkempt mustache, and a colonel in the Ministry for State Security. gavrilo was the subject of a file open in front of him, and now, on the plane, he remembered its details. On 6 May, in Vienna’s Stadtpark, a routine money-exchange had been stopped by Viennese intelligence before the exchangers could even meet. Then, on 18 June, an apartment used to radio messages across the Iron Curtain had been raided. Three people had been caught—among them Kristina Urban, the Vienna rezident. Two weeks later, she was tossed from a window of the Hotel Inter-Continental.
Brano closed his eyes as they gained altitude.
He arrived in Vienna just last month to replace Kristina Urban and to uncover the leak that the Ministry had code-named gavrilo. Before setting up in the cultural attaché office of the embassy on Ebendorferstraße, he had specialists go over the building again. Seven electronic bugs were found, so Brano, to the dismay of the head of embassy security, Major Nikolai Romek, decided to work out of the Hotel Kaiserin Elizabeth rather than risk more security leaks. From there, he visited three suspect operatives and fed each one false information. Theodore Kraus believed that two men would meet and exchange code-books inside the Ruprechtskirche on 14 July; Ingrid Petritsch believed that Erich Glasser, an employee of Austrian intelligence, would deliver classified files to a Czech agent in the Hotel Terminus on 28 July. And Bertrand Richter was told that a shipment of automatic rifles would be smuggled from Austria into Hungary near Szombathely on the evening of 8 August in a West German truck.
He could see the man now. Short, dark features, a foolish smile, and a drunk. But a wonderful drunk. Worth all the schillings poured into his account, because in social situations information flowed around him effortlessly. So for two years the Ministry on Yalta Boulevard had used this excitable dandy, and in exchange gave him the means to remain in that social circle he most loved.
But on the night of 8 August, that arrangement ended when Josef Lochert—yes, Lochert was his assistant from the embassy—waited at the Hungarian border with binoculars and watched the Austrian police stop and search each truck with West German plates. Lochert reported to him with a smile: We’ve found gavrilo.
Which was why Bertrand Richter was dead.
“This is my first trip east.”
Brano looked at the young Austrian. “What?”
“My first time,” he said. “You study the Revolution from books, you read your Marx and your Lenin, but there’s nothing like seeing a people’s republic first-hand. That’s what the leader of my discussion group says.”
“Don’t get your hopes up,” said Brano, because now he could remember his home as well.
He unbuckled his belt and, holding the backs of seats to maintain his balance, began walking to the bathroom at the front of the plane. As he passed passengers flipping through magazines and newspapers, he watched heads to see if any turned to look at him. Though none did, he didn’t trust that that meant he was alone. Because the more he remembered, the more he was sure that someone on this plane would want to stop him from wreaking any more destruction on the world.
He had reported the identity of gavrilo with a coded telegram sent from the embassy, and received the coded reply later that same day, from the office of his old friend, Colonel Cerny.
The bathroom door was locked, so he waited at the head of the plane, watching faces. It had been his responsibility, he remembered, to make the arrangements for gavrilo’s death.
Bertrand Richter was holding a party, ostensibly for the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, on 14 August, yesterday—in fact, Bertrand hardly needed an excuse to host a party, but as an atheist he enjoyed the irony. Perhaps to extend this irony, he had invited Brano. From a payphone, Brano called Bertrand at nine-thirty and told him he could not make the party, because of an emergency. And, as suspected, Bertrand wanted to know the details. Come down here and I’ll show you, Brano told him. It’ll just take twenty minutes. Tell your guests you’re getting more food, but don’t bring anyone.
The Volksgarten. Temple of Theseus
Is this about the fourteenth of May?
Brano didn’t know what he was talking about. What about the fourteenth of May?
Josef Lochert, standing beside him, waved a hand for Brano to hurry up.
Nothing, said Bertrand. I’ll be right over.
The bathroom door opened and an old woman came out, smiled at him, and made her way back down the aisle. Brano locked the door behind himself and used toilet paper to wipe his face dry. He was forty-nine years old, he now knew. Unmarried. And, discovering his life as if for the first time, it seemed the life of a lonely man. But a man of no small importance—a major in the Ministry for State Security, located on Yalta Boulevard, number thirty-six. He also remembered Colonel Cerny, his immediate superior, who he’d known for two decades. He’d even helped this man, seven years ago, to deal with the suicide of his wife, Iliana—a hotheaded Ukrainian whose photo remained on Cerny’s desk seven years later.
As someone tried the door, he sat on the toilet, holding onto the sink and breathing heavily.
Last night, at the Temple of Theseus in the Volksgarten, he and Josef Lochert had waited forty minutes, and when Brano returned to the payphone and tried again to call, there was no answer. So Brano went to his house in order to draw him out personally.
The smoky apartment was full of revelers in various states of drunkenness who never noticed the phone was off the hook. Someone had pulled out an acoustic guitar. He couldn’t find Bertrand—no one seemed to know where he was, nor did they care—and then he asked the tall, pretty woman whose dark eyes had followed him around the house. Bertrand’s girlfriend, he thought he remembered. A Yugoslav tarot-card reader.
Dijana Franković said, Bertrand? I tell him go to hell. Da. He is boring. The whole room was singing “Love Me Do” by The Beatles. She was very drunk, and she pulled him aside. Brano Sev, I am in the love with you.
It was too late, he decided, to follow through on the operation. Bertrand Richter could be killed another day. So when she asked, he walked her back to her apartment, listening to her lecture on the Serbian wordzbrka—the essence, she said, is when is much too many thing, so nothing can you touch. So he had gone upstairs with her, and after two hours returned to his hotel. An unsigned telephone message waited at the front desk: Come now.
He returned to the Volksgarten, thinking not of Bertrand Richter, but of the contours of Dijana Franković’s body.
Jesus Brano where the hell have you been?
While Brano was at the party, Josef Lochert had decided to wait by the front door. And when Bertrand returned to his home, drunk, moaning about the woman who had spurned him, Lochert suggested they go for a ride to clear their heads. He’d driven Richter to the Volksgarten and walked him to the Temple of Theseus. They climbed the steps and, once inside the temple, he’d beaten Richter with a truncheon until he was dead.
Lochert had dragged the body behind the bushes that ringed the temple. It was after two in the morning, and he was unamused by Brano’s disappearance. Wait until Yalta hears about this, you just wait.
Brano ignored that. You’ve removed all identification?
Of course. The wallet’s in my pocket.
But Brano looked for himself and found a library card inside Richter’s pants. What about this?
Keep it as a souvenir. Just help me with this thing.
The last thing Brano remembered was rolling up his sleeves and dragging Bertrand deeper into the bushes. The man’s head was a mess of blood and skull shards by this point—blood smeared across Brano’s forearm—and he remembered not wanting to look too closely. At mid-thought, his memory stopped.
And then he woke to an Austrian policeman with a dead man’s library card and no memory.
“You’re not getting sick, are you?” asked the young Austrian.
Brano sat down heavily. “Flying’s not easy.”
“Don’t worry. Tisa Aero-Transport has a one hundred percent safety record. I checked on it.”
“The company’s only been in existence five years,” said Brano. “Let’s hope they have a perfect record.”
The Austrian grunted, and Brano opened an in-flight magazine to an article on the wonders of the Carpatian Mountains, with two-toned photos of hiking lodges and wooded peaks. He worked back over the morning—waking, the policeman, wandering to the hotel, and getting his keys. The envelope with his wallet. Why didn’t he have his wallet on him when he woke?
It had been dropped off sometime last night, the clerk had said. But by whom?
The seatbelt indictator lit above his head, and he fastened his. The young Austrian smirked. “They can’t make me do it, let them just try.”
“If there’s turbulence, you could get tossed over the seats.”
“It’s not my fault if they can’t fly straight.”
Brano looked at him. “Why are you traveling?”
“I told you. My discussion leader thinks it’s a good thing. And since I just got voted treasurer, the others felt I should bring back the first report from the socialist lands.”
“Who knows? If I like it maybe I’ll stay.”
“That wouldn’t be fair to your comrades.”
“Yeah,” he said. “I guess you’re right.”
Brano turned to an article on the new Tupolev 124 passenger jets being added to the TisAir fleet, but had trouble getting the words into focus.
At the moment his memory stopped, he was in an empty park with a dead body and a living man. Besides his heart, the foliage bending under the weight of Bertrand Richter, and the heavy, smoker’s breath of Josef Lochert, there had been no sound. He was struck from behind.
He closed the magazine.
Josef Lochert had knocked him out last night. Then he had taken Brano’s wallet and returned it to his hotel.
To kill him, perhaps. Or simply to leave him there for the Austrian police to pick up, by the body of Bertrand Richter.
He didn’t know why, though that would come later. But he was sure of this story. Instead, he worried about where he was at this moment. On a plane, headed home.
You’re going home, Brano. Where you belong.
“I’m telling you,” said the Austrian, “you don’t look right to me at all. You need some water or something?” He waved to a stewardess, who came over.
“Yes?” she said.
Brano looked up at her. “May I have a brandy, please?”
As the plane taxied to the gate, Brano watched the other passengers unbuckle their belts and reach beneath their seats for their handbags. A child across the aisle muttered to her mother, then turned to smile at Brano. She was missing two front teeth. Brano tried to smile back. The young Austrian said, “It’s good to be among the workers again, eh?”
Brano walked to the front of the plane, as the stewardess stood up without a smile. “Please wait until we’ve opened the door.”
He nodded, but remained where he was. She gave him a short look and went to the hatch to peer out the window. A man in orange workclothes was rolling metal stairs up to the plane, while behind him four men stood in long coats, casting long shadows as the sun set. The one in the front, fatter and older than the others, raised his pink face to the light, but it was not Colonel Cerny, but man further up the chain-of-command, the Comrade Lieutenant General. An old-guard soldier who had distinguished himself fighting the Nazis; now, an inveterate alcoholic running the counterintelligence division.
The stewardess grunted as she unscrewed the lock, then pushed the hatch open. Brano stepped out onto the stairs. The Lieutenant General whispered to the three men, who jogged up to wait for him at the bottom.
As he descended, he realized he knew these men as well, but peripherally. Young, hard men adept at following orders. Once he reached them, two grabbed his arms and led him across the tarmac.
“Comrade Lieutenant General,” said Brano.
The older man tugged on his collar. “Don’t comrade me, Brano. You’re in the shit now.”
He tried to control his voice. “I don’t understand. gavrilo has been taken care of.”
“Despite you. Don’t start with your stories, okay? Lochert’s already sent in his report, and you…” The Lieutenant General shook his pink head. “I don’t even want to talk to you.” He turned and walked toward the airport.
Brano looked back at the passengers trickling out of the plane, staring in his direction. The young Austrian shielded his eyes, trying to make sense of the sick man who was being led away by three large men.