IT WAS HAPPENING AGAIN. The dimly lit room stank of cigarette smoke. The two-way mirror showed Erik a reflection of himself he fought to comprehend. He eyed the handcuffs hugging his wrists, binding him to the stainless-steel table that came generic in every interrogation room. His hair was a mess, as if he’d been pulled directly out of bed by the somber German man sitting across from him with an unimpressed scowl stamped on his face.
“Herr Brown, twenty-four hours ago, Monika Martin was a person forgotten, disappeared—”
“Disappeared?” The words tumbled from Erik’s mouth without a thought as his mind explored the connotation.
“Yes. She disappeared from German society without a trace . . . before even the construction of the Berlin wall. But this morning, she reappears in a Mülltonne—a dumpster. Yesterday, she was seen arguing with you. How did you know Monika Martin?”
Erik thought about the frail old woman who had found him outside the café yesterday morning. About the pleading look she’d given him as she asked for his assistance, for him to follow her to somewhere prying eyes wouldn’t find them.
“I didn’t,” was all Erik could respond with as he battled the image of her lifeless face lying amongst the day’s trash.
“Herr Brown, we have a witness that saw you arguing with Frau Martin in front of a café. They described you perfectly.”
Erik just looked at the man as he allowed his mind to shed the sluggish feel of anxiety and lack of sleep like a snake shedding its skin. Something felt wrong.
They think you killed her, Victor whispered from the back of his mind. The voice of his dead grandfather, the verbalization of Erik’s instincts, his subconscious. It’d gone mostly quiet in the aftermath of his tangle with the Polish mob several months prior.
“Yes, a woman stopped me yesterday, but we didn’t argue,” Erik said, trying to hide his surprise at the voice’s sudden intrusion into his thoughts. “She just wanted to talk. She claimed she knew my bestefar—my grandfather.” Erik paused and gathered his thoughts as he pretended to search for the equivalent in German.
Was that why they’d arrested him? Was he really a suspect? But he’d been with his family, his girlfriend, ever since his brief encounter with the woman. They’d spent the day visiting crowded, well-surveilled tourist traps. The police would be hard pressed to poke any holes in his alibi. So, that meant they wanted something else.
But what? Victor agreed.
“I understand English quite well, Herr Brown. Is your grandfather German?”
Erik shook his head. “Norwegian. Before today, I was unaware he’d even been to Germany. How she found me, knew I was in Germany . . . I don’t understand. Who was she? She only said she’d known my grandfather back in the day. Opa, that’s the word.”
The officer squinted at Erik as he thought about his own response. Then he let out an exaggerated sigh and pushed his chair back from the table.
“She was an East German criminal. She disappeared off the face of the planet after committing a series of crimes and was never seen again until she made contact with you. Why?”
“Explain to me why talking to you was so important to this woman that she’d come out of hiding and risk everything.”
Victor had hidden something for her, evidence of a crime. Or so she claimed. But Erik had no intention of offering up that little tidbit.
“When do I get my phone call?” he said instead.
“This is not America, Herr Brown. We do things a little differently here.”
“Do I still have the right to an attorney?” Erik could feel the blood flow to his temples as his anger slowly overtook the anxiety and confusion that he’d failed to purge since his arrest hours earlier.
“Herr Brown, I’m just asking questions. I’m a friend here. You were seen arguing with a wanted criminal. Is it not reasonable for us to want to speak with you? To understand your connection with her?”
“Speak with me, absolutely. But put me in handcuffs? I want to speak with my embassy.”
The officer frowned, letting a long sigh escape his pursed lips. “So be it, but this makes you look quite guilty, Herr Brown.”
“Guilty of what? Talking to a stranger?”
“Is murder legal in America? Because in Germany we take it quite seriously.”
There it was. The quiet part out loud. He was a suspect.
Told you, Victor said.
“I assure you, I take murder very seriously. And I hope you catch the killer, but I’m not involved! So, instead of wasting your time talking to me, why don’t you ask your witness what made them think I know anything about this woman? I’ve been in Berlin for all of two days!”
“Quite the show, Herr Brown. A wanted criminal, Monika Martin, just happens to reappear on the streets of Berlin, just happens to search you out, argue with you, and is then found dead in a dumpster. Where did you go with her? We know you left the café together. What did she say to you for you to break her neck like a twig? Knock her around like a prizefighter?”
Erik’s mind went back to the image of Monika dead in the dumpster, but this time she was bloodied, her neck twisted at an unnatural angle while her dead eyes stared into the sky above. He fought the tremor of sorrow that tried to shake his skeleton. So much death. It seemed to follow him, ever since his grandfather’s murder.
“Lawyer,” Erik said, his heart trying to beat through his chest.
“So be it, Herr Brown, but I’m only trying to help.”
The officer led him out of the room, gripping his elbow for the duration of the short walk to the phones as if he thought Erik might bolt for the exit. He gave a hard stare before he stepped away to offer a little privacy. Erik wasted no time. His encounter with Victor’s murderers had taught him the importance of being prepared. Anything could happen at any time and if you didn’t have the right things in place, that was the difference between sleeping in a warm bed or on the cold, dangerous streets. So, he dialed the phone number he’d drilled into his mind for this leg of his vacation, the US Embassy in Berlin. The phone rang a couple of times before someone answered.
Erik was thankful for the brief respite from conversation as a plan swirled around in his mind and started to take shape. When the man on the other end of the line finished their greeting, Erik launched into the words he hoped would find their way to the right person, the only person he knew he could trust right then.
“This is Erik Brown. I’m an American in Berlin and I have a message for John Smith. You can reach him with this very sensitive information at the following phone number.” Erik rattled off the digits Victor had left him after his death, hidden behind a series of clues that started with a bank routing number sewn into the lining of an old suit he’d left for his grandson to find. The phone number connected directly to the CIA, or at least Erik hoped it still did.
Specifically, it connected to an old front business from Victor’s time with the agency, back before he got burned and went into hiding. Back before he decided to relive his glory days by training his unwitting grandson, teaching Erik how to survive in the shadows. What Erik had thought of as childhood games had become so much darker in the revelations following Victor’s murder. But those skills, so carefully crafted within him by his grandfather, had made it possible for Erik to unravel the conspiracy around the old man’s death and bring Victor’s killers to justice. Agent Smith had helped him then, as much as a CIA agent could on US soil, and hopefully he’d be willing to do so again.
“I’ve been arrested in Berlin. I’m being framed for the murder of Monika Martin. She claimed to have worked with my grandfather, Victor Brown, aka Per Larss—”
“I’m sorry, sir,” the voice on the other end interrupted, his confusion obvious, “this is highly . . . unusual. I’m not sure how to relay your—”
“Just call the number. When someone picks up on the other end, they probably won’t say anything, but just read them my message anyway and hang up. That’s all I need you to do, okay?” A sense of calm had enveloped Erik. All he could do was wait and hope.
“I’ll see what I can do. In the meantime, do you have anyone in Germany you’d like us to contact?”
“Listen, I don’t know how secure this line is, so I don’t want to say too much about my situation. Please, just call that number and give them my message. Do you understand?”
“I . . . I’ll see what I can do.”
“Perfect. Now, please repeat everything back to me.”
The man did. Erik thanked him and the line went dead. He slumped forward, his forehead resting against the cold wall. He closed his eyes against the world, the telephone forgotten in his hand as it pressed into his ear.
He took a deep, cleansing breath before he opened his eyes and hung up the phone. As soon as it rested in its cradle, the officer returned his grip to Erik’s elbow and led him down the hall toward the row of holding cells.
“Not a good conversation?” he asked, misreading Erik’s body language.
“Family member. Didn’t take the news well.”
“You have family in Germany, Herr Brown?” Erik ignored the question, seeing it for what it was.
“Let me help you, Erik. Just tell me what happened between you and Monika Martin, and we can get this whole thing cleared up. If you’re truly innocent, why not explain so?” Erik shook his head, gritting his teeth against the words he wanted to hurl at the good cop routine playing out in his ear.
“So be it,” the man continued. “If you change your mind, contact a guard and they will find me.”
“I want a lawyer,” Erik responded. The officer clucked softly, shaking his head.
“Do you have one?”
He shook his head.
“Then one will be provided.”
The officer led him to a dark holding cell, slamming the heavy metal door shut behind him with a booming clank. The sound resonated in Erik’s mind long after it’d stopped echoing against the sterile beige tiles that lined the walls and floor of his cell.
Easy to clean, Erik decided.
In the corner of the room was a plastic mattress with a thin blanket. A small slit of a window that would’ve been more at home in a basement sat high above his head, overlooking the minuscule cell. Erik sighed and turned toward the door, spotting an uninviting toilet, mostly just a hole in the tile with a stainless-steel bowl shoved into it.
Erik had survived worse. Several months prior, he’d been forced to sleep on the streets in the dawning cold of winter. At least here he was warm.
He sat down on the plastic mattress and wasn’t surprised by how uncomfortable it was. As he fought to find some sense of comfort, Kelsey popped into his mind—his girlfriend, compatriot, and best friend. She was probably terrified, wondering where he was and why he wasn’t back yet. Then he thought about Lars and Selene, his older siblings, and his dad, all oblivious to his whereabouts as he seemingly disappeared from their European vacation.
He should have had the embassy contact them, but he was afraid. This was all a little too familiar. Another former contact of Victor’s entering his life and throwing it into chaos.
“Is what she said true, Bestefar?” Monika’s words rolled around in his mind, her desperation eating away at him.
She’d told Erik that she’d worked with Victor, that he’d been her handler in East Berlin. Monika had trusted him and given him evidence of some terrible crime. She’d only wanted him to hold it while she got control of the situation, but then he never came back. Still desperate to find that evidence, she believed Erik could help. Now she was dead, and he was a suspect.
The timeline with Victor made sense, but Erik couldn’t figure out how he could possibly help her. His grandfather hadn’t exactly been forthcoming about his past. Most of what Erik knew he’d learned after the man’s death. He had to hope that Smith could help fill in some blanks. Hopefully, the spy had gotten his message.
“Not again,” Erik whispered.