Chapter 37, in which Cliff Thompson comes in from the cold
THE EAST CHECKS IN
Arnie Miller, the CIA’s Berlin Station Chief, waits next to a payphone near the entrance to the Oskar-Helene-Heim U-Bahn station in West Berlin. The message from Cliff Thompson came first thing this morning: be at the phone booth at 5:00 p.m. Miller knows Thompson’s reputation as a maverick, but he also knows Thompson isn’t inclined to waste his or anyone else’s time. So he waits.
Thompson’s disappearance more than a year ago, or more accurately his lack of contact with the station for more than a year, is one of the mysteries Miller hopes to clear up if he can set up a meeting. When Miller learned from Langley that Thompson was operating in the Rostock area, he sent a courier on a launch out of Copenhagen to rendezvous with a Polish diesel mechanic who was turned after his entire family was shipped off to prison for being in the wrong place at the wrong time during the Poznan riots in 1956. The mechanic, who works on the waterfront in Rostock, confirmed he’s been hearing bits and pieces about an American agent working the area for the last six months. The courier passed on Miller’s instructions to do whatever was necessary to make contact with Thompson.
The mechanic, at best a gifted amateur, took a shot at a lengthy and dangerous run through Rostock’s waterfront bars and cafés. When Thompson got word from a robust, accommodating barmaid that the Pole was looking for him he started a search of his own. Finding and then cornering the mechanic in an alleyway was too easy for a pro like Thompson. The mechanic was two seconds from getting his throat slit when he convinced Thompson of his connection to Arnie Miller. Thompson spared the man’s life. He then relayed a message to the Berlin Station Chief via Gdansk using the comms room of a Lithuanian freighter whose captain lives for the privilege of shoving it to the Russian occupiers of his homeland.
The payphone rings. Miller slides in and picks up the receiver.
“I got it.”
“How ‘bout some home cooking?”
“I’ll be there.”
Miller hangs up and heads to his Zehlendorf office surmising, correctly, that Thompson’s oblique reference to home cooking refers to the modest turn-of-the-century house that has served as the CIA’s unassuming headquarters in Berlin for nearly 15 years.
“Send him in, Laura.”
Moments later the door to Arnie Miller’s first floor office opens and Cliff Thompson walks in.
“Jesus Christ, Thompson. Give me one good reason I shouldn’t have you arrested on the spot.”
“How about because you don’t have anyone working for you who can slip back and forth across the Iron Curtain as easily as I can?”
“You know, we’ve given that some thought, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure you’re working both sides of the curtain.”
“That’s a chance you’re going to have to take.”
“What’ve you got?”
“Whatever these guys are cooking, my bet is they’re cooking it all in one spot.”
“Negative. Same thing for Prague and Warsaw. Experiments were conducted after receipts of shipments from across the pond. That’s all I’ve got, but it’s solid.”
“Nothing more definite? A country? A continent?”
“Gotta leave something for you guys to do.”
“Yeah, thanks. How are you living?”
“I had some cash when I jumped, most of it from you guys, and STASI pays me in west marks to feed them bullshit.”
“How long can that last?”
“Tough to say. Trips like this boost my credibility. They’ll debrief me tomorrow or the next day, and I’ll tell them something they want to hear.”
“Why not stay over here?”
“Where’s the fun in that?”
“Where’s the fun in getting a bullet in your brain, or haven’t you heard about those guys?”
“Your concern is touching. Time to go.”
Thompson stands to leave.
“How do I get in touch with you?”
“You don’t. I’ll check in if I’ve got something for you.”
“You need anything? Cash?”
“I’m okay for now. I’ll let you know.”
Thompson heads for the door.
He stops and turns around.
“It’s good to see you. I thought for sure you were a corpse.”
Thompson smiles, turns, and leaves the office.
Arnie Miller picks up his phone.
“Laura. Get me the secure line to Langley. I need to talk to Bill Johnson.”