Short-Short Story: Dark Roast by Guy Aldridge

Billy gazed down, deep in thought. The steam from his fresh cup of coffee, drifting lazily skyward, was the only indicator that time had merely stretched, not stopped. Across the table Ms. Andersen’s anxious impatience was kept at bay by her curiosity. And the fact that she needed him more than the other way around for once.

“Okay,” he finally exhaled, “I’m in.”

Billy took a sip of coffee and stood up. Ms. Andersen followed suit. Without attracting suspicion they made their way quickly to the door labeled Ausgang. On the street the smell of fresh-baked Brötchen and the melancholy accordion of a street musician guided them up the street toward the Straßenbahn. The setting sun glowed orange as it began to extinguish itself behind a distant hill.

A woman on the streetcar approached them with flowers.

“Möchten Sie Blumen, für Ihre Frau vielleicht?”

Billy, stabilizing himself with a vertical bar, glanced down at her and then returned his gaze out the window.

“Nein, nichts.”

Ms. Andersen hadn’t noticed. She was a million miles away. The PA dinged and lit up the sign for Elsässerstraße, and the two exited out the left side of the train.

In the entrance to his flat Billy used his body to shield the door as he unlocked it. Dogs barked inside. He opened the door and shuffled through it, herding three greyhounds backwards and speaking gently to them. “Alright, alright you sons of bitches. Let’s get your food, you selfish bastards.”

Ms. Andersen stepped cautiously, as through a minefield. Billy was hunched in the corner pouring dog food into metal bowls. She looked around at his numerous disassembled gadgets, footballs, and torn articles of clothing fixed in quilting hoops. Muffled voices came from his radio, turned down low. The floor was constellated with schnapps bottles.

Billy stood up. “These are my dogs. Shirley, Goodness, and Mercy.” The pun was not lost on Ms. Andersen, who laughed.

“You’re one hell of an American,” she retorted.

“And you’re a shitty German.”

Ms. Andersen was unmoved. “Let’s go, Billy. No time to waste.”

He stopped. “You know, I’ve had plenty of free time since I got discharged.”

“So we’re going to do this now. I told you what happened. We didn’t know if we could trust you.”

“No, you pulled that stunt trying to endear yourself to them and get a promotion.” He shook his head. “I ran errands for you, and those people, since ’45.”

She said nothing.

“Well, I guess we’ll just chalk it up to ’52 being a shitty year, right?”

“That was last year. Leave the past in the past. I resigned over that.”

“Yeah, I bet you did. Do you have any idea what it’s like to have the guys from Gehlen Org turning your life upside down? Of course you do. The very fact that those goons were investigating me ruined my career. I’ve gone from being an operative to an operator – an operator of typewriters at the embassy.”

“Which is why I need you.”

Billy turned away.

“With your connections at the US Embassy you can help Friedhelm defect.”

“Your communist lover was stationed at the wrong front in spring of ’45.” He shrugged. “That’s not my problem.”

“He did what he had to save face during Soviet occupation. But now we just want to be together again.”

They stared at each other a moment, then the radio emitted three slow clicks.

“Okay, let’s get this over with,” Billy said as he strode toward the door.

In his narrow garage Billy had trouble turning over the engine of his car. Finally the Volkswagen came to life, sputtering and groaning. He backed it into the street, leaned over and threw open the passenger door for Ms. Andersen. They drove off together. The unobscured moon, piercing through the nighttime sky, seemed to light every corner of the Black Forest.

Billy drove west out of Freiburg toward the French border near Colmar. As they neared the Rhine, he pulled the car over into the parking lot of a closed service station, and cut off the engine. Ms. Andersen looked at him perplexed.

“I’ll get out and pretend to use the phone. You go grab Friedhelm at the river and bring him back to me. If something goes wrong, I’m not going to be taken down with you.”

As Billy opened the door of the phone booth and slipped a quarter into the slot, Ms. Anderson sped out of the gravel parking lot, the tires of the VW skidding as she reentered the highway.

A few minutes later she returned to the service station with a passenger. Billy was gone.

“Wait here,” she instructed Friedhelm. Ms. Andersen got out of the car and struggled in her heels across the gravel driveway to the phone booth. The phone was dangling and she could hear the operator’s recorded message.

Suddenly a car roared into sight. Ms. Andersen turned and saw a big black Ford. A newer model. Two men in suits emerged from the driver and passenger side doors. She froze in fear as one of them sprinted past her. She turned and looked and saw that Friedhelm had jumped out of the VW. His towel had fallen away and he was running nackt toward the road. In his bare feet he was much slower than the clothed man, who quickly caught and tackled him.

The second grabbed Ms. Andersen by the arm and took her to the VW. “Get his papers,” he ordered in German. With slight hesitation she reached under the passenger seat and extracted a package wrapped in plastic. She opened it and handed him the folded papers inside. Friedhelm’s East German identification papers. The man nodded and said, “you’re going to have to come with us now.”

Ms. Andersen panicked, trying to wriggle out of his grasp. He hit her, but she didn’t stop.

“No! He’s defecting! He’s going to help our side!”

“And it would have made for a great love story to tell your kids,” the man said flippantly. Then he stopped her and gazed into her eyes. “Are you mad? You don’t work for the Gehlen Organization any more. You can’t just haul in spies from the GDR yourself. All you are to us right now is at the very least someone smuggling a potential communist spy into the country, and at worst one yourself.”

Back at the Ford, the somewhat drier Friedhelm was handcuffed by the other German agent. Ms. Andersen’s captor showed the papers to him. They talked in hushed voices, but Ms. Andersen caught the German word for Yanks – Amis. The first agent nodded toward the Ford and both rear doors opened. A man with a little mustache and double breasted suit exited one side, and Billy the other. Seeing Billy this way drained the last bit of energy, and will to resist, from Ms. Andersen. The Germans showed Friedhelm’s papers to the American. He flipped through them carefully, then looked up and gestured toward Friedhelm and Ms. Andersen. The Gehlen Org men grabbed them by their arms and shoved them into the back of the Ford, and then got in around them to prevent an escape attempt.

The American agent approached Billy.

“Welcome back to the CIA, Mr. Burns.”

They shook hands.

“Don’t be so eager to get rid of me this time.”

They let go. The American paused, then put on his hat, turned to the car, banged on the hood, and got in the driver’s seat. He pulled the car around in a circle so it faced the road. Rolling the window down he stopped near Billy again.

“Don’t think we’re not watching you.”

And with that the black Ford took off into West Germany.

Billy got into his Volkswagen not entirely contented. He could still smell Ms. Andersen’s perfume. Driving back to Freiburg, he kept the radio off and the window down.

The End

Author bio: Guy B. Aldridge is a freelance historian and writer based in the Washington, D.C. area. His research is focused on French, German, and Catholic history in the twentieth century.