Leipzig Affair – free extract
Published to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, The Leipzig Affair is the story of a doomed love affair between a young Scot studying at Leipzig University in 1985 and an East German woman desperate to flee. The Leipzig Affair is out on 10 November 2014 and is available to pre-order from Waterstones.
The version of Marek’s death that Bob has played back to himself most frequently down the years is the one where Marek gets shot in the back. It goes like this:
Marek is walking across the raked sand of the death strip. His stride is loose. His head is held high. He looks confident, like a man who knows where he’s going and what he’s going to do when he gets there. He’s wearing what he was wearing the night Bob first met him at the club in Leipzig: Levi’s and a white cotton shirt. It’s night time. The strip is floodlit. The sky is clear. A half moon casts an eerie glow over the dim-lit buildings of Berlin, Capital of the German Democratic Republic to the east and the lime trees of the Tiergarten to the west.
A guard’s sudden cry cuts the air: “Halt!”
Marek stops, but casually, almost as if he didn’t hear the shout. The beam from an overhead searchlight sweeps across the strip and finds him. He stands in a pool of ultra-bright light.
“Hands up!” the guard screams.
Slowly, Marek raises his arms. Then he leans his head back. His shoulder-length black hair shifts in the night breeze. He looks like Jesus Christ. For a moment, everything is still on the strip. Only the distant rumble of traffic disturbs the calm. Then Marek lets his arms drop and turns his head to look behind him.
Gunfire cracks. A bullet rips towards him. The impact punches the air from his lungs. His legs buckle, and he falls down on to the sand with a thud. His head is turned to one side, and he is looking straight at Bob, his sightless eyes wide in surprise. A trickle of blood forms at his parted lips. A red stain seeps across the white cotton of his shirt. It is strangely beautiful, like an exotic flower.
Bob knows, of course, that these imaginings are preposterous. Who would attempt to sneak across the world’s most heavily fortified border in a white shirt? Why does he see Marek in Berlin when he knows he was planning to cross the border in the Harz Mountains? And how could Marek be looking at him when he wasn’t there?
But that’s his vision of it. Marek in a crisp white cotton shirt. Marek walking across no man’s land with the easy grace of an athlete. Marek – beautiful, clever, bitchy Marek – mowed down by a single bullet fired into his back.
Hencke places a blank sheet of paper from his briefcase on the coffee table and hands you a pen. “Just copy the statement out in long hand and sign at the bottom. Think! This time next year you’ll have been to England. You’ll have seen the Golden West with your own eyes.”
You stare at the sheet of paper. It’s your ticket out. You might never get another one. If you refuse him, he’ll cause you all sorts of problems. You don’t know how far his connections reach.
“Why do you want me to copy it out? Couldn’t I just sign it?”
He waves an admonitory finger. “Tsk, tsk, tsk, little mouse. We mustn’t be lazy. Commitments from unofficial collaborators must always be written out. That way no one can wriggle out of it later, hmm?”
You sit on Hencke’s plastic sofa holding the pen. Would it really be so bad to do this? You could tell them things that weren’t important – things that perhaps weren’t even true. You could be clever.
Hencke is watching you. “You are right to consider carefully.” His tone is flat, his eyes cold. “This is a very serious matter. Our State Security Service is the sword and shield of the Party. It protects our socialist way of life. A commitment to work for the MfS should not be undertaken lightly.” He sits back. “But I know you. I am fully convinced you are up to the task.”
For a moment, you’re tempted. Betray a friend in exchange for freedom. It must happen all the time. Marek need never know. No one need know. And soon you’ll be gone anyway, both of you, and then none of it will matter. You turn the pen in your hand and suddenly you see: there was never going to be any deal without this. You pull the sheet of paper towards you. Sometimes it is necessary to be hard and selfish to get what we want in life. We can’t always think of others and be kind.
“Good,” says Hencke. “It will also be better for your family if you follow this course.”
Your family. The paper swims before you, and it all comes back to you – what it was like in the days after your brother’s accident. Marek was the one who helped you then, the only one who stood up to your father. You’re in this together, you and he. Always have been, always will be.