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«Spy Line», Len Deighton

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The fifth book in the Bernard Samson series, 1989

Author's Note

Berlin Game, Mexico Set and London Match together cover the period from spring 1983 until spring 1984.

Winter covers 1900 until 1945.

Spy Hook picks up the Bernard Sampson story at the beginning of 1987 and Spy Line continues it into the summer of that same year.

Spy Sinker starts in September 1977 and ends in summer 1987. The stories can be read in any order and each one is complete in itself.

1

'Glasnost is trying to escape over the Wall, and getting shot with a silenced machine gun!' said Kleindorf. 'That's the latest joke from over there.' He spoke just loudly enough to make himself heard above the strident sound of the piano. His English had an American accent that he sometimes sharpened.

I laughed as much as I could now that he'd told me it was a joke. I'd heard it before and anyway Kleindorf was hopeless at telling jokes: even good jokes.

Kleindorf took the cigar from his mouth, blew smoke at the ceiling and tapped ash into an ashtray. Why he was so finicky I don't know; the whole damned room was like a used ashtray. Magically the smoke appeared above his head, writhing and coiling, like angry grey serpents trapped inside the spotlight's beam.

I laughed too much, it encouraged him to try another one. 'Pretty faces look alike but an ugly face is ugly in its own way,' said Kleindorf.

'Tolstoy never said that,' I told him. I'd willingly play the straight man for anyone who might tell me things I wanted to know.

'Sure he did; he was sitting at the bar over there when he said it.'

Apart from regular glances to see how I was taking his jokes, he never took his eyes off his dancers. The five tall toothy girls just found room on the cramped little stage, and even then the one on the end had to watch where she was kicking. But Rudolf Kleindorf – 'Der grosse Kleiner' as he was more usually known – evidenced the truth of his little joke. The dancers – smiles fixed and eyes wide – were distinguished only by varying cellulite and different choices in hair dye, while Rudi's large lop-sided nose was surmounted by amazingly wild and bushy eyebrows. The permanent scowl and his dark-ringed eyes made unique a face that had worn out many bodies, not a few of them his own.

I looked at my watch. It was nearly four in the morning. I was dirty, smelly and unshaven. I needed a hot bath and a change of clothes. 'I'm tired,' I said. 'I must get some sleep.'

Kleindorf took the large cigar from his mouth, blew smoke, and shouted, 'We'll go on to Singing in the Rain, get the umbrellas!' The piano stopped abruptly and the dancers collapsed with loud groans, bending, stretching and slumping against the scenery like a lot of rag dolls tipped from a toybox. Their bodies were shiny with sweat. 'What kind of business am I in where I am working at three o'clock in the morning?' he complained as he flashed the gold Rolex from under his starched linen cuffs. He was a moody, mysterious man and there were all manner of stories about him, many of them depicting him as bad-tempered and inclined to violent rages.

I looked round ' Babylon '_ It was gloomy. The fans were off and the place smelled of sweat, cheap cosmetics, ash and spilled drinks, as all such places do when the customers have departed. The long chromium and mirror bar, glittering with every kind of booze you could name, was shuttered and padlocked. His clients had gone to other drinking places, for there are many in Berlin which don't get going until three in the morning. Now Babylon grew cold. During the war this cellar had been reinforced with steel girders to provide a shelter from the bombing but the wartime concrete seemed to exude chilly damp. Two blocks away down Potsdamerstrasse one of these shelters had for years provided Berlin with cultivated mushrooms until the health authorities condemned it.

It was the 'carnival finale' that had made the mess. Paper streamers webbed tables still cluttered with wine bottles and glasses. There were balloons everywhere – some of them already wrinkled and shrinking – cardboard beer mats, torn receipts, drinks lists and litter of all descriptions. No one was doing anything to clear it all up. There would be plenty of time in the morning to do that. The gates of Babylon didn't open until after dark.

'Why don't you rehearse the new show in the daytime, Rudi?' I asked. No one called him Der Grosse to his face, not even me and I'd known him almost all my life.

His big nose twitched. 'These bimbos work all day; that's why we go through the routines so long after my bedtime.' It was a stern German voice no matter how colloquial his English. His voice was low and hoarse, the result no doubt of his devotion to the maduro leaf Havanas that were aged for at least six years before he'd put one to his lips.

'Work at what?' He dismissed this question with a wave of his cigar. 'They're all moonlighting for me. Why do you think they want to be paid in cash?'

'They will be tired tomorrow.'

'Yah. You buy an icebox and the door falls off, you'll know why. One of these dolls went to sleep on the line. Right?'

'Right.' I looked at the women with new interest. They were pretty but none of them were really young. How could they work all day and half the night too?


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