“Why not?” said Emma.
“Because it doesn’t fit in with his image of me and I’m not sure he’d believe it.”
“I wish I could tell him. He’s rather low at the moment.”
“Don’t worry, he’ll be back in one house or the other soon enough. It’s in his blood. But what about you? Have you ever considered going into politics, Mrs. Clifton? You have all the right credentials.”
“Never, never, never,” said Emma vehemently. “I couldn’t handle the pressure.”
“You handled it well enough during your recent trial, and I suspect pressure doesn’t worry you when it comes to facing up to your fellow directors.”
“That’s a different kind of pressure,” said Emma. “And in any case—”
“I’m sorry to interrupt you, Secretary of State,” said an agitated minder, “but the candidate seems to be in a spot of trouble.”
Mrs. Thatcher looked up to see an old woman jabbing a finger at the Tory candidate. “That’s not a spot of trouble. That lady probably remembers this street being bombed by the Germans—now that’s what I call a spot of trouble.” She turned back to Emma. “I’ll have to leave you, Mrs. Clifton, but I do hope we’ll meet again, perhaps in more relaxed circumstances.”
“Secretary of State?”
“Yes, yes, I’m coming,” said Mrs. Thatcher. “If he can’t handle one old lady without me having to hold his hand, how’s he ever going to cope with the baying opposition in the Commons?” she added before hurrying away.
Emma smiled and walked back across the road to rejoin her brother, who was telling a military-looking gentleman the sanitized version of why he wasn’t standing in the by-election.
“So what did you think of her?” asked Giles once he’d broken away.
“Remarkable,” said Emma. “Quite remarkable.”
“I agree,” said Giles. “But don’t ever tell her I said so.”
* * *
The call came when he least expected it. Giles turned on the light by the side of his bed to find it was a few minutes after five, and wondered who could possibly be phoning him at that time in the morning.
“Sorry to ring you so early, Giles, but this is not a call I can make from my office.”
“I understand,” said Giles, suddenly wide awake.
“If you can be in Berlin on May twenty-second,” said Walter, “I may be able to deliver your package.”
“That’s wonderful news.”
“But not without some considerable risk, because it will require a bit of luck, and a lot of courage from two young women in particular.”
Giles swung his legs onto the floor, sat on the edge of the bed and listened carefully to what the West German foreign minister expected him to do. By the time Walter had finished, it was no longer dark outside.
* * *
Giles dialed the number again, hoping he’d be in. This time the phone was picked up immediately.
“Good morning, John.”
“Good morning, Sir Giles,” said Pengelly, immediately recognizing the voice.
Giles wondered how long it would be before he dropped the “sir.” “John, before I get in touch with the relevant department at the Home Office, I need to know if Karin has ever applied for a British passport.”
“Yes—or at least I did on her behalf, when she was still thinking of going to Oxford,” said Pengelly.
“Don’t tell me it’s locked away somewhere in East Berlin?”
“No, I picked it up from Petty France myself, and intended to take it back when I returned to East Germany but of course never did. That was some years ago so heaven knows where it is now. Even if I could lay my hands on it, it’s probably out of date.”
“If you can find it, John, it’s just possible you may be seeing your daughter far sooner than you’d expected.”
* * *
Although Griff Haskins invited Giles to attend the count in the Council House, he couldn’t face it. Having tramped the streets with the candidate for the past four weeks, attended countless public meetings and even delivered eve-of-poll leaflets on the Woodbine Estate, when ten o’clock struck on Thursday 20 May, Giles shook hands with Bob Fielding, wished him luck and drove straight back to Barrington Hall.
On arriving home, he poured himself a large glass of whisky and ran a warm bath. He fell asleep within minutes of climbing into bed. He woke just after six, the most sleep he’d had in a month. He got up, strolled into the bathroom and covered his face with a cold, wet flannel, then put on a dressing gown and slippers and padded downstairs.
A black Labrador strolled into the drawing room, his tail wagging, assuming it must be time for his morning walk. What other reason could the master have for being up so early? Giles said, “Sit!” and Old Jack sat down beside him, tail thumping the carpet.
Giles switched on the radio and settled back in a comfortable armchair to listen to the morning news. The prime minister was in Paris holding talks with the French president on the possibility of Britain joining the EEC. Normally, Giles would have been the first to acknowledge the historic significance of such a meeting, but not at this particular moment. All he wanted to know was the result of the Bristol Docklands by-election. “Mr. Heath dined with President Pompidou at the Elysée Palace last night, and although no official communiqué has been released, it’s clear that now General De Gaulle is no longer a political force to be reckoned with, Britain’s application is finally being taken seriously.”
“Get on with it,” said Giles and, as if he’d heard him, the newsreader stayed with Ted Heath, but returned to England.
“Another setback for the Tories,” he declared, “who lost the by-election in Bristol Docklands last night to the Labour Party. The seat had become vacant following the death of Major Alex Fisher, the sitting Conservative member. We now join our West Country correspondent in Bristol, for the latest news.”
“In the early hours of this morning, Bob Fielding, the Labour candidate, was declared the winner of the by-election here in Bristol Docklands by a majority of 3,127, representing a swing of eleven percent from Conservative to Labour.”
Giles leapt in the air, and the dog stopped wagging its tail.
“Although the turnout was low, this was a resounding victory for Mr. Fielding, who, at the age of thirty-two, will be one of the youngest members in the House. This is what he had to say following the announcement of the result: ‘I’d first like to thank the returning officer and his staff for the exemplary way they have—’”
The telephone on the table beside him began to ring. Giles cursed, turned off the radio and picked up the phone, assuming it had to be Griff Haskins, who he knew wouldn’t have gone to bed.
“Good morning, Giles, it’s Walter Scheel…”
GILES COULDN’T SLEEP the night before he was due to fly to Berlin. He was up long before the sun rose, didn’t bother with breakfast and took a taxi from his home in Smith Square to Heathrow hours before his flight was due to depart. First flights in the morning were almost the only aircraft guaranteed to take off on time. He picked up a copy of the Guardian in the first-class lounge, but didn’t get beyond the front page as he drank a cup of black coffee and went over Walter’s plan again and again. It had one fundamental weakness, what he’d described as a necessary risk.
Giles was among the first to board the aircraft and, even though the plane took off on time, kept checking his watch every few minutes throughout the flight. The plane touched down in Berlin at 9:45 a.m. and, as Giles had no luggage, he was sitting in the back of another taxi twenty minutes later.
“Checkpoint Charlie,” he said to the driver, who gave him a second look before joining the early morning traffic heading into the city.
Soon after they’d passed the dilapidated Brandenburg Gate, Giles spotted the white Mercedes coach Walter had told him to look out for. As he didn’t want to be the first person to board, he asked the taxi driver to stop a couple of hundred yards from the crossing
point. Giles paid the fare and began to stroll around as if he were a tourist, not that there were any sites to look out for, other than a graffiti-covered wall. He didn’t start to make his way toward the coach until he’d seen several other delegates climb aboard.
Giles joined the line of foreign dignitaries and political journalists who had traveled from all over Europe to attend a ceremonial lunch and hear a speech by Erich Honecker, the new general secretary of the Socialist Unity Party. He still wondered if he might once again be prevented from crossing the border and be left with no choice but to return on the next flight back to Heathrow. But Walter had assured him that since he was representing the British Labour Party as a former foreign minister, he would be made most welcome by his hosts. The East German regime, Walter explained, had been unable to open any meaningful dialogue with the present Conservative government and was desperate to forge some worthwhile alliances with the Labour Party, especially as it looked likely that they would soon be returning to power. When Giles reached the front of the queue he handed his passport to an official, who gave it a cursory glance before ushering him on board. The first hurdle crossed.
As Giles walked down the aisle, he spotted a young woman sitting alone near the back, looking out of the window. He didn’t need to check her seat number.
“Hello,” he said.
She looked up and smiled. He didn’t know her name, and perhaps it was better that he didn’t. All he knew was that she spoke fluent English, was an interpreter by profession, roughly the same age as Karin, and would be wearing an identical outfit to hers. But there was one thing Walter hadn’t explained. Why was she willing to take such a risk?
Giles looked around at his fellow delegates. He didn’t recognize any of them, and was pleased to see that no one showed the slightest interest in him. He sat down by his blind date, slipped a hand into an inside pocket and pulled out Karin’s passport. There was one thing missing, and that would remain in his wallet until the return journey. Giles leaned forward to shield the young woman as she bent down and took a tiny square photo and a tube of glue out of her handbag. She completed the process in a couple of minutes. It was clear she had practiced the exercise several times.
Once she’d placed the passport in her handbag, Giles took a closer look at the woman sitting next to him. He could immediately see why Walter had chosen her. She was a similar age and build to Karin, possibly a couple of years older and a few pounds heavier, but roughly the same height, with the same dark eyes and auburn hair, which she’d arranged in Karin’s style. Clearly as little as possible had been left to chance.
Giles checked his watch again. It was almost time for them to leave. The driver conducted a head count. He was two short.
“I’ll give them another five minutes,” he said, as Giles glanced out of the window to see a couple of figures running toward the bus. He recognized one of them as a former Italian minister, although he couldn’t recall his name. But then, there were a lot of former Italian ministers.
“Mi dispiace,” the man said as he climbed aboard. Once the two latecomers were seated, the doors closed with a soft hiss of air and the coach set off at a pedestrian pace toward the border crossing.
The driver came to a halt in front of a red-and-white striped barrier. The coach door swung open to allow two smartly dressed American military policemen to climb aboard. They carefully checked each passport, to make sure the temporary visas were in order. Once they’d completed their task, one of them said, “Have a good day,” without any suggestion that he meant it.
The coach never got out of first gear as it progressed another three hundred yards toward the East German border, where it once again came to a halt. This time three officers in bottle-green uniforms, knee-length leather boots and peaked caps climbed on board. Not a smile mustered between them.
They took even longer checking each passport, making sure every visa was correctly dated and stamped, before one of them placed a tick against a name on his clipboard and moved on to the next passenger. Giles displayed no emotion when one of the officers asked to see his passport and visa. He checked the document carefully, then placed a tick by the name of Barrington. He took considerably longer looking at Karin’s passport, and then asked her a couple of questions. As Giles couldn’t understand a word the guard was saying, he became more anxious by the second, until a tick was placed next to the name Karin Pengelly. Giles didn’t speak until all three officers had disembarked, the door had been closed and the coach had crossed a wide yellow line which indicated that they had crossed the border.
“You’re welcome to East Berlin,” said the driver, clearly unaware of the irony of his words.
Giles looked up at the tall brick towers manned by armed guards who stared down on the crude concrete wall crowned with razor wire. He felt sorry for its jailed inhabitants.
“What did he ask you about?” asked Giles.
“He wanted to know where I lived in England.”
“What did you tell him?”
“Why Parson’s Green?”
“That’s where I had digs when I was studying English at London University. And he must have thought I was your mistress, because your wife’s name is still on your passport as next of kin. Fortunately, being someone’s mistress isn’t a crime in East Germany. Well, not yet.”
“Who would take a mistress to East Berlin?”
“Only someone who was trying to get one out.”
Giles hesitated before he asked his next question. “Shall we go over the details of what will happen once we reach the hotel?”
“That won’t be necessary,” she replied. “I met up with Karin a few days ago when the minister was holding bilateral talks with his opposite number, so all you have to do is stay in your seat during lunch, make sure everyone thinks you’re enjoying the meal and keep applauding during the general secretary’s speech. Leave the rest to us.”
“But—” began Giles.
“No buts,” she said firmly. “It’s better that you don’t know anything about me.”
Giles would have liked to ask her what else she knew about Karin, but decided that was probably also verboten. Although he still remained curious why …
“I can’t tell you how much I appreciate what you’re doing,” whispered Giles, “both for me and Karin.”
“I’m not doing it for either of you,” she said matter-of-factly. “I’m doing it for my father, who was shot down trying to climb over that wall, just three days after it had been built.”
“I’m so sorry,” said Giles. “Let’s hope it will come down one day,” he added as he looked back at the gray concrete monstrosity, “and sanity will return.”
“Not in my lifetime,” she said, in the same impassive voice, as the coach trundled on toward the center of the city.
Eventually they pulled up outside the Adlon Hotel, but it was some time before they were allowed to disembark. When the doors finally opened, they were shepherded off the coach by a posse of tall uniformed policemen accompanied by snarling Alsatians on short leads. The delegates remained corralled until they had reached the dining room, where they were released into a large pen. The East Germans’ idea of making you feel at home.
Giles checked the seating plan displayed on a board to one side of the double doors. Sir Giles Barrington and his interpreter were on table number 43 near the back of the room, where they wouldn’t attract attention, Walter had explained. He and his companion found their places and sat down. Giles tried subtly, and then crudely, to find out her name and what she did, but came up against another brick wall. It was clear that her identity had to remain secret, so he satisfied himself with talking about London and the theatre, to which she happily responded, until several people around them stood up and began to applaud—some more loudly than others.
Giles stood to see the diminutive figure of Comrade Honecker enter the room surrounded by a dozen bodyguards who towered over him, so that he only occasionally b
obbed into view. Giles joined in the applause, as he didn’t want to draw attention to himself. The general secretary walked toward the top table and, as he climbed the few steps up onto the platform, Giles spotted Walter applauding about as enthusiastically as he was.
The West German foreign minister was seated just two places away from the general secretary, and it wasn’t difficult for Giles to work out that the man between them had to be Walter’s Russian counterpart, because he was clapping more enthusiastically than anyone else at the top table.
When everyone in the room finally sat down, Giles saw Karin for the first time. She was seated behind the two foreign ministers. He was immediately reminded why he’d been so captivated by her. During the meal he couldn’t stop staring in her direction, but she never once returned the compliment.
The three-course meal was both interminable and inedible: nettle soup followed by boiled beef and soggy cabbage, and finally a slab of brick-hard cake covered in custard that any self-respecting schoolboy would have left untouched. His companion began asking him questions, clearly trying to distract him from constantly staring at Karin. She asked which musicals were on in London. He didn’t know. Had he seen Oh! Calcutta!? No, he hadn’t. What was showing at the Tate Gallery? He had no idea. She even asked if he’d met Prince Charles.
“Yes, once, but only briefly.”
“Who’s the lucky girl who will marry him?”
“No idea, but it will have to be someone the Queen approves of.”
They continued chatting, but she never once mentioned Karin or asked how they had met.
At last the waiters began to clear away the pudding; there was enough left over to feed the five thousand. The chairman, the mayor of East Berlin, rose slowly from his place and tapped his microphone several times. He didn’t begin to speak until he had complete silence. He then announced in three languages that there would be a ten-minute break before the general secretary of the Socialist Unity Party would address them.
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A Wasted Hour: A Specially Selected Story from Tell Tale PDF book by Jeffrey Archer Read Online or Free Download in ePUB, PDF or MOBI eBooks. Published in September 2017 the book become immediate popular and critical acclaim in short stories, fiction books.
The main characters of A Wasted Hour: A Specially Selected Story from Tell Tale novel are John, Emma. The book has been awarded with Booker Prize, Edgar Awards and many others.
One of the Best Works of Jeffrey Archer. published in multiple languages including English, consists of 5 pages and is available in ebook format for offline reading.
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|Original Title:||A Wasted Hour: A Specially Selected Story from Tell Tale|
|Number Of Pages:||5 pages|
|First Published in:||September 2017|
|Latest Edition:||September 5th 2017|
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