CHAPTER 1 – Initial Contact
The snow was falling with hesitant flakes on the dirty grey streets of the Capital city. Only a few days ago, there was a fair blanket of the white stuff on the streets and sidewalks, but that was all melted now and the grime reigned supreme.
Harry Johnson stood inside the glass and metal phone booth across the street from the main railway station. It was an archaic monument to long-gone communication systems. This one had illegal advertisements of female services available with a simple introductory call. That would have been a definite no-no in the glory days of the ultimate Partisan Tito. The faint but unmistakable odor of stale urine rose with stealthy insidiousness from the trash-littered floor.
The slightly older than middle-aged Mr. Johnson was in reality an American, but he carried a Canadian passport and worked for a German import-export company well respected in Belgrade. He carried with him glowing recommendations from high officials in the Ministry of the Interior and from the Ministry of Commerce. Neither of these well-known members of the current government had actually ever met Mr. Johnson but they were informed by trusted advisors that the recommendations were warranted and would never come back to “bite” them.
This was not the first time Harry had been to Belgrade. He was quite familiar with the layout of the city and knew the secret to using the excellent mass transit systems to his advantage. Of course, Harry was not his real name and neither was Johnson, but they seemed innocuous enough to escape the notice of the internal police.
Harry was a familiar face around the American Embassy and he occasionally visited the Marine bar staying quietly in the darkened corners listening to the laughter and the antics of the diplomatic corps. All that anyone knew of Harry was that he was a Canadian from some God-awful place in the frozen North and that he was quick to buy a drink for anyone who ventured to talk to him.
For those of you who are curious as to why the quiet and unassuming Mr. Harry Johnson was shivering in the cold telephone booth, it can only be said that he was simply “following orders.”
Harry thought back to a time when he was in almost the exact same location and he was waiting patiently for a defecting Bulgarian Jew to show up for transfer to the newest stage of his extraction into beautiful Italy on the Northern border.
It was not as cold that time and his reason for shivering was an ingrained fear of being caught and not because of the elements. The Bulgarian Jew turned out to be a dud with regard to usable intelligence but he did know a number of possible future sources who were dirty with black market ties.
This time his target was described simply as “The Dancer” and he was to take the target to Zagreb to secure some dependable travel documents. That sort of thing was not available in Belgrade any longer because of the many crack-downs to rid the City of undesirable elements. He did know a Greek who worked over in Novi-Sad but as soon as he headed in that direction, Harry knew his cover would be useless for he had no reason to go in that direction.
He kept up the charade of trying to read a railway schedule and made several bogus calls on the telephone just in case anyone was interested in his actions. Harry’s gut told him that not a single soul was interested in him and that he was not on anyone’s radar at the moment.
A young girl approached his booth from the direction of the river. He assumed she wanted to make a call but it was not convenient to his appointment and he signaled with his hands that he needed several more minutes for his call.
The girl knocked on the glass door.
He could see she was pretty even without any make-up on her face or lipstick on her mouth. She leaned up close to the door and whispered,
“I’m the dancer!”
Suddenly, Harry was worried. This was not a customary transit job or a drop of no consequence. He tried to judge the odds that this might even be a trap of some elaborate design to retaliate for previous indiscretions. He discounted the Serbs; they were too busy with their own problems. The Russians were concerned more with the anti-missile affair and the Balkans were not even on their chalkboard. For one scary moment, he considered that it might be the Mossad finally connecting the dots on his fiasco in Venice. If it was them, then he was a dead man already and he might as well just go with the flow.
Slowly, Harry opened the door and the slender girl slipped inside to get out of the chilly wind that made the cold even colder.
“I am to tell you I am “The Dancer” and give you this packet from the last stop.”
The pretty girl handed Harry a manila envelope with a cloth ribbon tied around it. He held it in his hand like it was a live poisonous snake ready to send him to his maker. The whole thing looked like a scene from some thriller film. An errant thought filtered through his brain that it was a film in which he wanted no part.
He looked inside and saw there were a set of photos and unfinished documents from a previous attempt to move the girl along the route out of the country. He hesitated to ask the outcome of that particular disaster.
The girl was shivering and moved closer to him instinctively for his body heat.
“My name is…”
Harry quickly interrupted her by warning,
“No names, dearie, saves trouble later on.”
He looked around trying his best not to show that he was scoping out the area for danger.
Two militia huddled in a doorway smoking cigarettes with their hands in their pockets. They both looked a little hung-over from the night before.
A drunk looking on the verge of frostbite was spread-eagled on the solitary bench in front of the station.
A pair of taxis waiting with their engines running hoping some traveler would come running up needing transportation.
Everything looked to be all correct and in order.
Still, he had that old familiar feeling in his gut that told him something was not quite right.
“Listen little Miss Dancer, we are too exposed here and I think the station is not for us right now. Put your arm in mine and when we start to walk up the hill, I want you to laugh as though I have just told you the funniest story you have ever heard.”
They walked away, arm in arm, like old friends heading to a warm and cozy room to make passionate love in the early morning hours.
No one looked in their direction and, most importantly, they were not followed.
Harry’s hotel was only a short distance away. In fact, it was almost “right around the corner” as he was so fond of saying like a litany when drunk and prone to spouting German. He was expecting to make up some “cock and bull” story about his sister or his assistant coming up to his room to have a cup of coffee, but the deskman was snoring with his head back at an impossible angle in danger of falling off his tilted chair.
They took the stairs as quietly as possible because the elevator was so noisy it would certainly wake up the inquisitive clerk. It was far too early for others to be out and about so they were able to slip into his tiny room without being spotted.
Harry and the Dancer took off their bulky clothing and he saw that the unwrapped package was stacked like a brick shithouse. For some strange reason, the phrase stuck in his mind whenever he encountered an attractive member of the opposite sex. However, this petite little package was neither brick nor a shithouse. She was curved softly in all the right places and her face looked up at him with a scared shyness that made him instantly aroused with sexual need. It was really so very laughable for it was not the right place or the right time for such depraved thoughts.
The girl lowered her eyes as if reading his dirty thoughts and began to play with a button on her sweater.
Harry made the coffee on the little tabletop burner and the girl relaxed on the only chair in the room.
“We can make it to Zagreb easiest on the train but it is better if we catch a ride to the station outside of Belgrade and board there. My papers are good but yours are shit and we would probably be scooped up by the local cops here. If I add a little bit of sugar to the papers outside the City circle then they will most likely just stamp them and look the other way.”
She looked at him standing over her and asked,
“When will we get to Zagreb, sir?”
He slowly sipped the thick black brew and replied,
“Mid-morning at the latest providing there are no problems on the way. Sometimes they have to stop for freight and it slows us down.”
She was more relaxed now and he could see the tension start to drain from her shoulders and her tiny little body. He wanted to reach out and hold her in his arms but realized how unprofessional and inappropriate that would be and contented himself by just patting her hand.
Her hand was still cold despite the fact they were in a nicely heated room. Harry hoped she would thaw out soon and perhaps even fall off to sleep because he would not have access to a vehicle until after noon.
His friend and previous black market partner, Nickolai, was a driver now for the American Embassy and he often drove Harry in one of the spare vehicles to one of his “spur of the moment” destinations out of a sense of loyalty and addiction to danger. He never asked questions and had never disappointed Harry when he was in a jam.
The girl was already asleep and she slipped forward on the narrow chair.
Harry picked her up and found she was light as a feather. Her head rested in the crook of his elbow and her soft breast made searing imprints on his chest. He gently deposited her on the wide bed and pulled her risen skirt down to cover her legs before pulling up a blanket to her neck. She turned away from him and his eyes focused on the swell of her rounded hips under the shield of the thin blanket.
He pulled his thoughts together and began to inspect the documents in the manila packet. He could tell they were well-done but far from completion.
There was a lot of work to be done.