Cover of darkness, p.1
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       Cover of Darkness, p.1

           David Edgerley Gates
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Cover of Darkness


  David Edgerley Gates


  David Edgerley Gates

  Copyright© 1998 DAVID EDGERLEY GATES

  McElroy got off the plane at Gatow at 2100 hours Berlin time. Kim Adrian was there to meet him. The two men shook hands.

  “Why all the hugger-mugger?” McElroy asked.

  Adrian smiled apologetically.

  “We find ourselves captive to informed sources,” he told him. “We’re on our own patch here, of course, but the Americans supplied us with the operational intelligence.”

  “Does that mean we have to play by their rules?” McElroy asked.

  Adrian shrugged. “A small price to pay,” he said.

  The face of the airfield was greasy in the drizzle of light rain, the runways vacant and granular under the glare of the approach lights. Blue halogen lamps hissed along the perimeter fence, and the clang of metal striking metal carried clearly across the vault of open space, as sound travels over water.

  The two men crossed the wet tarmac into the lee of the hangars. A black Mercedes touring saloon with the motor running was waiting in the shadows, showing no lights. It was flanked by two lorryloads of Tommies in battle dress, British Army of the Rhine, posting automatic weapons.

  Berlin in March of 1965 was still an occupied city under the authority of the four wartime Allied powers---Great Britain, the United States, France, and the Soviet Union---but with nominal German civil administration. The divisions of the Cold War had taken on a brutal material shape with the building of the Wall four years before, and the No Man’s Land it created, a death strip patrolled by armed guards.

  Adrian glanced up at the fretful weather. There was a kinetic charge about his person, as if he were a lightning rod for the static electricity in the air, or an excitement he couldn’t quite contain. He opened the door to the car, and McElroy ducked inside.

  There were two men sitting in back. The U.S. Air Force major surrendered his place to McElroy, taking one of the two folding jump seats opposite. Adrian got aboard, tugging the door shut behind him, and adjusted the blackout curtains. He took the second jump seat, put on the dome light, and rapped on the polarized glass that separated them from the driver. The Mercedes oiled into gear, the trucks fell in convoy fore and aft, and they picked up speed sharply as they left the air base. The four men sat in the back of the moving vehicle as if for a rubber of bridge.

  Kim Adrian made the introductions. “Commander Jimmy McElroy, Lieutenant Commander Gwyn Owen, casename BRINE.”

  McElroy studied the Welshman on the seat beside him. Thick and dark, weight about thirteen stone, dressed in dark worsted pants and an Appledore jersey, a naval tunic stripped of service insignia, and rope-soled boots. Bare of jewelry save a heavy diver’s watch on a synthetic band. BRINE, McElroy thought to himself, fishing for the association.

  “Deepwater search and rescue,” the Welshman said, smiling. “We haven’t met.”

  “I’ve heard the name,” McElroy said.

  “I’ve heard yours,” BRINE said. “You headed the dive team that went after an American B-52 that crashed in the Med off Algeciras, reportedly carrying nuclear weapons.”

  “It was a joint operation, US/UK,” McElroy told him.

  They both turned their gaze toward the Air Force major.

  “Major Jacobson is with us in the office of liaison with the American defense intelligence effort,” Adrian explained. “Major, why don’t you do the honors? We can all benefit from your experience.”

  If he read condescension in Adrian’s tone, the major didn’t acknowledge it. He leaned forward, unzipped his documents case, and extracted a green vinyl folder, opening it on his lap. “This briefing is classified CODEWORD, with a restricted command channel,” he announced.

  McElroy offered BRINE a cigarette, which was declined. McElroy lit one for himself, and sat back, watching the smoke eddy in the currents of the air conditioning.

  “This morning at first light, Soviet and Warsaw Pact forces began an air defense exercise,” the major said. “Russian bombers took the part of aggressor aircraft and drew fighter reaction throughout Poland and East Germany. We’ve been monitoring the exercise since it started.” He glanced up from the material in his folder. “Berlin is a hundred miles inside East Germany,” he remarked. “Russian and East German units are stationed all around it, some of them quite close to the city. We intercept their military radio traffic on a regular basis, and this kind of readiness exercise is fairly routine. It’s a dress rehearsal, simulating an actual attack on Soviet forward defenses by NATO forces.”

  He took an eight-by-ten photograph out of his folder and handed it to McElroy.

  The black-and-white glossy was in an acetate envelope. It showed a radar screen, a grey circle spattered across with white pips and bars. Superimposed on the screen was a grid of the civil air corridors leading out of Berlin to the West German border. The radar targets being tracked ran in a line down the middle of the screen from north to south.

  “At the top of the screen is the Baltic coast, and the bottom is the Czech border,” Major Jacobson went on. “In the middle is Berlin. You can seen that the flight path of the attacking bombers takes them right over the city, even though they’re flying at ten thousand meters.”

  McElroy passed the photograph to BRINE.

  “The point is that the Russian bombers taking part in this mock attack flew in from bases in the Soviet Union, and then they flew home again,” the major said. “But under cover of the bombers, flying directly below them at an altitude of eight thousand meters, six aircraft of an unknown operational profile were deployed into East Germany.”

  “How do you know they didn’t go back?” McElroy asked.

  “At about 1030 hours this morning, local time, on approach to Gross Dölln airfield right outside Berlin, one of those six planes developed an apparent instrument malfunction and crashed,” Major Jacobson said.

  There was a cone of silence in the car. The air conditioning rustled. Radial tires wheezed over wet asphalt.

  “Where?” BRINE asked.

  “Here,” Kim Adrian said. “In the British sector of West Berlin.”

  The intercom popped. McElroy blinked.

  “Sir?” The driver spoke from the front seat. “We’re alongside the Havel now.”

  Adrian depressed the squawk bar. “Thank you,” he said. “Flash the truck ahead, and we’ll have a look.”

  The Mercedes slowed down. Adrian switched off the dome light. McElroy parted the side curtains, peering out. BRINE crouched on the floorboards by the window.

  The darkened Mercedes rolled by a bank of woods along a half frozen river. The weather had turned to a fluff of snow that fluttered against the windows of the car and sifted away into the gloom. McElroy’s breath condensed vaguely on the inside of the glass. He made out figures in the woods stationed about every thirty meters along the riverbank, patrolling the edge of the trees. They were obviously standing guard and were armed with assault weapons. He saw the flare of a match as one of them lit a cigarette, cupping the flame.

  “Russians,” Kim Adrian said, speaking softly at his left shoulder.

  They drove in silence past an omnibus and an armored personnel carrier. A hooded sentry loomed up and fell away in the night.

  Adrian rapped his knuckles on the glass partition behind the driver, and the Mercedes picked up speed. Adrian secured the blackout curtains and turned the dome light back on. McElroy lit another cigarette, keeping his face blank.

  “Berlin is governed by a Status of Forces agreement,” Adrian said. “The four military powers accommodate each other within tho
se limits. Following the crash, the commandant of the Soviet garrison sent over two busloads of troops to guard the site. The commandant of the British sector assigned his units to flank the Russians. Late this afternoon, when a Russian salvage team attempted to clear the checkpoints, they were refused entry. The salvage team will be allowed in when the Russians withdraw their men.”

  “It’s a stalemate,” McElroy said.

  “We can stall them until daybreak,” Adrian said. “Which gives us no more than seven hours.”

  The car drew to a stop. Major Jacobson zipped up his documents case. Adrian turned off the dome light, and one by one the four men got out of the car, McElroy last. He stepped out into snow gusting in a falling wind and blowing off a body of water he could sense close at hand. They were standing next to a large communications wagon with US AIR FORCE stenciled on the side panels and the warning RESTRICTED AREA lettered on the door.

  “We’re at this point just half a kilometer north of the nearest Russians,” Adrian said. “Which puts us approximately eleven hundred meters from the crash site.”

  “Which is where, exactly?” McElroy asked, turning slowly to get his bearings.

  “At the bottom of the river Havel in about sixty-five feet of water,” Adrian told him, gesturing into the drifting snowflakes.

  The wind died away, and McElroy heard the chuckling of the river and the thin creak of the skim ice in the darkness.

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