© CHAPTER THREE - UNEDITED

©

Risto Prazina left his bedsit around midnight and took a taxi to Marble Arch. Outside the tube station he made a long telephone call from a public kiosk. After finishing the call he walked along Park Lane to Grosvenor House, lit a cigarette, then walked back slowly to the Arch and waited outside the tube entrance until one-thirty. A young fair-haired man in his twenties, dressed in a dinner suit and open neck shirt approached him at one-forty and the two talked for several minutes. A taxi brought them to the address in Pimlico and Strange followed at a discreet distance. At three-thirty, Prazina left the house alone.

   It seemed an odd time for someone to leave and Strange was suspicious. After reporting in to ‘The Desk’, he was told to wait while the homeowner’s identity was checked out.

   Five minutes later, Strange’s earpiece bleeped.

   “Hello, Harry. What’s the score?”

   “In you go - and be careful. The owner is Paul Westgate, an American working at the embassy. His name is Paul Westgate. If anything has happened to him, you know what to do.”

   “Yes.” Strange felt his stomach tightening.

   “Meet me on the Canary at seven.”

   “Okay.”

   Strange crept forward until he reached the rear of the house and some French windows. Taking a small bunch of lock picks from his pocket, he was inside the house in seconds. He closed the doors quietly and listened to the faint strains of classical orchestration coming from a radio upstairs. Apart from the music, there were no other sounds. He gently opened the kitchen door into the hallway and saw a small address book lying open on the mat below the front door. Prazina had left in a hurry.

   A dinner jacket hung clumsily over the banisters at the foot of the stairs and one shoe lay on its side halfway along the hall. Strange moved to the stairs and looked up at the small landing where another shoe lay in the corner. Cautiously, he made his way up, his back against the wall, all senses alert.  Three doors led off the landing. The bathroom door was open and he could see plain white tiled walls and a small hand basin. A towel lay neatly folded on a stand next to the basin. Nothing looked as though it had been disturbed.

 Stepping up onto the landing, his foot came down on a loose board. There was a loud squeak. He stopped, heart pounding, rooted to the spot. After a couple of minutes, he eased himself forward and tiptoed across to the first closed door. Carefully he opened it until he was able to look through the crack into the room, bathed in moonlight. A bed covered in an embroidered pale blue duvet stood against the center of one wall. To one side of the bed was a dressing table and next to that a large chest of drawers. Dark blue carpet complimented light colored wallpaper with dark lines running vertically through it. The bed had not been slept in and there was a fresh aroma of potpourri, suggesting that the room had not been entered for some time.

   Strange moved to the next door that opened into the second bedroom at the front of the house. The thick smell of defecation that immediately enveloped him as he opened the door made him retch. At first he saw very little, the outline of a body on the bed, a towel on the floor at his feet and luminous green figures on the face of a bedside radio clock from which soft music played. Squares of light, getting longer and brighter, moved across the floor and bed, prematurely enhancing the oncoming dawn. Blood had spattered in an arc across the wall above the bed on which Westgate’s bloody body lay. 

   Strange looked keenly at the body, then around the room, trying to stay detached and memorizing where everything was and how the murder had taken place. Carefully stepping over underclothes and a shirt, he peered inside the en-suite shower room. There were no signs of a struggle and everything looked as it should. Methodically, he searched the living room, bathroom and the bedroom, leaving no bottle of pills, reading books or CD cases unchecked.

   It wasn’t until he looked through the pockets of the jacket hanging over the banisters that he found the wallet. Opening it, he found a small diary and flicked through the pages. The contents were meticulously detailed. Pocketing the book, he set about wiping for prints although he suspected that Prazina would have already seen to that. None the less, Harry would not forgive him if he didn’t make sure. It was not in Harry’s interests to have Prazina caught just yet.

   By six-thirty he was finished downstairs just as the paperboy pushed the Sunday Telegraph through the letterbox. Picking up the telephone receiver, he called the emergency services. Within an hour, he knew the place would be crawling with Special Branch, CIA and God knows who else. At least Harry would be one step ahead of the pack.

   He lowered his voice and stuttered. “Y-y-yes, hello, I, I’d - like an ambulance p-p-please. There’s been a - m-murder.” He gave the address and hung up before the operator had a chance to put him through to the police.

 

Harry sat comfortably in the corner of the stateroom, reading the Sunday Times travel section whilst sipping tea and crunching on a slice of toast coated with a generous helping of lime marmalade. It wasn’t his normal routine for a Sunday morning but then this wasn’t any ordinary Sunday morning. He wondered if Michael Garrett had been woken early by embassy staff informing him of the terrible news.

   Looking through the window and along St Katherine’s quayside, he watched the tall figure of Dawson Strange ambling slowly, hands deep in jeans, toward the Canary. Long dark hair spilled over the collar of a grubby denim shirt. His head was inclined as though he were looking at the ground but Harry knew he was alert, his eyes missing nothing. Having left the murder scene less than an hour earlier, his senses would be finely tuned, his muscles tight.

   A little more experience, thought Harry, and the boy would relax quicker, learn to accept the sight and smell of death. None the less, he was pleased with the report on Strange. Recently returned from six months intensive intelligence and firearms training in Israel, something Jerusalem had insisted on, he graduated in second place. At thirty-nine, Dawson Strange was a man who had learned some of life’s lessons the hard way. He trusted few but those who were earned his loyalty.

   The first time they met, Strange was in his late teens although at that time his name was Raithe Ravelle. For years Harry’s cover was that of a diamond dealer with criminal links. In that way, he trawled information and made useful contacts across the whole social spectrum. Ravelle had been recommended by one of Harry’s contacts and appeared in the Hatton Garden showroom one day with some jewelry robbed from a country house. Harry took the jewelry and asked him to call back in a week. During their brief meeting, he’d been impressed with Ravelle’s knowledge of art and antiquities. On his second visit Ravelle had picked up a diamond dropped by a client leaving the shop and chased after the man to give it back. In Harry’s eyes, Ravelle was someone he could trust and someone, when the time arrived, who could be trained - and later turned.

   Several years later, when that time arrived, Ravelle robbed a bank along with three others, despite a stern warning to the contrary. Through an evil act of twisted revenge by a fellow gang member, Ravelle was grassed on and convicted. He spent nine years in jail. By the time he was released he’d lost his wife, although reunited with his daughter. Harry had looked after her, sending her to a private school in Switzerland.

   The release coincided with the Middle East peace talks and Harry lost no time in recruiting Ravelle’s help to retrieve the icon stolen from the Americans. Ravelle had felt obliged and agreed, not that he needed much persuasion as the icon was inside a safe depository along with a lot of other valuables belonging to villains, listed by Harry as sweeteners he could help himself to.

   With time running out and a ruthless criminal trying to get his hands on the icon, Ravelle had been instrumental in getting the work of art back to the Russians. He also discovered Reinecke’s note, giving details of the hiding place of the Amber Room. That’s when Harry recruited him. By then he didn’t have much choice anyway. He knew too much, much more than Jerusalem would allow him to walk away with. They insisted he be recruited - or else. Ravelle was happy to work for Harry, who made him a London operative and, with the help of Ambassador Michael Garrett, gave him a new identity. Dawson Strange, an American multi millionaire and connoisseur of fine art, who’d inherited a fortune from his oil magnate grandfather, had been born. 

   Harry leaned forward from his armchair and opened the stateroom door. Strange stepped lightly down into the cockpit.

   “Come in, dear boy, come in and sit down.”

   Strange appeared in the doorway, tight lipped and tense, his gray-green eyes flitting around the stateroom. He sat on the chair opposite Harry and crossed his legs, then uncrossed them almost immediately. Nervously, he rubbed the small scar under his lower lip with a forefinger.

   “That bad, eh?” Harry handed him a glass of brandy. “Here, down this and take your time.”

   Strange swallowed the brandy in one gulp and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. As the glass was refilled he began to shake. He twisted uncomfortably in the chair and held the glass in both hands. Looking at the floor, he said, “I’ve seen violence - men shot, all the shit that goes on in prison, but this….” His voice trailed off.

   Harry waited patiently. “We are all animals on this earth. We all kill to live. Unfortunately, some of us have to kill to preserve freedom and democracy. Then there are those who kill for reward and worse still, those who kill for reward and pleasure. If what you have witnessed sickens you to the core then I have the right man by my side.” He patted Strange’s arm firmly and said in a low voice, “This is a dirty business we are in, Dawson, and there will be many scenes such as you have just witnessed and each time you will be sickened. I will be wary the day you are not.” He waggled a finger in the air and sighed deeply.

   Strange sipped the brandy and looked into Harry’s eyes. “He’d been gutted like a fish, Harry. Prazina did it without a shadow of doubt. There wasn’t anyone else there except the two of them. Bastard!” He spat the word out.

   “Okay,” said Harry, standing, “let’s see where all this is leading us. We know that Prazina is a Yugoslav agent working as chairman of the STS and recently seen in Iraq providing security for top Belgrade officials whom we suspect of supplying the PFA. We don’t know why he came to London, except as a representative of the charity. My guess is that he was fishing specifically for a mole in the American embassy and found one in young Mr Westgate. Why? Perhaps a way of gleaning little tit bits of information, seemingly unimportant in themselves but which, when studied together, would give Prazina an overall feel of any suspicions that the Americans might have about Belgrade and whatever secret little dirty deals they have going with Iraq.” He pushed the breakfast tray to one side and took a cigar from a leather pouch lying on the coffee table. Lighting it, he blew a cloud of smoke into the air and sat back. “Remember,” he continued, “Westgate saw all press releases and all non top secret dispatches to and from Washington and the general press. However, if that were the case, considering the time and effort taken to gain Westgate’s confidence, there must have been something that Westgate found out that frightened Prazina. Something Westgate had to be silenced for.”

   “I think you may be right, Harry. Westgate took some insurance out, not that it did him any good. I found this in a wallet in his jacket.” Strange took the small diary from his back pocket and handed it to Harry. “You won’t like what you're about to read.”

   Harry puffed on the cigar. He studied each page intently until he came to the last entry.

   “As you can see,” said Strange, “he was supplying Prazina with taped conversations, mostly gossip, I’d say. You’ll notice that he lists date and precise location of each conversation along with details of payment. There’s a mention of an Italian magazine in the inside cover. My bet is Prazina hoodwinked the man into a deal to supply gossip and sleaze for the media, an old trick I’m surprised Westgate fell for. You’ll notice none of the locations are anywhere too sensitive, if that’s the right phrase to use. It lists kitchen, morning room, dining room for staff, the press office and reception hall. It doesn’t list any major player's office, certainly not the Ambassador’s office or private residence.” He shook his head. “ I can imagine what Washington is going to say about it. Don’t security check staff out for hidden tapes and bugs?”

   “Of course they do, dear boy, but don’t forget that Westgate’s security clearance would have meant he was one of the most trusted staff, having daily access to the Ambassador. In any case, there wouldn’t be anything too suspicious about a press secretary carrying a recorder.” The expression changed on his face as he reread something on the last page. He slapped his forehead with the palm of his hand. “Oh, my God, no!”

   Strange said nothing.

   “He taped a conversation at last nights reception. I met him, well, saw him. He came into a small office Michael and I were having a meeting in.” He looked across at Strange. “If that’s the case then we’re in a lot of trouble, dear boy. Every tape listed here, and there are eighteen in all, must have been sent to Belgrade, except the last one. And that will be on its way by now, rest assured.”

   “Did you talk about the Amber Room?” asked Strange.

   Harry thumped the arm of his chair. “Yes, and what amounts to an accusation that Belgrade are spying on Israel and in league with Iraq over supplying arms to the Palestinian Freedom Army.”

   “They’re probably already aware of that, Harry.”

   “Not from the lips of a member of the Israeli diplomatic corps and the American Ambassador to the Court of St James.”

   “They’ll keep it quiet though.”

   “Of course they will but it means that we’ve lost a lot of ground. Not only do they know what we’re doing but also know we have something the Russians want. Michael is going to be pulled over the coals for this.” He sat thinking for a moment. “The Yugoslavs will keep quiet, especially if they think we have no idea they have the tapes. They’ll use the information to their own advantage and if they are involved in the smuggling of arms, either use an alternative route or lay low for a bit. As far as the Amber Room is concerned, what do they know?” He puffed continually on his cigar. “Hardly anything. I don’t think they’ll tell the Russians until they have something more concrete. They need favors but not without proof. The room will have to be found and they don’t have the information we have. That being the case, they’ll be keen to find and follow us.”

   Strange shook his head. “You’re taking a big risk, Harry. The Yugoslavs know you’re involved and they’ll be after you for sure.”

   “Quite right, dear boy. That’s why you will be abroad while I stay in London.”

   Strange nodded. “Westgate, incidentally, was gay although I suppose you already knew that. He and Prazina were having an affair.”

   “You’re quite right, dear boy, I did.” Cohen sat looking out of the window. “Can you imagine the embarrassment in Washington if Jerusalem were to find out about my arrangement with the President. Exit Harry followed by a diplomatic nightmare during a crucial period of my country’s history. We don’t know how long we have before the PFA strike. At least if we do need help, we can still rely on Garrett. If the Yugoslavs blow the whistle in the meantime we’ll just have to worry about it as and when.”

   “That’s not like you, Harry. You must have a plan B.”

   Harry puffed on his cigar until the end glowed red. “I do,” he said, nodding.

   The truth was, he didn’t and was worried. He was sure Belgrade would keep things quiet for the time being but knew it would not be long before he started attracting unwelcome attention. The sooner Strange was out of the way, the better. As a new agent, he’d attract less attention and would be harder to track down.

   Strange helped himself to some more brandy. “Tell me more about the Amber Room, Harry. I’ve seen pictures of it and know it's priceless but do you honestly believe it still exists, or was it destroyed? It was a gift to the Russians from Prussia, to Katherine the Great, I believe.”

   Harry corrected him. “The King of Prussia gave it to Peter the Great in 1716 who then had it installed in his Winter Palace in St Petersburg. It was a magnificent piece of Baroque art, which was later embellished by craftsmen, employed by Catherine the Great. Later it was moved to her summer home in Tsarskoye Selo, just outside the city in 1770. Inside it were wonderful mosaics, ornate mirrors and an icon, which you have seen for yourself. It is said that it was illuminated by hundreds of candles.” Harry closed his eyes, picturing the room. “It must have been a wonderful sight.”

   “And it stayed there until the war?”

   Harry opened his eyes. “Yes, in 1941 the German's overran the place and dismantled it. They packed the wall panels in twenty-seven crates. An icon and several other pieces of art were packed into another three crates. For the rest of the war the room resided in the castle at Konigsberg. In 1945 the room disappeared. The German’s said it had been destroyed in a fire but there were many who believed that the room had been spirited away to Wewelsburg Castle, near Paderborn, to the west of Berlin, just before the allied offensive.”

   Strange clicked his fingers. “Isn’t that where Himmler set up his inner circle of whatever they were called - Teutonic Knights? All his SS generals were involved, weren’t they?”

   Harry smiled wisely. “Yes, Himmler and some of his top generals were influenced to the point of obsession in Nazism and the Artmanans, an obscure sect advocating a Teutonic rural life. Himmler looked upon himself as the sect leader. He had a room converted in the castle for his knights.”

   “And that’s where the Amber Room went?”

   “You are ahead of me, dear boy, as always. Yes, it is widely believed that the Amber Room was destined to end up there but was destroyed on the way in a road convoy that was bombed. Again, all that was denied and so a myth was born. Reinecke was the general in charge of the German withdrawal from the Konigsberg area and he was captured and later imprisoned. As with most of those who were imprisoned after the war, he served a small part of his sentence and was released in 1952. Like the Amber Room, he disappeared off the face of the earth, some say to help President Abdal Nasser of Egypt set up and train his army and secret service. Ex Nazis were welcome there because they shared Nasser’s hopes of destroying Israel and I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s what happened. Nasser had many Nazis working for him, including some who had evaded capture by using the escape organization, Odessa.”

   “So do you think we’ll find anything at the co-ordinates Reinecke left in the note?”

   “Quite frankly, no.” Harry tapped the end of his cigar on the edge of the large glass ashtray sitting in the middle of the coffee table. “However, that’s where things start to become interesting. We now know that the precise location of where the crates were destined for was the forest at the foot of Broken Mountain in the Sachsen-Anhalt district of East Germany. That’s West of Berlin and well on the way to Paderborn so it looks as though that particular theory rings true. Remember, Himmler and his SS Generals knew they were staring at defeat. If the Amber Room was destined to line the walls of their knights room, then Reinecke and Himmler would have wanted to hide it, hoping that at a later date it would be assembled somewhere else when they regrouped to conquer the rest of the world. Ha!”

   “They must have been mad.”

   “They were, and dangerous too.”

   Strange rubbed his chin absent-mindedly. “Thirty crates. That’s a lot of weight. It would have taken a couple of lorries to move the stuff.”

   “The room was eleven feet square and the walls and ceiling were lined with amber panels. It would have been a considerable weight and needed several men as well as transport to shift it. My guess is that it was railroaded for a considerable distance and I’ve no doubt that’s how it may have been moved later - if it was moved - around 1952 or thereabouts, when Reinecke was released. Maybe he was involved and there again, maybe not. We’ll find out later, I’m sure. Incidentally, there was an intricately inlaid chest that turned up in 1997 and given back to President Vladimir Putin, along with part of one of the mosaics. That find convinced a lot of people that the room was not destroyed.”  

   “Just a minute,” said Strange, “Let’s say you’re right about the date the crates were dug up, assuming they were buried in the first place, the area was in Russian hands. Are we saying that twenty-seven crates were put onto lorries and taken away God knows where, right under the Russians noses? I can’t believe they went undetected. What about the paperwork, border controls and local police? What would those involved say if questioned?”

   “Supposing there was no need for paperwork or questions?” Harry stood looking out of the window.

   A confused look on Strange’s face turned to one of realization. “You mean the Russians may already have the room?”

   “Or whoever retrieved them only moved them somewhere within East Germany.”

   Strange tapped his fingers on the side of his empty glass. “So we may not have anything after all?”

   “Maybe, but first we have to make sure. If we find nothing, we don’t want the Yugoslavs to know that. Quite the reverse - we’ll let them know we have the room.” He chuckled, then said, “I want you to fly to Berlin this afternoon. I’ve already cancelled our meeting with Garrett. I think he’s got enough to worry about right now. You’re booked in at the Inter Continental and a car has been hired for you. First thing tomorrow you’ll drive to Wernigerode, a small town the other side of Magdeburg, and meet up with this chap.” Harry handed Strange a small card. “He’s a forestry ranger who will be taking you on a tour of the area just outside the town. You're there to look for a filming location for a TV company making Natural History movies for the BBC. On the back of the card is the location you will be particularly interested in. It’s near the foot of Broken Mountain. That’s where the crates were supposed to be buried. Call me when you get back to the hotel.” Harry puffed smoke into the air. “And whatever you do, make sure you keep this with you at all times.” He handed Strange a Barretta. “Stay sharp and alert, dear boy, I have a feeling that before long you are going to need it.”

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