Vienna Hotels Articles

August 28, 2010

Bear Any Burden – Chapter 12 Excerpt

They entered a sparsely-furnished office with a window overlooking the border crossing plaza, two wooden benches along one wall, an iron heating stove in one corner and a Polish flag on a stand in the other corner. An official in a Border Security Officer’s uniform was seated behind the desk at right angles to the window. A long bench seat faced the desk. He had their three passports open in front of them. The officer was a large man with crew-cut gray hair, piercing gray eyes and a seamed and rugged face. The collar of his uniform was undone and he peered at them through wire-rimmed glasses.

Hmm, he said to himself. Definitely “Fish,” but are they “Little Fish” or “Big Fish?”

He looked at the passports again. Professor Gustav Bauer from Vienna. A dog-eared passport with lots of entries, including a stamp three days ago crossing this very border. He didn’t remember seeing them, but maybe he was off duty at that time. Mrs. Vera Bauer. Hmm, she’s a good-looking lady He admiringly looked at Anna’s face and blue eyes peering out from under the scarf swathed around her head and over her shoulders. Doesn’t look much like her passport photo, he said to himself. The woman in the photo looks older. Although I suppose it could be her at a pinch. Passport photos are renowned for not making people look their best. How about this one? Sir Alex Campbell – British. Came in through Warsaw International Airport two days ago.

Okay, let’s see if they are “Big Fish” or “Little Fish.” He looked up and said in German to no one in particular. “Well, what is your destination?” Anna couldn’t speak German and was shocked that they were not being addressed in Polish. Keller was about to answer, but Alex jumped in first.

“We are going to Vienna,” he said, his throat dry and stomach knotted. “We’ve just come from Krakow, the Polish Academy of Sciences Meeting,” he went on quickly

“Really?” said the official. “I see. And why sir, are you going to Vienna?” he asked Alex politely.

“Professor Bauer has invited me to be his guest for a few days before I return to England.”

“Ah,” said the official. He looked at Bauer and his wife. They don’t look Austrian. Their clothes aren’t Austrian. Their manner is not Austrian. They’re not confident like the Westerners always are. These two look like Poles through and through. Well if they’re not Austrian but they’re Polish, then why are they here?, he thought to himself. And why is this Britisher with them?

Viktor Taussig had seen many “Fish” pass through his hands over the past 30 years. He was nearing retirement – only 16 months to go now, and he had built up quite a nice nest egg of bribe money. He knew the cigarette smugglers who regularly passed his way. And for a couple of thousand Szlotys, they were allowed to take their Marlboros and their Camels with them. He also knew the smugglers of Levis, Scotch Whisky and Cognac, western books and magazines, and long-playing records. He’d taken bribes from all of them. They weren’t doing any harm, and there was a ready market in Poland for all of those products. But he wouldn’t take bribes from the drug smugglers, and whenever they were found, he always handed them over to the police. He also wouldn’t deal with those pimps, who handled human traffic – those lowlifes who wanted to smuggle young Polish women across the border. He took great pleasure in arresting those flesh merchants.

But with these “Fish,” the question was, were they important? He seemed to recognize Bauer’s face from somewhere, but couldn’t put a name to it. He was intrigued to know why the three of them were traveling together, and if “Bauer” and the woman were Polish.

Alex, Keller, and Anna were standing nervously in front of him. “Please sit down,” he said in German. They sat down on the bench seat. He carefully looked through the three passports lying in front of him on the desk. He was deciding whether to take the matter further or not; after all the passports were in order. He had reason to doubt that these were not the people that they said they were. But who the hell cared!

At that moment, the telephone rang. He picked it up. “Taussig,” he said over the phone.

“Ah Yes, Colonel,” he said into the mouthpiece. That prick, Wojek, the Regional Commander of the Southern Border area, Taussig thought to himself. What the hell does he want? Even from where Alex was sitting, he could hear an excited, loud voice shouting through the phone. Taussig was listening intently. Wojek was in a panic and sounded like he was about to have his balls cut off, from above. Serves him right, thought Tassig.

“I see,” said Taussig, looking intently at Keller, Anna, and Alex. “Yes, Colonel, I did. Yes,” he continued. “Let me see.” He took a moment and then looked at the passports again. “Gustav Bauer and Vera Bauer,” he said into the phone. Another moment passed. “Vienna,” he continued.

Alex’s heart sank. My God they’re on to us. How the hell did they do that so quickly?

“ORBIS” Taussig said. “No, Colonel.” Another long silence and then, “Yes, Sir,” Taussig continued. “A Zil Sedan, I think. About 30 minutes. O.K., Yes Sir,” were the final words he said to his superior. He put the phone down, looked at the three of them, and then focused on Keller. With a slight knowing smile he said slowly in Polish, “So, you’re Professor Keller.”

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  1. Bear Any Burden – Chapter 13 Excerpt ... have a good time. We’ll go into Znojmo."

    "All right, that's a date," Karol said.

    "Okay," Hans said, getting more serious. "Now, let's see your passports.”...

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