MIDNIGHT IN BERLIN by James MacManus
She reached across the table and placed a hand on his arm. Frown lines creased her forehead. The dark eyes looked at him imploringly. She was breathing heavily – hyperventilating, thought Macrae. He saw the swell of her breast against the red dress. She’s going to faint, he thought. He looked around for a waitress. “Look at me,” she whispered. He looked at her properly for the first time, swirling the dregs of brandy in the tulip-shaped glass, badly wanting another one. Her eyes were dark and deep beneath long lashes heavy with mascara. Her small oval face, pale and powdered, looked fragile and pretty, like a fine china doll. Claret-red lipstick traced a perfect bow over her mouth. There was a beauty spot on one cheek and faint beads of perspiration along her upper lip.
She would have looked childish but for the long ringlets of dark hair that dropped to her shoulders. Her sleeveless dress rose from ankle to neck. It was tight, designed to emphasize her figure, and he could see the faint rise in the fabric made by her nipples. The image of a china doll dissolved, to be replaced by that of an actress. That’s what she was, he 2 P r o l o g u e thought, a beautiful actress, with the powdered face and imploring eyes of a silent-movie heroine. “I’m not asking much, just news of my brother.” “Joseph Sternschein?” he said. “Yes. I’d give anything to know that he is at least alive.”
She shifted slightly in her chair, taking her hand from his arm, sitting up, her shoulders back. “Anything,” she said again. He shook his head, finished his brandy and got to his feet. “If I asked, they would want to know why. The Gestapo would be curious. I am a diplomat, after all.” “And he’s just a kid in one of their camps, right? Just another number on a file?” He sighed and looked across the room at the door. “We have to deal with these people every day; it’s not nice and it’s not easy.” “And you don’t want to upset them – is that it?” Her eyes had lost their soft appeal. She was angry. “You know, I hear things back there . . . She jerked her head towards the fanlight door. “What sort of things?” “You’d be surprised what some very important people tell me. It’s all part of the power thing, isn’t it? Men want to impress me with their little secrets.” “I must go,” he said. “I don’t know what you’re doing here, but . . .” She reached across and took his arm, this time gripping it tightly. She stabbed her forefinger at the table, the varnished nail beating out an urgent tattoo. “I’ve told you what I’m doing here. I’m doing it with some of the most powerful men in this country. I’m good at it. They like me. And I don’t have any choice – do you understand?” She got up and walked back to the bar. Almost immediately, a man sat beside her.