The ride from the Bonn Airport seemed longer than usual. Maybe it was the silence. She sat there looking out the window passing lights periodically illuminating the tranquil smile on her face. He thought to himself that the month-long sabbatical had done her good. She had gone to Vienna to work on her doctoral dissertation. It had to do with the confrontation and interaction of Christians, Jews and Pagans in the late antiquity and its correlation to the atrocities that occurred during the WWII Nazi reign. It was a cumbersome undertaking, however while there, she connected with an esteemed Viennese philosopher who frequently spoke on the subject.
The couple had their own confrontation their marriage souring like week-old left out milk. Do you throw it out or swallow its misery. For Anna and Hewett Hirsch, things remained unsettled. During the drive, cautious small talk ensued, and then he asked about her research paper.
“It’s coming along. Got some good points that will clarify a lot of things. Professor Giombetti was especially helpful. How are things at work?”
“Good,” he replied. It was better than good and he wished he could tell her more, however, that would be a dangerous breach of security. Yet he was almost giddy with the thought. An informant in Bosnia had a package ready for pickup. She was an asset he had acquired while working a field assignment in Sarajevo. The wife of a Muslim militant, she had provided bits and pieces about this terrorist cell’s operation. It wasn’t much, but when pieced together with other intel, it helped connect the dots for his counter-terrorist group. He wondered what was in the package. Tomorrow he would know.
She answered his good with, “That’s good.” That was her usual reply, knowing he couldn’t tell her more. It was one of their problems, nothing to share. Yet there was a tone of acceptance in her voice, unusual.
When they came to the autobahn junction, he expected to be told to take the A59 instead of the A565. A565 runs by Bonn University where she teaches philosophy. She had become bitter about working for a school that overlooked her loyalty and achievements.
However, as they passed by she looked through his window at the buildings, and then patted him on the arm, “It’s good to be home.”
He thought, “Maybe she’s changed.” He noted another thing; she was not wearing her glasses. Maybe it was vanity. He had to admit she looked better without them.
At the apartment, she removed her coat while he took her bags up to the bedroom. When he returned he was taken back by how refreshed, trimmed and well tanned she look. And not once had she complained about anything. It was almost as if she were a different woman.
She caught him starring and asked, “Is everything all right?”
He stammered, “Did you do something with your hair?”
“It’s a little shorter. Do you like it?”
“Yeah, it looks good.”
After a long shower, some cold chicken and wine, she prepared for bed. Her suitcases stood by the bed, unpacked. She told him she would get to them in the morning.
As they cuddled kissing in bed, he could taste the chicken and toothpaste on her lips. Yet, he felt apprehensive for her mood could change in a heartbeat. However, this time she accepted him and soon they were making passionate love. It was so surreal, so different, for a split second he felt he was cheating on his wife.
The next morning she was up early fixing him breakfast, coffee, toast, and eggs. This too was a change as she normally came down later. They kissed and he thanked her for the fixings. The eggs were runny, the toast slightly burnt, and there was no cream for his coffee. However, her happy demeanor made everything palatable.
Later, as he was about to leave for work she gives him a goodbye kiss, then adds, “We’re a little low on groceries. I’ll take care of it. Where are the car keys?”
It disturbed him she didn’t know. “In the bowl by the door.” For several seconds he looks at her questioning this lapse of memory. “By the door,” he reminds her again.
On the drive to work, his paranoia kicks in and he begins to question these strange occurrences. Maybe it was the stress of being together again. Sure, that was it. Before she left, they had these explosive arguments that cut deep emotional scars. It would take time to heal and rebuild the trust they once had. He thought to himself, “If she’s willing to make it work, then so am I.” Yet the analyst in him made him want to know more. Who is this woman?
Only his section chief and he knew the identity of the Bosnian woman. In fact, they avoided using her name for fear someone would unknowingly expose her. The package arrived mid-day and contained an external hard drive. It took three hours for technicians to extract and translate the relevant data. By that time, they knew what they had. It was the mother lode, cryptic email messages, detailed operation plans, photos and much more.
Hewett Hirsch had worked eleven years for GSG 9, Germany’s counter terrorist organization. After several field assignments, he was promoted to case officer at the firm’s headquarters in Sankt Auaustin-Hangelas near Bonn. Today’s find was his greatest accomplishment and he couldn’t tell anyone, his wife, family or friends. It depressed him.
He and his team worked well into the night cataloging and analyzing data. They were amazed at its revelations. Especially relevant were the emails to known Bosnian militants in Germany. The data had been downloaded from the laptop of Aashif bani a radical Islamic leader. How, only the Bosnian woman knew.
Someone sent out for bratwurst sandwiches, pickles, and beer. It made the tedious work go faster. At a little past midnight, they called it quits, and then tossed down the rest of the beers.
When he arrived home, she was asleep and he quietly slipped into bed beside her. As he dozed off to sleep, he reveled in the day’s glorious accomplishments; his Bosnian woman had come through. Somehow, he must thank her.
The alarm woke him in an empty bed and he staggered to the bathroom in a daze. Splashing cold water on his face brought him back to reality. He shouldn’t have drunk so many beers.
When he got downstairs, she wasn’t there, just her note. It read, “Having early breakfast with colleague, appointments later. Milk for cereal in Fridge, coffee needs to be reheated. Who is Ilena Tanovic? Love, Anna.”
A cold sweat formed on his face at the sight of the woman’s name. How did his wife learn the Bosnian woman’s name? Had someone called, had Ilena called? No. No, he would have heard the phone. What was going on? Security had been breached and he would have to report it. But how could he explain it?
The drive to work was especially tough. A light rain had caused several accidents and traffic moved along at a snail’s pace. To make matters worse, he hadn’t eaten and his empty stomach churned up painful acids.
When he arrived late at work, his supervisor called him in. He was told that the Bosnian woman had gone missing. Missing? Coincidence, maybe, maybe not. His paranoia once again kicked in and he felt there was a connection. How did his wife obtain her name? Was she really his wife?
His mind flashed back to his caressing her following their lovemaking. The image of her bare shoulder kept flashing in his mind. What was it? Then he remembered. She had a mole-like spot on her left shoulder. But what was different? What had changed? Then it hit like a punch in the stomach. The spot wasn’t there. It was not there. This woman was not his wife!
How had she done it? Maybe drugs? Yes, that was it. That’s why he felt so dazed this morning. What other information had she extracted from him? The thought made him gasp for he knew a great deal. Maybe, maybe…the self-torturing thoughts made him sick. And what happened to his real wife, what happened to her?
When he went back to his desk, his heart was pounding with fear. How could he be so complacent, so stupid? But what if he was wrong and there was an explanation for everything. What could it be? His whole life, his career, his marriage all depended on his finding answers.
He tried to submerse himself in his work, but the questions kept gnawing at his mind, invading his concentration. He was torn between telling everything to his supervisor and confronting the woman who claimed to be his wife. What to do, what to do?
It was now time to go home. Staying late would only make matters worse. He unlocked his lower desk drawer and removed his Glock 9-mm automatic. He checked the clip, it was full, and stuck the gun in his waistband under his coat. The choice had been made.
At 6:35, he arrived home and searched the apartment. She was not there. In the living room, photo albums laid open on the couch. Apparently, she had been digging for information. He poured himself a couple of shots of whiskey and nibbled on piece of cheese as he paced about the apartment. Where was she? It was then he noticed his gun out in the open and hid it in the fold of a newspaper.
Worn down by the whole ordeal he slumped in his overstuffed chair trying to figure out what he would say, what he would ask her. Maybe it was the whiskey, he couldn’t think clearly. Everything was so chaotic. Suddenly, the phone rang. It startled him back to reality.
It was his supervisor telling him about the download. “She did it while the men were out front playing soccer. Can you imagine that? That’s real courage.” The supervisor went on to say she was out safely and would be debriefed tomorrow. Hewitt exhaled in relief, Ilena was safe. When he hung up the phone, his thoughts became clear. While his Bosnian informant was getting out, he still had a problem. He places the gun in his rear waistband.
As he paces the apartment, he finds the day’s mail lying beneath the mail slot. He glances through the letters and bills. One catches his eye, an invoice from a medical hospital in Vienna addressed to his wife. He opens it and discovers billing for Lasik surgery, several dermatology procedures, plastic surgery, and Electro-shock treatments. There was additional billing for follow up at a recovery spa. Slowly the realization hits him. This is not another woman. She is his wife, after an expensive makeover. He’s made a mistake and he suffered the torment. What has he done?
He hears the door open and he hears her voice. “I picked up Chinese. How was your day?”
“Good. I thought you might have gone to the university?”
“No silly, that’s tomorrow. Today I had doctor’s appointments, don’t you remember?”
He couldn’t remember. He slips the invoice into a book and hides the gun, then hears her ask, “Where do we keep the chop-sticks?”
His paranoia almost kicks in, instead, he replies, “I’ll get them.” He finds them then looks at her, seeing her for who she is. She’s his wife. “I love Chinese. And I …I love you.” He holds her in his arms for some time.
She holds him tight. “So you like the new me?” Cautiously she states, “Wait till you get the bill.”
His eyes well up, “I’ve seen it.”
“Oh? Oh.” She then whispers in his ear, “Did you know you talk in your sleep?”
He smiles to himself, ah, so that’s how, the final piece of the puzzle.