An American Assassin in East Berlin

Qualified Entry: Fiction Category

By: Robert Dykan

He sat alone, stranded in afterthought, his voice drowning in gin with only his cigarette to grasp. He was a reflection of his thoughts, and with each breath, the evening settled, stilled; he’d sigh into the refuge of others. There was something romantic about each Berlin; the West, a postcard from the West left behind. The East, a photograph of angst confined in black and white. Each, a view of Versailles in hindsight. Each, fallen beneath propaganda, justifications for such difficulties. Still, the West was vibrant. A film; a story of redemption since the war. East Berlin was cast in its shadow, […w]here time stretched to an anticlimactic extent. He kept in touch with the East between messages of static; he had been placed in the West, an agent with the Staatssicherheit, to follow potential threats[…]

We were diplomats with the civil service, both stationed in the American sector; it was claustrophobic, life behind the wall, yet intriguing. I was raised near London and in Berlin, but remained in Genève throughout the war. I settled in West Berlin afterwards, and spoke out freely against the East, and had become of interest and concern to Markus Wolf himself. My secret was a scathing rhetoric because it was easy to hide behind notoriety. The assassin was born in New York and raised in London, but had moved with this family to the Soviet Union; Moscow. After the war, he settled in East Berlin. He’d follow me at times but would otherwise fall behind the veil of traffic. To me, he was a stranger passing through, perhaps to freedom. He approached one morning at a café near the wall, and sat down beside me with a smile; the sun over East Berlin was misleading, leaving a suspecting shade of grey behind. He carried an overwhelming presence and his confidence followed in stride. He shook hands with distinction, and seemed friendly and concerned, but was vague with details. We discussed politics and history, sport and security; enforced economies, and the Stasi. Perhaps they were listening. He spoke English well, but his accent fell harshly. In England, accent dictated class, but I have to admit[…] it was quite liberating to think of a society removed from the strain of appearances, from the inheritances of ghosts.

On another evening I received a telephone call from Moscow. His voice was unmistakable. He was vague, but advised that I was of concern; that my life was in danger. A few days later he returned to West Berlin with a smile. He was unsuspecting, showing concern for my well being. His care was his cover; the friendly advise of deception.

****

The day I died was East-German-grey. There was a tiring rain in the air and disheartening news in the papers. The last of my sight reached his smile, a sense of accomplishment and reticent remorse. He stepped away with the moment achieved, and left West Berlin that evening. In the moments prior, I fell to a startling fear; the wood whispered with each step taken. The assassin moved past the confused and curious in the crowd. He held a familiar gun, and after the shot, the moment settled, stilled. Beyond the bullet’s approach I could see the curvature of the earth, the Great Wall of China, and the Eiffel Tower. I believe I smiled as well in the end; a photograph from my younger years was telling – my pose and fate. Light crept through the fog against the window as though the day ceded warmth to suspicion. Outside, the forestry provided cover beneath the cynicism of the moon, providing but a glimpse in the darkness. And before withdrawing further into the darkness of the East, further into obscurity, [h]e sat alone, stranded in afterthought[…]

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4 thoughts on “An American Assassin in East Berlin

  1. A beautiful piece from someone who was not alive during the war but paints a solemn picture based on unending research and imagination. Does the main character regret his role in the war, once he knew of his fate? It seems to me he did not. I’m still working on understanding the many meanings you ascribe to both “East” and “West” – not just in regards to Berlin. There are so many layers of depth here, I believe people will be peeling back and discovering more each time they read this. Bravo!

  2. The syntax in your story is such that it takes a morbid subject and makes it beautiful. One particular moment that stuck with me is how you mentioned the assassin’s family. And your depiction of East-German-grey was telling. Which character did you conceptualize first?

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