Axel's Letters

Here's a excerpt from one of the chapters I've written in the last few days, part of the new book I'm writing "The New Frontier":

Axel’s Letters

One of the places which Axel had been working was near Kreuzberg. Under darkness, and having managed to give their tail the slip Amy and Ethan took the U6 to Mehringdamm and got out and walked the streets along Zossener strasse. It was hot and the streets smelled of the oil and dust and sweat of the construction workers. Looking across the street under the ubiquitous linden trees, were the never ending road works and scaffolding against the buildings, with dirt in the gutter, and a plague of graffiti tagging covering virtually every building like a rash that was slowly enveloping the city, choking it and gradually bringing it to it’s knees. The hideous black and luminous red and blue daubed everywhere, scrawling on top of scrawling, posters pasted on walls advertising countless bands, and parties and events of all types in many different languages, posted thick on top of each other, fighting for attention, and the top most posters obscured by more sprayed scrawling. Amy imagined that every night as people went to bed, after midnight, an army of scrawlers crept up out of the drains, the manholes, and the subway passages from their deep, dark lairs and with spray cans in hand, began their nightly job of spreading the graffiti, tagging, marking of streets, corners, lampposts, defacing street murals, anything that was in their way, was covered. It was like a plague of locusts leaving destruction in their path. These nameless, faceless people, these fake artists wanting their moments of fame, were capturing the city, making it theirs and dragging it down into a swirling scribbled mess.

As they walked passed the young men and women standing at corners, talking, laughing and smoking as if was mandatory to do so, in some unwritten law of social interaction, they saw there were also older men sitting behind them at small tables outside the restaurants, drinking beer or expresso and talking, often in other languages, possibly Turkish as there were generations of Turkish people living in this area although many had abandoned their original heartland streets in Kreuzberg for the further, more southerly area of Neukolln. Nevertheless these streets were still marked with the indelible signature of Turkish influence, the small cafes, the markets, the traders shops, the distinctive black haired and black bearded men, small and thin, with light tan skin and the beautiful women with shawls on their heads and children, on their hips or in prams or running along beside them, playing and dancing and full of life and activity even long after dark when Amy thought they’d be in their beds, but no, they were out there on the sidewalks, swinging out of the scaffoldings running, shouting and so very alive.

They crossed and turned into a smaller street with Nepalese cafes, with families eating at the tables out on the streets, the food looked delicious and invited them in but they continued on their way and as they walked they kept a lookout, stopping a while pretending to be looking in the windows but actually scanning the reflections to see if anyone was following. Then they’d retrace their steps for a block, then suddenly turning around and walking quickly in the opposite direction and then back again, Anyone following would have had a difficult time not being spotted and to avoid being followed by a car they ducked down alleys into courtyards, which could only be walked and slipped back out again after a few minutes making sure no one was there.

Eventually they arrived at the first location which Axel had indicated in his notes. It was a second-hand English book shop. Inside was like a cavern with books laid out in a seemingly haphazard way, in boxes, on chairs and tables, in nooks and crannies and some on the loosely categorised book shelves which adorned the walls from floor to ceiling. They wandered thought the shop looking for a specific category in the non-fiction area, it was right up high at the back, a small section on Egyptian Antiquities.

Ethan had to stand on a chair to reach the books on the top shelf and behind the very last book, prised into the corner of the shelf , was a flap, a cardboard flap stuck to the edge of the upright of the bookshelf. When he took out three or four books he was able to fold back the flap a bit and behind it he could see an envelope. Axel’s envelope he presumed.

There was no one else in the book shop except the owner up front, two rooms away andthere were no video cameras so it was safe to say they were probably unobserved. But they couldn’t say for sure, maybe this lack of security cameras and emptiness in the shop was just to get their confidence that no one was looking, or maybe that was just paranoia.

They certainly knew that there were increasingly fewer places where they could be alone and unnoticed. Just as they were about to fold back the cardboard flap fully to allow the envelope to be released, they heard the owner shuffling as he approached from the front rooms of the shop.

Ethan stopped and quickly got down from the chair and pretended to be looking at another section by the time he arrived into the room. He was an old man, wizened with white strands of hair still clinging to his almost bald head.

“Is there something I can help you find?” he said, assuming they were English speakers as this was an English bookshop.

Amy hesitated for a moment, she hadn’t thought about anything they’d say, if asked.

“Egyptian Art” said Ethan.

“Islamic Art” said Amy almost at the same time.

“So which is it?” the little man asked eying them both with curiosity, “or perhaps you are looking for a particular title?”

“I know almost all the books in the shop, and their locations, even if it looks in total disarray.”

Amy smiled broadly. And he responded with a nearly toothless smile.

“We are really just browsing the art books in a few categories. Such an interesting collection you have here."

He nodded.

“Yes but nobody is interested in the books back here. I put the more popular books up in the front two rooms and only the most adventurous browsers like yourselves venture back here.” Amy could detect that he had a slight London accent, obviously eroded by years of living in Berlin. She wanted to engage him and was about to when she caught Ethan’s eyes. He flicked his eyes twice in the direction of the front of the shop. She understood.

“Perhaps you could help me browse some of the popular crime fiction,” she said and she could see the old man’s disappointment that she wanted to move away from the books on ancient antiquities which were obviously his favourites. He turned and shuffled towards the front of theshop with Amy trailing behind leaving Ethan to finish retrieving the envelop. When they were gone he got up on the chair again and removed more books from the top shelf and managed to fully open the cardboard flap and found that there were two envelopes behind it. He took them down and then carefully replaced all but one of the Egyptian Art books: “Tutankhamen’s Treasures”. He put the envelopes in his inside pocket, tucked the large book under his arm, and made his way back to the front of the shop. Amy was in the corner pretending to browse the Jo Nesbo novels and the little man was sitting on his perch behind a small desk covered in books and notepads and some coffee cups.

“I’ll take this one.” He said handing the book to the old man.

He smiled. “That will be seven euros, and it’s in perfect condition.”. He was holding the book now with loving care as if he was going to have to part with one of his children.

“Ethan paid him and then he and Amy made for the door.

As they were leaving the old man cleared his throat, ”You be careful now,” he said, “those envelopes contain secret stuff, Axel told me, and he said only friends of his would know where to find them and what to do with that information. But he said it was dangerous and that he might not be alive if someone else came to get the envelopes. Is he dead?”

Amy was shocked.

“I’m so sorry to tell you but he is dead. He was shot a few days ago.”

“The old man nodded.

“Such a nice man, such a pity to loose his life.”

Amy wanted to to talk more, but the old man had turned and was making his way into the back of the shop with his head bowed.

Ethan placed the Egyptian book onto the front desk, returning it to it’s rightful owner. Then they turned again and left the shop.

They were anxious to find out what was in the envelopes but they had to be sure that their trail had not been picked up again.

They cautiously scanned the streets and parked cars looking for a tail. It seemed like the coast was clear and they headed back they way they had come looking for a little coffee shop on a side street as they went. When they found one which was almost empty they sat at a corner table, ordered some coffee and two heated chocolate croissants and then Ethan reached into his inner pocket and drew out the letters.