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Catch the Harpy

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Colonel—or Polkonvik, as his rank was in the Soviet Army—Deregin was sitting at his favorite table in his favorite bar in West Berlin. The Soviet diplomats—as the Western ones—had free passage between the Soviet and Allied sectors, and, for obvious reasons, many of the higher-ranking Soviet officials in East Germany preferred to drink in West Berlin. The beer was better, the service was better, the food was tastier and the choice was wider—who could’ve blamed them? And Polkovnik Deregin was no exception. When he was sent to Berlin in the beginning of the nineteen sixties as a young intelligence attaché, one of the first things he did was instructing his driver to take him to various watering holes in West Berlin to find the one and only, the best one.

He had had a favorite bar in Leningrad, where he was from and where he had started his career in intelligence after graduating from the Leningrad University. He had also had a favorite bar in Tallinn, Estonia, about two hundred miles west from Leningrad, where he had arrived among the first battalion of Soviet soldiers in 1944, when the Germans had already left and the Soviets had come to occupy the formerly free nation. During his years in Tallinn, from 1944-1950, whenever he got the chance, he walked to the medieval Old City and drank as much as he could afford at the oldest pub in the town. He loved Estonia’s Germanic beer that he used to call the best beer in the world, and interestingly, he detested the taste of vodka—which was so peculiar to his peers that he almost became a loner, or at least a very lone drinker.

After visiting at least a dozen bars, pubs and restaurants in West Berlin, he settled for a nice, two-story bar-restaurant in Schöneberg, a fancy neighborhood in the American sector, not far from Checkpoint Charlie, the diplomats’ crossing point between West and East Berlin. What appealed to him in addition to the wide selection of Germanic lager was the cabaret show that took place at the bar three times a week. And when the fateful moment came, he was in the process of emptying his eighth pint of Berliner Kindl and indeed enjoying the bottoms of the seven Playboy-bunny-like cabaret dancers who had just bent over as if they were all trying to pick up soap—or something else they might have dropped.

Two shots were fired from a small-caliber revolver. One hit the polkovnik in the cheek, crushing his cheekbone into a million pieces, and the second one went in his right temple, turning his brain matter into porridge, and exiting the top of his head. He didn’t even have time to think about what had happened, he was dead within a fragment of a second. He did not hear the screams of the dancers on the stage, the shouts of other Soviet officers at the bar, nor did he see his assailant, a young man in his late teens, running backstage, out of the back door, to a green military Willys Jeep that quickly took off from the alley and drove off into the darkness. Everything happened so quickly that the diplomats and officers at the bar didn’t even bother running after the shooter.

The Willys rushed through the red lights, the driver occasionally looking in his rear-view mirror to see if they were being followed. Convinced that they weren’t, he looked at the young man in the passenger’s seat. He seemed pale, but he was breathing calmly and didn’t seem to be very much bothered.

“Did you get him?” the driver asked.

“I did. Nobody following us?”

“Nope. You probably scared them shitless.”

“Good,” the youngster said and sighed heavily. “Good.”

“You did well. You’re a hero now. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.”

“I don’t feel like a hero. I just did what I had to do. I relieved the world of a horrible man.”

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