The Red Sticker
The Hotel Intercontinental Cologne, normally jammed full of tourists and business people with money on their minds, was my temporary home. I was in the last category, the person making the most of a week-long trip to Germany. My real role was seconded to my role as an erstwhile businessman with electronic gear to peddle.
At check in the man behind the desk was a model of German officialdom, a of the first order. I could imagine him clicking his heels in an earlier time and raising his arm in the salute. “We want to welcome you to our hotel. As a member of the Six Continents Club you are special to us here.”
I nodded. “Thanks, was my reservation in order?”
“, it was perfect. May I see your passport please?”
I handed it over. He wrote on my reservation, checking the block. “You know that it is best to leave this with us while you are staying here?”
“I do and yes you can have it. Here’s my card.” I passed the plastic American Express card over to him. He wrote more numbers on a small pad.
“All is in order, the key is yours.” He pushed the large brass key over the marble counter. “We have given you a suite on the top floor, as un upgrade. The bellman will take your bags.”
I followed the young man to the suite, waiting as he opened the door. Inside there was a bottle of Champagne in a silver bucket and several fruits and cheeses on another tray. Tipping the bellman I closed and locked the door. The work was just starting. I turned on the small radio to a music station, and did my normal room check.
First a scan of the room’s floor and desk lamps. No devices visible in any of them. Next, I looked for pinhole cameras in the ceiling or walls. None. Last, I passed my small pocket detector over all the electrical outlets. A red light glowed as I got near the outlet and switch plates between the living and bedroom. Must be the listening device, I thought. Got to disable it without getting the listeners excited.
I pulled a small plug device from my inside coat pocket. Plugging it, I pressed first a red and then a black button on the device. The outlet smoked briefly, as if there was a short in the wiring. I pulled the plug out and returned it to my jacket. Flipping the switch, I made sure the circuit was still hot, which it was. I hoped that the listeners were busy listening to a lot of rooms and would not notice this problem at least for the rest of the day.
I passed m detector over the floors and walls. No hits, the room was now clean. I set up my small wind up alarm clock on the nightstand next to the bed. It’s time-lapse camera was aimed at the front entrance, and would allow me to see what activity transpired in the room while I was gone.
In an early James Bond movie, about which we’d all laughed at the Agency, there was a scene we he placed a hair from his head over the doorjamb to see if anyone had entered. I had another way to see if the door had been opened and placed it just under the door’s hinge.
I left the suite, leaving my bags unopened and went for an afternoon stroll along the . I was looking for a sign, and it wasn't long before I saw it. On one of the boxes a block away I saw a small white chalk mark on the bottom. I waited ten minutes nearby in a small café, looking for my contact.
She was on time. She walked to the postbox then looked in my direction. I smiled and she approached. Like any other Fraulein her age, she was a beauty. Radiant with piercing blue eyes, great figure, looking rich. What luck, a good looking source, I thought.
“ Tag,” she said extending a hand in friendship. Mai verbinde ich Sie für einen Kaffee? May I join you for a coffee?”
“Of course, my pleasure,” I said pulling out a chair for her. “What a wonderful chance this day to meet you.” My German was rusty but passable. Others in the café seemed interested in the young lady. One older man leered at her, but we ignored him.
“So nice of you to be here for me,” she whispered, taking my hand in hers. She placed a small item in my hand, and then closed my fingers around it. “You know there are many men who look only at me for one reason, and you, well, you are different.”
“Is that a compliment?” I smiled and kissed her cheek.
“I give opinions, compliments require the person getting them to think they are.”
“Fair enough. How is you work, your art?”
“I have a show coming in Bad , perhaps you can come? It will be a formal affair. Do you bring black tie with you?”
“I can have the valet at the hotel press one for me. After all, I am an honored guest over at the Intercontinental!”
“As it should be. After all we do not have many Nobel laureates staying in Cologne these days!”
I blushed. “You need to keep that information confidential, dear. Besides they haven’t made that final determination of the winner and there are other worthy candidates. Besides, if the press finds out, well, there will be a firestorm of paparazzi on my tail and…”
“And you’d love it.” She kissed me. An older man coughed and spilled coffee on his shirt. Embarrassed, he called for the waiter to clean up the mess he’d made. “See, now you've done it! That older man over there is most likely sorry not to have seen your greatness before.”
“Or, he merely wanted to be sitting here in my place when you attacked,” I said with a sly smile and a wink.
“So, it is good, no? We will rendezvous in Bad tomorrow night at 2100 hours? I will send a car for you. Is good?”
“ gut, until tomorrow then. My best to your husband.”
The older man stood quickly and spilled what was left of his coffee on his trousers. , he said loudly, forcing people to look at his indiscretion.
I kissed her for a long time, making sure she heard my whispered message as I came up for air.
“Ja, ich verstehe,” she said. After another long embrace she was gone. The jet black Mercedes 600 picked her up at the curb.
The older man, the one with coffee stains, came over and said, “What is it that you have that I lack? Such a stunning woman, younger than you, and so in love, and she’s married yet! What is your secret?”
I gave him a long rambling explanation based on physics of the human body, and he seemed less interested as I spoke.
“Enough, it is clear to me that you are blackmailing her, that you hold power and she is your slave.”
“If that is your interpretation then I am happy with that.” I pointed to the stains on his woolen clothing. “You should have that cleaned. I myself use the Christ laundry, they do a miraculous job.” I smiled and he did not smile back.
Clicking his heels and turning, he was gone, pushing past patrons entering the café.
Street cars rushed by, their steel wheels screaming as they made hard turns. Walking and window shopping to make sure that I was not followed, I waved to the man who checked me in as I reentered the Intercontinental hotel lobby. The usual suspects gathered in small groups. Tourists, many with bewildered looks and guide books huddled in one settee and a group of Italian businessmen were engaged in a gesturing contest in another part of the lobby. All in all, mass confusion works well for what I needed to do.
I approached the Concierge. “Do you have a safe deposit box I may use?” I asked in English.
“Ja, we do, and it is available for your use. Do you want a private room to use it?”
“No I can just take it here and place my items in the box.” I slid my watch from my wrist.
“Sir, may I say that is a fine example of the Swiss watch makers. Patek Phillipe, no?”
“Actually yes, it was a gift. It’s very valuable from a sentimental point of view and I’d hate to see it disappear.” I smiled as he closed the box and went in the back room to place it and retrieve my key.
“We are here all the hours, and should you need the watch we can get it and even bring it to your suite, as you wish.”
“I appreciate that, and I might need it tomorrow. I will be going to a gallery opening in Bad and might like to have it then.”
“As you wish sir. Is there anything else that I can do for you?”
“Yes, I will be needing a tuxedo, black tie, shoes, and all. Can you arrange that?”
“You are a member of the Six Continents Club?”
I nodded yes.
“Then we have your preferences on file. Is there a change in those?”
“No, I think not,” I said, shaking his hand and leaving for the elevators. I turned around and saw him speaking with another guest, his finger discretely pointing in my direction.
In my suite I checked that my device was still blocking the listeners. Plugging my alarm clock into my small battery powered viewer revealed time lapse photos of the maid tidying up the suite and no other visitors. I’d forgotten to turn off the radio. It was still playing soft music.
I took a chance and called in. Using my room phone I called a prearranged number in Bonn and left a message of less than ten seconds. The room phone rang less than a minute later.
“Yep, she was on time and delivered the stuff.”
“Good. Where is it?”
“In the hotel safe deposit box inside my watch. Usual place, no problems.”
“OK, tomorrow come to the lobby and pretend you’ve lost key to the box. We’ll dispatch one of our locksmiths to save your stuff. Act agitated, OK?”
“That I can do. She invited me to a gallery opening in BG, can, no, should I go?”
“Depends on what else might happen. Place is crawling with friends from the other side. Just be careful.” Stay sharp, we need you for the next gig.” He laughed and rang off.
I showered and was considering room service. A knock on the door, “Bitte service please?” a male voice said.
I looked through the peephole and my bellman friend was standing there, quite calm.
“Ein moment,” I said reaching for my gun.
I slowly opened the door. He raised his right hand and gassed me. I fell to the floor, I was dizzy then I was in a deep sleep for hours, at least as far as I can tell. When I came to I was in an interrogation cell, standard for the East Germans, just a single light bulb overhead, and I was tied to a very uncomfortable chair.
“Herr, whatever name you choose, we have you here in these accommodations on suspicion of espionage. Do you care to make a statement before you’re sentenced?” The man was the central casting version of a STASI goon, I thought.
“Does no good to deny, I suppose?” I asked.
“No use doing that, we have you on tape, all your movements, everything.”
“Go on,” I said feigning interest. “Pray tell how that is possible. I disabled the listening device in my room. I swept the place, top to bottom. Even if you used the old man in the café he saw little that can be used against me. I demand to speak with the American officials, right now.” Bravado in the face of torture was sometimes a good ploy, most often not, but worth a shot. I had few options.
“You are well known to us now. When you joined the hotel’s club, the Six Continents Club I think it is called, you were mailed a small several small red stickers to attach to your luggage and to your briefcase. They told you it identified you as a special guest deserving special treatment. We altered those stickers, made them listening and tracking devices. Vanity, the need to be special was your downfall. Do without the sticker, see another day, and visit another gallery, I always say.” He smiled.
At the Intercontinental near the safety deposit boxes, a man looked at his watch wondering where I was.