Drumbeat - Berlin
Drumbeat - Berlin
W E MADE our landing approach low over the rooftops of Berlin, banking steeply so that the big boulevards of the West Sector seemed for an instant to stand on end, like streets in a bad painting that lacked perspective.
"You are now one hundred and ten miles behind the Iron Curtain," the Pan Am stewardess said in a dramatic voice over the plane's P.A. system. "To your left, you can see the Brandenburg Gate and the Wall, to your right and now almost directly ahead, the Kaiser Wilhelm Church and Kurfürstendamm, the main street of West Berlin."
I craned my neck for a view of the Wall. On either side of the toy triumphal arch of the Brandenburg Gate, from an altitude of five hundred feet and casting a heavy shadow in the late afternoon sunlight, it looked like a thick gray line grease-penciled across the map of the divided city.
"We are now preparing to land at Tempelhof Airport," intoned the stewardess.
The flaps were down, and the pressure built in my ears, and suddenly the city did not resemble a toy city any longer, and then there was the familiar double thump as the landing gear struck pavement. It was late March, before the tourist rush to the beleaguered city, and there were plenty of empty seats in the DC-6 that made its milk-run through the Corridor from Hamburg to Berlin. The solid German burgher in the seat next to mine crammed papers into his briefcase and buckled the straps. A couple of early tourists said something about the excitement of landing in Berlin.
The stewardess handed me my trench coat. "First trip to Berlin?" she asked, flashing one of those toothpaste ad smiles.
"No. But last time was before the Wall."
"You'll find the city's changed. Well, have a pleasant stay."
I went up the aisle toward the door. The flight stairs were already in place. I started down them and felt the cold bite of the March wind, though the DC-6 had taxied under the glass and metal canopy of the arrival building. Berliners, understandably having a one-track mind, will tell you that their gusty March winds blow two thousand miles from the east, from the steppes of central Asia and the heartland of Russia.
A hand touched my shoulder while I was waiting to claim my B-4 bag at the baggage counter.
"I reckon you're Drum." The voice was slow and soft, with a lot of southern drawl in it. I turned to see a man about my own height, which is six-one. He was wearing a loden coat with the collar turned up and no hat. He had thin sandy hair and a hairline that had receded far enough to make him partially bald. His eyes were brown and bovinely soft behind shell-rimmed glasses. "The name's Purcell," he said. "My friends call me Sandy on account of obvious reasons."
"Sure. You're with View. A photographer, right? Marianne mentioned you a couple of times." We shook hands.
"You were the only guy she'd mention to anyone who'd listen," Purcell said a little bitterly, "until Mr. Quentin K. Hammond popped into her life."
I let that one ride. I knew Marianne and View's ace foreign correspondent were engaged. "Where is she?" I asked.
"At the Kempinski. She asked me to fetch you. She won't budge. Keeps hoping she'll get word about Hammond."
I pointed to the blue canvas bag and gave the girl my claim check. Purcell said: "Let's get going, I got a car outside."
But first I handed him Marianne's cable. I knew its terse and unsatisfactory message by heart. It said: CHESTER DRUM FARRELL BUILDING F STREET WASHINGTON DC USA = IN DESPERATE TROUBLE COME AS SOON AS YOU CAN = MARIANNE.
"Marianne and you had a thing going for quite a while, didn't you?" Purcell asked.
I felt my face grow hot, but I let that one ride too. "The circuits were busy, Purcell. I hopped a Lufthansa jet from the States to Hamburg before I could put a call through. What's the trouble?"