Another Kind of Country

Another Kind of Country by Kevin Brophy Page B

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Authors: Kevin Brophy
fraud knows exactly when to duck his head.’
    ‘And my head, General?’
    ‘As safe as any head can be in these troubled times, Herr Miller.’ The general stood and they shook hands. ‘Remember also, Herr Miller, that we know all about you.’
    Miller could find no comfort in the general’s smile.

Thirteen

    19 September 1989
    East Berlin
    German Democratic Republic
    Work was a welcome relieffor Miller next morning atthe office. Although not employed by the publishing company housed next door, much of the foreign rights transactions for the publishers crossed his desk. It was begun, Miller figured, simply as a series of chores that could be entrusted to him: he was still the only native speaker of English, the lingua franca of business, in the two buildings. Over the years, as his proficiency and his masters’ trust in him had grown, Miller’s desk had become the recognized transit point for most foreign business, although all final decisions had to be approved by Hartheim or his opposite number in the publishing house next door.
    Most such work concerned the sale of rights for foreign language editions of East German books. For Miller, book publishing was one of the glories of the East German state. When you got past the turgid collections of politicians’ speeches and impenetrable economic plans and surveys, you discovered a treasury of fabulous art books, reference works and scientific treatises that were the equal of anything produced in the so-called free world. It seemed to Miller like a kind of heaven: you liked a book, thought it deserved publication, and a few thousand copies of the bookwere published at a non-market, affordable price. The ‘market’ did not apply here; it was doubtful if any book earned back its production cost.
    Foreign business was where East Germany bared its fangs. The country’s currency – the Ostmark – was a so-called ‘soft’ currency and universally rejected in Western countries. The official rate was one to one with the West German Mark but, to find a citizen of Hamburg or Munich who’d trade you a hundred of his precious Marks for a like number of Ostmarks, you’d first have to find a fellow who believed that Santa Claus was alive and well – and living on a moon that was made of blue cheese.
    Western publishers who thought they could offer a pittance, measured in sterling or dollars, were sharply disabused of their notions. A letter from one such operator – this time a UK distributor rather than a publisher of schoolbooks – now lay on Miller’s desk. The fellow, based in Welwyn Garden City and signing himself T. J. Whitacre, wanted to buy five thousand copies of a hardback German–English dictionary for a few coppers each. Mr T. J. Whitacre concluded:
    We are major educational suppliers in the United Kingdom and it is our expectation that this substantial first order is but the beginning of a long and profitable association between our two companies.
    The seas, Miller reflected, were full of sharks that spouted shit.
    He took extended pleasure in composing a lengthy reply couched in abstruse and long-winded language which, in effect, thanked Mr T. J. Whitacre for his derisory offer and advised him to shove it.
    No matter how long-winded he made it, the letter was soon done and Millerwas forced again to consider his strange encounter with General Reder.
    Whether by design or the pain which had seized the general, the purpose of the meeting had been left undisclosed. The pointers to what it was about were, at best, vague. The general wanted Miller to write something; his former newspaper’s left-wing slant had been mentioned. And General Reder had made it clear that he was aware of Miller’s message-carrying to Redgrave and Co.
    All of which added up to what? That the general could accuse Miller of spying activities whenever he wished? That he could produce evidence to back up the accusation? That Patrick Miller, in short, hadn’t a leg to stand on and could

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