Apr 19, 2015

Chapter 35 – Meeting at the Oktoberfest

 I've always had mixed feelings about the Oktoberfest. Travelling around Munich during the season can be horrible, with too many drunks, too much noise and the constant necessity to step around piles of vomit.
Yet when you're actually there it's very hard to resist the atmosphere. There are so many people having fun and this is infectious. 
In these last chapters I want to try to convey these mixed feelings I have and I also think the Oktoberfest can provide an exciting setting for the finale. I hope you agree!

The story so far ... Franz had an unexpected visit from Timothy Arnold, looking for Celia. He's heard that she plans to give the information she's collected about the arms smuggling tolerated by the British government into Croatia during the civil war in the 90's. He warns Franz that under no circumstances should she give this material to Jeremy Fisk, the very person she has just gone to meet.

Chapter 35 – Meeting at the Oktoberfest
The late September sun was shining out of a blue sky as Celia hurried through the crowds towards the entrance of the Oktoberfest and her meeting with Jeremy. Although it was only midday it was already busy and she couldn’t go as quickly as she wanted.
‘Don’t stand out,’ Jeremy had warned her. ‘Make sure you’re not followed. Dress and move inconspicuously.’
Celia forced herself to slow down and by the time she reached their agreed meeting point outside the Löwenbrau tent she was calm again.
‘You can’t miss it,’ she’d explained to him. ‘There’s an enormous model of a lion above the entrance, holding a mug of beer which moves up and down. And the lion roars from time to time.’
 Jeremy wasn’t there yet, so Celia stood slightly to one side and waited for him, sniffing the Oktoberfest scents in the air. The smell of sugared almonds being roasted dominated, with the occasional whiff of charcoaled fish providing a contrast. From time to time she caught a touch of cinnamon from the large spicy biscuits, decorated with kitsch sentiments written in faux Bavarian that hung around many people’s necks, while underlying everything was the stale, sour reek of beer, spilt over the previous days. There were groups of middle-aged, camera-clicking Japanese and American tourists being led around while the atmosphere was still relatively sober and their anxious guides had a reasonable chance of getting them something to eat and drink and out again before losing somebody. That was nearly impossible to do in the evening when the atmosphere became rowdier.
Somebody tapped her on the shoulder making her jump. It was Jeremy.
‘Sorry,’ he said. ‘I didn’t mean to frighten you. I’ve got us a table inside the tent. We might as well make ourselves comfortable and have something to eat and drink, don’t you think?’
He was much more relaxed than he’d been on the phone the previous evening and insisted that Celia drink with him although she didn’t much feel like anything.
‘We need to look very ordinary,’ he said after he’d also ordered food for them. ‘My contact has agreed to meet us here if I say it’s worth his while. Now, have some of this delicious beer … that’s it … cheers! And tell me again about everything you’ve found.’
Celia went over it once more, adding the information about Tomi’s visit, but leaving out his blackmail attempt and her subsequent row with Franz.
‘So, you just told him that you hadn’t received anything from Ivana, is that right?’
‘Yes. He was suspicious, but there was nothing he could do to prove we had got something.’
‘Very good. Now, Celia, my contact will ensure worldwide publicity for this story, but in return he wants exclusivity. Where is all the material? In your bag there?’
‘Yes,’ said Celia. ‘Everything’s here, including our print outs, Ivana’s memory disk and Bernard’s CD.’
She showed him a couple of the photos including the incriminating address and the fake inventory lists for school equipment signed by the Colonel.
She’d just finished putting everything back when her mobile phone rang. She looked at the display, it was Franz. Well, he could wait. She turned it off completely. That would teach him.
‘I see. Did you make any copies to your computers?’ asked Jeremy. ‘I’m sorry to be a bore about this but my contact is insisting on absolute exclusivity for this story. He told me that if I had even the slightest concerns that you’d kept some of the material, then he wasn’t interested. I have to protect my reputation, you see.’
‘This is really everything. We decided not to risk making copies. The CD and the disk were easy to hide but the computer wasn’t. I told you our flat was already broken into once.’
‘Smart thinking. I can see you’ve got a talent for this kind of thing. Now, I’m just going outside the tent for moment to make a phone call. I think we should go ahead, but let’s see if my contact agrees. Excuse me a moment…’
He got up, leaving Celia alone at the table. The tent’s brass band began playing the first set of the day and as she listened to the sentimental trashy music she felt the Oktoberfest charm start its work. The place was noisy, vulgar, over priced and full of drunks but somehow she nearly always enjoyed going there. She began to relax and drank some more.
Jeremy reappeared, carrying a giant pretzel for them both.
‘It’s on!’ he yelled at her above the brass band. ‘He said he needs about an hour to get here, which gives us time to enjoy ourselves a bit. I think we should drink a toast. To Ned and his sister: the two best journalists I’ve ever worked with!’
Their food arrived shortly afterwards. Jeremy asked if Celia would fetch him some mustard and then attacked his pork knuckle while keeping up a flow of conversation and joining in enthusiastically with the frequent toasting required by the brass band. Celia felt relaxed for the first time in a long while. It was good to be freed from the burden of knowing what to do about Ned and Ivana’s material. Somebody else’s problem. She had enough other ones still to deal with, it would be nice to be able to go to sleep and wake up with them all solved.
‘Are you alright, Celia?’ Jeremy’s voice penetrated her thoughts. ‘You look very sleepy suddenly.’
Celia shook herself.
‘Sorry, I don’t think I’d better drink any more beer. It makes me tired. Where will we meet this person? We can’t talk here!’
Jeremy looked at his phone.
‘He’s just sent me a message. He’s arranged somewhere quiet for us nearby. Come on!’
As Celia stood up she felt the ground beneath her feet tilt and would have fallen if Jeremy hadn’t caught her elbow. He grinned.
‘Powerful stuff that beer, eh? Never mind, let me help…’ and he steered her out of the tent into the crowds.
‘Don’t understand … didn’t drink much,’ she mumbled, swaying from side-to-side. She saw people looking at her and a group of teenage girls began giggling.
‘Come along my dear. This way …’ Jeremy put his arm around her waist and half carried her along with him. Celia tried to work out what was happening but it was as if her brain had filled with treacle and she couldn’t string two thoughts together, while around her the world span out of control.
A door appeared in front of them. Jeremy opened it and pulled her inside, then sat her on a chair in front of a desk. Celia looked blearily round the tiny room, lined with files. She knew she was still at the Oktoberfest because outside she could hear the noise of the funfair and screams from people on the different rides. This must be some sort of office belonging to one of the tents. The desk suddenly rose up and hit her in the face.
‘Here, sniff this!’ ordered Jeremy, thrusting a small bottle under her nose. The liquid inside had a sharp, smell that stung her nose but cleared her head and allowed her to sit up again and stay upright if she held onto the arms of the chair.
‘What … what’s happening? I think I’m ill. You’ve got to take me to the doctor,’ she said, trying to stand up. Jeremy pushed her back into her seat.
‘You don’t want to go anywhere, Celia. And anyway, you’re supposed to be meeting my contact aren’t you?’ There was a knock at the door.
‘Ah, that must be him now. Please don’t feel you have to get up!’
He opened the door and Morfeus Herman walked into the room.

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