World of Mirrors is set on an island off the Baltic coast in the former DDR, and the year is 1990, the “time of the turn.” The Berlin wall has crumbled, but Germany is not yet reunified. Against the seductive decadence of an old resort with its classic sailboats, nude beaches and crumbling casinos, Zara Gray, a consultant to high tech firms, and T.K. Drummond, a man who finds people and fixes situations, must track down an American software thief before he can fence a stolen copy of his company’s bleeding-edge new software.
Zara narrates the story as she fights the fear that their mission is jinxed from the beginning. Bad decisions and chilling discoveries threaten to sabotage the project. The situation further unravels during a sailing weekend, and turns deadly at a Midsummer Festival. Trapped in a matrix of betrayal, Zara and T.K. must rely on two unlikely people to help them escape the island and in a final, desperate gambit to save the software, Zara must perform her own dangerous treachery.
A sharp wind with a memory of spring assailed us as we stepped into the street. T.K. put his arm around me.
We strolled over to Unter den Linden, but that famous Berlin boulevard had little traffic and only scattered pedestrians. T.K. pointed to the tall minaret-like television tower that marked Alexanderplatz. Spent linden blossoms, pale yellow and frilly, swirled along our path as we walked alone across vast bare spaces and past the abandoned fifties-style government buildings. The trees’ subtle fragrance perfumed the air.
“I never imagined that I would cross Marx-Engels Platz with a lovely Chicago lady on my arm. Hell, it was only nine months ago when the old regime celebrated its anniversary. Forty years of oppressing the populace, and four weeks later the Wall comes down and the leaders march into the unemployment line.” He hummed a military-sounding march.
“Zara, imagine this vast square populated by May Day celebrations! Forty freakin’ years of them. Hundreds of tanks rumbling by the reviewing stand followed by marching battalions. Giving the people bread and circuses.”
Now those times were as dead as the crushed blossoms we trod on in this huge emptiness that felt like the last night on earth. The accumulation of this century’s ugly history bore down on me as we trekked all the way to Alexanderplatz.
I headed for a bench. T.K. sat next to me and we watched a group of young folks in stonewashed denim jeans trying to decide where to spend the evening.
“When are we supposed to leave for that island?” I asked.
“Soon.” Had he heard the doubt in my voice? T.K. lit a cigarette and inhaled the smoke. “Now tell me what’s on your mind. Is your divorce final?”
“Very final.” I paused to pick my words. “Our split hurt Chloe more than Taylor or me.”
I took a deep breath. “I tried to resign on Monday.” My story came out in a rush of words. “I shouldn’t be here, T.K. I have a little girl who needs me. I need to find a job without travel. And now this murder has me freaked out. I don’t want to get involved in something risky.”
I expected T.K. to react with his typical “oh shit!” and maybe even sympathize or suggest a way out, but he continued to smoke without looking at me.
In a moment I would be weeping. “I really can’t talk about this anymore,” I said, gulping back my tears.
He remained silent. His head was down, and I couldn’t see his face, but I didn’t think my sorrowful confession had pleased him.
“What’s going on in your life?” I asked when he didn’t offer so much as a consoling word.
“Once upon a time there was a pretty woman in Brussels. But since I’m not living there anymore–Zara, did you think I wouldn’t ever wise up to your little tricks on that project last summer? You made me look like an ass.”
“Sorry,” I said, dreading the finger pointing and recriminations. We were both remembering the incident last summer in Berlin. I didn’t believe T.K. wanted to re-hash it any more than I did.
He had spoken in an even voice, and his eyes warned: don’t pull any more stunts like that. Maybe he did carry a grudge.
“We’re colleagues now,” I assured him.
“Understood,” he said. He threw down his cigarette and stood up. I stood, too. Swamped by waves of jet lag, I wanted to collapse and sleep for days. Alone.
“Another walk?” He suggested. “Coffee in the Nikolai Viertel?”
“I’m beat. T.K., we need to lay down some ground rules.”
The faintest irritation passed over his brow. Oh God, I was too tired for another fight.
“I need time to…get reacquainted. It’s been almost a year, and–.”
“Take as much time as you like.” We walked back toward Unter den Linden. T.K. fixed his eyes on the cabstand at a hotel across the street. “How exactly does ‘getting reacquainted’ translate into a rule?” A puckered brow eclipsed his easy-going expression.
Afraid I wouldn’t be able to get so many awkward words out of my mouth, I spoke in a flat, toneless voice without pausing for breath.
“The rule is that we don’t unless both of us want to. Another rule is nothing remotely kinky, as defined by your maiden aunt. I didn’t come over here for a no-holds-barred orgy. The last rule, well, it’s not a rule, but I would like to see a blood donor card or some recent document–of course I will provide same.”
He burst out, “Shit! You clinical women can squash a man’s romantic impulses quicker than a cold shower.” He started across the intersection without even taking my arm.
“These are the nineties, T.K.” I was running after him. “Some things have to be said.”
We climbed into a cab and nobody spoke all the way back to the hotel. I had sounded like the last of the vestal virgins, but I couldn’t think how to make my words less harsh.
I undressed in the bathroom and put on modest white pajamas. T.K. was drinking a cognac from the minibar when I emerged. He didn’t even look at me.
I got into bed, clung to my side of the mattress and immediately feigned sleep. T.K. slid in a few minutes later. So much distance separated us you could have plowed a furrow down the middle of the bed and not touched either of us.
~ * ~
Early the next morning while T.K. slept, I jogged past deserted cafés and a street sweeper whistling as he pushed his wide broom along the Ku’damm. A lion roared in the nearby zoo. Blocks later I ran into the Tiergarden, a sprawling park.
The remnants of my jet lag fell away like an old snakeskin, allowing me to think clearly about the misogynist Putnam, the felonious Charles Goodborn, the dead Bruss, and my deteriorating bond with T.K. Logic told me to take the next plane back to the U.S., but I had never been a quitter. If it weren’t for the murder, I would relish putting my head down, gritting my teeth and seeing it through.
When I returned to the hotel room, T.K. was propped against the pillow, arms crossed behind his head, looking almost contrite.
“I brought you coffee,” I said, putting a Tschibo take-out container on his nightstand.
“I’ve been such a jerk. How could you stand it?” He removed the lid from the cup and took a sip.
I dropped to the rug and started my push-ups. Five sets of ten. ‘Abs tight and breathe through it.’ I flopped onto my back and rested a moment before beginning my sit-ups.
T.K. watched me intently. “I would like to apologize and make amends.”
“I’m listening,” I told him, beginning a set of power crunches.
“We can make a great team.” He sipped his coffee. “I’m willing to reform if you’ll have me.”
“It’s not up to me.” Pause. “Putnam, Smith and especially,” crunch, gasp, “Edgar have to be convinced.”
Finished, I stretched out, arms above my head, as far as I could reach.
He said, “We can convince them.”
I could see him watching me, trying to decide what was in my head, which was that I was conflicted about staying on the project. “If your associates say auf Wiedersehen, I’ll be out of here like greased lightning.”
After easing into one more long stretch, I stood up and tossed a towel around my sweaty neck. A forage through the mini-bar netted two orange juices. I held one out to T.K.
His eyes hadn’t left me. Now he looked like the man I had come here to work with, the man with the wicked gleam in his eye and the crooked carefree smile. I gave him a lot of credit for not propositioning me that very moment.
~ * ~
At eleven o’clock we marched across the square in front of the Europa Center just as we had yesterday. T.K. wore a navy blazer and tan slacks and I had on a navy blazer with a tan skirt, an unplanned Tweedledum and Tweedledee effect that we had only noticed at the last minute.
“Do we look like a team, or do we look like a couple of dip shits?” he had asked, as we gaped at each other.
“A jacket conveys authority. I have to wear a jacket. If we start changing now, we’ll be late.”
With my jacket distinguished by the red, blue, and gold nautical patterned scarf and we didn’t look quite so dorky.
My stomach had more knots than a mariner’s handbook and the sight of Putnam made the hair stand up on my arms. I did have a plan to determine if I was still on the payroll.
Like yesterday, Putnam admitted us, and like yesterday, Smith raised his long body out of the chair. I shook hands with as much cordiality as I could summon.
“Putnam began putting glasses on a tray. “No wine for me,” I said.”
“I’ll take a pass, too,” T.K. said.
Putnam shrugged and returned with a bottle of Stout and a glass. His shirtsleeves had been rolled up with military precision, exposing freckled wrists and muscular forearms covered with light brown hair. I couldn’t help noticing that his scarred and misshapen knuckles bore the history of back alley brawls, while his neat, well-tended nails looked like they had been on the receiving end of manicures and nail buffers.
“I want to clarify a few issues before we start,” I said.
Putnam turned, his eyes sharp with suspicion as I stood up.
“We have a contract, executed in good faith by all parties. I expect payment for my services whether you use them or not. That’s the first issue.” My eyes travelled around the room to each of them.
T.K. raised his eyebrows and crossed his ankles.
“Surely Edgar understands about business contracts,” I continued.
Smith’s eyes didn’t look so sanguine.
“The second issue has to do with your misconception that I am not a team player.” I walked across the room, turned and faced them. “I’ve been on sales teams, re-engineering teams, and teams brought together to produce computer systems. No one ever intimated I was not a team player.”
T.K. examined his fingernails. A flush crept out of Putnam’s collar and surged toward his cheeks. Smith folded his hands and looked thoughtful.
The only sound in the room was the faint din of traffic circling the square and a bus shifting gears.
An information systems nerd for twenty-plus years, Judith Copek is a survivor of Dilbert-like re-engineering projects, 3:00 a.m. computer crashes and the Millennium Bug. In her writing, she likes to put a literary spin on technology.
When she’s not gardening, travelling or puttering about the kitchen, she’s researching her next novel at Burning Man or in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. Judith is a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America and New England Pen. She has published poems, short stories and memoir as well as The Shadow Warriors, an earlier novel.
Link to book cover and photo: Judith Copek author page on Facebook or:http://www.wings-press.com