To the memory of my grandparents,
Tom and Minnie Follett
Arthur and Bessie Evans
Cast of characters
Senator Gus Dewar
Rosa Dewar, his wife
Woody Dewar, their elder son
Chuck Dewar, their younger son
Ursula Dewar, Gus’s mother
Olga Peshkov, his wife
Daisy Peshkov, their daughter
Marga, Lev’s mistress
Greg Peshkov, son of Lev and Marga
Gladys Angelus, film star, also Lev’s mistress
Joanne Rouzrokh, his daughter
Joe Brekhunov, a thug
Brian Hall, union organizer
Jacky Jakes, starlet
Eddie Parry, sailor, friend of Chuck’s
Captain Vandermeier, Chuck’s superior
Margaret Cowdry, beautiful heiress
Real Historical Characters
President F. D. Roosevelt
Marguerite ‘Missy’ LeHand, his assistant
Vice-President Harry Truman
Cordell Hull, Secretary of State
Sumner Welles, Undersecretary of State
Colonel Leslie Groves, Army Corps of Engineers
Earl Fitzherbert, called Fitz
Princess Elizaveta, called Bea, his wife
‘Boy’ Fitzherbert, Viscount Aberowen, their elder son
Andy, their younger son
Ethel Leckwith (née Williams), Member of Parliament for Aldgate
Bernie Leckwith, Ethel’s husband
Lloyd Williams, Ethel’s son, Bernie’s stepson
Millie Leckwith, Ethel and Bernie’s daughter
Ruby Carter, friend of Lloyd’s
Sir Bartholomew (‘Bing’) Westhampton, friend of Fitz’s
Lindy and Lizzie Westhampton, Bing’s twin daughters
Jimmy Murray, son of General Murray
May Murray, his sister
Marquis of Lowther, called Lowthie
Naomi Avery, Millie’s best friend
Abe Avery, Naomi’s brother
Real Historical Characters
Ernest Bevin, MP, Foreign Secretary
German & Austrian
Von Ulrich Family
Walter von Ulrich
Maud (née Lady Maud Fitzherbert), his wife
Erik, their son
Carla, their daughter
Ada Hempel, their maid
Kurt, Ada’s illegitimate son
Robert von Ulrich, Walter’s second cousin
Jörg Schleicher, Robert’s partner
Rebecca Rosen, an orphan
Monika (née Monika von der Helbard), his wife
Werner, their elder son
Frieda, their daughter
Axel, their younger son
Count Konrad von der Helbard, Monika’s father
Dr Isaac Rothmann
Hannelore Rothmann, his wife
Eva, their daughter
Rudi, their son
Von Kessel Family
Gottfried von Kessel, deputy for the Centre Party
Heinrich von Kessel, his son
Commissar Thomas Macke
Inspector Kringelein, Macke’s boss
Hermann Braun, Erik’s best friend
Sergeant Schwab, gardener
Wilhelm Frunze, scientist
Katerina, his wife
Vladimir, always called Volodya, their son
Anya, their daughter
Zoya Vorotsyntsev, physicist
Ilya Dvorkin, officer of the secret police
Colonel Lemitov, Volodya’s boss
Colonel Bobrov, Red Army officer in Spain
Real Historical Characters
Lavrentiy Beria, head of the secret police
Vyacheslav Molotov, Foreign Minister
Teresa, literacy teacher
David Williams, called Dai, ‘Granda’
Cara Williams, ‘Grandmam’
Billy Williams, MP for Aberowen
Mildred, Billy’s wife
Dave, Billy’s elder son
Keir, Billy’s younger son
Tommy Griffiths, Billy Williams’s political agent
Lenny Griffiths, Tommy’s son
Part One: THE OTHER CHEEK
Part Two: A SEASON OF BLOOD
Part Three: THE COLD PEACE
THE OTHER CHEEK
Carla knew her parents were about to have a row. The second she walked into the kitchen she felt the hostility, like the bone-deep cold of the wind that blew through the streets of Berlin before a February snowstorm. She almost turned and walked back out again.
It was unusual for them to fight. Mostly they were affectionate – too much so. Carla cringed when they kissed in front of other people. Her friends thought it was strange: their parents did not do that. She had said that to her mother, once. Mother had laughed in a pleased way and said: ‘The day after our wedding, your father and I were separated by the Great War.’ She had been born English, though you could hardly tell. ‘I stayed in London while he came home to Germany and joined the army.’ Carla had heard this story many times, but Mother never tired of telling it. ‘We thought the war would last three months, but I didn’t see him again for five years. All that time I longed to touch him. Now I never tire of it.’
Father was just as bad. ‘Your mother is the cleverest woman I have ever met,’ he had said here in the kitchen just a few days ago. ‘That’s why I married her. It had nothing to do with . . .’ He had tailed off, and Mother and he had giggled conspiratorially, as if Carla at the age of eleven knew nothing about sex. It was so embarrassing.
But once in a while they had a quarrel. Carla knew the signs. And a new one was about to erupt.
They were sitting at opposite ends of the kitchen table. Father was sombrely dressed in a dark-grey suit, starched white shirt and black satin tie. He looked dapper, as always, even though his hair was receding and his waistcoat bulged a little beneath the gold watch chain. His face was frozen in an expression of false calm. Carla knew that look. He wore it when one of the family had done something that angered him.
He held in his hand a copy of the weekly magazine for which Mother worked, The Democrat. She wrote a column of political and diplomatic gossip under the name of Lady Maud. Father began to read aloud. ‘ “Our new chancellor, Herr Adolf Hitler, made his debut in diplomatic society at President Hindenburg’s reception.” ’
The President was the head of state, Carla knew. He was elected, but he stood above the squabbles of day-to-day politics, acting as referee. The Chancellor was the premier. Although Hitler had been made chancellor, his Nazi party did not have an overall majority in the Reichstag – the German parliament – so, for the present, the other parties could restrain Nazi excesses.
Father spoke with distaste, as if forced to mention something repellent, like sewage. ‘ “He looked uncomfortable in a formal tailcoat.” ’
Carla’s mother sipped her coffee and looked out of the window to the street, as if interested in the people hurrying to work in scarves and gloves. She, too, was pretending to be calm, but Carla knew that she was just waiting for her moment.
The maid, Ada, was standing at the counter in an apron, slicing cheese. She put a plate in front of Father, but he ignored it. ‘ “Herr Hitler was evidently charmed by Elisabeth Cerruti, the cultured wife of the Italian ambassador, in a rose-pink velvet gown trimmed with sable.” ’
Mother always wrote about what people were wearing. She said it helped the reader to picture them. She herself had fine clothes, but times were hard and she had not bought anything new for years. This morning, she looked slim and elegant in a navy-blue cashmere dress that was probably as old as Carla.
‘ “Signora Cerruti, who is Jewish, is a passionate Fascist, and they talked for many minutes. Did she beg Hitler to stop whipping up hatred of Jews?” ’ Father put the magazine down on the table with a slap.
Here it comes, Carla thought.
‘You realize that will infuriate the Nazis,’ he said.
‘I hope so,’ Mother said coolly. ‘The day they’re pleased with what I write, I shall give it up.’
‘They’re dangerous when riled.’
Mother’s eyes flashed anger. ‘Don’t you dare condescend to me, Walter. I know they’re dangerous – that’s why I oppose them.’
‘I just don’t see the point of making them irate.’
‘You attack them in the Reichstag.’ Father was an elected parliamentary representative for the Social Democratic Party.
‘I take part in a reasoned debate.’
This was typical, Carla thought. Father was logical, cautious, law-abiding. Mother had style and humour. He got his way by quiet persistence; she with charm and cheek. They would never agree.
Father added: ‘I don’t drive the Nazis mad with fury.’
‘Perhaps that’s because you don’t do them much harm.’
Father was irritated by her quick wit. His voice became louder. ‘And you think you damage them with jokes?’
‘I mock them.’
‘And that’s your substitute for argument.’
‘I believe we need both.’
Father became angrier. ‘But Maud, don’t you see how you’re putting yourself and your family at risk?’
‘On the contrary: the real danger is not to mock the Nazis. What would life be like for our children if Germany became a Fascist state?’
This kind of talk made Carla feel queasy. She could not bear to hear that the family was in danger. Life must go on as it always had. She wished she could sit in this kitchen for an eternity of mornings, with her parents at opposite ends of the pine table, Ada at the counter, and her brother, Erik, thumping around upstairs, late again. Why should anything change?
She had listened to political talk every breakfast-time of her life and she thought she understood what her parents did, and how they planned to make Germany a better place for everyone. But lately they had begun to talk in a different way. They seemed to think that a terrible danger loomed, but Carla could not quite imagine what it was.
Father said: ‘God knows I’m doing everything I can to hold back Hitler and his mob.’
‘And so am I. But when you do it, you believe you’re following a sensible course.’ Mother’s face hardened in resentment. ‘And when I do it, I’m accused of putting the family at risk.’
‘And with good reason,’ said Father. The row was only just getting started, but at that moment Erik came down, clattering like a horse on the stairs, and lurched into the kitchen with his school satchel swinging from his shoulder. He was thirteen, two years older than Carla, and there were unsightly black hairs sprouting from his upper lip. When they were small, Carla and Erik had played together all the time; but those days were over, and since he had grown so tall he had pretended to think that she was stupid and childish. In fact, she was smarter than he, and knew about a lot of things he did not understand, such as women’s monthly cycles.
‘What was that last tune you were playing?’ he said to Mother.
The piano often woke them in the morning. It was a Steinway grand – inherited, like the house itself, from Father’s parents. Mother played in the morning because, she said, she was too busy during the rest of the day and too tired in the evening. This morning, she had performed a Mozart sonata then a jazz tune. ‘It’s called “Tiger Rag”,’ she told Erik. ‘Do you want some cheese?’
‘Jazz is decadent,’ Erik said.
‘Don’t be silly.’
Ada handed Erik a plate of cheese and sliced sausage, and he began to shovel it into his mouth. Carla thought his manners were dreadful.
Father looked severe. ‘Who’s been teaching you this nonsense, Erik?’
‘Hermann Braun says that jazz isn’t music, just Negroes making a noise.’ Hermann was Erik’s best friend; his father was a member of the Nazi Party.
‘Hermann should try to play it.’ Father looked at Mother, and his face softened. She smiled at him. He went on: ‘Your mother tried to teach me ragtime, many years ago, but I couldn’t master the rhythm.’
Mother laughed. ‘It was like trying to get a giraffe to roller-skate.’
The fight was over, Carla saw with relief. She began to feel better. She took some black bread and dipped it in milk.
But now Erik wanted an argument. ‘Negroes are an inferior race,’ he said defiantly.
‘I doubt that,’ Father said patiently. ‘If a Negro boy were brought up in a nice house full of books and paintings, and sent to an expensive school with good teachers, he might turn out to be smarter than you.’
‘That’s ridiculous!’ Erik protested.
Mother put in: ‘Don’t call your father ridiculous, you foolish boy.’ Her tone was mild: she had used up her anger on Father. Now she just sounded wearily disappointed. ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about, and neither does Hermann Braun.’
Erik said: ‘But the Aryan race must be superior – we rule the world!’
‘Your Nazi friends don’t know any history,’ Father said. ‘The Ancient Egyptians built the pyramids when Germans were living in caves. Arabs ruled the world in the Middle Ages – the Muslims were doing algebra when German princes could not write their own names. It’s nothing to do with race.’
Carla frowned and said: ‘What is it to do with, then?’
Father looked at her fondly. ‘That’s a very good question, and you’re a bright girl to ask it.’ She glowed with pleasure at his praise. ‘Civilizations rise and fall – the Chinese, the Aztecs, the Romans – but no one really knows why.’
‘Eat up, everyone, and put your coats on,’ Mother said. ‘It’s getting late.’
Father pulled his watch out of his waistcoat pocket and looked at it with raised eyebrows. ‘It’s not late.’
‘I’ve got to take Carla to the Francks’ house,’ Mother said. ‘The girls’ school is closed for a day – something about repairing the furnace – so Carla’s going to spend today with Frieda.’
Frieda Franck was Carla’s best friend. Their mothers were best friends, too. In fact, when they were young, Frieda’s mother, Monika, had been in love with Father – a hilarious fact that Frieda’s grandmother had revealed one day after drinking too much Sekt.
Father said: ‘Why can’t Ada look after Carla?’
‘Ada has an appointment with the doctor.’
Carla expected Father to ask what was wrong with Ada, but he nodded as if he already knew, and put his watch away. Carla wanted to ask, but something told her she should not. She made a mental note to ask Mother later. Then she immediately forgot about it.
Father left first, wearing a long black overcoat. Then Erik put on his cap – perching it as far back on his head as it would go without falling off, as was the fashion among his friends – and followed Father out of the door.
Carla and her mother helped Ada clear the table. Carla loved Ada almost as much as she loved her mother. When Carla was little, Ada had taken care of her full-time, until she was old enough to go to school, for Mother had always worked. Ada was not married yet. She was twenty-nine and homely looking, though she had a lovely, kind smile. Last summer, she had had a romance with a policeman, Paul Huber, but it had not lasted.
Carla and her mother stood in front of the mirror in the hall and put on their hats. Mother took her time. She chose a dark-blue felt, with a round crown and a narrow brim, the type all the women were wearing; but she tilted hers at a different angle, making it look chic. As Carla put on her knitted wool cap, she wondered whether she would ever have Mother’s sense of style. Mother looked like a goddess of war, her long neck and chin and cheekbones carved out of white marble; beautiful, yes, but definitely not pretty. Carla had the same dark hair and green eyes, but looked more like a plump doll than a statue. Carla had once accidentally overheard her grandmother say to Mother: ‘Your ugly duckling will grow into a swan, you’ll see.’ Carla was still waiting for it to happen.
When Mother was ready, they went out. Their home stood in a row of tall, gracious town houses in the Mitte district, the old centre of the city, built for high-ranking ministers and army officers such as Carla’s grandfather, who had worked at the nearby government buildings.
Carla and her mother rode a tram along Unter den Linden, then took the S-train from Friedrich Strasse to the Zoo Station. The Francks lived in the south-western suburb of Schöneberg.
Carla was hoping to see Frieda’s brother Werner, who was fourteen. She liked him. Sometimes Carla and Frieda imagined that they had each married the other’s brother, and were next-door neighbours, and their children were best friends. It was just a game to Frieda, but secretly Carla was serious. Werner was handsome and grown-up and not a bit silly like Erik. In the doll’s house in Carla’s bedroom, the mother and father sleeping side by side in the miniature double bed were called Carla and Werner, but no one knew that, not even Frieda.
Frieda had another brother, Axel, who was seven; but he had been born with spina bifida, and had to have constant medical care. He lived in a special hospital on the outskirts of Berlin.
Mother was preoccupied on the journey. ‘I hope this is going to be all right,’ she muttered, half to herself, as they got off the train.
‘Of course it will,’ Carla said. ‘I’ll have a lovely time with Frieda.’
‘I didn’t mean that. I’m talking about my paragraph about Hitler.’
‘Are we in danger? Was Father right?’
‘Your father is usually right.’
‘What will happen to us if we’ve annoyed the Nazis?’
Mother stared at her strangely for a long moment, then said: ‘Dear God, what kind of a world did I bring you into?’ Then she went quiet.
After a ten-minute walk they arrived at a grand villa in a big garden. The Francks were rich: Frieda’s father, Ludwig, owned a factory making radio sets. Two cars stood in the drive. The large shiny black one belonged to Herr Franck. The engine rumbled, and a cloud of blue vapour rose from the tail pipe. The chauffeur, Ritter, with uniform trousers tucked into high boots, stood cap in hand ready to open the door. He bowed and said: ‘Good morning, Frau von Ulrich.’
The second car was a little green two-seater. A short man with a grey beard came out of the house carrying a leather case, and touched his hat to Mother as he got into the small car. ‘I wonder what Dr Rothmann is doing here so early in the morning,’ Mother said anxiously.
They soon found out. Frieda’s mother, Monika, came to the door; she was a tall woman with a mass of red hair. Anxiety showed on her pale face. Instead of welcoming them in, she stood squarely in the doorway as if to bar their entrance. ‘Frieda has measles!’ she said.
‘I’m so sorry!’ said Mother. ‘How is she?’
‘Miserable. She has a fever and a cough. But Rothmann says she’ll be all right. However, she’s quarantined.’
‘Of course. Have you had it?’
‘Yes – when I was a girl.’
‘And Werner has, too – I remember he had a terrible rash all over. But what about your husband?’
‘Ludi had it as a boy.’
Both women looked at Carla. She had never had measles. She realized this meant that she could not spend the day with Frieda.
Carla was disappointed, but Mother was quite shaken. ‘This week’s magazine is our election issue – I can’t be absent.’ She looked distraught. All the grown-ups were apprehensive about the general election to be held next Sunday. Mother and Father both feared the Nazis might do well enough to take full control of the government. ‘Plus my oldest friend is visiting from London. I wonder whether Walter could be persuaded to take a day off to look after Carla?’
Monika said: ‘Why don’t you telephone to him?’
Not many people had phones in their homes, but the Francks did, and Carla and her mother stepped into the hall. The instrument stood on a spindly legged table near the door. Mother picked it up and gave the number of Father’s office at the Reichstag, the parliament building. She got through to him and explained the situation. She listened for a minute, then looked angry. ‘My magazine will urge a hundred thousand readers to campaign for the Social Democratic Party,’ she said. ‘Do you really have something more important than that to do today?’
Carla could guess how this argument would end. Father loved her dearly, she knew, but in all her eleven years he had never looked after her for a whole day. All her friends’ fathers were the same. Men did not do that sort of thing. But Mother sometimes pretended not to know the rules women lived by.
‘I’ll just have to take her to the office with me, then,’ Mother said into the phone. ‘I dread to think what Jochmann will say.’ Herr Jochmann was her boss. ‘He’s not much of a feminist at the best of times.’ She replaced the handset without saying goodbye.
Carla hated it when they fought, and this was the second time in a day. It made the whole world seem unstable. She was much more scared of quarrels than of the Nazis.
‘Come on, then,’ Mother said to her, and she moved to the door.
I’m not even going to see Werner, Carla thought unhappily.
Just then Frieda’s father appeared in the hall, a pink-faced man with a small black moustache, energetic and cheerful. He greeted Mother pleasantly, and she paused to speak politely to him while Monika helped him into a black topcoat with a fur collar.
He went to the foot of the stairs. ‘Werner!’ he shouted. ‘I’m going without you!’ He put on a grey felt hat and went out.
‘I’m ready, I’m ready!’ Werner ran down the stairs like a dancer. He was as tall as his father and more handsome, with red-blond hair worn too long. Under his arm he had a leather satchel that appeared to be full of books; in the other hand he held a pair of ice skates and a hockey stick. He paused in his rush to say: ‘Good morning, Frau von Ulrich’, very politely. Then in a more informal tone: ‘Hello, Carla. My sister’s got the measles.’
Carla felt herself blush, for no reason at all. ‘I know,’ she said. She tried to think of something charming and amusing to say, but came up with nothing. ‘I’ve never had it, so I can’t see her.’
‘I had it when I was a kid,’ he said, as if that was ever such a long time ago. ‘I must hurry,’ he added apologetically.
Carla did not want to lose sight of him so quickly. She followed him outside. Ritter was holding the rear door open. ‘What kind of car is that?’ Carla asked. Boys always knew the makes of cars.
‘A Mercedes-Benz W10 limousine.’
‘It looks very comfortable.’ She caught a look from her mother, half surprised and half amused.
Werner said: ‘Do you want a lift?’
‘That would be nice.’
‘I’ll ask my father.’ Werner put his head inside the car and said something.
Carla heard Herr Franck reply: ‘Very well, but hurry up!’
She turned to her mother. ‘We can go in the car!’
Mother hesitated for only a moment. She did not like Herr Franck’s politics – he gave money to the Nazis – but she was not going to refuse a lift in a warm car on a cold morning. ‘How very kind of you, Ludwig,’ she said.
They got in. There was room for four in the back. Ritter pulled away smoothly. ‘I assume you’re going to Koch Strasse?’ said Herr Franck. Many newspapers and book publishers had their offices in the same street in the Kreuzberg district.
‘Please don’t go out of your way. Leipziger Strasse would be fine.’
‘I’d be happy to take you to the door – but I suppose you don’t want your leftist colleagues to see you getting out of the car of a bloated plutocrat.’ His tone was somewhere between humorous and hostile.
Mother gave him a charming smile. ‘You’re not bloated, Ludi – just a little plump.’ She patted the front of his coat.
He laughed. ‘I asked for that.’ The tension eased. Herr Franck picked up the speaking tube and gave instructions to Ritter.
Carla was thrilled to be in a car with Werner, and she wanted to make the most of it by talking to him, but at first she could not think what to speak about. She really wanted to say: ‘When you’re older, do you think you might marry a girl with dark hair and green eyes, about three years younger than yourself, and clever?’ Eventually she pointed to his skates and said: ‘Do you have a match today?’
‘No, just practice after school.’
‘What position do you play in?’ She knew nothing about ice hockey, but there were always positions in team games.
‘Isn’t it a rather dangerous sport?’
‘Not if you’re quick.’
‘You must be ever such a good skater.’
‘Not bad,’ he said modestly.
Once again, Carla caught her mother watching her with an enigmatic little smile. Had she guessed how Carla felt about Werner? Carla felt another blush coming.
Then the car came to a stop outside a school building, and Werner got out. ‘Goodbye, everyone!’ he said, and ran through the gates into the yard.
Ritter drove on, following the south bank of the Landwehr Canal. Carla looked at the barges, their loads of coal topped with snow like mountains. She felt a sense of disappointment. She had contrived to spend longer with Werner, by hinting that she wanted a lift, then she had wasted the time talking about ice hockey.
What would she have liked to have talked to him about? She did not know.
Herr Franck said to Mother: ‘I read your column in The Democrat.’
‘I hope you enjoyed it.’
‘I was sorry to see you writing disrespectfully about our chancellor.’
‘Do you think journalists should write respectfully about politicians?’ Mother replied cheerfully. ‘That’s radical. The Nazi press would have to be polite about my husband! They wouldn’t like that.’
‘Not all politicians, obviously,’ Franck said irritably.
They crossed the teeming junction of Potsdamer Platz. Cars and trams vied with horse-drawn carts and pedestrians in a chaotic melee.
Mother said: ‘Isn’t it better for the press to be able to criticize everyone equally?’
‘A wonderful idea,’ he said. ‘But you socialists live in a dream world. We practical men know that Germany cannot live on ideas. People must have bread and shoes and coal.’
‘I quite agree,’ Mother said. ‘I could use more coal myself. But I want Carla and Erik to grow up as citizens of a free country.’
‘You overrate freedom. It doesn’t make people happy. They prefer leadership. I want Werner and Frieda and poor Axel to grow up in a country that is proud, and disciplined, and united.’
‘And in order to be united, we need young thugs in brown shirts to beat up elderly Jewish shopkeepers?’
‘Politics is rough. Nothing we can do about it.’
‘On the contrary, you and I are leaders, Ludwig, in our different ways. It’s our responsibility to make politics less rough – more honest, more rational, less violent. If we do not do that, we fail in our patriotic duty.’
Herr Franck bristled.
Carla did not know much about men, but she realized that they did not like to be lectured on their duty by women. Mother must have forgotten to press her charm switch this morning. But everyone was tense. The coming election had them all on edge.
The car reached Leipziger Platz. ‘Where may I drop you?” Herr Franck said coldly.
‘Just here will be fine,’ said Mother.
Franck tapped on the glass partition. Ritter stopped the car and hurried to open the door.
Mother said: ‘I do hope Frieda gets better soon.’
They got out and Ritter closed the door.
The office was several minutes’ walk away, but Mother clearly had not wanted to stay any longer in the car. Carla hoped Mother was not going to quarrel permanently with Herr Franck. That might make it difficult for her to see Frieda and Werner. She would hate that.
They set off at a brisk pace. ‘Try not to make a nuisance of yourself at the office,’ Mother said. The note of genuine pleading in her voice touched Carla, making her feel ashamed of causing her mother worry. She resolved to behave perfectly.
Mother greeted several people on the way: she had been writing her column for as long as Carla could remember, and was well known in the press corps. They all called her ‘Lady Maud’ in English.
Near the building in which The Democrat had its office, they saw someone they knew: Sergeant Schwab. He had fought with Father in the Great War, and still wore his hair brutally short in the military style. After the war he had worked as a gardener, first for Carla’s grandfather and later for her father; but he had stolen money from Mother’s purse and Father had sacked him. Now he was wearing the ugly military uniform of the Storm troopers, the Brownshirts, who were not soldiers but Nazis who had been given the authority of auxiliary policemen.
Schwab said loudly: ‘Good morning, Frau von Ulrich!’ as if he felt no shame at all about being a thief. He did not even touch his cap.
Mother nodded coldly and walked past him. ‘I wonder what he’s doing here,’ she muttered uneasily as they went inside.
The magazine had the first floor of a modern office building. Carla knew a child would not be welcome, and she hoped they could reach Mother’s office without being seen. But they met Herr Jochmann on the stairs. He was a heavy man with thick spectacles. ‘What’s this?’ he said brusquely, speaking around the cigarette in his mouth. ‘Are we running a kindergarten now?’
Mother did not react to his rudeness. ‘I was thinking over your comment the other day,’ she said. ‘About how young people imagine journalism is a glamorous profession, and don’t understand how much hard work is necessary.’
He frowned. ‘Did I say that? Well, it’s certainly true.’
‘So I brought my daughter here to see the reality. I think it will be good for her education, especially if she becomes a writer. She will make a report on the visit to her class. I felt sure you would approve.’
Mother was making this up as she went along, but it sounded convincing, Carla thought. She almost believed it herself. The charm switch had been turned to the On position at last.
Jochmann said: ‘Don’t you have an important visitor from London coming today?’
‘Yes, Ethel Leckwith, but she’s an old friend – she knew Carla as a baby.’
Jochmann was somewhat mollified. ‘Hmm. Well, we have an editorial meeting in five minutes, as soon as I’ve bought some cigarettes.’
‘Carla will get them for you.’ Mother turned to her. ‘There is a tobacconist three doors down. Herr Jochmann likes the Roth-Händle brand.’
‘Oh, that will save me a trip.’ Jochmann gave Carla a one-mark coin.
Mother said to her: ‘When you come back, you’ll find me at the top of the stairs, next to the fire alarm.’ She turned away and took Jochmann’s arm confidentially. ‘I thought last week’s issue was possibly our best ever,’ she said as they went up.
Carla ran out into the street. Mother had got away with it, using her characteristic mixture of boldness and flirting. She sometimes said: ‘We women have to deploy every weapon we have.’ Thinking about it, Carla realized that she had used Mother’s tactics to get a lift from Herr Franck. Perhaps she was like her mother after all. That might be why Mother had given her that curious little smile: she was seeing herself thirty years ago.
There was a queue in the shop. Half the journalists in Berlin seemed to be buying their supplies for the day. At last Carla got a pack of Roth-Händle and returned to the Democrat building. She found the fire alarm easily – it was a big lever fixed to the wall – but Mother was not in her office. No doubt she had gone to that editorial meeting.
Carla walked along the corridor. All the doors were open, and most of the rooms were empty but for a few women who might have been typists and secretaries. At the back of the building, around a corner, was a closed door marked ‘Conference Room’. Carla could hear male voices raised in argument. She tapped on the door, but there was no response. She hesitated, then turned the handle and went in.
The room was full of tobacco smoke. Eight or ten people sat around a long table. Mother was the only woman. They fell silent, apparently surprised, when Carla went up to the head of the table and handed Jochmann the cigarettes and change. Their silence made her think she had done wrong to come in.
But Jochmann just said: ‘Thank you.’
‘You’re welcome, sir,’ she said, and for some reason she gave a little bow.
The men laughed. One said: ‘New assistant, Jochmann?’ Then she knew it was all right.
She left the room quickly and returned to Mother’s office. She did not take off her coat – the place was cold. She looked around. On the desk were a phone, a typewriter, and stacks of paper and carbon paper.
Next to the phone was a photograph in a frame, showing Carla and Erik with Father. It had been taken a couple of years ago on a sunny day at the beach by the Wannsee lake, fifteen miles from the centre of Berlin. Father was wearing shorts. They were all laughing. That was before Erik had started to pretend to be a tough, serious man.
The only other picture, hanging on the wall, showed Mother with the social-democratic hero Friedrich Ebert, who had been the first President of Germany after the war. It had been taken about ten years ago. Carla smiled at Mother’s shapeless, low-waisted dress and boyish haircut: they must have been fashionable at the time.
The bookshelf held social directories, phone books, dictionaries in several languages, and atlases, but nothing to read. In the desk drawer were pencils, several new pairs of formal gloves still wrapped in tissue paper, a packet of sanitary towels, and a notebook with names and phone numbers.
Carla reset the desk calendar to today’s date, Monday 27 February 1933. Then she put a sheet of paper into the typewriter. She typed her full name, Heike Carla von Ulrich. At the age of five she had announced that she did not like the name Heike and she wanted everyone to use her second name, and somewhat to her surprise her family had complied.
Each key of the typewriter caused a metal rod to rise up and strike the paper through an inky ribbon, printing a letter. When by accident she pressed two keys, the rods got stuck. She tried to prise them apart but she could not. Pressing another key did not help: now there were three jammed rods. She groaned: she was in trouble already.
A noise from the street distracted her. She went to the window. A dozen Brownshirts were marching along the middle of the road, shouting slogans: ‘Death to all Jews! Jews go to hell!’ Carla could not understand why they got so angry about Jews, who seemed the same as everyone else apart from their religion. She was startled to see Sergeant Schwab at the head of the troop. She had felt sorry for him when he was sacked, for she knew he would find it hard to get another job. There were millions of men looking for jobs in Germany: Father said it was a depression. But Mother had said: ‘How can we have a man in our house who steals?’
Their chant changed. ‘Smash Jew papers!’ they said in unison. One of them threw something, and a rotten vegetable splashed on the door of a national newspaper. Then, to Carla’s horror, they turned towards the building she was in.
She drew back and peeped around the edge of the window frame, hoping that they could not see her. They stopped outside, still chanting. One threw a stone. It hit Carla’s window without breaking it, but all the same she gave a little scream of fear. A moment later, one of the typists came in, a young woman in a red beret. ‘What’s the matter?’ she said, then she looked out of the window. ‘Oh, hell.’
The Brownshirts entered the building, and Carla heard boots on the stairs. She was scared: what were they going to do?
Sergeant Schwab came into Mother’s office. He hesitated, seeing the two females; then seemed to screw up his nerve. He picked up the typewriter and threw it through the window, shattering the glass. Carla and the typist both screamed.
More Brownshirts passed the doorway, shouting their slogans.
Schwab grabbed the typist by the arm and said: ‘Now, darling, where’s the office safe?’
‘In the file room!’ she said in a terrified voice.
He marched her out of the room.
Carla started to cry, then stopped herself.
She thought of hiding under the desk, but hesitated. She did not want to show them how scared she was. Something inside her wanted to defy them.
But what should she do? She decided to warn Mother.
She stepped to the doorway and looked along the corridor. The Brownshirts were going in and out of the offices but had not reached the far end. Carla did not know whether the people in the conference room could hear the commotion. She ran along the corridor as fast as she could, but a scream stopped her. She looked into a room and saw Schwab shaking the typist with the red beret, yelling: ‘Where’s the key?’
‘I don’t know, I swear I’m telling the truth!’ the typist cried.
Carla was outraged. Schwab had no right to treat a woman that way. She shouted: ‘Leave her alone, Schwab, you thief!’
Schwab looked at her with hatred in his eyes, and suddenly she was ten times more frightened. Then his gaze shifted to someone behind her, and he said: ‘Get the kid out of the damn way.’
She was picked up from behind. ‘Are you a little Jew?’ said a man’s voice. ‘You look it, with all that dark hair.’
That terrified her. ‘I’m not Jewish!’ she screamed.
The Brownshirt carried her back along the corridor and put her down in Mother’s office. She stumbled and fell to the floor. ‘Stay in here,’ he said, and he went away.
Carla got to her feet. She was not hurt. The corridor was full of Brownshirts now, and she could not get to her mother. But she had to summon help.
She looked out of the smashed window. A small crowd was gathering on the street. Two policemen stood among the onlookers, chatting. Carla shouted at them: ‘Help! Help, police!’
They saw her and laughed.
That infuriated her, and anger made her less frightened. She looked outside the office again. Her gaze lit on the fire alarm on the wall. She reached up and grasped the handle.
She hesitated. You were not supposed to sound the alarm unless there was a fire, and a notice on the wall warned of dire penalties.
She pulled the handle anyway.
For a moment nothing happened. Perhaps the mechanism was not working.
Then there came a loud, harsh klaxon sound, rising and falling, which filled the building.
Almost immediately the people from the conference room appeared at the far end of the corridor. Jochmann was first. ‘What the devil is going on?’ he said angrily, shouting over the noise of the alarm.
One of the Brownshirts said: ‘This Jew Communist rag has insulted our leader, and we’re closing it down.’
‘Get out of my office!’
The Brownshirt ignored him and went into a side room. A moment later there was a female scream and a crash that sounded like a steel desk being overturned.
Jochmann turned to one of his staff. ‘Schneider – call the police immediately!’
Carla knew that would be no good. The police were here already, doing nothing.
Mother pushed through the knot of people and came running along the corridor. ‘Are you all right?’ she cried. She threw her arms around Carla.
Carla did not want to be comforted like a child. Pushing her mother away, she said: ‘I’m fine, don’t worry.’
Mother looked around. ‘My typewriter!’
‘They threw it through the window.’ Carla realized that now she would not get into trouble for jamming the mechanism.
‘We must get out of here.’ Mother snatched up the desk photo then took Carla’s hand, and they hurried out of the room.
No one tried to stop them running down the stairs. Ahead of them, a well-built young man who might have been one of the reporters had a Brownshirt in a headlock and was dragging him out of the building. Carla and her mother followed the pair out. Another Brownshirt came behind them.
The reporter approached the two policemen, still dragging the Brownshirt. ‘Arrest this man,’ he said. ‘I found him robbing the office. You will find a stolen jar of coffee in his pocket.’
‘Release him, please,’ said the older of the two policemen.
Reluctantly, the reporter let the Brownshirt go.
The second Brownshirt stood beside his colleague.
‘What is your name, sir?’ the policeman asked the reporter.
‘I am Rudolf Schmidt, chief parliamentary correspondent of The Democrat.’
‘Rudolph Schmidt, I am arresting you on a charge of assaulting the police.’
‘Don’t be ridiculous. I caught this man stealing!’
The policeman nodded to the two Brownshirts. ‘Take him to the station house.’
They grabbed Schmidt by the arms. He seemed about to struggle, then changed his mind. ‘Every detail of this incident will appear in the next edition of The Democrat !’ he said.
‘There will never be another edition,’ the policeman said. ‘Take him away.’
A fire engine arrived and half a dozen firemen jumped out. Their leader spoke brusquely to the police. ‘We need to clear the building,’ he said.
‘Go back to your fire station, there’s no fire,’ said the older policeman. ‘It’s just the Storm troopers closing down a Communist magazine.’
‘That’s no concern of mine,’ the fireman said. ‘The alarm has been sounded, and our first task is to get everyone out, Storm troopers and all. We’ll manage without your help.’ He led his men inside.
Carla heard her mother say: ‘Oh, no!’ She turned and saw that Mother was staring at her typewriter, which lay on the pavement where it had fallen. The metal casing had dropped away, exposing the links between keys and rods. The keyboard was twisted out of shape, one end of the roller had become detached, and the bell that sounded for the end of a line lay forlornly on the ground. A typewriter was not a precious object, but Mother looked as if she might cry.
The Brownshirts and the staff of the magazine came out of the building, herded by firemen. Sergeant Schwab was resisting, shouting angrily: ‘There’s no fire!’ The firemen just shoved him on.
Jochmann came out and said to Mother: ‘They didn’t have time to do much damage – the firemen stopped them. Whoever sounded the alarm did us a great service!’
Carla had been worried that she would be reprimanded for causing a false alarm. Now she realized that she had done exactly the right thing.
She took her mother’s hand. That seemed to jerk Mother out of her momentary fit of grief. She wiped her eyes with her sleeve, an unusual act that revealed how badly shaken she was: if Carla had done that, she would have been told to use her handkerchief. ‘What do we do now?’ Mother never said that – she always knew what to do next.
Carla became aware of two people standing nearby. She looked up. One was a woman about the same age as Mother, very pretty, with an air of authority. Carla knew her, but could not place her. Beside her was a man young enough to be her son. He was slim, and not very tall, but he looked like a movie star. He had a handsome face that would have been almost too pretty except that his nose was flattened and misshapen. Both newcomers looked shocked, and the young man was white with anger.
The woman spoke first, and she used the English language. ‘Hello, Maud,’ she said, and the voice was distantly familiar to Carla. ‘Don’t you recognize me?’ she went on. ‘I’m Eth Leckwith, and this is Lloyd.’
Lloyd Williams found a boxing club in Berlin where he could do an hour’s training for a few pennies. It was in a working-class district called Wedding, north of the city centre. He exercised with the Indian clubs and the medicine ball, skipped rope, hit the punch bag, and then put on a helmet and did five rounds in the ring. The club coach found him a sparring partner, a German his own age and size – Lloyd was a welterweight. The German boy had a nice fast jab that came from nowhere and hurt Lloyd several times, until Lloyd hit him with a left hook and knocked him down.
Lloyd had been raised in a rough neighbourhood, the East End of London. At the age of twelve he had been bullied at school. ‘Same thing happened to me,’ his stepfather, Bernie Leckwith, had said. ‘Cleverest boy in school, and you get picked on by the class shlammer.’ Dad was Jewish – his mother had spoken only Yiddish. He had taken Lloyd to the Aldgate Boxing Club. Ethel had been against it, but Bernie had overruled her, something that did not happen often.
Lloyd had learned to move fast and punch hard, and the bullying had stopped. He had also got the broken nose that made him look less of a pretty boy. And he had discovered a talent. He had quick reflexes and a combative streak, and he had won prizes in the ring. The coach was disappointed that he wanted to go to Cambridge University instead of turning professional.
He showered and put his suit back on, then went to a workingmen’s bar, bought a glass of draft beer, and sat down to write to his half-sister, Millie, about the incident with the Brownshirts. Millie was envious of him taking this trip with their mother, and he had promised to send her frequent bulletins.
Lloyd had been shaken by this morning’s fracas. Politics was part of everyday life for him: his mother had been a Member of Parliament, his father was a local councillor in London, and he himself was London Chairman of the Labour League of Youth. But it had always been a matter of debating and voting – until today. He had never before seen an office trashed by uniformed thugs while the police looked on smiling. It was politics with the gloves off, and it had shocked him.
‘Could this happen in London, Millie?’ he wrote. His first instinct was to think that it could not. But Hitler had admirers among British industrialists and newspaper proprietors. Only a few months ago the rogue MP Sir Oswald Mosley had started the British Union of Fascists. Like the Nazis, they had to strut up and down in military-style uniforms. What next?
He finished his letter and folded it, then caught the S-train back into the city centre. He and his mother were going to meet Walter and Maud von Ulrich for dinner. Lloyd had been hearing about Maud all his life. She and his mother were unlikely friends: Ethel had started her working life as a maid in a grand house owned by Maud’s family. Later they had been suffragettes together, campaigning for votes for women. During the war they had produced a feminist newspaper, The Soldier’s Wife. Then they had quarrelled over political tactics and become estranged.
Lloyd could remember vividly the von Ulrich family’s trip to London in 1925. He had been ten, old enough to feel embarrassed that he spoke no German while Erik and Carla, aged five and three, were bilingual. That was when Ethel and Maud had patched up their quarrel.
He made his way to the restaurant, Bistro Robert. The interior was art deco, with unforgivingly rectangular chairs and tables, and elaborate iron lampstands with coloured glass shades; but he liked the starched white napkins standing to attention beside the plates.
The other three were already there. The women were striking, he realized as he approached the table: both poised, well dressed, attractive and confident. They were getting admiring glances from other diners. He wondered how much of his mother’s modish dress sense had been picked up from her aristocratic friend.
When they had ordered, Ethel explained her trip. ‘I lost my parliamentary seat in 1931,’ she said. ‘I hope to win it back at the next election, but meanwhile I have to make a living. Fortunately, Maud, you taught me to be a journalist.’
‘I didn’t teach you much,’ Maud said. ‘You had a natural talent.’
‘I’m writing a series of articles about the Nazis for the News Chronicle, and I have a contract to write a book for a publisher called Victor Gollancz. I brought Lloyd as my interpreter – he’s studying French and German.’
Lloyd observed her proud smile and felt he did not deserve it. ‘My translation skills have not been much tested,’ he said. ‘So far, we’ve mostly met people like you, who speak perfect English.’
Lloyd had ordered breaded veal, a dish he had never even seen in England. He found it delicious. While they were eating, Walter said to him: ‘Shouldn’t you be at school?’
‘Mam thought I would learn more German this way, and the school agreed.’
‘Why don’t you come and work for me in the Reichstag for a while? Unpaid, I’m afraid, but you’d be speaking German all day.’
Lloyd was thrilled. ‘I’d love to. What a marvellous opportunity!’
‘If Ethel can spare you,’ Walter added.
She smiled. ‘Perhaps I can have him back now and again, when I really need him?’
Ethel reached across the table and touched Walter’s hand. It was an intimate gesture, and Lloyd realized that the bond between these three was very close. ‘How kind you are, Walter,’ she said.
‘Not really. I can always use a bright young assistant who understands politics.’
Ethel said: ‘I’m not sure I understand politics any more. What on earth is happening here in Germany?’
Maud said: ‘We were doing all right in the mid-twenties. We had a democratic government and a growing economy. But everything was ruined by the Wall Street crash of 1929. Now we’re in the depths of a depression.’ Her voice shook with an emotion that seemed close to grief. ‘You can see a hundred men standing in line for one advertised job. I look at their faces. They’re desperate. They don’t know how they’re going to feed their children. Then the Nazis offer them hope, and they ask themselves: What have I got to lose?’
Walter seemed to think she might be overstating the case. In a more cheerful tone he said: ‘The good news is that Hitler has failed to win over a majority of Germans. In the last election the Nazis got a third of the votes. Nevertheless, they were the largest party, but fortunately Hitler only leads a minority government.’
‘That’s why he demanded another election,’ Maud put in. ‘He needs an overall majority to turn Germany into the brutal dictatorship he wants.’
‘Will he get it?’ Ethel asked.
‘No,’ said Walter.
‘Yes,’ said Maud.
Walter said: ‘I don’t believe the German people will ever actually vote for a dictatorship.’
‘But it won’t be a fair election!’ Maud said angrily: ‘Look what happened to my magazine today. Anyone who criticizes the Nazis is in danger. Meanwhile, their propaganda is everywhere.’
Lloyd said: ‘Nobody seems to fight back!’ He wished that he had arrived a few minutes earlier at the Democrat office that morning, so that he could have punched a few Brownshirts. He realized he was making a fist, and forced himself to open his hand. But the indignation did not go away. ‘Why don’t left-wingers raid the offices of Nazi magazines? Give them a taste of their own medicine!’
‘We must not meet violence with violence!’ Maud said emphatically. ‘Hitler is looking for an excuse to crack down – to declare a national emergency, sweep away civil rights, and put his opponents in jail.’ Her voice took on a pleading note. ‘We must avoid giving him that pretext – no matter how hard it is.’
They finished their meal. The restaurant began to empty out. As their coffee was served, they were joined by the owner, Walter’s distant cousin Robert von Ulrich, and the chef, Jörg. Robert had been a diplomat at the Austrian Embassy in London before the Great War, while Walter was doing the same thing at the German Embassy there – and falling in love with Maud.
Robert resembled Walter, but was more fussily dressed, with a gold pin in his tie, seals on his watch chain, and heavily slicked hair. Jörg was younger, a blond man with delicate features and a cheerful smile. The two had been prisoners of war together in Russia. Now they lived in an apartment over the restaurant.
They reminisced about the wedding of Walter and Maud, held in great secrecy on the eve of the war. There had been no guests, but Robert and Ethel had been best man and bridesmaid. Ethel said: ‘We had champagne at the hotel, then I tactfully said that Robert and I would leave, and Walter –’ she suppressed a fit of giggles – ‘Walter said: “Oh, I assumed we would all have dinner together”!’
Maud chuckled. ‘You can imagine how pleased I was about that!’
Lloyd looked into his coffee, feeling embarrassed. He was eighteen and a virgin, and honeymoon jokes made him uncomfortable.
More sombrely, Ethel asked Maud: ‘Do you ever hear from Fitz these days?’
Lloyd knew that the secret wedding had caused a terrible rift between Maud and her brother, Earl Fitzherbert. Fitz had disowned her because she had not gone to him, as head of the family, and asked his permission to marry.
Maud shook her head sadly. ‘I wrote to him that time we went to London, but he refused even to see me. I hurt his pride by marrying Walter without telling him. My brother is an unforgiving man, I’m afraid.’
Ethel paid the bill. Everything in Germany was cheap if you had foreign currency. They were about to get up and leave when a stranger came to the table and, uninvited, pulled up a chair. He was a heavy man with a small moustache in the middle of a round face.
He wore a Brownshirt uniform.
Robert said coldly: ‘What may I do for you, sir?’
‘My name is Criminal Commissar Thomas Macke.’ He grabbed a passing waiter by the arm and said: ‘Bring me a coffee.’
The waiter looked enquiringly at Robert, who nodded.
‘I work in the political department of the Prussian police,’ Macke went on. ‘I am in charge of the Berlin intelligence section.’
Lloyd translated for his mother in a low voice.
‘However,’ said Macke, ‘I wish to speak to the proprietor of the restaurant about a personal matter.’
Robert said: ‘Where did you work a month ago?’
The unexpected question startled Macke, and he replied immediately: ‘At the police station in Kreuzberg.’
‘And what was your job there?’
‘I was in charge of records. Why do you ask?’
Robert nodded as if he had expected something like this. ‘So you have gone from a job as a filing clerk to head of the Berlin intelligence section. Congratulations on your rapid promotion.’ He turned to Ethel. ‘When Hitler became Chancellor at the end of January, his henchman Hermann Göring took the role of Interior Minister of Prussia – in charge of the largest police force in the world. Since then, Göring has been firing policemen wholesale and replacing them with Nazis.’ He turned back to Macke and said sarcastically: ‘However, in the case of our surprise guest I’m sure the promotion was purely on merit.’
Macke flushed, but kept his temper. ‘As I said, I wish to speak to the proprietor about something personal.’
‘Please come and see me in the morning. Would ten o’clock suit you?’
Macke ignored this suggestion. ‘My brother is in the restaurant business,’ he ploughed on.
‘Ah! Perhaps I know him. Macke is the name? What kind of establishment does he run?’
‘A small place for working men in Friedrichshain.’
‘Ah. Then it isn’t likely that I have met him.’
Lloyd was not sure that it was wise for Robert to be so waspish. Macke was rude, and did not deserve kindness, but he could probably make serious trouble.
Macke went on: ‘My brother would like to buy this restaurant.’
‘Your brother wants to move up in the world, as you have.’
‘We are prepared to offer you twenty thousand marks, payable over two years.’
Jörg burst out laughing.
Robert said: ‘Permit me to explain something to you, Commissar. I am an Austrian count. Twenty years ago, I had a castle and a large country estate in Hungary where my mother and sister lived. In the war I lost my family, my castle, my lands, and even my country, which was . . . miniaturized.’ His tone of amused sarcasm had gone, and his voice became gruff with emotion. ‘I came to Berlin with nothing but the address of Walter von Ulrich, my distant cousin. Nevertheless, I managed to open this restaurant.’ He swallowed. ‘It is all I have.’ He paused, and drank some coffee. The others around the table were silent. He regained his poise, and something of his superior tone of voice. ‘Even if you offered a generous price – which you have not – I would still refuse, because I would be selling my whole life. I have no wish to be rude to you, even though you have behaved unpleasantly. But my restaurant is not for sale at any price.’ He stood up and held out his hand to shake. ‘Goodnight, Commissar Macke.’
Macke automatically shook hands, then looked as if he regretted it. He stood up, clearly angry. His fat face was a purplish colour. ‘We will talk again,’ he said, and he walked out.
‘What an oaf,’ said Jörg.
Walter said to Ethel: ‘You see what we have to put up with? Just because he wears that uniform, he can do anything he likes!’
What had bothered Lloyd was Macke’s confidence. He had seemed to feel sure that he could buy the restaurant at the price he named. He reacted to Robert’s refusal as if it was no more than a temporary setback. Were the Nazis already so powerful?
This was the kind of thing Oswald Mosley and his British Fascists wanted – a country in which the rule of law was replaced by bullying and beating. How could people be so damn stupid?
They put on their coats and hats and said goodnight to Robert and Jörg. As soon as they stepped outside, Lloyd smelled smoke – not tobacco, but something else. The four of them got into Walter’s car, a BMW Dixi 3/15, which Lloyd knew was a German-manufactured Austin Seven.
As they drove through the Tiergarten park, two fire engines overtook them, bells clanging. ‘I wonder where the fire is,’ said Walter.
A moment later, they saw the glow of flames through the trees. Maud said: ‘It seems to be near the Reichstag.’
Walter’s tone changed. ‘We’d better take a look,’ he said worriedly, and he made a sudden turn.
The smell of smoke grew stronger. Over the tops of the trees Lloyd could see flames shooting skywards. ‘It’s a big fire,’ he said.
They emerged from the park on to the Königs Platz, the broad plaza between the Reichstag building and the Kroll Opera House opposite. The Reichstag was ablaze. Red and yellow light danced behind the classical rows of windows. Flame and smoke jetted up through the central dome. ‘Oh, no!’ said Walter, and to Lloyd he sounded stricken with grief. ‘Oh, God in heaven, no.’
He stopped the car and they all got out.
‘This is a catastrophe,’ said Walter.
Ethel said: ‘Such a beautiful old building.’
‘I don’t care about the building,’ Walter said surprisingly. ‘It’s our democracy that’s on fire.’
A small crowd watched from a distance of about fifty yards. In front of the building, fire engines were lined up, their hoses already playing on the flames, water jetting in through broken windows. A handful of policemen stood around doing nothing. Walter spoke to one of them. ‘I am a Reichstag deputy,’ he said. ‘When did this start?’
‘An hour ago,’ the policeman said. ‘We’ve got one of them that did it – a man with nothing on but his trousers! He used his clothes to start the fire.’
‘You should put up a rope cordon,’ Walter said with authority. ‘Keep people at a safe distance.’
‘Yes, sir,’ said the policeman, and went off.
Lloyd slipped away from the others and moved nearer to the building. The firemen were bringing the blaze under control: there was less flame and more smoke. He walked past the fire engines and approached a window. It did not seem very dangerous, and anyway his curiosity overcame his sense of self-preservation – as usual.
When he peered through a window he saw that the destruction was severe: walls and ceilings had collapsed into piles of rubble. As well as firemen he saw civilians in coats – presumably Reichstag officials – moving around in the debris, assessing the damage. Lloyd went to the entrance and climbed the steps.
Two black Mercedes cars roared up just as the police were erecting their cordon. Lloyd looked on with interest. Out of the second car jumped a man in a light-coloured trench coat and a floppy black hat. He had a narrow moustache under his nose. Lloyd realized that he was looking at the new Chancellor, Adolf Hitler.
Behind Hitler followed a taller man in the black uniform of the Schutzstaffel, the SS, his personal bodyguard. Limping after them came the Jew-hating propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels. Lloyd recognized them from newspaper photographs. He was so fascinated to see them close up that he forgot to be horrified.
Hitler ran up the steps two at a time, heading directly towards Lloyd. On impulse, Lloyd pushed open the big door and held it wide for the Chancellor. With a nod to him, Hitler walked in, and his entourage followed.
Lloyd joined them. No one spoke to him. Hitler’s people seemed to assume he was one of the Reichstag staff, and vice versa.
There was a foul smell of wet ashes. Hitler and his party stepped over charred beams and hosepipes, treading in mucky puddles. In the entrance hall stood Hermann Göring, a camel-hair coat covering his huge belly, his hat turned up in front, Potsdam-fashion. This was the man who was packing the police force with Nazis, Lloyd thought, recalling the conversation in the restaurant.
As soon as Göring saw Hitler he shouted: ‘This is the beginning of the Communist uprising! Now they’ll strike out! There’s not a minute to waste!’
Lloyd felt weirdly as if he were in the audience at the theatre, and these powerful men were being played by actors.
Hitler was even more histrionic than Göring. ‘There will be no mercy now!’ he shrieked. He sounded as if he was addressing a stadium. ‘Anyone who stands in our way will be butchered.’ He trembled as he worked himself up into a fury. ‘Every Communist functionary will be shot where he is found. The Communist deputies to the Reichstag must be hanged this very night.’ He looked as if he would burst.
But there was something artificial about it all. Hitler’s hatred seemed real, but the outburst was also a performance, put on for the benefit of those around him, his own people and others. He was an actor, feeling a genuine emotion but amplifying it for the audience. And it was working, Lloyd saw: everyone within earshot was staring, mesmerized.
Göring said: ‘My Führer, this is my chief of political police, Rudolf Diels.’ He indicated a slim, dark-haired man at his side. ‘He has already arrested one of the perpetrators.’
Diels was not hysterical. Calmly he said: ‘Marinus van der Lubbe, a Dutch construction worker.’
‘And a Communist!’ Göring said triumphantly.
Diels said: ‘Expelled from the Dutch Communist Party for starting fires.’
‘I knew it!’ said Hitler.
Lloyd saw that Hitler was determined to blame the Communists, regardless of the facts.
Diels said deferentially: ‘From my first interrogation of the man, I have to say that it is clear that he is a lunatic, working alone.’
‘Nonsense!’ Hitler cried. ‘This was planned long in advance. But they miscalculated! They don’t understand that the people are on our side.’
Göring turned to Diels. ‘The police are on an emergency footing from this moment,’ he said. ‘We have lists of Communists – Reichstag deputies, local government elected representatives, Communist Party organizers and activists. Arrest them all – tonight! Firearms should be used ruthlessly. Interrogate them without mercy.’
‘Yes, Minister,’ said Diels.
Lloyd realized that Walter had been right to worry. This was the pretext the Nazis had been looking for. They were not going to listen to anyone who said that the fire had been started by a lone madman. They wanted a Communist plot so that they could announce a crackdown.
Göring looked down with distaste at the muck on his shoes. ‘My official residence is only a minute away, but it is fortunately unaffected by the fire, my Führer,’ he said. ‘Perhaps we should adjourn there?’
‘Yes. We have much to discuss.’
Lloyd held the door and they all went out. As they drove away, he stepped over the police cordon and rejoined his mother and the von Ulrichs.
Ethel said: ‘Lloyd! Where have you been? I was worried sick!’
‘I went inside,’ he said.
‘No one stopped me. It’s all chaos and confusion.’
His mother threw her hands in the air. ‘He has no sense of danger,’ she said.
‘I met Adolf Hitler.’
Walter said: ‘Did he say anything?’
‘He’s blaming the Communists for the fire. There’s going to be a purge.’
‘God help us,’ said Walter.
Thomas Macke was still smarting from the sarcasm of Robert von Ulrich. ‘Your brother wants to move up in the world, as you have,’ von Ulrich had said.
Macke wished he had thought to reply: ‘And why should we not? We are as good as you, you arrogant popinjay.’ Now he yearned for revenge. But for a few days he was too busy to do anything about it.
The headquarters of the Prussian secret police were in a large, elegant building of classical architecture at No. 8 Prinz Albrecht Strasse in the government quarter. Macke felt proud every time he walked through the door.
It was a hectic time. Four thousand Communists had been arrested within twenty-four hours of the Reichstag fire, and more were being rounded up every hour. Germany was being cleansed of a plague, and to Macke the Berlin air already tasted purer.
But the police files were not up to date. People had moved house, elections had been lost and won, old men had died and young men had taken their places. Macke was in charge of a group updating the records, finding new names and addresses.
He was good at this. He liked registers, directories, street maps, news clippings, any kind of list. His talents had not been valued at the Kreuzberg police station, where criminal intelligence was simply beating up suspects until they named names. He was hoping to be better appreciated here.
Not that he had any problem with beating up suspects. In his office at the back of the building he could hear the screams of men and women being tortured in the basement, but it did not bother him. They were traitors, subversives and revolutionaries. They had ruined Germany with their strikes, and they would do worse if they got the chance. He had no sympathy for them. He only wished Robert von Ulrich was among them, groaning in agony and begging for mercy.
It was eight o’clock in the evening on Thursday 2 March before he got a chance to check on Robert.
He sent his team home, and took a sheaf of updated lists upstairs to his boss, Criminal Inspector Kringelein. Then he returned to the files.
He was in no hurry to go home. He lived alone. His wife, an undisciplined woman, had gone off with a waiter from his brother’s restaurant, saying she wanted to be free. There were no children.
He began to comb the files.
He had already established that Robert von Ulrich had joined the Nazi Party in 1923 and had left two years later. That in itself did not mean much. Macke needed more.
The filing system was not as logical as he would have liked. All in all, he was disappointed in the Prussian police. The rumour was that Göring was equally unimpressed, and planned to detach the political and intelligence departments from the regular force and form them into a new, more efficient secret police force. Macke thought that was a good idea.
Meanwhile, he failed to find Robert von Ulrich in any of the regular files. Perhaps that was not merely a sign of inefficiency. The man might be blameless. As an Austrian count, he was unlikely to be a Communist or a Jew. It seemed the worst that could be said of him was that his cousin Walter was a Social Democrat. That was not a crime – not yet.
Macke now realized that he should have done this research before approaching the man. But he had gone ahead without full information. He might have known that was a mistake. In consequence, he had been forced to submit to condescension and sarcasm. He had felt humiliated. But he would get his own back.
He began to go through miscellaneous papers in a dusty cupboard at the back of the room.
The name of von Ulrich did not appear here either, but there was one document missing.
According to the list pinned to the inside of the cupboard door, there should have been a file of 117 pages entitled ‘Vice Establishments’. It sounded like a survey of Berlin’s nightclubs. Macke could guess why it was not here. It must have been in use recently: all the more decadent night spots had been closed down when Hitler became chancellor.
Macke went back upstairs. Kringelein was briefing uniformed police who were to raid the updated addresses Macke had provided of Communists and their allies.
Macke did not hesitate to interrupt his boss. Kringelein was not a Nazi, and would therefore be afraid to reprimand a Storm trooper. Macke said: ‘I’m looking for the Vice Establishments file.’
Kringelein looked annoyed but made no protest. ‘On the side table,’ he said. ‘Help yourself.’
Macke took the file and returned to his own room.
The survey was five years old. It detailed the clubs then in existence and stated what activities went on in them: gambling, indecent displays, prostitution, sale of drugs, homosexuality and other depravities. The file named owners and investors, club members and employees. Macke patiently read each entry: perhaps Robert von Ulrich was a drug addict or a user of whores.
Berlin was famous for its homosexual clubs. Macke ploughed through the dreary entry on the Pink Slipper, where men danced with men and the floor show featured transvestite singers. Sometimes, he thought, his work was disgusting.
He ran his finger down the list of members, and found Robert von Ulrich.
He gave a sigh of satisfaction.
Looking farther down, he saw the name of Jörg Schleicher.
‘Well, well,’ he said. ‘Let’s see how sarcastic you are now.’
The next time Lloyd saw Walter and Maud he found them angrier – and more scared.
It was the following Saturday, 4 March, the day before the election. Lloyd and Ethel were planning to attend a Social Democratic Party rally organized by Walter, and they went to the von Ulrichs’ home in Mitte for lunch beforehand.
It was a nineteenth-century house with spacious rooms and large windows, though much of the furniture was worn. The lunch was plain, pork chops with potatoes and cabbage, but there was good wine with it. Walter and Maud talked as if they were poor, and no doubt they were living more simply than their parents had but, all the same, they were not going hungry.
However they were frightened.
But had persuaded Germany’s aging President, Paul von Hindenburg, to approve the Reichstag Fire Decree, which gave the Nazis authority for what they were already doing, beating and torturing their political opponents. ‘Twenty thousand people have been arrested since Monday night!’ Walter said, his voice shaking. ‘Not just Communists, but people the Nazis call “Communist sympathizers”.’
‘Which means anyone they dislike,’ said Maud.
Ethel said: ‘How can there be a democratic election now?’
‘We must do our best,’ Walter said. ‘If we don’t campaign, it will only help the Nazis.’
Lloyd said impatiently: ‘When will you stop accepting this and start to fight back? Do you still believe it would be wrong to meet violence with violence?’
‘Absolutely,’ said Maud. ‘Peaceful resistance is our only hope.’
Walter said: ‘The Social Democratic Party has a paramilitary wing, the Reichsbanner, but it’s weak. A small group of Social Democrats proposed a violent response to the Nazis, but they were outvoted.’
Maud said: ‘Remember, Lloyd, the Nazis have the police and the army on their side.’
Walter looked at his pocket watch. ‘We must get going.’
Maud said suddenly: ‘Walter, why don’t you cancel?’
He stared at her in surprise. ‘Seven hundred tickets have been sold.’
‘Oh, to blazes with the tickets,’ Maud said. ‘I’m worried about you.’
‘Don’t worry. Seats have been carefully allocated, so there should be no troublemakers in the hall.’
Lloyd was not sure that Walter was as confident as he pretended.
Walter went on: ‘Anyway, I cannot let down people who are still willing to come to a democratic political meeting. They are all the hope that remains to us.’
‘You’re right,’ Maud said. She looked at Ethel. ‘Perhaps you and Lloyd should stay home. It’s dangerous, no matter what Walter says; and this isn’t your country, after all.’
‘Socialism is international,’ Ethel said stoutly. ‘Like your husband, I appreciate your concern, but I’m here to witness German politics first hand, and I’m not going to miss this.’
‘Well, the children can’t go,’ Maud said.
Erik said: ‘I don’t even want to go.’
Carla looked disappointed but said nothing.
Walter, Maud, Ethel and Lloyd got into Walter’s little car. Lloyd was nervous but excited too. He was getting a perspective on politics superior to anything his friends back home had. And if there was going to be a fight, he was not afraid.
They drove east, crossing Alexander Platz, into a neighbourhood of poor houses and small shops, some of which had signs in Hebrew letters. The Social Democratic Party was working-class but, like the British Labour Party, it had a few affluent supporters. Walter von Ulrich was in a small upper-class minority.
The car pulled up outside a marquee that said: ‘People’s Theatre’. A line had already formed outside. Walter crossed the pavement to the door, waving to the waiting crowd, who cheered. Lloyd and the others followed him inside.
Walter shook hands with a solemn young man of about eighteen. ‘This is Wilhelm Frunze, secretary of the local branch of our party.’ Frunze was one of those boys who looked as if they had been born middle-aged. He wore a blazer with buttoned pockets that had been fashionable ten years ago.
Frunze showed Walter how the theatre doors could be barred from the inside. ‘When the audience is seated, we will lock up, so that no troublemakers can get in,’ he said.
‘Very good,’ said Walter. ‘Well done.’
Frunze ushered them into the auditorium. Walter went up on stage and greeted some other candidates who were already there. The public began to come in and take their seats. Frunze showed Maud, Ethel and Lloyd to reserved places in the front row.
Two boys approached. The younger, who looked about fourteen but was taller than Lloyd, greeted Maud with careful good manners and made a little bow. Maud turned to Ethel and said: ‘This is Werner Franck, the son of my friend Monika.’ Then she said to Werner: ‘Does your father know you’re here?’
‘Yes – he said I should find out about social democracy myself.’
‘He’s broad-minded, for a Nazi.’
Lloyd thought this was a rather tough line to take with a fourteen-year-old, but Werner was a match for her. ‘My father doesn’t really believe in Nazism, but he thinks Hitler is good for German business.’
Wilhelm Frunze said indignantly: ‘How can it be good for business to throw thousands of people into jail? Apart from the injustice, they can’t work!’
Werner said: ‘I agree with you. And yet Hitler’s crackdown is popular.’
‘People think they’re being saved from a Bolshevik revolution,’ Frunze said. ‘The Nazi press has them convinced that the Communists were about to launch a campaign of murder, arson and poison in every town and village.’
The boy with Werner, who was shorter but older, said: ‘And yet it is the Brownshirts, not the Communists, who drag people into basements and break their bones with clubs.’ He spoke German fluently with a slight accent that Lloyd could not place.
Werner said: ‘Forgive me, I forgot to introduce Vladimir Peshkov. He goes to the Berlin Boys’ Academy, my school, and he’s always called Volodya.’
Lloyd stood up to shake hands. Volodya was about Lloyd’s age, a striking young man with a frank blue-eyed gaze.
Frunze said: ‘I know Volodya Peshkov. I go to the Berlin Boys’ Academy too.’
Volodya said: ‘Wilhelm Frunze is the school genius – top marks in physics and chemistry and maths.’
‘It’s true,’ said Werner.
Maud looked hard at Volodya and said: ‘Peshkov? Is your father Grigori?’
‘Yes, Frau von Ulrich. He is a military attaché at the Soviet Embassy.’
So Volodya was Russian. He spoke German effortlessly, Lloyd thought with a touch of envy. No doubt that came from living here.
‘I know your parents well,’ Maud said to Volodya. She knew all the diplomats in Berlin, Lloyd had already gathered. It was part of her job.
Frunze checked his watch and said: ‘Time to begin.’ He went up on stage and called for order.
The theatre went quiet.
Frunze announced that the candidates would make speeches and then take questions from the audience. Tickets had been issued only to Social Democratic Party members, he added, and the doors were now closed, so everyone could speak freely, knowing they were among friends.
It was like being a member of a secret society, Lloyd thought. This was not what he called democracy.
Walter spoke first. He was no demagogue, Lloyd observed. He had no rhetorical flourishes. But he flattered his audience, telling them that they were intelligent and well-informed men and women who understood the complexity of political issues.
He had been speaking for only a few minutes when a Brownshirt walked on stage.
Lloyd cursed. How had he got in? He had come from the wings: someone must have opened the stage door.
He was a huge brute with an army haircut. He stepped to the front of the stage and shouted: ‘This is a seditious gathering. Communists and subversives are not wanted in today’s Germany. The meeting is closed.’
The confident arrogance of the man outraged Lloyd. He wished he could get this great oaf in a boxing ring.
Wilhelm Frunze leaped to his feet, stood in front of the intruder, and yelled furiously: ‘Get out of here, you thug!’
The man shoved him in the chest powerfully. Frunze staggered back, stumbled, and fell over backwards.
The audience were on their feet, some shouting in angry protest, some screaming in fear.
More Brownshirts appeared from the wings.
Lloyd realized with dismay that the bastards had planned this well.
The man who had shoved Frunze shouted: ‘Out!’ The other Brownshirts took up the cry: ‘Out! Out! Out!’ There were about twenty of them, now, and more appearing all the time. Some carried police nightsticks or improvised clubs. Lloyd saw a hockey stick, a wooden sledgehammer, even a chair leg. They strutted up and down the stage, grinning fiendishly and waving their weapons as they chanted, and Lloyd had no doubt that they were itching to start hitting people.
He was on his feet. Without thinking, he, Werner and Volodya had formed a protective line in front of Ethel and Maud.
Half the audience were trying to leave, the other half shouting and shaking their fists at the intruders. Those attempting to get out were shoving others, and minor scuffles had broken out. Many of the women were crying.
On stage, Walter grasped the lectern and shouted: ‘Everyone try to keep calm, please! There is no need for disorder!’ Most people could not hear and the rest ignored him.
The Brownshirts began to jump off the stage and to wade into the audience. Lloyd took his mother’s arm, and Werner did the same with Maud. They moved towards the nearest exit in a group. But all the doors were already jammed with knots of panicking people trying to leave. That made no difference to the Brownshirts, who kept yelling at people to get out.
The attackers were mostly able-bodied, whereas the audience included women and old men. Lloyd wanted to fight back, but it was not a good idea.
A man in a Great War steel helmet shouldered Lloyd, and he lurched forward and bumped into his mother. He resisted the temptation to turn and confront the man. His priority was to protect Mam.
A spotty-faced boy carrying a truncheon put a hand on Werner’s back and shoved energetically, yelling: ‘Get out, get out!’ Werner turned quickly and took a step towards him. ‘Don’t touch me, you Fascist pig,’ he said. The Brownshirt suddenly stopped dead and looked scared, as if he had not been expecting resistance.
Werner turned away again, concentrating, like Lloyd, on getting the two women to safety. But the huge man had heard the exchange and yelled: ‘Who are you calling a pig?’ He lashed out at Werner, hitting the back of his head with his fist. His aim was poor and it was a glancing blow, but all the same Werner cried out and staggered forward.
Volodya stepped between them and hit the big man in the face, twice. Lloyd admired Volodya’s rapid one-two, but turned his attention back to his task. Seconds later the four of them reached the doorway. Lloyd and Werner managed to help the women out into the theatre foyer. Here the crush eased and the violence stopped – there were no Brownshirts.
Seeing the women safe, Lloyd and Werner looked back into the auditorium.
Volodya was fighting the big man bravely, but he was in trouble. He kept punching the man’s face and body, but his blows had little effect, and the man shook his head as if pestered by an insect. The Brownshirt was heavy-footed and slow-moving, but he hit Volodya in the chest and then the head, and Volodya staggered. The big man drew back his fist for a massive punch. Lloyd was afraid it could kill Volodya.
Then Walter took a flying leap off the stage and landed on the big man’s back. Lloyd wanted to cheer. They fell to the floor in a blur of arms and legs, and Volodya was saved, for the moment.
The spotty youth who had shoved Werner was now harassing the people trying to leave, hitting their backs and heads with his truncheon. ‘You fucking coward!’ Lloyd yelled, stepping forward. But Werner was ahead of him. He shoved past Lloyd and grabbed the truncheon, trying to wrestle it away from the youth.
The older man in the steel helmet joined in and hit Werner with a pickaxe handle. Lloyd stepped forward and hit the older man with a straight right. The blow landed perfectly, next to the man’s left eye.
But he was a war veteran, and not easily discouraged. He swung around and lashed out at Lloyd with his club. Lloyd dodged the blow easily and hit him twice more. He connected in the same area, around the man’s eyes, breaking the skin. But the helmet protected the man’s head, and Lloyd could not land a left hook, his knockout punch. He ducked a swing of the pickaxe handle and hit the man’s face again, and the man backed away, blood pouring from cuts around his eyes.
Lloyd looked around. He saw that the Social Democrats were fighting back now, and he got a jolt of savage pleasure. Most of the audience had passed through the doors, leaving mainly young men in the auditorium, and they were coming forward, clambering over the theatre seats to get at the Brownshirts; and there were dozens of them.
Something hard struck his head from behind. It was so painful that he roared. He turned to see a boy of his own age holding a length of timber, raising it to strike again. Lloyd closed with him and hit him hard in the stomach twice, first with his right fist then with his left. The boy gasped for breath and dropped the wood. Lloyd hit him with an uppercut to the chin and the boy passed out.
Lloyd rubbed the back of his head. It hurt like hell but there was no blood.
The skin on his knuckles was raw and bleeding, he saw. He bent down and picked up the length of timber dropped by the boy.
When he looked around again, he was thrilled to see some of the Brownshirts retreating, clambering up on to the stage and disappearing into the wings, presumably aiming to leave through the stage door by which they had entered.
The big man who had started it all was on the floor, groaning and holding his knee as if he had dislocated something. Wilhelm Frunze stood over him, hitting him with a wooden shovel again and again, repeating at the top of his voice the words the man had used to start the riot: ‘Not! Wanted! In! Today’s! Germany!’ Helpless, the big man tried to roll away from the blows, but Frunze went after him, until two more Brownshirts grabbed the man’s arms and dragged him away.
Frunze let them go.
Did we beat them? Lloyd thought with growing exultation. Maybe we did!
Several of the younger men chased their opponents up on to the stage, but they stopped there and contented themselves with shouting insults as the Brownshirts disappeared.
Lloyd looked at the others. Volodya had a swollen face and one closed eye. Werner’s jacket was ripped, a big square of cloth dangling. Walter was sitting on a front-row seat, breathing hard and rubbing his elbow, but he was smiling. Frunze threw his shovel away, sailing it across the rows of empty seats to the back.
Werner, who was only fourteen, was exultant. ‘We gave them hell, didn’t we?’
Lloyd grinned. ‘Yes, we certainly did.’
Volodya put his arm around Frunze’s shoulders. ‘Not bad for a bunch of schoolboys, eh?’
Walter said: ‘But they stopped our meeting.’
The youngsters stared resentfully at him for spoiling their triumph.
Walter looked angry. ‘Be realistic, boys. Our audience has fled in terror. How long will it be before those people have the nerve to go to a political meeting again? The Nazis have made their point. It’s dangerous even to listen to any party other than theirs. The big loser today is Germany.’
Werner said to Volodya: ‘I hate those fucking Brownshirts. I think I might join you Communists.’
Volodya looked at him hard with those intense blue eyes and spoke in a low voice. ‘If you’re serious about fighting the Nazis, there might be something more effective you could do.’
Lloyd wondered what Volodya meant.
Then Maud and Ethel came running back into the auditorium, both speaking at the same time, crying and laughing with relief; and Lloyd forgot Volodya’s words and never thought of them again.
Four days later, Erik von Ulrich came home in a Hitler Youth uniform.
He felt like a prince. He had a brown shirt just like the one worn by Storm troopers, with various patches and a swastika armband. He also had the regulation black tie and black shorts. He was a patriotic soldier dedicated to the service of his country. At last he was one of the gang.
This was even better than supporting Hertha, Berlin’s favourite soccer team. Erik was taken to matches occasionally, on Saturdays when his father did not have a political meeting to attend. That gave him a similar sense of belonging to a great big crowd of people all feeling the same emotions. But Hertha sometimes lost, and he came home disconsolate.
The Nazis were winners.
He was terrified of what his father was going to say.
His parents infuriated him by insisting on marching out of step. All the boys were joining the Hitler Youth. They had sports and singing and adventures in the fields and forests outside the city. They were smart and fit and loyal and efficient.
Erik was deeply troubled by the thought that he might have to fight in battle some day – his father and grandfather had – and he wanted to be ready for that, trained and hardened, disciplined and aggressive.
The Nazis hated Communists, but so did Mother and Father. So what if the Nazis hated Jews as well? The von Ulrichs were not Jewish, why should they care? But Mother and Father stubbornly refused to join in. Well, Erik was fed up with being left out, and he had decided to defy them.
He was scared stiff.
As usual, neither Mother nor Father was at the house when Erik and Carla came home from school. Ada pursed her lips disapprovingly as she served their tea, but she said: ‘You’ll have to clear the table yourselves today – I’ve got a terrible backache, I’m going to lie down.’
Carla looked concerned. ‘Is that what you had to see the doctor about?’
Ada hesitated before replying: ‘Yes, that’s right.’
She was obviously hiding something. The thought of Ada being ill – and lying about it – made Erik uneasy. He would never go as far as Carla and say he loved Ada, but she had been a kindly presence all his life, and he was more fond of her than he liked to say.
Carla was just as concerned. ‘I hope it gets better.’
Lately Carla had become more grown-up, somewhat to Erik’s bewilderment. Although he was two years older, he still felt like a kid, but she acted like an adult half the time.
Ada said reassuringly: ‘I’ll be fine after a rest.’
Erik ate some bread. When Ada left the room, he swallowed and said: ‘I’m only in the junior section, but as soon as I’m fourteen I can move up.’
Carla said: ‘Father’s going to hit the roof! Are you mad?’
‘Herr Lippmann said that Father will be in trouble if he tries to make me leave.’
‘Oh, brilliant,’ said Carla. She had developed a streak of withering sarcasm that sometimes stung Erik. ‘So you’ll get Father into a row with the Nazis,’ she said scornfully. ‘What a great idea. So good for the whole family.’
Erik was taken aback. He had not thought of it that way. ‘But all the boys in my class are members,’ he said indignantly. ‘Except for Frenchy Fontaine and Jewboy Rothmann.’
Carla spread fish paste on her bread. ‘Why do you have to be the same as the others?’ she said. ‘Most of them are stupid. You told me Rudi Rothmann was the cleverest boy in the class.’
‘I don’t want to be with Frenchy and Rudi!’ Erik cried, and to his mortification he felt tears come to his eyes. ‘Why should I have to play with the boys no one likes?’ This was what had given him the courage to defy his father: he could no longer bear to walk out of school with the Jews and the foreigners while all the German boys marched around the playing field in their uniforms.
They both heard a cry.
Erik looked at Carla and said: ‘What was that?’
Carla frowned. ‘It was Ada, I think.’
Then, more distinctly, they heard: ‘Help!’
Erik got to his feet, but Carla was ahead of him. He went after her. Ada’s room was in the basement. They ran down the stairs and into the small bedroom.
There was a narrow single bed up against the wall. Ada was lying there, her face screwed up in pain. Her skirt was wet and there was a puddle on the floor. Erik could hardly believe what he was seeing. Had she pissed herself? It was scary. There were no other grown-ups in the house. He did not know what to do.
Carla was scared, too – Erik could see it in her face – but she was not panicked. She said: ‘Ada, what’s wrong?’ Her voice sounded strangely calm.
‘My waters broke,’ Ada said.
Erik had no idea what that meant.
Nor did Carla. ‘I don’t understand,’ she said.
‘It means my baby is coming.’
‘You’re pregnant?’ Carla said in astonishment.
Erik said: ‘But you’re not married!’
Carla said furiously: ‘Shut up, Erik – don’t you know anything?’
He did know, of course, that women could have babies when they were not married – but surely not Ada!
‘That’s why you went to the doctor last week,’ Carla said to Ada.
Erik was still trying to get used to the idea. ‘Do you think Mother and Father know?’
‘Of course they do. They just didn’t tell us. Fetch a towel.’
‘The airing cupboard on the upstairs landing.’
‘A clean one?’
‘Of course a clean one!’
Erik ran up the stairs, took a small white towel from the cupboard, and ran down again.
‘That’s not much good,’ Carla said, but she took it and dried Ada’s legs.
Ada said: ‘The baby’s coming soon, I can feel it. But I don’t know what to do.’ She started to cry.
Erik was watching Carla. She was in charge now. It did not matter that he was the older one: he looked to her for leadership. She was being practical and staying calm, but he could tell that she was terrified, and her composure was fragile. She could crack at any minute, he thought.
Carla turned to Erik again. ‘Go and fetch Dr Rothmann,’ she said. ‘You know where his office is.’
Erik was hugely relieved to have been given a task he could manage. Then he thought of a snag. ‘What if he’s out?’
‘Then ask Frau Rothmann what you should do, you idiot!’ Carla said. ‘Get going – run!’
Erik was glad to get out of the room. What was happening there was mysterious and frightening. He went up the stairs three at a time and flew out of the front door. Running was one thing he did know how to do.
The doctor’s surgery was half a mile away. He settled into a fast trot. As he ran he thought about Ada. Who was the father of her baby? He recalled that she had gone to the movies with Paul Huber a couple of times last summer. Had they had sexual intercourse? They must have! Erik and his friends talked about sex a lot, but they did not really know anything about it. Where had Ada and Paul done it? Not in a movie theatre, surely? Didn’t people have to lie down? He was baffled.
Dr Rothmann’s place was in a poorer street. He was a good doctor, Erik had heard Mother say, but he treated a lot of working-class people who could not pay high fees. The doctor’s house had a consulting room and a waiting room on the ground floor, and the family lived upstairs.
Outside was parked a green Opel 4, an ugly little two-seater unofficially called the Tree Frog.
The front door of the house was unlatched. Erik walked in, breathing hard, and entered the waiting room. There was an old man coughing in a corner and a young woman with a baby. ‘Hello!’ Erik called, ‘Dr Rothmann?’
The doctor’s wife stepped out of the consulting room. Hannelore Rothmann was a tall, fair woman with strong features, and she gave Erik a look like thunder. ‘How dare you come to this house in that uniform?’ she said.
Erik was petrified. Frau Rothmann was not Jewish, but her husband was: Erik had forgotten that in his excitement. ‘Our maid is having a baby!’ he said.
‘And so you want a Jewish doctor to help you?’
Erik was taken completely by surprise. It had never occurred to him that the Nazis’ attacks might cause the Jews to retaliate. But suddenly he saw that Frau Rothmann made total sense. The Brownshirts went around shouting: ‘Death to Jews!’ Why should a Jewish doctor help such people?
Now he did not know what to do. There were other doctors, of course, plenty of them, but he did not know where, nor whether they would come out to see a total stranger. ‘My sister sent me,’ he said feebly.
‘Carla’s got a lot more sense than you.’
‘Ada said the waters have broken.’ Erik was not sure what that meant, but it sounded significant.
With a disgusted look, Frau Rothmann went back into the consulting room.
The old man in the corner cackled. ‘We’re all dirty Jews until you need our help!’ he said. ‘Then it’s: “Please come, Dr Rothmann”, and “What’s your advice, Lawyer Koch?” and “Lend me a hundred marks, Herr Goldman”, and—’ He was overcome by a fit of coughing.
A girl of about sixteen came in from the hall. Erik thought she must be the Rothmanns’ daughter, Eva. He had not seen her for years. She had breasts, now, but she was still plain and dumpy. She said: ‘Did your father let you join the Hitler Youth?’
‘He doesn’t know,’ said Erik.
‘Oh, boy,’ said Eva. ‘You’re in trouble.’
He looked from her to the consulting-room door. ‘Do you think your father’s going to come?’ he said. ‘Your mother was awfully cross with me.’
‘Of course he’ll come,’ Eva said. ‘If people are sick, he helps them.’ Her voice became scornful. ‘He doesn’t check their race or politics first. We’re not Nazis.’ She went out again.
Erik felt bewildered. He had not expected this uniform to get him into so much trouble. At school everyone thought it was wonderful.
A moment later, Dr Rothmann appeared. Speaking to the two waiting patients, he said: ‘I’ll be back as soon as I can. I’m sorry, but a baby won’t wait to be born.’ He looked at Erik. ‘Come on, young man, you’d better ride with me, despite that uniform.’
Erik followed him out and got into the passenger seat of the Tree Frog. He loved cars and was desperate to be old enough to drive, and normally he enjoyed riding in any vehicle, watching the dials and studying the driver’s technique. But now he felt as if he were on display, sitting beside a Jewish doctor in his brown shirt. What if Herr Lippmann should see him? The trip was agony.
Fortunately, it was short: in a couple of minutes they were at the von Ulrich house.
‘What’s the young woman’s name?’ Rothmann asked.
‘Ah, yes, she came to see me last week. The baby’s early. All right, take me to her.’
Erik led the way into the house. He heard a baby cry. It had come already! He hurried down to the basement, the doctor following.
Ada lay on her back. The bed was soaked with blood and something else. Carla stood holding a tiny baby in her arms. The baby was covered in slime. Something that looked like thick string ran from the baby up Ada’s skirt. Carla was wide-eyed with terror. ‘What must I do?’ she cried.
‘You’re doing exactly the right thing,’ Doctor Rothmann reassured her. ‘Just hold that baby close a minute longer.’ He sat beside Ada. He listened to her heart, took her pulse, and said: ‘How do you feel, my dear?’
‘I’m so tired,’ she said.
Rothmann gave a satisfied nod. He stood up again and looked at the baby in Carla’s arms. ‘A little boy,’ he said.
Erik watched with a mixture of fascination and revulsion as the doctor opened his bag, took out some thread and tied two knots in the cord. While he was doing so he spoke to Carla in a soft voice. ‘Why are you crying? You’ve done a marvellous job. You’ve delivered a baby all on your own. You hardly needed me! You’d better be a doctor when you grow up.’
Carla became calmer. Then she whispered: ‘Look at his head.’ The doctor had to lean towards her to hear. ‘I think there’s something wrong with him.’
‘I know.’ The doctor took out a pair of sharp scissors and cut the cord between the two knots Then he took the naked baby from Carla and held him at arm’s length, studying him. Erik could not see anything wrong, but the baby was so red and wrinkled and slimy that it was hard to tell. However, after a thoughtful moment, the doctor said: ‘Oh, dear.’
Looking more carefully, Erik could see that there was something wrong. The baby’s face was lopsided. One side was normal, but on the other the head seemed dented and there was something strange about the eye.
Rothmann handed the baby back to Carla.
Ada groaned again, and seemed to strain.
When she relaxed, Rothmann reached under her skirt and drew out a lump of something that looked disgustingly like meat. ‘Erik,’ he said. ‘Fetch me a newspaper.’
Erik said: ‘Which one?’ His parents took all the main papers every day.
‘Any one, lad,’ said Rothmann gently. ‘I don’t want to read it.’
Erik ran upstairs and found yesterday’s Vossische Zeitung. When he returned, the doctor wrapped the meaty thing in the paper and put it on the floor. ‘It’s what we call the afterbirth,’ he said to Carla. ‘Best to burn it, later.’
Then he sat on the edge of the bed again. ‘Ada, my dear girl, you must be very brave,’ he said. ‘Your baby is alive, but there may be something wrong with him. We’re going to wash him and wrap him up warmly, then we must take him to the hospital.’
Ada looked frightened. ‘What’s the matter?’
‘I don’t know. We need to have him checked.’
‘Will he be all right?’
‘The hospital doctors will do everything they can. The rest we must leave to God.’
Erik remembered that Jews worshipped the same God as Christians. It was easy to forget that.
Rothmann said: ‘Do you think you could get up and come to the hospital with me, Ada? Baby needs you to feed him.’
‘I’m so tired,’ she said again.
‘Take a minute or two to rest, then. But not much more, because Baby needs to be looked at soon. Carla will help you get dressed. I’ll wait upstairs.’ He addressed Erik with gentle irony. ‘Come with me, little Nazi.’
Erik wanted to squirm. Dr Rothmann’s forbearance was even worse than Frau Rothmann’s scorn.
As they were leaving, Ada said: ‘Doctor?’
‘Yes, my dear.’
‘His name is Kurt.’
‘A very good name,’ said Dr Rothmann. He went out, and Erik followed.
Lloyd Williams’s first day working as assistant to Walter von Ulrich was also the first day of the new parliament.
Walter and Maud were struggling frantically to save Germany’s fragile democracy. Lloyd shared their desperation, partly because they were good people whom he had known on and off all his life, and partly because he feared that Britain could follow Germany down the road to hell.
The election had resolved nothing. The Nazis got 44 per cent, an increase but still short of the 51 per cent they craved.
Walter saw hope. Driving to the opening of the parliament, he said: ‘Even with massive intimidation, they failed to win the votes of most Germans.’ He banged his fist on the steering wheel. ‘Despite everything they say, they are not popular. And the longer they stay in government, the better people will get to know their wickedness.’
Lloyd was not so sure. ‘They’ve closed opposition newspapers, thrown Reichstag deputies in jail, and corrupted the police,’ he said. ‘And yet forty-four per cent of Germans approve? I don’t find that reassuring.’
The Reichstag building was badly fire-damaged and quite unusable, so the parliament assembled in the Kroll Opera House, on the opposite side of the Königs Platz. It was a vast complex with three concert halls and fourteen smaller auditoria, plus restaurants and bars.
When they arrived, they had a shock. The place was surrounded by Brownshirts. Deputies and their aides crowded around the entrances, trying to get in. Walter said furiously: ‘Is this how Hitler plans to get his way – by preventing us from entering the chamber?’
Lloyd saw that the doors were barred by Brownshirts. They admitted those in Nazi uniform without question, but everyone else had to produce credentials. A boy younger than Lloyd looked him up and down contemptuously before grudgingly letting him in. This was intimidation, pure and simple.
Lloyd felt his temper beginning to simmer. He hated to be bullied. He knew he could knock the Brownshirt boy down with one good left hook. He forced himself to remain calm, turn away, and walk through the door.
After the fight in the People’s Theatre, his mother had examined the egg-shaped lump on his head and ordered him to go home to England. He had talked her round, but it had been a close thing.
She said he had no sense of danger, but that was not quite right. He did get scared sometimes, but it always made him feel combative. His instinct was to go on the attack, not to retreat. This scared his mother.
Ironically, she was just the same. She was not going home. She was frightened, but she was also thrilled to be here in Berlin at this turning point in German history, and outraged by the violence and repression she was witnessing; and she felt sure she could write a book that would forewarn democrats in other countries about Fascist tactics. ‘You’re worse than me,’ Lloyd had said to her, and she had had no answer.
Inside, the opera house was swarming with Brownshirts and SS men, many of them armed. They guarded every door and showed, with looks and gestures, their hatred and contempt for anyone not supporting the Nazis.
Walter was late for a Social Democratic Party group meeting. Lloyd hurried around the building looking for the right room. Glancing into the debating chamber, he saw that a giant swastika hung from the ceiling, dominating the room.
The first matter to be discussed, when proceedings began that afternoon, was to be the Enabling Act, which would permit Hitler’s cabinet to pass laws without the approval of the Reichstag.
The Act offered a dreadful prospect. It would make Hitler a dictator. The repression, intimidation, violence, torture and murder that Germany had seen in the past few weeks would become permanent. It was unthinkable.
But Lloyd could not imagine that any parliament in the world would pass such a law. They would be voting themselves out of power. It was political suicide.
He found the Social Democrats in a small auditorium. Their meeting had already begun. Lloyd hurried Walter to the room, then he was sent for coffee.
Waiting in the queue, he found himself behind a pale, intense-looking young man dressed in funereal black. Lloyd’s German had become more fluent and colloquial, and he now had the confidence to strike up a conversation with a stranger. The man in black was Heinrich von Kessel, he learned. He was doing the same sort of job as Lloyd, working as an unpaid aide to his father, Gottfried von Kessel, a deputy for the Centre Party, which was Catholic.
‘My father knows Walter von Ulrich very well,’ Heinrich said. ‘They were both attachés at the German embassy in London in 1914.’
The world of international politics and diplomacy was quite small, Lloyd reflected.
Heinrich told Lloyd that a return to the Christian faith was the answer to Germany’s problems.
‘I’m not much of a Christian,’ Lloyd said candidly. ‘I hope you don’t mind my saying so. My grandparents are Welsh Bible-punchers, but my mother is indifferent and my stepfather’s Jewish. Occasionally we go to the Calvary Gospel Hall in Aldgate, mainly because the pastor is a Labour Party member.’
Heinrich smiled and said: ‘I’ll pray for you.’
Catholics were not proselytizers, Lloyd remembered. What a contrast to his dogmatic grandparents in Aberowen, who thought that people who did not believe as they did were wilfully blinding themselves to the gospel, and would be condemned to eternal damnation.
When Lloyd re-entered the Social Democratic Party meeting, Walter was speaking. ‘It can’t happen!’ he said. ‘The Enabling Act is a constitutional amendment. Two thirds of the representatives must be present, which would be 432 out of a possible 647. And two thirds of those present must approve.’
Lloyd added up the numbers in his head as he put the tray down on the table. The Nazis had 288 seats, and the Nationalists who were their close allies had 52, making 340 – nearly 100 short. Walter was right. The Act could not be passed. Lloyd was comforted and sat down to listen to the discussion and to improve his German.
But his relief was short-lived. ‘Don’t be so sure,’ said a man with a working-class Berlin accent. ‘The Nazis are caucusing with the Centre Party.’ That was Heinrich’s lot, Lloyd recalled. ‘That could give them another seventy-four,’ the man finished.
Lloyd frowned. Why would the Centre Party support a measure that would take away all its power?
Walter voiced the same thought more bluntly. ‘How could the Catholics be so stupid?’
Lloyd wished he had known about this before he went for coffee – then he could have discussed it with Heinrich. He might have learned something useful. Damn.
The man with the Berlin accent said: ‘In Italy, the Catholics made a deal with Mussolini – a concordat to protect the Church. Why not here?’
Lloyd calculated that the Centre Party’s support would bring the Nazis’ votes up to 414. ‘It’s still not two thirds,’ he said to Walter with relief.
Another young aide heard him and said: ‘But that doesn’t take into account the Reichstag president’s latest announcement.’ The Reichstag president was Hermann Göring, Hitler’s closest associate. Lloyd had not heard about an announcement. Nor had anyone else, it seemed. The deputies went quiet. The aide went on: ‘He has ruled that Communist deputies who are absent because they are in jail don’t count.’
There was an outburst of indignant protest all around the room. Lloyd saw Walter go red in the face. ‘He can’t do that!’ Walter said.
‘It’s completely illegal,’ said the aide. ‘But he has done it.’
Lloyd was dismayed. Surely the law could not be passed by a trick? He did some more arithmetic. The Communists had 81 seats. If they were discounted, the Nazis needed only two thirds of 566, which was 378. Even with the Nationalists they still did not have enough – but if they won the support of the Catholics they could swing it.
Someone said: ‘This is all completely illegal. We should walk out in protest.’
‘No, no!’ said Walter emphatically. ‘They would pass the Act in our absence. We’ve got to talk the Catholics out of it. Wels must speak to Kaas immediately.’ Otto Wels was the leader of the Social Democratic Party; Prelate Ludwig Kaas the head of the Centre Party.
There was a murmur of agreement around the room.
Lloyd took a deep breath and spoke up. ‘Herr von Ulrich, why don’t you take Gottfried von Kessel to lunch? I believe you two worked together in London before the war.’
Walter laughed mirthlessly. ‘That creep!’ he said.
Maybe the lunch was not such a good idea. Lloyd said: ‘I didn’t realize you disliked the man.’
Walter looked thoughtful. ‘I hate him – but I’ll try anything, by God.’
Lloyd said: ‘Shall I find him and extend the invitation?’
‘All right, give it a try. If he accepts, tell him to meet me at the Herrenklub at one.’
Lloyd hurried back to the room into which Heinrich had disappeared. He stepped inside. A meeting was going on similar to the one he had left. He scanned the room, spotted the black-clad Heinrich, met his gaze, and beckoned him urgently.
They both stepped outside, then Lloyd said: ‘They’re saying your party is going to support the Enabling Act!’
‘It’s not certain,’ said Heinrich. ‘They’re divided.’
‘Who’s against the Nazis?’
‘Brüning and some others.’ Brüning was a former chancellor and a leading figure.
Lloyd felt more hopeful. ‘Which others?’
‘Did you call me out of the room to pump me for information?’
‘Sorry, no, I didn’t. Walter von Ulrich wants to have lunch with your father.’
Heinrich looked dubious. ‘They don’t like each other – you know that, don’t you?’
‘I gathered as much. But they’ll put their differences aside today!’
Heinrich did not seem so sure. ‘I’ll ask him. Wait here.’ He went back inside.
Lloyd wondered whether there was any chance this would work. It was a shame Walter and Gottfried were not bosom buddies. But he could hardly believe the Catholics would vote with the Nazis.
What bothered him most was the thought that if it could happen in Germany, it could happen in Britain. This grim prospect made him shiver with dread. He had his whole life in front of him, and he did not want to live it in a repressive dictatorship. He wanted to work in politics, like his parents, and make his country a better place for people such as the Aberowen coal miners. For that he needed political meetings where people could speak their minds, and newspapers that could attack the government, and pubs where men could have arguments without looking over their shoulders to see who was listening.
Fascism threatened all that. But perhaps Fascism would fail. Walter might be able to talk Gottfried around, and prevent the Centre Party supporting the Nazis.
Heinrich came out. ‘He’ll do it.’
‘Great! Herr von Ulrich suggested the Herrenklub at one o’clock.’
‘Really? Is he a member?’
‘I assume so – why?’
‘It’s a conservative institution. I suppose he is Walter von Ulrich, so he must come from a noble family, even if he is a socialist.’
‘I should probably book a table. Do you know where it is?’
‘Just around the corner.’ Heinrich gave Lloyd directions.
‘Shall I book for four?’
Heinrich grinned. ‘Why not? If they don’t want you and me, they can just ask us to leave.’ He went back into the room.
Lloyd left the building and walked quickly across the plaza, passing the burned-out Reichstag building, and made his way to the Herrenklub.
There were gentlemen’s clubs in London, but Lloyd had never been inside one. This place was a cross between a restaurant and a funeral parlour, he thought. Waiters in full evening dress padded about, laying silent cutlery on tables shrouded in white. A head waiter took his reservation and wrote down the name ‘von Ulrich’ as solemnly as if he were making an entry in the Book of the Dead.
He returned to the opera house. The place was getting busier and noisier, and the tension seemed higher. Lloyd heard someone say excitedly that Hitler himself would open the proceedings this afternoon by proposing the Act.
A few minutes before one, Lloyd and Walter walked across the plaza. Lloyd said: ‘Heinrich von Kessel was surprised to learn that you are a member of the Herrenklub.’
Walter nodded. ‘I was one of the founders, a decade or more ago. In those days it was the Juniklub. We got together to campaign against the Versailles Treaty. It’s become a right-wing bastion, and I’m probably the only Social Democrat, but I remain a member because it’s a useful place to meet with the enemy.’
Inside the club Walter pointed to a sleek-looking man at the bar. ‘That’s Ludwig Franck, the father of young Werner, who fought alongside us at the People’s Theatre,’ Walter said. ‘I’m sure he’s not a member here – he isn’t even German-born – but it seems he’s having lunch with his father-in-law, Count von der Helbard, the elderly man beside him. Come with me.’
They went to the bar and Walter performed introductions. Franck said to Lloyd: ‘You and my son got into quite a scrap a couple of weeks back.’
Lloyd touched the back of his head reflexively: the swelling had gone down, but the place was still painful to touch. ‘We had women to protect, sir,’ he said.
‘Nothing wrong with a bit of a punch-up,’ Franck said. ‘Does you lads good.’
Walter cut in impatiently: ‘Come on, Ludi. Busting up election meetings is bad enough, but your leader wants to completely destroy our democracy!’
‘Perhaps democracy is not the right form of government for us,’ said Franck. ‘After all, we’re not like the French or the Americans – thank God.’
‘Don’t you care about losing your freedom? Be serious!’
Franck suddenly dropped his facetious air. ‘All right, Walter,’ he said coldly. ‘I will be serious, if you insist. My mother and I arrived here from Russia more than ten years ago. My father was not able to come with us. He had been found to be in possession of subversive literature, specifically a book called Robinson Crusoe, apparently a novel that promotes bourgeois individualism, whatever the hell that might be. He was sent to a prison camp somewhere in the Arctic. He may—’ Franck’s voice broke for a moment, and he paused, swallowed, and at last finished quietly: ‘He may still be there.’
There was a moment of silence. Lloyd was shocked by the story. He knew that the Russian Communist government could be cruel, in general, but it was quite another thing to hear a personal account, told simply by a man who was clearly still grieving.
Walter said: ‘Ludi, we all hate the Bolsheviks – but the Nazis could be worse!’
‘I’m willing to take that risk,’ said Franck.
Count von der Helbard said: ‘We’d better go in for lunch. I’ve got an afternoon appointment. Excuse us.’ The two men left.
‘It’s what they always say!’ Walter raged. ‘The Bolsheviks! As if they were the only alternative to the Nazis! I could weep.’
Heinrich walked in with an older man who was obviously his father: they had the same thick, dark hair combed with a parting, except that Gottfried’s was shorter and tweeded with silver. Although their features were similar, Gottfried looked like a fussy bureaucrat in an old-fashioned collar, whereas Heinrich was more like a romantic poet than a political aide.
The four of them went into the dining room. Walter wasted no time. As soon as they had ordered, he said: ‘I can’t understand what your party hopes to gain by supporting this Enabling Act, Gottfried.’
Von Kessel was equally direct. ‘We are a Catholic party, and our first duty is to protect the position of the Church in Germany. That’s what people hope for when they vote for us.’
Lloyd frowned in disapproval. His mother had been a Member of Parliament, and she always said it was her duty to serve the people who did not vote for her, as well as those who did.
Walter employed a different argument. ‘A democratic parliament is the best protection for all our churches – yet you’re about to throw that away!’
‘Wake up, Walter,’ Gottfried said testily. ‘Hitler won the election. He has come to power. Whatever we do, he’s going to rule Germany for the foreseeable future. We have to protect ourselves.’
‘His promises are worth nothing!’
‘We have asked for specific assurances in writing: the Catholic Church to be independent of the state, Catholic schools to operate unmolested, no discrimination against Catholics in the civil service.’ He looked enquiringly at his son.
Heinrich said: ‘They promised the agreement would be with us first thing this afternoon.’
Walter said: ‘Weigh the options! A scrap of paper signed by a tyrant, against a democratic parliament – which is better?’
‘The greatest power of all is God.’
Walter rolled his eyes. ‘Then God save Germany,’ he said.
The Germans had not had time to develop faith in democracy, Lloyd reflected as the argument surged back and forth between Walter and Gottfried. The Reichstag had been sovereign for only fourteen years. They had lost a war, seen their currency devalued to nothing, and suffered mass unemployment: to them, the right to vote seemed inadequate protection.
Gottfried proved immovable. At the end of lunch his position was as firm as ever. His responsibility was to protect the Catholic Church. It made Lloyd want to scream.
They returned to the opera house and the deputies took their seats in the auditorium. Lloyd and Heinrich sat in a box looking down.
Lloyd could see the Social Democratic Party members in a group on the far left. As the hour approached, he noticed Brownshirts and SS men placing themselves at the exits and around the walls in a threatening arc behind the Social Democrats. It was almost as if they planned to prevent the deputies leaving the building until they had passed the Act. Lloyd found it powerfully sinister. He wondered, with a shiver of fear, whether he, too, might find himself imprisoned here.
There was a roar of cheering and applause, and Hitler walked in, wearing a Brownshirt uniform. The Nazi deputies, most of them similarly dressed, rose to their feet in ecstasy as he mounted the rostrum. Only the Social Democrats remained seated; but Lloyd noticed that one or two looked uneasily over their shoulders at the armed guards. How could they speak and vote freely if they were nervous even about not joining in the standing ovation for their opponent?
When at last they became quiet, Hitler began to speak. He stood straight, his left arm at his side, gesturing only with his right. His voice was harsh and grating but powerful, reminding Lloyd of both a machine gun and a barking dog. His tone thrilled with feeling as he spoke of the ‘November traitors’ of 1918 who had surrendered when Germany was about to win the war. He was not pretending: Lloyd felt he sincerely believed every stupid, ignorant word he spoke.
The November traitors were a well-worn topic for Hitler, but then he took a new tack. He spoke of the churches, and the important place of the Christian religion in the German state. This was an unusual theme for him, and his words were clearly aimed at the Centre Party, whose votes would determine today’s result. He said that he saw the two main denominations, Protestant and Catholic, as the most important factors for upholding nationhood. Their rights would not be touched by the Nazi government.
Heinrich shot a triumphant look at Lloyd.
‘I’d still get it in writing, if I were you,’ Lloyd muttered.
It was two and a half hours before Hitler reached his peroration.
He ended with an unmistakable threat of violence. ‘The government of the nationalist uprising is determined and ready to deal with the announcement that the Act has been rejected – and with it, that resistance has been declared.’ He paused dramatically, letting the message sink in: voting against the Act would be a declaration of resistance. Then he reinforced it. ‘May you, gentlemen, now take the decision yourselves as to whether it is to be peace or war!’
He sat down to roars of approval from the Nazi delegates, and the session was adjourned.
Heinrich was elated; Lloyd depressed. They went off in different directions: their parties would now hold desperate last-minute discussions.
The Social Democrats were gloomy. Their leader, Wels, had to speak in the chamber, but what could he say? Several deputies said that if he criticized Hitler, he might not leave the building alive. They feared for their own lives, too. If the deputies were killed, Lloyd thought in a moment of cold dread, what would happen to their aides?
Wels revealed that he had a cyanide capsule in his waistcoat pocket. If arrested, he would commit suicide to avoid torture. Lloyd was horrified. Wels was an elected representative, yet he was forced to behave like some kind of saboteur.
Lloyd had started the day with false expectations. He had thought the Enabling Act a crazy idea that had no chance of becoming reality. Now he saw that most people expected the Act to become a reality today. He had misjudged the situation badly.
Was he equally wrong to believe that something like this could not happen in his own country? Was he fooling himself ?
Someone asked if the Catholics had made a final decision. Lloyd stood up. ‘I’ll find out,’ he said. He left and ran to the Centre Party’s meeting room. As before, he put his head around the door and beckoned Heinrich outside.
‘Brüning and Ersing are wavering,’ Heinrich said.
Lloyd’s heart sank. Ersing was a Catholic union leader. ‘How can a trade unionist even think about voting for this bill?’ he said.
‘Kaas says the Fatherland is in danger. They all think there will be bloody anarchy if we reject this Act.’
‘There’ll be bloody tyranny if you pass it.’
‘What about your lot?’
‘They think they will all be shot if they vote against. But they’re going to do it anyway.’
Heinrich went back inside and Lloyd returned to the Social Democrats. ‘The diehards are weakening,’ Lloyd told Walter and his colleagues. ‘They’re afraid of a civil war if the Act is rejected.’
The gloom deepened.
They all returned to the debating chamber at six o’clock.
Wels spoke first. He was calm, reasonable and unemotional. He pointed out that life in a democratic republic had been good for Germans, overall, bringing freedom of opportunity and social welfare, and reinstating Germany as a normal member of the international community.
Lloyd noticed Hitler making notes.
At the end Wels bravely professed allegiance to humanity and justice, freedom and socialism. ‘No Enabling Law gives you the power to annihilate ideas that are eternal and indestructible,’ he said, gaining courage as the Nazis began to laugh and jeer.
The Social Democrats applauded, but they were drowned out.
‘We greet the persecuted and oppressed!’ Wels shouted. ‘We greet our friends in the Reich. Their steadfastness and loyalty deserve admiration.’
Lloyd could just make out his words over the hooting and booing of the Nazis.
‘The courage of their convictions and their unbroken optimism guarantee a brighter future!’
He sat down amid raucous heckling.
Would the speech make any difference? Lloyd could not tell.
After Wels, Hitler spoke again. This time his tone was quite different. Lloyd realized that in his earlier speech the Chancellor had only been warming up. His voice was louder now, his phrases more intemperate, his tone full of contempt. He used his right arm constantly to make aggressive gestures – pointing, hammering, clenching his fist, putting his hand on his heart, and sweeping the air in a gesture that seemed to brush all opposition aside. Every impassioned phrase was cheered uproariously by his supporters. Every sentence expressed the same emotion: a savage, all-consuming, murderous rage.
Hitler was also confident. He claimed he had not needed to propose the Enabling Act. ‘We appeal in this hour to the German Reichstag to grant us something we would have taken anyway!’ he jeered.
Heinrich looked worried, and left the box. A minute later Lloyd saw him on the floor of the auditorium, whispering in his father’s ear.
When he returned to the box he looked stricken.
Lloyd said: ‘Have you got your written assurances?’
Heinrich could not meet Lloyd’s eye. ‘The document is being typed up,’ he replied.
Hitler finished by scorning the Social Democrats. He did not want their votes. ‘Germany shall be free,’ he screamed. ‘But not through you!’
The leaders of the other parties spoke briefly. Every one appeared crushed. Prelate Kaas said the Centre Party would support the bill. The rest followed suit. Everyone but the Social Democrats was in favour.
The result of the vote was announced, and the Nazis cheered wildly.
Lloyd was awestruck. He had seen naked power brutally wielded, and it was an ugly sight.
He left the box without speaking to Heinrich.
He found Walter in the entrance lobby, weeping. He was using a large white handkerchief to wipe his face, but the tears kept coming. Lloyd had not seen men cry like that except at funerals.
Lloyd did not know what to say or do.
‘My life has been a failure,’ Walter said. ‘This is the end of all hope. German democracy is dead.’
Saturday 1 April was Boycott Jew Day. Lloyd and Ethel walked around Berlin, staring in incredulity, Ethel making notes for her book. The Star of David was crudely daubed on the windows of Jewish-owned shops. Brownshirts stood at the doors of Jewish-owned department stores, intimidating people who wanted to go in. Jewish lawyers and doctors were picketed. Lloyd happened to see a couple of Brownshirts stopping patients going in to see the von Ulrichs’ family physician, Dr Rothmann, but then a hard-handed coal-heaver with a sprained ankle told the Brownshirts to fuck off out of it, and they went in search of easier prey. ‘How can people be so mean to each other?’ Ethel said.
Lloyd was thinking of the stepfather he loved. Bernie Leckwith was Jewish. If Fascism came to Britain, Bernie would be the target of this kind of hatred. The thought made Lloyd shudder.
A sort of wake was held at Bistro Robert that evening. Apparently no one had organized it, but by eight o’clock the place was full of Social Democrats, Maud’s journalistic colleagues, and Robert’s theatrical friends. The more optimistic among them said that liberty had merely gone into hibernation for the duration of the economic slump, and one day it would awaken. The rest just mourned.
Lloyd drank little. He did not enjoy the effect of alcohol on his brain. It blurred his thinking. He was asking himself what German left-wingers could have done to prevent this catastrophe, and he did not have an answer.
Maud told them about Ada’s baby, Kurt. ‘She’s brought him home from the hospital, and he seems to be happy enough for now. But his brain is damaged and he will never be normal. When he’s older he will have to live in an institution, poor mite.’
Lloyd had heard how the baby had been delivered by eleven-year-old Carla. That little girl had grit.
Commissar Thomas Macke arrived at half past nine, wearing his Brownshirt uniform.
Last time he was here, Robert had treated him as a figure of fun, but Lloyd had sensed the menace of the man. He looked foolish, with the little moustache in the middle of his fat face, but there was a glint of cruelty in his eyes that made Lloyd nervous.
Robert had refused to sell the restaurant. What did Macke want now?
Macke stood in the middle of the dining area and shouted: ‘This restaurant is being used to promote degenerate behaviour!’
The patrons went quiet, wondering what this was about.
Macke raised a finger in a gesture that meant You’d better listen! Lloyd felt there was something horribly familiar about the action, and realized that Macke was mimicking Hitler.
Macke said: ‘Homosexuality is incompatible with the masculine character of the German nation!’
Lloyd frowned. Was he saying that Robert was queer?
Jörg came into the restaurant from the kitchen, wearing his tall chef’s hat. He stood by the door, glaring at Macke.
Lloyd was struck by a shocking thought. Maybe Robert was queer.
After all, he and Jörg had been living together since the war.
Looking around at their theatrical friends, Lloyd noticed that they were all men in pairs, except for two women with short hair . . .
Lloyd felt bewildered. He knew that queers existed, and as a broad-minded person he believed that they should not be persecuted but helped. However, he thought of them as perverts and creeps. Robert and Jörg seemed like normal men, running a business and living quietly – almost like a married couple!
He turned to his mother and said quietly: ‘Are Robert and Jörg really . . . ?’
‘Yes, dear,’ she said.
Maud, sitting next to her, said: ‘Robert in his youth was a menace to footmen.’
Both women giggled.
Lloyd was doubly shocked: not only was Robert queer, but Ethel and Maud thought it a matter for light-hearted banter.
Macke said: ‘This establishment is now closed!’
Robert said: ‘You have no right!’
Macke could not close the place on his own, Lloyd thought; then he remembered how the Brownshirts had crowded on to the stage at the People’s Theatre. He looked towards the entrance – and was aghast to see Brownshirts pushing through the door.
They went around the tables knocking over bottles and glasses. Some customers sat motionless and watched; others got to their feet. Several men shouted and a woman screamed.
Walter stood up and spoke loudly but calmly. ‘We should all leave quietly,’ he said. ‘There’s no need for any rough stuff. Everybody just get your coats and hats and go home.’
The customers began to leave, some trying to get their coats, others just fleeing. Walter and Lloyd ushered Maud and Ethel towards the door. The till was near the exit, and Lloyd saw a Brownshirt open it and begin stuffing money into his pockets.
Until then Robert had been standing still, watching miserably as a night’s business hurried out of the door; but this was too much. He gave a shout of protest and shoved the Brownshirt away from the till.
The Brownshirt punched him, knocking him to the floor, and began to kick him as he lay there. Another Brownshirt joined in.
Lloyd leaped to Robert’s rescue. He heard his mother shout ‘No!’ as he shoved the Brownshirts aside. Jörg was almost as quick, and the two of them bent to help Robert up.
They were immediately attacked by several more Brownshirts. Lloyd was punched and kicked, and something heavy hit him over the head. As he cried out in pain he thought: No, not again.
He turned on his attackers, punching with his left and right, making every blow connect hard, trying to punch through the target as he had been taught. He knocked two men down, then he was grabbed from behind and thrown off balance. A moment later he was on the floor with two men holding him down while a third kicked him.
Then he was rolled over on to his front, his arms were pulled behind his back, and he felt metal on his wrists. He had been handcuffed for the first time in his life. He felt a new kind of fear. This was not just another rough-house. He had been beaten and kicked, but worse was in store.
‘Get up,’ someone told him in German.
He struggled to his feet. His head hurt. Robert and Jörg were also in handcuffs, he saw. Robert’s mouth was bleeding and Jörg had one closed eye. Half a dozen Brownshirts were guarding them. The rest were drinking from the glasses and bottles left on the tables, or standing at the dessert cart stuffing their faces with pastries.
All the customers seemed to have gone. Lloyd felt relieved that his mother had got away.
The restaurant door opened and Walter came back in. ‘Commissar Macke,’ he said, displaying a typical politician’s facility for remembering names. With as much authority as he could muster he said: ‘What is the meaning of this outrage?’
Macke pointed to Robert and Jörg. ‘These two men are homosexuals,’ he said. ‘And that boy attacked an auxiliary policeman who was arresting them.’
Walter pointed to the till, which was open, its drawer sticking out and empty except for a few small coins. ‘Do police officers commit robbery nowadays?’
‘A customer must have taken advantage of the confusion created by those resisting arrest.’
Some of the Brownshirts laughed knowingly.
Walter said: ‘You used to be a law enforcement officer, didn’ you, Macke? You might have been proud of yourself, once. But what are you now?’
Macke was stung. ‘We enforce order, to protect the Fatherland.’
‘Where are you planning to take your prisoners, I wonder?’ Walter persisted. ‘Will it be a properly constituted place of detention? Or some half-hidden unofficial basement?’
‘They will be taken to the Friedrich Strasse Barracks,’ Macke said indignantly.
Lloyd saw a look of satisfaction pass briefly across Walter’s face, and realized that Walter had cleverly manipulated Macke, playing on whatever was left of his professional pride in order to get him to reveal his intentions. Now, at least, Walter knew where Lloyd and the others were being taken.
But what would happen at the barracks?
Lloyd had never been arrested. However, he lived in the East End of London, so he knew plenty of people who got into trouble with the police. Most of his life he had played street football with boys whose fathers were arrested frequently. He knew the reputation of Leman Street police station in Aldgate. Few men came out of that building uninjured. People said there was blood all over the walls. Was it likely that the Friedrich Strasse Barracks would be any better?
Walter said: ‘This is an international incident, Commissar.’ Lloyd guessed he was using the title in the hope of making Macke behave more like an officer and less like a thug. ‘You have arrested three foreign citizens – two Austrians and one Englishman.’ He held up a hand as if to fend off a protest. ‘It is too late to back out now. Both embassies are being informed, and I have no doubt that their representatives will be knocking on the door of our Foreign Office in Wilhelm Strasse within the hour.’
Lloyd wondered whether that was true.
Macke grinned unpleasantly. ‘The Foreign Office will not hasten to defend two queers and a young hooligan.’
‘Our foreign minister, von Neurath, is not a member of your party,’ Walter said. ‘He may well put the interests of the Fatherland first.’
‘I think you will find that he does what he’s told. And now you are obstructing me in the course of my duty.’
‘I warn you!’ Walter said bravely. ‘You had better follow procedure by the book – or there will be trouble.’
‘Get out of my sight,’ said Macke.
Lloyd, Robert and Jörg were marched outside and bundled into the back of some kind of truck. They were forced to lie on the floor while Brownshirts sat on benches guarding them. The vehicle moved off. It was painful being handcuffed, Lloyd discovered. He felt constantly that his shoulder was about to become dislocated.
The trip was mercifully short. They were shoved out of the truck and into a building. It was dark, and Lloyd saw little. At a desk, his name was written in a book and his passport was taken away. Robert lost his gold tie pin and watch chain. At last the handcuffs were removed and they were pushed into a room with dim lights and barred windows. There were about forty other prisoners there already.
Lloyd hurt all over. He had a pain in his chest that felt like a cracked rib. His face was bruised and he had a blinding headache. He wanted an aspirin, a cup of tea and a pillow. He had a feeling it might be some hours before he got any of those things.
The three of them sat on the floor near the door. Lloyd held his head in his hands while Robert and Jörg discussed how soon help would come. No doubt Walter would phone a lawyer. But all the usual rules had been suspended by the Reichstag Fire Decree, so they had no proper protection under the law. Walter would also contact the embassies: political influence was their main hope now. Lloyd thought his mother would probably try to place an international phone call to the British Foreign Office in London. If she could get through, the government would surely have something to say about the arrest of a British schoolboy. It would all take time – an hour at least, probably two or three.
But four hours passed, then five, and the door did not open.
Civilized countries had a law about how long the police could keep someone in custody without formalities: a charge, a lawyer, a court. Lloyd now realized that such a rule was no mere technicality. He could be here for ever.
The other prisoners in the room were all political, he discovered: Communists, Social Democrats, trade union organizers and one priest.
The night passed slowly. None of the three slept. To Lloyd, sleep seemed unthinkable. The grey light of morning was coming through the barred windows when at last the cell door opened. But no lawyers or diplomats came in, just two men in aprons pushing a trolley on which stood a large urn. They ladled out a thin oatmeal. Lloyd did not eat any, but he drank a tin mug of coffee that tasted of burnt barley.
He surmised that the staff on duty overnight at the British embassy were junior diplomats who carried little weight. This morning, as soon as the ambassador himself got up, action would be taken.
An hour after breakfast the door opened again, but this time only Brownshirts stood there. They marched all the prisoners out and loaded them on to a truck, forty or fifty men in one canvas-sided vehicle, packed so tightly that they had to remain standing. Lloyd managed to stay close to Robert and Jörg.
Perhaps they were going to court, even though it was Sunday. He hoped so. At least there would be lawyers, and some semblance of due process. He thought he was fluent enough to state his simple case in German, and he practised his speech in his head. He had been dining in a restaurant with his mother; he had seen someone robbing the till; he had intervened in the resulting fracas. He imagined his cross-examination. He would be asked if the man he attacked was a Brownshirt. He would answer: ‘I didn’t notice his clothing – I just saw a thief.’ There would be laughter in court, and the prosecutor would look foolish.
They were driven out of town.
They could see through gaps in the canvas sides of the truck. It seemed to Lloyd that they had gone about twenty miles when Robert said: ‘We’re in Oranienburg’, naming a small town north of Berlin.
The truck came to a halt outside a wooden gate between brick pillars. Two Brownshirts with rifles stood guard.
Lloyd’s fear rose a notch. Where was the court? This looked more like a prison camp. How could they put people in prison without a judge?
After a short wait, the truck drove in and stopped at a group of derelict buildings.
Lloyd was becoming even more anxious. Last night at least he had the consolation that Walter knew where he was. Today it was possible no one would know. What if the police simply said he was not in custody and they had no record of his arrest? How could he be rescued?
They got out of the truck and shuffled into what looked like a factory of some sort. The place smelled like a pub. Perhaps it had been a brewery.
Once again all their names were taken. Lloyd was glad there was some record of his movements. They were not tied up or handcuffed, but they were constantly watched by Brownshirts with rifles, and Lloyd had a grim feeling that those young men were only too eager for an excuse to shoot.
They were each given a canvas mattress filled with straw and a thin blanket. They were herded into a tumbledown building that once might have been a warehouse. Then the waiting began.
No one came for Lloyd all that day.
In the evening there was another trolley and another urn, this one containing a stew of carrots and turnips. Each man got a bowlful and a piece of bread. Lloyd was now ravenous, not having eaten for twenty-four hours, and he wolfed down his meagre supper and wished for more.
Somewhere in the camp there were three or four dogs that howled all night.
Lloyd felt dirty. This was the second night he had spent in the same clothes. He needed a bath and a shave and a clean shirt. The toilet facilities, two barrels in the corner, were absolutely disgusting.
But tomorrow was Monday. Then there would be some action.
Lloyd fell asleep around four. At six they were awakened by a Brownshirt bawling: ‘Schleicher! Jörg Schleicher! Which one is Schleicher?’
Maybe they were going to be released.
Jörg stood up and said: ‘Me, I’m Schleicher.’
‘Come with me,’ said the Brownshirt.
Robert said in a frightened voice: ‘Why? What do you want him for? Where is he going?’
‘What are you, his mother?’ said the Brownshirt. ‘Lie down and shut your mouth.’ He poked Jörg with his rifle. ‘Outside, you.’
Watching them go, Lloyd asked himself why he had not punched the Brownshirt and snatched the rifle. He might have escaped. And if he had failed, what would they do to him – throw him in jail? But at the crucial moment the thought of escape had not even occurred to him. Was he already taking on the mentality of a prisoner?
He was even looking forward to the oatmeal.
Before breakfast, they were all taken outside.
They stood around a small wire-fenced area a quarter the size of a tennis court. It looked as if it might have been used to store something not very valuable, timber or tyres perhaps. Lloyd shivered in the cold morning air: his overcoat was still at Bistro Robert.
Then he saw Thomas Macke approaching.
The police detective wore a black coat over his Brownshirt uniform. He had a heavy, flat-footed stride, Lloyd noticed.
Behind Macke were two Brownshirts holding the arms of a naked man with a bucket over his head.
Lloyd stared in horror. The prisoner’s hands were tied behind his back, and the bucket was tightly tied with string under his chin so that it would not fall off.
He was a slight, youngish man with blond pubic hair.
Robert groaned: ‘Oh, sweet Jesus, it’s Jörg.’
All the Brownshirts in the camp had gathered. Lloyd frowned. What was this, some kind of cruel game?
Jörg was led into the fenced compound and left there, shivering. His two escorts withdrew. They disappeared for a few minutes then returned, each of them leading two Alsatian dogs.
That explained the all-night barking.
The dogs were thin, with unhealthy bald patches in their tan fur. They looked starved. The Brownshirts led them to the fenced compound.
Lloyd had a vague but dreadful premonition of what was to come.
Robert screamed: ‘No!’ He ran forward. ‘No, no, no!’ He tried to open the gate of the compound. Three or four Brownshirts pulled him away roughly. He struggled, but they were strong young thugs, and Robert was approaching fifty years old: he could not resist them. They threw him contemptuously to the ground.
‘No,’ said Macke to his men. ‘Make him watch.’
They lifted Robert to his feet and held him facing the wire fence.
The dogs were led into the compound. They were excited, barking and slavering. The two Brownshirts handled them expertly and without fear, clearly experienced. Lloyd wondered dismally how many times they had done this before.
The handlers released the dogs and hurried out of the compound.
The dogs dashed for Jörg. One bit his calf, another his arm, a third his thigh. From behind the metal bucket there was a muffled scream of agony and terror. The Brownshirts cheered and applauded. The prisoners looked on in mute horror.
After the first shock, Jörg tried to defend himself. His hands were tied and he was unable to see, but he could kick out randomly. However, his bare feet made little impact on the starving dogs. They dodged and came again, ripping his flesh with their sharp teeth.
He tried running. With the dogs at his heels he ran blindly in a straight line until he crashed into the wire fence. The Brownshirts cheered raucously. Jörg ran in a different direction with the same result. A dog took a chunk out of Jörg’s behind, and they hooted with laughter.
A Brownshirt standing next to Lloyd was shouting: ‘His tail! Bite his tail!’ Lloyd guessed that ‘tail’ in German – der Schwanz – was slang for penis. The man was hysterical with excitement.
Jörg’s white body was now running with blood from multiple wounds. He pressed himself up against the wire, face-first, protecting his genitals, kicking out backwards and sideways. But he was weakening. His kicks became feeble. He was having trouble staying upright. The dogs became bolder, tearing at him and swallowing bloody chunks.
At last Jörg slid to the ground.
The dogs settled down to feed.
The handlers re-entered the compound. With practised motions they reattached the dogs’ leads, pulled them off Jörg, and led them away.
The show was over, and the Brownshirts began to move away, chattering excitedly.
Robert ran into the compound, and this time no one stopped him. He bent over Jörg, moaning.
Lloyd helped him to untie Jörg’s hands and remove the bucket. Jörg was unconscious but breathing. Lloyd said: ‘Let’s get him indoors. You take his legs.’ Lloyd grasped Jörg under the arms and the two of them carried him into the building where they had slept. They put him on a mattress. The other prisoners gathered around, frightened and subdued. Lloyd hoped one of them might announce that he was a doctor, but no one did.
Robert stripped off his jacket and waistcoat, then took off his shirt and used it to wipe the blood. ‘We need clean water,’ he said.
There was a standpipe in the yard. Lloyd went out, but he had no container. He returned to the compound. The bucket was still there on the ground. He washed it out then filled it with water.
When he returned, the mattress was soaked in blood.
Robert dipped his shirt in the bucket and continued to wash Jörg’s wounds, kneeling beside the mattress. Soon the white shirt was red.
Robert spoke to him in a low voice. ‘Be calm, my beloved,’ he said. ‘It’s over now, and I’m here.’ But Jörg seemed not to hear.
Then Macke came in, with four or five Brownshirts following. He grabbed Robert’s arm and pulled him. ‘So!’ he said. ‘Now you know what we think of homosexual perverts.’
Lloyd pointed at Jörg and said angrily: ‘The pervert is the one who caused this to happen.’ Mustering all his rage and contempt, he said: ‘Commissar Macke.’
Macke gave a slight nod to one of the Brownshirts. In a movement that was deceptively casual, the man reversed his rifle and hit Lloyd over the head with the butt.
Lloyd fell to the ground, holding his head in agony.
He heard Robert say: ‘Please, just let me look after Jörg.’
‘Perhaps,’ said Macke. ‘First come over here.’
Despite his pain, Lloyd opened his eyes to see what was happening.
Macke pulled Robert across the room to a rough wooden table. From his pocket he drew a document and a fountain pen. ‘Your restaurant is now worth half of what I last offered you – ten thousand marks.’
‘Anything,’ said Robert, weeping. ‘Leave me to be with Jörg.’
‘Sign here,’ said Macke. ‘Then the three of you can go home.’
‘This gentleman can be a witness,’ Macke said. He gave the pen to one of the Brownshirts. He looked across the room and met Lloyd’s eye. ‘And perhaps our foolhardy English guest can be the second witness.’
Robert said: ‘Just do what he wants, Lloyd.’
Lloyd struggled to his feet, rubbed his sore head, took the pen, and signed.
Macke pocketed the contract triumphantly and went out.
Robert and Lloyd returned to Jörg.
But Jörg was dead.
Walter and Maud came to the Lehrte Station, just north of the burned-out Reichstag, to see Ethel and Lloyd off. The station building was in the neo-Renaissance style and looked like a French palace. They were early, and they sat in a station café while they waited for the train.
Lloyd was glad to be leaving. In six weeks he had learned a lot, about the German language and about politics, but now he wanted to get home, tell people what he had seen, and warn them against the same thing happening to them.
All the same he felt strangely guilty about departing. He was going to a place where the law ruled, the press was free, and it was not a crime to be a social democrat. He was leaving the von Ulrich family to live on in a cruel dictatorship where an innocent man could be torn to pieces by dogs and no one would ever be brought to justice for the crime.
The von Ulrichs looked crushed; Walter even more than Maud. They were like people who have heard bad news, or suffered a death in the family. They seemed unable to think much about anything other than the catastrophe that had happened to them.
Lloyd had been released with profuse apologies from the German Foreign Ministry, and an explanatory statement that was abject yet at the same time mendacious, implying that he had got into a brawl through his own foolishness and then had been held prisoner by an administrative error for which the authorities were deeply sorry.
Walter said: ‘I’ve had a telegram from Robert. He’s arrived safely in London.’
As an Austrian citizen Robert had been able to leave Germany without much difficulty. Getting his money out had been more tricky. Walter had demanded that Macke pay the money to a bank in Switzerland. At first Macke had said that was impossible, but Walter had put pressure on him, threatening to challenge the sale in court, saying that Lloyd was prepared to testify that the contract had been signed under duress; and in the end Macke had pulled some strings.
‘I’m glad Robert got out,’ Lloyd said. He would be even happier when he himself was safe in London. His head was still tender and he got a pain in his ribs every time he turned over in bed.
Ethel said to Maud: ‘Why don’t you come to London? Both of you. The whole family, I mean.’
Walter looked at Maud. ‘Perhaps we should,’ he said. But Lloyd could tell that he did not really mean it.
‘You’ve done your best,’ Ethel said. ‘You’ve fought bravely. But the other side won.’
Maud said: ‘It’s not over yet.’
‘But you’re in danger.’
‘So is Germany.’
‘If you came to live in London, Fitz might soften his attitude, and help you.’
Earl Fitzherbert was one of the wealthiest men in Britain, Lloyd knew, because of the coal mines beneath his land in South Wales.
‘He wouldn’t help me,’ Maud said. ‘Fitz doesn’t relent. I know that, and so do you.’
‘You’re right,’ Ethel said. Lloyd wondered how she could be so sure, but he did not get a chance to ask. Ethel went on: ‘Well, you could easily get a job on a London newspaper, with your experience.’
Walter said: ‘And what would I do in London?’
‘I don’t know,’ Ethel said. ‘What are you going to do here? There’s not much point in being an elected representative in an impotent parliament.’ She was being brutally frank, Lloyd felt, but characteristically she was saying what had to be said.
Lloyd sympathized, but felt that the von Ulrichs should stay. ‘I know it will be hard,’ he said. ‘But if decent people flee from Fascism it will spread all the faster.’
‘It’s spreading anyway,’ his mother rejoined.
Maud startled them all by saying vehemently: ‘I will not go. I absolutely refuse to leave Germany.’
They all stared at her.
‘I’m German, and have been for fourteen years,’ she said. ‘This is my country now.’
‘But you were born English,’ said Ethel.
‘A country is mostly the people in it,’ Maud said. ‘I don’t love England. My parents died a long time ago, and my brother has disowned me. I love Germany. For me, Germany is my wonderful husband, Walter; my misguided son, Erik; my alarmingly capable daughter, Carla; our maid, Ada, and her disabled son; my friend Monika and her family; my journalistic colleagues . . . I’m staying, to fight the Nazis.’
‘You’ve already done more than your share,’ Ethel said gently.
Maud’s tone became emotional. ‘My husband has dedicated himself, his life, his entire being to making this country free and prosperous. I will not be the cause of his giving up his life’s work. If he loses that, he loses his soul.’
Ethel pushed the point in a way that only an old friend could. ‘Still,’ she said, ‘there must be a temptation to take your children to safety.’
‘A temptation? You mean a longing, a yearning, a desperate desire!’ She began to cry. ‘Carla has nightmares about Brownshirts, and Erik puts on that shit-coloured uniform every chance he gets.’ Lloyd was startled by her fervour. He had never heard a respectable woman say ‘shit’. She went on: ‘Of course I want to take them away.’ Lloyd could see how torn she was. She rubbed her hands together as if washing them, turned her head from side to side in distraction, and spoke in a voice that shook violently with her inner conflict. ‘But it’s the wrong thing to do, for them as well as for us. I will not give in to it! Better to suffer evil than to stand by and do nothing.’
Ethel touched Maud’s arm. ‘I’m sorry I asked. Perhaps it was silly of me. I might have known you wouldn’t run away.’
‘I’m glad you asked,’ Walter said. He reached out and took Maud’s slim hands in his own. ‘The question has been hanging in the air between Maud and me, unspoken. It was time we faced it.’ Their joined hands rested on the café table. Lloyd rarely thought about the emotional lives of his mother’s generation – they were middle-aged and married, and that seemed to say it all – but now he saw that between Walter and Maud there was a powerful connection that was much more than the familiar habit of a mature marriage. They were under no illusions: they knew that by staying here they were risking their lives and the lives of their children. But they had a shared commitment that defied death.
Lloyd wondered whether he would ever have such a love.
Ethel looked at the clock. ‘Oh, my goodness!’ she said. ‘We’re going to miss the train!’
Lloyd picked up their bags and they hurried across the platform. A whistle blew. They boarded the train just in time. They both leaned out of the window as it pulled out of the station.
Walter and Maud stood on the platform, waving, getting smaller and smaller in the distance, until finally they disappeared.
‘Two things you need to know about girls in Buffalo,’ said Daisy Peshkov. ‘They drink like fish, and they’re all snobs.’
Eva Rothmann giggled. ‘I don’t believe you,’ she said. Her German accent had almost completely vanished.
‘Oh, it’s true,’ said Daisy. They were in her pink-and-white bedroom, trying on clothes in front of a full-length three-way mirror. ‘Navy and white might look good on you,’ Daisy said. ‘What do you think?’ She held a blouse up to Eva’s face and studied the effect. The contrasting colours seemed to suit her.
Daisy was looking through her closet for an outfit Eva could wear to the beach picnic. Eva was not a pretty girl, and the frills and bows that decorated many of Daisy’s clothes only made Eva look frumpy. Stripes better suited her strong features.
Eva’s hair was dark, and her eyes deep brown. ‘You can wear bright colours,’ Daisy told her.
Eva had few clothes of her own. Her father, a Jewish doctor in Berlin, had spent his life savings to send her to America, and she had arrived a year ago with nothing. A charity paid for her to go to Daisy’s boarding school – they were the same age, nineteen. But Eva had nowhere to go in the summer vacation, so Daisy had impulsively invited her home.
At first Daisy’s mother, Olga, had resisted. ‘Oh, but you’re away at school all year – I so look forward to having you to myself in the summer.’
‘She’s really great, Mother,’ Daisy had said. ‘She’s charming and easygoing and a loyal friend.’
‘I suppose you feel sorry for her because she’s a refugee from the Nazis.’
‘I don’t care about the Nazis, I just like her.’
‘That’s fine, but does she have to live with us?’
‘Mother, she has nowhere else to go!’
As usual, Olga let Daisy have her way in the end.
Now Eva said: ‘Snobs? No one would be snobby to you!’
‘Oh, yes, they would.’
‘But you’re so pretty and vivacious.’
Daisy did not bother to deny it. ‘They hate that about me.’
‘And you’re rich.’
It was true. Daisy’s father was wealthy, her mother had inherited a fortune, and Daisy herself would come into money when she was twenty-one. ‘It doesn’t mean a thing. In this town it’s about how long you’ve been rich. You’re nobody if you work. The superior people are those who live on the millions left by their great-grandparents.’ She spoke in a tone of gay mockery to hide the resentment she felt.
Eva said: ‘And your father is famous!’
‘They think he’s a gangster.’
Daisy’s grandfather, Josef Vyalov, had owned bars and hotels. Her father, Lev Peshkov, had used the profits to buy ailing vaudeville theatres and convert them into cinemas. Now he owned a Hollywood studio, too.
Eva was indignant on Daisy’s behalf. ‘How can they say such a thing?’
‘They believe he was a bootlegger. They’re probably right. I can’t see how else he made money out of bars during Prohibition. Anyway, that’s why Mother will never be invited to join the Buffalo Ladies’ Society.’
They both looked at Olga, sitting on Daisy’s bed, reading the Buffalo Sentinel. In photographs taken when she was young, Olga was a willowy beauty. Now she was dumpy and drab. She had lost interest in her appearance, though she shopped energetically with Daisy, never caring how much she spent to make her daughter look fabulous.
Olga looked up from the newspaper to say: ‘I’m not sure they mind your father being a bootlegger, dear. But he’s a Russian immigrant, and on the rare occasions he decides to attend divine service, he goes to the Russian Orthodox church on Ideal Street. That’s almost as bad as being Catholic.’
Eva said: ‘It’s so unfair.’
‘I might as well warn you that they’re not too fond of Jews, either,’ Daisy said. Eva was, in fact, half Jewish. ‘Sorry to be blunt.’
‘Be as blunt as you like – after Germany, this country feels like the Promised Land.’
‘Don’t get too comfortable,’ Olga warned. ‘According to this paper, plenty of American business leaders hate President Roosevelt and admire Adolf Hitler. I know that’s true, because Daisy’s father is one of them.’
‘Politics is boring,’ said Daisy. ‘Isn’t there something interesting in the Sentinel ?’
‘Yes, there is. Muffie Dixon is to be presented at the British court.’
‘Good for her,’ Daisy said sourly, failing to conceal her envy.
Olga read: ‘ “Miss Muriel Dixon, daughter of the late Charles ‘Chuck’ Dixon, who was killed in France during the war, will be presented at Buckingham Palace next Tuesday by the wife of the United States ambassador, Mrs Robert W. Bingham.” ’
Daisy had heard enough about Muffie Dixon. ‘I’ve been to Paris, but never London,’ she said to Eva. ‘What about you?’
‘Neither,’ said Eva. ‘The first time I left Germany was when I sailed to America.’
Olga suddenly said: ‘Oh, dear!’
‘What’s happened?’ Daisy asked.
Her mother crumpled the paper. ‘Your father took Gladys Angelus to the White House.’
‘Oh!’ Daisy felt as if she had been slapped. ‘But he said he would take me!’
President Roosevelt had invited a hundred businessmen to a reception in an attempt to win them over to his New Deal. Lev Peshkov thought Franklin D. Roosevelt was the next thing to a Communist, but he had been flattered to be asked to the White House. However, Olga had refused to accompany him, saying angrily: ‘I’m not willing to pretend to the President that we have a normal marriage.’
Lev officially lived here, in the stylish pre-war prairie home built by Grandfather Vyalov, but he spent more nights at the swanky downtown apartment where he kept his mistress of many years, Marga. On top of that everyone assumed he was having an affair with his studio’s biggest star, Gladys Angelus. Daisy understood why her mother felt spurned. Daisy, too, felt rejected when Lev drove off to spend his evenings with his other family.
She had been thrilled when he had asked her to accompany him to the White House instead of her mother. She had told everyone she was going. None of her friends had met the President, except the Dewar boys, whose father was a senator.
Lev had not told her the exact date, and she had assumed that he would let her know at the last minute, which was his usual style. But he had changed his mind, or perhaps just forgotten. Either way, he had rejected Daisy again.
‘I’m sorry, honey,’ said her mother. ‘But promises never did mean much to your father.’
Eva was looking sympathetic. Her pity stung Daisy. Eva’s father was thousands of miles away, and she might never see him again, but she felt sorry for Daisy, as if Daisy’s plight was worse.
It made Daisy feel defiant. She would not let this ruin her day. ‘Well, I’ll be the only girl in Buffalo who has been stood up for Gladys Angelus,’ she said. ‘Now, what shall I wear?’
Skirts were dramatically short this year in Paris, but the conservative Buffalo set followed fashion at a distance. However, Daisy had a knee-length tennis dress in a shade of baby-blue the same as her eyes. Maybe today was the day to bring it out. She slipped off her dress and put on the new one. ‘What do you think?’ she said.
Eva said: ‘Oh, Daisy, it’s beautiful, but . . .’
Olga said: ‘That’ll make their eyes pop.’ Olga liked it when Daisy dressed to kill. Perhaps it reminded her of her youth.
Eva said: ‘Daisy, if they’re all so snobbish, why do you want to go to the party?’
‘Charlie Farquharson will be there, and I’m thinking of marrying him,’ Daisy said.
‘Are you serious?’
Olga said emphatically: ‘He’s a great catch.’
Eva said: ‘What’s he like?’
‘Absolutely adorable,’ Daisy said. ‘Not the handsomest boy in Buffalo, but sweet and kind, and rather shy.’
‘He sounds very different from you.’
‘It’s the attraction of opposites.’
Olga spoke again. ‘The Farquharsons are among the oldest families in Buffalo.’
Eva raised her dark eyebrows. ‘Snobby?’
‘Very,’ Daisy said. ‘But Charlie’s father lost all his money in the Wall Street crash, then died – killed himself, some say – so they need to restore the family fortunes.’
Eva looked shocked. ‘You’re hoping he’ll marry you for your money?’
‘No. He’ll marry me because I will bewitch him. But his mother will accept me for my money.’
‘You say you will bewitch him. Does he know about any of this?’
‘Not yet. But I think I might make a start this afternoon. Yes, this is definitely the right dress.’
Daisy wore the baby-blue and Eva the navy-and-white stripes. By the time they had got ready they were late.
Daisy’s mother would not have a chauffeur. ‘I married my father’s chauffeur, and it ruined my life,’ she sometimes said. She was terrified Daisy might do something similar – that was why she was so keen on Charlie Farquharson. If she needed to go anywhere in her creaking 1925 Stutz she made Henry, the gardener, take off his rubber boots and put on a black suit. But Daisy had her own car, a red Chevrolet Sport Coupe.
Daisy liked driving, loved the power and speed of it. They headed south out of the city. She was almost sorry it was only five or six miles to the beach.
As she drove she thought about life as Charlie’s wife. With her money and his status they would become the leading couple in Buffalo society. At their dinner parties the table settings would be so elegant that people would gasp in delight. They would have the biggest yacht in the harbour, and throw on-board parties for other wealthy, fun-loving couples. People would yearn for an invitation from Mrs Charles Farquharson. No charity function would be a success without Daisy and Charlie at the top table. In her head she watched a movie of herself, in a ravishing Paris gown, walking through a crowd of admiring men and women, smiling graciously at their compliments.
She was still daydreaming when they reached their destination.
The city of Buffalo was in upstate New York, near the Canadian border. Woodlawn Beach was a mile of sand on the shore of Lake Erie. Daisy parked and they walked across the dunes.
Fifty or sixty people were already there. These were the adolescent children of the Buffalo elite, a privileged group who spent their summers sailing and water-skiing in the daytime and going to parties and dances at night. Daisy greeted the people she knew, which was just about everyone, and introduced Eva around. They got glasses of punch. Daisy tasted it cautiously: some of the boys would think it hilarious to spike the drink with a couple of bottles of gin.
The party was for Dot Renshaw, a sharp-tongued girl whom no one wanted to marry. The Renshaws were an old Buffalo family, like the Farquharsons, but their fortune had survived the crash. Daisy made sure to approach the host, Dot’s father, and thank him. ‘I’m sorry we’re late,’ she said. ‘I lost track of time!’
Philip Renshaw looked her up and down. ‘That’s a very short skirt.’ Disapproval vied with lasciviousness in his expression.
‘I’m so glad you like it,’ Daisy replied, pretending he had paid her a straightforward compliment.
‘Anyway, it’s good that you’re here at last,’ he went on. ‘A photographer from the Sentinel is coming and we must have some pretty girls in the picture.’
Daisy muttered to Eva: ‘So that’s why I was invited. How kind of him to let me know.’
Dot came up. She had a thin face with a pointed nose. Daisy always thought she looked as if she might peck you. ‘I thought you were going with your father to meet the President,’ she said.
Daisy felt mortified. She wished she had not boasted to everyone about this.
‘I see he took his, ahem, leading lady,’ Dot went on. ‘Unusual, that sort of thing, in the White House.’
Daisy said: ‘I guess the President likes to meet movie stars occasionally. He deserves a little glamour, don’t you think?’
‘I can’t imagine that Eleanor Roosevelt approved. According to the Sentinel, all the other men took their wives.’
‘How thoughtful of them.’ Daisy turned away, desperate to escape.
She spotted Charlie Farquharson, trying to erect a net for beach tennis. He was too good-natured to mock her about Gladys Angelus. ‘How are you, Charlie?’ she said brightly.
‘Fine, I guess.’ He stood up, a tall man of about twenty-five, a little overweight, stooping slightly as if he feared his height might be intimidating.
Daisy introduced Eva. Charlie was sweetly awkward in company, especially with girls, but he made an effort and asked Eva how she liked America, and what she heard from her family back in Berlin.
Eva asked him if he was enjoying the picnic.
‘Not much,’ he said candidly. ‘I’d rather be at home with my dogs.’
No doubt he found pets easier to deal with than girls, Daisy thought. But the mention of dogs was interesting. ‘What kind of dogs do you have?’ she asked.
‘Jack Russell terriers.’
Daisy made a mental note.
An angular woman of about fifty approached. ‘For goodness’ sake, Charlie, haven’t you got that net up yet?’
‘Almost there, Mom,’ he said.
Nora Farquharson was wearing a gold tennis bracelet, diamond ear studs, and a Tiffany necklace; more jewellery than she really needed for a picnic. The Farquharsons’ poverty was relative, Daisy reflected. They said they had lost everything, but Mrs Farquharson still had a maid and a chauffeur and a couple of horses for riding in the park.
Daisy said: ‘Good afternoon, Mrs Farquharson. This is my friend Eva Rothmann from Berlin.’
‘How do you do,’ said Nora Farquharson without offering her hand. She felt no need to be friendly towards arriviste Russians, much less their Jewish guests.
Then she seemed to be struck by a thought. ‘Ah, Daisy, you could go round and find out who wants to play tennis.’
Daisy knew she was being treated somewhat as a servant, but she decided to be compliant. ‘Of course,’ she said. ‘Mixed doubles, I suggest.’
‘Good idea.’ Mrs Farquharson held out a pencil stub and a scrap of paper. ‘Write the names down.’
Daisy smiled sweetly and took a gold pen and a little beige leather notebook from her bag. ‘I’m equipped.’
She knew who the tennis players were, good and bad. She belonged to the Racquet Club, which was not as exclusive as the Yacht Club. She paired Eva with Chuck Dewar, the fourteen-year-old son of Senator Dewar. She put Joanne Rouzrokh with the older Dewar boy, Woody, only fifteen but already as tall as his beanpole father. Naturally she herself would be Charlie’s partner.
Daisy was startled to come across a somewhat familiar face and to recognize her half-brother, Greg, the son of Marga. They did not meet often, and she had not seen him for a year. In that time he seemed to have become a man. He was six inches taller, and although still only fifteen he had the dark shadow of a beard. As a child he had been dishevelled, and that had not changed. He wore his expensive clothes carelessly: the sleeves of the blazer rolled up, the striped tie loose at the neck, the linen pants sea-wet and sandy at the cuffs.
Daisy was always embarrassed to run into Greg. He was a living reminder of how their father had rejected Daisy and her mother in favour of Greg and Marga. Many married men had affairs, she knew; but her father’s indiscretion showed up at parties for everyone to see. Father should have moved Marga and Greg to New York, where nobody knew anybody, or to California, where no one saw anything wrong with adultery. Here they were a permanent scandal, and Greg was part of the reason people looked down on Daisy.
He asked her politely how she was, and she answered: ‘Angry as heck, if you want to know. Father’s let me down – again.’
Greg said guardedly: ‘What did he do?’
‘Asked me to go to the White House with him – then took that tart Gladys Angelus. Now everyone’s laughing at me.’
‘It must have been good publicity for Passion, her new film.’
‘You always take his side because he prefers you to me.’
Greg looked irritated. ‘Maybe that’s because I admire him instead of complaining about him all the time.’
‘I don’t—’ Daisy was about to deny complaining all the time when she realized it was true. ‘Well, maybe I do complain, but he should keep his promises, shouldn’t he?’
‘He has so much on his mind.’
‘Maybe he shouldn’t have two mistresses as well as a wife.’
Greg shrugged. ‘It’s a lot to handle.’
They both noticed the unintentional double entendre, and after a moment they giggled.
Daisy said: ‘Well, I guess I shouldn’t blame you. You didn’t ask to be born.’
‘And I should probably forgive you for taking my father away from me three nights a week – no matter how I cried and begged him to stay.’
Daisy had never thought of it that way. In her mind, Greg was the usurper, the illegitimate child who kept stealing her father. But now she realized that he felt as hurt as she did.
She stared at him. Some girls might find him attractive, she guessed. He was too young for Eva, though. And he would probably turn out as selfish and unreliable as their father.
‘Anyway,’ she said, ‘do you play tennis?’
He shook his head. ‘They don’t let people like me into the Racquet Club.’ He forced an insouciant grin, and Daisy realized that, like her, Greg felt rejected by Buffalo society. ‘Ice hockey’s my sport,’ he said.
‘Too bad.’ She moved on.
When she had enough names, she returned to Charlie, who had finally got the net up. She sent Eva to round up the first foursome. Then she said to Charlie: ‘Help me make a competition tree.’
They knelt side by side and drew a diagram in the sand with heats, semi-finals and a final. While they were entering the names, Charlie said: ‘Do you like the movies?’
Daisy wondered if he was about to ask her for a date. ‘Sure,’ she said.
‘Have you seen Passion, by any chance?’
‘No, Charlie, I haven’t seen it,’ she said in a tone of exasperation. ‘It stars my father’s mistress.’
He was shocked. ‘The papers say they’re just good friends.’
‘And why do you think Miss Angelus, who is barely twenty, is so friendly with my forty-year-old father?’ Daisy asked sarcastically. ‘Do you think she likes his receding hairline? Or his little paunch? Or his fifty million dollars?’
‘Oh, I see,’ said Charlie, looking abashed. ‘Sorry.’
‘You shouldn’t be sorry. I’m being kind of bitchy. You’re not like everyone else – you don’t automatically think the worst of people.’
‘I guess I’m just dumb.’
‘No. You’re just nice.’
Charlie looked embarrassed, but pleased.
‘Let’s get on with this,’ Daisy said. ‘We have to rig it so that the best players get through to the final.’
Nora Farquharson reappeared. She looked at Charlie and Daisy kneeling side by side in the sand, then studied their drawing.
Charlie said: ‘Pretty good, Mom, don’t you think?’ He longed for approval from her, that was obvious.
‘Very good.’ She gave Daisy an appraising look, like a mother dog seeing a stranger approach her puppies.
‘Charlie did most of it,’ Daisy said.
‘No, he didn’t,’ Mrs Farquharson said bluntly. Her gaze went to Charlie and back. ‘You’re a smart girl,’ she said. She looked as if she were about to add something, but hesitated.
‘What?’ said Daisy.
‘Nothing.’ She turned away.
Daisy stood up. ‘I know what she was thinking,’ she murmured to Eva.
‘You’re a smart girl – almost good enough for my son, if you came from a better family.’
Eva was sceptical. ‘You can’t know that.’
‘I sure can. And I’ll marry him if only to prove his mother wrong.’
‘Oh, Daisy, why do you care so much what these people think?’
‘Let’s watch the tennis.’
Daisy sat on the sand beside Charlie. He might not be handsome, but he would worship his wife and do anything for her. The mother-in-law would be a problem, but Daisy thought she could handle her.
Tall Joanne Rouzrokh was serving, in a white skirt that flattered her long legs. Her partner, Woody Dewar, who was even taller, handed her a tennis ball. Something in the way he looked at Joanne made Daisy think he was attracted to her, maybe even in love with her. But he was fifteen and she eighteen, so there was no future in that.
She turned to Charlie. ‘Maybe I should see Passion after all,’ she said.
He did not take the hint. ‘Maybe you should,’ he said indifferently. The moment had passed.
Daisy turned to Eva. ‘I wonder where I could buy a Jack Russell terrier?’
Lev Peshkov was the best father a guy could have – or, at least, he would have been, if he had been around more. He was rich and generous, he was smarter than anybody, he was even well dressed. He had probably been handsome when he was younger, and even now women threw themselves at him. Greg Peshkov adored him, and his only complaint was that he did not see enough of him.
‘I should have sold this fucking foundry when I had the chance,’ Lev said as they walked around the silent, deserted factory. ‘It was losing money even before the goddamned strike. I should stick to cinemas and bars.’ He wagged a didactic finger. ‘People always buy booze, in good times and bad. And they go to the movies even when they can’t afford to. Never forget that.’
Greg was pretty sure his father did not often make mistakes in business. ‘So why did you keep it?’ he said.
‘Sentiment,’ Lev replied. ‘When I was your age, I worked in a place like this, the Putilov Machine Factory in St Petersburg.’ He looked around at the furnaces, moulds, hoists, lathes and workbenches. ‘Actually, it was a lot worse.’
The Buffalo Metal Works made fans of all sizes, including huge propellers for ships. Greg was fascinated by the mathematics of the curved blades. He was top of his class in math. ‘Were you an engineer?’ he asked.
Lev grinned. ‘I tell people that, if I need to impress them,’ he said. ‘But the truth is, I looked after the horses. I was a stable boy. I was never good with machines. That was my brother Grigori’s talent. You take after him. All the same, never buy a foundry.’
Greg was to spend the summer shadowing his father, learning the business. Lev had just got back from Los Angeles, and Greg’s lessons had begun today. But he did not want to know about the foundry. He was good at math but he was interested in power. He wished his father would take him on one of his frequent trips to Washington to lobby for the movie industry. That was where the real decisions were made.
He was looking forward to lunch. He and his father were to meet Senator Gus Dewar. Greg wanted to ask a favour of Senator Dewar. However, he had not yet cleared this with his father. He was nervous about asking, and instead he said: ‘Do you ever hear of your brother in Leningrad?’
Lev shook his head. ‘Not since the war. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s dead. A lot of old Bolsheviks have disappeared.’
‘Speaking of family, I saw my half-sister on Saturday. She was at the beach picnic.’
‘Did you have a good time?’
‘She’s mad at you, did you know that?’
‘What have I done now?’
‘You said you’d take her to the White House, then you took Gladys Angelus.’
‘That’s true. I forgot. But I wanted the publicity for Passion.’
They were approached by a tall man whose striped suit was loud even by current fashions. He touched the brim of his fedora and said: ‘Morning, boss.’
Lev said to Greg: ‘Joe Brekhunov is in charge of security here. Joe, this is my son Greg.’
‘Pleased to meet ya,’ said Brekhunov.
Greg shook his hand. Like most factories, the foundry had its own police force. But Brekhunov looked more like a hoodlum than a cop.
‘All quiet?’ Lev asked.
‘A little incident in the night,’ Brekhunov said. ‘Two machinists tried to heist a length of fifteen-inch steel bar, aircraft quality. We caught them trying to manhandle it over the fence.’
Greg said: ‘Did you call the police?’
‘It wasn’t necessary.’ Brekhunov grinned. ‘We gave them a little talk about the concept of private property, and sent them to the hospital to think about it.’
Greg was not surprised to learn that his father’s security men beat thieves so badly that they had to go to hospital. Although Lev had never struck him or his mother, Greg felt that violence was never far below his father’s charming surface. It was because of Lev’s youth in the slums of Leningrad, he guessed.
A portly man wearing a blue suit with a workingman’s cap appeared from behind a furnace. ‘This is the union leader, Brian Hall,’ said Lev. ‘Morning, Hall.’
Greg raised his eyebrows. People usually called his father Mr Peshkov.
Lev stood with his feet apart and his hands on his hips. ‘Well, have you got an answer for me?’
Hall’s face took on a stubborn expression. ‘The men won’t come back to work with a pay cut, if that’s what you mean.’
‘But I’ve improved my offer!’
‘It’s still a pay cut.’
Greg began to feel nervous. His father did not like opposition, and he might explode.
‘The manager tells me we aren’t getting any orders, because he can’t tender a competitive price at these wage levels.’
‘That’s because you’ve got outdated machinery, Peshkov. Some of these lathes were here before the war! You need to re-equip.’
‘In the middle of a depression? Are you out of your mind? I’m not going to throw away more money.’
‘That’s how your men feel,’ said Hall, with the air of one who plays a trump card. ‘They’re not going to give money to you when they haven’t got enough for themselves.’
Greg thought workers were stupid to strike during a depression, and he was angered by Hall’s nerve. The man spoke as if he were Lev’s equal, not an employee.
Lev said: ‘Well, as things are, we’re all losing money. Where’s the sense in that?’
‘It’s out of my hands now,’ said Hall. Greg thought he sounded smug. ‘The union is sending a team from headquarters to take over.’ He pulled a large steel watch out of his waistcoat pocket. ‘Their train should be here in an hour.’
Lev’s face darkened. ‘We don’t need outsiders stirring up trouble.’
‘If you don’t want trouble, you shouldn’t provoke it.’
Lev clenched a fist, but Hall walked away.
Lev turned to Brekhunov. ‘Did you know about these men from headquarters?’ he said angrily.
Brekhunov looked nervous. ‘I’ll get on it right away, boss.’
‘Find out who they are and where they’re staying.’
‘Won’t be difficult.’
‘Then send them back to New York in a fucking ambulance.’
‘Leave it to me, boss.’
Lev turned away, and Greg followed him. Now that was power, Greg thought with a touch of awe. His father gave the word, and union officials would be beaten up.
They walked outside and got into Lev’s car, a Cadillac five-passenger sedan in the new streamlined style. Its long curving fenders made Greg think of a girl’s hips.
Lev drove along Porter Avenue to the waterfront and parked at the Buffalo Yacht Club. Sunlight played prettily on the boats in the marina. Greg was pretty sure that his father did not belong to this elite club. Gus Dewar must be a member.
They walked on to the pier. The clubhouse was built on pilings over the water. Lev and Greg went inside and checked their hats. Greg immediately felt uneasy, knowing he was a guest in a club that would not have him as a member. The people here probably thought he must feel privileged to be allowed in. He put his hands in his pockets and slouched, so they would know he was not impressed.
‘I used to belong to this club,’ Lev said. ‘But in 1921 the chairman told me I had to resign because I was a bootlegger. Then he asked me to sell him a case of Scotch.’
‘Why does Senator Dewar want to have lunch with you?’ Greg asked.
‘We’re about to find out.’
‘Would you mind if I asked him a favour?’
Lev frowned. ‘I guess not. What are you after?’
But, before Greg could answer, Lev greeted a man of about sixty. ‘This is Dave Rouzrokh,’ he said to Greg. ‘He’s my main rival.’
‘You flatter me,’ the man said.
Roseroque Theatres was a chain of dilapidated movie houses in New York State. The owner was anything but decrepit. He had a patrician air: he was tall and white-haired, with a nose like a curved blade. He wore a blue cashmere blazer with the badge of the club on the breast pocket. Greg said: ‘I had the pleasure of watching your daughter, Joanne, play tennis on Saturday.’
Dave was pleased. ‘Pretty good, isn’t she?’
Lev said: ‘I’m glad I ran into you, Dave – I was planning to call you.’
‘Your theatres need remodelling. They’re very old-fashioned.’
Dave looked amused. ‘You were planning to call me to give me this news?’
‘Why don’t you do something about it?’
He shrugged elegantly. ‘Why bother? I’m making enough money. At my age, I don’t want the strain.’
‘You could double your profits.’
‘By raising ticket prices. No, thanks.’
‘Not everyone is obsessed with money,’ Dave said with a touch of disdain.
‘Then sell to me,’ Lev said.
Greg was surprised. He had not seen that coming.
‘I’ll give you a good price,’ Lev added.
Dave shook his head. ‘I like owning cinemas,’ he said. ‘They give people pleasure.’
‘Eight million dollars,’ Lev said.
Greg felt bemused. He thought: Did I just hear Father offer Dave eight million dollars?
‘That is a fair price,’ Dave admitted. ‘But I’m not selling.’
‘No one else will give you as much,’ Lev said with exasperation.
‘I know.’ Dave looked as if he had taken enough browbeating. He swallowed the rest of his drink. ‘Nice to see you both,’ he said, and he strolled out of the bar into the dining room.
Lev looked disgusted. ‘ “Not everyone is obsessed with money,” ’ he quoted. ‘Dave’s great-grandfather arrived here from Persia a hundred years ago with nothing but the clothes he wore and six rugs. He wouldn’t have turned down eight million dollars.’
‘I didn’t know you had that much money,’ Greg said.
‘I don’t, not in ready cash. That’s what banks are for.’
‘So you’d take out a loan to pay Dave?’
Lev raised his forefinger again. ‘Never use your own money when you can spend someone else’s.’
Gus Dewar walked in, a tall figure with a large head. He was in his mid-forties, and his light-brown hair was salted with silver. He greeted them with cool courtesy, shaking hands and offering them a drink. Greg saw immediately that Gus and Lev did not like one another. He feared that would mean Gus would not grant the favour Greg wanted to beg. Maybe he should give up the thought.
Gus was a big shot. His father had been a senator before him, a dynastic succession that Greg thought was un-American. Gus had helped Franklin Roosevelt become Governor of New York and then President. Now he was on the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
His sons, Woody and Chuck, went to the same school as Greg. Woody was brainy, Chuck was a sportsman.
Lev said: ‘Has the President told you to settle my strike, Senator?’
Gus smiled. ‘No – not yet, anyway.’
Lev turned to Greg. ‘Last time the foundry was on strike, twenty years ago, President Wilson sent Gus to browbeat me into giving the men a raise.’
‘I saved you money,’ Gus said mildly. ‘They were asking for a dollar – I made them take half that.’
‘Which was exactly fifty cents more than I intended to give.’
Gus smiled and shrugged. ‘Shall we have lunch?’
They went into the dining room. When they had ordered, Gus said: ‘The President was glad you could make it to the reception at the White House.’
‘I probably shouldn’t have taken Gladys,’ Lev said. ‘Mrs Roosevelt was a bit frosty with her. I guess she doesn’t approve of movie stars.’
She probably doesn’t approve of movie stars who sleep with married men, Greg thought, but he kept his mouth shut.
Gus made small talk while they ate. Greg looked for an opportunity to ask his favour. He wanted to work in Washington one summer, to learn the ropes and make contacts. His father might have been able to get him an internship, but it would have been with a Republican, and they were out of power. Greg wanted to work in the office of the influential and respected Senator Dewar, personal friend and ally of the President.
He asked himself why he was nervous about asking. The worst that could happen was that Dewar would say no.
When the dessert was finished, Gus got down to business. ‘The President has asked me to speak to you about the Liberty League,’ he said.
Greg had heard of this organization, a right-wing group opposed to the New Deal.
Lev lit a cigarette and blew out smoke. ‘We have to guard against creeping socialism.’
‘The New Deal is all that is saving us from the kind of nightmare they’re having in Germany.’
‘The Liberty League aren’t Nazis.’
‘Aren’t they? They have a plan for an armed insurrection to overthrow the President. It’s not realistic, of course – not yet, anyway.’
‘I believe I have a right to my opinions.’
‘Then you’re supporting the wrong people. The League is nothing to do with liberty, you know.’
‘Don’t talk to me about liberty,’ Lev said with a touch of anger. ‘When I was twelve years old I was flogged by the Leningrad police because my parents were on strike.’
Greg was not sure why his father had said that. The brutality of the Tsar’s regime seemed like an argument for socialism, not against.
Gus said: ‘Roosevelt knows you give money to the League, and he wants you to stop.’
‘How does he know who I give money to?’
‘The FBI told him. They investigate such people.’
‘We’re living in a police state! You’re supposed to be a liberal.’
There was not much logic to Lev’s arguments, Greg perceived. Lev was just trying everything he could think of to wrong-foot Gus, and he did not care if he contradicted himself in the process.
Gus remained cool. ‘I’m trying to make sure this doesn’t become a matter for the police,’ he said.
Lev grinned. ‘Does the President know I stole your fiancée?’
This was news to Greg – but it had to be true, for Lev had at last succeeded in throwing Gus off balance. Gus looked shocked, turned his gaze aside, and reddened. Score one for our team, Greg thought.
Lev explained to Greg: ‘Gus was engaged to Olga, back in 1915,’ he said. ‘Then she changed her mind and married me.’
Gus recovered his composure. ‘We were all terribly young.’
Lev said: ‘You certainly got over Olga quickly enough.’
Gus gave Lev a cool look and said: ‘So did you.’
Greg saw that his father was embarrassed now. Gus’s shot had hit home.
There was a moment of awkward silence, then Gus said: ‘You and I fought in a war, Lev. I was in a machine-gun battalion with my school friend Chuck Dixon. In a little French town called Château-Thierry he was blown to pieces in front of my eyes.’ Gus was speaking in a conversational tone, but Greg found himself holding his breath. Gus went on: ‘My ambition for my sons is that they should never have to go through what we went through. That’s why groups such as the Liberty League have to be nipped in the bud.’
Greg saw his chance. ‘I’m interested in politics, too, Senator, and I’d like to learn more. Might you be able to take me as an intern one summer?’ He held his breath.
Gus looked surprised, but said: ‘I can always use a bright young man who’s willing to work in a team.’
That was neither a yes nor a no. ‘I’m top in math, and captain of ice hockey,’ Greg persisted, selling himself. ‘Ask Woody about me.’
‘I will.’ Gus turned to Lev. ‘And will you consider the President’s request? It’s really very important.’
It almost seemed as if Gus was suggesting an exchange of favours. But would Lev agree?
Lev hesitated a long moment, then stubbed out his cigarette and said: ‘I guess we have a deal.’
Gus stood up. ‘Good,’ he said. ‘The President will be pleased.’
Greg thought: I did it!
They walked out of the club to their cars.
As they drove out of the parking lot, Greg said: ‘Thank you, Father. I really appreciate what you did.’
‘You chose your moment well,’ Lev said. ‘I’m glad to see you’re so smart.’
The compliment pleased Greg. In some ways he was smarter than his father – he certainly understood science and math better – but he feared he was not as shrewd and cunning as his old man.
‘I want you to be a wise guy,’ Lev went on. ‘Not like some of these dummies.’ Greg had no idea who the dummies were. ‘You’ve got to stay ahead of the curve, all the time. That’s the way to get on.’
Lev drove to his office, in a modern block downtown. As they walked through the marble lobby, Lev said: ‘Now I’m going to teach a lesson to that fool Dave Rouzrokh.’
Going up in the elevator, Greg wondered how Lev would do that.
Peshkov Pictures occupied the top floor. Greg followed Lev along a broad corridor and through an outer office with two attractive young secretaries. ‘Get Sol Starr on the phone, will you?’ Lev said as they walked into the inner office.
Lev sat behind the desk. ‘Solly owns one of the biggest studios in Hollywood,’ he explained.
The phone on the desk rang and Lev picked it up. ‘Sol!’ he said. ‘How are they hanging?’ Greg listened to a minute or two of masculine joshing, then Lev got down to business. ‘Little piece of advice,’ he said. ‘Here in New York State we have a crappy chain of fleapits called Roseroque Theatres . . . yeah, that’s the one . . . take my tip, don’t send them your top-of-the-line first-run pictures this summer – you may not get paid.’ Greg realized that would hit Dave hard: without exciting new movies to show, his takings would tumble. ‘A word to the wise, right? Solly, don’t thank me, you’d do the same for me . . . bye.’
Once again, Greg was awestruck by his father’s power. He could have people beaten up. He could offer eight million dollars of other people’s money. He could scare a president. He could seduce another man’s fiancée. And he could ruin a business with a single phone call.
‘You wait and see,’ said his father. ‘In a month’s time, Dave Rouzrokh will be begging me to buy him out – at half the price I offered him today.’
‘I don’t know what’s wrong with this puppy,’ Daisy said. ‘He won’t do anything I tell him. I’m going crazy.’ There was a shake in her voice and a tear in her eye, and she was exaggerating only a little.
Charlie Farquharson studied the dog. ‘There’s nothing wrong with him,’ he said. ‘He’s a lovely little fellow. What’s his name?’
They were sitting on lawn chairs in the well-kept two-acre garden of Daisy’s home. Eva had greeted Charlie then tactfully retired to write a letter home. The gardener, Henry, was hoeing a bed of purple and yellow pansies in the distance. His wife, Ella, the maid, brought a pitcher of lemonade and some glasses, and set them on a folding table.
The puppy was a tiny Jack Russell terrier, small and strong, white with tan patches. He had an intelligent look, as if he understood every word, but he seemed to have no inclination to obey. Daisy held him on her lap and stroked his nose with dainty fingers in a way that she hoped Charlie would find strangely disturbing. ‘Don’t you like the name?’
‘A bit obvious, perhaps?’ Charlie stared at her white hand on the dog’s nose and shifted uneasily in his chair.
Daisy did not want to overdo it. If she inflamed Charlie too much he would just go home. This was why he was still single at twenty-five: several Buffalo girls, including Dot Renshaw and Muffie Dixon, had found it impossible to nail his foot to the floor. But Daisy was different. ‘Then you shall name him,’ she said.
‘It’s good to have two syllables, as in Bonzo, to make it easier for him to recognize the name.’
Daisy had no idea how to name dogs. ‘How about Rover?’
‘Too common. Rusty might be better.’
‘Perfect!’ she said. ‘Rusty he shall be.’
The dog wriggled effortlessly out of her grasp and jumped to the ground.
Charlie picked him up. Daisy noticed he had big hands. ‘You must show Rusty you’re the boss,’ Charlie said. ‘Hold him tight, and don’t let him jump down until you say so.’ He put the dog back on her lap.
‘But he’s so strong! And I’m afraid of hurting him.’
Charlie smiled condescendingly. ‘You probably couldn’t hurt him if you tried. Hold his collar tightly – twist it a bit if you need to – then put your other hand firmly on his back.’
Daisy followed Charlie’s orders. The dog sensed the increased pressure in her touch and became still, as if waiting to see what would happen next.
‘Tell him to sit, then press down on his rear end.’
‘Sit,’ she said.
‘Say it louder, and pronounce the letter “t” very clearly. Then press down hard.’
‘Sit, Rusty!’ she said, and pushed him down. He sat.
‘There you are,’ said Charlie.
‘You’re so clever!’ Daisy gushed.
Charlie looked pleased. ‘It’s just a matter of knowing what to do,’ he said modestly. ‘You must always be emphatic and decisive with dogs. You have to almost bark at them.’ He sat back, looking content. He was quite heavy, and filled the chair. Talking about the subject in which he was expert had relaxed him, as Daisy had hoped.
She had called him that morning. ‘I’m in despair!’ she had said. ‘I have a new puppy and I can’t manage him at all. Can you give me any advice?’
‘What breed of puppy?’
‘It’s a Jack Russell.’
‘Why, that’s the kind of dog I like best – I have three!’
‘What a coincidence!’
As Daisy had hoped, Charlie volunteered to come over and help her train the dog.
Eva had said doubtfully: ‘Do you really think Charlie is right for you?’
‘Are you kidding?’ Daisy had replied. ‘He’s one of the most eligible bachelors in Buffalo!’
Now Daisy said to Charlie: ‘I bet you’d be really good with children, too.’
‘Oh, I don’t know about that.’
‘You love dogs, but you’re firm with them. I’m sure that works with children, too.’
‘I have no idea.’ He changed the subject. ‘Are you intending to go to college in September?’
‘I might go to Oakdale. It’s a two-year finishing college for ladies. Unless . . .’
Unless I get married, she meant, but she said: ‘I don’t know. Unless something else happens.’
‘Such as what?’
‘I’d like to see England. My father went to London and met the Prince of Wales. What about you? Any plans?’
‘It was always assumed that I would take over Father’s bank, but now there is no bank. Mother has a little money from her family, and I manage that, but otherwise I’m kind of a loose wheel.’
‘You should raise horses,’ Daisy said. ‘I know you’d be good at it.’ She was a good rider and had won prizes when younger. She pictured herself and Charlie in the park on matching greys, with two children on ponies following behind. The vision gave her a warm glow.
‘I love horses,’ Charlie said.
‘So do I! I want to breed racehorses.’ Daisy did not have to feign this enthusiasm. It was her dream to raise a string of champions. She saw racehorse owners as the ultimate international elite.
‘Thoroughbreds cost a lot of money,’ Charlie said lugubriously.
Daisy had plenty. If Charlie married her, he would never have to worry about money again. She naturally did not say so, but she guessed that Charlie was thinking it, and she let the thought hang unspoken in the air for as long as possible.
Eventually Charlie said: ‘Did your father really have those two union organizers beaten up?’
‘What a strange idea!’ Daisy did not know whether Lev Peshkov had done any such thing, but in truth it would not have surprised her.
‘The men who came from New York to take over the strike,’ Charlie persisted. ‘They were hospitalized. The Sentinel says they quarrelled with local union leaders, but everyone thinks your father was responsible.’
‘I never talk about politics,’ Daisy said gaily. ‘When did you get your first dog?’
Charlie began a long reminiscence. Daisy considered what to do next. I’ve got him here, she thought, and I’ve put him at ease; now I have to get him aroused. But stroking the dog suggestively had unnerved him. What they needed was some casual physical contact.
‘What should I do next with Rusty?’ she asked when Charlie had finished his story.
‘Teach him to walk to heel,’ Charlie said promptly.
‘How do you do that?’
‘Do you have some dog biscuits?’
‘Sure.’ The kitchen windows were open, and Daisy raised her voice so that the maid could hear her. ‘Ella, would you kindly bring me that box of Milk-bones?’
Charlie broke up one of the biscuits, then took the dog on his lap. He held a piece of biscuit in his closed fist, letting Rusty sniff it, then opened his hand and allowed the dog to eat the morsel. He took another piece, making sure the dog knew he had it. Then he stood up and put the dog at his feet. Rusty kept an alert gaze on Charlie’s closed fist. ‘Walk to heel!’ Charlie said, and walked a few steps.
The dog followed him.
‘Good boy!’ Charlie said, and gave Rusty the biscuit.
‘That’s amazing!’ Daisy said.
‘After a while you won’t need the biscuit – he’ll do it for a pat. Then eventually he’ll do it automatically.’
‘Charlie, you are a genius!’
Charlie looked pleased. He had nice brown eyes, just like the dog, she observed. ‘Now you try,’ he said to Daisy.
She copied what Charlie had done, and achieved the same result.
‘See?’ said Charlie. ‘It’s not so hard.’
Daisy laughed with delight. ‘We should go into business,’ she said. ‘Farquharson and Peshkov, dog trainers.’
‘What a nice idea,’ he said, and he seemed to mean it.
This was going very well, Daisy thought.
She went to the table and poured two glasses of lemonade.
Standing beside her, he said: ‘I’m usually a bit shy with girls.’
No kidding, she thought, but she kept her mouth firmly closed.
‘But you’re so easy to talk to,’ he went on. He imagined that was a happy accident.
As she handed a glass to him she fumbled, spilling lemonade on him. ‘Oh, how clumsy!’ she cried.
‘It’s nothing,’ he said, but the drink had wet his linen blazer and his white cotton trousers. He pulled out a handkerchief and began to mop it.
‘Here, let me,’ said Daisy, and she took the handkerchief from his large hand.
She moved intimately close to pat his lapel. He went still, and she knew he could smell her Jean Naté perfume – lavender notes on top, musk underneath. She brushed the handkerchief caressingly over the front of his jacket, though there was no spill there. ‘Almost done,’ she said as if she regretted having to stop soon.
Then she went down on one knee as if worshipping him. She began to blot the wet patches on his pants with butterfly lightness. As she stroked his thigh she put on a look of alluring innocence and looked up. He was staring down at her, breathing hard through his open mouth, mesmerized.
Woody Dewar impatiently inspected the yacht Sprinter, checking that the kids had made everything shipshape. She was a forty-eight-foot racing ketch, long and slender like a knife. Dave Rouzrokh had loaned her to the Shipmates, a club Woody belonged to that took the sons of Buffalo’s unemployed out on Lake Erie and taught them the rudiments of sailing. Woody was glad to see that the dock lines and fenders were set, the sails furled, the halyards tied off, and all the other lines neatly coiled.
His brother Chuck, a year younger at fourteen, was on the dock already, joshing with a couple of coloured kids. Chuck had an easygoing manner that enabled him to get on with everyone. Woody, who wanted to go into politics like their father, envied Chuck’s effortless charm.
The boys wore nothing but shorts and sandals, and the three on the dock looked a picture of youthful strength and vitality. Woody would have liked to have taken a photograph, if he had had his camera with him. He was a keen photographer and had built a darkroom at home so that he could develop and print his own pictures.
Satisfied that the Sprinter was being left as they had found her this morning, Woody jumped on to the dock. A group of a dozen youngsters left the boatyard together, windswept and sunburned, aching pleasantly from their exertions, laughing as they relived the day’s blunders and pratfalls and jokes.
The gap between the two rich brothers and the crowd of poor boys had vanished when they were out on the water, working together to control the yacht, but now it reappeared in the parking lot of the Buffalo Yacht Club. Two vehicles stood side by side: Senator Dewar’s Chrysler Airflow, with a uniformed chauffeur at the wheel, for Woody and Chuck; and a Chevrolet Roadster pickup truck with two wooden benches in the back for the others. Woody felt embarrassed, saying goodbye as the chauffeur held the door for him, but the boys did not seem to care, thanking him and saying: ‘See you next Saturday!’
As they drove up Delaware Avenue, Woody said: ‘That was fun, though I’m not sure how much good it does.’
Chuck was surprised. ‘Why?’
‘Well, we’re not helping their fathers find jobs, and that’s the only thing that really counts.’
‘It might help the sons get work in a few years’ time.’ Buffalo was a port city: in normal times there were thousands of jobs on merchant ships plying the Great Lakes and the Erie Canal, as well as on pleasure craft.
‘Provided the President can get the economy moving again.’
Chuck shrugged. ‘So go work for Roosevelt.’
‘Why not? Papa worked for Woodrow Wilson.’
‘I’ll stick with the sailing.’
Woody checked his wristwatch. ‘We’ve got time to change for the ball – just.’ They were going to a dinner-dance at the Racquet Club. Anticipation made his heart beat faster. ‘I want to be with humans that have soft skin, speak with high voices, and wear pink dresses.’
‘Huh,’ Chuck said derisively. ‘Joanne Rouzrokh never wore pink in her life.’
Woody was taken aback. He had been dreaming about Joanne all day and half the night for a couple of weeks, but how did his brother know that? ‘What makes you think—’
‘Oh, come on,’ Chuck said scornfully. ‘When she arrived at the beach party in a tennis skirt you practically fainted. Everyone could see you were crazy about her. Fortunately she didn’t seem to notice.’
‘Why was that fortunate?’
‘For God’s sake – you’re fifteen, and she’s eighteen. It’s embarrassing! She’s looking for a husband, not a schoolboy.’
‘Oh, gee, thanks, I forgot what an expert you are on women.’
Chuck flushed. He had never had a girlfriend. ‘You don’t have to be an expert to see what’s under your goddamn nose.’
They talked like this all the time. There was no malice in it: they were just brutally frank with each other. They were brothers, so there was no need to be nice.
They reached home, a mock-Gothic mansion built by their late grandfather, Senator Cam Dewar. They ran inside to shower and change.
Woody was now the same height as his father, and he put on one of Papa’s old dress suits. It was a bit worn, but that was all right. The younger boys would be wearing school suits or blazers, but the college men would have tuxedos, and Woody was keen to look older. Tonight he would dance with her, he thought as he slicked his hair with brilliantine. He would be allowed to hold her in his arms. The palms of his hands would feel the warmth of her skin. He would look into her eyes as she smiled. Her breasts would brush against his jacket as they danced.
When he came down, his parents were waiting in the drawing room, Papa drinking a cocktail, Mama smoking a cigarette. Papa was long and thin, and looked like a coat-hanger in his double-breasted tuxedo. Mama was beautiful, despite having only one eye, the other being permanently closed – she had been born that way. Tonight she looked stunning in a floor-length dress, black lace over red silk, and a short black velvet evening jacket.
Woody’s grandmother was the last to arrive. At sixty-eight she was poised and elegant, as thin as her son but petite. She studied Mama’s dress and said: ‘Rosa, dear, you look wonderful.’ She was always kind to her daughter-in-law. To everyone else she was waspish.
Gus made her a cocktail without being asked. Woody hid his impatience while she took her time drinking it. Grandmama could never be hurried. She assumed no social event would begin before she arrived: she was the grand old lady of Buffalo society, widow of a senator and mother of another, matriarch of one of the city’s oldest and most distinguished families.
Woody asked himself when he had fallen for Joanne. He had known her most of his life, but he had always regarded girls as uninteresting spectators to the exciting adventures of boys – until two or three years ago, when girls had suddenly become even more fascinating than cars and speedboats. Even then he had been more interested in girls his own age or a little younger. Joanne, for her part, had always treated him as a kid – a bright kid, worth talking to now and again, but certainly not a possible boyfriend. But this summer, for no reason he could put a finger on, he had suddenly begun to see her as the most alluring girl in the world. Sadly, her feelings for him had not undergone a similar transformation.
Grandmama addressed a question to his brother. ‘How is school, Chuck?’
‘Terrible, Grandmama, as you know perfectly well. I’m the family cretin, a throwback to our chimpanzee forbears.’
‘Cretins don’t use phrases such as “our chimpanzee forbears” in my experience. Are you quite sure laziness plays no part?’
Rosa butted in. ‘Chuck’s teachers say he works pretty hard at school, Mama.’
Gus added: ‘And he beats me at chess.’
‘Then I ask what the problem is,’ Grandmama persisted. ‘If this goes on, he won’t get into Harvard.’
Chuck said: ‘I’m a slow reader, that’s all.’
‘Curious,’ she said. ‘My father-in-law, your paternal great-grandfather, was the most successful banker of his generation, yet he could barely read or write.’
Chuck said: ‘I didn’t know that.’
‘It’s true,’ she said. ‘But don’t use it as an excuse. Work harder.’
Gus looked at his watch. ‘If you’re ready, Mama, we’d better go.’
At last they got into the car and drove to the club. Papa had taken a table for the dinner and had invited the Renshaws and their offspring, Dot and George. Woody looked around but, to his disappointment, he did not see Joanne. He checked the table plan, on an easel in the lobby, and was dismayed to see that there was no Rouzrokh table. Were they not coming? That would ruin his evening.
The talk over the lobster and steak was of events in Germany. Philip Renshaw thought Hitler was doing a good job. Woody’s father said: ‘According to today’s Sentinel, they jailed a Catholic priest for criticizing the Nazis.’
‘Are you Catholic?’ asked Mr Renshaw in surprise.
‘It’s not about religion, Philip,’ said Rosa crisply. ‘It’s about freedom.’ Woody’s mother had been an anarchist in her youth, and she was still a libertarian at heart.
Some people skipped the dinner and came later for the dancing, and more revellers appeared as the Dewars were served dessert. Woody kept his eyes peeled for Joanne. In the next room a band started to play ‘The Continental’, a hit from last year.
He could not say what it was about Joanne that had so captivated him. Most people would not call her a great beauty, though she was certainly striking. She looked like an Aztec queen, with high cheekbones and the same knife-blade nose as her father, Dave. Her hair was dark and thick and her skin an olive shade, no doubt because of her Persian ancestry. There was a brooding intensity about her that made Woody long to know her better, to make her relax and hear her murmur softly about nothing in particular. He felt that her formidable presence must signify a capacity for deep passion. Then he thought: Now who’s pretending to be an expert on women?
‘Are you looking out for someone, Woody?’ said Grandmama, who did not miss much.
Chuck sniggered knowingly.
‘Just wondering who’s coming to the dance,’ Woody replied casually, but he could not help blushing.
He still had not spotted her when his mother stood up and they all left the table. Disconsolate, he wandered into the ballroom to the strains of Benny Goodman’s ‘Moonglow’ – and there Joanne was: she must have come in when he wasn’t looking. His spirits lifted.
Tonight she wore a dramatically simple silver-grey silk dress with a deep V-neck that showed off her figure. She had looked sensational in a tennis skirt that revealed her long brown legs, but this was even more arousing. As she glided across the room, graceful and confident, she made Woody’s throat go dry.
He moved towards her, but the ballroom had filled up, and suddenly he was irritatingly popular: everyone wanted to talk to him. During his progress through the crowd he was surprised to see dull old Charlie Farquharson dancing with the vivacious Daisy Peshkov. He could not recall seeing Charlie dance with anyone, let alone a tootsie like Daisy. What had she done to bring him out of his shell?
By the time he reached Joanne, she was at the end of the room farthest from the band, and to his chagrin she was deep in discussion with a group of boys four or five years older than he. Fortunately, he was taller than most of them, so the difference was not too obvious. They were all holding Coke glasses, but Woody could smell Scotch: one of them must have a bottle in his pocket.
As he joined them, he heard Victor Dixon say: ‘No one’s in favour of lynching, but you have to understand the problems they have in the South.’
Woody knew that Senator Wagner had proposed a law to punish sheriffs who permitted lynchings – but President Roosevelt had refused to back the bill.
Joanne was outraged. ‘How can you say that, Victor? Lynching is murder! We don’t have to understand their problems, we have to stop them killing people!’
Woody was pleased to learn how much Joanne shared his political values. But clearly this was not a good time to ask her to dance, which was unfortunate.
‘You don’t get it, Joanne, honey,’ said Victor. ‘Those Southern Negroes are not really civilized.’
I might be young and inexperienced, Woody thought, but I wouldn’t have made the mistake of speaking so condescendingly to Joanne.
‘It’s the people who carry out lynchings who are uncivilized!’ she said.
Woody decided this was the moment to make his contribution to the argument. ‘Joanne is right,’ he said. He made his voice lower in pitch, to sound older. ‘There was a lynching in the home town of our help, Joe and Betty, who have looked after me and my brother since we were babies. Betty’s cousin was stripped naked and burned with a blowtorch, while a crowd watched. Then he was hanged.’ Victor glared at him, resentful of this kid who was taking Joanne’s attention away; but the others in the group listened with horrified interest. ‘I don’t care what his crime was,’ Woody said. ‘The white people who did that to him are savages.’
Victor said: ‘Your beloved President Roosevelt didn’t support the anti-lynch bill, though, did he?’
‘No, and that was very disappointing,’ said Woody. ‘I know why he made that decision: he was afraid that angry Southern congressmen would retaliate by sabotaging the New Deal. All the same, I would have liked him to tell them to go to hell.’
Victor said: ‘What do you know? You’re just a kid.’ He took a silver flask from his jacket pocket and topped up his drink.
Joanne said: ‘Woody’s political ideas are more grown-up than yours, Victor.’
Woody glowed. ‘Politics is kind of the family business,’ he said. Then he was irritated by a tug at his elbow. Too polite to ignore it, he turned to see Charlie Farquharson, perspiring from his exertions on the dance floor.
‘Can I talk to you for a minute?’ said Charlie.
Woody resisted the temptation to tell him to buzz off. Charlie was a likeable guy who did no harm to anyone. You had to feel sorry for a man with a mother like that. ‘What is it, Charlie?’ he said with as much good grace as he could muster.
‘It’s about Daisy.’
‘I saw you dancing with her.’
‘Isn’t she a great dancer?’
Woody had not noticed but, to be nice, he said: ‘You bet she is!’
‘She’s great at everything.’
‘Charlie,’ said Woody, trying to suppress a tone of incredulity, ‘are you and Daisy courting?’
Charlie looked bashful. ‘We’ve been horse riding in the park a couple of times, and so on.’
‘So you are courting.’ Woody was surprised. They seemed an unlikely pair. Charlie was such a lump, and Daisy was a poppet.
Charlie added: ‘She’s not like other girls. She’s so easy to talk to! And she loves dogs and horses. But people think her father is a gangster.’
‘I guess he is a gangster, Charlie. Everyone bought their liquor from him during Prohibition.’
‘That’s what my mother says.’
‘So your mother doesn’t like Daisy.’ Woody was not surprised.
‘She likes Daisy fine. It’s Daisy’s family she objects to.’
An even more surprising thought occurred to Woody. ‘Are you thinking of marrying Daisy?’
‘Oh, God, yes,’ said Charlie. ‘And I think she might say yes, if I asked her.’
Well, Woody thought, Charlie had class but no money, and Daisy was the opposite, so maybe they would complement one another. ‘Stranger things have happened,’ he said. This was kind of fascinating, but he wanted to concentrate on his own romantic life. He looked around, checking that Joanne was still there. ‘Why are you telling me this?’ he asked Charlie. It was not as if they were great friends.
‘My mother might change her mind if Mrs Peshkov were invited to join the Buffalo Ladies Society.’
Woody had not been expecting that. ‘Why, it’s the snobbiest club in town!’
‘Exactly. If Olga Peshkov were a member, how could Mom object to Daisy?’
Woody did not know whether this scheme would work or not, but there was no doubting the earnest warmth of Charlie’s feelings. ‘Maybe you’re right,’ Woody said.
‘Would you approach your grandmother for me?’
‘Whoa! Wait a minute. Grandmama Dewar is a dragon. I wouldn’t ask her for a favour for myself, let alone for you.’
‘Woody, listen to me. You know she’s really the boss of that little clique. If she wants someone, they’re in – and if she doesn’t, they’re out.’
This was true. The Society had a chairwoman and a secretary and a treasurer, but Ursula Dewar ran the club as if it belonged to her. All the same, Woody was reluctant to petition her. She might bite his head off. ‘I don’t know,’ he said apologetically.
‘Oh, come on, Woody, please. You don’t understand.’ Charlie lowered his voice. ‘You don’t know what it’s like to love someone this much.’
Yes, I do, Woody thought; and that changed his mind. If Charlie feels as bad as I do, how can I refuse him? I hope someone else would do the same for me, if it meant I had a better chance with Joanne. ‘Okay, Charlie,’ he said. ‘I’ll talk to her.’
‘Thanks! Say – she’s here, isn’t she? Could you do it tonight?’
‘Hell, no. I’ve got other things on my mind.’
‘Okay, sure . . . but when?’
Woody shrugged. ‘I’ll do it tomorrow.’
‘You’re a pal!’
‘Don’t thank me yet. She’ll probably say no.’
Woody turned back to speak to Joanne, but she had gone.
He began to look for her, then stopped himself. He must not appear desperate. A needy man was not sexy, he knew that much.
He danced dutifully with several girls: Dot Renshaw, Daisy Peshkov, and Daisy’s German friend Eva. He got a Coke and went outside to where some of the boys were smoking cigarettes. George Renshaw poured some Scotch into Woody’s Coke, which improved the taste, but he did not want to get drunk. He had done that before and he did not like it.
Joanne would want a man who shared her intellectual interests, Woody believed – and that would rule out Victor Dixon. Woody had heard Joanne mention Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud. In the public library he had read the Communist Manifesto, but it just seemed like a political rant. He had had more fun with Freud’s Studies in Hysteria, which made a kind of detective story out of mental illness. He was looking forward to letting Joanne know, in a casual way, that he had read these books.
He was determined to dance with Joanne at least once tonight, and after a while he went in search of her. She was not in the ballroom or the bar. Had he missed his chance? In trying not to show his desperation, had he been too passive? It was unbearable to think that the ball could end without his even having touched her shoulder.
He stepped outside again. It was dark, but he saw her almost immediately. She was walking away from Greg Peshkov, looking a little flushed, as if she had been arguing with him. ‘You might be the only person here who isn’t a goddamned conservative,’ she said to Woody. She sounded a little drunk.
Woody smiled. ‘Thanks for the compliment – I think.’
‘Do you know about the march tomorrow?’ she asked abruptly.
He did. Strikers from the Buffalo Metal Works planned a demonstration to protest against the beating up of union men from New York. Woody guessed that was the subject of her argument with Greg: his father owned the factory. ‘I was planning to go,’ he said. ‘I might take some photographs.’
‘Bless you,’ she said, and she kissed him.
He was so surprised that he almost failed to respond. For a second he stood there passively as she crushed her mouth to his, and he tasted whisky on her lips.
Then he recovered his composure. He put his arms around her and pressed her body to his, feeling her breasts and her thighs press delightfully against him. Part of him feared she would be offended, push him away, and angrily accuse him of treating her disrespectfully; but a deeper instinct told him he was on safe ground.
He had little experience of kissing girls – and none of kissing mature women of eighteen – but he liked the feel of her soft mouth so much that he moved his lips against hers in little nibbling motions that gave him exquisite pleasure, and he was rewarded by hearing her moan quietly.
He was vaguely aware that if one of the older generation should walk by, there might be an embarrassing scene, but he was too aroused to care.
Joanne’s mouth opened and he felt her tongue. This was new to him: the few girls he had kissed had not done that. But he figured she must know what she was doing, and anyway he really liked it. He imitated the motions of her tongue with his own. It was shockingly intimate and highly exciting. It must have been the right thing to do, because she moaned again.
Summoning his nerve, he put his right hand on her left breast. It was wonderfully soft and heavy under the silk of her dress. As he caressed it he felt a small protuberance and thought, with a thrill of discovery, that it must be her nipple. He rubbed it with his thumb.
She pulled away from him abruptly. ‘Good God,’ she said. ‘What am I doing?’
‘You’re kissing me,’ Woody said happily. He rested his hands on her round hips. He could feel the heat of her skin through the silk dress. ‘Let’s do it some more.’
She pushed his hands away. ‘I must be out of my mind. This is the Racquet Club, for Christ’s sake.’
Woody could see that the spell had been broken, and sadly there would be no more kissing tonight. He looked around. ‘Don’t worry,’ he said. ‘No one saw.’ He felt enjoyably conspiratorial.
‘I’d better go home, before I do something even more stupid.’
He tried not to be offended. ‘May I escort you to your car?’
‘Are you crazy? If we walk in there together everyone will guess what we’ve been doing – especially with that dumb grin all over your face.’
Woody tried to stop grinning. ‘Then why don’t you go inside and I’ll wait out here for a minute?’
‘Good idea.’ She walked away.
‘See you tomorrow,’ he called after her.
She did not look back.
Ursula Dewar had her own small suite of rooms in the old Victorian mansion on Delaware Avenue. There was a bedroom, a bathroom and a dressing room; and after her husband died she had converted his dressing room into a little parlour. Most of the time she had the whole house to herself: Gus and Rosa spent a lot of time in Washington, and Woody and Chuck went to a boarding school. But when they came home she spent a good deal of the day in her own quarters.
Woody went to talk to her on Sunday morning. He was still walking on air after Joanne’s kiss, though he had spent half the night trying to figure out what it had meant. It could signify anything from true love to true drunkenness. All he knew was that he could hardly wait to see Joanne again.
He walked into his grandmother’s room behind the maid, Betty, as she took in the breakfast tray. He liked it that Joanne got angry about the way Betty’s Southern relations were treated. In politics, dispassionate argument was overrated, he felt. People should get angry about cruelty and injustice.
Grandmama was already sitting up in bed, wearing a lace shawl over a mushroom-coloured silk nightgown. ‘Good morning, Woodrow!’ she said, surprised.
‘I’d like to have a cup of coffee with you, Grandmama, if I may.’ He had already asked Betty to bring two cups.
‘This is an honour,’ Ursula said.
Betty was a grey-haired woman of about fifty with the kind of figure that was sometimes called comfortable. She set the tray in front of Ursula, and Woody poured coffee into Meissen cups.
He had given some thought to what he would say, and had marshalled his arguments. Prohibition was over, and Lev Peshkov was now a legitimate businessman, he would contend. Furthermore, it was not fair to punish Daisy because her father had been a criminal – especially since most of the respectable families in Buffalo had bought his illegal booze.
‘Do you know Charlie Farquharson?’ he began.
‘Yes.’ Of course she did. She knew every family in the Buffalo ‘Blue Book’. She said: ‘Would you like a piece of this toast?’
‘No, thank you, I’ve had breakfast.’
‘Boys of your age never have enough to eat.’ She looked at him shrewdly. ‘Unless they’re in love.’
She was on good form this morning.
Woody said: ‘Charlie is kind of under the thumb of his mother.’
‘She kept her husband there, too,’ Ursula said drily. ‘Dying was the only way he could get free.’ She drank some coffee and started to eat her grapefruit with a fork.
‘Charlie came to me last night and asked me to ask you a favour.’
She raised an eyebrow, but said nothing.
Woody took a breath. ‘He wants you to invite Mrs Peshkov to join the Buffalo Ladies Society.’
Ursula dropped her fork, and there was a chime of silver on fine porcelain. As if covering her discomposure, she said: ‘Pour me some more coffee, please, Woody.’
He did her bidding, saying nothing for the moment. He could not recall ever seeing her discombobulated.
She sipped the coffee and said: ‘Why in the name of heaven would Charles Farquharson, or anyone else for that matter, want Olga Peshkov in the Society?’
‘He wants to marry Daisy.’
‘And he’s afraid his mother will object.’
‘He’s got that part right.’
‘But he thinks he might be able to talk her around . . .’
‘. . . if I let Olga into the Society.’
‘Then people might forget that her father was a gangster.’
‘Well, a bootlegger at least.’
‘Oh, that,’ Ursula said dismissively. ‘That’s not it.’
‘Really?’ It was Woody’s turn to be surprised. ‘What is it, then?’
Ursula looked thoughtful. She was silent for such a long time that Woody wondered if she had forgotten he was there. Then she said: ‘Your father was in love with Olga Peshkov.’
‘Don’t be vulgar.’
‘Sorry, Grandmama, you surprised me.’
‘They were engaged to be married.’
‘Engaged?’ he said, astonished. He thought for a minute, then said: ‘I suppose I’m the only person in Buffalo who doesn’t know about this.’
She smiled at him. ‘There is a special mixture of wisdom and innocence that comes only to adolescents. I remember it so clearly in your father, and I see it in you. Yes, everyone in Buffalo knows, though your generation undoubtedly regard it as boring ancient history.’
‘Well, what happened?’ Woody said. ‘I mean, who broke it off?’
‘She did, when she got pregnant.’
Woody’s mouth fell open. ‘By Papa?’
‘No, by her chauffeur – Lev Peshkov.’
‘He was the chauffeur?’ This was one shock after another. Woody was silent, trying to take it in. ‘My goodness, Papa must have felt such a fool.’
‘Your Papa was never a fool,’ Ursula said sharply. ‘The only foolish thing he did in his life was to propose to Olga.’
Woody remembered his mission. ‘All the same, Grandmama, it was an awful long time ago.’
‘Awfully. You require an adverb, not an adjective. But your judgement is better than your grammar. It is a long time.’
That sounded hopeful. ‘So you’ll do it?’
‘How do you think your father would feel?’
Woody considered. He could not bullshit Ursula – she would see through it in a heartbeat. ‘Would he care? I guess he might be embarrassed, if Olga were around as a constant reminder of a humiliating episode in his youth.’
‘You guess right.’
‘On the other hand, he’s very committed to the ideal of behaving fairly to the people around him. He hates injustice. He wouldn’t want to punish Daisy for something her mother did. Even less to punish Charlie. Papa has a pretty big heart.’
‘Bigger than mine, you mean,’ said Ursula.
‘I didn’t mean that, Grandmama. But I bet if you asked him he wouldn’t object to Olga joining the Society.’
Ursula nodded. ‘I agree. But I wonder whether you’ve worked out who is the real originator of this request?’
Woody saw what she was driving at. ‘Oh, you’re saying Daisy put Charlie up to it? I wouldn’t be surprised. Does it make any difference to the rights and wrongs of the situation?’
‘I guess not.’
‘So, will you do it?’
‘I’m glad to have a grandson with a kind heart – even if I do suspect he’s being used by a clever and ambitious girl.’
Woody smiled. ‘Is that a yes, Grandmama?’
‘You know I can’t guarantee anything. I’ll suggest it to the committee.’
Ursula’s suggestions were regarded by everyone else as royal commands, but Woody did not say so. ‘Thank you. You’re very kind.’
‘Now give me a kiss and get ready for church.’
Woody made his escape.
He quickly forgot about Charlie and Daisy. Sitting in the Cathedral of St Paul in Shelton Square, he ignored the sermon – about Noah and the Flood – and thought about Joanne Rouzrokh. Her parents were in church, but she was not. Would she really show up at the demonstration? If she did, he was going to ask her for a date. But would she accept?
She was too smart to care about the age difference, he reckoned. She must know she had more in common with Woody than with boneheads such as Victor Dixon. And that kiss! He was still tingling from it. What she had done with her tongue – did other girls do that? He wanted to try it again, as soon as he could.
Thinking ahead, if she did agree to date him, what would happen in September? She was going to Vassar College, in the town of Poughkeepsie, he knew that. He would return to school and not see her until Christmas. Vassar was for girls only but there must be men in Poughkeepsie. Would she date other guys? He was jealous already.
Outside the church he told his parents he was not coming home for lunch, but was going on the protest march.
‘Good for you,’ his mother said. When young she had been the editor of the Buffalo Anarchist. She turned to her husband. ‘You should go, too, Gus.’
‘The union has brought charges,’ Papa said. ‘You know I can’t prejudge the result of a court case.’
She turned back to Woody. ‘Just don’t get beaten up by Lev Peshkov’s goons.’
Woody got his camera out of the trunk of his father’s car. It was a Leica III, so small he could carry it on a strap around his neck, yet it had shutter speeds as fast as one five-hundredth of a second.
He walked a few blocks to Niagara Square, where the march was to begin. Lev Peshkov had tried to persuade the city to ban the demonstration on the grounds that it would lead to violence, but the union had insisted it would be peaceful. The union seemed to have won that argument, for several hundred people were milling around outside City Hall. Many carried lovingly embroidered banners, red flags, and placards reading: Say No to Boss Thugs. Woody looked around for Joanne but did not see her.
The weather was fine and the mood was sunny, and he took a few shots: workmen in their Sunday suits and hats; a car festooned with banners; a young cop biting his nails. There was still no sign of Joanne, and he began to think that she would not appear. She might have a headache this morning, he guessed.
The march was due to move off at noon. It finally got going a few minutes before one. There was a heavy police presence along the route, Woody noted. He found himself near the middle of the procession.
As they walked south on Washington Street, heading for the city’s industrial heartland, he saw Joanne join the march a few yards ahead, and his heart leaped. She was wearing tailored pants that flattered her figure. He hurried to catch up with her. ‘Good afternoon!’ he said happily.
‘Good grief, you’re cheerful,’ she said.
It was an understatement. He was delirious with happiness. ‘Are you hungover?’
‘Either that or I’ve contracted the Black Death. Which do you think it is?’
‘If you have a rash, it’s the Black Death. Are there any spots?’ Woody hardly knew what he was saying. ‘I’m not a doctor, but I’d be happy to check you over.’
‘Stop being irrepressible. I know it’s charming, but I’m not in the mood.’
Woody tried to calm down. ‘We missed you in church,’ he said. ‘The sermon was about Noah.’
To his consternation she burst out laughing. ‘Oh, Woody,’ she said. ‘I like you so much when you’re funny, but please don’t make me laugh today.’
He thought this remark was probably favourable, but he was far from certain.
He spotted an open grocery store on a side street. ‘You need fluids,’ he said. ‘I’ll be right back.’ He ran into the store and bought two bottles of Coke, ice-cold from the refrigerator. He got the clerk to open them, then returned to the march. When he handed a bottle to Joanne, she said: ‘Oh, boy, you’re a life saver.’ She put the bottle to her lips and drank a long draught.
Woody felt he was ahead, so far.
The march was good-humoured, despite the grim incident they were protesting about. A group of older men were singing political anthems and traditional songs. There were even a few families with children. And there was not a cloud in the sky.
‘Have you read Studies in Hysteria?’ Woody asked as they walked along.
‘Never heard of it.’
‘Oh! It’s by Sigmund Freud. I thought you were a fan of his.’
‘I’m interested in his ideas. I’ve never read one of his books.’
‘You should. Studies in Hysteria is amazing.’
She looked curiously at him. ‘What made you read a book such as that? I bet they don’t teach psychology at your expensively old-fashioned school.’
‘Oh, I don’t know. I guess I heard you talking about psychoanalysis and thought it sounded really extraordinary. And it is.’
‘In what way?’
Woody had the feeling she was testing him, to see whether he had really understood the book or was merely pretending. ‘The idea that a crazy act, such as obsessively spilling ink on a tablecloth, can have a kind of hidden logic.’
She nodded. ‘Yeah,’ she said. ‘That’s it.’
Woody knew instinctively that she did not understand what he was talking about. He had already overtaken her in his knowledge of Freud, but she was embarrassed to admit it.
‘What’s your favourite thing to do?’ he asked her. ‘Theatre? Classical music? I guess going to a film is no big treat for someone whose father owns about a hundred movie houses.’
‘Why do you ask?’
‘Well . . .’ He decided to be honest. ‘I want to ask you out, and I’d like to tempt you with something you really love to do. So name it, and we’ll do it.’
She smiled at him, but it was not the smile he was hoping for. It was friendly but sympathetic, and it told him that bad news was coming. ‘Woody, I’d like to, but you’re fifteen.’
‘As you said last night, I’m more mature than Victor Dixon.’
‘I wouldn’t go out with him, either.’
Woody’s throat seemed to constrict, and his voice came out hoarse. ‘Are you turning me down?’
‘Yes, very firmly. I don’t want to date a boy three years younger.’
‘Can I ask you again in three years? We’ll be the same age then.’
She laughed, then said: ‘Stop being witty, it hurts my head.’
Woody decided not to hide his pain. What did he have to lose? Feeling anguished, he said: ‘So what was that kiss about?’
‘It was nothing.’
He shook his head miserably. ‘It was something to me. It was the best kiss I’ve ever had.’
‘Oh, God, I knew it was a mistake. Look, it was just a bit of fun. Yes, I enjoyed it – be flattered, you’re entitled. You’re a cute kid, and smart as a whip, but a kiss is not a declaration of love, Woody, no matter how much you enjoy it.’
They were near the front of the march, and Woody saw their destination up ahead: the high wall around the Buffalo Metal Works. The gate was closed and guarded by a dozen or more factory police, thuggish men in light-blue shirts that mimicked police uniform.
‘And I was drunk,’ Joanne added.
‘Yeah, I was drunk, too,’ Woody said.
It was a pathetic attempt to salvage his dignity, but Joanne had the grace to pretend to believe him. ‘Then we both did something a little foolish, and we should just forget it,’ she said.
‘Yeah,’ said Woody, looking away.
They were outside the factory now. Those at the head of the march stopped at the gates, and someone began to make a speech through a bullhorn. Looking more closely, Woody saw that the speaker was a local union organizer, Brian Hall. Woody’s father knew and liked the man: at some time in the dim past they had worked together to resolve a strike.
The rear of the procession kept coming forward, and a crush developed across the width of the street. The factory police were keeping the entrance clear, though the gates were shut. Woody now saw that they were armed with police-type nightsticks. One of them was shouting: ‘Stay away from the gate! This is private property!’ Woody lifted his camera and took a picture.
But the people at the front were being pushed forward by those behind. Woody took Joanne’s arm and tried to steer her away from the focus of tension. However, it was difficult: the crowd was dense, now, and no one wanted to move out of the way. Against his will, Woody found himself edging closer to the factory gate and the guards with nightsticks. ‘This is not a good situation,’ he said to Joanne.
But she was flushed with excitement. ‘Those bastards can’t keep us back!’ she cried.
A man next to her shouted: ‘Right! Damn right!’
The crowd was still ten yards or more from the gate but, just the same, the guards unnecessarily began to push demonstrators away. Woody took a photograph.
Brian Hall had been yelling into his bullhorn about boss thugs and pointing an accusing finger at the factory police. Now he changed his tune and began to call for calm. ‘Move away from the gates, please, brothers,’ he said. ‘Move back, no rough stuff.’
Woody saw a woman pushed by a guard hard enough to make her stumble. She did not fall over, but she cried out, and the man with her said to the guard: ‘Hey, buddy, take it easy, will you?’
‘Are you trying to start something?’ the guard said challengingly.
The woman yelled: ‘Just stop shoving!’
‘Move back, move back!’ the guard shouted. He raised his nightstick. The woman screamed.
As the nightstick came down, Woody took a picture.
Joanne said: ‘The son of a bitch hit that woman!’ She stepped forward.
But most of the crowd began to move in the opposite direction, away from the factory. As they turned, the guards came after them, shoving, kicking, and lashing out with their truncheons.
Brian Hall said: ‘There is no need for violence! Factory police, step back! Do not use your clubs!’ Then his bullhorn was knocked out of his hands by a guard.
Some of the younger men fought back. Half a dozen real policemen moved into the crowd. They did nothing to restrain the factory police, but began to arrest anyone fighting back.
The guard who had started the fracas fell to the ground, and two demonstrators started kicking him.
Woody took a picture.
Joanne was screaming with fury. She threw herself at a guard and scratched his face. He put out a hand to shove her away. Accidentally or otherwise, the heel of his hand connected sharply with her nose. She fell back with blood coming from her nostrils. The guard raised his nightstick. Woody grabbed her by the waist and jerked her back. The stick missed her. ‘Come on!’ Woody yelled at her. ‘We have to get out of here!’
The blow to her face had deflated her fury, and she offered no resistance as he half pulled, half carried her away from the gates as fast as he could, his camera swinging on the strap around his neck. The crowd was panicking now, people falling over and others trampling them as everyone tried to flee.
Woody was taller than most and he managed to keep himself and Joanne upright. They fought their way through the crush, staying just ahead of the nightsticks. At last the crowd thinned out. Joanne detached herself from his grasp and they both began to run.
The noise of the fight receded behind them. They turned a couple of corners and, a minute later, found themselves on a deserted street of factories and warehouses, all closed on Sunday. They slowed to a walk, catching their breath. Joanne began to laugh. ‘That was so exciting!’ she said.
Woody could not share her enthusiasm. ‘It was nasty,’ he said. ‘And it could have got worse.’ He had rescued her, and he half hoped that might cause her to change her mind about dating him.
But she did not feel she owed him much. ‘Oh, come on,’ she said in a tone of disparagement. ‘Nobody died.’
‘Those guards deliberately provoked a riot!’
‘Of course they did! Peshkov wants to make union members look bad.’
‘Well, we know the truth.’ Woody tapped his camera. ‘And I can prove it.’
They walked half a mile, then Woody saw a cruising cab and hailed it. He gave the driver the address of the Rouzrokh family home.
Sitting in the back of the taxi, he took a handkerchief from his pocket. ‘I don’t want to bring you home to your father looking like this,’ he said. He unfolded the white cotton square and gently dabbed at the blood on her upper lip.
It was an intimate act, and he found it sexy, but she did not indulge him for long. After a second she said: ‘I’ve got it.’ She took the handkerchief from his grasp and cleaned herself up. ‘How’s that?’
‘You’ve missed a bit,’ he lied. He took the handkerchief back. Her mouth was wide, she had even, white teeth, and her lips were enchantingly full. He pretended there was something under her lower lip. He wiped it gently, then said: ‘Better.’
‘Thanks.’ She looked at him with an odd expression, half fond, half annoyed. She knew he had been lying about the blood on her chin, he guessed, and she was not sure whether to be cross with him or not.
The cab halted outside her house. ‘Don’t come in,’ she said. ‘I’m going to lie to my parents about where I’ve been, and I don’t want you blabbing the truth.’
Woody reckoned he was probably the more discreet of the two of them, but he did not say so. ‘I’ll call you later.’
‘Okay.’ She got out of the taxi and walked up the driveway with a perfunctory wave.
‘She’s a doll,’ said the driver. ‘Too old for you, though.’
‘Take me to Delaware Avenue,’ Woody said. He gave the number and the cross street. He was not going to talk about Joanne to a goddamn cabby.
He pondered his rejection. He should not have been surprised: everyone from his brother to the taxi driver said he was too young for her. All the same it hurt. He felt as if he did not know what to do with his life now. How would he get through the rest of the day?
Back at home, his parents were taking their ritual Sunday afternoon nap. Chuck believed that was when they had sex. Chuck himself had gone swimming with a bunch of friends, according to Betty.
Woody went into the darkroom and developed the film from his camera. He ran warm water into the basin to bring the chemicals to the ideal temperature, then put the film into a black bag to transfer it into a light-trap tank.
It was a lengthy process that required patience, but he was happy to sit in the dark and think about Joanne. Their being together during a riot had not made her fall in love with him, but it had certainly brought them closer. He felt sure she was at least growing to like him more and more. Maybe her rejection was not final. Perhaps he should keep trying. He certainly had no interest in any other girls.
When his timer rang, he transferred the film into a stop bath to halt the chemical reaction, then to a bath of fixer to make the image permanent. Finally, he washed and dried his film and looked at the negative black-and-white images on the reel.
He thought they were pretty good.
He cut the film into frames, then put the first into the enlarger. He laid a sheet of ten-by-eight photographic paper on the base of the enlarger, turned on the light, and exposed the paper to the negative image while he counted seconds. Then he put the print into an open bath of developer.
This was the best part of the process. Slowly the white paper began to show patches of grey, and the image he had photographed began to appear. It always seemed to him like a miracle. The first print showed a Negro and a white man, both in Sunday suits and hats, holding a banner that said BROTHERHOOD in large letters. When the image was clear he moved the paper to a bath of fixer, then washed it and dried it.
He printed all the shots he had taken, took them out into the light, and laid them out on the dining-room table. He was pleased: they were vivid, active pictures that clearly showed a sequence of events. When he heard his parents moving about upstairs he called his mother. She had been a journalist before she married, and she still wrote books and magazine articles. ‘What do you think?’ he asked her.
She studied them thoughtfully with her one eye. After a while she said: ‘I think they’re good. You should take them to a newspaper.’
‘Really?’ he said. He began to feel excited. ‘Which paper?’
‘They’re all conservative, unfortunately. Maybe the Buffalo Sentinel. The editor is Peter Hoyle – he’s been there since God was a boy. He knows your father well, he’ll probably see you.’
‘When should I show him the photos?’
‘Now. The march is hot news. It will be in all tomorrow’s papers. They need the pictures tonight.’
Woody was energized. ‘All right,’ he said. He picked up the glossy sheets and shuffled them into a neat stack. His mother produced a cardboard folder from Papa’s study. Woody kissed her and left the house.
He caught a bus downtown.
The front entrance of the Sentinel office was closed, and he suffered a moment of dismay, but he reasoned that reporters must be able to get in and out today if they were to produce a Monday morning paper and, sure enough, he found a side entrance. ‘I have some photographs for Mr Hoyle,’ he said to a man sitting inside the door, and he was directed upstairs.
He found the editor’s office, a secretary took his name, and a minute later he was shaking hands with Peter Hoyle. The editor was a tall, imposing man with white hair and a black moustache. He appeared to be finishing a meeting with a younger colleague. He spoke loudly, as if shouting over the noise of a printing press. ‘The hit-and-run driver’s story is fine, but the intro stinks, Jack,’ he said, with a dismissive hand on the man’s shoulder, moving him to the door. ‘Put a new nose on it. Move the Mayor’s statement to later and start with crippled children.’ Jack left, and Hoyle turned to Woody. ‘What have you got, kid?’ he said without preamble.
‘I was at the march today.’
‘You mean the riot.’
‘It wasn’t a riot until the factory guards started hitting women with their clubs.’
‘I hear the marchers tried to break into the factory, and the guards repelled them.’
‘It’s not true, sir, and the photos prove it.’
Woody had arranged them in order while sitting on the bus. He put the first down on the editor’s desk. ‘It started peacefully.’
Hoyle pushed the photograph aside. ‘That’s nothing,’ he said.
Woody brought out a picture taken at the factory. ‘The guards were waiting at the gate. You can see their nightsticks.’ His next picture had been taken when the shoving started. ‘The marchers were at least ten yards from the gate, so there was no need for the guards to try to move them back. It was a deliberate provocation.’
‘Okay,’ said Hoyle, and he did not push the pictures aside.
Woody brought out his best shot: a guard using a truncheon to beat a woman. ‘I saw this whole incident,’ Woody said. ‘All the woman did was tell him to stop shoving her, and he hit her like this.’
‘Good picture,’ said Hoyle. ‘Any more?’
‘One,’ said Woody. ‘Most of the marchers ran away as soon as the fighting began, but a few fought back.’ He showed Hoyle the photograph of two demonstrators kicking a guard on the ground. ‘These men retaliated against the guard who hit the woman.’
‘You did a good job, young Dewar,’ said Hoyle. He sat at his desk and pulled a form from a tray. ‘Twenty bucks okay?’
‘You mean you’re going to print my photographs?’
‘I assume that’s why you brought them here.’
‘Yes, sir, thank you, twenty dollars is okay, I mean fine. I mean plenty.’
Hoyle scribbled on the form and signed it. ‘Take this to the cashier. My secretary will tell you where to go.’
The phone on the desk rang. The editor picked it up and barked: ‘Hoyle.’ Woody gathered he was dismissed, and left the room.
He was elated. The payment was amazing, but he was more thrilled that the newspaper would use his photos. He followed the secretary’s directions to a little room with a counter and a teller’s window, and got his twenty bucks. Then he went home in a taxi.
His parents were delighted by his coup, and even his brother seemed pleased. Over dinner, Grandmama said: ‘As long as you don’t consider journalism as a career. That would be lowering.’
In fact, Woody had been thinking that he might take up news photography instead of politics, and he was surprised to learn that his grandmother disapproved.
His mother smiled and said: ‘But, Ursula dear, I was a journalist.’
‘That’s different, you’re a girl,’ Grandmama replied. ‘Woodrow must become a man of distinction, like his father and grandfather before him.’
Mother did not take offence at this. She was fond of Grandmama and listened with amused tolerance to her pronouncements of orthodoxy.
However, Chuck resented the traditional focus on the elder son. He said: ‘And what must I become, chopped liver?’
‘Don’t be vulgar, Charles,’ said Grandmama, having the last word as usual.
That night Woody lay awake a long time. He could hardly wait to see his photos in the paper. He felt the way he had as a kid on Christmas Eve: his longing for the morning kept him from sleep.
He thought about Joanne. She was wrong to think him too young. He was right for her. She liked him, they had a lot in common, and she had enjoyed the kiss. He still thought he might win her heart.
He fell asleep at last, and when he woke it was daylight. He put on a dressing gown over his pyjamas and ran downstairs. Joe, the butler, always went out early to buy the newspapers, and they were already laid out on the side table in the breakfast room. Woody’s parents were there, his father eating scrambled eggs, his mother sipping coffee.
Woody picked up the Sentinel. His work was on the front page.
But it was not what he expected.
They had used only one of his shots – the last. It showed a factory guard lying on the ground being kicked by two workers. The headline was: Metal Strikers Riot.
‘Oh, no!’ he said.
He read the report with incredulity. It said that marchers had attempted to break into the factory and had been bravely repelled by the factory police, several of whom had suffered minor injuries. The behaviour of the workers was condemned by the Mayor, the Chief of Police, and Lev Peshkov. At the foot of the article, like an afterthought, union spokesman Brian Hall was quoted as denying the story and blaming the guards for the violence.
Woody put the newspaper in front of his mother. ‘I told Hoyle that the guards started the riot – and I gave him the pictures to prove it!’ he said angrily. ‘Why would he print the opposite of the truth?’
‘Because he’s a conservative,’ she said.
‘Newspapers are supposed to tell the truth!’ Woody said, his voice rising with furious indignation. ‘They can’t just make up lies!’
‘Yes, they can,’ she said.
‘But it’s not fair!’
‘Welcome to the real world,’ said his mother.
Greg Peshkov and his father were in the lobby of the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Washington, DC, when they ran into Dave Rouzrokh.
Dave was wearing a white suit and a straw hat. He glared at them with hatred. Lev greeted him, but he turned away contemptuously without answering.
Greg knew why. Dave had been losing money all summer, because Roseroque Theatres was not able to get first-run hit movies. And Dave must have guessed that Lev was somehow responsible.
Last week Lev had offered Dave four million dollars for his movie houses – half the original bid – and Dave had again refused. ‘The price is dropping, Dave,’ Lev had warned.
Now Greg said: ‘I wonder what he’s doing here?’
‘He’s meeting with Sol Starr. He’s going to ask why Sol won’t give him good movies.’ Lev obviously knew all about it.
‘What will Mr Starr do?’
‘String him along.’
Greg marvelled at his father’s ability to know everything and stay on top of a changing situation. He was always ahead of the game.
They rode up in the elevator. This was the first time Greg had visited his father’s permanent suite at the hotel. His mother, Marga, had never been here.
Lev spent a lot of time in Washington because the government was forever interfering with the movie business. Men who considered themselves to be moral leaders got very agitated about what was shown on the big screen, and they put pressure on the government to censor pictures. Lev saw this as a negotiation – he saw life as a negotiation – and his constant aim was to avoid formal censorship by adhering to a voluntary code, a strategy backed by Sol Starr and most other Hollywood big shots.
They entered a living room that was extremely fancy, much more so than the spacious apartment in Buffalo where Greg and his mother lived, and which Greg had always thought to be luxurious. This room had spindly legged furniture that Greg imagined to be French, rich chestnut-brown velvet drapes at the windows, and a large phonograph.
In the middle of the room he was stunned to see, sitting on a yellow silk sofa, the movie star Gladys Angelus.
People said she was the most beautiful woman in the world.
Greg could see why. She radiated sex appeal, from her dark-blue inviting eyes to the long legs crossed under her clinging skirt. As she put out a hand to shake his, her red lips smiled and her round breasts moved alluringly inside a soft sweater.
He hesitated a split second before shaking her hand. He felt disloyal to his mother, Marga. She never mentioned the name of Gladys Angelus, a sure sign that she knew what people were saying about Gladys and Lev. Greg felt he was making friends with his mother’s enemy. If Mom knew about this she would cry, he thought.
But he had been taken by surprise. If he had been forewarned, if he had had time to think about his reaction, he might have prepared, and rehearsed a gracious withdrawal. But he could not bring himself to be clumsily rude to this overwhelmingly lovely woman.
So he took her hand, looked into her amazing eyes, and gave what people called a shit-eating grin.
She kept hold of his hand as she said: ‘I’m so happy to meet you at long last. Your father has told me all about you – but he didn’t say how handsome you are!’
There was something unpleasantly proprietorial about this, as if she were a member of the family, rather than a whore who had usurped his mother. All the same he found himself falling under her spell. ‘I love your films,’ he said awkwardly.
‘Oh, stop it, you don’t have to say that,’ she said, but Greg thought she liked to hear it all the same. ‘Come and sit by me,’ she went on. ‘I want to get to know you.’
He did as he was told. He could not help himself. Gladys asked him what school he attended, and while he was telling her, the phone rang. He vaguely heard his father say into the phone: ‘It was supposed to be tomorrow . . . okay, if we have to, we can rush it . . . leave it with me, I’ll handle it.’
Lev hung up and interrupted Gladys. ‘Your room is down the hall, Greg,’ he said. He handed over a key. ‘And you’ll find a gift from me. Settle in and enjoy yourself. We’ll meet for dinner at seven.’
This was abrupt, and Gladys looked put out, but Lev could be peremptory sometimes, and it was best just to obey. Greg took the key and left.
In the corridor was a broad-shouldered man in a cheap suit. He reminded Greg of Joe Brekhunov, head of security at the Buffalo Metal Works. Greg nodded, and the man said: ‘Good afternoon, sir.’ Presumably he was a hotel employee.
Greg entered his room. It was pleasant enough, though not as swanky as his father’s suite. He did not see the gift his father had mentioned, but his suitcase was there, and he began to unpack, thinking about Gladys. Was he being disloyal to his mother by shaking hands with his father’s mistress? Of course, Gladys was only doing what Marga herself had done, sleeping with a married man. All the same, he felt painfully uncomfortable. Was he going to tell his mother that he had met Gladys? Hell, no.
As he was hanging up his shirts, he heard a knock. It came from a door that looked as if it might lead to the neighbouring room. Next moment, the door opened and a girl walked through.
She was older than Greg, but not much. Her skin was the colour of dark chocolate, and she wore a polka-dot dress and carried a clutch bag. She smiled broadly, showing white teeth, and said: ‘Hello, I’ve got the room next door.’
‘I figured that out,’ he said. ‘Who are you?’
‘Jacky Jakes.’ She held out her hand. ‘I’m an actress.’
Greg shook hands with the second beautiful actress in an hour. Jacky had a playful look that Greg found more attractive than Gladys’s overpowering magnetism. Her mouth was a dark-pink bow. He said: ‘My dad said he had got me a gift – are you it?’
She giggled. ‘I guess I am. He said I would like you. He’s going to get me into the movies.’
Greg got the picture. His father had guessed that he might feel bad about being friendly with Gladys. Jacky was his reward for not making a fuss. He thought he probably ought to reject such a bribe, but he could not resist. ‘You’re a very nice gift,’ he said.
‘Your father’s real good to you.’
‘He’s wonderful,’ Greg said. ‘And so are you.’
‘Aren’t you sweet?’ She put her purse down on the dresser, stepped closer to Greg, stood on tiptoe, and kissed his mouth. Her lips were soft and warm. ‘I like you,’ she said. She felt his shoulders. ‘You’re strong.’
‘I play ice hockey.’
‘Makes a girl feel safe.’ She put both hands on his cheeks and kissed him again, longer, then she sighed and said: ‘Oh, boy, I think we’re going to have fun.’
‘Are we?’ Washington was a Southern city, still largely segregated. In Buffalo, white and black people could eat in the same restaurants and drink in the same bars, mostly, but here it was different. Greg was not sure what the laws were, but he felt certain that in practice a white man with a black woman would cause trouble. It was surprising to find Jacky occupying a room in this hotel: Lev must have fixed it. But certainly there was no question of Greg and Jacky swanning around town with Lev and Gladys in a foursome. So what did Jacky think they were going to do to have fun together? The amazing notion crossed his mind that she might be willing to go to bed with him.
He put his hands on her waist, to draw her to him for another kiss, but she pulled back. ‘I need to take a shower,’ she said. ‘Give me a few minutes.’ She turned and disappeared through the communicating door, closing it behind her.
He sat on the bed, trying to take it all in. Jacky wanted to act in movies, and it seemed she was willing to use sex to advance her career. She certainly was not the first actress, black or white, to use that strategy. Gladys was doing the same by sleeping with Lev. Greg and his father were the lucky beneficiaries.
He saw that she had left her clutch bag behind. He picked it up and tried the door. It was not locked. He stepped through.
She was on the phone, wearing a pink bathrobe. She said: ‘Yes, hunky-dory, no problem.’ Her voice seemed different, more mature, and he realized that with him she had been using a sexy-little-girl tone that was not natural. Then she saw him, smiled, and reverted to the girly voice as she said into the phone: ‘Please hold my calls. I don’t want to be disturbed. Thank you. Goodbye.’
‘You left this,’ said Greg, and handed her the purse.
‘You just wanted to see me in my bathrobe,’ she said coquettishly. The front of the robe did not entirely hide her breasts, and he could see an enchanting curve of flawless brown skin.
He grinned. ‘No, but I’m glad I did.’
‘Go back to your room. I have to shower. I might let you see more later.’
‘Oh, my God,’ he said.
He returned to his room. This was astonishing. ‘I might let you see more later,’ he repeated to himself aloud. What a thing for a girl to say!
He had a hard-on, but he did not want to jerk off when the real thing seemed so close. To take his mind off it, he went on unpacking. He had an expensive shaving kit, razor and brush with pearl handles, a present from his mother. He laid the things out in the bathroom, wondering whether they would impress Jacky if she saw them.
The walls were thin, and he heard the sound of running water from the next room. The thought of her body naked and wet possessed him. He tried to concentrate on arranging his underwear and socks in a drawer.
Then he heard her scream.
He froze. For a moment he was too surprised to move. What did it mean? Why would she yell out like that? Then she screamed again, and he was shocked into action. He threw open the communicating door and stepped into her room.
She was naked. He had never seen a naked woman in real life. She had pointed breasts with dark-brown tips. At her groin was a thatch of wiry black hair. She was cowering back against the wall, trying ineffectually to cover her nakedness with her hands.
Standing in front of her was Dave Rouzrokh, with twin scratches down his aristocratic cheek, presumably caused by Jacky’s pink-varnished nails. There was blood on the broad lapel of Dave’s double-breasted white jacket.
Jacky screamed: ‘Get him away from me!’
Greg swung a fist. Dave was an inch taller, but he was an old man, and Greg was an athletic teenager. The blow connected with Dave’s chin – more by luck than by judgement – and Dave staggered back then fell to the floor.
The room door opened.
The broad-shouldered hotel employee Greg had seen earlier came in. He must have a master key, Greg thought. ‘I’m Tom Cranmer, house detective,’ the man said. ‘What’s going on here?’
Greg said: ‘I heard her scream and came in to find him here.’
Jacky said: ‘He tried to rape me!’
Dave struggled to his feet. ‘That’s not true,’ he said. ‘I was asked to come to this room for a meeting with Sol Starr.’
Jacky began to sob. ‘Oh, now he’s going to lie about it!’
Cranmer said: ‘Put something on, please, miss.’
Jacky put on her pink bathrobe.
The detective picked up the room phone, dialled a number, and said: ‘There’s usually a cop on the corner. Get him into the lobby, right now.’
Dave was staring at Greg. ‘You’re Peshkov’s bastard, aren’t you?’
Greg was about to hit him again.
Dave said: ‘Oh, my God, this is a set-up.’
Greg was thrown by this remark. He felt intuitively that Dave was telling the truth. He dropped his fist. This whole scene must have been scripted by Lev, he realized. Dave Rouzrokh was no rapist. Jacky was faking. And Greg himself was just an actor in the movie. He felt dazed.
‘Please come with me, sir,’ said Cranmer, taking Dave firmly by the arm. ‘You two as well.’
‘You can’t arrest me,’ said Dave.
‘Yes, sir, I can,’ said Cranmer. ‘And I’m going to hand you over to a police officer.’
Greg said to Jacky: ‘Do you want to get dressed?’
She shook her head quickly and decisively. Greg realized it was part of the plan that she would appear in her robe.
He took Jacky’s arm and they followed Cranmer and Dave along the corridor and into the elevator. A cop was waiting in the lobby. Both he and the hotel detective must be in on the plot, Greg surmised.
Cranmer said: ‘I heard a scream from her room, found the old guy in there. She says he tried to rape her. The kid is a witness.’
Dave looked bewildered, as if he thought this might be a bad dream. Greg found himself feeling sorry for Dave. He had been cruelly trapped. Lev was more pitiless than Greg had imagined. Half of him admired his father; the other half wondered if such ruthlessness was really necessary.
The cop snapped handcuffs on Dave and said: ‘All right, let’s go.’
‘Go where?’ Dave said.
‘Downtown,’ said the cop.
Greg said: ‘Do we all have to go?’
Cranmer spoke to Greg in a low voice. ‘Don’t worry, son,’ he said. ‘You did a great job. We’ll go to the precinct house and make our statements, and after that you can fuck her from here to Christmastime.’
The cop led Dave to the door, and the others followed.
As they stepped outside, a photographer popped a flashgun.
Woody Dewar got a copy of Freud’s Studies in Hysteria mailed to him by a bookseller in New York. On the night of the Yacht Club Ball – the climactic social event of the summer season in Buffalo – he wrapped it neatly in brown paper and tied a red ribbon around it. ‘Chocolates for a lucky girl?’ said his mother, passing him in the hall. She had only one eye but she saw everything.
‘A book,’ he said. ‘For Joanne Rouzrokh.’
‘She won’t be at the ball.’
Mama stopped and gave him a searching look. After a moment she said: ‘You’re serious about her.’
‘I guess. But she thinks I’m too young.’
‘Her pride is probably involved. Her friends would ask why she can’t find a guy her own age to go out with. Girls are cruel like that.’
‘I’m planning to persist until she grows more mature.’
Mama smiled. ‘I bet you make her laugh.’
‘I do. It’s the best card I hold.’
‘Well, heck, I waited long enough for your father.’
‘I loved him from the first time I met him. I pined for years. I had to watch him fall for that shallow cow Olga Vyalov, who wasn’t worthy of him but had two working eyes. Thank God she got knocked up by her chauffeur.’ Mama’s language could be a little coarse, especially when Grandmama was not around. She had picked up bad habits during the years she spent working on newspapers. ‘Then he went off to war. I had to follow him to France before I could nail his foot to the goddamn floor.’
Nostalgia was mixed with pain in her reminiscence, Woody could tell. ‘But he realized you were the right girl for him.’