Chasing the wind, p.8
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       Chasing the Wind, p.8

           C. C. Humphreys
 

  “No.” He knelt, placed a tape end at her hip, ran it to the floor.

  “With your wife?”

  “No.”

  “She’s not…”

  “No!” This came out more forcefully. He rose, moved around her, leaned back to write a number down, then turned back to her. “I sent my daughters away when…when their mother went missing.”

  “Missing?”

  He put a hand to his forehead. “I am sorry. Please let us just do business, yes?”

  “Um, sure, if you like.”

  “I am sorry. I am rude.” He looked straight at her. “It is simple as this. My country is not a good place for…for people like me.”

  “For Jews?” He stiffened. She gestured to the front window. “I saw the word there, Herr Bochner. And the Star of David. Someone tried to erase them.”

  “I tried. Was ordered to by the Schupas—the Berlin Police. It was hard. The paint they used was strong.” He shrugged.

  “But why was it in your window anyway?”

  “Why?” Another laugh came, but this one had no humour in it. “Because I am a Jew. Germany’s new leaders, many of its peoples—they hate us. They persecute us. Stop our businesses. This woman whose dress I change for you?” He pointed. “Twenty years a loyal customer. She had no money—I make her dress on credit. Then she comes for fitting, sees the window. ‘I had no idea, Herr Bochner. I must go elsewhere.’ Like this!” He snapped his fingers. “Now with these Olympics they pretend. They wipe away the signs. The papers don’t write their lies. Jews are even allowed to play some sport again—for the Reich. But when the games are done, the paint goes back up. The persecution starts again.”

  “Why don’t you leave?”

  “Where would I go?” He took a breath. “Your country will not take Jews. Most countries will not. I send my daughters to a cousin in Belgium. But I must wait—and try to find some money. For my wife—” He broke off.

  “Missing you say? Any idea where?”

  “I have an idea. It is not a good idea.” He shook his head. “My Marthe is bold, like you. She speaks her mind. She spoke about what is happening to our people and I think they took her…to a camp. Sachsenhausen.”

  “What kind of camp?”

  “A work camp. Though some people call it a concentration camp. A terrible place.”

  “You know she’s there?”

  “I do. I have a contact who says so, says he may be able to get her out. But he wants money.”

  She laid a hand on his arm. “I have some of that.”

  He stepped back. “Fräulein, I do not sing you this sad song to get more money from you! I make you a price. A fair price.”

  “Good. But remember: I pay a bonus for speed.”

  “Ah, you Americans. Always in a hurry.” The ghost of a smile returned. He went and lifted the dress from the hanger. “You do not mind that it is green?”

  “Why would I mind?”

  “Some think a green dress is unlucky.”

  “Well, you obviously didn’t notice my eyes.” She stepped and looked up at him, batting her lids.

  “These are the first thing I notice. They are—” he gazed upward, as if seeking the word in the heavens “—lustrous.”

  She gave a delighted giggle. “Why, you old flirt, Herr—what’s your first name?”

  “Reuben.”

  “Well, Reuben. Shall we get this done?”

  While he took the rest of her measurements, they negotiated a price. Rather, he asked for twenty dollars and she insisted on thirty. Spared him embarrassment by saying it was for his speed as well as his skill. He wouldn’t call her just “Roxy,” though. “Fräulein Roxy.” Or “Gnädige Fräulein.” But he moved fast around her, taking measurements, writing them down. Then he sat at his table and began unpicking thread, while she leafed through the magazines on the table. She tried to ask him more questions, but his replies were grunts. He obviously liked to focus on his work, so she shut up.

  An hour later, he was too deep in thought to hear the footsteps on the cobbles outside. There’d only been the sound of a few people before, hurrying past. These new footsteps came and stopped. Then the door opened, the bell tinkled and a man thrust his head in. “Reuben?” he called.

  Bochner rose. “Josef,” he said, beckoning.

  The man rushed into the room, slamming the door behind him, talking fast, some language she didn’t recognize, not German. The tailor held up a hand to stop him, then pointed behind the man, at her.

  She’d been lying in the deep sofa. She sat up and the man jumped. He was of an age with Herr Bochner, slighter, even less grey hair. “Sheisse!” he yelped, and actually staggered back into the tailor, who held him and muttered something that must have reassured in that same language. The man straightened, swallowed, stepped forward. As Roxy stood up, he put out his hand.

  “Fräulein Loewen. Herr Blumenthal.”

  The man took her hand in both of his and gave a sharp bow. He then turned back to the tailor and there was a further fast exchange. Her father had done business with many Jewish artisans in New York and now she recognized the language: Yiddish.

  Whatever they were saying, it concerned her. The new guy had kept hold of her hand and kept moving it side to side as if it blocked his view of her. Bochner was nodding at his words. Finally, he said, “My friend speaks no English—I am sorry.”

  “Little, little,” Blumenthal muttered, smiling and still shaking her hand.

  “But what he does speak,” Bochner continued, “is—how do you say this?—yes, the language of high fashion.” He smiled. “In fact, Heime Blumenthal is one of the finest craftsmen in Europe.”

  “Blumenthal?” Roxy sucked in her lower lip. “Sounds familiar.”

  “It should.” Bochner was beaming now. “For he makes the shoes for every queen and movie star in the world.”

  “Shoes, shoes,” the smaller man agreed.

  “And what he says to me now is: if I am making this fantastic dress, and my other friend Eli is going to bring a fantastic hat—did I not tell you this, ach, no, it is only now decided—then how can we let you go to your party in these terrible shoes?”

  “Terrible, terrible,” chimed in Blumenthal, his grin as wide as his face.

  SEVEN

  THE MASTER RACES

  WHEN ROXY HAD WALKED DOWN THE KURFÜRSTENDAMM IN search of a tailor that morning, she hadn’t turned many heads. Now as she strolled, seeking the café where Jocco had said they should meet, almost everyone looked up and kept looking. Waiters gawked; women in furs glared. Men paused, beers at their lips. From her Blumenthaler stilettoes, to her Stieffen cloche via sheer silk stockings beneath her emerald bias-cut Bochner dress, she looked like a million bucks. Only she would ever know that the whole ensemble had cost just shy of fifty.

  A bell nearby had just struck one. Hope Jocco’s on time, she thought, running her tongue over lips now glossed with Blumenthal’s daughter’s cherry-red lipstick. Baby needs a drink.

  He was. She spotted him when he rose from a table outside a crowded Café Münster and beckoned. She had to cross the street to reach him, and she stopped the traffic—literally—when a policeman in black uniform, shiny peaked cap and large white gauntlets, with a smile and a bow, halted a line of limos, whose drivers all hit their horns. Someone gave a wolf whistle. It might have been the cop.

  Jocco was staring, his mouth wide open. “Easy, sailor!” She reached a hand to his jaw, pushed up. “You’ll catch flies.”

  “Roxy, you look amazing.”

  “Yeah, I clean up okay. You just never see me out of flying dugs. Well—” she smiled “—that ain’t quite true.”

  “Roxy,” he said again, though this time there was warning in his tone. She realized why when he stepped aside, and she saw that he was not alone at the table. A young lady sat there, about her own age, with the sort of white-blond, shoulder-length waves that came from birth, not bottle. She was probably pretty when she didn’t frown so hard. Which sh
e was doing now.

  Jocco turned. “May I introduce? Fräulein Roxy Loewen. Fräulein Helga Schlurre.”

  The blonde held out a hand. Roxy shook it, sat. Jocco did too and beckoned a waiter. “We are drinking Riesling. You would like the same?”

  “Scotch. Water on the side.”

  The waiter nodded, left. “Scotch? So early in the day?” Helga’s frown changed slightly, warring with a smile. Her English was clear, only very lightly accented. “You live up to your reputation, Fräulein Loewen.”

  “I have a reputation? How thrilling.” She pointed. “May I steal one of those?”

  She’d pointed to a pack of du Maurier on the table. They were girlie cigarettes, but she’d have to wait before she asked Jocco to roll her one of his specials. Something in his second “Roxy” had told her that she should tread lightly here.

  “Of course.”

  She extracted a cigarette, and Jocco flicked his brass Dunhill lighter. His hand was shaking slightly. She put her fingers to his to steady him, looked up as she bent and lit. The warning was still in his eyes. Snapping the lid back down, Jocco continued, “I was telling Helga how we met.”

  “Barnstorming?” It was a story they’d concocted before. Stunting at air shows was how a lot of flyers made their living—and provoked fewer questions than gun-running. “Yeah. He told me that before we even met, he’d loved me for my barrel rolling.”

  “Loved?”

  One teased eyebrow rose. It was shaded in light brown, which was necessary since Fräulein Schlurre was as pale as a primrose. “Sure. Went on that my falling leaf was exquisite. My loop-de-loop unsurpassed.” Roxy shook her head. “But since he said this while drunk and in German, Franco thought loop-de-loop was from the Kama Sutra and cold-cocked him.”

  “Franco?”

  “My husband. Franco’s not a flyer, so he doesn’t get the camaraderie. Plus he’s Sicilian, so he’s always jealous.”

  “Your husband…he is not here?”

  There was still a touch of suspicion in her tone, though the eyebrow had lowered.

  “Stateside. Earning dough. Someone has to pay for my bird’s upkeep.” She patted her belly. “And kids are expensive I hear.”

  She made sure she didn’t catch Jocco’s eye, though she heard a slight intake of breath. For her gilding of their lie? Or for fear it might be true?

  “You are with child? Congratulations.” All jealousy had cleared from Helga’s face. Relief had replaced it. It was clear she had designs. Or maybe she sought to renew an acquaintance. Roxy had never questioned Jocco too much on his past. But a shiver went through her now—probably the same kind that had gone through the German girl. My, my, she thought, last time I felt real jealousy was when Amelia soloed the Atlantic in ’32.

  0She blew a stream of smoke out above them. The waiter returned with the Scotch. She slopped in some water and raised her glass, and they raised theirs. “Prost,” they all said, and clinked.

  “So, uh, how well do you two know each other?”

  Roxy had kept the edge out of her voice. But she saw it cut anyway as Helga coloured. Hard for her not to do, pale as she was. Lovers once, thought Roxy, feeling that jab inside. My turn for that, she thought. And her turn to lie to me.

  “We met at Hornberg, Baden-Württemberg. At gliding school.”

  “Gliding?” Something stirred in Roxy’s memory. “Schlurre? Didn’t you set a high-altitude record?”

  Helga looked pleased. “Yes. Held it for three days. Until our instructor, Hanna Reitsch, took it back.”

  “Still gliding?”

  “Not often. I am flying the new Focke-Wulf 44. Working for a film company.”

  “Film, huh? What, like The Eagle and the Hawk?” She sighed. “Don’t you just love Cary Grant? Glamorous work, I bet.”

  Helga shrugged. “Not really. The company I work for is making—how do you say—film about facts?”

  “Documentaries?”

  “So. We call them similar. Dokumentarfilm. It may not be glamorous. No Cary Grants.” She glanced at Jocco when she said that. “But it is very inspiring. Because we make films about our country. Its rebirth.”

  “Rebirth? When did Germany die?”

  “At the end of the war. Your country helped kill it.” She shook her head. “I am sorry—that is rude of me. But the war ended very badly for us and the peace was worse. You made us pay, too much. We were beaten, powerless. We became weak, decadent, exploited now also by enemies within.” She smiled. “Until a man came. A man of destiny.”

  “Adolf Hitler?”

  “Der Führer. Ja.”

  They’d all had to talk a little louder, because the music that had been playing in the distance had gotten closer. They looked to the street. A column of boys, all about thirteen or fourteen, were approaching, following a large red banner, a huge black swastika at its centre. The boys were dressed identically—black shoes, brown knee-length socks, black shorts, brown shirts. On their right arm each sported another black-on-red swastika. Most of the boys were blond, their short hair groomed. They marched in perfect order, to the beat of the drums and brass that followed them. Many people stood at the tables and cheered. Several, including Helga, who’d risen, also saluted, their right arm straight out from their shoulder, palm flat and down.

  Jocco and Roxy took the chance of the distraction to look at each other properly. She tipped her head at their cheering companion, raised her eyebrows. He shrugged.

  The boys and band passed. Helga sat, her face flushed. “This is the youth corps of the National Socialist Party, the Hitler Youth. They are so inspired by our leader. Are they not magnificent?”

  “They’re certainly something,” Roxy said under her breath. Then asked louder, “Where are they going?”

  “To the stadium. For the opening ceremony of the Olympics. Where we should be going also.” Helga stood again.

  “We?”

  “Not me.” Jocco picked up his glass, settled back. “Helga has only one spare ticket.”

  “He is gallant, our friend. I wanted him to accompany me. But he offers it to you.” She laid her hand on Jocco’s cheek. Roxy had to resist the urge to rip her eyes out. “He says it is because your life desire is to meet Reichsmarschall Göring, ja?”

  “Life desire…is right!” Roxy glanced at Jocco, who kept a straight face. Really, they needed to work on their lying, not spring stuff on each other. “Life magazine did a spread on him when I was fourteen. His flying career, his great planes. I had it up on my wall till the pages turned yellow.”

  “Well, we may get the chance. We are not in the—how do you say this—the special enclosure where the leaders and dignitaries sit? But we are close. So perhaps it works.” She stooped, gathering her cigarettes and lighter, dropping them into a small leather purse. “He likes me. He likes flyers. And—” she looked Roxy up and down “—he may like this brazen dress.” Before Roxy needed to disguise her outrage, Helga turned to Jocco. “Auf Wiedersehen,” she trilled, leaned in. They did the triple-kiss thing.

  “Auf Wiedersehen,” he echoed, leaning in to Roxy.

  She forestalled him with a thrust-out hand, which he took, shook. “See ya,” she said, thinking he controlled himself well, considering how sharp the nail was she dug into his palm.

  “Come, we go,” said Helga, moving away.

  “Taxi?” queried Roxy.

  “Impossible today. We take a train part of the way. Then we must walk.” She glanced down. “Even in these shoes.” She smiled. “The atmosphere will be good, yes? You will be able to see just how happy der Führer has made the people by bringing us these games.”

  * * *

  Happiness outside the stadium. Ecstasy within.

  Roxy rubbed her left foot—new shoes, blisters already—and looked around again. She hadn’t been in a sporting crowd since she’d last watched the Dodgers with her dad in ’29. And Ebbets Field, Brooklyn, would have tucked cozily into one corner of the grandiose, marble-columned Olympic stadium, B
erlin. Hell, she thought, there are as many people playing in the marching bands here as watched the Bums that day.

  One hundred twenty thousand were crammed in, Helga had told her. And millions were outside the stadium on the streets, viewing on giant screens as the event was broadcast on television, the first time the newfangled system had been deployed for such an occasion. Roxy had seen newsreel footage of the opening ceremonies at the last Olympics, held in Los Angeles. There had been some ceremony. It was nothing like this.

  A couple of light showers had swept through, but they had done nothing to dampen the crowd’s enthusiasm. Or her clothes—a young German to her left had kindly shared the shelter of his overcoat. Now with the sun once again streaking the stadium, the band, which had been playing nonstop since they’d taken their seats an hour before, changed its tune from Wagner to something even more bombastic. Brass took charge, a fanfare was blown, drums struck up. A tune began, one she recognized, the crowd joining in with the huge choir of boys and girls whose clear voices first rang out into the air:

  “ ‘Deutschland, Deutschland, über alles.’ ”

  Then, as the nation’s anthem crescendoed, Adolf Hitler walked into the stadium.

  Helga squeezed her arm. “He comes,” she cried. She looked as if she were about to swoon.

  He was preceded by an honour guard in shiny black, bearing a huge swastika. Following him were other men Roxy recognized from newsreels: Rudolf Hess, Joseph Goebbels, Heinrich Himmler. All, like their Führer, wore battlefield grey. All save one. He would have stood out anyway as easily the largest man among them even without the uniform that was a dazzling sky blue.

  “Reichsmarschall Göring.” Helga took a break from singing to breathe, then jumped back to join in as a different song began. This had a jauntier swing to it, and the people and the bands embraced it with enthusiasm.

  Since Helga was in full flight—off key—Roxy turned to her neighbour and protector, who wasn’t singing. “What’s this?” she asked, in German.

  “Das ‘Horst Wessel Lied,’ ” he replied, looking less than happy about it. “It is an anthem, written about an SA man the Communists killed.”

 
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