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SEVEN

They ate at a restaurant in the old town a place with thick linen napkins and heavy silver cutlery, where the waiters lined up behind them and whipped the covers from their plates like a troupe of conjurers performing a trick. If the hotel had cost him half a months salary, this meal would cost him the other half, but March didnt care.

She was unlike any other woman he had met. She was not one of the homebodies of the Partys Womens League, all Kinder, Kirche und Kuche her husbands supper always ready on the table, his uniform freshly pressed, five children asleep upstairs. And while a good National Socialist girl abhorred cosmetics, nicotine and alcohol, Charlie Maguire made liberal use of all three. Her dark eyes soft in the candlelight, she talked almost without pause of New York, foreign reporting, her fathers days in Berlin, the wickedness of Joseph Kennedy, politics, money, men, herself.

She had been born in Washington DC in the spring of 1939. (The last spring of peace, my parents called it in all senses.) Her father had recently returned from Berlin to work at the State Department. Her mother was trying to make a success as an actress, but after 1941 was lucky simply to escape internment. In the 1950s, after the war, Michael Maguire had gone to Omsk, capital of what was left of Russia, to serve in the US Embassy. It was considered too dangerous a place to take four children. Charlotte had been left behind to be educated at expensive schools in Virginia; Charlie had dropped out at seventeen spitting arid swearing and rebelling against everything in sight.

I went to New York. Tried to be an actress. That didnt work. Tried to be a journalist. That suited me better. Enrolled at Columbia to my fathers great relief. And then what do you know? I start an affair with Teacher. She shook her head. How stupid can you get? She blew out a jet of cigarette smoke. Is there any more wine in there?

He poured out the last of the bottle, ordered another. It seemed to be his turn to say something. Why Berlin?

A chance to get away from New York. My mother being German made it easier to get a visa. I have to admit: World European Features is not quite as grand as it sounds. Two men in an office on the wrong side of town with a telex machine. To be honest, they were happy to take anyone who could get a visa out of Berlin. Even me. She looked at him with shining eyes. I didnt know he was married, you see. The teacher. She snapped her fingers. Basic failure of research there, wouldnt you say?

When did it end?

Last year. I came to Europe to show them all I could do it. Him especially. Thats why I felt so sick about being expelled. God, the thought effacing them all again She sipped her wine. Perhaps Ive got a father-fixation. How old are you?

Forty-two.

Bang in my age range. She smiled at him over the rim of her glass. Youd better watch out. Are you married?

Divorced.

Divorced! Thats promising. Tell me about her.

Her frankness kept catching him off-guard. She was, he began, and corrected himself. She is He stopped. How did you summarise someone you were married to for nine years, divorced from for seven, who had just denounced you to the authorities? She is not like you, was all he could think to say.

Meaning?

She does not have ideas of her own. She is concerned about what people think. She has no curiosity. She is bitter.

About you?

Naturally.

Is she seeing anyone else?

Yes. A Party bureaucrat. Much more suitable than me.

And you? Do you have anyone?

A klaxon sounded in Marchs mind. Dive, dive, dive. He had had two affairs since his divorce. A teacher who had lived in the apartment beneath his, and a young widow who taught history at the university another friend of Rudi Halders: he sometimes suspected Rudi had made it his mission in life to find him a new wife. The liaisons had drifted on for a few months, until both women had tired of the last-minute calls from Werderscher Markt: Somethings come up, Im sorry

Instead of answering her, March said: So many questions. You should have been a detective.

She made a face at him. So few answers. You should have been a reporter.


The waiter poured more wine. After he had moved away, she said: You know, when I met you, I hated you on sight.

Ah. The uniform. It blots out the man.

That uniform does. When I looked for you on the plane this afternoon I barely recognised you.

It occurred to March that here was another reason for his good mood: he had not caught a glimpse of his black silhouette in a mirror, had not seen people shrinking away at his approach.

Tell me, he said, what do they say of the SS in America?

She rolled her eyes. Oh come on, March. Please. Dont lets ruin a good evening.

I mean it. Id like to know. He had to coax her into answering.

Well, murderers, she said eventually. Sadists. Evil personified. All that. You asked for it. Nothing personal intended, you understand? Any other questions?

A million. A lifetimes worth.

A lifetime! Well go ahead. I have nothing planned.

He was momentarily dumbfounded, paralysed by choice. Where to start?

The war in the East, he said. In Berlin we hear only of victories. Yet the Wehrmacht has to ship the coffins home from the Urals front at night, on special trains, so nobody sees how many dead there are.

I read somewhere that the Pentagon estimates a hundred thousand Germans killed since 1960. The Luftwaffe is bombing the Russian towns flat day after day and still they keep coming back at you. You cant win because theyve nowhere else to go. And you darent use nuclear weapons in case we retaliate and the world blows up.

What else? He tried to think of recent headlines. Goebbels says German space technology beats the Americans every time.

Actually, I think thats true. Peenemunde had satellites in orbit years ahead of ours.

Is Winston Churchill still alive?

Yes. Hes an old man now. In Canada. He lives there. So does the Queen. She noticed his puzzlement. Elizabeth claims the English throne from her uncle.

And the Jews? said March. What do the Americans say we did to them?

She was shaking her head. Why are you doing this?

Please. The truth.

The truth? How do I know what the truth is? Suddenly she had raised her voice, was almost shouting. People at the next table were turning round. Were brought up to think of Germans as something from outer space. Truth doesnt enter into it.

Very well then. Give me the propaganda.

She glanced away, exasperated, but then looked back with an intensity that made it difficult for him to meet her eyes. All right. They say you scoured Europe for every living Jew men, women, children, babies. They say you shipped them to ghettos in the East where thousands died of malnutrition and disease. Then you forced the survivors farther East, and nobody knows what happened after that. A handful escaped over the Urals into Russia. Ive seen them on TV. Funny old men, most of them; a bit crazy. They talk about execution pits, medical experiments, camps that people went into but never came out of. They talk about millions of dead. But then the German ambassador comes along in his smart suit and tells everyone its all just communist propaganda. So nobody knows whats true and what isnt. And Ill tell you something else most people dont care. She sat back in her chair. Satisfied?

Im sorry.

So am I. She reached for her cigarettes, then stopped and looked at him again. Thats why you changed your mind at the hotel about bringing me along, isnt it? Nothing to do with whisky. You wanted to pick my brains. She started to laugh. And I thought I was using you.


After that, they got on better. Whatever poison there was between them had been drawn. He told her about his father and how he had followed him into the Navy, about how he had drifted into police work and found a taste for it a vocation, even.

She said: I still dont understand how you can wear it.

What?

That uniform.

He poured himself another glass of wine. Oh, theres a simple answer to that. In 1936, the Kriminalpolizei was merged into the SS; all officers had to accept honorary SS rank. So I have a choice: either I am an investigator in that uniform, and try to do a little good; or I am something else without that uniform, and do no good at all.

And the way things are going, I shall soon not have that choice, he thought.

She tilted her head to one side and nodded. I can see that. That seems fair.

He felt impatient, sick of himself. No its not. Its bullshit, Charlie. It was the first time he had called her that since she had insisted on it at the beginning of the dinner; using it sounded like a declaration. He hurried on: "Thats the answer Ive given everybody, including myself, for the past ten years. Unfortunately, even I have stopped believing it.

But what happened the worst of what happened was during the war, and you werent around. You told me: you were at sea.

He looked down at his plate, silent. She went on: And anyway, wartime is different. All countries do wicked things in wartime. My country dropped an atom bomb on Japanese civilians killed a quarter of a million people in an instant. And the Americans have been allies of the Russians for the past twenty years. Remember what the Russians did?

There was truth in what she said. One by one, as they advanced eastwards, beginning with the bodies of 10,000 Polish officers in the Katyn forest, the Germans had discovered the mass graves of Stalins victims. Millions had died in the famines, purges, deportations of the 1930s. Nobody knew the exact figure. The execution pits, the torture chambers, the gulags inside the Arctic Circle all were now preserved by the Germans as memorials to the dead, museums of Bolshevik evil. Children were taken round them; ex-prisoners acted as guides. There was a whole school of historical studies devoted to investigating the crimes of communism. Television showed documentaries on Stalins holocaust bleached skulls and walking skeletons, bulldozed corpses and the earth-caked rags of women and children bound with wire and shot in the back of the neck.

She put her hand on his. The world is as it is. Even I see that.

He spoke without looking at her. Yes. Fine. But everything youve said, Ive already heard. "It was a long time ago." "That was war." "The Ivans were worst of all." "What can one man do?" Ive listened to people whisper that for ten years. Thats all they ever do, by the way. Whisper.

She withdrew her hand and lit another cigarette, turning the little gold lighter over and over in her fingers. When I first came to Berlin, and my parents gave me that list of people they knew in the old days, there were lots of theatre people on it, artists friends of my mother. I suppose quite of few them, in the way of things, must have been Jews, or homosexuals. And I went looking for them. All of them had gone, of course. That didnt surprise me. But they hadnt just vanished. It was as if theyd never existed.

She tapped the lighter gently against the tablecloth. He noticed her fingers slim, unmanicured, unadorned.

Of course, there were people living in the places my mothers friends used to live in. Old people, often. They must have known, mustnt they? But they just looked blank. They were watching television, having tea, listening to music. There was nothing left at all.

March said: Look at this.

He pulled out his wallet, took out the photograph. It looked incongruous amid the plushness of the restaurant a relic from someones attic, rubbish from a flea market stall.

He gave it to her. She studied it. A strand of hair fell over her face and she brushed it away. Who are they?

When I moved into my apartment after Klara and I split, it hadnt been decorated for years. I found that tucked behind the wallpaper in the bedroom. I tell you, I took that place to pieces, but that was all there was. Their surname was Weiss. But who are they? Where are they now? What happened to them?

He took the photograph, folded it into quarters, put it back in his wallet.

What do you do, he said, if you devote your life to discovering criminals, and it gradually occurs to you that the real criminals are the people you work for? What do you do when everyone tells you not to worry, you cant do anything about it, it was a long time ago?

She was looking at him in a different way. I suppose you go crazy.

Or worse. Sane.


She insisted, despite his protests, on paying half the bill. It was almost midnight by the time they left the restaurant. They walked in silence towards the hotel. Stars arched across the sky; at the bottom of the steep cobbled street, the lake waited.

She took his arm. You asked me if that man at the Embassy -Nightingale if he was my lover.

That was rude of me. Im sorry.

Would you have been disappointed if Id said he was?

He hesitated.

She went on: Well he isnt. Hed like to be. Sorry. That sounds like boasting.

It doesnt at all. Im sure many would like to be.

I hadnt met anyone

Hadnt

She stopped. Im twenty-five. I go where I like. I do what I like. I choose whom I like. She turned to him, touched him lightly on the cheek with a warm hand. God, I hate getting this sort of thing out of the way, dont you?

She drew his head to hers.

How odd it is, thought March afterwards, to live your life in ignorance of the past, of your world, yourself. Yet how easy to do it! You went along from day to day, down paths other people had prepared for you, never raising your head enfolded in their logic, from swaddling clothes to shroud. It was a kind of fear.

Well, goodbye to that. And good to leave it behind -whatever happened now.

His feet danced on the cobblestones. He slipped his arm around her. He had so many questions.

Wait, wait she was laughing, holding on to him. Enough. Stop. Im starting to worry you only want me for my mind.


In his hotel room, she unknotted his tie and reined him to her once more, her mouth soft on his. Still kissing him, she smoothed the jacket from his shoulders, unbuttoned his shirt, parted it. Her hands skimmed over his chest, around his back, across his stomach.

She knelt and tugged at his belt.

He closed his eyes and coiled his fingers in her hair.

After a few moments he pulled away gently, and knelt to face her, lifted her dress. Freed from it, she threw back her head and shook her hair. He wanted to know her completely. He kissed her throat, her breasts, her stomach; inhaled her scent, felt the firm flesh stretching smooth and taut beneath his hands, her soft skin on his tongue.

Later she guided him on to the bed and settled herself above him. The only light was cast by the lake. Rippling shadows all around them. When he opened his mouth to say something, she put a finger to his lips.


THANK YOU FOR NOT SMOKING. | Fatherland | PART FOUR FRIDAY 17 APRIL