“I’m sorry, colonel,” mumbled Speer.
Colonel von Poser looked away.
The laughter continued in sporadic bursts. Speer kept listening for other sounds, someone yelling, screaming,
arguing. But all he heard was the laughing, loud and growing more hysterical, like whatever it was, had them busting their guts. Then suddenly it stopped and everything went quiet. Von Poser looked at Speer. This is it! They heard a lock turning on the steel door. Then it opened and out stepped the young man, only
this time he wasn’t smiling or trying to look menacing. He handed them
their identification books and gestured them to follow him. “Quickly,” he said.
They followed him down the corridor to another steel door. He took out a key on a long chain. He put a key in the
lock, turned it and popped the door open. Dull gray daylight burst in. The young man stuck his head out but then pulled it back in and shut the door.
“Back,” he told them.
He pushed the door open and quickly led them up another corridor through a small comfortable office with two desks at
one side and on the other a low table surrounded by stuffed club chairs where the four men with automatics were sitting slumped over and leaning back, their mouths gaping open, the rest of their faces shot off. There was blood and
brains everywhere. Speer did his best not to look.
The young man opened the far door and ushered them through, locking it behind them. They went up another corridor,
much wider and lined with shelves and file cabinets. Halfway up, two men were going through an overhead cabinet. The young man turned back and fixed his eyes on Speer and von Poser. “All right,” he whispered. “One, two, three...”
They followed him past the two men who barely acknowledged them when they walked past. The next room was full of
people at desks and typewriters and people carrying papers. Some people looked up, but nobody said anything. Twice people acted like they were going to say something. But somehow the young man’s nod quieted them and made them forget
they were about to ask something pointed. Speer watched the young man nod to different people and he guessed he had been somebody back when he was younger. Somebody whose face had been in photo magazines, always smiling, clean,
bright-eyed, youthful Aryan laughter.
Who was he?
He took them through a lobby, past desks and rows of chairs and rifles and Party militiamen in brown coats with
holster harnesses and black ammunition bandoliers strapped from their
shoulders. He waved to a couple of burley men in feldgrau coats and constable’s
hats. “Next time I’ll bring you some photographs,” he said like it would
probably never happen. They nodded back like they didn’t really believe it
either but looked forward to it just the same.
Outside, they went over to where Speer’s Mercedes had been left. The young man opened the back door and let them
get in. Then he shut the back door, opened the front and put himself behind the wheel. The engine started up, he shoved it into gear and drove out.
They motored past milling groups of militiamen who ignored them, then went out a gate where no one bothered
stopping them for papers. A few minutes later, they’d gone past streets full of bombed out buildings and then found themselves out of town and speeding up an empty road. Speer and von Poser sat back and exchanged looks of astonishment.
They drove past fields and pastures where cows were busily grazing, oblivious to everything but the grass.
Then the young man turned back to address them.
“All right, so here’s the deal,” he said. “I’m going to be your driver from now on. You’re trying to keep the Nazis from blowing everything up. Isn’t that right?” He said it like it was something
everyone already knew. “Well you’re going about it the wrong way.”
“Apparently,” grunted von Poser.
“I can get you what you want,” the young man said. “I’ll have them eating out of your hands."
“How are you going to do that?” asked Speer.
“I’m magic,” the young man said. “No one ever refuses me.”
They looked at him dumbfounded.
“Why?” asked von Poser.
“I need to get around,” the young man explained. “Business to take care of.”
“Who are you?” asked Speer.
“Never mind who I am,” the young man snapped and returned to his driving.
Nobody said anything after that. Speer and von Poser settled into their bewildered silences. Speer stared out at
the passing countryside. In the late afternoon sun, the winter fields no longer looked so bleak. He thought he saw
hints of green beginning to emerge.
As he drove, the young man began whistling something Speer remembered orchestras playing back when he was still a young man with lots of dreams, but no job. A lyrical and melancholy number that expressed how everyone seemed to feel back then. Then he remembered it was called Harlem Rhapsody.
He remembered seeing the words in white lettering inside a black circle on a magazine page. And a crooked headline
snaking across it asking Which One is Your Favorite?
And suddenly the names started hitting him like waves: Ziggy, Franzi, Sebastian and suddenly Speer knew exactly which
one he was.
“Yes?” asked the young man.
“You’re Manni of the Flying Magical Loerber Brothers.”
The young man turned back and dazzled them with his smile. Then he turned back to keep his eyes on the road.
(Excerpt from Germania, first published in 2008 by Simon & Schuster, now also available on Kindle here).