Thursday, December 17, 2009

Chapter 9: The Gift

Chapter 9: The Gift

Inside the Halle Communal Pawn Shop. Reinhard Heydrich and his father are at the teller’s window. While they wait for the teller to fetch the wristwatch, he and his father are chatting.

This is very kind of you, Papi, to redeem Professor Siegfried’s wristwatch. He really didn’t need to do that. I mean, it is my duty to help him and all defenseless Germans.”

Still, one must admit, it’s a lovely gesture. Many are ungrateful,” answers Bruno.

The teller comes back with a small brown paper package. “Sign here,” he points to a yellow piece of paper.

Bruno comes forward. “I’ll sign. My son’s underage.”

The teller looks blank and indifferent.

Open the package, Reinie. It isn’t safe outside. We might find ourselves mugged or worse.

Reinhard Heydrich opens the package, taking care not to tear at the paper needlessly.

Your mother has plenty of wrapping paper,” Bruno reminds him.

Could I have it?” asks a woman anxiously, overhearing what Bruno has just said.

Reinhard smiles. “Here it is,” and stretches out his hand towards her while he opens the small, black rectangular box. In it is the most beautiful wristwatch he has ever seen. Gold. Sleek. Classic. A Patek Philippe. “Look, Papi! There must be some mistake. This is a Patek Philippe!”

Bruno turns to the teller. “This is a Patek Philippe. Are you sure this belongs to the slip we just gave you?”

Ja. Ja. We don’t care what it is. We lend money only on the gold carats. Right now, horseshit’s worth more than gold,” replies the bored looking teller.

Before going outside, Reinhard puts the watch carefully into his pocket, admiring it one more time before he does. Outside the store, he thanks his father one more time, and then sets off to Prof. Siegfried’s home. As he approaches, he notices There are workmen and painters in the place.

“Is Professor Siegfried home?” Heydrich asks.

None of the workers turn around.

A jolly and portly gentleman answers for them. “They don’t speak German very well. They’re Polish refugees. I’m the landlord. Professor Siegfried left for England yesterday. Who might you be?” He takes a closer eyepiece examination of Heydrich.

Heydrich. Reinhard Heydrich.”

I see. Professor left this for you. He thought you might come. I live next door. My name’s Solomon Freberg.”

Thank you, Herr Freberg. Did Professor Siegfried leave an address?”

You can write to him care of the University of Oxford.”

One of the workers plastering over a wall asks Herr Freberg something in what might be Yiddish, or so thinks Heydrich.

I’m sorry for the disturbance, Herr Freberg,” Heydrich apologizes, taking the letter. For the first time he sees two fingers are missing from Herr Freberg’s right hand. Indeed, most of his hand is a stump. Heydrich’s eyes remain impassive but he can’t help himself. “Where?” he asks painfully.

In Flanders (Belgium).”

War is horrible, especially for the vanquished,” declares Heydrich.

Ah, youth! There are no victors in war,” replies Herr Freberg, turning abruptly away.

A disbelieving young Heydrich takes his leave. “Auf wiedersehn, Herr Freberg.” Reinhard Heydrich goes down the same way he comes up, taking the steps two at a time and heads to the Halle Conservatory.

Bruno Heydrich is rehearsing his students for a recital. During a pause, Reinhard joins him. “Professor Siegfried’s gone. He left a letter for me with his landlord, Solomon Freberg. Papi, it was terrible. Freberg had most of the fingers of his right hand blown away in Flanders.”

Bruno has consternation written all over his face. “So that’s why Solomon Freberg stopped giving concerts. Odd he should be living in Halle.”

Reinhard slaps his forehead. “How stupid and insensitive of me. Are you sure it’s the same Solomon Freberg?”

One of my colleagues said he was injured in Flanders and would never perform again. Mind you, Freberg volunteered to fight. What did the professor say?”

Reinhard replies sadly, “I haven’t opened his letter yet.”

Bruno Heydrich says nothing, pats his son gently on the shoulder and tells his students, “Back to the Bach cantata.”

Heydrich eases out of the studio and heads back home. The watch in one pocket, the letter in the other. Taking his time he heads toward the river. There is one more thing to take care of before leaving town, something he doesn’t want his parents to know about.

. . .

The boats sailing down the Saade River are hooting back and forth. The street he is watching faces the river. A motorcycle noisily snorts up the street. A young man in his early twenties is on the motorcycle. He is alone. He stops the motorcycle and chains it to a post in the garden which belongs to his family. He moves arrogantly and cockily. Heydrich pounces. “If it isn’t Jurgens. Remember me?”

Jurgens squints and orders, “Come closer. I don’t know you.”

Heydrich dwarfs him by a good seven inches, although Jurgens is built like an ox. He jumps up and crouches next to Jurgens. He’s so close, he can smell his breath. It stinks of beer and sauerkraut.

Who are you?”Jurgens shouts.

I’m Heydrich. Reinhard Heydrich. The naaaany goat, the Paganini, the 13-year old you used to beat and torment with four other rogues. To be continued, you said. Five years ago in the classroom. You were going to crush all my fingers one by one. Remember now?”

Jurgens looks momentarily terrified. “But… that was a long time ago.”

That’s right, But I see you’re still the same, maybe a killer now, shooting at unarmed civilians, riding on bicycles from a first story window?”” taunts Heydrich.

Jurgens has to look up at Heydrich. “You wouldn’t be so high and mighty if my men were with me. They’ll be here soon.”

No, they won’t. My men have intercepted them.”

So you’re the son of a bitch who ruined it! I should have known. The little Jew Paganini, the blonde Moses, wants to get even.”

Worse than that, Jurgens. I am challenging you to a fight. I’m going to show you how much I can hurt you even without using my hands.”

At that exact moment, Heydrich pulls out a small flashlight, signals towards the front. From a harmless looking milk cart, seven men in various states of disability emerge accompanied by a black, snarling Doberman on a leash.

Jurgens steps back. “You big Jew bastard…”

Shut up, Jurgens. Thanks to you and your ilk, words have no effect on me. My friends are war heroes. They are here to search you inch by inch. This is going to be a fair fight.”

The legless wonder in a crude cart examines Jurgens’ legs and boots, removing two stilettos. He grins and shows them off to Heydrich and his friends. Another one knows just where Jurgens keeps his guns. Two, oops, no, three Berettas. 22 caliber.

No picking off the helpless tonight from first story windows.”

From behind his neck, another friend in crutches unearths a shiv. The sleeves of his jacket reveal a Swiss Knife each. “Mein Herr,” the soldier with one missing arm bristles. “Bitte, The cap off your head.” As Jurgens moves his arm, the black Doberman gives him a slow, vicious snarl. “Sorry. I’ll remove the cap myself. Nothing here.”

Let’s see those legs wide open. Good. Nothing here. From the look of your trousers, you couldn’t be hiding anything near your teeny weeny.”

Feel his back. Remove his belt. That buckle is a deadly weapon. Check the soles of his boots again.”

Are you ready, Jurgens?” asks Heydrich in a cold voice, which makes the hardened war veterans tremble.

That kind of anger is very dangerous,” one of them whispers.

The slow, seething, day after day, year after year kind of anger,” says Heydrich. “Have you read the Count of Monte Cristo?” he asks Jurgens.

No reply.

Your kind don’t read Alexandre Dumas. The Count of Monte Cristo waited twenty-five years to exact his revenge. I’m seventeen; it’s been five never ending years. Almost a third of my life,” he tell Jurgens in the same cold, icy demeanor.

I’m ready. Bastard!” Jurgens spits on the ground violently.

The Doberman lunges towards him. Jurgens jumps back, naked fear in his face.

So am I, coward. So am I.”

His seven friends turn away. They enter the milk cart slowly and then leave the scene as quickly as the old nag will carry them. Heydrich lifts both his arms and waves wordlessly. That is the precise moment Jurgens chooses to attack. Heydrich expected it. He jumps lithely backwards and than sideways. “The rules are… look Mutti, no hands for me. You can use your hands and any other part of your body.”

Jurgens is enraged. The veins on his thick neck are distended. He comes after Heydrich like a raging bull. Heydrich runs, then without warning he turns, jumps into the air and slams both of his legs into Jurgens’ solar plexus. Jurgens falls flat on his back, gasping for air. Heydrich edges closer but safely out of reach of either Jurgens’ arms or legs.

Get off the ground as soon as you recover your breath. I’m waiting.”

Jurgens tries to talk. It is impossible.

Take your time. We’ve got all night.” Heydrich delivers these lines as if he were talking to a friend.

This infuriates Jurgens even more. He forces himself to get up; he can’t quite do it. He crawls on all fours, then leans against the wall for support, his chest heaving with the effort to breathe regularly.

Really, Jurgens. I didn’t hit you that hard. I’m saving that for later.”

I hate you,” Jurgens utters in between gasps and cries. “I’ve always hated you… you… pretty face.”

This is the night of reckoning. I’m giving you a chance to bash my pretty face in, Jurgens. Come on! Do it!”

Jurgens stumbles but he’s slowly but surely on his feet.

Now, don’t rush at me, you dumb ox. I refuse to fight with the handicapped.”

That really gets to Jurgens who rasps, “I’ll kill you, Yid!” and goes after Heydrich.

As his punches fly, Heydrich dodges, crouches and somersaults. Then Jurgens stops. His motorcycle is in front of his eyes. If he can get to it, remove the chain or yank it, in the mood he’s in, he can run over Heydrich and turn him into mincemeat. But Heydrich knows all about what he’s thinking.

Jurgens, did I win all those prizes for excellence because my father bought the school authorities? I won because I worked hard to be the best. Idiot! You’ll never get to your motorcycle. Why?”

Jurgens is really ferocious now. A few blows just miss Heydrich’s stomach and kidney. Heydrich’s reaction is to keep reciting in a soft, almost caressing tone of voice which baits Jurgens even more.

Why, Jurgens? Why?”

I hate you. I’ll kill you, Heinz and Maria.”

You’d better be lying about my brother Heinz and my sister Maria,” Heydrich says, dropping to the ground. Something about the way Heydrich is coiled, poised to strike, alarms Jurgens but he does not reply to Heydrich. Then Heydrich goes behind a large, black car parked on the street.

Where are you? Come out.”

Voila!” replies Heydrich, kicking Jurgens so ferociously in the back of his waist, Jurgens falls down in great pain. Blood from his broken nose begins to flow onto the ground.

You disgust me, Jurgens. I refuse to fight. You’re in terrible shape. In a few days I’m leaving for the Naval Academy. Keep away from my family. Stay out of our lives. I haven’t cut out your tongue. Speak!” Heydrich turns Jurgens over with his boot. “Just nod for yes.” Jurgens is choking on his own blood. Heydrich rolls him over again on his stomach, removes his handkerchief, stances the flow of blood from his broken nose. “I take it that’s a yes. Stay calm. I’ll call the hospital. Remember, I didn’t use my hands. What’s more,” Heydrich laughs a little at the thought, “you didn’t even touch me. If we never meet again, it will be too soon. So long, Jurgens.”

Without a backward glance, Heydrich slowly walks away. At the corner of the street, there is a telephone booth. He enters, places a few coins, surprised it has not been vandalized. He dials the number for the Emergency Hospital of the Franciscan priests.

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