Outside Help at 3 Schillerstrasse:
“…take warning from others of what may be to your own
Act, 1, Scene 1, Line 25, Terence (185-59 B.C.)
After lunch, I left Frau von Ost and Natascha, having cleaned up with them, and headed to town intending to visit the Baroness. The Baroness liked Americans and she liked me. Recognizing me as a foreigner, she had sought me out at a parade in our small town, where she was speaking. I learned she had traveled abroad, lived in South America, and hated much of what she called provincialism in her native Germany. She hated the German word for ‘Mrs.’ which is ‘Frau,’ spitting the word out repeatedly to dramatize its ugliness.
I knew she would help if she could. She had an overblown sense of justice, and if anything, a keen protectiveness for the underdog. And the article indicated her ability to help.
Would I put her in danger?
I couldn’t throw out a guess on that. I was sure she had the dirt on everybody, including the von Osts. I didn’t think I would betray us or Jon by talking to her. Quite frankly, Jon wasn’t baring anything, and he probably needed help. How I hoped she was home. I gunned my old Ferrari around the narrow streets to my destination.
Once at Schillerstrasse 3, I parked next to the concrete and stucco house with large, open picture windows which tipped outwards, walked up to her door, and knocked.
“Well, Mrs. von Ost! What a surprise.” She shook my hand warmly. “And I am Mrs. von Rosen, just so you don’t think you must use your German ‘Frau’ knowledge on me.”
I laughed, saying, “Oh, it is so refreshing seeing you,” and she ushered me onto her Persian carpets leading step by luxurious step into her home. “I know I am ignoring convention to just drop in, but circumstances were such that—well I—”
“Never mind that. Here are fresh slippers,” she said, handing me a pair of green slippers. And so I left my outdoor shoes with the others at the entrance on the floor and slipped on the house shoes.
“My visit is a bit impulsive. I had to catch the opportunity, and I didn’t want to lose my chance by sticking around any longer.”
“Hmm. I can tell something is amiss. Well, have a seat, and let me make us a coffee.”
“Oh, yes, very wrong.”
“It will not change in the next two minutes, so let me put the water on. It isn’t too late in the day for a coffee, is it?”
“No. That will be wonderful.”
I sat in the chair at the table she motioned toward, and Mrs. von Rosen pulled out fresh blue linen placemats and porcelain coffee cups. She returned with a freshly-baked Kuchen and a Kanne of coffee.
It was strangely relaxing to be fussed over in this escape into sanity.
Within a very short time, our coffees poured, canned milk added, sugar cubes melted, gorgeous slices of dark cake with white on top in front of us, the two of us poised for sharing, we each took our first bite of Black Forest cake with rum and cream.
“How delicious, Mrs. von Rosen.”
She nodded. “So, Mrs. von Ost—tell me everything—I will ponder what I can do to help.” She ate.
“Yesterday I received a postcard with a death threat telling me to leave Germany.”
“No! This is like on the Fernsehen or something that happens to others, not us.”
“Yes. It was deposited in the mailbox without a stamp.”
“So it was personally delivered by the one wishing you harm.”
“Scary, isn’t it?”
“Or by someone he or she picked or paid. Maybe it was stuck into the other letters.”
“Possible, I guess. Reassuring to think a murderer was not at my front door.”
“I understand that. But it could be a spa client, a patient, a guest, or a family member. It could be someone you know very well. It could be one of the invisible people, someone overlooked because they are so familiar and seen so often. You really must take precautions. I wonder how much time the person will give you to leave before he or she takes action.”
“Good point. I suppose I could prepare to travel, meanwhile, to build the illusion.”
“Possibly. Are you sure there isn’t something else you’re not telling me?”
“Oh. There is. How did you know?”
“A former Nazi drove up in broad daylight in his black limousine, and carried out a silver box which contains secret objects that I heard him demand Jon keep at our home.”
“What in the world?”
“I’m assuming this is related to Jon’s father who belonged to the Nazi party and died in Czechoslovakia. He never took part in the exodus with his family and is presumed dead.”
“Yes, once a Nazi, always a Nazi.”
“They think they own the family, as well. You would not believe how many Nazis who were not so well known have returned to their companies and set up again with hardly any transition. I could name you firm after firm.”
“Yes, I saw the article on what you and your husband had done in exposing one.”
“And believe me, we will experience fall out for having done that. But when you fail to speak up when you can, you are as guilty as the Nazi gas chamber attendant.”
“That is true. I’ve been wondering, you don’t think Jon’s father is alive, do you?”
“What was his story?”
“He was supposed to have had a heart attack, and the family was forced to move on without him. Jon had to take over their care.”
“I hadn’t heard that about our Johann. Ach that explains his manner.”
I laughed. “What manner is that?”
“Oh, unbending. Your typical jein man.”
“A ‘yes-no’ man. I’ll have to think about that…and the women they attract.”
“Understanding will probably come in handy someday.” She raised her already very arched eyebrows.
“But my mysterious visitor, this former Nazi, wanted Jon to find something that supposedly belonged to the Nazis and threatened Jon if he didn’t turn it over, even though Jon obviously thought that object didn’t belong to him personally, even if it existed. That, at least, is what Jon seemed to be saying to the man,” I said.
“All right. But there is more, is there not?” She smiled.
“The man drove up in his black limousine, would you believe? Wouldn’t he want to avoid being seen and drive in something less ostentatious? Although the sedans look plain.”
“Limousines are commonly driven by a government official, a movie star, a company magnate, an eccentric with inherited or Nazi money. They really don’t stand out as much as you think. So your husband holds his tongue and keeps you, his precious wife, in the dark. Shame on you, Johann.”
“He probably thinks he’s protecting me, especially since he gave me a gun.”
“Serious. Very serious sound, this has. What did the man look like?”
I described him. “You know, there was a limousine in the photograph of your husband and you that looked very much like the one this man drove.”
“Really? That would be just too lucky, wouldn’t it? Let me see, where did I put that article?” Frau von Rosen said, standing to her full 5’10” height, giving me a quick look, she added coffee to my cup. “I may be able to leaf through all of our news magazines, as well.” She walked around, looking, and found the paper on top of her bookcase.
“Here it is.” She sat back down on the couch, spreading it over unused space near her.
Then I remembered the chauffeur and described him to her.
“A face like you describe should be easy to distinguish. It would help to know who he is. Let me think a minute,” she said, eating bites of cake until she finished, and sipping the last of her coffee. She stared at the newspaper and held it up. “No, it doesn’t say anything to me in particular,” she concluded.
I did likewise, trying to find anything familiar at all about the limousine or any background faces.
“Maybe Heinrich can take the picture and blow it up and get more information from it. I will ask him. My worst conclusion for you is that the card is a separate case. I don’t think the Nazi wants you to leave. You might become collateral for him if Johann doesn’t find this object he wants. Can you get your Jon to tell you what the object is?”
“I don’t know. I doubt it, though. He is so secretive lately. So I have two people with evil intent towards me. One wants me to leave; one wants me to stay. And my husband won’t tell me a thing. Remember, I only know about all this by eavesdropping.”
“Oh, dear. We are in quite a pickle. And the police are no good. One act is too common; the other too special. They won’t touch either one, I’ll wager—unless you happen to get a tedious fellow who’s determined to chase the card down.”
“I had to make the officer in charge even take the thing.”
“There went that idea. Did you get a glimpse of the license plate? They start with the place the person lives in, you know. We could check it out with the Zulassungsstelle and find out who owns it. That is, unless it was rented.”
“Unfortunately, I was mesmerized by the limousine and the men, but I cannot remember even glancing at the back of the car. Too frightening, as it was.”
“Don’t fret. Maybe you will remember it, later. I’ll have to tell you I’m concerned. Do you mind if I enlist my husband’s aid? He works for the Bundestaat.”
“No, I don’t mind at all,” I said, shaking my head. “This might be my last chance to engage anyone on our behalf. I’m just wondering what might occupy a silver case, or what is so important he wants Jon to find and steal, if he has to.”
“The case might have contained papers.”
“Oh. Jon told everyone he was asking for his father’s papers at the dinner table.”
“That might have been the opposite of what he meant. Remember he thinks he must protect you and the rest of the family. So maybe the man brought papers. And that would mean that what he wanted was an object of some kind. He was trying to throw everyone off track. Can you find that out?”
Mrs. von Rosen leaned toward me, reached for my plate, and stacked it with her own.
“Actually, I might accomplish that. Jon gave me the combination to his safe. What I don’t have is a key to his study, at least since the thin man came. I’ll have to plan a way to retrieve that. Maybe I can find out when Jon takes a day trip and have the key duplicated. Or maybe he will give me one. Not everyone uses a double deadbolt to lock a study, do they?”
She smiled and shook her head. “Oh yes, you are in some difficulty, my dear. I wish I were a praying person, but unfortunately, I haven’t learned the art.”
“That’s my native refrain, but I’m out of practice. I worry instead.” I rose to go. “You have been so kind to pull me in and entertain me at a moment’s notice like this. Maybe I can return the favor at my place and that way I will have a trump card if I need you and can’t get to you. Jon wouldn’t dare refuse to let me invite the Baroness to our castle.”
“Smart thinking. We will be in touch with one another. I can assure you nothing will prevent that,” the lovely red-haired lady said. “Oh, by the way, Mrs. von Ost, do you plan to enter the Worldwide Injury Denigration of Women’s sculpture exhibit?”
“Why, yes,” I answered in surprise.
“Good, good,” she said. “You know these Nazis are art philanthropists, as well?”
My eyes widened at the realization of what she was saying. “Why no, I had not even considered that.”
“Do your best, my dear,” she said, smiling. “My husband and I will be there.”
The links were tightening even now, it seemed.
We shook hands warmly at her door, and I rejoined my own shoes before leaving her house where life was normal, and exited to return to my castle of secrets sucking me into and enveloping me with a labyrinth of inner recesses. On behalf of Enzian I reminded myself the castle had directed me toward the Baroness.
The glass door closed, but I saw her watch me climb into my car.
As I drove home I rehearsed our conversation and realized the danger I clearly was in. I worried that Jon might be searching for me already; angry I had not filed a flight plan with him. I also wondered whether or not to tell him about Frau von Rosen. I didn’t want to lie to Jon, but I could hint at a prior invitation without telling him it wasn’t specifically for that very day. He kept his secrets from me, I argued heatedly to myself. Keeping secrets from him was no more than he deserved. Was a stretched truth a lie? Well, of course.
I turned left at the block where the von Rosen’s lived, and wound around the narrow streets where traffic was brisk, and I noticed a dark green Volvo behind me. I sped up for the next several turns which doesn’t bother a German, but the Volvo kept pace with me, turning everywhere I did. I was getting nervous, and not a little kicking myself that I had not given Jon my flight plan.
With my next turn, I left the town limits and headed out in the countryside. I slowed before the turn a little, then gunned it and kept accelerating as I hit the highway.
My maneuvers were no hindrance to the Volvo, which kept pace.
I tried to get a look at the face in the rearview mirror, but the features were disguised with sunglasses and the hands were gloved, the mark of both male and female drivers, and their professionalism in driving.
Any distance between us was narrowing, and the Volvo was close to bumping me in the middle of the curve. Dear God, please, I begged. I reprimanded myself for my foolishness and resolved to be wise the next time.
Before long, I was driving around the curve just before the turnoff that wound up to the castle. The Volvo had pulled back momentarily, but now I saw in the rearview mirror that it was accelerating rapidly. My heart was pounding, and bile rose in my throat. This driver wants to kill me. I let off the gas as much as I could for as long as I could, and finally, when the driveway was just feet before me, I floored my gas pedal to swerve into the turn and up the raft to the castle. I scrunched my body up for the inevitable impact when the Volvo plowed into me, because there was so little space between the cars. Evidently it surprised whoever was behind me enough that the car veered, but then kept on traveling as if nothing had happened.
Shaking all over, my turn-in proved successful. I plowed up the gravel drive, blowing my horn frantically, trying to rouse someone in case the green Volvo returned. I was exposed to yet another surface for danger: the car. This fact made it clear that I was safer trapped in my castle.
My situation was frightening and untenable, and I didn’t know who to trust fully. New suspicions entered my head with almost everyone—some limited suspicions, but others with unknown potential for damage.
Suspicious and guarded. I hated the person I was turning into.