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Part 1A: From Erwin Schrodinger’s Journal
March 26, 1938
My hand is forced. I will kneel before our conquerors.
I loved this country once, not so long ago, before the Anschluss riddled it with Gestapo. I will love it again, after a future summer’s sun has dried the blood that will lacquer its streets. In the meantime I will recant, and in a few months I will flee, and when I have fled I will recant my recantation. It will be too late, of course. By then my crime will have leeched onto my conscience, suckling at it like some zombifying parasite, gorging itself until nothing remains for it to consume, finally dying, dragging me with it.
My recantation will buy me three months, perhaps four. No longer than six, surely, for no counterfeit can brook the scrutiny of Argus-eyed Himler and his trenchcoated myrmidons for so long as that. But I will have time enough. It must be enough.
Tonight I will honor Reichelt’s request and send my “repentant confession” to the University Senate. Even now, as I consider how to begin my apology, what greeting to use, what titles — bile rises in my throat. I whisper a prayer for the words that I will murder tonight when I compose my letter, all the beautiful words once pregnant with meaning, disemboweled by my hand — and akrasia garrotes my brain. I remember that I must sign it, that my name will remain, indelible and unadulterated, at the bottom of my false confession — and I can scarcely breathe. My mind and my body are united against me. They will suffocate me before I can betray them.
April 2, 1938
Already that dreadful letter has been published in Nazi newspapers across Austria. It will soon cross oceans, riding the cameline backs of radio waves, tucked into the iambic patter of Morse code, a stowaway in the ether. When it reaches my peers among Germany’s enemies, Einstein and Darwin and that retrograde Bohr, they will read it and shake their heads and disavow my acquaintance.
It is a cruel irony, this — that I should align myself with Hitler, with an empire of antisemites, to protect the Jew whom I love. But there is no other way. I must remain in Vienna long enough to secure for her safe passage abroad, and for this I must lie with the devil.
I have found a man who will forge the necessary documents. But these, he explains, cannot be drawn up all at once; they must be assembled gradually, in parts, like the manufacture of an automobile, for the watermarks must be unimpeachable, he points out, and the binding equal to them, and there are two different craftsmen who must be engaged for these components, respectively, and yet a third for the paper and ink, who is a notorious laggard, and as each day passes I feel more like a jeweler who has invested in lumps of coal, waiting on tenterhooks for diamonds.
In the meantime Hilda must be protected from the tentacles of German authority. For that I have hired an American.
He was the last of the five detectives that I interviewed today, and the only among them who sustained my interest beyond our handshake. His name was Jacob Lee — Jake, he insisted — and when I asked if that was his real name he replied through a half-cocked grin that of course it wasn’t.
Tall, unshaven, and overweight, Jake carried himself with a disinterested, world-weary confidence that bordered on solipsism, such as you might find in an aging despot or a vacationing mercenary. His eyelids hung low, like those of a reptile lounging on a warm rock, liable to shut completely at any moment. I felt instantly compelled to entertain him, lest he grow bored and slip into hibernation, or cast me out of my own house. In fact, were it not for the singularly American way he fastened those saurian eyes to mine throughout our exchange, I might have worried that our whole conversation had been lost on him.
“You seem like a forthright man, Jake,” I said in English, after we’d poured coffee and settled into chairs. “I would like you to tell me, forthrightly, about your politics.”
“I’m afraid,” he said, still wearing that incomplete smile, “that you will find them wanting.” His words oozed, mollasseslike, in that drawling lilt peculiar to the American South.
“Do you mean to say that you have no politics?”
“That is what I mean, yes.”
“That is uncommon. And dangerous. This continent’s political factions detest the undecided more than they do each other.”
He waved his hand dismissively. “This is Europe. Nations rise and fall like crawfish in a bucket. I can’t go kneeling to a new fuhrer every time one crawls on top of the other, can I? Haven’t the legs for it. Exhausting business. But I think you know that.”
What was this, then? A jab at my ersatz confession? Half-subtle, like the man’s grin. “You read my letter?”
“What do you think of me, for writing it?”
He shrugged. “It is obvious. You are a genius, but desperate. Madly desperate.”
I smiled. “What makes you say this?”
He shifted in his chair and sighed, visibly disappointed that he had been asked to explain his “obvious” line of reasoning. “There are intelligent men, and there are fools,” he began. “Only a fool would write the letter that you wrote and expect it to have any enduring effect beyond damaging his own integrity. It was underhanded, devoid of any real emotion. The Nazis will use it as propaganda; they will boast to their enemies that they have turned the redoubtable Dr. Schrodinger to their cause. But it will convince them of nothing, really. They will continue to assume that you are against them. And there is no place in German-governed universities for subversives. No place at all.
“But you are not a fool. You are an accomplished physicist, which by itself testifies to your intelligence. You are no puppet, either. You’d never have turned your back on Germany if that were so. The question becomes, then: What possible reason could an intelligent man have for writing something so asinine? And the obvious answer is that you wrote it knowing it was asinine. You are like a chess player who sacrifices his queen, not to set up some brilliant combination of moves by which to win the game, but because you have realized too late that your opponent has set up such a combination, and in order for you to prevent it, in order for you to continue playing — let alone to win — she must die.”
His last three words jarred me. They referred to Jake’s metaphorical queen, of course, and not to Hilda, surely. Nevertheless they seemed unnaturally sudden. “You are right,” I admitted. “I am desperate. Or, rather, I am desperate on someone else’s account.”
Jake surveyed the room furtively, glancing through doorways. “A lady?” he whispered.
“Don’t worry. My wife is traveling at present. And yes, my trouble is connected with a lady. A lover. She is Jewish, and from a family that has publicly decried the Anschluss on more than one occasion. Her name is known to the Gestapo.”
“She has… disappeared?”
“No, thank God,” I replied. “That’s what I am hoping to prevent. I am looking for a man who can keep watch over her, and — though I hope it will not come to this — protect her should any threat become imminent.”
“You want to hire a bodyguard.”
“In a sense. But I want this man to remain in the shadows, unnoticed. Hilda — that is the woman’s name — should not know he is present.”
“A wise approach,” remarked Jake. “If there is anything more appetizing to the Gestapo than a Jew, it is a Jew with an aegis.”
“Would you be amenable to such an arrangement?”
“I am always amenable when the compensation is just. But to answer the question you are not asking: Yes, this is something I can do, and have done, very effectively. I can spot anyone who follows your Hilda. I can throw them off her scent. I can fend off one, even two, assailants, either by some ruse or, if necessary, by brute force. But there is a limit to my effectiveness, to anyone’s effectiveness, in these circumstances. If the Nazis do capture this woman, if they manage to check her into the Hotel Metropole, then I am afraid no detective on Earth will be sufficient to rescue her. That place is a tomb. It is impregnable.”
The Hotel Metropole, once among Vienna’s proudest landmarks, had been seized by the Nazis shortly after the Anschluss and now serves as Gestapo headquarters. It is scarcely two miles from my own home, and when the wind blows from its direction I am convinced that something rank and evil wafts through the pores of my walls and the cracks in my doors.
I studied the unkempt hulk ensconced in the chair across from my own. My impulse was to hire him on the spot. His aplomb was infectious, for one thing, to the extent that I felt decidedly more optimistic about Hilda’s condition just having spoken with him, even without having contracted his services. He was American, for another, and as a rule Americans are either isolationists or anti-Germans; I’ve yet to meet an American Nazi.
Still, I found his presence in Austria curious. The Gestapo have deep pockets, and they are known to disburse thirty pieces of silver to competent foreigners like Jake who enjoy access to circles from which they themselves are barred.
“I must know,” I said after a long silence, “that I can trust you. Do you have references in Vienna?”
He nodded. “I will write them down for you. But if you are worried that I might sympathize with the Germans, or that I am somehow in their employ, I believe I can put your mind at ease.”
From his coat pocket he produced a sheath of papers, tattered and yellowed, which he placed on the table between us. They were official service records chronicling Jake’s eighteen months with the American Expeditionary Force in the Great War. Over the course of his deployment he had collected twenty-two German scalps and had earned accolades for gallantry in Montfaucon and Saint-Thierry.
Jake’s military decorations awakened in my own mind a farrago of guilt and shame, long dormant but painfully familiar, as I hearkened back to those listless days in Italy during the war, when I had traipsed about the country brandishing artillery, doing remarkably little, all for the losing side.
Suppressing these memories, I reminded myself that, noble though they were, Jake’s heroics on the western front were hardly evidence of his loyalties here and now, in an annexed Vienna twenty years removed from the Treaty of Versailles. I would check his references.
“If you do choose to hire me,” said Jake, “I will need all the information about Hilda that you can muster. Her address, her work schedule, her hobbies and her habits. A written description of her appearance as well as a photograph. A list of her family members. Their addresses. Whatever else you may have.”
I nodded, and we discussed his fees. They were higher than I had imagined but, lacking a standard against which to compare them, I assumed they were fair, and said as much.
“Tomorrow I will contact your references,” I said, standing to signal the end of our visitation. “If they prove favorable I will pay your retainer and provide all the information you have requested.”
But Jake did not rise as I had. “There is one more thing,” he said, and now he was not smiling or half-smiling, but the other thing. “There is a calling card on your end table bearing the name Gerard Theriot.” He pointed to the item, which had been deposited by a detective I’d interviewed earlier in the day. I had forgotten to file it. “Did you tell him as much as you told me? The lady’s first name, that she is a Jew, and your lover?”
I hesitated. It seemed unorthodox to cede the details of my conversation with one detective to his competitor. But Jake seemed gravely concerned. Besides, I had already made my decision in his favor, internally if not aloud.
“No,” I answered. “I told Theriot practically nothing. I distrusted him immediately.”
“Good,” he said. “You should know that I am not a licensed detective. Theriot is. Do you know why that is important?”
“Because,” I deduced, “a detective’s license is granted by the state, which also governs its use and its renewal.”
“Precisely. And Theriot collaborates more willingly than most with the Germans. Perhaps he is bucking for a job with the Gestapo. Perhaps he already has one. In any case, steer clear of that one.”
He wrestled into his coat and stood at last, extending his hand. It was the kind of hand that bends coins and snaps fishing leaders, and my own felt safe inside it.
April 3, 1938
Today I contacted Jacob Lee’s three references. I was able to reach the first two by public telephone (I have no faith in the privacy of my own); the third, who lives not a mile from the University of Graz, I visited in person.
Their assessments of Jake were every bit as glowing as I had expected they would be — even if my opinion of them wasn’t unanimously positive.
Jake had actually listed two people — Mr. and Mrs. Solange Bertrand — as his first reference. I spoke only with Isabelle Bertrand, her husband being away on business, but she lavished enough praise on the American for a dozen couples. Evidently Jake had tracked down their twelve-year old son after the boy had disappeared the previous summer, and after the municipal authorities had terminated their own halfhearted search. When I pressed Isabelle for details she disclosed that her son had been found, to the horror of both she and her husband, in Prague, some 300 kilometers from home, practically in California, if you went by his mother’s tone, which made Jake’s feats of detection all the more impressive.
My second phone call was an unnerving experience — and it nibbles at me still. No sooner had I introduced myself and stated the purpose of my call than Dr. Pierre Lefevre had boomed, with unbridled amusement and not one iota of discretion, “Ah! You are cheating on your wife, then?”
Aghast, I said nothing, and Dr. Levefre filled the silence with laughter. “Don’t fret, my friend!” he said. “I only mention it because that is why I hired Mr. Lee — to help me cheat on my wife. I told him he was welcome to list me as a reference, but I never imagined he would actually do so. I think you must be the first of his clients — or prospective clients, anyway — to whom he’s provided my contact information.”
He went on to explain that he had married his wife for financial gain, and that she was an incorrigibly jealous woman who accused him of some fresh infidelity every week — a ritual that dated to the day they were married, their honeymoon notwithstanding. (He told me these things freely, I might add, without any restraint or pretense of propriety, as though we were childhood friends. I quite liked the man.) A few months ago Dr. Lefevre had decided that if his wife was determined to berate him every Sunday morning for philandering away the weekend with imaginary tramps and seductresses, he might as well commence an actual affair. Or, as it turned out, a series of affairs. He enlisted Detective Jacob Lee as a kind of counter-spy, to fend off any sleuths that his wife might herself hire, and to keep him apprised of the woman’s movements during his trysts. Lee had done a masterful job, Dr. Levefre assured me, and though he knew nothing of my own circumstances he felt certain that I could only enrich them by hiring the American.
Jake’s third reference, with whom I met in person, was Ms. Michelle Dumas. She was perhaps thirty years old and stunningly beautiful, with large, mesmerizing green eyes and a figure to which an hourglass might aspire. After we had exchanged pleasantries, she explained that she had hired Mr. Lee the previous year to observe her since-divorced husband, who had been rendezvousing with “loose women” in seedy hotels across Vienna. This man, I thought, must have been a raving lunatic, or else an incurable satyr, for no harem of strumpets could hold a candle to the woman I presently beheld.
“It took Jake less than a week,” she said, shaking her head, “to gather all the evidence I needed. Names, addresses, even photographs of that repugnant man doing the deed with one of his whores. Didn’t even draw the curtains. Can you believe that? My god, to think I married so hopeless a lecher.”
I waved a hand. “Men often hide their true selves when they feel they are being observed, or evaluated. When they are courting a woman, for example. Only when they feel their positions are secure — say, after marriage — are their true natures made manifest. You could not have known.”
She looked at me thoughtfully. “Yes,” she said. “I think you are right. But I owe Jacob Lee a debt of gratitude, in any case. He worked swiftly and efficiently, and I must add that he went quite above and beyond his charge. Quite above and beyond. I have him to thank for my divorce, and for the fact that my monster of an ex-husband has kept his distance since. Mr. Lee has earned my highest respects, Dr. Schrodinger, and my utmost recommendation. I hope that you will hire him.”
I returned home shortly thereafter, whereupon I phoned Mr. Lee and offered him the job. He accepted, of course, and I invited him to drop by at his convenience to collect his retainer along with whatever information he might require to begin his work.
As I look back over this journal entry, I realize that it was Jacob’s second reference, Dr. Lefevre, who sold me on the detective’s competence. The truth is that Dr. Lefevre’s situation was strikingly similar to my own, the principal difference being that where Lefevre was concerned about his meddling wife, I am on guard against an infinitely more nefarious agent.
And I am no fool. I am cheating on my wife, as Lefevre was, and it was for this reason that Lee listed him as a reference. Bold, but deliberate. A direct man, this American.
There is such a thing as too direct, though. I wonder what Ms. Dumas meant by “above and beyond.”
April 15, 1938
Hilda and I spent the better part of the day together, strolling about the city, shopping, eating strawberry ice cream, making love, eating chocolate ice cream, making love. She has never been happier, she claims, and I have never felt so confident in her safety.
It has been a week, now, and yesterday Jake provided his first formal report. It was, as the American put it, a “clean bill of health.” Hilda had behaved discreetly, eluding the basilisk surveillance of German authority, and there was nothing to suggest that she was being watched, followed or otherwise investigated — Jake’s own efforts excepted.
Jake concluded his report with an odd question: “Do you wish to know anything about Hilda’s personal life? What she does, where she goes, who she sees, that sort of thing?”
“Certainly not,” I answered. “I hired a bodyguard, not a spy.”
My retainer will afford me another week of Jake’s observations, after which I will begin to pay his fees. Though just a week ago they bordered on exorbitance, they seem a pittance now, their value having been reified in Hilda’s giggles and my own peace of mind.
Still, that question at the end… very strange.
April 19, 1938
My wife is back in Vienna, and so I have suspended my affair with Hilda.
I learned today that with any luck, her documents will be ready in early May. For the eternity between now and then, Jake’s vigilance must suffice.
April 25, 1938
A wrinkle, today.
Hilda phoned me at the university this morning, pretending to be a student, to request a consultation during office hours, preferably around lunch time. This was a kind of code we had concocted after Reichelt had assumed control of the university, as a hedge against any haunts in the wire who might be listening for the vaguest hint of sedition. Its meaning was simple: Hilda had something important to tell me, and we were to meet for lunch at a designated restaurant near my office.
I spent the two hours preceding lunch paralyzed with apprehension, permitting my mind to conjure nightmare scenarios: Jake was Gestapo, and had spent these last weeks building a case against Hilda. My wife had stumbled across our correspondences and had confronted Hilda, threatening to turn her over to the Hotel Metropole unless we terminated our affair. The Germans had snatched Hilda from her home, offered her immunity if she would only testify to my own treason, entombed her in some bloodstained interrogation chamber until she’d truckled to their threats.
When Hilda arrived at the restaurant I seized her shoulders and searched her wake for trenchcoats, Nazi uniforms, bearded men, wolves, dragons. Finding none of these things, I hugged her, and collapsed into my seat.
“I was frightened for you,” I said.
“So I noticed,” she replied, grinning. “I nearly reached out to catch your eyes, so certain was I that they would fall from their sockets.”
I laughed, relieved by her good humor. “But what it is, then? What is wrong?”
The waitress came by. As neither of us were very hungry, we ordered a kettle of tea and a plate of bread dumplings. We smiled at each other pleasantly until the server was out of earshot.
“It’s the strangest thing,” Heidi continued. “But I believe someone has been watching me.”
“Do tell,” I said.
“Well, I first noticed him on Friday, three days ago. I was leaving my building for my morning walk, as I do every day, and I noticed a man sitting on the bench across the street, reading a newspaper. He was not there when I returned. The same man was there, at the same time, on Saturday morning. And again on Sunday, and yet again this morning.”
“That is hardly cause for alarm,” I said, using the most reassuring voice I could muster. “The gentlemen has simply developed a habit of reading his newspaper there on that bench, just as it is your habit to go walking every morning. Doubtless he lives nearby and finds in that bench a daily escape from his stuffy apartment, or a nagging wife.”
“It is the same newspaper.”
“He has been reading the same newspaper since Friday. One morning — even two — with the same newspaper is above reproach, but four? Beyond suspicious. Or do you have a clever explanation for that, too, Dr. Schrodinger?”
I did not. “What does the man look like?” I asked.
“Big, in every sense of the word. A beard, not so neatly trimmed, and an outmoded sense of fashion. His suits are terribly old, and his shoes are so scuffed that they will no longer hold a shine.”
Relief and anger struck up an unwonted marriage in my mind. Relief, for the man Hilda had described was surely Jacob Lee himself, and no enemy. Anger, because Jake had been so foolish. So amateurish an oversight cast a pall over his otherwise faultless reputation; a second mistake could prove ruinous.
I rubbed my chin, feigning pensiveness. “He does not sound like a German agent,” I said. “Tell me, are there other people whose regular morning walks take them through that area?”
Hilda nodded. “Yes, there are one or two others in my building who take morning walks, and more, I am sure, in the adjoining buildings.”
“Then it is quite possible that if this man is watching someone — and we don’t even know that, not for sure — it may be someone else.”
“Yes, I suppose so,” said Heidi, audibly skeptical. “But shouldn’t we summon the police, just to be sure? I can call them anonymously, from a public telephone –”
“No!” I said, more loudly than I’d intended. “The risk is too great, my love. Suppose they question the tenants of your building? Or post an officer there? We can’t afford to attract their presence. They are but a whisper removed from the Gestapo.”
Hilda said nothing, but the tension in her features was clear enough.
“Give it two more days,” I suggested, taking her hand. “If the man is still there on Wednesday morning, we will consider our options.”
I will make damn sure that he isn’t, I thought, and I felt anger asphyxiating its bride.
April 30, 1938
A night of euphoria, a morning of bliss. My wife left the country yesterday to visit her mother, which afforded me a long-awaited opportunity to rendezvous with Hilda.
The woman is truly a miracle of human psychology. One does not usually think of sanity as a measurable or quantifiable trait, like height or intelligence. Yet this woman is truly the sanest, most enviably well-balanced individual that I have ever met. She awaits my return without question, despite my long, erratic absences. She says nothing of my wife, though she knows practically everything about her. Never a hint of jealousy, or impatience. And all this she does nonchalantly, almost defiantly, from under flame-breathing Himler’s smoldering nose.
On this last note, anyway, conditions have improved. Mr. Lee has made himself positively invisible since I admonished him for that egregious newspaper slip-up nearly a week ago. He provided his latest report this afternoon, and in it he assured me that my dear Hilda has maintained her own invisibility, at least where the Gestapo are concerned.
Incidentally, I did consider firing Jake. In fact I intended to do just that, so severe was the rage I had worked up after lunching with Hilda. But as soon as I laid eyes upon the man — not two hours after Hilda and I had paid our check at the restaurant — I knew I couldn’t do it. There is something irrefutable about the man, an impregnable confidence that made me wonder whether I was in fact the one who erred, and who should have apologized.
Or perhaps that wasn’t it at all. Perhaps I am simply a miser who was eager to exploit the half-price services that Jake offered as recompense for his mistake.
No matter. The important thing is that Hilda is safe. The two of us will celebrate that safety tonight — though only I will know the reason for our merriment.
May 3, 1938
My wife returned today, several days earlier than expected. And so for Hilda and I, another intermission begins.
This one is especially ill-timed, as I am told that Hilda’s passport will be ready tomorrow. I want nothing more than to present it to her, to become drunk on her joy, to bask in her gratitude, to sweep her into my arms and carry her off to the nearest hotel room and listen to her purr. Ah, mein Kätzchen!
But that will have to wait.
Part 2: A Note Posted to Dr. Schrodinger’s Door
May 4, 1938
I am a coward, but I am not a fool. After you read this you will want to find me, to question me, to beat me to the brink of death. You will try, but you will not succeed. I am gone, disappeared, a specter.
And so, I am afraid, is your Hilda. If I told you that she walked willingly into the Hotel Metropole this morning, that in fact she ran there and demanded to be let in, you would not believe me. But it is no less true.
You can rest assured that I took every pain, exerted every effort, to save your Hilda, to protect her from harm — and yet you can rest equally assured that it was I who drove her into the arms of the Nazis. I cannot explain myself here. Not here and not ever. I can only hope that your profound understanding of the contradictions rampant in our universe will help you appreciate this one.
I say that I am a coward because I could not bring myself to deliver this message face-to-face, as a man ought to. This morning’s events broke something inside me, and I am too frightened and ashamed to function as a proper man should.
Enclosed you will find a sum doubling the fees you have paid me these last few weeks. It is insufficient repayment, I know, but it is all that I can afford.
I am sorry, Dr. Schrodinger. More sorry than you will ever know.
Part 1B: From Hilda Shein’s Journal
April 15, 1938
Spent the day with Erwin. It hardly needs saying that he is a brilliant man, but I think that his most attractive quality is his passion. His passion for his work, for his wife, for me. So much passion is unusual in a scientist; it seems better suited for an artist or a writer.
We made love so many times today that the word lost its meaning. He explores my body with all the fascination and eagerness of an adolescent boy. He penetrates me carefully, almost surgically, as though he is pruning some rare flower, and when he climaxes, he showers me with compliments and sweet talk. It is refreshing, in its way. And exasperating, in another.
I shall be happy to return to Orestes this weekend, who will toss me onto his hard, filthy floor and bore into me from behind until he flops over and falls asleep.
April 23, 1938
This city has become so unsettling these past few days that I can scarcely muster the courage to leave my flat.
Sometimes I imagine that I am a Catholic nun, cloistered away in the world’s smallest convent, baptizing petunias and praying over sewing needles. When I feel overwhelmed, I meditate on the Visceral Mysteries — the Overtures of Schrodinger, the Glorious Erection of Orestes, the Exodus from Vienna — and if I reflect deeply enough, I can exorcise the Kraut demons from my mind just long enough to smile.
Germany is planning something. Soldiers and Gestapo have spilled onto every street; they are seeping out of unmarked buildings, bubbling up from subway stations, oozing from alleyways. On at least three occasions screams have interrupted my meditations, and I’ve rushed to my window to find some nameless victim being dragged down the street by some uniformed savage brandishing a Luger, always in the general direction of the Hotel Metropole.
Worse than that, I fear that I am being surveilled. For the last two days, during my morning walk — the only escape from this nunnery that I allow myself — I’ve noticed a strange man sitting on the bench across the street from my building, pretending to read a newspaper. I say “pretending” because I have yet to see him actually turn a page, despite having passed him on four separate occasions.
Perhaps I am being paranoid. The man-with-the-newspaper is an oaf, lumbering and conspicuous, as subtle as a palm tree in Siberia. The Germans are a reprehensible lot, but they are not fools; surely they would never employ so clumsy a spy.
Perhaps he is simply a slow reader.
Still, I shall remain wary. I will watch he who would watch me.
April 29, 1938
Erwin was correct. Erwin is always correct.
The man-with-the-newspaper has been missing from his bench these last four days, which means either that he was never spying on me at all, or that he has lost interest.
Better still, Erwin’s wife left town today, and so I am writing this from his bed. I am still catching my breath, and he is in the kitchen, concocting some gin-infused aphrodisiac that he hopes will restore his vigor.
He has a new pet name for me: mein Kätzchen. His kitten. He whispers it into my ear he climaxes, when his mood is especially maudlin.
April 31, 1938
Last night I woke in a sweat. I cannot recall all of the details of my nightmare, but I remember slivered eyes blinking in the dark, yellow and ravenous, the only visible features of some eldritch creature lurking in the gloom.
So real was my sense of being watched that I tore away my bed sheets and rushed to the window, forgetting my nakedness, and peered into the darkness across the street. The bench where the man-with-the-newspaper had been was unoccupied. The street was quiet. All seemed in order. And for a moment, I told myself that it had just been a dream, only a bad dream, and that I should take a deep breath and return to bed.
Then something moved.
It was hardly perceptible, little more than a glimmer of light, a shifting of shadow. But I had seen it, I was certain, in a copse of trees beyond the empty bench.
And I have not slept since then.
I have tried to convince myself that it was a cat on the prowl, purring at the moon from a tree limb. It was a cat, Hilda, surely, only a cat.
But my imagination will not settle upon a cat; it returns, despite my admonitions, to the man-with-the-newspaper. And it conjures, from the vaults of my memory, a bible verse I thought I’d forgotten:
In thoughts from the visions of the night,
When deep sleep falleth on men,
Fear came upon me, and trembling,
Which made all my bones to shake.
Then a spirit passed before my face;
The hair of my flesh stood up:
It stood still, but I could not discern the form thereof…
May 1, 1938
It happened again last night. Or at least I think that it did. I cannot be sure.
Just as I was falling asleep.
This time, though, I saw a man’s face, bearded and joweled, disappear into the shadows as I approached my window. The man-with-the-newspaper, I am sure.
But I am not sure.
May 3, 1938
Last night I tried something new. Something that Orestes suggested.
I rose from my bed at 3:00 in the morning — I had not been sleeping anyway — and dressed quietly. I tip-toed downstairs, where a bay window looks out upon the street. At so early an hour the lobby is unlit, and the man-with-the-newspaper, if he were watching my fourth-storey apartment from his hiding place behind the bench, would likely not detect my silhouette moving through the darkness below.
And I saw him. I saw him as clearly as I see the page of this journal, a ghost in the lamplight, neck craned, eyes half-closed and locked upon something above me.
I tried blinking. I tried counting backwards from ten. But he was still there, unmoving, hardly breathing, just watching. And I thought: How strange a study this would make for some unfortunate Gestapo agent who, glimpsing upon our little scene, would find me leering at a specter who was, in turn, staring at an empty flat. So much attention being paid paid to nothing.
Orestes believes that I should summon the police. He says that if I go to them today, my problems could be over as soon as tonight; they will simply post an officer in the park who will surprise and arrest the man-with-the-newspaper. Orestes trusts the local police, even has friends in their employ, and has assured me that they all secretly hate the Germans and would never report me to the Gestapo.
I think I shall wait another day, though. Erwin has a different perspective on Vienna’s police, and I should like his counsel.
Until tomorrow, then. One more sleepless night.
Part 3: From the Transcript of an Interview
The following interview was conducted on May 4, 1938, by Agent Gerard Theriot of the Gestapo (herein abbreviated as GT). His subject was Officer Nicholas Lang of the Vienna Police Department (herein abbreviated as NL). The interview took place in the Hotel Metropole, and the entire exchange was observed by several high-ranking officers of the SS.
GT: Hello again, Mr. Lang. Please state your name and occupation.
NL: You know who I am, Gerard. My name is Nicholas Lang, and I am a policeman here in Vienna. As you once were.
GT: Vienna is an occupied territory of Germany. Are you a loyal subject of the fuhrer, Mr. Lang?
NL: [Pause] Yes.
GT: I do not believe you. But no matter. You have a swollen eye, Mr. Lang. You are bleeding from your mouth. A pathetic sight, for a man who is supposed to bear authority in his community. Do you need us to call a medic?
NL: No. I am fine.
GT: Good. Then we may proceed. Earlier today, a certain Hilda Shein entered this building. You were found running after her in the street. I want —
NL: I wasn’t running after her.
GT: That is the last time you will interrupt me. But since you did, please explain yourself.
NL: I was running after the man who was chasing her.
GT: And who was that?
NL: I don’t know. A big man. Bearded. American, I think.
GT: Interesting. You’d better start from the beginning. Mr. Lang.
NL: Earlier today, a friend of mine stopped by the station —
GT: What is your friend’s name?
NL: [Pause] Does that matter?
GT: You will answer every question I put to you, whether it matters or not. What is your friend’s name?
NL: Orestes. Orestes Kostas.
GT: A Greek, then?
GT: A slovenly, weak people, the Greeks. How far they have fallen. Go on.
NL: He showed up at the station asking if I would meet with a friend of his. He explained that his friend was a beautiful woman who had attracted a stalker, and this stalker was watching her window at night from across the street. She was so terrified that she had not been able to sleep, and she could barely bring herself to leave her apartment. I told him that of course I would meet her.
GT: Did he ever mention the name of this woman?
GT: So you did not know that you had agreed to meet with Hilda Shein?
GT: But you did know who she was?
NL: I have seen her name on the lists you have sent to our precinct.
GT: It is good that you have been paying attention to our communications. It is good that if you had known her name, you never would have agreed to meet with her without notifying us first. There is something powerful in a name, Mr. Lang. Something powerful in knowing a name. But we will come to that later. So, you went to meet her.
NL: Yes. We were supposed to meet her by the park bench across from her apartment building. And we came very close, so close that she stood up to greet us.
GT: Supposed to? Very close? What happened?
NL: Just before we reached her, a man stepped into our path. He yelled, “Hilda, run!”, and then turned to us with an angry, defiant look on his face. Practically growling. Before I could understand what was happening — let alone draw my baton — he had punched me so hard that I nearly lost consciousness. Orestes tried to grapple with the man, but the man brushed my friend’s arms aside as though he were a flailing child, then followed through with a left-handed haymaker that reduced Orestes to a heap on the pavement.
GT: And what was Hilda doing?
NL: Our struggle lasted only a few seconds, and my eyes were on our assailant, not on Hilda. But I did hear her scream: “That’s the man! That’s him!” And then, by the time I’d composed myself, she was running down the street, and the stranger who had attacked us was pursuing her.
GT: Tell me more about this man. What did he look like?
NL: Big. Very big. Perhaps six feet and five inches, with broad shoulders and a round belly. He wore a beard, but it was untrimmed, tousled. His eyes —
GT: Did he have an American accent?
NL: Yes. How did you know?
GT: I will ask the questions, Mr. Lang. Please, proceed with your account.
NL: The American was large, but he was not fast. Hilda had kicked off her shoes and was outpacing him. I took off after them. I followed them around a corner, and I saw that Hilda was running straight toward the Hotel Metropole — to this place — with the American at her heels.
GT: You sound surprised. Is it so surprising that a person in distress would seek the Reich’s protection?
NL: [Pause] I suppose not.
GT: Not surprising at all. You think because Hilda is a Jew that she fears us. But that is the thing about Jews — and Greeks, and all weak peoples. They hunger for direction, Mr. Lang. They thirst for powerful leaders, for domination. What happened next?
NL: Two soldiers at the door to this place. Hilda turned and ran straight for them. The American yelled: “No, Hilda! Not to them, you fool! Turn away!” But when one of the soldiers drew his weapon, the American turned and fled. The soldier followed him down an alley, I believe. I cannot say for sure, for my attention had returned to Hilda, who had practically thrown herself into the arms of the remaining soldier.
GT: And what did you do then, Mr. Lang? Pray be truthful; I have already interviewed the soldier of whom you speak.
NL: [Pause] I offered to take Hilda with me, back to the station. I told the solider that she was police business, and that I would personally see to the capture of her assailant.
GT: But you were bruised and bleeding then, as you are now. You were a pitiful mess, Mr. Lang. Did you really think anyone would credit your competence as Hilda’s protector? Besides, you made another mistake, didn’t you?
NL: I don’t know what you mean.
GT: What were your exact words, Mr. Lang, when you offered to take Hilda from the soldier?
NL: I don’t remember.
GT: Did you use Hilda’s name? Did you say “Hilda, come with me”? Or perhaps “I will take Ms. Shein, officer.”
NL: [Pause] She wanted to come with me, Gerard. The soldier would not let her.
GT: Because you had used her name. Yes, I imagine she was quite frightened at that point. I can see it now — the sudden horror in her eyes. The realization. The soldier’s strong arms around her — arms that had been a shield, just a few moments ago. A sanctuary. But now the soldier knows her name, and she looks up at his clean-shaven face and sees not a guardian but a captor. His arms are become a prison, a Konzentrationslager. She is trapped, she thinks. She knows. She has fled into the maw of the beast. No — something more Jewish. Into the lion’s den, yes? [Laughs] All because the solider knows her name. There is something Jewish about that too, is there not? Something kabbalic, I think. [Laughs]
NL: There is nothing humorous about a woman’s trepidation.
GT: [Laughs] There is irony here that you cannot possibly see, Mr. Lang. So much irony. Speaking of which, there is one last thing we must discuss: the American’s whereabouts. You said you saw him run into an alley, yes? Do you know where he might be now?
NL: You will have to ask the soldier who followed him.
GT: [Pause] But you know he is dead.
NL: A violent man, this American.
GT: Yes. And no stranger to Vienna, either. We will have our work cut out for us, I think. But do not worry, Mr. Lang. We will take care of him. And we will take of Ms. Shein, too. Rest assured of it. She came to us seeking sanctuary; the Reich will grant it to her.
NL: Is there anything else, Gerard? I have an injury to tend to, and work to return to.
GT: There is nothing else, Mr. Lang. There can be nothing else. You have given us so much already.
NL: I may go then?
GT: We will be watching you. Act accordingly. Act as a man whose every move is recorded, observed. So yes, Mr. Lang, do go now. Go and clean yourself up; we would prefer to watch something less repulsive.