Chapter Fifteen

Eleanor was late meeting him at the restaurant, which was in a tree-lined street off Golzstrasse, not far from Nollendorfplatz. Denham was reading a newspaper at a corner table and rose, smiling, as she entered.

That shyness as he met her eye. ‘No gown this evening?’

She was wearing a blue angora sweater, a red chequered skirt that came only to her knees, and short white socks.

‘Ever seen a girl dance swing in a gown?’ She pulled off her beret, so that her unwaved hair fell around her neck, and kissed him on the cheek. ‘I hate those downtown swells who go slumming in Harlem dressed for the Ritz.’ She sat down and looked around at the wood-panelled walls, the low lighting, and the couples murmuring over chilled bottles.

‘A favourite place of yours?’

‘Yes… it’s hard to find, and the food’s good. I hope you like French cuisine. To be honest I eat what the Germans eat only when I’m broke. I took the liberty of ordering this bottle.’

‘And what gave you a taste for French cooking?’ she said as he poured her a glass. He seemed younger in candlelight. The bruise on his cheek was healing darkly, giving an intensity to his face.

‘The war,’ he said.

For a moment the light focused in the stem of his glass reflected in his eyes.

‘I ended the war as a first lieutenant. For a few weeks after the armistice we were quartered in a chateau in Picardy. The villagers were kind to us. They taught me a little about food and wine.’

‘You had survived,’ she said without thinking.

‘After a fashion.’

Denham raised his glass in a silent toast, and she did the same, took a sip, and savoured the subtle vintage. ‘A 1913 Petit Verdot,’ he said. ‘A relic from a less troubled world.’

‘The year I was born.’

They were silent for a while, and then he said, carefully, ‘Must have been hard for you, what happened at the end of the voyage over. Your friend Martha told me.’

‘Sure, it hurt like hell. After four years of work it was a mighty blow to my pride. But it’s really not the end of the world. I’ve won a gold medal before…’ She smiled faintly and sighed. ‘The truth is, my behaviour was pretty awful.’

‘Sounds like you had quite a time on that ship. “Let’s Misbehave” is my favourite Cole Porter.’

Eleanor put her glass down. ‘Loyalty and discretion are the qualities I admire most in Martha.’

Denham’s laugh dispelled any tension. ‘So,’ he said, breaking off some bread. ‘I want to hear all about the Herb Emerson Orchestra.’

They drank more of the wine and ordered dinner: he a rainbow trout in a champagne sauce, she a simple ratatouille. For dessert they shared a tarte tatin with cream.

They continued talking long after the wine was finished and the waiter had brought them coffee and Armagnac. Eleanor relished the exquisite burn of the spirit on her tongue, took Denham’s cigarette to light her own, and leaned back in her chair.

She said, ‘Now, are you going to tell me what a hepcat is?’

‘A kid who dances to swing,’ said Denham. ‘Usually a well-off kid who can afford the imported records and the English fashions. They’ve been a big worry to the authorities since jazz music, or rather the wilder “hot jazz,” was banned from the radio last year. A stupid move if you ask me. Teenagers of every generation will rebel.’

‘Ban jazz?’ Eleanor’s face slumped into her palms. She was feeling nicely inebriated. ‘But why? That’s as insane as banning booze. It just makes you want to drink. We should know. We had a failed thirteen-year experiment.’

‘The Nazis are terrified of what wild jungle rhythms will provoke in the nation’s youth…’ He leaned towards her and lowered his voice. ‘Which of course means only one thing…’

‘And what is that?’

‘… reckless, indiscriminate sex.’

The wine made Eleanor laugh freely, and she accidentally dropped her cigarette. He allowed her to light another one, for him this time.

They left the restaurant arm in arm into the humid night, and she remembered that she hadn’t even mentioned the revelation in the rose garden, or asked him about Liebermann.

‘Friedl’s party is a few blocks away,’ he said.

The sky was a deep cyan, flecked by the gold of the moths around the streetlamps. On the corner of the block a dozen or so people were gathered on the pavement, looking into the window of a cafe. Inside it was almost dark; there were no cafe tables but rows of seats packed with people watching a fuzzy square of light emitting from a large wooden box. Together they peered in at it. It wasn’t cinema but a small, ghostly picture showing Carl ‘Luz’ Long running into his jump, followed by a cut to the Fuhrer rocking back and forth in his seat and slapping his knee. Every few seconds a man in a white coat adjusted a dial to focus the picture. Eleanor was as mesmerised as everyone else. Neither she nor Denham had seen a television before.

They turned onto Motzstrasse, and Eleanor was about to mention the rose garden, when Denham pulled her roughly into a darkened garage entrance.

‘Hey,’ she said, more surprised than anything. ‘There’s a time and a place…’

‘We’re being followed.’ He put his finger on her lips. ‘Someone was waiting outside the restaurant as we left. He’s been keeping pace behind us.’

Slowly, they craned their heads a fraction beyond the edge of the corner and saw, about twenty yards up the street, a man standing beneath a streetlamp, looking left and right. The moths cast tiny, fast-moving shadows across his dark coat and the trilby that obscured his face. Denham put his hands around Eleanor’s shoulders and gently pulled her back.

He checked again and waited, holding her close, with her back towards him and his arm around her waist. She felt his heartbeat through his wrist. Suddenly they heard the man approaching, the beat of his footsteps loud and clear on the warm air.

‘Run,’ Denham said.

He caught her hand, and together they sprinted down the sidewalk.

The man shouted in German, and ran after them.

They rounded a corner onto a street of stores shuttered for the night and almost collided with a man walking a dog. Ahead, a yellow light spilt onto the pavement from an open doorway. They ran towards it. Smells of roast pork and cabbage came from inside, and the sound of accordion music and laughter.

Denham led her into the crowded Kneipe.

It was noisy and hot. They tried to walk at a normal pace, dodging an aproned waitress carrying a tray of foaming beers and another with platters of chops and mash. Eleanor looked over her shoulder, saw the dark trilby entering after them, and glimpsed the man’s face. Her skin froze. Something horrific…

‘Go,’ she yelled at Denham.

They ran along a gangway between dining booths, weaving sharply around another waitress with a tray, which caused Eleanor to knock an ice bucket hard with her knee. Ice, wine, and glasses smashed across the floor.

A draught of cool air from ahead, and they saw, beyond the accordion players and another dining area, an open exit. The Kneipe had entries on two streets.

In another moment they were on the sidewalk again. This second street, lit by bright streetlamps, was crowded with a departing theatre audience. She and Denham pushed into the throng.

Eleanor looked back. ‘Have we lost him?’ She’d barely broken a sweat, though Denham was breathing hard.

‘Let’s find that party,’ he said, as if they’d simply taken a wrong turn.

She stopped and looked at him, incredulous, swinging him around by the elbow so that he faced her. The chattering theatre crowd flowed around them.

‘Would you like to tell me what the hell’s going on?’

‘I don’t know,’ Denham said, shaking his head. ‘Look, Greiser warned me this morning to stay away from Liebermann. But I have no idea if that is why we’re being followed. I’ll explain as we walk

…’

He told her about the intruders he’d surprised as they ransacked his apartment.

‘Who were they? Police?’

‘I suspect not. The police would simply have arrested me, then searched.’

‘Thieves then.’

‘They didn’t take anything. No, someone somewhere is under the misapprehension that I have something they want.’

‘Well, what?’

Denham swept his hat off and put both hands in the air in exasperation. ‘I have no idea.’ It was the first time she’d seem him ruffled. Even in that locker room brawl he’d kept his nerve.

‘So that guy following us…?’

‘Could have been one of Greiser’s men keeping an eye on us; could have been one of my intruders; could have been anyone. Who knows?’

‘His face…,’ she said with a shudder.

T he theatre on Nollendorfplatz was an art nouveau palace adorned with decorative turrets and frescoes of erotic figures. No light came from inside, and heavy, dark curtains had been drawn behind the door.

‘We’re in the right place,’ Denham said, watching something over her shoulder.

The first things she noticed were the boys’ chequered jackets and wing-collar shirts. These, together with fedoras and rolled umbrellas, which they swung as they walked, created an eccentrically sharp look. The girls on their arms wore their hair waved, dyed, or curled; there wasn’t a Teutonic braid among them.

‘What’s with the umbrellas?’ Eleanor said as the darkened curtain was pulled aside and a faint trumpet, whining high over a drum rhythm, was heard from within.

‘Is he with you?’ said a voice in English. A young man in pinstripes and sporting a gorse bush of tangled hair nodded towards Denham, and slipped an arm round her shoulder.

‘Yes, he is,’ Eleanor said brightly, flicking his hand off.

They entered a marble foyer, where a large notice on an easel proclaimed in red letters:

SWING TANZEN VERBOTEN! REICHSKULTURKAMMER

At the other end a second heavy curtain was pulled aside and another door opened. It was a large venue, much too large for the crowd of a hundred or so youths, not yet dancing but gathered in front of the band on the stage where a vocalist was singing ‘Minnie the Moocher.’ He threw out the lines of the refrain, which the audience repeated back in mangled English. The attraction seemed to be the trumpeter, a chubby young man in a tuxedo who inflated his cheeks like Louis Armstrong, producing Armstrong’s coarse lilt. A clarinet, two saxes, another trumpet, three trombones, a double bass, a piano, and a drummer completed the band. Not a violin in sight. I’ll be damned, thought Eleanor. A serious swing band. Not large, but the acoustics filled out the sound nicely.

A glitter ball cast its revolving constellation through the veils of cigarette smoke. On the right-hand side a long bar stretched almost the entire length of the floor. The left was taken up by a seating area of cafe tables arranged among large potted ferns.

Eleanor thought that, seen together, moving in rhythm, soaking in the forbidden music, they were the most outlandish kids she’d ever set eyes on. They looked nothing like the English or Americans, more like some rebel faction whose appearance was exaggerated to look as unfascist as possible. Some of the boys had forelocks that extended into a bizarre whip down to their chins.

‘Hey-’

Eleanor turned to see Friedl pushing his way towards them through the crowd. His black hair shone with brilliantine and a cigar stub was stuck soggily in the corner of his mouth. He stopped in front of her and Denham, exhaling a breath potent with rum. There was an edginess to him, and his eyes danced.

‘What d’you think of the band?’ he said, putting his arms around them. ‘It’s the “Flottbecker” from Hamburg. There are cats here from Leipzig, too, and Hanover. Here-’ He began pulling the shoulders of the youths in front of him, turning them around. ‘This is Ray, this one’s King, here’s Fats, Fiddlin’ Jim, Old-Hot-Boy-he’s from Hamburg, formed a huge club around one gramophone-and this is Eton-Charlie.’ This last youth had excelled himself with a derby hat and a silver-topped cane. ‘A dead smart look,’ Friedl said to Denham, ‘like your foreign minister, Anthony Eden, don’t you agree?’

‘Dead smart.’ Eton-Charlie put his nose in the air making the others laugh. Two girls introduced as Blackie and Swing-Puppy smiled with cyclamen purple lips.

A waiter brought them drinks of iced Coca-Cola and rum.

Applause from near the stage, and the singer stood down. Then the drummer beat the first bars of ‘Sing, Sing, Sing’- Bam bam bam-bam barram bam-bam- and the crowd went wild.

‘Benny Goodman, King of Swing!’ someone yelled.

The slim boy known as Fats grabbed Eleanor by the hand, and she allowed him to pull her onto the dance floor.

The crowd swung their arms high, kicked their legs out, and threw each other from the waist. Girls shimmied around the boys, hitched their short skirts up to reveal their panties; boys picked the girls up and banana-split their legs over their crotches. Many of the steps were crude, improvised by the youths themselves, or based on some variation of the old Lindy Hop. Eleanor found herself surprisingly moved by it all.

At the bar Denham stood with Friedl. The young man was pale and sinking his drinks at an alarming rate.

‘Something wrong?’ Denham said.

‘Did you make contact with Liebermann?’

‘Briefly, after her match this morning. But the press chief stopped the interview.’

Friedl’s head slumped to his chest. When he looked up Denham saw anguish in his eyes. ‘Go and find her. Interview her family, too. Publish the truth about these Games…’ There was an off note to his voice, as if mania was only just being contained. ‘I mean… it’s a good story for you… isn’t it?’

‘What’s happened?’

‘I got a tip-off… a few hours ago. My name’s on an arrest list. Probably tonight. Tomorrow at the latest.’

‘Christ. I’m sorry.’

‘I’m going away. Into hiding. I just came to see my friends. I shouldn’t be here.’

‘Are they coming for you because you told me about Liebermann?’

‘No,’ he said, managing a weak smile. ‘Not because of that.’

‘Where will you go?’

Friedl seemed to collect himself. ‘It’s safer if I don’t tell you. I have friends. You shouldn’t worry.’

The band was now playing a swing arrangement of ‘Blue Skies,’ and about half the youths were sitting at the tables to the left of the floor, chatting, sweating, drunk, and laughing. The rest were still hitting their stride in front of the stage.

The shrill note might have been the sax bringing in the next number until Denham realised, at the same moment as everyone else, that a whistle was being blown.

‘Oh no,’ said Friedl.

Some fifteen Hitler Youth were entering the hall from the back and spreading out along the walls to both sides. Short hair; clean, hard faces. Brown shorts with daggers hanging from their belts.

‘Change the music,’ the one in the lead yelled, waving at the stage. ‘Hey you. Change the music.’

‘I’ll say goodbye,’ Friedl said, his voice tight.

Denham embraced him. Good luck.

‘Find Liebermann.’

He turned and pushed his way along the bar to the corner of the floor, slipped behind the stage curtain, and was gone.

The pianist struck up a halfhearted tango to whistles and jeers. ‘Not kosher!’ someone shouted.

Suddenly a lit cigarette was thrown at the Hitler Youth leader. He recoiled, his fingers frantically brushing the bright embers from his shirt; then he lunged in the direction it had come from, fist raised. The brawl began instantly.

Denham found Eleanor. ‘Time to go,’ he said, taking her hand and leading her towards the foyer.

Seconds later they were through to the street.

Behind them came shouting and the sound of a glass smashing.

Eleanor said, ‘You don’t think there’ll be serious trouble, do you?’

‘Probably not. One gang of kids fighting another. They’ll all scramble before the Orpo get there. Those Hitler Youth were probably just looking for girls.’

He told her about Friedl’s tip-off and his escape into hiding.

‘Do you think he’ll be okay?’

Denham said nothing.

A tram clattered over the carriageway. They meandered hand in hand down a deserted street. Denham had no particular destination in mind. The buildings were ornate, shuttered, and heavy, like old safe boxes. The air was still warm, carrying the sound of a far-off train whistle sighing into the night.

‘I’ve had a great time,’ Eleanor said.

Before them the cobblestones glinted like mackerel scales, and in one of the trees around the streetlamps a nightingale trilled, answered a moment later by another in a nearby street.

They turned and faced each other. Her eyes were swimming in the moonlight, her lips parted a little, her breath short.

They kissed slowly, her tongue hesitant, then insistent, his hands clasping her to him. It had been a long time since he’d held a woman who appealed to him for reasons beyond base need. For a few moments he was lost in her. But then an old demon breathed in his ear and he released her.

‘What is it?’ she whispered.

‘You’re a married woman,’ he said, ‘and I’m a lost cause.’

‘Aren’t lost causes the ones worth fighting for?’ she said quietly.

They embraced again, her warm cheek resting on his neck, and stood still for a few moments, rocking very gently, when she gave a sharp cry and jumped away, sending Denham’s heart into his mouth.

The shriek echoed off the dark buildings. Her eyes were locked on a point over his shoulder.

‘What?’

‘Goddamn it, he’s there,’ she said, pointing to the darkness beneath the trees.

Denham could see nothing.

Then from out of the shadows the figure in the black trilby came quickly towards them.

‘Who are you?’ Denham shouted in German.

‘Please…,’ said a young man’s voice. ‘Don’t run again.’

He stepped into the light of a streetlamp, took off his hat, and Denham recognised him. The mutilated eye and stitched-up cheek glistened.

‘I want to talk to you…’ The young man’s voice was quick and rattled. ‘My name is Roland Liebermann. I’m-’

‘I know who you are,’ said Denham. ‘Relax, son, it’s all right. You gave us a fright, that’s all. How did you find us?’

‘Hannah told me about you while you were in the changing room with that official,’ he said in a hoarse voice. ‘She asked me to follow you, but I couldn’t risk approaching you in public… if they’d seen me talking to you, well…’ He shrugged. ‘I found you again as you left the stadium and, lucky for me, you took a taxi. I jumped in one and followed you home. Taxis are safe for me.’

‘Walk with us awhile,’ said Denham.

Roland Liebermann glanced down the still street. A light had come on in a nearby window, and now there was movement behind a curtain.

‘There will be a Portierfrau with a telephone in every building along here,’ he said. ‘ It’s too dangerous. I must go. My sister said we could trust you, and, if I found you, to ask if you will come to us-tomorrow.’

‘I’ll come,’ said Denham.

‘We live at Winklerstrasse 80, in Grunewald. Will you remember that?’

‘Winklerstrasse 80.’

‘Gnadiges Fraulein,’ Roland continued, turning to Eleanor but still speaking in German. ‘I’m sorry I scared you. Tomorrow then,’ he said to them both. ‘But please, don’t let anyone see you approach our house.’

Denham extended his hand to Roland. He hesitated, but then shook it firmly, before pulling the brim of his hat down and turning away. They watched him disappear up the street, darting through the shadows under the trees.

‘I understood enough of that to know you’re going to see Liebermann,’ Eleanor said. ‘And this time I’m coming with you. No arguments. What’s the matter?’

Denham was looking down at the hand he’d just shaken with Roland Liebermann.

‘He had no index or middle finger.’

T he hallway in Kopischstrasse was in darkness when Denham got home. Inside Frau Stumpf’s apartment a clock chimed twice. Exhausted, he climbed the stairs, intending to fall straight into bed. He opened the door warily but found no sign of another forced entry. On the floor in front of him, though, was a telegram, which Frau Stumpf must have slipped under the door.

It was from Anna, asking him to call immediately.

A bud of anxiety popped into his stomach. He had a cordial friendship with his former wife, but they both knew that Tom was the only reason they kept in touch. Had something happened to him?

He picked up the telephone before his imagination ran riot, got through to the exchange at Charlottenburg, and placed an urgent long-distance call. Within seconds the operator called him back with the connection.

‘Richard?’ Her voice sounded strained. ‘I’ve been trying to reach you since early this morning. There’s been no answer…’

‘What is it?’

‘It’s Tom…’ Anna’s voice wobbled. Behind the hiss and crackle on the line he heard her crying. ‘He’s disappeared.’

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