Ice cold, p.8

Ice Cold, page 8

 

Ice Cold
 


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  Putting his hand in his pocket, he takes out the money for his drink, counts it, and puts it down beside the glass. Only then does he go over to the next table.

  May he join them? His voice sounds to him strange and wooden. And the dark-haired man says, ‘Yes, of course, just sit down. So long as you’re not the sort to put on airs you’re welcome. All alone at your table, eh?’

  He even gives up his place beside the girl so that the driver can sit down beside her. And then they talk to each other all evening.

  She tells him she’s from Wolnzach. Her father deals in hops, her mother runs a general store. She’s looking for a job here in Munich. Wolnzach was too countrified for her. She’d been working in a hotel there, that was her last job, she’d like one the same in Munich. She was really supposed to be staying with family, that had all been agreed, but they didn’t have room for her, so she’s putting up at Hans and Mitzi’s place. They live in Mariahilfplatz.

  He keeps looking at her as she tells him all this. He looks into her big dark eyes, he looks at her full lips. She has pretty teeth. Her voice is soft and gentle.

  She goes on talking and talking. About her home in Wolnzach, how her father didn’t want her living there any more, so that’s why she was here to look for a job.

  Only much later does he ask what her name is. Katharina, she says. Katharina Hertl. But he can call her Kathie, everyone does.

  They all stay late this evening, they don’t leave until nearly midnight. The driver asks Kathie if he can come back to Mariahilferplatz with her.

  ‘Yes, I don’t mind.’

  The night outside is starry, you can smell autumn already, taste it in the cold air. They cross the Viktualien-markt, the big Munich produce market, passing the stalls, all now closed down for the night. Mitzi and Hans are ahead of them.

  First the driver just walks along beside Kathie, then in Reichenbachstrasse he takes her arm, she feels a little cold, and they cross the Reichenbach Bridge arm in arm. When they reach the lodging-houses in Ohlmüllerstrasse, Hans turns to the pair of them. He calls back, over his shoulder, ‘Come on, time you two said goodnight.’

  Kathie stops. She goes quite close to the driver. She whispers in his ear: will he be coming back to Soller’s again tomorrow? He feels her breath on his skin, her warm breath.

  ‘At nine’, he hears her saying.

  And when he nods Kathie kisses the driver goodbye. He feels her lips on his. They are soft, warm and full.

  Erna

  I work for BMW in Munich. Running in the cars. My name is Georg Spielberger. I’m Erna’s fiancé.

  Erna and me, we met in February at the Salvatorkeller ball. It was 3 February 1934, Carnival Saturday.

  I’d be lying if I was to say I didn’t fancy her straight off. The moment I first set eyes on her. I’d gone along with my friend Arthur Vogel and a few other guys. We were all dressed up as chimney sweeps. ‘Then the girls will kiss us for good luck and so on.’ It was Arthur’s idea, he’s always getting brainwaves like that. Erna was there with her girlfriend.

  She came up to our table because she knew Arthur. She’d met him through her brother. I liked the look of her at once. She was dressed in a Pierrot costume, with a little cap on her head and a red heart painted on her cheek.

  The two girls sat down at our table. I made sure she was sitting next to me, didn’t want to give the other fellows a chance. I never took my eyes off her all evening, and I didn’t dance with anyone else.

  When she told me she was in the office at the BMW works, I said to her, ‘What a coincidence! I work at BMW too.’

  ‘You must be joking! I don’t believe it,’ she said.

  Arthur, who was standing behind me, had to back me up or she’d never have credited it.

  She added, ‘How funny we’ve never met in the canteen or around the place somewhere else.’

  ‘It’s certainly funny, because I’d have noticed you right away,’ I answered her back. ‘A pretty girl like you would catch anyone’s eye.’

  She laughed heartily. She laughs a lot anyway, she likes laughing. She’s a girl who enjoys life. That’s why I liked her so much from the start. She’s pretty too. That long, dark hair. Those black eyes. She really does have black eyes, and when she laughs they begin to sparkle. And she has a perky, heart-shaped little mouth. When she laughs you can see all her teeth.

  I took her to her tram stop, it was Tramline 1 on the Landsberger Bridge. And before she got on the tram I plucked up all my courage and gave her a hug and a kiss. I thought to myself, this is the girl I’ve been looking for and I’m never going to let her go.

  The very next day we met again, and then it was every day after that. We meet at work anyway, and I always wait for her outside the BMW gate after work.

  The girls that Erna works with up in the bookkeeping department all know me. And if she’s rather late coming out, I go up to her office and wait there.

  Then after work we go to the cinema, or for a walk, or just to my place. I’m still living with my parents, and when Erna realized that my mother always comes home from her job very late, she said, ‘I tell you what, I’ll cook for you.’ And that’s what we did. My Erna is a good cook.

  She stays the night most weekends, and sometimes during the week too. Whenever we can’t stop talking and telling each other stories and it’s very late. Or when we’ve been to the cinema.

  She likes going to the cinema, my Erna does, so we see almost all the new films they show at the cinema. She can sing the songs from the films as soon as she’s heard them. My Erna has a lovely voice. I always like listening to her. I’ve often said to her, ‘How can you remember that? You’ve only just heard it. I could never do it, honest.’

  Then she just laughs and shakes her head. ‘Oh, it’s easy.’

  Quarrel? No, we never really quarrel. Now and then we exchange a few words, about some small thing, but no, we never have anything you might call a quarrel.

  Last Saturday she came to my place around five-thirty. And around seven we started out. We went into town on the tram.

  Erna wanted to go to the Buttermelcherhof restaurant where her friend is a waitress. The friend’s first name is Fanny. I’m afraid I don’t know her surname or her address. Erna told me Fanny was at school with her, and they’ve been friends ever since. Every day in the morning Erna used to call for Fanny, she lived on her way to school. There were lots of other children in Fanny’s family, Erna told me, and they had a billy-goat, one of her brothers was always setting it on the girls.

  And we did have a word with Fanny in the restaurant, but then we decided to leave because it was very full. First we tried to find a place to sit, but we soon saw it was hopeless, so we left again after a few minutes.

  I said to Erna why didn’t we go to the cinema, but she didn’t want to, not that evening, so we went to the Wartburg in Auenstrasse to dance. Erna didn’t dance with anyone but me all evening, she didn’t dance with anyone else. We danced almost all the dances. I thought I’d never seen my Erna look lovelier than she did that evening. She was wearing her red dress with the white dots, and the yellow silk cord necklace with the little beads in it. I gave it to her for her birthday. On 13 August, a day before the Ascension of the Virgin Mary. We got engaged that day, Erna and me.

  We left the Wartburg bar around eleven-thirty. Then we walked almost as far as the Ludwig Bridge and sat down on a bench there.

  I put my arm around her, and she leaned against me. We stayed sitting on that bench for quite a while. We still had plenty of time before the tram left.

  We agreed that next day, Sunday, she’d come to my place by two o’clock and we’d go out to Pasing, to see friends of ours. There’s a fair on in Pasing at the moment.

  ‘Wouldn’t you rather stay here, or why don’t I take you all the way home?’ I asked Erna, but she just laughed at me, she said I was fussing like a mother hen, and she could find her own way home even if she was blindfolded.

  ‘It’s all brightly lit,
she said, ‘and it’s not so very far to my place. You know how fast I walk, it won’t take me fifteen minutes.’

  ‘Yes, I know, but there’s no one out and about at this time of night.’

  ‘There you are, then, there’s nothing for me to worry about. And you’d have to go all the way back on foot, and then I’d be worrying about you.’

  She laughed when she said that. Suddenly I wasn’t sure if she was laughing with me or at me. So I just kissed her.

  Then we got up from the bench and went over to the tram stop. We met Walter Schnabl there, he’s an old school friend of mine. He was standing at the stop too, with his girlfriend. I think the girlfriend’s name is Hilde, but I’m not sure. I only met her that one time. I was glad to think that they’d both be going at least a part of the way with Erna. Walter was taking his girlfriend home, and he said they’d be in the same tram as Erna as far as Marienplatz. At Marienplatz Erna had to change to a number 6 tram. I asked her again if she wouldn’t like me to see her home, but she just shook her head and laughed. Then the tram came along, and I saw all three of them getting in. Erna found a window seat and waved. I waved back, I stood there until the tram had left. It wasn’t until the tram had turned the corner that I turned and went home on foot.

  Have you heard? About Fräulein Schmidlechner? They say she’s missing. Our Erna.

  She’s gone missing. She never came home on Saturday night. Her parents are frantic. They’ve been searching everywhere.

  It was in the city. She met her fiancé there and then she never came home that evening.

  Something must have happened to our Erna … Because she hasn’t come home. That’s not like her at all. She’s ever so conscientious. She works in the bookkeeping department at BMW. Just like her father and her brothers, they all work at BMW too. Her fiancé as well. So I’ve heard.

  At first her parents thought she’d stayed overnight in town with her fiancé. Seems she often stayed the night there. In the city.

  So that’s why they thought nothing of it at first when she didn’t come home. On Saturday night.

  But when she didn’t go to the office on Monday, and neither her father nor her fiancé knew where she was, that’s when they went to the police.

  They reported her missing, and since then everyone’s been looking for Erna.

  They even want to search with dogs, because by now the police are assuming it’s a crime.

  Seems there was a gentleman asked her now and then if she’d like a ride in his car. She told her mother about it, that’s what her auntie Frau Huber told me. Frau Huber from Rehstrasse, maybe you know her.

  And I’ve heard it’s an act of revenge.

  There’s a rumour it was her doing that some people from around here got sent to Dachau. Communists. She’s said to have denounced them. But no one knows anything for sure.

  I don’t want to know all the details, you can easily get involved in something, and who knows, then you might end up in Dachau yourself. They’ll have had skeletons in their cupboards for sure, those folk.

  Theresa Pirzer heard it first from her mother, they say, when she came home from shopping. ‘Erna Schmidlechner has gone missing. She hasn’t been home since Saturday. They’re looking for her everywhere. The police are even searching with dogs.’ She couldn’t believe it, she’d seen Erna on Saturday night. She went to Erna’s mother.

  She wanted to know if the rumour was true, if Erna really hadn’t gone home. It was only then that she went to the police.

  Yes, that was right, she’d seen Erna on Saturday. She’d been in the same tram, it was Line 6, she’d been on her way home around ten past one that night. Theresa Pirzer had been in the Winzerer Bierhalle dancing that Saturday evening, and got into the same tram, that’s when she saw Erna.

  Except for her and her husband and Erna there was just one other passenger in the tram to Milbertshofen, a man. She’s certain of that, she says. But she didn’t know who he was.

  She sat down with Erna and had a word with her. Erna told them she’d been in town with her fiancé. They’d been out dancing, they had a really nice time.

  At the terminus they all got off the tram. The man went the other way, Theresa’s sure of that too.

  Right after they got out they said goodbye to Erna. Theresa and her husband fetched their bikes. They’d left them at the tram station so they wouldn’t have to walk home.

  When they reached the old Milbertshofen cemetery they met Erna again, they cycled past her. Just as they were passing Erna, when they drew level with her, they saw a gentleman’s bicycle leaning against a lamp-post. Two men were standing a little way off. Theresa thought that was odd, so she turned and saw one of the two men speak to Erna. Theresa saw Erna turn her head to the men, but she went on without thinking any more of them.

  The men would have been around thirty, so far as she could tell, but she can’t be sure of that.

  When she reached the South German Brakes works, right by the snack bar, she looked round for Erna Schmidlechner again.

  She saw Erna going off by herself towards her parents’ apartment. There was no sign of the two men any more.

  Soon afterwards she met another family from the neighbourhood, on the way home with their baby in a pram.

  Today, after she talked to Erna’s mother and before she went to the police station to make a statement, she looked in on that family specially. They too told her they’d seen a girl in a red dress. On her own, no one with her. It was a little way from the snack bar, they’re sure of that. She asked about the men, but they didn’t know anything about any men.

  If anything’s happened to Erna, it could only have happened around the rubbish tip and gravel pit just behind South German Brakes, she’s sure of that. Because the whole way is well lit with the street lamps, and she can’t imagine that anyone, not those two men, would dare to attack someone in bright street lighting.

  There he suddenly is standing in front of her, that fellow. Confronting her, legs planted wide apart. His flat cap pulled down over his face – and that horrible grin. It was even broader than before. Just now, not five minutes ago, the fellow had spoken to her. He was grinning then too. Standing beside the other man. There was no sign of the other man now. Only the one with the flat cap was there.

  He’d called out something to her as she passed him. She hadn’t really heard it. Didn’t want to know what it was either. But she’d turned, and he was grinning in her face.

  Bastard, she thought to herself. She’d heard a laugh behind her back, and she walked faster. No, she wasn’t afraid. The street was brightly lit, and she wasn’t alone. Theresa Pirzer and her husband on their bikes were still within earshot.

  But all the same, she suddenly wished she had Georg with her. She shouldn’t have told him not to come. But then he’d have had to go all the long way back. No, it would have been better to stay with him tonight. It would definitely have been better. She was sorry now she hadn’t.

  Even as she was thinking of Georg, the other man, who was wearing a peaked cap, cycled past her. And when she came to the South German Brakes factory, she met that couple with their baby. She asked why they were out so late with their child. He was sitting in his pram. His mother was pushing it and his father walking along beside her. It was just before reaching the snack bar she met them.

  She knew that snack bar well. She’d been a trainee in the factory. She bought herself something at the snack bar almost every time they had a lunch break. The other girls used to laugh at her. She always bought the same thing. Every day. A doughnut. Then she took out the middle of it. She removed the inside, the jam and the doughy bit round it, and always put it aside. After that she filled the doughnut itself with smoked sausage.

  How odd to think of that just now. They’d fired her after she finished her training, and she’d never bought a doughnut at that snack bar again. Now she buys her doughnuts in the works canteen. But she still hollows them out and fills them with smoked sausage. The girls in the bookke
eping department at BMW laugh at her and shake their heads, just the way they did at the South German Brakes factory.

  With all this going through her head, she hardly noticed the fellow with the sporting cap. She never saw him leave his bike beside the snack bar and stand in her way.

  Legs planted wide apart, and grinning.

  ‘Well, got time for me now? I sent my friend home.’

  ‘Leave me alone.’

  ‘Now, now, not so much of your cheek! You come along and keep quiet, and then you won’t be hurt. I need it now, here, come on, don’t make such a fuss. You and your fat arse. Wow, I fancied that the moment I saw it.’

  ‘Leave me alone, you bastard. Go away! I don’t want anything to do with you!’

  She tries to pass him.

  When she’s level with him, right beside him, he grabs her by the throat.

  So fast, so suddenly – she hadn’t been expecting it.

  She defends herself. She’s not putting up with this. She flails out. He’s stronger. All the same, he has difficulty holding on to her. He pulls her down on the ground. ‘Stop that, you’re making me even wilder for it, slut!’

  She tries everything. Twists and turns. Hits out. Tries to scratch him, bite him. Fight back, fight back, fight back, that’s all she can think.

  ‘Bastard. Let me go!.’

  ‘Keep still or I’ll finish you off! Keep still, will you?’

  She won’t keep still. She doesn’t want to keep still. Feels something cold and metallic at the back of her neck. And then pain that almost makes her faint away.

  She wants to go on fighting back. She wants to hit out. Not give in. In spite of the pain. She wants, she wants, she wants …

  But neither her arms nor her legs will obey her any more. She can’t move, can’t move at all. She can’t move any more! Panic takes her in its grip. What has that bastard done to her? What has he done?

  She screams. And screams. Screaming is all that’s left to her, the only thing she can do. She screams, lying there on the ground behind the kiosk. She’s screaming for her life. Because of the pain. In spite of the pain. Screaming as long as she can. Screaming and screaming.

 
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