"At least by analogy," Hans was saying in a low hoarse growl to the two others, Willi and a man named Muller, who stood on either side of him in a doorway across the street from Cafe Frieden on Helenenstrasse, the main drag of Bremen’s hooker neighborhood, nominally regulated and patrolled by the city’s finest. "By analogy with the kind of peace we have with those apes, this place is aptly named."
"I still have my doubts," Muller could not help himself.
"My people," Hans muttered, shaking his head, "my own blood. Yes, Herr Doktor Muller you would have doubts."
It was a good head, with a high white forehead blending into very pale blond hair, cropped short. Below the forehead, deep set eyes that when examined you recognized as blue not black as they seemed at first. The broad face, pulling to either side, accentuated a beaked nose. Tight thin lips filled out when the mouth opened in his clipped north German accent, revealing even shiny teeth, very white.
"I approve of your having doubts, Muller," Hans continued. "That is your job. Your are an intellectual and you are a lawyer, and you are here to express doubts. I want you to observe and let your doubts surface and think of a lawyer’s answer to them and then bring back an accurate and truthful report to my beloved brother-in-law, your esteemed colleague and partner. I think it will do him good. The doctor says he may have suffered a shock. It is causing him to stubbornly insist this was a misunderstanding. A knife in the chest, a misunderstanding. He talks Kot, tells Lise to pay no attention to my schemes, my irresponsible schemes as he calls them. We want to shock him right back and convert him into a zealous prosecutor. Also, I might mention since we are among men, insure that his virility returns promptly as he recovers from his wound. My sister’s interests are of concern too, you know."
He kept one eye on his little sister, whose beauty was an exact feminine version of his own. He glanced at his loyal Willi, same age, same profession, same build, with the brown hair of a Rhinelander. They had been talking about certain connections of theirs in Sudan when he got the call from Lise.
It was the morning after the new year revelry and Lise’s voice was not good. "Hans, it’s Ernst. Come quickly."
"Your sister, Hans. I was going to get to that. There she is, sitting at a table on the terrace. Brave of her in this weather, but I must register an objection. You are placing her at grave risk."
Hans looked at his sister sitting in the hookers’ cafe across the street waiting for the thugs who had put his brother-in-law out of commission with a six-inch stab wound. And Muller, Ernst’s law partner, was still arguing. "We could call the police now, Hans. Lise will identify them."
"Lise has identified them, Muller. Let’s stick to the flight plan."
"Hans, there are procedures," Muller begged.
"Ja! Enforced by lawyers like you and your eminent partner! Who work pro bono to protect these Muslim swine from our procedures!"
"Hans, Lise may be, ah, influenced by anger."
Hans’s growl changed to a calm lecture. "My sister is a fully grown person over twenty-one years of age, Muller. I give her flying lessons personally and she will soon have a license. She takes shooting lessons as well. She is an expert mountain climber."
Ernst was in bed with a painkiller when Hans and Willi arrived and Lise was scared not angry. Hans got the story out of her.
"I – I don’t know how –. I fell on top of Ernst and held him. They pulled my leg, tried to rip my clothes. I asked to them to leave, to leave us."
They would not just leave for the asking, Hans thought of saying, but held it. Would they thank gentlemen like Ernst and Muller for filing papers to keep them in a country that fed them, gave them medical attention, who knows, voting rights? He waited for his sister.
"I – I said to meet me in Helenenstrasse, Hans. Oh, Hans, I didn’t know what to say, they had a knife on Ernst!"
Hans stared. He gently touched his sister’s cheek. "You saved your husband’s life, Lise. And the plan is excellent."
"Stop it," Muller said. "Next you are going to tell me she has a firearm in her purse."
"She has no firearm in her purse. She will not need it, Herr Muller. Willi and I are here."
After telling her brother, Lise went to her husband’s bedroom. Hans moved with Willi to the kitchen. They drank rich coffee and studied the situation as they would a flight plan. They were pilots. In their spare time they played rugby and contracted out to shadowy organizations to fly patched up old Hercules’ and Antonov’s into strange places, airlifting supplies and men whose languages they did not know but whose purposes, they were as certain as he could be, matched their own, at least by analogy.
"As an officer of the courts, I must express grave reservations."
"Herr Muller, am I your client?"
"You are, Hans. I’m stuck with you."
"Therefore you are bound to confidentiality, am I right?"
"Within certain parameters. If an illegal act is committed, I must consider my obligations as an officer of the courts and a member of the German bar."
"I understand, Muller. We will go to a good German bar when we are finished, okay? We will go to Bar Schmidt. We will order steins. We will discuss parameters and obligations under German law."
Willi did not say anything as Hans winked at him. Then he said, "Da."
Two men had just stopped on the sidewalk in front of the terrace. They huddled in hurried conference while casting glances at Lise, who sat nonchalantly at her table, looking the other way, hands on the pot of hot chocolate she had ordered, as if to keep them warm. She wore an attractive three-quarter length suede coat with a fur lining visible around her neck. Her crossed legs revealed calves wrapped in leg warmers reaching down to her ankles and after the ankles a pair of fashionable canvas boots. Her long blond hair was tied in a single braid that disappeared inside the coat, loose because unzipped. A pack of cigarettes lay next to the pot of hot chocolate.
"I am sure that is her," one of the men was saying. "I recognize the hair."
"A lot of them have blond hair," the other said. They were of medium height, about five eight or nine, apparently fit, but, if you saw them without the bulky parkas they wore and the ill-fitting jeans, they would have been, by local standards, undernourished. Their dark curly hair needed a barber, as did their cheeks and jowls. They were young, perhaps in their 20s or early 30s.
"But she said this cafe. There is none other by this name and they told us this is a place where they meet men. They are all whores, Abdel."
"What if we hurt her man badly? She will not want to go with us."
"Look, do you think she would be here if he were badly hurt? And even if he is, she knows we are the conquerors now. She will want to please us. Why, if we killed him, she knows she has no choice in the matter."
"Oh well. Anyway we can see. But let me say, Krim. If anything does not smell right to me, I am turning around. After what happened, there are police everywhere."
"Bah! Not here in this area. But if you want. We leave if she is at all reluctant. We do not insist."
They moved toward Lise’s table. Their eyes were fixed on her and they could feel the saliva in their mouths.
"Willi, go," Hans said. Immediately Willi stepped out of the door way and hurried to the corner, where he crossed the street. Keeping his eyes on the men as they spoke with Lise, Hans murmured to Muller. "He’s crossing the street? Good. He’s continuing on the other side and turning at the next corner, right? Good. Okay. Just follow me, Muller. No speeches now. No objections and reservations. Just follow me."
Muller nodded. His throat was too dry for objections and reservations. He swallowed painfully and muttered, "Hans, these could be completely different men."
"Muller," Hans said quietly, as he moved from the doorway. "There is only one pilot on the craft, I explained this to you earlier. Once it is in flight, you must trust the pilot. Implicitly. Am I clear?"
Muller coughed. "If it makes you feel better, Doktor," Hans hissed, "let me tell you what they say. They say, ‘Beat your wife, even if you don’t know what for; she does.’ Got it? Anyway, she knows she is not to move if she does not recognize them."
Lise brought some bills out of her small shoulder bag and placed them carefully under her cup. She stood up and straightened her coat, shaking her hips a little. The men did not take their eyes off her. She made her way around the tables with the elegance of a dancer or a skater. The men followed, somewhat less easily, knocking a chair to one side and almost hitting a table where another young lady was in conference with a well-dressed man. "Careful where you go, there!" he said.
"Oh, excuse, sir, excuse," the man named Krim said in English, the language he had used for the discussion with Lise. "I no problem, sorry."
"Ach," the man said, in a contemptuous tone, "learn German."
Lise waited for them in the alley that ran to the side of the cafe. "No problem," she said. "German men." She smiled.
Krim grinned. His friend seemed less confident, but forced a smile. "We go now, yes?" Krim said.
"We go. We take this little street, faster. Okay? Hotel, other side," pointing vaguely into the alley. "Goes to other street, hotel."
"No problem," Krim said. "We go, lady. Come on, Abdel."
"I saw hotels on the same street where we were," Abdel protested. "Why does she have to go all the way down there?"
"Don’t be a donkey, man, come on. She goes where she has, you know, her own room. Where they know her and won’t bother us."
"We must see what the set up looks like. If I don’t like it, I am not going in."
"Of course, brother!" He spoke in a light tone, "Go, lady, we here."
They were inside the alley, about halfway to the next street, with windowless brick walls on either side when a hand came down like a vise on Abdel’s shoulder. He felt his own voice choking somewhere in his throat as he turned around, then it gushed like an ejaculation out of his mouth as what he would have sworn was a mallet crashed into a spot above the stomach and below the lungs. As he gasped and doubled over the mallet came again, this time below the right eye.
Krim ran. He lost sight of the young woman, turned his head, saw two men, one of whom was swinging an arm, the other moving in his direction. There was no time to rescue Abdel. He ran a few steps without looking. A palm at the end of a stiff arm, placed like a mitt on his forehead, stopped him cold.
"Halt." The pronunciation was German, but it is a widely used word. Krim, as much from terror as from the force of Willi’s arm, froze in place and a split second later cried out at the pain in his ribs. He couldn’t breathe, but he got his right hand into his pants pocket and pulled out a jackknife.
"Muller," Hans said as he pushed Abdel against the wall on the side of the alley, "watch. Willi, you take this one. Now Muller, as an officer of the court your duty is to observe closely in order to truthfully testify that this individual is awake and throwing punches at me as I push back in self-defense. The other one is armed with a knife and under German and international law he is attempting to subvert my human rights by removing me from the human race. Do you understand, Muller?"
Muller did not say anything and listened with a sick feeling to the sound of ribs cracking, teeth breaking, and skulls thudding against brick. Hans and Willi wore gloves and after a while they stepped back, giving the two crumpled forms time to slide down over legs turned to rubber, heads buried in chests, to the pavement.
Willi expertly felt in Abdel’s pockets and removed a long jackknife like the one Hans had knocked out of
Krim’s hand. Retrieving that one and opening the other, he placed them in the groggy men’s palms, closing their fingers around them. Hans removed one glove and took a set of iron rings out of his fleece jacket.
"Hans." Muller barely heard his own voice. "Hans, it suffices."
The rings were connected to each other and fit easily on the four fingers of his right hand. He replaced the glove and lifted Abdel, grabbing him under the armpits and pushing him against the bloodstained wall. Abdel dropped the knife.
"Hans, the knife. It is not in his hand." Muller felt as if someone else was speaking, someone not at the mental level he believed he normally inhabited. "Someone is entering the alley, Hans."
"Go see who it is, Muller. Tell him to find another alley to pee in."
Hans’s eyes had not left Abdel. "Okay mister," he said, "pick it up." The stunned man painfully tried to bend down and almost did not feel the first right landing in his eye. He was losing consciousness.
"Whoa, these babies do the job. You will have some trouble looking at German girls but you will be the wiser for it." Hans sneered.
But his face perspired. He felt salt in his eyes and he knew they were tears and he hated himself and he hated the dark-haired man. "Evil bastard," he gasped. "Go home you bastard. Get out of Bremen you Arab filth." Hans hit him again on the same eye and then again and then he aimed at the other one.
When Abdel lay inert in the alley Hans went to stand over the slumped Krim and lifted him up against the wall the same way. "Excuse… excuse," Krim gurgled through his bloodied mouth.
"Good work, Willi," Hans murmured, "they asked for it. They asked for it the swine the swine," he repeated, and he knew he was out of control.
"It does not matter," he hissed. "They asked for it." He hit the man as hard he could on the side of the head. Krim was stunned but could make out words spoken in slowly articulated English. They sounded like an uncertain pupil rehearsing a lesson. "I will hit you again. I do not believe you excuse. We give you excuse to leave Bremen. We see you here, we do this again." The next hit cracked something just next to the ear, and another one as the man’s head snapped back flattened his nose. Then, as he had with Abdel, Hans went to work on Krim’s eyes.
Hans and Willi trotted out of the alley on the side away from where they had observed Lise talk to the men on the terrace of Cafe Frieden. Lise and Muller were not waiting for them.
As they walked toward their side of the city, Hans stopped panting. He felt lightheaded. He thought of what he would tell his sister and brother in law. He would give them the bonus he had received for his last contract airlifting crates of plumbing supplies – that is what the manifest said, and he did not verify it – into a town where he understood one set of these kinds of apes was fighting against another set. They even looked like apes, he remembered telling Willi. It was a hefty bonus, cash, U.S. dollars, no receipts, no questions. He would tell Lise and Ernst to take a holiday in a Swiss resort. The mountain air would refresh them and speed Ernst’s recovery.
The plan pleased him. He felt much better, flexed his hands, rubbed his right arm with his left. He punched Willi on the shoulder and laughed. "Hey, what I wanted to tell you. Got a call yesterday. Our Nuer pals need a little help. Can we find forty-eight hours in the next few weeks?" Willi and Hans were German, and they too were bound by parameters and obligations, but theirs were not inflexible. "It’s in and out. Same money as last time."
"Sure, Hans. Let’s go. I will miss Bremen and its peaceful climate, and I will miss my Gretchen. But what’s a couple days? Sure. Let’s go."
The two pilots, citizens of the Free City of Bremen, continued toward Bar Schmidt. Filled with the same optimistic satisfaction that came with landing an aircraft with a broken propeller on an unlit runway with no control tower, they knew Hans’s sister Lise and her husband’s law partner, Herr Muller, would be waiting for them, their drinks already ordered.