<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="1252"%> Little Fireworks
Chapter 10
At the Cemetary

They were sitting at the Trietsches’ place – Phantom, Sugar, and Sugar’s mother. They were playing skat.

Lisbeth Krach came over too. She had a couple of coffee beans with her, unroasted. She got them from the Pastor, for whom she did housekeeping and general helping-out. “The beans still need roasting, not too dark, and then a little chicory grated into the finely-ground coffee,” she said.

“Isn’t that wonderful?” Erna Trietsch said. “Now all we need is a little coffee cake.” They sipped from their cups as Erna described a cake she had baked once, which took 30 eggs, 5 pounds of butter, flour as white as snow etc etc.

Lisbeth Krach normally didn’t talk much. Phantom wondered what was going on. But then she stood up, went “Shhh!” and looked out the window. Then she sat down again.

She said softly, “Our Father Friedrich whispered something to me. He’s the one who used to be at Koln, but now he’s with us as a punishment. He wears thick glasses.”

“Papa Friedrich,” Sugar said. “Have you ever heard of such a thing.”

“You will please just hold your mouth,” Erna Trietsch said.

“He’s called ‘Father’,” Lisbeth Krach said, “Father Friedrich.” Then she began again, ceremoniously, the way she did every now and then. “Therefore our Father Friedrich,” etc etc.

Phantom was thinking to himself, “It’s a good thing Sparks isn’t here.”

Just then the door opened and Sparks walked in. “Is it a nice little coffee cake club you have going here? I thought I’d join in,” he said. His mother immediately stopped talking.

Everybody gave him a few drops from their own cup. Then Phantom said, “So now, pay attention here to what’s being whispered.”

Lisbeth Krach swallowed a few times, looked past Sparks, and began again. “Therefore our Father Friedrich...” But she didn’t get any farther than that. Sparks jumped up and pounded on the table. He shouted, “I’m not going to let my mother come over here and aggravate you, she brings real coffee, and you...”

But Phantom grabbed his arm and held tight. He said, “Sit down, I think it’s really important.”

Sometimes Sparks threw fits. His whole face all the way up to his hairline would light up bright red, and he would howl and run around, hitting out in all directions. But usually Phantom could get him calmed down, like now. Sparks sat down again.

Everybody listened closely to what Lisbeth Krach had to say. Phantom asked questions here and there. Finally they understood.

A Father Friedrich had arrived here from Koln a few weeks ago. He had come to aid the local Catholic efforts. He had already done time for political activity. Now he was hiding someone, someone else from Koln, who had escaped from the prison at Luttringhausen. The fugitive was staying in the little wooden room out at the Catholic cemetary, the room where the pastor and his helpers change clothes for funerals. But he could be discovered there any day now. He needed to be hidden somewhere else.

“And why is it that he told you about this?” Phantom wanted to know.

“Because I talked to him once about Benno.” Benno was Spark’s father. “I told him he too had spent time behind bars for political activity, before he was inducted into the penal batallion. And this man has to be out of that little room, otherwise they’ll find him right away.”

“It’s a trap,” Sparks said. “I just heard it yesterday, on Radio Free Germany, how these spies operate. And he and the Father are sitting under the same blanket.”

Phantom mentioned something he remembered hearing his father say, how the judgmental church types wouldn’t hiss at you as long as they had the brownshirts to fight against. Sparks snorted, “You just get to know one.”

The thing was, of course, important enough for them to need to discuss with Stash.

So they met that evening in passageway 3, by division F, in the room under the tracks. Ewald Stumpe was spouting off, “We have to be extremely careful now, after the death of that Bavarian fellow. There’s something hiding in the bushes here, an eerie silence all over the factory.”

But Stash was in favor of taking him on. The Father might be useful to them later. Ewald Stumpe was overruled.

“We could take him to the cave,” Phantom said. That was agreed to.

“The pastor just needs to tell us how we can get to him,” the short Mr. Pottmann said. “The cemetary, that’s his turf. Lisbeth Krach should work it out with the priest, and then we will meet again.”

Sparks tried to make up for his earlier behavior by offering to do the whole thing himself. But then he backed off. “But if there’s any funny business here,” he told his mother, “and they come pick you up, then I’ll pile the whole store right on top of his head, your Pastor Fridolin.”

“Friedrich his name is,” Sugar said. “Father Friedrich.”

The next evening, Sparks and his mother came over to the Spormanns’. Lisbeth Krach gave a report. “The Father will have a funeral to do tomorrow, at 4 in the afternoon. That’s when we’ll do it.”

Old Mrs. Springorum, an acquaintance of Lisbeth’s, was the one being buried. “The Pastor will say to the other priest that he doesn’t need the usual helpers, because a colleague of his is here, a vicar from Koln, and that the vicar will help him instead. He will say that the vicar is here to discuss a few things with him, and that he will be gone again by later that evening.

“He will want to go see his colleague from Koln quite early in the afternoon. He will take a suitcase. In the suitcase will be black robes for himself, plus the priest’s official burial robes. The man from Koln, Clemens his name is, will get the burial costume. Then at 4 they will consecrate the coffin, a little to-do in the chapel, coffin under the earth, and after that, Erna will take Clemens home with her. She will have to pretend that Clemens is a friend of Lisbeth’s cousin Josef. Josef is a priest somewhere in the Rhine area. Later, Clemens can be taken to the train station, and from there into hiding.”

“Not a bad plan,” thought Phantom.

The others thought the same, but Sparks and Phantom wanted to attend the funeral, to make sure everything went right. They thought that was better, because Lisbeth Krach always became very excited over such events.

“Quiet is the most important thing here,” Anna Spormann said, “quiet, quiet, Lisbeth. Then nothing can go wrong. You should be waiting at 4 o’clock tomorrow in front of the cemetary’s chapel.”

It was a September afternoon. It was still warm, and clear. There were planes in the air. There weren’t any days anymore without planes, since the Americans had forged past Paris and were only about 250 miles away.

“Those bombers,” Sparks said, “whenever they spot people anywhere, they head straight for them. It doesn’t matter if they happen to be women or children. That’s what kind of swines they are.”

They were standing in front of the chapel, in a crowd of other people, next to Lisbeth Krach. Most of them were wearing black. Phantom and Sparks were wearing their Sunday suits. They were waiting for the coffin to appear. Sparks’ mother was reading in the prayer book.

Then they heard singing coming out of the chapel, and it lasted and lasted. Phantom thought there would be no end to it.

There was a hedge some ways off, which marked the boundary between the Catholic and the Protestant cemetaries. Right in the middle of the hedge was the little wooden building for changing clothes. The Catholics didn’t have their own separate building, so they both used the Protestant one.

“That’s all they’re willing to do together, undress in the same room,” Sparks said. “You can see what kind of people they are.”

“Shh shh!” hissed Lisbeth Krach. Sparks started to go red in the face, but just then the bell in the little chapel began ringing.

Four Italian prisoners came out of the chapel, wearing frocks and white gloves, carrying the casket between them. In first position behind the casket was a man in a robe, holding a cross in one hand, a brass urn in the other. Next to him, wearing a white stole over his robe, was a smallish thin man wearing glasses. Behind him were a dozen other people, old people, most of whom were crying.

“Which one is the priest?” Phantom asked as they joined in the procession.

“The one wearing the tablecloth,” Sparks said.

“So the other one must be Clemens.”

They walked slowly over a path between the graves. They took a right, into the Catholic area. They had the slanting September sun shining right into their faces.

Then suddenly a loud howl filled the air. Phantom shaded his eyes with his hand and saw the bomber, coming right out of the sun. He pushed Lisbeth Krach to the ground. He threw himself flat behind a gravestone.

The air exploded all around them. Dirt was flying into the air. Everybody was screaming. Somebody shouted, “Stay down!”

After a moment the howling started again, right over them. Phantom opened his mouth, wide, and pressed his fists against his ears. A brief stillness, and then the air exploded again. Phantom was hurled against the stone. He crossed his arms over his head. Rocks and earth flew up and then came back down, and then the screaming really started.

Phantom jumped to his feet. He saw that everybody was okay. But when he turned around, he saw that there was nothing but rubble and dense smoke where the chapel used to be.

“Let us pray!” he heard the priest call out. He was standing there, on the path.

People were lying down on the ground all around him. Slowly they rose to their feet.

“Let us pray,” he called again, and then he began, loudly, “Our Father, Who art in heaven” etc etc. A couple of people began to pray with him, and then every voice was raised, in between sobs and whimpers, saying the prayer over and over.

The coffin was lying sideways on the path. One of the Italians was sitting on it, smoking. The priest grabbed him by the collar and pulled him up, praying all the while. The Italians lifted the coffin again, and the procession resumed. But now the priest was walking backwards, facing the people and praying in their direction.

Clemens was next to him, facing away from the crowd, holding the cross high over his head. Phantom got the impression that he was smiling.

Lisbeth Krach said, “The Lord God has protected us one more time.”

“Dammit,” Sparks said, “if it isn’t the goons.”

Then they heard the sirens and saw the wagon, racing between the graves towards where the chapel used to be. Behind the wagon, cruising more slowly, was the car belonging to the chief.

The priest said loudly, “We have arrived in all peace at the final resting-place, and we shall bid farewell to the deceased.” Everyone stood around the open grave. Clemens stood behind the grave, with his cross held high. The Italians let the casket down into the grave with ropes. The priest began praying again, this time in Latin. Then they threw a couple of handfuls of dirt on top of the casket. People were still crying. Finally the pastor said, “So, let us go now in peace, giving thanks to God.”

He shook hands with the relatives, and talked with them a little. “So finally he’s done,” Phantom said. He went with Sparks and Lisbeth Krach over to the others. They shook hands with an old woman who was wearing a veil over her face. “Deepest sympathies,” they said.

Then they stood behind the priest. He said, “Now we need to go over there.”

They set out, the priest and Clemens in the middle, in the direction of the little wooden changing-house. Two policemen and a civilian were standing in front of it. Phantom recognized Bernard Schlueter. “So a burial, that’s all, eh?” asked Schlueter.

“Dear Schlueter,” the priest said, totally without panic, “you’re quite right.” He gave him his hand.

Schlueter was a Catholic. Phantom knew he had helped out a couple of times. Schlueter said, “We have to take this matter up, of course, that’s why we’re here, the usual, this often comes up where the bombers have been. We will have to write a report.”

The priest was willing to go along with them immediately, if need be. “Might I introduce,” and he indicated Clemens, “my Confrater Deissmann, from Koln. He must return to his congregation today, but first he is visiting with the Krachs. You know, of course, that Mrs. Krach’s cousin is also a man of the cloth. The two men are friends.” Clemens nodded.

“Hello Lisbeth,” Schlueter said. He said to Clemens, “Sorry we couldn’t offer you a more pleasant burial.”

“Dear Deissmann,” the priest said, “we need to change quickly. I have other visits I must make today.”

Bernard Schlueter watched them as they disappeared into the changing-house. He rolled a cigarette and said, “Personable fellow, this Reverend Deissmann. Have you known him long?”

“Only seen him at the altar once,” Lisbeth stuttered.

Sparks said quickly, “He plays skat with Uncle Josef all the time.”

The two men in uniform asked Schlueter if they should stay there much longer. “Get going,” Schlueter said, “over to the chapel ruins. I’ll be right there.”

The priest came out of the changing-house. Clemens was behind him, looking strange in his ill-fitting pastor’s robes.

Bernard Schlueter was standing next to Phantom. He said, “I hope everything goes all right for you there, what with all your fathers missing.”

“That’s the way it goes,” Phantom said. “Funny, isn’t it, that it’s always one of ours on the line, and never one of yours?”

“Well then,” the priest said, “goodbye, dear Deissmann. Soon all this will come to an end, and we shall be able to celebrate Mass together in our beloved Koln.”

“Farewell,” Clemens said.

Bernard Schlueter smiled and said, “Praise to our Lord Jesus Christ.”

“Forever and ever amen,” answered the priest, Clemens, and Lisbeth.

And then they parted ways, the priest and Schlueter in the direction of the chapel, the others plus Clemens towards the cemetary entrance.

At the Krachs’ house there was wine for the first time. Clemens drained his glass in one gulp and explained why he had been put in prison. He had given two baskets of potatoes to a colleague from Poland, a forced laborer.

Then he explained how he had escaped from the prison at Luttringhausen. “They were moving all the prisoners to safety, to escape the Death Commando’s bombing raids. During the transport, it was in the morning, suddenly there was an air attack. I ducked underneath the wagon. The other wagons blew skyhigh. In the middle of the cracking and howling and hubbub I crawled out, and jumped into a garbage heap nearby. I hid there until it was all over.”

It sounded true, particularly the way Clemens said it, and also the way he carried himself like a real worker. Phantom and Sparks nodded to each other.

Clemens was a carpenter. He had had a little shop in Nippes, with two forced laborers as assistants. But then he was forced to close, and go to work in a large shop. “There we made coffins, and nothing but coffins, a thousand of them a day. So, and what do you have in mind for me now?”

Phantom explained, “We will take you to the train headed for Koln. Just half a mile past the train station there is a steep bridge, the Dreizehnbogen. The train will have to travel very slowly to cross it. Past the bridge it will pick up speed again, starting up with a jerk. “In exactly that moment you jump out, to the right. Roll down the embankment. There will be a couple of us waiting for you. We’ll take you to our cave.”

There were two field marshals patrolling the train station, monitoring the movements of the soldiers. As Clemens gave them his ticket and boarded, he turned around once more. “Thank you,” he said.

And they both said, “Have a good trip, Mr. Pastor.”