<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="1252"%> Little Fireworks
Chapter 22
The Pianist

The year ’45 arrived, accompanied by bombs, snow, and frost.

Coal was only available by the kilo now. Therefore the neighbors often huddled together in a herd. The talk usually ran to great, huge, fat meals, and recipes were shared that required things that never even existed.

Or else they read the pamphlets. The pamphlets came down by the hundreds from the bombers, right after the bombing was done, all over the streets and houses. One pamphlet showed a bomb next to a soldier. The bomb was twice as tall and twice as thick as the soldier. A heavy-duty bomb, weighing 1500 kilos. It was going to be falling day and night on the Ruhr district.

The Ruhr distict was now, let’s face it folks, a Death Zone. “This district is now a slaughter area and will remain so until the war industries within it cease to operate. As concerns the women and children, they are warned that there is only one thing to expect on a slaughter field. The German citizenry is hereby urged to leave this Death Zone immediately,” read ThinMan out loud.

Anna Spormann said, “Yes, good, let’s just take a little vacation and go to Switzerland, shall we? It should be real nice now in the dead of winter.”

“These are our allies,” said Berta Niehus, “and we’re supposed to believe that it’s the Fascists who want all-out war. I smell the ghost of the Enemy of the Working Class and the People here. Rulers who could plan and carry out a thing like this are no friends of ours.”

Herta Ronsdorf said, “I wonder what it’s going to be like, the first time they’re actually here on the dirt in front of us.”

“Maybe our own will take power,” someone else thought.

They were discussing this as Lisbeth Krach came in and said, “Father Friedrich needs another favor. We have someone else to hide.”

“Not me this time,” said Herta Ronsdorf. “I’ve had enough light boarders in the last few weeks. The underground folks can just make their own way.”

Phantom told Stash about this. Stash thought they could maybe work with the priest. He had shown courage. He could even stir them up from his pulpit perhaps. “Someone should ask him sometimes, but casually, what he’s working for. The Organization will of course have to remain out of sight. Lisbeth Krach should do the asking. She can report to Phantom.”

“Stir them up from the pulpit, right,” laughed Sparks. “He spouts about Satan and Outer Darkness. Probably means the Fascists. Doesn’t understand either concept.”

Lisbeth Krach had an idea that everybody liked.

Sparks was muttering about it, but nonetheless the next morning he went to the priest’s cottage and told the priest his mother was ill, wanted the chance to make a last confession etc etc.

The Father came by that afternoon. Sparks’ mother was lying in bed. Candles were burning on the night table. The bedrooom chest was covered with a fresh white cloth. There were wax paper flowers and a cross standing on it.

“A little like Christmas,” thought Phantom, who was waiting with Sparks in the kitchen.

The priest spoke not a word. He simply stood there, with his right hand held inside his shirt, over his heart. Sparks led him into the bedroom. Through the half-open door they could hear murmurs and prayers. They had placed wine on the table. “Oughta turn into blood once for him,” said Sparks. “That would be a moment to remember.”

Then the priest came out into the kitchen. He sat down. He drank a glass of wine. “Do you drink wine often, then?” he asked.

Sparks said, “Only on holidays, like today.”

The priest resumed, “I have heard things are going along well for Clemens. Lisbeth told me. Oh, these times, they will soon be over,” etc etc.

He went on until Phantom interrupted him, “Okay, so what’s the deal, who needs hiding?”

The priest drank another glass of wine. He said, “A pianist.”

“What’s that?” asked Phantom.

“You know,” said the priest, “a lady who plays the piano in a large hall in front of lots of people.”

Phantom and Sparks stared at the priest, speechless.

“It’s a life-or-death matter for her,” said the priest.

“She must have made some crack about Goebbels,” Sparks said sarcastically.

Phantom said, “We can’t take her on.”

The priest said, “Her name is Rosenkranz.”

Sparks began to turn red, the beginning of one of his fits. “No, not even with a name as Catholic as that, I wouldn’t care if it was Holywater, mind you, or even Confessional,” he said very loudly.

But Phantom had understood. He pulled at Sparks’ arm and said to him, “He means she’s Jewish.”

Sparks swallowed a couple of times and then said, “Oh, well then.”

“The lady is currently hiding out in a coal cellar, but she cannot stay there. The people who are hiding her are, well, they have gotten nervous. A deserter was found in their neighborhood. He was shot dead, he as well as the man who hid him.”

Phantom said, “We’ll have to talk about it. We’ll report to you immediately.”

“It’s very pressing,” said the priest before he left.

There was almost a fight that night at their meeting place under the tracks. Ewald Stumpe said, “It’s absolutely out of the question. You must remember Mrs. Hertzmann, the wife of that Jewish doctor. We hid her that one time, but then she went berserk. Running out of Pottmann’s cellar in broad daylight, right down the middle of the street, yelling, ‘Criminals! Criminals! Kill me too like you killed my husband!’ We were able to prevent anything awful from happening, and we successfully smuggled her to the next address. But a couple of days later she went through the same act, and the Gestapo almost could have broken the entire network open. No, we can’t stand that one more time.”

The short Mr. Pottmann was furious. “Are you, Stumpe, trying to say, then, that everybody who is Jewish, and a musician, is crazy?”

“No,” said Stumpe, “but I’m responsible for the security around here, and dammit, we have enough trouble to handle right at the moment. The citizenry will just have to help themselves, these last few weeks until the war ends.”

Stash didn’t say much. Piotr was on Stumpe’s side. Finally, Stash said, “Maybe we’ll just have to see the woman once. Maybe she isn’t so tender.”

“You mean delicate,” said the short Mr. Pottmann.

“Whatever,” said Stash. “Just go see the woman once.”

“Who?” asked Phantom.

“You, of course,” said Stumpe. “You make music on the harmonica. This woman is a colleague of yours.”

Everybody laughed, and Stash said, “A woman would be able to judge better, like Lisbeth Krach, or better still, Anna Spormann.”

But the task fell to Phantom and Sugar, because the man who was hiding Miss Rosenkranz was afraid. “He doesn’t want to bring any adults into the play,” the priest said. “Since the man used to be rector at the school and now he gives lessons in the afternoon, it won’t look suspicious if children go to visit him.”

The priest had brought a book that Phantom was supposed to take along. “This will be proof of your mission, when you show it to the rector. Halsbeck is his name. He lives at 10 Moltke St. You are expected between 4 and 5 o’clock tomorrow afternoon.” On the book cover were printed the words Titi Livi.

They were hanging out in Bohr’s stall, and Animal was leafing through the book, trying to find something to read out loud. He threw the book on top of a feedbox.

Titi Livi,” he said, “have you ever heard of such a thing. I have absolutely no idea what those words are even supposed to mean.”

Franz the lieutenant said, “It’s Latin.”

Titi Livi,” Animal mocked once more, “and I have absolutely no desire to find out what they mean. Titi Livi is enough for me.”

“Almost as dumb as you are,” ThinMan burst out.

Phantom picked up the book and strolled over to the Niehus’ railway car first class. He gave it to ThinMan’s Grandma, who was sitting in her wheelchair. He said, “There, what’s that supposed to mean?”

Berta Niehus read: “Titi Livi, ab urbe condita libri. That is Latin,” she said.

“We figured that out already,” said Phantom. “But what does it mean?”

The old woman assumed her correct pose and began. “The language of the Romans, clear and logicaly organized, just like the state and the administration of the Roman Empire. For a thousand years and more it was used privately by the rulers in Europe. The common people remained shut out of the ruling class, and shut out of the language.” Etc etc, the way ThinMan’s Grandma always talked.

“So,” Phantom asked finally, right in the middle of her sentence, “do you know what that means, or don’t you? You don’t know it either, is that right?”

He looked at Lorenz Fuchs. He shook his head no.

“I’m trying to explain to you why we, the common people, have never had the chance to learn this language,” Berta Niehus said.

“So you don’t know either,” said Phantom. He took the book and he left.

Later he asked Stash, “How am I supposed to be able to tell if we can use this stowaway or not?”

“You should just observe her. Her face, and what she does. Then tell me. Yes, and take Sugar with you.”

So they set out, Phantom and Sugar. Phantom had wrapped the book inside a newspaper, because he knew the people they would be running into as they walked through the Quarter. “There go Phantom and his little she-she,” they would say, “don’t they look fine? Well now, don’t they even have a book with them. A book about Titis.”

They had to walk past Merrick’s wall on the way there. Animal was singing, “Quinta quarta, high school Marta, got a titti, titti ritti titti, soldier that he was, but you dare not tell the grownups.” But he immediately dropped behind the wall when he saw Phantom’s face.

On Moltke St. the houses were real live little villas. A mongrel dog was barking from inside his cage at number 10.

A woman wearing a little bonnet opened the door. She called out to the dog, “That’s all right, my Tramp.” She said to Phantom and Sugar, “You must be here to see the rector. Please do come in.”

Rugs in the entryway already, pictures on the walls, everything very bright. The woman knocked at a door. “Come in!” a man’s voice rang out.

Then they were standing in front of Rector Halsbeck, a large heavy-set man with a thick head of hair. The room was jammed with books. There were a couple of chairs at a writing table. There was a blackboard standing next to the table, and on the wall was a picture of Hitler. “Well now,” said Halsbeck, “you have come to see me. What is it you want?”

Phantom gave the book to the man. “Aha,” said Halsbeck.

He motioned to the woman in the little bonnet. She shut the door. “Take a seat,” he said to the two.

He took a seat himself, behind the writing table. “And what class are you in?” he asked.

“The working class,” Sugar said.

Phantom said, “We want to see the woman.”

The rector became excited. “Why did two of you come?” he whispered. “I expressly requested just one schoolboy. If you had any idea at all, what is at stake here,” etc etc.

Phantom stood up. “Well, may we see the woman, or not?” he asked.

Halsbeck looked like he was about to explode, but then he quieted down. He stood up. “You wait here,” he whispered. And he left the room.

“About as flexible as a tree, and hasn’t he got a pantsload full of it, though?” Sugar said.

The rector came back. “Might I take this opportunity to expressly point out to you once again that this matter requires the utmost secrecy on your part. Is that clear?” he whispered.

“Oh, come on,” Sugar said, “you must be joking.”

Halsbeck looked like he was furious and terrified at the same time. “Follow me,” he whispered.

And they followed the rector, down the cellar steps, past lath doors. He unlocked an iron door. There was coal heaped in the room behind the door, more coal than existed in all the houses of the whole Quarter put together. They had to squeeze past the coal.

They came to a second door. It too was then unlocked. They entered an area 9 feet square, lit by a blue light bulb hanging from the ceiling. There was a person lying on a plank bed, under some blankets, snoring.

Halsbeck shook the person awake. She jumped to her feet. She was nearly as tall as Halsbeck. She said, “What is it now?”

The rector said, “These are your next helpers, Gertrude.”

The woman looked at Phantom and Sugar, and laughed. She said, “So, now they’ve got the children running things.”

“Gertrude, I beg you,” Halsbeck said.

“Oh, come on,” the woman said. “You’re a contemptible coward, that’s all. And now you want to shove your responsibilities off on the children. You two, run along now. Go home and forget what you’ve seen here.”

“Hey, she’s not bad,” Sugar said to Phantom.

“Are you Miss Rosenkranz, then?” asked Phantom.

“What do you want?” she asked.

“To get you out of this box,” Phantom said.

Gertrude Rosenkranz sat down on the plank bed and rolled herself a cigarette. “You,” she asked, “want to get me out of here?”

“We, and others,” said Phantom.

“Who’s behind the curtains?”

“Father Friedrich,” Phantom said.

Gertrude Rosenkranz pulled an .08 out from under the blankets. “I know how to operate this thing,” she said. “If anything goes funny, she knows how to talk.” She caressed the large pistol. “So where do you want to take me?”

“We’ll come back,” Phantom said.

On the way back, he said, “She’s pretty good.”

The others thought so, too, when Phantom gave his report.

“Anything but delicate,” said the short Mr. Pottmann.

Everyone decided that Aunt Klavier, as Stumpe put it, should be kept in the cave.

Lisbeth Krach was the one who went to the priest to explain that Phantom would come get her night after next, when the alarms hit full volume. They would dress as mother and child, and run through the streets as if to the bunker.

When Phantom arrived, same room as before, there was only a small lamp burning on the writing table. Gertrude Rosenkranz was sitting in one chair, and the rector was behind the table. The conversation was low and furious.

The problem was money, money that the pianist had given to the rector, and now she wanted it back. She called him a coward, a traitor, out to get rich off people in distress.

He said, “You’re being unreasonable. I and my family have been put into enough danger on your account. I can’t give you the money back, anyway. I don’t have it anymore. You have been living with us for half a year, you know.”

“If you want to call it living,” she said. “Not once in that time have you even let me visit the house bathroom. I have had to use buckets. And all that for 3,000 Marks. You are a bandit.”

Halsbeck jumped to his feet, but clearly this was the end. Rosenkranz also stood up. They were facing each other, with only the table between them.

“This chutzpah, it’s unbelievable. I know better than to await even a word of thanks, but....”

Gertrude Rosenkranz grabbed over the table at him with both hands, but he wasn’t there anymore. He had leaped over to the window.

“We fed and clothed you,” she said sharply but quietly. “We sent you to school and the university. You lived like a son with us.”

The rector wanted to reply, but in that instant the sirens started howling.

“Let’s go,” Phantom said.

Gertrude Rosenkranz tied a kerchief around her head. She took Phantom’s arm. “Yeah,” she said, “let’s go.”

But before she went, she detoured by a bookshelf, grabbed it with both hands, and pulled it down. The shelf and the books crashed down in a heap. “That’s just a foretaste,” she said. “I’ll be back, you bandit.”

They hurried to the front door. They stopped for a moment to consider the howling coming from the sky. Then they set off, hand in hand.

Gertrude Rosenkranz carried a little suitcase. The antiaircraft artillery to the south started up just as they came to the bottom of the hill. The streets were empty. They were running by now.

As they turned into the main street, they saw three men standing in the middle of the street, unmistakable helmets, shiny buttons: the goons.

It was too late to turn around. They slowed down.

Gertrude Rosenkranz let go of Phantom’s hand, and started fumbling around in her coat pocket. “Run away,” she told him. The men were only about 40 yards away.

“Quiet,” Phantom said. “Don’t shoot until they try to take you. I’ll shoot first.”

The pianist stopped, looked at him, and it seemed to Phantom that she was amused. “Just keep going,” he said.

He stayed three steps behind this tall woman. He curled his hand around the 765 Walther. This woman was one person he could trust, so for the next 30 yards he just gazed around, looking at the fence and the stonework. He was utterly quiet, thinking to himself, “I’m just going to have to shoot one, that’s all. This will be the first time.”

The leader of the three barked, “What are you doing, out on the streets now? Get going, into the next cellar, and right now!”

Phantom grabbed Gertrude Rosenkranz’s arm once again. They both ran across the street into the house the man was motioning towards, into the bomb shelter.

They squeezed themselves in among the people there, who began to complain about it. But then the first onslaught came. First you could hear it in the distance, then closer and faster, a blanket of them. But Phantom couldn’t see any explosions in the air above them, so he knew their street had been missed.

The sense of relief was incredible, but the other people were crying and crawling all over each other. The lights went out. Vibrations shook the air again. Someone was crying, JesushelpmeJesushelpmeJesushelpmeJesushelpme! Others joined the chorus, and this went on long after the streets were quiet and candles were burning in the cellar.

The two found themselves just sitting there, grinning at each other. They slept a little.

They had to wait five hours for the ‘all clear’ signal. They resurfaced on the streets along with all the other people, who also were streaming out of bunkers and cellars, and hurrying back home with their bags and packages. And nobody paid any attention at all to the two of them.

They came to the Quarter and sneaked through the alleys and gardens to the train tracks, to the Niehus railway car first class.

ThinMan poured glasses full of schnaps. They drank them, and Gertrude Rosenkranz told a little bit about herself. She came from a merchant’s family on the Rhine. She had to wear the yellow star. She was able to escape before they came for her family. And since then – summer ’39 – she had been on the run from the Fascists. She had lived in attics, barns, and cellars, garden houses and animal stalls. She nearly made it to the West a couple of times, when that was still possible, but at the last moment something had always gone wrong.

“Later,” she said, “there were a couple of times when I thought about shooting myself.”

“You are a pianist, so we have heard,” said ThinMan’s Grandma.

Gertrude Rosenkranz nodded, looked at her hands, and said, “Yes, once upon a time.” Then she took the .08 out of her pocket and stroked the barrel. “But this has been my instrument for the past few years,” she said.

Berta Niehus looked at her, and made her hawkface, but she didn’t say anything.

And Phantom remembered her making the same gesture in the room in Halsbeck’s cellar, and he wondered, “Maybe she is a little crazy?”

Berta Niehus briefly explained the necessary things about herself and the others, and after this Gertrude Rosenkranz said, “So we’re companions in suffering.”

“No,” said Berta Niehus, “we’re companions in the fight.”

Gertrude Rosenkranz laughed and said, “You’re right.”