Zygmunt Frankel


Chapter 5

Captain Werner

20th December 1940
Seventy kilos! There is nothing like problems to get your weight down - unless it makes you eat more and has the opposite effect. I think I owe most of it to that cook, and can now at long last try for that hitherto inaccessible dream: to drop below seventy. The winter should also help, in spite of the home arrest and the boredom. I'll try to use housework as additional exercise, perhaps polishing the floors between the charwoman's visits, or something of the sort.
England is still uninvaded, with the war, it seems, limited to air battles, in which, according to an underground paper which has recently began to circulate in our town, our Polish fighter pilots are playing an important and honourable part. I wonder whether Lieutenant Sarna is among them, and wish him well; and also that the whole sorry mess might be over soon, one way or another, so that I can have my baby in peace.
At the Roma, that nice smartly dressed man now gets up when I enter, bows, and we exchange "good mornings" or a few words about the weather. Once, when Mimi was a little late from her tryst with the young painter, I invited him to our table, but he declined politely, saying that, what with Roma's large glass windows, it might not look immaculately innocent if I were seen at the same table with a man. Then, with some hesitation, real or faked, he mentioned in a low voice that should I ever be in need of any commodities in short supply, he might be able to oblige at a more attractive price than other sources. This confirmed what I have long suspected - that he is in the black market. This is not considered particularly disreputable nowadays, what with the official rations being what they are, and even bestows some glow of adventure and danger on those who dabble in it, although it's not half as dangerous as distributing that underground paper.
Just then Mimi walked in and we got down to our coffee and cakes and a heart-to-heart talk, made even more intimate by the sleet outside and dark clouds over the town. Yes, she would also like a baby, although her affair with the young painter, from whose studio she has just come, was helping to keep her impatience down. Was he still talking about suicide? Yes, he was, perhaps a little less often of late, but he was still as passionate as ever. They usually did it twice; the first time would be unsatisfactory and quickly over because he would ejaculate almost at once; after that they would spend some time in each other's arms with sweet words and caresses, and when he rose to the occasion for the second time, it would be really long and good, the only problem being that she had to get out of bed afterwards and dress to meet me at the Roma.
While we talked, just as I happened to glance towards the window, some tall man in a light-coloured raincoat and a grey hat pulled low over his eyes stopped outside the cafe, looked in through the glass, and went on without entering. I thought it might be someone who did business with the well-dressed man in the corner, and, seeing him at chess, with a third customer watching the game, decided to call at some more opportune time.
Mimi and I parted outside, each under her umbrella. It was only early afternoon but with the sleet and the dark clouds the town seemed to be already in dusk. After I turned a corner, someone caught up with me and fell into step. It was the man in the light-coloured trench coat and the grey hat who had looked into Roma an hour earlier. There was something familiar about his face.
"Bonjour, Madame Zielenska," he said and raised his hat. I recognised the handsome blond French-speaking German officer who had once come to the Roma.
"Good afternoon," I said. "I did not recognise you in civilian clothes."
"We sometimes wear them, off duty. How do I look in them?"
"Very handsome, er...?"
"Werner, Captain Hans Werner." He stopped momentarily and clicked his heels. His hand started going up towards his hat in a military salute but he remembered what he was wearing and forced it down again, and we shook hands, briefly and formally.
"How did you know my name?" I asked.
"I also know that of your good friend, Mrs. Maria Podolska," (that was Mimi) "and I wondered whether I could talk to you about her for a few minutes. There's a little dark cafe in this side street; would you mind stepping in for a cup of coffee? It's more comfortable and discreet than talking in the street."
The little cafe was deserted, and we sat down at the farthest table and ordered coffee. The blond officer could have easily obtained our names from the owner of the Roma, and if he was trying to start anything with me I was curious to see how he would go about it.
"Mrs. Zielenska", he said, "this is very confidential. I understand that Mrs. Podolska is having an affair with a young painter, Mr. Stefan Piasecki."
For a moment I remained speechless.
"She... er... Captain Werner," I said with a coquettish smile, "you said yourself that she is a good friend of mine. Even if she did have an affair, and even if I knew about it, you wouldn't expect me to be so indiscreet as to confirm it?"
For some reason, he seemed to be relieved by the light and mocking tone of my voice.
"You don't have to confirm anything because I already know, and it's not a matter of mere indiscretion. This young man is involved in the distribution of the illegal underground newspaper, "Free Poland", which is a serious offence."
I could feel all blood leave my face, and even swayed a little in my chair. I have never fainted in my life before but felt it coming now, together with some awful cold fear; I had to make an effort not to pee myself. Captain Werner was watching me carefully and once again seemed satisfied with my reaction. Had I known anything of the young painter's underground work I would have been scared and jittery from the start.
"Would you like a glass of cold water?"
"No, it's all right." I said, stuttering a little, and almost crying. "Look, Captain Werner, I swear to you that neither I nor Mimi, I mean Mrs. Podolska, had the slightest idea, and if she did she wouldn't have got involved in anything of the sort. She met him at the Roma and he asked whether he could paint a portrait of hers, nothing more. She and I have been friends for the past three years and have no secrets from each other, and had she been involved in anything illegal I would have known about it. I swear to you by God and everything that is dearest to me that she had nothing whatsoever to do with it. Are you quite sure about the young painter?"
"Quite sure. He had been under observation and seen both receiving copies of the paper and passing them on."
"But surely not to Mrs. Podolska?"
"No, there's no evidence against her and she won't be bothered. It was to remove all doubt that I wanted to talk to you, and now I am quite satisfied."
"Thank God; and thank you, Captain Werner. Are you going to arrest him?"
"We already have. I took a look into the Roma before giving the green light, to make sure that Mrs. Podolska has already left his flat. An associate of mine, who believes in different methods, wanted to arrest him together with her and perhaps also you and a couple of other people at the Roma, casting his net wide and questioning everyone in the hope of discovering something extra, but I managed to talk him out of it. I believe in being quite firm and efficient while still remaining a gentleman. My associate doesn't."
"Thank God you prevailed, Captain Werner. It would have ruined her marriage. I don't know how to thank you."
"The relief is all mine."
We parted outside the cafe and I walked home still wobbly on my feet. I did not phone Mimi that evening, in case the Germans had tapped her phone, and perhaps mine as well. I also decided not to tell her anything for the time being; she was only due for another tryst with her young painter three days later, and by then she would have read the news of his arrest in the paper, or the rumour would reach her, if necessary with my help. But there was no need. When I walked into the Roma the next day, a little late, Mimi was already there, awfully upset; the owner of the Roma had heard about the young painter's arrest and told her, so I decided to keep my informal interrogation by the German officer a secret. Something told me that it was less innocent than gossip about love affairs and that the fewer people knew about it the better. Mimi was pale and a little tearful but keeping up appearances. She was both sorry for the young painter and scared for herself.
"Do you think they had kept his place under observation and will arrest me as well? It will ruin my marriage, apart from anything else."
"Observation, probably yes, arrest you, no," I said with easy conviction. "They are awfully efficient and had they had the slightest suspicion about you they would have arrested you yesterday."
"I hope to God you are right."
"I am sure I am."
"The bloody men with their politics. If they can't keep out of it, they at least shouldn't drag us in, risking our reputations and marriages. It's all very noble and patriotic, but what the bloody hell do they hope to achieve with an underground paper after our army and the French one have been beaten by the Germans, except rot in prison for a few years instead of sleeping with us? Ouch;" she winced; "I am getting my period as well."
"At least that."
"At least that."

# # #

1997 Zygmunt Frankel - All Rights Reserved.
You are welcome to print-out this material for your personal reading, but it is illegal to modify or sell it

feedbackmain menu

feedback | main menu

short stories

shark reef

collected poemsoedipusred riding hoodsiberia

Stories | Shark | Poems | Oedipus | Red | Siberia