Rudi Finds His “Eva”

RUDI FINDS HIS “EVA” (Sept. 7, 1942)

[Rudy Valoren, getting away from Berlin and the failed Dove Society, travels to Hamburg to visit an old friend. While there he goes to an underground theatre, still permitted by the Nazi authorities, and attends a satiric review of major figures of the Third Reich.  As a young boy in Munich, Rudi knew Eva Braun and so is especially impressed  by an actress who does a comic impersonation of her in the show―this inspires Rudy to propose the scheme of substituting the actress, Gretchen Kuntz, for Eva Braun.  I offer sections from the beginning and the end of the chapter.]

The night he found her, Rudi had taken the East-Route Limited train to Hamburg to spend the weekend with his college buddy, Konrad Planos. After a beer, the two friends decided to catch a midnight revue show. Despite the war, the theatre district remained about as lively as ever. Young couples clogged the narrow streets, drinks in hand. Even a few Nazi youth, perhaps forgetting for a time their higher calling, joined the festive crowd. In a cafe, bearded artists sat sipping expressos, while on a makeshift stage a guitarist sang a song that somehow blended a German folk melody with the strains of New Orleans jazz, otherwise denounced as “nigger music” by the authorities. At one intersection, theaters on three of the four corners offered everything from a streamlined, two-hour staged version of Goethe’s Faust to female impersonators to Strindberg’s The Hyacinth, that play, like the guitarist’s jazz, otherwise frowned on by those arbiters of national taste in the Reich Chancellery who had no stomach for a surreal playwrights.

Konrad and Rudi approached the Little Hamburg Playhouse, an underground theatre, barely tolerated by the authorities, located in the center of a block otherwise occupied by beer halls and an occasional suspect “message parlor.” The sign above the shabby door leading to the basement caught their eye. “Funny Men of the Third Reich.”

“A satire? On the Nazis?” Rudi said. “And they haven’t closed it down?”

Konrad had not aged well, or evenly, in the five years since college. Like his father, he was balding, and Rudi wondered what was preferable–to gray prematurely or to lose one’s hair. Either way, the reddish beard he wore only seemed to call further attention to his predicament. At least Konrad was already happily married, to Gertrude Scheal, a fellow classmate both boys quested for their first year at the university, a quest Konrad had won, Rudi always believed, because he had known her since grammar school.

“Well, it’s not a real satire, nothing too strong,” Konrad said. “I’ve only seen it once–just some light kidding, but it’s usually so funny the authorities look the other way. A friend of mine even said that once in a while a party official takes in the show. Want to try it?”

“But you’ve seen it already.”

“Rudi,” he said. “I just came here to drink.”

Inside, a rowdy audience of young people, obviously several tall beers into the night, university students with not a Nazi official in view, were hooting and hollering. The theatre itself was dingy, the walls covered with splotchy blue paint reminding Rudi of the cracked ice on the lake behind his grandparents’ home. He wondered what his grandfather, the well-known landscape painter Hertsog Valoren, would have thought about the war. A startlingly peaceful man, much like Doctor Speucher, he had detested violence in any form.

The two young men found their way through the boisterous crowd and took two sagging seats in the center of the theater. The air was redolent with beer and perfume. The crowd was in high spirits. Rudi liked to think that since the first flaws were beginning to appear in the seemingly unstoppable German assaults, the liberal college crowd had found reasons to celebrate. Rommel had been checkmated by the British at El Alamain, Admiral Donitz forced to withdraw U-boasts from American shipping lanes in the Atlantic as a result of the effective use of conveys. Hamburg and Cologne had suffered heavy damage from bombing raids. Though so far successful, the attack on Stalingrad was meeting surprisingly heavy resistance; the Dove Society had reports from a secret group of dissident officers that the generals themselves were having second thoughts about the entire Russian campaign. Or maybe the crowd’s high spirits were just the result of heavy drinking before and during the show, though Rudi still wanted to trace the drunken mood to their growing anxiety over the state of things, a war that should have stopped with the invasion of Austria, let alone France.

Whatever the cause, the boisterous audience interrupted the performance at every point with applause, loud laughter, and numerous shouts of approval and encouragement to the actors. The company, three men and two women working on a small stage, with music provided by a pianist in the wings, were impersonating Nazi officials. An impossibly fat Göring wolfed down sausages, each as big as a baseball bat, while describing in exaggerated detail his World War I exploits as a pilot, unaware of the impending crash of the plane he was piloting. Himmler, head of the SS and before that a chicken farmer, gave a demonstration on how to pluck turkeys, crude cardboard cutouts, each named after a country in Europe. “Works with Christian Democrats too!” he exclaimed like a door-to-door salesman. Magda Goebbels, played by a stout middle-aged actress, instructed the youthful audience on “the proper way to diaper an Aryan baby.”

The impersonations were interspersed with songs, much of their humor safely directed against enemies of the Reich. “The Maginot Line Shuffle” featured two of the company, wearing over-sized French berets, and sporting on their shoulders baguettes instead of rifles. Moving backward across the stage, they did a clumsy tap dance, crying “Retreat! Retreat! The Germans are coming!” before stumbling and falling on top of each other, their arms and legs hopelessly entangled.

But it was the impersonation of Eva Braun by an actress identified on the program as one Gretchen Kuntz that most delighted the audience–and Rudi. Dressed in a tight-fitting white outfit, with “Women Give Their All for the Führer” emblazoned across her blouse, she crooned a sultry blues song in the style of American torch singers, lamenting her dull life, all the while offering fashion tips to the women in the audience, reducing great world events to which dress to wear at the next Party gala, and wondering when “her wandering boy” would come home even as she flirted with the men in the crowd.

Given Hitler’s mania for keeping his mistress out of the spotlight at public affairs, as well as prohibiting articles or photographs of her to be published, the actress surely knew no more about the real Eva than the average German. But for Rudi her portrait was uncanny since he had known Eva Braun from the days he worked in his father’s bakery across the street from Hoffman’s Photography Studio where she was the photographer’s assistant and would later meet Hitler, “Mr. Wolf.” Leaning forward in his seat, amazed by her performance, Rudi watched the actress parody the vanity, the shallowness of Hitler’s mistress. Physically, she was a dead-ringer for the Eva Braun he remembered.

The final skit of the first act, “Buddies,” lampooned Joseph Stalin, weighed down by an enormous mustache, and FDR in a wheelchair that kept collapsing, both men outlandishly gay, crooning a mawkish love song. At the end of the number, they vowed to stay friends “for eternity,” nearly kissing at blackout.

In the second act, the company took requests for skits from the audience, on personalities or issues. When someone called out “Bormann,” the Nazi official most suspected was the power behind Hitler, two actors came onstage, the larger one playing a ventriloquist, the smaller one his dummy, a little Hitler sitting on his knee, sporting a ridiculously large rectangular black mostache pasted below his nose, A cry for “Heydrich,” the handsome SS official everyone called “the blond beast,” led to the actor’s gazing into an imaginary mirror, kissing his reflection, and parodying a popular love poem of the day by substituting his own name for that of his girlfriend. The German industrial magnate Alfred Krupp was reduced to a huckster, boasting about his “solid-Krupp-steel jock strap” that would, even in the fiercest battle, protect “the family jewels that makes a German a manly German.” These improvisations were just as funny as the prepared material. The company was good, comfortable playing off each other.

But again, it was the actress impersonating Eva Braun, called out four times by the audience, who stole the show. She slithered around a handsome boy plucked from the audience, taking photographs of him, starting innocuously at his face before snapping shots of his backside and genitals. Later she led the audience in calisthenics, moving among the crowd, joking about this man’s fat belly, another’s large feet, complimenting older women, barely concealing her mock jealousy of young girls. A witty improvised monologue called “My Day” was a list of inane activities—“plucked an offensive hair from my left eyebrow,” “thought about painting my lips in matching colors,” “read the first sentence of Mein Kampf before falling asleep”—all of which she treated as if they were world-shattering.

A student sitting next to Rudi mumbled to a companion. “Sure, they can get away with this sort of stuff. As long as the war’s going well.” To which his friend added a solemn, “Yeah, but if things changed…”–the rest of his remarks lost as the crowd howled when the fake Eva made her exit, blowing kisses, and shouting out “aufwiedersehen.”

At the end of the performance, Rudi turned to Konrad who was equally taken with her.  His friend’s glassy eyes appeared like cataracts in the poor light, and as the two stood to the side, allowing the drunken crowd to pour out of the cramped theater, Rudi wondered if he had been invited to Hamburg for the weekend because something had happened between Konrad and Gertrude.

“Want to come back with me and congratulate that actress who played Eva?”

“I can’t,” Konrad said, using the base of a stairwell to prop himself. “I’ll leave the key under the mat for you.”

Rudi signed a visitor’s form with the stage manager, a fat, large-breasted woman who, as he started to make his way down a narrow hallway leading to the dressing rooms, bellowed out, “Miss Kuntz right? Door on the left, at the end of the hall?”


“You’re lucky you’re good looking. She don’t usually want to see anyone after the show,” the stage manager added, handing him a playbill. “Go on. Just a minute now. We need to close soon. Tell your friends about the show.”

“I will.”

“End of the hall–knock first.”

Gretchen Kuntz was sitting in a small chair by the dressing table, taking off the last of her make-up. She looked even more like Eva Braun offstage, here in the room’s dim light. The resemblance was startling.

“Miss Kuntz?” Rudi said. Upon reaching the door he had suddenly become nervous and forgot to knock. He did so now, awkwardly, with the door ajar, his shoulder already wedged inside. “My name is Rudi Valoren. I–” She turned slightly, her back blocking the mirror, and from his angle he only barely noticed that she was crying.

Wiping her face, the actress stood and walked toward him, took the playbill from Rudi’s hand, and, pressing it against the door, quickly signed it. “Anything else?”

“No,” he said. “I guess not.” He took a breath. With her sudden proximity, he could smell her sweat. She must have just washed off her perfume. She too seemed to have noticed this and started to sit down.

“Well, thanks for coming,” she said. “Hope you enjoyed the show.”

Moving back a few feet, he took her in again. If the performance had not quite matched his memories, now, as she stood before him, he realized that this actor captured not only Eva Braun’s self-centered nature–known and mocked by many an envious German woman–but also the bittersweet demeanor Rudi had once noticed as she left the studio. She was the Eva before Hitler.

“Your Eva was perfect,” he said. “The real thing.”

“I wouldn’t know.” She looked him up and down in the fashion he had received from most women, a quick, judging glance, as though he were no more than a piece of fruit she was checking with her eyes for bruises. “I’ve never met the woman,” she said. “Heidi, the other actress in our company–she worked as a maid for Eva Braun for eight months. In her Munich apartment. Told me what she knew about her.”

“I used to live in Munich,” he said. “Years ago. Worked in a bakery shop, across the street from where Eva Braun worked–Hoffman Photography Studio.”

“I’ve heard of it.”

“The Führer had gone to Hoffman’s to get some photographs for a political campaign–that’s where they met.” He noticed that she had not returned the signed playbill, tucked neatly at her side. “When you sang that jazz song. I knew you were a pro. Really spot on.”

Assuming he’d have to do most of the talking, fearing she would dismiss him if he stopped, Rudi was surprised when she spoke up. “You might not recognize Munich these days. Not so lively, or cultured anymore. Still plenty of beer halls, though.”

An “Oh” was all Rudi could get out. He stood there like a dummy, his hands clinging to his pants. The show—he could talk about the show. “I’m surprised your company could get away with so much.” He lowered his voice. “I wasn’t aware the Nazis had such a … ribald sense of humor.”

“Goebbels came in once,” she said. “He liked everything except himself–he even asked us to do an extra bit on Commander Göring. The show’s fun. Still, I’d rather be working in Berlin, the National Theatre, or the Arts Playhouse. But it pays the bills, I suppose.”

“You lived in Munich—once?”

“Yes, started my work in the theatre there.”

“Why’d you leave?”

“Most of the theatres closed down and the companies disbanded in ‘39,” she said.

Rudi knew little about the theatre, and yet desperate to keep up the conversation asked the generic, “Were you born in Munich?”

“No, Linz,” she replied, “Shortly after my mother moved there,” before adding, “It’s getting late.”

“Would you like to have a drink?” he blurted out.


            Gretchen led him to a small café on one of the backstreets, far removed from the noisy beer halls where young people, many of them sporting Nazi armbands, congregated. As they entered, the proprietor raced up, a little man, dwarfish, with a wisp of hair artfully making its way diagonally across an otherwise bald head, his arms chubby, almost like long hands. Barely reaching Gretchen’s chin, he threw those arms around her, planting his nose between her breasts.

“If you weren’t so gay I’d spank you,” she whispered in mock protest.

“Spank? Spank? You know I’d love that, Gretchen! Darling!”

“Alfred! Alfred, this is a new friend, Rudi Valoren. Rudi, Alfred Gestter, the owner, the waiter. In fact, he’s the one and everything in this wonderful little café.”

“Pleased to meet you, Mr. Valoren. Now this woman, she’s a pearl, just what my mother would call her. A pearl. Come, come sit by the window. And the first drink’s on me.”

Alfred brought two glasses of wine, and a small plate of bread and cheese.

“For my favorite actress.

“I’m the only actress you know, Alfred.”


Gretchen’s joking with Alfred, the little man’s own good spirit, the bright décor of the café, the small fire burning merrily in the hearth at the side of the room—all this contrasted with the grim street just outside the window. The ghosts of stores long since abandoned, the windows blockaded with boards boasting typical street graffiti incongruously juxtaposed with Nazi slogans, the gutters overflowing with the refuse of the day, ironic in a country whose citizens, in better times, were immaculate when it came to civic maintenance, in contrast, as they liked to boast, to the slovenly French. Every once in a while one of those forlorn citizens would pass by, their pace quick, fearful, as if expecting some dark figure to emerge from the dank alleys just a few stores beyond Alfred’s café.

Dipping her finger in the warm wax running down the side of the candle separating them, Gretchen, out of the blue, recited for her audience of one her favorite lines from Shakespeare, Portia’s “How far this little candle casts its beam. / So shines a good deed in a naughty world.”

The woman who a half hour earlier had impersonated the bawdy mistress of the Führer was now Shakespeare’s regal heroine. Rudi was overcome with the beauty of the lines, and of the actress, and his eyes misted.

“Why those lines?” he asked, his voice full of adoration.

Gretchen’s simple, “I don’t know,” was soon followed by a cliché she dredged up from her girlhood, the mysterious, “That’s for you to know and me to find out.”

Rudi smiled at her goodnatured retort.

This quiet moment, however, was soon interrupted by raucous voices outside. A group of Nazi youth had gathered in the middle of the street, arms around each other in boozy comradeship, singing the “Horst Wessel” song, practiced scowls on their faces in imitation of the Führer’s icy stare. A couple on the other side of the street took refuge in a doorway as they passed by.

Seeing Rudi and Gretchen shudder at the sight, Alfred broke the tension with, “And how’s your mother.”

“She’s my mother, same as always,” Gretchen laughed.

Alfred kissed her on the cheek, and then patted Rudi’s head as if he were a little boy. “That woman’s a saint.” He held his hand out to touch her cheek but, being summoned by a nearby table, dove-tailed and went to attend.

“What’s your mother do?” Rudy said.

She replied at length in a quiet, firm voice. “My mother,” she said, cradling her wine glass. “My mother works with the Church.”

‘What does she do?”

Gretchen looked at him for the longest time, searching his face. “It’s all very public. She’s on the Bishop’s committee protesting policies of the Reich.”

“I’ve heard of them,” Rudi replied with a practiced disdain, part of the Dove Society’s strategy to maintain an active façade of pro-Nazism. Dr. Speucher had even gone so far as to coach the members during his monthly review of Nazi policies, offering suggestions on acceptable pro-Nazi things to say in polite conversation.

“Nothing illegal, mind you,” she said quickly. “She’s the secretary to the Bishop of Munich, the one who’s against the euthanasia laws. The killing of what the Nazis call ‘people with lives not worth…’” Before she could add the devastating end of the slogan, “living,” both were startled by loud noises from the street. A young boy was screaming and calling for help. Fearing the worst, Rudi bolted from the table and out the front door of the café. Three teenagers, wearing their Nazi Youth bands, were laughing at a comrade lying in the street.

“We threw a firecracker at him when he bent over to pick up a Mark.”

“Yeah, when it exploded the idiot thought he had been shot!”

Their victim was crying bathetically, “I’ve been shot! I’ve been shot,” as the others, jeering at him, raced down the street, disappearing around the corner. When Rudi helped him to his feet, the youth offered a simple “Thank you,” and then added, “Made me look like an ass.” Pretending not to notice he was crying, Rudi dismissed him with a gruff “Go on, go on. Get out of here.”

As he made his way back to the cafe, Rudi cursed himself for having to fake disdain when Gretchen told about her mother’s protest work. What must she be thinking of him? He wanted her to like him–it was that basic, that human. But he knew any personal feelings had to be concealed, subsumed to the higher purpose of the Dove Society. “People with lives not worth living”—the hideous Nazi phrase, the obscene campaign to rid the country of anyone not like themselves, ran riot in his brain, and for a second he wished that instead of helping, he had strangled the pathetic Nazi youth, the butt of his fellows’ sophomoric joke, murdered him right there in the street. Rudi knew the phrase well enough: the Dove Society had organized protests as had the Bishop of Munich against these same barbaric policies of the Third Reich.

Coming back to the table, he tried what he thought would be a subtle apology for his reaction to Gretchen’s sharing information about her mother. “I suppose one could say your playhouse is a form of protest,” he ventured. “Truth behind jokes, and all that.”

“But it’s only theatre. My mother does the real thing. She’s my hero.”

Rudi wanted to tell her about the Dove Society, to put in context his praise for the mother–and the daughter. “It’s natural,” he said, “to resist change.”

This was his one regret, really his only regret, about being a member of the Dove Society. That in his everyday life, in those normal relations that define us, whether business or social, or even romantic, he had to play someone else, had to take on the mind-set of those Germans, from the well-intentioned but ignorant, to the indifferent, to the evangelicals supporting the regime. And not only supported it, but compromised themselves, corrupted themselves in so many ways. Children turning in their parents to the police for anti-Hitler remarks. Unhappy wives, unhappy husbands getting a no-questions-asked divorce by spreading rumors about a spouse. Polite Germans, gathered around a dinner table, sharing the details of their mundane lives with an occasional comment about the suffering Jews, sometimes with indifference, at other times sarcastically. And those maniacal young people, including some of Rudi’s former classmates, their eyes bulging with hate and self-righteousness, mouthing the filthy Nazi shibboleths as if they were Biblical truths, desecrating synagogues, burning books of the very authors that, just last semester, they had read in college courses.

Gretchen had only impersonated Eva Braun for the amusement of an audience. Indeed, their laughter at Hitler’s shallow mistress was a form of protest, albeit safely protected by the illusion of the stage. But Rudi now suspected that when she called her mother a “hero,” the daughter, no less, shared her political sympathies. Yet right now Rudi was also playing a part, the good German, no, the good Nazi, a role he detested, and he did so without laughter or applause.

Gretchen was staring at the dregs in the bottom of her glass, circling its rim with one finger, as if she hadn’t heard him. And so Rudi repeated what he had just said in the form of a question. “Don’t you think it’s natural to resist change?”

She looked up and leaned in to him, perhaps fearing the other couple in the café might overhear.

“Yes,” she said. “Perhaps you’re right. It’s natural. But not all change is for the best.”  As if she had said too much, even in those few words, she covered herself with the generic, “Thank you for the drink.”

“I didn’t buy.”

“You’re quite right.”


            It was a cool, clear night in Hamburg, and the two miles back to Konrad’s apartment seemed, to Rudi, a mere matter of feet. He did something he hadn’t done since he was a teenager. Pretending it was a wide path, he walked down the center of the moonlit street, the dark buildings on either side becoming an impenetrable strand of trees.

Rudi was met with Konrad’s “You’re back late,” as he tried to slip quietly into the apartment.

“You’re up late. Everything fine with Gertrude?”

“Of course! How was your evening?”

“Oh, just wonderful. You know, beautiful woman, drinks, had to pretend I’m a Nazi sympathizer.” Konrad offered him a beer. “She wouldn’t let me walk her home. Her mother works with a protest group at her church. And when she told me that, in all innocence well, I, I … ”

“You had to pretend.”

“Yeah, pretend.”

“I’ve heard those protestors are great in bed,” Konrad said in a flailing attempt to dispel Rudi’s gloom. No response from his friend. Then, after a long pause, he added, “You’ve got a crush on her!”

“Fuck you. You’re an ass, Konnie.”

“What? For the remark about protestors, or about you and the girl?”

“Both.” Then, putting his arm around him, Rudi commanded, “Now fill up my glass–again!”

“Yes, Mein Führer,” he shot back, with a dead-on parody of the heel-clicking Party bureaucrat.

“I hate this double life,” Rudi confided, as he downed his drink in a single gulp.

“This is the world we’re living in,” Konrad replied quietly. Though he knew about and applauded Rudi’s work with the Dove Society, he himself was not political like this friend he had known since childhood. Konrad ran a small shop on the outskirts of Hamburg, where he sold the glass figurines that were his trademark as an artist, as well as the paintings and statuary of artist friends. Both men thought it an irony that some of the most brutal Nazis frequented his shop, buying a delicate glass nymph or a landscape imitating the great romantic German painters of the last century, the sentimental, unreal artists whom Hitler championed. “A sale is a sale,” Konrad had once said defensively, only to be reassured by Rudi that even the sadistic Party member was not without a small semblance of a soul, a thirst for beauty.

“But these customers,” Konrad had protested, “the next day they go to work, slapping pink stars on homosexuals, running the prisons, carrying out their hideous experiments on the insane and malformed.”

“And when they come home,” Rudi reassured him, “they hug their children, turn back into the docile middle-class husband, and gaze at your figurine.”

Konrad looked at his friend, his oldest and best friend, this man dedicated to overthrowing the government, who had managed to make him feel good, justified about being an artist, even in the worst and cruelest of times. “So, no walk home. No…well, you know what? At least you got away from Berlin for a weekend.”

“Hamburg is peaceful–in comparison.”

“Yes, for the time being,” Konrad said, “but not for long.”


            The next night, at the performance of Funny Men, Gretchen was even better. Rudi couldn’t put his finger on the reason for this change in her Eva Braun, but still, the character had grown a bit, was more detailed. Gretchen asserted herself even more, for this time, when she went into the audience, she flirted in character with two stern-faced Nazi officials. Even they couldn’t resist her charms and, delighted with this parody of The Boss’s mistress, broke into wide grins, as she added new lyrics:

Oh, I just swoon at the sight of the swastika,

I get high each time I say “Heil!”

With each storm trooper I embrace,

My Aryan blood starts to race,

And I go further

Than just a sweet smile.

A Nazi, now he’s a man’s man,

And though he’s often quite haughty,

And what he does is so naughty,

Still, with me he can do what he can.

Wit her shouting out each line just before the beat, she then invited the audience to join in on the four-line chorus. The crowd went wild, even the Nazi officials.

Gretchen had asked Rudi to drop by at the cast party after the show, and while he was intrigued, indeed thrilled by the invitation, he had declined, asking, instead, if she would have a drink with him afterwards. The truth was that Rudi felt uncomfortable around what his mother used to call “theatricals.” Writers and poets, the literary artists he had met when a student of Dr. Speucher’s, with such people he felt at home. But actors, theatre people seemed, to him, a different breed entirely, not content just to use words, to cherish them, but bent on imposing their fiction onto life itself, through the stage, trying to convince an audience that an illusion was real. Rudi came from a practical family: his father was a baker, his mother much in demand locally for her her sewing. His two brothers were an accountant and a lawyer, respectively, and it had taken the family some effort to get used to Rudi’s plans to become, like his hero Speucher, a university teacher. That teacher and student were now secretly engaged in the practical work of the Dove Society only confirmed his bias against theatricals. It was, he reminded himself, Gretchen’s mother, not Gretchen, who was involved in actual protests. And he had to admit that in his comment to her the night before, that Funny Men of the Third Reich was a form of protest, his motive was as much romantic as truthful. Still, he was eager to tell Dr. Speucher about this unusual woman, this actress who “became” Eva Braun onstage. More real than the real woman, he laughed to himself.

As he paced about in the back alley, Rudi could hear the laughter and loud voices of the cast carousing in Gretchen’s dressing room, even as he longed for the party to end and for his chance to be alone with her. Starting to shake in the chill September night, now he regretted that he had come to the theatre wearing only a pullover.

The alley offered nothing unique, nothing interesting to distract him from his condition. Indeed, in its bleakness it made a solemn contrast to the gaiety on the other side of the back window fronting the four rickety steps leading down from the backstage door. Rudi imagined Gretchen inside, in a warm dressing room, drink in hand, hugging and kissing her fellow actors in that showy way theatre people affect, offering an exorbitant compliment here and there, faking modesty when a cast member raved about her Eva. He wanted to be with the Eva, the Gretchen who sat across from him the night before at Alfred’s café, the actress who treated him as a special audience of one when she impulsively recited Portia’s beautiful lines from Shakespeare—he wanted her for himself, alone.

Lost in such thoughts, he did not see a mangy dog appear at the entrance to the alley and make its way limping toward him. Uttering a whine from deep within his throat, the poor creature suddenly foamed at the mouth and fell down a few feet from where Rudi was standing. When he went to check, the dog suddenly came to life, thrusting a mouth of ugly teeth in his face, before falling back down dead, after what Rudi concluded was the final spasm of rigor mortis. Just at this moment, Rudi heard “goodbye”s and “see you, darling”s coming from the party and, not wanting the dead dog to spoil what he assumed would soon be Gretchen’s entrance, he pushed the it with his foot under a pile a newspapers lying against the wall, like some assistant preparing the stage for the leading lady.

In a few minutes, Gretchen, her faced flushed, emerged through the back door, radiant, her eyes fixed on Rudi.

He greeted her like some stage-door Johnny with, “You were even more fantastic tonight.”

“I need another drink,” she said, without acknowledging his compliment, then added, “Sorry to keep you waiting so long.”

“Not at all. I didn’t mind,” he replied gallantly

“Alfred has closed by now, but there’s a liquor store a block down from the café. Stays open late. The shift workers.”


“Ah, a handsome young couple. What a treat!” the elderly man behind the counter exclaimed as Rudi and Gretchen entered.

“A treat?” Gretchen replied happily.

“Yes, yes, a treat. Most customers this time of night are the factory workers, from the morning shift. Come in to get a bottle before going to work. Two factories further down the street.”

“Before going to work?” Rudi joined in.

“Yes, yes,” he replied, his eyes dancing, before adding, “Need a drink … or two … or three or four or more … before getting down to what they do.”

“And that is?” Gretchen asked.

“One factory makes munitions, guns, the other, bomb sites—for the war effort. That’s what they do.  Lousy work, if you ask me.”

“I see,” Rudi answered. “Well …”

“Well, what can I get for such a lovely young woman and her handsome beau?”

“He’s not my beau, just a …“ Gretchen started to answer, and then switched to, “Schnapps. Two bottles. How about that Golden Age brand?”

“Golden Age it is, young lady.”

As the clerk turned away to get the bottles from the shelf, Rudi patted his hand on the left side of his chest.”

“Yes,” Gretchen said quietly. She too had seen the yellow Star of David on the old man’s shirt.

“Here you are, two bottles. May I get you anything else?”

“No, that will be fine,” Rudi said, reaching into his pocket and handing the man four bills.

“That’s one too many sir. It’s just three marks, sir.”

“No,” Rudi replied, “One’s for you.”

“Why thank you, sir,” he replied, making a low bow.

“No, thank you, sir,” Gretchen joined in, matching his bow with one of her own.

All three laughed at this embarrassment of courtesies. And as Rudi and Gretchen left, the clerk called out, “A lovely evening to a lovely couple.”

Four blocks past the liquor store the street carved sharply uphill and ended at the entrance to a small park.

“Come on. I know a great place where we can sit and drink our schnapps,” Gretchen said as she moved confidently in the dark, through a labyrinth of paved walkways, and then paths formed by people cutting their way through the junipers and weeping willows that, leafless because of the early winter, soon gave way to thick shrubs circling the top of a hill. There, in a small clearing, Gretchen pointed to a bench that faced south. Below them lay darkened Hamburg, all its lights having been extinguished as a defense against British bombing raids. “The Brits at night, the Yanks at noon” as the popular saying went. This night, all was calm, save for an occasionally cricket crooning to potential mates with its high-pitched love song.

They sat for a while without talking, content to nurse their drinks. From further down the hill came voices, a man and a woman, lovers, they speculated, from the soft sounds of that German language otherwise so abrupt, even harsh to the ear.

Rudi spoke first. “I want to apologize for the cold way I greeted your telling me about your mother’s work in the church, her protest group. Something like ‘I’ve heard of them.” I didn’t mean to come across …”

Before he could finish, she said, “I knew you didn’t mean what you said?”

“You did? I mean, you knew I didn’t. But how?”

“Because when you said those words, you looked away from me, and your right hand tightened and …”


“And I knew that this was not what you wanted to say. But something you thought you had to say.”

“You noticed all that?”

“I’m an actor, remember? Sensitive to gesture, movement, what we call subtext?”


“Yes, the real words, the real feeling beneath the dialogue. In this case, your ‘I’ve heard of them’.”

“What do you think I really mean, then?’

“I don’t know, just that your response sounded like something you had practiced, or even had been told to say.”

The lovers in the distance were now silent. Gretchen smiled. “Well, they’ve gone or they’re…”

“Yes, I bet the latter.”

“Me too.”

A slender new moon had come out behind the clouds, and Rudi could see Gretchen’s hair stirring lightly in the breeze. “Finish mine off, will you,” she said handing him a half empty bottle of schnapps. “I’ve think I’ve had enough.”

When his hand touched hers as she transferred the bottle, she added, “I mean, enough schnapps. Not enough of this beautiful evening.”

“It is beautiful. Almost as if there were no war,” and then Rudi blurted out, “No Hitler.”

“Yes, no Hitler. My mother says that day will come.” Again, they both fell to silence, broken with Gretchen’s, “I said those lines from Portia last night, and so here’s tonight’s Shakespeare: “If it be not now, yet it will come.”

“Hamlet, just before he enters the throne room for the duel with Laertes.”

“Quite right Herr Doctor Valoren, or soon to be Herr Doctor,” she replied with a twinkle in her eye, mocking the ornate German title for a university professor.

“I’m afraid that’s not going to happen. My dissertation advisor, Dr. Speucher, was dismissed from the university,” Rudi replied, chocking back a sob.

“Because he’s a Jew?”


“I am so sorry, Rudi,” she said, moving closer to him and touching his shoulder lightly with her hand. That touch, that innocent touch coursed through his body. He was now giddy, from the extra bottle of schnapps, but in larger measure because this exquisite woman at his side had understood him, and had wanted to comfort him

He acted on instinct, impulsively, doing something against all the strictures of his teacher, taking what he knew Dr. Speucher, his Kierkegaard in hand, would have called “a leap of faith,” a leap whose risk these days was far greater, more risky, more potentially tragic than the Danish philosopher could ever have imagined.  But the risk, in his mind, was lessened by his knowing that her mother was a protestor and she was too, in her actor’s way.

“You’re right. My reaction to the news about your mother was not what I wanted to say. It wasn’t me. It was a … a role I had to play.”

“A role?”

Rudi couldn’t hold back any longer. “Yes, you see, I’m a member of the Dove Society, a resistance group, and I responded the way I did because we are taught to play the loyal German, to conceal our cause, our work with the Society–to hide our true feelings, under any circumstance. Even with a beautiful woman like you. Especially a beautiful woman like you.” Rudi touched her hand, and held it there as he told her about his work with the Dove Society.

She pursed her lips and then, taking the bottle from his hand, slowly drank down what was left. Rudi wondered whether she was drunk. There was something odd about the expression on her face, and he knew as she stared off that whatever memory she now called to mind was not resistance or war or Hitler.

“My mother took me to Prague once,” she said. “In twenty-nine. I was just a little girl. She took me to visit some relatives and the first day we were there we met a cousin who had lost his mind during the war–shell-shocked. We had arrived just in time for the inauguration of Tomas Masaryk, the new Czech President. What a great day that was! Even my cousin, who had not left his house in over ten years, came out with us to watch Masaryk pass by. In all those ten years he hadn’t spoken a single word. Not even smiled. He’d just sit there on the balcony, staring down at the street. But the moment the parade came around the corner, he stood up and began cheering. Crying. Laughing. Shouting two words, two words I can remember to this day.”

As Rudi pressed his hand against hers, inviting her to go on, she replied, “Just two words. ‘At last.’ That’s what he said, again and again. ‘At last! At last!’ With such joy. As if he’d been released from some dark place. And over the next few years he got better, until he was almost his old self. Even took up his trade before the war. A tailor. He wrote us the most beautiful letters, telling us about life in Prague. The simple pleasures. As if he were experiencing everything for the first time.”

Gretchen was silent for a moment, and then putting her hand on top of Rudi’s she continued, in a whisper. “Those letters from my cousin, for my mother and me, were our salvation.”


“Yes, for as the Nazis took power, became more cruel with each passing week, made our lives miserable, despite all their claims that they were bringing a new day, despite all this, all this fear, this suffering, my cousin’s letters were…lifesavers. A reminder of what life could be like… at last.”

Once more she retreated into silence, and then spoke up, “Then one day his letters stopped.”

“What happened?”

“The last we heard from friends in Prague was that he had been rounded up with other men in his district and taken away.”

“Taken away?”

“We don’t know where. All we know is that a year before the letters stopped he had joined a local resistance group. A small one, just five members. He told us not to worry. He was safe. They did what he called ‘little things’.”


“Putting notes in library books protesting the German occupation. Things like that. He called them little things, told us not to worry. He’d be all right. But then the letters stopped.”

“I am so sorry to hear about this. But I’m glad we’ve confided in each other. Much more than I expected to happen this evening.”

Gretchen turned to him. “Is your resistance any safer?”

“I don’t understand.”

“If it isn’t, I don’t wish to associate with you,” she said. “It’s nothing personal. But my mother. Do you understand? I can’t endanger her more than she herself is already doing.”

“We take ever precaution. Every precaution. Because we’ve got to continue. The work’s too important. Just the other week, we stole figures on just how many people have been murdered in asylums as part of the euthanasia program. And we have even smuggled that information to the Americans.”

“And I thought you were just a scholar who bakes,” she teased.

“A scholar-baker who is also a poet when he has a chance, though that doesn’t pay the rent. As you might expect, Germany’s not exactly the best place for poets these days.”

“And a protestor. That’s something.”

A fog, turned silver by the moonlight, had settled over the city, blurring the lines that distinguished buildings and bridges. The light from the globes atop lampposts lining the broad avenue dividing Hamburg rebounded against the fog so that its yellowish glow was doubled. In the distance a solitary bird sang to no one in particular, as if the sheer pleasure of its music were enough. To the west, they could see intermittent flares from a factory that had been bombed earlier in the evening. But right now this reminder of the war was distant and safe.

“My mother is going to hide the first of her ‘guests from the countryside’ next weekend,” she said suddenly, “And there’s nothing I can do.”

“I don’t think we can help you. I wish we could.” Rudi said sadly. She smiled. The shadows hung in swatches across her face, so that only one of her eyes was illuminated.


            The street along the river was almost deserted. As they made their way to Gretchen’s apartment, they heard the water lapping methodically against the pillings along the shore. From the second floor of one building came the sound of Brahms, and, looking up, they could see the silhouette of a young man hunched over a piano. A couple, obviously in love, passed them by, throwing out a cheery “good evening.” An elderly woman, a sack slung over her back, lost in thought, approached, mumbling something audible only to herself, and then moved on by. The two stopped in the center of the cobblestone and Rudi watched Gretchen’s slender toes curl against the divide. “This is goodbye, Mr. Valoren,” she said. “My mother–you understand.”

What he wanted to do, right there, was kiss her in the style of those great Hollywood movies he had seen before the war–It Happened One Night, Camille, The Gay Divorcee–sweep her off her feet, or lay her on the cold cobblestone. Instead, he said, “Mothers. When I was younger, it was my father who always ended my dates prematurely.” He fished in his pocket for a piece of paper, studied it momentarily, then stuffed it back in. “I’ve written something for you, composed it last night after I got back to my friend’s apartment. Couldn’t sleep, and when I can’t sleep I either write poetry or bake bread.”

Gretchen laughed. “Well, then, let’s hear it, my Dove Society baker.”

“Here, right now?”

‘Yes–it’s the perfect time, the perfect place.”

“Right now? Here?”

“Yes, silly.”

Like a poet at a bookstore reading, Rudi struck a pose in the middle of the sidewalk:

On the garish stage, she plays a stranger,

And I, transfixed because the woman in her art

Is for me so real, she almost breathes.

And then, her part over,

The stranger vanishes, as the past itself dies

With yesterday’s breath.

Here, now, before me, she stands,

Beyond the theatre’s little world,

To play again, on my heart’s stage.

As I watch, bereft of all words,

Then applaud.

“It’s beautiful.”

With a sheepish grin, Rudi said, “Well, for me it’s Berlin tomorrow.”

Suddenly, a young man came rushing towards them. His pale face, somehow glowing even in the dim streetlight, his slim body almost comically enveloped in a cloak many sizes too big. He was clutching a book to his chest.

“A Jew?” Rudi thought, alarmed at what might be happening, since it was well past their curfew.

“Help me! Please. The SS, they’re–”

Two officers were just rounding the corner, one with his Lugar raised in the air. They paused, conferring briefly, as Gretchen, her back to them, quickly, almost instinctively took a pendant with a cross from around her neck and gave it to the stranger. Wordlessly, he put it on. Spotting the three a half-block away, the police came running up.

Gretchen started to cry. She grabbed the terrified man and kissed him, then pulled away. With tears streaming down her eyes, she cried out to Rudi, “Rudi, I’m … I … I was going to tell you. With Hans–it’s nothing. He means nothing to me.”

Recovering from the kiss, the Jew staggered back, fingering the necklace. “Nothing?” the stranger improvised. “I’m nothing?”

The younger SS officer was staring dumbly at the three. He whispered to the older, senior officer. “Miss,” he said, “come under the street lamp for a moment.”

“Are you–is it you, Ms. Braun?” his companion said, winking at her. Gretchen remembered him from the audience two nights ago. He had been very drunk and at one moment in her song had stumbled onstage.

The other officer, who had not yet spoken to Rudi, seemed to pity him, the betrayed lover. Suddenly Rudi flung himself on the man and the two began to wrestle.

“Stop,” Gretchen said, trying to tug Rudi off. “Stop it, you two.”

The men lay panting in the street. The stranger cast a hostile glance at Rudi, which he returned. “You’re supposed to be my best friend,” Rudi said, wiping his mouth. In the scuffle his lip had caught a pebble and he could taste the grit.

“What seems to be going on here?” the younger officer said to Gretchen.

“She’s a slut,” Rudi interrupted. “Cart the whores away with the Jews, if you ask me.” He looked down and spit the remaining grit from his tongue. “Is it true, Gretchen? Did you…sleep with Hans? Sleep with my best friend?”

“I’d hardly call it sleep,” she said. “Well, there were some … sleepy patches, if you know what I mean. But it was nothing.”

“Nothing,” the Jew repeated, taking off the necklace. He flung it on the street.

Gretchen’s eyes began to water and as she touched the older officer’s forearm. The gesture seemed accidental; Rudi knew it was not. She leaned down and picked up the crucifix, kissed it gently, then turned to the officers. “Will you?” Bending forward, she allowed the younger officer to clasp it around her neck.

Rudi laughed. “How many women have come between us, Hans?”

“We like the same type.”


Both men snickered. “I’ll buy you a beer,” he said. “Sorry for the disturbance, officers.” He saluted. “You understand.”

“Hans” approached Rudi and inspected his lip. “Did I do that?”

“Beer’s on you,” the stranger said. “Gentlemen, goodnight.”

The two men walked down the street, silent, hearts racing, blood in their ears. Rudi cast a fleeting glance back at Gretchen, who already had the two officers laughing.

“You saved my life,” the Jew said.

Rudi fished out a piece of paper and wrote an address on the back. He handed it to him. “There’s a safe house here in Hamburg,” he said, wondering whether he would ever see Gretchen again.

“God bless,” the Jew said. “Wait.”


“Was that Eva Braun?”

“Of course not. Don’t be stupid.”

The Jew shook his head. “Right. Well, good luck.”

“Germany’s run out of luck, friend.” Rudi took step back. “If I were you, when I arrived at this address, I’d get some false papers.”


            For the longest time, Dr. Speucher sat silently, his one hand cradling a brandy glass, the other rubbing the balding spot at the back of his head. Rudi sat hunched in a chair opposite him, eager, hopeful.

            He knew this elegant room well, for Dr. Speucher had often invited his students over after their evening seminar. Indeed, most would agree that their discussion here was more lively than anything said in the drab university classrooms. The wall above the fireplace was now bare, its precious Monet landscape “appropriated” two years earlier by the Nazis. Piled high on the upright piano were scores of the sonatas of Beethoven and Brahms, the music of Mahler and Mendelssohn, Shubert’s songs. Here Rudi felt at home, with his surrogate father, his teacher turned activist, the founder of the Dove Society who, against the wishes of most of its members, had proposed that Rudi be admitted, though he was half their age and exempt from military service because of a prolapsed heart valve.

“You’re serious, aren’t you, Rudi?” Dr. Speucher said at length.

“Never more serious in my life.”

“Your relatively young life.”

“Still …”

“Still, it’s an idea and …”

“And you’re a man of ideas,” Rudi said with a smile, innocently seductive.

“Yes, an idea, just out of the egg, as it were. Like you.”

“If you saw her, saw her on stage, you’d …”

“Are you suggesting I travel to Hamburg?”


“First, Rudi, we’d need the approval of the Dove Society members. We’re a democracy, don’t forget.”

“Of course–first. But you know better than anyone, the time is against us. That he’s getting stronger, more desperate, more suicidal every day.”

“True. And, after all, I was the one who suggested we try some new tactic, given our abundant lack of success murdering the bastard. Since we can’t get him by force, why not psychological force?”

“Just as Dr. Weismantle suggested.”

“Yes, get at him through a woman.”

“Through Eva, or rather Gretchen.”

Then, leaning forward to pour the rest of the brandy in their glasses, Speucher, in the very style with which he would summarize the students’ conversation at the end of a seminar, ticked off seven points, punctuating each with a finger pointed toward his student.

“First, we take a look at this Gretchen–as Eva. Two, if she passes muster, we start to train her, teaching her everything we know about the mistress. Three–and here it gets dicey–we kidnap the real Eva. Four, substitute–somehow–Gretchen for her. Five, Gretchen starts to work on the little bastard …”

“After all, we know about …what should I call it?”

“His woman phobias.”

“Yes, that strange relation with his mother, his fear of women when he was younger, his addiction to young girls, brainless ones, the rumors about his perverted sexual habits, his…”

“You’re starting to sound like Weismantle. And here I thought you were my prize student in literature, not psychiatry.”

Slapping Rudi on the knee, his teacher added, “I can play Weismantle too.”

“Play sir?”

“Oy veh, does he have problems,” he cried out, parodying Weismantle’s thick accent. “Think of the possible incest in his family–Hitler’s father had married his first cousin–and you get a fellow with what our beloved Dr. Freud would call a severe Oedipal complex.”

“I’m serious, Dr. Speucher!”

“I know you are, Rudi. I apologize. I was just joking because the idea is so momentous, so improbable that…“

“That? …”

“That it just might work. One chance in a hundred, mind you. But, as you say …  hell, as I myself said at the meeting, everything else we’ve tried has failed.”

“And desperate times call for desperate measures.”

“A cliché, my otherwise original student, but true.” Then, draining the rest of his glass, he continued, “Five …”

“You already did number five. It’s six then seven.”

“Ah, right. Six, she irritates him, gets at his pathetic little psyche, aggravates his phobias, unnerves him.”

“And, seven,” Rudi joined in, “He gets so rattled, he starts making even more mistakes than he already has.”

“Yes, and he has already. Pushing the army to take Stalingrad before Moscow. Not giving Rommel what he needs to win in Africa…”

“Stoking the resistance among the Czechs and the Hungarians by murdering civilians.”

“We could go on and on, Rudi, but the point is your scheme is … well … I think it’s worth a try. Still, it all depends on what the members think. Let’s say they give it the OK. The first hurdle is–would she be willing?”

“I’ll ask her,” Rudi said, rubbing his forehead in a futile effort to dispel a splitting headache.

“Simple as that! Ah, youth!”

“I think she’ll … agree.”

“You’re sure?”

“I won’t force her. But, after all, she did confide in me about her mother. Calls her mother a hero. Hates the Nazis as much as you or I do. And she helped rescue that Jewish man on the street, the one I told you about.”

“She might agree.”

“And we’ve grown intimate. She trusts me.”

“Intimate! Ah, youth!” Then he added “Still, I’m disturbed that you told her about the Dove Society.”

“It just seemed right at the time. And I know about her mother hiding Jews.”

“You acted from the heart, Rudi, not the brain. Did you learn nothing from me?”

“You’re making fun of me, right?”

“In part, my friend. These are dangerous times. You can’t be sure whom you can trust. You know that. Well, then, go ask her. Give it a try. If she agrees, then I have a scheme to get the other members hooked on the idea.”

“Which is?”

“That’s for you to know and me to find out. Find out, that is, if it will indeed hook them. But first things first.”

Dr. Speucher rose unsteadily from his chair, slowing making his way to the fireplace where he stoked the two remaining logs, the fire, almost extinct, now giving out one final blaze, a modest one but comforting. He rested his left arm on the mantle, and gazed sadly at the space once occupied by his precious Monet

“Well, you know where to find me.”

“We’ll have to capture Eva Braun, Professor,” Rudi said anxiously. “To make the switch. That’ll be difficult.”

“Everything’s difficult these days. Besides, you’re getting ahead of yourself–and me. First you must convince this Gretchen.”

Just as Rudi was about to leave, Dr. Speucher stopped him.  “Oh, I think there’s one more point, number eight by my count.”


“Yes, a last resort.  One I’d never thought I’d suggest. If getting at the little bastard’s mind doesn’t work she could always…”

Dr. Speucher allowed his student to complete the sentence.  “She could always try to kill him.”


As it turned out, Rudi didn’t have to go to Gretchen. She came to him.

“Rudi, they’ve closed down Funny Men,” she said. “The Chief of Police got insulted, and the next day the theatre was all boarded up. And much worse, someone told the SS about my mother hiding Jews in the apartment. She got out in time. She’s staying with an old friend outside of town. But I’m not sure for how long he’ll let her. Can you help? Rudi. I’m at the train station.”


            Within a few weeks Gretchen was fully settled into her new life with Rudi in Berlin. He made arrangements for her mother at a safe house run by the Dove Society in Munich. Gretchen worked at the bakery in the morning, and in the afternoon gave acting lessons for, of all things, a local group hideously named The Young Nazi Maidens Youth League for the Führer. On Dr. Speucher’s advice, Rudi purposely held off making the proposition to Gretchen about impersonating Eva Braun. “Give her time to get settled, be sure her mother is safe. And, besides, what you’re….”

“We’re…” Rudi interjected.

“Quite right. What we’re proposing is earth-shattering, bigger than, say, a wedding proposal.”

“I get your point,” Rudi shot back, embarrassed.

“I’ll clear her with the Dove Society, and then let’s allow the members to see her in person. In fact, her debut will be part of our plan.”


Four weeks after Gretchen arrived in Berlin, he made what his teacher mischievously called “Rudi’s Wedding Proposal.”

They sat there, searching out each other with their eyes. Weighing this radical, and no less dangerous idea. Just as she had done in the café in Hamburg, Gretchen nervously traced the rim of her coffee cup with one finger, first going clockwise, then counterclockwise, as if completing some ritual incantation to whatever gods looked down on actors. Impersonating Eva Braun onstage in Hamburg was one thing. But this? In real life? In the very den of the monster? She had played before tough audiences–drunk college students, Nazis eager to find something offensive in the review even as they howled in laughter at her portrait of the vacuous Munich shop girl over whom their Boss drooled. One night a stern-faced businessman and his matronly wife had charged out halfway through the first act, screaming “Blasphemy” and threatening to go to the officials. Nothing came of it, fortunately. If anything, such potential dangers in the house only confirmed for Gretchen and her fellow actors that their satire was having an effect. But this new role Rudi had just proposed, and that the Dove Society might approve, this was something very, very different. Gretchen had always managed to separate her work onstage from her life outside the theatre. Now this.

Rudi leaned back in his chair, his hands folded almost reverently on his stomach. He smiled, for Gretchen seemed to be going into some sort of trance, as if she were already preparing for the role, or so he imagined.

To give her some time alone he rose quietly and went over to the meager kitchen area. The shelves which used to burst with cans and foodstuffs were now almost bare. There had once been an ornate lamp on the table, long since sold on the black market to pay the rent one month when Rudi’s bakery was closed down. An irate customer demanding a larger loaf of bread than government regulations allowed had gone to the authorities and accused him of what the summons had called, in its jingoistic bureaucratic language, “Preferential treatment of designated customers, in violation of Bakers Rule 102.B, an affront to the spirit of sacrifice embodied by our glorious Führer.”

Rudi and Gretchen had made this dingy apartment their home, a refuge of love and such decency as ordinary people could muster in these days, yet every piece of furniture, every item, the very walls themselves proclaimed, like some Nazi Youth informant, that the home had been invaded by Hitler’s maniacal presence. These days basic maintenance was now a luxury no one, let alone the landlord, could afford, and so the sidewall was now stained with a brown rust from a leaking pipe in the bathroom of the apartment above. His mother’s keepsakes, books from university days, his father’s velvet smoking jacket, all the objects large and small that signify the identity of the owner, his or her originality, had been sold to pay the rent or keep the bakery afloat. In its dinginess, Rudi’s one-room apartment was now indistinguishable from all the others in the complex. The grim sameness had spread over the inhabitants themselves. Ashen faces greeted each other in the hallways like forlorn spirits moving across the Styx.

Rudi stared at Gretchen, now lost in thought. She made an exquisite statue, her face pleasing, more round than rectangular, the head perched on a graceful neck, her breasts firm and sloping slightly to the side, her hips solid, full, inviting, and her feet, tiny, incongruously tiny for such a strong, supple body.

She loved him and for this he loved her and was grateful. He decided to break into her silent thought with, “You’re already a dead-ringer for her, physically.”

“When will they kidnap her?”

“Not sure,” he said. “But you’d probably take her place the very day we do.  Look, I know it’s scary, but if you can get to him, undermine him, maybe even find out some information that would be useful to us.” He decided not to tell her just now about Dr. Speucher’s point eight, the idea of murdering him.

             She poured them both a stiff glass of whiskey, relaxed for a moment, and then stood up, as if delivering a speech onstage, “It’d be the role of a lifetime.”