The New York Times
The Last Supper (Paul Christopher Series #4)by Charles McCarry
Perhaps the most richly complex of McCarry’s renowned Paul Christopher novels, The Last Supper is an epic recreation of the history of an organization ensnared by a culture of conspiracy, deceit, and senseless violence.
On a rainy night in Paris, Paul Christopher’s lover Molly Benson falls victim to a vehicular homicide minutes after Christopher
Perhaps the most richly complex of McCarry’s renowned Paul Christopher novels, The Last Supper is an epic recreation of the history of an organization ensnared by a culture of conspiracy, deceit, and senseless violence.
On a rainy night in Paris, Paul Christopher’s lover Molly Benson falls victim to a vehicular homicide minutes after Christopher boards a jet to Vietnam. To explain this seemingly senseless murder, The Last Supper takes its readers back not only to the earliest days of Christopher's life, but also to the origins of the CIA in the clandestine operations of the OSS during World War II. Moving seamlessly from tales of refugee smuggling in Nazi Germany, to OSS-coordinated guerilla warfare against the Japanese in Burma, to the chaotic violence of the Vietnam War, McCarry creates an intimate history of the shadow world of deceit and betrayal that penetrates the psyches of the men and women who live within it.
The New York Times
Read an Excerpt
ALSO BY CHARLES MCCARRY
The Tears of Autumn
The Miernik Dossier
The Secret Lovers
The Better Angels
The Bride of the Wilderness
To Rod MacLeish
In his dream, Paul Christopher, thirteen years old, wore a thick woolen sweater with three bone buttons on the left shoulder. His father’s yawl Mahican was sailing before the wind, her port rail awash in the swelling waters of the Baltic Sea. The weak northern sun was just rising astern, behind the mist that hid the coast of Germany: not the mainland, but the island of Rügen, whose white chalk cliffs rise four hundred feet above the sea. Aboard the yawl, the man the Christophers called the Dandy scampered, quick as a rat, down the ladder into the cabin. Paul’s mother was alarmed. “Our guest is hiding in the picnic basket,” she said. “Ssshhh, every time a secret is told, an angel falls.”
Paul went below and opened the wicker picnic basket. The Dandy crouched inside among the fitted plates and food boxes and thermos bottles. He was striking their guest on the kidneys with a rubber baton and forcing him to eat the buttons from Paul’s sweater. The Dandy wore a Gestapo badge. The guest was dressed as a rabbi; he smelled of the dust of books and of strange food. The Dandy made a sympathetic face to show Paul that he too was disgusted by this alien stench. Then he fed the rabbi another button.
A storm came up. Paul’s father shouted, “Paul, take the helm!” The jib broke loose and they struggled with it; the canvas billowed and snapped in the howling wind. Paul’s mother fell overboard. He dove after her. In the pewter light at the bottom of the shallow sea, among rocks bearded with seaweed, he found his mother’s body with buttons sewn to its eyes.
In a chilly room in Paris, Paul Christopher’s lover, a girl named Molly, kissed his fluttering eyelids. He woke from his dream. Molly sat up in bed. She had beautiful breasts, with large aureoles that were the same color as her unpainted lips. Though it was January and the window was open, she sat for a long moment in the cold draft, looking into Christopher’s eyes, before she pulled the quilt to her chin.
“You spoke in your sleep, in German,” Molly said. “What did you dream? You have such amazing dreams.”
“I was sailing with my parents.”
“Sailing? In Germany?”
“In the Baltic. My mother was drowning.”
“Oh, dear. Did you save her?”
Beneath the covers, Molly shivered. Her skin was cold to the touch. Christopher got out of bed and closed the window. It had begun to rain, the gray cold rain of northern Europe wetting the gray stones of the city.
Molly wrapped herself in the quilt and came to the window. She put her chin on Christopher’s shoulder and spoke into his ear. She was an Australian who had been taught in an English boarding school to speak like an Englishwoman; when she was sleepy, as she was now, her native accent was just discernible, like a thready scar concealed in a wrinkle by a plastic surgeon.
“Did you save her?” Molly asked.
“Good. I was worried that I’d waked you at the wrong moment.”
“At the wrong moment?” Christopher smiled at Molly’s reflection in the windowpane. She dug the point of her chin into the muscle of his shoulder.
“You don’t know that dreams go on after we wake up?” Molly said. “Why should they stop just because they’re interrupted? We can only see the people in our dreams when we’re asleep, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t always there. Perhaps they can see us when we’re awake.”
Molly saw that Christopher wasn’t listening to what she said. He was staring into the street below. Molly followed his gaze. There was little to see: the rain falling through the dim streetlight onto the shiny cobbles, the stubby branches of a plane tree pruned for the winter. The brake lights blinked on a parked Citroen.
“Is that Tom Webster’s man in that car?” Molly asked.
“Is he really going to guard me all the time you’re gone?”
“It won’t always be the same car or the same man, but the car will always be in that parking place. They’ll blink the brake lights on the hour and the half hour to let you know they’re there.”
“Wonderful Tom. That will buck me up tremendously.”
Molly opened the quilt and put her arms around Christopher from behind, enclosing him in the folds of the coverlet. Her skin was warm now. She stroked his naked back with the length of her own body.
“You have such a sweet body,” she said.
Christopher turned inside the quilt and put his arms around her.
Later, in bed, Molly got to her knees and turned on the lamp. The Japanese, when they paint on silk, sometimes mix pulverized gold into the pigment, so that the depths of the painting will gather light and magnify it. Molly’s auburn hair had this quality. Christopher touched her and smiled. Seeing the male pleasure in his eyes, she shook her head, impatient with her own beauty.
“No,” she said. “Just this once, don’t look at me. Listen.”
“It’s difficult,” Christopher said. The bedroom walls were mirrored and everywhere he looked he saw the reflection of Molly. The whole apartment, borrowed as a hiding place, was mirrored. It was furnished with glass tables and cubical black leather chairs. The vast bed in which Molly and Christopher now lay was circular, like a bed in a movie about a movie star, and the quilt Molly had wrapped around their bodies was a reproduction of a playing card, the jack of hearts. All these images, and especially Molly’s nudity, were reflected from mirror to mirror.
“Your plane leaves in three hours,” Molly said. “I don’t want to send you off in a sad mood, but really, Paul, I’m filled with dread.”
She was very pale. The lamplight shone directly on her face. Christopher had lived with Molly for nearly two years but he had never until this moment seen the faint constellation of freckles on her cheekbones; always before, the surrounding skin had had enough color to conceal them.
“It isn’t just being left alone,” Molly said. “I’m used to that, you’re always going up in smoke right in the middle of things, I hate it.” Molly shuddered and pulled the quilt around her body. “Why does it always have to be so cold in France, so damp?” she asked. “Why is there never any light? It’s like a tomb.”
She heard herself speaking and for a moment the light of amusement came back into her face. She hated melancholia.
“It’s not France, it’s not being left alone,” she explained. “I’ll tell you what it is, Paul. I’m eaten up by suspicion. I suspect you of something.”
Christopher sat up and began to speak.
“Don’t say anything,” Molly said. “Let me finish. I’m going to make a charge against you. If what I suspect is true, I want you to admit it to me. It’s the least you can do.”
Molly cried easily, but usually from happiness. Her eyes were dry now.
“What I suspect is this,” she said. “I think you’re going to go out and get on an airplane in three hours’ time and fly out to bloody Saigon and I’ll never see you again. You have no notion of coming back. You’re going to let them kill you so that they won’t kill me.”
Molly examined Christopher’s face. He would not look into her eyes, so she gazed at him in the mirror.
“All right,” she said. “Don’t answer; I knew you wouldn’t. But if you leave me in that way, with such cruelty, I’ll never forgive you. I won’t, Paul, not even in death.”
She turned off the lamp and drew close to him. In the darkness he could smell her skin, soap and the forest odor of lovemaking. They had just come back from the mountains and the scent of woodsmoke lingered in her hair; there had been a fireplace in their room; Molly loved all sorts of friendly flames: candles, burning logs.
“It isn’t true,” Christopher said, now that it was dark.
“Then don’t leave without saying good-bye,” Molly said. “Don’t do that again. Paul, don’t vanish. I mean it. Really I mean it.”
She turned on the lamp again so that he could see how serious she was. Christopher kissed her eyes; she was crying now. Molly lifted his arm and wrapped it around her body. Her muscles were tense. He knew that she meant to stay awake until it was time for him to go. But soon the warmth of the bed relaxed her and she fell asleep.
At midnight, Christopher slipped out of bed and put on his clothes. There was very little light in the room, just the reflection of a streetlamp, but he had been lying awake in the dark and his eyes had adjusted. He could see Molly quite plainly. Her face was buried in the pillow. She was dreaming. She pushed a long bare leg out of the bed, muttered a few words, and resumed her soft breathing. Her left hand turned on the sheet; she was wearing all the rings Christopher had ever given her: emerald, topaz, scarab, opal, one on each finger. He always brought her a ring when he came home from a journey; she never took them off.
Molly spoke again in her sleep. Christopher could not make out the words. He knelt beside the bed and slipped his hand beneath the covers, but he could not bring himself to wake her. He stood up. Molly had left her purse on the dressing table. He took an envelope out of his coat pocket and crossed the room, walking softly over the thick white carpet. Molly moved in the bed. In the mirror, Christopher could see her sleeping face. He opened her purse and placed the envelope inside. He paused in the doorway and looked once more at Molly’s sleeping faces, dozens of them, reflected in the mirrors.
Then he went into the living room. A fur coat lay in a heap by the door where Molly had left it. He picked it up and draped it over a chair. Then, just as Molly had feared, he left without saying good-bye, locking the door behind him.
The sound of the key in the lock woke Molly. Naked, she ran into the living room. The elevator whined in its shaft. She tried to open the door, but the complicated locks defeated her; she broke a nail, twisting the bolt. Sucking the wound, she went to the window. In the street below, Christopher was talking to the man in the Citroen. He had got out of the car and the two of them stood in the rain, chatting. They looked up at Molly’s window, but it was at the top of the house and they didn’t see her, a pale stripe of flesh against the darkness of the room.
Christopher finished talking and walked away. He had an American walk; he did not hold himself in any particular way as Europeans did, he simply walked as if it didn’t matter to him what class strangers thought he belonged to.
“Damn you,” Molly said, watching him.
Her eye fell on the fur coat. She put it on, meaning to follow Christopher into the street, and struggled with the locks again. She could not get them open.
Molly ran back to the window. Christopher had vanished, but the man in the Citroen was still out in the open. He looked upward at the window. Molly stepped back into the dark. The man searched in his pocket for something, found it, looked up and down the street, then hurried away.
Molly knew what he had had in his pocket: a telephone token. He was going to use the public telephone at the Metro station, around the corner on the Boulevard Beauséjour, to report Christopher’s departure. He would be out of sight for ten minutes: Molly had timed him earlier in the day, when he had made another phone call.
“Damn you,” Molly said again, speaking to Christopher.
She turned and walked rapidly out of the room, dropping the fur coat to the floor. It wasn’t hers; it was a borrowed coat—rabbit pelts, she thought, dyed to resemble some more elegant dead animal. In the bedroom, she put on a skirt and sweater, ran a comb through her hair, and pulled on a pair of boots. She opened her purse, looking for French money for a taxi, and found the envelope Christopher had left.
She tore it open. There was no note inside, just a thick sheaf of hundred-dollar bills, thousands of dollars in American currency. Molly looked helplessly at the money; it seemed insane to carry such a sum into the street. She dropped the envelope onto the unmade bed and pulled the sheet over it.
Struggling with the locks again, Molly turned the knobs the other way. The bolts slid open at last.
At the airport, Christopher presented his ticket at the baggage room and claimed his battered leather suitcase, then carried it through the deserted terminal and into the men’s toilet. In a cubicle, he opened the bag. It was exactly as he had left it: two tropical suits, a set of rough clothes with boots, shirts, toilet articles. The lining was undisturbed. He closed the brass locks, flushed the toilet, and opened the door of the cubicle.
Tom Webster stood at the sink, combing his cropped hair. In the mirror, Webster turned his earnest, bespectacled face toward Christopher. “I thought I’d see you off,” he said. He held up a soothing hand, as if he expected Christopher to be angry or frightened by his presence. “It’s all right,” he said. “I checked all the crappers. We’re alone in here.”
Christopher put his suitcase on the floor and leaned against the tiled wall, watching the entrance.
Webster spoke in a husky whisper. “It’s not too late to change your mind,” he said.
The loudspeaker system chimed and Christopher’s flight was called in French and Vietnamese.
“I checked the passenger list. Kim is on the plane with you,” Webster said. “They’re waiting for you out there. You can still turn around.”
Christopher shook his head and picked up his suitcase.
“I’ll help you, we’ll all help you, fuck Headquarters,” Webster said.
“Take Molly and get lost. Enough is enough.”
Christopher started to speak to his friend. At that moment, a man carrying a rolled newspaper came into the brightly lighted room. He gave the two Americans an incurious glance, then went to the urinal. Christopher walked swiftly out the door. They were calling his flight again.
Webster remained at the sink, washing his hands, until the man with the newspaper finished at the urinal. Then, wiping his wet hands on his raincoat, Webster followed him.
Still clutching his newspaper, the man hurried out the doors leading to the roadway in front of the terminal.
Webster followed him outside. The man was behaving exactly like the French businessman he appeared to be, brusque and self-important. But Webster was curious about him. At two o’clock in the morning, his suit was perfectly pressed; had he been returning from one of the long flights from Africa and Asia that arrived in Paris at this time of night, his clothes would have been rumpled. He would have had a growth of beard, but he was clean-shaven.
When the man with the newspaper got outside, he didn’t hail a taxi. He stood patiently on the curb, holding his newspaper like a baton, waiting.
A taxi stopped on the wrong side of the roadway. The passenger was a girl. She paid the driver and didn’t wait for her change. The taxi door on the traffic side was flung open and she got out, her skirt riding up as she slid across the seat. Her legs were long and extremely beautiful. When he saw them, the man with the newspaper pushed out his lips in a little pouting kiss of lust.
Now the girl was walking rapidly across the roadway, the heels of her boots clattering on the pavement, her bright heavy hair moving around her face. Webster, who had begun to watch her because of her legs, saw that the girl was Molly. He lifted a hand. Molly saw him and her mouth opened in its frank smile. Her eyes were sleepy and her face was still a little puffy from bed.
Webster stepped off the curb, holding out his hand to Molly. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the Frenchman raise his rolled newspaper, as if to signal a taxi. A car that had been parked across the roadway sped away from the curb, tires shrieking and gears changing. Its lights were off. It was a dark green Peugeot. Webster saw all that, and saw the man drop his newspaper and walk rapidly away.
When the Peugeot hit her, Molly was still smiling. Her eyes were looking directly into Webster’s. Her hair opened as if she had fallen into deep water and like a swimmer she floated for a long moment in the air, her back deeply arched, before she struck the pavement.
As the Peugeot sped away, fragments of smashed chrome fell off it and rang on the concrete. A policeman blew his whistle. Down the roadway more whistles sounded, shrill and thin. Overhead, Christopher’s jet climbed steeply, losing the lights of Paris as it passed through a layer of clouds.
When Webster, running clumsily, reached Molly, he saw that she had lost her boots; a porter, standing thirty feet away, picked one up, as if to return it to her.
A shaft of white bone, jagged at the end, had punctured the skin of Molly’s thigh. She lay on her face, her hair thrown forward, her neck bare. The blood ran out of her body in a long thick ribbon, meandering among the cobbles of the gutter and collecting in a pool against the curb.
She wore a ring on every finger of her outflung hand, Christopher’s gifts.
— 1 —
The first link in the chain of events that led to the murder of Molly Benson, an innocent young woman who happened to love Paul Christopher, was forged on an August afternoon in 1923, on the island of Rügen, before either of the lovers was born. On that day, a young American named Hubbard Christopher, Paul’s father, walked up a steep path toward Berwick, the home of a Prussian family called Buecheler. Hubbard Christopher, then twenty-one years old, intended to pay a courtesy call on Colonel Baron Paulus von Buecheler, the current occupant of Berwick. Forty years before, Buecheler had been at school in Bonn with Hubbard Christopher’s father, and the two men, both soldiers, had kept up a lifelong friendship.
As Hubbard approached Berwick, tramping through a forest of ancient beeches, he felt a peaceful delight in the natural beauty of the island. There was a leafy scent in the air, the sea was a deep painterly blue. For the past six months, Hubbard had been living in Berlin, but he had grown up in the Berkshire Hills of Massachusetts and he was happiest in country places. He attracted a certain amount of attention. Hubbard was six feet four inches tall, a great height in those days even for an American, and according to the German idea, he was not dressed for exercise. He wore a blazer and flannels, white buckskin shoes, and a straw hat. The Germans he encountered on the path were more suitably attired in hiking boots, short leather pants, and open shirts. All possessed rustic walking sticks with sharp metal points, and the path, riddled by these implements, looked as if a myriad of birds had hopped along it, leaving innumerable tracks. Many of the Germans bore rucksacks. Hubbard’s only burden was a parcel tied with gold string. The Germans strode purposefully among the beeches, chests heaving as they did breathing exercises. Hubbard sauntered, an expression of good humor suffusing his long, horsey face.
When Berwick came into view, Hubbard recognized it at once; he had seen the house often in photographs. Nevertheless, he was surprised by its appearance. It was smaller than he had imagined, a simple square structure in the Italian Renaissance style. Though he admired its chaste beauty, Hubbard would not have called it a castle; it seemed smaller than many Massachusetts houses. The Buechelers did not call it a castle, either; they always referred to it simply as Berwick; it was the local people who called it Schloss Berwick: nobility lived within, and life was more orderly if there was a castle with a noble in residence, a badge of rank against which everyone else’s position could be measured.
Hubbard had been invited for coffee at five o’clock. He was precisely on time. The front door of Berwick was flung open and Paulus von Buecheler came out to greet him. Pebbles crunched beneath his brogans as he marched down the gravel path. Paulus was a shiny man: bald head, shaved cheeks, polished old shoes, one watchful intelligent blue eye, a glittering monocle covering the other eye.
His hand, gripping Hubbard’s, was rough and strong.
“Yes,” Hubbard said. “I’m delighted to meet you, Herr Colonel Baron.”
“ ‘Herr Colonel Baron’? After all those birthday presents I sent you?”
“Uncle Paulus, then.”
“That’s better.” Paulus von Buecheler pumped Hubbard’s hand again and gazed upward into his face. Paulus’s belted tweed jacket fitted like a military tunic, and he had a loud soldierly voice. He was clearly pleased by Hubbard’s punctuality. Gripping Hubbard’s elbow, he set off for the house.
“You speak like a Prussian,” he said. “You can’t have learned German from your father. He had a terrible Rhinelander accent.”
“I had a Prussian tutor.”
“Very wise of your father. Now you must meet my wife and my niece.”
Paulus stood aside, gesturing for Hubbard to go through the open door. Once inside, Hubbard saw that Berwick was larger than it appeared to be from the outside, and this camouflage pleased his Yankee soul. The entrance hall, thirty feet square, rose to the roof. Hubbard paused in the middle of a frayed Persian carpet and looked around him. Boars’ heads and suits of armor decorated the walls. A large Flemish tapestry, bathed in sunlight, hung on the landing of a double staircase. Hubbard gazed at it, transfixed.
“Would you like to go up?” Paulus asked.
“Yes, if you don’t mind.”
On the landing, Hubbard examined the tapestry more closely. A unicorn, its horn in profile, gazed over its shoulder into the room. Behind the unicorn, elephants, giraffes, leopards, and barnyard animals all grazed together in a field of wildflowers. Hubbard smiled in pleasure at the childlike innocence of the dead weaver who had made the picture.
A female voice said, in English, “Do you like the tapestry?”
Hubbard looked up and saw a gloriously pretty girl of eighteen descending the stairs. She was small, with delicate feet and ankles. She had auburn hair and a face that only a German girl could have: utterly smooth creamy skin, unblemished and unwrinkled, with the nose, the mouth, the perfect line of the jaw fresh from the sculptor.
“It’s wonderful,” Hubbard replied.
“My niece, Baronesse Hannelore von Buecheler,” Paulus said.
“Lori, in the family,” the girl said, extending her hand.
Hubbard had never met such impetuously informal Prussians. The skin on Lori’s palm felt the way the skin on her neck looked: fresh, firm, untouched. She had very large gray eyes, heavily lashed. These looked gravely into Hubbard’s face.
“Do you know about tapestries?” Lori asked, continuing to speak English. She did so with a slight Scottish intonation; Hubbard supposed that she had learned the language from a nanny. Perhaps the nanny had come from Edinburgh. He imagined the poor woman, happy enough with the Buechelers, caring for this lovely child, then caught in Germany by the war: Hubbard often reconstructed whole biographies from the single toe bone of such fossil hints; he was a writer.
“You learned English from a Scot?” Hubbard asked.
“From my mother, who was a Scot. We were discussing the tapestry.”
“I know very little about tapestries,” Hubbard said.
“This one is from Arras, sixteenth century.”
“A mille fleurs? Not late fifteenth?”
Lori gave him a sharper look. “Perhaps so. My grandfather brought it home after Sedan in 1870; he wasn’t an art expert.”
“Hubbard speaks German,” Paulus said.
Lori changed languages. “You live in Berlin, I hear,” she said.
“It’s a good place to work.”
“What sort of work are you doing in Berlin?”
“I am trying to write.”
Lori von Buecheler smiled for the first time, eyes shining, lips pressed together. “To write?” she said.
In the library, Paulus’s wife put cream and sugar into Hubbard’s coffee and offered him a plate of pastries. Hubbard had brought the pastries from Horcher’s restaurant in Berlin, wrapped in the elegant package he had carried through the beech forest.
“All the way from Berlin! How clever of you to get Horcher’s to give you these wonderful pastries,” said Hilde von Buecheler. “However did you persuade them?”
“I have an account at Horcher’s,” he said.
The uncomfortable chair, upholstered in horsehair, on which Hubbard was sitting was too small for him. He squirmed. Lori’s amused eyes registered his discomfort. Paulus took an éclair.
“An account at a restaurant?” he said. “Amazing.”
“Is that unusual?” Hubbard asked. “A man I met, a Russian, advised me to make a deposit of twenty dollars on account. It was a very good investment; I eat at Horcher’s every day and never seem to get to the bottom of that twenty-dollar bill.”
Paulus laughed. “You’re not likely to get to the bottom of your twenty dollars, either,” he said.
The summer of 1923 was the time of the great inflation in Germany. The Reichsmark, before the war, had been exchanged at four to one American dollar. Now, nine years later, one dollar was worth two trillion Reichsmarks. An egg, which had sold for eight pfennigs in 1914, cost eighty billion marks. The price of a single match was 900 million marks.
Paulus cut a plum tart with knife and fork and ate it all up in a matter of seconds, like a soldier in the field wolfing his rations between sorties. “Your father’s pocket money, if we had it today, would probably buy Horcher’s,” Paulus said. “Kitchen, dining rooms, silverware, secret recipes, pastry. He had two dollars a week, in 1885. The wealth of the Indies.”
Hilde von Buecheler blinked. Talk of the inflation made her nervous; beneath her marcelled steel-gray hair, the baroness had the profile of a falcon, but she was a timid woman who had lost three sons in the war and feared to lose what was left of her family. This year the Buechelers had come to Rügen from Berlin even before the start of the summer, in order to escape the madness that had seized the city. People, friends of the family, not strangers, were selling everything—paintings, sculpture, jewels, even their houses—for a handful of American dollars. Families lived and, Hilde supposed, died by the valuta, the hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute rise and fall of the exchange rate against the dollar. Near the Potsdamer Platz, Hilde had seen a working-class woman with a laundry basket filled with money, billion-mark notes, going into a bakery to buy one day’s bread. The woman was distracted by some sort of commotion in the street and put down the basket to watch. Thieves stole the basket, dumping the money onto the sidewalk. It was a windy day; the money fluttered along the pavement and nobody bothered to pick it up. That night Hilde dreamed of banknotes blowing in the wind along the Unter den Linden during a parade, drifting against the boots of the soldiers like snow, whispering. Before her husband could finish his pastry and take up anew the topic of inflation, she changed the subject.
To Hubbard, who had just taken a mouthful of éclair, she said, “Your father fell in battle?”
Hubbard chewed rapidly and swallowed his morsel of crust and custard.
“Not exactly,” he said, getting out the words just as Paulus put down his knife and fork, making the china plate ring. “My father went out with a cavalry patrol in Mexico, was captured by Pancho Villa’s men, and executed by a firing squad. He was wearing civilian clothes. The Mexicans thought he was a spy.”
“Yes. Unfortunate,” said Paulus. “Tell me, Hubbard, have you finished university?”
“I left a bit early.”
“And why have you come to Berlin? Is it such a good place to be a writer?”
“Berlin is a very cheap place to live,” Hubbard said.
“That’s your only reason for being there?”
“No, not the only reason,” Hubbard replied. “Also, I’m interested in disorder.”
Paulus snorted with laughter. “You will find a great deal to interest you in Berlin, then,” he said. “Our money is worth nothing, our victories have been erased from the pages of history, and the country is being run by a pack of Socialists.”
“It’s all very sad,” said Hilde.
“On the contrary, it is an excellent thing,” said Paulus. “You will not find many people in Berlin who will tell you the truth. Five years ago, all the people who now believe in nothing believed in the Prussian orthodoxy. That orthodoxy evaporated in 1918. A new orthodoxy will arise; human beings cannot live without an orthodoxy.”
Hilde took her husband’s plate from his hand. She smiled nervously at Hubbard. “If you are interested in art, you must look at the pictures,” she said. “Perhaps Lori would like to show you.”
“If he is interested in art,” Lori said, “he certainly doesn’t want to see a lot of portraits of old men in uniform. We’ll go for a walk instead.”
“Excellent,” Paulus said. “Where are your bags?”
“I left them at the station.”
“We’ll send for them. You’ve brought walking clothes? Do you sail? You must stay for several days.”
“That’s very kind of you, but I must go back to Berlin. …”
“Berlin in August? Nonsense. You’ll be company for Lori. She hardly ever sees a man who has all his parts. Only Americans have them, it seems.”
Paulus, erect in his tweed suit, threw his old shoulders back a fraction of an inch farther, a suggestion to Hubbard to stand a bit straighter. Americans did not teach their children to command the muscles of their own bodies; they permitted them to slouch.
“Lori is also interested in disorder,” Paulus said. “You will have a great deal to agree upon.” He smiled fondly at the girl. “Lori is an example of the adventurous new woman,” he said. “Fortunately, she’s pretty enough to be able to say whatever comes into her head and be forgiven for it. That’s in her genes—the frankness, not the forgiveness.”
Hilde had been waiting her turn to speak. “We’d be very happy if you’d stay through the weekend,” she said. “The weather will be fine. Young people should be outdoors. Lori is taking the train back to Berlin on Monday. Perhaps you could travel with her.”
Hubbard looked once again into Lori’s huge gray eyes. “I’d be very glad to accept,” he said.
— 2 —
Walking swiftly, swinging her arms, inhaling and exhaling deeply so as to derive maximum benefit from her exercise, Lori led Hubbard through the forest. Diagonal shafts of watery seaside light fell through the lacy branches of the beech trees. Had Lori been less pretty, Hubbard would have been amused by her energy, so solemn and Prussian, but instead he found her endearing, a maiden in uniform. Like the other Germans, she was properly equipped. Before leaving Berwick, she had put on walking boots and thick woolen knee socks and a leather jacket. Hubbard, in his tea-party clothes, ambled along beside her, stealing glances at her profile. He had spent his childhood playing in the steep Berkshire woods, full of thorns and wild berries and wild game. By comparison, this forest—trees planted at intervals of thirty feet, rank on rank—was like a park. Nothing at home was so well kept outside of cemeteries.
“Does anything live in these woods?” Hubbard asked.
“Stags,” Lori said, marching along. “Wild boar. My father used to bring me on boar hunts when I was a child. They speared them, you know. It was tremendously exciting.”
“You don’t go on hunts now?”
“Not since I was twelve.”
“It’s dangerous for everyone after a female reaches puberty. There is always the possibility that one’s flow will start unexpectedly. The boar scents the blood and charges at the wrong moment.”
Hubbard lost step for an instant. He had never before discussed menstruation with a woman; it had never occurred to him that such a conversation was possible. Fortunately, Lori displayed no desire to pursue this mysterious subject. She had stopped doing her breathing exercises, but still she strode along, straight into the forest. She seemed to have an objective in mind.
“Your father is also dead?” Hubbard said. He did not know why he had asked such a question; maybe the bluntness of his hosts was contagious. Lori was not startled.
“Yes, dead,” she said. “Since 1918. Like your father, he was murdered by fools. A gang of Bolsheviks beat him to death in the Tiergarten. He was out for a Sunday walk. They tore off his epaulets, broke his sword, trampled on his decorations, the entire ritual.”
“They were killing officers that day. It’s said that he laughed at them. It’s the curse of the Buechelers, blurting out the truth and laughing at the wrong time.”
They had arrived at the shore of an unruffled pond, deep in the wood.
“Here is the Borg, as it’s called,” Lori said. “We can sit down for a moment and look at the water.”
Old stones lay scattered near the edge of the dark water. Lori sat on one of them and waited for Hubbard to take his place on another. As he settled his bony body on a stone, Lori grinned at him.
“Is this more comfortable than the horsehair chair?” she asked.
“Considerably,” said Hubbard.
“There is a reason why the furniture at Berwick is so uncomfortable,” Lori said. “For forty years there were not many visitors. In the summer of 1860, Bartholomäus von Buecheler, the son of the builder of Berwick, invited Otto von Bismarck to dinner. Bartholomäus adored Bismarck’s wife, Johanna, because she was a woman who had absolutely no sense of humor and was therefore indecently amusing. He sat himself next to her and got her onto the subject of adultery. Bartholomäus had heard that Bismarck wrote letters to his wife about his love affairs, and he wanted to confirm the existence of these dispatches from the field. After an illuminating conversation, during which a lot of champagne was drunk, Bartholomäus called a question down the table to Bismarck. Prince, your wife has just been telling me that in your letters from France you wrote her every detail of your love affair in Biarritz last summer with that Russian woman, Ekaterina Orlova,’ he bellowed. ‘An excellent principle. Now that you are back in your wife’s bed, do you write to Orlova as well, describing your conjugal exertions?’ Bismarck was an egomaniac, as you may know; insults drove him into fits of hysteria. He mistook Bartholomäus’s joke for an insult and threw one of his tantrums. Without taking another sip of wine, he rose from the table and dashed out of the house. On the way, he tipped over all the suits of armor in the hall; you can see the dents in some of them still. Thereafter, the Buechelers dined alone at Berwick until official mourning for Bismarck ended.”
Hubbard laughed. Lori, seated on her broken stone, seemed to be pleased that she had made him do so. In the dim atmosphere of the forest, her prettiness, intensified by the amusement in her face, gave off a kind of light.
“Your ancestor wasn’t a very good politician,” Hubbard said.
“Not a very good politician? What a commentary.”
“You don’t believe in politics?”
“No. Don’t tell me you do.”
“I don’t,” Hubbard said. “You’re quite safe with me. What are these stones?”
“In olden times, this was a temple to a pagan goddess called Hertha. Waldemar, the king of Denmark, scattered the stones when he conquered Rügen in 1169 A.D. Waldemar was a Christian. Hertha is mentioned by Tacitus.”
Lori leaped to her feet and strode off among the beeches once again. Hubbard fell behind, so as to gaze without embarrassment at her moving body. He had no lustful motive. Hubbard loved—had always loved—the prettiness of women and their gracefulness. He hadn’t the knack of imagining them naked when they were clothed; the sight of Lori in her tweed skirt and leather jacket, russet hair bouncing and opening like a fan at every firm step, was pleasure enough for him.
They walked on. The forest grew thinner. Lori, a few steps ahead, passed out of the trees and stopped. Her skirt billowed in the wind. Beyond the edge of the wood, Hubbard glimpsed the sea, frothy with whitecaps in the fading light. It was the same color as the bark on the beeches. He lengthened his stride and, lost in the beauty of this observation, walked out of the forest. He saw where he was just in time to keep from plunging over the edge of a towering chalk cliff.
Lori pointed downward. “One hundred twenty-eight meters,” she said, the wind thinning her voice.
Large flakes of chalk had broken off the cliff; Lori picked up two or three and scaled them over the edge. The wind blew them back over her head like kites. She lifted her arm above her head and let it go limp. The wind moved it. She turned her solemn face toward Hubbard.
“I think the wind is strong enough,” she said.
“Strong enough for what?” Hubbard asked.
Standing at the very edge of the cliff, Lori spread her arms, closed her eyes, and leaned forward into the wind. It filled her clothes, spread her hair, and suspended her slight body, as if she were soaring, more than four hundred feet above the stony beach below.
Hubbard seized Lori’s outflung arm and pulled her back to safety. Her eyes flew open. They were filled with anger.
“Why did you do that?”
“You were going to fall.”
“Why should I fall? Take your hand off my arm. Do you think I’m so stupid that I would fall off a cliff into the sea?”
Hubbard let go of her. “Well?” she said.
“I was just trying to protect you,” Hubbard said.
“Protect me? Protect me?” Lori spun on her heel, put a hand on the turf, and sprang over the edge of the cliff. Hubbard leaped forward, hand outstretched, but she was gone. He looked down. Her skirt swinging, Lori was already fifty feet below, clambering down the precipice, the toes of her boots creating little clouds of dust as she slammed them into the soft chalk.
Hubbard went after her. The cliff was not perfectly vertical and there were plenty of places to hold on. Over the centuries, the copious rain that fell on Rügen had carved furrows in the chalk, so that climbing was fairly easy.
Hubbard was at the bottom in less than five minutes. Lori waited for him, her hand to her mouth, sucking a cut she had got on the chalk. When she took her hand away, the chalk dust left a white mustache on her upper lip.
“Let me tell you something,” she said. “No other person, above all no man, will make rules for me or take precautions on my behalf. I will dispose of myself as I judge best.”
Hubbard held up his hand, palm outward, the universal gesture of peace. Lori had never seen such a tremendously tall young man, or one who was so little interested in hiding his thoughts. She turned and walked away. The beach was a carpet of smooth round stones. They rolled under Lori’s boots and she lost her balance and fell heavily, uttering a shriek.
Hubbard seemed to think that this was funny. He laughed loudly. Then, giving Lori a delighted smile, he walked on by, leaving her sprawled on the shingle. Lori was furious. A German boy would have given her first aid. Hubbard picked up a flat stone and skipped it across the water. Lying on the stone beach, rubbing her bruised hip with her wounded hand, she opened her mouth to call out for help, but then she remembered herself and struggled to her feet alone.
Watching Hubbard as he sauntered away, such a tall careless figure, so ridiculously strange, Lori began to smile. She was angry at herself. Why was she smiling? It was inexplicable, but she could not stop. She limped after him, floundering, unable to control whatever it was that caused her to grin like a fool.
— 3 —
On the train to Berlin, Lori bombarded Hubbard with questions about his work.
“Whose work does your writing resemble?” she asked.
“Why should it resemble anyone else’s writing?”
“You must have a model. Only geniuses are original at twenty-one. Stephen Crane, The Red Badge of Courage, Herman Melville, Typee, a Peep at Polynesian Life.”
“Melville was older than twenty-one when he wrote that.”
“Twenty-seven. But he was captured by cannibals at twenty-two. Surely that was a form of writing. Experience is art; copying it down is just the last stage.”
“Then I have the cart before the horse, writing before being captured by cannibals.”
“Don’t be so sure. Berlin is full of cannibals—like your Russian who knows how to eat forever at Horcher’s on one twenty-dollar bill.”
In her prim traveling clothes, Lori looked like a schoolgirl, but she had completed her formal education. She was Teutonically at home in the country of facts and figures. Like most German girls of her class and generation, she knew the history and literature of her own country by heart. Also, she was fluent in French, English, and Latin and was familiar with the literature written in those languages. Literature was her passion, especially poetry.
“Do you write poetry?” she asked as the train passed among the blue lakes of the Mecklenburg plain.
“I haven’t yet fallen in love,” Hubbard said.
“Ah,” said Lori, with a laugh. Hubbard had never before met a girl who thought that love was a subject for mirth.
Back in Berlin, Hubbard commenced a summery courtship. He took Lori to galleries and concerts and plays. They rode in the Tiergarten, boated on the lakes and canals, drank tea and danced in the afternoon at Kempinsky’s Hotel, dined at Horcher’s, lunched at outdoor restaurants.
One Saturday noontime at the Swedischer Pavillon by the Wannsee, Hubbard watched Lori’s hands, deft and tanned with scrubbed unpainted nails, as she slit a smoked trout along its spine, butterflied it, removed the bones, picked up the first mouthful on her fork, and touched the pinkish flesh with creamed horseradish. She lifted her eyes, but not to look at Hubbard. After two weeks in his company she was used to having him stare at her and she no longer paid much attention.
Voices were singing in the Grunewald, a great many voices. The music grew louder as the singers approached. Hubbard could not place the tune.
“Is that the ‘Marseillaise’?” Hubbard asked. “In Berlin?”
Lori put down her fork and composed herself. Her eyes were fixed on the edge of the woods, which ran down nearly to the edge of the lake.
“No, not the ‘Marseillaise,’ ” she said.
Out of the trees marched a straggling line of young people. They were carrying flowing red banners and when he saw these, Hubbard recognized the tune. The marchers were singing the “Internationale.” They wore broad red bands on their left arms and carried a thicket of placards demanding justice for the workers. They were not themselves workers: they had the pale skin, the long hair, the haunted defiant faces of intellectuals. Young women pushing baby carriages trudged along beside their men, singing too; their faces were radiant with righteousness, like the exalted countenances of members of an evangelical sect singing a particularly rousing hymn.
“The Red Front,” Lori said. “I don’t want to see this.” She kicked Hubbard under the table and he took his eyes off the marchers. “Look straight at me until they’re gone,” Lori said.
She smiled a bright artificial smile, as if she were making conversation with a stranger at a dinner party.
The singing stopped and the sound of angry shouting buffeted the air. The waiters ran to the railing overlooking the lake in order to watch whatever was happening on the beaches. Hubbard’s eyes wandered.
“No,” Lori said, rapping on the table; “keep looking at me.”
But Lori’s own eyes lifted and she frowned. Someone had come up behind Hubbard; he could feel the presence of another person at his back. A jovial hand fell on his shoulder.
“Really, Hubbard, you must come and see this,” a male voice said in easy but accented German.
Hubbard stood up. “Otto,” he said. “Baronesse von Buecheler, may I present Mr. Rothchild.”
Rothchild, a wiry man impeccably dressed in an unwrinkled linen suit, inclined his head. He had the posture of a fencer.
“You must be Hubbard’s Russian,” Lori said. “The twenty-dollar deposit at Horcher’s.”
By the shore of the lake, a woman was screaming, one long piercing shriek after another.
“Forgive me,” Rothchild said, “but you’re missing a rehearsal for the next war. The Stahlhelms have ambushed the Communists. Come.”
Rothchild took Hubbard’s arm and pushed him toward the railing. He crooked his arm for Lori and gave her an inviting smile.
Lori remained where she was, her back to the commotion. Rothchild bowed and joined Hubbard at the railing. He threw an arm around Hubbard’s waist.
“Look,” he said, “what luck.”
Men wearing steel helmets were fighting with the Red Front marchers. The screaming woman was holding with furious strength to the handle of a baby carriage. One of the Steel Helmets gave it a kick and the baby flew into the air and fell into the milling crowd. The woman, shrieking in terror, crawled among the stamping feet of the fighting men, reaching for her baby, who tumbled over the fine brown forest dirt like a football. Finally she seized the child and curled her body around it. Sweating and cursing and howling in pain and anger, the brawlers trampled on the woman. She stopped screaming. The fight moved away from her and down into the shallow edge of the lake. Men wrestled each other into the water. A Steel Helmet, wearing two Iron Crosses on his civilian jacket, darted into the lake, making a row of explosive splashes as his boots punched the water, and seized the weedy young man who had been at the head of the Red Front parade. He wrestled the weaker man down and held his head under the surface of the lake. Every ten seconds or so, he would pull the man up and let him breathe, shouting furiously into his face. Then he would push him under the water again. The woman lay quiet on the beach. She wore a bright green polka-dot dress; the skirt had been thrown up so that her lacy black drawers were exposed.
“Look, black underwear,” Rothchild said. “The flag of free love.”
The woman lay so still that Hubbard thought that she must be dead. Abruptly, the fight stopped. The Steel Helmets climbed onto the beach, fell into platoon formation, and marched off into the Grunewald, singing “Die Wacht am Rhein.” The Red Front crawled out of the lake. The woman in the green polka-dot dress sat up. Her baby uttered a series of loud shrieks. The woman took out one of her breasts and fed the child as her comrades threw themselves down on the ground, groaning and cursing, among their fallen posters and red banners.
“Lovely sight,” Rothchild said.
Lori had disappeared. Her smoked trout lay on her plate as she had left it, the first bite still impaled on the fork.
Hubbard found her in the car, her arms wound around her lifted knees, her face pressed against her skirt. He put a hand on her hair. She didn’t move.
Hubbard stroked her hair. Lori lifted her face—filled, he knew, with the memory of her father’s murder. A tear ran down her cheek.
“Those people, one side or the other, are going to kill any child I have,” Lori said. “I know it.”
— 4 —
Within a month, Lori and Hubbard were lovers. It was Lori who managed the seduction.
She began her assault in a nightclub called Kaminskys Telephonbar. Each table was equipped with a telephone, so that clients and prostitutes of both sexes could call one another up. A very tall Negro with a painted face sang in English; he was naked except for a woman’s fur coat. When he lifted his arms at the end of a song, the coat opened and a slender erect penis emerged like an inquisitive brown snake.
Hubbard blushed in deep embarrassment. “Look,” he said, “I think we’d better go. I didn’t know.”
But Lori was delighted by the atmosphere of clownish sexuality.
“It’s wonderful here,” she said. “Let’s dance.”
On the dance floor, Lori put both arms around Hubbard’s neck. Actual dancing was impossible. In a space not much larger than a round dinner table, twenty couples swayed to an American song. Because Hubbard was so much taller than Lori, her body clung to his. He felt her breasts against his stomach and the warmth of her flesh through the thin cloth of her skirt. Lori knew what he felt. Laughing as she had laughed on the train, she kissed him, a sweet virginal kiss at first, but as he drew away she pulled his head back and ran her tongue over his lips, a slow warm animal lick that started at one corner of his mouth, ran over his upper lip, and then back across the lower. Grinning mischievously, she gave his lip a little nip with her white teeth, like a period.
They stayed until dawn, dancing and drinking sparkling Mosel. As Hubbard drove her home through the empty streets, Lori, kneeling in the passenger seat, licked his ear. Hubbard tried thinking about football; it didn’t work. He tried to push her away, but she resisted and went on licking his ear. When he tried to slow down, she put her own foot on the accelerator. As they entered the Potsdamer Platz at fifty miles an hour, a taxi pulled out of the rank in front of the railroad station, into the path of their car. Hubbard slammed on the brakes. The car, rocking crazily, skidded along the streetcar tracks and spun completely around twice before Hubbard brought it under control again.
“Really, Lori,” Hubbard said, “I think you’d better sit down.”
Lori slid into the seat, put her knees primly together, looked into Hubbard’s face with her cat’s smile, and began speaking about his work again. The kiss in the nightclub, the tongue in Hubbard’s ear, the wild ride in the open car might never have happened. She was a scholar again. She ran her hands over her hair, which had blown wildly around her face moments before, restoring it to perfect order.
“Are you actually writing,” she asked, “or are you merely trying to make yourself interesting?”
Hubbard was stung by this accusation. “I’ve written a novel,” he said.
“Good. You must read it to me.”
“Read you my manuscript?”
“What else? You need an opinion, intelligent criticism. You must read your book to me tomorrow. I’ll come to your rooms.”
— 5 —
Hubbard had taken a furnished flat in Charlottenburg, on a fashionable street. The furniture, left behind by the owners, was a mixture of uncomfortable Bauhaus and tattered Louis XV. Very good Persian carpets were spread over the floor. The walls were hung with new German painting, brutal caricatures of bourgeois life, abstractions in primary colors.
“Not a very Bohemian flat,” Lori said, “except for the pictures. Surely they didn’t come with the place? Nobody in this neighborhood knows about this sort of German painting.”
“Otto Rothchild helped me to find them.”
“Ah, the valuta again. Do your friendships generally last?”
“I thought so. Pity. I’ll never like this Russian.”
Hubbard had arranged his manuscript in a neat stack on the table and placed two chairs opposite one another. He indicated the chair in which Lori was to sit. Instead, she sat on the floor, curling her legs beneath her.
Hubbard began to read. At seven o’clock the maid brought them a cold supper. Hubbard put down the manuscript.
“No,” Lori said. “Read on to the end. Food later.”
“But I’m hungry.”
“Now. I’m also thirsty. My throat is giving out.”
The maid had placed beer on the table, a brown liter bottle with a porcelain stopper on a bail. Lori scrambled to her feet. Limping a little on cramped muscles, she went to the table and poured a full glass for Hubbard and a quarter of a glass for herself. Hubbard drank the beer.
Hubbard filled two plates with cold ham and sour potato salad and refilled the beer glasses. Lori demolished the food. She went to the table, spread two pieces of black bread with pale butter, and put thin slices of cheese on top. Hubbard ate his with his fingers; Lori used a knife and fork.
“Is that the way Americans eat cheese?”
“You must have very dirty napkins. Is that the way Americans are—the way you have written about them?”
“How exactly did you imagine them?”
“Not like the ones in your book,” she said. “Read.”
It was past ten o’clock when Hubbard read the last word. By then he was so tired and so hungry, and so far into the region of his own imagination, that he had half forgotten that Lori had been listening to him. She rolled over onto her stomach, put her chin on the pillow, and stared into the ashes of the fire. She said absolutely nothing. Hubbard was puzzled by her silence, and took it as a sign that she was trying to find a way to tell him that she did not like his work, or did not understand it, or found it too complicated—the usual complaints people made about what he wrote.
“Who exactly are the people in the book?” she asked at last.
“That evil old man with his mills is not imaginary. Neither are the Irish and German children going to work in the darkness and coming home in the darkness and dying of tuberculosis.”
“The old man is evil? He’s like my grandfather in some ways. There are children in his mills who go to work when they are eight years old and die of tuberculosis before they’re twenty.”
“And the boys, the inseparable brothers?”
“The good one is like a cousin of mine.”
“And the bad one is you. You’re going to publish this novel?”
“If a publisher will take it.”
“How will your family take it?”
Hubbard shrugged. “It’s all true.”
“Precisely. You don’t fear your family?”
Hubbard shook his head.
“They’re going to hate you,” Lori said.
Hubbard fetched the beer bottle, opened the top, and offered it to Lori. She was on her face again, staring into the fire.
“I hadn’t expected this,” she said. “You’re a genius.”
Hubbard, his mouth full of tepid beer, paused for a moment, then swallowed. The bitter taste of the beer ran up into his nose. Lori’s intense gray eyes looked directly into his.
“You won’t answer me? Then I will answer for you. You are a genius. I’ll insist on that, and not only to you. To the world.”
Lori kissed Hubbard on the mouth. She looked as if she had remembered a delicious secret. She turned down the lamps and drew him to the floor. It was utterly plain to him what she expected.
— 1 —
When Lori was in the eighth month of her pregnancy, Paulus von Buecheler came to call on her in Hubbard’s flat in Charlottenburg. Hands folded on the knob of his walking stick, Paulus sat on a chair made of steel tubes and leather straps.
“What medicinal furniture,” he said. “Even the arts and crafts of the Socialists are designed to correct the flaws in humanity. This is like sitting on an artificial limb.”
It was eight-thirty in the morning, late in the day for Paulus, who had been reading out orders at dawn all his life, to be discussing matters of importance. He had refused a cup of coffee, a signal of stern intentions.
“Hubbard should be back soon,” Lori said. “He’s meeting the train from Paris; his cousin is visiting us.”
Lori had not seen Paulus for six months, not since she had moved in with Hubbard. She had not mentioned her pregnancy when she left Berwick; her intention to live in concubinage had been enough of a shock to Hilde. If Paulus was surprised by Lori’s condition, as he sat in his Bauhaus chair, he gave no sign. Lori folded her hands on her kicking baby and waited for her uncle to say what he had come to say.
“Pregnancy seems to agree with you,” he said, by way of addressing his subject. “Your Aunt Hilde thinks you ought to be in Rügen. The sea air is full of iodine. Hilde always went to Berwick when she was pregnant in order to breathe it in; her doctor believed that it strengthened the fetus.”
Paulus had been staring into space as he spoke. Now he turned his face to Lori, monocle glittering in one eye socket, moisture in the other.
“We are quite alone at Berwick, you know,” he said.
Paulus stopped talking and Lori said nothing to fill the silence. She knew how alone her uncle and aunt were. The first of their sons had been killed in 1914 at Tannenberg, the second had fallen in 1916 at Verdun, and the third, a pilot, had been shot down in 1918 by an American aviator. The American, a member of a naval flight called the First Yale Unit, had written to Paulus and Hilde, describing what he termed the “sportsmanship” of their son: evidently, Bartholomäus had saluted the American just as his ship burst into flames. It seemed queer to Paulus that his youngest son, the most gifted of his children, should have been added to the total of 1,773,000 Germans killed in the Great War, dying at the hand of an amateur American sailor who, to judge by his letter, looked on the war as a university prank. After Paulus, inasmuch as Lori’s father had been murdered, there were no more Buechelers in the male line.
“You do not, I suppose, have any idea of going to America to have the baby?” Paulus asked his niece.
“I doubt that I’d complete the voyage. Besides, Hubbard is not very welcome at home because of his book.”
“Oh? Has he insulted somebody?”
“Nearly everyone; it’s about his mother’s family. But it is a brilliant novel.”
“No doubt. Do you plan to marry this extraordinary novelist?”
“Yes. I didn’t suppose that you wanted an illegitimate great-nephew named after you.”
“Named after me?”
“Who else would I name him after?”
“Children shouldn’t be named for the dead. I’m tired of the dead. He’ll be an American; Americans don’t seem to die young for stupid reasons, like the rest of us.”
Paulus looked around the room at the primitive lines and the raw colors of Hubbard’s growing collection of revolutionary works of art. His eyes rested on a naturalistic drawing of Lori, smiling her chatoyant smile, standing easily with her feet together and her hands hanging loose, nude and pregnant.
“That is quite beautiful,” he said.
“I’m glad you think so. The maid quit when I hung it.”
They heard the key in the lock and stopped speaking. Two male voices spoke English in the hall; suitcases thudded to the floor. Hubbard, enormously tall, came into the sitting room. When he saw Paulus, his face lighted up with his guileless grin. Paulus stood up and gazed with amazement at the young man who followed Hubbard into the room.
He, too, was a gigantic, smiling American. He looked exactly like Hubbard. Lori, who had begun to rise from her chair, sank back in astonishment. Where Hubbard was fair, this fellow was dark. Otherwise they might have been twins.
“My cousin Elliott,” Hubbard said. “Paulus, what a pleasant surprise. Colonel Baron von Buecheler, may I present my cousin, Elliott Hubbard.”
Hubbard spoke German. Elliott, who did not understand this language, said nothing, but shook hands vigorously with Paulus. Then he turned to Lori. “I’m Elliott,” he said in English.
Lori gripped his hand. “The good brother,” she said. “This is indecent. You’re replicas. Hubbard, why did you leave this secret out of your novel?”
“It’s the only thing he did leave out,” Elliott said.
Hubbard, grinning in pleasure over the success of his surprise, explained to Paulus. “Elliott’s father and my mother were twins,” he said. “They did everything together. It was a double wedding, and Elliott and I were born a year later, a month apart.”
“Who is older?”
“If your name is Hubbard Christopher,” Lori said, “why is his name not Christopher Hubbard?”
“Things are bad enough as they are, Lori,” Elliott said.
An exact duplicate of Hubbard’s grin lit up Elliott’s long bony face. Lori rang for the new maid and ordered midmorning coffee. The servant, a red-faced cheerful fat girl from Rügen, burst into laughter and clapped her hand over her mouth when she saw Hubbard and Elliott, side by side.
This time Paulus took coffee when it was offered, and ate a plum tart. When he had finished, he addressed Elliott, speaking English as swiftly as he had chewed his pastry.
“Any special reason for your journey?”
“You didn’t know? I’ve come to be best man at the wedding of my cousin and your niece.”
“Excellent,” said Paulus. “It looks as if you’ll have a chance to be a godfather as well.”
— 2 —
In the event, both Elliott and Paulus von Buecheler were godfathers to the son of Hubbard and Lori Christopher. The child was born at Berwick on June 14, 1924, a date celebrated in the United States as Flag Day. The midwife who, nineteen years earlier, had delivered Lori was in attendance, and the birth took place in the same room in which Lori’s father, uncle, and more remote ancestors had been born.
“All those spirits will be with me,” Lori said, “but I want Hubbard here, by my bed, in the flesh.”
“A man, in the birth chamber?” barked the midwife.
Lori insisted. The labor lasted for hours. Hubbard sat through the night beside Lori, timing her contractions. These became stronger and more rhythmic.
“Think of the sea,” the midwife said. “Row, row for the shore.”
“My God,” Lori said, “it’s worse than the sea. This is taking away my will. It’s taken over my body. It’s doing what it wants to me.”
The crown of the baby’s head appeared, then his flattened ears and his glistening unawakened face. Lori’s body opened to release him and the petals of her flesh and the baby’s skin were the same hues of pink, as if Hubbard’s child were undoubling from a rose.
“Here is the prow of the little ship,” the midwife said.
“I have no control over this, Hubbard!” Lori said. “No one told me!”
Hubbard gripped her hands. Lori seized his huge curved thumbs in her tiny fists and dislocated them both. The baby slid free. The midwife turned him over and squeezed his penis. The baby opened his eyes and turned his head. He had his mother’s deep gray eyes.
“A little baron!” the midwife cried.
Paul Christopher was a quiet child. Born into a family of talkers, he was a listener. Even as a very young child he never interrupted. Years afterward, he might ask a question about a story he had heard at the age of four; he seemed never to forget anything.
“He is writing,” Lori would say, watching his alert face as he sat on the floor at coffee time, listening to adults, puzzling over jokes. She wanted him to be a poet, but she feared that his genes would compel him to be a soldier.
In the morning, Paul would stand beside his parents’ bed in his nightclothes, watching and waiting until one of them woke. Lori opened her eyes morning after morning to find herself gazing into the eyes of her son that were so much like her own eyes. As soon as she woke, he told her what he had dreamed the night before. He dreamed about Massachusetts long before he ever went there: Hubbard’s stories about their family, about the woods and the American animals, so truly wild, gripped his imagination. Paul had his mother’s face as well as her eyes, but an American body, strong and loose and made for sport. He had inherited his father’s temperament, joyful and forgiving. He walked at ten months and his first connected words were in English, though Lori always spoke to him in German.
For three seasons of the year, in Berlin, Hubbard wrote every day from six in the morning until noon. He published his books, novels and poems, in the United States, and as they were never translated into German he was unknown to the Berlin intelligentsia. He was little better known to most of his own countrymen. “They tell me you’re a writer, Mr. Christopher?” American women would say to Hubbard at the Fourth of July party at the Embassy. “How interesting. What sort of things do you write?” With his instinctive good manners, Hubbard would begin to reply. Lori would interrupt. “Not the sort of things you read, obviously,” she would say in withering tones. She never stopped believing that Hubbard was a genius.
The Christophers spent summers at Berwick. Exercise and conversation were the family pastimes. By the time he was six, Paul could climb any cliff on Rügen. He was a strong swimmer who knew the treacherous island tides. He woke every morning at five-thirty, drank a cup of hot milk and ate a piece of black bread, and went for a two-mile walk through the beech forest with Paulus. Before the boy learned to read, Paulus told him about Rügen, its flora and fauna and history.
Others had told him about Paulus, heroic tales. Paulus had commanded a regiment of lancers at the Battle of Tannenberg. When the Russian center broke, at about six in the evening on August 28, 1914, Paulus had pursued the flying rabble of the Russian 15th Corps through the forest of Grünfliess, putting two hundred enemy to the spear in a brisk skirmish on the shores of a lake and setting their bivouac on fire. During a saber fight with a Russian officer, conducted from the backs of heaving chargers, Paulus had severed the right hand of his enemy. Incredibly, the maimed Russian had turned his horse and galloped into the lake, shouting to rally his routed troops. Paulus, seeing his wounded foe fall from the saddle, spurred into the water and rescued him. Dragging the unconscious Russian into the burning camp, he thrust the spurting stump of his wrist into a fire, cauterizing the wound. The Russian, treated by Paulus’s regimental surgeon, survived.
“Did Uncle Paulus meet the Russian again, after the war?” Paul asked Hilde.
“He invited him to Berwick, but he never came. He must have been slaughtered by the Bolsheviks, like your grandfather.”
Paul received little Christian instruction from Paulus, his German godfather. “Bismarck was a Christian, he was very vocal about it,” Paulus said, “and a greater bastard never lived. Memorize the Sermon on the Mount; I advise you to live by it even if you don’t have a single spark of religious faith.”
Conversation was an addiction of the Buechelers. During their long banishment under Bismarck, the family learned to get along without outsiders. To avoid turning into a family of bores, they had kept their minds fresh by learning new facts, new languages, new skills. Even now, guests were a rarity at Berwick. Anecdotes were forbidden. Stories withered the mind, Paulus said; new talk had to be invented every day. This required a great deal of reading, and there were hundreds of books in the house. The hours between lunch and dinner were set aside for reading; at the beginning of June, twenty books were placed in Paul’s room, and he was expected to read them all by the end of August.
“Admirable,” said Hubbard, “but Paul ought to get in more sailing.”
Hubbard was a great believer in sailing. With the meager royalties from his writings, he bought a white-hulled yawl and named it Mahican, after the tribe of Indians that had lived on his family’s land in the Berkshires. In this vessel, Paul and his parents sailed in all weathers in the shallow, heaving Baltic. Lori packed delicious lunches in a wicker picnic basket that Paul’s American godfather, Elliott Hubbard, had bought at Abercrombie & Fitch. This hamper glistened with varnish and its broad riveted straps smelled of good leather. Thermos bottles, food boxes, plates, glasses, and cutlery fitted inside, also fastened by leather straps. All his life, Paul remembered the picnic basket as the most beautiful object of his childhood.
It was a nine-hour sail to their favorite destination, a Danish island called Falster. They would cast off in the dark, on the tide, arriving at Falster at midmorning, then sail back to Rügen the following midnight. Falster was a windy, peaceful island of low grassy dunes, with a wooded cliff along the northeastern shore. They would anchor under the cliff, load the picnic basket and a blanket into the dinghy, and row ashore. Here, the rules of Berwick did not apply, and Hubbard would tell stories.
The stories always had to do with Paul’s paternal ancestors. Fifty years before the American Revolution, a twenty-year-old youth named Aaron Hubbard (always called “the first Aaron” by the Hubbards) drove a herd of spotted pigs up the Housatonic Valley from Connecticut into the Berkshire Hills of Massachusetts, to fatten them on beech nuts. In the eighteenth century, the Berkshires were still a Mohawk hunting ground—wild, stony, mountainous country. No one lived there except for a few Mahican Indians who had been driven out of the Hudson Valley, farther to the west beyond the mountains, by the fiercer Mohawks. Aaron did not run into any Indians. He spent the summer alone with his pigs, wandering through the woods, sleeping in the open, falling in love with the country.
“There was an October blizzard that year,” said Hubbard Christopher, telling the story on the beach at Falster, “and Aaron and his pigs were caught in it. He was driving them through the woods, trying to find a cave or something for shelter, when he saw, of all things, a light among the trees. It was a Mahican encampment. The Indians took Aaron in. He stayed all winter as there was no way to get out through the snow, slaughtering the pigs one by one and sharing them with the Mahicans. The Indians took a fancy to pork. Aaron had already taken a fancy to the land.
“In the spring, Aaron made an agreement with the Mahicans. In return for one pound sterling, a barrel of molasses, and ten spotted pigs, the Hubbards could have all the land they could fence in a single day. Aaron went back to Connecticut and fetched his nine brothers. Between sunup and sundown, the Hubbard boys nailed rails to trees and fenced twenty square miles.
“On the highest hill at the western edge of their land, the Hubbards put up a house. At first it was just one room, a kitchen with a sleeping loft above it, made out of whipsawed planks and hand-hewn maple beams, fastened together with wooden pegs. When the wind blew, it creaked like a sailing ship; it still does. They were the first Hubbards to own land and that gave them the feeling that they’d come into port after a tremendous stormy voyage. They called the house the Harbor.
“A family of Mahicans lived on the place until one summer when they died of measles, all but one. The survivor was a ten-year-old boy named Joe. He came to live at the Harbor. The second Aaron, your great-great-grandfather, was about the same age as Joe. He and Joe had always been inseparable friends. In the family they were called Damon and Pythias. Outsiders called the Mahican boy Indian Joe, but to the Hubbards, he was—well, I’ve always imagined that he was pretty much what I was, growing up at the Harbor two hundred years later: not exactly a son, but more than a nephew.
“One day, when Joe and Aaron were about eighteen years old,” Hubbard continued, “Joe went out hunting by himself. It was early December. The ground was frozen but there was no snow. Joe was a great hunter. He always got something. But this time he came back empty-handed. He told the family he’d fired his shotgun at two crows and brought them down with a single charge of buckshot. He’d looked for the dead crows but couldn’t find them. It was almost dark when Joe got back.
“Just as he was finishing his supper and getting ready to clean his gun, the town constable came to the door with some terrible news. A young man named John Parker, a schoolmate of Aaron and Joe, had been found lying in the woods, shot dead. A farmer, an older man called Eleazer Stickles, had seen Joe follow the victim into the woods, and shortly afterward, he’d heard a shot. The constable smelled Joe’s gun barrel. ‘Recently fired,’ he said. ‘What load were you using?’ Joe said he’d been using buckshot. ‘To hunt crows?’ the constable said. Joe said he’d been hunting deer; he’d just happened to shoot the crows after it became obvious to him that he wasn’t going to see any deer; conditions were wrong. ‘Where are the crows?’ asked the constable. Joe said he hadn’t been able to find them. ‘John Parker had buckshot in his heart,’ the constable said. He arrested Joe and charged him with murder.
“John Parker had been a popular young fellow, good-looking and from a prosperous family. The town was convinced that Indian Joe had killed John Parker. Nobody would believe the story about the crows. They put Joe in chains. Aaron protested, but the constable said Joe might escape before they could hang him. Aaron went into the woods, looking for the dead crows. Joe had described the spot where he’d shot the crows, but Aaron could never find them. It was below zero for twenty straight days. Aaron went out at first light and came back after dark on every one of those days. He caught pneumonia, went into a delirium, and when he woke up a week later, they told him that they’d hanged Joe.
“The Hubbards buried Joe in the family graveyard, with a boulder for a headstone. Aaron, when he got better, went up there in the snow and carved Joe’s name on the stone and the word Misjudged. Aaron refused to go to church. He said the people praying in the church had murdered Joe. That remark was not easily forgiven, and it was never forgotten.
“In April, it began to thaw during the day while it froze at night, so they could sugar. They were setting the buckets—drilling holes in the trees so that they could pound in spouts and hang the buckets to collect the dripping sap. And as Aaron turned the drill stalk into one old double maple tree, he looked up and saw something black in the fork where the tree grew apart. He climbed up, and there, lying together, caught in a grapevine growing on the maple, were Joe’s two crows, full of buckshot. Aaron took them to the constable.
“The constable wouldn’t look at the crows. ‘First Joe had such fine eyesight that he could shoot two crows on the wing,’ he said. ‘But then he couldn’t find them. Now you bring me these carcasses and tell me that both birds fell out of the sky into the same maple tree, lodged in the same grapevine, and stayed there all winter without an owl or a wildcat or a raccoon touching them. Aaron, I know that you and Joe were friends. But go on back to your own house and stop bothering me.’
“Aaron put the dead crows in a box and took them to church on Sunday. He got there before the stove was lit, and waited, blowing out his breath in the freezing air, bundled up in his winter coat, sitting in a straight chair in the choir stall, his face to the pews, holding the box with the crows in it in his lap. He wasn’t dressed for the Sabbath, but wore his work clothes. Aaron’s lips didn’t move during the opening hymn and the Lord’s Prayer. While the others sang, Aaron’s eyes moved from face to face, and when they opened their eyes after the prayer they found him staring at them again. As the minister started to read the lesson, Aaron stood up and interrupted.
“‘I’ve got something to say to you,’ he said. Aaron opened the box and displayed the dead crows. He explained where he’d found the crows. He didn’t see a flicker of belief on any face in the congregation. Aaron realized that these people, many of them relations, all of them men and women he’d known all his life, could not possibly believe him. To believe that these were the crows that Joe had shot was to believe that Joe was innocent of the murder of John Parker. And to believe in Joe’s innocence was to confess that the town had hanged the Indian by mistake—or perhaps by something worse than a mistake. They ignored Aaron and went on with their service.
“The next Sunday, Aaron was back, sitting in his straight chair at the front of the church, wearing his barn clothes and his dirty boots, silent and accusing, staring at the worshippers in the pews. He came back the following Sunday, and every Sunday after that for twenty years. After a while, only visitors and children asked who Aaron was, sitting up there with his eyes glittering. The older people would tell the story, and that served to keep alive the memory of the hanging of Joe. That seemed to be enough for Aaron, though he never really made another friend in Mahican.
“A quarter of a century passed. Aaron took a wife, had children, grew gray. One January day, around dinner time, there came a knock at the door of the Harbor. Melody Stickles, Eleazer Stickles’s wife, stood on the threshold. Aaron didn’t know her at first. He hadn’t seen her since she was a girl. She’d been the town beauty, and every boy in school, including Aaron, had been in love with her when she was fourteen. But her family had been poor; her father had more or less sold her in marriage to Eleazer Stickles, a much older man. It was remembered in the town that Melody had cried at her own wedding, walking down the aisle on the arm of her father—he’d worn a dirty shirt, buttoned at the neck, and wide galluses with a red rose stuck in the buckle; no one ever left out that detail in telling the story, or how the tears flowed down Melody’s cheeks. She sobbed while speaking her marriage vows. After the wedding, Melody’s father went right out and bought a pair of fast coach horses, and she went home with Eleazer.
“On the day she called on Aaron at the Harbor, he hardly recognized her. He hadn’t seen her—no one had seen her, really—for twenty-five years. ‘Aaron,’ Melody said, standing in the open door, ‘Eleazer wants you to come to the house. He’s on his deathbed.’
“Eleazer Stickles’s ancestor had built a bigger house than was needful. Aaron had never been inside. What he saw when he did go through the door amazed him. Every room was stacked to the ceiling with fifty years’ accumulation of junk. Boxes, newspapers, magazines, old horse collars, jars, bottles—Eleazer was a miser. In all his life, he’d never thrown a thing away. He burned fallen twigs in the kitchen stove. Cats slept on the stove; it was lighted only to cook supper, and then not for very long.
“Melody led Aaron along a footpath among these mountains of trash, and let him into a room where Eleazer lay in bed. He was covered with blankets, with a tanned horsehide thrown over the top, hair side down. Still Eleazer shivered in his bed. It was below zero inside the house; the January wind howled in the eaves and bellowed down the cold chimneys. On the outside of the door of this room, Aaron had noticed a heavy iron bolt, extending all the way across the panels. It was like a dungeon lock. There were iron bars on every window.
“Eleazer, shuddering under his covers, peered at Aaron as he took in these details. ‘Curious, Aaron?’ he said.
“‘About what, Eleazer?’
“‘About them iron bars on the windows.’
“Eleazer looked around for Melody, but she had left the men alone in the barred room.
“‘I put the bars on this room the day that Indian Joe shot the crows,’ Eleazer said.
“‘The day he shot the crows?’ Aaron said.
“‘That’s right,’ Eleazer said. ‘I was out cutting timber that day. I broke a chain hauling out a big log and came on down to the house to fetch another chain, leaving the oxen in the woodlot. That’s when I heard Joe’s shot and saw the crows fall. Joe was standing in the clearing, reloading his gun. He never saw me. Joe was the best shot around in those days, wouldn’t you say?’
“‘Yes,’ said Aaron, ‘I’d say that about Joe.’
“‘Joe wasn’t sure where the birds fell, and he was still looking for them when I lost sight of him. I played a little trick on Joe on the way down the mountain, but I’ll come back to that. I kept my spare chains in the tool shed; the door to that shed is right beside the window to this room. As I put my hand on the door, I heard a bumping sound: bump, bump-bump, bump-bump-bump-bump. Like that. Couldn’t place the sound. Melody was new then, we’d only been married a year or two, and I didn’t know her habits the way I do now. I thought she might be doing something I could tease her about, so I sneaked up to that window.’ Eleazer pointed to one of the barred windows.
“ ‘There was a good bit of sun that day,’ Eleazer said, ‘so I couldn’t see into the room without shading my eyes. I took off my hat to block out the sun and looked in. What I saw, Aaron, was Melody on the bed. She had her legs around a man. He had his boots against the footboard so that he could push at her better. The sound I’d heard was the headboard banging against the wall. I could tell by the way Melody was acting that this wasn’t the first time she and this fellow had banged that headboard against the wall. I watched till it was over and the fellow rolled over on his back. It was John Parker; Melody had always been sweet on him, though when I’d ask her she’d say no, no, she was never sweet on anybody. As soon as he got off her, she got on top of him. He was still wearing his boots. Neither one of them saw me.’
“Eleazer stopped speaking. Under that mound of covers, he looked small and wasted, but there was a feverish light in his eyes, as if the memory of his wife with another man gave him something to live for.
Meet the Author
Charles McCarry is the author, most recently, of Christopher’s Ghosts, and has written ten acclaimed novels featuring Paul Christopher and his family (all available from Overlook). During the Cold War, he was an intelligence officer operating under deep cover in Europe, Africa, and Asia.
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If ever there were an unforgetable and unforgetting group of players on the world scene Paul Christphor and his friends are them. Rarely have I read such an engaging and believable hero. Or anti hero as Paul and Hurbert Christphor. Nothing glitzy or slick about these stories. Glacier logic, an amazing breadth of plot. I have read 6 of these novels and the stories are so seamlessly woven so far reaching as to seem one story. One could only wish they would never end. The plots and characters begin in pre war Germany and continue past the Viet Nam era including the beautiful etheral spector of Lori, Hubbards wife, Pauls, mother, captured by the Nazi, Dandy, in 1939 and finally re discovered in China some 30 years later. All completely logical, liniar and engaging. Paul Christphor's faith in her survival never falters and is ultimately rewarded. Although in a typical Mc Carry fashion. But there is an even bigger hook to these novels. They have the ring of absolute truth. There are no dramatic moments of gun play and derring do, 'well some but rather restrained' Nothing ultra human, just human and focused to the highest and sometimes the lowest that humans can be. I get the sense that in the gritty world of secrets and war and half truths to protect the greater truths, there is ultimately no truth, no clear answers only men who believe in country and the protection of an ideological stance, and above all themselves and the Outfit they serve. For the serious and thinking reader there are very few writers who satisfy as well.