In their youth, Manni and Franzi, together with their brothers, Ziggy and Sebastian, captured Germany's collective imagination as the Flying Magical Loerber Brothers one of the most popular vaudeville acts of the old Weimar days. The ensuing years have, however, found the Jewish brothers estranged and ensconced in various occupations as the war is drawing near its end and a German surrender is imminent. Manni is traveling through the Ruhr Valley with Albert Speer, who is intent on subverting Hitler's apocalyptic plan to destroy the German industrial heartland before the Allies arrive; Franzi has become inextricably attached to Heinrich Himmler's entourage as astrologer and masseur; and Ziggy and Sebastian have each been employed in pursuits that threaten to compromise irrevocably their own safety and ideologies.
Now, with the Russian noose tightening around Berlin and the remnants of the Nazi government fleeing north to Flensburg, the Loerber brothers are unexpectedly reunited. As Himmler and Speer vie to become the next Führer, deluded into believing they can strike a bargain with Eisenhower and escape their criminal fates, the Loerbers must employ all their talents and whatever magic they possess to rescue themselves and one another.
Deftly written and darkly funny, Germania is an astounding adventure tale with subplots involving a hidden cache of Nazi gold, Hitler's miracle U-boats, and Speer's secret plan to live out his days hunting walrus in Greenland and a remarkably imaginative novel from a gifted new writing talent.
|Publisher:||Simon & Schuster|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.00(d)|
Read an Excerpt
Gustav Loerber was a large man. His vast belly hung down from his chest like a barley sack, his jowls were fleshy saddlebags casually slung between his nose and ears, and his neck a shapeless, jiggling extension of his chin. Old Gustav was horrendously, obscenely fat. Yet nobody who looked at Gustav Loerber ever quite thought of him that way. It might have been the exquisite cut of his Italian silk suits, or his commanding smile, or his poised, impresario's way of carrying himself. It might have been something else. Gustav Loerber was, after all, a magician. But in either case, whoever looked at old Gustav thought only one thing: Magnificent!
Of course, it hadn't always been that way. Once, thirty years earlier, when Gustav Loerber was just another hungry young acrobat making his way in the world, he had been every bit as slim and wiry as his four sons were now. His sons; his celebrated sons; Manni, Franzi, Ziggy, and Sebastian; known to Berlin and the world as the Flying Magical Loerber Brothers. At any other time, Gustav Loerber would have told you they were his pride and joy, except at this moment three of them were screaming at him over his latest business decision.
He'd just come into their dressing room, waving the telegram sent by Adolf Hitler himself, inviting them all to perform at the upcoming Nazi Party gala celebrating his recent ascent to chancellor of Germany. Naturally Gustav agreed. But when he had gone to tell his sons, he found to his astonishment that they were anything but pleased.
"Father, how could you?" cried Manni Loerber. "We can't work for them!"
"But I thought you despised the Nazis, Father," shouted Franzi. "You've been saying it for years."
This was true. Gustav Loerber had never made much secret of his low opinion of the thugs and gutter politicians who made up the Nazi Party's ranks. But Hitler? Well, it turned out Hitler was a different story altogether. Old Gustav had secretly gone to a party rally or two, more for research than anything else, and seeing the Führer in action before those crowds, Gustav immediately recognized Hitler as a genius like himself: a fellow showman whose sense of spectacle and presentation nearly equaled his own. And now it turned out Hitler saw old Gustav the same way, and was inviting him and his sons to "add your magic to the New Germany."
"But Father, the man's evil," said Franzi.
"That's simply a matter of opinion," shot back Gustav.
"He's a psychopath," said Manni.
"Oh, come on! They always say that about visionaries. Boys, listen to me: we're on the ground floor of something really big."
"We mustn't, Father."
Gustav fumed. That his own sons would do this to him. After all he'd done, couldn't they obey him just once? He should have known there would be trouble coming when Manni and Franzi started hanging around with those left-wing types.
"Father?" asked Ziggy, desperately waving his hand to be allowed to speak. The good thing about Ziggy was that he wasn't argumentative and didn't get into constant trouble like Manni and Franzi.
Gustav nodded. "Yes, son?"
"But Father," said Ziggy, "we're Jews, remember?"
Gustav Loerber shut his eyes and tried counting to ten. Why was the kid so bloody obtuse?
"Do you have to keep bringing that up?" Gustav groaned. "It was all such a long time ago and it never meant anything in the first place."
Eyes still closed, Gustav shook his head. What was with his sons? After all he'd done for them, this was how they rewarded him!
Devils though they may be, Franzi and Manni were unmistakably Gustav's sons. But Ziggy and Sebastian? The way they acted, they might as well have been someone else's. They really shouldn't be his. They were both far too odd.
Gustav wondered what Ziggy's problem was. To begin with, he seemed to possess no imagination whatsoever. He was a literalist who wanted everything fixed or controllable, something that Gustav found truly bewildering. Ziggy might not get into trouble like Manni and Franzi always did, but some of the things he did that he never got caught at did not sit well with Gustav.
Saturday mornings when normal people were still sleeping in, Ziggy would sneak off to watch a morning cartoon matinee where everybody else was under twelve. Or worse, other times he'd go to temple. Sebastian was also odd, but at least he was a genius.
His eyes still shut, Gustav Loerber picked his words carefully. "Adolf Hitler is going to do great things for Germany," he said. "All that talk about Jews is nothing more than a gimmick to keep the masses' attention. As magicians, we're supposed to recognize it when it's happening before our eyes."
"Um," said Sebastian, who as a rule never got involved in political discussion. Everyone turned to hear what he had to say.
Sebastian spoke quickly and decisively. "Their stuff is stupid, Father," he said. "It's stupid, it's ugly, it's corny, and it's pointless."
"And?" asked Gustav.
"And we can't get associated with that kind of schlock. It would ruin us." Sebastian fixed them all with an angry glare and immediately they were bombarded with mental images of chorus girls in swallowtail coats and swastika-laden top hats kick-stepping to a bouncy, uptempo "Horst-Wessel-Lied" while a red sea of Nazi Party flags shimmered behind them. It looked really ridiculous.
Manni and Franzi both rolled their eyes. "That's real nice, Sebastian, but there are bigger issues here than kitschiness," said Franzi.
"Maybe to you," he answered.
"Either way," said Ziggy.
"Yes," said Franzi, "either way, we're not doing it."
"We're unanimous," said Ziggy.
Gustav Loerber snorted and stamped his foot. "Well, I'm still the one making the decisions around here. You will do as I say or you can pack your bags and get out!"
"Fine with me," said Ziggy.
"Fine with me," said Manni.
"Fine with me," said Franzi.
"There's this avant-garde troupe in Wilhelmsdorf " began Sebastian. But before he could say anything else, Gustav Loerber stormed out of the dressing room, slamming the door behind him.
Everyone returned to their mirrors, silently powdering their faces and applying eyeliner. Finally Manni broke the silence. "'Horst-Wessel'...uptempo?" he asked.
Then Franzi snickered, "Top hats with swastikas? I mean, really, Sebastian."
That immediately got Sebastian riled. "Hey! I was trying to make a point."
They all laughed.
As the others continued their mock-bickering, Ziggy kept staring at himself, as if the made-up face in the mirror were someone he'd never met. What was going on? The entire world seemed to be coming apart right in front of his eyes. The other day at the synagogue he'd heard people arguing about whether they should flee Germany for Holland or England or the Argentine. But Ziggy didn't want to leave Germany for somewhere foreign. He liked being a Jew, and he liked being a German.
He stared sadly at the souvenirs of Betty Boop, Mickey Mouse, and Bosko lined up along the bottom of his mirror. The others thought he was an idiot. But then all Ziggy had to do was offer to quit and they'd all start apologizing. Ziggy was, after all, the act's straight man and they needed him more than he needed them. Besides, neither of the other two could do improvisation work with Sebastian.
The door opened and the stage manager's assistant stuck his head in. "All right, Flying Magical Loerber Brothers, let's go!" The four got to their feet and followed him down the narrow backstage corridor, past the stagehands, chorus girls, and other performers who didn't have their own dressing rooms. But as they approached the stage-right wings, a group of stagehands blocked their path.
"Which one of you is Ziggy?" asked one, holding out a small square of paper.
"Right here," said Ziggy, stepping forward. He knew what they wanted.
"Settle a bet for us?"
Ziggy nodded for them to proceed. Rare was the night when this didn't happen. The stagehand cleared his throat.
"Tell me a number between fifteen and forty-nine."
Ziggy stared dully at the folded-up paper. "Twenty-two," he answered.
"Now a number between fifty and eighty."
"A number between three hundred and seven hundred."
"Five hundred and seventy."
The stagehand unfolded the paper. On it was written 22-63-570. He laughed and turned to his friend. "Pay up," he ordered. The other stagehand handed him a small wad of bills. He peeled off two and gave them to Ziggy before pocketing the rest. "Much obliged," he said.
"Not at all," Ziggy answered.
"So how'd you do it?"
Ziggy shrugged. "I'm magic," he said.
Entering the wings, the four brothers took their positions. By now the orchestra was already well into a bouncy medley of "Sweet Georgia Brown" and "Harlem Rhapsody," the Loerber Brothers' two signature tunes. Onstage the bright lights were going down as two spotlights played about the stage, as though looking for a prisoner who had just escaped. The music went on for a few more bars before the horns and strings dropped out and the drums took over with a frantic jungle rhythm, as if to say, Tonight, folks, we're really going to have fun! Then the stage manager shot them their cue, the lights went up, and Ziggy and his three brothers dashed out onstage. Seeing them, the audience burst into applause.
They formed a line in front of the audience. Behind them upstage, four very proper-looking couples top hats, bonnets, and parasols promenaded among black cutouts of park benches and trellises. The clarinets jumped in, sarcastic and leering, so the audience would know exactly what to think about what was going on. The four brothers began to sway back and forth, turning out their empty pockets one after the other and singing:
Spring is in the air, And pretty girls, they're everywhere. But, oh, how I wish it were wintertime still. Because when you're ragged and broke, You haven't a hope, and No girl wants you anywhere near her.
Manni and Sebastian both stepped back while Ziggy and Franzi threw out their arms and continued:
Now, in Paris, they say, each dog gets its day, And raggedy Jacques has his little Marie. But here in old Berlin, ladies demand style from their men. So you'd better dress smart, you'd better look right, Or alone down the avenues you'll be walking tonight.
Ziggy remembered how Manni had once observed that after you've performed Gustav Loerber's different routines several thousand times, you realized they were all exactly the same: boy meets girl, boy loses girl; everything's fine and then something goes wrong, or everything is wrong and then something goes right. Two verses and then a chorus followed by a big dance number that has some tenuous connection to the story line.
Berlin girls have their standards And don't you know it's a fact. You'd better have money, nice clothes, and a hat. Then they won't care if you're ugly, dull or fat. Propriety, my friend, is the name of their game, And spotless reputations girls must always maintain.
At that, the girls stepped away from their beaux and scurried together and in the sweetest harmony declared:
You've patches on your overcoat, holes in your shoes. What would folks say if I were seen here with you? Yes, Heinrich is tiny and ugly and dull, dull, dull. I really don't care because his wallet is full.
And giving a tart turning-up of their noses, the four ladies scurried back to their beaux, who smiled back at the brothers with a blandness so overarching it bordered on arrogance.
The brothers wrung their hands in mock desperation. Then big grins came over their faces and suddenly they all stepped forward with a wiggle of their eyebrows and began singing:
Well, if we can't go out, couldn't we just stay in? Be a pal, give me a try, I'll give you something special That Heinrich's money can't buy. So let's just sit on your couch and you're welcome to sup, A crop of fresh asparagus that's starting to pop up.
It'll be our secret, we can shield it from society. No need to fret about the bounds of propriety.
And then the dancing began. The girls flittered to them like a stream of butterflies, twirling first with Franzi, then working their way past Sebastian, then Ziggy and Manni, until the boys all had partners. Ziggy's was a blonde named Stella. Once, the previous fall, she'd come on to him, and Ziggy, eager to be rid of his virginity, went upstairs with her. But it had been a terrible mistake. Halfway into it, she broke off and began weeping about how the other girls had put her up to it and about a daughter that nobody knew about back in Munich. After that, whenever they'd perform together, she'd act like neither was anything more than an automaton. But this time, as they held each other and twirled to the music, her dark eyes flashed at him like she was thinking, You're about to get yours!
After that they switched partners and the girls worked their way back up and down the line, twirling and jumping and straddling the brothers: first Sebastian, then Manni, then Franzi, and back to Ziggy, back and forth, left and right, trading one for another and then another, and every fourth turn a different brother would hurl a different girl into the air, while on every seventh turn one of the brothers would jump up. All the brothers hated this routine, especially Sebastian, who abhorred any suggestion of lasciviousness. But the audiences could never get enough of it.
Around and around they swirled in a mad orgy of synchronized movement. Weave up left, weave down right, circle back left, swirl twice with the girl on his right, and then line up between Manni and Franzi and their girls, while upstage the abandoned beaux were being slowly blown backward like so many dry leaves until they disappeared behind some upstage curtains, all to the audience's howling approval.
They did their last frantic twirl, and the music stopped. The audience roared applause. The girls stepped back and the brothers stepped into the spotlights and bowed low to the cheering audience, holding it down for a count of three.
But as Ziggy straightened up, he saw that except for Sebastian and himself, the stage was empty. Manni, Franzi, and the girls had all left. Ziggy looked around, wondering what was going on. At that moment they were supposed to shift upstage to get into position for the next act, but instead it was just Sebastian grinning like the devil and the audience still cheering wildly. Was this what Stella had been trying to tell him: that he was being set up for another one of Sebastian's strange improvisations? Sebastian had a way of ensuring that Ziggy never saw them coming, while all of Berlin felt like they were in on it. Now he'd done it again and Ziggy was stuck having to do a very abstract impersonation with him. He looked at Sebastian still grinning at him.
Are you ready?
All right, then. Follow my lead. I'll let you know when to break.
Sebastian bounded upstage and did a flip, followed by another, which Ziggy immediately repeated. Sebastian began running clockwise in a wide circle; Ziggy waited until Sebastian was half a circle ahead, then followed behind him. Sebastian did another flip and then another, which Ziggy repeated. Then Sebastian turned and began running toward Ziggy with his hands out. It was the signal. Ziggy immediately dropped down on one knee and put his hands out. A second later, Sebastian dove at him. Ziggy caught his hands, and as Sebastian pulled the rest of his body into a ball, Ziggy leaped up, propelling Sebastian feet-first into the air, faster and farther than he knew it was possible to throw him.
Up Sebastian flew, his hands flapping earnestly from his hips like tiny wings, while snapping his legs open and shut. In an instant everyone saw an alligator being rewarded with the all-too-brief gift of flight. The audience let out a gasp. The gaping monster continued shooting upward, as if still fully believing that gravity would continue being negotiable. Up, up the alligator went, rejoicing in its newfound ability, but then, inevitably, its ascent slowed, stopped, its head tipped, and down it plunged, its jaws snapping, Uh-oh! Uh-oh! as it did.
The audience howled.
Sebastian landed and immediately resumed running circles and flipping, with Ziggy a half circle behind doing the same. Then Ziggy turned and this time Sebastian dropped down, Ziggy dove onto Sebastian, and a second later he was hurtling feet-first into the air. It seemed like he was shooting upward an impossibly long time.
Do something! Now!
Ziggy let his legs bend, grabbing his feet with his hands, and began wriggling his body like a caterpillar. He heard a roar erupt from the audience as they seemed to declare in a single voice: "A moth!" And even before he'd started coming down, there was thunderous applause.
An eternity later, Ziggy's feet hit the stage and he went back to running circles behind Sebastian. Once again, Sebastian changed direction and Ziggy dropped down, caught him, and tossed him up into the air. Sebastian shot upward, propelled by a force Ziggy knew he did not possess.
Once aloft, Sebastian performed another ballistic animal impersonation, legs bent, arms clenched, head bobbing, which the audience immediately saw as a hare. Then it was Ziggy's turn. This time, as he shot upward, he quickly bent his right knee and placed his left foot against his kneecap, while leaning his head against his left leg with his palms clamped against the sides of his head. Ziggy then flapped his elbows, which made the audience scream out in a single voice, "An elephant!" and applaud even louder than before.
It went on like this again and again, and each time all they had to do was move their arms one way, their legs another, and do something with their head or fingers, and each time the audience reacted with such profound amazement that Ziggy himself was amazed they'd completely lost sight of the fact that the brothers' time in the air was a flagrant violation of the laws of gravity and physics.
Flying above the stage, Ziggy noticed all sorts of things: that Stella was standing behind a scrim in the stage-left wing, watching them and laughing uncontrollably, like a child being tickled; that there were dozens of brownshirts sitting in the audience, they used to never come here, at least not in Nazi uniform; that Franzi and Manni had been watching them from the wings but were now both gone. One of the few ground rules of Sebastian's improvisations was that Manni and Franzi had to remain on hand in order to step in and force a conclusion, something that Sebastian, for all his genius, was absolutely clueless about. Where had they gone?
Ziggy landed and resumed running behind Sebastian. He looked ragged. Sebastian turned and ran toward him. Ziggy dropped, caught him, and tossed him into the air. He watched Sebastian spinning up toward the rafters, fluttering froglike with his arms and legs. As usual, the audience marveled at the genius of Sebastian's interpretation. Sebastian started his descent and Ziggy began running his circle. What was it going to be next? A gorilla? A pangolin? A giant sloth? Ziggy guessed it was up to him to make up an ending. He stopped, turned, and ran toward Sebastian, who was already down on one knee poised to catch him. But instead of going into his brother's hands, Ziggy dove several feet short, going into a somersault that brought his legs up onto Sebastian's shoulders. As Sebastian tumbled backward, he brought his own trunk up against Ziggy's backside, wrapping his legs around Ziggy's neck and chest just as Ziggy's feet reached the ground, followed by his knees and hands. Then it was Sebastian's feet, knees, and hands, then Ziggy's. Locked together, they rolled about the stage, backward and forward, as the audience roared its delight. At the center of the stage, they came apart and jumped to their feet and took their bows until the applause finally died away.
"Where'd they go? Where'd they go?" Sebastian kept screaming once they were offstage. Ziggy followed him to their dressing room. They were almost at their door when one of the wardrobe women stepped in their way. She looked worried. "Herr Ziggy, Herr Sebastian," she whispered. "Your brothers, they have disappeared. They must be found immediately." Ziggy wondered why she was concerned. It wasn't her responsibility in the slightest. She took a quick look over her shoulder and put her head closer to them. "Someone is waiting inside for them," she hissed. "The matter is most urgent!" Then she added, "It is a woman."
"What?" shouted Sebastian, not very politely. "You say they've got a woman waiting inside? Well, get rid of her right now! I don't have time for this. I need to rest!"
Ziggy looked at the wardrobe lady's expression and wondered whether Sebastian was even capable of being anything other than an utter penis all the time. But then, he did have a point. That last improvisation had wiped them out and they just needed to sit down quietly and not have to deal with some strange woman with an urgent problem. He watched Sebastian push the wardrobe woman away and step inside. Through the crack left by the partially closed door, Ziggy could see the gray and black shape of an older woman in a heavy coat getting up from one of the chairs. "I'm sorry, madam, but you're going to have to leave right now," he heard Sebastian say coldly. But then he paused. Ziggy went in to see for himself.
It was a heavyset middle-aged woman, her face bruised and bleeding, her gray sealskin coat roughed up and muddied like she'd been on the ground. She stared at them wild-eyed, slowly realizing they might not be who she'd come for.
"You're not...?" she rasped.
The wardrobe woman spoke quickly in a low mutter. "Frau Lachmann, these are their brothers, Herr Zigmund and Herr Sebastian. We cannot find the boys. They are missing." The beaten-up woman stared back at her as if to ask, What am I supposed to do with these two?
Sebastian was still speechless. He stared at her with an open mouth like he'd never seen a woman beaten like a whore who wasn't a whore. Who was she? What had she done to make someone angry enough to do this to her? The wardrobe woman had addressed her as Frau Lachmann. Could she be married to Felix Lachmann, that surgeon who wrote those columns for one of the left-wing papers?
Ziggy put a hand on the wardrobe woman's arm. "Don't worry, we'll take care of her," he said and held open the door. "Keep looking for them!" He quickly closed the door behind her.
"What happened?" asked Ziggy. "Was it the brownshirts?"
The woman gave a nod as she slumped back down into the chair. "Please," she croaked. "I must speak with your brothers. Where are they?"
Sebastian turned to Ziggy. "What happened to her? Did she say Nazis did it? Why'd they want to do it to her?"
The woman looked into space. "They killed Felix," she said.
"The Nazis killed Dr. Lachmann?" Sebastian sounded almost like he thought it might be a joke. "Shouldn't we get the police?"
"Manni, get Manni," groaned the woman. "I have to tell them something."
"Frau Lachmann, we don't know where they are."
"Ziggy, why would the Nazis kill Dr. Lachmann?"
"He's not Jewish or anything."
"Sebastian," shouted Ziggy, "do you have to be such an idiot? Besides, we're Jews, remember?"
Sebastian glared back at Ziggy.
"Sebastian, what do you think has been going on outside?"
"Father said it doesn't have anything to do with us."
"For God's sake, Sebastian, Father's an asshole!"
Frau Lachmann stood up from the chair and fixed Ziggy with the one eye of hers that seemed to focus. "I have to leave quickly," she said. "But you must tell your brothers this. Tell them the organization is finished and not to trust any of the others. Tell them they must get out! All of you! Get out! This thing is finished!"
Then the door opened and a different wardrobe lady stuck her head in. "Your father is coming and he's got two Nazis with him," she barked. She pointed at Frau Lachmann. "Get her in the closet! Now!"
Ziggy and Sebastian moved quickly. A second later, they had the bleeding woman and her sealskin stuffed inside the closet and were already at their tables, doing their eyebrows, when the door opened.
In all his years in show business Gustav Loerber had never quite tired of the way everyone turned whenever he passed through a backstage hallway. And it was even better with two extremely prominent Nazi gauleiters in tow. Big boys too, not that either of them had anything like Gustav's commanding girth or his panache. But still, they were the right sort, he decided: good-spirited and endlessly, endlessly worshipful. To them, Gustav Loerber was a god in whose presence they were blessed to be, and righteously eager to let some of his grand style rub off on them. And truth to tell, both could have used some. But then, even the greatest of epochs usually started off with some rough edges. And if it should be Gustav's job to polish them down a little, then he was just the man to do it.
As he came to the dressing room door, three of the wardrobe ladies bowed with delirious subservience. "Why, Maestro Loerber," they said, giggling. "And who are these lovely men you've brought us?"
Gustav smiled at them. "So good to see you again, ladies." Then, turning to his guests, he said, "Just a little visit, perhaps?"
He opened the door, and there were Ziggy and Sebastian. He started to demand they tell him where the others were, but the way his two sons jumped up and expressed immediate enchantment at the gauleiters' presence, it kind of slipped his mind.
"Why, Father, what a surprise," said Ziggy. He went for the fattest one's eyes. "Welcome," he said.
Gustav smiled. "Boys, I'd like you to meet some new friends," he said. "This is Gauleiter Gunderson and Gauleiter Boehm. Sirs, may I present my sons Ziggy and Sebastian Loerber."
Ziggy and Sebastian both snapped into bows, then snapped back up and extended their hands to the eager gauleiters.
"A pleasure, lads," said Boehm.
"So where are the others?" asked Gunderson. "Where are Manni and Franzi?"
Gustav looked at his two sons and wondered why the question hadn't occurred to him. "Where are they?" he asked.
Both brothers grinned.
"I'm afraid they've been kidnapped by some of the Tiller Girls, Father," Sebastian said quickly. "Isn't that right, Brother?"
Both gauleiters let out a laugh. "Hah! That's good," said Gunderson. "Perhaps we should organize an assault team to rescue them, what do you say to that, Maestro?"
Gustav grinned. Good idea, but first, business. "Boys," he said, "I've invited these gentlemen to meet you because they have a message for you from the Führer himself."
Sebastian and Ziggy each clapped a hand on their throats. "A message from the Führer?" they gasped.
"That's right," answered Boehm. "Though the Führer wanted it delivered to all four of you, I think we can do it right now, since it mainly concerns Herr Sebastian here."
"Me?" asked an impossibly delighted Sebastian.
"I just can't believe how much you two look alike," said Gunderson. "Gustav, how do you tell them apart?"
Gustav Loerber smiled graciously. "They even manage to fool me sometimes."
The two gauleiters laughed. The fact was they were themselves nearly identical; both fat and bald, with comb-overs and meek little mustaches cowering under their noses. Once, they both might have been fighters, but that had been a long time ago. Now all they wanted was to eat good food, drink French champagne, and have someone pretty play with their dicks.
They looked at the two smiling young men, attentive in their chairs. Gunderson nodded to Boehm. Boehm cleared his throat and began. "First of all, the Führer greets you and invites you four wonderful boys to add your magic to the National Socialist Revolution. He wants to assure you that you will have complete artistic freedom to create new variety pieces."
Then Gunderson spoke. "And the Führer would like to commission Sebastian to compose a special dance number for the show. He said you should feel free to make it as abstract as you'd like. The Führer has personally told me that he loves your avant-garde work the most. Do you think you can do that, Sebastian?"
Sebastian smiled. "Please tell the Führer I am honored."
Both gauleiters smiled. Good. The Führer would smile.
Boehm raised his finger. "The Führer was also wondering if any of you had ever thought about studying architecture."
Ziggy stepped in. "Well, now, isn't that amazing! We were just this minute talking about the subject and we both agreed that architecture is the noblest of all the professions. Isn't that right, Brother?"
"Absolutely." Sebastian gleamed.
Then Gunderson's gaze fell on the line of figurines at the bottom of Ziggy's mirror. His smile faded. He jabbed his finger at the tiny big-eyed flapper with the garter on her thigh. "What is this, then?"
"Betty Boop and Bosko, Herr Gauleiter, characters from American cartoon films."
"I know they are characters from American cartoons, young man. The real question is, what do they represent? In your youthful idealism, you are probably thinking Betty Boop merely represents a free-spirited flapper and Bosko a funny animal, and therefore equally innocuous."
"Aren't they?" asked Ziggy.
"Sadly, no," said the gauleiter. "In truth, Betty Boop and Bosko each represent a cleverly disguised attack on the purity of our Aryan youth and our Aryan culture. Why? I am sad to be the one to inform you of this, but you must understand that Betty Boop is, first and foremost, a Jewess. Yes! And Bosko, he is not a funny animal at all, but represents a little colored person! And so both represent degeneracy and disease. You must get rid of them both. Mickey Mouse can stay!"
He held out his large hand and waited as Ziggy handed over the unwholesome figurines. "I am very sorry," he said, looking contrite.
"Just never let it happen again," the gauleiter muttered, letting the matter drop.
The door opened and in came Franzi and Manni, both wearing overcoats and looking startled. Sebastian and Ziggy went into action making introductions, and soon everyone had agreed to help the Führer in any way they could, smiling and laughing and shaking hands.
Gustav Loerber gestured at his guests with an upraised thumb and forefinger. "A little drink, perhaps?"
The two gauleiters nodded and giddily exchanged glances as Gustav started over to the cupboard. Manni and Franzi shot Ziggy an alarmed look, like they already knew what was inside.
Gustav pulled open the cupboard door. Inside was Frau Lachmann, trembling, wild-eyed, her bloody mouth gaping in fear. He reached in past her and took out a bottle and a tray of small glasses. Then he closed the door.
As Gustav began pouring schnapps into the glasses, Franzi and Manni looked over at Sebastian and Ziggy. Suddenly they all grinned.
The three fat men held their glasses aloft. "Gentlemen," declared Gustav, "to our Führer and success!"
"Success and the Führer!" added Sebastian.
They were raising their glasses to their lips when the door opened again. A much younger, much thinner man in a storm trooper uniform came in. He looked worried.
"Herr Gauleiters, we are in an emergency situation," he said.
"Well, what is it?" demanded Gunderson.
"Two of our men have been found dead in the alley across the street. Their throats were cut. We need to get you both out of here at once."
Neither gauleiter liked that. "Out of here? Why?"
"In case whoever did it is in the building."
"But it happened in the street. Why are you assuming the killers would have come in here?" asked Gunderson.
"We have no way of knowing," the man answered. "But the police need to do a check."
"Check?" Boehm snorted.
Gunderson didn't like the idea either. "You don't intend to halt the show, do you?"
The man looked at them a long moment before answering, "No, of course not, Gauleiter."
"Good," snorted Gunderson and signaled for him to leave. He turned to Boehm. "We should let these young men get ready. Let's go back to our box."
"Good idea," said Boehm. The gauleiters were all smiles. "Thank you very much for letting us in. We'll talk again soon," they said.
"Yes, sir, looking forward to it," said Sebastian.
"Heil Hitler, sir!" shouted Manni, Ziggy, Sebastian, and Franzi. "Auf Wiedersehen!"
They waited with frozen smiles until the gauleiters were gone. Manni and Franzi both broke into hysterical laughter.
"So where were you?"
Franzi and Manni looked at each other. Manni grinned and said, "Doing the Lord's work!" Everyone laughed and a moment later they were all back at their mirrors, frantically reapplying makeup and eyeliner. The stage manager's assistant stuck his head back in. "Franzi, Manni, Ziggy, Sebastian, let's go!"
The four looked up, put down their brushes and combs, pushed their chairs back, and stood. Franzi, who was nearest the clothing rack, began handing out billowy-sleeved, sorbet-colored shirts. Ziggy's was orchid, Manni's papaya, Sebastian's lime-green, and his own passionfruit. They left the dressing room, walked over to the stage-right wing, and took their positions. Onstage a springboard and trapezes had been set up for them. The Hawaiian Hallucination was their big acrobatic number.
"One minute," said the stage manager's assistant. The four brothers nodded back. The lights went down onstage and the orchestra started playing "Call of the Enchanted Islands." "Bring the lights up," said the stage manager, and a moment later shot them their cue. The four Magical Loerber Brothers ran back out onstage, the audience burst into thunderous applause, and they went into their second routine.
First they tossed Manni up high into the air, and as he was coming down, Sebastian jumped to the far side of the springboard. Manni came down onto the other end, propelling Sebastian high into the air to the first trapeze. Then Ziggy boosted Franzi up onto his shoulders, Franzi jumped down onto the springboard, launching Manni upward, where he was caught by Sebastian, who swung him around and around before flinging him off to the other trapeze. Manni spun around several times on the second trapeze before coming down onto the springboard, sending Ziggy upward. Then Sebastian and Ziggy flew around and around before Sebastian flew off from the second trapeze, leaving Franzi to catch Ziggy.
It worked like an assembly line: every somersault, every spin calculated precisely, so that downward was causing upward, momentum feeding momentum, and the velocity and force always increasing. In this exactitude, each brother found his own mind and body melding with the others' until they were four separate parts of a single whole.
As he flew from one trapeze to the next, the thought of Frau Lachmann languishing in the closet briefly flashed through Ziggy's mind. Coming down, he told himself he needed to do something about it. But by the time he hit the springboard and began flying back upward, he had already forgotten about it.
Copyright © 2008 by Brendan McNally
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
By March 1945, Albert Speer knows the end of the Third Reich is near. His immediate future is bleak as he and Herr Hitler have had a falling out as Speer sees no miracle to save Germany while the Fuhrer insists victory is soon. If he survives Hitler¿s final days, Speer has hopes as the Foreign Ministry believes he will be selected by the allies to run Germany as a technocrat untainted by the atrocities if not he plans to hide in Greenland. He expects his prime rival will be propaganda genius Heinrich Himmler, who believes he will stand with Ike to repel the Russians out of Europe.--------------- At the same time the Nazi leaders work to spin their recent past into patriotism and fear of the Fuhrer, the Jewish Loerber quadruplets, at one time called the Flying Magical Loerber Brothers before the Nazis broke up the act, have their own personal issues in surviving the war. Manni the assassin uses his mental skills to bend people to his needs. Sebastian can send dreams to multiple people at the same time faked his death to go underground as an operative for the Blood of Israel movement. U-boat captain Ziggy can hear peoples¿ thoughts and can bend their thoughts to his wants. Finally Franzi is Himmler¿s personal psychic consultant, but also works occult experiments. He, because of his Himmler connection and his counter espionage, is in trouble and his siblings mentally know it the trio is converging on Franzi inside of beleaguered Germany to rescue him before the fall.---------------- GERMANIA plays out on two levels: that of the siblings trying to rescue one of them and the final days ¿fantasies¿ of some of the Nazi¿s top leaders. Both subplots are well written and merge quite nicely. However, the fascination is with men like Speers, Himmler, and others who believed strongly they will thrive once the ally occupation began. Readers will appreciate this strong end of WWI historical fiction with its paranormal aspects and the deep look into what some of the German leaders believed was their fate.--------------- Harriet Klausner