THREE - Klara
I open the door and see a German officer carrying Ester. I am at a loss, unsure how to react, when the man rumbles, “Her ankle is broken. She will require a doctor.” His voice is like thick warm honey, with none of the sweetness. Out of sheer habit, I thank him. He tilts his head, possibly an acknowledgement of my thanks, and gently puts Ester down. He waits until I am supporting her properly, then, without another word, turns around and leaves. I quickly shut the door on his back, close my eyes and take a few deep breaths. My heart is hammering so hard, I cannot even hear my own thoughts past its thunder.
“Ester?” I wait for Ester to say something. I have a million questions to ask, but my heart is drumming in my head, and I cannot think around it enough to form a coherent question. But Ester and I know each other so well, she does not need to hear the questions to answer them. “Damn! I fell, and...and...that...NAZI helped me,” she nearly spits out. Obviously, she is still far too angry with herself. I help her sit on the couch and go inside to get some disinfectant and cotton. That will give her time to calm down, and tell me what happened.
When I come back, she is able to tell me exactly what happened while I clean up her grazed palms and knees. The Nazi was correct, her ankle is broken. We are both nurses at the Bulovka Hospital, so I can estimate the seriousness of the injury. Luckily, she does not need a cast, a crepe bandage will do the trick. However, we both know that it is not really her ankle that is the issue here. It is how this injury is going to affect tonight’s plan that has my heart rate ratcheting up again.
“They will be here soon. You won’t be able to walk properly for a few days.” I know Ester is scared...though she will never admit it. She is not talking. So I do, to fill the void, to give time for reality to alter...I am not entirely sure why. I am certain there is an elephant in the room. But I am a coward...I am not going to touch it. Tonight’s plan is all dependent on Ester. And now she is injured. There is so little time, we cannot get someone else, a woman, to replace Ester. Except, there is one. I will not think about it though.
There is a knock on the door. I open it and let Otto in. Otto Edelmann and Ester are going to get married in six months. It is difficult to even think in such definitive terms these days. Who knows what will transpire between now and then. Who knows whether or not we will live to see the day...it seems so far away when every knock on the door makes you wonder if it will be the last you will hear. Instantly his eyes seek out Ester, he takes in her appearance and booms, “What happened here?” Ester fills him in on everything. I know what he is going to say next and I almost want to agree with him. Especially now that I am going to be expected to take a front and centre role in tonight’s proceedings.
True to form, Otto, launches into a diatribe against Ester and me working with the Resistance. We have been through it so many times, I can almost repeat his speech. But he hasn’t got out more than a dozen words when Ester throws her hands up and snaps, “Oh Otto! Please don’t. We might as well write the words up, and Klara and I will read it every morning, instead of you having to say it all out loud!” Although I completely agree with her, I would certainly not have said it out loud. But the filter between the brain and mouth is missing in Ester. Also, she is brave. I think I don’t generally oppose people, not because I agree with them, but more because I do not want to face the consequences of disagreements. Arguments give me a headache, and disagreeing with anyone will generally lead to an argument. So, I just try to go with the flow.
Fortunately, there is someone else at the door, and Otto keeps quiet. He is really good for Ester. He does not smother her spontaneous personality. But he is no pushover either. I am so happy they found each other! I open the door to let Tomas in and he is soon followed by Frank, Otto Fischer (we call him Fischer to avoid confusion), Hans, Karl and Peter. That is the whole team, the team that cooked up tonight’s operation. The operation to kill the Butcher of Prague, Walther Fuchs. The man who has brought what remains of Czechoslovakia to its knees. Tonight, we are going to assassinate him, and Ester was to be the assassin.
We have worked hard and quiet for over six months, studying Fuchs’ routine, his habits, his likes, his dislikes. We know pretty much everything there is to know about him. Tonight, he is throwing a party at the Prague Castle. And our parents have been invited because our father owns a chemical factory near Prague. Ester convinced papa to take her to the party. The plan was for her to attract Fuchs’ attention, hopefully, get close to him, and drop the poison into his wine. If it sounds like a very simple, straightforward plan, that is because it is. If Ester cannot get close to him, we come back home, and try another day. But, if she can poison him, we will be far away when he actually dies! It is brilliant, actually. And, it would not have been difficult for Ester to get close to Fuchs at all. She is tall, blond, baby blue eyes and..just simply perfectly beautiful. She is also now out of action.
It does not take very long at all for everyone to reach the decision that I have been dreading since the moment the Nazi brought Ester home. I am to replace Ester. These people do not understand. I cannot do what Ester can. Firstly, I am not beautiful like her. I am not blond, I am not tall, I do not have blue eyes, and I could not make small talk if my life depended on it! I tell them all this. They just gape at me and then proceed to ignore everything I just said.
“All you have to do is go with your father and be yourself. Fuchs will come to you himself," Tomas declares. He has been my friend since forever. He is the one who introduced Ester, Otto and me to the Resistance. But he is also an idiot who does not think before talking. I glare at him and snap, “Tomas! Why don’t you understand? I cannot do this. He will know from my face that I am up to no good.” I turn to Ester, “Ester, you know me. Tell them. I cannot pretend.” Ester looks guilty and says, “I know Entchen. But we have worked so hard for this. And what if he does go away to France like we have been hearing?” I could go on about it forever. Wouldn’t we anyway have someone new replace Fuchs if I do miraculously manage to pull this off? But I don’t.
And so it is, that when father and mother come home from the factory, I am getting ready to go with father and not Ester. We have had to hunt around among mother’s dresses to find something for me. The dress Ester had chosen was a deep wine red which would be horrible on me with my red hair. So, we have chosen mother’s black lace dress which we know looks great on me. Ester did my hair into an intricate style and declared me ready. As if! I will never be ready for this. I have to pull myself together. Father asks if I am ready and I nod.
I cross my fingers and step out with him. It is going to be a very long night. I just hope I get to see the next sunrise.