FIVE - Klara
I am so nervous, I feel like throwing up. Papa seems perfectly calm as he drives us toward the palace. We are lucky to still have a car. Papa’s factory makes nitroglycerin. That is the reason we have the privilege of keeping a car.
As the massive Matthias Gate comes into view, my anxiety is replaced by awe. I have seen this gate many, many times. Before the Germans, I used to go inside the First Courtyard of the castle for walks with my friends. But I have never been in any of the buildings. And now I am heading towards the famous Spanish Hall...the ballroom of the Kings! There is a very different kind of commotion in my stomach now. I can’t wait to see the glory of the hall with my own eyes.
Papa hands the car keys to a valet and we start toward the hall. I cannot wait to see the splendour of the famous chandeliers and the intricately stuccoed ceilings. I imagine handsome men and beautiful women decked out in their best finery and glittering with gems. My first step into the hall is a slap in the face. A harsh intrusion of reality. Exactly opposite the magnificent double doors through which I step in, an enormous red flag with the dreaded black Swastika hangs ominously. The handsome men that I expected are there, yes, and so are the beautiful women. But I am shocked at how superficial the beauty is, for their eyes are either cold and menacing or dead and hopeless. I am glad, though, that the chandeliers holding thousands of gently flaming candles are still breath-taking. The statuary gracing the walls, ceiling and pillars, is still beautiful. These are like shelters, protecting me from the ugliness that fills this room.
I know I am gawking, but the beauty of the architecture and artefacts in the room has left me stunned, the Nazis, the hatred in their eyes and their scary flag notwithstanding! As I am looking around, I notice a familiar face. It takes me a moment to comprehend, but then I realise it is the German who helped Ester. A gasp leaves my mouth without permission and my step falters for a moment. He is sitting right next to Walther Fuchs. The doubts, the fear, the anxiety, the panic, it all returns with a vengeance and once again my stomach is ready to hurl its contents. A million questions suddenly crowd my mind. Does he know the plan? Is that why he helped Ester? Has he told Fuchs? What will they do now? But at the top of it all is the thought that I want to take Papa and run from here. I don’t.
I marshal my thoughts, think of all the people dead before their time, and stay with papa. Fuchs is walking purposefully where papa and me. Up close, he is so tall and radiates so much power. Quite like the German who helped Ester, but different. Fuchs’ presence makes me quake in my boots whereas the other one made me want to trust him. I know why Fuchs terrifies me. He has earned that reputation. I don’t know why I do not have the same visceral reaction to the other German; he IS a German after all. Maybe, my reaction is clouded by the fact that he did bring Ester home safe.
I snap out of my thoughts when I feel Fuchs’ eyes on me. He is looking at me like he is expecting an answer (he must have said something!), and like I am a particularly tasty piece of entrée. I smile at him, and respond, “It is an honour to meet you, Herr Fuchs.” I bet this is what he was expecting, and give myself a pat on the back when he nods and goes back to talking to papa. I try and look as attentive and interested as I can. I am not. Interested, that is. I have to be attentive. I have to make sure I make Fuchs give me an opportunity to lace his drink. I cannot get myself to say poison him. It makes me feel too much like a murderer. Soon afterwards, another man walks up to us. Papa seems to know him. He introduces himself as Frank Weber to me, the Minister for Industries. I do my nice to meet you Herr routine. And then, just like that, he is leading papa away. Papa turns to me and tells me that he has some work to discuss with Weber and that he will be back soon. I am a big girl, I smile at papa and tell him it is okay.
But that leaves me alone with Fuchs. And it is perfect, and it is a disaster. I need him to relax with me, so I can... But I have no idea how to go about it. Ester would have simply turned on her charm, and had him drinking out of her cup, literally! But I am not Ester. Lucky for me, I do not have to do anything. Fuchs looks down at me, all the way from my toes to the top of my head. It itches, his look. But I do not react. He then suggests that we go to another room so we can talk in peace. The way he is looking me over, it is clear, he does not want to talk. But this is a great opportunity, so I smile and let him lead me out of the hall, with my hand resting on his arm. I quickly look around as I am exiting the room. I realise that I am looking for the other one. Why I look for him when I am tense, I have no idea. But I do. And I see him talking to someone else, right by the door. Will he follow us wherever Fuchs is taking us? I wish he would, and I hope he doesn’t!
We walk down a long passage, which I am sure is spectacular. But, I do not have space in my brain to process the beauty. All the space is taken up by planning how I am going to slip the few drops of liquid into his drink. Finally, he opens a door and waits for me to walk into what looks like a small office. He closes the door behind us. This is it. I have the opportunity on a platter. I notice a row of expensive looking bottles with, obviously, expensive drinks inside. Once again, the victim himself comes to the rescue, “Would you like a drink, fraulein?”
“Yes, please, mein Herr.”
He raises his eyebrows at me and I realise that he is waiting for my choice. “Red wine, thank you,” I supply.
He pours himself a finger of brandy and me a glass of wine and brings it to where I am standing, just inside of the door that he closed behind us.
He indicates that I sit on one of the couches in the room. I do, leaving a space next to me. A silent invitation for him to sit beside me. He does. I take a sip of the wine he has handed me. As much for appearances, as for the strength. I am debating how to distract him enough for me to drop the poison in his glass when he says, “Now, fraulein. I expect you will need to distract me enough for you slip the poison in my glass?”