SIX - Klara
I would have shot to my feet, had I been able to. But before I can, his hand shoots out and clamps around my throat pinning me to the couch. I want to thrash and kick. But his large, hard, body presses me down. I cannot move. His hand around my throat is like an iron manacle. I know he is going to kill me right here. Darkness closes in on me, dotted with bright spots. Brightest, are the twin icy blue, glinting pinpoints of his eyes. My fingers scrabble and scratch in an attempt to pry his hand from my throat. But it is impossible.
Just as I am ready to give up, he loosens his grip. I take in a hungry breath of air and my eyes focus on him again. “Did you really think I would be so easy to kill?” he asks. The menace in his voice is chilling. Now that I have some oxygen in my brain, I can think and I decide to bluff. “Mein Herr, what do you mean? Why would I want to harm you?” It hurts when I speak. I hope he is willing to think about what I just said. I can talk my way out, perhaps. I am not good at acting like Ester is, but I am good at talking. If only I can get him to hold back on the violence for a bit.
I am slightly relieved to see that he is actually thinking about what I just said. But my relief is very short-lived, for his voice slides down another notch, and he says, “Why, indeed, fraulein. Why, indeed!” I want to shiver. His voice is like a snake on my skin. Before I can say anything, he moves away from me and grabs my little evening purse. He rips it open. I know what he will find in there. No amount of pretending is going to save me now. He pulls out the small vial of clear liquid, “What is this, then, fraulein?” he asks.
“Why don’t you drink it and find out?” I surprise myself with this one. It seems like my inner Ester has decided to show herself in the face of certain death. The hand in which he is holding the vial closes into a fist. I do not notice it. A few drops of blood trickle out from where the vial cut his palm. He does not notice.
I have not closed my mouth on that retort when his hand lifts and crashes against my cheek. My head snaps to the side and the stars are back, dancing in front of my eyes. A metallic taste fills my mouth. But, at the moment, I can move freely. I scramble back and run to the row of bottles that I had noticed over the fireplace. I grab a bottle and turn around. He has not moved from the couch. In fact, he looks totally relaxed, while my hands and the newly acquired weapon are both trembling.
He raises his eyebrows, and his thin lips arrange themselves in a semblance of a smile. My heart sinks. I realise suddenly why he is not worried at all. For me to hit him with the bottle, I will have to get close to him. He is so much bigger and stronger than me that I cannot take that risk. I could throw the bottle at him. With the way my hands are trembling, I know that nothing will come of that. I smash the bottle onto the shelf. Now I have a much better weapon. It is sharp. He gets up. My back is already against the wall. My eyes dart around the room, looking for the exit which is right behind him. Useless.
“What is this poison? Who gave it to you?” he asks. As if I am going to tell him. I want to scoff out loud, but don’t have the guts. So I keep quiet. He stalks towards me. I hold my weapon out to deter him. It does not stay in my hands for long. In a flash, he grabs my wrist and squeezes, making me drop the broken bottle. “You think I will not find out the name if you do not tell me, miststück?” He then backhands me again, sending me flying. This time it is on the other cheek. “Do you know what is going to happen next?” he asks as he closes the distance between himself and where I have fallen from his hit. He does not want an answer. “You will all pay for this! All your family. And your friends. After I am done with you, nobody will dare look me in the eye, let alone think that they can walk up to me and kill me!” With that, he aims a kick at my middle and delivers it with aplomb.
I squeeze my eyes shut and clamp my lower lip under my teeth to keep from crying out. I will not give him that pleasure. It is at this moment, lying curled up in agony at his feet, that I realise the enormity of the situation. In my failure, I am going to kill so many people. People who could have otherwise continued with their life, however miserable it may be. They could have continued living in the hope that one day this will all end. I have snuffed out their hope. I have killed them. But, I will not give up yet. I will try and save them if I can.
“No one else knew of this,” I tell him. He looks at me. His face is blank. I continue, “I am a nurse. I know poisons and I know how to get them.” Still blank. I try again, “I made my father bring me tonight. I told him I wanted to see the inside of the castle.” He laughs. And I know I have failed. “Not entirely unbelievable, this story of yours,” he says. “But it is not the story I was told.” Before I can process his words, the door flies open. Both our heads snap to the door.
It is the German who helped Ester. Oh great! I groan inwardly. Looks like he is here to join the Kick Klara to kingdom come party. I see his eyes. In the blink of an eye, he has taken stock of the situation. I wait. So does Fuchs. He strides into the room like he owns it. He stops beside me. I tense. He bends down, grabs my arm and hauls me up. His grip is not gentle. “I see you have it under control. I will take her with me,” he tells Fuchs and shoves me behind him.
Fuchs seems as surprised as I am by this man and his behaviour. But he recovers quickly, “What the fuck are you talking about von Hallerstein?”
“This is much bigger than you think. The less you know the better.”
“She tried to kill me and you are saying the less I know the better?" says Fuchs incredulously.
“Yes. You want to call the Führer and ask him? No one else knows about this.”
Huh! What is he going on about? At this point, I am not even sure he is talking about what happened here a few minutes ago. That is certainly no bigger than the simple fact that Fuchs is a butcher, and we want him dead. I am glad I finally know the German’s name. It was getting confusing with so many of them around.
“That is not the story I have,” Fuchs insists. There it is again. What story is he talking about? Where did he get it from? WHO gave it to him? Oh! I wish I had two brains. Then I could think about this and my German all at the same time.
“Fuchs. I don’t have all day. Are you calling the Führer? I am leaving,” von Hallerstein says. For the first time, I see doubt cloud Fuchs’ stern face. von Hallerstein does not miss a beat. He turns around, herds me out and closes the door behind us.
There are so many thoughts clamouring in my head, all wanting to get out that I don’t know what to say. The one thing that seems to drown everything out, though, is the question: Who told Fuchs about this?