Monday, December 18, 2006
The concentration camp for Michael
We now come to the centre of our story, the core of it and so comes my despair as a writer. The core has a rottenness--though I am not sure whether it's in the character or in the writer. Most likely the writer.
For his characters tend to talk like factory hands, and the writer producing this work at the ripe age of 28, and out of a bottle and too much luck with women in Mexico. The access to too much sex and alcohol had ingrained int the writer a certain coarse bibilousness, yea, even a sluttiness of phrase. But the young fool was twenty-eight, feeling himself at the top of his form and fascinated by the story of his mother and father.
So here, without further ado, is Chapter Twelve of my ongoing novella, THE BLACK ICON
Business boomed loudly at the Scheherezade, an enormous beerhall that squatted somewhat precariously on the east bank of the Rhine. Shattered soldiers, beefy factory hands and a sprinkling of thin, nervous women sat at square oaken tables set among holly-studded wooden columns. Raised, excited voices contributed to a general loud roar that drowned out the everyday fact of war and death. Here, the patron enjoyed the gemutlich atmosphere of friend and brew; he could forget the imminent national disaster.
But Michael and his crony cenebrated a personal victory.
Michael took a draft of the pungent imagination-prodding brew and benched comfortably. Across the table, Pavlo, a thin, balding machinist, blinked as alwalys when drinking, ran his fingers through his think hair and shook his head in mock disbelief.
"So they promoted you to foremen over the heads of two other slavvies. Not bad for a dumb Galician carpenter."
"Why not? Anybody can read a blueprint and set up work schedules," said Michael, pleased with himself.
"Well here's to you," said Pavlo, raising his glass. "If I can't make foreman at least I'll feel like one by the time the night is over. Prost."
Pavlo began talking about women and offering his opinion that a German piece was far superior to a Ukrainian one.
Michael answered with something appropriately obscene, but his mind was too elated. "You will make a good German," satisfied bosses had told Michael. "And what's wrong with being a German?" Michael asked himself.
Despite talk of Germany losing the war, he didn't believe it. True, there were frequent air raids, and even now, outside the beer hall, a distant siren wailed. But the air raids seemed to hold no more danger than thunderstorms or hurricanes. Few people actually died here in Bonn-Rhineland and Michael, at any rate, considered his life charmmed and safe. Many a morning he had come to work and found a whole wing of the factory destroyed by bombs, but raids never came on his shift and there had always been plenty of warning. And then the Mercedes-Benz bunkers were deep enough to survive any number of hits.
Pavlo broke into Michael's thoughts.
"Hey, now that you're respectable and practically a German, what are you going to do about our little sidelene?"
"The ration stamp business...You know."
"Oh that, Michel sighed. I guess I'll drop it now that my pay is going to be decent. Blackmarketeering is just too goddam dangersous. You get two months in the Straflager for that, and the tell me those punishment camps are no better than where they send those poor Jews.
Michael would buy a good part of his food ffor cash from smalltime marketeers and would sell his very dear ration stamps to aliens not entitled to them. He charged outrageous prices for the stamps, but he buyers always had the money, or rings, or bits of gold garnered from God knows where. A twinge of fear went through Michel's abdomen as he sipped his second draught. What if he were caught? Was it worth it? The thought of his distant family's upkeep soon chased away the irritation. You had to make money anyway you could. It's that or Sophia and the kids starve. "I'd pimp if it was the only way," Michel said to himself.
Just then, a stunning example of the trade entered the beerhall. A blonde, bob-haired prostitute shimmied toward the first row of tables where a three-man Oom- Pa- Pah band blasted out Bavarian favourites. As she came near the band, she suddenly recognized the portly tuba player and a look of surprised fear came over her fine, slightly over-rouged face. She tried to to get out of the approaching band's way, but was trapped against two tables behind her. Now the threesome approached her, the tuba player nudging the saxaphonist. The tubist mand vague, scratching motions towards his lederhosened ctrotch.
Suddenly, the saxophonist , concetinist and tubist pointed their instruments like phalluses toward the woman and gave out with the three-tone blast that was unmistakable in its intent. There was a loud fart from the tuba.
The woman, embarrassed, fumbled with ther patent-leathr purse and retreated towards the bar. Here, she bawled out a waiter, waving her hands disgustedly at the musicians, who guffawed at her before moving to various tables, their honks and farts now diminished and the music turning towards a more sentimental Lili Marlene.
A lusty chorus from each table encouraged their efforts. The whole hall soon rang with beery, but competent singers.
Even Michael and Pavlo, now feeling the spirit, joined in.
But towards the last chorus, three steel--helmeted Volkspolizei marched into the room, bringing hushed speculation from the patrons. To Michael's panic, he saw them approaching his table.
"Oh Lili Marlene,l Michael's shocked brain sang on as the police hauled him away, while Pavlo vainly protested the loss of his drinking buddy.
There was a minimum procedure at the police station. Michael was informed he was charged with blackmarketeering and his trial was fixed for the following morning. There was no possibility of bail. He was thrown into a cell where three other men squatted, playing dice on the floor. They eyed him without curiosity, then went back to their game.
Michael, half-drunk, frightened, sat in the corner of the cell and peered nervously at the threesome. Two of them wearing leather jackets, both husky men, dark and squat. The third was blond, slim, slightly effeminate and wore a faded suitcoat over rumpled, baggy pants.
Michael saw the the blond one was being victimized. He lost money steadily, and finally, in last desperate gesture, he tossed the dice-- and lost as snake-eyes stared up from the cubes. He swallowed nervously. Apparently, he had bluffed, and now, he turned both his pockets inside-out and shrugged his shoulders at the pair.
"Poor boy," said one of the toughs, grinning coldly, a scar on his cheek forming a grotesque extension of the smile. "Poor boy, he's broke, and probably hungry. Starved."
"Yeah, poor man," said the other."I'd say he's really up against it, starving even. . You know, I think we should give him something to eat. Dont't you think so, you Ausslander over there?"
Michael cringed in his corner.
"Y-yes, of course. People must eat," Michael hurriedly agreed.
"Well," said Scarface, eyeing the bankrupt crapshooter, "It seems we're going to have to give you something to eat."
"I'm not hungry," said the slim man.
"Not hungry? Dont be such a martyr," said Scarface, reaching into his pocket.
The slim man gulped, but found momentary relief in seeing what the thug had brought out of his troser pocket. It was a hard, tough bacon rind. But while he sighed in relief, he saw that Scarface was not through. Scarface pulled a piece of string out of the other pocket and began fastening it tight to the bacon rind.
"Wh...what areyou going to do?"
"Why, we're going to feed you, that's all." Already, the other man had crept behind the victim and had gotten hold of the slim man's arms.
"Hold him, Heiz, while I feed him this bacon," said Scarface. "Open your mouth, you fairy."
"Open your mouth or I'll strangle you, said Scarface, gripping the trembling man by the throat.
The victim opened his mouth.
"Now eat," said Scarface. "Eat it," he yelled. The man's lips were closed tight. Scarface kicked the unwilling diner in the shins until the man opened his mouth to howl. Scarface then forced the bacon rind, string attached, into the victim's mouth.
"Now swallow...swallow, goddam you." The man swallowed the bacon rind.
"There. Don't you feel better after having been fed?"
The blond, string dangling from his mouth, said nothing.
"You know something?" Scarface said to Heinz.
I think it's rude of Hymie here to hoard all that food for himelf and not inviting us to share."
"You're right, said Heiz. "I think he was very impolite. I think he shuld give it back."
"You're crazy," the victim shouted.
Scarface reached for the cord and yanked, causing the tortured youth to howl in pain as the bacon rind was drawn back, out of his retching gullet.
"Don't welch next time," said Scarface, kicking the dry-heaving man into a corner just as a guard came to the grate and yelled for quiet.
The two toughs then asked Michael if he wanted to shoot craps.
"I don't know how,' said Michael. "And I don't have much money."
"Oh, don't worry, we'll teach you," the two chimed in.
Michael happily lost all his money that night without feeling the least bit of regret.
Morning came and along with it, Michael's sentence. Three weeks int eh Straflager, the detenting camp.
While the war raged across Micheal Galician former home, his cheif worry was stealing enough potatoes from the camp kitchen to keeep him from starving. He was caught, and drew another week.
He tried to run away and when redungeoned, he was pretty sure they were about to throw away the key.
. There was no release date.
..........end Chapter Twelve, THE BLACK ICON