- The Canceled Czech
Ari looked good in uniform. He was an inch or two shorter than the guard, but that was minor. He skirted the castle door as widely as possible, took up his position near the front gates, and talked to the other guards over his shoulder, to keep his face as well hidden as possible.
We had taught him two Czech expressions, and he delivered the first one now. “She’s waiting for you.”
And the inevitable question, “How was she?”
And Ari’s second Czech phrase, one not to be found in the Berlitz guide book. “Best piece of ass I ever had!”
The guard at the left of the door came next. He first looked around comically, as if to make sure that Big Brother was not watching. Then he set his rifle on the doorstep and slipped around the side of the building to where Greta was waiting. She met him almost halfway and rubbed her flesh against him. It was a chore getting him to undress. He couldn’t keep his hands off her, and when he did attempt to strip he was desperately clumsy about it. His tunic buttons gave him worlds of trouble. But Greta helped him, and finally he got his clothes off, and he touched her and she touched him and they kissed and Zvi swung.
The blow was a little off, landing on the top of the head. A few inches further back would have done the job better. As it was, the guard staggered but didn’t go down. He started to cry out, and Greta wrapped her arms possessively about him and stopped his mouth with a kiss, and Zvi’s second shot was in the right place, and out he went.
We waited a few moments, both for the sake of naturalism and to render the third guard so nervous and lustful that he would not notice how little Haim, who was donning the fallen guard’s uniform, resembled his own comrade. Haim didn’t return to his post. Instead he trotted straight to Ari, at the front gate, and called back to the remaining guard.
He, too, had learned a phrase or two of Czech. “Your turn. She could take on an army!” And then a description of some of Greta’s natural assets, quite accurate, actually.
By now we had the routine perfected. It took Greta only a few seconds to convince the third guard of the advantages of coeducational nudism. It took just one shot with the lead pipe to render him senseless. And now Gershon was dressing and taking up his post, and we had the game half won. Our armed Israelis held the three outside posts. I looked at them and thought what fine sentries they made. The Czechs had talked among themselves; Gershon and Haim and Ari stood straight and tall and silent. The Czechs had been bored by monotonous and pointless routine; Gershon and Haim and Ari were wholly fresh and alert.
The next part was tricky. Zvi and I moved up closer to the front of the castle. Greta put her clothes on again, and this time Zvi helped her with the various hooks and clasps. His hands wandered a bit far afield, and Greta’s response told me that all of this was getting to her in a big way. I was worried that she might not be able to hold herself back one of these times.
We waited while she walked to the castle door. Gershon and Haim drew it open for her and she slipped inside. The two guards within challenged her immediately. She told them just what she had done so far, and what she had in mind, and invited them to decide who would be the first to participate. The guards seemed unwilling to believe it, until the trio out front chimed in reinforcement.
“Best piece of ass I ever had!” Ari called.
“She could take on an army,” added Haim.
And Gershon said his sole Czech phrase. He would have blushed if he had understood it.
A few seconds later Greta rounded the corner with another guard in tow. This time she was not acting in the least. She hurried him out of his clothes, smothered him with kisses, and dragged him down on top of her. Zvi moved toward them with the pipe, but I motioned him back to give them another few seconds. Then I nodded, and he clipped the guard perfectly, and the score stood at four down and one to go.
Zvi helped me tie him, then dressed in the uniform and returned to the castle. “You are terrible,” Greta assured me. “You could have waited another minute.”
“This is war,” I said.
“I am going out of my mind.”
“Take a cold shower.”
“You are mad.”
“Keep saying to yourself, He’s a Czech, he’s a Czech. ”
“What good will that do?”
“None at all.”
I hefted Zvi’s length of lead pipe. Zvi could speak a little Czech, and though his accent was heavy he could understand what was said to him. That was one of the reasons I had picked him for inside work. It was one thing to fool the guards on the outside, where the light was bad. It was something else to con the one inside and make him think this dark curly-haired Israeli was the same blond guard who had been with him for the past few hours.
So he played it safe. He opened the door, and the last of the guards said immediately, “Where the hell is Kliment?”
“Taking a leak,” said Zvi. “The girl is waiting for you.”
“It’s no joke, then? She’s really taking everybody on?”
“If it’s a joke, it’s a good one. You in the mood, or should I send her home?”
“Just think – right now my wife’s sitting home waiting for me. When did they put you on this shift, anyway? Do I know you?”
Zvi eased out the door. “If you want to wait for your wife…”
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
When Greta had him stripped, I used the pipe on him. I hit him a little harder than I had intended to, and at first I was afraid he was dead. I certainly didn’t want to kill one of them accidentally, not after the argument I’d had with Zvi earlier in the day. He was dead set against going through the tying and gagging ritual and insisted we should cut their throats at the beginning and be done with it. “Dead men speak softly,” he said, and I countered with the argument that these men, live or dead, would not be inclined to speak at all. “Alive, they’ll be a help to us,” I argued. “They won’t want to admit how they were had, so they’ll make up some elaborate lie. If anything, they’ll wind up covering for us.”
I checked the man’s heart. It was still ticking, albeit weakly. I tied him and gagged him and got into his uniform. It was an almost perfect fit. I asked Greta how I looked, and she said I was magnificent.
I took a breath. Now the last stage of the operation, I thought. Now I would march into the castle, stride past my men, climb the stairs in the left rear tower, find some way to handle the one remaining guard who stood between me and Kotacek, and lead out the Butcher of Bratislava to face the death he deserved. And in a basement a few hundred yards away he would be tried and convicted and hung by the neck until dead…
I lowered my eyes, put my hand to my forehead. I had gotten carried away again. The Israelis, the Stern Gang oath, the smooth synchronization of the operation – it was all getting in the way. I’d almost forgotten one rather important point. I wasn’t supposed to help them hang Kotacek. I was supposed to rescue him; I was supposed to get the bastard away from them.
“Is something wrong, Evan?”
“What is the matter?”
“Nothing,” I said. I straightened up. “Put your clothes on,” I said. “Then leave by the front gate. And take my clothes with you. I can’t wear this uniform forever.”
“Where shall I go?”
“Get a taxi,” I said. “Have it waiting in front of the house where they’re staying. Motor running and all. Got that?”
I kissed her. It was a mistake; she had managed to cool down for a moment, and now I had gone and put a match to her fuse again. “Oh, darling,” she moaned, writhing against me. “Oh, just wait a minute or two, just stay with me for a moment…”
I eased her away. “We’ll have time later,” I said.
I shook hands with Ari and Gershon and Haim. Zvi came out to join us and asked if I’d had trouble with the guard. None, I told him.
“I have another plan,” I said. “I think I can get the old Slovak butcher to cooperate with us. It will be easier that way than if we have to drag him screaming and kicking.”
“I’ll pretend I’m a Nazi come to rescue him.”
“You, a Nazi? He’ll never swallow it.”
“It’s worth a try. Listen.” I lowered my voice. “There’s a guard at the head of the stairs. I’ll go up there and take care of him, then I’ll get Kotacek out of his cell. As soon as you hear me on the stairs, all of you go limp. Collapse, fall down as if you’re unconscious. I’ll parade him right through here and out. As soon as we’re out of here, take up your positions again. Give us five minutes, and then join us at the house.”
“You think it will work?”
“I don’t see why not.”
I went to the left rear corner of the building. The spiral staircase was there, even narrower and more winding than I had pictured it. I climbed an infinity of steps and flung a salute to the guard at the top.
“What are you doing here?”
“Who were you expecting? Adolf Hitler?”
The guard laughed. “Come to relieve me? I wasn’t due for relief for another hour. What time is it, anyway?”
“The schedule’s changed. You didn’t hear?”
“I never hear anything. I just watch this bastard sleep.” He looked at me. “You’re new here?”
“My first week of night duty.”
“Dull as hell, isn’t it?”
“Yes. Say, what’s that?”
He looked, and I used the pipe. It continued to surprise me, the ease with which a man could be rendered unconscious. The guard dropped without a sound. I fumbled through his pockets for a key to the cell, found it, opened the door, and maneuvered him inside. I didn’t bother to tie him up or gag him. I would lock him in the cell on the way out and that would keep him out of harm’s way.
The cell was small, barren, unpleasant. At the rear, below the tiny window, Kotacek lay sprawled on a sagging cot. He was sleeping with his mouth open. He was even uglier than his pictures – a wide face of sagging skin, pockmarks around the nose, a majority of teeth missing. He was sleeping in his clothes, a gray shark-skin suit with wide lapels that had been too long out of a cleaner’s hands. His body odor wafted up from the bed at me. He reeked.
There was no time to spare, but at first I couldn’t move. I could only stand at the side of the bed looking down at him. You’ve been rescued after all, I thought. It was impossible. It took a Nazi nymphomaniac and a quartet of Stern Gang assassins, but we’ve got you just about out of this little fix, Mr. Kotacek. Though right now I’m hard put to explain why any of us bothered.
I put a hand on his shoulder, shook him. He grunted and rolled away. I shook him again and spoke to him in Slovak. “You must wake up, Mr. Kotacek,” I told him. “I’ve come to help you. I am Evan Tanner, of the Slovak Popular Party. I’ve come to save you for the honor and glory of the Fourth Reich.”