And we were alone, alone with Kotacek, and there were some things she did not understand.
“Don’t worry about it,” I said.
“He is dead.”
“They were going to kill him, weren’t they? The Jews?”
“I wondered what you were going to do. I thought you might have a plan, a good plan, but then all at once he died. It was his heart?”
“My father will be very sad to hear that. He was so proud of me, going with you on a mission of such great importance. He had hoped we would succeed, and now I must tell him of our failure.”
She looked exceptionally appealing just then. There was a little-girl tone to her voice, a look of abiding innocence in her blue eyes. And that, incredibly, was the girl’s chief quality – her innocence. No amount of furious and forbidden activity, whether sexual or political, could triumph over it. She remained, despite it all, a blonde and blue-eyed child.
“It was not a failure,” I told her. “Not entirely.”
“Certainly not. Kotacek was in jail. He would have had a dreadful trial followed by a public hanging. We spared him that. Then the Israelis had him, the Jews, and he would have gone through another trial. And, unless we managed to save him, they would have hanged him. So instead what happened?”
“He would have died anyway, sooner or later. He was an old man, a sick old man. At least he died easily. At least we managed to spirit him from under the noses of the Czechs, and then cheat the Jews of their revenge. We have not failed, Greta.”
She looked at me. “Then I have done my part.”
“Your part and more. You were wonderful at the castle, you know.”
“You were excellent. The guards-”
She giggled. “The poor men. The expressions on their faces, the strength of their desire. They wanted me very badly, you know.”
“To expect to make love and to get hit over the head for your troubles. They will wake up with headaches and with no pleasant memories. I thought perhaps we could wait until they had finished making love, and then knock them out.”
“It would have taken too much time.”
“Oh, I know, but it seemed more kind, don’t you think?” She walked over to the fallen Kotacek. “Ah, but look what they have done to him. I had always wondered how it was done, you know? And if it was painful. Of course there can be no pain when it is performed upon a dead man, can there? What did they do with it?”
“They took it along.”
“Back to Israel? Why?”
“As a trophy. Like a deer’s head, or a stuffed fish.”
“They got the idea from the Bible.”
“Like the haircut for Samson?”
“A different part of the Bible.”
“Oh. It is a shame you were unable to hypnotize him before he had his heart attack. That was your plan, was it not? And thus you made him look at the flashlight?”
“You noticed that?”
“Of course. And you were not translating what they said. I don’t know Slovak, but much of it is like Czech. Some sounds are different. You were telling him to look at the light, were you not? It is unfortunate that it did not work.”
“Oh, Evan,” she said. What was I going to do with her? She thought that Kotacek was dead, and that was just what I wanted her to think. She could tell her father and he would spread the word, and the Stern Gang would leak the news in Tel Aviv, and the more people who thought he was dead, the fewer would be looking for him. I couldn’t keep her around and I didn’t have the time to take her back to Pisek. What was I supposed to do with her?
She said Oh, Evan a second time, and I looked at her, first at her eyes and then at the rest of her. I remembered the way she had looked on the grounds of Hradecy Castle and the way she had felt in my arms in her father’s house in Pisek. And I saw how she looked now, flicking her pink tongue over her lower lip, standing with shoulders back, breasts pressing against the front of the sexiest dress in Prague, legs longer than ever in high-heeled black pumps.
Something that had been drained from me by the tension of the rescue mission had returned to me now that the mission, or at least a stage of it, had been completed. And my eyes must have showed it, because she said Oh, Evan a third time, and took a quick step forward and was in my arms.
“You look pretty in your uniform,” she said.
I kissed her.
“You would look prettier without it.”
I kissed her again. She ground her hips into me, giggled, took a quick step back and out of my arms. “They have left mattresses all over the floor for us,” she said. “Wasn’t that considerate of them?”
“Let me see how pretty you look without your uniform.”
I undressed. She watched me with hungry eyes. Then she laughed again and turned her back to me. “Help me,” she said.
I opened the hooks and unzipped the zipper.
“I have certainly had a lot of practice with this dress,” she said, slipping it over her shoulders, stepping out of it, kicking it aside. “On and off, on and off, on and off. Do you dare to embrace me, Evan? Some Jew will hit you over the head just as you take me in your arms.”
“I’ll risk it.”
She came to me. I kissed her, and she pressed against me, and I did not even try to tell myself that she was a Nazi. We found a mattress and lay side by side upon it. I could see Kotacek out of the corner of my eye, so I turned a little until I could not see him anymore. I could see only Greta, and that was enough.
My fingers drew swastikas upon her breasts. She giggled, and her hands reached and found. “Just like the poor old Slovak,” she said. “Just like the Jews. Ah, what have I done!”
“You have performed miracles.”
“I have indeed. Oh, Evan…”
I held her and kissed her. Our flesh met. Perhaps I ought to take her along, I thought. Even smuggle her all the way back to America. Keep her around the apartment. How fine she was, and how soft and firm and warm, and how she moved, and what sounds she made…
Until, at the peak, the apex, the real nitty-gritty, her eyes rolled in her head and her whole body went bone-rigid and her mouth twisted and she tore the air with screaming. And then, just as suddenly, her muscles went limp and her eyes closed and the scream died and she very quietly passed out.
I could hardly believe it. I had never had quite that dramatic an effect upon a woman. Laughter, tears, sighs, moans, perhaps. But screams and unconsciousness…
And then, as I turned from her, I saw that it had not been all my doing. Kotacek was standing beside us, staring down at us. She must have caught a glimpse of him, alive and hovering, just at the moment of truth. It was no wonder that she passed out. It was, now that I thought of it, rather remarkable that she hadn’t dropped dead on the spot.
“What is going on? Where are we? What happened to the Jews?” He was babbling like an idiot. “Who is this girl? What are you doing to her? What is happening to us?” And, stopping suddenly to look down at himself, where, now that his blood had again resumed circulation, he was slightly bleeding, “What in the name of God has been done to me?”
I was a long time calming him. He was purple with rage and white with fear all at once, an unholy color scheme for a human being. He was also, I decided, a thoroughly ungrateful son of a bitch. Here I had saved his life twice in one night and he was berating me as though I had done something horrible.
I kept explaining the whole thing to him. I had trouble getting past the curtain of blind rage, but gradually bits and pieces of what I was saying began to soak in.
“You made me have a seizure,” he said.
“Otherwise the Jews would have hanged you.”
“Why did you bring me here in the first place? Why take me from the prison only to bring me into a nest of filthy Jews?”
“I needed their help.”
“Help? From them?”
“They helped me rescue you. I had to use them, and then I had to trick them to get you away from them.”
“But look what they have done to me!”
“You won’t miss it. And would you rather have hanged?”
“I have been mutilated!”
“But you’re alive. And you can still devote yourself to the cause.”
“That is true. You have performed a service to the Reich, Major Tanner. I will not forget that.”
“I’m only a captain.”
“I promote you. An on-the-field promotion.” He smiled, but the smile didn’t last. “The Jews escaped?”
“I’m not sure that’s the right word. But yes, they’re gone now.”
“You let them go without killing them?”
“I suppose it could not be helped.” He looked down at Greta. For a moment he simply stared at her, and then his gaze changed to something beyond simple observation. “This girl,” he said, rolling the word lovingly on his thick tongue. “Who is she?”
“A German girl.”
“Of course, what else could she be? Such purity of features, such true wholesome beauty. What were you doing to her?”
“We were discussing philosophy.”
“Do not make jokes, Captain Tanner.” He lowered himself onto one knee, peered intently at Greta’s breasts. “Like cream,” he said. “Like silk, like satin.”
He reached out a hand to touch her, and I kicked it out of the way. He looked up at me, puzzlement and fury mixed in his eyes. “What is wrong with you?”
“Don’t touch her.”
“Are you mad?”
“I made a promise to her father,” I said. “I told him I would not permit you to lay a hand on her.” It was only fair, I thought, that I should keep at least one small portion of the promise I had made to the crippled little dwarf. I had taken the fullest possible advantage of Kurt Neumann’s hospitality, and I had not paid him back as well as I might have. If nothing else, I could keep the old Slovak’s hands off his sweet and pure daughter.
“You talk as if she were a virgin,” Kotacek said.
“In a way, she is.”
“I told you, do not make jokes. And would she miss it? Look, the girl is unconscious. I am an old man. How often do I have a young girl like this? She will never know the difference. Never. Why begrudge me a moment of pleasure?”
I had always despised him. A Nazi, a racist, a collaborator, a quisling, a Judas – I had despised him from the moment the rotten mission had been assigned to me. But now he was turning my feelings to something more personal. Now I loathed him, not just for what he had done but for what he was. I should have let him rot in jail. I should have let the Israelis hang him. And now, mission or no mission, I felt like kicking his teeth in.
Instead I said, “There is simply no time. And besides that, I have given my word to a faithful National Socialist. Also” – pointing to his wound – “you will be sore there for some time. Several days at the very least. It would not do to irritate it, or to risk an infection.”