Alternate History

Occupied Dublin, 1955

Liam adjusted his cap as the rain poured down the brim. The streetlights shimmered in the rainfall and cast a glistening twinkle of yellow light on the wet pavement. At the end of the block, he could see the green lights and sign for the Wild Geese pub. The prospect of a pint and a warm place to enjoy it were extremely enticing. He shivered and contemplated what the hell he was even doing out in the cold.

The old pre-war postcard contained simple enough instructions:

I’m not dead.

Meet me Tuesday night at 8 on Grafton Street.

Connor.

Liam thought of every possibility for how a postcard from a dead man arrived in his flat a week ago and could come up with nothing. His first thought was maybe it was the police, but if the Nazis were interested in him, they’d have kicked his door down. Even the British auxiliaries were prone to overt and loud actions against enemies of the state. Nobody else would think to pull such a despicable prank like leave him a note signed by Connor days after his funeral. It had to come from the man himself.

A fresh gust of wind slapped more rain against his overcoat and he looked up the street. It remained deserted. Liam checked his wrist watch and saw the time was exactly 8 PM. He sighed and gave a thought to heading in for a drink.

Even amidst the static of rain falling in puddles and on rooftops, Liam made out the sound of footsteps in water. He turned to see a man in a soaked grey overcoat and hat reaching out a cigarette.

“Do you have a light?” the man asked. Liam couldn’t quite make out the face underneath the hat but he knew the voice. He felt a million questions suddenly charge to the front of his mind and didn’t know where to start.

Connor repeated the question.

Liam dug his hand into his pants pocket until he found his lighter.

“Ahh grand. Best step out of this rain eh?” Connor said, motioning to the alley between the two brick buildings Liam had been using for shelter. The two stepped into the darkness. The neutral damp air of the street was replaced with a stale odor of mold and still water.

Connor checked down the alley and when he was satisfied, adjusted the brim of his hat, revealing his face. He reached out and took the lighter from Liam’s hand to light the damp cigarette still hanging between his fingers. With the illumination of the flame, Liam could see the Connor’s face clearer. The man looked older than his years with his baby face was now etched with a week old stubble and his cheeks thinner. His blue eyes sparked and flared with the lighter’s flame He exhaled a stream of smoke as he closed the lighter and with a smile tossed it back to Liam.

“Thanks” he said, his smile disappearing as he did.

“What the hell are you doing here? I thought you were dead!” Liam declared, trying to regain his wits and control his voice.

“Did you really think I’d kill myself?”  Liam thought for a moment. Connor was too vain for suicide.

“No.” Connor gave him a half smile at that. “You still lied to me. To everybody”

Connor’s smile vanished and remorse colored his face. “I know and I’m sorry for that. If there were a different way I’d have happily taken it.”

“So why the funeral?”

“Jackboots tried to arrest me last week. I had to disappear. Being dead seemed like an easy way to do it.” Connor answered.

“Who was in the coffin?”

“The German who tried to take me in. We switched wallets and gave him my time piece when we dumped my car in the river.”

That’s what the mourners at the funeral said; that it was a car driven into the water. They’d commented on such a dramatic way to end it all.

“Who’s ‘we’?” Liam asked, the picture still not clear. Connor glanced around before tossing his cigarette into a nearby puddle.

“The war’s not over Liam.” He felt anger twitching in his hands.

“You fake your death and all to start some damn trouble with the Germans?” Liam said, his voice sharp and his words aimed directly at Connor. “Why the hell did you reach out to me?!”

“Cause Jerry’s a bad landlord. Even you have to have noticed that.”

“Jerry took on the world and won.” Liam said, “He fought us, the Tommies, the reds and the yanks and he still won.” Liam shot out, his own frustration and depression heating his words. Right after the war, everybody spoke of resisting and of carrying on the fight. But one by one, the agitators disappeared or tempered down as the Reich settled in across Europe. The free radio stations and underground newspapers were shut down and fewer people showed up to protests. Soon the apartment raids and German troops became infrequent but the fervor of resistance was gone.

“Aye he won in ’45. But the Jerries are slipping now. Ten years of trying to tame the East, they’re relying more on the Brit fascists to govern now.”

“So what if they are? You cause trouble and we’ll have SS troops instead of blueshirts patrolling the street.” Liam countered.

“Didn’t our da’s say the something similar about Collins and the RIC.” Connor said with a half-smile. Liam grumbled but admitted that Connor had a point. Connor stepped forward, his weary but still energetic face coming into the light.

“We’re working with the boys up North, properly organizing this time. But we need volunteers for the Dublin station.” Liam could feel the invitation about to be extended. With it, he pictured his entire life of keeping his head down and scrapping together enough Reichmarks for his flat being uprooted.

“And I’m assuming you’re heading up that effort?” Liam asked. Connor nodded his head.

“Aye. It won’t be easy or pleasant. I’m sorry for what I did but I won’t apologize for asking you to join me.”

“Of course not. You must be the only Fenian to be unaffected by guilt.” Liam jabbed.

“Guilty about lying? Yes. But feeling guilty for making Dublin unwelcoming to these bastards? No.”

“I could use your help with the effort.” It was the same statement Connor had used whenever he was about to rope Liam into some foolish adventure or other. The warmth in his voice and the light in his eyes, visible even in the dark had been untouched by Nazi occupation. It was the same warmth and confidence Liam had seen in his friend before he slipped across the sea to join the RAF.

With a sigh, Liam put out his hand, ready to pick his head up and face the world.

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Tide of History

“Good morning Mr. Wittmann. I trust you slept well?” The commissar asked as he stepped into the bleak and confining room.

Kurt spit some of the blood in his mouth on the floor, “Don’t I look well-rested?”

“You’re the first German I’ve met with a sense of humor.” The commissar laughed, “All the others are so stern. It really is refreshing.”

“If you’d be willing to let me go, I’d be happy to introduce you to a host of humorous gentlemen.” Kurt said, making an effort to keep his head from slumping.

“I’m certain you would and as tempting as that is, I’m afraid work must come first.”

“It always does.” Kurt said.

“Indeed…Now please understand Mr. Wittmann: I have no interest in making this more painful or prolonged than it needs to be. You just need to answer my questions and all this brutality can end. A fair arrangement, no?”

“Very fair.” Kurt said, pain continuing to wash across his body.

“I’m so glad you agree.” The commissar waved and one of the guards placed a chair. “Now that we’re all comfortable, let’s begin. Who was your contact in Budapest?”

“I can’t remember.” Kurt said.

“Who are you working with?”

“I’m terrible with names, I simply can’t remember it.” The commissar sighed, removing his black leather gloves.

“Mr. Wittmann, this is disappointing. I thought we had an agreement.” The commissar punched Kurt hard across the face, sending a fresh bolt of pain into Kurt’s brain and opening a fresh trickle of blood from his nose.  “Give me satisfactory answers and this can all stop. Now let’s try this again, this time simpler. Where did you hear about our little organization’s meeting?”

“I just had it but after that punch, it’s slipped my mind.” Kurt said with a weak smile. The commissar returned the smile before kicking Kurt square in the chest, knocking him back onto the hard concrete floor.

“Mr. Wittmann, I really do admire your spirit. You are a credit to your nation and to your emperor. But why don’t you see how that loyalty is wasted?”

The commissar put his knee on Kurt’s chest and pressed down.

“Your superiors, those blue-bloods with titles and inbred family names, your fool ‘Warlord of Germany’, all of them are happily using you as a sacrificial lamb. Surely you can see that. For all this pain, would they grant you lordship? Would they elevate you from working poverty?”

“And you would?” Kurt coughed out.

“Of course!” The commissar lifted his knee, “I’m offering you a chance to join the very tide of history. Just look through any newspaper in Europe. Our time is coming. Don’t sacrifice yourself trying to preserve a relic of history.”

“I must be reading the wrong papers.” Kurt said, laughing to himself and bracing for the commissar’s retaliation.

“Your government and its press only sees what it wants to see and blind themselves to the truth.” The commissar said, looking very pleased to deliver such a dramatic line.

“And what truth is that?” Kurt asked, trying to keep the windbag talking and prolong the return to torture.

“The truth is that the Petrograd government is on it’s last legs. No matter how many guns you smuggle to them, it will not live to see the leaves change. The truth is that Austria-Hungary is a house of cards, waiting for our revolution to sweep it away. Even your precious Fatherland is nothing but a dying flame of the old order. We will change this world and end the senseless era of oppression.” The commissar spoke as if he were addressing an assembly of soldiers or an adoring crowd.

“How fortunate for you.” Kurt shot back. The commissar face spoke of irritation. It gave Kurt some small measure of satisfaction to know he was at least irritating his captor.

“Change is always terrifying especially to the small-minded. I understand the fear, truly. That is why I beg you to help yourself. Don’t die for your ‘leaders’. Embrace the tide of history, Mr. Wittmann.”

“I’d love to had I a free hand right now. Besides, it must be said that Bolsheviks hold poor ballroom parties.” Kurt said, defiant and smug.

“I can see that you’re still not in a mood to cooperate. I’m terribly sorry Mr. Wittmann. I had hoped that we could resolve this now.” He replaced his black leather gloves and stood up, forcing the two sentries to snap to attention.

“Comrades, it appears as if Mr. Wittmann needs further persuasion into the righteousness of our cause. Do what you must.” The commissar said to the two guards.

“Mr. Wittmann. Should you survive, I urge you to re-consider your position.” The commissar concluded before stepping out the room.

Kurt smiled to himself again as he wiggled and squirmed against his restrains.

Just a little bit further, Kurt thought to himself, feeling the thin wood of the chair flex and bend.