Friends

Finishing Touches

“You’re a madman.” Kurt said as the little elf of a tailor finished his adjustments to the tuxedo coat, “Don’t you have anything better to spend your money on?”

 

“I’ll not hear a word of it! Left to your own devices you’d wear that horrid brown monstrosity or God forbid your uniform.” Franz said from behind his newspaper, his voice cascading with emotion and range while his hands remained static and the paper unmoved. 

 

“What’s wrong with my uniform?” Kurt asked.

 

“Not a thing…if we were to go to an officer’s club.” Franz answered. The paper continued to block his face but Kurt could imagine the tinge of mischief crawling up from the corners of his friend’s mouth.

 

“Signore, the suit is finished.” the tailor said, scrutinizing all the while through his glasses. With that Franz shot up and folded the paper all in one motion. For a man with the frame of a bear, he was remarkably graceful.

 

“Signore Garelli, you’ve outdone yourself.” the old man twitched his mustache and continued putting away his instruments. Franz smiled at Kurt and gave him a pat on the shoulder. “Now you look presentable.”

 

Kurt frowned. Franz was always generous with money but all this expense for Kurt’s promotion was more uncomfortable than the starched white collar holding his neck upright. “This really isn’t necessary.”

 

“Of course it is! Promotion to Kapitänleutnent is no small achievement and a freshly commissioned ship to boot.” Franz said with genuine admiration and pride in his voice. Kurt shifted in place.

 

“Were it up to you, you’d spend the night in some stuffy party full of Prussians with chests full of medals, holding up a corner sipping cheap vodka, feeling insignificant. Well not on my watch. You can devote yourself to the Navy tomorrow but tonight, we celebrate. Properly”

 

Kurt knew there was no point in trying to argue with Franz. He’d drown out voices of doubt to his schemes with his booming and melodic voice or pull a wavering soul close with his over-sized and warm butcher’s hands. His lack of hair and unremarkable face did nothing to dull the sharpness of his charm. He had the grace and affability of an English playboy in the body of a cooper. Resigned to his evening, Kurt checked his look in the mirror while Franz settled up with the tailor. Even he had to admit it was a fine suit.

Advertisements

Morning After

He woke up first to the sensation of cold still air against his body. For a moment, he lay there, his mind blank save for the sensory information that came crawling up his spine. It took a beat for him to process he was naked. Naked and in a bed. His memory still hadn’t engaged when he turned his head and saw her.

He couldn’t believe it.

There she was. A handful of inches away from him, hair down and in a mess with half a sheet across her.

The revelation was just enough to activate what memories he had of the night before. All the jamesons had punched holes in the film reel but he could just make out sitting on her couch. Did he ask her to sit next to him or did she do that on her own? The memory reel didn’t have any answers. There was a brief scene of him rubbing her back through her old army jacket.

Another fade to black.

Then they were kissing and she was pulling his shirt off. A hand around his neck and locked into his hair. They broke through her door and almost missed the bed. He wished the memory was clearer. He cursed himself as the it went dark just as her bra came off. The video was gone but the audio played on, loud and passionate.

As if on cue, she stirred and shifted, taking his hand with her and pulling him back into the present. It wasn’t an explosion in his chest like he imagined it would be in idle fantasies half a continent away. There were no fireworks or sudden bursts of feeling. Instead it was the sensation of warm and bright red blood suddenly and eagerly spreading to every corner of his body. It traveled steadily but didn’t miss a spot and quenched the thirst of nerves and tissue that had been parched for years. The blood overruled his caution and he ran his newly animated fingers along her silhouette followed closely by his lips.

The sensation was enough to wake her up and he watched as her brain went through the same start-up his had a moment ago. When she came to, she didn’t curl into him or kiss him nor did she stop him. She just laid there, trying to process what she’d done. He was too distracted trying to kiss every inch of her to try and read her thoughts.

“Well that happened.” She said with a matter-of-fact tone while staring up at the ceiling. It was enough to pull him out of his head and into the conversation.

“Yup” He couldn’t think of anything clever or wry to say at the time. He finally brought himself to look at her face. He struggled to contain the warmth inside him as it crept up to his vocal chords and threatened to burst a dam of thoughts and feelings.

“This…this can’t be anything more” she said after a moment.

“I know” Her words were the hard hit he needed to restore his self-discipline as his rationality regained control of his mind.

“I can’t handle any more complications” she said.

“And that’s why when we get up and leave the room, we’re right back to our usual selves.” He said, forcing himself to sound genuine.

She lookd at him for the first time, “Thank you.” The blood twisted his face into a coy smile.

“Doesn’t mean I’m not going to enjoy my time here.”

He kissed down her body, paying attention to her tattoos. She let him continue but made no movements of her own. She continued to stare ahead, her face indifferent and lost in thought.

With their rules in place and an invisible clock counting down to when they’d get up, their conversation flowed like it always had before. They made jokes. He did impressions and she laughed. Without any tinge of awkwardness or shame their conversation arrived at stories deeply personal. It was their friendship but with even fewer barriers between them.

Each passing second was a greater strain on his mind. One last unspoken thought battered furiously against his rationality’s defenses. He didn’t want this morning to end but he knew he couldn’t let the thought out. It was an intoxicating dilemma.

Her indifference to his hands and lips against her helped him stay the course. Eventually he stopped and contented himself with resting his head against her breast. He didn’t care about memorizing her body; all he wanted was to be closer to her.

This is it, he kept repeating in his head, this is all there is. Then he felt her hand run through his hair and her thumb gently rubbing back and forth. Could she have guessed what he was holding back? He was fairly certain she could. Anybody who saw the way he looked at her knew right away. If she already knew, what harm could come from telling her?

Because it’s not a problem until you say it out loud, his heart echoed in his head. She didn’t need any more problems. He wouldn’t be the one to give her any.

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.