Tuesday, February 24, 2009

DBTL 15: The Speer Squad

Berlin, Brandenburg Devo, Polish Commonwealth
6 October 1944

Geli Raubal Skorzeny Speer was not having a good day. Her husband Albert had been gone all week on a business trip to Vilnius, where he had been commissioned to design a new legislative building for the Central Lithuanian Devo's Seimas. Although Geli was pleased at the success of her husband's career, she regretted the long periods he had to spend far from home. Ever since his neoclassical design for Brandenburg's new Bundestag building had been chosen four years before, Albert had been in great demand. The legislatures of Poland's other devos had insisted that Albert design their new meeting places as well, and the result was a series of long absences from Berlin on his part.

That in itself might not be so bad. What made Albert's absences particularly trying was the need to care for their six children.

Albert's wife had died seven years earlier in the course of the Polish siege of Berlin, leaving him alone to take care of their three sons. Geli's own husband Otto, an officer in the Austrian Army, had died while piloting a glider during a training mission in 1940. He had left for work that day saying, "I'll be back," just like always, but he had vanished with his glider somewhere in the Tyrolian Alps, leaving Geli to care for their three daughters. She had gone to work as a chambermaid for a government minister in Vienna, and it was there that she met Albert while he was designing a new ministry building for her employer.

They had fallen in love, and Albert had brought Geli and her daughters to live with him and his sons in Berlin. After four years, their composite family had mostly come to accept each other, but there were still plenty of rough patches.

This afternoon, for instance, Geli had been treated to a long tirade from her second daughter Janna, brought on by the news that her elder sister had been chosen to deliver the Autonomy Day address at their school. "All the boys want to dance with Marta," Janna complained. "All the girls want to be friends with Marta. Everywhere I turn, it's Marta, Marta, Marta! And what do I get? I get to wear these stupid glasses, that's what I get!"

As though to prove Janna wrong, minutes later Marta had rushed into the house holding a bloody handkerchief to her nose, followed by an abashed-looking Celine clutching a rubber ball. Celine, it turned out, had thrown the ball to Marta. Marta had missed it, and the ball had hit her in the face. Now Marta sported a swollen nose and two black eyes, and she declared that she couldn't possibly deliver the Autonomy Day address looking the way she did.

Meanwhile, Geli's stepson Peter had been moping around the house for days. He had come back from the cinema the night before imitating the voice of some movie-actor or other, muttering "Pork chops and sauerkraut," to himself. Peter's elder brother Gregor had lately been suffering a number of unfortunate accidents. Geli knew she was being superstitious, but she couldn't help thinking it had something to do with the pagan Lithuanian idol Albert had brought from a previous trip to Vilnius, and which Gregor had taken to wearing on a cord around his neck.

As if all this weren't enough, their housemaid Alyx had recently eloped with a neighborhood butcher, and now Geli suffered from a lack of both housecleaning and fresh meat. The only member of the family who wasn't causing Geli headaches was her stepson Robb. In fact, she hadn't seen Robb all day.

On top of everything else, even the news was proving to be bad. All day the radio had been carrying reports of fighting in Lithuania since the death of President Smetona One group calling itself the Socialist Peoples Front had seized a radio station in Kaunas and announced it had signed a mutual defense pact with the Soviet Union. Another group called the Commonwealth League was calling for union with Central Lithuania under Polish rule. The ruling Nationalist Party had fragmented into competing factions, and the Lithuanian government was paralyzed. Everyone was afraid that Poland would go to war with the Soviets over Lithuania, and if that happened Albert would be practically on the front lines.

Geli was in the kitchen getting more ice for Marta's nose when the doorbell rang. She spent a few seconds waiting for Alyx to answer it before she remembered that Alyx didn't live there anymore. Setting down the ice cube tray, she made her way to the front door, where the doorbell was again being rung.

"All right, all right, you can stop now," she muttered to herself as she opened the door. More loudly she said, "How may I help you?" Then she felt herself growing faint.

"I'm back," said Otto Skorzeny.

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