Triumph der Verdammten
JOSEPH GETTLER sat in silence: staring at his eggs, at his new breakfast bar, with his wife and two daughters laughing, in his six-bed Cambridge townhouse, feeling like he’d become completely unstuck.
It was precisely eight o’clock in the morning on the centenary of Adolf Hitler’s birth – April 20th, 1989. The sun wasn’t out just yet, and in the dim morning light, the marble buildings looked drab and grey; but the pavements glistened with snowflakes. His wife gave him his cap at the door and kissed him. He waved his family good-bye for the last time and got in his limousine. The driver saluted the SS-Unteroffizier, nodded at Frau Gettler and closed the door after him.
On their drive into the capital, which usually took between ten and fifteen minutes, they were met with a traffic accident. The Sicherheitsdienst, the lead Security Service, were there before the police, two of them in dark hats and overcoats.
The SD agents were questioning the driver involved. One was tall, the other shorter, fatter, with a moustache. Laurel and Hardy, Joseph thought, winding down the window for a better look. A lorry had crashed into a cyclist and killed them. It was the third death in fifteen years – probably a superior’s niece or nephew or someone of importance – that’s why the SD were there. The Party promised no more cyclist deaths, the capital was a safe place to be now. There wouldn’t be more than one a decade they said – and the Party, if anything, kept to their promises. He knew they would chalk this incident up to premeditated murder to fit their crime statistics.
While the ambulance drivers carried away the body, the two SD agents dragged the lorry driver out of his cab and down an alleyway. Joseph was close enough to see the fresh blood on the lorry’s grill. The driver was in his twenties, tall, and somewhat naïve. The SD agents took out their batons and beat the fuck out of him. He was only a kid! They cuffed him; threw a hood over his head; zipped it up; slung him into an unmarked van and locked the door. At forty-six, Joseph was all too used to seeing them take people, but this was entirely illogical. The Party didn’t value life anymore – only satisfying their quotas and crime stats for satisfaction polls.
His driver grew impatient with the traffic and did a three-point turn in the road. Cutting up a VW, he mounted the curb and took a sideroad in third gear. It would be quicker passing the student digs. Off-campus undergraduates could expect extortionate rents here and back in the day, Joseph lived in one of these. This area of Cambridge wasn’t quite so picturesque; not like the city centre and the Volkshalle between the colleges, but he remembered it well. When they passed a flat on the end of Linden Close, he gestured for his driver to slow down.
It was the same as the others: twelve-storeys tall, brown bricked, six bedrooms and a communal bathroom per floor, 308RM a month, if his memory served him right. On the third floor was a shared kitchen with a window that didn’t open, and this was where he first got drunk, wrecked even, with Lavanya.
Joseph’s best friend had been the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. She was much taller, more intelligent, and her complexion darker to the other girls studying at King’s College that year. Her father’s bloodline, the Uzuns, stretched back to the Ottoman Empire. They were killed in the early days of the War and she was sent to live with her great-aunt in Camden.
Despite her difficult circumstances, she was caring and had a sense of spirit that was uncommon in most people in their twenties. Joseph often found that others at that age were particularly self-centred, selfish, and it only added to his fondness for her. Like most young romances, she didn’t know. If she had, she hadn’t let him know she’d caught onto it.
At the end of their second year, Joseph reported her to the Nazi Party. She had defaced a statue of Chancellor Goebbels on a night out – which did happen. But in truth, and what was at the heart of the malicious accusation, was the fact she went with Cardew Moss to the Victory in the East (VE) dance instead of him.
A rumour went around that they’d slept together. It probably wasn’t true, but Joseph was drunk and didn’t care and made the complaint against her anyway. The Party assured him he wouldn’t do his two years of National Service over in Egypt – if he personally delivered her to them.
They went to their favourite bar, The Saké Shop, not far from King’s and they came for her. She cried out for her friend under the hood and was thrown in the back of a van. His uncle, the decorated war hero, Rudolph Gettler, had her ‘put in some place’. There was no investigation into her disappearance and Joseph never spoke to his uncle again.
That was twenty-seven years ago, Joseph hadn’t really thought about her since, not until the day his driver took that shortcut.
“Are you getting out, Mein Herr?” he said, probably repeating himself, Joseph snapped out of it.
He looked the building up and down once more. If he had his life to live over again, what would have happened? Would they still be friends?
“No, drive on,” he replied. His hand was sweaty on the door handle. He felt the driver’s eyes on him in the mirror - he let go of it. The heater gave off a burning smell: that and the memory sickened him. He lit a Dannemann Special, it filled the air, got into his lungs and made him cough. He rubbed his temples and said there’d been a change of plans.
Later, they drew up near the corner of King’s Parade and Peas Hill. The Saké Shop was still there, the sign on the door a little discoloured. He told his driver to switch the engine off and went inside. A waitress took his coat and showed him to the telephone. She returned with a bottle of warm Saké and a traditional Sakazuki cup from Japan.
Using his surname and rank, his influence of privilege, he managed to track Lavanya down by talking to some high-ranking people. They confirmed she’d been held at a labour camp past Cottenham. A colour television set in the corner played The Fuhrer’s Greatest 100 Speeches on repeat. Kabel Deutschland did put on some crap, he thought as he was left on hold. He’d rather know what was going on in Berlin. Protesters were being shot on the steps of the World Capital building, but they didn’t. An hour, three phone calls and six drinks later, there was a call with news.
‘Hullo,’ he said.
‘We have a prisoner delivery for this address?’ a Midlands voice said.
‘Name and rank, bitte.’
He swallowed. ‘SS-Unteroffizier Gettler,’
The line died, and he replaced the receiver. Out across the street, the snow was coming down heavy. Heavier than last night. Wehrmacht trucks would probably be deployed again to clear the roads – Cambridge wasn’t used to snowfall.
The place looked more like Narnia than King’s College, Joseph thought. He could see the magnificent dome of the Volkshalle over the horizon of department stores and the sky was white behind it. Time passed, the snow got thicker, and a car pulled up in front of his limousine.
Joseph Gettler’s heartbeat was in his ears. Two men got out, the SD agents from earlier, Laurel and Hardy. There were laughing. One of them opened the back door and helped something that resembled a human being onto the pavement.
They say the average adult gains a pound of weight with every year of their life, that was true in Joseph’s case, but not for Lavanya. In fact, she was the exact opposite.
The skin around her green eyes were dark and taught. The face was sullen, morbid. The long black hair, which was always tied in a perfect bun, was gone, shaved off. The body, which was once purely muscle from swimming, had started to waste away. The body ate its own muscle to sustain itself.
Gettler watched her as though in a dream, the wind caused her to sway as she walked, he felt sick to the stomach. Would she recognise the hard-drinking, chain-smoking fat bastard he’d become? All these things passed through his mind.
He went over to the window and forced a smile. The walking corpse wore a white tracksuit. He could see through it. There were needle marks and tattooed barcodes up her arms and wrists. It was horrifying. ‘Lav,’ he cried out.
Lavanya saw him through the window pane. The outline of a Nazi officer. The shadow removed its cap and bore a terrifying smile. As she neared, the features became more pronounced and easier to see. It looked familiar. There was a worn in face and a large scar on the man’s chin. She recognised the scar almost immediately.
It was Joseph Gettler, the cunt who put her through all this. He tripped on the stairs back in first year and landed on his chin, that’s where it came from. That’s how she recognised him. He bled for hours, she stayed with him and tended to the wound while the others came here for a night out. What did he want? A thank you? Like hell!
Then she saw the gun on his holster. Looked behind – the SD agents. They saw her hesitation. Their gloved hands reached into their coats. No!
She took off down the hill as fast as her legs could carry her. Joseph froze. He saw it all play out before him, like the last time.
Lavanya outside. The SD at the ready. He imagined his driver getting out in the confusion, the SD drawing their Lugers and, at a range of ten feet, firing two shots to the back of her head. The impact of the bullets would knock her over onto her face, bouncing off the cobbles. In his mind’s eye, he saw the red mixed with the clothes on the white snow.
He wouldn’t fuck it up again.
He didn’t realise what he’d done until the waitress screamed. He felt his Walther PPK in his hand and looked around.
The street had become a horror show of bullet casings, shattered glass and flailed limbs. Each of the three men had been shot through the chest and face.
He looked down the cobbles, Lavanya had stopped and turned. She didn’t say anything. There were tears in her eyes. He couldn’t tell if they were grateful or hateful, but it didn’t matter. He didn’t want to be forgiven for his tantrum. Nothing he could do would rectify those twenty-seven years in a hellhole. Joseph nodded, and she did too, then turned on her heel and left him alone. He waited a moment, opened the driver’s door and got in the limousine. The engine turned over a few times, then growled into life.
The return journey only took ten minutes. His wife and daughters were gone, so he stuck on the television. He passed through into the kitchen, took off his cap, holster and stripped his weapon apart.
He went to the fridge and took out some smoked ham and a crumb of cheese. Joseph buttered some wholemeal bread and fixed himself a sandwich. He returned to the breakfast bar and ate it slowly; his appetite was back. He wondered what Lavanya would do now until the SD broke down the door and took him away.