The Comrade Cometh  

Hans' world was about to change for all time.  He’d only just begun to understand life.  His tormented mind and soul were finally healing.  He could have never imagined what fate had in store for him.  His destiny was in the hands of so many others.  Hans had only recently begun to think about his future, a future that could be found there in that quiet peaceful land called Argentina.  

Hans had driven to the low hills surrounding Clauses villa and walked for several hours.  His decision to spend the day enjoying the Argentine countryside in all its splendor had helped settle his mind.  As he walked, Hans drank in the breathtaking beauty of the landscape before deciding to head into town.  Hans felt a sense of peace there in the countryside.  It was the early afternoon; the hour of the siesta had arrived.  Hans could never understand this need the Latin people had to rest in the middle of the day.  His Germany frowned on such laziness.  But this was Argentina and he would have to learn to adjust.  Shops and the open-air market would remain closed until late afternoon.  Once rested the townspeople would return to work.  The town would then come alive again with the sounds of children laughing and chasing about and parents attempting to control their young.  Merchants would begin their shouting to passers-by trying to get them to try their food and wares.  It was time to leave the pleasant surroundings and return to the world.  He needed to find something to occupy his time until the townspeople returned to work.  So he drove a short distance before locating a quiet side street.  Finding a spot to park his auto, he leaned into the curb next to a building and shut off the motor.  He then quickly replaced the auto’s convertible top, pulling it forward and locking it in place.  

He then decided to take a stroll along the quiet sun drenched streets and take in the sites.  Hans admired the New World Spanish architecture of the town as he walked along.  The white washed walls and red tiled roofs had a calming effect on him.  The Argentines favored flower boxes hanging from the windows above.  The ornate boxes held many varieties of bright vibrant colored Argentine flowers.  The effect of the bold colors against the white buildings was dazzling to the eyes.  The fragrances of the various flowers soothed him.  The shop owners and merchants followed the European tradition of maintaining offices and stores on the bottom level of the structures, while the living quarters were to be found on the upper floors.  They combined their home and work place.  Such an arrangement ensured that the townspeople kept the streets clean and orderly.  The old were employed sweeping and washing the streets down in the very early morning hours.  Hans found it curious how much pride these townspeople had in their old town.  By European standards these people might be considered quite German in their concern for order and cleanliness.  Still, they still fell far short of German preoccupation with cleanliness.  

He walked for a kilometer before realizing what he’d done.  Hans found himself outside of the sleepy little town of Luján.  As he stood smoking a cigarette a group of young boys played across the road in a lush green meadow doing what all boys do at that age.  They were playing war.  The fact that these young boys play acted at war seemed so natural a state.  The thought of it caused him to turn away.  Hans was saddened by the sight of young the boys playing the game of war.  He understood what the playing of war ultimately led to.  War wasn’t glorious, but ugly.  It was full of hate and carnage.  Watching the young men attacking and pretending to kill one another Hans hoped they would never have to experience the ugliness of the real thing.  Shaking his head in disgust, he began to retrace his steps and walk back toward town hoping the world had learned from its last great mistake, World War II.  

To Hans' surprise, several hours had passed since he’d begun his walk.  He was hungry and looked forward to a fine meal of Argentine beefsteak and red potatoes.  The Argentine beef was as good or better than the finest he had tasted anywhere in Europe.  His dry throat made him look forward to the smooth red Spanish wine.  As he turned the corner of the empty street Hans caught a glimpse of a vaguely familiar man crossing.  To get a better view, he quickened his pace.  Walking further along the street Hans caught a second glimpse of the man turning into a building.  Picking up his pace to a slow run Hans darted across the street and into the large brick building.  When Hans entered the building he found himself standing in a large open area of what appeared to be an old apartment building.  He was alone.  Before leaving he searched the large open area.  Straight ahead was a dark corridor leading to the back of the building.  Directly to his left was a flight of stairs to the upper stories.  No one was there, he found only silence.  There had been no man just his mind playing tricks on him.  The ghost of Rolf was just that, a ghost.  And besides, Germany was a world away.  It seemed as though it had been a thousand years ago since he had seen Rolf Gruber.  Feeling foolish for having led himself on a wild goose chase, he decided to leave.  He left the building disappointed in his childlike behavior.  Hans vowed to never chase ghosts again.  Walking from the darkened building into the bright sunlight he tried to regain his sense of direction.  His mind was on his hungry stomach.  He was ready for a meal.  Hans remembered the open café he had frequented the first few days after his arrival in the district.  He recalled that the food was excellent and the owner very efficient and attentive to his customer’s needs.  Hans liked the way the man kept his establishment it was clean and orderly.  Recalling the name of the café, Hans said it out loud, “The Café Del Sol.”  

He walked toward the west and vaguely remembered that it was near the center of the town.  Turning and walking in a northerly direction along the main road, Hans cut through to the town square and circled around.  A few minutes later, he found himself standing next to an ornate water fountain at the exact center of the lovely little town of Luján.  The café was situated on a street front across from the town fountain.  The little café with its Parisian look had not changed.  Patrons on the open patio area dined alfresco while looking at passers-by walking along the circle.  The townspeople enjoyed their evening walks and chatted with one another while standing by the fountain.  The last time Hans dined there, he’d enjoyed looking at the beautiful young Argentine women with their bright summer dresses and parasols.  

As Hans entered the café he noted the well kept and highly polished small wooden tables and chairs.  The café’s round bistro tables were covered with red and white checked tablecloths. The large dark green table umbrellas offered shade to the café’s patrons.  The architecture and setting were the only similarities to European dining.  This was Argentine country dining at its best.  The little café was an Argentine parrilla or barbecue restaurant.  The food was spicy and the portions were large.  It was a holdover from earlier times when the Spanish settlers worked their ranches and farms by hand without the aid of machinery.  The hard working men needed large amounts of food to keep up the long hours of physically demanding work.  This was the reason the parrilla was born.  Hans was taking in the aroma of the barbecue coming from the kitchen when the balding, portly, Italian owner greeted him.  The owner’s precious few black hairs were parted down the middle and slicked back.  The Italian’s hairstyle gave him the appearance of an overweight owl.  To add to this caricature his pencil thin moustache looked as though it were painted on.  Hans noted the strong odor of cheap Argentine Eau De Toilette trailed behind the man as he walked Hans to a table.  The strong fragrance had been generously applied to the familiar white tuxedo jacket worn by the Italian.  It appeared to Hans that this man took his cooking at least as seriously as his patrons; the Italian’s large protruding belly was a testament to that.  Señor Parducci escorted Hans to a table with great fanfare as only the Italians can.  Before offering Hans the chair he brushed it off with theatrical flair.  With one swift gesture of his towel, Señor Parducci was prepared to seat Hans facing the street.  Seated under the shade of the wide umbrella, Hans received a welcomed relief from the hot afternoon Argentine sun.  

The portly man was very attentive, asking Hans if he wished a bottle of red Argentine wine.  Although he would have preferred a strong Cana, Hans agreed.  He wanted something strong to relax him after chasing ghosts.  A tired, hungry Hans didn’t have to wait long for his wine.  With a great show of efficiency, the Italian brought the bottle of wine and poured a full glass.  Drinking it slowly, he savored every drop.  The smooth, fruity wine had just a bit of bite to it.  Over the next hour, Hans finished off the bottle while thinking of his old friend, Rolf Gruber.  Hans missed his sergeant and those battles of long ago.  

The long walk he’d taken earlier had left him tired.  The first bottle of wine helped him to unwind and the heavy meal of steak and potatoes left him full and contented.  As the sun was going down and night was about to fall on the sleepy little town, Hans began his second bottle of the fruity red wine.  His thoughts were of his future and what the next fifty years would bring to his life.  Marriage and children were high on his list of priorities and a career was a pressing necessity.  The second bottle hadn’t lasted long.  As Hans drank the last of the wine, he was pleased and ready to make the long journey back to the villa.  He reached into his wallet and removed a bill of large denomination.  He felt the meal had been well worth it as he placed it on the table under the wine bottle.  Drunk and ready to leave, Hans stood knowing that he had a few drinks too many.  His legs were still a bit unsteady from his lack of exercise during his illness.  

Bidding the owl faced Italian goodbye Hans left the café.  The town square was alive with commotion as he crossed the street to the sounds of the townspeople out for the cool evening night air.  Everywhere he looked there were children laughing and chasing one another and parents shouting for them to behave.  Walking down the avenue were teenage girls locked arm-in-arm glancing flirtatiously at him.  Flattered by their attention, Hans wondered who they thought he was.  Flashing a wide smile and a wink he returned their amorous glances.  

As he walked toward his auto, he couldn’t help but notice how different he was physically from the shorter Argentine men.  Hans thought both the Spaniards and Italians to short in stature but handsome.  Their women were beautiful and sexy as only Latin women can be.  Walking toward his auto he crossed a darkened alleyway.  The strong red Argentine wine had worked its magic; his senses were dulled and slow.  Suddenly out of the darkness someone reached out grabbing his trouser belt from behind.  Off-balance and senses slowed by too much wine, Hans tried to counter the man's moves.  But it was useless as he felt himself being thrown into a stone wall, slamming hard against the brick building face first.  The pain racked Han’s body as he turned just in time to feel a hard punch delivered to his stomach.  As the breath left his body he crumbled to the ground.  The soldier in him now took over.  Knowing he was on the verge of blacking out, Hans instinctively knew he had one chance and one chance only to recover lost ground.  With a powerful upward lunge he came up under his attacker’s chest pushing him backward into the wall.  This was the recovery he needed.  Hearing his attacker groan in pain Hans' body blocked the man's midsection and sent him hurling against the wall.  

In the blackness Hans could only see so much.  The building’s height blocked the moonlight leaving the alleyway dark.  His chest was burning from a lack of oxygen as he threw himself with full force into his attacker’s midsection a second time.  The stumbling men fell together into the street outside the alley.  The attacker landed beneath him on the pavement crashing hard on the cold stone street.  Just then the moon's bright light fell on his attacker’s face.  Lifting his arm to strike at the man, Hans stopped his blow in mid-air.  The face was familiar.  It was then that he realized that he hadn’t been imagining things.  “Sergeant,” he shouted angrily, “what’s the meaning of this?  Sergeant Gruber, I demand an answer.”  Confused and angry Hans asked for answers between gulps of badly needed air.  

Both men were gasping for air as they rolled onto their backs.  The men were bruised and bleeding but Hans was by far the worse for wear.  Laughing out loud Rolf Gruber apologized.  “Colonel,” he began, “I had to be sure it was you.  I'm sorry that our meeting had to be this way but I had no choice.”  Rolf stopped talking trying to catch his breath.  “No choice?”  Hans shouted in a loud angry voice, “You could’ve killed me.  Or worse, I may have killed you Sergeant.”  Hans cautioned in a stern tone.  “I'm sorry, Herr Colonel but I doubt seriously that you’re in any shape to kill anyone.”  Both men now laughed at the truth of Rolf’s words.  The Colonel agreed with his Sergeant, but under protest.  

The older of the two, Sergeant Rolf Gruber was first to recover.  Getting to his feet he brushed himself off.  Then he offered Hans his hand.  Hans was happy to let Rolf help him to his feet.  Both men now stood looking at one another.  First they reached out and shook hands.  Then as the emotion of the moment washed over them, they hugged.  It had been many years since they had seen one another.  Both were happy to be together again.  

For so many years, their lives had been intertwined.  The sharing of combat together had forged a strong bond of comradeship.  The older man, Gruber, had taken a young Lieutenant Von Furstenburge under his wing in North Africa.  During those first few months of combat Hans had needed guidance.  In the beginning he was lost in the heat of battle.  It took the young Lieutenant time to adjust to the pain and death around him.  As a German officer trained to lead, he was expected to show no emotion.  No matter what the conditions or the difficulty of circumstances Hans was to lead his troops into battle. His men would have immediately felt any fear or weakness on Han’s part.  Rolf had pushed his young Lieutenant to lead.  This Hans had never forgotten.  In fact, Rolf had saved Hans' life during that first day of combat.  While pinned down by English machine gun fire Hans had miscalculated.  Sending a platoon forward without proper support, they had been cut-off and killed.  His command was trapped in triangulated fire.  Hans and his men were barely able to hold on.  It was Rolf who had outflanked the machine gunners and saved the day. The Colonel owed the Sergeant much, including his life.  

After straightening out their clothes and brushing themselves off, they walked together into the night along the dark streets.  Hans placed his arm around the Sergeant's shoulder.  Tired and sore, he began telling Rolf of his life with the Brenners.  Hans couldn’t help but notice his old friend's clothing.  Hans would soon take care of that.  It was obvious Rolf hadn’t done well for himself.  Soon the men arrived at the open café and ordered a bottle of red wine.  The Italian waiter was quick to understand Rolf’s predicament.  He brought food without being told.  Sitting silently both were lost in their own thoughts.  Older now, the scuffle had taken more out of them than they had suspected.  

Sergeant Rolf Gruber had been a career soldier.  At sixteen years old he had enlisted in the military joining the German army in 1925.  He lasted two years.  While he hadn’t seen action during the First World War, he had heard much about the fighting for the Kaiser against the British and French.  His older brother was sent directly to the trenches in France and had seen the carnage firsthand.  The stories of the horrors of war were burned into Rolf’s mind.  When the Treaty of Versailles stripped Germany of military power Rolf was not sad to leave the world of the army.  Then Hitler came to power promising to restore Germany.  Vowing vengeance, he would return her to the greatness she held before defeat.  Slowly he began to rebuild Germany.  By 1938, Rolf Gruber joined the new German army.  The new weaponry was the envy of Europe.  Modern armies considered German tanks and half-tracks to be the best on the planet. German artillery was the finest to be found throughout the modern world.  Small arms, machine guns and hand held grenade launchers were of the finest quality.  Nothing was spared.  Only the best was provided for the new German soldier.  

He accepted the changes that the Third Reich had brought to the ranks.  Although he didn't care for the Nazis, he learned to tolerate them.  For many men of his generation the Reich promised a better life.  Many were not Nazis, only Germans wanting a future with promise.  Rolf marveled at the changes Adolf Hitler had brought to the new Germany.  Everywhere he saw magnificent buildings, the Autobahn, and other great public works.  They were wonders to admire.  Rolf could see German dignity being restored and the country revitalized.  The German people had come alive once again.  Hitler had given them a new mission, a new destiny.  His beloved military had been changed for the better.  

That same year the Second World War began.  First had been the gift by frightened English and French of the Rhineland.  Then came the attack on Czechoslovakia and later Poland.  These were followed by the war with France and England.  Rolf Gruber had been at the forefront. None had held except England.  She was an island fortress.  When Rolf was transferred to North Africa he was proud.  He felt his army invincible. Like his commanding officer, Hans Von Furstenburge, he was a true believer.  Even when the early victories against the British soured he still believed and fought on.  When the Allies landed in Normandy he still kept faith.  No matter what the odds, he followed Hans blindly.  Together they fought side by side always doing their duty.  

But like many of his countrymen Rolf was troubled by the stories he heard of the concentration camps.  After all, he wasn’t a Jew hater.  The Jews he had known were hard working people.  They looked a bit different from normal Germans but that was of no consequence.  He wasn’t convinced that the Jews were collaborating with the English.  But it was better that they be moved out of Germany if this would protect them.  He left politics to the politicians.  So it was natural for him to accept what the government was saying.  Told by the German propaganda ministry that concentration camp stories were an Allied lie designed to undermine the German war effort, soldiers like Rolf had no reason to question.  Germany, he was told, was only using these camps for staging areas.  The Jews were taking part in a massive effort of resettlement for non-Aryans.  This seemed logical to him and his comrades.  After all, neither he nor anyone that he knew had personally seen these camps.  Rolf chose to be a soldier and not a politician.  He would leave such things to those in charge.  

As the war began to go badly, German forces were in retreat everywhere, but he still fought on.  When his beloved army was forced back to Germany he still kept hope.  Rolf was sure that Hitler would find a wonder weapon to turn the tide of war in Germany’s favor.  But things went from bad to worse.  Every day the bombs fell.  The next day more bombs fell.  Shortages of food and ammunition were commonplace.  Recruits and replacements were non-existent.  German cities lay in ruins.  Overhead Allied bombers went unchallenged.  Soon, German planes were no longer flying.  There was no diesel fuel for German tanks.  

Finally, the day came when German officers abandoned their posts.  Wearing civilian clothes they ran off into the night.  SS officers and certain other officers of good families were being gathered together by special units.  It was rumored that they were being taken out of the country.  In time, the German army ceased to exist.  One cold morning, Rolf found himself without a commanding officer.  Von Furstenburge had disappeared.  Finding discarded uniforms and weapons lying on the ground by the campfire, a confused Rolf simply walked away from his post.  Most of his subordinates had left during the night.  The few left were too sick or too badly wounded to leave.  So they remained.  Rolf made his way back to his childhood home.  But there was nothing left in the little town.  The neighbors had gone.  Everywhere homes and shops were abandoned.  Fortunately his house was still standing.  The roof was partially destroyed and the walls were in need of major repair.  There was no electricity, running water or food.  It was 1945 and he was alone.  His Germany was destroyed for a second time in his life.  

In a matter of weeks his brother and sister-in-law returned to their home.  Rolf was glad to see them.  He and his brother repaired the house and then set about confiscating furniture and anything else they could find.  At a nearby abandoned underground storage depot they found a cache of German Army rations and tins of boiled beef and chicken.  The goods had been reserved for German officers.  The find made Rolf’s family one of the lucky ones.  The Allies were in no hurry to feed the population.  They had more pressing problems to attend to.  Months passed without help.  Rolf heard of the roundups by the Allies of German officers assigned to the German High Command and all SS personnel.  These stories were now a matter of public disclosure.  Arrests were common and indiscriminate.  Stories of imprisonment and worse were being discussed everywhere.  Then it happened, Rolf a lowly sergeant received a letter from the new Provisional Government to report for an interview.  Frightened by the letter he’d received, Rolf fled in a panic.  He abandoned his home and what was left of his family and made for the Alps.  Rolf had no money and was unable to find work.  Finally out of desperation he developed a plan to change his identity.  Making his way undetected to the Italian side of the border he stole identity papers from a drunken Italian merchant marine sailor.  Fortunately for Rolf these thefts were common in post-World War II Europe.  European governments burdened by weightier matters did little to investigate.  With papers in hand Rolf made his way to the Italian seaport of Naples.  There he joined the many others trying to flee a war-ravaged Europe.  But it was difficult to obtain permission to join the merchant marine fleet.  

Soon, he was befriended by Italian Fascists who had sympathy for his plight.  Doing what they could for Rolf, the Fascists gave him a place to stay and provided food.  As the months passed his friends did what they could to meet his needs.  A kindly priest provided money and cigarettes.  Fortunately for Rolf trade between Italy and Portugal increased.  His friend the priest made arrangements for him to be given a job as a seaman aboard a freighter.  He had found his way out of Italy.  Because the ship was in a state of disrepair it was not considered a seaworthy vessel and few joined the crew voluntarily.  So the captain couldn’t afford to be choosy when it came to his crew.  When an unlucky sailor approached the captain for a job he gave only passing consideration to his identity papers.  

Within weeks, Rolf Gruber found himself in Portugal at the mercy of its bureaucrats who were even less concerned with law and order than the authorities in Italy.  Everywhere there was corruption.  Police officials openly accepted bribes.  He found the bribe to be a normal part of Portuguese business.  They called it, “The Bite”. Periodically he was stopped and questioned.  The situation was normally settled by the shaking of the official’s hand.  It was the simple transference of money from one palm to another.  The official would pocket the bills with the usual apologies and be on his way in search of his next bite.  Over the next several months, Rolf felt the bite many times.  

While working as a merchant seaman in Portugal, Rolf continually heard the stories of her territories in the New World.  The romantic stories of Brazil or Brasil abounded in that poor country.  It was rumored that the Brazilian government gave large tracts of land to any European settlers willing and adventurous enough to reach her shores.  All believed that Brasil offered the hope of a better life.  Its beautiful Mulatto women were another source of her romantic allure.  Their beauty was renowned.  It was said that these women waited on shore for the White men arriving at port.  It was also reported that the Brazilian men lacked the amorous nature of their European counterparts.  He was sure this was true.  After all, he was German.  

Believing that authorities in Portugal would eventually begin their hunt for German soldiers without proper papers Rolf became alarmed.  He was positive that the Allies would have him arrested on sight and he knew he could never return to Germany.  Rolf was a man without a country in need of a future and time wasn’t on his side.  He was destined for a life of poverty and finally imprisonment if he remained.  With nothing holding him in Portugal, he made up his mind.  His new home would be Brasil, the land of promise.  His arrival in Brasil as a sailor would bring him little attention.  Port authorities paid no attention to sailors.  They were more concerned with contraband.  His plan was to simply depart the ship for shore leave once having arrived and melt into the landscape as a European tourist.  

Rolf made arrangements to serve on a ship leaving for Brasil that week.  The captain of the Isabella was in need of experienced sailors.  Captain DeSilva was a hard-hearted man treating his sailors as slaves.  The captain had no friends among the crew.  His only concern was the large bonus he would receive by delivering cargo on time.  The large ship carrying precious European industrial machinery made its way to Brasil without incident.  The night docking and subsequent boarding by port authorities had gone smoothly.  Authorities had found no irregularities.  All was in order and the ship’s cargo agreed with the manifest.  The Brazilian officials joined the captain for a drink in his cabin once all was accounted for.  The port authorities left soon after they took their bite.  

Rolf saw his having arrived in Brasil without incident as a sign from God.  His new home was the safe haven he had been seeking.  He quickly filled his sea bag with a few belongings and left the cabin.  Rolf cared only that the ship had brought him to freedom.  He had no fond remembrances of the voyage or crew.  Rolf had long since learned that any attachment could only bring pain.  Not bothering to turn back and look at the ship, Rolf made his way down to the harbor cargo delivery area.  He would always remember the moment his foot touched Brazilian soil.  Not so much for what it meant to be in Brasil, but for the sense of relief that this far away world offered.  At that moment, Rolf felt the fear of arrest and imprisonment leave his body.  With a sigh of relief, he bounded toward a bistro to get good and drunk.  It was time to celebrate his freedom.  

The relief lasted for only a few minutes.  Brasil was far different from what he had imagined.  He found no beautiful mulatto women waiting for him on shore.  There were only drunks and prostitutes making their way along the streets.  The seaport was old and rundown; its buildings and houses poorly kept.  The state of the seaport spoke volumes about the people living and working behind the filthy unpainted walls.  The Brazilians paid little attention to their homes or their lives.  

To be sure there were many mulatto women of great beauty.  But sadly many had to pay the price for their beauty.  The beauty of a woman unprotected by money and power became a curse.  Men wanted only to use it, conquer it.  This was the way of the world.  Rolf remembered something he had heard while in France during the war.  Once while visiting a house of prostitution he had a curious experience.  Having satisfied himself with a young French beauty he wanted to talk.  To be kind, Rolf told her with a great deal of honesty that she was beautiful.  Her response was haunting.  “Beauty is the curse of a poor woman.”  She uttered the words in low, almost lifeless voice.  When he pressed her to explain she commented only, “Beauty is something men want to possess for a moment of vile pleasure.  They never looked beyond a woman’s exterior.  With no one there to protect her, a poor woman has no rest.”  He could feel the pain of her ugly existence.  She was a thing to be used by men and forgotten.  

Rolf found prostitution with all the violence that accompanied it, everywhere in Brasil.  Poverty was rampant as well.  There were less rich than could be found in Europe.  Jobs were few and paid little.  One had to fight for every comfort.  In a land with so much evil a man had to scrape to get by.  Those with money and power lived in a world unto themselves.  The rich lived in palaces while the poor survived in abject poverty.  There was no hope for the working man of Brasil, only hopelessness and misery.  Without money, a person was doomed to a life of servitude.  Rolf’s hopes for wealth were dashed.  In Brasil, money could buy anything and everything.  The commodity of flesh was the cheapest.  Prostitutes plied their trade for a day’s worth of food.  A man could be killed for pennies.  In such a world men prayed for enough money to get stinking drunk.  He found no government land grants being offered to the new European adventurers.  In fact, he found little government.  Everywhere there was only poverty and neglect.  The few officials that cared eventually gave into the hunger of the bite.  They too became bottom feeders taking from the poor.  

Over the months, Rolf joined the many European expatriates living in the shadow world of the hard Brazilian underbelly.  The fortunate few with money lived in the older tenements bordering the lavish estates of the rich.  These spent their days at the open Cafés drinking strong Brazilian coffee alternated with strong Spanish rum.  Hours became days and days became weeks.  Soon, these transplants lost touch with time and gave up wearing watches.  The seasons came and went.  Nature and her seasons meant little.  Without importance each day faded into another.  It was as if life had become a never ending bout of drinking and carousing.  Nights were spent drinking and brawling at the waterfront bistros where sailors and longshoremen became rivals.  Rum was king in Brasil.  Men drank until the world became a dull haze softening the glaring lights of the bistro stage.  The garish Brazilian world had to somehow be softened.  Once drunk the men became less human and more like animals.  No reason need be given to start a fight.  Selecting their victim of the evening the more powerful beat the weaker into sweet unconsciousness.  For many it was a welcomed relief from this world of disease and debauchery.  Most brawls ended in a broken tooth or nose.  There was the occasional beating that resulted in death.  The event was theatrical with its feigned shock and calling of the police.  Upon arriving, the policemen would ask a few questions and make an arrest or two.  The scene would soon end and all would be as before.  But with enough rum this too would pass.  

No longer strong, Rolf was past being the fit soldier that he had once been.  Gone was his concern for appearances.  He rarely shaved and his clothes were wrinkled and tattered. His shoe soles were now worn and old.  Existing too long in this shadow world Rolf longed for his life to have meaning again.  He had become a sorry excuse for a German soldier.  But what could he do?  His body was ravaged by a world of late night drinking and brawling.  Rolf had become bone thin and sickly.  Late morning coffees without a meal did nothing for his physical condition.  

Another night had fallen.  It was time for Rolf to go to the bistro and drink his rum.  The evening began like all the others.  As he went down to the waterfront bistros to begin another long night of drinking he hoped to somehow forget what he had become.  Frequenting a particular bistro for over a year, Rolf arrived by eight o’clock.  He was careful not to become involved with the hangers on.  He always found it safer to be an outsider.  Rolf felt himself above the fray as he sat in a dark corner watching this cinema people called life.  The characters were always the same, tough young sailors and local young Mulatto men presiding over a tenuous peace.  The prostitutes were always ready to share a bottle of cheap wine.  They prayed for a sailor on shore leave who might find them attractive enough to spend his hard-earned money.  As the hour grew late their exotic beauty would became more alluring.  Their light yellow skin took on a sensuous glow.  Their thick, dark, curly hair had a glossy sheen from oils used to straighten it.  The finer facial features betrayed their racial mix.  In Brasil the lighter the skin and the more European the features, the more socially acceptable the person.  These mulatto women were a beautiful mix of the White and Black races.  Their beauty was unlike that of European women.  Theirs was a sensuous exotic beauty.  Bred as slaves to work the fields, the women and men were mated to produce strong, fit offspring.  The less Negro blood one had the more prominent one’s position.  Parentage and race in Brasil had meaning.  

Brazilian slave owners took the most beautiful of the lot, raping them and adding their European blood to the mix.  As time went on the more beautiful female slaves were mated with large bucks to ensure physical prowess.  Later, the European owners raped their children in order to improve the stock.  What resulted after successive generations of lust were beautiful yellow skinned women with supple bodies.  Swaying to the uniquely Brazilian bistro music these sensuous creatures moved seductively as they danced.  Watching the mulattas sensuously swaying back and forth to the pounding African beat in the darkened light of the bistro was a sheer delight for the eyes.  

When a European newcomer to this land, Rolf’s first days had been spent bedding as many of these yellow beauties as he could buy.  He could always tell the new arrivals.  All social restraints were cast aside.  Alone and without moorings the men threw off all morals.  Their clothes were still clean and pressed.  Brasil hadn’t yet taken their dignity.  Drinking the rum with great urgency they lusted after the yellow beauties sitting demurely at the small bistro tables.  Clumsily they offered the beauties a drink as they found a reason to join them at their table.  It was rather like a cinema script.  While the man sat drinking and fondling the beauty in front of him, his eyes wandered to the next mulatta.  Like a child in a candy store he spent his money unwisely thinking that it would last forever.  Once sufficiently drunk with courage, he and his yellow beauty left for an hour of forbidden pleasure.  Each mulatta had learned the art of making these men feel as if they were the last man left in the world.  The yellow beauty shrieked with joy at the thought of the money in his pockets.  As she shuddered with feigned pleasure he emptied himself into her.  These women knew their trade well.  After he was finished with her for the moment they smoked his good European cigarettes.  Using words like love and forever, she made him hungry again for his next exotic ride.  Once he regained his strength for another pleasurable mating she assured him that he was far better than the other men she had bedded.  It was her job to make the client feel like a strong magnificent animal that satisfied her.  The poor fool believed her lies because he needed to.  Having had his fill of her exotic yellow body, he soon left her.  The newcomer raced back to the bistro for yet another drink of rum and another yellow beauty.  Spying another mulatta beauty to mount, the dance began again.  They drank and laughed until this exotic, light skinned woman could reassure him of his manhood.  And the script would continue to be played and replayed until he was empty and broke.  

Over the year, Rolf had befriended several of the local working girls.  One in particular, Marta, had become his friend.  She had taken to buying him drinks in exchange for the occasional rescue from an abusive sailor.  As he walked into the bistro and sat at his usual table she waved happily to him.  Motioning for him to join her, he declined the offer with a smile and a wink.  The night was starting out much the same as many others.  Men drank beyond their capacity to hold the demon rum.  And in the late night hours that demon would come to possess them.  After choosing his favorite dark corner of the bistro Rolf had several drinks as the night went on.  From there he could watch in silence as a series of novelettes unfolded in front of him.  The evening progressed with the usual heavy drinking and loud boisterous behavior so common to these bistros.  But tonight there would be one slight difference.  

Rolf had been watching a large swarthy man sitting across the room.  There was something about the look in the man's eyes that made Rolf feel uneasy.  The man drank little, nursing his rum drink for the past hour.  He appeared to drift in and out of reality and his behavior seemed erratic.  The man occasionally muttered to himself while peering angrily at the women.  He seemed ready for trouble.  Having seen the look before, Rolf remembered how in battle a man could somehow become disconnected from everything and everyone.  During the war the man would have been dangerous to himself and his comrades.  In a battle situation he couldn’t concentrate on the enemy when thinking only of himself.  There were times in war when a soldier lost control and all men became the enemy, even his comrades.  In a fit of insanity these men would attack anyone who posed the least possible threat.  The man sitting across from him had that look about him.  Rolf could feel the large muscular man unraveling in front of him.  Seeing the man looking intently at one of the prostitutes nearby, Rolf watched the hate grow and possess him.  In that moment, the prostitute became his reason for hating.  In his demented mind she was the cause of all his problems.  To him, she had become the evil whore who embodied all that was wrong with his world.  Rolf could see the volcano ready to blow.  Staring intensely at the small, thin, mulatta the man slammed his fist on the table while muttering curses.  Any moment, he would explode.  Looking about the room it appeared that Rolf was alone in his observations.  The other patrons were lost in their drinking and listening to the loud pulsating beat of the African-Brazilian music.  The smoke filled room was alive with the voices of drunken sailors and prostitutes doing their best to make a living.  They were all lost in their own needs.  

Suddenly the man stood and walked in a trance-like state toward Marta.  While reaching into the pocket of his bulky dark blue seaman’s jacket, he loosed a sudden animal-like howl.  As he lunged for her, Rolf prepared to rush him.  Marta turned hearing the guttural sound just in time to see him lunging.  In that frozen moment in time, she looked much as a hunted animal does a split second before a predator pounces.  In the blink of an eye, the stalked animal somehow knows the predator has chosen it from among the other in the herd.  Marta wasn't swift enough to pull away from the madman.  He was on her.  Poised to strike, the man pulled a large razor sharp knife from his jacket pocket.  Stabbing viciously he struck.  In a quick slashing motion the first wound was delivered to her face above the right eye.  Excited by the bright red blood spurting from the gaping wound he was ready to deliver the final mortal wound.  His left hand grasped at her shiny black hair as he tried to pull Marta backward toward him.  Lucky for her, Marta was able to pull away from him and he lost his grip on her slippery hair.  Time after time, he tried in vain to hold onto the slick hair.  

The man’s eyes betrayed his insanity.  Now desperate, he struck out against all of humanity’s ills through her.  Feeling he would be released from his hellish life if he could just sacrifice this evil whore, he had to kill her.  He forced his knife wielding hand over her shoulder.  The madman then held it at the ready, just past her left arm.  It was his plan to pull the knife back across her throat in a slashing motion.  The crazed animal held it across the front of Marta’s chest as Rolf made his move.  Before the man could complete the slashing movement, Rolf was on him from behind.  With all his strength Rolf moved his body forward.  He then reached over the man's extended right arm catching it at the wrist.  Rolf then pushed it downward and then forward but the man refused to drop the bloody weapon.  He held on tightly as Rolf threw him off balance. Fainting under the stress and fear of the attack, a badly wounded Marta rolled forward and away from the struggling men.  She landed on the floor a few feet away.  

Rolf stunned the attacker when he chopped fiercely across the man's exposed neck.  But the large, more powerful man recovered quickly from the blows.  Shoving Rolf violently against the large bar, the madman body slammed Rolf savagely into the sturdy hardwood structure.  As pain seared through Rolf’s lower back, it was clear that he was now the man’s prey.  Slashing wildly the madman was intent on killing Rolf.  He ducked the man’s thrusts and kicked the crazed maniac hard in the left leg.  This caused the knife to miss him by inches.  Grabbing a barstool to defend himself against the madman circling him with the knife, Rolf hit him squarely across the face.  The insane man stumbled backward, blood gushing from his nose.  Rolf then hit the man again and again until he was dazed.  The clearly injured madman charged Rolf, trying to wrestle him into a vulnerable position.  The man slammed hard into Rolf’s midsection.  Luckily an exhausted Rolf caught the knife wielding hand at the wrist.  Hitting the man twice in the throat, the madman began fighting for air.  It was at that moment that Rolf forced the knife wielding hand into the man's own body.  Falling forward onto the stone floor he thrust the knife deeper into his own chest.  A spent Rolf, fell forward onto the deranged man losing his balance.  He then tumbled forward and rolled over the fallen man continuing past him onto the floor.  

Ready to take advantage of the moment Rolf rose from the floor to deliver yet another blow.  It was then that he saw the man lying motionless on the floor.  He wasn’t breathing.  Checking him quickly Rolf looked for signs of life.  There were none.  Others in the bistro came to the dying man’s aid.  They confirmed what Rolf already knew to be true.  The insane man was dead.  Rolf’s heart was pounding hard in his chest as he realized what he had done.  Hearing a police whistle breaking through the silence, Rolf knew they would soon be there.  At that moment someone pushed him forward, toward the rear exit of the bistro.  His strength had left him.  Unable to resist Rolf was soon outside in the alleyway.  

Rolf ran long and hard.  He followed the back allies toward the tenement where he lived.  After running for several blocks, he thought only of getting to his small room as quickly as possible.  His lungs burned from a lack of oxygen and his chest pounded from the strain on his heart.  Rolf could run no more.  Slowing down he tried catching his breath.  Finally, Rolf could go on no longer.  The nightly swilling of rum had taken its toll.  The long nights and lazy days had cost him his health.  He was a mere shell of his former self, no longer accustomed to physical exertion.  Rolf stopped and leaned heavily against a wall.  He tried with everything in him not to fall down.  Tired and spent Rolf’s legs were ready to collapse.  Soon, he was coughing loudly and the world around him began spinning out of control.  

He fell forward onto his side and blacked out.  An exhausted Rolf remained unconscious for some time.  When he came to, he tried to regain control of his body.  There he lay on the ground for what seemed like an eternity.  It took everything he had to move again.  After several minutes on the cold ground, Rolf’s mind gradually became clearer and more focused.  Trying to stand several times, he finally collapsed under the strain of exhaustion and the alcohol he had consumed.  Rolf felt defeated.  After some time, and with great deal of effort, he managed to stand and prop himself up while leaning against the wall.  Rolf’s heart had gradually slowed to a normal rate.  His breathing became less urgent.  Rolf’s legs trembled as he took those first few steps.  Every muscle in his body felt abused and his right arm and lower back hurt terribly.  The pain in his back was so intense that he had to stop and rest every few paces.  Slowly he overcame the pain and continued his long walk home.  As he neared his tenement night gave way to the dawn.  As Rolf arrived across the street from his flat, he stood at the corner contemplating whether to enter the building.  His decision was made for him.  Through his blurred vision he could make out several policemen standing in the tenement lobby.  Rolf turned and walked away leaving Brasil forever.  

As his mind returned to the present, Rolf found himself looking at his beloved Colonel.  Saying nothing, he preferred to light another cigarette.  The two men sat in silence each waiting for the other to begin.  They sat staring off into the distance as if they were remembering a past that could never again be recaptured.  A few more minutes passed before Rolf began his saga talking about his difficulties in Germany after the war.  Later, he told Hans about his travels to Brasil and the killing of the madman.  Finally, Rolf explained how he escaped to Argentina.  The story trailed off into the sounds of the young Argentine couples sitting and talking at nearby bistro tables.  

Stiff and in pain, Hans’ mind drifted back to Germany and then to the young woman he had seen riding that day.  Rolf’s excusing himself to find a restroom interrupted his thoughts of the beautiful young woman.  As Rolf walked away from the table, Hans could feel only pity for his old friend.  The idea that his friend and comrade in arms had nothing left bothered him greatly.  Hans had a home and knew the Brenner's truly cared about his health and safety.  Rolf had nothing, only sad stories.  He was without hope for the future.  

When Rolf returned, he sat quietly waiting for some sign of understanding from the Colonel.  He was tired, tired of running and drinking.  Rolf had enough of long empty nights.  He had hoped, even prayed that once he reached the Colonel, he would know what to do.  When his pride left him so had the anger that had kept him alive.  Without these he had come to his end.  Like so many of life’s casualties, Rolf had lost hope.  Being a soldier was all he knew.  Now he was a man with no country and no family.  A fugitive in both the Old World and the new, his pride could no longer sustain him.  Without enough money to pay for a room or even a small meal, he was finished.  

Hans sat looking off into the distance.  He could feel the Sergeant's emptiness and despair.  Without being told, Hans understood that the man who sat in front of him could no longer go on.  When he turned toward Rolf what he saw was a sunken, drawn face with tanned skin that had taken on an ashen quality.  Moved by pity, Hans lied.  He told Rolf that he was happy that he had found him.  He lied again when he assured Rolf that he had made inquiries about him before he left Germany and was disappointed that he had been unable to find him.  Then Hans made up the biggest story of all.  He explained to Rolf that he was a man of some means and in need of someone he could trust and rely upon.  Hans knew the man well, probably better than he knew himself.  What Rolf needed was encouragement and respect.  And these he would give him.  Getting Rolf’s attention, he explained that before he left the Fatherland, he’d decided to propose a business venture.  But as Rolf couldn’t be found nothing had come of the proposal.  Hans watched as life returned to the Sergeant's weary eyes.  

Han’s was now very tired and drunk.  He was in need of sleep.  Attempting to be appropriately diplomatic, Hans told Rolf that it was kind of him to look him up.  Thanking him for sharing news of the Fatherland, Hans ended their visit.  Rolf's heart began sinking as he prepared for the Colonel to wish him well and to bid him goodbye.  Before Rolf could get out a word Hans sensed his friend’s anxiety and quickly made an offer.  Confiding in the Sergeant, Hans said he would appreciate it greatly if Rolf would consider staying on with him.  He assured Rolf that he was in need of someone that he could trust and depend upon.  Hans suggested that Rolf was such a man.  The position called for a man of integrity and intelligence.  As he finished, the Sergeant sat up and straightened his shoulders.  Outlining his plan, Hans began by stating his intention to purchase a large tract of land and build first a home and then a large storage facility.  Hans offered that he would like to become involved in the business of import and export.  Assuring Rolf that his experience and knowledge of maritime shipping would be most valuable in the endeavor, Hans could see his interest growing.  

It was later that Hans suggested to Rolf that the details of the venture would need to be worked out between them at a later date.  Hans commented that he couldn’t pay him much at first.  But as a limited partner, Rolf would share in the profits.  As Hans continued, he commended Rolf for his knowledge of men.  He spoke with pride that he had been Rolf’s superior during the war.  As Hans spoke, Rolf was again becoming the sergeant he had remembered.  

This had all been too much for the sergeant.  Tears streamed down his face as Rolf thought of the gesture of faith that the Colonel had just offered.  At first, he felt much as the drowning man feels when handed a life preserver, relieved and safe.  Once attached to the preserver the sense of exhaustion overtakes him and only the need for rest and sleep is left.  Hans could see that his friend was visibly shaken but relieved.  His talk had done the trick; his sergeant had returned.


09/25/2015 07:40 AM