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Smoke & Mirrors

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The man was tall. Even taller than Ron and she just about made it to Ron’s shoulder. With this fellow, Elly’s head barely reached his shoulder after her tall shoes.

“Mein Herr!” Elly snapped at the rude man, wiggling to shake off his arms that had come around her to steady her. He let her go as soon as he felt she was steady on her feet, but that didn’t mean Elly was any less angry.

The man merely smiled and said, “He has a point, you know.”

“You should keep out of other people’s conversations, you know.”

His thick eyebrows raised up at the unexpected comeback. Before he could say anything, her father walked up to them. Clasping the man on his shoulder he said, “I am glad you could make it, von Baden. I see you have already met my elder daughter, Eleanor.”

“I haven’t had the pleasure of being introduced, sir. We...ran into each other,” Karl drawled, extending his hand. Although there was a pleasant smile plastered on his face, his eyes sparkled with a challenge meant just for her.

“Karl von Baden. Pleased to meet you, Fräulein.”

Helga Mayer had drummed ‘propriety’ into her two daughters and try as she might, Elly could not bring herself to be rude to this, admittedly very irritating, man. She placed her own hand into his and allowed him to bring it to his lips to place a warm kiss on her knuckles. She also threw in a ’pleased to meet you, Herr von Baden′ for good measure.

“Elly, Karl is a lot like Aharon. He is a brilliant nuclear physicist, the youngest to head the Department of Physics at the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität. He is also the Margrave of von Baden,” Mr. Mayer informed Elly.

Oh, no! He is nothing like Ron. He is arrogant and rude. Elly smiled a sickly sweet smile which clearly didn’t fool von Baden.

But even in her anger, a tiny bit of respect crept in for the man in front of her. He looked about as old as Aharon. At twenty-four, Aharon was the youngest ever practicing surgeon on the teaching staff at the Friedrich-Wilhelms University hospital. And Elly was ridiculously proud of him. And now her Vati was telling her that the man who’d so shamelessly eavesdropped on her conversation with Ron was just as brilliant, although in a different field. And he was practically royalty!

Elly desperately wanted to go back and corner Aharon again, but with her Vati still in the mood to continue with the introduction of the illustrious physicist, she couldn’t. Fortunately, she saw her rescue approach in the form of another man, clearly heading towards Mr. Mayer with something important on his mind.

“Friedrich, old chap, how are you?” The man boomed with a very foreign accent.

Mr. Mayer turned around, “I am glad you could make it William.” Pointing towards Elly, he said, “This is my elder daughter, Eleanor, and you have already met Karl.”

“A pleasure,” the man moved his attention to Elly, offering his hand for a shake.

“Good to see you again, young man.” This was directed to Karl along with a firm handshake and a pat on the back.

Before she could politely excuse herself and leave the men to their devices, Vati spoke up, looking at both Elly and Karl, “If you will excuse us, we need to catch up on something.” And with parting smiles meant for the two young people, the men were gone.

How she hated it when Vati was so blind, which was most of the time! He should have known she wanted to have nothing to do with Karl and here he was walking away, leaving the man with her. She huffed in annoyance and abandoning her good manners spun around and started walking away.

To her absolute dismay, Karl fell into step beside her and asked, “Is he your Verlobter?”

Her eyes snapped up to him, “That does not concern you, mein Herr.

“A lover’s tiff then,” he stated, not affected in the least by her anger and frustration.

Elly decided to ignore the man and continued on her way. She didn’t know where she wanted to go. Aviva had disappeared to God only knew where and so had Ron.

“Stop running, Elly. You know no one here. Neither do I. We could entertain each other,” Karl said, gently grabbing her by the elbow to stop her. It was obvious she was lost at the party and didn’t seem to know anyone. Besides, she was a beautiful girl, not to mention, a very rich and powerful man’s daughter.

“I don’t want to entertain you, or be entertained by you! And only my friends call me Elly” Elly hissed, irritated. She knew she sounded like a spoiled brat, but she couldn’t help it. She wanted Aharon to pay her this kind of attention.

“You are irritated because I overheard your conversation with your lover...”

“He is NOT my lover,” Elly nearly yelled.

“Rest assured, I heard nothing. Your face and posture were declaring it loud and clear to anyone who was watching,” Karl continued ignoring her outburst.

Elly’s jaw hit the floor. He had been guessing all this time, and she’d fallen straight for it.

Her hands balled into tight fists as she said through her teeth, “Oh! You are a vile man, Herr von Baden,” and flounced off.

Relieved that the man had, at last, decided not to follow her, she went around in search of Aviva, Ron, or someone she could talk to. But other than the few people she knew, whom she greeted, she couldn’t find either of them.

Elly gave up and headed up to Erica’s room and heard Aviva’s voice floating in from there.

“You said you’d be in the library,” Elly accused, closing the door behind her.

“I was. Then Onkel Friedrich had some work to discuss with an Engländer, so I had to leave. I came to find you, you were talking to someone,” Aviva explained, but a mischievous sparkle lit her face up as she said the last part.

“Someone tall and blond and handsome with blue eyes,” Erica piped in, sharing a secretive glance with Aviva.

“Ugh...don’t get excited, girls! He was so rude.”

“Looked quite interested in talking to you from where I was looking,” Aviva winked.

“He overheard me talking to Ron,” Elly complained.

“What were you talking about, exactly?” Erica enquired.

The girls were having entirely too much fun at her expense. But Elly had to vent, so she ignored the teasing and trudged on with her woeful tale.

“Well, I asked him why he didn’t like my dress! And he said I looked beautiful...” she trailed off as she saw Aviva and Erica hanging on with rapt attention.

“I asked him if I looked as beautiful as Katherine...” she trailed off, making the girls gasp.

“Just like that? You just came out and asked him?” Erica squealed. She could never imagine being so bold. Elly had always been the brave and bold one of the two.

“You are going to give my poor brother a heart attack, Elly,” Aviva giggled. While predicting such a dire consequence she didn’t seem all that bothered about him!

“What did he say?” The girls chorused.

Elly let them stew for a bit. She wasn’t going to let them off easy for teasing her. But she couldn’t keep it in and muttered, “He said ‘That’s not the same’.”

She couldn’t help the wobble in her voice. She’d been trying to get the man to understand that she loved for over a year now. But he simply refused to see it for what it was.

Suddenly Aviva gasped, “Did the man overhear all this?”

“No. But he figured it all out. Based on my facial expressions and body language, he says.”

“He’s lying!” Aviva decided.

“Well, he did ask me if Ron was my Verlobter, and when I said no, he said we were having a ‘lover’s tiff’,” Elly explained.

The girls were speechless.

“Why do you think he did that?” Erica asked after a long time.

“I don’t know, entchen,” Elly murmured as she thought back to the grey-blue eyes of the man that had stared so intently at her. If only Ron had looked at her like that!

It was close to midnight when Mr. and Mrs. Mayer bid goodnight to the last of the guests and retired to the study with Mr. and Mrs. Feldsher. Mr. Mayer poured them all a nightcap of sherry as they relaxed for the first time in hours.

“Ah, Moshe! It has been too long since we sat down like this,” Mr. Mayer sighed.

“Well, you are the one who has been flying around in airplanes for the last two months,” Mr. Feldsher reminded him.

“You are right. It has been hectic. But I have to say, these two things, air travel, and telephones will change the face of the world.”

“I hope for the better!” Mr. Feldsher said, raising his glass in a toast.

“You look worried, Friedrich,” he commented, noting that his friend had not raised his glass in toast.

“I have a bad feeling about this Moshe. The things that my trucks are transporting around the country; it is starting to worry me.”

“What do you mean?”

“We have started manufacturing tanks and submarines and airplanes. In large quantities.”

“That is worrying. It hasn’t even been a generation since we last buried our soldiers. And isn’t it against the treaty of Versailles?” muttered Moshe, looking over at their wives, sitting comfortably on the couch and talking about something far more pleasant.

Friedrich followed the train of his friend’s unspoken thoughts and murmured, “I hope, for all our sakes, we don’t get involved in another conflict.”

Moshe lowered his voice, obviously in a bid to keep the conversation from the women. “I saw a large poster in Alexanderplatz yesterday. Die Juden sind unser Unglück*. And not just one. These are popping up all over the city. I don’t like where this is going.”

Friedrich’s face paled. “I saw it too. I can’t believe the Chancellor is blind to all this. The same man who started with collecting money in boxes on street corners to build the autobahn!”

There was an uncomfortable silence between the two friends before Friedrich asked, “What are you thinking, Moshe?”

“I am thinking it is time we went to America. Visit Adah’s brother and see how things pan out.”

Karl spent another couple of hours mingling with the businessmen, bankers, and academicians, some he knew already and some he didn’t. After a sumptuous dinner, during which he was disappointed to note the absence of Elly, he took himself home.

“Took you long enough. I was starting to wonder if you weren’t in town,” a lazy drawl reached Karl as soon as he stepped in.

“Thank you, Otto. I will not require your help tonight. You may turn in,” Karl informed his butler as he strode towards his study and the origin of the voice. He had not expected to see his younger brother, Leopold, Prince Baden, anytime soon. As a career military man, he was rarely in Berlin.

“What are you doing here, Leo?” Karl demanded as he divested himself of his suit jacket and the constricting bow tie.

“Will you ever learn the art of decent small talk, Karl? No woman will put up with you long enough to marry you. Where were you?”

“You haven’t answered my question,” Karl insisted as he poured himself a finger of scotch and sat opposite his brother in his favorite wingback armchair.

“I am here for a couple of days. The Chancellor is putting in a plan to start up production of tanks. I was here to go through a new design with the engineers. Your turn.”

“I was at a party at Friederich Mayer’s.”


“Well, he is one of the biggest transporters in Germany after all. However much you may hate these ‘mingling’ affairs, they are a useful beast. And now that Papa’s gone, I need to be there to represent our interests.”

“Ah! Painfully boring affairs, these social mingling parties. Anything good come from the effort?”

Karl swirled the golden liquid gently in his glass as he thought about the party. “Possibly.”

Leo frowned, “What do you mean?”

"Bloß nicht!" Karl exclaimed. He looked like he wanted to say more, but held himself back at the last moment.

“Wow! That doesn’t sound good. What happened at the party?”

“I met a girl there.”

Leo leaned forward eagerly. It was not often that his big brother talked about women. That was not his area of expertise.

After a brief pause to pick his words, Karl continued, “Friedrich Mayer’s daughter.”


“I am thinking of marrying her.”

Leopold nearly dropped his tumbler. This was totally unexpected.

“Care to repeat yourself?” he asked, incredulous.

“What’s wrong with your hearing?”

“You want to marry this girl that you saw at a party. For how long? One hour?”


“What the hell? Are you crazy?”

“I liked her.”

“I can understand that you liked her looks. But you don’t know what she is like!”

“I know enough.”

“If you follow through on this, you are likely to end up like Papa and Mama,” Leo said, shaking his head.

The previous Margrave of Baden and his wife had a marriage of convenience. A political marriage. The chill in their relationship seeped through into the boys’ lives too.

“It worked, didn’t it? For the most part,” Karl challenged.

“Be careful, Bruder. You are turning into him.”

The two were lost in their thoughts for minutes. Each contemplating their drink as if it held the secret to all their desires. But Leo couldn’t keep quiet or keep still. This thing that Karl had sprung on him had shaken him to the core.

He threw his hands up with a frustrated sigh and said, “What changed? Why are you suddenly thinking of marriage? And to a complete stranger, no less! One for whom you feel absolutely nothing. And what of her? Perhaps she is in love with someone.”

Karl simply looked at his younger brother, allowing him to vent.

“That’s it. I hope she is in love with someone and will refuse to marry you. That will wake you from this foolishness,” he finished.

His brother’s outburst reminded Karl of Aharon Feldsher. He knew the man, a prodigy, just like himself. The girl did seem infatuated with him. Could it be love? He hoped not. He had to marry sooner or later, he had a title to pass on. As meaningless as it was. His father would expect it of him. And she was easy on the eye. Very easy.

Leo hadn’t expected a reaction from Karl, and yet he was irritated with the lack of a response.

“I am going to bed. I hope this whole thing fizzles out soon!” he spat before storming out of the room to the sound of Karl’s chuckle. This time he didn’t feel good about making his stoic big brother laugh.

* The Jews are our misfortune!

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