As Justine walked through the dark street to her apartment, she pondered her growing relationship with Captain Ross. Since they spent that first night talking at her apartment, he reciprocated by taking her to dinner at a cafe frequented by the Americans. Again, she enjoyed herself.
Handsome and charming, but not forward like other Americans she met, a perfect gentleman. As they talked, he touched her hand, and once he hugged her, but pressed nothing more. Seemed content with her company. Around him, she felt relaxed and confidant. Able to be herself. Except she had not mentioned the Russians or the Brigade.
As she turned the corner to her apartment, the chalk mark scratched on the wall froze her in her tracks. What could it mean? Not over two weeks ago, Ari said he would be gone for a month. Now his mark, heralding his coming. What could it mean? Could something be wrong? Or, as he warned, could she be in danger?
After rushing up the stairs, her eyes scanned the apartment. Only her usual day-to-day clutter, no sign anyone else had been inside. After bolting the door and removing her coat, she rushed to the cupboard. She jacked a round into the pistol’s chamber before setting it on the counter. Next, she took down the canister holding the Commissar’s camera. It remained untouched inside its bag.
A slow tread on the stairway prompted her to turn. Not the bounding noises made by Ross or Ari, nor Jovanovich’s ominous stomp. Just a slow, measured thump as the caller climbed.
Pistol in hand, she moved to the door, as the caller tapped and wheezed, as if out of breath, called her name. She eased the door open a crack, then peered out.
Lowe’s eyes twinkled as he smiled. “Ah, Miss Rothstein! Did you see the mark Ari told me to leave?”
As she opened the door, she clutched the pistol behind her back. “Please come in. The mark confused me. I did not expect Ari so soon. I forgot you would come occasionally.”
“Well, he suggested I use the mark, so you would expect me.” His gaze roamed the apartment. “Not polite to drop in unannounced.”
He turned to her. “Can I take you to dinner? I have the car downstairs, and I know a nice restaurant. My treat.”
“Well, I am really not dressed to go out.” As she fussed with her hair, she brought the gun to her side. “I have not washed my hair for days.”
“Nonsense, you look ravishing.” Wide-eyed, Lowe gazed at the gun. “You can put that away, though. As you recall, I said I was harmless.”
“I-I am sorry.” While opening the cupboard to store it away. “I did not recognize the footsteps coming up the stairs.”
“Well, I am older. I don’t race to the side of pretty girls. I prefer to save my energy for what might be in store when I arrive.”
She cocked an eyebrow. “You are awful. Perhaps I should keep the pistol out.”
Lowe grinned as he stroked his mustache. “That makes my old heart glad. A man knows he is over the hill when he can no longer threaten the young girl’s virtues.” He shook his finger in the air. “For what it’s worth, I promise to behave.”
“Now, you sound boring.” She laughed as she retrieved her coat from its hook and passed it to him. “Be a gentleman and help a lady put this on.”
He scowled. “I will, but it defies my basic instincts to help women put clothes on.” He held it out so she could slip in her arms. “But you must promise to keep this to yourself. Might sully my reputation.”
At the building’s entrance sat the same car Ari used. A young man in a flat cap leaning against it opened the back doors as they approached.
Lowe made a half bow as he beckoned her inside. “You see? I even brought a chaperon.”
Their cheerful banter continued as they passed through the darkened streets. Once they entered the sector with little damage, the car parked beside a Jeep next to a two-story building. Despite having no roof, light streamed from the first-floor windows.
Lowe glanced at the Jeep before taking her arm. “It seems the Amis have also discovered this little place.”
As the three entered, a stout woman clutching menus greeted them in the foyer with a smile. “Welcome, Herr Lowe.”
“Please, madam, a table for three.”
As she led them past the bar, a tall, thin man wearing a chef’s hat came through the kitchen doorway and grinned.
“Ah, Herr Lowe, you are dining here tonight with your grandchildren?”
“As a regular customer, I expect respect.”
The man’s eyebrows rose. “I only meant this is a family establishment. Tonight’s special is duck, your favorite.”
“Heinrich, the last time you served me a duck, it had four legs.” Lowe roared with laughter as two American officers at a table exchanged wide-eyed glances, then looked down at their plates.
Lowe turned to them, thrust a finger in the air. “Don’t worry. He only serves cats free of disease.”
“You slander me.” Heinrich tossed his hands in the air. He turned to the Americans. “I apologize for this oaf.” He turned back to Lowe. “Now, I will have to give these gentlemen a bottle of my best wine to overcome your insult. I will have my lawyer send you the bill!”
Lowe shook his finger in Heinrich’s face. “You started this slander.” Lowe beckoned to Justine. “This is Justine Rothstein. She is no blood relative. She owes me no money and is only here because she desires my companionship.” He nodded to Justine. “Is this not true?”
Justine laughed, burying her face against Lowe’s shoulder, so the tears would not run down her face.
“Be careful, young lady.” He shook his finger in her face. “If you continue snuggling up to me, I might forgo my promise!”
The woman who greeted them at the door marched to Heinrich’s side. Her expression reminded Justine of the disapproving looks her teachers had when the children misbehaved.
“Please, you two. Your banter upsets the customers.” As her foot tapped, she placed her hands on her hips and scowled. “This is a fine restaurant, not some Berlin Cabaret. They should put you two in the zoo.” She took Justine’s arm. “Come with me, young lady, while you still have some of your reputation intact.” With her nose in the air, she led Justine to a nearby vacant table.
Lowe nudged Heinrich. “I am sorry if I got you in trouble with the boss.”
Heinrich grinned. “It is all right.” He winked. “With luck, I might get spanked before bed.”
“Now, as that good-for-nothing I married said, the special is duck.” The woman scowled at the two men still standing by the bar as she handed Justine a menu. “But you will be pleased with anything on this menu.”
As Lowe made his way to the table, Colonel Butler barged in trailed by the man who accompanied him to the Ministry.
Heinrich’s wife met them in the foyer. “A table for two, gentlemen?”
Butler’s eyes scanned the room while his companion loomed in the background. “I am looking for Herr Moeller. His car’s parked out front.”
“I don’t believe Herr Moeller expected anyone to join him.” She continued to block his path.
Butler stepped back. Glared at the short, stout woman. “That’s right, he doesn’t expect us.”
“Wait here, please. I will find out if Herr Moeller wishes you to join him.”
As she turned to enter the dining room, Butler followed close on her heels.
One American officer stood, blocking Butler’s path. “How about showing some manners, bud? The lady asked you to wait at the door.”
Butler shoved past the man, but his companion moved between the soldier and Butler. The movement to extract a wallet from beneath his coat exposed a large pistol in his shoulder holster. He flipped open the wallet before holding it up to the officer’s eyes. “This is official Army business, buddy. Just sit down and enjoy your meal.”
Heinrich’s wife rolled her eyes as Butler trailed her to a table where Werner dined with a young woman with long golden hair.
“Ah, Herr Fisher!” Werner smiled as he stood. He beckoned to the table. “Please join my daughter and me.” He turned to Heinrich’s wife. “Freda, another wine glass, please.”
He turned to Butler. “Thank you for your compensation for our last delivery. It was much better than we agreed. Are you bringing more business?”
Butler nodded to Werner’s daughter before turning back to Werner. “Exactly. That driver last time did excellent work. Could he drive again?”
“Oh, really?” Werner shrugged. “He did that well?”
“Yes, excellent!” Butler’s eyes scanned the room while his associate did the same as if searching for threats.
“Well, that will not be possible, I am afraid.”
Butler’s head snapped around. “What? Why?”
“Unfortunately, hijackers killed him last night. But I have others even more skilled.”
A smile played at Butler’s lips. “I’m sorry to hear that, but pleased his death did not affect your business.” As he turned to go, Werner cleared his throat. “You mentioned another job?”
Butler turned back. “Uh, yes. I’ll be in touch.”
As Werner trailed the retreating pair with his eyes, his daughter leaned close. “Father, that was not true. I saw Willi drive out of the warehouse an hour ago.”
“Hopefully, a little lie can do some good. If we are lucky, we will never see that man and his friend again.”
After witnessing the interaction, Justine turned to Lowe, who concentrated on his menu. “Who is that man with the young blond over there?”
Lowe glanced up. “Werner Moeller. He owns a fleet of trucks. They say he delivers anything for anyone if the price is right. He has helped the Brigade often, and Ari trusts the man.”
“Do you know the man that came to their table?”
“I am sorry I was so busy reading the menu, I didn’t really notice him. Why?”
“I am not sure. I have seen him before, and I thought his name was Butler, but Herr Moeller called him Fisher. He and the other man reminded me of the Gestapo.”
“The city is crawling with shady characters. Mostly spies. No one trusts anyone, and the Allies play dirty tricks on each other and the Germans.”
“Did Ari tell you the Americans are hiding Nazis from the Russians?”
“Yes, he said he would try to find out why when he was home.”
“It makes no sense. What would Americans want with those butchers?”
“I am sure they would be useful no matter what they did while working for that madman.”
“I can’t imagine how.”
“That is because you are young and decent. I hope you never have your imagination changed to accept some of these things.”
“You mean like Kovner’s awful plan?”
“Ah, you have heard the rumor too. Well, he went to Palestine with Ari. He hopes Ben Gurion sanctions whatever evil he has in mind. I sincerely hope he is wrong.”
The next morning, as Ross rushed down the Ministry’s stairs, he met Justine returning from lunch. She smiled as he neared. “Good morning, Captain. I was thinking about you.”
Ross stopped, returned her smile as he leaned against the handrail. “Good thoughts?”
“What else? But seriously, thank you again for the wonderful dinner. I so much enjoyed the evening.”
“Well, it’s the best restaurant I know in the city. How about we do it again soon?”
“How about I cook you a meal? I now have a stove. I would love making a meal for someone besides myself.”
“Sounds swell. When?”
As Sergeant Harrison pulled up behind her in a Jeep, after leering, he tapped the horn. She turned and nodded while Harrison tipped his overseas cap with a smile. She turned back to Ross. “This evening?”
“I think so. Can I bring anything?”
“I work late tonight. Could you possibly bring me?”
“Sure. What time?”
“Shall we say, six-thirty?”
“I tell you what, when you’re ready, come to my office, and we’ll leave from there.”
“So, we have what you call a date then?”
He nodded with a grin before bounding down the stairs.
Harrison smirked as Ross climbed into the Jeep. “You goin’ campin’ tonight, sir?”
“What?” Puzzled, he glanced at Harrison.
Harrison nodded towards Ross’s crotch. “Your tent’s up.”
Ross chuckled as the Jeep pulled out into traffic. “Did you forget?”
“I ordered you to not have thoughts in those regards about myself and Miss Rothstein. Put yourself on report for insubordination.”
“Said the man about to defy directives forbidding fraternization with the locals.”
“Sounds like blackmail, Sergeant.”
“It’s the Army way.”