Pytor saw a sliver of light some 15 meters away. Ana took his arm and pointed.
“Can you see anything?” She asked.
“No, ssh. You’re too loud.”
“No one can hear us with the grunts and squeals coming from all these closed-off booths.”
“What will happen if we are caught? He asked. “I saw horrible things at the border.”
“You don’t want to find out,” she said.
They held onto each other and moved toward the light.
“Pytor,” she whispered, “I should have asked before, but the letter…”
He stopped. “Yes?”
“On the train Katalyna gave you an envelope. Do you have it?
She squeezed his hand, but he didn’t answer.
He looked around trying to figure out where they were but all was blackness. He shut his eyes. They had climbed two flights of stairs when they were shown their space by that made-up hostess. She had led them down a long and wide hallway… possibly a 100 meters and it wound around in a semi circle. Where were the stairs?
A shrill scream echoed off the walls. Ana tugged his sleeve. He glanced behind. The unmistakable sound of pounding footsteps was coming towards them. He pulled Ana away from the light.
“Udischen Schweine laufen lose.”
They froze. It was Hans and he wasn’t far away.
“Psst in here.” A man’s whispered voice instructed. He motioned then grabbed Pytor’s coat. Pytor dragged Ana with him.
“You two must be the Jewish pigs our Hansel is screaming about.”
In the dim light of the alcove Pytor could make out a man with a thin mustache with dark hair combed back. A Clark Gabel like figure who wore an ascot, a dark smoking jacket, and no pants.
Before Pytor could answer he heard Hans and Frieda outside the booth. The man pointed to a place away from the curtain and on the other side of the couch.
“Rudy, it is too quiet in there,” Pytor heard Hans say. “Is Gretta not up to it? Or are you entertaining someone else? Hans pulled the curtain and looked.
Rudy lit a cigarette and offered a drag.
“No not now,” Hans said, “Two fuck’n Jews tried to kill me and Frieda. They must still be on the floor or maybe upstairs.”
A female voice came from the couch. “Rudy, honey, what are you doing?”
Rudy put on his practiced grin. “Love calls Hans. Good-luck on finding those Jew varmints. They couldn’t have gotten far especially dressed or as undressed as you.”
Hans looked down. “I am a fine specimen and so is Frieda. Isn’t that so Rudy? We Aryans are not ashamed of our bodies. Shit, I’ll kill them both with my hands.”
“The lights will go on shortly when the downstairs show is over. I’m sure you will find them.” He dragged the curtain shut and stepped toward the couch. He motioned for Pytor and Ana to stay where they were as they all listened to the fading footsteps of their pursuers.
A minute or two ticked by before Pytor and Ana got up from behind the couch. “I can’t thank you enough,” Pytor said. “I’m…” he glanced at Ana, “we’re so…”
Rudy dropped his cigarette on the floor and sat down next to Gretta. “I owned this club once. It was a palace---an intimate place, better than any hotel. We had an orchestra not that thumping that passes for a band. There was a place to dine and a place for… well. Now there’s always a show with angry men and angry women.” He waved his arms to take in the area. “The idea was to make this a refuge from the ugliness of the outside. But… politics,” he sighed, and then stood. “Hitler promised so many wonderful things, but they were really bastards and have ruined whatever they touched. This place won’t last much longer and God help the rest of the world.”
Gretta who wore a silky robe brushed her blond hair from her face reached out for Rudy’s hand. “Ach, you can be so dramatic. It is not so bad. People still enjoy. Yes this is not what it started out to be, but when the curtain is closed we make our own fun.” She smiled. Her robe pulled slightly apart.
Rudy gave her a look and returned to his seat. “You are a delight.” He patted her leg.
“Alright to the problem at hand.” He looked at his watch. “In about fifteen minutes the lights will go on. People will be leaving. If you go now, there is darkness. Our friends Hans and Frieda though are probably near the entrance. They’ll see you. I think if you leave with the crowd you’ll have a better chance.”
Pytor looked at Ana. “What do you think?”
“Why are you doing this?” asked Ana.
Rudy smiled. “I don’t have much more to lose. I don’t care for Jews, or Russians and I truly dislike the French. The authorities think I’m nuts. Hell, look at me. I’m daring in my dress.”
Gretta moved her hand to his lap. “Not so crazy, just ready.” She laughed.
Pytor saw Ana steal a glance at where Gretta’s hand rested.
“Well?” Rudy asked.
Ana still hesitated.
Rudy took out another cigarette and lit it. He took a deep drag while giving Ana a long look.
“Okay, there is a locked door underneath the staircase. From there it leads to the alley. If you want the key it will cost. Being Jews you must have something of value. Where is it?
Pytor stepped towards him. “But you just saved…”
“Don’t be so surprised. At least I have the decency to ask. If you’re caught they’ll just take.”
“It’s okay,” Ana said. “It’s the times we live. Rudy took a risk and now he wants his reward.”
Pytor let her words sink in. It took a moment before he said, “Alright, Rudy,” and reached into his pocket. “Here you can have it. The lighter is all silver.”
Rudy grabbed it and assessed its weight. He then opened the top and flicked the wheel. A flame shot out. “Huh, and it works, very well.” He dug into his coat pocket and gave Ana a key.
“How do we know…?”
Rudy continued to flick the lighter. “You don’t, but all of life is a chance.”
“We do as he suggests,” Ana said.
“Settled.” Rudy pocketed the lighter and then pointed to the champaigne.
Before he touched the bottle, they heard what sounded like glass breaking, and bursts of shrill whistles. Lights were turned on in their alcove and streamed in from the hallway.
“What is happening?” Gretta asked. She pulled her robe tightly around her.
Rudy paused for a moment then said, “I think our new acquaintances have even more problems. My guess is either the police or the Gestapo. Either way they’re not good for us and worse for them.”