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SAMPLE CHAPTER - For Catherine

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For Catherine by Elizabeth Morgan


    The Mercedes purred into a parking bay. The ignition key clicked and a tall slim man eased himself out of the driving seat. Activating the locking system, he stepped back, surveying once again the new purchase with a boyish air of satisfaction. A silver Mercedes had been his dream and although his wife approved she regarded the car as his toy, an indulgence ‑ but one she was happy to share.

    In his seventies now, Freddy von Langdorf still cut a striking figure. There was no denying good bones had served his facial contours well. Dressed in a totally conventional way, after all this was Geneva, he made his way across the park to his bank on the city’s waterfront.

    The flunkeys guarding the bank’s impressive portals greeted him with oleaginous smiles and a ‘Bonjour, Comte von Langdorf.’ He had outlived many of their predecessors for he had been a client of the bank since 1945 and his parents before him. This old Swiss institution clung to the past fervently and Freddy was relieved it was the only establishment that used his title. As a German in Switzerland and a dedicated Republican, he found titles pretentious. He smiled to himself, alone in the plush silent lift taking him to the top floor, eternally grateful that his wife was not a social climber and thought as he did.

    An archaeologist, he had left Germany in 1960 to head a carbon dating company in Geneva and with no desire to return to neither East nor West, he had remained. There were memories, of course; warm, happy and heartbreaking, of the Schloss von Langdorf, his beloved parents, his uncle, friends and of his privileged upbringing between two world wars.

    The war had its memories too, a few wonderful and life shaping but too many of them terrible and sickening. He had almost learnt to forget.

    Not so in those first years following his country’s defeat; nightmares and cold sweats attacked his sleep; awake, paralysing fears would suddenly rampage through his body. With help and a strong will to survive, Freddy was able to come to terms with those satanic years and painful memories had for the most part, been relegated to the hazy backwaters of his mind.

    Business concluded, Freddy von Langdorf strode out of the bank’s marble cloisters, glancing briefly at his watch. His wife would be at the airport now meeting family from Paris and they would rendezvous in one hour at their favourite riverside restaurant. It was a perfect day for a stroll along the embankment, the sky was blue and the sun warm, just as he liked it, with only a light river breeze; life was good.

    His mobile telephone rang.

    ‘Darling, we’re going to be rather late. The Paris plane has been delayed half an hour, so do eat and we’ll catch up.’

    ‘Don’t worry, Liebschen. It happens. I’ll call the restaurant. Give me a bell when you arrive at Cornevin station. Want me to meet you?’

    ‘We’ll take a taxi. You relax,’ she laughed. ‘Bye.’

    Freddy had always been a collector of small antiques although some of the curios he found would barely qualify as such. Their home was furnished with valuable heirlooms from both sides, the likes of which they could never afford to buy, so Freddy’s curiosity purchases were always subject both to budget and to his wife’s approval.

    Fuelled by the heady anticipation of a bargain hunter on the ‘piste’ for a lost Renoir, he crossed the river to a street that ran parallel to the embankment. Here antique and bric-a-brac shops stood in serried ranks for inspection, their interiors an open invitation to the amateur collector offering a perfect way to pass an hour.

    He was known to most of the shopkeepers and was shown a variety of objects from watercolours to butterflies. Glancing at his watch he continued his stroll, taking in displays in shop windows although so far there was nothing of interest. Then quite suddenly walking past a small insignificant shop something in its window registered. He stopped abruptly, retraced his steps to take another look. What he saw caught his breath and for a moment he was completely disorientated. On the other side of the glass stood a wax dummy wearing a German officer’s uniform from World War Two, its sightless eyes staring back at him. Freddy stood transfixed, for perhaps a full minute.

    The young proprietor, anxious for business, came out into the doorway. 

    ‘Good morning, sir – interested in military memorabilia?’

    Freddy, attempting to regain his composure, replied awkwardly. ‘Well, maybe –in passing. Superficially, shall we say.’

    ‘Come on in then, sir. I’ve just acquired a large stock of this German stuff.’ Curious now, Freddy stepped inside the small shop. ‘How on earth did you find it?’

    ‘Well, through descendants of several brothers who had been in the German army, ‑ World War Two. You know, sir?’

    ‘I do indeed’ Freddy replied.

    ‘They were all officers, different ranks, dead now, two killed in action they told me and the family couldn’t stand having all this in the house. Embarrassed them they said. Fancy being embarrassed by your own family history and an important one like this – two Iron crosses for bravery too. Shame really and all high ranking.’ The young man shrugged. ‘Can’t understand wanting to give it all away like this.’

    Freddy looked at the proprietor quizzically. ‘Can’t you?’ he asked sharply, then adding with a smile, ‘But you are too young for the memories.’
Standing quite still in the doorway, Freddy’s gaze took in the uniforms on tailor’s dummies; a lieutenant’s, a major’s and dominating the interior of the shop, stood a dummy dressed in the black uniform of a Standartenfuhrer, a colonel in the SS, complete with bright red and black swastika armband. As if for emphasis a ceremonial Nazi flag leant against a dark corner.

    The lifelike presence of the German army was stifling enough but to be standing so close to the SS sent ripples of nausea through his stomach.

    ‘Really lovely uniforms and in great condition don’t you think, sir? I mean the cloth is superb –you’ve only got to feel it.’

    Freddy felt like running out but his legs were unsteady. He lowered himself into a chair next to a tray of German medals brown with age, feigning an interest in the Iron Crosses and their provenance, while memories and more memories flooded his head. 

    ‘I must say they are so smart, even elegant these uniforms. That black one, impeccable.’ The young man laughed. ‘They must have had the girls falling over backwards. Matter of fact I’ve got a television company coming in tomorrow – interested in buying the lot they are.’

    Freddy’s palms were clammy, he loosened his tie, he felt perspiration on his upper lip and gazed transfixed at the major’s uniform, turning his head away from the black SS.

    Cautiously the young vendor edged around the table to take a closer look at this odd old boy. Well dressed, looked like he wasn’t short of a franc or two. He wasn’t Swiss that was sure – spoke French with a bit of a twang – probably from Alsace. Looked as if he’d seen a ghost.

    ‘Can I get you anything, sir?’ He didn’t want his elderly customer to pass out on him. He had heard about the European war of course from his dad who always said they were lucky to be Swiss. His dad had also mentioned the Nazis had caused a few problems when they marched across Europe. Well, maybe that was it? This old chap was staring so hard at the major’s uniform, maybe he’d had seen a German major do something unpleasant. In which case – oh my God, he could have a knife in his pocket and start slashing uniforms! Couldn’t have that, with those television people coming and offering a great price too. He must get the old chap talking; get him away from the uniforms, better still get him out of the shop, just in case he threw a wobbly.

    ‘How about a nice cup of coffee, sir?’

    Ignoring the offer, Freddy continued to sit in silence. Finally he rose unsteadily, his hand outstretched.

    This is it, thought the vendor He watched and waited for the knife, preparing his body for leap and grab.

    Freddy touched the field grey cloth on the wax dummy and slowly ran his hand down the length of the sleeve.

    ‘If you are interested, sir, I could always sell these items individually.’

    Worried now, he moved closer and asked again, ‘All right, sir?’ with more than a hint of urgency under the smile.

    ‘Are you all right, sir?’ he repeated.

    But Freddy was in another time, another space – with his own memories and not just his, hers too.

    They had been inseparable. 

    Their lives intertwined.

    She had been his reason for living.

    But where did it all begin? 

    That April, in Berlin it was hot – so very hot.

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Available to order from many online retail outlets including: - 9781909049017 - 9781909049017 - 9781909049017 - 9781909049017 - 9781909049017
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: Jan 11 2013 9:59 AM


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