I. Pick Up
The Munich train station was bustling with people despite the frosty nip that hung in the air. Under the arching rain guard, a new train had just arrived. It threw open its cabin doors, releasing a surge of people from its innards. A swirl of steam hissed from between its tired and heated breaks. The Bavarian winter was not the worst winter in Germany, but it still held the encompassing arms of the freeze and a gentle kiss of snowfall. The snow on the streets had turned black from city grime and bumbling cars kicking up muck. No snow crept up under the overhanging, but the dripping wet slid onto the platform and was dragged about by the soles of people's shoes and luggage.
Two young men were loitering around the station, waiting for something or someone who had not yet arrived.
The taller of the two leaned against one of the station's pillars, one eyebrow cocked in an almost dream-like haze. Brow hair snuck loose from its lacquered grip fell in strands into his brown eyes. His arms rested lackadaisically around him, the navy blue ribbed sweater clung to his lean, lanky frame. The tall young man's mouth was pulled to a moue as he let his sleepy eyes follow the figure of the other he was with. The shorter was wearing a line in the floor of the station with his nervous pacing. The cigarette he had hanging out of the corner of his mouth and was puffing upon quickly, lent a cloud of smoke to follow him.
The taller finally could not stand it anymore and shifted his weight, letting his arms drop to his side. He sighed as he rolled his eyes, his mouth curling into a slight, but friendly smile. "Georg, will you stop pacing?" He said as he reached out a hand and took a hold of the shorter man's shoulder. "You're going to draw a crowd."
Georg von Falkenrath jolted when he was grabbed. He turned his wide-eyed gaze to his friend. The other man's round face appeared as though he was still caught in the throes of his prepubescent years. Still boyish-looking, it matched his barely five and a half foot tall body. His silver glasses sat upon a small, pug-like nose and blocked his grey eyes. As soon as he was spoken to, his hands flew to each other and began their war of twisting fingers and pressed together palms. His dwarfish size did not help the fact that he was nearly drowning in the fabric of his winter coat that was draped around his chubby frame. Locks of messy, curly black hair wormed their way out from under his pale gray winter beanie stuck out in every direction.
He stopped pacing. Pulling the cigarette form his mouth, he let out several coughs into the crook of his arm before he answered. "I-I'm sorry, Bill..." the short man apologized, "I-I just don't like any of this at all..." Georg's eyes kept darting over his shoulder, looking around for anyone that might be dressed in black, bearing arms, or wearing the shako of an Orpo man.
Bill Böhmann let out a sound like a horse, his hand patted the stone pillar he was leaning on, "Well at least come over here against this thing and try to pretend like your waiting for someone patiently."
"B-but B-Bill..." The short man whimpered, finally pulling his fingers apart from each other and letting them fall limp to his side. He just wanted to go, wanted to get out for all that he knew they could be sitting in the middle of a trap if someone had spoke to the authorities about what they were doing.
"Look, Georgie... here..." Bill put an arm around his friend's shoulders and pulled him in. "I know this is your first time picking up someone, and I know you're probably scared out of your wits. I am too. Here, feel, my hands are shaking all over, but we need to at least pretend to be calm because we have people to take care of." He patted the shorter man's head and then straightened up again to his nearly six foot tall height. Bill was not six feet tall exactly, but he always said he was.
Georg was not comforted by Bill's words, "I-I kn-.... know... b-but... wh-what if they don't show up... o-or... s-something bad has happened to them?" He ran his hands over his face as though he could wipe away the look terror that draped about him like the two sizes too big winter jacket.
"And you're supposed to be the trusting one..." Bill tried to get him to relax. He waved the smoke from Georg's cigarette away from his face, "That's a horrible habit. You keep that up and you're going to worry yourself into an early grave."
Georg drew one last breath before letting the cigarette drop from his mouth. He put it out with the toe of his shoe.
"Better," Bill cocked one eyebrow again as he raised his hand to scratch the side of his oversized nose, "Besides, we'll be safe, we have an extra layer of protection on our side called the Konkordat."
"B-Bill... I-I don't think that's what they meant when the signed it!"
"Of course that's what they meant when they signed it, short stuff. They meant, you look one way, and I'll look the other and what ever happens in between no one talks about. So, if anyone comes sniffing about, we just claim we're protected by the church, which we are."
"A-and, if they catch us and th-the church is the one that looks that other way?"
"Georg! Shush!" Bill rolled his eyes once again, "You're going to work yourself up in to some sort of frenzy and then there will be no living that down. Just come over here and lean up against this pillar and act like a normal person."
The short seminarian swallowed hard, before he finally convinced his short legs to shuffle over to the pillar to lean against it. He tried to mimic the way his friend was standing, but only ended up looking like inebriated. He just gave up and slumped against it.
The taller seminarian let out a clicking noise. "Dürr is going to blame me if anything goes wrong. So even though it maybe you getting jangled that gets us caught, I'll be blamed for it. The frown he had been wearing immediately inverted and scrunched up Bill's face into a wide, Cheshire cat grin.
"S-so," Georg said, "Y-you're adding g-guilt to this t-too?"
Bill held up a correcting finger, "It isn't guilt, It's just some food for thought."
Both seminarians looked up at the sound of another wailing whistle that split the air to announce the arrival of the newest train. It coasted into its place and let out a screech of its tired breaks. The next surge of people had Bill and Georg waiting, leaning forward expectantly. It was a family they were looking for: a family of three. Of all the families of three that were passing by them, no one was standing out, none of them looked lost or searching for someone else on the platform. Georg felt his stomach curl itself in to uneven knots as they were forced to loiter longer. He did not want to wait, he wanted to leave now. He wanted the people to show up and he wanted to take them and leave.
"They need to hurry up," Bill spoke, trying to lighten the mood as he watched the crowd, "If they are any slower then I'm going to miss the mass tonight and the Praying Mantis will eat my head."
"H-How could you th-think about something like that at a t-time like this?!"
"Shush. I'm thinking logically. You know, logically?" Bill was infamous at the seminary for his rhetorical questions, preceded by interjections. It signaled that there would be no arguing with him. "I'm saying that if they don't show up and I'm late because of it, my head is going to be on a pike scaring crows out back in Dürr's garden. He's already mad at me."
The crowed had dispersed as it had done before. A few stragglers mulled around; waiting for lost relations or perhaps trick someone into giving them a ticket. Though there was one family that caught Georg's attention, but he hurriedly averted his eyes, quite afraid of what might happen if he stared too long at them.
A broad shouldered man had stepped off the train; his brown shoes a harsh contrast to the pewter gray suit that he wore. He appeared to be middle aged, but the beginnings of creases were starting to indent themselves into his face; the slow sagging of his jowls matched the roundness of his middle. Even from afar, the shorter seminarian could see that the man looked lost as his great hands curled around two suitcases.
The man was followed by his wife, a severe, pinch faced woman dressed in an expensive looking fur coat. Her sharp face sat atop a delicate neck exposed by the tightly pinned back mouse brown hair. If she had been younger, she might have been positively stunning, but the years of wear had drained the color from her face. She was much taller then the man.
Hanging upon the end of the woman's arm was a little girl, no older then eight or nine with mousey brown hair like her mother. She skipped down the steps and landed her Mary Janes on the ground. Her little nose was running and as soon as she got off the train, she wiped it across the sleeve of her pink jacket. Her face was round and held a gapped smile as she was still missing her front teeth.
The woman gave the little girl a sharp tug and hissed something to her. The girl made no noise other then a surprised whimper and immediately stopped her lackadaisical movements. "Behave." The mother spoke harshly; the callous northern edge to her German matched her severe looking face.
Bill now had his attention drawn over to the mismatching family, though he pretended to look at the aging engine. He listened in, as soon as he heard them talk he glanced to Georg. The tall seminarian and stated the obvious; speaking through his teeth: "They're northerners."
"S-so?" Georg whispered back.
"S-So?" Bill repeated him, imitating the stutter. "So? Are you kidding, Georg? They're going to think we're a bunch of country yokels. They're going to think we're all chasing chickens and herding cattle around in our free time."
"B-But B-Bill, th-this is Regensburg. I-It's a c-city."
"I know that but we are not from here, obviously. And even with that 'oh its Regensburg, it's a city' nonsense, they still are going to draw conclusions. I've been around, Georg, when I was up in Dresden for my externitas, everyone made fun of how I said things." Bill dragged his hands down his face.
Georg reached out to pat his friend's arm. "I-I'm from Ansbach."
It took Bill a moment before. His brown eyes gawked in disbelief before he snapped his gaze towards Georg. "Was that a joke? Was that you trying to be funny?" He snorted, "What's all that? What are you trying to say? Are you trying to tell me that Baierbach isn't really a city and that I am a peasent?" He smacked Georg's hand away and tried to be offended, but the nervous smile that crept onto the short seminarian's face made it nearly impossible. Georg was trying.
The family had slowly started walking towards them. Perhaps these were their people, perhaps they recognized the clothes that the two seminarians were wearing. It had been a note left in Bill's mailbox that had alerted them to a date and time for a train arrival. There was no return address on the envelope and the taller seminarian said nothing of it to Dürr. The possibility of it being a potential trap never once crossed his mind. He had just dragged Georg along, not mentioning a word of the letter. The shorter man just assumed that this was Dürr's doing. Bill had just said that there was someone important they needed to pick up and that was a euphemism for someone they needed to hide. Georg had never been on a pick up before.
The man, woman and child were cautious in their walk. He finally spoke openly to the two some yards away, giving them ample space so that if Bill and Georg were not the ones they were looking for they could act as though they were speaking to someone else. "Wilhelm?" the man's voice was surprisingly eloquent sounding for someone who looked like him.
These were them.
Bill straightened up when he was addressed by his actual name and the charade began. "Hallo, Onkle. How was the train ride? I hope it wasn't too hard on your back?" He said "Hello Tante. Did you and Kusine manage to sleep on the train?"
There was a pause, the sour expression on the woman's face grew as she inspected the young man with the southern accent who was now calling her Tante "Yes we did, though the seats were terribly hard, just terrible all around."
These were the people they were looking for.
"Ah, that's too bad," Bill said as he reached his hands out towards the bags, "Here, let me take those off you. It's no trouble." The tall seminarian smiled warmly, just like he was greeting long lost family members. The man did hand over the luggage he was carrying, returning none of the warmth.
"So, Father" The man sniffed, "Where is your black clothes?"
"Huh?" Bill asked, trying to find a better way to juggle all the bags he was given.
"Where are both of yours black clothes? Since you and, I assume, your friend too are priests just like Herr Dürr is, where are your black clothes?"
"Oh that!" Bill said, "Well I'm not going to be wearing that, obviously!" he waved his hand in a matter-of-factly way "Look at the station, how many other's dressed like that do you see? That's a plain give away if I ever saw one, I'd rather just be hanging a sign around my neck that says 'I'm here'."
"B-But, Bill, y-you can't wear the c-collorino yet..." Georg stuttered.
Bill turned to the shorter seminarian, "Shut. Up. Georg. Shut. Up! No one asked your opinion!" his words dripping with his brand of sarcasm.
After that, Georg let his arms go slack, averting his eyes to the crowd as the family and the tall seminarian spoke. Nothing seemed of interest at first, until the flash and swirl of green greatcoats and shakos caught his eyes. He froze, blood to ice in his veins.
"B-Bill..." squeaked the short seminarian, giving a harsh elbow to the other's side.
Bill jolted, startled, "Ach! What? What is i-.." His voice trailed off when he saw what Georg was looking at. "That is lovely." Bill murmured as he tried to act nonchalant; turning to his "family". "Well, I think we should be moving along. Just come with me, the cars parked right outside. Come along."
Georg was not fully at ease until was driving the group back to Regensburg. The almost ten year old car sputtered along the gravel of the back roads that Bill made him take. The engine, still clinging onto life, shook the entire frame of the car as it barked out loud bursts of power only to taper off to dull murmurs. Every so often, it would lurch rudely to remind the bespectacled young man that he had not shifted gears quickly enough.
For the first half of the trip getting out of Munich, there was nothing but strained silence in the car. The once waving grass of the open country was caught tightly in the brittle grasp of icy freeze as it waited for spring to come. The trees had lost most of their leaves and were bone bare like the shadows of once great men now fallen into withering decay. No more mustard flowers in the field, no more deer in the woods, all was barren until spring.
Bill, eventually, turned around in his seat to face the family in the back. "So," he inquired, "Who are you really and were do you come from?"
The man looked to his wife before he answered, "What if I do not want to say?"
The tall seminarian looked like he was waiting for a punch line. When he realized that there would be none, he shifted awkwardly, "Well, it would be nice to have a name to call you by, instead of just Herr and Frau Nieman, if you know what I mean." He scratched the side of his large nose again. "I promise you this isn't going to be leaving us."
"Who is us?" the man asked, his features darkening causing Bill to recoil.
"Us!" The tall seminarian said, "Us, as in, myself, this person here," he pointed a finger to Georg, "my friend Aksel and, of course, Professor Dürr. That is it. That is the 'us'."
"Keller." The man said tersely after a pause. He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a handkerchief, dabbing it across his broad forehead. "My name is Horst Keller. This is my wife Franziska and this is my daughter Traudl. We are from Dresden and we came down here when we heard through the underground that Dürr was offering a way out of Germany. We contacted him, though he never told us when he would be able to take us. Many things got in the way and we were not able to stay safely where we were without the Gestapo sniffing about." He growled, the discomfort coming into his demeanor.
Bill offered them a weak smile trying to give them some inkling of comfort. "That won't happen here, I promise. If there is anything that Dürr is good at it is that he doesn't let things like that happen."
"So I've heard."
The tall seminarian offered his hand in greeting, "I'm Bill by the way. Wilhelm Böhmann, but you can call me Bill."
"Why the he-... Why on Earth 'Bill'?" The man asked.
Bill frowned a bit, "Because!" he said, "That's how everyone does it now-a-days, and because I liked it." He looked a bit miffed that someone would question his choice of his own name. He was an Americanophile and always had been.
The man shook his head and did not force the point, "Who is your friend, then? Does he too have an odd name?"
"Nein, this is Georg Falkenrath," Bill reached over and flicked Georg's ear with a finger.
The short young man jolted and smacked his friend's hand, "N-no, stop... I-I'm driving." Georg's eyes flashed away from the road for only an instant to glare nervously at Bill. They quickly were wrenched back so he did not cause an accident. He was not the best driver in the world and he did not want to take any chances, hands cemented to the wheel.
Dürr had taught him how to drive because he did not trust Bill with his car. However, the professor was not the most lenient in his instruction. Georg remembered all too well those nights that he had come home after a driving lesson, white as a ghost and ready to burst in to tears. When he had first started, he had almost driven the car into a tree. The second time, the two almost ended up in a ditch because the jolt of a missed shift gear had made Dürr yell at him, which frightened Georg and caused him to spin the wheel too hard to the left. After that, Dürr would glare angrily at Georg as he drove, always ready to jump in and intercept the steering. Mostly, the professor was concerned about his car.
"He looks like a strung guitar." Keller commented.
As much as Bill was trying to make conversation, the husband and wife were as grave as they could be. The discouragement was slowly sinking over the taller seminarians shoulders. Georg could almost feel it settling in for him: he knew his friend abhorred silence.
"Mama," The little girl whispered and finally to break the silence, "I'm hungry."
Bill perked up a bit at the noise of another human, "Are you now? No need to worry there, Georg here probably will have something to spare." He snorted, poking good humor at his friend's excess weight. "Do you know that his two twin cousins are trying to be chefs? That's crazy! He told me this and I said-"
Georg finally spoke up, though his voice squeaking, "Y-You said 'Wh-why d-didn't you t-tell me this b-before I joined th-the S-Seminary."
That merited a smirk from Horst.
Bill suddenly flashed out his hand and flicked Georg's ear once more, "Shut. Up. Stop blowing my stories. Just because I can tell better stories then you can." Traudl was giggling at the tall seminarian.
Horst Keller turned his eyes towards Georg, and leaned forward to speak to him. "Comrade, have you always been that tongue-tied?" He asked frankly.
The flash of embarrassment came to the short seminarian's cheeks. Yes, he always had been "tongue-tied", but how was he supposed to tell this stranger that? What sort of answer would be appropriate at all, should he even answer or should he look to Bill to answer for him?
"Y-Yes..." he spurted the word out quickly. The little seminarian slouched lower in his seat under the eyes of Keller, ashamed.
"Yeah, Kleiner Georg has always had it, at least for as long as I've known him and that's... what four years?" He asked, not even giving Georg time to answer before he continued on jabbering away.
The mother was massaging her temples; her face grew grimmer as the minutes passed. Her lips pulled into a sneer of disgust as Bill and her daughter entertained themselves. She was forcing herself to suffer in the presence of these two ruffians, in her eyes, who were going to be her saviors. While the tall seminarian was oblivious, Georg slumped even lower; the glare of the wife clawed into the back of his head.
The husband looked over to his wife and frowned deeply, "Comrade Bill." He finally spoke tersely, making the tall seminarian look up from a game of twisted fingers with the girl.
"Ja?" Bill asked
"Just Stop talking."