Ingrid Bach woke to the sharp report of rifle fire cascading down the valley. Opening her eyes, she stared at the ceiling and waited for the next shot. Crack! She flinched. There passed a comma of silence, raw and empty, then the gun's echo whistled over the treetops and departed the meadow.Damn the Americans, she thought to herself.Will they ever stop hunting my precious chamois? The question dissolved like a wisp of smoke. They would stop killing the graceful mountain antelope when they left the country. Not before.
Ingrid lay still for a few seconds longer, treasuring the last calm she would have until late that evening, then rose from her bed and padded to the window. Last night' s forecast had called for cloudy skies and showers. People used to joke that the only thing more inaccurate than the weather forecast was a bulletin from the front. Drawing the curtains, she peered from the window. The sky was frosted blue, without a single cloud. Forecasting hadn't improved, but at least the war was over.
Opening the window, she thrust her head into the morning sun. The air was crisp and breezy, a tinge of warmth hiding deep in its folds. The hooded peaks of the Furka and the Wasserhorn loomed close above her shoulder, silently guarding the entrance to a narrow valley that in summer exploded in a palette of greens and in winter hid under a blanket of snow. One hundred yards from her window curved the shore of a crystal blue lake, its surface scalloped by a freshening wind. Her perfectionist's eye caught a streak of exposed wood on the gazebo in Agnes' Meadow where she had been married. She would dig up a can of paint in the garage and touch up the eaves, first thing.
Having thus begun her list of items to accomplish during the day, Ingrid closed the window and walked purposefully to her bathroom where she made hertoilette. A hundred strokes of her mother's sterling hairbrush, a cold water rinse for her face and neck, then a few dabs of make-up. She was disappointed to see her favorite lipstick, Guerlain'sPassion de la Nuit, was nearly exhausted. The rouge and mascara her husband had spirited from Paris had run out months ago.
Once the lodge had been full of luxuries from all corners of the ever expanding Reich: Russian furs, Danish hams, Polish vodka, and, of course, French fashions – dresses, scarves, cosmetics. All of it had gone to keep the household running.
Having finished applying her lipstick, she moved closer to the mirror to give herself a final looking over. As usual, she was overwhelmed by her plain appearance. Her eyes were a common blue, neither pale nor particularly colorful. Her nose was a shade long, dignified with a barely perceptible cleft at its tip. "Patrician," her father had called it and it was his greatest compliment. The summer sun had sprinkled her cheeks with freckles. Her one mystery and sole asset were her lips which were full and well formed and naturally crimson. Not at all typical for a woman of Aryan extraction, she'd been informed by a professor of eugenics from Humboldt University, just before he tried to kiss her. What was it, then, that men had found so attractive? Certainly not her hair. Cut to drape her brow and fall to her shoulders, it was as thick and straight as a sheaf of summer wheat, but unfortunately hardly its color. Once kept a striking platinum blonde by Munich's finest coiffeurs, it had gone a tepid yellow, her horrid brown roots all too apparent. One day soon she would muster her courage and do battle with the bottle of peroxide in the medicine cabinet.
Ingrid dressed quickly, slipping into a black wool dress that had belonged to one of the maids. She would have preferred beige slacks, a burgundy cashmere sweater, and a silk foulard at her neck, but grease, paint, and sweat did little to enhance the creations of Chanel and Ballenciaga. Leaving her bedroom, she descended the main staircase to the great hall. The vast chamber was quiet as the grave, her every footstep echoing lugubriously off the vaulted ceiling and paneled walls.
In better times, Sonnenbrucke had boasted a staff of ten housemaids and four manservants, not including the chef. Ingrid could see them now: Sophie dusting the family portraits; Genevieve polishing the silver; Herr Liebgott working his magic in the kitchen. All but one had left when the war ended. The Bachs were pariahs. Living reminders of Germany's bloody fall from grace. Only Herbert, the family's longest serving retainer and major-domo, remained. At eighty, he had nowhere else to go. These days, Ingrid relied on herself to keep Sonnenbrucke in order.
Reaching the ground floor, she continued across the hall and passed through the butlers' pantry into the kitchen. Three months ago, she would have found it abuzz with activity, even at this early hour – a smoked stag hanging from a curing hook, copper kettles boiling with freshly made spatzle, mountains of red cabbage piled on the cutting board. This morning, the cavernous room was empty, save an elderly man, head in hand, seated on a stool next to the sink.
"Herbert?" she said. "What is the matter?"
The leonine gray head lifted. "_Kein mehr Brot_," responded Herbert Kretschmar. "No more bread." Despite the Bach family's precipitous change in circumstance, he still wore the traditional black frock coat and striped flannel trousers of a professional butler. "What will we serve Master Pauli for breakfast?"
Ingrid rushed to the bread larder. A smattering of crumbs dusted the cutting board. "But the ration was for three loaves."
"Last week we received only two. We are four mouths, even if your father does not eat so much. I should have foreseen the circumstances. Forgive me."
Ingrid touched his shoulder. "No, Herbert, it's my fault. I should have traded for more. We only have two days until we can draw our next rations. We will make do." She injected a cheery lilt into her voice. "Come, let's fry our little angel a sausage for breakfast. We'll tell him it's a special treat."
Opening the meat locker, she found a last sausage dangling from a small hook. She laid it on the counter and cut it into six slices. From the vegetable nook, she retrieved a potato and set it in a pot of water to boil. A half cup of homemade blackberry jam remained. There was still some flour, a bowl of cherries and a few apples. They would have enough for today. But what about tomorrow? What if the rations continued to come up short? They couldn't go on eating potatoes forever. Throwing a dash of salt into the pot, she felt her hands cramp with fear.
Keep moving, an urgent voice counseled.Keep moving and your problems will stay behind you.
Heeding the advice, she concerned herself with putting breakfast on the table. But even the busiest hands couldn't divert her mind from its persistent nagging. Providing for the house had been Papa's province, then her husband's. She'd had little experience handling such things. With embarrassing acuity, she remembered her last trip to their banker, Herr Notnagel in Munich. "I'm so sorry, Frau Grafin," he had said with suffocating kindness, "but neither you nor your father any longer possesses the least right to your family accounts. Everything has been placed in your brother's name." The Lex Bach – a decree from the Fuhrer deeding all assets of Bach Industries to her only surviving brother, Egon. Effective 2 August 1944. Egon's reward for informing Adolf Hitler about her father's vocal dissatisfaction with the continued prosecution of the war.
She'd been left with Sonnenbrucke, the family's hunting lodge tucked away in the southeastern corner of the country, where she'd lived since Allied bombers had begun encroaching on the Reich's frontiers. It was more hotel than home: twenty guest suites and ten bedrooms – all with private baths, two dining halls, a grand ballroom, winter garden, countless salons, six staircases, a free-standing smokehouse and seven dumb waiters. All of it done up to look like one of Mad King Ludwig's ridiculous castles. She drained the copper pot and cut the potato in two, enough for Herbert and Pauli. She was not hungry. Setting the table, she inventoried what remained within the lodge that she might trade for black market goods. She'd sold the last of the Gobelin tapestries months ago. A dealer in Munich had offered two thousand Reichsmarks, knowing it was worth ten times that. She'd accepted. To cover the staff's salaries, she'd been forced to part with several prized oils, portraits from the family gallery that had been painted by the famed British artist, John Singer Sargent. Only one thing of value remained: her father's wine cellar. At last count, four hundred sixty-six bottles of vintage French wine lay in the damp tomb beneath the kitchen. Petrus, Lafitte-Rothschild, Haut Brion -les vins nobles du Bordeaux. She would not consider the glass displays full of her precious Meissen figurines and vases. The delicate blue and white porcelain was her single vice. Collected since childhood, each piece held a treasured memory. It was Pauli's sole birthright.
It would be the wine, then.
She informed Herbert of her decision, then hastened from the kitchen and mounted the servants' stairs to the first floor. Checking her watch, she saw that it was nearly eight o' clock. Time to wake her son.
Pauli was already out of bed, sitting on the floor running a miniature tank back and forth across the carpet. He was a sturdy child with tangled blond hair falling short of determined blue eyes. Since the war ended, he'd been plagued by nightmares. A rumor had circulated at school that the Red Army was crossing Czechoslovakia to invade southern Germany, roasting German-born children on spits, then feeding them to its troops. She had told him such stories were ridiculous, but like any six-year-old boy he had an energetic imagination.
Kneeling, she gave Pauli his morning kiss and asked him how he had slept. "Fine," he said cheerfully. "Next year I will join the Pimpfen and then I can fight the dirty reds. The Fuhrer will be proud of me."
The Pimpfen was the entry level of Hitler Youth. A boy joined when he was ten and stayed until he was fourteen. In the Pimpfen, the Hitler Youth, the Volksturm, children were taught to fight before they could read. Killing had been deemed a virtue instead of a sin.
Running a hand through his ivory locks, she explained again that the war was over. There would be no more Pimpfen, no more Hitler Youth. For a child who had never known peace, the concept was difficult to comprehend.
"If the war is over, why isn't Daddy home?"
Ingrid lifted his chin until he met her gaze. It was frightening how he resembled his father. "Don't you remember what I told you, sweetheart? Daddy isn't coming home."
Pauli threw his eyes to the floor, grabbing his tank and running it furiously up and down his leg. She let him play like this for a few moments, then escorted him to the bathroom and helped him brush his teeth and wash his face. She picked out an outfit for him, and as he dressed she heard him singing the words to an anthem she knew too well.
"_Die Fahne hoch, die Reihen jest geschlossen, SA marschiert in ruhig jesten Schritt. Kameraden die Roifront und Reaktion erschossen_."
He went on, the words to the Horst Wessel song, the Nazis' sacred anthem, spilling as effortlessly from his lips as the Lord's Prayer used to spill from hers. When would he finally take to heart that the war was over and his daddy wasn't coming home?
Shuddering involuntarily, she ushered him out of the room and downstairs to the kitchen.
Breakfast was a rousing success. Pauli shouted joyously at the steaming plate of sausage and potatoes accompanied by a glass of fresh milk. Herbert sat beside him, entertaining the master of the house with stories of hunting parties of old. Ingrid studied them both, nibbling a fingernail, worrying. For six years, she had managed to outrun the privations imposed by the war. She was rich. She had powerful friends. She was a Bach. Finding and paying for goods on the black market was not a problem. But six months after Egon stole the family business, a new reality imposed itself. The upkeep of Sonnenbrucke – food, electricity, staff, medicine – was devastatingly expensive. By January, she was broke.
She'd visited Egon at the Villa Ludwig soon afterward to ask for more money and it seemed he'd been waiting for the request. Yes, he'd smiled cloyingly, he'd be happy to loan her some money. Say, five thousand marks should she accompany a visiting dignitary and ensure he had an enjoyable dinner. "Whatever's necessary, Ingrid. I'm sure you and Field Marshal Scheerner will get along famously. After all,it is what you do best." And to underscore his meaning, or being Egon, just to be rude, he'd pinched her rump and blown her a harlot's kiss. Furious and utterly humiliated, she'd slapped him across the face and sworn never to speak with him again.
But the sight of Pauli wolfing down his meager meal made her question whether she'd been rash, if pride had taken precedent over necessity. Momentarily she was paralyzed with fear. What would happen when she could no longer barter for fresh butter and chickens and red cabbage on the black market? The wine would only take her so far. One month, perhaps two. Then how would she feed Pauli? With more sausage stuffed with sawdust? Bread levened with sand?
She stood so abruptly that her son let go a frightened cry.
Keep moving, a fevered voice inside her commanded.Don't look behind you!
Forcing a smile to her face, she told him she must look in on Grandpapa and fled the room. She ran up the back staircase, loosening the serving apron from her neck. Reaching the first floor landing, she rested her head against the wall. Deep breaths did little to ease her anxiety. It wasn't fair that she should be expected to support the household to do the cooking, the cleaning, the mending, and the caring for her father and her child. She was a Bach, dammit! There were others to do those jobs.
Keep moving! Responded the voice, but now it sounded as scared as she.
I can't, she whimpered.I don't want to. Then came the scariest rejoinder of all, the one that haunted her more as each day passed and her family's circumstances worsened.Why? If there's nothing to look forward to, why?
Frightened by her dark thoughts, she drew herself upright and wiped at her eyes. Somehow her tears eased her anxiety and when she reached the door to her father's bedroom, she had regained not only her composure but her confidence. She rested for a few seconds, gathering her breath and finding her courage. Her fingers danced through her hair, guiding stray locks to their place as if by intuition. Closing her eyes, she offered a brief prayer that today would be a good one for her father. Then she knocked and opened the door.
The room was dark. The labored huff and sigh of her father's breathing rose from the bed. Alfred Bach was still asleep. She drew the curtains, then rolled up the blinds and threw open a window. Sunlight burst into the room as a gust of wind invigorated the still air.
"Good morning, Papa," she said, giving his shoulder a gentle squeeze.
The old man's eyes fluttered, then opened. "Good morning."
Ingrid smiled. He said "good morning" no matter what time of day one greeted him. "How was your sleep? Did you see Mama in your dreams?"
"Good morning," he said again.
Ingrid kept her smile in place, but her heart sank. Illness had shrunk him. The outline of his frame hardly showed under the duvet. "Good morning," she whispered.
Every so often her father had moments of clarity. "Aujhellungen," the doctor called them. The term denoted a clearing of the clouds. On those days, Papa would be himself again, barking orders left and right, complaining about his arthritis, cursing that nincompoop Hitler's decision to delay the invasion of Russia so that he could take a vacation in the Balkans. She had hoped today might be one of those occasions.
Alfred Bach lurched forward and Ingrid's hands dropped to the sturdy restraints hanging from the bedside. "Ingrid, my darling daughter," he said. "How I love you.
She released the ties. "I love you, too, Papa."
"How is Bobby?" Always the question about her husband. "He's fine."
"Is he coming to the party?"
Ingrid smiled coyly. Lately, her father had gotten it into his head that every day was his birthday. "I'm so sorry, Papa, but Bobby cannot come. His squadron is stationed in the east. He's probably flying right-"
"No, no," interrupted Alfred Bach. "He must be on his estate. He's aGraf, after all. Don't forget that. His responsibility is to his land. A man must keep his eye on things."
Alfred Bach loved his son-in-law's vast tracts of land in eastern Pomerania almost as much as the title that had accompanied them.Graf Robert Friedrich von und zu Wilimovsksy. And, of course, she was theGrafin, though her claim to the title was dubious now that the Red Army had seized her husband's estates.
They were a pair, the Wilimovskys and the Bachs. Two of Germany's fabled families, one destitute and ruined, the other soon to be.
She'd known Bobby her entire life. He was a dark, willowy boy – she'd never been able to think of him as a man – who loved sleek boats, fast cars and faster airplanes. But, he was no playboy. God, no. He'd neither drunk nor smoked. To her chagrin, he hadn't even liked sex very much. He'd proposed at midnight, New Year's Eve, 1939, at the Bristol in Berlin, Reichsmarschall Goering standing close by as his second. Maybe it was the champagne or his dancing brown eyes or the fact that earlier in the day she'd learned she was carrying a child. Whatever the reason, she'd said yes, then and there. She had loved Bobby very much. But she hadn't been in love with him. At least not then, and – if she were to keep to the morning's theme of unblinking introspection maybe not ever.
Erich had stolen that from her. Not the ability to love so much as the capacity to trust that was love's necessary antecedent. She saw him now as he always visited her, dressed in his formal evening attire, blond hair swept sternly from his forehead, bronzed skin glowing in contrast to his blackest of black uniforms. A gold medallion hung from his neck, an award bestowed by the Fuhrer that very evening to honor the Fatherland's finest athlete. A year after his defeat at the Olympic Games, Erich Seyss had regained his country's adulation, winning three events at the European Championships, all by decisive – or as Adolf Hitler lauded in toasting him – "Germanic" margins.
He wasn't the handsomest man she'd ever seen, perhaps not even in the room that night, but he possessed about him a stillness, a composure that was its own attraction. He smiled reluctantly, as if humor were a commodity in short supply. He had the gift of patience, of making others come to him and not speaking until one wasn't sure whether he'd even heard a word you'd blathered in that first gush of hellos and congratulations and generally shameless fawning. But the most alluring of all his qualities was his confidence, unalloyed and unspoken. To everyone who saw him that night in Berlin, seated on the dais to the Fuhrer's left, he was, of course, the new Germany. The Fatherland reborn.
And when he appeared at her side late in the evening, not only smiling but bowing as he requested the next waltz, his diamond blue eyes riveted upon her as if she were more valuable than any medal, she broke her every coquette's precept and agreed immediately.
He was a wonderful dancer.
That had been eight years ago, Ingrid realized, almost to the day.
"Bobby won't be coming to the party tonight," she said to her father. "But I've invited all your friends. The Mellars, the Klinsmans, the Schroeders."
A drawer in the nearest cabinet housed her father's medication. Lidocaine to be injected twice daily. Aspirin. Morphine for the days when his pain was unbearable. She had no medicine to sharpen his mind. She administered the lidocaine and made sure her father had swallowed his aspirin, then went downstairs to prepare a light breakfast for him.
She saw the car as she passed the front door on her way back to his room.
A large American sedan swept up the driveway, a red flag fluttering from its front bumper. A pair of motorcycles preceded it and a Jeep came to the rear. Setting down her father's tray, she moved to the window. In the meadow, Pauli was rushing toward the vehicles, all gaping mouth and scraped knees. Visitors were rare. Apart from the squad of soldiers stationed at the head of the driveway, ostensibly to keep her father under house arrest, and the ever-present GIs running about the woods slaughtering her chamois, only a clutch of friends came to Sonnenbrucke. With petrol so scarce, it was simply too much of an excursion.
The motorcade halted directly before the front door. The petite red flag bore three gold stars. She was to receive a general. She prayed he would not bring bad news. She wasn't sure she could bear anything more. Self-consciously, she prettied her hair and ran a hand over her dress. One part of her was aghast at her appearance, another proud of it. Damning her misplaced vanity, she let her hair fall where it may, then opened the door and stepped onto the brick portico. She recognized the officer stepping from the rear of the sedan at once: Leslie Carswell, the general who commanded the troops keeping an eye on Papa. She'd met him during the interrogations conducted to establish whether her father was fit for trial. He was tall and distinguished with trim gray hair, wiry eyebrows and a craggy face you could hang climbing ropes on. Older, but not badlooking. A southerner, if she remembered correctly. Like so many Americans he refused to walk like a soldier, sauntering casually across the driveway as if taking a Sunday walk.
"Miss Bach, a pleasure to see you again," he called, extending a hand.
"Good day, General. To what do I owe the pleasure?" Casting a glance over his shoulder, she noticed that his driver and the other members of his retinue were staying in their places. Odd.
"A social call, ma'am."
"Oh? I didn't realize American men were permitted to mingle with the Hun."
"The Hun?" Carswell slapped a hand on his thigh. "Why with that lovely accent you sound as English as the queen, herself."
Ingrid smiled politely. She had no illusions about Carswell's ability to influence the conditions of her father's incarceration. One call could land Papa in an eight by ten cell, illness or no. "Papa insisted all the children learn English fluently," she responded. "He was a great friend of Mr Churchill."
"I'm all for bettering relations between the fine German people and us Americans. In fact, that's the reason for my visit. I was thinking it might be useful for us to have a discussion about what your father was doing during the last months of the war."
"He was ill," she shot back defensively. "You know that."
Carswell chuckled as if there'd been a misunderstanding. "Before that, I mean. Some of the boys in intelligence had a few questions about the extent of his resistance. Not many of Hitler's top dogs went against him and lived."
"Father talked, that's all. He may not have liked the Fuhrer but he certainly wasn't going to compromise production. His first loyalty was to our soldiers."
"And did you agree?"
"War is a man's business, General. The opinions of a twenty-five-year-old woman don't hold particular sway."
Ignorance relieved her of complicity. What she did not know, she could not be responsible for. It was a hand-tailored excuse, worn thin these six years, and lately, she'd begun to see through it altogether. One could not simply close one's eyes and pretend nothing was happening. Ignorance was just a different kind of guilt.
"That may be, Miss Bach, but I'd be most interested to hear them. Have you by any chance been to the Casa Carioca in Garmisch? It's quite a nice establishment."
Taking in Carswell's wolfish grin, Ingrid suddenly realized why he'd come. He couldn't care less about Papa's opposition to the Fuhrer. He wanted to bed her. Many women were allowing themselves to be taken as mistresses to American GIs. In exchange for their company, they received cigarettes, stockings, chocolate, even perfume – all of it ready currency on the black market. She had no illusions how they earned their keep. Mistress was just a diamond-crusted word for whore.
"I'm sorry, General, but I just couldn't. Someone must look after Papa and my son still doesn't know what to make of your GIs camped on our driveway. Maybe another time."
Carswell was ever the gentleman. Tipping his cap, he said he'd come again next week, if only to inquire as to her father's health. "And Miss Bach, if there's anything I can help you with – anything – do let me know."
Ingrid remained outside as the motorcade circled the marble fountain and accelerated up the driveway. To her everlasting shame, she even found herself waving.
Papa's wine would only last so long.