The Burgermeister

“TELEPHONE!”
One eye was caked with mucus and the other, glued to the pillowcase. I knew that if I tried to lift my head, it would fall off. Death! Give me Death.
“Tell whoever it is to call back.”
“Ist Oncle Boob! Ach! Wino! You stink!”
“Who do you think you are? Meine Mutti? Go away!”
“Nein. Telephone. Ist Oncle Boob. Jetzt.”
“Okay, just go away! I’ll come.”
“Jetzt!” The Putzie stomped over to the window and pulled back the drapes blinding me. Then she threw open the window. “Need fresh air! You stink!”.
“It’s freezing outside, you sadist!”

“Niecey,” Uncle Bob said after I’d managed to propel myself downstairs to the telephone, “Pour yourself a glass of tomato juice, add a couple of teaspoons Tabasco sauce, some black pepper, and if you can handle it, a raw egg. And then gulp it down—fast.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Tomato juice is the best remedy for what ails you. Trust me.”
“I don’t have a hangover. I probably have the flu.”
“You don’t say? Good, then meet me at Lou’s office in a half-hour.”
“Why? I really need to take a bath.”
“It’s not a request. It’s an order.”
“I don’t work for him!”
“Yes, but I do and you owe me. Besides you’re carrying around Lou wants. I forgot to get it from you this morning.”
“What?”
“That keychain of Newsome’s.”
“Oh.”
“Oh, is right.”

Something in my uncle’s voice told me I’d better get rid of the keychain as soon as possible. Maybe Roger Saski had been wrong. Maybe Charlie was about to expose Nazi war criminals and the proof was on those bits of microfiche. Maybe Helmut was a Nazi sympathizer like the father of my friends in the village and, after seeing what was on the film, alerted his fellow sympathizers and they were on their way to destroy the evidence and … me.
I took a sponge bath, changed my clothes and gulped down a couple of aspirins. Then I grabbed a piece of Wonder Bread and my backpack and left.
Newly fallen snow hadn’t dimmed the Putzie’s perverse need for freshly aired comforters but it sure did slow traffic. The drive into town took nearly an hour and a half. By the time I reached Lou‘s office, the two aspirins I’d taken had worn off.
“Sit,” Lou ordered, after closing the door. His Worms office had no personality, just Army-issued furniture and a view of the dreary landscape of the base. Lou was also dressed more conservatively than I’d ever seen him, no ascot or monogrammed handkerchief, no pearl cuff-links, no flashy scarf. Just a plain old everyday dark-blue suit, starched white shirt and striped tie.
“You look … horrible,” he said. “What’s wrong with your eyes?”
“I have a cold. I may even have pink eye,” I said, pulling a Kleenex from the pocket of my jeans.
He sat down across from me, his desk wiped clean and in perfect order. “Well for God’s sakes, don’t touch anything! I’ll be brief. The reason I needed to speak to you, Miss O’Tannen, is that the burgermeister of Worms―a royal asshole!―had only one child. A daughter. Unfortunately, killed in a motorcycle accident early this morning.”
“What’s a burgermeister exactly,” I asked. “A mayor?”
“Not all burgermeisters are elected, like a mayor. Some inherit the title, which makes them think they’re better than a lowly elected official. In some occasions, they’re not just the mayor of the biggest town in their region but of all the towns nearby, giving them the rank of a provincial magistrate.”
Lou turned to my uncle who stood uncharacteristically quiet in the corner. “Why am I telling your niece all this? I didn’t ask her down here to give her a lesson in German civics! Did I?”
Uncle Bob shrugged his shoulders.

“The reason I asked you down here, young lady, is that the burgermeister’s daughter was killed while riding on the back of a motorcycle driven by her beau, who just happened to be the bartender at our officers’ club! He is, unfortunately, also deceased.”
“Oh my God, Helmut.”
“Yes, Helmut, that sounds right. Helmut.”
“That’s awful but …”
“What does this have to do with you, you might ask?”
“Yeah.”
“Didn’t I ask you if Charles Newsome had given you something before he died?”
“Yes, but I’d forgotten I had the key chain. It’s such a little thing. I didn’t deliberately hid it from you. Honest.”
“Did I say I was looking for a big thing?”
“Well, no.”
He paused a second to collect himself. “Okay, my dear, just give me the key chain and we’ll be done with this whole sordid business.”
“So you knew all about Charlie’s first wife and …”
“Yes, of course, I’ve known the man since the war.”
“I don’t understand what this has to do with the burgermeister Unless he’s …”
“The key chain, please. I do have a full schedule.”
I glanced at my uncle who shook his head from side to side in warning. Helmut must have told the burgermeister what was on the microfiche. Maybe it implicated him somehow and he’d had Helmut run off the road not realizing his daughter might be on the bike. I was dying to explore the possibilities but from the look on Lou Raferman’s face knew it probably wouldn’t end well.
I picked up my backpack from the floor and dumped the contents on his desk.
“Good Lord! Haven’t you ever heard of a trash can?” His pristine desk was now piled high with used Kleenex, hair-filled brushes, my toothbrush, loose aspirin, chap stick, rubber bands and receipts.
“The backpack is her trash can,” Uncle Bob said.
Once, twice, three times, I searched through the debris while Lou fidgeted impatiently. “Well, it was here yesterday. I must have taken it out last night and put it someplace safe.”
“Someplace safe?” Lou asked, glaring at Uncle Bob.
“Don’t look at me! She drove home from Frannie’s last night. And she was in fine shape, let me tell you! I went out this morning and the VW was parked smack dab in the middle of the road!”


RyTan’s beginning.

5 thoughts on “The Burgermeister

  1. Hi Jan,

    I love the spontaneous nature of the dialog. Mary wrote a book sort of like this, everything pushed up against each other and that is the way of life … one moment after the other. I recently saw a movie that also reminds me of what you have written. It is called the Great Beauty and like the “big thing”, he was searching for it. One moment after the next and soon enough, it is a lifetime. So it goes. Love. Duke https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7YcC05nhbkI

    Liked by 1 person

      1. The movie is “The Great Beauty” and it is on HBO Max. It is about a writer who is toward the end of this life and he has only written one thing that he considers good. I just left the same cutting on A. Mole’s new piece. Suddenly everything I read reminds me of the movie and the sentiment it portrays. Of course, it is about a man, so you might not see it the same way, but it is also about a writer and I think you will empathize. Most of the themes are universal and more than anything it is about language and how we use it. How we process getting older, day by day and the people who pass through our lives. Some of them make it and others do not. I told A. Mole that I believe that without language there is no reality. I do believe that. Movies like this and particularly the quote by Celine at the beginning resonate with me. Our journey is life and our imagination sets the limits. There is really nothing else. Okay, have a good night and I enjoyed the writing. Duke

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow, Jan, another frenetically paced excerpt. I feel like your characters are all thirty-cup-a-day caffeine junkies who never stay in one place long enough for life’s gravitas to catch up to them. Perhaps this is symptomatic of avoidance/denial issues stemming from earlier trauma. I’m not critiquing just observing, as I know your wheelhouse (at least from what I’ve seen) tends more toward crackling comedy than tragedy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t know about you but when I was young, everything moved at a frantic pace. I misunderstood most circumstances and was famous for asking all the wrong questions and jumping to all the wrong conclusions. I wish I could say I outgrew those faults but alas….

      Liked by 2 people

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