Authors: Rebecca Pawel
Law of Return
Also by the author
Death of a Nationalist
Law of Return
Copyright © 2004 by Rebecca Pawel
All rights reserved.
Soho Press, Inc.
New York, NY 10003
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Pawel, Rebecca, 1977–
Law of return / Rebecca Pawel.
ISBN 1-56947-343-9 (alk. paper)
1. Police—Spain—Salamanca—Fiction. 2. Salamanca (Spain)—Fiction.
3. Biarritz (France)—Fiction. 4. Missing persons—Fiction. I. Title.
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
For Chalcey Wilding,
who wanted more about Elena,
with all my gratitude
Table of Contents
o all my colleagues, past and present, at the High School for Enterprise, Business and Technology, my grateful thanks for preserving my sanity while I was writing this novel. A special thanks to Aria McLachlan for providing me with the necessary German. And to Xavier Vila and my classmates in Català,
els meus agraïments
. This book wouldn’t have been written without the comic inspiration of
ll characters and events in this story are completely fictitious, with one notable exception: Miguel de Unamuno, the rector of the University of Salamanca from 1901 to 1914, and again from 1931 until 1936. Unamuno was born in Bilbao in 1864, and became one of the greatest members of the so called “generation of 1898.” Novelist, poet, and philosopher, Unamuno was also for many years a professor of Greek at the University of Salamanca.
Unamuno, who had suffered exile under the previous dictatorship of Primo de Rivera because of consistently barbed writings, was a firm believer in freedom of speech, especially his own. However, his deep Catholicism and his disdain for mass movements, including democratic ones, made him initially welcome the right-wing coup in Salamanca in 1936. On October 12, at a public ceremony at the university commemorating the
Día de la Raza
, the Falangist General Millán de Astray made a speech glorifying Spain’s conquests, past and present. General Millán’s followers applauded him with their slogan, “
” (“Long live death.”) Unamuno, standing beside Millán on the platform, turned to the general, and delivered one of the great plays on words in twentieth-century history: “
.” (“You will win, but you will not convince.”) An enraged Millán had to be physically restrained from striking the rector. Unamuno was promptly removed from his post at the university. He died in December of the same year, perhaps of grief, like the faithful Orfeo of his novel
According to Gabriel Jackson’s book,
The Spanish Republic
and the Civil War
Unamuno spent the last months of his life “sitting in his favorite café in the middle of the town . . . shouting his defiance of the barbarians, but his friends no longer dared sit with him.” I have taken the novelist’s prerogative to rewrite history, and invented a few stalwart friends who refuse to abandon Don Miguel.
Law of Return
he landscape was already parched, even though it was only June. The fields were the color of cornhusk dolls, not a healthy golden yellow, but a pale, anemic reminder of green. If the train had been moving, it would have looked like a flash of pure light. As it was, the glitter of sun on siding was enough to blind an unwary observer. It recalled a giant, freshly scrubbed oven, with firelight glancing off its sides.
Inside, the train felt like that oven. The sun had been beating down on the stalled railroad cars for over three hours, and the cracks in the windows did little to let in a non-existent breeze. The passengers in second and third class were probably miserable, but at least in first class there was room to stretch out. Very few wealthy people took the Madrid-Salamanca line in the middle of the day in the summertime in this year of 1940. The first-class car was empty, except for two men, and they, too, should have been in third class. The Guardia Civil did not waste money buying first-class tickets for its junior officers. But the more senior of the pair had automatically headed for the first-class car, his subordinate had unthinkingly followed him, and the conductor, taking in the rifles and three-cornered hats that proclaimed them members of the elite police force, did not think it was wise to press the issue.
The pair had stowed their rifles on the empty luggage rack above, and their three-cornered hats were now resting on the seats beside them. Each had taken off his jacket, and rolled up his sleeves in deference to the heat. The older man was sitting with his legs stretched out in front of him, apparently absorbed in a book. The younger had slid downward in his seat onto his spine, and was glancing desultorily at a newspaper spread out beside him. He straightened suddenly, with an exclamation of disgust. “In this heat, I swear you stick to the seat!”
His companion glanced up, nodded, and returned to his book. The younger man pushed himself to his feet, and peered out a window. “It doesn’t look as if they’re doing
“Leave the shades down,” the officer advised, without lifting his eyes. “It keeps it cooler.”
The youth gave a snort of disgust, and returned to his seat. “We should have been there two hours ago!”
The reader checked his watch, and then nodded, although in fact the guardias civiles were supposed to have arrived two and a quarter hours ago by his calculations. After a little while, he turned a page.
The youth drummed his hands on his knees. “What’s that you’re reading, Lieutenant?” he asked finally.
“Linde.” The lieutenant did not look up.
“Is that by Carmen Iscaza, sir?” the boy asked, incredulous. He was unable to hide a disrespectful grin at the idea of Lieutenant Tejada reading romance novels.
The lieutenant snorted. “Not
Linde. Otto Dietrich zur Linde.”
“Oh.” The youth was abashed. He glanced at his wilted newspaper, filled with similarly unpronounceable names. “Is that a German name?”
“Yes.” Tejada sighed and surrendered to his companion’s desire for conversation. “He’s a philosopher, somewhat in the line of Nietszche, although they disagree on certain crucial points.”
“Oh.” The younger man hesitated. “Why?”
“Why do they disagree?”
“No, I meant . . . why are you reading his book?”
Tejada’s mouth twisted. “Because, Corporal, we are on our way to Salamanca, which is—in case you didn’t know—a town famed for its university, and I have no wish to appear an ignoramus when we arrive.”
Corporal Jiménez flushed, and rubbed sweat from his face. The lieutenant normally didn’t snap at him like that. But what he said made a certain amount of sense. The two guardias had officially started a tour of duty in Salamanca two and a quarter hours ago, and it made sense to learn the lay of the land. But there was no way that Jiménez was going to start frying what remained of his brain with German philosophers. “Is this Linde famous, sir?” he asked diffidently, trying to gauge the necessity of learning about the new name.
“Not yet.” Tejada folded down one page, and closed the book. “But I suspect he will be. He’s the first German I’ve read who can write a simple declarative sentence. Although maybe it’s just a good translation.”
“A Spaniard might have a natural affinity for it,” the young man suggested. “I mean, if he’s one of us.”
The lieutenant glanced at the title page, and smiled. “This was published in Buenos Aires.”
“Oh.” Jiménez flushed again. “Well, what’s the book about?”
“The place of intellectuals in the Movement.” Tejada watched his subordinate’s brow wrinkle in puzzlement, trapping little rivulets of sweat.
“Intellectuals?” Jiménez pronounced the word as if it were the name of a particularly dangerous type of insect. “I thought . . . I mean aren’t they mostly subversives, sir?”
“Linde classes himself as an intellectual.” It was difficult to tell if the lieutenant’s voice was sarcastic.
“Oh.” Jiménez wrinkled his nose. “Is he . . . you know, all right, sir?”
Tejada opened the book and read the flyleaf silently for a moment. “How old were you in 1927, Jiménez?” he asked finally.
“Well, Linde has been part of the Movement since 1927. He’s had a distinguished military career, cut short last year by a tragic accident. He’s currently a ranking officer at a prison camp in Poland. So yes, he’s all right.”
“Shame he was wounded,” Jiménez said sympathetically, wisely sticking to topics he understood.
There was a sound like a giant sigh, and then the train jolted forward again. “Thank God!” Tejada said. “We’re moving.” He opened the book again, and left Jiménez to his own devices.
The corporal leafed through the newspapers again. They were all filled with news from Paris: photographs of German troops on parade in the Champ du Mars; excerpts from Hitler’s speeches; a statement from the German embassy in Madrid; a statement from the Italian embassy; a statement from the British embassy. It was still hot. He returned to his thoughts about Otto Dietrich zur Linde. “I’d think it must be very frustrating to go from being a soldier to just dealing with prisoners,” he said aloud. “I mean, sort of a comedown.”
Seeing that his junior would have to be entertained for the rest of the ride, Tejada abandoned any hope of finishing the chapter. “May I remind you, Corporal, that one of the duties of the Guardia Civil is the transport of prisoners,” he commented dryly.
“Well, yes, of course, but I mean . . .” Jiménez had the grace to look sheepish. “I mean, if you’re used to combat, and all, it must be rather dull.”
Tejada, who had considerably more combat experience than the corporal, reflected that dull was not necessarily a bad thing. Aloud, he said, “Germany’s only been at war since September. So he couldn’t have been that used to it.”
“Still,” said the younger guardia civil. “A prison camp seems like sort of a dead end.”
“Those camps are dead ends.” The speaker could not have been more different from Corporal Jiménez. Jiménez was barely twenty, and looked young for his age. This man was in his early sixties, and his stooped shoulders and halo of white hair made him seem older. Where the guardia civil had the bouncy energy of good health, this man leaned heavily on a table as he spoke, as if even supporting his own weight were an effort.
But the greatest difference between the two speakers was their tones of voice. Jiménez spoke casually, dismissing a minor misfortune. Guillermo Fernández Ochóa, speaking the same words a few days later in Salamanca, was frighteningly intense. “A dead end,” he repeated heavily, tapping one finger on the table for emphasis, in a gesture that any of his students would have recognized. “
The foggy realm of Hades.
, Guillermo,” his wife interrupted, hoping that her impatience would mask her unease. Professor Fernández only quoted Homer when deeply upset. “I get the point. So what?”
Guillermo abandoned his rhetorical stance. “This is from Joseph Meyer.” He tossed an open letter onto the table.
His wife went pale. “He’s been imprisoned?”
“Read it for yourself.”
The professor’s wife silently leaned forward, and pulled the letter toward her. A forest of indecipherable gothic letters met her gaze. “It’s in German,” she pointed out gently.
“He really isn’t as comfortable in French,” Guillermo replied absently.
María Pilar Ríos de Fernández bit back her irritation. Her husband had been abstracted and nervous since the arrival of the morning mail. He had waited until they were alone in the house, and then had pulled her into the dark, unused parlor to discuss “something important.” María had not objected to his cryptic manner. She had not objected when he began to lecture, without even pulling up the blinds in the dim and musty room. But now it was necessary to object. “What does he
?” she asked.
Guillermo picked up the letter, and read silently for a moment, translating in disjointed phrases. “My Dear Dr. Fernández, you must for the time without a letter forgive me . . . As for your trouble . . . I am sorry to hear of it, but . . . glad it is finished. Your last letter . . . did not reach me quickly because it was sent to Leipzig . . . but . . .” Guillermo Fernández broke off. “I don’t exactly understand this part. I think it’s something like a friend is getting my mail, and sending it on to me. And he says to please write to him care of a Monsieur Rosenberg at an address in Toulouse.”
“In Toulouse?” the professor’s wife interjected sharply.
“Yes. It goes on a bit, about what he’s been doing lately, and he finally says, ‘Perhaps, if you are still interested in the
, we might meet to work together on it. Finding myself in the position of Theoklymenos, I must ask if you hold an interest in Telemachus.’ Something like that.”
There was a short silence. The entire Fernández family was soaked in the epic poems that were Professor Fernández’s passion and life’s work. María frowned for a moment, trying to remember. “Theoklymenos? The diviner?”
The professor nodded briefly, awarding partial credit to an alert student. “Telemachus picks him up in Sparta, remember, and he explains that he’s killed someone in Argos. ‘
me through foreign lands. Give me refuge in your ship I beg. / Don’t let
them kill me for I know I am pursued
Señora de Fernández considered. Two quotes in as many minutes suggested that her husband was seriously worried. She did not know what words he would find comforting, so she spoke her thoughts, making her voice as gentle as possible. “We can’t, Guillermo. You’re still under surveillance by the Guardia Civil. You could go to prison again. And then what would become of Elena and me?”
The room, lit only by the golden sunlight that leaked around the edges of the blinds, seemed to rearrange itself around the letter on the table. The innocuous-looking piece of paper bled fear. “I won’t reply if you think it’s impossible,” Guillermo said slowly. “But . . . we’ve been friends for twenty-five years.”
“Colleagues,” his wife corrected firmly.
“Colleagues, then. And his work on the Homeric Hymns . . .”
“Is it worth your life?” The woman’s voice was shaking.
“Is it worth his?”
“Don’t be melodramatic.”
“He’s the greatest living editor of Aeschylus,” the professor said pleadingly.
María de Fernández sighed. Guillermo was so fragile. This was the first time she had seen him with anything like his old passion. But to risk everything for a foreign refugee . . . “What about his family?” she asked, without much hope.
Guillermo shook his head. “He says here his nephews are still in Germany. And that he hasn’t had any news of them since ’38.”
María bit her lip. “I thought they were close.”
“So did I,” the professor replied, a little grimly. “He always said they were like sons to him. And you remember how he was with Elena and Hipólito.”
“How who was?” A new voice broke in on the conversation.
Husband and wife both started, and turned to regard the young woman outlined in the doorway with a mixture of anxiety and affection. Her arms were full of packages, and she blinked slightly, trying to see in the dim light after having been out in the sunshine. María was the first to speak to her. “Do you remember Professor Meyer, Elenita?”