Read My Brother's Secret Online

Authors: Dan Smith

My Brother's Secret (8 page)

BOOK: My Brother's Secret
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‘No, sir. I promise it wasn’t me.’

‘And you don’t know anyone who might do something like that? You’ve never seen the flower before?’

I tried not to think about what I’d seen in Stefan’s jacket.

‘No, sir.’ My mouth was dry when I spoke. The lie clicked on my tongue as if it wanted to give me away.

‘You’re sure about that?’

I could feel Wolff’s eyes on me but resisted the temptation to look at him in the mirror. I was afraid he would know what I was thinking. Instead, I watched the streets and houses scroll past. ‘Yes, sir. I’m sure.’

Wolff was quiet for a moment before he spoke again. ‘I believe you, Karl Friedmann. I think you’re a good boy. I’m not wrong, am I?’

‘No, sir.’

‘Let’s hope not.’ After that, he remained silent for the rest of our short journey, but he felt like a dangerous monster sitting in the front of the car and all I could think about was how afraid I was for Oma and Opa; about how maybe this man didn’t deserve any of my admiration at
all; about the expression on the woman’s face when she had looked at him.

She had been terrified of Gerhard Wolff.


hen Opa came to the door, he looked at Wolff with surprise and alarm, but as soon as he saw the state I was in, his expression changed. He reached out with one hand, and was about to speak to me when Wolff marched me into the house, making Opa stand aside.

‘Who is it, Walther? Who—’ Oma’s face fell when we entered the kitchen and she laid eyes on the Gestapo officer. ‘Oh. It’s you.’

‘This boy is your responsibility?’ Wolff said, throwing a glance at her.

‘Yes,’ Opa said, coming in behind the officer. His voice
sounded tight and tense. ‘What happened?’

Once Oma had overcome her shock, she came straight to me, wiping her hands on her apron and bringing me to sit down at the table. ‘What happened, my darling? What happened to you?’

‘Not at school,’ said Wolff. ‘Racing through the streets on his bicycle, is what happened to him.’

Oma glanced at him for just a second before looking back at me. She opened her mouth but it took a moment for the words to come out. When they did, she had to clear her throat and she spoke quietly. Her tongue clicked as if her mouth were dry. ‘Let’s get you cleaned up, shall we?’ She took the cloth from my hands and dropped it into the bin before taking a medical kit from the cupboard beneath the sink. Oma used to be a nurse, just like Mama, so she always had a few things under the sink for emergencies.

‘Does it hurt?’ she asked. ‘Can you walk all right? Can you move your arms?’

‘He’s fine,’ Wolff said. ‘He’s a strong—’

‘He’s a
, ‘Oma interrupted him. ‘A twelve-year-old child.’

Wolff’s expression hardened. ‘He’s lucky to be alive. And you two have some explaining to do. A child of this age should be at school.’

Oma and Opa exchanged a look of worry.

‘His papa was killed,’ Oma said, as she wet a cloth and wrung it out. ‘His school and troop know about it. He needs time to—’

‘Whatever happened to his papa, he shouldn’t be out
on the street where he can damage my car,’ Wolff said.

‘Of course,’ Opa agreed. ‘I’m very sorry. It won’t happen again.’

Oma’s fingers shook as she cleaned my cuts and bruises. Wolff strode around the kitchen, looking in the drawers as if he owned the place. He didn’t ask for permission, he just put his nose into everything. He seemed to fill the room, and the smell of his aftershave overpowered everything else in the kitchen.

He removed a tin from one of the cupboards, opened the lid and sniffed. ‘Coffee,’ he said. ‘
coffee. And plenty of it.’

‘From Herr Finkel’s shop,’ Oma said.

Wolff looked across at Oma. ‘How is it that you have so much coffee and I have none?’

‘It’s from Herr Finkel’s shop,’ Oma repeated as she dabbed disinfectant onto my knees. ‘We paid for it with—’

‘Cigarettes, too,’ he said, taking four packets from the back of the cupboard. ‘German. Good ones.’

‘They’re from Herr—’

‘—Finkel’s shop, yes, yes, so you say.’ Wolff waved a hand. ‘How lucky that Herr Finkel’s shop is so well stocked. He must be quite a resourceful businessman. For me, these things are not so easy to come by.’ It was as if Wolff were trying to sound pleasant, but there was a suspicious and accusing edge to his voice.

Wolff put two packets in each of his jacket pockets and turned his hard, grey eyes on Oma. ‘We are becoming a nation of black-marketeers even without the Jewish
influence,’ he said.

‘They’re not black-market,’ Oma protested.

‘You know, some people are already hoarding; filling their cellars like little hamsters,’ Wolff said. ‘It’s the kind of behaviour that undermines the strength of the Fatherland.’

‘You’ll find nothing in our cellar but old furniture.’

‘Hmm.’ Wolff stared at Oma for a moment, then put the coffee tin on the table and replaced the lid. ‘You
a member of the party are you not, Herr Brandt?’

‘Yes,’ Opa said.

‘Card and badge.’

Opa nodded and left the kitchen. Wolff looked around once more, then followed him, their footsteps receding along the hallway to the drawing room.

‘What were you thinking?’ Oma whispered when he was gone. ‘We were so worried about you. Why did you run off like that?’ Her voice was trembling.

‘I’m sorry.’ I’d never seen Oma look so frightened. ‘What’s going to happen?’

‘I don’t know,’ she said, fumbling with the bandage she was putting on my knee, ‘but you’re all right and that’s what’s important. Everything else can be dealt with.’

When Opa came back into the kitchen, Kriminal-inspektor Wolff was close on his heels.

‘I want you to go upstairs.’ Opa was now wearing a Nazi party badge, pinned to his shirt, and I wondered why he hadn’t been wearing it before. ‘Don’t come down until we call you,’ he said in a near whisper. ‘And don’t be afraid. Everything will be fine.’

‘I’m sorry,’ I said.

‘You have nothing to be sorry about,’ he replied. ‘Now; upstairs.’

I turned to do as I was told but Wolff blocked my way for a few long seconds, as if he wasn’t going to let me leave. He stared down at me with almost no expression at all, unblinking, his eyes fixed on mine.

I couldn’t look away from him. My mouth went dry and my heart quickened. He wasn’t a big man like Opa, but he
bigger, as if he could squash me with one swipe of his hand.

Then he grinned, showing me a flash of teeth, and moved aside so I could hurry upstairs to Mama’s room.

I wanted, more than anything, for Mama to comfort me but she was fast asleep and didn’t even move. I watched her for a moment, feeling lost, then went into my own room and changed out of my dirty uniform, putting my silver medal on the chest of drawers beside the photograph of Papa.

Wearing a white shirt and non-uniform trousers, I stood at the window and listened to the mumble of voices from downstairs. On the road below my bedroom window, Wolff’s Mercedes was hunched at the roadside like a sleek and brooding beast. The sunlight glinted from the silver-coloured bumper and I couldn’t see any scratches from here. There wasn’t much damage at all. My bike was in much worse condition. I’d probably have to ask Opa to help me collect it, because the front wheel was all buckled and I’d never be able to ride it in that condition. In fact, I might not be able to ride it ever again if I
couldn’t find a new wheel.

I sighed and was about to move away from the window when Wolff emerged into the street. I pressed my face closer, pushing my nose against the glass so the top of Opa’s head was just visible too.

Wolff stood straight with his shoulders back and his head up. He was so stiff, he looked as if he might have a plank of wood stuck up the back of his suit jacket. As he spoke, he lifted his right arm and pointed a finger at Opa. He shook it as he spoke, punctuating each word, then he turned and strode to his car, yanking the door open.

‘I hate you,’ I whispered, remembering how he’d spoken to me when he knocked me off my bike. ‘I hate you.’

And he looked up.

Gerhard Wolff stood beside his gleaming car and looked up at the window and saw me when it was too late for me to pull away.

So I forced myself to stare back at him.

He kept his eyes on mine and grinned like before. Then the grin was gone, as quickly as it had appeared. It just fell from his face as if it had never been there, and he climbed into his car and pulled the door shut.

The engine started with a growl and Wolff’s car pulled away from the side of the road and sped along Escherstrasse. When it reached the end, it turned left and I stared at the empty road, hoping I would never meet Wolff again.


hen Kriminalinspektor Wolff had gone, I crept down to the kitchen. Oma was sitting at the table, still in her apron, staring at the tabletop like Mama had done when we received Papa’s death notice. For the first time in my life, I thought Oma looked old. I’d never known her so tired and grey.

Opa was standing beside her, hands in his pockets, also staring at the tabletop, as if there was something on it that was enormously interesting.

Oma turned her head and shifted her gaze to look at me, but the two motions didn’t happen together. She had to
her eyes away, and she didn’t focus at first, as if she wasn’t sure who I was, then she shook her head and made
a smile come to her lips. ‘Darling,’ she said, holding out both arms. ‘Come here.’

I thought they might have shouted at me, and her actions took me by surprise.

‘Come,’ she said again, so I went to her and let her hug me.

She crushed me against her bosom and I looked at Opa who smiled in a way that didn’t reach the corners of his eyes like it usually did.

‘Am I in trouble?’ I asked.

‘No, no,’ Opa said. ‘Everything’s fine. You’re not in any trouble.’

‘I shouldn’t have gone out,’ I said. ‘I’m sorry.’

‘Nothing to be sorry about.’ Opa, glanced down at the tabletop again.

Now that I was closer, I could see what he was looking at: his Nazi party membership card.

‘I didn’t mean to …’ My thoughts were all muddled. ‘I didn’t want to …’

‘It’s all right,’ Oma reassured me.

‘What did he say?’ I asked.

Opa pulled out a chair and sat down. ‘Well, he said that you will start at the school here in a week. And the
Deutsches Jungvolk
at the same time. Isn’t that good?’

I shrugged.

‘Aren’t you pleased?’ Oma asked. ‘I thought it’s what you wanted. You’ll be able to join the other children your age and—’

‘What about you?’ I asked. ‘Did you get into trouble?’

‘It’s nothing,’ Opa said. ‘I have to go to more meetings,
that’s all.’

‘Meetings?’ My eye was drawn to the badge he now wore on his shirt. It was a perfect white circle surrounded by a red border that was fine-lined with silver and printed with letters proclaiming
National-Sozialistische D.A.P.
The Nazi Party.

Right in the centre of it all, black as coal, was a swastika.

‘The Party has meetings at the town hall,’ Opa said. ‘I haven’t been for a long time, so … well, I have to go and come back with a signed document. Then I have to report to Kriminalinspektor Wolff once a month to show that I’ve been.’

‘Why haven’t you been going? Don’t you want to?’

‘Don’t ever say that.’ Oma spoke quickly and quietly as if she were afraid of something. ‘Don’t ever say Opa doesn’t want to go to those meetings. Don’t
say that. Of course he wants to go.’

Lunch was boiled potatoes with herring sauce and a small dollop of sauerkraut. I didn’t like any of it, and pushed it around my plate, not saying much.

‘Eat up,’ Oma said and I took a forkful, swallowing the sauerkraut without chewing.

‘And drink your milk. It’ll keep you strong. Mind you, I’m sure they’re taking out more and more of the fat. It’s getting more watery as the days go on.’

Picking up my glass, I looked across at them sitting side by side and thought about what it would be like if Oma and Opa weren’t here; if I were alone with Mama, silent
and deathlike, upstairs. When I was at school with Ralf and Martin, the idea of people being punished for not following the rules felt right, but I wasn’t so sure now.

BOOK: My Brother's Secret
11.93Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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