RIDING THE RAILS
Of course, the next morning Emily had insisted on walking to the Hauptbahnhof, pulling luggage the whole way. By the time they crossed Bismarckstraße, Perry had plenty of motivation to regret bringing a duffle without wheels. But it was sweet of Stone to make a point of walking in front with him, carrying his bag even though it had wheels. Had Emily put him up to it? Perhaps she’d also wanted one last chance to pop into a shop or two.
A darker thought presented itself: perhaps she just wanted to pass through the scene of the previous day’s ‘unpleasantness.’ If it was catharsis she was after, Li Li appeared not even to notice, though she had developed an air of inscrutability that could rival Emily’s, on occasion. By contrast, Stone was preoccupied with the pleasures of walking in a group.
When they passed by the fountain in the central market square, too early yet for the tourists to have finished their hotel breakfasts, and still time for the merchants to busy themselves about opening their shops, Perry thought a few of them paused to take notice of their little procession. In fact, one old man, who had just moved several displays onto the pavement in front of his shop, took particular notice of Emily, and stepped back inside. In the windows on either side, other faces had paused from their labors to take notice of her. Perry glanced around the square, and thought this curiosity had become more widespread than he was comfortable with, though she seemed not to notice, or at least, was not letting on if she did.
“Bitte,” the old man cried out. “Warten Sie mal, gnädige Fräulein.” He turned to say something to the old woman who’d remained in the back of the shop, and repeated his call, since Emily had not responded. “Bitte, warten Sie mal…”
Finally, Emily stopped to consider the old man. In the meantime, the food stalls at the far end of the square had begun to show signs of life, and some part of their activity seemed to have reference to them. Perry pulled Stone to one side, to better take stock of the situation.
“Bitte, Fräulein.” The old shopkeeper had caught up to Emily by this time. “Verzeihen sie uns, gnädige Fräulein… was sie gestern getan haben… Danke vielmals.” He tried to push a small package into her hands. “Bitte, Fräulein.”
Emily considered the bright paper and the ribbon he’d wrapped, and looked in the man’s face. His kind intentions were unmistakable, though she couldn’t quite guess at their precise meaning. A young woman approached from a storefront two doors down.
“He wants to thank you, and apologize,” she said.
“Everyone saw what you did yesterday. Those men, they’re not from around here. The whole town is embarrassed. But you stood up to them, and it gave the Polizei an excuse to arrest a few and chase the rest out of town.”
More people crowded around Emily and pressed trinkets and tokens of appreciation into her hands. The young woman who spoke English ran back to her shop and returned with a gift for Stone.
“I saw you drawing by the fountain yesterday. This is for you, because you stood up for your sister. You were brave.”
Stone held the calligraphy pen in his thick fingers, and grunted and nodded at the woman, until tears came to his eyes.
“He doesn’t speak,” Li Li said. “Thank you for the pen. He will love it.”
By the time they cleared the square, they’d amassed two shopping bags full of gifts – post cards, sunglasses, a fine scarf, a couple of snow globes, a pair of earrings, t-shirts and sweatshirts, and more – and the food stalls had put together an assortment of snacks for the train ride.
Pushing through the crowd at the train station was less challenging, even though the last of the commuter traffic still clogged the main platforms. Emily had reserved first class seats on the 08:15 Deutsche Bahn Express, with a change at Saarbrücken.
A local train pulled away and the westbound platform cleared enough for Perry to find a bench for the four of them, and Emily handed shopping bags to Li Li.
“See if you can combine these so it’s not so much to carry.”
Within a few minutes, Li Li had spread the contents across the bench and begun sorting them according to suitability and recipient, as she saw fit: a pen for Stone, a sweatshirt for Perry, a bracelet and a set of post cards for herself, and a mysterious, wrapped box.
“What’s this, Emmy?”
“Open it and find out.”
“I think it’s for you. The old man… didn’t he give it to you, special?”
Perry extended a hand. “Let me see.” He held it up to his ear and gave it a shake.
“Just open it.” Emily stood up to stretch and took an interest in a man with a limp further down the platform.
“No, Li Li’s right. He meant it for you.” When she didn’t respond, and began to walk away, he called after her. “Em, what’s up?”
“Nothing. Just stretching my legs. Didn’t we see a snack stand down this way?” She didn’t wait to hear an answer.
“Em, you already have a sack full of food from the folks back in town… have you forgotten?”
“I’ll just get the kids some juice.”
Perry got up to follow her, unconvinced by this lackluster excuse for her departure. It was easy to see what had caught her attention – the limping man, and now he had begun to look familiar. The blue shirt and trousers of a station official, maybe a porter or platform guard, masked whatever tattoos he may have, but Perry thought he recognized one of the Neo-Nazis from yesterday’s rally. Is he one of the men Emily threw into a wall? One arm hung lower than the other, perhaps the sign of a dislocated shoulder.
He glanced back at the kids, who hardly noticed they were no longer sitting nearby, and stepped up his pace, to catch her up before she did anything rash, though he could hardly imagine what that might be. What he could picture was a stern conversation from the evening before, when the Landespolizei met them in the lobby of their hotel, formal and rigid, determined to isolate a disruptive element in their city. A familiar face had appeared in the lobby after a few minutes.
“Once again, we find you in the middle of a disturbance, Captain Tenno.” The sound of Dieter’s voice had been a relief and an annoyance at the same time. He flashed a BFV identity card for the benefit of the local police, and had a quiet word with the ranking officer. “Can I assure the Oberkommissar that you will be leaving Trier soon?”
Perry recalled staring wide-eyed at him, until Emily responded. “Yes. We are taking the morning train to Paris.”
“Your passport gives you limited immunity from prosecution. But you can still be detained prior to deportation if the Landespolizei determines that you represent a threat to public safety. However, since the video of yesterday’s incident suggests you were merely defending yourself, Herr Bergmann is willing to forego this formality on your assurance…”
“We have reservations on the 08:15 train,” Emily said, forestalling Dieter’s explanation. Herr Bergman nodded to an assistant who made a phone call. “It looks like you found your Neo-Nazis,” she continued. “Unless, you were merely following us again.”
“The activities of the DVU in the Rhineland-Palatinate are known to us,” Herr Bergmann said, in heavily accented English. “I did not realize the United States had taken an interest in our difficulties… along with the BFV.”
Dieter offered some sort of explanation, which seemed to satisfy Herr Bergmann, and he rounded up his team and left the hotel. Dieter remained behind long enough to give Emily the bad news.
“As a matter of routine, your passport has been placed on the Interpol watch list, Captain Tenno. After two incidents in two days, my hands were tied.”
“Two incidents,” Perry remembered roaring at him, his fists clenched and ready to act on the same impulse he’d experienced the night before. “One incident only happened because of your reckless behavior, and today, what was she supposed to do?”
“… and what, pray tell, am I being watched for?” Emily asked.
Dieter retreated toward the exit. “As I said, my hands were tied.”
As Perry followed her down the length of the platform, he wondered if she was about to stumble into a third ‘incident.’ He didn’t want to run to catch up, for fear of drawing anyone else’s attention, or perhaps he really feared drawing Emily’s attention. Whichever it might have been, the man in the uniform turned to see her following, and the expression on his face confirmed for Perry exactly who he was. He tried to walk faster, and even to run, but his leg hindered him, and turning to look over his shoulder in horror, he stumbled into a stack of empty crates by the snack stand and fell.
Emily was on top of him in a flash, and Perry was prepared to sprint the remaining few yards to intervene, in case she meant to hurt him. How strange that this is what he thought her capable of – at least for an instant.
“Tun sie mir nicht weh… bitte… Fräulein.”
The man cringed as he pleaded with her, but something in her eyes must have spoken to him, and he recovered himself. When she helped him up and dusted him off, Perry tried to shrink back, though it was too late, since she’d already glimpsed him out of the corner of an eye.
“This hurts?” she asked, pointing to his shoulder, and the man nodded. Before he – or Perry – realized what she had in mind to do, Emily poked him with two fingers in several spots under the collarbone and along his arm. When she seized his wrist and rotated the arm up, it made a popping sound, and the man looked at first horrified, and then relieved. He raised his arm above his head, and smiled faintly.
“Besser, Fräulein,” he mumbled, cowed by the entire encounter “… vielen Dank.”
He moved so as to get away from this angel of pain and healing, before she changed her mind – that’s what Perry saw in his face – but Emily blocked him and pointed to his leg.
“This hurts, too?”
He nodded gingerly, and she held four fingers out, and before he could react, she jabbed them into the flesh just below the hip, and then crouched to squeeze the thigh muscle above his knee. Finally, with both hands, she wrenched his leg out, as if to rotate it within the hip socket. The man shrieked for an instant, and then looked down at his leg, and when he extended it, a broad grin spread across his face.
“Mein Gott, es ist viel besser, Fräulein … vielen Dank.”
Emily nodded, and reached out to touch his hand. “You’re welcome.” Then she turned to walk away. Perry, who had been backpedaling down the platform, but not quickly enough, stopped to face her. What else was there to do?
“What were you up to over there?”
“Changing hearts and minds,” she replied. “Isn’t that the mantra at Bagram… or do they only say that at the FOBs?” She looked him up and down, and then smiled. “Why? What’d you think I was gonna do… kick his ass, again?”
She was right to mock him, of course. He knew it, but then she kissed him and walked back to the bench where the kids were sitting, Stone trying out his new pen and Li Li tidying up the gifts. He hadn’t trusted her enough… and yet, she still appreciated his having her back. A moment might come when she’d need him to have her back, and he hoped he’d be ready.
“C’mon, Emmy,” Li Li called out. “Open your gift.”
“Okay, okay. I’m coming. Open it for me.”
Li Li held up an oddly shaped little plate. “What’s it for, Emmy?”
Perry couldn’t help laughing. “It’s one of those egg plates… like the one you were showing me.”
“It’s for soft boiled eggs,” Emily said, now sitting next to Li Li. “The egg goes here, and the toast strips go here.”
“That old guy remembered.”
Later, after they’d changed trains at Saarbrucken, a French couple with two young children took seats across the aisle, practically the only other passengers in the first class carriage. After a few minutes, the train pulled into a siding near the border, outside Metz, and all four kids found seats facing each other around a table.
“Votre fille est belle, et votre fils est…” the wife said to Emily, before the door at the end of the carriage rattled open.
A uniformed official entered, followed by two men in military gear carrying automatic weapons.
“Passeports, s’il vous plâit,” he said, in the practiced tones of someone who’d been trained to use his voice to enforce quiet compliance. Emily fished a packet of papers out of her bag for herself and the kids, and Perry held his out. The man glanced at the passports, and at the kids, matching faces to photos. “What is the purpose of your visit, Captain Tenno?”
“Family vacation,” she replied, with the practiced grunt of someone who knew how to give the minimum required information to an official inquiry.
“How long do you stay in France?”
“One week.” She produced dated reservation receipts for their departure from Fiumicino Airport in Rome.
Once the border control team had passed from the carriage, they all sat in silence for a moment, until Perry broke the spell.
“Heavily armed. I wonder if that’s normal.”
“I suppose you have an opinion about their arms?” Emily cocked an eyebrow, but smiled a moment later, as if to give him permission.
“Well, now that you mention it, those Ruger Mini-14s were pretty low-profile, I thought. You know, with the wooden stock instead of black plastic. Makes it look like a hunting rifle. I’d heard something about the Gendarmes switching over to those. I think it’s a proprietary design, not available to anyone else.”
“Vous êtes Americains,” the woman seated across the aisle said, then blushed for an instant. “I’m sorry… I meant to say, you are American?”
“Yes,” Emily said. “On holiday.”
“I think our little girls have taken to your daughter.” Sure enough, two seats down, Li Li was having her hair done in a ‘French braid’ by one of the girls, who looked to be ten years old or so, and the smaller one was fussing over a drawing in Stone’s pad. “She is so patient with them. I hope they’re not a nuisance.”
Emily glanced at Li Li, who made a face. “No, I’m sure it’s okay. Li Li is good with children.”
“She is very… how do you say… pretty. Her hair is so fine.”
Stone leaned out of his seat to reach his pad forward, and grunted. Emily looked it over and showed it to Perry. He’d drawn Chinese characters in a very fine hand with his new pen: 我不能忍受德国. She turned the paper so Li Li could see.
“Wǒ bùnéng rěnshòu déguó. Shouldn’t it say ‘zài déguó’ at the end? Doesn’t it need a zài?”
Li Li laughed. “No, Emmy. Don’t be silly. That would be all awkward. No one talks like that.”
“What’s it mean?” Perry asked.
“He wrote, ‘I don’t like it in Germany’.” The French woman stole a peek at the characters on the pad. “He’s practicing his calligraphy,” Emily added for her benefit.
“I don’t blame him,” she whispered. “I don’t care for them either.”A couple hours later, the train pulled into Gare d l’Est in Paris, and after rounding up kids and bags, they waded through the crowd on the platform to find two tall and welcome figures waiting – CJ Tanahill and Zaki Talib. Of course, CJ couldn’t resist making perhaps a little too much of Li Li, and a teenager has to bristle at all the attention, even though secretly she’d miss it if it weren’t available. In Zaki, Stone had finally met an adult built on a scale to make him seem like a little kid… well, other than Ethan.
Continue to Ch 5