Like a scorpion invasion, black uniformed soldiers swarmed through the ghetto of St. Petersburg Russia known as Jettinger. They were handsome randy Slavs, Italians and Gypsies the Reich identified as Inferior People—IP’s just out of high school, recent graduates of a five year physical training program. Ignorant gun fodder, Yves had concluded when he was just thirteen. The European Union had successfully coalesced into a military hegemony under the strongest power in the economic bloc. The Old Germany. After amalgamating, borrowing, destroying bits and pieces of past regime glories, Europe had congealed into an olio of contradictory cultures that preached equality within a strict class straightjacket.
Who and what were these Platonic Bronzes? A reserve army of young males, mules brainwashed into believing they were Spartans. Who served their country while youth passed them by only to wind up in the charnel houses in the large ghettoes—once proudly called the Great Cities of the West. Who seemed more tailored to civilian harassment than to enemy destruction now that Europe had no enemies. Who were fed nationalism, paid in hormonal pride, and taught nothing of value—only communal self-sacrifice.
Yves was among the furloughed this week-end, but avoided the gaming halls and bordellos that separated the soldiers from their pay. He preferred the quietude of the slumming supper cafés where the voyeurs and the dilettantes met to cluck over the “sorry state of world affairs”. There he would find Mme. Frémont or Mme. Lombard—middle-aged and enthralled by youthful gallantry and were willing to reward it. Let his comrades return to the barracks broke and hung over. He’d show up, pressed and polished, for Monday morning muster sexually satiated and satisfied with his fattened bank account.
Mme. Lombard enjoyed bubble baths and back rubs. Mme. Frémont wanted gallons of wine before sinking into a deep sleep. Yves sank deeply into her personal account ledgers and discovered she owned stocks and bonds. If families planned well, the women could eventually afford dinners and jewels, and Yves considered himself a diamond.
Tonight he found his own jewel, 30 at most, sitting at the bar. Slim and refined, restrained in her self-display. No plumes or sequins, just a plain gray suit and a white ruffle at her throat, black stilettos capping off a pair of crane-length legs. His first impression was that she had married someone in the Reich, a high-level bureaucrat who had waited long to marry but not to indulge himself. He must be handsome; only ugly men married young. He watched her order a gimlet and knew his first impression was inaccurate. She hadn’t just married into the Reich, she was part of it. Perhaps a Minister of Women’s Affairs or Minister of Maternal Health—one of the hundreds of government agencies that employed the female children of the upper class. She certainly wasn’t an artist—no saffron robes that advertised a claim on the creative income stream.
“You’re not like the others,” she said after they’d observed each other for a quarter of an hour. “You kept your distance. You’re a flower, not a hound.”
She must have thought him a courtier. “I come here for the music,” he said.
“I don’t usually come here at all,” she said.
“Try the braised beef and new potatoes.”
“I’m not eating.” Fasting meant she was a Reich Disciple, a devout New Ager observing the Ides. A religion without a god but with a Torah-full of government-approved ancient rituals and regulations.
“I’m fasting as well,” he said.
“That explains your aloofness.” She came and sat beside him. There would be no sex tonight. Fasting meant avoidance of everything but liquids for 48 hours after sundown on March 14th to sun up March 16th. Caesar did conquer the Germans in homage if not in historical fact.
“Do your superiors know you’re observing?” she said.
“Humility prevents me from requesting reasonable accommodation.”
She patted his hand. Hers was cold and meticulously manicured. “Refreshing in one so young.”
“I’m thrifty too,” Yves said.
“You aspire to jump class. The triumph of ambition over breeding. Someday some artist will write a poem about you—call it Lost Cause. But, I’m impressed. I’m Giselle,” she said. “And you are?”
“And what Euro-unionist burdened you with such an historically oxymoronic name?”
“Late entrants into the Union who missed the sterilization compact by one day, and harbored secret wishes for my success. My father said my name should remind me that cunning and good manners will take me farther than blind obedience.”
Giselle took him to her suite at the Hollander Hilton Hotel, a tweed and corduroy place tended by well-appointed Swedes. If the hotel staff was surprised to see a young soldier in the company of a Reich Minister, none gave any evidence of it. “Are you nervous?” she asked him as they rode alone in the elevator.
“I will be if your husband is home, Madame. He may get the wrong idea.”
“He’s in Madrid. March in St. Petersburg is still too cold for him.” She must have read his sigh as disappointment. “Herr Blustein has no ideas. Or philanthropy.”
She opened the door and Yves marveled at the opulence. Everything was green and gold, metal and marble, silk and wool, and in the corner, sat a black piano the size of a swimming pool. A life-sized portrait of fifty year old Herr Blustein in a Reich Bishop’s robe and miter glowered down at him. If both her riches and her piety came with a marriage license, perhaps the pleasures of Giselle’s treasures were available to him after all.
She offered him a glass of peach brandy and left him sitting before the fire. When she returned, she sat across from him, wrapped in a pale blue velvet robe. “Are you hungry, Yves?”
“Truthfully, yes, Madame,” he said, hoping she would offer him delicacies he’d become accustomed to in the houses of fine ladies: caviar, truffles, radish rosettes, warm chocolate. He waited. Her hands clasped, palm to palm for a few seconds. In a prayer for thanksgiving or contrition? She opened her legs, letting the robe fall between them and he saw fresh pink flesh crowned with a halo of blonde curly hair. He slid to his knees and crawled to her, licking his lips. He was fond of flesh eggs. Soft sacks that dangled like dew drops off a delicate stalk of tall sea grass.
Yves was immediately, permanently assigned to the Jettinger Field Office of Religious Education. “Someone wants you around,” Captain Danson commented as he quickly reviewed his dossier and filed it away in his horizontal cabinet. No doubt he’d read NONE in ‘religious preference’ space and saw the check mark in the box labeled NO for the question, baptized?
“We’ve had a reasonable accommodation request. This post will make observances easier, Sir,” Yves said, and Danson shrugged his shoulders.
“Your dossier says you were born Kiev. Were you raised in the South?”
“Austria District,” Yves said. “My parents were circus tumblers at the casinos. I believe that was noted in my file as a promotion prohibition.”
Captain Danson searched his face. “You don’t look like a gypsy. Too tall. Too healthy. Do you have a procreation prohibition?”
“I’ve been sterilized.” IP’s weren’t allowed to own real property or a business, much less reproduce. He didn’t even own his uniforms or his boots. Like the other graduates, he would serve his three-year regular army enlistment and muster out to the streets, eventually working for a Day Labor Service unless….unless he could distinguish himself in the Ministry of Religion. If it was Giselle who arranged this opportunity, he’d find a way to thank her.
Danson was scanning the flow chart of the Field Office, looking for a suitable IP job. “You drive a car?” he said.
“I’ll put you on the Chauffeur’s Roster. You’ll be on call. Graveyard at first, until a slot opens up for days. You’ll find a pressed driver’s uniform in your assigned locker. Don’t put it on unless you’re ordered—meanwhile, you’ll wash and polish the fleet along with the other chauffeurs. Got it?”
“Yes, Sir.” Yves said, trying not to sound excited. Night duty meant his days would be free of oversight. The NCO’s would be too busy with paperwork, and being on night-call meant serving the Grand Dames. His week-end excursions for culinary delights would become work- week staples. And if Giselle asked for him by name? Perhaps that was her plan.
But March drifted into June before Yves got a call for service—take a vintage Bentley, top down, to the Hollander Hilton. Bishop and Madame Blustein were attending the opening of the opera season at the Winter Palace coinciding with Eastertide, a time of religious celebration that allowed for excesses of food and drink, and abandonment of all mortifications of the flesh. Yet, beautiful Giselle covered her milky shoulders with plain white stiff satin, her arms with long white gloves, and her neck with a four inch wide choker of pearls, while the Bishop wore crimson trimmed in ermine and embroidered with gold and blue paisley, inch-high Louis XIV heels with golden buckles, and walked three feet in front of her.
Yves barely managed to keep his gaze straight ahead for wont to see any hint of recognition in her eyes, any pleasure at his appearance. Could she honestly not remember the delights he’d provided? He opened the door, and offered the Bishop his hand to assist his step down to the curb, and locked eyes with Giselle as he held out his other hand to her. “Bring the car ’round ten thirty,” the Bishop said. “Madame will be going home early.”
“Yes, Your Grace,” Yves said with a polite bow. No matter if Giselle pretended not to see him in his smart black uniform, she would soon have it off and have his body inside her. “Does Madame need help to her door?” he said when he pulled into the hotel underground garage and parked near the elevator.
“Most certainly,” Giselle said.
And, when they had spent themselves on the Bishop’s green plush carpet, Giselle served him wine. “You’ve seen him now—that pompous preening cock. What do you think?”
“I think Madame must be very unhappy.” He kissed her ankle, noting the bracelet she wore around it probably cost more than a year’s military pay.
“Do you think you could kill him?”
Yves didn’t shrink from the question. “I’ve never thought of myself as an assassin, but I passed my military requirements for quiet kills. The garrote, the bayonet, the fist to the heart. And poison, although we were never given real poison to practice with. Just colored Kool-aid that we had to slip into a buddy’s canteen.”
“The Fuehrer wants it done.”
“How do you know?”
“You know Madame Fremont? She’s cousin to the Cardinal’s indiscreet mistress. And the mistress said she overheard the Fuehrer tell the Cardinal that Bishop Blustein’s extravagance is scandalous. He should spend more time with his flock in St. Petersburg and leave the courtiers in Madrid alone.” When the State is run like a corporation, it cannot abide risk. People resent paying taxes when their Holy Men dine better than Popes and behave worse than priests.
“Is it true the Bishop is a spendthrift?”
“You think I wear pearls because I love them?”
“No Madame. But on you, they look like diamonds paled with embarrassment compared to your loveliness.”
“You’re a sweet boy.” She stroked his cheek. “Do this act of service for the Fuehrer and you’ll be rewarded handsomely, I promise.”
“An act of service by one who’s expendable? Valiant, but not wise,” Yves said. “What assurance do I get that I won’t be executed?”
“No more than you have now that I won’t accuse you of rape. It would be simple enough.” She removed the ankle bracelet and wrapped it around his wrist. “But I can’t do that. We both know why.”
“Does the Bishop know?”
“He doesn’t want children—the mandatory tithes for their future government employment, the expenses of pomp and circumstance for mandated observances, the licenses, the medical examinations, the education, all that money redirected to the government when Bishop Blustein has better uses for it in Madrid.” Giselle pointed to the Bishop’s portrait. “You see that banner?”
Scrolled beneath the Bishop’s imposing figure were the words: Die Kirche und der Staat sind eins. Yves had seen the phrase repeated in various forms plastered on similar scrolls on buildings, bus stops, and barracks—die Wirtschaft, das Land, Die Menschen— und der Staat sind eins. The Church, economy, the land, the State are one. He knew the words but he never asked what they meant.
“What will happen, afterwards?”
“I’ll maintain his rank, but not his position, obviously,” Giselle said.
“I mean, to you? Where will you go?” Perhaps Giselle would join the other widows at the slumming cafes and live out her days on a pension, entitled to a permanent driver. When he mustered out, he’d move to the Hollander Hilton instead of the streets.
“I’ll go back to back to Madrid.” Giselle searched his face for a sign he understood. “I was twelve, but I looked barely ten,” she said. Yves closely examined the bauble hanging from his wrist. It was gold, a chain that strung together little gold squares embossed with the letters IP. He’d never think of Giselle as an Inferior Person. “My mother said she’d beat me if I cried out, but there was no need cry. The Bishop had no interest in a family or in love. Just my mouth. He saw in me what I saw in you.”
“What is that?” Yves said.
“The willingness to do whatever it takes to avoid the streets.”
Yves contemplated her words. No child courtier would’ve denounced the Bishop as a pederast then, and to expose the truth now would condemn Giselle to poverty. No government prosecutes those in high station for the sins of those in low station, and remains in power. The only way to be free of the Bishop was to kill him. “Madame, if I perform this service for you, can I get referrals? There must be others in your situation. I’m thinking now of the Cardinal and his wife. The Prelate of Kiev and his wife. Are these men not a drain on the State coffers too?”
“If you perform satisfactorily, there are many who will ask for you specifically.”
Yves waited for the Bishop to call for a driver. He made sure to touch his hand gently as he assisted the dandy into the Bentley. “Such delicate slippers,” he whispered as he caught a glimpse of the Bishops toes peeking out from beneath his lace-trimmed amice. The smile of pleasure that spread over the Bishop’s face, told him he’d struck the right chord. Yves pretended embarrassment and looked away quickly to feign shyness.
“Here is my afghan,” the Bishop said, handing Yves a large rectangle of mink. “Tuck it around me closely. I’m afraid of drafts.” Yves smoothed it over the Bishop’s lap, and then tucked the fur around his thighs and up the sides of his torso. “I’m so uncomfortable today.”
“Perhaps you’re just tense, Excellency. A relaxing massage often does the trick for me.”
“Yes, that’s it, I’m tense, I suppose.”
“I’ve seen a lot of that in the Army. Young strong men laid low and almost incapacitated by tenseness. The doctor soon puts them at their peak and they’re back on duty within minutes.”
“How is that done?”
“Simple hand maneuvers. I worked in the dispensary after basic training because I was quite an expert in the technique.”
The Bishop took Yves by the hand, and scrutinized it. “You have good strong hands.”
“At your service,” Yves said.
“And you have lovely lips. Full, but not obese. Smooth but firm. We’ll leave the dinner early, I think, so wait for me down the street at the bar room. I’ll sneak into the car and we can drive to a private place.”
Half a mile past a grove of pepper trees in Jettinger’s Central Park, was a boat house where Yves had laid out a canvass carpet which he would use to wrap the body, and weights to sink the Bishop’s feet to the bottom of the lake. He exchanged his Chauffer’s gloves for the ones Giselle gave him, and at quarter past ten, parked the Bentley outside. Without a word, they went inside the boathouse and Yves instructed the Bishop to release his trousers. They dropped around his knees, and the Bishop reclined on the canvass, leaning against a rowboat. Yves turned down the lantern, but could still see the Bishop’s prick in the moonlight, a mushroom on the end of banana lying on a pile of lumpy peach-colored flesh.
“Just relax,” Yves crooned, and in a second he’d straddled the Bishop’s chest, coiled a wire around the man’s neck and yanked it hard, cutting into the man’s neck before he had a chance to gasp for air. There was no sound. Yves rolled the Bishop over on his side, his face touching his knees like a fetus, and wrapped the canvass around him, securing it with narrow rope. He dragged the cloth chrysalis to the edge of the lake, fastened the weights, and pushed the body into the water. The body waved with the current, a freshwater jellyfish that could be seen from the shore.
In another ten minutes, all traces of who else had been there were gone, and as far as the garage knew, Yves had returned at ten-thirty. It wasn’t the first time the Bishop has sent his driver home early while he enjoyed late night entertainment.
Yves hadn’t told Giselle where or how or when he’d set her free. Without emotion or conversation, he dutifully drove her to one government required death event after another until the Bishop was finally interred in the Blustein family crypt. He drove her to the reading of the will, the official award of her widow’s benefit, and the bank to open her widow’s pension account. He drove her to the airport when she left for Madrid.
He didn’t worry. Giselle would be back at the Jettinger slumming cafes as soon as she realized that she was too old to be a courtier. The priests who frequented Madrid wanted young tax shelters they could dress in satins and silks and treat like princesses. But Giselle never returned. Years later, after he’d mustered out of the army and bought himself a gas station with the savings he’d built from his commissions as a Superior Assassin, he learned Madame Blustein had entered a government convent in Calais where she served the sons of the clergy who were studying for the priesthood. She’d become a Superior Mother.
# # #
Jenean McBrearty is a graduate of San Diego State University. She received the EKU English Department’s Award for Graduate Non-fiction (2011), and a Silver Pen Award in 2015. Her fiction, photographs and poetry have been published over a hundred and fifty e-publications, and in print. She lives in Kentucky and writes full time. Her web-site is www.Jenean-McBrearty.com
Photo credit: Terri Malone