H. D. Brennemann
H.D. Brennemann, as he had named himself, arrived in Berlin. The Cold War was long over, the city reunified for sixteen years. As his taxi went along the monumental but desolate Karl Marx Allee, the main avenue in East Berlin, Brennemann felt as though he was travelling through an abandoned city, Teotihuacan or Knossos. His memories of the capital of the defunct German Democratic Republic were full of terror and failure. It was his first time back to Germany since his release from Hohenschönhausen prison in 1986. Release was not really the wordhe and a handful of other low-level American agents had been traded over the Glienicke Bridge for one Warsaw Pact operative of greater value: in this business, you always knew your worth.
The taxi dropped him at an old tenement in the Rigaer Strasse. It was vandalized with graffiti: a baby in a hangman's noose; a rat peering out of a woman's pudenda; phrases scrawled in English: "No Gods, no parents!" "Eat the rich!" "Fuck you, Dad!" According to the intelligence report, the building was inhabited by unemployed men who were still after all these years disenfranchised by reunification: teachers, economists, and architects of the GDR who'd never found work again and spent their days in beery dreams of the Wall's return.
He found his doorbell, as assigned. It was labeled with his codename, "Bovary." The stairs would be his alarm system. No one, not even someone trained to be lethally silent, could keep the decrepit staircase from crying out.
In his room, a hulking armoire made the ceiling seem low and oppressive. There was a wash basin mottled with rust spots, like a sullied baptismal font. He turned on an electric fan in the dense, brown-smelling heat. It began to oscillate, nodding no, pushing the heat around in thick, sticky masses. Brennemann was not used to Berlin's new subtropical, Cuban-like summer. The planet was changing; people spoke of the end of the world. He remembered the city only in its hard, iron winters. Even in the summer, his prison cell had been cold. He hated heat. It was lucky that his mother had fled Cuba and given birth to him in New York. He was grateful to Castro after all.
Morning oozed through the dirty window like pus through a worn bandage. There was a rickety desk and a metal army cot. Brennemann went to the cot and pushed aside the rough denim pillow. As promised, there was the Beretta 3032.
But something about the pillow distracted him. He lifted it to his nose. It had a vomity odor. The blue and white stripes reminded him of a pillow he'd had at the age of three: its upper-right corner was its snout, the two bottom corners its little legs. He'd christened it, in baby Spanish, Puntica. During one of his father's rare visits, he'd held Puntica up to him and said: Buenos dias, Papá! His father, who had acquired a long scar at the Russian Front from his left ear down to his chin, bowed like a proper Prussian and said to the pillow: Guten Morgen! Raising his index finger, he'd added: Aber mit mir must Du immer Deutsch reden! With me you must always speak German! Pursing his lips and narrowing his eyes, as if taking careful aim, his father then plunged his finger into Puntica, making the top corner cave in, like someone shot in the face.
Women had loved his father's gaunt, scarred face and his cold manner. Brennemann remembered the admiration in his mother's eyes whenever she looked at him. Why, even on his deathbed, with a colostomy pouch coming out of his stomach, the nurses had lavished extra attention on him. He told his illegitimate son about the war: of coming under attack while defecating and not being able to clean himself for several days, developing horrible anal rashes; of the turning tide after Stalingrad, the failure of the field ovens to keep the men warm, the severe hunger, and three consecutive weeks of hand-to-hand combat, the ill-equipped Soviet soldiers attacking with whatever they hadsharp stones, rusted bread knives, wooden clubs, or their bare hands.
Brennemann sighed and put the pillow back over the gun. He sat at the rickety desk and lit a cigarette; he knew he shouldn't: he was fifty-two, barely in shape, and already winded from the stepsnot the best way to start his mission. But he'd become addicted to cigarettes at Hohenschönhausen; his rations of them had saved him from going mad in his tiny, soundproofed cell. He was no longer an officer of a sophisticated, powerful secret service. Now he was an independent gun for hire, a bargain-basement one at that. He mashed the cigarette into the wooden desk.
He checked his watch then took a Grundig pocket shortwave radio out of its leather sleeve. He scanned for one of the prearranged signals: either Eta Harich-Schneider performing Bach's Goldberg Variations on harpsichord, or the weeping Poco Allegretto from Brahms's Third with Erich Kleiber conducting the Havana Philharmonic. With a sense of relief, he found the harpsichord. That meant all was well. It was Brahms he had to worry about. Brahms meant El Gordo wanted to see him.
The death-rattle of his own snoring woke him up, disoriented, gasping for air. Slowly, he began to recognize his room. He fell back onto the pillow, exhausted. His right hand slithered under it and felt the Beretta's knurled steel grip. He pulled out the gun, pointing it at himself although the safety was not on. The eye of the barrel stared at him like a blind snake or an obscene penis, reminding him of his mission. But he felt so müde tired cansado
He needed more rest. After all, his mission required a steady hand. The slightest tremor of the index finger could lead to failure. Take a few days off, he told himself. His employers, a group of angry Cuban exiles still fighting the Cold War out of Miami, would simply have to have patience. They took themselves, and their country, so seriously, though the rest of the world had long ceased to. It was pleasant to think of the great reunited city outside, waiting for him. He clicked the safety with his thumb and shoved the gun back under the pillow.
Brennemann wandered the city ecstatically, astonished by its changes. He crossed back and forth under the Brandenburg Gate, as many times as he wanted, unable to believe it possible. At Potsdamer Platz, he straddled the former line of the Wall, laughing giddily, one foot in the East, one in the West.
On Wittenberg Platz, in what he still called the Western Zone, he went inside the Kaufhaus des Westensthe KaDeWeand was dazzled by the variety and quality of goods. He remembered the vanished American department stores of his boyhood, which had had a similar splendor and abundance. Shopping had been his mother's cure for loneliness, and he recalled sitting in lavish tearooms while she looked with nervous, guilt-ridden joy through the many purchases that she could ill-afford: reproductions of famous Belgian tapestries; Limoges teacups; ceramic rose bouquets; baroque mantel clocks; toile pillowcasesa Cuban vision of European taste.
The KaDeWe even had store chimes. Store chimes! The chimes resembled single notes struck on a xylophone. How often he had wondered as a boy what the meaning of these mysterious codes could be, anticipating a lifetime of interpreting calliopes, streams of numbers, and other signals on shortwave radios.
He treated himself to a glass of champagne on the fifth floor then wandered through the toy section, marveling at models of the Graf Zeppelin and an Auto Union Silver Arrow. He cranked the drawbridge of a medieval castle and replayed Capablanca vs. Janowski, 1924, on an elaborate chessboard. He picked up a metal Focke-Wulf Fw 190 fighter plane and made machine-gun sounds as he banked and dipped it around his headuntil he saw the salesgirl smiling nervously at him.
In the vast stationary section, he found the Mäppchen, as the Germans called thempencil cases made of pebbled calf's leather that opened like small, thick books and could be zipped shut. They felt so tactile and vivid in his hands. Inside each was a flat flap with a transparent plastic window: some had a class schedule slipped into it, others a postcard of a painting by Tischbein, showing Goethe lounging among classical ruins. The flap was sewn in between two rows of elastic loops, protecting the pencils and other tools from grinding against each other when the case was closed. Brennemann couldn't explain exactly why the pencil cases, designed for German school children, mesmerized himperhaps it was the champagnebut he felt compelled to buy several of them. They were small planets, worlds, waiting to be organized. It was like holding the very soul of Germany in his hands. If Brennemann had had one as a schoolboy, he would have become supremely neat and organized, instead of always crumpling his Big Chief tablet and asking to borrow a pencil, exasperating the nuns.
It was absurd: he did not need these pencil cases at allhe was not a student, he did not write; one never left written evidence in his line of work. And what if there were watchers reporting back to his employers about how he was wasting their time and money? But he couldn't help it. Holding the pencil cases in his hands, he felt elated, as if he might start all over, become, at last, a good and studious boy.
To fill the pencil cases, Brennemann, excitedly, bought expensive Faber Castell pencils coded 3H, H, HB, B, 8B; rubber erasers emblazoned with winged Mercury; student fountain pens that marked where the thumb and forefinger should be placed; replacement ink cartridges like bright bullets; steel rods that unscrewed to release precision loose-leg wing dividers; small grenade-shaped brass sharpeners; shiny aluminum lead-holders that resembled surgical tools; cork-stopped glass tubes of 2mm replacement lead; rulers made of wood and faux-ivory strips, marking centimeters on one edge, inches along the other.
Brennemann dreamed of winter. As if to mock him, Berlin was covered one day with a shower of white poplar seeds that looked like snow. They stuffed up his nose, made him breathe through his mouth like a tired dog, and caused a severe rash up his neck that kept him in his room, unable to go to the KaDeWe to buy more pencil cases.
Going down the steps one morning Brennemann was surprised to find the door of one of the third-floor apartments open. A young, blonde, blue-eyed man in a smock leaned into a canvas on an easel and dabbed it with a pencil-thin brush. Beside him was a small table on which his artistic tools were laid out neatly. No-one fitting this description had been in the intelligence report. Brennemann might have to make inquiries.
The young man halted his work and turned to Brennemann, bowing politely. Brennemann said good morning and introduced himself as Herr Dr. Bovary. He glimpsed breathtaking swirls of color upon stretched Flemish linen that smelled pungently of the Middle Ages. Brennemann inhaled deeply the odor of time. Suddenly, with a twinge of envy, he felt that he was interrupting sacred work, an artist's disciplined, devoted, early morning ritual. He forgot his suspicions and was grateful for this peek into a purer world. As a young man, he too had thought of studying art. His mother had told him that only homosexuals studied art, that he should rather be a man and do something useful. Useful meant taking up her ardent crusade against Castro and communism.
Brennemann bowed and wished the artist a good day.
Exhausting even the KaDeWe's supplies after several daily visits, Brennemann began to scour the city for more pencil cases. He was afraid of not having enough, or that they might stop producing themso many manual things were vanishing from the world. He was in a store in distant Steglitz when a child began to wail. Brennemann turned to see a small girl of about six, with red puffy cheeks and an overbite, like a rabbit, crying her heart out at her mother's feet. It was probably nothing more than a tantrum over some toy or candy, but it made him panic: he couldn't bear to hear children cryinghe heard himself in their cries, a helplessness at the core of being. He began to tremble, as if the foundations of his adulthood were collapsing. He felt a sudden fear of spending money. He put a pencil case back on the shelf and rushed out of the store, his chest constricted with blind, raw anxiety.
He walked until nightfall and found himself on the Tiergartenstrasse, just behind the Philharmonic: a bronze plaque at his feet marked the site of the "Foundation for Institutional Care," where the Aktion T-4 euthanasia program had been conceived. The street was silent and empty of cars.
Brennemann walked on, past the former Axis embassies and the Hiroshimastrasse. The Tiergarten park was to his right, a pitch-black, steamy jungle that seemed about to devour him. He was afraid, suddenly, of the absolute darkness, of his utter solitude, of his employers, of the souls of the euthanized children. He touched the Beretta in his pocket. As he approached the Jesuit school, he saw, with a mixture of relief and apprehension, a person.
It was an absurd place for a prostitute. The trade was on the crowded Oranienburgerstrasse, or else, for aging, embarrassed businessmen, the dimly lit lot behind the Hotel Berlin. But as he got closer he could see why her pimp had sent her here: she was at least sixty. She wore a yellow bubble perm wig and white laced boots that went all the way up to her hips. Her face was brown and wrinkled from too many cigarettes and tanning sessions. Her scant white dress barely covered her thong. Brennemann tried to pass without meeting her gaze, but she planted herself directly in front of him: "I want to fuck you," she said in Russian-accented English.
"Nein, Danke," he answered firmly in German. But she did not let him pass.
She insisted on English. "Be a man, fuck me."
He asked her in German to step out of his way, but she countered: "Why you keep talking German? You American. Loose change in pocket. Wing-tip shoes. Good teeth. Bad accent in German."
This made him reach for the Beretta: she might be a watcher or, worse, an interceptor. He said: "But my father was German!"
"Look: I won't have no business tonight. I need money. Fuck me."
He grasped the handle of the Beretta in his inner pocket, sighed, and let go of it.
"What about the Jesuits here?" he said with weary cynicism. "Don't they give you any business?"
He only wanted to return to his room, to his pencil cases. He wiped the sweat off his forehead with the sleeve of his jacket.
"No, they only like little boys. Please. Fifty Euros to fuck me, eh?" She put her index finger teasingly on his lips.
"I'm an old man," he said, brushing her hand away.
"I make you get it up!" Then, with a nose-crinkling smile, she whispered: "You want to come in my butt?"
He felt drained of willperhaps it had all perspired out of himand followed her to the Stülerstrasse, where she hailed a taxi. They went to a hotel behind the Bahnhof Zoo that looked as though it had once been a clinic or infirmary. In front was an old camping trailer that homeless drunks used as a piss-tank. The night reeked of urine. The drunks heckled them as they entered the hotel. She led the way up the stairs. He felt no desire except to lie down and close his eyes.
"Do you want me to keep boots on?" she asked, looking back at him from the bathroom door.
"No, please and take off the wig."
He heard the primitive toilet flush loudly while he looked quickly through her bulky purse. It contained a box of condoms; a tube of anal lubricant; a vaginal bulb syringe; a vaginal scraper that looked like an ancient Roman strigil; an assortment of cheap cosmetics; a bottle of Chance by Chanel; several packs of Marlboros; a Reclam edition of Rilke's poems; leopard-spotted panties; a switchblade; an icon of St. Nicholas; a cell phone.
She stood at the threshold of the bathroom. Without the wig, her skull was balding. Her body was bony, emaciated, her right arm propping up her brownish, sagging dugs. She had no pubic hair, her sex a tight, dark wrinkle between her legs. Her left arm hung limp and was full of what seemed to be cigarette burns.
In bed, she arched and pressed her skeletal buttocks against his belly, but all he could do was stroke her blistered arm gently and apply light kisses to her back. She fell asleep, cooing: "Da, that's what I don't have that's what I don't have "
He was twenty-seven, his name still the Spanish one given to him by his mother, and on top of this a Spanish codename assigned to him by his lofty, invisible masters. He worked out of the small but in those days still important Department of Cuban Affairs: Penetration and Disruption, Section 3b. With a false Cuban passport, he was smuggled into East Germany, where Castro liked to send his best agents for further training. His mission was to "neutralize" the chief of psychological torture of the Cuban political prison in Matanzas, who was refining her skills at Stasi headquarters.
He was walking along the Karl-Marx-Allee with his contact, Red Army Captain Sergeyvena, an exceedingly tall, blond, muscular woman who doubled for the Americans at great risk. As they walked, a silvery mechanical pencil on a table at an outdoor market near the Frankfurter Tor caught his eye and made him stop, much to the annoyance of Captain Sergeyevna. The instrument was stamped "Norma" on the clip. Four tabs locked into transverse slots, each tab color-coded for the color of the leadred, black, green, and blue. The nozzle was knurled and anodized like a gun-handle. The metal was ice-cold in the cold weather, yet he could feel the wonderful weight and heft of it; its complex mechanism mesmerized him. Captain Sergeyevna watched him incredulously, with mounting fury, while he uncapped the top of the pencil, removed the dried-out eraser, and found a cylindrical storage-area filled with extra leads and a thin piece of paper, on which was written, in the finest, tiniest cursive, H.D. Brennemann. Who knew what had happened to H.D. Brennemannhad he, or she, been arrested? Had they escaped to the West? Were they dead?
"Wir mussen gehen," Captain Sergeyevna commanded harshly. We must go!
But he had to have the pencil and asked the bundled-up old woman how much it cost. Captain Sergeyevna looked at him in shock. Any unplanned contact, no matter how minor, could blow their cover, especially in a country where most citizens were "I.M.'s," unofficial operatives, informants. Even this shivering old lady might be lethal.
He paid the lady generously for the pencil and walked off happily alongside the fuming Captain Sergeyevna. Once they reached their safe house on the Boxhagener Strasse, had locked the door and checked under the furniture for Sennheiser microphones, Captain Sergeyevna spun and struck him ferociously across the face, knocking him against the wall.
"I said no unnecessary contact!"
Then she kneed him in the groin.
She looked down at him as he whimpered in fetal position on the floorher cheekbones were Mongol-like, high and contemptuous.
She began to strip. She tossed her greatcoat, her drab tunic and skirt, her Makarov 70 sidearm, her black lace bra and panties onto a chair. Her black jackboots she left on. There was a massive, cruel strength to her body. She could destroy him easily. "Take off your clothes, now!" she commanded him.
She kneeled and worked his sex with her thick lips, till it was moderately hard, then hooded it with a prophylactic like an executioner hooding a victim. She made him take her from the back"but be sure to touch boobs. I can't come without boobs." She bucked on all fours to his thrusts, which required all of his concentration and dwindling strength, especially as he also had to keep reaching around and stimulating her nipples. His temples throbbed; his heart seemed about to burst. Her large, perspiring buttocks began to emit a nauseating odorhe could practically pick out the ingredients of the communal Eintopf stew that she had eaten for lunch at Alexanderplatzsausage, split peas, sauerkraut. He felt his penis shrink and slip out of the prophylactic, which was left hanging out of her sex like a turkey's snood.
She looked back at him with such anger that he jumped off the bed to grab the Makarov, but she leapt at him, backhanded him across his mouth, and screamed Russian obscenities. She crawled back into the bed and began to sob while he wiped the blood from his lips and dressed his humiliated, trembling body. "I'm sorry," he said feebly.
Later that night, beneath the arches of a dark colonnade near the Strausbergerplatz, he trapped his target at gunpointa middle-aged Cuban woman in winter fatigues and a Russian fur hat. In shock, she reverted to her native language and exclaimed: "Hijo!"
Brennemann's hand began to shake. She had his mother's same brown, tender eyes. She's a heartless torturer, he told himself, shoot! But the woman seemed so afraid to die, so vulnerablethen her face exploded out of its left side. Sergeyevna emerged from behind one of the arches and holstered her pistolet.
"Now run, before I kill you too."
And he'd run. But before he could cross though Checkpoint Charliehe could already see the Café Adler, where his controller waited for him, on the Western sidefour East German policemen surrounded him and with impeccable politeness asked him to get into an old Ford Eifel inherited from the Gestapo. There were ancient bloodstains on the backseat. They took him to a massive, windowless gray building on the Ruschestrasse, one of the backstreets of Utopia, where he was stripped, photographed, and taken over a bridge of sighs to another building where a bald, mean-faced Doktor Fallbeil, his glasses thick as magnifying lenses, explained that a rubber sack was about to be inserted through his anus and inflated in his bowels each time he told a lie. He put his face close to Brennemann's, his eyes exotropic behind the big lenses, his breath sour. He informed Brennemann that Captain Sergeyevna had been summarily executed, her family in Novosibirsk billed for the bullets. On a metal tray lay his Norma pencil, the extra lead, and the thin strip of paper.
"Who is H.D. Brennemann?"
"Ich I am yo!"
The prostitute was sleeping deeply and peacefully. Brennemann rose soundlessly, dressed, and pushed a wad of Euros into her purse. He took a bus to Alexanderplatz and decided to walk home along the Karl-Marx-Allee. The curving arcades of Roman arches at the Strausbergerplatz were desolate and full of mystery. The early morning sun made the pink and orange tiles of the Stalinist apartment blocks glow a golden rose color. He stopped at the defunct Café Moskau and peered through its glass wallsthe space-age furniture and the mokka bar were still intact though gathering dust. He remembered sitting there as a young operative, having a warm, thick, syrupy imitation of Coca-cola, terrified of being unmasked. Everything was threateninga button on a woman's winter coat could hide a camera; a fountain pen could really be a microphone; even the smell of his body or clothing could be dangerous: the authorities collected Western odors in jars for their police dogs.
A pair of female twins in their 70's walked by, hand-in-hand, dressed in identical, synthetic, taupe-colored GDR clothing, as if the Wende had never occurred, as if they were untouched by history or time. They seemed not to see him. There was a look of other-worldly bliss on their faces
He stopped before the shuttered offices of Cubana airlines. Tattered posters showing Varadero Beach and the colonial Cathedral were still plastered on the entrance. The abstraction of that place called Cuba had shaped his whole life. Brennemann grew up under the sway of his mother's memories. Castro and the evils of communism were familiar to him before he could even talk. His mother would make him sing the Cuban national anthem with her. Each time they reached the words no temáis una muerte gloriosafear not a glorious deathhis mother would go wide-eyed and fanatical on the up-beat of "gloriosa." She had pushed him into a hateful career. When the balloon in his stomach was inflated till he looked pregnant, he'd blamed her, cursed her, yet cried out, in Spanish, for her to save him.
Brennemann stopped for a coffee at the Café Ilya Ehrenburg, named after the Soviet hack writer who'd urged the Red Army to rape German women. But it was a nice, small café. He sat outside in the cool morning and lit a Nil cigarette, what his father had smoked during the war. Perhaps he should marry the prostitute, he thought. He liked the smell of Chance on her, musky and sweet. He could open a little stationery store in Berlin and they could live simply and peacefully together. Of course, the pimp would have to be eliminated. Brennemann knew how to do that. It was probably some arrogant, brutal New Russian. Brennemann had dealt with one before. It was on a summer night in Vienna. The large young man in formal white evening shirt and suspenders was a torpedo for a drug cartel and had him pressed against the wall of a building, trying to choke him with a horizontal lead pipe. Brennemann's arms were flailing; he was keeping the pipe from his Adam's Apple only by bearing down with his chin with all his might, but he was beginning to slip. He remembered the single-edge Gem razor blade that he always kept in the cuff of his right trouser leg. Lifting his leg, he managed to reach it with his right hand, pull it out, and slice across the Russian's left eye as through a soft-boiled egg. The man staggered back, screaming, right into the path of a midnight streetcar, which dragged him for a block before it could brake. Brennemann remembered the large round bloodstain on the front of the one-eyed man's shirt, like a Japanese flag, and how the police tried to lift him by his black silk suspenders, which snapped and made him drop like a sack of potatoes Forget it, Brennemann told himself, returning to his coffee and cigarette. You'd never be able to please her.
Then, one day, he heard Brahms. He took a taxi into the West. He waited at the Kant Café near Savigny Platz, contemplating one of his pencil cases, das Ding an sich, smoking and drinking Four Roses bourbon. Finally, El Gordo, a very fat older man in a white Panama hat and white suit, came and sat at his table. The man was jovial in that eternal-good-mood of a typical Cuban. The aluminum chair, which could barely contain him, creaked under his weight. He patted Brennemann on the back, called him "hijo mio," and offered him a cigar, un habano. Brennemann declined and watched him put the turd-like cigar in his thick, rubbery lips. The fat man ordered un cafecito, and took a deep, raspy breath, like an asthmatic. He lit the cigar, puffed, then took a dog-eared book of poems by José Lezama Lima out of his jacket pocket. He read aloud in Spanish:
"Y tu, Promacos, cierra la doble cadena de hormigas
Close the double chain of ants. The hours decompose from ice to water,
From water to ants, from ants to cardboard ladders.
The hours remain, a ladder that cannot be burned."
The fat man paused, took another puff, exhaled, and murmured "Que bonito, eh?" He flipped pages then continued:
"Impatient is he who flees from his mother
Thus the arrow moves its silences, blind and searching for the snow's expanse.
Illusive cistern of understanding, vicious inebriation of knowledge:
Thus Narcissus escaped at high tide without wings.
Hesychastic rhythm: We can begin, podemos empezar "
Brennemann sighed. He understood. His employers had waited long enough. He put out his cigarette, paid for his bourbon, and left without a word.
Brennemann managed to locate his target late one afternoon and watched him enter the Aeroflot offices on Unter den Linden. He decided to wait for him at the corner café from where he could observe him easily. The Cuban official was a short, sweaty man in a drab, wrinkled khaki jacket, named Malmierca. Brennemann wondered how anyone could live through life with a name like that, only one letter away from mierda, shit. He should find a new name, should name himself, as Brennemann had!
Brennemann sat at one of the outdoor tables and ordered a glass of rosé. Brennemann savored the chilled drink. How good it was to rest, to be idlethis is what humans were meant for. But his target came out and looked around nervously. Brennemann groaned. He had hoped to finish his rosé. He stood up sluggishly, left money on the table, and began to follow him.
Malmierca walked along Glinkastrasse, then turned right on Behrenstrasse, past a warehouse for theatrical costumes. Green mannequins in Renaissance clothing stared blankly into the street. Right on Mauerstrasse, doubling back onto FranzösicherstrasseMalmierca was good. On Wilhelmstrasse, Malmierca stopped to contemplate the statue of Friedrich Wilhelm von Seydlitz. Malmierca looked back at Brennemann and shouted in Spanish: "Look! Someone's stuffed a condom in the general's mouth!"
How did he know that Brennemann spoke Spanish? He probably realized that no-one but another Cuban would think it important to kill him. Ah, if only the armorer had given Brennemann the gun he'd requesteda long-range Mauser that could be stored compactly in its own leather arm-resthe could have shot Malmierca now, a single burst muffled with a silencer, a sound no louder than a quick fart. But with the Beretta he would have to get close, press it to the man's occiput. Stupid Miami exiles, thought Brennemann bitterly, and their amateurish organization!
On the Taubenstrasse, Malmierca stopped once more, this time to admire the yellow house of Schleiermacher. Like a pedantic tour guide, he explained in Spanish, loudly, for Brennemann to hear: "Friedrich Schleiermacher, philosopher and theologian. Father of modern hermeneutics."
It began to rain, lightly at first, then with a sudden, furious release. The streets, the Cuban, became a blur. Brennemann took shelter under an awning on the Jägerstrasse and wiped his bleary eyes. With restored vision, Brennemann saw the window of a stationery shop across the street, above it the red neon: SCHREIBWAREN. He crossed over and pressed his face against the pane, peering through the streaming, running raindrops. Mäppchen! Not only in tan but dark, blood-red! The shop had just closed. The proprietor inside looked at him suspiciously and mouthed: Geschlossen! The neon went dark. Brennemann looked up and shut his eyes. The raindrops pelted his face; he felt his face disintegrating into raindrops
Brennemann sat at his rickety wooden desk, surrounded by piles of pencil cases, pencils, rulers, protractors, erasers, sharpeners, and other supplies. He worked steadily, patiently, with discipline, filling each pencil case, enough for a hundred childhoods or more.
The door of his room was open. A suitcase in the monstrous armoire contained the Beretta, the shortwave, and all of his clothing, neatly folded, except for the crisp, light blue pajama that he wore now. He had washed himself thoroughly in the brownish water of the basin.
Night pressed against the window, an hour or two before dawn. The fan whirred softly. Brennemann worked with a concentration and joy that he had not known for years, if ever. Each finished Mäppchen was a well-ordered, hand-sized planet.
Brennemann heard the creaking steps, one by one. He did not allow this to interrupt him. He wanted to finish one more pencil case. He took each pencil carefully in his hand, contemplated its appropriate elastic loop, its ideal place in the pencil case. The person coming up the stairs was also, he noted with admiration, doing so calmly, methodically, with care.
Closing his final Mäppchen, Brennemann turned slowly toward the open door, having heard the last step groan. It was the blond, blue-eyed artist, angelic, swinging his gun up in a slow arc toward Brennemann. Such must be the graceful arc of his upward brushstrokes, Brennemann thought. The artist's eyes were hard, cold blue, without pity, as angels' eyes are, creatures of absolute obedience. Brennemann smiled radiantly, gratefully, and extended the pencil case in his palms toward the artist, a parting gift.
The shot knocked him against the wall. His heart gagged on the bullet. He dropped the pencil case and fell forward, through his languages, groping for words: ach oh ay.