Chapter 4: Adolf Hitler, My Savior
Two days passed quickly, and it seemed everything was back to normal. Since Adolf had put my suspicions to rest, there had been no immediate reason for me to be worried, jumpy or otherwise paranoid. The entire thing, in itself, was almost too easy. A few reassuring words from a notorious politician who, for all I know, could have been lying to me all along, and it was as if the whole scenario had disappeared. But Adolf assured me he was telling the truth, and for whatever reason, I believed him.
Over the next couple of days, Adolf and I got to know each other better. Periodically, he'd pop into Strasser's office simply to "sit and chat" while he supposedly had nothing better to do. While his endeavors put Strasser somewhat on edge, he assured him that his visits were "strictly non-political." While Strasser was in the back office handling the big business, Adolf would sit in the lobby and keep me company, chatting idly to me while I filed papers. I didn't learn much about the man on a personal level. In fact, at this point, I still knew next to nothing about his past, and even his present. But even though he was somewhat of an enigma to me, he still had a way of making me feel completely at ease with him. Indeed, it was remarkable how close we'd grown over the course of three days. Friday almost arrived too soon.
That morning, I woke to the shrill uproar of my alarm clock in one ear, and the loud drone of a purring cat in the other. I sat up, flinging back covers, cat and all, and somehow managed to get from my bed to the bathroom without tripping over any of it. As I stood in front of the mirror, the water in the sink running, trying to bring myself to consciousness from my sleepy state, I found myself oddly not dreading being at the office. Instead, I found myself wondering whether or not Adolf was going to stop by that day. After all, he did have that speech to give that night, and he certainly wasn't going to have it rehearsed by then with all the time he'd been spending with me the past few days. Not that I was complaining, of course.
For the third time that week, I was greeted by an empty office and a note left on the door.
Heinrich. Had to run an errand. Be back ASAP. GS.Upon seeing this, I grumbled under my breath and fished the spare office key out of my pocket to unlock the door. Strasser certainly had been making a habit out of coming in late the past few days. Perhaps, I thought, the next time he came in late, I should do to him as he'd done me so many times, and threaten to have his head if he was late again. The idea made me laugh aloud to myself.
With a sigh, I went to my desk and sat down, so I'd at least look like I was doing something when Strasser did come in. The last thing I needed was for Strasser to come in irate. If anyone deserved to be yelled at, it was him! Managers weren't supposed to come in late, even if their employees did…on a regular weekly basis…all right, I guess I could let his absence slide just this once. Next time, he might not be so lucky.
It was just after 10 AM and Strasser still hadn't returned. By now, I was bored out of my skull. The phone hadn't rang once all morning. I was sitting at my desk, sifting through a stack of odd papers in hopes of somehow amusing myself, when I heard the sound of squeaking hinges that was the office door opening. At once, I heard voices, speaking loudly. They spoke German, but with guttural Russian undertones.
"If he isn't here, we'll let him know we were here," one of them was saying. "He'll get the message one way or another--" At this point, two large men entered the lobby, both of them big brutes, nearly twice my size. The first, the one who had been speaking, looked surprised to see me there. I'll admit I wasn't too pleased to see him either. I could tell by the looks of these two that whatever they were up to, it wasn't good. Especially when there were two of them and one of me, and I couldn't even defend myself against one of them! Oh Jesus, help me…I found myself thinking, but did my best to put on my most composed face. As far as I was concerned, these men were dogs, and dogs could smell fear from a mile away.
"Can I help you?" I asked calmly. The bigger of the two, whom I gathered to be the spokesman of the pair, moved forward, placing his hands on the edge of my desk. He leaned in slightly toward me.
"Why yes, you can." He said in a voice that oozed cynicism. "You can tell me where that no-good propagandist Gregor Strasser is." That didn't sound good. I bit my lip before answering.
"He's not here. He should be back sometime soon if you gentlemen wish to wait outside." I put an emphasis on the word "outside." These two weren't making me feel very well at ease, and plain and simple, I wanted them out.
"Bullshit!" The large man brought his fist down hard on the desk in front of me. I flinched, recoiling slightly into my chair.
"Listen, he's not here. Now I suggest you leave, before I--"
"Shut up!" the man snapped. He leaned still closer to me, so I could see the look of malice in his muddy brown eyes. He smirked at me, lowering his voice. "You're lying. Strasser is here." At this, I felt a pang of resentment pop up inside me.
"Excuse me," I said haughtily. "I'm quite certain that Herr Strasser is not here. And don't you dare insinuate that I'm a liar, sir, when you don't even know me." My tone grew more snappish as I spoke. "Now, if the two of you have no business to tend to here, I suggest you leave before I call the police and have you dragged out of here." My, that was bold. Maybe I shouldn't have said that. At any rate, the large, baldheaded man seemed to find me rather amusing.
"My goodness," he said with mock-surprise. "That type of attitude will get you killed." He smirked at me and moved around the desk to Strasser's office door. "Is he in here?" His hand started toward the doorknob. For some reason known only to God, I stood and went to the door, blocking the man.
"You can't go back there," I said icily. The man looked as amused as ever.
"And who's going to stop me? You?" He laughed scornfully. "Step aside." With that, he shoved me out of the way and tried the door, only to find the office locked. When that didn't work, he tried kicking the door in to no avail. I watched his antics with a slight, satisfied smirk. When the door didn't budge, the man looked as if might explode. His face was a shade of scarlet, and there was a large blue vein popping out at his temple. "Boris! The door!" He barked, turning to his silent partner. The second man dashed into place, picking up where the other left off, with the same result. By now, I'd had enough of these two. While they were busy trying to break the door down, I went to the desk and picked up the phone. The bald man watched me uninterestedly. "And what are you doing?" he asked languidly.
"Calling the police," I replied. "Since you won't leave, I don't suppose I have any other option."
"You're not calling the police," said the man.
"Oh? Watch me." I started dialing. No sooner than I was on the fourth number, I heard a loud click from behind me. I turned, only to find that the lackey who'd been trying to bust down the door now had a fairly large pistol leveled at my head. I replaced the receiver and forced a casual smile. "All right, maybe I won't call the police." The bald man smirked, obviously pleased with himself.
"You're smarter than I thought," he said. "Now, as long as you comply with us, you won't get hurt."
"Whatever," I replied. "As long as you people just get the hell out of here."
"Oh, we will," replied the man. "As soon as we've left Strasser a clear message, we'll be on our way. All we ask is that you go and stand facing that wall behind you. I'd hate for you to see something we'd have to kill you for."
"Fine." Without protesting, I went and stood against the wall. The second man, the one with the gun, followed closely behind. My knees were shaking so badly I had to brace my hands against the wall to hold myself up. I can tell you, standing with your face to the wall with a gun at your back is not a great feeling. Once more, I began to pray silently, hoping that someone--anyone--would come in and find me before this madness went any further.
"Change of plans," the first man said abruptly. "We've decided to kill you after all."
"What?!" I spun to face my attacker. "But you said--!"
"I lied," said the baldheaded man, leering at me. "Now would you do us the honor of telling us your name? I'd love to publish your obituary in the Communist news."
"Not on your life!" Possessed by some unknown adrenaline surge spawned by the need to save my own life, I lashed out, kicked the man with the gun in the knee as hard as I could, then twisted away from my captor, hoping to make a break for the door. That plan didn't work as well as I thought it would. Before I could even make it past the desk, the bald man's lackey had grabbed me by the arm and pulled me back, slamming me violently against the wall. I felt a searing pain shoot down my spine as I impacted. The next thing I felt was the cold metal of the revolver pressed to my temple.
"Any last words?" I took a deep breath and shut my eyes tight, praying frantically that someone would come, but it didn't appear that was going to happen. The gun went click-click at my temple. I was a dead man.
Just then, there came the sharp noise of the front door banging open. For a moment, I feared I'd been shot, but I quickly realized that the gun was still cold at my temple. I wasn't dead! Ah, but that could change. I didn't dare open my eyes.
"Hold it right there, you Communist slime." A loud, defiant voice announced itself at the door. I could place the voice at once. Adolf. My eyes shot open to see him standing gallantly in the doorway, a confident expression in place, eyes blazing as he brandished a large Luger. "No one's going to do any shooting here but me." There was a long pause, in which the bald man and Adolf stared each other down. The atmosphere in the room was volatile. I had to wonder why the man hadn't just pulled the trigger and killed me already.
"You." the thug closest to me hissed at Adolf. His voice harbored an odd mix of contempt and fear.
"That's right," snapped Adolf. "now get the hell out of here before I put a bullet in both your skulls."
"How about we put a bullet in this innocent bystander's skull first?"
"If he dies," Adolf said gravely, steadily aiming the pistol in the direction of the bald man, "then so do you. Now, you could walk out right now and I'd pretend this whole thing never happened. Otherwise, I'll kill both of you now, and my people will make your families' lives a living hell. And if you think I'm bluffing, you're sadly mistaken. Now let him go." The bald man seemed to be pondering his fate, while the man with the gun didn't flinch. After a moment of no one moving, myself included, Adolf paced into the room, pistol still aimed. "I said," he emphasized, "let him go. Now." A few more tense seconds passed before I finally sensed a movement of a sigh from the bald man.
"Do it," he said. The other man's grip on my arm relented. I was free. But it had to be a trap of some sort. I looked helplessly to Adolf, who met my gaze with a completely calm, collected expression.
"Come here," he motioned to me. Slowly, cautiously, I did as told, edging across the floor until I was safely by his side. As soon as I was there, he took me by the arm and steered me safely behind him. "Are you all right?" he whispered. Still stunned, I could only nod. "Now," Adolf turned back to the Russian duo. "Get the hell out of here."
With that, the two moved around the desk to the door. As they did, Adolf seized my arm again, moving me back toward the desk, as if he didn't want the two men to cross my path. The four of us moved in an almost-circle, the Russians moving toward the door and Adolf and I moving away from it. Adolf still stood protectively in front of me.
I chanced to peer at Adolf over his shoulder, finding his stony glare unrelenting. The look in his icy blue irises could have frozen over Hell itself. The two were at the door, preparing to open it and leave. That's when the gunfire erupted. Without warning, the bald man turned and opened fire. His counterpart followed suit. "Jesus!" cried Adolf, and in one swift motion he knocked me to the ground, covering my body with his to protect me, and began rapidly firing toward the door. The torrent of gunfire didn't relent from either side. "When I get up, run behind the desk," he ordered me.
"But what if I--" I started to protest, but was cut off.
"Just do it!" Adolf insisted. "Go! now!" With this, Adolf jumped up and I scrambled across the floor behind the desk. I crouched there, pulling myself into a ball, closing my eyes tightly. Outside my sanctuary, a fierce battle of bullets still raged. After a moment or two, I dared to peer up and see what was happening. I saw Adolf, standing not far from the desk, taking aim at the bald man's assistant. I watched in shock as he fired, shooting the gun from the man's grasp. The man let out a yowl, something like a cat's, and fled. The bald man emptied his cartridge, firing three times in quick succession and followed. I dropped to the ground again, pressing myself close between the wall and the side of the desk. Pow! Pow! Pow!
The third shot whizzed over the desk and screamed past my ear. It lodged in the wall not two inches from my head. If it had been aimed even the slightest bit lower, I'd be dead. My brains would be splattered all over Strasser's pristine white plaster wall, and Mein Gott, would he be pissed. This was the last thing I remember thinking before everything tilted. A sense of calm rushed over me. Then, everything was black.
The first realization that hit me when I came to was that I was no longer on the floor. I was someplace fairly comfortable, and there was a pillow behind my head. I assumed it was the sofa in the office lobby. The second thing to come to my attention was the sensation of a gentle hand, softly caressing my face with a cold cloth. Then it was the bare touch of a palm upon my cheek, fingertips slowly tracing the side of my face. My God, the touch of that hand was so soothing, so nurturing…I didn't want to open my eyes for fear of breaking the spell.
The fingertips slid across my cheek to my mouth, flitting there for a moment, lightly tracing the curve of my lower lip. As simple a gesture as it was, it was almost too much. A slight gasp escaped me, and at this, the hand withdrew itself. I had to know whose fleeting touch had made me believe, for a moment, that I was in heaven. My eyes fluttered open at last, only to be met with a pair of stunning, concern-filled cobalt eyes. The recognition clicked in my head at once, and for a moment, it didn't quite register. I wasn't sure how to handle this.
"…Adolf?" Even in my own ears, my voice was dazed. A sharp pain stabbed at my left temple. "Oh, God, my head." I winced. "What happened?"
"You fainted," Adolf's voice was as smooth as satin, and almost as soothing as his gentle hand had been…and I wasn't going to think about that. Here, recollection of what had taken place prior to my blackout flooded back to me. The holdup. Immediately, I tried to sit up.
"Are they gone?" Adolf held my shoulders and coaxed me to lie back.
"Relax," he purred. "You're safe with me now." For some reason, I had a hard time believing that. I had half a mind to protest, until Adolf brought his hand up to caress my cheek again. Once more, I found myself marveling at his touch, wondering why he was doing this to me. No one had ever touched me so…so tenderly. My eyes fluttered closed again.
"Jesus, Adolf…" I murmured. Presently, I heard the door open, snapping my trance. A few seconds later, I the baffled voice of Herr Strasser rang out from the doorway.
"Jesus Christ, Adolf, what the hell happened here?" Adolf stood to face Herr Strasser. I felt a pang of regret as his hand left my cheek.
"Well, remember that retaliation Reinhard spoke of?" He motioned to one of the many bullet holes that had been left in the walls in the wake of the gunfight. "There you have it."
"Gott in Himmel," murmured Herr Strasser, massaging his temples. There was a look of utter disbelief on his normally composed face. "Heinrich, are you all right? Are you hurt?" I shook my head.
"No sir, I'm fine," I replied sheepishly. "I just blacked out." I tried to sit up again. This time, Adolf permitted me to. "I'm lucky Adolf came in when he did. Those men intended to kill me." Here, Strasser looked to Adolf, a seemingly apologetic look on his face.
"God," he said. "Sounds like quite a war zone around here." He paused. "Do you know who did this?"
"Zolowski and Shirmanov," Adolf replied. "I had a hunch they were headed this way when I saw them in town. I followed them here in my car just to be safe. Good thing I did." He sighed gravely. "I'll meet with Ernst tonight after the rally. I'll have the situation handled." Strasser looked worried.
"Do you really think we should retaliate?" he asked. "After what happened?"
"Only if you want them to think they can get away with this," replied Adolf gravely. "And if they do, things like this are bound to happen again." Strasser sighed. "I suggest you close for the day," Adolf continued. "For security reasons. Until we get this handled, you're a sitting duck as long as you're here." Strasser nodded.
"All right," he said. Then he looked at me. "Are you fit to walk all the way home?"
"Of course," I said, making a pitiful attempt to stand. I only succeeded in losing my balance and falling backward onto the couch. Strasser eyed me critically.
"I'd say not," he observed.
"Gregor, don't worry," Adolf spoke up suddenly. "I'll get your secretary home safely. It's no trouble at all." He looked over at me. "If you don't mind, that is?" I smiled shyly.
"I don't mind," I said.
"Can you stand?" he asked.
"Maybe…" I was dubious. I stood, bracing myself on the sofa's armrest. Adolf was at my side immediately, with his arm around my waist to support me. I looked over at him timidly. "Thanks."
"Well, we're off," announced Adolf as he walked me toward the door.
"Heinrich, I'm sorry you had to endure all this," Strasser said abruptly.
"It won't happen again." Adolf assured both of us. I smiled wanly.
"I'll see you Monday," I told Herr Strasser. "Ten minutes late as usual." With that, Adolf escorted me out of the office. He walked me down the stairs to his red Mercedes, all the while holding me at his side as if I were a prized possession of his that might break at any second. We were silent well after I was in the back seat of the car and Adolf had given the driver his directions and started off. I leaned back onto the lavish velour seat, sighing and closing my eyes. A moment later I felt Adolf's hand on my shoulder.
"Are you all right?" he asked gently. I sighed gravely, turning to him in the seat.
"No," I said shortly. "No, I'm not." I fixed my eyes on his. "What the hell was that?"
"What?" asked Adolf calmly. At this, I inadvertently exploded.
"What do you mean, what?" I demanded crossly. "Has it occurred to you that I could've been killed back there? I recall you telling me yesterday that my life wasn't in any danger, and apparently, you were lying! Mind telling me the truth?" I fixed my eyes on Adolf's. "What's going on here?" Adolf glanced down at the floorboard, sighed, then looked back up at me.
"It doesn't matter, Heinrich," he said quietly. I was incredulous.
"It doesn't matter?" I exploded. "I almost got my head blown off!"
"Heinrich," Adolf's voice grew abruptly harsh. "Listen to me." I flinched and lowered my eyes. "It doesn't matter," his voice softened, "because it isn't going to happen again. This I promise." I bit my lip and didn't meet his gaze. The stress of the entire situation was starting to get to me, and I was afraid if I looked at him, he would see how afraid I really was. Or worse, I was afraid he would see me cry. I could already feel the tears burning in my eyes. "Heinrich," Adolf said gently. He placed a hand under my chin and lifted my face to look into my eyes. "Please believe me when I say I intend to protect you." He sighed gravely. "I never wanted anything like this to happen," his voice wavered slightly, "and I will do anything to keep you safe. I swear."
All the strain was finally too much. Against my will, I felt the hot tears spill from my eyes onto my cheeks. I tried to turn away from Adolf, but he captured me in an embrace, pulling me close to him. I buried my face against his shoulder and cried, not sobbing, but letting the tears flow freely. His hand ran up and down my back, gently stroking me, comforting me. "It's all right, Heini," he whispered. At this, I raised my head to look at him. He placed a hand on my face, wiping my tears away with his thumb.
"I'm scared," I confessed to him.
"I know," he replied gently. "It's all right. I'll take care of everything, don't you worry." And by the look on his face, I could only assume that he meant it.
That night, sleep would be damn near impossible for me to achieve. While I was exhausted, every time I'd close my eyes, I was back in the office. Cold panic surged through my veins at the feeling of the pistol pressing into my back, the nauseating sensation of realization in the pit of my stomach: realization that with one single shot, my life would end. This was the vision, replaying over and over in my mind until I was shivering, sweating, wide-eyed in the dark, clutching the sheets at my chest until my knuckles were sore. Terror crept over me like a disease, and at 2:30 AM, sleep was impossible.
After getting up, splashing my face with cold water in the bathroom, and going into the kitchen to get a drink of water, I felt somewhat better. Especially since I downed a couple of tranquilizers with my glass of water, probably more than I should have taken. But at least I knew they'd kick in quicker. In minutes, the sedatives took full effect, and I staggered back to my room and collapsed into bed, finally falling asleep without much of a fight. I was out like a light. The entire German army could have goose-stepped through my room with a marching band and I wouldn't have heard a thing.
The rest of the night, I slept peacefully. My dreams were blithe and happy. I dreamed of blue skies, of temperate days in August when the hillsides were a pale green, just before Fall. I dreamed of a place where people were happy, there were no war debts, and everything was great. And oddly enough, amid all this cheer and happiness, I dreamed of him, and of the two of us walking, side by side through it all. I dreamed of my savior, Adolf Hitler.