"Today we rule Germany, tomorrow the world."
Hot sweet air permeated every inch of the room, filling up each empty corner, wafting underneath the dark wood desk, settling in-between stacks of files and pushing into the flat sofa cushions. A blonde man paced angrily, upsetting the heavy air with his long strides, each new step creating bead of sweat that threatened to trickle down his forehead. He had removed his jacket long before, thrown carelessly on his desk, and his light blue cotton shirt clung to his sticky skin.
"Stop it, Marius. You're giving me a headache." Sprawled across a navy blue armchair, a man with cropped black hair raised a curling eyebrow. His white shirt was unbuttoned, revealing a golden crucifix necklace against dark Southern Italian skin. He kicked up his leg every so often, trying to show the other man he was bored.
Marius stopped abruptly, face twisting in irritation. He lifted one hand, pointing a stubby accusing finger at the Italian. "You promised me wealth and recognition. I've been in this hellhole for years now, and what do I have to show for it? Nothing, except that you are a damned liar." He pulled a handkerchief from his pants pocket, dabbing it across his brow.
The Italian raised his hands in innocence, but his face was smug. "You would be nothing without me and you know it. How many men have I pushed out of the way for you, Truppführer?" A bite of sarcasm tangled in with the German's title. He leaned over, patting the handgun that sat beside him on the small table, fingers brushing against a box of cigarettes. He took the box, offered one to his partner who refused, then struck a light. "You should be grateful." Grey wisps of smoke wrapped around his words, thick like the Italian accent that circled his German.
"Watch your mouth, Ricciarelli," Marius grumbled, eyes narrowing. He knew the man long enough to understand when he was being mocked. "With the tiniest flick of my little finger," he raised his pinky finger, "I can have you thrown to those camps where your breed belongs."
"You don't have it in you, Putzkammer. You never did. No matter how much you hate me, I've done too much that you would never let me go." His voice held onto the same smugness his face showed, but his eyes were wary. Neither men knew how many times Marius had threatened to send Adolfo to the many camps that were springing up around Europe, that were made to exterminate the millions of undesirables, but the threat was no less frightening than it was the first time. "No worries. I can get you promoted again within a week," he said soberly, knowing that he had no real power over Marius.
The General turned away, hands clasping behind his back. He had been respected during the Great War, nearly rising up the of the ranks, but never to the top. Now he had to start again, but he was older, without his youthful enthusiasm, and it was harder for old men to succeed, he had discovered. Back at his home, back in Germany he saw men he had fought with, men who had reached the top during the first war, their neatly pressed uniforms tantalizing. He had been no more than a boy during the Great War, but now he was a man, a husband, a father, now he had help on his side to rise to the top. "How?"
"I saw that Eckhard Werden bastard today," Adolfo answered slowly, pausing to suck in a lungful of smoke. "He was running his mouth to everyone who would hear that he has a solution to the Britain problem." His hand went back to the handgun, fingers curling protectively over the barrel as he brought it to his chest.
"What are his plans?"
"I don't know yet," the Italian murmured. "But if I can't find out with a quick chat, I'll let a bullet do the talking."
Marius winced, glad he wasn't facing Adolfo. The Italian man had killed many before the two became partners, and he killed many after, mostly for Marius' benefit, but he and Werden were in the same situation; both were Great War heroes, but just not good enough, and Werden had three sons hardly out of boyhood. But only one of them would win, and Marius knew what had to be done.
"If he has the same plan we all do, continuing to bomb their Cathedral until they break, let him go." It was the first time Marius had ever objected, and his words rung hollowly. He could try to protect Werden for as long as he could, but Marius couldn't save him forever.
A dull knock interrupted the silence, followed by an angry moan from Adolfo. Knowing the Italian wouldn't answer it, Marius unlocked the door, closing it behind a small boy, no more than ten years old.
The boy looked almost identical to his father, with large brown eyes, dark skin, and black curling hair that frizzed wildly in the heat. He dropped a pile of schoolbooks onto the table where the handgun had lain just minutes before. "The tutor didn't show, Papa." Italian flowed from his mouth, rapid words against his smooth face.
"Don't use that fucking language," his father roared, getting to his feet. "I'm paying a hell of a lot of money to get you to talk like a person, not a fucking piece of shit." Dropping his handgun carelessly on the chair, he raised a hard hand to his son's face. The boy flinched, but his expression stayed stony as he looked up at his father, the imprint of Adolfo's hand visible on the boy's cheek.
"Apologize," Adolfo ordered.
"Apologize this instant." His face was red, eyes bulging.
The boy finally dropped his eyes, shoulders raising in a small shrug. "I'm not sorry," he answered in Italian.
Adolfo grabbed the boy's hair, twisting it in his fingers, waiting. Unable to hold back any longer, the boy wailed in pain, and Adolfo gave an extra tug before letting his son go. Marius quickly put his hands on the boy's shoulders as he stumbled away from his father, stopping any further punishment between the two. "You should be grateful for your boy."
"Only when he either learns respect or lies six feet underground."
"I have one son, Ricciarelli. One boy. When I went home a few months ago he cried every time I tried to touch him. He wanted his twin sister instead, he's glued to her like she's his mother. I can't take him with me and raise him proper like you can yours. Mine is going to grow into a failure and there's nothing I can do about it. I'd rather have your Adolfo who I can teach and have at my side."
"Take him," the elder Adolfo said, tapping cigarette ashes onto the floor. "Take my waste of space and give me your perfect Aryan son; we'll trade. But I feel like I'm cheating you since mine's not worth shit." Father and son shot identical glares at each other, although both knew his statement was true. In a world where the Nazis were gaining power and more territory throughout Europe, neither Italians would have a place amongst the Aryan race.
Marius sighed, knowing he would never understand the Ricciarelli's relationship. Adolfo should have been like any father, glad to have his son at his side where he could teach the boy and mold him into a man, but the elder Adolfo was never grateful. Marius could hardly blame the boy for his resentment, but knew their relationship would be better if the boy treated his father respectfully.
One night, during the rare moments when Marius was with his partner without the stress of work, after a few too many glasses of good German beer, Adolfo confessed one aspect of his hatred.
"Damned son of mine looks too much like his mother."
The atmosphere sobered and Marius had nearly choked on his beer, never expecting those words. Adolfo had never mentioned his wife before, although he had gathered that Adolfo was a widower.
"If he wasn't born, she would still be here."
"She died during labor?" Marius tried to probe him further since the beer had loosened his tongue.
"Hung herself barely two weeks after he was born. One of my silken ties broke her neck… He killed her." Adolfo put his mug down, amber liquid sloshing against the side. "That bastard killed her, why should he deserve to hear about her?"
After that night, Marius had begun to see the Ricciarelli's relationship somewhat clearer. It was obvious Adolfo blamed his son for his wife's death, and he treated the boy unkindly for it. But the biggest punishment was that the elder Adolfo never spoke of his wife, which hurt the both of them.
"I bet she would want you to keep her son, like my wife would never give up hers." Only once he said the statement did Marius realize he had spoken it aloud. Although he was a Nazi officer and Adolfo a mere Italian, an imperfect blip in society that would soon be taken care of, the last thing Marius wanted to do was insult him and his gun.
The elder Adolfo grimaced, but he did not look angry, only hurt. "I'll go have a chat with Werden," he said after a moment, nimble brown fingers buttoning his shirt back up. He reached for his handgun, letting it rest against his waistline between his stomach and belt, putting on a light jacket to cover it up. "Won't take long," he mumbled, slamming the door behind him.
Marius retreated to his desk, picking up a pen as his blue eyes scanned a crisp document in front of him. It was mindless work left for the lowest to do. If only he could figure out a way to beat the British, to stop their fighting, he would be a General quicker than Adolfo could put a bullet through Werden's skull.
"Onkel Marius?" The boy stood beside the German, resting his chin on the desk. He was short for his age, but, if he turned out like his father, he would soon be towering over both men.
Marius pulled the boy on his lap and Adolfo lifted up the document, eyes scanning it briefly as if he understood the elaborate official language; Marius could barely understand it sometimes. "I could play with them, couldn't I?"
A small hand drifted to a photograph frame which held a pale picture of a sharp-faced woman with two toddlers in her arms. Each had a small dusting of light hair. The girl smiled widely at the camera but the boy was staring at her, transfixed. Adolfo's eyes brushed the picture hopefully. His father never let him play with his classmates, the Italian bastards, as the elder Adolfo called them. Although the Ricciarellis were full Italian, the elder Adolfo recognized the power of the Nazi party and wanted safety. In exchange for security, Adolfo offered his services. But, in granting security, the elder Adolfo forced his son to speak only in German and not to mix with the Italian brats.
"You wouldn't like them," Marius said offhandedly, taking the photograph away from the boy and putting it back in its place. "If you were of German blood, you and Hannelore might have a future ahead of you… but Sascha will be no more a man than his sister."
A new thought enticed him as Adolfo reached for the globe that lay nearly outside his reach. Marius helped move it closer to the boy. "How is England?"
"Still holding out, but hopefully not for long." It was easy to speak with Adolfo with these matters. He had met the child when he was barely old enough to remember. Marius' acquaintance with the elder Adolfo grew into partnership when, several years later, Marius was sent to a little village called Riccia, where Adolfo lived. Since the boy was seven, Marius was able to teach him the ways of war, and the boy responded well, much better than his father, who simply wanted to take strategies from men higher up and use them as their own.
Adolfo's thin fingers started in England, treading across the Channel through Poland, into Austria, then to Italy. "During the Great War, there was Verdun." His fingers went back up, over to France where the fortress of Verdun stood. "The Germans wanted to destroy it to kill the Frenchmen's spirits." His fingers trekked the short distance to Germany, where they rested. "It was unsuccessful. And the French are stronger than the Brits. And both barbaric, don't care much for sentimental things. The Brits could care less about St. Paul's Cathedral; you have to get their factories and bases."
Marius reached for his eyeglasses, putting them on quickly, eyes darting to trace the path Adolfo had created. His lips mouthed the boy's words: Great War, Verdun, factories. "Who told you this?" His words were the breath of a whisper.
"I read it." His tone was smooth, almost as smug as his father's had been earlier. "When Vater is off on business, I read his books."
Marius nodded, hardly hearing the boy. "There's our solution right there. Verdun gave us hell during the Great War. You are your father's son, your onkel's boy!" He patted Adolfo on the head, setting the boy back on the ground. "Go get your father. He'll be in Herr Werden's office." His words trailed, eyes wide in frenzy as his hands began scribbling a winning strategy onto a sheet of paper.
Adolfo slowly made his way to the door, wishing he wouldn't have to find his father, hoping Marius would go instead, but the German was hunched over his desk, unable to see anything else. The boy slunk down the hallway, tracing the familiar path to Eckhard Werden's office, steps getting quicker as he heard yelling. Shouts echoed through the halls and Adolfo stopped outside the door, standing on tiptoes to peek in through the frosted glass window. He could make out two shapes, a darker one standing, the paler sitting. The darker figure lifted a blurry arm, holding onto a black object, and the noise quieted.
A moment later, Adolfo was on the ground, having lost his balance from the shock of the noise. There had been a gunshot from the office. Someone had pulled the trigger. He scrambled to his feet as two more shots sounded from the room, flinching with each one. Just before he could peek in the window again, the door opened.
In the doorway stood the elder Adolfo clutching onto his handgun, face spattered with ruby blood.