A Continental Charmer
The next Tuesday, Heike took her car into a garage near Chevy Chase Circle for its scheduled maintenance. One of the secretaries had told her that this garage, unlike many, didn't specialize in cheating young women. The manager of the garage turned out to be an avuncular older man in a clean white shirt and tie, and the mechanic was a big handsome man with an open friendly manner. Heike left her car in their care with a good feeling and headed for the Circle to catch the JOAD shuttlebus.
The shuttlebus stop doubled as a city bus stop, and there were quite a few people there. Despite the fine fresh morning, most seemed antsy and irritable, probably worried about being late. It was, after all, the middle of the rush hour.
Everyone but Heike crowded aboard the city bus. Just as it was leaving, with a goodly roar and a cloud of noxious smoke, a man in a gray suit rushed up. It looked as if he had just missed the bus, and Heike was offering words of sympathy when he said,
"Actually, I think that was the wrong bus. I'm trying to get to a place up on Connecticut Avenue. Do you know if a bus goes there from here?"
The man had an institutional name tag with an acronym on his lapel, and his voice was a highly educated one with a touch of accent. He was the sort of man who might visit JOAD, and, in fact, JOAD was almost the only institution in that heavily residential district. Heike asked,
"Are you trying to get to JOAD?"
The man brightened immediately and replied,
"Yes, I am. Do you work there?"
As Heike answered and explained about the shuttle, she was almost sure that she was being taken for a secretary. But that was nothing new.
This particular man made a point of being polite to secretaries, and he remarked pleasantly,
"I'm visiting from Huntsville, and I was afraid that I might have overslept."
Pointing to a nearby hotel, he added,
"The beds there are too good."
The little bus then arrived. Heike took a seat in front next to a friend, one of the real secretaries, and the visitor sat across the aisle. When they arrived, she pointed out to him the visitors' reception area and scurried up to her own office.
Once plunked into her chair, something about the visitor struck her. Huntsville, Alabama was the rocketry center, the bailiwick of Werner von Braun and other captured German scientists. Was Admiral Benson so serious about attacking the Soviet Union that he was calling in rocket experts to advise him? If so, it would be nice to know what advice he was getting.
There wasn't much to do that day, and Heike worked, off and on, on a lemma she was trying to prove. She went out to lunch with two of the secretaries, who talked about their boy friend and ex-boy friend problems. One of them, Connie, surprised Heike by saying,
"Once you sleep with a man, he thinks he owns you."
It was the first time any of them had ever admitted as much, and Heike listened closely as the other, Debbie, disagreed.
"Once he's had a taste of the honey, he'll do anything to get another taste. He may think he owns you, but, in fact, you control him. If you like, you can control three or four men at once."
Connie was obviously shocked, and Debbie seemed to realize that she had said too much. Heike, amused, remarked,
"I know a woman who imagined having a razor-blade device installed in her vagina that would cut off anything that entered."
That idea from the presumably virginal Heike shocked both Connie and Debbie, and the conversation turned to the upcoming office picnic.
After lunch, Heike dropped in on Han Roderick in his new office. He looked a little like a mad scientist at work, but recovered quickly and offered her coffee from a little coffee-maker he had set up on his desk. She asked,
"How are things going, so far?"
"Quite well. The naval atmosphere is a bit new for me, but I think I prefer it to academia."
"At least, it's not Rising Sun."
"Well, I would have left there anyway. I had an offer to teach at a somewhat better college in Minnesota."
"Better in summer, but cold in winter."
"Yes, I never actually saw the place. The dean was conducting interviews in Chicago in his hotel room."
"It must be odd to go to a hotel room for an interview."
"This was odd indeed. The dean was a jolly old soul, and he was apparently economizinng on his room. He sat on the edge of the unmade bed, and I sat in the only chair."
"Sounds like a great setting for a movie."
"Oh, it was. I noticed first thing that there was an apple on the bureau with a bite taken out of it. Next to it was a large hunk of cheese, and that, too, had a big bite taken out of it. I had trouble keeping my eyes off it during the whole interview."
"Did that interview put you off the college?"
"Not really. I don't mind folksy administrators. In fact, I can imagine Admiral Benson having things with bites taken out of them on his desk."
Heike had never thought of her leader in quite that way, but replied,
"He can be mean and nasty, but only vindictive for short periods of time. I can imagine him biting something or someone, and then forgetting all about it."
There was no single quitting time, as everyone above the rank of secretary was on the honor system, and Heike left a little early. She had hardly gotten to the shuttlebus stop when the stranger from the morning arrived. He burst out,
"Such a frustrating day!"
"I didn't think JOAD was as bad as that."
"I'm not even supposed to tell anyone who I visited, or what I did, but I must confess that I'm no wiser than when I came."
"I see from your tag that you're from Huntsville. That must mean rocketry."
"Good heavens, I am being indiscreet! I suppose I shouldn't wear it outside the building."
With that, he unpinned the tag and put it in his pocket. He then said,
"I wonder if you would be so good, miss, as to tell me where to get off the bus. It was so early this morning, and I was so sleepy, that I might not recognize the same place."
Heike assured him on that score, and then said,
"I must follow your example and not wear my tag around."
As she unpinned it from her dress, he said,
"I see, miss, that you have a German name. I, too, am German, Hans-Joachim Meyer at your service."
He spoke as if in jest, with a little bow, and she then introduced herself. It was unfortunate that he had already said that he wasn't supposed to say who he had visited. But she, as a secretary leaving work, wouldn't be expected to be so very discreet. She might chatter gaily, and eventually suggest that Admiral Benson went around leering at the girls, and even patting their rears, to see how he might react.
Having begun in this vein, with excerps from the lunch- time conversation, Heike suddenly realized that this gentleman was too intent, and was taking the daily trivia of JOAD too seriously. Was he that intent on seducing her? Beautiful glamorous women might get that sort of attention from men, but Heike never had. Then, suddenly, she realized. He hadn't gone into JOAD at all, but had come back for the afternoon bus! He was going to pretend to have more secrets than she. Heike knocked off the secretary chatter, knowing that he would know how to proceed.
The remainder of the ride was predictable. Mr. Meyer, 'Ha-yo' as he disclosed himself, was a good conversationalist with a bit of a German professor on vacation about him. He was studiously correct, but did let it slip that he was virtually marooned in the city without any idea what to do or where to go. He finally said,
"Tomorrow, I'll have to go back and teach some of your colleagues some basic physics."
Heike, seeing no reason to string things out, said,
"The only north Chinese restaurant in the city is quite near your hotel if you're looking for a place to eat."
"Excellent! And, of course, I'd be honored if you could consent to be my guest."
Heike could see that it was going to be Mitteleuropa all the way, and she consented to his being honored.
With the appetizers, Ha-yo began to establish himself.
"I'm an applied scientist, not an Einstein, and I can only work in some sort of project, usually a government-sponsored one. In Germany, it was either a matter of working for the Nazi regime or being sent to the Russian front as an elderly infantryman. So there wasn't any choice!"
He finished with a smile which Heike found almost affecting. There were lots of former luque-warm Nazis now trying half- heartedly to excuse themselves for working for Hitler. And a few of the most talented ones were now part of von Braun's team, developing rockets for the American military. It was easy to show a sort of sympathy for such a person.
When it was Heike's turn, Ha-yo seemed interested in every detail of her life. What had she studied in school? What did the main street of her town look like? Not only that, he made insignificant details of ordinary life that she had half forgotten interesting in their own right. Then, when she expected him to ask about her parents, he asked about her mathematics. He turned out to be surprisingly knowledgeable, and he appreciated the right things.
Finally, when she disclosed her academic status and the fact that she had waited until that spring to take her general exams, he replied,
"But you should have taken them right off! It's obvious that they were just waiting to give you your degree."
This was what Jones had said, but Heike finally found herself convinced. She replied,
"So, finally, my degree's being awarded at the end of the next semester."
That called for a celebration, and Ha-yo ordered plum wine.
A little later, over the entree, it was Heike herself who told the story of her parents. The part about her father being a Nazi Jew was something that she had only admitted a couple of times, but it came out surprisingly easily. Ha-yo didn't seem so terribly surprised and asked,
"How many times in history have people had to make such choices?"
"I guess I don't know."
"During the great revolutions, of course. The English of the seventeenth century, the American and French of the next century, and the Russian of this century. In all these, people have had to make choices when there's no good choice. Whichever way one goes, one is a traitor. It's a tragic situation, perhaps the only truly tragic one. But ninety nine point nine per cent of humanity has never been tested in that way."
"Yes, I can see that. But the Nazi era wasn't like that. The other Jews didn't become Nazis. My father needn't have."
"It may not yet be recognized by the historians, but the Nazi takeover really did amount to a revolution. There were certainly the attendant atrocities, even before the Jewish persecutions."
Heike was a little vague on that, and Ha-yo explained,
"For example, General Kurt von Schleicher was shot when he answered his front door. His young wife rushed to help him, and she, too, was murdered. The assassins then hunted down the servants, and killed them as well. It was the same sort of methodical terror as was characteristic of the other revolutions."
Heike realized that Ha-yo had gone a little too far. No one who spoke as he did could ever have been even a luque-warm Nazi. But, still, she was interested in his real self and persisted,
"Even so, I don't know of any other Nazi Jews."
"I'm afraid that most were simply passive. He, at any rate, thought that he could do something. He may have thought he was saving his family. Perhaps he thought he was saving you."
Heike found herself beginning to cry, but Ha-yo, across the table, took her hand gently and said,
"I only mean that nothing is simple. You miss your father and mother, but so do many of us. As for guilt, remember that those events might as well have occurred a hundred years ago and ten thousand miles away. Whatever happened in that time and place, we are not to judge. That's all."
Ha-yo brightened, and so did Heike, wiping away her tears. Ha-yo went on,
"As far as that goes, your parents may not be dead."
"I have it on fairly good authority that they were arrested. I haven't been able to find out anything else."
"Yes, but such chaos. Anything could have happened. Would you like some more of this very good beef with oyster sauce?"
Out on the pavement, as they were about to part, Ha-yo said,
"As a tribute to olden times, shall I kiss your hand?"
Heike laughed and Ha-yo picked up her hand gently, just brushing it with his lips. Then, with a wave and a smile, he was off. He already had her phone number and an agreement to meet the next day.
Tensy was staying in Heike's apartment in order to give advice and provide liason with Reggie. When Heike got home and found Tensy eating a salad, she threw herself on the couch and announced,
"Yes. I wondered when you didn't come home for dinner. Since we've had the place checked for bugs other than our own, you can tell me about it."
Heike, kicking off her shoes, tried to remember as much as she could. At the end, she said,
"I've never met such a charming man. He makes me feel as if every minute of my life has been interesting. By contrast, Jones hardly has any interest in me at all."
"He does, Heike. It's just the difference between the amateur and the professional. You'd be amazed how charming Reggie can be when he happens to want to."
"But Ha-yo's a man of principle. All the time he was defending my Nazi father and pretending to be a collaborator himself, he, in fact, had the courage to be a communist in Hitler's Germany."
"Reggie's a man of principle, too. You've only seen his opportunistic side, but he believes in what he's doing. You can bet that this Ha-yo can also do violent things to enemies of his new country."
"Oh, I suppose so. But I've never felt this way before, Tensy."
"Are you in love?"
"Whatever that might be. I don't know. But I feel exhilarated. I probably won't be able to sleep for thinking about things."
"Is Ha-yo handsome?"
"I didn't think so at first. He's not like Jones. But, of course, it's a matter of personality blending with looks."
"I see. Well, look, Heike, this phone isn't secure. I'll have to go out to a pay phone to call Reggie. Will you be all right?
"Certainly. I guess I'll take a bath and wash my hair."
When Tensy finally returned, Heike was in a bathrobe with a towel around her head. Her clothes were strewn on the couch, and Tensy made a place for herself. She said,
"Of course, Reggie was delighted. He was particularly pleased at Ha-yo's pretending to be a rocket scientist with his own secrets."
"Is his name really Ha-yo?"
"Yes it is."
"Is he married?"
"I don't know. Reggie may know. But this musn't go too far, Heike. You can't marry him and defect to Russia."
"Oh, I know. He's faking everything and may really not even like me."
"I very much doubt that. Any compliments will be sincere."
"He doesn't exactly give compliments. Nothing to embarrass anyone. He didn't tell me I was beautiful. But he made me feel beautiful."
"Oh my god, Heike! It sounds as if you're going to sleep with him. That'll bring euphoria, and I'm not sure you can carry out your mission in such a state."
"There's no danger. I certainly won't go up to his hotel room with him."
"If you feel as if you're losing control the least bit, bring him here. I'll be in the other bedroom listening, and, if things begin to go wrong, I'll pop out, the roommate you forgot to warn him about."
"Now, for tactics. He's already, in his role of rocket scientist, told you that the people at JOAD don't know what they're doing. Next, he'll tell you that an atomic missile can't possibly be fired from a submarine. What do you do?"
"That might suggest that you've never heard such a thing. His approach is clever because it requires you to be an actress."
"Not my strong suit. I can't object that they can, too, be fired from a sub."
"No. You have to show consternation and conflict. Your lover happens to be wrong, but you aren't allowed to tell him so. You have to change the subject without being obvious."
"I could spill a water glass on the table."
"There are worse things you could do. It would at least indicate distress. But this is a subtle man, and no one would take you for a naive fool."
"Lots of people think I'm naive."
"But not in that way. We need something better."