Older European Gentlemen
Since Susan Gatewood had already paid the fee for the enhanced matching service, there was no reason why she and Sandy shouldn't conduct their business over dinner in restaurants. Sandy liked the change, and, since Susan was a member of the Art Institute, they could eat in their dining room. It was large, airy, and speckled with well-bred ladies eating little bits of things with good silver. Sandy liked the white table cloths, and, while the food wasn't as tasty as that of the Italian restaurants favored by the Berwyn Associates, it was still okay.
Susan had now spent a fair amount of time with Bernie Crum, and she reported,
"I still think he's nice, and he can be good company. But I'm not in love with him and I do have some doubts. What kind of father do you think he'd be?"
"He'd be nice with kids, but not like the other fathers. He might get them to help him go through the neighbors' trash."
"Yes, that's quite possible. He's also getting into this awful metal detection business."
"You go to the beach with a device that detects coins and other objects buried in the sand. It makes beeping sounds all the time, and makes them faster when it finds something. Then you dig the object up with a little spade. It's all right out on the beach in winter when no one's around, but he's begun doing it in the city."
"Ok, I've seen a man doing that. He went along in a funny kind of crouch making those noises, and then he fell to his hands and knees and began digging furiously like a demented rodent. It was terribly funny."
"It would be if you weren't involved. One time, on Michigan Avenue, there was an affluent-looking man who dropped some change when he bought a paper from a rack. Bernie got it right after he'd left, much to my embarrassment. By this time, the man was strolling into a little park with his wife, and it occurred to Bernie that he might drop more money. I've found it impossible to deflect Bernie at times like that, and he followed the couple."
"Was he beeping as he went?"
"Oh yes, he was only about fifteen yards behind them, and it was both funny and humiliating. I was off to the side, trying to look as if I didn't know Bernie. Finally, the man turned around angrily and asked Bernie what he was doing. Bernie said he thought that Captain Kidd had buried some treasure nearby."
"Was Bernie joking?"
"It's hard to tell with him. He didn't laugh or smile. The man turned and stormed off muttering. He seemed to be terribly affronted."
"I think Bernie was probably joking. He does have a good sense of humor."
"I know. But, still, there's always that lingering doubt that he might be perfectly serious. That bothers me."
Sandy agreed and added,
"Children would certainly take to metal detection. He'd get them miniature detectors, and you'd be the only one in the family who didn't follow people beeping."
"I'm not sure how strong my character is. I might take to it in self-defense."
Sandy thought that that was actually quite possible. She could imagine Susan, still elegant, kneeling daintily on her brief case to protect her skirt while she gently prised up earth with her little pointed tool to uncover a mud-encrusted dime or quarter. As an alternative to that scenario, she suggested,
"I've got a couple of new men on my list whom you might want to consider. They seem more couth."
"Well, on the subject of other men who are more couth than Bernie, an extraordinary thing happened. Your Dr. Narrison came down to consult me on some legal matters, and he ended up asking me out to dinner."
"Did you accept?"
"Yes. I was surprised, of course, but he was quite charming. And, at his age, what harm could there be? We're going out Friday."
"He's been very good to me, but I still think he's done something very bad somewhere along the line."
"Yes, you've told me your theory about that, but I think I have the answer. Of course, I can't divulge anything confidential, but I can say that the thing he's worried about is hardly serious at all. It happened many years ago, and there's no possibility of any kind of repercussion. It's quite touching that he's still concerned about it."
Sandy suspected that, if a minor crime had been confessed to Susan, a major one lurked behind it. She was wondering whether to spill what she had learned from Fred when Susan said of Dr. Narrison,
"He's led a terribly romantic life."
Sandy suspected that Susan didn't want to know exactly how romantic that life had been. She instead told her that she, too, was going out with a much older man, also one with a European background. She added,
"He came into the office one day and said that he's an old friend of Dr. Narrison's. But he asked me not to say anything. He wants to see if Dr. Narrison recognizes him."
"That's rather strange."
"Yes. I thought so. But he was quite engaging, and he ended up asking me out to dinner. I wouldn't ordinarily go out with a client, but I was curious. This man, Fred, has been in the air-conditioning business a long time, and he seems to have a lot of money."
Susan asked some rather pertinent questions, ones it seemed to Sandy that Susan might well have addressed to herself in connection with Dr. Narrison. By the time that Sandy had answered them, she felt more comfortable about her date with Fred. Susan remarked,
"It's funny that we're both going out with men so much older."
"Yes. It's hardly ideal, but nobody younger has asked me."
"It may also help that these men are European. So many young American men are crude and insensitive."
"At least you know what they're up to. Dr. Narrison has a sort of bluff openness, which may mask a good deal. Fred's a real smoothie. I have no idea what might be on his agenda."
"It probably includes sex."
"I dare say. Dr. Narrison seems also to have those designs on you. Samantha predicted he'd make an approach after he saw you at the experiment."
"I was vividly aware of his being there, but I was too flustered to look directly at him."
"You know, I've never apologized for roping you into that."
Susan smiled and touched Sandy on the forearm across the table as she said,
"It was about when I lost my skirt that I realized that the experiment wasn't about electrical sensitivity. But you didn't really know me then. Besides, you were trying to give Bernie and myself something in common to talk about. You certainly accomplished that."
"I didn't realize how painful it would be for you."
"That girl would have had my slip up to my waist if you hadn't stopped her."
"That was Samantha."
"A fascinating young lady. But totally out of control. She is a lesbian, isn't she?"
"No, she's Calvin's girl friend."
"Really? And with him I don't suppose it could be entirely Platonic. I was quite aware of his attention while my clothes were disappearing in all directions."
"I think Calvin would like to have us all in bed at once."
"One of the things I like about older gentlemen is that they don't have such fantasies. They might even be interested in something beyond sex."
"I wouldn't be totally optomistic about that, but I'm sure there's something in what you say."
It was a sort of business lunch at the little Italian restaurant. But, with its discreet almost enclosed booths decked out in red upholstery, it seemed to Samantha to have mob overtones. She said to Dr. Narrison,
"I wonder if Al Capone ever came here to negotiate a temporary truce with Bugs Moran."
"They would certainly have had someone like Greasy Thumb Guzik with them to take notes and act as a witness."
The waiter then sidled over, and, looking at Samantha with a modified leer, he gave Dr. Narrison a conspiratorial smile. After placing their orders, she pulled out her papers and put them on the table.
Her research paper half done, Samantha was gradually finding out that Dr. Narrison had an enormous range of relevant experience, almost none of it garnered in experimental situations. As they picked at the antipasto, he remarked equably,
"Our experiment reminds me in various ways of the situation in which people have just found out that they're to be executed."
"Have you seen many people executed?"
"A good many."
There was, as always a story. Dr. Narrison admitted having been a sea captain, which Samaantha already knew from Sandy, and he went on,
"I arrived back in Germany just after the end of the first war. There weren't any ships to command, and so I was looking for something else when I ran into an old acquaintance. He was an army officer who was on leave from the Iron Division, which was still operational in Poland. He said they needed someone to run a captured railway and manage their supply chain, and he suggested that I go back with him and apply for the job."
Samantha was vaguely aware of becoming very like her mother in order to provide the best possible audience for Dr. Narrison.
While the German army in the west had been defeated, and had marched home in perfect order, the victorious German army in the east had simply gone on fighting. In eastern Europe there were the White Russians of General Deniken, the Bolsheviks of Lenin and Trotsky, Field Marshal Mannerheim's Finns, armed Poles under Pilsudski, Lithuanians, Czechs, Slovaks, Byelorussians, Ukrainians, Austrians, and others. All were violently inclined, and, in any given area, there could easily be a conflict between two or more groups.
In this chaotic situation, the only real constant was the German army, albeit with no real government to give it orders. It was nevertheless determined to carry on in its normal way. Except that it couldn't be entirely normal. The source of supplies was gone. This was remedied by taking some towns and looting them. In other areas, there were the "better people" who, thinking that the German army provided the best possible protection, were happy to pay tribute.
It was part of German military ideology that there must be a recognized enemy against whom one can plan operations. There could be no intellectual satisfaction in planning the defeat of mere brigands.
In an area where there were so many potential enemies, each unit commander was left to make his choice. The Iron Division, whose unofficial motto was ORDNUNG MUSS SEIN, declared war on communists.
Unfortunately for some people, the division's Prussian officers had difficulty in distinguishing between, for example, Polish nationalistic socialists, leftist egalitarian intellectuals like Rosa Luxembourg, and true Bolsheviks. Dr. Narrison, fresh from the sea, entered this unfamiliar terrain without any particular uneasiness. He explained,
"The division was operating in a lake district around Sulwackie in northeastern Poland. They held a roughly circular area some sixty miles in diameter, and they needed someone to get the railway running and collect and distribute supplies for the division. They seemed to think that nautical people would be good in the area of logistics, and so I was taken to see the chief of staff of the division when I arrived."
The chief of staff was Colonel Guderian, who, in the second world war, was to become the famous panzer leader who conquered so much of France and Russia. According to Dr. Narrison,
"He was fairly young, and he was having the time of his life. He loved to organize, and he got to organize, not only the division, but the civil administration of the area, the police, the economy, and even the peasants. He seemed to have the idea that I had been a marine engineer, and it didn't take much to convince him that I could get the steam locomotives of the railway running. I was appointed on the spot."
"I bet you got that railway running better than it ever had."
"Yes. It wasn't too difficult, really. I managed to find some men who'd already been working on it, but were hiding out in their homes for fear of being shot. They just needed protection, and Colonel Guderian gave me a platoon of infantry."
"Did people shoot at you?"
"Now and then, but, mostly, they were too afraid of the German soldiers. I set up headquarters in the station at Sulwakie, which was on one side of the main town square. It was a very pretty little town, even in the winter, with wide streets and a stream that wound through the center of town. The houses were pastel-colored, and even the station was a minor work of architectural art. The trains came puffing into it on a little wooden bridge over the stream, and, in one way, it was quite picturesque."
"But not in another?"
"The buildings themselves were hardly damaged from the war, but there were population shifts. Refugees wandered everywhere, and were encamped all around the town in various sorts of huts and tents. You could smell hundreds of wood and peat fires at night. The army, of course, kept order. There was no looting or violence, and the respectable Poles and Lithuanians of the town remained in possession of their homes."
Samantha was wondering why people had been executed if the locality was so well ordered when Dr. Narrison explained,
"These respectable people were quite concerned about the communists who wanted to take their money and property away from them. The German officers, already inclined against communism, were gentlemen enough to help them by executing any communists who could be found."
Dr. Narrison gestured with his hands placed on edge on the table, as if ordering space in the manner of a German officer intent on preserving order. He then added,
"What I found surprising was that the refugees, almost all of whom had already lost everything, were even more supportive of the executions than the townspeople."
"Perhaps they were bored and wanted a spectacle."
"There was, of course, that element. But these people had come from all directions and spoke a half dozen different languages. They couldn't possibly all have had the same enemies. For that matter, many of them must have had communist sympathies themselves. Why didn't they fear that they might be next and fade into the countryside?"
The question was presented as one from teacher to student, and Samantha could only reply,
"I don't know."
"It struck me at the very first execution that the really fascinating thing was the behavior of the crowd of spectators. They weren't boisterous, like a crowd of Romans cheering on the lions against the Christians, but they looked quietly pleased. It was as if they were at a public dedication of a new park with band music playing quietly in the background and a gracious little speech by the mayor."
"Could the refugees have been too disoriented to know who was being executed?"
"That's quite likely. It's characteristic of subjects in certain kinds of experiments to pretend to know what's going on when they don't."
One memory had remained particularly clearly in Dr. Narrison's memory.
"A man had just been hung, and I watched two women, some fifty feet away. One was a peasant grandmother, probably Russian or Ukrainian, with a babuchka on her head. She'd obviously been living on the land, and she probably smelled badly. Right next to her was a rather elegant woman of the town in the long skirt and Edwardian dress that was still being worn in those parts. The women couldn't have been more different, but they stood side by side, both contributing polite applause to the occasion. I wondered how that was possible."
"The refugees must have been desperate to belong to the local society. Perhaps they thought they could gain admission to the club by quietly applauding civic events."
"Yes. Of course, it would really have taken much more than that, but they must have thought that they couldn't go wrong by being against the people being executed."
"Did they execute the communists right in the town square?"
"Yes. They used the flagpole in front of the station."
"No. They just hoisted people up."
"That must have been somewhat gruesome."
"It was at times. Of course, only the more prominent communists were brought to Sulwakie to be hung, and it only happened a few times a month. On other days, the basic placidity of the town was unaffected."
"Did the people know they were being brought in to be executed?"
"No. They'd been kept in custody in houses, sometimes their own houses, and treated quite gently. I think they were told that they were being brought in to be tried. They must have known that they were in danger, but they had no reason to fear summary execution. They usually came by train with a couple of guards, and, even when they came through the station and saw the flag-pole, they couldn't have had any idea what it was to be used for."
"I imagine you positioned youself so as to see their faces when they found out."
"Certainly. But this is where there's a close parallel to our experiment. They weren't told that they were to be killed. They were asked to undress."
"Did they know what that meant?"
"Some undoubtedly did. The Russians, for example, generally stripped people before executing them. It may have been to increase the humiliation, or simply because someone wanted the clothes."
"Can we can assume that none of our subjects think we want to execute them?"
Dr. Narrison laughed and replied,
"Life in America fosters comfortable assumptions. They weren't common in eastern Europe at that time."
"Your situation also sounds more public. Did the townspeople know that there was to be a hanging?"
"I don't know. In any case, they caught on very quickly. A crowd would usually materialize by the time that the person was actually hoisted up."
"I don't suppose you kept records of people's reactions?"
"Actually, I did. While this sort of thing was typical of the time and place, I knew that it was, from a global point of view, extraordinary. And I was a bit of a psychologist even then. So I kept an account of the executions that I saw. I was recently reading it over."
It sounded like pure gold to Samantha, but she knew, without asking, that Dr. Narrison wouldn't want any such document to appear in anything as public as a research paper. She said,
"You know, I could claim to have come across a now-deceased refugee from Poland who gave me an account of these executions. I wouldn't have to see any documents if you just gave me a verbal account."
Samantha's speech was slow, and, as she spoke, she had the anticipatory smile so infuriating in her mother when the latter knew that she was going to get what she wanted.
Dr. Narrison suggested that they have lunch the next day. He would bring his diaries and translate them into English for Samantha.
The second luncheon in two days occurred in a different Italian restaurant in the neighborgood. This was a little humbler than the other, the sort of place where Al Capone's gunmen might have eaten. It was dark in the corner booth where they settled themselves, with only a little candle on the table. The atmosphere was, Samantha thought, ideal for the divulging of old secrets. She was very glad that she had cut her class on the British Empiricists in order to come.
The first victim Dr. Narrison had observed was a small well-dressed middle-aged man with an irritated expression who walked briskly through the station with his escort. On emerging into the square, he was met by Hauptmann Klaus Seydlitz.
"Captain Seydlitz was a big blonde young man, quite good- looking, and he was accompanied by a couple of town officials. You have to realize that any such meeting involved a Babel of languages. One official's native language was Byelorussian, and the other's was Lithuanian. They both spoke Polish, but with different accents. One had a little German. Captain Seydlitz spoke only German, and misunderstandings were constant. I've always been rather good with languages, and I could often form a clearer picture of what was happening than any of the participants."
Samantha hung noticeably on Dr. Narrison's words, and he went on,
"In this case, the prisoner was a Pole from Cracow, which had most recently been part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. He seemed to be a rather cultured man, but his Polish was different. That was one strike against him. Anyhow, northerners didn't like southerners, particularly if they had any intellectual pretensions. This one spoke too fast and sounded rather imperious. If you're ever in that sort of situation, you want to speak slowly and fumble a bit with your words."
"I'll remember that when the time comes."
"And it may come for you, young lady. Your inhibitions aren't very strong."
Dr. Narrison was smiling, and Samantha admitted his point. He continued,
"The really damning thing about this man was that he looked just like Lenin. The others may have been confused about everything else, but they were agreed on that. It was then that I offered my services as a translator."
"You were trying to save him?"
"I wouldn't say that. I suppose I just thought that it would be nice if they could decide what he was before they hoisted him. Anyhow, Captain Seydlitz spoke to me words that I can still remember. The English translation would be, more or less, 'We deeply appreciate your getting the railway to run, sir. It is also excellent that one of your trains has brought this gentleman to us so quickly and with such success. I thank you for your efforts.'"
"In other words, 'Butt out and let us hang him.'"
"Yes. I didn't try to translate when Captain Seydlitz told the man to take off his clothes."
Dr. Narrison consulted his notes and translated,
"When the prisoner understood that he was to disrobe, he said nothing, but began to look around him in an agitated manner. Seeing nothing more threatening than a flag-pole, he looked back at Captain Seydlitz. The captain said nothing, but smiled. The prisoner voluntarily took off his coat and unfastened his trousers. The men who had escorted the prisoner helped him until he had left only his black homburg hat, underwear, and socks.
The prisoner looked quite pale and stumbled somewhat as he was taken by the arm and led to a position with his back to the flag-pole. He was visibly surprised when his hat was lifted and the unseen noose was dropped over his head from the back. There were no screams or shouts, but, when the noose was tightened and his hat was clapped back on his head, it did appear that he was trying to say something. There was a call for volunteers from the gathering crowd, and, when three young men came to assist at the halyard, the prisoner was hoisted, his face now purple and his legs kicking. His activity then diminished gradually, his hat remaining in place until he was a corpse."
"What do you think he was trying to say?"
"I suspect that it was a plea, not for clemency, but for a slight delay."
"When we set about Miss Gatewood, she was trying to negotiate. She wanted to arrange for something else a little later on, anything to keep us from dropping her skirt on the spot."
"Yes. That element was more prominent in cases where the prisoner saw the noose before it was placed around his neck."
Dr. Narrison went through some other cases in which the prisoners were heard to protest that they needed time to compose themselves, that they wanted a priest, or that they were entitled to a trial. He commented,
"These protests were delivered intelligibly, and with at least a modicum of emotional control. But I judged that, regardless of their content, the real message was, 'Wait. Not just yet!'"
Samantha wondered if Dr. Narrison expected her to be shocked by these accounts of violence. Her mother, in her place, would certainly have pretended to be shocked, but in such a way as to encourage a more extensive and detailed account of the atrocities. Samantha wasn't sure of her own virtuosity in that area, but she had a try at it. In response, Dr. Narrison continued,
"We had another prisoner who, in retrospect, reminds me a little of Mr. Crum."
This man, apparently a Hungarian who had unwisely ventured among the Poles and Germans, was also, according to Dr. Narrison, tall, awkward, and lacking in natural dignity. It appeared to Samantha that Dr. Narrison believed himself to be well supplied with natural dignity as he described the man he had taken to be a buffoon. He concluded,
"One thing about him, though. He was very quick on the uptake. He tried to run."
"I don't suppose he got far."
"No. They caught him and pulled his trousers down, which slowed him considerably. Then, he got one leg out and tried to take off again."
After pausing to again consult his notes, Dr. Narrison continued,
"Something peculiar happened. Something that may not have happened anywhere else, either before or since."
The flag halyard, on the end of which the noose was bent, happened to be extra long. Although the prisoner was some forty feet from the pole, one of the guards ran with the noose and slipped it over the prisoner's head. The other guard, pulling on the halyard, maintained enough tension so that the prisoner couldn't get the noose off, but not enough to lift him.
"It was as if he were playing a fish on a line. The prisoner could run in a circular direction, but he couldn't get away, and he was gradually drawn closer to the pole. The crowd backed off to give him room, but there was no jeering or laughter, just a certain concentrated attention."
"I can imagine Mr. Crum behaving more or less like that. Did they eventually hoist him up?"
"Oh yes. Oddly enough, it was Captain Seydlitz who tired of the sport first. He went to the rope and helped the guard lift the prisoner off the ground."
"So the captain was a humanitarian after all?"
"The mix of sadism and generosity in all of us is a very complicated affair. We go from one to the other, at least in moderate degrees, in ways that might seem inconsistent."
"But really aren't?"
"There is, of course, an underlying principle. But it may be difficult or impossible for the investigator to discover it."
Samantha was taking notes, and she asked,
"Are there any generalizations that can be made about these cases?"
"The interesting generalizations, I think, concern the crowd rather then the persons executed. Asch's subjects saw people give ridiculous estimates, were put on the spot to give one themselves, and conformed to the others. The person walking through the Sulwacki square when a prisoner was brought through was himself put on the spot. In that situation, he wasn't just a spectator, but an actor. He must have both wanted to hurry away, and remain to watch. He must have had some compassion for the prisoner, but would also have been fearful of giving even the mildest show of support. We, even in our experiment, put people on the spot in a similar way. The subect wants to make quickly for the exit, but also wants to cooperate for various reasons. In all such cases, the subject looks around at other people whom he takes to be in the same situation as himself."
"In our case, he sees the half-dressed stooges. What did he see in your case?"
"He saw Captain Seydlitz and a handful of town officials, all smiling and confident, as they went about their routine business. So, the person in the street, be he townsperson or refugee, accepted that everything was perfectly normal, and, indeed, rather good. He then stood quietly to watch without any show of emotion, and his example affected others in a similar way. After that, the spectators would contribute anything from polite applause to help with the rope."
"So a civic leader can get people to accept anything as normal as long as he does it in just the right style?"
"I should think so. Just as the subject in an experiment will do almost anything if the design is good enough."
Samantha could imagine a few experiments they might do themselves, but she forebore mentioning them. She then asked,
"Were any women executed?"
"The last prisoner I saw was a woman. She was a Russian aristocrat who'd gone over to the Bolsheviks for ideological reasons."
"Was she young and beautiful?"
"Late thirties, I think. Not beautiful in the ordinary way, perhaps, but quite striking and elegant. The moment I saw her, I knew she was prepared for death. Not in a week's time, but right then."
"How did she know?"
"I think she knew her captors. She didn't know about the flagpole, but she knew that they were all set to give her a very painful death in whatever way would give them the most enjoyment."
Samantha, very excited, waited for more.
"She came through the station, like the others. When they asked her to undress, she did so without comment, rather like our Mrs. Medway. When she had nothing left but her underwear and stockings, they led her to the pole. It seemed a terrible waste to me."
It was then that Dr. Narrison had evidently taken an initiative. He recounted,
"For the first time, I went to the rope to help."
"Were you trying to make it quick for her?"
"No. There were two other men, and, since she was light, they quickly had her off the ground. She was right in front of me as she strangled and choked. I could reach higher on the rope than the other men, and I had my opened pocket-knife concealed in my hand. Anyhow, everyone was watching her, not me. I didn't have to cut much before the rope frayed and then snapped. She dropped to the grass right beside me."
"Was she all right?"
"She was still breathing when Captain Seydlitz dispersed the crowd. He and I determined that she wasn't badly injured. I suggested quietly to him that we could lock her up in the station attic until it was decided what should be done. He smiled at me. He understood perfectly."
Dr. Narrison's notes were sketchier after that. The woman had been locked up in the station and Captain Seydlitz visited her repeatedly. Dr. Narrison allowed,
"I could hear sounds coming down from the attic. He wasn't a gentle man, but he didn't inflict pain for the sake of pain."
Samantha suspected that Dr. Narrison had also taken turns with the woman. He then concluded,
"Since I had gotten the railway running, I decided to put it to good use. One night I smuggled the woman on board a train and left with her. We arrived in Berlin the next day."
"Did you see her after that?"
"For some time. We weren't terribly well suited, but she thought that I'd saved her. She managed to survive the chaos of the times, and I saw her some five years ago."
As they went back to a discussion of the experiment, it occurred to Samantha that Dr. Narrison, though no saint, probably really wasn't much of a devil.