Lindsey C. Johnson

Excerpt: Herr Hoch's Girl

Herr Vetter sat on the old, overstuffed, red couch with a legal pad and fountain pen in his hands. Apparently, the old, wrinkled woman with kind brown eyes and grey hair as coarse as steel wool was the woman who his friend Fritz had mentioned: The Mother of the Munich Resistance. She wasn't at all what he expected. There was nothing statuesque or graceful about her; she even sat clumsily with one arm draped over the back of the couch. A cigarette was perched between her thin lips in a precarious position which made it look like it may fall at any second. Her apartment was not the noble, motherly den that Herr Vetter had expected. The old, wooden coffee table was stacked with a snowfall of bent papers. The white paint that covered the walls was starting to peel away like dead skin.

"Madame, I'm ready whenever you are." said Herr Vetter. He felt young, so very young and unprepared.

The old woman gave a tender smile and spoke, "You said you wanted some information so your student group can make flyers, is that correct?"

"That's right," said Herr Vetter, fidgeting with the starched white collar of his dress shirt. "we're trying to show that the Party Leaders are not to be trusted."

The old woman's smile broadened. "That's a good boy. Make the flyers, the people will listen. No one can even afford bread right now!"

Herr Vetter let a nervous laugh pass his lips, "I, um, I need..."

The old woman gave a knowing nod and spoke, "So you wanted to ask me about my old neighbor, Albrecht Hoch, and his niece?"

"Yes," replied Herr Vetter, "I won't interrupt you. Tell the story, please." He touched his pen to the paper, poised to take notes.

"Very well then," The old woman said, folding her thin, veiny hands and placing them into her lap. "Well, my memory might be a bit fuzzy. He moved out of Munich about seven years ago. He's living in Berlin now, I think. He's a political hotshot. Aren't you from Berlin, too?"

Herr Vetter nodded and stared up at the woman, waiting for her to continue.

"Oh right, the story. I'll tell you what I know about the suicide incident in as much detail as I possibly can.

To begin, let me introduce myself. My name is Monika Schmidt. I've lived here in this shabby old apartment complex for seventeen years. I've been widowed for eight. Albrecht moved next door around 1919. I'll never forget the first time that I saw him: he wore a threadbare gray overcoat that was starting to fray at the sleeves. He was a thin man, almost to the point that he looked unhealthy. He had no facial hair, save for his dark mustache, which was always impeccably groomed. He only carried one suitcase with him: it was an old leather thing that looked like it was about to fall to pieces.

It was the middle of January, so it was naturally quite cold. I invited Herr Hoch into my apartment for coffee.

Then, he looked up from the gray, concrete floor and nodded at me. 'Thank you, Oma, but I have to move into my apartment.' He didn't smile, he just stared at me with those far off, blue eyes. He almost looked as though he were plotting something.

'You haven't got much to move in, do you?' I asked with a laugh.

Herr Hoch didn't reply, he just gave me a dirty look, shook his head and took his suitcase inside.

He was a strange man, that Albrecht Hoch. He was always coming and going. I noticed that as the months went by, he began to slowly accumulate more things. Eventually, he had some inexpensive, crude, pinewood furniture and new clothes. He even acquired a black, leather whip. He carried the thing around wherever he went. I'm not sure why. Perhaps it made him feel more powerful. He was only of modest height, after all. Oh, you know how men can be about that!

Looking back, maybe the whip had something to do with that odd little political band he hung about town with. Some 'Committee for Independent Workmen'. They were an odd, thuggish bunch. Usually, they had their meetings in beer halls I hear, but Albrecht would sometimes invite a few over to his apartment. Oh, the noise, let me tell you about the noise! Those men shouted like no other group of men I had ever heard. 'Treaty of Versailles' this and 'German Volk' that. I never thought that these clowns would get any real power. I don't like politics. I don't trust politicians, not after they sent my little Hans away to die in the Great War.

Now, about the girl. Her name was Geli Reiner. She was a pretty thing, if a bit plump. I still remember the day in the spring of 1925 when I heard a knock on my apartment door. It was Albrecht and Geli. At the time, she looked so young. She had the sweetest round face and the widest smile. Her hair was long and the wheat colored. It fell to her shoulders and curled a bit at the ends.

Albrecht gave a prideful smile and placed a calloused hand on the girl's shoulder. 'This is my niece, Geli. Her mother has fallen on hard times, so she has come to work here as my housekeeper.'

I was dumbfounded. This man was quite poor, and yet he had the nerve to hire a young lady as his housekeeper! I didn't dare ask what he paid her."