11th July 2021
Berlin. November 1995
Daniel was pleased to see Chris back, working with Jake, but he was not going to let the chance for some serious winding-up slip by.
The relationship with Veronica was over. Their last evening together at Richard’s had been mechanical and emotionless. Nothing was said but it was obvious, all passion was dead.
Chris had seen Johan once or twice. The meetings on the street were frosty, but as Jake had predicted, Johan was not the sort to hit anyone, even if they had stolen his girlfriend.
“Well, more like you borrowed her, not stole,” clarified Daniel, with a blatant lack of sensitivity. “Least you got some action.”
“What’s wrong with Richard ? Not gay, is he ?”
“No, he’s not gay.”
“Why ain’t I ever seen him with a girl then ?”
“He’s just unlucky, that’s all. Or, I’m starting to think, very lucky.”
“You know what ? You could be a comedian. Really. You’re a funny geezer.”
“Yeah, right. Anyway, what you up to now ? Band getting back together ?” Chris asked ironically.
“Somehow can’t see that happening. You heard the latest ?”
“Hey, I work here. I get extra shifts because Boris isn’t here, a-haha. I see Andrei working alone, a-haha. I put two and two together, a-haha. I put Boris and Olga together. A-haha.”
“Yeah, official. They fucked off to Russia, and came back married.”
“Yeah, rings and all. Andrei perplexed and pole-axed. Sascha just finds it all very funny. Charley George was best man, apparently.”
“No more Sawhead, I take it ?”
“Thank fuck ! Turned into a right pig’s ear. Last concert, fucking hell !”
“Yeah, were you really gonna hit Sascha ?”
“Well I weren’t gonna fucking hit Andrei ! No, think I’ll start writing, don’t have to depend on other people. Pen, paper, bingo !”
“Interesting, interesting. There was a friend of Arizona’s who writes for some magazine. Ex-pat thing. What’s it called ? Something quite cool. Ah, yeah, ‘Savage Revolt’. You should try them.”
“Yeah, all right. You got a copy ?”
“No, but can probably get one. Anyway, something to think about.”
On the following Saturday, both Daniel and Richard were there early and, along with Jake, had a long talk about Berlin, bands and booze. And women.
Daniel had found the magazine and had called the editor,
“Some knackered old septic. Bored, middle-aged, housewife type. Rich housewife type.”
“Errr, I don’t know what that cockney shit, ‘knackered’ means,” Jake interrupted.
Chris explained, both literal and general definitions; extremely tired, often after excessive sexual activity.
“Oh, haven’t been knackered for a long time, hahaha. What the fuck is ‘septic ?’ ”
“One of your lot, American; septic tank, Yank. Anyway, she said if I could get something to her by next Friday she’d see about publishing it in the next edition.”
“Any ideas, yet ?” asked Richard.
“Not your love life, that’s for sure. Fucking blank page, mate. What about her then ? Over at that table ?”
Daniel indicated a young girl with a Louise Brooks bob dressed in black sitting at a table next to a man who just looked out of place.
“Oh, she’s been in a few times. Nice. Pretty,” said Jake.
“Yeah, different man each time,” from Chris.
“Don’t mean nothing. Hey, she’s looking over.”
Richard had noticed her since she had first come in, but seeing as she was in company, dismissed any possibility of anything happening. Ever.
Now he looked over. The girl was looking slowly around, smiling at something her friend was saying, a kind of fixed smile, polite. Then she looked at Richard, and their eyes meet. They both held the look. It was Richard who looked away first, but when he looked back, she was still looking at him. Now she smiled and looked away.
Some time later, she stood up to leave, or so it appeared. Her friend left, but the girl walked to the toilet, passing behind Daniel. As she did so, she looked at Richard and gave a little, but wonderful smile. Again, they looked into each other’s eyes. Then she was gone.
Richard didn’t hear anything Daniel said. His heart raced, his breathing was erratic.
Daniel was speaking about authors, Dickens in particular, when the girl came back and stood next to Richard, to order a new drink.
Richard almost had to get up and walk away; she smelt incredible. How was that even possible in the Czar Bar ? She got her beer then looked over,
“Dickens ? Sorry, but I heard you talk about him. He’s one of my favourite authors. Hello, I’m Johanna.”
Daniel then performed a manoeuvre that was copied for many months afterwards. He stood up from his stool and, walking backwards, invited the girl to have his seat, as he disappeared into the mass of bodies.
Richard was glad he’d had some vodka, also glad he hadn’t had so much vodka. His first instinct was to order more, but Chris refused, saying it was too early. Richard understood. He had scared away Carla with his drunkenness. Let him spend at least one evening with this new woman.
From Dickens, they spoke about Berlin, London, (which she hadn’t visited but wanted to), life as a student in Germany (she studied business) and everything else.
Richard found her easy to speak to, and she found him interesting, funny and polite.
After an hour she had to go, but gave him her phone number and an invitation to call,
“Thank you. You are so kind. It was nice to just sit and talk to someone. Please call me.”
And she gave him a kiss. On the cheek.
She couldn’t have been gone more than two seconds before Daniel, Chris and Jake descended on Richard with a barrage of questions.
Richard, now able to drink vodka freely, which he did, merely held the phone number up, before putting it safely away.
Daniel pretended to write the number down, making Chris laugh, which in turn made Jake laugh, which had a knock-on effect on Richard.
Once he reached a certain level, Richard refused any more vodka. He also left as soon as the S-Bahns were running.
By the Friday deadline, Daniel had written a short story as he had been instructed.
Jeanette, the bored, middle-aged housewife who organised the magazine, welcomed him into her west Berlin apartment, the largest by far Daniel had yet seen. He was shown through several rooms, all with high ceilings and elaborate furnishings.
He waited in what appeared to have been a once elegant reception room while she prepared tea. One whole wall was a bookcase. He got up and looked at all the titles.
Jeanette carried the silver tea service and asked, ‘Lemon or cream ?’ Daniel resisted all temptation to be sarcastic or obnoxious. He liked his surroundings. Anyone that lived like this could do him a lot of good. He was charming and polite, the whole visit.
He left with a handshake and a promise that his work would be evaluated carefully, and a decision made by the time Daniel was invited to place a telephone call.
He thought back to a time in London. His east London office had a job in Hammersmith, west London. As he was driven from Stepney, through the City and towards the west, past Westminster and into Fulham, Daniel looked out of the window and couldn’t believe it was the same city. It was a class apart. It was a world apart.
He felt the same now, walking to the nearest U-Bahn station, looking around at the houses, going past the bistros and cocktail bars, watching the luxury cars gliding up and down the street.
He didn’t want to leave. He went into a café, with aproned waiters, and ordered a coffee. He couldn’t afford much more, so he made it last, and looked out onto the plush, swanky street.