This is the sixth part of a fiction serial, in 1400 words.
It wasn’t easy to get the box in the house without Mummy seeing it, but I managed to do that, and hid it in my room under some books and magazines. I couldn’t let on about what I was up to until I had more information, and I guessed Mummy would be annoyed if she knew I had taken smuggled goods. I said I was going out to meet some school-friends to play football later, and I was told to be back in time for dinner.
There were two men waiting when I got back. One was young, maybe in his late teens, and the other older, certainly older than Mummy. “You the new kid?” He had an accent that was not from around there. I nodded. “Pablo says you should come with us, and we will teach you the ropes”. He turned and started walking. “I have to be back for dinner, how long will it take?” The younger one stopped and grinned. “Back with Mummy for din-dins? Ahh”. He waved his arm indicating I should follow, and we walked through some alleys clear of rubble, and clambered over piles of the stuff still blocking some streets.
Emerging into an open square, the older man walked up to a small truck parked there and opened the canvas screen covering the back. “In you go, boy”. I climbed in, followed by the young man, and we sat on piles of suitcases of all shapes and sizes. The older man got in the front, where someone else was waiting to start the engine, and drive off.
The young one told me his name was Spider, and the older man was called Leo. “What about you, what do you go by?” I didn’t think, and said my real name. “Manfred Kraus”. He rubbed his chin, then smiled. “You shall now be known as Curly. Never tell anyone your real name, got that?” I was not so happy with my new name. “But my hair is straight”. He shook his head. “That’s the point. A thin guy gets called Tubby, a fat guy is known as Slim, and a tall bloke is called Shorty. That’s why we have nicknames, to confuse people. Okay?”
We hadn’t been driving for long, when the truck stopped. I heard voices speaking in Russian, then laughter. One of the Russians was talking in German, and he spoke it well. “What you got for me, Leo? Something good in the back?” The canvas was pulled open, and I could see we were at a Russian road-block. Three soldiers with Tommy-guns were standing at the back. I didn’t know whether to put up my hands, or leap out and try to run for it. Spider just chuckled at them, and rummaged around in some of the suitcases. He produced three bottles of something, likely whisky, and a long box of American cigarettes. When he handed them over, one of the soldiers closed the canvas, and slapped his hand on the side of the truck.
So that was how they got through the patrols and checkpoints. It was as simple as bribery.
Less than ten minutes later, we pulled into a courtyard inside what would have once been a very nice apartment block complex. Most of the buildings were destroyed, but the truck reversed into a corner, and Spider jumped out. “Come on, Curly. Wait until you see this”. Leo walked around from the front, and approached a large trapdoor that looked like the entrance to a cellar. He banged on it with his foot, and moments later it opened a little, before flapping open with a loud bang. The head of the man I had spoken to earlier appeared. “So you turned up? Good lad”. Spider smiled at him. “His name is Curly now”.
I was told to help unload the truck. Leo didn’t seem to do anything except stand around and watch as Spider passed me the suitcases. They had to be stacked by the opening, and some were so heavy, I had to drag them. When they were all in a pile, we had to carry them down a wide wooden ladder into the basement. The place left me wide-eyed. It was huge down there, and well lit too. Metal racks were bulging with all sorts of goods and luxuries, and we stacked the suitcases at the bottom of the racks. It was tedious work, one case at a time, passed down the big ladder. Leo didn’t come down, and when the truck was empty, I heard it driving away.
Spider led me through the narrow gap between all the shelves, and the basement opened out into a huge bright cellar room. It resembled a luxury hotel room. Not that I had ever been in one, but I had seen pictures of them in magazines. The man called Pablo was sitting in a big old armchair next to a massive bed. He was smoking a cigarette in a fancy holder, and drinking some dark fluid from a tiny glass. “Did your mother like her stockings, Curly?” I wasn’t about to tell him I had hidden them, so just smiled. “Yes, she did, thank you”. He chuckled, and nodded at Spider. “It will be nice to have a well-spoken polite young man around, don’t you think?” Looking back at me, Pablo indicated that I should sit on a small side-table near his armchair.
“Very well, this is how it works. Every Saturday morning, you come here early, and help the guys load the truck. Then we go somewhere, somewhere different each week. While we are shifting the merchandise, you keep an eye out for the cops. Not the Russians, don’t worry about them. I mean the German cops. If you see any, you whistle. You can whistle, I take it?” He didn’t wait for my reply. “Later on. you help load the truck, come back here, and unload again. Same thing on Sundays, okay? Spider will be with you, but Leo is your boss now, so you do what he says. You will have to tell your mother that you got yourself a weekend job, but don’t mention anything about us, or any names. Clear?”
Pablo turned in the armchair and reached down low to his left. As his jacket fell open, I could see the grip of an automatic pistol that was tucked into his trousers. He dropped a canvas bag onto his lap, and rummaged through it. Taking some things out and putting them on the floor, he passed the bag over to me. “These are for you, your pay for today”. I pulled out a Leica camera, and two rolls of film. Pablo spoke in a cheery tone. “I know someone who will develop the photos for you, just bring me the rolls of film when you have used them”. The next item was a watch. It was working, and showing the proper time. Pablo leaned forward and tapped the watch. “That’s a great watch. It was owned by a brave Luftwaffe pilot of my acquaintance. Just wind it every night before you go to sleep, and it will not let you down. Then you won’t be late for work, or late home for dinner.”
Resting back in the chair, Pablo seemed to have lost interest. “Off you go now, you can take the bag. Spider will lead you back as far as a road you recognise”.
On the way back, I was told something about Pablo. Spider seemed to think he was wonderful, and was keen to tell me the story. “Pablo’s a great bloke, so many connections. He used to work at the Spanish Embassy you know. He still has a Diplomatic Passport, so can do whatever he likes. Speaks great German, doesn’t he? During the Spanish Civil War he was an interpreter for the Condor Legion. When they came home, he came to Berlin to work as a military adviser at the Embassy. I don’t think there is any bigwig he didn’t know. He still has a lot of powerful friends, believe me. You couldn’t have found a better guy to work for, Curly”.
He left me somewhere I knew, a good thirty minute walk from home. When he had disappeared back the way we came, I pulled out the watch and fastened the strap around my wrist, checking the time.
I would be home for dinner.