Excerpt of Lehrter Station by David Downing
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Effi went to check on Rosa, the young Jewish orphan who had been her ward since April. Though perhaps not an orphan, as Effi reminded herself. The father Otto had disappeared around 1941, and not been seen or heard of since. He was probably dead, but there was no way of knowing for sure. Effi thought the uncertainty worried Rosa - it certainly worried her.
Sitting down on the side of the bed, she could smell the Vick's VapoRub which Zarah had put on the girl's chest. Effi pulled the blanket up around her neck, and told herself that Rosa was coping better than most with the post-war world. She was doing well at the school which Solly had found for them. Despite there being many other refugee pupils, the instruction was wholly in English, and Rosa's command of that language was already better than Effi's own. And Solly seemed more excited by her Berlin drawings than by any of John's ideas. The girl would end up supporting them both. In the kitchen, Russell was telling his son about the attempted hold-up. Paul's smile vanished when he realised his father wasn't having him on. 'Was the gun loaded?' he asked.
'I haven't looked,' Russell admitted, and pulled it from his pocket.
'It was,' he discovered. 'I'll put it out of harm's way,' he added, reaching up to place it on the highest shelf. 'Anything interesting happen at work?'
'Not really,' Paul said, getting up. 'It's time I went to bed,' he explained. 'Another early start.'
'Of course,' Russell said automatically. His son didn't want to talk to him, which was neither unusual nor intended personally: Paul didn't want to talk to anybody. But he seemed to be functioning like a normal human being - only that lunchtime Solly had confided how pleased he was with the boy - and Russell knew from experience what havoc war could wreak on minds of any age. 'Sleep well,' he said.
'I hope so,' Paul said. 'For everyone's sake,' he added wryly - his nightmares sometimes woke the whole house. 'Oh, I forgot,' he added, stopping in the doorway.
'There was a letter for you. It's on your bed.'
'I've got it,' Effi said, squeezing past him. She gave Paul a goodnight hug before handing the envelope over to Russell. He tore it open, and extracted the contents - a short handwritten note and a grandstand ticket for the following Tuesday's match between Chelsea and the Moscow Dynamo tourists. 'Your attendance is expected,' the note informed him. It was signed by Yevgeny Shchepkin, his erstwhile guardian angel in Stalin's NKVD.
'So the bill has finally arrived,' Effi said, reading it over his shoulder.
Lying beside her half an hour later, Russell felt strangely pleased that it had. In May he had bought his family's safety from the Soviets with atomic secrets and vague promises of future service, and he had always known that one day they would demand payment on the Faustian bargain. For months he had dreaded that day, but now that it was here, he felt almost relieved.
It wasn't just an end to the suspense. The war in Europe had been over for six months, and the Nazis, who had dominated their lives for a dozen years, were passing into history, but all their lives - his and Effi's in particular - had still seemed stuck in some sort of postwar limbo, the door to their future still locked by their particular past. And Shchepkin's invitation might - might - be the key that would open it.
Excerpted from Lehrter Station
by David Downing. Copyright © 2012 by David Downing.
Excerpted by permission of Soho Press. All rights
reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the publisher.