" 'Twenty-two Opel?" The man spoke with an easy authority.
"They'll give you a bit of trouble on a road like this."
Hoffner nodded, although he couldn't remember whether the car was a '21 or a '22. "I thought I'd caught something underneath," he said. "Didn't see anything."
"High frame," said the man. "Not meant for these speeds."
"You know your cars, then?"
"I take an interest. So nothing up in the housing?"
Hoffner motioned to the car. "You're welcome to take a look."
The man stepped over, released the catch on the metal bonnet, and raised it. "You keep it well." He leaned in and jiggled a few bits and pieces.
"Yes," said Hoffner, never having once opened the thing up himself. He noticed the baby boar still watching them. "Cigarette?"
The man stood upright and refastened the bonnet. "Very kind."
"I'm the one who should be thanking you."
"For what? Your car is in perfect order." They both lit up and leaned back against the bonnet. "Unless it's for the company?" Hoffner held out the flask. "No," said the man. "I'm not much good with that."
Hoffner nodded over to the truck. "You've an interesting load."
"Toilet-washing liquid," said the man. "Very glamorous. I'm heading out to the studios. Same as you." It was an obvious point: Who else would be taking this road? "I shouldn't, of course. Slows everyone down, but then, why not? I choose my times well enough. Eleven on a Monday. Very little traffic either way. If you'd really been unlucky, you'd have been here for quite some time."
"Depends on what you mean by luck."
The man smiled absently. "Fair enough."
"And here I thought the studios would have had"
"A bigger outfit running their toilet-washing-liquid interests?" The man had evidently run through this before. There was an odd charm to it all. "Of course, but then I'm an inside man. I was owed. Favors and so forth. Highly confidential stuff."
"The intricate world of toilet-liquid syndicates."
"Exactly." The man nodded over at the boars. "They'll make someone a nice bit of eating."
"That would be a shame."
"You don't like eating?"
Hoffner took a pull on his cigarette. "So how does one become an inside man'?"
"The usual course. A producer, directorI don't remember which one of them had an eye for my daughter. Got me the contract. On a limited basis, of course. One man, one truck. Enough liquid for the small buildings. More if she spread her legs."
"Imagine if she marries him?"
"I don't. She ran off to Darmstadt with a butcher's apprentice two years ago. I think the studio felt sorry. Old widower abandoned by his only daughter."
"That's a bit rough."
"Not really. They let me keep the contract. Don't know why. I never liked her much. She's probably fat now. Fat like that big one there. With a child. A fat little boy. He probably beats her. The butcher, not the child."
Here it was, thought Hoffner. The man had lived through the Kaiser, the war, unemployment, a daughter, and none of it mattered, not so much at its heart as in its passing. Berlin's saving grace had always been her incessant movement forward. Only a real Berliner understood that.
Excerpted from Shadow and Light by Jonathan Rabb. Copyright © 2009 by Jonathan Rabb. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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