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the critic
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Munich, Germany, December 20th, 1951

Erik Fleischer was a man who counted his blessings. His wife was an attractive woman, hair cascading in golden waves over square shoulders, a smile that lit her inner soul, and
spellbinding blue eyes. Still adoring after five turbulent years. He had two wonderful children, blond, blue-eyed clones of their mother. Magda’s genes had predominated over his own
Mediterranean looks. He had survived the war, virtually unscathed, inheriting his parents’ Bavarian villa in this leafy suburb, establishing a lucrative practice among the new, burgeoning middle class rising now out of the ashes of Hitler’s madness.
The good life stretched ahead towards an unbroken horizon.
How could he have known that this night he would lose everything?
As he sat reading the evening newspaper he absorbed, almost unconsciously, the peals of laughter emanating from the dining room. Mother and children playing a simple board game. He dipped his head to peer over his glasses and glanced through the door towards them. And with the seeds of arousal sown by the merest glance at Magda, rose ambition for a third, or even a fourth.
He glanced at his watch, folded his paper and laid it aside. “I’ll be back down in fifteen.”
Magda half-turned her head towards the living room. “Dinner will be ready in twenty.”
His study was an elegant room, oak-panelled, one wall lined with bookshelves that groaned under the weight of his father’s books. Tall windows looked out across the boulevard to the brooding darkness of the park beyond. Full-length velvet drapes hung open, and he could feel the cold pressing against the glass, like icy palms pushing flat against the panes. He drew the velvet against the night and sat at his leather-tooled desk, patient files neatly laid out under the soft light of his desk lamp. He checked his diary. First appointment was at eight-thirty tomorrow. And he felt the smallest grain of discontent at the thought of the endless stream of pregnant women that would punctuate his days into the foreseeable future. But he wasn’t going to let it darken his mood. His blessings were still in the ascendancy. He pulled the first of the files towards him and flipped it open.
The sound of the phone crashed into the ring of light around him, and he reached into the darkness beyond it to lift the receiver. The voice was little more than a whisper. Hoarse and tight with tension.
“They’re coming! Get out! Now!”
He was on his feet, even before the phone went dead. He heard his chair hit the floor behind him. The nearest window was two paces away. He separated the drapes the merest crack, and felt the soft velvet against his cheek as he peered beyond them into a night filled now with demons. It has hard to see past the haloes of light around the streetlamps below, but he was certain that he could see a movement of shadows among the trees. No time to think. He had put the possibility of such a thing far from his conscious mind, but now that it was here he reacted with what seemed like well-rehearsed efficiency.
Shaking fingers retrieved keys from his pocket and unlocked his desk drawer. The metal of the army issue pistol felt cold in his warm hand. He crossed to the walk-in cloakroom at the far side of the room and threw open the door. Rows of coats and jackets hung on the rail, shoes neatly lined up beneath them. He lifted a heavy wool overcoat and slipped the gun into its pocket, pulling it on over broad shoulders before stooping to pick up the leather overnight bag he had prepared for just this moment.
He did not stop to think. There was no regret-filled backward glance as he closed his study door and hurried along the landing to the back stairs. No time for reflection or sorrow. To hesitate would be fatal. Only briefly, as he hurried down the stairway, did the image of Magda and the children in the dining room flit briefly through his mind. No time to say goodbye. No point. It was over.
The cellar smelled sour. Freezing air, fetid and damp. He stumbled through the darkness to the door, and fumbled with gloved fingers to unlock it.
Icy night air hit him like a slap in the face, and he saw his breath billow in the moonlight as he pulled on his hat. But now he stopped to listen, before peering cautiously along the alley between cold granite houses, to the street beyond. There was only the occasional car on the boulevard. But the shadows among the trees had taken form. He saw the huddled shapes of half a dozen men. The glow of cigarettes in the dark.
And then suddenly the screech of tyres. Lights blazing in the boulevard as several vehicles mounted the sidewalk, doors flying open. A cigarette discarded in a shower of sparks as men came running from the park.
Erik pulled the door shut behind him and sprinted along the alley to the lane behind the house, half-fearing they had sent men round the back. But no—they had not anticipated his forewarning. As he heard the hammering on his front door, and the voices calling in the night, he hurried off into the dark, towards an unknown future full of fear and uncertainty.

number four

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