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No Lunch Is Ever Free

Sylvia Petter

They all think it began in the fifties and that it was just about money. But it began a lot earlier and yes, it was about money, but it was also about love, hate and revenge.

I was in my last year of Law at Vienna University when I met Marko Stojcic, a bull of a man in more ways than one. He swept me off my feet, literally, and I found in the man, so different from any I had ever known, so different from myself, the perfect match for my body and my mind.

Marko had money. Where he got it from I did not know and I would not ask. I loved him. I trusted him. Trust was between the two of us. No one else.  Until Harald. But I digress.

Marko was a Jew. Not orthodox. Not even practising. Just circumcised. That fact had a certain liberating appeal for me, a way of justifying the taking of risks. I was from a Catholic bourgeois family, should have married a count or somesuch. My family was outraged when I married Marko on a weekend away at Trieste. Marko put up the money for our legal practice and my degrees made it, shall we say, legal.

Marko said war was coming and that in such a climate one could become rich if one were clever. What he meant was import/export. Forgery. Documents.

I had been out to the university to look for a likely candidate to help out in our law firm. We wanted someone we could train to our mould, or rather someone who couldn’t be trained to anyone else’s. That is where I met Harald Klain. He was quite a rascal, a charmer, even for his young age. There is no greater tonic than the attentions of a young man. Of course, I played the game. And Marko? He enjoyed the game, too. When the Nazis came, Marko fled to Belgrade and I carried on alone with Harald. He was quite brilliant in the courtroom, and gave a certain sheen to our law practice.

Marko and I would meet secretly in Trieste. There was an underground community there with links to Jewish friends. I forged papers that attracted little scrutiny. Marko managed to keep out of the way and became quite the expert in customs procedures. Then, just before the end of the war, he was caught. Just one missing signature on an export form, and one zealous young Nazi officer. Marko was brought to Dachau. He wasn’t there long, luckily. Luck has always ruled our lives.

In Dachau he met men who later became highly placed in the new government. No one turns his back on those who have shared one’s darkest hours. We just had to wait for Harald to come back from a POW camp in England.

So there we were. Trump cards in our hands. Nothing to lose, and all to gain. I would have my revenge, that of having made my life against the will of my family. Marko turned the world around, his allegiance being only to himself. Harald, too, had his own sort of revenge. The anti-hero. We all had our games of the mind where we pitted all with stakes in the millions against a State that we knew would never be brought to what good citizens call “justice”. We knew that there no longer was such a thing. Justice was a commodity, like coffee. Coffee, in fact, brought in our first million, and on it went.

You’ll no doubt see Marko’s name in the news. He enjoyed the exposure. It was like the bravado of the bullfighter for him. Harald always stayed in the background tying up the loose ends. He was, I might say, the real brain behind it all in the end, behind our exile.

We were a perfect triangle. You had your flower power in the sixties, but we had our excitants, too, in the fifties. But Interpol was ever on our trail and only in Spain were we safe. The irony of it: a Jew safe in fascist Spain. A Jew hobnobbing with Nazis, the likes of Count Otto von Sokorny even. The Count, of course, had become quite acceptable by that time. I think he even worked for the United Nations. Harald had him in mind for a deal, but I do not know where that led. There are still people in high places who want silence. But I am too old for them to worry about and my two men are now dead.

           When Harald died in the 80s, Marko was mortified. I was too, but you know how much stronger, how much more tenacious we women are. Marko had a sudden massive stroke five years ago and I have been alone ever since. I shall die in Madrid. There are worse places. Oh, and the money? Living well is expensive and there are always debts. I imagine you have already found out that no lunch is ever really free.


Harald Klain sat in the first class compartment of the Wiener Waltzer, the fast train from Zurich to Vienna, and inserted a Du Maurier cigarette into a short ivory cigarette holder. He did not look up as a young woman sat down opposite him, but continued to turn his cigarette slowly until it was firmly clenched in the holder. He had caught sight of her on the platform just before she boarded the train.

She was in her late twenties, he thought, as he let his senses be guided by sounds and the scent of her. Fruity, but with a hint of musk. A woman with a sense of humour perhaps, a sense of life, even seduction. He heard an almost imperceptible swish as she smoothed the skirt of her dress towards her knees. It was as if he were sensing the movement of long legs crossing. Silk, he thought. Raw silk. It did not slither like satin. He would ignore her. Bide his time. Wait for the moment when she rummaged in her leather handbag. Without looking he saw the bag as a shadow beyond his vision. Crocodile. She was a thoroughbred — of that he was sure. But he would wait a little while longer. He had tested it often. She would soon begin wondering if something were wrong. Take out a compact. Survey her face. Perhaps even put on some lipstick. And just when she was at her most doubting, just when she felt vulnerable, that was when ... It never failed. There would be much to look forward to in Vienna.

Harald Klain placed his unlit cigarette on the tablet attached to the window and looked out at the water of Lake Constance glittering in the late afternoon sun. There was something in the air. He could smell it. Not a scent, but a movement.

The woman slipped a hand into her bag and pulled out a compact. He could feel her eyes surveying him above the mirror. Snap. She put it away.

Harald Klain reached for his cigarette and brought the mouthpiece to his lips. Then he looked straight at the young woman. Her eyes were dark brown. Wide. Open. Their velvet depth, he imagined, was due to her dilated pupils. “Cigarette?” he said and held out the pack of Du Maurier.

“Thank you,” she said and drew the cigarette to her lips.

The flame of his lighter arced from the woman back to his own cigarette. She exhaled and looked out of the window.

“Are you travelling far?” he said.

“No,” she said. “Just to the border.”

Sylvia Petter, an Australian based in Vienna, Austria, can also be found all over the place pending the updating of her website which should pull everything together. She writes stories such as those in her collections, The Past Present (200/2001), Back Burning (2007), Mercury Blobs (2013), and writing as AstridL, Consuming the Muse - erotic tales (2013). Various stories have been translated into German and appear in Geflimmer der Vergangenheit (Riva Verlag 2014). The two excerpts here are from a novel in revision, tentatively entitled The Panopticon.


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