The Fifth Season

by  Heather Sparrows

illustration by Lorraine

Strange German Customs ...

The Fifth Season, as it is called in the Rhineland area, means the days of “Karneval”: Parades in big cities as well as in small villages. The biggest are even aired on TV. People disguising themselves as pirates, witches, monsters or whatever, celebrating in the streets, in pubs or at private parties. Originally a heathen festivity to mark the end of winter, taken over by the Catholic church to allow a few days of gluttony before the fasting period which ends at Easter, it now has become a good opportunity for the working classes to take a few days off, either to partake in the festivities or to flee from the loutish, drunken foolishness and merriment on command.

Major von dem Eberbach’s subordinates, known as the Alphabets, were no exception. The Major, though himself a native of Bonn, would have wanted them to work as usual, but from time to time even he had to grant one or the other agent a few days off during that season. A used to take his pretty wife somewhere warm and sunny when the happy lot fell to him. B was just the opposite. When it was his turn to have the days off, he tried to take the whole bunch from Thursday to Ash Wednesday, when he appeared again, bleary-eyed and exhausted. Probably he had not seen his bed much during these days.

When he was in Bonn, Agent G presented a special problem on Thursday. The festivities began on Thursday with “Weiberfastnacht”, the day when the women ruled. It was a custom in ministries, associations and companies in Bonn to give their female staff members half the day off on that Thursday, and this was also the case at the Bonn office of NATO. G actually had applied once for half the day off on Weiberfastnacht, and the Major’s superior had granted his wish!

Klaus had not gone into an idle debate with his boss over this, but Weiberfastnacht coming near, G more than often found himself in the Berlin NATO branch or abroad, where they did not endorse such nonsense. All in all, he was happy not to find himself permanently in Alaska.

This time, however, it had not worked out for the Major to send G away. The agent was in Bonn, harbouring dangerous thoughts. It is an old Weiberfastnacht custom that women chase an unsuspecting man, cut off his tie and kiss him. G was debating with himself. He knew the Chief would be waving his tie right under his nose, and he had no intention of kissing the Chief. Ever. Neither would he do the guys in the accounting department a favour, and his Alphabet colleagues would be safe from him as well. It was almost annoying to see how demonstratively A always wore a sweater on that day – coward! No, G had higher aims. His intended prey was the noblest and most attractive of them all, but also the most dangerous – none other than the Major himself.

G dreamed. Kissing the Major just once. A chaste peck on the cheek. The Major knew the custom. Surely he would not mind a harmless prank?

Dream on, G. you know the Major. Do you really want to spend the rest of your days ice fishing in Alaska? – On the other hand – B’s already betting that I wouldn’t dare – I’d like to show him!

G did not sleep well that night. He rose early and was the first Alphabet to be at the office building, even earlier than A, who arrived every morning at seven sharp, and – much to his relief – even earlier than the Major.

He switched on the Xerox machine in the mail room and took the big scissors, which were normally used as a letter opener. Still undecided, he looked at them for a moment.

“Morgen!” B put his head through the door.

G flinched, but B showing up had decided him.

“Morgen!” he chirped, let the scissors glide into the sleeve of his suit and followed his colleague to their office, where A and Z meanwhile were sitting at their desks. More Alphabets would not be in today. They either had a few days off or had been sent away on assignments.

G went to his seat and took out the report he was due to submit.

Not a moment too soon. The Major’s brisk steps sounded in the corridor, and the office door opened.

“G, Z, into my –“

The Major didn’t finish his sentence. As if on cue, G had jumped up, brandishing the large scissors, advancing on his superior. The Major acted quickly. G found his wrist turned, he dropped the scissors and found himself in a policeman’s grip.

“Why, G, Darling, calm down. It can’t be that bad.” a familiar voice, which was not the Major’s, said soothingly.

And then things started to become really interesting. The office door opened again, and the man holding G was slammed into the nearest wall by Major Eberbach, the real Major this time.

“Lawrence! You goddamned fool–”

The Major stopped himself. The man he was holding was obviously not Agent Lawrence, that clown from the British Secret Service. The black wig had come loose, as well as some hairpins, and beneath the wig, now sitting askew on the offender’s head, strands of blonde curls became visible.

Eberbach took his hands off the other man as if the touch had burned him. He took a deep breath.

“What is this goddamned nonsense about?!” he bellowed. “Eroica, what in hell’s name are you doing here? – And what’s the idea of that idiotic masquerade?!”

The man addressed as Eroica caught himself, pulling off the wig, shaking his curls.

“Good morning, Major.” he said, fluttering his long lashes. “It was meant as a joke. A joke, you know?”

“Thank you very much!” The Major sounded embittered. “Your joke made my day. Really, you Brits all have peas for brains! – And what was the idea behind rolling on the floor with one of my agents?”

Eroica, also known as Lord Gloria, threw a look at G, who was still squatting on the floor, looking shattered and dismayed.

“He really gave me a start. But maybe he can explain.”

G stood shakily, throwing nervous glances at the Major and Eroica. He was almost in tears.

“It is a custom,” he began haltingly. “Today – on Weiberfastnacht – a woman can cut off a man’s tie and kiss that man!”

The Major looked as grim as Thor, the God of Thunder, ready to strike the miscreant down with his hammer. Or his fist. A, B and Z sat open-mouthed at their desks, thunderstruck. Neither A nor B had actually believed G would go this far.

Lord Gloria showed an amazing restraint. He remained serious and calm, clicking his tongue in sympathy.

“And I spoiled the show for you, dear? Now everything makes sense. Oh G, I’m so sorry!” he said with feeling and retrieved the big scissors from the floor, handing them to G.

“Go ahead, love!”

He bent down a bit, his tie – a perfect copy of one of the Major’s most boring ties – slanting stripes in two different shades of grey – dangling from his neck.

The Major involuntarily crossed his arms. The Alphabets held their breath.

G , who obviously had decided that if he was to go down anyway, he would go down with a flash, resolutely cut off the tie and planted a chaste kiss on Eroica’s cheek.

Lord Gloria beamed, turning to the Major.

“A very nice custom, don’t you think so, Darling? A pity it is for women only. Should this injustice not be changed?”

To his horror and dismay, the Major felt his anger dissolve and his grim attitude crumble. Instead, he felt laughter rise up in his throat. Somehow, Lord Gloria looked ridiculous in his dark grey suit, the dreary remains of the tie dangling from his neck, his sombre attire in complete contrast to the abundance of golden curls falling down over his shoulders, the sparkling, mischievous blue eyes and his charming smile. G looked like a little girl who has been able to recite the poem and deliver the flowers for Uncle’s birthday, and is happy the ordeal is over now. B had the appearance of a stubborn little boy, waiting to be scolded and punished for some prank, and the unbelieving expressions of A and Z were just priceless.

They all would be in for a surprise. He had seen Lord Gloria playfully retrieve the scissors from G.

“Well, Eroica?!”

“Why, Darling–?” Lord Gloria seemed genuinely surprised about this answer, but he recovered quickly. Gracefully he went over to Klaus, cut off his tie (a dull green with grey slanting stripes) and placed a small kiss on the Major’s cheek.

“That wasn’t too bad, Darling, was it?”

No. It wasn’t bad. Not at all. But I’ll be damned if I tell you that!

Timidly, B rose his hand like a little boy at school.

“It’s – it’s more of an injustice that the ladies are to leave at one p. m. today, but not the men!” he blurted out.

A gasped, and Z looked as if he wished he had called in sick this morning. G seemed to be in serious need of smelling salt.

Eroica fluttered his lashes.

“Well, it should not be too difficult to remedy this injustice, don’t you think, Major?”

Looking at his frozen Alphabets, the Major felt the corners of his mouth itching to curl upward into a smile. He frowned.

“Very well!” he said brusquely. “A, B, G, Z, out!”

B was the first to recover. He took A and Z by their sleeves and pulled them out of the office. G followed, with a shy look at the Major and Lord Gloria.

On their way down the staircases, A also recovered a bit.

“What did the Major mean?” he mused. “Did he really mean to give us the day off?”

“I’d say so.” G answered. “And he actually–” He stopped, amazed about what he had just witnessed.

A had other worries. “What will ha-?”

“If you want to ask what will happen if you don’t take the day off, A, I’ll box your ears!” B threatened.

A frowned for a moment, then he grinned.

“You owe me ten Euros, B! You said, G would never dare!”

B grinned back.

“What about a good brunch somewhere as a foundation, and then we could have some beer? – You’re all invited!”

“Oh, how kind of you, Agent B!” a voice said behind him. They had come out on the parking level, where a short, slender man with dark curly hair falling over one eye, a stout, good-natured looking fellow with a moustache and a tall, lanky, flaxen-haired guy with a horse-like face approached them.

“Bonham, James and Jones! The Unholy Three!” B exclaimed, grinning.

They exchanged greetings with Lord Gloria’s closest associates, G and James eyeing each other warily.

“Since when does he understand German?” A asked Bonham, pointing to James.

“He understands ‘money’ and ‘something for free’ in all the languages you could think of!” the man with the moustache whispered back.

The door to the parking level above their own was opened and slammed shut again, hasty steps, a motor started, and a few seconds later the Major’s Benz  crossed their level with screeching tires.

A few moments later Lord Gloria appeared, threw himself into a grey Benz, and followed the Major's car.

The Alphabets and the thieves looked at each other.

A mobile phone rang. Bonham answered.

“Yes? – Yes. – Okay. –Yes. – Very good.  –  See you then. Bye.”

He gave his companions a thumbs-up.

“Earl says, everything’s under control. – Let’s have some fun, folks!”

****

The Major took the motorway to Bonn centre and left at the exit Poppelsdorf. On Reuterstraße, Lord Gloria was behind him at a traffic light, waved and smiled. When the light turned green, the Major floored it, overtook several cars and swerved to the right-hand lane again. At a high speed, they crossed Reuterbrücke, reached the Bundeskanzlerplatz, where Reuterstraße, Adenauerallee and Willy-Brandt-Allee join. Klaus drove right, away from the town centre. The Earl almost lost him when he suddenly turned right after they had passed the Bundeskunsthalle, and then went left under the road they had driven along so far. Eroica barely managed to repeat the stunt to veer from the left lane onto the extreme right to follow the Major. He reckoned on Klaus taking the A 562, which was signposted now, but the Major went straight on, until he reached the Rheinaue parking lot, where he turned left and parked.

Eroica followed and got out of his car. He kept his hands up to show he had no weapon, not even a small container with narcotic gas. He looked around. The big park was almost deserted on a weekday morning, there was only a man in a green sports suit running in the distance, and a woman walking her dog. Their part of the parking lot was empty. He did not know what mood the Major might be in. He had brushed past him and left the office without a further word, ignoring the Earl calling after him. But somehow he doubted that the Major would shoot a defenceless man or run him down with his car. Not after having allowed him that kiss.

The Major got out of his Benz as well when he saw Lord Gloria approaching him.

“Come on!” He motioned to the Earl to follow him. “We’ve got to talk!”

****

Meanwhile, it had become eleven minutes after eleven, and the first public houses opened,  the first people in disguise filled the streets.

Lord Gloria’s men were sitting with the Alphabets in a coffee house in the centre of Bonn.

“Where is he?” James demanded to know.

“You’ve seen him. He was in the car, following the Major,” Bonham answered. “Of course, I don’t know where he is right now.”

“Call him!” James ordered.

“No way!” Bonham said. “If he needs us, he’ll call.”

He turned to the Alphabets. “Next round’s on me, boys. Another coffee? Or tea? Or the first beer of the day?”

“Bonham!” James was horrified. “You can’t invite all of them!”

“I can.” Bonham answered. “Tit for tat. Mr B paid for our breakfast, now it’s my turn. – Have a peppermint tea, Jamesie. It will calm your nerves.”

***

Although it was one of the cold and grey days at the end of a Bonn winter, one of the days on which the sun did not once show up, the Earl and the Major walked through the Rheinaue for hours.

“I want to know why you just don’t leave me alone, dammit!”

“Because I can’t. I have told myself more than once that if I really loved you – truly, madly, deeply - I would be able to grant you your wish and leave you alone. But I can’t, because I always start missing you after a short time.”

“Hmpf!”

***

It had become one o’clock, and a lot of people were celebrating meanwhile. The songs of the season were played everywhere in different arrangements.

The Alphabets and the thieves walked peacefully next to each other, although James walked on the extreme right and G on the extreme left.

They were assaulted by a few women dressed up as witches. B, Z and Jones lost their ties gracefully, receiving their kisses. James protested with vigour, but to no avail. He was relieved of his tie by a stout middle-aged woman, who pressed him to her ample bosom and kissed his mouth heartily. It did not help to improve James’s mood that Jones and Bonham brayed with laughter, and G cried “Onward, Sisters!”

Finally A took the enraged little man aside and promised him one of his own ties.

***

“Do you actually think I didn’t know I’m a closet case? Maybe I like it that way! – And who says you’d be my type anyway?!”

“I see you look at me, Darling. I see you look at me right now. And this morning you did not just want to shock the Alphabets.”

“That’s what you think!”

Klaus turned his back to the Earl and lit another cigarette. They must have walked up and down the large park at least three times, and he still was not sure whether he should regard the man next to him as a pest, a nemesis, a pervert, an immoral thief, a spoiled brat, or as someone of his own kind, light-hearted, generous and harmless, someone who might be even serious enough – to be trusted.

He smiled nastily.

“I can’t be that interesting,” he said. “The interesting aspect is bedding the oh-so-inaccessible uniform queen of NATO, isn’t it? I have no interest in being a trophy in someone’s collection!”

He was tired, and not only from being overworked, running for several hours every day and working out afterwards. Deep inside, he was tired of  being alone, of fighting against his sexual needs. It was not his idea of beginning something and having no idea about how it would develop – but it would be interesting.

Lord Gloria stopped him by stepping in his way.

“Klaus,” he said, “I mean it. I love you.”

The Major blew cigarette smoke into his face, but the Earl did not flinch.

“Your reputation is safe with me.”

Klaus dropped the butt of his cigarette and stepped it out, before he grabbed the Earl’s upper arms.

“Very well!” he snapped. “We’ll see.”

***

“Wer soll das bezahlen, wer hat das bestellt?

Wer had soviel Pinke-Pinke, wer hat so viel Geld?”

“What are they singing? What does that mean?”

“It means: ‘Who’s gonna pay for all this, who’s got the money?’”

“Yes indeed. I often wonder ...”

***

“I don’t think they have hidden cameras or microphones here, Darling.”

“Better safe than sorry.”

“As you wish.” The Earl began to undress slowly, noting very well that Klaus, apparently fully occupied with searching the hotel room, was watching him out of the corner of his eye.

***

“’Saach ens Blootwoosch, dat is jo jar nit schwer!’”

“Wha – what are they singin’ now?”

“They want you to say ‘Blootwoosch’!”

“Wassat?”

“Blood sausage. You eat it raw with mustard on bread, but you can also fry it with mashed potatoes and apples."

“Yuk!”

“No. Veeeeery, very –“

“Yeah, B, very, very!”

“You be quiet about Yuk, Stingy Bug! You’re from Scotland, and what about Haggis?!”

“Schschsch!” A said with a dignified wave of his hand. “No interclu – intercrul – intercultural differences, Gen’lmen!”

***

“Dorian.”

“Yes, Darling?”

“Das war gut.”

“I’m glad you liked it, dear. Shall we do it again?”

“Gleich.” *

***

“Ein Prooosit, ein Pro-ho-sit der Gemütlichkeit!”

“Shut up, B!”

“Wassat mean?”

“Drink’n be jolly!”

“Clompet – clompetely mad, these Germans! Run around with red papier-mâché noses in February!”

“An’ you Brits? Pulling crackers n’ wearing silly hats at Christmas?!”

“Gen’lmen – let me repeat! No innerclu – ah, you know what I mean!”

***

“So that’s the secret meaning of ‘Iron Klaus’, Darling.”

The Major lazily lifted his head from his lover’s chest, looking at him through a curtain of dark hair, green eyes full of mock contempt.

“Blödmann!” *

***

“Wir kommen alle, alle, alle in den Himmel!” *

“Shut up, B!”

“Weil wir so braaaaav sind!”*

“Will someone shut him up, pu-leeeeeze!”

“Dunno how these Germans park their cars – inna middle offa road – can’t get around the blasted thing – it’s always movin’ – blimey! And every bloody one o’them is droivin’ on the wrong side offa road!”

“Ich mööööch zo Foooooß noh Kööööölle jonn!”

“Wazzat now?!”

“He wants to walk to Cologne.”

“What, now?!”

“Will someone shut him up?!”

“Blimey!”

“Am A-schermitt-woch ist alles vorbei,

Die Schwüre von Treue, sie brechen entzwei!

Von all Deinen Küssen

Will ich nichts mehr wissen,

und wie dem auch sei –

es ist alles vorbei!”*

G walked over to his merry colleague and took his arm.

“You know what I think, B? I think they have maybe just started!”

***

The Major was not seen on Friday, when the Alphabets dragged themselves to the office with pretty hangovers, neither did he appear on Saturday, Sunday or Rose Monday, when he normally would have worked. He still was not in on Violet Tuesday. Rumour had it that he had called the personnel department on Friday to take a few days off, giving no reason.

G crossed his fingers for the Earl and the Major, but Ash Wednesday loomed like doomsday over him. He was by no means sure that the Major would have forgiven his trespass of last Thursday, even if he had given in and had let Eroica cut off his tie.

“Agent G, into my office.”

Alaska, here I come! G thought, when he closed the door behind himself.

The Major stood at the window, tall and erect, hands in the pockets of his trousers. He turned to G, and the Agent noticed that something was different. The Major looked less tense than usual, alert, yes, but positively relaxed, not to say almost glowing.

What he said, however, did nothing to put G at ease.

“Comrade Mischa could need a bit of help with the Russian Mafia in Moscow.”

Oh God!

“So that is exactly where I’ll send you, should an incident like that from last Thursday ever occur again!” the Major continued.

G almost fainted with relief.

“Now to your report from last week’s observation – a disgrace! Do you really think it important the target wore a dark blue cashmere sweater?! -”

The Major’s private mobile rang.

“Yes! – Not now! – Listen, I’m at work! – No! – Easter Monday in Venice?! Are you stark raving mad?! – Listen, we’ve got to discuss this some other time! – Alright, this evening! – What?! – Idiot!”

The Major broke the connection and turned again to his subordinate. “Now –”

G managed barely in time to wipe the satisfied smile from his face. The Major’s secret would be safe with him. A, B, and  J could keep their money ...

***

Gleich: Soon.

Blödmann: Idiot.

Wir kommen alle, alle, alle in den Himmel: We’ll all go to Heaven.

Weil wir so braaaaav sind: Because we are good.

Am A-schermitt-woch ist alles vorbei,

Die Schwüre von Treue, sie brechen entzwei!

Von all Deinen Küssen

Will ich nichts mehr wissen,

und wie dem auch sei –

es ist alles vorbei!:

Everything will be over on Ash Wednesday. Promises of fidelity are broken. I don’t want to know about your kisses anymore. Be it as it may – everything will be over on Ash Wednesday!



* Can mean "at once" or "soon".

* Idiot.

** We’ll all go to heaven.

 

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