Matt Freeze extended a challenge to me, and I accepted it…and it had to do with me again taking up my novel about the Holocaust and not giving up on it. The rough, over-extended manuscript remained untouched for many years; there was a sense I couldn’t do anything with it because I hadn’t stuck to the historical facts. So Matt Freeze, and thanks to you, here is my latest draft of the first chapter of GOOD PEOPLE. Rewriting it involved pruning, working from the back to the front, and reading each sentence over and over again. Feel free to tear it apart. Good night, Randy Ford
GOOD PEOPLE By Randy Ford Chapter One
From the Redoutensaal Ballroom, the two brothers stumbled into Josefs Platz, dazzled by everything, melodies, women, and the joy and pleasure of dancing all night. Again they had forgotten their troubles, sang until they were hoarse, and yes, drank until they were drunk. And it was Johann Strauss who made the evening, the king of the waltz, through whose music they could still escape the ominous call for one Fuhrer.
The mood inside had been light and loose. The music flowed freely like the wine. The scent, the smiles, the quest for virgins kept them hoping for a little more. Did their hearts leap? Yes. ‘Keep smiling, Frauline.’
“Great, Karl. It really was great.”
Only through teasing could the two brothers be honest.
“You’re too serious,” teased Niki, as they strolled toward Michaeter Platz.
“Get you! Who proposed! You not me!” proclaimed Karl. Niki’s flirting and charm had gotten him in trouble. “Propose? Not me! You must take me for an honorable man. Yes, a nice guy. Instead, I offered her papa’s tickler.”
Karl pretended indifference and expressed his dissatisfaction with life. “The common man can’t stick his ass outdoors. It costs too much,” he blurted out. “You must economize. But it doesn’t matter. When isn’t there inflation? Inflation or deflation? Who’s to blame? Hey, what about those communist? Nazis? We’ve lost everything, brother. Blamed it on the Fohn, the wind.
“Yes, yes, blame it all on the Fohn.”
“Niki, Niki Hertzel, never forget me, always, always remember this night. Our father knows one of us has to leave.”
“No, Karl! Instead talk about the economy. Preach about it.” “Where is your gratitude?”
“Gratitude be damn!”
“Niki, the ungrateful son.”
“I’m grateful as long as he gives us money, but you don’t have to worry. You’re going away to America the beautiful!
“Shit, not so loud.”
“Indeed, you’re a lucky man.”
“Should I jump on my hat or simply shrug?”
“Will you really marry that bitch?”
For some time, Karl and Niki didn’t see the rally.
“No whore is worth it!”
Both brothers ignored the mob.
“Give me a whore any day,ha, ha, ha!”
Later, they congratulated themselves for not getting seriously hurt.
“What? We’re not Jews!”
“Gutter rats! Kneal!”
In the middle of Michaeter Platz, the brothers were grabbed by their shirts.
Their shirts were ripped. “No, no, no, no you don’t. Not our shirts. You don’t know who we are.” These words came from Niki.
“And we don’t care. You’re gutter rats; and rats are stepped on.” All this in Wien; above all, in Wien. “Don’t touch the shirt. Please don’t touch the shirt.” In vain Niki tried to save his shirt.
Their hell, and Wien’s, was there that night. “Easy now! Don’t want any trouble here.” This was Karl, as he got to his feet. “Didn’t you hear what we said? We don’t have a drop of Jewish blood in us. Our father is…” “Karl, don’t tell them. Let them find out when they’re hauled to court. And that will happen. I’ll see to it.”
“We’ve been dancing and whoring. Why spoil it?” Karl’s question barely left his lips before one of the thugs shouted, “Eine Volk, eine Reich, eine Fuhrer!”
“There you go, assuming we’re against you. We know where our bread and butter come from. Heil Hitler! Our Fuhrer he is, isn’t he?”
“Karl, shut up!”
Karl, however, becomes even more contemptuous and shouts “Eine Fuhrer! Horse shit!”
“Goddamn you Karl.”
“We’re not Jews, and they know it.”
“Ju-da verr-rrecke! Ju-da verr-rrecke!”
“God save Austria,” Karl countered.
“What did you say?”
“Listen hard. God save Austria.”
“Don’t! He’s drunk! Hit me instead.” Before someone could hit his brother, Karl threw a fist like a heavy weight boxer. Luckily, no one was killed. The police arrived in time with their billy clubs.
Afterward Karl and Niki sat alone on the curb in front the Michaelerkirche. “And why not? I saved your ass.”
“You did not. If there is an ass worth saving, it’s yours. And look what they did to your shirt.”
“I’ll never forget this night.”
“As long as I live. Never.”
“I wish you could see yourself,” said Niki. “Mercy, you look like you were pulverized with a licorice stick?”
Karl didn’t respond. “So you’re leaving tomorrow.”
“Forget about that. Let’s not ruin a perfect evening.”
With a full voice and sudden ecstasy, the younger brother sang Mozart’s “Non so piu cosa son, cosa faccio!”
“Tonight I’ve seen the future. I see how God plans to unify the world by force. We’ve stumbled onto the moral pioneers of a new age and all you can do is sing your silly songs. Whether we like it or not, Europe is through! Piss on Hitler. I say piss on him!”
“Europe is through,” Niki repeated sadly. “We can’t build a fence around Austria.”
“They’re thugs. Hitler doesn’t stand a chance. So, piss on him. Wien was gay tonight but with a hint of agitation for she knows the lights will soon go out. Lots of women. Good shopping! Well, Niki, it’s up to you. While I’m gone, look after mother and dad.”
“But what could happen? With dad’s position with the court, nothing.”
“I know. They’ll have Eva. And mother, well, she’s mother. But curse you for leaving. Curse you.”
“I’m not ready. I wish I could tell dad that I am otherwise occupied. America is too far away. I wish we could all go together to America. But I’m Austrian.”
“We all are!”
“Heil Osterreich! Heil Osterreich! And curse those who support Hitler. Poor Austria.”
“You could refuse to go.”
“And just how far do you think I’d get with that? The crippled old fool.”
“Mother is behind it, you know.”
“Her highness always was.”
“The truth is she gave us pocket money to get rid of us.”
“And if it weren’t for Eva, we would’ve died from colds.” Karl sang with simple, solemn, gravity, “Voi che sapete.” Then Niki with a swift, dipping, soaring “Ardor of Non so piu.”
“How about Grinzing,” said Karl, “where we always had a great time?”
“I prefer Krugerstrasse.”
“No you don’t.” “Krugerstrasse is closer, Krugerstrasse, where we learned the lessons of life. Krugerstrasse, the best whores, choice, finest quality, housewives. You’re going to miss screwing housewives.”
“And they don’t have housewives in America?”
“Yes, I’m going to miss everything, especially you. Hey sweetie, yes you! How about it, sweetie,” Karl repeated “sweetie”, laughing; “and the likes of you I have never seen.”
“I never knew that my big brother could be so…so…” Niki’s words got caught in his throat. By his own account, he deserved a ribbing. “I say; trink mit mir, sing mit mir! Glucklick ist, wis vergisst,” sung Niki. “Tonight, Mesci, Mesci, Mesci! Remember the kissing and the wine and the song, the song and the dancing, which by jiminy lady luck brought us tonight sweet Adele. She might be short, but how young and fair.”
“And of course she was almost bare.” Niki howled at that. Then he looked his brother in the eye and warned him, “Karl, be careful. Be careful what you say. Besides, Hitler might not be so bad.”
“Sieg Heil!” Then instead of a prim salute, Karl shook his fist, with a busted knuckle, and replied, “Look at it this way: Hitler could be the one person who can give us something to cheer about.” His color grayed. His eyes grew moist, and he sprung to his feet. He never saw the congregation leaving Michaelerkirche, the former parish church of the court. Rather than cheer, he yelled, “Piss on Hitler!”
Niki grabbed Karl’s arm and directed him away. Then a thug, worshiper, ran toward the brothers. “Heil Hitler!” shouted the thug.
“Heil Hitler!” shouted Niki back. Karl mocked Eine Fuhrier through mimicry. Instead of returning a proper “Sieg Heil,” he raised his right arm, cocked the hand back, and twirled a couple of times. Luckily, he lost his balance, and slipped on the curb. Had he not then started hiccuping and singing “trink mit mir! sing mit mir! mesci, mesci,” the thug would’ve kicked him. Instead, with the wave of a hand and dismissing Karl as a drunk, he yelled, “Ah!” and walked off.
“Throw them a bone. Niki, it’s your turn to give them something. Forget it, it’s all over. No one likes to see German maidens raped.”
Anyone who chooses to can rip it apart.