Slippery Slopes – Chapter 1
“So why are you here, Rae-Lynne?” Herta, pouring a coffee for herself, asked her sister the next morning.
“Can’t a girl want to see her sister, make sure she’s doing okay?” Rae-Lynne asked in return.
“You couldn’t care less what happens to me. What happened? You get fired?”
“I have never been fired in my life!” Rae-Lynne snapped back. “The paper had a down-sizing and I got let go, if you must know.”
“So you decided you were going to take your severance package and come visit me?” The sarcasm was lost on Rae-Lynne.
“I’ve come to stay with you until I get back on my feet. I can work freelance and put out resumes until I get an answer back from one of them.”
“Uh-huh. Freelance isn’t that easy, especially if no one knows your name, you know.”
“On my nickel, of course.”
“You have enough money. You’re the one who inherited this place,” Rae-Lynne pointed out bitterly.
Herta sighed inwardly. And I was doing so well, she thought. She took a sip of coffee before answering. “I live on a stipend, Rae-Lynne. Only so much a month. I still have about six months to go before I inherit everything.”
“And I thought you said this was a cottage?” Rae-Lynne accused. “A pigpen.”
“This is the second house. The old cottage burned down,” Herta said patiently.
“You have enough to build a new house?”
Herta shook her head. “I didn’t pay for it. The estate did, and the insurance company. The place was torched.”
“Torched? Why? What have you been up to?” Rae-Lynne asked, suspicious, as she helped herself to a coffee.
“I haven’t been up to anything. Drug dealers thought it cool to torch the house,” Herta said, not quite telling the whole truth.
“Drug dealers? What were you thinking of? Associating with drug dealers! Are you nuts?”
“I wasn’t associating with them, Rae-Lynne. They thought it was a cool thing to do, I guess. They’re behind bars now, so I don’t need to worry about them any more.”
“What about the guys that take their place? Are you going to work with them, too?”
Herta heaved herself off the counter she’d been leaning against. “I haven’t been working with drug dealers. Get that through your head. I don’t know why they picked on me. Now, if you’re done questioning me, I have work to do.” With that, Herta left Rae-Lynne in the kitchen and made a beeline for the office. It had a door that locked, if necessary.
Rae-Lynne didn’t take the hint. She followed Herta into the office. “What do you mean, you’re working? On what? Why do you need to work if you have money coming in already?”
“It’s for the Moscow Archives,” Herta lied smoothly, not looking at her sister and knowing she wouldn’t be interested in that. “More translations.”
“Can you entertain yourself for a couple hours? There’s the stereo and the television in the living room. Help yourself.” Herta waved to the library side of the office. “Help yourself to a book, too, if you’re interested.”
Rae-Lynne gave Herta a dirty look and left the office.
Herta heard the stereo come on and the snap, crackle, squeal of the radio station being changed to something that spoke English. Rae-Lynne wasn’t much interested in learning new languages, and Herta doubted that she’d even taken a tourist version of a German language lesson.
Herta sat down to translate more of Hans’ papers, but gave up after about an hour. She really needed Turan or Reikert in to translate some of the more esoteric and archaic expressions.
Stretching, she decided she’d better check on Rae-Lynne and maybe grab another coffee. It was just about that time of day, anyway.
Rae-Lynne was still in the living room, reading an English newspaper.
“Brought a paper with you?” Herta asked. “Anything interesting?”
“Bought it at the airport,” Rae-Lynne said without looking up. “Nope.”
“How did you get down here?
“That would have cost a fortune. You should have called me. I could have arranged to have Krista pick you up.”
“I tried phoning here, but no one answered. So I took a taxi.”
“We must have been upstairs. I’m sorry.”
“You owe me two hundred Euros for the trip down,” Rae-Lynne demanded, finally looking up from the paper.
Herta nodded, knowing it was useless to argue.
“So, what do you do for fun around here?” Rae-Lynne continued.>
“I don’t do much—”
“You never did know how to live,” Rae-Lynne interrupted. “Who was that guy that was here yesterday? Robert, I think his name was.”
Herta frowned. “Robert?” Her expression cleared. “Oh, you mean Reikert. He’s just a friend. He’s the son of one of my guests yesterday. They were just leaving as you came in.”
“And what the hell were you doing with a whole pack of kids in here? And don’t tell me there weren’t any. They were packed in the hall like sardines.”
“Those would be the children of Delika and Deirdre. They were here for a quick hello and to see the house.”
“There must have been a dozen of them. You’d think that the Germans would have learned not to have large families by now.”
Herta shrugged. “I don’t mind. The kids can be entertaining and they’ve already given me ideas for some short stories I might be able to get published here.”
“Short stories? Boy, you are desperate for money!” Rae-Lynne scoffed.
Herta lifted one shoulder. “It keeps me busy. Do you want a coffee? I’m just on my way to the kitchen to get one. Double-double, right?”
“If you’ve got a mug big enough for a decent cup, sure,” Herta’s sister said, burying herself in the paper again.
Herta sighed and went to make her sister a coffee and get one for herself. From the looks of things, Rae-Lynne was bound and determined to be surly. It was going to be a long time until the weekend, even if it was only two days away.
“So what’s the town like? What are the hot spots around here?” Rae-Lynne demanded the following afternoon after a day spent reading the newspaper and watching the BBC station on the television. She’d spent the morning in bed.
“I don’t think there’s a bar here, if that’s what you’re looking for. The gasthof diner has beer on tap, though.”
“Good. I could use a drink. How the hell do you survive down here? It’s got to be the ass hole of the world.”
Herta ignored the last question. “I hope you brought a warm jacket. I don’t have a car here. I do a lot of walking. The closest town is about five kilometers away.”
“Five kilometers?! Are you nuts? I’m not walking that far. What’s the number for the taxi?”
Herta shook her head. “Haven’t a clue. Haven’t used one. I’m not even sure Kochberg has a taxi service, to be honest.”
“Well, what about that friend of yours? Reikert? Does he have wheels?”
“Oh, he might, but he doesn’t have a driver’s license for Germany,” Herta extemporized. “I don’t have a phone book. I’ll have to see if there’s one at the phone company.”
Just then, there was a knock on the front door. “Excuse me,” Herta said, and went to answer it.
“Hi! Just thought I’d drop by to see if you needed anything from town,” Krista grinned.
“Well, you could take us into town,” Rae-Lynne demanded, coming up behind Herta.
Krista raised her eyebrows but didn’t say what she was obviously thinking. “Sure, I can do that. Where do you need to go?”
Before Herta could say anything, Rae-Lynne continued. “We need to go to the phone company so Herta can get a phone book and I need a drink. This place gives me the creeps.”
Krista laughed. “You should have seen the old place. Now that was creepy.”
While Herta and Rae-Lynne donned coats and boots, Krista kept Rae-Lynne aghast by telling her some stories the town told about Hans Theiner and his cottage.
Herta wondered if the stories would persuade her sister to go back to Canada that much sooner. She doubted it, but she could hope.
The gasthof, when the trio finally got there, lived down to Rae-Lynne’s expectations. She’d ordered a pitcher of beer to go with her sandwich lunch and, after a few drinks, was getting loud and obnoxious. Well, louder and more obnoxious than she normally was, Herta thought. Maybe we should take a taxi home before she has me run out of town on a rail for bringing her into town.
Krista, once she heard Herta’s plans, wouldn’t hear of anything like taking a taxi. “I brought you into town. I’ll take you home. It’s not a problem,” she said. More quietly, she added, “Honestly. It’s not a problem. I’m not going to leave you alone with her now. She’s drunk.” The German woman’s contempt was thinly veiled. Rae-Lynne was too drunk to notice.
Herta sighed. “I owe you big time. Thanks.”
“Not a problem,” Krista repeated. “Tell you what, we’ll just wait for her to finish the pitcher and cart her off home. I’ll get Reikert or Priscilla to bring a phone book for you tomorrow when we come out. Or I’ll pick one up today, depending on how long it takes for Rae-Lynne to pass out.”
Herta blushed. “I’m sorry, Krista. If I’d known she’d be like this, I’d—”
“No need to apologize. You’re not the ass, and you did warn me.”
Herta shook her head. “That may be true, but it doesn’t make it any better for me.”
Krista smiled her sympathy. “Not to worry.”
“What are you two whispering about?” Rae-Lynne demanded loudly. “Don’t you know it’s rude to whisper?”
“Sorry, Rae-Lynne,” Herta said, raising her voice. “We were just thinking that maybe it would be easier if Krista brought a phone book to our place tomorrow and we go home now.”
“But I’m not ready to go home. I want to see what’s going on in this one-horse town.”
Krista shook her head. “There’s not much going on until tomorrow at the earliest. People are still working on a Thursday. We don’t start our parties until Saturday evening.”
Rae-Lynne pouted. “Oh, very well.” She tried to stand up, but wobbled dangerously. “Oh! The damn floor’s uneven here. You’d think they could make a better building.”
Rick Brummel, the manager, was at the cash register when Krista and Herta, with a thoroughly soggy-kneed Rae-Lynne between them, approached.
“Was your meal to your satisfaction?” he asked.
Rae-Lynne started to say something, but Herta overrode her. “It was fine, thanks.”
“Glad to hear that,” he said calmly. “You’re new to town, aren’t you?”
“My sister is, yes,” Herta said. “She’s here for a while, so we will be back again for lunch one day.”
Brummel nodded. “You are always welcome, Fraulein,” he said.
Krista tugged on Rae-Lynne’s arm to distract her before she could say anything else to embarrass Herta. Rae-Lynne tipped over slightly, leaning heavily on Krista.
Herta quickly paid the bill and, grabbing her sister by the other arm, helped Krista frog-march the drunken Rae-Lynne out to the street and the Volkswagen Krista drove.
Getting Rae-Lynne into the car wasn’t easy. It was like trying to put an octopus in a string bag. Getting her out was like trying to stand cooked spaghetti in a pot.>
“Let’s just take her to the living room. She can sleep it off on the couch,” Herta said, exasperated.
“I wasn’t looking forward to trying to get her up the stairs, if I must be honest,” Krista grinned, tugging on Rae-Lynne’s arm, trying to get her to sit up. “On the plus side, she hasn’t gotten rid of her lunch in my car. I’m no end grateful for that.”
Herta couldn’t help but chuckle as they pulled Rae-Lynne to her feet. “Me, too. But,” she said with a moue of distaste, “the day isn’t over yet.”
“I don’t envy you.”
“Neither do I,” Herta said, unlocking the front door. “Just a few more feet, Rae-Lynne and then you can sleep.”
“But I wanna slee’ now,” Rae-Lynne slurred.
The two women managed to get Rae-Lynne onto the couch without further conversation. Herta threw an afghan over her sister and motioned for Krista to follow her into the kitchen.
“I’m sorry about that, Krista. If I’d known she was going to be that ugly, I’d have—”
“Like I said, it doesn’t matter. You’ve been drinking coffee, so I didn’t think to warn you of the strength of German beer. It happens a lot to tourists,” Krista soothed.
“And I can hope that she’s not used to drinking beer but I wouldn’t put it past her to spend a great deal of time in the bars.”
“You don’t know her that well, do you?” Krista mused. “How well does she know you?”
“Not as well as she thinks she does, I think,” Herta said sadly, taking the lid off the coffee jar and putting four scoops of coffee into the basket of the coffee maker.
“We may be able to play on that. We just need someone to distract her long enough for us to get some work done.”
“I can’t ask anyone to keep her entertained. Not if she’s going to behave like this every time.”
“Hmm…” was all Krista said.
“Care for a coffee?” Herta asked, changing the subject. “It won’t take long to brew.”
“No, I have to get going. I have a few things I need to arrange. There’s still the matter of John and getting the BKA off your case. I haven’t managed to talk to my friend at the BKA about you yet.”
Herta frowned. “Here’s hoping you can soon. I don’t trust John any more.”
I’ll call Siegert today. You take care and I’ll see you later. I’ll see myself out.”
Herta waited for the coffee to finish brewing, thinking. She sighed. No matter what happens, I still have to deal with Rae-Lynne. I think I’d rather face the BKA, she thought. When the coffee was ready, she put a spoonful of creamer and sugar into the brew she’d poured and went into the office. Hopefully, she could forget some of her present difficulties by translating the Tiel papers.
Several hours later, Herta looked up from the laptop to see Rae-Lynne leaning on the door frame. “You okay?” Herta asked in concern.
“I’m about to die,” responded Rae-Lynne. “I don’t feel so good.”
Herta bit back a smile. Sounded like Rae-Lynne was working on a major hangover and only after a pitcher of beer, too. “Why don’t you go upstairs and lay down in my room. The bathroom’s closer there.”
Rae-Lynne nodded and then held her head. “What will you do?”
Herta looked at her watch. “Oh, probably have bacon and eggs for supper. Do you want some? I make a mean sunny-side up egg, you know.”
Rae-Lynne turned green and disappeared down the hall.
Herta sincerely hoped that her sister would make it to the bathroom in time, but she was grateful for the woman’s departure, even if it meant cleaning up a mess later on. Turning back to her laptop, Herta spent the next half hour reviewing what she’d translated. There were only a few words highlighted with a question mark. She’d written those down for Turan or Reikert to translate. She was getting better, she hoped, at translating the vernacular. She had translated the more difficult phrases word for word. It looked strange, Tiel grammar with German words, but Herta found that was the easiest way for her to grasp idiomatic sentence structure.
Her stomach rumbled just as Herta finished reading the last of what she’d written. Looking at her watch, she realized that lunch had been hours ago. She wasn’t sure what she wanted for supper. Bacon and eggs might be an idea, but she wasn’t quite prepared to stand over the bacon until it was cooked. After a quick search of the fridge and freezer, Herta found a lone bratwurst hiding in the freezer and a package of hot dog buns. It sounded better than bacon and eggs.
She was just about to bite into the brat when a knock sounded on the back door. She frowned and rose. In response to her flick of the curtain, Turan waved from the back porch. Herta let him in.
“I was just sitting down to supper. Are you hungry?”
Turan kissed her lightly on the forehead and said, “No, I’ve eaten, but help yourself. Is there coffee on?”
Herta laughed, suddenly more cheerful. “There’s always coffee on in this house. I don’t drink beer.” She went back to her dinner, followed by Turan, who stopped at the coffee maker first. He joined her at the table.
“So what’s on tonight’s agenda?” he asked, watching Herta carefully.
Herta finished chewing and swallowed. “Well, I have some translations done. I was going to ask you or Reikert to translate some of the words I can’t parse. Other than that, I haven’t got much planned.”
“Mind if I hide out here for a while? Simon’s been pestering me to get some paperwork done and I need a break.”
Herta chuckled. “Sure, you can hide here. Better yet, let me print out my translations and you can correct my grammar and word usage.” She smiled to take any sting out of the words. Turan needs a day off once in a while, too, she reminded herself.
“I can do that, certainly,” Turan agreed. “It’ll be a pleasant change from dry, political documents. Which reminds me, how is Diesel doing and can we find Tamika something to do besides haunt my office?”
“She can— Oh, she can’t come here, can she? Let me see what I can do. Can you ask her to meet me Monday morning and we’ll go into town and see what we can find her? I’ll see Priscilla on Sunday for sure and I can ask her to ask Reikert to drop by.”
Finishing her supper, Herta put her plate in the sink and led the way into the office.
Turan let Herta start the print outs and sit down in front of the computer again before he asked, “Where’s Rae-Lynne?”
“Upstairs sleeping off a pitcher of beer, I think. She may have only made it to the bathroom down here.”
“A pitcher of beer? By herself?”
Herta nodded and related the events of the lunch hour.
“You have my sympathy, Herta.”
Herta made a face. “I have my sympathy, too, but it’s not going to get me far with Rae-Lynne. Now I know how Walther felt with his brother.”
“How’s that going?”
Herta sighed. “I still need to confirm dates with Kyria, assuming that she’s willing to take on PTSD clients.”
Turan nodded once. “Would you like me to ask her about the times and dates of her lessons?”
Herta leaned back in her chair. She drew a deep breath and let it out. “Would you please, Turan? I hate to be a pain in the p’toot, but I’d like to know when Krista and Franz can start learning how to heal themselves.”
“Yes, and you were going to explain that phrase,” Turan said, smiling.
Herta looked confused. “What phrase?”
“Pain in the p’toot.”
Herta chuckled. “It was Mom’s way of saying ‘pain in the ass’ without having to come close to swearing. She had a number of phrases like that.”
Turan let out a bark of laughter. “I get the funny feeling that I’ll be hearing more ‘creative cursing’ as your sister’s stay lengthens, too.”
Herta shook her head. “I don’t mean to say bad things about my sister. They just pop out of my mouth every so often. She’s my sister. I pretty much have to let her stay.”
Herta blinked. “Because she’s my sister,” she said, surprised that Turan didn’t seem to understand.
“If she’s going to be a pain in the whatever, why does she have to stay”
Herta drew a deep breath and let it out, using the time to think of an answer that Turan would understand. “It’s like you and Dahila,” she finally said. “You couldn’t kill her because she was kin.”
“That is our law.”
“And I can’t throw my sister out because she is kin.”
Turan tipped his head, thoughtful. “And this is in your laws, too?”
“Then if it’s not against the law, why do you keep her here if she upsets you?”
Herta blew out a breath in frustration. “I just can’t throw her out. It would be… It would be morally reprehensible,” she finally blurted out.
“Ah, morals,” Turan said, dragging out the words.
Herta relaxed, swinging a bit on the task chair. She breathed a sigh of relief. “Yeah, morals. And I did promise my parents I’d look after her for as long as I could.”
Turan nodded. “A deathbed promise, no doubt.”
Herta lowered her head in an embarrassed half-nod.
“Very well. I understand now.” He went to the printer, picked up the sheets on the ‘done’ rack and started reading them.
Herta took that as a change of subject. She got the funny feeling, however, that the subject wasn’t closed as far as Turan was concerned.
Herta had turned the radio on earlier and it played softly in the background as she typed translations that Turan corrected. They worked in a companionable silence until “Reunited” came on the radio.
Turan rose and stood beside Herta. He spun the chair around so that she faced him. “Dance with me,” he ordered.
“What?” Herta asked in confusion.
“Come dance with me,” Turan invited this time. He pulled Herta to her feet and adroitly moved her to the middle of the office.
Herta tried to protest, but not only did Turan have a tight hold on her hands, but her own inclination was to relax. She gave in and put her head on Turan’s shoulder.
His arms came around her and they both relaxed into the music.