ALMOST A DEAD MAN by Peter Nolan Smith – CHAPTER 1


A scurry of claws scratched across the damp basement floor. The woman on the battered chair lifted her black stiletto heels in horror, but rats were the least of her problems. This afternoon her lover had suggested a rendezvous in Hamburg’s harbor district. She arrived in anticipation of a sordid indiscretion. Two men were waiting at the disused warehouse. Her young lover was not with them. They dragged her by the arms into an abandoned warehouse. With each step she pleaded for her release. Neither of them had said a word and she repeated, “Please let me go, I haven’t done anything wrong?”

“Nothing wrong?” The black man in the spotless jogging suit circled the chair. Aviator sunglasses hid his eyes. His voice wore his meanness. “Are you a saint?”

“No, I’m not a saint.” The expensive wig flopped onto a folded lap.

“Are you an artist?” He swatted the 40-watt bulb dangling from the rafter, then tapped the woman’s gaunt face.


“Yes, these shots are very arty.” Her muscled interrogator slapped a set of grainy photos. “Can’t see that you are a man and your friend’s skin almost seems like ivory in black and white.”

“They are only souvenirs.” The thirty-two year old banker shivered in the slick plastic dress. He had dressed for rough sex, not a damp cellar.

“Expensive souvenirs, nicht war?” A private collector might pay $20 for the explicit photos. They were worth much more to the right people.

“Yes, they are.” The weekend in a St. Pauli hotel had cost over 2000 Deutschmarks or half his monthly salary. The cheap thrills provided by the photos couldn’t satisfy his desires and Hans had raided various accounts within the bank to supplement his perversions for the past two months. He had yet to add up how much.

“And now you are in trouble.” The black man was as tired of his vicious role as any actor performing Hamlet for the ten-thousandth time. Still his audience flinched on cue, when he flopped the lurid snapshots on the man’s skirted lap. “You know who I am, yes?”

“You are Cali Nordstrum.” Hamburg’s newspapers constantly featured stories about the city’s most notorious pimp. Only last week he had escaped a murder attempt. The police had no leads on the failed assassin’s identity. The list of suspects ran into the hundreds.

“Stop your sniffling. Some of my best friends are Transvestis and Schwules.” Cali backed away and his scarred face melted into the gloom. “We are not here to hurt you or blackmail you, but because my best hustler has fallen for you.”

“Es tut mir lied.” The transvestite buried his veiny hands into the fallen wig like a muff. “All I want is protect Willi. I can pay you.”

“I am not running a marriage service for the Huren or Husen of the Reeperbahn.” Cali lunged like a cobra at his prey and the man on the stool toppled backwards. The pimp caught his arm. “Maybe I’ll send Willi away.”

“Not that.” A high heel slipped off his foot. “I will do whatever you ask.”

“Whatever?” Cali kicked the shoe into the corner. Two weeks ago his best rentboy mentioned a cross-dressing client bragging about his influence at a leading bank. The pimp related the Kalbflesch’s story to his partner in crime, who suggested that the hustler should discover his lover’s actual position.

Several days later Willi Stief learned Hans Roth oversaw money transfers throughout the Europe. Cali advised the hustler to fall in love with the banker. A month of delightful deceit led Hans Roth to this basement. There was only one way out and Cali crouched by the chair.

“Do you have an open mind?”

For ten years Hans had protected his name, job, and family from disgrace. Liaisons with street boys lasted one night. Sex with Willi had incarnated his true persona and he asked hopefully, “Why?”

“First, you are woman trapped in a man’s body. Second, Willi is too expensive for your salary,” Cali explained, because most people required more than one motive to cross the line from good to bad. “Finally you have been stealing money you can never repay to the bank.”

“Willi told you everything.” Tears seeped from Han’s eyes.

“Only because we can help each other.”


Cali mapped out his scheme with the persuasiveness of an airline ticket salesman selling the last helicopter seat at the Fall of Saigon.

“This is your chance to get enough money for you and Willi. No one would think of searching for you in Thailand. Not as a woman. Were you lying about your commitment to Willi?”

“No.” The man’s Adam’s apple gulped in hope.

“Your first name is Hans, yes?” The desperate always bet on long shots.

“I prefer Greta.”

“Greta, I am a better friend than enemy. You can contact me at this number in an emergency. Tell Willi nothing. This is ‘our’ secret.” He handed the banker a wad of 100-DM notes.

“Give him this slowly. It will come out of your cut later.”

“I’ll follow your every command.” His hand reached for the money and Cali snatched the man’s ear so hard that the cartilage partially snapped from the skull. A butcher at the city slaughterhouse had taught him the trick.

“Greta, you understand there’s no backing out?”

“Yes,” Hans said through watery eyes and Cali released him. “What else?”

“Thank you.” The young man re-arranged his wig. He had started wearing dresses after playing with his sister’s dolls. The material was softer than his trousers and shirts. Lingerie on a man was not a sin. Only a forbidden pleasure like his nights with Willi.

“Thank me, when this is all over.” Cali nodded and his friend opened the basement door for a black leather angel with white hair. Willi was pretty, although heroin had got the better of his thin beauty. The black pimp hated drugs. They cut into his employees’ productivity. His associates became sloppy. Mistakes cost time, money, and lives in his business.

The banker was blind to Willi’s deterioration. They embraced as man and woman.

“Let’s leave the lovers alone.” Neither he nor his friend needed to witness the hustler’s performance. On the stairway Kurt Oster pulled out a cigarette. The flame from a gold lighter illuminated a rugged face. “Are we really going to cut him in?”

“Just because we are criminals doesn’t mean we have to be dishonest.” In the beginning it was luckier to believe you weren’t going to hurt anyone. “Everyone will get what they deserve. I’ll see to that.”

He climbed from the basement to avoid the smoke. Cigarettes killed thousands of people every year. The police never arrested the manufacturers. Pimps were better headlines. On the warehouse loading dock he surveyed the street. Only three cars were in sight.
“Anything wrong?” Kurt flicked the cigarette at his shadow on the cobblestones.

“Someone is out there.” He felt eyes on him everywhere.

“No one comes to the harbor at night.” The two walked to Cali’s new Benz.

“We did.” Cali’s premonitions were his early radar warning.

“And we haven’t done anything wrong.” Kurt’s reddish hair had been cut two days ago in Milan. The jean jacket came from a punk shop on the King’s Road and the gold-buckled loafers were hand-stitched in Italy. Only one shop in Paris carried the 501 jeans. Kurt drove a 1961 Thunderbird. He had expensive tastes in women too.

“Yet?” Cali spoke German, ate sausages, liked Schlager rock, but the stares and pointed fingers at his black skin verified he was an Auslander to nearly every German, except one and that person wasn’t his mother.

“Which is why I have an American for the Sonderboch.” German police loved arresting international criminals and a sucker holding the bag wuld buy Cali and Kurrt a few hours or even days. “Someone from Hamburg might suspect something, but he won’t.”

“Why not use the DJ?”

“Bertram is a junkie and junkie’s are unreliable.”

“Except to be junkies.” Cali glanced over his shoulder to the warehouse. “So, this American, is he stupid?”

“No, even better. Broken-hearted.” Nothing blinded a man more completely than love. Kurt added another missing ingredient. “Plus Petra will act as the lure.”

“Are you mad?” The woman was dangerous.

“The greater the risk, the greater the gain.”

“Just once I would like someone to lie to me.” Cali held no illusion about what would happen if something went wrong. The State punished bank robbery with prison. His associates would impose the death penalty.

“I’ve never lied to you.”

“Not once?” His Swiss bank account would only last a year.

“Not about anything important.” Kurt was overextended to several loansharks. The money from this robbery assured a rise in his social status. All he needed was a woman and she had been chosen from the stars. “You don’t want to do this, I understand.”

“I didn’t say that.” Last week Cali had exited from a restaurant. A 5-DM coin lay in the gutter. He had been raised poor and bent over to pick it up. An unseen gunman pumped five shots over his head. He had ordered a jeweler to dip the lucky piece in gold for a medallion. The preceding King of the Reeperbahn had only died in his bed, because a rival had stabbed him in the heart. He had been 35. Leaving a good-looking corpse was the goal of a fool. “I could use a holiday and stealing millions isn’t any different from stealing an apple. The trick is not getting caught.”

“At least not by the wrong people.” Neither were worried about the police. A score like this one would attract its own kind of trouble.

Kurt’s daydream gaze upset Cali. His friend should have been concentrating on the job ahead, instead of another man’s wife. He popped open the trunk of the Benz. Cali loved the new car smell. He reached into the trunk’s secret compartment and handed over a manila envelope. “That enough money?”

“”For now it is.” The thickness was more than enough to open an account in Switzerland. Within one month it would grow into several million Deutschmarks. One plus one wasn’t going to equal two, but the equation needed a few more people to make the math work magic.

“Never.” Kurt tucked the envelope inside his jacket. People feared them, but no one offered them respect. Millions would change their opinions.

Cali was putting his life in his friend’s hand again. They had been born poor. Neither of them had known their fathers. Good people couldn’t say the same. Maybe Kurt could pass for Mittel-Klasse, but pimps and whores were Cali’s business. Few of his fellow ‘Zuhalterei’ had completed high school.

SS Tommy, his right-hand man, oversaw their control of half Hamburg’s prostitutes with a semi-illiterate vicious streak. The bodybuilder had paid for his Ferrari in cash. Mack ‘Die Alte’ beat the smaller pimps into submission. His investment in Pattaya’s go-go bars had earned him a fortune.

Cali’s fellow pimps understood the extreme measures necessary to control Hamburg’s streetwalkers, part-time call girls, gay rent-boys, and underage ‘Strichmadchens’. Fear was his greatest defense against their turning on the illegitimate son of a black US Army sergeant was an ‘Auslander’.

“This is me and you.”

“Against the world.”

“Like always.” They shook hands to seal their childhood pact once again. He walked to his electric-blue 1960 T-bird, lost in a better world money can buy. Cali checked the street again. No one was there. No one he could see, but he would act as if someone was there, because that way he wouldn’t be surprised by the unexpected.

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