ALMOST A DEAD MAN by Peter Nolan Smith – CHAPTER 1

Greta showed for an evening rendezvous in Hamburg’s harbor district. She was dressed in slick leather and arrived on time in anticipation of a sordid evening of sex with her lover. The tall blonde got out of her car. Willi was not on the desolate street. She heard footsteps and a black man and a white associate dragged her into a shadowy warehouse and sat the blonde on a battered chair.

Twisted claws scurried across the floor and the well-dressed woman lifted her black stiletto heels in horror, but rats were the least of Greta’s problems and she begged, “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 and he asked, “Are you a saint?”

“No, I’m not a saint.” The expensive wig flopped off her head. Hans Roth was less a woman without it.

“Are you an artist?” The man swatted the 40-watt bulb dangling from the rafter. “These shots are very kunstlich. I can’t see that you are a man and your friend’s skin is as white as ivory.”

“They are only souvenirs.” The thirty-two year old banker shivered in the slick leather dress.

“Expensive souvenirs, nicht war?”

“Yes, they are.” The weekend in a St. Pauli hotel had cost over 2000 Deutschmarks or half his monthly salary.

“And now you are in trouble.” The black man was as tired of his 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 lap. “You know who I am, yes?”

“You are Cali Nordstrum. I have read about you in the newspapers.” Hans lowered his head. The man was the city’s most notorious pimp

“And how someone tried to kill me last week?” Cali fingered the 5-Deutschmark coin hanging from his necklace.


“And I bet that you are thinking you were unlucky that they were unsuccessful, but you are wrong. If I was dead, I could not help you.”

“With what?”

“You have been money stealing from the bank to pay for your romance. Yes, Willi told me everything and this is not a crime you can get away with forever.”

“Es tut mir lied.” The part-time transvestite buried his veiny hands into the fallen wig. “I love Willi.”

The black man handed the transvestite a handkerchief.

“Stop your sniffling. You did not steal from me and we are not here to hurt you or blackmail you, but to help you.”

Cali backed away and his scarred face melted into the gloom.

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

Cali whispered in the man’s ear and mapped out his scheme with the persuasiveness of a CIA officer selling the last helicopter seat out of Saigon, since the desperate always bet on long shots. “This is your chance to earn enough money for you to disappear from Germany. No one would think of searching for you in Thailand. Not as a woman. Were you lying about your commitment to Willi?”

“No.” His Adam’s apple gulped in hope of redemption.

“Your first name is Hans, yes?”

“I prefer Greta.”

“Greta, I am a better friend than enemy. You can contact me at this number. Tell Willi nothing. This is ‘our’ secret.” He gave the banker a business card and a wad of DM notes. “This will come out of your cut later.”

“I’ll follow your every command.”

When his hand reached for the money, 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. His stepson was Cali’s partner.

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

“Yes,” Hans said through watery eyes and Cali released him. The banker arranged his wig and smoothed out his dress.

“Thank you.”

“Thank me, when this is all over.” Cali nodded and his friend opened the basement door for a black leather angel with platinum hair. Heroin had got the better of Willi’s beauty and the black pimp shook his head. He hated drugs. They cut into his employees’ productivity. His associates became sloppy. These weaknesses cost time, money, and lives in his business.

The banker was blind to Willi’s deterioration and he embraced the hustler as man and woman.

“Let’s leave the lovers alone.” Neither his friend nor he needed to witness the Willi’s performance.

At the entrance Kurt Oster pulled out a cigarette. The flame from a gold lighter illuminated a rugged face.

“Are we really going to cut in the banker?”

“Just because we are criminals doesn’t mean we have to be dishonest. Everyone will get what their fair share, since it’s always luckier to believe you aren’t going to hurt anyone in the beginning.”

Cali stepped into the street 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 on the cobblestones.

“Someone is out there.”

“No one comes to the harbor at night.” The two walked to a brand-new silver Benz.

“We did.” Premonitions served as Cali’s early radar warning.

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

Too expensive.

“Yet we will and things always have a funny way of going wrong.”

“Which is why I am enlisting as American for the Sonderboch. German police love arresting international criminals and a sucker holding the bag might buy us a few hours or even days to flee from this life.”

“So, this American is stupid?”

“No, even better. Broken-hearted.” Kurt paused and added the missing link, “Petra will act as the lure.”

“Are you mad? She is a danger to us all.”

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

“Just once I would like someone to lie to me.”

“I’ve never lied to you.”

“Not once?”

“Not about anything important.”

“What about your debts to the loan sharks.”

“I never lied about them. I just never told you how much. If you don’t want to do this, I understand.”

“I didn’t say that. I want to get out of this life.”

“Not many live to tell the tale.”

“I know that all too well. Last week I walked out of the Cuneo restaurant. I bent over to pick up this coin. A second later shots go over my head.” Cali tapped the 5-DM piece on the chain. “This saved my life.”

Cali’s Reeperbahn compatriots such as SS Tommy and Mack ‘Der Alte’ controlled half Hamburg’s prostitutes with sociopathic violence. He suspected them of last week’s shooting, for while Cali spoke German, ate sausages, liked Schlager rock, the steely stares at his black skin verified he was a ‘Schwartzer’ to every German, except one and that person wasn’t his mother.

“I am putting my life in your hands, besides stealing millions isn’t any different from stealing an apple. The trick is not getting caught.”

The black pimp opened 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?”

“More than enough to open an account in Switzerland.”

Kurt tucked the envelope inside his jacket.

“We tell no one about this.”

“Not even the wind.”

Cali checked the street again.

“It’s me and you against the world.”

“Like always.” They shook hands to reseal their childhood pact. Cali drove away and Kurt followed in his electric-blue T-bird.

Only the exhaust fumes from the Thunderbird remained on the street and a bearded man emerged from the shadows.

The thirty year-old had seen enough. He would catch up with Kurt at his nightclub. Like most criminals Kurt Oster was a creature of habits. Some good, some bad, and the bearded man knew which ones were which.

After all he was a policeman.

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