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Chapter 2 – You Killed Cock Robin

May 22, 2012

Chapter 2 – “You Killed Cock Robin”

November 8, 1955 – Rorschach, St. Gallen, Switzerland

It had been precisely two weeks since the babysitter, a retired nanny seeking some extra francs to supplement her retirement (off the books of course) had come to him late one evening unsure what to do. She was a dedicated kindermädchen in her day but between her tight budget and the unexpected length of the assignment for which she had expected to be paid afterward, she had been at her wit’s end. “Nur vier Stunden!” she had been told and told him repeatedly as if somehow he could pardon her sin for her of looking to unload the toddler on someone else.

He told her to see the monks at the seminary about that but agreed to watch the child until they could figure out what to do. He eventually managed to make contact with a relative in America, the state of New York, New York City, the borough of Queens, to arrange for the child to be taken back to his country. (It seemed to Friedrich that the United States must have as many names for places as Europe did, or nearly so.)

In the meantime, Friedrich was enjoying spending time with the child a lot more than he had expected. Never married, he was in many ways the last person one would bring a child to. However, he had connections, so if one wanted to get rid of a child, or an adult or bentback horse for that matter, Friedrich was the man to talk to. This was, however, not the typical request in that regard.

The child had scared the nanny. She came to think of him as a devil-child. This four or five year old had a habit of sneaking and hiding objects when she wasn’t looking. When she at last looked to him having exhausted all other possibilities for having mislaid a particular object, he smiled and then broke down and laughed hysterically. Her spoon for coffee, only there a second ago she was certain, he had somehow managed to get in a place far above his meager height without her noticing.

The child was, in Friedrich’s estimation, a natural born thief. If he could just stop him laughing about it and returning what he had taken, maybe he could have used him in a larger city. Perhaps he could have pawned him off on a relative or business associate in Bern, or maybe that crazy uncle in Zurich. The boy’s slight frame and natural agility made him parfect for all kinds of good work. He could one day have been a top-notch cat burglar.

Instead, Friedrich had bilked the kid’s godparents for a bit more than it would actually cost to get him back to New York. Quite a bit more, actually. It helped that Friedrich also spoke Italian and French and could switch to them whenever a delicate money question was posed. It also helped that the overseas phone connection had been not entirely clear. They had to shout at times to hear each other and as a result kept the whole conversation short and to the point.

This recent orphan, that status being the result of tourist-parents lost on Lake Constance, would be going back to New York in four days, now three days since the phone call to arrange it. In the meantime, Friedrich had managed to make a few extra bucks trying the child out on unsuspecting tourists on the ferry and by begging in various lakeside municipalities where they ate breakfast and lunch from the proceeds. He had at times even explained that the boy’s parents, from Connecticut, had been lost on the lake when the private boat they rented caught fire and sank. This allowed Friedrich the opening to launch into a French translation of an old poem he knew, “For Want of a Nail.” The words made it seem as though one of life’s tough lessons had been visited upon this waifish red-haired child. That, in turn, had increased the sympathy from the folks around them which in turn made them more money to help the child go home to his remaining family.

At least that was what Friedrich had told them.

Friedrich had eaten dinner in a very fine but out-of-the-way place he knew so he would be sure to avoid anyone who had given them money. The celebratory feast was a result of their ample take. He shared what rich delicacies he dared with the child but tried not to overdo it, concerned about a young non-Swiss child’s delicate digestion. He had been surprised, though, when the child drank a small glass of champagne almost at once. As the night wore on, Friedrich taught the child a few songs and the boy had danced for some other patrons while Friedrich sang. The waiting staff had been less than welcoming intiially of the uninvited entertainers, but Fredrich slipped them some francs and everyone was happy.

It had been the most fun Friedrich could recall having since before the war. Maybe this child’s visit heralded that things might be at last returning to normal in Europe. Business might be taking a turn for the better, was his thought.

“Little Eli,” smiling, Friedrich began in his thickly accented English, “I will miss you.”

The child smiled back at him ear-to-ear. Friedrich’s face dropped.

Wo ist meine Brieftasche, you little s***?”

—–

©2012 Christopher C. Knall

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