The photo of this tattoo, or body art, displayed above was the prompt for today’s Chatham Writers Group. Inspired by the series of Bernie Gunther novels, and Volker Kutscher’s Babylon Berlin novels, I wrote this fictional story.

My story opens in the Cologne, Germany freight yard – on a drizzly, misty night


Cologne, Germany, 1939

The light, misty rain was falling that evening and it lent an eerie glow to the lights of the freight yard.  Inspectors Guido Mara and Freddie Schubert of the Cologne Krimininalpolezei (criminal police), or Kripo, walked slowly along, straddling a line of box cars, training their flashlight on the doors.  If the doors did not exhibit a padlock,  the detectives were required to slide them open and scan the inside of the car.  Randomly selecting a locked car, Guido hunched over and swept his light from left to right to inspect the undercarriage.  

Reaching a break in the line of cars, Guido said, “Bullshit.  This is bullshit Freddie.”

“Keep your voice down Guido.  You don’t want to anger our esteemed colleagues.” 

Guido lowered his voice, “Sorry Freddie.  But I have spent the last 10 years catching criminals, and some really bad ones at that.  Now here I am, on a crappy night in a rail yard, searching for runaway Jews.  This isn’t right.”

“The Gestapo believe they are criminals.”

“In the eyes of the Gestapo, Freddie, their only crime is that they are Jewish.”

“Go back to being a circus strongman,” teased Freddie, “or hauling freight along the Rhine in your barge.”

“I am going back to the river trade Freddie.  I have to anyway.  To remain a cop, I have to become a Nazi, and I will not.  I am done in seven days.”

A voice, chillier than the night air, spoke from the gloom, “Do you Kripo lads solve crimes by standing around? Get back to searching those cars.”  

“Shithead,” muttered Guido.  Freddie was too stunned to speak.

Most of the cars on the section of track assigned to them were locked, so they gained some distance on their Gestapo counterparts.  With just a few cars remaining in their section, Freddie’s light beam fell on an unlocked door.  It was not completely closed.  He asked Guido if the doors on his side of the car were locked.  They weren’t.  Sliding open the doors, they directed their flashlight on opposite corners of the car.  Startled, Guido almost dropped his light.  “Bloody hell!”, he whispered.  Huddled in one corner, trying to hide behind some potato sacks and shielding their faces from the light beam, were two children.  

Freddie now moved his beam to where the children were.  “Who are you?” he asked.  He and Guido shifted their lights so not to blind the children.  They dropped their hands to reveal the faces of a girl and a boy.  Freddie said, “I know you!  Rachel and Paul Edelman, the baker’s children!  What are you doing here?”

Rachel said, “Police came, Herr Schubert.  Poppa saw them get out of their cars.  He pushed us out into the back alley and told us to run to the rail yard.  He told us to climb into a car on track two.  The train would take us to Rotterdam and our Uncle Rudy.  What does that mean, sir?  Can you tell us where Momma & Poppa are?”  

The same cold voice called from the dark, “Did you Kripo boys find something?”

“Potatoes, some sacks of potatoes sir”, replied Guido, “D’ya want some sir?”

“What? No!  Take them if you want.  Check those last two cars and let’s get out of here.”

Freddie removed his hat and ran his hand through his hair.  “What do we do Guido?”

Guido looked at the children, who were shivering, eyes wide in fright.  “Rachel, Paul, I am Inspector Guido Mara, not of the Gestapo.  Each of you need to crawl into a potato sack.  I’m going to take you to a safe place. My apologies for any discomfort, but think of it as playing hide and seek.”  Freddie was gaping at Guido as though he were insane.

“Mara,” said Paul, “Mara, the demon who sits on people’s chests while they sleep and makes them dream nightmares.”

Guido looked at Freddie with raised eyebrows, then replied to Paul, “Well, I may have caused some people to have sleepless nights, but ,no, I am not the dream demon Mara.  We have to go, NOW!”  

In Germanic lore, the “Mara” or “Mare”, was a gremlin that would sit on a persons chest at night and cause them to have nightmares. A special prayer before bedtime was supposed to ward them off. Young Paul Edelman thought Guido Mara was the gremlin that caused nightmares.

In the dimly lit control room atop the freight yard control tower, the night shift yard attendant took a bite from his bierwurst sandwich, looked up from his newspaper and glanced out into the night.  Through the mist in the distance, he saw a group of six men converge, exchange some words and salutes, then separate.  Four men stalked off towards town, two towards the wharves along the Rhine.  They appeared to have sacks slung over their shoulders.  One of them, a giant of a man, carried two sacks.  “Coppers are potato thieves now, go figure,” he muttered to himself.  He turned his eyes back to the rugby scores.

After leaving their Gestapo counterparts, and again apologizing to Rachel and Paul, Guido outlined his plan to Freddie.  He was taking the children to his small freighter and they would hide in the crew cabin.  In preparation for his departure from the police force, he had moved his personal items from his apartment to the skipper’s cabin already.  In 8 days, he would be taking a cargo of Cologne’s finest Kolsch beer to ports along the Rhine, final stop in Rotterdam.  Freddie had recovered from the shock of his partner leaving the police and finding the Edelman children hiding in the rail car.  “We will talk more tomorrow Guido,” was all he said.

Once safely aboard his freighter, “The Lisa”, Guido washed the dust from the children and ushered them to the crew bunks.  Having rolled up his sleeves while washing them, Rachel noticed the large anchor tattoo on his left forearm.  “Are you a policeman? Or a sailor?  What does the “L” mean, Herr Mara?”

Guido smiled, then a look of sadness clouded his eyes.  “In the Great War, I was in the navy.  Like every sailor, I decided to get an anchor tattoo.  I was newly marriedmissed my wife, so I had the letter “L”, her name was Lisa, put in the middle of the anchor, then our last name across the bottom.”

“You said her name was Lisa.  Where is Lisa, Herr Mara?”

“Please, call me Guido.  Lisa, and my infant son, died in a great influenza pandemic that circled the globe. That was 20 years ago.”

Rachel noticed tears forming in the big man’s eyes.  But he smiled again, “Time to get you to bed, we have some big days ahead of us.”  Looking at Paul he said, “And don’t worry, this “Mara” won’t be giving you nightmares.”  Before tucking them in, Guido implored them not to leave the cabin if he was not around.  And showed them a hiding place should any strangers come aboard.  He then went to his cabin, where he spent a sleepless night.

The morning sun burned away the evening mists.  Guido made sure all was secure on his boat and spoke to the children again about what to do if they heard strange voices.  As he walked off the pier, two men in leather overcoats and grey fedora’s approached.  Behind them loomed the great Cologne Cathedral.  “Gestapo! Bloody hell,” muttered Guido.

 “Good Morning Inspector Mara.  You were observed carrying some large sacks onto your boat last night.  Might we have a look?”

The Cologne, Germany, Rhine River waterfront. The massive Cologne Cathedral looms in the background. In my story, Guido Mara’s small freight craft was docked here.

Ernie Stricsek

The Chatham Writers Group

January 9, 2023

5 thoughts on “Lisa

  1. Just fabulous, Ernie! It is marvelous how you spin a human story of characters within a historical context. Real, believable, flowing, engaging actions, traits, personalities, observations, all with such entertaining presentation. You are too good!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Hi Ernie,
    Another great story, which happens to also be another great story that incorporates a historical perspective. Add me to the list of wanting a sequel. What happens to the two children? Where are their parents?

    Liked by 1 person

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