How attorney Harry von Duckwitz is overcome by uneasiness and has growing doubts about the meaning of his profession. About green, gray, and black telephones, what Harry thinks of his girlfriend Helen's absence, and how his clients become ever more suspect to him. In addition to some information about his origins, his carryings-on as a student, his breakfast habits, and his preferred means of locomotion.
No way! It couldn't go on this way. Harry von Duckwitz got up from his desk and walked over to the open window. He hadn't studied law for years just to sit in an office now, dictating reports that went by the name of briefs. Not at seven in the evening, in May, in this weather.
Frankfurt, mid-seventies, 1975 to be exact, but what difference does the year make compared to the weather and the season. It's the way late spring turns to early summer on a warm evening without a trace of twilight that goads your sense of longing into aimless motion and makes you feel your soul stirring once again.
Duckwitz had been working in these offices for almost a year. It was by no means hell, but it was no way to live, in the long run. Not that he had expected heaven on earth--he was past that age. He didn't expect anything at all. If he ever had. What do you expect out of life? A fairly reasonable question actually, but when you heard it, or said it out loud, it sounded obscene. You really had to have gone to the dogs not to find it presumptuous. You might be able to ask yourself such questions, but not too often. To expect fulfillment, from your job no less, was ridiculous.
And yet, he'd been lucky. A flourishing law firm in a good location on the edge of downtown Frankfurt. An old building--that was important. Nice parquet floors. Nothing against skyscrapers on a city skyline, but he didn't want to work in one. He was no insect. Here there were sensible partitioned windows that could be opened wide. The soothing roar of traffic rose reassuringly from below. At least something was going on in the streets. There were even trees outside the windows, linden trees. They were in blossom now, and their sweet country scent mingled pleasantly with the smells of the city.
The two secretaries had left at five, as usual. "Good night. See you tomorrow, Herr von Duckwitz!" Both his colleagues and the legal intern had taken their leave at six. With a sense of relief and a trace of respect and friendly commiseration, they called out: "Don't work yourself to death!"
Now the cleaning lady had also disappeared, her last act having been to check the earth in the potted palm with her knuckle: "Doesn't need water, it's still okay." Right now she was busy in the dermatologist's office one floor up. You could hear her vacuuming and shoving furniture around. Maybe she worked twelve or thirteen hours a day, too, like Duckwitz. He probably earned four or five times as much as she did. And that dermatologist up there, the quack, probably raked in ten times as much.
But the problem wasn't grotesque differences in income. In earlier years, he had taken to the streets to protest such injustices. That was once upon a time.
Duckwitz closed the window. Frankfurt was known as an ugly city, but he just couldn't see it that way. Recently some people had been calling it an honest city. If ugliness could be turned into honesty, then it had to follow that a lie is something beautiful.
He went back to his desk and concentrated on a damage claim made by a builder against an electrician, and on criminal charges brought against a lapsed alcoholic for some ludicrous break-in. He would like to have walked back and forth as he was dictating to his machine, but oddly enough, even though he was alone in the office, that still seemed too pompous. Not yet thirty, he wasn't about to begin strutting around officiously, as if he were some actor playing the part of a brooding celebrity attorney waiting for a flash of inspiration.
This, by the way, was a bigger problem than the cleaning lady's wages: his image. It wasn't an agonizing problem, but it had been on his mind. He was just the sort of successful young lawyer he and Helen had jeered at only a short time ago. Success was as low as you could go, that much had been clear. There had to be something fishy about anyone who was successful in this society.
Who knows, maybe that's why Helen had turned away from him. Maybe she didn't like living with a successful young lawyer who spent less and less time with her. Harry wasn't sure. But what should he have done? There was no alternative. He just slid into success. Other people slide into failure. You slide this way, you slide that, maybe you slip and fall. The whole thing's just one big skating party. But after all, the fault of success is easier to take than the fault of failure.
Nevertheless, Harry did everything he could to avoid creating the impression of being a successful young lawyer. He was very careful not to change: threadbare sports coats instead of suits, his rusty old car, and no new apartment. <%1>But the question was, could he hold off the inevitable that way?<%0>
He still had some time for skeptical self-examination, though he'd rather have been examined by Helen. That wouldn't be so exhausting. Anyway, you had to be careful not to look like you were part of the establishment, if you actually were. Or wasn't he?
At some point resistance becomes foolish. Why shouldn't you at least buy a better car? Are you a monster just because you take your accountant's advice and start driving a Mercedes or a Volvo? What's wrong with a new jacket, and what's really so objectionable about a new suit? What would old photo albums and old movies be without the suits? You couldn't imagine those great seedy detectives from the thirties and forties without the suits. It was undoubtedly childish to put up such resistance to suits and decent cars. And while wearing a tie is really stupid, it's also stupid to resist so hard. As if wearing one made you a jackass.
Those were the big questions. But for the time being there weren't any answers. He'd have to discuss them with Helen. It was a dirty trick for her to have taken off like that. Harry took out a sheet of paper and wrote: "Dear Helen, I need an image consultant. Good pay. Won't you take the job?"
He put the unfinished letter into the drawer where he kept his personal belongings, then took down some commentaries in order to dictate a couple of letters. One of the commentaries was called Rules for the Allocation of Public Works Contracts. The opening pages bore a resplendent dedication by the author: "In deep gratitude to my dear wife, especially for the many years of patience and consideration that made this 7th edition possible."
A commentary is the crowning achievement of a legal career. He would never let things go that far, Harry told himself. He wouldn't write a commentary on contracting rules or anything else, and he certainly wouldn't have the gall to dedicate such drivel to any dear woman, wife or otherwise. He put the books back on the shelf. He should specialize, then he wouldn't have to work so hard. Only first he'd have to find out which branch of civil or criminal law suited him best.
Still, something just wasn't quite right. The business about success was really a joke, and he still felt strong enough to laugh off the suspicion that he belonged to the establishment. But he'd rather have laughed about it with Helen--laughing alone could easily sound a little bitter.
The problem was that while you might be able to evade the image of the successful young lawyer, you couldn't get around the rules of the justice game. That terrific fellow who angrily kicked a car after the driver nearly ran him over would never have obtained his rights, even if he was right to do what he did. Naturally, the driver of the swanky limousine filed suit for damages right away. A dented door. Seven thousand marks worth of damage from a single kick, according to one expert's estimate. Even the judge had been amused at that: such an expensive car and such thin metal? Nevertheless, you don't kick car doors. Only if you've actually been hit can a lawyer claim it was a reflex reaction. Or better yet, that it involved a mere "excess of justifiable self- defense." When Duckwitz had the rare opportunity to throw terms like that around in court, he really enjoyed his profession. But the plaintiff had suddenly withdrawn his complaint--didn't want to give the name of the witness, that is, of the woman who had been sitting next to him in the car. Aha!
That was just it. Instead of setting up a monument to the defendant's awesome kick, instead of sentencing the driver to thirty lashes on the soles of his feet, the whole thing ended without the least sense of triumph. If his client's adversary hadn't been so pitifully afraid of the questions his wife would ask about the woman passenger, Duckwitz could have helped the car kicker get his due. But how? What judge would have been willing to find for his heroic client on the grounds that, in this case, car doors may be kicked? Yet only this way can justice take on a higher meaning!
There was simply no end to the tricks and the scheming, the deliberate silences and the diversionary tactics. You employed ruses and evasions and indulged in petty charges of procedural error in a half-hearted search for half-truths. No brilliance, not a hint of justice, no ideas, just this snooping and fiddling and messing and rummaging around. Ridiculous mental gymnastics for hairsplitters. Okay, okay, he'd known that. He'd had time to prepare himself for this nonsense as a student, as a legal intern, even as an associate in the firm. But it's one thing to know about the nonsense and something else to engage in it yourself.
What he hadn't known was that the clients would be the worst part. You couldn't drive them away, after all, because you lived off them; but they were horrible--indignant as plaintiffs, weepy as defendants. His law firm had a reputation for being liberal, and so most of the people who showed up were either abused, disadvantaged, or insolvent.
This morning he'd represented a supermarket cashier who was fired. Sure you're supposed to put everything you've got into helping such a wretched creature. But in court it turned out that she was slow, clumsy, regularly late for work, and always chattering; she couldn't remember a thing, and she couldn't add. She was simply out of place. She was one of those women who drive you insane when you're standing in line because she doesn't know the price of the merchandise, has to ask another cashier about every stick of butter, and nothing moves. Customers had complained. The manager's description had been absolutely credible. He'd been fair. She'd been given proper notice. It was hard, but then that's life. The only thing was, the very friendly store manager had not sent her notice by registered mail, and Harry had been forced to drum it into his client's head that she received the letter on January 2 and not punctually on December 31. With no effort at all, Duckwitz had been able to get a settlement of twelve thousand marks for this incompetent goose. Her boss, on the other hand, an Italian, was penalized because he didn't know that in this case he had to send a registered German letter mailed at a German post office. And the result of this cheap victory was that the manager had to pay Duckwitz two thousand marks in legal fees out of his own pocket. It just couldn't go on this way.
Worst of all were the divorces. Duckwitz evidently exerted some kind of mysterious attraction on the kind of man who thinks he's been cheated by his wife both sexually and financially. After umpteen years of married hell, he didn't feel like stuffing half his hard-earned income into the maw of that deceitful beast.
Duckwitz always nodded but thought to himself: if you get married, you've got it coming. In court, his adversaries, that is the women, turned out to be absolutely fabulous; his clients, on the other hand, turned into foul and nasty characters, an imposition on any sensible woman. Why wasn't it the women who came to his office? Was there some hidden contradiction between a beautiful client and a liberal law office? It was sort of romantic to be thought of as a liberal lawyer in a liberal law firm, but if the result of this dubious reputation was that he attracted only miserable wretches, then thanks but no thanks. In that case he'd rather wage non-ideological battles on behalf of beautiful women and pick the pockets of slippery characters for the rest of his life. Someone has to take up the cause of beauty, damn it!
Recently, he'd found himself confronted in court by a woman whose eyes were so green that he could have allowed the most hair-raising assertions to pass without objection. And right in front of this woman he had to paste together a legally convincing case out of the disgusting charges made by his awful client. The green eyes rested on the man with mild disdain. If she'd only take a pistol out of her purse and shoot him! thought Duckwitz. He'd offer to defend her on the spot. He moved as far away from his client as he could in order to avoid being caught in the rays of this beautiful green disdain. He tried to sneak into his remarks some secret signs of sympathy for his opponent but stopped when he noticed that, as the laws of rhetoric would have it, he was helping his client. He'd have to represent the man so miserably that she'd win on all counts. Only she wouldn't know who it was she had to thank for the victory. Duckwitz would be the loser, and women like that don't like losers. Her lawyer would have to be the one to tell her that Duckwitz let her win. Then she'd call to thank him, and Harry would say equivocally, "Don't mention it!" Naturally he'd go out to dinner with green-eyes. And pretty soon he'd be gazing at her and asking: Say, what is it about me that always makes me wind up with such atrocious clients?
It was already too late for the movies now, a quarter past nine. Green-eyes' name was Wagner. There were a lot of Wagners. Duckwitz looked in the file for her first name and address. The Wagner Case. Then he checked the phone book. There they were, right after the divorce, still peacefully united. Sybil and Hubert. Where do people actually live after a divorce? Calling Sybil Wagner now would be stepping completely out of line. It would be unseemly, and unseemly was exactly what he wanted to be.
When he got home, Harry contemplated his telephone. He hadn't gone out to dinner, not alone. No fun in that. There had to be a little conversation at dinner or you might as well wolf down something right from the refrigerator. That's what he'd just done. Somehow it was odd to think of your body as if it were a car. Simply fill up the tank and off you go. But where to?
He wouldn't call Helen. She'd have to do it, she was the one who left. And besides, there was no hurry. He wasn't even thirty yet.
Harry was proud of his old black telephone. Bakelite. You have to keep the most obtrusive kinds of progress from taking over. Keep up the battle against pointless innovation. Someone had come up with new telephones even though the old ones were still perfectly good. His receiver was as heavy as a dumbbell, and there was a cradle that still deserved the name. If you wanted to, you could drop or slam down the receiver, you didn't have to fit it into some ridiculous well. When the dial turned, it sounded like those old radio mystery stories with the detective about to come in and save the day. Harry's splendid phone had belonged to the previous tenant. There was always static on the line, and the telephone repairman had wanted to replace it. "Well, you're finally going to get a new one!" he said cheerfully, pulling out his screwdriver. "Are you crazy?" Duckwitz barked so indignantly that the man packed up his tools and left.
It was annoying that there were no old black telephones at the office, although compared to his miserable clients, that was a mere trifle. Harry didn't think even a telephone should be a matter of indifference to someone who considers himself a thinking being. An office that doesn't have black telephones carries less weight, the same way the new telephones pack less weight. If you have to spend hours on the phone at the office every day, you need one you can really get hold of, not some toy that goes sliding around every time you make a call.
When the office was furnished a year earlier, he'd had a say in things. Some crook from that monopoly Siemens had wanted to talk them into a touch telephone, said touch telephones were the latest development. The first one had been installed for the President just that year, June of seventy-four, and then they'd gone into production. "Out of the question," Duckwitz had said. He was no bookkeeper and he wouldn't punch numbers. Even where the telephone was concerned, he wanted to be free--free to dial, not to hunt and peck. Then there had been the question of color: gray, green, or an absolutely impossible orange. The man from Siemens had recommended green, fern green. Friendly. If not black, then gray, thought Harry. Why would you want fern green in an office? What rubbish! An office isn't a forest. Some factory psychologist or business school grad had thought that one up in order to demonstrate to the members of the board that he was indispensable. It looks friendly, he said. The greener the workplace, the harder your employees will work.
Needless to say, they had fern green telephones in the office, because the only ones who were there when the phones were delivered were the secretaries, and they had naturally chosen green. Helen, by the way, had once interrupted Harry's hymn to the old black telephone with a nasty comment: she just couldn't help herself, she said, it reminded her of the Gestapo and Hitler's headquarters. "You really know how to ruin things," Harry had replied.
Harry didn't need an alarm clock. He always slept well and woke up refreshed after just a few hours' sleep. That's why he couldn't stand people who yawned the whole morning and complained about how hard it was to get up. He woke up before six this particular morning, with the sun shining into his room. A clean shirt, the same sports coat and pants as yesterday. It was good to be a man, it made things easier.
Harry left his apartment. His place wasn't bad, and the stairway was even better. A beautiful, broad wooden staircase from a time when houses weren't built by idiots. And there was no drop into an underground parking lot by elevator. It was a May morning. A walk along the river. A pretty good head on his shoulders--good enough for remembering, turning off, taking things in. It could have been worse. Eyes still good, a full head of hair, no lisp. What more could you want?
If you ignored the nitpicking, the haggling, and the dirty tricks you had to use to obtain your rights, or rather to help your undeserving clients obtain their undeserved rights, then it was pleasant to be able to use your head, to make waves, to stir up sympathy, to look the judge straight in the eye and push things so far that the prosecutor's mouth began to resemble a carp's. Those were the real triumphs!
What was terrible was having to wear those gowns they call robes. Just one more reason to quit this job someday. On the other hand, it wasn't such a bad thing that the legal system made itself look ridiculous by insisting its representatives dress up as if for Carnival. Since most sentences were handed down by judges in robes, it made them seem sort of playful. It just couldn't be true that some clown in a smock could send another person to a real jail for seven long years. Somehow that just couldn't be true. Maybe that's even what made it bearable.
Lawyers don't wear robes in the States. But that doesn't help the Americans at all. They're a stupid bunch. Except for blues and jazz, they haven't produced much. A few dozen nice love songs. Not bad. And of course some movies. And then the protest songs. Really good pop songs had always been a protest against something. If it wasn't against war, then it was against the callousness of narrow-minded Americans who support their presidents' wars. Or against the naive, gum-chewing obedience of GIs who slaughter and are slaughtered in some strange corner of the world. That miserable war in Vietnam had been over for two years now, at least on paper. The Yankees had actually withdrawn in seventy-three. Napalm was already a thing of the past, Ho Chi Minh just the echo of a battle cry at a demonstration, and way in the back of your mind a few memories of horrible old news photos. What was left were some songs by Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and the Doors, a few wild jabs and chords on the guitar. At first those singers had been considered incredibly rebellious, but then it turned out that the rebelliousness of the pop musicians was either an act or unintentional. Nothing but an invention of fans and euphoric journalists. There must have been something authentic about them, though, in spite of the fact that they were always high. Some of their versions of old songs were still amazingly powerful. They flung the notes at you in a way that was somehow believable, that still made you hard and soft and proud and resistant.
Harry walked along the river to the art museum and then turned back. The time had come to have a tape deck installed in his car. The time had come to take up his trumpet again. The record player needed to be repaired.
If it's true that criminal political systems breed explosive music, then it's surprising that Nazism didn't produce a popular musical protest. Why hadn't some German musician in exile come up with the idea of turning that corny song about Lilli Marleen into a raving protest, with an assassin dreaming how she'd blow up the whole pack of Nazis? "Outside the barracks / Hitler's standing by. / I'll kill him now, / And none will question why. / The light from the lamp is bright as day's-- / I'll shoot him there, right in the face. / For you, Lilli Marleen." A musical vision of justifiable assassination with an accusatory trumpet paraphrase, then back to the trenches with that song on the BBC!
Why didn't anyone write music like that during the war, or maybe even afterward? The resistance in Germany, with its officers and its communists, was pretty ineffective, and "coming to terms with the past" was just a compulsory exercise for public speakers and intellectuals. Historians and psychoanalysts had plenty of explanations for Germany's past, but what was really missing were a couple of great songs that everyone liked and everyone could whistle, songs that turned back and cried out in anger against National Socialism, that smashed the past to bits with the sheer force of their rhythms.
Harry thought about his trumpet, about the jazz band they'd had at school, and how it still wasn't too late to take up the trumpet in some cause here in Frankfurt. He could probably still manage to play the "West End Blues." But the way things were now, what with the office and all--well, it just couldn't go on this way.
Near Harry's apartment there was a little bakery that opened at seven in the morning. He almost always ate breakfast there, and every morning he had the same struggle with himself about whether or not to ask the waitress: Are you busy tonight? Every morning he was in love with her. But he was old enough to know there was no point to it. That kind of love only works in the bakery's coffee shop or, on warm spring days like this one, at the little tables they put out on the sidewalk.
Carola. Of course he didn't call her Carola. He didn't call her at all. He simply raised a finger when he wanted to order something or pay his bill. He had the same thing every morning, coffee and a roll with butter. He loved Carola for that, too--for not saying "The usual?" and for not bringing him the same thing each time without saying a word. No, every morning she stood at his table and smiled as if she expected him to order something special, and each time he said: "A pot of coffee and a biscuit with butter."
Harry didn't like the expression "coffee for one." It sounded too much like a resort café. Saying "coffee for one" was almost as bad as asking someone what he expects out of life. So he just said "a pot of coffee." And he didn't like the word "roll" either, so he said "biscuit," the way they do in the south. Harry had grown up in southern Germany, near the Bavarian Alps. Beautiful. He had no quarrel with his childhood. People had said "biscuit" there and had laughed at "Prussians," who said "roll." It was good to be in Frankfurt, to be a Prussian by birth, and to call a roll a biscuit. As far as those things were concerned, Harry was content with his life.
Carola had accepted the fact that he wanted to distinguish himself from the coffee-for-one-and-a-roll people. When she was in a good mood, she said with a touch of irony, "Here's your pot of coffee and your biscuit." She said it again today. They gave each other a conspiratorial look, and Harry asked himself if he shouldn't give it a try after all.
Harry and the baker's girl. If only he didn't have this mess of ridiculous titles. Show me your passport, she would say on the trip they'd take to Venice or Paris. "Dr. Harry Baron von Duckwitz." It was ridiculous. People used to talk about pride of rank, but that was a thing of the past. Now there were other barriers.
Kissing, stroking, screwing, even being quiet together--great. Going to the movies would be okay, too. But having a glass of beer or wine afterward would already be a problem. What do you do with all your associations? He wasn't even sure that Carola would understand what he was saying. And he could hardly imagine going with her to a museum to look at old paintings. Unless the weather was good and the museum was almost empty. Maybe she'd come along, even be interested and curious. But then he might start holding forth. Awful. He could only go to see paintings alone, or with Helen. Passing by all of modern art without a word. It was great to ignore all the rubbish and know it wasn't worth a damn, to feel this elation because you hadn't fallen for all the junk the museum directors and critics had been talked into. Then on to the Old Masters. You couldn't allow yourself to fall for everything there, either. There was a lot of cheap stuff. Just don't show any awe--point out the poorly painted figures with a chuckle, the ludicrous mythical scenes, the Christian nonsense, the diminutive saints. The Old Masters had succeeded more or less by accident at what was really important: a windowsill with a hand towel and a vase, a small dog in a corner, and mountains turning blue toward the horizon--the end of the world. The things that seemed to be the least important to them turned out to be the best, no question about it.
That was the way life with Helen had been. They were on the same wavelength, at least for a couple of years. When you were a student, you had time. You crammed once a year, really hard, and then you had a lot of time again. Helen had studied this and that, languages, theater, mostly art. They slept together, talked and screwed, ate and drank. They didn't have much money, but it was enough. They weren't happy, but they weren't unhappy either. They went to the movies, to art exhibits, and listened to records--when you were in your twenties, you thought you were too old to go to pop concerts. At that age, you can't imagine what it will be like having a job and having to earn a living. Enough money for a tank of gas always seemed to come from somewhere. What did gas cost before the '73 oil crisis? Less than 60 pfennigs a liter?
Harry drew war orphan's benefits. Both his parents were dead; he hadn't known them at all. He thought that wasn't so bad, but Helen thought otherwise: "You can't be normal under those circumstances. If you grow up without a mother, you just have to be a little cracked!"
Harry had told her about his aunts and Villa Huberta, about his childhood near the Alps and the Austrian border, about buying chocolate in Salzburg and feeling like a smuggler bringing it across the border. Later on it had been rum, 160 proof, and he'd hoped it wouldn't cause impotence the way some people said it did.
One of his aunts had given Harry an ancient motor- cycle for his twenty-first birthday, in October of 1966. Harry had admired it when he was little. It had belonged to one of his aunt's favorites who didn't come back from the war. With that motorcycle, Harry had been a king and Helen a queen. It had two huge cylinders, one on each side, and a pancake engine that made a deep rattling sound. It needed repairs constantly, and the spare parts dealer had been more important to him than the university. He'd been just as important as the demonstrations against the Yanks' war in Vietnam.
Harry spent a couple of semesters in Berlin avoiding the draft. "The army, join the army, you're in the army now"--it was enough to make you sick. "Conscientious objector," "fundamental objection to war service," this twisting of words had been out of the question for him. You shouldn't have to subject yourself to a room full of malicious people asking trick questions. On the other hand, taking care of sick people for several months of his life hadn't been much of an alternative.
It was in Berlin as well that he must have been fathered, if everything had gone according to Hoyle. It was a riddle to him how anybody could think about screwing under those circumstances. His father was a doctor at a hospital in Berlin. Harry's aunts swore to him later that his father hadn't been a Nazi. He'd been killed in one of the big bombing raids on Berlin at the beginning of February 1945. Three thousand tons of high explosives, 22,000 dead. He had evidently sired Harry shortly before that, because Harry was born in Berlin in the peaceful month of October.
In 1946, Harry's half-brother, Fritz, came into the world, a product of his mother's incredible lust for life. She died in childbirth. Fritz grew up with foster parents in the Rhineland, and Harry was sent to live with his aunts in Bavaria, where he was well taken care of. There was deep snow in winter and tall grass in the meadows in summer.
Memories of his childhood had put Carola's charms in the shade. Harry took a newspaper off a hook. May 16, 1975, the racehorse Halla had just turned 30. Incredible that a horse could be six months older than Harry himself! In 1956, Winkler had won a gold medal on Halla, in spite of the fact that he was riding with a torn stomach muscle. It had been a hot subject at the time. "The fellow's fantastic!" said Aunt Frieda, who once rode horses herself, supposedly like the devil. But that was before the war, the First World War. Aunt Ursula saw things differently. Raising her smoke-roughened voice, she said: "That idiot! That damned Stalingrad-, hang-tough-mentality!" And then Aunt Huberta let him have it as well: "It's his own fault, the conceited ape!" Aunt Frieda fell silent, outvoted. Harry's classmates and his teacher tended to be on the side of Aunt Frieda and her declarations of respect, while Harry, who was usually on Aunt Ursula's side, enjoyed calling the noted victor a bastard and a conceited idiot. Ten-year-old Harry clearly sensed that his swearing impressed the others. He'd learned to curse from his aunts. Each and every one of them a countess or a baroness, they spoke of nothing but bastards, S.O.Bs, idiots, windbags, wimps, and losers.
At the next table, Carola was waiting on a customer who had raised his backside from the chair and was searching his pockets for money. Carola stood there calmly with a large wallet in her hand, looking vaguely up and down the street. Harry was thinking that you should only take up with a woman when you can be pretty sure that after your second number, when you're forced to take a little breather, you can fill up an hour or so by making fun of something together--like the stupidity of steeplechases, the cruelty to the horses, and those disgusting riding boots and spurs.
The newspaper reported that the trial of the terrorists from the Red Army Faction would begin in Stuttgart in a few days. Harry had been bitterly disappointed that he couldn't get in on the trial as a lawyer. It would have been a real pleasure to stand up to the bastards prosecuting the case. And he'd have had clients he wanted to defend! How right they were to call the people in power "pigs." They have their solitary confinement, their high-security prison tracts, but they let the old Nazis off the hook.
Duckwitz paid his bill. He was so angry he couldn't even manage a forced smile for Carola. You couldn't treat a handful of show-offs as if they had rabies (after all, they only shoot things up because they believe in a better society!) and at the same time let concentration-camp killers run around loose and leave the worst of the Nazi judges in office. Sure, sure, you can't do anything about it, and there's no point in making the case in court, however eloquently, since it would simply make the judge and the prosecutor yawn. And only the leftist journalists who didn't have the slightest idea about how justice works would include his impassioned remarks in their stories. At least Helen would have read his name in the newspaper once in a while: "RAF attorney Duckwitz succeeds in getting court to subpoena new witnesses," or "Judge So-and-So excluded for partiality at request of RAF attorney Duckwitz."
Maybe Helen would have been in court for the final arguments, rushing over from that odd town in northern England where she'd taken a university teaching job. Without so much as batting an eyelash, she'd said: "I think the separation will do us good." And she asked Harry if he realized that for a long time they had simply been coexisting.
No, he replied, he hadn't noticed. And he didn't think it was so bad just to coexist.
"Thanks," Helen had said, "but not with me." And then she was gone, unfortunately not without adding: "You live your life and I'll live mine!" What an ugly thing to say after all that time.
Harry went over to his car. It was a VW Bug, of course. Nothing new-fangled. Helen had always been wild about Bug convertibles. They'd probably have had an argument now. Why should Harry work so hard and earn so much money if he wasn't even going to buy a more comfortable car? Harry thought a convertible was too trendy, too much like everyone else. The young lawyer who comes dashing up in a convertible. No thanks. He'd lose his credibility entirely. Harry certainly didn't think he had much credibility anyway, but it was a different kind.
He would have preferred to ride his motorcycle to the office, but he would have felt ashamed. The papers were full of stories about businessmen, doctors, even lawyers riding motorcycles to work. Even portly and aging state premiers allowed themselves to be given motorcycles, mounted them, and rode around looking like the dung beetles they were. Just a few years ago it had been unusual, and you would have looked like a shabby old pensioner. But all of a sudden it was in. All kinds of people were winding up dead or half-dead, and insurance was getting more expensive all the time. Harry would wait until the fad had passed.
It was a sunny morning in spring, warm and dry--and his car wouldn't start. This was its latest trick. It was what you got if you couldn't part with your old things. If Harry had been a member of the Automobile Club, he could have called road service. But the Automobile Club was obviously a kind of mafia, and if a normal driver was already the bottom of the barrel, what did that make a club that included millions of them!
It was seven-thirty. He was to be in court for a hearing at nine. It took twenty minutes to get to the office on foot, across the river and past the town hall. The question was, how should he cross the Main? One of the car bridges, or the old "Iron Footbridge"? These were the tough decisions. Being determines consciousness, he thought, and the kind of bridge you take determines your mood. A pedestrian bridge makes you more introspective. Harry decided he had been introspective enough already and chose the loud, heavily traveled vehicular bridge. Even if Harry loathed Sunday afternoon carwashers, car waxers, and car buffs--those typically German monstrosities--he didn't mind the cars themselves or the stench they created in the morning. While they might be unhealthy, they were a sign of life and movement. The quiet corners of the old city, where cars had been outlawed, seemed dead by comparison.
Harry was in his office just before eight. The secretaries weren't in yet. Yesterday the last to go, today the first to arrive. It couldn't go on this way.
Duckwitz concentrated on the court proceedings scheduled for nine that morning. Builder v. electrician. The wiring had been done incorrectly. In all probability the company that was being sued was a small, friendly operation that didn't get bogged down in details. Duckwitz would have to pick the company's sympathetically relaxed attitude to pieces because this asshole of a builder didn't want to pay the additional costs for relocating the plugs. Why did he have to build a house anyway!
There were noises out on the stairs and at the door, jingling keys and the sound of voices in the entryway. It was the prettier of the two secretaries and the legal intern. Duckwitz could hear everything they said through his partly opened door. "It's all just a façade, all just an act," said the secretary. "Believe me, he's as cold as ice." Duckwitz envisioned some disco hotshot who'd tried to put the make on the two chicks the night before. He could hear one of them rummaging around in her purse, then it was quiet. Probably putting on lipstick. Next came the ritual of making coffee.
"And those clothes he was wearing yesterday!" said the intern. Duckwitz imagined one of those grinning young faces you see in ads for banks.
"The same shirt as the day before," the secretary said.
"Now you're exaggerating," said the intern.
"I've got eyes!"
"Does he smell?"
"That's all we'd need."
There wasn't much doubt, they were talking about him. The secretary was right about the shirt. The things they notice! She was busy settling down at her desk, while the intern, that harmless, loyal soul, went to her office. The coffee machine gurgled and steamed, and the conversation seemed to be over when the intern called out: "It did make me mad that he wasn't along the last time everyone in the office went out together."
You too, thought Duckwitz.
The secretary poured a cup of coffee, stirred it, and said: "Do you think he's asked me just once in all these months how I am?" She took a sip. "He doesn't think about anything but his career. I can't stand guys like that."