After what seemed an endless journey, our train arrived exactly on time, 8:30 at night, and I directed Erica immediately from the station to the most private place I could think of, which turned out to be a booth with high backs in the corner of a diner near the station. I did not dare return immediately to Begley House. I knew that the occupants would all be gathered in the parlor and we would have to answer questions about how we had spent our day. I wanted to confer privately with Erica without appearing to have done so.
Tea was not the usual drink served in diners of this sort, but with the town full of students trying hard to be sophisticated, a rudimentary tea was served, and with a day-old doughnut each that looked still edible, we sat down to discuss, finally, what we had wanted to discuss continuously for the last seven hours. I asked for and received once more the translated letter, and read it again very carefully.
I looked up at Erica, sitting very straight in the booth in front of me ignoring her doughnut. "I can't believe this is happening. I really don't understand what all this is about. For instance, who or what is Freikorps?"
Erica closed her eyes for a few moments. When she opened them again to look at me she said, "It's an organization of former soldiers in the German army. They think that Germany was betrayed into surrendering, and that they were winning the war. Of course, it must be remembered that they weren't starving when the war ended. They kept their weapons, and their leaders. It amounts to a private army fighting both the socialists and the current government."
"And Luxembourg and Liebknecht? Who were they?"
Erica looked around the room, then at her doughnut as though it would give her the answer. Then, speaking very carefully and not at all like the college student she usually was, she said, "Liebknecht and Rosa Luxembourg were members of the German Democratic Socialist Party, which is the current ruling party in Germany. They separated from the Social Democrats and co-founded the Spartacist League, which now, under Bolshevik rule, has become the German Communist Party. Klaus was one of the first to join the Spartacists and was their secretary for a time. They called for a general strike, hoping to reproduce the Russian revolution in Germany. When the general strike turned violent, Klaus got out. That made Klaus a traitor to the Bolsheviks, a Bolshevik to the government, and a communist to the Freikorps, who had temporarily joined forces with the government to destroy the Spartacists.
"I can't imagine anyone however swayed politically wanting to kill Klaus and you? I can see differences of opinion, but murder?"
Looking back up at me, she said flatly, "I can. I've met some of them. Liebknecht and Luxembourg have already been murdered, by either the government or the Freikorps, I don't know which. Believe me, they are all quite willing to murder. Klaus wouldn't write as he did if he weren't absolutely sure of what he was saying. He meant to frighten me. He succeeded.
"Because of that, I would like very much to learn who the Bolsheviks sent to find me. If as the letter suggests, he is at Holmes College, then he has very likely already identified me. But I wonder how he learned that I was at Holmes College?"
She was looking at me now, but I had the idea she was remembering things far away and thinking out loud.
"I didn't talk about America while I was in Berlin. My German is native and I never spoke English, so I didn't strike most people as being foreign. Any accent in my speech would be considered regional, not foreign. My being American, although known in the technical sense, was therefore not of any interest to anyone. For my part, I didn't encourage interest in either me or America. I was there to study philosophy, not to become celebrated for anything. I didn't want to be unusual. I worked hard trading my cute American accent for a standard Berlin one. And it's not as though I was in any way unique. There were many other foreign students enrolled at the university. I was just one of the many.
"So how did they find out where you lived in America?"
"Since I moved into Begley House, I have received two letters from Klaus in the normal way, addressed to me. So anyone who saw the mail on the table in the entrance way would know that Klaus was writing me and whoever sees the mail could report back to Berlin. But that supposes that the Bolshevik agent was already in Begley House, which isn't logical. Why would he be there to see the letters if he didn't know I was there?
She became thoughtful once more, paused, then continued.
"Unfortunately that means they already knew about me before Klaus wrote this letter. And Klaus didn't know. If he had known, he would have told me in the letter. So who else could have known? The only German students I mentioned the name of my American college to were Micky and Klaus. Klaus hasn't told anyone as of the letter. Micky wouldn't tell anyone either. If I talked to anyone else about my college in America, I don't remember it. I don't like to think about this."
Erica's eyes went down to the uneaten doughnut on her plate. She stared at it as though she had never seen such a thing before in her life. When she reached for it I noticed that her hand was trembling. I looked quickly back up at her face. It looked composed, but her eyes were very wide. She looked frightened, but not for herself. No, her thoughts were far away, and she was frightened for someone else. Her thoughts were in Germany, not Brown's Landing.
She picked up the doughnut, looked at it, put it back down, then picked it up again and took a small bite. She made a face and took a sip of tea. "This isn't the way my mother makes doughnuts."
"I rather expect it isn't. And wasn't, even when they were fresh, a day or so ago." I wanted very much to ask her what she was frightened of, but couldn't. This was her story after all and she would tell me what she wished when she wished it. But what could had frightened her? What could be happening in Germany, thousands of miles away, that would frighten her here? Then I had it, and I would speak.
"There is another way this could have happened. Your address in America and at Holmes College would be a matter of record to anyone in the administration of the University of Berlin. So all we really need is someone who knew about you and Klaus, and could look you up in the student enrollment records. How open was your relationship with Klaus? How many people knew about that?"
"Lots of people knew about Klaus and me, and some of them could have looked up my admission records." She looked thoughtful for a moment, then added so quietly that I almost didn't hear, "Thank you. I can at least hope it was done that way."
She took another tiny bite of the doughnut and another sip of tea while the horror inferred in this conversation made its way into my consciousness. Then I looked around at the noisy happy diner in sleepy little Brown's Landing in good old easy-going Missouri and tried to imagine what Erica was telling me. I couldn't do it. Surely not. This is America. These people are just kids, students in a small liberal arts college. They can't be part of the sick thoughts my mind was trying to cope with. How different can the University of Berlin be? How could it be that bad, in Germany or anywhere for that matter? I couldn't help myself, I asked once more for confirmation.
"Do you really believe someone possibly already on the campus is going to try to kill you?"
"Not precisely that." She looked at me. Her face was now composed. Showing no emotion at all, she said, "According to Klaus's letter I am supposed to be warning others of what I learned from Klaus about the plot in America. I will first be required to tell whoever is seeking me what I know, and to whom I have repeated what I know, and then he will kill all of them and me."
"No he most certainly will not! We will inform the authorities immediately."
Erica looked back at me, suddenly defiant. "We will please not do that. The authorities will not believe you, nor will they believe me. They will surely lock me up either as a foreign agent or for insanity. They are very unlikely to investigate anything. They may quite possibly lock you up as well.
The authorities, as you call them, are quick to arrest, quick to convict, and slow to understand anything. They aren't going to grasp the subtlety between a democratic socialist and a Bolshevik. No, I will have to act alone, either to support his cause or to avenge his death. Given the current mood in this country, I may not tell anyone anything nor ask for help from anyone."
"But Erica, you already have. You have told me. Now that you have done that, if I do not tell the authorities what you and the letter are suggesting, I become your accomplice." I thought of what I had just said for a moment, and was again surprised at the suddenness and clarity of my mind. The decision had already been made, it seemed. "Very well, I will keep silent about the letter and what you have told me. But if I am to be your accomplice, I insist on being allowed to help."
"Thank you. I don't know how you can help, but thank you. I have no idea what I shall do now. We know one thing that the Bolsheviks don't know we know. We know I am a target. Klaus and Micky went to extraordinary and dangerous lengths to give me that one fact. Now I must find a way to use it."
She said that with such determination that I had no recourse except continued consent. "Very well. I hope you are right. I hope you will ask for any possible help I can provide. I further hope I am not sending you to your death. Now what shall we tell the others about our trip to Hannibal?"
Erica looked thoughtful for a moment, then seemed to lighten up just a bit. "The post office in Hannibal is a building of considerable acclaim. I believe the railroad station is also. Perhaps you took the little German girl sight-seeing in Mark Twain's famous city?"
It was pretty thin, but I couldn't think of anything better.