The Vampire on Jefferson Street

Henry Anderson

Chapter Six


The trip to Hannibal had cost Erica a couple of lectures in philosophy and in German. She didn't mind missing the German, she could read the assignment withoug help from class, and a glance at a classmate's notes for the day would tell her if anything important for her to know had happened during class.

The philosophy class was a different thing. She enjoyed the class. It was one of the few places where she could express herself fully and joyfully, no matter what she said. The course was conducted in German and therefore nothing said in class ever found its way anywhere else. To understand what was being said, you had to speak German, and if you could do that, you had enough discretion not to translate the ideas into English carelessly.

A week went by without incident. The leaves were turning now, and there were fewer warm afternoons. Classes had settled, papers were being written, or at least contemplated, books were being read, notes were being organized in preparation for the first major exams. Erica was her natural serious self, deeply interested in her studies, as might have been expected, although she did show a bit more interest in the others at tea than she had before the trip to Hanabal. After all, someone was looking for her with malice, and she had no idea how to determine who that was.

As each day passed, Mary Susan wondered tried to remain engaged in Erica's possible enemy, but she saw nothing irregular, and from time to time the thought came to her that perhaps the whole thing was some sort of a hoax, or possibly a misunderstanding.

One Tuesday morning, however, she looked around for her at breakfast and found Erica missing. She thought that Erica did not take care of herself nearly well enough and went to her room to roust out the recluse.

She knocked on Erica's door, was asked who she was, said who she was, and was told to come in. Erica was sitting on her bed crying. She looked like she had been crying for a long time.

"Whatever is wrong, Erica?" Mary Susan asked.

Erica took a long time to think, then, having come to a decision, said with ice in her voice, "Can you seriously keep a secret if I tell you something?"

Quite taken aback, Mary Susan assured Erica that she was quite well known in some circles to be able to do precisely that. She carefully closed the door, bolted it, and sat on the bed next to Erica.

"Klaus is dead." Erica said softly but clearly. "His body was found floating in the Berlin canal three weeks ago. He was already dead by the time we read the letter from Hannibal."

Mary Susan couldn't imediately believe what she heard. In the silence that followed her mind raced from idea to idea. How did Erica know that Klaus was dead, there hadn't been any letters from Germany. Possibly it wasn't the same Klaus. It was an accident. Erica was right about how serious this is. I can't believe it! Those things don't happen. Not really. When she could finally find words, she remembered, barely, to say that she was sorry to hear it, then whispered, "How did you hear about it?"

"I read it in the Berliner Tagblatt. The college library subscribes to it. The most recent one arrived yesterday. It is the Sunday edition from three weeks ago. I read it last night. I'm sure I'm the only one here who knows about it, because I'm the only one who reads the Taggblat. I'm probably the only one who can," she added bitterly. "They said it was an accidental death. But it wasn't. The Bolsheviks got him. I'm responsible. His relationship with an american girl last year must have firghtened them badly. They found him and they killed him!"

Mary Susan put her arm around the smaller woman's shoulder.

"I'm so sorry. What a horrible, horrible thing to happen."

"He told me it would happen. I didn't believe it. I just couldn't imagine killing over politics. It's so unlike us, here, in America. It just seemed so much more important in Germany. Is it really that important, Mrs. Begley?"

"I'm sure don't know. I expect I would have to be awfully desperate to be willing to kill. I've never been that desperate. The war didn't happen here, it happened over there, I never saw it. We don't seem to care how we are governed over here, as they do in other places."

"I haven't told anyone this, but I planned to return to Germany once I finished my Bachelor's degree here. I wanted to spend the rest of my life with Klaus, in the new Germany. We really loved each other."

"I lost my husband, not too long ago." Mary Susan said, "It isn't the same thing, I know. I didn't really love him. Oh, I was fond of him, in a way, and he was a decent and honorable man, but we never loved each other. He needed a wife, and I thought I needed a husband. I've since realized that I don't. But I did feel pretty low about it after he was gone. It sounds cruel to say it, but you do get over it. Life really does go on. Maybe not right away, but eventually."

Mary Susan was pretty sure she shouldn't have said that, especially as the silence lengthened and Erica didn't say anything. Erica's face gradually hardened, but Mary Susan didn't notice that. Then there was only the sound of Erica's bedside clock ticking, as Mary Susan wondered what she should be saying, or doing, and Erica continued to cry silently into her handkerchief. After a time, the tears were gone, and Erica turned to Mary Susan and rather formally asked her to please go downstairs and tell the others that Erica was indisposed, and would not be down for breakfast. She, Erica, would remain in her room until she looked presentable, and besides, she had some thinking to do.

Mary Susan left to do that, understanding that once more Erica wanted to be left alone.

After breakfast everyone left for their day's classes and Erica must have slipped out sometime during the morning, for she was not there when Mary Susan checked her room later on that morning. She didn't go inside, Erica's room, she never entered her tenants' bedrooms without notice, but she did pause outside the door and listen. After a time, she knocked softly, then called out Erica's name, but there was no response.

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