Excerpt

from Uncoupled

The comms installation was in a telephone booth-sized room at the airport itself. After the small job was finished, Fritz directed a taxi to his favorite bed and breakfast by way of the Berlin wall, which Rodney found unsettling. It was just a wall with some barbed wire on top, but it incongruously blocked roadways like something misplaced out of space or time.

They washed up for what Fritz called an evening on the town and taxied to the Resi. Rod was intrigued. The front windows at each side of the door were completely filled by a brightly polished, brass-colored telephone exchange. Most patrons didn’t spare it a glance, but Rod took his time to stand and watch the rotary switches in continuous motion, hunting up and down, round and round in their endless search to complete a dialed connection.

Fritz pulled at his sleeve. “C’mon boss, it’s a telephone switch; you’ve seen one, you’ve seen ‘em all.”

“Not like this one. This is history in motion.”

“Boss, history in motion is waiting inside. Wait till you see them fraüleins.”

Rod yielded to Fritz’s tug and reluctantly entered the Resi. He felt instantly welcomed, and warm inside like bourbon over ice with a cherry made him feel—lots of wood, fringy lampshades, and accents of red. They were given table 23 in the center of the ballroom, which held a lamp and a telephone, both dated in prewar style. Fritz’s head was swiveling around on his shoulders as though it were disconnected.

“That’s her, that’s the one. Table 17. Watch this, boss.”

In response to Fritz’s dialing, the girl seated with two friends at table 17 snapped alert and lifted her receiver. “Hello?”

“Hey, beautiful,” Fritz said. “Let’s dance. I’m table 23.”

She looked around and caught his eye. With a gleeful smile, she waved and indicated that he should meet her on the dance floor.

“See you in five, boss. Order me a whisky, straight up.”

Rod watched Fritz spin the girl the moment they assumed the dance position, and he was off to the races. They looked like a practiced couple. Fritz was obviously a good leader.

He was at the table when the drinks came and, without even sitting down after taking a sip to whet his whistle, back on the floor dancing with table 37. When he returned this time, Rod asked, “Why did you switch partners if table 17 was such a good dancer?”

“She didn’t want to move past dancing. I gotta find me a cunt to curl up in tonight.”

Unbelievable! “Fritz, how do you reconcile your behavior with having a wife and four kids?”

“It’s easy, boss. I’m a hummingbird. When I find the right flute-shaped opening, I gotta stick my pecker in.”

Rod didn’t much care for the sentiment but he laughed at the analogy. They finished their drinks and ordered another round.

Their table phone rang. Fritz snatched up the receiver but after saying, “Hello,” held it out to Rod. “It’s for you.”

“Hello.”

A woman with a French accent said, “I think you are a dish. Would you like to dance with me?”

“Thank you, no. I’m just watching.”

She hung up before he finished his sentence.

“Your wife’s not in-country, boss. There’s no harm in a dance.”