The blonde woman on the battered chair lifted her black stiletto heels in horror, as rats scratched across the basement’s damp concrete floor. Once the horde scurried into their lairs, she lowered her feet relieved by their passing, but rats were the least of her problems.
A 40-watt bulb dangling from a rotting wooden beam barely illuminated the two men in the shadows and Greta pleaded fearfully, “Please let me go, I haven’t done anything wrong?”
"Nothing wrong? The black man in the spotless jogging suit stepped closer to lean on the chair. Sunglasses hid his eyes.
“Nothing.” Her body shivered with the denial. “Willi told me to meet him here.
“For a good time in a dirty place.”
“Yes.” Greta nodded, stifling a sniffle. She had arrived on time only to have these two men drag her underneath the old meat warehouse. “Is that a crime?”
“No, but let me ask you a question. Are you a saint?”
“No, I'm not a saint.” The expensive wig flopped off Greta’s crew-cut head onto ‘her’ lap.
"Are you an artist?"
“Yes, these black and white shots are very kunstlerisch.” The black man tapped Greta’s gaunt face with a set of grainy photos. “I can’t see that you are a man and your friend’s skin shines white as snow on coal.”
“They are only souvenirs.”
“Expensive souvenirs, nicht war? Your last weekend in a St. Pauli hotel had you cost over 2000 Deutschmarks or half your monthly salary.”
“How do you know that?”
"It is my business to know these things and also to know that you have been raiding the accounts of your bank’s customers to pay for these holidays with Willi.” “I plan on putting back the money.”
“I believe you, but any magistrate will regard your borrowing as embezzlement and sentence you to prison, so now you are in trouble. Big trouble.” The black man flung the lurid snapshots at the man. “You know who I am, yes?”
"You are Cali Nordstrum." Hamburg's newspapers regularly featured stories on the harbor city’s most notorious pimp. Only last week he had escaped a murder attempt.
"What is my real name?"
“Yes, I am and I am here, because my best hustler has fallen for you.” Cali handed a handkerchief to the man and backed away from the banker, so his scarred face melted into the gloom. “Stop your slobbering.”
"Es tut mir lied." The trembling transvestite glanced at the silent white man in the shadows and buried his veiny hands into the fallen wig like a muff.
“Sorry for what? You visit Willie for sex. Sex is sex. But that is not the problem, is it?”
Cali lunged like a cobra at his prey and the man on the stool toppled backwards. The pimp caught his arm and righted the stool. “The problem is that I am not running a marriage service for hustlers, am I?”
“No.” A high heel slipped off the banker’s foot.
“Willi told me all about you, your cross-dressing, your weekends at the hotel.”
“He told you about this?” The banker had trusted the hustler. “All the Kalbflescht work for me. The Schwules tells me everything, which is always better than someone else finding out before me and Willi also told me how you control your bank’s wire transfers throughout Europe and I thought maybe I can help you, if you help me.”
“I couldn’t do that.”
"Then maybe I'll send Willi away to avoid more trouble.”
"Do you have an open mind?" Cali crouched by the chair.
For ten years the banker had protected his name, job, and family from disgrace, yet now he asked hopefully, "Why?"
"First, you are woman trapped in a man's body. Second, your affair with Willi has put your position at the bank in jeopardy, nicht war?” asked Cali, because most people required more than one motive to cross the line from good to bad.
The banker in the woman’s dress nodded in dismay and Cali mapped out the scheme in whispers. The banker’s eyes shined with hope, because the desperate loved long shots.
“This is your chance to leave Germany with Willi. No one will search for you in Thailand, especially if you become a woman. Were you lying about your commitment to Willi?"
"No." The man’s Adam’s apple gulped his commitment.
“Your first name is Hans Roth, nicht war?"
"I prefer Greta."
"Better for our purposes for me to call you Hans. After we succeed, you can be Greta forever.” He handed the banker a wad of 100-DM notes and a business card. “You can contact me at this number in an emergency. Tell Willi nothing about our scheme. This is 'our' secret. Also this money will come out of your cut in the end."
“I’ll follow your every command.”
“I know you will.”
Cali’s hand snatched the man’s ear so hard that the cartilage separated from Han’s skull, then released the ear and Hans shriveled into the chair.
"I don’t want to hurt you, but you must understand there's no backing out?"
" I understand," Hans moaned through watery eyes and re-arranged the wig on his head. "Thank you.”
"Thank me, when this is all over and you're in Thailand with Willi."." Cali nodded and his tall friend opened the basement door for a black leather angel with white-blonde hair. Willi.
While Heroin might have gotten the better of the hustler’s thin beauty, the banker was blind to Willi’s deterioration and the two embraced as man and woman.
“Let’s leave the lovers alone.”
On the stairway Kurt Oster pulled out a cigarette. The flame from a gold lighter illuminated a rugged Teutonic face.
"Are we really going to cut him in?"
"Just because we are criminals doesn't mean we have to be dishonest."
“And no one will get hurt?
“In the beginning it is better to believe no one will be hurt.”
“And in the end?”
“Everyone will receive what they deserve in the end.” Cali shrugged with a knowing smile and the two men climbed the warehouse stairs to exit onto the loading dock, while Cali stopped and lowered his Italian sunglasses.
“Anything wrong?” Kurt flicked the cigarette on the cobblestones.
“Someone is out there.” Cali scanned the deserted street.
“No one comes to the harbor at night.” Kurt checked the block.
The Speicherstadt had once been the busiest warehouse district in the world, although tonight only three cars were parked on the street. The two friends walked to Cali’s Mercedes Benz 380SL convertible.
“We did.” Cali’s premonitions acted as his early radar warning.
“And we haven’t done anything wrong.”
“Yet and if anything goes wrong, the police will come looking for us, but the police are not Our real problem.
“Which is why I picked an American for the Sonderboch."
“It’s always good to have a sucker holding the bag.” Cali examined his car for any sign of a bomb.
Standing up he asked, "Is this American stupid?”
"No, even better. He’s broken-hearted."
“Nothing blinds a man more than a failed love.”
"Plus Petra will keep him occupied."
"I know she’s a gamble, but the greater the risk, the greater the gain.”
"And the greater the danger too. If she talked to any of my associates, we could end up dead.” Cali’s business partners would impose the death penalty for not cutting them in on the action.
“We don’t tell Petra or anyone else anything, but if you want to back out, now’s the time.”
Cali was aware of Kurt’s debts to the loan sharks and said, “No, we’re in it now, plus after last week I don’t give good odds of dying in my sleep.”
“You were lucky.” Kurt hadn’t been in Hamburg during the attack on Cali.
“Luck had nothing to do with it.”
Two weeks ago Cali had exited from a Reeperbahn restaurant. A 5-DM coin lay in the gutter. He had bent over to pick it up and someone had pumped five shots over his head. Cali fingered the Heiermann hanging from a thick 18K gold chain.
“You have millions, yet stooped to pick up a coin.”
“I was a poor boy like you. Money is money, so this is my lucky coin.”
“Mine too.” Luck was not a commodity for sale and Kurt reached over to caress the coin.
“So we begin.”
Cali opened the trunk of the Benz and reached into the trunk's secret compartment to hand over a thick manila envelope.
“Is that enough money?”
"For now.” Kurt tucked the envelope inside his jacket.
“Then it is you and me against the world.”
“Same as ever.”
“Das ist rechtig. Gute nacht, mein freund.”
Kurt shook Cali’s hand and sat in his electric-blue 1960 T-bird, as the black pimp got into his Mercedes to drive away from the warehouse.
His night was young. He had business at the Eros Center, the business of giving pleasure, and no one in Hamburg provided happy endings better than Cali Nordstrum. After all Hamburg was his city and he was King of the Reeperbahn.