Gary Kidney author of adult and young adult novels
Picture of Gary Kidney, author

The Tiergarten Scene from American Spy in the Reich by Gary Kidney:

Following a path beside a thawing stream to a lake took us deep into the empty Tiergarten. We stopped to catch our breath on a bench.

We were alone — nobody walking nearby, no cover in which to hide, only a wide glassy lake before us. “Vinny, why did you lie?”

“Lie? What lie?”

Even in winter, the Tiergarten was beautiful — cold, stark, and barren, but with a promise of renewal and rebirth hid within.

The jumble of facts made little sense. How could my picture appear on the cover of a Nazi magazine two years before? When the major gave me forged papers, he said, ‘These papers would work for any blond-haired, blue-eyed boy when we put in the right picture.’ Ma gathered the Rexall sack full of pictures too fast — as if she’d been saving them for a purpose. Had she expected the request? Had she given the Army my Court of Honor picture years before? How deep does this conspiracy go? Stunned, I realized there was only one conclusion. They manipulated me.

The puppet master sits beside you, slowing his breath. He looks so innocent and says, ‘Lie? What lie?’

“I figure at least one lie, maybe more. You said you didn’t know me in 1938. That was a lie, wasn’t it?”

His expression confirmed my conclusion.

I felt crushed, like a juiced lemon peel and wanted to beat him to a pulp. Tears wouldn’t be far behind. I wouldn’t let him see them. “Fuck you!” I ran.

Your scoutmaster takes that picture for my Eagle Court of Honor. It gets to Berlin. An International Conspiracy of Jews? The conspiracy is more than Jews.

The timing’s inexplicable. I’m fifteen in the picture. Two years before the Army car arrives.

Are your parents part of the conspiracy? Were you conceived for this mission?

There’s no truth. No one I can trust. My questions will linger, frozen forever.

“Wait! Wait!” Vinny ran after me. “Nothing changes. You can’t go home.”

I kept his footfalls behind me and resolved he’d never catch me. I wanted to hurt him, get revenge, and make him feel my anguish. An idea popped into my mind. “I’ll go to the Gestapo and report you. Tell them you’re recruiting me to spy. I’ll disappear into the city. You’ll see me next at your execution. I’ll join the SS. One day, that lying fuck of a major will show up in my rifle’s crosshairs. I’ll blow him away.”

I turned toward Hermann Göring Strasse’s exit — the route to the Gestapo. A statue stood where I cornered, a beautiful queen named Luise. I crossed a bridge beside her. Vinny hadn’t gained on me. He wouldn’t follow me into Gestapo headquarters.

Vinny yelled. “I never thought you’d be a quitter.”

The tears hit like a thunderstorm. “I don’t quit. No matter how tough it is. And I don’t lie.” What about Rome? What about lock picking the diplomatic pouch?

I passed a bench at the statue of King Friedrich Wilhelm III. When the statue appeared again, I realized I’d circled a small island. When I arrived at the bridge, Vinny appeared on the other side. “Stop there!” I pictured breaking Bald Bart’s neck. “Cross and I’ll kill you!”

We stared into each other’s eyes. Panic and fear filled his. I sensed his fear of crossing. Afraid of what I might do.

He sat on Queen Luise’s bench. His voice broke as he said, “I’m sorry for the lies. For the things that make little sense. For six thousand miles, I’m the only one who cares about you. Don’t run out on that!”

My stare froze like the water beneath the bridge.

I remembered the story of the statues. The artist intended King Friedrich Wilhelm III and Queen Luise to stand side-by-side, sharing a panorama. Instead, the city placed them on opposite sides, gazing across the bridge at each other. Their view, now, never shared but forever linked — an unplanned perspective. Does truth exist or is everything perspective?

I plopped down on the King’s Bench. Vinny’s eyes still projected fear and panic. Mine revealed wild anger. I softened them. “I need truth and I’d like a friend. A friend would give me the truth.”

“OK,” Vinny said, “but it may be hard to take. I don’t know everything.”

I nodded.

“You’ve guessed at some of it. This mission wasn’t optional. They groomed you for it. I knew about it in ’38, but it may have started earlier. After Kristallnacht, the American Ambassador left. Journalists sent back unbelievable stories of horror. An exodus of Germans, like Bob and Carl, painted a gloomier picture. Planting a mole was a way to get unfiltered information. They chose you for your language fluency and whiz-kid electronics and maybe more. Your scoutmaster, teachers, and coaches prepared you for this moment. The major lied about any blond-haired, blue-eyed boy. It was always you.”

“Was I born to do this? Were my parents in on it?”

“You think you’re the center of everything?” Vinny laughed. “You are what you pretend to be.”

“What the fuck does that mean?”

“Aren’t you at home in Berlin? I’ve seen it in your eyes and bearing. You even admitted it a few minutes ago. You said you could disappear into the city.”

How could he peer so deep into my soul? I’m at home in Germany. Almost like I’ve always lived here. “I can’t do terrible things like the Germans.” I thought of the innocent Jewish baby and the brain, bone, and blood on my boot. God, I already have.

“I don’t know how much your parents understood. I interviewed your friends, and I’m sure they guessed.” He sighed. “We thought we could wait until you turned eighteen. But blitzkrieg changed it. No one expected Hitler would have such success. Dunkirk put us out of time.”

“What if I refused?”

“Could you have?”

They’d primed me for adventure. A refusal was out of the question.

“The work building your background — the documents in files, the family you’ll meet in a few days, that picture in the magazine — took a long time to prepare.”

“What if I’d failed the tests?”

“Part of the story to reel you along. There weren’t tests.”

Could I have flopped in the fight with Bald Bart? “How did you get involved?”

“I enlisted in ’38 — an Italian with passable German, been to Italy and had family there. I triggered someone’s imagination. They decided to send me to Germany, but I’d never mesh into society. I could only observe. They needed you.”

During our conversation, he’d crossed the bridge and joined me on the bench.

“I’m such a sucker.”

He slid his arm around my shoulders. “No, you’re braver, stronger, and more resourceful than we ever dreamed.”

“That magazine picture. My scoutmaster took it on a camping trip in February of ‘38. He gave me a black neckerchief and sliding knot to wear. He said they were special, only for Eagles, but I’d never seen an Eagle wear one.”

“Let’s finish this run. I’m freezing.”