Excerpts for Second Fiddle
Tuesday, May 22, 1990
If we had known it would eventually involve the KGB, the French National Police, and the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, we would have left that body in the river and called the Polizei like any normal German citizen; but we were Americans and addicted to solving other people's problems, so naturally, we got involved.
It began like every Tuesday afternoon. All the other kids from the American school on the army base at Zehlendorf went to the gym or the after-school matinee or the Scout meeting at the community center, but Giselle and Vivian and I took the S-Bahn to our music lesson in downtown West Berlin. Ordinarily, as soon as we found seats on the train, Vivian would get out her geometry book and Giselle would disappear under headphones with a new cassette from the latest girl rock star. If she remembered to bring extra headphones, I'd listen along, but usually I worked on writing my own music: minuets for the violin, mostly. Not nearly as hip as "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun," but I had to start somewhere, and classical music was what I knew. Not that I'd admit this to just anyone, but classical music was what I loved--more than anything.
We were only five days away from the big Solo and Ensemble Contest in Paris. We'd been working on our competition piece, Pachelbel's Canon, since Christmas. Our music teacher thought we had a shot at first place in the twelve-to-fourteen-year-olds group, and Giselle's dad, General Johnson, had bragged to the entire brigade that we were going to clean up, so no pressure or anything. Not that I didn't love winning, but for me the big deal was that it was our first trip to Paris, and it would be our last time ever to perform together as a trio before the army moved Giselle and me back to the States.
So this time, Vivian and Giselle were listening to the Canon together on her Walkman. Vivian closed her eyes and hummed her part, and Giselle ran the fingerings of the tricky section with all the sixteenth notes. A German lady and her kids stared at us like usual. I used to think it was because Giselle was really pretty and kind of hard to miss because she was so tall, but after three years of riding the commuter train, I knew better. I'd never seen a black kid on the train; plenty of Turkish girls, but nobody as dark as Giselle.
We hopped off at the Potsdamer Platz and walked away from the park and museums and into the neighborhood of Kreuzberg, where our music teacher lived. We went right past Checkpoint Charlie--that guardhouse of Communism between the Soviet Union and the West. It was empty and dark as we walked past, abandoned as abruptly as the East Germans had voted out the Communist Party a few months before. The souvenir collectors and reporters had left months ago. Occasionally, we saw a few eager tourists chipping away at the sections of the Wall still standing, but today, nothing.
"So, Jody," Vivian said, "what do you want to see in Paris?"
"The Eiffel Tower," I said automatically. I loved tall things: roller coasters, bridges, the Statue of Liberty, the Space Needle. The upside of being a military kid was that you got to see a lot of cool places. The downside was that every time you made a friend, you had to move away.
"The Eiffel Tower? No way!" Giselle called over her shoulder. As usual, she was a half dozen strides ahead. "Everyone sees the Eiffel Tower. Boring! Let's go to the Racine Club."
"Where?" I said.
"It's a fencing school. The best one in all of France. My fencing master trained there, and he said he'd set up some bouts with the kids who are in training. Come on, it'll be fun!"
I watched one of Giselle's fencing matches last year. Right away I could see why fencing is not a sport on TV.
"Hello?" Vivian said. "This is Paris we're talking about--art museums? Ballet? Neither of you wants to go shopping?"
I, captain of the fashion clueless, shrugged.
"Let's see," Giselle said, turning to face us and extending both hands to weigh the options. "Shopping for fluffy, fruity-smelling French things or meeting Olympic-level athletes--tough call."
Giselle put her hands on her hips and looked down at Vivian, which is not hard even for me. Vivian was the size of your average fourth grader. Vivi glared right back, but it didn't have quite the same punch with her preppy girl clothes and Clark Kent glasses.
"How about this," I broke in as we rounded the corner and came to our music teacher's apartment house. "There's shopping on the Champs-Elysees, right?"
Vivian nodded and held open the door.
"Then we can go to the Arc de Triomphe at the end of the street--that's famous and tall, but not so dorky as the Eiffel Tower, okay?"
Giselle nodded and pushed the button for the elevator.
"And Giselle can, umm . . ."
"Stab anyone who tries to pickpocket us?" Vivian offered.
"Exactly!" I said. "You can stab them fifteen times if you like," I added, remembering how many touches made a match in fencing.
"Perfect!" Giselle said. "And while I go to jail, you two can go see a nice fluffy French ballet." She hip checked Vivian into the elevator as the door slid open and tugged my ponytail as she followed me in.
"I would bring you cake if you were in jail," I said.
"Yes," Vivi added. "Chocolate cake with a bomb inside and directions for your escape in secret code!"