Fiction

The Third Reich: Part II

Roberto Bolaño

IN OUR PREVIOUS INSTALLMENT...

 

It is August on the Costa Brava, and life, in the words of young Udo Berger, has never been better. He has brought his adored girlfriend, Ingeborg, to the Hotel Del Mar, where he spent happy summers as a child. It is their first holiday ­together—the first, Udo hopes, of many. What’s more, he is on the brink of a new career: when they return to Stuttgart, he plans to quit his job at the electric company and become a full-time writer.

Specifically, he plans to write about war games. Already a grand-strategy champion, Udo is at work on the article that will secure his reputation in the gaming community: a new variant in a game known as The Third Reich. With the long-distance encouragement of his friend Conrad, Udo spends his days in the hotel room, at the game board, scheming to save the Nazi war ­effort. Meanwhile, Ingeborg spends hers on the beach, reading detective novels and ­socializing with another German couple, Hanna and Charly. Udo finds them less congenial, especially Charly, who is a drunk with a penchant for brawling. When sober, his conversation turns mainly to windsurfing and sex. (“Charly is a serious braggart,” Udo confides to his diary, “or a serious idiot.”)

The Germans meet a pair of locals, known as the Wolf and the Lamb, who take them to several questionable night spots. At one of these, the Andalusia Lodge, Udo falls into conversation with El Quemado, a muscular but hideously burned young man who rents pedal boats for a living and who squats—in a “fortress” constructed from the boats themselves—on the beach near the hotel. Udo is intrigued to learn that El Quemado is himself a writer. Udo also finds himself drawn to the remote and beautiful proprietress of the hotel, Frau Else, whom he fondly remembers from childhood and whose husband is mysteriously absent and rumored to be ill. When Frau Else hears about the Wolf and the Lamb, she warns Udo to be more attentive to Ingeborg.

This is not the only sign of trouble on the horizon. At times Ingeborg seems to disapprove of Udo’s war games, and his sleep is troubled by nightmares in which Florian Linden, the detective hero of Ingeborg’s favorite novels, warns the pair of imminent danger ... in their own hotel room.

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