playing with the occupiers who’d taken over here. Opa Nagl had farmed ambitiously, got drunk several times a year, and voted Sozi. This was even if he despised a leader of the same Social Democratic Party. He had a saying to paper over any inconsistency. How many times had Felix heard over the years from Opa Nagl that he’d prefer to be wrong with the Sozis than right with the brownshirt bastards in the Freedom Party?

As funny as his Opa could be, he was no pushover, however.

Felix still remembered how Opa Nagl got his message across years ago. It had been when Felix had snuck through the yard and then up the pastures to throw clods of earth at the cows. The bells had been heard back at the farm. When he returned, there was Opa holding out a brush. It had been a monstrous brush, twice the size of the nine-year-old hellion Felix. Cleaning the farmyard something Felix had never seen done before, and never again had taken until abendessen.

“Der kleine Kimmel nicht aus Himmel,” Opa had muttered later, with a hint of a mischief flickering around his mouth. The Kimmels didn’t arrive from the heavens.

“I miss Dad,” Lisi said, and she dabbed at her eyes. “I have to say it.”

Felix put his arm around her shoulder.

“Me too,” he said, and wondered.

She blew her nose and composed herself. Then she took an envelope from her pocket. She handed it to Felix.

“I want them back,” she said. “Scan them, if you want. They’re from Uncle Leo. He found them.”

Felix took out a few. Here was Dad hoisting him into the air by the water in Stubensee. A big hairy chest a Turk, Felix’s mother used to joke. There might have been some truth to it, due to a halfacknowledged illegitimacy back a hundred years or so. And there was the chain he always wore, that chain from his army days. His dad’s get- togethers with his former comrades from the battalion used to be riotous, but they’d toned down in recent years. Felix’s mother had been able to prevail on him to take her to a hotel on one of those weekends.

One year it had been just outside Klagenfurt, in the adjoining province, up in the mountains where his battalion had done many of its exercises. Dodl Korps, he called it the idiot corps, after some of the scrapes and blundering that several well-liked thick heads had led them into. There had been huntin’ and shootin’ reunions on the high plateaus over Sommersalm. One, a decade or more ago, resulted in three of the Dodl Korps, podgy middle-aged characters now to a man, being brought to hospital after the VW jeep one of them had painstakingly rebuilt had flipped. “On manoeuvres” his father had called it. Felix remembered him laughing every day for a week at the snapshots.

“Aber scheisse,” said Lisi, slowing. “Look who.”

Sure enough, here was Edelbacher. A tall man whose nickname had been Elli, for Elephant, Gendarmerie Major Richard Edelbacher always had some of the ungulate about him. This was a semi-cruel fate for a man who took good care of himself. He was an assiduous, if slowing, sportsman still. He managed a kid’s soccer team in Voitsberg, the town where he worked. He was clearly a man born to be a caretaker. Edelbacher waved, yanked open his door of the unmarked police VW, and flung himself out from behind the wheel in one fluid motion. He even had his hat, Felix saw.

“No need, Felix,” Edelbacher called out. “No rank today, uniform or not. Oh no.”

Felix wondered yet again how, or when, he would ever tell Edelbacher that he never felt obliged or inclined to salute him. Unlike the anal Bundespolizei who would soon be the equally unwilling partner in this shotgun wedding that the Interior Ministry had decided just had to happen, Gendarmes had always been firstname people. That was all the way up the ranks. Why would a veteran Gendarme like Edelbacher suggest otherwise?

Well, it was simple enough, Felix had glumly concluded long ago. It was not so much that Edelbacher was just a moron who pushed his rank, his office, his uniform a bit too much. It was that Edelbacher was trying to insinuate some authority over Felix Kimmel, or subtly insist on some respect from him, this son of the attractive, and well-provided-for, widow of his boyhood friend.

In an emotional speech after the funeral, Edelbacher had pledged to take care of the bereaved Kimmels. It had been so out there that Felix could remember what he’d said almost word-forword for days afterwards:

“Felix told me, if anything ever happened, to take care of you and, by God, I will do my duty, and my privilege, yes I will!”

And now he was upon them, all big teeth and high forehead, towering.

“You look good, Felix,” Edelbacher said. “So good.”

This much cologne would have appalled Felix, hangover or not.

He held his breath while his foggy brain, still crippled from the drinking that he hadn’t planned last night, curdled again at the sight of Edelbacher’s expression: this idiot thinks that one day soon their mother will marry him. It didn’t improve his mood much to see then that he’d gotten off easy here, when he saw Lisi accept an airkiss from Edelbacher.

God knows, Felix thought as the Major rolled out every platitude available, Edelbacher was a trier. But he just didn’t get it. He probably considered himself a gently persistent and undemanding suitor, well versed in the needs of a working woman of a certain age.

A modern no, a contemporary woman, he’d say. Their mother, however, had been hinting more and more to Edelbacher that he had a misplaced sympathy for her. There were moments when Felix felt almost sorry for Edelbacher. He’d never understand that Greti Kimmel didn’t want to be protected, or taken care of, or that she would not remarry. She did not want to let him down hard, but neither could she get through to him.

Had some part of Edelbacher’s brain picked up on this, and this only magnified her attractiveness even more? Or was it, as Opa Nagl had muttered, that he simply saw a woman not yet 50, a fine woman with a paid-up house, an insurance windfall, a good pension, and a job? Smitten, huh? How about a gold digger? There was nothing funny about it at all. In his cynical moments, Felix had thought it might make a good reality TV show, like the Lugners and their idiotic lives.

But like the church door ahead of him, and this day itself, here he was, in front of Felix, this gormless bachelor, as sincere as he was possibly calculating too, but also a superior officer. Felix tried to look alert.

“Thank you, Major,” he said.

For which observance, Felix received Edelbacher’s signature greeting, a sizeable knuckle on his upper arm.

Then he leaned forward toward Lisi again.

“Dad would be proud of his boy today, right, Lisi?”

He raised his eyes quickly to the sky and nodded.

“Wouldn’t he just,” he added. “Felix’s boy has found his own path.”

Felix boy’s stomach lurched. He concentrated on his own steps leading him to the doors of the church. An hour, he thought, and both his mind and guts seem to reel in unison when Edelbacher gave him a manly clap on the shoulder. The longest hour he could imagine.


Felix and his mother strolled down the lane arm-in-arm afterwards. There was relief amongst them, and it was awkwardly concealed. It was a memorial service after all, but now that Opa Kimmel was gone home, the meal promised to be something they could actually enjoy. There would be a few more smiles and tears over the stories that would come out again, of course.

Oma Nagl walked beside him. Opa Nagl walked beside Felix’s mother on the valley side, explaining something about turnips. Lisi was stuck with Edelbacher behind. Felix was pleased by that.

Well, he had made it. There had been tears and some his own because he hated to see his mother sad. As expected, he had sat beside his Opa Kimmel and two aunts of his father’s. He had been attentive to his grandfather’s rising and sitting, to his finding the hymn, and to guiding him down the steps afterwards, walking stick and all. Naturally, he made sure to not let it look like he was helping.

Felix had felt eyes on him during the service. He had concluded that they had been his mother’s. It was as though by staring at his back she could encourage him, or maybe to remind him that it would be over soon, this task of being his grandfather’s male heir here beside him for this hour.

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