John Palcewski (forioscribe) wrote,
John Palcewski

Fast Talker


A couple of tourists found Jurgen’s wallet, shorts, shirt, underwear, socks and shoes beside the trail at the top of Punta Imperatore, a massive promontory that juts out like a Sphinx paw into the Tyrhennian. Apparently he'd leaped off the cliff, naked.

Eventually the Carabinieri notified Sylvia, Jurgen's landlady. They told her they found in the pile of clothing what looked like a handwritten last will and testament.

“Signora, you must come to make an identification,” the Carabinieri officer told Sylvia on the phone.
“All right,” she said. “Do you want me to come to your headquarters?”
“No,” the officer said. “The man is still out there, on the rocks.”
“You mean you haven’t yet recovered his body?”
“What’s the rush?” the officer replied. “He’s dead.”

Sylvia rode in the back of the Carabinieri’s big black Alfa Romeo, until they got to where the road narrows to a dirt path. They got out and headed up the steep trail. With them was a young man from the mortuary who carried a block and tackle and a huge coil of rope on his shoulder.

From the top of the promontory they looked down at the dead German's corpse, which rested on a narrow ledge a short distance above the surging blue-green sea. The wind gusted, and tousled Sylvia’s hair.

The young man from the mortuary put on a rock-climber’s harness, and quickly rappelled down to the ledge. He tied the rope around the dead man’s body, then waved. The Carabinieri pulled up a grotesquely bloated carcass. Flies buzzed. Sylvia put a handkerchief to her mouth.

“That’s him,” Sylvia said. “Now let’s get out of here.”


* * *

Sylvia put thoughts of poor Jurgen out of her mind. But then she got a call from the German consulate in Naples.

“What shall we do with this body in a sack?” an official wanted to know.
“What are you talking about?” Sylvia said. “I hardly know the man.”
“But you are mentioned in his will. Four hundred marks. It says it is for the rent he owed you. Perhaps you can tell us how we might contact his relatives.”
“I have no idea!”
“But this corpse. What shall we do with it?”
“Why are you asking me these questions?" Sylvia said. "Why don’t you just bury him?”
“That is impossible. The cemeteries here will not accept him. They tell us it is a German problem, not an Italian problem.”
“I’m sorry, but I can not help you. Goodbye!”

* * *

Then she got another call from the Carabinieri. They asked her to come down to the station. They gave her Jurgen’s wallet, his clothing and some little objects of no value. There were a few letters as well.

“Why are you giving me these things?” she asked.
“We cannot keep them, and we may not throw them away,” the Carabinieri replied.

At home she examined the letters. From them she pieced together the circumstances that led to Jurgen’s flight from Stuttgart to Forio, and his subsequent leap, naked, from the highest promontory on the island.

Jurgen became obsessed with a young woman named Gabrielle, who had expensive tastes. He made a good wage as a used car salesman, but nevertheless he realized that it was not enough to keep up with the kind of lifestyle he knew his dear girl had come to expect. One night Gabrielle told Jurgen she was breaking it off with him because it didn’t seem likely that he'd ever get anywhere.

Jurgen had always been a heavy drinker, largely because he was an extraordinarily sensitive man, and he needed to reduce the intensity of the emotions that so often overwhelmed him. So that night he drank himself into a stupor. The next morning, he managed to pull himself together enough to go to work. Jurgen would have called in sick, but the owner was visiting relatives in Berlin.

Around noon a man showed up and, after looking up and down the street, said he wished to buy a car immediately, and would be happy to pay cash. Jurgen showed him a late model Mercedes, which the man said was just perfect.

After the man drove off, Jurgen contemplated the Deutchmarks piled on his desk. He opened the drawer, and uncorked the vodka bottle he’d kept in there for emergencies. The glimmer of an idea sent a shiver into him. Two more deep swallows of the vodka turned that glimmer into a hot flash of light.

He stuffed the bundles of crisp new Deutchmarks into his jacket pockets, left the car lot’s front door unlocked, and went to Gabrielle’s apartment. She reluctantly let him in. He pulled out the money.

“Let’s leave Stuttgart, darling,” Jurgen said, “And begin a new life on a beautiful island I know in Italy.”
Gabrielle’s eyes widened at the sight of the money. He could see she was tempted.
“Where did you get that?” she asked.
He explained. Her eyes became even wider.
“I want no part of thievery!” she shouted. “How could you think I would be a party to a criminal act? Get out!”

Face burning, Jurgen went back to his apartment. He sat down on his couch. And drank more vodka. What would he do now? Perhaps he should just go back to the used car lot, and put the money in the safe. There was still time. His boss would not return from Berlin until the following day.

But then, he thought, what was there for him in that miserable job? He remembered what his boss always called him. “Schnellschwatzer.” Fast-talker. Not at all a respectable term!

Jurgen drank. He wept, and drank more. Then, with a sudden and powerful determination, he rose.


That beautiful island off the coast of southern Italy he had visited on his last holiday. Nobody would ever find him there. He clenched his teeth as he searched for and found his black nylon sports bag. He stuffed in a shirt, a bathing suit, two fresh bottles of vodka. He went to the train terminal, bought a one-way ticket to Naples on a sleeper coach.

And then, still another tragedy. Somewhere in Switzerland, around four in the morning, Jurgen awoke in his berth in the rumbling, swaying car to feel the barrel of a revolver pressed against his nose. A dark-haired man smiled sweetly and said, “You will give me all the money you have, my friend, or I’ll blow your fucking brains out.”

* * *

Sylvia put the letters in a box, and put it on a shelf at the top of the closet. A month later she got still another telephone call. This one from Germany. A magistrate's clerk informed her that disbursements were being made to the beneficiaries in Jurgen's will.

"Your portion is four hundred Marks," the clerk said.
"Fine," Sylvia said. Do you want my address?"
"No, I can not send you the money. You must contact Herr Wollenhoff. Here is his telephone number."

She dialed the number.

"Hallo?" Herr Wollenhoff said.

Sylvia explained what the magistrate's clerk had told her.

"Why do you disturb me with this nonsense?" Wollenhoff shouted. "I will pay you nothing. Leave me in peace."

And he slammed down the phone.

Well, all right, Sylvia thought. To hell with it.

* * *

At the café in the piazza a few weeks later Sylvia told a friend about the bizarre Jurgen episode. When she concluded the story her friend asked her: "Well, what do you think it all means?"

"Two things," Sylvia replied. "One is material and the other is spiritual. Jurgen had extravagant desires. He wanted easy money, he wanted a beautiful girl, everything. What usually takes a long time to achieve, he wanted immediately. Which is, unfortunately, typical of many young people these days. And on the spiritual side, poor Jurgen didn't even know he had a soul. He didn't believe in destiny. Or in deep instincts, even. These young people. They run around in all directions, and in the end they consume themselves.”


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