14 Aug 2000. Kraków.
Barna Áron, Grant William, and Wojo, led by Maks, made their first foray into the walled Old City, the central core of Kraków.
Sister Basia accompanied them. She was intent on visiting St. Mary’s Basilica, and getting quarters in the associated building complex.
Áron wore his Bundeswehr uniform, William his American fatigues, and the two Poles, a nondescript mish-mash of military gear. They were only allowed sidearms and blades past the checkpoints into the old city.
The central market square was dominated by the Ratusz building, where the city council met. Surrounding the building were merchants selling a wide variety of goods. Bicycles, baked goods, refurbished devices, lots of old tech now relevant, clothes/shoes (handmade and repairs), pharmaceuticals, wine/vodka, and so much more.
Applicants for residency were lined up outside Ratusz building, watched by ORMO troops. The city guard could be seen everywhere.
The party saw a few soldiers wearing Soviet uniforms. They even saw a couple of soldiers with unfamiliar uniforms and assault rifles, being led by an ORMO officer. But no Americans as yet.
They soon found themselves surrounded by a group of urchins, asking them questions, begging for money, and asking for candy. Maks spotted one older child trying to pickpocket Áron, and swatted him on the head. Turned out this was their leader, Adi. Maks convinced him they’d profit more by working for them. He flipped them a gold coin, and Áron bought them a huge bag of homemade candy to share. Adi mentioned that word around town was that a few Americans had been murdered, and the ORMO was investigating.
Remembering that Henryk Rapacki, the wealthy trader, had told them back in Raciborz to look him up when they made it to Kraków, they asked around for his office They located the building off the square, and made an appointment two days hence.
The kids found them again. Adi told Maks that a guy was following the party. Maks praised him and gave him a gold and another bag of candy, telling Adi to continue watching the tail.
The party accompanied Sister Basia to St. Mary’s Basilica. It was breathtaking. Inside, the vaulted ceilings far overhead were painted a dark blue with stars. One could be forgiven for thinking they were looking up into the heavens. Soon Sister Basia returned with the priest. Maks gave him the large bag of incense (that they’d recovered from the catacombs under the Jasna Gora monastery). Father was immensely grateful, as incense was difficult to acquire these days. He offered them quarters in the administration wing.
The party then moved on to the Na Zdrowie bar, reputed to be an excellent place to meet people in town. Inside, it was large and poorly lit by lanterns. In the far corner, a man played a piano, and a beautiful woman accompanied with a sultry ballad in English. A pair played chess at a table, and a couple of businessmen discussed matters over drinks in a booth.
The party chose a booth in the opposite corner. The bartender, one Adam Rataj, introduced himself, pleased to see an American. Adam had lived in Chicago for years, before returning to his native Poland before the war. Off to get their drinks, he left.
The singer ended her song, and visited the party at their table. She was Tanya Weiss, an Israeli far from home, and seemed to be taken with Barna Áron. After some conversation, and some significant looks at Áron, she returned to her singing.
A woman came into the bar. She first approached the businessmen, asked them something, and showing a photo. Then she stopped by the party’s table. Seeing William, she spoke English with an Eastern European accent, showing a photo of an American soldier. “Have you seen this man? You may know him as Sgt. Randolph Cutler.”
Apparently, her name was Lydia, and her fiance was missing for 5 days now. The party said no, but they’d watch out for him. Maks asked her how he’d affirm to Cutler that he’d indeed spoken with Lydia, and she said “Reset. Tell him that.”
She continued around the bar. Apparently, he was known there, but hadn’t been around lately. When Adam returned with the drinks, he looked bemused. “How many girlfriends does that man have? I thought him and Lucja that works here were an item.”
When Lydia was talking with the chess players, Maks made an odd recognition. The chess player facing him was none other than a Russian junior officer he’d run into back when they were undercover in the Soviet division base. Except now, he wasn’t wearing a uniform, and was speaking English, with a German accent. Adam said he was Lt. Schneider.
Lydia had left. Unnerved, Maks hoped “Schneider” hadn’t noticed him, and made a discreet departure out the bar’s exit. He took a shaded position at an outside table. Adi, the leader of the urchins, found him out there, told him the man that had been following the party had met a woman outside… who matched the description of Lydia, Sgt Cutler’s supposed wife-to-be.
Trying to sort out all these relations, Maks was soon joined by the rest of the party outside. Sister Basia emerged from the Basilica nearby. She – normally of stoic disposition – was positively elated now.
Excitedly, she told Maks and friends, “He’s HERE! I can’t believe it. HE’S HERE!!”
Maks, bewildered, “I don’t understand. Who is here?!”
Sister Basia, positively aglow, in a hushed voice: “The Pope is here in Kraków. John Paul II is at Wawel Cathedral. I will see him later today.” The Polish Pope was making one last visit to his cherished Wawel Cathedral, before making the long journey back to the Vatican in Rome.
Maks turned to his crew. “Well, boys, do you suppose we could find anybody better to present the Black Madonna?”
The Free City of Krakow
1985 … William H. Keith, Jr. … 44 pages … GDW 501