Be careful what you say.
|Smiley had never been to Berlin. He didn't know a word of German. He could have held a more cogent discussion with a horse than with a Berliner, which was only reasonable, since he'd spent most of his thirty three years in the company of horses. They had a mutual understanding unclouded by the confusing clatter of words. He could hold his own in a few bovine dialects too. There were a lot more four-legged conversationalists where he came from, a cattle ranch on the Continental Divide in Wyoming, where a man could pee into a clear cold stream headed for the Pacific and turn around and spit into a stream whose waters were destined for the Atlantic. In short, Smiley was virginally unversed in the ways of the citified human and not a little overwhelmed by the cacophonous din that was Berlin on a Tuesday afternoon.
He was here in the German metropolis at the invitation of the German Cattle Breeders Federation, the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Deutscher Rinderzüchter when it was at home with its lederhosen on. He had humiliated himself attempting to sound that mouthful out a few times back on the ranch, but being the resourceful sort that makes a successful rancher, he was determined to" learn himself" some German. That's where the trouble started.
He was wandering down the Potsdamer Strasse one morning with his leather briefcase, newly acquired for this trip. He was looking for a Deutsche Bank so he could replenish his wallet, which had undergone rapid deflation in the local bierstubes and schnitzel houses since his arrival three days ago. The misty remnants of a hopsy fog obscured his brain, normally as clear and bright as a Yellowstone morning. Suddenly a well-dressed man with an attaché case darted out of the throng of pedestrians on the sidewalk, nearly ran him down, and piled into the back seat of a brown Mercedes that was sitting at the curb with its door ajar. As he reached out to grab the door handle, a crumpled piece of paper fell from his hand. The car leapt out into the traffic trailing a cloud of blue smoke as he slammed the door.
For no good reason other than that it had landed on his boot, Smiley picked up the paper. Smoothing it out, he saw a note in what appeared to be German. He would never have remembered the words except for the havoc they were about to create:
" Ich habe eine geladene Waffe. Sagen Sie jeden hier, auf dem Fußboden zu lügen, und sie werden nicht verletzt. Füllen Sie diesen Fall mit großen Rechnungen und hinlegen."
"Great!", he thought, " I can practice my German." He continued on his way to the bank, sounding out the contorted syllables in his mind. He found the building, went in and got in line. The bank was busy, the huge mezzanine crowded with people in serious discussion. Creeping slowly to the head of the queue, he continued to quietly recite the words. By the time he got there, he had mastered the phrases, so he figured he would try them out on the young female clerk and then ask her to translate them for him. A slick way to meet a beautiful young German fraulein, he thought.
He sauntered casually up to the teller, as only a cowboy can, set his case and Stetson on the counter, grinned, and spoke his words to her, clearly and, as it turns out, with perfect pronunciation. Adverse consequences ensued. Or, as they say in Wyoming, that horse began to swap ends.
The woman stared at him in horror, turned white, and yelled loudly enough that everyone in the building could hear. Smiley was startled. Behind him, all conversation stopped as suddenly as if he had been struck deaf. Except that he knew that hadn't happened because the next thing he heard was the sound of a hundred bodies hitting the floor, a collective grunt. He turned slowly in a complete circle; his grin slipped. The only people left standing in the bank were him and the cashier, and she didn't look to be standing for much longer. "Some strange German custom, like that Mexican siesta thing?", he wondered, "Should I lie down too?"
When the young lady nervously flipped open his shiny new briefcase and started to fill it with money, he was really confused. He only wanted a couple hundred dollars worth of Euros, and he hadn't even asked for that yet. He began to suspect that something had gone seriously inside out; his horse sense told him he was shortly going to get more German practice than he bargained for. He heard the peculiar ice-cream truck sounds of police sirens and turned to look outside. When he turned back to ask the young cashier what the heck was going on, she had disappeared. He could hear sobbing from somewhere under the counter.
It only got worse. The bank doors burst open and about twenty blue-uniformed policemen, armed to the teeth, poured in. To make a long story short, they didn't shoot him, partly because he looked so confused and harmless, but mostly because they were all John Wayne fans and couldn't believe a cowboy with a white Stetson could do any wrong. Back at the station, a policeman who spoke perfect English sorted the affair out. They had chased a Mercedes and caught the man who had robbed the bank down the block just an hour earlier. He also translated into English the crumpled note that Smiley had picked up:
" I have a loaded weapon. Tell everyone here to lie on the floor and they won't be hurt. Fill this case with big bills and lie down."
Smiley enjoyed the rest of the trip and returned to Wyoming, where he resolved that if he ever again received an invitation to a cattleman's convention that came from further afield than Iowa, he would feed it to his goat.