Excerpt: 'Life After Life'

"Life After Life" by Kate Atkinson (Reagan Arthur/Little, "Life After Life" by Kate Atkinson (Reagan Arthur/Little, Brown; April 2013) Photo Credit: Handout

advertisement | advertise on newsday

November 1930

A fug of tobacco smoke and damp clammy air hit her as she entered the cafe. She had come in from the rain and drops of water still trembled like delicate dew on the fur coats of some of the women inside. A regiment of white-aproned waiters rushed around at tempo, serving the needs of the Munchner at leisure -- coffee, cake and gossip.

He was at a table at the far end of the room, surrounded by the usual cohorts and toadies. There was a woman she had never seen before -- a permed, platinum blonde with heavy makeup -- an actress by the look of her. The blonde lit a cigarette, making a phallic performance out of it. Everyone knew that he preferred his women demure and wholesome, Bavarian preferably. All those dirndls and knee socks, God help us.

The table was laden. Bienenstich, Gugelhupf, Kasekuchen. He was eating a slice of Kirschtorte. He loved his cakes. No wonder he looked so pasty, she was surprised he wasn't diabetic. The softly repellent body (she imagined pastry) beneath the clothes, never exposed to public view. Not a manly man. He smiled when he caught sight of her and half rose, saying, "Guten Tag, gnadiges Fraulein," indicating the chair next to him. The bootlicker who was currently occupying it jumped up and moved away.

"Unsere Englische Freundin," he said to the blonde, who blew cigarette smoke out slowly and examined her without any interest before eventually saying, "Guten Tag." A Berliner.

She placed her handbag, heavy with its cargo, on the floor next to her chair and ordered Schokolade. He insisted that she try the Pflaumen Streusel.

"Es regnet," she said by way of conversation. "It's raining."

advertisement | advertise on newsday

"Yes, it's raining," he said with a heavy accent. He laughed, pleased at his attempt. Everyone else at the table laughed as well. "Bravo," someone said. "Sehr gutes Englisch." He was in a good mood, tapping the back of his index finger against his lips with an amused smile as if he was listening to a tune in his head.

The Streusel was delicious.

"Entschuldigung," she murmured, reaching down into her bag and delving for a handkerchief. Lace corners, monogrammed with her initials, "UBT" -- a birthday present from Pammy. She dabbed politely at the Streusel flakes on her lips and then bent down again to put the handkerchief back in her bag and retrieve the weighty object nesting there. Her father's old service revolver from the Great War, a Webley Mark V.

A move rehearsed a hundred times. One shot. Swiftness was all, yet there was a moment, a bubble suspended in time after she had drawn the gun and leveled it at his heart when everything seemed to stop.

"Fuhrer" she said, breaking the spell. "Fur Sie."

@Newsday

Around the table guns were jerked from holsters and pointed at her. One breath. One shot.

Ursula pulled the trigger.

Darkness fell.

From "Life After Life" by Kate Atkinson. Copyright 2013 by Kate Costello Ltd. Published by Reagan Arthur Books is an imprint of Little, Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

You also may be interested in: