Katerina Hagen

Katerina Hagen had been a member of the Baader-Meinhoff gang for three months in 1973, when she was a university student. She hadn't really known at the time that it was the Baader-Meinhoff gang.

At an antiwar meeting, she had met a man ten years older and they had become lovers. He had sampled her radicalism and her impetuous anger at the system. When he was really sure of her, he had, without telling her in full who he was, what he did or even where he lived, asked her to assassinate a low-level foreign policy official.

She had agreed, though she wasn't really sure she would go through with it. He gave her an untraceable .38 automatic and for weeks they rehearsed in her dormitory room. He played the victim. He would walk a few paces in the tiny room and she would approach from the side, hold the unloaded gun to the side of his head and pull the trigger. He didn't play-act death, but would slowly lie down so she could practice shooting him a second time. She would drop the gun on a cushion they placed on the floor (to avoid making a thump that might attract attention) and walk away.

He took her to a public meeting where she saw her intended victim; he had also given her a Polaroid of the portly, balding little man. He drove her past the man's mistress's apartment; she would not have to shoot him anywhere where his wife or small children might see.

After three months, he told her that it was time but there had been a change of plan. He would not drive her there and away as he had promised. Instead, he brought her a car which she assumed had been stolen. She had not driven very much in her life, so she insisted that he spend an hour or two giving her a remedial driving lesson. Katerina could tell he was furious at the unpremeditated risk of driving around with her in a stolen car. She understood then that he had never planned to drive her to the place of the attack.

At five thirty in the morning she was in place, parked across the avenue from the apartment and standing by the car. It was February and she was very cold, blowing on her mittened hands. Right on schedule, the ugly official came out of the building and walked down the sidewalk, and she crossed the street still not knowing whether she would shoot him. Completely contradicting her lover's behavior in the rehearsal, he didn't ignore her but as she approached from the side, turned to her with a smile and addressed some flirtatious remark she couldn't hear. Perhaps he thought she was a prostitute. When she held the gun to his head, he could have saved his life by struggling or running away; he was shorter but much heavier and stronger than she was. Instead, he stood perfectly still, his eyes flicking this way and that, probably looking for the men he expected would abduct him. She shot him. She didn't remember ever deciding to pull the trigger, nor could she say that she had had an involuntary spasm in her finger, as the trigger was heavy and not easy to pull. He fell, his eyes turned away, and she shot him a second time, dropped the gun in a snowbank, returned to the car, drove it away and left it in a large municipal parking lot as her lover had instructed.

She thought she might not have shot him the first time if he hadn't looked at her flirtatiously. She would not have shot him the second time if his eyes had still been on her.

She took a bus back to her dormitory and her lover was nowhere to be found. He never contacted her again and she returned to the normal routines of her life. A few months later, he was killed instantly in a shootout with the police, and she read about it in the paper. She dropped out of the radical groups whose meetings she had previously attended and never sought out any new activist connections. She got her degree and took up a job teaching in a primary school. She was never arrested, never interrogated or even investigated by the police as far as she knew.

She thought about the killing almost every day, but increasingly in a very detached way, as if it were a story about someone else's life. She was sorry she had done it but it had happened so cleanly and without consequences that it didn't really seem to her to be something for which she could be called into account. Given what the world was like in 1973, she sometimes told herself, most people would have done what she did if they had been in her shoes.

She had a few nightmares about it, especially in the early years. More often, she would wake up at night feeling sorry for the two children who had lost their father, or the wife who had been informed that the lying husband who she thought was away on a trip had been shot in the same city outside another woman's apartment. However, when various American radicals who had been involved in ancient killings turned themselves in after fifteen and twenty years of quiet existence, Katerina could not understand it. There was something particularly dramatic or overwrought about such people. She had no feelings so powerful that she would be led to confess to a crime for which she had so completely evaded responsibility.

In their few hours together, Ken Copeland told her the story of how he had almost proposed marriage to Donna Rae. Katerina didn't like the story, and liked even less the American-style instant approach to intimacy. Just because she was about to sleep with him didn't mean she wanted to hear his life story. Katerina thought he was sexy and appealing, but talked too much and drank too much. She almost decided not to go up to his room with him, but he was goodlooking and clean and clearly not dangerous and her last chance to hook up with someone before leaving for Athens in the morning.

In twenty years, she had rarely had another relationship with a man as long, and never one as intense, as the 1973 relationship with the killer-lover. When Ken told her private matters about himself, and (after sleeping with her) when he practically begged her to change her plans and spend a few days with him, she thought he was a man who could fall in love with her very easily. She considered staying with him; the friend in Athens would understand. There weren't so many really nice available men these days. But Katerina was long used to her solitude, and she could neither imagine telling a man about the killing or living with one and never telling him. She didn't want anyone else to have the power over her brought by such knowledge, and she didn't want to fear that in a moment of weakness she would give him that power. So she kissed him and said that she couldn't change her plans, gave Ken a nice smile and went back to her room and her life.