This is a sort-of prequel to a much, much longer "Cabaret" fic that I've been working on with my friend Steph (Stephy-Lou Clark-Weasley on here) since May 2010. That longer fic takes place from 1930 onwards in Berlin's infamous Kit Kat Klub, centering around how the demise of the Weimar Republic and the rise of the National Socialist party affects those who work at the Klub.
This fic takes place ten years before that, in late February 1920, and centers around one very significant character.
There will be more of these shorter fics eventually, each one exploring how the characters came to find themselves in Berlin - and, more specifically, how they came to work at the Klub.
You need no previous knowledge of the film "Cabaret" or the musical, or the books they were based on. It might help, but equally not knowing the source material won't hinder your understanding of what's going on here.
He should have known that something was going on when the Master of Ceremonies took him aside after the show the previous evening to ask if he could come into the club for a little while the next day, He'd agreed, of course; you didn't argue with the M.C. if you wanted to keep your job - or your dignity intact - even if that meant sacrificing your one day off that week, for reasons that had yet to be explained to you.
It wasn't quite midday when he set foot inside the Kit Kat Klub, but because it was February the sun hung low in the sky and the air chilled him even though he had his coat wrapped tightly around his body. As the night had yet to fall the cabaret could not cast its spell upon him like it did when he was there with the rest of the performers and the feeling of being onstage intoxicated him. But that feeling was still nothingcompared to the spell they cast night after night upon their delightfully easily led audience.
With easy familiarity he crossed the room to the door that led backstage, walking down the dark corridor and then up the stairs that led to the M.C.'s flat. His knuckles rapped softly against the hard wood of the door and the slightly reedy voice of his superior answered him, instructing him to enter.
The Master of Ceremonies was a slight, small man. He looked perfectly normal now, but when he was made up for the performances his features bordered on grotesque. He sat at the dressing table in front of the mirror, the surface of which was covered with make-up and manuscript paper with numerous lyrics and musical notes littered across each loose leaf of it.
"Guten Morgen, mein Herr." He was still standing by the door when he spoke, and the Master of Ceremonies fixed him with a look that he was more than used to being on the receiving end of. He was sizing him up, gauging his mood - although it certainly wouldn't take much analysis to figure out that this situation was both confusing and unnerving the younger man in equal measures.
"I suppose you would like me to get straight to the point, ja?" There was a glint of laughter in the M.C.'s eyes as he stood up.
He spoke English with a heavy German accent. The performers here at the club had realised many years ago - possibly even before the M.C. arrived - that even though their clientele at the time were almost exclusively German speaking, their line up of performers was not. More often than not English was the only common ground that some of them had linguistically, so someone had decided that to save a great deal of both time and misunderstandings, English should be the main language spoken backstage. The habit had stuck, even with new members being added to the troupe as the years went by. In fact the habit had stuck so forcefully that it was now rare to hear a full conversation being held in any language other than English between the staff at the nightclub.
"That would be nice, yes." He agreed quietly, knowing that his opinion was probably more or less redundant at this point because if the M.C. didn't want to make his intentions clear straight away then he most certainly wouldn't.
"Sadly I cannot give you that comfort. Follow me."
The smaller man moved past him and led him out of the door again, doing absolutely nothing to reassure him in the process. The two men worked their way back down the stairs and out into the club, but they didn't come to a stop until they had also ascended one of the spiral staircases at the side of the stage and were standing on the balcony above it where during the shows the performers also acted as their orchestra when they were not down on the main stage (along with a few extra musicians for when all of the cabaret boys and girls were required for a particular number).
"How long have you been working here for now?" The M.C. asked him after a moment.
"Three years, mein Herr."
"Funny," He mused. "It feels like you've been here much longer. You understand the cabaret much better than most of the others do - not just the art of it, but the mythos and the mystique of it all, too."
He gave off the air of a king surveying his great kingdom as his beady eyes gazed across the cabaret - the red lamps in the centre of each table were dark, with the chairs stacked both around the lamps on top of the tables and at the sides of the room. The lack of people in the usually bustling room was a little eerie.
"It isn't just a show we put on here every night. It's an escape - for us as much as our audience, ja? Whenever the economy is in ruins we become busier than ever. When everyone is depressed it is terrible for just about everything except cabaret - when they step through that door whatever troubles they have are not brought inside. And we, we performers are much more dangerous than all of these crazed fanatics decorating the papers with their political ramblings - for we are satirists, the most dangerous politicians of all! We set them up for a fall from grace from a very great height, do we not?"
Those inquisitive eyes were turned on him at this point.
"But I don't need to tell you all of this, do I? You know it all already. You knew it the moment you stepped through those doors for the first time. It only took you two nights of observing us to ask for a job, if I recall correctly. And how on earth could I have denied a divine specimen like you a place here? You didn't want to be here for the money or the glamour or some small, fleeting glimpse of fame like some of the others - no, you do this for the sheer thrill of it. For the . . . Intoxicationof it all."
There was a very long pause as they looked at the deserted room.
"I am not a young man anymore, nor am I a particularly well man. I love this cabaret more than I have ever loved any person, but I cannot continue to keep such a tight grip on it or else I will destroy it. It needs new life - new passion or else it will wither and die like so much else in this world does. The time has come for me to move on, and as such this club will need someone else to watch over it. The audience will need someone else to enrapture them and my boys and girls will need someone else to lead them." He turned his body so that he was fully facing the stunned cabaret boy who was standing by his side. "The only person that I want - the only person that I will allow - to take my place on that stage is you."
"But M.C. -" His protest was cut dead in an instant.
"Think of the other boys who stand down there on that stage with you every night. Do you truthfully believe that one of them would be better suited to the position? Do you believe that they could steer this cabaret relatively unharmed through any and all catastrophes that come its way?"
It seemed that the resulting silence that engulfed the pair was enough for him.
"I will tell the others after the show tomorrow night. My final show will be on Saturday, and you will move into the flat above here next Sunday."
And that, it seemed, was the end of it.
"What do you mean you're retiring?" Petra, one of the cabaret girls, choked on the smoke from her cigarette.
"This has to be a joke, M.C.," One of the cabaret boys, Luka, shook his head. "Him as your successor? Apart from Ada he's been here for the least amount of time!"
"Which is why he has yet to become as jaded as the pair of you!" The Master of Ceremonies glared them down. "If you question my judgement then please, you know where the door is."
The room was silent as each of the performers looked at each other.
"No one?" He seemed satisfied with this. "Then I shall continue. You will all spend your rehearsal time this week adjusting our routines for after I am gone - and Sunday afternoon, if needs be. My final performance will be on Saturday night and you will be performing with your new Master of Ceremonies on Monday night. Have I made myself perfectly clear?"
"Yes, mein Herr." They chorused after an awkward pause.
"Good. I have every faith in you all being ready by the end of the week, just as I have every faith in him."
The week of rehearsing and preparing passed in a blur and before he knew it, it was his final night as a cabaret boy. After this he would be the Master of Ceremonies, and although the rehearsals had gone well the reluctance of some of his fellow performers to accept this change had been playing on his mind.
Luka was only jealous because he was currently the longest serving cabaret boy, but his cocky attitude was what had prevented him from ever being favoured by the M.C. Petra was much the same, and Ada had sided with her simply because the two of them were joined at the hip. He was half convinced that they shared only half a brain between both of their heads. Thankfully the others were either indifferent to or satisfied with the change in their line up - if any more people had disagreed then they could have had a mutiny on their hands.
Jealous co-workers aside, he was feeling a lot better about his sudden promotion than he had been when he found out about it. The rehearsals had gone well - more than well, if he was being honest. The Master of Ceremonies was thrilled with him, and he had picked up the songs and the routines by Wednesday morning.
His landlady, Fräulein Schneider, had been bizarrely pleased for him when he had told her of his promotion amongst the ranks of the cabaret. Even after he had informed her that he would be moving out at the end of the week.
She was a strange woman, Fräulein Schneider. She outwardly disapproved of anything considered remotely scandalous (as anything to do with the Kit Kat Klub usually was), but she adored most of the performers who lodged with her and would listen to their ridiculous stories - nearly all of which were true - eagerly. She had even been known to mend tattered costumes when one of the girls was desperate. Of course, her joy for him could have had a lot to do with the fact that he'd given her a week's notice - a courtesy not many of her tenants ever paid her - and had insisted on paying his rent for the next month in advance, even though he didn't need to. He might have worked in one of Berlin's most infamous nightclubs, but he could still be a gentleman if and when the need arose.
He spent the Saturday afternoon perfecting his new costume. It was certainly different to the one the current Master of Ceremonies wore. That was what he was bothered about really, he wanted to distance himself from his predecessor the moment he stepped out on the stage on Monday night. It would do neither him nor the cabaret any good in the long run if he tried to make himself into an exact replica of the man he was replacing - and that would never have worked anyway.
And then it was over. The end of an era, the closing of a book. A new dawn. But it was . . . Anticlimactic, in a way. After the show was over that night the Master of Ceremonies made what was something like a repeat of his earlier speech before handing the title, the job and the responsibilities that it entailed over to him. The other performers were subdued, recognising the significance of this night and wondering how things would play out from this point.
He knew the significance too, and some part of him feared it.
The next day, helped by one of the other residents of the boarding house, he moved his belongings into the flat above the club. The M.C. had disappeared without a trace, it seemed, and the cabaret was now truly his. He pottered around the flat for an hour or so, smoking as he unpacked, and then went down to stand on the stage and survey his kingdom.
He had been down there for a little while when the owner of the building - his new landlord, to all intents and purposes, came in. They had always got on relatively well, he and Maximillian von Heune, and Max had been almost thankful that it wasn't one of the other boys who had gotten the job.
He went down and sat at the bar with Max, offering him a cigarette. The two men discussed the tedious, niggling details of their arrangement. It could have been much worse, of course. If Max hadn't trusted him he would have had to deal with almost daily visits from the man to make sure that the club hadn't burned to the ground. But Max did trust him - as much as was necessary, anyway - and so the arrangement between the cub owner and the Master of Ceremonies remained much the same as it had been beforehand. Max would look in semi-regularly to check that everything was as it should be, but other than that he would leave well enough alone.
After Maximillian had gone the newly-titled Master of Ceremonies lit another cigarette and stayed sitting at the bar. He mused over his new position, the changes he could make and the way things would be from now on.
He exhaled a plume of cigarette smoke, murmuring quietly to the empty room.
"Ich bin euer Confrecier, je suis votre compere - I am your host." A faint smile formed on his face. "The Master of Ceremonies. The M.C."
But no, that didn't sound right. Whenever they had called the previous Master of Ceremonies by that name the two separate letters had always been very distinct. It had fitted him, somehow, that defined way of pronouncing it. It did not, however, suit his successor.
"The M.C." Trying it again didn't make it sound any better. He pursed his lips around the cigarette, muttering those two initials so that they came out fluid and almost slurred. Emcee.
"The Emcee." His smile was back again.
Yes. That would do.
Author's note: The Master of Ceremonies we are first introduced to is based on Joel Grey's performance as the Emcee in the film version of Cabaret. His successor is based on Alan Cumming's performance in the 1993 West End and 1998 Broadway revivals of the stage version.