A Quiet Flame
Para los desaparecidos
BUENOS AIRES, 1950
THE BOAT WAS THE SS Giovanni, which seemed only appropriate given the fact that at least three of its passengers, including myself, had been in the SS. It was a medium-sized boat with two funnels, a view of the sea, a well-stocked bar, and an Italian restaurant. This was fine if you liked Italian food, but after four weeks at sea at eight knots, all the way from Genoa, I didn’t like it and I wasn’t sad to get off. Either I’m not much of a sailor or there was something else wrong with me other than the company I was keeping these days.
We steamed into the port of Buenos Aires along the gray River Plate, and this gave me and my two fellow travelers a chance to reflect upon the proud history of our invincible German navy. Somewhere at the bottom of the river, near Montevideo, lay the wreck of the Graf Spee, a pocket battleship that had been invincibly scuttled by its commander in December 1939, to prevent it from falling into the hands of the British. As far as I knew, this was as near as the war ever came to Argentina.
In the North Basin we docked alongside the customs house. A modern city of tall concrete buildings lay spread out to the west of us, beyond the miles of rail track and the warehouses and the stockyards where Buenos Aires got started-as a place where cattle from the Argentine pampas arrived by train and were slaughtered on an industrial scale. So far, so German. But then the carcasses were frozen and shipped all over the world. Exports of Argentine beef had made the country rich and transformed Buenos Aires into the third-largest city in the Americas, after New York and Chicago.
The three million population called themselves portenos-people of the port-which sounds pleasantly romantic. My two friends and I called ourselves refugees, which sounds better than fugitives. But that’s what we were. Rightly or wrongly, there was a kind of justice awaiting all of us back in Europe, and our Red Cross passports concealed our true identities. I was no more Dr. Carlos Hausner than Adolf Eichmann was Ricardo Klement, or Herbert Kuhlmann was Pedro Geller. This was fine with the Argentines. They didn’t care who we were or what we’d done during the war. Even so, on that cool and damp winter morning in July 1950, it seemed there were still certain official proprieties to be observed.
An immigration clerk and a customs officer came aboard the ship, and as each passenger presented documents, they asked questions. If these two didn’t care who we were or what we’d done, they did a good job giving us the opposite impression. The mahogany-faced immigration clerk regarded Eichmann’s flimsy-looking passport and then Eichmann himself as if both had arrived from the center of a cholera epidemic. This wasn’t so far from the truth. Europe was only just recovering from an illness called Nazism that had killed more than fifty million people.
“Profession?” the clerk asked Eichmann.
Eichmann’s meat cleaver of a face twitched nervously. “Technician,” he said, and mopped his brow with a handkerchief. It wasn’t hot, but Eichmann seemed to feel a different kind of heat from that felt by anyone else I ever met.
Meanwhile, the customs official, who smelled like a cigar factory, turned to me. His nostrils flared as if he could smell the money I was carrying in my bag, and then he lifted his cracked lip off his bamboo teeth in what passed for a smile in that line of work. I had about thirty thousand Austrian schillings in that bag, which was a lot of money in Austria, but not so much money when it was converted into real money. I didn’t expect him to know that. In my experience, customs officials can do almost anything they want except be generous or forgiving when they catch sight of large quantities of currency.
“What’s in the bag?” he asked.
“Clothes. Toiletries. Some money.”
“Would you mind showing me?”
“No,” I said, minding very much. “I don’t mind at all.”
I heaved the bag onto a trestle table and was just about to unbuckle it when a man hurried up the ship’s gangway, shouting something in Spanish and then, in German, “It’s all right. I’m sorry I’m late. There’s no need for all this formality. There’s been a misunderstanding. Your papers are quite in order. I know because I prepared them myself.”
He said something else in Spanish about the three of us being important visitors from Germany, and immediately the attitude of the two officials changed. Both men came to attention. The immigration clerk facing Eichmann handed him back his passport, clicked his heels, and then gave Europe’s most wanted man the Hitler salute with a loud “Heil Hitler” that everyone on deck must have heard.
Eichmann turned several shades of red and, like a giant tortoise, shrank a little into the collar of his coat, as if he wished he might disappear. Kuhlmann and I laughed out loud, enjoying Eichmann’s embarrassment and discomfort as he snatched back his passport and stormed down the gangway and onto the quay. We were still laughing as we joined Eichmann in the back of a big black American car with a sign, VIANORD, displayed in the windshield.
“I don’t think that was in the least bit funny,” said Eichmann.
“Sure you don’t,” I said. “That’s what makes it so funny.”
“You should have seen your face, Ricardo,” said Kuhlmann. “What on earth possessed him to say that, of all things? And to you, of all people?” Kuhlmann started to laugh again. “Heil Hitler, indeed.”
“I thought he made a pretty good job of it,” I said. “For an amateur.”
Our host, who had jumped into the driver’s seat, now turned around to shake our hands. “I’m sorry about that,” he told Eichmann. “Some of these officials are just pig-ignorant. In fact, the words we have for pig and public official are the same. Chanchos. We call them both chanchos. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that idiot believes Hitler is still the German leader.”
“God, I wish he was,” murmured Eichmann, rolling his eyes into the roof of the car. “How I wish he was.”
“My name is Horst Fuldner,” said our host. “But my friends in Argentina call me Carlos.”
“Small world,” I said. “That’s what my friends in Argentina call me. Both of them.”
Some people came down the gangway and peered inquisitively through the passenger window at Eichmann.
“Can we get away from here?” he asked. “Please.”
“Better do as he says, Carlos,” I said. “Before someone recognizes Ricardo here and telephones David Ben-Gurion.”
“You wouldn’t joke about that if you were in my shoes,” said Eichmann. “The soaps would stop at nothing to kill me.”
Fuldner started the car and Eichmann relaxed visibly as we drove smoothly away.
“Since you mentioned the soaps,” said Fuldner, “it’s worth discussing what to do if any of you is recognized.”
“Nobody’s going to recognize me,” Kuhlmann said. “Besides, it’s the Canadians who want me, not the Jews.”
“All the same,” said Fuldner, “I’ll say it anyway. After the Spanish and the Italians, the soaps are the country’s largest ethnic group. Only we call them los rusos, on account of the fact that most of the ones who are here came to get away from the Russian czar’s pogrom.”
“Which one?” Eichmann asked.
“How do you mean?”
“There were three pogroms,” said Eichmann. “One in 1821, one between 1881 and 1884, and a third that got started 1903. The Kishinev pogrom.”
“Ricardo knows everything about Jews,” I said. “Except how to be nice to them.”
“Oh, I should think, the most recent pogrom,” said Fuldner.
“It figures,” said Eichmann, ignoring me. “The Kishinev was the worst.”
“That’s when most of them came to Argentina, I think. There are as many as a quarter of a million Jews here in Buenos Aires. They live in three main neighborhoods, which I advise you to steer clear of. Villa Crespo along Corrientes, Belgrano, and Once. If you think you are recognized, don’t lose your head, don’t make a scene. Keep calm. Cops here are heavy-handed and none too bright. Like that chancho on the boat. If there’s any kind of trouble, they’re liable to arrest you and the Jew who thinks he’s recognized you.”
“So there’s not much chance of a pogrom here, then?” observed Eichmann.
“Lord, no,” said Fuldner.
“Thank goodness,” said Kuhlmann. “I’ve had enough of all that nonsense.”
“We haven’t had anything like that since what’s called Tragic Week. And even that was mostly political. Anarchists, you know. Back in 1919.”
“Anarchists, Bolsheviks, Jews, they’re all the same animal,” said Eichmann, who had become unusually talkative.
“Of course, during the last war, the government issued an order forbidding all Jewish immigration to Argentina. But more recently things have changed. The Americans have put pressure on Peron to soften our Jewish policy. To let them come and settle here. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were more Jews on that boat than anyone else.”
“That’s a comforting thought,” said Eichmann.
“It’s all right,” insisted Fuldner. “You’re quite safe here. Portenos don’t give a damn about what happened in Europe. Least of all to the Jews. Besides, nobody believes half of what’s been in the English-language papers and on the newsreels.”
“Half would be quite bad enough,” I murmured. It was enough to push a stick through the spokes of a conversation I was starting to dislike. But mostly it was just Eichmann I disliked. I much preferred the other Eichmann. The one who had spent the last four weeks saying almost nothing, and keeping his loathsome opinions to himself. It was too soon to have much of an opinion about Carlos Fuldner.
From the back of his well-oiled head I judged Fuldner to be around forty. His German was fluent but with a little soft color on the edges of the tones. To speak the language of Goethe and Schiller, you have to stick your vowels in a pencil sharpener. He liked to talk, that much was evident. He wasn’t tall and he wasn’t good-looking, but then he wasn’t short or ugly either, just ordinary, in a good suit, with good manners, and a nice manicure. I got another look at him when he pulled up at a level crossing and turned around to offer us some cigarettes. His mouth was wide and sensuous, his eyes were lazy but intelligent, and his forehead was as high as a church cupola. If you’d been casting a movie, you’d have picked him to play a priest, or a lawyer, or maybe a hotel manager. He snapped his thumb on a Dunhill, lit his cigarette, then began telling us about himself. That was fine by me. Now that we were no longer talking about Jews, Eichmann stared out of the window and looked bored. But I’m the kind who listens politely to stories about my redeemer. After all, that’s why my mother sent me to Sunday school.
“I was born here, in Buenos Aires, to German immigrants,” said Fuldner. “But for a while, we went back to live in Germany, in Kassel, where I went to school. After school I worked in Hamburg. Then, in 1932, I joined the SS and was a captain before being seconded to the SD to run an intelligence operation back here in Argentina. Since the war I and a few others have been running Vianord-a travel agency dedicated to helping our old comrades to escape from Europe. Of course, none of it would be possible without the help of the president and his wife, Eva. It was during Evita’s trip to Rome, in 1947, to meet the pope, that she began to see the necessity of giving men such as you a fresh start in life.”
“So there’s still some anti-Semitism in the country, after all,” I remarked.
Kuhlmann laughed, and so did Fuldner. But Eichmann remained silent.
“It’s good to be with Germans again,” said Fuldner. “Humor is not a national characteristic of the Argentines. They’re much too concerned with their dignity to laugh at very much, least of all themselves.”
“They sound a lot like fascists,” I said.
“That’s another thing. Fascism here is only skin-deep. The Argentines don’t have the will or the inclination to be proper fascists.”
“Maybe I’m going to like it here more than I thought,” I said.
“Really,” exclaimed Eichmann.
“Don’t mind me, Herr Fuldner,” I said. “I’m not quite as rabid as our friend here wearing the bow tie and glasses, that’s all. He’s still in denial. To do with all kinds of things. For all I know, he still holds fast to the idea that the Third Reich is going to last for a thousand years.”
“You mean it isn’t?”
“Must you make a joke about everything, Hausner?” Eichmann’s tone was testy and impatient.
“I only make jokes about the things that strike me as funny,” I said. “I wouldn’t dream of making a joke about something really important. Not and risk upsetting you, Ricardo.”
I felt Eichmann’s eyes burning into my cheek, and when I turned to face him, his mouth went thin and puritanical. For a moment he continued staring at me with the air of one who wished it was down the sights of a rifle.
“What are you doing here, Herr Doktor Hausner?”
“The same thing as you, Ricardo. I’m getting away from it all.”
“Yes, but why? Why? You don’t seem like much of a Nazi.”
“I’m the beefsteak kind. Brown on the outside only. Inside I’m really quite red.”
Eichmann stared out the window as if he couldn’t bear to look at me for a minute longer.
“I could use a good steak,” murmured Kuhlmann.
“Then you’ve come to the right place,” said Fuldner. “In Germany a steak is a steak, but here it’s a patriotic duty.”
We were still driving through the dockyards. Most of the names on the bonded warehouses and oil tanks were British or American: Oakley Watling, Glasgow Wire, Wainwright Brothers, Ingham Clark, English Electric, Crompton Parkinson, and Western Telegraph. In front of a big, open warehouse a dozen rolls of newsprint the size of hayricks were turning to pulp in the early-morning rain. Laughing, Fuldner pointed them out.
“There,” he said, almost triumphantly. “That’s Peronism in action. Peron doesn’t close down opposition newspapers or arrest their editors. He doesn’t even stop them from having newsprint. He just makes sure that by the time it reaches them the newsprint isn’t fit to use. You see, Peron has all the major labor unions in his pocket. That’s your Argentine brand of fascism, right there.”
BUENOS AIRES, 1950
BUENOS AIRES LOOKED and smelled like any European capital city before the war. As we drove through the busy streets, I wound down the window and took a deep, euphoric breath of exhaust fumes, cigar smoke, coffee, expensive cologne, cooked meat, fresh fruit, flowers, and money. It was like returning to earth after a journey into space. Germany, with its rationing and war damage and guilt and Allied tribunals, seemed a million miles away. In Buenos Aires there was lots of traffic because there was lots of petrol. The carefree people were well dressed and well fed, because the shops were full of clothes and food. Far from being a remote backwater, Buenos Aires was almost a Belle Epoque throwback. Almost.
The safe house was at Calle Monasterio 1429 in the Florida district. Fuldner said Florida was the smartest part of Buenos Aires, but you wouldn’t have known it from the inside of the safe house. The outside was shielded by a carapace of overgrown pine trees, and it was called a safe house probably because, from the street, you wouldn’t have known it was there at all. Inside, you knew it was there but wished it weren’t. The kitchen was rustic. The ceiling fans were just rusty. The wallpaper in all the rooms was yellow, although not by design, and the furniture looked as if it was trying to return to nature. Poisonous, half decayed, vaguely fungal, it was the kind of house that belonged in a bottle of formaldehyde.
I was shown to a bedroom with a broken shutter, a threadbare rug, and a brass bed with a mattress as thin as a slice of rye bread and about as comfortable. Through the grimy, cobwebbed window I looked out onto a little garden overgrown with jasmine, ferns, and vines. There was a small fountain that hadn’t worked in a while: a cat had littered several kittens in it, right underneath a copper waterspout that was as green as the cat’s eyes. But it wasn’t all bad news. At least I had my own bathroom. The bathtub was full of old books, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t take a bath in it. I like to read when I’m in the bath.
Another German was already staying there. His face was red and puffy and there were bags under his eyes like a naval cook’s hammock. His hair was the color of straw and about as tidy, and his body was thin and scarred with what looked like bullet holes. These were easy to see, because he wore his malodorous remnant of a dressing gown off one shoulder, like a toga. On his legs were varicose veins as big as fossilized lizards. He seemed a stoic sort, who probably slept in a barrel, but for the pint of liquor in his dressing-gown pocket and the monocle in his eye, which added a jaunty, polished touch. It looked like a sprig of parsley on a cowpat.
Fuldner introduced him as Fernando Eifler but I didn’t suppose that was his real name. The three of us smiled politely but we were all possessed of the same thought: that if we stayed in the safe house long enough, we would end up like Fernando Eifler.
“I say, do any of you chaps have a cigarette?” asked Eifler. “I seem to have run out.”
Kuhlmann handed one over and helped him get it alight. Meanwhile Fuldner apologized for the poor quarters, saying it was only for a few days and explained that the only reason Eifler was still there was that he had turned down every job offered to him by the DAIE, the organization that had brought us to Argentina. He said this quite matter-of-factly, but our new housemate bristled noticeably.
“I didn’t come halfway around the world to work,” Eifler said sourly. “What do you take me for? I’m a German officer and a gentleman, not a bloody bank clerk. Really, Fuldner. It’s too much to expect. There was no talk of working for a living when we were back in Genoa. I’d never have come if I’d known you people expected me to earn my bread and butter. I mean it’s bad enough that one has to leave one’s family home in Germany without obliging one to accept the added humiliation of reporting regularly to an employer.”
“Perhaps you’d have preferred it if the Allies had hanged you, Herr Eifler?” said Eichmann.
“An American noose or an Argentinean halter,” said Eifler. “It’s not much of a choice for a man of my background. Frankly, I should prefer to have been shot by the Popovs than face a clerk’s desk at nine o’clock every morning. It’s uncivilized.” He smiled thinly at Kuhlmann. “Thank you for the cigarette. And by the way, welcome to Argentina. Now, if you’ll excuse me, gentlemen.” He bowed stiffly, limped into his room, and closed the door behind him.
Fuldner shrugged and said, “Some find it harder to adjust than others. Especially aristocrats like Eifler.”
“I might have known,” sniffed Eichmann.
“I’ll leave you and Herr Geller to settle in,” Fuldner told Eichmann. Then he looked at me. “Herr Hausner. You have an appointment this morning.”
“Yes. We’re going to the police station at Moreno,” he said. “To the Registry of Foreign Persons. All new arrivals have to report there in order to obtain a cedula de identidad. I can assure you it’s only a matter of routine, Herr Doktor Hausner. Photographs and fingerprints, that kind of thing. You’ll all need to have one to work, of course, but for appearances’ sake, it’s best you don’t all go at the same time.”
But outside the safe house Fuldner confessed that while it was true that all of us would require a cedula from the local police station, this was not, in fact, where we were now going. “Only I had to tell them something,” he said. “I could hardly tell them where we’re really going without hurting their feelings.”
“We certainly wouldn’t want that to happen, no,” I said, climbing into the car.
“And please, when we come back, don’t for Christ’s sake say where you’ve been. Thanks to Eifler, there’s already enough resentment in that house without you adding to the store of it.”
“Of course. It’ll be our little secret.”
“You’re making a joke,” he said, starting the engine and driving us away. “But I’m the one who’s going to be laughing when you find out where you’re going.”
“Don’t tell me I’m being deported already.”
“No, nothing like that. We’re going to see the president.”
“Juan Peron wants to see me?”
Fuldner laughed just like he’d said he would. I guess my face did look kind of silly at that.
“What did I do? Win an important award? Most promising Nazi newcomer to Argentina?”
“Believe it or not, Peron likes to greet a lot of German officers who arrive here in Argentina, personally. He’s very fond of Germany and the Germans.”
“It’s not everyone you can say that about.”
“He is a military man, after all.”
“I imagine that’s why they made him a general.”
“He likes to meet medical men, most of all. Peron’s grandfather was a doctor. He himself wanted to be a doctor, but instead he went to the National Military Academy.”
“It’s an easy mistake to make,” I said. “Killing people instead of healing them.”
Dropping a couple of ice cubes into my voice, I said, “Don’t think I’m not well aware of the great honor, Carlos. But you know, it’s been quite a few years since I plugged my ears with a stethoscope. I hope he’s not looking to me to come up with a cure for cancer, or to give him the gossip from the latest German medical journal. After all, I’ve been hiding out in the coal shed for the last five years.”
“Relax,” said Fuldner. “You’re not the first Nazi doctor I’ve had to introduce to the president. And I don’t suppose you’ll be the last. Your being a medical man is merely a confirmation of the fact that you are an educated man, and a gentleman.”
“When the occasion demands, I can pass for a gentleman,” I said. I buttoned my shirt collar, straightened my tie, and checked my watch. “Does he always receive visitors with his boiled eggs and his newspaper?”
“Peron is usually in his office by seven,” said Fuldner. “In there. The Casa Rosada.”
Fuldner nodded at a pink-colored building at the far side of a plaza lined with palm trees and statuary. It looked like an Indian maharajah’s palace I’d once seen in a magazine. “Pink,” I said. “My favorite color for a government building. Who knows? Maybe Hitler might still have been in power if he’d had the Reich chancellery painted a nicer color than gray.”
“There’s a story why it’s pink,” said Fuldner.
“Don’t tell me. It’ll help me to relax if I can think of Peron as the kind of president who prefers pink. Believe me, Carlos, this is all very reassuring.”
“That reminds me. You were joking about being a red, weren’t you?”
“I was in a Soviet prison camp for almost two years, Carlos. What do you think?”
He drove around to a side entrance and waved a security pass at the guard on the barrier before carrying on through to a central courtyard. In front of an ornate marble stairway stood two grenadiers. With tall hats and drawn sabers, they looked like an illustration from an old fairy tale. I glanced up at the loggia-style upper gallery that overlooked the courtyard, half expecting to see Zorro show up for a fencing lesson. Instead I caught sight of a neat little blonde eyeing us with interest. She was wearing more diamonds than seemed decent at breakfast time and an elaborate baker’s loaf of a hairstyle. I thought I might borrow a saber and cut myself a slice of it if I got a bit peckish.
“That’s her,” said Fuldner. “Evita. The president’s wife.”
“Somehow I didn’t think she was the cleaning lady. Not with all the mints she’s wearing.”
We walked up the stairway into a richly furnished hall where several women were milling about. Despite the fact Peron’s was a military dictatorship, nobody up here was wearing a uniform. When I remarked on this, Fuldner told me that Peron didn’t care for uniforms, preferring a degree of informality that people sometimes found surprising. I might also have remarked that the women in the hall were very beautiful and that perhaps he preferred them to uglier ones, in which case he was a dictator after my own heart. The kind of dictator I would have been myself if a highly developed sense of social justice and democracy had not hindered my own will to power and autocracy.
Contrary to what Fuldner had told me, it seemed that the president had not yet arrived at his desk. And while we awaited his much anticipated arrival, one of the secretaries fetched us coffee on a little silver tray. Then we smoked. The secretaries smoked, too. Everyone in Buenos Aires smoked. For all I knew, even the cats and dogs had a twenty-a-day habit. Then, outside the high windows, I heard a noise like a lawn mower. I put down my coffee cup and went to take a look. I was just in time to see a tall man climbing off a motor scooter. It was the president, although I would hardly have known that from his modest means of transport or his casual appearance. I kept comparing Peron with Hitler and trying to imagine the Fuhrer dressed for golf and riding a lime-green scooter down the Wilhelmstrasse.
The president parked the scooter and came up the stairs two at a time, his thick English brogues hitting the marble steps like the sound of someone working the heavy bag in the gym. He may have looked more like a golfer in his flat cap, tan-colored zip-up cardigan, brown plus-fours, and thick woolen socks, but he had a boxer’s grace and build. Not quite six feet tall, with dark hair brushed back on his head and a nose more Roman than the Colosseum, he reminded me of Primo Carnera, the Italian heavyweight. They would have been about the same age, too. I figured Peron to be in his early fifties. The dark hair looked as if it got blacked and polished every day when the grenadiers cleaned their riding boots.
One of the secretaries handed him some papers while another threw open the double doors of his office. In there, the look was more conventionally autocratic. There were lots of equestrian bronzes, oak paneling, portraits that were still wet, expensive rugs, and Corinthian columns. He waved us to a couple of leather armchairs, tossed the papers onto a desk the size of a trebuchet, and flung his cap and jacket to another secretary, who hugged them to her not-insubstantial bosom in a way that made me think she wished he was still wearing them.
Someone else brought him a little demitasse of coffee, a glass of water, a gold pen, and a gold holder with a cigarette already lit. He took a loud sip of coffee, put the holder in his mouth, picked up the pen, and started to add his signature to the documents presented earlier. I was close enough to pay attention to his signature style: the flourishing, egoistic capital J; the aggressive, showy final downward stroke of the n of “Peron.” On the basis of his handwriting, I made a quick psychological evaluation of the man and concluded that he was the neurotic, anal-retentive type who preferred people to be able to read what he had actually written. Not like a doctor at all, I told myself with relief.
Apologizing in almost fluent German for keeping us waiting, Peron carried a silver cigarette box to our fingers. Then we shook hands and I felt the heavy knob of bone at the base of his thumb that made me think yet again of him as a boxer. That and the broken veins under the thin skin that covered his high cheekbones, and the dental plate that was revealed by his easy smile. In a country where no one has a sense of humor, the smiling man is king. I smiled back, thanked him for his hospitality, and then complimented the president on his German, in Spanish.
“No, please,” Peron answered, in German. “I very much enjoy speaking German. It’s good practice for me. When I was a young cadet at our military school, all of our instructors were Germans. This was before the Great War, in 1911. We had to learn German because our weapons were German and all of our technical manuals were in German. We even learned to goose-step. Every day at six p.m., my grenadiers goose-step onto the Plaza de Mayo to take the flag down from the pole. The next time you visit, you must make sure it’s at that time so that you can see for yourself.”
“I will, sir.” I let him light my cigarette. “But I think my own goose-stepping days are over. These days it’s as much as I can do to climb a set of stairs without running out of breath.”
“Me, too.” Peron grinned. “But I try to keep fit. I like to ride and to ski when I have the chance. In 1939, I went skiing in the Alps. In Austria and Germany. Germany was wonderful then. A well-oiled machine. It was like being inside one of those great big Mercedes-Benz motorcars. Smooth and powerful and exciting. Yes, it was an important time in my life.”
“Yes, sir.” I kept on smiling at him, as though I agreed with every word he said. The fact was, I hated the sight of goose-stepping soldiers. To me it was one of the most unpleasant sights in the world; something both terrifying and ridiculous that defied you to laugh at it. And as for 1939, it had been an important time in everyone’s life. Especially if you happened to be Polish, or French, or British, or even German. Who in Europe would ever forget 1939?
“How are things in Germany right now?” he asked.
“For the ordinary fellow, they’re pretty tough,” I said. “But it really depends on whose zone you’re in. Worst of all is the Soviet zone of occupation. Things are hardest of all where the Ivans are in charge. Even for the Ivans. Most people just want to put the war behind them and get on with the reconstruction.”
“It’s amazing what has been achieved in such a short period of time,” said Peron.
“Oh, I don’t just mean reconstruction of our cities, sir. Although of course that is important. No, I mean the reconstruction of our most fundamental beliefs and institutions. Freedom, justice, democracy. A parliament. A fair-minded police force. An independent judiciary. Eventually, when all of that has been recovered, we might regain some self-respect.”
Peron’s eyes narrowed. “I must say you don’t sound very much like a Nazi,” he said.
“It has been five years, sir,” I said. “Since we lost the war. There’s no point in thinking about what’s gone. Germany needs to look to the future.”
“That’s what we need in Argentina,” said Peron. “Some forward thinking. A bit of the German can-do, eh, Fuldner?”
“If you don’t mind me saying so, sir,” I said, “but from what I’ve seen so far, there’s nothing Germany can teach Argentina.”
“This is a very Catholic country, Dr. Hausner,” he told me. “It’s very set in its ways. We need modern thinking. We need scientists. Good managers. Technicians. Doctors like yourself.” He clapped me on the shoulder.
Two little poodles ambled in, accompanied by a strong smell of expensive perfume, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw that the blonde with the Ku-damm hairdo and the diamonds had entered the room. With her were two men. One was of medium height, with fair hair and a mustache, and a quiet, unassuming way about him. The other looked older, about forty, and was taller and physically more powerful; he was gray-haired and wore thick-framed, tinted glasses and a small beard and mustache. Something about him made me think he might be a cop.
“Will you practice medicine again?” Peron asked me. “I’m sure we can make that possible. Rodolfo?”
The younger man by the door unfolded his arms and pushed himself off the wall. He glanced at the man with the beard for a moment. “If the police have no objection?” His German was every bit as fluent as his master’s.
The man with the beard shook his head.
“I’ll ask Ramon Carrillo to look into it, shall I, sir?” said Rodolfo. From the pocket of his beautifully tailored pinstripe suit he took out a small leather notebook and made a note with a silver propelling pencil.
Peron nodded. “Please do,” he said, clapping me on the shoulder a second time.
In spite of his declared admiration for goose-stepping, I found myself liking the president. I liked him for his motor scooter and his ridiculous plus-fours. I liked him for his slugger’s paw and his stupid little dogs. I liked him for his warm welcome and the easy way he had about him. And-who knows?-maybe I liked him because I badly needed to like someone. Maybe that’s why he was president, I don’t know. But there was something about Juan Peron that made me want to take a gamble on him. Which is why after months of pretending to be someone else who was pretending to be Dr. Carlos Hausner, I decided to level with him about who and what I really was.
BUENOS AIRES, 1950
I PUT OUT my cigarette in an ashtray as big as a wheel hub, which lay on the president’s uncluttered desk. Next to the ashtray was a Van Cleef Arpels jewelry box-the leather kind that looks like it would make a swell gift on its own. I figured the contents of that box were pinned to the little blonde’s lapel. She was fussing with the dogs as I started my noble-sounding monologue. It took only a minute to get her attention. I flatter myself that when the spirit moves me, I can make myself more interesting than any small dog. Besides, I guessed it wasn’t every day that someone in the president’s office tells him he’d made a mistake.
“Mr. President, sir,” I said. “I think there’s something I should tell you. Since this is a Catholic country, maybe you can call it confession.” Seeing all their faces blanch, I smiled. “It’s all right. I’m not about to tell you about all the terrible things I did during the war. There were some things I’m not happy about, sure. But I don’t have the lives of innocent men and women on my conscience. No, my confession is something much more ordinary. You see, I’m not a doctor at all, sir. There was a doctor back in Germany. A fellow named Gruen. He wanted to go and live in America, only he worried what might happen to him if they ever found out what he’d done during the war. So, to take the heat off himself, he decided to make it look like I was him. Then he told the Israelis and the Allied war-crimes people where to come and look for me. Anyway, he did such a good job of convincing everyone I was him that I was obliged to go on the run. Eventually I turned for help to the old comrades and the Delegation for Argentine Emigration in Europe. Carlos, here. Don’t get me wrong, sir, I’m very grateful to be here. I had a hard job convincing an Israeli death squad that I wasn’t Gruen and was obliged to leave a couple of them dead in the snow near Garmisch-Partenkirchen. So you see, I really am a fugitive. I’m just not the fugitive you might think I am. And in particular, I am not and never have been a doctor.”
“So who the hell are you? Really?” It was Carlos Fuldner, and he sounded annoyed.
“My real name is Bernhard Gunther. I was in the SD. Working for intelligence. I was captured by the Russians and was interned in a camp before escaping. But before the war I was a policeman. A detective with the Berlin police force.”
“Did you say a detective?” This was the man with the small beard and the tinted glasses. The one I’d marked down as a cop. “What kind of a detective?”
“I worked in Homicide, mostly.”
“What was your rank?” asked the cop.
“When war was declared in 1939, I was a KOK. A Kriminal Oberkommissar. A chief inspector.”
“Then you’ll remember Ernst Gennat.”
“Of course. He was my mentor. Taught me everything I know.”
“What was it that the newspapers used to call him?”
“The Full Ernst. On account of his bulk and fondness for cakes.”
“What happened to him? Do you know?”
“He was deputy chief of the criminal police until his death in 1939. He had a heart attack.”
“Too many cakes.”
“Gunther, Gunther,” he said, as though trying to shake a thought like an apple from a tree growing in the back of his head. “Yes, of course. I know you.”
“I was in Berlin. Before the collapse of the Weimar Republic. Studying jurisprudence at the university.”
The cop came closer, close enough for me to smell the coffee and the cigarettes on his breath, and took off his glasses. I guessed he smoked a lot. For one thing, there was a cigarette in his mouth, and for another, his voice sounded like a smoked herring. There were laugh lines around the gray iron filings that constituted his mustache and his beard, but the walnut of a frown knotted between his bloodshot blue eyes told me that maybe he’d got out of the habit of smiling. His eyes narrowed as he searched my face for more answers.
“You know, you were a hero of mine. Believe it or not, you’re one of the reasons I gave up the idea of being a lawyer and became a policeman instead.” He looked at Peron. “Sir, this man was a famous Berlin detective. When I first went there, in 1928, there was a notorious strangler. His name was Gormann. This is the man who caught him. At the time it was quite a cause celebre.” He looked back at me. “I’m right, aren’t I? You are that Gunther.”
“His name was in all the newspapers. I used to follow all your cases, as closely as I was able. Yes indeed, you were a hero of mine, Herr Gunther.”
By now he was shaking my hand. “And now you’re here. Amazing.”
Peron glanced at his gold wristwatch. I was beginning to bore him. The cop saw it, too. Not much escaped him. We might have lost the president’s attention altogether if Evita hadn’t walked up to me and given me a once-over like I was a spavined horse.
Eva Peron’s was a good figure, if you liked women who were interesting to draw. I never yet have seen a painting that convinces me those old masters preferred women who were skinny. Evita’s figure was interesting in all the right places between the knees and the shoulders. Which is not to say that I found her attractive. She was too cool, too businesslike, too efficient, too composed for my taste. I like a little vulnerability in my women. Especially at breakfast time. In her navy-blue suit Evita already looked dressed to launch a ship. Somewhere more important than here, talking to me, anyway. On the back of her bottle-blond hair was a little navy-blue velvet beret, while over her arm was a Russian winter’s worth of sables. Not that any of that caught my eye very much. Mostly my eyes were on the mint candies she was wearing-the little chandeliers of diamonds in her ears, the floral bouquet of diamonds on her lapel, and the dazzling golfball on her finger. It looked like it had been an excellent year for Van Cleef Arpels.
“So, we have a famous detective, here in Buenos Aires,” she said. “How very fascinating.”
“I don’t know about famous,” I said. “ ‘Famous’ is a word for a boxer or a movie star, not a detective. Sure, the police leaders of Weimar encouraged the newspapers to believe that some of us were more successful than others. But that was just public relations. To give the public confidence in our ability to solve crimes. I’m afraid you couldn’t write more than a couple of very dull paragraphs in today’s newspapers about the kind of detective I was, ma’am.”
Eva Peron tried a smile, but it didn’t stay long. Her lipstick was flawless and her teeth were perfect, but her eyes weren’t in it. It was like being smiled at by a temperate glacier.
“Your modesty is, shall we say, typical of all your fellow countrymen,” she said. “It seems none of you was ever very important. Always it is someone else who deserves the credit or, more usually, the blame. Isn’t that right, Herr Gunther?”
There were a lot of things I might have said to that. But when the president’s wife takes a swing at you, it’s best to take it on the chin as though you’ve got a boiler-plated jaw, even if it does hurt.
“Only ten years ago, Germans thought they should rule the world. Now all they want to do is live quietly and be left alone. Is that what you want, Herr Gunther? To live quietly? To be left alone?”
It was the cop who came to my aid. “Please, ma’am,” he said. “He is just being modest. Take my word for it. Herr Gunther was a great detective.”
“We’ll see,” she said.
“Take the compliment, Herr Gunther. If I can remember your name, after all these years, then surely you would have to agree that, in this case at least, modesty is misplaced.”
I shrugged. “Perhaps,” I allowed.
“Well,” said Evita. “I must be going. I’ll leave Herr Gunther and Colonel Montalban to their mutual admiration.”
I watched her go. I was glad to see the back of her. More important, I was glad to see her behind. Even under the president’s eye it demanded attention. I didn’t know any Argentine tango tunes, but watching her closely sheathed tail as she stalked gracefully out of her husband’s office, I felt like humming one. In a different room and wearing a clean shirt, I might have tried slapping it. Some men liked slapping a guitar or a set of dominoes. With me it was a woman’s ass. It wasn’t exactly a hobby. But I was good at it. A man ought to be good at something.
When she was gone, the president climbed back into the front seat and took over the steering wheel. I wondered how much he would let her get away with before he slapped her himself. Quite a bit, probably. It’s a common failing with older dictators when they have younger wives.
In German, Peron said, “Don’t mind my wife, Herr Gunther. She doesn’t understand that you spoke from”-he slapped his stomach with the flat of his hand-“down here. You spoke as you felt you had to speak. And I’m flattered that you did so. We see something in each other, perhaps. Something important. Obeying other people is one thing. Any fool can do that. But obeying oneself, submitting oneself to the most rigid and implacable of disciplines, that is what is important. Is it not?”
Peron nodded. “So you are not a doctor. Therefore we cannot help you practice medicine. Is there anything else we can do for you?”
“There is one thing, sir,” I said. “Maybe I’m not much of a sailor. Or maybe I’m just getting old. But lately I’ve not been feeling myself, sir. I’d like to see a doctor, if I could. A real one. Find out if there’s anything actually wrong with me, or if I’m just homesick. Although right now that does seem a little unlikely.”
BUENOS AIRES, 1950
SEVERAL WEEKS PASSED. I got my cedula and moved out of the safe house on Calle Monasterio into a nice little hotel called the San Martin, in the Florida district. The place was owned and managed by an English couple, the Lloyds, who treated me with such courtesy that it was hard to believe our two countries had ever been at war. It’s only after a war that you actually find out how much you have in common with your enemies. I discovered the English were just like us Germans, with one major advantage: they were not German.
The San Martin was full of Old World charm, with glass cupolas and comfortable furniture, and good home cooking if you enjoyed steak and chips. It was just around the corner from the more expensive Richmond Hotel, which had a cafe I liked enough to make it a regular port of call.
The Richmond was a clubby sort of place. There was a long room with wood panels and pillars and mirrored ceilings and English hunting prints and leather armchairs. A small orchestra played tangos and Mozart and, for all I knew, a few Mozart tangos. The smoke-filled basement was a home to men playing billiards, men playing dominoes, and, most important of all, men playing chess. Women were not welcome in the basement at the Richmond. Argentine men took women very seriously. Too seriously to have them around while they were playing billiards or chess. Either that or Argentine women were just very good at billiards and chess.
Back in Berlin, during the dog days of the Weimar Republic, I’d been a regular chess player at the Romanisches Cafe. Once or twice I had even had a lesson from the great Lasker, who was a regular there, too. It hadn’t made me a better player, just better able to appreciate being beaten by someone as good as Lasker.
It was in the Richmond basement that Colonel Montalban found me, locked in an end game with a diminutive, rat-faced Scotsman called Melville. I might have forced a draw if I’d had the patience of a Philidor. But then Philidor never had to play chess under the eye of the secret police. Although he almost did. Luckily for Philidor, he was in England when the French Revolution took place. Wisely, he never went back. There are more important things to lose than a game of chess. Like your head. Colonel Montalban didn’t have the cold eye of a Robespierre, but I felt it on me all the same. And instead of asking myself how I was going to exploit my extra pawn to best advantage, I started asking myself what the colonel could want with me. After that it was just a matter of time before I lost. I didn’t mind losing to the rat-faced Scotsman. He’d beaten me before. What I minded was the free tip that accompanied the clammy handshake.
“You should always put the rook behind the pawn,” he said in his lisping European Spanish, which sounds and smells very different from Latin American Spanish. “Except, of course, when it is the incorrect thing to do.”
If Melville had been Lasker, I would have welcomed the advice. But he was Melville, a barbed-wire sales agent from Glasgow, with bad breath and an unhealthy interest in young girls.
Montalban followed me upstairs. “You play a good game,” he said.
“I do all right. At least I do until the cops turn up. It takes the edge off my concentration.”
“Sorry about that.”
“Don’t be. I like you being sorry. It’s a load off my mind.”
“We’re not like that in Argentina,” he said. “It’s all right to criticize the government.”
“That’s not the way I heard it. And if you ask from whom, you’ll just prove me right.”
Colonel Montalban shrugged and lit a cigarette. “There’s criticism and there’s criticism,” he said. “It’s my job to know the subtle difference.”
“I should think that’s easy enough when you have your oyentes?” The oyentes were the people portenos called Peron’s spies-people who eavesdropped on conversations in bars, on buses, and even on the telephone.
The colonel raised his eyebrows. “So, you already know about the oyentes. I’m impressed. Not that I should be, I suppose. Not from a famous Berlin detective like yourself.”
“I’m an exile, Colonel. It pays to keep your mouth shut and your ears open.”
“And what is it that you hear?”
“I did hear the one about the two river rats, one from Argentina and the other from Uruguay. The rat from Uruguay was starving, so it swam across the River Plate in the hope that it might find something to eat. Halfway across, it met an Argentine rat swimming in the opposite direction. The Uruguayan rat was surprised and asked why such a well-fed-looking rat was going to Uruguay when there was so much to eat in Argentina. And the Argentine rat told him-”
“ ‘I just want to squeak now and then.’ ” Colonel Montalban smiled wearily. “It’s an old joke.”
I pointed at an empty table but the colonel shook his head and then nodded at the door. I followed him outside, onto Florida. The street was closed to traffic between the hours of eleven a.m. and four p.m. so that pedestrians could inspect the attractively dressed windows of big shops like Gath Chaves in comfort. But it could just as easily have been so that men could inspect the attractively dressed women. Of these there were plenty. After Munich and Vienna, Buenos Aires felt like a Paris catwalk.
The colonel had parked off Florida, on Tucuman, outside the Claridge Hotel. His car was a lime-colored Chevrolet convertible with polished wooden doors, whitewall tires, red leather seats, and, on the hood, an enormous spotlight, in case he needed to interrogate a parking attendant. When you sat in it, you felt like you should have been towing a water-skier.
“So this is what the polenta drives in B.A.,” I remarked, running my hand over the door. It had the height and feel of a bar top in a deluxe hotel. I suppose it made sense. A nice pink house for the president. A lime-colored convertible for his deputy head of security and intelligence. Fascism never looked so pretty. The firing squads probably wore tutus.
We drove west on Moreno with the top up. What was probably a cold winter’s day to the colonel felt pleasantly springlike to me. The temperature was in the mid-teens, but most portenos were walking around wearing hats and coats, as if it were Munich in January.
“Where are we going?”
“Relax,” he said, chuckling. “There’s something I want you to see.”
“I hope it’s your new summer uniforms. If so, I can save you a journey. I think they should be the same color as the Casa Rosada. To help make policemen in Argentina more popular. It’s hard not to like a cop when he’s wearing pink.”
“Do you always talk so much? What ever happened to keeping your mouth shut and your ears open?”
“After twelve years of Nazism it’s nice to squeak a little now and again.”
We drove through the entrance of a handsome nineteenth-century building that didn’t look much like a police station. I was beginning to understand a little of Argentine culture from a keen appreciation of its architecture. It was a very Catholic country. Even the police station looked like there was a basilica inside, one that was dedicated probably to Saint Michael, the patron of cops.
It might not have looked like a police station but it certainly smelled like one. All police stations smell of shit and fear.
Colonel Montalban led the way through a warren of marble-floored corridors. Cops carrying files climbed out of our way as we went along.
“I’m beginning to think you might be someone important,” I said.
We stopped outside a door where the air seemed more fetid. It made me think of visiting the aquarium at the Berlin Zoo when I was a child. Or perhaps the reptile house. Something wet and slimy and uncomfortable, anyway. The colonel took out a packet of Capstan Navy Cut, offered me one, and then lit us both. “Deodorants,” he said. “In here is the judicial mortuary.”
“Do you bring all your first dates here?”
“Just you, my friend.”
“I feel I should warn you that I’m the squeamish sort. I don’t like mortuaries. Especially when there are dead bodies in them.”
“Come, now. You worked in Homicide, didn’t you?”
“That was years ago. It’s the living I want to be with as I get older, Colonel. I’ll have plenty of opportunity to spend time with the dead when I’m dead myself.”
The colonel pushed open the door and waited. It seemed I didn’t have much choice but to go inside. The smell got worse. Like a dead alligator. Something wet and slimy and definitely dead. A man wearing white scrubs and bright green rubber gloves came to meet us. He was vaguely Indian-looking, dark-skinned with even darker rings under his eyes, one of which was milky, like an oyster. I had the idea he’d just crawled out of one of his body drawers. He and the colonel exchanged a silent mime of nods and head jerks, and then the green gloves went to work. Less than a minute later, I was looking at the naked body of an adolescent girl. At least I think it was a girl. What usually passed for clues in this department appeared to be missing. And not just the exterior parts, but quite a few of the internal ones, too. I’d seen more obviously fatal injuries, but only on the western front, in 1917. Everything south of her navel appeared to have been mislaid.
The colonel let me take a good look at her and then said, “I was wondering if she reminded you of anyone.”
“I don’t know. Someone dead?”
“Her name is Grete Wohlauf. A German-Argentine girl. She was found in the Barrio Norte about two weeks ago. We think she was strangled. More obviously, her womb and other reproductive organs had been removed. Probably by someone who knew what he was doing. This was not a frenzied attack. As you can see, there is a certain clinical efficiency about what has been done here.”
I kept the cigarette in my mouth so that the smoke acted as a screen between my sense of smell and the gutted cadaver that was laid out in front of us like something on an abattoir floor. Actually, the smell was mostly formaldehyde, but whenever I caught it in my nostrils, it dislodged memories of the many unpleasant things I’d seen in my time as a Berlin homicide detective. There were two things I remembered in particular, but I saw no reason to mention these to Colonel Montalban.
Whatever it was he wanted from me, I wanted no part of it. After a while, I turned away.
“And?” I said.
“I just wondered. If this might jog any memories.”
“Nothing that ought to be in my photograph album.”
“She was fifteen years old.”
“It’s too bad.”
“Yes,” he said. “I have a daughter myself. A little older than her. I don’t know what I’d do if something like this happened.” He shrugged. “Everything. Anything.”
I said nothing. I imagined he was coming to the point.
He walked me back to the mortuary door. “I told you before that I studied jurisprudence in Berlin,” he said. “Fichte, von Savigny, Ehrlich. My father wanted me to be a lawyer. And my mother, who is German, she wanted me to become a philosopher. I myself wanted to travel. To Europe. And after my law degree I was offered the opportunity to study in Germany. Everyone was happy. Me, most of all. I loved Berlin.”
He pushed open the door and we went back into the corridor outside.
“I had an apartment on the Ku-damm, near the Memorial Church and that club with the doorman who dressed up as the devil, and where the waiters dressed as angels.”
“The Heaven and Hell,” I said. “I remember it very well.”
“That’s right.” The colonel grinned. “Me a good Roman Catholic boy. I’d never seen so many naked women before. There was one show: ‘Twenty-five Scenes from the Life of the Marquis de Sade,’ it was called. And another called ‘The Naked Frenchwoman: Her Life Mirrored in Art.’ What a place. What a city. Is it really all gone?”
“Yes. Berlin itself is a ruin. Little more than a building site. You wouldn’t recognize it.”
He unlocked the door to a little room opposite the judicial mortuary. There was a cheap table, a few cheap chairs, and some cheap ash-trays. The colonel drew up a blind and opened a dirty window to let in some fresh air. Across the street I could see a church, and there were people going in the door who knew nothing about forensics and murder and whose nostrils were filled with something better than the smell of cigarettes and formaldehyde. I sighed and looked at my watch, hardly caring to conceal my impatience now. I hadn’t asked to see the body of a dead girl. I was irritated with him for that and for what I knew was surely coming.
“Forgive me,” he said. “I’m just getting to it now. What I wanted to talk to you about, Herr Gunther. You see, I’ve always been interested in the darker side of human behavior. That is why I became interested in you, Herr Gunther. You are one of the reasons I became a policeman rather than a lawyer. In a sense you helped to save me from a very dull life.”
The colonel drew up a chair for me and we sat down.
“Back in 1932 there were two sensational murders in the German newspapers.”
“There were a lot more than two,” I said sourly.
“Not like these two. I remember reading about them in some lurid detail. These were lust murders, were they not? Two girls similarly mutilated. Just like poor Grete Wohlauf. One in Berlin and one in Munich. And you, Herr Gunther. You were the investigating detective. Your picture was in the paper.”
“Yes. I was. Only I don’t see what that has to do with anything.”
“The murderer was never caught, Herr Gunther. He was never caught. That’s why we’re talking.”
I shook my head. “That’s true. But look, it was almost twenty years ago. And several thousand miles away. You’re surely not suggesting that these three murders might be connected.”
“Why not?” The colonel shrugged. “I have to consider every possibility. With the benefit of hindsight, it seems to me that these were peculiarly German crimes. Who was that other fellow who murdered and sexually mutilated all those boys and girls? Haarmann, wasn’t it? He bit out their throats and cut off their genitals. And Kurten. Peter Kurten. The Vampire of Dusseldorf. Let’s not forget him, shall we?”
“Haarmann and Kurten were executed, Colonel. As I’m sure you must remember. So it can hardly be them, now can it?”
“Of course not. But there were other lust murders, too. As I’m sure you remember. Some of them involving mutilation and cannibalism.” The colonel leaned forward on his chair. “All right. Here’s where I’m going with this. Many Germans have come to live here in Buenos Aires. Before the war, and after the war. And not all of them are civilized people like you and me. Naturally I’ve been paying close attention to the trials of your so-called war criminals. And it’s quite clear to me that some of your countrymen have done some terrible things. Unimaginable things. So here’s my theory, if you can call it that. Not everyone who has come to Argentina in the last five years is an angel. Some might be devils. Just like in that old Berlin club. The Heaven and Hell. You will admit that much, surely?”
“Freely. You heard what I said to the president.”
“Yes, I did. It made me think that you might be a man I could use, Herr Gunther. An angel, if you like.”
“I’ve never been called that before.”
“Oh, I think you have, but I’ll get to that. Let me finish this particular train of thought. You will also admit, I hope, that many of your colleagues in the SS enjoyed killing, yes? I mean, it stands to reason, doesn’t it? That some of these men in the SS were psychopaths. Yes?”
I nodded. “I can see where you’re going with this, I think.”
“Exactly. Take the case of Rudolf Hoss, the commander of the Auschwitz concentration camp. He’d murdered before. In 1923. As had Martin Bormann. A man does not become a psychopath because he puts on a uniform. Therefore it must be the case that there were many psychopaths who found a congenial home in the SS and the Gestapo as licensed murderers and torturers.”
“I always thought so,” I said. “You can imagine my pleasure when I was inducted into the SS, in 1940. It comes as quite a shock to spend your whole life investigating murder, then to be sent to Russia and expected to start committing it yourself.”
“Oh, I wasn’t suggesting you were a psychopath, Herr Gunther. Look, let’s say that in 1932 this murderer is not caught. In 1933 the Nazis come to power and he joins the SS, where he finds a new, socially acceptable means of achieving his lust for cruelty. During the war he works in a death camp, killing as many as he wants, with total impunity.”
“And then you invite him to come and live in Argentina.” I grinned. “I take your point. But I don’t see how I can help.”
“I should have thought it was obvious. A chance to reopen an old case.”
“I’m not the neat type, Colonel. And believe me, there were plenty of other unsolved cases on our books. None of them costs me any sleep.”
The colonel was nodding but I could see that he still had cards to play.
“Another girl has gone missing,” he said. “Here in B.A.”
“Girls go missing all the time. Darwin called it natural selection. A girl selects a young man and naturally her father doesn’t like him very much. So she runs off with him.”
“So I can’t appeal to your social conscience?”
“I hardly know my way around this city. I barely speak the language. I’m a fish out of water.”
“Not exactly. The girl who is missing is of German-Argentine origin. Like Grete Wohlauf. I was thinking you might confine your inquiries to our German community. Didn’t I just explain that I have a hunch we’re looking for a German? You don’t need to speak good Spanish to do that. You don’t need to know the city. You do need to be a German. And to hunt among the people I want you to hunt among, you need to be one of them. When I said you could be my angel, I meant my black angel. Isn’t that what Germans called men who were in the SS? Black angels?”
“Set a thief to catch a thief, is that it?”
“Something like that, yes.”
“They’re not going to like that, my old comrades. They have new names. New faces, some of them. New names, new faces, and amnesia. I could find myself becoming very unpopular with some of the most ruthless men in South America. Present company excepted.”
“I already thought of a way of handling things so that you don’t wind up dead.”
I smiled. He was persistent, I had to give him that much. And I was beginning to have a feeling he had already second-guessed all of my objections. “I bet you have, Colonel.”
“I’ve even considered your financial situation,” he said. “After having converted your money at the Bank of London and South America-the branch on Calle Bartolome Mitre, wasn’t it?”
“So much for banking secrecy in this country,” I said.
“You will have learned that twenty-five thousand Austrian schillings is not such a lot. By my calculations, you have about a thousand dollars, which is not going to last you very long in Buenos Aires. A year, maybe less, if there are unforeseen expenses. And it’s my experience that there are always unforeseen circumstances. Especially for a man in your position. On the other hand, I’m offering you a job. Unlike the kind of a job Carlos Fuldner will probably offer you, this is a job you would actually be good at.”
“Working for you? In the secret police?”
“Why not? There’s a salary, a desk in the Casa Rosada, a car. There’s even a passport. A proper one. Not that piece of shit the Red Cross gave you. With a proper passport you could go back to Germany, perhaps. Without having to answer all sorts of awkward questions when you got there. After all, you would be an Argentine citizen. Think about it.”
“Perhaps if I had the original case files, it might have been possible.” I shook my head. “But it was almost twenty years ago. Probably the files were lost during the war.”
“On the contrary. They’re here in B.A. I had them sent from Berlin Alexanderplatz.”
“You did that? How?”
The colonel shrugged modestly, but still managed to look quite pleased with himself. As well he might have done. I was impressed with him.
“Actually, it really wasn’t very difficult. It’s the Americans who dislike Peron and the generals, not the Russians. Besides, the Delegation for Argentine Immigration in Europe has many friends in Germany. You should know that better than anyone. If the DAIE can get Eichmann out of Germany, a few old files are not going to present much of a problem.”
“My compliments, Colonel. You seem to have thought of everything.”
“In Buenos Aires it is better to know everything than it is to know too much,” said the colonel.
He crossed his legs and picked some fluff off his knee and waited patiently for my answer. I felt certain I was about to trump him, but he looked so cool I couldn’t help but think he still had something up his sleeve.
“Please don’t think that I’m not flattered by your offer,” I said. “But right now I have other things on my mind. You’ve thought of everything, it’s true. Except the one reason why I’m not going to work for you. You see, Colonel, I’m not well. I had heart palpitations on the boat. I thought I was having a heart attack. Anyway, I went to see Dr. Espejo, the one Peron recommended. And he says I don’t have a heart condition at all. The heart palpitations are the result of thyrotoxicosis. I have cancer of the thyroid, Colonel Montalban. That’s why I’m not going to work for you.”
BUENOS AIRES, 1950
COLONEL MONTALBAN TOOK OFF his glasses and began to clean their tinted lenses with the end of his woolen tie. He was trying not to smile so as not to hurt my feelings, but I could see that he really didn’t care if he did. As if he was trying only a little not to give the game away.
I guessed what this was.
“But you knew that already, didn’t you?”
The colonel shrugged and went on polishing.
“What kind of a country is this? No banking secrecy. And no medical ethics. I suppose Dr. Espejo is a friend of yours.”
“Actually, no. Quite the reverse. Espejo is what we call a resentido. It means he has a chip on his shoulder. Espejo is a man who dislikes Peron intensely.”
“I wondered why he seemed to be the only person I’ve met in this city who doesn’t have a picture of the president on his wall.” I shook my head. “I don’t get it. Peron recommended a doctor who hates him?”
“Earlier on, you mentioned the oyentes.”
I smiled. “You have a listening device planted in his surgery.”
“I guess that’s one way of making sure you get an honest diagnosis.”
“Did you perhaps think you didn’t?”
“It sure didn’t feel like Espejo was keeping anything back. The man’s got quite a left hook on him. It’s been a while since anyone caught me one on the chin like that.” I paused. “Don’t tell me he was pulling his punches.”
“Not at all,” said the colonel. “Espejo’s a good doctor. But there are better ones. If I were you, Herr Gunther, I should want to have someone treating me who’s more of an expert in these matters than Espejo. A specialist.”
“Sounds expensive. Too expensive for my thousand dollars.”
“All the more reason to work for me. We have a saying here in Argentina. We say, ‘I can’t trust you until I tell you a secret.’ So that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to trust you with one of the biggest secrets in the country. Then you will have to help me and I will have to help you. It will be a sign of good faith between us.”
“What if I prefer not to know what you know?”
“I can’t tell you B if I don’t also tell you A. I will tell you B first, and then perhaps you will guess A. Dr. George Pack is one of the leading cancer specialists in the world. He is a consultant at Sloan-Kettering in New York. He treats patients like the Rockefellers and the Astors. But quite often he also comes here, to Buenos Aires.”
“To treat someone equally important, no doubt,” I said. “The general?”
The colonel shook his head.
“The general’s wife?”
He nodded. “But even she does not know.”
“Is that possible?”
“It is if the general wishes it. Evita thinks she has a woman’s problem. But it’s something else. I have already spoken to Dr. Pack. And as a favor to the general, he has agreed to treat you the next time he is in the country. At our expense, of course.” The colonel threw his hands up. “So you see, you have no choice, no excuse to refuse. There isn’t one objection you can make that hasn’t already been thought of.”
“All right,” I said. “I can tell when I’m beaten. But you seem to have a lot of faith in my abilities, Colonel. Still, how can I resist?”
“How, indeed? But is it so hard to accept my admiration for your forensic abilities? It would be the same for you and Ernst Gennat, would it not? Or that other great Berlin detective. Bernard Weiss. These were your mentors. Your own heroes.”
“For a while, yes, they were,” I said. “All the same, it does seem like you’ve been to a hell of a lot of trouble to have me investigate one murder and one missing girl.”
“It might seem that way to you, Herr Gunther. But to be brutal with you, it’s really no trouble at all. We have some old papers sent from Berlin. We give you a job. We pay you some money. We employ a doctor to treat your illness. These are easy things to fix when you’re a man in my position. What could be simpler?”
“When you put it like that,” I said.
“As it happens, though,” he added smoothly, “the missing girl is no ordinary girl. Fabienne von Bader is what we call a paquete. One of the elegant people. Her father, Kurt von Bader, is a close friend of the Perons, as well as a director of the Banco Germanico, here in B.A. Naturally, the police are sparing no effort in looking for her. You will be merely a part of that effort. Perhaps she is already dead. Perhaps, as you suggested, she has only run away from home. Although, frankly, she is a little young to have a boyfriend. She’s only fourteen years old. Grete Wohlauf, you should leave her to the regular police. But Fabienne is a different story. She should be your main focus. From what I hear, missing persons were once something of a specialty for you. After you left the Berlin police in 1933. When you were a private detective.”
“You seem to know everything about me, Colonel,” I said. “Too much for comfort.”
“Not too much. Just everything that is important. For the purpose of your inquiry, you should assume that our potential murderer is a German and confine yourself to the community of recent immigrants, and those who are of German-Argentine origin. You are looking for a psychopath, yes. But always you are looking for some clue as to the whereabouts of young Fabienne von Bader.”
“It won’t be easy asking questions of my old comrades.”
“Which is why you must choose your questions carefully. You must make your questions seem innocent.”
“You don’t know them,” I said. “There’s no such thing as an innocent question where they’re concerned.”
“The Red Cross is an admirable institution,” said the colonel. “But to go anywhere else outside of this country again-Germany, for example-you will need an Argentine passport. To get a passport, you will have to prove that you have been an Argentine resident of good conduct. Once you have proved this, a good-conduct pass will be issued. With a conduct pass, you can apply to a court of first instance for a passport. I thought it would be a good cover story for your inquiry if we said that you are carrying out background checks for the Security and Intelligence Directorate to see whether someone is a suitable candidate for this good-conduct pass. That way you can pry into the backgrounds of your old comrades with impunity. I daresay most of them will be only too willing to answer all your questions, Herr Gunther. No matter how impertinent. Such a role allows you complete license. After all, who among your old comrades doesn’t want a passport in a new name?”
“It might work,” I said.
“Of course it will work. A desk will be provided for you at the Casa Rosada. That’s where the SIDE is headquartered. A car will be yours to use. You will receive expenses. A salary. Full SIDE identification. And you will report directly to me. Anything at all. No matter how small. Dr. Pack will be here in a couple of weeks. You can see him then. For obvious reasons, however, I’d like you to start your inquiry immediately. A list of the names and addresses of your old comrades will be given to you at the Casa Rosada. Naturally, Fuldner and the DAIE have given us some idea of who these people were back in Germany. What they did and when. But of course, I should like to know a lot more about them. In order to assess what diplomatic and security risk they might pose for us in the future. You can update the files as you go. Clear?”
“Yes, I think so.”
“I assume you’ll want to meet the parents of the missing girl as a matter of priority.”
“If I could.”
The colonel nodded. He drew open a little drawer in the table, from which he removed a leather briefcase. From one of the pockets in the briefcase, he took out a pistol before emptying the rest of the contents onto the table.
“One Smith and Wesson semiautomatic pistol. One box of ammunition. One shoulder holster. One driver’s license in the name of Carlos Hausner. One SIDE identity warrant in the name of Carlos Hausner. One security pass for the Casa Rosada in the name of Carlos Hausner. One SIDE manual-make sure you read it carefully. One hundred thousand pesos in cash. There will be more when you need it. Naturally, receipts are required where possible. The manual will tell you exactly how to fill out an expense form. You’ll find everything else-DAIE files on German immigrants, KRIPO and Gestapo files from Alexanderplatz-in your filing cabinet at the Casa Rosada.”
I nodded silently. There didn’t seem to be any point in mentioning the fact that all of this had been ready before I walked into the police station. He’d been so sure I’d agree that I almost told him to go and screw himself. I hated him taking me for granted like that. But I hated being ill even more. So how could I say no? We both knew I had no choice. Not if I wanted to receive the best medical treatment.
He fiddled in his pocket and handed over some car keys. “It’s the one outside. The lime-colored Chevrolet we came in.”
“My favorite flavor,” I said.
He stood up. “You can drive, can’t you?”
“I can drive.”
“Good. Then you can drive us to Retiro.” He glanced at his watch. “They’re expecting us, so we had better be getting along.”
“Before we go, I’d like to take another look at that dead body.”
The colonel shrugged. “If you like. Was there anything that you noticed?”
“Nothing apart from the obvious.” I shook my head. “I wasn’t really paying attention before. That’s all.”
IN A MANUAL of forensic medicine that Ernst Gennat gave all the bulls that joined Department IV, there was a photograph that always caused a certain amount of mirth the first time you saw it. In the photograph, a naked girl was lying on a bed with her hands tied behind her back, around her neck was a ligature pulled tight, and half of her head had been blown off with a shotgun. Oh yes, and there was a dildo up her ass. Nothing funny about any of that, of course. It was the caption underneath the picture that was the funny part. It read: “Circumstances Arousing Suspicion.” That used to kill us. Whenever any of us who were assigned to D4 saw an atrocious and obvious case of homicide, we used to repeat the words of that caption. It helped lighten things up.
The body was found in Friedrichshain Park, close to the hospital, in the eastern part of Berlin. The area was popular with children, because of the fairy-tale fountain that was there. Water flowed down a series of shallow steps that were flanked by ten groups of characters from stories each of us had heard at his mother’s knee. When the call came into the Police Praesidium on Alexanderplatz, it was hoped that the dead girl might have drowned, accidentally. But one look at the body and I knew different. She looked like the victim of the wolf from one of those old fairy tales. The kind of big bad wolf who might have tried to eat any one of those little limestone heroes and heroines.
“Bloody hell, sir,” said my sergeant, KBS Heinrich Grund, as we shone our flashlights over the body. “Circumstances arousing suspicion, or what?”
“Sure looks that way, doesn’t it?”
“Only a bit, yeah. Shit. Wait till the boys at the Alex hear about this one.”
There was not a permanent staff of detectives for homicide investigations at the Alex. D4 was supposed to be only a supervisory body, with three rotating teams of cops from other Berlin inspectorates. But in practice it didn’t work like that. By 1932 there were three teams on active duty, with nothing left in reserve. That night I had already driven over to Wedding to take a look at the body of a fifteen-year-old boy who had been found stabbed to death in a bus shelter. The other two teams were still out on cases: KOK Muller was looking into the death of a man found hanging on a lamppost in Lichtenrade; and KOK Lipik was in Neukolln, investigating the fatal shooting of a woman. If this sounds like a crime wave, it wasn’t. Most of the murders that took place in Berlin that spring and early summer were political. And but for the tit-for-tat violence carried out by Nazi storm troopers and Communist cadres, the city’s crime figures would have shown a declining murder rate during the last months of the Weimar Republic.
Friedrichshain Park was a leafy mile north west of the Alex. After the call came in, we were there in less than twenty minutes. Me, district secretary Grund, an ordinary criminal secretary, an assistant criminal secretary, and half a dozen uniformed polenta from the protection police-the Schutzpolizei.
“A lust murder, do you think?” asked Grund.
“Could be. There’s not much blood around, though. Whatever lust might have been involved must have happened elsewhere.” I looked up and around. The road junction at Konigs-Thor was only a few yards to the west of us. “Whoever it was could have stopped his car on Friedenstrasse, or Am Friedrichshain, lifted her out of the trunk, and carried her here just after it got dark tonight.”
“With the park on one side of the road and a couple of cemeteries on the other, it’s a good spot,” said Grund. “Lots of trees and bushes to keep him covered. Nice and quiet.”
Then, somewhere to the west of us, in the heart of the Scheunenviertel, we heard two shots fired.
“Although not so as you’d notice,” I said. Hearing a third shot, and then a fourth, I added, “Sounds like your friends are busy tonight.”
“Nothing to do with me,” said Grund. “More likely the Always True, I’d have thought. This is their patch.”
The Always True was one of Berlin’s most powerful criminal gangs.
“But if it was a Red who just got shot, then presumably that would be to your lot’s advantage.”
Heinrich Grund was, or had been, just about my best friend on the force. We had been in the army together. There was a picture of him on the wall in my corner of the detectives’ room. In the picture, no less a figure than Paul von Hindenburg, the president of the republic, was presenting Heinrich with the victor’s plaque for winning the Prussian Police Boxing Championships. But the previous week I had discovered that my old friend had joined the NSBAG-the National Socialist Fellowship of Civil Servants. As he was a boxer with a reputation for using the head, I had to admit that being a Nazi suited him. All the same, it felt like a betrayal.
“What makes you think it was a Nazi shooting a Red, and not a Red shooting a Nazi?”
“I can tell the difference.”
“It’s a full moon, isn’t it? That’s usually the time when werewolves and Nazis creep out of their holes to commit murder.”
“Very funny.” Grund smiled patiently and lit a cigarette. He blew out the match and, careful not to contaminate the crime scene, put it in his vest pocket. He might have been a Nazi but he was still a good detective. “And your lot. They’re so different, are they?”
“My lot? What lot is that?”
“Come on, Bernie. Everyone knows the Official supports the Reds.”
The Official was the union of Prussian police officers, to which I belonged. It wasn’t the biggest union. That was the General. But the important names in the General’s leadership-policemen like Dillenburger and Borck-were openly right-wing and anti-Semitic. Which was why I’d left the General and joined the Official.
“The Official isn’t Communist,” I said. “We support the Social Democrats and the republic.”
“Oh, yeah? Then why the Iron Front against Fascism? Why not an Iron Front against Bolshevism, too?”
“Because, as you well know, Heinrich, most of the violence on the streets is committed or provoked by the Nazis.”
“How do you work that out, exactly?”
“That woman in Neukolln that Lipik’s investigating. Even before he left the Alex, he reckoned she had been shot dead by a storm trooper who was aiming at a Commie.”
“So. It was an accident. I don’t see how that proves the Nazis organize most of the violence.”
“No? Well, you want to come round our way and take a look out of my apartment window on Dragonerstrasse. The Central Offices of the German Communist Party are just around the corner, on Bulowplatz. So that’s where the Nazis choose to exercise their democratic right to hold a parade. Does that seem reasonable? Does that sound law-abiding?”
“Proves my point, doesn’t it? You living in a Red area like that.”
“All it proves is that the Nazis are always spoiling for a fight.”
I bent down and flicked my flashlight up and down the dead girl’s body. Her upper half looked more or less normal. She was about thirteen or fourteen, blond, with pale blue eyes and a small galaxy of freckles around her pixie nose. It was a tomboyish sort of face, and you could easily have mistaken her for a boy. The matter of her sex was only confirmed by her small, adolescent breasts, the rest of her sexual organs having been removed along with her lower intestines, her womb, and whatever else gets packed in down there when a girl gets born. But it wasn’t her evisceration that caught my eye. In truth, both Heinrich and I had seen this kind of thing many times in the trenches. There was also the caliper on her left leg. I hadn’t noticed it before.
“No walking stick,” I said, tapping it with my pencil. “You’d think she’d have had one.”
“Maybe she didn’t need one. It’s not every cripple that needs a stick.”
“You’re right. Goebbels manages very well without one, doesn’t he? For a cripple. Then again there’s a big stick inside almost everything he says.” I lit a cigarette and let out a big, smoky sigh. “Why do people do this kind of thing?” I said to myself.
“You mean, kill children?”
“I meant, Why kill them like this? It’s monstrous, isn’t it? Depraved.”
“I should have thought it was obvious,” said Grund.
“Oh? How’s that?”
“You’re the one who said he must be depraved. I couldn’t agree more. But is it any wonder? I say is it any wonder we have depraved people doing things like this when you consider the filth and depravity that’s tolerated by this fag end of a government? Look around you, Bernie. Berlin is like a big, slimy rock. Lift it up and you can see everything that crawls. The oilers, stripe men, wall-sliders, boot girls, sugarlickers, Munzis, T-girls. The women who are men and the men who are women. Sick. Venal. Corrupt. Depraved. And all of it tolerated by your beloved Weimar Republic.”
“I suppose everything will be different if Adolf Hitler gets into power.” I was laughing as I said it. The Nazis had done well in the most recent elections. But nobody sensible really believed they could run the country. Nobody thought for a minute that President Hindenburg was ever going to ask the man he detested most in the world-a guttersnipe NCO from Austria-to become the next chancellor of Germany.
“Why not? We’re going to need someone to restore order in this country.”
As he spoke, we heard another shot travel through the warm night air.
“And who better than the man who causes all the trouble to put an end to it, eh? I can sort of see the logic behind that, yes.”
One of the uniforms came over. We stood up. It was Sergeant Gollner, better known as Tanker-because of his size and shape.
“While you two were arguing,” he said, “I put a cordon around this part of the park. So as to keep the pot-watchers away. Last thing we want is any details of how she was killed getting into the newspapers. Giving stupid people stupid ideas. Confessing to things they haven’t done. We’ll have a closer look in the morning, eh? When it’s light.”
“Thanks, Tanker,” I said. “I should have-”
“Skip it.” He took a deep breath of a night air made moist by water a light breeze had carried from the fountain. “Nice here, isn’t it? I always liked this place. Used to come here a lot, I did. On account of the fact that my brother is buried over there.” He nodded south, in the direction of the state hospital. “With the revolutionaries of 1848.”
“I didn’t know you were that old,” I said.
Tanker grinned. “No, he got shot by the Freikorps, in December 1918. Proper lefty, so he was. A real troublemaker. But he didn’t deserve that. Not after what he went through in the trenches. Reds or not, none of them deserved to be shot for what happened.”
“Don’t tell me,” I said, nodding at Heinrich Grund. “Tell him.”
“He knows what I think,” said Tanker. He looked down at the girl’s body. “What was wrong with her leg, then?”
“Hardly matters now,” observed Grund.
“She might have had polio,” I said. “Or else she was a spastic.”
“You wouldn’t have thought they’d have let her out on her own, would you?” said Grund.
“She was crippled.” I bent down and went through the pockets of her coat. I came up with a roll of cash, wrapped in a rubber band. It was as thick as the handle of a tennis racket. I tossed it to Grund. “Plenty of disabled people manage perfectly well on their own. Even the kids.”
“Must be several hundred marks here,” he muttered. “Where does a kid like this get money like that?”
“I don’t know.”
“Had to manage,” Tanker was saying. “The number of maimed and injured we had after the war. I used to have the beat next to the Charite Hospital. Got quite friendly with some of the lads who were there. A lot of them managed with no legs, or no arms.”
“It’s one thing being crippled for something that happened fighting for the Fatherland,” said Grund, tossing the roll of cash in his hand. “It’s something else when you’re born with it.”
“Meaning what, exactly?” I asked.
“Meaning that life’s difficult enough when you’re a parent without having to look after a disabled child.”
“Maybe they didn’t mind looking after her. Not if they loved her.”
“If you ask me, if she was a spastic she’s better off out of it,” said Grund. “Germany’s better off in general with fewer cripples around.” He caught the look in my eye. “No, really. It’s a simple matter of racial purity. We have to protect our stock.”
“I can think of one cripple we’d all be better off without,” I said.
Tanker laughed and walked away.
“Anyway, it’s only a caliper,” I said. “Lots of kids have calipers.”
“Maybe,” said Grund. He threw the money back. “But it’s not every kid that’s carrying several hundred marks.”
“Right. We’d better have a look around, before the site gets trampled over. See what we can find on our hands and knees with the flashlights.”
I dropped onto all fours and slowly crawled away from the body in the direction of Konigs-Thor. Heinrich Grund did the same, a yard or two to my left. The night was warm, and the grass felt dry and smelled sweet under my hands. It was something we had done before. Something Ernst Gennat was keen on. Something that was in the manual he’d given us. How it was small things that solved murders: bullet casings, blood spots, collar buttons, cigarette ends, matchbooks, earrings, hanks of hair, party badges. Things that were large and easy to see were usually carried away from a crime scene. But the small stuff. That was different. It was the small stuff that could send a man to the guillotine. Nobody called them clues. Gennat hated that word.
“Clues are for the clueless,” was what the Full Ernst would tell us. “That’s not what I want from my detectives. Give me little spots of color on a canvas. Like that Frenchie who used to paint in little dots. Georges Seurat. Each dot means shit on its own. But when you take a few steps back and look at all of the dots together, you see a picture. That’s what I want you bastards to do. Learn how to paint me a picture like Georges Seurat.”
So there we were, me and Heinrich Grund, crawling along the grass in Friedrichshain Park, like a couple of dogs. The Berlin polenta trying to paint a picture.
If I had blinked, I might have missed it. As spots of color go, this one was as small as anything you might have seen on an Impressionist’s canvas, but just as colorful. At first glance I mistook it for a cornflower, because it was light blue, like the dead girl’s eyes. It was a pill, lying on top of a few blades of grass. I picked it up and held it up to my eyes and saw that it was as immaculate as a diamond, which meant it couldn’t have been there that long. There had been a brief shower of rain just after lunch, so it had to have fallen on the ground some time after that. A man hurrying back to the road from the fountains where he had dumped a body might easily have taken out a box of pills, fumbled it in his nervous state, and dropped one. Now all I had to do was find out what kind of pill it was.
“What have you got there, boss?”
“A pill,” I said, laying it on his palm.
“Kind of pill?”
“I’m not a chemist.”
“Want me to check it out at the hospital?”
“No. I’ll get Hans Illmann to do it.”
Illmann was professor of forensic medicine at the Institute for Police Science in Charlottenburg, and senior pathologist at the Alex. He was also a prominent member of the Social Democratic Party, the SDP. For this and other alleged character failings he had been frequently denounced by Goebbels in the pages of Der Angriff, Berlin’s Nazi newspaper. Illmann wasn’t Jewish, but as far as the Nazis were concerned, he was the next worst thing: a liberal-minded intellectual.
“Professor Illmann. Any objections?”
Grund looked up at the moon, as if trying to learn patience. The white light had turned his pale blond head a steely shade of silver, and his blue eyes became almost electric. He looked like some kind of machine-man. Something hard, metallic, and cruel. The head turned, and he stared at me as he might have stared at some poor opponent in the ring-an inadequate subspecies of man who was not fit to enter a contest with one such as him.
“You’re the boss,” he said, and dropped the pill back in my hand.
But for how much longer? I asked myself.
WE DROVE BACK to the Alex, which, with its cupolas and arched entranceways, was as big as a railway station and, behind the four-story brick facade, in the double-height entrance hall, very nearly as busy. All human life was in there. And quite a bit of pond life, too. There was a drunk with a black eye, who was unsteadily awaiting being locked up for the night; a taxi driver making a complaint about a passenger who had run off without paying; an androgynous-looking young man wearing tight white shorts, who was sitting quietly in a corner, checking his makeup in a hand mirror; and a bespectacled man with a briefcase in his hands and a livid red mark across his mouth.
At the bunker-sized front desk, we checked through a file containing a list of missing persons. The desk sergeant who was supposed to be assisting us had a big handlebar mustache and an eleven o’clock shadow that was so blue it made his face look like a housefly’s. This effect was enhanced, because his eyes were bulging out of his head at the sight of two tall boot girls a cop had shooed in off the street. They were wearing thigh-high black leather boots and red leather coats, which, thoughtfully, they had left undone, revealing to anyone who cared to look that they were wearing nothing underneath. One of them was carrying a riding crop that the arresting officer, a man with an eye patch-a man I knew, named Bruno Stahlecker-was having a hard job persuading her to give up. Clearly the girls had had a drink or two and probably quite a bit else besides, and, as I flicked through the missing-persons reports, half of me was listening to what Stahlecker and the girls were saying. It would have been hard not to hear it.
“I like a man in uniform,” said the taller of the leather-booted Amazons. She snapped her riding crop against her boot and then fingered the hair at the base of her belly, provocatively. “Which one of Berlin’s bulls wants to be my slave tonight?”
Boot girls were the city’s outdoor dominatrices. Mostly they worked west of Wittenbergplatz, near the Zoological Gardens, but Stahlecker had picked up this pair of whores in Friedrichstrasse after a man had complained of being beaten and robbed by two women in leather.
“Behave yourself, Brigit,” said Stahlecker. “Or I’ll throw the rules of the medical profession at you as well.” He turned to the man with the red mark on his face. “Are these the two women who robbed you?”
“Yes,” said the man. “One of them hit me across the face with a whip and demanded money or she’d hit me again.”
The girls loudly protested their innocence. Innocence never looked quite so venereal and corrupt.
Finally I found what I’d been looking for. “Anita Schwarz,” I said, showing Heinrich Grund the missing-persons report. “Aged fifteen. Behrenstrasse 8, flat 3. Report filed by her father, Otto. Disappeared yesterday. One meter, sixty centimeters tall, blond hair, blue eyes, caliper on left leg, carries a walking stick. That’s our girl, all right.”
But Grund was hardly paying attention. I thought he was looking at the free nude show. And leaving him to it, I went to one of the other filing cabinets and found a more detailed report. There was a star on the file and, next to it, a letter W. “It would seem that the deputy police president is taking an interest in our case,” I said. Inside the file was a photograph. Quite an old one, I thought. But there could be no doubt: it was the girl in the park. “Perhaps he knows the girl’s father.”
“I know that man,” murmured Grund.
“No. That man there.” Leaning back on the front desk, he flicked his snout at the man with the whip mark on his face. “He’s an alphonse.” “Alphonse” was Berlin criminal underworld slang for a pimp. One of many slang words for a pimp, like “louie,” “oiler,” “stripe man,” “ludwig,” and “garter-handler.” “Runs one of those bogus clinics off the Ku-damm. I think his racket is that he poses as a physician and then ‘prescribes’ an underage girl for his so-called patient.” Grund called out to Stahlecker. “Hey, Bruno? What’s the citizen’s name? The one wearing the spectacles and the extra smile.”
“Him? Dr. Geise.”
“Dr. Geise, my eggs. His real name is Koch, Hans Theodor Koch, and he’s no more a doctor than I am. He’s an alphonse. A medicine man who fixes old perverts up with little girls.”
The man stood up. “That’s a damn lie,” he said indignantly.
“Open his briefcase,” said Grund. “See if I’m wrong.”
Stahlecker looked at the man, who held the briefcase tightly to his chest as if he really did have something to hide. “Well, sir? How about it?”
Reluctantly, the man allowed Stahlecker to take the briefcase and then to open it. A few seconds later, a pile of pornographic magazines was lying on the desk sergeant’s blotter. The magazine was called Figaro, and on the cover of each copy was a picture of seven naked boys and girls, about ten or eleven years old, sitting in the branches of a dead tree, like a pride of small white lions.
“You old pervert,” snarled one of the boot girls.
“This puts rather a different complexion on things, sir,” Stahlecker told Koch.
“That is a naked-culture magazine,” insisted Koch. “Dedicated to the cause of free life reform. It doesn’t prove anything of what this vile man has alleged.”
“It proves one thing,” said the boot girl with the whip. “It proves you like looking at dirty pictures of little boys and girls.”
We left them all in a heated argument.
“What did I tell you?” said Grund as we went back to the car. “This city is a whore and your beloved republic is her pimp. When are you going to wake up to that fact, Bernie?”
ON BEHRENSTRASSE, I parked the car in front of a glass-covered arcade that led to Unter den Linden. The arcade was nicknamed the Back Passage, because it was a popular pick-up spot for Berlin’s male prostitutes. These were easily identifiable thanks to the short white trousers, sailor shirts, and peaked caps many of them wore to appear younger to the tree stumps-their middle-aged clients who, until they had made their selection, would walk up and down the passage pretending to look in the windows of the arcade’s antique shops.
It was a warm night. By my reckoning, there were at least eighty or ninety of the city’s sultriest boys milling around underneath the famous REEMTSMA sign-one of the few left unbroken by the Nazi SA. Storm troopers were supposed to smoke a Trommler brand called Story, so, being Nazis and, therefore, very brand-loyal, they often took exception to other brands of tobacco, of which Reemtsma was perhaps the best known. If the SA did show up, all of the sultry boys would take to their heels or risk a beating-perhaps worse. The SA seemed to hate queers almost as much as they hated Communists and Jews.
We found the apartment above a cafe in a smart-looking Romanesque building. I pulled the polished brass bell and we waited. A minute later we heard a man’s voice above our heads, and we stepped back on the sidewalk to get a better look at him.
“Police, sir. May we come up?”
“Yes. Wait there. I’ll come down and let you in.”
While we waited, Heinrich Grund fulminated against all the sultries we’d seen. “Russian fairies,” he said.
Immediately after the Bolshevik Revolution, many of Berlin’s prostitutes, male and female, had been Russians. But this was no longer true, and I did my best to ignore him. It wasn’t that I liked queers. I just didn’t dislike them as much as he did.
Otto Schwarz came to the door to let us in. We showed him our KRIPO warrant discs and introduced ourselves, and he nodded as if he had been expecting us. He was a big man with a belly that looked as if a lot of money had been poured into it. His fair hair was cut very short at the sides and wavy on top. Underneath a swinish nose that was almost divided in two by a thick scar was a nearly invisible toothbrush mustache. That he reminded me strongly of Ernst Rohm, the SA leader, was a first impression-reinforced by the uniform he was wearing, illegally. There had been a ban on Nazi uniforms since June 1930, and as recently as April, in a campaign to reduce Nazi terrorism in Berlin, Reich President Hindenburg had dissolved the SA and the SS. I wasn’t much good at recognizing the shoulder and collar insignia on their uniforms, but Grund was. The two of them made polite conversation as we tramped upstairs. That was how I came to learn not just that Schwarz was an Oberfuhrer in the SA but also that this was the equivalent of a brigadier general. There was a small part of me that wanted to join in this polite conversation. I wanted to say I was surprised to find an SA Oberfuhrer at home when there were Communists to lynch and Jewish windows to smash. But since I was about to tell Schwarz that his daughter was dead, I had to make do with an observation about his wearing the uniform of a proscribed organization. Half of the polenta in Berlin would have looked the other way, ignored it. But then half of the cops in Berlin were Nazis.
Many of my colleagues seemed quite happy to be sleepwalking their way to a dictatorship. I wasn’t one of them.
“You know that since April 14 of this year, it’s illegal to wear that uniform, don’t you, sir?” I said.
“Surely that hardly matters now. The ban on uniforms is about to be revoked.”
“Until then it’s still illegal, sir. However, under the circumstances, I’ll overlook it.”
Schwarz colored a little and then squeezed his fists, one after the other. These made a noise like a noose tightening. I imagine he was wishing there was one around my neck. He bit his lip. It was easier to reach than my face. He pushed open the apartment door. Stiffly, he said, “Please. Come in, gentlemen.”
The apartment was a shrine to Adolf Hitler. There was a portrait of him in an oval frame in the hall, and another, different portrait of him inside a square frame in the sitting room. A copy of Mein Kampf lay open on a book stand that was on the sideboard, next to a family Bible, and behind these was a framed photograph of Otto Schwarz and Adolf Hitler. They were wearing leather flying helmets and sitting in the front seat of an enormous open-top Mercedes with cheesy grins on their faces, as if they had just won the ADAC Eifelrennen, and in record time. By one of the armchairs on the floor lay a dozen or so copies of Der Sturmer, the vehemently anti-Semitic newspaper. I’d seen election posters for Adolf Hitler that were less obviously Nazi than the Schwarz family home.
In her own sweet, big-breasted, blond, and blue-eyed way, Frau Schwarz looked no less of a Nazi than her storm trooper of a husband. When she put her arm through her husband’s arm, I half expected them both to shout “Germany, awake!” and “Death to the Jews” before breaking up the furniture and then singing the “Horst Wessel Song.” Sometimes it was only these daydreaming little fantasies that made my job at all bearable. It certainly wasn’t two hundred fifty marks a month. Frau Schwarz wore a full, gathered dirndl skirt with traditional embroidery, a tight-laced-up blouse, an apron, and an expression that was a combination of fear and hostility.
Schwarz put his hand on top of the hand his wife had threaded through his ham hock of an arm, and then she put her other hand on his. But for their grim and resolute faces, they reminded me of a couple getting married.
At last they looked like they were ready to hear what they knew I was going to tell them. I’d like to say I admired their courage and that I felt sorry for them. The truth is, I didn’t, very much. The sight of Schwarz’s illegal uniform and the battalion number on his collar patch made me almost indifferent to their feelings. Assuming they had any. A very good friend of mine, POWM Emil Kuhfeld, a first sergeant with the SCHUPO, had been shot dead at the head of the detachment of riot police trying to disperse a large group of Communists in Frankfurter Allee. A Nazi commissar at Police Station 85, who had investigated the case, had managed to pin the murder on a Communist. But nearly everyone at the Alex knew he had suppressed the evidence of a witness who had seen Kuhfeld shot by an SA man with a rifle. The day after Kuhfeld’s murder, this SA man, one Walter Grabsch, was discovered dead in his Kadinerstrasse flat, having conveniently committed suicide. Kuhfeld’s funeral had been the biggest ever given to a Berlin policeman. I had helped carry the coffin. Which was how I knew that the battalion number on Schwarz’s blue collar patch was the same battalion to which Walter Grabsch had belonged.
I gave Herr and Frau Schwarz all of the hard words of grief straight from the holster. I didn’t even try to rub them in the snow first.
“We think we’ve found the body of your daughter, Anita. We believe she was murdered. Obviously I’ll have to ask you to come down to the station to identify her. Shall we say tomorrow morning, ten o’clock, at the Police Praesidium, on Alexanderplatz?”
Otto Schwarz nodded silently.
I had retailed bad news before, of course. Just the previous week I’d had to tell a mother in Moabit that her seventeen-year-old son, a schoolboy at the local Gymnasium, had been murdered by Communists who’d mistaken him for a brown shirt. “Are you sure it’s him, Commissar?” she asked me more than once during the course of my lachrymose time with her. “Are you sure there hasn’t been a mistake? Couldn’t it be someone else?”
Herr and Frau Schwarz seemed to be taking it on the chin, however.
I glanced around the apartment again. There was a little embroidery sampler in a frame above the door. It read WILLINGNESS FOR SELF-SACRIFICE and was stitched in red, with an exclamation point. I’d seen one before, and I knew the quotation was from Mein Kampf. I wasn’t surprised to see it, of course. But I was surprised that I could see no photographs of their daughter, Anita. Most people who are parents have one or two of their children around the place.
“We have the photograph you gave us, on file,” I said. “So we’re quite sure it’s her, I’m afraid. But it would save time if you could spare us some others.”
“Save time?” Otto Schwarz frowned. “I don’t understand. She’s dead, isn’t she?”
“Save time trying to catch her murderer,” I said coldly. “Someone may have seen her with him.”
“I’ll see what I can find,” Frau Schwarz said, and left the room, quite composed and less upset than if I’d told her that Hitler wouldn’t be coming to tea.
“Your wife seems to be taking it very well,” I said.
“My wife is a nurse at the Charite,” he said. “I suppose she’s used to dealing with bad news. Besides. We were sort of expecting the worst.”
“Really, sir?” I glanced at Grund, who stared balefully at me and then looked away.
“We’re very sorry for your loss, sir,” he told Schwarz. “Very sorry, indeed. Incidentally, there’s no need for both of you to come to the Praesidium tomorrow. And if tomorrow’s not convenient, we can always do it another time.”
“Thank you, Sergeant. But tomorrow will be fine.”
Grund nodded. “Best to get it over with, sir,” he said, nodding. “You’re probably right. And then you can get on with your grieving.”
“Yes. Thank you, Sergeant.”
“What was the nature of your daughter’s disability?” I asked.
“She was a spastic. It affected only the left side of her body. She had trouble walking, of course. There were also occasional seizures, spasms, and other involuntary movements. She couldn’t hear very well, either.”
Schwarz went over to the sideboard and, ignoring the Bible, laid his hand fondly on the open copy of Hitler’s book, as if his Fuhrer’s warm words about the National Socialist movement might afford him some spiritual and philosophical solace.
“What about her capacity for understanding?” I asked.
He shook his head. “There was nothing wrong with her mind, if that’s what you mean?”
“It was.” I paused. “And I just wondered if you might be able to explain how she came to have five hundred marks on her.”
“Five hundred marks?”
“In her coat pocket.”
He shook his head. “There must be some mistake.”
“No, sir, there’s no mistake.”
“Where would Anita get five hundred marks? Someone must have put it there.”
I nodded. “I suppose that’s possible, sir.”
“Do you have any other children, Herr Schwarz?”
He looked astonished even to be asked such a thing. “Good God, no. Do you think we would have risked having another child like Anita?” He sighed loudly, and suddenly there was a strong smell of something foul in the air. “No, we had quite enough to do just looking after her. It wasn’t easy, I can tell you. It wasn’t easy at all.”
Finally, Frau Schwarz returned with several photographs. They were old and rather faded. One was folded down at the edge, as if someone had handled it carelessly. “These are all that I could find,” she announced, still quite dry-eyed.
“All of them, did you say?”
“Yes. That’s all of them.”
“Thank you, Frau Schwarz. Thank you very much.” I nodded curtly. “Well, then. We had better be getting back to the station. Until tomorrow.”
Schwarz started to move toward the door.
“It’s all right, sir. We’ll see ourselves out.”
We went out of the apartment and down the stairs to the street. The Cafe Kerkau, beneath the apartment, was still open, but I was in the mood for something stronger than coffee. I cranked up the car’s two-cylinder engine and we drove east along Unter den Linden.
“I need a drink after that,” I said after a few minutes.
“I suppose it’s lucky you didn’t have a drink before,” observed Grund.
“Meaning, you were a bit hard on them, sir.” He shook his head. “Christ, you didn’t even rub it with snow. You just gave it to them, grit and all. Right between the eyes.”
“Let’s go to the Resi,” I said. “Somewhere with lots of people.”
“And we all know how good you are with people,” Grund said bitterly. “Was it because he was a storm trooper that you treated him and his wife like they had no feelings?”
“Didn’t you see that collar patch? Twenty-first Battalion. That was the same SA battalion Walter Grabsch belonged to. You remember Walter Grabsch? He murdered Emil Kuhfeld.”
“That’s not what the local police said. And what about all the polenta the Commies have murdered? Those two police captains, Anlauf and Lenck. Not forgetting Paul Zankert. What about those fellows?”
“I didn’t know them. But I did know Emil Kuhfeld. He was a good cop.”
“So were Anlauf and Lenck.”
“And I hate the bastards who murdered them every bit as much as I hate the man who killed Emil. The only difference between the Reds and the Nazis as far as I’m concerned is that the Reds don’t wear uniforms. If they did, it’d be a lot easier for me to hate them on sight, too, the same way I hated Schwarz, back there.”
“Well, at least you admit it, you uncaring bastard.”
“All right. I admit it. I was a bit out of line. But it could have been a lot worse. It’s only out of sympathy for that Nazi sod’s feelings that I didn’t pinch him for wearing the SA uniform.”
“That was big of you, sir.”
“Assuming either of them had any feelings. Which I very much doubt. Did you see her?”
“How do you work that out?”
“Come on, Heinrich. You know the play as well as I do. Your daughter’s dead. Someone murdered her. Cue handkerchief. ‘Are you sure?’ ‘Yes, we’re sure.’ ”
“She’s a nurse. They can take it.”
“My eggs. Did you see her? Her tits didn’t even wobble when I told her that her daughter was dead. They were good tits. I liked looking at them. But they didn’t so much as tremble when I gave it to them. Tell me I’m wrong, Heinrich. And tell me I’m wrong that there weren’t any photographs of Anita Schwarz on the sideboard. Tell me I’m wrong that she spent at least ten minutes trying to find one. And tell me I’m wrong that she said she’d given me all the photographs of her daughter.”
“What’s wrong with that?”
“Wouldn’t you want to keep at least one photograph to remember your dead daughter? Just in case some dumb cop like you lost them?”
“She knows she’ll get them back. That’s all.”
“No, no. People aren’t like that, Heinrich. She’d have kept one back. At least one. But she gave me all of them. That’s what she said. I asked her about it. And she confirmed it. You heard her. Not only that, but these pictures aren’t in the best of condition. Like they’ve been kept in an old shoe box. A Commie kills you tonight and someone asks me for a picture of you for the police newspaper, I can give them a nice one, in a frame, in twenty seconds. And I’m not even related to you. Thank God.”
“So what are you saying?”
I pulled up close to the Residenz casino. It was well past midnight, but there were still plenty of people going into the place. One or two of them cops, probably. The Resi was popular with KRIPO from the Alex, and not just because of its proximity.
“I’m saying what you were saying back in the park.”
“What did I say back in the park?”
“That maybe they’re both of them glad the kid’s dead. That maybe they think she’s better off. More important, that they’re better off.”
“How do you work that out?”
“It’s Nazi policy, isn’t it? That cripples are a waste of all our tax marks. That’s where I assumed you’d got all this racial-purity shit from. Hell, Heinrich, you saw that photograph of Schwarz with Hitler.” I lit a cigarette. “I’ll bet you anything Hitler would probably like Otto Schwarz a whole lot better if it wasn’t for his gimp daughter.”
We went inside the Resi. The spanner on the door knew our faces and waved us past the ticket booth. None of the clubs made cops pay to get in. They needed us more than we needed them. Especially when, as with the Resi, there were more than a thousand people in the place. We found ourselves a little loge in the balcony and ordered a couple of beers. The club was full of alcoves and booths and private cellars, all of them equipped with telephones that encouraged patrons to flirt at a safe distance. These telephones were also one of the reasons the place was popular with detectives from the Alex. Informers liked them. The whores liked the telephones, too. Everyone liked the telephones at the Resi. The minute we sat down, the phone on our table started to ring. I picked it up.
“Gunther?” said a man’s voice. “It’s Bruno. Down here by the bar in front of the shooting gallery.” I glanced over the edge of the balcony and saw Stahlecker waving up at me. I waved back.
“For a man with one eye, you do all right.”
“We booked that alphonse. Say thanks to Heinrich.”
“Bruno says thanks, Heinrich. They booked the alphonse.”
“Good,” said Grund.
“On my way out of the Alex I saw Isidor,” Bruno said. “If I saw you he told me to tell you he wants to see you first thing in the morning.”
Isidor was the name by which everyone called the DPP, Dr. Bernard Weiss. It was also the name by which Der Angriff called him. Der Angriff didn’t mean the name to sound affectionate, just anti-Semitic. It didn’t bother Izzy.
“Did he say what about?” I asked, although I was pretty sure I knew the answer.
“What time is first thing for Izzy these days?”
I looked at my watch and groaned. “There goes my evening.”
HE WAS A SMALL MAN with a small mustache, a longish nose, and little round glasses. His hair was dark and combed back across a head full of brains. He wore a well-cut three-piece suit, spats, and, in winter, a coat with a fur collar. Easily caricatured, his Jewishness exaggerated by his enemies, Dr. Bernard Weiss cut an odd figure among the rest of Berlin’s policemen. Heimannsberg, who towered over him, was everyone’s idea of what a senior policeman should look like. Izzy’s appearance was more that of a lawyer, and indeed, he had once been a judge in the Berlin courts. But he was no stranger to uniforms, and returned from the Great War with an Iron Cross, First Class. Izzy did his best to seem like a hard-bitten detective, but it didn’t work. For one thing, he never carried a gun, not even after he was beaten up by a right-wing uniformed cop who claimed he’d mistaken the deputy police president for a Communist. Izzy preferred to do his fighting with his tongue, which was a formidable weapon when deployed. His sarcasm was as caustic as battery acid and, as he was surrounded by men of much lesser intellectual abilities than himself, it was frequently splashed around. This did not make him loved. That would hardly have mattered for most men in his elevated position, but since there were no men in his elevated position who were also Jewish, it ought to have mattered more to Izzy. His lack of popularity made him vulnerable. But I liked him and he liked me. More than any other man in Germany, it was Izzy who had been responsible for the modernization of the police force. But much of the impetus for this had come from the assassination of the foreign minister, Walther Rathenau.
It was said that everyone in Germany could remember exactly where they were on June 24, 1922, when they heard the news that Rathenau, a Jew, had been shot by right-wingers. I had been in the Romanisches Cafe, staring into a drink and still feeling sorry for myself after my wife’s death three months before. Rathenau’s murder had persuaded me to join the Berlin police. Izzy knew that. It was one of the reasons he liked me, I think.
His office at the Alex resembled that of a university professor’s. He sat in front of a large bookcase full of legal and forensic tomes, one of which he himself had written. On the wall was a map of Berlin with red and brown pins indicating outbreaks of political violence. The map looked like it had the measles, there were so many pins. On his desk were two telephones, several piles of papers, and an ashtray where he tipped the ash from the Black Wisdom Havanas that were his one apparent luxury.
He was, I knew, under enormous pressure, because the republic itself was under enormous pressure. In the March elections, the Nazis had doubled their strength in the Reichstag and were now the second-largest party, with eleven and a half million votes. The chancellor, Heinrich Bruning, was trying to turn the economy around, but with unemployment at nearly six million and rising, this was proving almost impossible. Bruning looked unlikely to survive now that the Reichstag had reconvened. Hindenburg remained president of the Weimar Republic and leader of the largest party. But the aristocratic old man had little liking for Bruning. And if Bruning went, what then? Schleicher? Papen? Groner? Hitler? Germany was running out of strong men who were fit to lead the country.
Izzy waved me to a chair without looking up from what he was writing with his black Pelikan. From time to time he put down the pen and lifted the cigar to his mouth, and I amused myself with the vague hope that he might put the pen in his mouth and try to write with the cigar.
“We must continue to do our duty as policemen even though others may make it difficult for us,” he said in a voice that was deep and full-bodied, like a lager darkened by colored malts-a Dunkel or a Bock. He put down the pen and, sitting back on the creaking swivel chair, fixed me with an eye as pointed as the spike on a cuirassier’s Pickelhaube. “Don’t you agree, Bernie?”
“Berliners still haven’t forgotten or forgiven their police force for what happened in 1918, when the Alex surrendered to anarchy and revolution without a shot.”
“No, sir. But what else could they do?”
“They could have upheld the law, Bernie. Instead they saved their own skins. Always we uphold the law.”
“And if the Nazis take over, what then? They’ll use the law and the police for their own ends.”
“Which is exactly what the Independent Socialists did in 1918,” he said. “Under Emil Eichhorn. We survived that. We shall survive the Nazis, too.”
“We must have a little faith, Bernie,” he said. “If the Nazis do get in, we shall have to have faith that, eventually, the parliamentary process will restore Germany to its senses.”
“I hope you’re right, sir.” Then, just as I was beginning to think Izzy had summoned me for a lesson in political science, he came to the point.
“An English philosopher named Jeremy Bentham once wrote that publicity is the very soul of justice. That’s especially true in the case of Anita Schwarz. To bowdlerize a phrase from another English jurist, the investigation into her murder must not merely proceed, it must be seen to proceed vigorously. Now let me tell you why. Helga Schwarz, the murdered girl’s mother, is Kurt Daluege’s cousin. That makes this a high-profile case, Bernie. And I just wanted to let you know that the last thing we want right now is Dr. Goebbels arguing in the pages of his tawdry but nonetheless influential newspaper that the investigation is being handled incompetently, or that we’re dragging our feet because we have some anti-Nazi ax to grind. All personal prejudices must be put aside. Do I make myself clear, Bernie?”
“Very clear, sir.” I might not have had a doctorate in jurisprudence like Bernard Weiss, but I didn’t need to have it spelled out with umlauts and ablauts. Kurt Daluege was a decorated war hero. Currently in the SS, he was an ex-SA leader in Berlin, not to mention Goebbels’s deputy. More important for us, he was an NSDAP member of the Prussian State Parliament, to which the Berlin police owed its first loyalty. Daluege could make political trouble for us. With friends like his, he could make trouble in a hospice for retired Benedictine monks. The smart money in Berlin said that if they ever got into power, the Nazis were planning to put Daluege in charge of the Berlin police force. It wasn’t that he had any experience of policing. He wasn’t even a lawyer. What he did have experience of was doing exactly what Hitler and Goebbels told him to do. And I presumed the same was true of his relation by marriage Otto Schwarz.
“That’s why I’m organizing a press conference this afternoon,” said Izzy. “So you can tell the newspapers just how seriously we’re taking this case. That we’re pursuing all possible leads. That we won’t rest until the murderer is caught. Well, you know the kind of thing. You’ve handled a press conference many times before. On occasion, you’ve even handled them quite well.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“However, you have a natural wit that sometimes you would do well to restrain. Especially in a political case like this one.”
“Is that what this is, sir?”
“Oh, I’d say so, wouldn’t you?”
“Ernst Gennat and I will attend the conference, of course. But it’s your investigation and your conference. If questioned, Ernst and I will confine ourselves to statements regarding your competence. Commissar Gunther’s impressive reputation, his extraordinary perseverance, his keen psychological insights, his cleanup record. The usual crap.”
“Thank you for your confidence, sir.”
Izzy’s lips puckered, as if savoring the taste of his own intelligence like a freshly made matzoh ball. “Well, what have you come up with so far?”
“Not much. She wasn’t killed in the park, that’s for sure. We’ll know more about the cause of death later on today. Hard to say if it was a lust murder or not. Maybe that was the point of removing all her sexual organs and everything that was attached to them. On the face of it, you might say that’s the most remarkable feature of the case. But you might just as easily point to the reaction of Herr and Frau Schwarz themselves. Last night, neither of them seemed particularly upset when I told them that their daughter was dead.”
“God, I hope you’re not suggesting you think they did it?”
I thought for a moment. “Maybe I’m misjudging them, sir. But the girl was disabled. Somehow I got the feeling that they were glad to be rid of her, that’s all. Maybe.”
“I trust you won’t be mentioning any of this at the press conference.”
“You know me better than that.”
“It’s true, some Nazis do have a few ruthless ideas concerning the treatment of society’s unfortunates. People who are physically and mentally handicapped. However, even the Nazis aren’t stupid enough to think that’s a vote winner. Nobody’s going to vote for a political party that advocates the extermination of the sick and the infirm. Not after a war that left thousands of men disabled.”
“No, I suppose not, sir.” I lit a cigarette. “There’s one other thing. The murdered girl had five hundred marks on her. That’s a lot more pocket money than I used to get when I was her age.”
“Yes, you’re right. Did you ask the parents about it?”
“They suggested there must have been some mistake.”
“I’ve heard of money disappearing from a dead man’s pockets. But I’ve never heard of money being planted on one.”
“Ask the neighbors, Bernie. Speak to her school friends. Find out what kind of girl Anita Schwarz was.”
“And Bernie. Get yourself a new tie. That one looks like it’s been in your soup.”
BEFORE THE PRESS CONFERENCE I went and had my hair cut at the KaDeWe. Henry Ford himself couldn’t have arranged the business of cutting German hair more efficiently. There were ten chairs, and I was in and out in less than twenty minutes. The KaDe We wasn’t exactly around the corner from the Alex. But it was a good place to have a haircut and buy a new tie.
As always, the conference itself took place in the Police Museum at the Alex. This was Gennat’s idea following the Police Exhibition of 1926, so that KRIPO might present itself to the world among the photographs, knives, test tubes, fingerprints, poison bottles, revolvers, rope, and buttons that were the exhibits of our many proud investigative successes. The modern face of policing we were keen to display to the world might have looked a bit more efficient had the glass cases containing this assortment of forensic trash and the heavy curtains that shrouded the tall windows of the exhibition hall not been so dusty. Even the most recent photograph, of Ernst Gennat, looked like it had been there for a hundred years.
There were about twenty reporters and photographers gathered among our previous triumphs. Behind a table that had been cleared of a selection of curious murder weapons, I sat between Weiss and Gennat. As if we had been arranged in ascending order of size. The men of Berlin’s press heard me appeal for any witnesses who might have seen a man behaving suspiciously in Friedrichshain Park on the night of the murder and then go on to assure the Berlin public that we were doing all in our power to catch the killer of Anita Schwarz-which, of course, was something I was determined to do. Things seemed to be going quite well until I uttered the usual bromides about interviewing known sex offenders. At this, Fritz Allgeier, the reporter for Der Angriff, a boss-eyed specimen with a gray beard and arms that seemed longer than his legs-hardly master-race material-said that the German people demanded to be told why known sex offenders were allowed to walk our streets in the first place.
Later on, I agreed with Weiss that my next comments could have been a little more diplomatic:
“The last time I looked, Herr Allgeier, Germany still has a system of criminal justice in which people are brought before the courts, tried, and, if found guilty, serve a prison sentence. After they’ve paid their debt to society, we let them go.”
“Maybe we shouldn’t let them go at all,” he said. “It might be best for the German people if these so-called known offenders were put back in prison as quickly as possible. Then this kind of lust murder might never happen.”
“Maybe. That’s not for me to say. But where do you get off thinking that someone like you can speak for the German people, Allgeier? You used to be a jack, in Moabit. A backstreet turk working the three-card trick. The German people might equally demand to know how you turned into a journalist.”
Several of the non-Nazi newspaper reporters thought this was very funny. I might have got away with it, too, if I’d left it there. But I didn’t. I was warming to my subject.
Germany had always had the death penalty for murder, but for several years, the newspapers-the non-Nazi newspapers-had waged a vigorous campaign against the guillotine. Lately, however, these same papers had bowed to Nazi influence and refrained from writing editorials urging the commutation of a murderer’s sentence. With the result that the state executioner, Johann Reichhart, was working once again. His most recent victim had been the mass murderer and cannibal Georg Haarmann. A lot of cops, myself included, didn’t much like the guillotine. More so since the senior investigating officer was called upon to attend the executions of murderers he had arrested.
“The plain fact of the matter is that we’ve always relied on known offenders to give us information,” I said. “There were even murderers serving sentences in prison who were once prepared to help us. Of course that was before we started executing them again. It’s hard to persuade a man to talk to you when you’ve chopped his head off.”
Weiss stood up and, smiling patiently, announced that the conference was over. On our way out, he said nothing. Just smiled sadly at me. Which was worse than a lashing from his tongue. Gennat said, “Nice work, Bernie. They’ll eat your eggs, son.”
“Just the fascist newspapers, surely.”
“All newspapers are fundamentally fascist, Bernie. In every country. All editors are dictators. All journalism is authoritarian. That’s why people line birdcages with it.”
Gennat was right, of course. He usually was. Only Berlin’s evening newspaper Tempo gave me a good press. It used a picture of me that looked like Luis Trenker in The Holy Mountain. Manfred George, Tempo’s editor, wrote a piece in which he described me as one of Berlin’s “finest detectives.” Maybe they liked my new tie. The rest of the republican papers were like a cat creeping around the milk: they didn’t dare say what they really thought for fear that their readers might not agree with them. I didn’t read Der Angriff. What was the point? But Hans Joachim Brandt in the Nazi Volkischer Beobachter referred to me as “a liberal, left-wing stooge.” Probably the truth lay halfway between the two.
BUENOS AIRES, 1950
THE VON BADERS LIVED in the residential part of the Barrio Norte, which is castellano for “people with money.” The Calle Florida, the commercial heart of the Barrio Norte, seemed to have come into being in order to make sure that people with money would not have to go too far out of their way to spend it. The house on Arenales was built in the best eighteenth-century French style. It looked more like a grand hotel than somewhere anyone could have called home. The facade was all relief Ionic columns and tall windows: even the air-conditioning units seemed elegant and in keeping with the urban Bourbon look. Inside, things were no less formally French, with high ceilings and pilasters, marble fireplaces, gilt mirrors, lots of eighteenth-century furniture, and expensive-looking art.
The von Baders and their small dog received the colonel and me sitting on an overstuffed red sofa. She was sitting in one corner of the sofa and he was sitting in the other. They were wearing their best clothes but in a way that left me thinking that they might wear the same clothes to do some gardening, always supposing they knew where the secateurs and the trowels were kept. The way they sat there, I wanted to take hold of the baroness’s chin and move her head slightly toward her husband before picking up my brushes and getting started on their portrait. She was statuesque and beautiful, with good skin and perfect teeth and hair like spun gold and a neck like Queen Nefertiti’s taller sister. He was just thin with glasses, and unlike me, the dog seemed to prefer him to her. She was holding a handkerchief and looked as though she had been crying. The way anxious mothers are supposed to look. He was holding a cigarillo and looked like he’d been making money. Rather a lot of it.
Colonel Montalban introduced me to them. We all spoke in German, as if our meeting were taking place in some handsome villa in Dahlem. I uttered a few sympathetic noises. Fabienne had disappeared somewhere between Arenales and the cemetery at Recoleta, less than half a mile away. She often went there by herself to lay flowers on the steps of the von Bader family vault. It was where they kept their bodies, not their money. It seemed that Fabienne had been very close to her grandfather, who was buried there. They gave me some photographs to borrow. Fabienne looked like any other fourteen-year-old girl who was blond, beautiful, and rich. In one of the photographs, she was sitting on a white pony. The pony’s bridle was held by a gaucho, and behind this bucolic little trio was a ranch house against a backdrop of eucalyptus trees.
“That’s our weekend house,” explained the baron. “In Pilar. To the north of Buenos Aires.”
“Nice,” I said, and wondered where they went when they wanted a proper holiday from the demands of being very rich.
“Yes. Fabienne loved it there,” said her mother.
“I take it you’ve already looked for her at this and any other homes you might own.”
“Yes,” he said. “Of course we have.” He let out a sigh that was part patience and part anxiety. “There’s only the weekend house, Herr Gunther. I don’t own any other houses in Argentina.” He shook his head and took a puff on the cigarillo. “You make me sound like some stinking, plutocratic Jew. Isn’t that right, Colonel?”
“There are no yids in this part of Buenos Aires,” said Montalban.
Von Bader’s wife winced. She didn’t seem to like that remark. Which was another reason why I liked her more than I liked her husband. She crossed her long legs and looked away for a moment. I liked her legs, too.
“It’s really not like her at all,” she said. She blew her nose delicately on the small handkerchief, tucked it into the sleeve of her dress, and smiled bravely. I admired her for that. “She’s never done this kind of thing before.”
“What about her friends?” I asked.
“Fabienne wasn’t like most girls of her age, Herr Gunther,” said von Bader. “She was more mature than her peers. Very much more sophisticated. I doubt that she would have shared a confidence with any of them.”
“But naturally we’ve questioned them,” added the colonel. “I don’t think it would help to question them again. They said nothing that might help.”
“Did she know the other girl?” I asked. “Grete Wohlauf?”
“No,” said von Bader.
“I’d like to see her room, if I may.” I was looking at the baroness. She was easier on the eye than her husband. Easier on the ear, too.
“Of course,” she said. Then she looked at her husband. “Would you mind showing him Fabienne’s room, dear? It upsets me to go in there at the moment.”
Von Bader walked me to a little wooden elevator that was set in an open, wrought-iron shaft and surrounded by a steep, curving marble staircase. It’s not every home that has its own elevator and, catching sight of my eloquently raised eyebrows, the baron felt obliged to offer an explanation.
“During the last years of her life, my mother was in a wheelchair,” he said, as if building an elevator was a solution available to everyone with an elderly parent.
It was just the two of us and the dog in the elevator car. I was close enough to smell the cologne on von Bader’s face and the oil in his gray hair, and yet he avoided my eye. Each time he spoke to me, he was looking somewhere else. I told myself he was preoccupied with his daughter’s possible fate. But all the same, I’d handled enough cases involving missing persons to know when I wasn’t getting the whole story.
“Montalban says that back in Berlin, before the war, you were a top detective. With KRIPO and in private practice.”
He made being a private detective sound like being a top dentist. Maybe it was kind of similar to being a dentist, at that. Sometimes getting a client to tell you everything relevant was like pulling teeth.
“I’ve had my Archimedes moments,” I said. “With KRIPO and on my own.”
“Eureka. I’ve found it.” I shrugged. “These days I’m more the traveling-salesman type.”
“Selling what, in particular?”
“Nothing. Nothing at all. Not even now. I’ll do my best to find your daughter, sir, but I never was one for working miracles. Generally I do a lot better when people believe in me enough to give me all the facts.”
Von Bader colored a little. Maybe that was because he was trying to wrestle the elevator car door open. Or maybe it wasn’t. But he still wasn’t looking at me. “What makes you think you haven’t had them?”
“Call it a hunch.”
He nodded as if considering some kind of offer, which was odd, given that I hadn’t actually made him one.
We stepped out of the car and into the thickly carpeted corridor. At the end of it he pushed a door open and ushered me into the bedroom of a neat and tidy girl. The wallpaper was red roses. The bed had little flowers painted on the enameled iron frame. Above the bed were several Chinese fans in a picture frame. On a tall table was a large and empty Oriental birdcage. On a shorter table was a chessboard set out in a game that seemed to be still in progress. I gave the pieces the once-over. Black or white, she was a clever little girl. There were some books and some teddy bears and a chest of drawers. I tugged one open.
“Do you mind?” I asked.
“Go right ahead,” he said. “I suppose you’re just doing your job.”
“Well, I’m certainly not looking for her underwear.” I was hoping to goad something from him. After all, he hadn’t exactly denied that he was keeping something back. I turned over some socks and looked underneath.
“What exactly are you looking for?”
“A diary. A commonplace book. Some letters. Some money you didn’t know about. A photograph of someone you don’t recognize. I’m not sure, exactly. But I’ll know it when I see it.” I closed the drawer. “Or maybe there’s something you want to tell me now, while Colonel Montalban isn’t here?”
He picked up one of the teddy bears and lifted it to his nose, like a hound trying to raise a scent. “It’s curious,” he said. “The way you can smell them on their toys. It’s so evocative of them. Kind of like Proust, really.”
I nodded. I’d heard a lot about Proust. One day I was going to have to find an excuse not to read him.
“I know what Montalban thinks,” he said. “He thinks Fabienne is already dead.” Von Bader shook his head. “I just don’t believe that.”
“What makes you think not, Baron?”
“You would call it a hunch, I suppose. Easier to spell than intuition. But that’s how it is. If she was dead, I’m quite sure we would have heard something by now. Someone would have found her. I’m certain of it.” He shook his head. “Since you were once a famous detective with the homicide police in Berlin, I imagine Montalban’s asking you to work on the assumption that she’s dead. Well, I’m asking you to assume the opposite. To assume that perhaps someone-someone German, yes, I think that must be true-is hiding her. Or keeping her against her will.”
I opened another drawer. “Why would someone want to do that? Do you have enemies, Herr Baron?”
“I’m a banker, Herr Hausner. And as it happens, a damned important one. It might surprise you but bankers do make enemies, yes. Money or the getting of money always brings enemies. There’s that. And then there’s what I did during the war to consider. During the war, I worked for the Abwehr. German military intelligence. Myself and a group of other German-Argentine bankers helped to bankroll the war effort on this side of the Atlantic. We funded a number of German agents in the United States. Without success, I’m sorry to say. Several of our most prominent agents were caught by the FBI and executed. They were betrayed, but I’m not sure by whom.”
“Could someone blame you for that?”
“I don’t see how. I had no operational involvement. I was just a money man.”
Von Bader was making eye contact with me now. Plenty of it.
“I’m not sure how relevant any of this is to my daughter’s disappearance, Herr Hausner. But there were five of us. Bankers funding the Nazis in Argentina. Ludwig Freude, Richard Staudt, Heinrich Dorge, Richard von Leute, and me. And I only mention this because late last year Dr. Dorge was found dead on a street here in Buenos Aires. He’d been murdered. Heinrich was formerly an aide to Dr. Hjalmar Schacht. I take it you’ve heard of him.”
“I’ve heard of him,” I said. Schacht had been the minister of economics and then president of the Reichsbank. In 1946, he had been tried for war crimes at Nuremberg and acquitted.
“I’m telling you all this so you’ll know two things in particular. One is that it’s perfectly possible my previous life has caught up with me in some-some unfathomable way. I’ve received no threats. Nothing. The other thing is that I’m a very rich man, Herr Hausner. And I want you to take me seriously when I say that if you find my daughter, alive, and bring about her safe return, I’ll give you a reward of two million pesos, payable in whatever currency and whatever country you choose. That’s about fifty thousand dollars, Herr Hausner.”
“That’s a lot of money, Herr Baron.”
“My daughter’s life is worth at least that much to me. More. Much more. But that’s my business. Your business is to try to collect that two million pesos.”
I nodded thoughtfully. I guess it must have looked like I was weighing things up. That’s the trouble with me. I’m coin-operated. I start thinking when people offer me money. I start thinking a lot more when it’s a lot of money.
“Do you have any children, Herr Hausner?”
“If you did you would know that money’s not that important next to the life of someone you love.”
“I’m obliged to take your word for that, sir.”
“You’re not obliged to take my word for it at all. I’ll have my lawyers draw up a letter of agreement regarding the reward.”
It wasn’t what I’d meant, but I didn’t contradict him. Instead I took a last look around the room.
“What happened to the bird in the cage?”
“In the cage.” I pointed at the pagoda-sized cage on the tall table.
Von Bader looked at the cage almost as if he had never looked at it before. “Oh, that. It died.”
“Was she upset about it?”
“Yes, of course she was. But I don’t see how her disappearance could have anything to do with a bird.”
“I have a fourteen-year-old daughter, Herr Hausner. You don’t. As a result, and with all due respect, I think I can honestly say I know more about fourteen-year-old girls than you do.”
“Did she bury it in the garden?”
“I really don’t know.”
“Perhaps your wife does.”
“I’d really rather you didn’t ask her about it. She’s upset enough about things as it is. My wife holds herself responsible for the death of the bird. And she’s already looking around for reasons to blame herself for our daughter’s disappearance. Any implied suggestion that these two events might be connected would only add to the sense of guilt she’s feeling about Fabienne. I’m sure you understand.”
That might just have been true. And maybe it wasn’t. But out of respect for his two million pesos I was prepared to let the bird go. Sometimes, to take hold of the money, you have to let go of the bird. That’s what they call politics.
We returned to the sitting room, where the baroness had started crying again. I’ve made a close study of women crying. In my line of work it comes with the truncheon and the handcuffs. On the eastern front, in 1941, I saw women who could have won Olympic gold medals for crying. Sherlock Holmes used to study cigar ash and wrote a monograph on the subject. I knew about crying. I knew that when a woman is crying it doesn’t pay to let her get too close to your shoulder. It can cost you a clean shirt. Tears are, however, sacred, and you violate their sanctity at your peril. We left her to get on with it.
AFTER WE LEFT the von Bader house, I insisted the colonel and I go to Recoleta Cemetery. We were, after all, very close. I wanted to see the place Fabienne had been visiting when she disappeared.
Like the Viennese, rich portenos take death very seriously. Enough to spend large sums of money on expensive tombs and mausolea. But Recoleta was the only cemetery I’d ever been where there weren’t any graves. We went through a Greek-style entrance into what was a little city of marble. Many of the mausolea were classically designed and looked almost habitable. Walking around the neat and parallel stone streets was like touring some ancient Roman town swept clean of its human inhabitants by a cataclysmic natural disaster. Looking up at the bright blue sky, I half expected to see the smoking crater of a volcano. It was hard to imagine a fourteen-year-old girl coming to such a place. The few living people we saw were old and gray. I expect they had the same thought about me and the colonel.
We got back in the car and headed for the Casa Rosada. It was a while since I’d driven a car. Not that anyone would have noticed. I had seen worse drivers than portenos, but only in Ben-Hur. Ramon Novarro and Francis X. Bushman would have felt quite at home on the streets of Buenos Aires.
“Nice and handy for the president to have his secret police headquartered in the Casa Rosada,” I said, catching sight of the distinctive pink building again.
“It has some advantages. Incidentally, you’ve already seen the boss. The youngish man in the pinstripe suit who was with us when you met Peron? That’s him. Rodolfo Freude. He’s never very far away from the president.”
“Freude. Von Bader mentioned a banker called Ludwig Freude. Any relation?”
“Is that how he got the job?”
“It’s a long story, but yes, in effect.”
“Was he in the Abwehr, too?”
“Who? Rodolfo? No. But Rodolfo’s deputy was. Werner Koennecke. Werner is married to Rodolfo’s sister, Lily.”
“It all sounds very cozy.”
“That’s Buenos Aires for you. It’s just like the cemetery at Recoleta. You have to know someone to get in.”
“Who do you know, Colonel?”
“Rodolfo knows some important people, it’s true. But I know people who are really important. I know an Italian woman who is the best whore in the city. I know a chef who makes the best pasta in South America. And I know a man who can kill someone and make it look like a suicide, with no questions asked. These are the important things to know in our strange profession, Herr Hausner. Don’t you agree?”
“I don’t often awake and feel the need to have someone murdered, Colonel. If I did I’d probably do it myself. But I guess I’m just a little bit strange that way. Besides, I’m too old to be impressed by anything very much. Except perhaps an Italian woman. I always did like Italian women.”
DEPARTMENT IV, the ordinary criminal police, was supposed to stand apart from Department Ia, the political police. DIa was charged with the investigation of all political crime, but it did not operate secretly. The political police was supposed to work discreetly to forestall political violence of whatever hue. Given the situation in Germany, it was easy to understand why the Weimar government had thought it necessary to bring such a police force into being. In practice, however, neither the regular police force nor the German public liked the politicals; and DIa had proved to be spectacularly unsuccessful at preventing political violence. What was more, the point of having two separate police departments became all but meaningless as the majority of the murders we investigated turned out to be political: a storm trooper murdering a Communist, or vice versa. As a result, DIa struggled to establish its proper jurisdiction and to justify its continued existence. True republicans considered its functions undemocratic and potentially ripe for exploitation by any unscrupulous government that might wish to establish a police state. It was for this reason that Professor Hans Illmann, the pathologist handling the Schwarz case, preferred to meet away from the Alex, in his laboratory and office at the Institute for Police Science in Charlottenburg. Department IV and Department Ia might have existed on different floors of the Alex, but that was still too close for the politically sensitive nostrils of KRIPO’s leading forensic scientist.
I found Illmann staring out of a deep bay window at a garden that had nothing to do with the police or pathology. It and the villa it surrounded came from a gentler time when scientists had more hair on their cheeks than a mandrill baboon. It was easy to see why he preferred being here instead of at the Alex. Even with a couple of bodies in the basement, the place felt more like an expensive retirement home than a forensic science institute. He was as lean as a scalpel, with rimless glasses and a little Dutch chin-beard that made him everyone’s idea of what an artist ought to look like. Toulouse-Lautrec in his much taller period.
As we shook hands, I jutted my chin at a copy of Der Angriff lying on his desk. “What, are you turning Nazi on me? Reading shit like that.”
“If more people read this garbage then perhaps they wouldn’t vote for these intellectual pygmies. Or at least they would know what Germany can expect if they ever come to power. No, no, Bernie. Everyone should read this. You especially should read it. Your card has been well and truly stamped, my young republican friend. And in public, too. Welcome to the club.”
He picked up the newspaper and started to read aloud:
“ ‘The symbol of the Iron Front, which was designed by a Russian Jew, is three arrows pointing southeast inside a circle. The meaning of the arrows has been interpreted differently. Some say that the three arrows stand for the opponents of the Iron Front: Communism, monarchism, and National Socialism. Others say that these arrows stand for the three columns of the German workers’ movement: party, trade union, and Reichsbanner. But we say it stands for one thing only: the Iron Front is a political alliance that is full of pricks.
“ ‘Chief among the Iron Front pricks that pollute the Berlin police force are Police President Grzesinski, his yid deputy Bernard Weiss, and their KRIPO lackey Bernhard Gunther. These are the policemen who are supposed to be investigating the murder of Anita Schwarz. You would think that they would be sparing no effort to catch this monster. Far from it! Commissar Gunther astonished those attending yesterday’s press conference when he informed this stunned reporter that he hopes the murderer will be spared the death penalty.
“ ‘Let me tell Commissar Gunther this: that if he and his liberal-minded mates somehow scrape together the competence to apprehend the murderer of Anita Schwarz, there is only one sentence that will satisfy the German people. Death. The fact is, only brutality can now be respected in this country. The German people demand that criminals feel good, wholesome fear. Why get so worked up about the execution and torture of a few law-breakers? The masses want it. They are shouting for something that will give criminals a proper respect for the law. That is why we need the strong governance of National Socialism, as opposed to this bleeding-heart SDP government that is afraid of its own corrupt shadow. If Commissar Gunther spent more time worrying about catching killers and less time worrying about their rights, then, perhaps, this city would not be the sink of iniquity it is now.’ ”
Illmann tossed the paper across the desk at me and started rolling a perfect cigarette with the fingers of one hand.
“To hell with those bastards,” I said. “I’m not worried.”
“No? You should be. If this July election doesn’t prove conclusive one way or the other, there might be another putsch. And you and I could find ourselves floating in the Landwehr Canal, just like poor Rosa Luxemburg. Be careful, my young friend. Be careful.”
“It won’t come to that,” I said. “The army won’t stand for it.”
“I’m afraid I don’t share your touching faith in our armed forces. I think they’re just as likely to fall in behind the Nazis as they are to stand up for the republic.” He shook his head and grinned. “No, if the republic is to be saved, I’m afraid there’s just one thing for it. You’ll just have to solve this murder before July 31.”
“Fair enough, Doc. So what have you got?”
“Death was from asphyxia, caused by chloroform. Anita Schwarz swallowed her tongue. I found traces of chloroform in her hair and in her mouth. It’s a common enough death in hospitals. Heavy-handed anesthesiologists have killed many a patient in this way.”
“That’s a comforting thought. Any sign that she was interfered with sexually?”
“Impossible to tell, given her lack of plumbing. That could be why he did it, of course. To conceal evidence of intercourse. He knew what he was about, too. A very sharp curette was used calmly and confidently. This was no frenzied attack, Bernie. The killer took his time. Perhaps that’s why he used the chloroform. In which case, her fear was not a factor in his motivation. She was probably unconscious and almost certainly dead when he butchered her. You remember the Haarmann case, of course. Well, this is something very different.”
“Someone with medical experience, perhaps,” I said, thinking aloud. “In which case, the proximity of the state hospital might be relevant.”
“Very likely it is,” said Illmann. “But not for the reason we’ve just been discussing. No, I’d say it’s the pill you found near the body that makes it relevant.”
“Oh? How? What is it?”
“It’s nothing I’ve seen before. In chemical terms, it’s a sulfone group connected to an amine group. But the synthesis is new. I don’t even know what to call it, Bernie. Sulfanamine? I don’t know. It certainly doesn’t exist in the current pharmacopoeia. Not here. Not anywhere. Which means it’s new and experimental.”
“Have you any idea what it might be for?”
“The active sulfa molecule was first synthesized in 1906 and has been widely used in the dye-making industry.”
“My guess is that there’s a smaller active compound that’s contained inside the dye-making molecule. About fifteen years ago the Pasteur Institute in Paris was using the sulfa molecule as the basis for some kind of antibacterial agent. Sadly, the work came to nothing. However, this pill would seem to indicate that someone, possibly here in Berlin, has successfully synthesized a sulfa-based drug.”
“Yes, but what could you use it for?”
“You could use it against any kind of bacterial infection. Any streptococci. However, you would have to test the drug on some volunteers before publishing any results. Especially given the Pasteur’s previous failures using dye-based drugs.”
“An experimental drug being tested at the state hospital, perhaps?”
“Could be.” Illmann finished his cigarette, stubbing it out in a little porcelain ashtray made for the Police Exhibition of 1926. He seemed about to say something and then checked himself.
“No, go on,” I said.
“I was only trying to think what might make Berlin interesting to someone conducting a drug trial.” He shook his head. “Because there are no drug companies based here in Berlin. And it’s not like we suffer from anything more than anywhere else in Germany.”
“Ah, well now, that’s where you’re wrong, Doc,” I said. “You want to read your police gazette, instead of worrying about the shit that’s in Der Angriff. There are more than one hundred thousand prostitutes working in Berlin today. More than anywhere else in Europe. And that’s just the straight ones. God knows how many warm boys there are in this city. My sergeant, Heinrich Grund, is always going on about it.”
“Of course,” said Illmann. “Venereal disease.”
“Since the war the figures have gone through the roof,” I said. “Not that I’d know, never having had a dose of jelly myself. But the current treatment is neosalvarsan, isn’t it?”
“That’s right. It contains organic arsenic, which makes its use somewhat hazardous. Even so, in its time it was such an important discovery and efficacious remedy-no proper remedy had existed before-that neosalvarsan was called ‘the magic bullet.’ That was a German discovery, too. Paul Ehrlich won the Nobel Prize for it in 1908. An exceptionally gifted man.”
“No, no, he’s dead, alas. Interestingly, salvarsan and neosalvarsan are dye-based compounds, too. Which is where the problem with them lies. In the color. And that must be where this new compound scores. Someone must have worked out how to remove the color without compromising the antibacterial activity.” He nodded, as if imagining the chemistry appearing on an invisible blackboard in front of his eyes. “Ingenious.”
“So let’s say we have a drug trial, here in Berlin,” I said. “For patients suffering from big jelly and little jelly? Syphilis and gonorrhea.”
“If it was effective against one, it might well be effective against the other, too.”
“How many patients would we be talking about? For a trial?”
“In the beginning? A few dozen. A hundred at the most. And all highly confidential, mind you. No doctor’s going to tell you which of his patients is suffering from a venereal disease. Not only that, but if it works, a drug like this could be worth millions. The clinical trials are very likely top secret.”
“How would you recruit your volunteers?”
Illmann shrugged. “Neosalvarsan treatment is no ice cream treat, Bernie. Its reputation precedes it. And most of the horror stories you’ve heard are true. So I’d have thought there would be no shortage of volunteers for a new drug.”
“All right. Suppose some T-girl gives our man a dose of jelly. Which makes him hate women enough to want to kill one. Meanwhile he volunteers for a drug trial to get his meat and two veg sorted.”
“But if a T-girl gives him a dose,” said Illmann, “then why not kill a T-girl? Why kill a child?”
“T-girls are too savvy. I saw one the other night. Built like a wrestler, she was. Some fritz came in and wanted her charged with assault. She’d hit the bastard with her riding crop.”
“Some men would pay good money for that kind of thing.”
“My point is this. He kills Anita Schwarz because she’s easier prey. She’s crippled. Makes it hard for her to get away. Could be he didn’t even notice it. After all, it was dark.”
“All right,” allowed Illmann. “That’s just about possible. Just.”
“Well then, here’s another thing. Something I haven’t told you yet. On account of the fact that I’ve only just remembered I can trust you. And this is hot stuff, mind. So keep it under your hat. Anita Schwarz may have been disabled. And she may have been just fifteen. But she wasn’t above earning herself some pocket money on the side.”
“One of her neighbors told me the girl had a major morals problem. The parents won’t talk about it. And I didn’t dare mention it at the press conference after the lecture Izzy gave me about trying to keep the Nazis sweet. But we found quite a bankroll in her coat pocket. Five hundred marks. She didn’t get that from running errands to the local shop.”
“But the girl was crippled. She wore a caliper.”
“And there’s a market for that, too, believe me, Doc.”
“My God, there are some evil bastards in this city.”
“Now you sound like my sergeant, Grund.”
“Then maybe you are right. You know I never thought to test her for syphilis and gonorrhea. I’ll do it, immediately.”
“One more thing, Doc. What kind of dyes are we talking about here? Food dyes, cloth dyes, hair dyes, what?”
“Organic dyes. Direct or substantive dyeing. Direct dyes are used on a whole host of materials. Cotton, paper, leather, wool, silk, nylon. Why do you ask?”
“I don’t know.” But somewhere, at the bottom of the sock drawer I called my mind, there was something important. I rummaged around for a moment and then shook my head. “No. It’s probably nothing.”
MY ROUTE BACK from Charlottenburg took me in a straight line all the way from Kaiserdamm to the Tiergarten. There were wild boars in the Tiergarten. You could hear them grunting as they wallowed in their enclosure, or sometimes squealing like the brakes on my old DKW as they fought with one another. Whenever I heard that sound, I thought of the Reichstag and German party politics. The Tiergarten was full of animal life-not just boars. There were buzzards and woodpeckers and pied wagtails and siskins and bats-there were lots of bats. The smell of cut grass and blossom that came through the open window of my car was wonderful. It was the clean, uncorrupted smell of early summer. At this time of year, the Tiergarten was open until early dusk, which also made it popular with grasshoppers-the amateur prostitutes with no room money, who did it with their fritzes lying down on the grass or in the shrubbery. Nature is wonderful.
I looked at my watch as I came through the Brandenburg Gate and onto Pariser Platz. There was time for lunch as long as lunch came in a brown bottle. I could have stopped almost anywhere south of Unter den Linden. There were lots of stand-ups around Gendarmen Market, where I might easily have got myself a sausage and a beer. But anywhere wasn’t where I wanted to go. Not when I was right outside the Adlon Hotel. It was true, I’d been there only a day or two before. And a day or two before that. The fact was, I liked the Adlon. Not for its ambience and its gardens and its whispering fountain and its palm court and its fabulous restaurant, which I couldn’t have afforded anyway. I liked it because I liked one of the house detectives. She was called Frieda Bamberger. I liked Frieda a lot.
Frieda was tall and dark, with a full mouth and an even fuller figure and a voluptuous sort of fertility about her that I put down to the fact that she was Jewish, but was actually something rather more indefinable. She was glamorous, too. Had to be. Her job involved hanging around the hotel posing as a guest and keeping an eye out for prostitutes, con artists, and thieves, who liked the Adlon for the rich pickings that were to be had from the even richer guests. I had got to know her in the summer of 1929, when I helped her to arrest a female jewel thief who was armed with a knife. I stopped Frieda getting stuck with it by the simple means of getting stuck myself. Clever Gunther. For that I got a nice letter from Hedda Adlon, the proprietor’s daughter-in-law, and, after I came out of the hospital, a very personal kind of thank-you from Frieda herself. We weren’t sharing an envelope, exactly. Frieda had a semi-detached husband, who lived in Hamburg. But just now and then we’d search an empty bedroom for a lost maharajah or a stolen movie star. Sometimes it could take us a while.
As soon as I walked through the door, Frieda was on my arm like a hawk. “Am I glad to see you,” she said.
“And I thought you weren’t the type who cares.”
“I’m serious, Bernie.”
“And so am I. I keep telling you, only you don’t listen. I’d have brought flowers if I’d known you felt this way.”
“I want you to go into the bar,” she said urgently.
“That’s good. That’s where I was going anyway.”
“I want you to take a look at the guy in the corner. And I mean the fritz in the corner, not the redhead he’s with. He’s wearing a dove-gray suit with a double-breasted waistcoat and a flower in his lapel. I don’t like the look of him.”
“If that’s so, then I hate him already.”
“No, I think he might be dangerous.”
I went into the bar, picked up a matchbook, lit a cigarette, and gave the fritz the quick up-and-down. The girl he was with looked me up and down back. This was bad, because the fritz she was with was worse than bad. He was Ricci Kamm, the boss of the Always True, one of Berlin’s most powerful criminal rings. Normally Ricci stayed put in Friedrichshain, where his gang was based, which was fine, since he tended not to give us any trouble there. But the girl he was with looked like she had an opinion of herself that was as high as the Zugspitze. Probably she figured she was too good for joints like the Zum Nussbaum, which was where the Always True boys usually went for their kicks. Very likely she was right, too. I’ve seen better-looking red-heads, but only on Rita Hayworth. She was wearing good curves, too. I doubt she could have cut a better figure if she’d been wearing Sonja Henie’s favorite ice skates.
Ricci’s eyes were on mine. But my eyes were on her and there was a bottle of Bismarck in front of them both that said this might spell trouble. Ricci was a quiet sort with a small, soft voice and nice manners-until he had one drink too many, and then it was like watching Dr. Jekyll turn into Mr. Hyde. From the level in the bottle, Ricci was about ready to grow an extra set of eyebrows.
I turned on my heel and went back into the lobby.
“You were right not to like him,” I told Frieda. “He’s a dangerous man and I think his timer’s about to go off.”
“What are we going to do?”
I waved Max, the hall porter, toward me. I didn’t do it lightly. Max paid Louis Adlon three thousand marks a month to have that job, because he got a kickback on everything he did for the hotel’s guests, which made him about thirty thousand marks a month. He was holding a dog leash, which was attached to a miniature dachshund. I figured Max was looking for a bellboy to walk the thing. “Max,” I said, “call the Alex and tell them to send the kiddy car. You’d better order up a couple of uniforms as well. There’s going to be some trouble in the bar.”
Max hesitated as if he was expecting a tip.
“Unless you’d rather handle it yourself.”
Max turned and walked quickly to the house phones.
“And while you’re at it, go and check the easy chairs in the library and see if you can’t rustle up one of those overpaid ex-cops who call themselves house bulls.”
Frieda had never been a cop, so she didn’t take offense at my remark about ex-cops. But I knew she could look after herself. Adlon had hired her on the strength of her having been in the German women’s Olympic fencing team in Paris in 1924, when she’d narrowly missed a medal.
I took her by the arm and walked her to the bar. “When we sit down,” I said, “I want you all over me like ivy. That way I’m not a threat to him.”
We sat down at the table right beside Ricci. The Bismarck had kicked in and he was sneering a series of swear words at a terrified bar waiter. The redhead looked like she’d seen it before. Most of the bar’s other customers were wondering if they could make it as far as the door without crossing Ricci’s line of sight. But one of them was made of sterner stuff. A businessman wearing a frock coat and a meat slicer of a shirt collar, and a look of indignation at the kind of low German that was spilling out of Ricci’s mouth, stood up and seemed inclined to take on the gangster. I caught his eye and shook my head and, for a moment, he seemed to heed my warning. The moment he sat down, Frieda let me have it. On the ears and the neck and the back of my head and on my cheek and finally on my mouth, which was where I liked it best of all.
“You’re cute,” she said, with some understatement.
Ricci looked at her and then at the redhead beside him. “Why can’t you be more like that?” he asked her, jerking a thumb Frieda’s way. “Friendly, like.”
“Because you’re drunk.” The redhead took out a powder compact and started to touch up her makeup. A futile effort in my estimation: like trying to touch up the Mona Lisa. “And when you’re drunk, you’re a pig.”
She had a point, but Ricci didn’t care for it. He stood up, but the table stayed on his lap. The bottle and the glasses and the ashtray went to the floor. Ricci swore and the redhead started to laugh.
“A clumsy drunken pig,” she added, for good measure, and started to laugh again. I liked the effect it had on the redhead’s mantrap of a mouth. I liked the way her sharp white teeth shucked off her red lips like cherry skins. But Ricci didn’t like it at all and let her have it hard with the flat of his hand. In the Adlon’s plush bar, the slap went off like New Year’s Eve. This was too much for the man wearing the meat-slicer shirt collar. He looked like a real Prussian gentleman-the kind who cares what happens to a lady, even a lady who was probably a hundred-mark whore.
“Uh-oh,” Frieda murmured in my ear. “The man from I. G. Farben is about to play Sir Lancelot.”
“Did you say I. G. Farben?”
I. G. Farben was Europe’s largest dyestuff syndicate. The company’s headquarters were in Frankfurt but they had an office in Berlin that was opposite the Adlon, on the other side of Unter den Linden. That was what I’d been trying to remember in Illmann’s office.
“I’m sorry,” said the man from I. G. Farben. His tone was as stiff as a washboard, and just as square. “But I really must protest at your loutish behavior and your treatment of that lady.”
The redhead picked herself off the floor and uttered a few short words that were common enough in the engine rooms of German naval vessels. She was probably wondering if the fritz with the high collar was referring to her. Collecting the now empty Bismarck bottle in her hand, she swung it at Ricci’s head. The Always True leader caught it neatly in his palm, wrested it from her, tossed it in the air like a juggler’s club, grabbed it by the neck, and then swung it down hard against the edge of the upturned table-all in one easy, practiced, and delinquent gesture. The bottle came up again, glistening, meaningfully triangular, like a shard of razor-sharp ice. Ricci took hold of the IGF man’s frock coat, fisted him a foot closer, and seemed on the point of acquainting him with a more fundamental rebuttal when I interrupted their conversation.
The barman at the Adlon made the best cocktails in Berlin. He was fond of cucumbers, too. He put pickled cucumbers on the tables and slices of fresh cucumber in some of the drinks favored by Americans. A large uncut cucumber lay on the bartop. Looking for a knife, I’d had my eye on it for a while. I don’t care for anything in my drink except ice, but I liked the look of that cucumber. Besides, my gun was in the glove box of my car.
I dislike hitting a man when his back is turned. Even with a cucumber. It goes against my inherent sense of fair play. But since Ricci Kamm didn’t have a sense of fair play, I hit him hard, on the back of the hand holding the broken bottle. He yelped and dropped it. Then I struck him with the cucumber on the side of his head, twice. If I’d had some ice and a slice of lemon, I’d probably have hit him with those as well. An exclamation tiptoed around the room, as if I’d made a rabbit disappear from inside a top hat. The only trouble was, the rabbit was still there. Ricci sat down heavily, holding his ear. Teeth bared, nose twitching, he reached inside his coat. I didn’t think he was looking for his wallet. I saw a little black hippo’s head peeking out from a holster, and then a Colt automatic appeared in Ricci’s hand.
It was a good, firm cucumber, hardly ripe at all. Springy, with plenty of heft, like a good blackjack. I put a lot of weight into it. I had to. Ricci didn’t move his head more than an inch. He didn’t try to block the cucumber. He was hoping to fire the gun before that happened. He took it across the nose, jerked back on the chair, dropped the gun, and lifted both hands to the blood-spattered center of his face. Figuring I might never get a better chance to do it, I cuffed both of his wrists before he even knew what was happening.
I let Ricci groan for a while before handing him a bar towel to press against his nose and hauling him by the cuffs to his feet. Acknowledging a round of applause from some of the other guests in the hotel bar, I pushed Ricci in the direction of two uniforms and then tossed the gun after him.
Frieda moved in on the redhead. “Time to go, lovely,” she said, taking hold of a bony elbow.
“Take your hands off me,” said the redhead, trying to wrest her arm away, but the elbow stayed held in Frieda’s strong fist. Then she laughed and gave me a languorous north-to-south look. “That was really something, what you did just now, comrade. Like a Christmas gift from the kaiser. Wait until people hear about this. Ricci Kamm got himself arrested by a johann armed with just a cucumber. He’s never going to live it down. Leastways, I hope he doesn’t. That bastard’s hit me once too often.”
Frieda steered her firmly toward the door, leaving me with the man from IGF. He was tall, thin, and gray. As full of Prussian good manners as Berlin’s Herrenklub, he bowed gravely.
“That was admirable,” he said. “Quite admirable. I’m very grateful to you, sir. I don’t doubt that thug would have seriously injured me. Perhaps worse.”
The IGF man had his wallet out and was pressing his business card on me. It was as thick and white as his shirt collar. His name was Dr. Carl Duisberg and he was one of the I. G. Farben’s directors, from Frankfurt.
“May I know your name, sir?”
I told him.
“I see the international reputation of Berlin’s police force is well deserved, sir.”
I shrugged. “It’s amazing what you can do with a cucumber,” I said.
“If there’s anything I can do for you in return,” he said. “To show my gratitude. Name it, sir. Name it.”
“I could use some information, Dr. Duisberg.”
He frowned, slightly puzzled. He hadn’t been expecting this. “Of course. If it’s in my power to give it.”
“Does the Dyestuff Syndicate have anything to do with drug companies?”
He smiled, and looked slightly reassured, as if the information I was seeking was common knowledge. “I can tell you that very easily. The Dyestuff Syndicate has owned Bayer since 1925.”
“You mean the company that makes aspirin?”
“No, sir,” he said proudly. “I mean the company that invented it.”
“I see.” I did my best to look impressed. “I guess I ought to be grateful, considering the number of hangovers your company has helped me cope with. So what’s next in line, Doc? What’s the new wonder drug your people are working on now?”
“It’s not my field, sir. Not my field at all. I’m a chemical engineer.”
“Whose field is it?”
“You mean one person?”
“My dear Commissar, we have dozens of research scientists working for us, all over Germany. But mainly in Leverkusen. Bayer is based in Leverkusen.”
“Leverkusen? Never heard of it.”
“That’s because it’s a new town, Commissar Gunther. It’s made up of several small villages on the Rhine. And a number of chemical factories.”
“It sounds perfectly charming.”
“No, Commissar. Leverkusen is not at all charming. But it is making money. It is making money.” The doctor laughed. “But why do you ask, sir?”
“Here in Berlin, we have an Institute for Police Science, in Charlottenburg,” I said. “And we’re always on the lookout for new experts we can call upon to help us with our inquiries. I’m sure you understand.”
“Of course, of course.”
“I met this doctor who’s handling some very sensitive clinical trials at the state hospital in Friedrichshain here in Berlin. I think he said he was working for Bayer. And I was wondering if he might be the kind of discreet and reliable fellow who might help us out once in a while. From all accounts he’s a very gifted man. I heard him described as the next Paul Ehrlich. You know? The ‘magic bullet’?”
“Oh, you must mean Gerhard Domagk,” said Duisberg.
“That’s him,” I said. “I just wondered if you might be able to vouch for him. As simple as that, really.”
“Well, I haven’t actually met him myself. But from what I hear, he’s very brilliant. Very brilliant, indeed. And very discreet. He has to be. Much of our work is highly confidential. I’m sure he would be delighted to help the Berlin Police if it was within his power to do so. Was there something specific you wanted to ask him?”
“No. Not yet. Perhaps in the future.”
I pocketed the IGF man’s card and let him get back to the rest of his lunch party. That let Frieda get back to me. She looked flushed and very grateful, which is the way I like my women.
“You handled that cucumber like a professional,” she said.
“Didn’t you know? Before I joined the Berlin polenta, I was a green-grocer, in Leverkusen.”
“Where the hell is Leverkusen?”
“Didn’t you know? It’s a new town, on the Rhine. The center of the German chemical industry. What do you say we go there for the weekend and you can show me how grateful you are?”
Frieda smiled. “We don’t have to go that far to go that far,” she said. “We only have to go upstairs. To room 102. That’s one of our VIP suites. Empty right now. But Charlie Chaplin once slept in room 102. So did Emil Jannings.” She smiled again. “But then neither of them had me around to help keep them awake.”
IT WAS AROUND FOUR-THIRTY when I got back to the Alex. On my desk was a box of cucumbers. I waved one in the air as several of the KRIPO men in the detective room cheered and clapped. Otto Trettin, one of the best cops in the department and a specialist in criminal rings like the Always True, came over to my desk. There was a half-cucumber in his shoulder holster. He took it out, pointed it at me, and made a noise like a pistol shot.
“Very funny.” I grinned and removed my jacket, then hung it on the back of my chair.
“Where’s yours?” he asked. “Your gun, I mean.”
“In the car.”
“Well, that explains the cucumber, I suppose.”
“Come on, Otto. You know how it is. When you wear a gun, you have to keep your jacket buttoned, and in this warm weather we’ve been having…”
“You thought you could get away with it.”
“Something like that.”
“Seriously, Bernie. Now that you’ve gone up against Ricci Kamm, you’re going to have to watch your back. Your front, too, most likely.”
“You think so?”
“A man who puts Ricci Kamm in the Charite with a broken nose and a concussion had better start carrying a firearm or he’ll be wearing a knife between his shoulder blades. Even a cop.”
“Maybe you’re right,” I admitted.
“Course I’m right. You live on Dragonerstrasse, don’t you, Bernie? That’s right on the doorstep of the Always True’s territory. A gun’s no good in the glove box, old man. Not unless you’re planning to hold up a garage.” And still shooting the cucumber in my direction, Otto walked away.
“You should listen to him,” said a voice. “He knows what he’s talking about. When words fail, a gun can come in very handy.”
It was Arthur Nebe, one of the slipperiest detectives in KRIPO. A former right-wing Freikorps man, he had been made a commissar in DIa within just two years of joining the force and had a formidable record of solving crimes. Nebe was a founding member of the NSBAG-the National Socialist Fellowship of Civil Servants-and was rumored to be a close friend of such leading Nazis as Goebbels, Count von Helldorf, and Kurt Daluege. Strangely, Nebe was also a friend of Bernard Weiss. There were other influential friends, in the SDP. And around the Alex it was generally held that Arthur Nebe had more options covered than the Berlin Stock Exchange.
“Hello, Arthur,” I said. “What are you doing here? Is there not enough work in Political that you have to come and poach down here?”
Ignoring my remark, Nebe said, “Since he arrested the Sass brothers, Otto’s had to watch himself. Like he was painting his own portrait.”
“Well, we all know about Otto and the Sass brothers,” I said. In 1928, Otto Trettin had almost been dismissed from the force after it became known that he had beaten a confession out of these two criminals. “What I did was in no way similar to that. Pulling Ricci Kamm was a proper collar.”
“I hope he sees it that way,” said Nebe. “For your sake. Look here, going without a barker is no good for a cop, see? Last April, after I put Franz Spernau in the cement, I got so many death threats they were offering even money at the Hoppegarten that someone would stall my motor before the end of the summer. It was a bet that was almost collected, too.” Nebe grinned his wolfish grin and swept back his jacket to reveal a big, broom-handled Mauser. “Only I stalled them first, if you know what I mean.” He tapped the side of his not inconsiderable nose with clear meaning. “By the way, how’s the Schwarz case coming along?”
“What’s it to you, Arthur?”
“I know Kurt Daluege a little. We were in the army together. He’s sure to ask the next time I see him.”
“Actually I think I’m beginning to make real progress. I’m more or less certain my suspect is a patient at the jelly clinic in the state hospital in Friedrichshain.”
“Is that so?”
“So you can tell your chum Daluege that it’s nothing personal. I’d be working just as hard to catch this kid’s murderer even if her father wasn’t a lousy Nazi bastard.”
“I’m sure he’ll be pleased to know it. But speaking personally, I can’t see the point of bringing a kid like that into the world in the first place. As a society, I think we should follow the example of the Romans. You know? Romulus and Remus? We should leave them out on a hillside to die of exposure. Something like that, anyway.”
“Maybe. Only those two weren’t left on a hillside because they were sick but because their mother was a Vestal virgin who had violated her vow of celibacy.”
“Well, I wouldn’t even know how to spell that,” said Nebe.
“Besides, Romulus and Remus survived. Haven’t you heard? That’s how Rome was founded.”
“I’m talking about the general principle, that’s all. I’m talking about wasting money on useless members of society. Did you realize that it costs the government sixty thousand marks more to keep a cripple alive in this country than the average healthy citizen?”
“Tell me, Arthur. When we talk about healthy citizens, are we including Joey Goebbels?”
Nebe smiled. “You’re a good cop, Bernie,” he said. “Everyone says so. Be a shame to stall a promising career because of a few thoughtless remarks like that.”
“Who would say such a thing? That these are just thoughtless remarks?”
“Well, aren’t they? You’re no Red. I know that.”
“I put a lot of effort into my detestation of the Nazis, Arthur. You of all people should know that.”
“Nevertheless, the Nazis are going to win the next election. Then what will you do?”
“I shall do what everyone else will do, Arthur. I’ll go home and stick my head in the gas oven and hope to wake up from a very bad dream.”
IT WAS ANOTHER FINE, unusually warm evening. I threw Heinrich Grund’s jacket at him. “Come on,” I said. “Let’s go and do some detective work.”
We went downstairs and into the central courtyard of the Alex, where I’d parked my car. I turned the key and pressed the button to operate the starter motor. The car rumbled into life.
“Where are we going?” he asked.
“We’re looking for suspects, remember? That’s the great thing about this city, Heinrich. You don’t have to visit the nuthouse to seek out twisted, disordered minds. They’re everywhere you look. In the Reichstag. In the Wilhelmstrasse. In the Prussian Parliament. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there were even one or two in Oranienburger Strasse. Makes the job a lot easier, don’t you think?”
“If you say so, boss. But why Oranienburger Strasse?”
“Because it’s popular with a certain kind of whore.”
It was a Friday night, but I couldn’t help that. Every night was a busy one on Oranienburger Strasse. Cars stopped outside the Central Telegraph Office, which was open day and night. And, until the previous year, Oranienburger Strasse had been the location of one of Berlin’s more notorious cabarets, the Stork’s Nest, which was part of the reason the street had come to be popular with the city’s prostitutes. It was rumored that quite a few of the girls on Oranienburger had previously worked at the Stork, before the club’s manager had brought in some younger, cheaper nude dancers from Poland.
On Friday nights there was even more traffic than usual, because of all the Jews attending shul at the New Synagogue, which was Berlin’s biggest. The New’s size and magnificent onion dome were a reflection of the confidence the city’s Jews had once felt about their presence in Berlin. But not anymore. According to my friend Lasker, some of the city’s Jews were already preparing to leave Germany should the unthinkable happen and the Nazis be elected. As we arrived, hundreds of them were streaming through the building’s multicolored brickwork arches: men with large fur hats and long black coats, men with shawls and ringlets, boys with velvet skullcaps, women with silk headscarves-and all under the watchful, slightly contemptuous scrutiny of the several uniformed policemen who were positioned in twos at intervals along the length of the street, just in case a group of Nazi agitators decided to show up and cause trouble.
“Jesus Christ,” exclaimed Grund, as we got out of the car. “Look at this. It’s like the bloody Exodus. I’ve never seen so many damn Jews.”
“It’s Friday night,” I said. “It’s when they go to pray.”
“Like rats, so they are,” he said, with obvious distaste. “As for this-” He stared up at the huge synagogue, with its central dome and the two smaller, pavilionlike domes flanking it, and shook his head sadly. “I mean, whose stupid idea was it to let them build this ugly thing here?”
“What’s wrong with it?”
“It doesn’t belong here, that’s what’s wrong with it. This is Germany. We’re a Christian country. If they want this kind of thing they should go and live somewhere else.”
“Palestine. Goshen. Somewhere with a hell of a lot of sand. I dunno and I don’t care. Just not here in Germany, that’s all. This is a Christian country.”
He stared malevolently at the many Jews entering the New. With their long beards and white shirts and black coats and big, wide-brimmed hats and glasses, they looked more like nearsighted pioneers from America’s nineteenth century.
We walked toward the Friedrichstrasse end of Oranienburger, where the more specialized whores I was looking for were given to waiting.
“You know what I think?” said Grund.
“These Friedrichstrasse types should dress more like the rest of us. Like Germans. Not like freaks. They should try to blend in. That way people would be less inclined to pick on them. It’s human nature, isn’t it? Anyone who looks a bit different, who looks like they’re setting themselves apart, well, they’re just asking for trouble, aren’t they?” He nodded. “They should try to look like normal Germans.”
“You mean brown shirt, jackboots, shoulder belt, and swastika armband? Or how about leather shorts and flowery shirts?” I laughed. “Yeah, I understand. Normal. Sure.”
“You know what I mean, boss. German.”
“I used to know what that meant. When I was in the trenches, for instance. Now I’m not so sure.”
“That’s just the point I’m making. Bastards like these have blurred things. Made it less obvious what being German is all about. I suppose that’s why the Nazis are doing so well. Because they give us a clear idea of ourselves.”
I might have said that this was a clear idea of ourselves I didn’t much like, but I wasn’t in the mood to argue politics with him. Not again. Not now.
In Berlin, all special tastes were catered for. The city was one big erotic-and sometimes not so erotic-menu. Provided you knew where to look and what to ask for, the chances were you could satisfy even the most peculiar taste. You wanted an old woman-and I mean an old woman, of the kind that lives in a shoe-you went to Mehnerstrasse, which, for obvious reasons, was also known as Old Maid Street. You wanted a fat woman-and I mean a fat woman, of the kind that has a twin brother who’s a sumo wrestler in Japan-you got yourself along to Landwehrstrasse, also known as Fat Street. Now, if mothers and daughters were your thing, then you went to Gollnowstrasse. That was known as Incest Street. Racehorses, girls you could use the whip on, were most often found in the beauty shops and massage parlors that surrounded Hallesches Tor. Pregnant women-and I do mean pregnant women, not girls with cushions stuffed up the front of their dirndls-were found on Munzstrasse. Munzstrasse was also called Coin Street, because there was a general sense that it was a place where people were prepared to sell absolutely anything.
Unlike Grund, I usually tried to avoid sounding righteous about Berlin’s famous sex scene. What did we expect might happen to women in a country with almost two million German men dead in the war and perhaps as many people dead again-my own wife included-from the influenza? What did we expect might happen after the Bolshevik Revolution-with the country full of Russian immigrants-and the inflation and the depression and the unemployment? What did convention and morality matter when everything else-money, work, life itself-turned out to be so utterly unreliable? But it was hard not to feel a little outraged at the trade going on around the north end of Oranienburger Strasse. It was difficult not to wish fire from the air to purge Berlin of this illicit trade in human flesh when you contemplated the life of the washed-up, stone-faced, outcast prostitutes collectively known as gravel. You wanted a woman with one leg, one eye, or a hunchback, or hideous scars, you went to the north end of Oranienburger Strasse and raked through the gravel. You found them in the shadows-standing in the doorway of the defunct Stork’s Nest, or in the old Kaufhaus arcade, or sometimes inside a club called the Blue Stocking, on the corner of Linenstrasse.
There were plenty of women we could have spoken to, but I was looking for one woman in particular-a whore named Gerda-and, not finding her on the street, I decided we should try inside the Blue Stocking.
The spanner on the door sat on a tall stool in front of the cash office. His name was Neumann and, occasionally, I used him as an informer. He’d once been a runner for the Dragonfly ring that operated out of Charlottenburg, only now he wouldn’t go anywhere near the area, having double-crossed them somehow. For a spanner, Neumann wasn’t all that tough, but he had the kind of beaten, criminal face that made people think he might not care what happened to him, which sometimes amounts to a simulacrum of toughness. Plus (I happened to know) he kept an American baseball bat behind his stool and wasn’t slow to use it.
“Commissar Gunther,” he said nervously. “What brings you to the Blue Stocking?”
“I’m looking for a garter-snapper.”
Neumann grinned a grin so carious his teeth looked more like the discarded butts of twenty cigarettes. “Aren’t they all, sir?” he said. “The fritzes who waltz in here.”
“This one is gravel,” I said.
“I wouldn’t have thought you was the type for that kind of trade.” His grin widened horribly, as he enjoyed what he hoped might be my embarrassment.
“Stop thinking I feel awkward asking about her, because I don’t,” I said. “The only thing I feel awkward about is your dentist’s feelings, Neumann. Her name is Gerda.”
The teeth disappeared behind thin, cracked lips that were all twitchy, like an angler with a hook in his mouth.
“You mean like the little girl what rescues her brother, Kay, in The Snow Queen?”
“That’s right. Only this one’s not so little. Not anymore. Plus, she’s short of an arm and a leg, not to mention a few teeth and half her liver. Now, is she here, or am I going to have to give the lads in E a call?”
E was Inspectorate E, the part of Department IV that dealt with all matters relating to morals-or more, usually, the lack of them.
“No need to be like that, Herr Gunther. Just having a bit of fun, that’s all.” He lifted a dog-trainer’s clicker off a chain on his belt and clicked it loudly, three times. “What happened to that sense of humor of yours, Commissar?”
“With each plebiscite it seems to get smaller.”
At the sound of the dog clicker, the door that led down into the club opened from the inside. At the top of a steep flight of stairs stood another spanner, only this one was wearing muscle.
Neumann chuckled. “Bloody Nazis,” he said. “I know just what you mean, Commissar. Everyone says they’ll close us all down the minute they get in.”
“I sincerely hope so,” remarked Grund.
Neumann shot him a look of quiet distaste. “Gerda’s downstairs,” he said stiffly.
“How does she get downstairs with one leg and one arm?” asked Grund.
Neumann looked at me and then at Grund, with a smile dancing on the cracked playground of his lips. “Slowly,” he said, and let out a roar of laughter that I enjoyed as much as he did.
Grund wasn’t laughing. “Think you’re a comedian, do you?” he said.
“Forget about it,” I told Grund, pushing him through the door and into the club. “You walked right into that one.”
Gerda wasn’t yet thirty, although you wouldn’t have known it. She could easily have passed for about fifty. We found her sitting in a wheelchair within spitting distance of a small stage where a zither-player and a striptease dancer were having a competition to see which of them could look more bored. By my reckoning, the striptease dancer had it won by a couple of droopy tits. On the table in front of Gerda stood a bottle of cheap schnapps, doubtless paid for by the man seated beside her, who, on closer inspection, turned out to be a woman.
“Go and plaster it,” I told the bubi.
“Yeah.” Grund flashed his warrant disc for good measure. “Try the Eldorado.”
Gerda thought that was funny. The Eldorado was a club for transvestite men. The bubi, sullen and predatory-looking, like someone’s outcast uncle, got up and went away. We sat down on chairs as wobbly as Gerda’s remaining teeth.
“I know you,” she told me. “You’re that cop, aren’t you?”
I put a ten under her bottle.
“What’s the idea, putting a shine on my table? I don’t know nothing.”
“Sure you do, Gerda,” I told her. “Everyone knows something.”
“Maybe I do, and maybe I don’t.” She nodded. “I’m glad you’re here, anyway, Commissar. I don’t like that mon bijou scene. You know? The ladies’ club scorpions. I mean, beggars can’t be choosers, and I’d have done it with her if she’d asked me nicely, you know? But I take no pleasure in a woman touching me down there.”
I put a cigarette in Gerda’s mouth and lit it. She was thin, with short red hair, bluish eyes, and a reddish face. She drank too much, although she could hold it well enough. Most of the time. The one time I knew she couldn’t, she’d fallen down in front of a number 13 tram on Kopenicker Strasse. She might easily have been killed. Instead she lost her left arm and her left leg.
“I remember now,” she said. “You put Ricci Kamm in the hospital.” Smiling happily, she added, “You deserve an Iron Cross for that, copper.”
“As usual, you’re well informed, Gerda.”
I lit my own cigarette and tossed her the pack. Easily amused-I figured that was how he became a Nazi in the first place-Grund was already paying more attention to the show than to our conversation.
“Tell me, Gerda. Did you ever see a snapper with a caliper, age about fifteen? Blond, boyish, carried a stick. Name of Anita. She had cerebral palsy. A spastic. We know she was selling it, because we found a bedroll in her pocket and because the neighbors said she was selling it.”
“Neet? Yeah, I heard she was dead, poor kid.” Gerda poured herself a drink from the bottle and swallowed it in one, like it was cold coffee. “Came in here sometimes. Nicely spoken girl, considering.”
“Considering what?” asked Grund. His eyes remained on the stripper’s teats, which were altogether larger than would have seemed probable.
“Considering she couldn’t speak very well.” Gerda made a noise that came mostly out of her nose. “Talked like that, you know?”
“What else can you tell us about her?” I refilled Gerda’s glass and poured one for myself, just to look sociable.
“From what I gathered, she didn’t get on with her parents. They didn’t like her being a gimp, you know? And of course they didn’t like her being on the sledge. She didn’t do it all the time, mind. Just when she wanted to irritate them, I think. Her dad was something in the Nazi Party, and it used to piss him off that she’d come out and sell it sometimes.”
“Hard to believe,” murmured Grund. “That anyone would. You know. With a disabled kid.”
Gerda laughed. “Oh no, darling. It’s not hard to believe at all. Lots of men do it with disabled girls. In fact, it’s quite the thing these days. I expect it’s something to do with the war. All those terrible injuries some of the men came home with. Left a lot of them feeling quite inadequate, in all sorts of ways. I think that doing it with gravel helps them find the confidence to get it up. Makes them feel superior to the gimp they’re with. It’s cheaper, too, of course. Cheaper than the regular. People don’t have the money for that kind of thing. Not like they used to.” She shot Grund an amused, pitying look. “Oh no, dearie. I’ve seen girls with half a face find a fritz in here. ’Sides, most fritzes aren’t looking at you anyway. Won’t meet your eye. So what a girl’s shine looks like or whether she’s got all her bits is not as important as the fact that she’s got her mouse.” Gerda laughed. “No, darling, you ask some of your mates at work and they’ll tell you the same thing. You don’t look at the whole house when you’re putting a letter in the box.”
“Coming back to Anita,” I said. “Was there ever anyone in particular you saw her with? A regular fritz? Anything at all.”
Gerda grinned. “How about a name?” She put some raw-looking fingers on the ten. “Make it a gypsy and I’ll give you his Otto Normal.”
I took out my wallet and put another ten on the table.
“As a matter of fact, there was a guy. One guy in particular. Licked his lollipop myself once or twice. But he preferred Anita. Name of Serkin. Rudi Serkin. She went to his apartment once or twice. It was in that big rent barracks on Mulackstrasse. The one with all the entrances and exits.”
“The Ochsenhof?” said Grund.
“That’s the one.”
“But that’s in Always True territory,” he said.
“So take an armored car.”
Gerda wasn’t joking. The Ochsenhof was a big block of slum apartments in the epicenter of the toughest neighborhood in Berlin and a virtual no-go area for the police. The only way cops from the Alex were ever likely to visit the Ochsenhof was with a tank to back them up. They’d tried it before. And failed, beaten back by snipers and petrol bombs. Not for nothing was it known as the Roast.
“What did he look like, this Rudi Serkin?” I asked.
“About thirty. Small. Dark, curly hair. Glasses. Smoked a pipe. Bow tie. Oh, and Jewish.” She chuckled. “At least he didn’t have a wrapper on his lollipop.”
“A Jew,” muttered Grund. “I might have known.”
“Got something against Jews, have you, darling?”
“He’s a Nazi,” I said. “He’s got something against everyone.”
For a moment or two we were all silent. Then a voice said, loudly: “Finished your talking, have you?”
We looked around and saw the striptease dancer staring drill holes through us. Gerda laughed. “Yeah, we’ve finished.”
“Good,” said the dancer, and dropped her drawers in one quick and unerotic movement. She bent over and paused just to make sure everyone got a good view of everything. Then, collecting her underwear off the floor, she straightened up again and stalked crossly off the stage.
I decided it was time we followed her example.
Leaving Gerda to finish her bottle alone, we went upstairs and took a deep breath of clean Berlin air. After the venereal atmosphere of the Blue Stocking, I felt like going home and washing my feet in disinfectant. And planning my next trip to the dentist. The sight of Neumann’s hideous smile as we were leaving was a dreadful warning.
Grund nodded with enthusiasm. “At least now we’ve got a name,” he said.
“You think so?”
“You heard her.”
I smiled. “Rudolf Serkin is the name of a famous concert pianist,” I said.
“All the better. Make a nice splash in Tempo.”
“Better still, in Der Angriff,” I said, and shook my head. “My dear Heinrich, the real Rudolf Serkin would no more get involved with a crippled whore than he’d play ‘My Parrot Doesn’t Like Hard-boiled Eggs’ at the Bechstein Hall. Whoever it was Gerda met. And whoever it was she saw Anita with. They just gave a false name. That’s all.”
“Maybe there are two Rudolf Serkins.”
“Maybe. But I doubt it. Would you give your real name to a bit of gravel you picked up in the Blue Stocking?”
“No, I suppose not.”
“You suppose right. Gerda knew it, too. Only she had nothing else to give.”
“What about the address?”
“She gave out the one address in Berlin she knows the polenta doesn’t dare set foot in. She was playing us a tune, chum.”
“Then why did you let her keep the gypsy?”
“Why?” I looked up at the sky. “I dunno. Maybe because she’s only got one leg and one arm. Maybe that’s why. Anyway, the next time I see her, she’ll know she owes me.”
Grund grimaced. “You’re too soft to be a cop, do you know that?”
“From a Nazi like you I’ll take that as a compliment.”
THE NEXT MORNING I left my Peek Cloppenburg suit in the closet and put on my father’s tailcoat and stiff collar. Until his untimely death, he had worked as a clerk for the Bleichroder Bank, on Behrenstrasse. I don’t think I ever saw him wearing a lounge suit. Lounging was not something he did much of. My father was a pretty typical Prussian: deferential, loyal to his emperor, respectful, punctilious. I got all those qualities from him. While he was alive, we never got on as well as we might have done. But things were different now.
I took a good look at myself in the mirror and smiled. I was just like him. Apart from the smile and the cigarette and the extra hair on top of my head. All men come to resemble their fathers. That isn’t a tragedy. But you need a hell of a sense of humor to handle it.
I walked to the Adlon. The hotel car service was run by a Pole named Carl Mirow. Carl had once been Hindenburg’s chauffeur but left the Weimar president’s service when he discovered he could make more money driving for someone important. Like the Adlons. Carl was a member of the German Automobile Club and was very proud of the fact that in all his many years on the roads, he had kept a clean license. Very proud and very grateful, too. In 1922, a raw young Berlin policeman named Bernhard Gunther had stopped Carl for going through a red light. He smelled like he’d gone through quite a bit of schnapps as well, but I decided to let him off. It wasn’t very Prussian of me. Maybe Grund was right. Maybe I was too soft to be a cop. Anyway, ever since Carl and I had been friends.
The Adlons had a huge black Mercedes-Benz 770 Pullman convertible. With headlamps the size of tennis rackets and fenders and running boards as big as the ski jump at Holmenkollen, it was a real plutocrat’s car. The kind of plutocrat who might be a director on the board of the Dyestuff Syndicate. Impersonating Dr. Duisberg wasn’t much of a plan, but I couldn’t figure out another way of getting anything out of Dr. Gerhard Domagk at the state hospital’s jelly clinic. Illmann wasn’t usually wrong about such things. It did seem highly unlikely that any doctor would ever give out the kind of sensitive information that I was after. Unless he thought that, in effect, he was giving out that information to his employer.
Carl Mirow had agreed to drive me to the state hospital. The big Mercedes-Benz made quite an impact as we drove through the hospital’s grounds, especially when I wound down the window and asked a nurse for directions to the urological clinic. Carl got a little cross about that. He said, “Suppose someone sees the license plate and thinks that Mr. Adlon has got a dose of jelly.”
Mr. Adlon was Louis Adlon, the hotel’s owner. He was a man in his sixties, with thinning white hair and a rather neat white mustache. “Do I look anything like Mr. Adlon?”
“Besides, if you had a dose of jelly, would you come to the clinic in a car like this? Or with your collar up and your hat pulled down?”
We pulled up outside the red-brick outbuilding that housed the urological clinic. Carl sprang out and opened the door for me. In his driver’s livery he looked like my old company commander. Which was probably the real reason I hadn’t pinched him for running a red light back in 1922. I was always a bit sentimental like that.
I went into the clinic. The entrance doors were double and had frosted-glass windows. The hall inside was bright and cool, and the linoleum floor was wearing so much polish that your shoes squeaked loudly as you tried to tiptoe up to the front desk. Once there, under the vaulted ceiling, your muttered plea for medical care would have sounded like a stage whisper in an opera. A strong smell of ether wasn’t just in the air. The strawberry blonde behind the welcome desk looked like she gargled with the stuff. I placed Dr. Duisberg’s business card on her desk and told her I wanted to see Dr. Domagk.
“He’s not here,” she said.
“I suppose he’s in Leverkusen.”
“No, he’s in Wuppertal.”
That was somewhere else I hadn’t ever heard of. There were times when I hardly recognized the country in which I was living.
“I suppose that’s another new town.”
“I wouldn’t know,” she said.
“Who’s in charge while he’s away?”
“Then he’s the person I want to see.”
“Have you an appointment?”
I smiled, affecting a show of self-important patience. “I think you’ll find I don’t need one. If you give Dr. Kassner that business card. You see, nurse, I fund all of the research in this clinic. So unless you want to join the ranks of the six million unemployed, I suggest you hurry along and tell him I’m here.”
The nurse colored a little, stood up, took Duisberg’s card, and, her feet squeaking like a series of squashed mice, disappeared through a set of swing doors.
A minute passed and a pale, awkward man came through the main entrance of the clinic. He was walking slowly, like someone with a bad leg. He kept his eyes on the linoleum, as if expecting to find a better explanation than an overdose of floor polish for the noise under his shoes. At the desk, he stopped and gave me a sideways sort of look, probably wondering if I was some kind of doctor. I smiled at him.
“Lovely day,” I said breezily.
Then a man in a white coat appeared in the hall, striding powerfully toward me like a founding member of the Wandervogel, one hand outstretched and the other holding Duisberg’s business card. He was big and bald-headed, which made him seem more military than medical. Underneath the white coat, he was dressed much as I was, a professional man with a position in the community.
“Dr. Duisberg, sir,” he said unctuously, with a slight speech impediment that might have been due to some ill-fitting false teeth. “What an honor, sir. What an honor. I’m Dr. Kassner. Dr. Domagk will be so very disappointed to have missed you. He’s in Wuppertal.”
“Yes, so I’ve just been informed.”
The doctor looked pained. “I trust there hasn’t been some kind of a mix-up and that he wasn’t expecting you,” he said.
“No, no,” I said. “I’m only in Berlin for a brief visit. I had a short time to kill between appointments, so I thought I might just drop by and see how the clinical trial is coming along. The Dyestuff Syndicate is very excited by your work, here.” I paused. “Of course, if it’s inconvenient…”
“No, no, sir.” He bowed. “If you’re happy to make do with my own inadequate explanations.”
“I’m sure they will be quite sufficient for a layman like me.”
“Then, do, please, come this way, sir.”
We went through the swing doors and into a corridor where a dozen or more rather miserable-looking men were seated along the wall, each of them holding what was either a urine sample or a very poor example of Berlin’s notoriously unpleasant tap water. Kassner ushered me into his office, which was suitably clinical. There was an examination couch, some shelves stuffed with medical textbooks, a couple of chairs, some filing cabinets, and a small desk. On the desk was a portable Bing with a sheet of paper rolled into the carriage, and a telephone. On the walls were some graphic illustrations that had me shrinking into my bladder and were almost enough to persuade me to take a vow of celibacy. I reflected I was probably the first man in a long while who’d walked into that little office and not been asked to drop his trousers.
“How much do you know about our work here?” he asked.
“Only that you’re working on a new magic bullet,” I said. “I’m not a medical doctor. I’m a chemical engineer. Dyestuffs are my forte. Just assume you’re explaining things to an educated layman.”
“Well, as you probably know, sulfa drugs are synthetic antimicrobial agents that contain sulfonamides. One of those drugs-a drug called protonsil-was synthesized by Josef Klarer at Bayer and tested on animals by Dr. Domagk. Successfully, of course. Since then, we’ve been testing it on a small group of outpatients who are suffering from syphilis and gonorrhea. But, in the course of time, we hope to find that protonsil will be effective in treating a whole range of bacterial infections inside the body. Oddly, it has no effect in the test tube. Its antibacterial action only seems to work inside living organisms, which leads us to suspect, and to hope, that the drug is successfully metabolized inside the body.”
“How big is your trial group?” I asked.
“Really we’ve only just started. So far we’ve given protonsil to approximately fifty men and about half as many women-there’s a separate clinic for them, of course, at the Charite. Some of our test cases have only just caught a venereal disease and others have had one for a while. It’s intended that over the next two or three years we shall test the drug on as many as fifteen hundred to two thousand volunteers.”
I nodded, almost wishing I had thought to bring Illmann with me. At least he might have asked some pertinent questions; even a few impertinent ones.
“So far,” continued Kassner, “the results have been very encouraging.”
“Might I see what the drug looks like?”
He opened his desk drawer and took out a bottle and then emptied some little blue pills onto my gloved palm. These looked exactly the same as the little pill I’d found near Anita Schwarz’s dead body.
“Of course, it won’t look like that when the trial is over. The German medical establishment is rather conservative and prefers its pills white. But they’re blue for the moment, to help distinguish them from anything else we’re using.”
“And your study group notes? Might I see one case file?”
“Yes, indeed.” Kassner turned to face one of the wooden filing cabinets. There was no key. He drew up the tambour front and then pulled open the top drawer. “This is a summary file containing brief notes on all of the patients who’ve been treated with protonsil to date.” He opened the file and handed it over.
I took out my father’s pince-nez. A nice touch, I told myself, and pinced them on the bridge of my nez. This was my list of suspects, I told myself. With these names I might very well have solved the case in less time than it took to cure a dose of jelly. But how was I going to get hold of this list of names? I could hardly memorize it. Nor could I ask to borrow it. One name caught my eye, however. Or rather not the name-Behrend-so much as the address. Reichskanzlerplatz, in the west end of the city, near the Grunewald, was undoubtedly one of the most exclusive addresses in the city. And for some reason it appeared familiar to me.
“As you probably know,” Kassner was saying, “the problem with salvarsan is that it is only slightly more toxic for the microbe than the host. No such problems have presented themselves with protonsil rubrum. The human liver deals with it quite effectively.”
“Excellent,” I murmured, as I glanced further down the list. But when I saw two Johann Mullers, a Fritz Schmidt, an Otto Schneider, a Johann Meyer, and a Paul Fischer, I began to suspect that the list might not be all I’d hoped it was. These were five of the most common surnames in Germany. “Tell me something, Doctor. Are these real names?”
“To be honest, I don’t know,” admitted Kassner. “We don’t insist on seeing identity cards here, otherwise they might never volunteer for the clinical trial. Patient confidentiality is an important issue with moral diseases.”
“I suppose that’s especially true since the National Socialists started talking about a cleanup of morals in this city,” I said.
“But all of those addresses are real enough. We do insist on that so that we might correspond with our patients over a period of time. Just to keep a check on how they’re all doing.”
I handed back the file and watched as he placed it in the top drawer of the filing cabinet.
“Well, thank you for your time,” I said, standing up. “I’ll certainly be making a favorable interim report to the Dyestuff Syndicate on your work here.”
“I’ll walk you to your car, Herr Doktor.”
We went outside. Carl Mirow threw away his cigarette and opened the heavy car door. If Dr. Kassner had harbored any doubts about who I was, they were banished by the sight of a uniformed chauffeur and a limousine as big as a Heinkell.
Carl drove to Dragonerstrasse and dropped me in front of my building. He was glad to see the back of me. And especially glad to see the back of Dragonerstrasse, which wasn’t anywhere to bring a chauffeur and a Mercedes-Benz 770. I went up to my apartment, put on some normal clothes, and went out again. I got into my car and headed toward the West End. I had an itch I suddenly wanted to scratch.
Number 3 Reichskanzlerplatz was an expensive, modern-looking apartment building in just about the richest, leafiest suburb in Berlin. A little farther to the west lay Grunewald racecourse and the athletics stadium, where some Berliners hoped that the Olympics might be staged in 1936. My late wife had been especially fond of this area. To the south of the racecourse was the Seeschloss restaurant, where I had asked her to marry me. I parked the car and went over to a kiosk to get some cigarettes and, perhaps, some information.
“Give me some Reemtsmas, a New Berliner, Tempo, and The Week,” I said. I flashed my warrant disc. “We had a report of some shots fired in this area. Anything in it?”
The vendor, who wore a suit, an Austrian hat, and a little mustache like Hitler’s, shook his head. “Car backfire probably. But I’ve been here since seven this morning and I haven’t heard a thing.”
“I figured as much just looking around,” I said. “Still, you have to check these things out.”
“There’s never any trouble around here,” he said. “Although there could be.”
“How do you mean?”
He pointed across Reichskanzlerplatz, to where it intersected with Kaiserdamm. “See that car?” He was pointing at a dark green Mercedes-Benz parked right in front of number three.
“There are four SA men sitting in that car,” he said. Pointing north, up Ahornallee, he added: “And another truckload of them over there.”
“How do you know they’re SA?”
“Haven’t you heard? The ban on uniforms has been lifted.”
“Of course. It’s today, isn’t it? Some cop I am. I didn’t even notice. So who lives around here? Ernst Rohm?”
“Nope. Although he does visit on occasion. I’ve seen him going in there. To the ground-floor apartment on the corner of number three. Owned by Mrs. Magda Quandt.”
The vendor grinned. “For a bull who takes as many newspapers as you do, you don’t know much.”
“Me? I just look at the pictures. So go ahead and educate me.” I handed over a five. “And while you’re at it, keep the change.”
“Magda Quandt. She got married last December to Josef Goebbels. I see him every morning. Comes out and buys all the papers.”
“It gives the clubfoot some exercise, I suppose.”
“He’s not so bad.”
“I’ll take your word for it.” I shrugged. “Well, I can see why he married her. Nice building like that. Wouldn’t mind living here myself.” I shook my head. “Thing is, I can’t for the life of me see why she married a little fritz like him.”
I tossed the papers in the car, crossed over to the other side of the square, and glanced in the window of the car parked out front of number three. The vendor was right. It was full of Nazi brown shirts, who eyed me suspiciously as I went by. Apart from some clowns I’d seen fooling around in an old Model T at the circus one Christmas, it would have been hard to have seen more obvious stupidity in one car. It was all coming back to me now. Why the address had jogged my memory in Kassner’s office. One of the other Homicide teams at the Alex had been obliged to check an SA man’s alibi with Goebbels a month or two before.
The building had its own doorman, of course. All the nice apartment buildings in the West End had a doorman. Probably there was an armed SA man somewhere inside the lobby, keeping him company. Just to make sure Goebbels was well protected. He probably needed it, too. The Communists had already made several attempts on Hitler’s life. I didn’t doubt they wanted to assassinate Goebbels. I wouldn’t have minded taking a poke at the little satyr myself.
Naturally, I’d heard the rumors. That despite his cloven hoof and his diminished size, he was really quite a ladies’ man. The word around the Alex was that it wasn’t just Goebbels’s foot that looked like a club; that while he may have been short of stature, he was outsized on the butcher’s counter; that Goebbels was what Berlin’s line-boys would have called a Breslauer, after a large sausage of the same name. Much as I disliked him, however, I was still finding it hard to imagine Joey the Crip taking the risk of an open trip to the jelly clinic in Friedrichshain. Unless, of course, he’d gone in as a private patient, after hours, when no one else was about.
I rounded the rusticated corner of the building and stopped below what must have been Joey’s bathroom window. It was slightly open. I looked back over my shoulder. The car containing the storm troopers was out of sight. The truck was nowhere to be seen. I glanced back up at the frosted-glass window. If I put my foot on the horizontal joint of the ground floor’s rusticated brickwork, it looked as though it would be just possible to push myself up the side of the building and reach the bottom of the window. I tried it once, just long enough to check that the bathroom was empty, before dropping back down onto the deserted sidewalk. I waited for a moment. No storm troopers came to beat me up. So much for security.
The next time I did it, I pulled myself up the side and slid quickly through the open bathroom window. Breathing heavily, I sat on the toilet, and while I waited to see if my entry would be detected, I took a closer look at the window and saw that the rat’s-tail casement was broken on the sill. Even when the window looked like it was closed, it would have been a relatively simple matter to open it from the outside.
It was a big bathroom, with pink tiles all over and a round pedestal basin. There was a liberal dusting of talcum powder on the bathroom mat. The boxed-in bath was as deep as a car door, with a hand shower, in case Magda wanted to wash her hair. By the wall-mounted soap dish was a small framed picture of Hitler, as if even here, the devoted Joey could keep his beloved leader in mind. At right angles to the bath was a stool on which sat a pile of fluffy towels, and next to this a matching table on which stood a loofah and an antiquarian statue of a naked lady. Above the table was a large, mirrored bathroom cabinet, which, naturally, I opened. Most of the shelves were Magda’s. She used Joy perfume, Kotex, Nivea, Wella shampoo, Wellapon, Kolestral, and Blondor. I remembered her now. I remembered the pictures of the wedding in the magazines. A winter wedding. The happy, smiling couple arm-in-arm in the snow, accompanied by several SA men-probably the same careless louts who were sitting outside in the car-and, of course, Hitler himself. I wonder what Hitler would have said if he’d known that Magda’s beautiful, perfectly Aryan blond hair was dyed?
Joey had only one shelf in the cabinet. And it seemed we had something in common, after all. Joey shaved with a Schick injector razor and Mennen shaving cream, and cleaned his teeth with Colgate toothpaste. A bottle of Anzora hair cream explained Joey’s perfectly brushed head of dark hair. Then, between a packet of Beecham’s laxative pills and some Acqua di Parma cologne, was a bottle containing some blue pills. I opened it and emptied one out in my hand. It was the same pill I had seen in Kassner’s office earlier that morning. Protonsil. I decided that was my cue to leave. But not before using Joey’s toilet. And not flushing it was my way of thanking him for what he’d written about me in his newspaper.
I went out the window, returned to my car, and drove quickly away. In Germany, there were things that it didn’t seem healthy to know about. I didn’t doubt for a minute that Joey’s jelly was one of these.
THERE WERE nine technical inspectorates at the Alex. Inspectorate A dealt with murder, and C dealt with thefts. Gunther Braschwitz was the boss of C and specialized in burglaries. He had a younger brother, Rudolf, who was in the political police, but we didn’t hold that against him. Braschwitz was as elegant as your little finger, and a real champagne-pisser. He wore a bowler hat, carried a stick with a sword in it, which he would sometimes use, and, in winter at least, wore gaiters above his boots. He knew all the screens-the city’s professional burglars-and, it was said, could look at a break-in and tell which of them had probably done it.
“Jewface Klein,” I said. “Seen him lately?”
“Jewface? He claims he’s going straight,” said Braschwitz. “Managed to get himself a job at Heilbronner’s on Mohrenstrasse.”
“The antique shop?”
“That’s right. He always had a very good eye, that Jewface. Why? Has he been up to his old tricks?”
“No. But he knows someone I’m looking for. A friend of that widow he used to partner. Eva Zimmer.” Only half of this was true, but I didn’t want Braschwitz asking too many questions.
“Poor Eva,” he said. “She was a good widow, that girl.”
A widow was someone a screen used to get rid of his ill-gotten goods. Not a real widow. Just someone pretending to be one. Some of them, like Eva Zimmer, were professional actresses. They would dress up in black and, with a well-rehearsed hard-luck story, try to sell stolen gold, silver, or jewelry to the high-street goldsmiths. Until I’d arrested Jewface, he and Eva had had one of the best partnerships in Berlin. I knew he was six months out of Tegel Prison, but there was nothing on file of what he’d been doing since.
After Braschwitz had told me all he knew about Jewface, I telephoned the Adlon and asked Frieda what she could tell me about Josef Goebbels. Goebbels was a regular patron of the Adlon, and Frieda was able to give me some information that I thought I might use to help bait Klein.
I walked to Heilbronner’s, but the manager told me Klein wasn’t there. “It’s his lunch hour,” he said. “You’ll probably find him across the street, at Gsellius. The bookshop. He usually goes in there at lunchtime.”
I crossed the street and peered in the bookshop window. Jewface was in there, all right. I saw him straight away. A little older than I remembered, but a year in the cement can put five on your shine. His face wasn’t particularly Jewish, to be honest. He had the nickname from the jeweler’s eyeglass he used to wear when he was appraising something he’d stolen. But he did have a nose, for cops. I hadn’t been there for more than a few seconds when he looked up from the book he held and met my eye. I nodded at him to come outside and, reluctantly, he did. We weren’t friends exactly. But I was counting on his not having forgotten that it was I who’d found the pimp who’d stabbed Eva Zimmer the previous year. A man named Horst Wessel. And the pity of it was that Wessel, who was also a member of the SA, had then been murdered by another pimp, Ali Hohler, in an argument over some whore before I could make the arrest. Because Hohler happened also to be a Communist, Goebbels had managed to turn these tawdry events into a political melodrama, which was how Horst Wessel had achieved his unlikely immortalization in a song that was now heard all over Berlin when the SA went on one of its provocative marches through a Communist neighborhood. Naturally, Goebbels had left out of the story the underworld connections of these plankton protagonists. Meanwhile, Hohler had been arrested by one of my colleagues and sentenced to life imprisonment. Which left Jewface very much aggrieved with Goebbels for having waxed Eva Zimmer’s sordid murder from the Nazis’ canta storia of Horst Wessel’s heroic past.
We went around the corner to Siechen’s on Friedrichstrasse, where I bought us a couple of Nurembergs and took a closer look at him. His face was all sharp angles, thin and pointed, like something Pythagoras had doodled on the corner of his scroll before getting on with his theorem.
“So what can I do for you, Herr Gunther?”
“I need a favor, Jewface. I want someone to break into a doctor’s office at the state hospital. Someone intelligent, who can read and write and not get greedy. I don’t want anything stolen.”
“That’s good, because I’m retired. I don’t steal. And I don’t go breaking and entering. Not since Eva got stabbed.”
“Look, all I want you to do is open a file and do a bit of copying out. A secretary with a key could do it. But I don’t have a key. For a man of your experience, it couldn’t be simpler.” I sipped my beer and let him blow me off like the froth on top of his own untouched glass.
“You’re not listening, Commissar. I’m retired. Prison worked for me. Give yourself a medal.”
“Medals, is it? I can’t give you a medal, Jewface. But you do what I ask, copy out some names from some files at the hospital, and I can give you something else.”
“I don’t want your money, copper.”
“I wouldn’t insult you. No, this is something better than money. It’s even patriotic-that is, if you believe in the republic.”
“I don’t, as it happens. It was the republic that put me in the cement.”
“All right. Call it revenge, then. Revenge for Eva.” I sipped some more of my beer and let him wait.
“How would you like to shove one up Joey Goebbels?”
“Joey the Crip lives at number three Reichskanzlerplatz. Corner apartment, ground floor, eastern end. A bunch of SA men sit out front, so you’ll have to be careful. But they can’t see around the corner to where Joey’s bathroom faces the side street. There’s a rat’s-tail casement stay on the bathroom window that’s broken. You can be in and out in no time. Bread and butter to a man like you, Jewface. I did it myself just an hour or two ago. The man is a fanatic, Jewface. Do you know he’s got a photograph of Hitler on the side of the bath? Anyway, the apartment is owned by his wife, Magda. She used to be married to a rich industrialist called Gunther Quandt, who was very generous with the divorce settlement. He let her keep all her mints. You know? The ones you like. The ones you can sell at Margraf’s? Of course, with an election coming, Goebbels is out a lot. Making speeches, that kind of thing. In fact, I happen to know that Joey’s making a speech tonight, at Nazi Party headquarters on Hedemannstrasse. It will be an important speech. They’re all important between now and the end of July. But maybe this one is more important than most. Hitler will be there. Afterward, Magda’s throwing a little soiree for him at the Adlon Hotel. Which would give a man plenty of time.” I sipped some more beer and thought about ordering some sausage. It had been a busy morning. “So. What do you say? Do we have a deal? Will you copy out these names for me, like I asked?”
“Like I told you already, Gunther. I’m a reformed character. I’m trying to lead an honest life.” Jewface smiled and offered me his hand. “But that’s the thing about the Nazis. They bring out the worst in people.”
THE NEXT MORNING I had a handwritten list of names and addresses from all over the city and beyond. Not as good as a list of suspects, but perhaps the next best thing. Now all I had to do was check them out.
The Residents Registrations Office was on the railway-station side of the Alex, in room 359. From this third-floor office, the address of any resident of Berlin might be obtained, quite legally, by any other resident of the city. The Prussian authorities had meant well: the knowledge that information in the state was freely available was supposed to help buttress faith in our fragile democracy. In practice, however, it just meant that Nazi storm troopers and Communists alike were able to find out where their opponents lived and take appropriately belligerent action. Democracy has its disadvantages, too.
Not available to the general public at the Registration Office, but available to police, was the Devil’s Directory, so called because it worked backward. All you had to do was look up a street name and a house number, and the Devil’s Directory told you the name of the person or people living there. So it was the work of a morning to put a real name alongside each of the addresses and bogus patient names that Jewface Klein had copied from the summary file in Dr. Kassner’s office. This was a mundane task I might normally have ordered one of my sergeants to attend to. But I never was very good at giving orders-no more than I was any good at taking them. Besides, if I’d given the job to a sergeant, I might have ended up having to explain where and how I’d gotten hold of the list in the first place. KRIPO could be very unforgiving of bent coppers. Even coppers who were bent not for themselves but for the job.
For the same reason, another mundane task I was going to have to perform myself was check out every name on that list. There was, however, nothing mundane about one name in particular I had found using the Devil’s Directory. This was Dr. Kassner’s own name. And I was looking forward to finding out why his home address should have been on a list of patients involved in Bayer’s clinical trial of protonsil.
When I got back to my desk, Grund was there, typing something on my ancient Carmen, one ponderous finger at a time, as if he had been killing ants or playing the opening notes of some tuneless Russian piano concerto.
“Where the hell have you been?” he asked.
“Where the hell have you been, sir?” I said.
“Illmann called. The Schwarz girl tested negative for jelly. And Gennat wants us to go and check out some girl found dead in the municipal cattle market. Looks like she was shot, but we’re to give it a quick sketch anyway, just in case.”
“Makes sense, I suppose. The cattle market is only a few hundred yards from where we found the Schwarz girl in Friedrichshain Park.”
We were there in a matter of minutes. Market days were Wednesdays and Saturdays, so the place was closed and deserted. But the restaurant was open, and some of the patrons-wholesale butchers mostly, from Pankow, Weissensee, and Petershagen-reported seeing three men chasing the girl into the yards. But the descriptions were vague. Too vague to be worth writing down. The body itself was in the slaughterhouse. She looked about twenty. She’d been shot in the head at fairly close range. There was a brown mark around the bullet hole. All the clothing below her waist was gone and, from the smell of her, it seemed probable she’d been raped. But that was it. There had been no amateur surgery on this poor creature.
“Circumstances arousing suspicion, right enough,” said Grund after quite a while.
I would have been surprised if he hadn’t said it.
“Nice-looking box on her,” he added.
“Go ahead and give her one, why don’t you? I’ll look the other way.”
“I was just saying,” he said. “I mean, look at it. Her box. It’s been shaved, mostly. Not something you often see, that’s all. Bare like that. Like a little girl.”
I rifled through her handbag, which one of the uniformed SCHUPOs had found a short distance away from the body, and found a Communist Party card. Her name was Sabine Farber. She’d worked at KPD headquarters close to where I lived. Her home was in Pettenkoferstrasse, on the edge of Lichterfelde, just a hundred yards east of where she’d been murdered. Already it seemed abundantly clear to me what had probably happened.
“Fucking Nazis,” I said with loud disgust.
“Christ, I’m fed up with this,” Grund said, frowning. “How do you work that out? That they were Nazis who did this. You heard the descriptions given by those butchers. No one mentioned seeing any brown shirts or swastikas. Not even a toothbrush mustache. So how do you figure that they’re Nazis?”
“Oh, it’s nothing personal, Heinrich.” I tossed him Sabine Farber’s party card. “But they weren’t Jehovah’s Witnesses trying to find a convert.”
He looked at the card and shrugged, as if allowing only the possibility that I was right.
“Come on. It’s got their fingerprints all over it. My guess is that the three men the butchers reported seeing were storm troopers wearing plain clothes so as not to draw attention to themselves. They must have been waiting for her when she came out of the KPD headquarters on Bulowplatz. It’s a nice day, so she decided to walk home and didn’t notice that they were following. Waiting for a good opportunity to attack her. When she spotted them, she ran in here, hoping to escape. Only they cornered her and then did what brave storm troopers do when they’re fighting a terrible menace like international Bolshevism. Heinrich?”
“I suppose some of that might be right,” he said. “More or less.”
“Which part do you agree with less?” I asked.
Grund didn’t answer. He put Sabine Farber’s card back in her bag and stared down at the dead girl.
“What is it that Hitler says?” I asked. “Strength lies not in defense but in attack?” I lit a cigarette. “I always wondered what that meant.” I let the smoke char my lungs for a moment and then said, “Is this the kind of attack that he means, do you think? Your great leader?”
“Of course not,” muttered Grund. “You know it isn’t.”
“What, then? You tell me. I’d like to know.”
“Give it a rest, why don’t you?”
“Me?” I laughed. “It’s not me who needs to give it a rest, Heinrich. It’s the people who did this. They’re your friends. The National Socialists.”
“You don’t know any of that for a fact.”
“No, you’re right. I don’t. For real vision you need a man like Adolf Hitler. Perhaps he should be the detective here. Not a bad idea-I’m sure I prefer the idea of him as a cop to the idea of him becoming the next chancellor of Germany.” I smiled. “And it’s an even bet he’d have a superior cleanup rate to me. Who better to solve a city’s crimes than the man who instigates most of them?”
“Christ, I wish I didn’t have to listen to you, Gunther.”
Grund spoke through gritted teeth. There was color in his face that ought to have warned me to be careful. He was a boxer, after all.
“You don’t,” I told him. “I’m going back to the Alex to tell the political boys that this is one for them. You stay here and see if you can’t get some better witnesses than those sausage-makers. I dunno. Perhaps you’ll get lucky. Perhaps they’re Nazis themselves. They’re certainly ugly enough. Who knows? Perhaps they’ll even give you descriptions of three orthodox Jews.”
I suppose it was the sarcastic grin that did it for him. I hardly saw the punch. I hardly even felt it. One second I was standing there, grinning like Torquemada, and the next I was lying on the cobbled ground, felled like a heifer and feeling as if I’d been struck by a bolt of electricity. In the half-light available to my eyes, Grund was standing over me with fists clenched, like Firpo staring down at Dempsey, and shouting something at me. His words were quite silent to my ears. All I could hear was a loud, high-pitched noise. Finally, Grund was hustled away by a couple of uniformed bulls while their sergeant bent down and helped me to my feet.
My head cleared and I shifted my jaw against my hand.
“The bastard hit me,” I said.
“He did that,” said the cop, searching my eyes like a referee wondering if he should allow the fight to proceed or not. “We all saw it, sir.”
From his tone I assumed he meant that he took it for granted I was going to press disciplinary charges against Grund. Hitting a superior officer was a serious offense in KRIPO. Almost as bad as hitting a suspect.
I shook my head. “No, you didn’t,” I said.
The cop was older than me. Nearing retirement, probably. His short hair was the color of polished steel. He had a scar in the center of his forehead: it looked as if a bullet had struck him there.
“What’s that you say, sir?”
“You didn’t see anything, Sergeant. Any of you. Got that?”
The sergeant thought about this for a moment and then nodded. “If you say so, sir.”
There was blood in my mouth but I was uncut.
“No harm done,” I said, and spat onto the ground.
“What was it all about?” he asked.
“Politics,” I said. “That’s what everything’s always about in Germany these days. Politics.”
I DIDN’T GO straight back to the Alex. Instead I drove to Kassner’s apartment on Donhoff-Platz, which wasn’t exactly on the way, being at the eastern end of Leipziger Strasse. I stopped on the north side of some ornamental gardens. The bronze statues of two Prussian statesmen stared at me across a low privet hedge. A small boy out for a walk with his mother was looking at the statues and probably wondering who they were. I was thinking about how Dr. Kassner’s home address had come to be on a list of names I had got from Jewface Klein. I knew Kassner would still be at the hospital, so I really haven’t a clue what I was expecting to find out. But I am an optimist like that. When you’re a detective, you have to be. And sometimes you just have to do what your instincts tell you to do.
I walked up to the shiny black front door and took a closer look. There were three bells. One of them was clearly labeled KASSNER. Beside the door were two cast-iron planters filled with geraniums. The whole area oozed respectability. I pulled the bell and waited. After a while I heard the key being turned and the door opened to reveal a man in his early twenties. I lifted my hat innocently.
“No,” said the man. “He’s not here.”
“My name is Hoffmann,” I said, raising my hat once again. “From Isar Life Insurance.”
The young man nodded politely but said nothing.
I glanced quickly at the other two names by the bell pulls. “Herr Kortig?”
“Herr Peters, is it?”
“No. I’m a friend of Dr. Kassner’s. And as I said, he’s not here right now.”
“When will the doctor be back do you think, Herr-?”
“You can probably find him at the state hospital. At the urological clinic.” The man grinned as if somehow he hoped that this piece of information might embarrass me. There was a large gap between his front teeth. “I’m sorry, but I really do have to go. I’m late for an appointment. Would you excuse me?”
I stepped aside and watched him descend the front steps onto the square. He was of medium height, good-looking and dark in a Gypsy kind of way, but neat with it. He was wearing a light-colored summer-weight suit, a white shirt, but no tie. At the bottom of the steps he climbed over the door of a little open-topped Opel. It was white with a blue stripe. I hadn’t paid any attention to it before-maybe I was still a little bit punchy-but as he started the engine and drove off, I suddenly realized I needed to take down the license plate. All I got was the characters 11A before the car disappeared around the corner of Jerusalemstrasse. At least I knew that the slippery young man was from Munich.
An hour later, I was back at my desk. I saw Heinrich Grund on the other side of the detectives’ room and was just about to go over and tell him there were no hard feelings on my part when the Full Ernst arrived beside me like a bus reaching its depot. He was wearing a three-piece blue pin-striped suit in a size huge and had a Senior going full-blast in the corner of his mouth. He removed the cigar and I heard what sounded like the bellows on a church organ. An invisible choir of smoke and sweet coffee and something stronger perhaps descended on me as from Mount Sinai, and a lung ailment of a voice commanded my attention.
“Anything in that murder over at the cattle yard?” he asked.
“It looks like an aggravated political killing,” I said.
“They raped her as well.”
“The DPP wants to see us.” Gennat never called Weiss Izzy. He didn’t even call him Bernard. He called him Weiss or the DPP. “Now.”
“What’s it about?” I asked, wondering if Grund had been stupid enough to report himself for striking a senior officer.
“The Schwarz case,” he said.
“What about it?”
But Gennat had already waddled off, expecting me to follow. As I went after him I reflected that Gennat had the flattest feet of any cop I’d ever seen, which was hardly surprising, given the bulk they had to carry. He must have weighed almost three hundred pounds. He walked with his arms behind him, which was hardly surprising, either, given how much of him was in front.
We went upstairs and along a quieter corridor lined with the pictures of previous Prussian police presidents and their deputies. Gennat knocked on Izzy’s door and opened it without waiting. We went inside. Bright sunshine was streaming through grimy, double-height windows. As usual, Izzy was writing. On the window seat, like a warm-looking cat and smelling lightly of cologne, sat Arthur Nebe.
“What’s he doing here?” I growled, sitting down on one of the hard wooden chairs. Gennat sat on the chair next to it and hoped for the best.
“Now, now, Bernie,” said Izzy. “Arthur’s just here to help.”
“I just came back from the cattle market. There’s a dead girl in one of the pens. Murdered by Nazis, most probably, given that she was a card-carrying Red. He could apply his formidable skills to that case, if he wants. But there’s nothing political about the murder of Anita Schwarz.”
Izzy put down his pen and leaned back. “I thought I made it clear that there is,” he said.
“Whoever killed Anita Schwarz was a nutcase, not a Nazi,” I said. “Although I will concede that it’s not at all uncommon for these two particulars to be coterminous.”
“I believe Commissar Gunther makes the point for me,” said Nebe. “Quite eloquently, as usual.”
“And what point might that be, Commissar Nebe?”
“Look here, Bernie,” said Izzy. “There are certain officials in the General-”
“I’m not in the General,” I said. “I’m in the Official.”
“-have queried your ability to remain impartial,” he continued. “They think your open hostility to the National Socialist Party and its adherents might actually get in the way of solving this murder.”
“Who said I was hostile to Nazism?”
“Oh come on, Bernie,” said Nebe. “After that press conference? Everyone knows you’re Iron Front.”
“Let’s not talk about that press conference,” said Gennat. “It was a disaster.”
“All right,” I said. “Let’s not. After all, what’s any of it got to do with me finding the killer?”
“The dead girl’s parents, Herr and Frau Schwarz, have alleged that you have behaved aggressively and unsympathetically toward them because of their politics,” said Izzy. “Since then, they’ve alleged that you have been acting on some malicious gossip concerning her moral character.”
“Who told you that? Heinrich Grund, I suppose.”
“Actually, they spoke to me,” said Nebe.
“She was a prostitute,” I told Izzy. “An amateur, it’s true, but a prostitute nevertheless. Call me old-fashioned, but I thought that it might just have a bearing on why she was murdered. As well as how. After all, it’s not like prostitutes haven’t been murdered before in this city. And genital mutilation is something we’ve come across in cases of lust murder. Even Arthur would admit that much, surely.” I lit a cigarette. I didn’t ask permission to do it. I wasn’t in that kind of mood. “But if we are talking politics, may I remind everyone-especially you, Arthur-that it’s not against police regulations to be part of the Iron Front. It is against police regulations to be a member of the Nazi Party or the KPD.”
“I’m not a member of the Nazi Party,” said Nebe. “If Bernie’s referring to my belonging to the National Socialist Fellowship of Civil Servants, then that’s something different. You don’t have to be a member of one to be a member of the other.”
“I feel we’re getting off the subject here, a little,” said Izzy. “What I really wanted to talk about was Herr Schwarz’s position as a member of Kurt Daluege’s family. Daluege has been mentioned as a possible future police president. For that reason we’re keen to avoid any possible embarrassment to him.”
“I thought an election had to happen before that was even a possibility, sir,” I said. “As a matter of fact, I was counting on it. I believe lots of people are. You included, if I’m not wrong. But maybe that’s just me being old-fashioned again. I was under the strong impression that our job was to protect the republic, not the reputations of thugs like Daluege and Schwarz.”
“Not old-fashioned, Bernie,” said Gennat. “But perhaps a little naive. Regardless of what happens in the July election, this country will have to reach some sort of accommodation with the National Socialists. I don’t see how else anarchy and chaos are to be avoided in Germany.”
“We just want what’s best for the Berlin police,” added Izzy. “I think we all do. And it’s in the best interests of the Berlin police that this matter is dealt with more sensitively.” Izzy shook his head. “But you. You are not sensitive, Bernie. You are not diplomatic. You tread heavily.”
“You want me off the case, is that it?” I asked him.
“No one wants you off the case, Bernie,” said Gennat. “You’re one of the best detectives we’ve got. I should know. I trained you myself.”
“But we think it might be useful to have Arthur on board,” said Izzy. “To take care of the finer points of community relations.”
“You mean when it comes to speaking to bastards like Otto Schwarz and his wife,” I said.
“Precisely,” said Izzy. “I couldn’t have put it better myself.”
“Well, I’d certainly be grateful for any help in that department,” I said, and smiled at Nebe. “I suppose I’ll just have to try my best to conceal my prejudices when I’m speaking to you, Arthur.”
Nebe smiled his crafty smile. He seemed impossible to provoke. “Since we’re all of us on the same side…”
“Yes, indeed,” I murmured.
“Perhaps you would care to share with us what you have discovered so far.”
I didn’t tell them everything. But I told them a lot. I told them about the autopsy and the protonsil pill and the five hundred marks and how Anita Schwarz had been on the sledge and that I had started to suspect that her probable killer was most likely a fritz who’d caught a dose of jelly and wanted to get even with a snapper and that he had probably picked Anita Schwarz because her disability made her an easy victim, and that as soon as I spoke to Dr. Kassner at the state hospital’s urological clinic, I could have a list of possible suspects. I didn’t mention I already had one. And I certainly didn’t mention what I’d discovered about Joey the Crip.
“You won’t get anything out of a doctor,” said Gennat. “Not even with a court order. He’ll sit on his big fat doctor-patient privilege and tell you to go and screw yourself.”
This sounded good, coming from a man whose own fat bottom would have been the envy of a pocket battleship.
“And he’ll be entitled to do so. As I’m sure you know.”
I stood up and bowed. “Ordinarily, I’d agree with you, sir. But I think you’re forgetting something.”
“Oh? What’s that?”
“I think you’re forgetting that Arthur’s not the only cop in the Alex who can play Prince bloody Charming. I can do that, too. At least I can when the cause seems even vaguely worthwhile.”
I RANG the urological clinic to find out what time it closed, and was told five p.m. At four-thirty I filled a Thermos and drove back to Kassner’s house on Donhoff-Platz. Once there, I switched off the engine, poured myself some coffee, and started on the papers I’d bought in Reichskanzlerplatz. They were a day old but that didn’t seem to matter very much. In Berlin the news was always the same. German chancellors made. German chancellors overthrown. And all the while the number of the unemployed kept on rising. Meanwhile, Hitler raced around the country in his Mercedes-Benz, telling people that he was the solution to everyone’s problems. I didn’t blame those who believed him. Not really. Most Germans just wanted to have something to hope for in the future. A job. A bank that stayed solvent. A government that could govern. Good schools. Streets that were safe to walk on. Good hospitals. A few honest cops.
At about six-thirty, Dr. Kassner showed up in a new black Horch. I got out and followed him up the steps to his front door. Recognizing my face, he started to smile, but the smile quickly faded when he saw my cheap suit and the KRIPO disc in my hand.
“Commissar Gunther,” I said. “From the Alex.”
“So, you’re not Dr. Duisberg from the Dyestuff Syndicate.”
“No, sir. I’m a homicide detective. I’m investigating the murder of Anita Schwarz.”
“I thought you looked rather young to be on the board of a company of that size and importance. Well, you’d better come in, I suppose.”
We went up to his apartment. The place was modern. A lot of bleached burr walnut and cream leather and bronzes of naked ladies standing on tiptoe. He opened a cocktail cabinet the size of a sarcophagus and helped himself to a drink. He didn’t offer me one. We both knew that I didn’t deserve to have a drink. He sat down and put his drink on a scallop-edged wooden coaster that was on a scallop-edged coffee table. He crossed his legs and silently invited me to sit down.
“Nice place,” I lied. “Live here alone?”
“Yes. Now what’s this all about, Commissar?”
“There was a girl found dead in Friedrichshain Park several nights ago. She’d been murdered.”
“Yes, I read about it in Tempo. Terrible. But I don’t see-”
“I found one of your protonsil pills near the body.”
“Ah. I see. And you think one of my patients might be the culprit.”
“It’s a possibility I’d like to explore, sir.”
“Of course, it might just be a coincidence. One of my patients walking home from the clinic could have dropped his pills several hours before the body was found.”
“I don’t buy that. The pill hadn’t been there that long. There was a shower of rain that afternoon. The pill we found was in pristine condition. Then there’s the girl herself. She was a juvenile prostitute.”
“Lord, how very shocking.”
“One theory I’m exploring is that the killer may have contracted venereal disease from a prostitute.”
“Thus giving him a motive to kill one. Is that it?”
“It’s a possibility I’d like to explore.”
Kassner sipped his drink and nodded thoughtfully.
“So why that stupid pantomime in the clinic?”
“I wanted to see a list of patients you were treating.”
“Couldn’t you have asked to see it legitimately?”
“Yes. But you wouldn’t have shown it to me.”
“That’s quite right. I wouldn’t. I couldn’t. It would have been unethical.” He smiled. “So what are you? A memory man? Did you hope to remember every name on the list?”
“Something like that.” I shrugged.
“But there were rather more names than you had bargained for. Which is why you’re back here now. And at my home rather than the clinic, because you hoped that this might make it easier for me to forget my doctor-patient duty of confidentiality.”
“Something like that, yes.”
“My first duty, Commissar, is to my patients. Some of whom are very dangerously ill. Suppose for a moment that I did share information regarding their true identities with you. And suppose you chose to interview some of them. All of them. I don’t know. They might very well feel I’d betrayed their confidence. They might never again return to the clinic to complete their treatment. In which case they might very easily go and infect someone else. And so on, and so on.” He shrugged. “You do see what I mean? I regret the murder of anyone. However, I do have to be mindful of the bigger picture.”
“Here’s my bigger picture, Dr. Kassner. The person who killed Anita Schwarz is a psychopath. She was horribly mutilated. The kind of person who kills like that usually does it again. I want to find this maniac before that happens. Are you prepared to have another murder on your conscience?”
“You make a very fair point, Commissar. It’s quite a dilemma, isn’t it? Perhaps the best thing would be to put the matter before the Prussian Medical Ethics Committee and let them decide.”
“How long would that take?”
Kassner looked vague. “A week or two? Perhaps a month.”
“And what do you think they would decide?”
He sighed. “I would never like to second-guess a medical ethics committee. I’m sure it’s the same in the police. There are always proper procedures to be observed. Although they don’t really seem to have been observed here. I wonder what your superiors would make of your conduct toward me?” He shook his head. “But let us suppose that the committee turns down your request. That’s a realistic possibility, I think. What could you do then? I suppose you could try to interview everyone coming in and out of the clinic. Of course, it’s only a small percentage who are in the clinical trial. The vast majority of my patients-and I do mean a vast majority, Commissar-is still using neosalvarsan. And what would happen then? Why, you would frighten people away, of course. And we would have an epidemic of venereal disease in Berlin. As things stand now, we are barely controlling the disease. There are tens of thousands of people in this city suffering from jelly, as you call it. No, Commissar, my own suggestion to you would be to try to find a separate line of inquiry. Yes, sir, I do believe that would be the best thing for all concerned.”
“You make some good points, Doctor,” I said.
“I’m so glad you think so.”
“However, when I was in your office, I couldn’t help noticing that one of the addresses on your list of patients using protonsil is this address. Perhaps you’d care to comment on that.”
“I see. That was very sharp of you, Commissar. I suppose you think that might make me a suspect.”
“It’s a possibility I can’t afford to ignore, sir.”
“No, of course not.” Kassner finished his drink and got up to pour himself another. But I still wasn’t on his list of people he wanted to have a drink with. “Well, then, it’s like this. It’s not uncommon for doctors to infect themselves with a disease they’re trying to cure.” He sat down again, burped discreetly behind his glass, and then toasted me silently.
“Is that what you’re saying, Doctor? That you deliberately infected yourself with a venereal disease to test protonsil on yourself?”
“That’s exactly what I’m saying. Sometimes it’s not enough to test the side effects of a drug on other people. They are less able to describe the full effects of a drug on the human body. As I believe I stated when first we met, it’s rather difficult to keep tabs on patients in these cases. Sometimes the only patient one can really trust is oneself. I’m sorry if you think that makes me a suspect. But I can assure you that I’ve never murdered anyone. As it happens, though, I believe I can supply an alibi for the day and night of that poor girl’s death.”
“I’m delighted to hear it.”
“I was attending a urologists’ conference, in Hannover.”
I nodded and took out my cigarettes. “Do you mind?”
He shook his head and sipped some of his drink. The alcohol hit his stomach and made it start rumbling.
“Here’s what I’d like to suggest, Doctor. Something that might help this inquiry. Something you might like to do voluntarily that wouldn’t offend your sense of ethics.”
“If it’s within my power.”
I lit my cigarette and leaned forward so I was in range of the scallop-edged ashtray.
“Have you ever had any psychiatric training, sir?”
“Some. As a matter of fact, I did my medical training in Vienna and went to several lectures on psychiatry. Once I even considered working in the field of psychotherapy.”
“If you are agreeable, I’d like you to look over all your own patient notes. See if there’s any one of them who perhaps stands out as a possible murderer.”
“And supposing there was? One patient who stood out. What then?”
“Why, then we could discuss the matter. And perhaps discover some mutually acceptable way forward.”
“Very well. I can assure you I’ve no desire to see this man kill again. I have a daughter myself.”
I glanced around the apartment.
“Oh, she lives with her mother, in Bavaria. We’re divorced.”
“And the man who was here when I called earlier on today?”
“Ah, you must mean Beppo. He’s a friend of my wife’s and came to collect some of her things in his car. He’s a student, in Munich.” Kassner yawned. “I’m sorry, Commissar, but it’s been a very long day. Is there anything else? Only I’d like to take a bath. You can’t imagine how much I look forward to taking a bath after a day in the clinic. Well, perhaps you can imagine.”
“Yes, sir, I can imagine it quite well enough.”
We parted, more or less cordially. But I wondered just how cordial Kassner would have been if I’d mentioned Josef Goebbels. There was nothing around the apartment to indicate Kassner was a Nazi. On the other hand, I couldn’t imagine Goebbels taking the risk of being treated by anyone other than a trusted Nazi Party member. Joey wasn’t the type to put much faith in things like ethics and professional confidence.
Sadly, there was nothing to suggest that the Nazi Party leader in Berlin might actually be a psychopathic murderer, either. A dose of jelly was one thing. The murder and mutilation of a fifteen-year-old girl was quite another.
BUENOS AIRES, 1950
I DID NOT OPEN the old KRIPO files that Colonel Montalban had somehow obtained from Berlin. In spite of what I had told him, the details of the case were still quite familiar to me. I knew perfectly well why it was I had been unable to apprehend Anita Schwarz’s murderer. But I started work all the same.
I was looking for a missing girl who just might be dead. And I was keeping an eye out for one of my old comrades who just might be a psychopath.
Neither of the investigative questions I had been set by the hero-worshipping Argentine policeman seemed likely to get the answer he was looking for. Mostly, I was just looking out for myself. But I went along with his idea, of course. What other choice did I have?
At first, I was nervous about playing the part the colonel had written for me. For one thing, I wanted as little to do with other ex-SS men as possible; and, for another, I was convinced that, in spite of Montalban’s assurances, they would be hostile to someone asking a lot of questions concerning events most of them probably wanted to forget. But, more often than not, the colonel turned out to be right. As soon as I mentioned the word “passport,” it seemed there was nothing that Europe’s most wanted war criminals were not prepared to talk to me about. Indeed, sometimes it seemed that many of these creatures actually welcomed the chance to unburden themselves-to talk about their crimes and even to justify them, as if they were meeting a psychiatrist or a priest.
In the beginning, I went to their places of work. Most of the Nazis in Buenos Aires had good, well-paying jobs. They worked for a variety of companies, such as the Capri Construction Company, the Fuldner Bank, Vianord Travel, the local Mercedes-Benz plant, the Osram lightbulb company, Caffetti, Orbis Gas Appliances, the Wander Laboratory, and Sedalana Textiles. A few worked in slightly humbler occupations at the Durer Haus bookshop in the city center, the Adam restaurant, and the ABC cafe. One or two worked for the secret police, although these remained-for the moment, at least-something of a mystery to me.
A man at work, however, is often a very different person from the man he is at home. It was important that I encountered these men relaxed and off guard. And after a short while, I started turning up at their houses and their apartments in true Gestapo fashion, which is to say late at night, or early in the morning. I kept my eyes and ears open and, always, I kept my true opinion of these men a secret. It would hardly have done to give my honest impression of any of them. There were times, of course, when I wanted to unholster the Smith Wesson given to me by Montalban and put a bullet in an old comrade’s head. More commonly, I went away from their homes wondering what kind of country I was in that would give sanctuary to beasts like these. Of course, I already knew, only too well, what kind of country had produced them.
Some were happy, or at least content with their new lives. Some had attractive new wives or mistresses, and sometimes both. One or two were rich. Only a few were filled with quiet regret. But mostly they were ruthlessly unrepentant.
THE ONLY SORROW displayed by Dr. Carl Vaernet related to his no longer being able to experiment freely on homosexual prisoners at Buchenwald concentration camp. He was quite open about this, his life’s “most important work.”
Vaernet was from Denmark but living with his wife and children at Calle Uriarte 2251, close to the Plaza Italia in the Palermo district of Buenos Aires. Dark, thick-set, with shadowy eyes and a mouth full of pessimism and bad breath, he was operating an endocrinology clinic offering expensive “cures” to the better-off parents of Argentine homosexuals. A very masculine country, Argentina regarded being joto, or pajaro, as a danger to the health of the nation.
“When your Red Cross passport runs out,” I told Vaernet, “that is, if it hasn’t run out already, you will have to apply to the federal police for a special passport. To get this passport you will have to prove that while you have been resident in Argentina you’ve been a person of good conduct. Friends-if you have any-will have to oblige with testimonials as to your character and integrity. If this proves to be the case-as I’m sure it will-I myself will issue you with the good-conduct pass that you can then use to apply to a court of first instance for an Argentine passport. Naturally, the passport can be in a different name. The important thing is that you will be able to travel freely again in Europe, without fear of arrest. Like any normal Argentine citizen.”
“Well, of course, we’d like to visit our eldest son, Kjeld, in Denmark,” confessed Vaernet. He smiled at the thought of it. “Much as we love it here in Buenos Aires, home is always home, eh, Herr Hausner?”
We were sitting in the drawing room. There was a baby grand piano with a number of framed photographs on the lid. One of the photographs was of the Perons and their poodles-Eva holding the black one, Juan holding the white-together looking like an advertisement for Scotch whiskey.
Vaernet’s wife served tea and facturas, little sweet pastries that were very popular with the sweet-toothed portenos. She was tall, thin, and nervous. I took out a pad of paper and a pen and tried to appear properly bureaucratic.
“Date and place of birth?” I asked.
“April 28, 1893. Copenhagen.”
“My own birthday is April 20,” I said. When he looked blank, I added, “The Fuhrer’s birthday.” It wasn’t true, of course, but it was always a good way of making men like him think that I was some kind of die-hard Nazi and, therefore, someone to be trusted.
“Of course. How silly of me not to remember.”
“That’s all right. I’m from Munich.” Another lie. “Ever been to Munich?”
“Lovely city. At least it was.”
After a short series of anodyne questions, I said, “Many Germans have come to Argentina believing that the government is not interested in their backgrounds. That it doesn’t care what a man did in Europe before he arrived in this country. I’m afraid that just isn’t true. At least not anymore. The government doesn’t judge a man for what he did during the war. The past is past. And whatever you’ve done, it certainly won’t affect your being able to stay in this country. But I’m sure you’ll agree it does have some bearing on who you are now and what kind of citizen you might become. What I’m saying is this: The government doesn’t want to issue a passport to anyone who might do something to make himself an embarrassment to the government. So. You may speak to me in total confidence. Remember, I was an SS officer, like yourself. My honor is loyalty. But I do urge you to be candid, Doctor.”
Dr. Vaernet nodded. “I’m certainly not ashamed of what I did,” he said.
At this, his wife got up and left the room, as if the prospect of her husband’s speaking frankly about his work might be too much for her. The way the conversation turned out, I can’t say I blamed her.
“Reichsfuhrer Himmler regarded my attempts to surgically cure homosexuals as work of the greatest national importance to the ideal of German racial purity,” he said earnestly. “At Buchenwald, I implanted hormone briquettes into the groins of a number of the pink triangles. All of these men were cured of their homosexuality and released back into normal life.”
There was a lot, lot more of this, and while Vaernet struck me as being a thoroughgoing bastard-I never yet met a queer who didn’t strike me as someone quite comfortable being that way-I wasn’t convinced he was a psychopath of the kind that could have eviscerated a fifteen-year-old just for the hell of it.
On the piano, next to the picture of the Perons, was a photograph of a girl about the same age as Fabienne von Bader. I picked it up. “Your daughter?”
“She goes to the same school as Fabienne von Bader, doesn’t she?”
“Naturally, you’d be aware she’s disappeared.”
“Yes, of course.”
“Were they friends?”
“No, not really.”
“Has she spoken about it?”
“Yes. But nothing important, you understand. If it had been of any relevance, I’d have called the police.”
He shrugged. “They asked a lot of questions about Fabienne.”
“They were here?”
“Yes. My wife and I formed the impression that they thought Fabienne had run away.”
“It’s what children do, sometimes. Well.” I turned toward the door. “I had better be going. Thank you for your time. Oh, one more thing. We were talking about proving oneself to be a person of good character.”
“You’re a respectable man, Herr Doktor. Anyone can see that. I shouldn’t think that there will be any problems with issuing you a good-conduct pass. No problems at all. However.”
“I hesitate to mention it. But you being a doctor… I’m sure you’ll understand why I have to ask this kind of thing. Is there anyone among our old comrades here in Argentina who you think might not be worthy of a good-conduct pass? Someone who might potentially bring real disrepute to Argentina?”
“It’s an interesting question,” said the doctor.
“I know and I hate asking it. We’re all of us in the same boat, after all. But sometimes these questions have to be asked. How else are we to judge a man, if we don’t listen to what other people say about him?” I shrugged. “It might be something that’s happened here. Or something that happened back in Europe. During the war, perhaps.”
“No, no, you’re quite right to ask, Herr Hausner. And I appreciate your confidence. Well then, let me see.” He sipped some tea and thought for a moment. “Yes. There’s a fellow called Eisenstedt, Wilhelm von Eisenstedt, who was an SS captain at Buchenwald. He lives in a house on Calle Monasterio and calls himself Fernando Eifler. He’s let himself go a bit. Drinks too much. But at Buchenwald he was notoriously and sadistically homosexual.”
I tried to suppress a smile. Eifler had been the man in the dressing gown with whom I’d shared the safe house on Monasterio when I first arrived in Argentina. So that was who and what he was.
“Also, yes, also a man called Pedro Olmos. His real name is Walter Kutschmann, and he’s another ex-SS captain. Kutschmann was a murderer by anyone’s definition of the word. Someone who enjoyed killing for killing’s sake.”
Vaernet described Kutchsmann’s wartime activities in detail.
“I believe he now works for Osram. The lightbulb company. I can’t answer for what kind of man he is today. But his wife Geralda’s conduct is less than proper, in my opinion. She gasses stray dogs for a living. Can you imagine such a thing? What kind of a person could do that? What kind of a woman is it who gasses poor dumb animals for a living?”
I could easily have answered him. Only he wouldn’t have understood. But I went to see Pedro Olmos anyway.
He and his wife lived on the outskirts of the city, near the electrical factory where Pedro Olmos worked. He was younger than I’d imagined, no more than thirty-five, which meant he was in his mid-twenties when he’d been a Gestapo captain in Paris; and little more than a boy when he’d been a lieutenant murdering Jews in Poland as part of a special action group. He had been just eighteen when Anita Schwarz was murdered in 1932, and I thought he was probably too young to be the man I was looking for. But you never can tell.
Pedro Olmos was from Dresden. He had met and married Geralda in Buenos Aires. They had several dogs and cats but no children. They were a good-looking couple. Geralda didn’t speak German, which was probably why Pedro felt able to confess that he’d been a lot more than just friendly with Coco Chanel while he was stationed in Paris. He was certainly smooth enough. He spoke excellent Spanish, French, and some Polish, which, he said, was why he was working in Osram’s travel department. Both he and Geralda were much exercised about the city’s stray-dog population, which was considerable, and they had a grant from the city authorities to round them up and gas them. It seemed an unusual occupation for a woman who described herself as an animal lover. She even took me to their basement and showed me the humane-killing facility she used. This was a simple metal hut with a rubber-sealed door that was attached to a petrol generator. Geralda carefully explained that when the dogs were dead, she burned the bodies in their household incinerator. She seemed very proud of her “humane service” and described it in a way that made me think she’d never heard of such a thing as a gas van. Given Olmos’s SS background, it wasn’t too difficult to imagine that perhaps she had got the idea from her husband.
I asked him the same question I had asked Vaernet: Was there anyone among our old comrades in Argentina whom he considered to be beyond the pale?
“Oh, yes.” Olmos spoke with alacrity, and I was beginning to realize that there was not much loyalty among the old comrades. “I can give you the name of just such a man. Probably the most dangerous man I’ve ever met, anywhere. His name is Otto Skorzeny.”
I tried not to look surprised. Naturally, I knew of Otto Skorzeny. Few Germans had not heard of the daring author of Mussolini’s mountaintop rescue in 1943. I even remembered seeing photographs of his heavily scarred face in all the magazines when Hitler had awarded him the Knight’s Cross. He certainly looked like a dangerous man. The trouble was, Skorzeny did not appear on the list of names that the colonel had given me. And until his name came up, I’d had no idea that he was still alive, let alone that he now lived in Argentina. A ruthless killer, yes. But a psychopath? I decided to ask Montalban about him when next I saw him.
Meanwhile, Pedro Olmos had thought of someone else he considered a person undeserving of a good-conduct pass. The ratline, as the Americans called organizations like the ODESSA and the Old Comrades, which existed to help Nazis escape from Europe, was beginning to look well named. The man Olmos thought of was called Kurt Christmann.
Christmann was interesting to me, because he was from Munich and born in 1907, which made him twenty-five at the time of Anita Schwarz’s murder. He was forty-three years old, once a lawyer who now worked for the Fuldner Bank on Avenida Cordoba. Christmann lived in a comfortable apartment on Esmeralda and, within five minutes of meeting him, I had marked him down as a definite suspect. He had commanded a killing detail in Russia. For a while, I’d been in the Ukraine myself, of course. It gave us something to talk about. Something I could use to help gain his confidence and get him talking.
Fair-haired, with rimless glasses and a musician’s slender hands, Christmann wasn’t exactly the kind of blond beast you’d have seen striding across the screen in a Leni Riefenstahl movie. He was more the sort you’d have seen walking quietly through a law library with a couple of books under his arm. Until he’d joined the SS in 1942, he’d worked for the Gestapo in Vienna, Innsbruck, and Salzburg, and I marked him down as the kind of promotion-hungry, medal-seeking Nazi I’d often met before. Not so much blood and iron as bleach and Bakelite.
“So you were out in Ukraine, too,” he said, going all comradely on me. “Which part?”
“White Ruthenia. Minsk. Lvov. Lutsk. All over.”
“We were in the southern part of Russia, mainly,” he said. “Krasnodar and Stavropol. And in the northern Caucasus. The action group was headed by Otto Ohlendorf, and Beerkamp. My unit was commanded by an officer named Seetzen. Nice fellow. We had three gas vans at our disposal. Two big Saurers and a little Diamond. Mostly it was clearing out hospitals and asylums. The children’s homes were the worst. But don’t think these were normal healthy kids, mind. They weren’t. They were gimps, you know? Feebleminded, retarded kids. Bedridden, disabled. Better off out of it, if you asked me. Especially given the way the Popovs looked after them, which was to say hardly at all. The conditions in some of these places were appalling. In a way, gassing them like we did was a bloody kindness. Putting them out of their misery, we were. You’d have done the same for an injured horse. Anyway, that’s the way we looked at it.”
He paused, as if recalling some of the terrible scenes that he had witnessed. I almost pitied him. I wouldn’t have had his thoughts for anything.
“Mind you, it was still hard work. Not everyone could stick it. Some of the kids would catch on as to what was happening and we’d have to throw them in the vans. That could be pretty rough. We had to shoot a few who tried to escape. But once they were inside the van and the doors were shut, it was pretty quick, I think. They’d hammer on the sides of the truck for a few minutes and that would be it. Over. The more of them we managed to squeeze into the truck, the quicker it would be. I was in charge of that detail between August 1942 and July 1943, by which time we were in general retreat, of course.
“Then I went to Klagenfurt, where I was chief of the Gestapo. Then Koblenz, where I was also head of the Gestapo. After the war I was interned in Dachau, by the Amis, only I managed to escape. Hopeless, they were, the Amis. Couldn’t guard a fire. Then it was Rome, and the Vatican, before I ended up here. Right now, I’m working for Fuldner, but I’m planning to try the real estate business. There’s plenty of money to be made in this city. But I do miss Austria. Most of all I miss the skiing. I was the German police ski champion, you know.”
“Really?” Clearly, I had misjudged him completely. He might have been a murdering bastard but he was a sporting murdering bastard.
“You are right to look surprised, Herr Hausner.” He laughed. “I’ve been ill, you see. I was in Brazil before coming here to Argentina and managed to pick up a case of malaria. Really, I’ve still not recovered full health.” He went into the kitchen and opened the door of a new-looking Di Tella refrigerator. “Beer?”
“No, thanks.” I was particular about whom I drank with. “Not while I’m on duty.”
Kurt Christmann laughed. “I used to be like you,” he said, opening a beer bottle. “But now I try to be more like the Argentines. I even take a siesta in the afternoon. People like me and you, Hausner. We’re lucky to be alive.” He nodded. “A passport would be good. But I don’t think I’ll be going back to Germany. Germany’s finished, I think, now that the Popovs are there. There’s nothing there for me, except perhaps a hangman’s noose.”
“We did what we had to do,” I said. “What we were told to do.” I knew this speech well enough by now. I’d heard it often during the last five years. “We were just carrying out orders. If we’d refused to obey, we would have been shot ourselves.”
“That’s right,” agreed Christmann. “That’s right. We were only obeying orders.”
Now that I’d let him run a bit, I decided to try to reel the line in.
“Mind you,” I said. “There were some. A few. A few rotten apples who enjoyed the killing. Who went beyond the normal course of duty.”
Christmann pressed the beer bottle to his cheek and thought for a moment; then he shook his head. “You know something? I really don’t think that’s true. Not that I saw, anyway. Maybe it was different in your outfit. But the men I was with, in the Ukraine. All of them handled themselves with great courage and fortitude. That’s what I miss most. The comradeship. The brothers in arms. That’s what I miss most.”
I nodded, in seeming sympathy. “I miss Berlin, most of all,” I said. “Munich, too. But Berlin most of all.”
“You know something? I never went to Berlin.”
“No.” He chuckled and drank some more beer. “I don’t suppose I shall ever see it now, eh?”
I went away, full of satisfaction at having done an excellent day’s work. It’s the people you meet that make being a detective so rewarding. Once in a while you meet a real sweetie, like Kurt Christmann, who restores your faith in medieval justice and vigilantism and other, thoroughly sensible Latin American practices like strappado and the garrote. Sometimes it’s hard to walk away from people like that without shaking your head and wondering how it ever got to be that bad.
How did it ever get to be that bad?
I think something happened to Germany after the Great War. You could see it on the streets of Berlin. A callous indifference to human suffering. And perhaps, after all those demented, sometimes cannibalistic killers we had during the Weimar years, we ought to have seen it coming: the murder squads and the death factories. Killers who were demented but also quite ordinary. Krantz, the schoolboy. Denke, the shopkeeper. Grossmann, the door-to-door salesman. Gormann, the bank clerk. Ordinary people who committed crimes of unparalleled savagery. As I was looking back at them now, they seemed like a sign of that which was to follow. The camp commanders and the Gestapo types. The desk murderers and the sadistic doctors. The ordinary fritzes who were capable of such dreadful atrocities. The quiet, respectable, Mozart-loving Germans among whom I was now cast away to live.
What did it take to murder thousands of children, week in week out? An ordinary person? Or someone who might have done it before?
Kurt Christmann had spent a whole year of his life gassing Russian and Ukrainian children. The feebleminded, the retarded, the bedridden, and the disabled. Children like Anita Schwarz. Perhaps, for him, there had been more to it than just obeying orders. Perhaps he had actually disliked disabled children. Maybe even enough to have murdered one in Berlin. I certainly hadn’t forgotten that he was from Munich. I’d always had a strong suspicion that the man I’d been looking for, in 1932, had come from Munich.
THERE WERE TWO MEN waiting by my car. They were wearing hats and double-breasted suits that were all buttoned up the way you do when you’ve got more than just a fountain pen in your breast pocket. I told myself they were a little far south to be Ricci Kamm’s. A little too smooth, too. Ring members tended to wear broken noses and cauliflower ears the way some men wear watch chains and carry canes. There was all that and the fact that they looked pleased to see me. When you’ve been in the zoo as long as I have, you kind of get to know when an animal is going to attack. It gets all nervous and agitated, because, for most people, it’s upsetting to kill someone. But these two were calm and self-assured.
“Are you Gunther?”
“That all depends.”
“On what you say next?”
“Someone wants to talk to you.”
“So why isn’t someone here?”
“Because he’s in the Eldorado. Buying you a drink.”
“Does this someone have a name?”
“Herr Diels. Rudolf Diels.”
“Maybe I’m the shy type. Maybe I don’t like the Eldorado. Besides, it’s a little early for a nightclub.”
“Exactly. Makes it nice and quiet. Somewhere private you can hear yourself think.”
“I get all sorts of strange ideas when I hear myself think,” I said. “Like maybe there’s some point to my existence. But since there isn’t, we’d better get along to the Eldorado.”
The Eldorado on Motzstrasse was on the ground floor of a modern building that was in the High Concrete style. Like the old Eldorado, which still existed on Lutherstrasse, the new was a he/she club popular with Berlin high society, expensive prostitutes, and adventurous tourists eager to get a taste of real Berlin decadence. Inside, the club was a facsimile of a Chinese opium-smoking den. Only it wasn’t just a facsimile. If sex was one reason to visit the Eldorado, then the ready supply of drugs was another. But at that hour of the day, the place was more or less deserted. The Bernd Robert Rhythmics had just finished rehearsing. In the corner, beside a copper gong as big as a truck tire, a youngish man with a largish scar on his face was sharing a bottle of champagne with two girls. I knew they were girls-not because of their womanly hands and manicured fingernails but because of their private parts, which were easy to see since both girls were also naked.
Seeing me arrive in the club with his two double-breasted scouts, the scar-faced man stood up and waved me toward him. He was dark, with a weak chin. I guessed his age was about thirty. His suit looked handmade and he was smoking a Gildemann cigar. He had a woman’s lips, and his eyebrows were so neat and fine that they almost looked plucked and then drawn in with a pencil. His eyes were brown, with long lashes. His hands were womanish, too, and but for the scar and the company he was keeping, I might have wondered if he was a bit warm. But he was polite and welcoming, which made me wonder how he’d come by his scar.
“Herr Gunther,” he said. “I’m glad you came. This is Fraulein Olafsson, and Fraulein Larsson. They are both on holiday from Sweden. Aren’t you, ladies?” He looked quickly around. “There’s another one somewhere. Fraulein Liljeroth. But I think she must have gone to powder her nose. If you know what I mean.”
I bowed politely. “Ladies.”
“They’re trying to behave like true Berliners,” said Diels. “Isn’t that right, ladies?”
“Nakedness is normal,” said one of the Swedes. “Desire is healthy. Don’t you agree?”
“Here, sit down and have a drink,” said Diels, and pushed a glass of champagne toward me.
It was a little early for me, but, noting the label and the year on the bottle, I drank it anyway.
“What can I do for you, Herr Diels?”
“Please. Call me Rudi. And by the way, you can speak quite freely in front of our two lady friends. They don’t speak very good German.”
“Neither do I,” I said. “Only that might have something to do with the fact that my tongue is hanging out of my mouth.”
“Ever been here before?”
“Once or twice. But I don’t get any kick out of guessing whether someone’s a man or a woman.” I nodded at Fraulein Olafsson. “It makes a pleasant change to have any doubts on that score removed so unequivocally.”
“You’d better enjoy it while you can. In just a month or two a lot of these clubs are going to be closed down by the new government. This one is already earmarked to be the Nazi Party headquarters in Berlin South.”
“You’re taking a lot for granted. There’s the small matter of an election to be fought first.”
“You’re right. It is a small matter. The National Socialists may not manage to win an outright majority in the Reichstag, but it seems more than probable that they will be the largest party.”
“I’m not a party member, Herr Gunther. But I am broadly sympathetic to the cause of National Socialism.”
“Is that how you got those scars on your face? By being broadly sympathetic to the Nazis?”
Diels touched his cheek without any trace of self-consciousness. “This?” He shook his head. “No. I’m afraid there wasn’t much honor in the way they were earned. I used to drink a lot. More than was good for me. Sometimes, when I wanted to amuse or intimidate someone, I would chew a beer glass.”
There was a bowl of fruit on the table. I nodded at it.
“Me, I prefer a nice apple.” I lit a cigarette and, leaning back in my chair, took a good look at our two naked companions. I didn’t mind looking at them any more than they minded being looked at.
“No, thanks. Some of my concentration is still caught up with the fate of the republic.”
“That’s too bad. Because the republic’s days are numbered. We’re going to win.”
“So it’s ‘we’ now. A minute ago you weren’t even in the party. I guess you must be what’s called a floating voter.”
“You mean like Rosa Luxemburg?” Diels smiled at his own little joke. “Oh, I’m not much of a Hitlerite,” he said. “But I do believe in Hermann Goering. He’s a much more impressive figure than Hitler.”
“He’s certainly a larger one.” It was my turn to smile at my little joke.
“Hitler cares nothing for human life,” continued Diels. “But Goering is different. I work for him, in the Reichstag. After the Nazis come to power, Goering is going to be in overall charge of the police in Germany. Kurt Daluege is going to be in charge of the uniformed police. And I’m going to be in charge of a much-expanded political police.”
“The number of people wanting to join the police these days. And we haven’t even had a recruiting drive.”
“We’re going to need men we can trust. Good men who are prepared to devote body and soul to the fight against Jewry and Bolshevism. But not just against Jewry and Bolshevism. It’s imperative that the power of the SA be curtailed, too. Which is where you come in.”
“Me? I don’t see how I can be of any use to you. I don’t even like the political police we’ve got now.”
“You’re well known in KRIPO as someone who dislikes the SA.”
“Everyone in KRIPO dislikes the SA. Everyone who’s worth a damn.”
“That is what I’m looking for. To get rid of the SA we’ll need men who aren’t afraid. Men like you.”
“I can see your dilemma. You need the SA to strong-arm the election. But once you’re elected, you need someone else to strong-arm it back into line.” I grinned. “I have to hand it to you. There’s sophism and then there’s Nazism. Hitler adds a whole new section to that part of the dictionary that deals with specious argument and dirty dealing.” I shook my head. “I’m not your man, Herr Diels. Never will be.”
“It would be a real shame if the force was to lose a man of your forensic capabilities, Herr Gunther.”
“Wouldn’t it just? But there it is.”
The third Swede came back from powdering her nose. Like her two friends, she was as naked as a hat pin without a hat. Obviously bored, the other two got up from the table and went over to her and put their arms around her, and slowly, they began to dance to some silent music. They looked like the Three Graces.
“They really are tourists, you know,” he said. “Not demi-castors, or half-silks, or whatever you cops call them. Just three girls on holiday from Stockholm, who felt like being true Berliners and taking off their clothes for the sheer hell of it.” He sighed. “I think it will be a real shame when this kind of thing is gone. But things have to change. It can’t be allowed to go on like this. The vice, the prostitution, the drugs. It’s corrupting us.”
“You’re a cop,” he said. “I thought you would surely agree with me about that, at least.”
Two of the band came back and started to play gently, for the benefit of the impromptu floor show.
“You’re not from Berlin, are you, Herr Diels? In Berlin we say that you should leave another man’s mustache alone, even if it droops into his coffee cup. That’s why the Nazis will never do well in this city. Because you people can’t leave another man’s mustache alone.”
“That’s an unusual attitude for a policeman. Don’t you want to make councilor, or director? You could, you know. The minute this election is over. Everyone is going to want to help us then. But you’re in a position to help us now. When it really counts.”
“I told you. I’m not interested in being a part of your expanded political police.”
“I’m not talking about that. I mean that you could stay on, in Department Four. That you could keep doing what you’re doing now. It’s not like you’re a Communist or anything. We can easily overlook something like the Iron Front.” He shrugged innocently. “No, all you would have to do is a favor for us.”
“What kind of favor?” I asked, intrigued.
“We want you to drop the Schwarz case.”
“I’m a police officer, Herr Diels. I can’t do that. I’ve been ordered to investigate a murder, and it’s my duty to carry out that investigation to the best of my abilities.”
“You were ordered to do it by people who won’t be around for much longer. Besides, we both know that in this city there are lots of cases that remain unsolved.”
“I go slow, is that it? So Goebbels can accuse Grzesinski and Weiss of sparing the horses because the victim’s old man is a big noise in the SA?”
“No, it’s nothing like that. The Schwarz girl was disabled. She had a bad leg. Like Goebbels. It’s a little embarrassing for him to have this kind of issue in the public eye. It magnifies it, somewhat. Anita Schwarz had a bad leg. That reminds people that Goebbels has one, too. Dr. Goebbels would be greatly in your debt if the Schwarz case could be driven into a sand dune, so to speak.”
“Is Joey’s foot the only reason he’d like this case to go nowhere?”
Diels looked puzzled. “Yes. What other reason could there be?”
It seemed imprudent to mention just how much I knew about the true extent of Joey’s current disabilities. “And what if another girl gets murdered? In similar circumstances. What then?”
“So you investigate it. Just lay off the Schwarz case. That’s all I’m asking. Just until after the election.”
“To spare Joey’s feelings.”
“To spare Joey’s feelings.”
“You make me think that maybe there’s a lot more to this case than I realized before.”
“It might be unhealthy to think that. For you and your career.”
“My career?” I laughed. “That really keeps me awake at night.”
“At least you’re still awake at night, Herr Gunther.” He grinned and blew on the end of his cigar. “That’s something, isn’t it?”
I’d heard all I wanted to hear. I reached for the fruit bowl, picked out a nice golden apple, and stood up.
The three naked women were now too caught up in themselves to pay me any regard, and it was looking like a proper floor show that Berliners would have paid good money to sit and watch.
“Hey, you,” I said. “Aphrodite.”
I tossed the apple and one of them caught it. Naturally she was the best-looking of the three Swedes. “My name is not Aphrodite,” she said dully. “It is Gunila.”
I didn’t say anything back. I just walked away with my clothes and my sense of humor and my classical education. It was a lot more than she had.
Outside I crossed the road and bought some cigarettes. In front of the tobacconist’s were six men wearing placards for the forthcoming election. One was for Bruner and the SDP, two were for Thalmann and the Communists, and three were for Hitler. All in all, the prospects for the republic were looking no better than my own.
IN 1932, I didn’t go to the cinema very much. Maybe if I had, I might not have been tricked so easily. I’d heard about Fritz Lang’s film M, because there was a detective in it who was supposedly based on Ernst Gennat. Certainly Gennat thought that was the case. But with one thing and another, I’d missed the film when it came out. It was still showing at my local Union Theater, but in summer, there always seemed to be something more important to do than to spend an evening watching a movie. Like investigate a murder. The night before it happened, I’d been up all night checking out political killings in Wedding and Neukolln. The descriptions given by witnesses were predictably vague. But then, all murderers look the same when they’re wearing brown shirts. That’s my excuse. One thing was for sure. The people who ambushed me must have seen the movie.
As I walked out of my apartment building, a small boy ran up to my car. I wasn’t sure if I’d seen the boy before, but even if I had, I’m not sure I’d have recognized him. All boys in the Scheunenviertel looked much the same. This one was shoeless, with short blond hair and bright blue eyes. He wore gray shorts, a gray shirt, and sported a number eleven of snot on his upper lip. I guessed him to be about eight years old.
“A girl I know just went off with a strange man,” he said. “Her name is Lotte Friedrich and she’s twelve years old and the fritz isn’t from around here. Creepy-looking dad he was, with a funny look on his shine. He’s the same schlepper who tried to give my sister some sweets yesterday if she’d go for a walk with him.” The boy tugged my sleeve urgently and pointed west along Schendelgasse until I agreed to look. “See them? She’s wearing a green dress and he’s wearing a coat. See?”
Sure enough, crossing Alte Schonhauser Strasse were a man and a girl. The man had his hand on the girl’s neck, like he was steering her somewhere. Wearing a coat seemed just a little suspicious, as the day was already a warm one.
Ordinarily, I might have been more suspicious of the boy. But then it wasn’t every month that an adolescent girl turned up dead with half of her insides removed. Nobody wanted that to happen again.
“What’s your name, sonny?”
I gave him ten pfennigs and pointed in the direction of Bulowplatz.
“You know that armored car outside the Red HQ?”
Emil nodded and wiped the snot onto the back of his shirtsleeve.
“I want you to go and tell the SCHUPO in the armored car that Commissar Gunther from the Alex is following a suspect onto Mulackstrasse and requests them to come and give him support. Got that?”
Emil nodded again and ran off in the direction of Bulowplatz.
I walked quickly west, unholstering my Parabellum as I went, because as soon as I had crossed onto Mulackstrasse, I would be in the heart of Always True’s territory. I might have lacked caution but I wasn’t stupid.
The man and the girl ahead of me were walking briskly, too. I quickened my pace and came onto Mulackstrasse just in time to hear a scream and see the man pick the girl up under his arm before ducking into the Ochsenhof. At this point, I should probably have waited for the Twenty-first Battalion and its armored car. Only I was still thinking about Anita Schwarz and the girl in the green dress. Besides, when I looked back at where I had come from, there was still no sign of the cavalry. I took my whistle, blew it several times, and waited for some sign that they were coming. But nothing happened. Either the Twenty-first didn’t care for the idea of chasing a suspect into the most lawless part of Berlin, or they just didn’t believe the story Emil had told them. Probably it was a combination of the two.
I worked the slide on the Parabellum and went in a narrow door and up a darkened stair.
The Ochsenhof, also known as the Roast, or the Cattle Shed, was home to some of the worst animals in Berlin. A so-called rent barracks that occupied three acres, it was a slum tenement from the last century, with more entrances and exits than a lump of Swiss cheese. Rats ran along the balconies at night and were hunted for sport by dogs and feral children with air rifles. Cellar dives housed illegal stills, while on the granite back courts that were laughingly called “greens,” packing-case colonies of huts housing some of the city’s many homeless and unemployed squatted under lines of gray washing. On a dark, foul-smelling, gaslit stairwell, I found a group of young men already playing cards and sharing stumps of cigarette ends.
I looked at the card players and they looked at the nine-millimeter ace I was holding in my hand.
“Did any of you see a man come in here just now?” I asked. “He was wearing a light-colored coat and a hat. With him was a girl of about twelve, wearing a green dress. He might have been abducting her.”
Nobody said anything. But they were still listening. It pays to listen when it’s a man with a gun who’s doing the talking.
“Maybe she’s got a brother, like you,” I said.
“Nobody’s got a brother like him,” quipped a voice.
“Maybe he’ll be upset if his little sister gets sliced up and eaten by some rent-barracks cannibal,” I said. “Think about that.”
“Cops,” said another voice in the half-darkness. “They’re the last people in Berlin who still care about anything.”
The dealer jabbed a thumb over his shoulder. “They went across the green.”
I ran up some steps and out onto the back court. It looked like a heavy, gray stone frame for the brilliantly blue sky. Something zipped past my left ear and I heard a bang as loud as a truck backfiring an eight-millimeter rifle bullet. Half a second later, my brain registered the subliminal image of a flash from the third-floor balcony and impelled my body to take cover behind some bedsheets that were flapping on a clothesline. I didn’t stay put. As soon as I had crawled several meters on my hands and knees, I heard another gunshot and something flicked through the sheet I’d been kneeling behind. I scrambled to the end of the line of washing and then sprinted like Georg Lammers into the relative safety of another stairwell. Several ragged-looking men cowering in the shadows stared at me fearfully. Ignoring them, I hared up to the third floor. Of a gunman there was no sign, unless you counted the sound of a pair of stout shoes descending another set of stairs three or four steps at a time. Angry, I went after the sound of the shoes. Some people had come out onto the Roast balconies to see what all the fuss was about. But the sensible ones stayed quietly in their sties.
Reaching the bottom of the stairwell, I paused briefly and then pushed a couple of planks that were leaning against the wall out onto the court, to draw the rifleman’s fire. By now I had a good idea that it was a German rifle. The 7.97 Mauser Gewehr 98. During the war, I’d heard its voice often enough to know its middle name. The 98 was an accurate rifle, but it was unsuited to rapid fire, on account of its peculiar bolt arrangement. And in the several seconds it took for him to put another one up the spout, I was out of the stairwell and shooting. There’s nothing slow about a nine-millimeter Parabellum.
The first shot missed him. The second, too. By the time the Parabellum was ready for a fourth, I was close enough to see the pattern on his bow tie. This matched the pattern on his shirt, and the pattern on his coat. Red spots aren’t normally a favorite of mine, but on him they looked just fine. Especially as their source was the hole I’d made in his face. He was dead before he hit the concrete.
This was unfortunate, for two reasons. One was that I hadn’t killed anyone since August 23, 1918, when I shot an Australian at the Battle of Amiens. Possibly more than one. When the war was over, I promised myself I’d never kill anyone again. The second reason it was unfortunate was that I’d wanted to question the dead man and find out who had put him up to killing me. Instead I had to rifle through his pockets and all, under the curious eyes of a gathering crowd of rent-barracks vultures.
He was tall, thin, and losing his hair. He had already lost his teeth. At the moment of his death, his tongue must have forced one of the plates from his mouth and now it sat on his upper lip like a pink plastic mustache.
I found his wallet. The dead man’s name was Erich Hoppner and he was a member of the Nazi Party since 1930. His membership card stated that his number was 510934. None of that meant he wasn’t also a member of the Always True gang. It wasn’t unusual for gangsters from Berlin’s underworld to be contracted and paid to carry out political murders. The question was, Who had ordered my murder? The Always True, for what I had done to Ricci Kamm? Or the Nazis, for what I hadn’t done for Josef Goebbels?
I took his wallet and his rifle and his watch and his ring and left him there. The vultures were already taking his false teeth as I walked out of the Ochsenhof. False teeth were an expensive luxury for the kind of folk who lived in the Roast.
On Bulowplatz, the PHWM in charge of the SCHUPO troop stationed there denied ever having received a message from a small boy to come to my aid. I told him to take some of his men and go and mount a guard on Hoppner’s body before it was eaten. Reluctantly, he agreed.
I went back to the Alex. First I visited the Record Department of Inspectorate J, where the criminal secretary on duty helped me discover that Erich Hoppner didn’t have a criminal record. This was surprising. Then I went upstairs and handed over Hoppner’s party card to the political boys in DIa. Naturally, they’d never heard of him, either. Then I sat down and typed out a statement and gave it to Gennat. After I’d handed in my report, I was asked into an interview room and questioned by Gennat and two police councilors, Gnade and Fischmann. My statement was then filed for later comparison with the findings of an independent homicide team. More paperwork followed. Then I was interviewed again, by KOK Muller, who was leading the investigating homicide team.
“Sounds like they led you on a nice little trot,” observed Muller. “And you never saw the girl in the green dress again?”
“No. And after the shooting, I didn’t see any point in looking for her.”
“And the boy? Emil? The one who fed you the sugar lump?”
I shook my head.
Muller was a tall man with lots of hair, only it was all on the sides of his head with none of it on top, as if he had grown through it like a rubber plant.
“They had you measured pretty well,” he said. “They did everything but chalk a letter M on the dead man’s coat for you. Like in that movie with Peter Lorre. It’s the kid in the movie who tips off the cop about Lorre.”
“Haven’t seen it.”
“You should get out more.”
“Sure. Maybe I’ll buy a horse.”
“See the sights.”
“I’ve seen them already. Besides, maybe I see too much as it is. Soon it’s going to be unhealthy to be a cop with good eyesight in this country. That’s what people keep telling me, anyway.”
“You talk like the Nazis were going to win the election, Bernie.”
“I keep hoping they won’t. And I keep worrying that they might. But I’ve got seven loaves and five fishes telling me the republic needs more than just a lucky break this time. If I wasn’t a cop, I might believe in miracles. But I am and I don’t. In this job you meet the lazy, the stupid, the cruel, and the indifferent. Unfortunately, that’s what’s called an electorate.”
Muller nodded. He was an SDP man, like me. “Hey, did you hear the good news? About Joey Clovenhoof? His new wife Magda’s apartment got screened. Her jewels were lifted.” Muller was grinning. “Can you credit it?”
“Credit it? They should give whoever did it the Blue Max.”
I NEEDED A DRINK, I needed some female company, and I probably needed a new job. As things turned out, I went to the best place for all three. I went to the Adlon Hotel. Inside the sumptuous lobby I looked around for Frieda. Instead I found Louis Adlon. He was wearing a white tie and tails. In his lapel was a white carnation that matched his mustache. He wasn’t a tall man but he was every inch a gentleman.
“Commissar Gunther,” he said. “How nice to see you. And you must think me rude for not writing to thank you for the way you dealt with that thug. But I was hoping to run into you and thank you in person.” He pointed to the bar. “Do you have a minute?”
In the bar, Adlon waved for service, but it was already on its way, like a small express train. “Schnapps for Commissar Gunther,” he said. “The best.”
We sat down. The bar was quiet. The old man poured two glasses to the brim and then toasted me silently.
“According to my wife, Hedda, there’s an old Confucian curse that says, ‘May you live in interesting times.’ I’d say these are very interesting times, wouldn’t you?”
I grinned. “Yes, sir, I would.”
“Given that, I just wanted you to know that there is always a job for you here.”
“Thank you, sir. It might just be that I take you up on that offer.”
“No, sir. Thank you. It may interest you to know that your superior, Dr. Weiss, speaks very highly of you.”
“I didn’t know you two knew each other, Herr Adlon.”
“We’re old friends. It was he who leads me to suppose that the police service may soon change in ways we do not yet care to imagine. For that reason I felt able to make you an offer like this. Most of the house detectives here are, as you know, retired policemen. The incident in the bar proved to me that one or two of them are no longer equal to the task.”
We sipped the excellent schnapps for a while, and after that he went to have dinner with his wife and some rich Americans, while I went to find Frieda. I found her on the second floor, in a corridor leading to the hotel’s Wilhelmstrasse extension. She was wearing an elegant black evening gown. But not for long. The smaller, less expensive rooms were on that floor. These had views of the Brandenburg Gate and, beyond it, the Victory Column on Konigsplatz. But I had the best view of all. And I wasn’t even looking out of the window.
I WAS TRYING to avoid Arthur Nebe. This had been easy while I was checking through the list of suspects I had compiled using the Devil’s Directory, but it was always more difficult when I was in the Alex. Still, Nebe wasn’t the kind of cop who liked leaving his desk very much. He did most of his detective work on the telephone and, for a while, by not answering mine, I managed not to speak to him at all. But I knew it couldn’t last, and a couple of days after the shooting, I finally ran into him on the stairwell outside the washrooms.
“What’s this?” said Nebe. “Has someone else been shooting at you?” He put his fingers in some old bullet holes in the walls of the stairwell. We both knew they’d been there since 1919, when the Freikorps had taken the Alex back by force from the left-wing Spartakists. It was a very German occasion. “If you’re not careful, you’re going to spend the rest of your life dead.” He smiled. “So, what’s the story?”
“No story. Not in this town, anyway. A Nazi thug took a potshot at me, that’s all.”
“Any idea why?”
“I figured it was because I’m not a Nazi,” I said. “But maybe you can tell me.”
“Erich Hoppner. Yes. I checked him out. It doesn’t look particularly political, since you mention it.”
“How can you tell?”
“You’re not KPD. He wasn’t SA.”
“But he was a Nazi Party member.”
“Lots of people are party members, Bernie. In case you hadn’t noticed. At the last count, there were eleven and a half million people who voted for the party. No, I’d say this has more to do with what happened to Ricci Kamm. The Roast is in the heart of Always True territory. You were asking for trouble going in there.”
“At the time I had the quaint idea I might be preventing it. Trouble, I mean. That’s what we cops call it when a real person gets murdered. Not some thug with an ideology.”
“For the record,” said Nebe, “and between you and me, I don’t like the Nazis. It’s just that I like the Communists a little less. The way I see it, it’s going to come down to a choice between them and the Reds.”
“Whatever you say, Arthur. All I know is that it’s not the Reds who have been threatening me. Telling me to lay off the Schwarz case so we can spare the feelings of Josef Goebbels’s crummy foot. It’s the Nazis.”
“Oh? Who, in particular?”
“He’s Fat Hermann’s man, not Joey’s.”
“They’re all the same bastard to me, Arthur.”
“Anything else you want to tell me? About the Schwarz case, I mean. How’s that coming along?”
I smiled bitterly. “A murder investigation works like this, Arthur. Sometimes the worst has to happen first, before you can hope for the best.”
“Like another murder, you mean?”
Nebe was silent for a moment. Then he said, “I can understand that. Anyone can. Even you.”
“Me? What do you mean, Arthur?”
“Sometimes the worst has to happen before you can hope for the best? That’s the only reason anyone is going to vote for the Nazis.”
LOOKING UP from his typewriter, Heinrich Grund could hardly conceal his disgust. “There’s some Jew looking for you,” he said, as I returned to my desk.
“Really? Did this Jew have a name?”
“Commissar Paul Herzefelde. From Munich.” He uttered the name with sneering lip and wrinkled nose, as if describing something on the sole of his shoe.
“And where is the commissar now?”
Grund pointed into the air above our heads. “The Excelsior,” he said.
The Alex had once been a barracks for the Prussian police, and the Excelsior was what cops called that part of the building that still existed to accommodate policemen who were working late or who were visiting Berlin from outside the city.
“They won’t like it,” said Grund.
“Who won’t like what?”
“The other lads. In the Excelsior. They won’t like having to share their quarters with a Jew.”
I shook my head wearily. “Doesn’t your mouth hurt sometimes? On account of the nasty things that come out of it. The man’s a brother police officer, for Christ’s sake.”
“For Christ’s sake?” Grund looked skeptical. “For Christ’s sake, his kind did nothing. That’s the point, isn’t it? The Jews wouldn’t be in the spot they’re in now if they’d recognized our Lord for what he was.”
“Heinrich? You’re the kind of rotten cop that gives rotten cops a bad name.” I thought of something Nebe had said, and borrowed it. “And it’s not that I love Jews. It’s that I love anti-Semites just that little bit less.”
I went upstairs to find Herzefelde. After Heinrich Grund’s bigotry, I didn’t know what sort of man I expected to meet. It wasn’t that I was expecting to see a cop with a phylactery strapped to his forehead and a prayer shawl wrapped around his shoulders. Just that Paul Herzefelde wasn’t what I was expecting. I suppose I thought he might look a bit more like Izzy Weiss. Instead he looked more like a film star. Well over six feet tall, he was a handsome man with gray, wiry hair and thick, dark eyebrows. His hard, shiny, suntanned face looked as if it had been made by a diamond-cutter. Paul Herzefelde had as much in common with the swarthy fat Jew wearing a top hat and coattails beloved of Nazi caricaturists as Hitler had in common with Paul von Hindenburg.
“Are you Commissar Herzefelde?”
The man nodded. “And you are…?”
“Commissar Gunther. Welcome to Berlin.”
“Not so as I noticed.”
“I’m sorry about that.”
“Skip it. To be honest with you, Munich is a hell of a lot worse.”
“Then I’m glad I don’t live in Munich.”
“It has its moments. Especially if you like a beer.”
“The beer’s pretty good in Berlin, too, you know.”
“I wouldn’t know.”
“Then how about we go have one and you can find out?”
“I thought you’d never ask, copper.”
We went to the Zum Pralaten, in the arches of the S-Bahn station. It was a good place to drink beer, and popular with cops from the Alex. About every ten minutes a train passed overhead, and since there was no point in saying anything while this was happening, you could give your mouth a rest and concentrate on the beer.
“So what brings you to Berlin?”
“Bernard Weiss. We kike cops have to stick together. We were thinking of starting our own yid union. Trouble is, with so many Jewish cops, it’s knowing where to begin.”
“I can imagine. Actually, Berlin’s not so bad. The Reds do better here than the Nazis. Thalmann got twenty-nine percent in the last election compared to Hitler’s twenty-three.”
Herzefelde shook his head. “Unfortunately, Berlin is not Germany. I don’t know how things are for Jews in this town, but in the south they can be pretty rough. Back home in Munich, there’s hardly a day passes when I don’t get some kind of death threat.” He swallowed some beer and nodded his appreciation. “As a matter of fact, that’s why I was speaking to Weiss. I’ve been thinking of moving here, with my family.”
“You mean, be a cop? Here in Berlin?”
Herzefelde smiled. “Weiss was similarly appalled. It looks like I’m going to have to consider my plan B. Something that’s got nothing to do with government.”
“I’ve been sort of looking around myself.”
“You? But you’re not a Jew, are you?”
“No. I’m SDP. Iron Front. A Weimar diehard who dislikes the Nazis.”
Herzefelde raised his glass and toasted me. “Then here’s to you, comrade.”
“So, do you have a plan B yet?”
“Thought I might go private.”
“Here in Berlin?”
“Sure. Why not? If the Nazis get in, I’ve a feeling there’s going to be a lot of missing-persons work.”
“Me, I’ve been offered a job at the Adlon Hotel. House detective.”
“Sounds nice.” He lit a cigarette. “Going to take it?”
“I thought I’d wait and see what happens in the election.”
“You want my advice?”
“If you can, stay in the force. Jews, liberals, Communists are going to have need of friendly policemen like you.”
“I’ll bear it in mind.”
“You’ll be doing everyone a favor. God only knows what the police will be like if everyone in it is a lousy Nazi.”
“So. Why did you want to see me?”
“Weiss told me about this case you’ve been working on. The murder of Anita Schwarz. We had a similar case in Munich. You know Munich?”
“About three months ago, a fifteen-year-old girl turned up dead at the Schlosspark. Just about everything in her pants had been sliced out. The whole bag of love and life. A real neat job, too. Like a surgeon had done it. The dead girl’s name was Elizabeth Bremer and she went to the Gymnasium in Schwabing. Nice family, too. Her father works at the customs house, in Landsberger Strasse. Mother’s a librarian at some kind of Latin library on Maximilianeum. Weiss told me about your girl. That she was an amateur whore.” Herzefelde shook his head. “Elizabeth Bremer wasn’t anything like that. She was a good student with good prospects. Wanted to be a doctor. About the only thing you could hold against her was an older boyfriend. He was a skating teacher at the Prinzregenten Stadium. That’s how they met. Anyway, we hauled him over the coals for it but got nothing. He didn’t do it. He had a cast-iron alibi for the day of her death and that was that. According to him, they’d stopped seeing each other before she wound up dead. He’d been pretty broken up about it. The way he told it, she’d thrown him over for no good reason other than she caught him reading her diary. So he’d gone back home to Gunzburg, to see his family and get over it.”
Herzefelde waited as an S-Bahn train passed overhead.
“We had a list of possible suspects,” he continued, after the train had gone. “Naturally, we checked them out, but with no luck. I thought the case had gone cold until Weiss told me about your murder victim.”
“I’d like to see that list,” I said. “That and the rest of the case file.”
“State law forbids me from using the mail to send my papers on the case,” said Herzefelde. “However, there’s nothing to stop you from coming to Munich to look them over. You could stay in my house.”
“That would be quite impossible,” I said. “I couldn’t stay in a Jew’s house.” I paused long enough to change the expression on Herzefelde’s handsome face. “Not unless he’d stayed in my house first.” I smiled. “Come on. Let’s go and get your bag from the Alex. You’re staying with me tonight.”
BUENOS AIRES, 1950
IT WAS LUNCHTIME, and the cafe at the Richmond Hotel was busy with hungry portenos. I went down to the basement, found an empty table, and set out a chessboard. I wasn’t looking for a game with anyone other than myself. That way I figured I stood a better chance of winning. Also I needed to clear my head of old Nazis and their war crimes for a while. They were starting to get me down.
I tried not to stare at her, but this was almost impossible. She was a stunningly beautiful girl. Eyes just naturally followed her around the room like cows trotting after a milkmaid. But mostly it was hard not to stare at her because she seemed to be staring at me. I didn’t flatter myself she actually wanted to meet me. I guessed I was old enough to be her father. There had to be some mistake. She was tall and slim, with a spectacular waterfall of black, curly hair. Her eyes were the shape and color of chocolate-covered almonds. She wore a tailored tweed jacket buttoned tight at the waist, and a matching long pencil skirt that made me wish I had a couple of sheets of paper. Her figure was all right if you liked them built like expensive thoroughbreds. I happened to like them built that way just fine.
She walked toward me, her high heels perforating the polished wooden air of the Richmond’s quiet basement like the slow beat of a tall clock. Expensive perfume tugged an edge of the air I was breathing. It made a very pleasant change from the smell of coffee and cigarettes and my own dyspeptic middle age.
As soon as she spoke to me, it was obvious she hadn’t mistaken me for someone else. She spoke in castellano. I was pleased about that. It meant I had to pay extra attention to her lips and the way her small pink tongue rested on her gypsum-white teeth.
“Forgive me for interrupting your game, senor,” she said. “But are you Carlos Hausner, perhaps?”
“Might I sit down and talk to you for a moment?”
I looked around. Three tables away, the little Scotsman, Melville, was playing chess with a man whose leathery brown face belonged on the back of a horse. Two younger portenos with Cuban heels and silver-buckled belts were engaged in a rather vigorous game of billiards. They put as much vitality into their noisy cue shots as Furtwangler conducting the Kaim Orchestra. All of their eyes were on their respective games but their ears and their attention to the Richmond’s resolutely masculine traditions were on us.
I shook my head. “My opponent, the Invisible Man, gets a little irritated when people sit on his lap. We’d better go upstairs.”
I let her walk ahead of me. It was the polite thing to do and it gave me a chance to study the seams of her stockings. These were straight, as if someone had fixed them using a theodolite. Fortunately, her legs were anything but. They had better curves than the Mille Miglia and were probably just as challenging to negotiate. We found a quiet table near the window. I waved a waiter over. She ordered a coffee, and I ordered something I had no interest in drinking, so long as she was around. When you’re having a cup of coffee with the best-looking woman who’s spoken to you in months, there are better things to do than drink it. She took one of my cigarettes and let me light it for her. It was yet another excuse to pay close attention to her big, sensuous mouth. Sometimes I think that’s why men invented smoking.
“My name is Anna Yagubsky,” she said. “I live with my parents in Belgrano. My father used to be a musician in the orchestra at the Teatro Colon. My mother sells English ceramics from a shop on Bartolome Mitre. Both of them are Russian immigrants. They came here before the Revolution, to escape the czar and his pogroms.”
“Do you speak Russian, Anna?”
“Yes. Fluently. Why?”
“Because my Russian is better than my Spanish.”
She smiled a little smile and we spoke in Russian.
“I am a legal officer,” she explained. “I work in an office next to the law courts on Calle Talcahuano. Someone-a friend of mine in the police, it doesn’t matter who-told me about you, Senor Hausner. He told me that before the war you were a famous detective, in Berlin.”
“That’s right.” I saw no advantage to myself in disagreeing with her. No advantage at all. I was keen to be someone who looked good in her eyes-not least because every time I saw myself in a mirror, my own eyes were telling me something different. And I’m not just talking about my appearance. I still had all my hair. There was even quite a bit of color left in it. But my face was hardly what it used to be, while my stomach was more than it had ever been. I was stiff when I awoke in the morning, in all the wrong places and for all the wrong reasons. And I had thyroid cancer. Apart from all that, I was just fine and dandy.
“You were a famous detective and now you’re working for the secret police.”
“It wouldn’t be much of a secret police if I admitted that was true, now would it?”
“No, I suppose not,” she said. “Nevertheless, you are working for them, aren’t you?”
I smiled my best enigmatic smile-the one that didn’t show my teeth. “What can I do for you, Senorita Yagubsky?”
“Please. Call me Anna. In case you hadn’t already guessed, I’m a Jew. That’s an important part of my story.”
“I rather supposed you were when you mentioned pogroms.”
“My aunt and uncle went to Germany from Russia. Somehow they survived the war and came to South America in 1945. But Jews were not welcome in Argentina, in spite of the fact there were a lot of Jews living here already. You see, this is a fascist, anti-Semitic country. And until recently, there was a secret government directive, called Directive Eleven, that denied entry visas to all Jews. Even to Jews who had family here already, such as my aunt and uncle. But like many other Jews who wanted to live here, they managed to get into Paraguay. And from there, eventually, they were successful in coming across the land border and entering the country illegally. For a while, they lived very quietly in a small town called Colon, in the province of Entre Rios, north of Buenos Aires. From time to time my father would go and see them with money, clothes, food, whatever we could spare. And they waited for an opportunity to come and live here in Buenos Aires.
“But then one day, about three years ago, they disappeared. My father went to Colon and found them gone. The neighbors knew nothing about where they had gone, or if they did, they weren’t saying. And because they were illegal, my father couldn’t very well go to the police and ask them. Since then, we’ve heard nothing. Nothing at all. For obvious reasons, my parents are reluctant to make inquiries about them, in case they get into trouble. The directive may have ended, but this is still a military dictatorship, and people-opposition people-are sometimes arrested and thrown into prison and never seen again. So we still have no idea if they are alive or dead. What we do know is that they weren’t the only illegal Jews who have disappeared. We’ve heard of other Jewish families who have lost relatives in Argentina, but nobody knows anything for sure.” She shrugged. “Then I heard about you. I heard that you used to look for missing persons in Germany, before the war. And, well, it seemed more than likely that some of those missing persons must also have been Jewish. And I thought- no, that’s not true-I hoped that you might help. I’m not asking that you do anything very much. In your position, you might hear something. Something that might shed a little light on what happened to them.”
“Couldn’t you hire yourselves a private detective?” I suggested. “Or a retired policeman, perhaps.”
“We already tried that,” she said. “Policemen here are not very honest, Senor Hausner. He robbed us of all our savings and told us nothing.”
“I’d like to help you, senorita.” I shook my head. “But I don’t know what I could do. Really, I don’t. I wouldn’t know where to start. I don’t know my way around very well. And I’m still learning the language. Trying to settle in. To make myself feel a little bit at home. You’d be wasting your money. Really.”
“Perhaps I didn’t make myself clear. I wasn’t offering to pay you, senor. All my extra money goes to supporting my parents. My father doesn’t play much anymore. He used to give music lessons but doesn’t have the necessary patience. My mother works in someone else’s shop. The pay is not good. The fact is, I hoped you might help me out of the kindness of your heart.”
This was one I hadn’t heard before. A request to work for nothing. In the ordinary course of things, I might have shown her the door. But she was hardly ordinary. Among the many things I had to admire about her already I was now obliged to add her chutzpah. But it seemed she hadn’t finished telling me what she was prepared to offer in lieu of money. She colored a little as she told me what this was.
“I can imagine how difficult it might be to settle into a new life in a new country,” she said. “It takes time to adjust. To make new friends. You might say that as a daughter of immigrants I have a greater understanding of the challenges that lie ahead of you.” She took a deep breath. “Anyway. I was thinking. That since I can’t afford to pay you. Perhaps. Perhaps I might become your friend.”
“Well, that’s a new one,” I said.
“Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting anything else. No, I was thinking that we might go and see a play, perhaps. I could show you around the city. Introduce you to some people. From time to time I might even cook you dinner. Really, I’m very good company.”
“I don’t doubt it.”
“In a way, we’d be helping each other.”
“Yes, I can see how you might think that.”
Maybe if she hadn’t been quite so good-looking I might have turned her down. There was also her Jewishness to take into account. I hadn’t forgotten the Ukraine in 1941. And the guilt I felt toward all Jewish people. I didn’t want to help Anna Yagubsky, but somehow I felt I had to.
“All right, I’ll help you.” Stammering a little, I added, “That is to say, I’ll do what I can. I’m not promising anything, you understand. But I will try to help you. I could use a home-cooked dinner now and then.”
“Friends,” she said, and we shook hands.
“Actually, you’re the first friend I’ve made since I got here. Besides, I’d like to do something noble for once.”
“Oh? Why? I’m curious.”
“Don’t be. It doesn’t help either of us.”
“What you say makes me think that you think you have to do something noble to atone for something else you did. Something not so noble, perhaps.”
“That’s my business. I will tell you this, though. Don’t ever ask me about it. That’s part of my price, Anna. You don’t ever ask me about it. All right? Are we agreed?”
She nodded, finally.
“All right, then. Now. Tell me. How did you find me?”
“I told you. I have a friend in the police. As a matter of fact, he’s the same bastard cop who robbed us of our savings. But he feels guilty about it now and wants to help in any way he can. Unfortunately, he has spent all the money. Gambled it away. It was he who told me where you were staying. It wasn’t so very difficult, I think. It’s on your cedula. All he had to do was to look it up. I went to your hotel and followed you here.”
“The less this cop knows about what I’m doing, the better, as far as I’m concerned.”
She nodded and sipped her coffee.
“Your uncle and aunt. What were their names?”
“Yagubsky, same as mine.” She picked up her bag, found her wallet, and handed me a business card. “Here,” she said. “That’s how you spell it. Their names were Esther and Roman Yagubsky. Roman is my father’s twin brother.”
I pocketed the card. “Three years, you say?”
I lit a cigarette and sighed a pessimistic cloud of smoke.
“Three years is a long time with a missing-persons case. Three months, maybe we could find a lead. But three years. And not a word. Not even a postcard?”
“Nothing. We went to the Israeli Embassy. We asked if maybe they had emigrated to Israel. But there was no trace of them there, either.”
“Shall I tell you what I think? Honestly?”
“If it’s that you think they’re probably dead, then I agree with you. I’m not an idiot, Senor Hausner. I can read the runes with something like this. But my father is an old man. And a twin. Let me tell you, twins are strange about things like this. My father says he feels Roman is still in Argentina. And he’d like to know for sure, that’s all. Is it so much to ask?”
“Maybe. And nothing is ever for sure in this business. You’d better take that on board now. Nothing is ever for sure.”
“Except death,” she said. “That’s about as sure as anything can get, isn’t it?”
I nodded. “You might certainly think that. What I meant is that truth is rarely the truth and the things you thought weren’t true often turn out not to be false. I realize that sounds confusing, and it was meant to be, because that’s the business I’m in. Although I don’t want to be in it, particularly. Not again. I thought I was finished with the whole dirty process of asking questions I don’t get straight answers to. That and putting myself in harm’s way just because someone asks me to look for his lost dog when really he’d lost his neighbor’s cat. I thought I was through with it, and I’m not, and when I say nothing’s for sure in this business, then I mean it, because generally I say exactly what I mean. And I’m right, too, because it’ll turn out that there was something you didn’t tell me that you should have told me, which would have made things clearer right from the start. So nothing’s for sure, Anna. Not when there are people involved. Not when they bring you their problems and ask for your help. Especially then. I’ve seen it a hundred times, angel. Nothing’s for sure. No, not even death when the dead turn out to be alive and well and living in Buenos Aires. Believe me, I know what I’m talking about. If the dead people walking around this city all of a sudden really were dead, the undertakers wouldn’t be able to cope with the sudden rush of business.”
Her face had colored again. Her nostrils had flared. The isosceles of muscles between her chin and her collarbone had stiffened, like something metallic. If I’d had a little wand, I could have used it to tap out the part for triangle in the bridal chorus from Lohengrin.
“You think I’m lying?” She started gathering her gloves and handbag as if she was about to climb to the highest hills of Dudgeon. “You mean you think I’m a liar.”
“And I thought we were going to be friends,” she said, her thighs pushing back at the chair underneath her bottom.
I grabbed her wrist.
“Easy on the floor polish,” I said. “I was just giving you my client speech. The one I use when there’s nothing in it for me. It takes a lot longer than a hard slap on the ear and a palm pressed on top of a Holy Bible but, in the end, it saves a lot of time. That way, if it does turn out that you’re lying, you won’t hold it against me when I have to warm your cheeks.”
“Are you always this cynical? Or is it just me?” Her bottom stayed on the chair, for now.
“I’m never cynical, Anna, except when I’m questioning the sincerity of human motives.”
“I wonder. What was it that happened to you, Senor Hausner? Something. I don’t know. In your own personal history. That made you this way.”
“My history?” I grinned. “You make it sound like it’s something that’s over. Well, it’s not. In fact, it’s not even history. Not yet. And didn’t I tell you? Don’t ever ask me about it, angel.”
BEING SORT OF A SPY MYSELF, I swiftly came to the conclusion that what I needed most was the help of another spy. And there was only one person I could trust, almost, in the whole of Argentina, and that was Pedro Geller, who had come across on the boat from Genoa with Eichmann and me. He was working for Capri Construction in Tucuman, and since half of the ex-SS men in the country were also working for Capri, enlisting his help seemed like a way of swatting two flies with one newspaper. The only trouble was that Tucuman was more than seven hundred miles to the north of Buenos Aires. So, a couple of days after my meeting with Anna Yagubsky, I took the Mitre line from the city’s Retiro railway station. The train, which went via Cordoba and terminated in La Paz, Bolivia, was comfortable enough in first class. But the journey lasted twenty-three hours, so I took the advice of Colonel Montalban and equipped myself with books and newspapers and plenty to eat and drink and smoke. Since the weather in Tucuman was likely to be warmer than in Buenos Aires, and much of the journey there took place at altitude, the doctor had also given me some tranquilizers in case my thyroid problem meant I had difficulty breathing. So far, I had been lucky. The only time I’d had difficulty breathing was when Anna Yagubsky had introduced herself to me.
The heating on the train failed soon after we left Retiro, and for most of the journey I was cold. Too cold to sleep. By the time we reached Tucuman, I was exhausted. I checked into the Coventry Hotel and went straight to bed. I slept for the next twelve hours, which was something I hadn’t done since before the war.
Tucuman was the most populous city in the north, with about two hundred thousand people. It sat on a plain in front of some spectacular mountains called the Sierra del Aconquija. There were lots of colonial-style buildings, a couple of nice parks, a government palace, a cathedral, and a statue of liberty. But New York it wasn’t. There was a prevailing smell of horse shit in the air of Tucuman. Tucuman wasn’t a one-horse town so much as a horseshit town. Even the soap in my hotel bathroom seemed to smell of it.
Pedro Geller worked at Capri’s technical office in El Cadillal, a small town about twenty miles outside Tucuman, but we met up in the city at the company’s main office on Rio Portero. Given the nature of my mission, we didn’t stay there for very long. I asked him to let me take him to the best restaurant he could think of, and so we went to the Plaza Hotel, close to the cathedral. I made a mental note to stay there instead of the Coventry if ever I was unlucky enough to come to Tucuman again.
Geller, whom I knew better as Herbert Kuhlmann, was twenty-six years old and had been a captain with an SS-Panzer division. During the battle for France, in 1944, his unit had executed thirty-six captured Canadians. Geller’s commanding officer was now serving a life sentence in a Canadian jail and, fearing an arrest and a similar sentence, Geller had wisely fled to South America. He looked tanned and fit and seemed to be enjoying his new life.
“Actually, the work is rather interesting,” he explained over a glass of German beer. “The Dulce River runs for about three hundred miles through Cordoba Province and we’re building a dam on it. The Los Quiroga dam. It’ll be quite a sight when it’s finished, Bernie. Three hundred meters long, fifty meters high, with thirty-two floodgates. Of course, it’s not exactly popular with everyone. These things rarely are. A lot of local farms and villages will disappear forever under millions of gallons of flood water. But the dam is going to provide water and hydroelectric power for the whole province.”
“How’s our more famous friend?”
“Ricardo? He hates it here. He lives with some peasant girl in a small mountain village called La Cocha, about seventy miles south of here. He doesn’t come into Tucuman any more than he has to. Scared to show his face, I shouldn’t wonder. We’re both of us working for an old comrade, of course. They’re everywhere in Tucuman. He’s an Austrian professor by the name of Pelkhofer, Armin Pelkhofer. He’s a water engineer. He and Ricardo seem to know each other from the war, when he was called Armin Schoklitsch. But I have no idea what he did then that brought him here now.”
“Nothing good,” I said, “if he knew Ricardo.”
“Quite so. Anyway, we carry out river survey reports for the prof. Hydrological analysis, that kind of thing. Not much to it, really. But I’m out in the fresh air a lot, which suits me after all those months of hiding out in lofts and basements. I shall miss this. Didn’t I tell you? After another six months here I shall transfer to Capri’s personnel department, in Buenos Aires.”
We ate some lunch. The steaks were good. The food was always good in Argentina. Just as long as you ordered steak.
“What about you, Bernie? What brings you this far north?”
“I’m working for the police. I’m supposed to be checking out old comrades. Deciding whether they’re worthy of the good-conduct pass they will need to get an Argie passport. Yours is already in the file.”
“Thanks. Thanks a lot.”
“Don’t mention it. To be honest, it’s mostly just a cover story so that I can ask some of our old comrades a lot of awkward questions. Like, what did you do in the war, Fritz? The Argies are a bit jumpy that they’ll unwittingly hand out a passport to some mass-murdering psycho and that the Amis will find out about it and kick up an international fuss.”
“I see. Tricky stuff.”
“I was hoping you might help, Herbert. After all, it goes without saying that Capri-the Compania Alemana para Recien Inmigrados-is the largest employer of ex-SS in the country.”
“Of course I’ll help,” said Geller. “You’re just about my only friend in this country, Bernie. Well, there’s you and a girl I met back in Buenos Aires.”
“Good for you, kid. Apart from Ricardo, who else have you come across who might be worse than the worst?”
“I get the picture. A bastard who gives the rest of us bastards a bad name, eh?”
“That’s the idea.”
“Let’s see now. There’s Erwin Fleiss. He’s a nasty piece of work. From Innsbruck. He made a rather tasteless joke about organizing some Jewish pogrom there, in 1938. We’ve got a couple of gauleiters. One from Brunswick, and one from Styria. Some Luftwaffe general called Kramer. Another fellow, who was part of Hitler’s bodyguard. Of course, there’s a lot more of them back at head office in Buenos Aires. I could probably find out quite a lot about them for you when I’m working there. But, like I say, that won’t be for a while.” He frowned. “Who else? There’s Wolf Probst. Yes, he’s a ruthless character, I think. Might be a good idea to check him out.”
“I’m particularly looking for someone who might just have murdered again, since arriving here in Argentina.”
“Now I see. Set a thief to catch a thief, is that it?”
“Something like that,” I said. “The kind of man I’m looking for is someone who probably enjoys cruelty and killing for its own sake.”
Geller shook his head. “No one springs to mind, I’m afraid. I mean, Ricardo’s a bastard, but he’s not a psychopathic bastard, if you follow me. Look here, why don’t you ask him? I mean, he must have been to murder camps and seen some horrible things. Met some horrible people. Probably the very types you’re looking for.”
“I wonder,” I said.
“If he’d cooperate.”
“A passport’s a passport. We both know what that’s worth when you’re sweating it out in someone’s basement in Genoa. Ricardo, too.”
“This village where he lives?”
“How long would it take me to get there?”
“At least two hours, depending on the river. We’ve had a lot of rain in these parts, of late. I could drive you there if you wanted. If we left now, we could be there and back before dark.” Geller chuckled.
“What is it?” I asked.
“Just that it might be amusing to see Ricardo’s face when you tell him that you’re working for the police. That’s really going to make his day.”
“Worth a two-hour drive?”
“I wouldn’t miss it.”
GELLER’S CAR was a jeep the color of an apricot: just four heavy-duty wheels, a tall steering column, two uncomfortable seats, and a tailgate. We hadn’t driven very far before I realized why Geller was driving it. The roads south of Tucuman were little better than dirt tracks through sprawling fields of sugarcane with only the ingenios-the industrial mills-of the large sugar companies to remind us that we weren’t about to fall off the edge of the earth. By the time we reached La Cocha, it was impossible to imagine being anywhere farther from Germany and the long arm of Allied military justice.
If Tucuman was a horseshit town, then La Cocha was its poor pig-shit cousin. A Gadarene number of swine seemed to be wandering about the muddy streets as our jeep bounced into the place, scattering a flock of chickens like an exploding mortar bomb of clucks and feathers, and attracting the attention of a number of dogs whose prominent rib cages didn’t seem to interfere with their propensity to bark. From a tall chimney poured a cloud of black smoke; at its base was an open oven. For Eichmann, it looked like a home away from home. Using a long-handled wooden peel, a man was moving bread in and out of the oven. In his excellent castellano, Geller asked the baker for directions to the house of Ricardo Klement.
“You mean the Nazi?” asked the baker.
Geller looked at me and grinned. “That’s him,” he said.
With a finger that was all knuckle and dirty nail, as if it belonged to an orangutan that was studying witchcraft, the baker pointed down the track, past a small auto-repair shop, to a two-story blockhouse with no visible windows. “He lives at the villa.”
We drove a short distance and pulled up between a line of washing and an outhouse, from which Eichmann emerged hurriedly, carrying a newspaper and buttoning his trousers. He was followed by a strong cloacal smell. It was evident he had been alarmed by the sound of the jeep, and the obvious relief he felt that we were not the Argentine military come to arrest and hand him over to a war-crimes tribunal quickly gave way to irritation.
“What the hell are you doing here?” he said, his lip curling in a way I now regarded as quite characteristic. It was strange, I thought, how one side of his face appeared to be quite normal, even pleasant, while the other side looked twisted and malevolent. It was like meeting Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde at the same moment.
“I was in Tucuman, so I thought I’d come and see how you are,” I said affably. I opened my bag and took out a carton of Senior Service. “I brought you some cigarettes. They’re English but I figured you wouldn’t mind.”
Eichmann grunted a thank-you and took the carton. “You’d better come into the villa,” he said grudgingly.
He pushed open a very tall wooden door that was in need of several licks of green paint, and we stepped inside. From the outside, things did not augur well. Calling that blockhouse a villa was a bit like calling a child’s sandcastle the Schloss Neuschwanstein. Inside, though, things were better. There was some plasterwork on top of the brickwork. The floors were level and covered with flagstones and some cheap Indian rugs. But the small barred windows gave the place a suitably penal atmosphere. Eichmann might have evaded Allied justice, but he was hardly living a life of luxury. A half-naked woman peered out from behind a door. Angrily, Eichmann jerked his head at her and she disappeared again.
I walked over to one of the windows and looked out at a largish, well-planted garden. There were some hutches containing several rabbits he must have kept for meat and beyond, an old black DeSoto with three wheels. A quick getaway did not seem to be on Eichmann’s mind.
He collected a large kettle off a cast-iron range and poured hot water into two hollow gourds. “?Mate?” he asked us.
“Please,” I said. Since coming to Argentina, I hadn’t tasted the stuff. But everyone in the country drank it.
He put little metal straws in the gourds and then handed them to us.
There was sugar in it, but it still tasted bitter, like green tea with a froth on it. Akin to drinking water with a cigarette in it, I thought. But Geller seemed to like the stuff. And so did Eichmann. As soon as Geller had finished his gourd, he handed it over to our host, who added some more hot water and, without changing the straw, drank some himself.
“So what brings you all the way out here?” he said. “It can’t just be a social call.”
“I’m working for the SIDE,” I said. “The Peronist Intelligence Service?”
His eyelid flickered like an almost spent lightbulb. He tried not to let it show, but we all knew what he was thinking. Adolf Eichmann, the SS colonel and close confidant of Reinhard Heydrich, had been reduced to performing hydrological surveys on the other side of nowhere, while I enjoyed a position of some power and influence in a field Eichmann might have considered his own. Gunther, the reluctant SS man and political adversary possessed of the very job that he, Eichmann, should have had. He said nothing. He took a shot at a smile. It looked more like something had got stuck under his bridge.
“I’m supposed to decide which of our old comrades is worthy of a good-conduct pass,” I said. “You need one to be able to apply for a passport in this country.”
“I should have expected that loyalty to your blood and your oath as an SS man would oblige you to treat the issue of any such documentation as a mere formality.” He spoke stiffly. Softening somewhat, he added, “After all, we’re all sitting on the same inkblot, are we not?” He finished the mate noisily, like a child sucking up the very last drop of a fizzy drink.
“On the face of it, that’s true,” I said. “However, the Peronist government is already under considerable pressure from the Americans-”
“From the Jews, more like,” he said.
“-to clean up its backyard. While there’s no question that any of us are about to be shown the door, nevertheless there are a few people in government who worry that some of us may be guilty of greater crimes than was originally suspected.” I shrugged and looked at Geller. “I mean, it’s one thing to kill men in the heat of battle. And it’s another to take pleasure in the murders of innocent women and children. Wouldn’t you agree?”
Eichmann shrugged. “I don’t know about innocent,” he said. “We were exterminating an enemy. Speaking for myself, I didn’t hate the Jews so much. But I don’t regret anything I did. I never committed any crimes. And I never killed anyone. Not even in the heat of battle, as you put it. I was little more than a civil servant. A bureaucrat who only obeyed orders. That was the code we all lived by in the SS. Obedience. Discipline. Blood and honor. If I have any regrets at all, it is that there wasn’t time to finish the job. To kill every Jew in Europe.”
This was the first time I had ever heard Eichmann speak about the Jewish extermination. And wanting to hear more, I tried to lead him on.
“I’m glad you mentioned blood and honor,” I said. “Because it seems to me that there were a few who dragged the reputation of the SS down into the dirt.”
“Quite,” said Geller.
“A few who exceeded their orders. Who killed for sport and pleasure. Who carried out inhumane medical experiments.”
“A lot of that has been exaggerated by the Russians,” insisted Eichmann. “Lies told by the Communists to justify their own crimes in Germany. To stop the rest of the world from feeling sorry for Germany. To give the Soviets carte blanche to do whatever they like with the German people.”
“It wasn’t all lies,” I said. “I’m afraid a lot of it was true, Ricardo. And even if you don’t believe it, the possibility that some of it might be true is what worries the government now. Which is why I’ve been charged to conduct this investigation. Look, Ricardo, I’m not after you. But I’m afraid I can’t regard some SS as old comrades.”
“We were at war,” said Eichmann. “We were killing an enemy who wanted to kill us. That can get pretty brutal. At a certain level, the human costs are immaterial. What mattered most was making sure that the job got done. Trouble-free deportations. That was my specialty. And believe me, I tried to make things as humane as I could. Gas was seen as the humane alternative to mass shootings. Yes, there were some, perhaps, who went too far, but look here, there’s always some bad barley in the beer. That’s inevitable in any organization. Especially one that achieved what was achieved. And during a war, too. Five million. Can you credit the scale of it? No, I don’t think you can. Either of you. Five million Jews. Liquidated in less than two years. And you’re quibbling about the morality of a few bad apples.”
“Not me,” I said. “The Argentine government.”
“What? You want a name, is that it? In return for my good-conduct pass? You want me to play Judas for you?”
“That’s about the size of it, yes.”
“I never liked you, Gunther,” said Eichmann, his nose wrinkled with distaste. He tore open the carton of cigarettes and then lit one, with the air of a man who hadn’t had a decent smoke in a long while. Then he sat down at a plain wooden table and studied the smoke from the tip, as if trying to divine guidance from the gods about what to say next.
“But perhaps there is such a man as you describe,” he said carefully. “Only I want your word that you won’t ever tell him that it was I who informed on him.”
“You have my word on it.”
“This man, he and I met by chance at a cafe in the center of Buenos Aires. Not long after we arrived. The ABC cafe. He told me he’s done very well for himself since he came here. Very well indeed.” Eichmann smiled thinly. “He offered me money. Me. A colonel in the SS, and him a mere captain. Can you imagine it? Patronizing bastard. Him, with all his connections and his family money. Living in the lap of luxury. And me, buried here, in this godforsaken hole.” Eichmann took a near-lethal drag at his cigarette, swallowed, and then shook his head. “He was a cruel man. Still is. I don’t know how he sleeps. I couldn’t. Not in his skin. I saw what he did. Once. A long time ago. It seems so long ago that I must have been a child when it happened. Well, perhaps I was, in a way. But I’ve never forgotten it. No one could. No one human. I first met him in 1942. In Berlin. How I miss Berlin. And then again in 1943. At Auschwitz.” He grinned bitterly. “I don’t miss that place at all.”
“This captain,” I said. “What’s his name?”
“He calls himself Gregor. Helmut Gregor.”
I GOT OFF THE TRAIN from Berlin, walked to the end of the platform, handed over my ticket, and then looked around for Paul Herzefelde. There was no sign of him. So I bought some cigarettes and a newspaper and parked myself on a seat near my arrival platform to wait for him. I didn’t spend long with the paper. The election was only two weeks away, and this being Munich, the paper was full of stuff about how the Nazis were going to win. So was the station. Hitler’s stern, disapproving face was everywhere. After thirty minutes, I couldn’t take it any longer. I put the paper in the bin and went out into the fresh air.
The station was in the west end of the central part of Munich. The Police Praesidium was a ten-minute walk to the east, on Ettstrasse, between Saint Michael’s Church and the Cathedral of Our Lady. It was a newish, handsome building on the site of a former monastery. Outside the main entrance were several stone lions. Inside, I found only rats.
The desk sergeant was as big as a wrecking ball, and just as helpful. He had a bald head and a waxed mustache like a small German eagle. Every time he moved, his leather belt creaked against his belly like a ship straining on its hawsers. From time to time, he lifted his hand to his mouth and burped. You could smell his breakfast from the front door.
I tipped my hat politely and showed him my warrant disc.
“Good morning,” I said.
“I’m Commissar Gunther, from Berlin Alexanderplatz. To see Commissar Herzefelde. I just arrived at the station. I thought he’d be there to meet me.”
“Did you now?” He said it in a way that made me want to punch him in the nose. You get a lot of that in Munich.
“Yes,” I said patiently. “But since he wasn’t, I assumed he’d been delayed and that I’d better come and find him here.”
“Spoken like a Berlin detective,” he said, without a trace of a smile.
I nodded patiently and waited for some good manners to kick in. They didn’t.
“Spare me the sweet talk and tell him I’m here.”
The sergeant nodded at a polished wooden bench by the front door. “Have a seat,” he said coolly. “Sir. I’ll deal with you in a minute.”
I went over to the bench and sat down. “I’ll be sure to mention your red-carpet treatment when I see your commissar,” I said.
“You do that, sir,” he said. “I’ll look forward to it.”
He wrote something on a piece of paper, rubbed his ham hock of a nose, scratched his ass with his pencil, and then used it to pick his ear. Then he got up, slowly, and put something in a filing cabinet. The telephone rang. He let it ring a couple of times before answering it, listened, took down some details, and then put a sheet of paper into a tray. When the call ended, he looked at the clock above the door. Then he yawned.
“If this is how you look after the polenta in this town, I’d hate to be a criminal.” I lit a cigarette.
He didn’t like that. He pointed at a No Smoking sign with his pencil. I stubbed it out. I didn’t want to wait there all morning. After a while, he picked up the phone and spoke, in a lowered voice. Once or twice he flicked his eyes my way, so I got the idea he was probably talking about me. So when he finished the call, I lit another cigarette. He tapped the pencil on the desk in front of his belly and, having received my attention, pointed at the No Smoking sign again. This time I ignored him. He didn’t like that, either.
“No smoking,” he growled.
“You know what the trouble is with you Berlin cops?”
“If you could point to Berlin on a map, I might be interested, fat boy.”
“You’re all Jew-lovers.”
“Ah, now we’re getting to it.” I blew some smoke his way and grinned. “We’re not all Jew-lovers, in the Berlin police, as a matter of fact. Some of us are a bit like you, Sergeant. Ignorant. Bigoted. And a disgrace to the uniform.”
He tried to outstare me for minute or two. Then he said, “The Jews are our misfortune. It’s time the polenta in Berlin woke up to that fact.”
“Well, that’s an interesting sentiment. Did you just think of it yourself, or was it written on the skin of the banana you ate for breakfast?”
A detective arrived. I knew he must be a detective because he wasn’t dragging his knuckles on the floor. He glanced at the ape on the desk, who jerked his head my way. The detective came over and stood in front of me, looking sheepish. It might have worked, too, if his face hadn’t looked so peculiarly wolflike. His eyes were blue and his nose was more of a muzzle, but mostly it was because of his eyebrows, which met in the middle, and his canine teeth, which seemed slightly longer than was normal. But you get a lot of that in Munich as well.
“Yes. Is something wrong?”
“I’m Criminal Secretary Christian Schramma.” We shook hands. “I’m afraid I have some bad news. Commissar Herzefelde is dead. He was murdered last night. Shot three times in the back as he left a bar in Sendling.”
“Do you know who did it?”
“No, as you may know, he’d had several death threats.”
“Because he was Jewish. Of course.” I glanced the desk sergeant’s way. “There’s hatred and stupidity everywhere. Even in the police force.”
Schramma remained silent.
“I’m very sorry,” I said. “I didn’t know him for very long, but Paul was a good man.”
We went up to the detectives’ room. It was a warm day, and through the open windows you could hear the sound of children playing in the yard of the nearby Gymnasium. Human life never sounded so lively.
“I saw your name in his police diary,” said Schramma. “But he didn’t think to write down a telephone number or where you were from, otherwise I would have called you.”
“That’s all right. He was about to share some information on a murder he’d been working on. Elizabeth Bremer?”
“We had a similar case in Berlin,” I explained. “I came down here to read the files and find out just how similar they were.”
He bit his lip uncomfortably, which did little to alter my first impression of him. He looked like a werewolf.
“Look, I’m really sorry to tell you this after you’ve come all the way from Berlin. But all Paul’s case files have been sent upstairs. To the government counselor’s office. When a police officer gets killed, it’s standard procedure to assume it might have something to do with a case he was working on. I seriously doubt that you’re going to be able to see those files for a while. Maybe as long as a couple of weeks.”
It was my turn to bite my lip. “I see. Tell me, did you work with Paul?”
“A while ago. I’m not up to date with his current cases. Of late, he mostly worked on his own. He preferred it that way.”
“He preferred it or other detectives preferred it?”
“I think that’s a little unfair, sir.”
Schramma didn’t answer. He lit a cigarette, flicked the match out of the open window, and sat on the corner of a desk that I assumed must be his own. On the opposite side of the big room, a detective with a face like Schmeling’s was questioning a suspect. Every time he got an answer, he looked pained, as if Jack Sharkey had hit him below the belt. It was a nice technique. I felt the cop was going to win on a disqualification, the same way Schmeling did. Other detectives came and went. A few of them had loud laughs, and louder suits. You get a lot of that in Munich. In Berlin, we all wore black armbands when a cop got killed. But not in Munich. A different kind of armband-a red one with a black Sanskrit cross in the middle-looked a lot more probable. It didn’t look like anyone was about to shed any tears over the death of Paul Herzefelde.
“Could I see his desk?”
Schramma got up slowly and we walked over to a gray steel desk in a far-flung corner of the office, which was surrounded with a wall of files and bookcases, like a one-man ghetto. The desktop was clear, but his photographs were still on the wall. I bent over to take a closer look at them. Herzefelde’s wife and family in one. Him wearing a military uniform and decoration in the other. On the wall, next to this photograph, was the faint outline of a graffito that had been rubbed out: the Star of David and the words “Jews Out.” I traced the outline with my finger just to make sure Schramma knew I’d seen it.
“That’s a hell of a way to honor a man who got himself a First Class Iron Cross,” I said loudly, and glanced around the detectives’ room. “Three bullets and some cave art.”
Silence descended on the room. Typing stopped. Voices quietened. Even the children playing outside seemed to cease their noise for a moment. Everyone was now looking at me, like I was the ghost of Walther Rathenau.
“So who did it? Who murdered Paul Herzefelde? Does anyone know?” I paused. “Can anyone guess? After all, you’re supposed to be detectives.” More silence. “Doesn’t anyone care who killed Paul Herzefelde?” I walked over to the center of the room and, facing down Munich’s KRIPO, waited for someone to say something. I looked at my watch. “Hell, I’ve been here for less than half an hour and I could tell you who killed him. It was the Nazis killed him, that’s who. It was the bloody Nazis who shot him in the back. Maybe even the same Nazis who wrote ‘Jews Out’ on the wall beside his desk.”
“Go home, you Prussian pig,” someone shouted.
“Yes, clear off back to Berlin, you stupid Pifke.”
They were right, of course. It was time to go home. After a short while among Munich’s Neanderthals, the men of Berlin were already looking like a real advance in human evolution. By all accounts, Munich was Hitler’s favorite town. It was easy to see why.
I went out of the Police Praesidium by a different set of stairs, which led into the central courtyard, where several police cars and vans were parked. As I was making my way under the arches to the street, I encountered the burly desk sergeant, who was now coming off duty. I knew this because he wasn’t wearing his leather belt or his duty epaulettes. Also, he was carrying a Thermos. Moving to block my way out, he said, “Sure it’s always a shame when a cop goes down in the line of duty.” He chuckled. “Except when it’s a Jew, of course. The fellows who shot that yid bastard, Herzefelde. They deserve a medal, so they do.” He spat onto the ground ahead of me for good measure. “Have a nice trip back to Berlin, you Jew-loving prick.”
“One more word from you, you worthless Nazi gorilla, and I’m going to pull the tongue out of your thick Bavarian head and scrape the shit off it with the heel of my shoe.”
The sergeant put his Thermos on a windowsill and bent his ugly mug toward me. “Who the hell do you think you are, coming to my city and threatening me? You’re lucky I don’t run you in just for the fun of it. One more word out of you, sonny, and I’ll have your eggs hanging from our flagpole in the morning.”
“If I threaten you, you’ll stay threatened and write me a thank-you letter on nice notepaper in your best writing.”
“This is a man with a broken jaw who’s talking to me,” said the sergeant, before throwing a punch at my head.
He was tall and strong, with shoulders like the yoke on a Frisian milkmaid and a fist as big as a fire bucket. But his first mistake was to miss. His tunic was still buttoned and this slowed him down, so I was already ducking the blow by the time it arrived. His second mistake was to miss again. And to lead with his chin. By now, I was ready to take a swing myself, as if I’d been taking a swing at the very man who had shot Paul Herzefelde. And I let him have it hard, very hard, right under the chin. This, as von Clausewitz would probably have agreed, is the best part of the chin with which to make decisive contact. I saw his legs go the minute I struck him. But I punched him again, this time in the belly, and when he doubled up, I hammered him in each kidney with a heavyweight contender’s high ambition and strength of will. He fell back against the wall of the archway. And I was still hitting him when three SCHUPO men pulled me off and pinned me against the wrought-iron gate.
Slowly, the sergeant picked himself off the cobbles. It took him a while to straighten up, but eventually he managed it. I’ll say one thing for him: he could take a punch. He wiped his mouth and, panting hard, came toward me with a look in his eyes that told me he wasn’t about to invite me to stay for the Oktoberfest.
“Hold him up,” he told the other cops, taking his time about it. And then he hit me. A short right hook that went up to his elbow in my stomach. Then another, and another until his knuckles were tickling my backbone. Except it wasn’t funny. And I wasn’t laughing. They let me go when I started throwing up. But they hadn’t finished. In fact, they’d only just started.
They dragged me back into the building and down into the cells, where they went at me again-good, expert blows from cops who knew what they were doing and who clearly enjoyed their work. After an hour or so, I heard a voice from a long way off, reminding them that I was a cop, and that was when they left me alone. I had an idea it was Schramma who got them to lay off, but I never found out for sure. I stayed on the floor of that cell for a long time. No one was kicking me, and it felt like the most comfortable place in the world. All I wanted to do was stay there and sleep for twenty years. Then the floor slid to one side and I fell into a deep, dark place where a group of dwarfs were playing a game of ninepins. For a while, I joined the game, but then one of the dwarfs gave me a magic drink, and I slept the sleep of Jacob on Mount Moriah. Something Jewish, anyway.
THE CELLS in the prison below the Munich Police Praesidium were once occupied by Augustine monks. They must have been tough men, those Augustine monks. My cell had a hard bunk and a straw pallet on top, which was about as thick as a blanket. The blanket was made of thin air. Job or Saint Jerome would have been very comfortable down there. There was an open toilet without a seat, and no window in the smooth, porcelain tile wall. The cell was hot and smelly, and so was I. “Love the sinner and hate the sin,” said Saint Augustine. That was easy for him to say. He never had to spend the night in a cell beneath the Munich Police Praesidium.
They left the lights on all the time, and it wasn’t in case you were scared of the dark. I had no idea what time of the day or night it was. A few days of that, and you’re ready to do more or less whatever they tell you, just to see the sky again. That’s the theory, anyway. And after what seemed like a week but was probably only two or three days, a doctor came to look at me-a real Schweitzer type, with a mustache as big as an octopus and more white hair than Liszt’s grandmother. He examined the bruises on my ribs and asked me how I’d come by them. I told him I’d fallen off my bunk when I’d been asleep.
“Do they hurt?”
“Only when I laugh, which is not so much since I’ve been here, oddly enough.”
“You may have a couple of broken ribs,” he said. “Really, you need an X-ray.”
“Thanks, but what I really need is a cigarette.”
He examined the bruises on my ribs, gave me a cigarette, and asked me for my clothes.
“I don’t think they’ll fit you,” I said, but I took them off all the same. I just wanted to go home.
“We’ll get these things cleaned,” he said, handing my clothes to the custody officer. “You, too, if you’re up to it. There’s a shower at the end of the corridor. Soap and a razor.”
“Kind of late to be handing out hospitality, isn’t it?” But I had the shower and the shave all the same.
When I was clean, the short man handed me a blanket and took me into an interview room to await the return of my clothes. We sat down at opposite ends of a table. He opened a leather cigarette case and put it in front of me. Then someone brought me a cup of hot, sweet coffee. It tasted like ambrosia.
“I am Commissar Wowereit,” he said. “I’ve been instructed to inform you that no charges are to be made and that you are free to go.”
“Well, that’s very generous of you,” I said, and took one of his cigarettes. He lit it for me with a match and then sat back on his chair. He had slim, delicate hands. They didn’t look like they’d ever thrown a tomato, let alone a punch. I couldn’t imagine how he fitted in with the rest of the Munich polenta with hands like his. “Very generous,” I repeated. “Considering I was the one who got roughhoused.”
“A report of the incident that occurred has already been sent to your new police president and his deputy.”
“What do you mean, my new police president and his deputy? What the hell are you talking about, Wowereit?”
“Of course. I’m sorry. How could you know?”
“Ever heard of Altona?”
“Yeah. It’s a dump outside Hamburg that’s notionally part of Prussia.”
“Much more important than that, it’s a Communist town. The day you arrived in Munich, a group of uniformed Nazis staged a parade there. There was a brawl. Actually, it was more of a riot. And seventeen people were killed, and several hundred people wounded.”
“Hamburg’s a long way from Berlin,” I said. “I don’t see how-”
“The new chancellor, von Papen, with the support of General von Schleicher and Adolf Hitler, drafted a presidential decree, signed by von Hindenburg, to seize control of the Prussian government.”
“In effect, yes.”
“I assume the army did nothing to stop any of this.”
“You assume correctly. General Rundstedt has imposed martial law on Greater Berlin and the province of Brandenburg, and taken control of the city’s police force. Grzesinski has been removed. Weiss and Heimannsberg have been placed under arrest. Dr. Kurt Melcher is the new police president of Berlin.”
“Never heard of him.”
“I believe he was formerly the police president of Essen.”
“Where’s the new deputy come from? Toytown?”
“I believe the new deputy is someone called Dr. Mosle.”
“Mosle,” I exclaimed. “What does he know about policing? He’s the head of Berlin’s traffic police.”
“Colonel Poten is the new head of the uniformed police in Berlin. I believe he was director of the police academy, in Eichen. All Prussian law enforcement officers are now directly subordinate to the army.” Wowereit allowed himself a thin hint of a smile. “I suppose that also includes you. For the moment.”
“The Berlin police won’t stand for it,” I said. “Weiss wasn’t popular, it’s true. But Magnus Heimannsberg’s a different story. He’s hugely popular with the rank and file.”
“What can they do? To believe that the army won’t use force to put down any resistance is wishful thinking.” He shrugged. “But none of this is of any immediate concern to us here in Munich. And has little relevance to the case at hand. Namely, yours. The report we sent to your superiors describes in detail what we believe happened here. Doubtless, you will present your own side of the story to your superiors when you get back to Berlin.”
“You can bet on it.”
“A storm in a water glass, wouldn’t you agree? Compared with what has happened. Politically speaking.”
“That’s easy for you to say. You didn’t get beaten up and tossed in the hole for several days. And perhaps you’ve forgotten the reason for the fight. A murdered police officer was defamed by one of your colleagues. I wonder if that’ll be in your damn report.”
“Germany is for the Germans now,” said Wowereit. “Not a bunch of immigrants who are only here for what they can get. And this stupid putsch in Berlin will solve nothing. It’s the last desperate act of a republic trying to forestall what is inevitable. The election of a National Socialist government on July 31. Von Papen hopes to prove he is strong enough to stop Germany from sinking into the mess the Jews and the Communists have made for us. But everyone knows there’s only one man who is equal to that historical task.”
I said I hoped he was wrong. I said it quietly and I said it politely. Saint Augustine would probably have approved of that. There’s a lot to be said for turning the other cheek when you’ve been in receipt of a severe beating. You stay alive longer. You get to go back to Berlin. I just hoped that when I did get back there, I would still recognize the place.
I FOUND THE THIRD ARMY all over Berlin. Armored cars outside the public buildings, and platoons of soldiers enjoying the July sunshine in all of the main parks. It was as if the clock had been turned back to 1920. But there seemed little chance of Berlin’s workers organizing a general strike to defeat this particular putsch, as had happened then. Only inside the Alex did there appear to be any appetite for resistance. Police major Walter Encke, who lived in the same apartment building as Commander Heimannsberg and was his close friend, was the focus for a counterputsch. The Alex was full of Nazi spies, however. And Encke’s plan to use uniformed SCHUPO riot brigades to arrest all of the Nazis in the Berlin police came to nothing when a rumor began to go around that he and Heimannsberg were lovers. Later on, the rumor proved to be entirely without foundation, but by then it was too late. Fearing for the loss of his reputation as a policeman and as a man, Encke quickly wrote and circulated a letter in which he condemned all talk of a counterputsch using riot brigades and assured the army of his loyalty “as a former officer of the imperial army.” Meanwhile, no less than sixteen KRIPO officials, among them four commissars, denounced Bernard Weiss for alleged improprieties in office. And I was summoned to the office of the new Berlin Police president, Dr. Kurt Melcher.
Melcher was a close associate of Dr. Franz Bracht, the former mayor of Essen and now deputy Reichskommissar of the Prussian government. Melcher was originally a lawyer, from Dortmund, and was the author of a well-known but turgidly written history of the Prussian police, which only made what happened next all the more remarkable. Ernst Gennat was present at my meeting with the new police president. So was the new deputy police president, Johann Mosle. But it was the fifty-four-year-old Melcher who did most of the talking. An obviously irascible man, he lost little time in coming to the point with the assistance of an accusatory and nicotine-stained forefinger.
“I will not have officers of the Berlin police force brawling with other policemen. Is that clear?”
“I’m sure you think you had a good reason but I don’t want to hear it. The political differences that have existed between various officers are now over. All disciplinary proceedings against officers with Nazi affiliations are to be dropped, and the ban on membership of the Nazi Party for officials in the service of the Prussian state is to be lifted. If you can’t live with these changes, then there’s no place for you in this force, Gunther.”
I was about to say that I’d been living and working with men who were openly Nazi for a while. But then I caught sight of Gennat. He closed his eyes and, almost imperceptibly, shook his head, as if counseling silence.
“There’s a greater enemy than Nazism abroad in this country. And this city in particular. Bolshevism and immorality. We’re going to go after the Communists. And we’re going to crack down on vice of all kinds. The meat-market shows are going to close. And the whores are going to be kicked off our streets.”
“And that’s not all. KRIPO is going to operate more like a team. There will be no more star detectives giving press conferences and getting their names in the newspapers.”
“What about police officers writing books, sir?” I asked. “Will that be permitted? I’ve always wanted to write a book.”
Melcher smiled a toadlike smile and leaned forward as if taking a closer look at some kind of grubby schoolboy.
“You know, it’s plain to see how you got those bruises on your face, Gunther. You’ve got a smart mouth. And I don’t like detectives who think they’re smart.”
“Surely there would be no point in employing stupid detectives, sir.”
“There’s smart and there’s smart, Gunther. And then there’s clever. The clever cop knows the difference. He knows when to shut his strudel hole and listen. He knows how to put his personal politics aside and get on with the job at hand. I’m not sure that you know how to do any of that, Gunther. I can’t see how else you ended up spending three days and nights in a Munich police cell. What the hell were you doing there, anyway?”
“I went there at the invitation of a brother police officer. To look at the case notes on a murder I’ve been investigating. The Anita Schwarz case. There were some striking similarities between that case and a murder they’d been investigating. I had hoped to find a new lead. But when I arrived in Munich, I discovered that this police officer, Commissar Herzefelde, a Jew, had been murdered.”
I used the word “brother” with emphasis, in an attempt to provoke Melcher into some sort of anti-Semitic outburst. I hadn’t forgotten Izzy Weiss and the lies that were now being spread about my old boss and friend.
“All right. What did you find out?”
“Nothing. Commissar Herzefelde’s case notes were placed under an interdiction by those detectives now investigating his murder. As a result, I wasn’t able to do what I set out to do, sir.”
“And so you took out your frustration at being forbidden to look at Herzefelde’s case notes on a fellow officer.”
“It wasn’t like that at all, sir. The sergeant in question-” Melcher was shaking his head. “I told you I don’t want to hear your reasons, Gunther. There’s no excuse for hitting another officer.” He glanced Mosle’s way for a moment.
“No excuse,” echoed the DPP.
“So where are you with this case?”
“Well, sir, I think our murderer might be from Munich. Something brought him to Berlin. Something medical, perhaps. I think he’s been having treatment for venereal disease. A new treatment that’s being pioneered here in the city. Anyway, when he got here, he met Anita Schwarz. Possibly he was a client of hers. It seems that she was an occasional prostitute.”
“Nonsense,” said Melcher. “A man with a venereal disease does not usually go and have sex with a prostitute. It just doesn’t make sense.”
“With all due respect, sir, that’s how venereal disease is spread.”
“And this notion that Anita Schwarz was a whore. That’s nonsense, too. I tell you frankly, Gunther, it’s my belief, and the belief of several senior detectives around the Alex, that you’ve cooked up this whole line of inquiry just to embarrass the Schwarz family. For political reasons.”
“That’s just not true, sir.”
“Do you deny that you eluded the oversight of the political officer who was assigned to this case?”
“Arthur Nebe? No, I don’t deny it. I just didn’t think it was necessary. I was satisfied in my own mind that I wasn’t remotely biased against the Schwarz family. All I’ve ever wanted to do was catch the lunatic who killed their daughter.”
“Well, I’m not satisfied. And you’re not going to catch her murderer. I’m taking you off the case, Gunther.”
“If you’ll permit me to say so, sir, you’re making a big mistake. Only I can catch this man. If you could arrange for me to see Herzefelde’s files, sir, I’m sure I can wrap this case up in less than a week.”
“You’ve had all the time you’re going to get on this one, Gunther. I’m sorry but that’s how it is. I’m also reassigning you. I’m taking you out of the A Inspectorate.”
“Off Homicide? Why? I’m good at my job, sir.” I looked at Gennat.
“Tell him, Ernst. Don’t just sit there looking like a meat pie. You know I’m good. It was you who trained me.”
Gennat shifted awkwardly on his enormous bottom. He looked pained, as if his hemorrhoids were giving him trouble. “It’s out of my hands, Bernie,” he said. “I’m sorry. Really I am. But the decision has been made.”
“Sure, I get it. You want a quiet life, Ernst. No trouble. No politics. And by the way, is it true? That you were one of the detectives who turned up in Izzy’s office with a bottle of wine to toast Dr. Mosle here, when he got Izzy’s job?”
“It wasn’t like that, Bernie,” insisted Gennat. “I’ve known Mosle for longer than I’ve known you. He’s a good man.”
“So was Izzy.”
“That remains to be seen, I think,” said Melcher. “Not that your opinion really matters here. I’m transferring you from the A Inspectorate to J. With immediate effect.”
“J? That’s the criminal records department. It’s not even a proper inspectorate, damn it. It’s an auxiliary inspectorate.”
“The move is a temporary one,” said Melcher. “While I decide which of the other seven inspectorates can best use a man of your investigative experience. Until that happens, I want you to use that experience to suggest some ways in which the records department might be improved. By all accounts, the trouble with Records is that it has no real appreciation of how a real investigation works. It’ll be your job to put that right, Gunther. Is that clear?”
Normally I would have put up more of an argument. I might even have offered my resignation. But I was tired after the rail journey from Munich and very sore from the beating I had received. All I wanted to do was go home, have a bath and a drink, and sleep in a bed. Besides, there was still the small matter of a general election in a few days’ time, on July 31. I still held out some hope that the German people would come to its senses and make the Social Democrats the largest party in the Reichstag. After which the army would have little choice but to restore the Prussian government and throw the likes of Papen and Bracht and Melcher and Mosle out of their illegally held offices.
“Yes, sir,” I said.
“That’s all, Gunther.”
“Permission to take a week’s leave of absence, sir.”
I walked out slowly, with Ernst Gennat bringing up the rear. Mosle remained behind in what was, for a while, Melcher’s office.
“I’m sorry, Bernie,” said Gennat. “But there was really nothing I could do.”
“So you can talk, after all.”
Gennat smiled a small, weary smile. “I’ve been in the force for more than thirty years, Bernie. I was a commissar in 1906. One thing I’ve learned in that time is to know which battles to fight and which ones to concede. There’s no point in arguing with these bastards any more than there was a point in going up against the army. To my mind, Papen’s government is doomed one way or the other. We just have to hope and pray that the election turns out right. After which you can go back to being a homicide detective. Maybe Izzy and the rest of them as well. Although after what happened to your friend Herzefelde in Munich, I rather think he’s well out of it. Martial law will be lifted in days, I suspect. They won’t dare try to hold the elections with the army still on the streets. And the charges against Weiss and Heimannsberg will be dropped for lack of evidence. Grzesinski’s already planning a series of speeches around the city to defend his policy of nonviolence. So. Go home. Get well. Put your faith in German democracy. And pray that Hindenburg stays alive.”
BUENOS AIRES, 1950
I WAS WORKING LATE in my office at the Casa Rosada. It wasn’t much more than a desk and a filing cabinet and a coatrack in the corner of the larger SIDE office overlooking Irigoyen and facing the Ministry of Finance. My so-called colleagues left me quite alone, which reminded me a little of Paul Herzefelde’s desk in the detectives’ room at police headquarters in Munich. It wasn’t that they thought I was Jewish, merely that they didn’t trust me, and I can’t say I blamed them. I had no idea what Colonel Montalban had told people about me. Perhaps nothing at all. Perhaps everything. Perhaps something quite misleading. But that’s the thing about being a spy. It’s easy to get the idea you’re being spied on.
The KRIPO case files from Berlin were open on the desk in front of me. The box that had contained them was the nearest thing to a time machine I was ever likely to encounter. It all seemed so long ago. And it seemed like yesterday. What was it that Hedda Adlon used to say? The Confucian curse. May you live in interesting times. Yes, that was it