The grey BMW drove south down Saarland Strasse, past the slumbering hotels and deserted shops of central Berlin. At the dark mass of the Museum fur Volkerkunde it turned left, into Prinz-Albrecht Strasse, towards the headquarters of the Gestapo.
There was a hierarchy in cars, as in everything. The Orpo were stuck with tinny Opels. The Kripo had Volkswagens — four-door versions of the original KdF-wagen, the round-backed workers” car which had been stamped out by the million at the Fallersleben works. But the Gestapo were smarter. They drove BMW 1800s -sinister boxes with growling, souped-up engines and dull grey bodywork.
Sitting in the back seat next to Max Jaeger, March kept his eyes on the man who had arrested them, the commander of the raid on Stuckart’s apartment. When they had been led up from the basement into the foyer he had given them an immaculate Fuhrer-salute. “Sturmbannfuhrer Karl Krebs, Gestapo!” That had meant nothing to March. It was only now, in the BMW, in profile, that he recognised him. Krebs was one of the two SS officers who had been with Globus at Buhler’s villa.
He was about thirty years old with an angular, intelligent face, and without the uniform he could have been anything — a lawyer, a banker, a eugenicist, an executioner. That was how it was with young men of his age. They had come off an assembly line of Pimpf, Hitler Youth, National Service and Strength-Through-Joy. They had heard the same speeches, read the same slogans, eaten the same one-pot meals in aid of Winter Relief. They were the regime’s workhorses, had known no authority but the Party, and were as reliable and commonplace as the Kripo’s Volkswagens.
The car drew up and almost at once Krebs was on the pavement, opening the door. “This way, gentlemen. Please.”
March hauled himself out and looked down the street. Krebs might be as polite as a scoutmaster, but ten metres back, the doors of a second BMW were opening even before it stopped and armed plain-clothes men were emerging. That was how it had been since their discovery at Fritz-Todt Platz. No rifle-butts in the belly, no oaths, no handcuffs. Just a telephone call to headquarters, followed by a quiet request to “discuss these matters further”. Krebs had also asked them to surrender their weapons. Polite, but behind the politeness, always, the threat.
Gestapo headquarters were in a grand, five-storey Wilhelmine construction that faced north and never saw the sun. Years ago, in the days of the Weimar Republic, the museum-like building had housed the Berlin School of Arts. When the secret police took over, the students had been forced to burn their modernist paintings in the courtyard. Tonight, the high windows were shielded by thick net curtains, a precaution against terrorist attack. Behind the gauze, as if in fog, chandeliers burned.
March had made it a policy in life never to cross the threshold, and until this night he had succeeded. Three stone steps ran up into an entrance hall. More steps, and then a large, vaulted foyer: a red carpet on a stone floor, the hollow resonance of a cathedral. It was busy. The early hours of the morning were always busy for the Gestapo. From the depths of the building came the muffled echo of bells ringing, footsteps, a whistle, a shout. A fat man in the uniform of an Obersturmfuhrer picked his nose and regarded them without interest.
They walked on, down a corridor lined with swastikas and marble busts of the Party leadership — Goring, Goebbels, Bormann, Frank, Ley and the rest — modelled after Roman senators. March could hear the plainclothes guards following. He glanced at Jaeger, but Max was staring fixedly ahead, jaw clenched.
More stairs, another passage. The carpet had given way to linoleum. The walls were dingy. March guessed they were somewhere near the back of the building, on the second floor.
“If you would wait here,” said Krebs. He opened a stout wooden door. Neon stuttered into life. He stood aside to allow them to file in. “Coffee?”
And he was gone. As the door closed, March saw one of the guards, arms folded, take up station in the corridor outside. He half-expected to hear a key turn in the lock, but there was no sound.
They had been put in some sort of interview room. A rough wooden table stood in the centre of the floor, one chair either side of it, half a dozen others pushed up against the walls. There was a small window. Opposite it was a reproduction of Josef Vietze’s portrait of Reinhard Heydrich in a cheap plastic frame. On the floor were small brown stains which looked to March like dried blood.
Prinz-Albrecht Strasse was Germany’s black heart, as famous as the Avenue of Victory and the Great Hall, but without the tourist coaches. At number eight: the Gestapo. At number nine: Heydrich’s personal headquarters. Around the corner: the Prinz-Albrecht Palace itself, headquarters of the SD, the Party’s intelligence service. A complex of underground passages linked the three.
Jaeger muttered something and collapsed into a chair. March could think of nothing adequate to say so he looked out of the window. It commanded a clear view of the palace grounds running behind the Gestapo building — the dark clumps of the bushes, the ink-pool of the lawn, the skeletal branches of the limes raised in claws against the sky. Away to the right, lit up through the bare trees, was the concrete and glass cube of the Europa-Haus, built in the 1920s by the Jewish architect Mendelsohn. The Party had allowed it to stand as a monument to his “pygmy imagination’: dropped among Speer’s granite monoliths, it was just a toy. March could remember a Sunday afternoon tea with Pili in its roof-garden restaurant. Ginger beer and Obsttorte mit Sahne, the little brass band playing-what else? -selections from The Merry Widow, the elderly women with their elaborate Sunday hats, their little fingers crooked over the bone china.
Most were careful not to look at the black buildings beyond the trees. For others, the proximity of Prinz-Albrecht Strasse seemed to provide a frisson of excitement, like picnicking next to a prison. Down in the cellar the Gestapo was licensed to practise what the Ministry of Justice called “heightened interrogation”. The rules had been drawn up by civilised men in warm offices and they stipulated the presence of a doctor. There had been a conversation in Werderscher Markt a few weeks ago. Someone had heard a rumour about the torturers” latest trick: a thin glass catheter inserted into the suspect’s penis, then snapped.
Strings are playing
Hear them saying
“I love you…”
He shook his head, pinched the bridge of his nose, tried to clear his mind. Think. He had left a paper-trail of clues, any one of which would have been enough to lead the Gestapo to Stuckart’s apartment. He had requested Stuckart’s file. He had discussed the case with Fiebes. He had rung Luther’s home. He had gone looking for Charlotte Maguire.
He worried about the American woman. Even if she had managed to get clear of Fritz-Todt Platz, the Gestapo could pull her in tomorrow. “Routine questions, Fraulein… What is this envelope, please?… How did you come by it?… Describe the man who opened the safe…” She was tough, with an actressy self-confidence, but in their hands she would not last five minutes.
March rested his forehead against the cold pane of glass. The window was bolted shut. There was a sheer drop of fifteen metres to the ground.
Behind him, the door opened. A swarthy man in shirt sleeves, stinking of sweat, came in and set two mugs of coffee on the table.
Jaeger, who had been sitting with his arms folded, looking at his boots, asked: “How much longer?”
The man shrugged — an hour? a night? a week? — and left. Jaeger tasted the coffee and pulled a face. “Pig’s piss.” He lit a cigar, swilling the smoke around his mouth, before sending it billowing across the room.
He and March stared at one another. After a while, Max said: “You know, you could have got out.”
“And left you to it? Hardly fair.” March tried the coffee. It was lukewarm. The neon light was flickering, fizzing, making his head throb. This was what they did to you. Left you until two or three in the morning, until your body was at its weakest, your defences at their most vulnerable. He knew this part of the game as well as they did.
He swallowed the filthy coffee and lit a cigarette. Anything to keep awake. Guilt about the woman, guilt about his friend.
“I’m a fool. I shouldn’t have involved you. I’m sorry.”
“Forget it.” Jaeger waved away the smoke. He leaned forward and spoke softly. “You have to let me carry my share of the blame, Zavi. Good Party Comrade Jaeger, here. Brownshirt. Blackshirt. Every goddamn shirt. Twenty years dedicated to the sacred cause of keeping my arse clean.” He grasped March’s knee. “I have favours to call in. I’m owed.”
His head was bent. He was whispering. “They have you marked down, my friend. A loner. Divorced. They’ll flay you alive. Me, on the other hand? The great conformer Jaeger. Married to a holder of the Cross of German Motherhood. Bronze Class, no less. Not so good at the job, maybe—”
That’s not true.”
“—but safe. Suppose I didn’t tell you yesterday morning the Gestapo had taken over the Buhler case. Then when you got back I said let’s check out Stuckart. They look at my record. They might buy that, coming from me.”
“It’s good of you.”
“Christ, man — forget that.”
“But it won’t work.”
“Because this is beyond favours and clean sheets, don’t you see? What about Buhler and Stuckart? They were in the Party before we were even born. And where were the favours when they needed them?”
“You really think the Gestapo killed them?” Jaeger looked scared.
March put his fingers to his lips and gestured to the picture. “Say nothing to me you wouldn’t say to Heydrich,” he whispered.
The night dragged by in silence. At about three o’clock, Jaeger pushed some of the chairs together, lay down awkwardly, and closed his eyes. Within minutes, he was snoring. March returned to his post at the window.
He could feel Heydrich’s eyes drilling into his back. He tried to ignore it, failed, and turned to confront the picture. A black uniform, a gaunt white face, silver hair -not a human countenance at all but a photographic negative of a skull; an X-ray. The only colour was in the centre of that death-mask face: those tiny pale blue eyes, like splinters of winter sky. March had never met Heydrich, or seen him; had only heard the stories. The press portrayed him as Nietzsche’s Superman sprung to life. Heydrich in his pilot’s uniform (he had flown combat missions on the Eastern front). Heydrich in his fencing gear (he had fenced for Germany in the Olympics). Heydrich with his violin (he could reduce audiences to tears by the pathos of his playing). When the aircraft carrying Heinrich Himmler had blown up in mid-air two years ago, Heydrich had taken over as Reichsfuhrer-SS. Now he was said to be in line to succeed the Fuhrer. The whisper around the Kripo was that the Reich’s chief policeman liked beating up prostitutes.
March sat down. A numbing tiredness was seeping through him, a paralysis: the legs first, then the body, at last the mind. Despite himself, he drifted into a shallow sleep. Once, far away, he thought he heard a cry — human and forlorn — but it might have been a dream. Footsteps echoed in his mind. Keys turned. Cell doors clanged.
He was jerked awake by a rough hand.
“Good morning, gentlemen. I hope you had some rest?”
It was Krebs.
March felt raw. His eyes were gritty in the sickly neon. Through the window the sky was pearl-grey with the approaching morning.
Jaeger grunted and swung his legs to the floor. “Now what?”
“Now we talk” said Krebs. “Come.”
“Who is this kid,” grumbled Jaeger to March under his breath, “to push us about?” But he was wary enough to keep his voice low.
They filed into the corridor and March wondered again what game was being played. Interrogation is a night-time art. Why leave it until the morning? Why give them a chance to regain their strength, to concoct a story?
Krebs had recently shaved. His skin was studded with pinpricks of blood. He said: “Washroom on the right. You will wish to clean yourselves.” It was an instruction rather than a question.
In the mirror, red-eyed and unshaven, March looked more convict than policeman. He filled the basin, rolled up his sleeves and loosened his tie, splashed icy water on his face, his forearms, the nape of his neck, let it trickle down his back. The cold sting brought him back to life.
Jaeger stood alongside him. “Remember what I said.”
March quickly turned the taps back on. “Be careful.”
“You think they wire the toilet?”
“They wire everything.”
Krebs conducted them downstairs. The guards fell in behind them. To the cellar? They clattered across the vestibule — quieter now than when they had arrived — and out into the grudging light.
Not the cellar.
Waiting in the BMW was the driver who had brought them from Stuckart’s apartment. The convoy moved off, north into the rush-hour traffic which was already building up around Potsdamer Platz. In the big shops, the windows piously displayed large, gilt-framed photographs of the Fuhrer — the official portrait from the mid-1950s, by the English photographer, Beaton. Twigs and flowers garlanded the frames, the traditional decoration heralding the Fuhrer’s birthday. Four days to go, each of which would see a fresh sprouting of swastika banners. Soon the city would be a forest of red, white and black.
Jaeger was gripping the arm rest, looking sick. “Come on, Krebs,” he said, in a wheedling voice. “We’re all the same rank. You can tell us where we’re going.”
Krebs made no reply. The dome of the Great Hall loomed ahead. Ten minutes later, when the BMW turned left on to the East-West Axis, March guessed their destination.
It was almost eight by the time they arrived. The iron gates of Buhler’s villa had been swung wide open. The grounds were filled with vehicles, dotted with black uniforms. One SS trooper was sweeping the lawn with a proton-magnetometer. Behind him, jammed into the ground, was a trail of red flags. Three more soldiers were digging holes. Drawn up on the gravel were Gestapo BMWs, a lorry, and a large armoured security van of the sort used for transporting gold bullion.
March felt Jaeger nudge him. Parked in the shadows beside the house, its driver leaning against the bodywork, was a bulletproof Mercedes limousine. A metal pennant hung above the radiator grille: silver SS lightning flashes on a black background; in one corner, like a cabbalistic symbol, the gothic letter K.