The telephone kiosk stank of urine and ancient cigarette smoke, a used condom had been trodden into the dirt.
“Come on, come on,” whispered March. He rapped a one-Reichsmark piece against the cloudy glass and listened to the electronic purr of her telephone ringing, unanswered. He let it ring for a long time before he hung up.
Across the street a grocery store was opening. He crossed and bought a bottle of milk and some warm bread which he gulped down beside the road, conscious all the time of the shop’s owner watching him from the window. It occurred to him that he was living like a fugitive already — stopping to grab food only when he happened across it, devouring it in the open, always on the move. Milk trickled down his chin. He brushed it away with the back of his hand. His skin felt like sandpaper.
He checked again to see if he was being followed. On this side of the street, a uniformed nanny pushed a baby carriage. On the other, an old woman had gone into the telephone kiosk. A schoolboy hurried towards the Havel, clutching a toy yacht. Normal, normal…
March, the good citizen, dropped the milk bottle into a waste bin and set off down the suburban road.
“You have no witness. Not any more…”
He felt a great rage against Globus, the greater for being fuelled by guilt. The Gestapo must have seen Jost’s statement in the file on Buhler’s death. They would have checked with the SS academy and discovered that March had been back to re-interrogate him yesterday afternoon; That would have set them scurrying in Prinz-Albrecht Strasse. So his visit to the barracks had been Jost’s death warrant. He had indulged his curiosity — and killed a man.
And now the American girl was not answering her telephone. What might they do to her? An army truck overtook him, the draught sucked at him, and a vision of Charlotte Maguire lying broken in the gutter bubbled in his mind. “The Berlin authorities deeply regret this tragic accident…The driver of the vehicle concerned is still being sought…’He felt like the carrier of a dangerous disease. He should carry a placard: keep clear of this man, he is contagious.
Circulating endlessly in his head, fragments of conversation—
Artur Nebe: “Find Luther, March. Find him before Globus gets to him…”
Rudi Halder: “A couple of Sipo guys were round at the Archiv last week asking about you…”
Nebe again: “There is a complaint here from your ex-wife; one from your son…”
He walked for half an hour along the blossoming streets, past the high hedges and picket fences of prosperous suburban Berlin. When he reached Dahlem, he stopped a student to ask directions. At the sight of March’s uniform, the young man bowed his head. Dahlem was a student quarter. The male undergraduates, like this one, let their hair grow a few centimetres over their collars; some of the women wore jeans — God only knew where they got them. White Rose, the student resistance movement which had flowered briefly in the 1940s until its leaders were executed, was suddenly alive again. “Ihr Geist lebt weiter” said the graffiti: their spirit lives on. Members of White Rose grumbled about conscription, listened to banned music, circulated seditious magazines, were harassed by the Gestapo. The student gestured vaguely in response to March’s question, his arms laden with books, and was glad to be on his way.
Luther’s house was close to the Botanischer Garten, set back from the road — a nineteenth-century country mansion at the end of a sickle of white gravel. Two men sat in an unmarked grey BMW, parked opposite the drive. The car and its colour branded them at once. There would be two more watching the back, and at least one cruising the neighbourhood streets. March walked past and saw one of the Gestapo watchers turn to the other and speak.
Somewhere, a motor mower was whining; the smell of freshly cut grass hung over the drive. The house and grounds must have cost a fortune — not as much as Buhler’s villa, perhaps, but not far off it. The red box of a newly installed burglar alarm jutted beneath the eaves.
He rang the bell and felt himself come under inspection through the spy hole in the centre of the heavy door. After half a minute the door opened to reveal an English maid in a black and white uniform. He gave her his ID and she disappeared to check with her mistress, her feet flapping on the polished wooden floor. She returned to show March into the darkened drawing room. A sweet-smelling smog of eau de cologne lay over the scene. Frau Marthe Luther sat on a sofa, clutching a handkerchief. She looked up at him -glassy blue eyes cracked by minute veins.
“None, madam. I’m sorry to say. But you may be sure that no effort is being spared to find your husband.” Truer than you know, he thought.
She was a woman fast losing her attractiveness but gamely staging a fighting retreat. Her tactics, though, were ill-advised: unnaturally blonde hair, a tight skirt, a silk blouse undone just a button too far, to display fat, milky-white cleavage. She looked every centimetre a third wife. A romantic novel lay open, face down, on the embroidered cushion next to her. The Kaisers Ball by Barbara Cartland.
She returned his identity card and blew her nose. “Will you sit down? You look exhausted. Not even time to shave! Some coffee? Sherry, perhaps? No? Rose, bring coffee for the Herr Sturmbannfuhrer. And perhaps I might fortify myself with just the smallest sherry.”
Perched uneasily on the edge of a deep, chintz-covered armchair, his notebook open on his knee, March listened to Frau Luther’s woeful tale. Her husband? A very good man, short-tempered — yes, maybe, but that was his nerves, poor thing. Poor, poor thing — he had weepy eyes, did March know that?
She showed him a photograph: Luther at some Mediterranean resort, absurd in a pair of shorts, scowling, his eyes swollen behind the thick glasses.
On she went: a man of that age — he would be sixty-nine in December, they were going to Spain for his birthday. Martin was a friend of General Franco — a dear little man, had March ever met him?
No: a pleasure denied.
Ah, well. She couldn’t bear to think what might have happened, always so careful about telling her where he was going, he had never done anything like this. It was such a help to talk, so sympathetic…
There was a sigh of silk as she crossed her legs, the skirt rising provocatively above a plump knee. The maid reappeared and set down coffee cup, cream jug and sugar bowl in front of March. Her mistress was provided with a glass of sherry, and a crystal decanter, three-quarters empty.
“Did you ever hear him mention the names Josef Buhler or Wilhelm Stuckart?”
A little crack of concentration appeared in the cake of makeup: “No, I don’t recall…No, definitely not.”
“Did he go out at all last Friday?”
“Last Friday? I think — yes. He went out early in the morning.” She sipped her sherry. March made a note.
“And when did he tell you he had to go away?”
That afternoon. He returned about two, said something had happened, that he had to spend Monday in Munich. He flew on Sunday afternoon, so he could stay overnight and be up early.”
“And he didn’t tell you what it was about?”
“He was old-fashioned about that sort of thing. His business was his business, if you see what I mean.”
“Before the trip, how did he seem?”
“Oh, irritable, as usual”. She laughed — a girlish giggle. “Yes, perhaps he was a little more preoccupied than normal. The television news always depressed him — the terrorism, the fighting in the East. I told him to pay no attention — no good will come of worrying, I said — but things…yes, they preyed on his mind.” She lowered her voice. “He had a breakdown during the war, poor thing. The strain…”
She was about to cry again. March cut in: “What year was his breakdown?”
“I believe it was in ’43. That was before I knew him, of course.”
“Of course.” March smiled and bowed his head. “You must have been at school.”
“Perhaps not quite at school…” The skirt rose a little higher.
“When did you start to become alarmed for his safety?”
“When he didn’t come home on Monday. I was awake all night.”
“So you reported him missing on Tuesday morning?”
“I was about to, when Obergruppenfuhrer Globocnik arrived.”
March tried to keep the surprise out of his voice: “He arrived before you even told the Polizei? What time was that?”
“Soon after nine. He said he needed to speak to my husband. I told him the situation. The Obergruppenfuhrer took it very seriously.”
“I’m sure he did. Did he tell you why he needed to speak to Herr Luther?”
“No. I assumed it was a Party matter. Why?” Suddenly, her voice had a harder edge. “Are you suggesting my husband had done something wrong?”
She straightened her skirt over her knees, smoothed it out with ring-encrusted fingers. There was a pause and then she said: “Herr Sturmbannfuhrer, what is the purpose of this conversation?”
“Did your husband ever visit Switzerland?”
“He used to, occasionally, some years ago. He had business there. Why?”
“Where is his passport?”
“It is not in his study. I checked. But I have been over this with the Obergruppenfuhrer. Martin always carried his passport with him. He said he never knew when he might need it. That was his Foreign Ministry training. Really, there is nothing unusual about that, really…”
“Forgive me, madam.” He pressed on. The burglar alarm. I noticed it on my way in. It looks new.”
She glanced down at her lap. “Martin had it installed last year. We had intruders.”
She looked up at him with surprise. “How did you know?”
That was a mistake. He said: “I must have read the report in your husband’s file.”
“Impossible.” Surprise had been replaced in her voice by suspicion. “He never reported it.”
She was on the point of making a blustering reply -’What business is it of yours?” or something of the sort — but then she saw the expression in March’s eyes and changed her mind. She said, in a resigned voice: “I pleaded with him, Herr Sturmbannfuhrer. But he wouldn’t. And he wouldn’t tell me why.”
“It was last winter. We were planning to stay in for the evening. Some friends called at the last minute and we went out to dinner, at Horcher’s. When we got back, there were two men in this room.” She looked around as if they might still be hiding somewhere. “Thank God our friends came in with us. If we’d been alone … When they saw there were four of us, they jumped out of that window.” She pointed behind March’s shoulder.
“So he put in an alarm system. Did he take any other precautions?”
“He hired a security guard. Four of them, in fact. They worked shifts. He kept them on until after Christmas. Then he decided he didn’t trust them any more. He was so frightened, Herr Sturmbannfuhrer.”
“He wouldn’t tell me.”
Out came the handkerchief. Another helping of sherry was sloshed from the decanter. Her lipstick had left thick pink smears around the rim of her glass. She was sliding towards the edge of tears again. March had misjudged her. She was frightened for her husband, true. But she was more frightened now that he might have been deceiving her. The shadows were chasing one another across her mind, and in her eyes they left their trails. Was it another woman? A crime? A secret? Had he fled the country? Gone for good? He felt sorry for her, and for a moment considered warning her of the Gestapo’s case against her husband. But why add to her misery? She would know soon enough. He hoped the state would not confiscate the house.
“Madam, I have intruded too long.” He closed his notebook and stood. She clutched his hand, peered up at him.
“I’m never going to see him again, am I?”
No, he thought.
It was a relief to leave the dark and sickly room and escape into the fresh air. The Gestapo men were still sitting in the BMW. They watched him leave. He hesitated for a second, and then turned right, towards the Botanischer Garten railway station.
Four security guards!
He could begin to see it now. A meeting at Buhler’s villa on Friday morning, attended by Buhler, Stuckart and Luther. A panicky meeting, old men in a sweat of fear- and with good reason. Perhaps they had each been given a separate task. At any rate, on Sunday, Luther had flown to Zurich. March was sure it was he who must have sent the chocolates from Zurich airport on Monday afternoon, maybe just as he was about to board another aircraft. What were they? Not a present: a signal. Was their arrival meant to be taken as a sign that his task had been completed successfully? Or that he had failed?
March checked over his shoulder. Yes, now he was being followed, he was almost certain. They would have had time to organise while he was in Luther’s house. Which were their agents? The woman in the green coat? The student on his bicycle? Hopeless. The Gestapo were too good for him to spot. There would be three or four of them, at least. He lengthened his stride. He was nearing the station.
Question: did Luther return to Berlin from Zurich on Monday afternoon, or did he stay out of the country? On balance, March inclined to the view that he had returned. That call to Buhler’s villa yesterday morning — “Buhler? Speak to me. Who is that?” — that had been Luther, he was sure. So: assume Luther posted the packages just before he boarded his flight, say around five o’clock. He would have landed in Berlin about seven that evening. And disappeared.
The Botanischer Garten station was on the suburban electric line. March bought a one-Mark ticket and lingered around the barrier until the train approached. He boarded it and then, just as the doors sighed shut, jumped off, and sprinted over the metal foot-bridge to the other platform. Two minutes later he got on to the south-bound train, only to leap out at Lichterfelde, and re-cross the tracks. The station was deserted. He let the first north-bound train go by, caught the second, and settled into his seat. The only other occupant of the carriage was a pregnant woman. He gave her a smile; she looked away. Good.
Luther, Luther. March lit a cigarette. Hearing seventy with a nervous heart and rheumy eyes. Too paranoid to trust even your wife. They came for you six months earlier, and by luck you escaped. Why did you make a run for it from Berlin airport? Did you come through customs and decide to call your confederates? In Stuckart’s apartment, the telephone would have rung unanswered, next to the silent, blood-washed bedroom. In Schwanenwerder, if Eisler’s estimate of the time of death was accurate, Buhler must already have been surprised by his killers. Had they let the telephone ring? Or had one of them answered it, while the others held Buhler down?
Luther, Luther: something happened to make you run for your life — out into the freezing rain of that Monday night.
He got out at Gotenland station. It was yet another piece of architectural fantasy come true — mosaic floors, polished stone, stained glass windows thirty metres high. The regime closed churches and compensated by building railway termini to look like cathedrals.
Gazing down from the overhead walkway on to the thousands of hurrying passengers, March almost gave in to despair. Myriad lives — each with its own secrets and plans and dreams, its individual luggage of guilt — criss-crossed beneath him, not one touching the other, separate and distinct. To think that he, alone, could possibly track down one old man among so many — for the first time, the idea struck him as fantastic, absurd.
But Globus could do it. Already, March could see, the police patrols had been increased in strength. That must have happened in the last half-hour. The Orpo men were scrutinising every male over sixty. A derelict without papers was being led away, complaining.
Globus! March turned away from the handrail and stepped on to the descending escalator, in search of the one person in Berlin who might be able to save his life.