The door to March’s apartment hung off its hinges like a broken jaw. He stood on the landing, listening, his pistol drawn. The place was silent, deserted.
Like Charlotte Maguire’s, his apartment had been searched, but by hands of greater malevolence. Everything had been tipped into a heap in the centre of the sitting room — clothes and books, shoes and old letters, photographs and crockery and furniture — the detritus of a life. It was as if someone had intended to make a bonfire but had been distracted at the last minute, before they could apply the torch.
Wedged upright on top of the pyre was a wooden-framed photograph of March, aged twenty, shaking hands with the commander of the U-Boot Waffe, Admiral Donitz. Why had it been left like that? What point was being made? He picked it up, carried it over to the window, blew dust off it. He had forgotten he even had it. Doenitz liked to come aboard every boat before it left Wilhelmshaven: an awesome figure, ramrod, iron-gripped, gruff. “Good hunting,” he had barked at March. He growled the same to everyone. The picture showed five young crewmen lined up beneath the conning tower to meet him. Rudi Halder was to March’s left. The other three had died later that year, trapped in the hull of U-175.
He tossed the picture back on the pile.
It had taken time to do all this. Time, and anger, and the certainty of not being disturbed. It must have happened while he was under guard in Prinz-Albrecht Strasse. It could only have been the work of the Gestapo. He remembered a line of graffiti scrawled by White Rose on a wall near Werderscher Markt: “A police state is a country run by criminals”.
They had opened his mail. A couple of bills, long overdue — they were welcome to them — and a letter from his ex-wife, dated Tuesday. He glanced through it. She had decided he was not to see Pili in future. It upset the boy too much. She hoped he would agree this was for the best. If necessary, she would be willing to swear a deposition before the Reich Family Court, giving her reasons. She trusted this would not be necessary, both for his sake and the boy’s. It was signed “Klara Eckart”. So she had gone back to her maiden name. He screwed it up and threw it next to the photograph, with the rest of the rubbish.
The bathroom at least had been left intact. He showered and shaved, inspecting himself in the mirror for damage. It felt worse than it looked: a large bruise developing nicely on his chest, more on the back of his legs and at the base of his spine; a livid mark at his throat. Nothing serious. What was it his father used to say — his paternal balm for all the batterings of childhood? “You’ll live, boy.” That was it. “You’ll live!”
Naked, he went back into the sitting room and searched through the wreckage, pulling out clean clothes, a pair of shoes, a suitcase, a leather hold-all. He feared they might have taken his passport but it was there, at the bottom of the mound. It had been issued in 1961, when March had gone to Italy to bring back a gangster being held in Milan. His younger self stared up at him, fatter-cheeked, half-smiling. My God, he thought, I have aged ten years in three.
He brushed down his uniform and put it back on, together with a clean shirt, and packed his suitcase. As he bent to snap it shut his eye was caught by something in the empty grate. The photograph of the Weiss family was lying face down. He hesitated, picked it up, folded it into a small square — exactly as he had found it five years earlier — and slipped it into his wallet. If he was stopped and searched, he would say they were his family.
Then he took a last look round and left, closing the broken door behind him as best he could.
At the main branch of the Deutschebank, in Wittenberg Platz, he asked how much he held in his account.
“Four thousand two hundred and seventy-seven Reichsmarks and thirty-eight pfennigs.”
“I’ll take it.”
“All of it, Herr Sturmbannfuhrer?” The teller blinked at him through wire-framed spectacles. “You are closing the account?”
“All of it.”
March watched him count out forty-two one-hundred Mark notes, then stuffed them into his wallet, next to the photograph. Not much in the way of life savings.
This is what no promotions and seven years of alimony do to you.
The teller was staring at him. “Did the Herr Sturmbannfuhrer say something?”
He had given voice to his thoughts. He must be going mad. “No. Sorry. Thank you.”
March picked up his suitcase, went out into the square and caught a taxi to Werderscher Markt.
Alone in his office, he did two things. He rang the headquarters of Lufthansa and asked the head of security- a former Kripo investigator he knew, called Friedman — to check if the airline had carried a passenger by the name of Martin Luther on any of its Berlin-Zurich flights on Sunday or Monday.
“Martin Luther, right?” Friedman was greatly amused. “Anyone else you want, March? Emperor Charlemagne? Herr von Goethe?”
“It’s always important. Sure. I know.” Friedman promised to find out the information at once. “Listen. When you get tired of chasing ambulances, there’s always a job for you here if you want it.”
“Thanks. I may well.”
After he hung up, March took the dead plant down from the filing cabinet. He lifted the atrophied roots out of the pot, put in the brass key, replaced the plant, and returned the pot to its old position.
Five minutes later, Friedman called him back.
Arthur Nebe’s suite of offices was on the fourth floor- all cream carpets and cream paintwork, recessed lighting and black leather, sofas. On the walls were prints of Thorak’s sculptures. Herculean figures with gargantuan torsos rolled boulders up steep hills, in celebration of the building of the Autobahnen; Valkyries fought the triple demons Ignorance, Bolshevism and Slav. The immensity of Thorak’s statuary was a whispered joke. “Thorax” they called him: “The Herr Professor is not receiving visitors today — he is working in the left ear of the horse.”
Nebe’s adjutant, Otto Beck, a smooth-faced graduate of Heidelberg and Oxford, looked up as March came into the outer office.
March said: “I need to speak with the Oberstgruppenfuhrer.”
“He is seeing nobody.”
“He will see me.”
“He will not.”
March leaned very close to Beck’s face, his fists on his desk. “Ask.”
Behind him, he heard Nebe’s secretary say: “Shall I call security?”
“One moment, Ingrid.” It was fashionable among the graduates of the SS academy in Oxford to affect an English coolness. Beck flicked an invisible speck from the sleeve of his tunic. “And what name is it?”
“Ah. The famous March.” Beck picked up the telephone. “Sturmbannfuhrer March is demanding to see you, Herr Oberstgruppenfuhrer.” He looked at March and nodded. “Very well.”
Beck pressed a button concealed beneath the desk, releasing the electronic bolts. “Five minutes, March. He has an appointment with the Reichsfuhrer.”
The door to the inner office was solid oak, six centimetres thick. Inside, the blinds were tightly drawn against the day. Nebe was curled over his desk in a puddle of yellow light, studying a typed list through a magnifying glass. He turned one vast and blurry fish eye upon his visitor.
“What have we here…?” He lowered the glass. “Sturmbannfuhrer March. Empty-handed, I assume?”
Nebe nodded. “I learn from the duty office that the police stations of the Reich are even now being filled to overflowing with elderly beggars, ancient drunkards who have lost their papers, absconding geriatrics… Enough to keep Globus busy until Christmas.” He leaned back in his chair. “If I know Luther, he is far too cunning to show himself yet. He will wait a few days. That must be your hope.”
“I have a favour to ask.”
“I wish to leave the country.”
Nebe let out a shout of laughter. He pounded the desk with both hands. “Your file is compendious, March, but nowhere does it mention your sense of humour. Excellent! Who knows? You may yet survive. Some KZ commandant may adopt you as a pet.”
“I wish to go to Switzerland.”
“Of course. The scenery is spectacular.”
“I have had a call from Lufthansa. Luther flew to Zurich on Sunday afternoon, and returned to Berlin on the last flight on Monday night. I believe he had access to a numbered bank account.”
Nebe’s laughter had dwindled to an occasional snort. “On what evidence?”
March placed the envelope on Nebe’s desk. “I removed this from Stuckart’s apartment last night.”
Nebe opened it and inspected the letter through the magnifying glass. He glanced up. “Should there not be a key with this?”
March was staring at the paintings behind Nebe’s head -Schmutzler’s “Farm Girls Returning From the Fields”, Padua’s “The Fuhrer Speaks” — ghastly, orthodox muck.
“Ah. I see.” Nebe sat back again, stroking his cheek with the glass. “If I don’t allow you to go, I don’t get the key. I could of course turn you over to the Gestapo, and they could persuade you to disgorge the key — probably quite quickly. But then it would be Globus and Heydrich who would learn the contents of the deposit box, rather than me.
He was silent for a while. Then he dragged himself to his feet and hobbled across to the blinds. He opened the slats a fraction and peered out. March could see his eyes moving slowly from side to side.
At last he said: “A tempting bargain. But why is it that I have this vision of myself, waving you off with a white handkerchief from the tarmac of Hermann Goring Airport, and of you never coming back?”
“I suppose giving you my word that I would return would be of no use?”
“The suggestion demeans our intelligence.”
Nebe went back to his desk and read the letter again. He pressed a switch on his desk. “Beck.”
The adjutant appeared. “March — give him your passport. Now, Beck, get that to the Interior Ministry and have them issue an immediate twenty-four-hour exit visa, starting at six tonight and expiring at six tomorrow.”
Beck glanced at March, then slid out of the office.
Nebe said: This is my offer. The Head of the Swiss Criminal Police, Herr Streuli, is a good friend of mine. From the moment you step off the aircraft until the moment you reboard it, his people will be watching you. Do not attempt to evade them. If you fail to return tomorrow, you will be arrested and deported. If you try to make a run to Bern, to enter a foreign embassy, you will be stopped. In any case, there is nowhere for you to go. After yesterday’s happy announcement, the Americans will simply toss you back over the border to us. The British, French and Italians will do what we tell them. Australia and Canada will obey the Americans. There are the Chinese, I suppose, but if I were you I’d sooner take my chances in a KZ. And the moment you return to Berlin, you will tell me everything you have discovered. Good?”
“Good. The Fuhrer calls the Swiss "a nation of hotel-keepers". I recommend the Baur au Lac on Tal Strasse, overlooking the See. Most luxurious. A fine place for a condemned man to spend a night.”
Back in his office, a parody of a tourist, March booked his hotel room and reserved a plane seat. Within the hour, he had his passport back. The visa had been stamped inside: the ubiquitous eagle and garlanded swastika, the blank spaces for the dates filled in by a crabbed and bureaucratic hand.
The duration of an exit visa was in direct ratio to the applicant’s political reliability. Party bosses got ten years; Party members, five; citizens with unblemished records, one; the dregs of the camps naturally got nothing at all. March had been given a day-pass to the outside world. He was down there among the Untouchables of society — the grumblers, the parasites, the work-shy, the crypto-criminal.
He rang the Kripo’s economic investigation division and asked for the resident Swiss expert. When he mentioned Zaugg’s name and asked if the division had any information, the man at the other end laughed. “How long do you have?”
“Start at the beginning.”
“Hold, please.” The man put down the phone and went to fetch the file.
Zaugg Cie had been founded in 1877 by a Franco-German financier, Louis Zaugg. Hermann Zaugg, the signatory of Stuckart’s letter, was the founder’s grandson. He was still listed as the bank’s chief director. Berlin had followed his activities for more than two decades. During the 1940s, Zaugg had dealt extensively with German nationals of dubious reliability. He was currently suspected of harbouring millions of Reichsmarks in cash, art, bullion, jewellery and precious stones — all of which rightfully should have been confiscated, but to none of which could the Finance Ministry gain access. They had been trying for years.
“What do we have on Zaugg personally?”
“Only the bare details. He’s fifty-four, married, with one son. Has a mansion on the Zurichsee. Very respectable. Very private. Plenty of powerful friends in the Swiss government.”
March lit a cigarette and grabbed a scrap of paper. “Give me that address again.”
Max Jaeger arrived as March was writing him a note. He pushed open the door with his backside, came in carrying a stack of files, looking sweaty. Nearly two days” growth of beard gave him a menacing air.
“Zavi, thank Christ.” He peered over the top of the paperwork. “I’ve been trying to reach you all day. Where have you been?”
“Around. What’s this? Your memoirs?”
“The Spandau shootings. You heard Uncle Artur this morning.” He mimicked Nebe’s reedy voice. “ ‘Jaeger, you can return to normal duties.’ ”
He dropped the files on his desk. The window rattled. Dust shot across the office. “Statements of witnesses and wedding guests. Autopsy report — they dug fifteen bullets out of that poor bastard.” He stretched, rubbed his eyes with his fists. “I could sleep for a week. I tell you: I’m too old for scares like last night. My heart won’t stand it.” He broke off. “Now what the hell are you doing?”
March had lifted the dead plant from its pot and was retrieving the key to the safety deposit box.
“I have a plane to catch in two hours.”
Jaeger looked at his suitcase. “Don’t tell me — a holiday! A little balalaika music on the shores of the Black Sea…” He folded his arms and kicked out his legs in a dance, Russian-style.
March shook his head, smiling. “Do you feel like a beer?”
“Do I feel like a beer?” Jaeger had danced out of the door before March could turn round.
The little bar in Ob-wall Strasse was run by a retired Orpo man called Fischer. It smelled of smoke and sweat, stale beer and fried onions. Most of its clientele were policemen. Green and black uniforms clustered around the bar, or lurked in the dimness of the wood-panelled booths.
The Fox and the Bear were greeted warmly.
Taking a vacation, March?”
“Hey Jaeger! Stand a little closer to the razor next time!”
Jaeger insisted on buying the drinks. March took a booth in the corner, stowed his suitcase under the table, lit a cigarette. There were men here he had known for a decade. The drivers from Rahnsdorf with their poker schools and dirty stories. The heavy drinkers from Serious Crimes in Worth Strasse. He would not miss them. Walther Fiebes sat alone at the bar, moping over a bottle of schnapps.
Jaeger returned and raised his glass. “Prost!”
Max wiped the foam from his lips. “Good sausages, good engines, good beer- Germany’s three gifts to the world.” He always said this when they had a drink, and March always lacked the heart to point it out. “So. What’s this about a plane?” For Jaeger, the word seemed to conjure images of all that was exotic in the world. The furthest he had ever travelled from Berlin was to a family camp on the Black Sea — a holiday last summer near Gotenburg, organised by Strength-Through-Joy.
March turned his head slightly, glanced from side to side. The German look. The booths on either side were unoccupied. Shouts of laughter came from the bar.
“I have to go to Switzerland. Nebe’s given me a twenty-four-hour visa. That key you saw just now in the office -1 took it from Stuckart’s safe last night. It opens a safety deposit box in Zurich.”
Jaeger’s eyes opened wide. "That must be where they keep the art stuff. Remember what Globus said this morning: they smuggled it out and sold it in Switzerland.”
There’s more to it than that. I’ve been speaking to the American girl again. It seems that Stuckart called her at home on Saturday night, wanting to defect.”
Defect. The unmentionable act. It hung in the air between them.
Jaeger said: “But the Gestapo must know that already, Zavi. Surely her phone is tapped?”
March shook his head. “Stuckart was too clever for that. He used the call box opposite her apartment.” He sipped his beer. “You see how it goes, Max? I feel like a man descending stairs in the dark. First, the body in the lake turns out to be an alter Kampfer. Then, his death is linked to Stuckart’s. Last night, my one witness to Globus’s involvement — the cadet, Jost — was taken away by the SS, on Globus’s orders. Now it turns out that Stuckart wanted to defect. What comes next?”
“You’ll fall down those stairs and break your neck, my friend. That’s what comes next.”
“A fair prediction. And you don’t know the worst of it.”
March told him about the Gestapo dossier. Jaeger looked stricken. “Jesus Christ. What are you going to do?”
“I thought of trying to stay out of the Reich. I even withdrew all my money from the bank. But Nebe’s right: no other country would touch me.” March finished his drink. “Would you do something for me?”
"The American woman’s apartment was broken in to this morning. Could you ask the Orpo in Schoneberg to take a look occasionally -I’ve left the address on my desk. Also, I’ve given her your telephone number, in case of trouble.”
“And can you look after this for Pili?” He handed Jaeger an envelope containing half the cash he had withdrawn from the bank. “It’s not much, but I may need the rest.
Hang on to it until he’s old enough to know what to do with it”
“Oh come on, man!” Max leaned across and clapped him on the shoulder. “It’s not as bad as that? Is it? Surely?”
March stared at him. After a second or two, Jaeger grunted and looked away. “Yes. Well…’He tucked the envelope into his pocket. “My God,” he said with sudden vehemence, “if a lad of mine denounced me to the Gestapo, I’d be giving him something all right — and it wouldn’t be money.”
“It’s not the boy’s fault, Max.”
Fault, thought March. How could you fault a ten-year-old? The boy needed a father-figure. That was what the Party provided -stability, companionship, something to believe in — all the things March should have given him and hadn’t. Besides, the Pimpf expected the young to transfer their allegiance from their family to the state. No, he would not — could not — blame his son.
Gloom had settled over Jaeger. “Another beer?”
“Sorry.” March stood. “I have to go. I owe you.”
Jaeger lurched to his feet as well. “When you get back, Zavi, come and stay with us for a couple of days. The younger girls are at a Bund deutscher Madel camp for the week — you can have their room. We can work something out for the court martial.”
“Harbouring an asocial — that won’t go down well with your local Party.”
“Fuck my local Party.”
This was said with feeling. Jaeger stuck out his hand, and March shook it — a great, calloused paw.
“Look after yourself, Zavi.”
“Look after yourself, Max.”