In the marshalling yards of the Gotenland railway station, they had set up arc lights around the body. From a distance the scene looked oddly glamorous, like a film set.
March stumbled towards it, up and down, across the wooden sleepers and metal tracks, over the diesel-soaked stone.
Before it had been renamed Gotenland, this had been the Anhalter Bahnhof: the Reich’s main eastern railway terminus. It was from here that the Fuhrer had set out in his armoured train, Amerika, for his wartime headquarters in East Prussia; from here, too, that Berlin’s Jews — the Weisses among them — must have embarked on their journey east.
“…from 10 October onwards the Jews have been evacuated from Reich territory to the East in a continuous series of transports…”
In the air behind him, growing fainter: the platform announcements; somewhere ahead, the clank of wheels and couplings, a bleak whistle. The yard was vast — a dreamscape in the orange sodium lighting — at its centre, the one patch of brilliant white. As March neared it, he could make out a dozen figures standing in front of a high-sided goods train: a couple of Orpo men, Krebs, Doctor Eisler, a photographer, a group of anxious officials of the Deutsche Reichsbahn, and Globus.
Globus saw him first, and slowly clapped his gloved hands in muffled and mocking applause. “Gentlemen, we can relax. The heroic forces of the Kriminalpolizei have arrived to give us their theories.”
One of the Orpo men sniggered.
The body, or what was left of it, was under a rough woollen blanket spread across the tracks, and also in a green plastic sack.
“May I see the corpse?”
“Of course. We haven’t touched him yet. We’ve been waiting for you, the great detective.” Globus nodded to Krebs, who pulled away the blanket.
A man’s torso, neatly cropped at either end, along the lines of the rails. He was belly down, slanted across the tracks. One hand had been severed, the head was crushed. Both legs had also been run over, but the bloodied shards of clothing made it difficult to gauge the precise point of amputation. There was a strong smell of alcohol.
“And now you must look in here.” Globus was holding the plastic sack up to the light. He opened it and brought it close to March’s face. “The Gestapo does not wish to be accused of concealing evidence.”
The stumps of feet, one of them still shod; a hand ending in ragged white bone and the gold band of a wristwatch. March did not close his eyes, which seemed to disappoint Globus. “Ach, well.” He dropped the sack. “They’re worse when they stink, when the rats have been at them. Check his pockets, Krebs.”
In his flapping leather coat, Krebs squatted over the body like carrion. He reached beneath the corpse, feeling for the inside of the jacket. Over his shoulder, Krebs said: “We were informed two hours ago by the Reichshahn Polizei that a man answering Luther’s description had been seen here. But by the time we got here…”
“He had already suffered a fatal accident.” March smiled bitterly. “How unexpected.”
“Here we are, Herr Obergruppenfuhrer.” Krebs had retrieved a passport and wallet. He straightened, and handed them to Globus.
“This is his passport, no question,” said Globus, flicking through it. “And here are several thousand Reichsmarks in cash. Money enough for silk sheets at the Hotel Adlon. But, of course, the bastard couldn’t show his face in civilised company. He had no choice but to sleep rough out here.”
This thought appeared to give him satisfaction. He showed March the passport: Luther’s ponderous face peered out from above his calloused thumb. “Look at it, Sturmbannfuhrer, then run along and tell Nebe it is all over. The Gestapo will handle everything from now on. You can clear off and get some rest.” And enjoy it, his eyes said, while you can.
The Herr Obergruppenfuhrer is kind.”
“You’ll discover how kind I am, March, that much I promise you.” He turned to Eisler. “Where’s that fucking ambulance?”
The pathologist stood to attention. “On its way, Herr Obergruppenfuhrer. Most definitely.”
March gathered he had been dismissed. He moved towards the railway workers, standing in a forlorn group about ten metres away. “Which of you discovered the body?”
“I did, Herr Sturmbannfuhrer.” The man who stepped forward wore the dark blue tunic and soft cap of a locomotive driver. His eyes were red, his voice raw. Was that because of the body, wondered March, or was it fear at the unexpected presence of an SS general?
“God, yes, sir. Thanks.”
The driver took one, giving a furtive glance towards Globus, who was now talking to Krebs.
March offered him a light. “Relax. Take your time. Has this happened to you before?”
“Once.” The man exhaled and looked gratefully at the cigarette. “It happens here every three or four months. The derelicts sleep under trie wagons, to keep out of the rain, poor devils. Then, when the engines start, instead of staying where they are, they try to get out of the way.” He put his hand to his eyes. “I must have reversed over him, but I never heard a thing. When I looked back up the track, there he was — just a heap of rags.”
“Do you get many derelicts in this yard?”
“Always a couple of dozen. The Reichsbahn Polizei try to keep them away, but the place is too big to patrol properly. Look over there. Some of them are making a run for it.”
He pointed across the tracks. At first, March could make out nothing, except a line of cattle-trucks. Then, almost invisible in the shadow of the train, he spotted a movement — a shape, running jerkily, like a marionette; then another; then more. They ran along the sides of the wagons, darted into the gaps between the trucks, waited, then scampered out again towards the next patch of cover.
Globus had his back to them. Oblivious to their presence, he was still talking to Krebs, smacking his right fist into the palm of his left hand.
March watched as the stick-figures worked their way to safety -then suddenly the rails were vibrating, there was a rush of wind, and the view was cut off by the sleeper train to Rovno, accelerating out of Berlin. The wall of double-decker dining cars and sleeping compartments took half a minute to pass and by the time it had cleared the little colony of drifters had vanished into the orangey dark.