They parked beside the Havel and walked to the shore. March pointed to the spot where Buhler’s body had been found. Her camera clicked as Spiedel’s had four days before, but there was little left to record. A few footprints were just visible in the mud. The grass was flattened slightly where the corpse had been dragged from the water. But in a day or two these signs would disappear. She turned away from the water and drew her coat around her, shivering.
It was too dangerous to drive to Buhler’s villa so he stopped at the end of the causeway with the engine running. She leaned out to take a picture of the road leading to the island. The red and white pole was down. No sign of the sentry.
“Is that it?” she asked. “Life won’t pay much for these.” He thought for a moment. “Perhaps there is another place.”
Numbers fifty-six to fifty-eight Am grossen Wannsee turned out to be a large nineteenth-century mansion with a pillared facade. It no longer housed the German headquarters of Interpol. At some point in the years since the war it had become a girls” school. March looked this way and that, up and down the leafy street where the blossom was in full pink bloom, and tried the gate. It was unlocked. He gestured to Charlie to join him.
“We are Herr and Frau March,” he said, as he pushed open the gate. “We have a daughter…”
Charlie nodded. “Yes, of course, Heidi. She is seven. With braids—”
“She is unhappy at her present school. This one was recommended. We wanted to look around…” They stepped into the grounds. March closed the gates behind them.
She said: “Naturally, if we are trespassing, we apologise…”
“But surely Frau March does not look old enough to have a sevenyear-old daughter?”
“She was seduced at an impressionable age by a handsome investigator…”
“A likely story.”
The gravel drive looped around a circular flower bed. March tried to picture it as it might have looked in January 1942. A dusting of snow on the ground, perhaps, or frost. Bare trees. A couple of guards shivering by the entrance. The government cars, one after the other, crunching over the icy gravel. An adjutant saluting and stepping forward to open the doors. Stuckart: handsome and elegant. Buhler: his lawyer’s notes carefully arranged in his briefcase. Luther: blinking behind his thick spectacles. Did their breath hang in the air after them? And Heydrich. Would he have arrived first, as host? Or last, to demonstrate his power? Did the cold impart colour even to those pale cheeks?
The house was barred and deserted. While Charlie took a picture of the entrance, March picked his way through a small shrubbery to peer through a window. Rows of dwarf-sized desks with dwarf-sized chairs up-ended and stacked on top. A pair of blackboards from which the pupils were being taught the Party’s special grace. On one:
BEFORE MEALS —
Fuhrer, my Fuhrer, bequeathed to me by the Lord,
Protect and preserve me as long as I live!
Thou hast rescued Germany from deepest distress,
I thank thee today for my daily bread.
Abideth thou long with me, forsaketh me not,
Fuhrer, my Fuhrer, my faith and my light!
Heil, mein Fuhrer!
On the other:
AFTER MEALS —
Thank thee for this bountiful meal,
Protector of youth and friend of the aged!
I know thou hast cares, but worry not,
I am with thee by day and by night.
Lie thy head in my lap,
Be assured, my Fuhrer, that thou art great.
Heil, mein Fuhrer!
Childish paintings decorated the walls — blue meadows, green skies, clouds of sulphur-yellow. Children’s art was perilously close to degenerate art; such perversity would have to be knocked out of them …March could smell the school-smell even from here: the familiar compound of chalk dust, wooden floors and stale, institutional food. He turned away.
Someone in a neighbouring garden had lit a bonfire. Pungent white smoke — wet wood and dead leaves — drifted across the lawn at the back of the house. A wide flight of steps flanked by stone lions with frozen snarls led down to the lawn. Beyond the grass, through the trees, lay the dull, glassy surface of the Havel. They were facing south. Schwanenwerder, less than half a kilometre away, would be just visible from the upstairs windows. When Buhler bought his villa in the early 1950s, had the proximity of the two sites been a motive -was he the villain being drawn back to the scene of his crime? If so, what crime was it exactly?
March bent and dug up a handful of soil, sniffed at it, let it run through his fingers. The trail had gone cold years ago.
At the bottom of the garden were a couple of wooden barrels, green with age, used by the gardener to collect rainwater. March and Charlie sat on them side by side, legs dangling, looking across the lake. He was in no hurry to move on. Nobody would look for them here. There was something indescribably melancholy about it all — the silence, the dead leaves blowing across the lawn, the smell of the smoke — something that was the opposite of spring. It spoke of autumn, of the end of things.
He said: “Did I tell you that before I went away to sea, there were Jews in our town? When I got back, they were all gone. I asked about it. People said they had been evacuated to the East. For resettlement.”
“Did they believe that?”
“In public, of course. Even in private it was wiser not to speculate. And easier. To pretend it was true.”
“Did you believe it?”
“I didn’t think about it.
“Who cares?” he said suddenly. “Suppose everyone knew all the details. Who would care? Would it really make any difference?”
“Someone thinks so,” she reminded him. That’s why everyone who attended Heydrich’s conference is dead. Except Heydrich.”
He looked back at the house. His mother, a firm believer in ghosts, used to tell him that brickwork and plaster soaked up history, stored what they had witnessed, like a sponge. Since then March had seen his share of places in which evil had been done and he did not believe it. There was nothing especially wicked about Am grossen Wannsee 56/58. It was just a large, businessman’s mansion, now converted into a girls” school. So what were the walls absorbing now? Teenage crushes? Geometry lessons? Exam nerves?
He pulled out Heydrich’s invitation. “A discussion followed by luncheon.” Starting at noon. Ending at — what? — three or four in the afternoon. It would have been growing dark by the time they left. Yellow lamps in the windows; mist from the lake. Fourteen men. Well-fed; maybe some of them tipsy on the Gestapo’s wine. Cars to take them back to central Berlin. Chauffeurs who had waited a long time outside, with cold feet and noses like icicles…
And then, less than five months later, in Zurich in the heat of midsummer, Martin Luther had marched into the offices of Hermann Zaugg, banker to the rich and frightened, and opened an account with four keys.
“I wonder why he was empty-handed.”
“What?” She was distracted. He had interrupted her thoughts.
“I always imagined Luther carrying a small suitcase of some sort. Yet when he came down the steps to meet you, he was empty-handed.”
“Perhaps he had stuffed everything into his pockets.”
“Perhaps.” The Havel looked solid; a lake of mercury. “But he must have landed from Zurich with luggage of some sort. He had spent the night out of the country. And he had collected something from the bank.”
The wind stirred in the trees. March looked round. “He was a suspicious old bastard after all. It would have been in his character to have kept back the really valuable material. He wouldn’t have risked giving the Americans everything at once — otherwise how could he have bargained?”
A jet passed low overhead, dropping towards the airport, the pitch of its engines descending with it. Now that was a sound which did not exist in 1942…
Suddenly he was on his feet, lifting her down to join him, and then he was striding up the lawn towards the house and she was following — stumbling, laughing, shouting at him to slow down.
He parked the Volkswagen beside the road in Schlachten-see and sprinted into the telephone kiosk. Max Jaeger was not replying, neither at Werderscher Markt nor at his home. The lonely purr of the unanswered phone made March want to reach someone, anyone.
He tried Rudi Halder’s number. Perhaps he could apologise, somehow hint it had been worth the risk. Nobody was in. He looked at the receiver. What about Pili? Even the boy’s hostility would be contact of a sort. But in the bungalow in Lichtenrade there was no response either.
The city had shut down on him.
He was halfway out of the kiosk when, on impulse, he turned back and dialled the number of his own apartment. On the second ring, a man answered.
“Yes?” It was the Gestapo: Krebs’s voice. “March? I know it’s you! Don’t hang up!”
He dropped the receiver as if it had bitten him.
Half an hour later he was pushing through the scuffed wooden doors into the Berlin city morgue. Without his uniform he felt naked. A woman cried softly in one corner, a female police auxiliary sitting stiffly beside her, embarrassed at this display of emotion in an official place. He showed the attendant his ID and asked after Martin Luther. The man consulted a set of dog-eared notes.
“Male, mid-sixties, identified as Luther, Martin. Brought in just after midnight. Railway accident.”
“What about the shooting this morning, the one in the Plate?”
The attendant sighed, licked a nicotined forefinger and turned a page. “Male, mid-sixties, identified as Stark, Alfred. Came in an hour ago.”
That’s the one. How was he identified?”
“ID in his pocket.”
“Right.” March moved decisively towards the elevator, forestalling any objection. “I’ll make my own way down.”
It was his misfortune, when the elevator doors opened, to find himself confronted by Doctor August Eisler.
“March!” Eisler looked shocked and took a pace backwards. “The word is, you’ve been arrested.”
“The word is wrong. I’m working under cover.”
Eisler was staring at his civilian suit. “What as? A pimp?” This amused the SS surgeon so much he had to take off his spectacles and wipe his eyes. March joined in his laughter.
“No, as a pathologist. I’m told the pay is good and the hours are non-existent.”
Eisler stopped smiling. “You can say that. I’ve been here since midnight.” He dropped his voice. “A very senior man. Gestapo operation. Hush hush.” He tapped the side of his long nose. “I can say nothing.”
“Relax, Eisler. I am aware of the case. Did Frau Luther identify the remains?”
Eisler looked disappointed. “No,” he muttered. “We spared her that.”
“My, my, March — you are well-informed. I’m on my way to deal with him now. Would you care to join me?”
In his mind March saw again the exploding head, the thick spurt of blood and brain. “No. Thank you.”
“I thought not. What was he shot with? A Panzerfaust?”
“Have they caught the killer?”
“You’re the investigator. You tell me. "Don’t probe too deeply" was what I heard.”
“Stark’s effects. Where are they?”
“Bagged and ready to go. In the property room.”
“Follow the corridor. Fourth door on the left.” March set off. Eisler shouted after him: “Hey March! Save me a couple of your best whores!” The pathologist’s high-pitched laughter pursued him down the passage.
The fourth door on the left was unlocked. He checked to make sure he was unobserved, then let himself in.
It was a small storeroom, three metres wide, with just enough room for one person to walk down the centre. On either side of the gangway were racks of dusty metal shelving heaped with bundles of clothing wrapped in thick polythene. There were suitcases, handbags, umbrellas, artificial legs, a pushchair — grotesquely twisted — hats…From the morgue the deceased’s belongings were usually collected by the next-of-kin. If the circumstances were suspicious, they would be taken away by the investigators, or sent direct to the forensic laboratories in Schonweld. March began inspecting the plastic tags, each of which recorded the time and place of death and the name of the victim. Some of the stuff here went back years — pathetic bundles of rags and trinkets, the final bequests of corpses nobody cared about, not even the police.
How typical of Globus not to admit to his mistake. The infallibility of the Gestapo must be preserved at all costs! Thus Stark’s body continued to be treated as Luther’s, while Luther would go to a pauper’s grave as the drifter, Stark.
March tugged at the bundle closest to the door, turned the label to the light. 18.4.64. Adolf Hitler PL Stark, Alfred.
So Luther had left the world like the lowest inmate of a KZ — violently, half-starved, in someone else’s filthy clothes, his body unhonoured, with a stranger picking over his belongings after his death. Poetic justice — about the only sort of justice to be found.
He pulled out his pocket knife and slit the, bulging plastic. The contents spilled over the floor like guts.
He did not care about Luther. All he cared about was how, in the hours between midnight and nine that morning, Globus had discovered Luther was still alive.
He tore away the last of the polythene.
The clothes stank of shit and piss, of vomit and sweat- of every odour the human body nurtures. God only knew what parasites the fabric harboured. He went through the pockets. They were empty. His hands itched. Don’t give up hope. A left-luggage ticket is a small thing — tightly rolled, no bigger than a matchstick; an incision in a coat collar would conceal it. With his knife he hacked at the lining of the long brown overcoat, matted with congealing blood, his fingers turning brown and slippery …
Nothing. All the usual scraps that in his experience tramps will carry — the bits of string and paper, the buttons, the cigarette-ends -had been removed already. The Gestapo had searched Luther’s clothes with care. Naturally they had. He had been a fool to think they wouldn’t. Furious, he slashed at the material — right to left, left to right, right to left…
He stood back from the heap of rags panting like an assassin. Then he picked up a piece of rag and wiped his knife and hands.
“You know what I think?” said Charlie when he returned to the car empty-handed. “I think he never brought anything here from Zurich at all.”
She was still in the back seat of the Volkswagen. March turned to look at her. “Yes he did. Of course he did.” He tried to hide his impatience; it was not her fault. “But he was too scared to keep it with him. So he stored it, received a ticket for it — either at the airport or the station — and planned on collecting it later. I’m sure that’s it. Now Globus has it, or it’s lost for good.”
“No. Listen. I was thinking! Yesterday, when I was coming through the airport, I thanked God you stopped me trying to bring the painting back with us to Berlin. Remember the queues? They searched every bag. How could Luther have got anything past the Zollgrenzschutz?”
March considered this, massaging his temples. “A good question,” he said eventually. “Maybe,” he added a minute later, “the best question I ever heard.”
At the Flughafen Hermann Goring the statue of Hanna Reitsch was steadily oxidising in the rain. She stared across the concourse outside the departure terminal with rust-pitted eyes.
“You’d better stay with the car,” said March. “Do you drive?”
She nodded. He dropped the keys in her lap. “If the Flughafen Polizei try to move you on, don’t argue with them. Drive off and come round again. Keep circling. Give me twenty minutes.”
“I don’t know.” His hand fluttered in the air. “Improvise.”
He strode into the airport terminal. The big digital clock above the passport control zone flicked over: 13:22. He glanced behind him. He could measure his freedom probably in minutes. Less than that, if Globus had issued a general alert, for nowhere in the Reich was more heavily patrolled than the airport.
He kept thinking of Krebs in his apartment, and Eisler: “The word is, you’ve been arrested.”
A man with a souvenir bag from the Soldiers” Hall looked familiar. A Gestapo watcher? March abruptly changed direction and headed into the toilets. He stood at the urinal, pissing air, his eyes fixed on the entrance. Nobody came in. When he emerged, the man had gone.
“Last call for Lufthansa flight two-zero-seven to Tiflis…”
He went to the central Lufthansa desk and showed his ID to one of the guards. “I need to speak to your head of security. Urgently.”
“He may not be here, Sturmbannfuhrer.”
“Look for him.”
The guard was gone a long time. 13:27 said the clock. 13:28. Perhaps he was calling the Gestapo. 13:29. March put his hand in his pocket and felt the cold metal of the Luger. Better to make a stand here than crawl around the stone floor in Prinz-Albrecht Strasse spitting teeth into your hand.
The guard returned. “This way, Herr Sturmbannfuhrer. If you please.”
Friedman had joined the Berlin Kripo at the same time as March. He had left it five years later, one step ahead of a corruption investigation. Now he wore hand-made English suits, smoked duty-free Swiss cigars, and made five times his official salary by methods long suspected but never proved. He was a merchant prince, the airport his corrupt little kingdom.
When he realised March had come not to investigate him but to beg a favour he was almost ecstatic. His excellent mood persisted as he led March along a passage away from the terminal building. “And how is Jaeger? Spreading chaos I suppose? And Fiebes? Still jerking-off over pictures of Aryan maidens and Ukrainian window-cleaners? Oh, how I miss you all, I don’t think! Here we are.” Friedman transferred his cigar from his hand to his mouth and tugged at a large door. “Behold the cave of Aladdin!”
The metal slid open with a crash to reveal a small hangar stuffed with lost and abandoned property. The things people leave behind,” said Friedman. “You would not believe it. We even had a leopard once.”
“A leopard? A cat?”
“It died. Some idle bastard forgot to feed it. It made a good coat.” He laughed and snapped his fingers and from the shadows an elderly, stoop-shouldered man appeared — a Slav, with wide-set, fearful eyes.
“Stand up straight, man. Show respect.” Friedman gave him a shove that sent him staggering backwards. The Sturmbannfuhrer here is a good friend of mine. He’s looking for something. Tell him, March.”
“A case, perhaps a bag,” said March. “The last flight from Zurich on Monday night, the thirteenth. Either left on the aircraft, or in the baggage reclaim area.”
“Got that? Right?” The Slav nodded. “Well go on then!” He shuffled away and Friedman gestured to his mouth. “Dumb. Had his tongue cut out in the war. The ideal worker!” He laughed and clapped March on the shoulder. “So. How goes it?”
“Civilian clothes. Working the weekend. Must be something big.”
“It may be.”
This is the Martin Luther character, right?” March made no reply. “So you’re dumb, too. I see.” Friedman flicked cigar ash on the clean floor. “Fair enough by me. A brown-pants job. Possibly?”
“Zollgrenzschutz expression. Someone plans to bring in something they shouldn’t. They get to the customs shed, see the security, start shitting themselves. Drop whatever it is and run.”
“But this is special, yes? You don’t open every case every day?”
“Just in the week before the Fuhrertag.”
“What about the lost property, do you open that?”
“Only if it looks valuable!” Friedman laughed again. “No. A jest. We haven’t the manpower. Anyway, it’s been X-rayed, remember-no guns, no explosives. So we just leave it here, wait for someone to claim it. If no one’s turned up in a year, then we open it, see what we’ve got.”
“Pays for a few suits, I suppose.”
“What?” Friedman plucked at his immaculate sleeve. “These poor rags?” There was a sound and he turned round. “Looks like you’re in luck, March.”
The Slav was returning, carrying something. Friedman took it from him and weighed it in his hand. “Quite light. Can’t be gold. What do you think it is, March? Drugs? Dollars? Contraband silk from the East? A treasure map?”
“Are you going to open it?” March touched the gun in his pocket. He would use it if he had to.
Friedman appeared shocked. “This is a favour. One friend to another. Your business.” He handed the case to March. “You’ll remember that, Sturmbannfuhrer, won’t you? A favour? One day you’ll do the same for me, comrade to comrade?”
The case was of the sort that doctors carry, with brass-reinforced corners and a stout brass lock, dull with age. The brown leather was scratched and faded, the heavy stitching dark, the hand-grip worn smooth like a brown pebble by years of carrying, until it felt like an extension of the hand. It proclaimed reliability and reassurance; professionalism; quiet wealth. It was certainly pre-war, maybe even pre—
Great War- built to last a generation or two. Solid. Worth a lot.
All this March absorbed on the walk back to the Volkswagen. The route avoided the Zollgrenzschutz -another favour from Friedman.
Charlie fell upon it like a child upon a birthday present and swore with disappointment when she found it locked. As March drove out of the airport perimeter she fished in her own bag and retrieved a pair of nail scissors. She picked desperately at the lock, the blades making ineffective scrabblings on the brass.
March said: “You’re wasting your time. I’ll have to break it open. Wait till we get there.”
She shook the bag with frustration. “Get where?”
He ran a hand through his hair.
A good question.
Every room in the city was booked. The Eden with its roof-garden cafe, the Bristol on Unter den Linden, the Kaiserhof in Mohren Strasse — all had stopped taking reservations months ago. The monster hotels with a thousand bedrooms and the little rooming houses dotted around the railway termini were filled with uniforms. Not just the SA and the SS, the Luftwaffe and the Wehrmacht, the Hitler Youth and the League of German Girls, but all the others besides: the National Socialist Empire War Association, the German Falconry Order, the National Socialist Leadership Schools…
Outside the most famous and luxurious of all Berlin’s hotels — the Adlon, on the corner of Pariser Platz and Wilhelm Strasse — the crowds were straining at the metal barriers for a glimpse of celebrity: a film star, a footballer, a Party satrap in town for the Fuhrertag. As March and Charlie passed it, a Mercedes was drawing up, its black- uniformed passengers bathed in the light of a score of flashguns.
March drove straight over the Platz into Unter den Linden, turned left and then right into Dorotheen Strasse. He parked among the dustbins at the back of the Prinz Friedrich Karl Hotel. It was here, over breakfast with Rudi Halder, that this business had really begun. When was that? He could not remember.
The manager of the Friedrich Karl was habitually clad in an old-fashioned black jacket and a pair of striped pants and he bore a striking resemblance to the late President Hindenburg. He came bustling out to the front desk, smoothing a large pair of white whiskers as if they were pets. “Sturmbannfuhrer March, what a pleasure! What a pleasure indeed! And dressed for relaxation!”
“Good afternoon, Herr Brecker. A difficult request. I must have a room.”
Brecker threw up his hands in distress. “It is impossible! Even for as distinguished a customer as yourself.”
“Come, Herr Brecker. You must have something. An attic would do, a broom cupboard. You would be rendering the Reichskriminalpolizei the greatest assistance…”
Brecker’s elderly eye travelled over the luggage and came to rest on Charlie, at which point a gleam entered it. “And this is Frau March?”
“Unfortunately, no.” March put his hand on Brecker’s sleeve and guided him into a corner, where they were watched with suspicion by the elderly receptionist. “This young lady has information of a crucial character, but we wish to interrogate her …how shall I put it?”
“In an informal setting?” suggested the old man. “Precisely!” March pulled out what was left of his life savings and began peeling off notes. “For this "informal setting" the Kriminalpolizei naturally would wish to reimburse you handsomely.”
“I see.” Brecker looked at the money and licked his lips. “And since this is a matter of security, no doubt you would prefer it if certain formalities — registration, for example -were dispensed with?”
March stopped counting, pressed the entire roll of notes into the manager’s moist hands and closed his fingers around it.
In return for bankrupting himself March was given a kitchen maid’s room in the roof, reached from the third floor by a rickety back staircase. They had to wait in the reception for five minutes while the girl was turned out of her home and fresh linen was put on the bed. Herr Brecker’s repeated offers to help with their luggage were turned down by March, who also ignored the lascivious looks which the old man kept giving Charlie. He did, however, ask for some food — some bread, cheese, ham, fruit, a flask of black coffee — which the manager promised to bring up personally. March told him to leave it in the corridor.
“It’s not the Adlon,” said March when he and Charlie were alone. The little room was stifling. All the heat in the hotel seemed to have risen and become trapped beneath the tiles. He climbed on a chair to tug open the attic window and jumped down in a shower of dust.
“Who cares about the Adlon?” She flung her arms around him, kissed him hard on the mouth.
The manager set down the tray of food as instructed outside the door. Climbing the stairs had almost done for him. Through three centimetres of wood, March listened to his ragged breathing, and then to his footsteps retreating along the passage. He waited until he was sure the old man had gone before retrieving the tray and setting it on the flimsy dressing table. There was no lock on the bedroom door, so he wedged a chair under the handle.
March laid Luther’s case on the hard wooden bed and took out his pocket knife.
The lock had been fashioned to withstand exactly this sort of assault. It took five minutes of hacking and twisting, during which he snapped one short blade, before the fastener broke free. He pulled the bag open.
That papery smell again — the odour of a long-sealed filing cabinet or desk drawer, a whiff of typewriter oil. And behind that, something else: something antiseptic, medicinal …
Charlie was at his shoulder. He could feel ^her warm breath on his cheek. “Don’t tell me. It’s empty.”
“No. It’s not empty. It’s full.”
He pulled out his handkerchief and wiped the sweat from his hands. Then he turned the case upside down and shook the contents out on to the counterpane.