His hands were cuffed tight behind his back, wrists outwards. Two SS men propped him against the wall, against the map of the Eastern front, and Globus stood before him. Pili had been hustled away, thank God. “I have waited for this moment,” said Globus, “as a bridegroom waits for his bride”, and he punched March in the stomach, hard. March folded, dropped to his knees, dragging the map and all its little pins down with him, thinking he would never breathe again. Then Globus had him by the hair and was pulling him up, and his body was trying to retch and suck in oxygen at the same time and Globus hit him again and he went down again. This process was repeated several times. Finally, while he was lying on the carpet with his knees drawn up, Globus planted his boot on the side of his head and ground his toe into his ear. “Look,” he said, “I’ve put my foot on shit” and from a long way away, March heard the sound of men laughing.
“Where’s the girl?”
Globus slowly extended his stubby fingers in front of March’s face, then brought his hand arcing down in a karate blow to the kidneys.
This was much worse than anything else — a blinding white flash of pain that shot straight through him and put him on the floor again, retching bile. And the worst was to know that he was merely in the foothills of a long climb. The stages of torture stretched before him, ascending as notes on a scale, from the dull bass of a blow in the belly, through the middle register of kidney-punches, onwards and upwards to some pitch beyond the range of the human ear, a pinnacle of crystal.
“Where’s the girl?”
They disarmed him, searched him, then they half-pushed, half-dragged him out of the bungalow. A little crowd had gathered in the road. Klara’s elderly neighbours watched as he was bundled, head bowed, into the back of the BMW. He glimpsed briefly along the street four or five cars with revolving lights, a lorry, troops. What had they been expecting? A small war? Still no sign of Pili. The handcuffs forced him to sit hunched forward. Two Gestapo men were jammed on the back seat, one on either side of him. As the car pulled away, he could see some of the old folks already shuffling back into their houses, back to the reassuring glow of their television sets.
He was driven north through the holiday traffic, up into Saarland Strasse, east into Prinz-Albrecht Strasse. Fifty metres past the main entrance to Gestapo headquarters, the convoy swung right, through a pair of high prison gates, into a brick courtyard at the back of the building.
He was pulled out of the car and through a low entrance, down steep concrete steps. Then his heels were scraping along the floor of an arched passage. A door, a cell, and silence.
They left him alone, to allow his imagination to go to work — standard procedure. Very well. He crawled into a corner and rested his head against the damp brick. Every minute which passed was another minute’s travelling time for her. He thought of Pili, of all the lies, and clenched his fists.
The cell was lit by a weak bulb above the door, imprisoned in its own rusty metal cage. He glanced at his wrist, a useless reflex, for they had taken away his watch. Surely she could not be far from Nuremberg by now? He tried to fill his mind with images of the Gothic spires — St Lorenz, St Sebaldus, St Jakob…
Every limb — every part of him to which he could put a name — ached, yet they could not have worked him over for more than five minutes, and still they had managed not to leave a mark on his face. Truly, he had fallen into the hands of experts. He almost laughed, but that hurt his ribs, so he stopped. *”
He was taken along the passage to an interview room: whitewashed walls, a heavy oak table with a chair on each side; in the corner, an iron stove. Globus had disappeared, Krebs was in command. The handcuffs were removed. Standard procedure again — first the hard cop, then the soft. Krebs even attempted a joke: “Normally, we would arrest your son and threaten him as well, to encourage your cooperation. But in your case, we know that such a course would be counter-productive.” Secret policeman’s humour! He leaned back in his chair, smiling, and pointed his pencil.’Nevertheless. A remarkable boy.”
“ ‘Remarkable’ — your word.” At some point during his beating, March had bitten his tongue. He talked now as if he had spent a week in a dentist’s chair.
“Your ex-wife was given a telephone number last night,” said Krebs, “in case you attempted contact. The boy memorised it. The instant he saw you, he called. He’s inherited your brains, March. Your initiative. You should feel some pride.”
“At this moment, my feelings towards my son are indeed strong.”
Good, he thought, let’s keep this up. Another minute, another kilometre.
But Krebs was already down to business, turning the pages of a thick folder. “There are two issues here, March. One: your general political reliability, going back over many years. That does not concern us today — at least, not directly. Two: your conduct over the past week — specifically, your involvement in the attempts of the late Party Comrade Luther to defect to the United States.”
“I have no such involvement.”
“You were questioned by an officer of the Ordnungs-polizei in Adolf Hitler Platz yesterday morning — at the exact time the traitor Luther was planning to meet the American journalist, Maguire, together with an official of the United States Embassy.”
How did they know that?
“Do you deny you were in the Platz?”
“No. Of course not.”
“Then why were you there?”
“I was following the American woman.” Krebs was making notes. “Why?”
“She was the person who discovered the body of Party Comrade Stuckart. I was also naturally suspicious of her, in her role as an agent of the bourgeois democratic press.”
“Don’t piss me about, March.”
“All right. I had insinuated myself into her company. I thought: if she can stumble across the corpse of one retired state secretary, she might stumble across another.”
“A fair point.” Krebs rubbed his chin and thought for a moment, then opened a fresh pack of cigarettes and gave one to March, lighting it for him from an unused box of matches. March filled his lungs with smoke. Krebs had not taken one for himself, he noticed — they were merely a part of his act, an interrogator’s props.
The Gestapo man was leafing through his notes again, frowning. “We believe that the traitor Luther was planning to disclose certain information to the journalist Maguire. What was the nature of this information?”
“I have no idea. The art fraud, perhaps?”
“On Thursday, you visited Zurich. Why?”
“It was the place Luther went before he vanished. I wanted to see if there was any clue there which might explain why he disappeared.”
“And was there?”
“No, But my visit was authorised. I submitted a full report to Oberstgruppenfuhrer Nebe. Have you not seen it?”
“Of course not.” Krebs made a note. “The Oberstgruppenfuhrer shows his hand to no one, not even us. Where is Maguire?”
“How should I know?”
“You should know because you picked her up from Adolf Hitler Platz after the shooting yesterday.”
“Not me, Krebs.”
“Yes you, March. Afterwards, you went to the morgue and searched through the traitor Luther’s personal effects -this we know absolutely from Doctor Eisler.”
“I was not aware that the effects were Luther’s,” said March. “I understood they belonged to a man named Stark who was three metres away from Maguire when he was shot. Naturally, I was interested to see what he was carrying, because I was interested in Maguire. Besides, if you recall, you showed me what you said was Luther’s body on Friday night. Who did shoot Luther, as a matter of interest?”
“Never mind that. What did you expect to pick up at the morgue?”
“What? Be exact!”
“Fleas. Lice. A skin rash from his shitty clothes.” Krebs threw down his pencil. He folded his arms. “You’re a brainy fellow, March. Take comfort from the fact we credit you with that, at least. Do you think we’d give a shit if you were just some dumb fat fuck, like your friend Max Jaeger? I bet you could keep this up for hours. But we don’t have hours, and we’re less stupid than you think.” He shuffled through his papers, smirked, and then he played his ace.
“What was in the suitcase you took from the airport?” March looked straight back at him. They had known all along. “What suitcase?”
“The suitcase that looks like a doctor’s bag. The suitcase that doesn’t weigh very much, but might contain paper. The suitcase Friedman gave you thirty minutes before he called us. He got back to find a telex, you see, March, from Prinz-Albrecht Strasse — an alert to stop you leaving the country. When he saw that, he decided — as a patriotic citizen — he’d better inform us of your visit.”
“Friedman!” said March. “A ‘patriotic citizen’? He’s fooling you, Krebs. He’s hiding some scheme of his own.” Krebs sighed. He got to his feet and came round to stand behind March, his hands resting on the back of March’s chair. “When this is over, I’d like to get to know you. Really. Assuming there’s anything left of you to get to know. Why did someone like you go bad? I’m interested. From a technical point of view. To try to stop it happening in the future.”
“Your passion for self-improvement is laudable.” There you go again, you see? A problem of attitude. Things are changing in Germany, March — from within -and you could have been a part of it. The Reichsfuhrer himself takes a personal interest in the new generation -listens to us, promotes us. He believes in restructuring, greater openness, talking to the Americans. The day of men like Odilo Globocnik is passing.” He stooped and whispered in March’s ear: “Do you know why Globus doesn’t like you?”
“Because you make him feel stupid. In Globus’s book, that’s a capital offence. Help me, and I can shield you from him.” Krebs straightened and resumed, in his normal voice: “Where is the woman? What was the information Luther wanted to give her? Where is Luther’s suitcase?”
Those three questions, again and again.
Interrogations have this irony, at least: they can enlighten those being questioned as much — or more- than those who are doing the questioning.
From what Krebs asked, March could measure the extent of his knowledge. This was, on certain matters, very good: he knew March had visited the morgue, for example, and that he had retrieved the suitcase from the airport. But there was a significant gap. Unless Krebs was playing a fiendishly devious game, it seemed he had no idea of the nature of the information Luther was promising the Americans. Upon this one, narrow ground rested March’s only hope.
After an inconclusive half-hour, the door opened and Globus appeared, swinging a long truncheon of polished wood. Behind him stood two thick-set men in black uniforms.
Krebs leapt to attention.
Globus said: “Has he made a full confession?”
“No, Herr Obergruppenfuhrer.”
“What a surprise. My turn then, I think.”
“Of course/ Krebs stooped and collected his papers.
Was it March’s imagination, or did he see on that long, impassive face a flicker of regret, even of distaste?
After Krebs had gone, Globus prowled around, humming an old Party marching song, dragging the length of wood over the stone floor.
“Do you know what this is, March?” He waited. “No? No answer? It’s an American invention. A baseball bat. A pal of mine at the Washington Embassy brought it back for me.” He swung it around his head a couple of times. “I’m thinking of raising an SS team. We could play the US Army. What do you think? Goebbels is keen. He thinks the American masses would respond well to the pictures.”
He leant the bat against the heavy wooden table and began unbuttoning his tunic.
“If you want my opinion, the original mistake was in “thirty-six, when Himmler said every Kripo flat-foot in the Reich had to wear SS uniform. That’s when we were landed with scum like you, and shrivelled-up old cunts like Artur Nebe.”
He handed his jacket to one of the two guards and began rolling up his sleeves. Suddenly he was shouting.
“My God, we used to know how to deal with people like you. But we’ve gone soft. It’s not ‘Has he got guts?’ any more, it’s ‘Has he got a doctorate?’ We didn’t need doctorates in the East, in “forty-one, when there was fifty degrees of frost and your piss froze in mid-air. You should have heard Krebs, March. You’d’ve loved it. Fuck it, I think he’s one of your lot.” He adopted a mincing voice. “ ‘With permission, Herr Obergruppenfuhrer, I would like to question the suspect first. I feel he may respond to a more subtle approach.’ Subtle, my arse. What’s the point of you? If you were my dog, I’d feed you poison.”
“If I were your dog, I’d eat it.”
Globus grinned at one of the guards. “Listen to the big man!” He spat on his hands and picked up the baseball bat. He turned to March. “I’ve been looking at your file. I see you’re a great one for writing. Forever taking notes, compiling lists. Quite the frustrated author. Tell me: are you left-handed or right-handed?”
“Another lie. Put your right arm on the table.”
March felt as if iron bands had been fastened around his chest. He could barely breathe. “Go screw yourself.”
Globus glanced at the guards and powerful hands seized March from behind. The chair toppled and he was being bent head first over the table. One of the SS men twisted his left arm high up his back, wrenched it, and March was roaring with the pain of that as the other man grabbed his free hand. The man half-climbed on to the table and planted his knee just below March’s right elbow, pinning his forearm, palm down, to the wooden planks.
In seconds, everything was locked in place except his fingers, which were just able to flutter slightly, like a trapped bird.
Globus stood a metre from the table, brushing the tip of the bat lightly across March’s knuckles. Then he lifted it, swung it in a great arc, like an axe, through three hundred degrees, and with all his force brought it smashing down.
He did not faint, not at first. The guards let him go and he slid to his knees, a thread of spit dribbling from the corner of his mouth, leaving a snail’s trail across the table. His arm was still stretched out. He stayed like that for a while, until he raised his head and saw the remains of his hand — some alien pile of blood and gristle on a butcher’s slab — and then he fainted.
Footsteps in the darkness. Voices. “Where is the woman?” Kick.
“What was the information?” Kick.
“What did you steal?” Kick. Kick.
A jackboot stamped on his fingers, twisted, ground them into the stone.
When he came to again he was lying in the corner, his broken hand resting on the floor next to him, like a stillborn baby left beside its mother. A man — Krebs perhaps -was squatting in front of him, saying something. He tried to focus.
“What is this?” Krebs’s mouth was saying. “What does it mean?”
The Gestapo man was breathless, as if he had been running up and down stairs. With one hand he grasped March’s chin, twisting his face to the light. In the other he held a sheaf of papers.
“What does it mean, March? They were hidden in the front of your car. Taped underneath the dashboard. What does it mean?”
March pulled his head away and turned his face to the darkening wall.
Tap, tap, tap. In his dreams. Tap, tap, tap.
Some time later — he could not be more accurate than that, for time was beyond measurement, now speeding, now slowing to an infinitesimal crawl — a white jacket appeared above him. A flash of steel. A thin blade poised vertically before his eyes. March tried to back away but fingers locked around his wrist, the needle was jabbed into a vein. At first, when his hand was touched, he howled, but then he felt the fluid spreading through his veins and the agony subsided.
The torture doctor was old and hunch-backed and it seemed to March, who brimmed with gratitude towards him, that he must have lived in the basement for many years. The grime had settled in his pores, the darkness hung in pouches beneath his eyes. He did not speak. He cleaned the wound, painted it with a clear liquid that smelled of hospitals and morgues, and bound it tightly in a white crepe bandage. Then, still without speaking, he and Krebs helped March to his feet. They put him back in his chair. An enamel mug of sweet, milky coffee was set on the table before him. A cigarette was slipped into his good hand.