Authors: Paul Grossman
Tags: #Detectives, #Fiction, #Jews - Germany - Berlin, #Investigation, #Murder, #Murder - Investigation, #Crimes - Germany - Berlin, #Berlin, #Germany, #Historical fiction, #Mystery fiction, #Germany - Social conditions - 1918-1933, #Police Procedural, #Detectives - Germany - Berlin, #Historical, #Thrillers, #Crime, #Berlin (Germany), #Jews, #Mystery & Detective, #Jewish, #Suspense
ST. MARTIN’S PRESS
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Copyright © 2010 by Paul Grossman. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. For information, address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.
First Edition: October 2010
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
I go the way that Providence dictates
with the assurance of a sleepwalker.
Dietrich’s legs were magic wands, slim, hypnotic instruments of sorcery that mesmerized millions. Willi could unfortunately only imagine their charms beneath the mannish pantsuit she wore that afternoon to Fritz’s. Bored to tears by the political soothsaying that muscled into every conversation these days, Willi had to fight to keep his eyes open. Lucky for him the tubular Bauhaus chair he was sitting on was killing his ass.
“And for you, Herr Inspektor-Detektiv?”
He reached for another glass of champagne. Even though his brain was flying, this celebration was depressing. Where else would Marlene Dietrich have shown up but Fritz’s housewarming? Half of Berlin were best friends with his old war pal. And all of them seemed to have turned out to see his new palace in suburban Grunewald. Sleek, long panes of glass wrapped around a curvilinear living room filled with paintings by Klee
and Modigliani. The house was another masterwork by Erich Mendelsohn, architect par excellence of the Weimar Republic, who bowed at the effusion of compliments.
“So light. So free.” Dietrich fingered a shimmering Brancusi statue. “So moderne!” As for the rest of the city, her face collapsed into a mask of tragedy—it stank. In the two years since she’d last been here, the great star declared, Berlin’s famously invigorating
had got truly rotten.
“How you breathe here, I cannot understand.” She flicked a gold cigarette case open, joining the others on the raw-silk couch. “Everywhere, the stench of Brownshirts. Hulking like baboons in front of the department stores. Shaking those goddamn cans at you.”
“Because they’re hopelessly in debt.” The general across from her placed a silver monocle in his eye. Dressed even for a casual afternoon in full uniform and a chestful of bronze medals, he had, if not the wisdom, certainly the position to ascertain his facts. Kurt von Schleicher was minister of war, commander of the army, and Berlin’s most infamous backstage schemer. “The Nazis,” he proclaimed, “are on the verge of ruin, my dear. Financial and otherwise.”
Willi’s eyes glazed over.
“Just look at this month’s elections,” von Schleicher chuckled. “ ‘Hitler Over Germany,’ indeed! The man flew to ten cities and lost twenty percent of his Reichstag seats.”
“And still the strongest party,” Fritz’s ex-wife, Sylvie, dolefully reminded.
“They have reached their zenith.” The general pulled off his monocle. “A year from now I assure you—you won’t remember Hitler’s name.”
What a relief when Fritz’s butler leaned over and whispered there was a call for Herr Inspektor-Detektiv.
“You may take it in the library if you would please, sir.”
“Pardon me,” Willi excused himself, shaking his half-dead legs.
Limping down the long, white hallway, he arrived at a glass-enclosed room that looked more like a fish tank than a library. It was Gunther calling from the Alex.
“Is she as beautiful as on screen? Sexy as Naughty Lola?”
“What are you calling about, Gunther?”
“Sorry to interrupt, Chief. But another floater’s turned up. A girl this time. Out in Spandau, under the citadel.”
Willi’s throat constricted as he toyed with the black receiver. “All right then, I’m on my way.”
“Yes, sir. I’ll let them know.”
“Oh, and, Gunther?”
“She is. Every goddamn inch of her. Even in men’s trousers.”
“I knew it! Thanks a million, Chief.”
Returning the earpiece to the hook, Willi stood there. Bodies in rivers were hardly news in the chaos passing for Berlin these days. But he’d never heard of one surfacing in Old Spandau, that picture-postcard village far on the outskirts of town. A girl no less.
Back in the living room, they made a big fuss about his having to depart so abruptly. “Off to catch another fiend?” Sylvie leapt to escort him, slipping an arm through his own.
“Quite a star you’ve become, eh, Kraus?” Dietrich scrutinized him as she might a fine racehorse. “Even in America they know of the great Detektiv who nabbed the monster Child Eater of Berlin. You ought to come to Hollywood. I bet they’d make a picture about you.”
“I don’t think they could find anyone quite boring enough to play me.” He forced a little smile.
At this Fritz laughed much too loudly, the long, jagged dueling scar across his cheek turning bright red.
Willi took the new speedway out to Spandau. A racecourse in summer, the Avus was otherwise open to vehicular traffic and
usually empty, one of the best-kept secrets in Berlin. The forest pines cast a baleful darkness as he picked up velocity. How Germans loved their forests, he thought, shifting into fourth. The deeper and darker the better. Personally he preferred the beach. Hard, bright sunshine. Open space. This road though was truly superb. A white streak through the wilderness. He was driving far faster than he should, he knew, after so much champagne. Yet the adrenaline rush was too exhilarating to forgo. This silver BMW sports coupe was the only luxury he allowed himself. He didn’t collect art. Didn’t travel. Didn’t keep women. He was boring. The 320’s six cylinders soared to 100 kph. Just boring enough to have become the most famous police inspector in Germany. The machine took the road as if it were barely moving at 110, leaving the forest pines a dim blur. What an ass Fritz could be when he was drunk. Willi floored it and rocketed past 120, seeming to hover over the highway.
Willi’d trust him with his life though.
In half an hour he was slowing to a crawl through the medieval streets of Old Spandau, one of the few parts of Berlin with real provenance. Narrow roads lined with half-timbered houses led toward the fifteenth-century citadel whose stalwart walls still rose where the River Spree joined the Havel. As he parked, he could see the sun beginning to set over the gray water. Down by the riverbank he spotted several uniformed officers in their leather-strapped greatcoats and shiny black-visored helmets.
“Inspektor,” they said, parting, instantly recognizing him.
Even in the street these days people recognized him, asking for his autograph. Taking their photo with him. The Great
Catcher. A mixture of awe and envy enveloped him as the cops grouped around. A lot of guys in the department didn’t care for his fame. He didn’t care for it either, frankly. What he cared for was being a Detektiv. Enforcing the law. Without the law, the weak were defenseless.
“Be prepared for a mess,” an officer named Schmidt addressed him.
Willi’d seen more than his share of corpses in the Homicide Commission of Kripo, Berlin’s Kriminal Polizei. Mutilated corpses. Decapitated corpses. Cooked-and-stuffed-into-sausages corpses. But this time his heart froze. Even in a city such as Weimar Berlin, maddened by years of war, defeat, revolution, hyperinflation, and now the Great Depression, nearly a million unemployed, its government paralyzed, the whole place topsy-turvy with depravity . . . sex maniacs, serial killers, red- and brown-shirted thugs battling for control of the streets . . . a city that had reached the end, of no tomorrows, teetering on the brink . . . of insanity . . . civil war . . . dictatorship . . . something . . . this was a portrait of horror.
Faceup on the water’s edge, a girl was cradled like Hamlet’s Ophelia in the mud and weeds. Girl. She was a beautiful young woman, maybe twenty-five. Her alabaster skin was bloated but not so much as to obliterate her features. Young. Fresh. Alive. Even in death. Her glassy eyes were wide open, warm, dark, Adriatic pools, reflecting the cold German sunset. A smile of tranquillity, triumph even, twisted across her lips. As he bent nearer, Willi sensed some long-encrusted lever in his heart shift, and he was seized by an urge to reach out and take the poor thing in his arms. Around her shoulder, like a toga, a thin, gray cotton smock half-torn away revealed her large, round breasts, the nipples already blackening. He noticed at once the dark hair was far too short . . . as if her head had been clean-shaven not long ago.