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Burden of Duty



A.S. Xavier




Burden of Duty

Copyright © 2018 A.S. Xavier

Rights reserved.



ISBN-10: 1-941087-40-X

ISBN-13: 978-1-941087-40-4



Laurel Highlands Publishing

Mount Pleasant, PA

USA

LaurelHighlandsPublishing.com




No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including printing, photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without the written permission of the author or publisher, except where permitted by law.



This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.





For my mom. She taught me to love words, whether written or sung.



Table of Contents


Part I — Berlin September 1943

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Part II — Berlin December 1943

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Part III — The Russian Front January 1944

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Chapter 48

Chapter 49

Glossary

Appendix

About the Author



BERLIN


SEPTEMBER

1943


1




The two uniformed Orpos came smartly to attention when he got out of the Volkswagen. He paused, his eyes narrowing on the two. Gestapo, he thought. The pounders only paid attention to military protocol when the Gestapo were present. Even though he was a captain, formalities such as the stiff armed salute he was now getting from these two were never a high priority, at least for him.

“Where are they?”

The older one on the left jerked his head, too lazy to point, and said, “Up there.” Indicating the apartment block behind him. “Third floor, sir.”

He nodded and made his way into the apartment building. Two more pounders came to attention, but he ignored them and headed up the stairs. By the second flight, he was taking them two at a time.

Captain Peter Stressler was fit for a man in his forties. His body responded as if it were still on the parade grounds of the Willenstrasse barracks. In many ways, he felt he was more fit now than he was at seventeen drilling to be a soldier of the Great War.

Being fit was one thing and although he took care of himself, he still felt his vulnerability most keenly. Or perhaps, mortality was the better word. 1918 had a way of creeping into his mind whenever he felt these bouts of youthful energy. Still, he had his health and a full head of hair that made him the envy of many of his contemporaries. Even the shot of grey above his ears did not diminish their approval.

He made it to the third floor and took a moment to smooth down his clothes. He was about to straighten his tie when he thought better of it. Who was he trying to impress, the Gestapo? He shrugged and straightened his tie, angry for his capitulation. He stepped through the stairway door into the hallway. The pounder that guarded it turned and snapped to attention. He ignored him and made his way to a knot of people further down the hallway. A head popped out of the group, recognising him as he approached. A hand beckoned him over as he dismissed the surrounding men.

“Getting them to canvas the floor,” he said absently when Peter joined him. He fumbled for a cigarette, offering one to the captain who refused.

“Why did you call me, Johan? I thought Bauman was on roll tonight.”

Johan shrugged. “Bauman is a political animal. He got wind the Gestapo were involved and suddenly went home ill.” Johan paused to light his cigarette. “I’m protected and you don’t give a shit. That’s why.” He took a drag; a cloud of thick smoke billowed from his mouth as he spoke like a dragon hissing steam. “Besides, you’ll solve it. Bauman couldn’t find his own ass if his two hands were holding it. And besides, it’s a bad one.” He jammed his thumb behind him as he continued, “Woman. ‘Bout thirty-two give or take. Took two to the head and five more to the body. Gestapo are inside.”

“Why Gestapo?”

“Wife of a decorated SS officer. Captain Thomas Haubner of the Totenkopf Division. Perhaps the Gestapo are worried how the Volk will react to the murder of a hero’s wife.”

Peter looked around to see if anyone overheard.

“Hush, Johan.”

Johan grinned in response, reaching into his pocket to pull out a flask.

Peter frowned, but left him to make his way into the apartment.

Two black uniformed officers of the Gestapo stood at the door. Uniformed Gestapo meant an officer was present and an important one at that. They asked for his papers, not quite keeping their contempt for him off their faces or their disapproval for his rumpled civilian clothes. They made a show of studying them, and for a wicked moment, Peter entertained the thought that they could not read. They finally nodded for him to enter, already returning to their conversation as if he never existed.

Such was the new Reich and its Security Services. Hierarchy was everything: with the Gestapo at the top and everyone else at the bottom.

He walked through salon towards the small hallway to the bedroom. Stopping at the doorway, he took in the bloody corpse lying on the bed. The silk bed sheets were red with her blood but the body had been placed as if it were in a coffin. Her arms were folded over her breasts and her legs were straight. Three distinctive pools of blood had marked out her breasts and sexual organs under a white chemise and bloomers. He noted the position of the body and stepped into the room.

He noticed the spent cartridges by the foot of the bed. Two were close together while another lay further away from the others. He scanned the floor, ignoring the broken picture frames around the bed, looking for other spent cartridges. Within seconds, he saw the other four strewn in a small but discernible pattern. He bent down to retrieve one. Flipping over the casing, he saw the letters and the number stamped on the bottom. He looked at the primer and noted the dent. He placed the casing in his pocket then bent down, picking up another to join its companion.

There was nothing left of the face. Two sprays of bloody brains dominated the headboard and the pillow where the remains of her head lay. Her hands rested on her breasts as if covering them. He lifted one hand then the other. Bullets shot at close range mangled her breasts. He replaced her hands, then studied the proximity of the shell casings on the bed. Satisfied, he returned to the body, taking out his pocketknife as he bent over her.

He inserted his pocketknife in the waistband of her slip and lifted it up to inspect the mess that was her destroyed sexual organs. Noticing movement at the bedroom door, he looked up at the Gestapo officer standing there, watching him. Peter matched his stare, taking in his blue eyes and the blond hair showing beneath the death’s head cap. A perfect Aryan; poster boy of the master race, thought Peter.

Peter disregarded the officer to return to his work. Lifting her bloomers higher, he ignored the overpowering smell of urine and blood. He clasped her leg and lifted it, looking again at the wounds. Satisfied, he placed the leg back and replaced her bloomers hoping to restore what little dignity that robbed her even in death.

He looked up at the doorway but the officer was gone. He was relieved. They would not interfere, at least, not yet. He turned his attention to the shattered picture frame strewn on the floor. Grabbing the frame, he shook away the broken glass and looked at the picture it contained. It was a wedding picture of an SS officer and his bride. Frau Haubner had a smile on her face as she clung to her husband on what must have been the happiest day of her life. He looked back at the dead girl on the bed, and wondered what story started with a smiling bride so full of promise to this tragic end. He took it out of the frame and tucked into his overcoat. He paused, then grabbed another picture form the ground and put it in another pocket of his overcoat. He left the room, making his way back to the hallway and to Johan who worked on another cigarette.

“Did the Orpos move the body?”

Johan shook his head. “She had not been touched by anyone until you arrived.”

He took a moment to process that information. “When was the body discovered?”

Johan stuffed the cigarette in his mouth and caught the attention of a pounder standing off in the distance. He beckoned him over.

“When was the body discovered?” he asked.

“We got a call from the landlady about a disturbance. She said she heard an argument between two people followed by gunfire. It took us about fifteen minutes to get here. The door was locked when we arrived and no one answered the door when we knocked.”

“Locked?”

“Yes. We couldn’t hear anything so we got the landlady to open the door for us. We noticed the body soon after. It was about eight in the evening.”

“Did anybody else hear anything?”

The uniformed policeman nodded. “All the neighbours on this floor said they heard loud voices like an argument before the shots were fired.”

He nodded to Johan and Johan dismissed the policeman.

“A competent pounder? What are the odds?”

Johan laughed. “Sometimes, you luck out.”

Peter removed his hat to scratch his head. “She hasn’t been dead for more than a couple of hours.”

Johan nodded in agreement before adding, “Neighbours said they saw no one enter or leave all day. But then again, most of them spent the day and part of the night in the air shelter. I doubt they saw anything.”

Peter frowned. “The raid last night by the Tommies hit the other side of the city.”

Johan nodded. “Again, Meyer has failed to protect the Fatherland.”

Peter ignored the barb against Goering.

“Can you please have the landlady join us? I would like to ask her a few questions.”

Johan waved to a pounder down the hall and conveyed his instructions. It wasn’t long before the he returned with the landlady in tow.

Frumpish, with lines mapping her face, she looked about for the feared black uniform. When she saw that it was just Peter in his rumpled overcoat, she visibly relaxed.

Peter bowed to her. “Thank you, Frau…?”

“Straccsen.”

“…Straccsen for talking to me. I know you have had a difficult day. This won’t take long.”

Frau Straccsen nodded.

“Did you go to the air raid shelter?”

She again nodded.

“Did Frau Haubner join you there?”

“No. Frau Haubner did not,” said the older lady. “In fact, she rarely ever goes to the air raid shelter even though I have complained to the Block Leader. Nothing has been done about it.”

She spoke with the authority of the block gossip; the kind the Nazis used to terrorize the populace. Peter kept the disgust for her off his face and his voice as he spoke.

“Thank you, Frau Straccsen. You have been most helpful.”

Frau Straccsen raised her eyebrows in surprise. But Peter turned from her while Johan signalled the pounder to take her away.

He straightened his coat and said to Johan, “Finish up here, Johan. I’ll meet you later at the station.”

Johan frowned. “That’s it? No questions about what she heard?”

“The pounders already established that there had been argument followed by shots. What could she add to that? Besides, it had to have been with someone familiar. Someone who had access to the flat.”

“Why the questions on the air raid shelter?”

“When Fraus are cheating on their husbands, what better way to avoid nosy neighbours than during an air raid?”

Johan nodded in comprehension. “So, you think she was killed by her lover?”

Peter shook his head.

“No.”

“No? Then, who, if not her lover?”

Peter put his hand on his friend’s shoulder. “Why do you think the Gestapo are here?”

Johan stared uncomprehending until the realisation of what Peter was saying hit him.

“Bravo! So, the great Peter Stressler has solved the case and in less than an hour no less! In the old days, they would have given you a medal.”

“This isn’t the old days and you would do well to remember that.”

Johan snickered, “In the old days, we would have rolled those strutting black clad clowns and thrown them in jail along with the commies.”

Peter gave up trying to admonish his friend. He left him with a wave and headed down the stairs.

It didn’t take him long to reach the ground floor. As he made his way to the entrance, two black uniformed men from the apartment stepped in front of him.

“Captain Stressler. The Major would like to speak with you.”

Without waiting for a response, the Gestapo officer turned and marched out of the building. The young officer made his way to a parked Mercedes at the bottom of the steps to the apartment building. He opened the door and clicked his heels. Peter stared into the dark vehicle, filling with sudden trepidation. It was the Gestapo after all. He hesitated momentarily, and then entered the vehicle.

It took him a moment to adjust to the dim interior. On the seat beside him sat the Major he had seen at the doorway of the bedroom. He sat with one leg draped over the other, his manicured hands holding his leather gloves rested on his knee. Blue eyes regarded Peter. He wondered if they practiced that look at Gestapo school. Being the invited guest, he waited for the Major to speak.

“Captain Peter Stressler, I presume?”

He nodded and asked, “Yes, and you are?”

“Major Wilhelm Berger of the Gestapo,” he responded, smiling. The smile, however, never made it to the rest of his face, making it look like a grimace.

“What have you learned from your investigation?” The Major paused on the word investigation with a hint of contempt creeping into his voice.

Peter frowned at the man’s arrogance. The Gestapo had no jurisdiction in criminal homicides, but he knew better than that. Nazi Germany wasn’t made for rules. It wove an intricate dance of favour and fear, carrot and the stick. He kept his voice neutral as he spoke.

“The victim had been sitting in her bed when one nine millimetre parabellum round from a Walther P38 struck her in the face. Her head bounced off her headboard from the impact, indicating she was in the process of getting out of bed. He shot her once more in the face, and then, the shooter climbed on top of her to shoot her in both breasts then three more into her lower regions. The killer then took the time to rearrange the body.”

“Why is that?” asked Berger, interrupting him.

“I’m not sure,” mused Peter. “If I were to venture a guess, he felt remorse. He tried to restore some of her dignity by covering up what he had done.”

Berger arched an eyebrow.

“Neighbours heard arguing and sounds of a fight before the shots. No one saw the shooter leave, but before he left, he locked the door to the flat.”

“Is there a chance that this was a burglary?”

Peter paused, wondering at the absurdity of the question given what he had just told him.

“No. Nothing was taken. Neighbours reported sounds of an argument. It would account for the broken picture frames around the bedroom. A burglar would not have smashed up pictures or picked a fight with a surprised Frau. Besides, the weapon used in the crime was military issue.”

“Come now, Herr Captain. A Luger—”

“A P38,” interrupted Peter.

“—A P38 is a common enough pistol. Others could have committed this crime.”

Peter shrugged. “Maybe so, Herr Major.”

Peter felt the disapproval as he held Berger’s icy stare.

“You don’t believe this to be true, do you?” said the Major.

Peter shifted in his seat. He dug into his pocket and handed Berger one of the spent casings he had picked up from the floor.

“Look, Major. Lugers and P38s are the sole property of the Wehrmacht and the Waffen SS. But, one way you can tell for sure that the pistol used in this crime was a military one is in the bullets used to kill Frau Haubner. Do you see the stamp on the casing? It has the letters E-M-P. That is a company that produces ammunition exclusively for the military. The nine and the S-t-plus indicate the type of ammo it is.”

The Major looked at the bullet in his hand. “You can tell all this by looking at the casing?”

“Yes.”

The Major sniffed. “And how do you know if it’s a Walther P38 and not another type of pistol?”

Peter pointed to the bottom of the casing. “Do you see the primer? When the firing pin strikes, it leaves a distinctive mark. Every make of pistol leaves a different mark on the primer. The indentation you see there can only be caused by a Walther P38.”

The Major lowered the shell and looked at Peter as if to see if he was pulling one on him. Peter stared back, keeping his face neutral.

“Whoever killed Frau Haubner knew her.”

The Major regarded Peter, tapping the empty casing on his knee. “It can’t be her husband.”

Peter waited for the Major to continue.

“He has returned from the front, but was with his comrades at the time of the killing.”

“How long has he been back?”

“That’s not important. He is not a suspect.”

“Major, his wife was most likely having an affair…”

The Major lifted his hand to silence Peter.

“Captain Haubner is a decorated war hero respected by his fellow officers and his men. There is a shortage of good competent officers at the front. If you believe the Frau was having an affair, then I suggest you orient your investigation accordingly.”

Peter looked away to hide his disappointment. The Major made a show of putting on his gloves.

“Captain Stressler. I am ordering you to cease your investigation and to give me any evidence you may have gathered.”

Peter did not move.

“Come now, Captain. Do you wish for me to order my men to search you?”

Peter reached into his pocket and pulled out a picture of Frau Haubner with her husband in happier times and gave it to Berger.

“Check his pistol,” said Peter. Berger stared at him, uncomprehending. “Bring him in and check his pistol. If it has been recently fired, you will be able to tell.”

Berger dropped the casing into his pocket and then rapped on the window. The door swung open.

“Have a nice evening, Captain. Heil Hitler.”

Peter stepped from the vehicle and waited for the Mercedes to disappear before pulling another picture from his overcoat. SS Captain Haubner of the Totenkopf Division stared back at him. He put the picture back into his coat and let his finger linger on the other casings. It was time to find the killer.


2




Peter spent the next four hours finding out where Captain Haubner, decorated war hero, was holed up. A quick stop at the SS-FHA in Berlin established that Captain Haubner had returned from the front on leave three days ago. Time enough to have visited his wife and kill her.

A haze of purplish smoke hung from the ceiling, its tendrils lazily arching down the streams to their sources. Those sources were quite drunk. Their SS uniforms dishevelled and the smell of vomit lingered from their table. He glanced around the room noticing several other SS officers passed out, bottles littered the floor. Women dressed in undergarments that left nothing to the imagination were also strewn about like litter. He had found the right place.

It hadn’t been that hard to find. Several calls to police stations around the city identified the most likely spot for trouble and complaints. Soldiers on leave tended to cause trouble, but none were worse than the Waffen SS. It hadn’t been this bad, not in the beginning, the heady days of 1939. Then, they invaded Russia and everything changed. Russia had not fallen like a house of cards, and the men who had returned from battle were not the supermen German newspapers had said they were. The number of domestic violence cases, stabbings, and suicides he and others in the police have had to deal with was evidence enough.

He had canvassed all the known haunts of the Waffen SS, narrowing it down to this dump: the domain of the Totenkopf division. Peter tried to recall what he knew of the division. He remembered reading somewhere that it was made up former concentration camp guards and led by Theodore Eicke. He had been the former commander of the concentration camp at Dachau. The newspapers were filled with tales of their heroism and exploits. But he also remembered reading the casualty lists and that they suffered more than most divisions in the German army. In summation, they were tough bastards who were prone to violence. He looked about the room in disgust as the pride of Germany lay in its own vomit, drinking to forget the mantle of hero bestowed by the Volk.

Music played from the phonograph, Edith Piaf’s gritty voice lamented the loss of another lover. The discordant notes wafted on the gloomy scene before him. His presence changed the atmosphere in the room though the men at the table did not move. He could sense their barely contained desire for violence, like a beast ready to pounce. Even drunk, they carried an air of death like a companion they all accepted. He approached the table, his hand on his Walther PPK in his overcoat.

“Hello, boys,” he said. “I won’t insult your intelligence. I’m not even going to try. You know why I am here. So, where is he?”

No one answered.

Peter grimaced. “Tell me, does the army still have its punishment battalions? Serving in those is like a death sentence is it not?” he said, reaching for a half-empty glass on the table.

“Do you think you can frighten us, Pounder?”

Peter looked at the man who spoke. The lieutenant hadn’t shaved in a while; his eyes were red with deep dark circles to accompany them. He laughed, showing a row of broken teeth. “We’ve been to Russia!”

Those around the table laughed.

He lifted the glass to his nose; the not quite fermented smell of cheap alcohol assaulted his nostrils.

“Suit yourself. I’ve done my time in the trenches like you, so your horseshit about Russia does not impress me. Where is Captain Haubner?”

The lieutenant said, “You served in the Great War? Well, my friend, a drink to you!”

The others joined in their comrade’s joke as they downed their glass. He wiped his vomit-stained sleeve across his mouth and said, “But your trenches are nothing like the shit in Russia!”

Peter put down the glass.

“Have it your way. When they come for him, it will be with a platoon. They won’t care much if he has his friends with him,” he lied.

“Fuck off, Pounder,” sneered another man at the table. “Do you know his slut of a wife was banging a fucking Frenchie while we were fighting to keep Germany safe?”

Peter waited. Never mind that her husband was probably ‘banging’ camp whores the whole time he was at the Front. Peter brushed the cynical thought away as he watched the lieutenant, old beyond his years, wrestle with his internal dilemma.

“Will you promise not to harm him?”

The others at the table raised their heads expectantly.

“Come now. You are all soldiers. If he wanted to avoid this, he wouldn’t be here.”

The men at the table returned to their drinks. The lieutenant’s head signalled to a door on his right.

Peter nodded as he took his PPK out and cocked it. He stared at the men around the table, but they did not look up from their drinks.

“Vodka. That shit will kill you.” Swinging his pistol at the men at the table, he continued, “Now, get out.”

They staggered to their feet. He waited until they had cleared the room, taking the others with them. Edith Piaf was his only companion as he made his way across the room. Sounds of someone crying filtered through the door. He tried the knob. It was unlocked. It would be a simple matter to charge in catching him unawares, but he hesitated. He knew what kind of man he was dealing with. He stepped off to the side of the door then knocked.

A voice from the inside said, “Come in.”

Peter turned the knob and swung open the door, revealing Captain Haubner sitting on a bed. He was without a shirt, his pink flesh painted on bone and muscle. An ugly scar travelled the down his chest, ending somewhere below his stomach. He was drunk; his eyes glazed with madness or drink, perhaps both. The woman on her knees between his legs looked up, streaks of mascara relayed the terror held within her eyes. The P38 pistol at her head was reason enough. Haubner took a long swig from his vodka bottle. The liquor ran down his face as if the body itself rejected the offering. Red eyes blinked.

“Welcome, Pounder! Welcome to my home!” he slurred.

Peter entered the room, his pistol at his side. Haubner giggled, taking another drink and then, he poured the rest of the bottle on the woman. She squirmed under the shower, whimpering. He laughed and tossed the bottle against the wall, smashing it.

“Do you know that all women are whores?”

His empty hand grabbed her hair, twisting her tear-stained face upwards and caressing her with his gun.

Peter took a seat opposite him; his pistol rested on his knees. “No, Haubner. Women are not all whores. Your mother was not a whore.”

The SS man blinked twice as if to shake away his drunkenness, then he snorted, letting go of the woman.

“So, you have seen my wife, I take it?”

Peter leaned back in his chair, saying nothing.

“Perhaps Frenchie won’t find her so pretty now.” His words became mumbled as he spoke. Slumping in his chair, he shut his eyes; his hands came up to rub them.

“Did you know she was pregnant? She told me just before I shot her. Two months. I have been gone for six!” Haubner pulled hard on the woman’s hair, bringing a fresh round of tears and snivels from her.

“Well, Haubner. You sure solved that problem.”

Haubner laughed, throwing back his head. Peter’s bullet smashed through his temple slamming Haubner’s body against the bed. The woman screamed as she fled the room. Her wail faded like a siren in the night, leaving Peter alone to contemplate the tragic story of Captain Haubner and his wife.


3




Peter sipped his tea after his brief narration of events to his wife. She stared at him, stunned by the news. She put her cup on the table, folding her hands onto her lap as she looked away. Years of reading his wife’s moods told him that she was displeased with him. She did not like it when her carefully ordered world was challenged.

“You shot him in self-defence. Surely, they must be able to see that.”

“Facts are never the issue when the Gestapo are involved.”

She frowned. Her lips drew back into two thin bands as if she were about to admonish him. He cut off her off before she could speak, hoping to prevent an argument. Suffering through another would have shovelled more dirt on top of a mostly buried coffin.

“Anyway, a man died. They need to take their time in reviewing the case. It was a criminal investigation, so I was within my rights. The Gestapo and the Kriminalpolizei will be arguing about jurisdiction for a while before they get around to me,” he said, hoping to assuage her. “Maybe this is a good time to quit… after all, this job was supposed to be temporary,” he quipped.

He meant it as a joke, but the look of pain on her face as she looked away made him regret his words. She grabbed the teapot and headed towards the kitchen. He winced with each slam of a cupboard door. Dishes clattered, like final, tired blows of a punched out boxer. She appeared after a time, placing the teapot back on the tray, as if nothing was amiss. She sat down, her face serene, even severe, her brown hair pulled back into a tight bun, a proper German Frau.

“Do you want me to talk to the University? I’m sure Herr Goetenburg can get you a job as a watchman.”

Peter’s fingers tightened on the cup, forcing him to put it down. Goddamn Goetenberg… A third rate professor promoted by the Nazis into a sinecure position, and puffed up by his perceived importance to the Nazi State. He ran the University as if it were his own personal Reich. That slime even had managed to exploit his wife to sleep with him the last time she had gone to him for help.

He shook his head no, not trusting himself to speak. He forced a smile.

“I am not old enough yet to be sitting on a stool, watching the skull of the Sultan Mkwawa in the Archaeology Department.”

She did not laugh at his joke. Of course she didn’t.

“I don’t want a job at the university, Gertie,” he said with more severity than he intended. “If I go back, it will be to finish my studies and not to be some janitor for Herr Goetenburg.”

She looked away to hide her face again. He took another sip of tea to cover the emotion on his.

“Why won’t you let me help you? God knows I want to.” Her plea sounded like that of a small child’s.

“Gertie, just talking to you about my problem is all the help I need.”

She shook her head in exasperation, but said nothing. They sat in silence, drinking their tea. He watched her through locked doors, yet his passion for her was still there. How he longed to take her to bed. The thought of it brought a familiar tightness in his pants.

He remembered her back before the Nazis had come. Before it exposed the ugliness that drove a wedge between them. She was young and idealistic. He was cynical and jaded, still living the horror of the trenches. They used each other for their own selfish needs. Their sex was more animalistic than loving. For her, he was the war hero she could show off, while he treated her as an object of lust, unspoiled by the war.

But then, it blossomed into something else. In her, he discovered a renewal, a love of life that had been destroyed by the war. In him, she found an intellectual who treated her as an equal. They fell in love; it was that simple or was it that complex? He often wondered which.

“Peter, what are you going to do?”

Her voice was heavy with guilt. She would not let it go. He cursed himself for bringing up old memories and letting it ruin their short time together. It was clear that she was not over it, nor would she ever be. How many times had he told her it had been his own choice and that he never regretted it? Or perhaps, she worried about his financial contributions to her lifestyle? The thought angered him, but then he grew annoyed with himself for thinking it.

“I will enjoy my first holiday in a long time.”

She stamped her foot, her face a storm of contradictions.

“For God’s sake, Peter! You haven’t taken a holiday your entire life. Why can’t you take anything seriously? Sometimes, you act like a child!”

He looked at the small amount of tea left in his cup. He finished it and put it on the table.

“Thank you for the tea, Gertrude.”

He stood, but saw she was on the verge of tears. He walked over to her side and lifted her chin up.

“I do so enjoy our tea together. But my problems are of my own doing.” He let go of her chin and her head bowed once more. He took her hand, giving it a reassuring squeeze. “Besides, the suspension is only temporary and I will soon be back to work.”

He smiled, knowing she didn’t believe him. He knew she would go see that slime, Goetenburg, who will probably use this situation to get her to sleep with him again.

“Shall we meet again next week for tea?” he said, surprised by the sudden emotion in his voice.

She nodded, but her eyes did not seek his as she shut the door. He walked away, cursing Goetenburg and the whole Nazi State for what happened to his marriage. He opened the door to the elevator abruptly, earning a disapproving scowl from the only other occupant. He put on the mask reserved for the outside world and smiling, he apologised for his rude behaviour.


4




His mood had not improved by the time he reached police headquarters to collect his things. His colleagues ignored him; the more brazen tried to lock him down with their disapproving stares. The news of his suspension made the rounds and, in typical Nazi fashion, they ostracized him. Nazis were well practiced at that. Not that he had a great relationship with his colleagues before the suspension. Most of those he would have called friends were gone in the purge of ‘36. They had been deemed too ‘independent’ of thought or not showing enough zeal for the State. In their place, came a new breed of policeman.

They were young and ambitious men who were more adept at scurrying around their superiors, seeking a morsel of power than doing their job. Many owed their positions to their loyalty to this Gauleiter or to that faction. That was why crime was out of control despite what the State news organs said. You couldn’t trust the statistics when those who compiled them were doing so only to secure their own promotions. It had gotten so bad that the Volk complained about the lawlessness of the streets. The lifeblood of the authoritarian State, the gossips and the rumourmongers, were reporting the displeasure of their neighbours. The Gestapo grew concerned. This time the Jews could not be blamed. They were all in camps. Quietly and without fanfare, the bosses re-hired some of the old guard to resume their positions.

Peter managed to survive it all. He suspected Johan might have had something to do with it, but it wasn’t something they talked about.

He entered his office not surprised to see Johan waiting for him. He sat down in his chair and took a deep breath.

“So, you had to shoot him.”

“He didn’t give me much choice. He had a hostage and was waving his gun around. Which, by the way, was confirmed as the gun that killed his wife.”

“You had no choice.”

“I had no choice.”

“But the Gestapo Major told you to not to go after the captain.”

Peter shrugged. “I don’t answer to the Gestapo.”

Johan snorted as he reached into his desk and pulled out a flask. Taking a swig, he capped it and threw it at Peter who caught it in his chest.

“You know the drinking of alcohol is prohibited on the job.”

Johan grinned. “Fuck them. They already have so much on me that another infraction won’t change a thing.”

Peter laughed and tossed it back to him without taking a drink. Liquor wasn’t good for him. It aggravated the old wound in his stomach.

“Welcome to the New Germany where doing your job gets you suspended,” intoned Johan as he raised his flask towards those who were doing their best to ignore them and took a long pull.

“Hush, Johan! You know better than to speak your mind here.”

“Why not? Remember when we used to throw this rabble into prison? They were no different from the communists! You remember? We should have cracked open a few more heads or better yet, let them beat each other to death. That would have solved all our problems.”

He took another drink and capping the flask, he put it back into his drawer.

“I’m tired of shovelling their shit, Peter.”

“Well. Take a holiday. I hear the Russian winter is beautiful this time of year.”

Johan chuckled and then laughed until his puffy face turned red. Peter laughed along and when the laughter died down, he looked for a box to pack his things.

He left police headquarters with a box, but it was almost not worth it. He hadn’t collected much in terms of memories, not that there had been any worth remembering. He looked for his Volkswagen, but realized that the privileges of rank were no longer his. Turning his coat up to the rain, he began to walk the twelve or so blocks to his flat. Perhaps the walk would do him some good.

Peter’s mood did not hamper his honed instincts from years of police work. Within a half-hour into his walk, he spotted the two figures following him. Not far behind, a black Mercedes, its headlamps shut off, trailed the two men. He picked up his pace and noticed that they did, too. He wondered who they were. Was it someone coming to settle an old score? The only person he could think of was the Gestapo Major in his last case. Surely, he wasn’t that petty. But then again, this was the Third Reich.

He slowed his pace. They matched his. Anger replaced his fear. He wanted to fight. He turned a corner and put down his box. Reaching into his coat, he produced a small cudgel and crouched, waiting for them to appear.

Strike fast and hard.

The words of old Willie came to him as he waited. Old Willie had been a pounder longer than Peter had been alive. He knew everything about being a pounder. He had taught Peter that a cudgel was the perfect police weapon. It allowed you to swing from any direction, sure that it would do damage when it connected. It also ensured that your target would survive the encounter. “The cudgel makes the criminal think twice before messing with the police,” Willie would say. Willie retired before the Nazis came to power, but he had been there when they were but street thugs, trying to rule the streets with their fists. He could see Old Willie laughing with a stein in hand as he pointed to the two men who turned the corner. Thanks, Willie.

He swung his cudgel at the head of the man in front. A deadening crunch of bone muted a cry of surprise as the man dropped to the ground in a spray of blood. The other man stepped back. His hand pulled a knife from his pocket. He jumped over his writhing companion and lunged at Peter, forcing him to step away. Peter pulled his scarf from his neck and twirled it around his hand. The big man danced forward, thrusting his knife at Peter. His scarf-covered hand knocked away the knife. His other brought the cudgel down, but the man shifted. The cudgel connected with the shoulder. The man yelped, sliding away from Peter. His arm dangled at his side as his eyes darted from Peter to the road. Desperation replaced his arrogance.

Strike hard and fast,” yelled Willie in his head. Peter ran at the man, an eye on the knife, lifting his cudgel to strike while exposing his side. The man lunged with his knife, falling for the ruse. Peter turned. Momentum carried the man past Peter, who brought down his cudgel. It crunched into the man’s jaw. The man crumpled to the pavement, shattered teeth and freed knife clattering.

Peter heard a vehicle approach. The two men he had waylaid wobbled to their feet and staggered towards the Mercedes. Peter let them go. They stumbled into the vehicle. Without waiting for the door to close, the driver gunned the engine, squealing away from the crime scene. The Mercedes disappeared around a corner.

He picked up the knife, noting the swastika embedded in the pommel.

Gestapo.

Welcome to the Third Reich.


5




Peter sat in the biggest office he had ever seen. It was cavernous, echoing the sounds of Nazi ostentation. He recalled watching how the rise of the Nazis led to a bureaucratic fight for offices. The rapid expansion was required when the German police force was consolidated under one organization known as the Reich Main Security Office (RSHA) but then divided into seven departments (Amt) which branched into a hundred different subsections. Such an overblown bureaucracy generated competition for office space and its natural spin-off, who had the bigger office.

No one would forget the mind numbing meetings dominated by discussions of who got what office. It permeated all the way down to the local police stations. Peter had heard that Hitler himself was dragged into these bureaucratic fights when two of his henchmen coveted an office next to his.

Hitler guaranteed full employment, meaning there were often four people assigned to do the same job. This ruinous competition for scant resources meant that offices were the only measure of one’s worth to the Reich. Office changes within the Party happened so frequently, that those in Hitler’s circle issued an order that personnel could not be used for office moves because it was impeding the war effort.

A cold draft made him regret taking off his coat, and he wondered when the Chief of the Reich Kriminal Police Department would arrive. He received orders to report to RKPA headquarters a week into his suspension. He didn’t think that his suspension would warrant the attention of SS-Gruppenführer Artur Nebe, his boss. Higher ups did not bother with little fish like him. Yet, he had been summoned.

The door opened and the sound of jackboots on the marble floor made him stand at attention. Artur Nebe rounded his desk, placing a thick folder on it as he sat down. Peter saluted, using the old Prussian military salute. The SS-Gruppenführer did not bother to return his salute. Not a good sign.

“You may sit, Captain Stressler.”

Peter sat, his back ramrod straight. He regarded his former colleague and now boss of Amt V, the Kriminalpolizei. He had aged, Peter thought. Artur’s hair, already thin, was streaked with grey. His eyes held no warmth, rather weariness, as if the daily task of life was too hard. He fidgeted, his hands restless, as they played with the papers before him.

Peter waited as Nebe read through several pages.

“So, Captain Stressler, in a spot of trouble with the Gestapo, eh?”

Peter said nothing.

“You were told by a,” he flipped over a page to read out the name, “Major Berger to leave the case alone. Why did you disobey?”

“The Major was not in my chain of command. Nor was this a political crime that would warrant the attention of the Gestapo. I felt that the crime fit our jurisdiction and acted accordingly.”

Peter ignored Nebe’s attempt to stare him down.

“You acted stupidly as you always do, Peter.”

Peter felt a twinge of emotion threatening to make it to his face. An experienced police officer like Nebe should have seen it in his eyes, but instead, he interlocked his fingers as if he were praying. Nebe was no longer in the business of reading people’s guilt or innocence. The former was always presumed.

“You and I started our careers at the same time, did we not? You ever wonder why you are still a captain and I am now Chief of the Kriminalpolizei?”

Peter got his emotions under control and resumed the mask he used for these types of masquerades, but did not bother to answer the question.

“I do what I’m told. Your problem is you don’t follow orders. If it weren’t for Lieutenant Vogel’s reports on you, you would have been cashiered out of the police force long ago.”

Peter looked away, his eyes falling on the eagle atop the Swastika hanging above Nebe, afraid that his mask would slip. So, Johan had been spying on him, or was he protecting him? He wondered what Johan had done for Nebe. There were rumours of Nebe’s involvement with the State sanctioned murder of the mentally handicapped and the Gypsies. Johan worked for Nebe at that time, but Johan never talked about it. No one did under the Nazis. You never knew who was listening or who would report on you. But Johan had grown more morose, sullen even, and drinking more often than he should. Peter looked back at his boss, thankful that Nebe was reading the dossier open before him.

“Stressler, Peter. Born in Hamburg, 1900. Attended the Strauss Gymnasium where he graduated with top academic honours in 1917. Volunteered for the army upon graduation and saw action on the Western Front. Won Iron Cross Second Class in the summer battles of 1918. Your wounds sustained during this battle kept you out of the rest of the war. How fortuitous for you.”

Peter returned to staring at the eagle, ignoring the gaze that had come with those provocative words. How ironic, he thought. The eagle with its swastika in its talons was the least frightening thing in this office.

“From 1919 to 1920, you were involved with the Freikorps battles in Berlin, but quit to attend university in 1921. Why did you quit the Freikorps, Stressler?”

Peter sensed disappointment coming from Nebe. It was as if this terrible decision was the entire reason for the failures in his career, but he knew he was expected to speak. If he stayed silent, it would be seen as a sign of rebellion.

Peter shrugged, “I had an opportunity to advance my education.”

Silence greeted his words. They stared at each other until Nebe lowered his head to continue reading. Peter returned to the eagle.

“And so two years of psychology at the University of Berlin has done what for you exactly?” The question was asked with such contempt that Peter’s eyes fluttered briefly from the eagle to his boss.

“A predominantly Jewish discipline with ideas of perverted sexuality towards one’s mother. Surely you would agree that Jewish ideas did not help you at all?”

“It helped me identify who the criminals are in the Third Reich,” he answered, but then regretted his words. His boss frowned. He cursed himself for his lack of restraint.

“You are too clever by far, Stressler.”

Peter did his best to keep the anger from his voice as he spoke. “I have been a good police officer. I have served my country when I was called. My loyalty should not be questioned.”

Artur’s thin-lipped smile made Peter want to howl in frustration. Nebe had gotten to him and worst of all, he knew that Peter knew he had gotten to him.

“Oh, but your loyalty is being questioned, Captain Stressler. These times require absolute loyalty, absolute sacrifice. Our country demands it.”

“Yes, sir,” he said, hoping his words sounded contrite to his boss. A white flag waved by an enemy not ready to surrender.

“In 1924, you quit the University to join the Berlin police force. From 1924 to 1928, you served in the Ordnungspolizei. Your service during this time is excellent with favourable reports from all your former commanders, noting your coolness in stressful situations. You were promoted to the Kriminalpolizei and rose to the rank of lieutenant. In 1931, you were involved in the Schleitzen case.”

The Schleitzen case.

He hadn’t thought about that case in years. A gang of opium pushers, who distributed drugs through the prostitutes of Berlin, killed two Orpos.

One had been Peter’s friend from the war. He doggedly pursued the investigation until it led to the capture of the killers. One of the vice policeman that helped him on the case was Artur Nebe. It was a high profile case with medals and promotions for all involved. He remembered Nebe being a competent and professional policeman and not the pompous ass before him.

“Your arrest record from 1931 to 1938 on was impressive and your evaluation reports were first-rate. Your promotion to captain was well earned.”

Peter didn’t trust the sudden conciliatory tone, nor the smile from his boss that suggested all was forgiven.

“Do you know I fought to keep you on… you know… because of the Schleitzen case. Of course, you could have joined the Party. That would have solved everything.”

Peter kept his face blank as Nebe watched him for a reaction.

“Why did you divorce your wife?”

There it is, thought Peter. The attempt to unbalance him, to leave him vulnerable to whatever Nebe wanted him to do.

“We are not divorced.”

“Estranged then. Funny it should happen around the time the Jewish professors were expelled from the University. Didn’t a,” Nebe looked at the paper in his hands for the name, “Professor Georg Schopenstein disappear shortly after that? Wasn’t he one of the Jews you studied under?”

Peter looked back up at the eagle, trying hard not to squirm in his seat. Peter heard the dramatic sound of the closing of his folder. The creak of Nebe’s chair announced that Nebe was leaning back in his chair, ready to deliver his coup de grace.

“Your record shows no arrests of Jews. There are no ‘preventative arrests’ nor arrests for political reasons. Then you shot and killed Hauptman Haubner, a hero of the Third Reich.”

“He had a hostage.”

“A prostitute.”

“A woman.”

Silence.

“You really are making this hard.”

Peter stopped staring at the eagle to gaze on his boss. Nebe seemed to have borrowed Peter’s mask but it could not hide his discomfort. Artur turned in his chair to stare at the eagle.

“The Gestapo want you to answer for the death of Haubner. At the very least, they want you thrown out of the Kriminalpolizei. What do you say to that?”

Peter said nothing. What was there to say? Did Artur expect him to beg for his job?

Artur sighed, but the eagle still had his attention.

“I have no sympathy for you, Peter. You have had ample opportunity to do the right thing, and yet here you are, suspended, on my personal orders.”

His voice grew harsher.

“These are difficult times. This is no time for sentimentality or your bourgeois moralism. Germany faces forces that will destroy her if we are not vigilant.”

Peter wondered if he was talking to the eagle or to him. Maybe the eagle was not so safe after all. The silence extended into minutes. Peter wondered if Nebe had fallen asleep or if the eagle mesmerized him.

“What is it you want of me, Herr Gruppenführer? Surely you have better things to do than review my life.”

Nebe broke off his gaze to stare at Peter. Haggard, almost vacuous eyes stared back at him and he wondered where Nebe had gone.

“I need you to investigate something for me, but it has to be done without anyone else knowing what you are doing.”

Despite himself, Peter felt a sudden surge of anticipation. Peter waited from him to continue.

“There has been a rash of murders around Germany. First in Dresden, then Hamburg, followed by Düsseldorf and then, in a small town north of Munster. Three families and an old couple have been slaughtered.”

Peter had heard about the murders in passing. He had not given them much thought, given that the news and gossip were about the war.

“What is the connection?”

“That is for you to find out.”

Peter frowned.

“The Kriminalpolizei started the investigation in Dresden and Hamburg when the third family was killed in Düsseldorf, the Gestapo stepped in. We have been ordered off the case.”

That surprised Peter. The implications that politics were somehow involved made him pause.

“Amt V has been left in the dark and I want to know what the Gestapo knows. I have the original files, copied for me, and a list of potential witnesses from the second and third murders. See if you can’t get the locals to give you access to anything they may have uncovered.”

Artur took up his pen and wrote out Peter’s orders. He ripped off the page and pushed it across the desk to Peter.

“You will still be officially suspended, but unofficially you will be working for me. As well, I am promoting you to the rank of major. It is only temporary, but necessary for dealing with the local authorities. Expenses and your pay shall be drawn from the account at the bottom of the page.”

Peter scanned the set of orders before him, confirming what his boss just said.

“Every penny shall be accounted for. You will pay for anything that isn’t. My adjutant will hand you a copy of the investigation on your way out. Secure it somewhere safe and return them to this office when you are done. Any questions?”

Peter stared at his boss as the words of Professor Georg Schopenstein came to him. His friend, his mentor was sorely disappointed that he had not continued his studies at the university. He had waved away the reasons for Peter’s decision as if it were insignificant. But they kept in contact during his time as a policeman. Peter shared with him the stories of his arrests and adventures, especially those that stroked the Professor’s ego, the stories that supported his theories about humanity.

“Be careful, Peter. You might come to like this adventure too much. Others will use you for their own means should you become a slave to its allure,” said the Professor after one of these exchanges. Peter was being recognized for his investigative qualities. A fairly significant arrest was surely going to lead to a promotion. He remembered brushing away his Professor’s concern, but then the words resonated as he stared at this boss.

He was hooked. He could see the Professor shaking his head in disappointment.

“I will need help on this investigation.”

Nebe shook his head. “No. The more people involved in this, the more difficult it will be to keep it quiet from the Gestapo.”

“Yes, but one more person will help solve this case faster than if I did it alone.”

“I suppose you have someone in mind?”

“Lieutenant Johan Vogel.”

“Johan? Johan is a drunk. His superiors demand I fire him.”

“Nevertheless, he is a top rate investigator.”

“Very well, Herr Stressler. But you shall be responsible for his behaviour. Vogel will take his vacation now and his expenses will be drawn from the same account you hold in your hand. Is that everything?”

“Yes.”

“Good. Now get out of my office.”

Nebe didn’t even bother to return his salute. The sound of his own footfalls echoed throughout the office, chasing Peter out into the hallway.

He took a breath.

Perhaps, he should have been elated that he was on the job again, but he was not. This investigation was a political bomb waiting to go off. It would have been better to stay on suspension or even quit. He cursed himself for how easily the allure of a case seduced him. Oh well, it was just one case, he said to the Professor in his head. When it is done, I will find something else, he promised. The Professor said nothing.


6




Peter sat at his table in his small flat with the files before him. He poured himself some tea and took a sip, enjoying its soothing warmth. He had gone to the police station hoping to run into Johan, but there was no such luck. He left a message to meet him at his flat as soon as he was able.

Peter regarded the folders. A total of eighteen people had been killed in four different locations in Germany. He made a mental note to get a map of Germany so he could get a visual of the murders. He wrote this down in his small notebook, following the familiar format he had learned from his university days.

Professor Georg Schopenstein had laughed at him with his little notebook the first time he met him. He remembered being angry, insulted even. But the Professor goaded him, forcing him to defend the manner of his note taking. After a while, Peter realized that the Professor was teaching him, setting down the manner of debate that he demanded from his students. Confrontation that evoked emotion forced his students to control those emotions if they wanted to make their point. He taught his students to rise above what he called ‘the raw passion of the rabble’ to see things as they were so they could consider all sides.

He was brilliant, and he was Jewish.

Many students hated him for his methodology and later, for his Jewishness, but Peter loved it. He took every class he could from Professor Schopenstein. By the end of it, Peter learned that there was always a method to madness. All one had to do was figure it out.


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