Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke (4 page)

BOOK: Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke
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Gretchen barely breathed, afraid to miss a single word.

“Today, President Hindenburg and Chancellor Hitler declared a state of emergency and issued the Decree of the Reich President for the Protection of the People and the State,” the announcer went on. “The decree suspends all major civil liberties, including freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and freedom to assemble. Letters, telephone calls, and telegrams may be intercepted by the police at any time. We have been told that there is widespread panic in the streets of Berlin, and its residents fear more imminent terrorist attacks.”

The announcer paused for breath and then launched into another story. Gretchen’s mouth had gone as dry as sand. Was Hitler responsible for the fire? Throughout her childhood, the Communists had been the National Socialists’ fiercest opponents, and Hitler despised them. He had taught her that Communism was like an infectious disease spreading down from the vast Russian steppes.
A political system designed by Jews meant to enslave non-Jewish nations
, he used to say, tapping her nose playfully.

“My God,” Alfred said in a hushed voice. “Gretchen, do you think Hitler is behind this?”

“Maybe.” She knew too well that he would stop at nothing, even murder, to advance his political career. Now, in one night, he had been granted two of his most fervent wishes: a means to destroy the Communists and to monitor the German population. Thanks to this presidential decree, nobody was assured of any privacy in Germany.

And that meant no letters from Daniel. He wouldn’t contact her for he wouldn’t want anyone to read his mail and learn her
location. Thank God he was in Munich, hundreds of miles from the chaos in Berlin. But that was no guarantee he was safe.

Julia crossed the room to sit next to her. “Hitler can’t hope to get away with it,” she said firmly. “Sooner or later, people will realize how wicked he is and have him removed from office.”

Gretchen couldn’t find her voice. Maybe Julia was right, but what if Daniel was in trouble right now? He could be dead or imprisoned, and she had no way of finding out.

Somehow, Gretchen managed to slog through her lessons, bicycle home, sit in her bedroom staring at blank pieces of paper that should have been covered with her homework assignments. She read every newspaper she could get her hands on, but none of the articles about Germany mentioned Daniel’s name. They focused on the Reichstag blaze instead. A twenty-four-year-old named Marinus van der Lubbe had been arrested on the scene. As he was half blind, it seemed impossible that he could have set the fire by himself, and no one else had been accused yet.

The information gave Gretchen pause. If Hitler had ordered the fire set in an effort to frame the Communists and create a national emergency suspending civil liberties, then wouldn’t he have chosen a better scapegoat? It didn’t make sense. The sensation of déjà vu swept over her. Something about this fire seemed familiar, but she couldn’t pinpoint what it was. As far as she could recall, Hitler hadn’t been mixed up in arson before. She was too worried about Daniel, though, to puzzle over it further.

At school, nobody asked what she thought of the mysterious fire in her homeland, although several of her friends wanted to know how Daniel was faring and when he would be back. She shrugged, too heartsick to answer.

“Now, Gretchen,” Mary said five days later, linking their arms and guiding Gretchen away from the cluster of girls on the school’s front steps, “you needn’t put up a brave front with me and the other girls. It’s obvious what’s happened to Daniel.”

Gretchen started in surprise. “It is?”

“Of course.” Mary gave her a sad smile. “He’s gone back to Germany to live, hasn’t he? I daresay he’s awfully handsome, but there are plenty of other fellows out there, and any of them would be lucky to have you. Just wait. It won’t be long before you’ve forgotten all about him and moved on to somebody else.”

A hysterical laugh bubbled in Gretchen’s chest.
This
was what her friends thought she was worried about? That Daniel had broken things off with her? How little the English understood what was happening in her country. In a way, she supposed she couldn’t blame them—the terrorist attack in Berlin must seem like a dream to them, here in their snug homes, where they had enough coal to warm them and food to fill their bellies.

Many people in Oxford were poor, too, for the Depression had struck here, as well. But they didn’t know how it felt to see the streets of their city swarming with men in different political party uniforms, truncheons in their hands. They didn’t know how it felt to watch one shoddily constructed government after another collapse, and to go to bed hungry most nights while your parents wept because they didn’t have the money to feed you.

Gretchen’s eyes met Mary’s, which were shining and sympathetic. She pushed her laugh down deep inside. It wasn’t Mary’s fault that she didn’t understand.

“Thanks,” she said. Mary beamed and they returned to their cluster of friends to talk about the upcoming geometry exam.

When she got home, Gretchen slipped into the front hall and
leaned against the wall. It was a relief to be alone, where she didn’t have to paste on fake smiles for anyone’s benefit, answer Julia and Alfred’s concerned questions about Daniel—
No, I’ve heard nothing yet
—or smile at her friends’ misguided concern. She could clutch her throbbing head in her hands, praying that she would get something from Daniel, a letter, a telegram,
anything
to let her know that he was all right. Even though part of her knew he wouldn’t dare getting in touch with her.

From upstairs, she heard the boys shrieking with laughter. Sighing, she automatically reached for the pile of afternoon post on a side table. Nothing from Daniel. But her hand paused over the final envelope, where “Miss Whitestone” had been written in unfamiliar script.

She ripped it open. It was from Daniel’s editor at the
Oxford Mail
, saying that he had received a strange telegram this morning from Munich and was enclosing it in hopes that she would be able to decipher it.

Her heart surged into her throat. She pulled the telegram from the envelope.

They know the Lion has returned.

The Lion—it must be a code word for Daniel. He’d been named for the Old Testament Daniel, who’d been thrown into a den of lions. Only a friend would have known that.

Lion wanted for murder in Berlin. Not seen in days. Possibly dead.

4

A CRY BURST FROM GRETCHEN’S THROAT. HER
mind seemed to have frozen; all she could think over and over was
no
. She stared at her fingers, tightened to white on the telegram; somehow they looked unreal.

From the kitchen, she heard Julia asking if she was all right, but her mouth wouldn’t work.
Dead
. She wouldn’t believe it.

She flipped the telegram over and shook the envelope upside down, as if there might be another piece of paper, something that said this had all been a terrible mistake, and Daniel was fine and on his way back to England even now. But there was nothing else except for the name of the man who had sent the telegram, typed neatly under the message: Fritz Gerlich.

Then there was no mistake. Herr Gerlich was the anti–National Socialist journalist whom Daniel liked and respected more than any other. Although they hadn’t worked together, they
admired each other greatly. She still remembered his quiet gaze and soft voice. He wouldn’t have written this telegram unless he was certain it was true.

Something about the message swam to the front of her consciousness. She stared at the telegram again. Why would Daniel be wanted for murder in Berlin? He was incapable of killing, of course, and he was in Munich, hundreds of miles from the capital.

She took a deep breath but the pressure in her chest didn’t ease. This must be how the National Socialists planned to get rid of him. They’d found out that he was back in Germany, but they mustn’t have been able to find him or they’d simply kill him. Instead, they’d set the police on his trail. Thoughts blew about her head like leaves in a windstorm.
Focus
, she ordered herself. Falling apart wouldn’t help Daniel.

She began to pace. Daniel had been spotted by his enemies, but they hadn’t captured him. Somehow, he’d managed to get away. Perhaps he’d used his old sources to help him—when he’d worked as a reporter in Munich, he’d had a network of contacts throughout the city, including in the police force. Maybe someone had tipped him off about the upcoming arrest. He was too clever not to understand his precarious position. He was brave, but he wasn’t reckless.

He would have gone underground. He might still be alive.

Gretchen stopped pacing. There was no decision to make; no options to consider. She knew what she had to do.

Julia’s heels clicked on the floor as she hurried into the room, with Alfred close behind. “What is it?” Alfred asked. “We were just having tea when we heard you cry out. Are you hurt?”

Her hands shook as she handed him the telegram. “It’s Daniel. I have to go to him.”

Alfred and Julia scanned the telegram, then looked up as one, their faces pale. “I’ll get in touch with the police in Munich,” Alfred said, “and see what we can find out.”

“They won’t tell you anything!” Gretchen shouted. “Many of them are National Socialists!” She took a deep breath, struggling to lower her voice. “
I
have to do it. There’s nobody else.”

Alfred’s face seemed to crumple. “Absolutely not! It’s far too dangerous.”

“Darling.” Julia laid her hand on his arm. “She loves him,” she said quietly. “And I think Gretchen will go, whether we give her permission or not. Don’t make this harder than it already is.”

He started to argue, but Gretchen barely heard him. She made for the stairs, calling back, “Daniel’s in trouble. And I’m going after him.”

Gretchen raced to the wardrobe in her bedroom and flung its doors open. What did she need? Her old false papers, and a few changes of clothing, nothing too English looking, pleated skirts and silk blouses and woolen stockings. She grabbed clothes off hangers and tossed them onto the bed. Money. She had thirty pounds saved, not nearly enough, and it was at the bank. Here at home, she had only a couple of half crowns in her purse.

No matter. She’d figure something out. She was leaving tonight.

She stood on a chair to reach the cardboard box she’d hidden on top of the wardrobe. Inside the box, the revolver gleamed dully. She tested its weight in her hand. About two pounds and
eleven inches long. She would have preferred a smaller pistol, like the Walther that Hitler had used to teach her. But the Webley Mk IV wasn’t bad—she could inflict tremendous damage with this weapon.

She pulled a suitcase out from under her bed and tossed the unloaded revolver and a box of .455 caliber bullets inside. It’d been months since she’d fired a gun, but she wasn’t worried about her aim. Hitler had taught her too well for her to be rusty.

Just as he had taught her to fight before her opponent had a chance.
Strength lies not in defense but in attack
, he used to say as they pushed her brother’s toy soldiers across the carpet. This time, she would take his advice, she decided as she folded clothes. She would remember everything he’d told her and use it to keep herself alive.

Two hours later, Alfred drove her through the deepening blue-black of twilight to the train station. Gretchen watched the familiar streets, with their long rows of brick and stone houses, rise up and fall away. Alfred had argued with her for a long time. He’d shouted it was foolhardy; an invitation to death. Nothing he’d said had changed her mind. She’d made her decision.

In the end, when Alfred had realized that she wouldn’t stay and she’d promised again and again to be careful, he’d relented. Julia had said that Gretchen should change her appearance as much as possible, and colored her honey-blond hair brown with Cook’s hair dye. While the strands were still wet, she had cut them into a bob hairstyle that barely reached Gretchen’s ears. Gretchen had watched her transformation in the mirror without a word. Between the pink powder on her cheeks and the sleek cap
of brown hair, she looked like a flapper: modern and daring, so unlike the proper National Socialist girl she had once been.

There were some things, though, that couldn’t be changed: the shape of her face, the color of her eyes, the curve of her mouth. Hitler would still recognize her. Of that, she had no doubt. Over the years, he’d watched her grow and change, and he had a photographic memory. No amount of time or cosmetics would confuse him. Just as she would recognize him, regardless of how much he might alter his appearance. He could change the cut of his hair, shave off his smudge of a mustache, gain one hundred pounds. It didn’t matter. She would always know the brilliant blue of his eyes.

At last, she’d stood in the front hall, clutching a suitcase, while the boys trooped in to say good-bye. As she had hugged them, Gretchen felt their small bodies shaking from sobs. She hadn’t been able to keep hers back anymore. This family, with their questions about her day over supper, their smiles when she earned good marks, their laughter when she and the boys chased one another in the garden—this family was exactly what she had once thought she couldn’t have. Saying good-bye to them felt as though she were ripping away a piece of herself.

In the seat beside hers, Alfred cleared his throat. “Julia and I want you to have this.” He nodded at the leather wallet lying between them. “It’s five hundred pounds. We’ve been saving it for you, to go toward your university schooling and setting up your own psychoanalytical practice someday. It should cover your expenses.”

Five hundred pounds—it was more money than she’d ever seen in her life. And these people, who had no obligations toward
her, no ties beyond simple affection, wanted to give it to her. Tears burned her eyes, and although she opened her mouth, she couldn’t say a word. Alfred seemed to understand, for he smiled a little. “All we ask is that you come back to us. We couldn’t bear it if something happened to you.”

The lump in her throat hardened into a rock and she whispered, “Thank you.”

At the train station, the platform was crowded with university students heading to London for an evening out, and tired-looking mothers with small children, eager to get to their country homes after a long day shopping in the city.

As a train whistle screamed in the distance, Alfred clasped Gretchen’s hand. “You’ll need to be strong,” he said. “Going back won’t be easy on you, and I don’t mean only the physical danger.”

She raised her chin, pretending a confidence she didn’t feel. “I’m fine,” she lied.

Alfred raised his eyebrows. “I’m afraid,” he said quietly, “that if you return to Munich, you’ll have to cope with memories that you aren’t yet ready to relive. You’ve undergone significant emotional trauma. Having to confront it again may be more than you can bear. I wish you would stay. But I know you won’t.”

As the crowd swelled around them, jostling them closer together, Alfred gripped her hand tighter. “Remember everything I’ve taught you about psychology. Use it to anticipate how others might act. It could be your best protection.”

“I promise.” She wished she knew how to thank him for everything he had done.

There was so much pain in his face. He wouldn’t kiss her, she knew—he was too reserved for that—and so she pecked him on
the cheek. The air filled with the squeal of brakes as the train pulled into the station. “I know I’ve never called you ‘Father,’” she said, “but you have been one to me.”

His eyes looked damp. “You’d better hurry. Get yourself a decent seat.”

She joined the crush of passengers boarding the train. Once she’d found a third-class seat, she watched Alfred through the window. He walked back and forth on the platform, shoulders hunched beneath his overcoat, head downcast. Miserable. Gretchen had to hug her purse to her chest, so she had something to hold onto. The train lurched forward, picking up speed until Alfred was only a dot in the distance and then he was nothing at all.

BOOK: Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke
10.89Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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