Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke (8 page)

BOOK: Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke
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Gretchen’s legs had locked her in place. Uncle Dolf had shot at her. And he was
smiling.

He strode toward her. With a gloved hand, he grabbed her chin, tilting her face back so she had to look at him. “Why so grave, my child?” His lips twitched as though he were trying to suppress a grin. “You weren’t frightened, were you? You know
better than to be scared of your uncle Dolf!”

Politeness forced her to nod. “Of course not, Uncle,” she said, and he laughed, pulling her close in the quick embrace he always had for her.

“Stop acting like a nervous old woman, Müller!” he shouted to Papa, releasing Gretchen and tramping on ahead. “Your daughter has stronger blood than you!”

Papa rushed to her side. “I’m sorry, Gretl.” His face was paper-white. He took her hand, and they followed Hitler farther into the woods. “I’m certain you weren’t in any real danger.”

She had nodded because she wanted to believe him. Fathers protected their daughters, and besides, Uncle Dolf liked to tell her stories about the Great War and listened to her singing and praised her looks. He loved her, and he wouldn’t do anything to harm her. She was sure of it.

Now, twelve years later, she touched the suitcase on her lap, feeling the curve of the revolver through the leather. After the snowball incident, Hitler had insisted on teaching her and Reinhard to shoot. Everyone ought to learn how to handle a weapon, he had said, wrapping her little fingers around the Walther’s handle while her father watched, objecting until Hitler had spun on him and told him to
keep your mouth shut, can’t you!
and Papa had finally slid into sullen silence.

She was glad of those lessons now.

Even though it hurt to owe Hitler anything.

The streetcar let her off down the street from the Munich Hauptbahnhof. In the early evening, the station was packed: exhausted-looking commuters leaned against pillars, briefcases
dangling from their hands; burghers in fine suits clogged the platforms, skimming newspapers while waiting for trains to nearby towns.

Gretchen walked along the platform reserved for the night express to Berlin. It was crowded, mostly with men and women, dressed in their traveling best, clutching their suitcases. Most of them had their backs to her, their eyes trained on the long line of track. A short fellow, hands in his pockets, dressed in a camel-hair coat; a beanpole of a man in a pinstripe suit, striking a match to light a cigarette; a middle-aged man who’d taken off his cap to smooth down his curly gray hair; and a tall man, turned away from her, the lines of his broad shoulders tight beneath his dove-gray woolen overcoat. There was something slightly off about his shoulders—the right one was raised a little higher than the left. She knew those shoulders and the injury they concealed. Her heart shot into her throat; she could barely breathe around it.

Daniel
. Everything within her screamed his name. She bit down hard on her bottom lip so she wouldn’t make a sound.

She lifted one foot, pushed it forward, then lifted the other. Slowly, slowly. Another step. Another.

Through the tangle of the travelers’ bodies, she caught snatches of Daniel as he shifted position and stood in profile: the curve of his cheek and an unblinking dark eye; a fedora tipped low, shadowing his face, so what she could see best was the strong line of his jaw; and his feet, the heels lifted slightly off the ground, as though he had rocked forward onto his toes, ready to run at a second’s notice.

She wove through the crowd, unable to look away from him.
He turned, his gaze flashing over the people gathered on the platform. She knew the instant he saw her: Everything in his face changed, the narrow eyes widening, the clenched jaw loosening, lips parting as he mouthed her name.

He lunged forward but she shook her head, and he stopped, nodding in silent comprehension. They must give no one a reason to look at them.

All around them, other travelers chatted and shifted from one foot to the other, bored and tired and ready to leave. Gretchen moved between them, keeping her eyes trained on Daniel’s. He didn’t move. He just stared at her. As she got closer, she saw a spiderweb of brown lines surrounding his left eye. It looked as though he had been punched and the bruised blood vessels were almost healed.

He moved toward her, pulling her close, wrapping his good arm around her shoulders. Through their clothes, she felt his heartbeat, a thundering rhythm. She breathed him in, those familiar scents of oranges and boy and warm skin, but he pulled back, cupping her chin in his good hand.

“What are you doing here?” he asked.

“I had to come. Herr Gerlich telegrammed that you were in trouble.”

His eyes burned into hers. “You came all this way for me?”

She hadn’t finished saying “Of course” before he bent down and kissed her. His lips were warm and insistent. She closed her eyes so there was only the welcome blackness and the heat of his mouth on hers.

Finally they separated and gazed at each other. He almost smiled and pushed a strand of hair back from her face. “Your
hair,” he murmured. “It’s a good disguise.” He seemed to catch himself and looked at the other passengers, but nobody paid them any attention. She and Daniel probably looked like an ordinary girl and her beau, reuniting after time apart. He turned back to her, his expression grave. Then he led her toward the rear of the platform, which was empty.

“You must have sacrificed so much to find me,” he said. “I’m sorry to have brought you into danger. Do you know what’s been happening today around the city?”

“Yes.” She squeezed his hand. “It’s terrible about your colleagues going to jail.”

He looked grim. “I can’t imagine that Hitler will ever let them out.”

A shrill blast pierced the quiet. A train shot along the track, its headlamp sharpening from a fuzzy white orb to a small circle. She had to press her lips against Daniel’s ear to be heard as its brakes screamed, filling the cigarette- and soot-stained air.

“Why are you still here? I thought you would have left Munich by now.”

“I’ve been hiding out in a flophouse, working with the
Post
reporters to find out more about this murder I’ve been accused of.” He grimaced. “We haven’t gotten anywhere. And now they’ve been arrested. . . .” He trailed off, blinking hard.

She gripped his hand tighter, wanting to distract him from his depressing thoughts. “Are you going to Berlin? To investigate this murder?”

He touched her face, the faintest grazing of his fingertips along her jaw. “Yes. I don’t have a choice. My false papers were stolen. I still have my real ones, though. But if I try to leave under
my own name, as a wanted murderer . . .” He shook his head, unable to finish.

Gretchen nodded. They’d had to flee Munich so quickly that they hadn’t had a chance to retrieve their own papers and had had fake ones forged so they could enter other countries. She’d never gotten hers back. After they’d settled in Oxford, though, Daniel’s cousins had sent him his papers, because he’d wanted to use his true identity when he looked for work. “We’ll find a forger to make you new ones.”

“I can’t, Gretchen.” He kept his gaze steady on hers, grim and unblinking. “I have to prove my innocence.”

She made an impatient noise in her throat. “Even if you prove you’re innocent, Hitler won’t let you leave the country.”

Daniel’s eyes were clear and determined. “Hitler’s power is limited, at least for now. President Hindenburg can remove him whenever he wants, without the Reichstag’s approval. So Hitler must tread carefully. If I can get proof that the National Socialists are behind the murder, I’ll give it to a foreign correspondent friend I have in Berlin. He’ll have the story printed in his paper in England. It’ll be an enormous scandal for the National Socialists. All eyes will be on Berlin, and they’ll have to let me leave the country.” He gave her a grave smile. “And the best part is, the world will know the National Socialists are criminals. I might be able to destroy them once and for all.”

The boldness of his plan stole her breath. Could he truly convince everyone what sort of people Hitler and his men were—and push them from power forever?

A couple of men sauntered by, munching on rolls. Gretchen was silent until they had gone, thinking. “I don’t understand why
they’re blaming you for a murder that occurred in Berlin. Why not accuse you of a crime here in Munich?”

Daniel shook his head. “I don’t know. But I aim to find out.”

The train squealed to a stop beside the platform. Porters flooded the crowd, grabbing trunks and bags.

“Is it safe for you to go to Berlin?” she asked. “I mean, you grew up there—surely you’ll be recognized.”

“I’ll be fine.” He looked exhausted, but calm. “Berlin’s like a dozen little cities. Most people live and work and go to school in their own district. The area where I grew up is on the northern outskirts. If I keep to central Berlin, no one will know me.” He took a deep breath. “I really want to go home, just for a short visit, if it’s not too risky. I miss my family so much.” His voice sounded gruff.

Just looking at him made Gretchen’s heart ache. “We’ll find a way to see them,” she said quickly. “And prove your innocence. I swear it.”

Her fear must have shown in her face, though, for he said, “I have to go to Berlin. If I don’t clear my name, I’ll either be caught and executed or I’ll have to find another forger to make me false papers and hope they’re good enough to fool the border agents. Even then, I’ll have to live under an assumed name for the rest of my life. Everyone will think I’m a murderer. I couldn’t bear that, Gretchen. The shame my parents would feel . . .” He glanced away.

The train doors opened with a metallic groan. People surged forward, eager to board the train and get settled for the night’s journey.

Daniel kissed her cheek. His touch sent a line of fire down
to her feet. “You mustn’t come with me. It’s too dangerous, Gretchen. Please, go back to England straightaway.”

She thought of the police wagons rumbling through the streets, carrying who knew how many journalists to jail, just because they wrote for Socialist or Communist newspapers. Herr Gerlich, telling her to go, helping her when he must have known that he was about to be beaten and arrested. Aaron attacked in the street because he hadn’t saluted. Eva’s deadened blue eyes, and Papa and Reinhard lying beneath the ground, and Mama banished to her parents’ farm in Dachau while Hitler remained untouched. For the last year, he had crisscrossed Germany in his airplane, campaigning, giving speeches, making promises, shaking supporters’ hands, watching his men parade in the streets. Biding his time.

She couldn’t leave. For Daniel’s sake, for the sake of everyone who had fallen under Hitler’s hand, she had to stay and help prove that the National Socialists were behind this unknown woman’s murder. She remembered sitting in Hitler’s parlor, listening as he thundered on about the Jews.
The parasites are poisoning us from within
, he’d said, one hand punching the air.
Germany will never regain her health until she rids herself of her most noxious pest
. Gretchen’s stomach twisted at the memory. She couldn’t pretend that she didn’t know how deeply Hitler hated Jews—and that he wanted them dead. He had to be stopped. As the leader of a Party publicly tied to a murder, he would be.

She looked at Daniel. “I’m going with you.”

His face tightened. “No. If you come, I won’t be able to protect you. Gretchen, you need to go back, so you can be safe—”

“Final boarding!” the conductor shouted.

Gretchen gripped her bag tightly and rushed across the platform before Daniel could stop her. As she climbed the train’s steps into the dimly lit corridor, she heard him breathing behind her, quick and hard, as though he were angry. Or frightened.

Together, they walked down the corridor flanked with first-class compartments, finally stopping when they found an empty one. He didn’t speak as he loaded their bags onto the overhead luggage racks, but a muscle clenched in his jaw.

Silently, they sat on the velour seats, Gretchen taking his hand, needing to maintain a physical connection with him. The train lurched forward. She leaned against him as the train picked up speed, watching the twinkling lights of Munich fall away as they raced into the darkness.

PART TWO
THE FATHER OF ALL THINGS

Struggle is the father of all things. . . . It is not by the principles of humanity that man lives or is able to preserve himself above the animal world, but solely by means of the most brutal struggle.


Adolf Hitler

8

DANIEL PULLED DOWN THE WINDOW SHADES,
closing out the night. As he slipped off his coat, Gretchen studied him: Although only two weeks had passed since they’d seen each other, he looked thinner, the hollows beneath his cheekbones more pronounced. He must have had to go hungry many nights.

“We ought to move to a third-class car,” he said. “This carriage is far too expensive.”

The thought of sitting in a compartment where the seats were crammed closely together, unable to speak freely for fear of others overhearing, and sleeping among strangers made Gretchen’s flesh crawl.

“We need the privacy—” she began as their compartment door opened and the conductor poked his head inside.

“Tickets?” he asked.

Daniel reached for his wallet, but Gretchen shook her head
and paid with some of the Whitestones’ money. Daniel opened his mouth to protest, then looked away. She could imagine how it wounded his pride, to have her pay for him, but he probably didn’t have more than a handful of coins at this point.

Once the conductor had left and Daniel had closed the compartment door, they sat beside each other again. He wrapped his good arm around her shoulders, drawing her close, and she rested her head on his chest, listening to the reassuring beat of his heart against her ear.

“Tell me everything,” she said.

“Aaron’s dead.” Daniel’s voice was thick. When she twisted in his arms to look at him, she could see his eyes shining with unshed tears. “He died before I reached Munich. Ruth and his parents had him buried in the Jewish cemetery. Then they emptied out their apartment and moved back to Frankfurt. I hadn’t told them I was coming—I was concerned someone might intercept a telegram. So when I showed up in Munich and found everyone gone, I had to talk to Aaron and Ruth’s neighbors to find out what had happened. They said Ruth had told them she couldn’t ever return to the city where her brother had been killed.”

His arm fell from her shoulders and he dropped his head into his hands. “I went to the
Munich Post
offices,” he said quietly. “I wanted to ask my old colleagues to dig up information about Aaron’s assailants. They said these kinds of attacks have been happening all over the country, and it would be practically impossible to find out who was responsible.”

His hands hid his face, but she heard the agony in his voice. “I didn’t realize the nightmare their lives have become. They’ve been living on the run for months.” He took a shaky breath.
“For a long time, they haven’t dared to print their bylines in the paper.”

He lowered his hand. His eyes were wide and unfocused, as though he were trapped in the past. “When I left the office, I saw a couple of SA men hanging about in the street. I remembered them from my reporter days, when I used to cover Hitler’s speeches. They recognized me, too, and dragged me into an alley. I tried my best to hold them off but . . .”

He sighed. “They took my money and my false papers—my real ones were at my rooming house. Later I was able to go back and get them, but of course I can’t use them as a wanted criminal. Anyway, those men probably would have killed me if a group of elderly ladies hadn’t happened to walk by right then and said they were going to get the police.” He managed a small smile. “Those old ladies saved my life. Ever since then, I’ve been moving from one flophouse to the next. The reporters lent me some money, enough to get by, but I didn’t have enough for new false papers. I thought about asking my parents for help, but I was afraid the police might go through their correspondence. I don’t want to get them in trouble. And then the Party papers announced that I was wanted for murder in Berlin.

“The SA fellows who beat me must have told other people that I was back in Munich. All I can think is that some National Socialists in Berlin got word of it. This is how they plan to get rid of me, in a way that appears perfectly legal.” He closed his eyes. Fatigue had tinted his face gray. “And the people who would have protested have been arrested. I don’t know if any of my colleagues escaped the roundup. Maybe Herr Gerlich did.”

Gretchen placed her hand on Daniel’s knee. Beneath his
slacks, the muscles around his knee felt rigid. The rhythmic rocking of the train swayed their bodies slightly. “I’m sorry,” she said. “He was arrested, too. I was with him when the SA came.”

Daniel’s eyes opened and he stared at her. “You were with Gerlich? How on earth did you get away?”

The whole story tumbled out. By the time she had finished, Daniel had moved closer to her and gripped her hands tightly, his gaze never leaving her face. “Thank God you escaped. If anything had happened to you . . .” He looked down for an instant, then back at her, the muscles in his throat working as he tried to swallow.

The sight of him struggling not to cry was contagious; tears slid down her own face. “We’ll clear your name so we can get out of here. We can do it, Daniel.”

“Once we’re back in England, we’ll tell people what’s really happening in Germany. We’ll have proof this time, proof nobody can ignore. My story will be enough to get me a newspaper job anywhere.” With the tips of his fingers, he wiped away the tears on her cheeks. “Then we’ll live. Really live, Gretchen, without any more fear. I swear it.”

She smiled and kissed him. The familiar feel of his lips on hers made a sob rise in her chest. Her Daniel, who made all her jagged edges smooth. Only an hour ago she hadn’t been certain if she would ever see him again. She pulled back and wiped her eyes.

“Oh, Gretchen.” Daniel’s face twisted. “I’m so sorry I’ve put you through this. I’d give anything to keep you safe.”

She couldn’t stop staring at him, as if turning away for an instant might make him vanish. “Just don’t leave me again—”

She broke off as the train jerked to a halt, its wheels emitting
a loud metallic shriek. In the sudden silence, she could hear her heart racing in her chest. Why had the train stopped? A scant thirty minutes had passed since they had left Munich; they had hours to go before reaching Berlin.

Daniel yanked up the window shade. In the darkness, the lighted windows of a small town appeared like squares of gold. Gretchen frowned. She recognized the buildings’ steeply pitched red tile roofs and the whitewash of their stone walls. They were at Dachau. But the train should have gone straight through without stopping.

“Something’s happening.” Daniel looked grim. With his good hand, he grabbed her suitcase off the overhead luggage rack, then his. “Let’s go.”

“Daniel, there could be a perfectly good explanation—”

“One thing I’ve learned over the last couple of weeks is to trust my instincts. And they’re telling me there’s no good reason for this train to have stopped. Come on.” He practically threw her coat at her and she slipped into it, her nervous fingers fumbling at the buttons until she gave up and peeked into the corridor.

A couple of men in SA brown stood at the opposite end with their backs to her, talking to people in another compartment. Even from a distance, Gretchen could hear a woman’s shrill voice saying, “You’ve no right to barge in here! I’d finally gotten my baby to sleep and now you’ve woken her up!”

“Our apologies, Frau,” one of the men said. “We’re looking for a middle-aged fellow. Brown beard, spectacles, a bit plump. Have you seen him?”

“It’s all right.” Gretchen sagged with relief. “They’re looking for somebody else.”

Then the SA man turned and she saw his profile. A shiver shot down her spine. She knew him. It was Werner Bayer, one of Reinhard’s old friends. There was no way he wouldn’t recognize her; they’d been acquaintances for years.

She shrank back into the compartment. “We have to get out of here! One of the SA fellows—I know him!”

Daniel’s jaw tightened. “Come on.
Now
,” he added when she stood, frozen.

Clutching their suitcases, they crept into the corridor. Gretchen didn’t dare look back at the SA men, but she heard the rumble of their voices. Her heart pounded as she followed Daniel down the corridor toward the end of the carriage.

“Hey, you! Where do you think you’re going?” called someone from behind them. It was Werner; she recognized his slight lisp.

She couldn’t move. But Daniel turned, looking annoyed. “What is it?”

Footsteps sounded on the carpeted corridor, coming closer. “Why are you getting off? This isn’t a scheduled stop.”

Daniel’s face broke into a rueful grin. “Try convincing my girl here of that. I’ve finally gotten her to agree to go to Berlin with me for the weekend and now she’s got cold feet and is whining that her reputation’s going to be ruined! I’ll have to ring a friend of mine to drive us home so her father doesn’t find out.”

The SA fellows laughed. “Hard luck!” one of them sympathized. “All right, get going.”

“Thanks.” Daniel tipped his hat. How had he managed to think so quickly? At another time, Gretchen would have been impressed; now she was too anxious to feel anything else.
Whistling, Daniel hurried along the corridor, Gretchen at his heels. He wrenched open the carriage doors and clattered down the metal steps, Gretchen following closely. They walked toward the small train station, Daniel muttering, “Act natural. Somebody might be watching.”

They stepped into the brightly lit station and pretended to study a display of maps until the train roared forward. Through the window, Gretchen watched the locomotive lumber past, gaining speed every second until it was nothing more than a black line reflecting starlight in the north. Releasing a pent-up breath, she glanced at Daniel.

“Let’s go,” he muttered. “The stationmaster’s looking at us.”

Together, they went outside and stood on the platform. The harsh wind blew right through Gretchen’s coat, and she shivered.

“That was good thinking on the train,” she said. “However did you think up that story so fast?”

He shrugged. “Habit, I suppose. When I was a reporter in Munich, I had to make up stories all the time to get potential sources to talk to me.”

It was a side of him she hadn’t seen since they’d moved to England: quick-witted, daring, confident. Despite the circumstances, she couldn’t help being glad she’d seen it again. She knew Daniel never felt more alive than when he was digging for the truth.

“I’m afraid we’re stuck here for the night,” Daniel said. “There won’t be any more trains until morning. Are there any cheap lodging houses in town?”

Gretchen knew why he asked; as a child, she’d often spent summers in Dachau at her grandparents’ farm. “Not really. This
is a small town, Daniel, and it’s mostly houses. If we do find a boardinghouse with a vacancy, the proprietor’s sure to ask for our papers.”

“Which I can’t show him.” Daniel heaved a sigh. “The temperature must be near freezing. We can’t possibly camp out in the marshlands and we can’t stay here or the stationmaster will get suspicious.”

They looked at each other. Gretchen knew what he was thinking by the uneasiness in his expression: of her grandparents’ farmhouse on the northern outskirts of town, where her mother might be living.

“They won’t like having you there,” she said quickly. “But they won’t turn you in, I’m sure of it.”

“I can’t imagine the place will be under surveillance,” he said, almost to himself. “Nobody knows you’re back in Munich, right?”

“Only Herr Gerlich and Eva.” Neither added what she hadn’t said—that presumably the only people Gerlich could tell about her return were his jailers. As for Eva, they could only hope she would keep her promise to Gretchen and maintain her silence.

Daniel nodded. “There’s nothing for it, then: We’ll have to stay at your grandparents’ house, at least for the night.”

“It’s a long walk,” she warned. Her stomach cramped with anxiety at the thought of seeing Mama again. It had been so long since they’d been together, and she knew too well that Mama wouldn’t understand the choices she’d made. Did she still love Gretchen? Or were the bonds of blood and years not enough? She pushed the questions away and tried to keep her tone light.

“We’d best get started,” she said.

Hefting their bags, they began walking. Gretchen watched their breaths make white clouds in the air. A dusting of snow lay on the ground.

Dachau’s white houses looked ghostly in the night. Gretchen and Daniel headed east, to skirt the town, and walked alongside the Würm River. Overhead, more and more stars winked into life, painting the marshlands and the rushing river waters silver.

Gretchen pictured the town’s layout in her mind. On Dachau’s outermost northern limits stood her grandparents’ farm and the old powder factory, separated from each other by a forest and a river. The powder factory was a thirty-minute walk from the station, her grandparents’ home at least another twenty. They had almost an hour’s worth of walking ahead of them.

Fog curled on the ground, and they had to step carefully between the gaping holes in the marshland, from where the big breweries in Munich had cut swaths of peat moss to make beer. As the starlight sprinkled down on the fields, Gretchen saw that the ruined farmland looked dead.

She was too exhausted and cold to talk. Daniel seemed to need silence, too, for he said little as they plunged into the forest, where the pine branches tangled so thickly overhead that they could barely see the light of the stars. Through the filigree of tree trunks, Gretchen spied the massive white concrete wall encircling the former munitions factory. It had been abandoned for years, since the end of the Great War, and she remembered playing hide-and-seek there as a child, darting between the whitewashed civil servants’ villas, laughing. Now she heard nothing but the whine of wind between the trees.

BOOK: Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke
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