Authors: Robert Harris
The house was large and of a curious design. It had three stories capped by a steep roof of blue slate. To the left were the two stone towers the sentry had described. These were attached to the main body of the house, which had a balcony with a stone balustrade running the entire length of the first floor. The balcony was supported by pillars. Behind these, half hidden in the shadows, was the main entrance. March started toward it. Beech trees and firs grew in untended profusion along the sides of the drive. The borders were neglected. Dead leaves, unswept since the winter, blew across the lawn.
He stepped between the pillars. The first surprise. The front door was unlocked.
March stood in the hall and looked around. There was an oak staircase to the right, two doors to the left and a gloomy passage straight ahead, which he guessed led to the kitchen.
He tried the first door. Behind it was a paneled dining room: a long table and twelve high-backed carved chairs, cold and musty from disuse.
The next door led to the drawing room. He continued his mental inventory. Rugs on a polished wooden floor. Heavy furniture upholstered in rich brocade. Tapestries
on the wall—good ones, too, if March was any judge, which he wasn't. By the window was a grand piano on which stood two large photographs. March tilted one toward the light, which shone weakly through the dusty leaded panes. The frame was heavy silver, with a swastika motif. The picture showed Buhler and his wife on their wedding day, coming down a flight of steps between an honor guard of SA men holding oak boughs over the happy couple. Buhler was also in SA uniform. His wife had flowers woven into her hair and was—to use a favorite expression of Max Jaeger—as ugly as a box of frogs. Neither was smiling.
March picked up the other photograph and immediately felt his stomach lurch. There was Buhler again, slightly bowing this time and shaking hands. The man who was the object of this obeisance had his face half turned to the camera, as if distracted in midgreeting by something behind the photographer's shoulder. There was an inscription. March smeared his finger through the grime on the glass to decipher the crabbed writing. "To Party Comrade Buhler," it read. "From Adolf Hitler. May 17, 1945."
Suddenly, March heard a noise: a sound like a door being kicked, followed by a whimper. He replaced the photograph and went back into the hall. The noise was coming from the end of the passage.
He drew his pistol and edged down the corridor. As he had suspected, it gave on to the kitchen. The noise came again: a cry of terror and a drumming of feet. There was a smell, too—of something filthy. *
At the far end of the kitchen was a door. He reached out and grasped the handle and then, with a jerk, pulled the door open. Something huge leapt out of the darkness. A dog, muzzled, eyes wide in terror, went crashing across the floor, down the passage, into the hall and out through the open front door. The larder floor was stinking, thick with feces and urine and food that the dog had pulled down from the shelves but been unable to eat.
After that, March would have liked to have stopped for a few minutes to steady himself. But he had no time. He put the Luger away and quickly examined the kitchen. A few greasy plates in the sink. On the table, a bottle of vodka, nearly empty, with a glass next to it. There was a door to a cellar, but it was locked; he decided not to break it down. He went upstairs. Bedrooms, bathrooms—everywhere had the same atmosphere of shabby luxury, of a grand life-style gone to seed. And everywhere, he noticed, there were paintings—landscapes, religious allegories, portraits—most of them thick with dust. The place had not been properly cleaned for months, maybe years.
The room that must have been Buhler's study was on the top floor of one of the towers. Shelves of legal textbooks, case studies, decrees. A big desk with a swivel chair next to a window overlooking the back lawn of the house. A long sofa with blankets draped beside it, which appeared to have been regularly slept on. And more photographs. Buhler in his lawyer's robes. Buhler in his SS uniform. Buhler with a group of Nazi bigwigs, one of whom March vaguely recognized as Hans Frank, in the front row of what might have been a concert. All the pictures seemed to be at least twenty years old.
March sat at the desk and looked out of the window. The lawn led down to the Havel's edge. There was a small jetty with a cabin cruiser moored to it and, beyond that, a clear view of the lake, right across to the opposite shore. Far in the distance, the Kladow-Wannsee ferry chugged by.
He turned his attention to the desk itself. A blotter. A heavy brass inkstand. A telephone. He stretched his hand toward it.
It began to ring.
His hand hung motionless. One ring. Two. Three. The stillness of the house magnified the sound; the dusty air vibrated. Four. Five. He flexed his fingers over the receiver. Six. Seven. He picked it up.
"Buhler?" The voice of an old man more dead than
alive; a whisper from another world. "Buhler? Speak to me. Who is that?"
March said, "A friend."
Whoever it was had hung up. March replaced the receiver. Quickly he began opening the desk drawers at random. A few pencils, some notepaper, a dictionary. He pulled the bottom drawers out, one after the other, and put his hand into the space.
There was nothing.
There was something.
At the very back, his fingers brushed against an object small and smooth. He pulled it out. A small notebook bound in black leather, an eagle and swastika in gold lettering on the cover. He flicked through it. The Party diary for 1964. He slipped it into his pocket and replaced the drawers.
Outside, Buhler's dog was going crazy, running from side to side along the water's edge, staring across the Havel, whinnying like a horse. Every few seconds it would get down on its hind legs before resuming its desperate patrol. He could see now that almost the whole of its right side was matted with dried blood. It paid no attention to March as he walked down to the lake.
The heels of his boots rang on the planks of the wooden jetty. Through the gaps between the rickety boards he could see the muddy water a meter below, lapping in the shallows. At the end of the jetty he stepped down into the boat. It rocked with his weight. There were several centimeters of rainwater on the aft deck, clogged with dirt and leaves, a rainbow of oil on the surface. The whole boat stank of fuel. There must be a leak. He stopped and tried the small door to the cabin. It was locked. Cupping his hands, he peered through the window, but it was too dark to see.
He jumped out of the boat and began retracing his steps. The wood of the jetty was weathered gray, except in one place, along the edge opposite the boat. Here there
were orange splinters, a scrape of white paint. March was bending to examine the marks when his eye was caught by something pale gleaming in the water, close to the place where the jetty left the shore. He walked back and knelt, and by holding on with his left hand and stretching down as far as he could with his right, he was just able to retrieve it. Pink and chipped like an ancient china doll, with leather straps and steel buckles, it was an artificial foot.
The dog heard them first. It cocked its head, turned and trotted up the lawn toward the house. At once, March dropped his discovery back into the water and ran after the wounded animal. Cursing his stupidity, he worked his way around the side of the house until he stood in the shadow of the towers and could see the gate. The dog was leaping up at the ironwork, grunting through its muzzle. On the other side, March could make out two figures standing looking at the house. Then a third appeared with a large pair of bolt cutters, which he clamped onto the lock. After ten seconds of pressure, it gave way with a loud crack.
The dog backed away as the three men filed onto the grounds. Like March, they wore the black uniforms of the SS. One seemed to take something from his pocket and walked toward the dog, hand outstretched, as if offering it a treat. The animal cringed. A single shot exploded the silence, echoing around the grounds and sending a flock of rooks cawing into the air above the woods. The man holstered his revolver and gestured at the corpse to one of his companions, who seized it by the hind legs and dragged it into the bushes.
All three men strode toward the house. March stayed behind the pillar, slowly edging around it as they came up the drive, keeping himself out of sight. It occurred to him that he had no reason to hide. He could tell the Gestapo men that he had been searching the property, that he had
not received Jaeger's message. But something in their manner, in the casual ruthlessness with which they had disposed of the dog, warned him against it.
They had been here before.
As they came closer, he could make out their ranks. Two Sturmbannführer and an
—a brace of majors and a general. What matter of state security could demand the personal attention of a full Gestapo general? The Obergruppenführer was in his late fifties, built like an ox, with the battered face of an ex-boxer. March recognized him from the television, from newspaper photographs.
Who was he?
Then he remembered. Odilo Globocnik. Familiarly known throughout the SS as Globus. Years ago he had been
of Vienna. It was Globus who had shot the dog.
"You—the ground floor," said Globus. "You—check the back."
They drew their guns and disappeared into the house. March waited half a minute, then set off for the gate. He skirted the perimeter of the garden, avoiding the drive, picking his way instead, almost bent double, through the tangled shrubbery. Five meters from the gate, he paused for breath. Built into the right-hand gatepost, so discreet it was scarcely noticeable, was a rusty metal container—a mailbox—in which rested a large brown package.
This is madness, he thought. Absolute madness.
He did not run to the gate: nothing, he knew, attracts the human eye like sudden movement. Instead he made himself stroll from the bushes as if it were the most natural thing in the world, tugged the package from the mailbox and sauntered out of the open gate.
He expected to hear a shout from behind him, or a shot. But the only sound was the rustle of the wind in the trees. When he reached his car, he found his hands were shaking.
"Why do we believe in Germany and the Führer?"
"Because we believe in God, we believe in Germany, which He created, in His world and in the Führer, Adolf Hitler, whom He has sent us."
"Whom must we primarily serve?"
"Our people and our Führer, Adolf Hitler."
"Why do we obey?"
"From inner conviction, from belief in Germany, in the Führer, in the Movement and in the SS, and from loyalty."
"Good!" The instructor nodded. "Good. Reassemble in thirty-five minutes on the south sports field. Jost: stay behind. The rest of you: dismissed!"
With their cropped hair and their loose-fitting light gray drill uniforms, the class of SS cadets looked like convicts. They filed out noisily, with a scraping of chairs and a stamping of boots on the rough wooden floor. A large portrait of the late Heinrich Himmler smiled down on them benevolently. Jost looked forlorn standing at attention, alone in the center of the classroom. Some of the other cadets gave him curious glances as they left. It had to be Jost, you could see them thinking. Jost: the queer, the
loner, always the odd one out. He might well be due another beating in the barracks tonight.
The instructor nodded toward the back of the classroom. "You have a visitor."
March was leaning against a radiator, arms folded, watching. "Hello again, Jost," he said.
They walked across the vast parade ground. In one corner, a batch of new recruits was being harangued by an SS-
. In another, a hundred youths in black tracksuits stretched, twisted and touched their toes in perfect obedience to shouted commands. Meeting Jost here reminded March of visiting prisoners in jail. The same institutionalized smell of polish and disinfectant and boiled food. The same ugly concrete blocks of buildings. The same high walls and patrols of guards. Like a KZ, the Sepp Dietrich Academy was both huge and claustrophobic; an entirely self-enclosed world.
"Can we go somewhere private?" asked March.
Jost gave him a contemptuous look. "There is no privacy here. That's the point." They took a few more paces. "I suppose we could try the barracks. Everyone else is eating."
They turned, and Jost led the way into a low, gray- painted building. Inside it was gloomy, with a strong smell of male sweat. There must have been a hundred beds, laid out in four rows. Jost had guessed correctly: it was deserted. His bed was two thirds of the way down, in the center. March sat on the coarse brown blanket and offered Jost a cigarette.
"It's not allowed in here."
March waved the packet at him. "Go ahead. Say I ordered you."
Jost took it gratefully. He knelt, opened the metal locker beside the bed and began searching for something to use as an ashtray. As the door hung open, March could see inside: a pile of paperbacks, magazines, a framed photograph.
Jost shrugged. "Sure."
March picked up the photograph. A family group, it reminded him of the picture of the Weisses. Father in an SS uniform. Shy-looking mother in a hat. Daughter: a pretty girl with blond plaits; fourteen, maybe. And Jost himself: fat cheeked and smiling, barely recognizable as the harrowed, cropped figure now kneeling on the stone barracks floor.