Authors: John A. Connell
Tags: #Fiction, #Thrillers, #Historical, #Mystery & Detective, #International Mystery & Crime
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Copyright © 2015 by John A. Connell.
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eBook ISBN: 978-0-698-18485-5
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Connell, John A.
Ruins of war / John A. Connell.
ISBN 978-0-425-27895-6 (hardback)
1. Veterans—Employment—Fiction. 2. Murder investigation—Illinois— Chicago—Fiction. 3. Stalker—Fiction. 4. Crime stories. I. Title.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. The author’s use of historical figures, places, or events are not intended to change the entirely fictional character of the work. In all other respects, any resemblance to persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.
To my wife, Janine
Creating a story is a solitary endeavor, but the creation of a book requires many dedicated professionals who are also ardent book lovers. Foremost on this list I would like to thank is my agent, Matt Bialer, for his faith in me, his tireless efforts and patient guidance. To my editor, Natalee Rosenstein, for her belief in this book, her vision and enthusiastic support. To Robin Barletta for always being there, tolerating my endless questions and allaying my insecurities. I owe a debt of thanks to the copyeditor, Sheila Moody, and the managing editor, Lara Robbins, for keeping the manuscript (and me) on the straight and narrow. And I also want to extend my gratitude to all the people at Berkley Publishing Group—art department, marketing, publicity, and sales teams—booklovers and consummate professionals, all. To Ed Stackler, independent editor and friend, for his extraordinary talents and insights in guiding me through numerous drafts of this book. Without him I might still be only dreaming of seeing my novel in print. To my family—my father; my brothers, Tim and Tom; my nieces, Kendra and Kate; and my stepdaughter, Julie—for giving me their love and support, for their counsel, and for their confidence in my work even when I had doubts. To my very dear friends, Peter and Rebecca Collister, for their encouragement and enthusiasm, and for providing their pied-à-terre in Paris whenever I needed a place to write in complete solitude.
A historical novel is built upon the foundations of the work, passion, and dedication of scholars, historians, archivists, and librarians. I am deeply indebted to them. In my attempt to compile a list of sources, books, articles, memoirs, archives, and websites, I realized just how many I had consulted, and too many provide an exhaustive list. However, I would like to acknowledge those sources to which I turned time and again: Ian Sayer and Douglas Botting,
In the Ruins of the Reich
(1984); Wilford Byford-Jones,
(1947); Edward N. Peterson,
The American Occupation of Germany: Retreat to Victory
(1977); Robert Jay Lifton,
The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide
(1986); Giles MacDonogh,
After the Reich: From the Liberation of Vienna to the Berlin Airlift
Doctors from Hell
(2005). And while I made every effort to adhere to historical facts and events, this is a work of fiction, and there are, alas, occasions where, for the sake of the story, or through mistakes that are solely my own, alert readers and scholars will inevitably discover errors or alterations.
And I would not have the joy and privilege to write these acknowledgments if it weren’t for my wife, Janine. It is she who rekindled the writer in me. She supported me without question, pushed me, inspired me, and tolerated my absences, my silences, and my absentmindedness as I “wrote” in my head. She slogged through many drafts, always offering encouragement and criticism whenever I needed them most. A most extraordinary woman.
THE AMERICAN ZONE OF OCCUPATION
riminal investigator Mason Collins felt as though he were being whisked through the landscape of a bad dream, the charred bones of what had once been Munich passing before him. His driver maneuvered the jeep down the street as if in a road rally, swerving around piles of rubble, horse-drawn wagons, and languid pedestrians. He honked the horn yet again when an elderly couple pushing a wooden cart stacked with their few belongings tried to cross the street at the wrong time.
“Dumb-ass krauts,” the driver yelled as they blew past.
“Corporal, you know the murder victim is already dead?” Mason said.
“Then dial the speed down to somewhere below bat-out-of-hell.”
The corporal slowed but purposely veered narrowly by two German ex-soldiers, still dressed in their shredded uniforms, then sent up his middle finger. “
“I’m only going to say it one more time, Corporal. You will can that crap right now.”
“Begging your pardon, sir, but you feel sorry for these people? First they’re saluting Hitler and wanting to take over the world, and now look at ’em.”
“Yeah, look at them.”
Mason nodded at the pitiful scene before their jeep. People huddled against the biting wind as they shuffled along a street lined with the blackened shells of buildings rising from a graveyard of brick and stone. The heavy gauze of snowfall made them appear as lost souls wandering purgatory, custodians of the dead buried beneath the rubble. Except for the old and the very young, few men moved among them. Women, always women. A line of women extended for blocks, waiting hours in the cold for a Red Cross center to open, hoping to receive a loaf of bread and a few ounces of lard. Others scoured the rubble looking for wood not already burned to fend off the cold. They formed knotted daisy chains salvaging brick and stone from the ruins, inspiring a new German word,
, meaning “rubble women.”
The corporal was a boy of no more than twenty-one and fresh off the streets of New York City. His name was Sal Manganella, but everyone called him Salamander. A fitting nickname—all nose and chin. He noticed Mason looking at him and hunched his shoulders as if anticipating further rebuke. He relaxed when Mason looked away. “Word is, they offered you a discharge, but you turned them down.”
Mason waited a moment before responding. “The army needs experienced cops, so I re-upped.”
“Pardon my speaking freely, sir . . .”
“That doesn’t seem to be a problem for you.”
“Yes, sir . . . What kind of crackpot wants to stay in this hellhole when he could be a cop back in the States?”
Mason remained silent. There was no way he was going to get into it with a snot-nosed kid whose only notion of the war was getting drunk and chasing fräuleins.
a hellhole. The nation had surrendered seven months before, but millions would continue to die. Disease, starvation, and winter’s icy embrace had replaced the bullets and bombs. And murder flourished in the ruins. Retribution, greed, madness, jealousy, and desperation all fed a hungry beast. Murder happened every day, hundreds in a week, thousands in a month.
Mason had been a reluctant guest of the German army from December 1944 until liberated in mid-April. After a two-month stint in a hospital with typhoid fever and dysentery, he’d been offered a discharge. Much to the surprise and delight of the army staff, Mason had volunteered to stay on. He’d worked an interminable six months at a desk job at U.S. Army headquarters in Frankfurt before his request to be transferred to the Criminal Investigation Division had finally been accepted. And now, less than two weeks after he arrived in Munich, he’d landed his first homicide. It felt good to be back in the saddle.
Maybe here, among these ruins, Mason could find a new beginning, regeneration in a festering wound.
Manganella made another sharp turn, nearly throwing Mason into his lap. Mason was about to chew him out, when the corporal slammed on the brakes. Two U.S. Army military policemen held their hands high for them to stop. They stood in front of two jeeps parked to block the road. Four other MPs and two officers formed a wall that blocked Mason’s view of whatever was causing the screaming bedlam behind them.
“You’re going to have to turn around, sir,” one of the MPs said. “All hell’s broken loose. We’ve got a bunch of locals fighting it out over a cellar full of wine bottles.”
Mason stood up in the jeep and peered over their heads. It was a madhouse. More than a hundred civilians were jammed in the narrow street acting as if possessed. Women screamed as they fought each other, pulling hair or using wine bottles as clubs. Old men whacked anyone within striking range, while clutching bottles to
their chests. In the midst of the pandemonium emaciated children darted between sparring adults, taking boxes dropped during the fighting then disappearing into the gaps of the collapsed buildings. People emerged from what looked like a simple hole in the rubble with wine bottles or whole cases tucked in their arms. Some men stood among the fighters, paying no heed to their alcohol-fueled competitors as they smashed the neck of a bottle and downed as much wine as they could before throwing away the empty, and breaking the neck of the next.
An MP sergeant standing on a jeep with a bullhorn was shouting in English, “Disperse. This is property of the U.S. Army. You will be arrested. Disperse. That’s an order.”
Corporal Manganella laughed at the spectacle, while off to Mason’s right a small group of journalists took notes or snapped pictures. One of the photographers caught Mason’s eye, an unexpected beauty among the beasts. She had a broad face framing a thin, upturned nose and stunning blue eyes. Her black hair was pulled back in an updo, victory-roll style, beneath a billed hat with the circular patch that identified her as a war correspondent sewn onto the crown. The journalist snapped another picture while sporting a mischievous smile. She, like the rest, was having a field day reporting on the day’s version of chaos while the helpless MPs looked on.
Mason jumped out of the jeep and stepped up to the master sergeant. “You better get this under control, Sergeant, or you’re going to have a
riot on your hands.”
The sergeant whirled around. “I’m goddamned trying—” He stopped when he saw Mason’s CID bars. “We’re trying the best we can, sir. The damned radios we’ve been issued are worthless. I had to send someone to headquarters for backup. They should be here in a few minutes.”
Mason climbed up onto one of the MP jeeps, which had a mounted thirty-caliber machine gun. He pulled back the charger and whirled it on the crowd.
The sergeant yelled, “Sir, that’s against reg—”
Mason fired a long burst above the heads of the crowd. The blasts from the machine gun were deafening. The bullets shattered brick and stone.
The crowd stopped in unison, stupefied by the man with the machine gun. Some froze with fists or bottles still poised to strike. Mason shouted in German, “Stop this now. Get out of here. You do not want me lowering my aim.”
There was no argument, no resuming the fight. Those who had been beating on their opponents a moment earlier were now helping them to their feet. They all began to disperse, women holding each other for support, drunken men staggering away, all leaving their once-prized booty on the ground or dropping it to the pavement with a crash. MP medics rushed in to take care of the injured sprawled on the wine-soaked pavement.
“Who the hell is the moron on that machine gun?” someone yelled at the far left side of the street. A bull-sized MP master sergeant came running up, red faced with anger.
The sergeant pointed at Mason.
The master sergeant stopped in midstride, came to stiff attention, and saluted. “A fine idea, sir. I’m not familiar with that method of crowd control. I’m wondering, sir, if you would have carried out your threat if they hadn’t stopped.”
“Have you been on the receiving end of machine gun fire, Sergeant?”
“Can’t say as I have, sir.”
“I have. It’s a great motivator.”
“I’ll remember that, sir. Anytime I want to make a point, I’ll open fire on unarmed civilians.”
The master sergeant stiffened and waited to be chewed out for his insubordination. Instead, Mason smiled and held out his hand. “Mason Collins.”
The sergeant’s shoulders relaxed and he gave Mason a hearty handshake. “Pleased to meet you, sir. I’m Vincent Wolski. Actually, Warrant
Officer Wolski, now that I’m with the CID. Colonel Walton told me I was to partner with you—”
“I don’t need any partners,” Mason said and started walking back to the jeep.
Wolski followed behind. “I’m just following orders, sir. What you do with that is up to you.”
Mason pointed to Wolski’s master-sergeant patch. “What are you doing with those stripes if you’re CID?”
CID was the army’s acronym for Criminal Investigation Division, the army’s detective bureau.
“I was just transferred to the detachment this morning from the 508th C Company and didn’t have time to change out of my uniform. A driver was taking me to the crime scene when we ran into this mess.”
The 508th Military Police Battalion was in charge of law enforcement for Munich and the surrounding areas.
Mason stopped and eyed him for a moment. The man was big enough to play tackle for the NFL, and Mason saw the keenness in his eyes. But Wolski’s most endearing quality, Mason thought, would be his subversive sense of humor. “Tell your driver to go back to the station. You can ride with us.”
“That was quite a display you put on back there,” someone said behind him.
It was as much the velvety voice as the provocative statement that made Mason stop and turn around. The brunette reporter stood shoulder height and looked up at him with the same mischievous smile. She held out her hand. “Laura McKinnon with the Associated Press.”
Mason shook her hand. “I don’t talk to reporters.”
“Why not? Are you afraid?”
“I saw you over there snapping pictures of a dangerous situation with a big smile on your face. That’s when a little alarm bell went off in my head.”
“It’s not every day I see a soldier open fire on innocent civilians.”
“Well, ma’am, I’m happy to report that the result was damage to a
few ruined buildings. And if I hadn’t done that, people could have been killed.”
“A rather dire prediction. I think some soldiers miss the war and look for any excuse to discharge their weapon.”
Even without Miss McKinnon’s sly smile, Mason got the play on words.
“In June, while I was stationed in Frankfurt, three hundred recently released Russian POWs and displaced Poles rushed two tanker trucks full of industrial-grade alcohol. A drunken riot ensued that spilled over into the civilian population. It then grew to two thousand. In the thirty minutes it took for the MPs to arrive and the additional thirty minutes for them to decide to fire over their heads, over a hundred people died from beatings or alcohol poisoning. Another three hundred and fifty were hospitalized. We’ll never know how many would have been saved if they’d fired sooner. But you won’t write about that. No, I can see it now”—Mason waved his hand in the air as if revealing a headline in bold letters—“‘CID Chief Warrant Officer Opens Fire on Innocent Civilians.’ That’s why I don’t like to talk to reporters. Good day, ma’am.”
Mason turned and strode toward the jeep before being trapped by her mesmerizing eyes. He jumped in the jeep and signaled for Manganella to take off.
“What the hell was that riot all about?” Manganella said as he reversed the jeep and drove back the way they had come.
“Seems a group of civilians discovered a big wine cellar while recovering a couple of bodies from that collapsed building,” Wolski said.
Once they were far enough away from the other MPs, Wolski pulled out a wine bottle from his overcoat and wagged it at Mason and Manganella. “A 1927 Chateau Lafitte. That cellar was full of the best French wines. Now half the stuff is soaking into the pavement. A damn shame. I doubt many of the bottles are going to make it back to the collection depot.”
Mason took the bottle from Wolski and examined it.
Corporal Manganella said, “Some Nazi son of a bitch stole it from some poor French bastard. Spoils of war, sir.”
“Maybe I could have done more to stop those people, but I felt sorry for them,” Wolski said. “Can you imagine what a bottle of wine like this could get on the black market? At least a month’s worth of food. Or better yet, a pile of blankets and a cartful of coal.” He shook his head. “Mid-December and already as cold as my ex-girlfriend’s heart.”
When Manganella turned the jeep onto the main thoroughfare, Mason ordered him to stop next to an old woman leading two small children. He held out the bottle to the woman, urging her to take it. The woman reached out and accepted it as if he’d given her a diamond tiara. Mason signaled for Manganella to proceed. Manganella giggled as he did so. Wolski remained silent.
Mason adjusted the side-view mirror to look at Wolski. He liked the fact that the man hadn’t whined or complained. “You came from the 508th?”
“Ever done any detective work?”
“Three years on the beat in Detroit, then three in vice squad before joining the army. My time on the force in Detroit is why they sent me over to you guys. That, and me driving my superior officer crazy.”
“No homicide?” Mason asked.
“Vice isn’t just about busting hookers and smut dealers. I collected evidence, ran interviews.”
“Well, that’s better than some of the jokers they’ve put in CID.”
They entered another street of burned-out apartment buildings with boarded-up storefronts on the ground floor.
Wolski leaned forward. “So, about your machine gun remark . . . you must have seen some action.”
“I didn’t think you CID boys saw much fighting.”
“I was an agent for G2 intelligence attached to the 422nd Regiment.”
“I heard they got chewed up pretty bad in the Bulge.”