The Pale House [NOOK Book]

Overview

As the Nazi war machine is pushed back across Europe, defeat has become inevitable. But there are those who seek to continue the fight beyond the battlefield.

German intelligence officer Captain Gregor Reinhardt has just been reassigned to the Feldjaegerkorps—a new branch of the military police with far-reaching powers. His position separates him from the friends and allies he has made in the last two years, including a circle of fellow ...
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The Pale House

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Overview

As the Nazi war machine is pushed back across Europe, defeat has become inevitable. But there are those who seek to continue the fight beyond the battlefield.

German intelligence officer Captain Gregor Reinhardt has just been reassigned to the Feldjaegerkorps—a new branch of the military police with far-reaching powers. His position separates him from the friends and allies he has made in the last two years, including a circle of fellow dissenting Germans who formed a rough resistance cell against the Nazis. And he needs them now more than ever.

While retreating through Yugoslavia with the rest of the army, Reinhardt witnesses a massacre of civilians by the dreaded Ustaše—only to discover there is more to the incident than anyone believes. When five mutilated bodies turn up, Reinhardt knows the stakes are growing more important—and more dangerous.

As his investigation begins to draw the attention of those in power, Reinhardt’s friends and associates are made to suffer. But as he desperately tries to uncover the truth, his own past with the Ustaše threatens his efforts. Because when it comes to death and betrayal, some people have long memories. And they remember Reinhardt all too well.

And now, Reinhardt will have to fight them once more.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
05/26/2014
In McCallin’s well-executed sequel to 2013’s The Man from Berlin, set mainly in 1945 Sarajevo, Capt. Gregor Reinhardt, a former Berlin police detective, has been transferred to the Feldjaegerkorps, a branch of the German military police that accepts only officers and noncommissioned officers with a minimum of three years of combat experience. Though Reinhardt fears that his membership in the anti-Hitler movement will be uncovered, he can’t resist causing trouble by following his investigations wherever they may lead. At a roadblock set up by the Ustase, the Croatian fascist organization, he confronts a brutal Ustase officer who has been using a spiked club on terrified refugees. Friction between him and the Ustase only complicates Reinhardt’s subsequent probe into the murders of men dressed in German uniforms. Readers who can’t wait for Philip Kerr’s next Bernie Gunther novel will find much to like, even if McCallin falls short of Kerr’s high standard. Agent: Peter Rubie, FinePrint Literary Management. (July)
From the Publisher
"John Lee is an incredible vocal chameleon. Lee's elegant control of his characters' personalities, their fears and frailties, and their many different accents, makes his performance of this tightly plotted and gripping novel a tour de force." —AudioFile
Kirkus Reviews
2014-06-19
A German officer pursues the deaths of comrades in arms during the fall of Sarajevo in 1945.Capt. Gregor Reinhardt has seen service in both the Great War and World War II. Now, he’s being transferred to the elite Feldjaegerkorps, which accepts only decorated soldiers. With his two Iron Crosses, Reinhardt is more than eligible. What makes him less so is his secret membership in a resistance cell, though his hopes of being effective are diminishing daily. En route to a posting in Sarajevo and on the trail of rumored deserters, Reinhardt and his subordinates find three burned bodies of Feldjaeger soldiers and about a dozen massacred civilians. When five more bodies with faces mutilated beyond recognition surface at a military construction site in Sarajevo, Reinhardt, who was a member of the Berlin Kriminalpolizei between the wars, is increasingly convinced that he’s looking at a coverup. Drawn into internecine wars of the Yugoslavian Partisans and the Ustaše (a powerful band of terrorists with whom the Nazis have an uneasy alliance), knowing that Nazi forces are planning to abandon the city, realizing that he’s been a pawn all his military life but determined to follow the investigation to its end, Reinhardt finds a clue in the missing soldbuchs, or soldier’s pay books, that points to corruption. At the center are the Ustaše headquarters in the Pale House and a Nazi penal unit with a growing number of foreign volunteers. Reinhardt’s ties to Suzana Vukíc, whom he knows from a previous case, lead him to a shadowy figure at the heart of Sarajevo’s resistance and to betrayal from all sides. As the city crumbles around him, he has one last chance to follow his own moral compass as he risks his life in a multilayered tale of war, political upheaval and fragile hope.Although McCallin (The Man from Berlin, 2013) thoughtfully provides a cast list, navigating this convoluted wartime mystery is no easy task. The hero and his personal and professional conflicts, however, are well worth the effort.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781101596883
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 7/1/2014
  • Series: A Gregor Reinhardt Novel, #2
  • Sold by: Penguin Group
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 50,414
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author


Luke McCallin, author of The Man from Berlin, was born in 1972 in Oxford, grew up around the world and has worked with the United Nations as a humanitarian relief worker and peacekeeper in the Caucasus, the Sahel, and the Balkans. His experiences have driven his writing, in which he explores what happens to normal people—those stricken by conflict, by disaster—when they are put under abnormal pressures.
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Read an Excerpt

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Note on Pronunciation

c    “ts” as in hats

c    “ch” as in starch

c    “tch” as in hatch

Dj    “dg” as in fridge

Dž    “dg” as in hedge

J    “y” as in you

Lj    “ly” as in million

Nj    “nj” as in new

š    “sh” as in shut

ž    “zh” as in measure

COMPARATIVE CHART OF SS, GERMAN ARMY, AND BRITISH ARMY RANKS

CAST OF CHARACTERS

IN THE GERMAN ARMY IN SARAJEVO

IN THE MILITARY POLICE, THE FELDJAEGERKORPS

IN THE MILITARY POLICE, THE FELDGENDARMERIE

IN THE 999TH BALKAN FIELD PUNISHMENT BATTALION, UNDER THE CONTROL OF THE FELDGENDARMERIE

IN THE SARAJEVO GARRISON

IN THE CITY—THE OPPOSING FORCES, THE CITIZENS CAUGHT IN-BETWEEN

IN THE PARTISANS

IN THE USTAŠE

IN THE CITIZENRY

ELSEWHERE AND ELSEWHEN . . .

PROLOGUE

VIENNA, NOVEMBER 1944

“Tell me again,” the Gestapo officer said. The one slouched behind the desk. “The bit about the car crash. Tell me that bit, again.”

Reinhardt’s mouth felt gummed dry, the blood in his mouth sticky and heavy. They had given him nothing to drink since they had dragged him in here. He breathed heavily through his nose. “We were attacked south of Brod . . .”

“On the way to interrogate General Verhein.”

“No,” said Reinhardt. Something felt wrong in his mouth. There was space and movement where there should not be. He focused on the floor. The tiles were mismatched, different colors, different sizes. He focused on one, fixed his eyes on it, tried to ignore the pacing of the second agent. The one who prowled and struck whenever he wanted to. “We were lost. We ended up going south by mistake.”

“So you weren’t looking for Verhein?”

“No.”

Fingers snaked into his hair, and his head was yanked back. The other agent measured him with his eyes.

“So you were looking for Verhein.”

“No.”

“The crash . . . ?”

“I told you,” he slurred, gagging against the blood in his mouth as his head hinged back. “One moment we were driving, then there was firing all around, and the next thing I remember we had crashed off the road.”

“You were alone?”

The other man let go of his head, shoving it forward. Reinhardt leaned to the side and spat weakly.

“My driver was dead.” He spat, again, watching a tooth roll across the floor.

The interrogators laughed. “A tooth, Reinhardt? You need to be careful with them. Still, there’s plenty more where that one came from, right?!”

“Captain Reinhardt.”

Reinhardt pulled his eyes back from the past, lifted them over the glass standing untouched between his forearms and the second glass standing brimful across the table. A cigarette burned slowly between his fingers, and a harsh line of light lay across the inside of the tavern. It pulled form from shadow, flowed across the other men in the bar and pushed up against the cigarette smoke that roiled and twisted in the pull of air.

“Captain Reinhardt.”

His back tensed up, and he looked around slowly, looking across the tavern at a sergeant of the Feldgendarmerie standing by the door, his gorget bright across his chest. A second Feldgendarme, a lieutenant, stood to one side, and Reinhardt’s stomach clenched, wondering if they had found him at last, and if the man he had been waiting to meet had had anything to do with leading them here.

“Captain Reinhardt. Identify yourself.” The Feldgendarmes’ eyes turned steadily across the room, eyes swinging from face to face, pushing and probing.

“I am Captain Reinhardt,” he said, turning and standing.

The two Feldgendarmes turned toward him as one, and Reinhardt felt real fear. They were not Feldgendarmes. They looked like them. They wore uniforms like a Feldgendarme’s, with metal gorgets around their necks, but on their left arms, which had been hidden from him, they wore red bands, with black lettering stenciled across them. On each of them, the Iron Cross shone dully on their left breasts.

They were Feldjaeger.

“You will come with us,” the sergeant said.

“Why? I have done nothing wrong.”

“We have orders to deliver you to Feldjaegerkorps headquarters.”

The bar went even quieter, if that was possible. Reinhardt said nothing, then swallowed hard at the lump that squatted suddenly in his throat. Had Koenig betrayed him? Had Koenig been trying to get to him to warn him of this?

“What does the Feldjaegerkorps want with me?”

“Ask someone who knows what we’re talking about,” said the lieutenant. “Get moving, Captain, and come with us.”

Only the Feldjaegerkorps could speak like that, a junior officer ordering a senior one in that fashion, but whatever pride Reinhardt felt might have been hurt, he ignored it. He looked at his drink, imagined knocking it back, imagined wincing at its burn across his mouth, but he just stubbed out his cigarette and shrugged into his coat, hoping neither of the Feldjaeger would wonder why a man sitting at a table alone would have two drinks in front of him. He picked his way carefully through the silent bar, between the tangle of legs and over puddles of cloth where greatcoats hung over the backs of chairs and spread gray skirts across the tiled floor. The two Feldjaeger split to each side of the door, passing him through, their faces expressionless as they followed him under the dim glow of the entrance light and up a flight of stairs to the darkened streets and into a heavy, wet cold.

Reinhardt’s stomach rumbled and he ran his tongue around his mouth, all thickened and sticky, probing the gap in his back teeth. He clenched his jaw, drawing in a deep breath of cold air. It punched through his teeth, waking him, rooting him firmly. The lieutenant stepped in front of him, and the sergeant put a firm hand on his back and escorted him over to a black car, its outline pearled in the damp air. The lieutenant opened the back door and followed Reinhardt inside, the car rocking and swaying on its suspension. The sergeant clattered the engine into life and then hauled the car out onto the road.

Reinhardt stared out of his window as they drove, the darkened and blacked-out streets sliding past like a sunken city beyond the sparkled pane of the window. His mind turned over and over what might have happened to put them on to him but could find nothing. They had done nothing, their so-called resistance cell, since July, when the world had seemed to stand still in the aftermath of the attempt on Hitler’s life. They had watched as others elsewhere had taken their chance. They had waited as the machine they had hoped had been dealt a death blow had stuttered and then roared back into life. Then they had hoped and prayed for the best, until one of their number had vanished into buildings of concrete and steel and never come out again, and then a second, and the cell had scattered after rushed and furtive good-byes if there were any good-byes at all, eyes hooded far back beneath darkened brows.

Days, then weeks, then months, almost no news of the others, and no one had come looking, or knocking, until tonight. Reinhardt’s mind turned over and over, and he wondered at last, battening onto it with a sudden desperation, why it was the Feldjaeger who had come for him, and not the Gestapo, or the SS.

The car hammered its way through the wet night, down the wide boulevard of Stubenring, up to what Reinhardt recognized as the old Austro-Hungarian defense ministry building, now one of the main German headquarters in the city. A huge swastika flag hung like a crimson smear down the front of the severe gray structure, all vertical lines and ornate stonework under a copper-colored roof. They drove along the side of the vast building and around the back, weaving through barricades and skirting a spill of rubble from a part of the building that had collapsed in a recent bombing raid.

The lieutenant motioned Reinhardt out of the car, and he shivered once in the cold. He followed the lieutenant inside, past a pair of Feldjaeger on sentry duty warming their hands at a metal brazier. It seemed even colder inside as he followed the Feldjaeger through the warren of the building, up stairs and around landings and farther up until the lieutenant knocked at a door and opened it, ushering Reinhardt into an anteroom.

A corporal, his tunic studded with decorations, took Reinhardt’s coat and knocked at a second door. A muffled answer came. Reinhardt walked into a long office, a desk standing at one end in front of a fall of heavy curtains, and a lamp with a green shade burned on the desk, carving the face of the officer who sat there into harsh lines of light and shadow. The rest of the room was dark, and it took Reinhardt a moment longer to realize there was a third man in the room, sitting in a deep chair far back in the shadows.

“Captain Reinhardt,” said the officer at the desk, as the corporal shut the door with a whisper of wood. The officer indicated a spot in front of the table, and Reinhardt came to attention. The officer was a major and, like all the Feldjaeger he had seen and heard of, wore a clutch of decorations, starting with the Knight’s Cross at his throat.

“Captain Gregor Sebastian Reinhardt,” the major said, reading from a file on his desk. “Born 1898, in Köpenick, Berlin. Father, university philosophy lecturer. Mother, housewife. No siblings. Officer cadet school, 1914 to 1916. Active service on the Eastern Front. Transfer to Western Front and induction into stormtroopers in 1917. Served with distinction in Operation Michael. Won Iron Cross at Amiens, 1918. First- and Second-Class Crosses the same day.” The major paused, looking up at Reinhardt, his eyes focusing on the Iron Cross. Reinhardt felt desperately uncomfortable under his scrutiny, and that of the other man he could not really see. His skin prickled with sweat, and he forced himself to breathe slowly, evenly, ignoring the slight tremor as he took each breath in.

“Severely wounded,” the major continued, speaking of Reinhardt in the third person, “and honorably discharged with one third-level invalidity in December 1918. Joined Berlin police force as detective in 1920 and rose to the rank of chief inspector. Posted to Interpol here in Vienna 1938. Resigned from Kripo 1938, joined Abwehr. Assigned as intelligence officer in the invasion of Norway. Won Narvik Shield. Participated in invasion of France, 1940. Invasion of Yugoslavia, 1941. Assigned to Afrika Korps as divisional intelligence staff. Invalided out of Afrika Korps 1942. Assigned to Abwehr office Sarajevo, Partisan counterintelligence.” The major paused again, frowned, turned a page, then let it fall back. “And this is where a fairly good career derails. Fell afoul of a Gestapo investigation following his role in a murder investigation. A general was implicated, who later died in action.” The major looked up. “Rather a lot of people were upset with you over that, were they not?” Reinhardt was not sure it was a question, and so kept quiet, focusing on a spot just over the major’s shoulder, and pushed his tongue into that gap in his teeth. “Wounded in action again, questioned . . . intensively . . . by the Gestapo. Acquitted. Obviously. But no one seems sure what to do with you. Reassigned from Abwehr and posted in August 1943 as an intelligence liaison officer to 1st Panzer Division in Greece, then to 12th Army in Belgrade. Pretty dull stuff. I think that was the point, no? But it didn’t stay that way, did it?” The major’s eyes needled at him, and his skin prickled tight again. “Evacuated to Vienna from Belgrade in October 1944 following the Soviet offensive. Mentioned in dispatches for extreme bravery in covering the retreat from Belgrade. Received the German Honor Roll Clasp in November this year.”

There was a creak of leather as the third man rose and stepped into the light. The third man was a colonel with a head of cropped dark hair shot with gray, a round head balanced on wide shoulders. He stooped over the desk, almost delicately taking the page from the major and turning it back. He read a moment, then looked up at Reinhardt.

“That investigation into General Verhein. In Sarajevo. Tell me about that.”

“What exactly, sir?” said Reinhardt, surprised to find his voice steady.

The colonel pursed his lips, straightening up. “At a wild guess, you were told to stop that investigation as soon as you had a general in your sights. But you didn’t. What happened?”

“I pursued an investigation to its end.”

“Meaning?”

“I went where the evidence took me rather than where expedience suggested.”

“Tell me about the retreat from Belgrade.” When Reinhardt said nothing, the colonel seemed almost sympathetic. “What was the mention in dispatches for?”

“Covering the retreat of the main field hospital.” The colonel said nothing, indicating with his silence that Reinhardt was to continue. “I received late intelligence that part of the Soviet advance would threaten the hospital’s withdrawal. Communications were down, so I went out to warn them.”

“And you gathered together a ragtag bunch, including walking wounded and stragglers, and fought off the Russians long enough for reinforcements to arrive. Quite something. First time going up against the Russians?”

“Since 1917, yes.”

The colonel snorted, and the major smiled, a flicker across his lips. “And?”

“And I’d be perfectly happy going another nineteen years before tangling with them again.”

The colonel stared at Reinhardt, then down at the major. Something imperceptible seemed to pass between them, and the colonel folded himself back into the shadows. The major closed Reinhardt’s file and rustled a sheet of paper across his fingertips.

“Captain Reinhardt, effective immediately, you are transferred to the Feldjaegerkorps.”

The major’s words fell into a heavy silence. Reinhardt stood unspeaking, not believing what he had just heard.

“Are you familiar with the Feldjaegerkorps, Captain?”

“Yes, Major.” Reinhardt swallowed. “Somewhat.”

“Enlighten me.”

“Military police.”

“Go on.”

“But with a difference.”

“Correct,” said the major. “The Feldjaegerkorps accepts only decorated combat veterans. Officers and NCOs, no enlisted men. We report directly to the armed forces high command. As such, even a corporal has more authority, should he choose to exercise it, than an officer. We have independent tasking, and full authority to maintain discipline in the army’s rear areas.”

“Full authority,” repeated Reinhardt. Something seemed to snap inside, that small part of him that could not help but prod and poke and provoke in situations like this. “Drumhead courts-martial and on-the-spot executions.”

“Sometimes, yes,” the major replied. “There’s more to it than that, though.”

“It’s about being a policeman again,” the colonel said, quietly, from the shadows. “What you used to be, no? What you still think you are.”

“But a military policeman?”

“I would remind you we are both military policemen, Captain,” said the colonel.

“Yes, sir, I apologize,” said Reinhardt, straining to bring himself under control. “It’s not what I meant. I meant . . .” He trailed off, his eyes searching for something, anything, in the blank walls and the long, ink-dark folds of the curtains. “I mean, this morning, I woke up and I’m still a divisional intelligence officer.”

“Imagine our surprise as well,” said the major, dryly.

“Sir, may I ask, who recommended me for this?”

“Indeed,” said the colonel, standing and stepping back into the light. “Your commanding general was rather persuasive.”

“Sir, do I have any choice in this?”

“None.” For the first time, the colonel’s voice and face firmed, hardened, a boundary against which Reinhardt saw there could be no compromise.

“Very well,” said Reinhardt, straightening. “I am grateful for this honor, sir.”

The ghost of a smile flickered again across the major’s lips. “Don’t overdo it, Reinhardt,” he murmured.

“Where are we to be posted?”

“We are being detached from Feldjaeger Commando III, here in Vienna. We’re going south. Very soon. The southern front’s a mess.”

The major came around the table and offered Reinhardt a piece of paper. “Your transfer orders. Be back here by noon tomorrow, with your pay book. We’ll get that updated soonest. And put this on,” he said, offering Reinhardt a folded piece of red cloth, wrapped around something heavy.

The red cloth was an armband wrapped around a crescent-shaped gorget. Reinhardt paused, then wormed the armband over his wrist and up on top of his sleeve. It sat there, red on gray, black letters stenciled across it that denoted the unit and the source of its authority—Feldjaegerkorps, Armed Forces High Command—and it seemed to tighten, and grip, like a manacle, and something shifted abruptly deep inside him, but what it was he did not know, and could not wonder at now.

“Welcome, Captain,” said the colonel, extending his hand. “I am Colonel Scheller. And this is Major Hassler.”

Reinhardt shook hands with them both before Major Hassler walked him to the door. He paused as it opened, the corporal standing just outside with Reinhardt’s coat over his arm. “Sir,” he said to Scheller, “if I may ask. I am sure you do not welcome all recruits to your unit like this. So, why me?”

Scheller nodded. “You are not quite the officer we normally take,” he said, walking slowly over toward Reinhardt, his hands in his pockets, “and so we wanted to have a look at you. But your record is good, and we will value your particular experience in the Balkans and your police background. Think of it like this: We also go where the need takes us, not where we’d always like to go.” He stopped and pursed his lips, his upper lip folding down into the lower and his eyes fixed on Reinhardt’s. “Like I said, you do come highly recommended.”

There was another driver for Reinhardt downstairs waiting beside a kubelwagen with a canvas roof, a tight-lipped corporal who nevertheless grunted a brief welcome and remained mercifully silent as he drove Reinhardt back through the city to the barracks hard by the Donau Canal. Reinhardt stood in the dark as the car pulled away, looking up at the blank façade of the building, before turning away and walking across to the waterfront. He lit a cigarette, closing his eyes against the flare of the match, and stared down at the dull, leaden shift of the canal, blinking against the trickle of water in his eyes left by the drizzle that had begun, trying to make sense of it all. He leaned against a carved balustrade, his fingers curling and clenching across the cold metal of the gorget, and started to shiver as the stress began to flow out of him. No arrest, no accusations. Only a transfer. With shaking fingers, he lifted the cigarette to his lips, before lifting his face to the night sky and realizing the cold he felt was the night wind across his tears.

“Reinhardt?”

He turned at the crunch of steps. A shape pulled itself out of the dark next to him. “Koenig?”

“It’s me,” Koenig said, his uniform showing him a captain of infantry.

“You shouldn’t be here,” said Reinhardt.

“I know. The others . . .” Koenig paused, his voice low. “I saw you being driven away from the bar. We . . . we were worried. They asked me to watch for you. What happened?”

“A transfer happened.” Reinhardt offered him the paper, then struck a match, watching the surprise bloom fast across Koenig’s face in the wavering light before it flickered out.

Feldjaegerkorps?” breathed Koenig, huskily, from out of the new dark. “My God, Reinhardt . . .” And was that a hint of jealousy in his voice?

“You want it, you can have it.”

“Reinhardt, don’t be a fool,” hissed Koenig. “The Feldjaegerkorps is a powerful unit. It has powers and access. In it, you will be beyond suspicion. You will be in a privileged position. You are still one of us. Are you not?”

“Of course.”

“When you woke this morning, still an intelligence officer, you were also one of us?”

“Yes.”

“A member of the resistance.”

“Yes, I said.”

“Then don’t forget it.”

“God forbid I’d forget that,” snapped Reinhardt, still rocked by this news. “I mean, just look at all we’ve accomplished.”

“Ah, Reinhardt,” sighed Koenig. “Still looking for that white horse.”

“No,” snapped Reinhardt. “That horse bolted a long time ago.”

“Then in the Feldjaegerkorps, you might just find it. Look for what you can do where you will be. And should one of us need you—or another comrade who thinks like us—then you will be able to help him.”

“You really think so?”

“Ah, Christ, Reinhardt.” Koenig removed his cap, running his hands over thin hair plastered wetly to his head. “What do I know? What do any of us know? I’m just a glorified administrator, pushing paper all day long. How did they find out about you, anyway?”

“They told me the general recommended me.”

Koenig snorted in the darkness. “That cunning old bastard.”

“I suppose he thinks . . .” Reinhardt trailed off. He did not know what the general thought.

“I suppose he thinks he’s doing you a favor. And maybe he is. Gets you away from here. Gets one more of us away from him.”

“So. It’s over.”

Koenig nodded his head. “It’s over for now. Here. We’re all done here, Reinhardt. Not that we ever did much. I suppose you have that much right.”

“Attention!” A flashlight flickered on, sweeping across the hanging streaks of drizzle in the night air. “You two over there! What are you doing?”

Reinhardt started, looking around. A Feldgendarmerie patrol had come to a stop next to them. “Talking, thank you.”

The Feldgendarme lieutenant at the head of the patrol bristled at the affront he heard in Reinhardt’s tone. “What are you doing here, I said?”

“Just talking, Lieutenant.”

“About what? Sir?” the Feldgendarme said, coming close enough to see Reinhardt’s rank.

Reinhardt looked back at him, squinting past the flat glare of the Feldgendarme’s flashlight, at the slant in the man’s eyes, at the harm this man could do, and saw himself, standing there looking back at someone like that Feldgendarme, and for a moment he grasped a sense of the possibilities that could open to him as a Feldjaeger. The possibilities Koenig had hinted at. He swallowed hard, his mind reaching after that sudden glimpse, and offered his transfer orders, making sure to pass them with his left hand. “About that.”

The Feldgendarme’s flashlight fixed on the paper, reflected light casting his face into macabre relief. The light wavered, sought Reinhardt’s wrist, back to the paper. He handed it back to Reinhardt, straightened, and saluted.

“Very sorry for disturbing you, sir. And . . . and good luck.”

They watched the patrol walk away, and then Koenig extended his hand.

“You are right. I should not stay. Who knows how that might have turned out?”

“Yes. You were right, I suppose.” Reinhardt gave a small, tired smile to the darkness, shook Koenig’s hand. “It has been an honor.”

“Apology accepted, Reinhardt,” Koenig replied, a smile in his voice, as they shook. “Do us proud. And don’t forget, this is not all that we are.”

Reinhardt walked slowly down the canal’s embankment and thought of Sarajevo, of the long riverside walk there, the Ottoman bridges that arced over the froth-flecked rush of the Miljacka. He felt himself losing control, felt the sting of tears, and he could not tell whether it was fury or the sense of impotence that triggered them. His hand stole to his breast, to the Iron Cross pinned there. He gripped it until his hand hurt, his mind awhirl between the needling cold of a Viennese winter and the sodden chill of that French field where he had won it, and as the Cross’s edges bit into his fingers he contemplated, for the first time, getting rid of it.

“This is not all that I am,” he whispered, echoing Koenig’s last words to him, their group’s motto. Every time he said it, he wanted to feel ridiculous, trite, but every time he did, he felt the truth of those words, and he realized then, truly, how angry he was. With himself. With everyone. Angry at what, he could barely articulate, standing there in the darkness with the hum of the water next to him, feeling more alone than he had felt in a very long time.

Hurry up and wait, he thought, turning further in on himself. He had been doing a lot of that, lately. They all had. As much as he and the others—good men all, who believed they could do something worthy of what could be called “resistance”—had wanted to act, and as much as he tried to believe otherwise, he had accomplished nothing. None of them had, and it was so far away from where he had been that night on a Bosnian mountain when he had felt a new truth settle into him, filling all those places he had known were empty, and showing him that all those other places within he had never known had emptied out as well.

How fast those possibilities had faded before the dead weight of the world, though, and how sharing his dreams with like-minded men only for nothing to come of them save furtive talk, tentative plans, and a creeping itch that someone was watching them had worn him down. What use was resistance that never declared itself, he asked himself, again? Not much good, he answered himself. Again. Despite all their talk about dissent, to opposition, to resistance, Reinhardt was powerfully aware he had failed to take the step he might have, and perhaps should have. And now, where before he had fancied life would sometimes catch on the frayed edges of his character, now he felt sanded down, slumped, like a candle that had all but burned itself out.

He looked at the canal a long time as it unfurled before him, then up at the sparkle of rain out of the deep dark of the sky, and wondered how it had all come to this.

SARAJEVO, LATE MARCH 1945

On the trail of rumors of a band of deserters, the Feldjaeger came across the massacre toward the end of the afternoon. The valley lay hunched into a bitter wind, wet and raw with the promise of rain beneath a heavy sky of mottled, gray clouds. The little column of cars lurched down a muddy trail, through the earthen reek beneath the trees, and into a wide clearing. Forged iron-hard by the winter, the ground was heavy beneath their wheels, rutted, strewn with rocks and stones that turned the vehicles from their paths as they slid and slithered to a stop.

In the front car, Reinhardt raised his hand and engines clattered still, the silence of the forest flowing in and over them. He stood up slowly, pulling his scarf down around his throat and resting his hands on the kubelwagen’s windshield. The clearing was wide, well more than a long stone’s throw across, sodden grass slumped this way and that across its trampled width. One side of the clearing, the downslope side, had been extensively logged, the forest pushed well back from an expanse of stumps and mud all tangled with broken branches and scattered foliage, and looking for all the world like what Reinhardt remembered of no-man’s-land. Three huts stood hard against the forest, little more than shacks, doors kicked in and rags hanging from the windows. A row of shapes were mounded on the grass, bodies, heaped one beside the other. Smoke dulled the sharp lines of the trees, rising up from somewhere behind the huts.

A kubelwagen was parked by the shacks, four Feldjaeger gathered around it. One of them stepped forward as Reinhardt climbed out of his car. No salutes were exchanged. It was not just the fraternity within the Feldjaeger that limited it, but out here, where anyone could be looking at them, a salute was just another way of painting a target on your chest.

“What do you have, Frenchie?” asked Reinhardt.

“It’s not pretty,” answered Lieutenant Benfeld. A Franco-German from Alsace, he was a tall young man, taller than Reinhardt, very solid, hair cut close to the block of his head and his cheeks flushed red from the cold.

“You think it’s them?”

“Shall I show you?”

Reinhardt turned to give an order to his sergeant, then nodded as Benfeld hitched the strap of his StG 44 assault rifle over his shoulder. An engine revved, and Reinhardt glanced back to see the Horch swing out of the line, trundling to one side with Sergeant Priller crouched behind the mounted machine gun that he began tracking across the clearing’s edge.

Reinhardt followed Benfeld around the side of the huts to a roughly square-shaped expanse of ashen earth, bounded and studded with the warped and blackened stubs that were all that was left of the walls of a hut. Smoke curled up around the wood like flowing water, and heat shimmered the air, making ripples of the forest beyond. Three bodies lay across the middle of the hut, debris heaped around and across them. The bodies were charred black, the skulls twisted back and up and the mouths open in silent rictus, and the smell of burned meat and cloth was heavy in the air.

Kneeling by the first body, Reinhardt gently placed his finger on the hole in the center of the skull’s forehead. He shifted the body over to look at the back of the head, spotting the smaller hole there, where a gun had been pressed up against the man’s head. A similar hole starred the bone of the second, and when he looked over at Benfeld, the other man nodded, his finger circling the forehead of the third.

Reinhardt put his hand on the corpse’s shoulder and pressed, tamping down a jolt of nausea as he did so. The skin felt hard, cracked and crisped like baked earth, and there was no give beneath the pressure. Nothing came off but a smear of ash that traced the whorl of his fingertip.

“Slightly overdone, wouldn’t you say, sir?”

Reinhardt ignored Benfeld’s macabre humor, pushed his fingers into a pile of ash, and watched the prints they left, figuring the hut had burned down no more than a few hours ago. He ran his eyes slowly around and over all he could see, looking for he knew not what, until he saw it. Twisted, coiled, blackened, a closely wound pile of . . . something. Not wood, or stone, or metal. Not flesh. He peered closer, lifting up what he had seen between thumb and forefinger.

It was clothing, a piece of a sleeve. He frowned, squinting closer, feeling the weave of the cloth. He spiraled a finger through the ash, feeling something hard and firm. He pulled it out, whatever it was crackling, cracking. He went more slowly, blowing it as clean as he could of ash and filth. Some kind of stiff fabric, burned black.

He looked across the corpses, then over at Benfeld.

“What else did you find to call this in?”

Benfeld gave a small smile. “This, sir,” he said, holding out something warped and blackened.

It was roughly the size of his palm, twisted up at both ends.

“If you ask me,” said Benfeld, “I’d say that was a piece of a German soldier’s tunic. There. See? The raised pattern? It looks like an epaulette.”

“I think you’re right,” said Reinhardt, quietly.

“And these,” Benfeld added, holding out his hand. He held a handful of buttons in his palm, burned black by the fire. Reinhardt picked one up between his fingertips, rubbing his thumb across it. The button was metal, the surface pebbled. Then another.

“These two are strange, sir,” said Benfeld, pointing them out.

Reinhardt picked them up, looking closely, rubbing away the covering of black ash. “This one has Roman numerals. And this one standard numbers.” He bounced them on his palm, looking at the lieutenant. “Interesting.”

“That’s what I thought too, sir. The numbers denote infantry companies. The Roman numerals . . .”

“. . . are for artillery batteries,” finished Reinhardt.

“More than one unit, sir. Deserters. Almost certainly.”

“Probably.” He turned in place, looking toward the other bodies. “What about them?”

“Any of our business, sir?”

“Won’t know until we look, will we?” answered Reinhardt. Benfeld still made Reinhardt nervous as there were two sides to him. A happy-go-lucky one, and a cold, focused one. It was the focused one that had won him an Iron Cross at Sebastopol, and the Knight’s Cross at Kursk, and it was that side that looked out now.

Reinhardt turned away and walked over to the bodies, glad to put Benfeld’s eyes behind him, glad as well for the cold that held the smell of blood and waste down, somewhat. He stood and looked, his mouth bunched tight. There were maybe a dozen bodies there, lying faceup with bullet wounds across their torsos. They were, it seemed, of no particular type, other than they wore the rags and had the look of refugees. Their skin was etched with grime and chapped with cold, and their faces drawn long with hunger. Some had been old, some younger. A few had been men, more had been women, and there was one girl, barely into her adolescence, lying hunched into the body of an older man, maybe her father, as if in the last moments he had tried to shield her. Reinhardt looked at her a moment, hoping her end had come fast, and her killers had not taken their time with her.

Reinhardt let out a long breath he had not realized he was holding and knelt by the body nearest him. He put a finger to the blood that had welled and spattered around the wounds in the chest. The blood was thick, but it was still liquid. He put the back of his hand to the neck, then squirmed and slid it under the clothes the body wore, feeling across the torso. He lifted one of the arms, moved it, bending it by the elbow, did the same to the next two, then duck-walked across to the next, repeating his examination. He shifted one of the bodies onto its side, then another, checking for signs of lividity, an indication as to when they might have been killed.

His eyes moved slowly across the massacre. He looked at the bodies, trying to work out who they had been, but he could not even tell from their dress what their confession had been—Catholic, Orthodox, or Muslim—which might have given some insight, however small, into who might have done this. His eyes passed slowly from body to body, as if he sought to give them some final measure of respect, or remembrance, something more than the blind stare of the slate-gray sky above. His gaze moved from body to body, face to face, coming to an elderly man with a goatee, passing on, then back. He looked at the man a moment longer, then stepped back, eyes tracking across the row, seeing how and where they had fallen. He stepped back farther still, looking left and right through the grass, until he came to a spot not far from the bodies that seemed more trampled. He moved sideways and knelt to worm his hands through the grass, his fingers finally closing around something cold and cylindrical.

Steps whispered through the grass, and Reinhardt looked up as Benfeld stopped next to him. “Any of our business?” he asked, again.

Reinhardt felt cold. Benfeld was hard, single-minded, a good soldier, but he was new to the Balkans, and he could not see what Reinhardt saw, nor understand the memories that surged suddenly across his mind.

“Sir?” asked Benfeld. “Mind telling me what’s going on?”

“I’m trying to . . . I’m wondering what happened, here, Lieutenant.”

“Why?”

“Professional curiosity.”

“Professional . . .” Benfeld paused, his lips pursing as he looked around the clearing. “You can make more sense of this than a bunch of civvies in the wrong place at the wrong time?”

“This may be depressingly familiar to you, Lieutenant. To all of us. But, fundamentally, this is a crime scene,” Reinhardt said. “As such, it has things to say.” Benfeld said nothing, although the question was writ large in his eyes. “I used to be a detective, Frenchie. Berlin Kriminalpolizei.” He watched the change in the way Benfeld looked at him. “It’s been a while,” he said, “but some things never change.”

“Like?”

“They’re not long dead, for starters,” Reinhardt replied, fishing through his pockets for his cigarettes. “A few hours, no more. And the one with the goatee is interesting.”

“The what?” Benfeld’s eyes tracked across the bodies. “What’s with him?”

“Look at him,” said Reinhardt, lighting a cigarette and tossing away the match.

“An old man.”

“The man’s cheeks are barely covered in stubble, and the goatee is thick and white. It’s looked after. The man shaved, recently. He took some care of himself. Can you imagine a man living up here who would try to keep a goatee in such conditions? And then look at his clothes. Quite different from the others. Worn, but not ragged. Dirty, but not filthy. Of a better cut and quality.” City clothes, he realized around a deep lungful of smoke, not the bundles of rags and wool the others wore. Reinhardt frowned, kneeling next to the body, looking closer. “He’s wearing a wristwatch. Which no one’s pinched, by the way. And his hands,” he continued, turning them over. “Soft. He’s no refugee. Or if he is, he hasn’t been one long. In any case, he’s most certainly not a peasant. He’s from the city.”

Reinhardt stood up, pointing with both arms along a rough line that ran along the feet of the dead refugees. “See how they lie? Firing squad,” Reinhardt said. “Shell cases there. There. There,” he continued. “Those are just the ones I can spot.” He opened his hand, showing what he had picked up. “Nine-by-nineteen-millimeter. Parabellums.”

“Anyone could have fired those bullets,” said Benfeld, shifting his hands on the strap of his assault rifle.

“I didn’t say otherwise, Lieutenant,” said Reinhardt, a small smile on his face, taking another draw on his cigarette. “But the chances are those people were killed by bullets fired from an MP 40. More than one, I would think. I wonder, though . . .” he said.

He walked back over to the three burned bodies, knelt by one of them, and, clamping his cigarette into the corner of his mouth, placed the shell casing against the hole in the back of its head, trying to see if it would fit. “Too big,” he muttered, squinting around the smoke that curled into his eyes. He took his pistol out of his holster, ejected the magazine, and removed one of the bullets, doing the same thing, twirling the shell into the hole, tamping down on a moment of squeamishness as he did so. The bullet fit much better. He tried on the other two as well. “Pistol shots, most likely,” he said, glancing over at Benfeld.

“What is it you think happened, sir?” asked Benfeld.

“A guess? There’s two different sets of murders. Possibly even three,” he said, as he put his pistol back together. A last draw on his cigarette, and he tossed the butt away.

Murders, sir?”

“Yes, Benfeld. Murder. That’s usually the name we give to the unlawful and often premeditated killing of one human being by another. Something about that strikes you as odd?”

“Well, sir . . .” The big man seemed at a loss. “It’s just . . .”

“. . . One of those words that seems to have fallen out of favor?” Reinhardt interrupted. “A term that’s lost the power to shock. A definition that’s all but meaningless . . . ?” Reinhardt looked around, sighed. “All of the above, probably,” he said, quietly. “But that doesn’t change what it is.”

“No, sir. You were saying?”

“Those burned corpses in what’s left of that hut are one set of murders. Then the civilians. Refugees. Whatever they were, are a second set. At a wild guess, these refugees were . . . probably . . . in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

“Witnesses?” said Benfeld.

“Probably.”

“Poor bastards.”

“The ones in the hut are more important. Someone wanted to hide evidence of something, and from the evidence you found, they were wearing German uniforms.”

“That does not make them German soldiers, though,” said Benfeld.

“No. It does not.”

“But someone went to some effort to cover their deaths up,” said Benfeld.

“Go on,” motioned Reinhardt.

“Someone . . . a falling-out, perhaps? A disagreement?”

“I don’t suppose we’ll ever know, Lieutenant.”

“You said three, sir? Possibly three sets of murders.”

“That old man. Him, there. City dweller.” Reinhardt chewed his lower lip, then stroked that gap in his teeth with his tongue. “What’s his story . . . ?”

Although the woods stood on the cusp of spring, the winter had been harsh. The ground and trunks were slimed with mud and damp, and though the trees stood thick, the pillared spaces between them were sheeted with darkness more than new growth, and that was how the boy came so close with no one to spot him.

One of the sergeants did, though. He clicked his fingers with quiet insistence, and when Reinhardt and Benfeld looked at him, he motioned their eyes over to the boy who stood partially hidden at the clearing’s edge, staring blankly across to the huts and what lay around them. A quick motion to the soldiers to act normally and Reinhardt was moving before he thought of it, long strides across the hard ground, into a position where he was hidden from the boy. Then he was running, pushing past the pain in his knee, and still the boy had not moved until suddenly he leaned around the tree and saw Reinhardt, and his eyes widened. One, two steps backward, and he was turning back into the darkness of the woods, but Reinhardt was almost on him, even if the boy ran with a terrified desperation.

Hard on the boy’s heels, Reinhardt followed a lurching line through the scissored prospect afforded him by the lean and slant of the trees, pinpricks of white stabbing down through the green darkness. He caught the boy quickly, as he knew he had to. There was no way otherwise, not with this knee, and this gloom. The boy’s arms flailed wide as he found his way blocked. He dodged back around Reinhardt, wriggled past one hand but not the other, stumbled and fell in a tangle of limbs. Reinhardt gripped him by the neck, pushed him down, breathing heavily as the boy writhed against the wet ground, a thin keening all the sound he made as his little fingers made fists of the earth.

“It’s all right,” gasped Reinhardt, swallowing, chasing the right words across the edges of his memory. “U redu. Sve je u redu. It’s all right.”

Reinhardt knelt by the boy, pulled him up to his knees. He was caked with grime, and his eyes rolled left and right. “Hey, hey,” said Reinhardt, taking the boy by the shoulders, feeling how desperately thin he was beneath the clothes he wore, tattered and torn to worse than rags. A hard edge showed through the back of his coat and, lifting the fabric away, Reinhardt found something long and thin wrapped in leather and thrust down the back of the boy’s trousers. “What is happening? Šta se dogada?” he asked, the Serbo-Croat coming slowly. “Zašto se bojiš? Why are you scared?” He unwrapped the leather, revealing a long, heavy-bladed knife, like a butcher would use. The boy’s eyes fastened on it hungrily. The blade was clean, and even in the dim light beneath the trees the edge glimmered sharp.

There was a confusion of voices, angry words, and Benfeld came through the trees with a pair of Feldjaeger behind him as Reinhardt wrapped the knife back up and pushed it through his belt.

“There’s two more,” Benfeld said, looking blankly at the boy.

“Two what?” Something in Benfeld’s flat gaze made Reinhardt draw the boy closer.

“Survivors. An elderly couple. They must have been with the boy. When he ran, they came out of the woods. Maybe his grandparents?”

Reinhardt stood, picking the boy up in his arms. He weighed nothing, just a tight bundle of skin and bones, and began to walk back through the trees. By the huts, an old lady cried out as they came out into the clearing, her arms outstretched to the boy. Reinhardt put him down, watched as she gathered him into her arms, pushing his face into her shoulder. An old man stood behind them, a tattered woolen cap riding high atop a thatch of matted gray hair, and his gnarled fist tight around the handle of an old, square suitcase, Blagojevic stenciled in black across it.

“You speak German? Govorite li njemacki?” The man just looked at him, his eyes flickering up to Reinhardt’s face and down to his gorget, widening each time they did so, but the woman’s eyes came up, and he looked at her. “What happened, here? Šta se . . .” he gritted his teeth, frustrated at the way the Serbo-Croat skittered away from his tongue, as the woman put her head back down, sobbing quietly into the boy’s hair. “Šta se dešava ovdje? Šta se . . . Partisans? Ustaše? Was it the Ustaše?”

Molim vas, gospodine, molim vas,” she wept, over and over. “Milosti, gospodine, molim vas, milosti.”

“I’m not going to hurt you,” Reinhardt said in response to what he understood were pleas for mercy, but the woman just went on, darting her eyes up, then around at the old man, back to Reinhardt. She said nothing else, just repeated herself, over and over, pulling herself and the boy closer to the man, and Reinhardt had enough experience of victims to know not to badger them.

“They’ll know,” said Benfeld, gesturing at the three refugees where they stood in a tight huddle, the man staring at nothing, the woman pressed up against him, the boy buried in her arms.

“They probably do.”

“So? Why aren’t we asking them?”

“Give it time,” said Reinhardt. “Anyway, aren’t you the one said it wasn’t any of our business?” He looked into Benfeld’s cold eyes, measuring the moment the lieutenant would answer back. “We’ve wasted enough time. The rest of the unit’s probably reached Sarajevo by now. Call in and give them our estimated time of arrival, then let’s get moving. Put them in the Horch. We’ll take them down to the city. Hand them over to . . . someone. I don’t know.”

The cars shuddered to life, bouncing heavily laden down the track where it plunged on into the forest on the far side of the clearing. The track wound through the trees for some minutes, then opened out onto the side of a hill. Like a rough-hewn template, the ground hacked as if by a crude maker’s tools, slopes rose in forested blocks to broken peaks all around them. The mountains stood painted in shades of gray and green, their shadows a dark purple where they inked the land. A faint radiance outlined where the peaks ran against a dirty sky that seemed low enough to reach up and touch, like a smoke-blackened ceiling.

The driver lurched the car down the slope, Reinhardt holding himself squared against the heave and roll of the road. That faltering rhythm began to lull him, so their arrival at what must have been one of the last defense lines took him almost by surprise, the column winding through a barrier of trenches, barbed wire, sandbagged emplacements, and gun positions, a pair of tanks hull-down in their berms. The post’s commander stood by the gap in the defenses, muffled up against the cold, most of his face hidden behind a thick scarf, and his eyes were hard and distant. He stopped Reinhardt’s car as it came through.

“Message from your commanding officer,” the man said. “Rendezvous at the main barracks. At Kosovo Polje.”

“Thanks.”

“You it?”

“Am I what?”

“The last?”

“I don’t know,” said Reinhardt, looking back along the road as it snaked up and away across the face of the hills. “Very likely.” There was no one there but Partisans now. This was the very edge, he knew. The edge of what they had taken and called theirs, now slowly furling in on itself like a leaf against the heat of a fire. All around the fringes of what they were told was a thousand-year Reich, men were standing like them, watching, looking, feeling the edges of the times they were in fold up and around them, feeling the iron weight of things still to come shifting closer and closer.

“Indian country, then,” said the officer. Reinhardt looked at him strangely. “You never watched those Westerns? Before the war?” Reinhardt shook his head. “Best get your men in. It’ll be dark soon.”

“A moment,” said Reinhardt. “In the last day or so, who has been up this road?”

“Christ knows,” the commander said. “Pretty much everyone. Up and down.”

“Ustaše?”

The commander considered a moment, then nodded. “Yesterday,” he said. “And today. A small group of them. They came back in a roaring good mood.”

“Anything else you remember?”

“I remember a lot of things, Captain, but I’m not sure I know what you’re getting at.”

“There was a massacre of civilians up there,” said Reinhardt, pointing back up the mountain.

“So what else’s new?”

Reinhardt was about to answer when he saw the futility of it, the man’s disinterest, and so he said nothing, motioning his thanks and instructing the driver to carry on. The kubelwagen wound slowly through the lines, past a squad of laborers—from the look of them, men from a penal battalion under the guard of a Feldgendarme with his hands scrunched deep into the pockets of his coat—past the last of the barbed-wire entanglements, and then the slow lurching drive down the mountain continued. It rained shortly, the cars driving through sleet that angled out of the dim gray light as if aimed at each man. The weather-beaten span of the old Goat Bridge went by, down in its cleft, and then, atop a cliff of cracked rock blasted the color of bone, the white walls of the Ottoman fortress up on Vratnik loomed above them. Reinhardt stared at them, tension rising in him—as it had been all day—at the thought of seeing Sarajevo again.

He had been close enough, but the Feldjaeger had stayed out of the city, up behind the crumbling front lines, these past few weeks as the army retreated, slowly at first, now a rabble, and always the indiscipline to deal with. Soldiers who ran amok, soldiers who refused to obey orders, and those who melted away and formed organized bands, terrorizing the countryside when they did not simply vanish or go over to the Partisans. It was a band such as that which Reinhardt and his men had been chasing rumors of for the past few days, which had led them to that forest clearing, and of all the things he saw there, that memory of a man with a goatee beard and a girl in the arms of her father would not leave him be, and so he was again caught off guard by the sudden squeal of brakes as the car lurched to a stop, and he looked up at a stopped column of trucks.

Faintly, beneath the rumble of engines, he could hear something, and it sent a shiver down his back. It was the sound of a crowd. It was the sound of frightened women, he corrected himself. Nothing else made quite that high-pitched note, that shrill of fear or despair. Reinhardt climbed out of the car, his feet cold and stiff. With a shouted order to Priller to watch their rear, he and Benfeld began to slide down past the trucks, each one filled with men slumped bone-tired into the trucks’ stiff canvas coverings, such that the sides of the vehicles made a series of humps. The road opened up a little and he could see that all traffic was stopped at the last curve into the city. Three more trucks stood swaybacked farther down the road, surrounded by a milling mass of soldiers and, here and there, clutches of civilians.

A gunshot cracked across the morning, and the crowd of people shuddered, shifted in the strange way crowds do. Another shot followed it, flatter, sharper, a pistol shot. Reinhardt frowned as he hurried on past the numb gaze of the soldiers. As long as the firing was in front of them, not behind, they were not overly concerned. He walked as fast as he carefully could, his knee sore and his feet cold and heavy until, just before he came to the head of the column, he came across a kubelwagen parked with a handful of Feldgendarmes in it.

“What’s the holdup?”

All eyes in the kubelwagen swiveled toward him, dulled with a sort of lazy insouciance.

“It’s the Ustaše, sir,” the driver answered, eventually, a lieutenant. “They’ve got themselves a checkpoint at the entrance of the city. Fighting’s just about emptied the countryside and everyone and his mother’s trying to get into town.”

“Can’t say I blame them,” said Reinhardt.

“Well. No. Of course not. But the Ustaše are checking everyone and everything.”

“And not being particularly gentle about it,” said a second lieutenant, sitting next to the driver. He had a heavy face, his jowls flushed pink by the cold.

All the men in the car laughed, all except the major in the backseat who just smiled, a sardonic curl of his lip.

“There’s been a couple of executions, sir. I’m afraid the road’s totally blocked.”

“What’ve you tried?” Reinhardt looked from blank face to blank face. “To get this unblocked. To put a stop to what’s going on.”

“Are you new here?” This from the major, eyes narrowed, flicking back and forth between Reinhardt and Benfeld.

“Relatively,” answered Reinhardt.

“Then you’ll not know better.”

“Than what?”

“To leave heaven to the angels, as the famous poet wrote. To leave the Ustaše alone, Captain.” The major leaned forward. “Is there something wrong with your acknowledgment of authority?”

“None,” said Reinhardt. “Sir.”

“Just who the hell are you, anyway?”

“Captain Gregor Reinhardt.” He fished inside his coat and pulled out his gorget. “Feldjaegerkorps.” He watched the men in the kubelwagen, watched the way their eyes fastened on the gorget.

“Well, Captain Gregor Reinhardt, Feldjaegerkorps. Be patient. It’ll all be over soon. Right, gentlemen?” he said, bringing the other Feldgendarmes into it, those lips pursed out into a simulacrum of a smile. “Unless of course you’d fancy having a crack at them yourself?”

And why the hell not? Reinhardt clenched his jaw, drawing in a long, slow breath of cold air. It punched through his teeth, waking him, rooting him firmly. He unfastened the catch on his holster and pushed off down the road, threading his way between soldiers, down to where the field gray of uniforms began to give way to coats in dirty browns and blacks. People clustered together in families, huddled around what little baggage they had been able to bring with them. He pushed them apart with his hands on shoulders, murmuring words of apology as he passed through until his presence began to seep into the crowd and it began to part before him, people drawing back and away. He heard the sound of raised voices, a woman crying, and a space opened up in front of him.

An old man knelt in the road, a hand clutched to a bloodied forehead. A woman stood behind him, a hand raised. A suitcase had been spilled open, linen lay crumpled across the road, and a picture lay curled and ripped in a smashed wooden frame. In front of them stood a huge man in a black uniform with a spiked club in his hand, the end a slick of blood, and something darker, heavier. Behind him a pair of trucks were parked nose to nose across the road, each manned by a black-uniformed machine gunner. More Ustaše stood here and there, some going through piles of baggage, two more standing over a handful of bodies lying by the side of the road. From the quick glance Reinhardt gave them, at least two of the bodies had had their heads crushed in by that club.

The Ustaše officer looked up as he felt the crowd go silent, and his eyes fastened on Reinhardt. He had a face whose features were clustered close together and much too small for a man of his size, as if they were an afterthought to the proportions of his frame. Little, dark eyes over a slit of a mouth, a wide nose that twitched as he looked at Reinhardt, and Reinhardt felt a stab of fear at the sight of this man, a stab that followed quick on a hard thrust of memory, from the last time Reinhardt had seen him, lumbering after him through the darkness . . .

“You’re blocking the road,” said Reinhardt, in German. The woman looked between them desperately as the old man put both his hands on the ground and coughed out a weak dribble of spit and blood.

“What?” said Bunda.

“The road. You are blocking it with this checkpoint.”

“I’m controlling traffic. Checking for ‘saboteurs’ and ‘infiltrators,’” he said, enunciating each word slowly, carefully, then aiming a kick at the man on the ground. His foot caught the man’s arm, and he collapsed onto his shoulder. The woman cried out and tried to cover his body with hers.

“Captain, right now, I doubt any Partisan needs to come down this road disguised as a farmer in order to get into the city.”

“What the fuck d’you know?” Bunda snarled, flicking his club at him, and it looked like a stick in those massive hands. Something flew off the club, spattered against Reinhardt’s coat. The Ustaše drilled his eyes into Reinhardt and for a terrifying moment he thought the man had remembered him, but then his mouth curled, twitched, as if a sneer stuttered on the edge of something he suddenly knew for truth. “In any case, I don’t take no orders from no Germans. We don’t do that no more. We’re done when we’re done.”

“Captain,” Reinhardt said, glancing at the man’s epaulettes, but the man did not let him finish.

Captain’ nothing!” He snapped an order at his men, and two of them stepped forward, pointing back up the road as they unslung their rifles. The huge Ustaše had already turned his attention away when Reinhardt heard the safety go off Benfeld’s assault rifle.

“Get back, German, wait your fucking turn,” said one of the Ustaše, a thin, narrow-faced man, a scar worming its way down the side of his jaw and under his collar.

“Is there a problem, sir?” Benfeld asked, quietly, locking eyes with the Ustaša. The man’s scar went white against the strained red of his face, and the air crackled between them all. One wrong move, Reinhardt thought. One wrong move would be all it would take.

“Captain,” said Reinhardt, again, taking a slow step forward, keeping his tone easy, trying to make it a conversation between the two of them. “I have no real wish to embarrass you, or for this to end badly. But I will not stand idly by while you abuse these people, and if I lose men because the Partisans come down that road behind me, and I’m stuck with you in front of me, I will kill you first, then your men, before I turn back and fight them. Do I make myself understood?”

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 3, 2015

    Excellent ! With a very insightful eye to local and geopolitical conditions.

    This reveals a corner of the WW2 conflict that has been obscured from view due, partially, because of its complexity.
    The geopolitical environment is a puzzle with changing shapes but Mr. McCallin makes it both intricate and finally understandable.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 11, 2014

    Awesome historical mystery sequel!

    Just read it.

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 28, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

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