Munich, 1946: Even in a city still recovering from the war, murder is still murder. But when Irina—a Cossack refugee—confesses to killing a GI, American Captain Harry Kaspar isn’t buying her story. His investigation brings him to a man he considered dead—his long-lost brother, Max, who had returned to the Hitler’s Germany before the war.
Max may have an unforgiveable past, but now he needs Harry for a cause that could redeem him: rescuing Irina’s clan of Cossacks who have been disowned by the Allies and are now being hunted by Soviet death squads.
As a harsh winter looms and the Soviets close in, Harry and Max plan a desperate rescue attempt on a remote stretch of the German-Czech border, where loyalties will be tested, allies will become enemies, and the grave secrets and furious hatreds sown during the war threaten to damn them all in “this masterful story of redemption found within the brutalities of postwar realpolitik” (Kirkus Reviews).
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HARRY KASPAR KNEW HE SHOULDN'T be heading into a bombed-out neighborhood with a plainclothes Munich cop he didn't know, not alone, not with night falling so fast. It wasn't standard operating procedure. He took the risk because plainclothes had a hot tip he could not ignore.
"There has been an incident, sir," the cop had said. "Your brother may be involved."
A destroyed city street at dusk harbored an urgent sort of menace, like a dense old forest just ravaged by giant wild beasts that could return at any moment. The larger ruins loomed as jagged high glaciers about to break apart and plummet down. The cop, a detective, plodded on ahead evidently content to let Harry trail him. Now and then shadowy figures shuffled by, the homeless, the refugees, all the cursed who had somehow survived to see the fall of 1946. They had their rickety carts, their distended packs on their bony backs. They paid Harry no mind, not intimidated anymore by his American conqueror uniform of waist-length Ike jacket, officer's cap, and belted overcoat. His getup only made him feel more like the easy prey in this ravaged forest.
Or maybe it was because plainclothes had found him at home wearing a purple velvet smoking jacket. It came with Harry's billet, a requisitioned city mansion — small and modest as mansions went, but nevertheless ... The Captain Harry Kaspar who first arrived in defeated Germany in the spring of 1945 would never wear such a getup. Harry didn't see combat, but he had seen death after the war was done. One killing was even his doing. In his previous post with US Military Government in the small, secluded Bavarian town of Heimgau, Harry had fought back against a murderous American deserter by liberating a train full of plunder the predatory fiend had stolen. The man exploited Harry by using the alias of Colonel Eugene Spanner. Harry had to kill the sham colonel using his bare hands and a dull army pocketknife. He gave all the loot — the valuable personal belongings of exterminated Jews — straight back to Jewish refugee survivors. His renegade operation was illicit by strict application of military law, but he would do it all over if he had to. No one would guess Harry capable of any of that now on this dim late afternoon in October. As he answered his front door for the cop, he was even holding a snifter of the mansion's Armagnac to go with that smoking jacket. His new brown horn-rimmed glasses (genuine, no Bakelite for Harry) were fashioned by a skilled Optiker in the Seidlstrasse — Harry justified this by knowing the work won a local artisan one afternoon free from rubble clearing. The hard truth was, though, Harry was becoming as infected as any victor turned occupier. Rank, passport, extreme wealth, full access to the PX, and so much more — sooner or later, every last one of them inherited the stale, complacent powers of old.
The cop had given his name as Dietz and held his Criminal Police badge up to the light streaming out from Harry's foyer. Harry peered through his specs at the unique Kripo shield with the Munich coat of arms — a hooded monk taking a vow. Knowing from fake, he felt at the brass plate and the pin attached to the back. Here was a bona fide city detective. But Detective Dietz didn't want to come inside.
"I've been out in the cold too long. I'll only get warm," Dietz said in German, speaking low as if making a telephone call from a stranger's house. "Herr Kapitän, I request your presence for a certain, well, sensitive matter."
"What does that mean?" Harry replied in German. "Please be clear, Detective."
This was when Dietz knocked him for a loop. His brother might be implicated in a crime. His brother? Harry did have an only brother, Maximilian. Max. But the fool had returned to their native Germany in 1939, and no one had heard from him in years. Back in America, Harry and his parents had disowned Max. Harry was stunned to hear his brother mentioned, but he kept it inside. He had learned never to wince. The slightest tell could turn a man from conqueror-occupier into someone's sure mark in an instant.
Harry took the offensive: "How do you know? Tell me. Do you know him? What's his name if you know him?"
"I don't know him. I know little about this, you understand. I only report."
"You're doing it for someone else. Someone you want me to meet. I see ..." Harry nodded, easing up. "What it's about?"
"I can't discuss it. Not here. We must hurry, please. Oh, I must ask for your utmost, shall we say, Besonnenheit."
"And it's utmost discretion you want? So you want me to come alone. That's what you mean. You're acting solo on this — moonlighting as it were."
"Ja, klar. This is what I mean." Dietz flashed Harry a smile of reassurance, but it fizzled out. "Please. It's not far. I'll wait here for you to change."
Harry had requested the transfer out of rural Heimgau to help curb his mounting fear that some unforeseen operator would pin his deed on him, or blackmail him, or worse yet come seeking revenge. He had even paid off a formidable Military Government clerk to push the papers. In his Munich post, he was a Branch E (Munich) Liaison Officer with Regional Military Government of Bavaria. Military Government — MG for short — had him observing local authorities and writing boilerplate reports while often having to step in and play minder in a pinch. He was just another gilded middleman for proclamations or promises, the former delivered in quadruplicate and the latter avowed in smoky clubs. Find your lost faith in me, German. You can depend on us, refugees. The post did give him a certain freedom, though, and on this evening he was going to use it. Normally he'd grab a jeep or even a sedan from the motor pool but that meant signing for the vehicle and chaining the steering wheel with a padlock if left out on the street. So he had let Detective Dietz lead him on foot.
Dietz trudged farther into the neighborhood with his head down and shoulders set, as if he were a boy needing to show his father right where he'd lost his ball. Drops of an early wet snow grazed Harry's cheeks and spotted the layer of grit that had plastered the streets ever since wartime air raids began destroying ninety percent of old Munich. He had made one error — he hadn't changed out of his deerskin loafers hand-made from a master Schuhmacher in the Kaufingerstrasse, and the bones of his toes ached from the chill in them. An odor like rotting chicken parts persisted in the biting damp breeze. Harry kept his nose closed and an eye on all. The building facades turned more skeletal and the hills of debris grew higher. The passing locals seemed more on edge here. People glared and crossed each other's paths, kicking rocks and rags clear. "Goddamn winter coming," a little girl muttered.
Dietz halted at a corner, pivoting one direction and then the other as if he'd lost his way. His long shadow cloaked Harry, and Harry was glad for the darkness. In the daylight he would stand out bright and vivid here like a hand-painted porcelain figurine on a trash heap. He carried his large black leather attaché with platinum buckles clamped under his arm, the padded strap tight on his shoulder. He had learned to be ready for any eventuality. It was why he had eased up hearing Dietz "report" to him, because underpaid German police often moonlighted as intermediaries for all manner of transactions. The mention of Harry's German brother might only be a lure. Tonight's "incident" could simply prove the usual opportunity — Kompensation, some preferred to call it. A certain acquaintance has come into a particular Gutenberg Bible, or a reasonable facsimile thereof, and said acquaintance would like to make Harry a solid offer. That or a most charming and discreet frau with a past wished to become a man's obedient wife. Morphine. Child selling. Who knew? A sensitive favor might be asked in return. That or someone knew more about Harry's past than Harry liked. Which was why his breast pocket held the M2 auto pocketknife he'd bought off a paratrooper to replace the GI-issue model he'd lost disposing of Colonel Spanner. He also owned a stubby little Mauser HSc, which concealed better than his service Colt. He left the piece at home. Discretion was discretion.
Dietz, his face bent forward as if sniffing, turned to face Harry, and a stray working streetlight cleared the shadow off Dietz and his plain clothes. He wore a tattered overcoat dulled by that all-pervasive grit dust, a common accessory for Germans these days. With the wet snow spattering it, the fabric almost shined golden in the sallow light. Dietz had a broad face that could have a second chin in better times. Here it only bore sagging jowls, lined features, sunken cheeks. The loose skin seemed to hang in waiting, ready for some meat to cling to again.
"There is a tunnel, through the rubble," Dietz said.
Harry could have stopped Dietz right here, made him fess up. Maybe it was time. Maybe it should have been time. He felt the pocketknife against his heart. "After you," he said.
Dietz led Harry through a blast hole in a building, making sure Harry ducked his head. All went pitch black for a moment, and then they were creeping along a low passageway that zigzagged around heaps of debris and passed interior courtyards. Small fires crackled here and there and a radio hissed, its channel lost, a few mocking laughs clanged in the air, and Harry heard faraway clip-clops of people navigating over loose bricks, step by cautious step. The passageway darkened and Harry and Dietz descended beneath all of it.
The cellar room was about the size of a standard kitchen. The four lit candles hinted at blackened sandstone, bricks stacked into beds and benches, a pile of hoarded wood. A moldy stench hit Harry's nostrils. Dietz cleared his throat and stood aside for Harry to see.
In the far corner, a man lay on a board flat on his back. A long blade extended from the stomach.
Harry didn't know what made him feel more nausea — seeing that blade in the corpse's gut, or realizing the dead man could be Max.
Blood splattered the dead man's face. His mouth was stretched open as if about to take a big bite. With all that blood and contortion, it was tough to make out the man's looks at a glance. The first thing to do was confirm. Harry scanned the corpse, keeping his back to Dietz. He saw crow's feet and a little white in the longish matted hair. Short in height, wiry build ...
Fading memories of Max crept back — memories Harry had let die. Max was older. If Harry was twenty-eight, that meant Max would be thirty-three now, or was it thirty-four? Max had darker features than Harry did yet they looked enough alike as boys that people mixed up their names. No one mistook their different demeanors. Maxie was always the affable one. His brother had bigger bones, a higher forehead, had grown taller. Max was not near as slight of build as this corpse. If this were his brother, he'd eat his handmade loafers. He sighed, with relief.
"This is not your brother," Dietz said.
"It's not, no. Well? What's this all about? Is he here somewhere?"
"No. There is a young woman, in the next room."
Unease swelled in Harry's chest. He looked toward the splintered doorframe off to the side, a rectangle of dimmer light. "She did it?" he said.
Dietz shrugged. He was only reporting. Harry wondered if the cop felt queasiness at all.
"Then tell me why the hell I am here. My feet are cramping in this cold."
"The young woman in question, she asked for you. She knows your name and title exactly. 'Captain Harry Kaspar of the US Military Government,' is what she said."
"And, don't tell me: She claims that I have a brother."
"It's more than that. She says that she knows him."
"Is that so?" Harry said in monotone.
"This is all that she will say. She might be Russian, but it's hard to tell. You wish to question her?"
"Not quite yet. Let's let her calm down a little."
He would have to get to the bottom of this. A stranger who might just be a suspect knew about Max. Not even his American colleagues in MG knew about his brother who chose Nazi Germany over the Land of the Free. Who else could be on to him, on to the both of them? Fraternizing with the conquered enemy was still an offense to many, even though Harry's only crime was one of kinship. It was a clear weak point in his polished-up armor. The realization brought back his nausea. He swallowed, hard.
The blood had run off the board, soaking into the earthen floor. The fingers had clenched into claws as if clutching items since removed. Harry unfolded his blue silk hanky and used it to tug at the one unbloodied finger. It didn't budge. Rigor mortis would put the death at about five hours, he reckoned.
"This death is too fresh for rigor," Dietz offered. "It must be cadaveric spasm — with the shock of a murder like this, I would not be surprised."
"You're the expert." Harry had an unlit Chesterfield on his lips. Smoke and nausea didn't seem the best allies here, so he reinserted the cigarette in the pack and produced his horn rims. He slid them on, thinking that Max would never wear glasses like these.
He concentrated on the long blade in the man. It was a type of sword and slightly curved and etched with swirling patterns. The handle was a dark wood with no guard but a hooked knob on the end. It certainly was not the Nazi fashion. It looked like something older and rougher, made for actual fighting and killing.
The dead man's US Army fatigues were GI issue, but the olive drab was faded, the hems frayed, the stitching worn fuzzy. Duds like these were for deserters at large, or prisoners, or VD cases getting the treatment.
"You check for dog tags?" Harry said.
"There were none," Dietz said.
The collar was pushed open and unbuttoned as if someone had checked that already or yanked off the tags. The man's eyelids were still open, the eyeballs spattered with blood. A man gored past death, worn-out fatigues, the blood — it all took Harry back. Something about him, inside him, wanted another crack at a grim but simple deed as he had done before. It was direct action and panacea all in one.
"Would you call that a saber?" he asked Dietz.
"Oh, but certainly. Looks like something Slavic, if not from the Orient. A cavalry piece perhaps? And it's sharp — look, the thing's gone right into the board there." Dietz shook his head at that. "Also, this man? He looks too old for a GI."
Harry nodded, pleased Dietz had noticed. He held up the rectangular Daimon flashlight Dietz lent him and inspected the room. In the opposite corner stood a small cast-iron oven, its door open for embers that needed stoking. In another corner, an opened suitcase held potatoes, turnips, and something wrapped in brown paper — often this was a hunk of meat or bread. There were two canteens, blankets, and two more of the sabers in their sheaves.
Harry shined the light back on Dietz, who didn't blink. "Heck of a thing we got here."
"It's another lovely day in Munich."
"You're moonlighting. But you could have run the girl in just the same."
Dietz sighed, a puff of air that smelled of meat (brown paper bundle confirmed). He spoke lower again: "How can I alert the Polizei first? This incident, it involves an Ami." An Ami was an American. The fledgling reformed German police could not act on American crimes or crimes against Amis before alerting US authorities. Dietz had a point — the uniform, at least, was Ami. Dietz also had a knapsack at his feet now and it was bulging. The young woman had likely given him one of those brown paper bundles to smooth things out for her.
Harry turned off the flashlight. "Listen, Herr Detective — what's your first name anyways?"
"Hartmut." Whenever Harry needed to test a German, he acted his most American. Thus using the first name. It always threw them off guard. He placed a hand on Dietz's shoulder. He smiled. "I'll say this once: You need to take this matter to the MPs, my friend. At least find a public safety officer in MG. I'm not the kind of Ami you need, see — "
"Because you're a born German."
"Yes. No! I'm a naturalized American. How do you know that?"
"Everyone knows," Dietz said. "And, I can tell from your German."
Dietz was testing Harry too. Harry couldn't blame the detective. Harry asked him, "Just how did you get included in this anyway — "
"Neighbors came to me. I live nearby." Dietz added a shrug.
"You really are not acting on police authority?"
"The authority here, it is not yet clear."
"Despite your brass badge."
"I needed you to trust me. For her sake."
"How did you get my address?"
"We police are not so very powerless. We do have lists."
"What makes you think this girl knows my brother?"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Lost Kin"
Copyright © 2016 Steve Anderson.
Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is a fragment of WWII that few acknowledge and or consider. A war is finished everything should be fine, people pick up, do the best they can and start all over again --- except that’s NOT what happens! The ugly aspects of piecing things back together is straight lined throughout this book some very heart sickening, disgusting and hard to believe. An account that will keep you thinking all of your life and a lot you’ll never forget!
This is an enjoyable historical thriller. Even though this is book 3 in the series, you could read it as a stand alone book and still enjoy it. I haven’t read a lot from post WW 2, and what happened after the war, so I found this very interesting. Steve Anderson has done a great job of incorporating an interesting and captivating story with history of that era. It’s interesting that there were a lot of displaced people after the WW2 and that same thing is happening around the world today. Captain Harry Kasper is a great character, along with his girlfriend Sibine. I will definitely read more from this Author.