A chilling novel of murder and madness in post-World War II Germany…
Winter 1945. Seven months after the Nazi defeat, Munich is in ruins. Mason Collins—a former Chicago homicide detective, U.S. soldier, and prisoner of war—is now a U.S. Army criminal investigator in the American Zone of Occupation. It’s his job to enforce the law in a place where order has been obliterated. And his job just became much more dangerous.
A killer is stalking the devastated city—one who has knowledge of human anatomy, enacts mysterious rituals with his prey, and seems to pick victims at random. Relying on his wits and instincts, Mason must venture places where his own life is put at risk: from interrogation rooms with unrepentant Nazi war criminals to penetrating the U.S. Army’s own black market.
What Mason doesn’t know is that the killer he’s chasing is stalking him, too…
About the Author
John A. Connell has worked as a cameraman on films such as Jurassic Park and Thelma & Louise and on TV shows including The Practice and NYPD Blue. He now lives with his wife in Paris, France, where he is at work on his second Mason Collins novel.
Read an Excerpt
THE AMERICAN ZONE OF OCCUPATION
Criminal 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. “Sieg Heil, motherfuckers!”
“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, Trümmerfrauen, 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.
War-torn Germany was 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 real 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.”
“Overrun and surrounded. I was out on a patrol and wound up behind enemy lines. They roughed me up pretty bad.”
“You were a POW?”
Mason tended to avoid discussing it with anyone who hadn’t been in combat, but Wolski was growing on him. “Buchenwald for two weeks then transferred to a couple of POW stalags.”
Wolski sat back in his seat. “Buchenwald? Damn. No wonder . . .”
“No wonder what?” Mason said and turned to Wolski.
“No offense, sir. You got the right, is all I was going to say.”
Corporal Manganella pulled up the jeep in front of a four-square-block, seven-story factory. The structure still stood, but it had been clearly gutted by fire, its brick scorched black by intense heat and smoke. Thick wooden beams propped diagonally against the wall kept it from collapsing. A handful of jeeps and army green sedans were parked in front of the building. Four MPs held back a small crowd of curious civilians.
Mason instructed Corporal Manganella to stay with the jeep. As he and Wolski made their way through the crowd of German onlookers, Mason said, “All I ask is you don’t stumble over your own two feet. Watch, listen, and do what I say.”
Wolski gave him an exaggerated salute. “Yes, sir.”
At the factory entrance, Mason showed his CID badge to one of the MPs. The guard told them to go straight through and across the courtyard to the loading docks. A sergeant would direct them from there.
Mason and Wolski entered an enclosed driveway just wide enough for small trucks. On their left, they passed a former shipping office with its windows crisscrossed by slats of wood. Somewhere inside the dark room a baby cried. Through the gaps Mason could see crumpled blankets and a tiny field stove like the German soldiers used to carry. People now lived in these ruins, having no other place to go. With estimates of up to 70 percent of the city damaged or destroyed, virtually any hovel that sheltered against the cold and the rain and snow had been occupied by the homeless.
Thirty feet of driveway opened up to a courtyard. High stacks of debris were piled everywhere. Tents and lean-tos dotted the grounds, all empty for the moment, since the “residents” had been herded outside during the investigation.
“What misery,” Wolski said.
Mason grunted an acknowledgment. He’d seen enough misery in the last two years that words no longer seemed sufficient.
They crossed the courtyard, where an MP sergeant waited below a loading platform.
“This way, sir,” the sergeant said.
Mason and Wolski clambered after him up a pile of rubble and into the building’s shipping department, where rolling platforms and conveyor belts sat in twisted heaps or crushed under the debris of the collapsed floor above. Guiding with his flashlight, the sergeant led them through the dark maze. The sound from drops of melted snow echoed in the open space. Snowflakes somehow found an opening that the fading afternoon light could not.
“What have we got, Sergeant?” Mason said.
“A couple of women found the body. They’d been searching for firewood and came out screaming. Nearly started a panic with the rest of the people using this place as a shelter.”
“Most of these people have seen plenty of dead bodies,” Mason said. “What made them panic?”
“You’ll have to see for yourself, sir. I’ve seen a lot of corpses, but nothing like this.”
They entered a short hallway then a stairwell. Metal stairs led upward. Snowflakes and streams of water tumbled down from a large hole in the roof, seven stories above. Wolski hesitated at the bottom step. The sergeant said, “It’ll hold a big fella like you. We only got two flights.”
The weakened stairs groaned as they climbed. Even ten months after the bombing raid that had devastated this area, the building still reeked of the acrid smell of spent explosives, smoke, and now decay.
On the third floor they entered another open space. Burned army blankets, uniforms, and canvas tents were fused together in long blackened rows. The stench grew pungent, like that of burned hair.
“You should see about getting a team with a genny and work lights,” Mason said. “We’re going to be here awhile.”
“Already ordered, sir,” the sergeant said. “Should be here any minute. The photographer just got here, and the scene techs are on their way.”
At the far end of the room, Mason saw flashlight beams beyond a set of collapsed doors. He quickened his pace, with Wolski and the sergeant close behind. Mason’s foot inadvertently kicked a piece of metal, sending it across the floor. The clanging brought someone from the room to investigate. Mason was hit in the face by a blinding flashlight beam.
“Who’s there?” the man holding the light said with an underlying tone of fear in his voice.
Mason shielded his eyes from the light but could see the man only in silhouette. “Get that light out of my face.”
The beam swept away, and Mason recognized the egg-shaped frame of Havers, another CID investigator. It hadn’t taken more than an hour on the first day for Mason to figure out Havers: a reasonably competent investigator who did as little as possible to accomplish a task, and as much as possible to lick his superiors’ boots.
“As if we didn’t have enough people around here already.” Havers half blocked the door and glared at Mason. “This is my investigation. I was first on the scene.”
“Talk to the colonel if you have a problem,” Mason said as he pushed past Havers.
Almost pitch-black beyond the group’s pool of flashlights, only the echoes of shuffling feet and low murmurs hinted at the immensity of the room. Mason lit his flashlight, as did Wolski. A wall of men stood in front of them, six MPs Mason didn’t immediately recognize and Havers’s CID partner, who always looked pained to be associated with Havers. They all wore grim expressions, and a few looked as though they might run to a dark corner at any moment to empty the contents of their stomachs.
“Someone want to fill me in?” Mason asked.
Havers stepped in the middle of the group as if to claim his territory. In the harsh light from the flashlights Mason could see by Havers’s taut, blanched face that he was profoundly shaken by whatever waited in the darkness behind him. Without looking, he pointed to the dark center of the room. “Up there on the column.”
None of the others seemed anxious to look again. Mason and Wolski moved forward and trained their flashlights toward the center of the vast room. A huge portion of the upper two floors above them had collapsed, taking their floor with it and crashing to a stop thirty feet below. Mason and Wolski now stood at the edge of a gap twenty feet across. With their flashlight beams, they found the thick support column of concrete and steel. Their eyes followed the beams up the column then stopped.
Wolski gasped and took a quick step back. “Tell me that wasn’t a man.”
Mason remembered to breathe after his stomach finished doing a Saint Vitus dance. Lashed to the column, halfway up from their level, hung an armless and legless corpse. Only the head remained attached to the eviscerated torso, which had been split down the middle. A Y-shaped cut started at each shoulder and met at the sternum, then a single slash descended to just above the man’s groin. His ribs had been pulled back, exposing his organs, his face frozen in agony and terror. In Mason’s two years in combat zones, he’d seen torn and mangled corpses; he’d seen the atrocities at Buchenwald. But this man had been ritualistically butchered.
A flashbulb went off, startling Mason. More flashes went off, making the bloodless torso appear stark white against the black space.
“Jesus almighty,” Wolski said.
Mason let out a sigh to ease his outrage. “Welcome to homicide.” He waved the beam around the torso. “Whoever killed this person put some kind of mesh across the body to keep the organs from falling out.” He looked at Wolski, who’d turned pale. “You notice what’s missing, though?” Mason asked Wolski the question to help Wolski concentrate and not lose himself in the gruesome scene.
“You mean, other than his arms and legs?”
Mason trained his beam on the spot. “He’s missing his small intestines.” Then, without looking at the group, he spoke loud enough for the rest to hear. “I hope this area was searched for clues before any of you tromped on it.”
Havers charged up to Mason, while averting his eyes from the corpse. “Look, Collins, I know what I’m doing. So far we haven’t found anything except the footprints of the two women who discovered the body. What we haven’t been able to figure out is how anyone could get that body up there.”
“The right question is why,” Mason said. He searched the rubble around the base of the column with his flashlight beam then the area above the torso. “Get up on the fourth floor and look around,” Mason said to Wolski. He turned to the MPs. “I want four of you downstairs now. Start interviewing the people who live in this building and the surrounding neighborhood. The other two of you go down to the base of the column and search for clues. And don’t wipe out any footprints.”
Havers got in Mason’s face. “We’ve all heard about your snitching on fellow police officers in Chicago. No one wants to work with you. You can’t give these men orders. I’m in charge here.”
“Then why haven’t you searched above and below? Or figured out a way to get that body down?”
“I don’t answer to you. The victim’s probably a kraut who ripped off someone on the black market and this is a revenge killing. Dead krauts are on every street corner. They don’t interest me, and this won’t interest the colonel. So get off my case.”
“How can you tell? The victim’s naked. For all we know he’s an American or Brit.”
Havers could only puff out his cheeks in response.
“It shouldn’t matter. No one should have to suffer that kind of cruelty.” Mason took a breath, then tried a more conciliatory tone. “Look, Frank, Colonel Walton told me to come over here and take charge, and I could use your expertise. How about if you help Mr. Wolski look around on the next floor?”
“Fuck you,” Havers said and stormed off.
Someone came up behind Mason and muttered, “Jesus H. Christ.” Mason turned to see Major John Treborn, the chief medical examiner. Mason had met him briefly, but introduced himself again.
“You’re the criminal investigator who came in about two weeks ago.”
“Well, welcome to the zoo,” Treborn said and stepped up to the edge of the gap. Mason joined him. Treborn examined the corpse with the beam of his flashlight. “I can tell you one thing from here,” Treborn said. “He was killed, dismembered, and bled dry somewhere else before being hung up there like a slaughtered animal. And look at the shoulder joints and the hips. Clean, surgical cuts.” He looked at Mason. “What do you think? Revenge killing, sending others a message?”
“If this were a revenge killing they wouldn’t have been so meticulous with the butchering then strung him up like a trophy.”
“I can see this case getting really ugly,” Treborn said. “Maybe you should have let Havers take it.”
Wolski called down from the edge of the fourth floor. “Sir, you need to see what’s up here.”
As Mason headed for the stairwell, he met four men bringing in the generator and lights. He told them to set up the lights in the next room and see about getting the body down without contaminating the scene. “Major Treborn will supervise.”
Once Mason was alone climbing the stairs, images of the corpse projected themselves onto the dark surroundings as if burned onto his eyes. On the fourth floor he entered a room full of scorched sewing machines and looms. Up ahead, Wolski stood near the edge of the collapsed flooring with his flashlight trained on something hidden from Mason’s view.
“Seems our friend left us some kind of crazy message,” said Wolski. “No blood on the floor. Looks like he drained them like the torso.”
The sight was one of the strangest Mason had ever seen. On the floor, five feet from the broken edge, lay the victim’s arms and legs. The killer had arranged the limbs in the shape of an X, the stumps joining in the middle. Four additional stakes formed a crude wooden cross between them.
“I’ll be damned if I know what it’s supposed to mean,” Wolski said.
“I don’t think he left this message for us.”
They both walked to the edge of the drop-off and looked down at the column, then up to the floor above.
“One thing’s for sure,” said Wolski, “he either had help or he’s a hell of an engineer.”
“That, or maybe a mountain climber.”
“Mountain climbers know how to hang dead bodies, do they?”
“You’re going to have a wiseass remark for everything, aren’t you?”
Wolski smiled and shrugged.
“How’s your German?” Mason asked.
“I was born in Pomerania, but the family moved to Wisconsin when I was five—”
“That’s really fascinating, but I just want to know how your German is.”
“Now he pulls out the sarcasm.”
Mason started to say something, but Wolski beat him to the punch. “Fluent. My German’s fluent. Sorry, I just used to get a lot of flak because I could speak it.”
“Go tell the photographer and the doc to get up here. Then I want you to go help with the interviews. Planting that body on that column and making an art show out of the body parts took time and had to make noise. Somebody’s got to have heard or seen something.”
Wolski left, and Mason searched for any signs the killer had been there. A broad survey of the area turned up nothing, no shoe prints, no evidence of any activity that might explain how the killer managed to suspend the body or attach it to the column. Everything seemed to be as it had been since a fire caused by incendiary bombs had ravaged the building. He scanned the exposed edge of the concrete around the collapsed portion of the floor with his flashlight, slowly and carefully. A quarter of the way, light glinted off the hammered surface of what he’d thought was exposed rebar embedded in the concrete floor. He got on his knees and studied it closely. It was a spike. A sweep of his flashlight revealed three more. The killer had driven spikes at intervals of ninety degrees, like the four points of a compass, around the hole. The man must have engineered some kind of pulley system to lower himself and mount the body.
Why go to that much trouble?
Mason noticed something else: From his kneeling position, he could see the faint relief of imprints in the ash. They weren’t from shoes or bare feet. But what? Cloth? Like ghostly disturbances, they didn’t follow a definite form from one print to the next. Now that he knew what to look for, he saw they continued around the hole’s edge. He followed them with his flashlight, and on the opposite side the trail led to and from the hole, extending outward into the darkness. As he followed the prints, he noticed another set of markings. The killer had been dragging something heavy, like a sack . . . or dismembered torso. Odd, Mason thought, the killer had been so meticulous covering up his tracks, and now this? Maybe he’s fallible after all.
Mason passed a series of partitioned office spaces filled with charcoal replicas of what had once been office furniture. The trail wove around piles of debris and fallen light fixtures. Finally, at the far end of the room, the trail stopped at a steel-reinforced door. On the floor, ash and scattered fragments had been scraped away in an arc, proof that the door had been opened recently. The soot on the door handle had been rubbed off as well. He reached for a handkerchief in his back pocket and, in doing so, turned the flashlight away from the door. That was when he noticed a very faint light leaking from under the door.
He froze and listened. He pulled out his M1911 .45 automatic and slowly pushed the door lever to make as little noise as possible.
The rusted lever screeched. Mason shoved the lever and jerked open the door.
Though daylight had turned to the gray gloom of dusk, the light was still a shock to his eyes. At the same moment he heard a creak and clank of metal. A black shadow flew at his face. He dived sideways. Something sliced through the arm of his coat as he fell. He shot up to an elbow and aimed the pistol, ready to fire. But it wasn’t a man charging him with a knife. The moving object was a thick metal pipe with a scalpel strapped on the end. It had been rigged above the door frame to swing in when the door was opened.
Mason got to his feet, stopped the pipe from swinging, and stepped out the door onto the fire escape. Metal stairs descended to an alley. He examined the rig—a clever bit of engineering. The killer had knowingly left the footprints to lead someone into the trap. It wasn’t designed to kill, unless by chance the short blade entered the neck or the heart. In all likelihood, he was sending a message: Whoever follows does so at his peril.
And Mason had willingly walked right into it.
He turned to go back inside and stopped. On the exterior face of the door crude letters in red paint spelled out a message in German:
THOSE WHO I HAVE MADE SUFFER WILL BECOME SAINTS AND THEY SHALL LIFT ME UP FROM HELL.
Sweet dreams, ladies,” Corporal Manganella said as Mason and Wolski climbed out of the jeep.
Mason grunted. Wolski gave him the middle finger. Manganella gunned the engine and raced away, leaving them in the dark. Much of the city’s electrical grid still waited to be restored, and even the buildings requisitioned by the military suffered intermittent electrical service. Mason peered down the street. Vague skeletal shapes of the buildings were visible by the light of the moon. He thought of the killer out there somewhere, stalking prey in this ruined city, a city in chaos with legions of easy prey.
The 13th CID detachment satellite station on Sophienstrasse was once the financial headquarters for the Nazi regime. The building’s unremarkable blockhouse architecture was rendered even bleaker by the blackened granite from the raging fires. The first wave of U.S. occupying forces had blasted off the ubiquitous Nazi swastika but left the Third Reich eagle for some reason, then proceeded to scratch graffiti into the smoke-stained stone.
Mason and Wolski passed through the multiarched portico and approached the entrance. Two sentries, stationed on either side, saluted them.
“Poor bastards freezing their asses off,” Wolski said.
“At least no one is shooting at them.”
“Coming from someone else, I’d say they were looking on the bright side. But with you I see a problem with compassion for your fellow human beings.”
“My compassion’s not going to make them feel any warmer.”
When they entered, Mason felt relieved to be immersed in light and heat after so many hours in the dark and cold of the damaged factory. A row of desks, then a line of offices, filled the open-floor lobby. A couple of typewriters clacked; a telephone rang. Except for everyone wearing army green instead of blue, the place reminded Mason of any large police station, and it always gave him a pang of nostalgia.
As they headed for a staircase at the far side of the lobby, the lead watch sergeant looked up from his paperwork. “Mr. Collins. Colonel Walton wants to see you right away.”
As deputy provost marshal of Munich, Colonel Walton could have assigned a CID chief warrant officer to supervise the detachment, but Walton liked to keep a tight grip on the whole show, including the contingent of CID investigators. Some would say he was a hands-on kind of guy while others considered him an overbearing, power-hungry pain in the ass. “It’s almost nine,” Mason said to Wolski as they mounted the stairs. “What’s Walton doing here this late?”
“Can only mean trouble.”
The next floor sported the same arrangement of desks and offices, the same faded beige walls and black-and-white tile floor. Most of the investigators were on this floor, with a few privates and corporals doing administrative work at a front pool of desks. Wolski split off to an area in the center of the room dedicated to the lower-ranked investigators. Mason continued on to the colonel’s outer office, where a staff sergeant typed away, looking up only long enough to wave Mason on through.
On a bench opposite the sergeant’s desk sat an elderly man dressed in black with a salt-and-pepper goatee and reading glasses perched on the end of his nose. He had a gaunt face with deeply etched lines and piercing hazel eyes. Mason didn’t have time to wonder who the peculiar man might be. He had bigger concerns, one of which waited behind the next door. He knocked.
A powerful voice boomed through the door, “Enter.”
What had been some high-ranking Nazi financial official’s office now served at Colonel Walton’s pleasure. The large room dwarfed the desk, which sat front and center. On the wall behind the colonel hung several maps: the city of Munich; postwar Germany divided into its four zones of occupation—American, British, French, and Russian; and the American zone, which included Bavaria. To the left of the desk stood an overstuffed sofa and high-back leather chairs. Not for the first time, images flashed through Mason’s mind of some Nazi official sitting behind the same desk planning the financing required for the annihilation of one ethnic group or another. Havers stood to one side of the colonel’s desk, hat in hand, and somehow managed to shoot Mason a hateful gaze while maintaining a smarmy smile for the colonel. Given another time and place, Havers would have made an excellent candidate for Nazidom.
Mason stopped in front of the desk and saluted. “You wanted to see me, sir?”
“I wanted your damned report. Havers has been here for more than an hour.”
“Yes, sir. I waited until the medical examiner, Major Treborn, could give me his initial findings and take the body . . . parts off to the lab.”
“That just happened?” the colonel said, glancing in Havers’s direction. “The victim—Allied or German?”
“That’s to be determined. We found no clothing or documents saying one way or the other. His head and body were shaved. No physical traits to speak of, except he was uncircumcised. I’m having Mr. Wolski make calls to the various division and battalion headquarters to see if any servicemen are reported missing.”
“Havers believes the victim is German.”
“So far, there’s no evidence to confirm one way or the other. Mr. Havers jumped to that conclusion on his own.”
Havers butted in. “I’ve already had my deputy investigators check all bulletins about missing army or American civilian personnel, and none of them match the victim.”
“Mr. Havers should be aware that it takes a couple of days for someone to be filed as missing. Then a couple of days for the bulletins to make the rounds. Plus, it doesn’t take into account personnel on leave or those sent out on travel or extended duties.” He addressed Havers directly. “And if you’d waited for Major Treborn’s report, you’d know that he puts the time of death at no more than a day and a half, tops.”
“You arrogant son of a bitch,” Havers said.
The colonel banged his desk. “That’s enough.” He pointed his index finger at Mason. “I won’t have any disrespect of your fellow investigators. We work together or not at all. Now, get on with your report.”
“I assume Mr. Havers filled you in on the state of the body.”
“Yes, but I want your version.”
Mason told the colonel about the torso being lashed to the column, the mesh around the organs, and the display of limbs on the floor above. Colonel Walton showed no reaction, though Mason’s stomach contracted in retelling the details. “We couldn’t find any recent fingerprints. Any imprints they found of fingers or hands indicate the killer was probably wearing nonfibrous gloves. Footprints indicate that the killer also wore some kind of cloth over his shoes or boots. We estimate his shoe size at between ten and eleven. I’d like to go back to the scene tomorrow, but my guess is we won’t find anything more. This guy was meticulous and only left traces he wanted us to find.”
Colonel Walton nodded.
“The canvassing turned up nothing. No one claims to have seen or heard anything. We’ll continue canvassing in a wider circle tomorrow.”
“I heard about your close call with his booby trap,” Colonel Walton said.
Mason nodded and fingered the slice in the left arm of his coat, then pulled out his notepad and read the message the killer had left on the fire escape door.
“So not the work of rival gangs?” Colonel Walton asked.
Mason shook his head. “This is a psychopathic killer. I believe this isn’t his first and it won’t be his last.”
Colonel Walton’s desk sergeant came in with a large manila envelope. “This was just delivered from the photo lab, sir, for Mr. Collins.” He handed Mason the envelope and left.
“The crime scene photos,” Mason said.
“Not right now. I have a late dinner engagement, and I don’t want to ruin my appetite.”
No doubt Colonel Walton had a beautiful young fräulein waiting for him as well. Mason had heard about the colonel’s revolving door of lovely girls. From the time U.S. forces had entered Germany, an edict had been issued that all Allied personnel were forbidden to fraternize—“fratting,” as the men called it—with the enemy civilian population. It didn’t take long for the nonfraternization rules to be ignored, especially where young ladies were concerned. By the end of July, the army had pretty much given up on the unpopular edict. A couple of packs of cigarettes could buy you an evening. And if there was one thing the army had plenty of, it was cigarettes.
A flush of red popped onto the colonel’s cheeks under Mason’s knowing gaze. “That will be all, gentlemen.”
Collins and Havers started to leave when the colonel said, “Mr. Collins, just a few more questions.” Mason turned, as did Havers, but the colonel waved a dismissive hand at Havers. “You can go.”
Colonel Walton leaned back in his chair and studied Mason. “Havers is a good investigator, but he’s had little homicide experience. Few of my investigators do. That’s why I sent you out there to investigate that murder. It’s why I accepted your transfer request—with some reluctance, I might add.” He plucked a file off his desk and opened it. “You’ve been here, what? Twelve days?”
Mason offered only a slight nod; he knew what was coming.
“We should have had this talk when you first arrived,” Colonel Walton said into the open file. “I know about you being fired from the Chicago PD for kickbacks and shakedowns—”
“Colonel, those were trumped-up charges—”
The colonel jerked up his head and glared at Mason. “You will let me finish. I have your statements on the affair. I’m aware of the controversy surrounding you.” He paused and turned his attention back to the open file. “I only bring this up because of tension concerning you and the other intelligence agents while you worked human intelligence at G2. I don’t need it, and I’m expecting you to defuse it. You got exemplary marks for your investigative work, but there are criticisms of being too independent, less than stellar regard for authority, et cetera, et cetera. You keep that kind of thinking out of this outfit, or I’ll see to it you go back to pushing papers in Frankfurt. You think joining the CID is a new start for you. Well, I say it’s the end of the line. You’ve been blackballed back home. No city police department will hire you. You screw up here, and that’s it. Am I understood?”
Mason acknowledged. Colonel Walton rose from his chair and went to a file cabinet. The colonel, a good-looking man with chiseled features, stood a head taller than Mason, and Mason measured six feet. He opened a drawer and took out a bottle of cognac along with two glasses. Mason welcomed a drink—maybe two or three after what he’d witnessed in the warehouse. But this gesture wasn’t a peace offering or sharing a drink among comrades in arms; more a pacifier for what was about to come.
The colonel offered Mason one of the glasses. “A VSOP distilled in 1870. About six months’ worth of your salary would buy this in the States. Here, I traded it for a smoked ham and five pounds of coffee from some wealthy hausfrau.” He held up his glass. “Cheers.”
They both took a sip of their drinks, then Colonel Walton asked, as if in casual conversation, “How’s the train robbery case going?”
“Sir, you have my latest report, so I’m not sure what your point is in asking.” Though he had a pretty good idea.
“I’m not required to have a point. Answer the question.”
“After the gang robbed a trainload of army supplies and PX goods, I was able to trace them to Augsburg. I alerted the 385th MP train security battalion. They laid a trap for the gang at the Augsburg train station, but the gang started shooting their way out—submachine guns, grenades, the whole bit—and escaped.”
“That’s right. And that gang of about twenty U.S. deserters, with another forty or so DPs, are out there plundering the countryside.”
DP stood for “displaced person.” When Germany surrendered there were more than ten million displaced persons in Germany: ex–prisoners of war, ex–concentration camp internees, and people from every Nazi-occupied country brought in as slave labor. For years the slave laborers had been forced to work in the factories, on the farms, or as domestic servants. Now released from bondage, a majority of the ten million had already made their way home, but hundreds of thousands remained in Germany, and some of them had decided to take advantage of the chaos of a war-torn country and formed gangs that roamed the countryside, raping, stealing, and murdering.
Colonel Walton continued, “Two MPs and two civilians were seriously wounded. That case deserves some serious attention, don’t you think?”
“Because of their widespread activity, it has turned into a zonewide investigation. I’m coordinating with three MP battalions and their CID detachments in Frankfurt, Stuttgart, and Mannheim. I’m working the Munich end, but for the moment it appears the gang has moved west into other areas of command.”
Colonel Walton downed his cognac and offered Mason another pour, but Mason declined. He needed a clear head for what was coming.
The colonel shrugged and poured another for himself. “You know the situation we’re facing. There are over six hundred thousand soldiers and support personnel in the American zone, most of them homesick and resentful for not being sent home. Mix in low morale, boredom, and an unlimited supply of food, booze, and cigarettes, which millions of starving and desperate locals will give them anything for in trade—and I mean anything—and it’s a potent mix for graft, drunkenness, narcotics, rape, and murder. It’s a goddamned madhouse. The MP battalions and the CID detachments are overloaded with cases. More than half our men have never done police work. And as fast as we can train them, the army’s sending them home.”
Colonel Walton let out a tired sigh. Mason listened to the distant clacking of a typewriter and hum of the electric space heater while waiting for the colonel to get revved up again. He didn’t have to wait long.
“The point I’m trying to make in all this is: I can’t have you stuck on this homicide case with no leads, no evidence, and—I have to be honest with you here—in all likelihood one German murdered by another. Now, you can continue to pursue the case in a supervisory capacity. See what the ME says after his autopsy, but then I want you to give other cases your full attention. It may sound callous, but there are too many other cases that concern the army more than what goes on between Germans.”
“We don’t know if the victim is German. And even if he is, what if the killer is an American? And, sir . . . killers like this? They don’t necessarily stop on their own. This guy even referred to ‘those’ he makes suffer. What about his next victim?”
The colonel slammed his hand on the desk. “May I remind you, Mr. Collins, that the CID’s primary job—your job—is to investigate crimes committed by and on U.S. military personnel.”
A few seconds passed while neither spoke. Mason knew the colonel was sizing him up, remembering the complaints about Mason’s pushing the boundaries of authority. Remarks from fellow officers and the command ranks would no doubt claim that Mason was not a team player, which left the colonel mulling whether it was worth putting up with such battles to benefit from Mason’s investigative experience.
Finally the colonel said, “I’m going to bargain with you. As long as you work other cases to my satisfaction, including this train robbery fiasco, I’ll let you and Wolski follow up any leads that arise in this case. I guarantee you that if we find out that the victim or the killer is American, or any other member of Allied forces, you will have my full support in pursuing the murderer.” He rose from his desk. “Stay here.”
Colonel Walton went to the door, poked his head out, and said something Mason couldn’t hear. He then stepped to one side to let someone enter. The craggy-faced man who’d been waiting outside stepped in. He eyed Mason with a solemn expression. The colonel gestured with his hand for the man to follow him.
“Chief Warrant Officer Collins,” the colonel said, “this is Herr Oberinspektor Becker of the Munich Kriminalpolizei.” The Kriminalpolizei was the German police detective bureau.
With a slight chill, Mason realized why the man had caught his eye earlier: He reminded Mason of his own German-born grandfather. They wore the same goatee and had the same steely eyes. His grandfather had been a devout Lutheran and the family tyrant. As a child, Mason had shied away from the man, avoiding him whenever he could. Fear transformed to acrimony as he grew older. Now he faced what appeared to be a living, breathing incarnation of the old buzzard. And a German cop, to boot.
Becker made a slight bow with no more of a smile than what was required. “I’m very happy to make your acquaintance,” he said in a thick German accent and deep baritone voice.
Mason stepped forward and they shook hands. Becker’s hand was warm and dry, and he had a surprisingly firm grip for someone who looked to be in his midsixties. Like Mason’s grandfather, Becker comported himself with a grim visage and a stiff spine.
Colonel Walton maneuvered between them to break their mutual stare. “Gentlemen, over here, please,” he said and led them back to the desk. “Have a seat.” He took his place behind the desk, while Mason and Becker sat in the chairs facing him. “Inspector Becker is our chief liaison officer for the Munich police.”
From his time working as an assistant on the general staff in Frankfurt, Mason had witnessed firsthand the backroom politics that established how the occupying Allies, from a standpoint of sheer manpower, could police the entire country’s population with only military police. To have any hope of maintaining order, they had to turn to the existing indigenous police forces. The problem was, the German police forces had been absorbed into the SS by Heinrich Himmler, and most policemen were required to be card-carrying members of the Nazi Party. Each day the Allies dismantled more and more of the Nazi-era system, but it had been impractical, even hazardous, to dismiss every German policeman. To make sure they weren’t putting fanatics or brutal members of the Gestapo back into positions of authority, the intelligence services continually combed through the Nazi-era police force files. Nonetheless, Mason suspected that a lot of the bad apples were slipping back into the police stations and halls of justice.
Becker cleared his throat and said to Mason, “Colonel Walton and Criminal Investigator Havers gave me information regarding what you discovered at the Mannstein Fabrikswerk factory. I can assure you that my colleagues and I will do our utmost to continue the investigation.”
Mason turned to the colonel. “You’re handing the case over to the Kriminalpolizei?”
“The Kriminalpolizei will augment the investigation. You know that we always coordinate with them when cases involve German civilians. We do the main investigation, but hand over German perpetrators to the German authorities.”
“No one said the perpetrator is German.”
“I concur with Investigator Collins,” Becker said. “Is it not America which seems particularly fertile in producing psychotics who commit multiple homicides?”
“No one said anything about multiple homicides,” the colonel said.
“And it seems, Inspector,” Mason said, imitating Becker’s phrasing, “that Germany is fertile in producing mass murderers.”
The colonel stiffened in his chair like he was going to have a heart attack. “Now, wait a minute, Collins!”
Mason continued to glare at Becker, but Becker bowed his head slightly and smiled. “Touché.”
Mason turned to Colonel Walton. “Sir, we can do this without the inspector’s help. If the killer turns out to be German, we’ll hand him over to German authorities.”
Becker spoke before the colonel could respond. “I and many of my fellow officers are natives of Munich. We know the city and its people better than you. And while your experienced investigators keep leaving for the United States, we gain qualified officers every day. Perhaps we should lead the investigation. We can be much more persuasive in convincing witnesses to come forward—”
“Yeah, we’ve all heard about how persuasive the Gestapo could be,” Mason said.
The colonel shot up from his chair. “That’s enough! I’ve warned you about your attitude. That war’s been fought. We won’t be fighting it again, here. Is that clear?”
“That goes for you, too, Inspector.”
Becker bowed his head. “My apologies, Colonel. My officers and I are happy to cooperate.”
“Fine. Now both of you get out of here.”
Mason blew past the pool of desks and entered his office. He flicked on the ceiling light then slapped the file folders onto his desk. Before he could sit, Becker knocked on his open door.
Mason sighed. “Yeah, come in.”
Few Germans made Mason uneasy these days. When they had been shooting at him and taken him prisoner, yes, but not after their devastating defeat. But Becker not only personified his late tyrannical grandfather, he also stirred Mason’s memories of the brutal German military police and the terror of the camp guards, and Mason resented the man for it.
Becker took two steps into the room. “I would like to apologize for my part in our dispute.”
“Forget it,” Mason said, but Becker had the look of a parent waiting for the right response. “Okay, me, too. We’re both cops. But I hope I don’t find out you were a Gestapo goon arresting political dissidents or hunting down escaped American POWs.”
“I remained in Kripo during the war. I only investigated serious crimes and had nothing to do with security enforcement. Your colonel thinks very highly of you. I hope we can work together in harmony.”
Mason sat at his desk and started leafing through the files. “Whatever works to solve the case, right?”
Becker tilted his head in agreement. “I respect your fervor. A man never fully forgets the victims. Especially the brutal ones.”
Mason stopped fussing with the files and looked up. Becker had been a cop for decades before him, and he probably had a lot more skeletons stuffed in his closet. “This one does have me pretty rattled. I’ve never seen anything like it.” Mason looked at his watch. “It’s after eleven now, and it’s going to take me an hour to type up my report. I’ll have someone make up a file in the morning and send it over to you.”
Becker removed a business card from his pocket and placed it on Mason’s desk. “I will have my colleagues begin a search for witnesses tomorrow morning. It will be difficult to identify the victim. There are hundreds of thousands of German refugees, deserters from every army. . . .”
Mason fed a sheet into his typewriter. “Not to mention all the freed concentration camp prisoners and slave laborers your comrades didn’t manage to eliminate.” Mason turned to Becker. “Look—”
“No need to apologize.” A smile formed in the corner of Becker’s mouth, but his nostrils flared; he was obviously struggling to maintain his composure. “I understand you have reasons for your animosity. And old enemies do not become friends overnight. We will have a pleasant working relationship.”
By way of conciliation, Mason said, “Once I have the medical examiner’s report, I’ll send that to you. And as soon as I have a sketch artist draw up the victim’s portrait, I’ll send over copies of that as well.”
“Good. We’ll post them on the usual missing-persons boards and see that all the surrounding community police departments receive a copy.”
“Then we’ll have all our little crumbs in a box, congratulate ourselves for our fine efforts, while we wait for the bastard to butcher another victim.” Mason turned his attention back to his typewriter.
Becker lingered for a moment. “It never becomes any easier. I can attest to that. But beware of the bitterness.” He shifted his winter coat to his left arm and donned his hat. “Good night.”
Mason returned the farewell as he typed. He didn’t think about what he was writing. He’d done enough reports that his brain went into autopilot. But Becker’s parting words continued to repeat in his head. He’d thought himself beyond bitterness, having exchanged it for the anesthesia of spartan indifference.
Guess it’s not working.
An hour later, another knock came at the door. It was Wolski. “What’s with Boris Karloff?”
Mason chuckled. “He does look like Karloff at that.” He pulled a cigarette out of the pack lying on the desk. He offered Wolski one. Wolski declined. “He’s our German police liaison,” Mason said. “Did you get anywhere with the calls about missing personnel?”
Wolski referred to a piece of paper in his hand. “During the last thirty-six hours there remain four hundred sixty-five personnel unaccounted for. That’s just in Munich and the surrounding area.” He pointed at Mason’s report. “You finished with that thing?”
Mason nodded. He pulled the final page of the report out of the typewriter.
“How about a nightcap? I know a nice, quiet bar. . . .”
“No, thanks. They’ve finally got me out of that hotel and found something more permanent. I want to get settled in.”
“Corporal Manganella was to show you to your new quarters, but he went off duty a half hour ago. He asked if I’d take you over there.”
Mason put out his cigarette then stood and stretched. “Yeah, why not?”
• • •
Mason and Wolski had to stop the jeep behind a line of waiting army vehicles. At the intersection, an MP conducted traffic and held up their street so a column of tanks and armored cars could cross.
“Did they start the war again and not tell us?” Wolski said.
They had stopped in front of an upscale hotel and nightclub miraculously unscathed by the war. It now served as the officers’ mess and officers’ club. Near the curb and positioned on either side of the entrance, Mason noticed two boys no older than ten. They were filthy, rail thin, and dressed in rags. Then he saw why they were there. The place was always busy with army and military government personnel coming and going, and each time one of them dropped a cigarette butt on the sidewalk, the boys dashed to the spot and picked it up. A small girl of five collected the butts from the boys and held them in a bundled rag. They didn’t smoke them. They collected them. Cigarettes had become the de facto form of currency on the black market for Germans, and the only reliable way to procure food and clothing. Any area frequented by U.S. soldiers and government personnel offered an ideal location to collect the butts, which were then exchanged for food at collection centers where the unburned tobacco was used to make new cigarettes.
The jeep started to move just as an MP rushed out of the officers’ mess and chased the kids away. The kids ran across the street and dived into a hole in the wall of a destroyed building.
Mason felt a twinge of sadness for the kids. As the jeep passed, he kept an eye on the hole. Somewhere in the rubble those kids tried to survive.
Wolski finally pulled up the jeep in front of a brick town house. “Not bad. They’ve put me in the McGraw Kaserne. Like living on a prison block.”
Mason climbed out of the jeep and retrieved his gear from the back.
“Oh,” Wolski said and reached into his pocket. “Almost forgot to give you a key to the house.” He handed it to Mason. “I’ll pick you up at oh-seven-hundred.” Wolski made a cursory salute and drove away.
The Army Corps of Engineers had yet to restore power to this block, so Mason was left in the dark, but the moon reflecting off the snow gave enough light to show that the town house stood in a row of similar town houses untouched by bombs. Like a series of capricious tornados, bombs had devastated entire neighborhoods and bypassed others, reducing one house to a pile of dust while leaving its neighbor completely unscathed. Standing here, he could almost imagine being in some corner of the world where the war had existed in only headlines or radio broadcasts. The warm light of candles emanated from a room on the ground floor. Behind the lace curtain, silhouettes of people communed around a dining table. Like coming home to family . . . not his, someone else’s.
Mason heaved his duffel bag onto his shoulder and walked up the stone steps to the front door. Before he could insert the key into the lock, someone opened the door. A round-faced captain with red cheeks and equally red hair stepped aside to let him in.
“You must be the new guy,” the red-cheeked captain said. “Come in out of the damp cold and into the dry cold.”
Mason stepped in and they shook hands.
Mason introduced himself then followed Shaw down a short hallway. The place reeked of cigarette smoke and spilled beer. Shaw stopped at the entrance to the dining room, where three other officers sat around the table playing poker. Shaw introduced them, but Mason paid only enough attention to learn that they were all quartermaster officers.
“Care to join us?” Shaw said. “We got beer and whiskey to keep us warm. There’s a heating-oil furnace, but the oil’s in short supply. Hopefully we’ll have some by the end of the week.”
“Thanks, but I’m going to hit the sack.”
Shaw shouted toward the back of the house, “Hey, Johann.” He turned back to Mason. “We got servants. An old couple and their fourteen-year-old granddaughter.” Shaw said the last part with a lascivious glint in his eyes. “A piece of jailbait. The only thing keeping me out of her panties is a couple of years.” He laughed, his red cheeks jiggling. The others chuckled, but Mason gave him a cold stare.
Shaw noticed Mason’s expression and stopped laughing. He cleared his throat. “They’re okay people. Used to be the owners of this house until we moved in. I’m sure they were loyal little krauts, but no official Nazi Party affiliation.”
From behind, Mason heard a raspy voice say, “Guten Abend.” He turned to see Johann standing in the hallway. He looked to be in his seventies with a thin, haggard face. Fine wisps of his silver hair were tousled from having to rise from sleep in answer to Shaw’s summons. He wore what had been an expensive tailored suit coat that was now fraying at the edges.
Shaw made the introductions. Only Johann’s glassy eyes moved in response; he’d probably overheard Shaw’s comments. Mason joined Johann without another word to Shaw. Johann raised the candlestick he was holding and moved toward the stairs. At the base of the stairs, Johann offered to take Mason’s duffel bag.
“Nein, danke. Ich kann es tragen,” Mason said, indicating that he could carry it himself.
Johann’s eyes widened in happy surprise. In German, he said, “You speak German. Good. I am too old to learn English.” He mounted the stairs with surprising agility. Mason followed.
“Are you, your wife, and granddaughter staying in the house, too, Johann?”
What People are Saying About This
“A thrilling hunt…gripping and gruesome.”—James Becker, bestselling author of The Lost Testament
“Ruins of War is a well-crafted, classic police tale set in postwar 1945 Munich, a city that could double as the living room of hell. Mason Collins, a military cop, actually asked to be transferred there, and immediately has to find a killer who is preying on the citizens, adding terror to abject misery. Mason's pursuit of the madman takes him though a ruined landscape, filled with inhabitants as shattered as the city they live in.”—Larry Bond, author of Red Phoenix and Shattered Trident
“John Connell's Ruins of War is the best historical crime novel I've read all year. As vivid a sense of time and place as anything by Alan Furst, a killer as horrifying as any in Thomas Harris, and a central character I'm sure we'll be reading about for years to come.”—Scott Phillips, author of The Ice Harvest and Hop Alley