From the author of Ruins of War comes an electrifying novel featuring U.S. Army criminal investigator Mason Collins, set in the chaos of post-World War II Germany.
When the Third Reich collapsed, the small town Garmisch-Partenkirchen became the home of fleeing war criminals, making it the final depository for the Nazis’ stolen riches. There are fortunes to be made on the black market. Murder, extortion, and corruption have become the norm.
It’s a perfect storm for a criminal investigator like Mason Collins, especially when his friend, CIC Agent John Winstone, claims that a group of powerful men are taking over the lucrative trade. But before he can fully explain, Winstone—and his girlfriend— are brutally murdered.
Determined to uncover the truth, Mason plunges into a shadowy labyrinth of co-conspirators including former SS and Gestapo officers, U.S. Army OSS officers, and liberated Polish POWs.
As both witnesses and evidence begin disappearing, it becomes obvious that someone on high is pulling strings to stifle the investigation—and that Mason must feel his way in the darkness if he is going to find out who in town has the most to gain—and the most to lose…
About the Author
John A. Connell is the author of Ruins of War, and 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.
Read an Excerpt
Berkley titles by John A. Connell
About the Author
GARMISCH-PARTENKIRCHEN, UPPER BAVARIA
AMERICAN OCCUPIED ZONE OF GERMANY
MARCH 7, 1946
For this particular undercover operation, CID criminal investigator Mason Collins had invented the persona of Kurt Wenger, a down-and-out German citizen who moved with languid steps and the lackluster gaze brought on by hunger and a grim future. He wore a threadbare overcoat previously owned by a Wehrmacht soldier, who no longer required such earthly things, topped by a fedora most likely orphaned by similar fortunes of war. Other than a three-day beard, Mason had no need of a wig or any other visually altering appliances. Transforming into another personality was all about posture and attitude, expression and mannerisms.
The man he tailed, Sergeant Carl Olsen, walked thirty feet ahead. Mason kept tabs on him by peering through the crowd and catching glimpses of his round head of black hair covered by his khaki service cap. At six feet six and 250 pounds, Olsen lumbered into the oncoming crowd like a snowplow, Mason following in his wake—hardly a challenge for Mason’s covert skills, but concealment from Olsen was not his objective. Mason’s main concern was with the men who watched Olsen’s progress from the shadows and strategic positions, men far more dangerous and clever than the sergeant.
Mason’s partner, Specialist Gil Abrams, had a better view of Olsen from across the street. Abrams had come from the military police ranks to act as a CID investigator under Mason’s tutelage. His sharp insight and dogged determination had caught Mason’s eye, but he still had a lot to learn about the subtleties of tailing, especially someone like Olsen, who approached murder and mayhem as impassively as tying his shoe. Nervous excitement drove Abrams to eye Olsen with too much regularity, occasionally bumping into a pedestrian or narrowly avoiding a passing wagon or army jeep. He wore a gray wool suit and long black coat that seemed to hang from his lanky frame. At twenty-two, his body had grown into manhood, but had left his face behind somewhere in cherubic territory; so, despite his adult attire, he reminded Mason of an overgrown kid from a Charles Dickens novel.
Olsen had led them into the poorer and, as a consequence, more sordid part of town, a place that any number of small-time crooks called home and where the black market thrived, where the uninitiated passerby could be bushwhacked for a few Reichsmarks and left lying in the gutter. Makeshift booths of canvas and wood, tents, and lean-tos were crammed along the sidewalks, forcing the throngs of people to spill out onto the streets. Wagons, carts, and bicycles were now the only modes of transportation available to most Germans, and they competed with the pedestrians for space in this part of town, most overloaded with salvaged wood or a family’s meager possessions. Street vendors hawked their wares in a dozen languages: pilfered coal, adulterated flour, or cigarettes made from butts discarded by American soldiers. Men and women walked by and opened their overcoats, displaying watches, cameras, and jewelry, while the occasional woman would open her fur coat advertising a more carnal commodity.
Die Stunde Null, or Zero Hour, was what the Germans called the time in the immediate aftermath of World War Two. In every practical sense, Germany was to start over from nothing. It had been bombed and shelled back to the Middle Ages. Whole cities and towns were wiped out, with over six million dead. Disease and malnutrition were killing the very young and very old in numbers unseen for centuries. No food, no crops, no coal, no medicine. Industry and agriculture had come to a standstill. With the German Reichsmark rendered almost worthless, bartering became the only real agency of commerce. The black market flourished, and the American cigarette reigned as the king of currency. It was an auspicious time to be a gangster—or an opportunistic soldier like Sergeant Olsen.
Arrested for manslaughter and grand larceny, Olsen had agreed to be Mason’s ticket into one of the most successful crime rings in Garmisch: a confederation of Germans, ex–Polish army officers, and low-ranking U.S. soldiers, a group that operated so boldly they even had their own logo and letterhead. With its easy access to Austria, Switzerland, and Italy, Garmisch was Germany’s ideal port of entry and exit for every illicit trade, making this picturesque city a vital center for the black market. And while much of the criminal activity was run by a loose confederation of smaller gangs, Hermann Giessen’s organization had been different: well organized, powerful, and operating with seeming immunity—a dangerous combination.
Mason had been investigating the ring for two months, but as audacious as they might be, he only had scant information: rumors, allegations, and the identities of the leaders, those names always mentioned in connection to major crimes, but not a shred of solid evidence that could send them to prison. The only way he could discover more and get the evidence he needed was to infiltrate the gang. He’d spent a month developing Kurt Wenger, using most of this time as the down-and-out gangster, trolling back streets, frequenting notorious bars, and, on occasion, committing petty crimes. That also meant he had to keep out of the limelight as a military policeman. He dressed in civvies for all but formal army occasions—which by regulation he was allowed to do. He avoided the officers’ mess, and instead frequented German restaurants and bars, and being a loner by nature, he was rarely in the company of other soldiers. After he’d spread and cultivated his reputation as a gangster for hire, fortune had shined on Mason by dropping Olsen in his lap. And through Olsen, Mason had finally wrangled an introduction.
In the last couple of weeks, two rival leaders had been savagely murdered, rupturing the fragile truce between the gangs. No one seemed to know the source, though rumors circulated of a brutal new leadership trying to take over. The ensuing revenge killings and spontaneous shoot-outs had left the city’s underworld on high alert. A call for more hired guns had gone out, working to Mason’s advantage, but now a bullet or a blade could come from almost any direction. Precaution dictated that Mason and Olsen remain apart. Similar precautions had obliged the gang leaders to go to ground. Today’s meeting would be the first since the turf war had broken out, and only the leaders knew when and where. Olsen, being a midlevel player, had to walk the streets in this part of town until intercepted by his contact, who would then lead the way.
Abrams caught Mason’s eye and signaled that Olsen had turned left at the intersection. Mason followed suit a few moments later. He figured they must be getting close, as Olsen behaved with increasing nervousness, stopping frequently and looking both ways, only to continue then repeat the process. Mason hoped the sergeant would hold to his side of the bargain, and not get spooked and make a dash for it—or perhaps Olsen was nervous because he’d set them up for an ambush.
Olsen stopped abruptly when a man in a brown homburg hat crossed in front of him and kept on going. Olsen took his time lighting a cigarette. Whether that was a signal of acknowledgment or a way to give his contact a lead, Mason didn’t know, but after tossing the match to the ground, Olsen turned left and disappeared.
Abrams hurried to the far corner, then looked back at Mason with wide-eyed excitement. He was nearly run over by a wagon when he rushed across the street to meet Mason at the corner. “He just went into the Steinadler beer hall.”
“Did you forget everything I taught you?” Mason asked. “Keep cool.” He nodded toward the other side of the street. “You stay out here.”
“I’m supposed to back you up.”
“I changed my mind. I know this bar. They’d grind you up and sell you as sausage on the black market. If I don’t come out in an hour, call in the cavalry.”
“What am I going to do out here for an hour?”
Mason watched a frustrated Abrams take up a position on the other side of the street, then entered the bar.
Before the war, the Steinadler had been a cheerful watering hole and, like much of Garmisch, it sported interior walls decorated with frescoes and a long bar of oak carved with intricate details. Now neglect—not to mention its somber clientele—had left it joyless. Due to electrical shortages, gas lanterns and candles had been placed sparsely around the room, providing only a murky light. The clientele probably preferred this, as it was now a favored meeting place for smugglers, thieves, and lower-echelon thugs.
As Mason moved through the room, he noticed two muscled bodyguards standing near the front door, and three more stationed by the rear entrance behind the bar. Mason carried a German pistol, a Sauer 38H with eight rounds in the magazine, but it wouldn’t be enough to shoot his way out of there. The only way he was going to leave alive was if they let him. The barman looked at him warily until Mason produced a wad of U.S. dollars. He ordered a beer then scanned the room. Olsen stood at the other end of the bar talking to the owner, Kasim Aslan, a Turk who’d been accused of everything but convicted of nothing. The patrons were mostly German, but there was also a mix of Polish and Russian ex-POWs, Italians, and a handful of American GIs. All here for the purpose of illicit commerce. They talked in hushed tones, some playing cards, some standing at the bar, while others sat at tables placed at discreet distances for deals to be made without the attention of curious neighbors.
Back in a quiet corner, a blond man with an overly developed forehead played chess with a partner whose back was to Mason. The man’s name was Anton Plöbsch, the third man on the ring’s totem pole. A former major in the Wehrmacht, with vague roots in aristocracy, he was suspected of rape, murder, extortion, and bribery, but now held a “respectable” role as the commander of the gang’s muscle. Purportedly a twisted genius, brilliant but cruel, a highborn henchman.
Plöbsch had glanced at Mason several times. Olsen must have given him a silent signal that Mason—a.k.a. Kurt Wenger—was the man seeking entry into the gang. Plöbsch said something to his dark-haired chess opponent. The dark-haired man rose from the table and moved to the bar, leaving the game half finished. Mason took this as an invitation to join Plöbsch. He crossed the room, feeling the stares of the other patrons as he did so. He stopped at the table. With deep-set eyes that seemed to be devoid of all color, Plöbsch looked up to Mason and waited, indifferent.
“He could have had you in six moves,” Mason said in fluent German.
“Ah, then you play chess, Herr Wenger.” He indicated the chair with his open hand. “Then sit, and see if you are correct.”
Mason hung his overcoat over the chair back, sat, and immediately moved his king’s bishop. Neither spoke as they played. Mason felt vulnerable with his back to the room, but he knew that was the intention. Not being sure where etiquette lay when challenging a ruthless and powerful thug, Mason purposefully made two bad moves that lost him his queen.
“Checkmate,” Plöbsch said and smiled. “You let me win, Herr Wenger. I appreciate the gesture, but it could also be a sign of disrespect. A mark against you. We shall play again, but this time you will put forth your best effort.”
Mason reached into his suit jacket pocket and placed two hundred dollars on the table. “Shall we raise the stakes?”
“You don’t look like a man with the means to possess that kind of money. Where did you get it?”
“Playing Ami soldiers.”
Plöbsch chuckled. “Americans are bad chess players. You should have more earnings than that if you consider yourself a worthy opponent.”
“American chess players are conservative bettors.”
“And you hope that I will be more liberal?”
“One has living expenses.”
Plöbsch looked at Mason a moment, then moved his pawn. After a few more moves in silence, Plöbsch said, “I hear a Bavarian accent. I’ve seen you around, and heard of your reputation, but I know little about you. Where are you from?”
“A little town,” Mason said. “Wonneberg.”
“And during the war?”
“Is that important?”
“I like to know the man sitting across from me.”
“Artillery regiment with the 58th Infantry Division . . . until I got into a little trouble.”
“What kind of trouble?”
“We were on the eastern front, and while the commanding staff lived in luxury, we were starving. So, I managed to lighten the staff’s burden for about a month before I was caught.”
“They shot men for less.”
“I guess I got lucky.”
Plöbsch eyed Mason skeptically. The barman came over with two more beers. Mason reached for his money, but Plöbsch said, “It’s on me. I always buy a drink for the loser.”
They continued to play. Plöbsch was very good, but Mason had lost the first game to assess the man’s weaknesses. Plöbsch used the same types of aggressive moves and shrewd tactics as in the first, but Mason had already figured him out.
“What did you do after the war?” Plöbsch asked.
“I was with Rudolph Voss. Out of Munich. Did you know him?”
“Yes . . .” Plöbsch said as he eyed Mason. “It is unfortunate that you ran with an organization that no longer exists. How is one to verify that you are who you claim to be?”
“Yes, Herr Voss is dead, and the organization busted up, but I assure you I am telling the truth. I worked with Captain Wertz cutting penicillin and baby formula, selling snow and H, until he got busted and ratted on us.”
In fact, Mason had known Voss and Wertz during his time as a CID investigator in Munich, and he was the one who had busted Wertz through an informant. Mason had built an entire file around his fictitious character, including having a German detective friend in Munich “leak” Wenger’s arrest record and police file to the Garmisch authorities. Giving the records to the corrupt elements in the Garmisch police ensured that Plöbsch knew all about Wenger by the time Mason made contact.
“Why did you come down to Garmisch?” Plöbsch asked.
“I heard of a few networks operating out of here. And your group is said to be the most powerful. But you know all this. I’m sure you already checked me out before I came.”
Plöbsch simply smiled and moved his queen’s knight.
Mason debated whether he should take Plöbsch at his word and play using his best effort. Would winning seal the deal, leading Plöbsch to take the introduction to the next level? On the other hand, humiliating a man like Plöbsch could very well get his throat cut. There was only one way to find out. . . . He held back his best moves, sacrificing key pieces, until finally luring his opponent into making a fatal move. “Checkmate.”
“You play very well,” Plöbsch said with a forced smile, though he looked like he might prefer slashing Mason’s throat.
“As do you, Herr Plöbsch.”
“You know my name, then.”
“I would not do very well in this line of work if I did not find out who I would be dealing with.”
“I can respect a man who, knowing my reputation, has the courage to beat me at chess.”
Mason bowed his head.
“Yes, we checked you out,” Plöbsch said. “One cannot be too careful these days. Sergeant Olsen says you are interested in joining in our enterprise.”
“I am, indeed.”
Plöbsch stared at him for a long minute, his nostrils flaring as if sniffing the air for deception. Finally he said, “It’s not up to me.”
“Though I imagine your approval goes a long way.”
Plöbsch grunted. He then nodded to someone behind Mason. Whether this was a sign to fetch his boss, or to be stabbed in the back, Mason wasn’t sure. He maintained a neutral expression, while readying himself for an attack. But instead of the rush of an assailant, a door opened behind his left shoulder. He kept his eyes on Plöbsch as footsteps approached—three or four men, judging by the sound of it.
Two men came around to face Mason. They were the number one and two men in the organization, Hermann Giessen and Erich Bachmann. Giessen appeared to be in his fifties, with a rough-hewn face and slicked-back hair that revealed a long scar running from his forehead and into his receding hairline. Bachmann was a small man, more high-school science teacher than mobster, with soft green eyes, a humble chin, and long earlobes.
Plöbsch rose from his chair, and Giessen took his place. Mason felt the looming presence of two or three men behind him.
Giessen studied Mason with intense blue eyes. “How am I to know that you are who you claim to be?” Giessen asked.
“I could tell you anything, but it would still not prove I am telling the truth. I offer a deal. Let’s say, a way to buy my way in. Show you that I mean business. Good business for you.”
Mason reached into his coat breast pocket, with two fingers so as not to alarm them, and removed a cherry-sized, grayish white nugget. “Platinum,” he said and laid it on the table.
Giessen picked it up and examined it closely.
Mason continued, “I assume you have someone here who can verify that it is ninety-nine percent pure. I have four cases full of these.”
“And where did you acquire such a treasure?” Giessen asked.
A peculiar odor reached Mason’s nose. It floated just under those of spilled beer, body odor, and cigarettes: the distinct odor of burning tobacco he hadn’t experienced since . . . He struggled to repress the memories that scent elicited. After much effort, he said, “A stash left behind by the retreating SS . . .”
The scent seemed to crawl into his nose and into his brain, triggering an intense instinctive reaction. His gut tensed as if expecting a blow from a truncheon. Mason remembered it all clearly now: He was suddenly back in the winter of 1944 at a temporary Gestapo headquarters in Monschau. He had been captured during the Battle of the Bulge, and because he was a captain in intelligence, spoke fluent German, and had been caught behind enemy lines, they had accused him of being a spy. For two interminable weeks an interrogator had been his chief tormentor, alternately beating him and submitting various parts of his body to electrical shock. The interrogator had chain-smoked a particular brand of Turkish cigarette. And it was that sweet, pungent odor of Turkish tobacco, which Mason smelled now, that had always announced the interrogator before he entered Mason’s cell and the torture would begin. Mason had never smelled that odor since.
“Is there something the matter, Herr Wenger?” Giessen asked.
Mason tried to control himself, but his mind raced. It can’t be. The man can’t be here. It isn’t possible.
SS Sturmbannführer Volker. Mason could remember his precise features, the way he moved. They were burned into his memory. Some primitive part of his brain told him that the SS man had passed near his table and lingered. He fought against the flood of raw panic and rage.
Then he lost control.
Mason propelled himself up from the table, but strong hands grabbed his shoulders and shoved him back into the chair. He then heard the click of a revolver’s hammer drawn back a second before he felt the cold steel of the barrel against his temple.
“Hands on the table,” a man’s voice said just behind him in Italian-accented English.
Mason put his hands on the table and took the opportunity to glance at his watch. Fifty minutes had passed. Ten minutes before Abrams would bring in help. Ten minutes too late. He’d be gone by then.
As beefy hands searched him and removed the pistol from his overcoat, Giessen said, “You’ve been made, whatever your real name is.”
“Mr. Collins,” the Italian man said. “A detective of the American CID.”
Giessen blanched when he heard that.
“You kill an American military investigator,” Mason said, “and this town will be turned upside down.”
“Herr Giessen wouldn’t dare kill an American cop,” the Italian said, “but I have no such problems. Garmisch is not my place of business. I will have vanished before anyone suspects you are gone. They will never find your body. There will be some inconveniences for the local organizations—no offense, Herr Giessen—but little of my concern.”
Mason could tell that the man who was speaking also held the gun. By the angle and timbre of his voice, he estimated the man was around five feet, eight inches tall and stood very close to the back of his chair. The dim light from the bar had been eclipsed by at least two other much bigger men. The man’s bodyguards, Mason guessed. The distinct aroma of Turkish tobacco had faded, taken over again by the reek of cigars and rancid beer. It was possible that someone else in the bar smoked the same unusual brand of tobacco, but he felt in his gut that Volker had lingered behind him for a few moments before moving away.
The man pressed the gun into Mason’s temple. “You will move toward the bar, please.”
The front door exploded open. Whistles blew. German police yelled out, “Polizei! Hände hoch!”
The momentary distraction gave Mason an opportunity. In a lightning move, he shot to his feet, whirled around, and grabbed the man’s gun arm, forcing it upward. He slammed his other hand into the man’s elbow and heard the crack of bone. The man screamed. Mason still had control of the man’s hand. He forced the Italian to aim at one of his charging bodyguards and yanked on the man’s trigger finger. The gun fired, hitting the bodyguard in the thigh. The bodyguard collapsed to the floor.
The Italian man struck at Mason, but with little force. Mason elbowed the Italian in the jaw, then swept his fist back, striking the man in the neck directly over the jugular. The Italian dropped to his knees. At the same moment, the second bodyguard struck Mason across the temple with his pistol. Mason’s vision went white. His legs turned to rubber, but he managed to grab and hold on to the bodyguard’s pistol arm.
The bodyguard kneed Mason in the groin. Mason collapsed. His abdomen felt like a mass of molten rock. He braced for the impact of a bullet, but it never came. Dozens of uniformed legs entered his field of view. Shouts and grunts prompted Mason to look up, and, to his relief, he saw five German police had finally subdued the giant bodyguard.
Two police yanked Mason to his feet. The pain flared in his groin along with a wave of vertigo. He didn’t resist. They had saved his life, and he was glad to see them. Though not too long ago, the sight of thirty-plus armed Germans in uniform would have elicited a very different reaction.
Mason held up his hands. “American. CID.” The two cops stopped and allowed Mason to carefully remove his hat. He pulled out his CID badge hidden in the lining and showed it to them. “I’m an American. CID. See?”
The two policemen released him and joined the rest hustling the bar patrons outside. Mason bent over and tried deep breathing to assuage the pain in his abdomen. He used a table to brace himself and scanned the arrested bar patrons for Volker, but the man wasn’t among them.
Abrams rushed over to him with two MPs. “Are you okay?” Abrams asked.
Mason nodded as he caught his breath. “One of those gorillas kicked me in the balls.”
“At least that made you forget about the hole in your head.”
Mason touched his temple and brought away blood. He grabbed a towel off the bar and put it to the wound. “You came in early,” he said to Abrams.
“I knew there was going to be trouble when a goon came out onto the street and locked the front door. I went for the German police since they were closer.”
“There are at least five U.S. soldiers . . .”
“Yeah, there are a handful of MPs out front collecting them. They came running when they saw the squad of German police charging down the street. We’ll sort out the non-Germans from the Germans.”
Mason and Abrams headed for the door. “There are three Italian mobsters in the group. Make sure our guys get them, too. Especially the one with the broken arm. That asshole had a gun to my head.”
“I did good, then?”
Mason nodded. “Yeah, you did good.”
They exited the bar. Crowds of people looked on as the German police and five American MPs sorted out the arrestees. Mason scanned the German bar patrons, but didn’t see Volker. Then he noticed with alarm that Giessen, Bachmann, and Plöbsch were not there, either. And Olsen was not among the arrested Americans. “Damn it.” Mason grabbed the leading MP sergeant, turned back to the bar, and said to Abrams, “Some of them escaped out the back.”
They ran through the bar and out the rear exit. A cluster of surrounding buildings formed an inner courtyard of mud and snow, where garbage and rusted junk had been piled haphazardly. Laundry hung from a web of lines suspended from the buildings and swayed in the biting wind. Mason silently pointed out the footprints in the snow. Groups of prints went down the three narrow passages that accessed the surrounding streets. He signaled for the MP and Abrams to take the left and right alleyways, while Mason took the one running straight from the back door. He drew his gun and moved forward with long strides. Halfway down the alley, he came across a jumble of footprints. It appeared that a large group had stopped at the double doors of a dilapidated, corrugated-tin garage on his right. The prints showed that the larger group went inside but then a smaller group remerged and headed for the street behind the bar. The flimsy doors banged with gusts of wind that felt suddenly very cold.
Mason raised his gun and, as silently as he could, pulled open one of the doors. He swung inside, gun up, and tried to peer into the darkness. Weak sunlight poured into the holes and gaps in the tin walls. The smell of urine and putrid mud assaulted his nostrils. It seemed empty except for some rags and broken crates piled in the corner of the dirt floor. But when his eyes grew accustomed to the dark, he saw two bodies lying facedown among the rags. They had both been shot in the back of the head and dragged into the corner. Mason squatted and turned them enough to see their faces. They were two of Giessen’s bodyguards who’d been standing by the rear entrance.
When he stood and turned, he saw three other bodies on the opposite side of the shed. They lay in a row, arms and legs akimbo. Mason approached them and used his cigarette lighter to view their faces. He cursed under his breath. He whistled for Abrams and the MP, then squatted and checked each of them for a pulse. When he heard footsteps coming up the alley, he called out, “In here.”
Abrams and the MP sergeant entered the garage and came up to Mason. “All three of the gang leaders,” Mason said. “Giessen, Bachmann, and Plöbsch. A single bullet in each of their foreheads. Then two in the chest. Shot at close range. Killed, execution style.” He picked up a spent shell casing. “Nine-millimeter,” he said and put the casing in his breast pocket. “Giessen had three bodyguards covering the back entrance. Two of them are over there, in the corner.”
“That leaves one and Olsen,” Abrams said. “Do you think they did this?”
Mason shook his head. “I can’t see two guys getting the jump on five armed professionals. There had to be more. More than likely we’re going to find Olsen’s body in the woods somewhere. And there’s one other guy . . .” Mason paused, then said more to himself, “I swear he was there, either with Giessen or the Italians.”
“Who?” Abrams asked.
Ignoring the question, Mason stood and turned to the sergeant. “Have our guys go over this crime scene, and start canvassing the area. Make sure that gets done first, then notify the German police that they’ve got five dead bodies back here.”
When the MP left, Abrams said, “Who was this other guy you’re talking about?”
Mason just shook his head and charged for the doors. With Abrams in tow, Mason blew through the bar and out onto the street. To his left the five MPs guarded the few U.S. soldiers, a handful of Poles and Russians, and the Italians. The two battered Italian bodyguards tried their best to support their boss. The boss grimaced with pain, but managed to lock murderous eyes with Mason.
Mason said to the MPs, “Are you getting some help?”
“Yes, sir,” a corporal MP said. “A truck and an ambulance should be here any minute.”
Mason pointed to the Italian boss. “Make sure that one doesn’t get too comfortable, and isolate him from the rest.”
Mason then marched over to the German arrestees. The German police had them lined up by the wall and were in the process of searching them. He headed for the first one in line, grabbed him by the shoulders, and shoved him against the wall. “Who set up Giessen and the rest? Who killed them? Where did they take Sergeant Olsen?”
The German stared at Mason and muttered ignorance.
“Major Ernst Volker. Is he one of them?”
“I don’t know an Ernst Volker.”
Mason went down the line, asking the same questions. “Ernst Volker? Is he the leader? Did he take the American sergeant?”
A German police sergeant followed Mason down the line, protesting Mason’s disregard for protocol, the protocol being that German police had authority over German citizens. Mason ignored the sergeant and continued the questioning. He received only defiant stares and claims of innocence.
Abrams said in a calm voice, “Sir, why don’t we search the bar? The Germans have jurisdiction over these men.”
Mason whirled around. “Not if Olsen is murdered.” He then turned to face the entire group and said, loud enough for everyone to hear, “Anyone willing to step forward and identify the men responsible for killing Herr Giessen, Bachmann, or Plöbsch, or for taking Sergeant Olsen, will be released. Anyone who can confirm Ernst Volker was present and tell us where we can find him will be released.”
No one stepped forward. Mason took a few deep breaths to calm himself and watched as the German police began loading their charges into an open-bed truck. Suddenly one of the German arrestees started yelling. Part of it was in German, but the rest was in a dialect that Mason didn’t recognize. The thin-faced man yelled out to Mason from the bed of the truck while the police jostled him. The German policemen stopped and looked to Mason for guidance.
Abrams stepped forward and talked to the man in the same language. Then Mason realized they were speaking Yiddish. “What’s he saying?”
“That he’s not German. He’s a Polish Jew. That he shouldn’t be with those men.”
“Get him off the truck and put him with the others,” Mason said.
Abrams told the Germans to let him pass. The man jumped down and talked rapidly with Abrams. Mason could tell he was protesting his arrest—that much was clear in any language. Abrams had to cajole him to join the group of Americans and other foreign nationals held by the MPs, then returned to Mason.
“Claims he’s innocent, right?” Mason asked.
“He says he just happened to go in for a beer.”
“A Jew walks into a bar . . .” an MP said and chuckled to himself. “Get it? Sounds like the beginning of a joke?”
Mason glared at the MP. “Just get them all to the Sheridan barracks, would you?”
Mason and Abrams reentered the now-deserted Steinadler. Mason went behind the bar, while Abrams searched the tables and the floor.
“You didn’t answer me before,” Abrams said.
“Who is this other guy you were talking about? This Ernst Volker?”
“I didn’t see him, so I don’t really know if he was here or not.”
“I don’t get it.”
“I don’t have a better answer for you, so forget it.”
“Maybe he, the third bodyguard, and Olsen set this whole thing up.”
Mason shook his head as he rifled through the cash register. “Olsen doesn’t have the pull or the brains to pull off a coup like this. A group of around five guys met them in the alley, by the looks of it. There wasn’t much of a struggle, so my guess is they all knew each other or were taken by surprise.”
Questions already circulated in Mason’s mind: How would the group know that the three leaders would be coming their way? Was it a prearranged ambush? But how would the assailants know where the meeting was taking place? Was it a coincidence that it happened just as Mason had tried to infiltrate the gang? Were they killed because Mason almost succeeded?
Abrams was apparently thinking on similar lines, as he asked, “How did they identify you? The way you were disguised, even I’d have trouble recognizing you. Maybe Olsen double-crossed you.”
Mason thought of the odor of Turkish cigarettes. “My gut tells me it was Volker. He’s someone I knew during the war. Someone who nearly killed me when I was a POW.”
“But you don’t know for sure?”
“My back was to the room.”
“Who’s been pounding into my head that I should never get into a situation where my back is to the room?”
Mason ignored Abrams and turned his attention back to the filth behind the bar. “I doubt we’re going to find much that will help us. Every kind of scumbag used this place to make deals.”
“We’ll get footprint castings in the snow,” Abrams said. “But other than that and those shell casings, we don’t have much to go on.”
“We’ll see what the canvassing turns up.”
“Chief Warrant Officer Collins?” a voice inquired from the front door.
Mason looked up to see two men in matching black overcoats and equally black suits standing inside the door. He knew them as U.S. agents with the Counter Intelligence Corps, or CIC, but neither was American. Their names were Werner and Hans, but Mason called them Frick and Frack after the famous comedy ice-skating team, though there was nothing jolly about their stony expressions. They were both former German army intelligence officers, who now worked for the Americans.
Hans said, “Special Agent Winstone would like to have a word with you.”
“If you two haven’t noticed, we’re busy investigating a crime scene at the moment. Tell him I’ll see him later.”
“I’m afraid he insists.”
“Well, you tell him he can shove it where the sun don’t shine.”
The two agents took a moment to try to process this. Finally Werner said, “He said you just screwed an old friend. He is outside. It will only take a few minutes.”
Mason stopped, wondering how he could have possibly screwed Winstone. Shaking his head, he followed the pair out of the bar and down the street.
It had become too common, in Mason’s opinion, for the CIC to recruit Germans for the expanding task of investigating the growing presence of Russian spy networks, hunting down Nazi war criminals, and searching for the missing Nazi gold. Mason understood why: They were better than their American counterparts at using the locals to sniff out hiding places, potential Nazi fanatics, and Germans now working for the Russians. Still, Mason didn’t like the idea of the American army employing German ex-intelligence and ex-Gestapo goons, glossing over their Nazi pasts for the sake of solving cases. Times were already changing, the Russians being the new threat, but Mason still had a hard time moving on after all he’d seen in the war.
Frick and Frack finally stopped at a long black Mercedes 320 Stromlinien-Limousine parked at the curb.
“Does everything have to be black with you guys?” Mason said.
Werner’s expression remained frozen as he opened the car’s back door. Mason got in. Agent John Winstone waited for him in the backseat. He was in his late thirties, with a round face emphasized by his deep, receding hairline. He was in great shape, though, and had the kind of tan a skier gets from spending hours on the slopes. He wore a tailored blue suit and a gold Swiss watch.
Mason barely settled in before saying, “I don’t like being summoned. Even by a friend.”
“Who does do your tailoring?” Winstone asked sarcastically. “You’ll have to give me his name.”
“What do you want? I’ve got a crime scene to search.”
“You screwed up my investigation, buddy. I want to know what you were doing in there in the first place.”
“I’ve been watching Giessen and his cronies for months.”
“Since when does the CIC investigate black marketers? Aren’t you guys busy enough with war criminals and spies?”
“Those gang leaders, or some of the men under their control, were running a ratline helping Nazi war criminals escape out of Germany.”
“A ratline? I’ve been investigating them for two months and haven’t heard about them running a ratline. And maybe if the CIC would share information we might have avoided this situation. We’ve known each other for three years. Since when did we become rivals?”
Mason had gotten to know Agent Winstone when they worked together at the army’s G2 intelligence branch during the war. Winstone had supervised a team of analysts, while Mason had been a field operative for the “human intelligence” section, gathering local agents, conducting interviews of German POWs, and estimating frontline enemy assets. They’d become friends during that time, but Mason had lost track of Winstone after the war when he joined the CID and was transferred to Munich. Then they bumped into each other shortly after Mason had been reassigned to Garmisch. Winstone had changed from those earlier days; once an intelligent, unassuming guy, he had become a little too self-important and aloof for Mason’s tastes. They’d made plans to get together a few times, but it had never worked out, and Mason had cited his need to remain low-key for his undercover work.
“Ever thought to check with us?” Winstone said.
“I don’t recall the CID having to check in with you boys when it comes to black market activity and murder.”
Winstone studied Mason for a moment. “It seems strange that you meet with Giessen at the very time and place that he and his cronies are assassinated.”
“And here you are, moments after it all happened, in your custom-tailored suit, with your fancy car and two German goons. Should I be looking at you for this?”
Winstone paused and smiled. “Looks like we were working at cross purposes.”
“Looks like it, but it doesn’t matter anymore. The three leaders are dead, and the ones we didn’t pick up will go underground.”
“They’ll rise to the surface again,” Winstone said and looked at Mason’s head wound. “What happened in there?”
“I was trying to infiltrate. I had it all set up, but someone blew my cover. You wouldn’t happen to know anything about an ex-Gestapo major named Ernst Volker, would you?”
“No, but if he’s ex-Gestapo, then he’s probably using an alias.”
“Tall, thin, gray haired, with a chiseled chin and pointed nose?”
Mason thought he saw a spark of recognition in Winstone’s eyes, then his focus shifted inward as if in deep thought.
“He isn’t working for the CIC, is he?” Mason asked. “Another ex-Nazi now spying for our team, who just blew my cover?”
“Mason, I don’t know this Volker character, and all our German agents have been cleared after a thorough vetting process. And many of them have been very effective. I’m not saying forget what we fought for, but there’s another war on the horizon.”
“I can’t forget everything that easily.” Just saying that elicited a flash of images to course through his consciousness. “Is that why you joined the CIC? The other horizon?”
“There hasn’t been as much of a need for my specialty in German military intelligence since the end of the war. Plus, I thought I could do more good in the CIC fighting against the threat of Russian aggression.”
“In Garmisch? Nothing I’ve turned up has anything to do with Russian spies. I could see Berlin or Frankfurt, even Munich, but not Garmisch.”
“You might be surprised. Another team picked up a group of Russians trying to sneak across the border. The Reds are turning out German agents and double agents in the thousands while we’re still struggling to establish a democracy. You’re an excellent investigator. Why don’t you come work with us? With the Russians grabbing up eastern Europe and sending battalions of spies at us, we could use you.”
“Mike Forester already tried to recruit me. I’m a cop. It’s who I am.”
“Well, if Mike couldn’t convince you . . .” Winstone’s expression turned dark, and he glanced out the window as if making sure no one was watching. “I agree the rivalry between the CID and CIC should stop. And in that spirit, why don’t we share information? I have some items that might interest you, and vice versa.”
“Nothing I’ve turned up has anything to do with ratlines or Russian spies.”
“Any other names come up in your investigations besides Ernst Volker?”
“Other than the three merry henchmen, Giessen, Bachmann, and Plöbsch?” Mason shook his head. “None who are above midlevel thug. But, right now, I’m trying to figure out how a Gestapo major, who tortured American soldiers, is still running around loose. There seem to be a bunch of Germans out there who should be locked up for war crimes.”
Winstone paused to consider something. “In my digging around, I did hear stories of new leadership coming into town. Somehow the organization running the ratline is connected to the new leadership. Whoever they are, they’re slowly taking over and the other gangs are running scared. I have a few informants on the inside. Like you, we weren’t able to penetrate the group, but we did get inside a couple of operations, and what I learned shocked me.”
“I’m not prepared to throw anything out there without substantial proof.”
“You give me what you have, and I’ll work it from my end. I’ll get the proof.”
“I’m not prepared to do that, either.”
“What happened to the spirit of cooperation? If it’s a criminal matter, then you need to hand your information over.”
Winstone suddenly had difficulty looking at Mason and turned his attention to the window again. “I’ll tell you when the time is right. Only I and General Pritchard know the contents of the files I’ve collected.”
“What’s the deputy military governor of Bavaria have to do with a CIC investigation?”
“When I started seeing a connection between the ratlines and the gang activity, I was told by command to coordinate anything related to crime activity directly through General Pritchard. He’s taken a personal interest in cleaning up the mess down here.”
Mason merely nodded, letting Winstone talk. He knew General Pritchard, but decided not to mention that to Winstone. He studied the man’s face and the way he held himself. For his part, Winstone remained as detached and unmoving as a statue.
Winstone continued, “Until I can verify the information, it stays in my hands. There are other issues involved besides local criminal activity. I’ve just uncovered some things that could shake the army to its core. Undermine everything we’re trying to do here in Germany.” He held up his hands before Mason could probe deeper. “Look, I can’t say any more. I can promise that by the end of the week, I’ll have what I need, and I’ll pass it on to you. That is, if you’re really ready to handle a live grenade.”
“That’s my specialty.”
Winstone tried to produce a confident smile, but it failed.
“I’d better get back to it,” Mason said and made a move to leave.
“Why don’t we catch up?” Winstone said, turning cheery all of a sudden. “How about dinner tonight? You can meet my girl. We’re going to the Blue Parrot around eight.”
Another thing that had changed in Winstone: Once a devoted husband and father when Mason knew him during the war, now he had a German mistress.
“Thanks. Maybe another time. My girl’s coming in by train this evening. I haven’t seen her in over two months.”
“Bring her along. We’ll make it a foursome.”
Mason smiled and nodded. “If things go as planned, I’ll be busy tonight.”
When Mason and Abrams arrived at the Rathaus, the sun sat low behind the snow-laden mountains. Church bells announced the five o’clock hour, the sound immediate and sonorous in the dense, frigid air. The Rathaus, or city hall, sat on a large open square in the middle of town, appropriately called Rathausplatz. It had served as the seat of Garmisch-Partenkirchen’s local government, but it now housed the local U.S. military government offices and the military police and CID detachment headquarters. The four-story rectangular main building sported an entrance of stone arches supporting ocher walls with painted geometric designs, capped by a pitched roof, with a cupola as the cherry on top.
Mason and Abrams headed for the three-story annex building that sat perpendicular to the city hall proper. The first and second floors served as the principal MP station, with Garmisch’s small contingent of CID investigators tucked away in a corner of the third floor. On the front steps, Abrams peeled off to talk to an MP buddy of his, and Mason continued into the building.
“Do you love your country, son?”
Mason hesitated, not because of the question, but because the Garmisch area’s provost marshal, Major Robert “Bronco Bob” Gamin, had asked it. The major stood just inside the entrance, handing out playing cards with the pledge of allegiance printed on the back.
“Uh, yes, sir, I do,” Mason finally said.
Bronco Bob Gamin handed Mason a card. “Keep that in your breast pocket, close to your heart. Commies can’t stand to do that. That way we’ll know.” He gave Mason a wink, then finally gave Mason a thorough look. “What are you doing out of uniform? You look like a damn kraut.”
“I’m CID, sir. I was working undercover—”
Mason stopped, as Major Gamin had already turned to the next man coming in the door.
As he started to walk away, Gamin called after him, “You’re the new CID investigator. Correct?”
“Well, yes, sir. Going on two months now. We’ve met on several—”
Gamin had turned away again to question Abrams, who looked more flummoxed than Mason. Once Abrams could break away, he joined Mason. They met their CID supervising officer, Patrick Densmore, by the base of the stairs. A former St. Louis police detective, Densmore stood tall and lean. Proud of his Oklahoma roots, he exaggerated his long drawl and spun endless yarns like a cowboy fresh off a cattle drive. At every opportunity he stood with his thumbs in his belt and habitually squinted as if he’d spent too much time gazing into the vast horizons of the sun-baked plains. Mason and Densmore had the same rank, chief warrant officer 4, but Densmore had been with the detachment since August 1945, making him the most senior criminal investigator. There were only four CID investigators based in Garmisch, with investigators sent down from Munich if they became overloaded with cases. Between the fifty MPs and the four investigators, the entire police detachment felt like a town-sized force taking on a city-sized crime wave.
“What’s with the major?” Mason asked Densmore.
“You haven’t been around during one of his crazy spells?”
When Mason shook his head, Densmore said, “He’s a fine officer, a good administrator, but he goes off the deep end from time to time. Some say it started when his plane crashed during Operation Market Garden and he banged his head pretty bad. Some say he had a stroke. Whatever the reason, he gets on these jags about Commie conspiracies.”
Mason glanced back down the stairs at Gamin, who looked like one of those blood-and-guts marines with the steely blue eyes, buzz haircut, and prickly mustache. Mason shook his head again.
Densmore continued as they climbed the stairs, “Because he was a war hero, the army—in its infinite wisdom—put him here as a reward for his service, just to give him something to do. He’ll come out of it in a couple of days and be meaner than a hornet. Has he asked you to look into a conspiracy to steal American flags?”
They reached the third-floor landing, which serviced two hallways leading to a series of offices. They took the hallway to the right, and Densmore stopped them halfway down. Playing nice was over; his expression had turned grim. He turned to Abrams. “Why don’t you start writing up the report? Mr. Collins and I are going to have a few words.”
Abrams headed for his office, and Mason followed Densmore down the hall in silence. Densmore tried to emulate the tough-but-sage commander, but those qualities never seemed to gel for the man. This walk of silence was meant to instill a little humility and contrition, like a student being walked to the principal’s office, but humility and contrition were not among Mason’s strong suits.
They entered a large office with a window overlooking the north end of town and the mountains in the background. It contained a large oak desk, with file cabinets lining one wall. Oversized maps dominated another wall: one of postwar Germany divided into its four zones of occupation—American, British, French, and Russian; one of the American zone, which included Bavaria; and finally a city map of Garmisch-Partenkirchen.
Squeezed between picturesque mountains of the Bavarian Alps, Garmisch-Partenkirchen had been untouched by bombs and surrendered without firing a shot. Her streets were still graced by buildings painted with religious or pastoral scenes and trimmed in carved wood like icing on a wedding cake—neighborhoods of gingerbread houses on Hansel-and-Gretel lanes, as if the town had been lifted out of a fairy tale. But this wasn’t a fairy-tale town in some faraway land. It lay within the American occupation zone in defeated Nazi Germany. The vestiges of the 1936 Winter Olympics still stood as monuments to Hitler’s dream of a thousand-year empire, but gone were the sea of Nazi banners, the signs saying: “Jews Not Welcome,” the elite Gebirgsjäger soldiers, the shouts of “Heil Hitler,” and the swastika flag–waving fanatics. Göring had come there to be treated for a bullet wound after Hitler’s failed putsch and was given honorary citizen status by the city’s leaders. Hitler had wanted to buy farmland there for his mountain retreat, but the farmer wouldn’t sell, and Adolf ended up building his Eagle’s Nest in Berchtesgaden. A veritable who’s who of Nazis had called Garmisch their home away from home. Under the ice and snow, under the pale blue sky of a low winter sun, the town hid its Nazi past well.
The Garmisch-Partenkirchen assignment had been designed to be Mason’s punishment, a backwater post where he was to reflect on his reckless behavior and gross insubordination during a turbulent murder case in Munich. That had suited Mason just fine. He’d spent most of his postwar time in the blackened ruins of Frankfurt and Munich, so a posting at a renowned army playground seemed more like reward than punishment. Then he arrived . . .
Compared to the urban wasteland of those two cities, Garmisch was a clashing, jarring, incongruous place.
As the Third Reich collapsed, the city had become the stem of a funnel of fleeing wealthy Germans and Nazi government heavyweights, SS and Wehrmacht divisions, all bringing with them vast quantities of the Nazis’ stolen art masterpieces, the Reichsbank’s gold and currency reserves, diamonds, precious stones, and uranium from the failed atomic bomb experiments, all now hidden away or available for purchase on the black market. With millions of dollars to be made, murder, extortion, bribery, and corruption were the norm. Tens of thousands of displaced persons and concentration camp survivors, ex-POWs, arriving by circumstance or purpose, swelled the city to six times the wartime population Adding to this volatile brew, tens of thousands of bored U.S. Army soldiers ripe for corruption, tempted by wickedness and greed. Criminal gangs thrived, and everyone seemed to look the other way.
So much for a backwater posting. . . .
Densmore leaned against his desk and crossed his arms. Mason ignored Densmore’s attempt at cutting an authoritative figure and feigned interest in the wall maps.
“I ought to charge you with insubordination,” Densmore said.
“And that would prove what, exactly?”
“That you can’t ignore my authority and try this infiltration bullshit without clearing it with me. Why do I only hear the details of this scheme when the thing goes south? Plus, you put yourself and Abrams in danger. If I had known about this stunt of yours, I’d have made sure, first, that you wouldn’t have done it, and, second, that if I had approved it, you’d have proper backup.”
“I got the impression that you felt better off not knowing. No one seems to give a damn about the gangs operating openly in this town. Everywhere I turn, I see Polish DPs and German ex-soldiers who’ve just come out of prisoner-of-war camps driving around in sports cars and wearing gold watches. American GIs and military government employees living like royalty. No one gets busted and no one seems to give a damn.”
“So you’re the sheriff riding into Tombstone to clean up the town?”
“Good luck with that. I guess the Germans shooting at you in the war wasn’t enough.”
Mason said nothing.
“As long as I’m your supervising officer, you will limit yourself to the cases at hand. I heard from the CID boys in Munich about you disobeying numerous direct orders in pursuit of that killer. They also said that you thought of yourself as some kind of modern-day Lone Ranger and charged into dangerous situations that almost got several of your fellow investigators killed. You go off the reservation here and I’ll have your hide.”
Mason decided not to tell Densmore that he’d heard those kinds of threats before from another commanding officer, that he considered direct orders optional if the situation warranted it. He always intended to toe the line, and after the firestorm he’d created in Munich, he had made a promise to stay out of trouble, but sometimes he just couldn’t help it.
Densmore must have read his mind. “You told me when you first got here that you wanted to keep a low profile. Stay out of the spotlight after all the shit you got into in Munich. Just fly under the radar until your time is up with the army and you go back to the States.”
“That’s the thing about me: Just trying to put one foot in front of the other, I manage to step in the biggest pile of manure.”
Densmore seemed to be finished with his reprimand, as he let out a sigh and sat at his desk to rifle through a stack of papers.
Mason asked him, “You’ve been in Garmisch how long?”
“Seven months. Why?”
“It’s a small city. You’ve gotten to know how things work around here. How many MPs or MG officials are taking bribes or just looking the other way to make a few bucks?”
“MG” stood for “military government.”
“Hell, everyone in this town is trying to make a few extra bucks.”
“That include you?”
Densmore jerked his head up to glare at Mason. “Goddamn, buddy, who the hell do you think you are? I make a few bucks with the cigarettes, try to make life a little cushier. But I don’t do anything that would compromise me as a CID investigator.”
“I don’t care what you do with your cigarettes. I mainly asked to see how much you know about the crime networks around here.”
“If I knew something relevant, I’d tell you. So back off.”
They fell silent a moment, then Densmore asked, “What did you find in your search of the crime scene?”
“Not much in the bar. The Turk who runs the place knew how to keep it clean. We lifted fingerprints and shoe impressions from the mud in the alley, but I don’t expect much concrete evidence to come of it. The canvass turned up nothing. We did pick up the shell casings near the bodies. Looks like two nine-millimeters. I figure they had some kind of sound suppressors since no one heard gunshots. We’ll get the shell casings analyzed and see if we can get the type.”
“No line on where Olsen went?”
“None of the residents saw anything. Or at least they claimed not to. I’m betting his body will turn up in the forest once the snow melts—whenever that is around here. I’ll have Abrams put out a missing-persons bulletin for all the MP patrols to be on the lookout for him.”
Densmore took a moment to light a cigarette, then pointed it at Mason. “Next time you walk into a lion’s den, you bring enough backup. Besides me, you’re the only other investigator with any real experience. Now, get out of those rags and shave, then we’ll go at your prisoners.”
Mason, Abrams, and Densmore pulled into the parking lot of the newly renamed Sheridan barracks. Built on the north side of town for the Third Reich’s elite mountain troops, it now housed POW officers of the defeated German army. The Garmisch detachment of the 508th Military Police Battalion had been slowly taking over the facility as the POWs were released or sent to other prisons. The CID offices would eventually be moved into these white, rectangular structures, and though the place was surrounded by incredible scenery, it still smacked of the same dreariness as any army base anywhere in the world. Mason preferred to avoid it altogether.
In one of the buildings the ground floor and basement were being transformed into the official 508th jail cells, but in the case of overflow—which seemed to be a permanent condition—makeshift holding cells had been constructed to accommodate the recent American and DP arrestees.
After showing their IDs and signing in, Densmore said, “While you go at the Italians, I’ll start with the Americans. Abrams can take the Yid.”
“It’s Jew, sir,” Abrams said.
“Whatever,” Densmore said. “We’ll get together after that and go at the Russians and Poles.”
They split up, but Densmore called after Mason, “No roughing up the wop, even if he did stick a gun to your head.”
Mason ignored Densmore as he walked down the hall. MPs stood guard at the cells—really offices with reinforced doors. He entered a room with a narrow bed and a table with two chairs. A thick wire mesh covered the single window, which overlooked the snow-covered parade grounds. Mason’s would-be assassin sat on the bed with his back against the concrete wall. He was maybe thirty, and he could have been a good-looking guy except for his prominent overbite and eyes that sat too close together. A sling cradled his broken arm. Mason expected to be greeted by the usual accusations of police brutality and protests of innocence. Instead, the man smiled and struggled to his feet. He tried to act cool and poised, as if he owned the room, but there was an edginess behind the movements, like he was wound way too tight.
“Would you like some coffee before we start?” the man asked; his Italian accent gone and replaced by one typical of the Bronx. He moved to a hot plate that held a pot of coffee. “It takes an Italian to know how to make good coffee.”
Mason shrugged an agreement, then said, “What happened to the Italian accent?” He sat at the table while the Italian poured two cups.
“When dealing with Germans, an Italian accent is better for business,” the man said and winced in pain as he sat.
“I see they fixed your arm,” Mason said.
“Nothing for the pain. That your idea?”
Mason ignored the question and referred to the one-page record and the man’s identity papers. “Luigi Genovese. From Naples. Neither of those things is true, is it? You were born in Italy—probably Sicily—but grew up in the Bronx, and then sent to the Old World to drum up business for your bosses back home.”
Luigi’s smile faded for a moment, but he quickly regained his composure. “No hard feelings about the gun to your head? There was nothing personal about it.”
“Strictly business,” Mason said.
“Your broken arm? That was personal.”
Luigi simply shrugged.
“What are you doing in Garmisch?”
“I am on a tour of this lovely countryside.”
“Then why the visit with Herr Giessen?” Mason asked.
“He was the man I talked to about Garmisch’s top attractions.”
“What about a Herr Volker? Did you get tourist tips from him, too?”
“I don’t know anything about a Herr Volker.”
“He’s the one who made me. He’d have been standing right next to you with one of his stinking cigarettes.”
“I don’t recall a man like that. But somebody in Herr Giessen’s gang would have had you dead to rights eventually. A brave but stupid thing for you to try, Investigator Collins.” He leaned forward, always with the smile. “You are one of those cops who likes to take risks. Be the hero. Those cops’ names end up on memorial plaques on station house walls.”
Mason produced a big, theatrical yawn. “You’d be surprised how many times I’ve heard that same crap from scumbags like you. Then after they realize their bosses have forgotten them, and they’re facing years in the joint, just how many of them squeal for clemency or turn state’s witness.”
Luigi sipped at his coffee to mask whatever was going on in his mind.
Mason said, “I read that the U.S. deported Lucky Luciano and he landed in Naples a week ago. Does that have anything to do with you?”
“Trust me, you don’t want a piece of that. On the other hand, we could use some men like yourself, helping grease the wheels.”
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Book a very great read, could not put the book down! Looking forward to reading the next Mason Collins mystery!