In 1939 Erick Von Roesler was spreading Hitler’s gospel in Brazil when duty to the Reich called him home. He distinguished himself during the war, organizing slave labor camps, overseeing executions, and manning the gas chambers of Buchenwald, but in 1945 he felt it necessary to leave the land of his birth. His enthusiasm for the German cause undimmed, he returned to South America to remake the continent in the image of the fallen Reich.
For help, he calls on Hans Busch, a master propagandist who comes south from New York with $2 million earmarked for the Nazi revival. But this squat, unkempt little man is not the Nazi he claims to be. Hans Busch is merely a nom de guerre for Holocaust survivor Ari Schoenberg, who has come to take his revenge. With the help of Interpol’s José Da Silva, he will dismantle the new Reich from the inside out.
About the Author
Fish died February 23, 1981, at his home in Connecticut. Each year at the annual Mystery Writers of America dinner, a memorial award is presented in his name for the best first short story. This is a fitting tribute, as Fish was always eager to assist young writers with their craft.
Read an Excerpt
A Captain José Da Silva Mystery
By Robert L. Fish
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1962 Robert L. Fish
All rights reserved.
The first time Erick von Roesler saw Brazil was in June, 1939. He crossed on a special summer cruise of the Hamburg Line, ostensibly the managing director of a large company manufacturing agricultural machinery. He dined at the captain's table, contributing little to the stilted conversation, watched the swimming pool antics from the lonely height of the deck rail above, the evening dancing from a comfortable chair in one corner of the spacious salon, and spent most of his deck hours either calmly contemplating the pulsing sunlit waves, or jotting notes in his voluminous diary.
They docked at Rio de Janeiro on a cool misty morning, with the famed heights of the city lost in a bank of fog that blanketed the mountains and drifted down to muffle the waterfront sounds and clothe the tall buildings with eerie mystery. The ship was scheduled to spend a day in port, unloading machinery from Europe, wines from the Rhine and the Madeiras, tin plate from Spain, and all the miscellaneous welter of cases, casks, boxes and crates that make up the lifeblood flowing along the arteries of commerce. Von Roesler spent the greater part of the morning on deck, leaning curiously over the rail as disembarking passengers dashed back and forth, screaming to their friends on the dock below, or brusquely commanding blue-jacketed porters doubled under towering loads of luggage. His shipboard acquaintances would trot up for a hasty goodbye, a self-conscious handclasp, and immediately forgetting him, dash down the gangplank to be kissed by women and hugged fiercely by men clustered on the dock. Children indeed, he thought, with some satisfaction; children indeed.
The fog was burning away and the sun now glistened from the white buildings and lit the bay. The giant cranes creaked and groaned as they dipped their snouts into the hold, swaying gently under the tension of the rising loads, and laying them gracefully upon the cobblestones of the dock. People below ran back and forth, searching the railing for familiar faces; a vendor of pineapple had opened his stand at the foot of the gangplank, and was busily slicing his wares and spreading them out. The purser, a hulking blond man in his late twenties, leaned on the rail beside von Roesler, frowning.
"A circus!" he said bitterly. "What we load in Hamburg in four hours, we must fight in order to unload in a full day here!" He pointed below; a playful wrestling match had developed among the stevedores, laughter rose from the group. Some had gone to the pineapple stand and were eating and talking; the crane-load waited patiently for someone to unhitch the ropes. "Schnell!" the purser screamed, leaning over the rail perilously. No one paid any attention; the purser slapped the rail in disgust. "Brazilians!" he said bitingly, and stamped back to the hold cover shaking his head.
After lunch von Roesler carefully locked his diary away and left the ship to walk about the nearby streets. The tropical sun burned, even in the winter month of June. He was sorry he had come with vest and jacket, but reminded himself that a person in his position could scarcely appear otherwise. He also reflected that his regular uniform would have been even more uncomfortable. The beggars about the Praça Mauá instinctively withdrew their hands as he passed. They knew authority and coldness when they saw it, as well as the futility and danger of importuning such authority.
He crossed the bustling square and walked slowly along Avenida Rio Branco, staring curiously in shop windows at the myriad temptations for tourists there; the butterfly trays, the inlaid cigarette boxes, the badly tinted postal cards, the rough wood carvings, the colorful handkerchiefs printed with scenes of the beaches, of swaying palm trees, of Pao de Açúcar and Corcovado, of all gay Rio de Janeiro. The broad sidewalks were crowded; people pushed past him, jostling him as he stood and watched the scene. A man, speaking rapidly in Portuguese, waved a fountain pen in his face, obviously attempting to make a quick sale; he turned away, and immediately found himself beset by another with a string of lottery tickets. He shook his head coldly and continued his walk.
The excited chatter from a group at a sidewalk cafe caught his attention and he turned to watch them with interest. This was not the relaxed pause of Paris, an aperitif and a moment's contemplation of the passing scene; nor was it the calculated minute's rest with a cool drink of bustling Berlin, when past actions were studied and future ones planned. This had a feeling of now in it; the laughing group flung money on the table, hugged each other enthusiastically, and hurried apart, calling and shouting back over their shoulders. The complete divorce from Europe suddenly struck him; the patterned sidewalks, the predominance of black faces in the crowds about him, the shop windows filled with gay but useless bric-a-brac.
He turned back to the ship, walking slowly, pondering his thoughts. Children, true, and decadent children. But with a certain vitality; yes, a definite vitality. Which someday we shall turn to an advantage, he concluded. For children can be led, and we have the destiny to lead.CHAPTER 2
He left the ship at Santos early the following morning. His bags, neatly labeled and stacked outside his stateroom door, were marked for storage at the residence of the German consul in Sao Paulo. He carried with him only a small bag with a change of clothing, and a briefcase with his diary and his papers. His passage through customs was accelerated by the presence of a rigid young man who presented himself on board with a note from the consulate, and who returned immediately aboard ship to handle the transfer of the other luggage.
A car was waiting outside the customs shed, and a chauffeur sprang down to take the bags and open the rear door. Von Roesler nodded to the silent figure within and, closing the door, leaned forward to slide shut the glass partition behind the driver's seat. They pulled away from the docks, bumping over the rough pavement. It was not until they were through the city and speeding past the banana plantations at the foot of the mountains that von Roesler turned to the silent figure at his side.
"Well?" he asked coldly.
The elderly man beside him, muffled in an overcoat despite the growing heat of the day, smiled wryly. "Not even a 'hello' first, Erick?" he asked gently.
Von Roesler clamped his jaws on the first words that rose to his lips; this was no time for temper. To cover the silence that had fallen, he reached over and opened the window a crack. "I'm sorry," he finally said, forcing humiliation into his voice. "But you know the situation, Uncle Ernst. Or you should. Time is running out, and I have a job to do." He paused and stared out of the car window. They were climbing the winding road of the mountain, and the ocean was spread below them, a scene of incredible beauty, but he saw none of this. He tried to smile casually, hating the feeling of inferiority, of callowness, that he had always suffered as a child with his father's brother. He's a senile old fool, he thought, and I am Erick von Roesler of the SD. "How have you been, Uncle Ernst?"
The old man looked at him sideways, crouching in his overcoat. "Cold," he answered grimly, honestly.
Von Roesler laughed. "After fifteen years in the tropics? In Brazil? Uncle, Uncle! You were born cold!"
There was a sudden rustling from the other, as if he were attempting to burrow deeper into his overcoat. "Yes," said his uncle slowly. "You and I. We were both born cold." He hastened his next words, as if to pass an unpleasant moment. "And how is your mother?"
"Fine. She is in Berlin, you know, visiting with Monica. You saw Monica's last picture? No, I suppose not; not out here. But you knew that she had become an actress? Quite a good one, as a matter of fact, or at least so they say. She goes by another name, of course. Oh, things are going quite well, Uncle!"
"Are they?" The tone was querying, impersonal.
"Yes, they are." Enough of this, von Roesler thought. "At home things are fine. How are they here?"
The old man thought before answering. They were high up on the serra by this time, and the scene below was one that he well remembered and had always loved. The island port of Santos hemmed in by rivers glistening in the sun, the lacelike beaches of Sao Vicente and Pria Grande to the right, the breakers visible as dancing white lines on deserted Guarujá to the left. Fifteen years in Brazil, and now what?
"What is going to happen, Erick?" The old man held his breath a moment, expelling it in his next question, as if it were forced from him. "Will there be a war?"
Erick shrugged. "You overestimate my place in the councils of the Reich, Uncle. But I should say, not necessarily. Only if it is forced upon us." He looked over at his uncle. "Have you arranged the meeting?"
The old man shrank back into his corner, pulling the heavy coat about him. "At my chacara. Tomorrow."
"My fazenda. The farm, Hartzlandia, you know. We should be there by evening."
"By evening?" Almost instinctively, von Roesler glanced at his wrist watch. "My God! How far is it?"
The old man smiled. "Two hundred kilometers from here, and very close as they measure distances in Brazil. This is a big country, you know, Erick, and our roads aren't the autobahns of Germany."
Erick frowned. "Who will be at the meeting?"
"Everyone that I could think of. Or rather, that I could get. It was not easy, believe me," the old man continued calmly. "There have been some bad frosts these past two weeks, and many of them did not want to leave their farms. But the majority finally agreed to come."
"And they represent ...?"
"The most influential of the German settlers here. You said not to bother with official representatives here ...?" There was a question in his voice but the younger man disregarded it.
"Good." They had passed the lip of the serra and the ocean was now hidden. The car had left the paved Sao Paulo highway and was following a winding dirt road; clouds of dust swirled behind them. There was a new sharpness in the air, and Erick rolled the window closed and leaned back. now exactly, who are they?"
The old man thought. "Well, first, there is Goetz. He comes from Blumenau. He makes wines; I came to Brazil with him fifteen years ago. And then there is Gunther, from Florianopolis. A schoolteacher, but quite influential. Head of the Turnverein, and the German club. Lange has a cattle ranch in Rio Grande do Sul, I don't know how many head, but it's a big one. Then there is Riepert from Paraná; he has a lumber business there, sawmill and cutting rights for large pine stands near his mill." He ticked them off on his fingers. "Strauss comes from Sao Paulo, from the city, that is. He imports and exports, and is mixed up in local politics to some extent. And Gehrmann from the fazenda next to mine, also coffee. And a little sugar, but not much." He paused, counting. "That's the lot."
"They are all rich?"
The old man smiled, "Rich? There are no rich men in Brazil today. You have to remember, we burned our coffee only three years ago. Land-rich, if you will; or better say landpoor." He looked at the other sardonically. "Why? Did you come to ask them for contributions to the Winterhelf'?"
The younger man disregarded this. "You told them the reason for the meeting?"
The old man shrugged. "How could I tell them what I don't know? I simply wrote that you were coming on an official visit, and wanted to speak with them all together. I think they'll come; I seldom ask favors."
"Very good. Uncle Ernst." Unconsciously the condescension had crept back into his voice. Erick leaned back, smiling at the older man, satisfied. "I think I'll take a brief nap, if you don't mind."
He settled himself in one corner, closing his eyes. The old man sighed and stared broodingly out of the window. The scrubby bushes at the side of the road bowed beneath the heavy dust, shaking themselves slightly as the car swayed past. He pulled his overcoat tighter about him; even in the sun it seemed desperately cold.CHAPTER 3
Chácara Hartzlandia covered an area of twelve thousand hectares, spread along the Rio Taquary, and running almost to the little village of Itapeva. It was principally a coffee fazenda, although it also raised its own necessities in beans, rice, potatoes, and corn. The rolling hills were lined with the neat rows of bushy covas, rising and falling over the undulating land to disappear in the green distance. The drying sheds and the workers' shacks were located in a sprawling banana grove at the side of the river, well out of sight of the big house; the stables and barns had their area further back in a thick stand of pine. The house stood alone on a hummock; below it the gardens ran in riotous color past a rough-stone-edged pool down to the river.
It was a great chalet, the gently sloping roof overhanging balconies that encircled the building at each floor, joined by wooden stairways. Huge hand-hewn beams of dark wood supported the stained plank walls; leaded glass windows studded the high walls and winked in the afternoon sun. It might have been transplanted intact from Württemberg, or Ostmark, Erick thought; it could have fronted the icy Bodensee, or stared down on Innsbruck from the challenging rocks above. His eyes unconsciously swept the horizon for snow-tipped mountains, and the growing sense of displacement that he had felt since leaving the boat slowly seeped away. "Beautiful," he said sincerely. His uncle smiled slightly, but it was difficult to tell if the smile indicated sympathy or amusement.
They dined by flickering candlelight, although the farm boasted a modern generator, and afterwards in the huge living room listened to phonograph records before a crackling fire. The night had turned cold, and the fire was cheerful and welcome. They talked of family and the past; the subject of the meeting and the reason for Erick's trip was avoided as if by mutual unspoken consent. His uncle was bending over the ancient phonograph, changing a record, and Erick was preparing to offer excuses for an early bedtime, when headlights swung into the driveway from the river road, and they could hear the labored clanking of an old car pulling up before the house. The motor coughed itself apologetically into silence, a car door slammed.
"Von Roesler!" a deep voice bayed. "Gott im Himmel! Why doesn't the old man put a light on this verdammt driveway? Von Roesler, you old swine! A light!"
The old man rushed to swing back the door, and yellow light poured over the balcony, spilling down to the huge blond figure standing beside a battered Ford. "Goetz!" he cried in delight. "Come up! Come up! How did you ever make it in that wheelbarrow? From Blumenau, yet!"
"Wheelbarrow, eh?" said Goetz, clumping up the stairway. "This wheelbarrow will be running when both you and your fancy hearse have long gone to the graveyard!" He paused at the top of the steps, a wild-looking giant wearing a leather jacket over a turtle-neck sweater, his curly hair rumpled, eyeing the two men calmly. "So this is little Erick, eh? For whom we make long trips when we have a million things to do! Hello, little Erick! How is the Vaterland?" Erick felt his face reddening. The big man pushed past him almost brusquely, his handshake an obvious thing in passing, quick and almost insolent, going to warm himself at the fireplace. "Von Roesler! Even in the uncivilized south we at least have a little common hospitality! What do you have to drink?"
"Goetz! So you came!" The old man bustled about, dragging glasses and bottles from a dark sideboard made darker by its place in the shadows. "And Lange? And Gunther?" He was obviously delighted with the other; the vitality of his huge visitor seemed a physical thing in the room, passing itself as animation to the old man, making the room gayer.
"I dropped them at Gehrmann's. With pleasure. They'll be over in the morning." He shook his head comically, although his voice remained serious. "A day and a half in the car with them was more than enough!"
"Only a day and a half?" The old man paused with the glasses in his hand. "You made very good time."
"With two flat tires, also. But it's been dry down our way for some time now. And the road has been scraped." He frowned at the old man fiercely. "I see it's dry up here, too. Do we drink or do we spend the night chattering like old women?"
Excerpted from The Fugitive by Robert L. Fish. Copyright © 1962 Robert L. Fish. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsIntroduction and Rondo Militaire,
Preludio Sostenuto and Andante Carioca,
Preview: Isle of the Snakes,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is a short, light romp through Brazil with hero Ari Schoenberg trying to find a reclusive Nazi war criminal to get revenge. He is aided by policemen Da Silva and Wilson. There is plenty of humor and action.