Chasing the wind, p.11
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       Chasing the Wind, p.11

           C. C. Humphreys
 
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  “She is resourceful, yes—but is she strong enough to carry this heavy board out of this building? Look at her. She is…dünn.” He said it in German, the word skinny escaping him. “So, it follows, she must have accomplices. Would you care to tell me about them?”

  Accomplices were on her mind, what with the faint sound of snuffling coming from the closet. She took a big sniff. “Sure. What say we go downstairs, you buy a girl a beer and we talk about it?” As she said this, she took a step toward the door.

  Two barrels came up and pointed at her. “I don’t think so,” said Göring. He went behind his desk, opened a drawer and placed the derringer inside. “I believe we need to continue this discussion somewhere less public. And I have just the place.” He turned, shouted. “Kommen!”

  Boot steps, and two black uniformed officers appeared in the doorway. Göring rapped some orders at them in rapid German, not all of which she caught. What she did catch wasn’t good. The word keller was involved. Cellar. But she was pretty sure it wasn’t going to be a Bierkeller.

  The two soldiers grabbed an arm each. “Hey, easy. I’m not going anywhere.”

  They dragged her through the door into the main room. Everyone followed, which gave her a flash of relief—with luck Ferency would find his way out of there. The feeling lasted only till she heard Munroe speak again.

  “May I come? I would like to witness this interrogation. Perhaps I might be allowed to ask her a few questions myself. Perhaps I might help.”

  The voice was silky, excited. Göring frowned. “Herr Munroe, I can see how you dislike the charming Fräulein. But this is Germany, the land of Goethe, of Schiller and Wittgenstein. The most civilized country in the world. We do not abuse our guests, if this is what you are seeking. And Fräulein Loewen is far too lovely and fragile to damage.” He gave Roxy’s cheek a pat. “Besides, there are better…methods. Swifter ones too.” He tapped one of his officers on his epaulette and spoke a phrase that Roxy understood totally—and that chilled her in a way not even her destination had: “Bringen Sie meinen Arzt,” he said.

  “Jawohl, Herr Reichsmarschall,” the officer replied, then clicked his heels, unlocked one of the far doors and disappeared through it. Off to obey his leader’s command…

  …and bring his doctor.

  TEN

  A TINY PRICK

  SCHLABEN WAS ORDERED TO WAIT FOR THE ELEVATOR TO BE sent back up and then to go and tell the master of ceremonies that the Reichsmarschall would be a little while. It was crowded enough in the elevator without him, what with Roxy, the one guard and especially Munroe and Göring. The American man was dressed much like the German, in some bizarre approximation of a fairy-tale hunter. They faced each other, their bulging stomachs almost touching. Tweedledum and Tweedledee, Roxy thought but didn’t say. She was in enough trouble. What she did say—quite jauntily, she thought, given her terror—was “I suppose there’s no point in me screaming.”

  “With all the noise from the party? No one would hear. Besides, Fräulein—” Göring smiled “—no one pays attention to screams in Berlin anymore. How would you ever sleep?” He chuckled as the elevator shuddered to a halt. “Ah, here.”

  Unlike the marbled entrance hall and the oak-pannelled offices above, the corridor they stepped into was purely functional—bare light bulbs above a row of steel filing cabinets, these punctured every ten paces by metal doors. On Göring’s grunt, the officer pushed her down to the last entrance. Shoved open the door, shoved her in and flicked on a light.

  It was a doctor’s office. Opposite the door, on the wall behind a wooden desk, was a gilded diploma from the University of Heidelberg. On the left wall was a framed photograph of Hitler and an eye chart, a metal chair beneath them; opposite that a single hospital bed. This had a curtain rail above it, the cloth curtains tucked back. There were foot stirrups at one end, different from those she’d seen before—these had straps and buckles. Higher up were other restraints, leather and metal again. The sheets, both top and bottom, were wrinkled. Both also had red stains. At the bed head was a stand, a metal tray on top of it, filled with various medical implements that, like the sheets, could have used a clean.

  “Here we are.” The Reichsmarschall ushered in Munroe and continued, “Welcome to a very special place.”

  He nodded at the officer, who still held one of Roxy’s arms—which he wrenched, before pulling her around and shoving her hard down on the bed. Göring went to the desk, perched on it, pulled out a gold cigarette case, flicked the catch. It opened and he offered it to Munroe, who shook his head. After extracting a slim, black cigarillo, he held the hand of the officer, who lit it for him; he inhaled, then blew out a plume of smoke.

  Roxy tensed like a bloodhound. “Give me one of those and I’ll tell you everything you want to know.”

  Göring laughed, nodded. The officer took out a cigarette, handed it to Roxy, lit it, stepped back. She sucked deep, and exhaled on a sigh. “Fine, is it not? Specially made for me by a tobacconist on the Haymarket, in London. Cuban and Turkish blended. They always make me feel so good. You know, I suspect they may even sprinkle in a little hashish. Can you tell? They make you want to converse, do they not? Get intimate. Share secrets.” He drew shallowly, let smoke run up his nostrils. “Would you like to share some secrets with us, Roxy Loewen?”

  “Sure. What do you want to know?” She had to keep him talking. Partly because she really wanted to smoke this cigarette down to the tiny gold rings around its filter. Mainly because she didn’t want to think about what would happen in that room, on that bloodstained bed, when the talking stopped.

  “You can begin by telling me why you were in my closet.”

  “Isn’t it obvious?” She veiled her half-open eyes in smoke. “I’d snuck into your room hoping you’d come up and join me. Alone. But when I heard voices, I panicked and—”

  “Horseshit. The little bitch is lying.” Munroe took a pace toward the bed. “She was there for the painting. Why not let me—”

  He raised a hand—and Göring his voice.

  “Herr Munroe! You will restrain yourself. You are here as a guest, not a participant.” His voice then changed from steel to silk as he came off the desk and leaned down to Roxy, putting his face a few inches from hers. “Besides,” he said, breathing smoke and garlic onto her, “it is not an—unplausible, is this the word?—answer. Women offer themselves to me every day. Also—” he raised a chubby finger and ran it along Roxy’s jawline “—it would be a pity to let you spoil this beauty. I doubt you are experienced in these things. Whereas I—”

  The blow came sudden and sharp. Not hard enough to do much damage. Hard enough for her to use it as the excuse she’d needed ever since she first entered the room. Following the slap’s trajectory, she threw herself sideways and crashed against the implement cart. Most of the metal bowls and tools cascaded onto the stone floor, ringing loud. Not all of them, though. Not the scalpel she snatched up, slid up her sleeve and pinned under her watchstrap before she turned to glare at Göring and yell, “What the hell do you think you are doing?”

  The officer stepped forward, arms out to fend her off. The Reichsmarschall stepped back, grinning. “Oh, I am sorry, Fräulein. This is not a game you like to play?” He shrugged. “Yet there are others, aren’t there? Different ways to communicate, no? Ah!” He turned to the corridor, to the bing of the elevator. “And here comes my expert in one of those ways.”

  A man appeared in the doorway. “Heil Hitler!” he cried, clicking his heels together, his right arm shooting up.

  “Heil Hitler!” echoed Göring, though his salute was more casual, a hand thrown back on a limp wrist.

  The newcomer was small, narrow faced, with a hank of hair plastered over his head in a poor attempt to conceal baldness. He looked at each of them, blinking through bottle-lens glasses. He was wearing a frilly white shirt, and lederhosen considerably too big for him, which made his pink legs look like uncooked turkey drumsticks. His prominent Adam’s apple slid
up and down a suitably avian throat. “Herr Reichsmarschall. A thousand apologies,” he said in German. “But I thought our appointment for your, uh, treatment, was in the morning?”

  “It is. Though since you are here, perhaps we shall—” Göring swallowed. “Yet this is not why I summoned you.” He switched to English. “This is an American friend, Herr Munroe.” The two men nodded at each other. “While here—” Göring turned as he spoke “—is the reason I have called you away from charming Frau Glück, and the little Glücks. This is Fräulein Loewen.”

  The man looked at her—and the tics, the blinking, the twitching all stopped. Roxy got the distinct sense that she wasn’t the first girl that Glück had examined for Göring. The thought made her shiver, as the man licked his lips.

  “And you wish, Herr Reichsmarschall…”

  Göring grunted, “Nein, nein, nothing of that sort. No, the Fräulein here has information we require. She may be reluctant to give it—”

  “No, no!” Roxy interrupted. Pulling her gaze from the unnerving stare of the doctor, she blurted, “Not reluctant at all. Happy to give it. In fact, can’t wait.”

  “Or,” continued Göring, as if she had not spoken, “she may lie.”

  “And you wish these results swiftly?”

  “I wish to rejoin my party as soon as possible.”

  “Then may I suggest…” Glück lapsed into German, rattling off terms that Roxy couldn’t follow.

  Göring held up a hand to halt the flow. “Yes, Doctor, exactly so. Proceed.”

  Glück clicked his heels again, then moved around his desk. He opened a drawer, then began to pull out objects—a white towel, which he spread out to receive a small bottle; a bandage roll; and lastly a syringe, which he filled from the bottle.

  Roxy bit her lip. “Look, sir, I will tell you anything—”

  “Like the whereabouts of the Communist Jochen Zomack?”

  “Absolutely. Last saw him in Africa, uh, two months ago.”

  “But did you?” Göring shook his head. “You may have. But I will not be able to be certain about that, or about why exactly you were in my room tonight. Not with just your answers. Yet my doctor here—” He turned back and snapped, in German, “Me first, you fool. My vitamin shot, and quickly.” Glück flinched, and immediately reached into the drawer again to pull out another syringe, which he used to draw a colourless liquid from a second bottle, produced from a locked drawer. Göring’s smile returned. He sat on the chair under the eye chart and began to undo the laces on his right boot. “You see,” he continued, “the good doctor here can guarantee that what you say will be the truth. Please, Dr. Glück, be so kind as to explain as you prepare. I am sure Herr Munroe would find it fascinating. Perhaps Fräulein Loewen even more so. Since she is, after all—” he grinned wider “—the patient.”

  Glück came around the table. “Of course, Herr Reichsmarschall.” He took a deep breath. “It is work I have been engaged in for some time. And I have benefited from the experiments of a countryman of yours. He is from Texas, where the cowboys come from, is it not, Herr Munroe? His name is Robert House and he was the first to develop this.” He held up a bottle. “I have improved upon it.”

  She didn’t want to ask. She had to. “What’s in the bottle?”

  Glück’s eyes gleamed behind the lenses. “In Germany we call this Wahrheitsserum. It was your good Dr. House who named it. It means ‘truth serum.’ ”

  Roxy’s stomach did a flip—her nausea increasing when Göring slid his boot off, followed by his sock, and wriggled toes like pink sausages in a pan. He reached over and picked up one syringe. He looked up at the six people focused on him. “About your business,” he snarled in German.

  Everyone looked away, to the doctor now coming from behind his desk. All except Roxy, who watched the Reichsmarschall fiddle among his toes, seeking, finding, pressing the needle in, pushing. He sighed, his eyes rolling back in pleasure. Then Glück moved before her, blocking the sight, holding up the second syringe. “You will raise your sleeve, please.”

  “And why would I do that?”

  “I need to access your vein.”

  “Access this, you prick.” She raised her middle finger in his face.

  Glück blinked at them, looked around. Behind him Göring rose. His eyes were eerily bright, his smile sloppy. “It is easy, Fräulein Loewen. Do what the doctor says or I will have my men hold you down while he does so. They are rough men. You may bruise. It would be such a pity to mark such delicate skin.” He laughed, the pitch high.

  “I’ll hold her down.” Munroe stepped closer to speak. If his eyes weren’t as shiny as the Reichsmarschall’s, they weren’t far off.

  Roxy looked around, at odds too great. She looked at Glück again, then at his needle. Talking seemed good just then. “What’s in that?”

  The doctor ran his tongue over his lips. “A compound of my own devising. A relaxant, which will send you to sleep very quickly for a little time and is based on chloroform. There is also a euphoric, which you will enjoy. Together, these will make the experience quite painless, Fräulein. But the strongest ingredient is derived from henbane. It is called scopolamine.” He smiled. “Now, please.”

  She still didn’t see that she had a choice—and anyway, people always underestimated her because of her size. She’d drink Göring and his guards under the table, that was for damn sure. She’d weather this storm, and she’d keep lying, until something better came up. Something always did. Well, she thought, nearly always.

  Glück pointed again at her right arm. But she had her one ace in the hole up there. So she unbuttoned a silk sleeve, rolled it up and held out her left.

  The needle pricked. She looked over his shoulder at the eye chart. She could read every row, though the letters were those German monstrosities. She read the lowest: “Z. B. J. Ü. M. T,” she breathed to herself. Then repeated them.

  Göring had sat again to replace his boot. “How long till she is receptive, Glück?” he asked.

  “Fifteen minutes. Though for a time she will still be a little dazed from the relaxant.”

  “So if I was to rejoin the party and return in, perhaps, half an hour?”

  “It would be perfect, Herr Reichsmarschall.”

  “Good.” Göring stood again. He laughed, stretched. “Thank you, Doctor. I feel revived. Come, Herr Munroe. We can discuss art on the way.”

  “You will let me return here, though, won’t you?” Munroe gazed at her hungrily. “If Roxy is in a talkative mood, there are a few questions I’d like to ask her too.”

  “Of course. Of course!” The big German slapped the big American on the back.

  “Tweedledum and Tweedledee,” Roxy muttered.

  Göring paused in the doorway. “What did she say?” he asked.

  Glück bent to the bed. Roxy felt an eyelid being lifted, which was strange because she didn’t know she’d shut them. “Z. B. J. Ü. M. T,” she informed him.

  “She is going under,” the doctor said, from far away.

  “Heil Hitler!” Göring began it, and the usual chorus followed.

  “In your dreams, you asshole,” Roxy replied, as she slipped into hers.

  ELEVEN

  VISIONS

  IT WAS WHEN SHE PUT THE FOCKE-WULF INTO ITS SEVENTH loop of the loop-de-loop-de-loop, yelling “Focke! Focke!” that she heard the scratching. It was monstrously loud and right by her ear. With some difficulty, she turned her head.

  A rat was emerging from the wall, shovelling aside bits of plaster. It saw her seeing it and stopped its digging to grin, before whispering something in German, which she didn’t catch. Then it turned tail…turned its tail…and vanished back into the wall. Which sealed up behind it, leaving not a trace of passage.

  Though the scratching went on. From behind her now. It was another mighty effort to turn back, but she managed it. And there was her pal, the eminent Herr Doktor Glück, pride of Heidelberg, at his desk. He sat in the circle of light shed from his lamp, writ
ing. The pen’s nib on the paper accounted for the scratching—though it failed to explain why the letters were forming in blood, not ink. She thought she’d ask him that. It seemed a reasonable question, under the circumstances.

  She tried. Words wouldn’t come. Words weren’t the problem. She had words. Icarus. Johnnie Walker. Scopolamine. Wahrheitsserum. Many others. She could form a sentence—if only her mouth would work. It was sand dry, desert dry, dryer than the driest martini.

  Which was what she needed—a martini. She’d settle for water. “Wah-ter,” she crackled.

  The scratching stopped. A chair screeched. Footsteps, as if someone was walking across a drum. Boom, they went. Boom boom.

  “Fräulein Loewen?”

  She’d been looking at the wall again. She had something to confide to the rat. The voice came from right above her and she jerked back, cried out—at least inside, because her throat made zero noise.

  Glück was all eyes. There were his own; then there were the ones in one half of the glasses he wore; then there were the ones in the other half. Bifocals, she thought, couldn’t say. Then he lifted a third eye, which was on a rubber cord around his neck. Blew on that eye, then placed it on her chest, under her left breast, and listened.

  “Yes, yes,” he said. “It does accelerate the heart, does it not? And that can make one anxious. Also, the mouth? So dry, yes? One moment.”

  He went, came back with a glass. Helped her sit up and held it to her lips. She drank greedily, finished fast. “More,” she managed to say.

  He went, returned again. This time, though, he only let her sip. “Not too much. It will make you sick. You can never get enough and this—you call it side effect, nein? I’m afraid this will last for a day or even two. Just a little to keep the mouth moist, yes?”

  She wanted to bite his hand off. She thought that at least she could grab the water from him. Drink as much as she wanted. What was she, some sick child? But when she tried to raise a hand, she couldn’t. Either one. She looked down.

 
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