A song of shadows, p.31
A Song of Shadows, p.31John Connolly
Behind him, Isha Winter spoke her first words to him since ‘Hello.’
‘Thank you for coming,’ she said. ‘Thank you for what you tried to do.’
Then she began to cry.
He sat with her in the kitchen. It still bore the remains of the food that she had shared with the Frobergs. He accepted her offer of some water, but declined anything more. She told him to call her Isha, but could not bring herself to address him as anything other than ‘Mr Parker.’ It was like being with the Fulcis’ mother.
‘I thought of visiting you in the hospital,’ she said. ‘But there was so much to do – the funeral, taking care of Amanda. I’m sorry, I—’
‘It’s not necessary,’ said Parker. ‘Really.’
‘No,’ she insisted, ‘it is. You risked your life for my daughter, and my granddaughter. You were hurt for them. I wanted to thank you for it. I’m glad that you have come.’
She took his right hand in her own, and squeezed it briefly before releasing it.
‘I know that you’ve spoken to the police,’ he said.
‘They have been very good. They asked many questions, but some of them I could not answer.’
‘I could not tell them why my daughter was murdered.’
She appeared to be on the verge of tears again, but she forced them back.
‘All I could tell them,’ she continued, ‘was that there have always been those who hate us, and I think there always will be.’
‘By “us”, you mean Jews?’
‘I told the detectives – I told them at the cemetery, and I told them again here, at this table – that they will never leave us in peace.’
‘Have there been incidents in the past?’
Only after he spoke did he realize the absurdity of what he had said. Adding ‘apart from the Holocaust’ wasn’t really an option. Isha guessed his thoughts. He saw her smile.
‘You mean recently?’ she said. ‘You mean here?’
‘Not so much. Someone once sprayed a swastika on the wall, but that was years ago, and we would sometimes find literature in the mailbox – vile letters and pamphlets. But the men and women who do that, they are cowards. They can’t even find the courage to face an old woman during the day. They sneak by at night to spread their hatred.’
‘The man who killed your daughter was a professional,’ said Parker. ‘I don’t think he was the kind to paint swastikas on walls, then run away.’
‘I know this. The detective told me.’
‘He’s a good man.’
‘He said the same thing about you.’
‘Did he have to grit his teeth first?’
‘Na, na!’ Isha Winter looked appalled at the thought. She slapped his hand gently, scolding him. ‘He meant it.’
‘Did he also tell you that a connection might exist between your daughter’s murder and your time in the camp at Lubsko?’
‘He said this, but I could think of nothing.’
‘What about the man the Justice Department is investigating – Kraus?’
‘But I looked at the photograph, and it was not who they said it was. They wanted me to say that it was Reynard Kraus, but it was not!’
He let it go. Perhaps he was coming at this from the wrong angle. Could Ruth Winter have discovered something, independent of her mother’s past that had then brought her into contact with Bruno Perlman? It seemed unlikely.
He asked her about Perlman, and she described again her only encounter with him, at that same kitchen table. From what she told Parker, Perlman was fascinated – even obsessed – by Lubsko, and by the hunt for the last surviving Nazi war criminals hiding in the United States.
‘He told me,’ she said, ‘that he had helped to find Nazis in the past. He said that he had provided information to the government.’
Parker didn’t know if that was true. He suspected it wasn’t. Epstein had said nothing about it, and neither had Walsh.
‘He showed me the tattoos on his arm,’ said Isha.
‘The Auschwitz numbers?’
‘Yes, the numbers.’ She shook her head. ‘I don’t think he understood why I found it such an odd thing to have done. He knew so little of his people, only their names. He did not do it for the purpose of commemoration. I think he was looking for something to be angry about. I think’ – she tapped a forefinger to her right temple – ‘in his mind, he had almost convinced himself that he was there with them, at Auschwitz and Lubsko.’
‘Did he meet your daughter while he was here?’
‘Yes, but just for a short time.’
‘Your daughter and granddaughter used to live with you, didn’t they?’ he asked.
‘For many years, yes. My husband owned all of this land.’ She gestured through the walls at unseen fields. ‘He built a guest cottage so that friends could come and stay with us, and enjoy the sea, but not many ever did. We rented it out, but after he died it seemed like so much trouble. I just left it empty, but then Ruth came back here with Amanda, and it was a good place for them to live.’
‘And Amanda’s father?’
‘He was not her husband,’ said Isha, answering another question entirely, but one that was apparently important to her. ‘They were not married.’
‘What did he do?’
She leaned forward, and lowered her voice.
‘He beat her.’
‘I meant for a living.’
‘Oh, he worked in a garage,’ she said, putting all of the contempt she could muster into the last word. ‘But really, he was a criminal. Ruth told me. Stolen cars, drugs. He was a Kriecher. You understand Kriecher? A lowlife. She almost lost the baby once, he hit her so hard. When he died, it was a blessing.’
‘As I understand it, he didn’t just die: he was murdered.’
‘The police said it was over drugs. He was shot.’
Her tone suggested that it was the least he deserved.
‘And so Ruth came to live with you?’
‘Not immediately. But it was hard for her with the baby, and money was a problem. Why would she live in a dirty apartment when she could use the house here? It was just common sense.’
‘And why did she then move to Boreas?’
Isha began wringing her hands again.
‘Because I am a nosy, demanding old woman. Because even in separate houses, there was not enough space for us. I think she felt that I was always looking over her shoulder, always criticizing.’
‘And were you?’
The tears came again.
‘I think that I was. And now she is gone.’
They spoke for a short time longer. Isha Winter talked to him of Lubsko, of her first sight of it with her parents – ‘the little houses, the gardens – there were even bathtubs!’ They arrived with four other families, each of them unable to believe quite what they were seeing. Within days, pressure was being placed upon them: discreet at first, then more insistent. Lubsko was not free. A life there had to be paid for.
‘My father did not trust them,’ said Isha. ‘But he paid up, like the rest. He was an art dealer in Aachen before the war, and he had hidden paintings in two vaults in Düren, the old cemetery. One of them was a Bellini Madonna; another was a nude by Rubens. These are only the ones that I can remember. The other families, they offered money, jewelry, and diamonds, whatever they had put away in the hope that they might be able to come back for them after the war.
‘I know now that most families lasted a month, but we were given only two weeks. Before us, the Nazis had taken their time in the hope that more hidden treasures might be revealed to them, or so they could convince men with secret wealth to name others with the promise that they, too, could be brought to Lubsko. But it was 1945, and they knew that the end was coming. Lubsko was to be closed, so they were in a hurry to bleed us dry and be gone. They held on just too long, though, because they were greedy, and by th
Although she remained a presence in the room, a part of her was now elsewhere, lying in a shallow grave beneath a layer of dirt.
‘I saw Kraus take the children away first,’ she said. ‘Then the shooting started. They were going from hut to hut. My father told me to run and hide. I did not even have time to say goodbye, and when I saw them again they were dead.
‘I think I heard the shots that killed the commandant and his wife. I was near their house, and I heard the sound of a pistol firing twice. Later, I could smell their quarters burning.
‘And then I found the grave. They must have opened it that morning, or the night before, so that they could save time and bury us quickly. I remember the smell, and the sight of the bones, and the bodies that had been revealed by the digging. I took off my clothes so that I would look like all the rest. I threw myself in, and covered my body with dirt, and I lay there and waited.
‘Soon everything went quiet, but I stayed in the grave until it was dark. That was when I saw all of the bodies: not just our people, but the Germans too. They had turned on their own, like animals. They had not even bothered to hide what they’d done. The Russians found me two days later. I was sitting by the bodies of my mother and father. They tell me that I was eating an apple, but I don’t remember this. I was the only one left alive. The only one. I was dirty, and in shock. I looked younger than I was. I think that was the only reason they did not rape me. Then one of their officers came, and he made me tell my story. I think he realized that I had some propaganda value, and he made sure that I was protected until his superiors had spoken with me. Finally, I made it out of Poland into Germany. I told my story again to the Americans, and they let me come here.’
‘When did you arrive?’
‘Can I ask how you came to Maine?’
‘I was a Jew helped by a Lutheran: Pastor Otto Werner of Boreas reached out to me. He found me a job, a place to live. He even introduced me to the man who would become my husband. David was working on the pastor’s house at the time, painting it inside and out. In the end, I found some peace, Mr Parker. I found it here.’
There was nothing more to say. Parker stood, thanked her for her time, and prepared to leave. As he passed the dining room, he saw cards piled up on the table, and envelopes sealed and addressed, and a fountain pen.
‘Is there anything that I can do for you?’ he asked.
‘You know, you could take these to the post office, if it is not too much trouble,’ she said. ‘I received many cards, many letters, and I am trying to reply to them all. They will need stamps.’
She counted the sealed envelopes carefully, made a calculation in her head, then found her purse and gave him the exact amount in bills and coins. Only as he was about to leave did she notice that she had paused in the act of addressing an envelope. She picked up the pen and wrote the rest of the address. He noticed that she was forced to hold the fountain pen awkwardly, for she was left-handed and did not want the ink to smudge. She returned to her purse for more change for the last stamp. He tried to tell her not to go to the trouble, but she wouldn’t hear of it.
She walked him to the door.
‘The detective, Mr Walsh, he told me that you might come here,’ she said. ‘He told me you might want to help find the ones who killed my Ruth. Is that true?’
‘Then Auf Widersehen, Herr Parker,’ she said. ‘Und machs gut. Take care …’
He bought stamps at the post office in Boreas. He did not recognize any of the names on the envelopes, although most of the addresses were local. Before he mailed them he made a note of each addressee, then went to look for Bobby Soames.
Soames blanched when Parker appeared at his office door. His receptionist was taking a late lunch, and Soames was left alone to take care of business. Not that the phone was ringing off the hook anyway, or not as far as anywhere in Boreas was concerned. Nothing was more likely to smother the tentative growth of a local property market than a killing. Soames thought that it might actually be years before he managed to rent or sell either of the properties on Green Heron Bay again. Sometimes Google was a curse.
‘Are you here to renew your lease?’ he asked the detective, and he wasn’t sure which answer he wanted to hear more. A ‘yes’ would guarantee his clients – and, by extension, Bobby Soames – some income from one of the properties. A ‘no’ would mean that he’d see the back of the detective, who still made him nervous, and whom he secretly regarded as having cursed Green Heron Bay by his presence.
‘No, I hope I’ll be leaving before the month is out.’
Soames felt relief, and realized that he’d wanted peace of mind more than money. He wondered if he might be coming down with something.
‘I do have a question for you, though,’ Parker went on. ‘I want to find out more about the area. Who’s the best person to turn to for a history lesson?’
Soames leaned back in his chair and folded his hands over his belly. Now that the detective had confirmed he was leaving, Soames was feeling a certain warmth toward him.
‘Well, there’s no shortage of old farts who’ll make you wish you’d never asked,’ he said. ‘But if you want it concise and to the point, I’d talk to Pastor Werner over at Christ the Redeemer Lutheran. His father was pastor here before him. It’s a family business.’
‘What’s he like?’
‘Never married. Might be gay. Nobody asks, nobody cares.’
‘Are you Lutheran?’
‘No, I’m Catholic, but it doesn’t worry me.’
‘Being gay.’ He frowned. ‘Or being Catholic, now that you mention it. I’m a once-a-year-at-Christmas kind of churchgoer. I guess I’m in a state of disagreement with a lot of the rules.’
‘You’re a one-man schism.’
‘Yeah, but don’t tell anyone. I don’t want to attract followers. Last I heard, you were in the hospital.’
‘I’m all better now.’
‘You’ll pardon me for saying so, but you don’t look all better.’
Parker had caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror outside Soames’s office. He’d more or less ignored the surgeon’s advice about taking it easy, and it was showing on his face.
‘Is this how you attract clients?’
‘Again, you’ll pardon me for saying so, but I’m kind of happy that you’re leaving, so I don’t want you as a client. I admire what you tried to do for that woman and her child, but the sooner you’re gone, the sooner you’ll be forgotten here, and the sooner I can find someone to take those houses off my hands.’
‘You’re a practical man, Mr Soames.’
‘As are you. The police any closer to finding out what happened up there?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘I’m still looking.’
‘If I can help, you have my number.’
‘Because if you help me, it might speed me on my way?’
‘That’s part of it,’ said Soames. ‘The other part is that I was there when the cleaning crew wiped the blood from the walls. I didn’t like it.’
‘Well,’ said Parker, as he turned to go, ‘there’s not a lot about it to like.’
He stopped by the Boreas Police Department after leaving Soames, and was just in time to hear the tail end of an altercation between Sergeant Stynes, who was acting chief while Cory Bloom recovered from her injuries, and a gray-haired man who must have topped out at six-five or six-six, and was wearing a blue windbreaker with the words ‘BOREAS PD’ in white letters on the back over tan pants and black shoes. They were standing in the chief’s glass-walled office, the door of which stood open. All activity had ceased around them as two officers in uniform – one of them Mary Preston, the other a youngish man – and a receptionist li
‘You don’t tell my people how to do their job, Mr Foster,’ said Stynes. ‘Do I have to remind you that you’re officially retired?’
So this was Carl Foster, thought Parker. He’d heard all about him from the locals. The former deputy chief looked like a hard man. Parker was glad that he had been able to deal with Cory Bloom instead of him.
‘They should have brought me back!’ shouted Foster. ‘I know this town, damn it. I know it better than you ever will!’ He emphasized his point by slamming the palm of his right hand on Stynes’s desk. ‘And I can tell you that these people’ – he now waved the same hand behind him at the listening figures without even deigning to glance at them – ‘aren’t worth a shit.’
‘Get out of this office,’ said Stynes.
Unlike Foster, she didn’t shout, didn’t swear. Her authority was enough to carry her voice. She was handling herself well.
‘This isn’t over,’ said Foster.
‘Yes,’ said Stynes, ‘it is. And I’d be grateful if you’d leave that windbreaker here when you leave. That’s department property.’
‘You want it, you’ll have to take it off my fucking back yourself,’ said Foster.
He stomped out of the office, passed between a pair of desks, and exited through the door beside the reception desk, only coming up short when he almost ran into Parker. He took a step back when he realized who the newcomer was, glowered, and then used the basest of epithets to describe Stynes, pointing his thumb in her direction so that Parker could be under no illusion as to whom he was referring. He appeared to be seeking an ally, but Parker simply turned his head away.
‘Fuck you too,’ said Foster.
He brushed past Parker with enough force to cause him to move his feet, but not to stumble. When he was gone, Parker went to the desk.
A Song of Shadows by John Connolly / Thrillers & Crime / Mystery & Detective / Horror have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes