– ‘The Magic of Wor(l)ds’ blog is a hobby, reviews and other bookish stuff on this site are done for free. –
Today I’m on the ‘Night of Shooting Stars’ blogtour, organised by Random Things Tours.
To promote this book I have an excerpt, but b
About the Author :
BEN PASTOR, born in Italy, worked as a university professor in Vermont. She is one of the most talented writers in the field of historical fiction. In 2008 she won the prestigious Premio Zaragoza for best historical fiction. She writes in English.
Berlin, July 1944, a few weeks before the attempted assassination of Hitler by Claus von Stauffenberg and other conspirators. Bora has been called back from the Italian Front to investigate the murder of a dazzling clairvoyant with Nazi connections.
Soon Bora realizes that there is much more at stake than murder in a city where everyone is talking about a conspiracy aimed at the Nazi hierarchy. Bora eventually meets with Stauffenberg. Are the plotters a group of heroes devoted to the salvation of Germany at the cost of their own lives, or a bunch of opportunists compromised from the beginning with the Nazi regime and now looking for a new virginity in the eyes of the Western Allies and Stalinist Russia?
RED CROSS HOSPITAL, LANDHAUSSTRASSE, WILMERSDORF, 6:32 P.M.
It’s a fact: sometimes a moment is enough. Usually it is a moment that lasts a fraction of time beyond what we expected, and says many things. Or else it suggests just a single, unmistakable thing. Emmy Pletsch looked at Bora as she left the car – with a polite “Thank you for the lift, Lieutenant Colonel” – and something in the way she paused before turning away and reaching the pavement made his heart skip a beat. Bora realized that he held her glance as she was about to turn away, and although he did not intend to let Lattmann play go-between, he betrayed himself by staring at her that one instant longer.
Had Lattmann kept quiet, it wouldn’t have happened. Exchanging glances with women was nothing new, at least ever since Dikta left him. But tonight there was that unexpected crumb of complicity in the way they looked at each other, as if to say: The two of us, among all others in the car, with their banalities, stand apart. How? It did not matter.
Bora was the first to avert his eyes, in his reserved, stern way. He told himself, I will never see her again. The world is full of glances, and this did not differ substantially from all the others. But it did, and suddenly nothing was as before.
No one else noticed, not even Trost. Ybarri helped the SS man climb the hospital steps, while Emmy Pletsch held the door open for them. Already she and Bora were ignoring each other, although he was unexpectedly glad to have her phone number in his pocket. Why? She was neither friendly nor helpful when I asked her to set up an appointment for me, although I do plan to contact Stauffenberg with or without her. What, then? I don’t care for women in uniform, let alone a girl whose lover is halfdead! Reticence, tenderness, the way her mismatched eyes send out different messages … Purely my interpretation. Or is it because Bruno has a point? A point about my sexual needs, and the fact that she won’t wear a uniform in bed. Right. As if she’d go for it. As if there were time enough. Well, there is, for a quickie. There comes a point during a war (and in life, I may add) when, as my stepfather told me once, everything accelerates. Our existence and the events around us accelerate, and so do our responses. Love and hatred develop and grow faster, your needs demand immediate attention, because as a soldier you cannot afford to waste time. I wonder where she lives. No. No. Hold back, Martin. She is a headquarters auxiliary you’re also trying to use to obtain an interview. There’s military etiquette, there are principles. Slam on the brakes.
All Trost saw was a frowning young man who left the back seat and got in next to him. “Where to, Colonel?”
“To drink something cold.”
He’d given up hoping for it, but at his return to the hotel he found a message from Olbertz, setting up an appointment in a small café (La Scala was its name, no less) near Potsdam station. The concierge also informed him that a lady had telephoned, asking for him.
For a moment, Bora thought that it might be Staff Leader Pletsch – and immediately discarded the idea, since she couldn’t have had enough time to set up an appointment for him to see Stauffenberg; besides, he’d never told her where he was billeted. His mother was back in Leipzig and Dikta lived abroad: both would identify themselves when calling. Ida Rüdiger, maybe?
“Did she leave a name, number or address?”
“No, sir. She did say she would call again.”
Bora even imagined a ruse by Salomon, using a female friend to stalk him here, of all the hotels in Berlin. Unlikely – no. He decided not to worry about a female caller for now. He climbed to his room to shower and change his sweaty shirt, careful not to lose at any time sight of the tunic where he kept Niemeyer’s letter. It was, all the same, unthinkable to keep carrying it around in Berlin. Even leaving it in the hotel safe was out of the question. Bora discarded the nooks and crannies in the room that he himself would be the first to search, as he’d done at Kupinsky’s. Doors locked, curtains drawn, he emptied the boxes of mostly useless papers and cuttings from Niemeyer’s house, and laid out the contents on the floor. For days he’d sieved through the material the Kripo had handed over to him, to the point of knowing at a glance what this or that folder contained. It was inside one of several nearly identical sleeves of assorted items that he clipped the letter to a sheaf of innocuous self-promoting fluff.
He then sat for a few minutes at the foot of the bed, tracing with his eyes the pattern of stylized pineapples on the wallpaper. They resembled eyeless, exotic faces with a wild knot of hair on their heads; a strangely calming, blind audience converging where the walls met. Before leaving, he opened the windows wide enough to let the air circulate, but not so wide that they let the evening warmth flow in.
Outside the hotel, Trost was waiting in the car. He jumped out to open the door for his passenger, and when Bora – instead of climbing in – deliberately pushed the door closed, he stood there, half at attention, half slouching. In his inexpressive face, scarred by small blemishes like a teenager’s, his eyes were brown, round like chestnuts, warm for a German. He was dutiful to the point of obstinacy. Hearing Bora’s demand for the keys, he baulked without actually saying no. He’d need permission from half a dozen supervisors, he claimed. At least.
“I was assigned Florian Grimm,” Bora replied, as if speaking of an object handed out to him. “Not you. Until Florian Grimm returns, leave the keys here. Unless you have orders to keep me under observation – which is preposterous, since I am in charge of the investigation. Are there any objections,” he added, “to my use of the car?”
Unconvinced, Trost remained silent. Judging by the oblique look he stole at Bora’s articial hand, perhaps he feared for
“Is that it?” Bora laughed openly, something he seldom did these days. “I perfectly manage driving up and down mountains with my one hand. In comparison, Berlin is child’s play.” There was no way to change Trost’s mind, however, before he’d had a lengthy phone conversation with his Alexanderplatz supervisor. In the end he sulkily relinquished the keys; while he turned the corner to catch the tram, he was still looking over his shoulder.
Bora had his reasons for wanting to take advantage of Grimm’s absence, even if it lasted only ten or twelve hours more. For the moment, he did no more than park the car near the side entrance of the hotel. He chose to walk to the La Scala café, which was near the battered Potsdam train station.
The Magic of Wor(l)ds