Editor’s Note: SOFREP is excited that Kensington Publishing Corp. has chosen us to publish excerpts of the upcoming World War II thriller Dead of Night by bestselling author Simon Scarrow. The book goes on sale to the general public on December 26th, but you get to get a sneak peek here first. Enjoy. –GDM
It was shortly after midday when the door to the Kripo section office opened. Sergeant Hauser looked up as a man in a dark coat hung his hat on the stand inside the entrance. He crossed to the stove in the center of the room and turned to warm his back before nodding a greeting. The sergeant was doing his best to write up some notes while recovering from a gunshot wound to his shoulder. Although it had been a flesh wound, he still wore a sling from time to time when he needed to ease what remained of the pain. Now, he set his pen down.
‘How did it go, sir?’
His superior, Criminal Inspector Horst Schenke, had attended a funeral that morning. Count Anton Harstein and his wife, an elderly couple who had been family friends, had been murdered shortly before Christmas. Thanks to the paperwork associated with the investigation and the delay caused by frozen soil, it had taken five weeks before the bodies could be buried. Count Harstein had once managed the Silver Arrows motor racing team that Schenke had driven for before a crash had ended his racing career and left him with a limp.
After the accident, Schenke had needed a new direction in life and had joined the police.
He took a deep breath. ‘As well as such things can.’
Despite the Harsteins being aristocratic and well-connected, few mourners had turned up to the funeral. Apart from Schenke and his girlfriend, Karin, there had been no more than ten others, including the Harsteins’ son, an army officer who had been given compassionate leave to attend. The bitter winter had kept away most of those who might otherwise have been there, and the priest had stumbled through the service with chattering teeth, somewhat faster than was decent. The murders had cast a pall over what little Christmas cheer there had been, and Schenke was still grieving for them in his private moments. He did not want to give his feelings away.
‘How’s the wound healing?’ he asked Hauser.
‘Slowly enough to save me from household chores.’ Hauser grinned. ‘Helga’s starting to get suspicious, though, so I’m having to show some signs of recovery.’
‘You live dangerously, my friend.’ Schenke had only met Hauser’s wife on a handful of occasions, but that was more than enough to realize that she was formidable. ‘Even without being shot at.’
Both men were quiet for a moment as they recalled the incident at the Abwehr headquarters where Hauser had taken a bullet, then the sergeant turned to a thin man in his mid-twenties sitting at another desk. He had fine white hair over a gaunt, bespectacled face, and unlike the others, he wore no coat but sat in a simple dark suit and tie, apparently oblivious to the cold. He was reading the front page of the Völkischer Beobachternnewspaper. The headline story concerned the gallant resistance of the Finnish army as it held back the Russian invasion and defied the ill-equipped and incompetent legions of Stalin.
Even though a pact had been signed with Russia the previous August, the article was clearly sympathetic to the Finns. Russia put in its place, the headline ran. Schenke wondered how long such a treaty could endure between two nations with such diametrically opposed ideologies. It was odd, Schenke thought
that a very real war was taking place with high numbers of casualties – at least on the Russian side – while the land war Germany was involved in seemed to be little more than an occasional exchange of shots and the dropping of propaganda leaflets since the fall of Poland. Although, like many people, he still hoped for a peaceful resolution, he was beginning to fear that worse was to come.
‘Liebwitz, go and see if the man from the lab has finished examining those ration coupons that came in this morning.’
‘Yes, Sergeant.’ Liebwitz rose quickly and gave a nod before he strode out of the office.
Schenke felt a stab of guilt. Liebwitz had been sent to the Kripo section to assist with the investigation into the killings before Christmas. Recruited into the Gestapo, his stiffly formal attitude had not endeared him to his colleagues, and Schenke suspected that he had been assigned to the Kripo to get him out of the way. Now, he was waiting for official confirmation that his transfer was permanent. The wheels of bureaucracy were turning at their usual glacial pace, so for the moment, Liebwitz was still officially Gestapo, and that made him a target for Hauser, who treated him as the office dogsbody.
‘You could go easy on him,’ Schenke said.
‘He has to pay his dues, like any member of the team.’
‘He has nothing to prove. He’s done a good job.’
‘So far . . .’
Schenke could see that he was not going to shift the sergeant’s feelings towards the new man and looked round the office at the empty desks. ‘Where are the rest of the team this morning?’
‘Frieda and Rosa are interviewing a woman about a domestic assault. Persinger and Hofer are out rounding up a few of the known forgers and fences for interrogation about the fake ration coupons. One of them must know something about it.’
Schenke nodded. Persinger and Hofer were veterans of the police force. Both were big men who had a talent for getting information out of suspects, even without having to resort to violence. There was a no-nonsense demeanor about them that was usefully intimidating. Frieda Echs was in her forties, solid and efficient, with enough lived experience to handle situations sensitively. The section’s other woman, Rosa Mayer, was slim, blonde and striking, and was good at her job and at fending off attempts to flirt with her.
‘Schmidt and Baumer are down at the Alex attending a political education seminar.’
‘I’m sure that will broaden their minds,’ Schenke responded quietly as he considered the political training sessions held at the Alexanderplatz police headquarters. Schmidt and Baumer had joined the force since the Nazis had seized power and were therefore deemed more likely to be responsive to the regime’s propaganda. Hence their summons to the seminar.
Even so, Schenke had sufficient faith in their intelligence and detective training that he was confident they would privately question what they were told. Even though Hauser was a party member, the sergeant similarly had little time for some of the activities of the Nazi Party. The notion that there was an ‘Aryan way’ of conducting criminal investigations struck both men as a ridiculous waste of time.
‘I dare say we’ll be sent for political training at some point.’
Hauser shrugged. ‘No doubt. In the meantime, let’s just do the job, eh, sir?’
There was a subtle warning in the retort to remind Schenke that the occasional critical comment about the party was acceptable but not to push the issue.
About the Author
Simon Scarrow is a Sunday Times No. 1 bestselling author skilled at combining detailed research, fully realized characters, and historical accuracy. His Roman soldier heroes Cato and Macro made their debut in 2000 in Under the Eagle and have subsequently appeared in many bestsellers in the Eagles of the Empire series. He’s written novels on the lives of the Duke of Wellington and Napoleon Bonaparte; a novel about the 1565 Siege of Malta, Sword & Scimitar; Hearts of Stone, set in Greece during the Second World War; and Playing with Death, a contemporary thriller written with Lee Francis.
Pick up your copy of Dead of Night here.