After seeing the mark on the wall this morning, Justine sent Rudi and Louise to Wilma’s for the night. Footsteps came from the stairway. Not the slow cadence that signaled Abraham’s arrival, but like Ari or Ross, climbing energetically as if racing to the top.
For her safety, she retrieved the pistol Ross returned before leaving on his trip. As the caller knocked, she held the gun behind her back as she opened the door a crack to peer out.
Ari grinned. “You had some excitement while I was away.” He held up a sack. “I hope none of your other suitors find this sausage you love. I worry that you won’t have time for me.”
“Is that all your spies are good for?” She set the pistol on the table before taking the bag he held in his hand. “They don’t step in to rescue a damsel in distress?”
He shrugged. “They try to be discrete.” He tossed his cap on the table, then opened a bottle of wine he clutched in the other hand. “Plus, they were afraid if they intervened, that you or the American might mistake them for being part of that gang.”
“That was awful. I forgot children that age could be so vicious.”
“I also understand you have more mouths to feed.”
“Do you remember that boy who stole my food bag that night we first met?”
“Yes, you were too soft with him. He needed a strict lesson.”
“Well, it is him and his sister.”
“How did they end up coming here?”
She told him how the children’s history, including being hunted by the teenagers.
“So now you are an aid organization?”
“No, they are a great help to Wilma, plus I enjoy having them around. I am afraid the boy is terribly infatuated with me. When I am home, he follows me around like a little puppy dog.”
Ari winked. “That must interfere with your love life.”
She paused in cutting the sausage to rap his knuckles with the flat of the knife. “That is none of your business. James enjoys the children. He brings them candy and extra rations. He also brought some extra winter coats for them. But we must cut them down to size for the children. They adore him.”
“Yes. A good Jewish boy.”
“Are you jealous? I thought you were a happily married man, Captain.”
“I am, but when you are on a diet, you may still glance at the menu.”
“According to Abraham, you are not on a diet, your wife is more of a feast.”
“This is true. In fact, I needed to come back to get some rest.”
“You are getting to sound like Abraham. How come he didn’t come along?”
“Things are in a mess right now. He sends his love, but he could not get away tonight.”
She frowned. “What happened?”
“Remember Abba Kovner?”
“Yes, how could one forget? He went along with you to Palestine, didn’t he?” She passed him a plate with sausage slices. “Did he return?”
“No, his plan hit a snag.”
“They arrested him on board the ship on our way back. He is detained in Cairo.”
“I guess I’m glad. It seemed monstrous. Your government approved?”
“He claims that Ben-Gurion would not give his blessing, but others did and gave him the poison. They didn’t find it when they arrested him. I suspect one of his minions dumped it off the ship.”
“So, how does that affect Abraham? I thought he opposed Kovner’s plan.”
“He hopes he can persuade the others to stop plotting this revenge. Go to Palestine, where they might be useful.” Ari shrugged as he picked up a sausage slice. “But they already have something they call a Plan B in the works.”
“What is that?”
“I’m not sure. Hopefully, it is not as monstrous. Oh, I have a letter for you from Hans.” Ari retrieved an envelope from inside his jacket. “He is thriving. A Sergeant already. He trains new arrivals. He said if you come back, you could probably be an officer.” Ari arched an eyebrow. “Perhaps a General.”
“I will read it later.” Justine rose, put the letter in the cupboard before returning to her chair. “What else have you been up to?”
“I asked about these people the Russians are seeking. I didn’t learn a lot about the ones on the last list except the one named Sänger.”
“What was that?”
“Remember, you mentioned that Von Braun fellow?”
“Yes, what about him?”
“Von Braun headed a team that developed some of Hitler’s wonder weapons.”
“You mean like those jets they built at Mauthausen? We blew up one of those on a truck just before the Ami’s came.”
“Not jets, but rockets.”
“Rocket? This was Von Braun?”
“Yes, Sänger and he were rivals. Sänger’s project never really got started before the end.”
“So, do you think all these people the Russians are hunting, and the others are hiding are these scientist fellows and not war criminals or SS?”
“That would make sense. Tension grows between the Russians and the rest of the Allies. Some in Palestine fear another war may erupt here between them.”
Footsteps on the stairway paused their conversation. Wide-eyed, they exchanged glances. As someone knocked on the door, Justine snatched up the pistol before easing toward the door holding the gun at her side.
“Yes?” As she called out, Ari moved to one side of the door, placing himself behind it when it opened.
“Love slave number one reporting for duty! Rolf is standing at attention now, but I am sure you could put him at ease.”
Wide-eyed Ari’s eyes roamed the room, but he chuckled when Justine’s cheeks flushed red as she opened the door, “You fool, I thought you were in Berlin.”
She took his hand and led him into the room. Ross glanced sensing movement behind the door, then did a double-take. His jaw dropped as Ari leaned against the wall.
She pointed with the pistol at Ari, then changed hands. “James, this is Captain Shapiro from … what is the name of your service again?”
“His Majesty’s Eighth Army. Please call me Ari. Justine has told me so much about you. I feel as if I know you already.” Ari extended his hand. “I just returned from Palestine and brought Justine some food and news from friends there.”
“You’re with the Jewish Brigade?” Ross’s brow furrowed as he shook the offered hand with his left hand as he clutched a bag in his right. Ari peered over his shoulder, so Ross turned.
Ari glanced over Ross’s shoulder, frowned. “You mentioned someone named Rolf. Is he downstairs?”
“Oh, that… that’s just a little private joke.” Ross’s cheeks warmed as he shot a glance in Justine’s direction.
“I see.” Ari’s glance in her direction deepened her blush. “It is good that friends share these private things. My wife and I use many little codes over the years. Let’s us communicate special things while others are around.”
“Oh, you brought things too!” Justine reached for Ross’s bag but realizing she still held the pistol, she switched hands.
“I did not expect anyone else. So, when I heard the noise on the stairs, I feared more of those awful boys might be coming.” She rushed to the cupboard and stowed the pistol behind a canister, before scurrying back for Ross’s bag.
“Before I forget, I need to disable the Jeep and bring up the gas can. Pour me a drink, and you can catch me up on everything that is going on.”
After Ross exited, Justine placed her hands on her hips, shook her finger in Ari’s face. “I told you nothing about James.”
“I had to say something. I thought if I said this, he would not be jealous, finding you alone with such a handsome man as myself. Or did you tell him all about me and your Russian friend already?”
“No, I have not told him anything.”
Ari rolled his eyes. “He might understand your involvement with me, but the Russians and the Americans are growing more and more suspicious of each other. You might not let him know about them now or ever.”
Ross returned, the gas can in one hand, and a file folder in the other. He set the can just outside the door, then joined Ari and Justine at the table.
“You brought work with you?” Ari nodded at the folder Ross set on the table.
“It’s a file I picked up in Berlin. I didn’t want to leave it outside. Figured someone might fiddle with it searching for something to pilfer.”
“I thought we had all the files you needed at the Palace?” Justine asked as she set items from Ross’s bag on the table.
“We should. But when I looked for the file on this guy, it didn’t turn up. So, I went to Berlin to see what might be there and found it.”
“This man must be an important criminal for you to go to all that trouble,” Ari said before taking a sip from one of Justine’s jars.
“I don’t know. The guy didn’t seem to be when we initially interrogated him. But now he pops up in strange places,” Ross wondered how much to share, “So, what’s your assignment?”
“As you know, we in Palestine have a real interest in making sure that the persons who butchered our people are brought to justice. I observe what is happening here, and I keep my government current on the actions of the Tribunal.”
“I have heard rumors that your unit also metes out justice on its own.” Ross studied Ari’s reaction.
Ari shrugged. “It happens, but that is not part of my current duties. Besides observing the Tribunal’s work, I also locate displaced Jews and help them emigrate if they desire. Our country needs strong, healthy people to face the problems coming when the British leave. You are Jewish. Have you considered emigrating to our country? We need experienced soldiers. Men and women.”
“Is that why you are here to recruit Justine? She’s a capable soldier.”
“Perhaps later. But right now, she works for me.”
Justine placed her hand on Ari’s “Ari, please, he has no idea.”
He squeezed her hand and continued. “I wanted her to help me find war criminals, so I could also make sure that none escaped. With her position, she would have access to that information. Unfortunately, your records list those already captured and residing in your prison at Langwasser. We want to find the ones still on the loose.”
Ross shrugged. “Just cause we have `em now doesn’t mean they’ll get what they deserve.” He turned to Justine as he continued. “What you said does not surprise or disappoint me. When I met her, she hunted and executed Nazis. I can’t imagine the hurt and anger she still has for these bastards.”
She brushed a tear from her cheek as she gazed into his eyes. She reached across the table, placed her hand on his.
As he returned her gaze Ross continued. “Did you know that when we first met, she had chaperons hiding in the bushes aiming rockets at me? I’m glad she doesn’t use them now.”
She chuckled as she squeezed his hand.
Ari smiled as he shook his head. “I must admit that seems a little extreme even for courting customs in the most conservative Jewish Family.”
Ari rose, slipped on his jacket. “Forgive me, I must leave now.” Bent down, gave Justine a chaste kiss on the cheek. “I enjoyed meeting you, Captain. Perhaps you and Justine will come to our gatherings. It would be nice to see the group grow.”
After a nod to Ross, he exited.
Still holding Ross’s hand, she moved to his lap. “You do not feel that I betrayed you with this work for Ari?” She ran her fingers through his hair. “As he said, I have been little help as all are in the camp except for the ones at Kranesburg Castle.”
“Yes, do you know it? It must be a special place because those that go there have their files removed.”
“I’ve never heard of the place. But nothing surprises me anymore. Look at Mundt.”
“You mean the Camp Commandant?”
“Yes, that one. He’s out of Langwasser, free as a bird and working for Butler upstairs, and he does not appear reformed in the slightest.” He told her about Mundt’s coercion of Zwolf.
“And you say your friend Willi thought Butler may have tried to kill him. So, if you talk to anyone, you might endanger both Willi and Zwolf. What are you going to do?”
“I’m not sure. Bradshaw became concerned about Butler and his people and informed the General. Look what happened to him? After that, General Taylor ordered me to stay away from Butler, so I don’t know if I should take it to him. I thought tracking down that file from Berlin might provide some answers, so tomorrow, I’ll take a good look at it. Might find something there.”
“What did you think of Ari?”
“He is a character. I got a feeling I might like him. This group of his meet often?”
“I think at least once a week. I have only been to one, but we can if you like.” She ruffled his hair. “You know, I was very attracted to him. I might even have tried to seduce him until I found out he was already married. Does that make you jealous?”
“You already warned me about just being a member of your future harem. Besides, this might give me a chance to rest once in a while from your excessive demands.”
“My demands!” He winced as she bounced on his lap. “It seems Herr Rolf demands as well.” As their lips met, Ross scooped her up and carried her to the bed.
In the candlelight, Justine’s skin glowed like gold. Ross brushed the hair back from her sleeping face. Not scheduled to return until tomorrow from Berlin, Ross spent the night. Drowsy from their lovemaking, both had drifted off entwined. Gently, he moved to the side of the bed. After slipping on his trousers, he turned back to make sure she remained covered and warm. He wondered how long they would last. Perfect in every way, his feelings grew. Would it continue in this chaotic world?
Tiptoeing to the table, he poured wine into the jar he drank from earlier and drew the Berlin file to him. Opened, he studied the face of the man stapled to the front. Who are you? Why did they take you out of the camp to sit in the woods?
At the top page, he found Harrison’s report from the interrogation at the camp. He found nothing new. Just another Nazi thug. Next, a copy of the man’s service record. The same SS rank as Mundt, making him equivalent to a Colonel. This man had first seen service in Russia leading a Death Squad Unit, clearing undesirables from the steppes to make room for the Master Race. Promoted for efficiency, he had served at Auschwitz, where he received a medal from Himmler himself for ‘meeting quotas.’ Butchery reduced to accounting terms.
He read it again, but still found nothing that made the man unique enough to justify his removal from Langwasser to live in that fashion. He jumped as she touched his shoulder.
He covered her hand with his as she bent to kiss the top of his head. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to wake you.”
“Is that the file you brought back from Berlin?”
“Yes, I woke up, and I guess my curiosity got the best of me. I just had to look.”
“So, did you discover his big secret?”
“No, just your average swine. Started in Russia running Death Squads, so he should be thankful we got him instead of the Russians. After seeing his file and knowing Mundt is out there walking the streets, I wish I hadn’t caught them before the French took over. Both should clean out minefields.”
Justine now bent low to study the file over his shoulder.
“What did you say his name is?”
Justine recognized the face from a file she photographed for Jovanovich. That file listed his name as Eugen Sänger but telling Ross meant revealing she worked for the Russians. Ross accepted her work for Ari. But the Russians? Ari warned her this might not just lose her job, but also this man she loved more and more each passing day. But for this same reason, she needed to help him.
“I cannot be sure, but I recall seeing this man’s picture before in one of our files.”
“Really? I looked. He’s not there. That’s why I had to go to Berlin.”
“I could ask Major Worth. He might know what happened to the file, and no one would find out you hunt this man.”
“But somehow Butler and his cronies are involved. They removed an American officer and tried to kill a German who stumbled on this. Worth might go to Butler about it, and I don’t know what he might do in your case.”
She recalled her first combat with the Partisans. Before the attack, she shivered even though it had been a warm summer day. At the same time, her mouth went dry, and her palms clutching the gun became damp with sweat. Her mind blank, as her senses aroused to total awareness of her surroundings. The sights, the sounds, the dank forest smells. As she tightened the robe’s sash, those feelings returned. After rising from the table, she moved to the sink. She grasped the tiny flower pot, set it on the window ledge. Ari would know what to do.