March violets, p.1

March Violets, page 1

 

March Violets



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March Violets


  Table of Contents

  Title Page

  Copyright Page

  Dedication

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  PENGUIN BOOKS

  MARCH VIOLETS

  Philip Kerr was born in Edinburgh in 1956 and lives in London. As a journalist he has written for a number of newspapers and magazines, including The Sunday Times and the New Statesman. He is the author of the novels March Violets, The Pale Criminal, and A German Requiem (published together as Berlin Noir). He is also the author of A Philosophical Investigation, Dead Meat, Gridiron, Esau, A Five-Year Plan, The Shot, The Second Angel, and Dark Matter, and he has edited The Penguin Book of Lies and The Penguin Book of Fights, Feuds, and Heartfelt Hatreds.

  PENGUIN BOOKS

  Published by the Penguin Group

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  Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R ORL, England

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  Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

  First published in the United States of America by Viking 1989

  Published in Penguin Books 2004

  Copyright © Philip Kerr, 1989

  All rights reserved

  LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING IN PUBLICATION DATA

  Kerr, Philip.

  March violets / Philip Kerr.

  p. cm.

  ISBN : 978-1-101-57592-5

  1. Gunther, Bernhard (Fictitious character) — Fiction. 2. Private investigators —

  Germany — Berlin — Fiction. 3. Berlin (Germany) — Fiction. I. Title.

  PR6061.E784M37 2004

  823’.914 — dc22 2004044275

  The scanning, uploading and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

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  For my mother

  BERLIN, 1936

  FIRST MAN: Have you noticed how the March Violets have managed to completely overtake Party veterans like you and me?

  SECOND MAN: You’re right. Perhaps if Hitler had also waited a little before climbing on to the Nazi bandwagon he’d have become Führer quicker too.

  Schwarze Korps, November 1935

  1

  Stranger things happen in the dark dreams of the Great Persuader . . .

  This morning, at the corner of Friedrichstrasse and Jäger-strasse, I saw two men, S A men, unscrewing a red Der Stürmer showcase from the wall of a building. Der Stürmer is the anti-Semitic journal that’s run by the Reich’s leading Jew-baiter, Julius Streicher. The visual impact of these display cases, with their semi-pornographic line-drawings of Aryan maids in the voluptuous embraces of long-nosed monsters, tends to attract the weaker-minded reader, providing him with cursory titillation. Respectable people have nothing to do with it. Anyway, the two SA men placed the Stürmerkästen in the back of their lorry next to several others. They did their work none too carefully, because there were at least a couple which had broken glass covers.

  An hour later I saw the same two men removing another one of these Stürmerkästen from outside a tram-stop in front of the Town Hall. This time I went up to them and asked what they were doing.

  ‘It’s for the Olympiad,’ said one. ‘We’re ordered to take them all down so as not to shock the foreign visitors who will be coming to Berlin to see the Games.’

  In my experience, such sensitivity on the part of the authorities is unheard of.

  I drove home in my car - it’s an old black Hanomag - and changed into my last good suit: made of light-grey flannel cloth, it cost me 120 marks when I bought it three years ago, and it is of a quality that is becoming increasingly rare in this country; like butter, coffee and soap, new wool material is ersatz, more often than not. The new material is serviceable enough, all right, just not very hard-wearing, and rather ineffective when it comes to keeping out the cold in winter. Or, for that matter, in summer.

  I checked my appearance in the bedroom mirror and then picked up my best hat. It’s a wide-brimmed hat of dark-grey felt, and is encircled by a black barathea band. Common enough. But like the Gestapo, I wear my hat differently from other men, with the brim lower in front than at the back. This has the effect of hiding my eyes of course, which makes it more difficult for people to recognize me. It’s a style that originated with the Berlin Criminal Police, the Kripo, which is where I acquired it.

  I slipped a packet of Murattis into my jacket pocket, and, tucking a gift-wrapped piece of Rosenthal porcelain carefully under my arm, I went out.

  The wedding took place at the Luther Kirche on Dennewitz Platz, just south of Potsdamer Railway Station, and a stone’s throw from the home of the bride’s parents. The father, Herr Lehmann was an engine driver out of Lehrter Station, and drove the ‘D-Zug’, the express train, to Hamburg and back four times a week. The bride, Dagmarr, was my secretary, and I had no idea what I was going to do without her. Not that I cared to know, either: I’d often thought of marrying Dagmarr myself. She was pretty and good at organizing me, and in my own odd way I suppose that I loved her; but then at thirty-eight I was probably too old for her, and maybe just a shade too dull. I’m not much given to having a wild time, and Dagmarr was the sort of girl who deserved some fun.

  So here she was, marrying this flyer. And on the face of it he was everything that a girl could have wished for: he was young, handsome and, in the grey-blue uniform of the National Socialist Flying Corps, he looked to be the epitome of the dashing young Aryan male. But I was disappointed when I met him at the wedding reception. Like most Party members, Johannes Buerckel had the look and the air of a man who took himself very seriously indeed.

  It was Dagmarr who made the introduction. Johannes, true to type, brought his heels together with a loud click and bowed his head curtly before shaking my hand.

  ‘Congratulations,’ I said to him. ‘You’re a very fortunate fellow. I’d have asked her to marry me, only I don’t think I look as good as you in uniform.’

  I took a closer look at his uniform: on the left breast-pocket he wore the silver SA Sports Badge and the Pilots Badge; above these two decorations was the ubiquitous ‘Scary’ Badge — the Party Badge; and on his left arm he wore the swastika armband. ‘Dagmarr told me you were a pilot with Lufthansa on temporary attachment to the Ministry of Aviation, but I had no idea . . . What did you say he was, Dagmarr?’

  ‘A Sports Flyer.’

  ‘Yes, that’s it. A Sports Flyer. Well, I had no idea you fellows were in uniform.’

  Of course it didn
t take a detective to work out that ‘Sports Flyer’ was one of those fancy Reich euphemisms, and that this particular one related to the secret training of fighter pilots.

  ‘He does look splendid, doesn’t he?’ said Dagmarr.

  ‘And you look beautiful, my dear,’ cooed the groom dutifully.

  ‘Forgive me for asking, Johannes, but is Germany’s air force now to be officially recognized?’ I said.

  ‘Flying Corps,’ said Buerckel. ‘It’s a Flying Corps.’ But that was the whole of his answer. ‘And you, Herr Gunther - a private detective, eh? That must be interesting.’

  ‘Private investigator,’ I said, correcting him. ‘It has its moments.’

  ‘What sort of things do you investigate?’

  ‘Almost anything, except divorce. People act funny when they’re being cheated by their wives or their husbands, or when they’re the ones doing the cheating. I was once engaged by a woman to tell her husband that she was planning to leave him. She was afraid he’d pop her. So I told him, and, what do you know, the son of a bitch tried to pop me. I spent three weeks in St Gertrauden Hospital with my neck in a brace. That finished me with matrimonial work permanently. These days I do anything from insurance investigations to guarding wedding presents to finding missing persons — that’s the ones the police don’t already know about, as well as the ones they do. Yes, that’s one area of my business that’s seen a real improvement since the National Socialists took power.’ I smiled as affably as I could, and wiggled my eyebrows suggestively. ‘I guess we’ve all done well out of National Socialism, haven’t we? Proper little March Violets.’

  ‘You mustn’t take any notice of Bernhard,’ said Dagmarr. ‘He has an odd sense of humour.’ I would have said more, but the band started to play and Dagmarr wisely led Buerckel on to the dance-floor, where they were applauded warmly.

  Bored with the sekt that was on offer, I went into the bar in search of a real drink. I ordered a Bock and a Klares chaser, which is a shot of the clear, colourless potato-based alcohol I have a taste for, and I drank these fairly quickly and ordered the same again.

  ‘Thirsty work, weddings,’ said the little man next to me: it was Dagmarr’s father. He turned his back to the bar and watched his daughter proudly. ‘Looks a proper picture, doesn’t she, Herr Gunther?’

  ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do without her,’ I said. ‘Perhaps you can persuade her to change her mind and stay on with me. I’m sure they must need the money. Young couples always need money when they first marry.’

  Herr Lehmann shook his head. ‘I’m afraid that there is only one kind of labour for which Johannes and his National Socialist government think a woman is qualified, and that’s the kind she has at the end of a nine-month term.’ He lit his pipe and puffed philosophically. ‘Anyway,’ he said. ‘I suppose they’ll be applying for one of those Reich Marriage Loans, and that would stop her from working, wouldn’t it?’

  ‘Yes, I suppose you’re right,’ I said, and downed the chaser. I saw his face say that he never had me marked as a drunk and so I said, ‘Don’t let this stuff fool you, Herr Lehmann. I just use it as a mouthwash, only I’m too damned lazy to spit the stuff out.’ He chuckled at that, and slapped me on the back and ordered us two large ones. We drank those and I asked him where the happy couple were going on their sparkle.

  ‘To the Rhine,’ he said. ‘Wiesbaden. Frau Lehmann and myself went to Königstein for ours. It’s a lovely part of the world. He’s not long back, though, and then he’s off on some Strength Through Joy trip, courtesy of the Reich Labour Service.’

  ‘Oh? Where to?’

  ‘Mediterranean.’

  ‘You believe that?’

  The old man frowned. ‘No,’ he said grimly. ‘I haven’t mentioned it to Dagmarr, but I reckon he’s off to Spain . . .’

  ‘. . . and war.’

  ‘And war, yes. Mussolini has helped Franco, so Hitler’s not going to miss out on the fun, is he? He won’t be happy until he’s got us into another bloody war.’

  After that we drank some more, and later on I found myself dancing with a nice little stocking-buyer from Grunfeld’s Department Store. Her name was Carola and I persuaded her to leave with me and we went over to Dagmarr and Buerckel to wish them luck. It was rather odd, I thought, that Buerckel should choose that moment to make a reference to my war record.

  ‘Dagmarr tells me that you were on the Turkish front.’ Was he, I wondered, a little bit worried about going to Spain? ‘And that you won an Iron Cross.’

  I shrugged. ‘Only a second class.’ So that was it, I thought; the flyer was hungry for glory.

  ‘Nevertheless,’ he said, ‘an Iron Cross. The Führer’s Iron Cross was a second class.’

  ‘Well, I can’t speak for him, but my own recollection is that provided a soldier was honest — comparatively honest - and served at the front, it was really rather easy towards the end of the war to collect a second class. You know, most of the first-class medals were awarded to men in cemeteries. I got my Iron Cross for staying out of trouble.’ I was warming to my subject. ‘Who knows,’ I said. ‘If things work out, you might collect one yourself. It would look nice on a handsome tunic like that.’

  The muscles in Buerckel’s lean young face tightened. He bent forwards and caught the smell of my breath.

  ‘You’re drunk,’ he said.

  ‘Si,’ I said. Unsteady on my feet, I turned away. ‘Adios, hombre.’

  2

  It was late, gone one o’clock, when finally I drove back to my apartment in Trautenaustrasse, which is in Wilmersdorf, a modest neighbourhood, but still a lot better than Wedding, the district of Berlin in which I grew up. The street itself runs north-east from Guntzelstrasse past Nikolsburger Platz, where there is a scenic sort of fountain in the middle of the square. I lived, not uncomfortably, at the Prager Platz end.

  Ashamed of myself for having teased Buerckel in front of Dagmarr, and for the liberties I had taken with Carola the stocking-buyer in the Tiergarten near the goldfish pond, I sat in my car and smoked a cigarette thoughtfully. I had to admit to myself that I had been more affected by Dagmarr’s wedding than previously I would have thought possible. I could see there was nothing to be gained by brooding about it. I didn’t think that I could forget her, but it was a safe bet that I could find lots of ways to take my mind off her.

  It was only when I got out of the car that I noticed the large dark-blue Mercedes convertible parked about twenty metres down the street, and the two men who were leaning on it, waiting for someone. I braced myself as one of the men threw away his cigarette and walked quickly towards me. As he drew nearer I could see that he was too well-groomed to be Gestapo and that the other one was wearing a chauffeur’s uniform, although he would have looked a lot more comfortable in a leopard-skin leotard, with his music-hall weightlifter’s build. His less than discreet presence lent the well-dressed and younger man an obvious confidence.

  ‘Herr Gunther? Are you Herr Bernhard Gunther?’ He stopped in front of me and I shot him my toughest look, the sort that would make a bear blink: I don’t care for people who solicit me outside my house at one in the morning.

  ‘I’m his brother. He’s out of town right now.’ The man smiled broadly. He didn’t buy that.

  ‘Herr Gunther, the private investigator? My employer would like a word with you.’ He pointed at the big Mercedes. ‘He’s waiting in the car. I spoke to the concierge and she told me that you were expected back this evening. That was three hours ago, so you can see we’ve been waiting quite some time. It really is very urgent.’

  I lifted my wrist and flicked my eyes at my watch.

  ‘Friend, it’s 1.40 in the morning, so whatever it is you’re selling, I’m not interested. I’m tired and I’m drunk and I want to go to bed. I’ve got an office on Alexanderplatz, so do me a favour and leave it till tomorrow.’

  The young man, a pleasant, fresh-faced fellow with a buttonhole, blocked my path. ‘It can’t wait until tomorrow,’
he said, and then smiled winningly. ‘Please speak to him, just for a minute, I beg you.’

  ‘Speak to whom?’ I growled, looking over at the car.

  ‘Here’s his card.’ He handed it over and I stared stupidly at it like it was a winning raffle-ticket. He leaned over and read it for me, upside-down. “‘Dr Fritz Schemm, German Lawyer, of Schemm & Schellenberg, Unter den Linden, Number 67.” That’s a good address.’

  ‘Sure it is,’ I said. ‘But a lawyer out at this time of night and from a smart firm like that? You must think I believe in fairies.’ But I followed him to the car anyway. The chauffeur opened the door. Keeping one foot on the running board, I peered inside. A man smelling of cologne leaned forward, his features hidden in the shadows, and when he spoke, his voice was cold and inhospitable, like someone straining on a toilet-bowl.

  ‘You’re Gunther, the detective?’

  ‘That’s right,’ I said, ‘and you must be -’ I pretended to read his business card, ‘ — Dr Fritz Schemm, German Lawyer.’ I uttered the word ‘German’ with a deliberately sarcastic emphasis. I’ve always hated it on business cards and signs because of the implication of racial respectability; and even more so now that — at least as far as lawyers are concerned - it is quite redundant, since Jews are forbidden to practise law anyway. I would no more describe myself as a ‘German Private Investigator’ than I would call myself a ‘Lutheran Private Investigator’ or an ‘Antisocial Private Investigator’ or a ‘Widowed Private Investigator’, even though I am, or was at one time, all of these things (these days I’m not often seen in church). It’s true that a lot of my clients are Jews. Their business is very profitable (they pay on the nail), and it’s always the same - Missing Persons. The results are pretty much the same too: a body dumped in the Landwehr Canal courtesy of the Gestapo or the SA; a lonely suicide in a rowboat on the Wannsee; or a name on a police list of convicts sent to a KZ, a Concentration Camp. So right away I didn’t like this lawyer, this German Lawyer.

 
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