BERLIN NOCTURNE: PREVIEW

CHAPTER ONE


Loitering in a deserted Berlin square at midnight was a bad idea. Especially for a woman. Katie checked her watch for what felt like the fiftieth time, and resisted the urge to pace. This had been a terrible plan from the beginning. Her contact was twenty minutes late. Something didn’t feel right and she had a bad feeling she may have walked into a trap. It was tempting to take the quickest route out, but she was too exposed out here. She needed to find better cover before she did that.

She sniffed, picking up the scents of stale tobacco, damp wool and cheap perfume drifting on the night air. The square was dark; the inhabitants of the surrounding houses were meticulous in their adherence to the black-out regulations. Not a sliver of light escaped their windows, but the darkness was no obstacle to her acute eyesight. Two bodies stood entwined in the shadowy porch of the building opposite. They were probably clandestine lovers, but what if they were something more sinister? It was time to go.

Katie headed for the narrow alleyway across the square taking brisk, confident, decisive steps. It wouldn’t do to appear furtive. Damp, murky fingers of fog clung to her clothes. The citizens of Berlin would sleep peacefully in their beds tonight because the visibility was too poor for the RAF to send its bombers. The city’s residents thought they were safe, but week after week the bombing got more regular and more accurate. They had been assured by their Reichsmarschall that British bombers couldn’t reach Berlin, and even if they did, the city’s defences would never let them through. How wrong that man had been. Katie wrinkled her nose at the acrid smell of the opera house’s charred remains lingering in the still air. The sharp clip of her high heels echoed as they struck the cobbles. Only a few more feet to go before she reached the shelter of the alleyway then she’d be gone in seconds.

“Halt! Fraulein!”

Katie froze, caught in the beam of a powerful flashlight. Damn, she could make a dash for it, but she might get a bullet in her back. It was probably best to brazen it out. She turned and smiled. “Good evening, gentlemen, can I help you?”

Her German was fluent, but there was no disguising her accent. What bad luck, the two men looked like Gestapo. She should never have come. She should have insisted on meeting the contact at her hotel.

“You are American. Show me your papers.” The man had a moustache and a face like a weasel.

“Of course, I apologize for my accent.” Katie ramped up the charm, dipped into her handbag and handed over her identity papers. Her fingers brushed over the small Beretta she kept for emergencies.

Holding her breath, she smiled at the silent man while Weasel scrutinized her documents. Her passport was genuine, as were the other papers, but the press pass was an expensive forgery. It had never been questioned before, but she had to force herself to remain calm and maintain eye contact. If the worst happened, she could move faster than either of these men could possibly imagine, but if she did that in the middle of this square, she risked certain exposure. It was not a risk she was prepared to take again.

“Why are you in Berlin, Miss Katherine Halvorsen? There are not many of you foreign correspondents left. Even your Mr. Shirer left over three months ago.”

Yes, William Shirer had stayed until December nineteen-forty before the Nazis made it impossible for him to broadcast the truth.

Katie smiled again; it was time to play the feather-brained female. “America is a neutral country, sir. We are not at war with Germany. I am not as important as Mr. Shirer, I merely write articles of interest to women. You know, how the German housewife is coping, that sort of thing. There are many Americans who trace their ancestry to Germany. I myself trace mine to Sweden, as you may note-”

“There are no women’s stories in this square at midnight, Fraulein. Why are you really here? Where do you reside?”

Weasel had eyes like splinters of ice; this was a clumsy attempt to catch her out. Still, it wasn’t all bad news. If they had been following her all evening, they would have intercepted her sooner. Of course, they could have been waiting to discover who she was going to meet.

Katie drew herself up to her full height and assumed her haughtiest expression. “Surely that’s obvious from my papers. The Adlon of course, with all the other foreign journalists. I was supposed to be meeting a gentleman friend, but I’m afraid he stood me up. I got lost in the fog and stopped in the square to get my bearings. Do you think you gentlemen could direct me back towards the Unter den Linden?”

This time, the silent one replied. She didn’t fool him for a moment; this encounter was about to turn ugly. “A likely story. You are a long way from the Adlon, Fraulein, and you have broken the curfew. You are coming with us.”

“I assume you’re going to drop me back at the Adlon? I am an American citizen, if you arrest me, my friends at Pariser Platz will hear about it. I assure you they will not be happy.”

Threatening these men with dire consequences from the American Embassy might work. The Nazis had a well-developed appreciation of hierarchy and power. It wasn’t that being thrown in prison bothered her; no prison on earth could hold one of her kind, but it would be an inconvenience. She would be forced to leave Berlin and how could she help those people then? Or put right the huge mistake she had made.

“Your friends in Pariser Platz will have to find you first. Come, Fraulein Halvorsen, I would like a longer talk with you.” The silent one gripped her arm.

Katie’s mind raced, she had run out of options. She was stronger than both these men combined; hell, she was stronger than five human men. No choice now, time to-

“Katie! Darling, I’m so sorry I’m late. I got held up and couldn’t get away.”

The man’s voice boomed across the square. Katie stared in shock at the soldier marching up to them. He was blonde, extremely tall, and wore the intimidating black uniform of a senior Waffen SS officer. Weasel and Mr. Silent stood to attention and visibly quaked.

“What the hell are you bastards doing with my girlfriend? Take your hands off her this instant.”

The man’s eyes were bright blue and he addressed the two Gestapo men in aristocratic, upper-class German. Katie went rigid as he swept her into his arms then bent and planted a kiss on her mouth. She’d never seen this man before, but she knew instantly this huge, powerful soldier was one of her own kind. She tried to pull away, but his grip was like iron.

“Standartenfuhrer, please forgive us. We had no idea, we thought the American woman was lying. Heil Hitler!” Mr. Silent stammered as his arm shot up in a Nazi salute. Weasel followed suit.

The blonde officer glowered. “How dare you suggest this lady would tell lies? To whom do you report? I’ve a good mind to make a personal complaint to my old friend Heydrich, I wonder what he’s going to make of this?”

Weasel looked as if he was about to have a heart attack and Mr. Silent went white. Everyone was terrified of Reinhard Heydrich, chief of the Gestapo, with good reason.

“I…I am sure that will not be necessary, Standartenfuhrer, we obviously made a mistake. Perhaps we could all forget about this? We were only following orders. We have to be vigilant about foreigners, even Americans. We were doing our patriotic duty and perhaps saving her life? The streets are not safe, there might be an air-raid.”

Mr. Silent was barely five-ten, he must be getting a crick in his neck staring up at the SS officer. The guy was easily six foot seven and looked as if he could snap both men in half without missing a breath. Katie slanted a covert look. Who was he and how did he know her name? The soldier hugged her briefly then let her go and smiled. It transformed his hard, harsh features.

“It is commendable that you are so efficient in carrying out your duties. Perhaps I am being too hasty, gentlemen. The lady can be headstrong, can’t you, my darling? You know what these American women are like. I agree, we should forget all about this.”

The soldier reached out so fast, his hands blurred as he touched the men’s foreheads. “Be on your way, you saw nothing. Nothing happened.”

The Gestapo officers’ eyes turned glassy. They swivelled round as one and melted back into the fog the way they’d come. They’d wake up in a couple of minutes and carry on with what they had been doing before they spotted her. It was time to make a quick exit. Katie took a cautious step and bolted for the alleyway. She had barely entered its narrow confines when the blonde soldier grabbed her arm and tugged.

“Oh no you don’t, Miss Halvorsen. You’ve caused quite enough trouble already. You’re coming with me.”

She didn’t even have time to scream. The soldier’s arms locked around her as they entered the black, swirling vortex between dimensions, and vanished from the alleyway.

 

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