Ostland Online - David Thomas


Ludwigsburg, West Germany: 23 July 1959

The police chief was naked when they came to arrest him.

‘Well, we got him,’ said Max Kraus, appearing at the office door, his massive figure filling the entire frame. The three investigators waiting for the news responded with a mixture of genuine enthusiasm and semi-sarcastic applause. It was a hot summer’s day, so all the windows were open, but Kraus had no trouble making himself heard over the sounds coming in from the street outside: the chatter of the passers-by, the clacking of heels on the pavement and the rumbling of all the new Mercedes, Opels and Volkswagens produced by a miraculously reborn economy. Somewhere in the distance a radio was playing Elvis Presley singing ‘A Fool Such As I’. Presley himself was just a couple of hundred kilometres away in Friedberg, serving as an armoured recon scout in the US army. Fifteen years earlier Uncle Sam had sent his finest young men to invade Germany. Now he sent them to defend it.

‘Took their time,’ muttered one of the investigators, a paunchy, middle-aged man called Andreas Becker. He stubbed his cigarette out with a lazy stab that suggested, accurately, that he was hardly a man to rush things himself. Eight days had gone by since the arrest warrant was issued, but it had taken a full week for the authorities in Rhineland-Pfalz to accept that they had to seize their own chief of detectives. Most of the people making the decision knew him personally, and there had never been anything in his behaviour, whether personal or professional, to suggest the slightest impropriety. But the weight of evidence was undeniable and so with heavy hearts they’d given their approval.

‘Better late than never,’ Kraus said, as if it were all the same to him, though all his staff knew that he had been the driving force in the investigation, forcing it through the barriers of official indifference, scepticism and outright opposition with a mental rigour that could be as overpowering as his physical impact.

‘So where did they find the Beagle, anyway?’ Becker asked. The police chief had been given his canine nickname by his own detectives as a tribute to his uncanny nose for crime. Kraus and his team had picked it up as a way of referring to their target without alerting anyone that he was under suspicion. Even when the need for a codename had passed, they often still called him Beagle out of sheer force of habit.

‘On holiday in Bad Orb,’ Kraus replied.

‘Very gemütlich!’ said another of the investigators, Florian Wessel. He was even older than Becker and this backwater posting was his last before retirement.

‘Oh really, is it nice?’ asked Paula Siebert. The only woman on the team, and much its youngest member, she’d passed the same law exams as Becker and Wessel; her business cards clearly gave her status as Dr Siebert; and she was just as competent, just as ambitious and much harder-working than either of her colleagues. But no matter how many of those cards she handed out, the concept of a female lawyer was still so hard for most people to grasp that she regularly found herself being called ‘my dear’ or even ‘darling’ as she was asked to fetch the coffee and biscuits. And when she put questions to witnesses she was often greeted with absolute incredulity, as if the only possible reason for her presence at an interview was to take shorthand notes.

‘Did you know that German women have been allowed to practise law since 1922? That’s almost forty years ago!’ she’d said to Kraus after one particularly infuriating encounter.

‘Yes, but men have been lawyers since Roman times. You can’t expect people to change overnight.’

‘It’s just so frustrating sometimes. Even my mother keeps telling me I should give up and find a nice husband. “Your looks won’t last for ever, Paula. And no man wants a woman who cares more about her stupid little job than making him happy.” Ach!’

Kraus laughed. ‘Well, I can’t help you find a husband. Or deal with your mother … But I do know how good you are at your job, and I’m your boss. So forget what anyone else says, that’s what matters.’

Paula hoped he was right, but now she was cursing herself. Here they were discussing the arrest of a major suspect and the first thing she asked about was his choice of holiday resort. Little things like that only confirmed people’s worst prejudices about empty-headed females.

‘Bad Orb?’ said Wessel, who