- Published: 18 April 2023
- ISBN: 9781761043673
- Imprint: Michael Joseph
- Format: Trade Paperback
- Pages: 528
- RRP: $32.99
The Golden Doves
I wake at dawn, facedown on the sofa, thinking I’m back in Block Ten. The living room window’s open a crack, and another Texas dust storm blows like hell outside, pummeling the room with more sand than dust. I swing my feet to the floor, head pounding. Sixty-five dossier photos taped above the sofa flutter in the wind, and the men look down on me.
Mengele. Von Braun. Speer.
I stand, head for the window, and kick over a half-full beer can. “Shit.”
A gust hits my little shrine on the coffee table, the votive still flickering under my mother’s picture and the photo of Arlette and me, arms linked at liberation. The wind catches my mother’s photo and sails it into the air. I lunge to catch it before it falls, and then set it back in its spot.
I shuffle to the window, sand swirling in the air outside, so thick that the Franklin Mountains in the distance are just blurry mounds. A pigeon sits outside on the sill waiting out the storm. I wave her away and thump the window closed.
The kitchen wall clock reads 6:30 a.m. I’m already late.
Can’t wait to get this over with. Hopefully a routine job. By my rules this time.
I pull on my regulation pinkish skirt, green blouse, and drab field jacket, then slide my silver PPK into my shoulder holster. That simple act calms me, the brown grip the perfect size for my hand. It’s the Nazi police gun I confiscated from the suitcase of an incoming scientist, who swore he didn’t know how it got there.
I stuff a pair of hospital gloves into one pocket, grab the welcome basket, and drive a government-issued jeep past the massive rocket at the entrance that reads welcome to fort bliss: your army anti-aircraft and guided missile center.
I read the latest dossier as I drive. They all had quirks from their intake forms. One bathes obsessively. One masturbates too much. Krupp’s quirk is that he’s fastidious about his clothes and insisted he and his wife, Irma, buy all new luggage for the trip, specifying the exact models of the suitcases. Each new scientist was bound by their contract to declare the contents of each bag, but he’d written a missive on the packed items, down to his ten pairs of undershorts and his wife’s cosmetic collection.
I find 210 Canyon Road, on the outskirts of a Fort Bliss residential neighborhood, a basic El Paso two-bedroom ranch house trying its best to be nondescript. It’s the kind of place where military families come to forget the war and forge blindly into the 1950s with the help of bourbon and barbecue.
Only this is no average family.
I press the doorbell and stand in the stinging wind listening to the Westminster chimes, my palms wet on the cellophane of the basket. I survey the olive branch of a gift the Intake Group has assembled; a cheap woven bowl filled with someone’s idea of foods representing American and German cultures. A can of Spam. Some stollen one of the secretaries baked. Oreo cookies, a bottle of Riesling wine, and a six-pack of Pearl beer.
I go to press the bell again and he opens the door a crack. “Jah?”
Just hearing that accent, my skin tries to crawl off my body. “Open up, Mr. Krupp. It’s Lieutenant Anderson.”
He swings the door wider to reveal Mrs. Krupp and two male children bathed in the yellow light of the foyer.
I consider getting back in the jeep and telling Tony P. to do his own intake from now on. Not that he can ever tell if these criminals are hiding anything. He usually ends up knocking back beers with them after a cursory look in their bags.
“I’m here to do your intake briefing, Mr. Krupp.”
The mother holds her children closer.
He beckons me in. “Guten morgen.”
What would Krupp do if I took my gun and waved it in his face like the Ravensbrück guards used to do to us for fun?
“English only, Mr. Krupp.”
“Please enter,” he says and reaches to guide me in.
I step back. “Don’t touch me, sir.”
It’s the same interior all these houses have, low popcorn ceiling, black iron handrails leading to a sunken living room, the carpet still wearing its vacuum marks. It smells like Pine-Sol and pancakes, and the only object in the room is a low oak cabinet, inset with a television, the green screen like one unblinking eye.
Herr Krupp steps back, wringing his hands. “We haven’t much furniture yet, though we were promised it.”
He looks nothing like his photo from the dossier. He’s at least ten years older, a bit stooped, and has lost the cocky grin of the old Reich days. A flat worm of a saber scar shines along his left cheek. The aristocratic badge of honor, proof he can take the pain. It’s the fashionable accessory that every German fencer longed to collect in great numbers, but Herr Krupp was happy with only one.
Without the SS uniform he’s smaller somehow, but my hands sweat just the same.
Mrs. Krupp is more attractive in person, brunette, and gets points for wearing faux pearls and a petticoated dress at this hour of the morning, after traveling all night. For my benefit? She wears no makeup and looks worried, but she’ll shortly bond with the wives of the other Nazis brought here for the rocket program and will soon be bringing tuna casserole to the potlucks at the pool as they reminisce about how handsome Hitler was.
“What is the purpose of this meeting?” she asks.
“To officially welcome you.” And make sure you haven’t smuggled in half the Reich’s treasury. “You two meet me in the kitchen.”
She clutches the boys closer. “But the children.”
“Do I have to ask you again?”
The two shuffle off, casting back looks, and I pull the Oreos from the welcome basket, take the children to the television, turn it on, and motion for them to sit in front of it.
Crisscross applesauce. They’re becoming American already. I wait for the tube to warm up, and soon the game show Winner Take All appears with Bill Cullen wearing a striped tie.
“Do you want to be a winner?” the announcer shouts, and the audience claps.
A chiropractor from Grand Rapids has just won a generous supply of Prom home permanent and a $250 U.S. defense bond.
The younger boy looks up at me, tears in his blue eyes.
They’re so young and scared. It’s not their fault their father is a murderer.
I hand him the package. “Go ahead,” I say in German. “Open the cookies.”
Welcome basket in hand, I head for the kitchen, where the Krupps wait under bright fluorescent lights, giving them both a hollowed-out look as they sit at their new cherry-red table and pleather upholstered chairs. Their luggage is stacked against the wall, and on the refrigerator someone has trapped a postcard under a grinning sun face magnet that reads Welcome to El Paso! A plate of pancakes the cafeteria must have sent over sits on the counter, untouched. Mr. Krupp crosses his legs, arms folded across his chest.
I lob the beer into the fridge, lean against the counter, and read his folder. “Ah, I see. One of the good Nazis. So, they’ve made you a glowing résumé. This is what you call a Persilscheine, isn’t it, Mr. Krupp?”
He looks out the window. They’re always astonished they’ve been accused of doing anything wrong.
“What’s that word mean, Mr. Krupp?”
“That’s right. It’s cleaned you up well. Says here you worked on a farm. Were pressed against your will to support Hitler. I think your past needed a good bit of cleaning, didn’t it? Luckily, we have some additional reports on you.”
“I am the victim here.”
I take up my clipboard. “Name?”
“Please, can we do this another time?” Krupp asks. “We’ve only just arrived, and my wife is tired from the long journey. She is not happy with the degrading medical examination she was forced to have upon arrival last night. And she thinks the milk is not fresh.”
“List any medals you have received in the service to your country.”
“Not even the War Merit Cross? No Art and Science award?”
He runs his fingers through his hair. “Absolutely not.”
“Last place of employment?”
He hesitates and glances about the kitchen.
I hover my pen above the space. “Let’s just say the Reich.” I fill in the blank with a swastika. “And where were you employed by the Reich, Mr. Krupp?”
“Outside of Bonn. At IG Farben.”
“In what capacity?”
“In the household products division. Soaps for the housewife.”
“Did you visit any concentration camps?”
“Very infrequently. And only when ordered.”
“Says here you often visited the IG Farben facility named IG Auschwitz. Buchenwald, too.”
“I called upon certain places as a salesman.”
“I see. And your visits to the camps had nothing to do with distributing Zyklon-B? Demonstrating its use?”
He frowns. “Oh, no.”
I turn to Mrs. Krupp. “Do you know what that is, Mrs. Krupp? Zyklon-B?”
She shakes her head.
“It is a cyanide-based pesticide used at Nazi concentration camps to murder prisoners. It says here, your husband was second-in command to the guy who ran that part of the company.”
She looks away.
“But here you are, Mr. Krupp. On Canyon Road in your new kitchen. Last question. Have you in your possession any cash, securities, or valuables not declared on form twenty-one ten?”
“There are so many forms.” Sweat appears on his upper lip.
“Have you in your possession— ”
“English, Mr. Krupp.”
He reaches toward me. “Can’t you— ”
I step back. “Do not touch me. I won’t say it again.”
I toss the clipboard onto the table. It lands with a clatter that startles them both, and then I step to the pile of suitcases. Each piece of brand-new Samsonite navy blue luggage wears a red paper tag, BAGGAGE INSPECTED printed in black.
I snap on the gloves. “Nice new suitcases. No traveling light for you.”
Krupp sits a little straighter. “They’ve already searched our luggage.”
I reach behind the pile, pull out an untagged cosmetic case, and heave it onto the table. “What about this one?”
The fluorescent lights overhead shine on the sweat beaded on Krupp’s forehead. “It contains my wife’s personal items.”
I turn to her. “Well, you don’t mind if a fellow female takes a look, do you?”
She meets my gaze, remarkably composed.
I try to lift it from the table. “This seems much too heavy, Mrs. Krupp. A naturally pretty lady like you doesn’t need so many cosmetics. What would the Führer say?”
I open the case, flip open my penknife, and Mrs. Krupp gasps.
Mr. Krupp stands. “Is this necessary? I’ve been brought here by the U.S. Army. I demand to see your superior.”
“Sit down, Mr. Krupp.”
He sits as I shove aside the jars and bottles and slit the satin bottom of the case. I reach in, a thrum of pleasure running through me, as my fingers breach a layer of cotton and find the unmistakable feeling of pebbled cowhide. I pull out a red leather box, a Nazi swastika and eagle embossed on the cover in gold. Inside, nestled in the purple velvet, rests a silver starburst with an inner band of good-sized diamonds at the center, and a red-enameled plaque superimposed with the golden head of Athena.
The Art and Science award.
I’m at once overwhelmed with the beauty and repulsed to see it in the flesh. No wonder Albert Speer wanted this one.
I hold it, heavy in my palm. “They say the recipient had to wear a special mount to support the weight.”
Mrs. Krupp speaks up. “We wouldn’t know.”
“Platinum, am I right? This could have gotten you all the way to South America.”
It gleams in the light, reflecting my face in the gold of Athena’s helmet.
I turn to Krupp. “Why did Hitler institute this award?”
He looks away.
“It was meant to replace the Nobel Prize, was it not? And what did Hitler call the Nobel?”
“I don’t— ”
Krupp lifts his chin but keeps his eyes averted. “He called it a Jew prize.”
“There you go. And he was so thin-skinned, when a German pacifist won it, he threw him in a concentration camp and declared no German could accept the Nobel again. Only this prize. Am I right?”
Krupp stares at me, unblinking.
“Were you awarded this, or just pick it off some dead friend?”
“I don’t know where it came from. My wife borrowed that case.”
I set the award back in the box. “You can quit the act. I know you supervised the delivery of Zyklon-B to every one of Hitler’s concentration camps personally. Demonstrated its use with human subjects. I have the paper trail.”
The wife makes a choking sound and clutches her pearls.
“If I were in charge you’d be hanging at the end of a rope. But you’re here now, and starting today, when you report to Area C, you’d better start coughing up whatever sciencey state secrets you allegedly have, and more info on your scientist pals, or it’s back to the fatherland you go to stand trial.”
I stash the box in my bag and start off toward the door but turn back.
“Before I go, I’m curious, Mr. Krupp. When you were at Buchenwald, did you see what was written on the gates there, at the entrance? The German phrase facing inside the camp so the prisoners could read it?”
He shakes his head.
“Jedem das Seine. Can you tell me what that means?”
“We are very tired—”
“Tell me, Mr. Krupp.”
In the living room Bill Cullen laughs, and the audience applauds.
“One might say it means, ‘Everyone gets what they deserve.’ ”
“That’s right, Mr. Krupp. Do you think that’s what you got? What you deserve? Mrs. Krupp?”
They both stare back at me, unblinking.
I head out. “No need to see me to the door. And by the way, the milk is fresh. Army personnel just stocked it last night.”
“Jüdischer Hund,” the wife says, under her breath.
I turn to her. “What did you say?”
She looks away.
I go back and snatch the six-pack from the fridge.
“I was going to recommend they go easy on you for smuggling that award in here, on account of your children. But those kids are better off without you murderers, and I’ll make sure my boss knows what you tried here.”
I need air and hurry out the way I came, past the boys still watching television, Oreos unopened, and head out the door. Would Karl punish these two? Probably not. He’d looked past much worse to get scientists for this program. But at least someone has held them accountable.
En route to my office in the jeep, sand collecting on the windshield wipers, I crack open a Pearl, down it, and then a second. Just another Texas breakfast.
No one suspected the blond boy’s cargo as he drove his crude pony cart through the streets of Charleston.
I only put the centipede in Eliza’s slipper since I thought she was stealing my sister Sofya from me. I was eight years old and had just lost my mother. I couldn’t lose Sofya, too.
If I’d known I was about to meet the man who’d shatter me like bone china on terra-cotta, I would have slept in. Instead, I roused our florist, Mr. Sitwell, from his bed to make a boutonnière. My first consulate gala was no time to stand on ceremony.
Grunting, sullen, in spumes of leaden smoke, the black Daimler with diplomatic number plate noses onto Via Diciannove, beads of sleet fizzling on its hood.
Yia-Yia knew many stories of gods and heroes, giants and nymphs, and the Three Fates who spun and measured and cut the thread of life.
Cristabel picks up the stick. It fits well in her hand. She is in the garden, waiting with the rest of the household for her father to return with her new mother.
As the new year of 1910 moved closer to its second month, the world marvelled that there had been so few deaths in Paris when the River Seine rose more than eight metres and flooded the city.
The dust of mountain flowers lay thick on the air, like perfume or boiled varnish.
The agent, unlike the soldier, who has many friends, is surrounded by enemies, seen and unseen.
This incredible story was related by Lance Corporal Sidney Reed, who was a prisoner of the Nazis during the Second World War at Lamsdorf, Stalag VIIIB / 344, in Poland, and at the labour camp E166 at Saubsdorf quarry, Czechoslovakia.