Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Pale Criminal by Phillip Kerr (Viking Press 1990)

'Thanks. I don't mind if I do.' I swigged a cheekful of the clear grain alcohol thoughtfully provided by the Reichskriminaldirektor, and then took out my cigarettes. After I had lit us both I held the match aloft for a couple of seconds.

'Not an easy place to torch,' I said. 'One man, acting on his own: he'd have to have been a fairly agile sort of bugger. And even then I reckon it would have taken Van der Lubbe all night to get this little campfire blazing.' I sucked at my cigarette and added: 'The word is that Fat Hermann had a hand in it. A hand holding a piece of burning tinder, that is.'

'I'm shocked, shocked to hear you make such a scandalous suggestion about our beloved prime minister.' But Nebe was laughing as he said it. 'Poor old Hermann, getting the unofficial blame like that. Oh, he went along with the arson, but it wasn't his party.'

'Whose was it, then?'

'Joey the Cripp. That poor fucking Dutchman was an added bonus for him. Van der Lubbe had the misfortune to have decided to set fire to this place on the same night as Goebbels and his lads. Joey thought it was his birthday, especially as Lubbe turned out to be a Bolshie. Only he forgot that the arrest of a culprit meant a trial, which meant that there would have to be the irritating formality of producing evidence. And of course right from the start it was obvious to a man with his head in a bag that Lubbe couldn't have acted on his own.'

'So why didn't he say something at the trial?

'They pumped him full of some shit to keep him quiet, threatened his family. You know the sort of thing.' Nebe walked round a huge bronze chandelier that lay twisted on the dirty marble floor. 'Here. I want to show you something.'

He led the way into the great Hall of the Diet, where Germany had last seen some semblance of democracy. Rising high above us was the shell of what had once been the Reichstag's glass dome. Now all the glass was blown out and, against the moon, the copper girders resembled the web of some gigantic spider. Nebe pointed his torch at the scorched, split beams that surrounded the Hall.

No comments: