The Lady from Zagreb

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Authors: Philip Kerr
of the villa. Anything at all. I won’t be here, myself. I’m going back to Austria this afternoon.”
    It was the tears, I suppose. A woman cries and it cracks something open inside me, like Rapunzel’s tears, only they were supposed to restore her handsome prince’s sight, not blind him to the risks of snooping around a villa owned by the SS. I should have laughed and told them both to go to hell and walked straight out the door. Instead I thought about it for a moment, which was a mistake; you should always trust your first instincts in these matters. Anyway, I told myself there seemed little risk involved in just poking around a bit when I was at Wannsee and that was all I intended to do. Besides, Frau Minoux looked like she could afford to lose another hundred marks. So what did it matter? I’d make my speech, drink my coffee, steal a few cigarettes, and then leave and neither Frau Minoux nor Dr. Heckholz would be any the wiser.
    “All right. I’ll do it.”
    “Thank you,” she said.
    I stood up and walked to the door.
    “And Arthur Müller?” asked Heckholz. “The private detective? What about him?”
    “You want him to lay off, right?”
    They nodded.
    “Just long enough for me to get my property out of the country,” she said. “Across the border into Switzerland.”
    “Let me take care of it.” I shrugged. “But I get ten percent of whatever payoff I can negotiate.”
    “That’s fair,” said Heckholz.
    I couldn’t help but laugh.
    “What’s so funny?” asked Heckholz.
    “Because fair’s got nothing to do with it,” I said. “That’s a word for children. When are people going to wake up and realize what’s happening in Germany? People like you. Worse than that, what’s happening in the east. In the so-called swamps. In places like Litzmannstadt. Believe me, fair’s got absolutely nothing to do with anything. Not anymore.”

    E arly on the first morning of the conference I took the S-Bahn back to Wannsee and walked to the villa. It was another warm day and by the time I arrived there my white shirt was sticking to my back and I almost wished I had my own staff Mercedes. I was certainly the only officer arriving at the villa who seemed not to have one. Well-polished cars played tag in the driveway, delivering their self-important passengers while, at the back of the house, on a terrace that faced the lake, thirty or forty officers wearing lounge suits and a variety of foreign bandbox uniforms were smoking cigarettes, talking, and drinking cups of coffee. It was all very clubbable and you’d hardly have believed there was a war on.
    In front of the Greek Revival entrance there were flower beds full of blue geraniums. In the conservatory the fountain had been turned back on but someone had thoughtfully removed all copies of
Das Schwarze Korps
from the library, as even a cursory glance through its morbid pages might have encouraged any reader to doubt that Germany was winning the war in the east, as Dr. Goebbels insisted it was.
    On display underneath the curving staircase in the main hall was a bronze of Heydrich’s death mask, which made him seem oddly benign. With eyes closed, his head looked as if it had been on display at the old panopticum in Lindenpassage, or perhaps recovered from the basket under the guillotine at Brandenburg, for display in a glass case at the police museum. On an easel next to the death mask was a large facsimile of the sixty-pfennig stamp featuring a photograph of the death mask that the occupation government planned to use on letters in Bohemia and Moravia, which was a bit like hanging a portrait of Bluebeard in a girls’ school dormitory.
    Staring critically at the mask and the giant stamp was a very tall man and next to him was a junior officer; from the monkey swing on his shoulder I took him to be the taller man’s aide-de-camp. I advanced a short way up the staircase until I was standing immediately above them and, in the vague hope of hearing

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