Authors: Michael Slade
|Special X |
|2005 : Canada|
Swastika and Aryan believe they are acting as cleansers of
society-necessary evils to empower a new master race. But there's still
one secret about them no one knows. When an elite team of investigators
is assigned to hunt them down, they stumble upon a terrifying government
conspiracy-and a mystery buried in the ashes of World War II-era
Criminal lawyer MICHAEL SLADE has acted in over one hundred murder cases. His specialty is the law of insanity. He argued the last death penalty case in Canada’s highest court. Backed by his forensic experience, Slade’s Special X and Wyatt Rook thrillers fuse the genres of police and legal procedure, whodunit and impossible crime, suspense, history, and horror. Slade was guest of honor at both the Bloody Words crime convention and the World Horror Convention. As
puts it, “A thin line separates crime and horror, and in Michael Slade’s thrillers, the demarcation vanishes altogether.” Slade was guest speaker at the international Police Leadership Conference and several RCMP regimental dinners. As
puts it, “The Slade books have developed a strong following among police officers because of their strict adherence to proper police procedure.” For the stories behind his plots, visit Slade’s Morgue at
Also by Michael Slade
Bed of Nails
All Rights Reserved © 2005 by HEADHUNTER HOLDINGS LTD.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping, or by any information storage or retrieval system, without the written permission of the publisher.
Published by Headhunter Holdings Ltd.
Originally published by Penguin Canada.
Publisher’s note: This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
In memory of Flight Lieutenant Jack “Johnny” Clarke, who flew forty-seven combat missions against the Swastika in Europe and North Africa, 1941-42. He then trained pilots in the group that attacked SS-Sturmbannführer Wernher von Braun’s V-2 rocket complex at Peenemünde on August 17-18, 1943.
Rem Acu Tangere
Under conditions of peace,
the warlike man attacks himself.
April 3, 1945
The swastika crouched on the armband of SS-General Ernst Streicher’s Nazi uniform like a crooked-legged spider at the center of its web. The uniform was midnight black, broken only by silver braids, Schutzstaffel emblems, and the striking brassard of the Nazi Party on the upper left sleeve. Bordered by a black tress at top and bottom, to signify the SS—Hitler’s Black Corps—the armband was as red as the German blood currently saturating the soil of the Fatherland. A circle of Aryan white on the red band backed the black spider.
Stomp, stomp, stomp …
The heels of Streicher’s jackboots echoed down the hall.
The uniform was the man in Hitler’s Third Reich, and Streicher took great care to ensure that his appearance was impeccable. Black riding breeches, flared at both thighs, were tucked into his knee-high boots. The single-breasted black tunic, with its four silver buttons and flapped pockets, was cinched in a black leather belt with a round swastika buckle. Holstered on his hip was a 7.65 mm Walther PPK. The SS-Obergruppenführer’s rank was signified by his collar patches: three oak leaves on black velvet with two pips. The open collar at his throat flaunted the Knight’s Cross, the highest German decoration for valor. On the band of his black, peaked, high-front cap glittered the
, the silver skull and crossbones that denoted the SS Death’s Head. Hand-tailored by captives in the concentration camps he ran, this uniform was as pristine as it was feared. Streicher had had the Polish slave who’d sewed the swastika armband crookedly on his sleeve publicly hanged in the yard at Dora-Mittelbau.
Clomp, clomp, clomp …
Lesser footfalls mimicked the stomping boots.
The Nazi general was flanked by his teenage sons. Fritz, fifteen, and Hans, fourteen, boasted the same Nordic blond hair and icy blue squints as their father. Seemingly parading their hardiness in the teeth of bitter April, both boys proudly wore the summer uniform of the Hitler Youth: a small-peaked cap with the Hitlerjugend badge on the front, and the brown shirt, black tie, black shorts, calf-high socks, and shoes inspired by the Brownshirt thugs of the Nazis’ rise to power. The brassard on each of their left biceps bore the swastika in a horizontal white stripe. A leather strap crossed each lad’s chest from the right shoulder to the left hip, where Fritz and Hans Streicher sheathed their Hitler Youth daggers. Each blade was inscribed in German with the motto
“Blut und Ehre”—
“Blood and honor.”
Stomp, stomp, stomp …
Clomp, clomp, clomp …
Father and sons strode in lockstep through the bowels of the New Reich Chancellery toward the
On January 16, Hitler had gone underground in downtown Berlin, never to see a sunrise or sunset again. Inexorably, the war he had created was grinding to a close, while day and night the Allies steadily pulverized the Nazi capital with saturation-bombing raids. By sunlight, American Liberators and Flying Fortresses unleashed their rain of death upon those cowering below. Ninety percent of the city was flattened, and groggy Berliners struggled to survive in hovels of crumbling rubble. By moonlight, British Lancasters and Halifaxes droned above, preparing to drop their incendiaries on the heart of Hitler’s Third Reich. Firestorms raged with such ferocity that they sucked people off the street and into the hellish flames. Everything—trees, rivers, asphalt, lakes—was ablaze, as the phosphorous maelstrom reduced the city to a molten morass. Meanwhile, unknown to all but those in his inner circle, the führer commanded the defense of the Fatherland from a rathole under the garden of the chancellery, buried twenty feet deeper than Berlin’s sewage system.
The bombs began to fall again as the three reached the far end of the tunnel that ran from the cellar of the chancellery to Hitler’s bunker. It was nearly midnight when they descended the stairs to the narrow butler’s pantry (dubbed “Kannenberg Alley” for its fat chief steward). Having taken to the skies in Britain at dusk, the Royal Air Force was now overhead, using the wide artery of the East-West Axis—built by Hitler for his victory parades—to guide them like an arrow to the Brandenburg Gate. The bunker was buried just to the south, at the corner of Wilhelmstrasse and Voss, with the great green lung of Tiergarten park off to the west. Close by was the most terrifying address in the Third Reich: 8 Prinz Albrechtstrasse, headquarters of the Gestapo, the SS Secret State Police, whose agents arrested, tortured, and killed the enemies of Adolf Hitler.
The thundering roar of the British bombardment seemed muffled and distant down here. It would take a near hit by a two-ton blockbuster to make the bunker shudder. Hitler’s hidey-hole was a cement cave fifty-five feet below ground level. Up where the bombs were exploding, there was little to give it away. The chancellery garden, hidden from public view, was a spacious interior court designed like a Roman atrium. A square blockhouse and a round watchtower encased the bunker’s emergency exit, and forty-four steps led down to its door. The tower and the bunker were still under construction, so a big cement mixer blighted the surface décor. A curious trench, designed as a moat, was gouged from the soil around the exit. Berlin itself had been built on soft alluvial sand that cushioned the bombs like a shock absorber. So did the tons of earth on top of the buried bunker’s sixteen-foot-thick roof and around its six-foot-wide exterior walls. As the general and his sons presented their papers to the guards, queasy trembling from the blasts overhead made the lamps sway as if they were being rocked by a subterranean wind.
The bulkhead between Kannenberg Alley and Hitler’s bunker was secured by SS bodyguards armed with machine pistols and hand grenades. Entry by the emergency exit was strictly
, and even high-ranking generals summoned by der Chef—“the boss,” as Hitler was called in the bunker—had to pass muster and present their identity papers at three checkpoints. For Streicher, it was an ominous taste of the fascist suspicion with which his Black Corps had viewed the German people since Hitler’s rise to power in 1933.
The guard, a strapping young Prussian of six-foot-four, gave the general back his papers but didn’t withdraw his hand.
“Pistol,” he demanded.
Streicher unholstered his PPK and slapped it onto the outstretched palm.
“Daggers,” ordered the other bodyguard, a man an inch shorter than the Prussian.
The general snapped a curt nod at his sons.
Fritz and Hans Streicher relinquished their Hitlerjugend daggers.
“Enter,” said the Prussian, and the bodyguards stood aside.
Last July 20, German army officers had tried to assassinate Hitler in his bunker at Rastenburg headquarters. Operation Valkyrie had failed through mischance: an officer had kicked the briefcase that held the bomb behind a table support, effectively shielding the führer from the blast. Four men died, but the intended target did not. Hitler’s vengeance was merciless. The SS executed five thousand soldiers and civilians, rooting out once and for all anyone suspected of disloyalty. For the ringleaders, der Chef decreed special attention: “I want them strung up like carcasses of meat.” His demand was carried out to the letter by the Black Corps. In the death chamber at Plötzensee prison, SS executioners secured a row of hooks to a beam suspended from the ceiling. One by one, the naked plotters were hauled in. A hangman’s noose of thin cord was looped around each neck, and the man was hoisted up, then left to strangle by his own weight from one of the meat hooks. Not only was his kicking and thrashing witnessed by the next conspirator to hang, but the slow and agonizing deaths were filmed for Hitler’s pleasure.
Traitors, jerking like macabre marionettes.
The SS general crossed the threshold to enter the upper level of the bunker, but he didn’t know what to expect inside. As each day brought more depressing news from both fronts, rumors ran rampant through what had once been strongholds of Nazi power. On March 7, the first American troops had crossed the Rhine, exploiting the unblown railway bridge at Remagen. Now Patton’s Third Army was rampaging deep into the Fatherland, and Montgomery’s whole Twenty-first Army Group was overrunning the Reich. To the east, a far greater threat was closing in on Berlin. Bent on revenge for what the Nazi Einsatzgruppen had done to the Russians during the Barbarossa invasion of 1941, the Red Army was laying waste to everything in its path. German men were forced to watch as Soviet soldiers raped their wives, daughters, and mothers—and were castrated and shot if they struggled. Women who fought back were either bayoneted or nailed to barn doors. The heads of babies were bashed in, and any German soldiers captured alive were doused with gasoline and turned into human torches.
“The Ivans are coming!”
That was the cry of panic heard retreating from the east.
But what of Adolf Hitler, the defender of the Reich? The rumors among the SS elite had the führer locked away in a madhouse run by the inmates. There, he was attended by a few SS guards, some servants and aides, and a morphine-addicted doctor, a notorious quack who was said to be injecting der Chef with drugs that had him shaking as if he had the DTs. The course of the war was being waged according to Hitler’s horoscope, which Dr. Göbbels, his propaganda minister, took from the stars. Hitler was linked to his generals at Zossen, twenty miles away, by only a switchboard, a radio, and a radio-telephone. He was directing the OKW, the Armed Forces High Command, with a parody of the efficient, high-tech electronic network that had once spun orders across conquered Europe.
War reduced to war games.
Fantasy had usurped reality down in Hitler’s bunker. A fascination with maps had always been the führer’s hallmark. The map rooms in his
—there had been thirteen FHQ command posts for waging war—were where he had once moved tiny paper flags around a chart table to deploy real Panzer divisions in France or along the Volga and around the Black Sea. Rumor had it that the military briefings still went on, with each day weighed down by more Nazi defeats, a lurid litany that tracked the shrinking of the Reich.
Dresden, Cologne, Bonn … all rubble and ruin.
Mannheim, Frankfurt, Danzig … wiped off the map.
Hitler’s chart table had a jigsaw of local maps put together to form a large-scale coordinate grid of the Third Reich. Hard-bitten front-line veterans summoned from surface battlefields to brief the führer on losses arrived with the dust, blood, and grime of reality on their field gray uniforms. In astonishment, they stood and watched as their neurotic, paranoid leader maneuvered army divisions that no longer existed into territory that had been captured by the Allies. He demanded that some fallen city be defended to the end, that some phantom battalion not yield an inch, and that hordes of ghosts launch blitzkriegs that would never take place to turn the tide of this war back to victory. Because Hitler saw Nazi traitors as the root cause of military defeats, the generals who went down to the bunker played self-defense war games, too. As each German city fell, it vanished from the table. “Situation adjustments”—discarding that local map from the jigsaw grid—erased reality from the fantasy that der Chef was spinning at the center of his web.
But the hooks were real.
Meat hooks like those at Plötzensee prison.
Meat hooks cemented into a wall at 8 Prinz Albrechtstrasse, down in the cellar at Gestapo HQ.
Meat hooks, rumor had it, that didn’t use nooses, but instead were spiked directly into the necks of traitors.
Traitors, real and imagined.
As SS-General Ernst Streicher entered the bunker and strode with his sons along the dining passage, he wondered yet again, Why has Hitler summoned me?
Had the treason that Streicher had recently hatched somehow been exposed?
Was one of the meat hooks waiting for him?