Excerpt of The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies
(Page 6 of 10)
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Two burly MP corporals followed Hess into the room, one taking a seat flanking
him, the other carrying a salver with decanter and glasses, which he set on the
sideboard. Last through the door was a delicate-featured officer whom Mills
ushered over and introduced as Major Redgrave.
Captain. I gather we have you to thank for the evenings entertainment.
I hope itll be more than that, sir.
Youve seen it already?
Rotheram nodded, though he didnt say where.
The corporal appeared at his elbow, proffering glasses.
And how do you propose to manage this? Redgrave asked softly when they all had
Ill run the film, observe his reactions, debrief him afterwards.
You think youll know if he s lying?
Rotheram watched the corporal bend down beside Hess and offer him the last glass
on the salver.
I hope so. There are signs to look for.
Redgrave exchanged a glance with Mills. You know weve tried pretty much
everything. Over the years. He said it gently and without impatience, and it
occurred to Rotheram that it was meant to comfort him, that they expected him to
Very well, then. Cant hurt to try. Whenever youre ready.
Redgrave took a seat halfway between the screen and Hess, lowering himself
stiffly, tugging up his trouser legs by the creases. Hess smiled at him
questioningly, but the major just shrugged. Rotheram motioned Mills to draw the
blackout curtain against the sunset, then threw the switch and took a seat
across from the lieutenant and the major, studying the man in the armchair.
Back in London, the CO had offered Rotheram this job as if it were a plum, but
until this moment he had felt like little more than a glorified delivery boy.
Now here was Hess, one of the leading men of the party, right in front of him.
And it occurred to Rotheram, stealing a glance at the screen, that the last time
Hess had been in prison was after the Munich Putsch. Hed been Hitlers
cellmate. He d taken dictation of Mein Kampf.
Initially, Hess seemed entertained, watching the stately procession of staff
cars, the pageantry. It was a captivating film, Rotheram knew, queasily
fascinating in the way it made the ugly beautiful. He could see the two
corporals were rapt, one of them moving his mouth to read the subtitles, and
Mills and Redgrave kept swiveling their heads back and forth between the screen
and Hess as if at a tennis match. But it was no effort for Rotheram to keep his
eyes on the prisoner. The whole scene, since Hess had entered the room, seemed
unreal. He couldnt quite believe he was in the mans presence, like the night
he thought he glimpsed Marlene Dietrich getting into a taxi in Leicester Square
but afterwards could never be absolutely sure. If he took his eyes off Hess, he
thought the man would disappear.
Hess himself watched with interest, but without comment, sipping his whisky, his
foot occasionally keeping time with the music. Only once did Rotheram notice the
mans gaze drifting towards him, then flicking away almost coyly. At the first
reel change, he seemed inclined to talk, started to lean forward, but Rotheram,
wanting to keep the film moving, busied himself with the projector. Hess
accepted a cigarette from Mills, and the major asked him if he knew what he was
watching, and he said yes, yes, of course. He recognized Herr Hitler; he
understood that this was Germany before the war. He said he admired the
marching. But when Redgrave asked if he remembered being there, Hess looked
puzzled and shook his head.
Your English is good, Rotheram called from where he was bent over the
projector. He didnt like the others asking too many questions.
Copyright © 2007 by Peter Ho Davies. Reprinted by permission of Houghton