Then you should be able to fake it better. How did they spot you, by the way?
Lice, Rotheram said, making a face. I didnt have any. They saw I wasnt scratching.
The other shook his head.
And hows the rib?
Sore, but I can work.
All right. You want some excitement, then?
Hawkins began writing out a chit on his blotter, and Rotheram felt a surge of excitement. Paris!
Im giving you a staff car, sending you on a little trip. Youre off to Wales, my boy.
Wales? It sounded like a joke. With respect, sir, I want to go east, not west.
Think of it as a little holiday, the CO said drolly. Youre going to see Hess.
Rotheram paused, watching Hawkinss pen twitch across the page.
No, Rudolph ruddy Reindeer. Who do you think?
Rotheram had seen Hess once before, in Germany, in 35. The only one of the party leaders he d ever glimpsed in person. It was at a football match. Hertha Berlin and Bayer Leverkusen. Hess had arrived with his entourage a little after kickoff. Thered been a popping of flashbulbs, a stirring in the crowd, and then the referee had blown the whistle and stopped the game for the players to give the Heil Hitler. Hess had returned the salute smartly and gone back to signing autographs. Hed been deputy führer then, a post he d held until 1941 when hed flown to Britain. It had been a sensation at the time was he a traitor? was he on a secret mission? but now Hess was almost an afterthought.
Even if he has any secrets left theyd be old hat, Rotheram observed.
He still has at least one, apparently, the CO said, placing the travel orders on top of a thick file. We dont know if he s sane or not. He s tried to kill himself a couple of times, and he s been claiming selective amnesia for years. Says he has no recollection of anything important. Not of his mission, not of the war. Its all a fog, supposedly.
If so, he s doing a splendid job. Hes been maintaining the same story pretty much since landing in Scotland.
Rotheram looked at the file on the desk between them, the dog-eared pages bound together with ribbon.
What makes you think Ill be able to crack him?
Not sure you will, my boy. Plenty of others have had a go.
Medics, intel bods. The Americans.
But you dont trust them.
The CO sighed. Hess is the biggest name we have so far, and if there s a trial when this is all over, he s likely to be a star in it. Only not if he s gaga. Not if he s unbalanced, you follow? Itll make a mockery. Problem is, if we dont put him up, itll smell fishy to the Soviets. Theyre convinced he came here to conclude a peace between us and the Nazis to leave them free to concentrate in the East. Hawkins shook his head. The one thing for sure is if he does end up in the dock, well be the buggers building the case. I just want someone I know to have a look-see.
This isnt exactly what I had in mind when I asked for a transfer.
In which we serve, dear boy, the CO told him with a shrug. Youre going up the wall, so Im giving you something. He smiled, then craned forward again. You want a role in the trials? You want to play a part in that? Well, this is the beginning. Do this right and you might do yourself some good.
Copyright © 2007 by Peter Ho Davies. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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