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 drinks.
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 fail.
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 Mifflin Company.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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