We entered the offices of the unit I'd been assigned to. Tall oaken doors, a powerfullooking woman in civilian clothes, two soldiers sitting at typewriters. I had to wait some more. Finally, the SS corporal knocked on the first office door. I went in and stood across from the thin man I'd met three days before, when I was walking down rue des Saussaies.
"Ah, it's you," he said, looking up from his papers. "Have you been told what you have to do?"
"Not in detail." I was standing stiffly erect, even though the regulations didn't require me to.
"Details are important." He took up the greenish gray file and got to his feet. Average height, and slighter than I remembered, despite the tight-fitting uniform. Head almost bald, mouth strikingly sorrowful.
"This way," he said. He opened the barrier beside his desk and the double door behind it. Before stepping through the door, he asked, "Roth, am I right?"
"Corporal Roth, yes, sir," I replied.
"How long in the army?"
"Since March 1940, Captain."
"You picked the best time."
I didn't know whether the reference was to our victorious campaign or my new duty assignment. We came into a brightly lighted room.
The first thing I saw was the boy's face, his wet hair hanging down over his forehead. In the corner stood a tub of water, the water still moving. He was a kid, fifteen at most, with his hands tied behind his back. I could smell his fear. I noticed two uniforms, both SS corporals, and I produced my writing pad. The captain took a seat and made a brusque gesture toward a smaller table. My pencil fell to the floor. I picked it up as unobtrusively as I could, took the few steps to the table, and cast my eyes down. Everything started immediately, without any transition.
Excerpted from April in Paris by Michael Wallner Copyright © 2007 by Michael Wallner. Excerpted by permission of Nan A. Talese, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
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