"Quite a sky," said the man. Even the briefest of conversations had to make mention of it. "It'll pass."
"I imagine it will."
The man took a last pull, then flicked his cigarette to the ground. "Bit early for a cop to be heading out to the studios."
All this certainty in the Grunwald this morning, thought Hoffner. "Highly confidential stuff."
The man exhaled as he pushed himself up. "Yah. I'm sure it is."
Inside the cab, he leaned out the window. "Watch where you piss out there. Make my life a little easier." He put the truck in gear and headed off.
Hoffner crushed out his cigarette and noticed all three of the boars now looking back. For some reason, he bent over and picked up the man's cigarette; it was still moist. He then opened the door, tossed the butts onto the passenger-side floor, and pressed the starter. The sound sent the boars darting into the wood, and Hoffner turned to see them disappear. This they were afraid of.
Settling in, he pulled the door shut and headed up onto the road.
The first of the studio buildings emerged on the horizon like a caravan of turtles. The film men had bought the land before the war, an abandoned factory stuck out in the middle of nowhere. Safer that way, they reasoned: no apartment complexes nearby to go up in flames should the reels catch fire. The place had grown in the intervening years. Under a vacant sky, the sprawl seemed even more desolate.
Hoffner pulled up to the gate and waited, a walled fence stretching off in either direction. The Ufa emblem dangled precariously above. To the side, a large billboard advertised the most recent studio triumphs: posters of Emil Jannings and Asta Nielsen, Conrad Veidt in some menacing pose, along with the warnings APPALLING! DANGEROUS! DAUGHTERS BEWARE! Veidt's shadow was especially well placedobscuring the crucial E and W in BEWARE!and informing the casual reader that, perhaps, the daughters might be nude in this particular film. Hoffner appreciated the designer's ingenuity.
He reached for his badge as the guard approached.
"No need for that, Herr Kriminal-Oberkommissar." The man's easy grin seemed at odds with the long coat, braiding at the shoulders, and equally impressive hat. He might have been a doorman at the Adlon or Esplanade if not for the Ufa logo on his lapel. "Bauer," he continued. "Oberwachtmeister Anders Bauer, retired. I was at the Alex with you, last posting before my thirty-five came up."
"Bauer." Hoffner nodded as if he recalled the man. "Of course." It was nothing new for an old Schutzi sergeant to find himself a night watchman or gatekeeper around town, especially when everyone's pension had blown up with the inflation. Why not out at the film studios: more exotic, Hoffner imagined. "You've landed yourself a nice bit of work."
"Can't complain, Herr Kriminal-Oberkommissar." He handed Hoffner a yellow card that read "Day PassGrosse Halle." "Hot meals at the commissary. Good uniform." Bauer's expression hardened.
"Naturally you've come about that business with Thyssen, Herr Kriminal-Oberkommissar." He brought a clipboard up and pointed to where Hoffner was meant to sign.
Hoffner enjoyed the dedication: it was still in the old dog's blood. "Business," he said as he scrawled his name. "I was told suicide."
"You hear things, Herr Kriminal-Oberkommissar. That's all." Bauer gave an unconvinced nod. "But if they say suicide, then it must be suicide."
Excerpted from Shadow and Light by Jonathan Rabb. Copyright © 2009 by Jonathan Rabb. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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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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