'Where is the boy's father?' the man asked.
'He was killed at Stalingrad,' she said automatically. It was the story she always told, and true as far as Leon knew. But telling it this time had been a mistake - Leon was asleep, and she could have claimed a living protector, one who was waiting on the platform at Breslau. Someone powerful like an SS officer, someone to make this man think twice.
'I'm sorry,' he said, with a palpable lack of sincerity. He took another swig, then offered her the flask.
She politely declined.
'This belonged to a Russian once,' he went on, waving the flask.
'One I killed. Perhaps I avenged your husband - who knows?'
'Are you still in the Army?' she asked.
'No, I work for the General Government in Galicia. We are clearing lands for German settlement,' he explained peevishly, as if someone had challenged his usefulness. 'Your husband, what was his occupation?'
'He was the manager of a department store,' she decided, thinking of Torsten.
'You must miss him,' he said abruptly.
'My husband? Of course.'
'The closeness. The human touch.'
'I have my son,' she said shortly. 'It's been nice talking to you, but now I think I must get some sleep. We have much to do in Breslau tomorrow.' He nodded but said nothing, just took another swig and stared out into the darkness.
Perhaps he would let her be, she thought; perhaps he'd drink himself to sleep. She closed her eyes, ears alert for any sound of movement. She thought she could feel his stare, but maybe it was just imagination. It wasn't as if she was a great beauty. She felt weary to the bone herself. It would be so wonderful to fall asleep and wake up in Breslau...
She didn't know how long she was out, but she woke with a start to feel an arm around her neck, a hand roughly squeezing her breast, and waves of schnapps-heavy breath gusting over her face.
'Don't make a fuss,' he said, his arm tightening its grip around her neck. The bulge of an erection was straining at his trousers. Most of her wanted to scream, to twist and writhe and bite and claw, but she'd had six years to steel herself against this moment, to carve out the composure she would need to thwart the next rapist. 'I won't make a fuss,' she whispered, and was amazed at the steadiness of her own voice. She brushed a finger along the bulge, fighting back nausea. 'If you let me up, I'll take off my blouse.'
He pulled out his arm from behind her neck, and started undoing his belt.
She got to her feet and, standing with her back to him, began unbuttoning the blouse. Leon was fast asleep, his tinplate engine wedged between him and the back of the seat. She'd have just one chance, she thought, and her knees felt weak at the thought. She reached forward to rearrange the boy's blanket, picked up the engine as if moving it out of his way, then turned and crashed it into the man's face, shattering his glasses and drawing a spurt of blood from his forehead. A gasp of agony came out of his throat as his hands reached up to his eyes.
She stood there for a second, suddenly uncertain, but the moment he tried to rise she hit him again, this time on the side of the head, and down he went between the seats, his head and shoulders against the door.
He was unconscious, maybe even dead.
And Leon, she saw, had slept through it all.
Steeling herself, she stood astride the man's legs and tugged at his armpits until his upper back was also against the door. Then, kneeling on the corner seat, she depressed the door handle until the door sprang open. Head and shoulders dropped into a curtain of rain, but the rest showed no sign of following them out, until she crawled back along the seat, got behind his feet, and started pushing with all her might. For several long moments nothing seemed to move, and then with a rush the body was gone. It took her longer still to pull the door shut, and the bang when she did was loud enough to wake the boy.
Excerpted from Lehrter Station by David Downing. Copyright © 2012 by David Downing. Excerpted by permission of Soho Press. 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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