Schädelplatz, Deutsch Kongo14 September 1952, 01:14
Nine minutes. He had nine minutes to exorcise a lifetime.
Burton Cole sat at Hochburg's desk, sweat trickling behind his ears. He was dressed in the uniform of a Sturmbannführer, an SS major: black tunic and breeches, Sam Browne belt, jackboots, swastika armband on the left sleeve. His skin crawled beneath the material. To complete the look, his hair had been cut short, his beard shaved; the skin on his cheeks felt raw and exposed. Chained to his wrist was an attaché case empty except for two items: a pouch fat with diamonds and, concealed inside that, a table knife.
The knife had been his mother's, from a service used only for company. He still remembered the way she would beam as she laid the table for visitors, the flash of silver. That waswhat?when he was eight or nine. Back then he struggled to slice meat with it; now it was as deadly as an ice pick.
He'd spent years sharpening it to a jagged point for this very moment, never once believing it would come.
But just as Burton opened the case to grasp the knife, Hochburg held up his hand. It was an immense, brutal paw that led to an arm straining in its sleeve and the broad shoulders of a swimmer. The movement itself was languida lazy version of Hitler greeting the ranks.
"The diamonds can wait, Sturmbannführer," he said. "First I must show you something."
Ackerman warned him this might happen. Hochburg had shown all the previous couriers, shown everyone, no matter what their rank. It was his great pride. Indulge him, Ackerman advised. Do nothing to arouse his "suspicions." There'll be plenty of time for the kill.
Burton glanced at his watch. Everything had gone wrong tonight; now he felt crushed by the lack of seconds. This was not how he'd envisioned the moment. In his dreams, time stood still; there was opportunity for talk and torment.
And answers to all his questions.
Hochburg rose from his desk. The office around him was austere. Naked wooden floors, simple furniture. There was a gun cabinet in the corner and shelving for hundreds, possibly thousands, of booksthough not a single volume filled them. Overhead, a fan remained motionless despite the humidity of the night. Although dark patches were spreading across Burton's shirt, Hochburg looked as if his body were chilled to the bone. The only decoration in the room was the obligatory portrait of the Führer, another of Bismarck, and maps.
Maps of Aquatoriana, Deutsch Ostafrika, DSWA, Kamerun, Kongo, Muspel: all the dominions of Nazi Africa. The cartography of enslavement. Every last hectare pored over, charted, claimed. In the first years of conquest, they had been governed by the Kolonialpolitisches Amt, the KPA, a haphazard civil administration. Later, the SS took control.
Hochburg moved toward the opposite end of the room, where French doors led out to a veranda.
Burton hesitated, then got to his feet and followed. His jackboots pinched with every step. Hochburg was already on the veranda. Above him hung a silent wind chime. He spread his arms with a messianic sweep. "Magnificent, isn't it?" he declared in a baritone that sounded raw from cognac, even though Burton knew he was a teetotaler. "A thing of wonder!"
The official headquarters of the Schutzstaffel, the SS, may have been in Stanleystadtbut this was the real power base of Deutsch Kongo. Burton had arrived through the front entrance, past the cranes that were still erecting the imperial façade. The quadrangle below him was at the rear, the hidden part of Hochburg's fiefdom, used for ceremonial occasions. No one but the SS were allowed here.
It was the size of a parade ground, with several stories of offices on all sides and, according to Ackerman, cellars that went as deep below as the floors above. Bureaucracy and torture: two pillars of Nazi Africa. There were guard towers on each of the far corners; a patrol stalking the perimeter with a Doberman. Enough barbed wire for a concentration camp. But it was the ground that most caught Burton's attention. Searchlights dived and soared over it. For a second he stood dumbfounded at the sheer scale of it. The sheer barbarity. His father would have wept at its sight.
Excerpted from The Afrika Reich by Guy Saville. Copyright © 2013 by Guy Saville. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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