Manuscript Type
Logline or Premise
In Nazi Germany, a housewife with psychotic illness risks being “euthanised” if she's admitted to an asylum. When she’s imprisoned, her only hope of survival is the Gestapo man who arrested her.
First 10 Pages

Berlin, August 1939, Rika

There’s a new Persil advertisement on the Litvassäule pillar outside the butcher’s today. The smiling, blonde Weisse Dame strides through a cloud of Prussian Blue, the poppies in her bouquet so red, and her dress so white they make my eyes water. Blinking, I stare into the gloom under the railway bridge until her ghostly image has faded from my vision. A drunk squats in the shadows by his begging bowl, collecting a few quick Pfennigs before someone in uniform moves him on.

The bill-posting people have been busy with their buckets and brushes. There’s a new sign in the butcher’s window too.

“Jews are not welcome here. The Jews are our misfortune.”

I pause for a moment, considering whether we have enough eggs to make omelette for lunch instead of meatballs. But everything else about the shop looks the same. Sides of cured pork hang in the window alongside strings of smoked sausage, and skinned rabbits dangling on hooks. The yellowing handwritten note saying “no credit” is still there and so is the box of dusty potatoes on the pavement. Anyway, there isn’t another butcher on the High Street. The bell brays its usual cheerful peal when I open the door.

Inside, a woman from our street waits on the sawdust-strewn floor while the butcher prepares her cuts in the back room. Her head scarf furrows over rows of hair curlers. When she turns to me, sun shines onto her spectacle lenses, turning them into blank white ovals.

“Haven’t you seen the sign Frau Landauer?”

“What sign?”

The neighbour cocks her head to one side, placing a hand on one well-padded hip.

“The one about Jews.”

Warmth begins creeping up the back of my neck.

“What about it?”

“Hadn’t you better go somewhere else for your meat then?”

“Why? I’m not a Jew.”

She folds her arms across a chest swelled by the certainty of moral rectitude.

“You know perfectly well.”

The butcher emerges from the back room with the woman’s mutton chops, wiping bloated hands on a smeared apron.

“Now, ladies. I don’t want any trouble in my shop.” He fixes me with a pouchy glare and jerks his head towards the street. “Try the market stall on Lauter Platz.”

Outside, I rest my head on the Litvassäule, to get my breath back, forehead against the Weisse Dame’s spartan bosom. I jump back when her mighty voice rings in my ear, echoing round the insides of the pillar, down into the sewers beneath my feet.

“Serves you right for marrying a Jew.”

At eleven, the front door rattles open.

“Hallo Rika-mouse!”

I pretend to be asleep on my chaise longue in the window-bay, allowing this month’s

“Housewives’ Journal” to drape over the parquet. Anton crash-lands on the upholstery, his backside pressing itself against my knees. He leans over me, moustache scratching my cheeks and neck. I defend myself with the magazine.

“Get off. All the neighbours can see.”

He laughs.

“We’re going out, Meine Liebe.”

I let my arms flop.

“But what about lunch? I walked all the way down to Lauter Platz to get lamb chops.”

Anton waves a torn-open envelope in my face. An unfamiliar woman’s face stares out from the foreign stamp. She smirks when she sees me.

“Look. It’s from de Ruyters in Amsterdam. They’re inviting me for an interview. Up you get. We need to go and see about visas.”

“Isn’t that why we went to that office at Christmas?”

He reaches under the chaise longue and pulls out the shoes I discarded earlier. They’re the blue patent ones with sparkly buttons that go with this dress.

“I’ve found something that might be faster. Let’s go and see if it’s any good.”

When he smiles, his moustache stretches out long and thin. I used to like it when he tickled my lady parts with that.

We disembark from the S-Bahn train at Nollendorf Platz. Waiting to cross the road outside the station, I watch sculptures dancing on the theatre’s ornate facade opposite. Slim grey girls squirm in the arms of stony men with bulging crotches. When the traffic policeman’s white gloves beckon us over, the ballerina at the end of the line opens her mouth to scream. I tug on Anton’s arm.

“I don’t think she likes that.”

He pulls me onwards.

“We can’t stop in the middle of the road.”

When we reach the pavement on the other side, I look up at the girl, trying to wriggle out of her partner’s grip. He’s been groping her up there for years now. She ought to punch him. A stone fist would do quite a bit of damage. I imagine a spray of white dust and shards against the blue sky.

Anton stops in front of a grand Jugendstil apartment building that straddles a street corner, stretching almost halfway along both blocks.

“Here we are.”

Instead of bars or a grille, cast-iron foliage protects the glass in the big front door. Hungry tendrils grope towards us, and an old man’s stone face with holes for eyes glowers down from atop the arched lintel.

“Are you sure this is the right place? It doesn’t look like an office.”

Anton’s gaze flicks up and down the street.

“It’s a private concern specialising in Jewish emigration. They’re not affiliated with the official bureaus.”

I fold my arms.

“I don’t like the look of it.”

He sighs.

“Please be sensible Riki. I need this job. If the official visa place is too slow we have to look at alternatives.”

He bounds up the entrance steps to search for the right doorbell in a proliferation of brass buttons. I stay at the bottom because the house doesn’t want us to go inside.

One of the twigs is creeping down the steps towards me, shiny black-painted leaves opening like pincers to grip my ankle. I back away a couple of paces. Anton has found the right bell now, one finger hovering over it. He looks over his shoulder at me.

“What’s the matter now?”

The twig has reached the foot of the steps now, its blind tip nosing across the pavement with a tinny scratching sound. Another is snaking towards Anton.

“Anton. Come back.” The twig reaching for Anton recoils when he moves, withdrawing to the bushy doorway. He comes back down, grasps my arm and drags me towards the steps. I resist, trying to shake him off, voice shrill. “Ouch. You’re hurting me.”

A man walking his dog on the other side of the road stops and stares. When he moves towards us, Anton lets me go.

“All right. I’ll go in by myself.” He jabs a finger at the ground beneath my feet. “But stay here, where I can see you from the windows. Promise you won’t wander off. ”

“I promise.”

He bounds back up the steps and presses the bell. The dark metal jungle admits him with a throaty buzz.

I want to do as I’m told, and I try for what seems a very long time. But sharp metal leaves scratch at my stockings, drawing back when I bend to brush them away. The old man on the arch is the last straw. He begins to roar, beard rippling in the gust of his cold breath. Watched by the dog walker and two starchy nursemaids pushing babies in perambulators, I run back to the theatre, sparkly high-heeled shoes click-clacking on the paving stones.

The theatre frontage is heaving now, with rehearsals for tonight’s performance. A patrician couple in flowing Roman togas take charge from niches high up near the roof. The woman shouts,

“One, two, three-and four. Hold those shapes girls.” while her husband bellows the Pas de Deux from Swan Lake.

One of the male dancers drops his partner on the porch roof and glares at me with empty white eyes.

“What are you staring at?”

I shake my handbag at him.

“She doesn’t like it when you put your hand up her skirt.”

“Fuck off.”

Just when the last thing I need is anyone else interfering, a voice shouts right in my ear.

“Fuck off yourself you big stone thug. Someone ought to throw a stick of dynamite at you.”

When I turn to see who spoke, there’s only a tail of white skirt vanishing behind me. The stone man can see whoever’s hiding there though. He smirks.

“Come up here and join the corps de ballet Schätzilein. We’re looking for new talent.”

I spin round again. There’s another flurry of snowy taffeta and a giggle but I still can’t see anyone. Up on the frieze, the stone man leans out, offering a mossy hand to pull up the new recruit. I back away, my own hands gripped tight behind my back.

“This is wrong. You’re not supposed to talk. I’m going to report you to the theatre management.”

Hard hands grab my shoulders. Hairy, flesh-and-blood hands that appear from red brocade cuffs.

“Move along please junge Frau. Nobody’ll come in and buy tickets with you raving out here.”

A blot of foam appears on the man’s gold-braided lapel. Someone must have spat at him. I’m afraid it might have been me. Before I can apologise, the woman I can’t see interrupts.

“Get your filthy hands off me, arsehole.”

The man shouts into the open doors of the theatre.

“Rudi? Call the police. There’s a madwoman loitering here.”

The dancers and the roman couple kneel on their ledges, necks craning to watch. All their heads whip sideways at the sound of running footsteps. Anton plucks me out of the doorman’s grip and into his arms. I cover my ears and press my face into his jacket, breathing in the familiar smoky scent. His muffled voice buzzes against my forehead.

“It’s all right. She’s my wife.”

Somewhere far away, the doorman says,

“Mensch. She needs putting away for her own good.”

Anton’s breath is hot on the top of my head.

“God Riki. We’d better get you to a doctor.”

The woman in the bed next to mine in hospital is called Frau Kruger. She grins, revealing toothless pink gums. Consonants whistle through her pursed lips.

“I've got Fibroids, me. ‘Take the whole lot out,’ I said. Nothing but trouble. Why would I want more kids? Five’s enough. Op’s this afternoon. Two o’clock sharp. Can’t come soon enough. What you in for, love?”

The woman with the voice has come with me to hospital. I recognise her now. She lets me catch glimpses of her now and again, flitting around the edges of my vision when I blink. She’s wearing a white dress and carrying a poppy bouquet. Frau Kruger waits for a response, head on one side, unaware that the Weisse Dame is peering under her blanket and laughing. I’ve discovered that the Weisse Dame isn’t nearly as nice as she looks on her posters. Her booming laughter is so loud it’s difficult to hear anything else. But nobody else can hear it so I try not to shout.

“I’ve gone mad.”

Frau Kruger coos.

“Ach du meine Güte. Didn’t know you could get that done here. Mind you, they can fix all sorts these days. My youngest had her tonsils out last year. Not even had the sniffles since.” She lowers her voice. “Course, some people in here aren’t poorly at all.” Mouth downturned, she jerks her head towards a motionless, blanket-swathed hump in the bed on my other side. With exaggerated clarity, her lips mime the word,


Weisse Dame sashays across to take a peep at the woman having the abortion. She lets the covers fall again with an echoey crow of scorn.

A nurse is passing through the ward with a handcart, giving out medicine to some, trays of food to others. Young, with a round face and skin like the pink-veined marble floor in our hallway, she only offers me a pill and a glass of water. Weisse Dame appears by my side in an instant, enveloping me in her soapy perfume.

“That’s poison. Don’t take it.”

She nudges me, trying to knock the pill out of my hand, but I block her with a shoulder and swallow it. I ask the nurse,

“Can’t I have anything to eat?”

She refers to paperwork clipped to a board at the foot of my bed.

“You’re nil by mouth till after your operation.”

I clasp the blanket to my chest.


Frau Kruger chips in.

“Must be your brain surgery.”

Weisse Dame’s voice cuts off mid-shriek. I try to sit up but my body, suddenly tired, lies down instead. The nurse tuts.

“You mustn’t say things like that, Frau Kruger.” She smiles at me as she returns my chart to its hook. “We only do obstetrics and gynaecology here Frau Landauer. No brain surgery.”

Before I have time to ask any more, the pill takes me, and drags me down into blackness.

I wake up in town, in a department store changing cubicle with the curtains drawn around me. Only I can’t see the clothes I’ve been trying on, and there’s no mirror. Also, for reasons I can’t fathom, there’s a bed in here.

A gust of cool air makes the curtains flap. The opening reveals not racks of elegant dresses and chic mannequins, but a row of beds occupied by nightgown-clad ladies who aren’t wearing any make-up.

I remember now.

Brain surgery.

Running unsteady hands through my hair, I find it all present. There are no shaved patches, scars or stitches. Further down though, under the covers, it’s a different story. A dressing covers my belly, fixed in place by strips of sticking plaster that reach round my waist and hips. When my fingers touch what’s below that, they recoil. Someone must have looked at my lady parts while I was asleep. Touched me there. Whoever it was, they shaved me.

And they didn’t make a very nice job of it.

I start to sit up, but a jab of pain makes me squeal. I fall back onto the pillows, gasping, tears leaking from my eyes. A head in a white headdress thrusts itself through the curtains.

“Mind those stitches Frau Landauer.”

This nurse is large and grey-haired. On the escarpment of her bosom, where you’d expect to find a crucifix, the National Socialists’ hooked cross hangs on a silver chain instead. It dangles in my face when she bends to prop me upright. I tug her stiff sleeve.

“What’s happened to me?”

She scythes the curtains open, revealing Frau Kruger lying flat in the next bed, eyes closed, the blankets above her midriff raised on a frame. The nurse returns to my bedside.

“Only a little snip. Nothing to fuss about.”

From a crevasse in her apron, she produces a small brown bottle. Taking my hand, she tips a fat white pill into the palm. She watches me swallow it, her smile like granite.

North End Police Station, Niederhausen-an-der-Ruhr, September 1939

Paul would have preferred a murder. But since Monday, the town has been stifling under a blanket of sulphurous smog. Like everybody else, the local criminals are staying at home with damp towels over the windows, leaving North End Precinct's seven Kriminalbeamter with nothing to do but paperwork. Eye-stinging white vapour creeps in around ill-fitting window frames and hangs around the light fittings, mingling with cigarette smoke. The thick air is doing Paul’s chest no good at all. So when the telephone dispatcher shouts,

"Criminal damage at the railway station, anyone?" he's off before the others have even put down their coffee cups.

He strides through reception, green-skirted coat buttoned and belted. Johannes Beck flops over the front desk. His posture is typical of modern youths who have never served in the army. Looking at him reminds Paul to tell his own sons they must sit up straight.“Hauptwachtmeister Werner, sir? Are you going on a call-out?”

Beck is upright now, dumpling face eager under its brush of gingery hair. Paul huffs.

“It’s only a bit of graffiti son. No need for two of us.”

Beck’s blank blue stare doesn’t waver.

“Please sir. I haven’t done my criminal damage report yet. I only need a wounding after that to graduate."

A river of passengers from Essen parts around Paul, Beck and the Head Porter. Every head cranes towards the new wall art, a nude scene depicting Reichsminister Göring, done in bright pink nail varnish.

The porter coughs.

“Not a bad likeness, really. Only I’m not sure Herr Minister’d be up to that. Not with all the dope he takes.”

Paul places himself between the drawing and a mother with two small girls.

“You’d better put a screen in front of it until it can be cleaned off.”

The porter sucks in a draught of air through clenched teeth.

“I’ll see after the Düsseldorf train.”

Beck lowers the department camera.

“Does this count as political, Herr Werner sir? Should we tell the Gestapo guys?”

Paul spins away, letting his shoe heels click on the marble floor.

“Come along Beck.”

The perpetrator has only got as far as a bench behind the station. One sleeve is rolled up to reveal a skinny arm, splashed with sparkling pink. Hanging limp around his dangling wrist is the belt he’s just used as a tourniquet. He looks sixteen, perhaps seventeen. Beck moans.

“I think he’s dead, Herr Werner.”

Paul crouches beside the bench.

“Quatsch. He’s fine.”

He hauls the youth upright, administering a couple of hearty slaps.

“Wake up son. What’s your name?”

The stripling revives, arms flailing.

“Get off me. Fuck you, Police Bulls.”

Paul catches the pale wrists and handcuffs them.

“Your name lad.”

“Piss off.”

“How did your Ma and Pa get that past the Registrar?”

The boy twists thin hands against the steel.

“Horst Riesmer.”

Paul takes another good look at the suspect.

“Riesmer? Is it your Pa owns the haulage company?”

Horst Riesmer’s squirm is answer enough.

Back in the station reception hall, Paul turns to Beck.

“Go and ask the porters for some rags and a bottle of white spirit.”

“Why sir?”

“Because I say so.”

Beck wavers, the pasty flesh of his forehead puckering.

“At Academy they said we shouldn’t disturb crime scenes.”

“They’ll have told you to follow orders too.”

Horst Riesmer isn’t built for hard work, especially after filling his veins with dope. Even freed from the handcuffs, he droops over his drawing like a wilting tulip, making ever feebler dabs at it with the porters’ stinking rag. Beck is sulking about something. He slouches against the wall, a lumpy bolster in police uniform. Paul scowls.

“Stand up straight Beck. Try and look like a policeman if you want to be one.”

Beck detaches his person from the wall, but his hands remain in his pockets.

“Yes sir.”

Paul glances up at the clock above the entrance doors. At home, the baby will be trying Grunkohl and Mettwurst for the first time this evening. His older siblings are taking bets on whether the dish will make him sick. It would be unforgivable to arrive late and miss the spectacle. Paul turns back to Riesmer.

“Come on lad. Make an effort.”

Riesmer gazes at Paul. The irises of his eyes are slim hazel-coloured rings outlining large black pupils.

“It were a right good’un though.” He smiles, showing white teeth that look too large for his still narrow jaw. “I can do Herr Hitler too.”

Paul nods towards the sketch.

“That’ll get you into even more trouble. On you go. Then you can come back with us and sleep it off in a cell. I’ll telephone your Pa before I clock off.”

In days to come, Paul will look back on what happens next, adding signs and portents to the memory. A foul stench, a darkening of the sky, a sudden cold wind, perhaps even an echoing scream. But in reality there’s nothing. Only the clunk of the doors opening, a billow of eggy smog from outside and the swish of a leather coat. He doesn’t even turn round until he hears the voice.


The man at Paul’s elbow is cloaked in cigarette smoke, his face shadowed under the brim of a Fedora hat. Paul plants his feet in front of the Riesmer boy, a hand ready to grasp his truncheon.

“This is a police matter. Stand back please.”

The newcomer’s cigarette glows into brief life under the hat. He reaches a bony hand into his coat pocket and pulls out a steel dog tag on a watch chain. This, he dangles under Paul’s nose. As it spins in the hazy light, numbers glint on one side and “Geheime Staatspolizei” on the other.

“Werner, right? You can piss off now.”

Paul’s name is mangled by the Gestapo man’s speech, a harsh Plattdeutsch, from cow country up north beyond Krefeld. He stands his ground, in spite of the chill prickling the back of his neck.

“This is just criminal damage. No need for the Gestapo.”

The Gestapo man doesn’t bother replying. He elbows Paul aside, sending him reeling into Beck’s fumbling grasp. With brutal efficiency, he collects Horst Riesmer, twisting a wasted arm high behind the youngster’s back. On his way out, he hooks the Kripo department’s camera from Beck’s shoulder.

“I’ll take that.”

Paul keeps well ahead of Beck along the smog-blurred North End Road. Fists balled in his coat pockets, he clenches his teeth, scalp hot under the stiff hat brim. Neither the reports of his own footsteps, nor the rumbling overhead conveyer belt carrying coal from the colliery to the coking plant drowns Beck’s breathless, whining voice.

“I didn’t know they’d send someone sir. I just phoned to ask. If it was political or not. I’m sorry if I got you in trouble or anything. Really sir.”

Paul’s route home takes him through the Kleingarten colony. His plot is at the end of a row, at the foot of Marie Lina Colliery’s towering western waste tip. In recent years, straggly brambles and birch saplings have gained a foothold on the lower slopes, a smattering of green against the black. Some of the more optimistic gardeners have been saying that in a few years, the town will be surrounded by green hills like a village in the Alps.

Paul runs his fingers over the rutted surface of dark green kale leaves, growing in malty compost he mixed himself from grass cuttings, leaf mould and sweepings from the police stables. Smooth stalks break with a satisfying “snap”, leaking moisture onto his gritty fingers. Half a sack should be enough. Paul Junior won’t eat much Grünkohl. The boy is another example of declining discipline amongst the younger generation. He prefers to pick out the sausage from his greens and stuff himself with bread. But since neither Paul nor his wife Anni can bring themselves to beat the children, they can do nothing but hope the lad will grow out of it.

A voice hails from the back fence.

“Tag Pauli. Grünkohl this evening?”

Paul smiles at the stocky man, wearing a traditional miner’s outfit; woollen bonnet, striped shirt and leather waistcoat.

“Guten Tag Heini.”

Steiger Heinrich Dahm, charge hand at Marie Lina Colliery, steps aside to make space for Paul.

“Hop over here on them long legs. I got six bottles of Veltins in the water butt.”

Paul shakes his head.

“Not today. Anni needs to start cooking.”

Heini cocks his head to one side.

“Had ‘em in since yesterday. Must be ice-cold now.”

“They’ll be even colder tomorrow. How’s life in the underworld?”

The end of Heini’s cigarette glimmers in the dusk as he sucks the last from it. He flicks its tail of ash over the fence, onto Paul’s compost heap.

“Damn Management.”

Paul and Heini sit in front of Heini’s shed on an old park bench, chained and padlocked to a drainpipe. The chain is merely for show. Like everything portable left unattended in the town, Heini’s bench would have been stolen years ago if it weren’t so heavy. It’s a good, solid thing to sit on though. Not like the flimsy things they put in parks these days. Paul sips herby, bitter Pilsener, indeed agreeably cold, as Heini talks.

“Got to look after my lads. Management want another half-hour each end of shift to make up quotas. Down early. Up late. It’s got to be stopped.” He lights a fresh cigarette, blowing the smoke out over his potato beds, away from Paul. “Trouble is, lads keep going off to war. Shift’s five short now.”

Paul pauses, bottle halfway to his mouth.

“Be careful. Don’t cause any trouble.”

“I says to them. You’re daft. War’s not Fatherland this Fatherland that. It’s shitting your pants in a hole while foreigners lob mortars at you. Watching your mates get blown to bits. Wondering if you’re next.”

Paul nods. These are memories he would prefer to leave undisturbed. But Heini is unstoppable now. He slides closer to Paul, his voice low.

“We should have gone back for Gustav. I’ll never forget his Ma’s face.”

Paul rests his elbows on his knees, watching the bottle swing by its neck between his fingers.

“We’d be dead if we had.”

They’re quiet for a while, listening to an evening blackbird’s staccato alarm. He’s outraged about something, a cat probably. Heini drains the last of his beer.

“How’s detecting been today?”

A cold worm of worry twists itself around Paul’s guts, sharper and fresher than the old memories.

“I had a run-in with the Gestapo.”

Heini coughs. That rattle in his lungs is back this evening.

“Keep away from them bastards Pauli.”