Manuscript Type
Logline or Premise
Mentally ill woman's only hope of survival in Nazi Germany is the Gestapo man who arrests her.
First 10 Pages

Berlin, Summer 1939, Rika

My moment of peace and quiet doesn’t last long. I was just getting sleepy, too. I suppose there’s a chance those footsteps thundering up the stairwell might not be Anton’s, but none of our neighbours bounce like that. Not that I've noticed Anton bouncing much recently.

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, darling.”

I let my arms flop.

“But I was just having a rest. I couldn't sleep last night and I’ve got a headache.”

He 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. I can start next month.”

This makes me frown. Frowning makes my headaches worse, only lately I can’t seem to stop.

“But you haven’t got a visa. Don’t they take ages to come?”

Anton 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.

“Up you get sweetheart. I’ve found a private travel agent in Schöneberg. He gets visas in under a week. Friend of a friend. We’ve got an appointment at two.”

I shrink back into the cushions. On the wall above my feet, the two children on Mama’s blue Delft plate are still skipping through long grass towards a windmill, carrying their basket of wheat sheaves. I've been watching them all morning. They haven't got there yet.

“Can’t we stay here and have coffee? There are still some biscuits left.”

Anton takes my hand, stroking it with his thumb the way I don’t like.

“You promised you wouldn’t be difficult about this, didn’t you my love?”

He holds up my shoes, dangling them by the ankle straps. When he smiles, his moustache stretches out long and thin. I used to like it when he tickled my lady parts with that.

In the crowded Underground, nobody feels like offering their seat to a lady, even one who obviously has a headache. Faces float like balloons over clustered bodies that sway like the grass on Mama’s plate when the train swerves. It’s difficult to be sure, but I don’t think there are quite enough bodies to go with the faces. Although I cling to the pole by the doors with both hands, Anton has to catch me when we stop at at Bayerischer Platz so I don’t fall into a sleeping drunk’s malodorous lap.

We get out at Nollendorf Platz. Waiting to cross the road, I watch naked sculptures writhing across the theatre facade opposite. Slim girls squirm in the arms of stony men with bulging crotches. Just as the traffic policeman’s white gloves beckon us over, a girl on the frieze opens her mouth to scream. I tug on Anton’s arm.

“I don’t think she likes that.”

He pulls me on, towards the theatre.

“Come on. 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 dust and shards against the blue sky. Anton links his elbow through mine and marches me around the corner, away from her.

“We haven’t got time for this now darling.”

It isn’t far to the house where Anton’s friend’s friend lives. A grand Jugendstil apartment building in grey and white stone, it straddles the corner of two streets, stretching almost halfway along each block. I stop at the foot of the entrance steps because the house doesn’t want us to go inside. Anton is already up at the top, searching the big brass doorbell plate for the right button to press. He looks over his shoulder at me.

“What’s the matter now?”

Cast-iron foliage decorating the big front door is in need of a good pruning. Hungry tendrils grope towards Anton, while an old man’s stone face with holes for eyes glowers down through the tangle from atop the arched lintel. I fold my arms.

“I’m not going in there. I don’t like the look of it. You shouldn’t either.”

Anton sighs.

“There’s nothing to worry about. Come up.” 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 steps. Anton has found the right bell now, one finger hovering over it. “Please be sensible Riki. Just for half an hour.”

The twig has reached the foot of the steps now, its blind tip nosing across the pavement. Another is wrapping itself around Anton’s knee.

“Anton. Come back.” Dragging his leg free, Anton comes back down to grasp my arm. I try and 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 go. He jabs a finger at the ground below my feet.

“All right then. But wait there. Promise not to 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 try and do as he says, I really do. Sharp metal twigs scratch at my stockings, drawing back when I bend to brush them away. But when the old man on the arch begins hooting at me, beard rippling in the gust of his cold breath. I can’t bear it any more. I return to the theatre. It’s on the way to the station so won’t count as wandering off.

The frontage is heaving with the dancers’ rehearsal for tonight’s performance. A patrician couple in Roman togas take charge from niches above them. The woman shouts,

“One, two, three, four. Stretch those legs 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 blank white eyes.

“What are you looking at?”

I shake my handbag at him.

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

“Fuck off bitch.”

Just when the last thing I need is anyone else interfering, a voice that sounds a bit like mine 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 look, I can’t see anyone. The stone man can though. He smirks.

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

I spin round, turning my back on him.

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

Hard hands grab my shoulders. Flesh and blood hands that appear from red brocade cuffs.

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

A blot of foam appears on the man’s gold-braided lapel. The shouting woman must have spat at him. Before I can apologise, she interrupts.

“Get your filthy hands off me, bastard.”

The man shouts into the open doors of the theatre.

“Rudi? Got another lunatic here. Call the police.”

The dancers and the roman couple are kneeling on their ledges, necks craning to watch. All their heads turn sideways at the sound of running footsteps. Anton plucks me out of the doorman’s grip and into his arms. I close my eyes and press my face into his jacket, breathing in the smell of home. His out-of-puff voice wheezes against my ear.

“It’s all right. She’s my wife.”

Somewhere far away, the doorman says,

“Mensch. She needs putting away.”

North End Police Station, Ruhrgebiet, Summer 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 criminal fraternity are staying at home with damp towels over the windows, leaving North End Precinct's seven Kriminalbeamter with nothing to do. Eye-stinging white vapour creeps in around ill-fitting window frames and hangs around the light fittings, mingling with cigarette smoke from six idle detectives. Paul hasn’t smoked since the Spanish influenza almost carried him off during the Great War. The thick air is making his chest feel tight. So when the telephone dispatcher calls out,

"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, spineless and round-shouldered, as youths always are these days. While Paul changes his status on the roster board from “in” to “out”, he avoids Beck’s gaze.

“Hauptwachtmeister Werner, sir? Are you going on a call-out?”

The boy is upright now, lips parted, dumpling face eager under its brush of gingery hair. Paul sighs.

“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. Then I'd only need a wounding to graduate."

At the railway station, a river of passengers from Essen parts around Paul, Beck and the Head Porter. Every head turns 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. No time before that.”

Beck lowers the department camera.

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

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

“This isn’t political Beck. Just vandalism.”

The perpetrator isn’t difficult to find. He’s lying on a bench in the station bus shelter, one sleeve rolled up to reveal a skinny arm splashed with glittering 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, sir.”

Paul crouches beside the bench.

“Looks fine to me.”

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.”

Paul laughs.

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

The boy twists his thin hands against the steel, glaring at Paul from under heavy eyelids.

“Horst Riesmer.”

Paul takes another good look at the boy.

“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 told us we shouldn't disturb crime scenes.”

“I expect they 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 an end-of-season tulip, making ever feebler dabs with the porters’ stinking rag. Beck 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. Fifteen minutes until overtime. Two hours until Anni serves dinner 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. Paul doesn't intend to risk missing the spectacle. He turns back to Riesmer.

“Put some effort into it, lad. Just the face.”

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

“It were a right good’un though.” He smiles, showing white teeth that look too large for his 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 phone your Pa before I clock off.”

In days to come, Paul will look back on what happens next, adding signs and portents to his memory. A foul stench, a darkening of the sky, a sudden cold wind, perhaps even a distant, echoing scream. But in reality there’s only the clunk of the doors opening and a billow of smog from outside. He doesn’t even turn round until he hears the shout.


A man in a hat and long leather coat is approaching across the concourse, cloaked in veils of brimstone and cigarette smoke. His speech is a broad Niederrhein Plattdeutsch from cow country, up beyond Krefeld.

“Stand aside Werner.”

Paul folds his arms and plants his feet well apart on the scuffed marble tiles.

“Guten Tag Herr Krahnendonk.”

Krahnendonk waves his cigarette in the direction of the exit.

“You Bulls can piss off now.”

Riesmer’s efforts with the rag cease and he turns to Paul, vacant expression marred by the beginnings of worry. Paul steps in front of Krahnendonk.

“This is an actual crime. Nothing the Gestapo'd be interested in.”

Krahnendonk 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, marching Riesmer in front of him, he hooks the Kripo department’s camera from Beck’s shoulder.

“I’ll take that.”

On the way back along smog-blurred North End Road, Paul stays ahead of Beck. Fists balled in his coat pockets, he clenches his teeth, scalp hot and slippery under the laquered hat brim. He listens to the one-two-one-two of his own footsteps, the rumbling wheels of coal carts at the colliery, the rattle of passing trams. None of it shuts out Beck’s breathless, whining voice.

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

Paul stops. Beck barrels into his back.

“You’re a little piece of shit Beck.”