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The March of August
You could always hear troops outside, the elite Waffen SS training day after day, night after strenuous night. This was all strange to young Heinrich Becker, the newly appointed major. He looked around taking one last look at his surroundings. This was a big change from just being a city boy from Berlin. With a thick folder held tightly in his hand, and his lungs full of a fresh air he walked in to the Standartenfürer's quarters. There his superior sat, working steadily on his work, surveying what Becker thought to be another interrogation file.
"Standartenführer Laidler," said Heinrich tightly.
"Ja, Was ist es das du Absicht zu stört mich mit Sturmbannführer Becker?"(Yes, what is it you intend to bother me with now Major Becker?) He did not look up from his desk. His attention was clearly divided as his hands glided over his papers in a careful, calculating motion.
Major Becker stood at the lower right of Laidler's desk, waiting patiently with an envelope in his hand. The young major had just recently been assigned to work under Standartenführer Hans Laidler; the famous and to some the infamous detective.
"Sir, please. I have been personally instructed by Gruppenführer Kuhl, to hand this to you."
Hans looked up eyeing Becker closely. The young major could tell he broke the careful concentration of his superior; not something he was aiming to do on the first week of work. He gave Becker an inquisitive stare, watching him as he stood stiff in his uniform.
"Very well, hand it to me." Hans voice held no animosity, on the contrary he sounded quite calm. Though Becker knew better, Hans he knew after a week of working with him, that his polite and calm exterior was simply a guise. One that he could strip off when the moment called for it. This man was one you did not want to cross, and Becker knew it.
"If that is all than you may leave, as you can see I have plenty of work that needs to be done."
"Auf Wiedersehen Standartenführer Laidler." Becker forced a pleasant smile, trying his best to stay stable in front of Hans.
"Auf Wiedersehen." Laidler opened the yellow, oddly weighted envelope pulling out its components. Inside were a few photographs, a thick tan file folder and a reel of film. He looked to the corner of the file, noticing a name, scribbled roughly there. 'Versuchsperson 033-9, Beneduci, August' the name held a small place in his mind, though it was probably a coincidence. His eyes shifted towards the photographs in his left hand, a thick stack, each with their date and marking code. Laidler turned his hand finding another name, 'Dr. Wilhelm Schrödinger', this one scratched with a doctor's hand by the look of it.
Why did he have this, that was the big question bubbling in his mind. The file gave no hint- at first, of why this had come into his possession; but for whatever the reason, it was there now. He opened the folder, glancing over the first few pages. Inside, there was a four month report on August Beneduci. Now he remembered where he had heard this name before. His mind drifted back to a young, well-mannered dark haired Italian man, one he had arrested for harboring Jews. But there was something missing, more like someone. August had a relative, though Hans couldn't place a name or age. Laidler leafed through the many pages, hoping to find something. His hand stopped, a note poked at the side of his hand. Probably what he should have read first. Hans placed the folder aside, opening the note reading it over to himself.
He smiled; his hand grazed his lower lip subconsciously as he continued to read the note. Another assignment, he knew another one would come sooner or later. Laidler folded the note placing it within the folder once more. It seems after Beneduci's capture and deportation he had been experimented on, only to escape a few months later. It had been almost an entire year since Laidler seen August Beneduci, now that he thought more on him. He must have eluded capture quite well; well enough that he was now the subject of Laidler's new hunt. Well this could amount to something, if it managed not to it wouldn't really matter to him. Hans grabbed the phone, pulling it towards him to call Gruppenführer Kuhl. Really there was no reason for him to take any time in starting his investigation; it would only manage to make things difficult. Passed all the formalities and greetings, Laidler made point to say he would start his assignment post haste; leaving little room for Kuhl to say much on the matter. The conversation came to an abrupt end; Laidler had no time to deal with Kuhl right now. Laidler placed the phone down, leaning back in his chair. For a moment he mused on August, once more pressing his memory for answers. His eyes were shut tight in concentration; the hazy memory teased him to no end. Hans pulled his cap from his head tossing it on the desk, running a hand through his sweat lined, caramel hair.
It was the following morning, in actuality it was still quite early. Even the newly enlisted soldiers had not begun to train. To Laidler this assignment would take a new perspective, and new strategy. Beneduci would be familiar with his tactics of investigation, and with Laidler's standing reputation it would not take long for word of his participation to reach August's ears. Hans took the nitrate film reel from its canister, carefully setting it on to the projector. The little machine clicked and hummed to life, its little motor struggling as it began to start. Even with Laidler's standing status in the German military it was a bit of a struggle to obtain even an old projector due to constraints caused by the war.
Laidler pulled up a chair near the old beaten projector watching the first few stained and cut frames roll by. Beneduci's name along with his marking number lined the first frame, along with Dr. Schröder's name. The reel began with the evaluation on Beneduci, followed by more procedure, nothing of much use to Laidler's investigation. Though Hans, being the meticulous and patient man he was continued to watch, knowing well enough there could be something to find within the report. Then as the reel continued, as if on cue something useful pressed through. Dr. Schröder made note of Beneduci's change in appearance, his face had been horribly burned due to reaction to a new chemical the doctor was testing. The frame ended abruptly, it was obvious the report was cut short due to August's escape. When the reel ended it seemed the projector had the same idea, the old rusting machine gave out one last groaning grunt before giving out.
Hans pulled the reel from its place and tossed the now worthless machine aside. Now with both the file and the film reel out of the way and enough information to begin his investigation Laidler moved on to the real task at hand. Taking his cap and coat in hand he walked out of his office, greeted by the rushed salute of Sturmbannführer Becker.
"Oh Guten Morgen Standartenführer Laidler!" Exclaimed Becker raising his arm in salute.
"Hallo Becker, wo ist Gruppenführer Kuhl?" (Hello Becker, where is Major General Kuhl?) Asked Hans.
"Ich bin nicht bestimmt Standartenfürer Laidler."(I'm not sure Colonel Laidler) said Becker lowering his hand.
Laidler tapped him on his shoulder, lazily attempting to alleviate the young major's discomfort. Becker put on a fake smile, pushing another letter into Hans' hand. Laidler looked it over, but did not attempt to open it. He looked up at Becker, his lips curled into a smile.
"Danke Heinrich," Laidler placed the letter within his coat, tapping its place lightly with his hand.
"Ihr Willkommen," replied Becker, his hands tightening within his gloves. Heinrich never could seem to figure out what Laidler was thinking. He always held a calm expression, and eloquent charm.
Laidler walked off without another word, once more leaving the young major perplexed. Hans loved leaving people this way, always second guessing themselves. And by the look on Becker's tight face he managed it flawlessly once more. Laidler stopped short, taking a moment to read this new letter. It was a list of French families for him to review, and at the head of the list was the name 'Lefévre'.
'I guess they decided I've been waiting around long enough," said Laidler to himself.
He placed the list back in its envelope, within his coat; this he would attend to later. Laidler walked on, more towards another set of officer's quarters, ones set aside for higher ranking officials. He knocked lightly on the wind beaten door, stepping aside after. The door opened slightly, but almost immediately opened completely as the person on the other side realized it was Laidler knocking at their door. Despite his rank, most of the German military regarded Hans Laidler very highly. It was just the effect that Laidler loved to invoke, and did every chance he could.
"May I come in?" asked Laidler, already taking a step into the office.
"Ja, of course," said Kuhl, stepping back to let Laidler walk past him. Kuhl closed the door behind him, walking back to his desk.
"I expect you are here for-" Kuhl was cut short; Laidler raised his hand slightly parting his lips to say something.
"If I may interrupt Gruppenführere," Hans walked forward, "since the subject of my investigation will involve the evaluation of all German soldiers who stood guard the night in which August Beneduci escaped; I will need your signature to interrogate higher officials."
Kuhl only glanced at Laidler for a moment, who stood neat and eloquent with a suave smile on his lips. Even though he outranked Laidler, he felt like a mere child in his presence. Laidler took another step forward, moving back into Kuhl's eye line.
"Of course," Kuhl quickly moved again, he couldn't look Hans directly in his eyes. He already felt like he knew his every move, even before he did. No wonder he was so good at his work, a regular Sherlock Holmes.
"Have I offended you dear Grüppenführer?" Asked Hans, with a pseudo apologetic tone.
"No, not at all Hans; you have, in no way offended me," replied Kuhl, picking up his pen and averting his eyes once more.
"Then why is it that my presence seems to unnerve you, unsettle you even." Hans spoke very hard and direct, the simple question was more of an observation or an accusation than an actual question. Kuhl stepped lightly, feeling a lump well in his throat as his mouth went dry. Laidler sat completely still, his hands folded in his lap, across his neatly ironed uniform. A friendly, yet sly smile adorned his thin lips, pressing needle like tensions in Kuhl's neck. He felt vulnerable, and out of control. Laidler, with a simple smile took over the entire conversation, manipulating it to his benefit.
"Your presence here does no such thing, I assure you," said Kuhl trying to rework the conversation in his favor; though Hans would never let that happen so easily, or even at all.
"It has come to my attention that you were stationed in Frankfurt, the night Beneduci escaped. In fact you were the head overseer at Dr. Schröder's facility where August Beneduci was being held am I correct?" Laidler continued, what was now practically an interrogation. A simple conversation so easily bent and reworked till it met his needs, just how he liked this to work.
Kuhl couldn't find the proper words to say. He knew one wrong word could cause Laidler to hold an even higher advantage. He would exploit it to the fullest degree, without the slightest hint of holding back. Kuhl could feel his hands shaking, his breath a tight boulder in his throat. His eyes darted around his desk, in a vain attempt to find something, anything to end this conversation. Kuhl knew that his silence was also an indicator to Hans, he could not remain quiet for much longer. The tips of his fingers landed on a stray bit of paper, giving him something to say to the inquisitive stare that Hans was giving him. Kuhl's eyes met Laidler's once more, but only for a brief moment.
Hans' smile pressed on, he loved how much control he had. He knew it was a matter of time before Kuhl would snap and give him the information he needed; a possible link to the growing question in his mind of a partner or relative of August's. Instinct told him Kuhl knew just that. His weak, childish motions and stiff, forced words were a clear indicator that he was hiding something. Even with this knowledge Hans wanted to toy with Kuhl as much as he could, slowly prying the information from him.
To Hans, this was the most enjoyable part of an interrogation, one he could secretly revel in while the other person squirmed. Kuhl had other plans in mind; he had no such desire to prolong this any further. The sooner Laidler left the better. He quickly scribbled his name on a piece of paper, thrusting it towards Hans.
"Here you are, now you have the proper authority to interrogate who you must." Kuhl stood up from his desk walking around it towards Laidler.
Hans stood up as well, shaking Kuhl's noticeably clammy palms. He grasped his hand firmly, making sure he looked directly into his eyes.
"Pleasure speaking with you Grüppenführer Kuhl," said Hans with a calm smile. Laidler watched Kuhl's eyes closely, studying his expression with a meticulous and careful gaze.
"The pleasure was mine, Standartenfürer Laidler." His eyes shifted uncomfortably, his heart was racing in his chest as Hans' penetrating eyes seemed to stare straight into his soul
Nothing Kuhl did or could have done made any difference. That look told him what words had no need to say. Laidler said nothing more, for the most part he got what he needed from Kuhl, and there was no reason for anything else. Although, there were still many blanks that needed to be filled. With a quick salute Hans left the room, much to Kuhl's relief.
Laidler took a step towards the outside door, opening it a crack. His ears were greeted with the familiar sound of the early morning marching soldiers, their heavy boots swashing deep within the thick mud with each step in perfect unison. The light moist air licked at his face, caressing every line and curve of his aging features. Hans' smile returned for a moment as he walked outside, and out of the officer's quarters. Hans stepped out on to field, walking towards his personal quarters, his once shining, spotless boots now coated in a thick layer of moist earth. Laidler looked down, feeling the mud under his feet shrugging his shoulders lightly. He walked on, leaving a trail of foot prints in his wake as he walked to his own office.
"Standartenführer!" called out a voice, by the sound of it, its owner was out of breath and panting roughly. Heinrich pressed his palms into his knees, hunched over as he steadied his breathing.
"Was ist es Sturmbannführer?" (What is it Major?) Asked Laidler, surveying the young major. A light smirk pressed on his lips, as Heinrich continued to pant and wheeze.
"Something's happened, a soldier has been murdered!" Heinrich could hardly speak; his words were a strenuous mess of sound to Laidler.
"Calm down Sturmbannführer, show me where this happened," said Hans, grasping Heinrich firmly by his shoulder. Heinrich shook his head in compliance, guiding Laidler down the muddy path down past the officer's quarters where the first set of barracks were. Down at the end of the path, Laidler could see a large crowd of solders huddled outside, all chatting and whispering to each other. There were too many men speaking at once for Hans to make out what any of them were saying.
"All of you get out of my way," growled Laidler pushing past the large group.
Everyone there grew silent instantly at the sound of Laidler's voice. Each raised their arms in salute, in a rather clumsy movement.
Hans walked into the barracks, surveying the scene. The room was relatively clean; in fact there was not a trace of blood anywhere. But even still the room was in complete disarray, it was obvious there was a struggle. He walked over to the body, face down on a table. Laidler pulled back his collar, the boy was a private and quite young by the look of him. Most likely he was twenty, or quite possibly even nineteen. At first the cause of death was a bit of a mystery, there was no blood and no bullet holes to be seen so a gun was ruled out. Hans took another step closer, kneeling down. Right below his jaw line Laidler could see a tiny little needle mark, red and swollen. Something seemed off about this, why would an insignificant private be murdered? Why in such a discreet way? This felt like something August would do, but there was no real basis for this assumption. Although Laidler's gut pressed and pressed on Beneduci, and Hans learned a long while ago to trust his instincts.
August was a very subtle man by nature, never one to draw too much attention. It was one of the main reasons the Jewish family he had been hiding had gone on undetected for as long as they did. Laidler looked back to the first time he met August, when he was first given the assignment to investigate him along with various other families. He was very polite, and preformed like a perfect host like one would expect. August spoke with a strong yet light, accented voice that pressed through his German one at various times. One thing Laidler clearly remembered was his appearance; he had dark curling hair, olive skin, and soft hazel eyes framed by dark puffy circles. He was an excellent liar, very cunning and able to deter people from suspicion. But even with all his tricks and illusions, Laidler found a way to see past all the smoke and mirrors. Watching his eyes.
As Hans continued to interrogate him, casually pressing each inquisitive question, all of which August answered perfectly. Although despite all this there was one key thing Laidler noticed; one little mistake he kept on making. With each question, August would glance at his bookcase. Not a worried glance, just a constant one that Laidler was able to catch.
At first it seemed like a simple habit, but as time went on it became apparent as to why he was doing this. Upon another search of his home, there he found a secret basement room, leading from the bookcase. Hans remembered the look on his face, unlike many others who would be fighting or crying, begging for their life, August just sat there, a very somber smile on his face. He raised his hands in the air in complete surrender, whispering every so softly: "Arrivederci, mia cara sorella"
Laidler never figured out what he had said, he whispered it so softly, so quietly that even if Hans knew Italian he might not have understood him. This was the last he ever saw of the young Italian man; he never would have expected he would be facing him again. Hans looked up over his shoulder, torn from the memory by a light knock on the door. Grüppenführer Kuhl stood stiff as a board, in the doorway. He did not want to be alone with Laidler again, but as life would have it he was forced in another conversation with him, once more testing him.
"Hallo Grüppenführer," Laidler couldn't help but grin widely as Kuhl squirmed slightly.
"I will take over from here, you have much work to Standartenführer," said Kuhl, with a surprisingly confident voice. It was clear he would not let Laidler win power over him so easily.
"Well if you insist Grüppenführer, Auf Weidersehen." Hans stood up from his crouched position, giving Kuhl a small pat on his shoulder as he walked out.
"Heinrich," called out Laidler, waving his hand in his direction.
"Ja, Oberst," Heinrich quickly pushed passed the group of men to Laidler, awaiting his order.
"Take this, get me each address and come back to me when you are done." Laidler pulled a list of names, handing it to Heinrich.
"Ja, of course." Heinrich gave him a quick salute, pushing past the crowd once more.
After Heinrich made his way, Hans pushed passed the various men, back down the muddy path. Slowly the group dispersed, moving back into their normal routine once more. The sky was growing to be a dark depressing gray, its clouds swelling to be a big puffy black mass. He felt a hard cold rain drop sting his cheek, followed shortly after by an onslaught of water. Laidler grumbled lightly pulling his leather collar closer to his face. His cap took on most of the rain, thankfully. Walking on, his coat pressed to his cheeks, his shoulders tight from holding it in place, Laidler mused silently on the task at hand. The icy air and hard cold rain were a terrible, dangerous mixture. And by the look of things it wouldn't be letting up any time soon.
With a shaking unsteady hand he reached for the handle of his door, about to walk inside. Only one foot in the door, he stopped. Hans could feel eyes on the back of his neck; there was an unbearable feeling that he was being watched. Slowly, he looked over his shoulder while his hand slipped within his pocket where his pistol laid. With peeled eyes, and hands firmly wrapped around his gun he receded back outside. The rain once more, smacked his face, now a steady comforting feeling against his skin. Above the door, within the right window kneeled a hazy image. Squinting his eyes, peering into the thick curtain of rain, Hans, to no avail tried to see who this specter could be. The ominous, blurry figure barely looked human in this mess. He couldn't even distinguish a gender or age let alone its identity. In the distance footsteps met his ears.
Laidler tightened his grip on the pistol, his elbow popping in a gut reaction as he heard footsteps trudging in the mud. He looked up, finding Becker walking towards him, his coat held over his head as a makeshift rain coat. Resting his grip, Hans slipped his hand back into his coat taking a step towards Heinrich as he approached.
"Standartenführer, was bist du tun in die Regen?" Asked Becker. (What are you doing in the rain?)
For a moment it felt like Hans was going mad, standing in the rain, staring at an old beaten building. He looked up at Heinrich, smiling innocently.
Hans replied in a very simple, quiet voice: "Ach Nichts Sturmbannführer. Lassen Sie uns raus aus die Regen." (Oh nothing Major. Let's get out of the rain)
Becker took one look a Hans; even he was starting to question Laidler's sanity. He placed a firm hand on the colonel's shoulder, walking with him inside. Hans shook his cap, dusting the stray water from it. Becker removed his coat from above his head, setting it aside. His hands were wrinkled and numb from the icy rain. Heinrich's coat was little help to keep him dry in such thick weather.
"Have you procured the information I need?" Asked Hans, sitting down at his desk. He hands folded, neatly placing them on his lap as he awaited Becker's answer.
"Ja, mein Standartenführer." Replied Becker reluctantly, twirling the list in his hand.
Hans extended his grasp towards Heinrich, "Well then, hand it to me." His smile faded slightly at the tone in Becker's voice. Most likely, the lack of enthusiasm meant that most of the men on the list were either unaccounted for or worse dead.
"Nur zwei?" (Only two?) Questioned Hans, genuinely surprised at this realization. This was even worse than he thought.
Becker's shoulders tightened, saying in reply, "Tut mir Leid mein Standartenführer. Das war alles ich finden konnte” (I'm sorry colonel that was all I could find.)
"Its fine Sturmbannführer, I will call Hermann for a motor later in the day. In the meantime report to Grüppenführer Kuhl, I need to see more on that murder."
"Ja, mein Standartenführer." Said Heinrich walking back towards the door. He stopped midstride, something bothered the young Major, and he couldn't quite shake this uneasy feeling he had been h
"Something seems off if I may say Standartenführer." Heinrich could hardly say what he wanted; already falling short on one of his superiors' orders did not put him in a favorable position. He would have to tread lightly, no matter how benevolent the colonel appeared to be.
"You mean ever since this file has found its way to my hands?" Asked Laidler, tapping the report on Beneduci with his finger.
Becker took a step towards Hans, "Ja, mein Standartenführer." He replied. The inquisitive colonel smiled at the unsteady major, moving from his seated position at his desk. Slipping his pipe from his coat, pressing it to his lips he said simply, "I agree."
Heinrich felt as if a weight had been lifted from his shoulders. He looked into the deep gray eyes of the colonel, no longer warm and friendly. Now another weight pressed on his back.
"What else have you heard?" asked Laidler, lighting his pipe. His thumb tucked into his belt, his eyes focused directly at the quivering young Major.
"Nothing as of late, but I just know there is something going on." Laidler took a step forward, moving his pipe from his lips.
"You just know? But there has to be something to spark that intimation." Heinrich could smell the thick layer of tobacco, but it felt alien to him. He could hardly, if ever remember the Colonel smoking that big caramel and black calabash pipe.
"I would think you of all people would understand, Standartenführer." Replied Becker, trying to keep himself from coughing as smoke from Laidler's pipe filled his nostrils. Heinrich could see Laidler's face soften; now his expression matched his soft benevolent voice.
"Of course, I just wanted to see what you would say Sturmbannführer." The colonel took a step back, lessening the thick, tense air that surrounded them. The young Major laughed weakly, pressing a hand into his uniform, the cold iron cross pinching into his hand.
Becker took in a breath looking up at Hans, asking: "Is there anything else I can do Herr Standartenführer?" Laidler watched Becker for a moment, saying nothing. He removed the calabash pipe from his lips, gesturing his arm to the young major in a friendly fashion.
"Nein, Nein. Just report to Grüppenführer Kuhl, after that wait for my next order." He smiled, although to Becker it felt more like a grin. Heinrich clicked his heels together, saluting Laidler before walking out of the door. No matter how hard he tried Becker could never shake that deep unsettling feeling the colonel gave him.
Laidler watched Heinrich retreat out the door, practically running after his last word. He pressed the pipe to his lips one last time before shacking out the hot tobacco. The pipe left a bittersweet taste in his mouth, as he let out one last puff of smoke. Hand slipped his calabash back in his bulky black leather coat, sitting down at his desk. Laidler glanced at his phone for a second, contemplating the information he had acquired that morning. Kuhl's behavior shined little light, although all it proved was that he may of had a hand in Beneduci's escape. It seemed that way at least. Hans picked up the phone lazily, as he dialed the number for his driver. Laidler pinched the bridge of his nose, squinting his eyes tightly. Sleep was beginning to creep up on him, and he hardly had any the night before. He took in a single steady breath, pushing aside the fatigue he was feeling.
"Hallo, dies ist Standartenführer Hans Laidler." (Hello, this is Colonel Hans Laidler) Said Hans, masking the husky drawl in his voice as best as he could.
"Ach Hallo Standartenführer, was kann ich für Sie tun?" (Oh Hello Colonel, what can I do for you?)
Laidler sat upright in his chair, pressing the phone closer to his ear. He glanced over at the list of names in his hand, mulling over the thought once more.
"Ich müssen du zu bringen das Auto zu mich. Ich habe einige Arbeit zu tun." (I need you to bring the car to me. I have some work to do.) Said Laidler finally.
"Ist die Alle Standartenführer?" (Is that all Colonel?) Asked Hermann on the other end of the line.
"Ja, Ja. Danke Hermann das ist Alle." (Yes, yes. Thank you Hermann, that's all.) And with that Hans hanged up the phone, letting out a tight breath as he did. He raised his hand to his forehead, wiping the thin layer of sweat from his brow with his sleeve. The simple gesture was enough for Laidler to fully regain his composure again. He moved from his desk onto his feet, placing his cap on his head. Hans took one look in the mirror, giving the brim on firm tug. With that he walked out the door, the rain had for the most part let up, but by the look of the clouds it would return just as fervently as before momentarily.
Laidler looked down the gravel path finding Hermann, his driver, waiting for him by the door of the car. He removed his cap, waiving towards him.
Hans walked towards Hermann, placing his cap back on his head. The simple man smiled, opening the door for the colonel.
"Wo zu Standartenführer Laidler?" (Where to Colonel Laidler?) He asked, giving Laidler a small salute. Hans smiled back, adjusting his cap.
"Ach, lass mich sehen." (Ah, let me see.) Laidler pulled the once long list from his coat. Going through the list, mentally crossing out the names that were labeled 'deceased'. Hermann waited patiently, still holding the door. After a few years of service under Standartenführer Laidler he'd grown well accustomed to his mannerisms, this he knew all too well of Hans to do.
"Ach Leon Köhler, Dies ist, wo wir gehen müssen." (Leon Köhler, This is where we need to go)Said Hans finally, folding the paper over, handing it to Hermann. He looked over the address, handing it back to Hans; it was not that far from where they were. Laidler placed the list back within his coat, climbing the rest of the way into the car. Hermann took his place behind the wheel, driving the short distance to the small townhouse where Köhler lived.
Hermann stopped short at the left most side of the old town house, where a man in a rather ragged German uniform sat, smoking his pipe. Hans took one moment to survey the figure, unsure if this was the man he was looking for. The colonel opened the door stepping out of the car, walking towards the old man. He smiled lightly, waving in the man's direction. The stern old man took one look at Hans, his face lined with a deep set dour expression at the sight of him.
"Hallo, ich bin suchen für eine Mann von die Namen Leon Köhler." (Hello, I am looking for a man by the name of Leon Köhler) Asked Laidler, pulling his gloves from his hands.
"Ich bin Leon Köhler, und das ist Obergruppenführer zu dich." (I am Leon Köhler, and that is Lieutenant General to you.) Replied Köhler.
"Guten Abend Obergruppenführer Köhler, Ich bin Standartenführer Hans Laidler." (Good evening Lieutenant General Köhler; I am Colonel Hans Laidler.) Greeted Hans, saluting Köhler respectfully.
"Guten Abend Standartenführer. Was ist es das du müssen?" (Good evening Colonel. What is it you need?) The older soldier nodded lightly toward Hans, though his sour expression remained pressed firmly into his worn features. Hans smiled at the man, opening his arms in a friendly manner. He took a seat on top an old wine box, near Köhler's left.
"Ich habe komm zu spreche zu du über August Beneduci." (I have come to speak to you about August Beneduci.)
He pulled his pipe from his dry cracked lips, blowing off a puff of smoke into the air. It seemed that with every word the colonel spoke the more his patience wore thin.
"Ich habe angetroffen viele Männer in meiner Zeit." (I have encountered many men in my time) Said Köhler, "Einige waren wie Sie, eine Soldat. Einige waren nur normale Leute, versuche nur zu Überleben in der Welt." (Some were like you, a soldier. Some were just regular people trying to survive in the world.)
His voice grew heavy, louder, to the point of shouting. "Ich habe sehen beide sterben recht vor meinen Augen!" (I have seen both die right before my eyes!) Growled the old soldier with a deep vociferous voice, his dulling blue eyes full of anger.
Rather abruptly he grew silent, placing his pipe between his lips leaning back. A sardonic yet somber smile lined his lips. "Dear Standartenführer, I have had quite enough of this. I did not fight through World War I just to be lectured and interrogated by an officious subordinate, like yourself."
Hans looked down at the old man, not thinking for a moment on the insult that was thrown at him. In fact, in a measure of stability and clear composure he removed his cap placing it over his breast.
"Herr Köhler, I meant no disrespect as I have obviously ensued. I will now take me leave." Pleaded Laidler, pressing the thick apology in hope to deter Köhler's animosity of his presence. He turned on his heel walking towards his car, awaiting for Köhler to say a word in protest. And he did not disappoint.
"Wait Standartenführer, I do have a few things to say in accordance to your investigation." Called the dour Köhler, still puffing at his pipe. It was a bit surprising to hear English, but it didn't matter much to Hans. A wide, sly smile pressed into Laidler's face, just what he wanted. He turned back around, putting his cap back in place.
"I may have been a bit rash, speak what you must, not a word more." Growled Köhler, blowing a think puff of smoke from his pipe. He ran a hand through his graying blonde beard, watching the detective's movements closely.
"Danke Herr Köhler, I will not take much of your time." Beamed Hans, sitting on top of the old wine box once more. His arm moved back, shoving the train of his long leather trench coat behind him.
Laidler reached his hand in his pocket, "Might I smoke my pipe as well?" he asked surveying the old German carefully. He nodded, continuing to smoke his own. Laidler took out his large calabash, pressing the end to his lips.
"It has come to my attention that you, along with a select few of other soldiers were acquainted with a young Italian man by the name of August Beneduci."
Köhler let out a haughty laugh, "I could hardly say I was acquainted with such a man. But yes I was stationed those few months where he was being kept. In fact he was the main topic of discussion most nights."
"And why was that? It couldn't of been for why he was there, was it was something he did while, he was there." Asked Hans, curious to hear what the old German had to say on this, there was nothing in Beneduci's report that could signify what Köhler was speaking about.
"Ja, he was able to survive Dr. Schröder's experiments. Anyone of the others died, but not that bastard, he just kept going on and on. The old doctor was never happier those four months." Köhler pressed more tobacco in his pipe, lighting another match.
"Is there anything else?" Asked Hans, continuing the conversation in English. Köhler let out a breath of smoke, looking much like an old dragon.
"Nein, ich habe nicht zu spreche auf August Beneduci." Replied Köhler. The colonel smiled, almost gleefully.
"Danke, Obergruppenführer Köhler. Es was ein Freude sprechen mit ihnen." (Thank you, Leiutenant General Köhler. It was a pleasure speaking with you.) Said Hans in a very plain spoken, and eloquent voice. Köhler simply nodded in the colonel's direction, muttering from behind his pipe a tight "Guten Abend, Standartenführer."
Hans looked over to Hermann, waiting at the door of the car, playing idly with his gloves. Laidler gave Köhler one final salute, walking back to the car.
"Wie war deine Diskussion mit die Obergruppenführer?" (So, How was your discussion with the Lieutenant General?) Asked Hermann, not really expecting an answer from Hans.
"Gut, sehr gut. Ich habe was ich würrde von ihm." (Good, very good. I have what I needed from him.) Replied Laidler, stepping into the car once more.
"Ach, vor ich vergessen. Heir ist die nächste Adresse." (Oh before I forget. Here is the next address.)Hans poked his head out the open window, handing the list back to Hermann. The young man nodded a looked over the next address, though taking longer than before. He looked up smiling at Laidler, hiding the bitter expression from his face.
"Wir müssen vorsichtig sein." (We must be careful.) Hermann spoke rather roughly, as the address scrawled in mixed handwriting of Hans and Heinrich bothered him. He handed Hans the paper, stepping into the car. Laidler, replaced it back in his coat, quite curious to Hermann's reaction.
"Warum?" (why?) Asked Hans, his hand still in his coat, holding onto the list.
"Es ist nicht ein gut Platz zu sein. Vor allem diese Tageszeit." (It is not a good place to be. Especially this time of day.) Said Hermann, plainly as he could, pointing at the list. It raddled him so much, that his hands were shaking. He hardly ever fought a real battle in his life, it was just his luck that he was pulled out of Poland to be a simple driver for a colonel. At least he would get out of this damn war alive, not having to worry about being shot down in a trench, or gunned down in the woods.
"Nun, ich habe weiter meine Untersuchung, depite die Beschwerden." (Well, I have to continue my investigation, despite the discomfort.) Said the colonel, growing rather weary of wasting the daylight discussing this. As true as it might be, the fact that they were spending the daylight hours talking, and going at night would not be any better.
"Ich verstehe." (I understand) Hermann shifted uncomfortably, putting the car into gear. Hans chuckled a bit, lightening the tight atmosphere. The colonel, feeling rather good about himself, removed his cap from his sweat lined scalp and set it aside. Looking up at the black metal top of the old ratting car, he smoothed back his hair, moving it back into place. He closed his eyes, just almost drifting to sleep when Hermann jerked him from his serene state.
"Es tut mir leid zu stören dich Standartenführer, wie bist heir." (I'm sorry to disturb you Colonel, we are here.) Said Hermann, loud enough for Hans to clearly hear him within his sleepy stupor.
"Ach, danke Hermann. Ich muss eingeschlafen haben." (Ah, thank you Herman. I must have fallen asleep.)Drawled Hans in a husky, sleepy tone. He rubbed his eyes roughly, pinching the sleep away. Laidler promptly placed his cap back on his head, straightening his light green uniform tunic in one swift motion of his hands. He surveyed his appearance for a brief moment, taking the time to resettle his slightly disheveled appearance. Hans walked up to the decrepit, dismal building, knocking lightly on the water stained oak door. The sound of shuffling footsteps reverberated from behind the door. A light yet strong feminine voice called out from behind of the door, first in French.
"Qui est ce?" (Who is it?) Called out the woman from behind the door, though it did not seem that she really spoke much French.
"Je m'appelle Hans Laidler, Mademoiselle." (My name is Hans Laidler) He replied, speaking near perfect French.
"Du bist Deutsch recht? Ich nicht spreche Französisch. Aber ich kann Deutsch sprechen." (You're German right? I don't speak French, but I do speak German.)
"Nun, in diesem Fall mein Fräulein. Bitte lassen Sie mich förmlich mich vorstellen." (Well, in this case my Fräulein . Please permit me to formally introduce myself.) Said Hans switching back to German, a wide smile pressed on his lips. There were more footsteps from behind the door. A man's voice spoke lightly behind the door, the woman who Hans had been speaking to spoke again but not in German or French. The door opened, but a woman did not open the door. In the woman's place was a tall white haired man, his sleeves rolled up to his elbows, a carving knife in his hand. Blood spotted the uneven cuffs of his rolled blouse, and down his arms and hands.
"Zustand Ihres Unternehmens Herr Laidler." (State your business Herr Laidler.) Said the man, with a gruff but polite voice.
Hans clicked his heels together adding an inch to his height, as the man at the door was considerably taller.
"Is this the residence of Dr. Arwin Drechsler?" Asked the Colonel.
"Ich bin Doktor Drechsler." He replied simply, sounding very much indifferent to Laidler's presence.
"Ich bin Standardenführer Hans Laidler Herr Doktor." Hans extended his hand for Dr. School, who shook it rather stiffly. It was quite clear that the doctor's mind was preoccupied, and the last of his worries were of Hans.
"Why are you here?" He asked bitterly.
"Ich habe komm heir zu bitten dir ein paar Fragen." (I have come to ask you a few questions.) Said Hans in an open, friendly voice.
He looked at the doctor closely, taking note of his appearance. Dr. Drechsler had light blonde-brown hair, slicked back close to his scalp. At first glance he looked quite old, but as the colonel looked closer he noticed this was not the case. He couldn't have been older than thirty, though he looked to be in his late fifties. The lines in his face were more pronounced, deep and ridged. The cross, dour expression only served to accentuate the false age.
"Nachdem Sie Herr Oberst,"(after you colonel) Said Dr. Drechsler opening the door.
Hans gingerly smiled, his eyes still following Drechsler closely. Walking up to the threshold of the poor wind beaten building he began to follow the dour doctor.
Laidler walked through the door into the poorly lit hallway, Dr. Drechsler closed the door behind him, locking it. Hans looked over the entrance of the house, noticing it was quite plain, almost boring. A sharp, pungent odor met his nostrils as they walked further down the hallway. It was like rusty iron, though it was probably the blood caked on the doctor's cloths that he was smelling. Dr. Drechsler took a step ahead of Hans, directing him towards his office. He clasped his hand around the knob of the door, hesitating for a brief moment. His eyes darted towards Hans for a moment, an untrusting, worried glance. The doctor shook off any discomfort, opening the inner-hallway door, gesturing with a forced, friendly smile to walk in front of him.
The colonel took notice to this odd behavior, but did well to hide his knowledge. He simply smiled, walking into the rather small office, pulling off his wool gloves as he walked. Once more the doctor closed the door behind him, glancing back down the hallway through the shady glass. Hans looked around, it was drastically different then the stripped, bare white hallway. It had a rather warm, comfortable feeling, with its neat structured wood furnishings, sturdy bookcases filled with books on various topics. Although it was still very simple, that was something very uniform about the house. Dr. Drechsler kept completely silent, waiting for Hans to speak first, thinking it was the best option to deal with a man like him. Especially a man with his reputation, it would never be wise to speak too quickly.
Dr. Drechsler glance up at the clock, feeling the pressing window of time grow larger and larger. Laidler sat down at the desk, looking up at the doctor. He took this as an invitation to speak.
"Ich habe keine zeight für das. I hope you understand Standartenführer." Said Dr. Drechsler, sitting opposite from the colonel.
"I won't take long, I assure you." Laidler spoke in a very casual tone, relieving part of the formal feeling his presence imposed. The doctor's expression slipped into a skeptical, almost sarcastic smile. It did not linger, shifting back to the bitter one he had before.
The doctor stepped to the side and into a side room, Hans could hear the splash of running water ruminate though the paper tin walls. Drechsler reentered into the room, his hands clasped tightly around a not quite white hand towel.
"Well in that case, was ist dir müssen mich herr Oberst?" Asked Dr. Drechsler as he placed a cigarette in his mouth. His fingers were cherry red despite his attempt at washing the blood away. He blew the air of smoke aside, his cobalt eyes watching Hans as he watched him.
"What can you tell me of Dr. Wilhelm Schrödinger?" Asked Hans, simply throwing out a question for his answer. Drechsler's head popped up slightly at the mention of his former colleague. The doctor walked up to where the colonel was sitting, taking the seat opposite him at the desk.
"I do not know that man." He replied, pulling out a cigarette from his pocket, pressing it to his lips. Laidler's eye widened slightly, not expecting such an answer. He pulling out a pen, scribbling a note down. He looked at the doctor with a steely gaze, moving forward in his chair.
"Are you absolutely sure you do not know him? It has been some time after all, that you would have crossed paths." Pressed the colonel, now watching the doctor with keen interest. Dr. Drechsler mimicked Hans' gesture, leaning forward.
"Ja." He said, with an almost abhorrent glare toward Hans. Laidler took in a clean breath, shifting his calm expression to a ridged, cold glare. The pleasant, benevolent smile left his face, morphing his charming features into a cold hard stare.
"Listen very closely Herr Doktor. I, like yourself take my job very seriously." He began. Drechsler nodded in agreement, though very tightly.
"Over the years I have come to learn how to distinguish a lie from the truth, and frankly I'm good at it. Now, I will give you one more chance, what do you know of Dr. Wilhelm Schrödinger?" Hans spoke very quiet, but even still the severity in his voice was unmistakable. Although the subtle threat was a bit of a bluff on his part, it would not help him in any way to just shoot Drechsler.
The doctor leaned back, his brow furrowed with deep set agitation. At this point he would have given anything to make the damn colonel disappear. Drechsler was afraid of Hans, though he would never let him see his fear, already compromising himself far too much in the matter of ten minutes.
"Believe me Standartenführer; I do not know that man." He said once more, a little louder than before.
Hans sat in silence for a moment, not saying anything right away to Drechsler's answer. Drechsler stood up, standing uncomfortably in the silence, biting the inner part of his cheek to ease the anxiety he was feeling. Hans lifted his chin looking upward at the doctor; a docile, misplaced smile lined his lips.
"Well if that is all you have to tell me Herr Doktor, I will now take my leave." Said Hans finally, pressing his hands to his knees, standing up. He took his cap from the desk placing it back on his head.
"Guten Nacht Herr Oberst." Said Drechsler in a more relaxed voice, his shoulders no longer stuck in a tight bunch. Hans stopped, looking over his shoulder.
"Auf Wiedersehen." He said, his voice drawling out.
Hans left Dr. Drechsler's house, having gained little help to his investigation. The man was a liar, the only truth he managed to tell was his own name. The day had fallen away to the evening, which was a dangerous time in this part of France. The colonel walked alone down the dirt road, passing houses and various shops. There was an eery silence, and once more Hans felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. That overbearing feeling of being watched hung over him once more. Laidler looked around himself, slowly, if someone was watching it wouldn't be wise to draw more attention. Unlike before there was no hazy figure, no mysterious Spector for him to mold his intimation on. Walking on, Hans thought it best to simply ignore the feeling and walk on, the more he lingered the more danger he was putting himself in.
he felt a hand slip around his neck, and a barrel of a gun pushed into his back.
Hans raised his hands slowly, he did not look behind himself. The hand was large, callus like that of a man's. Laidler's attacker pressed his fingertips firmly into the colonel's throat, clumsily constricting his air.
"nehmen Sie dies als Warnung." He growled, his think polish accent ripping his German one to shreds. It was quite obvious this was the extent of the man's German, the mispronunciation and forced syllables were a tell-tale sign of that. Most likely the ill-mannered Pole only bothered to learn what he needed to say, nothing more. Hans glanced back at the man, smiling slightly. He was unsteady, weary from travel, hardly ready to carry out any threats. Oh this little warning was not a good idea and certainly not well planned. Whoever this man was needed a little test in strategy. It almost felt as if the man did this in the spur of the moment, simply taking an opportunity that presented itself. He couldn't blame the man for having enough courage to try. Well then again it could have been plain stupidity that the boy decided to attack him. Hans favored that possibility a little more than the other.
He took hold of the gun, twisting the man's arm behind his back with a firm jerk of his wrist. The man let out a sharp yelp as the bones in his wrist crackled in Hans' tight grip.
"Ich bin angst ich kann nicht lassen wie eine Bedrogung gehen unerwünschte." (I'm afraid I can't let such a threat go unwanted) Said Hans darkly, pressing his Lugar into his assailant's ribs. The young Polish man's face was twisted in a confused expression, he couldn't understand a word Hans was saying and the pain he felt in his ribs and wrist weren't much help either. The Pole squinted his eyes trying to think of a way, a word that would show he couldn't understand.
"W-Was?" He said, unsure if this was the right word to say. The colonel laughed pressing the barrel of his gun further into the man's ribs.
"Was Sprache tun du spreche?" (What language do you speak?) He asked, speaking very slowly in hope that the man could understand him.
"Polski, Mówę Polskiej." (Polish, I speak Polish) Replied the man in Polish.
Hans thought for a moment, he knew no Polish at all, so how could he talk to the man? Then it came to him, Hermann knew some Polish if memory served him right. He was stationed in Poland for a year, prior to working under himself, problem solved. Laidler, now knowing a way to talk to the man pulled at his arm guiding him down the dirt road, where Hermann was waiting for Hans to return. The smile on the German's face faded instantly as he saw the struggling man in the Colonel's grasp. He could hardly ask him what was going on.
"Du spreche ein bisschen Polnisch, Ja?" (You speak a bit of Polish right) Asked Hans struggling to hold the man in place. The question took Hermann by surprise, he almost couldn't answer it.
"J-Ja Standartenführer, aber ein bisschen." (Yes Colonel, but only a little bit.) Replied Herman, walking up to the man.
"Jaki jest twój chłopak na imię?" (What is your name boy?) Asked Hermann, the odd language feeling strange on his lips.
"Nazywam się Micha." (My name is Micha) The young man squirmed roughly under Hans' grasp, fighting for a way to get out, his hand slowly reaching somewhere in his coat. The young Poll rammed his heel in Hans' groin, knocking him partially off balance, running down the cobblestone as fast as he could. Hans let out a sharp gasp, trying to position his Lugar at the man. Tightly he pulled the trigger and the pistol went off with a loud, roaring blast.
The colonel held his Luger in his hand, his arm still up in the position he aimed the pistol, and with a firm shove to the ground he stood up fully. The young Poll fell to the ground with a blood curdling yelp, crashing down in the dirt with a firm thud. Hans, did not flinch, he seemed unfazed that he had just killed a man, no a boy at that. He sighed, as if the act of checking if the poor soul was still alive was an arduous chore. The Luger was placed back within his coat, still warm from the shot. He still felt sore from being kicked, but he played it off smoothly. Hans walked up to the now lifeless figure of the young Polish man, standing only a foot away. With the toe of his black combat boots he nudged the boy's body onto his back. More blood pooled around, some splashing over Laidler's boots. The colonel looked over the body, closely examining it. The boy's arm was contorted within his jacket; he was reaching for something before he was shot. Pulling a rag from his coat, Hans pulled the Polls arm from his jacket revealing he was indeed going for a revolver. Most likely he was hoping to shoot Laidler while he was down, now expecting he'd get up so quickly.
Hermann sprinted over to the colonel's side surveying the pool of blood and the bloody that lay within it. He squirmed uncomfortably, his face white as if he were holding back vomit. Hans looked over his shoulder at Hermann, grinning slightly. He smacked Hermann on the shoulder, silently telling him to go back to the car. The German nodded eagerly, walking as quickly as he could back to the town car, setting himself comfortably inside. Hans looked back at the Pollish man, leaning over him, careful not to touch any of the blood. He pulled on his gloves, taking the revolver from Micha's hand placing it aside as he began to search the body. There were no papers to be found, absolutely nothing that could identify the boy.
Hans looked the body over again, double checking the body; still there was nothing. He placed his hands on his knees, pushing himself from the ground. Walking over to Hermann, he smiled, motioning forward as he stepped inside the town car once again.
“Die junge ist sterben,” (the boy it dead) Said Hans with absolutely no hesitation or waver in his tone. Despite killing a man, he was the picture of calm and collected.
“Lass uns Gehen Hermann,” (Let us go Hermann) he instructed tapping the anxious man on his shoulder.
“Ja Herr Oberst,” Hermann could hardly speak soundly, death was not so common place to him as it was Hans.
Hans grinned lightly, leaning his head back his cap falling slightly astray, his eyes closing ever so slightly as thoughts of August crossed his mind.