Friday, August 17, 2012

Flashback Friday

Wehrmacht Major Faust has a dangerous secret: he likes England. But it’s May 1940 and his Panzers are blasting the British Army off Dunkirk’s beach, so he keeps his mouth shut even though it hurts. When the Waffen SS try to murder their English prisoners of war, Faust helps the POWs escape. Now it’s treason, with his neck on the line.

Then a friend gets him drunk, straps him into a parachute, and throws him out over Oxford during a bombing run. He’s quickly caught. Because he helped type the battle plan for the invasion of England, Faust cannot allow himself to be broken in interrogation. Two German armies depend on it. But every time he escapes, someone rapes and murders a woman and the English are looking for someone to hang. He’s risking disaster if he stays, someone else’s life if he runs, and execution by the Gestapo if he makes it home.

Major Stoner, professor turned British intelligence officer, sees three possibilities. Faust perhaps was joyriding in that bomber, as he claims. Or he’s on a reconnaissance mission for the German invasion. Or he’s a spy. Stoner must break Faust to learn the truth, no matter how it strains his old heart. He must save England, and his granddaughter.

Their battlefield is confined to a desktop. Only one of them can win. Someone must break. Someone must make a Deal with the Devil.

To Purchase


28 May 1940
Seven kilometers east of the Aa Canal, France

Fear squeezed the prisoners in an iron and icy grip. Clarke
could smell it, more pungent than stale uniforms and fresh sweat,
taste it in the dust caking his face and lips. The other British officers
sitting in a huddle around him stared at the dry turf between their
knees or off into some unknowable vacuum. None would meet his

“How many of us are there?”

Beside him, Brownell shrugged and swiped at his brow with
one sleeve. With his hands bound it looked as if he shielded his face
from a blow. It grated on Clarke’s nerves, revved his rumbling

“Does it matter?” Brownell asked.

“It does to me.”

Brownell shot him a look, not so much baffled as vexed.
Good; a fight was better than collapse. They’d argued often in the
last weeks, as their steady school-­‐‑age friendship underwent some
sort of relational twist while the British Expeditionary Force
retreated across France. But Brownell held his peace. He half-­‐‑rose,
dark eyes scanning the small crowd and lips moving. Clarke’s
temper twisted, bitterness rising at the sight. Brownell had a well-­‐‑
deserved Oxford first in mathematics, but he still counted like a

He didn’t deserve to be murdered.

Not far from Brownell, in the midst of a small emptiness left
by the lower ranks, a light colonel with tired eyes slumped over his
lap, epaulettes drooping to match his mustaches. He was the senior
officer in the group. He should take command, organize a fight. All
they had to do was get one man outside the guards’ field of fire,
and they’d have a chance. A suicidal chance, but better than being
murdered without a struggle.

But he just sat there, staring into space. Around him, none of
the many second lieutenants lifted their chins. One young subaltern
wept. All huddled together, as if needing warmth even in the direct

Beyond their circle, two grey-­‐‑clad soldiers lounged on
ammunition crates behind a tripod-­‐‑mounted machine gun. They
weren’t typical German Army soldiers, although the uniforms and
weapons were the same. These were something new the Germans
had invented, something called the Waffen SS, whatever that

Clarke lit his last cigarette, the binding cord cutting into his
wrists. They weren’t soldiers. They were criminals—murderers
dressed up and playing soldier, like a bunch of teenaged hoodlums
wearing Dad’s collar and tie whilst robbing the corner sweet shop.
It was ludicrous. Obscene.

“Do you want to use my fingers, too?”

Brownell’s cautious settling back ended with a thump and
one savage word. “There’s twenty-­‐‑two of us.”

Clarke’s swearing was whole-­‐‑hearted and much lengthier.

“Wonder who’s going to dig our graves. Think they’ll make us dig
them ourselves?”

“Shut up, Clarke. We don’t know anything for certain.”
Brownell crossed his legs again. His shoulders and bound hands
drooped, as if the knowledge he denied was heavier than he could

“The blazes we don’t.” Clarke took a long drag, yanking the
smoke into his lungs until he choked. “Wonder how our kids have
Brownell peered up at him without turning his head.

Clarke flicked ash. “The last photo Cezanne sent, Bobby
looked as if he’s overflowing her lap. I tried to figure out how tall
that would make him. But it wouldn’t matter if she’d taken his
photograph against a yardstick. I have to measure my son against
my leg or it means nothing.”

“You should have taken the leave.”

In February, with the invasion season in cold storage, the
48th (South Midland) Division had offered its staff and line officers
a brief visit home. None of them had seen their families since the
previous September. Brownell had gone and now his wife was
expecting their second baby. Clarke had made a point of staying
with the troops, who hadn’t been offered the option.

Now Cezanne would never have his second child, never
have the daughter she wanted so terribly—unless she remarried.
And that thought, more than his impending death, made Clarke
squeeze his eyes shut and swallow the tightness in his throat.
“I know.” He glanced from his cigarette to the turf. Maybe
starting a grass fire would help them escape. More likely the
Germans would let them burn.

“Clarke, you’ve always been a blooming fool.”

“I know that, too.”

Angry voices rose, climbing over each other, not close but
loud. Clarke stared past the machine-­‐‑gun emplacement to the
command tent, camouflaged beneath wispy trees. The Germans
inside had to be shouting toe to toe.

“What do you think the row’s about?” Brownell asked.

“I hope it’s about us, and I hope the German Army chap

Brownell lifted his head. “You think so?”

Clarke shrugged. “Don’t recall much German from school,
and I can’t make out their words even if I did. They could be
arguing about us, their orders, or a skirt, for all I know.”
Brownell’s head sank again.

The voices fell silent. The tent flap whipped aside and two
German officers emerged. The Army officer, a non-­‐‑com’s side cap
replacing the usual peaked cap, stalked toward the huddled
prisoners, his riding boots raising puffs of dust. The Waffen SS
officer, Greis, followed more slowly, a little smile curving the
corners of his narrow lips.

Clarke’s heart sank. It was only too obvious who had won.
Near the edge of their huddle, the Army officer stopped,
legs spraddled, hands on hips, staring in a slow sweep as if he
wanted to impress every man on his memory. His face was pale,
with scorching blotches of color in his tanned cheeks. He breathed
as if he’d been running.

“What do you think?” Clarke glanced at Brownell. He froze.
Brownell’s staring eyes were huge. His mouth hung open for
a long moment. Then he snapped his jaw shut and wet his lips.


But the Army officer was issuing orders, German words
stuttering in a staccato rhythm like a machine gun, and Brownell
swallowed the rest of his sentence. Automatically, Clarke turned to
see what the fuss was about—and smashed into the German
officer’s smoking glare, aimed right at him.

“You,” he said in English. “Come on. I don’t have all day.”
Two of the Waffen SS soldiers waded into the sitting
Englishmen, grabbed Clarke by the arms, and heaved him to his
feet. So this was it; he’d go first. His legs were asleep, but he’d go
die before he’d take any help from these murderers. He shook off
their arms, dropped his cigarette butt, and forced his tingling legs
to carry his weight as they escorted him, one on either side, to the
German officer.

Halfway there, he glanced back at Brownell. His mouth was
open again and he was half on his feet, legs beneath him as if for a
sudden push. Clarke shook his head—Brownell needed to save his
major effort for his own life, not waste it on a fool’s attempt at
gallantry—and mouthed goodbye. Without waiting for a response,
he turned away.

It was a ruddy awful way to part.

When Clarke turned, he was eye to eye with the German.
Although they weren’t close and sunshine blazed between them,
there seemed barely room between their bodies to breathe. The heat
of the German’s anger smoldered still, like a flare not quite burned
out. But his brown eyes were clear and even a trifle desperate as he
gazed into Clarke’s, as if he awaited some response and they were
all running out of time.

Clarke sniffed in his face.

The German turned away. Was it Clarke’s imagination, or
was the tinge of color in those cheeks even darker? He could only

“Right,” the German said over his shoulder, “come on.” He
led the way to his open staff car, on the far side of the tent.
The SS guards crowded Clarke on either side, forcing him
along. He passed close enough to Greis—the murderer—to punch
him. It was tempting, but Clarke resisted. It would only get him
killed sooner.

The guards put Clarke into the front passenger seat of the
staff car. A layer of dust coated the faded interior. The officer slid
behind the steering wheel. Greis sauntered to the driver’s side and
leaned one gloved hand against the door panel as the officer started
the engine.

“Are you certain you can handle the prisoner alone?” A
mocking half-­‐‑smile still adorned Greis’s lips, the smile of the
winner. He adjusted his black leather gloves, never glancing at
Clarke. Despite the smile, there was no humor in his narrow
hatchet face, only contempt. “Perhaps I should have one of my
soldiers accompany you.”

Clarke seethed. He should have chanced a punch.

The officer shifted gears. “Your soldier’s welcome to run
along behind.”

The smile slipped by a hair, then resumed. Only now it
seemed fixed.

The officer released the clutch and gunned the engine. A
spurt of dust slewed over Greis’ polished boots and up to his
squenched eyes.

Clarke stared back at Brownell’s strangely hopeful face until
the encampment was cut off by rising ground. Then he swung
about. The dusty road rolled toward the staff car then vanished
beneath it. Strong sunlight baked the interior, and he smelled fresh
sweat along with the mechanical blend of oil and petrol. The engine
vibrated up his spine, tapped against his eardrums.

One man. One pistol. No rifle, no tommy gun. No guard.
After the wisecrack at Greis, he’d regret killing this man. But
he’d do it. A single pistol wasn’t much firepower, but with it he
could take this one, then return to the encampment for the
prisoners. They didn’t have to die today.

The Wehrmacht officer took the road over the crest of a
small ridge and down into a grove of trees. To their left, the land
dipped into a shallow valley, matted with brush and low trees that
swarmed up the slope to the road. To their right, the trees
thickened into a forest toward the ridge’s crest.

Under the midday twilight of that canopy, the Wehrmacht
officer steered the staff car onto the verge and killed the engine. In
the silence, Clarke listened to his heart beating and knew with cold
certainty he didn’t want to die for the hopeless defense of France.
He twisted his wrists, trying to break the cords, but they only cut
more sharply. The silence was so deep he thought he could hear the
German’s heart, too; then Clarke wondered if the man even had

He faced the German as he, too, slewed in his seat. Again
they stared at each other, and Clarke took stock of his new captor.
This was the man he had to defeat, even kill, if he and the others
were to live.

They seemed the same height, an inch or so beneath six feet.
But while Clarke was solid, the German was more slender,
shoulders tapering to hips, which needed suspenders. His face
echoed that line in a wedge shape, broad at the forehead and
narrowing through well-­‐‑defined cheekbones to a pointed chin. His
brown hair was dark, the color of cocoa, and combed back from his
high forehead in the Continental fashion. A formidable reserve of
energy fired his eyes from within; even sitting motionless behind
the wheel of the car, he seemed to vibrate like a tuning fork, and
Clarke wondered how he kept his hands still.

Like most modern German officers, he was clean-­‐‑shaven, his
uniform tailored although not of the highest quality. The Iron Cross
ribbon, red and white and black, decorated his left breast pocket;
the knotted silver cords on his shoulders were bare of insignia, in
the manner of a major. His earlier anger had drained, leaving his
brown eyes clear, and Clarke knew he wasn’t imagining the touch
of derision now in their depths.

For one crazy moment, Clarke believed he had known this
man at some point in their past and he had only to sweep away the
agitation to remember a more innocent age. But of course it was
impossible. His subconscious thoughts were returning—to
Sandhurst, University College, Eton, or even his father’s estate, this
German officer symbolizing someone haunting his memory. One
thing for certain; this man didn’t have the polish of rank. There was
an earthy edge beneath his combat-­‐‑hardened sophistication.
Clarke pushed the thought aside and cleared his throat. “Is
this it, then? Shot while attempting to escape?”

The German produced a pack of cigarettes and shook one
halfway out. “Do you use these things?”

Clarke fought his pride—he didn’t want to accept anything
from a German—but his sudden nicotine craving was stronger. He
took the fag and the light that followed, and cradled it in his bound
hands for a drag. “A last cigarette?”

“Every condemned man deserves one.” But the German’s
tone was light.

“It’s not a joking matter.”

This time the German’s stare was considering. “You’re
right,” he finally said. “It’s not.”

“I know what happened at Guise.”

“So do I.” The German seemed to reach a decision and
opened his door. “Step out. I want to show you something.”
Clarke hesitated. The German shrugged, drew his pistol,
snapped the magazine from its butt and pocketed it, and tossed the
gun itself onto the dashboard. “We don’t have much time. Come
on.” He closed the driver’s door softly and stepped to the opposite
verge of the road.

For a moment Clarke stared, flabbergasted. But he wasn’t
hallucinating. His only guard had unloaded his only weapon and
turned his back. The shelter of the trees was on his side of the road
and temptingly near. But his curiosity won the brief struggle. There
had to be a reason for this otherwise senseless behavior, and Clarke
wanted to know what it was. He followed the German to the
opposite side of the road and stood beside his enemy.

The German cupped his cigarette in his left hand, glowing
edge toward his palm, and gestured to the shallow valley at their
feet. Neither hand left the deepest shadows spread by the trees

“See them?”

It took a moment. Then a motion caught his eye. The valley
was alive with camouflaged yet shifting forms. He peered closer
and made out netting, a half-­‐‑track, machine-­‐‑gun nests, hammocks.

“On the left,” the German continued, “those are Greis’s
Waffen SS troops, from the Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler.” He paused
for a drag. “Undoubtedly some of the best soldiers I’ve ever seen.”

“That, too.” He pointed with his chin. “On the right, those
are elements of my own division, the First Panzer.” He peered
sideways at Clarke through the gloom, smoke drifting from his
mouth. “A Wehrmacht unit.”

Clarke peered back, his mind blank.

The German sighed. His gaze dropped openly to Clarke’s
upper-­‐‑sleeve regimental insignia for the Royal Warwickshires. He
straightened and grunted. “Infantry. Oh, frag. I’ll try using small

Heat climbed Clarke’s neck. “Is that an insult?”

He got another sideways stare. “If you’re in any doubt—”

The German took another drag, eyes slitted against the smoke.

“We’re all tired, you know. The campaign hasn’t been long—”

“Six ruddy weeks.”

“About right—but we haven’t stopped until today. Are you
catching on?”

“No,” Clarke snapped. “I am not catching on. What are you
getting at?”

The German closed his eyes. “The two units haven’t joined
up well, have they? You could march a brass band through there at
full volume and nobody would notice.” Again the sideways glance.

“Especially if the brass band in question kept to the Wehrmacht

Clarke got it. “Did you have any particular brass band in

“Progress.” The German nodded once. He ground the butt
of his cigarette underfoot without ever showing the fire edge to the
valley. “Three days ago, Greis—the pig back there—”
“I know who he is.”

“—murdered thirty British officers at Guise. He didn’t have
facilities to hold them; he didn’t want to spare the troops to guard
them. He claimed he had orders and it was in retaliation for the
officers he’d lost in combat. So he ordered them shot.”

“I know.” An admission of knowledge seemed to be the only
intelligent thing he’d said all day. He dropped his own cigarette
and asked the question that mattered most to him. “Did he make
them dig their own graves?”

“French privates,” the German said, his tone cool but not as
cool as it sounded. “The mass grave was multinational. I heard him
give the order, I saw the massacre, and I saw the grave filled. Well,
the situation hasn’t changed. He’s amassed British officer prisoners,
whom he particularly hates because you didn’t flock en masse to
the Anglo-­‐‑Saxon banner Hitler waved. He doesn’t have facilities
prepared for you, and he doesn’t want to spare the troops to guard
you or move you to the rear. He still claims he’s under orders,
although I let him know I couldn’t find any reference to them at
headquarters. And nothing else I said made any difference, either.”
Clarke fought his mulishness. His decency won. “Thank you
for trying.”

The German gave him a puzzled glance, then pulled a
penknife from his pocket and sliced through the cord binding
Clarke’s wrists. As he folded the blade away, he nodded toward
the distant glint of water. “That’s the Aa Canal.”

“I know what it is.”

“Just checking. We have orders to stop there.”

Clarke stared. “Can’t imagine why.”

“Neither can I.” The German shrugged. “It’s a mistake, of
course. If we truly wanted to destroy you, we should keep going all
the way to the beach and drive you into the water.” His sideways
glance this time was a curious mixture of pride, shame, and
defiance. “You and I both know the B.E.F. doesn’t have the
firepower left to stop us.”

Just another German after all. “That’s your opinion and not
any sort of fact.”

The German grinned. In the shadows and gloom beneath the
trees, his face lightened as if by magic. They had to be close in age.
A vague tremor of unease made Clarke’s fingers tingle; he refused
to call it envy. While he had frittered away his—and his wife’s—
youth in an all-­‐‑out assault upon law-­‐‑court silks, this German had
learned how to live. While he had developed a career, this man had
developed his character.

“I expected no less from you,” the German said. “Our orders
come from the highest. They say stop at the Aa Canal—so no
matter what we think, we’ll stop at the Aa Canal. And that

“—that means,” Clarke interrupted, “anyone down on the
beach will be out of range of your artillery.”

The German nodded. “So long as the brass band reaches the
canal before, oh, five o’clock tomorrow morning. That’s about how
long it will take us.”

So there it was. This German major offered life and
freedom—for him. Not for Brownell, nor the colonel with the
drooping shoulders, nor the weeping subaltern or anonymous
lieutenants squatting on the scuffed turf. Clarke tried to harden his
heart. He couldn’t.

He cleared his throat. “Why are you doing this?”

This time, the German’s sideways stare was compounded of
equal parts derision and hilarity. He shook out two more cigarettes,
passed one to Clarke, and lit both behind the cover of his turned
shoulder. As an afterthought he handed over the remainder of the
pack and the matches.

“Do you remember the cricket match against Cambridge?”
he asked.

Clarke forgot the landscape and even the doomed prisoners.
He stared at the German officer and it was as if a spotlight slowly
illuminated the man within his memory.

“Of course,” the German continued, “I couldn’t follow
cricket in those days. For that matter, I still can’t. But even I knew
we were in deep trouble. We were so far behind we could barely
see daylight.”

The face in Clarke’s memory wasn’t sophisticated or battle-­‐‑
hardened. It was a younger face, uncertain, wide-­‐‑eyed, softer about
the edges, but nevertheless the same. The body was more slender,
bulked out by a cheap, rusty-­‐‑black academical robe, the thinner
arms juggling an armload of used poetry textbooks. Even the
memory made Clarke sneer. And in a heartbeat he was ashamed of
the sneer and of himself.

“But then the coach sent you in to bat,” the German rambled
on, oblivious, “and it was as if the whole field came alive, the
spectators, the team, everyone. You strode onto the pitch with your
head in the air, the bat in your hand, a swagger in your step, and
for one shining moment there was no doubt within the entire of
Oxfordshire that you could do it.” He shrugged and flicked ash.

“We still lost the match, of course, but I have to admit you looked
magnificent just walking onto the field.” No sideways stare this
time; the German turned to face him squarely. “Do you recognize
me yet?”


“—yes, that grubby foreign exchange student, the one who
was too poor to buy a sweater for the winter.” He dropped his half-­‐‑
smoked cigarette onto the verge and stepped on it. “I never forgot
you, Clarke. Of course, there’s a world of difference between the
upper classes laughing, and the lower-­‐‑ and middle-­‐‑class sources of
their amusement.”


“Don’t bother.” The German turned and strode back to his

Clarke thrashed his memory and dredged up a name.

“Faust—your name’s Faust.”

“Really.” Major Faust retrieved his pistol from the
dashboard of the staff car and handed it butt-­‐‑first to Clarke, his left
hand hurling the loaded magazine into the deepest grass within the
shadows of the forest. “I don’t have anything heavier with me, so
that’s the best I can do for you. The evacuating British troops are
massing on the beach outside Dunkirk. I suggest you get down
there as soon as it’s dark. There should be enough soldiers who
haven’t lost their Lee Enfields to make a raiding party and rescue
the encampment. Who knows, they might even have some

Clarke ignored the pistol in his hand and stared at Faust. It
was an insane risk, the sort taken by the legendary Dr. Faustus—a
practitioner of dark, mysterious metaphysical arts, someone who
commanded the sun and the moon, the winds and tides, the forces
of Mars, with utter disregard for his own future safety.
Clarke shuddered.

Still oblivious, Faust opened the car door and paused, one
foot on the running board. “At Guise, Greis waited until a few
minutes before midnight before opening fire. But there’s no
guarantee he’ll be so patient this time. He thinks I’m taking you to
headquarters for interrogation, so they won’t expect you back and
they won’t wait. Wear something over your face, and I might get
away with this.” He stepped into the staff car. “Good luck, Clarke.
My regards to Brownell after you rescue him.”

“Wait.” Clarke didn’t recognize his own throttled voice.
“Why are you doing this?” Even as he said it, he knew it wasn’t the
best way of asking his question, it wasn’t even the proper question
and in his current agitation, he didn’t know how to rephrase it. But
Faust was pressing the starter and his moment was over.

Faust rolled his eyes. “You don’t have time for this. Oh, and
if you get a chance, put a bullet through Greis for me, would you?”
He shifted gears and the car rolled forward. “Pigs like him give all
us Germans a bad name.”

The staff car disappeared around the next bend, leaving
Clarke standing in the middle of the shadowy road. He desperately
wanted the answer to his question. He’d never hear it now, and
that bothered him most of all.

He fell to his knees in the long grass, scrabbling for the
loaded magazine.

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