Authors: Jane Thynne
Tags: #Fiction, #Historical, #General
By the same author
The Weighing of the Heart
The Shell House
First published in Great Britain by Simon & Schuster UK Ltd, 2013
A CBS COMPANY
Copyright © Thynker Ltd 2013
This book is copyright under the Berne Convention.
No reproduction without permission.
® and © 1997 Simon & Schuster Inc. All rights reserved.
The right of Jane Thynne to be identified as author of this work has been asserted in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988.
Simon & Schuster UK Ltd
222 Gray’s Inn Road
London WC1X 8HB
Simon & Schuster Australia, Sydney
Simon & Schuster India, New Delhi
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
HB ISBN: 978-1-84983-983-9
TPB ISBN: 978-1-84983-984-6
EBOOK ISBN: 978-1-84983-986-0
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual people living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
Typeset by Hewer Text UK Ltd, Edinburgh
Printed and bound by CPI Group (UK) Ltd, Croydon CR0 4YY
For Philip, with love
Berlin, April 1933
The first thing Clara noticed was that it was her own shoes the girl was wearing. They were red ankle straps from Bally, with shaped heels, almond cutouts and rhinestone buckles. That is, one of them was visible, a bright splash of scarlet against the grey, rain-mottled pavement outside the apartment block in Prenzlauer Berg. It protruded from a cluster of people – two men and a hausfrau – joined by the old woman who looked after the apartment block opposite, each displaying the demeanour that was increasingly common in the city then, torn between wanting to act and an unwillingness to get involved. Clara’s recognition of the shoes was followed a fraction of a second later by a feeling of dread, though she already knew what she was about to find, and a dark fear that spread in her like ink through water. For a moment she couldn’t breathe, as if all the oxygen had been squeezed out of the air, and then she pushed her way past the onlookers and stared down at the girl who lay on the street below.
She had an oval face with fine features. Her eyes were wide open, as if in amazement, and her mouth, outlined in Tabu’s deep crimson, was a smudged bloom on the skin’s unnatural pallor. The lips were slightly parted, and dark strands of hair fell carelessly across her face. She wore a tea-dress scattered with pink and yellow flowers and the tops of her stockings could be seen where the material had ridden up. One leg was bent at an awkward angle and the arms were thrown wide. Someone had propped her up on a coat, which was rapidly blackening as blood pooled from the back of her head. She looked like a frail, exotic bird, fallen to the ground on its route to the sun.
Clara felt a violent trembling start up within her. Though she tried to control it, her entire body was shaking.
‘What happened to her?’
‘She fell,’ said one man.
‘She jumped,’ said the other, gesturing towards the window of the tenement building that hung open five floors above them. Everyone followed his gaze. They had expressions of curiosity, rather than shock. Suicides, deaths, girls falling out of the sky, were not the rarity they used to be round here.
Clara took another look at the face. The skin was milky, already turning to wax as the blood contracted deep into the veins. But it was unmarked. She must have landed on her back. The smashed part of the skull was underneath, where you couldn’t see, but her face was still perfect, still the same.
Clara knelt down beside her.
‘She’s dead,’ one of the men said.
‘She’s breathing,’ said the old woman.
With the tenderest of touches, Clara took the girl’s hand in hers and whispered, ‘Can you hear me?’
There was the faintest pressure against her wrist.
‘You’ll be all right. We’re calling an ambulance.’
‘We called the police,’ said the second man.
A tiny flicker. The girl’s eyes shifted, as though she was trying to focus. A line of blood slid from her ear.
‘It’ll be all right,’ said Clara, stroking her hair, trying her hardest not to cry. Blood leaked onto the hem of her polka-dot dress. She brushed rain from her cheek. ‘Don’t worry.’
There was a movement in the eyes.
‘I promise you.’
A soft squeeze.
‘I promise. I’ll make sure he’s all right.’
A tear rolled down the side of the girl’s face. Clara felt the infinitesimal pressure of the hand in hers, then nothing. The girl’s eyelids fluttered. Life slid from her face as softly as a petal falling to the ground.
Standing up, Clara entered the apartment building, ran past the lift and up the dimly lit stone stairwell to the fifth floor. The door, which was sooty, with badly peeling paint, stood ajar. Breath ripping her lungs, her heart jolting with fear, she pushed it and entered.
The apartment was empty, its atmosphere brooding and heavy, as though some recent, turbulent emotion was still imprinted on the air. Otherwise it was exactly as she remembered it. The wallpaper was patterned with muddy florals. It was furnished as cheaply as possible with just a few pieces of battered wooden furniture, a desk that doubled as a dining table, with a cane-bottomed chair, an old armchair with horsehair sticking through its arms, and a raddled wool rug in front of the gas fire.
‘Welcome to my penthouse! The most prestigious address in Prenzlauer Berg!’
Despite the drabness, there had been a defiant attempt to add a bright, personal touch. A pink feather boa was draped over the mantle and photo-cards of film stars were fixed with drawing pins to the walls. Through the door she could see the bedroom, with a curtained-off bathroom, and a basin into which a tap dripped. The narrow little bed was made, and a fur-collared coat laid on it, as though ready for a night out. A bottle of Scandal by Lanvin, almost empty, stood on the dressing table.
She heard a sound and turned. From the street, cars were approaching and there was the screech of braking. She guessed she had thirty seconds, a minute at most. She needed to focus. On the table there was a key and a cup of coffee. She felt it; it was still warm. Beside it was a pile of papers. The window gaped open and for a split second the girl’s body floated in Clara’s mind, suspended in the warm wind, caressed in its twisting currents, until a draught sent the papers crashing to the floor and on the pavement outside she was dead.
She reached down to pick up the papers and found a postcard, a black-and white portrait of Marlene Dietrich as Lola Lola in
The Blue Angel
. Everyone knew that image. Leg crooked up on a chair, deep lids like seductive shutters over the dark eyes, exuding a haughty sexuality. It was the photograph you found everywhere, in kiosks, in shops, on any street corner. Clara scrutinized it carefully, then slipped it and the key into the pocket of her navy-blue Jaeger jacket. Outside a door slammed. For a second she was paralysed, prickling with sweaty fear, then she turned quickly and left the room.
Her heels echoing like gunshots down the stairwell, she slowed to a walk as she exited the front door and headed up the street, steeling herself not to look back at the people gathering around the body, or the policemen who were climbing out of their car and marching officiously towards them. She made her way back up Rykestrasse, trying to focus on the tall apartments, their wedding-cake stucco decorated with scrolly, soot-blackened curlicues, the water tower looming above them at the end of the road like some old castle turret plucked up and dumped there, a medieval absurdity in a city that was getting a fresh taste for the medieval.
Clara’s head swam and she made herself concentrate on her breathing. Her breaths were fast and shallow with shock. She tried clenching and unclenching her fists inside her pockets, a technique that had always worked before, but nothing could obliterate the picture from her mind. The dead girl, the blood like spilt ink, the frivolous scarlet shoes. Grief, anger and incomprehension struggled within her, but now was not the time to show her feelings. She walked quickly, with her head down, and if anyone saw the tears coursing down her face she would say it was the rain. It had been raining all day in Berlin, on the dour government blocks of Wilhelmstrasse, on the smoke-blackened hulk of the Reichstag, on the canals and churches, factories, breweries and graveyards. And further out, beyond the city, watering the deep forest of the Grunewald and rolling like smoke across the placid, grey waters of Krumme Lanke.
A police car passed her in a blade of sound, and instinctively she turned her face to the newspaper kiosk at the entrance to the U-Bahn. This was a city that loved newspapers, even if it didn’t love the news they brought. They were bulging out of their racks, the
. There were probably more titles here than any other city in the world. Next to them on the racks were postcards of devoted Germans, often alongside their devoted pets, staring doggedly up at the figure of their Leader.
She found herself staring at the title directly in front of her. On the cover was the image of an intent, swarthy man, his face dramatically half-hidden in shadow. When she could get her eyes to focus, she realized it was a horoscope paper.
The Hanussen Magazin
. Everyone in Berlin read their horoscope now. Whenever you passed a newsstand you would see them stuffed with astrology titles:
. It was as if people couldn’t get enough of them. In the back pages were classified advertisements for palm readers who could tell your fortune for a few marks. If you wanted to take it further there was no end of little rooms and offices where an old woman would take your palm in her pudgy fingers or read your cards. The theatres were full of variety acts where people allowed themselves to be hypnotized and characters in Eastern dress would profess to read your mind. It seemed everyone in Berlin wanted to know what was coming, even if they guessed it was not going to be good news.