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Authors: John A. Connell

Spoils of Victory

BOOK: Spoils of Victory
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This book is an original publication of Penguin Random House LLC

Copyright © 2016 by John A. Connell.

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eBook ISBN: 978-0-698-19711-4

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Connell, John A.

Spoils of victory / John A. Connell.—First edition.

pages cm.— (A Mason Collins novel)

ISBN 978-0-425-28156-7 (hardcover)

1. United States. Army Criminal Investigation Command—Fiction. 2. World War, 1939-1945—Veterans—Fiction. 3. Americans—Germany—Fiction. 4. Murder—Investigation—Fiction. 5. Conspiracies—Fiction. 6. Germany—History—1945—Fiction. I. Title.

PS3603.O5454S68 2016



February 2016

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.


To my father and uncles who answered their country's call in World War Two.


I believe any work of historical crime fiction should be firmly grounded in reality, and though the principal plot and characters in
Spoils of Victory
are fictitious, many of the facts, circumstances, places, and people are part of the historical record. I am deeply indebted to the scholars, historians, archivists, and librarians for their work, passion, and dedication to chronicling the postwar years. Because the story within these pages shares proximity in time and place to
Ruins of War
, I used many of the same sources in my research for this book. The list of sources is extensive; however, I would like to acknowledge those sources to which I turned time and again: Ian Sayer and Douglas Botting,
In the Ruins of the Reich
(1985) and
Nazi Gold
(1984); Atina Grossmann,
Jews, Germans, and Allies: Close Encounters in Occupied Germany
(2007); Wilford Byford-Jones,
Berlin Twilight
(1947); Edward N. Peterson,
The American Occupation of Germany: Retreat to Victory
(1977); Giles MacDonogh,
After the Reich: From the Liberation of Vienna to the Berlin Airlift

I would like to thank my agent, Matt Bialer, for his dogged support and wise counsel. Thanks to my editor, Natalee Rosenstein, for her continued belief in me and the Mason Collins saga. I owe a debt of gratitude to my copyeditor, Sheila Moody, and managing editor, Lara Robbins. Their sharp eyes and attention to detail made the manuscript shine. To my publicist, Loren Jaggers, without whom this book and
Ruins of War
would not have ended up in the hands of so many readers. For the beautiful and dynamic jacket cover, I would like to thank Richard Hasselberger and Jason Gill. I also want to extend my deepest thanks to all the people at the Berkley Publishing Group—art department, marketing, publicity, and sales teams—for turning the manuscript into a living, breathing book. To Ed Stackler, independent editor and friend, for, once again, applying his talents and insight to making this book the best it could be. As always, to my incredible family and friends for all their love and support. To all the readers, booksellers, bloggers, and reviewers, I cannot thank you enough for your support of
Ruins of War
, and your boundless love of books. And finally, creating a book and building a writing career is a long and, sometimes, arduous journey, but my wife, Janine, through her encouragement, guidance, strength of heart and mind, and supreme patience and love, has made the road rise up to meet me and commanded the wind to be always at my back. I am truly a lucky man.




MARCH 7, 1946

or this particular undercover operation, CID criminal investigator Mason Collins had invented the persona of Kurt Wenger, a down-and-out German citizen who moved with languid steps and the lackluster gaze brought on by hunger and a grim future. He wore a threadbare overcoat previously owned by a Wehrmacht soldier, who no longer required such earthly things, topped by a fedora most likely orphaned by similar fortunes of war. Other than a three-day beard, Mason had no need of a wig or any other visually altering appliances. Transforming into another personality was all about posture and attitude, expression and mannerisms.

The man he tailed, Sergeant Carl Olsen, walked thirty feet ahead. Mason kept tabs on him by peering through the crowd and catching glimpses of his round head of black hair covered by his khaki service cap. At six feet six and 250 pounds, Olsen lumbered into the oncoming crowd like a snowplow, Mason following in his wake—hardly a challenge for Mason's covert skills, but concealment from Olsen was
not his objective. Mason's main concern was with the men who watched Olsen's progress from the shadows and strategic positions, men far more dangerous and clever than the sergeant.

Mason's partner, Specialist Gil Abrams, had a better view of Olsen from across the street. Abrams had come from the military police ranks to act as a CID investigator under Mason's tutelage. His sharp insight and dogged determination had caught Mason's eye, but he still had a lot to learn about the subtleties of tailing, especially someone like Olsen, who approached murder and mayhem as impassively as tying his shoe. Nervous excitement drove Abrams to eye Olsen with too much regularity, occasionally bumping into a pedestrian or narrowly avoiding a passing wagon or army jeep. He wore a gray wool suit and long black coat that seemed to hang from his lanky frame. At twenty-two, his body had grown into manhood, but had left his face behind somewhere in cherubic territory; so, despite his adult attire, he reminded Mason of an overgrown kid from a Charles Dickens novel.

Olsen had led them into the poorer and, as a consequence, more sordid part of town, a place that any number of small-time crooks called home and where the black market thrived, where the uninitiated passerby could be bushwhacked for a few Reichsmarks and left lying in the gutter. Makeshift booths of canvas and wood, tents, and lean-tos were crammed along the sidewalks, forcing the throngs of people to spill out onto the streets. Wagons, carts, and bicycles were now the only modes of transportation available to most Germans, and they competed with the pedestrians for space in this part of town, most overloaded with salvaged wood or a family's meager possessions. Street vendors hawked their wares in a dozen languages: pilfered coal, adulterated flour, or cigarettes made from butts discarded by American soldiers. Men and women walked by and opened their overcoats, displaying watches, cameras, and jewelry, while the occasional woman would open her fur coat advertising a more carnal commodity.

Die Stunde Null
, or Zero Hour, was what the Germans called the
time in the immediate aftermath of World War Two. In every practical sense, Germany was to start over from nothing. It had been bombed and shelled back to the Middle Ages. Whole cities and towns were wiped out, with over six million dead. Disease and malnutrition were killing the very young and very old in numbers unseen for centuries. No food, no crops, no coal, no medicine. Industry and agriculture had come to a standstill. With the German Reichsmark rendered almost worthless, bartering became the only real agency of commerce. The black market flourished, and the American cigarette reigned as the king of currency. It was an auspicious time to be a gangster—or an opportunistic soldier like Sergeant Olsen.

Arrested for manslaughter and grand larceny, Olsen had agreed to be Mason's ticket into one of the most successful crime rings in Garmisch: a confederation of Germans, ex–Polish army officers, and low-ranking U.S. soldiers, a group that operated so boldly they even had their own logo and letterhead. With its easy access to Austria, Switzerland, and Italy, Garmisch was Germany's ideal port of entry and exit for every illicit trade, making this picturesque city a vital center for the black market. And while much of the criminal activity was run by a loose confederation of smaller gangs, Hermann Giessen's organization had been different: well organized, powerful, and operating with seeming immunity—a dangerous combination.

Mason had been investigating the ring for two months, but as audacious as they might be, he only had scant information: rumors, allegations, and the identities of the leaders, those names always mentioned in connection to major crimes, but not a shred of solid evidence that could send them to prison. The only way he could discover more and get the evidence he needed was to infiltrate the gang. He'd spent a month developing Kurt Wenger, using most of this time as the down-and-out gangster, trolling back streets, frequenting notorious bars, and, on occasion, committing petty crimes. That also meant he had to keep out of the limelight as a military policeman. He dressed in civvies for all but formal army occasions—which by regulation he
was allowed to do. He avoided the officers' mess, and instead frequented German restaurants and bars, and being a loner by nature, he was rarely in the company of other soldiers. After he'd spread and cultivated his reputation as a gangster for hire, fortune had shined on Mason by dropping Olsen in his lap. And through Olsen, Mason had finally wrangled an introduction.

In the last couple of weeks, two rival leaders had been savagely murdered, rupturing the fragile truce between the gangs. No one seemed to know the source, though rumors circulated of a brutal new leadership trying to take over. The ensuing revenge killings and spontaneous shoot-outs had left the city's underworld on high alert. A call for more hired guns had gone out, working to Mason's advantage, but now a bullet or a blade could come from almost any direction. Precaution dictated that Mason and Olsen remain apart. Similar precautions had obliged the gang leaders to go to ground. Today's meeting would be the first since the turf war had broken out, and only the leaders knew when and where. Olsen, being a midlevel player, had to walk the streets in this part of town until intercepted by his contact, who would then lead the way.

Abrams caught Mason's eye and signaled that Olsen had turned left at the intersection. Mason followed suit a few moments later. He figured they must be getting close, as Olsen behaved with increasing nervousness, stopping frequently and looking both ways, only to continue then repeat the process. Mason hoped the sergeant would hold to his side of the bargain, and not get spooked and make a dash for it—or perhaps Olsen was nervous because he'd set them up for an ambush.

Olsen stopped abruptly when a man in a brown homburg hat crossed in front of him and kept on going. Olsen took his time lighting a cigarette. Whether that was a signal of acknowledgment or a way to give his contact a lead, Mason didn't know, but after tossing the match to the ground, Olsen turned left and disappeared.

Abrams hurried to the far corner, then looked back at Mason
with wide-eyed excitement. He was nearly run over by a wagon when he rushed across the street to meet Mason at the corner. “He just went into the Steinadler beer hall.”

“Did you forget everything I taught you?” Mason asked. “Keep cool.” He nodded toward the other side of the street. “You stay out here.”

“I'm supposed to back you up.”

“I changed my mind. I know this bar. They'd grind you up and sell you as sausage on the black market. If I don't come out in an hour, call in the cavalry.”

“What am I going to do out here for an hour?”

“Wing it.”

Mason watched a frustrated Abrams take up a position on the other side of the street, then entered the bar.

Before the war, the Steinadler had been a cheerful watering hole and, like much of Garmisch, it sported interior walls decorated with frescoes and a long bar of oak carved with intricate details. Now neglect—not to mention its somber clientele—had left it joyless. Due to electrical shortages, gas lanterns and candles had been placed sparsely around the room, providing only a murky light. The clientele probably preferred this, as it was now a favored meeting place for smugglers, thieves, and lower-echelon thugs.

As Mason moved through the room, he noticed two muscled bodyguards standing near the front door, and three more stationed by the rear entrance behind the bar. Mason carried a German pistol, a Sauer 38H with eight rounds in the magazine, but it wouldn't be enough to shoot his way out of there. The only way he was going to leave alive was if they let him. The barman looked at him warily until Mason produced a wad of U.S. dollars. He ordered a beer then scanned the room. Olsen stood at the other end of the bar talking to the owner, Kasim Aslan, a Turk who'd been accused of everything but convicted of nothing. The patrons were mostly German,
but there was also a mix of Polish and Russian ex-POWs, Italians, and a handful of American GIs. All here for the purpose of illicit commerce. They talked in hushed tones, some playing cards, some standing at the bar, while others sat at tables placed at discreet distances for deals to be made without the attention of curious neighbors.

Back in a quiet corner, a blond man with an overly developed forehead played chess with a partner whose back was to Mason. The man's name was Anton Plöbsch, the third man on the ring's totem pole. A former major in the Wehrmacht, with vague roots in aristocracy, he was suspected of rape, murder, extortion, and bribery, but now held a “respectable” role as the commander of the gang's muscle. Purportedly a twisted genius, brilliant but cruel, a highborn henchman.

Plöbsch had glanced at Mason several times. Olsen must have given him a silent signal that Mason—a.k.a. Kurt Wenger—was the man seeking entry into the gang. Plöbsch said something to his dark-haired chess opponent. The dark-haired man rose from the table and moved to the bar, leaving the game half finished. Mason took this as an invitation to join Plöbsch. He crossed the room, feeling the stares of the other patrons as he did so. He stopped at the table. With deep-set eyes that seemed to be devoid of all color, Plöbsch looked up to Mason and waited, indifferent.

“He could have had you in six moves,” Mason said in fluent German.

“Ah, then you play chess, Herr Wenger.” He indicated the chair with his open hand. “Then sit, and see if you are correct.”

Mason hung his overcoat over the chair back, sat, and immediately moved his king's bishop. Neither spoke as they played. Mason felt vulnerable with his back to the room, but he knew that was the intention. Not being sure where etiquette lay when challenging a ruthless and powerful thug, Mason purposefully made two bad moves that lost him his queen.

“Checkmate,” Plöbsch said and smiled. “You let me win, Herr Wenger. I appreciate the gesture, but it could also be a sign of
disrespect. A mark against you. We shall play again, but this time you will put forth your best effort.”

Mason reached into his suit jacket pocket and placed two hundred dollars on the table. “Shall we raise the stakes?”

“You don't look like a man with the means to possess that kind of money. Where did you get it?”

“Playing Ami soldiers.”

Plöbsch chuckled. “Americans are bad chess players. You should have more earnings than that if you consider yourself a worthy opponent.”

“American chess players are conservative bettors.”

“And you hope that I will be more liberal?”

“One has living expenses.”

Plöbsch looked at Mason a moment, then moved his pawn. After a few more moves in silence, Plöbsch said, “I hear a Bavarian accent. I've seen you around, and heard of your reputation, but I know little about you. Where are you from?”

“A little town,” Mason said. “Wonneberg.”

“And during the war?”

“Is that important?”

“I like to know the man sitting across from me.”

“Artillery regiment with the 58th Infantry Division . . . until I got into a little trouble.”

“What kind of trouble?”

“We were on the eastern front, and while the commanding staff lived in luxury, we were starving. So, I managed to lighten the staff's burden for about a month before I was caught.”

“They shot men for less.”

“I guess I got lucky.”

Plöbsch eyed Mason skeptically. The barman came over with two more beers. Mason reached for his money, but Plöbsch said, “It's on me. I always buy a drink for the loser.”

They continued to play. Plöbsch was very good, but Mason had lost the first game to assess the man's weaknesses. Plöbsch used the same types of aggressive moves and shrewd tactics as in the first, but Mason had already figured him out.

“What did you do after the war?” Plöbsch asked.

“I was with Rudolph Voss. Out of Munich. Did you know him?”

“Yes . . .” Plöbsch said as he eyed Mason. “It is unfortunate that you ran with an organization that no longer exists. How is one to verify that you are who you claim to be?”

“Yes, Herr Voss is dead, and the organization busted up, but I assure you I am telling the truth. I worked with Captain Wertz cutting penicillin and baby formula, selling snow and H, until he got busted and ratted on us.”

In fact, Mason had known Voss and Wertz during his time as a CID investigator in Munich, and he was the one who had busted Wertz through an informant. Mason had built an entire file around his fictitious character, including having a German detective friend in Munich “leak” Wenger's arrest record and police file to the Garmisch authorities. Giving the records to the corrupt elements in the Garmisch police ensured that Plöbsch knew all about Wenger by the time Mason made contact.

“Why did you come down to Garmisch?” Plöbsch asked.

BOOK: Spoils of Victory
6.23Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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