Book Extracts
The Horseman's Song

The tall canes gave a rustle like rain, but it hadn’t rained in a month, and down the bank the brook ran low. From where he stood, Martin Bora knew death at once. Lately the inertia of death had grown familiar to him, and he recognized it in what he saw at the curve of the mule track, where trees clustered and a bundle of leafy canes swished like rain. He couldn’t make out the shape from the bank
of the brook, where he’d bathed and was now putting his uniform back on. In a time of civil war, these days did not call for inquisitiveness. Yet Bora was curious about life and the point when life ceases. Staring at the slumped dark mass, he finally managed to struggle into his wet clothes, quickly lacing and buttoning his uniform. The stiff riding boots and gun belt were next. Overhead, the air was scented and moist. The summer sky would soon turn white like paper, but at this hour, it had the tender tinge of bruised flesh. Bora started up the incline, steadying his boots on the shifting pebbles, and reached the mule track to take a better look. He could see now that it was a human body. As he took out his gun, his arm and torso adjusted to the heft of steel, hardening immediately, almost
aggressively. Shoulders hunched, he crossed the track, straining for sounds around him, but a lull had fallen over trees, brook and leafy canes. The sierra, its crude face of granite rising above, was silence itself.

The body lay twisted on the edge of the track, face down. Bora drew near, lowering his gun. I shouldn’t be turning my back to the trees, but look, look … A small hole gaped black and round at the base of the man’s head; the dark fleece of the neck appeared sticky, matted. I should not feel safe. Anyone could shoot me right now. Yet the tension slackened in him. Bora’s armed hand sank to his side. Not much blood on the ground, although the man’s white shirt was deeply stained – a dark triangle between his shoulders. No, no. No danger. Bora looked
down. There’s no danger. He stood at the rim of the bloody puddle, a crisp lacy edge that gravelly dirt had absorbed and sunlight would dry soon. It marked a boundary at his feet, curving sharply where a twig had stopped it from flowing.
No danger. Bora glanced up. A young ash tree stood smooth and tall, alone on the curve. How telling that a twig should be born from it and grow and fall to the ground to stop a man’s lifeblood; that a man should live unaware that a bit of ash wood awaits him on a lonely road. Bora holstered the gun, wondering what kind of wood, which road, what sky, what morning waited for his dead body and would grow into the fullness of day without him.

He could smell blood as he crouched down, virtually tasting it when he turned the body to check if the bullet had destroyed the face. But it was intact. Handsome in a southern or gypsy way, with a broad forehead and eyebrows joined at the bridge of the nose, the man’s face appeared serene, the eyelids lowered and the mouth slightly open. The lashes were like a woman’s, dark and long. The body felt cold to the touch, sweaty with dew. Like mashed lilies, Bora thought, an
unfamiliar image to him. This dead man has the crushed pallor of white flowers that have been torn up and stepped on.


Lumen by Ben Pastor

Cracow, Poland. Friday, 13 October 1939 

The Polish words stencilled on the plaque read, “Take Good Heed”, and the Hebrew script below them presumably repeated the sentence. Coloured pictures illustrating the alphabet were pasted on the wall around the plaque. For the letter L, the picture showed a little girl pushing a doll carriage.  

Suddenly the odour of mangled flesh was sharp, crude. It came to his nostrils unexpectedly, so that Bora turned away from the wall and walked towards the middle of the room, where an army medic stood in gloves and surgical mask. Behind his figure, flooding the classroom with light, three wide open windows let in the afternoon sun and a lukewarm afternoon wind. 

Six desks had been joined by their narrow ends, two by two, and the uniform-clad bodies lay on top of them, over tarpaulin sheets. Blood had dripped down the ends of the desks, from the little spaces between sheets. The larger puddles were coagulating, and reflected the light of the windows on their surface. Bora stared at the reflection before stepping closer, nodding to the medic. 

After looking over each body, he pronounced a name in a low voice, a collected and controlled and forcibly boxed-in voice. The medic was holding a pad, and wrote down the names on it. 

When he lifted his eyes from the third body to the wall ahead, Bora met with the colourful print of the little girl pushing a doll carriage. It read, Lale. Dorotka ma lale 


“We thought you’d be best suited to identify them, Captain, since you were in the car right behind them.” 

Bora turned to the medic. He didn’t say anything. For a moment he looked up and down the medic’s grimy apron as if wondering what either one of them was doing here. What, indeed, any of them – dead and alive – were doing in a Jewish day school on Jakova Street in Cracow. 

He felt sweat run under his arms, down the middle of his back.  

Bora said, “Yes, I was.” 

Major Retz waited below in the army car. He was smoking a cigar, and the air in the car was hazy with it, because he had all the windows rolled up. When Bora opened the door to enter, a bluish cloud floated against him with an acrid odour of tobacco. He took his place in the driver’s seat. 

Retz said, “So, of course they were Lieutenants Klaus, Williams and poor Hans Smitt. Had they been wearing their identification disks, you wouldn’t have had to go up and look at them. How bad are they?” 

Bora started the engine, avoiding Retz’s eyes in the rearview mirror. “They’re in shreds from the midriff down.” He lowered his window, and with the motion of the car the smoke began to blow away. 

They drove down the deserted street into a square, Bora following the direction signs hastily put up in the last few days over the Polish names of streets and bridges. Retz made some trivial observations, and Bora answered in monosyllables. 

The afternoon light shone lavish and clear, it drew long shadows from the trees flanking the street and the tall city blocks. Overhead, the sky was thinly raked by aircraft flying east, delicate trails like pentagrams without notes. 

“That’s no way to go, is it – blasted on a mine.” 

Bora kept silent, so Retz cracked the window to toss the butt of his cigar out, and changed the subject. “How do you like Intelligence?” 

This time Bora looked up into the mirror. Retz wasn’t looking at him. His arrogant, crude face was averted, and there came the rustle of a large sheet of paper being unfolded. 

“I think I’ll like it.” 

Retz’s eyes met his. “Yes. They tell me you’re the student kind.” Bora thought Retz probably meant “studious”, but “student” was what he said. He felt a curious little surge of insecurity at that assessment of him. More crumpling of paper followed, and a badly refolded street map was tossed on the front seat from behind.  

“Our lodgings are supposed to be close to the Wawel Hill in the Old City. I’d hoped we’d lodge closer to headquarters, Bora, but that’s what we get for staying longer than most on the field of battle. I hope there’s indoor plumbing, and all that. Drive to the office, I want to check where exactly they’re going to house us.” 


14 October 

The German Army Headquarters on Rakowicka Street overlooked a formal garden, and, past the gate, across the sidewalk lined by trolley tracks, sat a grey Dominican church. Pigeons flew to its roof, alone and in pairs, fluttering.  

Bora listened to what Colonel Hofer was explaining to him. All the while, he thought that in comparison with Richard Retz, his commander was an introverted and sullen man. Hofer’s hands sweated, so that he wore talcum powder in his gloves to absorb the moisture. His palms retained a dusty appearance, like fish floured in anticipation of frying. Of an unclear age (Bora was young enough to misjudge the age of anyone older than himself but not yet white-haired), the colonel had a small nose; a womanly nose, almost, with wide nostrils, a sensitive mouth and narrow teeth. He wore spectacles only when he had to read something, but his squint gave the impression that he needed them even for simpler tasks, such as looking at people while talking to them.  

After an intense morning of briefing Bora on his duties, Hofer took him aside by the window, and for some time didn’t say anything at all. Fixedly he stared beyond the flowerbeds into the street, oblivious to Bora’s nearness. At long last, he focused his circled, watery eyes on the younger man.  

His eyes seemed weary, Bora thought, as in one who doesn’t sleep or sleeps poorly – something that could be said of all of them in the past furious weeks. Except that the young officers didn’t look, or probably didn’t even feel tired. 

With some envy, Hofer was drawing a similar parallel. Bora stood by him with a fresh, prim countenance, disciplined into not showing his eagerness but yet very eager, as his record showed. Hofer could shake his head at the enthusiasm, at the eagerness, but it was a time to encourage, not discourage those excesses. 

He said, “Captain, how familiar are you with the phenomenon of the stigmata?” 

Bora showed no overt surprise at the question. “Not very, sir.” He tried not to stare back. “They’re wounds like those received by Christ on the cross. Saint Francis of Assisi had them, and some other mystics.” 

Hofer returned his gaze to the street. “That’s true enough. And do you know how Francis and the others received them?” He didn’t give Bora time to answer. “It happened during ecstasy. Ecstasy did it.” He nodded to himself, with his fingernail scraping a little spot of dry paint from the glass. “Ecstasy did it.” 

Hofer walked away from the window and into his office. Bora stayed behind long enough to glance at the roofs of the Old City churches, rising to the left like distant ships’ forecastles behind uninspired new blocks. Directly ahead, pigeons still flew to and from the Dominican church, seeking the sunny side of the roof. Spain, only six months before, had been an exultation of crude and dazzling light.  

What did the stigmata have to do with anything? 

He thought no more of it until after the lunch hour, when the colonel again stopped by his desk. Bora had been familiarizing himself with the topography of southeastern Poland, and now stood up with a red pencil in his hand. 

Hofer took the pencil from him, and laid it on the desk.  

“Enough map reading for the day, Bora. Tomorrow you’ll go out on patrol. Your interpreter is Johannes Herwig, an ethnic German, and he’ll tell you the rest in the field. A good man, Hannes – we go back a few years. Come, now. I want you to take a ride downtown with me.” 

“I’ll fetch the Colonel’s car.” 

“No. Let’s use yours. I want you to drive.” 

At Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows, a musty, waxy odour hovered in the convent’s waiting room. Light came in through a set of three windows lined in a row, high, small, squarish, with deep slanting sills from which one couldn’t look out, even on tiptoe. There were three doors and all of them were closed. The silence was so complete, Bora could feel absence of sounds like a void against his ears.  

Startlingly real against a blank side wall, a life-size crucified Christ hung in agony, his torso contorted and bleeding, eyes turned back to half-hide glass pupils under his lids. It reminded Bora of the bodies in the Jewish schoolhouse, and he nearly expected to see blood on the floor at the foot of the cross. But the tiles were spotlessly clean, like everything else. No marks on the walls, no fingerprints, no streaks on the floor. And that waxy, musty smell.  

Waiting for Hofer, who had disappeared into one of the rooms down the hallway, Bora paced the floor. The quiet orderliness of the room forced a comparison with the wreckage and noise of weeks past – villages torn open, fields rolling by, speeding by, convulsed by drifting smoke and the fire of big guns. Bora admitted now that he’d pushed through havoc with the mindlessness of a sexual rush, awed and drunk with it. All the more he marvelled at the sterile peace of this interior. 

He’d been waiting for over an hour (the light was changing in the small windows, turning pinkish and less strong) when one of the doors opened and a priest walked out of it. Their eyes met, and the two men exchanged a noncommittal nod of acknowledgement. The priest wore clergyman’s trousers, an unusual sight in this conservative country. He went past Bora, down a hallway and into another door.  

Later a nun came gliding by, was gone. The light in the little windows grew lilac as the shadow of the late afternoon filled the street. Bora measured the floor in slow steps, trying to tend his thoughts and boredom. At last the priest entered the waiting room again. 

He said, in English, “Colonel Hofer tells me you speak my language.” 

Bora turned rigidly. “Yes.” And, recognizing the American accent, he relaxed his shoulders a little.  

“He sent me to keep you company while he concludes his meeting with Mother Kazimierza.” 

“Thank you, I’m all right.” 

“Well, then – you can keep me company.” With an amiable smile, the priest took a seat on a lion-footed bench, but Bora didn’t imitate him. He remained standing, hands clasped behind his back. 

The priest kept smiling. He was a man in his fifties, or so Bora assessed, big-shouldered, big-footed, with wide freckled hands and extremely lively, clear eyes. His neck, Bora saw out of the corner of his eye, emerged from the Roman collar as a powerful bundle of muscles, like the neck of a wrestler. The combination of his alert glance and strong frame recalled the pictures of warring peasant saints, cross in one hand and sword in the other. 

But the priest was telling him, in the most unaggressive tone, “I’m from Chicago, Illinois. In America.” 

Bora looked over. “I know where Chicago is.” 

“Ah, but do you know where Bucktown is? Milwaukee  


“Of course not.” 

“‘Of course’? Why ‘of course’?” The priest’s face stayed merry. “Consider that for most of my parishioners the important landmarks are precisely Bucktown and Trinity church, Six Corner, the memory of Father Leopold Moczygemba —” 

“Are you teasing me?” Bora asked the question, but was beginning to be amused. 

“No, no. Well, what I meant is – you and I would be at war if I were British, but I’m of non-belligerent nationality.” 

It was true enough. Bora found himself relaxing more and more, because he was in fact tired of waiting and not unhappy to make conversation.  

“Who is Mother Kazimierza?” he asked. 

The priest’s smile broadened. “I take it you’re not  


“I am Catholic, but I still don’t know who she is.” 

Matka Kazimierza – well, Matka Kazimierza is an institution in herself. Throughout Poland they refer to her as the ‘Holy Abbess’. She has been known to foretell events in visions, and has apparent mystic and healing powers. Why, several of your commanders have already visited her.” 

It came to Bora’s mind that Hofer left the office early every afternoon at the same time. Had he been coming to see the nun, and was he embarrassed to be driven to the convent by his chauffeur? Bora took a long look at the priest, who sat and continued to smile a cat-like smile at him. Friendly faces were not an everyday occurrence in Cracow. He thought he ought to introduce himself.  

“I’m Captain Martin Bora, from Leipzig.”  

“And I’m Father John Malecki. I was put in charge by His Holiness of a study regarding the phenomenon of Mother  


“What phenomenon?” 

“Why, the wounds on her hands and feet.” 

So. That’s what the stigmata had to do with Hofer’s talk.  

Bora was thoroughly amazed, but all he said was, “I see.”  

Father Malecki was adding, “I’ve been in Cracow these past six months. In case you were wondering, that’s how I happened to find myself here when you came.”  

It was as unadorned a way as Bora had heard anyone describe the invasion of Poland. 

“Yes, Father,” he spoke back with faint amusement. “We did come.”  

Later, it was impossible for Bora not to think that the colonel had been weeping. Hofer’s eyes were red when they came out into the street, and although he wore his visored cap, the congestion of his face was still noticeable. He laconically indicated that he wanted to return to headquarters. It was late in the evening, but he walked straight into his office and locked himself in. 

Bora gathered his papers for the trip on the following day, and then left the building.

Liar Moon by Ben Pastor

Verona, German-occupied Northern Italy

9 September 1943 

Si deve far coraggio, maggiore. 

Martin Bora was in too much pain to say he understood. 

Dobbiamo pulire le ferite. 

In too much pain to say he understood that, also. 

Courage. Cleaning the wounds. Blood throbbed in his lids, by quick flickers in the blind glow of eyes tightly shut, and at the back of his mouth, where his teeth clenched hard, another heartbeat scanned frantic time in his head. 

Coraggio, coraggio. Try to take heart.” 

A small pool of saliva rose under his tongue, until he had to swallow. The lifting of the stretcher so exasperated the agony in his left arm, the whole length of his body crumpled with it. All he could gather was a convulsed short breathing at the top of his chest, as in one who must cry, or cry out. 

They were laying him on the emergency-room table. Taking off his boots. His left leg seemed to tear open with the removal of the rigid leather, as if they were wrenching the bone from his knee. Lights burst over him, human voices travelled from great distances to him, at him, into him. 

Blood sprayed as medics cut and dug through the gore of his clothes, and Bora would not let go but grew hard and grim and desperate, trying to resist the pain. To fight it, as if one could fight this, when his whole left side felt crushed in a giant vice and there was no hope of pulling himself out without shredding arm and leg in the process. His left hand, torn already to filaments and gushing blood, gulped and gulped his life out – lungs, stomach, bones – all seemingly heaving from the severance at the end of his arm, a sick red jumble of what had filled his body until now. 

They were undoing his army breeches. Anxious hands reached into the blood-matted fleece of his groin, searched thigh and knee. His neck arched rigid in the strain of his back to rise. 

“Hold him down, hold him down,” a voice said. “You’ll have to hold him down, Nurse.” 

Joints braced as in a seizure, Bora was fighting pain, not being held down. 

He could not swallow nor could he say he could not swallow, and when someone gave him water – he knew his mouth was unclenching because breath surged out of it in spasms – it gurgled back up his throat to the sides of his face. 

They would work on his left arm next. He hardened for it, and still a paroxysm of pain wrenched his mouth open and he was racked into a fit of trembling but would not scream. He groped for the edge of the table, would not scream. Neck flexed back, hard, unable to close his mouth – it was hard, hard! – he struggled and butted his head against the hard surface and would not scream. 

“Put something under his head, Nurse, he’s battering it on the table.” 

The digging of hands into the meat of arm and groin and thigh accelerated and then halted. It began again slowly. Slowly. Digging, pulling, coming apart. Being born must be like this, a helpless nauseous struggle to get out in the overwhelming smell of blood – a butcher-shop smell – pain jagged immeasurably high in it. 

He would break. If he pushed through he would break into aborted flesh, and die if he didn’t. 

“Hold him down!” 

Then someone forcibly pried his right hand from the side of the table and clutched it. 

Bora could weep for the comfort that came with the hold, as if the act were his midwifery from death, delivering him from the mandible and womb of death. He stopped fighting, and was suddenly coming out of the vice. 

Lights blinded him, he saw blood quilting his stretchedout body and people working into the naked red quilt with shiny tools, wads of cotton. 

Out, out. He was coming out. 

The clasp wrested him to a threshold of agony, brought him forth, and pain was extreme, unbearable at the passage. Bora cried out only once, when birth from pain tore what remained of his left hand with it. 

In the morning, the sky was the battered colour of a bruise. The tall hospital window was made sad and livid by it, and in that bruised light Bora asked, unflinching, “Will there have to be a graft, or was there enough skin left?” 

“We were able to repair it with what skin there was, Major. We tried to shield the stump and remove enough nervous terminations so that it will not hurt too much later. I am very sorry.” 

Bora looked away from the surgeon. 

“What about my leg?” 

“If gangrene doesn’t develop, we hope to save it.” 

Suddenly Bora felt the need to vomit. Only it had nothing to do with anaesthesia this time, nor with pain. He said he understood, but would not look at his left arm. 

The Italian surgeon, who was high-ranking and old enough to speak his mind to a German officer, shook his head. “It didn’t help matters that you waited two hours to be evacuated.” 

“My wounded men came first. I lost two of them as it is.” 

“You lost three. Anyway, since you must be wondering, the metal fragments in your groin have not injured the genitals.” 

“I see.” Bora did not look up, staring at an indeterminate place on the bed. “Thank you.” 

The wretched odour of disinfectant and blood filled the room. His body smelled of them. “My wedding ring, where is it?” 


Beyond the bed, everything was a livid off-white colour. The window had a veined marble sill, like mottled flesh. Small cracks in the wall beneath it drew the eyeless, approximate profile of a horse. 

“Will you accept something for the pain?” 

Martin Bora moved his head from side to side on the pillow, but was too weak to say that he wouldn’t.

Lago, 18.5 miles north-east of Verona

21 November 1943 

Two months later, when he opened his eyes in the dark, Bora found himself holding his breath. Thinking, he went up and down his limbs, checking with hesitation the usually aching areas of left arm and leg – regions in the dark, uncertain of boundaries as even one’s body is when awakening. 

It was seldom that he had no pain, and the grateful lassitude, derived from feeling nothing, had become a luxury in the past few months. Face up in bed, he avoided any motion that might endanger the precious, transitory balance, though not feeling was far from feeling well. It would be so, it would have to be so until his body forgave him for what had happened in September. 

The grenade attack had been unavoidable, but his flesh rejected it, and the truth of mutilation. He was still ashamed for helplessly lying on the butcher block of the emergency table, sewn in his wounds and bloodied as at birth for the length of his limbs, whose ordure a Sister of Charity sponged. The mortified nakedness of chest and belly and thighs and groin under the patient wipe of her virgin hands stayed with him. Forgiveness to himself would not come from simply surviving the agony of it as a wide-eyed animal, without crying out. 

So Bora woke holding his breath so as not to rouse pain, while outside of the room – outside the command post – the wind rode high and pushed ahead a moon thin as an eyebrow. 

By seven o’clock that morning, a keen, colder gale had blustered out of the north to empty the streets of Lago, a small town like many others, without a lake despite its name, lost in the fields of the Veneto region. Bora sat in his office minding paperwork, with an ear to the hum of vibrating telephone wires outdoors. He heard, too, the idling and then stopping of a motor car before the command, but had no curiosity to reach the window and find out who it was. 

Even when the orderly came to knock on his door, he did not stop writing. 

“Yes, what?” he limited himself to saying. After being told of the visitor, he added, “All right, let him in.” 

The newcomer was dark and wiry, with vivacious black eyes and a moustache like a caterpillar lining his upper lip. The sombre Fascist Republican Party mixture of field-grey and black formed a light-absorbing stain in the dim autumn day. Skulls and bundles of rods on the epaulets identified him as a member of the shock troops. 

Viva il Duce. 

Bora did not return the Fascist salute, and stared up in a noncommittal way from his chair. He set his face inexpressively enough, while “How can I assist you?” rolled out of him flatly. 

“Centurion Gaetano De Rosa, of the Muti Battalion.” 

The visitor spoke in the manner of training camp, projecting his voice across the office. 

“Major Martin Bora of the Wehrmacht,” Bora replied. And it took him aback that the little man addressed him in German next, in good German, with a pompous, selfconscious ring to the use of tenses as he introduced his reason for being there. 

It had to do with a murder, so at first Bora listened, sitting back in the chair with his left arm low and his right hand calmly fingering a fountain pen over the shiny desktop. 

“Why don’t you speak Italian?” he asked then, in Italian. 

“Why? Well, Major, I thought—” 

“There’s no need for you to go through any such effort. As you can see, I speak Italian too.” 

It was obvious that De Rosa was disappointed. Bora knew well enough these Fascists moonstruck with all things Germanic, who patterned themselves after his own people to the extent of sounding obnoxiously servile. He had learned to cut short all attempts to favour him with familiarity with German customs and places. And now he went straight to the core of the matter. 

“I appreciate your coming to me, Centurion De Rosa, but I don’t see how or even why I should offer assistance. The violent death of a Party notable is serious business. Your Verona police will be much better qualified than myself to conduct the investigation.” 

De Rosa was not easily outdone this time. “I thought you might answer that way, Major. That’s why I brought this along. Please read.” He handed an envelope to Bora, who sliced through its side with a penknife and began reading. Against the light from the window, De Rosa seemed to glow with pleasure at the sight of the letterhead, the squarish spread eagle of the German Headquarters in Verona. 

There was little arguing with the brief of presentation. Bora put the sheet down, glaring at the little man, and prepared himself to listen. 

Twenty minutes down the road from Lago, the few houses of Sagràte were buffeted by the pitiless wind. The naked bushes rattled like tambourines when Police Inspector Guidi got out of his old Fiat service car. 

Corporal Turco hastened to reach the door of the police command ahead of him, opened it, stepped aside and let him in. He had the encumbering figure of a Saracenblooded Sicilian, and when he joined Guidi inside, a wild whiff of clothes worn outdoors came with him. 

Arsalarma,” he let out in his dialect. “With one shoe missing, Inspector, he can’t have gone far.” 

Guidi did not bother to turn around. He removed from around his neck the bulky scarf his mother had hand-knit for him. “Why, Turco, haven’t you ever walked barefoot?” 

There wasn’t much else for Turco to say, since his first footwear had come with his induction into the army. He brought to Guidi’s desk the laceless, worn shoe they had just recovered, careful to place a newspaper under it before laying it down. 

“Without a shoe, and crazy, too,” he mumbled to himself. “Marasantissima. 

Guidi had started pencilling lines on a topographic map tacked to his office wall. In a wide semicircle that began and ended at the river, fanning out from its right bank, he enclosed the stretch of flat countryside they had searched the night before. It seemed much larger when one had to slog across it, he thought. 

Past the river, long and narrow fields, now mostly bare, ran to the guerrilla-torn piedmont, home to partisan bands. Guidi knew there were no farmhouses there to offer shelter to a fugitive – only fields, and irrigation canals bordering them and intersecting with deep ditches alongside endless hedgerows. His instinct told him he should continue to search this side of the river. Guidi marked with a dot the place where the shoe had been found, nearly halfway between Lago and Sagràte, where groves of willow trees flanked the county road. 

“Let’s give the men a chance to rest until tomorrow,” he told Turco. “Then we’ll see what else can be done. The carabinieri assured me they’ll continue the search on their own until sundown.” Guidi nearly laughed saying it, because Turco (who was far from daft, but loved theatrics) stared at the muddy shoe as though he could stare it into giving information. 

As for Bora, he sighed deeply to conceal his boredom at De Rosa’s narrative. Because the talk gave no sign of ending, “Colonel Habermehl is surely aware that I’m very busy,” Bora interjected at last. “I have no free time.” 

In front of him, Habermehl’s letter agreed that it was all a bother, but advised him to please the Verona Fascists. Bora knew the arguments by heart: this was northern Italy, four years into the war, and the Italian allies had become potential enemies. The Americans had landed in Salerno and were inching up the peninsula. Why not please the Verona Fascists, who remained pro-German? Habermehl asked “as a family friend, not out of rank”. But the rank was there, of course, and Bora knew better than to fall for the outward courtesy. 

“Look,” he told De Rosa. “If you wish me to get involved in this case, you must supply me with all information gathered by the Italian police and carabinieri to date. When did the murder take place?” 

De Rosa frowned. “Day before yesterday. Didn’t you read it in the Arena? It was the most important piece of news, it took up nearly the whole front page.” 

Bora had spent all day Friday at the hospital in Verona, where the surgeon was still extracting shrapnel from his left leg. He’d had neither the time nor the inclination to read the Italian newspapers. “I must not have paid attention,” he said. 

Promptly De Rosa pulled out a newspaper clipping, laying it square on the desk in front of Bora. 

Bora read. “Here it says that Camerata Vittorio Lisi was the victim of a stroke in his country villa.” 

“Well.” De Rosa gave him an unamused smile, a grimace really. “You understand that when it comes to a man of Lisi’s fame and valour, the public must be kept from scandals. Lisi was from Verona. All knew him, all loved him.” 

“All but one person at least, if he’s been done in.” Bora gave back the clipping, which De Rosa carefully folded again but left on the desk. “What chances are there that it was a political assassination?” 

“None, Major Bora. Lisi was not a controversial man. Solid, with a heart of gold.” 

“I’m not aware that partisans or political adversaries would be impressed by a Fascist’s golden heart.” 

De Rosa’s grimace caused the well-combed caterpillar on his upper lip to tremble. “With all respect, Major, I know the political climate of the region better than you do. I assure you it is Fascistissimo.” 

Bora was tempted to phone Habermehl with an excuse to avoid the incestuous little world of local politics. His urge might have been visible, because De Rosa spoke up. 

“Colonel Habermehl informs me that you have already solved difficult cases.” 

“By accident.” Bora minimized the report. “Always by accident.” 

“Not according to the colonel. He says you distinguished yourself in the case of a murder in Spain, and of a dead nun in Poland. And in Russia…” 

The silvery skulls on De Rosa’s uniform glinted dully. The angry eagle clutching a fascio on his chest pocket, and the fanaticism it stood for, was beginning to annoy Bora. He said, “All right. Tell me all that is known about Lisi’s death, and provide me with the dossier as soon as possible.” 

“May I at least sit down?” De Rosa asked tartly. 

“Sit down.” 

On that Sunday, Guidi’s mother was shelling peas into a colander set on her knees, rolling them out of their green casing with swift, hooked strokes of the thumb. These were the last peas of the season; it was amazing how they’d managed to ripen despite the cold nights. But how well they went with pasta sauce, and how Sandro liked them! 

Near the kitchen door, she could now barely make out the voices of the men talking in the parlour. Her son had a soft voice as it was. Only a few of the words he spoke to the German were comprehensible to her, and as for the German, he was even more controlled in his speech.  

Signora Guidi was curious, but sat shelling peas with the offended dignity of the excluded. 

Bora was saying, “No, thank you, I’m in a hurry.” 

Having refused to take a seat, he stood rigidly by the set dining-room table, opposite a mirrored credenza. On the credenza sat the black-ribboned photograph of Guidi’s policeman father, with the date 1924 penned at the bottom, preceded by a cross. 

“That’s what De Rosa said, Guidi. And although he came under some pretence of secrecy, God knows why, he did not expressly forbid me to talk it over with others, so here I am.” 

Compared to Bora’s impeccable German uniform, Guidi grew aware of his shirt-sleeved frumpiness, perhaps because Bora seemed to be appraising him. He could feel the scrutiny of his own unprepossessing lankiness, his melancholy features drawn under the limp, swept-back wave of his sandy hair. Bora, on the other hand, looked like steel and leather and immaculate cuffs. 

Perhaps he ought to feel flattered by the visit. “Major,” Guidi said, “is it proven that Lisi’s death was not an accident, first of all?” 

“It seems so. His wife’s sports car has a sizeable dent in the front fender. De Rosa is convinced it resulted from her purposely running into Lisi’s wheelchair. As I said, it happened in the grounds of the victim’s country place. Unlikely that he was struck by a passing motorist.” 

Absent-mindedly Guidi nodded. From the kitchen wafted the odour of frying onions, so he went to shut the door. “Are they keeping the widow under surveillance?” 

“Virtually house arrest.” 

“In the country?” 

“No, she lives in Verona.” Without stepping forward, Bora handed over a slim folder tied with a rubber band. “These are the notes I took after De Rosa’s visit.” 

While Guidi read, Bora took off his cap and placed it under his left arm. Italian officials made little money, he knew. Dated furniture, old school books lovingly arranged on the shelf, a rug brushed threadbare. The punctilious modesty of this room spoke of the ever-losing struggle of the middle class to keep respectable. More importantly, it might speak of Guidi’s honesty. 

From the credenza’s mirror, unbidden, the stern clarity of his own eyes met Bora. The finely drawn paleness of the face his wife called handsome looked to him new and hard, as if Russia and pain had killed him and made him into another. He took a step aside to avoid his reflection. 

Guidi said, “We’ll need the physician’s report and autopsy.” 

“I requested them.” 

From where he faced now, Bora noticed how the photograph of Guidi’s father occupied the centre of an embroidered doily, between two vases filled with artificial flowers. A regular home altar, complete with lit taper. Memory of his younger brother’s death hit him squarely (Kursk, only a few months ago, the crash site in the field of sunflowers, blood lining the cockpit), so that Bora moodily looked down. 

“When the housemaid came out after hearing the noise, the victim had been thrown several paces from his wheelchair. According to De Rosa, Lisi had only enough strength left in his arm to trace a ‘C’ on the gravel, and then lost consciousness. He had already slipped into a coma when help came, and was dead in less than twentyfour hours’ time.” 

Guidi closed the folder. “I don’t see how this detail particularly relates to his wife.” 

“Her name is Clara.” 

“Ah. But even then, it all remains circumstantial. Were there problems in the Lisi marriage?” 

Bora stared at him. “They were living apart, and their separation had been unfriendly. Apparently there were still occasional violent arguments between them. Naturally the widow denies all accusations, and insists she had nothing to do with the matter, although she was reportedly unable to offer an alibi for the afternoon of the killing. Without an eyewitness, there’s no way of knowing whether she drove to the country on that day or not. Whoever killed Lisi, though, arrived and left again within a few minutes.” 

Noise from the kitchen intruded. Guidi stole a look to the door, embarrassed that his mother was banging pots and covers as a not-so-subtle hint that lunch was ready. Bora’s dark army crop moved imperceptibly in that direction. 

“Well, Major, I have to think about it—” Bora interrupted him. 

“What do you intend by ‘thinking’? That you haven’t decided whether you’ll collaborate with me, or that you need time before offering me suggestions?” 

“I need to think of a plan of action. I’ll phone you at the command post this evening.” 

Bora, who had scheduled an anti-partisan night raid and would not be at the post, nevertheless said it was fine. 

Over the occasional banging of pots, “We’re agreed, then.” Guidi rushed to say, “What I meant to pass on, Major, is that an escaped convict is at large between Lago and Sagràte.” 

Unexpectedly Bora smirked. “Why, thank you. We’ll lock our doors at night.” 

“He was diagnosed by Italian army physicians as criminally insane, and carries a marksman Carcano besides.” 

“6.5 or 7.35 mm calibre?” 

“8 mm.” 

Bora frowned. “Ah. Those made for the Russian campaign. They have a brutal recoil. Well, for us it’s just one more bullet to dodge, Guidi.” 

“I did my civic duty by informing the German authorities.” 

After a particularly syncopated rattle of cooking pots, the kitchen became peaceful again. Guidi breathed easily. “Did De Rosa tell you why they want to keep the murder a secret?” 

Bora openly grinned this time. “For the same reason why there are no more suicides in Fascist Italy, and people just happen to stumble on the tracks while there’s an oncoming train. Perhaps there are no murders in Fascist Italy, either. It seems Lisi was of some importance. A comrade of the first hour, in Mussolini’s words.” Bora swept his army cap from under his arm and put it on, taking a rigid step toward the door. “Colonel Habermehl recommended my name to the Republican Guard because of what he terms my part in solving other small matters. It’s only natural I should contact you, since you are the professional in the field.” He opened the door, through which a field-grey BMW was visible, with driver waiting at attention. “My apologies to your mother for delaying your holiday meal. Goodbye.” 

Guidi waited until the army car left the kerb before calling out to his mother. “He’s gone, Ma.” Because she did not answer, he opened the kitchen door and peered in. “He left.” 

His mother had taken her apron off and was wearing her good shoes. “Gone? Why didn’t you ask him to stay for lunch?” 

“I thought you didn’t want the likes of him in the house, Ma.” 

“Honestly, Sandro! Now God knows what he’s going to think about us Italians, that we didn’t even invite him to lunch.”

A Dark Song of Blood by Ben Pastor



Again, the airplane. And again, the animal. Same dream in all details, an obsessive sameness. Russia, last summer. I walk toward the fallen plane making my way through the black stumps of the sunflowers, fearing what I will find there. My brother’s voice is everywhere, but I do not understand one word of what he is saying. I only know it’s the voice of the dead. A blood trail preceding and following me. Then, the rest of the dream, as always. 

I woke up in a cold sweat (this is also becoming frequent), and tried for a long time to stay awake. I only knew I was dreaming again when the sound of the animal behind me filled me with dread. It’s a quick, scraping sound, as of a large hound racing up stone steps. I climb and climb and the stairs wind around corners in a wide spiral; a blinding light comes from deep windows to the right. By inches the animal gains on me, and all I know is that it is female, and I will find no mercy with it. Its claws are like metal on polished stone, marble perhaps. I can’t climb fast enough to avoid it. Looking back into this diary, I can see the first time I dreamt this was the night before the ambush in September. 

Martin Bora’s nightmares had been set aside by the time he walked into the Hotel Flora from the wide street, early in the morning. A tiger sky drifted white behind the city blocks, wrinkling here and there with striped, ribbon-like clouds. Via Veneto was filling with light like a slow river at the bend, on a Saturday which promised to be a cold and clear day. His soul was secure inside, well kept, guarded. Anxiety had no room in his waking hours and, surprisingly, things that had been amusing were amusing still. 

Half an hour later Inspector Sandro Guidi of the Italian police stood before the massive elegance of the same hotel, shielding his eyes. At the entrance he presented his papers to a stolid-faced young soldier. While he waited in the luxurious lobby to be let upstairs, he gave himself credit for not getting lost on his way here, but still wondered why the unexpected summons to the German command. 

In the third-floor office, another wait. Beautiful wallpaper, hangings around luminous windows. Behind the desk, a detailed map of the city, a crowded bulletin board, three moist-looking watercolors of old Roman streets. Paperwork lay on the desk, neatly stacked but obviously being processed. Several maps were folded in transparent sheaths under a notebook. Guidi had seen German aides once or twice. The crimson stripes on their breeches came to mind, and the silver braid draping right shoulder and breast in the ceremonial dazzle of army hierarchy. What could General Westphal’s aide-de-camp possibly want from him? It was likely a formality, or even a mistake. But he could not mistake the voice coming from the door, because its Italian had no accent whatever. 

“Good morning, Guidi. Welcome to Rome.” 

Guidi wheeled around. “Major Bora! I didn’t expect to find you here.” 

“Why not?” 

“Well, not after what happened at Lago last month.” 

Bora smirked, and Guidi was at once familiar again with the good looks, the polite levity and reserve. “yes,” Bora said,  

“SS Captain Lasser has his friends.”

“But here in Rome!” 

“I have my friends, too.” 

Guidi was invited to sit facing the desk, where the framed photo of a woman was the only personal object. Bora did not take a chair. He sat on the desk’s corner, loosely clasping his left wrist where it met the gloved artificial hand. “So, how were you transferred here?” he asked. “I happened to drive past St Mary Major yesterday, and would have recognized you anywhere – sandy-haired, lanky and ever so proper, coming out of church. you put the rest of us to shame.” 

Guidi shrugged. This invitation was now flattering and he wasn’t sure he wanted that. Ostensibly Bora had no reason to have him here other than friendliness. “I was simply reassigned, but never expected to get the capital. Frankly, big cities daunt me.” 

He mentally compared his crumpled civilian looks to the smartness of the man facing him, off-putting were it not for the amicable cast on his youthful face. “I understand. Don’t worry, Guidi, I know Rome well. I’ll show you the sights. So, do you have a case yet?” 

“I don’t know if I can discuss it here.” 

“you must mean the Reiner matter, then. It’s on everybody’s lips, whether or not she was just a German embassy secretary who fell from a fourth-story window. Good, I’m glad it’s you they brought here for it. Where do you stay?” 

“At a house on Via Merulana.” 

“you ought to have taken a place closer in. Is your mother with you?” 


“She’s well, I hope?” 

“yes, thank you.” Guidi felt Bora’s attention on him. Their association in northern Italy had been circumstantial, due to criminal cases where Germans had figured in one way or another. This was different, and he was not used to relating to Bora without an immediate motive. 

“There’s much about the city to like, you’ll see.” Bora stood, which rightly Guidi took as a sign that time was up. “Let’s meet  

tomorrow, at 0900 hours sharp.” 

“I’m not sure I can.” 

“Surely you can.” By his brisk stepping to the door, Guidi noticed that – four months after the grenade attack – Bora’s limp was less pronounced. He looked remarkably well, in fact. 

“My driver will take you home.” 

“It’s not necessary, Major.” 

“It is, it is. you walked here. your ears are red with cold.” Bora’s impatience came through, and this Guidi remembered about him also. “I’ll see you in the morning.” 

After the meeting, Guidi was angry with himself for letting Bora do the talking, and subtly taking over. It’d happened in Lago often enough to annoy him, but Bora’s concise forcefulness was as irresistible as it was disturbing. Devoid of leniency, an odd contrary image of himself, because Guidi was not willing to take risks as Bora did. 

City life in the fourth year of war was gray, as the German staff car traveled streets where the few passers-by seemed also spare and gray. Guidi was struck by the naked great size of Rome. Far from the northern province – where “Germans” meant Bora and his detachment – here, after the loss of the south, had flowed Wehrmacht and SS, paratroopers and airmen, their commands ensconced in the best hotels, and the most elegant avenues made off limits to civilians. Rome was under siege from within, strangely. Strange, too, seeing Bora wear his medals. Guidi had never before seen them on the severe field tunic, and yet they told at once all there was to know militarily about him. When the German orderly dismounted to open his car door, Guidi felt the eyes of the neighborhood upon him, curious and hostile. 

As for Bora, he did not waste time wondering whether Guidi had been imposed upon by his invitation. Within minutes General Westphal walked in with a slip of paper written in Italian. 

“What does this say?” 

Bora scanned the words. “It says, ‘The women do not love us any more / Because it is a black shirt that we wear / They say we should be carried off in chains / They say we should be carried off to jail.’ It’s a song the Fascists sing up north.” 

“Well, it’s defeatist. Write a note to Foa and the head of PAI and let them know it’s all right for Salò but we don’t want it sung in Rome. If Foa complains, chew his ass.” 

“Sir, General Foa is no Fascist, and he’s a war hero. Harshness may not be advisable.” 

“He’s also half-Jewish. Ream him, and don’t worry about being unpopular. Aides are never left behind for the dogs to tear.” 

As things went, Foa was an untoward old man who wanted no interference from the Germans, and Bora ended up making an enemy over the stupid ditty. After the phone call he prepared a memo for Westphal’s meeting with Field Marshal Kesselring, which he might have to deliver himself, two hours away in the arid massif of Mount Soratte. Allied fighter planes circled the sky in endless vulture rounds all the way there, where the distant mountain cut against the eastern sky a bizarre stone likeness of Mussolini. Westphal was called in by General Maelzer, commander of the city garrison, and Bora was en route to the field marshal’s lair before noon. 

He made it back to the city long after curfew. On his desk, a message from the Vatican was waiting with a note scribbled by Westphal on the margin. Inform the Vatican Secretary of State you’ll visit first thing in the morning to discuss matters in person. If it’s the Italian cardinal, say no; if it’s the German, say that we’ll look into it. In either case give my regards, et cetera. Don’t fall for Hohmann’s philosophical talk. Report to me on Monday on this and the trip.