Papa, it's them again!" The banging on the door accompanied by the
panic in Joachim's voice roused Berg to action. Flinging off the
covers, he bolted from the warmth of his feather bed, scarcely
registering the frigid air as his bare feet contacted the worn oak
floor, running into the common room of the family's apartment. He
was awake and ready for confrontation.
It was still dark, but Berg could make out the duvet draping over
the sofa. Of late, his son had taken to sleeping on the couch,
leaving his sister alone in the room they had once shared. Privacy
issues: typical of a boy of fifteen. His body demanded attention
without his sister as an audience. Joachim was tall, lean, and
movie-star handsome with hound-dog blue eyes and a thick mop of
hair, blond in color from his mother, but the curl came from
The room shook from hurling rocks hitting the outside stone.
"That's it!" Berg turned on the lone electric bulb that hung over
the dining table and fit the crank into the window. It was a
blessing that his family lived on the top floor. The hoodlums below
did not have enough force to propel the rocks up to their
unit."That is it!" "Axel, what are you doing?"
His wife's voice. Berg stopped and turned. Her eyes were still
heavy with sleep, and her tresses stuck out at odd angles. Even
though the rainstorm had passed, the air was filled with static
electricity. He said,"Go back to bed, Britta. It's cold."
"If it's cold to me, it's cold to you." "Then be a love and get me
"Axel, leave them alone.At least, they don't break anything." "Not
"You don't know who they are." "Of course I know who they are.They
are the Austrian's finest-" "How do you know? They're not even
dressed in brown."
"I know punks!" He leaned into the window crank and felt his face
get hot from exertion."They are punks."
"If they are from Hitler, it's not you they want. It's probably the
Jews down below."
"Which Jews?" "The Weinstocks on the second floor. Or the
"The Maslanokovs are Russian, not Jewish." "Kommunisten.What's the
difference?" "I thought they were Social Democrats."
Britta dismissed him with a wave of her hand."Same thing." "I beg
to differ. I voted Social Democrat in the last election." "I
wouldn't publicize that if you want to keep our windows
Berg ignored her and gave another push on the crank."What is it
with this window? You would think we glued it to the framework."
"We did.We shut it with paste because it was letting in so much
"What? When was this?" "About a month ago-"
"Aha!" The window sprang open, and immediately a bitter cold wind
slapped Berg's face. He could almost taste the snow from the Alps.
He shouted at the boys below. His displeasure just egged them
on.The projectiles began to fall at a faster rate."Shout at them
for me, Britta!"
"I will not!" "I need you to distract them. I ask little of you."
"And risk being stoned?" "I'll do it, Papa."
Britta glared at her elder child."So you join your father in
stupidity! One moment I have a clever son. Then he grows to a
certain age and becomes idiotic like all men!" She huffed and went
back into the bedroom, slamming the door.
Joachim suppressed a smile. He turned to his father."What should I
"Distract them." From the closet, Berg took out his jacket, his
boots, and thick woolen socks. "Yell at them, make faces at them,
whatever comes to mind. Just keep them occupied."
The boy looked out the window and frowned."There are four of them,
After pulling on his socks and boots, Berg quickly tied up the
laces. "That's good. When they scatter, my luck at catching one of
them will improve." He put on his coat.
"You're going outside in your pajamas?" Joachim asked."You will
"Ice doesn't form on a moving object." Berg kissed his son's
forehead. "They seem to be losing interest. Curse at them, Joachim.
Be loud and vile. That should fire them up again."
Berg slipped out the door, down the hallway, and into the nearly
black stairwell. Using the wall as his guide, he jogged down four
stories'worth of steps, heels clanging against the metal. The air
was pure frost, making it hard to breathe. He scrunched his face in
disgust as odors assaulted him: rotting garbage, fresh cat piss,
and predawn cooking smells, specifically sizzling sausage. That
anyone had money for breakfast meat surprised him. Berg's own
breakfast-when he ate breakfast-was usually a roll with butter.
Times were better, yes, but no one had any savings.The city was
still reeling from the Great Inflation of five years earlier. There
was little trust in the present currency or the fools in Berlin who
now claimed a healthy monetary system. As soon as Berg hit the
ground floor, he threw open the outside door and pumped his legs to
full speed. The boys homed in on the squeaking hinges, saw the
charging figure, and took off in all directions. Berg elected to
take on not the one closest to him but, rather, the biggest, the
The boy appeared to be around Joachim's age but stockier, more
muscled across the chest like a typical Bavarian. Like Berg,
Joachim had the lean build of an effete English schoolboy. But also
like Berg, he had strength in those sinewy arms. More than once
Joachim had come home with a bloody nose and a sly smile.At the
Gymnasium, he was known as a boy who could hold his own.
Berg lengthened his stride, having an advantage over his quarry
because he was already running while the teenagers were warming up.
But the punk managed to elude immediate capture. The kid turned
right, then left, then right, then left, in an effort to shake Berg
off, but all it did was slow them both down. Finally, the boy
realized he could pick up speed if he ran in a straight line, and
was able to pull ahead by several meters. He appeared to be heading
northwest toward the Isar, a debatable strategy because it limited
his options. Once there, he'd either have to run alongside the
river or cut across one of the bridges. Although Berg wasn't the
fastest runner, he had endurance. He decided the best plan was to
keep up a steady gait and increase his speed later, after the kid
had tired from the wind,wet, and cold.
Dawn was imminent but there was no glory in the skies, just a mass
of pewter clouds wafting through charcoal globs of sooty smoke. The
little light that did break through only served to make the city
more depressing; it revealed lines of row houses with thatched
roofs and locked shutters instead of the newer glass windows.
Interspersed among the residential buildings were the infamous
cigarette rooms, but it was too early even for the prostitutes.
Heart banging against his chest, Berg flew by several fleabag
hotels that housed jobless men curled up in blankets, sleeping
behind the display windows.When the kid hit the levee, he abruptly
turned left and scrambled down the knoll until he was at the
riverbank. He continued north.
Berg kept apace, his body in rhythm to his run. Last night's
rainstorm had turned the ground into a treacherous slush of mud,
debris, and lumpy tree roots, all working in tandem to trip him up.
The churning river was deafening, especially in contrast to the
empty streets. Lungs burning, Berg continued his chase, each step
spraying mud against his pajama bottoms and the hem of his
Working hard to keep his balance, he choked back icy spray from the
roiling water as the river danced over rocks and collided with huge
boulders. A sticky, gelid mist chilled his face. His nose and ears
had turned numb. His fingers had become stiff and lost feeling, but
internally he was warm from running, sweat accumulating under his
armpits and around his neck.
His body in sync with metronome of his feet: thump, thump, thump,
Within minutes, he passed the new German Museum of Science and
Technology, Munich's proof to the rest of the country that it was a
forward-thinking city. The sky was turning light gray. Soon the
streets would fill up with bicycles, pushcarts, motor scooters,
buses, streetcars, and the ever-growing population of privately
It would be easier for the punk to lose him in traffic, so Berg
lengthened his stride. The kid turned his head and looked over his
shoulder. The action slowed him down, allowing Berg to narrow the
gap between them. Now he was on the punk's tail . . . just a little
A final sprint, legs extended to the maximum, then Berg reached out
and grabbed the punk's coat, trying not to trip over his own feet
as they both pitched forward. The teen tried to get away by
slipping his coat off, but Berg was ready. He grasped the scruff of
the boy's neck with his long, dexterous fingers, yanking him
backward. Then he gave the kid a solid kick behind the knees. The
teen buckled and slipped, then fell facedown in the mud. Berg
jerked him back up to his feet and slammed him into the wire fence
that lined the river.
"Heil Hitler!" the punk groaned out as he dropped to his
knees. "Your devotion is touching." Berg was breathing hard but
remained in control. He pulled the kid's arms behind his back, took
out a pair of handcuffs from his coat, and locked the boy's hands
together. Once again, he snapped him to his feet."Perhaps he can
visit you in prison. It is a place he knows well from firsthand
"Your days are numbered.There are more of us than you." "Yes, yes.
Still, you are in handcuffs and I am not." Berg pushed him up the
hill and onto the street.Without speaking, they walked a couple of
minutes until they reached Ludwigs Bridge. Berg pushed him
Berg was surprised. The kid offered nothing in the way of physical
resistance. He had some girth but was soft in the arms. Short,
too.He had a pink face but any face would be pink in such cold
weather. Piggish blue eyes.To Berg, they all were pigs. Underneath
his worn coat, the boy wore a beige work shirt, the rough fabric
probably woven from nettles, thick woolen pants, and boots with
more holes than leather.
Abruptly, the young Nazi broke into song. "O Germany, high in honor
. . ."
Berg tightened his grip."Quiet! People are still sleeping." The
teen changed the song but not the volume. "Deutschland,
Deutschland ?ber alles."
Berg kneed him in the back."I said, Quiet!" "You object to
Germany's great national anthem?" "Not the anthem, only your
Weighing several options, Berg decided on the main police station
on Ett Strasse. It was ten minutes away, and Berg felt more
comfortable holding the kid in his own territory. A push forward,
and the two trudged through the fog and the cold on the
cobblestones, trying to avoid the numerous puddles. Berg could hear
the city begin to stir: the occasional clopping of hooves, the
squeaking of wooden wheel axles on wagons, the purr of motor
vehicles, the clanging of streetcars. Heavy objects-most likely
crates of food being unloaded and delivered- were falling to the
ground at Viktualienmarkt, only blocks away. Berg decided to bypass
the market in order to avoid unwanted attention, specifically from
the punk's compatriots who seemed to be everywhere these
days."What's your name, Junge?"
"I don't have to answer your questions." "You will
"No, you are wrong. One day, you will have to answer my
"That day has not come, Junge. What is your name?" The kid
"Lothar what?" "Lothar Felb."
"Lothar,why do you throw rocks at our building? It houses many of
"But it also has many degenerates-Jews, Kommunisten, Independent
Socialists, Social Democrats, Bavarian Workers, German Democrats,
Liberal burghers, German Socialists-"
"That's a lot of people, Junge-everyone in the city other
"Exactly." The kid stopped walking and turned his head. "Do
whatever you must. But we both know, Inspektor, that I will find a
sympathetic ear with the police. Especially when they see you
dressed so comically."
Suddenly Berg realized he was still in his pajamas. Embarrassed and
angry, he backhanded the teen across the left side of his face."You
underestimate me, Junge." Before the kid could respond,
Berg backhanded the right side."Don't talk anymore.You're
The kid opened his mouth, but no sound came out.They plodded the
rest of the way in silence. Berg shivered. He was chilled, wet, and
very troubled. There was more truth than lie in the young
Excerpted from STRAIGHT INTO DARKNESS © Copyright 2005 by
Faye Kellerman. Reprinted with permission by Warner Books, an
imprint of Time Warner Bookmark. All rights reserved.