Читать онлайн "Last Man To Die" автора Dobbs Michael - RuLit - Страница 4


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Already the commander could hear the noise of wrecking as guards went through the tents overturning beds, tearing palliasses, emptying kitbags and the other hold-alls in which the prisoners kept their meagre possessions, ripping everything apart. He knew that anything of value would be gone by the time the prisoners were able to begin picking up the pieces.

‘But it cannot be. The offices are outside the wire; my men could not possibly have …’

Pilsudski began to chuckle, a harsh, false sound which revealed no humour, only crooked teeth. The German could feel the implacable bitterness behind the red eyes; he shivered, and not solely from the growing cold. The captor, still chuckling, began shaking his head slowly. ‘You’re surely not trying to tell me it was a Canadian soldier? No, not my boys. They know how to behave themselves. So, you see, it must have been one of yours.’

‘Impossible …’

‘Not only is it possible,’ Pilsudski interrupted, ‘but to my mind inevitable wherever you find a German. You’ve thieved and pillaged and raped just about everywhere you’ve been in Europe, so why should you make an exception here?’ The grin didn’t falter, the teeth still showing, but the eyes had narrowed. The German did not see the danger signs; he was propped unsteadily on his stick, clearly a sick man and in some considerable pain after standing for nearly an hour in the drizzle.

‘This is utterly unjust,’ he protested, but was cut short as Pilsudski’s swagger stick sliced high through the air to come crashing down across the table.

‘Don’t talk to me about justice, you Nazi bastard. If I make you eat shit, at least that’s more than most of your prisoners got over the last six years.’

With considerable effort the German pulled himself up off his cane and stood erect, looking at Pilsudski, his defiance visible through the rain that dripped off his cap and down his face. ‘I am a German officer. I most strongly protest.’

‘He protests!’ Pilsudski stood so the commander felt dwarfed. ‘This butchering son-of-a-bitch protests,’ Pilsudski continued in a voice strong enough to be heard full across the parade ground. No one was to miss this humiliation. Satisfied he had achieved his objective, he leaned low across the table until he was looking down upon the pained face of the commander, showering him in venom and spittle. ‘Listen! You started this war. You lost. So shove it.’ Pilsudski jerked the middle finger of his right hand into the face of the commander before turning from him in contemptuous dismissal. ‘Sergeant. Search the prisoners!’

At the command the first man in each line of prisoners was prodded forward by the guards until they were standing in front of a table. After considerable further encouragement from the muzzles of the standard-issue Lee Enfield .303s and a barrage of abuse from their captors, they began taking off their clothes, item by item, and placing them on the tables.

‘All of ’em, sauerkraut,’ one of the guards bawled, giving a reluctant prisoner a savage dig under the ribs. He smiled arrogantly through a mouthful of gum while the German slowly obeyed until he had joined the seven other prisoners standing naked in front of the tables. The guards went through their clothes, indiscriminately filching cigarettes, wallets, combs, even family photographs.

The search seemed to be over. Nothing incriminating had been found, and the sergeant was looking in the direction of Pilsudski for further orders. It was time. Time to revenge the fate which had cast Pilsudski as babysitter in this gut-rotting dampness instead of letting him loose in Europe; time to revenge a birthright which had left him a good six inches shorter than most men; time to revenge the suffering of his aunt and grandmother at the hands of Germans – not these Germans, of course, but these were the only Germans around. It was time. Pilsudski gave a curt nod.

At the sign, each of the prisoners was thrown across the table, his head forced down by a guard until he had lost his footing in the mud and was spreadeagled. As he lay there, surprised, stunned, a second guard armed with a heavy leather glove forced his legs wide apart and violated him, the guard’s gloved finger piercing and entering, twisting deep inside and raping not just the body but the soul. One began to emit a low howl of anguish and degradation but a shouted reprimand from a fellow prisoner choked it off. After all, why admit the shame, why give the guards still further satisfaction?

‘You are … tearing up … all the rules,’ the commander began, barely able to find words as he struggled to contain his feelings. ‘What in God’s name do you think this is?’

‘A medical inspection. For piles. If anyone asks. Which they won’t.’ Pilsudski’s manner was cold as the wind. He didn’t regret a thing. ‘By the way, one of the prisoners is excused. The queer. They tell me he’s been comprehensively inspected already.’

‘So. I think I understand.’

‘Sure you do, Fritz. How do the rules of war go? To the victor the spoils. To the losers, a finger up their ass. And it’s a damn sight less than you bastards deserve.’

‘You have already defeated us. Is that not enough?’

‘No, not by a long chalk. I want every stinking German left alive crawling on his hands and knees, begging for mercy, just like you left that faggot the other night. I hope I make myself clear.’

There was no point in further protest. In war he had been a senior officer but in defeat he felt no better or more worthy of respect than any other man; the German turned on his heel as correctly as his ailing legs would allow and joined the end of one of the lines.

It took more than two hours for the guards to finish their work, and the drizzle continued to fall as the parade ground turned into a sea of slime. There were tears mingling with the rain that flowed down the cheeks of many of the Germans, tears of emasculation and despoliation, tears of despair at having been captured, of having failed both their comrades and their country. But most of all there were tears of guilt at being survivors when so many others had found the courage to do their duty to the very end. In laying down their arms instead of their lives they were guilty of desertion, of dereliction, of having betrayed the womenfolk and children they had left behind. As Pilsudski knew, almost every one of the men on that parade ground secretly believed he deserved the punishment being meted out to him. Pilsudski might be a vicious bastard but, as losers, theirs was the greater sin.

Such feelings of guilt are the general rule for prisoners of war. But to all generalities there are exceptions. And in Camp 174B, the exception was Peter Hencke …

‘It’s an unpalatable prospect, Willie,’ the Prime Minister growled, breaking a lengthy period of silent contemplation as he searched for the soap under a thick layer of suds.

William Cazolet took off his glasses and gave them a vigorous polish to clear the condensation. He felt such a fool on bath nights. In the fortified Annexe off Downing Street where the Prime Minister spent much of his time, the ventilation was close to non-existent behind windows which were permanently enclosed in thick steel shutters. It made the bathroom hot and steamy, just as the PM liked it, but for visitors – and there usually were visitors on bath night, even female secretaries taking shorthand – it could be an ordeal. It was one of the many eccentricities of working and living with Winston Churchill.

‘What prospect is that, exactly?’ Cazolet asked, leaning forward from his perch on the toilet seat in an attempt to restore the circulation to his legs. It could be uncomfortable sitting at the right hand of history.



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