Northern California, 1944
The silence woke her. Then the faint whisper of a foghorn crept into the space between her breaths. She pictured the lighthouse beacon pushing against the mist, warning hospital ships of one last hazard between them and home. She was in the Presidio, but she heard no voices, no laughter, no slap of rifle stocks against palms. Only silence, then footsteps scuffling through the winter-dry leaves.
Squealing hinges, a jerk, and her shrouded body thudded to the ground. Her head bounced as he dragged her through the night, over rocks and branches, sticks and stones. She opened her mouth to scream she was still alive, it wasn’t too late, he didn’t have to do this.
And then her uncle’s voice came to her over years and miles, over the edge that separates the living and the dead. She heard him tell again how the bear had gripped his skull. How he had stilled his breathing and gone limp and hung from its snout forever, his weight heavy against the points of its teeth, his eyes closed against its burning saliva. Then the bear tossed him to the ground, circled him, nudged him with a paw. Once, then again. He didn’t move, just held his breath and prayed.
And then it went away, crashing through the woods. When he stopped trembling, he bound his wounds with his handkerchief and limped back to the cabin. He poured half a bottle of precious vodka over his head. The rest he drank.
Or so he said as he held her under her chin and looked into her eyes. Bears are much stronger than we are, so if a bear ever gets you, go limp little one. If you do not struggle, if it thinks you are dead, it will lose interest, and maybe—he raised a finger and touched her nose—just maybe, it will let you go. She smiled at the old man and said there were no bears in the city. Ach—he cocked his scarred head—you never know.
She could not fight this human bear, but she could pretend to be dead, as dead as the family she now knew had perished in spite of her sacrifice. She clenched her teeth and swallowed her pain. All the years of her loneliness, she had believed she would embrace them again one day, breathe the air they breathed, feel her face cupped in her father’s hands. The bear had promised.
Now she promised to make a dagger of her sorrow and kill him for what he had done.
He yanked her feet and dragged her from side to side. The shroud muffled her cry and sheltered her from the mournful wind rattling the eucalyptus leaves. One great shove and the shroud unfurled, spinning her to the creek below. It was dark and peaceful, private and deep. A good place to dump a body in the December night.
There was a body—finally.
I pushed toward the Bayshore Highway, frustrated by the fog that had rolled in overnight and filled the shallows in the Point Richmond hills. Only my familiarity with the road and a ghostly white fence saved my neighbor’s victory garden from a devastating invasion. I turned the wipers on, then off when they scraped the windshield, then on yet again when the road blurred into a grey smudge I could barely follow. I swerved when a gust of wind shredded the fog and revealed a group of children huddled in the street.
A girl waved her arms, signaling me to stop, and took a few faltering steps after me. Mine couldn’t have been the only car feeling its way through the mist that morning, and I imagined her disappointment as she watched cars disappear from view. My German shepherd Harley, already miffed by my abrupt swerve, woofed when I braked and sent him sliding forward on the seat. I wanted to keep driving, to get to the crime scene in the Presidio before it was compromised, but I turned around, passed the group, and parked behind them, headlights on, facing the wrong way. If nothing else, I would get them out of the street before some drowsy defense worker plowed into them.
A barrage of raindrops hit the roof, reminding me of my own boyhood adventures and a narrow escape from a flash flood in a storm drain. Maybe children really did have guardian angels who protected them from themselves, and maybe sometimes they showed up as harried strangers who were late for work, not that I considered myself a likely candidate for the post. I suspected Harley was the one with the angelic mission.
The dark-haired girl ran to the car as I struggled into my poncho. She surprised me when she greeted Harley by name and grabbed my free hand. He wagged as if he knew her and started to follow, but I signaled him to stay. She told me about their predicament in breathless bursts while pulling me to the corner.
“A dog ran out of the bushes and Ritchie’s stupid cat jumped out of his arms and flew into the sewer and now he can’t get it out.”
A boy lay in the street, his head twisted sideways, one arm stretched into the storm drain. I was grateful the opening was too narrow for him to crawl into the drain. I tapped on the back of his yellow slicker and kept my words soft and low, not wanting to spook the cat.
“Ritchie. Come on out. Let me help.”
He scrabbled to his feet and looked at my cane, but didn’t voice the disbelief written on his face.
“My arms are longer than yours, Ritchie, and this calls for reach, not speed.”
He said okay, but his reservations were clear.
“Her name’s Macaroni.” He looked to be about eleven years old; the fear in his eyes made him seem younger.
I bent my good leg, half fell onto the street, and crawled to the opening. Usually Harley helped me, but it was a rare cat that found a canine presence reassuring. A shivering marmalade kitten clung to some flotsam. Its mouth opened and closed, but I couldn’t hear much over the water that coursed through the pipe and threatened to sweep away the cat’s perch. I asked one of the girls to run to the fire station for help and to tell them not to use their bells or sirens. I had no confidence the firemen could operate without sound effects, but we’d see. In the meantime, I’d do what I could and hope not to make things worse.
Usually frightened animals knew when you were there to help, but the terrified cat looked too young to trust that instinct. I lay on my back and slowly stretched my hand into the sewer until my fingertips pressed against a sodden mass of vegetation. Now it was up to the cat. I waited without moving. Barely breathed. My shoulder ached from holding the same position so long, and my back felt chilled from the wet street. I mouthed wait at Ritchie when he started to kneel down next to me.
The cat touched my hand with one tentative paw, then snatched it back. I stayed as still as I could, willing my arm not to tremble, to be as nonthreatening as a branch, and suddenly Macaroni scrambled up my arm and clung to my shoulder. I held her with one hand and scooched back so Ritchie could disengage her claws from my poncho. When he had secured the cat and moved away, I called Harley over and used his harness and strong shoulders to help myself off the ground. The girl who had flagged me down said, “Lieutenant Wri…,” but the rest of her words were lost in the wailing of sirens as a fire truck sped down the street toward us, making enough noise to scare the cat right back into the sewer. Luckily Ritchie was prepared and held onto it. The girl looked at me and rolled her eyes. I laughed out loud and winked at her, then Harley and I took off, leaving the children to explain what had happened.
A body waited for me.
I had missed morning shipyard traffic and made good time across the Bay Bridge to the Presidio, only to be held up at the Lombard gate. As I waited for a stalled truck to get moving, one medical bus after another materialized from the mist, passed between the stone pillars, and vanished. Men looked out the windows, some taking in every detail, some with that thousand-yard stare. Like me, they had survived the Japanese killing machine in the Pacific—more or less intact—and had made it home for Christmas to the delight of their families who were probably unprepared for how changed the men might be, how bittersweet the homecomings.
I shook off my thoughts and focused on my driving, accompanied by the conflicting emotions that had plagued me since my first homicide case: regret for the victim and its family, and an unseemly exhilaration at being able to do the job I loved—a job that required someone to die violently, unwillingly.
The rain brought out the medicinal smell of the eucalyptus trees that, however unpleasant to some, was refreshing to me after the stench of war that had oppressed me on Guam. When I approached the MPs securing the scene, I sensed a hiccup in their activities, like a phonograph needle skipping a groove. Some of the soldiers were still getting used to having a Marine overseeing their investigations, but they respected my uniform and accepted me primarily for what I was—a homicide detective.
I limped to the area where MPs stretched tape along the edge of a hill and met the man who had found the body. Technically the man. Actually, if it hadn’t been for his terrier, the woman would have lain by the creek, half-hidden in the weeds, until the earth claimed her.
He was an elderly civilian who wore a tweed cap and struggled to hold onto twenty-odd pounds of wriggling muscle covered with wirey brown and white fur.
“Anyway, Lieutenant Wright, Bella tore down the hill as if she were pursuing a rabbit. When she’s engaged, it’s quite impossible to get her attention. Not that one can fault her; it’s her nature, you know.” He looked somewhat longingly at Harley who sat calmly beside me.
“Anyway, how could one know where the chase might have taken her. She might have lost her way or been injured.” The tattoo he beat on the dog’s head sped up; she winced with each tap and squirmed, trying to back out of his arms.
“Anyway, I managed to squeeze through the bushes and realized she was tugging at something red. As you know, red is not a color frequently associated with army bases, but we are in the Yuletide season.” He pointed at his muddy trousers. “Unfortunately, I lost my footing and followed a rather precipitous route to the bottom of the hill.” He blinked several times. “That’s when I saw the hand.” He took another breath. “Anyway—”
Reliving the discovery seemed to have unsettled him, so I gave him something else to focus on by asking what he was doing in that part of the Presidio.
“We’re visiting my wife’s father in Fort Scott Winfield. He has no garden to speak of and if I don’t exhaust Bella … well, let’s just say he’s not a dog person.”
We were interrupted by an angry bellow from the creek. A medic demanded to know what idiot had left an injured woman lying in the freezing rain. He asked with a great deal more profanity than would have been fitting if the woman had been conscious. The medics waiting by the ambulance dropped their cigarettes onto the wet road and scrambled down the hill with a stretcher. While they worked, someone blustered that she had looked dead and how was he supposed to have known she wasn’t.
I turned to the civilian who seemed taken aback, either by the news about the woman or the profanity—perhaps both. “Tell your father-in-law that Bella saved a life this morning, and maybe he’ll start to look at dogs in a new way.” I walked him away and asked an MP to take his information.
When the medics crested the hill, I caught a glimpse of the woman. Her skin was deathly pale and waxen around the dark gash on her forehead. No wonder they had thought she was dead: I had seen corpses with more color.
Maybe the dog hadn’t saved a life today.
Harley and I stood at the top of the slope looking for a drier, shallower path, one that wouldn’t send me tumbling into the frigid creek, when a guy with fleshy lips yelled up and tried waving me off. Sounded like the man who had mistaken the woman for a corpse.
“You can’t bring that dog down here. Sorry.” He put his hands on his hips and stared at me. Nothing about his stance said sorry. In fact, I’d bet he didn’t have even a passing acquaintance with the concept.
“I think you mean sorry, sir.” I took a beat. “Corporal Couch, is it?”
“Davenport.” His eyes narrowed.
“Oh, sorry. Davenport.” I held Harley’s harness and motioned for him to lead the way. He would find the easiest path for me while I steadied myself against him. I hadn’t trained him to do that. He’d always known what I needed and figured out how to help me on his own.
“Sir, I must insist!”
“Insist all you like, Corporal. My dog’s worked more crime scenes than you have.” If his father hadn’t been a muckety-muck senator, Davenport would be an infantryman on a battlefield somewhere, instead of an MP in one of the most desired postings in the country.
“Davenport! Get over here.”
The corporal turned toward the voice, but not before I caught the look of disgust on his face. Sergeant Morse, the MP in charge, took him aside and said something too softly for me to hear. A red-faced Davenport stomped off into the bushes.
While I held onto Harley’s harness and slid and stumbled down the slope, Morse busied himself deploying his men in a search along the ravine. I appreciated his not watching my less-than-graceful descent. When I landed, so to speak, he turned and pointed out an area of dry ground that was changing color from light brown to dark as the rain continued to fall.
“That’s where she was lying, sir.”
It was such a small patch, blurred at the edges where the rain had seeped under her. She must have managed to curl into herself for warmth before she lost consciousness.
The sergeant was embarrassed. “He said she was dead, but I should have checked myself.”
“Don’t beat yourself up. It’s over now. Next time you’ll know.” I tried to reassure him and moved on. “The ground was dry when she landed here. Any idea when the rain started?”
“Around zero two hundred hours.” He shifted uncomfortably. “Medics guess she’s been here maybe eight to ten hours. She must have a strong constitution.”
The old-fashioned phrase reminded me of my old gym teacher who had insisted that running us to the brink of exhaustion—no matter what the weather—would build our constitutions. Maybe it had.
“So she probably was dumped sometime between ten last night and two this morning.” He pointed to the barely discernible path her body had taken. A few dried-up plants were broken, but the grasses flattened by her weight were already recovering. “Her head was there.” He bent down and touched the corner of a large rock. “That’s probably blood. Looks like hitting it kept her from ending up in the water.” He pointed at a gap in the bushes at the top of the hill. “Do you think the person who did this knew about the creek? You can’t see it from the road.”
“I don’t know. If he knew the base, he could have left her somewhere more remote. Then again, he might have been worried about running into a patrol and got rid of her as soon as he could.”
“He must have thought she was dead or close enough that she’d die from exposure. It’s been pretty cold at night. If the dog hadn’t found her...”
We exchanged a look. “Let’s not even think about it.”
“We didn’t find a handbag or identification on her, Lieutenant, so we have no idea who she is or who to contact for her.”
His men poked the bushes with sticks and lifted sodden vegetation, but hadn’t come up with anything. I suggested Morse send the men to search along the road even though I doubted they’d find anything.
“Let’s hope she regains consciousness and can tell us who did this to her. In the meantime, have someone check that all female personnel are accounted for. Nurses, secretaries, housekeeping staff. She might even be a Red Cross worker who met up with the wrong person.”
“I’ll check the gate logs for a woman who signed in and didn’t sign out.”
“And see if anyone is AWOL. If a soldier did this, he could be running—especially if the woman can be connected to him.”
“You don’t think a visitor did it, do you? You’d have to be pretty stupid to kill someone on an Army base. Especially this one.”
“Stupid or angry. It could explain why she was left here. Imagine striking out during an argument and accidentally killing someone, or thinking you had. An argument, a misplaced blow, and then stuck with a body. If a visitor did this, it was spontaneous, not premeditated.”
I called Harley and prepared to go back up the hill that had become more slippery. “While you’re ticking all the boxes, I’ll stop at the hospital and see what the docs have to say.”
“Too bad we can’t lock down the base while we investigate.” Morse seemed to be only half-joking.
“Try impeding the flow of troops from the Presidio, and you’ll be charged with aiding the enemy.”
“Maybe the guy was counting on that.”
I turned right past the barracks—first the quaint Mission-style buildings with their distinctive tile roofs and then the plain-Jane wooden structures thrown up to meet the demands of the war—and parked by a gray and cream building, part of the Letterman Hospital complex. I followed the hedge-lined path, pushed through the hospital doors, and asked about the woman we had found.
A nurse whose cap seemed about to tumble off her springy brown hair took off at speed down a long corridor. She smiled an apology and slowed down so I could catch up to her then led me into a room. Even bruised and with her eyes closed, the woman from the ravine was extraordinarily beautiful, with the translucent skin and sculpted cheekbones of a Greta Garbo.
The nurse nudged my arm. “Yeah. She’s a looker. Can’t blame you none for staring.”
I drew her into the hall. “Has she said anything?”
“Nope. She still hasn’t woken up. Her doctor will be at the evacuation trains until ten.” She glanced at the wall clock. “Better hurry if you want to catch him else you’ll have to chase him to Chicago. His name’s Quentin.”
I hurried down the hill toward Crissy Field. It was land stolen from the bay—a salt marsh filled in for the Panama-Pacific Exposition—and if the damn builders had their way, the shoreline would extend farther and farther into the water until only a channel remained. They didn’t give a thought to its beauty or to the marine life that counted on it to survive.
I stumbled over train tracks where orderlies hoisted patients into trains for the journey to a hospital closer to their homes. When I asked for Quentin, a nurse pointed to a rail car. I hung onto the metal handholds and one-stepped it up the stairs. A lanky guy in a knee-length white coat popped into the opening and offered a hand up. Dr. Quentin.
“Ever rode on one of these?”
Might have been asking me about riding a bronco with that Texas drawl.
“No need. The ship from Hawaii brought me here, and I was home.”
He guided me through a door and motioned for me to be careful. I stepped across the gap between the officer car and the pharmacy car as he spoke over his shoulder. “You know who the hospital is named after?”
I had a vague recollection, but it hardly mattered since Quentin didn’t wait for an answer and didn’t seem to care whether I was interested in his spiel; he just kept talking.
“Major Letterman was the Army medical director during the Civil War. He was fed up with men dying because it took so long to get them help, so he set up forward first aid stations and mobile field hospitals close to the fighting and trained an ambulance corps to carry the men there quickly. The casualty rate dropped so much that other countries stole his system, but I don’t think he minded.”
He led me to a ward car and nodded to some of the men as we went through. He stopped for a moment, wistful. “Imagine how many lives he’s saved, and even though he’s long gone, he’ll be saving lives forever. Well, at least as long as we have wars which probably will be forever.” He looked me over. “Were you a career man? Before that?” He pointed at my injured leg.
“Hardly. I’m a homicide detective who thinks even one death at a time is too many.”
He dipped his head in approval and continued the tour of the train.
“The orderlies have their own car. The rest is all about the patients. There are six to eight ward cars like this with eight two-tier bunks. ’Course, how many patients we take on each train depends partly on how much care they’ll be needing.”
I followed him back to the officers’ car, struck by the efficiency of the system.
“It’s exhausting. There are forty hospital trains stationed here now, and we’ve got our hearts set on another fifty or sixty to take care of the folks who’ll be coming from the Pacific next year—soldiers and civilians from Japanese camps. This is the second train today and there are still two more to go. Probably be four more tomorrow. Last month, we evacuated over eight thousand men. They just keep on coming, and that’s not counting the wounded being flown out of Mills Field.”
An orderly brought us thick mugs of coffee. Quentin thanked him and drained half the cup.
“Anyway, about the woman you found this morning. She has two head wounds. My guess is some bastard threw her against something sharp, maybe a doorframe, and split the back of her skull open. The wound bled a lot and most likely knocked her out for a while. I’m not surprised she was left for dead. Then he bashed her in the temple with something, probably a rock ’cause we found a few flecks of stone in the wound.” He brought his mug to his mouth and made a face, as if he had lost his taste for it.
I explained about the rock that had stopped her plunge into the creek.
“It may have saved her life, but it’s probably the reason she’s still unconscious.”
She’d been fully dressed when we found her, but I had to ask, “Was she sexually assaulted?”
“The nurse said she had on her underwear, and I didn’t see anything to make me think she had been.”
“How long before I can talk to her?”
The corners of his mouth turned down. “Who knows? She could wake up in a few hours, a few days, a few weeks.” He paused and looked in my eyes. “Or never.”
“So in your considered medical opinion, you don’t have a clue.”
“Right.” He smiled and reached into his coat pocket. “But I do have this handbill: the nurse found it folded up and stuck in her brassiere.”
I opened it. The Hidden Children of Europe. Presented by Sophia Nirenska and Marek Landau and sponsored by the War Refugee Board. The talk had taken place the day before in San Francisco.
“Not much to go on, but it’s better than what we have now.”
He smiled as if to say I wasn’t doing any better than he was.
I managed not to fall down the steps of the train—another small victory. Harley was making the rounds of some soldiers waiting to get on board. One of them wiped his sleeve across his eyes and complained about his allergy to dogs, but he kept scratching Harley behind the ears. I’d seen that allergy before when men felt the warmth of a dog’s fur—or maybe its heart—and remembered the boys they’d been before they learned to kill.
When they asked if my dog had been hurt, too, I told them about Guam and the night that changed my life. The short version was that I was shot defending the field hospital, Harley took down the Jap about to finish me off with a bayonet, and I shot at the soldier aiming at Harley. I missed, but distracted my target long enough for a cook to cold-cock him with a frying pan. Harley had been wounded in the neck.
I ruffled his fur. “The cook saved his life.”
“Colored guy?” One of the soldiers squinted, a cigarette dangling from his lip. “I mean if he had a frying pan instead of a rifle, he had to be.”
“Those guys don’t get credit for what they do. They fought off those damn Japs all night long when they were after our ammunition stores. I reckon we might have won the war by now if we’d given them weapons and let them fight.”
One of the men spat. Chances were there’d be some choice words exchanged on the subject of Negro troops. Some things didn’t change.
I headed back up the hill to report, wondering if I should pick up the car and drive the short distance. The docs had said to keep exercising my leg, hoping either that I would strengthen it or would realize how difficult—and painful—it was to keep my leg. I kept time with the cadence count of the troops drilling on the parade ground and ignored the searing in my knee.
By the time we reached JAG headquarters, I was sweating despite the chill in the air. Captain Harry Buonarotti, JAG’s commander and my sometime boss, waved me into his office and motioned for me to close the door. He looked tired, had been looking that way since the war began. He leaned his arms on his desk, pushed himself out of his chair and stretched on his way to giving me one of those Italian man hugs. I hugged him back remembering the first time he’d done that and how awkward it had felt. Wasn’t the way I’d been raised, but after spending time with Harry’s family, I’d grown comfortable with their open displays of affection. Of course, my father would consider them unsuitable—the hugs and the Italians—but I’d been grateful for the practice when it was time to comfort a man weeping for a fallen comrade.
“I hear the woman’s alive.” Harry took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes.
“Barely.” I shifted my weight, and he motioned to a chair. “Morse is doing a good job, but I’d like to stay on the case until we know who she is and what happened to her.”
He tilted his head. “A woman in distress. I’m not surprised at your interest.”
I ignored his good-natured sarcasm and laid the handbill on his desk. “This was in her clothing. It’s a long shot, but I’m hoping the speakers might be able to tell us something about her.”
“They’re resistance fighters from Poland—the speakers. Maybe the woman you found is one of them.”
Like most Americans, after Pearl Harbor I paid attention to the areas where our people were fighting: western Europe, Africa, and the Pacific. It was as if the war in eastern Europe had been decided. Germany had defeated Poland quickly, leading to jokes about the Polish cavalry brandishing swords on horseback, charging German tanks, as if they had been ineffective, but in fact, the cavalry had confounded the Germans and helped soldiers escape. I was sure the Poles felt the same way about their horses as my men felt about our dogs. Only people who had never fought, had never lost someone they loved, could find the slaughter of men and animals a laughing matter. A memory of Guam distracted me for a moment, until Harry’s voice registered with me. He was talking about the Polish resistance.
“Instead of capitulating to the Nazis, the Poles formed an underground army and maintained Poland as an independent country. Anyone who collaborated with the Germans….”
He drew his finger across his neck and shrugged, reminding me that however Americanized and law-abiding Harry was, he came from a family with deep roots in Italy. The cop in me was uncomfortable, even though some might call the deaths justified, and it must have shown on my face.
“Ah, Oliver.” His tone was indulgent, as if I, an American, were too naïve to understand. “The Poles have not accepted defeat, and are still fighting in Poland and Europe. Russia freed the Polish soldiers they had captured and allowed them to form a new army—minus the fifteen thousand men the Russians had ‘misplaced.’ They helped capture Monte Casino.”
“They ‘misplaced’ fifteen thousand soldiers?”
He looked at me over the rims of his glasses. “Of course, they had the help of Private Wojtek.”
I was supposed to ask about the private and forget about collaborators and maybe the missing soldiers he seemed to regret having mentioned. There was no point in pressing Harry. I’d tried before to get him to tell me something he was holding back. It never worked.
“Okay, I’ll bite. Who is Private Wojtek?”
“An Iranian brown bear.”
“Of course.” I nodded. “I should have known that.”
“The Polish army adopted him on their way to fight with the Allies. They had to enlist him so he could go on the troop ship with them.” Harry paused again. “He liked cigarettes and beer.”
“Oh, then a regular Joe.” I was having trouble keeping a straight face.
“For the most part, except that if no one was there to light his cigarette, he ate it.”
That did it. Harry continued talking over my laughter. Apparently, the bear had carried ammunition throughout the battle and never dropped a box.
“Did he survive?” That I was serious about.
He nodded. “So far. Seems he’s made corporal.”
”Hear that, Harley? The Polish army made a bear a corporal. Of course, we made Davenport a corporal so based on comparative ability, we would have to make you a general.”
The door opened, and a soldier handed me a slightly damp photograph of the woman from the ravine. Harry didn’t recognize her. I stretched and tried to ease my knee. Time to get moving.
“Harry, back to the couple from the handbill.”
“Sophia and Marek are here to raise money for the thousands of Jewish children hidden throughout Europe, but they also have a political agenda, and Sophia, however charming, is becoming a headache for me.”
“What’s she doing?”
“Trying to drum up support for a free Poland when the war ends, even though everyone knows Russia will take it as part of their spoils.”
“Talk about a lost cause, Harry. Without Russia, Hitler would have overrun all of Europe. Stalin will get whatever he wants.”
“I know, but we can’t convince the Poles, and now the FBI’s involved because Sophia’s revealing events that are supposed to remain secret.”
“What kind of events?” I suspected they were connected to the fifteen thousand soldiers the Russians had captured and misplaced.
“The kind that are supposed to remain secret.” His look said capisce? “They’ve been threatened more than once.”
“My money’s on the Russians. They’re playing a long game, one focused on their position after the war, and they can hardly appreciate having their brutality exposed. We need to make sure nothing happens to the Polish couple, but they refused my help, saying their friends in the resistance are looking out for them.” He stretched his neck in a circle and gave the handbill back to me. “You’ll find them at my aunt’s café tonight. They’re staying in Pt. Richmond with the Semmels. Go there and talk to them about the handbill, maybe you’ll hit it off, be able to persuade them to accept our protection.”
I pictured Harry’s Aunt Lucy, a tiny but formidable force unto herself.
“Why are you smiling, Oliver?”
“I was wondering if they’ve had to resist anyone like your aunt. I hope they’re hungry. Maybe I can protect them from her.” I pushed out of my chair. “Even if they can’t identify the woman we found, I’d like to know more about their war.”
“Wait.” He went to a shelf and pulled out a book. “If you want to know about Poland, read this.”
“Uh, I used to fall asleep in history, Harry.”
“Trust me. You won’t be able to put it down.” He stuck it under my arm.
“All right, but I’m getting out of here before the geometry lesson.” It was good to see him laugh. “I’m meeting Morse to see what he’s found in the gate logs.”
“Don’t forget to take good care of the Polish couple.” He pointed at himself—“my responsibility,”—and then at me: “your responsibility.”
“Gee, thanks.” I juggled the book and my cane and tried to open the door. “Please remember I’m a homicide detective, not a babysitter. They shouldn’t be my responsibility unless the unthinkable happens.”