We should have realised that the sun setting behind us would cast our shadows long. Worse still, they are amplified so that the slightest movement of my head moves my damned shadow temptingly across the path. Off to my left is the plain tall Christian cross casting its long shadow across the battlefield of the past. All our damned training and my brother is over there groaning in agony because we had not anticipated a reception committee hidden in the old graveyard. I heard the twang of the crossbow and instinctively hit the ground as my brother cried out. Through his pain, George recovers his self-control and tells me in a whisper, punctuated by muted gasps, that he’s been hit in the upper chest by a cross-bow bolt.
I want to go to him; all my medical knowledge tells me that if I am quick I might save him, but my military training tells me that all the while my shadow falls across the path I am a marked man. Heroics are only worth performing if there’s a good chance they’ll pay off, I tell myself. I keep repeating the maxim, as much to hold myself still and have my shadow merge anonymously with those cast by the trees, as to take my mind off the painful agonies George is suffering as his lifeblood drains away.
George and I had come to the German Cemetery at Maleme, Crete to avenge a family member who had been murdered in Berlin in 1987. Our uncle had been stabbed through the heart after he’d unearthed some truth about the death of Rudolf Hess in Spandau prison. He was a pathologist in the British Military Hospital in Berlin and had carried out a second opinion examination. He had been about to reveal his findings formally when he was found dead in his home. There was no trace of his report or the documents he had painstakingly put together, yet he had already given me the gist of his findings and they were dynamite. How, though, did we believe we could avenge his death here in a graveyard two thousand miles away, amongst men that had been dead for more than seventy years?
A poor partial set of prints had been found on the ribbed handle of the SAS dagger that killed him, but they never led to an arrest because forensic science was barely beyond infancy and every time the prints were re-examined, they became more obscure. Then last year partial prints on a similar dagger used in a murder in London had been clarified using a new infrared molecular-adhesion comparator. The clear set of prints led to an arrest and more importantly a conviction strongly reliant on the new equipment. Hearing about this from army colleagues, my brother George and I had our uncle’s murder weapon sent over from the cold-case vaults in Germany for evaluation. The new images were imprecise but worthy of feeding into an automatic search database. Astoundingly, because of a particular quirk in a forefinger loop, there were but two men whose prints were deemed to have identifiable matching points. Yet both were dead, one incontrovertibly laying in the Invaliden cemetery in Berlin, the other believed interred in the war cemetery on Hill 107, Crete next to the old Greek Orothodox cemetery. Hauptman Doktor Franz von Schumann had apparently died nearby from wounds sustained when he, parachuting to the ground, had been hit by rifle fire. He could have stayed safe in Magdeburg hospital, but had volunteered to join the Fallschirmjäger and was one of the first wave to parachute into Crete in May 1941.
George and I were here to use a remarkable piece of equipment that had been developed to test discreetly the areas around Sohbibor concentration camp claimed to hold the remains of thousands that died between 1942 and 1945. However, further traditional soil examination was being resisted after long-held beliefs had been challenged. The piece of kit used amplification technology to analyse sampled traces of human DNA that leaches out into the soil. Thousands of barely-intrusive readings had enabled conclusive results, which confirmed the German wartime records, held by the Russians, that would be beyond public scrutiny until 2015.
We were not involved in that initial confidential activity nor, for the moment, is it of interest to us. Yet the equipment had been so convincingly accurate that we hope to probe the area around Hauptman von Schumann’s grave covertly and without any hint of desecration. Despite only a handful of trusted people knowing we were coming here, my brother, who I can still hear breathing, lays in peril until that blasted sun casts its final shadow of the day.
What forces, I wonder, could be sufficiently worried to be here waiting for us? Now, even before the soil has been probed I am confident we are on to something big, perhaps so big that death reaches out from the archives to silence both of us.
Then, as it does in the Mediterranean, the sun calls time and everything goes black. I wait, briefly wondering if our attacker has set up his deathly contraption on a tripod aimed at my shadow before it merged with those of the trees. If so, when I make a move he has a good chance of hitting me, Zeus-like, with his waiting lightning bolt.
Silently I inch backwards until in the darkness I can shuffle across to George. I take his hand, “George, George I’m going to have to feel my way around your wound, I daren’t use a torch.” He squeezes my hand, he is steeling himself. The bolt has gone in high, just below his collar bone, which I can feel is shattered but as far as I can tell the flesh has closed around the shaft and the worst of the bleeding is staunched. I reach in his rucksack for the medipac and soon am injecting the pre-dosed morphine, enough to make pain tolerable but not render the wounded unable to walk...it should also buy me time. “That should sort the pain out.”
Then in the car-park well below us, I hear an engine start and wonder why our assailant believes he’s halted our mission. The obvious answer, he has stopped us in our tracks until nightfall and the prospect of reinforcements tomorrow. It makes me think he might not know about the piece of kit we are carrying, let alone the simplicity of it. “George, if you’re able to hang on a while, I’m going to the grave and do what we came here to do, there may not be another chance.”
“I can hardly feel a thing, you interrupted a wonderful dream, this gorgeous woman was just about to...” he starts snoring softly and it resonates reassuringly as I make my way to the Hauptman’s grave.
Quickly, I am there and back – job done. Okay, I don’t know if we have meaningful results, but the little box of electronic wizardry has flashed its detection of six different human DNA’s, two for von Schumann and his eternal companion in the two-man grave they share and four more from similar graves both sides of them.
“Can you walk, George, if I help you?”
We make our way back to our car, slowed by our equipment and a need to stop periodically to check we aren’t about to be ambushed. Taking George to hospital is impossible, the police will become involved, so we sneak into our nearby hotel pretending we are drunk. Once in the room I remove the bolt, fix a shoulder harness in place and set up a simple transfusion between us. While my blood flows to George, I download the information to London and the prospect of meaningful results.
Three days later we are home and sifting through some amazing information. Dr Franz von Schumann is not in the Maleme grave...so perhaps those fingerprints on the dagger that killed our uncle were indeed his. Now we have more things to find out. Had he chosen or been ordered not to go to Crete and how was our uncle’s death linked to this man? Had Dr von Schumann also been behind the suspicious, covered-up death of Hitler’s deputy because Hess knew too much? We know who we are looking for, the first thing now is to find out his substitute identity and whether the ninety-eight year-old is still alive. If not, more alarmingly, who is behind the attempt on our lives in Crete? One thing we are quite certain of...it is unlikely in 1941 Germany that von Schumann took the identity of the woman in the grave... To be continued
Part 03 by S. Bradley Stoner is amazing - read it quickly and volunteer for Part 04 before you are beaten to the draw
This ‘Tag Blog’ is my continuation of Jeremy Crow’s first part of Shadows Fall. http://creativitywhacko.blogspot.com/2015/06/shadows-fall-tag-blog-part-01.html
When you have finished reading this part and feel you would like to write the third part, you will find the instructions at the end.