Proud Ukrainian Ivan Stepanovich Levitsky thought Sergey Brusilov just another murdering bandit from Georgia. Stalinesque to a fault, with those same brutish manners and that same unfeeling stare, Brusilov was everything Levitsky despised. Brusilov had married Nikki, a beautiful nineteen-year-old Russian girl from Leningrad, but beat his young wife regularly and slept with Germans and whores. Or he did according to the unhappy Nikki, and the jealous and infatuated Levitsky.
Why they had ordered him to undertake guard duty in the company of such a man, Levitsky had no idea. Uniformed Red Army guards usually escorted prisoners, but this time they wanted MGB men in plain-clothes. They had only told him the prisoner was important and the order had come from the highest level. Levitsky hoped it wouldn’t be too long a journey. Transporting a dangerous and important prisoner across occupied Europe was a difficult enough assignment, without having to rely on a man such as Brusilov.
Levitsky didn’t speak to Brusilov as they sat waiting for their prisoner. He sat at the opposite end of the bench, studiously ignoring him and glaring at passers-by. Then they brought the prisoner up from the cells below, and surprise overcame hostility.
Flanked by two Red Army soldiers, the prisoner was a woman, young and slender with exquisite features, piercing blue eyes and soft blonde hair that fell across petite shoulders. She was wearing a full white cotton and lace skirt that flowed as she moved, with long black boots that finished immediately below the knee. A close-fitting leather jacket to match the boots had the lapels turned inward and was fastened to the neck, an acknowledgement of circumstance that did little to detract from her beauty or disguise the figure beneath.
Levitsky studied her in wide-eyed admiration. He didn’t know who she was. He didn’t care why she was in handcuffs. He only knew that she was beautiful.
A low whistle from the other end of the bench told him that Brusilov must have also seen the girl. Levitsky tore his eyes from her and scowled his disgust at the uncouth Georgian. The Red Army captain in charge of prisoner escort barked an immediate warning.
“The state will not tolerate the abuse of prisoners, without orders. Do you understand, Brusilov? You are to escort the woman from Magdeburg to Leipzig by train, and then hand her to our comrades from Prague; nothing more. Comrade Levitsky will go with you. He will ensure you obey your orders.”
Levitsky snapped to attention and nodded his agreement. It would be his pleasure to protect such a beautiful creature from the crude ambition of that chekist thug.
Brusilov shook his head.
“I am MGB. I do not take orders from the army.”
“This order comes directly from Comrade Colonel Paslov.”
At the mention of the notorious regional head of the MGB fear momentarily disrupted Brusilov’s sneering features, but it was gone in an instant. He slowly and lasciviously looked the girl up and down as he snarled a question.
“This is her? This is the German whore who murdered all those Red Army officers?” In answer to the officer’s nod of confirmation, he said, “They say she fucked them as she killed them. I say there are worse ways to die.”
Levitsky listened to Brusilov’s crude commentary and suddenly realised who the girl was. He remembered hearing about her from some of the guards. At the time he had thought their description of the girl and their graphic tales of her lust and savagery exaggerated. Now he could see they had spoken the truth, at least as far as her beauty was concerned.
The guards had told him that her name was Catherine Schmidt, and she stood accused of murdering and horribly mutilating a string of army officers. They had gone on to describe her alleged crimes in lurid and graphic detail.
But as Levitsky studied the girl, he found himself unable to fathom how one so young and stunningly beautiful could have committed such dreadful acts of violence and depravity. She looked so petite; so dainty, so delicate. He couldn’t imagine her being guilty of anything, least of all that. There had to be a mistake.
The officer clearly held no such reservations. He snapped an order to the two soldiers.
“Make sure you do not leave her alone. And leave the handcuffs on.”
Levitsky felt unhappy with the order.
“What if she has to. . . ?”
“She can piss and shit in her pants. You keep her handcuffed, and you stay with her.”
“Yes, Comrade Captain.”
Although barely one hundred and sixty centimetres in height, Kurt Meissen cut something of an imposing figure as he strode along the platforms of Magdeburg railway station. As with the Saxony porcelain that shared his family name, the pint-sized stationmaster believed precision paramount and perfection a pursuit. He similarly believed the punctual departure of those many converging trains that briefly stopped at Magdeburg’s platforms to be a personal responsibility.
On this particular morning, however, the pint-sized perfectionist was less than happy with his Russian masters, because the train to Leipzig should have left fifteen minutes ago. With the clock ticking and his passengers frowning, there was still no authority to send the train on its way, nor any official reason given for the delay.
A woman in a fur-collared coat glared at him from her place on the train. Meissen glared his authority back at her. He’d been about to march over and tell her to keep her mouth shut and her stares to herself, when three Opel Blitzes drew up at the station entrance. Both angry woman and indignant official stopped glaring and watched as two full platoons of Red Army soldiers piled out of the back of the trucks and ran along the platform.
With long-barrelled Mosin-Nagant rifles held at arm’s length and parallel to the ground, the first dozen soldiers formed a cordon and began shepherding Meissen and his fellow spectators away from the train. The balance of the two platoons formed a line of defence between the entrance and the front carriage. As stationmaster, and therefore person temporarily responsible for the stationary train and its passengers, Kurt Meissen felt aggrieved at such an affront to his authority. He wisely decided not to argue the point.
Meissen and his fellow spectators looked on as a Red Army captain jumped down from the front passenger seat of the leading truck. He selected three soldiers, who then marched to the front of the train and began herding passengers out of the front carriage.
One of those ejected was the superior-looking woman in the fur-collared coat. She glared her special glare of superiority at the captain and began loudly objecting.
“You have no right to do this. Who do you people think you are? I happen to be. . .”
Protest gave way to anguish as the butt of a Mosin-Nagant hit her hard across the back of the head. The woman cried out and sank to her knees, while the captain looked angrily at the soldier responsible and halted any further assault with a curt word of command. Cowed by the captain’s anger, and following a second command, the soldier slung the rifle over his shoulder and helped the stricken woman to her feet. He linked his free arm around her waist and then began manhandling her along the platform. Opening a compartment farther down the train, he pushed her up the steps and through the doorway. Somebody reached out to help her up, but nobody spoke and nobody else moved.
With the front carriage now empty, the captain took a long look around the station, and then signalled towards the entrance. A man clambered from the back of the second Opel. Intrigued, Meissen studied him as he turned and glared at the gathering. The man looked squat and solid, belligerent and dangerous. He looked like MGB. Had he been any closer, Meissen would have quickly averted his eyes, but he was far enough away to risk a further look.
A woman followed the man from the truck. She was young and she was beautiful, and she was handcuffed. Meissen’s heart immediately went out to her. She jumped down from the open back and then staggered before regaining her balance. The squat-looking man caught her. He had held her close and grinned as she squirmed against the hold, before passing her to the two Red Army soldiers who had followed them from the truck.
Meissen watched the trio as they hurried their prisoner along the platform, and then climbed into the front compartment of the now empty carriage. He wondered what she could have done to warrant such specialist treatment. He shuddered to think of what lay in store for her. Then his eyes caught the movement of another man clambering out of the truck.
As with the first man, he was dressed in civilian clothing, but unlike the archetypal MGB thug who had preceded him, this man was tall and slim and stylish. He strode arrogantly along the platform, but instead of joining them in the first compartment stepped up and into the last compartment of the same empty carriage. It seemed his job was to ensure the quartet at the front of the train remained undisturbed during the journey to Leipzig.
The captain signalled again, and the train slowly pulled out of the station. Kurt Meissen looked on with anger in his eyes; that had been his responsibility. The captain suddenly noticed him standing there and nodded a cursory acknowledgement as he waved the platoons back on to the trucks. Meissen thought of speaking, but said nothing and nodded back.
After a final glance at the departing locomotive, the captain turned and walked back along the platform before climbing back into the passenger seat of the lead Opel. He gave the order and they all headed off, presumably back to barracks for a well-earned glass of vodka.
As he watched them go, Kurt Meissen’s glare fluctuated between the distant locomotive and the disappearing trucks. Then he spotted a discarded cigarette packet lying on the platform and roared at one of the porters to pick it up. With platform once again immaculate and ego thus salved, he puffed out his chest and marched smartly back to his pristine office at the end of the concourse.
Catherine Schmidt sat in the far corner of the lead compartment, quietly studying her motley assortment of guards. She was looking for weaknesses, anything with which she could divide and conquer; or in this case, divide and escape. The two uniformed soldiers seemed harmless enough. They were typical Bolshevik cannon fodder from the Sixty-Second Army. But then she recalled that same fodder had trapped the German Sixth Army in Stalingrad for two and a half months and cost The Axis eight hundred thousand lives. She also recalled the words of her father. He had told her that Bolsheviks fought without fear of death, because a life under Stalin was a life without joy and a life without hope. He also said that any enemy who fights without fear is worthy of respect.
The Stalinesque thug who had mentally undressed her at the detention centre and then mauled her at the railway station was a different matter. His name was Brusilov, she had heard that at the detention centre, and he obviously kept what few brains he boasted between his legs. That was exactly where she liked her Bolsheviks to keep their brains. Even now he was sitting opposite her, leering at the intentional exposure of a naked upper-thigh beyond a hitched hemline and intentionally-widened knees. He was the obvious weakness, she thought. He would be the target.
The fourth man wasn’t with them. He would be farther down the train; the last line of defence, or the first. Nobody had spoken while they were in the truck, but she remembered him studying her at the detention centre. He was smitten with her looks, she had seen that immediately, but there was wisdom in his eyes that belied the façade of an infatuated dupe. He would not be so easily fooled. If the opportunity to escape arose, she hoped he would remain at the other end of the carriage.
It was time to turn up the tension.
She released the upper fastenings on her jacket, restored each lapel in turn, and then slumped back in the seat and left her knees spread. Brusilov studied the increased exposure and rewarded her effort with a smile of lechery.
She suddenly stretched out a leg and kicked at his.
“Hey, Bolshevik pig! Stop looking up my skirt.”
She saw him glare at the kick, and then frown as he listened to the words. That was good. He obviously didn’t speak German. She could use that to her advantage. Although she spoke enough Russian to get by, she had feigned ignorance of the language throughout her arrest and interrogation. There was a reason for that.
One of the guards obviously did speak German. He laughed and translated.
“She called you a Bolshevik pig. She said to stop looking up her skirt.”
Brusilov snarled back at the guard.
“Ask her why not? They say half the Red Army has had their cocks up there.”
Laughter faded to a smirk as the guard again translated. She feigned indignance, snapped her thighs together, sat upright, and then answered the insult with a toss of her head.
“Tell him he is not important enough, or good-looking enough. Tell him he is just ugly cannon fodder.” Mischievously, she added, “I expect he has a tiny cock anyway.”
The guard started laughing again, but wisely stopped when Brusilov demanded a translation. When the man from the MGB heard, he scrambled to his feet, snatched a cruel handful of long blonde hair, and dragged her head back.
“We will see how small it feels when it is fucking you in the ass.”
This was better than she could have hoped. He was clearly a thug and a lecher, and that was good, but it was the aggression and obvious lack of any self-control that made him ideal for her purpose.
Earlier, she had deliberately staggered against him after jumping from the truck. When he had grabbed at her and pulled her close, it confirmed her initial appraisal of him, but it also confirmed something else: the bulge she had seen on the left front of his inside jacket pocket; it was caused by a Tokarev automatic pistol.
That confirmation had pleased Catherine Schmidt a good deal more than the crude mauling of her young body could possibly have pleased Sergey Brusilov.
As he stood towering over her, oafishly asserting his masculinity, the guard again translated. She winced, and then bravely spat a question at the interpreter.
“Is this the only way he can do it? From the back, with the woman handcuffed?”
If she was going to get to the Tokarev, she would need to be facing him when he took his pleasure. If her hands were free, it would make the task all that much easier. She held out the handcuffs in mute testament. Again the guard translated. That was the beauty of needing a third party to translate. It allowed her to manipulate one comrade by using the voice of another. She knew the mocking laughter of a comrade would wound his machismo more deeply than a sneer from her ever could. By pretending ignorance of the language it also allowed her more time to think, more time to plan, and more time to compose the next barb.
Just as she had anticipated, Brusilov listened, snarled, and held out his hand.
“Give me the keys.”
But then a setback, as the guard stood his ground and shook his head.
“No, Comrade. I have orders not to do that.”
She privately cursed the guard’s obstinacy, then turned to study the red-faced Brusilov, and sneered, silently mocking his apparent impotence and hoping to further enrage. It had the desired effect, because he dragged her up by her hair, spun her around, pushed her face-down on the seat, and then growled an order at the guards.
“Get out of here, both of you.”
Now she could feel the heat of his breath on her neck and smell his sweat on the air. Now she could hear his breathing over the rattle of the train, short heavy grunts of uncontrolled lust that came and went as he mauled at her flesh and dragged her knickers down. Now he was clearly out of control, and that was what she had hoped for. Now all she needed was privacy.
He duly obliged, between grunts.
“If you two are not out of this compartment in two seconds, your next train-ride will take you to the Gulag. Now get the fuck out.”
The two men studied her apparent helplessness with shame in their eyes, before turning away and slowly filing out of the compartment. She felt the elation rise as she watched them shuffle along the corridor. Now she could concentrate solely on him. One-on-one, this ignorant Bolshevik pig would be no match for her. One-on-one, she would flatter and deceive, gasp and writhe in helpless acquiescence, feed his ignorance, fuel his lust, and gently coax him between her thighs.
Once he was there, she could get to the Tokarev.
But then the compartment door slid back and everything went wrong at once. The groping hands and probing fingers suddenly withdrew. The grunts of animal lust subsided. The heat of his breath and the smell of his sweat receded. All she could feel was the swaying of the carriage. All she could hear was the rattle of the train.
There could only be one reason.
She cautiously turned her head and saw him there, the tall and elegant-looking one, with a look of thunder on his face, and the snout of his seven-six-two millimetre Tokarev gouging into Brusilov’s temple.
The man reached into Brusilov’s coat and collected his Tokarev, then backed into the corridor, where the two soldiers stood watching. He motioned for Brusilov to follow, and then turned to where she sat covetously studying the automatic and silently cursing his interference. He spoke to her in German.
“Cover yourself, woman. You move one millimetre from that seat and I will shoot you in the head. Do you understand?”
She nodded meekly and began restoring modesty, then watched as a sullen-faced Brusilov followed him out of the compartment. He snapped at the two soldiers.
“You two get back in there and stay with her. And this time obey your orders.”
The two uniformed men nodded their contrition and shuffled back into the compartment. Brusilov stood before him in the corridor. She sat quietly listening to their conversation and planning her next move. Both men sounded angry, but there was a nervous edge to Brusilov’s voice as she heard him ask,
“What is it, Cossack? Want her yourself, do you? Is fucking my wife not enough for you?”
The tall man’s anger and contempt were obvious.
“I have never touched your wife. I have the utmost respect for Nikki. It is a tragedy that you do not. As for the German woman, we have our orders, and I will ensure you obey them.”
“So what now, Cossack? Are you going to shoot me?”
“The only reason I have not already done so is out of fondness and respect for your wife. But I warn you, Sergey Brusilov, you touch that woman again and I will kill you. Now get back to the compartment and obey your orders.”
“What about my automatic?”
“You do not need it. The soldiers have their carbines. When we reach Leipzig, I will hand the weapon to Comrade Colonel Paslov and tell him why I took it from you. Now get back in there, and remember what I have said.”
A sullen Brusilov returned to the compartment. Catherine Schmidt, with modesty restored, watched him sit down in the far corner.
“What is the matter, Bolshevik pig? Did somebody just teach you some manners, or is your cock so small you did it without me knowing?”
Brusilov didn’t ask the guards for a translation, and the guards didn’t volunteer one. Instead, he sat sulking in the corner, while they stared out of the window at the passing countryside. Catherine Schmidt sat outwardly gloating and inwardly seething. She’d expected that fourth man would be trouble. Now, it seemed, he had just ruined her only chance of escape.
When Ivan Levitsky returned to his compartment at the end of the carriage, he found a man sprawled across the seat with an all-but-empty bottle of schnapps in his hand. Levitsky studied the man for a few moments. He was a middle-aged drunk, who must have staggered into the carriage and was now sleeping fitfully.
Whenever the man began drifting into a deeper sleep, his fingers would relax their hold on the schnapps. Then he would wake with a start and grip the bottle tighter before returning to his stupor. It was a classic alcoholic daze. Levitsky had seen it, or something like it, too many times before not to recognize the symptoms.
He’d been about to rouse the man and tell him to move to the next carriage, but thought better of it. The last time he had seen a man in such a condition at such an hour had been two months earlier, just before his father had died. Instead of moving the man on, as Levitsky knew he ought, he sat down by the door and quietly watched him snort and groan. He was remembering his father, recalling the pain of an alcoholic, the heartache it had caused the family, and the shame of a life so tragically wasted.
He watched the town of Schönebeck come and go, and then Köthen after that. The train would soon be stopping at Halle, and then it wouldn’t be too long after that before Leipzig. He wondered how the great and terrible Stanislav Paslov would react to the news that one of his most trusted MGB agents was a common rapist. Perhaps Paslov would do nothing and put it down to high spirits, but then why issue the order? If Paslov was anything like his psychotic boss, Lavrenti Beria, he would probably make Brusilov a Hero of The Soviet Union and send Levitsky to the Gulag.
He was still pondering the possibilities when the train pulled into Halle. A couple of civilians tried to get into the carriage. Levitsky sent them farther down the train. He continued guarding the carriage access until the train pulled out of Halle, waiting until they reached the city outskirts before returning to his compartment and the drunken interloper.
“Who the hell is that?”
He hadn’t seen Brusilov move along the corridor. He’d been too engrossed in painful memories. Neither had he seen the 1938 carbine in Brusilov’s hands, until its shortened barrel pointed at the drunk on the seat. Ivan Levitsky shrugged his shoulders and raised his hands. So much for Red Army comrades.
“Just a drunk passed out. I did not see him as a threat. But for a man who beats his wife and has to handcuff and sodomize a helpless girl, you may see him as a danger.”
“Keep laughing, Cossack, and they will bury you with that smile still on your face. Now move to the far side. Oh, and I will take my thirty-three. . . and yours.”
Levitsky removed the two Tokarev automatics from his jacket pockets. He placed them on the seat and then backed away to the other side of the compartment. He watched Brusilov pick up the first, and then lean the carbine against the door before picking up the second. The Georgian sneered in triumph as he pocketed one and levelled the other.
“Sorry, Cossack, but I cannot have you telling your tales to Paslov.”
Levitsky shrugged a nonchalance he didn’t feel.
“I am fascinated to know how you intend explaining all this. . . my death, the violation of the girl. I assume that when you are done with me you are going to finish what you started. And then, of course, you have our two uniformed comrades to consider.”
“They will keep their mouths shut, and who is going to listen to a murdering Nazi whore?”
“And what about my death? How will you explain that?”
Brusilov’s face fell, but then the malevolent smile reappeared and he nodded to the drunk.
“I think I will let our friend here take the blame. I came to check on you and found him standing over your body, with your gun in his hand. . . Of course I killed him.”
“Do I get any say in that?”
Levitsky turned, to look at the drunk and gave a start. The hand that had previously held the bottle now held an automatic pistol with a suppressor. The suppressor’s one-inch-diameter barrel was pointing directly at Sergey Brusilov’s head.
Less than a second later, two slugs, fired in rapid succession, hit an astounded Georgian almost precisely between the eyes.
Levitsky stood watching the lifeless body of Brusilov in open-mouthed shock, but then found his voice and addressed that same one-inch-diameter barrel.
“If those were point two-two LR rounds, I would have to assume that is a Hi-Standard HDM and that would make you OSS?” A smile confirmed the truth, but the killer failed to answer. With stomach churning and heart thumping, Levitsky tried again. “Am I next?”
“Not necessarily, and OSS disbanded in forty-five. Did they not tell you at MGB school?”
It was Levitsky’s second surprise in under a minute. It hadn’t initially registered, but the man with the HDM spoke perfect Russian. The Ukrainian quipped back bravely.
“I went to NKVD school, not MGB. Showing my age, I suppose.”
The killer picked up the automatics and carbine and tossed them on to the luggage rack. The smile reappeared as he waved Levitsky towards the corridor and then stood back.
“Time to move, old man.”
Levitsky smiled politely and made his way toward the corridor, believing he was a good ten years the junior of the man with the HDM.
It was the last thing Ivan Levitsky remembered.
Catherine Schmidt sat watching the two Red Army soldiers with one eye and the passing countryside with the other. She didn’t know precisely how far they’d travelled, but they couldn’t be far from Leipzig and a second opportunity to escape had not presented itself. She listened to the soldier who had given up his carbine to Brusilov. He didn’t seem happy.
“Where the hell has that MGB bastard got to with my carbine? He said he would only be a minute. We are nearly in Leipzig.”
The other soldier seemed less concerned.
“Stop complaining. You gave it to him. It is your responsibility.”
“You heard what he said about the Gulag. I had no choice.”
“So, go and get it back.”
“Forget it; he will be back any minute.”
“Well, if he is going to have the woman before Leipzig, he had better get a move on.”
She suddenly saw Brusilov’s leather coat and heard a voice calling the soldiers out to the corridor. Maybe there would still be time to get to the Tokarev before they got to Leipzig. She doubted it, but maybe. The soldier’s relief was obvious.
“He is back, thank God,” he said. “What does he want now?”
The soldier got to his feet, slid open the door and took a pace forward, but then suddenly grunted and fell back into the compartment. He lay sprawled at her feet, his eyes wild with terror, his hands covered in blood and clutching at the gaping wound in his throat.
The second soldier panicked. He stood up and grabbed for the carbine. A foot kicked it away from shaking hands. An arm clamped around his neck. It lifted him up and spun him around, before the point of a flat-bladed knife punctured his right kidney. The soldier groaned and continued struggling. The arm moved from his neck. A hand grabbed at his hair. It pulled his head back to locate the blade, and then thrust it forward while another drew the lethal edge through his windpipe.
The second soldier’s body slumped alongside the first. Stunned, Catherine Schmidt looked blankly up at the killer as he fired a question.
“You are Catherine Louise Schmidt?” He had spoken in German, but the accent wasn’t German. It was North American. Still handcuffed, she nodded and got to her feet. He spat another question. “Which one has the keys?” She pointed to the second soldier, but still didn’t speak. The stranger rummaged through the soldier’s coat pockets before finding the key. He unlocked the handcuffs. She massaged the ache in her wrists as he drew the blinds and barked an order. “We have to get out of here now. Do you speak English?”
“Yes, but what are you doing here? Who are you?”
“They sent me to get you. My name is Hammond.”
She meekly followed him to the carriage door and then watched as he threw it open and held it against the force of the rushing air current. He shouted to her above the noise.
“There is no time to wait for the train to slow, so we have to go now. When you hit the ground, you roll, and then you stay still. Got that?” She nodded, not understanding who he was or what was happening, only knowing that he was getting her away from the train. He continued issuing instructions. “Don’t look up, don’t get up, don’t move, and whatever you do don’t look back at the train. You stay where you land until I tell you to move. Got it?” She nervously studied the open doorway, but said nothing. He grabbed her arm and pulled her to the opening. “Good.” He held the door wide and, with the briefest glance at the onrushing countryside, threw her into the abyss.
She heard the howling wind suddenly quieten, and felt as if she had been falling for ever, but then hit the ground with a thump that jolted the wind from her lungs. She cartwheeled once and jarred her shoulder, and then began rolling down the slope at the side of the track.
She hadn’t felt the pain of impact, she was too excited for that, not until she had lain where she stopped rolling for a full twenty seconds. She lay still as ordered, feeling the adrenaline ebb and hearing the train disappearing into the distance. Then she heard Hammond’s voice shouting at her.
“Right, you can get up now. Come on, on your feet. Now we run. . . and I do mean run.”
Suddenly her shoulder hurt like hell.
As the nine a.m. train from Magdeburg to Leipzig was passing some fields to the south of Wiederitzsch, a haughty-looking woman in a fur-collared coat stood in the corridor and stared out of the window. She watched two people jump from farther up the train, and then saw them rolling down the embankment. One of them looked like the drunk who had staggered against her in the corridor. The other was the girl she’d seen handcuffed at the station. The woman in the coat was sure of that. For a moment of indecision she thought of sending for help, maybe even stopping the train.
But then she remembered the feel of a Mosin-Nagant rifle butt in the back of the head. She gingerly rubbed at the bruise and smiled quietly into the passing countryside.