Chapter One Thousand Seven Hundred Fifty-Two
16th September 1966
Rural Serbia, Near Priština
The Dragoons of the 7th Recon Battalion had a mission that was frequently at odds with the rest of the 4th Panzer Division. There was considerable irony in that the Panzer Dragoons had the reputation of being the heaviest of Heavy Infantry while the 7th was at the opposite end of the scale in needing to have the lightest footprint possible. They were tasked with ranging far afield from the main column, mapping out the enemy strong points and relaying that information back to headquarters. When Manfred’s squad had been shoved onto a train for Italy, they had been told that was exactly what they would be doing, sort of. The Officer who had briefed him before they had boarded the helicopter that had taken them to here, wherever here even was, had been BND. Instead of a rifle, Manfred had been told that the weapon of choice on this mission was a camera with a telephoto lens and a radio that he was only to use in the direst of situations. Avoid contact with anyone, gather information, take photographs, return to the landing zone at the prearranged time and most of all, don’t get caught. Those seemed like simple enough orders. However, nothing was ever as simple as orders made it sound as Manfred had learned repeatedly over the course of his brief career.
A few days earlier his squad had been dropped into an area that recon flights had deemed to be abandoned via helicopter. What they found was that the area wasn’t so much abandoned as destroyed and left for the forest to reclaim. Burnt out houses with the bones of the occupants still inside mostly. Whoever these people had been, no one had been left to rebuild or bury the remains. It had been Christian who had pointed out that the fires that had left those houses ruins looked to have occurred at around the time of the last Greco-Turkish War.
What had followed was the pattern of moving by night and hiding within an observation point during the day. A couple things had quickly become apparent. There were very few civilians in the area, most of the vehicles they saw were military in nature and all of them were moving in the same direction. Even Manfred could see from his narrow perspective that an army was massing nearby.
It had been a few hours later that they had heard gunshots.
It was one of those things that Manfred had understood in his bones from the instant they heard those shots. That if they investigated, they were not going to like what they found. It was in the form of fresh corpses dumped like garbage in the ditch alongside the road, they looked to be old men, women, and children. As per his orders Manfred took pictures before moving on. By the time they made it back to the landing zone, Manfred had far more questions than answers about what was going on. He just hoped that someone in Wunsdorf could see the big picture of whatever was happening here.
The back garden was visible out the window of Kat’s office and she found herself watching the birds as they flitted about the trees. Jo had a birdfeeder hanging outside her window and that attracted them. There was work needing to be done, the general plans for the KSK in the event of a new Greco-Turkish War. At issue was if the Serbians and their Greek allies carried out their plan to exterminate the Albanians, something that seemed inevitable at this point. Instead, Kat was thinking to more pleasant, domestic considerations. Things she had the power to effect.
Kat’s life had fallen into a routine of the sort that she had once not thought possible. The vacation to Italy had been a wonderful diversion. Tatiana had been in a huff during the last week. Eventually she had complained to Malcolm about how Cosimo de’ Medici had told her that she sounded the same as Kat and he had told Douglas. Kat had told Douglas that he shouldn’t find that funny, though it was. When she got the chance Kat would need to thank Cosimo for saying that. These days it seemed like Tat was being a complete bitch most of the time and Aunt Marcella had told Kat that it was about time that the shoe was on the other foot. That was why Kat was dreading what was coming with Marie, at the age of ten she was showing signs of rapidly approaching maturity.
Those were things that Kat had to keep in mind when Suse returned from Prague. It seemed that over the summer holiday Gerta had been her usual impulsive self and had gleefully needled Suse over her apparent prudishness. That was typical of Gerta. It was hard to tell what she really thought about Suse, but it seemed like if she expected her daughter to be like her. While Kat was aware of a lot of things that Suse did that reminded her of Gerta, the situation that Suse had described sounded like Gerta’s behavior had been particularly mortifying this time. It had been a bit of a surprise that Suse had asked Kat if she could continue to stay at her house even though she was going to University. When Kat had told her that she was welcome to stay if she needed to so long as she was going to school or had a job, Suse had asked why her mother couldn’t be like Kat. It was strange how Tatiana chaffed under Kat’s rules while Suse seemed to prefer the structure to her mother’s chaotic household.