The cabin was bereft of any furniture, except for two chairs and a table. The damp walls looked forlorn, as if they had been yearning for a fresh coat of paint which never arrived. The dimly lit bulb flickered occasionally. The shutters of the window below it were drawn, but couldn’t drown out the occasional sounds of clicking heels, and men slapping each other’s backs.
A man sat on one of the chairs, blindfolded. His hands were tied behind his back, and his bloodstained uniform told stories of unspeakable valour in the face of danger. His breaths came in regular intervals, but his ears remained alert for any unfamiliar sound.
The hinges of the door creaked, followed by the shuffling of footsteps. The man who entered the cabin might have, in his heydays, sent many a young woman go weak in her knees. His fair skin was beginning to show slight traces of wrinkles, but he possessed the gait of an athlete. His blue eyes looked like the vast stretch of an ocean, enigmatic and deep. He adjusted the medals on his grey-green uniform, and broke into a broad smile.
“Captain Joel Grossmann! It’s a pleasure hosting you!” His voice was as smooth as velvet.
Captain Grossmann stirred a bit, but didn’t fidget. Keep calm, he told himself. Help would be arriving soon. He just had to buy his time.
“Will you remove my blindfold?” he asked, without a hint of quiver in his voice. He heard the sound of approaching footsteps, and a moment later, a hand reached out behind his head, and undid the knot. The black piece of cloth dropped to his thighs. Grossmann opened his eyes and his face contorted in a grimace. He closed his eyes again. Then, slowly, he pried them open, and raised his head. There was not a single crease on the officer’s uniform. As he looked up, the SS insignia on the right-hand side collar patch caught his attention. Of course! What else did he expect?
“Captain Grossmann! Please allow me to introduce myself. I am Oberscharführer Bernd Landa from the SS.” He extended his hand towards Grossmann, and then let out an Oops. “I am so sorry. I forgot that you are handcuffed. My memory is failing me nowadays. I have become an old man.” He chucked to himself, and drew the chair closer to Grossmann. “I hope my men have treated you nicely. I apologize for any inconvenience they might have caused you.” With that, he sat down on the chair, crossing his legs. A table stood between them. On it was a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. Landa picked up the pack, selected one randomly, and lit it. He drew on it for what seemed like an eternity and blew out a smoke ring. His eyes bore into Grossmann, but the latter remained unfazed. A glimmer of appreciation formed on his mouth.
“I admire your bravery, Captain Grossmann. Not like those Jews!”
“So, it’s true! The moniker you’ve earned. What was it again? Ah! The Jew Destroyer!”
Landa smiled. “I am delighted to note this. Am I so famous? Or should I say notorious? Is it the right word? Notorious, is it?”
Grossmann nodded. “Notorious is indeed the exact word for you.”
Landa threw back his head and laughed out loud. “My dear Captain Grossmann. You are indeed very frank. You could have been a German, you know! I can discern those noble Aryan traits in you. Anyway, I agree with you completely! We Germans are like hawks. They are apex predators, and I like to be considered as one. They have excellent vision. They soar high in the sky; in places their insignificant feathered tribes can only dream of. And yet, when the time comes, the hawk swoops down swiftly on its prey, and disposes of pests like rats. Have you ever admired a hawk’s motion, Captain Smooth? Like a ballet! I get rid of Jews in a similar fashion. Well, Captain, you can accuse me of blowing my own trumpet, but I am proud of the title I have earned. My modus operandi is… how do I put it? Have you heard the latest single from Michael Jackson? Smooth Criminal! Yes, that’s how I function!”
With that, Landa stubbed out the cigarette on the table. A few particles of ash escaped from its stub, and settled down on the wood.
“Let’s come to the point, Colonel Landa! What are you going to do to me?”
The Nazi leaned back in his chair. His face was sans any emotion. “What brings you here to Normandy, Captain?”
“Colonel Landa!” Grossmann laughed out loudly. “For someone who claims to be hawk, you are too naïve. Do you think I am going to reveal anything? But yes! I can say one this for sure. The rule of your Reich is going to end soon!”
“Captain Grossmann! Please allow me to order a coffee for myself. I see this will be a gruelling session. Without my daily dose of caffeine, my brain starts to freeze!”
“By all means, Colonel Landa!”
Landa got up, adjusted his uniform, and left walked out of the cabin. A young soldier stood outside. Landa ordered a cup of Kaffee ohne Zucker, and returned to Grossmann.
“Oops, Captain! Forgive me for my bad manners! I didn’t ask you if you need anything! How uncivil of me!”
Grossmann gave a lopsided smile, but said nothing. “I am curious to know one thing, Colonel Landa. If I may!”
“Of course, Captain. Please do!”
“I must admit your reference to the latest single from Michael Jackson caught me unawares. It seems you are his fan! But isn’t he ….?”
“Why did you pause, Captain Grossmann? Yes, he is a black man. Schade! Had he been one among us, I would have invited him to perform for our honourable Führer!”
The conversation was interrupted by the arrival of a man with a cup of coffee in his hand. He offered it to Landa, who acknowledged it with a gentle nod of his head and a Danke, Krause. He saluted his superior, and left the cabin, leaving the two veterans alone.
Landa took a sip of his sugarless coffee, and placed the cup back on the table. “Captain Grossmann! The Reich will continue to flourish for at least another thousand years under the legacy of our Führer! You and your Allies can do nothing! Keep this fancy sounding Operation Overlord to yourself, you filthy sewer rodent!”
Captain Grossmann’s face blanched for a nanosecond. How did Landa come to know about this?
The Nazi tapped the wooden floor of the cabin with the heels of his shoes. His predator eyes had zeroed in on his prey. Target locked, as a sniper would say. Try as it might, the rat could never scamper away to safety. Landa started to hum a German song, and midway changed track to sing ‘Bad’, his eyes glinting in mirth at Grossmann’s discomfort.
“Captain! Can I order a pint of the best German beer for you? You seem to have lost your colour.”
Grossmann closed his eyes. I need to find out who else has been captured by the Nazis! Did a captured soldier blurt out the code name? Have the naval forces arrived? Questions swam in his mind in a frenzied manner, often coming up to gulp for air. He was dealing with the most potent villain he had ever encountered in his war-torn life, and common sense dictated that he hold his nerve. It was only a matter of a couple of hours before the Allies would invade Normandy. But the persistent question remained – how much did Landa know? Was the Reich prepared for this attack?
“I am waiting for an answer, Captain Grossmann,” Landa’s voice was as dulcet as a songbird. Who would have believed that this ‘charming attractive gentleman’ had carried out the most inhuman atrocities against the Jews?
“I am on duty, Colonel Landa. I can’t drink alcohol!”
Landa threw back his head and laughed. “Did you say duty?” He continued to laugh for a minute, then clutched his stomach, and sighed loudly. “You have been captured, Captain Grossmann! You are our prisoner!”
Grossmann looked at Landa in his eyes. “Your attempts at scaring me will not bear fruit! You forget that I am a soldier too. I am not scared of death!”
“Who gave you the impression that we will kill you, Captain? On the contrary, I will ensure that you meet with a fate worse than death. Aren’t you a Jew?” Landa stared at Grossmann. A pregnant silence filled the cabin.
The quietude was punctuated by Grossmann. “Yes, I am a Jew! But that should be the least of the worries for you. Did you hear clock chime eleven times? The countdown begins, Colonel Landa! You thought I had passed out? I could hear you barking instructions outside to your juniors. I don’t understand German, but I am familiar with terms like Luftwaffe. So, carry on!”
“What do you mean, Captain?” Landa asked with grated teeth.
Grossmann grinned. “The expression on your face is priceless, Colonel Landa!” He broke out into a song. The way you make me feel… “Indeed, Colonel! Your cluelessness makes me want to break out into a moonwalk dance. Are you familiar with it? It is Michael Jackson’s signature step. If only you could untie me… I would show it to you!”
A commotion broke out outside the cabin. In a swift motion, Landa got up, opened the door, and went out. Grossmann could hear him interacting with the soldiers outside in German. His alert ears latched on to words like Utah and Kriegsmarine. It meant that the navy had arrived. Their first target had been Utah. He sent out a silent prayer to the Almighty. Knowing Landa, he wouldn’t return to his country. If the murmurs about the treatment meted out to Jews were correct, he would be sent to a camp. But his rational mind argued with him. At a time when Normandy was under attack, would Landa think of such trivialities? He still didn’t know who his captured mate was! But one thing was sure. He hadn’t revealed the full information. Smart guy! The Allied did carry out a couple of air strikes, but Landa was thankfully unaware of the amphibious assault that was to follow. Eat this, you pompous Nazi piece of shit!
As if on cue, Landa entered the cabin again. His face was stamped with an indiscernible emotion. On coming face to face with Grossmann, his face broke out into a slight smile, which however didn’t reach his eyes. “So, it’s the navy! That bastard Anderson didn’t reveal the complete truth.”
Ah! They captured William Anderson! But is he alive? And most importantly, was he tortured?
Landa seemed to have guessed his thoughts, for he replied, “Your friend is dead. He just mentioned the code word of the operation, and refused to say anything further. I have a feeling he derived a sadistic pleasure out of it. So, I disposed him off. I hate such creatures!”
Grossmann mumbled a prayer for the soul of the dead Anderson. There was nothing he could do, but to wait and watch. What would be Landa’s next move, he wondered?
“I have an offer for you, Captain Grossmann!” The tone indicated that Landa meant business.
Grossmann chuckled. So much for boasting of hawkish qualities! In the face of impending death, every soldier shits hot bricks. He stretched his feet a bit, and felt the numbness leaving them. He sighed. “Continue!”
“I will surrender myself to the Allies! All I ask in return is an unhindered pass to Argentina. You won’t hear of me again. I give my word, Captain Grossmann!”
Grossmann watched Landa with growing disgust. Even a beast had more integrity than this slimeball. What happened to those allegedly superior Aryan traits? All it took was a calamity to befall him, and the bloody Nazi revealed his chameleon traits.
“You do realise that I am not in the position to negotiate such a deal!”
“I am sure you can pull some strings,” Landa replied.
Grossmann exhaled a bout of air through his mouth. “What makes you trust me, Colonel Landa? I am but a filthy sewer rodent. Isn’t it beneath a mighty hawk’s dignity to cower in fear and request its prey to be its bedfellow? You disappointed me!”
The resounding slap reverberated in the room, and Grossmann staggered back in his chair. “Shut up, Captain Grossmann. Do what you are told!” hollered Landa.
Grossmann broke out into a giggle. Soon his body started to rake with convoluting laughter. “I never thought I would live to see this day! How the mighty Nazi fell!”
Landa took out the Walther, and pointed it at Grossmann. His eyes were bloodshot. “Do you have any last wish?”
Grossmann shook his head. “I would advise that you save the lone bullet you have!”
Landa went a step back, recoiling. “How do you know?”
“Well, before you entered the cabin, I heard five gunshots in the distance. And then, you boasted of ‘disposing of’ Anderson. I took a wild guess and set you up an elephant trap. You fell for it, Colonel Landa! Hook, line, and sinker! Tsk Tsk!”
The cabin door burst open, and two men barged in. “Oberscharführer! That was followed by a smattering of German words. Landa barked out some orders, and the men left, but not before extending their right hands and roaring Sieg Heil.
Landa replaced the Walther back in its holster, went up behind Grossmann, and unlocked his handcuffs, taking out the key from his pocket. The American brought his hands in front of him, rotated his wrists a couple of times, and rubbed his palms together. In an instinct, he spun around. But it was too late. The bullet had pierced through Landa’s skull. An inglorious era came to an end. Michael Jackson’s dream of ‘healing the world and making it a better place’ had finally materialized.
Joel Grossmann bent down, and closed Bernd Landa’s eyelids. He then strode towards the door, secured it with the latch, and returned to his chair.
This is a fictitious take on the events that unfolded on the 6th of June, 1944 in Normandy, France, when the Allies attacked the Nazis. ‘Operation Overlord’ was the codeword given to the mission.
Michael Jackson is universally regarded as the King of Pop.
PS – The mispelt title is my tribute to Quentin Tarantino.
Oberscharführer – An officer of the SS Rank, equivalent to Colonel
Kaffee ohne Zucker – Coffee without sugar
Danke – Thank You
Kriegsmarine – Naval Warfare
Schade – Expressing regret by saying “That’s sad’
Luftwaffe – German Air Force