The Arms Maker of Berlin

ONE

THE BIGGEST HAZARD of studying history,” Nat Turnbull once told his wife, “is that if you spend too much time looking backward, you’ll be facing the wrong way when the forces of the here and now roll forward to crush you.”

As if to prove the point, his wife filed for divorce the following week, catching Nat completely by surprise.

Five years later he was again facing the wrong way, so to speak, when a pair of phone calls summoned him urgently back to the dangers of the present. He was three stories underground at the time, asleep at his desk in the stacks of the university library. An unlikely location, perhaps, for the beginning of an adventure in which lives would be lost, but Nat was trained to appreciate that sort of irony.

The first call arrived just as a dark dream of another era goose-stepped across his brain. His cell phone jolted him awake, squirming in his pocket like a frog. Opening his eyes to utter darkness, Nat realized he must have slept past closing hour. It wasn’t the first time. He kept a flashlight for these emergencies, but it seemed to have disappeared. No use groping for the lamp, either. Security would have cut the power by now. Library budgets weren’t what they used to be at Wightman University.

The phone twitched again as he fumbled in his pocket. He was addled, groggy, a miner regaining consciousness after a cave-in. What time was it? What day? What century? Mandatory question in his line of work. Nat was a history professor. Specialty: Modern Germany. At Wightman that covered everything from the Weimar Republic of 1919 onward, and while Nat was in love with the sweep and grandeur of the whole era, neither friend nor foe was under any illusion as to his true calling. He remained as thoroughly haunted by the long shadow of the Third Reich as those Hitler-centric folks on the History Channel. In Nat’s treasure hunts, X never marked the spot. A swastika did, or some pile of old bones. Dig at risk of contamination.

He snicked open the phone, and the blue glow offered a beacon of hope until he saw the incoming number. Gordon Wolfe, his onetime master and commander, calling at 1:04 a.m., meant Nat was about to be subjected to an angry tirade or a teary confessional, and either would likely be served in a marinade of French cognac and Kentucky bourbon. He answered with a vague sense of stage fright.

“Gordon?”

“No, it’s Viv. Gordon’s in jail. You have to get up here.”

“Jail? What’s happened?”

“They took him away. Him and some archives. They took everything.”

“Gordon’s archives? All of them? Where are you, Viv?”

“Blue Kettle Lake. Our summer place.”

The Adirondacks. Of course. That was where the old Minotaur always retreated when the going got tough, and lately the going had been unbearable.

“The police handcuffed him the moment we walked in the door. You’d have thought he was John Dillinger. They’re saying he stole it, that he stole everything, which is nuts.”

“Stole what, Viv? Slow down. Start at the beginning.”

By now the phone light had switched off. Nat, sole survivor of the European Research Collection, again sat in the darkness of carrel C-19 in the basement stacks of Hartsell Library. He had often boasted he could find his way out of here blindfolded. Tonight he might have to put up or shut up.

His nose could have told him the approximate location—musty leather bindings, chilled concrete, the chemical reek of spooled microfilm—a bouquet that probably explained why he had just been dreaming of a similar place across the Atlantic. Except there