Extracts of Let Us Do Evil
(From the Prologue)
Alma Shaab, British Mandate Palestine frontier with Vichy French Lebanon, April, 1941.
It was not long after dusk. Lingering snows on the Hermon range had chilled the evening breeze and the grass already held the cool and uncertain flavour of night.
Mostly they shone the light on the fence, looking for the holes that would indicate where someone had entered British Mandate Palestine from a Lebanon now controlled by the government Hitler had permitted to rule unoccupied France from the spa town of Vichy. Sometimes the culprits were Jews who had somehow smuggled themselves from Vichy France to Vichy Levant. At least, that’s what they said they were. Lang imagined he must be something of a pioneer: a Jew going in the opposite direction.
Lang lay there, belly down and almost spread-eagled, pushing his face into it, willing the British patrol on the raised road above him to pass. The wire cutters dug into the little flesh he carried around his waist, a portent perhaps of pain yet to come but he dared not move, gripping the grass the way a torpedoed sailor clings to a raft.
He could tell by the sound of the engine that it was one of Gothilf Wagner’s Specials. Wagner was a prominent Templer, a German protestant sect who, eighty years before, had bribed the Ottoman Turks to allow them into Palestine to await the Second Coming. Meanwhile, their progeny had prospered.
Wagner had grown rich making armoured cars for the Palestine Police and, until recently, was well looked after by its senior officers, never without an invitation to the Ramleh Vale Hunt ball. Now he had been wired into his own home with an armed sentry at the gate and in Jaffa his factory turned into a workshop for the Royal Army Service Corps. Soon he would be on the next draft to one of the Australian internment camps to which most of his brethren had already been shipped. Only the more prescient Nazis among them had ensured that they were well beyond British reach before war came.
Nonetheless, the German’s imaginative hybrids continued to give loyal service to the Crown. To Lang’s ears this one sounded like the smaller of the two open topped versions: a double layer of steel plate welded onto a Ford pick-up chassis with a Lewis machine gun in the back and a small, swivel mounted search light on the front passenger side. Its four-man crew would have just emerged from the cosy tobacco fug of the Tegart fort half a mile down the road, full of warm food and strong, sweet tea with a dash of rum in it for those who knew where to find it.
Lang knew these forts, had been in them himself on nights like this, waiting for Orde Wingate to turn up with his maps and his grenades and his bad but enthusiastic Hebrew. And when he arrived, dark and dishevelled, they had all noted the disapproving glances of most of the other officers. Police and army alike, they detested Wingate’s Special Night Squads because they thought Major Wingate was a freak, certainly no gentleman, possibly even a Jew himself; this wasn't true though he wouldn’t have minded. Above all they resented how good his men were, the body counts proved by dawn deliveries of Arab dead and the bounty money collected for the rebel rifles that accompanied them.
The armoured car moved at no more than fifteen miles per hour while its commander played his searchlight on the tall barbed wire fence to the right of it. Occasionally, the light would skip across the road and sweep the ground where Lang was lying. When it did this he kept his eyes firmly shut. That way he would not be aware if the beam had chanced on him and panicked into giveaway movement.