The Huntress

The Huntress by Kate Quinn


Dedication

For my father—

How I miss you!





Prologue


Autumn 1945

Altaussee, Austria

She was not used to being hunted.

The lake stretched slate blue, glittering. The woman gazed over it, hands lying loose in her lap. A folded newspaper sat beside her on the bench. The headlines all trumpeted arrests, deaths, forthcoming trials. The trials would be held in Nuremberg, it seemed. She had never been to Nuremberg, but she knew the men who would be tried there. Some she knew by name only, others had touched champagne flutes to hers in friendship. They were all doomed. Crimes against peace. Crimes against humanity. War crimes.

By what law? she wanted to scream, beating her fists against the injustice of it. By what right? But the war was over, and the victors had won the right to decide what was a crime and what was not. What was humanity, and what was not.

It was humanity, she thought, what I did. It was mercy. But the victors would never accept that. They would pass judgment at Nuremberg and forever after, decreeing what acts committed in a lawful past would put a man’s head in a noose.

Or a woman’s.

She touched her own throat.

Run, she thought. If they find you, if they realize what you’ve done, they will lay a rope around your neck.

But where was there to go in this world that had taken everything she loved? This world of hunting wolves. She used to be the hunter, and now she was the prey.

So hide, she thought. Hide in the shadows until they pass you by.

She rose, walking aimlessly along the lake. It reminded her painfully of Lake Rusalka, her haven in Poland, now ruined and lost to her. She made herself keep moving, putting one foot after the other. She did not know where she was going, only that she refused to huddle here paralyzed by fear until she was scooped onto the scales of their false justice. Step by step the resolve hardened inside her.

Run.

Hide.

Or die.





THE HUNTRESS

BY IAN GRAHAM





APRIL 1946




SIX SHOTS.

She fired six times on the shore of Lake Rusalka, not attempting to hide what she did. Why would she? Hitler’s dream of empire had yet to crumble and send her fleeing for the shadows. That night under a Polish moon, she could do whatever she wanted—and she murdered six souls in cold blood.

Six shots, six bullets, six bodies falling into the dark water of the lake.

They had been hiding by the water, shivering, eyes huge with fear—Jewish escapees from one of the eastbound trains, perhaps, or survivors fleeing one of the region’s periodic purges. The dark-haired woman found them, comforted them, told them they were safe. She took them into her house by the lake and fed them a meal, smiling.

Then she led them back outside—and killed them.

Perhaps she lingered there, admiring the moon on the water, smelling gun smoke.

That nighttime slaughter of six at the height of the war was only one of her crimes. There were others. The hunting of Polish laborers through dense woods as a party game. The murder, near the war’s end, of a young English prisoner of war escaped from his stalag. Who knows what other crimes lie on her conscience?

They called her die J?gerin—the Huntress. She was the young mistress of an SS officer in German-occupied Poland, the hostess of grand parties on the lake, a keen shot. Perhaps she was the rusalka the lake was named for—a lethal, malevolent water spirit.

I think of her as I sit among the ranks of journalists in the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg, watching the war crimes trials grind on. The wheel of justice turns; the gray-faced men in the defendants’ box will fall beneath it. But what about the smaller fish, who escape into the shadows as we aim our brilliant lights on this courtroom? What about the Huntress? She vanished at the war’s end. She was not worth pursuing—a woman with the blood of only a dozen or so on her hands, when there were the murderers of millions to be found. There were many like her—small fish, not worth catching.

Where will they go?

Where did she go?

And will anyone take up the hunt?





Part I





Chapter 1


Jordan


April 1946

Selkie Lake, three hours west of Boston

Who is she, Dad?”

Jordan McBride had timed the question perfectly: her father jerked in surprise midcast, sending his fishing line flying not into the lake, but into the branch of the overhanging maple. Jordan’s camera went click as his face settled into comic dismay. She laughed as her father said three or four words he then told her to forget.

“Yes, sir.” She’d heard all his curse words before, of course. You did, when you were the only daughter of a widowed father who took you fishing on fine spring weekends instead of the son he didn’t have. Jordan’s father rose from the end of the little dock and tugged his fishing line free. Jordan raised the Leica for another shot of his dark silhouette, framed against the feathery movement of trees and water. She’d play with the image in the darkroom later, see if she could get a blurred effect on the leaves so they seemed like they were still moving in the photograph . . .

“Come on, Dad,” she prompted. “Let’s hear about the mystery woman.”

He adjusted his faded Red Sox cap. “What mystery woman?”

“The one your clerk tells me you’ve been taking out to dinner, those nights you said you were working late.” Jordan held her breath, hoping. She couldn’t remember the last time her father had been on a date. Ladies were always fluttering their gloved fingers at him after Mass on the rare occasions he and Jordan went to church, but to Jordan’s disappointment he never seemed interested.

“It’s nothing, really . . .” He hemmed and hawed, but Jordan wasn’t fooled for a minute. She and her father looked alike; she’d taken enough photographs to see the resemblance: straight noses, level brows, dark blond hair cut close under her father’s cap and spilling out under Jordan’s in a careless ponytail. They were even the same height now that she was nearly eighteen; medium for him and tall for a girl—but far beyond physical resemblance, Jordan knew her father. It had just been the two of them since she was seven years old and her mother died, and she knew when Dan McBride was working up to tell her something important.

“Dad,” she broke in sternly. “Spill.”

“She’s a widow,” her father said at last. To Jordan’s delight, he was blushing. “Mrs. Weber first came to the shop three months ago.” During the week her father stood three-piece-suited and knowledgeable behind the counter of McBride’s Antiques off Newbury Street. “She’d just come to Boston, selling her jewelry to get by. A few gold chains and lockets, nothing unusual, but she had a string of gray pearls, a beautiful piece. She held herself together until then, but she started crying when it came time to part with the pearls.”

“Let me guess. You gave them back, very gallantly, then padded your price on her other pieces so she still walked out with the same amount.”

He reeled in his fishing line. “She also walked out with an invitation for dinner.”

“Look at you, Errol Flynn! Go on—”

“She’s Austrian, but studied English at school so she speaks it almost perfectly. Her husband died in ’43, fighting—”

“Which side?”

“That kind of thing shouldn’t matter anymore, Jordan. The war’s over.” He fixed a new lure. “She got papers to come to Boston, but times have been hard. She has a little girl—”

“She does?”

“Ruth. Four years old, hardly says a word. Sweet little thing.” Giving a tweak of Jordan’s cap. “You’ll love her.”

“So it’s already serious, then,” Jordan said, startled. Her father wouldn’t have met this woman’s child if he wasn’t serious. But how serious . . . ?

“Mrs. Weber’s a fine woman.” He cast his line out. “I want her to come to supper at the house next week, her and Ruth. All four of us.”

He gave her a wary look, as if waiting for her to bristle. And part of her did just a tiny bit, Jordan admitted. Ten years of having it be just her and her dad, being pals with him the way so few of her girlfriends were with their fathers . . . But against that reflexive twinge of possessiveness was relief. He needed a woman in his life; Jordan had known that for years. Someone to talk to; someone to scold him into eating his spinach. Someone else to lean on.

If he has someone else in his life, maybe he won’t be so stubborn about not letting you go to college, the thought whispered, but Jordan shoved it back. This was the moment to be happy for her father, not hoping things might change for her own benefit. Besides, she was happy for him. She’d been taking photographs of him for years, and no matter how wide he smiled at the lens, the lines of his face when they came up ghostlike out of the developing fluid said lonely, lonely, lonely.

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