Home > Wolf By Wolf (Wolf By Wolf #1)(2)

Wolf By Wolf (Wolf By Wolf #1)(2)
Ryan Graudin

Every session he examined her skin. Shone a dazzling penlight into her eyes. Tugged out a few of her stubby hairs for color analysis. When the string of questions and answers ended, Dr. Geyer took the clipboard from the nurse stationed in the corner. Always he flipped through the pages, his brown hair tumbling to his eyes as he deciphered the nurse’s crude writing.

“‘Melanin production seems to be on a steady decline.… Note paler patches on skin as well as slight change in subject’s iris pigmentation. Eumelanin is also decreasing—as can be seen by subject’s hair coloration.’”

They never called Yael by her name. She was always subject. Or if they needed to be more specific: Inmate 121358ΔX.

“We’re making progress.” Dr. Geyer’s smile stretched, as if his lips were being held open by tenterhooks. He handed the clipboard back to the nurse, rolled his seat to the sterling tray table, where the needles sat in a neat row. Straight silver fangs, waiting to sink poison into Yael’s skin. Fill her with another two days of fire and agony. Change her from within. Take all the colors and feelings and human inside. Drain, drain, drain until nothing was left.

Just a ghost of a girl. A nothing shell.

Progress.

CHAPTER 2

NOW

MARCH 9, 1956

GERMANIA, CAPITAL OF THE THIRD REICH

The sun was a low orange threat in the sky as Yael stepped out the flat door onto Luisen Street—an asphalt artery at the heart of the city once called Berlin. She’d lingered too long in the tattoo artist’s chair, bearing the needle and the sting and the memories. Watching him put the final black touches on the final black wolf.

It had been her fifth and last visit to the tiny back closet, with its ink bottles and cracked leather chair. Five visits to cover up the crooked numbers on her left arm. Five visits for five wolves. They swooped and jostled and howled up her arm, all the way to her elbow. Black and always running, striving against her skin.

Babushka, Mama, Miriam, Aaron-Klaus, Vlad.

Five names, five stories, five souls.

Or, a different way to do the math: four memories and a reminder.

But Vlad’s wolf needed to be as perfect as the others, which meant Yael pushed her luck to the edge, watching the clock on the far wall tick its way toward sundown. In the end Vlad’s wolf was a flawless open wound—throbbing under hastily wrapped gauze.

Yael was late.

Germania was a dangerous place after dark. Official curfew was not for a few more hours, but that didn’t stop patrols from lurking on the capital’s street corners. Checking the papers of random souls who passed. Ready to arrest at the slightest aberration.

Nothing good happened at night, the National Socialists reasoned. Honest Volk had no reason to be out once the shops and beer halls locked their doors. The only people desperate enough to do business under high moon and heavy shadows were resistance conspirators, black-market scoundrels, and Jews in disguise.

Yael happened to be all three.

The resistance leaders were going to have her head. Henryka especially. The tiny Polish woman with too-bleached frizz springing from every direction of her scalp was far more fearsome than these features credited her for. Yael would’ve preferred Reiniger’s stern National Socialist army commander voice to the whirlwind/Mama Bear/spitfire that was Henryka.

More than likely they would both give her a talking-to. (Henryka: How could you stay out so late! We thought you were dead or worse! Reiniger: Do you realize how selfish you were being? You could have compromised the resistance. We’re close. So close.) If the patrols didn’t catch her first.

Luisen Street was empty as Yael walked under its brightening streetlamps. A long row of Volkswagens—identical but for their plate numbers—fortified the curbs. The grocery down the block was already locked tight, windows dark. Propaganda posters—some tattered and curled, others still fresh with paste—lined the walls between flat doors, reminding strong blond Aryan children to attend Hitler Youth. Reminding their mothers to produce more strong blond Aryan children to attend Hitler Youth.

Yael did not have far to walk, just a few blocks to the safety of the beer hall’s hidden basement. But all it took was one encounter. One too-hurried answer.

The necessity to move quickly and avoid detection beat high in Yael’s throat as she tore past the rows of posters, turning a corner onto a sequestered side street.

And came face-to-face with a patrol.

It was a standard unit: two young men with Mauser Kar.98Ks strapped over their shoulders. The soldiers were leaning against a wall, trading a single black-market cigarette between them. Illegal smoke curled from their lips like dozens of phantom tongues. White—not black like the billows of Yael’s childhood. The ones that poured, day and night, out of tall smokestacks. When Yael was very little, she’d thought a monster lived inside those sooty brick walls. (She knew the truth now. Saw the photos and endless lists of the dead. Rows and rows of numbers like the ones her wolves hid. There was a monster, but it didn’t live inside the death camp’s crematorium. Its den was much finer—a Chancellery full of stolen art, and doors with iron locks.)

This smoke, the white smoke, vanished quickly when the soldiers caught sight of her. The first tossed the cigarette down, crushing it under his heel. The second called to her in a rough voice, “You there! Fräulein!”

There was no turning back now.

—WALK STRAIGHT SHOW NO FEAR NO FEAR—

When Yael reached the pair, she offered a mandatory, unflinching salute. “Heil Hitler!”

Both soldiers mumbled it back. The first pulverized the tobacco further into the cracked sidewalk with his heel. The second held out his hand.

It took Yael an extra beat of a moment to realize what he was asking for. She’d been through this dance with patrols before (more than she’d ever admit to Henryka and Reiniger), but the sight of smoke, plus hours in the artist’s back closet, had rattled her. Sessions under the needle always left Yael feeling raw. It wasn’t the ink and pain so much as the needle itself. The memories of needles. What they could do. What they did.

Even at their most basic function, needles do two things: They give and they take away. The tattoo artist’s needles took white skin and numbers, gave her wolves. Dr. Geyer’s needles had taken so much more. But what they gave…

Yael had many faces. Many names. Many sets of papers. Because the chemicals the Angel of Death had crammed into Yael’s veins had changed her.

“Papers,” the second soldier demanded.

Yael knew better than to argue. Her fingers fluttered to the pocket of her leather jacket, pulled out the tattered booklet that belonged to today’s face.

“‘Mina Jager,’” the soldier read aloud. Looking from picture to face to picture again. He flipped to the next yellowed page, taking in Mina’s unremarkable history: Germania-born. Blond. Member of the Hitler Youth. The rough biography of every adolescent within a sixteen-kilometer radius.

“What are you doing out so late, Fräulein Jager?” the first soldier asked while the other read.

The real answer? Getting a black-market tattoo to hide my Jewish numbers before I go on a top secret mission for the resistance to bring an end to the New Order. A truth so absurd the soldiers might even laugh it off if Yael voiced it. A small, contrary sliver of her wanted to try, but she settled with the best answer. The boring one. “I was hoping to reach the grocery before it closed. My mother ran out of eggs and sent me to fetch more.”

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