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Posts tagged “Barnes & Noble

Do a Book Signing

I recently read an article by a fellow author who kept emphasizing the word “do.” As in, book signing. Not “host,” or “have,” but “do.” And I couldn’t agree more with at least that much of what she had to say, everything else, beyond “doing” is and should be up to the potential author “doing” a book signing. The implied meaning behind “doing” is proactive, the author should be proactive during a book signing. I’m sure you’ve seen those authors, just as I have, perhaps at your local shop or Half Price, cramped inside a tiny space, little to no imagination to the table or placement, and the author sits there, immobile, either glaring at customers as they walk quickly by or at their phone or tablet waiting for that special someone to come to them. And if you are one of the poor sods to ever make eye contact with such a person, the look of desperation will chill you to the bone. Its the look of something kin to saying “I just buried my loved one in the cellar, would you please come buy my book…” And you feel for these authors cause you fear deep down that if you ever did a book signing, that would be you, the strange loner stuck in some hobble corner watching with that same crazy look as people avoid you as if you’d been quarantined by the CDC.

Now, I’m not going to sell you a ketchup popsicle. I’m very new to the game of publishing and recently had my own very first book signing. And I can say with pride and honesty that I too, like you perhaps, was a little nervous meeting and greeting people I did not know and/or being shunned as readers shopped for other peoples books, or laughed and pointed at or worse, became the dreaded disinterested weirdo hawking my wares to no one but an empty table and some smelly fellow calling himself Fernando. So, what did I do to overcome these fears? What did I do to prepare for my book signing event? Where was my location? What did I wear? Etc. etc. Well, I’m so glad you asked!

Let me tell you what I did, and perhaps in reading both my successes and blunders, you can take away something that you can either avoid or implement in your own book signing.

Here’s my list:

  1. Remembering the emphasis “doing,” rather than “having.” Stating the obvious here, but “having” implies inactivity, it implies the author sitting on their rump while thousands of fans are lined up out the door waiting to see you. If this is the case, well…you don’t need to read my ramblings, do you? However, assuming you’re a bit like me, and the fans are not quite lining out the door, you may want to reconsider your game plan. Be proactive. What does that mean? Get off your butt. Walk around, talk, chat. Smile, hand out flyers with your work (more on this later), but please, don’t be weird about it. Just be yourself, so long as yourself isn’t glued to your chair or on your phone. In fact, keep that phone hidden. The only time you should be on your phone is if you’re taking a picture with someone who bought your book and you want to tweet it out. We have a bad habit nowadays (not to get on a rant) with always having something in our hands keeping our attention. The idea of “doing” rather than “having” also implies that you’re there to work. Keep that in mind.
  2. Location. I feel like location will determine a lot of different things, including the proactive emphasis. Some book stores are really cramped and there’s not much room to wander about. And there are other book stores that are so massive, your little table will get swallowed into irrelevancy. Also, some book stores have themes which will determine your attire (we’ll get to that soon). So what do you do? Simple enough, seek out a venue that will suit YOUR needs. If you’re like me, you need your space. Being cramped will do you more harm than good. For my first signing, I went after Barnes & Noble, who are generally super friendly to authors (for B&N you’ll need to get a hold of the Customer Relations Manager or CRM in person or over the phone). If your B&N is like my local B&N, the store is rather large. This is nice on the nerves because your not cramped into a small space, but because of the square footage, people may miss your table among the many other displaces and shelves and what not. What to do? Here’s what I did. Ask the CRM if you can set your table next to the Starbucks. Yup. Don’t scoff. Panhandling to coffee addicts will help boost your table traffic, especially if you’re walking around and talking with them. I did not go inside the Starbucks, I was place strategically outside, quasi near the registers, which made it really helpful when people wanted a signed copy but needed to pay first. Making it easy for potential buyers/readers is the name of the game!
  3. Your table shouldn’t be cluttered. Clutter looks disorganized and unprofessional. Lucky for me, the B&N CRM at my store already had a table, a nice thick wood table, and already had ordered my books and made posters directing people to the event. Just another reason why I love and will certainly go back to B&N for any future book signings. On my table I had, obviously, the books B&N ordered for the signing, a stack of flyers with my backlog (all my work), bookmarks, and business cards, a note pad (for spelling out people’s names), a large bowl of candy (the good stuff, not leftover Halloween or Easter crap) and a couple of fine point acid free pens. That was pretty much it. Your table will be YOUR table, so decorate as you see fit, just be sure to discuss whatever you do with the store and/or CRM, and so long as you avoid clutter, AND be sure not to bring along books not sold at B&N, if the store has agreed to order your books for the signing, keep to those books. Your backlog flyer will point people to your other works. In conclusion regarding the table, I considered my table as the base of operations, but as any decent troop will tell you, you need to get out into the field, whilst keeping a close eye on your base of operations.
  4. Materials of obsession…i.e. FREE STUFF!!! As mentioned above, I had bookmarks, business cards, and candy, all free. Now my experience may differ from yours, but folks coming to my table were not very interested in the free candy. I did however ensure every book signed came with one bookmark and a business card, both or at least one of these should include your information, as in where the reader can find you in the vastness of cyberspace, you may want to include your Facebook info, Twitter, and blog. The one thing I forgot to include on my table, and I’m kicking myself in the butt for it, is the newsletter signup sheet. So…ya…you’re going to want to do better than me.
  5. Attire. Again, depending on your book store, dress accordingly. For me, B&N is kinda a nice place, I dressed in slacks and a nice polo. You may want to consider something between full on hobo and wedding attire. You don’t want to look unprofessional, but you also don’t want to overdress (unless the book store has a theme and/or part of your pro-activity is wearing a costume that has to do with the book you are signing, such as fantasy book wizard robes or maybe crime thriller James Bond-esk tuxedos). Some basic rules ought to apply regardless of theme, deodorant, do not go heavy on the cologne or perfume, brush your teeth, and comb your hair. Bathing would also be helpful.
  6. Attitude. This should be a no brainier, but I feel it must be said, cause we’ve all seen those authors at signings that act like crazed loons selling severed heads in baskets. Don’t be that person, don’t have an angry face, especially not when people are not coming to your table. Don’t be overly pleasant either, too pleasant comes off sounding fake. Be yourself, but as stated from the beginning, also be proactive. If someone is not interested in your flyer or your book, say thank you and walk away. Don’t start with “do you want to buy my book.” Give the reader a reason. Be normal. Here’s what I did, I walked around the store, keeping a close eye on my base of operations (table) and approached people I felt wouldn’t mind being talked to and asked if they would like a flyer. Most people did. This is your foot in the door. Next, I told them who I was and what I was doing at the store. I kept it short and sweet, mentioning the books I was signing, generally, theme or genre, nothing too in-depth. So, chin up solider. If people are not flocking to your table consider what I’ve mentioned above, but also keep in mind the store traffic. Its been a while since I was last in retail, but customers come in waves. Be prepared for that. ALSO, if you think a book signing event is about selling book you might want to adjust your thinking. A book signing is only marginally about selling books; the most important part of a book signing is talking with your potential readers. Selling you more than your books.
  7. Book Manager. If you don’t have an official BM, get one, or get a close friend or family member to help you out at the signing. This was something I did not plan for but by some strange miracle my BM from another publisher drove 3 hours from her place of residence to help me with my book signing. My BM had asked previously if I needed help, and me being who I am (taking no help typically from others) said no. But she came anyway and stayed the entire slotted time (11-2) and even almost 2 hours extra, cause the CRM was cool and let me stay as long as I wanted. What did my BM do? She helped talk with folks coming to my table, which was super helpful when I was engaged with another potential customer. She helped guide people to my backlog, promoting my other work and not just the books I was signing. Basically, a BM ought to be an extra hand, helping guide store shoppers to you. This was something I did not plan, but helped tremendously. Plus, the help passerby’s think you’re not alone at your table, other people are interested, maybe they should be too. As in nature, a flock draws crowd. Maybe not right away, for those readers who are introverts, but once the crowd disperses, they’ll approach, or send their kid, as with a few who ended up purchasing my books did.

And I think that’s about the whole enchiladas. The event went fantastic. Having and following the above items helped aleve tension and nervousness and kept me away from the always dreaded loony tunes stigma. I walked and talked with a lot of interesting people, including a few veterans who were likewise interested in writing, which is awesome for me because I too am a veteran interested in writing. I learned more about my audience as well. I had a general idea/stereotype of who reads thrillers and dark fiction, however, the majority of those who bought my books were ordinary (as in, not scary goth kids), in fact one was a wife of a WWII Screaming Eagles veteran, how freaking cool is that! Bottom line, was I hesitant about getting away from my bubble? Yes. Profoundly so. My bubble is safe and warm and far removed from crowds and strangers. But I’m glad I did. I think coming prepared mentally helped a lot too. And most of all, having my BM from Booktrope show up to help was a very nice added bonus. I have little doubt having her there helped pull in more readers than what I could have done on my own. There’s a wise saying, “For every Solo, there is a Chewbacca” (sorry Lauren, not calling you a furry Wookie).

How did I do? Well, unfortunately I forgot to have a newsletter sign up sheet, so without the sheet, its kinda hard to gauge how many people came up to my table to talk and/or purchase my books. I can say though that B&N ordered 40 copies (20 each of Dwelling and Emerging) and in the end, there was only 6 total books leftover (some sold after I left the event). Not to brag, but from what I’ve been told by other authors and by the B&N CRM, that is a fantastic sells %. And I have been asked by the CRM to sign the rest of the books because they want to keep them and sell them, AND if I would be interested in a future signing event. I’d like to think, a huge part of my success was what was done in the items mentioned above. In closing, if you’re new to book signings, I hope my experience helped you in some way. If by chance you’re an old pro, please, share your experience and/or suggestions for budding authors in the comments section below.

Tommy_Creature

Thomas S. Flowers is the published author of several character driven stories of terror. He grew up in the small town of Vinton, Virginia, but in 2001, left home to enlist in the U.S. Army. Following his third tour in Iraq, Thomas moved to Houston, Texas where he now lives with his beautiful bride and amazing daughter. Thomas attended night school, with a focus on creative writing and history. In 2014, he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in History from UHCL. Thomas blogs at machinemean[dot]org where he reviews movies, books, and other horror related topics.

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Barnes & Noble Book Signing Event w/ Author Thomas S. Flowers

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On April 2, 2016, at the Webster, Texas, Barnes & Noble location, your blog host with most will be on site signing copies of both Dwelling and Emerging, books one and two from the Subdue Series, published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. The event will start at roughly 11am and end when B&N finally wises up and boots me to the curb, which should be around 2pm (CST). They will no doubt be a table somewhere inside, jeez…I hope they don’t put me on the porch. Just look for the section of store with the huge crowd of crazed fans (wink wink). Or, more likely, the crowd gathering around a bowl of free candy…hey, whatever works, right? You may not know, but this will be my very first book signing event. Seeing how things go, I’d love to do one with my local public library or with my alma mater school library, UHCL. OR BOTH!!! Think of the possibilities (laughing sinisterly). Ethan, the customer relations manager with B&N, was kind enough to throw this shindig together, so my hats off to him. All joking aside, I am very much looking forward to the book signing, leaving my dark cave if only for but a few hours, to meet and greet with potential readers, because that’s what these kinds of events are for, to meet people, not necessarily to sell them anything. Book signing are about making the public, those outside of our family and friend bubbles, aware of our books. If you’ve got a book signing of your own, keep that in mind.

So, you may be wondering what I’ve got planned to prepare for this awesome event…even if you’re not, you can still read on, I won’t judge.

  1. Candy. Yup. Got to lure my victims, oops, I mean potential readers with sweets, before subjecting them to the poison of my writing…
  2. Specially made bookmarks, free with purchase of either of my two books that’ll be available at the table.
  3. Business cards, to whomever will take one (wink). These are specifically made to match my “author logo.”
  4. Newsletter signup sheet, as newsletters seem to be all the rage nowadays…you can sign up here, if you’d like (wink wink).
  5. Pens, and not just any old pen, nice permanent black ink pens.
  6. Informational flyer, of all my books, not just the ones at the book signing event, and all the places they can find me.
  7. Award winning smile, I’m not a smile guy. I have what’s known as “resting veteran face,” and can come across as kind of a grump. I’ll need to work on this and maintain awareness of my body language and facial expressions.

My list, as you may have surmised, is tailored toward letting people/stranger get to know me, not tailored to selling anything in particular. If people stop by and buy, fantastic, and I’m sure B&N will appreciate it too. My sole goal is to greet as many people as possible and to make them aware that there is in fact an Iraq War veteran in their community who writes and blogs dark fiction. This is an awareness campaign as much as it is a book signing campaign.

If you’re in the neighborhood, and/or would like to come out and meet me, I’ll be at B&N on April 2, 2016 between 11am and 2pm. You can find the event page at B&N here OR you can check out the upcoming book signing on my Facebook event page, here. As always, thank you for stopping by, and I hope to see YOU out at B&N in April.

iraq me 2003

Thomas S. Flowers is the published author of several character driven stories of terror. He grew up in the small town of Vinton, Virginia, but in 2001, left home to enlist in the U.S. Army. Following his third tour in Iraq, Thomas moved to Houston, Texas where he now lives with his beautiful bride and amazing daughter. Thomas attended night school, with a focus on creative writing and history. In 2014, he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in History from UHCL. Thomas blogs at machinemean[dot]org where he reviews movies, books, and other horror related topics.


Bewitching Book Tour: REINHEIT

Reinheit Banner 851 x 315

Good evening boils and ghouls, if you haven’t already seen on the various social medias I tend to infect, my debut novel is currently on a book tour through Bewitching. Though Reinheit has bounced around from place to place, this will be our first official blog tour. Bewitching is also hosting a rafflecopter of the book, with a chance to win 2 FREE signed copies of Reinheit. The tour started Monday. Never too late to join in the fun and check out some of the spotlights, guest posts, and later interviews this week.

And, as an extra bonus and because I love October so much, the price of Reinheit has been lowered for this week only, from $2.99 to $0.99!! Only on eBook. Paperback is available, but not on sale. Here is some info on my book, released with Booktrope this past summer.

Title: Reinheit
Author: Thomas S Flowers
Genre: Thriller
Published date: July 29, 2015
Publisher: Booktrope
Publishing: Forsaken Imprint

3D Reinheit PB2
Book Synopsis:
Rebecca Moss never questioned the purchase of the strange seductive armchair. She wanted to please Frank. But the armchair has a dark purpose. Nazi officer Major Eric Schröder believed fervently in Hitler’s vision of purity. Now the chair has passed to Frank, an abusive thug who has his own twisted understanding of patriotism. There are those who want to destroy the armchair, to end its curse. But can the armchair be stopped before it completes its work?

Buy Links:

Amazon
Goodreads
Apple

Barnes & Noble

 

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Excerpt:

Chapter 3
The Eastern Front, Lithuania. July 1941.
The armchair moaned delightfully as Major Erich Schröder sat. Outside, the sun burst into the mountain ridge, filling the sky with brilliant orange and red flames. Schröder watched out the open window from his seat in front of a dormant fireplace. He poured a glass of Berentzen Doornkaat schnapps from the decanter he had brought with him from home. Helen had packed it for him, wrapped with last month’s funny pages. One of the strips discarded in the waste bin revealed a valiant rosy cheeked Dutchman named Conrad, demonstrating the power of solidarity in the factory workforce. The energetic and turbulent rhythm of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony floated into the room from some far off record player in the barracks. Love this performance. Schröder closed his eyes and sunk farther into the armchair. The cool leather and haunting harmony of Beethoven set his mind at ease, comforting his weary bones. The comfort abated his thoughts, for the moment at least, of what lay ahead and the unordinary expectations levied upon his young shoulders by high command.
Expectations? he thought. God help us. Schröder lifted his glass and took a long gulp, biting down against the burning sensation crawling in his throat. Expectations… Horrible, horrible expectations… But it must be done. Himmler has given the order, and so it must be. Ein Völk, ein Reich, ein Führer. For we are one people, one nation, of one leader…
Schröder had believed in the vision for a thousand-year Reich ever since he was a young boy, serving in the Hitler youth movement, following in the shadow of Herbert Norkus, the child martyr. Schröder believed in his führer fervently and demonstrated so by enlisting in the Waffen officer program when he became of age. And that strong belief made him stand out from among his peers to become a full party member of the Schutzstaffel order, the dreaded and feared SS. And even after receiving his first orders, being forced to follow on the boot heels of the regular army into the Eastern Front, he retained his faith in the great commission, the plan to save Germany, to bring the Fatherland into rebirth, renewal, into purification…but at what cost? he wondered.
“Major?” called a strong male voice from outside the door, interrupting Schröder’s thoughts.
“Who is it?” asked Schröder. He took another long swig before rubbing the cold glass against his temple, struggling to abate the crest of an emerging headache.
“Lieutenant Braun, sir.”
Ah, yes, Braun. The thought of the handsome lieutenant was not unpleasant. Unlike the rest of the old reservists assigned to his unit, Braun was different, younger than Schröder, which wasn’t saying much. But Braun is local, Schröder recalled, just like the other swine. Well…the lieutenant must be the exception, proving not all of Lithuania is as ghastly as it appears. Perhaps there are some redeeming qualities, he thought with a hungry smile.
“Enter,” Schröder finally answered. His face returned to its narrow coldness. He brushed his short-cropped, wavy, blond hair to the side. He crossed his legs and stared into the fireplace, as if contemplating a fire.
The door opened. Schröder listened to the marching of feet coming to a halt directly behind the armchair. He guessed there were at least two men, uniforms flat as iron, brown as earth, with burning red armbands and swastikas on each muscular biceps. The last being a fantasy, of course, most of the men under his command were police reservists from the rural portions of the country, not at all the physique of physically disciplined soldiers. Well, except for Braun. He is most certainly fit. Schröder took another gulp from his favorite schnapps, quietly fantasizing Braun’s undergarments, waiting on either of the reservists to speak, but no one did. Only silence, except for the ice cubes ringing against his crystalline glass.
“What is it?” Schröder asked impatiently, his breath on fire. His head felt dizzy.
“Sir…” began Braun, his voice boyish but prudent.
“For God’s sake, spit it out,” Schröder barked.
“The delivery, sir. It has arrived.”
“Delivery?”
“The cases of schnapps, sir.”
“Oh, yes, good,” said Schröder taking another swig, nearly killing the glass. “Assign a small detail and unload some of the boxes into one of the storage rooms. Keep the rest on the truck,” he ordered with heated breath.
“Yes, major.”
“Use the quartermaster’s room, if you must. When you’re finished, have the rest of the company form up in the courtyard,” Schröder ordered. His mind began to drift between his nearly empty glass and the sound of crows squawking about outside the window, desperately searching for a place to nest before winter. A strong breeze found its way inside. The odor of pine and spruce filled his quaint personal quarters decorated with yellow flower wallpaper and a quaint single bed covered in soft linen sheets. An old quaint oak dresser and vanity sat next to the bed, and a small quaint circular kitchen table, also made of solid oak, sat on the other side of the fireplace. The burgundy leather Queen Ann high back armchair was last of the furniture.
Schröder waved his hand in his usual form of dismissal. He listened to the snapping of boot heels as the men shouted in unison, “Sieg, Heil!”
“And, lieutenant…” Schröder added.
“Yes, major?” asked Braun.
“Keep it quiet.”
“Sir?”
“I don’t want a bunch of questions about why we have the liquor on the truck. I want this done quickly and quietly, understood?”
“Yes, sir.”
The men filed out, leaving Schröder alone again. He sat there and took another sip of schnapps, watching the dead untouched logs with little interest. Outside, the sun had fully disappeared behind the mountain ridge. The sky was black. His mind went to the hundreds of boxes of cheap apple liquor in the cargo truck outside in the courtyard. The men will need it, after today, he thought. After tonight, and the next night, and the night after that, and so on and so forth until this madness is over. Until the solution has been answered. When the vermin are eradicated, removed, liquidated from the purity of the Reich. The rats, the money-grubbing Jews, stabbed us in the back in Versailles, but never again. Schröder smiled weakly and took another gulp, finishing off the glass with a grimace. The ice was cold, but the liquor burned going down, warming his otherwise empty stomach. Licking his lips, he slumped deeper into the armchair. The cushions felt more than welcoming. The Queen Anne was soft, yet sturdy, dependable, and dare he say, comforting? Yes. Yes, even in a waste of a country as Lithuania, given nightmarish orders. Yes, even here, something as simple as a chair could be comforting. It whispered to him. The tall backrest shielded him from the world and told him everything was going be fine. The voice lingered with Schröder like a fat dark cloud caught in a valley before a storm. Where have you been? he wondered. Who last sat on you? Who else have you comforted? Who will you comfort when I’m gone? You’re mine, you know that? You’ll always be mine. His thoughts teased real jealousy.
Schröder recalled when the armchair had first arrived. He remembered when Himmler, the führer’s shadow, had delivered it personally from Latvia. A gift, supposedly, for Schröder’s first command. Himmler arrived in the dead of night and Schröder had thought it odd for someone of his stature to take the time to visit someone new in the order. Or perhaps that was the reason for the visit. Did he come to inspect me, my men, our resolve? Schröder waved the thought away with his empty glass. Does it matter? Was it really so strange for a man like Himmler to drop in, even unannounced? No. Schröder knew of Himmler’s obsessive reputation and the simple fact that the man commanded all of the SS, including all the Einsatzgruppen units, with the entire final solution for the Jewish question residing on his shoulders, was warrant enough for paranoid examinations. I’d do the same thing in his place, Schröder believed. How could he not? While the regular Waffen army served a purpose, driving back the vile communist filth, the Einsatzgruppen, the killing squads, as rumored to be called by some of the men, were given orders of the upmost import. On our shoulders alone sits victory for Germany. Only through us can Himmler succeed and thus Hitler’s final solution be answered. Only through us can the one-thousand-year Reich be achieved. So, when an officer like Himmler drops in unannounced, bearing a gift for your recently awarded commission, you do not turn him away, and you most certainly do not ask questions, Schröder weighed, pouring another glass of schnapps when his door thundered yet again.
“Major?” called Lieutenant Braun in his usual vigor manner.
“Yes?” answered Schröder.
“The detail is done and the men have begun to form up, sir.”
Schröder peeled himself begrudgingly from the armchair. His skin felt as if it were being ripped away from the leather. It was difficult, more than it should have been, for Schröder to get to his feet. It was as if gravity were working against him. The more he moved, the more he didn’t want to move. He hesitated to leave the warm comfort of the high-back armchair, or the warm breeze from the window, or the bottle of schnapps, or even his lonely late-night fantasies of a bare-backed Lieutenant Braun in his chambers. Schröder pictured the young lieutenant naked, erect, pulsating with heat, and smelling of plums. But Schröder knew he had no time for fantasies such as those, not now. Now he had a job to complete, the commission, and until then he would not be able to return home to Munich, to his beloved Helen, and their faux marriage, and her ravenous breasts and plump lips he absolutely had no desire for. But, despite his pretentious social mask, of which he so often hid, that fairy tale existence was more enjoyable and pleasing than the cold nothingness of Lithuania. At least in Munich he could have something more than fantasy. Full moons he could sink his teeth into and lustful adventures out on Blumenstraße’s dark avenue, where men and boys overfilled his cup. A place where names were never asked, never given. Or at least not real names.
God help me if anyone ever found out. He shuddered. They’d stich a pink badge on a pair of rags and send me on the midnight train to Dachau, or worse. Auschwitz-Birkenau. And what would poor Helen think of the charade? That her husband loved the taste of cock? She would be absolutely abashed! Schröder let loose a faint dry laugh despite the remnant fear of being caught lumped heavily in his heart.
There was another soft knock at the door. “Sir?” asked Braun. “Is everything okay?”
“I’ll be out in a moment,” the major barked.
Schröder pulled himself from the comfortable armchair and smoothed out the wrinkles in his black uniform. He noticed a scuff mark on the toe of his otherwise perfectly gloss black boots. Frowning, he crossed over to the small table, set down his empty glass, and picked up a rag. Kneeling, he polished out the blemish in quick sweeps. He stood and looked himself over in the vanity. Satisfied with his appearance, Schröder opened the door to his room. Lieutenant Braun was just outside, alone, and snapping to attention. One hand shot down to his side while the other flew upward, palm down, fingers held firm together and straight, as one might imagine how the Romans may have saluted Caesar.
“Sieg, Heil,” shouted Braun.
Schröder returned the salute, smiling on the inside. Licking his lips. At least there was more than just the lieutenant’s physique and beautiful bright blue eyes that he admired. Braun was, if anything else, dedicated, loyal, and obedient. Qualities one should always surround themselves with.
“Sir,” Braun’s arm returned to his side, “If I may, why have we assembled the men at such an hour?” he asked, nodding toward the dark sky outside the hallway window.
“Judenfrei,” replied Schröder.
Braun did not mask his confusion.
“Do you believe it is possible?” Schröder added, almost singing.
“To be free of Jews? Yes, major.” Braun still looked confused.
“How?”
Major Schröder knew the young lieutenant could not answer. How could he? He had only the slightest idea. A rumor, at best…as for the particulars in how the Reich would free themselves of Jews. Only the higher echelons knew. Most assumed the same fate the POWs met, when the Communist sympathizers and partisan survivors had been gathered to the labor camps, and would think this seemed a possible solution for the Jews as well. Made sense. To collect them and then transport them off to the camps as well. But how can that be? Schröder thought. Of all the camps, certainly they could not hold all the Jews in Lithuania, nor all the POWs, gypsies, criminals, or homosexuals, all of the Reich’s undesirables. There were too many enemies and simply not enough room for them all. Certainly, Braun has mulled through all this.
“Well, lieutenant?” prodded Schröder. “Let’s hear it.” The Major smiled foxily.
Braun looked white, befuddled in his confusion. He almost seemed to laugh. Perhaps a sudden idea had sprung to mind? A terrible idea? Whatever the cause, the lieutenant remained silent. Is he thinking of what I’ve been ordered? Of mass extermination? All of them? Schröder could sense the lieutenant’s unease. He looked flushed and short of breath. He knows. He simply doesn’t want to say it out loud. It would be too horrible, unfathomable to say out loud, the major thought. He understood because he felt the same unease within himself, the unease of exterminating an entire people. The annihilation of European Jewry. The weight of killing not just the men, but women and the children, both the very young and the infirm. But we must, for the nation. For the purity of the Reich.
“Lieutenant, I am going to tell you something that will not be easy to hear. In fact, it’ll be damn near impossible to hear,” Schröder began. “But we must. Such courage will be needed if we are to succeed in our mission…for the purity of the Reich.” Yes, Erich, keep telling yourself that. But at what cost? How much are you willing to pay? At the cost of your own soul? Your sanity? Schröder pushed his weakness away. “Our goal will require the strongest will. Tonight, we will march toward Kovno, arriving at the break of dawn.” Schröder paused. He took a deep breath. “We will then begin the process of eradicating the vermin from the Kovno ghetto. For the purity of the Reich, the infestation must be absolutely eradicated. There can to be no survivors, lieutenant. Do you understand what I am saying?” Schröder watched. Waited.
Braun was a ghost, as white as death. “We are to…kill them, major? All?”
“Is it villainess to put down a diseased dog? Or is it an act of mercy?” asked Schröder.
Braun was silent. He nodded quietly.
Schröder nodded as well, but said nothing. They said nothing for some time. Neither would look at each other. In the silence, Schröder could hear voices stirring from outside through the second floor hallway window. In the courtyard below, Bravo Company was beginning to wonder, no doubt, why they had been ordered into formation at such a late hour in the night. Schröder oddly began to wonder himself what Helen was doing back home. Meeting up with a friend for dinner, perhaps? A male escort? That would be something, he thought numbly. Finally, Schröder looked at Braun, who stood as a specter in the hallway. Schröder wanted to embrace him, to hold his firm chest against his own, to feel the panicked and disturbed heartbeat in rhythm with his. Schröder wanted to brush Braun’s slicked black hair, to part his lips and pull Braun close, and feel his large bulge and well-manicured hands. But Schröder pushed away the fantasy. Instead, he told Braun of Himmler’s orders, the commission of the Einsatzgruppen units. That they were to enter the Eastern Front, in four separate commands. In Kovno, Bravo would herd the Jews into the town square, dividing the men fit for labor from the rest.
The laborers would be ushered to the train yard, destined for Höss’ newly operational Auschwitz camp, while the others would be marched into the nearby forest. They would dig graves deep enough for a city municipal bus and then the Jews would strip. And the brave, ordinary men of Bravo Company would aim their shot with bayonet and fire into the base of the skulls of countless girls, boys, hags, gimps, and the sick. The infants would be bashed against the side of walls to make quick use of their time. One round per Jew… God forgive us, but this is how the Reich will be judenfrei. This is how the Reich will become pure again, Schröder thought, his hands quaking terribly. He gave one last longing look into his bedroom, his gaze settling upon his high-back armchair.
‘I can do this, I have to do this, and so it must be done,’ a strong whispering voice reassured him. With his eyes still on the chair, tracing the elegant blemishes were blotches of brown grew darker and then lighter, Schröder exhaled, “Ein Völk, ein Reich, ein Führer,” just audible enough for Braun to hear him.
Braun snapped to attention, still ghostly, and threw out his right arm, “Sieg, Heil!”
Schröder returned the salute vigorously. And then the two abandoned the hall to join the men of Bravo Company outside in the courtyard. Nearing the tall pine door entrance, Major Schröder stopped and turned.
“Have my armchair loaded into one of the cargo trucks,” Schröder said. “The Queen Anne will accompany us to Kovno.”
Braun did not question the order.
Schröder did not explain.

 

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