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The Folks at Fifty-Eight

by Michael Patrick Clark

4.4 stars – 17 Reviews
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Here’s the set-up:

Gerald Hammond is the exception to the rule; an honourable spy, whose lofty principles have brought him nothing but loneliness and isolation. Catherine Schmidt is the stunning young daughter of an assassinated spymaster, whose murderous quest for vengeance has left her at the mercy of the infamous Head of Soviet State Security.

On a covert operation, in Soviet-occupied Germany, Hammond has no knowledge of the unseen forces that sponsor and oppose his mission. He only knows that he must somehow save her to save himself, but, as ever-more disturbing revelations come to light, begins to wonder which poses the greater threat; the enemy he runs from, or the friend he runs to?

Set against a factual background of government conspiracy, and one of the most audacious espionage coups in history, the Folks at Fifty-Eight is a beautifully-paced tale of seduction, betrayal, blackmail, and murder that blurs the boundaries between fact and fiction.

“This is the best spy novel I have read in quite some time” – Amazon Reviewer

“A subtle homage to the detective and spy novels of the 50′s and 60′s” – Amazon Reviewer

“Delicious spy novel, bold and graphic.” – Amazon Reviewer

“How could it get any better?” – Amazon Reviewer

“I purchased this based on the reviews, and it exceeded expectations” – Amazon Reviewer

Contains adult subject and strong language

 

And here, for your reading pleasure, is our free excerpt:

Author’s Note

Set in the aftermath of World War II, The Folks at Fifty-Eight is a Faustian tale offering all the lust, violent death, intrigue, suspense and pace you might reasonably expect from a conventional espionage thriller.

Here you will find former OSS agent and handsome archetypal loner-hero, Gerald Hammond, estranged from his wife, socially outcast and haunted by the guilt of so many deadly sins committed.

In keeping with many examples of the genre, you will also find a femme fatale in the guise of young, beautiful, mercurial and utterly amoral Catherine Schmidt.

Within these pages lurk the glamorous and ugly, misguided and devious, patriots, traitors, shameless hedonists, evil manipulators, erotic sirens and sadistic killers.

So, all straightforward adult thriller stuff then. . .

Or is it?

Perhaps I should also mention that this tale was inspired by actual characters and events of the time.

I leave you to draw whatever lines you deem appropriate between fact and fiction, historic event and later interpretation, innocent mistake and sinister conspiracy.

Enjoy.

 

MPC

 

 

 

Background

 

It is spring of 1946. To the east of a chaotically-partitioned Germany, the Red Army continues to wreak a vengeance that began at Stalingrad. Summary execution is commonplace, expulsion to the Gulag a constant threat. For the women there is additional fear. In the twelve months since the Soviets stormed Berlin, conservative estimates put the number of rapes against German women in excess of one million.

In Washington the intelligence community is in disarray. OSS is disbanded, the fledgling Central Intelligence Group under-resourced and hamstrung by bickering rivalries.

In New York City the celebrations continue, but while the ticker tape rains down, sinister men in grey are already planning for the next confrontation.

In Moscow a paranoid Joseph Stalin summons Lavrenti Beria, his chief of espionage and state-sponsored terror. Both men believe the Soviet Union must rapidly develop an atomic weapon or be forever subservient to the West.

They also believe that, in espionage terms, the West will never be more vulnerable.

1

 

When a keen-eyed Marcus Allum first spotted the weather-beaten face and broad shoulders of Gerald Hammond he was almost eighty yards away, casually strolling along on the far side of Washington’s Connecticut Avenue. Allum hurriedly turned away and then ducked into a convenient coffee shop, where he threaded his way through the busy seating area, selected a table at the back, and then hid behind his newspaper.

Not that Marcus Allum imagined for a second that Hammond hadn’t seen him. When you have been trained to scan a sea of faces for a single nervous look, you don’t miss something as obvious as an old friend avoiding an embarrassing reunion; you don’t miss anything. And when your life has so often depended on you seeing them before they see you, you make damn sure you see them first.

However, as Gerald Hammond wandered past the frontage, his attention didn’t shift from the sidewalk and his face betrayed little of his thoughts. He seemed preoccupied and distant, almost to the point of morose. He obviously hadn’t noticed Allum duck into the coffee shop, or seen him watching from behind his newspaper. Given Hammond’s well-publicized problems, Marcus Allum could fully understand why.

Allum ordered a black coffee and sat moodily remembering, as the doubts began to nag at what little conscience he possessed. Two years ago Hammond wouldn’t have missed him. Two years ago Gerald Hammond was the best in the business. Two years ago he would have seen Allum at least fifty yards before Allum saw him.

Maybe returning from the war in Europe to find OSS disbanded and his wife sleeping with strangers had jointly conspired to blunt all those finely-honed skills that had once set Gerald Hammond apart from other agents. Maybe all those rejected applications to join the State Department had dented the ego and sedated all those extra senses. Maybe loved ones and circumstance at home had succeeded where a deadly enemy and war overseas had failed.

Had he suffered anything more than a minor twinge of conscience, Allum might have resolved to look up his old Princeton friend and former OSS colleague, but Marcus Allum wasn’t the type to allow distraction. These days the State Department’s Head of Occupied Territories had more important problems to wrestle than the disastrous marriage and sudden career nose-dive of Gerald Hammond.

Nonetheless, it disturbed him.

Allum vigorously stirred his coffee and stared into the resulting vortex as the memories swirled and his mood deepened. He was thinking back to Princeton and those early days, when they had both been young enough to believe in naïve pledges of loyalty and honour and friendship.

But that had been long before London, and even longer before Rouen.

Gerald Hammond always said that Marcus Allum was never the same after they made him London Station Chief. Marcus Allum always said that Gerald Hammond was never the same after Rouen. Both accusations held more than a grain of truth.

In Allum’s case the reason was simple. His all-consuming ambition, political chicanery and lack of any moral code merely confirmed Hammond’s assertion that the quest for power can sometimes corrupt as absolutely as the power itself. With Gerald Hammond the reasons were more worthy and more complex, but neither man was ever the same.

“Excuse me, sir. . . Mr Allum.”

The interruption jolted Marcus Allum from his thoughts. He let go of the memories, and looked up from his coffee. An immaculately-suited underling stood before him, impatiently shifting his weight from one highly-polished brogue to the other.

“I’m sorry to disturb you, sir.”

“What is it?”

“It’s the girl, sir. They’ve found her.”

“Where?”

“In Magdeburg, sir.”

Uncharacteristically, Marcus Allum allowed his surprise to show.

“Magdeburg? Are they sure? Not Berlin?”

“No, sir. They say she’s definitely in Magdeburg.” The young man furtively scanned the surrounding area and then lowered his voice to little more than a whisper. “The Sovs are already out looking for her, sir. They say it’s just a matter of time.”

The thunder on Allum’s face deepened.

“Shit! All right, tell Alan Carlisle I want to see him as soon as I get back.”

“Yes, sir.”

The young man turned to make his way out of the shop. Allum stopped him.

“Just a minute. . . How did you know where to find me?”

“Uh, I ran into Mr Hammond, down the street, sir. He told me.”

The young man stood nervously watching, uncertain as to whether a conversation with Gerald Hammond might be construed as fraternization. He needn’t have worried. The look of thunder on Allum’s face fell away and previously scowling features suddenly broke into a grin.

“Did he now? I bet he even told you which table I was at?”

“Yes, sir, he did.”

“All right. Tell Carlisle I’ll be back directly.”

 

****

 

A casual ten-minute stroll away, Gerald Hammond had returned to his office and was thinking similar thoughts to those that had troubled Marcus Allum, but Hammond’s thoughts were blacker than any of those that Marcus Allum might have conjured from his coffee. Hammond was thinking of London and OSS, but mostly he was thinking of Rouen.

The assault on Rouen had happened two years earlier, a little over six weeks before D-Day, when a reckless bureaucrat with the token rank of Major had flown a solo reconnaissance mission over Occupied France. A lone Messerschmitt intercepted the Lysander, and his resulting capture threw Allied plans for invasion into chaos.

The Normandy Resistance discovered his location. They radioed London with the news. The Gestapo were holding him in Rouen, not in the infamous tower, but in the headquarters opposite. A highly-skilled team, with a lot of luck, just might get him out.

A frantic Allied command immediately dumped the problem into Allum’s lap. He just as quickly dumped it into Hammond’s. The orders were clear: Make sure you get to him before they realize who they’ve got and transfer him to Gestapo headquarters in Paris. Oh, and bring him back safely if possible. The obvious question had received a chilling answer.

“It is essential to the successful outcome of the war that he does not reach Avenue Foch or the rue des Saussaies alive. How you achieve that is your decision.”

Hammond’s team hit the Rouen Gestapo Headquarters at four-thirty the next morning, in those muddled few minutes between night and day, when darkness retreats into shadow and the eyes can so easily deceive.

They began the carnage, not with the crash of grenades and the rattle of small-arms fire, but with stealth and skeleton keys, suppressed Sten-guns firing subsonic rounds, and a silent bullet that shattered the skull of the only external guard.

From there, they moved noiselessly through the building, killing as they went, leaving no room unvisited in their search for a reckless bureaucrat, and no one alive to raise the alarm. Few of the victims woke in time to see their killers. None put up any kind of fight.

It took almost fifteen minutes of searching and killing before they found their objective, locked in a top-floor bedroom, guarded by a single SS trooper.

A minute after that they were out of the building and away.

Whenever Hammond thought of Rouen, and that was often, he would recall the disgust and shame he had felt at the need for so many cold-blooded killings, so many that the heat of the Sten’s suppressor had blistered his hand. He would then go on to recall each briefly-illuminated face of each slumbering victim, and finally bring to mind the look of terror on a reckless bureaucrat’s face as the torchlight searched him out.

That same bureaucrat went on to help plan the invasion of mainland Europe and the downfall of Adolf Hitler. The powers that be may have privately called him a reckless fool, but they publicly feted him as a hero and awarded him the Silver Star.

Those same powers that be had also recommended Hammond for a medal, someone even mentioned the Congressional Medal of Honour, but then someone else whispered something about ‘handing out gallantry medals for killing people in their beds’ and that idea was quickly shelved. Gerald Hammond hadn’t cared. The last thing he had wanted was a further and tangible reminder of that night.

And so Hammond’s reward was a curt nod of thanks and a hearty slap on the back for having killed so many and saved just one, before another Marcus Allum order saw him loaded on to a night flight and dropped back into Occupied France with Operation Jedburgh.

After attending the Rouen debriefing, Hammond never again spoke of the horror and carnage that he and his team had wreaked in the early hours of that innocuous spring morning. He never spoke of the accusing faces that visited him every night, and he never spoke of the shame and disgust that remained lodged so vividly in both conscious and subconscious minds.

Nowadays he spent his nights alone, in a cold sweat, and his days sitting behind a desk among the labyrinth of streets and avenues that sprawl in all directions from Washington’s Dupont Circle; the land of ambition and greed, where the fortunate few come to rule and the aroma of power and privilege hangs in the air like perfumed smog.

Sadly, for Hammond, there were no windows in his office to invite that wonderful aroma, just a softwood door and wafer-thin partition wall between him and the typing pool outside; no intoxicating whiff of power and privilege, just the stench of tedium and failure.

“God Almighty, save me.”

Suddenly there was only silence. The petty gossip, cackling laughter and constant tap, tap, tap of the typewriters had all stopped. For a splendid moment he sat quietly appreciating the silence, idly wishing it could always be like this, before suddenly realizing why it was.

He had spoken his blasphemy out loud and they had heard. He smiled a cynical smile. Perhaps God had heard, too.

Moments later, normal activity resumed, assuming that such an ugly racket could ever be described as normal. The gossip, the cackling, the tap, tap, tap; it had all returned to irritate him, and it had fetched the sadness with it.

It was now just after three o’clock in afternoon, and he was sitting with his head in his hands and his eyes closed. In the two hours since returning from lunch he had managed to collate just four items of correspondence from a stack of a hundred. He opened his eyes to view the unfinished work, piled up in his in-tray and felt even more miserable. He hated every aspect of this job.

A knock at the door interrupted the gloom.

“What is it?”

“It’s Alice, Mr Hammond. I’ve got someone here who wants to see you.”

A portly figure pushed her aside and a face Hammond remembered well smiled warmly.

“Gerald, it’s good to see you after all this time. How long has it been now?”

The man was short in stature and long in self-importance, with slicked and thinning hair receding from a well-padded face and small grey eyes. He wore a dark blue three-piece suit and a starched white shirt, with a gold pocket watch and chain that looped its way across a well-padded midriff. To complete the immaculate presentation he wore a blue and white diagonal-striped silk tie that said, ‘If you don’t know this is Yale, you don’t matter’. Should an ignorant world still fail to realize just how important this man was, he carried a monogrammed black calfskin briefcase and a rolled-up copy of the Wall Street Journal, presumably for swatting lesser beings.

Gerald Hammond knew how long it had been: twenty-three months and two weeks. Hammond remembered precisely, because he would never forget his previous encounter with Davis Alan Carpenter. Today the features looked bloated and supercilious, but two years ago they hadn’t looked like that. Two years ago, in the torchlight’s beam, they had been thin and drawn and contorted in terror.

“May I come in?” Davis Carpenter ambled through the doorway without waiting for an answer. Hammond clasped the outstretched hand and gestured to a chair. The portly bureaucrat sagged into it. He fished in his pocket for a handkerchief and then mopped at his brow. “God, it’s hot in here.” He replaced the handkerchief and began rummaging through his briefcase, talking as he searched.

“You know, Gerald, I never got the chance to thank you properly for that bit of business in Northern France. Perhaps I can do that now.”

“I’m sorry, what’s this all about?”

“They tell me you’re looking for work with the State Department.”

Hammond nodded furiously and rifled through his desk drawer for a résumé. He found a dog-eared copy and offered it to Carpenter, who grinned and waved it away.

“I already know what the résumé says, Gerald.”

Davis Carpenter produced a pack of cigars from his briefcase. He took one, lit it, and offered the case to Hammond, who shook his head.

“And what else do you know?” he asked.

“That you’re a small-arms and unarmed combat expert, but perhaps a little rusty. You like to drink scotch, but only in moderation. You’re employed here, as a grade-three manager, with the Washington office of The Mutual and Equitable Insurance Company of Beaumont Texas, but despise the job. You’re bored and in a rut, but don’t see a way out. You want into the State Department, but have run out of any contacts who might sponsor you. . . Did I miss anything?”

“Not much. Now tell me what you don’t know.”

Davis Carpenter took a moment before answering.  He seemed almost embarrassed.

“I know you’ve got ability, Gerald, and I know you had a heart big enough to take on an army. I should know that better than most. However, and let me be candid here, all that cloak-and-dagger stuff is a young man’s game. You’re forty years old.”

Hammond tried to interrupt. Carpenter held up his hands in mock surrender.

“I know. I know. It’s not two years since you pulled me out of Rouen, and there’s none of us getting any younger, but I’m not gonna pull punches here, I’ve got too much respect for you to do that.”

There was clearly a more aggressive side to the portly and pretentious Davis Carpenter.

“I think you’re one of the good guys, Gerald, but let’s face facts. You’ve taken some knocks recently; some pretty serious knocks. You’ve no friends, or none that could do you any good. You’ve no immediate family to speak of, or none that could give a damn. Your wife screws her way all round Washington, and rubs your nose in it at the same time, and whatever’s left of a once-promising career is now well on its way down the toilet.”

Hammond watched Carpenter watching him, seeing the clumsy attempt to incite and understanding the reason for it. If Davis Carpenter wanted to spark a reaction, wanted to see if the heart was still there, Gerald Hammond was only too happy to oblige.

“If that’s true, then what’s a high-flyer like you doing, taking the time to visit a washed-up wreck like me? Deskbound bureaucrats like you don’t need the aggravation.”

Carpenter’s answer was equally candid.

“Because I saw you in Rouen, and you were magnificent. You were, you know. I honestly thought I was dead until you came along. We bet everything on you then and you didn’t let us down. Problem is, we don’t know if we should do it again. We don’t know how badly these domestic problems have affected you, or how much remains of that big heart of yours.”

Sensing the approach of yet another disappointment, Hammond pushed back.

“There’s more than enough heart in me, and you owe me.”

“That’s true. As a friend and a colleague I owe you more than I could ever repay. But as the man who has to decide whether an emotionally damaged, forty-year-old former OSS agent can still serve and protect the country we love from those who seek to destroy it. . .”

Carpenter shrugged and left the point unfinished. Hammond frowned.

“What is all this, anyway? I thought this was about a post with the State Department?”

“Oh, it is, and I’m pleased to tell you that, as soon as I put in the paperwork, you’ll report directly to me. However, there was something else we rather hoped you’d do for us in the interim. You do speak German, don’t you? That is one of yours? Oh yes, and Russian, of course?” Hammond frowned again, and then slowly nodded. Carpenter nodded back and once again began rummaging through his case. “Yes, that’s what they told me.” He explained as he searched. “You see, Gerald, we’ve something in mind for you that’s a little more up your street, as they say; a little more involved. Now where did I put that file? Ah yes, here it is.”

2

 

At one minute before dusk they said it was safe to use the streets, but then safe was a relative term in Berlin’s eastern sector, as was dusk, for that matter. At one minute after that they would shoot you without hesitation or warning, and that was a Soviet guarantee.

There were many who believed the curfew was just another Bolshevik excuse for furthering Stalingrad’s vengeance. They said the average Red Army soldier didn’t care about the time. They said he couldn’t even tell the time. They said if he ever got a clear shot on a dull day, he’d kill you just for the meanness of it. Others went further. They said the average Red Army soldier would open fire under the mitigating shade of a drifting cloud. All fat Martin Kube knew was that dusk had fallen thirty minutes ago, and he was still on the street.

He had been at the rendezvous point on time, but the contact had failed to show, and so he’d waited there for over an hour, crouched in the alleyway, silently cursing from the shadows, allowing the sweat to slide, the panic to calm, and the breathing to quieten. He shifted position to ease the cramp and mopped at heavy jowls with a grime- and sweat-stained sleeve. Then he shuffled his uncomfortable bulk back into deeper shadows, to wait a little longer.

As dusk became darkness he gathered his courage and peered out from the alley, panning the grim silhouettes of bombed-out buildings and crater-strewn streets dotted with piles of rubble and fallen masonry. He was looking for hidden snipers and approaching patrols, listening for the sound of a voice, or the clatter of boots on the cobbles. Praying they wouldn’t see him there, crouched among the shadows; praying, too, for salvation.

For a moment of curious bravery he peered around the corner. Narrow-set eyes squinted through the gloom as he mentally gauged the distance from where he now hid to the single yellow light at the street’s western end. It acted as a beacon for returning Red Army foot patrols and a killing field for the machine-gun nest they’d hidden in the ruins beyond. He judged the distance from his current position of safety to that SG43 and certain death to be around three hundred meters. He decided this was as close as sanity allowed.

He racked his memory and made a further calculation. Assuming he could somehow negotiate the foot patrols and the killing fields, the distance from that solitary light to the back of the burnt-out Reichstag building was a matter of five hundred or so meters more. From there a desperate man could work his way around to the front of the building. Then it was only a brief, albeit terrifying, dash across the rubble to the safety of the American sector.

Unhappily for Martin Kube, the proximity of sanctuary only mocked at his cowardice. It was less than a kilometre away. It might just as well have been a million.

“Where the hell are you, you bastards!”

The oath echoed around the alley and out to the street. He ducked down and mentally cursed his own stupidity, while frantically scanning the surrounding gloom for any sign of other’s awareness. There was nothing he could see or hear, or was there?

It was then that he saw it, to the rear of the building across the street: the faintest of lights for the briefest of instants. It had momentarily glowed out from among the piles of rubble and tangled metal. He peered harder and silently mused. Broken glass perhaps, reflecting a passing light from the street beyond? But then the glow was there again, and the scuff of footsteps on rubble carried through the night. It was obviously the light from a cigarette, but who was on the other end?

He clutched at a breath, and held it, while a bolt of adrenaline surged from somewhere to nowhere. Then he remembered the Radom and fumbled in the coat’s right-hand pocket for the pistol’s reassurance. After that, he kept his place among the shadows and gripped the butt in blunt fat fingers and a palm that was slippery with sweat.

He could see them now, three of them, shadowy figures moving slowly through the rubble, slipping and sliding as they searched.

They paused and he heard them muttering. A flame briefly flared in the darkness as someone lit another cigarette. The muttering stopped. They began moving again. Then they altered course and started towards him.

The shapes were clearer now. They were undoubtedly Russians, a lone patrol with three at the front, and three more a few paces farther back. They were obviously searching for someone, and more than likely him. He wondered if they had seen him, crouched there in the alleyway, or if their sudden change of direction was just another slice of the same bad luck that had dogged him since Prague.

He wiped the sweat from his palm, then pulled the Radom and aimed it at the nearest Bolshevik, feeling the pulse thumping against his temple and knots of fear gripping at his stomach.

“Put the gun away, Herr Linz, before you get us all killed.”

The voice had come from somewhere behind him. Despite the even tone, it made him start and almost drop the gun. He swivelled around to see who had spoken, but saw nothing in the alleyway but blackness. As he peered into the gloom the voice spoke again, the accent clipped and precise, the instructions delivered in the same low and even tone.

“Stay low, keep quiet, move slowly. There is a gap in the wall, ten paces back and left. Get into it.” As he started backing up, his foot dislodged a brick. The sound echoed around the alleyway. The voice stopped him. “Keep calm. Turn around. Look to where you are going.”

He slid the Radom back into his coat and did as ordered, turning on all fours and then slowly creeping his way back along the alley, with the sweat running and his limbs trembling. The voice had told him the distance to the gap was ten paces. Expecting to feel a bullet in his back at any moment, it felt more like a hundred.

But then fear suddenly turned to panic as he heard the sound of another voice. It was startled and agitated and shouting in Russian. It came from behind him and alerted the rest of the patrol. It told him that whatever luck he’d had to this point had just run out. Then another voice shouted at him in broken German. It ordered him to stay where he was. When he pulled the Radom and began to move, a shot cracked into the night. He heard the bullet whine as it passed overhead, before ricocheting off the wall to the right.

Now the whole patrol was shouting and running. He could hear them, excitedly calling to one another as they clambered across the rubble. Another shot cracked. Another bullet hit the same wall in the same place. Terrified, he lay still and dropped the Radom.

It was over.

He held up his hands to show they were empty and began clambering to his feet.

That was when the roar went up and the building across the street suddenly exploded before his eyes. It lit up the night sky and briefly illuminated every street and alleyway and jagged outline for a thousand meters. Almost immediately the blast hit him, and then it was raining concrete and rubble. He dropped to the ground, then lay still and covered his head with his hands, while the rubble continued to rain and the dust and smoke began choking his lungs. Then he felt hands clutching at his arms. They lifted him from where he lay cowering and hauled him to his feet. Someone told him to follow. Someone else told him to run. They said the place would be full of Bolsheviks at any minute. Then he heard the sound of boots, clattering away down the alley.

He wiped his eyes with the heel of his hand, and then coughed up some dust-laden mucus and spat. He picked up the Radom and peered around in fear and confusion. The Russian patrol had disappeared, as had the building across the street where the patrol had been sifting. Kube turned in the opposite direction and peered down the alley. He could just make out three figures at the far end. One of them called to him through the gloom and smoke and dust. The voice shouted “Linz!” and then swore at his dithering and told him to get a move on. Despite being out of condition, with his eyes streaming and his lungs clogged with smoke and dust, despite being grossly overweight and disoriented, Martin Kube started running for his life.

He reached the far end of the alley, and looked again for his saviours. At first he couldn’t see them, but then he spotted the last man, around fifty meters away, running along the far side of the street. Kube followed at a lumbering canter, with his breathing laboured and his legs drained of energy. Up ahead, he saw them duck into a building. He reached the same place and ducked through the same hole in the wall. Then he stumbled through a maze of bomb craters and rubble and ruined buildings, across the street beyond and through more ruins, then across another street and through more ruins still.

He didn’t look for machine-gun nests and hidden snipers. He didn’t look for foot patrols or Russian check points. He just ran blind and prayed that his luck would hold.

Up ahead they kept running and calling out to him, and he followed as best he could. He reached the next derelict block and stopped to retch. Then panic drove him on and he started running again, following the disappearing shapes through the rubble and along the next street, then down yet another alleyway and into yet another building. When he reached the far side of that he stopped and gasped for breath, then looked around in rising exhaustion and wild-eyed terror.

His saviours were gone. They had disappeared into the night and he was alone in the blackness with no idea of where he was or how far he’d run. He thought he heard a noise and swivelled left and right, pointing the Radom at anything and everything. Then a door opened on the far side of the street. The same familiar voice called to him. He staggered across and through the open doorway, then dropped to his knees in exhaustion. The door closed behind him. He started retching again. His lungs ached and his eyes still streamed from the dust. He felt weak and the nausea wouldn’t clear, but at least he was safe.

There were four of them in the room. They stood in the light from a kerosene lamp, watching while he spluttered and choked, saying nothing as they waited for the coughing to stop and the breathing to calm. Someone passed him a canteen of water and he greedily drank. Then he saw the Luger pointing at his chest.

Somebody reached out and took the Radom from his hand, then searched the rest of his pockets and found his papers. The man with the Luger fired a question.

“Where is Horst?”

“I do not know anyone named Horst.”

“We sent him to meet you; him and a colleague. They did not return.”

“I know nothing about that. All they told me was to wait in the alley. They said someone would meet me half-an-hour before curfew. No one came.”

One of the men walked to the lamp and scanned his papers. Kube watched the brow furrow.

“These belong to you? You are Martin Linz?”

Kube nodded. The questioner studied the papers for a while longer.

“These papers are in order. Why did you not use them? The Bolshies would have let you through during daylight. You had no need to use us. Why did you?”

“That is my business.”

The man with the Luger spoke again.

“No, Herr Linz, it is our business. We lost two good men tonight. I want you to tell me why.”

He nodded.

“They think I killed a Russian, in Prague; an agent, an infiltrator, one of their best.”

“And did you?”

“Yes.”

The man with his papers studied him for a while and then nodded to the gunman, who pocketed the Luger. He returned the papers and then held out his hand with the palm up.

“You owe us five hundred American dollars, Herr Linz.”

He blurted a refusal.

“No. . . Not until I get to the American sector. . . That was the agreement.”

“You are in the American sector. Now give me the five hundred.”

“This is it? I am here?” A nod confirmed the truth. Kube smirked in triumph. He unbuttoned his shirt, exposing a grey cloth money belt fixed around an ample waist. He pulled a wad of American dollars from one of the pockets, counted out five bills and passed them to the speaker. Then he replaced the balance, rebuttoned his shirt and posed a question that had bothered him since the alley. “What happened back there?”

“You mean with the explosion?” He nodded. The speaker smiled grimly. “You are a lucky man, Herr Linz. I would have to guess that someone woke a sleeper in all the commotion. You should thank the Woolwich Arsenal and the Royal Air Force. Tonight they saved your life.”

“A sleeper?”

“An unexploded bomb. The whole city is littered with them, the whole country probably. Anyway, that is six less Bolshies we have to worry about. Serves the bastards right.”

“I need to get away from here, out of Germany, out of Europe. Do you know anyone who can help?”

“It will be expensive.”

Kube patted the money belt. The speaker nodded.

“Very well, Herr Linz. For now, though, you had better find yourself a corner and get some rest. I will take you to meet someone in the morning.”

“What about my gun?”

“You can have it in the morning.”

The questioner studied his uncertainty and offered a reassurance.

“Herr Linz, we are former SS officers, gentlemen of the Reich. We are not thieves. You and your money are quite safe.”

Kube again patted the belt.

“Maybe, but this is a lot of money.”

“Get some rest, Herr Linz. I will take you to meet someone who may help, but only when it is light.”

Kube saw the determination and nodded a weary acceptance. He looked around for somewhere to rest and found a blanket on the floor in the corner. He wrapped it around himself and then sat on the floor, warily studying his aggressive-looking saviours until someone turned down the lamp.

He didn’t much like them, and he certainly didn’t trust them. He ought not to fall asleep, but what difference would it make? They had guns. He had nothing but his wits. Anyway, he couldn’t keep his eyes open.

Ten seconds after that he was asleep.

 

****

 

“You lied to us. Why did you do that?”

Kube woke with an ache in his body that went all the way from his neck to his knees, and the glare of the Berlin early-morning sun hurting his eyes. He squinted hard at the figure towering above him, while his eyes accustomed themselves. Then he stalled for time, while his brain raced to understand what had suddenly gone wrong.

“I do not understand. What do you mean?”

He could see the speaker now, tall and gaunt, with the Radom in his hand and a look of loathing distorting weathered features. He hadn’t seen him clearly the previous night, but now the light was streaming in and he could see every pore and nuance. The face was familiar, and that wasn’t good. He vaguely remembered it; from Warsaw, or was it Prague? He didn’t remember the name, but he never forgot a face. His accuser spoke again.

“Your name is not Linz. Your name is Kluge, or Kluber, or something like that. I remember you. You were on Heydrich’s staff in Warsaw. You were Gestapo.”

By this time the rest had gathered to listen. Kube got to his feet and tried a bluff.

“You are mistaken, my friend. My name is Martin Linz and I was a Stabszahlmeister. I worked in the Ogrodowa headquarters for a short while, yes, but I was just a Stabszahlmeister; in charge of the cipher section.”

His accuser looked again, seemingly less certain following that well-delivered and entirely plausible denial. Kube sensed the possibility of a reprieve and held the pose of outraged nonchalance, but then his accuser spat a confirmation and he knew that he was in trouble.

“Kube! That was it. Your name was Martin Kube, and you were a Gestapo chief in Warsaw. I knew I had seen you before. I did not recognize you at first without that black trilby hat, and I did not realize just how bald you were. But I remember you now. Fat Martin Kube. How could I have forgotten? You were there, in Warsaw, with Heydrich.”

Kube looked from one set of accusing features to the next and persevered with the lie.

“I have never heard of Kube, and I never spoke to Heydrich. I was Wehrmacht. For a short time I was in Warsaw, you are right, but then I was posted to Prague. My name always was and always will be Martin Linz. Now stop all this nonsense and give me my gun back.”

It was never going to fool them and he knew it.

The leader who had questioned him the previous night stepped forward and reached into his coat. He took the papers belonging to Martin Linz and tossed them aside. Kube offered no resistance, but protested when the man then began fumbling for the money belt. A vicious punch to the solar plexus halted the protest and sent him to his knees, where he remained groaning and massaging the pain. A pair of hands pushed away his and snatched at the money belt. He sneered through the pain.

“SS officers and gentlemen of the Reich? Huh! You are all traitors, nothing more than snivelling cowards and common thieves. Do you have any idea who I am?”

The leader sneered back at him.

“We do not care who you are, and we do not care what you did. In war we each had our tasks; SS, Wehrmacht, even Gestapo pigs like you. You could have been on your way to Bremen, and then Bari, and from there to the Americas. Instead you chose to lie to us.”

Suddenly fearing for his life, Kube babbled his mitigation.

“You do not understand. I had to lie for the Children, for the Reich, for the Führer.”

He only succeeded in angering them further.

“How dare you use his name to save yourself, you filthy Gestapo scum!”

A single punch to the jaw toppled him from his knees. Then they started kicking. A boot connected with his genitals. He screamed in agony. Another thumped hard into his belly. He gasped for air and begged and groaned and tried to cover up. A savage kick bruised his ribs. Another broke a bone in his forearm. He heard and felt it snap, and screamed again. Then a steel toecap caught him across the temple and he mercifully passed out.

 

****

 

When Martin Kube regained consciousness the sun was still shining, but the face looking down on him was altogether friendlier than the last he’d seen. She was a nurse, middle-aged and bustling, dressed from head to toe in white, with a benevolent smile and caring features. He muttered a question in German.

“Where am I?”

“You are in Stubenrauch-Krankenhaus, Herr Kube.”

That didn’t make sense.

“The SS Hospital?”

She smiled and shook her head.

“It used to be, but now it is Station Hospital Number 279; an American army hospital.”

He breathed a sigh of relief, and looked around to find he was in a small side ward with two beds. The second was empty. Someone had drawn the curtains to shield the sun’s fierceness. A glass and water jug sat on his bedside cabinet. A white-coated doctor, engrossed in a chart, stood to one side. Kube looked up at his nurse.

“How did I get here?”

“Some men brought you in. They gave us your name and said they found you lying in the street. They said a street gang had attacked you. Do you not remember?”

He shook his head, but then she bustled away and he found himself looking up at an American army captain, who spoke to him in English.

“Good afternoon, Herr Kube. I trust you are feeling better.”

He suddenly remembered his cover.

“My name is Linz, Martin Linz. Why are you calling me Kube?”

The captain looked surprised, but then smiled and apologized.

“Oh, I’m so sorry, Herr Linz. I thought that was the name they gave us. In all the commotion somebody made a mistake. I will make sure everyone knows.”

“They took my money and my papers.”

“Yes. We’ll sort all that out when you’re better. You rest now, and we’ll talk later.”

The captain wandered over to talk to the doctor. Kube sank back into the pillows and assessed the damage. There was a plaster cast on his broken arm, and heavy strapping around his ribs, but that apart, his injuries seemed no more serious than some stitched cuts and colourful bruises. He’d lost all his money, and that was a serious setback, but on balance he’d been lucky once again.

But then a man in a charcoal-grey suit came to the door and stood watching him. When the captain left the room to speak to the man, the door swung wider. That was when Kube saw the military police standing guard. That was when he looked more carefully around the room and saw bars at the window, blocking the sun’s rays and leaving tell-tale shadows on the curtains.

That was when he knew the captain had lied.

 

Continued….

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