This post contains portrayals of homosexual actions and lifestyles. There may be references to, or explicit descriptions of, sex between consenting adults.
If homosexuality, sexually explicit language, or swearing offends you, or if reading material that contains these violates any law or personal or religious beliefs, you must exit now without proceeding further.
If you’re under 18 years old you may not read it either because it is against the law. I regret this because I was once a randy teenager myself and I feel somewhat two-faced in helping enforce the law. Hopefully, one day, censorship may disappear along with other vestiges of Big Brother and Mother Grundy.
Remember, always, that this story is fictional. Though draped on the skeleton of a real period of time and inhabited by people who did exist, the actions, thoughts and inclinations of these people are figments of my over-fertile imagination. I have no evidence that these people ever acted as I portray them, nor by these portrayals do I mean them any disrespect.
Nor should you attempt to read between the lines here that I harbor any Nazi or Fascist sympathies. The attitudes and actions of people with these and kindred beliefs, then and now, are abhorrent to me.
My thanks to Bill and Alastair, my editors, who got the just-finished story dumped on them. The importance of the work these guys perform should not be underestimated. Not only do they correct my grammar, but also highlight lapses in logic, and point out where the writing leaves the reader confused. That you can sit back and read through my stories in comfort is, in a large part, due to their efforts. Since, however, I make changes after I get their suggestions, any mistakes are mine.
Honour Personified in a Cold Timeby Horatio Nimier
How wintry the weather was, like early March, even though it was mid April. Everything was gray, and that seemed inauspicious for his return to Europe. Low clouds scudded a few hundred feet overhead, peevishly carrying their moisture inland. Dull river water flowed past the hull, too cold to do much more than make a couple of small waves from the bow and languid eddies when it passed the conning tower, as U-70 moved slowly up the river to the St. Nazaire pens, still under construction. On its deck, trying to keep out of the way of scurrying sailors, Joachim Theiss stood contemplating his future. Across the water lay the wreckage of the huge floating dock that the French had built for the Normandie. In the gateswere wedged the remains of a destroyer, her bows were missing, the steel plates of her sides bent outward from the fo’c’sle forward. Elsewhere on the dock, contorted railings, broken pipes and warped steel bore further testament of explosive blasts and gun damage. His mind began cataloging everything the eyes saw, a habit born of nine months training, then a year in the field. Scanning the vast structure, his analytical brain noted and recorded all the pertinent facts, making assessments of how severe the destruction had been, how feasible repairs were, how long the dock would be out of commission. The outline of the destroyer’s superstructure looked like one of the Kriegsmarine class of ships, yet he had to assume that the havoc had been the result of a British raid.
The few French working in the harbor area seemed sullen, none looked at the boat — at least not openly — probably fearing arrest by the Gestapo as spies. But the soldiers manning the anti-aircraft guns, huddled behind the sandbags to ward off the biting wind, Germans, some away from the Fatherland for the first time and excited by the quick victories thus far achieved, waved eager greetings to the returning submarine heroes. He should have felt happy: his mission had been successful. He had remained undetected for the year he had spent in the United States — even during the hysteria that followed Pearl Harbor. In spite of being injured, he had set up a vital beacon for U-boats that would help them ravage the Eastern Seaboard sea routes of the Americans. And he had returned, almost unscathed, to Europe. Yet ever since they had surfaced and the kapitan had allowed him to come on deck, the return to a continent that had been at war for over a year left him strangely disconsolate. It wasn’t just the prospect of returning to rationing, to trains crowded with soldiers, to nights huddled in air-raid shelters that smelled like sewers: he had seen the Americans prepare for the fight ahead, their determination showing through the patina of the semi-organized chaos with which they did everything. The High Command, the Fuehrer, should not have permitted the Japanese to antagonize the Americans. It might take a long time, but Joachim believed the Americans and English would eventually prevail. His training had honed his analytical nature, cold dissection of the news had stripped him of any belief he had ever held of Party dogma. Yet these were thoughts he couldn’t share with his commander — not even with his friends or family. In these times you never knew who would betray you.
As he stood against the base of the conning tower, the bleak damp being preferable to the narrow confines of the submarine, he let his mind recollect the last five months.
It had been November when he had first seen her. The orders had come a month earlier: he was to leave New Jersey, where he had been monitoring the shipping activity, and head down to the southeastern coast. >From there, he would report on conditions at the port of Savannah, it’s preparedness for war as well as any increased capacity for shipbuilding. At the embassy in Washington, he had exchanged his disguise of the British naval attaché working from their New York consulate, for the lighter blue uniform of a squadron leader in the Royal Air Force, ostensibly on a good will tour of the United States after surviving the Battle of Britain. The disguise effectively explained the dialect-free English he spoke, learned in the four years he had spent at Harrow when his father had been working in England. No one had ever questioned him about his cover — if anything, the friendly Americans had opened up and become even less security conscious when they imagined the heroic lives of his supposed countrymen.
Within an hour of stepping down from the train in Savannah, he had settled into a modest boarding house recommended by the taxi — the cab: he had to remember the correct American word — driver.
He spent a few days getting his bearings, then approached the MacEvoy Shipbuilding Corporation with a faked letter of introduction from the Palmers Shipbuilding Company in Newcastle. The Americans were only too willing for him to speak to their workers at a lunch-hour rally, a manager even took Joachim, or James as he called himself in English, on an extensive tour of the dockyard. A week later he spoke to workers at the Government’s dry dock, and again, received a thorough pass-through of that facility.
Then, almost ten days later, a blustery November afternoon, when he was walking back to the boarding house from addressing workers at the Savannah Machine and Foundry works, he bumped into Margaret. To be more accurate, it had been she who had bumped into him. His mind had been elsewhere, mentally filing away everything he had seen and heard on the walk-through of the factory he had just been given, and he had stepped into the street without looking. A sudden shriek of brakes and the loud braying of a horn had called him back to reality and he jumped back a half second before the fender of the car impacted with his calf.
He recalled lying on the ground as a crowd gathered. The driver of the car, a young woman in a gray suit, was bending over him asking him if he was all right. The pain in his leg was intense, yet he assured her he was fine and tried to get up. There was sudden, searing agony and then blackness.
Consciousness came as he was lifted off the litter onto an operating table. Driven by instincts sharpened by over half a year of living a clandestine life, he struggled to escape. What had he said while he was unconscious? Had he spoken in English or had German phrases, cursing the pain, been shouted from his lips?
A burly nurse restrained him with firm arms. "Just lie there and let us have a look at that leg," she instructed in the slow drawl of The South that still sometimes mystified him.
He lay back, pulse racing, his eyes scanning every person that came into the room, expecting at any second for someone in a khaki uniform to enter. These fears, however, proved to be ungrounded and, an hour later, his leg encased in plaster, he was wheeled into a private ward. "I think I am OK to go home," he told the nurse.
"You won’t be walking on that leg for a week or two," she laughed as she straightened the bed. She looked up at him, "And if it’s the money you’re worried about, don’t be. The lady who ran you down is taking care of that."
The lady referred to had walked into the ward the following morning, bearing a bulging paper sack of fruit. Almost shyly she told him who she was then, having ascertained the state of his health, she introduced the man who had accompanied her as her father.
"I am so sorry for what happened," she said, her gloved hand resting on the white sheet next to him. "I just couldn’t stop in time."
"No, not at all," Joachim had replied. "It was entirely my fault. I didn’t look before stepping onto the street."
They spoke about the accident and his health for a while. She apologized for bringing only fruit, but in November fresh flowers were hard to come by. But after they ran out of small talk, the subject of convalescence came up. "We were wondering," the older man spoke slowly, almost diffidently, "if you would come down to our home while your leg heals. It’s on the coast and it’s quiet. And we would feel we were doing something to help your country in their very gallant fight against that Hitler man."
The two visitors were persuasive, and thus, in the mid afternoon, and after they had helped him collect his clothes and suitcase from the boarding house, he found himself in the back seat of the very car that had caused his injury, headed for a place he had never heard of.
Kirkhall Island, where their home proved to be, was rather desolate. The house itself, was one of three situated on the wildest part of the beach on the outskirts of what they called the town. In fact, Joachim ruminated, Inverness was little more than a fishing village and a not very prosperous one at that. But what had immediately entered his mind was the obvious suitability of the beach for unobserved landings from the sea.
Joachim fitted in well with this family. The father would leave every morning to manage the small boat repair and ship chandlery business in the town. He would return home at midday for dinner, and then again, usually after dark, for supper. When Joachim was not sitting, leg propped up on a chair, reading on the wide verandah or in the spacious living room, he would be with Margaret and her mother, who would sit and talk to him for hours, hanging attentively on his stories of England and Europe. Margaret’s mother’s name was Lucy Edith, yet for some strange reason everyone seemed to call her Rabbit. In spite of her urgings, Joachim could not get his European upbringing to stoop to calling her that, and to her amusement, always addressed her using both her names, pronouncing each separately and not eliding the y as her family would do when they decided to forego the more common sobriquet. From the two women he gleaned scraps of information that might be worth his further scrutiny, but more importantly, he noted names of their relatives in Charleston and Galveston where he could, perhaps, go, seeking additional harbor and shipping information that would be useful to the Abwehr and the Naval High Command.
It was sitting in the same living room with the family that he heard the fateful news of Pearl Harbor on the radio, and listened to the measured tones of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s speech. Over the next months he would, time and again, recall the words, ‘the unbounded determination of the American people’ with some misgiving for his own country’s future.
On the Tuesday following the Day of Infamy, a letter arrived for him. It was in code and instructed him to stay where he was for the next fortnight until a courier could bring him further instructions. It gave him an uneasy presentiment of the second shoe being about to drop, and sure enough, on the Thursday, it was announced that Germany had declared war on the United States.
This announcement caused a great flurry of activity on Kirkhall Island. George Seaburn, by position the mayor of the village, but by action and attitude the Laird of the area, had been in the Navy in the Great War. Thus he, like Joachim, was uneasily aware of the potential threat Kirkhall’s isolated beaches presented. He bustled around and by the Saturday he had those males who were too young or too old for active service, as well as several able-bodied women, formed into squads to enforce the nighttime blackout he had imposed, patrol the beach and harbor, and to watch out for enemy aircraft. This last-mentioned activity caused several major upsets, since U.S. airplanes began to fly over the island with great frequency. Most of the inhabitants had only the vaguest notion of aircraft recognition, and each flight caused growing consternation. This frenzy peaked on the day a formation of seven Grumman Wildcat’s flew in low from the ocean. Major panic ensued in the village, and the inhabitants gathered at the harbor, with hastily grabbed weapons ranging from shotguns to boat hooks, to repel a blitzkrieg.
In the end, it was Joachim who restored some sanity to the situation. This was not due to any less of an awareness of his duty to The Fatherland, but for the fear that the longer this hysteria was allowed to continue, the greater was the likelihood of his exposure. Calling on Mr. Seaburn at his home, he persuaded him that, firstly, the Luftwaffe did not have any aircraft with adequate range to attack the United States and, secondly, with cities such as Boston, New York and Washington on or near the coast, an attack on Savannah, Macon or even Atlanta was probably an unlikely event.
And so, after some ten days, life returned almost to normal. Increasingly, the younger men began to leave the island for active service, and Seaburn ran periodic beach defense drills at night, but other than that, in Inverness it was hard to recognize that the country was at war.
The drafting of young men gave the perfect cover for Joachim to travel around the southeastern seaboard. When asked by Margaret and her mother about his forays to other parts of the Southeast, his explanation was that he had been asked to speak to the new servicemen about his war experiences. In reality he was gathering information on troop strengths, rail traffic, airfield preparations and harbor defenses. But while he was preoccupied with working against the Allies’ cause, a second enemy crept in. Eros, perhaps envious of the handsome young German, had, in perverse delight, spun a web of charms over the eighteen year old Margaret, and she became smitten with the tall, blond man who was their guest.
Joachim cursed this, but was sage enough to realize that the role of beau provided better cover and more believable excuses for odd behavior than merely being an Englishman did, and thus the end of each mission found him returning to Kirkhall Island.
In late February, a courier delivered a small suitcase to him. Inside was a new Telefunken radio beacon, an improved design that would hopefully avoid detection by the Allies’ Signal Corps. Instead of broadcasting a continuous signal that could easily be pinpointed by direction-finding equipment, the Telefunken would sit dormant, listening on a set frequency until it received a transmission. When it did, it would activate and send a ten second steady signal on one frequency, then switch to another preset frequency and send out another ten second tone. It would then go back to its dormant state and wait. The apparatus was ideal for submarines or aircraft to obtain a bearing when blackout conditions were in effect.
And Joachim had the ideal spot for the radio. The room he had moved to since his leg had healed was at the top of the house and, from the cupboard in his room, a small trap-door led into the attic. On the couple of occasions he had been alone in the home, he had crept through this hole to explore the spaces at the very top of the house. Thick dust and a smell of mustiness told him that no-one ever ventured here, and thus he busied himself setting up the radio in a corner closest to the beach. As luck would have it, part of the house’s wiring passed nearby, and gingerly sitting on dry newspaper to insulate his naked butt (he felt it would be impolite to ask his hosts to pull the fuse) he peeled back the cotton and rubber insulation and connected up a small transformer with which to power the set, instead of the cumbersome batteries.
And during the following month he saw the harvest that he had helped to sow. At least twice a week, he would stand together with the locals on the dunes above the beach and watch the columns of flames as some torpedoed freighter, some tanker split in two, burned and sank not very far out at sea. But before he had time to dwell too deeply on the sight of injured and soggy sailors coming ashore, orders came from the Abwehr: a submarine would be offshore Kirkhall Island on the night of the 23rd March, and he would be brought back to Germany.
That night after dinner, he broke the news to his hosts of his departure. In a few days, he said, he would be leaving for Canada to be taken back to Britain. This was somber news for the family, who had grown fond of the young man. Margaret felt it keenly. Long after the others had retired to bed, she and Joachim sat up late discussing his supposed future in the Royal Air Force. In the midnight hours, as the house slept, she tiptoed to his room, emerging only shortly before Lucy Edith got up to prepare breakfast. With his impending departure causing caution to be disregarded, these trysts occurred late every night, until the night before he left. The following afternoon, after lunch, Margaret drove him up to Savannah. They had a cup of tea together in a restaurant, and then he kissed her goodbye and walked into the station. She had wanted to come with him, to wave farewell as the train pulled out as she had seen so many young girls do on the newsreels at the movies, but he had said no. Partings were best kept short, he told her. It was not being together that was stretched out, he gently explained, but the pain of the adieu. And so she stood next to her father’s car and waved until the light blue uniform disappeared into the building, but then, instead of turning southward toward home, she drove out of town a short distance to where the tracks ran close to the road and parked.
Within half an hour she heard the panting sound of a locomotive and within a minute saw it round the distant curve. The P-2 Pacific wasn’t going very fast, and she jumped up and down next to the car waving at the carriages that followed it. But while the train was going slowly enough that she could see several passengers return her wave, she couldn’t make out the figure she sought through the passing windows. With tears flowing through the makeup on her face, she clambered back into the car and set out for Kirkhall.
With downcast spirits, she kept her eyes on the road. Had she chanced to look into the bus she overtook just outside Savannah, she would have seen the figure she was looking for. He was no longer in the smart Royal Air Force uniform, which was now wrapped in brown paper and stuffed into a trash can in a back street of the city. The man in the bus looked older than his twenty-two years. The dark brown slacks and jacket that smelled of mothballs, the hat pulled down over his brow, helped Joachim blend into the background of the group of aspirant workers and intrepid soldiers who rode with him. Well after dark, the bus chugged into Inverness. No one was around to recognize him as he stepped down to the sidewalk, and quietly he disappeared into the night. Carefully avoiding the few dwellings, he made his way to the dunes and nestled down amongst the sea-oats to wait. The night was cold, and he pulled the thin jacket around his shoulders, remembering wistfully the warm house not half a mile away where Margaret would be sitting in comfortable warmth.
At precisely one in the morning, he removed the heavy flashlight from his small suitcase. Sliding a long cardboard tube over the lens so the light would not be visible from the side, he cautiously aimed it due East and began to flash the letter J in Morse code. Four times the short flash followed by three longer pulses went out before he saw a brief response: long, long, short, short — the answering Z. He began to breathe more easily: the submarine was there. The tide had ebbed, the water at the far end of the beach lapped calmly, waiting to begin, with increasing urgency, its pounding thrusts across the sand. Each minute, as arranged, he repeated the J to guide the dinghy to the beach.
A gentle breeze was blowing in from the sea, wafting in the smells of marine life that existed without care of what the master species of the earth were doing. Overhead, a layer of clouds moved monotonously across the sky obscuring what little moon there was. But, as Joachim estimated that the rubber raft should be approaching the beach, a small rent appeared in the overcast, allowing the lunar nimbus to throw a little light onto the water and the beach. The pallid illumination lasted for, at most, ten seconds. Ten seconds was enough for Joachim to spot the little boat about fifty yards out. He breathed a sigh of relief. He blinked a final J seawards, then discarded the cardboard tube and unrolled a prophylactic over the flashlight to keep it waterproof for the trip out to the submarine. As he pushed the flashlight into a pocket of the jacket, his peripheral vision picked up a movement. A dark figure was making its way across the beach toward the water line.
"Scheisse!" the expletive came out of his mouth as a whisper. It must be some local on one of Seaburn’s patrols. The figure moved slowly, staring out to sea, and Joachim guessed that, in the brief period of light, he had seen the boat. Either because he was lower on the beach than Joachim on the dunes, or because he was not expecting to see anything out there, the lookout was uncertain so, instead of raising the alarm as he had been instructed, he was hesitating, wanting to investigate. Joachim picked up his case and walked down to the beach, his rubber-soled shoes making barely audible creaks as they compressed the sand underneath.
"Hello, there! Nice night for a beach stroll isn’t it?" he called out in English.
"Halt! Who’s that?" called the startled figure spinning around and leveling an aged rifle in Joachim’s direction.
"It’s only me. James." He recognized the man from the village. He must be well over 60, maybe over 70, and his name was something like Edwards or Edmunds. "Margaret and I decided to take a walk on the beach."
The rifle was lowered. "Oh. You gave me a fright. Come here, will you. I think there’s something floating in the water just off the beach over there." The man turned toward the sea again and adjusted his focus just as the dinghy came into view.
"It’s OK," said Joachim as he came up to the figure. His hand moved forward and the thin blade of the knife in his hand entered the old man’s back, just below the shoulder blade and to the right of the spine. With a stifled groan, the figure sagged against the German who slowly lowered the body onto the wet sand where a dark patch was already spreading out and moving slowly seaward.
"Our ship has been sunk," the words came from the boat, "Can you help?" It was the challenge Joachim had been expecting, designed to give the men in the boat a chance, if it should happen that the person on the beach was not the one they expected.
"Wer anderen eine Grube gräbt, fällt selbst hinein," he responded. ‘My God!’ thought Joachim, ‘only someone in Berlin could have thought of such inappropriate phrases. Probably drunk from one of their parties.’ Who digs a ditch for others, falls into it himself.
"Kom! Schnell!" one of the two seamen in the boat called.
"I need some help here," Joachim spoke, the German words sounding strange after using English almost continuously for over a year. "There’s a problem."
The two men in the boat spoke briefly to each other, and then sprang lightly into the water and dragged the dinghy up onto the sand.
"What’s wrong?" asked the taller in the dialect of Nordfriesland, as he came up to Joachim.
"It was a man on beach patrol. He saw your boat. I killed him, I think."
‘The milchbubi thinks he’s killed him,’ the leutnant zur see thought to himself. ‘What the fuck does he want me to do about it?’ Aloud he said, "Leave him. Let’s get out of here."
Joachim was from Bavaria and had a congenital doubt about the intelligence of the folk who lived on the cold shores of the North Sea. "We have to take the body with us. We can sink it further out. Otherwise someone’ll find it and we’ll have the destroyers and planes after us in no time."
The second man from the boat, with the sailor’s traditional superstitious fear of dead men, immediately voiced his disapproval to this idea. The leutnant zur see, however, gave some credence to Joachim’s explanation. He bent down and grasped the body under its arms and started to drag it toward the boat. "Bring the rifle," he instructed Joachim.
The dinghy was cramped and the dead man hung over the back, his feet trailing in the water. The two sailors paddled hard, yet the shore seemed to slip away only slowly. Once the sailor muttered, "The hurensohn will probably bring the sharks from kilometers around!" Joachim supposed he was talking about the bleeding corpse, but the sailor’s glance had been directed at him. The leutnant zur see merely grunted and they kept on paddling.
The trip to the submarine took forever. Toward the end, the sailors would stop paddling periodically and listen, then one or other would point in some direction and they would take up paddling again. It was only at the fourth such hiatus that Joachim picked up the muffled sound of a rumbling diesel and shortly after that, the small hump of the submarine’s deck was next to them and lines were being passed in silence to men who secured them.
"Pass some rope. And I need some heavy pieces of iron," the leutnant zur see called in a low voice as Joachim was hauled up the wet hull and bustled toward a hatch. "We’ve got a body here that we need to sink."
"Was there trouble?" Joachim heard a voice address the officer. He grabbed the ladder and descended unsteadily into the interior of the boat before the answer came. A young sailor followed him with his little case, the boy’s free hand barely seeming to touch the rungs as he came down. The interior of the submarine was lit with dim lights so as not to interfere with everyone’s night vision, and Joachim had to take care so as not to fall, or bump into any of the myriads of pipes and valves that sprouted everywhere.
A young officer came up to him as he stood unsure of what to do next. "Come this way, please." Past the dials and pipes in the forward compartments, aware of the stares of the crewmen, Joachim followed his guide aft, until they reached a cramped area which, Joachim guessed, served as the captain’s room — cabin would be too grand a word. "Wait here. Do not move from here without an officer, until the captain has spoken to you."
Joachim sat down and looked at his clothes. His pants were wet from the thighs down and there were dark stains on his shirt and jacket, too. In the dim light it was almost impossible to say whether the color was from water or from blood. But only almost, because a couple of the stains were a shade darker then the others. Joachim held his hands up to his face. There was no stain on them that he could see, but the nerves from his fingers kept on resending the signals to his brain, forcing him to relive, over and over, the feeling of the steel blade entering into the body of another human being and, much worse, the reluctance of the knife to being pulled out from the already dead man. He began to shake violently. His mind flashed back to his school days in England. Vividly he remembered his English teacher, the ferocious Mr. Fredericks, with text book in one hand, the other raised to the ceiling, and the despair in his voice as he had croaked out, ‘What, will these hands ne’er be clean? Who would’ve thought the old man to have so much blood in him?’
The boys had ridiculed the melodrama. Now Joachim realized that the pedagogue’s rendition had been uncannily accurate. He clasped himself with his hands and wondered whether he would ever forget this night. Abruptly there were shouts, the thunder of the diesels ceased, the deck tipped toward the bow and the hum of the electric motors together with the gurgle of escaping air told him they were submerging.
A day later he awoke from the sleep induced by the pills the kapitan zur see had given him after a brief questioning. Joachim’s eyes focused on the bracing, barely inches above him, that had once held a torpedo. He had to use the bathroom. Awkwardly he rolled over the metal that formed the edge of the cot and made his needs known to a young man standing nearby. The toilet — the head — was cramped, and after completing his task, he opened the door so that the man could instruct him how to use the pumps to clear. "You can get some food from the galley if you are hungry," he was told, and he made his way forward.
Over the next day, the terror of the beach gradually receded, leaving in its place an oppressive despondency. The crew, wary of his profession, and unsure of his standing in the Party, eyed him in silence when he moved about the ship. Once or twice at the beginning, at meal times when they sat around the small table in the passage, the officers had tried to talk with him about America. His Cassandra- like warnings of the incipient production from the war machine that was slowly starting to turn in the Western Hemisphere sounded, however, almost treasonous to them, flushed with the easy successes they had had off the American coast, and they pooh-poohed his warnings. Thereafter the conversations became largely superficial.
The voyage home seemed unending. Somewhere near Bermuda they took on more fuel from U-462, a Milchkuh, as well as additional drinking water, and then began the pattern of long periods of submerged running interspersed by stints on the surface with the diesel engines recharging the batteries. Joachim enjoyed the latter, the increased motion of the boat and the clamor of the engines being more than offset by the fresh, briny air that was sucked into the cramped compartments by the engines, yet never quite managing to rid the boat of the smell of diesel fuel mixed with odors of fifty unwashed men, nor the sickly scent of eau-de-Cologne that some used in a futile attempt to mask the stench. He spent much of the time lying on the cramped bunk, reading a well thumbed novel that one of the men had lent him. He kept to himself, speaking little.
It was two days before they reached St. Nazaire, as they moved submerged south of the English coast, that Kapitan zur See Werfel came to the aft torpedo room where Joachim was trying to read. Pulling off his cap and placing it on top of a torpedo rack, the older man pulled out a crate, a quarter full of over-ripe oranges, and sat down.
"You cannot let this one death eat away at you. What you did was not murder: you had to do it, to save yourself, to save this boat, these men." Subconsciously Joachim noted the omission of ‘for the Fuehrer’ or even ‘for The Fatherland’. The Kriegsmarine, he recalled, was less prone to the histrionics of the other services. "This is war," Werfel was saying, his blue eyes under the bushy, fair eyebrows holding steady on Joachim’s. "It’s what you, I, all these men — and hundreds and thousands more — are trained, are expected, to do."
"He was old," Joachim tried desperately to explain. "I knew him; I knew his wife. Because of me, there is an old woman who doesn’t know where her husband is. She stands at a window all day, looking for him to come up the path to the door. She fears he may be dead, but she doesn’t know. All because of me.
"Even if I live through this war I doubt I shall and God knows I don’t want to I can never tell anyone what I have done. You, you can say with pride, ‘I commanded a submarine of the Reich. I fought on the field of battle, against others like myself, similarly trained, taking the same chances, with the same courage I did.’
"And what can I say? ‘I killed an old man ’"
"You cannot look at it like that." The kapitan, a veteran of the war, yet still months short of his twenty ninth birthday, gripped Joachim’s arm. "Had you not done what you did the man would have raised an alarm. We are at war with America now: you would have been shot, and those people, that same old man and the old woman you feel so sad for, they would have stood and cheered. The destroyers would have come after us and possibly all these men you see around you every day, would now be lying at the bottom of the sea. How many wives, how many mothers, would be then standing at windows awaiting their return?" Above him in his narrow bunk that occupied the space that had, until a few nights previously, held a torpedo, a young seaman blinked quickly as he followed the discussion. The captain knew that within a watch, everything he said would be repeated around the boat. He didn’t mind. A captain was like a father, lessons had to be taught, expectations set.
Joachim didn’t speak. Absolution can be given only when the penitent seeks it.
"Do you know what Flotilla we belong to? This boat?"
Joachim shook his head. "No."
The captain punched the young seaman on the arm. "Tell him!"
"It is the Wegener Flotilla, Herr Kapitan."
"Yes. The Wegener Flotilla." He looked at Joachim. "Do you know the name Wegener?"
"No." Werfel made the word sound so important that Joachim felt a trifle ashamed that it did not trigger any recognition in his memory.
"In the last war KapitanLeutnant Bernd Wegener commanded U-27. He was very good, and sank many ships on ten patrols. Then one day he was engaged in a surface battle with a British merchant ship. A ship flying the American flag came up and signaled that she wanted to pick up survivors. Wegener allowed her to come close. As this second ship moved out of his sight, behind the ship he was fighting, she lowered the American flag and hoisted the White Ensign of the British Navy. It had been a trap. When this ship, it was called the Barolong, came into sight from behind the other vessel, it began firing on U-27 with twelve pounder guns. It was hopeless — immediately the U-27 began to sink. Wegener ordered his men to abandon ship and many of her crew escaped before the U-27 went down. The men swam to the burning hulk of the ship they’d been firing at, but the crew of the Barolong began to shoot at them in the water. That was where Wegener died. Six men, though, managed to make the burning ship, and scrambled up the nets onto her deck. Having witnessed what had happened to their comrades in the water, they fled into the interior of the ship. And so the commander of the Barolong ordered his Marines to board the ship. The German sailors were unarmed. The Marines found them in the engine room, and shot them all.
Joachim stared at him unbelievingly.
"This is not Party propaganda. There were dozens of neutral passengers in the lifeboats who watched this slaughter, and they all spoke of it. Later, some of them would even testify under oath before an American judge, that this is what happened. Yet the British won the war and were always able to deny this account.
"I am not saying that all the English are such barbarians; nor do I say that all Germans are knights of honor. I am just saying that these things happen in wartime. At the time of action, a commander doesn’t always have all the facts. Even I," his eyes became focused on some distant, imaginary point, and his voice lost some of the tone of command, "even I can imagine situations, where I would plow my submarine through lifeboats of women and children in order to destroy an English warship, or to protect my boat and my men. And, I have no doubt, there are Captains in the Royal Navy, or the American Navy, who would make the same decision."
Joachim looked down at his hands, examining his nails, unable to comment.
"Do not blame yourself," the Captain said getting up, his voice confident and authoritative once again. "If you need to assign some culpability, then blame the war. War is too big for us mere men to resist. All we can do is survive. And win. Win, so we get to tell the story this time."
The kapitan zur see was insightful. His words acted like a surgeon’s knife, not lessening the pain, but preventing the spread of the cancer through Joachim’s mind, and for the remainder of the voyage, he opened up and spoke to the men in his compartment. He was also able to settle down and begin making notes for his report. But he was an outdoors man, and the cramped confines of the steel hull had almost stifled him, so he had been grateful when the captain had offered to let him stand on deck as the boat made its way up the river to its berth, and had climbed the ladder to the aft deck eagerly. Moving almost imperceptibly, the submarine came closer to the dock. A large contingent of naval personnel and dock workers had braved the cold wind to meet the boat, and a Kriegsmarine band struck up a stirring march as the tapered hull inched towards its moorings. Behind the band a group of young women huddled together, locals who knew that months at sea would leave the men, eager to brag of their success, with money to spend, searching for female company — and more. About fifty meters away was a building with a dark red wall, the splash of color incongruent in this weather. In front of it was parked a black Mercedes. It bore no markings, no pennant flew from its fender, but even from that distance Joachim recognized the tall, trim figure of Korvettenkapitan Lukas Kuefer. He was one of Canaris’ senior men in the Abwehr, and his presence at the dockside excited Joachim. As the men on the submarine deck caught the lines thrown to them from the shore, Joachim felt completely relaxed for the first time in fourteen months.
Once the brass had come and gone, the crew began to prepare for their stay in port. Joachim, still in civilian clothes, slipped ashore with his suitcase, and walked over to the Mercedes. As he approached, the officer jumped from the car and walked toward him with a smile.
"Joachim! Welcome home! How are you?"
"Well, Sir, thank you. Better now, when I am not confined in an iron tube fifty meters under the Atlantic." Kuefer gave a broad grin at the greeting and took his suitcase. "What brings you down to France to meet me?" Joachim asked as they passed the saluting guards at the gates of the base and headed toward Nantes.
"I don’t know, something no, seriously, I do not know what they need you for," he responded to the sardonic laugh that Joachim had uttered at the first phrase. "I don’t know if von Lahousen even knows — I received my orders directly from the generalmajor."
"What did Oster tell you?"
"That you were returning from America and would be arriving at St. Nazaire. I was to bring you back to Berlin with all possible dispatch."
"Do they know?" asked Joachim with some alarm.
The other shook his head decisively. "I don’t believe so. My bet is that it is a very secret mission."
They talked on and on as Kuefer steered the Mercedes deftly through the streets of Nantes, until the buildings gave way to the hedgerows and fields of France and he pressed the accelerator pedal down. As the pale yellow fields, the apple trees with their buds about to burst open, the berms of the road crowned with white marguerites or blue veronica, sped by, the young agent felt the tension that had enfettered his body since the orders to leave America had reached him begin to fall away. Here in France, even as he listened to the news from home, the assessments from headquarters, the war seemed far away. Even the sight of a crashed English bomber, its tail sticking high in the air in the middle of a field, did little to dampen the feeling that, somehow, he was on vacation. After about 40 kilometers, Kuefer suddenly broke off his discourse and asked, "I’m sorry, I forgot. Are you hungry?"
"Oh yes. The food on the submarine was terrible. They had been at sea a long time, and everything came from cans."
"Well, I can fix that. I have a basket of fresh bread, and some local cheeses as well. Also some bottles of French wine."
"That sounds like heaven. I have not tasted good food since I left. The Americans do not cook for my palate, I’m afraid."
Kuefer laughed, and swung the car down a side road. About a kilometer further they turned onto a track, and, after a few minutes of bumpy ride, pulled off into a field that overlooked the Loire. Not a person was in sight; the clouds had broken up and were now scudding across a pale the sky, like the small whitecaps that danced on the surface of the river to the banks, where the hyacinths and anemones gaily pirouetted. Kuefer cut the ignition, sat back in his seat, and turned to his companion, studying his face. He took his hands off the steering wheel, reached over to the young man, pulled him close and kissed him. "My God, how I have missed you, Jochen," he said earnestly, dropping into the familiar form of his first name. "A million times I feared you dead." For a long minute they kissed and held each other, then Joachim pulled away and held his partner at arm’s length, staring into his eyes, remembering how long it had been since he had seen them.
"And I feared for you, too," he replied as his hand rubbed the other’s sleeve. "The air raids: so much for Göring and his ‘enemy bombs will never fall on Berlin!’. God, even the Russians bombed you!"
"You get used to it. The sirens go, we scramble to the shelters, the sirens go again, and we come out. Berlin isn’t too bad."
Once again their lips touched, as their tongues eagerly expressed their passion. "Come, get in the back," Kuefer said, swinging open the door and pulling his jacket off. And for the next fifteen minutes, any member of the French Resistance could have killed two German officers with a single bullet from almost any angle.
"God you stink," laughed Kuefer as eventually as they parted, panting, and he used his singlet to clean his lover’s torso.
"I’m glad to be home again with you, too," protested Joachim, then added after a pause, "I know. The conditions in the submarine were terrible."
The five of us sat, mouths agape, on Mike’s and my deck on a late September evening, listening to the tale being recounted. That Joachim and Lukas were there at all was nothing short of a miracle. Months before, at a dinner we had had after Margaret’s death, I had dropped a bombshell when I opined that Eric’s father had been, in all probability, a German agent. That simple statement had caused a furor that had had all the guests present talking and arguing until about 2:30 in the morning. It would have probably extended until breakfast, had Carol-Anne Seaburn not phoned anxiously to make sure her mother-in-law was still all right. As the party had broken up, Eric had paused as he got into his car. Turning to me he asked, "Chris, do you think you could help me find out the truth about my father — and if he’s still alive?"
I had laughed at the question and, only in the guise of gracious host, and with the bravado born of wine and port, had said that I would see what I could do. Of course, I thought as I prepared the vital morning brew the following morning, it was an impossible task after all these years. But as I stood on the deck, the first cup of coffee steaming in my hands, watching the pelicans skim over the waves in search of breakfast, I began to consider the idea in a more sober light. There was the six degrees of separation thing. Who could I contact? The embassy? Naah. Career diplomats and consular staff that would venture a single pace beyond the milquetoast world of filing papers and rubber stamps had disappeared with Kipling and the far reaches of the Empire. Were service records of spies even kept? And even if they had been, would they have survived the collapse of the Thousand Year Reich and the Soviet occupation of Berlin?
And so, over the next few days, each spare minute found me at my PC, Googling and probing almost any site that looked as though it might bring me nearer. Occasionally a site looked promising, and I would send a message to the webmaster asking if he, or any of his site’s visitors, could point me towards someone who might know of a German agent who had been in the southeast United States in the early 1940s. Twenty, maybe thirty, messages went out. Nine, maybe ten replies came back. Ich bedauere regrettably, almost each began, dashing yet another hope.
It was just short of a week later that I opened an email in my inbox, and my stomach clenched. In the slightly stilted style of someone who didn’t use English on a regular basis, the writer told me that his son-in-law’s father had seen one of my emails and forwarded it to him. Sepp, as my correspondent was named, had been a crewman, a Mechanikergefreiter, on U-70. Toward the latter half of March 1942, his boat had been on the end of a patrol when they had received orders to come in close to the American coast and pick up an agent of the Abwehr. The agent, he said, had not spoken too much, but had slept and spent much of his free time in the aft torpedo room, which was where Sepp had his station, and where he had his bunk. As the voyage progressed, Sepp’s message revealed, the agent had relaxed more and they had had some conversations. He couldn’t remember much of what they had said, other than the agent had come from a town somewhere near Munich. He really couldn’t remember his name — it was a long time ago and it was, naturally, during the war, when he had met, and lost, so many friends. However, he added, in the 1970s he had seen a picture on the television of a businessman who had done something or other, and he remembered thinking at the time that this was the same man. That businessman’s name was Joachim Theiss. Sepp had half thought of writing to him after seeing him on TV, but then, it had been the war, and people wanted to forget.
I had barely finished reading the closing sentences of the email when I was opening up another window and typing the name, "Joachim Theiss" into the Google search box. There was not too much information on the man. It seemed as though he had retired in the 80’s, which would put his age about right. It was when I opened about the sixth or seventh site that my blood ran cold. There was a picture, a photograph taken several years before he stopped work, of Joachim Theiss standing in front of a row of shipping containers. With the background of colorful logos such as Hapag-Lloyd and P&O, stood a man who, with very little imagination, bore certain striking resemblances to Eric Steeby. The hair was the same color, the shape of the nose, the firm chin. For some unknown reason, I felt my spine tingle. It was that uncanny.
That evening I sat with Mike telling him what I had discovered and exploring what my options were. "I can’t just email him and say ‘Hi! Do you know you have a son and grandson here?’ He might think it’s a scam to get money. Shit, he’s old: maybe he’ll have a heart attack!" As we talked, Mike’s enthusiasm grew, and together we began working out a reasonable approach that might work.
And thus, on the following morning, I sent an email to the company Joachim Theiss had once, apparently, worked for. I mentioned the Telefunken radio I had been given and sketched the finding of it in the house of the Gallagher family. I asked them to forward my email to Joachim Theiss and, if he had any knowledge of it, would he be kind enough to respond.
The reply came a bare hour later. While he didn’t brush me off, the tone was cautious at first as he queried who I was, how I had found the radio, and why I thought he might have had something to do with it. In some detail I told him about the roof repairs and Dan’s gift to me. I disclosed that his sudden disappearance from Kirkhall, and the denial of the British of any knowledge of him, had prompted a guess about his identity on my part. After that, the tenor of his messages changed to eagerness. He admitted that it was very likely a radio that he had placed in the house during the war. He was amazed that I had been able to link it to him. How had I found his name? Was Margaret Gallagher still alive? Was she married?
Without a second thought, I put my real work to one side as I filled him in with most of the story. I omitted any mention of the murder, I merely said that Margaret Gallagher had, indeed, married, but had died recently. I gave him the name of the submariner and his e-dress, and described the circuitous path that I had followed to get to him. I did not mention Eric or Glen.
Over the next 24-hours we exchanged several emails, and I wrote about the development of Inverness, and life in general on Kirkhall Island. The following morning, toward the end of the conversation, I mentioned that I lived with my partner, Mike, and was somewhat surprised when, in his response, he mentioned that he, too, lived with his partner, Lukas, and they had been together from the time of the war. Well, I thought to myself with a wry smile, that takes care of any issue he might have had with Glenn’s orientation.
That evening once again, as Mike and I sat on the deck in the darkness, his legs stretched across my lap and the sounds of La Boheme on the stereo heard softly in the background, I told him everything that had transpired in my email conversation. Together we discussed the best way to bring Eric into the loop, and imagined the shock the revelation would be to my correspondent. After breakfast, having got my ducks into as much of a row as I could manage, I sent a brief email to Joachim telling him that Eric was a guy I knew and that he would be contacting him at some stage. Once those bits and bytes were headed out over the wires, I picked up the phone and called Eric Steeby’s cell. His first reaction was one of astonished elation, but his voice soon became nervous at the prospect of contacting the father he had known nothing about for almost all his life. Assuring him that Joachim seemed to be a person of genial demeanor, I forwarded all my email correspondence to him and then left everything in his hands.
Much to my relief, my German correspondent didn’t drop dead when Eric broke the news to him, and on the following morning I had a very gracious, and somewhat touching in its gratitude, email in my inbox from Joachim, thanking me for bringing him and his son together. He suggested that, since I had been so involved in this affair, that I call him by the familiar Jochen, rather than the more formal Joachim.
Things moved quickly after that. For such important discoveries, and so much catching up, emails, or even the phone, were totally inadequate, and on both sides of the Atlantic impatience grew. Joachim was now over eighty and thus rather keen to come to the US while he still could travel. He had wanted for some time to show Lukas where he had spent some of his wartime service, and the present, with a new-found son and grandson living there, seemed liked the perfect time.
Some eight or nine weeks later, I was cosseted in the comfort of Mike’s Audi as we headed up to Charleston to be Eric’s guests for the weekend, and meet the two Germans face to face. That first evening together was a kaleidoscope of introductions, of marveling at having discovered each other, and of sharing cameos of the lives everyone had lived. Over the weekend I found out that, after the war, Joachim and Lukas had started their own import-export business in South America, then, with the rapid rise of the European economies in the fifties and sixties, had moved back to Europe where their enterprise had flourished. Pioneering in the container business had given them an extra boost, and their company had expanded until, in 1992, they had sold it at an enormous profit, and had lived in very comfortable retirement since. Their appearance and energy belied their octogenarian ages, and we rarely made our ways to bed before midnight, yet it was they who were sipping coffee and reading the newspaper at eight thirty, showered, shaved and dressed, when Mike and I stumbled down, hair awry and with stubble-covered jowls to get our morning caffeine fix.
The two were filled with bonhomie and, as Sunday evening and Mike’s and my departure approached, we extended an invitation to come and visit with us for a few days, so we could hear more of the story of their lives. This idea was seized upon, and eagerly supported, by Glenn. He was now spending much of his time in Inverness with Rolf, and having his grandfather in the vicinity would give him the opportunity to see him more often, and so, without hesitation, our offer of hospitality was accepted.
Thus it came about that, one early Saturday afternoon on our deck, with an old galvanized tub filled with crushed ice and an assortment of beers to ensure we did not dehydrate placed next to the wall in the shade, the five of us sat and listened in awe to the narratives of the two men.
There had been a somber moment when Joachim took us to the point where he had dispatched the unfortunate Mr. Edwards, but after that he returned to his tale, behind his silver and black glasses his blue eyes sometimes danced mischievously — especially when he described some time when he was with Lukas — at other times, narrowed and distant as he recalled to mind the distant past. Laugh lines gave emphasis to his face and, when he smiled, slight dimples made an appearance at each side of the wide mouth. Every now and then, he would make a gesture, or I would see him from a certain angle, and I could see the likeness of Eric Steeby. Eric himself sat back relaxed, happy and content with life. I had to take my hat off to him: he’d lost the woman he believed was his mother, murdered by the woman whom he had suddenly found out was his mother, he had discovered he was illegitimate, he had wanted to find his father, and now he had. He sat, the only hetero amongst a group of gay men, one his son, another his father, and it seemed as though he hadn’t a care in the world.
As I said, the invitation to come and visit had not only been for the friendship: I was really keen to hear more of Joachim’s and Lukas’ wartime activities, and the afternoon’s get together had been the result of some gentle prodding in that direction on my part. After Joachim had recounted his return to Europe, there had been a general stirring for bathroom breaks and to get some chips and salsa, and as everyone was making their way back outside, Joachim touched my shoulder and pointed to the painting on my wall. "From where do you have that painting of the flying boat, Chris?" he asked.
"My Grandfather flew that one in the war," I explained. Amongst us there was no need to say which war — for them there was only one. "He painted that himself."
"It is good. Where did he fly them?"
"Out of Cattewater, near Plymouth."
"Never in Scotland?"
"Don’t think so. He never mentioned it, anyway. Why?"
"I was in one of those aeroplanes when it crashed in Scotland."
"No shit! Were you hurt?"
"A little bit, a couple of ribs, a collar bone and a dislocated shoulder. But I was lucky. Everyone else except one was killed, and the other man was very badly burned."
"How in Hell’s name, had you gotten on a Sunderland?" I asked. "That was a British plane. Was this more of your spy stuff?"
"Yes. It was, as you say, some of my spy stuff. But it was also the end of it, because after the crash I became a prisoner of war."
‘Fuck,’ I thought, ‘you were a goddam spy. Being a POW was a big break. You could have been shot!’ Aloud I asked, "What was it like? The airplane, I mean. I’ve never seen one in real life, and never been inside."
"It was a big plane — for that time, anyway. Two decks. But it was noisy inside. The four motors, big piston engines, thundered in your ears the whole time. But you could walk around inside, and they didn’t fly so high, so you could see much more than nowadays."
"What had taken you to Scotland?" asked Mike as we took our seats. "Or can’t you tell us that?"
"It was long ago, and our countries are all friends now, so I don’t see why not," Joachim replied. He gave a curious little smile and continued, "It’s going to be a long story, so I need another beer if I may, please, Chris."
Once several brown bottles, the moist sea air already condensing on their sides and forming little rivulets, had been passed around, we sat back, agog in anticipation for the next episode.
"Well, when Lukas and I arrived back in Berlin after I came back from America, I was told that I had to report immediately to Admiral Canaris. I was excited, of course, because he did not often talk to the agents himself. The admiral was an aloof man, and very aristocratic — that was what had started him on his career as a spy: watching and noting what the members of the upper classes did. In Section I of the Abwehr, where we served, the Admiral had recruited the smartest and most able men from all the services and he relied on his chain of command to assign us and to control our operations, and to analyze and pass our information up. My control officer was a fregattenkapitan." He paused, and put his hand on Lukas’s. "Lukas was more involved in training and the technical matters — codes , radios, very small cameras — so we would interact only when I was about to leave, and he would explain whatever new equipment I might be using." He took a sip of the beer.
"So I changed into a clean uniform, and went to see the admiral. He was very pleasant. He told me to sit down and offered me a cup of coffee — proper coffee, not the terrible stuff that was what was generally available on the street in those days. He asked me a lot about America, what they were doing, how they were reacting to the war that they found themselves in, what my impressions were. As I spoke, he would occasionally nod at something I said, and that gave me some confidence. When I was finished, he complimented me, and said that I had confirmed exactly what he felt. Unfortunately, those at the top, he said, by which I felt sure he meant the Fuehrer, did not agree with his assessments.
"Then he told me that I could have ten days leave to go home to my family. When I came back, I was to see him again for my new assignment.
"I was very pleased to be able to go and see my parents, because I had not been able to write to them from America, or even tell them where I was. Then, as I got up to leave, he pulled a paper out of his drawer and said, ‘I must congratulate you, too. You have been promoted to hauptmann.’ He handed the papers over to me, and I took them, thanking him very much. It was a promotion I had wanted badly, and for it to be awarded by the admiral was very satisfying to me, because I saw he recognized my work." Joachim gave a diffident smile. "Also, now I could go home and brag a little about my rank in our town."
We laughed along with him and he went on. "The admiral then dismissed me and picked up some papers to read. But as I got to the door he said quietly, ‘Now your lover is your senior by only one rank! It is more satisfactory, no?’
"I tell you, I felt this tall," he held thumb and forefinger close together. "I turned and looked at him, but you never knew what Canaris was thinking: his face always looked the same. I started to deny that Lukas was anything more than a good friend. He listened to me with just a very little smile, and then said, ‘Whatever you say. I suppose the roads in France are clogged with traffic, and that accounted for your slow start from the coast, and no doubt, with the bomb damage, it was necessary for you both to share a room in Frankfurt.’
"I just stood there: I could not get a word to my mouth. How did this scheisskerl know this?" Joachim wagged his finger at us knowingly. "That, my friends, is why he became the head of the greatest spy organization in the world: it was in his nature, in his genes, to know everything about everyone.
"The admiral just looked at me.‘All I’m saying is, be careful. If the Gestapo finds out, you will be in a concentration camp with a pink triangle, and there will be nothing I can do.’
"I could just nod my head and assure him we would not let him down.
"The ten days leave passed like one, then I was back in Canaris’ office in my best uniform, and he was telling me of my new assignment. I was to go to Scotland. He asked me if I knew of a place called Achnacarry. I told him I had never heard of it. So he pulled out a map, and explained that it was an estate in Scotland, on the west coast, in a very remote part of the country. He said that in the 1920s, the leaders of the big oil companies had met there to set quotas on oil supply for the first time, due to the threat from Russia of overproduction. But now, he said, it was being used for something else, something of military importance. He wanted to know what was going on there. The entire north of Scotland, north of a line from Fort William in the west to Inverness in the east, had been put off limits to anyone other than those who lived there — and they were few — and authorized military personnel. One of the Abwehr agents in England had picked up that some Dutch soldiers were traveling up there, and the admiral wanted to know if the Dutch army was trying to re-form over in Scotland.
"Of course I immediately saw a problem — if the area was out of bounds, how could I go looking around?
"But, as always, the admiral was several moves ahead of me. I was to go in as an American Air Force officer, surveying for an airfield for American planes being ferried from here to England. He explained that the Americans were just setting up their command structure in England, so in all the chaos it would be more difficult for anyone to check up on me than if I were part of an English military unit. When I objected that I couldn’t speak like an American, he merely said that the Scots could hardly understand the English anyway, and no one there would ever know what an American sounded like."
We all laughed at that, and Joachim took the opportunity to wet his throat. "There was a secondary mission, too. The Caledonian Canal ran across Scotland in that area, almost along the line above which no one could go, and he wanted to know if it was being used for any military traffic. If so, I was to report back on what was being transported, and also what the defenses were. I had to decide whether there was a chance of putting the locks, which dropped the canal from the level of the Lochs to sea level, out of commission. If I thought I could do that, explosives would be dropped to me by air. Because I had had very little sabotage training, I had to go to Section II of the Abwehr for a month of sabotage and explosives training, and then I’d go over to Scotland by sea.
"Once again, I promised the admiral my allegiance, and he let me go."
Six weeks later, Joachim was waiting impatiently in Ijmuiden in Holland for a dark night with suitable weather for an E-boat to take him across the North Sea. The waiting was nerve-wracking for him. Finally the weather had changed, the moonlight would be minimal, and the E-boat was available. Just over a week after he had reached Holland, Joachim, dressed as a Captain in the US Army Air Force, was in Aberdeen. The E-boat had landed him on the cost of Scotland just near Lossiemouth. In the darkness of early morning he had made his way through the forest and into the town. From there it had been a short train ride to Aberdeen where there was a safe house — a small general store with a couple of rooms on the floor above. The elderly man and his wife were no more or less anti-English than the rest of the Scots, but they were fiercely religious, and saw the Nazis and Fascists as the bastion against a flowing tide of Communism, which, in their opinion, had the sole aim of bringing down the Christian religion and Christian values. They also held, they explained in a convoluted lecture to a bewildered Joachim, that it was a Jewish plot that was at the root of the Marxist concept of atheism. As their small contribution to keep Christianity alive, these two took Joachim in until he could establish a residence of his own.
Keen to get on with his duties, and eager to escape this dour household, Joachim searched around and, within a few days, had found a room on the outskirts of Inverness which gave him the privacy he needed. The town — ironically with the same name as the village he had spent months in on Kirkhall Island — was at the eastern end of the canal. Throughout June, Joachim surveyed the Caledonian Canal, its locks and the traffic that moved through them. Gradually he worked his way westwards along its length. By the beginning of July he saw the need to move to Fort William. Until he was established there, he took his radio back to the safe house in Aberdeen, preferring the inconvenience of cycling the forty-something miles, plus a train trip, to the risk of having it discovered in Fort William, for, indeed, there was more military activity on this side of the country than the other. However, much to his chagrin, he found, from his evening conversations in the pubs, that the locals appeared to be as ignorant to the goings on to the North and West of them as he was. Finding out that much was tedious work, for even when the walls are not plastered with ‘loose lips sink ships’ posters, the Scots are not renowned as a garrulous people.
By the time August came around Joachim was dejected: so far he had found out nothing about the military activity to his north. In desperation he decided that bravado was the only way he was going to find out anything of value. And thus, on a Saturday morning, he mounted his bicycle and headed westwards towards Glenfinnan. The satchel that held the maps, which he used as his cover to search for a suitable airfield, was secured behind his saddle, and his leather USAAF flight jacket was strapped to the small pack slung on his back which contained binoculars, a compass and his lunch. It was a sunny day. Joachim had ridden about seven or eight miles when the warm morning air began to take its toll, and he stopped to roll his sleeves up, deciding that it was preferable to be cool, even though it meant that his unprotected arms would be relentlessly attacked by the swarms of almost invisible little bugs that seemed to permeate the Highland air. He stood next to his cycle, rolling the khaki sleeves up as he looked out over Loch Eil, paying scant attention to the occasional rustling noises in the brush around him. If he thought about them at all, his mind probably put the sound down to some highland sheep or other, mindlessly chewing away its day. And then, in front of his startled eyes, a mound, a bare ten feet from where he was standing, materialized into a young man, clad in dirt-covered fatigues and with a helmet festooned with grass and leaves. As Joachim stood dumbstruck, the apparition launched itself at him. This movement galvanized the German into action. His training had covered this, and he stepped back just as the other man would have made contact, allowing his momentum to carry him past Joachim to sprawl on the ground. Joachim seized his chance and dove onto the back of his attacker. The two were equally matched, and they rolled in the dust, neither getting a commanding hold on the other. Then, in a sudden spasm, his attacker broke away from Joachim and scrambled to his feet. The German rolled away from the kick which he knew was coming and, continuing the movement, sprang lithely to his feet as his hand went to his pocket and pulled out the switch blade knife he carried with him. The knife that he had used on the Atlantic beach, the only souvenir from his stay in the United States, now lay lightly in his fingers as he crouched slightly, balancing on his toes as he faced his foe. The man hesitated for a moment, stepped back. Joachim noticed the foot going back, and jumped to the side to avoid the gravel kicked at his face.
"Don’t touch it," he gasped as the soldier made a lunge for the rifle he’d dropped in the struggle. The other man froze, his eyes not leaving the silver blade for an instant.
There was the unmistakable sound of a rifle bolt and a voice called out, "Orr right!" A second mound unfolded into a similarly clad soldier, this one with rifle pointed squarely at Joachim’s stomach. "Both of ’ee back up three steps. Drow down the knife!" Joachim stepped back, and then laid the knife on the ground. He held his hands out from his sides. "Higher," yelled the second man, "Rise them ’ands right up."
Joachim raised his hands above his head. The first soldier bent down to pick up the knife.‘Fool,’ thought the German. ‘Untrained. He should have picked up his own rifle first.’ He knew for a certainty he could take him. One step, and before the other man could fire, Joachim would be behind his comrade, shielded by his body, with his arm locked tightly around the other’s neck. But, in the same instant he recalled that he hadn’t seen these two before they had appeared from the ground. It was reasonable, therefore, that there could be more. So he stood still and did nothing.
"Whom be you?" the first soldier asked.
"Captain James Tise. United States Army Air Force. Who are you?"
"Beresford. Sergeant. Somerset Light Infantry," the soldier holding the rifle answered. "What are ’ee doing here? This ’ole area all be off limits — casn’t ’ee read the signs?"
"I am authorized to be here," replied Joachim. "My orders are in my pocket. I’ve been sent to survey a place to put a new airport for the planes coming from America."
"You casn’t put any airport yere," growled the sergeant, "there be too many bloody great mountains around." He nodded his head in the direction of Druim Fada.
"That’s exactly the point. I’ve found a site for the airfield over toward Invergarry. Now I must see where the hills are, so we know which direction the runway must be so the planes can take off and land safely."
The sergeant eyed him suspiciously. "Let us see your orders." Joachim dropped one hand to his pocket. "Keep your ’ands up! Tell Corporal Fletcher where they be."
"They’re in my wallet. In my back pocket." The first soldier walked behind him and extricated the wallet from Joachim’s pants. He opened it up and pulled the sheet of paper out. Unfolding it, he read the words slowly.
"Bugger I if it don’t say ’e can be yere!" he exclaimed slowly, after reading it a second time.
"Typical of them tossers in London: make rules then straightway break them the’selves. Orr right.’ Ee can put your ’ands down now if ’ee doan go a-fighting."
"Thank you," Joachim said, relieved, as he lowered his arms. "Can I have my knife back, too?"
The young soldier held it out to him. "If I’d a-know’d ’ee was American I wooden never a-went for ’ee" he said with a smile that made some long-forgotten urges run through Joachim’s groin. ‘This war will turn me into a monk,’ he thought wryly. The two soldiers talked to him briefly as he dusted off his trousers and shirt and picked up his bicycle. He was just about to mount when a motorcycle came over the rise with a roar and lurched to a stop next to them. The rider was a captain in the Royal Marines and, although technically the same rank as Joachim supposedly was, was adamant that Joachim could no longer be allowed to wander around the area. Shorter than Joachim, he was nonetheless stocky and menacing, which left Joachim no choice but to ride ahead of him back to Achnacarry, their headquarters, to get the orders checked.
Their destination was the somber, dark, stone house, obviously an ancestral home that had been taken over for some kind of military training. Surrounding it now were the semicircular, corrugated metal Nissen huts, and soldiers in many uniforms moved everywhere. Joachim’s guts clenched: this was the very place that Canaris wanted to know about. The only thing in doubt was whether he would ever leave there alive to radio what information he had back to Berlin. The marine captain pointed to one of the huts, and Joachim pedaled slowly over, aware of the stares of dozens of military eyes following him. Inside the hut he was shown into a makeshift office, and the marine demanded his orders. Recalling the attitudes to authority shown by the Americans he had lived amongst only months before, and reckoning that it was, in any case, do-or-die time, Joachim refused. No way, he said, would he hand over his orders to anyone but an officer who outranked him. He was legitimately in Scotland on official American wartime activity, and he had so far done nothing but follow the directions given to him by his headquarters in London.
The marine glared at him and Joachim feared that, for the second time that day, he was going to be attacked, but instead the officer abruptly turned and left the room, closing the door and locking it. After some fifteen minutes, he heard a key turn in the lock, and the marine returned with another man whose uniform designated him as a major in the Guards. Joachim sprang to his feet and saluted, but the major, in cordial tones, immediately told him to stand easy and, pulling up a chair, began a friendly discussion.
Four years at a British boarding school had left the peculiarities of the inhabitants of this sceptred isle imbued in the young German. He fully realized that this pleasant tęte-ā-tęte was, in fact, a subtle interrogation, designed to lull him into a sense of camaraderie, in which he could easily trip over a tiny fact. Interspersed amongst chat about the progress of the war were random questions of runway lengths, thickness of concrete needed to withstand heavy landings and the layout of hardstands. But Canaris’ Abwehr had been thorough in their briefing. Joachim knew the service weights of the B-17s and B-24s, and even astonished the major with an estimate of the new large bomber being built by the Boeing Company. Only at the very end, when the major had started to move towards the door, did he turn and, almost as an afterthought, ask to see Joachim’s orders. "You know, you’d be a lot better off with a motor car than a bicycle," he said, studying them. "Stay here a day or two and I’ll see that you get assigned one." It wasn’t an invitation: it was an order.
The following evening, the major came over to Joachim in the officers’ mess where he was having a beer before dinner. "How is it that you don’t speak like an American?" he asked after passing the time of day.
"I speak like any other American," Joachim replied, "whose parents sent them to a snotty, private academy in Andover, Massachusetts."
The next day the tactic was different. After lunch the major introduced him to an American 2nd Lieutenant. "I know what it’s like to be far from home," the major said. "Always nicer to meet up with someone from one’s own country." The 2nd lieutenant was from Santa Fe, and before enlisting, had left the Land of Enchantment only twice to visit relatives in neighboring Arizona. He knew nothing of the Atlantic States, and so, as far as verifying that Joachim was indeed an American, he was not going to be of much help to the major. He did surprise Joachim with some discussion of baseball. In his time in the US, Joachim had spent much time in bars trying to dig up information. That meant getting to know people, and that meant talking sports. He had been packing up to leave the New York / New Jersey area for the South when the World Series was being played and, remembering some of the highlights of the games. Now, in this remote Highland spot, Joachim fabricated for the 2nd Lieutenant the scene at Ebbets Field ,when what seemed like a certain win for the Dodgers turned into a trouncing win for the Yankees, as a result of Mickey Owen’s fumble. Joachim forcefully opined that the Yankee win was a fitting tribute to Lou Gehrig, whose death earlier in the year had cast somewhat of a pall over the Yankee fans at the beginning of the World Series.
The 2nd Lieutenant was somewhat overawed by this deluge of knowledge, and took his leave shortly afterwards, no doubt to report favorably to the major. But after the young officer had left, Joachim mulled over the meaning of all these questions, and the delay they were causing him. It was only too obvious that the major was somewhat suspicious. On the other hand, the fact that he was using varying strategies to catch him, meant that the American authorities had not yet come back denying that James Tise was in their service.
After the conversation with the 2nd lieutenant, Joachim was left pretty much to his own devices. There seemed to be men here from every regiment in the British military establishment, as well as soldiers from Poland, Norway and Holland who had escaped the German advances in their own countries. All this information Joachim filed carefully away in his mind, not daring to write anything down.
His routine changed on the Saturday, however, when an RAF officer happened to come to Achnacarry. Unsure as to whether this was another smoke-out attempt by the major or not, Joachim decided to take the bull by the horns and struck up a conversation with the newcomer almost as soon as they met in the mess. The RAF officer was very interested in everything Joachim told him about a new airfield and, after being plied with several pints of beer, suggested that it would be much easier for Joachim to get a good idea of the land from the air. A Sunderland, he said, was flying up from Oban, where the officer was based, to Invergordon on the following day, and Joachim could go along for the flight if he liked. The major, when apprised of this offer, hesitated at first, but since the Air Force wing commander outranked him and since he promised to have Joachim back by Monday, finally gave in, and, the following morning, having stopped by his room in the town to pick up some clean clothes and other necessities, Joachim and the wing commander drove into the Coastal Command base at Oban.
The flight in the lumbering flying boat as it followed the Caledonian Canal northeastwards, gave Joachim spectacular views of the Highland countryside and its wide-open spaces. The landing at Invergordon was smooth. However, on taxiing to their mooring, the waves had tipped a wingtip down just as they raised a buoy up, and the leading edge impacted with the pylon that supported the light atop the buoy. This caused some consternation at first, since the aircraft was scheduled to fly out to Iceland within two days, but closer inspection revealed that the damage was superficial and could be easily repaired.
The wing commander from Oban had not accompanied them on the flight, and no one at Invergordon seemed to mind the young American hanging around the base and watching the goings on. Certainly no one shuttled him back west on the Monday, and that evening, he accompanied some of the men he had met during the day to the officers’ mess. They were standing, beer mugs in hand, talking about airplanes, when the person behind Joachim stepped back, laughing, and knocked Joachim’s arm. His beer sloshed all over his hands and ran down over the military shoes, splashing the cuffs of his trousers. Angrily he turned around ready to rebuke the offender for not watching what he was doing. However, the sleeves of the man who had bumped him caught his eye just as he was opening his mouth. They were adorned with a light blue stripe on a broad black band. Joachim couldn’t remember the exact rank this signified, but knew it was way, way above his, and quickly checked the oath that had been forming in his throat.
"I am most terribly sorry," the senior officer exclaimed. "That was terribly clumsy of me." As a mess steward rushed over with a clean white napkin, he continued, "Not too much harm done, I hope?"
"None at all, sir," replied Joachim. "As the Swedes say, "En gång, ingen gång —- två gånger, en vana — once is never, twice it’s a habit."
"You speak Swedish, do you?" the Senior Officer asked.
"A little, sir. I lived briefly in Sweden when I was a boy and I picked up some then." Joachim felt his face flush as the Station Commander and other officers accompanying the senior officer studied him. His khaki uniform stood out amongst the light blue.
"Interesting," said the senior officer. "Please bring this man another beer on my tab," he said to the steward.
"That’s not necessary, sir," said Joachim.
"Not at all. It’s the least I can do for my clumsiness — and for an ally in our time of need." His eyes seemed to bore into Joachim’s, and the young German felt an uneasy panic as he looked back into the pale, handsome face, before it turned away and continued the interrupted conversation with the Station Commander.
Much later, long after the episode with the beer had receded from Joachim’s mind, and just as he was getting into bed, there was a gentle knock on his door. "The air commodore wondered if you could have a word with him, Captain," a young man in a Royal Navy uniform said to Joachim when he opened it.
"Air commodore? You mean the officer from the mess tonight was an air commodore?"
"Yes, sir. A brigadier general, I believe, would be the rank in your country."
"Oh, fuck! Let me get my uniform on. I had no idea " Joachim stumbled. What could this officer want with him?
"Very well, sir. I’ll wait out here and take you to him."
In three minutes, completely dressed, hair slicked back, and still knotting his tie, Joachim stepped into the passageway. The young Naval Officer eyed him with a slight twinkle in his eye. "You have no idea who the air commodore is, do you sir?"
"No. Not really. I mean, I suppose he is a very senior person in the chain of command."
"Actually, sir, the air commodore is His Royal Highness, the Duke of Kent. He is the brother to His Majesty."
"Yes, sir. But don’t worry. I’m sure you will find him very easy to get along with."
"I don’t know that I can meet him like this, though. This is the only uniform I have with me. Originally it was supposed to be only a day flight up here and then back to Oban."
"Sir, I assure you, you will be fine."
The statement did little to reassure Joachim as he followed the naval officer up a flight of stairs. The young man knocked on one of the doors, waited for an invitation to enter, and then stepped inside and announced, "Captain Tise, sir," and held the door open for Joachim.
Joachim marched in, stood at attention and saluted.
"My dear captain, please relax. I wanted an informal chat with you about something you said earlier in the mess. And, in any case, it is way too late at night, and I’ve had way too much to drink, for saluting." He turned to the naval officer. "That will be all for tonight. You can stand down now. Make sure my batman wakes me at six tomorrow, would you?"
"Yes, sir. Very good, sir." With a formal salute and a sharp about-turn, he left the room, closing the door behind him.
"Sit down here, please, captain," the air commodore said indicating the place next to him on a large sofa. "You mentioned in the mess tonight that you spoke Swedish. Is that true?"
"Yes, sir. My father worked for the Kodak Company, and for a few years he was based in Sweden. That’s how I went to school there."
"Do you speak it well?"
"I know enough to get around, make a casual conversation. I couldn’t discuss anything technical, though."
"Casual conversation would probably be sufficient." He paused. "Do you know where we are going tomorrow?"
"No, sir. I know the aircraft I flew up from Oban on is going to Reykjavik. But I believe that that is Danish, not Swedish, sir."
"Reykjavik is the official story — what everyone at this base is told. But tomorrow, Captain, we are actually headed for Sweden."
"Yes. Not a word to anyone. I am going to represent this country at a meeting in Stockholm. A very important, in fact a critical, meeting. A meeting that will change this war, change the world. Only a very few people know about this. Nobody on this base does, except the wing commander. The pilot will be told only at a briefing before we take off. But no one on the plane knows any Swedish at all: due to the secrecy, we could hardly go around asking for Swedish speakers. But I think it could be a tremendous advantage to have someone along with us who did know the local language — even if only a bit — just in case, you know?
"Would you be prepared to come with us?"
"Well, Sir, I’ll try to help you out as best I can."
"Good. Good. That’s settled then. Only one thing: I cannot have you asking your commanding officer for permission — that could jeopardize our security. I’ll arrange for him to be notified after we land in Stockholm."
"I don’t believe that will present any problem, sir" Joachim replied. ‘Especially as my commanding officer is only imaginary,’ he thought to himself.
"Excellent. This is a good omen for the trip. I think we should drink to our endeavor, then. Would you care for a glass of champagne, or a whiskey, perhaps?"
"Whatever you are having, sir, will be fine." Subconsciously Joachim ran his finger under his shirt collar. Things were moving way too fast here.
"Whiskey it is, then. Are you feeling the heat? It is hot in here, Captain, I know. The radiator valve seems to be jammed open. I asked to get it fixed, but they tell me there’s a war on." He laughed at his little joke. "Why don’t you take the jacket off? Tie, too, if you like. This is very informal."
"Thank you, sir." Joachim stood up and removed his jacket and laid it carefully over the arm of the sofa. The air commodore poured two glasses of the amber liquid from a decanter, then held one out for Joachim. As he took it, their fingers touched briefly and as, once again, their eyes met, a jolt went through Joachim’s gut. As they lifted their glasses, their eyes stayed locked.
"To the success of our enterprises then!"
"To our enterprises, sir!" Joachim took a gulp to steady the tremors that were coursing through his abdomen. This could not be happening. Not here. Not to him. Not with this man.
"What is your Christian name, Captain Tise?" the air commodore asked after taking a sip.
The air commodore stretched his hand out and ran his hand through Joachim’s hair. "You have very beautiful hair. Do you know that, James?"
"I’ve been told that, sir." The hand caressed his hair and then moved down his neck. He felt his face being gently pulled towards the officer’s. His mind reeled. His desires pulled him one way, his nationality another, the disparity of ranks, not to mention social standing, tugged in yet another. Their lips met, and the primeval urges, passions rooted in the very depth of humans since they first lived together, took control. His own hand moved around the back of the older man, drawing him close, as the two tongues wrestled in exploratory thrusts. Not breaking lip contact, they placed their glasses unsteadily on the table and began to pull their ties, their shirts off. Feet pushed at shoes until they fell off, hands blindly pushed socks off of feet held high. Only when they were completely naked did they pull their mouths apart. Standing amidst the scattered clothes, they clutched each other, driving their crazed hormones into even greater frenzy. Unable to let go, they staggered together to the bed and, over the next hour, explored each other’s bodies with fingers, tongues and manhood, culminating with the intense sex that only the relief from months of enforced celibacy can produce.
Almost two hours later, the rush of the evening overcoming the post-coital drowsiness that had his recent partner in a deep sleep, Joachim lay next to him taking stock of his own position. He was a German spy in an adulterous relationship with a high-ranking officer of the enemy. Not only high ranking, but of the Royal Family. It was ironic, no, it was ridiculous. He was not the seducing type, not the paramour, certainly not the Mata Hari of the next war. What the fuck had he been thinking? This was a catastrophe.
Or was it?
Carefully he rolled off the bed. The other man didn’t move. Joachim moved over to a side table where an attaché case lay. From the handle a chain ran to a manacle so that the case could be attached to the bearer’s wrist. Slowly he tried the latches. They moved, and he lifted the lid. Inside were sheaves of papers. Quickly he picked up the case, moved over to his jacket and took the small box that looked like a packet of cigarettes out of the pocket, as well as what appeared to be a lighter, and padded into the bathroom, closing the door quietly behind him.
Laying the attaché case on the basin where the light was brightest, he held the cigarette box, in reality a miniature camera, over the case and snapped the first document. Lifting that off and placing it on the lid of the toilet, he photographed the second. It took him fifteen minutes until the case was empty and all the sheets lay face down on the wooden seat. He had paid only scant attention to the contents of what he had taken pictures of, but the little he had seen had made him giddy with excitement.
This man was going to negotiate a peace with Germany. For the return of Poland, Britain would sign a peace. The Duke of Kent, the very man he had just fucked, was to ascend to the Polish throne. The war would continue in the East as a fight against Bolshevism. But there were trades, too: the Germans could keep Silesia. Churchill would step down in England, Hitler in Germany.
It was incredible. This was the mother-lode. Carefully winding the film to the end, Joachim placed it in a cylinder in the false lighter. He took a second roll out of its container and inserted it into the camera. One by one he returned each sheet to the case, photographing each a second time, and making sure the distance of the camera was exactly right, just as Lukas had taught him in the Abwehr class. Finally, when no more papers lay on the toilet lid, he closed the case carefully, and turning out the light, stood in the dark until his night vision returned, then made his way back to the room and laid the attaché case back on the table, shoving cigarette box and lighter back deep into the pocket of his jacket.
Returning to the bed where the brother of the king lay, breathing long and deeply just as he had when Joachim left, the young German eased himself gingerly between the sheets. The room was dark, the air temperate, the day had been long and filled with the unexpected, but sleep eluded him and he was still awake when there was a brisk rapping at the door.
Drowsily the air commodore rolled over and blinked at Joachim, then, as the memories of the previous night flooded back, he smiled and placed a finger over his lips and pointed to the bathroom. Joachim nodded and tip-toed into the small room, gently closing the door behind him. He heard the older man open the door to the corridor and talk to whomever had knocked — Joachim guessed it was his batman. The outer door clicked shut, then the bathroom one opened and his partner of the previous night padded softly in.
"Good morning, James. I hope you slept well." His hands once again ruffled the blond hair as they kissed. "I enjoyed our night together very much," he murmured into the nape of Joachim’s neck. "I’ll have to think of a way of thanking you properly. You were magnificent. I had hoped that there would be an encore performance this morning, but you let me sleep too late. Perhaps me can arrange to be together tonight again, in Stockholm?"
"I enjoyed it too, sir. It had been a long time. Any time I can be of assistance to you, it would be a great honor."
The other man laughed, and kissed Joachim lightly on the lips. "You weren’t so formal with me last night, I seem to recall."
Joachim gave a little laugh as he remembered holding the slender shoulders, the legs over his back as he had thrust deeply in, his raging hormones pushing discretion far from his mind.
"Anyway, it’s probably best if you go back to your room now. I am told we are to assemble at the boat jetty at 12:30, so I suggest you get some lunch before then, because we’ll go directly from there to the aeroplane."
"I’ll be there, sir," Joachim replied. Leaving the bathroom, he quickly pulled on his clothes and with a hurried, and rather formal, goodbye to the air commodore, he made his way back to his room.
He barely spoke with anyone during the morning as he packed his few pieces of clothing into a duffel bag. After lunch (God — the English food, even allowing for wartime, was awful) he walked across the base to the jetty where a small group of men was gathered. An armed guard checked his identity card against a list of names, and then stood aside for him to join the group. All eyes focused on the unfamiliar uniform, but then, recognizing the rank badges, one called the men to attention. Joachim returned the salute and muttered a "Stand easy," embarrassed by the recognition. Before any questions could be asked, however, a car drew up and out stepped the air commodore, a wing commander whom Joachim had not met before, and a young flight lieutenant. Recognizing that he was the senior officer on the jetty, Joachim in turn hurriedly called the group to attention and saluted. Was the air commodore’s smile just a little more than friendly, he wondered?
"All right, chaps, let’s get going then," said the wing commander, and leading the way, he descended the ramp to a floating dock at which two launches were tied. No one said anything, but Joachim noticed the split up of officers and men, and he quietly followed the naval officer whom he had met the previous evening, into the first launch. The trip out was quick, a stiff wind blowing the little pennant at the front of the boat out to the side and the waves made chopping sounds on the side of the launch The aircraft they were headed towards was huge: a four engined flying boat with the red, white, blue RAF roundel on the side next to the large letters of the registration, W4026. A young sailor deftly grabbed a line hanging from a hatch and pulled the launch up to the side of the fuselage just behind the nose
Joachim was the last from their launch to clamber aboard, and was just in time to see the pilot’s feet disappearing up the ladder to the cockpit on the upper deck, followed by those of the air commodore. The remainder moved two compartments back, motioned by the wing commander. Five minutes later they were joined by the non-coms and "other ranks". The space was crowded with the fourteen people, but once everyone had squeezed in, the wing commander began to speak quickly but deliberately.
"What I am going to tell you now is highly classified. You may not, even when we get back, discuss this flight with anyone." Several of the men exchanged anxious glances. "As far as everyone knows, this is a normal flight to our base in Reykjavik. However, gentlemen, that is not our destination. This aeroplane will, instead, be going to Stockholm, Sweden." He paused, and there were several audible intakes of breath. "You will be part of a journey which is the first step of a very important plan that will hasten the end of the war, and end up not only saving many lives, but preserving the Empire, and also the European civilization you have grown up in.
"We shall be taking off shortly, and heading inland to board one more passenger. Other than matters pertinent to the safety of this aeroplane, you are not to attempt to speak to this person. Nor are you to discuss amongst yourselves who he is, or might be. Again, and I cannot stress this too strongly: you are to consider this entire operation to be top secret, and not discuss it, or the flight, or the people on the aeroplane, with anyone else. Nor should you talk about it amongst yourselves when we return.
"Joining us for the flight is Captain Tise from the United States Army Air Force. He speaks Swedish, and will thus be of use to us as far as the handling of the aircraft in Stockholm." Everyone turned and looked at Joachim. ‘If only you knew,’ he thought to himself as he responded silently to the nods of introduction.
"We are not sure what the arrangements will be in Stockholm. Certainly the air commodore and our other passenger, and at some time, Captain Tise, will be going ashore. As for the rest, you will stay on the aircraft, supervise refueling, and stand watches until we return. Captain Tise will assist with dealing with the local people when he is on board."
"Thank you for your attention." And so saying, he turned on his heel and headed forward.
The take off was long, the engines thundering, the aircraft bouncing as it tried to break free of the water. Once in the air, however, the flight was smooth, and Joachim climbed to the upper deck to look out through the windows. The coast of Scotland was bleak as they flew north briefly and then banked, heading westwards and inland, entering fog as they did so. After twenty minutes or so, the engine note changed, and the aircraft began to descend, gently, in steps as the pilot tried to feel his way down through the cloud. The mist became wispy, and finally they broke through, barely a thousand feet up. The Sunderland made a long circle, banking with one wing way down, over a loch and then, leveling out, flew away for a while before the flaps extended, and the flying boat turned to make a long, shallow approach. They came in so low that Joachim at first thought the aeroplane would crash into the heather, but suddenly the scrub beneath them changed to stone, the shore passed feet under the hull, and then the airplane settled onto the water with a bang and a cloud of spray.
"Good landing," said the air gunner standing behind Joachim.
"Where are we?" asked the German.
"Don’t know for sure. Judging by the flight time, and the size of the loch, I’d say it’s Loch More. Lucky we had Goyen flying: landing a fully loaded Sunderland is tricky. It’ll be an interesting take-off for sure."
They taxied toward a small jetty, from which a small motor boat was already putting out. As the plane slowed, the pilot cut the port engines so that the launch could approach the hatch without danger of running into the propellers. Joachim watched the activity intently, and then sucked his breath in sharply as he recognized the passenger in the boat. It was the Fuehrer’s deputy, Rudolph Hess. The official version put out in the German press was that he was a little crazy and had defected to England, but the scuttlebutt in the Abwehr was that he had flown to Scotland with the Fuehrer’s blessing, to organize a truce to take the threat from the west off the German armies, in order to free them up to fight the Russians in the east. But what was he doing here?
The boat bumped against the fuselage briefly and Joachim lost sight of it. Within a minute it pulled away from the aircraft, headed back to shore, and the port inner engine kicked over. As the propellers speeded up, the plane taxied forward to one end of the lake and then came back, slightly faster and curving from side to side. "Goyen’s making waves," the air gunner explained to Joachim. "The loch’s too calm. Waves make it easier for the hull to break free from the water."
A little knowledge is worse than none, and the take-off was alarming for Joachim, especially as the spray thrown up from the hull obscured the view, so the closeness of the approaching shore was left entirely to his imagination. With a final bang of water hitting the hull, the jolting stopped, all was smooth and the aircraft was airborne, skimming over the gentle undulating Highlands countryside as the engines bellowed at full power. Breathing a sigh of relief, Joachim stood up and climbed the ladder to the gun turret on the top of the fuselage. Still over British territory, the air gunner had not yet taken up his position, and Joachim looked out over the countryside passing underneath the huge wing. They were just under the cloud base, and the aircraft wallowed up and down gently in the updraughts. As the roaring engines dragged them up into the white mist and the ground disappeared, Joachim remained where he was, thinking hard. Why was Hess on this airplane, and why would they be going to Stockholm?
He was shaken out of his meditations by a sharp report that seemed to come from just in front of him. A puff of dark smoke and pieces of sheet metal flashed past outside, and he grabbed onto the edge of the turret as the plane lurched violently to the right and the wing dropped. With scenes etching themselves on his mind like the frames in a slow-motion movie, Joachim watched the starboard aileron move all the way down as the pilot fought to bring the aircraft level. There was a loud crack, and the giant wing seemed to begin to fold up and over. High sounding screeching and tearing, a bang, and then there was sudden blackness.
The pain was intense. He could not move his right arm at all, breathing was difficult, his mouth was filled with dirt and blood. He rolled over, groaning in agony. All around him was silence. About a hundred meters away there was a fire that he could see glimmering dimly through the mist. Nothing moved. He must help the others. What in God’s name had happened? He struggled to his knees, supporting himself on his left hand. There was a stabbing in his side and he wondered if he’d been shot. Maybe a German fighter had jumped their flying boat? That would be total irony.
He staggered toward the fire. Nothing moved except some scraps of paper and, of course, the flames. He stumbled forward, scanning left and right. The aircraft was in pieces, small shards of aluminum scattered everywhere. The smell of petrol and burning oil filled the air, and he worried about an explosion. He couldn’t distinguish one part of the plane from another, except the black blobs of engines, with their propeller blades sticking out.
With a huge whoomph, a ball of fire erupted about fifty feet away as a pool of fuel trickled into the arms of the flickering orange flames. The wave of heat overwhelmed Joachim and forced him to take a step back. He tripped over something long and metallic, and fell. The searing pain from his shoulder shot through his neck, and the scene around him dimmed into a black void.
When he regained consciousness for the second time, the flames were small, but scattered all around him, dancing. The stench of burning was everywhere. Fearing another explosion, he forced himself to his feet, pushing the pain to the back of his mind. Lurching as though drunk, he staggered away from the wreck, zigzagging to avoid the fires. He walked. Further and further, he walked. The pain in his shoulder, the stabbing in his side, obscured any rational thought. It may have been five minutes, it could have been an hour, or two, he walked. His body had to rest, and yet he walked. Through the mist a darker shape materialized and, as he stumbled, forcing one foot in front of the other, the black mass of a rock took shape. The ground rose slightly underneath a long overhang, forming a narrow cave with a dry floor. Joachim crawled in, right to the back where he felt a womb-like safety on the slightly smoother earth, and only then did he permit his body to give in to the quiet relief of unconsciousness.
Throughout the next two days, Joachim drifted in and out of his insentient sleep. At one point he thought he heard talking, but when he finally awoke, the silence was complete, and he could not be sure whether the voices had been real or had emanated from the demons that had swarmed through his brain. He knew he had to get help or he would die. On knees and his one good hand, he crawled from under the rock and stood up. He was cold, his trousers smelled of petrol and urine, his mouth held the iron taste of blood. He was glad of his leather flight jacket and pulled the collar up around his neck as, once again, he stumbled forward across the pathless ground. The light was beginning to fade, and still he had not found a single sign of humans. Little streams that trickled through the brilliant yellow gorse quenched his thirst, but his vision was blurred, and he had difficulty focusing on distant objects. He needed to find shelter before dark, and so he pushed himself onwards, occasionally wading through shallow streams, until what appeared to be another large rock loomed in the distance. As he approached, however, he saw that what had appeared as a rock was, in fact, the thatched roof of a cottage, a croft. With his hands following the stone walls he walked around the little house until he came to a door. Pushing on the handle, it opened, and he looked into the kitchen where a startled woman in an apron stared back at him. He held onto the frame. "Guten tag. Ich bin verletzt " No, that wasn’t right. Not German, English. "I have been hurt." The effort overtaxed him, and his knees crumpled while his hand slid down the wood, unable to grip it for support.
A female voice brought him out of his stupor. He couldn’t understand the language, but two women were speaking next to his bed. He opened his eyes and took in his surroundings. He was in a small room, creamy colored walls, a tiny window, rusty-red curtains. The rough sheets pulled up to his chin smelled of lavender. That he could feel their coarseness indicated that he was naked. He turned toward the voices, the pain in his shoulder caused a groan; the talking ceased and the smaller of the two came to him. She spoke to him, but beyond picking up one or two words, he couldn’t understand what she was saying. She repeated herself, loudly and more slowly, and he understood that he had been unconscious for nearly two days.
The second woman came forward. Her speech was easier to understand. She was a nurse, he gathered, and she said he had had a blow to the head. He would be fine, she assured him, but he should lie still in a dark room for two or three days to let his brain recover. Two or three days? He couldn’t do that. He could be captured, shot. He had to get to Aberdeen, he had to get the report about Hess to Canaris. He had to tell him of the plans for Poland.
But Admiral Canaris was well aware of the plans for Poland.
At this point, we had listened to Joachim for close on an hour as his voice, sometimes fast, sometimes slow, excited at times, pausing once or twice to recall memories from long ago, hesitant, but then bravely going forward as he described the night of lust with the Duke in front of his hetero son.
Now Lukas interrupted to tell his part of the story.
"Wait!" said Mike. "Bathroom time." Once again, like disturbed fire ants, we leapt from the deck, and hurried inside to the various bathrooms. Once again, full bottles replaced empties, bowls of chips and salsa were replenished, and we settled back under the large canvas umbrella. Was ever an audience so entranced as we by the tale that was unfolding before us?
Lukas took up the story, his accent slightly thicker than Joachim’s. "Jochen had barely been gone two weeks, when it was my turn to be called up to Admiral Canaris office."
On being announced, Lukas entered the room. Canaris was seated behind the large wooden desk, to one side sat Major von Lahousen, one leg crossed casually over the other. Lukas saluted and stood rigidly at attention.
"Please be at ease, korvettenkapitan. Take a seat." Without wasting time the admiral began to speak, his eyes, intent and deep, rarely left the young officer’s face. Whatever was discussed in that room had to remain secret. Lukas was not to repeat it to anyone, regardless of rank, without the admiral’s personal permission. If he agreed to stay and hear what the admiral had to say, and if his association with the admiral in this matter were later to be divulged, Lukas’ life would be in danger. Knowing that, did he choose to stay, or would he rather return to his duties?
Lukas assured the admiral that he was his man and would stay, regardless of the danger.
The answer seemed to be what Canaris had expected, because he continued immediately, and without further comment. Reports coming in to the Abwehr had indicated that certain factions in England, a small group to be sure, but including people of power, stature, and influence, were going to put forward a plan for bringing the war to an end.
The korvettenkapitan thought this was very good news indeed, but something in the admiral’s tone warned him not to express himself just then. Not for naught, however, did Canaris have his reputation. "I know you, and many other people here in Berlin, might think that this is great news for Germany. We have much in common with the English, and we should not be fighting each other. The Bolsheviks are our common enemy, and we could, with our combined forces, overcome them easily. Even if the English did not join us, without our western front to worry about, Germany alone could prevail. Several years ago, I, too, might have entertained these thoughts. But since Poland, my eyes have been opened. I have seen things happen that I would never have thought a German capable of. Worse sill, this behavior is approved, even encouraged, by the High Command. As a nation we have sunk into a morass of shameful behavior.
"If peace is achieved now, a peace which would leave the present government structure and policies in place, it would spell the ruin of Germany, both in European power, and in reputation amongst the nations of the world. We would be the pariahs of the civilized world." He paused, reflecting. "In any case, a peace now with England is not as beneficial as it seems on paper. True, the German forces would be free to take on the Bolsheviks, but in the mean time, the English would have time to re-arm, to work closer with their American partners, until, when both we and the Bolsheviks have been weakened by years of fighting, they could take to war again against Germany and gain an easy victory."
He was silent for a while, then continued speaking. The peace moves of the British had to be stopped, he told the young korvettenkapitan. Churchill was the only person with the will, the fortitude and the political weight to stop it. He had the power and, Canaris knew, Churchill was sufficiently ruthless to carry it through. The problem was, how to get this very sensitive information to Churchill? The embassies in Switzerland, Sweden, or Spain were out of the question. Firstly, there was a good chance they were riddled with spies, not all of whom were necessarily in the Abwehr employ. Secondly, some of the people involved in the British plan were so high up, that the ambassadors might not be able to decide where their personal or political allegiances lay.
The information had to get to Churchill personally and as soon as possible.
"You are the right person to do this. An officer of higher rank might attract too much attention from our side, and his message might be misconstrued by the English. A more junior officer might not be seen to carry the necessary authority."
Again Canaris asked if Lukas was prepared to undertake the task. Again Lukas assured him of his dedication.
As the admiral and von Lahousen laid out the details, Lukas could not believe what he heard. The plan was almost unbelievable, and involved the English nobility — even their royal family.
"Why does that surprise you, my dear korvettenkapitan? Their king does not like war, he is a pacifist. But, more importantly, he thinks of himself and his family. How many royal families exist in Bolshevik countries? The nobilities and royal families of Europe will be the biggest losers if the Bolsheviks triumph."
And thus, two days later, Lukas found himself in Lisbon, boarding a rather old-looking ship bound for Portsmouth. Ostensibly he was a Swiss engineer representing the Oerlikon Company, but by the time he reached England (he fervently hoped), diplomatic messages routed through neutral embassies would have arranged that he be met by the people who would take him directly to Churchill. The reports Admiral Canaris had shown him had been carefully copied to film, and were now rolled securely in an aluminum tube imbedded in the heel of his shoe.
The voyage was a nightmare. The sea was rough, Lukas was seasick much of the time, and, when he was not throwing up, his vivid imagination had the little ship, in fact his cabin, right in the cross-hairs of a U- boat’s periscope.
Only one thing had escaped Canaris’ attention. When Lukas stepped off the gangway, Winston Churchill was thousands of miles away from English shores.
Almost the same day Lukas had left Berlin, the Prime Minister had flown to Cairo and from there to Teheran and Moscow. Naturally, Lukas was not apprised of this information by the British. He was driven up to the outskirts of London by an army major, and billeted in a sparse room in some military establishment. On several occasions he was interviewed by officers of ever-ascending rank, but each time he repeated his instructions: the information he carried was for the Prime Minister only. Not knowing that Churchill was out of the country, he felt he was being obstructed, and became more and more blunt with his inquisitors. He had almost given up hope of a meeting, when, late on a Sunday afternoon, he was taken to a car with blacked out windows, and driven for over an hour into the countryside. He stepped out of the vehicle, to find himself outside a large house, its stone walls ruddy in the early evening light. Escorted by a colonel, Lukas was taken into a rather plush ante-room, and about ten minutes later, a man in a dark suit opened a door and bade them step inside.
However Lukas had imagined the meeting with the leader of the enemy, it had not been this. The Prime Minister was seated in a comfortable chair, cigar in one hand, in the other a sheaf of papers, which he was peering at intently. On a table next to him, stood a glass of whiskey and a decanter. He didn’t acknowledge the two newcomers for a minute or two as he finished reading the documents. Then, handing them to his secretary with a "Put that on the schedule for tomorrow," he stood up and faced Lukas and his escort as the secretary left the room. "Good evening, colonel. What is all this about."
The colonel briefly explained that Korvettenkapitan Kuefer had arrived as a personal emissary from Admiral Canaris, with information that he had refused to divulge to anyone except the Prime Minister. The words were clipped and concise, the tone indicating that the colonel thought this was all very irregular.
"Very well. Let us hear what the Herr Admiral wants me to know that is so important."
Lukas, uncomfortable, gave a sideways turn of the head to the colonel and looked back at Churchill. "My instructions were, sir, to tell you that this information was for your ears only. The admiral believes it to be of the most sensitive nature, sir."
"I would have you know that I am a commissioned officer in "
"It think it will be all right, colonel," Churchill held up his hand to stem the other’s words. "Would you mind waiting outside, please. I take it the korvettenkapitan is not armed?"
"No, sir, we gave him a thorough going over."
"Very well, then, let him speak with me privately." With a threatening stare at Lukas, the colonel left the room, closing the door softly behind him."
"So, korvettenkapitan, what gives Admiral Canaris so much concern?"
Lukas had rehearsed this part many times in the preceding days. Concisely he summarized the contents of the reports, who the players were, and what the Abwehr believed the intentions were.
The Prime Minister, who had looked tired and stern at the beginning of the meeting, now sat up straight and glowered, but said nothing for a full minute after Lukas had finished speaking. He took a sip from his whisky, then looked back to the German.
"Why does Admiral Canaris not want this peace? It would seem to be to Germany’s advantage."
"The Admiral acknowledges that. And while he believes in Germany, my opinion is that he does not believe the current government is what is good for the country or its people. He thinks that this peace will allow the regime now in power to cement their position even more firmly. He believes that, if that happens, even with a peace, Germany’s position in Europe would be irreparably damaged."
"What does he disagree with in the present policies?"
"He did not tell me, sir. It was from something he saw happen in Poland, sir."
"And because of this disagreement he sends you to me?" The voice was flat, the eyes, however, were alive and steady as they bored into Lukas’.
Lukas held his stare in silence for a quarter minute as he debated what next to say. He decided that candor was the only option. "Not only that, sir. He sees a possibility of England using the peace to re-arm itself and then sit, poised, until the Germans and the Russians have exhausted themselves on fighting each other, and then rejoin the war."
The older man’s eyes glinted and he gave a brief chuckle. "He is astute and you are wise. Is that all the information he asked you to convey?"
"I have a copy of one document, and copies of our analysis of all the information we have. We have removed certain names, you understand."
"Where are these documents, korvettenkapitan?"
"They are on photographic film, sir. I have them concealed in the heel of my right shoe."
"So much for the Colonel’s thorough search," the Prime Minister sighed. "Very well, may I have them, please?"
Lukas quickly removed his shoe, prised up the sole and withdrew a slim aluminum tube. Carefully wiping the tube on a clean handkerchief, he handed it to the Prime Minister. "The film is developed, but will need to be enlarged and printed to read."
"So these documents could be something the Abwehr has simply made up and photographed."
"Yes, sir. That is always the case with intelligence. But I have no doubt that your MI5 can give you an accurate assessment of their authenticity. Although, if our information is valid, you do not have much time to go through too lengthy an analysis."
Another silence ensued.
"As you say, korvettenkapitan, we do not have much time. Is this all you have for me?"
"Yes, sir." He felt the time slipping away and sensed the moment was pivotal. "The only thing I can offer you, sir, and it is completely subjective, but from the manner of my briefing, I believe that the admiral considers the evidence to be genuine."
Under the Georgia sun, the Atlantic waves rolling in peacefully, this all seemed so distant. We all looked at the grey haired man as he took a swig of his beer. "I don’t think you can imagine what it was like. I was alone, in the capital of the enemy, by myself, with their leader. No radio, no fax, no telephone, no internet. Not even an embassy to provide refuge." He paused, perhaps trying to remember it all himself, as each of us tried to conjure up the feeling.
"But Churchill was always the gentleman. He stood up and shook my hand, and told me I could tell the admiral that I had executed my assignment satisfactorily. As he stood there I saw the man in him. He was tired, he was old — well he seemed so to me then," Lukas beamed at us and we laughed. "Then he then showed me to the door, and said he hoped we would meet one day after Britain had won the war.
"Of course, I was young and full of fire, so I said, ‘That may be in a long time, sir.’ I had meant it in defiance, but Churchill took it literally, and said that that may be true, for the German soldiers had begun fighting in the center of Stalingrad. That was news to me, as the English had not given me any newspapers to read or allowed me to listen to the radio.
"‘It might indeed take a long time, korvettenkapitan, but I assure you, we will prevail.’ Then he opened the door, and told the colonel to organize my safe transport back to Lisbon."
Lukas picked up his beer glass and looked at us over the rim before taking a sip. How mundane my life is compared to this guy’s, I thought to myself.
"Did you ever take him up on meeting him after the war?" asked Rolf.
"We did meet, many, many years later by accident. We were in the same town together, but that is another story. Now we must let Jochen finish his. Is it not amazing that he and I are still together? Because of me, the plane he was in crashed, yet he still loves me." He laughed heartily and massaged his partner’s shoulder firmly in affection.
"So you think that Churchill had your plane shot down?" Glenn asked his Grandfather.
"No. Not shot down. Remember, I was in the top gun turret, and I never saw another aircraft. Also, it would have been too risky for Churchill — people on the ground might have seen it, and then the story would be all over the country.
"No, I heard definitely a small bang just forward of me. I think there was an explosive device. The Sunderland had very thick wings — in flight a thin man could crawl inside them. I think at Invergordon, in the harbor, a small charge with a timer was hidden in the wing. The person who put it there knew nothing of the stop at Loch More, so he set the timer when he thought we would be over the sea. But when the plane crashed on land, they were worried about what would be discovered, so they cleaned every piece of it away with many people and trucks. That was unusual. They usually took parts of crashed aircraft away because they needed the metal, the aluminum, or the steel. They took the guns away and the ammunition. But, besides this aeroplane, they never spent the manpower on such a thorough clean up. You tell me why, unless they didn’t want anyone to find out that a bomb had exploded in the flight. Even the local people who heard the crash said there was first a small bang and then a big one."
We sat in silence contemplating the duplicity of politics, especially in war time.
"So how did you get away?" asked Glenn, eagerly. Is there a greater reward for a man, I wondered to myself, than to have his grandson consider him a hero?
The two women in the croft pulled back the sheet from Joachim’s arm. The one who was the nurse put her hand on his shoulder as she lifted the arm. The pain shot up through his neck and he yelled.
"Aye, out of its socket," she observed matter of factly. "If you hold him still, I can pop it back in."
Before he could fully fathom out the meaning of what her words meant, the smaller woman bent over him and clasped his chest in a hug. There was a short, hard tug on his arm, he screamed with the pain, and then he realized that some of the hurt had gone. He could move his arm a little, but the shoulder still ached. Probing quickly with her fingers, listening for grunts and cries as the stabs of pain hit him, the nurse examined his abdomen.
"Collar bone broken," she said to the other woman, "Maybe a rib or two as well."
The two talked for a few seconds, and then the smaller one, Ailsa, left to return with a couple of sheets and an enormous pair of scissors that looked to Jochen more like shears. Swiftly she cut the sheet into strips and, within fifteen minutes, the nurse had finished demonstrating how to bandage the young man’s arm firmly to his body.
"When will I be able to use it?" Joachim asked.
"Not for a month, lad. Shouldna lift anything heavy for six weeks."
"A month? I can’t be here for a month."
"You’ve had a bang on the head. That’s going to keep you here for a week. It’s only three more after that. Malcolm, from the next farm, goes down to town ’bout once a week. He could phone your commander."
"No. That won’t be necessary. They’re not expecting me back for a while anyway. But I have work to do here. I need to get to Aberdeen. When can I ride a bicycle?"
"Are ye fey? How are you going to steer the thing? Not for four weeks, I tell you. Now just lie still and rest and the sooner you’ll be better."
There was no gainsaying the nurse, and Joachim lay back down as the smaller woman drew the curtains and they left the room. He was worried. People knew that he had been on the crashed plane. Sooner or later questions would come up, sooner or later they would start looking. He had to get the report to Berlin before then. But over the following days, his impatience subsided. As far as he knew, Hess was now dead. So was the Duke. So maybe he did have some time. How quickly could the English get another group together to go to Sweden?
For the next four days he lay in bed, leaving his bed only to use the outhouse. On the third day he noticed considerable improvement in his vision, the blurring was much less, and on the following evening he could see quite clearly and he left his bed to take his evening tea with Ailsa.
Although it chafed, Joachim quickly realized that the nurse had been correct: he was in no way fit to travel. The woman who had taken him in lived in the house with a boy, Rory, her son, who was about 13 years old. Her husband was in the Navy, she said, as was her older son who was just 18. Woman and boy worked hard during the day, tending the large, scraggy sheep and the reddish cattle with their wide horns that wandered freely over the highlands, and Joachim tried to help a little with this. On other days, they cut slabs of peat to be dried and used for winter heating, but that was too strenuous for him, and Ailsa scolded him for not taking better care of himself when he hurt his arm trying. He felt embarrassed to be a burden on this family, but they were kind to him, and, as the days passed, he began to feel the strength returning.
Just over three weeks after the accident, Una, the nurse, reappeared at the house. She had come once before to check on Joachim and, finding his progress satisfactory, had left them alone. Now she said that one of the local men had to go down to Helmsdale to conduct some business and he would be taking his lorry down. If Joachim could be in Ramscraigs by ten the following morning, he could get a ride. From Helmsdale there was a train that would get him to Aberdeen.
With excitement at getting back to work, yet tinged with the regret at leaving the safe, secure life he had enjoyed with these kind and homely people far away from the war, Joachim set out in the morning, walking carefully down the little track. The farewell had been brief, his benefactors seeming to take his sojourn as just another of the unforeseen events that could happen in the Highlands. They had seemed offended at the idea of taking any money, and that was all Joachim had to offer. Everything else had been lost in the crash. At least his clothes were clean, the tears in the shirt and pants carefully darned, the mud and dirt from his leather flight jacket washed away.
When he got to the head of the track, just past the well, he turned and looked back, but the door was closed, the little family about their daily chores.
It took him just over an hour to walk down the hill, watching where he set his feet because his arm, tightly bound to his side that morning by Ailsa, made keeping his balance tricky. The track changed to a narrow road, then widened into the cobbled stone street of the village. Three houses down he came to the building the nurse had described, and sure enough, parked outside was a slightly down-at-heel Bedford 2- ton lorry.
The trip down to the little town of Helmsdale took about half an hour, and in that time the driver spoke only about three words to Joachim. He was not so reticent to the vehicle, though, and each time the transmission gave its grinding protest to his attempt to change gears, he issued a stream of invective at the old machine. The lack of conversation suited Joachim just fine as he considered carefully what he should include in his report that evening.
The train consisted of just two carriages, three open goods wagons and a guard’s van hauled by a small tank engine. Joachim settled on the hard seat and watched the coastal scenery go slowly past the window. The train stopped briefly at each station with their quaint names: Golspie, Ardgay, Tain. The stop in Invergordon was longer, and there were a few RAF people on the platform. Joachim recognized none from his brief stay at the Coastal Command base, but he sat back, not sure whether any might recognize him. Fortunately they were not traveling on his train, and he breathed a sigh of relief as the little engine puffed out toward Inverness.
Inverness was the end point for the Highland train, and Joachim alighted and walked into the station building in search of a cup of tea. The strong hot liquid in the thick white cup refreshed him, and he stood surveying the platform as he sipped from the cup. When the time for the Aberdeen train approached, he dropped the two pennies on the counter and pushed through the door. Had he turned, he would have seen a tall man in a dark raincoat rise from a table and move quickly into a red telephone booth, but Joachim was confident he had not been followed from the Highland town and his guard was down.
The Aberdeen train, too, was short: two carriages and a guard’s van. Joachim chose the rear carriage which was deserted. Just as the guard waved his green flag, the man in the raincoat ran from the waiting room, and scrambled into the one just behind the engine, taking a seat facing the rear from where he could see anyone leaving the rear carriage. The train rumbled over the Nairn viaduct and chuffed along, taking its time, stopping twice before it pulled into the platform at Elgin. Here Joachim’s solitude ended. A middle-aged man, red in the face and pulling on an unlit pipe, clambered into the carriage and sat down opposite Joachim, leaving his suitcase on the seat next to him. As the train left the station and slowly lurched over the switches at the end of the yard, the man took the pipe out of his mouth, leaned forward and said, "Hauptmann Joachim Theiss. You have a bare ten minutes to do exactly what I tell you. If you do not," he held his hand up and pushed the young German who had begun to rise back in his seat. "If you do not, you will surely be hanged for being a spy."
Joachim sat back and looked at him. It was useless to try and bluff his way out. This man knew his name and his rank. He had been betrayed, how and by whom, Joachim could not imagine. "What do you want? I shall not break faith with Germany. You can shoot me, I do not care."
"I want you to take off all your clothes and give everything to me. You will keep nothing," the man said, ignoring the German’s outburst. Joachim looked at him aghast. "In return, I will give you these," and opening his suitcase he showed a complete flying suit, what they called a fliegerkombi in Germany, and a blue-gray leather flight jacket of a Luftwaffe hauptmann.
"Why? Who are you?"
"No questions." The man looked at his watch. "Now you have only eight minutes." Joachim could make no sense of the request, and sat, stunned.
"Do as I say. You will see, it will be better for you." Joachim slowly removed the USAAF leather flying jacket that bore the scars of the crash. For the first time the florid man saw the bandaged arm. "Oh. Let me help you. Quickly he undid the bandages and eased the shirt over the hanging limb. With slight embarrassment, he helped undo the belt buckle, then Joachim kicked his shoes off and let the pants fall. The train stopped at a station, and the German stood in only shorts and socks. Fortunately the platform was deserted. "I want those too," the man instructed. Joachim pushed the shorts down, and slid them off his feet. He peeled off the olive socks.
Joachim’s fellow traveler scooped up all the discarded clothes and placed them on his seat, then began to help Joachim pull on the German flier’s uniform. The flight suit was a trifle tight, and Joachim groaned as they maneuvered it over the shoulder. His companion picked up the bandages, and having shaken them out and examined them, secured the arm back roughly in position. Joachim tugged on the Luftwaffe leather jacket, then reaching for his USAAF jacket, opened a pocket and pulled out the box of cigarettes and lighter, the fakes that contained the documents from the night at Invergordon. "I’ll take those, too." The man’s grip on Joachim’s wrist was like iron. Joachim reluctantly released his hold on the two articles, giving them up into the hands of the British man, and with them, any hope of pleading his innocence. While the man carefully placed the two items into the suitcase, and then carefully folded the American uniform on top, Joachim pushed his feet into the fur-lined boots.
"Who are you? Why are you making me do this?"
The man ignored the question. As he finished packing the clothing into the suitcase he spoke, slowly and clearly. "You are now Hauptmann Joachim Theiss of the German Luftwaffe. Use your standard identity number. Remember, you are required to give only your name, rank and number. You were a bomb aimer in a Junkers 88 that was lost and shot down over Scotland last Tuesday. You were making your way to the coast to try to steal a boat. You should say no more to anyone under any circumstances."
The train was pulling into the station at Keith. As it jerked to a stop, the man got up and opened the door. He was half out, when he turned to Joachim. "And do not, under any circumstances, leave this train until it gets to Aberdeen," he said, then turning, stepped onto the platform. The guard blew his whistle, waved his flag and, as the train started forward, Joachim noticed his erstwhile companion leave the station building and load the suitcase into the trunk of a small Morris, not different from thousands of others.
Slowly, and with a great deal of steam and hissing, the train stopped at the platform in Aberdeen. Joachim noticed several armed MPs on the platform and he was unsure what to do. From the first carriage, the man in the raincoat sprang to the platform. Calling to the MPs, he pulled open a door and jumped into the carriage in which Joachim was just standing up. "What the Hell?" He stopped in his tracks, his astonishment genuine. He grabbed Joachim. "Where did you get that uniform? Who are you?"
"Hauptmann Joachim Theiss. I am an officer in the German Luftwaffe."
"You are a damned spy, that’s who you are."
Realization hit Joachim. "I am wearing the uniform of an officer of the Luftwaffe. I was shot down. I am not a spy."
The man in the raincoat became very red in the face. Forgetting his customary English restraint, he began shouting at the MPs to search the carriage for any other clothes. The soldiers began an industrious search, but the 2nd class carriage was fairly Spartan, and places of concealment for anything much larger than a handkerchief simply did not exist. "Where are your other clothes?" the man screamed at Joachim, his face close enough that stray spittle spattered on the German’s face.
"These are my clothes. I am a hauptmann " Joachim was interrupted as the other man gave him a savage backhand across the mouth. Joachim pulled his head back sharply, and his shoulder erupted in pain and he gasped.
"Er, Sir, I don’t think you should be doing that," cautioned the sergeant of the MPs taking a hesitant step forward, finding himself in a dilemma between military law and the rank of the officer.
"This bloody Hun was wearing an American uniform when he got onto this train an hour ago," exclaimed the man in the raincoat. "We have been looking for him for weeks," He grabbed the front of Joachim’s leather jacket. "Don’t cut the acid with me. What have you done with those clothes?"
A small crowd of locals had formed outside the carriage, their mood slowly changing from curious to hostile as they looked on a man who had supposedly bombed their towns. Joachim was becoming extremely uneasy.
"Excuse me, are you Hauptmann Theiss?" The question came from a man who wore the uniform of a flight lieutenant in the Royal Air Force. Man was stretching the meaning of the word: his fresh-faced complexion had the appearance of not having needed the attention of a razor more than twice in his young life.
"Yes," replied Joachim. "I am Hauptmann Joachim Theiss of the German Luftwaffe." He glanced at the people outside, "I request the protection for a combatant as mandated by the Geneva Convention."
"Geneva Convention, my arse," spluttered the major. "You are a Nazi spy. We’ve been trailing you from Fort William. That Geneva Convention you’re talking about says we can hang you." He turned to the Flight Lieutenant, "And who the hell might you be? I am Major Pugh, MI5, and this bloody Kraut is my prisoner."
"Flight Lieutenant Keighly, sir." He unbuttoned the breast pocket of his impeccably tailored uniform, and withdrew a folded sheet of paper from it. Opening the sheet, he handed it to the other man. "Would you please read this, sir?" he asked in the mild, unflappable manner of the highly educated. The other man scanned the paper once, then, his brows pulling together, he read the document again word by word.
"We shall bloody well see about that. Sergeant, don’t let anyone leave this station until I get back. I’m going to make a phone call and get this all sorted out." He jumped to the platform and strode away, his raincoat flapping behind him.
The flight lieutenant appeared completely unruffled by this, and sat down opposite Joachim, while the MPs stood in two groups, not entirely sure what was going on, but quite capable of carrying out the simple order of not letting anyone go anywhere. "Your lip is bleeding, hauptmann. Are you hurt?" the RAF officer asked as he noticed the trickle of blood seep down Joachim’s chin.
Joachim raised his hand to his mouth and pulled it away to see the fingers covered in blood. "I am not hurt, flight lieutenant." He opened his jacket. "But I believe my collar bone was broken in the crash of the bomber."
"Were you struck while on this train?" the young man asked, his voice serious. Joachim did not answer.
The flight lieutenant turned to the guard. "Sergeant," he asked, "was this man hit?"
"Couldn’t rightly say, sir, seemed like I was turned away at the time," came the quick and formal response.
The flight lieutenant held his gaze steadily for a full minute. Slowly he pulled a clean, folded white handkerchief from his pocket and handed it to Joachim, who held it to his mouth. Taking a second sheet of paper from his pocket, the flight lieutenant passed them to the MP. "Sergeant, this is a copy of my orders — the same ones that have the major somewhat upset. I would like you to read them, please, and particularly take notice of the name, and the rank, of the person who signed them."
The sergeant read them through and, the young officer noticed the back stiffen as the eyes reached the bottom of the page. The sergeant handed the paper back. "Very good, sir."
"Now, sergeant, I shall repeat my question. Was the prisoner struck? Or am I to take the names of every one of your squad back, and report that, in the rather serious matter of capturing an enemy flyer, you saw fit to allow your attention to wander everywhere else?"
There was a pause. "The major hit the prisoner, sir."
"I see. Thank you. And was the prisoner trying to escape when he was hit?"
"Was the prisoner struggling with the major, then?"
"Did you do anything to stop the prisoner being hit?"
"I said to the major that that kind of action was not allowed, sir. The major didn’t hit the prisoner again, sir."
"Ah, excellent. Thank you sergeant, you did well." Turning to Joachim, he said. "Hauptmann, you have my word, if you do not try to escape, you will not be hurt further. As soon as we can leave this station, I shall see that your shoulder gets medical attention."
"Thank you, flight lieutenant."
The group remained in silence, the MPs standing in their groups, Joachim and the RAF officer seated, the latter looking about him with polite interest as one waiting for the curtain to go up at Covent Garden. Eventually a lance corporal of the Military Police came up to the carriage and, after saluting stiffly, handed the orders back to the Flight Lieutenant.
"The major says you can take the prisoner, sir."
The young officer smiled. "I dare say he does. Very well. Thank you." Glancing outside the carriage he added, "Sergeant, I think it would be prudent for you to escort us out to my car. I have a man waiting there who will take over the guarding of the prisoner."
Thus, having stopped at the local hospital where Joachim’s bandages were once more firmly bound, they began driving south, through the afternoon and into the night. To London, Joachim assumed, but since nearly all the road signs had been removed to slow a threatened German invasion, he could not be sure. The two British men spoke little, other than to remark on the condition of the roads. Joachim had refused to give his parole, and so was handcuffed to the frame of the back seat of the car. On the outskirts of the city, they pulled up at the gates of a large country mansion, guarded by two soldiers. The perimeter of the house was surrounded by sandbags, and the windows were all taped and black. The flight lieutenant escorted Joachim inside and up the paneled wooden staircase to a small room. Patches of lesser fading in the carpet indicated where, in a previous life, other, larger furniture had once stood. Now, only a desk with a lamp on it and four chairs occupied the room. On the wall, though, unimaginative paintings of hunting scenes hung, quite correctly having been thought of not sufficient worth to be removed for safe keeping. Joachim and the flight lieutenant waited for some fifteen minutes, until two men, one in the uniform of a Commander in the Royal Navy, the other in plain clothes, entered the room and moved to the desk. Joachim and the flight lieutenant stood and the flight lieutenant saluted. Introductions were brief. Both the Commander and the flight lieutenant were from MI19, which was charged with interrogating prisoners or war. The man in plain clothes introduced himself as Mr. Henderson, but offered no further information. Joachim noted that this civilian was treated with deference by the Commander, and so concluded he was some senior person from their government.
The questions started. They asked Joachim where and how he had landed, what his tasks and objectives were, what his movements had been, for which section of the Abwehr he worked. Joachim politely refused to answer any of these. Eventually the civilian leaned forward and, speaking slowly and clearly, said, "Hauptmann, let me put our cards on the table. We know you landed somewhere on the coast of Scotland. We know about the safe house in Aberdeen. We know you lived for a while in Inverness, and then moved to Fort William, so we can surmise that you were monitoring the traffic on the Caledonian Canal. We know that you were picked up in the restricted zone in Scotland, and, because of some very lax security, were permitted to move relatively freely around Achnacarry. You then managed to get onto a Coastal Command base, onto a flight to Invergordon, were allowed to roam around that base freely. While you were there you met a very senior officer of the Royal Air Force. There is evidence that you and he were, let’s say, very close together for a night. When you were captured, you had a film on you that proves to us that you had access to documents which this very senior officer was apparently carrying with him that night."
Two items triggered thoughts in Joachim’s mind. How had they found out that he had slept with the air commodore? More importantly, his mind seized on the word ‘apparently’: did they not know then about the mission the Duke had been on?
The man continued. "What we do not know is what happened on the aircraft from the time it took off until the time it crashed. For instance, the number of bodies recovered, does not tally with the number on board at take off from Invergordon. Secondly, from the time of take off to the time of the crash, the aircraft should have flown further than the distance from Invergordon to the crash site.
"So you can see, that there is much we do not know about what actually took place, and we were hoping that you could help us in this respect."
Joachim thought for a few seconds. He decided there was little use in hiding what he knew. So he began talking. He started from the assembly at the jetty shortly after noon, the short trip to the Sunderland in the two launches, the lecture by the wing commander, the news that the flight would be to Stockholm rather than Reykjavik.
"Did this come as a surprise to everyone?"
"Yes. I believe that no one knew before that time of the change in destination."
"Very well. Carry on."
"Did you know that the plane was headed for Sweden?" For the first time since the meeting began, the young flight lieutenant spoke.
Joachim hesitated. "Yes. I knew. The air commodore had told me the previous night."
"Had you told anyone else?" asked the commander.
"Did the air commodore tell you why you were going to Sweden?"
"Not in any detail, sir, just that it was for a meeting that was likely to change the course of the war."
"But then, of course, you read through the documents he was carrying," the commander added dryly. Joachim did not reply, and when the silence had stretched to about half a minute, the civilian waved his hand for Joachim to continue.
Joachim recounted that the wing commander had said they would be landing to pick up a passenger, but the crew was under instructions not to speak to the passenger or speculate who it might be. The take off from Invergordon was long, Joachim recounted, and then the flight had been in cloud, but they had descended to land on a loch. In answer to a question, he revealed that the air gunner had said it could be Loch More, but he did not know for sure. He described the buildings he had seen near the loch, and the terrain surrounding it. He told them of the small motor boat that brought the passenger out to the plane.
"Did you recognize this passenger, hauptmann?" asked the commander.
"Yes, sir. I believe it was Rudolph Hess."
"I see. And where did this passenger, whoever he was, sit in the plane?"
"I do not know, sir. Certainly not in the rear compartment where I was."
He told them of the take off, the necessity to make waves, the climb out, his move to the upper turret. He told them of the loud bang that had seemed to come from the starboard wing root, the pilot’s effort to bring the aircraft onto an even keel, and the snapping of the main spar. After that, he could not remember anything.
The next thing he remembered, he said, was being on the ground, fires around him. He recalled trying to get back to the wreckage and then there was an explosion. He must have lost consciousness then, because he couldn’t recollect anything until much later.
"Was anyone else alive after the crash?"
"No sir. At least none that I saw. When I finally regained consciousness, the flames were too big for me to get back to the aircraft."
"After that, where did you stay?"
"I found a cave. I lost consciousness again. I was in pain."
"But somebody bandaged your arm for you. Who was that?" asked the civilian.
Joachim thought of the kindly woman and her son. "I saw some linen laid out on the heather to dry. I stole a sheet, and tore it up to make bandages."
The eyebrows of the civilian rose almost to his hairline in clear disbelief. "And I suppose you used spider webs to darn your clothes."
Joachim remained silent, looking into the other’s eyes. It reminded him of initiation at Harrow.
The commodore studied his notes. They might never find out who had cared for the German. The crofters had an inbred distrust of the military since their forced removals a century back, and had been of little help in the search. In any case, what had they done wrong? The man certainly would have appeared to them to be a hurt Allied airman. The commodore changed to a different tack.
"Hauptmann Theiss, what did the crew of the aircraft think of you being there?"
"The wing commander told them I was to be a Swedish interpreter. That is why the air commodore had asked me to go with them on the flight. He said that the secrecy of the flight had prevented them from asking for Swedish speakers."
"I am sure that was why the air commodore needed you," remarked the civilian.
Joachim glared back. ‘Fuck you,’ he thought. ‘You can think I’m a fairy all you want, but I’ve managed to move all around your country, even onto military bases, evading your oh-so-great security forces for more than a month. Plus I’ve fucked a member of your Royal Family. How many of you Anglo-Heteros have done that in my country?’
The commodore sensed the instant escalation of tension. They were in the dark about the crash — indeed they were pretty much in the dark about the entire flight. They had not told the German, but one other crew member had survived the crash. Badly hurt and burned, the tail gunner had not been able to tell them much. The information the hauptmann was providing was proving extremely helpful. He had an eye for detail and a clear analytical mind. The naval officer began to ask questions about the explosion that Joachim said had preceded the crash. Did he think it could have been one of the depth charges going off? No, it was not so loud, more like a hand grenade. The hostility in the young prisoner slowly abated as the interrogation continued. They broke for lunch, and resumed again. Joachim spoke freely about the crash, but gave nothing else away about his mission, or where he had been before or after the flight.
Eventually, late in the evening, he was taken to a cell in the basement — dungeon as he termed it — of the house. The room was to be his prison for three weeks. Each morning a medical orderly checked his bandages, each afternoon when it wasn’t raining, a guard took him up to the garden, and he was allowed to walk around the lawns and flower beds for half an hour. Twice more he was interrogated. Once was about his activities, to which he answered nothing. The second time was about the crash, and he repeated everything he had said before to a man with thick glasses and a small slide rule in his pocket who seemed to know a great deal about aeroplanes.
Then, shortly after dawn one morning, he was loaded into the back of a car and taken, with a guard, across the country to Liverpool. In the bustling docks, he was marched on board a ship, taken below decks and confined to a cabin with its door locked. He felt sure they were taking him to America and he secretly breathed a sigh of relief: it appeared that he was not going to be hanged after all. "Better hope one of your bloody U-boats doesn’t torpedo us," said his guard one night at sea as he locked the door after bringing Joachim his dinner, "because I’m not going to risk my life to come and unlock your cabin while this boat goes down."
The United States, however, was not to be his destination. After days at sea, the weather turned from cold and rainy to temperate, and a day after that the ship anchored in Hamilton, Bermuda. Allowed to go on deck for the first time, Joachim was amazed to see the bright azure water, the busy harbor and, beyond that, the rows of houses on the hill, each with its clean, white-tiled roof. Without wasting any time, he was hustled into a whaleboat and taken to the naval station HMS Malabar where, he was told, he would be confined until the end of the war.
Life at HMS Malabar was not too bad for a prisoner of war. For the first two years, the station was a hive of activity, and Joachim spent much of his time alone in a small prison cell. There were no other German prisoners there, and he was kept separate from those Allied sailors who were incarcerated there for brief periods for infringement of some Royal Navy regulation. He was permitted to visit the base library once a week and he read voraciously. He was not allowed to write home, though. Once a month, a junior officer who could speak German would come to see Joachim. Joachim would tell him what he wanted to say to his family, and the officer would then paraphrase it and type it up. Joachim was allowed to add only his signature.
As the war in the Atlantic wound down in 1944, there was a noticeable easing of attitude, and Joachim was permitted to spend more time outside in the pleasant weather. He was still not allowed to converse with anyone other than his guards and the chaplain, though.
When the war finally drew to an end a year later, Joachim became excited, expecting the speedy repatriation ruled by the Geneva Convention, but the weeks turned to months, and still he remained imprisoned on the Atlantic island. Only in 1946, to his anguish, did he deduce the reason. Rudolph Hess, he read in the week-old newspaper, was to be tried as a war criminal. How could that be? Hess had died in the air crash. Who were they putting on trial? For the first time since he had been captured, Joachim gave in to despair. If this was the case, that the Allies were bringing a bogus man to trial and he, Joachim, was the one person who could blow their cover. He seemed bound for indefinite detention — or worse. These fears were only reinforced by the revelation by an officer, when pressed by Joachim for a reason for his captivity, that his papers were stamped as an "unreturnable German".
As January turned to February in 1947, the situation at the HMS Malabar was relaxed. Life on the island had returned to normal. On one sunny Monday, indistinguishable from the many other sunny Mondays, the appearance of a taxi outside the main gates was a noteworthy occurrence, and the young Warrant Officer on duty in the guard hut watched with interest as the passenger stepped out. The stout, perspiring man, briefcase in one hand, brown paper package in the other, mopped his brow as he approached. The package gave the warrant officer the clue: it was the Red Cross representative who came about every six weeks or so to visit their German prisoner. Why the German was still held so long after the war was a matter of speculation. Rumors abounded: he was a famous German scientist and only he knew the antidote to secret, poisonous gasses the Nazis had planned to use; he was the illegitimate son of Adolf Hitler; he was the only German alive who knew the whereabouts of vast sums of hidden gold and incredible quantities of art. The Warrant Officer briefly looked through the soap and toiletries, the candy, and the books in the package, then called for an escort. The Red Cross representative was taken to see the prisoner, who was sitting reading after his luncheon in a large, enclosed yard. In the height of the war it had been a storage area, but now it was mainly grassed, and the walls made it sufficiently secure for the prisoner to be left there for long periods. The escort admitted the representative, then closed the gate behind him, instructing the man to ring the bell when he wished to leave. The escort checked back after a quarter hour, saw the two men talking earnestly and went back to his office. About half an hour later, the bell rang and the escort unlocked the door and accompanied the Red Cross man out. As he had locked the gate to the yard, he had noticed that the prisoner was looking through the brown paper package to see what the Red Cross had brought this time. Poor bugger, the escort had thought as he walked the civilian to the main gate. Now that the war was over it was hardly ever food. Books and candy were the norm now. Funny, he reflected as he marched through the corridors to the main gate, this man isn’t fat at all. I wonder why I thought that when I first saw him? Strange how one’s eyes play tricks, he reflected idly. The representative waited patiently outside the guard hut at the main gate until the taxi appeared, declining to sit inside with the petty officer. He wanted to enjoy the sun before going back to icy Canada, he explained.
The first bell of the first dog watch had just rung, when the bell from the exercise yard rang in the guards’ office. A young able seaman went to see what the prisoner wanted, but found, instead, a civilian standing at the gate. His surprise quickly faded when he learned he was the Red Cross representative. Strange, the previous watch hadn’t mentioned the presence of any Red Cross person on the base. That was the problem with the day watch: they were always in a hurry to leave and get showered for a night at the bars, he sighed. He opened the metal gate, and the man came out, remarking on the pleasant weather. Where was the prisoner, the able seaman asked? The civilian laughed conspiratorially. "Gone to the bog. The lunch, I think, did not sit well with him." When the Red Cross man arrived at the gate, his taxi was waiting, and with a cheery wave to the guard, the man got in and was driven away.
At four bells, the able seaman suddenly remembered that the prisoner was still in the exercise area. He stood up and took the keys, then walked to the yard to fetch him to return him to his cell in time for dinner. The area, however, was empty. He checked around the corner at the end where the head was, but that was empty, too. He shrugged. The prisoner must have been taken back to his cell while he was escorting the Red Cross man to the main gate. The able seaman locked the door and returned to the office. A conversation was in progress about passes for the coming weekend, and it was only about fifteen minutes later that he enquired about the prisoner. No, nobody had taken him from the yard. The seaman checked the cell, no prisoner. Again he checked the yard, more thoroughly this time. No prisoner. But, on this occasion, the more thorough search turned up the prisoner’s uniform, stuffed behind an old pipe behind the head.
Immediately the alarm was raised. The civilian police were notified and they, in turn, located the two taxi drivers. Yes, they remembered the passengers. Each had asked to be taken to the airport. In a flurry of activity, the airlines were contacted and, sure enough, two men answering the description had boarded the Pan American Constellation for New York. The aircraft was an hour out — it would land in New York in about three and a half hours time.
It was close to midnight when the FBI agents finished talking to the two disconcerted passengers from the Bermuda flight, much too late to confirm the story the two had given. The Feds waited until the following morning to do some more checking, and only then responded to the Bermuda police that the two men stated that they had been drinking in a bar on Christopher Street a week or so before. During the course of the evening, they had begun to talk to another patron. This man had been intent on getting himself drunk because, he said, his lover, another man, had dumped him to go off with a handsome Californian. The man in the bar had been planning on surprising his lover with a trip to Bermuda and, in his sorrowful and inebriated state, had tried to burn the two airline tickets at the table. His drunkenness had hampered his efforts long enough for the other two men to persuade him to donate them to them. This he reluctantly did in exchange for one more glass of gin.
Improbable though the story sounded, the FBI was inclined to believe it, Homos tend to be flighty, you know.
By the time this news reached Bermuda, the 7,500 ton freighter São Thomé was steaming on a southeasterly course and approaching the Tropic of Cancer on its six thousand mile voyage to Montevideo. Just after noon at that longitude, her radio operator climbed up the ladder to the bridge, and handed his captain a message from Bermuda Radio to all ships that had departed Hamilton the previous day. The message asked if any ship was carrying two men who would have boarded sometime between 16:00 and midnight. A description of the men followed, one fairly detailed, the other somewhat vague. The captain read the message. Holding the paper in his hand, he looked out the bridge window to the gentle swells of the Atlantic, then, turning to the radio operator, he smiled gently and said, "Tell them no. Ask them if they think we are a passenger ship." The radioman nodded, and a big grin spread across his face as he left the bridge. The captain settled back in his chair. That would teach the British a lesson for their arrogant behavior, he thought. They didn’t treat the captains of British ships the way they dealt with him. In any case, the two men who had joined the crew just hours before departure the previous day had already proved their worth. Ask any captain: good cooks were hard to come by, and dinner last night had been a meal fit for the Ile de France, the smell of fresh bread at breakfast had welcomed the new day, and lunch had left him in a pleasantly lethargic state, without the dyspepsia that had previously so often followed the meals from his ship’s galley.
"The captain told us about the wireless message a week later, when we were leaving the ship at Montevideo," Lukas explained as we sat unmoving in our chairs in the warmth of the afternoon. "I think he thought it might make us stay on board, but we had already decided to settle in Argentina. We had changed our names, and, in any case, the Argentineans were not so picky at that time.
"We started just a small business, like I had done in Egypt, supplying fresh food to ships. We worked there until 1953. Built up a good business by the end, but you know how it is, we wanted to go back to Europe, to our home."
"Whoa," said Mike. "Back up. What’s this about Egypt? And how had you managed to get Jochen out of the jail in Bermuda?"
"Oh, that wasn’t hard. Any three-month cadet in the Abwehr could have done that. After I had come back to Germany from taking the message to Churchill, it was thought too dangerous for me to go on any other mission, since so many people knew what I looked like. So I went back to training the agents on cameras and radios and so on. But the English were very good at catching our agents and there was a shortage of good men, so I was finally sent to Egypt, to Alexandria. I was there in 1944 when Canaris was arrested. Some said that he had been behind a plot to kill Hitler — which, of course, we now know was true. I thought about it for a long time. Canaris had told Jochen that he knew of the two of us being lovers. If he had written this down somewhere, and I were to go back, I would certainly go to a concentration camp. So, when I got orders to return to Germany, I just stopped communicating with Berlin. My cover in Alexandria had been as a small businessman supplying food to hotels. I had become very good at this, I was even supplying the Royal Navy." He laughed, "By the orders for food I got and where to bring them, I knew which ship was about to leave the harbor. And sometimes, if they knew, they would tell me when they were due back so I could have this or that food ready for them. So, you see, I had lots of information to send to the Abwehr. For that reason, when I got the orders to go back to Berlin, I thought it meant trouble for me.
"I did so well in the business of supplying food that, at the end of the war, I was making a lot of money and, if I went back to Germany, I would make no money at all. So I stayed in Egypt waiting for Jochen.
"I kept in touch with his family by letter, and, after a year, I came to realize that Jochen was not going to be released because of what he had discovered on his mission that had made Churchill so worried. I didn’t know what he knew that I didn’t, but I guessed it must be something very, very important to the English.
"His mother told me he was in Bermuda, and so I started to casually talk to the sailors at the harbor about the island, and very soon I had a good picture in my mind of where everything was and how the base operated.
"When I was ready, I sold my business to an Egyptian man for a good price, and set off for Bermuda. I acted like a wealthy Swiss guy and bicycled all around the island. I still had many different passports, you see. Each day I spent some time watching the guards at the main gate of the naval base, and soon saw that they were not as alert as they might have been in the war time. In the evenings, I would hang around the bars near the base where the enlisted men drank, and after about two weeks, had found out where Jochen was kept, and what his routine was. And then, my friends, fortune she smiled on me. The Red Cross guy that came to check on Jochen was very rude to the guard one day. This guard, he told me the story at least four times as I fed him drinks, about what the Red Cross guy had done, what he had said. From him I found out how often the Red Cross came, what happened once their man was inside, how he got to talk to Jochen. So then I could make my plan.
"I just needed some decoys. So I flew up to New York, visited the gay bars until I found a pair of guys that looked somewhat like me and Jochen and went into my drunken lover act." He laughed, and put his hand on my arm. "They were arguing so much between them as to whether they should take the tickets that I nearly did set the papers on fire.
"I just walked into the naval base wearing two suits, one on over the other. Mein Gott, was that hot! Then, when I was with Jochen, I took the inside one off and gave it to him. You see, my friends, the English Navy men all saw Jochen leave with their own eyes. They just weren’t expecting to see him, so their minds never registered that it was their prisoner walking out into the street.
"But do not think for one little minute that the English were going to leave us alone. The were not finished with us," Lukas continued. "We went back to Germany, still with our Argentinean names, and started our import-export business. Germany was rebuilding, Europe was recovering, America was pouring in money and we did well. So, not thinking anything of it, in February 1953, I flew to London to have a meeting with a company there who we wanted as clients. But, at London Airport, as soon as I got off the plane, I was arrested and charged with helping Jochen to escape from Bermuda. I hadn’t realized it, but when I’d been to visit Churchill during the war, the English must have taken my fingerprints from something I’d touched — a water glass, a plate, I don’t know. Anyway, the Navy had called in Scotland Yard to investigate Jochen’s escape, and they had found my fingerprints there.
"So I got a lawyer, a solicitor as the English call them, and he got a barrister. They took me to a magistrate. He was a busy man and didn’t care about one German man. He said they had enough evidence to keep me in jail until my trial and I could not have bail. I tell you, things did not look good for me. The police had all the evidence they needed: records of my voyage to Bermuda, also copies of the tickets for my flights to and from New York. The two gay guys had picked out my photo from a lineup, and my fingerprints had been found in the Navy base. My barrister said the trial would come up about a month later.
"This barrister, and he was a very prominent legal man — one of the best — said that he had no case to fight. He recommended that I plead guilty, and hope the judge would give me a lighter sentence because I hadn’t broken the law at any other time. So I figured what choice did I have? I couldn’t call or write to Jochen, because I thought they were monitoring everything I was doing to get to him, and I wasn’t going to hand them his address. So, four weeks later, we go to court. The barrister has got his wig on, the judge has got his wig on, and he looks old and very angry. I thought I was in for a long jail time. Some man calls everyone to order, and the judge is going to read the charges, but then the lawyer, barrister, whatever, who is prosecuting stands up. English courts are not like what you see on television about American courts. Nobody shouts, nobody interrupts, all the lawyers are friendly to each other. All just like cricket, as the English say. So this lawyer stands up and says that important evidence which they needed to prosecute me has been destroyed, so the Crown has decided to withdraw all the charges.
"The judge now looks very angry. Does the lawyer know who destroyed the evidence? The lawyer is very calm. He says that sea water got into the hold of a ship coming from Bermuda, and all the papers were turned into pulp and couldn’t be read. The judge looks disapproving, but he is English so he says nothing. Then he tells me to stand up and says I am free to go. I bought my barrister a big drink."
"Do you think that is true?" asked Glenn, "I mean about the water and all. Didn’t they have copies somewhere?"
"My barrister said that he thought, with the new Queen on the throne, and England rebuilding itself, the government didn’t want to be thought of as still fighting the war. They wanted to be seen as going forward, not living in the past.
"I didn’t care why; I got on a plane and flew back to Hamburg that day. Jochen and I didn’t go back to England until 1971."
"I bet you were worried when Lukas was caught, Jochen," Eric said.
"Oh, yes. Even more so, because I couldn’t go to Lukas without getting into trouble myself. All I could do was send money and stay home."
"About three months later," Lukas said, emptying the last of his bottle into his glass, "I got a letter from the English barrister. It was an official document from the British government, saying that the matter of an escape from HMS Malabar in Bermuda was closed. They had no evidence of wrongdoing, and no criminal or civil charges would be taken against me. The barrister said that if I knew the address of Joachim Theiss, a similar document was in the barrister’s possession for him. Of course, we were still suspicious of the English. What do you say, gun shy? So we sent a German lawyer over to get the document for Jochen. But it was all good, and Jochen and I were, at long last, completely free.
"So when did you change your names back?" asked Eric.
"When we got the letters. It seemed unnecessary to continue then as if we were still in hiding, and the different names always confused our families."
The setting sun was coloring the patchy clouds pink and the beach a light tan by this time, and we got everyone busy clearing the accumulated beer bottles and setting the table, as Mike fired up the grill, and I got dinner on the table. Throughout the meal, the conversation centered on the tales of the afternoon, the vicarious thrill of the adventures of these two unassuming men holding us enthralled.
"What did it feel like to go back to England when you finally were free to go there?" asked Rolf. "Did you retrace your wartime journey at all?"
"Yes, we went over in ’71, Lukas wanted to see Scotland where I’d been. We hired a car and went all over the Highlands. We walked up to the place where the Sunderland crashed. There is a memorial there. That was very sad for me. Then we drove to Ramscraigs, and we walked up the path and I found the croft where they had taken care of me. But other people, English, were staying there and they told us that the little house was still owned by Rory, the son, but he rented it out to tourists. They were nice people and let me show Lukas around, and also the room where I had stayed."
"Later, in the evening," continued Lukas, "we went down to the little town and met him. He was now the vet, and looked after the animals. He was very nice. We had tea with him — tea, in Scotland, is what everyone else in the world calls supper — and he and Jochen talked about the old times. He remembered Jochen very well and, when we left, he gave him some pipe — the tenor drone, ja? — from the old bagpipe that had belonged to his father, and which Jochen had tried to play — apparently very unsuccessfully — when he had hidden there."
Jochen gave an embarrassed shrug as his partner laughed at him, and Lukas patted his leg and laughed as well. "Scotland is still very pretty up there," he said. "Wild, desolate. You would like it, Glenn. Clear skies — when it isn’t raining. I had hoped to see the Aurora, the Northern Lights. Jochen had described them over the open land, but each night the sea wind blew the clouds in. The days were sunny, but the nights seemed always to be cloudy."
"Glenn and I have been talking," Rolf said. "We thought we might come to visit you next summer, then go over to England. They have a BritRail pass, like a Eurail Pass." I smiled, for I could just imagine him dragging Glenn through one literary site after another from Stratford to Alloway.
"That would be good. Then you won’t have to worry about driving on the left," said Jochen. "Almost the only country that still does that. I say, now they are in the EU, they should drive on the right, too.
"But their trains are good. Not as much fun as they used to be, though. Now they are all electric and diesel. At one time they had very nice steam engines. When I was in Inverness in the war, I would lie awake at night and listen to the train going chuff-chuff-chuff up the coast. The sound carried clearly in the quiet, and it was very comforting to me. German locomotives were made to work, they had big pipes all over them, but not the English. The English built beautiful engines. The one I liked very much had a big, square boiler. I saw it once when Lukas and I were in Scotland. It was painted green, and smelled of hot steam and coal and oil. It had a big name plate on the side, Holland America Line after the shipping company. The English always want to remember that they are an island and depend on the sea."
We laughed at his humor.
"But they treated both of you all right in the end," Eric pointed out.
"I tell you, you can never understand the English. Just when you think you know what they are going to do, they turn around and do something different."
"What do you think, Chris?" Eric asked me. "You’re British."
"I am not," I protested. "I’m an American citizen."
"Yeah, but before that you were British. You were born British."
"No, I wasn’t. I was born in South Africa. In Durban. We were totally independent from Britain by the time I was born." Then I relented, "But you’re right, we were colonials, and, especially in Natal where we lived, we were rather English in nature. Actually, I don’t think the English are really unpredictable, I think it’s more that they’re pragmatic. They’ll start off on something, and then, half way through, they’ll see it isn’t working out, so they’ll change direction. It looks like a shambles, but it isn’t really. It’s just because they’re too arrogant to say they made a mistake in the first place, so all you see is the 180 degree turn for no apparent reason.
"Look at Lukas’ trial. They start off with some information, then, along the road, probably over port in the club, or beer in the pub, they begin to think: if this goes this way, this is the result: it looks as though we can’t get over the war; if it goes that way, this is the result: it makes us look incompetent. No, we don’t like those results, so let’s just drop the whole thing. No harm had really been done, so no names, no pack drill."
Eric shrugged. "I guess that’s one way of looking at it."
"Did you ever go back to meet Winston Churchill after the war as he had asked?" Rolf asked.
Lukas shook his head. "Things change when a war ends. Things that were important before are not important any more. But, as I said, we did meet him once, by accident. In 1958 we were in the South of France, visiting a man who was very important to our import-export business. He invited us to join him at a small private function, small to him meaning about fifty people, and Winston Churchill and his wife were there. He had been ill previously and was not very steady on his feet. Neither Jochen or I felt that we should talk to him, with Jochen’s trip to Scotland and my venture in Bermuda, but at one time in the evening, we had found ourselves near him, and our host, who knew nothing of our wartime activities, called us over to introduce us. Churchill shook our hands warmly, and didn’t mention the war at all. But he referred to us as ‘the two Antonios’. We thought that his illness had affected his mind, but later our host said that Antonio was a character in Shakespeare whose business was sending goods by sea. Another English peculiarity, the love of Shakespeare."
Once again we laughed, recalling the strange language, extraordinary characters and fanciful plots from school.
"He was a good man. I had thought that when I first met him. He was a fighter, one could speak with him and immediately know that there was a singleness of purpose. But he had this dichotomy: for example, he understood that in a battle, men would have to die to achieve something, and he could order a campaign knowing that thousands of men would die. On the other hand, he was above all a civilized man, and wanted civilization and dialogue and order to triumph. When I was with him in London, he had told me he was unhappy that, when a U-boat had sent out a radio message to get help for passengers from a sinking ship, an American plane had bombed the U-boat as it was picking up survivors.
"So you see, on one hand he understood the needs of war, on the other hand he wanted to play by a set of rules of gallantry that was already becoming outdated."
We talked on and on, until well after midnight, and then, since everyone had had way too much to drink to be allowed safely behind the wheel, we found places for Eric, Glenn and Rolf to sleep.
The two German vistors were very lively, and we spent a great deal of time together over the next days, discussing our lives, talking politics, and of course, enjoying the warm weather and copious amounts of food and drink. They became part of everyone’s family, and thus it was a slightly dejected group that waved good bye to them a week later as they walked out to the slim Delta 757 waiting to take them to Atlanta and their journey home. So reluctant were we to break up the feeling of camaraderie that their visit had engendered that, rather than immediately set out in our different directions, we headed into Savannah, found ourselves a table with a view over the river, and ordered an early supper.
With all my catch-up work after our house guests had left to spend the last few days with Eric, I hadn’t paid too paid too much attention to what Mike had been doing. I knew that when he had been around the house, he’d been on his PC frequently. In hindsight, now, I realize I should have been surprised by his silence about Lukas’ brush with the English law, and how we perceived it. As I like math and physics, with their fine logic and orderly and predictable behavior, so is Mike in love with the law. To him it is an almost God-given lubricant that permits the rough-hewn wheels of humanity to turn with the minimum of jamming. That he hadn’t risen to the bait of our discussion of Lukas’ release from the British legal system should have triggered an alarm in my brain. But I was too preoccupied with imagining events that had happened some twenty, thirty years before my birth.
Sitting in the little restaurant in Savannah, reliving each moment of the visit, Mike suddenly came to life. "You know, all these imbeciles who preach that gay’s being allowed to marry would somehow weaken the whole institution of marriage should get to meet those two guys. If ever there was a need for an icon for a solid, dare I say ‘Christian’, marriage, they are the example."
Mike’s logic is generally clear and concise, most times even a Geek will understand the point he is making. So this remark, coming out of the blue, made me wonder if the Sauvignon Blanc on an empty stomach might not be making its influence felt. There was a stunned silence at the table.
"You mean, like, Lukas springing Jochen from Bermuda?" I tried to follow his thought pattern.
"No. Like," looking at me and teasing me for my sloppy language, "putting him there. Like Jochen springing Lukas from an English court."
"What are you talking about? How did Lukas put Jochen in Bermuda? You saying he was a double agent?"
"No. Just a guy going way out on a limb to save his lover from being shot. Or Jochen risking going back to prison for a long, long time, to get his lover out of trouble. But it’s more than that. Probably quite a few folk would do that. The amazing thing to me, what raises these guys to hero status in my eyes, is that I believe neither has told the other what they have done. And I also believe that the reason they haven’t told is because they don’t want to make their partner feel under any obligation."
"Where on earth did this come from, Mike?" asked Glenn, bewildered. "Neither of them said anything that could lead you to think that."
"Not in so many words, but there’s just too much good circumstantial evidence," my partner explained, not at all put out by our incredulity. After all, I guess, he is used to swinging the opinions of twelve good, but equally incredulous, citizens on occasion.
"You need to bear in mind two things. The main one is that people are basically truthful. It’s the way our minds, our memories, are wired. We tend to remember things as a scenes. That’s why a sound or a smell can trigger a memory quite unrelated to where one is at a particular time. It’s because that smell or sound is part of the scene. Now, to lie, you have to make up a scene on the spur of the moment. Because it’s made up, if you come back later to repeat it, you have nothing concrete to recall, you have to make it up again. And thus, little differences creep in each time you tell it."
"Aha! The lawyer," Eric remarked.
"Yes, exactly. This is something we look out for. And just as Chris runs his life on measurements and logic, and will waste two hours working out why a drawer that closed easily yesterday won’t close today, because that’s his work life, when I’m listening to a story, I’ll subconsciously be listening for inconsistencies."
"Better polish up those excuses for the business trips to Atlanta, Chris," Rolf joked.
"No sweat there. I just start talking about algorithms and within ten minutes his eyes have glazed and he’s changed the subject."
The second thing," Mike went on, ignoring me, "is an old Southern saying: ‘If you see one rat, you can be sure there are fifty you don’t see.’
"Look," he sat forward earnestly, "we started off with Jochen telling us his story. Everything seems to flow in a logical and orderly fashion. Everything is just as it should be, each scene in his mind leads on to the next in a logical way. But then Lukas breaks in, we hear about his journey to England, and things don’t dovetail quite so neatly.
"The first thing that caught my attention was something he said toward the end. Earlier he had given quite a graphic description of his meeting with Churchill. He gave us a good sense of the Prime Minister, tired after a long journey, getting back to business, finding out that, while he’s busting his ass, high ranking people, people of considerable influence in England, were actually working at something he would not tolerate behind his back. The way Lukas described this, we have to believe that this must have come as a big surprise to Churchill. But then, Lukas tells of him speaking almost philosophically about a submarine being bombed while rescuing people from a ship it had sunk. We also hear of him engaged in almost a banter about the outcome of the war, and he mentions, if I remember correctly, fighting in the streets of Stalingrad. Just thinking of human nature, these sounded like either the conversations of two different people, or two conversations with the same person under different circumstances. Lukas hadn’t mentioned anyone other than the colonel, and, from the way Lukas described him, he seemed an unlikely one to enter into banter, so perhaps Lukas had actually met Churchill more than once.
"The clincher is that his meeting was before the crash of Jochen’s plane. The crash occurred on August 25th. The only reference I can come up with about a submarine calling for aid for survivors from a ship and then itself getting bombed, occurred in October sometime, over two weeks later.
"Now, if that was the case, what would have required a second meeting?
"One possibility, of course, is that Churchill had had a chance to read the documents that Lukas had brought over on microfilm and needed some points clarified. If that was the case, I would have thought it sufficiently interesting for Lukas to have mentioned it in his narrative. But he doesn’t. So what other reason could there be?
"Well, we then have to look at what was happening to Jochen. For the sake of this discussion, let us make the assumption that Churchill, and we’ll use him for convenience, it may be some senior member of his staff, had arranged for the sabotage of the flying boat. They do so expecting the accident to happen over the sea. They may very well not have known of the planned detour to pick up Hess. This delay meant that the plane crashed over land. If their plan had worked the way they hoped, Churchill would have killed the two proverbial birds with one stone. Yeah, I know that’s a crass analogy in this case, but it’s apt. He would have got rid of the major player from the opposing team, meanwhile, in public, he could say that the Duke had been shot down on active service, making him a martyr to spur the English people on.
"As an aside, this was much the plan for Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie: the saboteurs had expected the 747 to fly westwards out to sea, but instead, weather caused it to fly northwards over Scotland so it crashed over land where the evidence was much more easily recovered.
"Anyway, back to Jochen’s crash. When Churchill’s folk learn that the Sunderland has been brought down over land, panic sets in. They scurry up to the Scotland, go to the crash site, and arrange for a total clean up. But, just when they think they might regain control of the situation, they are in for three surprises: the first is that Rudolf Hess was on board, and is dead. This is a disaster, because if the Germans find out, they will claim he was murdered and, very likely, reprisals will be taken out on Allied prisoners of war. The second is that the tail gunner survived. If you want any further evidence of cover up, read the story of the crash: this man, the apparent sole survivor, was not interviewed at the crash inquiry and, to the day he died, never spoke about the crash. Someone got to him.
"But the final surprise for them was the biggest. I don’t know what they found, perhaps, in the wreckage, the cap of an American officer, perhaps the tail gunner told them, but they discovered that yet another person was on the plane, an American officer. That in itself was not a problem; the problem was that there was no body to account for him.
"Big to-do. So they start a hunt. Probably it is conducted very unobtrusively at first, with delicate questions to the Americans. The English certainly don’t want this Yank talking, because Churchill has persuaded Roosevelt that the European theater must get top priority. He definitely doesn’t want Roosevelt to find out that the Royal Family isn’t all on board with his plans. Then, I would hazard a guess, the Americans say, ‘What the heck are you guys smoking? First this major from the Guards reports that a man purporting to be one of our Captains has been wandering around a restricted area, now you say he’s flying in your planes. Listen, little buddies, we don’t know who you’re talking about, but he sure ain’t one of our boys.’
"So now the Brits start to put two and two together, and when the answer looks really close to four, they figure out they very likely have a German agent on their hands. So now they throw caution to the winds and get everyone in the military in Scotland on the lookout for this person, since it is absolutely imperative that the Germans do not find out about Hess’s death.
"When the days turn into weeks with no results, a fair amount of consternation must have been building. What happens if the agent is caught and spills the beans on the sabotage? What happens if he isn’t caught and tells the Nazis about Hess? I can just imagine Churchill calling some very secret meetings to find out what they are achieving and what else they could be doing. Each day the stakes are getting higher, and, I can well imagine, each day he piles on more heat. But then, someone, I hope it was the young flight lieutenant, he sounded hot," a remark which caused catcalls from Rolf and Glenn, and earned him a punch on the arm from me. "Anyway, whoever it was, points out that, because it is wartime and personal travel is arranged on the basis of necessity, maybe the German emissary that tipped them off is not very high on this priority list and maybe Lukas is still in England.
"At the same time, Churchill realizes how bad a bind he really is in, so, they bring Lukas back in, and reluctantly lay some of their cards on the table. They tell him that Canaris was right about the plot, but they had the news too late to stop the flight. Fortunately, the weather stepped in and the plane crashed. The good news, they say, is that Canaris’, and their, worst fears were not realized. The bad news, however, is that they have very good reason to believe that, on the plane, was a man, posing as an American officer, whom they suspect of being a German agent. What is more, they have not been able to find the body of this man, and so it would appear he has survived.
"If this man were to break the news of the flight to the German High Command, they explain to Lukas, the very things that Canaris was against, as evidenced by the information he had sent over with Lukas, would come to pass.
"Did Lukas happen, by any chance, to know if there was an agent in Scotland and, if so, where he would be likely to be hiding?
"Up to this point, Lukas had no idea that Jochen had any connection with his mission, this is his first intimation of what his lover is doing. And this puts him in an enormous quandary and his feelings must have been going for a rollercoaster ride. The enemy knew about Jochen and, apparently, roughly where he was. Jochen’s capture seemed fairly certain, just a matter of time, and, when he was caught, he would surely be shot as a spy.
"On the other hand, were Lukas to help the English capture Jochen, he would be betraying the Fatherland, but then, when he thought it through, what was Canaris, his commanding officer, doing, if not the very same thing?
"Lukas must have realized that, since the English were talking to him about this matter at all, meant that they needed Jochen fairly desperately. So he gambles and comes up with a bargain. If he tells them what he knows, he wants their word that the agent would be treated as a prisoner of war and held captive rather than being shot as a spy.
"The English don’t like this. Shooting the agent is the only sure method of ensuring his silence. On the other hand, they haven’t caught him in over two, or more, weeks, so it would seem that their chances of doing so before he can send a message back to Germany are dropping fast. They don’t like it, but they swallow hard and make the deal.
"So Lukas gives them a description of Jochen, his name, rank and serial number. Maybe he even has a photo of Jochen with him. He tells them of the safe house in Aberdeen, and that it is probably Jochen’s destination if he has been hurt.
"Churchill’s guys pass this information on to the teams in the field who are searching for Jochen.
"But as much as they want him captured, they need to have him in their control, not the general military’s, so that he can’t discuss the sabotage with anybody else. For this reason they place one, or at most two or three, people they can trust, in the area between the crash and Aberdeen. Now, as soon as Jochen is spotted at Invergordon, the major calls in and arranges for the MPs to meet him at Aberdeen. Churchill has probably left instructions that he has to be notified of any and all developments, and so he hears about this too. He at once alerts his team in Scotland. They get their man to intercept Jochen and exchange clothes. This is more than mere melodrama — they achieve two crucial points. First, they get everything Jochen has into their possession so they can look at it in secret and at their leisure. As we heard, this nets them the camera and the film. Secondly, when Jochen is captured, unless he admits being a spy, he has satisfied the Geneva Convention requirements to be treated as a combatant — he is in the military uniform of his own country. Churchill was probably very aware of just how trigger happy soldiers can get."
"But, why wouldn’t Churchill’s guys have just pulled rank on the MPs and said, ‘butt out, it’s our show now?’" asked Eric.
"Because, Churchill didn’t have enough guys in the area to handle the situation if Jochen tried to escape. He had to use the larger military group to get him, and then, when Jochen was hobbled, as it were, they would take him over," Mike argued. "Let the Cormorant catch the fish, but keep the ring on his neck to prevent him from swallowing it so you can have it."
"The major pounces before Churchill’s men can get to the station, but that’s not a problem, the uniform swap has gained them the time they needed. Then MI19 steps in with orders from somewhere so high in the military that the major cannot get around them.
"So Jochen is taken to London.
"But Jochen captured provides them with yet more of a quandary. To their shock, they discover that not only does he know about the proposed trip to Sweden, not only does he know of Hess’s death, but he has actually seen and read the documents the Duke of Kent was carrying. Shooting, of course, would be the obvious answer, but Churchill has given his word and refuses to acquiesce to that plan. A second "accident", even in wartime, would strain the rules of probability. So isolation is the only alternative. There are too many Germans already on the Isle of Wight, so Bermuda is a good second choice.
"One thing puzzles me, still," Mike mused. "Jochen is fairly emphatic that his questioners know he had sex with the Duke. How did they know that? If you read the accounts of the crash, the two people that knew Jochen had gone to the Duke’s room, the naval officer and the batman, had been killed in the crash. My theory is that, when the batman woke the Duke up in the morning, he spotted the distinctly different uniform of the American in the room, and during the morning he passed this scuttlebutt on to one or more of his buddies. But we’ll never know for sure.
"Anyway, by the time the war ends, the Allies are not quite so allied any more. The Russians are increasingly playing hardball. Also, the Nuremberg trials are going forward. It is hard for the British to be prosecuting Germans for maltreatment of POWs and also say, ‘By the way, your second in command was killed in a plane crash. Oops!’ In any case, Churchill is out of the government and those loyal to him see that ’fessing up to the cover up would harm his career. So, a stand-in for Hess is sent to Nuremberg. Who he is, what he is offered for doing this, who knows? Several Nazi defendants, Hermann Goring for one, see through the subterfuge, but no one pays any attention to them.
"But just as importantly, Jochen cannot be released. He is not a British citizen, so the Brits can’t threaten him with DORA, their Defense of the Realm Act, which they use to cudgel people who know too much into silence.
While they try to figure this conundrum out, Jochen is left to languish in his prison in Eden. This is too much for Lukas, who goes to Bermuda, and tweaks the Royal Navy’s nose by springing him.
"Eventually, the two of them get back to Europe. Lukas, rather trustingly, believing that his changed name will keep anyone from recognizing him as the man who sprang Jochen from Bermuda, travels to England on business. For someone of his experience, this was naīve, and, not surprisingly, he is arrested."
"How do you figure they knew it was him?" asked Glenn. "They didn’t have computers, and they weren’t taking fingerprints of people coming into the country, were they?"
"That’s a good question. It’s the keystone of my theory. My guess is that it was from a photograph. They must have had one from when he visited Churchill during the war. Maybe from his legitimate passport at that time. We know they had one, because they used it with the two gay guys in New York for identification. My bet is that he was on the list of the ten most wanted in the UK at the time. Cops and immigration officials are trained to remember these images.
"But the Brits must have had a lot of pictures of different people. If Lukas had merely tipped Churchill off to the Duke of Kent’s mission, why would they suspect him of complicity in the escape? That they did, reinforces my supposition that he, at a second meeting, made a deal for Jochen’s life. Even if they didn’t suspect them of being lovers, the Brits knew Lukas had some skin in the game.
"So, back to the trial. The evidence against him is almost undisputable. He’s arraigned, and the whole preparation for a trial goes on. But then, and at the very last moment, the charges are dropped. Weeks of trial preparation come to naught, at the very moment the trial is about to begin.
"That was an immediate alarm to me. I don’t know too much about English law, but I guess that, like here, the prosecution doesn’t bring charges, let alone go to trial, without having a good idea of the evidence in hand. If they had gone that far, they would be sure they had a fairly strong hand.
"So what had happened?
"Well, Joachim says he wasn’t in Britain from the time he was captured until 1971. But, when Glen and Rolf start talking about a vacation using a rail pass, Joachim becomes quite talkative about trains. One that had caught his fancy, probably because of his line of business, was one named Holland America Line — remember his joke about the English always wanting to think of themselves as surrounded by sea? Well, I went and looked that locomotive up on the web. Guess wha "
I nearly choked on my beer. "You," I laughed. "You, browsed the web for a locomotive?"
"Yes!" responded Mike a trifle defensively. "You don’t have to be a nerd to know how to Google."
"Guess not. I’m just surprised you knew what a locomotive was." I grinned at him.
"Hey, Chris, quit hassling the guy. Let’s hear the story," interjected Rolf.
"Sure," I replied smiling at Mike and rubbing his leg. "That’s what I love about my guy, something new every day."
Mike went on. "Anyway, first off, this locomotive was built after the war, and was withdrawn from service in the ’60s. So, if his story is true, there is no way he could have seen it at a station. Secondly, the Brits divide their rail system up geographically. This particular locomotive ran in the south, between London and the coast. He couldn’t have seen it in Scotland. I’ll come back to this, because here the idea is a little cloudy.
"The final inconsistency, but the one I believe, puts everything in context, is when the two guys meet Winston Churchill in the South of France. As far as their story goes, only Lukas has ever met Churchill before. Yet Churchill greets them with the phrase ‘the two Antonios’, which their friend attributes to a Shakespearean reference to a character in The Merchant of Venice, who has all his wealth from shipping goods. It’s plausible because, no doubt, he has introduced them to Churchill as two people, prominent in the import-export trade.
"Now, if we look closely at this Antonio, we see a guy who basically places his life as a guarantee for a loan to his friend who is in dire need of the money. Nothing is too overt, but one could probably make a case to say there was a certain romantic attraction between Antonio and his buddy, Bassanio.
"But, the name Antonio crops up more than once in Shakespeare. There’s the guy in Twelfth Night who is definitely in love with his buddy, Sebastian. He gives Sebastian half his money, he actually stays in a land where there is a price on his head, in order to take care of Sebastian. You don’t have to map the hormones here to see one guy in love with another.
"Two Antonios, both probably gay, both putting themselves in danger for their partners.
"That’s why I say that Churchill’s comment is so pivotal. If, as we are supposed to believe, he has never met Joachim before, the remark is unaccountably flippant. Under what circumstance might he have thought that this remark would be acceptable? Only if both of the others had had a fairly close relationship with Churchill some time before, plus Churchill knows there is some attraction between them, plus each of the two know he knows.
"I have told you what I think transpired between Churchill and Lukas. What I think happened with Joachim is this: he finds out that Lukas has landed in jail because of the Bermuda caper. I would suspect that very little communication went on at that time between Lukas and Jochen for fear that Jochen’s cover would be blown. As I mentioned before, the whole trial scenario doesn’t jell. No lawyer gets to that stage of a trial without having all his ducks in a row.
"So what went on for four weeks, and then what changed?
"My guess is that it took about a week for Jochen to make his plans. I would imagine he then went to Scotland by a roundabout route, maybe through Ireland. He made his way up to the croft where he had stayed before. I think he visited the people again and stayed with them. Lukas mentioned that Jochen had tried to play the bagpipes. That is not something you try when you’ve got a broken collar bone. If Rory had seen him try the bagpipes, it had to have been at another time, and he would have had to be in the house a while, because you don’t just march into a house and start to play the host’s bagpipes. But, in the early months of the year when it gets dark early, which is when Lukas was in jail, it would be quite natural for them to sit around during the long evening and talk — and quite conceivably, try one’s hand at the pipes.
"But why did he go to Scotland at all? Because I think, during his recuperation, he had hidden the other, the first, film of the Duke’s documents there for some reason. Perhaps he feared the camera and film might get lost, maybe, instinctively, it was just a backup. So I think he retrieved this film, then went down to London and met with Winston Churchill who was then, once again, Prime Minister. I think he went to Churchill and made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. The film in exchange for dropping charges against Lukas and himself."
"Holy shit!" said Eric. "You think this really happened?"
"If it didn’t, some similar scenario did. It takes some serious influence from way up high to derail a criminal prosecution. Something has to explain all the strange things that happened."
"You said you were going to tell us something about that locomotive," I reminded him.
"Oh, yeah. Remember the locomotive I spoke about earlier? One of the lines that that type of locomotive would have traveled over passed through a town called Seven Oaks. That town is near Chartwell, which is Churchill’s home. It’s a long shot, but if Churchill was going to enter any sub rosa agreement, it would be conceivable he would do it somewhere other than Chequers.
Mike sat back in his chair and looked around.
"Mike, you surely have a way with words," Eric stated. "Why didn’t you say anything to them when they were here?"
"That would have been the unkindest cut of all. None of us must ever, under any circumstances, let on to either of them that we think anything like this.
"It is my belief that this is the extent of the relationship, the love that these two have for each other. Each firmly wants their partnership to remain intact due only to the mutual love. That the very concept of one being beholden to the other would somehow cheapen, sully, the bond.
"I had even considered the pros and cons of discussing my theory at all with you guys, but I figured that, since I believed it was very probably accurate, I owed it to you and Glenn."
"I appreciate that," said Eric. "Thank you."
"Yes. Thanks, Mike," echoed Glenn.
"So what do you think?" Mike asked me.
"I reckon you’re wasting your life by being a porn star. With a brain like yours, you should go to school and become a lawyer." Everyone laughed as my remark broke the more somber atmosphere of Mike’s tale.
"How do you two guys live together," asked Glenn? "Is everything you do always so intense? Every day just one analysis after the other?"
"No!" I exclaimed. "We live just like everyone else. There’s some intellectual discussion, sure, but otherwise it’s just day to day stuff, mainly."
"You’ve got to understand," explained Mike with mock seriousness, "that intellectual discussion for one of us is, ‘Oh, man, check this out. I’ve just managed to speed up my PC by ten gigahertz and this afternoon I put a new exhaust on my bike so it goes three miles an hour faster. Let’s get naked.’"
Rolf gave a shriek of laughter, and Glenn thought Mike’s description was pretty funny, too. Even our token hetero, Eric, was grinning broadly at me.
"OK. For starters, I overclocked the CPU on one of my old computers that gained me about HALF a Gig. If I HAD managed to get it to go ten Gig faster you could probably grill steak on the case. Secondly, the new exhaust on the Ninja gave me an extra three horsepower on the dyno. And as for the getting naked," I took a sip of my wine and grinned at Mike, "it seemed like a good idea at the time."
And so we spent another hour, chatting about everyday things, as our lives returned to normal.
Afterwards, we climbed the steep stairs on the embankment to where our cars were parked. Eric turned to Mike and me after he unlocked his door. "Guys, this has been one hell of a year for me. I really don’t think I’ve come to terms with it all yet: it’ll probably take some time still. But you guys have really done a lot, and I can never really tell you how much I appreciate it all."
"It was a great pleasure for us," Mike said. "Definitely for Chris, and for me as well, it had all the thrills of an archeological find. We scratched the surface a little, and from the sands of time, look what appeared." We expressed gratitude for the great time we’d had with Jochen and Lukas, and invited Eric to feel free to come and visit with us any time he returned to Inverness to see Glenn.
Mike and I stood there in the almost deserted parking lot, watching as his car pulled out into the road, followed by Rolf and Glenn in Glenn’s Jetta, then we turned, and walked hand in hand to the Audi. As we reached it I pulled him close to me and gave him a kiss.
"Let’s get naked," I suggested. He looked at me, startled, then a grin spread over his face and, followed by me, he pulled his shirt over his head and tossed it onto the back seat.
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