Authors: John Altman
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A Game of Spies
Thanks to Richard Curtis, my agent,
for his insight and guidance, and to Neil Nyren, my editor,
for his countless contributions to this book.
Overall, France and its allies turn out to have been better equipped for war than was Germany, with more trained men, more and better tanks, more bombers and fighters.â¦ When Germany opened its offensive against the Low Countries and France in May 1940, not a single [German] general expected victory to result. The chief of staff of the German army wrote to his wife that his fellow generals thought what they were doing was “crazy and reckless.”â¦ But if the Allies in May 1940 were in most respects militarily superior, were not badly led, and did not suffer from demoralization (not yet, at least), then what accounts for Germany's six-week triumph?
Hagen had not slept well; his head was throbbing with fatigue.
As the Mercedes limousine rolled toward the frontier, he reached into his breast pocket and withdrew a vial of SS
aspirin. He thumbed it open, put two of the chalky pills into his mouth, and swallowed them dry. After returning the vial to his pocket, he turned to look at his companion, Major Schinkel. Schinkel appeared calm; his eyes were cool and haughty behind rimless spectacles.
Hagen, seeing this, allowed himself to relax. He leaned back in his seat, willing the aspirin to take hold. He was a pale, Scandinavian-featured man with close-cropped silver hair and a crook in his nose from a long-ago training session that had ended badly. Now, thanks to the restless night, his face looked unusually sunken: the skin drawn too tautly across the high cheekbones, the blue eyes looking out from deep hollows.
They passed through the German checkpoint with a friendly exchangeâbut the Dutch were less hospitable. The border guard scowled at the men's forgeries, held a hasty palaver, then ordered them out of the car. Now the aspirin were starting to take effect, and Hagen was able to watch the inspection with a genuine smirk on his face. There were no weapons in the Mercedes or on their persons. The weapons were in the next car, the one following ten minutes behind.
Presently, the Dutch could find no reason to keep the men delayed. They were waved back into the car and then waved on.
After another four minutes, the Mercedes drew to a stop before a two-storied gabled cafÃ©, with potted plants on a balcony and a scatter of deserted garden chairs out front. Hagen and Schinkel exchanged a glance and then left the car without speaking. They navigated the chairs and moved inside, into a warm room filled with the clatter of silverware and the fragrance of fresh coffee.
The British had arrived ahead of them.
The men greeted one another with half-courtesies: the British half-standing, the Germans half-bowing. Hobbs, Hagen thought, looked as if he had not slept well himself. His sandy-blond hair was unkempt; his thin mustache looked more ruffled than usual. He seemed ill at ease in his chair, unable to fit his rangy legs comfortably beneath the table. But the other man, Dill, looked restedâfresh, and overly eager.
The Germans sat and ordered coffee. A spot of sunlight on the white tablecloth flickered slightly as a cloud drifted through the sky outside.
They picked up where they had left off, with Dill describing his network of brothers and cousins and sympathetic friends. Dill was not a working man, according to the story he had told the Germans. He had been on the dole for half his life, and had spent that timeâcleverly, he seemed to thinkâcultivating a network against the British. His promises included wide-ranging campaigns of sabotage, espionage, and black propaganda. But Dill's brogue, Hagen noticed, had a tendency to wax and wane. He played his role with too much gusto, with too much hearty earthiness, betraying his true opinion of the Irish.
Hagen and Schinkel nodded encouragingly as Dill made his promises, then turned their attention to Hobbs. For the past decade, William Hobbs, according to his cover story, had squandered his time with a variety of pursuitsâerrand boy, factory worker, stonemason's apprentice, author of political pamphlets, and member of Owsley's British Union of Fascists. According to the cover story, he had also spent that time informing on his malfeasant peers for MI6. It was a fine act, Hagen thought, mixing fact and fiction in just the right proportions. The Germans had been watching British spies since the mid-1930s and already had Hobbs on file as a possible agent. It was entirely possible that a man cut from his clothâpart-time spy, part-time provocateur, full-time drinker and womanizerâwould be swayed by a few reichsmarks to go over to the other side.
In reality, of course, it had taken much more than a few.
The spot of sunlight on the table was lost in a sudden flurry of similar spots. Hagen glanced up. Through the window, he could see the flared black fender of the second Mercedes as it pulled up outside the cafÃ©.
He shot a look at Schinkel. The major was listening to Hobbs, looking appropriately disturbed at a demand the man had just made for more money. All for Dill's benefit, of course. According to the conditions of their agreement, Dill was to be returned to England unharmed within a week, at which point he would no doubt deliver a full report of this encounter to his superiors. So it had to look good.
“It may be possible,” Schinkel was saying. “But we must have some collateral in exchange, I would think. Something to justify such an increase in expense.”
Hobbs gave one of his lopsided, patronizing grins; he reached for a cigarette burning in an ashtray. “Herr Schinkel,” he said cheerfully. “You insult me, sir.”
Hagen's eyes drifted back to the window. The second Mercedes was waiting patiently. There were three men in the car, indistinct through the frosted windows.
At last Hobbs and Schinkel had hammered out an agreementâan extra fifty pounds, to be considered a bonus. Hagen stepped in quickly, bringing the meeting to a close before Dill could get any ideas about demanding more money for himself. It would be a waste of time, and time, with the second Mercedes waiting outside, was precious.
They settled their bill and gathered together their coats, then stood, offered more semi-bows, and shook hands all around. When they began moving toward the exit, Hagen and Schinkel hung back, letting the British go first. Hobbs walked with a slight limpâa trophy of a rugby injury, if Hagen remembered correctly, from many years before.
As soon as the men had stepped out into the sunshine, the doors of the second Mercedes swung open.
The three men who emerged from the car held the standard-issue Gestapo firearm, the Luger P 08.
They fanned out around the two Englishmen with the guns held at waist level. They wore plainclothes, dark and unexceptional. A few Dutch civilians milling in the street looked on, wide-eyed, as the Germans gestured the British toward the waiting car.
Hagen stayed near the patio of the cafÃ©, cataloguing possible trouble spots, calculating chances of success. Hobbs would offer no problem, of course, because Hobbs was a willing part of the operation. But Dill would need to be watched closely. To Dill, the kidnapping would come as a rude surprise; and a man with his back to the wall, as Hagen well knew, was a man capable of anything.
His eyes moved to the Dutch civilians. They were gaping, plainly staggered by the Germans' effrontery. Holland was a neutral territory, and the spectacle before them now was so unexpected, so barefacedly illegal, that it had paralyzed them. They were sheep, Hagen thought, with a quick flash of disdain. There was nothing to fear there.
One duck-shouldered Dutchman, however, had a look in his eyesâa glimmer of courage. He would bear watching.
Now Hobbs was being forced into the car at gunpoint. Dill, waiting for his turn, was cursing bitterly at the three Gestapo agents. His hands were raised, perched on either side of his narrow, apple-cheeked face. He was looking for a chance, Hagen thought. But would he be stupid enough to take one?
Evidently he was. In the next instant, Dill had shoved one of the Gestapo full on the chest. As the man tumbled backward, he made a sudden, frantic break to his right.
Hagen swore to himself, and moved to intercept.
Too slow. The two Gestapo still standing raised their guns and fired in unison. The reports sounded flat, rolling off down the quiet street and then echoing back. Dill crumpled forward with a bright red flower spreading between his shoulder blades.
The door of the Mercedes slammed shut, sealing off Hobbs.
Hagen moved to check on the wounded Britisher. Still alive. He waved at the Gestapo to come and give him assistance, then bent down and began to wrestle Dill to his feet.
From the corner of his eye, he saw the beefy Dutchman coming forwardâhe had found the courage somewhere.
Hagen straightened. He left Dill to the SS and moved to deal with the Dutchman himself. He circled around behind the man, raising his hand and forming a knife edge, tucking the thumb into the palm, preparing to deliver a single blow to the base of the neck.
Before he could complete the act, another gun had fired. The Dutchman's head whipped back; the air behind him clouded with crimson mist.
Hagen swore again.
He hated complications.
When he looked back over his shoulder, Dill, limp as a rag doll, was being manhandled into the waiting car. The doors closed and the Mercedes pulled away with screaming tires. Hagen took one last look at his surroundingsâthe Dutchman with his ruined head pulsing out gouts of blood, the bright rust-colored spot left in the street by Dill, Major Schinkel standing with a dazed look on his face. Then he raised a hand to his temple. His headache was back, sharper than before.