Authors: Jennifer A. Nielsen
Tags: #Historical, #Adventure, #Science Fiction, #Mystery, #Young Adult, #Childrens
Riq spent the rest of the afternoon near the German Embassy, where they discovered one interesting fact: Madrid loved gossip. The people here devoured it the way rabbits eat carrots. Everyone had his or her own tidbit of news to share in exchange for a friend’s even juicier morsel. The two watched different pairs of people come and go from the embassy, heads inclined toward each other to share the latest scoop. And nobody seemed to care if they were talking near a young girl and boy engaged in a game of jacks. Sera and Riq might have looked like they were playing, but both had their ears tuned in to every word that was spoken near them.
“Nobody works harder than Kuhlenthal at spying on us,” one Spanish officer said laughingly to another. “Does he think we don’t know who he is? He’s lucky so many of us support the Nazis, or he wouldn’t get very far.”
“I’ve heard he has Jewish blood, from a grandmother,” the officer’s companion said. “Can you believe it, a Jewish-born Nazi? Imagine if Hitler knew about that.”
Minutes later, two men in Nazi uniforms passed them. “Personally, I doubt the papers are real,” one of them said. “But that’s for Kuhlenthal to decide, not us.”
“He had better hope he gets this right,” responded the other. “He’s fallen for Allied tricks before. And yet, if the papers are real and Kuhlenthal backs them, he will become the Führer’s favorite spy.”
Sera looked over at Riq and frowned. This spy business was starting to mess with her head.
Britain needed everyone to think they were desperate to get Martin’s papers back.
But they couldn’t actually succeed in getting them back. At least, not until Germany saw them.
The papers had to look as if they were written in a code, to protect them in case they were found.
Yet the code had to be easy for Germany to figure out, although not so easy that it would look as if Britain was trying to trick them.
And if she and Riq were going to be helpful, they had to persuade Kuhlenthal to trust them. If they pushed too hard, though, he might suspect something. So how were they supposed to convince him?
After several hours, Riq and Sera had nearly given up hope of even seeing Kuhlenthal that day. Maybe he’d come tomorrow. Or maybe never. Sera was standing up to leave when she heard footsteps behind her and turned.
Kuhlenthal was right behind her, but his blue eyes were focused on Riq. “Who is this?”
“We both speak English,” Sera said. “But my friend here can speak a dozen other languages perfectly.”
“Two dozen,” Riq corrected, then shrugged when Sera glanced back at him. “I’ve been practicing in my spare time.”
Kuhlenthal frowned. “We have other Nazis who can read English, of course, but if I let them see the letters, they’ll tell Hitler that
solved this mystery, not me. You understand that I can’t allow anyone else to read them until I’ve made my report.”
Sera nodded. Her heart was racing, though she wasn’t sure if it was from excitement or fear. Maybe it was both.
“You can trust us,” Riq said. “Besides, even if we tried to report back to Hitler, he’d never believe a couple of kids.”
Kuhlenthal seemed to like that. He stepped closer to them and said, “The wet ink ran in a few places and I can’t make out the words. I must get a report back to Germany immediately. Can you help me read it?”
Sera and Riq followed Kuhlenthal into the German Embassy. He led them downstairs into a narrow, poorly lit hallway, and on their way, explained that the Spanish officials had cleverly managed to remove the letters from the envelopes without breaking the seals. The letters had been dried and then given to him — but only for a single hour. There had been just enough time to photograph the letters before returning them, and now the photos had been developed.
“What will happen to the letters now?” Sera asked.
“Spain will soak them in seawater again, then refold them and replace them in the envelopes. They will lock the briefcase and return it to Britain as if none of this had ever happened.” He chuckled. “Sometimes I have thought the Allies are very clever. But they underestimated the reach of the Nazis. They will continue forward with their battle plans without any idea that we know their secrets.”
Sera cast an eye at Riq, who only lifted his eyebrows in response. It was a most dangerous game of cat and mouse. Both Germany and Britain believed they were tricking the other side. And in the next great battle between the two, one would be proven right, and the other would suffer a major defeat that could cost thousands of lives.
Kuhlenthal put his hand on a doorknob, but before opening it turned to Sera and Riq. “The only person who will ever know you saw these is me,” he said. “So if you try any tricks, nothing can save you.”
Sera swallowed hard and nodded, then Kuhlenthal led them into a small room with portable lights set up to brighten it. The papers that must have been there only a short time ago were now replaced with enlarged black-and-white photographs. The photographer had been thorough. Every word of the letters was in at least one of his pictures.
Kuhlenthal motioned them in closer, then spread out the photos so they could be better examined.
The first photo was Martin’s military identification card. The person pictured on the identification looked very similar to the body that Sera had seen during the postmortem, but it couldn’t be the same person. She knew the British had gotten Martin’s body after he was already dead, while this man was very much alive. Sera had once heard that everyone in the world had someone out there who looked exactly like them — a doppelganger — and if that was true, the British had somehow managed to find that person for their Mincemeat Man.
Kuhlenthal lifted the identity card to Sera. “You’ve seen his body for yourself,” he said. “Is this the same man?”
Sera pretended to study the picture, but of course she already knew how she’d answer. “The body had decomposed from its time in the water,” she said. “But this picture looks just like him.” She figured that was truthful enough.
Another set of photos documented a letter to Major Martin from his father, scolding him for not being as responsible as he should. Then there was a loving letter from a woman who was engaged to marry Martin. That one looked as if it had been folded and unfolded many times — Sera liked that detail. Of course a man at war would reread that letter as often as possible.
Of more interest to the Germans, there was a note from Martin’s commander warning the recipient that the papers he was carrying were very important and secretive. It also made a request for Martin to return with some sardines, since they were hard to find in Britain. That was a bogus request, since whoever actually wrote the letter would have known Major Martin would not come back alive. He didn’t even leave while still alive.
Along with that note was the heart of the entire Mincemeat Man plan: a letter from one British general to another. Sera read it as quickly as she could. It said that they hoped the Germans would believe Sicily was about to be attacked, but that the real invasion was for Greece. The letter had everything the Germans would need: the dates for the attack, the size of the invasion force, and the code names that would be used.
The risk was plain enough. If Germany didn’t believe the Allies were going to invade Greece, then they would know quite a bit about the real invasion of Sicily.
Kuhlenthal pointed out a few words where the ink had run, and Riq and Sera were both quick to give their most honest opinions as to what was written there. When they were finished, Kuhlenthal pulled up a chair and leaned back, deep in thought, with his eyes closed and the fingertips of each hand pressed against one another. Riq and Sera waited in the awkward silence, unsure of what to do.
Finally, Kuhlenthal opened his eyes. “Why would the Allies want Greece?” he asked. “Sicily is far more important.”
“But Sicily is too well defended,” Riq said. “If the Allies take Greece, then they will be in a better position to attack Sicily later on.”
“True.” Kuhlenthal went back into deep thought, and after a moment he said, “A commander of the British army is having a hard time finding a simple can of sardines? Are things so bad in Britain that even a general can’t have his treat?”
“Sardines are the least of Britain’s problems,” Sera said. “Besides, they smell bad anyway.”
“What smells?” Kuhlenthal asked. “The sardines or the British?”
Riq and Sera laughed, but not really. The situation was far too dangerous and the joke just wasn’t that funny.
Kuhlenthal quickly grew serious again. “I wouldn’t dare to share this secret with anyone else — most of the Nazis here would be very glad to see me fail and take my place — but I need these papers to be real. It has been a long time since I have sent anything useful to Hitler. He is becoming . . . impatient with me.”
That was their chance, Sera realized. Kuhlenthal would believe the letters simply because he wanted so badly for them to be real. For the sake of his career, and maybe his life, he
them to be real.
Which led her to a worse idea. For a long time, Sera had believed that if they fixed history and made everything okay, that her family would be there when she came home, happy and healthy and alive. Even with Tilda’s recent accusations, Sera realized she
expected a happy reunion at the end of all this. But maybe her visions of a happy ending weren’t any more real than Major Martin’s papers. Maybe she only believed it would come true because she wanted so desperately for it to come true.
Suddenly, Kuhlenthal clapped his hands together and stood up, then began gathering the photos. “I must catch a flight back to Germany at once,” he said. “I will deliver these to the Führer myself.”
“What are you going to tell him?” Riq asked.
“My report will be as balanced as I can make it,” Kuhlenthal answered. “But if I am to convince the Führer that the Allies are invading Greece, I will need to get his most trusted man on my side: Colonel Von Roenne.”
done as much as they possibly could, and with that, Sera was more than happy to get herself and Riq out of there. Kuhlenthal spooked her. He wasn’t SQ, but that didn’t make him any less dangerous. As far as she was concerned, she and Riq had done everything they could to convince him to believe Mincemeat Man. The rest was up to Dak.
“I wish to pay you for your services,” Kuhlenthal said. “Whatever Clauss gave you, I will give you the same.”
Sera started to tell him no thanks, but Riq quickly accepted, then looked at Sera as if to remind her that Kuhlenthal would trust them more if he could pay them. Besides, they needed some money if they were going to eat in the next few days.
Eating was a fine idea, but so was being alive, and Sera wasn’t entirely sure that was Kuhlenthal’s plan.
Kuhlenthal escorted Riq and Sera outside, leading them away from the building and down a steep hill where it was dark and they were alone. Sera didn’t like the feel of this, not at all, but how could she warn Riq of her concerns without alerting Kuhlenthal?
“I know there are many spies like me.” Kuhlenthal’s dark expression was lit by the bright moon overhead. “And then there are double agents, who pretend to be on my side, but work for the enemy.”
“We helped you,” Sera said.
“And I told you, I don’t need the help of a young girl.” He turned and pulled some money from his pocket, then held it out to them. “This will pay for your silence, I think.”
Sera stood in place, still suspicious, but Riq thanked the major and stepped forward to accept the money. When he reached out his hand, Sera caught a glint of metal in the moonlight. She cried, “Riq, he has a knife!”
Riq swerved around, but Kuhlenthal grabbed his arm and yanked Riq toward him. Sera noticed a fallen tree branch near her feet. She picked it up and swung it at Kuhlenthal like she was batting for a home run.
She connected with a satisfying crack, and the branch broke in two.
Riq fell forward onto the ground, clutching at his side, and Kuhlenthal rolled backward down the steep hill. Down where Sera figured she and Riq were supposed to have rolled instead, probably not to have been found for days.
“C’mon,” Sera yelled, starting to run up the hill.
But Riq, still on his knees, was gathering up the money that had scattered when Kuhlenthal had fallen. “We’ll need this!”
He was right about that, and Sera hurried back to help him grab what they could before Kuhlenthal made it up the hillside again. They heard his growls somewhere below them, and set off as quickly as they could run.
Neither of them stopped until they were far away from Kuhlenthal, the Ministry building, and anyone who even looked like a spy.
Only then did Riq sink against a shop wall, still holding his side. “He cut me.”
“What?” Sera went to her knees beside him. His shirt had a small slice in it, but only a thin trickle of blood was showing.
“How bad is it?” Riq asked.
“Pretty awful,” Sera said, hiding her smile. “You’ll need surgery, but since we can’t trust the doctors here, I’ll have to do it myself. Do you happen to have a needle and thread?”
“Oh, no you don’t!” Riq practically leapt to his feet and twisted around to inspect the damage for himself. Then he looked up. “Yeah, that was funny. Now I can see why you and Dak get along.”
“Sorry,” Sera said, laughing now. “Does it hurt?”
“Yeah,” Riq said. “But I guess it’s not as bad as I thought. Let’s get out of here.”
“But to where?” Sera asked. “It’s after curfew, so we shouldn’t be out.”
She followed after Riq as he started walking. “We passed a quiet alley a little ways back,” he said. “It’s a warm night and the alley should give us some protection in case Kuhlenthal goes poking around. We’ll take shifts staying awake tonight and figure out what to do next after we’ve had some sleep.”
They didn’t get much sleep, but the following morning, Sera and Riq each bought a warm, sugary churro and talked over what they should do next.
“We’ve done as much as we can,” Riq said. “Kuhlenthal will take the papers to Germany and the rest will be up to Dak.”
Dak even stuck around,” Sera said worriedly. Riq had told her about Tilda’s orders to have the SQ in Berlin find him, which had put a knot in her stomach that wouldn’t go away. “I think we need to go to Germany,” she added. “We have to see this through, and besides, we have to find Dak.”
Riq nodded, but Sera saw the doubt in his eyes. “Kuhlenthal mentioned that he had to get a flight into Germany. It’s probably on a military plane, so we can’t follow that way.”
“I know,” Sera said. “But we have to get the Infinity Ring from the train station anyway. We’ll use the money from Kuhlenthal to catch the next train out of here, so we probably won’t be too far behind him.”
“If Dak is still okay, our going to Germany might make things worse for him,” Riq warned.
“I know.” Sera drew in a breath. “If he’s undercover, we could expose him. But we’re not warping out of here without Dak. We have to take the risk.”
They took a taxi to the train station, always with one eye on the cars around them to be sure they weren’t followed. Once they arrived, Sera led Riq to some lockers.
“I knew I couldn’t bring the Infinity Ring anywhere near that park,” she explained. “It was too dangerous to just hide it under a bush or something, and if I had it on me, Tilda would’ve known it wasn’t in that suitcase.”
“But these lockers don’t look all that secure,” Riq said. “Anyone with a basic knowledge of lock picking could get inside one.”
“Maybe,” Sera said. “But nobody other than us knows the Infinity Ring’s bag is here, so they’d have no reason to break in.”
She inserted a key into the lock and opened the door. The Infinity Ring’s bag was there, exactly as she had left it.
But everything wasn’t
as it had been. Just as a spy would, Sera had plucked a hair from her head and laid it over the top of the satchel. If someone wanted to open the satchel, they’d have to move the hair to do so. And to Sera’s dismay, she noticed now that the strand of hair was
the satchel. Had someone else been inside this locker?
Sera lunged for the bag and pulled it open, revealing the Infinity Ring — safe and sound.
“What’s wrong?” Riq asked.
“Nothing,” Sera said quickly. But she wondered: What if Tilda had somehow known the Infinity Ring was in here? Was it possible she had broken in and used it?
Sera sighed. She hated to admit it, but it was possible. However, it was also unlikely. If Tilda or anyone else had gone to so much trouble to steal the Ring, why bother returning it? Maybe someone had broken into the locker for valuables, and assumed the Ring was a worthless toy.
“C’mon,” Sera said, lifting the satchel and returning it to her belt, “we’ve got a train to catch.”
Minutes later as their train rolled out of the station, Riq leaned over to Sera and said, “It won’t be as easy as you think to waltz into Germany. Are you sure it’s worth all this trouble to get Dak?”
Sera smiled at his joke, but the knot in her stomach returned again. If Dak was . . . If the SQ had already gotten to Dak, then everything they had done so far would have been a waste of time.