Authors: Ward Larsen
Tags: #Thrillers, #Suspense, #Fiction, #Suspense Fiction, #Espionage, #Germany, #Spies - Germany, #Intelligence Officers, #Atomic Bomb - United States, #Mystery & Detective, #United States, #Great Britain, #Intelligence Officers - Great Britain, #Spy Stories, #Historical, #Spies - United States, #Manhattan Project (U.S.), #Spies, #Nazis
For most, it was another day in a long war. Yet as a precursor to human tragedy, July 16, 1945, was a day without parallel.
The leading event came shortly before dawn, in the sparse desert of central New Mexico. In an instant that would irretrievably change the course of the world, a brilliant, searing explosion tore through the sky, turning night into day, sand into glass, and skeptics into believers. It was the worlds first atomic blast, code named Trinity.
On that very same morning, two ships slipped from port and headed into the vast Pacific Ocean. To the east, the heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis steamed under San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, her task to deliver vital components of another atomic weapon -- code named Little Boy -- to the tiny island of Tinian in the South Pacific. To the west, a Japanese Imperial Navy submarine, designated 1-58, also set sail. Her mission, ostensibly, was that of routine patrol, if there could be such a thing in time of war.
In a fashion, both ships would find success. Crossing the Pacific in record time, Indianapolis made her critical delivery, then steamed off to rejoin the fleet. And at the stroke of midnight on July 29,1-58 surfaced to find Indianapolis dead in her sights.
I-58s captain later claimed to have been astonished at his good fortune. Fortune or not, the results of the encounter have been well documented. Indianapolis took two torpedoes, and went down in twelve minutes. Of the ship s complement of 1,196, only 316 delirious seamen were eventually rescued.
At the end of the war, a court of inquiry investigated the disaster. Questions outnumbered answers, but a few were notably confounding. With the U. S. Navy swarming around the Japanese mainland, why had 1-58 traveled over a thousand miles south in search of targets? Was it merely a cruel stroke of fate that Indianapolis was lost in the vicinity of Challenger Deep, the deepest abyss in all the world's oceans?
But perhaps the most vexing question arose from the testimony of one group of survivors. They asserted, to a man, that a short time after Indianapolis's demise, the silhouette of a ship appeared on the near horizon. One sailor went so far as to fire his sidearm in an effort to attract attention. On studying all evidence, the court strongly doubted that they had seen 1-58 -- she had remained submerged for nearly an hour after the attack. In the end, the court was entirely unable to account for the presence of a third vessel, and the matter was summarily dumped into the "unexplainable" category.
This much is known.
Colonel Hans Gruber stood facing the stone wall at the back of his office, drawing heavily on a cigarette, a thick French wrap that filled the air around him with fetid gray smoke. On another day, in another place, he might have wondered if the acrid swill would bother the officers about to join him. But deep in an unventilated Berlin bunker, in April 1945, it was pointless. The bombing was mostly at fault, the Americans by day and the British by night, stirring the dust, bouncing the rubble, and creating more of each. Always more. Then there were the constant fires. Ash swirled in the air, at times indistinguishable from the snow, and subject to the whims of a bitter wind that somehow redistributed the mess without ever driving it away.
Gruber remained motionless, his tall, cadaverous frame hunched in thought, as fixed as the stony gargoyles that had once held watch over the building above. He stared blankly at the wall, glad there was no window. The Berlin outside was no longer worth looking at, a place unrelated to that of his youth. Even two years ago there had been hope. From his old office, he had looked down Berkaerstrasse on sunny mornings to see vestiges of the old city. Mothers pushing prams, stores still stocked with vegetables and thick sausage. Now he sat in a hole in the ground, praying for rain to dampen the ash, quell the fires and, most importandy, to hide the city from the next squadron of bombardiers.
A knock on the door interrupted Gruber'S miserable thoughts. He turned and stabbed the butt of his smoke into a worn ashtray on his desk.
A corporal ushered in two guests. In front, Gruber noted without surprise, was SS Major Rudolf Becker. He strode with purpose and was in full regalia -- black overcoat, shining jackboots, skull insignia, and a wheel hat tucked tightly under one arm. Behind him came General Freiderich Rode, the acting number two of the Abwehr, the intelligence network that answered to Germany's Armed Forces High Command. Rode's appearance and carriage were very different, a thick-necked jackal to Beckers strutting peacock. He was a working soldier, boots scuffed and trousers wrinkled, a square face carved from granite. His bulldog neck was shaved close, disappearing into the thick collar of his jacket, and the eyes were wide-set and squinting -- eyes that might be looking anywhere.
"Gentlemen," Gruber said formally, "please have a seat. Corporal Klein, that will be all."
Both men sat, and the corporal struggled to shut the solid door -- something had shifted in the bunker's earthen support structure and it hadn't closed normally in weeks. With privacy established, Gruber sat at his desk facing two men who looked very tired. The room fell silent as he reached into the bottom drawer and pulled out a half-empty bottle of vodka, then three tumblers.
"It's Polish. They cook it in spent radiators, I'm told."
Gruber's guests showed no amusement. They were no doubt wondering why he had called them here. If they hadn't been good friends, they probably wouldn't have come. Rank was becoming less relevant with each passing day, and an unexpected summons to the headquarters of the Sicherheitsdienst, or SD, was enough to make anyone nervous. It was the Nazi party's own intelligence service, run by some of the most desperate men in an increasingly desperate regime.
Gruber poured stout bracers and issued them around. No one bothered to toast anything -- for three German officers a certain sign of lost hope -- and three heads snapped back. Gruber set his glass gingerly on the desk and studied it before beginning.
"Have either of you made plans?" There was no need to be more specific.
Behind closed doors, Major Becker of the SS softened, his tone weary. "I have access to a boat, up north. But it will have to be soon. Ivan has crossed the Oder."
Rode said, "There is talk among the general staff of a convoy to the south. But I do not think big groups are good. Those who make it out will be alone, or in very small parties."
"I agree," said Gruber. He had his own escape, but wasn't going to share it, even with his most trusted peers. "How is our Fuhrer holding together?" he asked, addressing Rode, who still attended the occasional staff meeting in the Fuhrerbunker.
Rode shrugged. "The same."
Gruber knew, as did all who had seen Hitler in the last weeks, that their leader's mental health was deteriorating rapidly. He was despondent one minute, then bubbling with optimism the next as he ordered nonexistent divisions into battle against the advancing pincer. His field commanders were no help, making empty promises to avoid the Fuhrer's wrath, each hoping to buy enough time to escape his own last-minute firing squad. Lies to feed the lunacy -- and yet another multiplicand in the calculus of Germany's misery.
A rough, wet cough erupted as Gruber reached into his pocket. He extracted a silver cigarette case and plucked out another of the harsh French Gauloises. His doctor had advised him to stop, but Gruber decided it would be an improbable fate at this point to die at the hand of tobacco. The others sat in silence as he lit up, stagnant gray smoke curling up toward a ceiling stained black.
"Gentlemen, our immediate future is as clear as it is untenable. Within certain obvious constraints, it is up to us to plan for the future of the Reich." Gruber let that hang in the air for an appropriate amount of time. "Of course, the first priority is to establish ourselves in a safe place. This will require patience. The world will be in a state of confusion and recovery for many months, perhaps years, and this we must take advantage of."
"Our network in Italy remains strong," Rode suggested. "And Spain is possible."
"No, no. These might be good staging points for our departure, but Europe is out of the question for the near term. We will need a great deal of time to reorganize."
Becker added, "And a great deal of money."
"Yes, indeed. But here we are fortunate. Our Swiss friends are competent and extremely discreet in these matters. Considerable funds will be at our disposal. We will have the money, and we will take our time. But there is one particularly pressing matter."
Gruber stood and flicked his cigarettes spent ashes carelessly on the stone floor. "It concerns an agent of yours, General. Die Wespe."
Rode's eyes narrowed to mere slits. It was his signature stare, the mannerism that combined with his physical presence to wilt peers and underlings alike. Gruber, however, ignored it freely, in the same fashion that he ignored the flag-grade insignia on the man's collar. The structure of command was becoming increasingly fluid as a new order emerged.
"How do you know about Die Wespe?"
Gruber waved a languid hand in the air to dismiss the question as immaterial.
Becker asked, "Who is this Wespe?"
"He is a very special spy," Gruber said, "a fat little German scientist who works with the Americans." He shook his head derisively, still amazed that they could allow such a stupid breach. "He holds information that is vital to our future."
"Vital?" Rode scoffed. "I suspect it will be worthless." He turned to Becker. "The Americans have spent years and an incredible amount of money pursuing wild ideas. We explored the concept ourselves. Heisenberg, our top physicist, headed the effiSh. It came to nothing."
"We undertook a token project," Gruber agreed, "and it was a failure. However these academic types are a difficult breed. They consider themselves above the world, and some have a reputation for -- conscience."
"Sabotage is what you mean," Rode countered.
"There were rumors. At any rate, our own work in the area has been feeble."
Becker asked, "What does it involve?"
Rode took a minute to explain the incredible details. He then added, "But it is only a whim on the chalkboards of certain scientists, a paper theory. Nothing has been proven."
The SS man, who knew his weapons, agreed, "I cannot imagine such a thing."
Gruber hedged, "Indeed, the concept has not yet been tested. But Wespe tells us this will come soon. Within months, if not weeks. Is this not true, Freiderich?"
"And if it should work?" Becker asked.
"There lies the significance. If it should work, my friend, those with the knowledge will control the future of our world."
Becker said, "And you think we should strive to acquire this knowledge?"
"We must have it!" Gruber paced with his hands behind his back, his angular frame leaning forward. "And it is still within our grasp."
"But are you not aware?" Rode warned, "Our agent in America, the only contact with Wespe, has been lost. He was uncovered, killed when the Americans tried to arrest him."
"Precisely," Gruber said, "which is why I have called you both here today. We must reestablish contact with Wespe, at any cost."
Rode blew a snort in exasperation, "Our networks are finished. Most of our agents have been captured or killed, and some have certainly talked under interrogation. Everything must be considered compromised."
"Agreed. Which is why we must start from the beginning." Gruber took a seat at his desk, coughing again, his lungs heaving to rid the spoiled subterranean air from his body. Recovering, he made every effort to sit erect and display strength, not the weariness that pulled straight from the marrow of his bones. Four thin file folders sat neatly stacked on the desk in front of him. Gruber split them, handing two to each of his compatriots. They were numbered for reference, simply one through four.
"We need someone fresh, someone unknown to your service, Freiderich. But, of course, there are requirements. This person must be absolutely fluent in English, and preferably has lived in America." Rode and Becker began to study the dossiers as Gruber continued. "These necessities limit our options, especially given that this person must be absolutely committed to our cause."
Gruber let that hang. He fell silent, allowing Rode and Becker a chance to take in the information. After a few minutes, they swapped files.
"There must be more information than this," Becker insisted. "Here there are only a few pages."
Gruber shrugged. "We are Germans, so of course volumes exist on each. I have taken the liberty of condensing the information."
Rode finished, and said, "You suggest that only one of these men be dispatched. If the matter is truly so urgent, why not enlist them all?"
"An intriguing thought, Freiderich. One which I entertained myself. But consider. Whoever we send must have enough information to contact Wespe." Gruber set his elbows on the desk and steepled his hands thoughtfully, as if in prayer. "Let me put forward a bit of wisdom from a friend of mine, a pilot in the Luftwaffe. One day, relating his flying experiences, he told me that he would prefer to fly an aircraft with one engine as opposed to two. He thought it safer. This seemed strange to me until he explained -- an aircraft with two engines has twice the chance of a power-plant failure." He gestured toward the folders. "Sending them all would increase the probability of making contact with Wespe. But a single failure ruins everything."