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Authors: Katherine Kurtz

Tales of the Knights Templar (23 page)

BOOK: Tales of the Knights Templar
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“Now, then.” Becker cleared his throat. “Herr Vandenburgh …”

“7128,” Lindt interrupted. “Call the prisoner by his number: 7128. We don’t use names.”

Becker looked up at Lindt. “Thank you, Sergeant. But the gentleman is no longer a prisoner.”

Lindt shot Becker a “who-died-and-made-you-king” look. “Then in that case, perhaps you’ll excuse me.” Lindt turned on his heel and walked out of the office.

“Now, Herr Vandenburgh—”

“Chevalier,” the older man interrupted. “If you please.”

Becker had to check his temper. “Certainly,
Chevalier.” God,
he thought,
this guy is either a complete fool or the most cool-headed man on earth.
“Now, my office in Berlin is trying to track down certain Templar items, and we were hoping you would be able to assist us.”

“Excuse me,” Vandenburgh said, “but is that a bloodstain on your sleeve?”

Becker was momentarily distracted by the question. “Uh, yes. I was wounded in an enemy attack on my way here from Berlin.”

“Ah, then it was you who ordered my rearrest.” Vandenburgh fixed Becker with a sliver of a smile.

“No,” Becker lied. “I merely asked the Gestapo to keep “Recognition”—Becker pointed the letter opener at Vandenburgh—“and your own sovereign territory.”

“And how will you accomplish that, may I ask?” Vandenburgh’s voice remained calm, but his fists betrayed his inner excitement at the prospect set before him.

“I need hardly remind you of Germany’s success in North Africa. In a short time General Rommel will have captured Cairo. From there it will be but a short drive across the desert to Jerusalem.” Becker had hoped for some sign of reaction at the mention of Jerusalem, but Vandenburgh remained impassive as he spoke.

“That assumes much, Major,” he said, leaning forward and placing his hands flat on the desk. “The Libyan desert is far enough from Cairo, let alone Jerusalem.”

“It can also be very far from this office to the street outside. But I know that if I let you go, we will meet again tomorrow.” Becker smiled. “Won’t we?”

“It will take three days, at least,” Vandenburgh said.

“Day after tomorrow, at the latest,” Becker said. “Or you’re a dead man.”

Vandenburgh nodded.

“Then you are free to go,” Becker said as he rose from behind the desk and walked across the office. “Only don’t try to escape. I’ve arranged for a Gestapo agent to follow your every move.” He opened the door and motioned for Sergeant Lindt to come in. “Will you please find Chevalier Vandenburgh’s things and arrange for a car to take him to his home?”

Lindt grunted, then went over to Vandenburgh and clapped a heavy hand on his shoulder. “Come on,” he said. “You’re leaving.”

Vandenburgh rose unhurriedly to his feet and, clutching his beltless trousers, followed Lindt from the room. In the doorway he paused and turned to face Becker.

“I shall meet you at noon in the lobby of the Excelsior Hotel,” he said. “The day after tomorrow.”

After leaving Gestapo headquarters, Becker went next to SS headquarters to report his arrival in the city. There he was told to return for a meeting with SS General Heinz Lammerding in the afternoon. A staff car from the SS motor pool drove him across town to his hotel—which turned out to be the Excelsior. He no longer wondered at Vandenburgh’s choice of meeting place. Luxurious, the Excelsior had been commandeered by the Nazi top brass.

Despite Becker’s special orders from Himmler, the hotel manager refused to allocate him anything other than a private room on the third floor, the top three floors being reserved for generals and colonels. But the room was well appointed, with a dresser, a desk, two chairs, and a single bed with an ornate gilt headboard. A rococo wardrobe stood in one corner next to the window, and beside it was a door leading to a bathroom shared with the adjoining room.

Becker dumped his case on the bed and set about unpacking. He had brought some civilian clothes—a tweed jacket, corduroy trousers, and a pair of stout brogues—and these went into the wardrobe. He made a small pile of socks and underwear to be sent down to the hotel laundry and then set out his shaving kit on the small dresser under the window. Satisfied with his unpacking, he checked his watch and then headed down to the lobby.

Out front his car was still waiting, and as Becker approached, the driver got out and opened the rear door of the big Minerva sedan.

The driver closed the door and then slid behind the large white steering wheel.

“Where to, sir?” he asked.

“SS headquarters,” Becker replied. “I have a meeting with General Lammerding in half an hour.”

Unlike the meeting with Himmler, General Lammerding did not keep Becker waiting. Instead, the moment he arrived at SS headquarters, Becker was taken immediately to the general’s office.

Lammerding was by the windows, bent over a table covered with maps. As Becker was ushered in, the general stood up and crossed to the center of the room.

“Ah, Major Becker.” The general extended his hand. “It is a pleasure to meet you.”

“The honor is mine, General,” Becker said, shaking Lammerding’s hand.

“So, I hear from Berlin that you were something of a hero a few days ago,” Lammerding said, guiding Becker closer to his desk.

“Oh,” Becker said. “You mean the train. I’m afraid that what I did was pragmatic, not heroic.”

“You saved a train from certain destruction by enemy aircraft,” the general said with a smile. “That action certainly merits the admiration of us all.” He picked up a small box from the corner of his desk and opened it, removing a medal.

“Therefore, it gives me great pleasure to present you with the War Merit Cross, with swords.” He pinned the decoration on Becker’s chest.

“Heil Hitler!”
The general’s hand shot up in a stiff-armed salute.

“Heil Hitler!”
Becker responded, returning the general’s salute.

“Congratulations, Major,” the general said, shaking his hand again. “Now, if you will excuse me—Fritz will show you out. Fritz!”

An orderly opened the door. “Yes, General?”

“The major is leaving. Please show him to his car.” Lammerding turned to Becker. “Good-bye, Major. And good luck.”

“Congratulations, Major,” Fritz said as he escorted Becker down the stairs that led to the parking structure. “If I may suggest something?” The question hung in the air.

“Certainly,” Becker said, hoping that it would be the name of one of the better-looking typists in the building.

“Don’t wear that medal out of the building. It’s a target.” Fritz pulled open the door. “Just wrap the ribbon through your top button hole, and hope no one mistakes it for the Iron Cross.”

Becker slipped the medal off his tunic and dropped it into his pocket. “Thanks for the advice, Corporal,” he said.

“There’s your car, sir.” Fritz motioned for Becker’s Minerva to be brought forward. “Enjoy your stay in Belgium.”

Becker climbed into the back of his car and in a few minutes was heading back to his hotel.

A Wehrmacht signals private was waiting by the reception desk in the lobby of the Excelsior Hotel when Becker walked up and asked for his key.

“Major Becker?” the private asked, his right hand touching the rim of his helmet.

“Yes?” Becker said, nodding in recognition of the salute.

“I have a message for you from the Reichsführer’s office.” The signals private dug through the leather dispatch case hanging from his hip. “I will have to see your ID and ask you to sign for this,” he said, pulling a gray envelope with a red stripe down its center from his case.

Becker produced his SS identity card and handed it to the soldier. Satisfied that the photo matched Becker’s face, the man handed him the envelope and a receipt book.

“Sign here,” he said, indicating the line next to Becker’s name. When Becker had done so, the man took back the receipt book, saluted again, and left the hotel.

Up in his room, Becker opened the gray and red envelope and removed the telegram from Himmler. The buff-colored page contained a single line of pasted teletype:

THIS IS TO CONFIRM MEETING WITH RfSS 21 JUNE 1941, 2130 HRS.

There was no signature, but the terse style told Becker that it was sent from Hedwig Pottast, Himmler’s private secretary, who set all of the Reichsführer’s personal appointments. So now he not only knew the date of his possible execution, he also knew the time. As he undressed for bed, Becker hoped that Vandenburgh wouldn’t miss their luncheon meeting.

The next day and a half were the longest that Becker could ever remember spending, anywhere. Brussels was, under the best of circumstances, a second-rate city compared to any other European capital. Under the heel of German occupation, it took on a drabness that Becker found totally stultifying. After a brief stab at sightseeing, he gave up and returned to his hotel, immersing himself in his notes on the Order of the Temple.

The ancient history of the Order, its official demise, and its continuation through the next four centuries as a quasi-secret order of chivalry were of little interest to Becker. The real key to the Order, he decided, was the events of 1847. In that year the Order of the Holy Sepulchre was reorganized, placed under papal control, and allegiance to the Catholic faith was demanded of all its members. This caused many of its knights to leave the Holy Sepulchre and to seek admission in the Order of the Temple.

Both the Order of the Temple and the Holy Sepulchre had, since 1704, at least, the restoration of “Christian Jerusalem” as their main stated goal. In 1847, when the Holy Sepulchre declared that its main purpose was the support of the papacy and the propagation of the Roman Catholic religion, the Templars stood alone in their desire to see Jerusalem restored as the center of faith for all Christians. Toward that end, the Templars had repeatedly entered into negotiations—and conspiracies—to regain the holiest of cities.

Of course, the various popes had been in complete opposition to the Templars; Templar success would mean a shift in spiritual power from the Vatican to Jerusalem, and the beginning of the ascendancy of Orthodox Christianity over Roman Catholicism. Not surprisingly, the Templars had found their greatest allies in Northern and Eastern Europe, as well as in Scotland and England. The Ottoman Empire had also been quietly supportive of the Templars, hoping that by allowing them to re-form a tiny remnant of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, they would be rid of the constant bickering of the many Christian faiths that jostled and fought for privilege in that city. Even the Kaiser had agreed to the establishment of a Templar city-state if Germany had won the first World War. After that war, the British and the French had seen that turmoil, not stability, in the Middle East was to their advantage, and had destroyed any hopes the Templars had of regaining the city of Jerusalem.

Becker rubbed his eyes and checked the time on his watch: 2:25 in the morning. Setting aside his notes on the Order of the Temple, he stretched and decided to call it a night. He had a plan, and now all he needed was Vandenburgh’s cooperation. He had to meet with the Grand Master and convince him to resign in favor of Himmler. Once that was done, the Reichsführer would create a special Templar state in the Holy Land, with the former Grand Master installed as—what was the term Vandenburgh had used?—Regent. And if that plan failed—well, Becker had another scenario already laid out.

Becker picked up his Walther automatic pistol and sighted down its slide at one of the bedposts. Grand Masters, he decided, could be replaced, and he had just the man in mind for the job, should it become necessary to fill an immediate vacancy in the office. Looking through his notes one last time, he came across a single name: Leuprecht. According to the files, this Swiss Templar seemed to be something of a troublemaker in the Order and would be the ideal candidate to replace whoever might be the existing Grand Master, if push came to shove. Judging by Leuprecht’s record, he’d jump at the chance to be the head of the Order of the Temple. Climbing into bed, Becker switched off the bedside lamp, satisfied that, whatever the outcome of his meeting with Vandenburgh, he’d be back in Berlin by the twenty-first.

In the morning Becker bathed and shaved, but wasn’t in the mood for breakfast. Instead he had coffee in his room and waited patiently for Vandenburgh to arrive at noon. At five minutes before the appointed hour, Becker shrugged into his uniform tunic, carefully adjusting the black wound badge on his pocket and the ribbon of his War Merit Cross in his top button hole. Satisfied with his appearance in the mirror on the back of his door, he headed downstairs to meet with Vandenburgh.

In the lobby, Vandenburgh was already waiting for Becker, virtually the only civilian in a sea of green and gray uniforms. Becker noticed him immediately in his dark blue pinstripe suit, pearl-gray homberg, and spats. Tall and aristocratic, Vandenburgh stood casually by a potted palm, elegantly resting on a rosewood walking stick with a gold handle. In his buttonhole was a tiny red patriarchal cross resting discreetly in the center of a black silk rosette, edged with two tiny gold flashes: the subtle insignia of a knight grand cross of the Order of the Temple.

At Becker’s approach, Vandenburgh inclined his head slightly, touching the brim of his hat with the first two fingers of his right hand.

“Good afternoon, Major Becker,” Vandenburgh said when the other man was within speaking distance.

“Chevalier,” Becker replied. “I trust you will be able to join me for an early lunch?”

“Sadly, no,” Vandenburgh said. “I doubt that you will have time for lunch yourself, once we have spoken.” He glanced around the room before he continued. “Perhaps we could speak somewhere more private?”

“Certainly,” Becker said. In the corner he saw an empty table with two leather armchairs drawn up next to it. Indicating the table with a gesture of his hand, he said, “Will that do?”

“Perfectly,” said Vandenburgh as he followed Becker over to the table.

“Now,” Becker said, once they were seated. “When do I meet with your Grand Master?”

“Tonight,” Vandenburgh replied. “At the castle of Gisors.”

“Gisors?” Becker asked. “Where’s that?”

BOOK: Tales of the Knights Templar
9.66Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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