Authors: Michael R. Hicks
THE BLACK GATE
Michael R. Hicks
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations and events portrayed in this novel are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
THE BLACK GATE
Copyright © 2014 by Imperial Guard Publishing, LLC
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof, in any form.
Published by Imperial Guard Publishing
The chattering fire of a machine gun tore Gerhard Wilms from his troubled slumber. With a fearful moan, he propped himself up in his bed and listened. The gunfire stopped, replaced by urgent shouts. The voices were faint, their words indistinct.
Tossing the covers aside and swinging his feet over the edge of the bed, cursing the aches and pains that had come with age, he pulled on his slippers and shuffled to the window. Carefully pulling back the blackout curtains just far enough to see out the frost encrusted glass, he looked out over the moonlit snowscape. The buildings on the edge of the town of Arnsberg on the opposite side of the Ruhr River were mere shadows in the pearly moon glow, with not a single glimmer of light that might aid the RAF aircraft that had long ruled the night skies of Germany.
More gunfire erupted, the muzzle flashes strobing along the base of the hill atop which squatted the remains of the ancient castle,
Arnsberg. The walls and foundation were all that remained, the stone forming an angular silhouette against the sky just below the cloud-shrouded moon.
The sight made him shudder.
He turned to see the pale face of his granddaughter, Greta, peering through the door. Her eyes were wide with fear, and the dim light of the candle guttered in her trembling hand.
“Blow that out,” he whispered urgently as he held an arm out toward her.
She snuffed the candle with a puff of air from her lips. Setting the candle holder down on Gerhard’s dresser, she came and wrapped her arms around him. She was shivering.
“They’re hunting someone again,” Gerhard told her, gesturing with a finger in the direction of the
“Or something,” Greta breathed.
Gerhard frowned. “You have a vivid imagination, girl.”
She clung to him more tightly, but said nothing. Gerhard felt a momentary pang of guilt for trying to make her think it was all in her head, but words were the only defense he could provide the girl. Gerhard’s two sons had been sacrificed upon the altar of war, their blood spilled in battle for the greater glory of the Third Reich. The elder, Heinrich, had been Greta’s father. Her mother, too, had died, killed by an Allied bomb. With his own wife gone, taken from him during the flu pandemic of 1918, all Gerhard had left in this life was his granddaughter. But he was old and frail, no longer strong enough even to fire the shotgun he had once used for hunting. It hung over the mantle of the fireplace now, a useless antique.
“It’s not my imagination, and you know it,” she told him. “The power went out again today, and even you felt the ground shake.”
“That happens when bombs explode.”
She looked up, her eyes radiant pools of silent accusation.
Gerhard said nothing. Bombs, he could understand. He had fought in the Great War and knew as much as any man about such things and had shrapnel scars in his back to prove it. But he could not understand what might be going on in the ruins of the old castle. What he could not understand made him afraid, all the more so because he knew the soldiers there were not men of the
, the German Army, but of the SS.
A bright light speared through the darkness on the opposite side of the river. The beam of the search light, mounted on a military truck that moved slowly down the road, swept across the far bank. A sudden chorus of shouts went up, and the beam jerked back, steadying on a particular spot along the bank.
Gerhard squinted. While the rest of his body had betrayed him with the accumulation of years, his eyesight remained as sharp as when he was a young man. The beam caught a man —
It had to be a man, didn’t it?
— moving with unnatural grace and speed, low to the ground. The old man cursed as it came to an abrupt halt behind a stand of leafless trees, blocking any details from his view.
He was about to say something to Greta when a soul-freezing howl of agony and rage tore through the night.
The soldiers, who had continued to close in around their quarry, their shadows now visible along the edge of the ring of light, opened fire.
“I wonder what they’re doing there?” Greta whispered.
WITHOUT A WORD
Peter Miller looked out the window of his cramped third floor office in the South Building of the Washington, D.C. Headquarters of the Office of Strategic Services. The ground glistened with a fresh layer of snow, and the Potomac River, just visible from his vantage point, was a gleaming mirror. For a few precious moments, the rising sun bathed the landscape in a golden glow. It was a moment of beauty in which one might almost forget that the world was in the sixth year of the bloodiest war in history.
As the reds and oranges of the sunrise faded to the stark hues typical of winter, Peter turned away from the scene with a sigh of resignation to face the small mountain of aerial photographs, newspaper clippings, and OSS agent reports piled on his desk. There was no rhyme or reason to how any given bit of information was arranged relative to the rest. It was an atrocious mess that ran two inches deep in some places, but Peter knew exactly where to dig for any particular item he might want. The only islands of order in the sea of chaos were his badly chipped coffee mug, perched on top of his overflowing inbox, and the battered Smith Corona typewriter with which he composed the drafts of his reports on Germany’s electrical power infrastructure. While his latest report would address the topic in detail, all the bits and pieces of information on his desk boiled down to one inescapable conclusion: the end was drawing near for Hitler’s Third Reich.
But the end would not come easily. While the Allied strategic bombing campaign certainly had hurt the Germans in their heartland, and hurt them badly, electricity and raw materials continued to reach the industrial complexes to keep the furnaces smelting ore and the production lines moving. Their factories still churned out guns, tanks, aircraft, and U-boats, along with the dreaded V-1 buzz bomb and even more frightful V-2 rocket. The end would come soon, but the butcher’s bill had yet to be tallied.
Clamping his pipe between his teeth, he lit the sweet smelling tobacco before winding a fresh sheet of paper into the typewriter. Closing his eyes for a moment, he composed the opening line of the report’s summary in his head. Then, opening his eyes, he stared at the keyboard and began to peck away at the keys, driving the typebars against the ink ribbon to imprint the letters on the virgin page with an energetic
He hit his stride by the fourth paragraph. He was humming the notes of the recently released hit
Rum and Coca-Cola
by The Andrews Sisters as his fingers kept time, battering the keys with the thoughts that flowed smoothly from his brain.
The door to his office burst open to bang against an open file cabinet overflowing with fat manila folders.
“Damn!” Peter cursed as his right index finder drove down both the
keys at the same time, smearing the
on the page and jamming the two typebars together. “Doesn’t anyone around here know how to knock?”
“Sorry, Peter.” Aaron Connelly said as he closed the door. He was the chief of the OSS’s Europe-Africa Division, which made him Peter’s boss.
“I don’t think you’re sorry at all,” Peter grumped as he took a puff on his pipe. “Now I’m going to have to retype this page.” With a sigh, he ripped the paper out of the typewriter and crumpled it into a ball before tossing it to join a hundred others that had overflowed the trash can beside his desk. He began to untangle the jammed typebars but gave up at the sound of Connelly chuckling. “You can’t complain about this report being late to your inbox.”
“I could, but I won’t.” Connelly held out a folder marked
. “I thought you might like to take a look at something juicy that just came along.”
Peter took the folder. It was so thin that he wondered for a moment if it was empty, a prelude to another of Connelly’s infamous practical jokes. Shoving aside some of the photos and other documents to clear a spot on his desk, Peter set the folder down and gingerly opened it. Inside were two sheets of paper. He felt an electric tingle as he looked at the one on top. “This came from ULTRA?”
“The first report did, yes,” Connelly said as he removed a stack of folders from one of the two chairs crammed into the room and sat down, crossing his legs. “I don’t need to remind you how sensitive it is, but I will, anyway.”
“Of course, of course.” Peter waved away Connelly’s admonition, his eyes darting over the brief report. ULTRA was the codename for decrypts of German cipher traffic produced by the ENIGMA encryption machine. Decoded and translated into English at Bletchley Park in England, information gleaned from ULTRA had proven to be the greatest weapon in the Allied arsenal against Nazi Germany, far more powerful than a dozen divisions of troops or an entire fleet of ships. It was also among the most closely guarded secrets kept by Great Britain and the United States, for the revelation that the two powers were reading German coded signals could have proved disastrous, even this late in the war. Few were cleared to read reports from ULTRA traffic, even in the OSS. Peter’s clearance for the material stemmed not from his work under Connelly, but from his efforts at Bletchley Park, where he had helped to build one of the so-called “bombes,” or computational machines, used to break the ENIGMA cipher. That had been before events in his personal life had forced him to return to the States, where Connelly, a fellow graduate from Princeton, had lost no time recruiting him to come and work for OSS.
Taking a long drag on his pipe, Peter carefully read the text. It contained all of four sentences of military prose, directing the
, the German Army, to provide transport for a company of
troops to the town of Arnsberg in Germany, which sat astride the Ruhr River in the state of Westphalia. Peter had studied the town in detail because of its central location among the hydroelectric dams on the Ruhr River. From all outward appearances it had little strategic value except for the railway line linking the Ruhr industrial region with Kassel, which was home to the Henschel factories that produced aircraft and tanks. The rail line was carried on a massive viaduct over the Ruhr River, then through the town. Peter froze, the pipe nearly falling from his mouth as he reached the last line:
Utmost priority as per orders of Reichsführer-SS H. Himmler for Project Schwarze Tor.
After he’d read the text for the third time, Peter looked up at Connelly. “My God,” he breathed. “You found another reference to
, the Black Gate, with the orders undersigned by Himmler himself.” His eyes narrowing with suspicion, he added, “You’re not pulling my leg, are you?”
“No, old friend, I’m afraid not. You do have a file on this Black Gate business, don’t you?”
Peter rolled his eyes. “You know I do or you wouldn’t have brought this.” Shoving his chair back from his desk, he limped to the overwhelmed filing cabinet. He pursed his lips in concentration as his eyes moved between each of the five drawers. “Ah.” Bending down, he yanked open the second drawer from the bottom and rummaged around, finally emerging with a battered manila folder that was barely thicker than the one Connelly had given him. “Here we are.”
Making his way back to his desk, he sat down and opened the folder to peruse its contents. “Yes, it’s just as I thought.
first appeared in an agent report in July of 1941, with a total of six references in agent reporting and three ULTRA intercepts through May of ’43, when the RAF destroyed the Möhne Dam in that brilliant Dambusters raid. The resulting flood wiped out much of Arnsberg that wasn’t on high ground, and we haven’t seen a single mention of the Black Gate since then, even though the dam was repaired four months after the attack.” He frowned. “But one thing about this business is terribly odd. Three of those six references tied the Black Gate to the
, which makes absolutely no sense.”