On a March evening in 1933, Klaus Lehmann, Deputy Chief of the German Police, listens with satisfaction to a broadcast of his propaganda play, “The Radio Operator.” He seems to take particular pleasure in the meaningless jumble of wireless code which supplies atmosphere for the drama. The play is heard in the British Foreign Off ice, creating sudden excitement because the “meaningless jumble” is recognized as the code of a British Secret Agent named Reck who operated in Germany during the last war, but who was thought to have died in an asylum. Reads the message: “Your agent, Arnold Heckstall, will be delivered at the Belgian frontier April 5-- information in diplomatic bag reaching London April 6.” A warning is dispatched to the British Embassy in Berlin to watch the diplomatic bag, but, unnoticed, the Embassy's third footman places an extra envelope in the pack.
Agent Heckstall, who had. been captured by the. German police and expected to die, returns to London to relate how a senior police officer escorted him across the Belgian border and. allowed him to escape while the officer fired shots into the air. Heckstall is convinced that the official who made possible his escape occupies some high post, and is completely mystified as to why such a man would permit a British agent to go free. When he has finished his story he is startled to be told by the Foreign Office officials that the information he had been seeking in Germany has already been received in London hidden in the diplomatic bag brought by King's Messenger from the Embassy in Berlin as promised in the wireless message.
It was early in 1918 that an unconscious figure was found on the beach near Ostende. He recovers consciousness in hospital, but his memory is a blank. At first, panicky at the prospect of facing life without a past, he eventually takes the name of Klaus Lehmann and sets out to trace his own identity. He is quite unsuccessful, but is “adopted” by an elderly lady, Fräulein Rademeyer, who takes pity on his plight. Germany is near collapse under the heavy postwar depression, but Fräulein Rademeyer finds Klaus a job in Munich. There Lehmann hears of a rabble-rousing house painter named Hitler, who has been, clapped into prison.
(Second of Eight Parts)
ALL THROUGH the year 1923 the mark, already so low in value that fifty would not buy a box of matches, dropped and dropped until ordinary figures lost their meaning, and English soldiers in the Occupied Area bought good cars for the equivalent of a few shillings, and a factory in full production for a few pounds.
In the early autumn someone asked Klaus whether he was going to hear Hitler speak.
“I thought he was in prison,” said Lehmann casually.
“Where can you live not to have heard the news? He has been released and is speaking at a meeting on Saturday.”
Klaus went, since the hall would be warmed and the entertainment free, besides, he had by this time heard Hitler described alternatively as a gasbag, a great leader, a firebrand, a stump orator, a Messiah, a poisonous little reptile, the Hope of Germany and the Curse of Munich, and Lehmann was mildly curious. He returned home in a thoughtful mood, and Fräulein Rademeyer asked what he thought of the little Austrian.
“I don’t know. I can’t admire a man with so little self-control—when he gets excited he yells like a madman. He is neurotic and unbalanced. He shouts and weeps and contradicts himself, but he can make people listen to him.”
A week or two later Klaus strolled into a café one evening to drink a glass of cheap beer and exchange views with his fellows, a mild extravagance he sometimes permitted himself when the monotony of his life became more than he could bear. On this occasion there was a group of men gathered closely about one table listening to two of their number who were arguing hotly.
“I have heard that voice before,” said Klaus to himself, for he could not see the speaker over the shoulders of the men surrounding him. Klaus said Gu'n’abend to one or two who were known to him, and they made room for him in the circle; he was right, the speaker was Hitler.
Lehmann sat sipping his beer and listening to the discussion, which became increasingly one-sided as Hitler worked himself up and harangued his hearers without waiting to hear what was said in reply.
He was introduced to Hitler that evening and made a point of seeing a good deal of him in the weeks that followed. He remained unimpressed by the little man’s mental capacity, but there was no doubt of his sincerity or of his uncanny power of gaining adherents, in ever-increasing numbers, to his party. Undoubtedly the man could be useful, and Klaus joined the National Socialists to be welcomed for his sturdy common sense and resourcefulness. Their leader came to rely upon him as a man whose advice was worth attention and whose reliability was beyond question.
One night in winter Klaus invited his new leader to coffee at the house in Quellen Strasse, and Hitler came. Fräulein Rademeyer welcomed him with the old-fashioned courtesy natural to her.
“It is my greatest pleasure,” she said, “to welcome my nephew’s friends to our house. Will you sit here by the fire, Herr Hitler?”
He made her a stiff bow, but hardly glanced at her, and immediately addressed Klaus. “Are you coming to the meeting tomorrow night, Lehmann? Good. I shall speak on the disarmament clauses of the Treaty of Versailles. These clauses have already been broken by every signatory to the Treaty except, possibly, England, and even that may not be true. I expect they have something up their sleeves—”
He talked at length, continued rudely to ignore his hostess. When he had gone Ludmilla burst out laughing.
“I haven’t been so entertained for a long while. Your savior of Germany is the funniest little man I have ever met.”
“I have never seen him in a lady’s company before, though it did not occur to me till now. There are stories going round of his rudeness to women, but--”
“Not so much rudeness as—I don’t think there’s a word for it. Like the way you treat a tiresome fly, shoo! Be off!”
“I will not bring him here again.”
“Probably it is the fault of his upbringing. His mother should have slapped him oftener, and a great deal harder. My dear, what a lot he talks!”
“That won’t matter if he can induce people to act. But it is a great pity that it’s bad manners to slap one’s guest. There is a lot to be said for one’s nursery days when one would have simply hit him on the head with a tin engine!”
DURING the next ten years Klaus Lehmann worked for the National Socialists, and was rewarded by seeing Germany rise from the dust and stand again among nations as an equal among equals. Prosperity returned, though slowly, step by step, wages meant something again, food was a thing one had every day, and once more the children laughed in the streets.
Lehmann was not altogether happy, he disliked heartily many of his colleagues and distrusted their methods and their motives. Hitler he regarded not so much as a leader but as a useful tool for the regeneration of the country; it did not matter who led so long as the right road was taken and the people followed. Lehmann was trusted and relied upon, but not always confided in—not when the action proposed was morally dubious, for there was a sturdy uprightness in him which abashed villainy. He looked with cold distaste upon Goebbels’ poisonous invective, Goering’s unscrupulous violence and Rosenberg’s sham mythology. At present these men served their turn; if they became too much of a good thing steps would have to be taken in the matter and he, Klaus Lehmann, would attend to it in person. He was still a sufferer from headaches and still could not remember who he had been, but he had acquired another personality long ago, and was much too busy to bother.
By 1933 he was a deputy of the Reichstag, high in the more reputable councils of the Party, and living in a flat in Berlin with Fräulein Rademeyer to look after him. She had been greatly aged by the hard years, but was now comfortably stout, increasingly forgetful, and completely wrapped up in Klaus. They sat over the fire one night in late February, and Ludmilla was telling him the news of the day, when the door opened and the servant Franz came hurriedly in.
“Fräulein—mein Herr—the Reichstag—It is all in flames. They say the Communists have fired it.”
“Great heavens, I must go. My coat, Franz.”
He found the trams were not working, so he ran through the streets till he was stopped by the police cordon in Behren Strasse, and had to show his card. Even from there the glare of the burning building lit up the sky. He ran down the Wilhelmstrasse to avoid the crowds he expected to find in the Konigsgratzer Strasse and turned into the Dorotheen Strasse. Here the press was so great that it was not until he had passed the President’s house that he was able to force his way to the front of the excited crowd, and for the first time the great fire became a visible reality. He could feel the heat upon his face. He turned suddenly faint, staggered, and clutched at the arm of the man standing next to him.
“Lean on me,” said the man, who recognized him. “You have hurried too much, Herr Deputy Lehmann.”
“I—this is a frightful sight,” gasped Klaus, but in his mind he was seeing another fearful blaze, a country house burning among trees, and a dead man on the floor of a laboratory reeking with paraffin.
“Then I am a murderer,” he thought, but had enough self-control even in that moment not to say it aloud. “I have killed somebody, who was it?”
He closed his eyes and did not hear the man suggesting that if His Excellency would but sit down on the pavement a moment--
“Hendrik Brandt,” thought Lehmann. “I remember now, I am Hendrik Brandt from Utrecht, with an office in the Höhe Strasse in Köln.”
His knees trembled so much that he sat down upon the ground regardless of kind people, glad to be doing something, who passed the word back for a glass of water, a deputy was taken ill—a judge of the Supreme Court had fainted—the President of the Reichstag was dying. His mind raced on.
“I am not really Hendrik Brandt either, I am Hambledon, an agent of British Intelligence. Bill, where is Bill?”
There was a crash and a roar of flame as one of the floors fell in, and Hambledon looked up. That was the Reichstag burning. “Good heavens,” he thought, “and now I am a member of the Reichstag. It’s enough to make anybody feel faint, it is indeed.”
Somebody handed him a glass of water, he sipped it and began to feel better, which was as well since in a few moments he was pulled to his feet and dragged back with the recoiling crowds as more fire engines came rocketing down the Dorotheen Strasse and swung into the Reichstag entrance.
“They say it was the Communists,” said a voice.
“They will be found out and punished whoever they are,’’said Hambledon authoritatively, wondering as he spoke whether perhaps Bill had done it himself, Bill Saunders, who fired the Zeppelin sheds at Ahlhorn.
He thrust the idea from him, mustn’t think of things like that just now—he was Klaus Lehmann, a member of the German Reichstag, and he had to go and see Goering, the President.
BROWN-SHIRT guards at the gate directed him to a spot near the President’s house, where stood a group of men which included Franz von Papen, Hermann Goering, President of the Reichstag, and the new Chancellor of the Reich, Adolf Hitler, talking earnestly together; they looked round as Lehmann came up and greeted them.
“This is a frightful thing,” he said.
“It is indeed a monstrous crime,” said the leader solemnly.
“Yes, isn’t it?” said Von Papen cheerfully. “The same thought occurred to me as soon as I saw it,” and Goering burst out laughing.
“Is it known who did it?”
“The Communists did it, of course,” said Goering. “One of them has been caught—a Dutchman, I believe.”
Lehmann’s heart almost stopped. A Dutchman— Bill Saunders had passed for a Dutchman when they were working together for British Intelligence in Cologne during the war. Klaus had been Hendrik Brandt, the Dutch importer, and Bill his young nephew Dirk Brandt from South Africa.
“Who is he - is anything known about him?”
“His name is Van der Lubbe, I understand,” said Goering, indifferently. “A member of some Communist gang in Holland, according to his papers. I don’t know any more about him.”
“Lehmann,” said the Chancellor in a tone of authority.
Hambledon looked at him in the light of the fire and noticed as though for the first time his insignificant form, his nervous awkward gestures, and his mean little mouth set with obstinacy. “You moth-eaten little squirt,” he thought, but all he said was, “Yes, Herr Reichkanzler?”
“I expect a large majority in the elections at the end of this week, there is no doubt of it whatever, and the natural indignation of the people against the Communists on account of this horrible outrage will only serve to augment it. I am, therefore, making arrangements already to fill the principal posts in my Government. You will, I hope, accept the office of Deputy Chief of Police.”
Police—the ideal post. If this fellow Van der Lubbe was Bill--
“I am honored, Herr Reichkanzler,” he said with a bow.
“That is well, you may regard the appointment as settled and you will take office tomorrow. I am anxious to reward my faithful friends as they deserve, and to surround myself with men I can trust. I know no one upon whom I place more reliance than I do upon you, my dear Lehmann.”
“I shall continue to deserve it,” said Lehmann untruthfully, “and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
“We are all sure you will know how to deal with the Communists,” said Von Papen. “Rout out the rats’ nests, what?”
Goering broke into another of his uproarious peals of laughter, and Klaus Lehmann took his leave.
He walked slowly home, thinking deeply, and indeed he had so much to think about that six minds at once would not have seemed enough to deal with the whole matter. As soon as he started one train of thought, another would present itself and confuse him again. His reawakened memory presented him with innumerable disconnected pictures from his past: Von Bodenheim at the Café Palast, the guilty faces of four small boys caught smoking behind the fives court at Chappell’s School, Elsa Schwiss saying, “We love each other,” Bill in the antique dealer’s house in Rotterdam saying, “Must I wear these boots?” and a free fight on the station platform at Maintz between a drunken German private and an official courier. He stood still in the deserted Unter den Linden and said sternly to himself, “Think of the future, you fool, not the past. If Van der Lubbe is Bill--” He shook himself impatiently and remembered that he himself would be dealing with Van der Lubbe in the morning and nothing could be done before then, so there was no object in thinking about it now.
Hitler’s plans which he had so often heard discussed, the reoccupation of the Rhineland and the Saar, the push to the East, Austria,Czechoslovakia, Poland, the Ukraine, the Balkan States, one foot on the Black Sea and the other on the Baltic; then turning west again, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, the subjugation of France and finally the conquest of the British Empire— Lehmann had often thought the plans too grandiose to be practical, but as a German they had seemed more than admirable. As an Englishman— he walked on again as an Englishman they were definitely out of the question and must be stopped at the earliest possible moment.
Someone had said that nations got the Governments they deserved; if that were true there was something the matter with a race which could throw up and support a succession of fanatical megalomaniacs.
“But oh, what a marvellous, incredibly heaven-sent position I’m in. And to think Hitler’s paying me for this ! Money for old rope—”
IN THE morning it was his first care to interview Van der Lubbe at the earliest possible moment. Van der Lubbe turned out to be about as different from Bill Saunders as was possible within the limits of humanity. The prisoner was a fat, unhealthy, overgrown oaf, practically subhuman in intelligence. Hambledon sighed with relief. On the other hand, it was obvious at sight that this moron could never have thought out a scheme for firing the Reichstag; he did not look capable of lighting a domestic gas ring without burning his fingers. Then the question arose, if Van der Lubbe wasn’t responsible, who was?
At the time of the fire, the police had thrown a cordon round the Reichstag and its environs, and arrested everyone who might conceivably either have had a hand in the crime or have seen something significant which they could be induced to tell. These unlucky ones numbered some hundreds, and Lehmann spent many days in his new office examining suspects. Among their number was a frowsty old man who sold newspapers on the streets. He was well known to the police in that capacity and would not have been the object of the slightest suspicion had it not been for his state of almost uncontrollable nervousness. Why should he be so frightened if he had a perfectly clear conscience?
The old man stood before the desk at which Lehmann was sitting and replied unwillingly to the questions which were fired at him. An S.S. man in the famous brown uniform, who had brought in the prisoner, now stood by the door, and the news vendor shot agitated glances over his shoulder at the man from time to time.
“What is your name?” asked Lehmann.
The man hesitated and said, “Johann Schaffer.”
“Haven’t got one.”
“What were you doing on the night of the Reichstag fire?”
“Nothing. Only walking along the Konigsgratzer Strasse--selling papers,” said Johann Schaffer, and looked for the first time straight at the questioner. What he saw in Lehmann’s face did not appear to reassure him. He looked First puzzled, then incredulous. He continued to stare, and Lehmann, mildly surprised, stared back.
“What’s the matter with you?”
“Nothing. Nothing whatever.”
Johann began to drum nervously with his first finger on Lehmann’s desk.
“What did you see of the fire?”
“Don’t be absurd, man! You were within a few hundred yards of one of the most spectacular fires in history, and you saw nothing of it! Why not?”
“No business of mine. I always mind my own business.”
The irritating drumming on the desk continued, rhythmic but irregular, dactylic. Lehmann, who had not noticed it at first, suddenly found himself listening to it with interest.
“What was your profession before you sold newspapers?”
“I— have seen better days.”
“Heaven help us, I should hope so. I said, what was your profession?”
“I was a schoolmaster,” said the old man, slowly and reluctantly.
Lehmann leaned forward across the desk till his face was near the other’s, stared into his eyes, and said, in a low tone that could not reach the ears of the S.S. man by the door, “Not a wireless operator?”
Johann Schaffer gasped, closed his eyes and slid to the floor in a dead faint.
“Take him away,” said Lehmann as the guard sprang forward. “Tidy him up—and bring him back here at ten o’clock tomorrow.”
At the appointed hour a clean, tidy old man, with his scrubby whiskers shaved off, was brought into Lehmann's room. Klaus looked him up and down, and said to the guard, “Are you sure this is the same man?”
“Quite sure, Excellency,” said the man with a grin.
“You may go, I don’t think this prisoner is dangerous.”
The man saluted and went.
Lehmann beckoned the old man up to his desk, and said, “Next time you are asked for your name, think up a nice one, don’t just read one off an advertisement calendar on the wall. It arouses suspicion in the most credulous breast.”
“I—my name is Schaffer-”
“It is not. It is Reck. If you are going to wilt like that you had better sit down, there’s nothing to be afraid of. You know me, don’t you?”
“No, I don’t,” said Reck, clutching at a chair and dropping into it. “Never seen you before.”
“So? Perhaps I can help you to remember. Your name is Reck: before and during the last war you were science master at a school at Mülheim, near Köln. There was a tower to the school buildings with a lightning conductor on it, do you remember now? You were something of an amateur wireless enthusiast in those days, and you had a small wireless transmitter, you used the lightning conductor as an aerial. You knew enough Morse to send out messages in code; I will say for you that you were pretty hot stuff at coding messages. Does it begin to come back to you now? You remember on whose behalf you sent the messages, don’t you? British Intelligence.”
LEHMANN paused, largely because poor old Reck looked so dreadfully ill that it was doubtful whether he could take in what was said to him without a short respite.
“Well, I think after that a drink would do us both good,” said the Deputy Chief, and rang the bell.
“Bring some beer, Hagen, will you, and a bottle of schnapps and glasses.”
“Drink this,” he said, when his orders had been carried out, “it will do you good. You always liked schnapps, didn’t you? I’m sorry I’m not the red-haired waitress from the Germannia in Köln, but I--”
“Stop!” shrieked Reck. “I can’t stand it—who the devil are you?”
“I think you know,” said Tommy Hambledon. “I think you knew yesterday when you tapped out T-L-T on the table. What sent your mind back to that if you did not recognize me? Incidentally, that’s what gave you away, for I certainly didn’t recognize you. It’s true we have both changed a good deal in fifteen years, but—who am I?”
“I thought you were Tommy Hambledon,” said Reck, with the empty glass shaking in his hand, “but you can’t be, because he’s dead. If you are Hambledon, you’re dead and I’m mad again, that’s all. I was mad at one time, you know. They shut me up in one of those places where they keep them, at Maintz, that was. Not a bad place, though some of the other people were a little uncomfortable to live with. I was all right, of course,” went on Reck, talking faster and faster. “It was only the things one saw at night sometimes, but they weren’t so bad; one knew they weren’t real, only tiresome, but you look so horribly real and ordinary, and how can you when you’ve been in the sea for fifteen years? Perhaps you don’t really look ordinary at all, it’s only my fancy, and if I look again,” said Reck, scrabbling round in his chair, “I shall see you as you really are and I can’t bear it, I tell you! Go away and get somebody to bury you-”
“Reck, old chap,” said Hambledon, seriously distressed, “don’t be a fool. I wasn’t drowned, of course I wasn’t. I got a clout on the head which made me lose my memory, but I got ashore all right. Here, give me your glass and have another drink. I’m sorry I upset you like that. I never meant to. Look at me and see, I’m perfectly wholesome. Drink this up, there’s a good fellow.”
Reck drank and a little color returned to his ghastly face. After a moment a fresh thought came to alarm him and he hurriedly struggled to his feet.
“Here, let’s go,” he said, “before he comes back and finds us in his office. I don’t want to face a firing squad.”
“He? Who d’you mean?”
“The Deputy Chief of Police,” said Reck. “They told me I was to be taken to him.”
“I am the Deputy Chief of the German Police,” said the British Intelligence agent.
“Don’t be absurd,” said Reck testily. “The thing is simply impossible.”
“It isn’t impossible, because it’s happened. Here I am.”
“I don’t believe it.”
“Why not? There was one of our fellows on the German General Staff all through the last war, you know. This is comparatively simple.”
“Let me go back to the asylum,” pleaded Reck. “Life is simpler in there. More reasonable, if you see what I mean.”
I’m afraid I can’t let you go back to the asylum yet,” said Tommy Hambledon. “I want you to help me. I don’t yet quite know how, but some scheme will doubtless present itself. You see, I have to get in touch with London, and--”
“Not through me,” said Reck with unexpected firmness.
“Eh? Oh, you’ll be all right, I’ll look after you. I think I had better find you a post in my house—can you clean knives and boots? You shall have: a bedroom to yourself, and food and wages. Isn’t that better than wandering about the streets selling papers and sleeping rough?”
“No. Not if I’ve got to be mixed up in espionage again at my age.”
“Don’t be a fool,” said Hambledon. “What you’re going to do is to obtain from various sources the component parts of a spark transmitter--”
“I’ve forgotten what they are--”
“Assemble it in your lonely bedroom—thank goodness we’ve got a top flat—and stand by to send out messages to London in the dear old Mülheim code. That’s all.”
“No,” said Reck obstinately.
“You see, normally I could get messages through in various ways, but they might be slow. If I wanted to get a message through quickly, wireless is the obvious method.”
“Doubtless. But with some other fool operating it.”
“You obstinate old fool,” exploded Hambledon, “will you take this in? You—are—going—to—do this, or by Gog and Magog I’ll make you sweat for it! Ever heard of a concentration camp?”
“I am not the Deputy Chief for nothing, you know, and I haven’t been in the Nazi Party for ten years without learning how to persuade people, believe me! Now then?”
The old man sank back in his chair. “Leave me alone,” he whimpered. “I do very well, selling papers--”
Hambledon’s face softened. “Look here,” he said, “where could you be safer than with me? You shall be housed and fed and paid, and who looks twice at my servants? No one would dare suspect you. I am sorry, but it is necessary that you should do this.”
“And I refuse,” shrieked Reck, shaking with passion. “I will not, I tell you. I’ll tell everyone who you are--”
“And who’ll believe you? Don’t be a damned old fool! Go to the British Government and tell them Winston Churchill’s a Nazi agent, and see what happens. It would be nothing to what will happen if you talk about me here. You must agree; I’m sorry, but I need you and you must. Well?”
“I won’t. I don’t believe it. Tommy Hambledon’s dead and you’re just trying to make me incriminate myself. I won’t!”
“Very well.” The Deputy Chief rang the bell and the Storm Trooper returned.
“This man’s explanations do not satisfy me, but I can't waste any more time over him now. He will go to a concentration camp for ten days. Perhaps he will be more willing to talk after that, eh, Hagen? Take him away.”
ABOUT a week later Gustav Niehl, who was Klaus Lehmann’s Chief in the German police, came into his room and said, “There’s a man coming to Berlin tomorrow whom I want you to arrest, please. He is an Englishman named Heckstall, and pretends to be an innocent traveller in brewery fittings, but I have reason to believe that he is an English Intelligence agent. He has been over here a good deal in the last year or two without being suspected, but he’s done it once too often.”
“How very interesting,” said Lehmann truthfully.
Niehl gave him particulars, and added, “He is clever. We have always kept an eye on him, of course, but he never gave us the smallest grounds for suspicion.”
“Then what makes you suspect him now?”
“Our agents in London report that he is in close touch with British Intelligence. Of course, it may be that the Foreign Office and the War Office in London have secret beer engines installed in every cupboard and he merely goes in to see that they are working properly, but somehow I doubt it, Lehmann, I doubt it.”
“The idea seems to me so excellent,” said Lehmann laughing, “that it might well be adopted in the Wilhelmstrasse.”
“You might suggest it to the Fuehrer,” said Niehl, “and see what he thinks of the idea.”
Instantly Lehmann’s laughter vanished. “Our Fuehrer’s views on the subject are well known,” he said stiffly, “and have my unalterable respect. I spoke in the merest jest.”
“I know, my dear Lehmann, I know,” said Niehl soothingly, and took his leave.
“Trying to trap me into speaking disrespectfully of the all-highest Adolf,” thought Hambledon indignantly, “and then you’d run to him with the whole story embellished with ornate embroidery!”
Hambledon lit a cigar and sat down to do a little hard thinking. So the German agents in London reported Heckstall to be in touch with M.I. German Intelligence must have some fairly good men. Hambledon’s first idea had naturally been to report to London by the earliest possible means, but the more he thought about it the less he liked it. His own position was so desperately dangerous that one unguarded word, one careless exposure of his name, would destroy him at once, apart from these clever agents of whom Niehl spoke, and goodness alone knew who they were. By degrees it became clear to him that he dared not let anyone whatever know his secret, not even the head of his Service in London. “Three may keep a secret,” he murmured, “if two of them are dead.” Only Reck knew and he was safe, since even if he talked nobody would believe him.
Then the problem arose as to how he was to communicate with London. It would be a sound scheme to give them something dramatic the first time, such as the release of this fellow Heckstall for example, “with brass band obbligato,” said the unmusical Tommy. Suitably heralded by a fanfare of trumpets, the rescue of Heckstall should impress even M.I. His return should be announced beforehand, Heckstall himself should have a little story to tell, and there must be a follow-up of some kind just to round it off, to make the third act in the little drama.
Drama. Why not write a play and broadcast it? Something definite was wanted. “Heckstall returned to stock undamaged Thursday next,” that sort of thing, but one couldn’t put that in a play unless it was in code. Code. Reck. A play with Morse coming into it.
Hambledon stretched his arms over his head and yawned. Reck was coming out from his ten days in camp on Friday, three days hence, probably in a more malleable mood; it should at least be possible to persuade him to code the messages as soon as one knew exactly what one had to say. Arrangements must be made about Heckstall, first for his arrest, which was easy, and later on for his release. This last could be announced in the Morse accompaniment to the broadcast play. For the finishing touch, there could be nothing better than to supply whatever information Heckstall was sent to obtain, if one could discover what it was.
On Friday afternoon Reck was ushered into the office of the Deputy Chief of Police, and Hambledon greeted him cheerfully.
“Welcome, little stranger,” he said genially. “Sit down and have a cigar. I take it you don’t want to go back?”
“Am I a fool? Besides, it is unjust, I haven’t done anything to deserve punishment. It is not a crime to sell newspapers.”
“No,” said Hambledon coldly, “but it is a crime to refuse to serve your country when it is in your power to do so. Your next visit may not be quite so pleasant.”
“Comparatively pleasant. Will you code three or four simple sentences for me?”
“If that is all,” said Reck unwillingly, “I will agree this once.”
“It is all at present,” said Hambledon significantly, and went on in a lighter tone. “So that’s settled, good. Will you dine with me tonight and we’ll try to remove that hollow feeling?”
Early in the following week Niehl sent for Hambledon and complained bitterly of the difficulty of getting definite evidence against Heckstall. “I am sure he is an English spy,” he repeated more than once, “but thee is no evidence to prove it apart from Niessen’s statement. But he is a good man.”
“Carl Niessen, a Danish importer who lives in London and is a friend of Herr Heckstall’s. His real name is Schulte, but they do not know that in London. He has lived there many years, he knows a number of people in Government circles and they talk to him, my goodness how these English talk—thank heaven !”
Tommy Hambledon winced inwardly, for he knew this was perfectly true. “But hasn’t Heckstall done anything? Not even asked questions about anything?”
“Oh, yes. Pipes—the kind water goes through, or gas. In lengths with screwed connections, you know. There are probably some in your bathroom. They are also used extensively in breweries, so Heckstall may be quite justified in asking about them. Only, he started asking at such an awkward time, you know, just when we were short.”
Klaus Lehmann nodded comprehendingly, and said, “It looks fishy, certainly; I should be inclined to assume him guilty. Would you like me to try and make him talk?”
“What’s the good? If he’s made to talk we shall have to shoot him anyway, or there will be a fuss when he gets home, and we want no more of these fusses.”
Eventually Lehmann offered to deal with the matter himself, and Niehl gratefully accepted. “I should like an official order to deport him across the frontier,” said Klaus, “just in case our bona fides are ever called in question.”
“You are very wise,” said Niehl. “You shall have it.”
Hambledon took himself off with a feeling of good work well done, for he knew now what the information was for which Heckstall had come. Thinking of it , he returned home with a light heart and drafted three short messages which Reck coded for him as a background to his propaganda play.
The play itself was broadcast on Friday, March 31, as in the case of a monologue very little rehearsing is necessary. It is possible that that is why the author wrote a one-character play in the first place, though to those who commented upon this he said seriously that he was experimenting with a new art-form, a reply which can be relied upon to silence ninety-nine people out of every hundred, and no wonder.
On Sunday evening he said to Fräulein Rademeyer, “I am sorry to have to leave you alone for an hour or so tonight. I have business to do at the office.”
“What, on Sunday night?”
“I have some papers to study before tomorrow morning.”
In his official capacity he had access to certain confidential documents. He took out a folder from the safe where it was kept, and spent an uninterrupted half hour copying a sketch map and a page of notes. He put his copies in an envelope the flap of which was embossed, curiously enough, with the Royal Arms of England, and added a covering letter thumped out, like the page of notes, with one unskilled finger on a typewriter. “It will be time enough,” he said to himself, “if I speak to Johann the footman on Tuesday night.” He paused, while a gentle smile illuminated his scarred face. “And he thinks he’s such a clever Nazi agent, bless his little striped waistcoat!”
THERE was a meeting in London in the evening of Thursday, April 6, when Wilcox of the Foreign Office, his immediate superior, and a retired Colonel from Sussex came together to hear a curious story from the lips of Arnold Heckstall. When the British agent from Germany had told all he knew, he was dismissed with kindly words, and the three men remaining settled down to discuss the further enigma from the British Diplomatic bag.
“This map,” said the Foreign Office Head of Department, “shows the frontiers of Germany with France, Luxemburg, Belgium, and Holland in detail, merely indicating the others. Along these frontiers, starting at a point near Karlsruhe where the Rhine ceases to be the boundary between Germany and France, and going westward, there appears a line of red ink in places where the land lies low. Where the land lies low',” he repeated, and glanced at his hearers. “The notes make this clear. They refer to numbers marked on the map, and in several instances at points where the red line is gapped, they say, ‘Broken for such-and-such a ridge of hills.’ In the next valley the line begins again. The notes are headed ‘Galvanized iron pipe half inch, screwed connections.’ At the bottom there is ‘Laid by draining-plow.’ ”
He paused and addressed the Colonel. “You may not have heard the rumor. It was whispered that Germany was laying a pipe line along her western frontiers to supply gas. Gas, hissing softly through the soil, to drench the valleys through which an invasion must pass. Those valleys might be death to every living thing for months on end.”
“So Heckstall went to find out if this were true,” said the Colonel, “and was dropped on.”
“And our anonymous correspondent has done us a good turn,” said Wilcox, with a slight shiver.
“He has done us another,” said the superior, “at least, if what he says is true. There is a covering note, I’ll read it to you.
“Information required herewith. Also Niessen, Danish importer, real name Schulte, is agent of Germany. He it is who on Heckstall the gaff stridently has blown. Passed to you for action, please!”
“I am beginning to know,” said the Colonel, “what women feel like when they go into hysterics. It can’t be true, it’s fantastic. I think I’m getting old. In my day we had a cupboard which contained restoratives --”
“I beg your pardon,” said his host, rising hastily, “so do we. Soda? Or just straight?”
“After a letter like that,” said the Colonel, “I think I won’t dilute it, thanks. My soul, I needed that. Who is this fellow who uses a German construction one moment and a Civil Service formula the next?”
“A man might easily do that,” said Wilcox, “who had lived in Germany so long that his English was rusty.” “All we can suggest about him,” said Authority, “is that he is possibly a friend of Reek’s.”
“Reek’s been dead these twelve years,” said Wilcox.
“I don’t know what you propose to do,” said the Colonel, “but Denton used to know Reck personally.”
“Am I to recall Denton from the Balkans to hunt for a dead man?”
The Colonel made a gesture of despair. “There’s Niessen too,” he said.
In Berlin, the Deputy Chief of Police made a report to his superior in the matter of the British agent.
“I regret to inform you, sir, that there was trouble at the frontier. I passed Herr Heckstall through on our side in accordance with your orders, but when the Belgian guard challenged, the prisoner, instead of stopping, ran like a hare. As you know, there has been a lot of trouble thereabouts with smugglers, and the guards have been told to be exceedingly firm. They fired, and the prisoner fell dead—on the Belgian side.”
“Most unfortunate,” said Niehl smoothly. “Very unfortunate, but no one can say it was our fault. A traveller so experienced as poor Heckstall should have known better than to behave so foolishly. Well, it’s no use crying over spilt milk, the incident is closed.”
“Yes, I suppose so,” said Lehmann hesitantly.
“Why, what is the matter? You have no reason, have you, to expect any —er—repercussions?”
“None in regard to Heckstall. I did have a little talk with him in the course of which he gathered that our decision was final, and though his immediate departure rather depressed him he still seemed to be unpleasantly pleased about something. He rather hinted that two Governments could play at that game.”
“Can they possibly have found out about Niessen?”
“I wondered that myself, sir.”
“I will recall him at once.”
So Herr Niessen packed his suitcases and left London in haste, but two horribly calm men in plain clothes met him at Dover and took him back again, protesting volubly. It appeared that Niessen had been the leading spirit in an organization which smuggled drugs into England, and though he declared with tears that he did no more than sniff occasionally, he retired from public life for a very long time indeed.
CHARLES DENTON returned from the Balkans without regret and presented himself at the Foreign Office at the end of a fortnight’s leave.
“Glad to see you, Denton. Sorry to come away? I want you to go to Germany to look for a man who is almost certainly dead.”
“Do I have to provide my own spade?”
“Do you remember a man named Reck? He used to code and dispatch messages for our Cologne agents during the war.”
Denton nodded. “He went bats and died in the giggle house in Maintz.”
“Are you sure?” The Foreign Office man unfolded his tale, ending with, “This has been going on for more than a year now, sixteen months to be exact.”
“I take it you want me to find out who he is. Has it occurred to you that in some way he must be fairly well in with the Nazis, and that consequently it would be very dangerous for him indeed if anyone knew who he was, even you, sir?”
“Yes. In fact, your errand is not so much to find out who he is as to put yourself in a position to be useful to him if he desires help. If you fail, it will be because he does not desire it, that’s all.”
“Then you really have not the faintest idea who he is?”
“Absolutely none. We assume, from his knowledge of procedure, that he has served at some time in British Intelligence, so we looked up everyone on our lists who is still alive. It is none of them, so it must be someone who is officially dead.”
Accordingly, Herr Sigmund Dedler of Zurich arrived in Berlin toward the end of June, 1934, armed with magnificent photographs of beauty spots in the cantons of Zurich, Luzern, Unterwalden, Schwyz and Zug, in search of printers who would reproduce them as post cards in six colors for sale to tourists. He stayed in an inexpensive hotel of the commercial type and prosecuted his enquiries diligently but without haste. He was difficult to please as regards price and quality, and it looked as though his mission would take him some time.
Among the people he interviewed was a very German-looking individual who kept a tobacconist’s shop in Spandau Strasse near the Neue Markt. The tobacconist was a friendly soul, and invited Herr Dedler to sit with him sometimes in his stuffy little room behind the shop, a room even more stuffy than it need have been, since they talked with the window and doors shut, though the summer days were hot. The tobacconist’s daughter, in reply to a thirsty howl from her parent, used to come in with wine, and glasses on a tray, and look at Herr Dedler with frank interest. Since she was undoubtedly a comely wench, Herr Dedler also displayed appreciation, but as her father invariably turned her out again at once and locked the door after her, the acquaintance did not progress.
“I have no suggestions to offer,” said the tobacconist. “The Department asked me more than a year ago to look into this, but I am no further forward than I was then. I know some of the Nazi leaders personally, being a good Nazi myself,” he smiled gently, “though my unfortunate (health prevents me from taking an active part in their affairs—thank goodness. But several of them are kind to me and buy their tobacco here since I take the trouble to stock the blends they prefer. None of them look to me at all likely to be honorary members of British Intelligence. I hope you will have more luck.”
“I don’t suppose so for a moment,” said Denton gloomily. “I have merely been sent over because I used to know Reck. So I am walking about looking for him regardless of the strong probability that he’s been in his humble grave at Maintz these twelve years. Reck. Have you ever heard the name?”
“No matter. I have walked about this blasted city in this infernal heat till my legs ache in every pore and my feet feel the size of Crock’s, and I’m not a bit the wiser, at least, not about that. There’s something up though, Keppel, there’s an uneasy excitement about which I don’t like. Something’s going to happen, what is it?”
“You are perfectly right. There is a lot of jealousy between the old Brown Guards and Hitler’s new S.S. men, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there was trouble.”
“So. Well, it’s no business of mine, at least I hope not. At the first sound of alarm I shall go to bed and stay there, I shall at least rest my feet. I’ll come and see you again shortly.”
DENTON lit his pipe and strolled toward his inconspicuous hotel as the evening was drawing in, and noticed at once that the streets were curiously empty of people. He displayed no interest at all in what he saw, but merely slouched along, with his eyes down and his hands in his pockets, as one wrapped deeply in thought. He came at last within sight of the turning to his hotel and saw, with an odd pricking sensation in the tips of his fingers, that there was a line of S.S. men across the end of the street who were stopping cars and pedestrians and asking questions.
Denton quickened his pace slightly and walked on past the picketed turning only to find another line of guards across the road fifty yards ahead. He glanced over his shoulder and saw that a third detachment had formed up behind him. He was trapped.
He decided that nobody could possibly be expected not to notice all this display of armed force, however tactful they might be, so he abandoned his nonchalant manner and scurried along like all the rest of the scattered handful of people whom ill fortune had sent abroad on the night of the Nazi Purge.
He saw that the front door of a house opposite to him was ajar, so he ran across the road, dived in, and shut the door after him. In the passage he encountered a gentleman who was presumably the master of the house, for he blocked the way and said “Wer da?” in an authoritative tone.
“Sigmund Dedler from Zurich,” answered Denton, introducing himself. “I beg ten thousand pardons for inflicting my uninvited presence upon you in this abrupt and ill-bred manner, but if you would permit me to occupy some inconspicuous corner in your house till the streets are a little less unhealthily exciting, my immeasurable gratitude will outlast several reincarnations. I suggest the cupboard under the stairs.”
“Impossible,” said his host firmly, “my wife is there already. Nevertheless, no one shall say that Hugo von Einem turned out a stranger into a storm more pitiless than the wrath of God, come in. Listen !”
Running footsteps approached the door, but passed by without pausing.
“What, exactly, is happening?” “There is trouble in Berlin tonight.” There was the sound of rifle fire from farther down the street. | “Where are you staying?”
Denton told him and Von Einem said, “But that is quite near.”
“It is in theory, but there are two ! cordons of S.S. guards between, j which in practice makes it rather far off.”
“How true. You might, however, reach it across the gardens at the back if you would not mind climbing a few walls.”
“Not at all, a pleasure, believe me. May I look?”
Denton walked through to a room at the back of the house, threw the window up, and looked out. There was a drop of about five feet to a dull little town garden, bounded by the walls of which Von Einem spoke. Beyond them were more gardens and more walls; one of that row of houses half-right must be his hotel.
He went back to the hall where Von Einem was still listening. The steps of several men were heard outside in the street, they stopped, and there came a quiet knock at the door.
Von Einem opened it as Denton retired modestly to the back of the hall. Three men with automatics in their hands entered hastily, pushed Von Einem back against the wall without saying a word, and one of them shot him dead.
Denton was through the back room and out of the window before his host’s body had slumped to the floor. “Just a garden wall or two,” bethought, “and I’ll be--”
As his feet touched the ground | something hit him on the back of the head and he fell through millions of roaring stars into unconsciousness.
He awoke again with a splitting headache to find himself lying on a mattress on the floor. He felt the rough cement, in some place which was nearly dark except for a faint light which trickled in through a barred horizontal slit high above his head. He puzzled over this for some time before he realized that he was in a cellar and that the light came through a pavement grating, probably from a street lamp. His head cleared gradually and he realized that he was desperately thirsty. He sat up, setting his teeth as the darkness whirled round him.
“In all the best dungeons,” he said unsteadily, “the prisoner is provided with a jug of water and a moldy crust of bread.”
He felt cautiously about, found a jug of generous size and took a long pull at the water; he soaked his handkerchief and dabbed his head with it, a refreshing moment, though it revealed that the back of his skull was horribly tender.
“I’ve been sandbagged,” he said, and lay back to think things over as clearly as his aching head would permit.
“I remember,” he said at last. “They shot Von Einem. Wonder what they’re going to do with me?”
He felt in his pockets. His automatic was gone and so was his electric torch, but so far as he could tell everything else was there, even his money and his watch.
“Of course, they can always collect the cash from my unresisting corpse afterward,” he said aloud. “Delicate-minded people, these, evidently.” There came a pleasant voice in the darkness from somewhere high up in the wall opposite his feet. “I do hope you are feeling better,” it said, in English.
“Thank you,” said Denton with a slight gasp. “I survive—so far.”
“I hope you will many years survive survive many years. You must excuse my awkward English, it is so many years since I spoke it.”
“Please don’t apologize—
“I do not want to tease you,” said the voice, jerkily and with pauses, as of a man recalling a language long disused. “I hope to get you out of this mess, unless they liquidate me next, which seems quite likely.”
“Heaven preserve you,” said Denton with feeling.
“Danke schon. I am sorry we had to hit you quite so hard, but we should not have got you away had they not you dead—thought you dead. Only dead men pass unquestioned tonight.”
“But how did you know I was there?”
“I did not, till you looked out of the window. I came to—to succor Von Einem, but I was too late.”
“May I ask who you are?”
“I cannot answer that. I wish I could, but you understand that it would not be safe for anyone to know.”
“You are the man I was sent to find, are you not?”
“Yes. I think that stupid a little, you must all know that it would endanger me, and what is worse, spoil my usefulness.”
“My instructions were not to seek you out but to place myself where you could find me if I could be of service. I was to say that the Department is inconceivably grateful—”
“But devoured by curiosity, eh?” said Hambledon with a laugh. “I am afraid they must eat themselves a little longer, but tell them that one of these days I will come back and report, if Goering doesn’t scupper me first. My English is reviving. Tell me some news, will you?”
A little whisper of suspicion rose in the back of Denton’s mind. Set the victim’s mind at rest and then question him.
“Certainly,” he said cheerfully. “What sort of news?”
“Is José Collins still alive?”
“She was last week, I saw some mention of her in the Sphere. And a photograph.”
“I daren’t be seen reading the English papers,” murmured Hambledon. “Do you know Hampshire?”
“Parts of it.”
“Is Weatherley much changed?”
“No. They’ve turned the Corn Exchange into shops on the corner of the Market Square. There’s a certain amount of building in the county, on the slopes of Portsdown Hill for example, and all round Southampton and places like that, but the country is unchanged.”
“The country is unchanged,” repeated Hambledon dreamily. “You asked just now if you could help me. There’s one man I should like to help me if the Department would send him out—Bill Saunders.”
Denton bit his lip and said nothing.
“Perhaps you don’t know him.”
“Yes,” said Denton, slowly and distinctly, “I knew him very well indeed.”
There was a short pause, and Hambledon said sharply, “What happened and when?”
“He was found shot. That was in —er—in ’24. He ran a garage in a Hampshire village after the war, and one morning the woman who looked after him went in and found him dead. It was apparently accidental, he had been cleaning his automatic.”
“So you didn’t get anybody for it?” said Hambledon in a savage tone.
“No. There was no evidence to show that anyone had done it. Suicide or accident was more probable. He was not a very happy man.”
“Not married? You said a woman went in-”
“Yes, a village woman to do the housework. Yes, he was married, but separated from his wife.”
“Not Marie Bluehm?”
“Marie Bluehm?” cried Denton, starting up. “Who the devil are you —oh, of course, I know now. You must be Hambledon. Marie Bluehm was killed in the rioting in Köln just before the British marched in, I--I saw it done. I think it broke him. That’s why I think it may have been suicide, he just didn’t care for anything much any more.”
“Suicide six years later? Don’t believe it. Who did he marry?”
“Some colonel’s daughter, don’t know who, never met her. Tiresome wench, I believe.”
“Were you with Bill, then, after I disappeared? What’s your name?”
“Denton, sir. I was sent on to Köln from Maintz.”
“I remember. Bill mentioned that you were there. Well, I think I’ve heard enough news for tonight. You can tell the Department that Tommy Hambledon is not dead, that is, unless they call on me in the next few days. Goebbels loathes me, but Hitler still thinks I have my uses, so I may survive. I dare not tell you who I am here, don’t try to find out.”
“Of course not, sir.”
“And don’t ‘sir’ me every second word, I am not in my dotage yet. Besides, it reminds me of Bill. Denton, there’s something fishy about that business. I’m going to look into it. If it was arranged and I find out who did it, heaven have mercy on the man, for I won’t.”
Denton said nothing.
“The most brilliant brain in the Service, shot like a dog. What were you all about to let it happen? Wasn’t he guarded?”
“The police, I understand, had the usual-—"
“Police!” exploded Hambledon. “The village constable, no doubt, had instructions to keep a look out for suspicious characters, as though such men ever look suspicious! If I’d been there—— !”
He stopped and sighed deeply. “I suppose you think I’m making a fuss over nothing, because it was an accident. Well, perhaps it was, but somehow I don’t believe it.”
“Perhaps you will be able to clear it up,” said Denton, just biting off the “sir” in time.
“I’ll find a way! Now about you. I’m sorry I daren’t bring you out of that foul coalhole tonight or, probably, tomorrow, it’s the only place I know of which is even approximately safe at the moment, but I’ll bring you some creature comforts and try to make it a little more bearable. Tomorrow night I’ll try and get you across the frontier. Wait a bit, I’ll go and fetch some rugs and something to eat and drink. And you are not going to see my face, either, I have no wish to be recognized as the Lord High Panjandrum of all the German Armies or something equally spectacular. I don’t look very like Tommy Hambledon now, you know, so it won’t be any use digging any of my late scholastic colleagues out of their retirement at Bath or Bournemouth to come over and give the Nazi Party leaders a look over, because they won’t recognize me if they do. I have a false nose grafted on, a thick bushy beard, and plucked eyebrows. How my English inconceivably improved has, even during this short interlocutory or what-have-you, ain’t it? Is old Williams still alive, I wonder?”
“Williams. At one time Headmaster of Chappell’s.”
“I could not possibly say, sir, I was at Winchester myself.”
“Never mind, these things can be lived down. I will go and fetch your ameliorations.”
There was a faint sound of departure, and silence sank again upon the cellar.
To be Continued