Colonel Hans Piekenbrock, chief of Abwehrs
secret intelligence and espionage section, stared dubiously at the file lying
open on his desk. He reached across the desk and took the glossy pages from
an American illustrated news magazine that Lt. Col. Boeckel was proffering from
the other side.
"And this is the picture?" he murmured as he examined
the color photograph on the top sheet. It showed two men shaking hands in a
spacious, elegantly furnished setting, while several others looked on from behind.
The scene was of representatives from a couple of South American states saying
farewell to U.S. officials in the entrance hall of the White House after talks
following the October conference of American nations. Piekenbrock was interested
not in the foreground figures, however, but in the small group of uniformed
soldiers behind them that the cameraman had inadvertently captured, just inside
the edge of the frame. They were standing in a loose huddle, possibly waiting
their turn for an appointment. A couple of men in civilian clothes were with
Boeckel passed across an enlargement of part of the picture,
which the Photographic Department had produced at his request. "If I may,
sir . . ." He indicated two of the soldiers, who were standing
together on one sideone tall, with a yellow mustache, caught in the act
of waving a hand as he said something; and the other, darker. "Fritsch
sent us the article because he says hes certain that those two were among
the gang he described in his earlier report." Boeckel picked up a further
enlargement, showing very grainily, but discernably, the shoulder patches and
collar insignia on the tunics. "I did a routine check to identify the unit
theyre from, but the result was puzzling. Theres no record of those
designations in any of the U.S. Army manuals. And if you look carefully at the
uniforms themselves, youll notice that they differ from the standard American
pattern in a number of subtle ways. Again, we have no record of anything like
Piekenbrock sat back in his chair, his fingers steepled
below his chin. Then he got up and walked over to the window to stare down at
the traffic on Bendlerstrasse. "Lets run through this very quickly
once again," Piekenbrock said at last. "First of all, this man Fritsch
gets himself mixed up with American gangsters somehow and ends up at this house
outside New York. But these mysterious men in masks, who walk up walls and put
hoodlums in the hospital with their bare hands, appear from nowhere, seize the
whole place, and hand it over to a rival gang."
"What appears to be a rival gang, anyway."
"Whatever. And Fritsch sends you a report of this affair,
including an account from the New York newspapers."
"At the time, it seemed to have nothing to do with
anything except American criminals," Boeckel said. "But we kept the
matter under review, nevertheless."
Piekenbrock held up a hand. "You did the right thing.
Anyway, it now turns out that these men are not criminals, but American soldiers.
Also, they belong to a hitherto unknown unit, which might conceivably just have
been formed. They appear to have undergone some extraordinary training. And
now they show up at the White House . . . to meet whom? Could
it be the President himself, perhaps? If so, why? Who are they?"
"I have been giving the matter some thought,"
"And have you come up with any ideas?"
"Well, its merely a speculation, you understand,
sir, but it seems to me that the U.S. military has been developing a secret
unit to specialize in undercover urban activitiessabotage, assassination,
or other such missions. The raid on the gangsters house could have been
a practice exercise with the added benefit of having some redeeming social valueperhaps
by eliminating some criminal elements that the authorities couldnt touch
Piekenbrock raised his eyebrows. "You mean the police
didnt know? Wouldnt that be a bit risky?"
"Not as risky as the real thing and someone elses
police," Boeckel pointed out. "It would be the ultimate in training
"Hmm, yesingenious, Ill grant you that.
Boeckel tapped the file lying on the desk. "The warehouse
that Fritsch identified in Brooklyn could be their camouflaged operations base.
What I suspect is that theyve been running an elaborate exercise to see
if they can remain invisible for a protracted period in a major city while merging
with the criminal fraternity and carrying out active operations, all without
any cooperation from the authorities, or even any official knowledge that they
exist. Having tested their methods, a visit to Washington could represent their
graduation, as it were, before becoming operational elsewhere."
Boeckel shrugged. "Well, we all know that Roosevelt
would like to get into the war, but Congress and the people wont let him,
openly. A good guess might be that theyre being sent over heremaybe
even to Berlin."
"And assassination, you said, might be among their
Boeckel drew a long breath. "With some obvious names
Piekenbrock nodded. Clearly, his own thinking had already
led him to the same conclusion. "That could also explain why Roosevelt
should be involved personally," he mused.
"Hmm . . . I think we should find out
more about this warehouse if we can," Piekenbrock said. "Not Fritschhes
just an amateur. Reads too many boys books and takes risks. Get one of
the professionals onto itsomeone like Musketeer. But I dont want
anyone breaking in or doing anything reckless if theyre likely to bump
into the kind of people that Fritsch described. That will be all."
"Yes, sir." Boeckel stood up and gathered the
file and papers together.
"I just want to know a bit more about the place, some
idea of what goes in and out," Piekenbrock said. "Low-keyknow
what I mean?"
"Ill start on it right away."
"Very good. Oh, and Boeckelabout that secretary
of yours. Shes an attractive woman. Its not a good idea to flaunt
it so much when Lady Luck smiles your way, you know. Im hearing jealous
noises from several directions. I know the Führer wants us to make more Germans,
but he never said anything about making a public spectacle of doing so. I trust
I make myself clear?"
"Oh, yes, sir. Im sorry. Ill be more discreet."
"Very good. Ill say no more. Good day. Heil Hitler."