The Truth in the Triangle

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Steeple Chase

Joe was awake now but still drunk. They took him to a hospital checked him in and made sure his surgery was scheduled for the next day.

Zeus and Richard, then went to check the records for the wayward pilot Henrik Brunnuer. The Germans are expert bureaucrats and record keepers. At the Berlin Federal Archive they checked the last name. It listed the pilot with one piece of data, Missing In Action, at least they were able to confirm his participation in the Luftwaffe.

Someone has to have information as to his military records and how he ended up in Georgia. Zeus had the idea to track down his family. The surname with that spelling was not popular in modern Germany and was most likely even less common around the war.

After the war there was eleven Brunnuer’s. Six were under the age of fourteen, four were about the same age with the same address meaning they were most likely family. One stood out. She had the same address as another couple with her maiden name also listed. She had married into the family but her husband was not listed.

Richard looked up the name in Telefonbuch the German equivalent of white pages. Zeus dialed the number, when it connected he began speaking in fluent German. He introduced himself as an American researcher investigating German MIA’s in order to get remains returned to the families.

Zeus explained that bodies of German soldiers from the war were being found almost daily from the cities to the farms and that DNA testing could identify the kin with the deceased. The middle aged man on the other end sounded very excited and invited him immediately to his genealogical home in Markdorf.

They were back aboard the Gulfstream headed to southern Germany. Markdorf was a sleepy town near the Swiss border sitting just north of Lake Constance and the larger town of Friedrichshafen. The jet made it in an hour where they picked up a Megane Renault Sport from the rental car desk.

The small hatch was easy on the eyes and fit in with every other hatchback on the road. What did set it apart was its peppy engine and light weight. The rolling hills of southern Germany sang with the notes of the Renaults 265 horsepower engine.

They pulled off the main road and up a long dirt drive. The road ended one-hundred feet from the house. The property was ringed with a smattering of barns and sheds and cows. They parked outside a weathered white stockade fence and began walking up.

They were greeted half way by a middle aged man wearing round spectacles. He extended his hand and said, “Hallo, Mr. Grumman. Welcome to the Brunnuer Farm.”

Zeus nodded, “You speak excellent English, Heir Brunnuer, and you can call me Zeus.”

“Danke, you can call me Henrik. Please won’t you come in?” He led them to a small sitting room with old but well maintained furniture. Henrik offered them tea but they declined. Zeus again went through the lie they concocted and then began asking questions.

Richard began, “What was the last known stationing of your grandfather?”

“We know he was based at Rechlin-Larz airbase for the last few years of the war.”

“And what was his rank and function?”

“He was a Staffelkapitan in the Luftwaffe. He taught pilots how to fly.”

“Did he train them on Focke’s or Junkers’?”

“Neither, he taught them to fly Messerschmitt’s.”

Zeus and Richard looked at each other. “Do you know when the last time your family heard from him?”

Henrik’s voiced quivered a moment, “We received regular letters up until February of 1945 then stopped after that. We still have them if you would like read them.”

“That won’t be necessary.” From the kitchen a tea kettle whistled. Henrik excused himself giving Zeus and Richard an opportunity to talk in private. Richard began, “It’s a dead end, let’s get out of here.”

Zeus placed a hand on his knee. “No rush, he has not revealed everything yet.” Richard’s eyes widened, Zeus could see he wanted to know how he reached this conclusion. “His voice quivered and his eyes were all over the room after he made pinpoint eye contact the entire time.”

Henrik returned with a steaming tea cup. After he settled into his chair Richard decided to press into him. “Don’t you want to know what happened to your grandfather?”

“Of course.”

“So why don’t you tell them everything you know?”

Henrik remained cool and collected. “And why don’t you do the same. I checked with the American Embassy and my own government and your names were not associated with any programs identifying WWII remains.”

Richard took a deep breath and began telling the story, leaving out the detail of finding Henrik’s grandfather in a Georgia swamp. Henrik nodded in acknowledgement. From the back of the farm house they heard floorboards creaking. An old woman bearing two canes slowly made her way into the living room.

She stamped one on the floor. In broken English she said, “He seeks out the final resting place of his grandfather, is he so different from you?” The old woman sat down on the couch beside Richard. “I am Ilsa the widow of Henrik Brunnuer I. Henrik and I met before the war, before the Nazi’s. We went to the same school and married before he shipped off to Poland.”

“He wrote me every week that he was gone. After the invasion of Poland and the subsequent invasion of the Soviet Union, Henrik was promoted. As the war pressed on they pulled him back off the front lines to protect the fatherland from the Ally air raids. He had 40 kills before he was shot down over the Rhineland in 1943. He was awarded the Order Of The Knight’s Cross Of The Iron Cross by Hermann Goering and Adolf Hitler.”

Henrik the Third went to fetch his grandmother a cup of tea so she could regain the strength in her voice. “They sent him to Rechlin-Larz to work on special projects like the Messerschmitt. As the war was drawing to a close Henrik arrived home. He stayed for two weeks, long enough to carry on his name. He told Richard that even though the Nazi’s had lost the war that Germany would fight on.”

“He loved Germany and knew what the Allies did to the Fatherland after the first war. No one could have for seen the boom that West Germany went through but many knew the horrors endured in East Germany. He left in the middle of the night and slipped across Lake Constance into Switzerland. That was the last I ever saw him.”

Ilsa’s eyes were filled with tears. Richard reached into his pocket and pulled out the locket he had taken off Henrik Brunnuer deep in the Okefenokee. Richard took Ilsa’s hand and placed it into her palm. The old woman’s blue-gray eyes sparkled.

“I found your husband in America. I will have his remains sent to you as soon as possible.” Ilsa practically jumped to her feet. She took Richard by the arm and began dragging him through the house. She led him to a small backroom. It was adorned with medals, pictures and other memorabilia.

Ilsa put Richard smack in front of a 9x11 color photo. Two of the men Richard could identify instantly, Goering and Hitler, the third shaking Adolf’s hand Richard knew was Henrik Brunnuer. A lean, handsome man Brunnuer resembled Hitler’s master race whether he agreed with it or not.

A picture next to it included those three at a table along with several other men having a grand dinner. “When were these pictures taken?”

Ilsa steadied herself on the wall. “This was when Henrik was given the Knight’s Cross and his new appointment.” Richard studied the table picture. A photo shoot with a war hero receiving his honors Richard expected, a formal dinner with top German personnel seemed like overkill.

“May I document your remembrances?”

Ilsa waved her hand. “Feel free, no one but the family has ever seen this room. We told everyone Henrik was killed in combat, and when he never returned and we didn’t hear anything we just assumed it. The biggest regret I have is that he never saw his son.”

Richard took pictures of everything in the room but he didn’t want to let on his engrossment with the dinner photo. As Richard finished he heard the sound of tires on a dirt tract. Zeus appeared in the door with Henrik in tow. “We have visitors, two cars eight men. We have a minute to make plan.”

Ilsa and Henrik looked full of questions but there was no time. “Do you have a back door and any vehicles on the property?”

Henrik pointed, “Through the kitchen there is a door and out in the barn is a car.” The front of the house erupted in splinters of wood and fragments of glass. Richard helped Ilsa onto the floor and Zeus yelled “Stay down and don’t move until it is quiet!” The attackers blasted away until they emptied their clips giving them an opportunity for escape.

They bolted for the backdoor. The house sat on a slight elevation from the dirt road providing them a vantage of their adversaries fanning out across the hedgerow. The barn was a couple hundred feet across wide open ground. At the edge of the farmhouse Zeus watched around the corner. He had his pistol drawn. Without averting his eyes he grabbed Richard with his left hand. “Run to the barn get inside, I’ll be right behind you.”

Richard took off in a sprint. The assailants didn’t see him but Zeus made sure they saw him. One of them was greeted with a double tap as he came around the hedge. Zeus then turned and ran for the barn. Wild automatic fire raked the fallowed field kicking up plumes of dirt and dust.

Zeus came into the barn at speed where Richard was waiting to close the door behind him. He watched as the assailants fanned out and looked to make their way to their position. The 1980’s era Beetle was a few feet from them. “I don’t think they are going to make it far in that.”

Zeus glanced back, “Can you fly that thing?” In the back of the barn was an antique biplane.

“I think it’s older than both of us combined.” The Albatross was converted to carry pesticides and fertilizers and has probably been in use since its birth in World War I. “I just got my license and I’ve only ever flown a Cessna.”

Zeus quipped, “So it’s about time you’ve tried something else.”

As Zeus said it he fired off the remainder of his clip to keep the assailants at distance. Richard ran to the Albatross and climbed into the cockpit. Though it was old it had been updated with some modern features. The best one a push button start.

The Mercedes engine coughed a couple of times and kicked over. The prop beginning spinning trying to pull the plane forward. The wheels were firmly chocked and a parking brake had been outfitted to help keep the plane from rolling.

When Zeus heard the engine he pushed one half of the barn door on its rollers to the side. The aggressors not knowing what was going on sent a volley of bullets into the side of the barn. Zeus dropped to the floor as the freshly made holes allowed the afternoon sunlight to send streaks of light.

Zeus got to a sprinters stance, then took off for the other door. Another barrage of bullets followed as Zeus reached the other side and pulled the big barn door open. He ran to the Albatross and carefully pulled out the chocks. He jumped in and Richard released the hand brake.

They inched forward and as momentum took over they gained more and more speed. The assailants still not comprehending why the barn doors had been opened were slowly approaching across the field when the Albatross burst out. Their surprise was only compounded by Zeus firing at them from the forward position as Richard continued to throttle up for lift off.

The simplicity of the plane and its design as a reconnaissance aircraft made it perfectly adaptable to farm life. The large wheels bounded over the field and had them airborne before the assailants realized Zeus had dropped another of their comrades.

By the time they heard the crackle of gun fire they were out of range. Richard continued to climb then leveled off. Zeus had found the helmet and headset under at his feet placing it on his head. “So you can handle this thing?”

Richard wiggled the control stick and the plane shimmied from side to side, “I’ve got, it no worries.”

“Good then turn this thing around.” Zeus relayed his plan to Richard as they headed back to the farm. Richard pulled back on the yoke to gain altitude. From 1,500 feet they could clearly make out the farm and the cars on the drive. Richard centered the plane on the road and went into a steep dive. Richard felt like a WWI pilot strafing trenches. Zeus already had his weapons primed. The men were crowded around their cars when they finally noticed the plane swooping in on them. It was too late, Zeus let two grenades drop. The phosphorus grenade went straight through the windshield of the first car. The frag grenade hit the trunk and rolled onto the ground.

The first car exploded in flame and its two occupants spilled onto the ground while on fire. The frag grenade burst a second later. It shredded the tires on the second car and wounded most of the remaining men. Phase one of Zeus’ plan was a success.

Richard swung the Albatross out and made a beginners turn. Richard lined back up for a second run keeping just a hundred feet off the ground. Richard opened the release on the pesticide canisters spraying a fine mist into the air. It blanketed the road sending the remaining four aggressors scattering. It was like trying to outrun an avalanche, inevitably it enveloped the entire area.

The pesticide stung their eyes and caused them to uncontrollably cough. Richard put the plane into a low orbit above them. Zeus leaned out his seat and took aim with a HK MP5. He took out each man in steady succession.

The last man standing was just beginning to recover his constitution when Zeus put two bullets into his back. He swung, firing wildly into the air in all directions. A few random shots poked holes through the left wing and then caught the tail. Zeus dropped him with another strafing but the plane was a casualty.

The thin fabric covering the tail had shredded, all horizontal control was lost. The pedals would not respond and there was no movement from the rudder. The plane continued on, leaving the farm behind them. The rugged Albatross could have set on almost any surface except the farm was surrounded by dense woods. They limped on into the fading daylight on a course heading just south of due east.

After a few minutes Richard and Zeus were over Lake Constance. In any other plane a water ditching might be a reasonable option but the open cockpit with the churning propeller was far too risky. The plane continued on as it grew ever darker, flying over narrow strips of land until the lake terminated into more woodland.

They had no way to communicate with the ground, the plane had no lights, and Richard had never flown at night. The situation was dire and they had minutes to get the plane on the ground before they were guaranteed reservations at the funeral parlor. The trees finally parted and they could see roads and homes below them.

Richard dropped the planes elevation to just a 100 feet and eased back the throttle until he thought the plane could just keep itself in the air. Some of the locals on the ground began to take interest in they cross country jaunt. In the waning light with their desperate search for somewhere to set down Richard let their elevation slip some more. It wouldn’t have been a problem had there not been any tall objects. Out of nowhere a church steeple appeared.

They couldn’t have climbed over it fast enough so Richard yanked the yaw to the side. The plane stood on its left wing tip as they passed the steeple. It was enough to keep them from becoming bug splatter not quite enough to keep the landing gear from knocking some bricks off.

It the locals had not noticed them before, they did now. Zeus came over the headset, “We have company, 6 O’clock.” Behind them the flashing blue lights of the local police could be seen trying to catch up with them. The one set of lights was joined by another. Zeus didn’t have to tell Richard how upset the German police would be for leaving a farm littered with dead bodies and almost knocking down a church.

Then as if the God had heard them ring the church bell in the tower, a road materialized running their course. Richard didn’t hesitate for a moment and dropped the plane just above the road surface. A single car occupied the carriage way. Richard came upon the slow moving vehicle at speed. The sound of the propeller blades must have startled the driver and Richard could see a small wrinkly hand waving them passed.

Richard buzzed the car and touched it down feet in front of it. Zeus yelled over the headset, “Coppers coming up fast. Richard glanced over his shoulder to see them in hot pursuit. The plane continued forward coming over a slight rise. As they crested it more flashing lights were waiting for them in the distance.

Then Zeus yelled jubilantly, “They stopped!” The plane coasted to a stop with police in front of them and behind by about three football fields. Zeus pulled himself out of the plane looking in disbelief. “We crossed the border! We are in Switzerland!”

As Zeus was yelling the car they passed pulled up honking. Zeus didn’t hesitate for a moment. He ran up to the car yanked the door open and politely escorted the driver to the backseat. He screamed at Richard, “Are you done sightseeing?” Richard struggled with the situation as he fell out of the plane.

Zeus ushered Richard into the passenger seat and drove off into the night away from their new friends. Zeus spoke German to the old woman in the backseat it was either something soothing or something terrifying because she didn’t say a single word she just laid there.

“You managed to land in the Dorflingen Corridor a narrow strip of Switzerland that separates the enclave of Busingen am Hochrhein from Germany.” Zeus sped on using his smart phone to navigate to the city of Schaffhausen. He pulled into a grocery store where they left the car and the old woman.

They grabbed a cab and had him take them to Zurich an hour away. Zeus had the driver drop them downtown. The taxi cab driver was going to refuse to accept Euro’s but when Zeus offered him the equivalent of an $80 tip he reconsidered.

District One was covered in posh hotels and would be near to impossible to track down which one they would be checking into. They walked a few blocks down to the water. Zeus selected a hotel overlooking Lake Zurich. He told Richard to come in three minutes later and go straight to the fifth floor and wait at the elevators, that way no one would link them together if they were looking.

When Zeus got upstairs Richard was withering from the day’s events. He was fatigued physically and mentally and was famished. They got to the room a large suite with a balcony overlooking the lake. Zeus ordered room service; they ate and promptly fell asleep.

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