As Willi pulled onto the main highway, he eased into a military convoy traveling in the same direction. His old battered German truck stood out among the new vehicles ahead and behind. He hoped matching their pace would not be too much for the truck’s tired engine, but he had no choice. If he could not maintain the speed, they would force him to pull over and wait until the convoy passed, making him an easy target for hijackers.
He had no choice but to tell Werner about his detention by the Military Police. He also had to make the man aware that he arranged his release by agreeing to be an informer. He thought this would mean the end of his employment, but Werner disagreed.
“Your friend was right. Many crooks are in this business.” Werner grinned. “Anybody who can compete with us must be a crook right, Willi?”
While Werner hadn’t asked him to inform on any competitors yet, it would come in time as a fee for his continued employment.
As the lights from the Langwasser Camp appeared ahead on the right, he slowed. As he downshifted, he steered while giving a hand signal. The truck wove across the centerline, eliciting a honk from the vehicle behind as its brakes squealed. The profanity drifting from the vehicle behind suggested the Ami driving could not or had not seen his hand signal. After checking his pass, the MP at the camp’s gate checked waved Willi through. As he moved through the gate, a second MP leaped onto his running board.
“Turn right at the second corner,” the MP shouted above the truck’s noise, “about halfway down, you’ll spot a brown building. That’s where you’ll pick up your load.”
Outside the designated building, Willi parked next to a black sedan. As Willi lowered the truck’s tailgate, men wearing suits and carrying suitcases exited the building. After setting their luggage in the truck’s bed, each climbed aboard. In the faint light, Willi recognized the man at the end of the line as the man who guarded the forgery factory. The man sneered. “So, you find yourself useful.”
A guard standing nearby shoved the man. “Get in Fritz or get left behind.”
The man who commanded Willi’s prison camp, Colonel Butler, stepped from the shadows speaking German. “My associate will ride with you in the cab to show you where to go.” He nodded towards the sedan. “We will follow in the car. When you hear us honk and flash the headlights, stop.”
As the man appeared to not remember him, Willi said nothing, figuring it best not to refresh the man’s memory.
After closing the tailgate, Willi slipped behind the wheel. As he started the truck, a man wearing a fedora pulled low over his eyes and cradling a Thompson submachine gun slid into the passenger’s seat. As he set the gun on the truck’s floor, he turned to Willi. “Do you speak English?”
A vague sense of unease led Willi to deny the skill, so he answered the man with a puzzled frown.
“Shit!” the man exclaimed then switched to German, “Are you armed?”
“It is a precaution against hijackers.” Willi opened his jacket to reveal the Walther in his shoulder holster. “Is that a problem?”
“I don’t think anyone will hijack this load. If you get the signal to stop, take out your gun and be ready to use it. It means the guys in the back are trying to escape. If any of them threaten you, shoot him. Plenty more where this bunch came from.”
Back on the main road, only a dust cloud remained from the convoy he accompanied, which changed to a foggy mist as they traveled.
His passenger said nothing for the next two hours, but he pulled out a road map and checked it with a penlight from time to time.
As an intersection approached, the man pointed. “Slow down. Take the first road on your right. In five kilometers, make another right.”
Willi continued following the man’s directions as the road climbed. With the constant turns following the road’s winding path, Willi lost his sense of direction but figured they might be in the mountains East of Nuremberg.
“Slow way down here and get ready to stop.” After giving this order, the man retrieved the Thompson from the floor.
As Willi slowed to a crawl, he peered through the mist. Without warning, a man leaped from the shadows onto the running board. The truck wove as Willi reached for his pistol startled by the stocking capped figure’s blackened face sneering through his window.
His passenger reached out to stop Willi’s draw. “Relax, he’s one of ours. Roll down the window, so he can tell us where to go.”
While Willi rolled down his window, his passenger muttered under his breath, then roared out in English. “Jesus, Frank, do you have to be so fucking dramatic? You coulda caused a wreck or given this guy a heart attack.”
Frank’s white teeth when he grinned, a contrast with his blackened face. “Ah, he looks like a tough guy. Besides, I haven’t tried that little maneuver out since training. Couldn’t resist.”
“So, you know, Fritz here almost plugged ya. I shoulda let him.”
Frank shoved his head through the window, his nose close to Willi’s ear. “That your name, bud? Fritz?” Willi said nothing, kept his eyes on the road.
“He doesn’t speak English, Frank, try being an asshole in German.”
The man repeated his statement, still sounding menacing in German while leering at Willi’s discomfort.
“Fritz will do for now.” Willi wondered what this craziness might be about?
“Just keep on this road. The house is up over the rise there on your right. The lights are on, they’re expecting company.” As Frank hopped from the running board, he waved to the car behind.
As they passed over the rise, the house appeared as promised. He pulled into the graveled driveway that circled back to the road.
“Just pull it up to the door here. Have your gun ready when you get out. They might try to break out now before we scare the shit out of `em.”
As Willi strode to the truck’s back, he kept the pistol at his side. Illuminated in the trailing car’s headlights, the men in the truck bed shielded their eyes from the glare while Willi dropped the tailgate.
Butler stood beside the car, while the car’s driver leveled his Thompson toward the truck.
As Willi moved out of the line of fire, Butler beckoned to the men inside. “Come on out nice and slow. So, we can settle you in your new quarters.”
One by one, the men climbed down from the truck clutching their suitcases. A figure appeared in the house’s open doorway.
Butler turned to Willi. “After we get these guys squared away, we’ll settle our bill.”
As the group marched single file up the pathway to the house, the man in the doorway stepped aside. “Go on into the main room there on the left. After I explain the rules, I’ll show you to your rooms.”
The man cocked an eyebrow as he gave Willi an appraising glance.
Butler stepped across the threshold, extended his hand. “He’s with me. These guys all speak English.” Butler nodded to Willi. “But he doesn’t. Is the party ready?”
“You bet!” the man replied in unaccented German. Like the man who jumped on the running board, this man wore all black. However, he had not blackened his face. Tall, well over six feet, he wore a huge revolver strapped in a shoulder holster under his left arm. He turned to the men transported from the camp. He switched to English with a Southern drawl. “Here’s how it is. We’ve got plenty of grub here and liquor. Eat and drink what you want. Listen to the radio, play cards, or play with yourselves. I don’t care. Once a day, you may walk outside. A guard will accompany you, and these woods are crawling with guys that would just as soon shoot you as look at you. You will go no further than the guard allows. If you behave, I will arrange for the girl, boy, or goat you might prefer for your procreational pleasure brought here. I am the Major. That is my first and last name, and that is how you will address me. If you want or need anything, you come to me as I will be in this house with you. Give me any shit, I’ll just shoot you and get another from the camp. Questions?”
Silent, the group exchanged furtive glances. Finally, one stepped forward. “Herr Major, how long will we be here?”
“You’ll be here as long as it takes.” The Major glanced at Butler, who nodded his approval. “You behave till we’re done, we will pardon you as promised, and you’ll be free to return to your homes. Other questions?”
None spoke up.
With a sweeping gesture, the Major indicated the stairs. “Your quarters are this way.”
Before following the men upstairs, the Major gave Willi a look that made the hair stand up on his neck. He had seen that same look in the eyes of the Death Squad officers as they directed their men. Still speaking English, he turned to Butler. “You’ll tie up loose ends?”
After Butler nodded, the Major gave Willi an appraising glance, as if measuring him for a pine box. Willi’s hand drifted beneath his jacket towards his pistol.
Butler turned to him. Gave him a disarming smile as he reached inside his own jacket. Willi’s hand grasped his gun butt, preparing to draw.
Instead of a gun, Butler produced an envelope stuffed with currency. “Thank Werner for his help, there is also an extra tip for you in a smaller envelope inside. If you like you can follow us back to Nuremberg, I am sure you are as lost right now as I am.”
As his hand moved away from the pistol’s grip, Willi reached out for the envelope. “Thank you, sir. That won’t be necessary. I have other trips to make in town once I get back. If I hurry, I might get them done this evening.”
With measured steps, Willi walked to the truck, struggling with all his will to appear relaxed. He doubted they intended him to make it back to Nuremberg alive. An ambush by hijackers they would claim. That would tie up his loose end, as the Major called it. Desperate to portray an aura of calm, he circled the truck back to the road. Once on the highway, his eyes drifted every few seconds to the rearview mirror, searching for pursuers. They didn’t need to rush. His old worn out truck could never outrun the sedan. His pistol, no match for submachine guns. He needed to rely on his wits.
First, he must put as much distance between himself and them as possible.
This entire trip seemed surreal. What he witnessed both worried and puzzled him. His instincts told him they meant it to be secret. Even though he pretended to not understand English, he doubted that this ruse alone might save him. Pushing the truck to its limits, its front wheels shimmied, sending vibrations up through the steering wheel. He said a soft prayer hoping the old truck did not fall apart on him. As a dirt road appeared ahead on his right, a plan emerged.
While slowing, he downshifted. Careful to not skid on the clay surface, he stopped about fifty feet down the road. After turning off the lights, he stared in the rearview mirror, waiting for his pursuers.
As he expected, the sedan whizzed by the road’s entrance. After throwing the truck into reverse, he backed onto the main road, pointed in the opposite direction. His hands clenched on the steering wheel, he now raced in the opposite direction, to the next side road. Again, he pulled in and waited.
After what seemed an eternity, the sedan again raced by on the main road. Once more, Willi backed onto the main road. After slamming the truck in gear, he again roared down the road towards Nuremberg. Willi smiled as the tracks his vehicle made, pulling out of the first dirt road, showed him headed in the opposite direction. He prayed he would reach safety before his pursuers realized his gambit and turned to pursue him.