General Taylor crossed his arms and scowled. “I don’t find this amusing.”
Silent, Ross tracked Butler, while the man prowled the room after apologizing for Ross and Harrison’s detention. “The operation was at a critical juncture. If the Russians had any hint that things weren’t as they believed, it would have fallen through.”
Taylor nodded to Ross. “And that justified your heavy-handed methods in dealing with my people?”
“An honest mistake on our part.” Butler ran his fingers through his hair. “The United States is new to this cloak and dagger business. There is bound to be glitches here and there.”
“But accusing my people of being agents for a foreign government? Your people treated them and a German brutally. If the British hadn’t stepped in, what then? Would you have killed them?”
“Of course not. We’re not butchers.”
Taylor’s scowl deepened. “No?”
“Look, these men we put out in that cabin were nothing more than a bunch of Nazi thugs.”
“And then you doctored their files to make them into scientists?” Ross interjected. “Why?”
“The Russians have multiple networks here. While we penetrated a few, others flourish.”
Taylor steepled his fingers before his face. “Go on.”
“We dangled this phony prize out to the networks we identified.”
“This bomber capable of striking almost anywhere.”
Butler shrugged. “Stalin has lusted after this thing for years. Hell, sent his son here to kidnap Sänger, its designer, he wanted it so bad.”
Ross frowned. “This would expose other networks?”
“No, we wanted to cut off the heads. Figured a prize like this would draw out the chiefs in the area. Get them committed to the project.”
“And discrediting them would foul up their operations.”
Butler grinned. His eyes took on a devilish gleam. “Cut off the head, the body dies. Force the Russians to tear down a good deal of espionage infrastructure in place or in building phases.”
“And the money?”
“They had to believe we had some motivation to move these people to them. They view us as corrupt anyway…”
Ross nodded. “So, you fed that belief. Corrupt Americans ready to betray their country for money.”
“But now the British won’t trust us.” Taylor shook his head. “Our allies in many ways.”
Butler nodded to Ross. “The people who nudged Major Ross to our project are not British.”
Taylor frowned. “But this Captain Shapiro….”
“Palestinian. Member of the Jewish Brigade.”
Ross’s eyes narrowed. “What about those men guarding your little trap in the woods? If you figured the Russians might grab them, they could have killed them instead of doping `em. A good officer doesn’t sacrifice his people like that.”
“Both are seriously ill. The Major, terminal cancer. The sentry late-stage syphilis. They figured going out like that had advantages for them. Killed in the line of duty gets their families taken well cared for. Plus, a lot less agony for the men involved.”
Ross hung his head, sighed.
Taylor turned to Ross. “Bradshaw’s replacement arrived.” He nodded to Butler. “If you’re finished, I need to introduce the Major to him. Need to get cracking on this new case.”
Butler stepped to the door, paused, turned to Ross. “You got so close to our operation. I’m impressed. Would you consider joining our unit?”
Ross shook his head.
“Think about it. Another war is heating up. We need good soldiers.”
After Butler exited, Taylor turned to Ross. “I should be pissed as hell that you ignored my cautions.”
“Stuff like that is a siren’s call for a cop. Guess I gave in to my weaker instincts.”
“And Butler’s offer?”
“With all due respect, sir, I’d rather kiss a pig.”
With Harrison at Ross’s side, they strode down the corridor to their office. “This McHaney guy seems okay.”
“You’re saying that cause he okayed my request for your promotion.”
Harrison grinned, pointed to his sleeve. “Whattya think? It’ll be three up and three down.”
“What does that mean?”
“Well, senior officers, such as yourself, require a more experienced mentor. Way it’s always been done.”
“Adding a stripe at the bottom gives you that qualification?”
“Just an external sign of my internal prowess.”
Ross scoffed. “And Julius Caesar? How many stripes for his Sergeant?”
“Just the three up and three down, but after that, they put little symbols in the center. Remember Jackson at the Camp?”
Ross chuckled as he recalled the impressive Sergeant Major. His uniform sleeve covered in hash marks signifying terms of enlistment. The gold star in the stripes’ center. Seemed like a century ago.
Harrison nudged him. “By the way, I talked to that Captain at the Constabulary.”
“Did you give him my regards?”
“He felt bad about what happened. But General McNarney himself instructed him to cooperate with Butler.”
Ross scoffed. “And like a good little Nazi, he followed orders.”
“Don’t be hard on the guy. I mean, we weren’t all that together when we showed up in his domain either. Made him an easy mark for Butler.”
“Is that it? You wanted to touch base with him. Make sure we didn’t hold a grudge?”
“Nah. I talked to him about Willi?”
Ross stopped, turned to Harrison. “What? He have some parking or speeding tickets needed fixing?”
“Remember, they’re bringing Germans back into the police. Willi wanted to go back.”
Ross shook his head. “Give up business?”
“He’s unemployed. Guy he worked for closed up shop and skipped town. Guess he figured when everything hit the fan, he’d be in for it.”
They resumed their travel down the corridor. “And the Captain agreed?”
“Seemed eager to have him. Guess Willi was quite the detective himself before the Third Reich ended all crime.”
“They’re bringing him back as a detective?”
“Nah, he’s gotta start out on regular patrol, but he oughta move up fast. Started night shift yesterday.”
Justine waited ahead outside their office door. Harrison nodded in her direction, winked. “Looks like you might have some business to take care of.”
Ross’s brow furrowed. “Those orders I gave about thoughts regarding myself and the young lady still stand.”
“Naturally, sir, but I need to check down at the record room myself. Make sure our team has been handling the affairs there in a proper military fashion. So, I’ll leave you to it.”
As Ross joined Justine at the office door, he took her hand before leading her inside. He kicked the door shut behind them. Took her in his arms.
She gazed up into his eyes. “I was so worried about you.”
“Thanks for sending the cavalry?”
“After I take you to one of our Western movies, you’ll understand better. But basically, in the movies, the good guys get surrounded by bad guys. Just before the bad guys move in for the kill, these horse-mounted soldiers arrive blowing bugles, shooting. They drive off the bad guys saving the good guys.”
“And Ari was the cavalry?”
She stepped back, stroked his cheek. Ross grinned as she rubbed her pelvis against him. “I worried about Herr Rolf as well. Will he be available later?”
“At your command.”
Justine ran her finger through Ross’s chest hairs as they snuggled beneath the sheets. “Remember, Rudi’s birthday is the day after tomorrow.”
“Is that what that donkey butt and tails are for?”
“Donkey butt? Don’t call it that in front of him. He was proud of his work.”
“Don’t worry. Any word on his folks?”
Her smile vanished. “I believe they’ve both given up hope of finding their mother. Rudi talked to a neighbor yesterday. The woman thought their mother had been inside the apartment building when the bomb hit.”
“Rudi said that after the bomb hit, the building burned for a week. Apparently, the firemen couldn’t extinguish the blaze.”
Ross sat up on the side of the bed. “And their father hasn’t come back from the war.”
She shook her head. “Few return any more. They’ve given up hope for him as well.”
“If the Russians captured him, he might never come back.”
She stroked his back. “That’s why I want to make this birthday party special for him. For both of them, actually. Perhaps we can get their minds off their loss for a while.”
“What have you got planned?”
“Gretchen and Martha are bringing some children. A few boys Rudi’s age and a couple girls for Louise. And, of course, there is the cake.”
He kissed the tip of her nose. “Thanks for reminding me. Have you got a list?”
“For the cake?”
Justine cocked her head, chewed on her lip as she pondered his questions. Ross frowned. “What?”
“Rudi mentioned presents.”
“What is a birthday without gifts? Any suggestions?”
“Do they have toys and such at the PX?”
“Never looked before, but I can. Any idea what he might like?”
“He said he likes to play football. But he doesn’t have a ball.”
Ross grinned. “A football? I’ll make that a priority.”
After getting no answer at Zhukov’s door, Jovanovich opened it. Except for the office furniture, someone had stripped it bare. All Zhukov’s personal effects, photos, plaques, all of it, gone. Like he never existed. What happened? Less than a week since they successfully kidnapped the scientists. Had Zhukov been called back so soon? The big comrade himself must have been impressed. Zhukov might rate a parade. What a thrill. Possibly standing at Stalin’s side as soldiers and bands marched by. What medal? For this coup, surely the Hero of the Soviet Union.
He smiled, imagining what might come next. A promotion for himself. While he had not officially been part of the operation, perhaps Zhukov might mention him favorably. He had set the action in motion. Possibly as his replacement.
Jovanovich dropped into the vacant desk chair. Imagined how it might be. The puppet master, pulling the strings. Why not? Zhukov claimed the coming conflict would center in Berlin. The point of the spear where they would vanquish the capitalist force.
And the Silbervogel. Once it became operational, the world would bow before them. Coupled with the mighty bomb the Americans used on Japan, the world would be theirs.
Zhukov’s aide’s entrance disturbed his reverie. When he noticed Jovanovich, he paused, glanced over his shoulder. “Zhukov’s replacement is coming down the hall.”
Jovanovich leaped to his feet, stepped from behind the desk. So much for his aspirations. “Who is it?”
The aide rolled his eyes. “What did you expect?”
Jovanovich said nothing. Question the Party? Petrov, well known for both his brutality and incompetence. Why him, of all people?
“Did Zhukov recommend him?”
“You haven’t heard?”
Jovanovich shook his head. “I just returned from leave.”
“You are lucky then. Like me.”
“They arrested everyone here yesterday.”
Jovanovich’s eyes opened wide. “Everyone?”
The aide nodded. “Comrade Beria himself was here.”
“A major operation failed. Embarrassed important people.”
Willi stood in the street’s center, staring up at the solitary wall where his home once stood. Zwolf tugged at his sleeve. “This is not good. You need to get on with things.”
Willi used his sleeve to brush a tear from his eye. “They were my world.”
“Would they want you to feel bad? See you cry?”
“No, but today would have been a special day in my little family.”
“A special day?”
“Enough about me. You are correct. We need to get on with life. Some things can’t be undone.” Willi nodded towards the truck. “We better get going. Sergeant Harrison claims you are an important part of the festivities.”
Zwolf shrugged as he scurried at Willi’s side as they moved to the waiting vehicle. “Sketching children?”
“His girlfriend claims the parents will appreciate it.”
“And this woman hosting the party. The one who works in the file room. She’s the one in my picture.”
Willi chuckled. “So, you have said a hundred times.”
“Perhaps she is available?”
“You don’t know about her and Major Ross?”
Zwolf frowned. “Oh.” He grinned, nudged Willi. “Perhaps she has a friend.”
As he started the truck, Willi shrugged. “How long do you plan on staying at the party?”
“Only an hour or two.”
Willi yawned. “Good. I need some sleep soon.”
“Do you enjoy being back with the police?”
“It is good to be on the right side of the law for a change, but working nights is less than ideal.”
“Would it bother you if I said you looked handsome in that uniform?”
Willi chuckled. “No, but don’t think I am easy.”
Zwolf’s face flushed. “I-I merely meant it as a compliment.”
As they pulled up outside Justine’s apartment building, Zwolf strode to the truck’s cargo area to retrieve his drawing equipment. At the same time, Willi opened the hood to remove the distributor cap. Three boys and two girls emerged from the building, laughing and chattering. Finished disabling the vehicle, Willi turned, leaned against the truck’s fender. With his arms folded across his chest, he followed the children with his eyes. To be young again like that. No cares in the world beyond today.
A lump formed in his throat as he watched the children race up a rubble pile. Not one glanced in his direction. The blond boy at the top thrust his arms up as if proclaiming himself the mountain king. He supposed his son would have been like that. Recalled how the boy from birth had shown a competitive spirit. Taken to sports like a duck to water. At least that is how he had been five years ago when Willi left for the army. His daughter, a babe in arms, but with her mother’s honey-colored hair.
After shoving away from the fender, he trudged behind Zwolf up the stairs lugging his sketching supplies. At the hole in the wall on the second-floor landing, Harrison peered out while smoking. He stuck his head out. “No shoving. Somebody’s gonna get hurt.”
Outside the children stopped, wide-eyed they stared up. Willi chuckled. “Do they speak English?”
“Damned if I know. The dames just told me to keep an eye on `em.”
Willi chuckled. “Better let me help then.” He turned to the hole in the wall, called out to the children in German, and the scuffling stopped.
Justine opened her apartment door, stepped onto the landing. “Ah, Zwolf, you made it.” She turned to Willi, gave his police uniform an appraising glance before extending her hand. “You must be Willi. James mentions you frequently.”
As he took her hand, he nodded to Zwolf. “His portrait almost does you justice.”
Justine gave Zwolf a puzzled glance. “Portrait?”
Zwolf nodded. “I sketched you once at a cafe. Willi liked it so much I did it in oils.”
“I would love to see it sometime.” She glanced out the window. “Ah, there’s James. I hope he got the ball.”
Willi frowned. “Ball?”
Harrison nodded. “Football. Didn’t have one at the PX, but one of our investigators had one. Kinda used, but it seemed in good shape. Major Worth took it to a cobbler, I guess to get the leather reconditioned. Hope it satisfies the birthday boy.”
While trudging up the stairs, Ross grinned. His overcoat bulged out where he concealed a wrapped oval object. “Don’t know where the guy found the paper, but when I told the cobbler it was a present, he insisted on wrapping it.”
Justine took his arm. “We still have to finish frosting the cake. The children were restless, so we sent them out to play.”
Ross glanced down at the scuffling herd below, grinned. “Looks like they might need some organization. How about I give the birthday boy his present? That way, they might release some a that energy with an organized game.”
Willi nodded. “I refereed children’s football matches before the war. Perhaps I might assist?”
“Bein’ a uniformed cop might also help maintain some order with these hellions. Let’s do it.”
While the others moved on to the apartment, Willi and Ross descended the stairs. “Whose children are these?”
“It’s a long story, but Justine kinda took a girl and boy off streets. The others are neighbors of Gretchen’s. That girl Beau’s been seein’.”
As they stepped into the street, Ross held the wrapped present out. “Rudi! Early present!”
Willi’s head snapped around to Ross. “Rudi?” His jaw quivered as he turned back to the children. All the children turned to them. The blond boy shuffled towards them. His brow furrowed as he gazed at Willi.
Willi kneeled. “Rudi?”
The boy froze. His eyes wide, a smile crept over his face. “Father?”
Willi spread his arms. The boy rushed to him. As Willi held him close, Rudi turned his head back to the children. “Louise, it’s father.”
The other children turned to Louise, who shuffled to join them. Her eyes, as big as saucers. Willi held out one arm, took her hand, drew her to him. “You look so much like your mother.”
After he released the children, they continued clutching his hands. Speechless, he turned to Ross.
Louise clung to Willi with one arm while shoveling cake into her mouth with the other. Rudi, seated across from them, his eyes locked on Willi as if he turned his head, his father might disappear. Zwolf, sitting in a corner, worked at his sketch pad, hurrying to capture the moment. Laughter and happy chatter filled the room. The remaining children, seated cross-legged on the floor, ate cake, while the remaining adults sat on Justine’s bed or leaned against the wall.
Justine, leaning against Ross, ran her fingers through his hair. “Cake, a football, and a father. How do you think he might rate this birthday?”
Ross shook his head, chuckled. “When I reached my teen years, I couldn’t wait to be away from my parents. I’ve been told that’s common for kids that age. In these kid’s’ case, it might not happen.”
Rudi swallowed the hunk of cake he chewed. “We checked by the house almost every day. Did you see the message?”
Willi shook his head. “I went by there often. Searched, thought about you both, and your mother. But I never saw a message.”
Louise set her fork down, hugged her father. “Are you going to live here with us too?”
Willi glanced up at Justine before turning back to his daughter. “No. I have a place. There is room there for the both of you, but it might take a few days to get you beds and things.”
“If you need `em, I can spring some cots from the quartermaster. Sure, they got plenty.”
Willi grinned. “Thank you, Sergeant. That might speed things up.”
“They are welcome to stay here until it’s all settled, plus Wilma loves having them here.”
Wilma nodded. “They need an adult watching them while you work.”
Willi ran his fingers through Louise’s hair, kissed her forehead. He glanced at Rudi. “Would that be satisfactory to you two?”
Ross strode to the kitchen counter, where the wrapped present remained. He picked it up. Held it out to Rudi. “Don’t forget.”
Rudy rose. His eyes lit up as he snatched it from Ross. As he stripped off the paper, his brow furrowed. He held it out to Ross. “What is it?”
“A football? Why is it shaped like that?”
Ross and Harrison exchanged puzzled glances while Willi’s laughter prompted them to turn to him. Willi shook his head. “It’s an American football, Rudi.”
FROM THE AUTHOR
While this is a work of fiction, it is based on real people and events. The Allies engaged in significant subterfuge while stealing Nazi technology and the people required to make it work. The Americans code-named theirs Operation Paper Clip and Operation Safe Havens. They also stashed their captives in Kranesburg Castle, as described in this story. The Russians labels for their similar operations remains classified.
General William Donavon headed the OSS. General Telford Taylor came to international prominence as a barrister while serving as the Chief Prosecutor at the Nuremberg Tribunal. While General Reinhard Gehlen, Hitler’s chief espionage director for the Eastern front, became America’s chief espionage director for operations against the Soviet Union.
Hitler encouraged the development of the Silbervogel. While it never came to fruition because of its complexity, the Space Shuttle later used its basic principles. Eugen Sänger designed it and, yes, Stalin did, in fact, send his son to kidnap the engineer. After the war, Sänger worked in France’s aerospace industry. Werner Von Braun became America’s premier space scientist, and many believe the work of he and his fellow German scientists made the moon landing possible.
Also, Abba Kovner led an organization called the Nakam. As claimed in the story they planned to poison millions through the water supply, but later settled on poisoning bread delivered to the prisoners at Langwasser. He eventually emigrated to Palestine where he fought in the Defense Forces. Eventually he worked in the government there.
Along with Stalin and Beria among the Soviets, Victor Leonov and his Naval Scouts did perform many clandestine operations during and after the war. After twice being awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union (Their highest military award) he retired in 1956. The Naval Scouts are frequently compared with the United States Navy SEALS and was forerunner of their Special Operations Forces, the Spetsnaz.
The remaining characters in this work are purely creations from the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to real people is merely a coincidence.
Special thanks goes to fellow writer Annette Miller for her assistance in preparing the manuscript. She offered many fine suggestions that improved the story immensely
Also, a special congratulations needs to be added to my Critique partner and fellow author Lynn Maples. He produced the cover that drew your eyes to this work.
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JOURNEY TO DESTINY