Friday, August 28, 2020

The Konigsberg Affair by David W Landrum

In Nazi Germany, a US diplomat discovers a clandestine smuggling operation, and must make a difficult choice; by David W Landrum.

My secretary told me the meeting with Golper was on and that he was waiting for me at a small restaurant seven miles away. Since it was urgent, I left at once. I stuck the reports of the incident that involved him into a diplomatic case, headed to the garage, and threw the satchel into the sidecar of my BMW R75 motorcycle. I am the only US diplomat who lives in this part of the German state of Prussia. We have a Consulate in Konigsberg, but there are enough Americans in the local settlements and surrounding countryside to warrant having a representative for them so they did not have to go all the way to K-Town when they needed something or got into a scrape.

I pulled out on the road that led to the largest town in the area. To my left, the Baltic, grey and choppy, spread north toward Scandinavia and the Arctic. Gulls screeched. The road was clear that morning. I turned the throttle open and felt the cold, raw morning air buffet my face. I liked riding in weather like this. Sometimes after a long ride on a blustery day my face felt like the top layer of skin had been sandpapered off, but the pain was worth the thrill of riding fast, of wind, mist, and rain on my skin - and of nothing ahead but the air and the road.

My R75 ran like a dream. The Germans know how to build machines. For a little while, I could forget my job as a diplomat. Americans over here got in trouble. They had affairs with German wives, young boys, underage girls; they got drunk and in fights in bars; they swindled people and took advantage of the local populace. Then they ran (sometimes literally) to the house where I lived and worked to ask for help - or for refuge. Sometimes I felt like a priest who, through years of sitting in the confession booth, knows the pathetic or shocking sins of the people in his parish. I knew the sins of my countrymen - and countrywomen. Though I could shove these sordid episodes into a compartment in my mind, they always were there to emerge and mess with my gut.

The outlines of the small city where I was to meet Golper appeared. I saw the old church tower and the roofs of the buildings around the city square. People were out shopping, visiting, transacting business. On the courthouse a Nazi banner flapped in the sea breeze.

I slowed to a halt, parked my motorcycle at the address the ambassador had given me, climbed off, and headed for the gasthöff where Golper had agreed to meet with me.

I went in and saw him sitting at a table, a stein of beer in front of him. His three bodyguards - I assumed they were this - sat at a table near the front door. Two local citizens sat and played dominoes at a table a little further off. Golper looked up and gave me a crooked smile.

"Welcome, Mr. Popper."

I sat down, looked over at his bodyguards and back at him.

"You guys are causing me woe," I said.

"We're sorry, of course. I guess I should have been a good little boy and let those bastards beat the hell out of me like they did to the Kaltenborn family, Samuel Bossard, Harold Dahlquist and Roland Velz."

He had recited the names of American citizens assaulted by German paramilitary the past few months. Meacham Golper had lived here several years. He came from New York and had grown up in the ethnic sprawl of the Big Apple. From a German-speaking home, he fit right into this area of Europe. He spoke Deutsch so well the Germans could not believe he was not a native. He also spoke fluent Polish - besides English and Yiddish and Russian. His polyglot abilities landed him in international business. He managed a highly profitable shipping firm in Konigsberg, though he lived out in the country in a palace built by the Teutonic knights. Of late, he had landed in a conflict with the government.

Government - it would be more accurate to say he got in a conflict with the thugs and criminals running in packs across Germany now that Hitler and Röhm had come to power. The brownshirts loped through the streets of German cities like gangs looking for people to intimidate. They had frightened most of the population of Berlin, Cologne, Munich and Frankfurt, into submission. Konigsberg too. Every now and then a contingent of them showed up in our small city. They strutted around flying Nazi banners and singing patriotic songs. Everyone knew to give the arm-extending Hitler salute when the passed by. Foreigners who did not do so, and German citizens who were not aware of the new requirement, were roughed up. Golper caused a row by turning the tables on the brownshirts one afternoon.

Out for a stroll, he turned a corner and came upon a parade of maybe twenty Sturmabteilung marching down the main street of town. Five of them in the rear beat drums and played trumpets and fifes. Two in front carried Nazi standards - the now-familiar red banner with a white circle and black swastika in the center.

The town folk, most of who were politically conservative and did not like the Nazis, knew enough to cheer and stick their arms up. Some even said, "Sieg heil," or "Heil Hitler." Golper knew what was expected but stood with his hands in his pockets and watched the troupe go by.

The reaction came immediately. The two commanders of the brownshirt unit broke ranks and strode over to where he stood. They demanded he give the salute.

"I'm an American," he answered in his flawless, unaccented German. "Since I am not a citizen of your country, I am not compelled to salute the symbol of your ruling party. I only salute my own nation's flag."

They stood, fulminating. Legally, he was right. Still, they were piqued and wanted to have the last word. This is where the trouble started.

"Maybe so," one of them said. "But people who observe that you do not salute the symbol of our Fatherland might get the wrong idea. They don't know you are an American. They might suppose you are a disloyal German - or a Communist or a Jew."

"I am not a Communist," Golper said, "but I am a Jew."

The younger of the two, I was told by a couple of eye-witnesses, turned beet red and, in a spasm of rage, drew back his arm to strike Golper.

He never delivered the blow. In a split second, one of Golper's bodyguards knocked him cold. The other brownshirt leader, who was older, stared a moment, stunned, roared out his anger, and lunged at Golper. Another KO put him down on the cobblestones.

The parade had stopped and the brownshirts gaped at what had just befallen their leaders. Most of them were just kids - members of the Jungenbond, a sort of perverted version of the Boy Scouts the Nazis had come up with. They stared and, seeing Golper's tall, Aryan-looking bodyguards eyeing them, turned tail and ran.

Now I had to undo the damage at the diplomatic level.

"We need to talk about it," I said.

"Beer always helps," he answered. He ordered me one. Golper had red hair and the kind of ruddy face that went along with having red hair. I would put his age at a little over forty. I knew from my file that he had fought with distinction in World War I. He had built his shipping business up from nothing. Today he was worth millions. The waitress brought a stein over. The Germans drink their beer at room temperature.

"I do miss a good cold one," Golper said, reading my expression. "A toast."

I raised my glass indicating that he could propose it.

"To the Sturmabteilung - bad health and short life."

He said this in German. I scanned the room, afraid someone had heard us. The two men up front did not look up from their game of dominoes. The waitress had walked back to the bar and was washing glasses.

"I see they have you on edge too."

"It might be best to accommodate them."

"Popper, I would rather shovel shit than show deference to those goddamned thugs. Shoveling shit is an honest living, so it would be preferable to accommodating the stormtroopers, as they call themselves - which is also a travesty. I fought against General Hutier's stormtroopers in France during the War, and I respected them. They were tough. These paltry bastards wouldn't have lasted two days in one of his units."

I looked over at the three men sitting at the table on the other side of the room.

"So who are your bodyguards?" I asked.

"Would you like to meet them?"

We got up and went over to see them. They rose as we approached. Ironically, the men looked like they could have been members of the Sturmabteilung. Tall, blond, they had the bearing of soldiers. They were trim, fit, and muscular.

"Gentlemen, let me introduce you to my friend. This is Shimen Lapid, Eli Shalit, and Michael Hartman. Gentlemen, may I present to you the representative of the United States government for this district, Solomon Popper."

"Joel," I said. This rankled me. I go by my middle name, Joel, not by my given name of Solomon. That bastard Golper knew I was a Jew and meant to make a point of it. The way I was raised, I feel as out of place in a synagogue as a snake-handler from Kentucky would feel in an Episcopal Church. Except for having a little better food on the Sabbath and my sisters getting married under a canopy, there was nothing to distinguish me from any other New Yorker. When questionnaires had a set of choices for "Religious Preferences," I always checked "Other."

Of the three men, two were American and one Russian. I found out, in our short conversation, that all of them were Zionist settlers from British Palestine. A report circulated to the Consulate suggested Golper had a connection with the endeavor of settling Jews in that territory, though we had no more information on it. Their presence suggested the connection was more significant than the embassy imagined.

The men, polite but taciturn, settled back to their beer. Golper and I returned to our table.

"I didn't know you had a connection with the Palestinian project," I told him when we were seated and sipping our beer once more.

"I have a connection, yes. I'm even helping your friend and mistress Anoushka get there. She and her family will be safe when the Nazi tyranny fully engulfs this land."

I had broken up with Anoushka three months ago. Golper seemed to have his own private intelligence-gathering agency and a thick file on me.

"Anything else you would like to tell me about myself that I don't know?"

He laughed. "I don't normally get mixed up in local politics, especially with a bunch of overgrown boys who like to play soldier and think wearing a swastika arm band makes them one. But this time I couldn't put up with the insults."

"I'll grant as much, but what you did will only provoke more harassment."

"Like what happened to those Americans in Berlin? Is our government going to stand by and let those gangsters abuse us like they've been doing lately?"

"We've filed protests over all of those incidents. Of course, your bodyguards complicated things."

"Were they supposed to just stand by and let the krauts beat me up so you could lodge a protest?"

"We're doing all we can, Mr. Golper, to protect our citizens over here. You called the brownshirts a gang, and your characterization is accurate. They are a gang and they act like a gang. They'll want to avenge the members of their band of thugs that you hurt. They're mobilizing the ST units from Konigsberg, Zinten, and Insterburg to converge on our city for a rally that could easily turn violent. You might be targeted."

"Can't you protect the Americans in this region?"

"We'll try our best. But picking fights with the brownshirts is not a good strategy for creating a peaceful environment."

"I won't gainsay that. I'll try to be more careful." He looked around and lowered his voice. "And, by the way, Mina sends her greetings."

Up to now he had failed to get a rise out of me. This jab hit home. I sat silent a long moment and then spoke.

"You must spend a lot more time over in Palestine than I realized."

"I've got to go now. Come to my place tonight at six. Dinner. I'll explain it all to you. You might find it an interesting conversation."

He drained his beer and left me sitting there. His three bodyguards followed him out the door.

When I got back on my bike, I opened it up all the way. The motorcycle shot along the road at top speed. I felt the vibration of the engine shake my body and the wind batter my frame, chilling me to the bone. Back at my residence I told my valet I did not want to be disturbed, poured a whisky, and down in a chair. I gazed out the window at the grey sky and the slate-colored water of the Baltic Sea.

Though the water was rough, five cargo ships went by as I sat there and drank. All of them might have belonged to Golper. He knew something about Mina Lavington, who, since she had settled in Palestine, went by the name of Chava Zurer.

Mina was my first lover.

Golper knew how to throw good punches. I never imagined he could reach into my life to pluck a string that would resonate so painfully.

I knew her in school. We went to a rough school, and as a Jewish girl she took a lot of crap from people. She got it from teachers as well as students. Mina was smart and sharp - athletic too. She did gymnastics and played on the girls' softball team. Our families were friends. She graduated in the top ten of our class. I think she might have been valedictorian if some of her teachers had not graded her so hard because she was a Jew.

We hung out. I got my first kiss from her. And, one night, after we went to see the Dodgers play, she asked me to come to her family's apartment. I was so naïve I focused my mind on how to make a good impression on her family. When we got there, the place was deserted. It was the first time for both of us, I remembered our clumsiness, her hymeneal blood, my over-eagerness, but I also remember how sweet it was. She and I were lovers from our junior year.

We might have walked the old familiar road of marriage and kids but that she went away for a summer to work on a farm - she called it a kibbutz - in the Jewish area of Palestine.

She left in May and returned in August. I registered amazement when I saw her. Of course, there was the tan, but she looked taller and stronger. She seemed more confident. Talking with her, I found out she had become an ardent Zionist.

This rattled me. Mina had never been political. A lot of kids in my school had picked up on the Marxist ideas going around, but Mina never paid much attention to any sort of ideology. When she came back from Palestine, though, she had brought the notions of the Zionist movement hook, line, and sinker.

I wondered if maybe she had found a new guy over in the Promised Land. If she had, it did not end what she and I had shared. Three days after we were back, and at her bidding, we rented a room and spent the night. She felt so different in my arms I could hardly believe it was the same woman. We made love at dusk and then at night and again at three am. We sneaked out before the sun came up and constructed alibis about where we had been. Her increased strength seemed to have increased her desire, which was fine with me.

She talked a lot about Palestine, the Jewish people, and Zionism.

I listened to her stories. Her eyes lit up as she talked about the increasing number of Jews settling in the British colony; of how they were draining the swamps and transforming the country from a fen to a place of productive farms where everyone owned a share and lived as equals. "We work hard. We do strength training. We've got to be strong to defend ourselves. So I've done calisthenics, weight work-outs, hiking and running."

"Who do you have to defend yourself against?"

"Bandits. Arab militants. They attack us sometimes. I think you would like it there, Joel. You could train some guys there to box."

Inspired by Barney Ross, Max Baer and other champion Jewish fighters, I had trained at boxing clubs since I was in high school.

"You should come over with me next summer."

As it turned out, I did not go with her.

I finished a second whisky and went to clean up and change. Dinners at Golper's place were usually fancy affairs.

I didn't ride my motorcycle. The US government knows that good-quality vehicles are necessary to create a classy impression of their diplomatic corps and had blessed me with a Cord 812 Phaeton - a car that dazzled the Germans to no end. I drove through the deepening darkness and arrived at Golper's place. The windows were brightly lit. Stars gleamed over the turrets of the old castle. I had expected something like a gala, but only my vehicle occupied the circular driveway. I parked. A valet came to escort me inside. Golper, dressed elegantly for dinner, greeted me. Standing not far from him was Mina.

I had not seen her in eight years. In high school, she was just a girl - a beautiful, strong, mature girl to be sure, but not quite an adult. Now I saw her in the fullness of her womanhood. She wore her hair long. She still possessed the strength that I had noticed the first year she came back from Palestine, but looked comfortable with it, whereas that first year she had seemed awkward with it. Now, settled into herself, she wore her strength and her full maturity with confidence.

I admired, just for a second, the light brown hair, green eyes, symmetrical face that was square and beautifully featured, eyes, straight nose, a small, slightly bowed mouth, her strong shoulders and full breasts mounted atop a slender waist and long legs. She wore a simple blue blouse and a black skirt that came to the middle of her knees. I had to remind myself not to stare.

In a flash my mind remembered her in her beautiful white nakedness: the slope of her arms and shoulders, her breasts with dark nipples above her flat stomach and powerful rib cage, the strong thighs and swath of dark brown hair that thatched her opening. Her firm knees and ankles gave uplift to the top part of her body. I thought of the gasping way she made love, of how she had educated me into the mysteries of sexuality, and of what a marvelous teacher she had been.

It seemed like a dream now.

She stepped forward. "Hello, Joel. It so good to see you again."

She took hold of my shoulders and gave me a kiss. The kiss generated even more specificity of memory.

"Wonderful to see you, Mina. You're more beautiful than ever."

"I like to think I'm better looking than when I was a gawky eighteen-year-old girl."

"Gawky you never were."

Golper, who had been watching all this with benign amusement, gestured toward the dining room.

"Shall we eat?"

He escorted us to the next room. A long table occupied the center. Two young women in black maid's livery stood nearby. Broad windows on the north side looked out on the Baltic. Stars pulsated white and blue and reflected in the expanse of water. Lights of ships moving across the sea-lanes added their artificial glow to the night. The servers brought in salad to begin the meal.

I felt too anxious to talk to Mina - like when I was fifteen and too nervous to talk to girls I liked. She looked over at me and smiled. I remembered her smile in her bedroom when her parents were away, the lights of the City filtering in, the shadows on her body accentuating her curves and lines.

"I hear some good things about you, Joel," she said.

"I'm surprised anyone in Palestine hears about me."

"Quite the opposite. Your journalism is popular. Your article on the anti-Semitism in the State Department circulated all over the protectorate."

"That was a stupid thing to do and I'm still wondering why I did it. It made me lots of enemies in Washington. I'll probably never go very far in the foreign service because of it."

"Why would you want to work for people like that?"

"Only a few people in the State Department are biased. I hoped calling attention to it would change that. I think I can do some good by staying in and calling attention to what's wrong on Capitol Hill."

"Admirable. It's a lonely post you have."

She hardly knew how lonely it was. "Sometimes," I replied. "And you, Mina - I haven't heard much of what you're doing these days."

"I live on a communal settlement. We work together - mostly farming. We've started a couple of business ventures as well. I'm also trained as a soldier. We have to fight to defend ourselves."

I had already noticed how strong she looked. Even through her dress made out of thick material I could see her strength. As we ate, she gave me a detailed description of her life in a Jewish enclave in Palestine.

"We call a collective farm a kibbutz. It's Hebrew. It means 'clump' or 'gathering.' We're learning to speak the language of the ancient Israelites."

"Speak it? For everyday conversations? You're using the sacred tongue to talk about how much manure to spread on the cabbage patch?"

"Why not? King David did. The settlers who come to our farm and the adjoining area speak Russian, German, Yiddish, Polish, Lithuanian, English... you name it. Rather than trying to accommodate one language, we're just going to start new - going back to our roots."

"I'm impressed."

"You should be," Golper commented. "And maybe you should be over there yourself."

Golper had no doubt done research on me and knew my lack of religious fervor.

"I think I can do more good by serving in the US Diplomatic Corps - at least for right now."

"We're in agreement on that," Golper said.

We had just finished dessert and wine. The serving women would bring us coffee soon, but I could see that the words my host had just spoken were a cue. He had brought me here to ask something of me. Now I would find out what it was. Mina was in on it. The request would undoubtedly relate to the current situation in Palestine.

"Do you know much about what's going on in Palestine?" Golper asked.

"Only what's been in the news. The settlers and the Arabs are fighting."

"The British are worried that the Arabs will support the Germans when war breaks out - and it will break out pretty soon. They have restricted Jewish immigration and will continue to do so."

I began to get annoyed. "Look, why don't you just tell me up front what's going on and why you brought me here?"

Golper looked over at Mina and then back at me.

"I think I can safely tell you, Popper. I'm in the resettlement business. I use my ships to take Jews who emigrate from Russia and the Baltic nations and ferry them to Palestine - Ertz Israel it will eventually be. Now that the British are clamping down, limiting the number of settlers we can bring, we have to do this clandestinely. We also run guns so the settlements can defend themselves."

"You didn't invite me over to tell me this."

"Do you remember Marion Warner?" he asked.

I knew Marion from school. He had been a gung-ho advocate of the Zionist project to settle Jews in Palestine. I liked him because, like me, being a Jew was more of a cultural thing. Unlike me, being Jewish in the secular sense did matter a lot to him. I especially remembered him because he had taken me up in an airplane. He had money, had learned to fly, and owned a DH 60 Cirrus Moth. One sunny afternoon he and I flew the two-seater out to sea. I remembered the exhilaration of flying and the sense of freedom it gave. Marion eventually served four years in the Army Air Corps and then, like Mina, emigrated to Palestine.

"I remember him. How does he fit into this?"

"He flies for us," Golper said.

"For us?"

"Mina and I are involved in the immigration project - to get our people to Palestine before war breaks out and Europe shuts down."

I glanced out at the Baltic. So that was it.

"Your ships from Konigsberg aren't carrying what's on the cargo manifesto?"

"They carry what I list. It's just that, below decks, they have a few hundred people we're smuggling into the land."

"And how does Warner fit into this?"

"He flies missions for us. The Nazis caught him."

"Caught him?"

"He had some engine trouble and had to land in a field not far from here. The brownshirts captured him. He had a Russian - a military leader we want to get to Israel; the Russians want to keep him for when the Germans attack. The brownshirts are holding them both. He also has some documents on him we don't want them to see."

"Why are they holding him?'

"They're suspicious. You know how these people work. They have no legal reason to hold him, but they think they are above the law. He's an American citizen. They're holding him illegally."

"The consulate in Konigsberg has a lot more clout that I do. Why don't you call them?"

"We don't want the Consulate to know about our operation."

"Why not?"

"A lot of people in Washington are not far from being brownshirts themselves. And there are a whole knot of bankers who are afraid if we antagonize the Nazis they might default on the debts Germany owes us. If they find out we're running an unauthorized operation taking thousands of German Jews out of the country, they'll shut us down."

"So you think I'm a loyalist?"

"I think you might become one. I know you're not keen on your heritage. Let's be frank and lay our cards on the table. We need your help and you are on our side whether you want to be or not. We know you can trust us because of that."

Silence fell - a very tense silence. For a moment I wondered if Golper had brought Mina along to offer to me as a reward if I agreed to the mission, but I dismissed the idea. Still, I thought I would ask.

"How does Miss Zurer fit into this?"

"I fit in because we used to be in love and because I know our people matter to you."

"I've never been religious."

"Neither have I. What we're doing is building a homeland. It will be for the religious, yes. But also for people like you and me. Can you help us out?"

I looked at her. God, what a beautiful woman, I thought. She and Golper waited for me to reply.

"If I agree," I said, "what Mina's role in the deal?"

"She will accompany you when you go to arrange for Marion's release. He knows you, of course, but would think you are simply coming because you're the embassy contact in this part of the country. She will be the signal to him that you're okay and that he is to cooperate. And she also will keep you safe."

I looked at him and over at her. They were dead serious, though Mina's eyes were soft. I liked to think I saw a spark of the old-time feeling there. The silence had grown too tense.

"All right," I said. "I'll see if I can get them to free him."

"I think you can, Joel," Golper said. "I hope I'm not overstepping the bounds of propriety by calling you that."

"We can be on a first-name basis. Your first name is Meacham, but you've always gone by Melvin."

He smiled. "I wouldn't think you could find something like that out."

"We have a file on you."

Afterward, we went to the parlor. Golper lit up a cigar. I had never smoked. Apparently Mina didn't either. We had some good brandy - too good. After a couple of hours and several glasses of the stuff, Golper stretched in his chair.

"You'll never make it home, Popper. You're soused. I don't want you to get in an accident. You can stay here."

I might have objected but when I got up out of my chair I almost fell over. I nodded as he chuckled. Mina maintained an austere silence.

Golper led me to a room. I settled into a comfortable bed and fell asleep at once. A noise woke me early in the morning and opened my eyes the sky pre-dawn grey over the sea. More noise. I rolled over to see Mina standing just past the door to my room. She wore a simple white cotton nightgown. She smiled at my startled expression.

"Nothing has changed, Joel," she said. She pulled the nightgown off.

Without any ado or fanfare, she got in bed with me. The grogginess and headache from drinking too much last night miraculously disappeared. She lay down beside me. I gripped and pushed into her. The ripple of strength that came down her back into her hips then into the muscles around her velvety opening sent shocks of pleasure through me. I thanked my lucky stars (couldn't thank God, since I didn't figure he would approve of this) that I had continued to train as a boxer and that my strength was at least equal to hers. I worked out at a local boxing club and sparred with Germans who were into fisticuffs. Mina bucked like a colt, twisted her hips, locked her legs around mine, bit me, swore and cursed in English, Polish, and what I assumed was Hebrew. We went off at the same time. Afterwards, it took me a couple of minutes to get my breath and orient myself. I realized we had not used protection.

We lay side by side. I wanted to talk to her, but there are times when silence is the proper utterance. After what must have been ten minutes, she spoke.

"I love you."

I tried not to laugh and the effort brought a twisted grin to my face.

"I can hardly believe that, Mina."

"Why?"

"You've forged a new life for yourself - without me."

"Who says I was without you? A person can live in another person's heart and mind."

"You're not in love with one of your fellow kibbutzniks?"

"I won't say I haven't had my flings - but they're different - ideological and manipulative. The kibbutz men are like most converts - not to Judaism but to Zionist ideology. They are too zealous and too sure they're absolutely right and the rest of world is wrong. They scorn anyone who compromises what they believe is orthodoxy."

I did not reply. A long silence passed then she spoke.

"I hope you don't think I slept with you to get you to go on our mission. You can banish that thinking from your mind. I'm not that much of a slut."

"You were never a slut."

A long silence, then she said, "Come with me to Palestine."

"Who's the convert now?"

"Not me. I'm not urging you to become a convert to anything. In fact, I want you there so I don't become a convert."

"It would be hard to leave what I have."

"What do you have, Joel?"

"A job I like. The chance at a career."

"You shot your career in the foot when you wrote those articles. Those rich goyim don't forget. They won't forget that you called attention to what they don't want anybody to know."

She was probably right. I regretted writing those opinion pieces. I had already felt a chill from the higher ups in Berlin (except for Ambassador Dodd, but he was an exceptional man).

"Let's get on the other side of this little undertaking. Then we'll talk about the future." I felt a twinge of shame as I looked at her, the curve of her breasts, the beauty of her light hair falling over her shoulders.

"You're the most beautiful woman in the world," I said.

A sad look crossed her face.

"All I hear back home is that I'm a good comrade; or a fine, strong woman who could give birth to a whole platoon of healthy Jewish settlers - like I was breeding stock - a cow or a healthy filly. I get sick of it."

"I can't imagine how any man would think of you that way."

"They do," she said curtly.

She went off to clean up. I lay back and enjoyed the feeling. It had been a while. Occasionally I made it with a woman from the expatriate community - Anoushka Blacoviac being my most frequent lady friend. When she was not able to arrange to be around much, a trusted German associate discretely arranged for me to rendezvous with various whores. It had been a long time since I had slept with a woman I loved - it had, in fact, been the last time I was with Mina.

I came down to breakfast. Golper greeted me with a grin that was not supposed to be knowing, but he could not disguise his glee. Mina sat at the table and ate a grapefruit. She had put on a sensible business suit. She would pose as my secretary.

As we ate, he gave me the details. The brownshirts had detained Warner and the man he was flying out of Russia. They had not officially arrested him. They did not have authority to make arrests and were afraid they had overstepped their jurisdiction and might get in trouble. Rudolf Diels, the head of the German secret police, was not overly friendly toward the brownshirts. But they suspected Warner of wrongdoing, even of espionage. I needed to get there before they made definite plans. If the Nazi party in Berlin decided to question Warner, he might reveal vital information about the smuggling operation. And, worse, they would recognize the Russian, whose name was Mosin. He was a man the Germans would love to get out of circulation so their troops would never have to fight him.

Mina and I headed off in the Cord. The weather had turned cold. The sun and clouds fought for dominance of the sky. A cold, stiff wind blew off the sea.

The brownshirts had located their headquarters in an old farmhouse maybe twelve miles from Konigsberg. Swastika banners festooned it. Scores of vehicles circled the place. Armed guards stood near the doors. I saw additional guards had posted farther out from the house. They raised their rifles when we approached, though we had called to tell them we were coming. I slowed. The guards demanded I identify myself and when I did they pointed us to a parking slot. We climbed out of the car and were escorted inside the old, spacious house that had served as residence for a big farming family. It was warm inside. The brownshirts had stoked a fire in the fireplace.

Two swastika flags covered the walls. It seemed these people had to have one of those everywhere they went. Guards stood on either side of the desk where their commander sat.

He identified himself as Jergen Eibeling - about thirty years old with short blond hair and Nordic face. Like many young Nazis, he looked trim and fit.

I wondered if he would give the Nazi salute and expect me to return it. He did not. He got right to the point.

"Mr. Council, we are not convinced by your explanation of Mr. Warner's activities."

"He is an American citizen, Captain Eibeling. As far as I know, he has committed no crime. He had permission to fly from the Soviet Union into Germany."

"And bring a Russian with him?"

"He is authorized to carry passengers. The passenger had a valid passport and the necessary paperwork to authorize entrance into the country. Again, no crime was committed." (Mosin's paperwork, Golper had told me, was forged.)

He had nowhere to go. He might waste my time and his through obfuscation, but it looked like he did not intend to do so.

"We will release him. Your American compatriots, like Mr. Golper, seem to like to make trouble for us. Of course, we would expect as much of Jews."

I did not reply. I wondered if he knew I was a Jew - or Mina. Probably not. He would have no way of knowing. The German shuffled a sheaf of paper and then tapped them on the desktop to get them straight.

"Take him and the other one too."

"The embassy will contact you about the recovery of his aircraft."

In a moment they had brought Warren and Mosin in. They looked weary but unharmed. Warren recognized me, though he apparently thought I had just come as a representative of the US government. I gave him a look and he communicated that he would not greet me or seem familiar. It might complicate the procedure if the local commander knew we were friends. And I could also tell he recognized Mina and knew we were working for his spy cell. The four of us went out into the cold, clear day. We got Mosin and Warren into the Cord.

Just as Mina was crossing in front of the Cord to get in one the passenger side, a hubbub broke out. I heard shouting and, worse, footsteps of running jackboots and the clatter of arms. Someone shouted, "It's Mosin, it's Mosin!"

I turned. Mina ran around to the front of the car. Two brownshirts with rifles rushed toward us. One closed in from the other side. Someone had identified the Russian. They did not intend to let him get away.

As I stood there, paralyzed with fear, not certain what to do, shots rang out. The two Germans coming at me fell to the pavement only a foot away, their bright blood spurting out, staining the cobblestones, and smoking in the chilly air. A shot sounded behind me. I turned. Mina stood over the prostrate body of a stormtrooper. She had shot him with a pistol. She looked up.

"Let's get out of here."

I broke from my lethargy. More shots sounded. Brownshirts swarmed out of the building but were brought down by rifle and machinegun fire coming from a copse of trees fifty yards beyond their headquarters.

I caught a glimpse of Lapid, Shalit, and Hartman. They were our back-up. They had taken down the first two Germans and now were engaging the group of them that had surged from their headquarters building. I sped around to the driver's door. As I did, Mina turned to get into the car. I saw three stormtroopers round the corner of the building. They were only thirty feet away.

Instinct for protection kicked in. I dove, picked up one of the rifles from the fallen guards, leveled it, and fired just as they were drawing a bead on Mina.

The bullet glanced off the rifle the brownshirt in the middle had aimed. I think (I was never certain) its velocity knocked the weapon out of the center guard's hands and ricocheted, hitting the one to his left. The one in the center fell, knocking the third guard over.

I fired at them as they tried to get up. If they got a shot off, they could hit Mina or me. They could puncture the tires or the engine or gas tank on my Cord. I'm not a good shot, but I hit all three of them, threw down the rifle, and dove into the front seat. (I later found out I had wounded all them severely, but they did recover, fought through and survived the war.)

Gunfire rang as I screeched out of the compound and on to the road. I immediately got off the main highway and and on to the rural routes and backroads I knew from riding my motorcycle. Fortunately, the Phaeton was a fast car and we rapidly put distance between us and the Germans. When we were a safely away from the compound, I turned to Mina.

"So," I said.

She looked at me. Those eyes.

"So?"

"So this was a set-up?"

Warren and Mosin began to converse quietly in the back seat, speaking Russian.

"Not like you think. We knew things might not go as planned. We had a back-up course of action."

"So Golper's bodyguards were in place and armed, and you had a gun?"

"Yes. And we have a plan to get you out of Germany."

Realization struck. This incident that would cost me my job and my freedom. Diplomats do not shoot nationals of the country where they are posted. The fallout would be intense. I would be hung out to dry. I would probably spend the rest of my life, or the best part of it, at Sing-Sing or Alcatraz with Al Capone and Baby-Face Nelson.

"We've arranged for you to get on a ship and come to Israel."

I looked at her. I stared so long I almost ran off the road.

"We? Who are 'we'?"

"Mr. Golper and his associates."

I gripped the steering wheel. Mina leaned toward me.

"We didn't want this to happen, Joel," she said, trying to express her sincerity through tone of voice. "But we knew it could happen. We had plans if it did."

"Plans that mean exiting the life I've lived up to now?"

"What life, Joel? You've never married. From what Meacham tells me, you don't have many friends. After those articles you wrote, your career will go nowhere. Those high-ups in Washington who hated your exposé of their attitudes toward us will delight to see you tarred and feathered and sent to prison."

I said nothing. By now our two passengers had quieted down and were listening to our conversation. She went on.

"That's not because you couldn't have all of those things I mentioned that you don't have. You had them with me. I had them with you. Since we went our separate ways, neither of us has much of anything in life." She paused. "They'll to block the roads. Can you find Niederwerrenstrausser?"

"It's about a mile up ahead."

"We'll ditch the car there. Someone will pick us up and take us to the ship."

"To take me to Palestine?"

"It's your choice. You can stay here and face the music if you want to."

The full impact of what I had done began to register even more clearly. The mission to free Warren was unauthorized. I had allied myself with a clandestine organization. In my role as a representative of the United States Foreign Service, I had shot and possibly killed three representatives of the new German government - a government with whom our relations were tense. Mina had nailed it. I had interfered with the arrest of two figures the Germans considered criminals opposed to their government. I was a dead duck. We turned on Niederwerrenstrausser. A mile down the road I saw Golper and his three bodyguards (who had emerged from the gunfight unscathed).

We all got out of the car. I wanted to slug Golper but restrained myself. He had me by the balls. My life depended on his good will. He knew it too. He grinned.

"You'll like Palestine, Popper," he said. "We've got everything set up. You'll go there with Mina."

I looked over at her. Her beauty brought a little comfort in the grimness of the whole thing. I had no choice, but at least I would be with her. It would be like old times, though I would never have wanted it to happen like this.

"I'll see to it that you get your car. We've already stolen your motorcycle and packed it on a freighter - and your clothes and personal belongings. I think we got most everything you own. If you'll trust me with your access number, I'll transfer all your money to a Swiss bank before they freeze your assets."

He would know I owned no property. Looking out to the sea, I saw a ship sitting at anchor. Two men were speeding from it in a motorboat. They would get us on the ship and take us to Palestine. No choice and no way out. I nodded. Mina came over and took my hand. We stood by the grey, choppy waters of the Baltic and watched as the boat slowed down and drew to shore.

4 comments:

  1. Enjoyable historical piece. Joel lets himself get pulled along in this caper rather easily, I suspect he never found the life of a diplomat all that fulfilling. I liked the open ending for this one, leaves us wondering whether his decisions will work out for him in the long run.

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  2. They certainly went to a lot of risk to get Popper to Israel. Why was he so valuable? Mina must have had some pull with Golper. They could have got Warren without shooting anyone. Nazis are bad people so no big loss but it seems rash. Popper was adventurous for sure. Good pace pf action.

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  3. I always quibble your prose. This time I might add a bit of not-quite supernatural. Something a skeptical reader could reasonably chalk up to coincidence with a bit of ambiguity.

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  4. Hmmm. I don't see anything supernatural in it.

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