OSKAR WEINKENNER SAT AND STARED with his mind chasing in circles, aware that he was expected to make an intelligent comment but unable to find one. He realized that Dr. Marzius and Johann Rattenhuber could be lying to him as part of either an initiation ritual or a test of his gullibility.
The more he stared, the less the man on the bed looked like the Führer of the Greater German Reich. He was older than the man who had presented Weinkenner's medal. Adolf Hitler always looked younger than his years on newsreels. This man had an air of tired, bloated dissipation; but his eyes took on a glow of internal fire when he looked toward the mirror in his room, as if suspecting that he was under observation.
"Well?" prompted Rattenhuber.
"That can't be the Führer," Weinkenner said confidently. "He's over sixty and he looks like he's been on the booze for six months, at least. I can't see someone with Hitler's puritanical reputation ever letting himself go like that."
"An interesting judgement." Dr. Marzius pulled on a white labcoat of pristine purity. "Based on your own experience, no doubt. You know how a man looks after six months on the booze."
"I've stepped over enough in New York gutters, Doc."
"But you are unfamiliar with the effects of a severe medical condition such as progressive renal failure, I assume," the doctor added.
Weinkenner and Rattenhuber turned their chairs to face the desk when the panel closed and Dr. Marzius switched on the lights again.
"One half of me says this is all a big joke," said Weinkenner. "The other half asks what's the point?"
"You have a suspicious mind," Dr. Marzius said with a smile. "Good! No belief without proof, but open to persuasion. I shall now provide your proof. It must come as no real surprise to learn that the Reichskanzler employs doubles. There are occasions when a personal appearance is necessary but inconvenient. Herr Rattenhuber will tell you more about that aspect later.
"My involvement in the affair began in February of last year. You will not have heard of the Blombeau-Dirkmann Conspiracy because none of Herr Hitler's entourage will admit that the poisoning attempt ever took place. It exists in a closed compartment in their minds, labelled as something akin to a training exercise. They insist such things are impossible." Dr. Marzius turned to smile at Rattenhuber. "But the plan remains in their minds as a warning: the details of the subtle cocktail of chemicals, how they were administered, and the fates of those who took part in the conspiracy.
"Blombeau introduced the first component of a sophisticated poison into Herr Hitler's food. Dirkmann introduced the second about a week later at another location. The ingredients are harmless when taken individually. The first lingers in the body tissue, and combines with the second into a virulent poison. Fortunately, Herr Hitler just picked at the second meal.
"As a specialist in the field, I was consulted when renal failure was diagnosed. It would not be immodest to say I am the leader in the field in Europe. I was able to limit the damage, but even so, one kidney had to be removed and the other is failing slowly."
"What happens in the end?" said Weinkenner.
"The kidney filters waste products from the blood to be excreted in the urine," said Dr. Marzius. "If they are allowed to remain in the blood, the patient dies a slow death of self-poisoning. If not for my treatment, which postpones complete failure of the remaining kidney, Herr Hitler would have been dead and buried some considerable time ago."
"Ah!" said Weinkenner. "So that's why it's not treason to say you're as important to the Reich as the Führer."
"And now you realize the importance of your new assignment?" said Rattenhuber. "As the Professor's protector."
Weinkenner nodded. "And why you told me not to bother coming back if I ever lose him." Importance meant power, and power meant personal profit to the stepson of a New York gangster. "So all that plumbing gets rid of the poisons in his blood?"
"The process is both simple and complex." Dr. Marzius turned to a wall-mounted blackboard behind his desk to sketch a U-shaped trough in yellow chalk. He drew a liquid level in green, then put a red cross below the surface. "Nature, unlike human society, reduces everything to a common level. If a red dye in solid form is placed in a solvent," he tapped the cross, "the process called diffusion will, in time, spread it through the whole of the liquid to create a uniform pink colour.
"But if we divide the vessel with a semi-permeable membrane," he added a vertical, dashed line in yellow, "one through which a certain size of molecule may pass, but not bulkier ones, we may extract smaller components of the mixture. In other works, if we put blood plus waste products on one side of our membrane, we aim to induce the wastes to move through to be discarded, while retaining essential blood components on the original side for return to the body.
"It looks rather simple sketched on a blackboard, and the properties of the semi-permeable membrane have been known for some eighty years, but there are immense practical difficulties involved in applying the process to the human bloodstream. At best, it remains a temporary solution, but the best that can be offered until my second line of research reaches a successful conclusion. You shall hear more of that when we go to Zell. So, knowing all this, you will kindly not stare at the apparatus when you meet my patient."
"I'll do my best," said Weinkenner. "Looks like it was the Führer's lucky day when he lost his appetite."
"Although the Professor hates to admit it, he believes secretly that Dr. Morell saved him," grinned Rattenhuber. "One of his potions spoiled the Führer's appetite."
"That man is a dangerous charlatan," Dr. Marzius said indignantly. "His sole concern is to make a fortune from the patent medicines and shoddy goods his company churns out. A great deal of my work is totally unnecessary because it involves relieving the effects of the potions he feeds to Herr Hitler, or injects into him. Unfortunately, the Reichskanzler's confidence in him is as strong as it is misplaced. But even Homer nods."
"Before we go in there, a question," said Weinkenner. "What happened to Blombeau, Dirkmann and whoever had this job before me?"
"According to the civil defence records at Falkensee, Alois Blombeau was killed at the end of March last year in an air raid near his home," said Rattenhuber. "Blown to bits. Werner Dirkmann was lost on a flight to Switzerland a month later. Naturally, we lodged a strong protest with the Allies via the Swiss. Naturally, they denied shooting down an unarmed civilian airliner. Goebbels even made a propaganda film about it. Of course, he didn't show Herr Dirkmann being ejected without a parachute two kilometres above the Bodensee. I've heard water is as hard as concrete if you hit it from that sort of height."
"Your predecessor, on the other hand, has an infection," said Dr. Marzius. "He will be unfit for all duties for at least two to three months."
"So he didn't go flying without a parachute for talking in his sleep?" Weinkenner suggested.
"Loyalty is rewarded accordingly." Rattenhuber left Weinkenner to interpret the comment in a way of his own choosing.
"I remember one or two familiar faces disappearing last year, but without any fuss," said Weinkenner. "They just stopped appearing in the papers and newsreels."
Rattenhuber blew out a scornful breath. "The Gestapo put a Sondernachforschungsabteilung on the job. Those characters have no sense of the commonplace. It can't be an ordinary investigation department. It has to be a special one to make them feel specially important. They don't seem to realize that a Sonder unit attracts attention like flies to a summer corpse."
"They must have been tiptoeing specially quietly."
"There were only three others directly involved in the conspiracy, but the Gestapo took the opportunity to round up some dissenters, waverers, and people who were creating bottlenecks through sheer incompetence, as well as those refusing to offer whole-hearted support to the titanic struggle for survival of our race."
"You sound like a political speech," chuckled Dr. Marzius.
Rattenhuber shrugged. "A hazard of my job. Briefly, it was felt in senior police circles that poisoning is undignified. As a method of political assassination, it reflects badly on the victim. So all those rounded up met accidents or routine wartime terminations. Full reports on what never happened went into the restricted section of Gestapo archives, and everyone was ordered to forget about it."
"Hardly possible for those trying to delay the effects of irreversible kidney failure," said Dr. Marzius.
"You know, they've got a song in England," said Weinkenner. "About Hitler has only got one ball. But one kidney doesn't fit."
"I'd forget you know a song like that while you're in your present job," Rattenhuber warned.
"What song is that?" Weinkenner said innocently.
"I thing you'd better meet the man who authorized your medal now," said Rattenhuber. "Your pistol."
Weinkenner surrendered the weapon. "What if someone tries to assassinate the Professor and I haven't got a gun to shoot the assassin?"
Rattenhuber locked the pistol in a wall safe. "You're expected to leap in front of him, just as you're expected to leap in front of the Führer or Herr Müller, and take the bullet yourself. It's an essential part of the job."
"How come no one told me that before?"
"I'm telling you now."
"What do you do about resigning from this mob?"
"Membership ends automatically when we bury you with full military honours," Rattenhuber said with a grim smile. "Shall we go in?"
Dr. Marzius led the way back to the corridor and to a green door near the elevator. They passed through an anteroom and into the large, bright treatment room. A blonde nurse with a serious expression was sitting at a table in the corner on the left. Screens with Persian patterns hid most of the equipment from the patient's gaze.
Three narrow but deep rosewood cabinets were ranged along the nearer side of the bed. Valves glowed behind ventilation grills. Weinkenner had seen his first television set in a bar in Paris during a spell of leave in the summer of 1938. A service had been running in New York since 1941, according to an article in a magazine retrieved from a crashed Flying Fortress. Weinkenner had never seen sets as big as these before. The screens had to be at least fifty centimetres across.
Rattenhuber clicked his heels at the foot of the bed. "Mein Führer," he said in a formal tone, "may I present Sturmbannführer Oskar Weinkenner."
The man on the bed held out his right hand. The left arm was restricted by needles plugged into veins and taped down. Weinkenner leaned across the end television set to receive a fairly firm handshake.
"I watched you receive your medal," said Hitler. "You looked rather surprised."
"Nobody warned me I was about to meet Herr Müller, mein Führer, let alone what was going to happen," Weinkenner spoke from a position of approximate attention. It was a compromise between respect and the practicality of addressing someone who was lying on his back. Weinkenner was still struggling to come to terms with being in the same room as the older self of one of the most powerful men on the planet.
The fabled blue eyes looked at him with amusement from a face with a distinctly unhealthy complexion. "Yes, our Herr Müller," Hitler said with a brief smile.. "Seeing myself performing on the television is still an odd experience. Like watching a play, a life drama. Did you see anything like this in the United States, Weinkenner?"
"I left some years before television broadcasts started, Führer," said Weinkenner.
"Move round to the other side of the bed. Mind the Infernal Machine. The view is better."
Dr. Marzius and Rattenhuber stepped back to allow Weinkenner to travel round the foot of the bed.
"This is our high-definition, electronic system, a result of the research of German inventors like Kipkow and Braun," said Hitler with the fluency of a man on familiar ground. "The system used so successfully to broadcast our Olympic Games in 1936. Naturally, our scientists have made many developments since then. There are microphones and three cameras in the conference room. As you see, one camera gives a general view, one gives a close view of documents placed in front of Herr Müller, and the third focuses on whoever is speaking. I have a telephone here to relay my comments to him."
"As good as being there, Führer," Weinkenner said with a nod.
"Even better," Hitler said with a roguish smile. "I can switch the sound off when an old bore is droning on. And I can read the file of an officer with an interesting past instead. Were you ever in Chicago?"
"Quite frequently, Führer."
"Perhaps Weinkenner could entertain you with his memoirs this evening, Herr Reichskanzler?" suggested Dr. Marzius. "You will be feeling much stronger after a full course of the treatment."
"The ultimate authority," sighed Hitler. "Anywhere in the world, a doctor has the final say. Until later, then."
"Führer!" Weinkenner snapped to attention.
"Saluting in this room in unnecessary," Hitler added. "I feel ridiculous being saluted when I'm flat on my back."
Weinkenner and Rattenhuber left the treatment room. Dr. Marzius stayed behind to monitor his patient's progress. The elevator took the officers to ground level. Weinkenner felt that he was holding tight to reality with both hands to prevent it from escaping and leaving him floundering.
He had been evicted from the hospital in Salzburg just five hours earlier. In that brief interval, he had been decorated and drowned in secrets. He knew now that Adolf Hitler had a double who was much more convincing than the real thing. He also knew that the most important person in the Reich was living on borrowed time courtesy of a plumber's nightmare. Weinkenner felt that he needed a stiff drink and a smoke as soon as possible. He wanted to get back to ground level and out of the building to find out if the real world was still there.
The Berghof's terrace looked like a café that was closed for the moment. White chairs with royal blue padding leaned in against white, round-topped tables. A low wall topped by white slabs surrounded the terrace. The wide parapet looked a comfortable height for sitting. The sun felt pleasantly warm now that the breeze had dropped. Rattenhuber dumped cap and belt onto the table and unhooked his collar. Weinkenner followed suit, then dropped onto a chair with a sigh of relief.
"Smoking is permitted out here while the Führer is elsewhere," said Rattenhuber. "Leaving cigarette ends that he might find isn't. Thank you."
Weinkenner took the hint and offered his packet of Senior Service. A steward hurried over with a bottle of cognac and four balloon glasses. Weinkenner blew out smoke and poured into two of the glasses with a heavy hand. He felt the cognac glide down and down to vanish as a warm glow deep inside.
"Did you have to use a plastic surgeon on him? Müller?" he asked in a tone that would not carry across the terrace.
Rattenhuber nodded. "Just a little. The resemblance was remarkably close to begin with. We have a very good man; from your adopted homeland. We broke him out of gaol in Boston, gave him a new Austrian identity, and fixed him up as a naturalized Swiss citizen. He has a comfortable life, an extensive practice and a secure future as long as he behaves himself."
"If he talks out of turn, his papers turn out to be good forgeries and he ends up back in the slammer in Boston?"
"To serve out the rest of a ninety-nine-year sentence."
"You're being remarkably free with your top-secret information, Sir."
"Once you know the biggest secret, how much more you know of the incidentals becomes irrelevant. If you talk out of turn, your fate will be the same no matter how much you know."
"I suppose that's just a statement of fact rather than a threat?" Weinkenner observed casually.
As he was giving up hope of a reply, the steward returned with a glass dish of mixed nuts and crystallized fruit. Rattenhuber fastened his collar and put his belt on. Weinkenner balanced his cigarette on the edge of the table and followed his lead.
"Don't do that," said Rattenhuber, cigarette dangling inelegantly from the corner of his mouth. "The Führer raises the roof is he sees burn marks on the edges of his tables."
"He's on his way here? Well, Herr Müller?"
"In five to ten minutes. Which means we go on parade. You treat Herr Müller as the Führer at all times unless you're told otherwise. It keeps you in practice."
"Are there reserves? I mean, you must have more than one in case this Müller falls ill."
"The number varies. And there are several grades. Grade One are suitable for appearances on balconies or to be seen at a distance when no speech is required. Grade Two can present medals or meet people who don't know the Führer personally. Grade Three are for receptions for people who know him well. Grade Four, the top grade, can perform speeches with almost the same passion and intensity as the real thing. Each is codenamed after a sign of the zodiac. Your medal came from Aquarius."
"Isn't that rather provocative, using the zodiac?" Weinkenner said with a frown. "After the Party rounded up all the astrologers and gypsies and shot them off to camps."
"Only so they could have a monopoly on predictions. Some of the top leaders are firm believers, the Führer included. Himmler's about the worst, though. Get him talking about astrology, and when he gets onto the mystic destiny of the SS, you start wondering if he was born on the same planet as the rest of us."
"Have you ever lost any of your zodiac?"
"Just two. Sagittarius to a heart attack in '41; luckily, while he was in his private apartment. The other was a year later. A sniper with some remarkably accurate information fired blind through a wooden fence from a range of about 400 metres. Our Cancer died in hospital two hours later. Some others were wounded by stray bullets and splinters from the fence, We were able to send the real Führer to their ward with his arm in a sling an hour or two later. Ending the rumours that he was dead, of course."
"I remember that vaguely. Wasn't there a round-up of political opponents and foot-draggers afterwards? Well, I suppose that's routine. One of my friends had a cousin arrested. He was quite pleased; couldn't stand the creep."
"There are always arrests after assassination attempts. Sometimes, I think they're staged deliberately for the excuse; but that's treason and I didn't say it."
"I didn't hear it. What grade is Aquarius."
"They're always called Herr Müller to confuse the unwary." Rattenhuber stubbed out his cigarette on the sole of his boot, then put the remains in a small tin, which he carried in a special inside pocket.
Weinkenner added his own contribution and made a mental note to get a tin of his own.
"He's Grade Four," added Rattenhuber. "He seems to have a natural talent for it. He was working as a butcher's assistant when we recruited him."
"How does he get on with the vegetarian diet?" grinned Weinkenner.
"Moans about it constantly," grinned Rattenhuber. "He doesn't mind the fried eggs and mashed potatoes, but he hates rice and vegetables. And he tends to put on weight rather easily, so we have to starve him without mercy when he comes off parade. He shares the Führer's love of cream cakes and sweets, and he makes the most of it when he's on parade."
"Sounds like he's got it pretty easy. "
"When he's off parade, he gets lots of exercise and good, lean meat. He hates the one but puts up with it for the other. He's not half as bad as Virgo, though. Our Müller in Berlin. That man is the world champion hypochondriac. He's always moaning about some ache or pain. The best thing to do with him is call the quack right away. He really hates needles and Morell always has one ready. Caps on!"
Responding to some unseen signal, Rattenhuber rose to his feet and prepared to receive a very important visitor. Weinkenner also shot his arm out at a perfect forty-five degrees when Müller reached saluting range. Müller responded with the characteristic upward flap of his right arm. He waved the SS officers back to their chairs as he reached the table. Rattenhuber poured cognac into a third glass.
"Help yourself to the nuts, gentlemen," Müller said as he reached for his glass. "I don't know how the Chief can scoff them in such amounts. They always get stuck in my bloody bridges. Do eat up, Weinkenner. Otherwise I'll have to fill my bloody pockets again. The stewards always look like puppy dogs booted up the arse if I don't touch the nuts."
"At your command, Führer." Weinkenner started on the cashews as Müller nibbled at a crystallized lemon slice.
"Well, I must say you wear your piece of tin like you were born to it. Obviously hero material." Müller scanned Weinkenner's collection of medals and ribbons with some envy. The decorations included the ribbon of the Spanish Civil War's volunteer medal in his second button-hole and the wound badge in gold, which showed that Weinkenner had been wounded seriously enough to need medical attention more than five times. "How are the bullet wounds? They don't get worse than one in the guts."
"Only a nuisance in damp weather, Führer."
"I know what you mean. I stopped one in the right thigh in the last war. I can hardly walk some days when it's chucking it down with rain. Still, they gave me an Iron Cross Second Class. Something to show off back home to persuade other idiots to rush to the colours. The recruiters would love you. You're obviously a hero with all your bits of tin. I mean, you'd have had to earn them. They wouldn't just hand them out to the stepson of an American gangster for looking pretty, like some of the Party hacks."
"Has everyone been using my file for bedtime reading?" Weinkenner frowned at Rattenhuber.
The detective shrugged. "Those who will come into contact with you received a thorough briefing. Your meeting with Herr Müller on the way here was satisfactory, Führer?"
"Confusing, isn't it?" laughed the man with the toothbrush moustache in response to Weinkenner's frown. "When you're talking to someone who looks like me, you always call him Führer and call the others Herr Müller; even the Chief himself. No, he didn't have much to say for himself. I reckon he was catching a crafty nap during the conference. He looks really done in. What he needs is about a week on the Infernal Machine."
"Unfortunately, he has greater faith in Morell's jabs for getting him back on his feet," said Rattenhuber. "Even though the benefits of the Infernal Machine are clear when he gives it a chance."
"Well, I'll go and put my feet up until Herr Müller has digested the summaries of this afternoon's conference," said the double. "And get these damned eyes out."
Weinkenner frowned again.
"Contact lenses," explained Müller. "My eyes are brown. If I wear them for more than a few hours, my eyes start to itch. I'll go and hide behind a pair of smoked glasses for a while. I hear you're unlucky enough to be my guest at dinner tonight. You have my sympathy."
Müller threw off the rest of his brandy in one gulp and crossed the terrace to a door of glass panes.
"What was that about?" Weinkenner's face felt in danger of locking in a permanent frown.
"Dinner will be for a select few," Rattenhuber said with a smile. "Naturally, the steward will serve a vegetarian meal for the Führer and a steak for you. You and he will exchange plates, and change them back when the steward clears the table. Cheer up, the wines will be excellent, and everyone has to take a turn."
Weinkenner pulled a face as he chewed a brazil nut.
"And the vegetarian menu is quite palatable." Rattenhuber glanced at his watch. "I have a phone call to make. Have a look around for a couple of hours. You'll be called to dinner from your hotel room at seven. Be pressed and polished."
"What about my pistol? It's still in the safe."
"I'll have it delivered to you here. You won't need it tonight. No dimps on the terrace," Rattenhuber added as a parting shot as Weinkenner lit another cigarette.
A middle-aged steward in a white coat delivered his pistol on a silver tray, padded with a crisp, white napkin, when Weinkenner was half way through his cigarette. The steward looked mildly outraged when Weinkenner scooped up a handful of nuts; as though he was being done out of a perk.
"Tell me," said Weinkenner, "how are these nuts packed?"
"In tins of one kilogram, mein Herr," said the steward.
"Only the Führer said I could have one, but not how big they are."
"Should I have it sent to the hotel, mein Herr?"
"I might as well take it with me if you've got one handy."
The steward cleared the table. He returned to find Weinkenner perched on the parapet of the low wall, finishing his cigarette and taking in the view again. Weinkenner field-stripped the cigarette, launched the bits away from the terrace, and returned to the hotel with his prize under his arm.
He changed into his second-best uniform, then rang for Orlen, his orderly. He told the rather gormless Saxon with a round face that his best outfit would be dining with the Führer, and asked for some wrapping paper and a plain box large enough to hold his tin of mixed nuts.
A quarter of an hour later, a despatch rider left for the hospital in Salzburg. Weinkenner had pasted on one of the hotel's labels to give the parcel some status, and addressed it to the hospital's administration department marked URGENT: To The Hands of Frau H. Reifendorf. The time was just after four fifteen. Heidi would be in her office until at least six, if not later, on a Tuesday.
Weinkenner had done his best to convinced her that he was a person of consequence. His new medal and a whole kilogram of the Führer's personal mixed nuts would prove that he had not been boasting too much. If he was to be based within easy reach of Salzburg, then presents to the twice-widowed yet still optimistic Heidi would not be wasted. Someone on the virtual starvation rations of wartime would appreciate a taste of real food.
In the meantime, Weinkenner decided to use his new passes to inspect Hitler's private retreat, his mountain-top Eagle's Nest on Kehlstein, even further up the mountain. It was reached via an imposing tunnel and a luxurious elevator, which climbed 150 metres through solid rock to the peak. Hitler no longer went there. The altitude of 1,650 metres increased his chest pains.
The view from the terrace unfolded all the way to Austria. It was well worth the journey. Weinkenner peered through one of the sweep of wide, bay windows into the tea room. The furniture looked well up to the Berghof standard of comfort. Unfortunately, the place was not open to visiting Sturmbannführers of the Waffen SS. Reluctantly, he returned to the elevator to continue his solo tour of the site.
Dinner was less of an ordeal than Weinkenner had expected. Müller turned on his assumed personality only when the steward was in the room. He was almost diffident among people who knew that he was only playing a part. The comradely, slightly coarse fellow whom Weinkenner had met on the terrace was absent. Herr Müller was on his best behaviour and snugly entrenched behind his veneer of cultivation.
There were just five diners at one end of a long table in a spacious ground-floor room. The usual collection of staff officers and secretaries had been given a night off. Weinkenner was introduced to Eva Braun. His impression was of a somewhat shy blonde, whose hair was darker than his own shade. She had been just a photographer's assistant before destiny had overtaken her. She was about Heidi Reifendorf's age but much better fed. The other two diners were Ingrid Proll, the blonde nurse of Weinkenner's age from the treatment room, and Dr. Marzius.
Müller, at the head of the table, was almost apologetic when he received Weinkenner's steak via Eva Braun. Weinkenner mentioned that he had never had a vegetarian meal before, and, who knows, he might grow to like it. After polishing off a dish of vegetables and an unidentified spiced mass, covered with cheese sauce instead of gravy, he felt full if not entirely satisfied.
The conversation ignored the war and concentrated on American gangsters. The others had seen films and newsreels of events during and after the Prohibition Era. Eva Braun, in particular, was a keen fan of the movies. Despite almost routine lack of success, she was always trying to persuade Hitler to visit the Berghof's cinema. The Führer had more or less given up films until happier times returned. Weinkenner found himself with an audience eager to hear the first-hand experiences of a man who had lived at the heart of the action.
He himself never got round to asking the one question that kept buzzing through his thoughts: how the Führer's mistress felt about seeing so many different men with Hitler's face and acting as hostess when they were on duty.
After coffee and liqueurs, the group moved to the green armchairs at the other end of the room. Müller had worked his way through the collection of pills and potions arranged around his place, pocketing the pills and tipping the medicines into a wide-necked pocket flask. It was clearly a well-established routine that the others were expected to ignore.
The blonde nurse, a Berliner in her mid-twenties, was engaged to a Obersturmführer of the tin soldiers. She showed off her talents at the piano, proving that she was a skilled amateur musician. She had a repertoire of songs from American shows, which
Eva Braun enjoyed.
When Weinkenner was judged to have rested his voice sufficiently, the group returned to the violent quarters of Chicago and New York in the Thirties. Weinkenner was feeling worn out by ten o'clock on his first day out of hospital. He went straight to the hotel when the dinner party ended, threw off his clothes, and tumbled into an inviting bed.
He had no sooner plunged into a deep sleep, it seemed, than Rattenhuber was shaking him and urging him to drink strong coffee. Weinkenner managed to focus his eyes on the electric clock above the door. The time was a quarter to midnight.
The Führer, the real one, was looking a lot healthier when Weinkenner reached the treatment room beneath the Berghof. Some of the puffiness had gone and Hitler seemed almost jovial. The litter of reports and briefing papers had been cleared away with the televisions.
"Just another hour of this," said Hitler as Weinkenner lowered himself onto a well-padded chair at the bedside. It felt slightly too comfortable, but he hoped that he was feeling too tense to drop off in the presence of his supreme commander. "They say I have to be conscious through this ghastly business so that they can monitor certain vital signs."
"It does look like something out of a Fritz Lang movie," Weinkenner said with a note of sympathy. "Führer," he added belatedly. "But if it works; if you consider the alternative..."
"Yes, the good Professor keeps telling me that. This or an early grave. I only wish it would work a little faster. You were going to tell me about your experiences in the United States. Tell me, did you ever meet Al Capone?"
"Twice, Führer. I was about nine the first time. He threw me a half-dollar and told me to get him a newspaper. I got to keep the change. My father knew him quite well."
Weinkenner launched into a lengthy story of the Prohibition Era. He had heard it first as a young boy on his stepfather's knee. There had been frequent repetitions afterwards, usually when the old man had had too much to drink. Winkie Weinkenner had recruited a number of German brewmasters for illegal breweries in the United States, especially around the period of horrendous inflation in Germany.
His stepson felt well rehearsed after the dinner party. An hour or so later, Weinkenner was permitted to return to his bed. He considered putting his pistol under the pillow so that he could shoot anyone who tried to wake him before he had slept the clock round. But he forgot in his tiredness when he reached his room.
He was allowed to sleep until eleven o'clock the next morning. As Dr. Marzius was under Rattenhuber's protection at the Obersalzberg site, Weinkenner had nothing to do other than meet fellow officers, try out the pistol range to relearn the co-ordination of hand and eye, and take a little gentle exercise to build up his strength.
He knew that he had to shed a hospital mentality quickly. Once he got back into the air again on practice flights, he told himself, he would stop remembering two months of pain and frustration, and start thinking about the future and ways to make a profit out of his current position.
Dr. Marzius allowed his patient a day off. Hitler spent Thursday connected to the artificial kidney. They argued again on Friday morning. Hitler wanted to return to his eastern command post in the forests near Rastenburg because the closest Russian troops were just one hundred kilometres from East Prussia. He was forced to admit that he was feeling and looking much better, and that more time on the Infernal Machine was necessary. Oberführer Rattenhuber was ordered to perform one of his conjuring tricks: to create the impression that the Führer was at Rastenburg while Adolf Hitler remained in southern Bavaria.
When the Führer travelled, Rattenhuber always had to prepare three itineraries: by road, by rail, and by air. Hitler always made his selection at the last minute as a security precaution. Sometimes, when he was prepared to sacrifice dignity for speed, he
travelled in one of his half-squadron of Messerschmitt 110-J1 fighters. The twin-engined, long-range bomber escorts had been modified to take a third seat in a stretched cockpit. Hitler sat where the armour was thickest, between the pilot and Hoegl or Rattenhuber, who occupied the rear gunner's station.
The long haul north from Berchtesgaden to Berlin took up to twenty-four hours on the train, or three to five hours by Heinkel 111 transport aircraft. The Führer-fighter, picking up a rolling escort of Focke-Wulf 190 single-seat fighters as it crossed each air-defence zone, cut the journey down to seventy minutes.
Rattenhuber was skilled in the art of creating the impression that the Führer had made a journey. All he had to do was send the duty Herr Müller into hiding, send various members of the entourage off on their travels by different routes, and produce another member of the zodiac at the chosen destination.
If no one knew which route the Führer had taken, it was a triumph of security. On that July Friday, Rattenhuber headed north by Führer-fighter with just a pilot for company. Virgo was destined to become the visible Führer in Berlin that afternoon.
The eastward trek by train from Berlin to the Wolf's Lair at Rastenburg in East Prussia took an hour less than the Berchtesgaden-Berlin rail journey. The flight time was the same on both legs of the trip. Acting on Rattenhuber's instructions, the Berlin-based Herr Müller chose to travel overnight by train to the vast compound of concrete bunkers in the forests of pine and silver birch.
Rail travel offered the advantage that the train could stop at a station on the complex's outer perimeter after its journey via Posen, Thorn, and Allenstein. The drive to the heart of the complex took just eight minutes plus security checks. Travelling by air involved an additional journey of half an hour by car. Security considerations prevented the clearing of an area of forest large enough for an airfield closer to the complex.
On Saturday morning, the train from Berlin arrived at 08.36 hours, five minutes late after trouble with Polish partisans near Allenstein and a final sprint. Tall pines shielded the station and the long curves of track from surprise attacks. A fighter-bomber skimming in at tree-top level would have great difficulty in finding them, and there would be plenty of warning of a high-level attack by heavy bombers.
Two convoys left for Gate One (East) of the headquarters complex ten minutes apart. The Führer always decided at the last moment whether he would lead or follow with the main part of his entourage. On this occasion, Herr Müller rode in a bullet-proof Mercedes tourer in the leading convoy. Sentries at the outer guard post presented arms as the cars cruised past, flags fluttering in the morning sun.
Three kilometres of road wound through the trees. The outer ring of defences was guarded by minefields, concrete defence posts and motorized patrols. All three rings of three-metre-high, barbed wire fences were electrified. Gate Two (East) gave access to the administration areap; a ring of concrete bunkers used as offices, living quarters, canteens, a hospital, and for the storage of food, equipment, weapons and ammunition.
Sentries checked every pass conscientiously, aware that the Führer could be watching them, before most of the cars were allowed to disperse under the trees. Maintenance depots and fuel stores surrounded the extensive car park. Natural foliage and hectares of camouflage netting made Supreme H.Q. a patchwork of deep shadow and bright splashes of sunlight, which created their own problems for drivers. It was easy to get lost when everywhere looked the same, apart from the odd marker board.
The armoured Mercedes continued on to Gate Three, where the passes were examined again at the checkpoint in the electrified fence. Very few people were allowed into the inner zone. Visitors carried a special pass valid for that day only. Sentries, some with a dog, patrolled the area constantly. It was here that another massive, concrete bunker was being constructed for the Führer, deep under the tallest trees.
There had been a great deal of construction work at Supreme Headquarters since the spring, all directed to hardening existing buildings and creating new, stronger ones against the massive air attacks that Hitler expected the Russians to make when their forward airfields reached a suitable proximity.
New concrete had disappeared under toppings of grass as camouflage. Trees and shrubs in wooden tubs surrounded the massive bunkers to break up their outline, and there were nets woven with a patchwork of strips of green and brown fabric strung on poles in large open areas. Regular survey flights confirmed that nothing but unbroken forest could be seen from the air.
The new, monumental Führer-bunker was still incomplete. Rattenhuber installed his charge in an older bunker for aides-de-camp and guests. He handed Blondi over to Sturmscharführer Tornow, who took charge of visiting dogs. Hitler hated the hot weather, the flies and the mosquitos, and never took Blondi for walks at Rastenburg. Virgo of the zodiac tolerated Blondi but he was delighted to be spared the chore of pretending to be a dog-lover.
Rastenburg was very much a military headquarters to the Führer. His accommodation was spartan, a complete contrast to the luxury above Berchtesgaden. Others of his entourage had not been so moderate. There had been a general move from concrete bunkers to private chalets, which had resulted in extensive logging in the forests.
Albert Speer had a cottage. The ever flamboyant Herman Göring had a small palace as an alternative to staying at his personal headquarters at Rostken, an hour's drive away. The doctors and senior aides had created a small holiday camp. Hitler's secretaries and junior aides lived in a concrete bunker, but they could escape to a recreation area around the lake that they used as a swimming pool.
There was a hardened building conveniently near to the Führer's temporary quarters for the daily staff conferences. The staff preferred to work in the cooler bunkers, but there was more space on the surface. Herr Müller made the Führer's usual tour of inspection, checked that the situation maps were up to date, then he retired to his quarters pleading a migraine. Life at Rastenburg settled back into its usual routines.
On that July Saturday, General Fromm, CinC of the Home Army, arrived by car at Gate One (South) towards 11 a.m. Two officers accompanied him; his Chief of Staff, Oberst Graf von Stauffenberg, and Captain Friedrich-Karl Klauring, who had a bomb in his briefcase. General Fromm had not been told about the bomb. His companions were doing their best to hide a blend of excitement and trepidation. They had to keep telling themselves that just another routine conference lay ahead of them on an ordinary summer day.
The sky was darkening ominously. Thunder rumbled over the chain of lakes to the south of Rastenburg. The trio tried to make themselves comfortable in a bunker in the administration area. As they waited to be called to the 1.30 conference, Stauffenberg and Klauring knew that the codeword Valkyrie was being sent out already in the Berlin area. The conspirators at Home Army H.Q. had greater freedom of action now that General Fromm was 550 kilometres out of the way.
Three days before, on the day after the aborted assassination attempt at Berchtesgaden, Stauffenberg had told Generals Beck and Olbricht that he intended to take the next chance to kill Hitler, even if he missed one or both of the other main targets: Himmler and Göring. Beck and Olbricht had accepted the change of plan.
The rebels knew that Göring would not be at the Saturday afternoon conference, but that Himmler would be there. They were counting on the SS without Himmler being reduced to headless confusion, unable to react to the lighting strokes of Operation Valkyrie. The Luftwaffe was a lesser threat. Occupying territory and guarding buildings requires soldiers backed up with tanks.
The staff conference began punctually with Virgo of the zodiac at the mid-point of one of the long sides of the massive table. As far as his staff was concerned, he was the Führer and everyone conducted the normal business routines with their usual efficiency. When his turn came round, Stauffenberg made his report on replacements for the approaching Eastern Front. Then he slipped out of the meeting to telephone General Olbricht from the administration zone.
The line was supposed to be secure, but he used a code message to confirm that Hitler and Himmler were present, and that he intended to activate the bomb at once. Olbricht's coded reply told Stauffenberg that troops were moving to their starting positions all over Berlin. Struggling with another surge of excitement, Stauffenberg headed back to the inner zone and his appointment with destiny.
General Erich Fellgiebel was an essential member of the conspiracy. He controlled all Werhmacht communications by radio and landline to and from the Wolfsschanze in the forest. He was leaning against the camouflaged concrete wall of his bunker in the administration zone, smoking a cigar and trying to poison nearby mosquitos, when he saw a distant figure leave the inner zone through Gate Three.
The visitor headed for Bunker 88, taking a short cut across the wiry grass and weaving between the trees. A minute or so later, Fellgiebel was able to recognize Captain Klauring, who looked agitated. It was clear that Stauffenberg's aide was forcing himself to move at a carefully paced stroll when he wanted to run. Klauring's news from Stauffenberg sent General Fellgiebel racing into the communications centre with his heart racing.
Oberführer Rattenhuber had been having trouble with his Berlin-based Müller all morning. Virgo of the zodiac was Erwin Enckes, a Sudeten German, who had been a minor civil servant in the post office before his selection for stardom. Enckes was a confirmed hypochondriac. He would swallow any number of pills, especially if Dr. Morell administered them with a catalogue of their beneficial effects, but he loathed injections.
Morell had prescribed two injections for that morning: vitamins and one of his wonder drugs for promoting a healthy metabolism. Rattenhuber had contrived to be present when Müller had received his injections, offering a threat of private violence if Müller failed to show stoicism worthy of the Führer.
This Müller knew that Rattenhuber had the nerve to deliver a box on the ear to a troublesome double. Rattenhuber was engaged in work of national importance. In theory, anyone who opposed him was committing sabotage and entitled to a fair trial and a fair hanging. A clout on the ear, or the threat of one, was a potent reminder of Rattenhuber's power.
Efficient communications allowed Hitler to control his zodiac by remote control. The doubles were expected to obtain answers to specific questions at staff conferences, and to make very few immediate decisions. Policy directives arrived in code by teleprinter several hours later when Hitler had had time to think.
Müller had made a mess of his pre-conference briefing with Rattenhuber. His list of questions had become a useless jumble in his agitated mind. During a session with a box of photographs, he had failed to recognize Field Marshal Keitel, the chief of the army high command and one of Hitler's most faithful servants. He also missed one of the team of four secretaries.
Lunch had been a total failure. Müller had scarcely uttered a word. He had created an impression of either the deepest abstraction or virtually total amnesia. Fortunately, the leader of one of the most powerful nations on earth could get away with being uncommunicative; even if it made those around him wonder what they had done wrong.
A broad corridor, grass-capped concrete sheathing the original wooden structure, linked the Führer's temporary quarters with the Lagebaracke. The surface conference room was a wooden building that had been hardened with a concrete shell to provide protection from blast, bomb splinters and incendiaries. Rattenhuber took up position in the corridor, within a short stroll of his own office, to look for signs of something wrong as the officers arrived for the afternoon conference.
Rattenhuber breathed a sigh of relief when the double doors closed on the meeting, leaving himself, a sentry and the switchboard operator in occupation of the entrance hall. He was looking forward to putting his feet up for an hour or so after the meeting. His day thus far had been an utter swine; the sort that tempted him to think of retirement. He even permitted himself the luxury of wondering what he would be doing on such a sunny Saturday in peacetime. As usual, he had no idea any more what to do with personal time.
Rattenhuber went out to circle the building to make sure that the gauze-masked sentries looked awake. Twenty minutes later, as he was on his way to his office, he was amazed to see Müller coming out of the conference room. Rattenhuber followed him to the Führer's quarters, hoping against hope that Müller would not break into a run.
Fortunately, the prime lesson of maintaining the commander's dignity at all times conquered Müller's agitation. Rattenhuber dismissed the staff in the anteroom and marched into the sitting room, which looked like the Berghof on a miserly budget. He closed the solid doors firmly, then did the same with the windows.
"Well?" he said in a neutral tone, eyeing the figure slumped in one of Hitler's massive armchairs.
"I feel ill," whined Müller. "You wouldn't want the Führer of the entire Greater German Reich collapsing in front of his generals, would you? The heat in that room!"
"Maybe a jab from Dr. Morell will do the trick, get you back on your feet," mused Rattenhuber.
"I don't care. Do anything you want," moaned Müller. "Can't you see I'm ill?"
Rattenhuber realized that Müller was having a worse day. The Doppelgänger had two sorts: bad and worse. If the terrible prospect of an injection made no impression on him, it was best to leave him alone for a while.
"Two hours," Rattenhuber said firmly. "Then you have a meeting with Himmler. You're going to that even if I have to haul you there by the scruff of your neck, clear?"
Müller shrugged, lost in misery, unmoved by threats.
"And make sure you've got the briefing notes off pat. There, on the table. Look at them, man!" It was frustrating, but Rattenhuber was unable to raise his voice to deliver commands to Müllers when there could be a member of the staff in the next room, awaiting a summons from the Führer.
Müller lifted his head to look without enthusiasm at the notes on the Chinese table They had been typed in centimetre-high letters for Adolf Hitler's benefit. Rattenhuber left him with a final glare. In his opinion, Erwin Enckes was more trouble than he was worth. But Enckes was a fairly good Class Three double when he was having merely a bad day. Virgo had a rare combination of looks and natural acting ability.
As he left the sitting room, Rattenhuber told himself that Müller's brief appearance at the staff conference would contribute to the Führer's reputation for being unpredictable. Abrupt changes of plan had saved Hitler's skin on more than one occasion, and they gave those charged with his protection greater freedom of action when they were using Müllers.
Heinz Linge, the duty valet, was lurking in the anteroom. He turned an inquiring stare on Rattenhuber.
"The Führer is busy with reports just in from Berlin," Rattenhuber told him. "He is not to be disturbed under any circumstances. Clear?"
"Yes, Herr Oberführer," Linge said with a nod. "His three-thirty meeting with Herr Himmler and his staff?"
"I shall call in good time to remind him of it. He is not to be disturbed until then."
Rattenhuber returned to his office off the hallway between the living quarters and the Lagebaracke. He dropped his cap onto the desk and mopped his face and neck with a handkerchief. It was not just the summer heat in the forest that made him sweat. He lit a cigarette by the open window with its screen of mosquito netting. If the zodiac ever collapsed, it would be Virgo's fault, he told himself.
Trained actors usually gave him the most trouble. He counted himself lucky to have none on the current strength. Actors tried to live their role. They insisted on building up their part without authorization. The others stuck to what they were told to do because they lacked the confidence to improvise.
Virgo, with his endless imaginary health problems, was more trouble than a barrelful of actors. Rattenhuber longed for the day when Dr. Marzius would announced that he had achieved a successful cure for the Führer's kidney failure, and reduced the corps of doubles to just pair of dependable look-alikes for emergencies.
Nobody had told General Fellgiebel that the codeword Valkyrie would be issued well in advance of the assassination attempt. General Olbricht wanted his troops in position, ready and waiting to take control when the news came through.
Fellgiebel's hurried stop signal triggered a flurry of signals from the Home Army H.Q. in Berlin. They informed all units concerned that the codeword Valkyrie was cancelled, the practice alert was over, and written reports on the plan's execution had to be submitted by noon of the next day, Sunday.
After completing his call to General Olbricht, Stauffenberg had returned to the inner zone. He had reached the conference room prepared to activate the fuse of his bomb; only to find that the Führer had left suddenly and showed no signs of returning. He was forced to send Klauring, his aide, to call everything off.
General Fromm received a severe shock on his return to Berlin when he learned that Valkyrie orders had been issued without his authority. In the end, he took the only sensible course of action for a commander whose subordinates had got a little out of hand through excessive zeal: he pretended that the practice alert had been his idea. Then he spoke severely in private to the men who had carried out the alert in such a sloppy fashion.
The events of that summer Saturday left the leading conspirators with severe doubts as to whether the coup d'état would have succeeded even if the assassination had gone to plan. A number of key units had failed to keep to their schedules for taking control of government buildings, radio stations and SS barracks. Many other grave defects in the untried plan had become clear. Valkyrie needed a lot more work.
While some of the leading conspirators wavered, including regent-designate General Ludwig Beck, Olbricht and his inner circle set to work evaluating the reports on the failed exercise to impose martial law in the face of civil disorder. Time was the main problem. Bringing the planned coup forward three months from October, driven by the military necessities of the Allied invasion of France, had left vital work undone or rushed to the point of incompetence.
General Olbricht's faith in his chosen agent of destruction remained unshaken. Oberst Graf von Stauffenberg was determined to save his country from the twin disasters of Nazi rule and war against most of the rest of the world. They were confident that the assassination and coup d'état would succeed next time. It had to. The Gestapo was closing its net on the rebels, and they were running out of time.