OSKAR WEINKENNER WAS SLEEPING when the train pulled into the station and clanked to a halt. A clash of steel buffers woke him. There was no one else in the dimly lit compartment. He was stretched out along one of the bench seats. A cloud of steam was rising beyond the window when he pulled the blackout aside. He had no idea where he was. Wartime lighting and unfamiliar territory were no help. He looked at his watch, holding the luminous dial close to his face.
He was still a long way from his uncertain destination. He had been warned that he might not get closer to Berlin than Bollensdorf or Landsdorf, ten or five kilometres short of the capital. There was a slight chance, depending on the state of the track and the RAF's plans for the night, that he would get right through to Berlin East station. Several passengers had taken a bicycle onto the train, confident that they would have to make their own arrangements when the train could go no further. The rest were resigned to having to walk.
Crawling along the ground was no way for a pilot to travel, but Oberst Pohl at Schneidemühl had confirmed Weinkenner's assumption that it was too late to fly. Attempting to land his Führer-fighter at one of Berlin's satellite night-fighter airfields would have been suicidal without knowing passwords and flare codes. Without them, no field would switch on its landing lights. Weinkenner knew from personal experience that landing in bad light can be tricky. Trying to do so without being able to see the ground invariably ends in a crash, which is usually fatal.
The alternative to making a crash landing, bailing out near Berlin, was just as risky. If he tried to parachute to the ground in the dark, he was bound to injure himself. Such was his experience of life. On that particular summer night, in a country that was losing a world war, the most certain way to travel was to crawl along the ground.
"Papers!" barked a voice behind him.
Weinkenner turned from the window to see a pair of Gestapo goons. No one else wore that sort of cheap suit with bulging pockets and a gangster hat with the brim drooping over his eyes. One had his right hand buried in a pocket. Weinkenner had seen enough cheap hoods in New York and Chicago to know what that meant. The other had a bulge; one which was meant to show; at his left armpit. They had enough sense to shine their torch on Weinkenner's hands instead of his eyes, just in case he pulled a gun on them.
"Papers," repeated the spokesman. "Who are you?"
"Weinkenner, Sturmbannführer, RSD. I'm travelling to Berlin to see Reichsführer Himmler." Weinkenner tried to impress the goons with his importance as he took his identity documents from his left breast pocket. There was even that day's pass for the inner zone at Supreme Headquarters, which was still good for about another ten minutes.
The pistol came out of the pocket in a smooth gesture that indicated plenty of practice.
"Onto the other seat," said the spokesman.
Weinkenner tossed the documents across the compartment.
"Take your belt off and do the same. Then empty your pockets."
"I hope you know what you're doing," Weinkenner warned.
"And you can take the pretty medal off, too. You won't need it where you're going. It'll look very nice in my collection."
Weinkenner co-operated because it was the easiest thing to do. He knew that the goons were due for a shock, but there was no point in giving them an excuse to shoot him. It would be no consolation if they ended up in a concentration camp some time after his funeral. He assumed that his arrest was a misguided response to one of his messages. He had added to his chances of reaching either Berlin or Rastenburg by digging out the postmaster at Schneidemühl to leave telegrams, and he had shown his Führer-pass to the stationmaster to persuade him to send more messages by the railway's communication system.
Then a terrible thought struck him. If Hitler had died of his injuries, perhaps he had been delivered into the hands of the Gestapo as the penalty for failing to keep the Führer alive.
"What the hell's going on, anyway?" he said, trying to keep his voice unconcerned.
"We had a flash from Prinz Albrechtstraße to arrest you and your doctor friend on sight," chuckled the spokesman. "Stand up."
Weinkenner was almost ready for the fist that drove into his belly. He tried to tense the muscles, but the lengthy repair job in the hospital, complicated by the delays of infections, had left him very vulnerable. He collapsed, spewing out his dinner of fish pie and Mosel wine.
The Gestapo agents half carried, half threw him off the train. Rolf Henneker and Pieter Volpinski were in their mid-thirties and not too big, but they had a lot of practice with limp prisoners. They left Weinkenner to sprawl on the cold stone of the platform while they washed his vomit from their shoes at a tap between the waiting rooms. Then they slapped handcuffs on his wrists.
Weinkenner lay on his back without moving while Henneker made a telephone call. Both the prisoner and Pieter Volpinski were invisible. None of the other passengers, or the railway and postal workers, dared to look at them The uniformed man was assumed to be a deserter. Eventually, Weinkenner was hauled to his feet. He went straight down again when the spokesman hit him again.
The Gestapo agents each linked an arm with one of his and dragged him to their car, face down. It was another well-rehearsed manoeuvre. Humiliation was the name of the game.
"You'd think he could take more than one tap," Volpinski scoffed as he started the car.
Henneker, who had the pistol loose in his jacket pocket, was sitting in the back on the right of the handcuffed prisoner. He laughed scornfully. "Soft as rotten wood. They get like that when they spend all their time licking arses instead of doing a real job."
Weinkenner groaned. He had been taken for a ride once before. Playing the tough guy had resulted in a lot of pain and bruising before the rival gangsters had been ambushed and shot to pieces by his own side. This time, even though there was no prospect of rescue, he intended to try to roll with the punches. Weinkenner groaned again.
"Belt up!" Henneker threw a punch across his own body, hitting Weinkenner's shoulder, which was an improvement on his abused belly.
"Where are we?" groaned Weinkenner.
"On the way to a special rest home," laughed Volpinski. "A couple of kilometres out of town. So the good burgers aren't disturbed by the screams. Plenty of room in the garden for planting surplus vegetables, too."
Weinkenner tightened his stomach muscles cautiously. The pain had decayed to a dragging ache. The car had left the last of the town's buildings behind. There seemed to be tall hedges on both sides of the dark road. He could see a furry outline of small leaves on short branches against lighter patches of sky. It was time to try the unexpected.
Professor Seckendorff believed that his clinic at Schneidemühl was Gestapo-proof. His medical files included top Party officials in the district, members of their families, their special friends and favoured business contacts. As well as serious medical conditions, the clinic also handled discreet abortions, the removal of minor blemishes from faces much in the public eye and more radical cosmetic surgery. The professor thought that he had learned the art of survival in difficult times.
Walther Krocher knew that anyone who put a foot wrong in the Third Reich was liable to imprisonment or blackmail by the Gestapo. He set two trustworthy junior colleagues to watch the clinic's array of low buildings at front and back, then waited for the town to become quiet. Wartime restrictions, rationing, a shortage of money and the lack of anything much to do in such a small town added up to no real incentive to stay up late.
Krocher waited in the Gestapo building for a telephone call from Rolf Henneker. The line was working again at least as far as Landsberg. Henneker showed proper gratitude when he reported that the suspect Weinkenner was in custody and about to make an unsuccessful escape attempt. Then Krocher launched a midnight raid, which he expected would yield great personal dividends.
A porter answered two rings on the bell. Krocher reduced the elderly man to quivering compliance with a single hard stare and a look at his oval, brass Gestapo badge. Krocher and his two satellites moved silently on rubber soles and heels along quiet corridors. The porter showed them to a locked suite at the rear of the clinic.
"Who's there?" a male voice inside asked when Krocher rattled the door handle.
"Tell him you've got a message," Krocher hissed, surprised to find a male nurse with the patient.
The porter obeyed. A key turned in the lock. Krocher watched the handle rotate to its fullest extent, then he pushed into the room. A man in a dark suit retreated before him. Krocher stopped abruptly when something hard rammed against the side of his hat.
Krocher let out a trapped breath as his chest tightened in panic. "Before you do anything," he gasped, "you should know I'm Gestapo and you could be heading for a lot of pain."
The pressure on his head eased when he showed his badge. Krocher lifted his right hand to switch on the room's overhead light, drowning the glow from a heavily shaded table lamp in one corner. His satellites stepped into the room, pistols drawn.
"I know you two," realized Krocher. "Police?"
"That's right," said the sentry in front of him.
"What are you doing here?"
"Guarding a VIP on orders from our Chief." The detective turned a thumb to the half-open door to the next room.
"I have orders from the top to arrest a Dr. Marzius. Is he here?"
"In there. Probably dozed off."
Krocher sent one of his men into the inner room. He returned almost at once.
"Well away, boss," the younger man reported. "Him and the bloke in the bed. Dropped off in his chair."
"Who's this bloke Müller with him?" said Krocher.
"No idea," said the detective. "We were just told to guard them. He looks in a bad way, Müller. Bandages all over his nut. One of the porters said they had the top of his head off for a poke inside."
"Really?" Feeling relaxed and in control, Krocher smiled at the detectives. There were a weedy pair in their late twenties, clearly army rejects if they had not been in a reserved occupation, wearing what looked like funeral suits; which struck Krocher as apt. Then he remembered the porter. "Where did that old fool go?"
"Dashed off to Prof. Seckendorff," the detective said with a shrug.
Krocher glared at his careless subordinates. "Let's have a look at this Müller while we're here."
Dr. Marzius woke to find a room full of strangers. One was fiddling with Hitler's bandages. He seized the man's arm in a grip that was much too strong for Krocher to break. One of the junior Gestapo agents shoved a pistol against Dr. Marzius' ribs. Professor Seckendorff arrived in the middle of the struggle for dominance.
"What is going on here?" Seckendorff demanded in a quiet but commanding tone.
"Gestapo," said Krocher importantly. "Who's this?"
"The patient's name is Johann Müller. Why?" said Seckendorff.
"With respect, that's Gestapo business." Krocher knew that he had to handle a man with the professor's connections with great caution. "I must see his face."
The white bandages enveloped the top of Hitler's head down to his eyebrows. Seckendorff had added an unnecessary turn across the nose, and another as a chin-strap. The patient's face was relaxed in partially drugged sleep.
"And I must insist you keep your paws off the bandages," Dr. Marzius said firmly.
"Herr Müller has undergone an extremely delicate brain operation," Seckendorff said stiffly. "I would require written orders from the highest level before I would allow you to do anything that might place his life in danger."
Krocher looked him squarely in the eyes. Both knew the rules of the game. Seckendorff had the influence to play them to the limit when his authority was at stake. If he had put bandages on a patient, Krocher would have to get somebody really important out of bed to have them removed.
"You have no objections if I merely look at the patient?" Krocher said eventually.
"We have nothing to hide," Seckendorff said calmly.
Krocher studied the prisoner carefully. The face looked vaguely familiar, but that meant nothing. A man in his job saw faces all day every day. Every Gestapo agent evolved his own system of classification to fix a suspect in his memory. Müller belonged to a middle-aged businessman type. His bandages were something of a distraction, but Krocher was confident that he would recognize someone important nationally, who had been kidnapped.
Disobeying orders, he used his index fingers to lift the bandage toward the nose to get a better look at the lower half of the patient's face. The man was clean-shaven, and there were faint marks on either side of his nose to indicate that he wore glasses.
"I said hands off," warned Seckendorff.
Krocher stepped away from the bed.
"Satisfied?" said Seckendorff.
Krocher nodded. "Thank you, Herr Professor. I have no orders about this man. But I do have authority to arrest Dr. Marzius on sight."
"I refuse to believe that," protested Dr. Marzius. "Could we continue this discussion in the other room? Away from my patient?"
Leaving one detective and one Gestapo agent watching each other and the patient, the group retired to the adjoining room. Dr. Marzius frowned anxiously at Krocher. He liked to place himself aside from politics, but he knew that logic and reason had little to do with some of the things that happened in Germany. Endless duplication led to contradictions, and few dared to challenge the absurd. It could be more than their life was worth.
"Who ordered my arrest?"
"The highest level. Origin: Prinz Albrechtstraße."
"In view of my colleague's importance to the government," said Seckendorff, "could you have misinterpreted the order? Perhaps protective custody was intended."
"I cannot leave my patient, in any case," said Dr. Marzius.
"What I suggest you do is contact Berlin to report that Dr. Marzius is here," said Seckendorff. "Then ask for further instructions."
"I could do that," Krocher admitted. "You will have no objections if I leave my men on duty here?"
"As long as they don't disturb my patient," said Dr. Marzius.
"Very well, I shall return to my office to make a report. I have no wish to cause you any inconvenience, Herr Professor."
"I'm glad you're seeing sense," said Seckendorff.
Krocher took the other junior satellite into the corridor. He told him not to let Dr. Marzius and his patient leave the suite for any reason. Then he headed back to the Gestapo building to review his action plan. It was important to follow the correct procedures in such cases.
He went straight to the communications room on arrival. There was nothing more in from Berlin to follow up the flash. In fact, there was no recent traffic at all, suggesting that the lines had been cut again by either saboteurs or Allied bombing.
"Not much coming in from Berlin," Krocher remarked to the bored looking teleprinter operator. "Is the line down again?"
"Automatic checks are coming through on time." The operator shrugged. "I hear they're a bit busy there at the moment. Putting down a full-scale military revolt. No wonder they haven't got time to harass us about Polaks blowing up our phone lines."
"Nothing from the East?" Krocher meant Rastenburg.
"You mean Bromberg panicking about suspicious characters escaping our way?" The operator took a local view of the question. "No, it's all quiet tonight. I reckon they're just listening, like us."
Krocher went up the stairs to his office with his decision almost made. He had not recognized the man Müller, which meant that he could rule out kidnapping. That left treason, possibly involving the stuck-up Professor Seckendorff. He could afford to wait now - at least until morning. If he heard nothing further from Berlin, such as a correction of arrest on sight to take into protective custody, he could address his inventive mind to a serious practical problem.
If a man was lying flat on his back in hospital after having the top of his head removed, it would be difficult to make shot while trying to escape stick. But Krocher knew that a successful Gestapo agent has to provide convincing solutions to such routine difficulties.
Riding the Rods
Weinkenner had established that he had a weak stomach. Just one little tap in the guts on the train had made him pour out his dinner. When he started to make retching noises, the Gestapo agent beside him pulled away and told the driver to stop. Weinkenner leaned toward Rolf Henneker, then he grabbed his lapels. He ducked his head as he pulled the Gestapo agent toward him.
Henneker's face smashed against the crown of Weinkenner's head. Weinkenner threw him aside, blinded, blood gushing from a shattered nose. Weinkenner reached over Pieter Volpinski's head and hauled back, throttling him with the chain of his handcuffs. The car jerked wildly as Volpinski abandoned control, then slid nose-down into a ditch.
Volpinski was arched back over the seats, his head pressed against Weinkenner's chest. Henneker managed to fumble the pistol from his jacket pocket. He dropped it on the floor. His fingers were greasy with blood. Weinkenner managed to plant a boot on the pistol and a set of fingers. He swung the choking driver to his right, using him as a battering ram, smashing one Gestapo head against the other.
Neither Gestapo agent was moving independently when his strength gave out. Weinkenner took the risk of stopping his assault to bring the handcuffs over the driver's head. Volpinski had the keys. Weinkenner freed one wrist, then fumbled for the pistol on the floor.
As far as he could tell, the driver was dead. Weinkenner tumbled the body into the ditch. The other man was dead or deeply unconscious. He too ended up taking his chances in the ditch. One of the car's front wheels was making a left turn while the other pointed straight ahead. The vehicle was a dead duck.
Weinkenner found his possessions in a briefcase in the boot. His cap was still on the train. He also found an old raincoat, which would cover up his uniform. He had to rinse his mouth out with ditch water to get rid of the vile after-taste of vomit and painful dryness. Then there was nothing else to do but start walking.
Twenty minutes after leaving the car, he found himself on a road bridge across the railway. He had to wait a further half hour for a goods train going his way. Weinkenner had ridden the rods once or twice in the United States, perching on the framework under a railroad freight car when he had needed to get out of an area quickly and unobserved. The drop from the bridge's lowest girder to the roof of a van would have been a leap into the unknown for any other SS Sturmbannführer. Weinkenner felt quite at home crawling across the swaying roof and making his way down iron ladders to the bed of a flat car.
He found machinery under a tarpaulin; cold metal and a lot of sharp edges in the darkness. He wriggled into a space and found somewhere to rest his back without stabbing himself. Weinkenner took stock of his position. With the Gestapo after him, he needed to know exactly what sort of mess he was in. It was just as well that he had recovered his pistol. If all else failed, blowing his own brains out would spare himself a lot of pain. He needed a telephone. But first, he had to get out of the area. Nobody, he hoped, would expect him to continue on to Berlin.
At 1.26 a.m. by his luminous watch, the goods train rattled across a wide river after passing through a fair-size town. Weinkenner put a tick on his mental map at the River Oder. He was less than an hour from Berlin if the train could keep rolling along without incident.
The air raid woke him with a jolt. Feeling stiff and thirsty, Weinkenner moved out of the tarpaulin's protection to stretch. The sky was on fire to the west, full of racing aero-engines and explosions. Arrow-straight bars of solid white light clawed up from the inferno, searching for dark shapes overhead. Pin-pricks of light flared above the burning city, volcanoes surged from the ground. The RAF was giving Berlin something to think about other than the military revolt.
A quarter of an hour later, the train left the main line and headed for a hill. Weinkenner had heard of the vast underground factories away from cities, but he had no desire to visit one that night. He dropped to the trackside ballast and rolled to a stop. He lay perfectly still until the train had rushed past to make sure that he escaped the guard's attention.
The raid was more or less over by the time he reached a station on foot. He could still hear thunderous roars from the ground, but the flak had stopped, indicating that night-fighters were operating in the bomber stream. Weinkenner took off his borrowed raincoat and draped it over his arm. He was feeling hot, sticky and filthy, not to mention worn out. He walked up onto the platform, and made for a chink of light at a door.
In hard and fast, he told himself. Don't give the sods time to think.
The waiting room was empty. He hammered on the door of the ticket office. The top half opened. He shoved his Führer-pass under the nose of a startled railway official, letting him see the crest and the signature, and feel the quality of the paper.
"I need a telephone." Weinkenner left no room for refusal. He also needed a cigarette, he realized, and a good, big drink.
The railway man glanced guiltily at the camp bed at the back of the ticket office, then he offered Weinkenner a chair and the telephone. Weinkenner was able to contact the clinic at Schneidemühl in less than ten minutes. He was feeling slightly better after a cup of terrible coffee and one of the railway man's cigarettes.
"Seckendorff Klinik, Night Porter," said a distant voice.
"Hrmphmph, Reichssicherheitsdienst." Weinkenner made the name part of a throat-clearing operation. "I'm calling for news of Herr Müller."
"He's sleeping comfortably after his operation, mein Herr. He's being guarded by the police and the Gestapo. The Gestapo have orders to arrest his doctor."
"Have they, indeed."
"Shall I wake Professor Seckendorff, mein Herr?"
"No, no need for that. I'll sort things out, and I'll be in touch again before morning. Where's the doctor?"
"Still with his patient, mein Herr. I took him some coffee myself about half an hour ago."
Weinkenner replaced the receiver and took another cigarette from the packet on the counter. He blew smoke at the telephone while thinking over his next move.
Hitler was still alive. One of Weinkenner's messages seemed to have reached Rastenburg if the Gestapo was after him. It was the season for coups d'état. There was a functioning, healthy Führer-substitute at Rastenburg. Could Martin Bormann have taken the single step needed for complete control of the Reich? Would the Good Soldier Svejk dare to eliminate the real thing so that he could rule through a puppet? There was an obvious first step to that plan: to locate and destroy the real Adolf Hitler along with Dr. Marzius and Oskar Weinkenner.
The destroy part of the order would have to wait until Weinkenner was safely in custody. Bormann was too cautious to take the risk of having to "prove" that his Hitler was the real one. Weinkenner knew too much to be allowed to remain alive long enough to spread poisonous doubts. He also knew that he was speculating, but there was no getting away from three awful facts: The Gestapo had Adolf Hitler in their clutches, the agents in Schneidemühl had no idea who their prisoner was, and rough treatment was a routine, even expected, tactic in the softening up and intimidation process
Weinkenner had convinced Professor Seckendorff that Müller was just Hitler's double. No one would believe Dr. Marzius if he insisted that Müller was the real thing. If Hitler died, ironically, at the hands of his own regime's creation, Oskar Weinkenner was dead too. Whether or not there was a conspiracy to usurp the Führer's position, Weinkenner knew too much to live. Everything kept coming back to that conclusion.
All that he could do to save himself was to try to reach the centre of Berlin at night with the chaos that follows an air raid piled on top of the disruption of a military coup. He had to find someone with the authority to warn the Gestapo to leave him alone, and someone to trust with Hitler's life. But first, he had to find transport for the eight-kilometre journey through wartime restrictions and shortages.
Johann Rattenhuber woke as soon as he felt the apologetic touch on his arm. Pushing aside weariness was a simple matter of refusing to notice protest signals from his aged body. His office felt oppressively hot and stuffy with the thick blackout curtains drawn. The Russians were becoming increasingly adventurous in their harassing night flights over East Prussia as the strength of the Luftwaffe declined. Stray lights in a forest would make an ideal aiming point for a stick of bombs. It was four a.m. and there was a call for him from Berlin.
"Himmler," said a familiar voice when Rattenhuber picked the telephone receiver off his desk. "What the hell is going on there?"
Rattenhuber rubbed grit from his eyes with his free hand. "Everything is normal here, Herr Reichsführer."
"Your man Weinkenner has been rampaging round Berlin for the last hour, looking for me. He had half the police force chasing him when he hijacked a fire engine at gun-point."
"None of my doing," protested Rattenhuber.
"Really?" Himmler voice had a cutting, sceptical edge. "Where is Bormann?"
"In bed, Reichsführer. Three hours ago, nearly. The Führer called it a day early, around one-fifteen."
"Confirm that. And keep this line open."
Rattenhuber pressed the bell push to bring the orderly back to his office, then sent him out to make sure that Martin Bormann was still in his personal bunker. "Am I allowed to know what this is all about, Reichsführer?" he added to Himmler.
"Weinkenner claims he had to escape from some mentally defective Gestapo agents," grated Himmler. "He tells me they have Dr. Marzius and Herr Müller under guard at a clinic near Schneidemühl. I understand you ordered the Gestapo to arrest them on sight. On whose authority?"
Rattenhuber began to sweat even more freely in response to Himmler's calm, dangerous tone. He chose his words very carefully. "When I spoke to you at eleven-thirty, Herr Reichsführer, informing you that the special flight had disappeared, you stressed the urgency of finding those aboard it. I sent an immediate flash signal to Gestapo H.Q. to get them looking. I sent a more detailed signal with further information half an hour later, which was acknowledged by teleprinter. I stressed that I wanted Dr. Marzius and his party protected.
"I can only suggest that someone in Berlin translated locate into arrest, and the follow-up signal was not sent on to Schneidemühl. I have taken no other action, in accordance with your personal instructions in your eleven-thirty call, Reichsführer."
"So your second message went out at midnight?"
"Three minutes to, I believe, Reichsführer. We received an immediate confirmation of reception from Prinz Albrechtstraße."
"No wonder it wasn't passed on. The Gestapo have everyone, even the cleaners, it seems, out arresting people. Your Führer is securely guarded?" Himmler placed a subtle stress on the possessive.
"I doubled the guards, Reichsführer, and issued an order that all today's passes for the inner zone must be countersigned by the Führer personally. Which means, in practice, that I control who enters."
The orderly rushed back into Rattenhuber's office. "Herr Bormann has not left his quarters, Herr Oberführer," he reported.
Rattenhuber dismissed him with a nod. He passed on the message to Himmler. After a pause for thought, Himmler gave him orders that would send Rattenhuber to his bottle of Benzedrine tablets. He had arrangements to make, and there would be no more sleep for him that night.
A message arrived from the local railway station as Rattenhuber was drinking his third cup of black coffee. It beat the telegram from the local post office by five minutes. Both reported that Herr Müller was reasonably well at a civilian clinic. Weinkenner had given a map reference instead of naming Schneidemühl. None of the messages sent via Berlin for relay ever reached Rastenburg.
Walther Krocher rose at four-thirty after a fairly sleepless night. The sky was bright. Dawn lay just half an hour away. It was the right time for someone to make an escape from a hospital. There would be a number of early risers moving around at such an hour in a small town on the edge of the countryside. Farming was a dawn to dusk occupation and the bakers had to make an early start. Medicine kept slightly more social hours. A stolen ambulance would not be missed for at least a couple of hours.
Nobody ever thinks twice about seeing an ambulance on the road, Krocher told himself, they merely feel glad that they personally don't need it. Like the Gestapo, accidents and illness strike around the clock.
Krocher was billeted in a large, old house at the opposite end of Schneidemühl to the clinic. The previous occupants had committed minor political offences. They were unlikely to return to claim their property. Krocher decided to enjoy the walk to the clinic from what he considered to be his personal property now. He wanted the time to run through his plan in his mind.
His route along the main street took him past the Gestapo building. He called in at the communications room out of habit. There was nothing in the signals book about Dr. Marzius and Sturmbannführer Weinkenner. He knew that his pals at Landsberg had arrested Weinkenner nearly five hours earlier. The lack of orders to interrogate Dr. Marzius meant that Weinkenner had spilled enough beans for the pair of them before his execution. The silence was a clear message to Krocher to complete his tidy solution. There was no need to take any more men to the clinic. He intended to concentrate the credit upon himself.
Professor Marzius, being a doctor, had access to drugs. Setting the scene mentally, Krocher visualized two detectives and a Gestapo agent in one room of the suite, collapsed in chairs or on the floor after drinking drugged coffee. An empty bed, an open window, another Gestapo agent returning from a visit to the lavatory. The agent climbs through the window and orders the man pushing the wheelchair to halt.
The man turns and fires a captured pistol at the Gestapo agent, who returns the fire. Aiming for the doctor's body, the widest part of the target, he puts a bullet slap through the middle of Müller's head when Dr. Marzius dodges briefly out of the line of fire. One bullet in the patient, three or four in the doctor. The scenario had a classic simplicity.
Krocher's daydream ended abruptly when he turned into the clinic's drive and found himself looking into the barrel of a submachine gun. An armoured personnel carrier was parked just inside the gates. Five beefy SS-men, two of them manning a machine gun on the personnel carrier, took a close interest in the visitor. Krocher could see more black uniforms, posted in pairs, surrounding the clinic.
"Papers!" barked an NCO with a photogenic scar on his left cheek. He looked about sixteen going on fifty.
"Gestapo," Krocher said with habitual importance. He reached carefully into his jacket for his brass badge.
"You can't come in here," the NCO told him, unimpressed.
"But I have people in there," Krocher protested.
"My orders are simple: everyone inside stays in, everyone outside stays out. We've got a VIP coming. I should get over to your H.Q., mate. They'll want you to round up your local subversives for the day."
Krocher returned the well-polished badge to his pocket and turned round. He was out-gunned and he had no intention of losing face by indulging in arguments that he could not hope to win. At the Gestapo building, he went straight up to his office and collected a bottle of decent brandy from a locked filing cabinet. The teleprinter operator in the basement put on an expression of interest when Krocher showed him the bottle in his briefcase.
"I want to send a signal to H.Q. in Berlin," said Krocher. "Re: my signal, put in yesterday's date and the time I sent the one last night, concerning Dr. Marzius: instructions requested urgently."
"What signal was that?" the operator asked through a frown. "Last night?"
"The one you didn't have time to put in the book. I sent it some time after ten-thirty last night. It read: Dr. Marzius arrested and under guard. Request instructions re action concerning him and his patient Müller."
"Oh, yes, I remember it clearly," grinned the operator. "Did I forget to put the copy in the book? Lucky you spotted that. Let's see where there's a space."
Krocher left his briefcase beside the teleprinter. It would be returned later, minus the bottle. He had covered himself, no matter what his colleagues at Landsberg, whom he hardly knew, had done to the SS officer Weinkenner. A successful Gestapo agent has a prepared line of retreat at all times, Krocher told himself. And if he ever got to Prinz Albrechtstraße in Berlin, he promised himself another crack at Dr. Marzius, Weinkenner and their pal Müller. A successful Gestapo agent also has a long memory for trouble-makers.
Oskar Weinkenner was asleep when the Luftwaffe transport flight to Thorn landed to drop him off at Schneidemühl at seven a.m. He had a pass, signed and dated by Himmler himself, to get him past the SS cordon at the clinic. If anything, Himmler had been disappointed rather than relieved by the lack of evidence that Bormann had been plotting to take over the role of Führer.
Just the same, Himmler had rushed a unit of an SS panzer training battalion to Schneidemühl so that the first troops that Hitler saw when he woke up would be wearing the black and silver of Himmler's command. He was also taking out insurance in case Bormann woke up with big ideas. Success in the Third Reich depended on anticipating the treachery of rivals and executing a counter-move first.
Weinkenner had wasted most of the night finding his way through fire, rubble and obstructive army, police and civil defence cordons to Himmler's H.Q.; only to find that the Reichsführer was operating from Goebbels' Ministry, further up the road, which had become an improvised detention centre. That last stage of his journey had been the easiest. Weinkenner had stolen a crash helmet, goggles, leather gloves and a leather pouch. He had pretended to be a despatch rider with an important message for Himmler's eyes only.
His torn black raincoat had made him look distinctly unmilitary, but it had covered his officer's uniform, and there had been a flood of vital messages in transit by hand as the military coup was being rolled up. In fact, Goebbels had pronounced it crushed just after Himmler's telephone call to Rattenhuber at Rastenburg. He was being a little optimistic. The civilian revolt in Vienna rumbled on for most of July 21st.
Weinkenner had watched Himmler sit and think through takeover plans of his own when Weinkenner had finished his report. As the man on the spot, with Berlin in his grasp and the SS fired up with indignation about the arrests in Paris and elsewhere, it had been tempting to Himmler to let Hitler die of injuries received in the bomb explosion; with a little undeclared outside help.
Himmler had lacked the resolve to take on the mantle of supreme power without notice. There was a chance that one of Weinkenner's various messages had got through to Rastenburg during his six hours of travelling. It was also possible that Hitler had recovered consciousness after his operation. He could have issued orders for his own protection through Dr. Marzius, using codes that required instant, unquestioning obedience. Himmler had taken no more than five minutes to decided to preserve the status quo ante.
Weinkenner had to be woken again when the VIPs arrived in the middle of the afternoon. The Führer had broken a journey to Berlin to inquire after the health of Herr Müller, and Reichsführer Himmler had come to Schneidemühl to provide a personal escort for the last lap of the triumphant return to the capital. Dr. Marzius allowed Hitler to receive brief news of the successful operation against the rebels; not that the doctor had much choice in the matter.
Leutnant Alven from the airfield was wearing the ribbon of the Order of the Iron Cross, Second Class, and buying champagne when Weinkenner looked in at Bischoff's Bar in the evening. Farther down the street, Walther Krocher was sitting in his office in the Gestapo building, marvelling at the narrowness of his escape and feeling glad that he had not tackled Weinkenner in person. According to his personal file, Weinkenner had served with the Brandenburg Special Commando force. It was no wonder that he had despatched two colleagues of Krocher's, whose names he barely recognized, on the outskirts of Landsberg.
Heinrich Himmler himself had made a brief visit to the Gestapo building. He had even commended Krocher on his tactful handling of Herr Müller's security. The fiction that Krocher had created in the signals book seemed to have become reality in the absence of any evidence to the contrary. With a military revolt in the capital and the concentrated period of clearing up, many other signals had gone astray. Krocher had been lucky, but luck is an essential part of any success.
Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Head of the RSHA, which controlled all of the Reich's security forces, was appointed chairman of a Special Commission for 20th July. The Austrian-born lawyer was handed the task of bringing the plotters to justice, and ordered to submit daily written reports, copies of which could be supplied to Hitler's hospital room.
The bomb plot was a godsend to the security forces in that it allowed them to eliminate most of the regime's known opponents in Greater Germany. Around fifteen hundred officers were arrested over the next weekend. In all, 5,000 to 7,000 arrests were made. The cells of the RSHA were filled with the cream of the higher reaches of German society through the rest of 1944 and into 1945; officers, diplomats, politicians, land owners, lawyers, clergy, and anyone who had helped the conspirators before and after the explosion at Supreme Headquarters.
Two days after the bombing, on Saturday morning, Himmler extended his empire to include the old War Ministry building. He was CinC of the Replacement Army. His star had reached its zenith. On the Sunday, Herr Müller decided that he was strong enough to be transferred to Kremmen. The hospital lay about forty kilometres to the north-west of Berlin. It had the communications facilities that he needed in order to keep track of the progress of the war, even though Himmler was running everything through his Doppelgänger.
Dr. Marzius was free to return to his researches in Zell on Monday. Oskar Weinkenner was waiting for the doctor in the canteen when an orderly summoned him to Herr Müller's room. Weinkenner passed on a copy of a directive from Supreme Headquarters to his neighbour, a submarine officer with his right leg in plaster.
At the request of all sections of the armed forces, read the directive, the conventional military salute would be abandoned in favour of the raised arm, Party salute. It was not something that Weinkenner had to remember to do. As an SS officer, he had been waving his arm in the air like a Roman since the Luftwaffe had chucked him out.
The directive also allowed professional soldiers to join the Party legally, removing the previous ban on association with political groups. Weinkenner had signed up on his first day in the SS as a matter of principle. It was obvious that non-Party members would be first out of the hat for suicide missions. As with all walks of life in the Greater German Reich, Party membership had become essential now for advancement in the armed services.
Weinkenner clicked his heels and offered a smart salute at Hitler's bedside. Hitler had a black smudge streaked with white threads around his mouth. He was growing a beard, which would be pruned back into his distinctive moustache in due course. He looked over the side of his bed toward the floor.
"One rarely sees an SS officer wearing shoes, Weinkenner," he said.
"My boots are having to have new toecaps fitted, Führer." Weinkenner remembered to speak up because of the explosion-damage to Hitler's ears. "The Gestapo wrecked them dragging me around, and my spare pair are in Berchtesgaden."
"Sit down." Hitler used his left hand for the signal. The right was still too painful to move freely. Mysteriously, the habitual tremble of his left arm had ceased.
His room was large and bright, starting to fill up with the paperwork of command, and located at a corner at the back of the building, within an easy push of the ramp to the air raid shelters. Weinkenner sank onto the bedside chair. His eyes travelled automatically to the empty holster on his belt when the stiff, polished leather nudged his thigh.
"Rules," Hitler said, almost apologetically. "Although whether the armed sentry who relieved you of your pistol should be considered more trustworthy than yourself is a matter for debate. I understand you have some sort of pass that I issued to you?"
Weinkenner took the folded sheet of notepaper from his right breast pocket. It was becoming decidedly dog-eared. Hitler put on his reading glasses to examine it, then handed it back.
"I think you had better tear it up. The job needs two hands. You won't need that again."
Weinkenner destroyed the pass regretfully. Such a document had great potential.
"I understand I promoted a loyal major to colonel on the telephone on Thursday night," Hitler continued. "I can do no less for you. Full colonel, of course. Standartenführer places less of a strain on my writing hand than Obersturmbannführer, if I ever have to send you a written order."
"Thank you, Führer. The extra clout could come in very handy. And the extra pay, too. I need to buy some new uniforms. I've ruined both of them and a pair of boots since last Thursday."
"Rather more than my pair of trousers," Hitler said with a thin smile. "You may also ask Herr Müller to sign another pass with your correct rank when you reach Berchtesgaden. Strictly for emergency use."
"I hope it never needs to see the light of day, Führer." Weinkenner tucked the pieces of the old pass into his pocket for cremation later.
Hitler offered his left hand. "I wish you a safe journey back to Berchtesgaden. And I need not remind you of the importance of your assignment. Professor Marzius holds my life in his hands. He is in a very real race to find a permanent solution to my problems before my remaining kidney gives out. The thought of being at the mercy of his Infernal Machine permanently is very daunting."
"I understand, Führer." Weinkenner tried to prevent a reflex shudder from reaching his handshake. The thought of being connected to the artificial kidney periodically for most of alternate days was enough to daunt anyone.
As he headed back to the canteen to continue his wait for Dr. Marzius, his thoughts rushed on ahead to southern Bavaria, and over the open border to Austria. He had been discharged from the hospital to Salzburg just a fortnight earlier. In those two weeks, he had collected a Knight's Cross, finessed a kilogram of the Führer's personal mixed nuts for Heidi Reifendorf, and shot from the SS equivalent of major to full colonel.
He was planning to sweep Heidi off her feet when he got back to the south. Not even a professional, hospital administrator with a cultivated clinical detachment could remain unimpressed by such achievements. Standartenführer Oskar Weinkenner's only worry was what he could do in the coming fortnight to top them.
He was relearning the rules for the sort of world that he had re-entered, where treachery is second-nature and personal power is the only currency. It was like working for a New York gang-boss again. Only the scale of the operation had changed, multiplying both the dangers and the potential rewards. Oskar Weinkenner, stepson of a New York gangster, was in his element. How long he would remain there depended on how long Dr. Marzius and the Reichssicherheitsdienst could keep the real Führer alive.