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The Expendable Spy

~ ~ Chapter One ~ ~

       Funny how you can’t hear anything when you spin out the hatch of a plane. Something happens to the ears, they say. Several of the paratroop instructors at Benning had admitted to deafness on their first jumps, but on others (so they claimed, anyhow) they’d been completely at ease and aware of everything, even in night drops. But for me it was like stepping into a vacuum. Except for a multicolored whirling behind my tight-shut eyes, there was an instantaneous paralysis of sensation. More than anything, a huge silence. Only after what seemed to be a prolonged half sleep did the silence end. And then a peculiar shift in the numbness let in the Liberator’s diminishing hum, the nervous sighing of wind, the creaking of harness.
       I glanced aloft. The canopy was an indigo smudge against the filmy quarter-moon sky. Already I could smell the earth rising from below—thawing snow and pines and steeping manure—and somewhere, far off toward the pale blue wall of the Alps, there was the faint call of a night bird. I had a crazy notion that if I exhaled heavily I could become less buoyant and so hurry the end of this interminable drifting.
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       The parachute’s hissing gained in volume—the echo of ground at hand. I flexed my knees the way they’d taught me and, clutching the risers, prepared to chin myself just before contact to ease the shock. Even so, I hit sooner and harder than I’d expected and had no chance to pivot and roll. A stinging exploded in my boots and sped up my spine to rattle in my teeth. Then I was tumbling, hands to helmet, eyes clamped shut, and lips compressed against the spattering slush and winter-stiffened stubble. Hunched against the jarrings and tearings, I tried to roll onto my back, but it was a very long time before I could get enough purchase on my forearms to accomplish the turn and hit the harness release. I managed it finally and scrabbled downwind to snatch the tail of shroud lines and webbing that slithered along behind the deflating canopy.
       I sprawled to the prone and scooped the silk into a bundle. Then I shot a glance across the field to where a fir forest brooded black against the night. Flipping the steel helmet from chest to shoulder and forcing the kit bag and gas mask to the small of my back, I towed the bundle along a chain of dark ground patches that laced through the snow.
       When I reached the tree line I paused for breath, but I gave it only a second or two. I broke out the folding shovel and dug into the taffy-like earth behind the bole of a yew, wondering which made more noise—the digging or my heart. Luckily the soggy drifts were still fairly high where the trees were the closest together, and after I’d covered over the jump suit, leather helmet, chute, harness, knife, and shovel, I used a branch to spread a mixture of pine needles and snow over the area so that the coming day’s warmth would blend an innocent mulch. Leaning against the tree then, I took inventory: all treacherous jump gear buried; all honest German gear—from the mountain trooper’s uniform with green piping to the square Wehrmacht flashlight and carefully forged paybook—in place. I had decided to jump without a rifle or an overcoat, despite the consternation of the supervising dresser at Home Plate. If anyone chanced to question the lack of a coat, I’d simply claim that it had been stolen from me the morning I’d left the sappers’ school at Murnau. The missing rifle had been noted in the paybook as having been returned to salvage.
       But my job was to avoid any explanations—even the absence of a coat.
       At the wood’s rim I consulted my compass. While the needle decided where to settle, there was the grinding of a truck in the distance and, straining, I could make out the arc of a road beyond the spur of a hill.
       I felt the nudge of panic.
       That road shouldn’t be to the west, as the compass showed, but to the north.
       My pinpoint was to have been the open field nearest the precise crossing of 11 degrees east, 48 degrees north, at a spot on a direct line between Hegenheim and Utting. The Liberator’s navigator, obviously impressed by the American brand of English coming from a spook (most spooks were natives of the areas they jumped into and so usually were pretty skimpy on their English), had enthused over what he’d termed ideal drop conditions. With a wedge of moon behind a film of cirrus and the twin lakes of the Ammersee and the Starnbergersee for reference, how could we miss? Being a relatively new hand at dropping spooks into Bavaria, the navigator had offended me with a cliché, saying, ”I’ll pop you out the door and plumb bob you on the third cabbage in the fourth row from the left.”
       Maybe so, but no one had figured on a faulty jump signal light that would cost precious seconds in my leap clear of the aircraft. This, coupled with a freshened wind that had shifted to come out of the east, could place me now only God knew where.
       But maybe not. Maybe the compass had been damaged in the landing. I shook it, and the needle wobbled, then settled primly on the north indicator. The truck noise faded beyond the ridge, continuing its labors, and its unslackened pitch was a tiny reassurance. If it had been a search patrol, the vehicle’s sounds would have died away abruptly while the crew dropped off and fanned out. I tried to forget the truck.
       I decided to trust the compass and to head out indicated full east, ignoring the misplaced highway and keeping the Alps to my right. Walking along the tree line, hugging the shadows and holding my hands to the gear to keep it from rattling, I skirted the snows and made for the rise ahead. But my worry began to take bigger bites. The charts had shown no rise here. I should have been on high ground at touchdown. I tried to calm myself by remembering the sloppy drop and the shifty wind and giving myself a silent lecture: charts are fine, except that they don’t show the wandering wind or the look of a hill in the night or the sound of a truck beyond a ridge where a highway makes misleading twists through the trees; you’re probably off a kilometer or two, maybe, so what’s a little hike?
       But the dryness wouldn’t leave my mouth, and my mind, with a queer independence of its own, went to another time when I’d been with the Mason brothers and had shagged some apples from an orchard out near Ellicott Creek. The farmer had come at us with rock salt and weird, yipping cries of outrage, and I’d run, panicky, all the way to Colvin Avenue. My mouth had been dry then, too.
       >A wandering mind is a disease in this business, they told me and I recognized the Mason brothers as a symptom. I took the only antidote available—the rosary-like recitation of my mission—and tried to keep this mental disciplining free of Smith’s superciliously indifferent voice. I didn’t like Smith. There was a phoniness there, a suggestion of the poseur. Even the name, Smith, rang out of true. But Smith was my case officer, and I had to take it for granted that if I did what he’d told me to do I’d have a chance to stay alive.
       “Your mission is relatively simple, as missions go,” Smith had said through his faint sneer. “You are a messenger, nothing more. On Saturday, March 24, 1945, at 0300 hours Greenwich civil, you will arrive at the road junction just outside the Bavarian village of Obermülhausen. A black Opel sedan will be waiting there, and its occupant will give you a message, presumably oral. After you’ve understood the message and determined the contact’s identity, you will give him our instructions. Then you will leave the car and, as an itinerant German soldier, make your way to the Rhine, where, with help from another agent, you will cross to friendly country. Simple, hm?”
       I walked—my eyes wide, my breath shallow—filling in the chinks:
       I, Peter Klaussen, first lieutenant, ORC, US Bigod Army, Serial Number 0-545169, am now and hopefully not forever Ludwig Schaue, former machine-gunner of the 96th Mountain Regiment. I am en route from the sappers’ school at Murnau in the Allgäu to Karlsruhe, where I’ll join the Pioneer pool charged with the removal of Rhineland bridges. My paybook shows a history of Scandinavian duty, a hitch on the Eastern Front, and the proper posting to the 96th. My demolitions assignment (validated by a gorgeous forgery of the Murnau commandant’s signature), my travel orders, and my ration tickets are sufficient to cover me to Karlsruhe. As for travel orders, I’m carrying a set of alternates to be used only if emergency makes me break trail. Once I’ve left the Opel I will follow the road northwest to Hegenheim and on to Landsberg, where there’s a Red Cross canteen near the Bayer Tor, a high gate tower. I’ll go to the latrine there. The toilets have doors, even in the enlisted men’s section, so I can shut myself off as I mix sympathetic ink—seven parts water to one part urine. With a toothpick dipped in the solution I’ll transcribe the contact’s identity and the gist of his message on the back of the envelope in which I carry my papers. From there I go to the roadside crucifix, coordinates M25F17, Special Map A. While seated beside the road, resting and eating my bread and cheese, I’ll wrap the envelope in the waxpaper cover and slide it into the knothole in the north side of the crucifix’s base so that rain can’t get at it.
       (Smith’s smirk again: “This, you see, is to cover us in the event you are, ah, canceled before you return to our lines. We’ll pick up the envelope when the territory’s overrun, then heat it with a flatiron to see what you’ve written. The message may be a long time getting to us, but there’s no sense in our losing it altogether, is there? Mm?”)
       After I’ve stashed the envelope I head straight west to Buchloe and on to Memmingen. At Memmingen I turn almost due north on the main highway that runs beside the railroad all the way into Ulm. From Ulm I parallel the Autobahn to Stuttgart. There I go to Bopserstrasse 15, where I tell the woman with the eye patch that I bring word of her son, Tomas, a fellow student at Murnau. She’ll take me to a contact who will, in turn, show me how to cross the Rhine at Karlsruhe. Once across, I surrender myself to the nearest American tactical commander and ask him to relay my code name, Mairzy Doats, to Home Plate. I wait until you, Smith, arrange my release from the PW cage. Then you debrief me.
       (Smith: “You have a delightful voice, Herr Schaue. You’ve missed your calling. You should be one of those disk jockeys on the Armed Forces Network. Now let’s hear your instructions to Scab, our man of the Opel. What will you tell him? Hm?”)
       I tell him this: As a messenger, I’ve been given three days to return from Obermühlhausen to the U.S. forces along the Rhine’s west bank. Allowing two days more for my debriefing and a command decision, Scab is to tune in the BBC at 2300 hours, Greenwich civil, on March 29 and 30. At that time each of those nights the announcer will signal our approval of Scab’s proposal by saying, “Schnitzel is good.” On April 1, at exactly 0200 hours Greenwich civil, he is to be on station on the Holy Hill of the Andechs, three miles south of Herrsching on the Ammersee. There’s a Benedictine monastery there—elevation 2,335. At that time he will hear a plane approaching from the northeast. The plane will fire three machine-gun bursts into the steamboat landing at Herrsching as if casually strafing on the way home. As this plane passes over the Andechs, Scab will confirm receipt of the BBC message by showing three Z’s with a hooded flashlight.
       (Smith again: “Ah, but what if you, the messenger, fail to return to hearth and home? What then, Herr Schaue? What will Scab do then?”)
       I am a messenger only, and I’ll not trade speculations with Scab. If he hears no confirmation on the BBC, all signals are off.
       (“You mean you won’t tell him of the message in the crucifix?”)
       I tell Scab nothing. He hears no BBC, he has no deal.
       (“That’s an unkind way to treat a high-horsepower Nazi, isn’t it? After all, he’s taking quite a risk—offering to collaborate. Shouldn’t he have some sort of encouragement?”)
       Screw his encouragement. No BBC, no deal.
       Involuntarily, I remembered Smith leaning against the wood stove, looking across the desk at me out of pale eyes and smiling his dusty smile at my aimless arguments.
       “If OSS knows so damned much,” I could hear myself grumbling, “why don’t they handle the job? Why a CIC man?”
       Smith had shrugged—Pontius Pilate calling for the bowl. “The OSS is handling the job, Herr Schaue. I’m in the OSS. You are now in the OSS. You and I are handling the job.”
       “But why an American officer? This mission is nothing but an exchange of messages, and any Kraut turncoat from any PW cage could be used as a messenger boy.”
       “Scab has specified that he be contacted by what he terms a ‘responsible American officer.’ You are, a card-file search shows us, a reasonably responsible American officer. You speak faultless German. You are sound of wind and limb. But, jolly of jollies, you are also an untainted body. You have never been used on a mission before, so there’s little likelihood that the Opposition”—the capital could be heard—“has attached any OSS secret intelligence significance to your transfer to European duty.”
       “Well, just who the hell is this Scab creep, anyhow?”
       “I wouldn’t tell you even if I knew. Your parachute might drop you into a Gestapo class reunion, and they’d make you guest speaker. Sufficient to say that Scab, an as-yet-unidentified participant in a Kraut operation of great danger to Allied political plans for postwar Germany, is amenable to subversion. Less elegantly put, he’s offered to turn stoolie. Since we’ve learned this from an unimpeachable source, we can’t fluff it off. That’s where you come in. Find out who Scab is, what kind of plot he’s in on, and what he proposes to help us do about it. Then sneak back to whisper in my nobly shaped ear.”
       I cleared the rise and descended through a grove of ghostly birches into the gloom of another fir forest when I saw the trail—a pale wash of clay winding off through a saddle in the hills. I tapped my compass and took another reading and had to work hard to stifle a shriek. The trail ran roughly southeast, while the charts had shown it to course almost due south, then a hair to the southwest. I gave myself another lecture: it’s the night, and trails wind and twist; the path’s going generally in the direction you’ve expected, so follow it. And take it easy, Buster. If it is the trail—and it more than likely is—you’ve got a whole hour and four minutes to cover no more than four kilometers, or some two to three miles.
       Huddling against the chill, I took off down the lane. My greatest risk right now, I knew, lay in the chance that some air-raid warden or insomniac forester might catch me on this path. If, as my papers read, I were headed for Karlsruhe, it would be tough to explain why I was moving in the opposite direction on a trail that no sane man would consider with an improved highway only some two kilometers off to the right. But to have gone directly to the road would have been riskier. The enemy knew that Oberbayern was becoming the increasingly favored drop zone now that the Rhine had been breached at Remagen and the war was due to collapse southward. So when a solitary plane dawdled through the Bavarian skies these nights, soldiers, old men, women children, and dogs automatically peered aloft for the drift of a parachute. To have walked directly to the road and headed off on the long, wrong way to Obermühlhausen would more than possibly have placed me in the hands of patrollers. This way, if the lane was unpatrolled, I had only to walk to Scab, who, no doubt, had long since selected the rendezvous site for its safety. But I was plenty nervous, and more than once I froze, evaluating a shadow or interpreting a sound. There was even one time, when a small animal skittered off somewhere to the left, I felt for the Walther pistol snuggled under my tunic.
       My tongue was tacky.
       Again the trail led up a rise, the knee of a hill this time, and across the small dale another hill lay cold and still in the faint moonlight. Then I was easing downward once more and there, beside a highway running east and west, the roofs of a hamlet showed surrealistic slabs to the sky. I sought out the other road, which should have entered the village from the south.
       There was another road, all right. But it came in from the north, directly over my left shoulder.
       Panic surged again, insistent now, and under the mittens I could feel the icy slick of sweat.
       Whatever this town was it wasn’t Obermühlhausen.
       I moved off down the lane, not too quickly, and drifted sideways into the shadow of an uneasy oak. Closing my eyes for a moment I tried to reconstruct the charts. What other town? What other hamlet had trails running down from the northwest, a road running east and west, another arcing in from the north? Which place, for Christ’s sake, could this be?
       Could it be Thaining?
       Of course.
       I was at Thaining—about three kilometers too far west.
       I’d have to take the main road now. I’d have to skirt the village, cross the ankle of the branching north road, cut through the fields and trees to the east-west road, then strike out east by northeast to Obermühlhausen. Three kilometers in the wrong direction on an open road. I couldn’t be coy now, since I had no way of knowing how long the Opel would wait. Three o’clock, Smith had said; not three to three-thirty, not threeish. Three o’clock. I held my watch to the moon and saw how close it would be.
       I moved away from the tree and had just regained the path when, involuntarily, I sucked in my breath.
       Somewhere—close by—a dog had growled.
       Only once.
       But, unmistakably, a dog had growled.
       My hand clawed for the Walther. But then three figures, silhouetted against the soft gleam of rooftops, arose from behind a clump of bushes. The moonlight glinted dully on the sheen of what could be nothing but a double-barreled shotgun.
       “Good morning,” a voice said triumphantly. “Welcome to beautiful Bavaria, Herr Spy.”

Copyright © 1965 and 2008 by Jack D. Hunter.  All rights reserved.  No part of this document may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.

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