SITUATION UNCHANGED, STILL F****D UP
Part 4 of the Boswell and Garrett chronicles. Reading the previous 3 stories will make this one go down a lot easier. And we are now in the final days before VE Day.
Major Hochstetter's unhealthy obsession with Colonel Robert E. Hogan appeared to end at the time the obsession with saving his neck began. Despite all outward appearances, the major was by all accounts, a first-rate investigator. His keen eye and gut instinct told him what many others preferred to bury in the back of their brainwashed, and what some may call, evil minds. The Third Reich was in its death throes; no one was safe, and those connected with certain nefarious organizations could be in deep trouble. Fortunately, Hochstetter was bright enough to remain in the Ruhr pocket. Although the fighting there was fierce, he knew that the Russians had no way of capturing the area before the lesser of two evils, the British or the Americans, arrived. He decided to take his chances with the GI's, and began the process of melting into the woodwork, so to speak. His last visit to Gestapo headquarters in Hammelburg was on April 3rd, a full two weeks before the Americans captured Dusseldorf, and liberated the small Luft Stalag located near Hammelburg.
Fearful of military investigators finding evidence of torture, he ordered all records to be destroyed, and released his remaining staff to their own devices. "The SS are hanging and shooting civilians, deserters and anyone else who they think should continue this fight," he told those who were left. "It's not worth it. Do what you want. I'm out of here!" They all agreed and took off, while Hochstetter grabbed his few remaining personal items. At the last minute, he smirked as he pulled out a large file, filled with information he had gathered on Luft Stalag 13, the Senior POW officer; the American colonel Robert E. Hogan, and certain prisoners. Also in there was a large amount of paperwork detailing information on the local underground and local sabotage activity.
Hochstetter opened up the file and starred grimly at the handsome face that seemed to smirk back at him. He offered a mini salute. "You won this battle Hogan," he said. "But one day, I will prove once and for all that I was right. And when that day comes, I will have the last laugh." He paused. Even if it's over a pint of beer at one of your American officers' clubs. My country is dead, and soon we will be fighting a mutual enemy. The major shoved the file into his satchel, and left the building for the last time.
Hochstetter holed up in a relative's home located in a small village that had so far escaped the fighting. His first cousin had not been heard from in several years. The village appeared to be somewhat deserted, with only fanatical Nazi's taking up arms against the inevitable invaders. He slipped into the house when it was dark, and lit some candles for light. Raiding the larder he had stocked with supplies he had stolen from local black market profiteers he had arrested, he sat down and ate. Gazing at the satchel, as he downed the last bit of scotch left in the house, he sighed and retrieved Hogan's file. Behind the colonel's photo was the report he had compiled regarding the failed prisoner swap engineered by General Burkhalter. Glancing at the drawings of the two rogue SS agents, he muttered to himself. "I'll bet my life these two were working with Hogan. But, why?" The drawings had been circulated down south near the border, where the swap initially took place. They found their way into Switzerland, and then from there, into Spain, Portugal, and finally into London, where, at the end of March, they were picked up by one of the few remaining German control agents still operating in the British isles.
The Gestapo major burned anything that would lead to his identity, and prepared to morph into a civilian. However, he couldn't bring himself to burn the files related to his most famous quarry. Fearing the soldiers would commandeer the house, he buried the satchel and its contents, locked the door and waited. As the rumbling grew closer, he gathered his courage and exited.
A jeep carrying several Americans, followed by a platoon, slowly approached the home. The platoon's guns covered the platoon leader, a lieutenant, who hopped out of the jeep, and slowly approached the unarmed Hochstetter. A sergeant, holding a German shepherd on a leash, followed. "Who's in the house?" the lieutenant asked in fluent German.
"No one. I'm the only one here." Hochstetter looked down at the dog. The dog stared back at the major, and then sniffed his pant leg.
The officer motioned for a few of his men, who walked up to the home, and without asking, entered; rifles drawn.
"We have to search." The lieutenant sized up the man standing in front of him. The German was perhaps in his early 40's, and looked well-fed. That aroused his suspicions. He quickly frisked Hochstetter, and then said, "Please come into your home. We have a few questions."
Hochstetter sighed and followed the officer, who motioned to the kitchen table. "Sit down, please. Your papers?"
Hochstetter handed over his forged papers.
"It says you were a charted accountant?" (1)
"Yes. This is my cousin's home. I lived in Berlin, and my office was destroyed. I managed to travel here. It wasn't easy. I had no interest in fighting. I was originally, how do you say it? 4F due to illness. But recently the SS has been drafting anyone they find, old, young, hurt, into the home guard."
The American frowned. "We've lost a lot of people due to your so-called home guard. Fanatics."
Hochstetter shrugged. "I haven't fired a gun at anyone. Just doing my job, and trying to stay alive," he lied.
"Where's your cousin?"
"Missing; eastern front."
The interrogation was interrupted by several young soldiers tasked with searching the house.
"Nothing suspicious in here, Lieutenant."
"Good. Start on the yard, and watch out for mines and other booby-traps. Take the dog."\
Hochstetter felt himself beginning to sweat. He had buried the satchel underneath a rock pile behind the garage. The garage was safe. He had ditched his Gestapo car earlier that week. However, he was afraid if the Americans paid close attention, they may find loose dirt. He was sure he had been careful, and had hidden the burial site well. He cursed his stupidity. A chance for vindication could now spell his doom. I should have destroyed the evidence.
"Something making you nervous, Herr Mueller?" The lieutenant asked.
"We're almost done here. We're going to be commandeering…" The lieutenant paused as the dog's barking could be heard. "Stay here with him," he ordered the sergeant stationed outside the kitchen door. The officer hurried outside. "Everything all right?" he yelled, concerned for the safety of the men searching the yard.
"Yes, sir! The yard seems clean, but the dog picked up a scent." The private pointed to the rock pile behind the garage. The dog was wagging its tail and digging furiously; whining in frustration. Several men came over, and began digging with their trench tools, while a few others began moving the rocks. Several moments later, a loud thump could be heard.
"Well, well. What do we have here?" The lieutenant bent down and removed an old, brown, leather satchel. Opening it, he carefully pulled out stacks of papers and files. He grinned. "Gentlemen. We caught us a big bad Kraut. Boy, HQ is going to have fun with this one."
"Move it, Gestapo." A private poked a handcuffed Hochstetter in the back with his rifle.
"Hogan put you up to this," Hochstetter complained as he lurched forward. "Or that idiot, Klink." He couldn't blame Burkhalter, who had disappeared, and blaming himself at this point was counter-productive. "Hogan can vouch for me. I never hurt him or his men," he explained as he was loaded into a truck heading west.
"Yeah, tell it to military intelligence, Major." The lieutenant rapped on the truck, which moved away. "Okay, men, let's move. R & R tonight in our Gestapo boy's house."
The dog handler approached the officer. "Wasn't that Hogan he mentioned, the officer in those files, Lieutenant?"
"Yup. Hopefully, they'll track him down, and get his testimony. Personally, I think the major had a screw lose. A sabotage unit operating from a prison camp!" The group of American soldiers ended the day with a good laugh.
A field agent needs to be in the field. A spy needs to spy; and yes, an element of danger is necessary to keep the adrenaline moving. To make life worth living, to…Mitch Garrett quickly slammed his notebook shut, as prying eyes in the name of the shift supervisor moved closer to his desk located in the upper floors of OSS headquarters in London. It wouldn't do to have his boss discover Garrett writing his memoirs. Quickly, he opened the drawer on the lower right hand corner of his desk, the one that locked, and shoved the notebook inside. The solitaire hand in the upper right hand corner of his desk was deftly swept up and dropped in the drawer as well. He locked it, opened a file and pretended to work. His supervisor, a pale man in his late thirties, who had never set foot in the field, paused, glanced his way, and then thankfully moved towards the door and left the room.
Garrett took a deep breath. Except for a female secretary typing away in the farthest corner, he was the only agent in the room. His partner, Todd Boswell, was home in the small flat they shared with several other agents, nursing a cold. Although he realized the work he was doing was important, well… somewhat important. Actually, anyone who spoke fluent German could translate the documents he had been handed, Garrett was bored. Since their cover was blown during their last escapade involving saving Colonel Hogan from being swapped, Boswell and Garrett had been assigned to desk duty. Frankly, he and his partner felt stifled. Protests and complaints were not heeded, although he thought, and rightly so, that the two could safely return to Germany, as long as they stayed away from Hogan's sector and were disguised. Their handler disagreed. It was too risky, he said, seeing that Hochstetter had probably sent their picture and description all over the country, and that Burkhalter wanted their heads on a platter.
So here they were. The only good points: London was exciting. The countryside was pretty, the girls were interesting, and the war, everyone assumed, was winding down. A polite cough interrupted his translating task, and he looked up.
"Mr. Garrett. I'm not interrupting anything important, I hope." The female agent, a woman named Maria…he couldn't recall her last name, smiled.
"No," What can I do for you? Maria isn't it? I'm sorry; I forgot your last name."
"Shamsky. I was told you may be able to help me out. I have some transcribed messages, and I couldn't figure out the meaning of this paragraph."
"Did you ask any native speakers?"
"No. The ones in my group are out to lunch. This is my last one for the day."
"Sure, I'll take a look." Garrett pored over the document, making several minor corrections. "Okay, I see the problem. Whoever transcribed the message, mistook these figures for men, when I think the Germans were talking tanks. But I would take it to a military person to be sure." He smiled and handed her back the file.
"Thank you. Now it seems to make sense. I'll drop it off."
Marie smiled at Garrett; then slowly turned to leave; when Garrett stood up and swiftly came around to face her. "I'm free, if you would like to go get some lunch. I know a nice pub down on Edgware Road," he said.
"I'd like that."
Maybe being on desk duty isn't so bad after all, Garrett thought.
Aaachoo. Boswell ruined another handkerchief, tossing it on the floor with the others. He groaned and turned on the sofa, facing inward, as he cursed his fate in three languages. Ever since he and Garrett had been stranded in the snow near the Rhine, he had felt lousy. First he had to deal with the skunk, then the good-natured kibitzing and teasing because he ran into a skunk, and then being put on desk duty. To top off his misery, Garrett had passed on the cold he had caught in Germany. "Ooohh," he groaned. The agent attempted to sniff, but met nothing but stuffiness. An earlier hot shower had done nothing to help. Nor did the salve one of his roommates had picked up from the chemist down the road. He wrapped himself up in the afghan, shoved the hot water bottle down near his feet, and attempted to get some sleep.
He was rudely awakened several hours later as the door opened and his partner noisily walked in with…was that a girl?
Garrett paid no attention, as he spoke to his companion. "And then, I said to the attaché at the diplomacy, if this is Tuesday, this must be Dusseldorf!" Garrett and the girl erupted in peals of laughter.
"That joke again!" Boswell sat up and blew his nose. He got up off of the sofa and shuffled over to the couple. "And you would be?" Sniff.
"Sorry, pal. This is Maria. She works down in transcription. We had lunch."
Boswell thought Garrett sounded as if he had a bit more than lunch.
"Charmed." The agent replied. "I'd shake your hand, miss, but…"
"That's quite all right. I heard you were ill. I hope it's nothing serious," Maria replied.
"Nothing a good homemade bowl of chicken soup wouldn't cure. But, that's hard to come by." Boswell complained.
"Your roommates aren't here?" Marie asked as she glanced around the small flat.
"No." Garrett walked over to the small table by the front door and deposited his keys in a large glass bowl. "They're on assignment elsewhere. We have the place to ourselves; at least til midnight or tomorrow morning if they stay over." He winked. "Except for Sneezy over there."
Boswell gave his partner a dirty look.
"May I use your powder room?"
"Of course." Garrett took Maria down the hall and then returned to the living area. He sat down on an overstuffed chair that faced the sofa, and proceeded to start to empty his pockets.
"Not the best time to bring someone home." Honk.
"Not the best time for you to be home sick, when I'm bringing someone home." Garrett retorted, as he stood up and walked over to the door. The matchbook he had taken from the pub went in an ashtray on the coffee table. He thought for a moment, and then put his wallet back in his right pocket.
"How many drinks did you have?"
Garrett held up his hand. "Three, no…four…no…three."
"The least you can do is to offer to make me a cup of tea. Oh, wait. You look like you wouldn't be able to pour it without spilling it all over the counter."
"Hey, I'm not drunk. Just feeling a bit, well, warm, that's all. Tea might do you some good."
"Achoo," was the answer,
Maria returned from the powder room, and ever the gentleman, Garrett stood up. "Boswell here would like something hot to drink. Would you like some tea?"
She glanced at Boswell, who was again lying down on the sofa covered by an afghan, and at Garrett. "Actually," she said firmly, as she opened her purse, stuck her hand inside, and pointed a luger at Garrett. "What I would really like is for you to join your friend on the couch and not move.
(1)Perhaps I should have made him a lion tamer? If you aren't familiar with this, you are probably young, and also unfamiliar with Monty Python.
Another 69 Met's reference. Art Shamsky was an outfielder.
I was toying with using BOHICA for the title, but research showed that it wasn't that popular until later.