My head was definitely not attached to my body when I posted chapter 22; there was no intro at all. I'm sorry. If you're still reading after 22 chapters, you're giving me the most important compliment a writer can receive. Thank you.
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The plot thickens back in East Prussia. The Jewish scientists are to be arrested and von Kys just barely gets it postponed until they are again off the estate. Petersholme has never flown at night and is developing an armada of butterflies in his stomach. And another adult is added to those he's to fly out of Germany with.
Enjoy -- Dave MacMillan
The scientific team from Peenemünde began to arrive at five o'clock that evening, driven to Schloß Kys in cars chauffeured by Waffen-SS enlisted personnel. I was still dressing when the first car pulled up in the drive and I watched from my window as an armed soldier held the door for a man in his early thirties. He wore woollen trousers with a heavy sweater over his shirt and tie, and I instantly felt reassured that my chosen outfit was appropriate for the occasion.
When I arrived in the drawing room a few minutes later, Corporal Jorsten was pouring the man and von Kys drinks at the sideboard. "Robert, I wish to present Wehrner von Braun," von Kys said to me and turned to the man I had watched leave his car. "Herr Doktor von Braun, this the Baron Petersholme from England."
I held out my hand as I studied this man Alan Dudding had spoken so highly of. He could not be more than thirty-five and looked to be still in his twenties. He was a good looking chap who appeared to keep himself fit. I found it amazing that the only man Alan had considered capable of making a child's toy into a weapon of war was so young.
He chuckled and said in German: "I see, Baron Petersholme, that you are not political."
"I'm sorry," I answered, showing my confusion. "What?"
He chuckled again. "You didn't put us both through this childish charade we Germans have come to practice of saluting each other for half an hour."
"I see," I smiled. "I'm not Nazi, Herr Doktor."
"There was a time I could say that as well, Herr Baron," he said quietly.
"Wehrner, I would really like you to join me on this." von Kys interrupted.
Von Braun turned to him. "You mean that you want me to sign a letter to Adolf Hitler asking for his special dispensation of the law for our two pet Jews? Those are the laws he himself dictated, Janus."
"No, Janus. I am not political. I refuse to become political. I do my work and stay totally out of politics. That way, I'm left alone -- I and my family. I will not become involved."
"You would have them die?"
"Die?" Von Braun chuckled. "You are so much more melodramatic now than you were in my classes, Janus. Those two will be made to feel uncomfortable for the next few years. It is the nature of racial segregation and probably no worse than it was to be a German in 1919 after the Versailler Diktat had ruined us. But die? I doubt it. And, once the new order has been well-established, Germany's Jews will again work themselves back into the mainstream -- but separately from the rest of us."
"And our team? The camaraderie among us?"
"Others will join us, now that we have proved our theories. They will be Germans, of course. They will be equally as competent and will become our friends just as those two were. Life will go on as it always does, Janus. We shall build our rockets; mankind has taken a great step forward this afternoon. And the Fatherland will use those rockets to defend our people as well as to explore the moon."
I wondered if von Braun had seen what I had of this new Germany. I had no problem imagining that the two men on their team and the rest of Germany's Jews would meet a fate far worse than the one he envisioned.
By six o'clock that evening, the von Kys estate held the German rocket programme inside its walls. As with von Braun, I was surprised at the youth of every member of my friend's team of scientists. I had expected at least one of them to be older with a mass of uncombed silver curls like Albert Einstein who had left Germany for America in 1935.
The two men both Kolawaski and von Kys suspected would soon be murdered were also a surprise to me. Were I to have seen them in a crowd, I would not have known them to be Jews. They were both in their middle thirties, blond, and blue-eyed. Their eyes were even close-set as was common among northern Germans. Their German was as well-spoken and unaccented as von Kys' and von Braun's. I could not see where they were racially different than the other men with me in the drawing room.
They, however, kept to themselves while the others formed into ever changing small groups. It was as if the two of them knew they were no longer part of the team that had just given Germany a military advantage. The other members of the team kept their distance too -- as if they too knew the two men had somehow become separated from them.
There were occasional glances towards the two men followed by long moments of awkward silence. No one was comfortable, and that was palpable in the room.
* * *
I slipped out into the hallway and followed it to the kitchen where I stepped out into the night that had already fallen over eastern Prussia. My primary thought for doing so was that I wanted fresh air, but there was also concern that the Polish agent had been able to garner the petrol we would need to get the two men away from what awaited them.
I crossed to the first outbuilding and slipped behind it -- hoping that the Pole had somehow seen me do so and would meet me. I leant against the side of the building and stared into the dark beyond me. I knew that the dark shapes were trees and bushes, but my mind imagined files of men with guns moving towards me. I fought my paranoia well enough but the night's chill quickly began to touch me, even through my sweater and wool trousers.
I had decided to go back to the house to escape the growing cold and had turned when I heard a noise inside the building. My heart in my throat, I pulled the door open and stepped inside.
"Were you not cold there in the open, Engländer?" Kolawaski asked and chuckled. "I have watched you nearly twenty minutes."
The thought did cross my mind that German law enforcement authorities would not become too irate were I to garrotte a Polish spy with my bare hands. However, Englishmen are more reasonable than most; I very quickly remembered I needed him to get us to the aeroplane safely -- even before I could take my first step towards him.
"I didn't hear you."
He chuckled. "I would make a very poor spy if you had."
"Are the lads out again tonight spying on the manor?"
"They usually come much later -- after midnight -- and creep about, looking for anything they could use. I have the petrol, Herr Baron. I would like twenty litres more but..." He shrugged.
"The poor lads we're flying out tonight act like men waiting for the trap door of the gallows to spring open beneath them," I told him.
"Their colleagues have already started to pull away from them?"
"Ahhh. The ingenuity it takes to live comfortably in a fascist society. You would think camaraderie would last at least a day after their successful flight this afternoon."
"Should I bring them out to you now or wait until after dinner?"
He snorted. "You are the one on the ground in there. That is your decision to make. Bring them here, but have them bring coats too, as their wait will probably be a fairly long one."
"You'll be here then?"
"Yes. But I shall also go occasionally to look for our Gestapo agents. It does not matter if I am here when they arrive or not. I shall return shortly." I saw that he had turned to face me. "What about this young Waffen-SS corporal the Graf would have us fly out? Shall you bring him too?"
"I need to talk to von Kys," I mumbled, more than slightly embarrassed at my poor showing thus far in this spy business. I realised only too clearly that I and everyone else involved could well be killed because I simply did not know enough even to think about things like getting Corporal Jorsten to the aeroplane.
Returning to the house through the kitchen, I entered the back hall, under the stairs' last sweep before arriving at the next floor. I heard von Kys' housekeeper open the entrance doors as I stepped into it. I stopped at the next voice.
A working class, guttural male voice demanded loudly to speak to von Kys. I decided to redress my failings as a spy to date by observing this man and his encounter with my friend without being seen. I pressed against the wall of the cupboard that travelled most of the length of the staircase and faced the kitchen door. I took note that the oaf at the door had not used von Kys' title and wondered if he was the Gauleiter. The housekeeper marched smartly back to the drawing room and, knocking, entered. Moments later, she and von Kys stepped into the hall and started towards the entrance.
There was an immediate chorus of "Heil Hitlers!" as my old school chum neared the other man.
"Gauleiter!" von Kys greeted his uninvited guest without the usual German honorific. I smiled as I accepted that I had guessed right as to the newcomer's identity. "And your two nephews are with you -- a family visit is it then, Gauleiter?"
"You have Jews in your house, Colonel." The voice was still too loud and I was sure it carried to the drawing room. I could not imagine someone in government in Northamptonshire daring to be so gauche, not in my presence.
"I have a team of scientists engaged in secret Waffen-SS research as invited guests, Gauleiter. They are of no concern of yours. The Waffen-SS takes precedence over local government and Gestapo both -- but you should know that."
"Two of them are Jews," the man pushed on. "The Führer had this afternoon removed all exemptions to employing members of an inferior race, Herr Oberst. These Jews are no longer protected by their employment with the Waffen-SS. I have orders signed by the Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler himself to detain them. They were signed in Berlin and delivered by special dispatch courier this evening. I have my orders. Will you take us to them, Herr Oberst?"
I sagged against the cupboard wall, unable to believe my own ears. A peasant arguing with his Lord? A minor functionary daring to demand that his Lord turn over men to him?
"I shall make two telephone calls, Gauleiter," von Kys, barely controlling his rage, told the man. "The first to Reichsmarschall Göring to tell him of our latest success and the second to Reichsführer Himmler at his home, after the Reichsmarschall has called him. Would you like to guess how Himmler will react to your uninvited appearance here as we celebrate the Fatherland's success? I personally doubt you would be Gauleiter by tomorrow night -- or your companions still members of State security."
I would have liked to witness the scene that was being acted out in the great hall of Schloß Kys. I suspected that von Kys was having his finest moment. He was certainly everything I would expect a Count to be.
"I have the Reichsführer's signed order." The Gauleiter's voice had lowered and was plaintive now, and I reckoned he was seeking an escape from his confrontation that would be face-saving.
"Shall I make my two telephone calls?"
"You are celebrating a success for the Fatherland here?" the man asked, the tone of his voice announcing his submission, even as he sought a fig leaf with which to cover it. There was a long pause. "Perhaps, you and your guests should continue your celebration." The Gauleiter's voice was lower still, a man's normal speaking loudness or a little less. "But you will have no complaints if we detain these Jews once they have left your house?"
"You would be carrying out your orders then, Gauleiter," von Kys told him, "if you do so away from my estate. Tomorrow, I would ask the Reichsführer to reconsider his order, but that does not concern you."
"You will not alert them then, Herr Oberst?"
There was a coldness in von Kys' voice when he spoke again. "That would subvert the Reichsführer's order -- and I am a loyal citizen of the German state, Gauleiter."
"Then we shall leave you to your guests and your festivities. Heil Hitler!"
A sudden gush of cold air told me the entrance doors had been opened and, a moment later, I heard von Kys call the housekeeper to him. He sounded as if he were standing outside and I could not hear what he told her.
Several minutes later, I heard von Kys' corporal join him. "Go out to each car, Dagi," Janus told the boy. "Tell each of those men that my orders are that they all shall drive away when we are through dinner -- even though one car shan't have its passengers. Tell them this is a direct order from me and that they are not to question it."
I understood then what von Kys was going to attempt to do. I felt the noose tightening around my neck because of it, but I could also see the one around his neck was tightening also. At this moment, he was far more committed than I was.
I stepped out into the hall where he could see me and walked to him. "How are you going to get out of this, von Kys?" I asked when I was close enough that only he could hear.
He turned and smiled. "You shall have taken Dagi out of Germany, Petersholme. He is telling the drivers what they must do. He shall obviously have helped the Jews to an aeroplane secreted on the estate and forced you at gunpoint to fly it to Poland. I shall know nothing."
"Will Berlin believe that?"
"Berlin knows me to be a scientist first," he chuckled. "Eggheads do not think about things like normal citizens do. Remember von Braun's asinine assessment of the Jews' situation in Germany? And Jorsten had a convicted and executed rapist for a brother." He shrugged. "Besides, what would Gisele do without me around? She needs me if she has another accident like Willi."
"Von Kys, I have never flown at night."
He studied me for a few moments. "The moon is full, that'll help considerably. Fly out over the sea -- twenty or so kilometres -- then fly due east. Stay at an altitude of a thousand metres, that is safest."
"Do you have maps?"
"In the cockpit. There are also electric torches. You shall do quite well, Petersholme."
"What if your Gauleiter comes back before I can have us out of here?"
He chuckled. "You, Alexis, and I kill him and his nephews. Then Dagi shall be a murderer as well as a spy." He glanced back at the closed drawing room. "Come. I have guests and dinner should be announced soon."
I stared at his retreating back in shock. Kill people? I thought to close my mouth before any of the servants should see me with it agape. Kill people? I most certainly hoped not.