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Petersholme witnesses the first test flight of a V-1 and learns that his friend has an aeroplane. It's even designed to sit the pilot and 3 passengers. He's surprised at how easy it's going to be; there'll be no problem getting the 2 Jewish scientists and the Polish agent out of Germany. The flash point, however, is fast approaching.
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I woke as two boney, small elbows pressed into my chest and small knees rode hard against my lower ribs through the covers. I opened my eyes to find the room filled with bright sunlight and young Willi kneeling over me, studying me closely, his face only inches from mine. He smiled when he saw I was awake.
"Did anyone ever tell you that you have bony elbows?" I groused and rubbed sleep from my eyes.
"No, but we're going on a picnic, Herr Baron," he told me and shoved off me now that his intention to awaken me had been realised. He pushed himself over the side of the bed and went to stand in the pool of sunlight before the fireplace.
At that moment, I did not envy my German friend the dubious pleasures of fatherhood. It was only too easy to imagine that constant scrutiny by young, impressionable eyes and ears. The need to be always on one's guard. Becoming more completely awake, I realised that a young Willi was not something I was going to have to be concerned about -- not as long as Barry Alexander possessed my bed as thoroughly as he had before I left England.
I decided to treat the child as if he were a fully intelligent adult human being as I had the day before. "We're going on a picnic?" I asked.
He smiled and nodded. I could not imagine how a child could be so appealing, and Wilhelm von Kys was especially so. I wanted to hold him, to cuddle him. "There's a promontory -- you'll love it, Herr Baron. It is von Kys, of course -- all the land around here is. Nurse says Cook will fix us men her special chicken." He smacked his lips, brought his finger to his lips, and licked it as if he'd just held a piece of roasted chicken.
I cringed. I had no idea the Germans were so inept in child-rearing. Young Willi needed a year in Miss Murray's care to learn manners. He might well develop the thinnest veneer of being civilised under her tutelage. Even so, he was endearing.
His eyes rounded. "We'll take a bowl of Cook's very special potato salad with us too. You'll love that!" He giggled. "I can't tell you what she puts in it, but I saw her making it just before I came to wake you."
"I thought your father's rocket was to be -- whatever one does to a rocket?"
"That's why we're going on this outing, Petersholme -- to watch the first test firing."
I turned towards the door and saw von Kys standing there, leaning against the door jamb. He grinned when he had my attention. "You're going to love Cook's potato salad, my friend."
I glanced to Willi and back to his father. "I suspect I would prefer taking my immersion into fatherhood much slower, thank you."
Von Kys laughed. "The lad's been wanting to wake you since first light. Nurse and I had to be very emphatic, old boy."
I saw what the child was doing then. Von Kys' boy had a bright silver-painted tube and had begun to play as his father and I chatted. It took several moments for me to connect the sounds the lad was making to anything. Willi was pretending the tube was a rocket and making the appropriate noises. "Good God! Is that what I think it is?" I asked.
Janus entered the room and walked to where his son stood. "Show it to our friend, Wilhelm," he told him. Turning to me, he said: "This is a prototype of what we're testing today -- the V-1 rocket. We're that close to making the thing work."
I studied it as the child brought the tube closer. I saw the stubby wings and curving attachments that were miniature fuel tanks before the boy had reached the bed. At my side, he lifted the top quarter of the tube to show me what I knew would be the warhead on a full-sized version of the thing.
"Actually, the V-1 isn't exactly a rocket," von Kys said from the fireplace. "Rather, it is half a rocket."
I studied my friend, my brow raised in question, as I unconsciously ruffled the hair of the flaxen-headed lad at the side of my bed.
"It's more of a jet engine than it is a rocket engine, Petersholme. A much easier gadget to make."
I had never heard of a jet engine and I showed it.
Von Kys laughed at my confusion. A jet engine uses air and petrol -- much as a propeller-driven engine does. Only, it doesn't use a propeller."
I was beginning to understand. He was talking aeroplanes then. And that reminded me of my need to find an aeroplane. I glanced at young Willi playing with his rocket and making soft whooshes with his lips.
The lad was quite too good at regurgitating what he heard -- indiscriminately. I did not want to ask his father for an aeroplane and then have the boy telling his mother or her cronies that I had. Especially if I had not yet got the scientists and Polish agent out of country. I would wait until we were out in the open at this picnic and I had a chance to speak to von Kys alone.
"No propeller?" I asked, latching onto his last comment to stay in the conversation.
He smiled. "I doubt you would understand the physics of it, old boy -- especially as I remember how weak your comprehension of chemistry was. Suffice it to say that it works theoretically and even in laboratory. We'll learn if that translates into reality this afternoon."
Von Kys was silent for a moment and I realised he was studying me. "Here we are, dear chum, binding you to your bed -- how thoughtless." His gaze moved to his son. "Come, Willi, we must give the Baron time alone to bathe and dress -- so he can join us for the picnic."
"Thank you." I suddenly realised I had to relieve myself. Quickly. I glanced at the lad to see if he was going to resist or be reasonable. Willi chose to be reasonable -- in a way. He propped his elbow on the bed beside me and, looking directly at me, put his chin in the palm of his hand. "You will hurry, won't you, Herr Baron?" I nodded. "We'll wait for you in Vati's study then." He pulled back and, clutching his rocket tightly, ran to his father at the door.
Turning back, he held his toy rocket towards me. "I'll have to send my V-1 after you, Baron, if you're late." Janus took the boy by the hand and led him into the hallway and he pulled the door closed behind them.
I pushed back the covers and ran to the toilet off my room.
* * *
Jorsten set out lunch on an outcropping that rose perhaps fifteen feet above the water. The seagrass was thin and already turned brown with the arrival of autumn. Young Willi insisted that he show me his ocean as the corporal spread a cloth for our picnic. As the lad took my hand, I thought I saw the corporal nod to von Kys.
"Show our English Baron both Finland and Sweden from Landsende, Willi," his father told him while smiling mischievously at me. The boy immediately led me onto a nearly overgrown path that carried us down along the side of the promontory onto a thin shingle at water's edge.
I understood well what was beginning to happen on the outcropping behind us. I had known that mischievous smile of von Kys' for three years at Oxford. Knowing him, he had waited for us to disappear along the overhang before he reached for his Corporal Jorsten.
The German lad seemed nice enough and was quite handsome. I did not begrudge my old friend a few moments of sexual release. Nor did I mind watching his young son while he achieved it with his corporal.
As my feet tracked through the cold, muddy sand, however, I did mind that I was more than a thousand miles from where I increasingly found myself wanting to be. I wondered what Barry was doing. Had classes begun? No, not yet. That was still a week away. Perhaps he was entertaining students he and Eliza had already met and become friends with. I smiled as I wondered if Roger and his wife had yet managed to acclimatised themselves to having an eighteen year old American under foot. A mischievous one who so thoroughly complimented Elizabeth's own behaviour.
"You are daydreaming, Herr Baron," Willi informed me and tapped my shin lightly with the width of his shoe. "Come back. I do not like to be alone."
I chuckled at the plaintiveness of his tone. "And are you alone often, Wilhelm von Kys?"
He studied me, his arms at his side. "Too often, Herr Baron. There is only Nurse and Cook and Vati -- and sometimes Mutti. Oh! And sometimes Alexander."
"Nurse's friend. You met him yesterday."
Alexis Kolawaski. Alexander was the German version of the man's name. I nodded absently. So, that was how the man had managed not to be rounded up with other ethnic Poles. I wondered how Janus rationalised harbouring a Pole on his estate -- and a spy at that.
"You sound as if you have a full queue of friends, Willi."
"They're all grown-ups like you, Herr Baron. They're all servants except for Vati and Mutti."
I gazed at him and wondered how old I had been when I finally realised part of Miss Murray's interest in me was because she was paid to be concerned. I had been nine or ten years of age then -- double young Willi's few years. Even after I had known that a duty of the servants was to watch me, I had still thought of him or her as my friend.
"You begin school -- what? In two years time?"
He looked down at the sand and began to draw small circles with the toe of his shoe. "Yes. And, then, I shall really be alone."
"But, Willi, you'll meet a whole queue of lads your age, of your social position too. They will become your friends -- friends you'll have all your life."
"Mutti won't like that. Sometimes I think she wishes I wasn't even here."
"How could she?" I cried in surprise. "You're the most interesting boy I know. I certainly would like to be your friend."
"You would?" he asked, looking up and studying me again.
I nodded and knew I meant it. I did rather like the child. Pulling out my watch, I saw that we had given von Kys and his corporal thirty minutes already. "We should probably start back, don't you think?"
"Why? I like being here with you, Herr Baron."
"Because I want to try Cook's special potato salad before your father and Jorsten eat it all up."
He laughed and grabbed my hand. "Then, come, my friend. We need to hurry back or you will get none."
We had begun to make our way back when a sound pulled my attention back towards the sea. A roar. I glanced up to see if a storm had suddenly come upon us.
The sky was clear above us and I was momentarily confused.
The boy beside me giggled as I strained to peer into the distance at the sound. "It's Vati's security, Herr Baron. They patrol the shore in motorised boats."
I spotted something on the horizon moving quickly towards us then and watched it come closer to us, speeding towards us. A moment later, I discerned a second sound coming from the opposite direction, from near the island this child had pointed out to me yesterday on the balcony.
I watched as each boat raced towards the shore of our promontory and each other. They passed at less than a hundred yards from us. They each held two men dressed in Waffen-SS black. And I could not help but see the machine guns set prominently near the bow of each small boat. In each boat, one of the uniformed men leant forward to hold the weapon at ready.
Willi waved frantically as the boats passed each other and sped on. "They never wave back," he said with dejection in both his voice and face.
"Are they looking for someone then?" I asked without really expecting a reply as young Willi and I stood in the sand beneath the elevated rock.
"They patrol, Herr Baron. Every hour."
I knew with a sinking heart that there was no way Alexis could get the scientists to Poland by water. I needed an aeroplane.
Food had been laid out on the cloth and von Kys lay beside it, waiting for us. His face was still flushed from sex and he had discarded his tie, sweater, and jacket. He smiled knowingly at me as young Willi and I approached him.
"We saw the motor boats, Vati," the boy told him.
"Did they wave back at you this time?"
"They never do -- even after you say you're going to talk to them."
Von Kys nodded. "They have their assignments, Wilhelm -- and too many in the new Germany have already forgotten the fun that there is in just living."
Kneeling on the edge of the cloth, Jorsten asked his Graf if he wanted potato salad and leant to spoon a dollop on the plate he was holding.
"Dagi, fix a plate for Willi first, please." von Kys said and turning to me continued: "Do you remember as a child how they always served the adults first? I could never understand that -- it's the child who becomes hungry the fastest. He eats less at a sitting and burns more energy."
I nodded and watched the corporal as he looked to the flaxen-haired boy. Willi nodded to the uniformed man and smiled his thanks to his father.
After Jorsten had served the three of us, he pushed himself to his feet and made to leave us to eat. "No, Dagi, you shall stay with us," von Kys told him. "You are family with Willi and myself."
I blinked at my friend's slip and quickly looked out to the sea to hide my momentary embarrassment for him. Accepting one's paramour publicly, especially a lover from a lower class, was simply too gauche; but I suspected young Willi would not comprehend his father's breach of social behaviour. I pretended not to.
The autumn sun was warm despite the brisk breeze blowing off the sea. I pulled off my jacket and lay at one end of the cloth, propping myself up on an elbow as I ate -- as did my companions.
"I loved coming here as a child," von Kys observed, waving a jointed leg and thigh above his head to indicate the whole promontory. "I could lie just at the edge of the rock there," he pointed to the cliff face, "and stare towards Finland and Sweden and listen to the surf on the sand below me. It was as if I could see and hear the whole world, right here -- that I was at the edge of the world, studying it in its entirety." He smiled. "I hope Wilhelm as he grows older will love it as much as I have." He laughed and reached over to ruffle the boy's hair. "It helps to imagine yourself as a god when you're growing up -- then, if you do it properly, you can appreciate that things must work at their own pace, and why."
I had been relaxing, becoming hypnotised by the sound of his voice, the sound of the surf below us, the warmth of the sun, and having a stomach filled with good food. I was pulled from my stupor by the roar of the boats as they made yet another pass along the shore. I glanced at von Kys but he appeared to be paying them no attention. Jorsten, too, seemed oblivious to them. I realised Willi had curled up and was taking a nap. I smiled at the peacefulness that covered us all like a glove.
"Come, Petersholme," von Kys said as he stood. "I would show you the future -- at least, its birthplace."
I stood and followed him to the right side of the promontory. Below us and stretching for what seemed miles towards the east was a thin, muddy shingle of sand. He pointed towards the horizon.
"There, at approximately five kilometres -- you can just make out the top of the buildings -- is our base, Peenemünde."
I squinted and gazed towards the east. I thought I could just make out at least one building that must have been quite tall. "I think I can see them," I told him.
He chuckled. "Wait another half hour, my friend. You shall be absolutely sure you see it then."
I glanced about us and saw that Willi was still asleep and that Jorsten was cleaning up. I took a deep breath and said softly: "I need an aeroplane, old lad."
Von Kys turned to face me slowly. He kept the smile on his face. "That will involve me deeper than I can easily dig myself out, Petersholme."
"Your Jews cannot leave by ship as their families did," I explained. "You did ask me to ensure they were safe, didn't you?"
He nodded and shuddered. "Do you still fly?"
I smiled. "You can't take away that freedom from a man once he's tasted it, von Kys."
"They have mine, Robbie. It is illegal for a private citizen to own an aeroplane. It would be treason if the government knew I did."
"But you do have one?"
He nodded. "How many will you carry out?"
"Three. Your two scientists and the Polish agent..."
He chuckled. "So! Alexis is still here at Schloß Kys?"
I stared at him. "You know about him, don't you?"
He grinned more broadly. "It would appear that Nurse cannot do without him." He looked back at where Jorsten was folding the cloth. "I have kept my Dragonfly serviced, though I've not flown it in nearly two years."
"A De Havilland Dragonfly?" He nodded. "I saw one at an air show last year. It'll do nicely."
"It will be perfect, Petersholme. It sits the pilot and three passengers."
I shrugged. "That is nice. Alexis is of the opinion we'll need to leave tonight -- as am I."
"Is there a reason?"
"You're being watched by the Gestapo -- the Schloß is. The increased patrols along the shore. The removal of ethnic Poles from the area."
"So, we're being watched." He snorted. "I'd assumed as much. And, yes, we have completed this leg of the development, Petersholme -- whether this test succeeds or not. It would be just like the Reichsführer to kill my faithful Jews now that they've done their job. It would make Gisele a happy woman."
I raised a brow in question.
"She intends to visit Peenemünde as the Gräfin -- if we succeed today. With those two gone, there would be no Jews to muck up her sweet Aryan nostrils when she appears with her camera crew."
Von Kys saw that Jorsten was returning from the car and lowered his voice. "The aeroplane is in the lean-to about a kilometre west of where we stand now. You'll have to use the track that runs along the shore. It should be packed solid enough. You'll need petrol, but Alexis can take care of that. Just tell him that there can be no witnesses."
A quick smile played across my lips in acknowledgement. "You said you sold this delta island to the government?" I asked loudly enough for my voice to carry.
He laughed as Jorsten reached us. "I was lucky, what? But, then, it was more a swamp than anything. The saline content of the island's soil is so high that it's useless for planting." He looked back towards the car and beyond. "The Dutch do it, of course -- but reclaiming land from the sea is the only way they can have land. I have ten thousand hectare here, Petersholme -- most of it in cultivation. I didn't need Peenemünde or the expense of making it useful to me. The government was quite willing to take it and use it in ways no farmer would imagine."
"And if your project is successful, von Kys?"
He smiled and his pride was evident. "This will become the Adolf Hitler Space Port someday, my friend -- the centre of the solar system. They might even name a rocket pad after me."
"Fifteen minutes, Herr Graf," Jorsten told Janus.
I felt cold suddenly. Successful or not, the ability of the Germans even to be testing a rocket meant they were years and years ahead of Britain. I remembered again Molloy's fear of the things as weapons.
Von Kys grinned like a small boy and clapped his hands. "Yes. Oh, yes!" he whooped. "Finally!" He stepped quickly to Willi and, awakening the child, picked him up and came back to join us at the edge of the overhang. "Now we'll see what Vati has been working on, Wilhelm -- the future of Germany itself." He glanced at me and smiled. "Your binoculars, Dagi. I would ensure that the English Baron sees one of the weapons that will make the Fatherland invincible."
"Vati, may I use yours?" Willi asked and wiped sleep from his eyes. "I want to see too ... Please?"
"Of course, Liebchen," von Kys told his son and ruffled his head, pulling him closer to himself. "You're the one who must see what I've worked so long for."
I focused the corporal's binoculars towards the east. I found two buildings rising out of what should have been marsh along the shore and guessed I had found Peenemünde. I couldn't see much at five kilometres.
There was a sudden plume of smoke there across the dark sea and, a moment later, something began rising from the island. A speck even with the help of the binoculars, but one that seemed to grow quickly.
A wave of sound crashed over the promontory. A shrieking drone, rising higher and higher in the afternoon silence.
"We did it!" von Kys yelled. I glanced over at him and saw that he had begun to dance with young Wilhelm in his arms. He danced in place but his excitement was absolute. "We have done it, Willi! The eagle flies!"
I turned back towards the east and watched what had been a speck in the binoculars become a long cylinder-shaped monster seemingly heading directly at me. Its droning scream was deafening.
"My God!" I groaned as the monster passed over us in an unimaginable rush and the noise began slowly to abate. With the binoculars, I followed its progress as it rushed along the shore west of me.