Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Hard Luck Outfit: The Story of the 492nd Bombardment Group – Part 1

The U.S. Army Air Force’s 492nd Bombardment Group was brave and highly skilled, but it was their unlucky fate to find themselves, repeatedly, at the wrong place at the wrong time. And though they were faultless, for their sins, they got wiped out not once, but twice. The first time was by the Luftwaffe, which inflicted such heavy losses on them they had to be stood down and disbanded. The second time was by their own generals, who, rather than acknowledge their defeat, performed an act of bureaucratic legerdemain to cover it up and in essence, expunge them from history, where to some extent, they remain to this day.
Read the full story here

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Allied Spooks Call Doenitz on the Carpet

“Korvettenkapitän Cremer,” asked Doenitz. “Did you not suggest to me several days ago that we move the flying boats out of Flensburg harbor to the patrol station to the north?”

“Yes, Grand Admiral, that is correct,” said Cremer. He stood rigidly at attention, the way they always did when reporting to the Old Man. Ziggy was next to him, waiting for when the Grand Admiral’s wrath got directed at him, while in chairs a few feet away, two Allied officers glared at them with undisguised malice.

“Didn’t you also inform me that you were placing lookouts in the surrounding hills to keep an eye on them?”

“Yes, Grand Admiral.”

“So then, logically speaking, you should have known anything that might have been going on up there.”

“Yes, Grand Admiral.”

“But yet you profess to know nothing of the incident which took place last night. How is that?” Doenitz regarded them both icily. He was furious. Twenty minutes earlier the British and American officer had stormed into his office, accusing him of secretly moving the flying boats out of sight in order to allow a large number of former Nazi officials to escape. To defend himself, he called in Cremer and Ziggy, the two men who were supposed to keep him on top of these things. But instead everything they were saying made him look like a liar, or worse, a fool.

“Well?” asked Doenitz.

“Grand Admiral,” Cremer began. “At the time the incident at the cove took place, my men and I were involved in an operation at Schloss Glucksburg, assisting a British unit in an attempt to capture Reichsfuhrer Himmler, and therefore could not leave to investigate.”

Doenitz sat still, like an iceberg which had just become infinitely colder.

The British colonel raised his eyebrows incredulously. “Really?” he asked. “We are not aware of any effort by our forces to subdue the Reichsfuhrer.”

“Why wasn’t I informed about this?”asked Doenitz.

“Because it was a secret operation,” volunteered Ziggy and immediately regretted it.

“Secret? Secret from whom?” asked the American.

“Sir, we were asked not tell anyone so as not to jeopardize the operation’s success.”

“Told by whom?”

“A British intelligence officer named Major Westerby.”

The two Allied officers exchanged significant glances. For a second, Ziggy thought he saw just the tiniest glint of relief in Doenitz’ implacable mien, that perhaps this was all just a misunderstanding and that his trusted captains were merely doing what they’d been ordered.

“Were you?” asked the British officer. “And when did he call you to action?”

“Last night around 8:30,” said Cremer.

“You’re lying, Captain Cremer,” said the American.

“Captain?” asked Doenitz. “I expect you to tell the truth.”

“I am telling the truth,” said Cremer.

“Captain Cremer,” said the American. “Major Westerby has been dead for two days.”

“Murdered,” the British officer added.

Ziggy felt the coldness which always came over him whenever he learned a friend or former shipmate had died. Poor Westerby, he thought. He’d been right about the danger Franzi was facing.

“Actually, the request came from Major Westerby’s adjutant,” Ziggy said.

“Oh?” said the British officer. “And who might that be?”

“His name is Manni Loerber.”

There was a very long silence. The British officer stared at Ziggy. Doenitz stared at Ziggy. The American looked like he didn’t know what was going on.

“Manni Loerber?” asked the British officer in a shrill voice, like he knew he was being pointedly insulted. “Manni Loerber of the Flying Magical Loerber Brothers? Is this your idea of a joke?”

“My brother,” said Ziggy.

“Grand Admiral,” the British officer turned angrily to Doenitz. “What is going on?”

“Captain Cremer,” said Doenitz, coldly as before. “Explain what your subordinate is talking about.”

“Sir?” asked Ziggy.

“Not another word out of you, Loerber,” said Doenitz. “Captain Cremer, report.”

“Major Westerby approached us with his adjutant Corporal MacDonald, who it turned out was really Captain Loerber’s brother Manni, who then called us last night to provide support for an operation against Himmler. He never said anything about flying boats or anything going on in the cove, only to expect Himmler’s arrival sometime shortly after 10:30 at Schloss Glucksburg. But since the flying boat blew up at precisely 10:30, I assume he must have had something to do with it.”

“Corporal MacDonald?” countered the British officer. “I know for a fact that Major Westerby never had anyone working for him with that name.”

The American jumped in. “I think we can stop this part of the discussion right here.”

“But Colonel,” protested the British officer, “if this Corporal MacDonald knows something, shouldn’t we..."

The American cut him off. “This discussion is closed, Colonel.”

Ziggy watched them stare at each other; the British officer red with indignation, the American angry at having had to reveal that he’d been holding back on some key information. The British officer looked away from the American and, facing the window, asked, “So then, Captain Cremer, was this joint operation you describe successful?”

“No, the Reichsfuhrer and his men got away.”

“Perhaps this phantom operation was actually just a way of helping Himmler to escape?”

Doenitz bristled. “Colonel, I can assure you none of my people have been helping Himmler in any way,” he said. “We have been scrupulous in observing to the letter the terms of the surrender agreement and any suggestion to the contrary is an affront to the Navy’s honor.”

But the American was already in a hurry to wrap things up and get out. He stood up, forcing his British counterpart to do the same. “We’ve heard enough, Grand Admiral,” he said. “We’ll be making our recommendations to Supreme Headquarters. I can assure you that neither General Eisenhower nor the EAC will take any of this lightly. Good day, gentlemen.” And with that, they walked out.
(Excerpt from Germania, published in 2008 by Simon & Schuster, now also available on Kindle here).

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Killing of Wolfgang Luth: Who? What? When? ... Why?

“So who is Blood of Israel?” Ziggy asked.

Sebastian gave an ironic smile as he refilled their glasses. “Better you should ask who isn’t Blood of Israel?” Ziggy waited for him to elaborate but instead Sebastian said, “We’re buying land in Palestine, at least my group is. Putting in kibbutzes, nice places, everybody gets along, everybody shares. We’ve started raising vegetables, fruit, oranges, grapefruit, lemons, olives. Have you ever seen an olive tree, Ziggy? They’re incredible.”

Then Sebastian’s face darkened. “But of course, that’s just our group. There are others; anti-socialists, ultra-socialists, revisionists; the Jabotinsky’s, Lehi. More than you can keep track of. Most of the time we work together okay, but now it’s getting funny.”

“Is that what happened at the cove that night?”

“Honestly, I don’t know what happened. All I know was the day before there were all these Jabotinsky-types dressed as Luftwaffe. The next day they were gone. Even I get told only so much.”

“So how do we know this isn’t going to happen again?”

“Relax, there’s not that many people involved. And we only came up with our current plan yesterday when we got the fuel. Plus, the flying boats attracted too much attention. Everybody suddenly wanted to get into the act. No one will bother to think about midget submarines at all.”

“So how did you get the fuel?”

Sebastian shook his head and laughed. “I don’t mind telling you it was truly epic. The kinds of things that happen. We arrange to pump some from the minesweepers and right before we can do it, what happens? They get ordered north by the British. We divert a tanker truck full of diesel from the British, what happens? It gets hijacked by some Scottish infantry who for all I know probably have a deal going with Danish gangsters who’re taking over all the trucking in this part of Germany.”

“And then I realized the solution was right here under our nose. The German Navy might not have a drop to spare, but the Marineschule keeps a nice little store of its own for training cadets in handling large harbor craft. The British didn’t even know about it. It was just a question of finding a way of getting it released to us.”

“I’m telling you, it was a lot easier when the war was still on. Things were a lot more cut and dry. See a guy in an SS uniform, your first thought isn’t how can I get him to do things for me, it’s how do I slit his fucking throat for maximum effect and still get away.”

“And that’s what you did the whole war?” asked Ziggy.

“Well not the whole war. The real killing campaign only started this year, when it became easy to send people in. Before that, we’d infiltrate people into SS units and get information from them, occasionally blow something up, but mostly just basic intelligence stuff. Not that different from what Manni was doing.” Sebastian paused a moment, then added, “In fact, Manni’s been doing plenty of assassinations himself. He won’t tell you that, but our people spotted him in the Ruhr. Once he even got one of our people out of a Gestapo jail, without even knowing who he was. Just went in and did it. It’s not what the British hired him to do, but you know Manni, he likes to do things on his own.”

Ziggy shrugged. “War turns us all into killers.”

The parlor had striped wallpaper, peeling and weathered at the edges, with groupings of tiny framed paintings. There were so many, it was difficult to focus on any one. Ziggy looked at Sebastian, who had fallen silent, a troubled look on his face. His eyes avoided Ziggy as he stared at the wallpaper. Finally, he spoke. “Manni doesn’t think we should go to Palestine, ”he said quietly. “He thinks that once we get Franzi out we should take the gold and fly to Spain. We can keep the fuel money. Nobody knows about that.”

He paused again, rubbing his fist against his lips. Then he stared back at Ziggy. The light had gone out from Sebastian. Now all he looked was tired and desperate.

“I want to get away from this shit, Ziggy.” Sebastian dug his thumb and forefinger into his eyes. He let out a sniff. “I don’t want to keep doing this Blood of Israel. I’m tired of it. I’m tired of the killing.”

Ziggy stared at Sebastian. “But what about Palestine, Sebastian? I thought your dream was going to a kibbutz and raising olives?”

“Fuck olives,” mumbled Sebastian. “I’m tired of all this.”

“Tired of being a Jew?”

“No! Yes! No, of course not!” Sebastian let out a long sniff. “I’m tired of the cause. I just don’t want to be part of it anymore. I don’t want people pointing at me and saying ‘do you know what he did?’” Sebastian gave a sheepish grin. “Besides, how long would I last on a farm? A half hour? Fuck Palestine. Let's just go to Spain.”

Ziggy had to laugh. “If we go to Spain, we’ll spend the rest of our lives with everyone thinking we’re Nazis.”

“I don’t care,” sniffed Sebastian.

“How many times can you put the past behind you, Sebastian? I’m sick of new beginnings.”

Sebastian suddenly brightened. “But don’t you see? It won’t be a new beginning at all. We’ll be going back together, to what we were.”

“And how are we going to pay to get to Spain?”

“With the gold the SS gave us for the fuel.”

“What are you talking about?”

“When the SS agreed to give us gold to pay for the fuel, we still know Manni would have one of his own people taking over the fuel dock and we’d get the fuel for free.”

“Take over from whom?”


“Luth was in charge of the fuel?”

“He was rector of the Marineschule, wasn’t he?”

“Well yes, so you would have had to pay off Luth to get the fuel?”

“Yes, that was where everything stalled.”

Ziggy looked at Sebastian and suddenly felt everything crumbling around him. “You killed Luth?”

“Hey, we made him a nice offer and he wouldn’t take it. He acted like a complete prick. He even asked if we were Jews. Can you imagine that? After all we’ve been through, to have some God damn Nazi prick ask, ‘Are you Jews?’ I mean the nerve of some people!”

“You killed...Luth?”

“What do you care? It’s one less Nazi in the world. And he was a real Nazi, wasn’t he?”

“Yes,” said Ziggy, staring back at Sebastian. “He was also my captain.”

“I know who he was.”

They stared at each other in leaden silence. “Why did you have to kill him?”

“I beg your pardon, Zigmund, but do you think I need an excuse to kill a Nazi? You really have been in the Navy too long.” Sebastian shook his head incredulously. “If you have a problem with it, try remembering that we’re doing this for Franzi and to bring those SS bastards to justice.”

“And you killed him over fuel oil?”

“I did it for Franzi!” Sebastian’s irritation was now in the fore. “I mean this is stupid, Zigmund. You need to get over this. We’ve got a big task ahead of us and there’s not any point talking about some fucking dead Nazi.”

“It’s not about Luth,” said Ziggy, calmly staring at his brother as if from opposing cliffs. “It’s about Cremer and the men. If they knew any of this, they wouldn’t want to help you. And I’m not going to drag them into it. This is not how the Navy does things.”

Sebastian was furious. “Who the hell do you think you are? You’re suddenly too good for us? Have you already forgotten what you were a part of?”

Ziggy shook his head. “I’m through with this. I don’t want to talk to you again. Keep away from me and Cremer.”

“You’re going to let Franzi die, just so you and your men can keep your white gloves immaculate? I’m not going to let this operation go down because of your willful, high-handed selfishness.” Sebastian stared hard at Ziggy. “Don’t for a moment think we’re going to let you back out.”

(Excerpt from Germania, published in 2008 by Simon & Schuster, now also available on Kindle here).

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Rasch's Midgets Scuttled, Another Himmler Escape Foiled.

When they arrived at the inlet the sun was beginning to set. The midget U-Boats were clustered in rows along the side of a long pier, at the top of which sat a slightly larger harbor tug, like a shepherd overlooking its flock. On the dock itself, a crowd of sailors in denims and leather jackets were busily at work, loading supplies and making their final preparations. Even in the dimming light, he could make out Rasch, in his white commander’s cap, giving orders to his men and helping pass containers onto the boats.

Ziggy told his driver to park the kubel behind a row of upturned boats. “Sling your rifles,” he ordered. “I want this to look purely social.”

Rasch saw them approach and waved them to come forward. Walking toward the pier, Ziggy did a hasty count of the boats. Nine, ten, eleven, twelve, they were all still there. All over the dock, there were stacks of baggage and personal kit along with packages of food, canisters of water and fat round tins of motor oil. By the look of it, they had enough supplies to last each boat several days, certainly enough time to get them past Denmark, maybe even up to Sweden.

Rasch threw Ziggy a jaunty salute. “So you’ve come to see us off?” he asked.

“That’s right,” said Ziggy. “You’ve got your fuel?”

“Finally,” said Rasch.

“So, what’s next? Gelting Bay?” asked Ziggy.

Rasch nodded. “We should be there by morning. Then it’s just a question of waiting for our passengers to arrive. We’ve told them that if they’re not there tomorrow at six, we’re heading out without them.”

“Did they say where they’re going?”

Rasch shook his head. “I told them our one condition is a little stopover in Copenhagen. Intel reports there’s a nice fat British cruiser in the harbor, along with escorts and auxiliaries, all just asking to get sunk.” Rasch gave a wicked smile. “You know I’ve got room if you want to come along. I hear you’re good luck. What do you say, Herr Korvettenkapitän?”

Ziggy noticed some men stepping off the tugboat onto the dock and realized they were in SS battle dress. “What are they doing here?” he asked. “I thought you weren’t picking them up till tomorrow.”

Rasch turned to look at them, then raised his hand and gave them a wave. “Oh them?” he said. “They’re just the advance team. They’ll do the run with us and do the signals with the men on the beach. They’re all right.”

Ziggy stared at Rasch. The man was an innocent. He hadn’t a clue about what he’d gotten himself and his men into. U-Boatmen didn’t know the first thing about conspiracy or double-dealing. To Rasch, pirate or not, a man was as good as his word. Ziggy looked back at the SS men staring hard at him and knew he had to act.

“Kapitänleutnant Rasch,” he said coldly. “I must inform you that you are under arrest.”

Rasch looked confused. “You’re joking,” he said.

Ziggy fixed him with his eyes. “I’m not. You’re under arrest for insurrection.”

Rasch’s face turned scarlet. “Insurrection? I don’t believe this! This is all bullshit,” he snarled. “You set me up.”

The SS men could see that something was going on. One was reaching into his pocket. Behind Ziggy, his men swung their rifles in their direction. The SS men froze.

“Shut up, Rasch!” barked Ziggy, taking out his pistol. “All right everyone, listen up!” he shouted. “You’re all under arrest for violation of the surrender agreement. Everyone put down your weapons on the deck and form ranks. Now!” Ziggy half turned to his men standing behind him. “Petty officer, put the cuffs on him. Rasch put your hands out.”

“You’re crazy,” said Rasch. “We’ve got you twenty to one.”

“I said put your hands out, Rasch,” barked Ziggy. He looked at Rasch’s men. “I gave an order. Put down your weapons and form ranks!” He turned to his men, who stood wide-eyed behind him. “Get the cuffs on him, now!” he told the petty officer. Then he motioned to the other. “Any of these SS birds move the wrong way, shoot to kill.”

Nervously, the petty officer stepped forward, holding the handcuffs while the other kept his rifle at the two SS men. “Take your hands out of your pockets and drop your weapons,” he shouted. But the SS men didn’t move. Neither did Rasch.

“Listen to me, Rasch, it's over,” said Ziggy. “Even if they don’t hang you, do you really want to spend the rest of your life as an outlaw?”

Rasch glared back at Ziggy. But then his expression turned from defiance to angry resignation. He held out his hands and looked away as the petty officer snapped the handcuffs around his wrists.

“What the hell is going on?” shouted one of the SS men. “I can’t believe you’re going to let this prick tell you what to do. We’ve already paid you.”

“Raise your hands or I’ll shoot,” said the sailor with the rifle.

Slowly they put up their hands. “I don’t believe this,” one said.

“Petty officer, remove their weapons,” said Ziggy. He waited as the two sailors disarmed the SS men. Then he turned to Rasch’s men. “Prepare the boats for scuttling.”

Everybody looked at him in surprise. Rasch was livid. “What are you talking about, Loerber? This is a dirty trick.”

“You heard me,” said Ziggy.

“But you know scuttling has been forbidden.”

“Do you think I’m going to let you sail out of here to rescue Himmler and attack the British fleet?”

“Whose side are you on anyway?” frowned Rasch.

“Rasch, the war is over.”

“Jesus, you call this peacetime, Loerber?”

Ziggy stared at the handcuffed man in front of him and wondered how it had ever come to this. Having to handcuff a fellow officer to prevent him from turning gangster. “Rasch, we have our orders. We have to obey them, remember?”

“These are not the orders the Fuhrer gave us,” said Rasch.

“Rasch, the Fuhrer is dead. The Grand Admiral is in charge now and he says it’s over.”

“Oh come on, Loerber, you don’t really think the Old Man wants us to do that, do you?” Rasch shook his chains with exasperation. “Goddamn it, man! Half the British fleet is up there. You’re going to make us pass up an opportunity like that?”

“Rasch, for heaven’s sake,” said Ziggy under his breath, “I’m doing this to keep you guys from getting murdered.”

Rasch looked back at Ziggy and for the first time, it seemed like something was starting to sink into his thick skull.

“Captain Rasch, what do you want us to do?” one of the men called out.

“Do as he says,” Rasch told them sullenly. “Kirschbaum, Meyer, Stahlmann, get to it.”

“What about scuttling charges?”

“No charges,” said Ziggy. “Remove all lines, open sea cocks, leave the hatches open. How deep is the water?”

“Twenty feet, sir.”

“Fine. Then the British can recover them if they want them that much.”

The three sailors set to work, untying the subs from each other, then climbing inside each boat’s conning tower hatch to turn open the sea cocks. As soon as they were finished with one, they hopped off its deck, while others used long poles to push the boats away from the dock. For the longest time, it seemed like nothing was happening. Ziggy watched nervously as the sailors moved from one sub to the next, and it occurred to him that they might only be pretending to be following his orders. Why wouldn’t they? They were being paid in gold. How could obedience to orders stand up against that?

But then suddenly the first boat pitched forward and plunged into the dark water. A minute later another leaned over and sank.

Then he heard frantic shouting behind them. Ziggy looked down the pier and saw Sebastian and Cremer running up toward them. “Stop it! Stop it! What are you doing?” they shouted.

Sebastian grabbed Ziggy by the arm. “Make them stop!”

“Sorry,” said Ziggy.

“But Zigmund, this is madness.” Then Sebastian turned to Rasch’s men. “Everybody stop what you’re doing. Don’t let any more of those submarines sink. Save them! There’s gold in it for you!”

“Loerber, what do you think you’re doing?” shouted Cremer.

“Peter, I’m not going to risk our men in this operation.” He looked over at Sebastian. “He killed Luth. His guys will kill us just as easily.”

Sebastian looked shocked. “I can’t believe you’d say that!”

“Is this true?”

“Zigmund, how could you do this to me?”

“Will someone tell me what the hell is going on?” asked Rasch.

“You men!” shouted Sebastian. “Stop what you’re doing! Save the boats! I’ve got gold for you!” he pulled a small, shiny yellow ingot out of his pocket. “See?”

Rasch’s men stopped what they were doing and looked at each other.

“Don’t listen to him!” shouted Ziggy. “You have your orders. Carry them out!”

“Close the sea cocks, switch on the pumps!” shouted Sebastian.

“No! Don’t listen to him!”

The confused men stared at Sebastian and then at Ziggy. Suddenly their faces lit up with recognition. “Who is that guy?” one asked.

“He looks exactly like Captain Loerber! Is it his brother?”

“He just called him Sebastian ... Sebastian Loerber?”

The men looked at each other in amazement. “Does that mean Captain Loerber is...?”

“The Flying Magical Loerber Brothers!”

“Oh my God! Does that mean ...?”

“Sebastian Loerber is alive!”

“Sebastian Loerber is alive!”

“This is unbelievable!”

“What the hell is going on, Loerber?” asked Rasch. “Who is this guy? Is he your brother?”

“He’s the one running this operation,” said Ziggy. “Blood of Israel, pretending to be SS, pretending to be Blood of Israel, pretending to be SS, I’m sure he doesn’t even know.”

“Ziggy, you’re talking crazy,” shouted Sebastian. “Of course we’re not SS.”

Another sub dipped its bow and disappeared into the water.

“Ziggy, make them stop!” pleaded Sebastian. “I’ll explain it to you, I promise.”

“It’s too late, Sebastian,” said Ziggy.

“You’re going to let the biggest murderers in history get away, just so you can keep your goddamn self-righteous...”

“No, I’m not risking our men on any more of you harebrained...”

“Zigmund, we have to take the risk,” shouted Sebastian. “It’s for our people!”

“What’s he talking about?” asked one of the SS men.

“I have no idea,” said Rasch. “Loerber, what is going on?”

“It’s the family, isn’t it, Zigmund?” said Sebastian. “That’s the real reason you’re doing this!”

“Loerber, what are you doing?” shouted Cremer. “Stop the scuttling immediately!”

“It’s the Grand Admiral’s orders,” said one of Rasch’s men.

“Belay that. Loerber, did the Old Man tell you this?”

“Peter, I can’t explain this right now, you have to trust me.”

For a moment Cremer stood staring at Ziggy in confusion. But then Sebastian stepped in, swift and seamless as a breeze, sidling up next to Cremer, a pistol jammed hard against his neck.

“Zigmund, in the name of justice, you have to stop thinking like the rules still matter. Look around you! Don’t you see it’s all gone out the window?”
(An excerpt from Germania, published in 2008 by Simon & Schuster, now also available on Kindle here).

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Good-bye Berlin, Hello ... Welthauptstadt Germania!

That evening, still having several hours to kill before it was safe to drive off, they had another campfire. Manni and von Poser had snared a fat rabbit during the afternoon and now it was roasting over the fire. Somehow Manni had also acquired several bottles of dark beer and when the rabbit had turned crispy golden brown, the three had a feast.

For the first time, Manni was quite conversational. They talked about movies and the kind of cars they’d liked and which film actresses had the most oomph. Manni told them how he used to like to hike in the Hartzwald and about a sailboat he’d had for a few months. Listening to him, it was almost as if a spell had been broken and once again he had joined the world of humans. Still Speer kept wondering what the young man’s story was, what he wasn’t telling them.

Von Poser talked about a dog he had for a while in Russia. It was a black mongrel that he kept in his bunker. Then they talked about Indians and building teepees. Then Manni turned to Speer. “I know what you can tell me about, Herr Reichsminister,” he said.

“What?” asked Speer.


Speer couldn’t hide his surprise. “Germania?” he gave a wary laugh.

“Yes, wasn’t that the name for the new Berlin you and the Fuhrer had designed?”

Speer waved him off. “Honestly, I don’t want to talk about that. The whole thing was ridiculous. It was an opium dream that I wasted five years on.”

“Five years? That must have been a lot of work you put into it. You shouldn’t let it all just go to waste.”

“That is precisely what I intend to do,” snapped Speer. “Pretend it never happened and hope no one remembers it.”

“Not much chance of that happening,” laughed Manni. “It was something you and the Fuhrer dreamed up together. Do you think that once this is over, people won’t be clamoring to know all about it? Face it, Herr Reichsminister, if you manage to survive this war, and they don’t hang you as a war criminal, you’ll be explaining Germania to audiences all over the world just like you’ll be telling them about being the Fuhrer’s only friend. The least you can do is get your story straight. People hate inconsistencies.”

Hanged? thought Speer. For what? For being Hitler’s architect? His friend? He couldn’t see what Manni was trying to get at. Could he be an Allied spy? What did he know?

"Germania,” repeated Manni. “Tell me or it’ll be the Three Musketeers Minus One.”

Speer had to laugh. “All right,” he said. “How shall I describe it?” He stared into the fire and in the glowing embers, the images of the different buildings and monuments and grand boulevards began laying themselves out before him. “Start with a street, a grand boulevard running from north to south, three miles long and seventy feet wider that the Champs Elysées. At its southern end would stand the triumphal arch, bigger than the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, with the names of all the war dead chiseled onto it.

"At the northern end would stand the dome. Sixteen times larger than Saint Peter’s in Rome, with enough space inside for one hundred and fifty thousand people. Its mass resting on a granite edifice two hundred and forty feet high and over a thousand feet long, surrounded with stone pillars sixty-six feet high. On top there’d be a turreted skylight, crowned by a giant eagle and swastika. The dome would be surrounded by water on three sides with a large public square on the fourth side.”

“At the southern end of the street, just below the triumphal arch, would be the main train station, larger than New York’s Grand Central Station and in striking contrast to all the stone construction, it would be wholly modern, built of steel and copper and glass and have four traffic levels connected by escalators and elevators. Emerging from it, the visitor would face a basin of water thirty-three hundred feet long and eleven hundred and fifty-five feet wide. It would be clean enough for swimming and lined with boat houses, dressing cabins and refreshment terraces.”

Speer described them all one by one; Adolf Hitler Platz, the eleven ministry buildings, Soldiers’ Hall; a combination armory, veterans’ memorial and crypt for Germany’s field marshals, past, present, and future. Then there’d be the Grand Boulevard with its luxury movie houses and symphony halls, the twenty-one story hotel with the large roman-style pool, plus the opera house, the variety theatres, the numerous interior courtyards with their luxury shops where prestigious German goods would be on continuous display.

All this time Speer had been gesturing with a haunch of rabbit in his hand, like it was a pointer. Taking a big bite out of it he added, “The idea was to build it and keep it empty until the 1950 World’s Fair, which would be held there. Then it would belong to the world.”

“It sounds so wonderful,” said Manni. “Just think, an entire city without Jews.”

In an instant the meat in Speer’s mouth turned to sand. Why bring up Jews? Nobody talked about them any more. Speer saw Manni smiling devilishly at him.

“Are you a Jew?” asked Speer.

“What if I was?”

“Well you should know I had nothing to do with any of it.”

“Any of what, Herr Reichsminister?”

“We had to move people out to begin construction. It was only logical to give them the flats confiscated from the Jewish residents that had left.”

“Did they leave voluntarily?”

“I don’t know, that was something the Goebbels ministry handled.”

“Oh,” said Manni. “I guess that explains that.” There was an uneasy silence for a while and then he added: "Germania. I always thought Berlin was such a cheap, tawdry name.”

They got going soon after that, reaching Nuremberg just as dawn was breaking. The last five kilometers the autobahn was lined with the burning wreckage of army convoys that had been shot up during the night. Much of it had simply been pushed off the road where it joined older wreckage.

In the faint early light, the wreckage’s ghostly silhouettes resembled a field filled with the skeletal carcasses of ancient extinct beasts, though the stench of the burning ammunition, rubber, combined with that of dead and dying men, kept it from even a moment seeming like a fantasy. Even so, they all knew that in a little while their entire world would become just as extinct. Enemy daytime fighters were already beginning to appear with the dawn, flying low, attacking any vehicle which hadn’t already found cover.

They found the army headquarters hidden among the half-bombed factories just inside the city. Field Marshall Kesselring hadn’t arrived yet, they’d learned, but was expected at noon. With nothing else to do for the next five hours, they got themselves directed to a darkened corner of the factory where dozens of cots had been laid out and quickly went to sleep.
(A shorter version of this chapter appears in my novel Germania, Simon & Schuster, 2008, now also available on Kindle here).

Speer Escapes Berlin, Then Flies Back

Along the shores of Eutin Lake, in the vast refugee encampments that had sprung up there, Speer’s Ministry for War Production started to reconstitute itself. People from the different departments and sections began finding each other. Then they’d brought their tents and trailers together and started inventorying the files and equipment that made it out.

The drive out of Berlin had been a nightmare. Naturally, the order to evacuate came late. Ten thousand private vehicles which had been kept hidden and fully fueled for several years suddenly reappeared and converged on the one open road heading north. Everyone who could get exit papers: party fat cats, ministry bureaucrats, wealthy businessmen and military officers, along with their families and prized possessions, were all trying to pull rank and cut each other off. And just as suddenly, swarms of enemy aircraft came out of the clouds, strafing them with machinegun fire and dropping bombs. And then there were the checkpoints where stern-faced militiamen would examine their documents and send them back whenever they felt like it. It was hell. Getting to Schleswig-Holstein usually took only four or five hours, but with the traffic jams and blown up bridges, it had taken three days. But somehow in spite of it all, Speer and the others had managed to get out.

Surveying the scenery around him, Speer wondered whether things might actually start getting better now or whether this was merely the last moment before everything slid into complete chaos. People were walking around with the vague sense that if they looked hard enough they’d find there was someone running it all, that sooner or later, a bunch of trucks would show up and dig some regulation latrines or a field kitchen and someone would blow a whistle and gather everyone together to make announcements. But instead, there were only the militias and military police, whose involvement with them ended once they stopped moving from place to place.

Speer had spent the afternoon meeting with his deputies over what their priorities should be for re-establishing contact with different factories and power plants once the fighting was over. Some argued that since they were unlikely to get any guidance from above, they should take over the functions of the different industry and transport ministries to reduce any overlap. In the end, no decisions were made and they simply agreed to wait and see how things turned out.

Walking away from the lakeshore, Speer endeavored to find some solitude. He began heading across the fields toward a nearby wood. The encampment seemed to go on forever, everyone with their plot carefully staked out, guarding it as much from their neighbors as from strangers. Women tended fires, men fiddled with automobile engines and camp stoves. Everyone acted peaceful, but the tension was unmistakable. Not knowing what would come next was weighing on everybody. People couldn’t decide whether to eat all their food at once or ration it out and risk having it stolen. Having gotten this far, nobody had any petrol left and they worried that should there be an order to move, they’d have to ditch their cars. You could no longer tell who anyone was. On the trip up, all the Nazi Party officials wore their uniforms so that no one would dare bother them. But now, they’d put them away so that aside from their ample bellies, they’d look no different from anyone else.

Eventually he did get past the endless campground and found his way into open fields where there were no people about. Springtime had come to northern Germany. The grasses in the field were already getting long and there was a host of violets, daffodils and primroses among the stone walls and hedges separating the fields. Speer was glad to be finally by himself. Having so many of his underlings there from the Ministry, looking to him for direction, made Speer uneasy. He didn’t have contact with anyone from the administration of the Northern Zone. He knew that Admiral Doenitz was running it and he should report to him and see what he could do.

Most troubling thing about the camp was having Manni back. Strange as the Ruhr had been, once Manni had gone, Speer quickly compartmentalized it to the point where it no longer mattered that Manni had been an enemy spy and assassin or that Speer had unwisely confided in him. But having him back with him here in Eutin, hovering among his staff, his presence was jarring. But even so, Speer still found himself slipping back into the old routines. The other day Manni had come up with the juggling balls. Speer could have offered some excuse, told Manni he was busy, that he didn’t feel like it, but instead he nodded and they went at it. It started with the usual patter, then Manni bluntly asked him; “Any news from your friend?” Speer shook his head and Manni didn’t bother asking him anything else.

“My friend,” Speer said aloud to the trees and the grasses. He thought about the party and how in the end he’d walked out without even talking to him. He should have tried harder instead of just standing there, cloaked in his aloofness, waiting for Hitler to make the move. But neither did and now Speer was here and Hitler was in his bunker, surrounded by those horrible people. I was Hitler’s friend, probably his only friend, but when the time came, and I walked out on him.

Speer suddenly realized he was crying.

He came upon a road that cut across the field, and rather than continue on to the woods, he started up it. After a few minutes he saw small airplanes taking off and landing further ahead and realized there had to be an airfield somewhere nearby. He picked up his pace. Then a Volkswagen kubel drove up to him and stopped. Two military policemen with submachine guns stepped out and asked him what he was doing there. Speer showed them his papers and they offered him a ride to the airfield. Most of the aircraft that were landing had just flown out of Berlin, they told him.

They left him off outside the operations hut. Speer went in and asked to speak to whoever was in charge. A weary-looking Luftwaffe colonel came forward. “Yes, Herr Reichsminister?” he asked.

“Can you fly me into Berlin?”
(An excerpt from Germania, first published in 2008 by Simon & Schuster, now also available on Kindle here).

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Blood of Israel: Jewish Psychic Revenge on the SS

Himmler stirred in his seat. His breathing seemed almost mechanical, as if being controlled by an outside force. Franzi turned to look at him. His eyes were wide open, but unseeing, as if in a trance.

“Blood!” Himmler whispered.

“Reichsfuhrer?” asked Franzi.

“Blood! The Blood of Israel will have its vengeance!”

“Reichsfuhrer, are you all right?”

“The Blood of Israel will have its vengeance,” repeated Himmler. ”The Blood of Israel! The Blood of Israel! The Blood of Israel!”

“You want to tell me what the hell is going on?” demanded Macher.

“His mind’s been invaded,” answered Franzi. He tried shaking Himmler, but Himmler just kept shouting; “The Blood of Israel will have its vengeance! The Blood of Israel will have its vengeance!”

“Reichsfuhrer, snap out of it!” shouted Franzi. But Himmler kept going on and on. Blood. Vengeance. Israel.

“Colonel Macher, I think we need to stop the car now!” said the driver.

“Keep driving!” shouted Macher. “You, Loerber, get him out of it, now!”

Franzi grabbed Himmler by the arm, shaking it. Then he started slapping his face, but Himmler continued to shout, “The Blood of Israel will have its vengeance! The Blood of Israel will have its vengeance!”

The driver was beginning to lose it, and Grothmann looked rattled. “We need to do something,” he hissed.

Franzi bent down and pulled his medical bag from under the seat and began rooting through it. He found a bottle of smelling salts and stuck it under Himmler’s nose, but it didn’t even change the rhythm of his breath. Vengeance. Israel. Blood.

Franzi reached back into his bag and pulled out a crystal the size of a pinecone and held it against Himmler’s forehead. “Reichsfuhrer, wake up! Please wake up!” Nothing. Franzi was beginning to feel desperate.

“The Blood of Israel will have its vengeance! The Blood of Israel will have its vengeance!”

“Somebody do something!” yelled the driver, now on the verge of panic.

Franzidropped the crystal, pushed Himmler hard against the back of the seat and shouted at the top of his lungs, “Sebastian, stop it right now! You’re going to get me killed!”

Himmler stopped. Suddenly everything was quiet.

“How the hell did you do that?” asked Macher.

“I don’t know, Colonel,” answered Franzi.

Himmler yawned and stretched.

“You called out to your dead brother, didn’t you?” said Macher. “What does he have to do with this?”

Franzi stared hard at him. “Colonel Macher,” he began. “Rather than try to insult your intelligence with an idiot discussion about spooks and magic, let’s just say there’s stuff out there you don’t know anything about. Now I know you think what I do is bullshit, and, well, you’re mostly right. But Colonel, the biggest mistake people make about magic is believing they can open a door halfway. If the Reichsfuhrer had been more like yourself and just left it all alone, none of this would be happening.”

Before Macher could say anything, Himmler interrupted them. “I just had the weirdest dream!”

“How so, Reichsfuhrer?” asked Franzi warily.

“I can’t remember,” said Himmler. “But I’d really like to go for a walk right now. Driver, stop the car. Loerber, you will accompany me.”

“Yes, Reichsfuhrer,” answered Franzi.

“We’ll continue this discussion later,” said Macher. He rolled down the window and stuck his head out. “Five minute break,” he shouted.

Outside the night air was cold and Franzi sucked it in like it was liquor. He and Himmler started down the road, past the troopers who stared down at them from the back of the trucks, until they were away from the headlights. Then Himmler stopped and pointed up into the sky. “Professor Loerber, tell me what the stars say.”

Franzi looked up at all the low clouds drifting across the star-lit sky and for the thousandth time wondered what it was about stars that made people think they gave a rat’s ass about anything. He’d been gazing at them for years and they’d never given so much as a hint. But he needed to tell Himmler something, so he said, “The change is happening now, Reichsfuhrer. The whole grand cosmic order is shifting. A thousand years will pass and it will be nothing compared to what is happening tonight. And you, Reichsfuhrer, are at the very center of it.”

Himmler gasped. “What else do they say about me?”

“It is a moment of great danger,” Franzi went on. “But it is a moment of even greater opportunity.”

“So what should I do?"

“You need to go with the flow,” Franzi droned. “Stay the course, during all the instability, so that you will be the one left standing when the chaos has stopped.”

“Ahh,” said Himmler. “But go on.”

The words were now coming to Franzi independent of any strategy. “The first shall be last and the last shall be first,” he said.

“You mean the Jews, don’t you?”

“The last shall be first and the first shall be last.”

“Yes, it has to be the Jews,” said Himmler, sounding relieved. “It’s a good thing I buried the hatchet with them. It was the smartest thing I ever did. What else?”

“Beware!” whispered Franzi. “Beware!”

“Beware what?” asked Himmler.

“Beware the man.”

“Which man?”

Franzi had no idea which man. “The man who serves with both hands!” he said, pointing to one of the far stars on Orion.

“Are you talking about Eisenhower?”

Franzi pointed to the sky again. Himmler looked up. A flash in the sky appeared; a comet or a meteorite, blazing from the West to the East, before burning out and disappearing.

“My God!” exclaimed Himmler. “That was incredible. I didn’t realize you had such a powerful gift of prophesy!”

“You must warn Eisenhower,” Franzi said.

“Warn him about what?”

“The man who serves with both hands.”

“You’re talking about the traitor, aren’t you?”

Franzi felt a chill.

“It’s got to be those Cambridge spies Schellenberg was telling me about,” Himmler said excitedly. “Philby. He serves London and Moscow. That’s serving with both hands, isn’t it? I’ll have Schellenberg tell Eisenhower about Philby and the others. You’re right, it’s more than a bargaining chip. It’s our good faith measure. Professor Loerber, you are a genius.”

Then suddenly Himmler was in a big hurry to get moving again. “Come on, let’s not keep the Grand Admiral up all night waiting for us.”
(Excerpt from Germania, first published in 2008 by Simon & Schuster, now also available on Kindle here).

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Speer in the Ruhr: When Magic Fails

They were visiting the local offices of a deputy gauleiter, a short, fat, red-faced man, who they’d hoped would block an order to blow up a nearby series of canal locks. At first everything seemed to go well. “Whatever can I do for Herr Reichsminister?” he asked solicitously. Speer started with his usual bit about heavy industry being the lifeblood of the German nation, and then about “ultimate victory” and how the Ruhr’s infrastructure would be vital once the Americans got thrown back by the Fuhrer’s secret weapons, which, Speer let the deputy know, were now only days from completion.

But try as he might to come off humble and unpretentious, Speer could tell that the deputy really only saw things in terms of weak and strong; of someone mighty and sophisticated like Speer begging favors from a relative nobody like himself. There was something of the inequity of it which he couldn’t accept. The whole time Speer talked, he kept staring at Speer’s tailored gray suit and crumpled as it was, it still somehow made his own sumptuous party uniform seem liks a doorman’s.

At first Speer thought that perhaps he should just stand up and thank the man without ever coming to the point of his visit. Make an excuse, say he’d be back later. But he hesitated and before he knew it, Manni had taken over. “What we need from you is to sign these declarations to prevent the unnecessary destruction of the canal locks.” The man nodded. “It’s for the future,” Manni added. The man nodded again. He took his pen and flipped open the lid of a rather ornate eagle-on-a-swastika inkwell, dipped the pen into it and then started contentedly scratching his signature onto the first of several documents.

But then he stopped. He blinked and shook his head like a horse trying to jolt off a fly. It was like Jakob all over again; a detonation which couldn’t be controlled. His eyes flared at Speer.

“You! You! You betray the Fuhrer! Of all people, you Herr Reichsminister! You are the Fuhrer’s friend and you do this to him?” He stood up from his chair. “I’m going to have you killed!” he declared. Again and again he tried to pull his pistol out from its holster, but for some reason, his hand wasn’t able to find it. He opened his mouth to shout out something, but then suddenly, his eyes went blank and jaw dropped and he slumped back into his chair with a heavy plop.

“Quick,” barked Manni, grabbing the sheaf of papers off the desk. “We’ve got to get out now!” They ran down the corridor, causing the secretaries and typists and party functionaries to look up from their desks.

Once outside, Manni tossed von Poser the keys. “Colonel, you’re driving,” he shouted. “Drive fast!”

He got in the back beside Speer, pulling out several automatic pistols from under the seat, while looking out the back window. Just as Von Poser fired up the engine, the deputy gauleiter stumbled out of the building entrance, pistol in his upraised hand as he screamed at them like a rabid dog. He shot at them as he ran down the steps, striking the car, shattering its rear window.

Von Poser began easing the huge car out into the street, only to suddenly slam his foot on the brake when he saw a truck barreling toward them. More shots rang out, but this time none of them hit the car. Speer saw the deputy running out into the street, right into the path of the oncoming truck. It ran over his like he wasn’t there and kept going past Speer’s Mercedes. Von Poser waited until it had gone past, then pulled out, heading in the opposite direction. The last thing Speer saw as they drove away, was people running up to the deputy’s body.

Then he looked over at Manni and saw he was slumped against the door, the pistol fallen from his hand. “He’s been shot,” he gasped.

“Stay calm Speer,” barked von Poser. “Try to see where he’s been hit.”

Speer bent over the young man to check his face and chest for wounds, but other than some glass cuts he didn’t see anything. “I don’t see any wound,” he said, his voice quivering with panic. “But he looks like he’s dead.”

“Is he breathing?” asked von Poser.

Speer put his ear to Manni’s chest. He could hear breathing but it was shallow, like he was in shock. His face was ashen. Speer pulled open his eyes, but they were not reacting. “He’s breathing, but he’s out,” he told von Poser.

“Just keep an eye on him.”

Von Poser kept driving as fast as he could, swerving occasionally to avoid the potholes and debris. Speer pulled out a blanket and draped it over the young man. He tried to feel his pulse, but he couldn’t tell if it was even there.

A few minutes later they came to a checkpoint. The militiamen looked at the bullet-holes and the shattered windows without interest. Von Poser let them examine his papers.

“Where are you going?” one of them asked.

“We’re trying to find Field Marshal Kesselring’s headquarters,” answered von Poser. “Any idea?”

“How would we know?” one of the militiamen answered. “Everything keeps moving around. The Field Marshal probably doesn’t even know.” He pointed at Manni still lying unconscious in the backseat. “What’s with him?”

“He had too much to drink. His wife just died,” Speer answered.

The militiaman gave a wave of his hand. “You can go,” he told them.

They drove through the night, changing direction frequently and sticking to back roads where there were fewer checkpoints. Manni Loerber remained unconscious the whole time. Every hour or so, Speer would check on him. His pulse had returned and his breathing seemed almost normal, but nothing would rouse him. The roads were mostly empty now. There wasn’t fuel for convoys to move around much anymore. But in contrast to the stillness on the ground, the sky was full of constant buzzing. The allied fighters were everywhere, roaring low overhead without a moment’s warning. Somewhere before dawn they found an abandoned farmhouse on a hillside overlooking Detmold. Von Poser helped Speer carry Manni inside. They put him in the large bed and covered him with a blanket. Then they ate something, opened their bedrolls and went to sleep.
(Excerpt from Germania, first published in 2008 by Simon & Schuster, now also available on Kindle here).

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Hungover Speer After the Gun Battle at Glucksburg

Albert Speer woke up on the floor that morning with a splitting headache and a hangover and a sneaking suspicion that he’d been talking to Himmler during the night. Baumbach was asleep on the couch. He tried waking him up, but he didn’t budge. Seeing that it was already after nine he got dressed, ate something and tried calling below for his driver to get the car ready to take him to Flensburg. But to his surprise, the driver wasn’t around. No one was. It was as if they’d all disappeared during the night. Walking through the halls he noticed that some of the furniture was askew and a number of the lower wall panels had been smashed in. He went over to examine one and saw that instead of being stone, as he’d assumed, it was actually made of light wood, disguised to look like a carved slab. Groggily Speer shook his head, disappointed that cheap materials like this would be used for such a grand interior.

When he crossed the bridge to the forecourt he noticed that his Mercedes was missing. Could his driver have taken it and fled somewhere? It was possible. In the square outside, there were two shot-up, burned Navy kubelwagens which he knew with a hazy certainty could not have been there when he’d come in the night before.

It was a grey, cold, overcast morning that felt as if the spring had at the last minute relented and let the winter have the last say. Not knowing what else to do, he started walking towards Flensburg, glad he was wearing his trench coat to ward off the chill. After walking a few minutes in the fresh air, he felt almost alert. Then a British military police jeep stopped and, recognizing him, they gave him a ride into town.

When he got to Doenitz’s offices, the morning government meeting was already an hour underway. Speer shuffled into his chair, ignoring Doenitz’s glower as he did. The meeting was like every other he’d sat through during the last two weeks. The topic at hand was the banks and how they didn’t have enough currency on hand and what they should suggest the Allies let them do about it. It went on for another hour, during which time Speer did little besides stare numbly at the table’s surface. When it finally let up, Doenitz and the others ignored him, which was fine by Speer.

He met with his staff after that, listening to them discuss industrial matters. He noticed some of them were missing; they’d probably gone the same route as the driver with Speer’s Mercedes. Even if he hadn’t been so hung over, he wouldn’t have cared much. This whole thing was a farce anyway. Even if they could come up with constructive ideas for getting Germany back on its feet, the Allies weren’t going to listen.

He was disappointed, however, that Manni Loerber wasn’t around. He would have been the perfect companion for Speer’s currently much-diminished state of grace. Even Manni’s more vicious little barbs would have been welcome. This place lacked any kind of spirit, any kind of tension. At least when Hitler was alive, there was plenty of sarcasm to go around. He’d never imagined Doenitz was so humorless.

The afternoon trudged by with almost unbearable slowness. Speer finally got to hide himself in his office, staring at reports and trying to write some letters. At one time work had been a refuge for him, but now it was just empty drudgery. There was no challenge, nothing interesting enough to seize and absorb his intellect. None of it mattered. He was now nothing more than custodian to the memory of a no-longer-existent industrial power. He knew he should at least feel some pride at having saved as much of the Ruhr’s infrastructure as he did, but at the moment, it didn’t look like any of it made any difference. Nobody on the allied side seemed even remotely interested in getting any of it back up and running. He’d even heard that the Western Allies were considering turning Germany into a completely non-industrial agricultural nation.

Then at around four o’clock, one of his assistants came in looking very excited. He’d been with the others up at Schloss Glucksburg when a jeep full of American soldiers drove up and asked about Speer’s whereabouts. They said they’d been looking for him for more than a week and wanted to interview him about industrial issues. Would he be interested in cooperating with them?

Would he? Speer grabbed his raincoat and briefcase and hurried downstairs, where to his delight, his Mercedes was waiting for him along with the driver ready to take him back to the Schloss.

(This is part of a chapter that got cut during the edits of my novel Germania, first published by Simon & Schuster in 2008, now also available on Kindle here).

Friday, October 11, 2013

Felix Kersten, Himmler's Miracle Masseur, and Franzi Loerber, the Man Who Replaced Him

The history books tell us that Reichsfuhrer SS Heinrich Himmler suffered from terrible stomach cramps brought on by the stress of being possibly the greatest cold-blooded mass murderer in history. As Nazi Germany's fortunes kept getting worse and worse, so did Himmler's stomach spasms.  The history books tell us that during this time Himmler was completely dependent on his Finnish masseur Felix Kersten, the only man who could take his awful pain away. The history books also tell us that Kersten was an important intelligence conduit who, working through Swedish Red Cross chief Count Folke Bernadotte, kept back-channel communication going with Eisenhower. The history books tell us that in March, 1945, Kersten flew to Stockholm with SS intelligence chief General Walter Schellenberg, for some high level discussions with Bernadotte and possibly Allied intelligence officials. They also tell us that when the meetings were finished, Kersten decided at the last minute to remain behind in Stockholm and take care of personal business, which left the increasingly frantic and stressed-out Reichsfuhrer in a bit of a quandry.  The history books don't tell us how he managed to cope without Felix Kersten's magic fingers. For that, you need to read my novel Germania.

Kersten is on Schellenberg's mind one day in April 1945, as he's flying down from Stockholm to persuade Himmler to finally take action to depose Hitler:

"There must be immediate action," Bernadotte had told him. "Force Hitler to step down, arrest him, kill him. How you do it is not our concern. Just get it done.”

That was what Schellenberg really needed to tell Himmler, and perhaps in a perfect world, he would. But he knew from experience how terribly skittish his boss was when it came to things like this. Anything requiring definitive action sent him into one of his massive panic attacks. His stomach would go into spasms and next thing he’d be screaming for Kersten, his Finnish masseur, to come in and take the pain away. Schellenberg didn’t want that to happen this time because Kersten wouldn’t be there. He was supposed to fly back with Schellenberg from Stockholm, but at the last minute he’d made up some excuse and stayed behind. That put Schellenberg in a doubly sensitive situation, since he’d have to force Himmler into making a difficult decision without having Kersten on hand to rescue him.

With a Finnish passport which allowed him to come and go seamlessly, Kersten was the Reichsfuhrer’s secret envoy to Allied intelligence. Schellenberg had flown up with him the day before to see Count Folke Bernadotte, head of the Swedish Red Cross and a member of the Royal Family, who was their intermediary to Eisenhower to explore ways of making a deal to end the war.

Needless to say, the meeting with Himmler doesn't go well. When Schellenberg pushes him to stand up to Hitler, Himmmler suffers one of his panic attacks:

Suddenly Himmler clutched at his stomach and began shrieking in pain. “It’s starting again, Schellenberg! The pain, it’s tearing me up!” he screamed. “Aaahhhh, I can’t take this! It’s killing me, it’s killing me. Call Kersten. Get him in here at once.”

“Reichsfuhrer,” said Schellenberg calmly. “Kersten is still in Stockholm.”

“Aaaaaaaahhhhhh!” Himmler shrieked as he thrashed about on the couch. “Do something, Schellenberg! Do something! I can’t take it.”

Schellenberg went to the door. In the outer office, Himmler’s adjutants, aides and secretaries all waited in hushed terror. “Shouldn’t we send for Kersten?” suggested one of the women.

“Kersten isn’t coming back,” said Schellenberg. “Is there anyone else we can call?”

Everyone looked at each other helplessly. There wasn’t a doctor Himmler would let touch him. There was only Kersten. Nobody could take the pain away like Kersten. Nobody could listen to him and give him advice like Kersten. In the next room Himmler screamed like he was being gutted.

“There has to be somebody,” repeated Schellenberg.

One of the adjutants shifted nervously. “Ummm, there’s Sub-lieutenant Loerber from the Astrology Branch. He’s supposed to be pretty good.”

Himmler shrieked louder.

“Then get this Loerber up here on the double!” ordered Schellenberg.

Franzi Loerber is one of the fictional Flying Magical Loerber Brothers, who were the toast of Berlin's cabaret scene before the war. After spending the whole war in bureaucratic anonymity as a Russian spy in the SS astrology department, Franzi gets suddenly elevated to the post of Himmler's personal masseur and psychic advisor:

Schellenberg remained where he was, nodding at Franzi not to mind his presence. Franzi noticed the thick spectacles lying on the desk and realized that without them, the Reichsfuhrer probably couldn’t see anything. Franzi finished with the abdomen and began working the chest, the shoulders and the arms. He kneaded the muscles, methodically working his fingers deep into them, following the strands up to their ends, then moving to the next. All of them felt expended, moribund; as if having been rid of their pent-up tension, they were now unwilling to recover any of their former elasticity. Himmler’s body was a mess, shapeless and puffy, no tone, color like paste. Hadn’t he ever taken any exercise? What kind of food did he eat? A man in his position could eat anything he wanted. But this was the body of someone who kept himself going on cheap sweets and canteen food. He couldn’t understand how anybody could do that to themselves.

“You’re very good,” said Himmler, after Franzi had worked on him for fifteen minutes.

“Thank you, Reichsfuhrer,” Franzi answered.

“No, I mean it,” insisted Himmler. “You’re very good. You might even be better than Kersten. I haven’t felt this relaxed in a long time. I want you on my staff full time. What is your name?”

“Loerber, Reichsfuhrer. Lieutenant Loerber. I’m with Ahnenerbe.”

Himmler seemed surprised and delighted at his answer. “Loerber? As in the Flying Magical Loerber Brothers?”

“Yes sir. I am Franzi.”

Himmler let out a laugh. “And ten years later, you’re here exactly when I needed you. It must be karma.”

Germania was first published in 2008 by Simon & Schuster, and is now also available on Kindle here.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Speer and Baumbach: Drunk at Schloss Glucksburg.

Placing his feet on the table, Baumbach pushed himself even further backward to get a fuller view of their visitor. The man just stood there looking so comically angry that it made Speer giggle. Then suddenly he realized the man was Himmler and in an instant the drunkenness dried up in him. He struggled to his feet. “Reichsfuhrer, I’m sorry, I didn’t recognize you!” he said.

Boiling with anger, Himmler stepped into the room, followed by several tall SS men with machineguns in hand. He smiled icily. “It was a nice try, Speer,” he said. “But once again you were not successful.”

“Whatever are you talking about, Reichsfuhrer?” asked Speer. “I haven’t done anything.”

“You’re not the Reichsfuhrer,” protested Baumbach. “The new Reichsfuhrer is Gauleiter Hanke. I know. I personally flew him to Prague in a helicopter.”

“Be quiet!” Speer hissed. “I’m sorry, Reichsfuhrer, he means no disrespect. Please, is there something I can do for you?”

“What makes you think, even for a second, that you are entitled to my gold, Speer?” seethed Himmler. “I never took your things. Why are you trying to take mine?”

“But I haven’t done anything,” said Speer.

“Done anything?” Himmler cried. “You and your friends just tried to kill me, tried to take my gold! But it didn’t work.” Himmler gloated and raised his finger threateningly. He started accusing Speer of foiling his escape plan, taking over command of KG-200, blowing up his flying boat and oddest of all, selling him to the Jews. And now he was here to settle accounts.

“No, Reichsfuhrer, you’re completely wrong. I-, we- haven’t done anything. We’ve been just sitting here getting drunk all evening. There must be a misunderstanding. Isn’t that right, Werner?” Speer turned to Baumbach, but he had fallen asleep on the couch.

For the first time Himmler stared at Baumbach. “What’s Baumbach doing here? He was supposed to be on the airplane, dead.”

“Sorry?” asked Speer, thoroughly confused. But then, seeing that Himmler’s confusion was even greater than his own, he stepped forward and the next thing he knew, some other part of himself, shrewd, implacable and unaffected by alcohol, had commandeered his mouth, laying out iron-clad reasons why neither he nor Baumbach could have had anything to do with the incident Himmler had escaped from. He assured Himmler that he had never, ever done anything disloyal to him- in fact, he had spoken up for him to Doenitz that very day.

He went on, making complex explanations, and to his surprise, saw Himmler nodding at the different points he was making. Then Himmler waved him to silence. “In that case, Speer, yes, there is something you can do for me.”

“Yes, just tell me what it is, Reichsfuhrer, and it’ll be done at once,” Speer heard himself say.

“I need another airplane, Speer.”

“Yes, of course, Reichsfuhrer,” said Speer. He suddenly felt the waves of drunkenness washing back over him. He wanted to sit down. He wanted to get rid of Himmler quickly so he could go lie down. He wanted to go to the bathroom, but he knew he couldn’t ask Himmler to hold the thought a second while he left the room.

“I need it now, Speer.”

“Yes,” agreed Speer. “Let me see what I can do.” An airplane. He imagined snapping his fingers like a headwaiter. An airplane at once for the Reichsfuhrer! “Airplane?” he repeated. “Yes, ummm, come to my office first thing in the morning and I’ll have it taken care of at once,” he said.

Himmler glared at him. “Not in the morning, Speer. Now!”

“Yes, Reichsfuhrer.”

Himmler was getting angry again. Speer tried to summon up the eloquent person inside himself to explain for him again, but that person seemed to have wandered off. “Ummm, unfortunately under the current circumstances,” he paused to stare at the swimming ceiling, “my current brief as Grand Admiral Doenitz’s chief of ummm, economic and industrial,” his knees were beginning to buckle, Himmler’s face now a grotesque caricature of something from some other time. “Does not allow, allotments of unauthorized,” he imagined having pliers to grab words with, the words like fish, fish like airplanes. “Ummm, airplanes to, ummm current or former members, of the previous government, in accordance with Grand Admiral Doenitz’ explicit, explicitly express, uhhh...agreement with the Allied Control Commission.”

Allies?” shouted Himmler. “It would seem to me, Speer, that you are considerably more concerned with insinuating yourself into their good graces than with preserving Germany’s life spring! You always thought you were better than the rest of us, that you were exempt, just because you were the Fuhrer’s favorite. Now you think because there is a new order taking hold in Europe, you can just disassociate yourself from us and become part of it. Well it’s not that simple. They have to have a reason to want you.

“Let me tell you something else, Speer. There are still numerous changes about to take place, changes which you couldn’t begin to grasp. Being able to design buildings isn’t enough. Now they’re going to want someone who knows what’s going on in the streets, someone who understands the forces of destiny, of karma. You’re nothing more than a grubby little technocrat, Speer. You will never be Eisenhower’s architect!”

Speer felt the words cascading past him and wondered how long it would take for Himmler to tire and either shoot him or just go away. He was staring past Himmler and his aides to the doorway and to his shock saw Manni Loerber wedged between two men like he was their prisoner. Speer stared at Manni, but Manni looked away as though he didn’t know him. What was going on?

And somewhere in his drunkenness, Speer remembered that time in the Ruhr when he’d told him, “If you ever want to trap Himmler, all you have to do is wait outside my office for him to show up in the middle of the night.

“...for the karmic convergence requires very specific...”

ThenSpeer noticed a shadow moving behind the men in the doorway. From nowhere a hand clapped itself over one of the troopers’ mouths. The other hand was clutching a knife which plunged into the man’s neck. Immediately the body went limp and was pulled noiselessly into the darkness. A moment later the same thing happened to the other trooper. The way they were taken, both seemed almost compliant in letting their throats be cut.

The assailant emerged, looking directly at Speer, finger on his lips. It was Manni, clearly Manni. He smiled at Speer for a second as he tapped his brother on the shoulder. A look of sudden understanding flashed through his eyes, then he too disappeared.

Suddenly there was machinegun fire outside. Himmler’s aides sprang to action, pushing Himmler behind them, running up to the doorway and firing shots into the corridor. There was a rapid exchange of fire farther down the hall.

“They’ve killed Bauer and Schmidt!” somebody shouted.

“How’d they get in here?”

“I don’t know.”

“We have to go now!” one of them shouted. “Reichsfuhrer, stay behind us!”

Speer pitched forward, collapsing onto the thick carpet. He gazed up to watch Himmler and the others leave. Outside there was a gun battle going on. But he couldn’t tell what was real anymore and what wasn’t.

(Excerpt from Germania, first published by Simon & Schuster in 2008, now also available on Kindle here).

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Death of Admiral von Friedeburg as Observed by a British Guard

After accompanying von Friedeburg back to his quarters, the British soldier barked at the admiral’s orderly to help him pack. The orderly nodded and began opening the drawers of the admiral’s bureau and stuffing their contents into a suitcase. The soldier sat down on von Friedeburg’s bed and lit a cigarette, casually flicking the spent match onto the floor.

After staring at his suitcase for a minute, Von Friedeburg turned to him and said he needed to use the bathroom. “Help yourself,” the soldier replied, “just keep the door open.” He accompanied him to the bathroom and stood his post outside the doorway, to keep an eye on him.

And perhaps if he’d kept his eyes fixed directly inside the bathroom, everything might have worked out all right. But instead he turned and allowed other things to wander into his field of view. Nice things, shiny things, expensive silver, gold, bronze and marble things, sitting on the Admiral’s bureau and sideboard. Leaving his rifle resting against the wall, he strolled over and began helping himself to whatever came his way: a silver cigarette case, a plaque, a small clock, a bronze figurine, an ivory letter opener, an ornate magnifying glass. And while he was at it, he also took the Breton lace doilies that they’d been resting on. So enrapt was he in gathering spoils, he never noticed the bathroom door shutting until the sound of the key turning in the lock roused him from his beguilement.

Alarmed, he ran to the door and hammered on it with the butt of his rifle. His mission had been dirt-simple; deliver the prisoner alive with his bag packed. As long as he fulfilled that, he could get away with stealing anything he fancied. But they’d made a point of warning him against just this sort of thing. Only a week before, Preutzmann, one of the SS leaders, had committed suicide while in custody. And this guy was a lot higher up on the Nazi food chain. He was head of the Navy!

Finally the door came open and revealed the Admiral already slumped over on the toilet, his eyelids in their last flutter, his face beginning to turn blue, and everywhere the bitter scent of almonds. He’d taken cyanide!

The soldier ran back into the bedroom, where the orderly stood helpfully, but disinterestedly at attention. “Get a doctor!” he shouted. “Now!”

(This is a chapter that got cut during the final edits of Germania, first published by Simon & Schuster in 2008, now also available on Kindle here).

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Nazi Government in Flensburg, Doing What All Governments Do: Growing.

The subject that afternoon was fertilizer; nitrogen fertilizer. The nitrogen fertilizer needed to grow corn, corn to feed hungry people, but more importantly, to feed the draft horses which were in turn needed to plow farmland on which to grow more corn to feed more hungry people and more draft horses.

And in order to do this, Grand Admiral Doenitz told the assembled cabinet members, they needed to reactivate, on a priority basis, Germany’s nitrogen works. “Speer, how long would it take to bring them back on line?”

Speer stood up from his chair and started recounting the steps necessary to get gunpowder plants converted to fertilizer production. If they had the electrical generation on hand, and sufficient numbers of skilled repair crews, there was no reason something couldn’t be operational within a week. But, more likely, they would have to bring the electrical power plants on line first. With luck and a lot of cannibalization, it could be accomplished in two weeks. Rail lines would also have to be brought back up so that coal could be transported to the power plants and depending upon what bridges were still up, that might take another week in addition to that.

“So what you’re saying, Speer, is that it could take anywhere from one to four weeks to get the nitrogen production started?”

Doenitz was looking at Speer in complete seriousness, as though it hadn’t occurred to him that everything they’d been discussing existed purely within the realm of fantasy. The reality was that all the nitrogen works and electrical power plants were in Allied hands and the Allies had so far shown not the slightest inclination to listen to any suggestions the Doenitz government might make about getting Germany’s industries back in operation.

Doenitz sat at the head of the table, correct and steely-eyed as always. Schwerin von Krosigk, the Chancellor and Foreign Minister, sat to his left while Speer, in charge of the economic portfolio, sat at his right. The other ministers and advisors sat around the table, all of them looking very serious. Doenitz’ government was now ten days old. At its inception, it consisted of the three of them and a geographical realm which, besides northern Germany, included all of Denmark, Norway, Bohemia and Crete, plus fragments of Russia, Latvia, Belgium, France, Greece, Italy, and even the British Channel Islands. Now, there were more than a dozen ministries, several special departments and more than sixty typists, clerks and other staff members. The government’s territorial jurisdiction, on the other hand, barely extended beyond the gates of the Marineschule.

They’d go in each day and have meetings, explore problems, issue orders and try to establish some coherency amid the chaos. But what effect any of it had was hard to say. Whether their orders would be carried out, or, for that matter, even delivered, was largely beyond their control. The all-powerful Allied Control Commission was a bureaucratic hydra which stood in their way, without having any clear plan of its own. From time to time, its members would show up and nose around and issue orders and directives, whose meaning they usually seemed at a loss to explain.

The discussion on fertilizers went on another twenty minutes and then they moved to the next topic on the agenda; churches. The question was whether a portfolio should be added for religious affairs. Dorpmuller the Transportation Minister suggested it might be a good idea, given everything the German people has just gone through, it was necessary that a Christian moral culture be re-instituted in the state.

People bristled at the idea. “Are you suggesting that just because National Socialists weren’t Christian, they weren’t moral?” one of the ministers countered.

“All I’m saying is we need to go back to old, traditional values. For more than a thousand years the Germans have been a Christian people. We need to emphasize that point both to ourselves and to the world. I think it would also be a good idea to embrace contemporary Christian theology of human dignity.”

“Do you have anyone in mind?” asked Doenitz.

“Yes, I do, Grand Admiral. I think Dietrich Bonhoffer would be a perfect candidate. Last I heard he was still alive. We should see if we can locate him.”

While an aide was dispatched to make some calls, the topic changed to banking issues. There wasn’t enough money on hand to pay state employees or to fund purchases of emergency foodstuffs from Sweden and Portugal. The question boiled down to asking the Allies permission to print an emergency issue of Reichsmarks. They were discussing it when the aide returned to inform them that Pastor Bonhoffer had been executed by the Gestapo two weeks before.


If the present is simply the intersecting point between past and future, then Flensburg was that unrepeatable circumstance where the two merely brushed against each other, like two party guests eyeing each other as they wait for an absent host to come and make the requisite introductions. And while the past normally stands solid and unalterable and the future is but a swirling cloud of possibility, in Flensburg the opposite seemed to be the case. Here the future appeared fixed, bright and obvious, while the past was a murky shifting shadow, best not dwelled on, for its details seemed to change hourly.

And nowhere was optimism toward the future stronger than in the Doenitz government. The fact that it continued to grow was all the proof some people needed to believe that they had put themselves on the ground floor of a very prospective enterprise. They began seeking more and better furniture, larger offices with more windows and all the other appurtenances with which to demonstrate their recovered status.

Those stranded in the past, on the other hand, found themselves searching frantically for something, anything, which might help them ascend. Some lobbied for the creation of an ‘inter-ministerial working group’ to study undefined problems, others sought diplomatic passports, medical certificates or, failing that, a few sheets of office letterhead, as a protection against Allied arrest.
(Excerpt from Germania, first published by Simon & Schuster in 2008, now also available on Kindle here)

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Blunt and Philby Discuss Schellenberg

For some reason, popular culture likes to portray Nazi Intelligence chief  SS General Walter Schellenberg as a cool-headed, thoroughly competent spymaster.  Others, including myself, take a markedly less generous view (see my earlier blogpost here). According to at least one historical source, Schellenberg had a meeting in Stockholm at the very end of the war with a British intelligence officer who turned out to be Anthony Blunt, a Soviet mole and member of the notorious Cambridge spy ring.  Below is part of a chapter I wrote for GERMANIA, which ended up getting cut, in which Blunt meets with Kim Philby, another member of the Cambridge spy ring. Enjoy!

“Moonpool, you say they call it?” asked Kim Philby a few hours later.

Blunt nodded. He had taken the evening flight back to London and gone straight to Philby’s club. “Some bad news,” he told him.

Listening to Blunt’s description of what Schellenberg had told him a few hours earlier, Philby’s nimble mind was already busy coming up with plans of action. “I’d say this definitely calls for a crash meeting,” he said quietly. Moscow needs to start moving immediately before someone else gets their hands on it.”

“What else do we need to tell them?” asked Blunt.

“They’re going to want to know who else is looking for Himmler right now,” said Philby. “What can you tell them?”

“From what I understand it is a rather biggish manhunt. Though I daresay most of those doing the hunting haven’t a clue. I know the main hunt is being led by some Colonel Herzog. But he’s a tanker, turned cop.”


“Rather. His father used to be chief rabbi in Belfast.”

“Great,” said Philby, visibly not impressed.

“I’ve heard Westerby’s on it too.”

“Westerby? Jesus!” Philby let out a laugh.

“Yes, last I heard he was sneaking around Monty’s headquarters, being a thorough pain in the neck to everybody. The Americans have their boys out, but at this point it’s unclear how far they’ll get in the northern sector.”

“Aren’t there some American intelligence people attached to British 21 Army Group?”

“Yes, but I gather that at this moment they’re all probably too busy getting drunk and screwing frauleins to be any kind of real threat.”

“So you’re saying Westerby is the only one we have to worry about?”

“Yes, actually. Speaking of Jews, I saw a report the other day about a bunch of rampaging Yids, out to settle scores and kill as many Nazis as they can find. I imagine they’re looking for the gold too. They call themselves the Blood of Israel.”

Philby snorted contemptuously. “That’s pathetic,” he said. “I think this is all going to be a walk in the park. Who besides Schellenberg knows the particulars about Moonpool?”

“It appears the management is being run by one of his adjutants; a Major Steiner. It also appears that Steiner has a boyfriend with whom he’s been engaging in a lot of pillow talk.”

Philby looked impressed. “Name?”

“You’ll love this, Kim. Remember that SS lieutenant they kept asking us to find out about? The fortune teller?”

Philby had to think about it a moment. “You mean Franz Ferdinand Loerber?” Philby was nearly aghast. “Him?”

Blunt smiled.

Philby let out a huge laugh. “Well I reckon that would explain why they were so interested.”

“So I gather.”

“So what kind of a man is this Schellenberg?”

Now it was Blunt’s turn to laugh. “I have a feeling that most of what he thinks he knows about the British Secret Service came from reading a lot of cheap novels. Honestly, I’ve met Americans who had a better sense about it than he did.”
First published by Simon & Schuster in 2008, Germania is now also available on Kindle here.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Albert Speer Dreams of Greenland

To just fly away.

What a thought! To separate oneself from all the details and involvements and get away to a place where life was down to its essentials. He could leave all this behind. Why not? They could take off in a flying boat in the middle of the night and by sunrise they’d be halfway to Greenland.

At least that was how it seemed to Albert Speer while he sat through another morning cabinet meeting. Doenitz sat at the head of the table, correct and steely-eyed as always. Today’s topic was housing. Some bright boy from the transportation ministry was explaining how to mass produce worker housing. It would mean organizing construction into separate phases; one crew putting down piping followed by a concrete bed, the next crew would do the framing, another prefabricated side panels, another a roof and then a finishing crew would put in the electrical wiring and the interior. He argued that with a force of two hundred workers, operating in teams, they could build thirty single-family cottages in a week. The idea was that they could quickly supply semi-permanent family housing for areas where there were high priority factories and industrial sites, but a shortage of usable dwelling space. Speer watched Doenitz nod as he listened to the young man describe the processes and the breakdown of logistics, as though he agreed that under the right circumstances it might actually work. But as it was, they still had not gotten a single go-ahead from the Allied
Control Commission on any of their proposals. They hadn’t even gotten an acknowledgement that the proposals had gone anywhere besides the bottom of a desk drawer.

Eventually the subject switched to renewed Allied demands that the Doenitz Government hand over Reichsfuhrer SS Heinrich Himmler. “I’ve told them again and again that Himmler is beyond my control and that I haven’t seen him since I turned down his request to be in my government,” Doenitz told them. “Now they are claiming to have spotted him inside Flensburg the night before last. I intend to respond that I don’t know anything about it. But please, if any of you hear anything, even just a rumor, bring it to my attention immediately. Anything positive we can tell them would probably help.”

While he listened, Speer began absentmindedly making doodles on the sheet of paper he had for making notes. He started with a small circle, then he began surrounding it with smaller circles, until it resembled a daisy. After that, he started putting down vertical lines, then horizontal ones, and then, almost without realizing it, he began sketching a house.

He started with the front door, making it wide and curved at the top. Then he drew the windows: a square one on the right and a long rectangular one on the left, both the same height, with shutters on the ends. After that, he drew in flowerboxes. He then put in vertical lines, one on each end, to mark out the sides of the house. He followed these with horizontal lines; one to mark the top of the roof and the other the bottom. But no sooner had he drawn them than he realized it had been a mistake. The roof was too low. He wanted to put in a second story, one with a balcony and a long bank of windows and a door. He took out a small gum eraser and began carefully removing the top horizontal lines. Looking up, he saw Doenitz glowering at him. Speer put down more lines. Staring at it, he realized how much more he preferred small-scale to large-scale. Yes, small-scale suited him better. In school, his building designs were all for small-scale structures. That was where the original Speer was, but would anybody bother looking at his designs and trying to figure out where Hitler’s gargantuan influence left off and Speer’s more reasonable, intimate sensibility took over? Was there a chance that someday someone of rare talent and understanding might declare ‘Here! You see! This element is pure Speer! See how the simple, elegant lines emerge!’ A nice thought, but that might take centuries.

Abandoning his straight lines for the moment, Speer’s pencil began making squiggly lines and shapes on the paper to represent the irregular outlines of icebergs. Speer stared at the paper and imagined watching the sunrise from high above the shimmering north Atlantic. Flying west, he’d probably have to leave the cockpit and go aft to find a window he could observe it from. He thought of listening to the heavy drone of the aircraft’s six engines with his hands on the cold metal bulkhead and his nose pressed against the glass and seeing the first rays of light spread across the dark surface of the water, then filling in to reveal the waves’ white foam.

Back in his office, Speer stared out the window and suddenly realized the giant flying boats were gone from the harbor. For a moment he felt a rush of panic as it occurred to him that Baumbach might have flown away without him.
(An excerpt from Germania, first published by Simon & Schuster in 2008, now also available on Kindle here).

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Road to Del Rio XII: From Wandering Bluesman to Corporate Singing Cowboy

Just as Herbert T. Barrow might be the last man in the world to see the face of God in anything, even when staring God himself in the face, he is also the last man in the world to see himself existing anywhere on a corporate ladder. He's just a wandering bluesman, playing streetcorners and saloons to anyone with a nickle or dime to put down. True, at the moment, he's found himself a nice little $5-a-day radio gig shilling laxatives and singing cowboy songs over the Mexican Border Blaster, XER, but that's all it is. Every day he rides a taxi across the border into Mexico, does his show, collects his five bucks, rides the taxi back to Del Rio and that's pretty much that.

When Part II of Friend of the Devil opens,  Herbert is standing in the local offices of his employer, the Royal Consolidated Chemical Company, summoned by Christine, the imperious, just-out-of-secretarial-school receptionist and so far, the only person from the company he's ever actually met. She tersely informs Herbert, that from now on, he is to submit for review a playlist of the songs he's going to sing five hours before each day's show. This strikes Herbert as odd, since up until now no one from the company has shown even the slightest interest in what he does on the air. In the world of border-blaster radio, only one thing matters; how well a performer can "pull mail." A singing cowboy might well be the best yodler on the planet, but unless he can persuade listeners to order products and send in money, he's useless to them. Apparently Herbert, or 'Cowboy Slim Gatlinburg,' as he calls himself, pulls in mail just fine. Though Christine invokes the name of their never-seen boss, Mr Klingman, Herbert guesses it's merely something she's concocted to exert control over him and other would-be minions. Instead of writing anything down, he reels off a list of made-up song titles, and before she can say anything, Herbert bids her a good day and leaves.

Once outside, standing in the bright Texas sunshine, Herbert sees it's noon and time for lunch and strolls over to the Tastee Diner for a bite. Along the way, he greets people on the street he knows. At this point Herbert has been living in Del Rio about three months. Things have been going well for Herbert, so well, he's almost allowed himself to forget the craziness he'd gone through riding with Bonnie and Clyde, being pursued by Texas Ranger Captain Frank Hamer, as well as a band of fortune hunters and always with God and the Devil nearby, watching over it all, and betting on what they think Herbert might do next. But as tempting as it might be to dismiss it all as nothing more than a very bad dream, Herbert knows with complete certainty that these last three months of peace are nothing more than a between-the-rounds respite and that it's just a matter of time before Mr. Stevens and the Other Guy start it all up again.

Little does Herbert realize that the clockwork, corporate and celestial, has already started turning around him.

Following is an excerpt from Friend of the Devil, available on Kindle.

“What do you want, Mister Stevens.”

“Besides that song, nothing much. Wanted to say hi and to tell you there’s no hard feelings and that, you know, I still owe you a favor, anytime you might want to collect on it.”

“So, are you and, that guy, still got a bet going on me?”

Stevens frowns. “That guy? Are you talking about God?” The way he says it suggests he half expects the man might come suddenly and smite us both silly.

“He never gave me a name,” I tell him.

Stevens chuckles. “Well, you know, he has lots of names.” He fingers his beard reflectively, then adds, “but don’t we all?”

“Answer my question.”

“Oh, we’ve always got a bet going over this or that. The fate of the world can be such a complicated thing.”

“Plus the side bets.”

“Oh, yes,” say Stevens, his eyes twinkling like he’s glad someone’s finally gotten this colossal joke of his.

“And so that’s where the real action is, isn’t it?”

Stevens smiles.

“Does he understand that?”

“Hey!” Stevens rolls his eyes as might a young girl. “I have no idea,” he says. “When somebody’s eye is always on a bunch of sparrows, it’s hard to tell what else they might or might not understand.”

I don’t say anything. He looks like he’s about to leave. But then he turns back and asks, “So, are you going to sing my song or not?”

“It’s your song?”

“You said it yourself, man pays the money, so it’s his song,” he says.