Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Road to Del Rio VIII: En Route to a Crime Spree with Bonnie and Clyde

Upon hearing the endless radio reports claiming that he is about to join up with Bonnie and Clyde as their criminal mastermind, Herbert does his best to flee Arkansas and then East Texas, but all he succeeds in doing, is running directly in their clutches. For several days he’s their prisoner/guest in a succession of remote abandoned farmhouses which they are using as hideouts. Though Clyde promises to let him go, that day never seems to come. They spend their days smoking marijuana and playing Clyde’s saxophone and talking about their home back in Eagle Ford. It’s not altogether unenjoyable for Herbert, who is at least grateful to not have Stevens or the Other Guy in his face.

Then one day, they pack up and drive off on one of their multi-state crime sprees. Clyde drops all pretense of ever letting Herbert go. He tries to impress on Herbert all the advantages of joining their outfit. Most of the reasons seem to involve fame and meeting girls. But Herbert refuses for a number of reasons, the first being that having already killed too many men in the war, he’s dead-set against ever picking up another weapon again.

But Clyde is adamant:

"Look at us! We’re just a couple of two-bit hoods on our last legs. With you on the team, we could rule the headlines again.”

“I don’t care,” I say. “Now I told you I ain’t packing and that’s final!”

Clyde and I stare knives at each other. But Bonnie has an idea. “You know, we can always have him carry me in and out, like a porter.”

Driving through Texas, it all seems like a skylark with lots of high-spirited talk between Clyde and Bonnie with Bonnie endlessly sneaking playful but hungry looks over at Herbert. It isn't until nightfall when they reach the Oklahoma border, that things start feeling serious. They have an evening picnic in a city park just outside Elmer, Oklahoma. After eating, Clyde decides to have a nap on one of the picnic tables. Herbert half expects Bonnie is going to try for some alley-cat action while Clyde snoozes. But instead, she becomes very serious.

For once, Bonnie doesn’t start messing with me. She sits at the end of the bench meditating on her Chesterfield, and the town lights across the field. Does it occur to her that at this moment, once she walked across the field, she could probably disappear into the city of Elmer and go back to a normal life and never get caught? But she’d never do it. Without Clyde, she’d never get the levels of excitement and drama she requires. She has to be the kind of gal that they write romance stories about, not the kind who reads them.

Bonnie crushes out her cigarette. She turns around and says to me in a low voice: “Herbert, you’d better not fuck us up tomorrow. You understand?”

She glares at me, her head quavering, eyes tear-filled and blazing, like she’s half a moment from busting out into a massive crying jag. Then she pushes herself back to her feet and hobble steps over to the other side of the picnic table and crouches down onto the bench where she can caress Clyde’s sleeping head.

She brushes her fingers against the curl of his forelock. “Oh, Daddy,” she whispers, like she could be in church.

After that they drive almost non-stop for several days, sticking mainly to back roads. Finally they reach a prosperous little town in Missouri called Munson. Seeing a grocery store with lots of cars parked in front of it, they decide it's time to swing into action: Clyde goes in first, pistol in hand, followed by Herbert carrying in a shotgun-wielding Bonnie:

“All right, this is a stick-up!” he shouts out. “Nobody move!” He walks up past all the folks with their arms up and goes to the cash desk. He sticks his pistol in the lady’s face and says, give me all your money, now! And he puts a bag on the table and the lady empties out the whole cash drawer into his bag. Even where I am, I can see the fat wad of bills. Unless they’re all ones, we’re going to be pulling all right here.

Bonnie taps my arm. I let go of her and she hop-hobbles over to Clyde, who hands her the bag. Then she hobbles over to the clerk, points her pistol in his face and growls. “Cloverine Salve! All you got!”

Once Clyde has emptied the cash drawer and taken everybody's purses and billfolds, they start their exits.  Clyde heads out first, with Herbert and Bonnie taking up the rear. I lift her and carry her up toward the door. When we get there, she taps on me to turn. I carefully rotate ourselves clockwise so Bonnie can point her pistol back at everyone lying face-down on the floor. Down at the counter, Clyde is loading a last wallet in his bag. Then he gathers it together, holding it with the same hand as the sawn-off shotgun. He nods that he’s leaving, points his guns to the ceiling and starts moving up our way. I turn and push open the door and lift and carry Bonnie outside into the parking lot. Bonnie waves her pistol in every direction as we run over to the Ford and get in. Clyde lets off the brake, gives it some gas and we’re heading up that road.

An hour after that, we rob a filling station and then a little after that, another roadside grocery store and another filling station after that. Each is a piece of cake.

Hours later, they park in a secluded spot and divvy up the loot.  Assuming Herbert is every bit as charged from the robberies as he and Bonnie are, he renews his plea to Herbert to quit being odd man out and start carrying a gun. But Herbert won't budge:

He turns back to face me. “Booger, I ain’t talking anything permanent, just long enough to tide us over and till we can get another boy.”

I don’t like the sound of this, either. I fall back into my seat and start actively thinking about being riddled with machine gun bullets.

Bonnie turns and gleams sweetly at me like I’m just a boy and she’s someone’s older sister. “Come with us, Doc,” she purrs. “It’ll be fun! Wouldn’t you like to see Missouri?”

“I’ve seen it,” I say.

“Don’t be sore, Doc. Daddy’s just crazy about you.” She pouts. “You know, sometimes I think he likes you more than he likes me.” 

(Friend of the Devil, by Brendan McNally, available on Kindle)

Saturday, July 27, 2013

USSBS Tries to Grill Speer on Berlin Jews, Breaks for Lunch

“Experts and planners simply did not appreciate that the social and economic life of a large city will survive even when its physical structure is severely damaged. Life has a way of going on. Housing proved to be a highly elastic resource; bombed-out families doubled up with relatives and friends or were re-accommodated in factory dormitories or barracks or even schools. Transportation is much less elastic, but even there much can be done; non-essential travel can be restricted, sight-seeing busses diverted into the regular transit system, empty cabs filled and people can turn to bicycles.”

“I don’t mind telling you I was surprised myself how quickly everything was back up and running after bombings. Factories were relocated, machinery got shifted to intact buildings. Workers were put on second shifts where previously there had only been one. Everyone kept working and morale stayed high.”

Ken Galbraith held up his left hand while he continued scribbling furiously with his right. “Professor Speer, when you talk about housing being unexpectedly elastic, I’m wondering, can you tell us the degree to which the apartments and homes of people sent to concentration camps enabled this shifting?”

“That’s an interesting question,” allowed Speer. “I am sure it must have had some positive effect, but I do not have any information on this issue. Perhaps you should pose this question to Transport Minister Dorpmuller.”

But Galbraith wasn’t satisfied. “But weren’t you in charge of the forced deportations of the Berlin Jews?”

Speer frowned. “I think what you are referring to is that just before the war, as General Architectural Inspector for the City of Berlin, I did give orders for the forced evacuation of several Berlin neighborhoods, or approximately twenty thousand apartments which would be demolished to make way for the planned Grand Avenue and the urban structures which would be built along it. It is true that these did involve numerous Jewish-owned flats, but they also included even more flats that were occupied by non-Jews. And while I did give the orders for the demolition of these neighborhoods, the evacuations themselves were carried out by the Goebbels ministry.”

“Aren’t we getting a little off-topic here, Ken?” said Paul Nitze.

After that they broke for lunch.
(Excerpt from Germania, Simon & Schuster 2008)

Monday, July 22, 2013

Speer in the Ruhr: Speer's Rebellion Against Hitler's Scorched-Earth Orders Ends

In the town square, a solitary soldier stood by a dry fountain, calmly smoking a pipe, two panzerfaust rockets resting at his side. At von Poser’s direction, Manni stopped the car, got out and walked across the square toward him. He seemed to regard their approach with little interest.

“Hello soldier,” said Speer.

The man said nothing.

“Where is everybody?”

He jerked his head around to indicate all the executed. “They’re all here.”

“Who did this?” demanded von Poser.

“Koehl, the Party Chief,” answered the soldier. “He declared the town a fortress, demanded everyone fight to the death. Nobody wanted to.”

“So where is Koehl?”

“He left.” The man grinning like he’d wholeheartedly endorsed Koehl’s decision at the time.

“Then what are you doing here?”

“My orders are to wait for the Americans,” he said, pointing down the street with his chin. For the first time Speer was aware of the nearby rumbling of tanks.

“So what are you going to do when they get here?”

The soldier smiled. “Oh, they’re here.”

The rumbling grew louder. The soldier tapped the ashes out of his pipe and put it away in his side pocket. Then without saying anything, he picked up the two Panzerfausts and walked to the edge of the square, taking up a position behind the corner of a building. Up in the distance a large tank with a white star had turned the corner and come into view.

“Come on, let’s get out of here,” said von Poser.

But Manni had an idea. “You know, we can just let them take us,” he suggested. “Five minutes from now it’ll all be a different story. Come on. What do you say?”

“For Christ’s sake,” said Manni. “All that stands between us and the safety of the American lines is that shovelhead? Let’s go!”

Von Poser looked at him angrily. “You can do anything you want,” he hissed. “But this is not what we came here for. We are not deserters. Let’s go, Speer.”

Speer turned to leave. He looked at Manni. Manni shook his head. “It’s been fun, Speer.”

Speer nodded.

“Keep practicing.”

“I will,” said Speer and started hurrying to get back to the car before the tank had made it to the square. Von Poser looked relieved when he saw Speer was alone. “Well, so much for that,” he grunted as he turned the car around. Speer didn’t say anything.

“Speer! We could juggle our way to freedom.”

“Goodbye, Loerber.”

They found the rest of the German army a few miles to the East. An expectant mood had come over the soldiers, like they believed their war was nearly over and in just a few more days they’d be home free. “Would you mind moving your car somewhere else, Herr Reichsminister,” one of them asked. “We don’t want their artillery spottersunnecessarily zeroing in on us.” A couple soldiers laughed. Then a wild pig came out of the woods, bleeding from a stray bullet, squealing wildly as the soldiers chased it around. Not bothering to ask directions, Speer and von Poserdrove east. They ate supper with a factory director he’d known from the old days. Afterwards he produced a bottle of cherry liqueur and they finished it off watching the sun set over a horizon of bombed-out factories. They got going soon after that, driving through the night and reaching Nuremberg just as dawn was breaking.

The drive itself was uneventful, except for the last five kilometers where the autobahn was lined with the burning wreckage of army convoys that had been shot up an hour earlier. In the faint early light, its ghostly silhouettes resembled a field filled with the skeletal carcasses of ancient extinct beasts, though the stench of the burning ammunition, rubber, and men, kept any of it from seeming remotely like a fantasy. And they’d all been his animals, his machines. And now in a few more days they’d all be just as extinct.

That was when von Poser turned to Speer. “Do you know how many times I took my daughter to see them? We must have seen them twenty times. We did it for years. The Flying Magical Loerber Brothers. I wonder what the others are doing? Ziggy, Franzi and the other one. Sebastian.”

“I wonder. And Manni.

Enemy daytime fighters appeared with the dawn, flying low, attacking any vehicle which hadn’t already found cover. But by then he and von Poser had already put the netting over the car.

They found the army headquarters hidden among the half-bombed factories just inside the city. Field Marshall Model was expected at noon. With nothing else to do for the next five hours, they got themselves directed to a darkened corner where dozens of cots had been laid out for officers and quickly went to sleep.

An hour later someone was tapping his side impatiently. “Reichsminister Speer?” It was a stern-looking captain with a pocket torch.

“What is it?”

“I’m to escort you to the airfield,” he said. “There’s a plane waiting to take you back to Berlin. Fuhrer’s orders.”
(Excerpt from Germania, by Brendan McNally, Simon & Schuster, 2008, now also available on Kindle here)

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Smoking Cigarettes and Waiting for the Rain to Stop with Admiral Von Friedeburg

They were put into a clapped-out Humber and driven out to the Luneberg aerodrome, along with a dozen members of Montgomery’s staff who were being sent with them. But by the time they’d reached the airfield, the drizzle had turned into a downpour and they were informed everything had been grounded. They were taken into a hangar where chairs had been set up for them; ten for the British contingent, and a few feet away, two for the Germans. There was a large hole in the re-enforced concrete roof through which rain poured into a Messerschmitt fighter, whose after section had been crushed by a massive chunk of fallen concrete. The little airplane stood on its front wheels, wings still bravely stretched out, but with its nose pointing helplessly upward. They faced the wrecked airplane in meditative silence. It seemed to Ziggy like it was in pain.

Under the propeller, its wide, ovular air intake gaped in outraged protest, like the screaming horse in Picasso’s Guernica. In the cold glare of emergency lights, the rain falling through the hole glittered like snowflakes. It battered the forlorn wreckage, pelting the glass windscreen, rolling down the wings in heavy rivulets, and dripping from the propeller blades.

The British officers exchanged bits of conversation with each other, but it had been so long since Ziggy had used his English, it seemed more like birds’ chirping than anything else. He couldn’t tell what the Admiral’s state was. He made Ziggy feel restless. They’d been together since early afternoon, and except for screaming at him that one time, von Friedeburg had barely acknowledged his presence. Now they were apparently destined to be together for another couple of days and he had a feeling it was going to be the most thankless duty he ever pulled.

Ziggy wondered what was going to happen now that the war was ending. Had the Allies found out about all those camps the SS were running? There’d be hell to pay once they did. Everyone was already scrambling to disassociate themselves with them. It gave him a certain grim satisfaction.

Ziggy noticed a heavyset British officer wandering around the hangar, rifling through tool cabinets and drawers. He didn’t seem to be part of the delegation; there certainly hadn’t been a chair set up for him. The seated officers kept looking at him and exchanging terse noises among themselves, until finally the general in the group murmured something to his adjutant; the adjutant said something to the aide and the aide got up and went over to the man as he went through a tray of screwdrivers. There was a brief, inaudible exchange of words and a moment later the aide sheepishly returned to the adjutant and muttered something. The adjutant turned to the general and ran his forefinger down the side of his nose. The general nodded and the whole matter was dropped. The man continued going through the drawers, handling the tools and acting like he was the only one there. Except Ziggy knew the man was watching him.

It went on like this for a while before the man at the tool rack looked back at the aide, gesturing with a thrust of his chin toward Ziggy. The aide got up and walked over to Ziggy. “Major Westerby would like a word with you,” he said.

Ziggy stood up. “I’d better go see what he wants,” he said to von Friedeburg, who didn’t react.

Seeing Ziggy approach, the man dug into an inside pocket of his duffle coat and pulled out a packet of cigarettes.

“You’re Major Westerby?” asked Ziggy.

The man nodded. “How is your Admiral?” he asked in perfect Berlin German. “Do you think he’ll be fit enough to perform his function?”

“He’ll do what he has to,” Ziggy replied.

Westerby nodded approvingly, then offered him a cigarette. Ziggy hesitated. It would be nice to know how he was expected to conduct himself in the situation. Could the bounds of icy correctness be stretched to include smoking a cigarette over business? He stole a look over at von Friedeburg, who seemed oblivious. The British officers, on the other hand,stared at them intently.

“Let’s go around the corner,” Westerby suggested. He led Ziggy to a spot along the side of the hangar where they were protected from the rain by the overhanging roof. Ziggy let him light his cigarette.

“I saw you perform many times at the Blue Diamond,” said Westerby. “Your brother Franzi was a friend of mine. In fact, both your brothers are friends of mine.”

Ziggy looked again at his face, trying to recognize him. He wasn’t sure. Between the four of them, there had been constant traffic backstage of friends and acquaintances.

“Look Major,” said Ziggy. ”If you don’t mind, I’d rather not make this a social occasion.”

Westerby ignored him. “The reason I’m asking,” he said, “is we’re trying to learn Franzi’s whereabouts.”

“How would I know where he is?” asked Ziggy. “I’m in the Navy, not the SS.”

“My understanding is you saw him two days ago when the Reichsfuhrer came to Naval Headquarters in Ploen. He’s apparently become part of Himmler’s inner circle.”

Ziggy didn’t say anything. How could Westerby know that?

Westerby continued. “As I understand it, part of your falling out with your brothers came when they joined the SS and Nazi Party. I’m wondering if you’re still as big an anti-Nazi as you were before the war.”

“Major, if you don’t mind, I’ll just smoke this by myself.”

“What if I told you that neither of them are what you think.”

“Major Westerby, if you’re trying to drop broad hints that they’re both Allied spies, then I already know.”

“Well if you know that, then perhaps you can tell me who Franzi’s been working for?”

“Well, the British, of course.”

Westerby explained that Franzi was actually a double agent of sorts. He’d started out working for Moscow, but then around the time he’d begun having second thoughts about them, Manni - who by then was working for Westerby - convinced him to share the information he was sending eastward, assuming that no one in Moscow would ever be the wiser. Only it didn’t work out that way.

Ziggy tried to listen, feeling his mind clouding over with the sheer assault of information. Cambridge, Moonpool, Schellenberg, and then the Russians. All he knew was that it sounded exactly like the kind of thing Manni and Franzi would find irresistible. Sowing chaos, playing different sides against each other, and with the help of their magical abilities, repeatedly escaping by a hair’s breadth. Though supposedly there was a moral angle to it, he doubted they could even think in those terms.

“Not that Franzi was pro-Bolshevik, mind you. Not at all. Like yourself, he was anti-fascist. They just got to him before we could,” said Westerby.

“But why are you telling me this?” asked Ziggy.

Westerby looked at him searchingly. “Because Franzi is in great danger, and not just from the SS, whom he’s trying to flee, but also from the Russians who want to kill him to keep things he knows from getting out. And I don’t mind telling you, Captain Loerber, that once it starts, none of you will be safe. We need to get him away from Himmler. My organization is thoroughly infiltrated by the Russians. There isn’t anyone there I can trust. Manni and I will do what we can, but we need your help to get him out.”

Ziggy was incredulous. “My help? How do you expect me to help you?”

Westerby was adamant. “Captain Loerber, you’ve got the guard battalion. That’s more than we have. You can ask Cremer for help. He’s your friend. You’ll be at an advantage. Doenitz will be setting up his government in Flensburg. I’m sure Himmler will not be far away. It shouldn’t be that difficult to locate him.”

“How do you expect me to locate him?” asked Ziggy.

Westerby looked exasperated. “For Heaven’s sake, man, you’re magic, remember?”

For a long moment the two stared at each other. Ziggy couldn’t decide if Westerby was pulling his leg or completely nuts. He looked into the hangar and there was the injured fighter plane, its gaping mouth bellowing from the depths of its pain. The Blood of Israel will have its vengeance!

Ziggy looked down at the packet of cigarettes in Westerby’s hand and snatched them. “I have to go back now, Major,” he said quickly. “Thank you for the cigarettes.”

He went back to sit with von Friedeburg. After another hour of waiting in silence, they were taken to an empty mess tent where two metal trays of food had been set for them. After that they were led to a small tent where there were two cots set up, each with a thin blanket. They were told they should be ready to leave at short notice, once the rain had lifted.
(Excerpt from Germania, by Brendan McNally, Simon & Schuster, 2008)

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Jodl Arrives at SHAEF to meet Eisenhower, Doesn't.

More like a bold conqueror than the emissary of a defeated nation, Colonel General Alfred Jodl strode into Supreme Allied Headquarters, determined that Eisenhower was going to see it his way. Unlike his more somberly dressed predecessor, Jodl, in his splendid gray and silver uniform, inspired confidence.

Accompanying him was a tall major with the narrow, pointed face of a greyhound. Jodl noted the admiring stares from all the American and British officers and men and he told himself that this would be a glorious moment.

The escorts led them to a small waiting room. Stepping inside, he saw the sunken-faced von Friedeburg sitting with his aide. Pathetic, he thought.

Ziggy nudged von Friedeburg, who hadn’t reacted to their entry. Both got to their feet. “General Jodl,” said von Friedeburg.

“Heil Hitler!” Jodl declared triumphantly. Neither man made any effort to salute, nor did they shake hands. Instead they regarded each other with palpable distaste. “This is my aide, Major Oxenius,” Jodl said and the major snapped into a Heil Hitler salute. “So what is the situation here, Admiral?” Jodl asked.

“The situation, Herr General,” answered von Friedeburg, “is that they are not accepting any conditions whatsoever and all we’ve been able to do is delay.”

“But haven’t you explained to Eisenhower that we want to help them fight the Bolsheviks?” Jodl asked.

“General, we haven’t even seen Eisenhower,” answered von Friedeburg tiredly.

Jodl looked shocked. “That’s utterly unacceptable,” he said hotly. “You should have insisted you speak directly with him. I’m going to make that my first point.”

Von Friedeburg gave a listless smile.

“What else?” Jodl asked.

“There isn’t anything else,” von Friedeburg answered. “All our appeals have fallen on deaf ears. Either we sign an unconditional surrender immediately or they say they will seal off the western frontier and start shooting refugees and anyone trying to surrender.”

“But don’t they want our help against the Bolsheviks? Didn’t you offer them our divisions?”

“General, at present, the Soviet Union is not their enemy, we are. If the West is planning a war against the Soviets, they have evidently not informed anyone in this building about it.”

Jodl looked at him astounded. “Are they crazy? Don’t they understand what they face? Didn’t you tell them what the Russians are doing?”

“General, I tried,” said von Friedeburg in a hopeless voice. “Apparently they consider us a greater evil than the Bolsheviks.”

There was a sharp knock on the door and then it opened. A British major stood at the doorway, flanked by two White Helmets. “General Jodl, if you’d come with us, please,” he said.

“Best of luck, General,” said von Friedeburg without enthusiasm. “Hopefully they’ll listen to you.”

Jodl shot him an ugly glance and strode out. Ziggy closed the door. Von Friedeburg settled himself onto the leather sofa, then pointed them to the two tiny chairs. “Gentlemen,” he said.

They sat down. Oxenius dug into his inner pocket and brought out his engraved cigarette case, which he offered first to von Friedeburg, then to Ziggy. Both refused. Oxenius lit one for himself and seeing that neither of them were going to initiate a conversation, stopped trying to act sociable and turned to the door.

Hours passed. Nobody said anything. It was already late afternoon. Finally, Jodl returned, looking exhausted. “Who is this Walter Bedell Smith?” he asked disgustedly. “I don’t believe I’ve even heard of the man before. He wouldn’t budge on anything regarding the conditions of surrender. I did manage, however, to get them to agree to some significant changes in the wording of the surrender document. They will acknowledge that the German armed forces have fought honorably. It’s not much, but it’s something. Damn it, we deserve at least that!”

Von Friedeburg seemed impressed. “You are a better negotiator than I am, General.”

Jodl smiled bitterly.

“So then what’s next?” asked von Friedeburg.

“Bedell Smith is having a meeting with Eisenhower,” said Jodl. “When it’s over, I suppose we’ll meet again to agree on the final details.”

There was another knock on the door. An American sergeant brought in a bottle of whiskey and several glasses. “General Strong sends his compliments,” he said.

Oxenius took the whiskey and glasses from him and brought them inside. Jodl looked over at the bottle. “Pour some for everyone, would you, Major?” he said. “I’m not going to bother offering a toast.”

“How about to the German army for fighting honorably,” suggested Oxenius helpfully as he poured whiskey into their glasses and handed them out.

“Yes, a splendid idea, Major,” said Jodl, brightening a little. “Gentlemen,” he said, raising his glass and waiting for the others to do the same. “To the German Wehrmacht for fighting honorably.”

They emptied their glasses. Oxenius refilled them and they drank again. Then, as they were putting their glasses down, von Friedeburg fixed Jodl with a friendly smile, “So, did General Bedell Smith show you any photographs?”

For a second Jodl froze. Then he glowered at von Friedeburg. “What of it?” he asked.

“So then you saw them?”

“Yes, I saw them.”

Von Friedeburg’s smile turned into a lunatic leer. “Pretty nasty stuff, wouldn’t you say, Herr General?”

Jodl stared at him with visible displeasure. “War is nasty stuff, Admiral,” he answered calmly, hoping von Friedeburg would let it rest.

But von Friedeburg was only getting started. “No, what we in the Navy waged was war. What was going on in those camps was the mass murder of civilians, carried out as national policy. Wouldn’t you say?”

At this, Ziggy felt a cold sweat. He looked over at Oxenius and saw how nervous and wide open his eyes were.

“I wouldn’t know, Admiral,” answered Jodl evenly. “I am a soldier and do not involve myself in politics.”

“But you knew of it?”

“Like I said, Admiral, I do not concern myself with political matters.”

“So mass murder is simply a political matter?” asked von Friedeburg.

“What are you getting at, Admiral?” Jodl asked, his voice dead serious.

“I think they’re going to hang us all, Herr General,” von Friedeburg said, grinning maniacally, like he thought it was too funny.

Ziggy stepped forward. “Admiral, I think maybe you should sit down and rest,” he said.

“Be quiet, Captain Loerber, and pour us some more whiskey,” von Friedeburg said in a calm voice. “I’d like us all to raise a glass to Western Civilization. To the intellectualism and humanism that makes us something better than barbarians.”

“I’ve had quite enough of this,” shot back Jodl. “I’m ordering you to shut up.”

“Don’t think you can pull rank on me, General. I’m head of the Navy.”

“You’re a disgrace as a soldier, Admiral. For you to talk like this, you’ve obviously lost your sense of honor.”

“That’s right, Herr General. I have lost my sense of honor. I lost it the day I swore allegiance not to Germany but to Adolf Hitler. We all lost it. And now look what we’re all guilty of. And please don’t insult all of us by pretending you didn’t know.”

Jodl was livid. “Half the German Nation has made the supreme sacrifice in this war and instead of respecting their memory, you disgrace them all for a bunch of Jews!”

“Excuse me, sir,” said Ziggy, stepping forward. “I’m a Jew.”

The two men stared at him for a second and then turned back to each other. “When this thing is over,” Jodl said, “I shall definitely report you to Grand Admiral Doenitz. This talk of yours is treacherous and...and...”

“Defeatist?” suggested von Friedeburg.

“You disgust me,” snarled Jodl.

There was a knock on the door. Oxenius opened it. This time it was General Strong. “General Jodl, if I could have a word with you?”

“What is it, General Strong?” asked Jodl, trying to collect himself.

“Perhaps we should talk outside.”

“That’s all right, you can tell us all,” said Jodl.

“General Bedell Smith informs me that General Eisenhower has ruled out any changes to the wording of the surrender.”

“But we agreed. It is imperative that we acknowledge that the German Armed Forces have conducted themselves honorably.”

“I’m sorry, but General Eisenhower considers that wording completely unacceptable.” General Strong looked empathetic but uncompromising. He went on, “General Bedell Smith wants to know if you will accept the original terms for surrender.”

Immediately Jodl countered. “In that case we would like forty-eight hours grace time before the articles of surrender fully take effect. Tell the General that.”

General Strong shook his head. “No more delays, General,” he said resolutely. “General Bedell Smith has ruled that out. Now are you prepared to sign?”

Jodl stood silently for a long time. Then he nodded. “As I see it, I have no choice,” he said angrily. “Yes, General Strong, I am prepared to sign.”

General Strong nodded solemnly. “I shall inform the General immediately.” He closed the door.

Jodl turned to the others. “Well, there you have it, gentlemen.” Ziggy stared at the floor and hoped it would be all over soon. He and Oxenius exchanged a glance. Your Admiral is a loony and so are you, Oxenius’ eyes seemed to be saying.

Outside in the corridor, someone was approaching. The door opened and General Strong stepped in. “General, we’re ready to begin,” he said.

Jodl nodded. He reached into his jacket’s inner pocket and took out something which he then fixed into his eye. A monocle! Jodl now looked like a Prussian played by Erich von Stroheim. What was he thinking? Did he somehow consider it vital that Germany be represented in her darkest hour by a walking caricature? Perhaps he was angling for a post-war career in Hollywood. From what Ziggy had heard, plenty of German and Austrian Jewish refugees had found lucrative careers playing Nazis in films. Jodl was the real thing. Why shouldn’t he get some of it?

“Ready?” asked Jodl. Seeing everyone nod, he said to them: “Gentlemen, this is a black day for Germany, but I promise you, we will survive!”

“I wonder if Eisenhower will be there,” von Friedeburg mumbled aloud to himself.

They walked down the corridor in single file, past the staring soldiers, General Jodl first, followed by Major Oxenius, then Admiral von Friedeburg, then Ziggy.

They were brought into a crowded, map-filled room, at the far end of which, under the glaring light from a bank of movie-studio floodlights, was a large rectangular table. Sitting there facing them were nearly a dozen British, American, and Russian generals with Bedell Smith at the center. Ziggy examined the faces of the other Allied generals, but none of them looked anything like Eisenhower. On the other hand, he noticed Suslaparov glaring at him, this time not as though they were best friends.

They took chairs on the near side of the table. Bedell Smith gestured to an aide, who brought Jodl a document. Scowling, Jodl examined it perfunctorily and then scribbled his signature to it before passing it to von Friedeburg, who did the same. The document then went to Bedell Smith, then to a British general, a French general, an American, and then Suslaparov, all of whom added their signatures to it. Then another copy of the surrender made the rounds, followed by another and another and another.

When all the copies had been signed, Jodl raised his hand. “General, I would like to say a word,” he said.

“Yes, of course,” said Bedell Smith, sounding nicer than he had in any of their previous encounters.

Jodl stood up and began addressing everyone in the room. “General, with this signature the German people and the German armed forces are, for better or worse, delivered into the victor’s hands. In this war, which has lasted more than five years, both have achieved and suffered perhaps more than any other people in the world. In this hour I can only express the hope that the victor will treat them with generosity.”

Then they were marched out. The war was over.
(Excerpt from Germania, by Brendan McNally, Simon & Schuster 2008)

The Road to Del Rio VII: Dallas on Their Minds

Bonnie, Clyde, and Herbert T. Barrow all came from Dallas and even though they never got to pass through it during their several-state crime spree, in a way, they didn't have to. Dallas was always on their minds. But then Dallas has always been as much a state of mind as it is an actual place.

Dallas is one of those rare cities built on an idea rather than a piece of geography. The idea behind Dallas could be characterized by a single word: Money! It was founded by John Neeley Bryant, a "man on the make" and a civic booster looking to found a city he could boost. He and men like him built a city on the prairie, overlooking the Trinity River, a glorified creek,which was really more of a nuisance than a bona fide geographical feature. Dallas rose up on the eastern side of the Trinity, a city fueled by ambition and opportunity. Once people had money, they wasted no time acquiring the best, most up-to-date style and class that money could buy.

But Bonnie, Clyde and Herbert were all from the other side of the Trinity, from West Dallas, which stayed poor and hopeless and remains that way to this very day.  Bonnie was born in Rowena, a little town an hour or so south and west of Dallas that no longer exists. Bonnie's father died when she was little more than a    baby and her mother moved her and her younger sister to a place in West Dallas called Cement City, built around a cement plant. They were considered lower middle class, which meant mainly that Bonnie's mother managed to hold down a job and pay rent and that she aspired for better things for her daughters. Bonnie attended school and got good grades and was valedictorian for her high school class. The school she went to is still there, though it shut down decades ago.  Not so long ago, people went into the school building and found a copy of her grade card.

Clyde's family could not have been considered anything but bottom-of-the-barrel West Dallas grit. It would be wrong to call them "White Trash," because they weren't. They were hard working, hard scrabble, fierce, proud, and profoundly unlucky. They'd tried farming in a couple different places around east Texas including, finally, Teleco, south of Dallas. They finally gave up and moved to Dallas, for the same reason everyone moves to Dallas; for opportunity.

But all the Barrows could afford was Eagle Ford, a place on the Trinity that was about as close as you could get to Dallas without actually being there. But Eagle Ford was still on the wrong side of the Trinity and to this day it remains an economically depressed, crime ridden hole. For a while the Barrows lived in a canvas tent, then they managed to build a shack with a gas station, both of which are still there.

Across the Trinity River was Dallas with its skyscraper buildings, its grand hotels like the Baker and Adolphus where the rooms all had flushing toilets and hot and cold running water and the big movie houses all proudly featured something called "Air Conditioning." Dallas was where Bonnie, Clyde, and Herbert T. Barrow all felt they naturally belonged. In keeping with the Dallas ethos, Clyde always dressed impeccably, spoke perfect English and even though he could barely read or write, he handled himself so well that co-workers who'd managed to graduate from high school, often invited him home to meet their sisters. To this day, if you ask around a little, you'll find people who'll tell you their grandmothers dated Clyde a few time and that he was a cordial, well-mannered fellow.

Bonnie, for all her education and literary ambitions, was a bad girl, through and through. At fifteen, she married a hoodlum named Roy Thornton, who was gone a lot and then gone permanently when he got sent to prison. Bonnie worked in various restaurants and cafes and had enough of an engaging personality that men were continually falling for her. She reportedly also turned the occasional trick. She liked dressing well, putting on makeup and going out and having a good time, something which Dallas of the day certainly was equipped to do. Dallas had gin mills, night clubs, honkeytonks, and some very classy places for dancing to orchestras, like the Debonaire Danceland, out on Samuel Boulevard, a place where, more than once, Bonnie went to dance, and Herbert sometimes played, and where they both reminisce about while driving through Oklahoma in search of gas stations and grocery stores to rob.

Herbert was much the same as the others when it came to Dallas. He dressed for Dallas, taught himself not to talk like a hick. But instead of settling in Dallas, he went on to New York, where no one at all ever suspected he came from Dallas, let along Eagle Ford. But both places continued to define him at least in his own mind.     .

Following is an excerpt from Friend of the Devil:

Clyde Chestnut Barrow might stand only five foot two, but by the way he carries himself, you’d swear he was six foot four. It’s hard associating him with the grit boy I once knew. Everything about him shouts out ‘big city’: the silk shirts with French cuffs, the fine ties and sharply tailored suits which highlight his taut, compact frame. This Clyde has correct posture and manners, can carry on a polite conversation and knows when and when not to say ‘ain’t.’ I’m just a dumb, off-the-rack country hick compared to him. But, of course, I can read and write.

Clyde dresses like a dandy and handles himself like a gent, but there’s no mistaking that glint of menace in his eyes. It’s there when he smiles and laughs. It’s there when he says ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and inquires how you’ve been keeping yourself. And it’s there when he asks if you’ll do something and you tell him it’s something you don’t want to do.

Now Clyde wants me to join the outfit.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Friend of the Devil: Dopers, Desperados, Mexican Border Radio and Goat Gonads

For as long as humans have existed, God and the Devil have walked among them, endlessly searching for a virtuous man. Whenever they’d find one, which actually wasn’t that often, they’d get together and place some nasty obstacles in front of him. Then they’d make bets, sit back and watch what happened.

It’s impossible to say when exactly the two got bored with the arrangement and began to add side bets to spice it up a little. If they hadn’t, they would probably never have bothered with Herbert T. Barrow in the first place.

It’s not that Herbert wasn’t, in his own way, a virtuous man; he just wasn’t anybody’s immediate choice on the matter. He tended to do things on impulse, whether it was jazz, women, or stealing cars. Nor was he, even by his own estimation, particularly kind or generous. But then it was hard to be in 1933, when the Great Depression was in its fifth year and anyone who still had two nickels to rub together only had them because they’d run out of sympathy for anyone who didn’t. Besides, Herbert T. Barrow was an avowed atheist and whatever moral compass he possessed was strictly his own. Perhaps this was something neither deity completely grasped, or perhaps they thought they did, but were wrong. It’s always hard to tell with gods. Either way, that was their big mistake.

The real subject of their wager was the legendary Texas Ranger, Captain Frank Hamer. If there was a single lawman in Texas whose honesty and incorruptibility was beyond reproach, it was Hamer. Renowned for his skills as a detective and a tracker with more than fifty kills to his credit, Frank Hamer was one exceedingly straight, tough hombre. His mistake was letting his pride get the best of him.

Herbert’s mistake was picking up a hitchhiker named Stevens, while running from the ‘laws’ in a stolen car. It was not the sort of thing he usually did, especially since Stevens appeared to be some kind of backwoods preacher. Herbert was fleeing back to Texas, Stevens was late for a midnight meeting with somebody at a crossroads near Tupelo, Mississippi. Getting him there almost on time put Stevens in Herbert’s debt, something Herbert wasn’t interested in collecting on, since Stevens didn’t have any money on him and all the things he was offering seemed like really bad ideas.

Like all good fugitives, Herbert was heading for the border, to a small city on the Rio Grande called Del Rio. While nearly everyone else was hungry and broke, Del Rio was rolling in dough, thanks to a quack doctor named J.R. Brinkley, who had set up a “goat gland” clinic, where his phony sexual rejuvenation cure brought in dozens of well-heeled suckers each day. To reach them, Brinkley built the world’s most powerful radio station across the river in Mexico, just outside the FCC’s reach. Beside him gather a freebooting assortment of preachers, clairvoyants, hillbilly quartets and snake-oil salesmen, all eager to catch some of the easy money that’s suddenly floating around. Herbert drives to Del Rio, hoping to join their ranks as a singing cowboy and even shill for products of questionable purpose.

But after letting Stevens off, things get strange. Herbert learns that he is being linked to the notorious Texas outlaws Bonnie and Clyde. According to the newspapers and radio news bulletins, he has joined them as a ‘criminal mastermind.’ This puts him into the path, first of Frank Hamer, who is hunting them down, and then of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, who turns out to be his much younger cousin.

Without wanting to, Herbert travels with the Barrow Gang and though he does ultimately break free from them and escape to Del Rio, Hamer remains on his trail even after killing the others. Eventually he shows up there and a final bloody reckoning ensues, and always with God and the Devil nearby, arguing endlessly over perceived violations and interferences of their bets. Herbert, having no use for either, vows to stick it to them both, and bad. Luckily for him, he finds an unlikely ally in Rose Dawn, a pregnant, unhappily married radio prophetess.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

TV Interview about Admiral Doenitz, his surreal 23-day Flensburg "Reich" and the Flying Magical Loerber Brothers

When Simon & Schuster published my first novel Germania, Irving TV interviewed me about Admiral Doenitz and his 23-day Flensburg Government.  Unlike most reviewers, she actually read the book, which makes for a much better conversation. I talk about how Doenitz was contemplating blowing his brains out when the telegram from the Fuhrerbunker came making him the new Fuhrer.  I also discuss Albert Speer, KG200, Admiral von Friedeburg, and the Flying Magical Loerber Brothers.

Click Here to Watch the Interview