Sunday, January 19, 2014

Schellenberg Picks a New Masseur for Himmler

When the call came, Franzi Loerber had already officially gone off duty and was sitting by himself in the staff and junior officers’ canteen having a cigarette while working out the final calculations on a large batch of horoscopes he’d been assigned to do on senior members of the planning staff. It was crap work, very tiresome. Calculate algorithms based on the variations factored from the shifting positions of fifteen ascendant and twelve descendant groups of stars over twelve nine-day intervals starting a month before conception. It was all complete nonsense, something he’d invented on the spur of the moment a long time ago, but for some reason people swore by it. And far be it from Franzi to tell anybody what they should believe in.

All in all, horoscopes were fairly formulaic stuff. The calculations took forever but the actual writing never took more than five minutes. You always had to make sure it offered so much opportunity, so much warning, and lots and lots of ambiguity. Just write something down, and boom, you’re done and you move on to the next one.
He went on with his number crunching for another hour until the tediousness finally got to him. Putting the horoscopes aside, he took out his hand-written Moscow Center coding chart and began composing a long overdue report.

“47361 73908 66214 38947 03418 87451,” he wrote. It was his way of saying everything was under control and that some promising leads were coming up. “15376 21294 97124 33965,” he added, more as an afterthought. It meant everyone believed the end would come soon.

Franzi looked up to see the cute captain from internal security eyeing him from the next table. Under normal circumstances he might have seen if he could take it somewhere, but since the captain was a spy-hunter and Franzi happened at that moment to be writing a coded letter to Moscow, he instead looked away. He thought about mentioning him in the report. Moscow seemed to like hearing who in SS Headquarters was queer. He tried to remember what the captain’s name was; Hessler, Hindemann?

“96101 49327 85634.” He hated what he was doing. Ziggy was a U-Boat captain, Manni an assassin, Sebastian was an operative for a secret Jewish terror network, all of them living lives of adventure and excitement. And all Franzi had done this entire war was calculate horoscopes and report his fellow SS queers to Moscow and London. “68225 79031 66496.”

Franzi looked at the clock. There was a dead drop hidden in one of the lavatories on the second floor. If he posted the message in the next twenty minutes, he could have Moscow off his back for at least two weeks, maybe longer if things went downhill fast enough. “98343 74588 19632.” He stared at the paper for a long time. Then he looked up. The cute captain was staring at him again. What did he want? Sex? Betrayal? Both? Why not? The captain smiled. Franzi smiled back. He crumpled the paper into a ball, then tossed it into a wastebasket along the wall. Franzi rolled his eyes. The captain gave him a sympathetic smirk like he knew what that was like.

He was done serving Moscow, Franzi decided. The war was all but over and now he had to start taking care of himself. Manni was already gone. He’d left for the Ruhr a month earlier and by this point he was probably safely behind Allied lines. Now Franzi needed to do the same. But how?

It had been a big mistake agreeing to spy for the Russians in the first place, but then at the time he hadn’t felt like he had any right to be picky. If he’d only waited for two more weeks, he could have gone to work for the British. It turned out their friend Nigel Westerby was a British operative and had already signed up Manni. Though Franzi readily agreed to share his information with them, he remembered seeing the disappointment on Westerby’s face.

He remembered how the Russians had first come to him after they’d found out Gustav had just wangled him a cushy research post with the Ahnenerbe, the SS-run racial heritage and occult studies institute. Franzi hadn’t liked the idea of spending the war working with a bunch of charlatans and mystic crackpots, but the Russians insisted it would be an excellent career choice and a great way to fight the Nazis from the inside. It turned out he’d been right on his first guess; it was worse than being a librarian. For someone like him, who’d spent his entire life in the celebrity spotlight, it was a living death. He remembered how, at first, everyone there was excited to have one of the Magical Loerber Brothers on the staff and people would come up to him all the time to ask questions and reminisce, but it wasn’t long before the utter mid-level facelessness of his new job wiped the shine right off him. And once that happened, everyone stopped thinking of him as anyone special.

He noticed two staff majors waving frantically at him from the canteen doorway. “Loerber, come here!” one of them hissed. They waited until Franzi was up close, then whispered. “You’re a masseur, aren’t you?”

Franzi nodded warily. “I’ve done some,” he said. “Not professionally.”

“Get your things,” one of them whispered. “You’re needed immediately at the Reichsfuhrer’s offices.”

Franzi picked up his papers and followed them upstairs to the fifth floor. He was brought past the guards and the identity checkpoint without anyone even taking his name down or checking his papers. Once inside, he was led through a warren of corridors and outer offices where an array of majors, colonels, generals and secretaries all stood attentively, waiting for his arrival. Outside the Reichsfuhrer’s office, a young general stood before the door. Franzi recognized him at once. It was Schellenberg, head of SS intelligence, head of all German intelligence, foreign and domestic, and Franzi’s boyfriend’s boss.

“The Reichsfuhrer needs your help,” Schellenberg said. “Do the best massage you can. And not a word of this to anybody, do you understand?”

Franzi nodded.

But Schellenberg wasn’t satisfied. “I mean nobody. Not your office mates or your fellow astrologers, and certainly not your boyfriend. Clear?”

Franzi nodded.

“Good,” said Schellenberg. “Now go in.”

“But Herr General, isn’t Professor Kersten the only one...?”

“Kersten is gone,” answered Schellenberg, holding open the door and then following him inside.
(Excerpt from Germania, Simon & Schuster, 2008, now also available on Kindle here).

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