“I thought I told you not to go outside,” said Macher. He was furious. He pointed to the house. “Get back inside now.”
Meekly, Franzi Loerber did as he was told and started walking back
to the house. “I needed to see the stars,” he mumbled
Macher was unimpressed. “You pull something like that again, I
swear I’ll blow your brains out. I don’t care how great the Chief
thinks you are.”
Franzi had no doubt that Macher would not hesitate to shoot him.
Only the day before he’d killed an SS man who’d given him
backtalk. Just like that. Bullet in the head, drag the body off,
somebody clean the blood off the floor. Now where were we?
The others were standing along the side of the house, keeping back
from the open front yard as they watched Macher throttle Franzi.
There were three of them, Grothmann, Kiermaier and Gebhardt, who
until then had been on lookout duty. Himmler was standing at the
threshold, buttoning up his trousers as he stared out at them.
“Macher, what is it?” he demanded. “Is everything all right?
Tell me what is going on?”
“Zonag the Magnificent here wanted to go look at the stars,”
Macher fumed. “Little fairy’s going to get us all caught.”
“He wanted to look at the stars?” Himmler asked. “Well maybe
you should let him.” He turned to Franzi. “Did you see something?
What was it?” he demanded, his voice squealing with excitement.
“You should let him look, Macher. How can you expect him to
complete my horoscope? Let him stay outside. I’ll watch him.”
Macher shook his head. “It’s too dangerous,” he said.
“Everyone back inside.”
From far inside the house, a woman’s voice, high-pitched and
fretful, called out, “Heinzi, what is it?”
“It’s nothing, nothing at all,” Himmler called back.
“Then come back to bed,” they heard her purr. “I’m so
cold.” Even from outside, it was easy to tell she was pouting.
Immediately Himmler turned and made his way back inside, unbuttoning
his trousers as he did. Macher shook his head with disgust, then,
turning his attention back to Franzi, he grabbed him by the collar
and threw him against the ground. “I’ve about had it with you,”
Franzi got back to his feet and stumbled back inside, numbly
making his way into the empty parlor. But once there, he found that
he could not, for the life of him, remember which chair he’d been
sitting in before going out. There were four chairs in the parlor and
four of them sitting there in them; Franzi, Macher, Grothmann and
Kiermaier. Each with his own place and for Franzi to sit in someone
else’s was to invite no small amount of abuse upon himself. By this
point, everyone’s nerves were on edge and being at the absolute
bottom of the totem pole, Franzi was everybody’s target of choice.
He tried to remember, but couldn’t. The vision he’d just had
left him too drained. Even though it had been barely five minutes
since he’d been sitting there, the way his head felt it could have
been last year. He remained standing, woozily surveying the chairs,
hoping to let the others sit down first.
"Sit down!” barked Macher.
Franzi went to an armchair and fell into it. “Get out of my
chair!” Kiermaier growled from the doorway. Wearily, Franzi got
back up and looked at the other chairs. “I’m sorry,” he
mumbled. “Where was I sitting?” Angrily, Kiermaier pointed to the
one across from him and Franzi lowered himself again, feeling more
dazed than he ever had in his life.
“What’s with you, anyway?” asked Grothmann. “You’re
Franzi put his hand to his brow and said. “I’m sorry, I
“Oh? So the Swami is having trouble getting out of his trance?”
Franzi gave a week grimace and nodded.
“Hey! The Reichsfuhrer might buy that crap but don’t expect me
to,” said Grothmann combatively.
Franzi closed his eyes and let the back of his head rest against
the top of the chair. He tried to gather his thoughts, but his head
felt like it was full of cold, wet cement. His thoughts moved
listlessly through his brain like dying animals.
Then he remembered the vision and what he’d seen, and as dead as
he’d been feeling, he suddenly felt a spark of warmth in his heart.
Ziggy was near! Manni too, he knew it now with a certainty. They were
looking for him, they were looking for him together! Was it even
possible? And there was someone else there too, holding Ziggy’s
hand and forcing him to look…….It felt like his old friend Nigel
Westerby. He couldn’t believe it, but he knew it was true. What
were they doing? What did they know? What could be going on that
would bring them all together like this? For the first time in weeks
he felt hope.
Up till now, he’d been feeling so worn down from fear and
futility, he knew he’d soon run out of the strength and will to
continue contending with Macher. The only reason Franzi was even
alive was that no one else could take away Himmler’s pain. But that
didn’t mean they trusted Franzi in the slightest. He was nothing
more than a servant, someone they would have gotten rid of long ago
if they’d been able to figure out a way to do without his talents.
Nothing he could say could ever convince Macher that he wouldn’t
try to run away at the first opportunity. As a result, they wouldn’t
even let him go out unescorted to the outhouse.
The others got out quite a bit. Every few hours one of them would
go sneak around outside to make sure no one had infiltrated in.
Franzi had volunteered to go, but Macher wouldn’t let him. “This
is man’s work,” he’d say with a superior smirk, as if being
homosexual made Franzi an inferior sneaker.
Were they setting up some plan to rescue him? Did they know
something about Himmler’s plans that he didn’t know? Franzi knew
next to nothing about any of the day-to-day planning that went on. He
wasn’t even sure how much Himmler knew. They seemed to be keeping a
lot from him, ever since Macher found out he would confide things to
Franzi during the course of a massage. They were making very sure
that none of that information filtered down to him.
But since the Reichsfuhrer had nothing mundane with which to
impress Franzi, he’d resorted to handing him morsels of information
on a far grander scale. He never told him very much, by themselves
they were all tantalizing, but useless little chunks.
Except what no one understood about Franzi Loerber was his ability
to store up all the little chunks and fit them against and alongside
each other until he managed to piece large pieces of the puzzle
together. And by this point he actually knew quite a lot about the
extent of German infiltration into the Soviet intelligence apparatus.
He knew they had two men in the NKVD’s Thirteenth Directorate,
which handled foreign counter-intelligence. He didn’t know their
names but he did know something about how they operated. He knew that
they were among the bargaining chips that Schellenberg hoped to use
to get them all in with the British. He also knew that the Soviets
had British Intelligence pretty well riddled with their people whom
they’d recruited straight from Cambridge. He even knew several of
their names, Burgess, Philby, Donald McLean. But there was also
another one, one whom Schellenberg had yet to identify.
He knew lots of other things as well. It wasn’t just spies and
infiltration and intelligence estimates. He knew about linkages. He
knew about the trading houses and holding companies and the foreign
subsidiaries and which bankers and industrialists had worked with the
Nazis throughout the war. He knew about British lords and American
senators. There were plenty of powerful people out there with a
vested interest in keeping that information from ever getting out. It
was a sure bet that they’d have their people out among the advance
parties tidying up and removing certain inconvenient realities before
the main force arrived.
Just then a loud creaking of bedsprings erupted from the other
side of the parlor wall. Himmler and his mistress were at it again.
It had to be the fifth time that day.
Her name was Fraulein Potthast and she was, Franzi had learned,
the Reichsfuhrer’s longtime mistress. She had already been living
at the farmhouse for two weeks when they had arrived. Apparently
Himmler had Kiermaier arrange her accommodation without anyone else
knowing about it. She was young, blonde and pretty, though in a
horse-faced way. She was also vivacious, flirtatious and loud. She
liked wearing shimmery silk robes; lilac and silvery blue and when it
was cold she would wrap herself in a heavy, full-length fur which she
told them was sable, though Franzi knew it was something else.
It was strange having her brought into their pared-down, die-hard
ranks. Franzi could tell Macher didn’t approve of such a reckless
change to what had until then been his flawless regime of evasion and
escape. But before he could voice his objections, the Reichsfuhrer
had already vanished into the bedroom with her.
Her presence was a mixed blessing to say the least. She got on
everyone’s nerves and seemed spectacularly unmindful of the
perilous situation they were in. It didn’t register with her that
they were, at that moment, the focus of possibly the largest manhunt
in history. All that mattered was that finally she was the one
closest to the Reichsfuhrer! That his mighty empire was now down to a
handful of people and that it barely extended beyond the farmhouse
was of no consequence. She had him now! She had risen to the very top
and no one could take that away from her.
And because of this, she felt entitled to rule the roost, to be
treated as the lady of the house, First Lady of the whole SS Empire.
She would voice her opinions, she would ask questions, demand answers
and accounts. She demanded deference and was quick to inform the four
subjects of her dominion which of them were currently on her good
list and which were not.
On the other hand, she kept Himmler occupied and out of their hair
for hours at a time. Until now, Franzi never had the impression the
Reichsfuhrer was much of a swordsman. He seemed more the mousey,
schoolmaster type, too prissy and fastidious to ever get really down
and nasty. But now he was absolutely unstoppable. Nothing, it seemed,
spurred the Reichsfuehrer’s romantic ardor quite like impending
It shouldn’t have affected Franzi’s situation either way
except that it did. It made it a lot worse. To his dismay, Franzi
discovered that Fraulein Potthast regarded him as her rival. Even
though she managed to occupy nearly all of the Reichsfuhrer’s
waking attention, there were nevertheless things he needed that she
could not provide, physical things, things altogether too similar to
her own ministrations for her to be able to brush them aside.
For much as Himmler was now generally calmer and more stable from
having her around, his stomach did occasionally erupt into paroxysms
of pain, that were worse than ever before. When that happened there
was nobody who could take the pain away but Franzi. Each time, she
would be dismissed from her privileged place and forced into the
common room to sulk while Franzi would come in and go to work on
Himmler’s stomach and abdomen, kneading the spasms and squeezing
out the knots and replacing them with warmth. He’d listen to
Himmler as he’d freshly detail all his fears and he’d calm him
and tell him about what the stars were saying about the future. And
by the time he’d leave, the Reichsfuhrer would again be glowing in
happiness and optimism. Sometimes he would want to have a little
party, light the nice candles, break out a bottle or two of the good
stuff and even play the gramophone. During which time Fraulein
Potthast would feel impelled to act as the charming hostess,
addressing everybody with pet names of her own devising; everyone, of
course, except Franzi. And they’d all have to treat her with
graciousness and deference, which was asking an awful lot of Macher,
who had a hard enough time keeping up the pretense that she was
anything more than some snatch-on-the-run.
Franzi opened his eyes only to see Kiermaier staring at him.
Kiermaier had the unnerving quality of sitting motionless and staring
straight at you for an hour, two hours, three, it made no difference
to him. He didn’t talk about things, he didn’t give off any
indication what he was thinking, if he was thinking anything. And as
the groaning bedsprings grew noisier and more imperative, Kiermaier’s
stillness only grew disconcerting. Franzi knew better than to start a
conversation or, worse, make a comment about what was going on in the
next room. Kiermaier was Himmler’s personal bodyguard and while he
might have to put up with Macher’s or Grothmann’s little digs, he
certainly wasn’t going to take anything from Franzi Loerber.
Franzi drifted back into his thoughts about his brothers and
wondered if the view he’d found of the town and that castle was
enough landmark that they could find their way. He hoped he was
right, he prayed to God they were coming to get him out of this hell.
It would be so wonderful to be rescued, to be free. He felt like a
Rapunzel locked in a tower, waiting to let down his golden stair, so
he and his rescuers could descend it, dismantling it in the process
and taking it with them on their escape. Wherever they were going, he
knew they’d need it.
The creaking grew louder, but always irregular and arrhythmic and
punctuated by the Reichsfuhrer’s sporatic, labored grunting. Does
he think himself a great lover? Franzi wondered. Is he relishing his
role of public stud? Probably.
“Jesus God, is that all he’s good for?” It was Macher,
seething with disgust. He hated weakness in any form and the thought
of serving a Reichsfuhrer so enslaved to his own urges ran against
Kiermaier shot him a poisonous look. “Watch your mouth,” he
growled. Macher pursed his lips into a contemptuous sneer, but said
nothing. Franzi looked down, not wanting to get drawn into the
argument, knowing it would only get him beaten on by both of them.
Macher had only been Himmler’s adjutant for the last two months,
but Kiermaier had served as bodyguard for twenty years. It didn’t
matter that Macher outranked him and was obviously in charge,
Kiermaier’s loyalty was absolute and he wasn’t about to let
Macher or anybody even suggest disrespect to his boss. The two butted
heads on a regular basis, and, as a result, Franzi sometimes
fantasized about Macher and Kiermaier having such an argument that it
would get out of hand and they’d end up shooting and killing each
other, leaving Franzi free to walk out. But he knew it wasn’t going
to happen. They were both pros, and knew better than to tread very
hard on the other’s space. Besides, any excess anger they had, they
usually took out on Franzi.
He thought about Ziggy and Manni again. How would they escape?
Would they steal through the night fields and forests, hiding in the
shadows while their pursuers and the victorious armies forged past?
And after that, what? Would they find passage across the waters
aboard anonymous, nondescript steamships, melding themselves into the
mass of humanity in transit?
Where would they go? Anywhere, as long as it was someplace where
the dogs couldn’t follow. A sunny land, somewhere lazy and
entropic. Someplace where they could go to ground and hide
themselves, someplace where even the presence of three
identical-looking foreign men would scarce arouse curiosity in the
good-natured natives. Spain, Portugal, Chile, the Andes, Uruguay, The
Argentine. On second thought, maybe not The Argentine, since it seemed like
half the SS was already on their way there. Uruguay, then. Buy a
hacienda or a cattle ranch, sink into happy oblivion, keep a low
profile, maybe marry, have children. Why not?
Then another thought came into his head. If they were planning to
come and rescue him, they had better get a move on it. Even though
Macher and the others had gone out of their way to keep Franzi in the
dark, he knew beyond a doubt that something was about to happen.
There had been several visitors during the last few days, all coming
from Flensburg to discuss things with Macher and Grothmann. Every
time they did, he’d get sent into the parlor with the girl while
Himmler stayed hidden in another room, listening in on the
That very morning, in fact, a Luftwaffe officer came up in a jeep
driven by two British soldiers, both of whom remained in their
vehicle while he went inside to talk to Macher and Grothmann. About
the only things Franzi actually made out was the Luftwaffe man saying
‘flying boat,’ and Macher telling him, ‘we’ll have it here
“We’ll have it here tomorrow.” What could Macher have
been referring to? What could the Luftwaffe guy care about that much
besides payment. He couldn’t want Reichsmarks. No paper money,
unless it was Swissfrancs. Couldn’t be British Fivers either, not
with the way Schellenberg had been forging them. No, for something
like that, it’d have to be Specie; Gold, up front, payment in hand,
nothing promissory. Thank you very much, welcome aboard, take any
seat you like, we’ll be taking off shortly!
Besides, the Russians were also closing in on them. Only a few
days earlier, while they were hiding out in a manor house on the edge
of a small village, looking out the window onto the street, Franzi
noticed a zigzag mark in yellow chalk on a traffic sign across the
street. An inconsequential mark, to be sure, not something anyone
would pay any attention to, except that, it hadn’t been there the
day before, and it just happened also to be the hailing mark of his
old Moscow-Center spy ring. They were looking for him and he didn’t
know what to do.
The obvious answer was of course that they were looking for
bring him to justice. He could find a way to leave
them a countermark and lead them to him, which would earn him praise
and reward and even a bright, quiet, unproblematic future.
Of course another possibility was that they also wanted the Gold.
In which case he could only expect praise and reward if the gold was
going to the public good, which was, by the nature of the substance,
a bit of a stretch. More likely, they’d want to pocket it for
themselves and get rid of him.
Perhaps they wanted him because he’d been their man inside the
SS for all these years and it was time to get their spy out and bring
him home. Even on an honest, straightforward level, the idea sounded
horrendous. He had no desire to go to Russia, even as a hero of the
Soviet People. But he knew it was doubtful they would ever do that.
But there was always the possibility they’d figured out he
wasn’t a Soviet hero at all, but someone who’d been playing both
sides and giving his best work to the British. If that was the case,
it wouldn’t be a quick shot in the back of the neck. No, Franzi
would have real hell to pay!
Could they have figured that out? Ever since he’d learned from
Schellenberg that the Russians had their own people at the top of
British Intelligence, he knew it was a very real possibility. All it
would take was someone figuring out where Manni had been getting his
information from and passing it on to the Russians, who’d promptly
connect the dots.
The creaking grew louder and louder, Fraulein Potthast began
moaning and making little mewing squeals of joy and then she started
screaming full out. She’s faking it, Franzi thought to himself.
He’s putting it to her with that pathetic asparagus sprout of his,
thinking he’s King Kong reincarnated. Franzi saw Macher and
Grothmann exchange a less-than-bemused glance.
Then suddenly it wasn’t the girl who was screaming but Himmler!
He shrieked out in excruciating agony, infinitely worse than he had
during any of his previous attacks. Kiermaier bolted up from
his chair and ran over to the bedroom to investigate. If that
bitch has tried something, Franzi could hear him thinking. Had
she bitten him someplace? Goddammit, I’ll kill her!
(A slightly different version of this chapter appears in Germania, Simon & Schuster, 2008, now also available on Kindle here).