Friday, December 27, 2013

A U-Boat Captain and a Jewish Assassin Discuss the Future over Coffee

The waiter brought their coffee and left. Ziggy stared into his cup and the small white ceramic jars of sugar and milk. The war wasn’t over yet and even a rundown French cafe like this one had coffee, and milk and sugar to go with it.

"I’m sure it’s all been stolen from the Americans,” said Sebastian. For a moment Ziggy wondered whether his brother had read his mind.

"I didn’t have to read your mind for that. It’s all pretty obvious,” said Sebastian.

Ziggy glared at Sebastian. Sebastian looked back exasperated. “Look, Ziggy, I’m on a job and I don’t have the time or energy to turn it on or off just to be polite.”

"On a job?”

"I’m with the Blood of Israel. We have to get Franzi out.” Sebastian leaned forward. “Let me ask you this, Ziggy. Have you thought about what’s going to happen to us now that the war is over and the Nazis are beaten?""Us as in the Loerber Brothers?” asked Ziggy.

"Sebastian gripped the table with both hands. “No goddammit! Us as in the Jews!

"Yes, we’re the ones who’ve suffered the most in this war and now we’re about to be conveniently forgotten. The West should be standing up for us, but let’s face it, they’ll be the first ones to act like the whole thing never happened. And where is that going to leave us? With nothing.”

Ziggy nodded impassively. He particularly dreaded Sebastian’s didactic discussions where the point was waiting, hidden somewhere among a minefield of polemics.

"Ziggy, the Jewish people need a homeland. The West owes it to us, for sitting on their thumbs while millions of us got butchered. But do you think they feel any obligation toward us? Hah! They’re too busy cutting cozy deals with the SS to help fight their war against the Russians. It’s not in their interest to acknowledge what we’ve been through.”

Ziggy tried hard to imagine Bedell Smith cutting a deal with the SS, but he guessed the point would be lost on Sebastian. “What does this have to do with Franzi?” he asked.

"I’m coming to that, Ziggy. My point is that they’re not going to give us our homeland out of niceness or guilt. The only way they’ll do it is if we have a dagger at their throats. And with all the dirt Franzi has on everybody, they’ll give us anything we ask for just to keep it from getting out.”

Sebastian brought the coffee cup to his lips, but once there he put it back on its saucer without tasting it. “Listen to me, Ziggy. I can’t do this alone. I’m going to need your help.”

"Have you thought about using Manni for this? He seems like a better bet than me.”

"No,” said Sebastian, with surprising vehemence. “I can’t work with Manni.”

"Not even for Franzi?”


Neither said anything for a while. They drank their coffee and looked around the room. Outside the sun was starting to get low. Ziggy hoped von Friedeburg hadn’t woken up yet.

Then Sebastian looked at Ziggy. “You think I like getting dragged back into all that Loerber crap? Believe me, I was a lot more eager to get away from it than you were. And magic? I only started doing the stuff with the dreams a couple months ago. I hate doing it, but you know something? This is war and in a war you use the weapons you have. Dreams sow terror in goyim hearts and that is priceless.”

"I take it you don’t care much for goyim,” said Ziggy.

"I don’t hate them per se, but I’m not going to pretend to be one just to save my lousy skin.”

Ziggy felt the barb strike him. “I didn’t do it to save my skin,” he shot back.

Sebastian arched an eyebrow. “Oh? So then why did you go into the Navy?”

Ziggy looked away. He thought about Luth and Cremer. He thought about poor old von Friedeburg having his fitful sleep on that bed and what Doenitz had said to him on the bridge and all the men who’d kept his secret, all dead now, except for Cremer. I’d joined to prove I could be a good German, he thought to himself, and no one could say I wasn’t. And he thought about all the photographs and all the bodies. He looked back at Sebastian and thought, at least he’ll never need to justify his sanctimoniousness.

"Sebastian, what do you want me to say? I made that choice ten years ago. You can’t change the past.”

"But don’t you see, that’s where you’re wrong,” cried Sebastian. “You can join us. Put your past behind you and be what you always were; a Jew.”

Be a Jew. Ziggy felt overwhelmed by the sheer simplicity of the idea. It felt right, the way it had echoed in his heart, sitting in temple when he was young, like waves on the ocean. It was also perfectly absurd. “Sebastian, I’m a Nazi U-Boat captain.” He pulled open the neck of his trench coat so his brother could see his Iron Cross. “Brilliants, swords and oak leaves, Sebastian. There’s no wiping that slate clean.”

Sebastian shook his head. “Come on Ziggy. You think you’re the only one who did things they’re ashamed of? Almost anyone who survived the camps did terrible things, Ziggy, things that make you look like a saint. You know what we tell them? We say, stop blaming yourself for what you had to do. Quit torturing yourself for the things that were outside your control. All that we demand is that you be a Jew among Jews.”

"In Palestine?”

"Yes, of course, it’s the only place we can ever be safe.”

Sebastian sounded so convincing that even though Ziggy knew what he was saying had to be full of holes, he couldn’t think of any arguments to the contrary. “So I take it you have a plan,” he said.

"Well yes, but it’s not completely worked out.”

"Explain what is worked out.”

"Well,” began Sebastian, “we know Himmler has set up his headquarters in a chateau a few miles outside Flensburg. The time to go in is now, while there are enough people that it’ll still be easy to confuse them. By tomorrow they may have moved on somewhere else. We’ve got a plane waiting, we could be there before midnight. We both put on SS uniforms, distract, confuse, act as decoys for each other. Get in close, grab him, get him out, like that!”

"It sounds harebrained,” said Ziggy.

"We’ve pulled off more with less.”

Ziggy nodded. It was true.

"It won’t be without problems,” said Sebastian. “Himmler’s got a guy working for him named Macher. He’s a particularly tough nut.”

"I know, I’ve met him,” said Ziggy.

Palestine. It sounded like it might be a good idea. Certainly there wouldn’t be much point in staying in Germany. He didn’t see why the Allies would be interested in rebuilding it. For all he knew, they’d let it revert to cow pasture. In Palestine, he’d be just another pioneer refugee, not a Magical Loerber Brother, not Hitler’s Jewish U-Boat ace. He could live with that.

Wipe the slate clean. Everything that had happened in the last ten years didn’t happen at all or it happened to someone else, someone who lies dead on the bottom of the Atlantic in his iron coffin, or something very nearly like it.

They talked about it some more, the logistics, the weapons they had, the size of Himmler’s force. Sebastian seemed to have a lot of backup manpower at his disposal. Some were already in the area disguised as Wehrmacht, others as British.

He watched Sebastian holding the coffee cup to his lips as he spoke. The sophistication he exuded was so natural, Ziggy could hardly reconcile it with the fumbling affectations which had defined his memory of him. But then, we’ve all become something else, made by the times and circumstances we intersected with. Even the ships I sank, the ones I watched burn and break up, and making myself stand there on the bridge listening to the cries for help which I could not render, knowing myself at my most cruel and predatory, none of it will matter once it’s put behind me. A memory is inherently false, frozen in time, yet endlessly buffeted by shifting context.

"If we’re going to do it, we need to get going now,” Sebastian said quietly.

"Right,” said Ziggy. His throat felt constricted. He pushed the chair back and got to his feet, suddenly feeling like he was slipping off a trapeze. “I have to go back now.”

Sebastian looked at him, but didn’t say anything.

Thanks for saving my life,” said Ziggy and quickly went out the door.
(Excerpt from Germania, first published in 2008 by Simon & Schuster, now also available on Kindle here).

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Korean War POW Who Never Came Home

Here is an article I just did for The New Yorker about Corporal John Roedel Dunn, a GI who got captured by the Chinese during the Korean War and for reasons no one knows, decided to defect after bravely standing up to his captors for more than two years. If he'd only held on for another couple of weeks, he would have been a war hero. But whatever he did, he considered unforgiveable and instead he became one of the despised turncoats and even though the others all eventually were allowed to return to the U.S., he was never heard from again. Until now. Read the full story here.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Himmler's Astrologer Proclaims Him the New Fuhrer

Franzi followed the adjutant through the padded door to the inner office. It was a far different scene from his earlier visit. Himmler was on the couch, his spectacles lying on the table, shirt unbuttoned and his undershirt pulled up above his chest, revealing the pasty white stomach which was already starting to spasm obscenely.

“Oh, Professor Loerber,” he groaned. “Something terrible has happened.”

Franzi looked around at the others, who seemed frozen in a kind of alert helplessness and wondered if the supreme moment had arrived. “Is the Fuhrer ... dead?” he asked.

Painfully, Himmler shook his head. “No, worse!” he answered. “He’s found out about my negotiations with Eisenhower and now he’s removed me from all my posts! I’m no longer Reichsfuhrer SS. I’m not even in the Party anymore.” He wiped his forehead with a handkerchief. “Oh, God, I feel just terrible. I should never have listened to Schellenberg!” Himmler buried his head in his hands and began to weep.

Franzi looked at the generals, the adjutants and aides de camp. With their eyes, they all seemed to implore him; Do something.”


“Reichsfuhrer,” Franzi began, “When you and everyone else in this room swore their oath of loyalty to Adolf Hitler, it was to a man who was the living embodiment of Germany. Well, he is no longer that man. What is happening in Berlin right now is merely the natural course of things, which each of us must embrace. Nothing lasts forever, change is constant. The old is always replaced by the new. The wheels of destiny are in perpetual motion. You can throw yourself in front of them, but you can’t stop them. Regrettably, the Fuhrer let himself believe otherwise. Had he possessed the grace to accept his destiny, things might not have become such a terrible mess. You did the right thing, Reichsfuhrer, and in a few hours all this unpleasantness with the Fuhrer will be over and you’ll be free to lead Europe into a bright day.”

“But he has given my post to Gauleiter Hanke,” moaned Himmler. “I’ve been demoted. This has never happened to me in my life! And now Grand Admiral Doenitz is coming to arrest me!”

For a moment Franzi felt thrown off. Then one of the adjutants handed him a piece of paper. It was a radiogram from Naval Headquarters, Ploen, tersely informing Himmler that, on instructions of the Fuhrer, Doenitz was on his way there.

“He just met with me this morning. Why else would he be coming back here?”

Franzi gave a shrill laugh. “You’ve got to be kidding, Reichsfuhrer! That little pipsqueak? He’s more scared of you than you are of him. He’s coming back here only because he’s been ordered to. All you have to do is tell him that it’s all enemy propaganda. You think he won’t accept it? Of course he will! He doesn’t need to get into a fight with you. He’s got enough problems as it is. And the Fuhrer no longer has the power to enforce anything. You need to let the Grand Admiral know who’s boss and let the rest take care of itself.

“Honestly Reichsfuhrer, looking around me here, I don’t see anybody leaving you to serve Gauleiter Hanke. Correct me if I’m wrong, gentlemen.” Franzi looked at the shocked faces of the generals and colonels, giving them his very best, drip-dry, Gustav Loerber smile and noted with great satisfaction how positively they all responded.

He turned back to Himmler. “Now whether the Fuhrer knows it or not, he’s already dead. Reichsfuhrer, you need to calm down and accept that your moment of destiny has come and it’s right now. Not tomorrow, not in an hour. Now!”

Franzi faced the others and in his most commanding voice declared, “Gentlemen, I present to you our new Fuhrer, Heinrich Himmler!” Turning back to Himmler, he snapped his right arm into a stiff salute and shouted, “Heil Himmler!”

There was stunned silence in the room as the others looked to Himmler to offer some qualification, to chastise the strange young man for his brashness. So what if he was a prophet? He was still only a junior officer. It wasn’t his place.

But Himmler only smiled.

“Heil Himmler!” shouted Franzi again. “Heil Himmler!”

They joined him on the third chant. “Heil Himmler!”

Himmler stood up from the couch. His shirt seemed to have buttoned itself and his thick-lensed spectacles were back on his nose. When he spoke, he was as calm and confident as Franzi had ever seen him.

“Gentlemen, we have a new millennium opening before us. The cosmos requires that we seize this moment. We all have our jobs to do. Let’s get to work.”

Grand Admiral Doenitz arrived soon after that, and was gone five minutes later, apparently satisfied with whatever explanation Himmler had offered him. That seemed to take care of that, everyone said and began settling into a celebratory evening, toasting the new Fuhrer of the German Reich and the man destined to lead Europe.
(Excerpt from Germania, first published in 2008 by Simon & Schuster, now also available on Kindle here).

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A Personal Holiday Message to You From Grand Admiral Karl Doenitz

Dear Friend

Yes, it's that time of year again! Holiday season. And let's face it, you're about to go out to some busy mall and you're going to shell out your hard-earned Reichsmarks to buy aftershave, ties or a pair of argyle socks, for that special World War II-addict in your life. And why? Especially since you know they'll never use them. The reason, of course, is that you can't stand having to go into a Barnes and Noble or some other bookstore and buy some overpriced and totally lame WWII book, because you have no idea what books they already have.

Do you mind if I make a suggestion?  Buy them an ebook version of Germania!!  It's got everything a Third Reich junkie craves. Lots of Nazis, tanks blowing up, wrecked airplanes, five monster flying boats, all bigger than the Spruce Goose. Who wouldn't want to see those?

Plus, I'm in it. That's right: along with my friends Albert Speer, Karl Jodl, Admiral von Friedeburg and even Reichsfuhrer SS Heinrich Himmler! You've watched them on the History Channel in grainy black and white stock footage that you've already seen a hundred times. With Germania, almost everything you read is brand new. You'll see things History Channel never got around to: you'll witness the moment Himmler's personal masseur leads the SS in their first "Heil Himmler!" You'll see his historical showdown with me, where I tell him Hitler picked someone besides himself to be the new Fuhrer.  If you don't know who did get the job, then you need to buy a copy of Germania for yourself. Germania for your dad or brother, or your boyfriend, or yourself.

Buy Germania for your girlfriend, because this is the kind of World War II book girls totally love.

It's available on Kindle, cheap!  By now you must have a Kindle; every happening person does.  And if you don't, you can go to Amazon, download the free Kindle App and that way you can read it on your PC, Tablet, MacBook, iPad, or even on your Android Smartphone. Think how much more fun it would be reading about the end of Nazi Germany while all your hipster friends assume you're playing Angry Birds, Mellow Gorillas or reading New Republic.

Here are some reviews from L.A. Times, Seattle Times and others, plus a celebrity endorsement from Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead.

Order Germania today,  for the sake of future generations!

Your pal,  Karl

Sunday, November 24, 2013

With a Magician's Help, Albert Speer Bugs Out of the Joint

“I’m sorry, colonel,” mumbled Speer.

Colonel von Poser looked away.

The laughter continued in sporadic bursts. Speer kept listening for other sounds, someone yelling, screaming, arguing. But all he heard was the laughing, loud and growing more hysterical, like whatever it was, had them busting their guts. Then suddenly it stopped and everything went quiet. Von Poser looked at Speer. This is it! They heard a lock turning on the steel door. Then it opened and out stepped the young man, only this time he wasn’t smiling or trying to look menacing. He handed them their identification books and gestured them to follow him. “Quickly,” he said.

They followed him down the corridor to another steel door. He took out a key on a long chain. He put a key in the lock, turned it and popped the door open. Dull gray daylight burst in. The young man stuck his head out but then pulled it back in and shut the door.

“Back,” he told them.
They went back up, past their cell, all the way to a place with three steel doors. Choosing the one on the left, he put his hand on the handle and looked at Speer and von Poser. “Just walk through quickly,” he told them in a quiet voice. “Don’t look around, don’t stop. Okay? Let’s go.”

He pushed the door open and quickly led them up another corridor through a small comfortable office with two desks at one side and on the other a low table surrounded by stuffed club chairs where the four men with automatics were sitting slumped over and leaning back, their mouths gaping open, the rest of their faces shot off. There was blood and brains everywhere. Speer did his best not to look.

The young man opened the far door and ushered them through, locking it behind them. They went up another corridor, much wider and lined with shelves and file cabinets. Halfway up, two men were going through an overhead cabinet. The young man turned back and fixed his eyes on Speer and von Poser. “All right,” he whispered. “One, two, three...”

They followed him past the two men who barely acknowledged them when they walked past. The next room was full of people at desks and typewriters and people carrying papers. Some people looked up, but nobody said anything. Twice people acted like they were going to say something. But somehow the young man’s nod quieted them and made them forget they were about to ask something pointed. Speer watched  the young man nod to different people and he guessed he had been somebody back when he was younger. Somebody whose face had been in photo magazines, always smiling, clean, bright-eyed, youthful Aryan laughter.

Who was he?

He took them through a lobby, past desks and rows of chairs and rifles and Party militiamen in brown coats with holster harnesses and black ammunition bandoliers strapped from their shoulders. He waved to a couple of burley men in feldgrau coats and constable’s hats. “Next time I’ll bring you some photographs,” he said like it would probably never happen. They nodded back like they didn’t really believe it either but looked forward to it just the same.

Outside, they went over to where Speer’s Mercedes had been left. The young man opened the back door and let them get in. Then he shut the back door, opened the front and put himself behind the wheel. The engine started up, he shoved it into gear and drove out.

They motored past milling groups of militiamen who ignored them, then went out a gate where no one bothered stopping them for papers. A few minutes later, they’d gone past streets full of bombed out buildings and then found themselves out of town and speeding up an empty road. Speer and von Poser sat back and exchanged looks of astonishment.

They drove past fields and pastures where cows were busily grazing, oblivious to everything but the grass.

Then the young man turned back to address them.

“All right, so here’s the deal,” he said. “I’m going to be your driver from now on. You’re trying to keep the Nazis from blowing everything up. Isn’t that right?” He said it like it was something everyone already knew. “Well you’re going about it the wrong way.”

“Apparently,” grunted von Poser.

“I can get you what you want,” the young man said. “I’ll have them eating out of your hands."

“How are you going to do that?” asked Speer.

“I’m magic,” the young man said. “No one ever refuses me.”

They looked at him dumbfounded.

“Why?” asked von Poser.

“I need to get around,” the young man explained. “Business to take care of.”

“Who are you?” asked Speer.

“Never mind who I am,” the young man snapped and returned to his driving.

Nobody said anything after that. Speer and von Poser settled into their bewildered silences. Speer stared out at the passing countryside. In the late afternoon sun, the winter fields no longer looked so bleak. He thought he saw hints of green beginning to emerge.

As he drove, the young man began whistling something Speer remembered orchestras playing back when he was still a young man with lots of dreams, but no job. A lyrical and melancholy number that expressed how everyone seemed to feel back then. Then he remembered it was called Harlem Rhapsody.

He remembered seeing the words in white lettering inside a black circle on a magazine page. And a crooked headline snaking across it asking Which One is Your Favorite?

And suddenly the names started hitting him like waves: Ziggy, Franzi, Sebastian and suddenly Speer knew exactly which one he was.

“Yes?” asked the young man.

“You’re Manni of the Flying Magical Loerber Brothers.”

The young man turned back and dazzled them with his smile. Then he turned back to keep his eyes on the road.
(Excerpt from Germania, first published in 2008 by Simon & Schuster, now also available on Kindle here).

Friday, November 22, 2013

George Ball, Paul Nitze, and John Kenneth Galbraith Drink Coffee on the Final Morning of the Third Reich

Back when I was originally researching Germania, I was able to get an interview with Paul Nitze, one of the greatest defense and foreign policy experts of the Postwar era, who had also been part of the United States Strategic Bombing Survey team that had gone to Flensburg in order to interview Albert Speer.  Nitze was very gracious and helpful and in the course of the two hours I spent talking with him, told many interesting and funny stories about their time at Flensburg and what it was like dealing with Speer.  The following excerpt, which did not make it into the final version of Germania, is based on what Nitze told me about the morning of the "Kibosh," when Speer, Doenitz and the rest of the Flensburg government were all finally arrested.
Barely five hours had passed since they’d come back from Schloss Glucksburg, when George Ball woke up in his bunk aboard the Patria. Seeing the bright morning sunlight eagerly streaming in through the tiny cabin’s lone porthole, he decided to get up. He thought how nice it would be to have coffee outside. He got dressed and then pulled out the Aladdin thermos flask his wife had given him from his bag and hurried to the officers’ mess to see if they’d fill it for him.

On the way he ran into Sergeant Fassberg. “What’s on the schedule for today, sergeant?”

“Nothing much,” Fassberg answered. “Apparently everyone else is still asleep.”
Hearing this, Ball held up his empty thermos and said, “I’m going topside for coffee. How about joining me?” He knew he shouldn’t be asking since, technically, he was an officer and they weren’t supposed to fraternize with noncoms. But being that his rank was largely administrative and with the war now over, he figured it was all bullshit anyway. Fassberg agreed it was an excellent idea. Ball went to the officers’ mess, got the thermos filled, filched two mugs, and with that, he and Fassberg made their way topside. But when they reached the entrance to the top deck, a British MP held up his gloved hand and turned them away.

“What’s going on?” asked Fassberg, perplexed.

“General Rook’s orders,” the MP told them. “He wants the deck cleared. The Nazi Admiral is coming.”

“Doenitz?” asked Ball.

“The new Hitler,” shrugged the MP. “I don’t know his name.” Then, to cover his bases, he guiltily added, “sir.”

“You know, we could always go ashore,” suggested Fassberg. “Have our coffee on the dock. I wouldn’t mind that.”

“Good idea,” said Ball.

Heading toward the gangway, they ran into Major Spivak. He looked worried. “Anyone seen Loerber? He hasn’t shown up yet.”

“I wouldn’t worry about it, sir,” said Fassberg. “You know what he’s like. He’s probably got a bag on up at the castle.”

But Spivak was unconvinced. “I don’t like it,” he said nervously. “Being as much of a Kraut as he is, he could get into trouble with the MPs. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but the Kibosh is on.”

“It is?”

“I got it from on high.”

“Well I guess that explains that,” said Ball, thinking about what the MP told them.

“Listen,” said Spivak. “I’m going to take the jeep back up to the castle and make sure nothing has happened. Tell Galbraith when you see him.”

Out on the quay, Ball and Fassberg looked around until they found a low wall they could sit on. Ball poured the coffee and handed one of the steaming mugs to Fassberg.

“So today it all gets rolled up, hey?” said Fassberg. “About time, I’d say.”

“Amen to that,” said Ball.

“I mean this place has really become a joke.”

“Comic opera, I’d say,” agreed Ball.

It looked like any May morning in Flensburg. A flock of seagulls floated complacently on the oily waves, while further out in the harbor, the vast disarray of unmanned destroyers, minesweepers, gunboats and small craft bobbed discordantly from their tethers and chains.

“I don’t think any of them actually realize the jig is up,” said Fassberg. “I mean can you believe Speer?”

“Crafty little bastard,” said Ball. “I have to admit, there were times I forgot what I was dealing with.”

“Dirty Nazi rat,” spat Fassberg. “Where does he ever get the idea that he’d have a place running the post-war world? He’s nuts, right?”

Ball laughed. “It’s hard for some people to accept that the world will go on without them.”

A line of turreted, four-wheeled armored scout cars broke the morning’s peace as they motored noisily down the quay, causing the seagulls in the water to arch their necks, irritably flap their wings and fly away.

“But it really is a beautiful morning,” observed Fassberg. “A perfect day for all this shit to end.”
First published in 2008 by Simon & Schuster, Germania is now also available on Kindle here.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

In Admiralspalast Dressing Room, Nazi Party Fatboys Lay Down the Law on Betty Boop and Bosko

“Boys, I’d like you to meet my new friends,” Gustav Loerber said. “This is Gauleiter Gunderson and Gauleiter Boehm. Sirs, may I present my sons Ziggy and Sebastian Loerber.”

Ziggy and Sebastian both snapped into bows, then snapped back up and extended their hands to the eager gauleiters.

“A pleasure, lads,” said Boehm.

“So where are the others?” asked Gunderson. “Where is Manni and Franzi?”

Gustav looked at his two sons and wondered why the question hadn’t occurred to him. “Where are they?” he asked.

Both brothers grinned.
“I’m afraid they’ve been kidnapped by some of the Tiller Girls, father,” Sebastian said quickly. “Isn’t that right, brother?”

Ziggy nodded.

Both gauleiters let out a laugh. “Hah! That’s good,” said Gunderson. “Perhaps we should organize an assault team to rescue them, what do you say to that, Maestro?”

Gustav grinned. Good idea, but first, business. “Boys,” he said. “I’ve invited these gentlemen to meet you because they have a message for you from the Fuhrer himself.”

Sebastian and Ziggy each clapped a hand on their throats. “A message from the Fuhrer?” they gasped.

“That’s right,” answered Boehm. “Though the Fuhrer wanted it delivered to all four of you, I think we can do it right now, since it mainly concerns Herr Sebastian here.”

“Me?” asked an impossibly delighted Sebastian.

“I just can’t believe how much you two look alike,” said Gunderson. “Gustav, how do you tell them apart?”

Gustav Loerber smiled graciously. “It helps to be magical.”

The two gauleiters laughed. The fact was the gauleiters were themselves nearly identical; both fat and bald with comb-overs and meek little mustaches cowering from under their noses. Once, they both might have been fighters, but that had been a long time ago. Now all they wanted was to eat good food, drink French champagne and have someone pretty play with their dicks.

They looked at the two smiling young men, attentive in their chairs. Gunderson nodded to Boehm. Boehm cleared his throat and began. “First of all, the Fuhrer greets you and invites you four wonderful boys to add your magic to the National Socialist Revolution. He wants to assure you that you will have complete artistic freedom to create new variety pieces.”

Then Gunderson spoke. “And the Fuhrer would like to commission Sebastian to compose a special dance composition for the show. He said to feel free to make it as abstract as you’d like. The Fuhrer has personally told me that he loves your avant-garde work the most. Do you think you can do that, Sebastian?”

Sebastian smiled. “Please tell the Fuhrer I am honored.”

Both gauleiters smiled. Good. The Fuhrer would smile.

Boehm raised his finger. “The Fuhrer was also wondering if any of you’d ever thought about studying architecture.”

Ziggy stepped in. “Well now isn’t that amazing! We were just this minute talking about the subject and we both agreed that architecture is the greatest of all possible professions. Isn’t that right, brother?”

“Absolutely,” gleamed Sebastian.

Then Gunderson’s gaze fell on the line of figurines at the bottom of Ziggy’s mirror. His smile faded. He jabbed his finger at the tiny big-eyed flapper with the garter on her thigh. “What is this then?”

“Betty Boop and Bosko, Herr Gauleiter, characters from American cartoon films.”

“I know they are characters from American cartoons, young man. The real question is what do they represent? In your youthful idealism, you are probably thinking Betty Boop merely represents a free-spirited flapper and Bosko a funny animal, and therefore equally innocuous.”

“Aren’t they?” asked Ziggy.

“Sadly no,” said the gauleiter. “In truth, Betty Boop and Bosko each represent a cleverly disguised attack on the purity of our Aryan youth and our Aryan culture. Why? I am sad to be the one to inform you of this, but you must understand that Betty Boop is first and foremost, a Jewess. Yes! And Bosko, he is not a funny animal at all, but represents a little colored person! And so both represent degeneracy and disease. You must get rid of them both. Mickey Mouse can stay!”

He held out his large hand and waited as Ziggy handed over the unwholesome figurines. “I am very sorry,” he said, looking contrite.

“Just never let it happen again,” the gauleiter muttered, letting the matter drop.

The door opened and in came Franzi and Manni, both wearing overcoats and looking startled. But then Sebastian and Ziggy went into action, making introductions, getting them to agree to helping the Fuhrer any way they could and then everyone smiling and laughing and shaking hands.

Gustav Loerber gestured at his guests with an upraised thumb and forefinger. “A little drink, perhaps?”

The two gauleiters nodded and giddily exchanged glances as Gustav started over to the cupboard. Manni and Franzi shot Ziggy an alarmed look, like they already knew what was inside.

Gustav pulled open the cupboard door. Inside was Frau Lachmann, trembling wild-eyed, her bloody mouth gaping in fear. But somehow neither Gustav nor the others noticed her. He reached in past her and took out a bottle and tray of small glasses. Then he closed the door.

As Gustav began pouring schnapps into the glasses, Franzi and Manni looked over at Sebastian and Ziggy. Suddenly they all grinned.

The three fat men held aloft their glasses. “Gentlemen,” declared Gustav. “To our Fuhrer and success!”
(Excerpt from Germania, first published by Simon & Schuster in 2008, now also available on Kindle here).

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

"Friend of the Devil" - Blues Musician Gives a Lift to the Devil, Who's Late for a Midnight Meeting at the Crossroads.

Stevens takes a look into the backseat and sees my guitar. “So, you’re a musician?” he asks.

I nod. “That I am,” I say.

“What do you play?”

I flash him my entertainer’s smile and say, “I play anything I can get paid a nickel for.”

“Ah,” he says, smiling like it’s a good thing. “I used to play the guitar myself when I was young. Don’t play much anymore.”

I nod and we fall back into silence for a minute. Then I ask him, “So where in Tupelo you going?”

I watch the way he grinds his hairy country face, and I know that means his story is about to start changing. “Ah, yes, well,” he says, “it’s not actually Tupelo proper, but the crossroads just outside town.”

At that, my ears perk up. “The Crossroads? You mean Highway 61?”

“Why, yes, yes,” he says. “Highway 61. I was supposed to meet a man there at midnight.”

“At midnight?”“Yes,” he says. “That’s when we agreed to meet. But like I told you, I’ve had a lot of problems and now I’m late.”

“The Crossroads at midnight?”


I can’t believe what I’m hearing. I’ve got to tell you, I’ve been a street singer and traveling bluesman for some years now and I’ve probably had a hundred different cats tell me the same tale about meeting a man at midnight at the Highway 61 Crossroads. I let out a little chuckle. “So what were you planning on doing, Mister Stevens? Selling your soul to the Devil?”

Naturally, I expect him to laugh with me, but instead his jaw drops like he’s in shock.

“Whu, whu, what are you talking about?” he asks.

“Come on,” I say, “Devil at the Crossroads, that’s what you’re talking about, right? It’s only the oldest joke in the world.”

“Joke?” He looks genuinely astounded. “What on earth are you talking about?”

So, fool that I am, I tell it to him. “A musician meets the Devil at the Crossroads at midnight, he hands over his guitar, the Devil fiddles with the tuning and hands it back. From that moment on, the musician plays better than anyone else, and money, women, whiskey, cars and fine clothes all come his way, until the day the Devil comes for him and takes him away.”

Stevens listens in horror. “They tell that story?”

“All the time.”

“They do?”

I nod.

“But you said it’s a joke.”

“It is a joke,” I tell him.

“But jokes are supposed to be funny.”

“You might think it was funny if you heard how bad some of these guys play,” I say and laugh again.

(Friend of the Devil, available on Kindle here)

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Speer in the Ruhr: Sharing Confidences with a British Spy

Back in the car, driving through the night, rain spattering against the windscreen as the pneumatic wipers made faltering sweeps on the glass, they had the radio turned up high, blaring enemy fighter coordinates along with Bruckner. Speer was in the front seat, staring ahead into the garbled gray horizon, past the flashes of artillery and streams of tracer rounds, and wondering what was going to happen with them. He didn’t want to go back to Berlin. He didn’t want to answer to Hitler for what he’d been doing here. He didn’t want to be forgiven and be allowed to worm his way back into Hitler’s good graces so they could again spend endless hours talking about architecture or movie musicals or how someday the two of them were going to design and build the finest neo-gothic cathedral back in his hometown of Linz.

At the moment they were driving toward Duisburg, not that there was anything waiting for them there other than a fueling station where they could fill up their tanks with diesel. In the three days since the incident, their crusade had deteriorated into an aimless shuffling about. The Battle of the Ruhr Pocket, as it was being called, was already in full force and with it, the fate of the region’s factories and chemical plants had passed from the hands of the gauleiters and militias to the Americans, who seemed content to bomb and shell it all to bits. Even so, it felt better to remain there than go home. Here they were beyond Hitler’s reach and the Russians weren’t likely to get there anytime soon.

He glanced over at Manni Loerber at the wheel and wondered what he was thinking. Having ended his own personal retribution campaign, Manni also didn’t seem to have any idea what to do next. Odd guy, thought Speer. One minute he could be as remote as an iceberg, the next as energetic and affable as your oldest friend. They might spend hours driving about without exchanging a word, then stop somewhere, brew up some coffee, have a bite, and suddenly he would start cracking jokes, break out the balls and insist they spend the next hour juggling. And whenever they did, Speer, who was normally reticent about sharing confidences with anybody, would end up spilling his guts, telling Manni things about Hitler he hadn’t even told his wife. Afterwards he’d always regret the things he’d said. Speer wanted his rebellion to be on his own terms and didn’t like the idea of being so easily manipulated. But being finally around someone so quick and witty was like a drug for him and he couldn’t help telling him things. It also made it all the more obvious just how mediocre and tiresome even the best conversations he’d had with Hitler had been.

“Night fighters in grid C-1, Mosquitoes in grid B-9, squadron of bombers flying east south east Grid B-14,” the voice on the radio announced, then returned to a piano etude.

That day he’d told Manni about the time Hitler had, on a whim, given the order to melt down all the Luftwaffe’s bombers and build nothing but fighter planes. The day before he told him about Germania, and all the endless hours they’d spend together revising cupolas and shopping arcades and imagining the way the great dome would look in the light of a setting sun. He even told him of the time when he’d been gravely ill the summer before, and Hitler had allowed Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS and Speer’s chief nemesis, to have him transferred to a special SS clinic where Himmler almost succeeded in having him poisoned.

Manni in turn told Speer a few secretsof his own; how Old Gustav was actually from Bulgaria, and their mother’s great uncle had been a rabbi in Riga. The Loerber Brothers, the blue-eyed, quintessentially Aryan Loerber Brothers, were Jews.

“Night fighters in grid D-16 heading north,” said the radio announcer. “Mustangs in grid D-4 heading east. Mustangs in grid A-6, A-7, and A-9, circling.”

Morning found them on the outskirts of Ludenscheid. They’d driven till three, then taken shelter inside a half-wrecked building which a Volkssturm battalion was using as its command post. Partially demolished buildings had become valuable since they were less likely to be directly targeted for additional pounding. Speer stood at its entrance, huddled in his overcoat, staring out at the drizzle and the gray bleakness and wondering if this was the day he’d finally get caught.

In the yard below, some soldiers had a fire going, using wood pulled from the wreckage, with a large cooking pot dangling from an iron tripod above the flames. Nearby stood the volkssturmers, gray and grizzled, shivering in their heavy coats. They were old men, retired bakers and clerks and librarians. Men who’d fought their own wars long ago and having survived them, didn’t see the point in dying now. Speer wondered what Hitler would think if he saw them. Would he continue proclaiming that they were what was going to turn the war around or would he give a wave of his hand and send them all home?

“He can be quite magnanimous when it suits him,” he remembered telling Manni the day before. At that, Manni gave a cruel snicker which still rankled Speer. He didn’t like having to defend Hitler, but at the same time, he felt miffed by such glaring absence of awe. He was, after all, Hitler, not some puffed-up party hack.

(An abbreviated version of this chapter appears in Germania, first published in 2008 by Simon & Schuster, now also available on Kindle here).

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

"Friend of the Devil," where "O Brother Where Art Thou" meets "Last Temptation of Christ."

Finally, I’ve had enough. I toss the broken rifles aside and just stand there trying to catch my breath. That’s when I hear the music playing. It’s coming from a radio inside the store; one of those hillbilly family quartets they have singing on the border blaster:

Just a few more weary days and then,
I’ll fly away, fly away
To the land where joys will never end,
I’ll fly away, fly away.
I’ll fly away, O Glory,
I’ll fly away.
When I die, halleluiah by and by,
I’ll fly away, fly away. makes me happy that while time might be standing still here, somewhere down in sunny Mexico reality goes on just like it always does. It also makes me suspect that this is all very local and temporary and might end any moment so I’d better get a move on, so I go to the gas pump and fill up. Then I run into the store and fill a bag with apples, soda crackers, a loaf of sliced bread and a big piece of ham, then carry them back to my car and load them into the back seat.

I’m about to start up the engine and go, when I look at Hamer and decide I still need to finish the job. So I go back, reach into his jacket and remove his billfold, which is bulging with ones and fives. I can use those. Then I notice he’s got a shoulder holster and a big pistol riding inside it. I reach in and take it out. It’s a beauty, all right; a .45 caliber, single action Colt, silver plated. On the side of it I see inscribed, “Capt. Frank Hamer, State Ranger. Presented by the citizens of Corpus Christi, 7-22-22.”

I decide Imo keep it for myself. But because it wouldn’t do without I let him in on who done this particular deed, I extract the pencil and notepad he’s got in his pocket and I write him a little note.

“Dear Capt. Hamer, I could have killed you now, but, unlike you, that’s not how I operate. I haven’t done anything wrong, I’m not part of Clyde Barrow’s outfit and don’t intend to join. But if you keep bothering with me, by God, I shall kill you with your own pistol.”

And I sign it, “Very truly yrs, Herbert T. Barrow.”

I stick this back inside his holster, then head back to my car and drive away.
(Excerpt from Friend of the Devil, available on Kindle here).

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Doenitz Sends for Speer, Americans Get in the Way with Questions.

"The Old Man wants you to go to the motor pool. Get a vehicle, drive up to Schloss Glucksburg and fetch Speer. It sounds like he’s playing the truant again. Bring him back, no excuses. The Grand Admiral doesn’t care if he’s dying of cancer. Do you think you can do it?”

"Jawohl,” answered Ziggy, jumping to his feet. “I’ll bring him back immediately.”

"Good,” said Ludde-Neurath. “Try not to start any gun battles.” Ziggy could see the glint of amusement in the senior officer’s eyes. Had his time in the doghouse already ended?

The motor pool assigned him a small kubel with exactly one liter of petrol in the tank. Ten minutes later he was approaching Glucksburg. In the daylight, uncloaked from darkness and shadow, the schloss hardly resembled the place where only two nights before they’d fought a crazed gun battle. Instead what he saw was a slightly garish, tall white building, not at all fearsome, with narrow windows and uninteresting proportions.

Driving up to the front gate, he was met by a squad of armed but dispirited-looking Wehrmacht. Ziggy wondered where they’d been the night of the battle. Had they absented themselves by prior arrangement or simply upon seeing Himmler’s men drive up.
The soldiers stepped aside and Ziggy motored slowly through the narrow forecourt passage. As he passed out of the rear portal and began driving over the bridge, something up on the battlements caught his eye. He looked up against the sunlight and saw the outline of two men juggling. Stopping the car, he held his hand up against his forehead to shield his eyes from the glare. One of the men was unmistakably his brother Manni. The other was not so tall, a little heavier and older, but also surprisingly nimble, like he’d been doing it for years. It was Speer.

Ziggy drove on across the moat and into the castle courtyard. A sentry escorted him inside to a small reception room, where a minute later he was met by a thin young man in a gray suit. “I’m sorry, but the Reichsminister is busy,” he told Ziggy.

"The Grand Admiral wants Reichsminister Speer to report to the government building immediately,” said Ziggy.

"I shall give him your message,” said the young man.

"No, he is coming with me,” said Ziggy. “I have orders to bring him to the Grand Admiral.”

The young man led Ziggy into a large parlor which had been converted into a makeshift typing pool, where a half dozen young women sat clattering away at typewriters while two others fed paper into a mimeograph machine. He found a chair and sat down.

A minute later, the door opened and the young man stepped back inside, followed by a long stream of men in American uniform who, except for a few, seemed distinctly unmilitary. And unlike the British up at the Marineschule, who treated any Germans they encountered with a rancid prickliness, these men all seemed relaxed and downright jovial.

The secretary pursed his hands together. “Please excuse the disarray, gentlemen,” he said.

"Oh that’s all right,” quipped a tall, beaky man who looked like he could use a haircut.

"Is all this for us?” asked another, pointing at several neat stacks of documents lined up on one of the tables.

"Yes, it is,” said the young man in slightly labored English. “Those are the reports on the electrical industry.”

"Excellent, excellent.”

"I will go up and notify the Minister that you are here. Please excuse me, gentlemen.”

As soon as the young man had closed the door behind him, the Americans padded around the table mischievously. One of the typists gave them a disapproving glare.

"Excuse us, ladies,” said one of them.

"Sprechenzee English?” asked another with a sheepish smile. The young woman glowered back and continued typing.

Then they spotted Ziggy sitting in his chair. “Hello,” one said.

"Hallo,” answered Ziggy.

"Do you, uhh, sprechenzee...”

"Yes, I speak English,” answered Ziggy.

Suddenly they were all interested in him. “Do you work for Speer in some capacity?”

"Howdja get that Iron Cross?”

"Were you in U-Boats? What can you tell us about production of the Type XXIs?”

"Say! Aren’t you Ziggy of the Flying Magical Loerber Brothers? I used to watch you perform at the Blue Star.”

"At that, the secretaries all looked up from their typing. “Ziggy?” Then one of them pointed at him. “Look! It’s Ziggy! Ziggy!” The collective gasp that went through them sounded more gut-wrenching to Ziggy than a torpedo detonating against the hull of a ship.

"Holy Cow, Paul, you’re right, it is him.”

"What are you talking about? Magical who?”

"The Flying Magical Loerber Brothers, Ken. I can’t believe you’ve never heard of them. Four brothers, identical quadruplets, the biggest thing in vaudeville, everyone loved them!”

"Paul’s right! These guys are famous. I must have seen them perform a dozen times at the Blue Star. They were fantastic!”

Then they turned to Ziggy. “I saw you perform at the Admiralspalast,” one said.

"I saw you perform at the Mocambo Club,” said another.

"Ziggy Loerber, Holy Cow!”

The women had stopped typing and were staring at him as if they hadn’t decided whether it would be improper to get up and flock around a favorite star who was now a naval officer with the Knight’s Cross around his neck.

Still seated, Ziggy stared back at them and knew something didn’t add up. Why were they acting so excited towards him? Surely they knew Manni was already there with Speer. But maybe they didn’t. So what was he doing there if they didn’t know about it? He had to be there as a spy. Why else would he be juggling in plain sight with Speer? Could he be there to kill Speer? But why?

Ziggy decided he needed to move quickly. He stood up from his chair and gave a curt bow to the secretaries and the Americans. “Excuse me, but I must go.”

"But Herr Loerber, wait!”

He stepped out of the salon, carefully closing the door behind him. Speer was coming down the stairs with his secretary. With his eyes settling briefly on Ziggy, the secretary whispered something to Speer. Speer nodded noncommittally and then proceeded past Ziggy to the salon door.

Ziggy stepped in front of the door. “Excuse me, Herr Reichsminister,” he said.

"Yes,” asked Speer, looking directly at Ziggy for an instant before turning to his secretary with his eyebrows raised slightly in reproach.

Ziggy continued unflustered. “The Grand Admiral has instructed me to drive you to the Marineschule.”

Speer regarded him bemusedly. “But Captain, don’t you see, I have guests.”

For a moment, Ziggy felt completely intimidated by Speer. He had a presence that bespoke superiority and wit and honestly acquired arrogance.

"The Grand Admiral wants you there, immediately,” Ziggy said in the same tone he always gave orders in.

Speer shrugged. “All right,” he said. “Let’s go.”

Ziggy shook his head. “First I must speak with my brother. Where is he?”

I beg your pardon,” said Speer, looking puzzled.

"Manni Loerber,” said Ziggy.

Speer studied Ziggy like he was a buried memory already working its way out of the ground. “Second staircase on your left,” he said in a guarded tone.

"Thank you,” said Ziggy and started running up the corridor.

The staircase went up five flights, after which the carpet and white walls gave way to wood and bare stone. He reached the top landing and, pushing open a heavy door, stepped outside onto the sun-washed expanse of battlements. He looked about the different stone walkways connecting the four towers, but saw no one. He walked over to the parapet and leaned down from one of the tooth-like gaps to take a look. Below was the lake and the green fields and the carpet of trees beyond. Then he felt something cold and hard press against the side of his neck. “What are you doing here?” asked a man’s soft voice.

"Manni, it’s me,” said Ziggy.


"Would you get the gun off me?”
(An abbreviated version of this chapter appears in Germania, first published by Simon & Schuster in 2008, now also available on Kindle here).

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Statler Hilton Hotel - The Case of the Mysterious Mr. Chiu


Hey All,  I decided to post this article I wrote about four years ago for D Magazine, because it just got reported that a new buyer has been found for the Hotel,  an incredibly ironic piece of Mid-Century Modern architecture in Downtown Dallas.  Hopefully, this guy will do what is necessary to bring this building back to life.  Interestingly,  this is the Dallas hotel where Richard Nixon was staying when Kennedy got assassinated nearly fifty years ago.  Bet you all didn't know that!!!  It's also where Tina Turner finally walked out of Ike and where Liberace got nicely relieved of a lot of expensive jewelry.  Read and enjoy,  friends and neighbors!

The Case of the Mysterious Mr. Chiu and the Statler Hotel

by Brendan McNally  Published 5.19.2010 From D Magazine JUN 2010

The two buildings stand together on Commerce Street, frozen by a spell of decrepitude, waiting for a hero to restore their youth and viability. The Statler Hilton and the old Dallas Public Library, once lauded as outstanding examples of midcentury modern architecture, are a wreck. 

Late last year, the City Council and the mayor’s office made encouraging noises about the Statler’s role in the revitalization of downtown. And almost on cue, a new suitor appeared. His name was Richard Chiu, president of Warwick International, a luxury hotel chain headquartered in Paris. Chiu apparently had—or has—ideas for the Statler, possibly combining a boutique hotel, condominiums, offices, and retail. City Hall prepared incentives for him to redevelop the property, including trading green cards for investment. Councilman Ron Natinsky evinced guarded optimism. “We’re expecting a concrete proposal first quarter of 2010,” he told me. Contacted through his company, Chiu promised a face-to-face interview when he came to Dallas sometime in the new year. 

But January turned to February and February into March, and there was no sign of Richard Chiu. City Hall turned tight-lipped. Then Chiu’s publicist revealed that he had already come and gone. I was invited to submit written questions. Having done that, there seemed nothing left to do but go downtown, stand in front of the Statler, and face the void.   READ THE FULL ARTICLE HERE

Friday, November 8, 2013

Von Friedeburg and Surrender Party Return from Berlin


Even though Flensburg airport was now officially under British control, their presence at this point was still so small that it was hard to tell anything had changed. The Nazi flags were down, but the only Union Jack that was evident was a tiny one tacked up outside the operations hut. Everything else was much the same as before the surrender. The Luftwaffe colonel who’d commanded the base beforehand was still going around giving orders as before. The difference, of course, was that now he was taking his orders from a young British lieutenant.

Everything was grounded. The day before, two German aircraft had been permitted to fly out: one to Prague, the other to Courland, to carry Doenitz’ surrender orders to the respective German Army Group commanders. But other than that, nothing could take off without express British permission.

The airfield was littered with dozens of aircraft, mostly single-engine Messerschmitt and Focke-Wulf fighters along with some two-engine night fighters and bombers. They stood scattered in no particular order, certainly not in anything resembling lines. Most were painted in a mottled gray and white camouflage. Others were grey with green or brown spots. Some were just solid gray. Some were under tarps, others were missing
engines or canopies or cowling or sections of wing. Either way, none looked like they’d ever fly again. Their time had passed, as surely as that of the mastodons and dinosaurs. In the course of a few days, they had imperceptibly transitioned from weapons of war into finely crafted detritus.

Peter Cremer had been up to the airfield several times in the last few days. As commander of the Grand Admiral’s security battalion, his authority was officially limited to the grounds of the Marineschule, where the new government had its headquarters, but the reality was that he was free to go anywhere he wanted without permission. The British were mostly interested in keeping anything German from taking off. Other than that they weren’t looking for trouble.

It was not as chaotic as it’d been immediately after the surrender had been announced. Things were beginning to quiet down into a sort of universal numbness as people tried to accustom themselves to the fact that after nearly six years of fighting, the war was now over. But that didn’t mean the anger and tension wasn’t lurking everywhere. Fights would break out suddenly between people who until then had been quiet and orderly. Sometimes at night they’d hear shooting going on along the waterfront or in the nearby woods. It was the uncertainty more than anything. No one had any idea what was going to come next.

This morning he’d come to the airport to pick up Von Friedeburg and Ziggy who, after a week, were finally coming back. From what Cremer understood, the idea originally had been that Ziggy and von Friedeburg would return to Flensburg immediately after signing the surrender to Eisenhower. But of course that wasn’t how it worked out. No sooner had it been completed than the Russians apparently began screeching about how it was unfair to them and demanded another surrender, an official one, be signed in Berlin with them officiating and with representatives of the Western Allies in attendance, instead of the other way around. So while Jodl was allowed to return to Flensburg, Ziggy and von Friedeburg, obedient to their new masters, boarded another Dakota and were flown to Berlin.

He stepped out of the operations hut into the bright morning sunlight and, placing his hand above his left brow to block out the sun’s glare, combed the southern sky for some sign of an approaching aircraft. The British controller inside had told him the flight from Berlin was due any minute. But there was still no sign of it.

Alongside one of the hangars, a line of staff cars and escort vehicles waited, their engines idling. Along with Ziggy and Admiral von Friedeburg, the airplane would be carrying Field Marshall Keitel, head of Armed Forces High Command, and General Stumpf, the newly appointed head of the Luftwaffe. It would have made more sense to have stuck them all in a single vehicle; certainly they could have stood saving that much petrol. But in the Old Man’s eyes, they’d already endured enough humiliation that he figured it would be better to allow them the indulgence. It made as much sense as anything did these days. Cremer thought that as long as the admirals were getting the goodies, he might as well do the same for Ziggy, who he figured was probably greatly in need of letting off some steam.

A group of Luftwaffe officers stood on the flight line ahead of Cremer. One with binoculars was pointing to a spot among the clouds while the others nodded. Then he heard the low drone of engines. Cremer stared hard until he could make out a black dot. A few seconds later it had grown to a full-sized twin-engine Dakota.

With a roar of its engines, and a bounce on its wheels, it put down on the grassy airfield, taxied up toward the tower, then abruptly turned and stopped, its engines still going full force. A door opened on the midsection of the aircraft’s left side and one of the British crewmembers jumped out and began helping the Germans down. It took only a few seconds. There were no exchanges of goodbyes or handshakes with those remaining on board. It seemed more like people being disgorged from a tram. As soon as they were all off, the side door shut again, the aircraft turned, the engines grew louder and, its mission completed, it lumbered its way back to the airstrip to take off.

As the travel-worn group walked towards them, a flock of aides and adjutants ran from the cars to meet them, relieving them of their bags and overcoats. Ziggy had been carrying the admiral’s valise, he handed it to one of them. Spotting Cremer, he bid farewell to von Friedeburg, who gave him a brief nod, discharging him from any further duties.

Ziggy Loerber looked tired, as if he’d just returned from a ten-week U-boat patrol. “Hello Peter, good to see you,” he said glumly. He followed Cremer to his open-roofed Kubelwagen.

“Glad it’s over?” asked Cremer.

Ziggy shook his head back and forth wearily and rolled his eyes. “You wouldn’t believe it,” he said.

“How was Berlin?”

“Like a moonscape.”

Cremer waited for the others to drive off before he started up the car. He let off the brake and slowly motored past the hangars and other buildings. Then he noticed a British officer step out in front of them with his hand outstretched, and a big, friendly smile on his face, signaling them to stop.
(This is an excerpt from a chapter that got cut from my novel Germania, first published in 2008 by Simon & Schuster, now also available on Kindle here).

Thursday, November 7, 2013

More Heard It on the "X"

At three minutes to, the light in the announcer’s booth comes on and I can see that Billy Bays, one of the station’s afternoon announcers, has come in. He greets us and then he and Raoul do a quick check and he smiles and gives me a thumbs-up. They’ve got about a dozen different announcers doing shifts at the station. They’re all bright, sunny guys, and everything they say always has an exclamation point attached.

“Thirty seconds,” says Raoul.

I nod and begin quickly playing the melody to the opening instrumental, which is a rolling medley of Sunshine Trails and Happy in the Saddle. When we go on the air, he’ll have me playing in the background and then, once Billy Bays finishes doing his thing, he’ll switch that mike off and bring me up to full.

“Ten seconds.”

Billy Bays and I both nod. Then Raoul holds up his hand for five, four, three... Then the on-the-air light comes on and he points to Billy Bays, who immediately starts speaking: “The Royal Consolidated Chemical Corporation of Chicago, Illinois, is proud to present The Peruna Program! Featuring America’s favorite singing cowboy, Slim Gatlinburg! Take it away, Slim!”
My strumming gets fiercer, as Billy Bays' booth light goes out. I let it go on another thirty seconds or so, then I start talking while I continue to pick and strum.

“Howdy there, friends and neighbors, this is Slim Gatlinburg, your saddle pal, host and good neighbor along the way. Golly, I’m glad you’ve come by my campfire to visit, because we got a really swell program ready for you today, some songs I know you’ll really like. Now here’s an old favorite of mine, My Oklahoma Home.”

When it’s springtime on the prairie, 
And the sagebrush is beginning to flower 
That’s when I’m riding back to my Oklahoma home 
Where the trees sing in the breeze 
And the Sooner Sun starting to tower 
‘Cause that’s where this cowboy’s sweetheart is waiting 
And soon we’ll be celebrating 
On my Indian pony I’m riding 
Over the prairie we’ll be gliding 
Back to my Oklahoma home.

Now I do the chorus. Needless to say, this is something I wouldn’t be caught dead playing in a saloon. But I’ll sing it on street corners when the audience tends toward families and maiden aunts and kids who go to sleep each night needing to believe cowboys all drink soda pop and carry banjos while they’re riding the range. It’s for people who don’t ever think about dustbowls and hungry, thirsty cattle and skies that are always gray. Now the second verse.

When it’s springtime on the prairie
And we’re riding along the trail
Watching the gray white dove above me
And hearing the peeping quail
That’s when my heart is laughing,
And I know it won’t be long
‘till she’s riding her pony beside me,
back in my Oklahoma home.

By now, it’s like a big chunk of my brain has stepped outside for a smoke. The problem with singing in a broadcast studio is there isn’t anyone in the audience to fix on. I try singing to Raoul, but, being an engineer, he’s not hearing any music, only sound levels and interference. Suddenly I start wondering again what the hell I said or did that got him all pissed off so much. All I did was ask about that guy. Is the reason I never heard about him that everyone is so scared of him they don’t even mention his name?

I do another song, one about rolling wagon wheels, followed by one about campfires and shooting stars. And the whole time I’m singing it, I’m thinking about the way Christine looked down her nose at me this morning when I was visiting the office. The nerve she has ordering me to provide song lists without bothering to say who’s asking for it. Those people all act like they’re doing me a big favor having me sing for them and that the five-dollar bill they give me after each show is a lot more than I’m worth, but I know it’s their way of keeping me on a short leash. If I wasn’t pulling mail, I’d be long gone. And if I wasn’t pulling a whole lot of mail, they wouldn’t have added the Good Neighbor Get Together to my workload.

I start to strum another song, but then I see Raoul waving for me to start my first commercial break. I take my left hand off the neck and take the first script from the stand.

“You know, folks, when you’re out riding the range, day after day, I can tell you, there’s nothing worse than having a sluggish system. Do you ever feel like that? Now, you’re probably just like me, most of the time strong and regular, but sometimes we all need a little help. That’s why I want you to try Peruna, with the absolute, positive understanding that it’ll restore you to a regular state or your money will be cheerfully refunded.

“Every day we get hundreds of letters from folks just like yourself who’ve been troubled by sluggishness and, after using Peruna, they’re right back to their old active selves. Peruna, the modern miracle medicine made by your friends at the Royal Consolidated Chemical Corporation of Chicago, Illinois. Just send two dollars to Peruna, care of this station, Del Rio, Texas. And please tell them Slim Gatlinburg sent you!”

And I look again at the clock, twenty minutes have gone by, which means I’ve still got an hour and forty minutes left.

“Now here’s one of my favorite songs. It’s called Under the Blue Wyoming Moon and it goes like this.”

oer the hills the doggies play 
And I’m happy in the saddle again!
 (Excerpt from Friend of the Devil, available on Kindle here).

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Wolfgang Luth Learns His Number Two Is a Jew

At the edge of the park was a hillside that overlooked Flensburg harbor. Ziggy lit a cigarette and stared out at the ships anchored there. Apart from all the U-Boats, there were destroyers, corvettes, minesweepers, patrol craft, and even a cruiser. And in all of them, probably not more than a few dozen crew still aboard. They were dead ships, the German Kriegsmarine was a dead navy. The victors would divide them among themselves. A few ships might live on a few years as workhorses or testing vessels. The rest would be broken up for scrap, used for targets or just sunk.

Then he realized the flying boats were gone. Cremer must have already got them towed up to the cove. Manni definitely had a clever idea. Had the flying boats remained there in plain view, they’d quickly stop seeming special and simply fade into the mosaic of rusting, derelict warships. But now, having been revealed and then promptly hidden, their mystique would exert itself deeper into the imagination, making the prospect of flying away in one all the more tantalizing. And that is precisely how they wanted Himmler to react. He wondered when he’d hear again from Manni or Westerby.
Ziggy remembered Franzi’s face in the car window. He looked a lot worse than that night in Ploen. Since then, the SS had completely disappeared. There were reports of large numbers of them still hiding in nearby forests and the British were wary of spreading themselves too thin to go on any extensive searches.

So where was Franzi right now? Could he feel his way toward him? Once it had been easy to do, but he hadn’t done any of it in so long that he no longer even knew where to start. Ziggy kept trying to imagine Franzi somewhere, in a forest or a house or inside a vehicle, but each time he did, the idea failed to grow into anything real. He knew he was going about it the wrong way.

Was it possible he’d lost his ability? And what was that ability anyway? What were the mechanics of perception? Perhaps if he just focused on one thing, Franzi, was he far or near? What were his eyes seeing? What was he thinking? What did his skin feel? Warmth or cold? Cold or warmth? Cold. Dry or damp? Dry. What was he smelling? Cooked cabbage and tinned beef, cold and greasy on a plate. Cigarette smoke, open window and a night breeze, smell of pine. Pine trees outside the window, the wind blowing through them. They were in a farmhouse, inland, but still close enough to smell the sea. They were keeping within reach of Flensburg. There was a forest nearby, men hiding inside it. Lines of kubelwagens hidden under camouflaged tarps. They were staying put, waiting for something to come. Inside everyone was tense.

Ziggy opened his eyes. A bluebird was looking at him from a nearby branch. It chirped and then flew away. Ziggy went back to the office.

Back at his desk, there were more supplicants awaiting him. One by one, he sent them away, not bothering to trouble the Grand Admiral about any of them. In the middle of the afternoon, the door opened and in walked Wolfgang Luth. “Hello Number One,” he said.

Ziggy looked at him. The moment he had dreaded had arrived. “Hello, Sir,” he said.

Luth looked surprised. “When did you get so formal? How’ve you been? I heard you went to see Eisenhower. Is he as nice as they say? Come on, Loerber, tell me what you’ve been up to? Seen any of the old gang?”

“Oh,” said Ziggy, “besides Captain Cremer, I haven’t seen much of anybody. I’ve been pretty busy.”

Luth gave a sour, but good-natured look. “Busy? Sitting at a desk? What’s going on with you, Loerber?”

Ziggy shrugged. But somehow he couldn’t come up with anything resembling the usual banter.

Luth looked at him and his expression grew serious. “I sent you congratulations when you got oak leaves on your Knight’s Cross. I wrote you again when you got the diamonds. You never wrote back either time. I told myself you were busy but now you’ve been here a week and you haven’t even dropped by to see me once. What’s going on?”

Ziggy shrugged noncommittally, but his heart was pounding.

Luth continued. “When you didn’t write back, I knew something was wrong. I wrote you again and you didn’t write then either. What is it, Loerber? I’ve done something to offend you, haven’t I?”

Ziggy said nothing.

“You should tell me what it is,” said Luth. “This is the time when we need to stick together. You know I’ve always considered you my brother and if there is something wrong, then for the sake of our brotherhood, you should tell me what it is. This war has been bad enough. We shouldn’t go into peacetime bearing grudges. It’ll poison things.”

Luth was looking at him earnestly and Ziggy knew he was expecting an honest answer. He remembered again the times they’d stood together on a deck, witnessing the death groans of a ship they’d torpedoed as its insides ripped apart. “Yes, I do have something to say to you.”

“Then say it.”

“I’m a Jew.”

Luth stared at him a very long time. “I see,” he said finally. “So I suppose there’s nothing more to say, then.”

Ziggy said nothing.

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

Monday, November 4, 2013

Schellenberg Does Lunch with Himmler's New Astrologer

“You know Loerber, I think you and I are going to make a great team,” said Schellenberg as he and Franzi walked down the fifth floor corridor. Only a week had passed since he’d joined Himmler’s staff and this was the third time he and Schellenberg had lunched together, sitting off in a corner at the senior SS staff dining room. After seven years lost in the Ahnenerbe’s perpetual mystic twilight, the shine was back on Franzi Loerber. And it felt good.

“Thank you, Herr General,” said Franzi. “I am honored to be working for you.”

“Just bear in mind one thing,” cautioned Schellenberg. “Right now you and I have only one goal.”

Franzi nodded. They’d been over it a dozen times already. Eisenhower had made it clear there would be no peace with the West until Himmler seized power from the faltering Fuhrer. And Franzi, owing to his calming and persuasive abilities, would now act as Schellenberg’s spear point in that effort.
The task was proving to be a challenging one to say the least. Though he had succeeded several times in getting the Reichsfuhrer fired up to the point where he’d storm off to the Fuhrerbunker to “show Hitler what’s what,” each time something conveniently went wrong and his determination fizzled out just short of the breech. Even so, Franzi had brought him far closer to action than Schellenberg ever had, and Schellenberg remained convinced it was now just a question of seizing every opportunity to get Himmler to move.

“Another thing to keep in mind, Loerber. Since you’re now part of the team, I might as well let you in on this little secret. Count Bernadotte is going to be coming down here very soon and he’ll be bringing with him senior representatives of the World Jewish Congress to meet with the Reichsfuhrer. They say they’d be willing to settle things with us because they recognize that what happened to the Jews was not really the SS’ fault.”

“That’s good news, Herr General.”

“Indeed it is, Loerber.”

Franzi didn’t see how this was possible. After all that had happened in the camps, after so many millions brutally murdered, how could anyone believe an offer like that could be anything but a ploy? Maybe this whole thing with Eisenhower was also a ploy. Why wouldn’t it be? It wasn’t like he was under any obligation to play fair with someone like Himmler.

There was muffled rumbling in the distance. The Soviet artillery was finally within earshot. They turned the corner and continued down the corridor back toward the Intelligence staff offices. Several colonels and majors sprang to attention as they passed. They offered salutes which Schellenberg and Franzi returned without comment. Schellenberg was all right, Franzi thought; very collegial and incredibly bright, especially compared to some of the thugs who’d risen high in the SS ranks. He probably didn’t even hate Jews. That’s what made it so difficult to reconcile the crazy things he said with the grim reality around them. There had to be things nobody else knew about; secret deals, behind-the-scenes relationships which allowed Schellenberg to retain his blue-sky optimism. Franzi reminded himself that the man he was talking to was the most informed person in all Germany. He would know it if the Western Allies believed the Russians would turn on them once the victory against Germany was complete.

Schellenberg continued. “I don’t have to explain how important an agreement like this will be to the future of Europe. It is imperative Hitler be already out of power when they arrive, so that the Reichsfuhrer can have a free hand to make deals on behalf of Germany. Use any method you can think of to motivate him. We cannot let this thing fall through!”
(Excerpt from Germania, first published by Simon & Schuster in 2008, now also available on Kindle here).

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Speer on Hitler's Secret Weapons

One night they were driving between Ludenscheid and Dessau on a particularly badly bombed stretch of autobahn. Speer sat beside von Poser in the front seat, an air defense map spread on his lap, while the radio alternated between piano concertos and a lifeless voice reading out positions of enemy aircraft; fighters reported in Grid E-6 heading westward, enemy fighters in Grid F-12 bearing east. Enemy fighters in Grid D-9 heading east, enemy bombers in Grid C-7, C-8 and C-10, high overhead heading west.

Then suddenly they heard the metallic scream of aircraft engines as machinegun fire ripped up the ground in front of them. Von Poser slammed on the brakes and before they knew it, the car was plummeting down the embankment. They pushed open the doors and jumped out onto the ground. A twin-engine Heinkel roared over them, with a smaller American fighter tight on its tail, firing away. The Heinkel’s starboard engine was aflame. Then its wing crumpled and it turned over, plunging into the darkness. A second later they heard the dull explosion and saw the flash of fire in a distant field.
They tried getting their car out of the ditch, but the mud was too thick and the four back wheels only spun uselessly. They stood around in the darkness unsure of what to do next. In another hour it would be light enough for the American Mustangs and Thunderbolts to return and begin strafing anything that wasn’t already blown up.

Then they became aware of the easy clopping of horses’ hoofs. They peered into the mist to see what it was. The clopping came closer until suddenly he was in front of them; a tall thin figure in a long coat and floppy-brimmed hat, leading a team of four large sputtering farm horses. “Hey there,” he called out. “I see you had an accident. Let’s see if my boys here can’t get you out.” He said his name was Jakob and he was a farmer. He’d been tending his cows in a nearby field when he heard the noise. So he went back to the barn and hitched up his team. It used to be that there were hardly ever any accidents on this stretch of the autobahn, he told them. But now it seemed like barely a night went by without someone smashing up.

It didn’t take five minutes to pull the car back up the embankment and onto the road. Jakob worked his horses with a good-natured firmness that struck Speer as the utter embodiment of German peasant virtue. Speer imagined Germania and the pilgrimages which all the Jakobs of the Greater German Reich would make at least once in their lives so they could see the city and stand inside the Great Hall. Supposedly this war had been for them. Now all it would do was chew them up in its maw.

“Jakob, what will you do when the Americans come?”

Jakob gave a big smile. “It’ll never happen,” he said. “The Fuhrer has those secret weapons of his. And once the Americans have gotten themselves too far in to escape, boom!” Jakob clapped his hands together joyfully. “He’ll fire those secret weapons and then their goose will be cooked!” Jakob smiled guilelessly at them. Von Poser looked away uncomfortably.

“Where did you hear about this?” asked Speer.

“Oh you know, around,” said Jakob. “Everybody agrees about that.”

“They do?”

“Of course,” he said. “The Fuhrer knows what to do. People just need to have faith, that’s all.”

Speer felt sick. They’d really done a good job indoctrinating people. “Jakob, listen to me,” said Speer. “All that stuff they’re telling you. It’s all a lie. There are no secret weapons.”

Jakob stared at them uncomprehendingly. “But I’ve heard them say it,” he insisted. “Over and over... on the radio... that they’re almost ready.” Then he laughed nervously. “You’re joking with me, aren’t you? I know, this is all a test. You’re testing my faith, to see if I’m worthy.”

Von Poser stepped in. “Speer, we need to get going.”

But Speer waved him off. “No, we’re not testing you, Jakob. We’re trying to help you, just like you’ve helped us. When the Americans come, just find a place to hide with your cows and let it all just pass you by. That nonsense they’re telling you will only get you killed. Please Jakob, hide. Save yourself.”

He watched Jakob shifting back and forth on his feet as he stared down at the ground. But then he looked up and his eyes were blazing with anger.

“Traitors!” he spat the words out. “You betray our Fuhrer. You betray Germany! And to think I helped you out. Look at you! You’re betraying your uniforms, your country, your people. You’re worse than Jews! And you,” he said, pointing his finger at von Poser. “Look at you, an army officer, of all people. You should be ashamed of yourself!

“I’m getting my gun,” he shouted. “And if you are still here when I get back, so help me, I’ll kill you both!” Giving a shake of his reins, he put his horses into a brisk trot and left them.

“Speer, are you insane?” shouted Von Poser. “You’re going to get us hanged.”

Speer felt like an idiot. “I’m sorry, Colonel. I just couldn’t stand thinking about somebody like that getting killed.”

“Well don’t ever do it again! Things are dangerous enough as it is. I don’t need you screwing it up with some weak-hearted do-gooding. Get in the car. Let’s get out of here.”

For the next half hour, von Poser drove quickly as he could. Speer made several attempts to apologize, but was rebuffed. He sank into an uncomfortable silence. An hour later, outside Dessau, they came to a roadblock where grim-faced Party militiamen came at them with machineguns and yanked them both out of the car.

“How dare you?” roared Speer, feeling their hands at his shoulder. “Do you know who I am?”

That got him a hard punch in the jaw. “Shut up!” the militiaman grunted, knocking him to the ground. Speer rolled on the pavement, hands, elbows and shoulder stinging. He tried to push up onto his knees, only to feel a boot heel coming down hard against his side.

“Stop!” wailed Speer. ”You’re making a mistake. I’m Minister for War Production ...” He waited for the militiaman to step back, but the militiaman didn’t. Speer felt the man’s boot stomp down on his shoulder.

“You think we don’t know what you’ve been doing?” he heard the man hiss. The boot came down again, this time hard into Speer’s ribs. Speer stopped moving. Raising up his hands, he got onto his knees and looked up at the two men standing over him, their machine guns pointing down at him while a third had a pistol pointed at von Poser. He looked angry and tired.
(Excerpt from Germania, first published by Simon & Schuster in 2008, now also available on Kindle here).

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Road to Del Rio XIII: Mommy, Where do Gods Come From? What's a Moonchild?

When atheist doper-bluesman Herbert arrives in Del Rio, he quickly falls into a new life as a singing cowboy on border blaster station XER. He starts to think he may finally be free from both God (the Other Guy) and the Devil (Mr. Stevens). But the fact is, all he's really done is step into a hotbed of alchemy, magic, and, ultimately, god creation.

Friend of the Devil may be set at a time and place where just about everyone is Christian, but the Judeo-Christian sensibility almost never enters into the picture. It doesn't even matter that the characters include two guys who are probably God and the Devil, this story runs completely outside that perspective. Similarly, everything going on in the story with Stevens and the Other Guy is also a couple steps removed from what we know from the Bible. Sure, Mr. Stevens is most certainly Satan himself, but then Old Scratch is always pretty much the same character regardless of whatever name or cultural context he might be inhabiting at that particular moment. What's different about Stevens is how for the Lord of Darkness, he's not exactly on top of his game. When Herbert first picks him up hitchhiking, the first thing he does is begin whining about the bad day he'd been having. He's ten hours late for a midnight meeting with someone at the Crossroads. He's evil, he's crafty, but at this point he's also pretty much of a fuck-up. the same token, the Other Guy certainly seems analogous to God, but after you get to know him a little, it becomes obvious that whatever resemblence he might bear with the Christian deity is, at best, circumstantial. Sure, he's not evil, but his essential goodness has largely been watered down by a sense of indifference. By now, just about the only thing that holds his interest is his ongoing good-versus-evil wagering with Stevens. He and Stevens are both some pretty tired gods. Moreover, he tends to get fairly irritated whenever he finds himself being mistaken for the God of Israel. It shouldn't be hard to figure out that while the Other Guy might be a god, he ain't God.

At the radio station, Herbert meets Rose Dawn, one of XER's star personalities. Rose is a clairvoyant with supernatural powers and, in fact, may or may not be a god herself. What Herbert realizes is that she is being used by her husband, the Great Koraan, who is in cahoots with Stevens and Dr Brinkley, to produce a "moonchild;" an alchemical creation; a man-made god.  As much as Herbert refuses to believe in any of it, he also knows it's up to him to stop it.

“The Great Koraan says I’m a big cosmic mistake, that I’m a no-good, worthless bit of celestial trash.”

“Rose, that’s nuts.”

She starts crying again. “But he’s right. The Great Koraan is always right. Oh golly gee, sometimes I wish I’d never been engendered.”

“Why do you always call him that?”

“Call him what?”

“The Great Koraan.”

“Well, that’s his name, isn’t it?”

“It’s not his real name. It’s a stage name, for cats’ sake. His parents didn’t call him that, did they?”

She looks surprised and troubled, like the question had never occurred to her.

“Don’t you have any pet names for him? Korrie? Snookums?”

She shakes her head. “Why, of course not, it would be disrespectful.”

“Disrespectful? Why? He’s just a man, isn’t he?”

“He isn’t just a man. The Great Koraan just happens to be the greatest living entity in the universe.”

“Is he?”

“Well, yes, everybody knows that.”

“Well, I don’t.”

“You don’t count,” she snaps. “You’re an atheist. You see all the miracles of existence going on right in front of your eyes and it doesn’t make any difference to you.”

“You got that right, Toots.”
(Excerpt from Friend of the Devil, available on Kindle here).