Categories
Book I

Chapter V – Midnight Train

Colmar, Alsace
9th of December, 1938
9:15 PM

Klaus slowly lowered the receptor, visibly dismayed as he gave Reythier a smirk in the corner of his mouth.

“I phoned to Paris, told them what happened. They couldn’t give me much help but they told me to look out for anything suspicious.”

Reythier shrugged. He heard that before. Two hours before they were close to solving the problem of the Nazi spies, now they were both injured, almost murdered by a lone gunman and with no leads to follow. A whole team of local policemen and two experts joined in from Strasbourg to examine the crime scene but it would take a bit more time before they could tell them more information than they knew already. Worst of all, they were easily spotted.

Reythier stood on a chair in the room adjacent to the interrogation room they used before, standing at the desk of the local constable. Klaus stood by the edge of the whisky coloured table, phone receptor still in hand, looking at Reythier as if to ask what to do or where to phone next. Reythier motioned with his hand and Klaus dropped the receptor back in its place. He watched as Klaus took a beige wooden chair and drew up near him.

“So, what now, Alexandre?”

Reythier raised his eyebrows, twisting his hand to his colleague. “You tell me Klaus. You came here and brought me in this mess in a small town by the edge of a perilous border. Why did you come here in the first place? Just for the interrogation?”

Klaus shook his head. “No. And yes.”

“No and yes? That makes no sense.” Klaus hesitated. “Or maybe it does.” Reythier straightened his posture, suddenly curious. “There’s more to this. You were expecting something from those Nazi boys.”

Klaus nodded. “I did. Let me call the constable.”

Klaus stood up and returned a couple of minutes later with the local constable of Colmar, the chief of the police of this little snowy town, visibly shaken and greeting rather meekly Reythier whom he met a couple of hours earlier. Sporting a sleek moustache, the man’s greying hairs were overtaking his little remaining hair, somehow accentuating the deep wrinkles on his forehead. Border constables are not exactly having an easy time, Reythier thought. The constable was dressed in the typical dark uniform but he kept his pistol unholstered this time, visible and always at hand in case any more gunmen would have a swift swipe at Reythier and Klaus. The police officer took a wooden chair from the corner of the room and placed himself on the other side of the table, facing Reythier directly.

Bonsoir again, Monsieur Reythier. I believe you wanted to speak to me.”

Reythier switched his position and smiled to the constable. “Oui, c’est vrai, monsieur Pernod. I asked to speak to you and I will be short about it. Have you experienced this before?”

Constable Pernod shook his head. “No, clearly not like this. But I have heard many stories and read more than a dozen reports about random people asking about our troops, our defences, our police even. Someone even asked whether the mayor of Colmar has a gun in his house.”

Reythier gave Klaus a quick look, underneath his eyebrows. “When did this happen, Monsieur Pernod?”

Constable Pernod dabbed for a few moments. “First report arrived on my table about four months ago. Ever since they have been increasing weekly, but nothing serious has ever happened until this very incident.”

“Four months. Did you know about those two young men?”

Pernod nodded. “I did. Two months ago one of my policemen came to inform me about them two posing as tourists, asking around about the Maginot line and other military objectives. One of the local farmers became suspicious and related that to one of my men.”

“Who then reported to you.”

“Correct. We counter-spied them, watched their movements, but nothing ever happened.”

“Until they stabbed those two farmers.”

“We knew it was them immediately. It happened just outside a deserted guard post. So I gathered my men and we arrested them quite quickly.”

“And brought them to us,” added Klaus, to which Pernod nodded.

Reythier nodded, but nodded out of reflex more than anything. The constable knew nothing more, and that was evident. They were no closer than they were a couple of hours ago. Reythier looked at Pernod.

“Constable, have you had any trouble with your men lately?”

“Yes, I have, but minor incidents. Why would you ask, Monsieur Reythier?”

Reythier did not immediately answer. He glanced around the room, scanning every inch of the desks, until he noticed a sheaf of blank papers in the corner just beside him. Sliding a piece of paper to the constable, he took out a fountain pen and wrote in the very corner of the paper: Do you suspect any of your men?

Much to Reythier’s dismay, Pernod nodded.

The constable coughed. He coughed again, and again, and then stopped, pointing with his fingers towards the sheaf of papers. Three times. Three men he suspected, three men of aiding these foreign spies who were liquidated by a member of their own and nearly killed Reythier and Klaus as well. Reyhier looked at his undercover companion who motioned quickly with his fingers, signaling that Pernod should leave. The constable understood the motion, bowed slightly and stood up.

“Monsieur Reythier, I will send you more information once I have it.”

“Merci, Monsieur. Let us know as quick as you can.”

The man nodded in agreement, shook their hands and left the room to return to his policemen, leaving Klaus and Reythier alone in the room with their thoughts, suspicions and an awkward silence. Reythier leaned back on his chair and tapped the edge of the desk, lost in thought, using the fountain pen in a rhythmic movement that somehow did not annoy neither of them. He switched his gaze from the white gold nib to Klaus, whose rugged features and a slight six o’clock shadow were amplified by the lost look he wore for the past hours. Out of them, it was Klaus who was the shocked one, but Reythier had his moments when he needed his friend to slap him back into the real world. The Frenchman rose from his chair.

“I’m lost. What now?” asked Reythier.

Klaus kept rubbing his forehead. “Pernod was fidgeting too much.”

“Excuse moi?”

Klaus looked up at Reythier and nodded. “Yes. He was fidgeting quite a lot, he seemed nervous, his right foot was always jumping up and down. You could not see it, it was hidden by the desk, but I kept my eyes on his movements. For a police constable he was far too nervous.”

“You think he is hiding something?”

“I think there’s more to it than the three suspicious policemen under his watch. And three…” Klaus stood up and held up 3 fingers. “Three policemen is three too many for this little place. How many does he have in the first place? 3 policemen out of 12, that’s a quarter of his force. If 3 policemen are aiding these guys, then we should be lucky we escaped alive.”

“Keep in mind two of them have been killed.”

Klaus shook his head. “Those were our men. Counter-intelligence. I told them to disguise as local Colmar policemen.”

Reythier pointed to the door. “Did Pernod know about it?”

Klaus shook his head. “No. I kept him in the dark. I only asked for the room and for his silence on the matter.”

Reythier said nothing more. A number of moments later, a young policeman, no more than twenty years of age, pale skinned and rather shy in approaching them, knocked on the opened door. He bowed curtly, removed his cap and handed Klaus a crumpled note.

“Monsieur Pernod sends his regards.”

“Our salute to him. Thank you!” replied Reythier.

The policeman bowed again and left, leaving the two men alone. Klaus looked at Reythier, then back at the crumpled note. Reythier watched as his companion opened the note, revealing a small scribble in black ink.

“Follow the Night Train. What night train, what’s this all about?”

Reythier took the paper from Klaus’s hand. “Train, train, are there any trains coming back to Colmar this evening?”

“I have no clue. Let me check on that.”

Klaus phoned the train station and waited for a couple of minutes until a groggy foreman answered him. He slammed the phone receptor thirty seconds later.

“There’s two more trains coming to Colmar. The next one is in 15 minutes and it’s a regional train, stopping in Metz. The second one is coming back from Lyon, the red striped train I came with.”

“When is it coming?”

“In 35 minutes.”

“Arm your pistol, get two more cartridges with you and let’s go. We’ll wait at the station.”

Categories
Book I

Chapter IV – Den of Spies

9th of December 1938, 9:00 PM
Obergruppen Aachen HQ
Aachen
Germany

It reeked of tobacco smoke.

Tobacco smoke, cheap tobacco smoke, wafted around the whole office and no matter how much they dared to leave the windows open, the tobacco smoke was better than the bitter cold outside. Most of them smoked in the office, a rather large space that housed more than ten men who served primarily as the links and bureaucrats of the group. Neither of them was known to the public and it was best served that way. Not even the higher in command knew of these men, except for a select few, because these were the ones who were supposed to not have any single link to any government whatsoever. It would have been bad public relations if they were to be found. Not that it mattered by now. Neither of the men in the office were supposed to be known. They all had to follow orders. Be they his, or be they someone that trusted in him.

Richard Elbe was the heaviest smoker in the room. And the leader of them all.

Leaning against a black wooden desk, with two bare chairs beside them, Elbe scanned with his grey eyes the constant flurry of activity that went on around the office. The men under his command, none of them older than twenty four, were tasked to link with the field agents and provide information as quick as possible. Elbe’s group was a paramilitary hidden group of young men who acted as the eyes of the government. Few knew about them and none of them even held local passports. Elbe was a registered Frenchman, hailing from Alsace, with Norman ancestry. At least that’s what he trained himself to say whenever someone asked him where he was from. There were no brown shirts, white shirts or black shirts in the office which he held. In this industry, everyone was free to wear whatever they wished so long they did not omit a small round rune attached to the collars of their shirts. Elbe in contrast had three. He was the general and the chief of the unit and it had to be mentioned as such.

He stumped the cigarette in one of the small glass ashtrays. That was his sixteenth for the day, enough for him to get to his ratio of almost a pack a day. The cigarettes made him no calmer. The news of the capture of his two men made him agitated, so much so that the messenger on duty felt the need to apologise for giving such news. When the messenger came to his office, he expected smiles and thunderous applause. All he got instead was a meek apology and a rather fast exit from the messenger who had to report on the news that the two men had been captured by the French counterintelligence. And of all places, in Colmar, a small border town with only four policemen. Elbe walked away from the table and climbed a small flight of black stairs to a small heightened platform that was actually built as part of the attic. The platform was half open, allowing him to view the two long tables that made up the battlestations for his men as he called them.

Ten radios, endless sheets of paper and a constant flurry of activity and telephone calls. That was the Obergruppen HQ like. They had an important task to do and Elbe was there to supervise it.

He tapped his knuckles against the railing of the platform.

“Walther and Karl, in my office!”

Elbe’s office was totally different from the spartan like interior of the hallway. It resembled a magical wooden attic fit for a children’s fairy tale book. With a mahogany table in it’s midst and two windows behind it, the attic was bathed in a warm glow from two small lamps hung from the ceiling, illuminating dozens of bookcases on each side, children’s toys strewn on the floor in the corner and small cushions piled up just beside the office table. Elbe found it like that when they bought it from a local owner. He kept it the way it was because it reminded him of his childhood in the Schwarzwald. Elbe sat down on his chair, folded his arms and waited. And waited. And waited so for ten minutes, idle and silent, until Walther and Karl came.

Two brothers, two identical brothers with matching white shirts, both of them fairly tall and well built, came inside the office. Both of them smiled, something which Elbe picked up but said nothing. They saluted in the typical fashion to Elbe.

“Those two are your men. What in the world happened?” asked Elbe, his voice as calm as the river running in the midst of Aachen.

Walther, to Karl’s right, gave his brother a quick glance. “They got captured. We don’t know how.”

“Did you not do the proper training?” asked Elbe, in the same eerily calm voice.

“We did.”

“Then?”

“They failed.”

“So you want to ditch them, that’s what you’re saying?”

“We’ve already taken care of it,” countered Karl.

“How?”

“We sent another one of our men to make sure they say nothing.”

“So we are going to lose, or probably did already, two men. Because they were incompetent or you were incompetent?”

Both brothers shifted nervously, glancing at each other without saying a word.

“Well?”

“Herr Elbe, we trained them. We instructed them. We do not know why they acted like this,” replied Walther.

Elbe rose from his chair, rather methodically, his leather boots emitting a familiar clacking sound against the wooden floor of the attic.

“I hope they will not say anything. Because the next time there will be a price to pay. And the next time you will dearly hope the French counterintelligence is going to catch you.”

Both brothers bowed their heads.

“One last thing. I want every single detail of the capture investigated and known.” Elbe turned around to face his office. “And the next field mission is on you. Both.”

Categories
Book I

Chapter III – Alsatian Letters


7:05 PM
9th of December 1938
Colmar, Alsace
France



“Look what I found.”

Reythier rose his eyes from the ground, his glances lost somewhere as he smoked a cigar just outside the interrogation building. Outside Colmar the light slowly began to fade, leaving way for the illuminated lampposts of the town. For more than twenty minutes he stood outside, glancing aimlessly at the ground. His only discernible memory were his black boots which made a distinctive chromatic difference in contrast with the whiteness of the snow flurries. Reythier exhaled his puff of cigar smoke and glanced towards Klaus who offered him two envelopes.

“What are they?” asked Reythier.

“Letters. I found them on the two men.”

Reythier took them and glanced at the envelopes. One thing stood out right from the beginning.

“Sealed with wax?”

Klaus nodded. “Quite odd.”

“That’s something a Prussian Junker would do a hundred years ago, not those two right now. Why are they sealed with wax?”

“I have no clue.”

Reythier held up the envelopes. “I’m opening them as part of the investigation. When the constable of Colmar comes, make sure you note that down and you explain it to him.”

Reythier slid his thumb finger underneath the lid of the envelope, running his index finger over the smooth texture of the red wax. The envelopes were yellowy, identical in shape and size, with no discernible heraldic symbol stamped on it, which made it even odder. Wax seals held heraldic symbols as a matter of identification and guarantee; these ones were almost blank. There was no writing on the envelopes but the red wax seemed of very fine quality. Reythier gently applied pressure with his fingers on the wax seal until it broke diagonally, revealing a battered, even yellower piece of paper inscribed with blue ink. He gave Klaus a curious glance and unfolded the first letter in the light of a lamppost.


Dear cousin,

Such good news from you makes my heart jump. I’m still back at home, waiting for my turn. I miss the times when we used to play together without a care in the world, like that school camp we went together to. You managed to get out and live your life, I still have to complete the last part in order for me to finally do the same. My parents are eagerly awaiting for me and hopefully we will get to meet each other again very soon so we can talk now like men.

Speaking of that, I heard you obtained your qualifications! I am very very glad for you – make sure you put them to good use so when you come back home we celebrate together in the tavern, drinking a good beer. I heard Helga is still waiting for you, so do not disappoint her. And keep your eyes open, we don’t want anyone else to steal you from her!

When you have some time, please call me, I am more than eager to hear what you have been doing lately.

Yours,
Alex



Reythier did not make much of it, so he opened the second envelope in the light of the lamppost, drawing even closer as by now night was in full swing. To his dismay, the second envelope was almost identical to the first but with some notable changes. There was no cousin; it was nephew. Helga was replaced by Hilda and Alex now became Helmuth. Reythier slid the letters back in the envelopes and gave them to Klaus.

“They’re coded.”

Klaus frowned. “What?”

“Coded. Encrypted. They don’t show the real meaning. And it has two meanings, one which you can understand and another one which you have to find out.”

Klaus took the letters. “They’re very similar, almost identical. I don’t see how the have different meanings.”

“Klaus, think of it from a different perspective. Who keeps letters from their cousin and their uncle in the hidden pocket of their pants?”

“They do.”

“Yes, but it’s not uncle or cousin. Usually you keep letters from your girlfriend, wife or mother. Not your cousin.”

“I’m not following.”

Reythier placed his finger on the envelope. “Uncle is the commanding officer, cousin is the platoon sergeant. The nephew is the leader of the group, the cousin is the follower. A private in name. And it’s all part of a military group, and we have no idea which one it is, why are they doing this and how come it all ended up like this. We’ve got too many questions and not enough answers.” Reythier glanced at his watch. “Where’s that constable?”

“Five minutes.”

“Good.”

“I don’t understand. How did you figure this out?” asked Klaus.

“Read it throughly. Matter of fact, read the second letter out loud.”


Dear nephew,

I have no words, no words but joy at such news, my dear nephew. Such good news from you makes my heart jump. I’m still back at home, waiting to hear about everyone’s good deeds. I miss the times when the whole family used to gather and eat together without a care in the world. You managed to get out and live your life, I still have to complete the last part in order for me to finally do the same. Everyone is eagerly awaiting for news and hopefully we will get to meet each other again very soon so we can talk now like men.

Speaking of that, I heard you obtained your qualifications! I am very very glad for you – make sure you put them to good use so when you come back home we celebrate together in the tavern, drinking a good beer. I heard Hilda is still waiting for you, so do not disappoint her. And keep your eyes open, we don’t want anyone else to steal you from her!

When you have some time, please call me, I am more than eager to hear what you have been doing lately.

Yours,
Helmuth

Klaus held it up.

“So, explain to me.”

“The nephew is one of the men. The joy is that he completed his training and the CO is waiting for the news about their mission. Remembering old times is about the training back at base camp, and as for keeping your eyes open, it’s a gentle reminder to not get caught. As for the last bit, inform the base immediately after mission completion.”

Klaus smirked. “You think this is it?”

“It has a second meaning too. But until we get to Paris, we have no idea what it is. And the problem is we might have a surprise on our hands before we get to Paris.”

Reythier pointed to the building, ushering both Klaus and himself inside as the snow flurries intensified.


Categories
Book I

Chapter II – Swords Made of Letters

9th of December, 1938
Interrogation Room Nr. 2
Colmar, Alsace
6:50 PM



There was nothing they could pursue.

From the little window of the adjacent room, Alexandre watched as small snowflakes gently dropped from the white winter sky, drifting through the air until they latched on the cobbled streets that were teeming with snow. Those words came back to him, the words of that war poem, but between them the words of those two youngsters flashed inside his mind. Their declaration of allegiance, so open and so brazen, left Alexandre brooding. There was no remorse. And there was no remorse from their killer either in that room. It had been swift and calculated and somehow the assassin knew about the room. Alexandre and Klaus left the room intact, waiting until the local Colmar police would come. Klaus went outside by himself for some air but Reythier stood behind and waited by the window of this little chamber opposite of the interrogation room. Beneath his heavy overcoat the service pistol was in the pocket of his pants, easy to access should the need arise again. With two spies interested in the Maginot line, and a killer who killed them both, there was nothing else they had. They were blank.

Just like the snowflakes gently drifting through the streets of Colmar.

Alexandre turned round from the window and glanced around the little chamber. There was nothing in it, apart from a little desk with three chairs, two on one side and one on another. There were two other chairs in the back of the room but everything else was a simple yellowy wallpaper and the window he watched the snow from. He glided out of the room, down the small flight of stairs and reached for the door. He hesitated for a moment, keeping his hand in the middle of the air. With one quick movement he spun sideways and glanced back to the stairs and towards the two rooms. The room with the window led to a small backstreet. But the interrogation room had the window right into a major street of this little town. They had been noticed from outside. And someone knew that this building was used for police interrogation.

Reythier smirked. He spun on his heels, back towards the door and exited into the gentle snowstorm of Colmar.

Huddling inside his overcoat, with a small cloud of steam rising from his hands as he clutched two mugs of hot tea, Reythier watched as Klaus slowly approached him. He gave is mug-carrying friend a smile and pointed towards the building.

“Go inside, I’ll be back in fifteen minutes.”

Klaus frowned. “Where are you going in this storm? The constable is away, he won’t be here for a while. He’s been notified and he is coming to us as soon as he can.”

“Yes, I realised that. I’m going for some fresh air, keep the tea warm for me.”

Without a second glance, Reythier adjusted his hat and left Klaus to his tea, steam columns and a strong desire to enter the building to escape the cold. He turned left, going around the interrogation building and up a little hill that junctioned with another main street of Colmar in a T shaped intersection. From the top of this small hill Alexandre turned on his heels and glanced at the police building. He was right. It wasn’t that hard to spot the building, and worse, the window was low enough for someone on the hill to look directly into it and glimpse some random figures. As the interrogation room had no curtains, something he just realised right now, Alexandre could only frown in disbelief. He did not even had to look at the other streets or even the buildings around it. The attacker could have easily seen what was going on within the room.

Dismayed, Alexandre could only alternate between a nervous laugh and a clenched fist. His eyes drifted from the hill further upwards to the street that ended with a row of timber-framed houses on the top of it. In fact, most of the houses in Colmar were timber-framed and despite their similar shapes, they somehow managed to look different because of their exterior decoration. The interrogation building had no decoration except the timber-framing. But all the other houses near it had some sort of exterior decoration. Alexandre raised an eyebrow.

He returned less than ten minutes later back into the room on the left, the chamber now invaded by the aromatic scent of green tea. Klaus glanced at him from the edge of the table, holding the mug tight in his hand to capture the warmth of the tea into his palms.

“You said fifteen minutes.”

“Yes, well, that took much earlier than expected.” Alexandre pointed to the little hill junction. “All it takes is to just look closely and maybe jump a bit.”

“What are you talking about?”

“It took me less than five minutes to understand how it happened. The window of the interrogation room is so low that it can be seen from an angle on the little hill behind this building. You cannot see it if you’re standing directly underneath it but from the junction it’s clearly visible.” Alexandre waved his finger. “And why are there no blinds for this thing? The attacker saw everything.”

“Are you sure?”

“All it took for me was to walk up and turn around.”

“And you saw this how?”

“I did not even have to try, Klaus. It was there for me to see. Look at it in a slanted angle, just twist your body sideways, and you will see at least a portion of the interrogation room.”

“Did you look from the other sides?”

“There was no point. I saw everything from the hill. All he had to do was walk around and see us.

Klaus sighed, his hands still clutched on the mug. “Was it on purpose?”

Alexandre drew up to the table and raised the mug of warm tea.

“I think we were set up on purpose.”