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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.


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