9th of December 1938, 9:00 PM
Obergruppen Aachen HQ
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.
“So you want to ditch them, that’s what you’re saying?”
“We’ve already taken care of it,” countered Karl.
“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.
“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.”