The forecast in the UK for this weekend, and indeed the forseeable future, is rain and drizzle with the occasional downpour!
I hate this time of year, but the only consolation for the evenings drawing in so early is that it feels an absolute *necessity* to curl up with a good book. In my eyes, Frederick Forsyth and John le Carré are the all-time greats. No doubt I will revisit my favourites in the coming weeks, but are there any other cracking good reads you can recommend?
By way of thank you, here’s the first chapter from Out of Mecklenburg. You can read it either by clicking here or simply scrolling down the page. Happy reading!
Monday 23rd June 1941
German Foreign Office, Berlin
It was terse, wholly unexpected and positively unnerving:
LEAVE CANCELLED. REMAIN IN YOUR OFFICE.
By Order, Doctor Alfred Wehmen, Assistant Under-Secretary of State.
Carl von Menen read the memo again and again, each time the author’s signature sending a shudder of fear surging down his spine. Wehmen, the spirit of Machiavelli. Why the hell hasn’t Clarita phoned me?
Convinced that the lid had been lifted on his clandestine life, von Menen paced impatiently back and forth the entire length of his office, wanting desperately to call a number at Wittenberge, but thinking better of it. If Wehmen has the merest hint of my covert activities, he’ll have alerted the switchboard and ordered all my outside calls logged.
He sat down, took a deep breath, picked up his phone and dialled an internal extension. There was no reply. Over the next three hours, he tried the same number repeatedly. No reply.
An hour later, his phone knelled into life. He reached hesitantly across his desk, lifted the handset and brought it slowly to his ear, as if he were half-expecting to be shot in the back of the head.
‘Von Menen,’ he said cautiously.
‘Carl, it’s me.’
Von Menen sprang to his feet. ‘Thank God! Where’ve you been? I’ve been phoning you for hours.’
‘Shopping; he gave me a few hours off.’
‘But I’ve been ordered to stay in my office and you knew I’d planned to leave early today. Why didn’t you phone me?’
‘Er… yes, sorry about that… but he wants to see you, immediately, with all your files.’
‘All my…! Why?’
‘No idea, but he was very insistent.’
Von Menen replaced the receiver and stared at the ceiling. He knows… Wehmen knows.
Clarita Brecht was standing before her desk, back to the door, prim and secretarial in a tight-fitting white blouse and black sheath skirt, stocking seams plumb line straight. Von Menen hastened through the door and hurried towards her, dropping a huge bundle of files on her desk.
Cautious of Clarita’s feisty temperament, he didn’t care much for her high-pitched voice, either, but the rest was perfect: a stunningly attractive face; radiant, cerulean-blue eyes; shoulder-length tawny brown hair and legs the length of the Kiel Canal.
‘What the hell’s going on?’ he whispered, an eye on Wehmen’s door.
Clarita gracefully sat at her desk, placed her hand on a dark blue folder lying next to the phone and eased it towards him. ‘That’s what’s going on,’ she said. ‘Your personal file.’ She read aloud the inscription set bang in the middle of the over. ‘Carl Franz von Menen, born 31.1.1913. Current Section: Foreign Information Department IIb, Iberia. In and out of my office all last week, it was. The Minister asked for it last Wednesday—’
‘Yes, von Ribbentrop.’ She cocked her head in the direction of Wehmen’s door. ‘And he asked for it the next day… Called for it again on Friday.’
Von Menen could scarcely believe his ears. ‘But why didn’t you tell me?’
Clarita sprang to her feet, jabbed her hands on her hips, a potent look on her face. ‘Because Wehmen warned me that if I breathed a word of it to anyone, he’d have me transferred to Goebbels’ Propaganda Ministry within twenty-four hours. He wasn’t joking, either. Imagine it; me, in the same building as that limping, licentious gnome. God, I can’t stand the man, you know I can’t.’
‘But something’s afoot, Clarita, and you’re sure to know what it is.’
Clarita leaned over her desk, the buttons on her blouse tugging at the eyelets. ‘I don’t,’ she insisted. ‘Even if I did, I couldn’t possibly tell you. You know that.’
‘Not even after Saturday?’
‘That’s not fair, Carl.’ Fidgeting nervously with the cameo brooch pinned just above her bosom, she met his bewildered look. ‘All I know is that two men came to see him last Friday afternoon. They came again this morning and the moment they’d gone’ – another nod in the direction of Wehmen’s door – ‘he told me to type out the memo. But I’ve no idea if their visit had anything to do with you. I really don’t.’
‘Two men? Where from?’
‘I don’t remember.’
Von Menen looked guardedly into her large blue eyes, beyond the memory of Saturday night: a tiny apartment on Ritterstrasse, soft lights, a bottle of Veuve Clicquot and Artie Shaw’s “When They Begin the Beguine”.
‘It’s not like you to be so guarded, Clarita. Usually, you know everything that’s going on in my department. So…’
‘Well, this time I don’t, so you’ll just have to wait.’
And wait he did, all the while wondering what the misfit Wehmen was up to. He’ll be sitting there, a crumpled mess in his honorary Obersturmbannführer uniform, an insidious look on his face, a foul-smelling Turkish cigarette in his mouth. ‘The Gestapo
would like to have a word with you, von Menen… Something about a meeting at Wittenberge… Sounds very serious… Best you tell me everything…’
The truth was, von Menen held no time for the Nazis, especially those of the sinister “Black Order”, and Wehmen was one of them: a xenophobe, a believer in State dominance over the people, a man with a razor-sharp knife who could arrange the fitting, cutting and stitching of a field grey Wehrmacht uniform in less time than it took to hum the opening bars of “Lili Marlene”.
A note of alarm was ringing loudly inside von Menen’s head, and it was ringing loudly. Non-membership of the Nazi party was one thing; hiding a vehement dislike for Hitler and all he stood for, something else. He knew the risks, but his views were deeply entrenched in a covert fraternity of diverse political thinkers, people drawn together by the idea of a Nazi-free Germany.
Such was the philosophy of the Kreisau Circle and such was the belief of its leader, Count Helmuth-James von Moltke, whose image of a post-Hitler Germany was that of a free, democratic country with honourable values. Von Menen admired von Moltke’s imaginative thinking, respected his unshakeable Christian values and saw his vision of life after the Nazis as highly creditable, but he did not agree with his passive, non-violent means of achieving it.
Von Menen wanted change and he wanted it fast. In his judgement, life in Germany would not change until Hitler had gone and since ousting him by political means was beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, the only alternative was to kill him. A dangerous business, the penalties harsh and real: vice-like manacles, a complimentary stay at Gestapo headquarters on Prinz Albrecht Strasse and the painful procedure of what the Secret State Police referred to as “concentrated dialogue”, followed by a one-way ticket to Flossenbürg Concentration Camp. Or, more conclusively, the gallows at Berlin’s Plötzensee Prison.
The intercom on Clarita’s desk sparked a dull tone, a red light blinking. She flicked down the switch, von Menen’s ear set to the speaker.
‘Yes, Doctor Wehmen?’
‘Is he here?’
‘Did he bring his files?’
‘All of them, sir.’
‘Good, lock them in your safe – I’ll deal with them tomorrow. And bring me his personal folder.’
Clarita switched off the intercom and reached for the folder, an impassive look on her face. ‘I shouldn’t tell you this,’ she said quietly, ‘and you know I shouldn’t, but when Wehmen told me to type out the memo, he did say something. He said…’ She paused, Goebbels’ office still on her mind.
Von Menen leaned halfway across her desk. ‘What did he say?’
‘He said, “I think his time here is over”.’
‘I think his time here is… over?’
‘His exact words.’
File tucked under her arm, Clarita made to depart, but halfway to Wehmen’s door, she stopped, turned and walked back to him.
‘There’s something else you should know, too,’ she said, her eyes exuding defiant finality. ‘I won’t be here when you come out, and please don’t try phoning me at home this evening.’ Clarita shook her head slowly, her face bereft of expression. ‘You fit the old formula nicely, Carl. I like you very much, but we both know we’re going nowhere with each other. Besides, Otto is back from Prague this evening. If ever he found out…’ She stepped closer; kissed him softly on the side of his neck. ‘Sorry,’ she whispered, ‘but it’s over, end of story.’ At that, she padded hurriedly to Wehmen’s office, knocked on the door and stepped inside.
Von Menen waited in silence, a sense of unease casting a deep shadow over his usual composure.
A moment later, Clarita’s pretty face appeared around the doorframe. ‘Herr von Menen,’ she called, ‘Doctor Wehmen will see you now.’
The room looked like a Nazi shrine: a huge gilt-framed portrait of Hitler above the fireplace, hand on hip; furled swastika flags flanking the chimney breast. Even the handles of the glistening fireplace companion set were topped with encircled swastikas.
On the wall at the rear of Wehmen’s desk, a more personal touch: large signed photographs of the disciples from hell; Göring, Himmler, Goebbels, Speer, Bormann and the man who would not be outshone, Joachim von Ribbentrop – “Best wishes and kind regards, Heil Hitler!” All that remained of Hess, who’d bailed out of his Messerschmitt over the lowlands of Scotland a few weeks earlier, was a brass picture hook and a square of faded flock wallpaper.
A man in his late fifties, overweight, with thin grey hair and a pale, chubby face, looked up from behind his desk, a fold of loose flesh hanging beneath his chin. Von Menen’s eyes settled on the navy-blue suit, peppered with ash and dandruff. No uniform, no ‘Heil Hitler’. Thank God. Wehmen picked up his pince-nez, rubbed the lenses with a large white handkerchief, and then planted them on the bridge of his nose, his sagging, joyless eyes peering at the folder before him.
‘Sit down,’ he said, in a grating voice.
Von Menen did as instructed, the green leather chair creaking beneath his eighty kilos, the stench of Turkish cigarettes filling his nostrils.
Wehmen folded his chubby hands and rested them on his barrel-like chest. ‘Had a visit from two Gestapo officers this morning,’ he said dryly.
Von Menen swallowed hard, a chill zipping down his spine.
‘Asked me a lot of searching questions about a matter which requires my immediate attention. I’d like to think it doesn’t concern you, von Menen, but if it does, you might be leaving this building for a place’ – Wehmen looked fleetingly at the two open windows above Wilhelmstrasse – ‘where there are no windows and the only food is thin cabbage soup.’
‘Questions about what, Doctor Wehmen?’
Von Menen’s heart froze. He could almost hear the sound of the cell door clanging shut behind him.
‘Conscientious…ness, sir?’ he ventured.
‘Yes. A classified Foreign Office file was discovered on a train at Lehrter Station, just over a week ago – Sunday 15th, to be precise. It was found by a passenger who’d arrived from Wismar on the same train, saw it lying on a seat in contained an unsigned draft report concerning the political relationship between Spain and America…’
Eyes wide open, von Menen leaned forward.
‘There’s no record of the file being withdrawn from registry,’ continued Wehmen, ‘but I will find out who took it. It’s only a matter of time. The fact is, you have a certain responsibility for the Iberian Peninsula, Wismar is no great distance from your family’s estate and I suspect you travel first class.’
‘But, sir, not once have I left this building with any sensitive material. What’s more…’ – von Menen delved hurriedly into his jacket pocket, pulled out his diary, thinking aloud as he flicked through the pages – ‘11th, 12th… Yes, I have it here, sir… Friday 13th June… I drove to Potsdam, stayed at a friend’s house for the entire weekend and returned to Berlin on Monday morning. My friend will vouch for that.’
‘Good… just as well,’ said Wehmen, ‘because I’ve been looking at your personal record and it makes for impressive reading. Frankly, I didn’t think you’d be so damn irresponsible to leave this building with a highly sensitive document. All the same, I had to ask you.’
Full of renewed confidence, von Menen checked his watch. ‘With respect, sir,’ he said, ‘my leave? I don’t suppose I—’
Wehmen snapped into life. ‘Your leave! Haven’t you grasped what’s going on in this country? A new chapter in the Führer’s crusade has just begun and all you can think about is your leave!’
I know about the “new chapter”, you buffoon. Who doesn’t? It’s been reported by every radio network from Tokyo to Texas.
And it had, the news still ringing in von Menen’s ears: Hitler had committed his fearsome war machine to his craziest scheme yet – the colonisation of the east. Since the early hours of Sunday, the Third Reich had been at war with the country many Germans conceived as the real enemy – Russia! From the Black Sea to the Baltic, a German army of unprecedented size was on the march, its sole aim to extend the ideology of a man who craved to be champion of Europe, Adolf Hitler. Next stop, The World.
Wehmen lit up a cigarette, dabbed a finger to his tongue, rubbed it against his thumb and began leafing through the file, turning each page with measured rhythm. He stopped, looked up and fixed von Menen with a long, curious gaze, his nicotine-stained fingers drumming on his silver cigarette box.
‘Remind me,’ he said, ‘what were the circumstances of you being born in Spain?’
Von Menen’s distant Mediterranean origins were not glaringly obvious, yet his dark brown, almost black, wavy hair seemed starkly at odds with his greenish-blue eyes.
‘My parents were in Catalonia at the time, sir, visiting my grandmother – my grandmother being Spanish, you see. They were about to return to Germany when—’
‘Ah, yes, your grandfather, married one of the…’ Wehmen paused, scratched his thinning grey hair, flecks of dandruff fluttering to his shoulders.
‘Devoto de Martinez family, sir.’
‘That’s right. Caused a right old stir at the time, I believe; your grandmother’s decision to renounce the Catholic faith, I mean.’
‘I believe it did, sir, yes.’
‘The reason why you went to Madrid University, your ancestry?’
‘One of them, sir.’
‘Personally, never knew your grandfather, but history shows him to have been a fine diplomat, a textbook example of mediation and superbly mannered…’ Wehmen paused again, a wheezing sound seeping through his lips. He coughed loudly and a fine mist of saliva sprayed out across the top of his desk. ‘Attributes ideally suited to the Bismarck
era,’ he added, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, ‘but not so these days. We’ve no time for that starched, sedate nonsense anymore.’
Von Menen averted his eyes. No time for refinement, either.
Wehmen referred back to the file. ‘Army service… you spent some time on the staff of General von Witzleben, now Field Marshal von Witzleben, and served an attachment with the Signals Corps?’
‘Yes, sir… I returned to General von Witzleben’s staff in December 1937 and stayed there until June 1938. That’s when I joined the Foreign Office.’
Wehmen turned to the next page. ‘Languages… you have an excellent command of French, English, Italian and Portuguese, and your Spanish is faultless.’
‘I’ve been speaking, reading and writing Spanish since I was a child, sir.’
‘Mm… I suppose so. A bit of a boxer, too, I see. Is that how you got the nose?’
‘Yes, sir, but I haven’t boxed since I left the army.’
‘Fencing, sailing… riding.’
Wehmen coughed again, reached for a glass of water and took a quick sip. ‘Any immediate plans?’ he asked.
Another bizarre question. Von Menen’s scepticism moved further into the ascendancy. ‘No, sir, marriage isn’t on my agenda at the moment.’
Pushing the file aside, Wehmen leaned over his desk, a penetrating look in his eyes. ‘Von Menen,’ he said, after a lengthy pause, ‘what do you know about…’
Another deafening silence.
‘About what, sir?’
Wehmen replied in a whisper, as if the room was full of eavesdroppers. ‘About… Information Department Three.’
Von Menen’s face was full of puzzlement. ‘Nothing, sir. I’d no idea there was such a department.’
‘That’s because it’s new, formed only a couple of months ago, by the Minister himself. Its function is to collate intelligence for the Foreign Office.’ Wehmen picked up another cigarette, slipped it between his lips. ‘And you, von Menen, are its latest recruit,’ he added, speaking with the cigarette still in his mouth.
Von Menen pushed back in his chair, face crammed with confusion.
‘On the directions of the Foreign Minister,’ continued Wehmen, ‘you are being posted to…’ He reached for his lighter, lit the cigarette, smoke swirling about his face.
‘Posted to where, sir?’
‘Buenos Aires, of course,’ replied Wehmen, as if Buenos Aires was just two stops down the line from Potsdamer Platz Station.
Von Menen stared at the floor in bewilderment. This is a dream. I’ve just made love to Clarita Brecht, freed myself from the luxurious entanglement of her legs and fallen into a deep sleep. In a moment, she’ll prod me in the back. But she didn’t.
‘Ar-gen-tin-a?’ he replied. ‘To… collate in-tell-i-gence. But I know nothing about intelligence, sir.’
‘You don’t need to! You’re not going there as some seedy, grubby little spy! You’re going there as an accredited envoy of the Third Reich, an envoy with a special remit.’ Wehmen’s head was almost halfway across his desk. ‘You’re going there because you’re considered to have the brains, the intellect and the insight to obtain the kind of information Herr von Ribbentrop wants. The Minister’s expectations of you are very high,’ he emphasised, peering over the top of his pince-nez. ‘He wants a special pair of eyes and ears in Argentina and he’s chosen yours. It would be most unwise of you to disappoint him.’ Wehmen settled back heavily and glanced at his notepad. ‘At eight o’clock tomorrow morning you’re meeting your new section chief, Herr Werner, and he will brief you more fully.’ He slipped a half-flimsy across his desk. ‘That’s where you’ll find him.’
Von Menen’s face was a twisted picture of pain. ‘But, sir—’
‘But nothing! Orders, von Menen, orders.’ Wehmen drew heavily on his Murad Turkish cigarette, a centimetre of rolled tobacco turning to ash, his steely gaze casting a stern warning. ‘And remember, when you leave this office you are not to discuss this matter with anyone other than Herr Werner.’ He flicked his hand dismissively in the direction of the door. ‘That is all. You may go.’
Tuesday 24th June 1941
A small overnight case lay idly on top of the desk, a maroon folder beside it. An island of order in an office that otherwise looked like a junk shop.
Werner, a man in his late fifties, short, solid in stature, with untidy grey hair, a round sallow face and a pair of tortoiseshell spectacles poised on the tip of his nose, looked as though he had spent the last few nights in his office.
‘Before we start,’ said Werner, ‘I gather you’re not happy with your posting. Well, if it helps, I know how you feel. Last week, I had a comfortable office in Dahlem. I started at nine and finished at six. Now, my wife thinks I’ve left home. Anyway, take a seat.’
Von Menen looked around the room, the floor littered with half-empty boxes, files, reference books and a camping bed that might well have been used by Otto von Bismarck himself.
‘Frankly, I don’t feel like anything at the moment, sir,’ he replied. ‘I’m still reeling from the shock of being told that my immediate future lies on the far side of the South Atlantic.’
‘Well, at least I’ve met you,’ replied Werner, ‘which is more than I can say for the person I’m meant to report to.’
‘Who’s that, sir?’
‘I’m told his name is Andor Hencke, from the Political Department, younger than me, but in terms of seniority, well… on Wilhelmstrasse, things have a habit of changing overnight…’ Werner peered over the top of his spectacles, a wry smile drifting across his face. ‘Something you’ve just learned to your obvious displeasure.’
Von Menen was trying to fathom the protocol, his aversion for Wehmen uppermost on his mind. ‘I assume, then,’ he said, ‘that Herr Hencke reports to Under-Secretary of State…?’
‘Doctor Wehmen?’ interrupted Werner, shaking his head. ‘No, Herr Hencke will report directly to the Foreign Minister, meaning that all that stands between you and Herr von Ribbentrop is me and Herr Hencke. Anyway, whatever you feel about your new-found status with the Foreign Office, you’re stuck with it, so…’
A good start; sounds like a man I can trust. Frank, calm; no party badge in his lapel, no portrait of the insane Adolf.
Werner made towards a huge safe in the corner of his office, withdrew a thick green file, laid it on top of his desk and sat down. ‘Your assignment is very unorthodox. Officially, you’re being posted as an accredited Second Secretary. Unofficially, you’re going there as, well, a kind of pseudo intelligence officer, I suppose, operating solely on behalf of the Foreign Office…’ He peered over the top of his spectacles, a cautionary look on his face. ‘It’s a challenging remit, I’m afraid.’
‘In the sense that you’ll find others at the Embassy with similar remits; that is, to obtain intelligence. I’m referring, of course, to the Abwehr and the SD. You will know from your time in the army that the Abwehr is a military organisation with certain refined ethics… bit of a gentlemen’s club, if you like, run by—’
‘Admiral Wilhelm Canaris,’ interrupted von Menen, ‘wily, enigmatic and unassuming… so I’ve heard.’
‘Frankly, I’ve never had any dealings with the man, so I can’t comment on his personality. But I can tell you that the SD is nothing like the Abwehr. It is by no means a backwater for aristocrats, squires and grandees. Know much about the SD, do you?’
‘A bit… It’s part of the RSHA, the Reich Security Administration, run by Reinhard Heydrich, Himmler’s right-hand man. Through the RSHA, Heydrich controls just about every aspect of Germany’s security police apparatus, including the Gestapo.’
‘Correct, but the SD is Heydrich’s cherished invention. His agents in Buenos Aires – researchers, as they might well be described – will, assuredly, be intrigued by your arrival. So, for the record you are a Second Secretary, and you know nothing about Information Department Three. Understood?’
‘A further point on the SD,’ continued Werner, referring to his notes. ‘Heydrich has just appointed a young SS Major as acting chief of the SD’s foreign intelligence branch. His name is Walter Schellenberg and I gather he’s a bit of a go-getter… useful if you remembered his name, I think.’
‘Seems I’m fast becoming a rank outsider in a three-horse race,’ said von Menen. ‘I mean, me competing with the Abwehr and the SD is, to put it bluntly—’
‘A bit odd?’
‘In that I’ve had no training for this kind of work, yes.’
‘From what I’ve seen of your record, I doubt that you’ll be a rank outsider. As for training, you don’t need any. This assignment is not about dingy, smoke-filled bars in Buenos Aires, invisible ink, dead letter boxes, disguises, false heels and knocking rhythmically six times on Carmen’s door. It’s about being a special envoy with a special remit, someone with good perceptive skills, someone who has the acumen to get the information the Foreign Office wants. You have those qualities. It’s why you were selected.’
‘I presume the Ambassador knows why I’m going there, sir?’
‘Yes, but only the Ambassador and the Chargé d’Affaires. Others will have their suspicions, of course, but you’ll have to deal with that in your own cautious way. Initially, focus your attention on what you’re likely to find outside the Embassy, and by that I mean the Argentine Army Intelligence Service and the Policia de la Capital. If they suspect you’re surplus to our genuine requirements, they’ll take a keen interest in you, tap your phone, intercept your mail and follow you around. So, whenever you’re away from the Embassy, use public call boxes and do not encourage people to write to you, or visit you, at your private address.’
A knock sounded on the door. A skimp of a girl tripped in bearing two cups of coffee. Werner waited for her to leave and when the door clicked shut he reached for the maroon folder, fished out a grainy photograph of a man in military uniform and laid it on the table.
‘He’s a career soldier,’ he said, ‘a lieutenant colonel in the Argentine army, believes in State intervention over the economy and admires the philosophy of Germany. Personally, though, I’d say he’s more inclined to the ideology of Mussolini. He was in Europe recently, as a military observer. Our main interest in him is his involvement with an organisation called the GOU, short for United Officers Group, a secret brotherhood of pro-Axis military officers. We want you to make a covert study of the GOU, assess its strengths and weaknesses and evaluate its prospects. In other words, find out all you can about it.’
Von Menen picked up the photograph. ‘Mid-forties?’
‘Yes, born 1895. His name is Juan Domingo Perόn. We believe he’s directing the Argentine army’s mountain troop unit at Mendoza.’ Werner removed his glasses, rubbed his eyes and heaved an arduous sigh. ‘You’ll be aware of Argentina’s neutral stance, insofar as the war in Europe is concerned, but that is not to say that she has no empathy for the German cause. Within the Argentine military there are many people who are on our side. But the same cannot be said for the man in the street, whose support lies almost entirely with the British: for every pro-German in Argentina, you’ll find at least five Anglophiles. You need to remember that.’
Another two hours flew by, Werner speaking at length about Argentina’s volatile history – her roller-coaster economy, ambitious military expansionism, disdain for Brazil and Chile, and her continuing war of words with the United States.
‘You’ve a lot to learn, Carl. The National Library in Buenos Aires will be a good start, but don’t forget the newspapers; read as many as you can.’ Werner delved into the folder and fished out a booklet headed TOP SECRET – AKROBAT. ‘All your reports will be encoded by special ciphers, unique to you and me. Make them precise. No extraneous rubbish. And remember the security code. Non-urgent reports will be sent through normal Embassy channels, but anything critical or ultra-sensitive will be sent via this’ – straining over his desk, Werner released the two catches on the small – ‘suitcase.’ Werner turned it round so that the handle faced von Menen, his half-empty cup of coffee spilling onto the carpet in the process. Ignoring the mess, he hinged up the lid, revealing a second, smaller suitcase, seemingly as innocuous as the first, but when its lid was raised…
‘A transceiver,’ said von Menen.
It was a small, compact arrangement, complete with a set of headphones, a silent Morse key, a flexible antenna and a spare set of valves. ‘I know all about your Signals Corps history,’ said Werner, ‘so I won’t bore you with all the technicalities. Suffice it to say, the call sign for the Information Department Three home station is ZBZ9. Your own call sign is MEC9 and your personal code is AKROBAT. Bear in mind, also, that in the first instance your signals will be picked up by a relay station in Madrid. From there, they’ll be transmitted directly to Berlin.’
Closing the two lids, Werner slapped his hand on top of the case.
‘A warning,’ he added. ‘It’s not to be used for sending signals directly from the Embassy, or from your private residence in Buenos Aires, so you’ll have to find yourself a “safe” house as soon as possible. Rent or buy, it doesn’t matter. Just make sure that nobody knows about it, not even the Ambassador.’ He slipped a second envelope across his desk. ‘They’re yours. Antenna layouts, security codes, ciphers, transmission times and frequencies. Memorise the security codes, transmission times and frequencies, and make sure to burn the paperwork before you leave the building. The ciphers are one-time pads.’
Von Menen plucked out one of the small booklets and fanned through the pages. ‘Meaning, I have one copy and—’
‘I have the other,’ confirmed Werner. ‘Use them in strict numerical sequence and be sure to burn each sheet immediately after transmission. As with the transceiver, keep them safe. Understood?’
Werner stroked his jaw. ‘Your address, it’s off Unter den Linden, isn’t it?’
‘Call me in a couple of days and I’ll arrange for someone to deliver the transceiver and a spare set of crystals.’
Werner walked back to his safe, hauled out a fat manila envelope and dropped it on top of his desk. It landed with a deep thud. ‘There’s a lot of money in there,’ he said; ‘enough to quench the appetite of anyone who’s got the information we’re looking for. Inside, you’ll find details of a personal bank account with the Banco de la Nación, in Buenos Aires. You have a safe at home?’
‘Good. Make sure to keep everything in it until you leave… Oh, nearly forgot, the photograph you were asked to supply two weeks ago? My apologies for the guile, but it had nothing to do with the process of updating your personal file.’ Werner delved into his drawer, pulled out a pristine diplomatic passport and pushed it across his desk. ‘With that, you’ll have full diplomatic privilege… No need for scrutiny by border authorities.’
Von Menen ran his fingers across the hard, dark blue cover, tracing the gold-embossed emblem of the Third Reich and the inscription Deutsches Reich Diplomatenpass.
‘Any questions?’ asked Werner.
‘Yes. How long am I likely to be away?’
‘Can’t possibly answer that,’ was the astonishingly frank reply. ‘What I can tell you is that the Minister has taken a personal interest in your assignment, a very personal interest. Don’t mention that I told you, but you were chosen from a shortlist of five. It was Herr von Ribbentrop himself who had the final say. He thinks you are, to quote, “expressly
qualified for the role”. There’s no point in me making a secret of it; a great deal is expected of you.’
‘And my next briefing?’
‘There is no next briefing,’ Werner apologised. ‘You’re flying to Stuttgart next Sunday, staying overnight at the Hotel Graf Zeppelin and continuing to Portugal the next day. You sail from Lisbon on 3rd July, a first class cabin on Cabo de Hornos. There’s a full Wagons-Lits itinerary inside the envelope.’
Von Menen gasped at the urgency of it all. ‘But—’
Shaking his head, Werner hauled himself up from his chair. ‘No point in raising any objections with me,’ he said. ‘As of today, you’re finished at Wilhelmstrasse, so I suggest you make the best of the next few days and visit your family. Remember, memorise the transmission times, frequencies and security code, and burn every scrap of paperwork before you leave the building. As for you and I,’ he concluded, offering his hand, ‘the next time we meet will be over the ether. Good hunting.’
Von Menen’s mind was a whirlpool of doubt. In less than six weeks he would be in Buenos Aires, lost in a world of ciphers, transmission times, radios, an organisation called the GOU and a man named Juan Domingo Perόn; a diplomat one minute, a spy the next; aiding those he despised and cut adrift from those he admired. He walked back to his office, trying to distil his misfortune, but knowing that he was hopelessly stuck, trapped between von Ribbentrop and the two giants of German espionage.
He knew something about the workings of the Abwehr and he had a measure of the questionable dealings of the Nazi-inspired SD, but like two north poles in the same box, the Abwehr and the SD didn’t mix: Heydrich mistrusted Canaris, Canaris was watchful of Heydrich, and neither had any time for the insufferable and arrogant Joachim von Ribbentrop. His mind filled with the notion of a half-baked scheme contrived by von Ribbentrop in a vain attempt to seize the espionage initiative from the Abwehr and the SD, to win the favour of his beloved Adolf Hitler.
Von Menen unlocked and pushed open his office door. There was an unaddressed envelope lying on the floor, a brief message inside:
The next meeting of the Edelweiss Alpine Flower Society has been brought forward to this evening – same time, same venue.
Ludwig Hamelin, Honorary Secretary
“Ludwig Hamelin” was the alias of Rudolph von Bauer, a former army colleague who’d transferred to the Abwehr shortly after von Menen had joined the Foreign Office. Von Bauer wouldn’t know the difference between a dandelion and a rare orchid, but he certainly knew the difference between non-violent resistance to Nazi rule and outright military rebellion. In that sense he was an important link to a man seen by many as a symbol of hope for a new, democratic Germany – Field Marshal Erwin von Witzleben. But von Bauer’s affinity with von Witzleben went much deeper than a mutual hatred for Hitler. Like von Menen, he, too, had served on the staff of the illustrious field marshal!
Von Menen walked over to the window, pressed his head against the glass and felt the heat of the day on his forehead. Something’s afoot. Von Bauer said he couldn’t make the
meeting at Wittenberge because he had to go to Breslau. So why is he still in Berlin?
He telephoned his friend, Gustav Helldorf, over at the Foreign Office Press Branch, cleared his desk, then trawled through the items Werner had given him, the contents of the manila envelope sending him into a cold sweat – thick wads of US dollar bills, Swiss francs, bundles of Argentine pesos and a green velvet pouch containing over fifty Swiss gold pieces.
Von Menen packed everything into his valise, sat down and began the arduous task of memorising call signs, frequencies and transmission times. By early evening, a pile of charred papers lay smouldering in the fire grate.
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