Bill Todd -- DANDERTON: A Novel of the Thirties and Forties
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 Chapter 4

Four Years Later - February 1939

The world, if anything, was lurching downward. The depression might have moderated slightly, but people were used to it and didn't talk about it much. Besides, there was something worse, the prospect of world war. Like the last time, America might not be involved at the beginning. But Hitler was much more frightening than the Kaiser had been. America might have to come in earlier this time.

Sam Danderton, now twenty nine, had pitched for the St. Louis Browns the previous year, winning thirteen games. Since the Browns were another bad team, that was something of an accomplishment, almost like winning twenty for a good team. The consensus opinion at the end of the season was that a better team than the Browns might buy or trade for him. None had so far, perhaps because he was reputed to be flaky.

Most players, after a good year, expected a still better one. Sam didn't. His arm was still tired at Christmas time, and he suspected that it was simply wearing out. Not only that, baseball wasn't as much fun any more. Being the ace of the Browns' pitching staff had its disadvantages.

Overshadowed by the Cardinals in the same city, it amazed Sam that there were thousands of people in and around St. Louis who were really upset when the Browns lost. They thought that their best chance of winning came when Sam was pitching, and, if he didn't pitch well, they felt betrayed.

Absurd as it was to feel that way about a game that couldn't really affect them, Sam didn't want to be in the forefront of other people's feelings. To the surprise of almost everyone, he quit just before the spring training of 1939 rolled around. He could, after all, live perfectly well on the income left him by his father.

In other areas of life, there had also been some disappointments. Tso Yo-wen was now attending a Swiss university, primarily so that she could keep track of her father's numbered account and see that the Swiss didn't steal his money. Many people thought that Swiss bankers were above such things, but General Tso was not one of them.

Mrs. Brenda Skyrms remained available, but Sam was currently a guest at Anne Morris' wedding reception. It was held in the large Morris home in a suburb of Cincinnati, and Sam was standing alone in a sun room with large windows all around. Even though there was snow on the ground, the room, with its garden furniture, amounted to a cozy little refuge from unpleasant thoughts as well as weather. From the hilltop on which the house stood, there was a view down to a little creek in which Sam had earlier observed water trickling over ice. No other houses were visible, and there were only bare black woods on the other side of the creek. Suddenly, Anne's father, Jack, came up and put a hand on his shoulder.

"I hope this isn't too hard on you, Sam. I wasn't sure you should come, but I was over-ruled."

"It's okay. I'm sorry to lose Anne, but it was inevitable. She told me that I didn't want a home, and that I preferred to live in hotels."

"Is that true?"

"I suppose it probably is."

"Well, there may be some women who'd agree to that, but most of them are so damned domestic."

Sam didn't tell him everything that had happened his last time with Anne, only a couple of months previously. He and she had come closer to what they called "total sex" than previously. Afterwards, Anne said,

"I guess this is goodbye, Sam. I'm going to marry a man I like but don't love because he's eminently suitable in most respects."

Sam simply went numb. Anne then added the crusher,

"I'm an only child, and both my parents are afraid that our line is going to die out. You're more interesting than Tom, but we've known each other almost five years and ......."

Afterwards, Sam realized that much of Anne's little speech had been rehearsed. It also occurred to him, still later that night, that he might have been supposed to say,

"Don't marry him. I love you. Marry me, and I'll settle down and have children."

But, then, at something like four in the morning, he realized that that wasn't true. Anne had already made up her mind, and she wasn't the sort to change it, no matter how much undying love Sam might have professed. Indeed, she had said,

"You know, I recognize the possibility that I might later really fall in love with someone else. But, if that happens, I'll just suppress it. No affairs, not a word to cause Tom anxiety or jealousy. Nothing."

That seemed to be it. Sam was to remain a friend of the family, most particularly, a friend of Anne's parents. Hence, the wedding invitation. Sam's mind had been drifting, and Jack seemed to understand. He said,

"Sam, get the hell away from here immediately! Call me Monday and I'll have something of interest for you."

Sam took one last look at Anne, willowy and desirable in her wedding gown, and fled.

When he met Jack Morris for lunch at his club, Sam felt relief. Anne wasn't, so to speak, hovering in the background. Moreover, she seemed a million miles removed from her father's thoughts.

Sam might reasonably have expected to be offered a job in one of Jack's companies, but he nevertheless thought that it might be something different. Jack began,

"The people I know in Washington are worried."

Since Jack was one of few business magnates who was a Democrat, and he contributed heavily, the "people he knew" would surely be highly placed. Jack continued,

"We'll eventually wind up fighting the Nazis and the Japs. The Japanese can't possibly defeat us, but German science is the worry. What do you think?"

"I keep up in physics only sporadically these days. But, of course, it's been known for some years that it'll be possible to produce an atomic chain reaction that will release tremendous energy."

"Is that what those two German physicists, I can't remember their names, discovered?"

"I can't remember their names either. But virtually every physicist in the world knows more or less what has to be done to build a bomb. The doing of it is another matter."

"Unfortunately, we have no organized effort to find out what the Germans might be doing in this area. It's a matter of asking American scientists and students who've visited Germany recently what they've observed. It's known that I'm interested in these matters, so a lot of the rumors come to me."

"I bet you want me to go to Germany as a graduate student to spy on their scientists."


"Great! I need something to do just now."

"What do you think of Heisenberg?"

"The best man they have since they've driven out Einstein and the others."

"The Jews and other refugees who've come to this country have effected the greatest transfer of intellectual power in all of history. You'd think it'd be all over but the shouting. However, the Germans still have enough left to be extremely dangerous."

"The only thing, Jack, is that hardly any of these atomic physicists, German or American, would really want to work on developing a bomb. They're pure theoreticians who disdain applications. They often have contempt for any kind of technology."

"Surely a man who invented a bomb that could blow up a whole city in one go would have his place in history."

"But it wouldn't advance physics much. It wouldn't put him in the physics Hall of Fame."

"Why not?"

"A lot of the problem is one of mere calculation, not theory. It takes a certain critical mass of a special kind of uranium to produce the chain reaction. No one knows exactly what that mass is. Then, having discovered it, you have to figure out a way of compressing material tightly enough together to achieve it. Some of these problems involve mechanical engineering, the sort of thing theoretical physicists are likely to be very bad at."

"They're smart men. They ought to be able to manage it."

"Quite apart from that, there's the matter of producing the isotopes of radioactive elements. This might involve setting up a factory to process materials. That's closer to Henry Ford than Einstein. In fact, Einstein himself would have almost no role to play in something like this."

"And it's Einstein that these guys want to be like?"

"Yes. On the other hand, when it comes to the crunch, a lot of our people will take up technology for purely patriotic reasons."

"It turns out that there's at least one physicist on the other side who doesn't have any problems with technology."

Lars Hokensen was a prominent Swedish physicist in his late thirties who, attracted by the Nazi doctrine, had become a German citizen. Jack commented,

"You can imagine what someone would have to be like to leave a civilized country to follow Hitler."

"I've heard the name, but don't know anything about him."

"He seems to be quite good, and also to be a rather romantic figure. He's attracted a following, and, quite naturally, he's a favorite of Hitler. He gets all the research money he can possibly use."

"So, as a new convert, I suppose he's happy to work on Hitler's favorite projects."

"Yes. He has his own center near Hamburg, and they specialize in things with a potential military application. These presumably include the development of an atomic bomb."

"I guess that's where I'd better go, at least to start with."

"Is your German good enough to allow you to pass as a German?"

"I've been told by a man I think should know that I can pass as an ordinary German, but not as a German intellectual."

"I guess you'd better be an American post-graduate student, then. You might even give the impression that you're thinking of becoming a German, the way Hokensen did. Can you manage that?"

"Probably not all in one gulp. But, if I do manage to make contact with the right people, I could allow myself to be convinced, little by little."

Sam hadn't been in Germany in eight years, and, when he landed in Hamburg, it seemed that nothing had changed. There were the same swarms of bicycles in the city streets, and a great many delivery vehicles were still horse-drawn. The horses had bags suspended in the critical area to catch the droppings, but they seemed often to get out of position, with a noticeable effect on the streets. America had gotten thoroughly motorized in the meantime, with automobiles replacing both bikes and horses in the cities, but one had to go abroad to fully realize it.

Alongside the old horses, there were the new Germans. Some of them wore tight-fitting suits and rakish hats, and zig-zagged down the streets in sports cars. In another country, they might have been the builders of new suburbs or men who made money on the stock market. But, in Germany, even government officials could be glamorous, provided that they belonged to the Nazi Party. After only a few hours in proximity to them, Sam took a train for his ultimate destination.

Rosbeck was an old port on the North Sea whose harbor had silted up, and was now suitable only for fishing boats. With it's monotonous flat landscape and the strong smell of fish, it didn't get many tourists. The university, one of Germany's older but smaller ones, accounted for most of the town's elite.

Jack and Sam had decided that Sam was to be a dilletante with lots of his own money, a yen for assorted kinds of scientific and other knowledge, and no desire to earn a degree or get a job. The beauty of this story, thus far, was that it was almost entirely true, the only exception being that it was Jack's money that fuelled Sam, rather than his own. But no one would have any way of finding that out.

Of course, there had to be some substance to support these varied interests, and there was. Sam was one of relatively few people who really understood Kurt Godel's proof of the incompleteness of arithmetic.

Godel had developed a system of logic in which the traditional principles of logic could be represented by numbers, in fact integers. These numbers could then represent statements about other statements, and even about themselves. Godel had produced a statement that, in effect, said of itself, "There is no proof of me." He had then proven that there was no proof of that statement itself, nor was there a proof of its negation. It amounted to finding a principle of arithmetic, to be sure much more complex than '2 + 2 = 4', which couldn't be shown to be either true or false. Hence, arithmetic was incomplete in the technical sense of that term.

Since Kurt Godel had fled from Nazidom to Princeton, New Jersey, one might wonder why one of his followers was in Rosbeck rather than Princeton. Sam, however, would claim that Godel's method, which amounted to arithmetizing non- arithmetic subject matters, had implications for many areas, even in the social sciences and literature. Again, that was his actual position, and it could be cogently explained to anyone. This sort of work could be done anywhere, and there were many good reasons, apart from the real one, for studying at Rosbeck. If he were really pressed on that, he'd claim to be fleeing America on account of an ugly divorce action, but it was obviously undesirable to have to invent on that scale.

As might have been expected of someone in Sam's position, he took quite a nice suite of rooms near one of the principle cafes in the oldest part of the city. However, his long absence from Germany put him in an odd positon. Taking him for a German, but discovering that he didn't know the price of a postage stamp or bus fare, people looked at him strangely, evidently taking him for a well-dressed and articulate moron.

The Third Reich had brought into being an immense bureaucracy with all sorts of regulations, procedures, and permits. Among other things, he had to report to the police station as a temporary alien resident in order to rent his apartment. No one questioned his basic story, but a comedy of misunderstandings and errors took place. This time, it was just as well that they took him for an idiot.

While he might have bumbled in his approach to the civic bureaucracy, Sam had some previous experience with European universities. It was difficult for a foreigner to get officially admitted to any organized degree program, or, indeed, to convince the university that he had any sort of previous education at all. On the other hand, at an informal level, a German university was more open than an American one. The buildings merged almost indistinguishably with the old buildings of the town, and anyone could slip into a lecture hall, a library, or even most laboratories, without being questioned.

Simply by walking around and looking at bulletin boards and the placards on office doors, Sam learned the names of the buildings, the various departments and institutes, and the names of many senior faculty members. He stayed carefully away from Hokensen's Institute for Applied Science, but he went to some lectures in physics and made himself feel at home.

The real life of the university, at least for the young people, took place in the cafes in the evenings. On the third evening, Sam turned up at one of them, the Cafe Rosbeck. It was an old stone livery stable which been so tarted up as to eliminate any indication of its former function, not to mention the original odors. The wide double-doorway opened on to a single large room in which the sorts of waiters who were good at bowing and scraping scurried around.

Sam, taking a seat at a table on the periphery, immediately noticed the "old students." These were men in their late twenties or thirties, who simply hung around universities, studying sporadically. They liked to drink and sing, and they particularly enjoyed seducing the girls who were away from home for the first time. They usually had some sort of private income, and they were frenetically happy and easy to join.

In some ways they were like Sam himself, or at least what he was supposed to be, but they were less serious. Discussions of literature or poetry would soon be dropped in favor of more topical matters. Since Sam wanted to meet serious people, he didn't see any advantage in joining them.

A different cafe, the Nord, was scruffy by comparison, but showed better possibilities. In each field of study, there were dozens of young men, again in their twenties or thirties, who were kept in academic limbo. They taught or tutored the less distinguished students of the university, performed menial tasks for their seniors, and tried to convince at least one such senior person of their abilities. There was a good sprinkling of women among them, but these were not the naive young girls who were taken to the Cafe Rosbeck.

While the "old students" wore expensive fashionable clothes, the young men in the Nord wore rather formal, but shabby, clothes. The women with them, few of whom looked married, dressed rather drably. But there were occasional touches of elegance, as if to show that they hadn't given up.

Some of the men, with a debonair panache, drank and gestured with an escapist abandon. Others, when lapsing into silence and temporary isolation, had the expressions of dogs expecting to be kicked. Still, whatever their adaptation to their circumstances, most German graduate students regarded themselves as an elite, and were likely to make fun of outsiders. An American who suddenly came up and loudly offered to buy a whole table drinks in the comic-opera fashion of the old students might be tolerated as long as the drinks were being drunk. But he would later be mocked.

On the next evening, Sam turned up early in the Nord and sat in the middle of the zone which would later be filled with people. The first arrivals sat at some distance from him, but he eventually found others at his large round table. They were looking away from him and talking with friends at adjoining tables, but he quietly ordered beer for them and paid for it. That seemed to be an acceptable gesture, and, when a couple realized that they hadn't paid for their beers, Sam was thanked graciously.

The five people at Sam's table were about his own age, and were all classisists, mainly studying the works of Sophocles. Sam, knowing some Greek and some Sophocles, insinuated himself into the conversation plausibly until he discovered why it was that he couldn't pass as a German intellectual. All the others talked at once, and talked loudly. It was hard to see how anyone could have heard, much less understood, what anyone else was saying, but Sam was willing to admit it as a possibility. He himself could hardly make sense of what was flying past his ears.

Sam had already declared himself to be American and, after a few minutes, the young lady next to him, Annaliese by name, gave him a sympathetic look and said,

"I'm afraid we do talk too fast with too much slang."

"I can usually follow fairly fast speech, but only of one person at a time."

When she discovered Sam's interests in science and baseball, she said,

"All of us in this group are horribly unscientific, and the men are hopelessly unathletic."

She then lowered her voice and said,

"The men all cultivate or emphasize some infirmity to keep them out of the army. Hans is myopic, and Klaus has one leg so much shorter than the other that he limps."

Sam whispered back,

"Can those symptoms be produced on demand?"

"It's hard to measure the length of legs. It depends on how you hold your hips."

Annaliese then demonstrated, with her own comely hips and legs, and explained,

"Most people already have one leg longer than the other, and it's a matter of emphasizing the difference until it becomes an infirmity. The military can't abide anyone who marches with a limp, or can't stand straight, or anything like that."

Sam suspected that the others wouln't have been at all comfortable if they had overheard this little conversation, but Annaliese was a vivacious and trusting young lady. She then burst out,

"There's my brother! Otto's a scientist. I'll take you over and introduce you."

Otto was tall, prematurely balding, and looked rather reserved. Sam hesitated, not sure how pleased he would be to have a strange American landed on him, but Annaliese added,

"Don't worry, I'll stay with you. I can let them think I'm cheating on my boy friend."

Otto was amused at his sister's description of him as a brilliant young scientist who was about to discover something wonderful. Indeed, he allowed that it seemed less likely each month that he would ever discover anything at all. Sam said that he himself had limited potential for discovery, but was trying to set forth the implications of Godel's method. Otto replied,

"At least you have something interesting to work with. I found that my financial support would disappear, and that I'd end up in the army, if I didn't move from theoretical physics to what amounts to mechanical engineering and applied chemistry."

Evidently Otto's sister hadn't talked to him about making one leg longer than the other. More important, Sam wondered if it could be Hokensen's group that Otto had been pushed into.

As the evening progressed and Annaliese flirted with Otto's friends, Otto got a little drunk, partly at Sam's expense. His group was headed by a man named Schmidt, and they were concerned with rocket propulsion for aircraft. With gestures and sound effects, Otto set forth the main problem. The aircraft went very fast at first, but then fizzled. He obviously hoped that the whole project would fizzle as quickly as possible.

Little as Otto might think of it, Jack Morris would be happy to hear about this project. Moreover, a physicist working on rocket propulsion would be likely to know others who were interested in making an atomic bomb.

Bill Todd -- DANDERTON: A Novel of the Thirties and Forties
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