Bill Todd -- DANDERTON: A Novel of the Thirties and Forties
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 Chapter 6

Herr Hess

On one pleasant day in April, Sam went out running. One of the things that had gotten him his eccentric reputation in baseball was his idea that running didn't consist in just jogging back and forth across the outfield a few times. He ran extensively in the city parks in both Philadelphia and St. Louis, and, on the road, he ran on city streets for at least a few miles before the others were up and functioning. He therefore looked for running opportunities on arriving in Rosbeck.

When Rosbeck had flourished as a port some eighty years previously, there was a network of canals connecting it to the flat hinterland. There was also a railway which ran through the town, and which crossed and re-crossed the canals in complex ways. The canals were now disused, but remained with lock gates mostly open and water swilling around in them.

There was still passenger service on the railway, and an occasional freight, but a good deal of the trackage was rusty and derelict, hardly more functional than the canals. Sam found that he could run on the ties of the old tracks, long bare of ballast, and on the tow-paths of the canals, sometimes leaping over obstructions.

The whole scene would have seemed bleak to some people, but Sam liked the sandy colors with patches of green here and there. Small black hulks of abandoned machinery were scattered randomly, all ready to trip the unobservant runner, and thus added excitement to the environment. There were frequent little foot-bridges over the canals which curved upwards in Van Gogh-like shapes and colors, and he enjoyed banging over them at high speed.

When he finally finished, the cool sun was dropping through clouds to the west. On his way back, he went by the building where Missy worked on impulse. She came out just a minute or two after five, striding hard with her long legs as the light breeze whipped her full skirt. Her glossy dark hair gathered closely in a bun, she proceeded in profile to Sam, with what looked like a little smile. Sam didn't call to her, and let her pass. Just as he was preparing to drift after her, a big blonde man came along, also walking fast. Sam, wondering if he were Hokensen, fell in behind.

In the old streets there were lots of turns, and Missy, at times out of Sam's view, made some improbable ones. Having heard that her boss followed her, she might be laying a complex trail to find out. The man in front of Sam seemed to be making all the same turns, and, when they came out into the wider street where Missy's apartment was, Sam could see both Missy and the man who must be Hokensen.

When Missy went into her doorway, she did a sudden right-angled turn. It would have caught a follower who didn't know where she lived by surprise, and it allowed her to see sideways back along her route without looking overtly. She gave no sign of noticing Hokensen, a hundred yards behind her.

Hokensen kept going straight. After all, if he wasn't going to stand under Missy's window and sing or howl, there wasn't much else he could do. Sam wandered off into a little street market, and bought a banana. Having eaten it, he crossed to Missy's window and called up. She, seeming pleased, stuck her head out of the window and invited him up. He called back.

"I'm all dirty from running. I'll go get cleaned up first."

"It doesn't matter. Come up now for coffee. You can make clean later."

They had been speaking English for a change, and Sam, amused by the phrase, 'make clean,' reached for the door handle. As he did so, he glanced to his left and saw Hokensen, at no great distance, staring at him with great hostility.

Missy stood at the top of the stairs, engaged in the quite un-princessy act of welcoming an assorted American to an apartment she claimed to be disordered. Not only that, she had her hands behind her, evidently doing up the dress she had been in the process of taking off.

The room-mate wasn't home, and there was, indeed, clothing, some of it lingerie, spread widely among dirty dishes, cups, and glasses. Sam guessed that this was what happened when a young lady, used to maids, found herself without one. Missy claimed that all of the scattered articles belonged to her room-mate, but giggled suspiciously when he looked sceptically at her. She then picked out the two cleanest-looking cups and proceeded to make coffee.

Sam peeked out the window at the now retreating Hokensen, and asked her,

"Did you see him following you?"

"Yes. I led him a merry chase."

Sam explained what had happened, and added,

"I didn't mean to be caught in the way that I was."

"If he thinks I have a boy friend, particularly a big strong one like you, it may deter him. Of course, he might try to have you removed in some way."

Missy smiled at this last thought, evidently not taking it as a serious possibility. Sam hardly knew what was a serious possibility in the Third Reich.

The next time out on the canals, Sam, supposing that he might be followed, kept track of other people. There weren't many. North Germans didn't seem to run or bicycle for fun. There were bicyclists taking short cuts, but, because of the many obstructions across the tow-paths, they had to frequently dismount. Sam recognized most of the few people from before his meeting with Hokensen. In any case, it would take a runner like himself to keep him in sight. There were fine German runners, but he hadn't seen any in Rosbeck.

An interesting possibility was presented by a small disused railway yard with some twenty old cars scattered among its half dozen tracks. There was bicycle access from a towpath on one side, although Sam had never seen anyone there. There was also access, at least for a runner, on the other side along an old, partly overgrown, dirt path. If he ever had to arrange a secret meeting with anyone, they could come from opposite sides, either or both largely invisible from the distant roads. Once in the little railway yard, both parties could disappear between cars and hold a meeting in an old guards van, the European equivalent of a caboose. When Yo-wen and her father came to Rosbeck, he wouldn't want to advertize his connection with them.

The original plan had called for Sam to attempt to worm his way into Hokensen's institute, perhaps even pretending to be attracted to the Nazi outlook. That would hardly be possible now that Hokensen took him for a rival for Missy's affections.

An alternative was to cultivate Otto. Otto was part of Hokensen's institute, but not part of the group which he personally headed, and in which Hokensen conducted his research. But, of course, they all talked together, and certain things were in the air.

Otto was pleasant and charming in manner, and he had a number of appealing idiosyncrasies which the Nazis, or even ordinary Germans, would have counted as weaknesses. One was a tendency to sneak out of the institute in the middle of the day and have coffee at the cafes. The other was a fascination, always from a certain distance, with almost any woman having any claim to attractiveness. He even professed the ability to imagine women whom Sam found quite plain as Viking heroines, or as ladies-in-waiting to the Queen of Sheba.

When Sam met him on his little escapes, they would sometimes classify all the women in the cafe, finding the right niche for each. Unfortunately, Otto, on his little "vacations," was hardly more inclined than Missy to talk about work. But Sam didn't attempt to pump him. If need be, Yo-wen would be able to do it much better.

A few days later, the Tsos came to Rosbeck. Sam had arranged to meet them at the Hamburg station, and had taken a circuitious route to get there. There were, in fact, three Tso family members instead of two.

Tso Shih-ninh, aged fifteen, was the youngest child of the general's third wife. He resembled Yo-wen closely in appearance, but, where she had been mostly interested in fun and games at that age, this young man was a serious intellectual. Speaking the good English he had learned from yet another of the Tso tutors, he questioned Sam as to his scientific interests. As Yo-wen gave her father a rundown of the conversation in Chinese, Sam discussed with the boy the general way in which one might set out to make an atomic bomb. He already knew about isotopes and heavy water, and they focussed on the time, rate, and distance problem of the neutrons making it from the nucleus of one atom to bombard another. Sam concluded,

"The general outline is well known, but it may take years to establish the details and produce the materials."

"Someone might get lucky and solve the critical mass problem in a week."

That, of course, was an outside possibility, although it would take more than a week to know that the problem had been solved. As Sam was considering this matter, he caught sight of a change in Shih-ninh's expression. Gone was the young intellectual, replaced by a boy on the verge of ecstasy at the thought of blowing up half the world. This, then, was another Tso. It was hardly a surprise to Sam to find that he had been campaigning with his father until their departure from China.

It was awkward not to be able to meet Yo-wen and the others openly, but Sam considered that he was already compromised. At the very least, Missy might have drawn the attention of the police to herself and her friends with her loose talk.

General Tso, posing as a Japanese businessman whose daughter acted as his interpreter, took rather elaborate quarters for his little seaside vacation from pressing concerns in Berlin. Yo-wen, posing as something she wasn't, had much less trouble with the local bureaucracy than Sam had had.

The first secret meeting in Rosbeck worked perfectly. Sam was already waiting in the old guards van when Yo-wen came up, riding her bike over the ruts between the tracks and dismounting between two strings of cars. He noticed that she had, in fact, managed to cultivate the energetic pushy look of the Japanese. She also had two cameras slung around her shoulders and looked ready to buy any souvenir on offer.

Yo-wen had brought a bottle of French red wine, and some cheese and crackers, in the basket of her bicylcle. They cleared off a table still littered with the lingering remnants of railwaymen and spread the little feast. Then, when she took off her sun-glasses, she looked much less Japanese.

It was decided that Missy would be easy for Yo-wen to meet without an introduction from Sam. As he said,

"All you have to do is be in the cafe at the right time. If you start asking people which are the best restaurants in town, she'll be sure to have an opinion."

"And then I'll go on from there."

"If the Gestapo's watching, you'll be noticed first as a tourist who's happened to meet Missy. You'll also meet Annaliese and Otto and the others, but, of course, it'll be assumed that you know nothing of their variously dissident attitudes."

"By that time, I'll be meeting you as well."

"Yes. I think it's all right if they think we're just casual acquaintances."

Yo-wen seemed quite confident as regards Missy, and added,

"I can make women like me when I want. You'll be surprised, Sam. Soon, I'll go everywhere with her."

"It'll drive Hokensen crazy if she's always with a Japanese girl when he wants to make his approach."

"Perhaps I can also introduce her to my father and Shih- ninh."

"Yes. Missy's not getting many dates now that the young men are afraid to go near her. But her family keeps her short on money, and she loves to be taken to expensive restaurants."

"The Tso family can come to the rescue! My father was a famous gourmand in China, and he's on his way to becoming one here. We'll have caviar coming out that girl's ears."

It looked as if they would, at any rate, be able to protect Missy from Hokensen. In that case, it would be unnecessary for her to quit her job.

That very evening, when Sam got to the Cafe Nord, Yo-wen was already there, seated as instructed. He took a seat at the other side of the next round table, facing sideways to her. It was impossible to say whether any of the half dozen others in the cafe, in addition to the waiters, could be spies.

Sam had no idea whether a Gestapo or other police agent would be too proud to act the part of a student or an idle lounger to gain information. He knew that American police forces used informers, often criminals themselves, for spying. But that was only for ordinary crime. Paroled check forgers and burglars could hardly be expected to eavesdrop on the conversations of intellectuals, and then report those conversations accurately, much less interpret them. Sam's tentative conclusion was that the Gestapo people would have to do this work themselves, and that most of their agents wouldn't be able to abandon a certain pretense of respectability.

There soon arrived a small neat man who looked like one of the many petty bureaucrats who swarmed over the town. Although Sam hadn't seen him there before, he made straight for a table in the middle, ordering a beer from the waiter. The waiter made no sign of recognition, but the visitor, looking entirely comfortable, opened his newspaper.

After half an hour, a few of the cosmopolitan old students came in, and then a group Sam knew by sight as young historians. They talked across tables, and the cafe began its daily transition from a place of some anonymity to something approaching a social club. The man Sam had been watching, who might have stopped at the cafe simply because its location was convenient, went on reading his paper.

Why, Sam wondered, would such a man want to rub elbows with people twenty years younger who would have no respect for what he did, be he an official or a businessman? If he had just dropped in by chance, he would be starting to feel uncomfortable and out of place. If so, he would leave after he had finished his beer and his paper. The test would be whether Herr Hess, as Sam named him, remained for the evening.

Sam had arranged the seating so that the group, on arriving, would fill up both tables and occupy the space between himself and Yo-wen. Herr Hess, however, was at the third table filling out the little triangle with his back to Yo-wen, not very far from her.

Yo-wen, who had given Sam not so much as a glance, had her cameras and tourist brochures spread on the table in front of her. That would impress Herr Hess, if he was in fact an agent. Not only that, she soon turned around, called to him, and asked him a question concerning a brochure she was flourishing. He looked a little flustered, more like an official who wants to keep foreigners away from his town than one who is trying to build up the tourist trade, but he answered her question politely, even adding a few additional suggestions. Yo-wen had certainly covered that front.

On the other hand, the young scholars would want to have nothing to do with any tourists, Japanese ones in particular. The young men might make an exception for someone who looked like Yo-wen, but she seemed to be taking no chances. The cameras disappeared into her large bag, and then the sun- glasses and the brochures. There was a trip to the ladies' room, and, on her return, Yo-wen looked as Sam had first seen her in Zurich, as if she might be half French.

Annaliese was the first to arrive. Sweeping up with her full gypsyish skirt and peasant blouse, she dropped into a chair near Sam and said, rather loudly,

"I met the funniest little man outside. He seems to be a Japanese tourist, and I think he wanted to buy me."

Sam happened to be looking at Herr Hess, and noticed his head jerk. No policeman could remain indifferent on hearing of an offer of prostitution. Sam replied to Annaliese,

"I bet he didn't really offer to buy you. You must have misunderstood."

"Perhaps so. I suppose it's just that I'm almost out of money, and I'm rather hoping that some nice tourist will buy me."

Sam, hoping that Annaliese wouldn't get either herself or General Tso arrested on a morals charge, attempted to quiet her. She responded,

"Anyhow, there was a boy with him, perhaps his grandson. The kid's real cute and sexy looking. Probably a virgin. I'd initiate him for free."

Sam had forgotten what an irrepressible young lady Annaliese was, and could only reply,

"You're what the English would call a high-spirited young lady."

Repeating the phrase in her broken English, she then replied in German,

"I rather like that. I can both be a lady and be obsessed with sex. How very nice. Now, if I can just find that Japanese teen-ager again ..."

Annaliese actually made a move to get up when Sam caught her arm and restrained her. He was thinking that Herr Hess was certainly getting an earful when Yo-wen came over and addressed Annaliese,

"Excuse me, I couldn't help overhearing. Those Japanese tourists must be my father and brother."

Annaliese was, actually, embarrassed. But both she and Yo-wen were soon laughing. Yo-wen continued,

"I'm pretty sure my father wasn't trying to buy you, but he may well have wanted to engage you as a tourist guide."

"Really? Well, I'm available. Does your brother want a guide, too?"

Yo-wen then lowered her voice so that Herr Hess couldn't hear and replied,

"In the orient, boys like Yasuo are seldom virgins. He may be available, but I don't think he needs to be guided so very much."

It did occur to Sam that, even if Herr Hess wasn't a policeman, the conversation around him might induce him to remain. In that case, some other sort of test would have to be improvised.

Otto and Missy came in almost together, and it happened that Missy sat next to Yo-wen, who had now joined the table. As Sam spoke to Otto, who sat next to him, he could see Yo- wen introducing herself to Missy out of the corner of his eye. There was nothing else for him to do that evening but relax and enjoy himself. When he finally left, Herr Hess was still there.

Sam was half way up his stairs when he had an idea. He could see the entrance to the cafe from one of his windows, and he was going to watch until Herr Hess left.

He actually had to wait only some twenty minutes. Hess turned right at the entrance of the cafe, and Sam slipped down his stairs immediately. Almost everything in Rosbeck was in walking distance of everything else, and it was easy to keep Hess in sight as he walked a few hundred yards in the direction away from the port before turning left. Turning the corner a minute later, Sam found himself in a broad residential street lined with trees on both sides. Having finally learned from Yo-wen how to take advantage of natural cover, Sam kept in the shadows as he watched Hess walk righteously down the middle of the street.

It was obvious that Hess would never deign to look back to see if he were being followed. It seemed to Sam that he must either be the very model of a little big shot of a bureaucrat or a policeman entirely devoid of the street sense so essential for most police work in most places.

Sam hardly prided himself on his own street sense, much less any particular techniques of espionage, but it turned out to be absurdly easy. The next morning, he seated himself inconspicuously on a bench where people waited for busses. Herr Hess came bowling around the corner just before eight, and walked stiffly and rapidly to the main municipal building. Never looking back, he climbed the front steps and went directly to the police department.

Sam could signal for a meeting with Yo-wen at various times by leaving the curtains in his apartment in agreed positions. The cleaning lady unfortunately tended to meddle with the curtains, but Sam was able to arrange a meeting in the guards van that very afternoon.

After Sam had reported on Herr Hess, Yo-wen responded,

"I did notice him."

"You asked him a question in the early going."

"Yes. I was trying to act the part of a tourist."

"Your position is now exactly what we want it to be."

"I was amused when your friend Annaliese represented herself as a budding prostitute."

"I tried to shut her up, but couldn't. Herr Hess must have her marked down as a suspicious character."

"After you left, Missy said a number of subversive things. Those people must all be under suspicion at this point."

"I suppose that includes me."

"Yes. For better or worse, your being an American may put you in a special category."

"At best, I'm a foreigner who has stumbled on some dissidents. At worst, I'm a foreign agent trying to promote dissent."

"In that case, I imagine that you'll be deported, perhaps after an unpleasant session with the police."

"One thing is that the surveillance is a local police operation. Herr Hess, whatever his real name may be, lives in town. So he couldn't very well be a visiting Gestapo person."

Yo-wen nodded and replied,

"The Gestapo probably doesn't have an office nearer than Hamburg. The local police may regard university students as troublesome children who'll grow up eventually."

"Too many European upheavals have been begun by students for any regime to feel very relaxed about them."

Yo-wen knew her history and said,

"That's when the students set up barricades in the streets. Our friends are a long way from doing that."

"Anyhow, the local police don't seem to have much subtlety or sophistication. They must never have had to deal with anyone like Pretty Boy Floyd or John Dillinger, much less Al Capone."

"No, it's an orderly society that doesn't need much policing of the ordinary sort. But that's why the Nazis have the Gestapo."

"At least we know we're being watched, and they don't know that we know that. If some slick young customer suddenly appears in the cafe, we'll spot him immediately.

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