Bill Todd -- DANDERTON: A Novel of the Thirties and Forties
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 Chapter 7

Plans for Hokensen

In May, with spring appearing even along the cold North Sea, the undergraduate students began to study less and engage in other activities. For example, a group of some twenty young men, dressed as pirates, scaled the walls of a nearby convent in a mock attack. Nuns were chased around the grounds and through corridors, but none were substantially harmed.

Sam's friends muttered disconsolately at such activities and soldiered on, forever trying to please their absurdly demanding professors. Annaliese, a little less serious than the others, seemed ready for action and amusement. Missy was obviously ready to join her, but Sam, missing the baseball season, turned seriously to physical activity.

In addition to running, he bought an old rowboat from an even older fisherman. It was huge and heavy as rowboats went, but once started, its momentum carried it through the chop of the little estuary. It had always been used for fishing, and, even though he didn't want to catch any fish, Sam would have at least one rod fixed in position as he rowed. There were other rowing fishermen, and, dressing much as they did, he seemed to attract no notice.

It was an odd marine environment with low short waves, little swell, and low surf on cold pebbled beaches. There were no sunbathers in sight. The land was almost as flat as the sea, and Sam, having rown from the harbor into a canal, could proceed inland a half mile before reaching the first lock.

The lower gates of that lock were closed, with water seeping between them, but Sam tied up to the wall and climbed the short ladder. The lock was a manually operated one of traditional design. Using the long wooden hanndles for leverage, he first closed the upper gates. He then turned a wheel to open an underwater passage and allow water out of the lock. It had to drop only a couple of feet to equalize with the level of the harbor. Sam then opened the lower gates, pulled his boat into the lock, and closed the lower gates. Since no one used the canals, he had what amounted to a private, and almost secret, place for his boat. As it happened, it was no great distance from the little railway yard they used for their meetings.

A week later, there was a conference of theoretical physicists, most of them German. Sam attended for each of the three days, sitting near the back of the auditorium with its steeply rising tiers of seats. Since the active participants all sat near the front, he felt entirely and comfortably anonymous.

Heisenberg made a presentation, as did other prominent men. In the discussion periods, they carried on familiarly and informally, almost as if there were not some hundred people listening quietly. As usual, with scientists as opposed to humanists, they were reasonably polite to one another. When the proceedings ended each day, they left in a group, evidently in search of food and drink.

One as used to conferences as Sam could detect the various degrees of respect accorded to the participants. Some questions and remarks were taken more seriously than others, and even the nuances surrounding nods of the head and gestures with the hands told the story. Hokensen was the host of the conference, but he seemed to be only on the periphery of the group, far removed from the inner circle centered around Heisenberg. On the few occasions on which he said anything, there would be a polite but rather brief reply, and then, after the slightest pause, a return to the business at hand.

It was harder to guess whether Hokensen had ever had high status, perhaps being down-graded when he turned to applied science. Or was it that his enthusiastic support of the Nazis made the others nervous?

The interpretation of Hokensen's behavior was made more difficult by the fact that Sam had hardly seen him in normal circumstances. First, he was on the trail of Missy, and was infuriated to see Sam turn up. Now, he was in this special circumstance, trying to measure up to some of the best scientists in the world. Even though he didn't speak often, he didn't seem willing to just sit in the background while they carried on in their usual way.

On the third day, Hokensen suggested a possible interpretation of certain experimental results. There was a nod or two in the front row, but no one took up his point. Then, ten minutes later, one of the principals said almost the same thing that Hokensen had said in slightly different words. Only Sam seemed to notice the similarity. Far from being dropped, this "new" suggestion became the prime topic of discussion.

As Sam watched, Hokensen seemed to make a decision. He slipped out of his seat, not in a blustering way, but fairly quietly. He then came up the aisle leading to the exit near Sam, as if he might be on his way to the men's room. He didn't seem to recognize, or even notice, Sam, but his face was bright red with rage and humiliation. Sam was sure that he wasn't going to join the boys for a beer after the meeting.

The next day, in the railway car, Sam was describing Hokensen's behavior at the end of the conference to Yo-wen. She replied,

"He might have been upset over something else. For example, we've kept Missy pretty well out of his reach lately."

"No, I'm good at recognizing people who think their professional reputation is in trouble. These folks were constantly referring to each other's papers, but Hokensen's name was mentioned only once, when the first speaker thanked him for organizing the conference."

"I suppose it would have been polite, since Hokensen was the host, for someone to have managed to mention his work."

"They don't carry politeness that far. Once they get started, they focus entirely on the problems of physics. They seemed to assume in advance that he wouldn't be able to help solve them. I'm sure he got the message."

"If Hokensen's not that good, perhaps we needn't worry about his inventing an atomic bomb."

"This was very rarefied company, but these were exactly the sorts of people who disdain technology and applications. A good solid second-rater as a theoretical physicist might be just the man to lead a team that produces a bomb."

"I see. In fact, this snub might make him ever more determined."

"Very easily. Heisenberg and his friends don't love Hokensen, but Hitler does. It would be natural for him to bust a gut trying to please Hitler."

Yo-wen laughed and replied,

"We can put a stop to that. Shih-ninh's got all sorts of ideas, and Daddy's quite interested. We can certainly kill Hokensen, but it'd be nice to get away afterwards."

"Hitler himself will be furious. They might jump on the handiest suspect and execute him. No one will bother about evidence, and they might get the wrong man."

"Yes. It won't be safe around here, and a number of arrangements will have to be made. I'm only afraid that Shih- ninh will go ahead on his own, possibly with my father's help."

"Can you control them at all?"

"I think so, particularly if I promise that we'll act fairly soon."

Yo-wen, dressed somewhat eccentrically in the boots and slacks she took to be part of a Japanese bicycling outfit, was moving around somewhat nervously. Sam knew well that she could be dangerous, and it was disquieting to realize that her little brother was even more dangerous. Sam said,

"You might tell your brother about a man Annaliese knows who was tortured by the Nazis. After taking his pants and spreading his legs with ropes, they hit him in the genitals with a cane."

"She may exaggerate. But, of course, such things are common in China. The Nazis hardly know how to torture effectively."

"Missy certainly doesn't seem to worry about such things."

"How are you getting on with her?"

She's shown no indication whatever to talk about her work. I think she feels that I'm a person who shouldn't get to hear about such things."

"Did you ask too many questions and alarm her?"

"I was specially careful not to. But, she must know that Hokensen's institute is engaged in things that have potential military application. I don't think she suspects me of being the spy that I am, but, despite certain appearances to the contrary, she's good at keeping secrets. She's not, as I once hoped, going to get me to help her decipher and type technical reports."

"We probably won't be able to get anything from her either. But my father and brother like her, and she's willing to gossip about personalities. That has its uses."

"Indeed it does. It's alwys good to know whether Hokensen's about to do anything rash."

When Sam got home that afternoon, he found a letter from Brenda Skyrms:

Dear Sam:

I'll be arriving soon. I'm divorcing my husband and quitting my job. I've lost weight and I look great!



It was a little hard to imagine the impact of Brenda on Rosbeck, but Sam found himself smiling.

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