Bill Todd -- DANDERTON: A Novel of the Thirties and Forties
Table of Contents  Last Chapter  Next Chapter  Home Page
 Chapter 13


Sam had long since given up hope of getting military secrets from Missy, and so it came as a surprise. And, of course, it wasn't one of Hokensen's secrets. It was one that appealed to her perverse sense of humor.

Missy had been visiting her relatives in Berlin over the weekend, and there was one male cousin with whom she had long gossipy conversations. He was apparently somewhat older, seemed to be very little wiser, and was a naval officer. The family apparently considered both of them to be immature and irresponsible, and there was thus a degree of sympathetic understanding between them. Nothing serious was supposed to happen, but Sigmund and Missy still had fun together.

The thing that most amused Missy was the fact that the navy was stealing raw aluminum from the air force and stockpiling it. As she delightedly recounted it,

"The navy is hoping to get our East African colonies back once the war starts. Then, they're going to use the aluminum to build barracks that are proof against the termites that swarm there."

Nothing so absurd as transferring valuable resources from a service that desperately needed them to one that was engaging in fantasies would have been permitted in even the most disorganized of the democracies. Sam asked,

"Are the naval officers doing this just for fun?"

"Probably. My cousin and his friends don't like the vulgarity of the air force."

"I don't suppose they love Hermann Goering very much."

"Of course not! He's a fat clown and an embarrassment. Sigmund and his friends are actually running a whole economy on the side. They're selling all kinds of things to get money for things they want. A man in Sigmund's office in Wilhelmshavn is selling explosive. I'm going to buy a pound."

"What on earth will you do with it?"

"Just keep it around for fun. I understand you can't set it off just with a match."

"It's probably cordite. You'd need a detonator."

"So it's safe. I can put it in a vase on the mantel and invite people to taste it. Will you come with me when I buy it? You'd like to meet Sigmund."

Sam volunteered with alacrity, and they fixed a date.

Tso yo-wen was not as surprised as Sam at this development. She said,

"There are corrupt elements in most services in most countries who're willing to sell almost anything. Explosive is much harder to trace than tires or machine-gun ammunition, and so it's the most readily available. I can arrange for it to be smuggled into Germany, but there are certain risks. If you can find out who's selling naval explosive, we may be able to buy it from him."

"Well, I guess I can pose as an American Nazi sympathizer who wants to attack pro-British groups in America."

"Everyone who buys explosive or weaponry has a story. The sellers hardly bother to listen. They just want the money."

"The money, certainly, can be arranged. But, since Wilhelmshavn is a major port and I'm supposedly taking the explosive to America, I'd have to arrive with some sort of ocean-going vessel, not a truck."

"We could hire a fishing boat and man it ourselves, but I really don't think anyone will care. Are you going to hire a car to take Missy there?"

"Otto will probably let me borrow his."

"Will Missy ride in the kind of car Otto would be likely to have?"

"Yes. It's a sports car. Very glamorous."

"All right. Drive slowly, and I'll follow you in the truck. I'll wait outside the gates of the naval establishment, and, if you can arrange things, I'll pull in and load up."

"Will you bring your father and brother?"

"I don't want us to appear more exotic than necessary. I'll be your girl friend."

"You're fairly exotic yourself."

"Well, you'll be playing the role of a rich eccentric, which is pretty close to the reality. You might well have a girl friend like me."

With that, Yo-wen gave Sam a special look, the significance of which he wasn't sure.

Missy, sitting close to Sam in the little car, was all wound up. She and Sigmund had done more in Berlin than talk, and they both wanted to marry. Sam asked,

"Germans are allowed to marry their cousins, aren't they?"

"Yes. It's done all the time, particularly in our circles. The problem is my mother."

"He must be socially acceptable if he's your cousin."

"Certainly. It's just that she doesn't like him. She doesn't really like me very much either, but she's forgotten about that. She's also told my father untrue things about Sigmund, and he's against it, too."

Sam didn't ask what those untrue things were, and said instead,

"I thought you were getting close to Hokensen, not your cousin."

"Lars is so persistent. I think he was gradually wearing me down, but I don't have any real feeling for him. Not at all like Sigmund."

"Would Hokensen be acceptable to your family?"

"No, but that hardly matters. My father has suddenly produced a suitor, an older man I hardly know. He's also quite short, hardly above my shoulder."

"This sounds like something out of the eighteenth century."

"East Prussia and Lithuania have, in social terms, hardly progressed in several hundred years."

"In circumstances like these, Americans simply elope."

"We've thought of it, of course. But we'd have nothing. No money. Just Sigmund's naval salary."

Sam, seeing his opportunity, said,

"It happens that I represent an American organization wishing to buy explosives. I have quite a sum on me, and, if things could be worked out, it might help."

Missy gave a little cry, and Sam had the momentary feeling that she was going to call the police. But, then, she settled down and said,

"That could be quite useful. If we did elope, Sigmund would probably have to leave the navy. He might be ostracized."

"Just because your mother doesn't like him? Would the other naval officers care about that?"

"The problem is that we couldn't have a proper wedding. It would have to be something in a registry office. The other officers wouldn't care, but their wives would be likely not to invite us to their homes."

"That's amazing. Anyhow, you'd better leave Germany while you're at it. There are lots of opportunities in America."

"So much has happened. I hardly know what to think."

"It sounds like an old story to me. There are lots of plays and operas with that plot."

"Yes. But the difference is that I'll be dishonored if I don't marry Sigmund. We actually made love. And that's more forbidden than you can imagine. Even my mother wouldn't dream that I did that."

"So you've really already crossed the bridge. Apart from the immediate payment of money, I could eventually arrange things in America for both of you."

"I guess I really don't know Sigmund. I don't know how he'll react."

"Being in love suits you, Missy. You're looking very beautiful. That'll help."

The naval base, like others, was somewhat forbidding. There were high brick walls, gates with sentries, and, occasionally, a glimpse of the upper works of a ship. They eventually found the main gate, and, to Sam's surprise, it took only a few words from Missy to get them in. Following the sentry's directions, they pulled up next to an old ivy- covered building. Sigmund was out on the steps and Missy ran to him. He picked her up and kissed her as Sam approached smiling.

They had tea in Sigmund's office. He was, of course, tall, good-looking, and charming. It was hard to guess how intelligent he might be, but Sam sensed in him a love of fun and games. That was probably the quality that didn't endear him to Missy's parents. It was obvious that he had had many women, but it was possible that Missy would be the last. After a while, Sam got up and said,

"I'll go outside for a bit while you two work out your plans."

Sam wasn't allowed to walk around the base alone, but another aristocratic young officer was detailed to give him a tour.

This young man, Leutnant von Luck, seemed to be a follower of Sigmund, perhaps even a sycophant. He wasn't as big or good-looking, and, while he tried to be charming, he hadn't quite the knack. Someone, perhaps Sigmund, should tell him to stop fussing with his buttons and trying to improve the fit of his jacket. It was well tailored to begin with, and the little yanks and pulls only gave the impression that the body underneath was mis-shapen. It would also help if he substituted a smile for the characteristic little twist of his lips. On the other hand, Sam guessed that von Luck was more intelligent than Sigmund. He was certainly much more serious. They were standing at the head of a dock, almost underneath the bow of a cruiser, when he said,

"You find us in an ambiguous position, one not likely to occur in your country."

Sam probed gently, and the other replied,

"You may not like your president and ruling party, but they may stay in office only until the next election. We, on the other hand, are obliged to take actions which our opposite numbers in your services would find hard to justify."

Sam recalled that, soon after he stepped outside with von Luck, Sigmund had called the latter back. There was a hurried quiet conversation just inside the door before von Luck returned to guide Sam. It now became clear that von Luck knew that Sam was in the market.

Letting loose with his story of direct action in England and America, Sam found that Yo-wen was right. Von Luck was fairly self-centered, and probably not very polite at the best of times. In this case, he listened with obvious impatience. Indeed, he actually cut Sam short in order to name his price. It seemed very cheap to Sam, who mentioned three tons and touched his pocket to indicate that he had the sum in hand. He added that there would probably be further purchases in the future. The other seemed a little surprised at the amount, but replied that it was readily available.

It was interesting to transact dishonest business with someone who was obviously a gentleman. The assumption seemed to be that it was perfectly appropriate to sell naval supplies to strangers in broad daylight. When Sam mentioned that he had a truck waiting outside the gates, von Luck rudely summoned a sailor and sent him to bring the truck in.

Sam supposed that someone must keep track of the stores of cordite. Was von Luck himself the person who did that? Even so, it seemed that the discrepancy would come out eventually. But it might be that no one really accounted for much of anything in the administrative chaos of the Third Reich. Whatever the explanation might be, von Luck gave orders for the loading of the truck. He then conducted Sam off in the direction of a new destroyer.

As they proceeded on their tour, Sam caught a glimpse of the truck trundling along with Yo-wen in the driver's seat. Von Luck wouldn't see her at all, and the sailors who loaded the truck would probably gossip about her only among themselves.

It turned out that von Luck really wanted to talk about Missy. He hardly bothered to disguise the fact that he wanted her for himself. Sam was asked fairly detailed questions, some that he didn't think a true gentleman would ask another gentleman, but he managed to reply with a certain tact and neutrality. Von Luck didn't seem to pick up on his restraint, and finally remarked,

"Our friend Sigmund is legendary for his conquests, but they don't last long."

"Wouldn't he be careful with his cousin?"

"Possibly. In any case, a woman known to have been involved with him, even slightly, would be somewhat compromised."

"Could she then marry another officer?"

"Probably not. But there are, for example, wealthy businessmen who wish to marry into the nobility. A previous affair with Sigmund would then be a matter of little consequence. Such things have happened."

"Yes, I'm sure. But you're an officer yourself."

Von Luck smiled and replied,

"It wouldn't, of course, be a matter of marriage."

By the time that they returned to Sigmund's office, Yo- wen and the truck had disappeared. Missy was still there, looking a little pensive, but Sigmund was as easy as before. He was, after all, much practiced in the art of managing women.

It seemed a little awkward, but there was little alternative. Sam counted out the money on the desk. Everyone smiled, much as people transacting the sale of a house might smile. It wasn't the sort of thing where one brought out glasses and champagne, but another cup of tea was drunk with quiet satisfaction. Sigmund, tipping back serenely in his desk chair, now had less to say. It was von Luck who entertained them with some humorous anecdotes about the sailors under his command. Sam noticed that, when he really tried, von Luck could be more impressive than one would have thought.

There were salutes from the sentries as they went out the gate, and Sam waved airily in the manner of an English gentleman. Concerned about the truck and its penchant for breaking down, he kept a sharp look-out as he sped along, hoping to catch up.

It didn't take long. The truck was pulled over on the side of the road, and Yo-wen was just closing the hood. As Sam parked and got out, he noticed gasoline and oil smeared on her lips. She said gaily,

"We had trucks like this in China. We even used the English words for 'blow back'."

Thankful that Yo-wen evidently hadn't had to suck up, Sam resisted the temptation to kiss her oily lips. He then inspected the load, hoping that the tarpaulins would be sufficient to keep it dry in the frequent rains of the area. The sailors, not surprisingly, had done a thorough job of tying them down. After a few words with Yo-wen, they got going, Sam now following the truck.

Missy had remained in the car during this brief interchange, but she had evidently been stewing. When Sam started up, she said,

"That horrid man looked at me in the most obscene way! If we'd been seated at a table, he would've tried to play footsie with me."

Sam had discovered from Annaliese that, somewhere between flirting and kissing, Europeans rubbed their ankles together under a cafe table. Certain skills in that area were cultivated and prized, but it was probably something that princesses weren't supposed to do. Missy then turned up the volume to say,

"Sigmund didn't do anything! He just sat there smiling."

Sam was rapidly working things out in his head. If she and Sigmund were actually to take the money and run, it wouldn't be so good. Hokensen would have to get another secretary, one they might actually have to kidnap to keep out of the building on the appointed day. If, on the other hand, Sigmund dropped her, things would go on as before. He therefore replied,

"When I was with Leutnant von Luck he expressed great interest in you."

"He must have no loyalty at all! He knows I'm with his best friend."

"Well, these young German officers remind me a little of baseball players at home. A star player can easily find very attractive women. But he often doesn't want to settle down. So, if a woman begins to talk about marriage, he tries to pass her along to another player. That's always tricky, but it sometimes works."

That got through to Missy. She asked angrily,

"You mean, they treat women like playthings?"

"Yes. I'm afraid they do. Of course, I'm in no position to say whether Sigmund might do that."

There was a pause. Then, Missy, in a quite different voice, said,

"That's exactly what he's doing. That man wouldn't have behaved in that way without Sigmund's encouragement. I'm a ruined woman."

"Certainly not! You haven't told anyone but me about the affair, have you?"

"Do these baseball stars of yours talk about the women they've had?"

"Not so much. Of course, when you see one of them with a pretty young woman, you just assume that she's the latest."

"It's the same here. Half the naval base saw me with Sigmund. It'll just be a matter of time before it gets back to my family. It was already a bit of a scandal that I was going around the country on my own. This will finish it."

Sam had always rather avoided people who seemed on the verge of any sort of emotional collapse. Missy was far from that, but she did seem to have a problem with no obvious solution. He could only suggest,

"If you came to America, no one would care about these things."

"You mean, there aren't any women who've lost their reputations?"

"You might be able to find something like that in certain circles in Boston and New York, but that would represent much less than one tenth of one per cent of the population."

"If it comes down to it, I can also disappear in Germany. And there's Lars. He daily promises me practically the whole world."

"I wouldn't sign on with him just yet. You can go on working at your job, and someone you like better than either Sigmund or Lars may come along. The cafes are full of interesting young people."

"You're being sensible, Sam. You do agree that Sigmund has used me and dumped me?"

"I wouldn't have guessed it from the way he greeted you, but the signs do seem to point that way."

"Yes. All right. I'm going to start again from scratch. It may mean cutting loose from my family altogether, which was probably in the cards from the beginning."

Bill Todd -- DANDERTON: A Novel of the Thirties and Forties
Table of Contents  Last Chapter  Next Chapter  Home Page