Bill Todd -- DANDERTON: A Novel of the Thirties and Forties
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 Chapter 15

An Arrest

As the two children played a ball game on the bare ground, Brenda asked,

"Do you want to take the other bike and bring back some dinner?"

"Do we already have enough to eat and feed the kids?"

"Their mother left some things for them in the ice chest we slid under the truck to keep it out of the sun. So I guess we do. But I don't like this."

"What's wrong?"

"Someone who's officious enough to come up and ask a strange boy why he isn't in the army might not be satisfied with that Swiss tourist story. Can a German speaker tell a German- speaking Swiss from a German?"

"The dialect these people speak doesn't sound at all southern. The Swiss also have a different manner about them."

"Then he might have gone to the police with his suspicions. If they ask around enough, they'll come here."

"You know, no one's been in the builder's yard over there all week. We could pull the truck into it."

"Let's. We're too damned conspicuous out here in the middle of the empty ground. Over there, anyone would assume that the truck belongs to the builder."

"We'll also have to keep the children out of sight."

"That means entertaining them here in the cab with children's games, Sam."

"I hate children's games."

"I can imagine. But I'll do it. You can just look supportive, cheering when appropriate."

Hans, eight, and Johanna, six, were moved easily enough the distance of a few hundred yards. After all, they were used to moving. In the new location, behind a fence that was overgrown with vegetation and next to a large shed, the truck, still visible, looked part of an industrial scene. The children, low enough to be invisible behind the fence, were allowed to continue their ball game. It wasn't clear whether it was a game that involved winning or losing, but, whatever it was, Hans didn't seem to take undue advantage of Johanna. Brenda remarked,

"They'd almost have to get along reasonably well. If they fought, that sort of life would be insupportable."

"It's probably close to insupportable as it is. But they do seem to manage."

They ate sitting on the running board of the cab, sandwiches all around, and drank from the bottled water and juice that Sam had laid in in quantity. Afterwards, as dusk settled, it was story time in the cab. Brenda read from one of their books, guessing at the pronunciation of the German words, and setting both children laughing at her mistakes.

A little later, Sam heard a vehicle approach. Expecting to see the bus, he looked from the cab window, which was just high enough to allow him to see over the fence. While it was now almost dark, there was enough light to allow him to see a police van and patrol car. Whispering to Brenda, who continued to read, he watched them tour the empty ground, eventually stopping on the far side behind some trees. Realizing that it was a trap for the others, he spoke quietly to Brenda in English, keeping his voice neutral.

Brenda, obviously alarmed, kept reading. Sam said,

"I can make it out to the entry road unseen and warn them off."

Sam made it easily to the open front gate of the builder's yard, and was only a few steps beyond it when the bus appeared. It was passing some distance away when Sam shouted and waved. No one seemed to hear him, and the bus went trundling over the rough ground. Then there were the sirens. Sam ran back to the truck and found Brenda restraining Hans. He had seen the bus and was struggling to return to it as Johanna, looking confused, remained in the cab. Sam helped get Hans back in, urging him to be quiet, and they all watched.

It happened quickly. The three men and three women were yanked out of the bus and thrown brutally into the van. There were five policemen, all looking big, and one actually dusted his hands as he closed the back doors. Another padlocked them, and, after one policeman looked in the bus to see that it was empty, the two vehicles drove off. No one seemed to look in the direction of the builder's yard or the truck.

There was complete quiet in the cab except for a whimper from Joanna. Brenda then said quietly to Sam,

"I wonder what their mother will do or say."

Sam could hardly imagine what might happen at the police station.

Brenda, after a moment, said,

"The cops may not realize that there were children, and the family may keep quiet instead of turning them over to the Nazis."

"What an awful decision to have to make!"

"It wouldn't be the first time mothers have abandoned children in order to save them."

"It depends how much trouble the family is in. Helping young men dodge the draft may be serious, but the women could expect to be turned loose eventually and be able to reclaim the children."

"Just in case, I think we'd better clear the children's things out of the bus before they come back to search it more thoroughly."

Sam, figuring that he could run and hide if any other vehicles came down the road, undertook the mission. There was fortunately a large bag and basket in which he stuffed things. He couldn't tell in the dark just which were the children's clothes, but he took all the clothing that wasn't obviously adult. When he got back, he shoved most of it under the tarp in the back of the truck. They then decided to park the truck near the rail yard for the night.

They drove along with Brenda holding Johanna in her lap and Hans between them. Sam, with little experience with children, hardly knew what to say. Hans, too, remained quiet. He had seen his mother thrown into the police van, along with the others, but he didn't ask why. Sam supposed that sudden and inexplicable arrest was so much a part of the culture that even an eight-year-old knew better than to ask questions. Johanna simply cried, rather softly, her face buried in Brenda's arms.

Making themselves as comfortable as possible in the old guards van, Sam let Brenda talk to the children. It was rather good that they couldn't communicate very much. Brenda could provide comfort and reassurance, and, anyhow, there were hardly any answers to the questions the children might have asked. Sam spoke to Brenda in English as they tried to work things out.

In the morning, Brenda bustled around making breakfast. The children got into a brief quarrel which was easily squelched, and Sam, leaving the truck, cycled to town.

On his way to the Tso apartment, he met Annaliese. She was excited at the prospect of leaving in five days, and motioning to a newspaper stand, she said,

"I just hope that nothing dramatic happens before we can get going."

They bought the local paper, which had a jolt for Sam. On the front page it said that a notorious family of Jewish communists had been arrested right in Rosbeck. They had been living in an old bus, and had evaded the authorities for months. When he looked up from the paper, Annaliese asked what was wrong. Before he could answer, she read the short piece and said,

"Yet more victims. I've always hated what they do to Jews, and, at this point, I'd rather be a communist than a Nazi."

Sam asked,

"Does it say anything about there being children in the family?"

There was a fuller account on an inside page, and Annaliese went through it. She reported,

"No, no children. Why?"

"Because I think Brenda and I must have their children with us."

It was Annaliese's turn to be shocked. Sam gave a sanitized, and considerably garbled, account of what had happened, and she replied,

"Sam, some time ago Otto and I realized that you're spying on the Nazis for your country. What will soon be our country as well. So I won't ask further. But did these children see their parents being arrested."

"Yes. It was quite violent. Brenda's with them now, and we haven't any idea what to do."

"Judging by this article, their family will never again see the light of day. Whatever the authorities might do with the children, it wouldn't be good."

"I wonder if they'll find out that there are children?"

"Those people will now be being tortured, but the questioners may not think to ask about children. It might still come out, though."

San concluded,

"If it does, they'll look for them. I hope not in our direction."

"I think we'd all better get out of Germany as soon as possible. Otto and I may be able to leave tomorrow or the next day. We might manage to take the children with us."

"I think that would be too dangerous for you, Annaliese. We'll manage something."

For the Tso family, the insoluble problem turned out to be fairly simple. Yo-wen said,

"We've adopted war orphans before. They grow up to be excellent warriors. Give me their descriptions and I'll get documents for them."

The general only nodded and remarked,

"Several of the young people in our home in Zurich aren't blood relations."

Sam asked,

"Then, we'll be taking them with us in the boat?"

"Yes. There are risks, of course, but orphans can't be too choosy."

Yo-wen added,

"It's better to be killed in battle than to end up as a political prisoner of the Nazis."

Yo-wen went out to get a paper, and, when she returned, she said,

"The prisoners may well say something about us and the truck when they're tortured. We can't have it hanging around any longer. Let's unload it today. Then, we can detonate whenever we want."

Both Yo-wen and her father had inspected the room under Hokensen's institute, and it was agreed that the explosive was safer there than in the truck.

Brenda was still holding Johanna in her lap as they drove up to the building. Yo-wen and the general, looking like gardeners as they clipped a hedge, were already there. The brakes squeaked horribly as Sam eased the truck back down the ramp, but none of the people hurrying out to lunch seemed to pay attention.

From there, it was just hard work for three of them as Brenda kept the children occupied and out of sight in the cab. Hans, for whatever reason, kept still and quiet while Johanna allowed herself to be entertained.

The boxes were stacked in what the general considered to be the best position, ready for the detonators and timers to be rigged on the day of the explosion. Toward the end, Sam caught a glimpse of a couple on their way to the trysting room, but they seemed too involved with each other to look his way. He could have pretended to be an unfriendly janitor and evicted them, but he thought it best to leave them alone. The probability was hopefully not too great that anyone would be trysting at the wrong time.

When they were finally finished, Sam just barely got the under-powered truck up the steep ramp. The others all set out walking to the Tso apartment with the children in the middle of the group. Johanna had hardly gone a dozen steps before she wanted to be carried, and Yo-wen hoisted her up authoritatively. Meanwhile, Sam, with only the mixed rubble, a lot of tarps, and a bicycle in back, drove slowly out of the university.

Moving out of town along the coast road to the southwest, Sam went through a series of little settlements strung out along the main road. He supposed that he could simply abandon the truck in front of a house or shop and cycle back to Rosbeck. There had never been any documents connecting him with the truck, and even the previous owner, now presumably in Canada, might not have been documented. But, still, their fingerprints would be all over the cab, and both he and the truck were big enough to be noticed.

A little further on, there was a marshy area crossed by a series of low bridges. As he rumbled over the planks of the rather decrepit bridge, he noticed, off to the left, a salt pond with boats on it. There was no obvious passageway to the sea, which, considering the boats, was just as well. A couple were partly aground, and the others listed to various degrees. Around the edges of the pond there were old caravans, shacks, and tents. Sam braked just in time to make the turn into a dirt road leading into the area.

There were children scattered around who actually did look like gypsies, and a couple of dark women. But it was hard to tell dark skin from dirt. It struck Sam that his career of spy and saboteur was bringing him into contact with the lowest echelons of German society, and he wondered idly if that were accidental.

Most encouraging of all, there were various old cars and small trucks which had been stripped down to their rusty bodies. Anything that wouldn't run was obviously cannibalized for any saleable parts. Sam stopped at a point roughly equidistant between the adults that he could see. Opening the hood, he ripped loose the gas line, bent it crazily, and threw it into the nearby swamp. He then yanked out the distributor wiring and put the rotor in his pocket. Finally, he punched holes in the radiator tubing with a screwdriver. A small crowd was gathering, and looked hostile. Vultures, after all, didn't want people to tamper with their food.

Having put an effective finale to the truck's career, Sam brushed off a couple of boys who were begging aggressively, and got the bicycle down. It wasn't easy to maneuver his way over and around the deep ruts, but he was soon back on the main road. If anyone now noticed him, it would be assumed that he was taking a healthful spin along the picturesque North Sea.

Having children around all the time was quite a trial for Sam, only partly mitigated by pretending not to speak German. Fortunately, Brenda and the children moved into the Tsos' large apartment, filling, in one way or another, the space vacated by Shih-ninh.

In a quiet discussion together, Sam asked Brenda what could possibly be going through the children's minds. She replied,

"Whatever it is, Hans and Johanna are reacting in very different ways."

"She cries a lot and he hardly says anything."

"Yes, but she also has sunny moods, and can be distracted."

"So's she's taking it better?"


"Is either one likely to go beserk and give us away?"

"Hardly. Even if children have screaming fits in public, people just try to get away from them."

"Yeah, I guess that's what I do."

"I suppose a psychologist would say that Hans is severely depressed, whatever that might mean. For all we know, he may think that he's responsible for his family's capture."

"He surely couldn't think that!"

"People can have all sorts of weird notions in their heads. You'd be surprised."

"I think I don't want to find out."

"Neither do I. But Yo-wen and her father are perfect in this situation. There's a lot of flat affect, and no nonsense of any sort is permitted. It you want to behave like a robot, it's okay with them."

"They expect Hans to grow up to be a guerilla warrior who'll be useful to them later on."

Brenda laughed and replied,

"He's already being trained, and he's about to acquire some practical experience."

"He may become a gangster in America."

"Not our problem, Sam. I'm not planning on adopting him."

"I wonder if our friends will."

"If they think he shows military promise, they probably will."

"What about Johanna?"

"She's a sweet little thing, and I think she'll be okay."

"Are you going to adopt her."

"I don't really want a child. But, if I can't place her in a good home, I might in the last resort."

The next morning, Sam went out rowing, hoping to make his first rendezvous with Jack. It was decided that he should take Hans with him on the principle that it might do the boy good to get out. Moreover, the local fishemen did often take boys out with them, something that spies and saboteurs would hardly do.

Quiet though he was, Sam quickly found that Hans followed instructions. On the rowing seat behind Sam, he took one oar instead of two, and learned to follow Sam's stroke. He didn't row hard enough to throw them off course, but Sam was able to tell the difference when, as instructed, he took rests.

They were about five miles off the coast in a light southwest breeze on the bright summer sea when Hans, looking forward, saw sails. Considering all the random factors, the probabilities seemed all against a meeting, but Sam, using his far-sightedness to advantage, could make out the main and mizzen masts of a ketch. He stood up, waving an oar, but there was no response that he could see.

The ketch was running before the wind, and it was easy to set an interception course. When they had closed to within a mile or so, Sam was pretty sure that they were recognized. Since anothr couple of fishing boats were now visible, he didn't make a conspicuous display. Jack, evidently with the same thing in mind, hove the ketch to just ahead of them so that they could row to windward and be hidden from the other boats.

Shih-ninh and Jack both looked pleased, and appeared to be on amicable terms with one another. From the steady deck of the ketch, Jack was able to work out the bearings on the two lighthouses whose lights would be visible at might. They also took a sounding even though the whole area was so shallow that it wouldn't be a very good indicator of position.

In the circumstances, it was hard to explain the presence of Hans, who was helping keep the boats from bumping. Jack, looking down from the deck of the ketch, was obviously mystified, but Sam told him that everything was all right, adding that the fishermen often took their sons out with them. That hardly explained anything, but Sam was meanwhile wondering whether the presence of children would make them look enough like a fishing family so that they could leave in daylight right after the explosion. He didn't really have a chance to communicate that thought, but did tell Jack that the event was planned two days away. Jack assured him that they would stay in the offing, and would keep the rendezvous continuously in sight during daylight. At night, they would anchor as close as possible to it.

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