Bill Todd -- Klaus: A Railway Novel
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 Chapter 21

Climbing the Echelons

The Office of Herr Hans Reinhardt, Berlin, October 26, 1937

The long awaited meeting began rather inauspiciously. Herr Reinhardt's secretary had mistakenly told him that he was being waited on by two men who wanted to build a cement plant near Peenemunde. When Klaus started talking about locomotives, Reinhardt thought he was worried that existing locomotives wouldn't be able to haul his cement. The Standartenfuhrer was beginning to be rather terse, but Klaus was able to resolve the situation just before they were shown the door.

Starting over again, Reinhardt did remember about the German-American who had bought the Heissen Works. Far from being apologetic about his secretary's mistake, he acted as if the resulting misunderstanding had been Klaus' fault as he asked him some rather contemptuous questions about the manner of his acquisition of the works and his proposals for managing them. Seemingly satisfied with the answers, he then allowed Klaus to have his say. As he did so, Harold produced the figures out of his bulging briefcase. Not to be outdone, Reinhardt called for his secretary, swore at him briefly, and had him bring their own sheets of figures.

For some time there was a statistical discussion in which even Harold, with his broken German, could join. Although drawn from somewhat different sources, the figures largely agreed for such things as freight traffic and locomotive use over the past few years. The difference was that Klaus' figures, as a result of questionable selection, showed a trend which rose sharply. He then suggested that, in the event of war, the curve representing expansion of freight traffic would rise more sharply still.

Klaus thought that this was where Reinhardt should have jumped him. German industry was already on a wartime footing. Factories were operating around the clock, and almost no workers were limited to the forty hour week of the French. Many worked seventy. Of course, the total rail traffic might increase somewhat, even using unbiased techniques of projection. But the rate of increase, which Klaus had already exaggerated, wouldn't itself increase.

Reinhardt would have seen it under ordinary circumstances. But he wasn't really the hard-eyed lover of facts that he pretended to be. He was actually more interested in people and their peculiarities. Unless Klaus was mistaken, he was intrigued, and rather amused, at the return of this hippopotamus of an American industrialist to his native land. Klaus could imagine a whole series of witticisms being prepared for dinner that evening.

Having set out this great gap between present capacity and future needs, Klaus then leaned back and encouraged Harold to tell Herr Reinhardt about the locomotives they hoped to build to fill that gap.

In an odd way, Harold's imperfect German helped. Both men had to strain to communicate, and it lent excitement to what was said. Klaus saw immediately that Harold was much more Reinhardt's type of person than he was himself. There would be no jokes about Harold after they had gone. But there might well be an invitation to lunch. Without Klaus.

The third phase of the long meeting was the critical one. At first, even after the removal of the confusion, Reinhardt hadn't taken Klaus terribly seriously. That is, he had granted him some important points, but had not been prepared to himself take any definite action. Harold had changed that. But, now, it was necessary for Klaus to establish himself. Was he someone whose ideas could be passed on to higher authority? Would he sound stupid if called on to make a presentation? Could he be trusted? After all, he was an American citizen who had forsaken Germany.

There followed something of an inquisition. What would Klaus do if Germany and the United States found themselves at war? Klaus trusted that such a tragedy would not occur. But what if it did? Klaus parried. He hoped that he, and others like him in America, would this time be able to do more to prevent it.

Herr Reinhardt was far from satisfied. He repeated his question and amplified it. Would Klaus stay in Germany if such a war appeared imminent? Klaus said he would. As Reinhardt looked at him doubtfully, Klaus explained that his family had left only because they had thought that Germany was about to go communist. Indeed, it could easily have happened. But, now that there was no basis for such a fear, he was inclined to return.

Reinhardt then wanted a proof of loyalty. Much more money besides that invested in the Heissen Works must be brought to Germany. Klaus agreed in principal, but begged for time to shift investments. He then paused and asked if Herr Reinhardt could perhaps suggest some suitable ones. Klaus was quite sure that Reinhardt didn't take bribes. But he was equally sure that the investments would be in firms in which Reinhardt had an interest, so that he would profit indirectly. Reinhardt sat back and smiled. The price of his cooperation had been met.

Klaus, perspiring freely, looked like a man from whom everything possible had been wrung. In reality he had won. Most of the money that had gone into the Heissen Works was not his. He simply headed a group of pro-German investors whose money would have gone to Germany anyway. Mr. Sunderman of Cincinnati had been most useful in helping find them. There were more where they came from.

Instead of pressuring Klaus to raise capital for German war preparation, Herr Reinhardt was, in effect, diverting capital from more useful purposes to ones which were either less useful or actually destructive. Harold, too, had been fooled, and Klaus realized that he would have to act the part of a thoroughly chastened man on the way back.

Heissen, November 7, 1937.

While Klaus thought things had gone well in Berlin, he had, of course, nothing like a definite commitment. Still, he had instructed Harold to begin work with the design team. There were to be four new locomotive types, and only four. These types would be so chosen that they could replace any existing German locomotives, and, after re-tooling, the Heissen works would be able to produce nothing else.

Two of these types would be glamorous. First, of course, would be Harold's redesign of the UP's 4-6-6-4 Challenger. The four cylinders and twelve driving wheels in two sets would be retained, and the boiler would be only slightly reduced to fit the clearances in Germany. While it still wouldn't fit some of the tunnel clearances in southern Germany and Austria and would be too heavy for most of the lesser lines, it could be used to advantage on the main lines of the north and east. Klaus left its design entirely to Harold.

Also left to Harold was the design of a heavy fast passenger engine, modelled on the 4-6-4 Hudson of the New York Central. These would eventually be useful on heavy troop trains, and Klaus was a little nervous about them. However, not many would be built.

The switching engine chosen was a virtual copy of a Boston and Maine 0-6-0. They were much more powerful than their German counterparts, and, while they could easily do anything required of them in the German yards, they would waste fair quantities of coal. They were also much harder on the track. To the extent that they were used, numerous yard tracks and secondary lines all over Germany would require more work, thus squandering manpower.

The last, and least glamorous, engine was the one in which Klaus was most interested. It would be the jack of all trades, roaming all over the system and into whatever countries the Wehrmacht might conquer. It would power ordinary passenger trains, and all but the heaviest and fastest freights. That, of course, would be a great selling point. The economies in scale would be tremendous if one engine could pull most passenger and freight trains. If accepted, it would be built in large numbers, far more than any other type.

This engine had, in fact, already been built in America, and would shortly be sent over. Klaus had hired Charles Kelvey, the man passed over for Harold, to design and supervise its construction at the Lima Locomotive Works. Kelvey and Frank Scrutt had then tested it on the C, L, and N.

They had started with the highest axle loading that Klaus thought would be acceptable. Kelvey had then designed a rather graceful medium-sized locomotive with a large low- slung boiler. It was of a wheel arrangement which was familiar to the Germans, but there was a critical difference.

The 4-6-2 locomotive, having four small wheels grouped around the cylinders, six driving wheels, and two wheels under the firebox, was known, even in Europe, as a "Pacific." It was usually a passenger engine on both continents, often with driving wheels as large as eighty inches. These made for great speed, but provided little leverage for starting a heavy train. Kelvey's engine had drivers of only seventy inches, providing plenty of power for the relatively light freight trains of Europe, and would still, Klaus hoped, be able to pull the demonstration passenger trains fast enough to get the contract. The demonstration engine was, Scrutt had informed Klaus, a beautiful piece of work by Kelvey. Only after the design had been accepted would the sabotage begin.

Indeed, it seemed likely that, if the concept for Harold's super-power engines were accepted, no one would be likely to question what was really a rather conventional design. With that in mind, Klaus began talking with Kaler about the arrangements that would be necessary to re-tool the factory and convert it to the production of the new engines.

This operation would be a considerable one. In the past, new locomotives had shared many parts with the older ones, and production changes hadn't been traumatic. However, the basically American locomotives to be produced would hardly share a single part with the German ones. The cost of re- tooling would be enormous. Kaler was horrified. Klaus assured him that the money could be raised.

A little later, in his office, Klaus wrote to Reinhardt. Among other things, he noted that, pursuant to their recent conversation, he was contemplating a large additional investment to modernize the works. He added, however, that he was also open to any additional ideas for investment that might occur to Herr Reinhardt. Leaning back in his chair, Klaus hoped that he wasn't overdoing it. But he didn't think so.

When Klaus returned home, he found the house in a state of some disorder. Charlotte had had another of her luncheons, and this one had lasted into the late afternoon. There was still a little knot of guests, apparently still thirsty, gathered around Charlotte in one of the parlors. Peeking in, Klaus saw that Janice was there as well, gesturing madly with one arm while the other was wrapped around the shoulders of a young German woman Klaus hadn't seen before.

Whatever reservations Klaus might himself have about Janice, she was obviously quite a success in this setting. Probably her German was so rudimentary that she couldn't tell her usual lengthy and boring stories. Quite apart from that, the extended luncheon party had reached the stage of relaxed inebriation in which it didn't much matter what anyone said, or what language they said it in.

Klaus saw immediately that his wife wasn't drunk. Unlike the half dozen others, mostly sprawled on over-stuffed chairs and couches, she was sitting pertly upright in a straight chair looking very pleased indeed. Remarks were addressed to her from all sides which, notwithstanding her linguistic superiority over Janice, she couldn't have processed simultaneously. Charlotte, however, was managing to respond brightly to several people at once without any apparent strain. There were advantages, Klaus thought, in having married the consummate hostess.

When dinner time approached, the women's party was still going. Klaus took up a position which, while not precisely one of eavesdropping, allowed him to assess his chances of getting dinner. They appeared to be slim, at least unless Charlotte invited Janice and the other guests to stay and eat with them.

At length, he caught his wife's eye, and was rewarded with a little smile and gesture of helplessness. Klaus understood. If she invited her guests to dinner, they would come to their senses, realize what time it was, and rush off home to their hungry husbands. As it was, the women, without realizing it, were beginning to revolt against the dullness of life in Heissen.

One of the guests was sitting beside Janice, and was now leading a rendition of the Horst Wessel, basically a Nazi drinking song. A striking blonde, her thin face with sharp features was either very unpleasant looking or very beautiful, depending on the way in which one looked at her. At the moment, she was sitting on the edge of her chair with her skirt well up, waving both arms as she sang. She sang surprisingly well in a high clear voice which dominated the others and filled the whole house. Klaus wondered if she had had operatic training.

He next noticed a somewhat older woman. In her mid- thirties and wearing an elaborate dress, she looked both dissolute and sensuous, yet not at all like a street-walker. As Klaus watched, she got to her feet, staggered a little on her high heels, but regained her balance and smoothed her dress. She then gave Charlotte a conspiratorial smile as she thanked her for the party. Charlotte accompanied the woman out of the room to the front door.

Klaus, not wanting to complicate matters by forcing an introduction, ducked around a corner while Charlotte called one of their drivers to take her guest home. The latter took the young man's arm for the support she needed to negotiate the steps, but kept hold of the arm even after she had reached level ground.

When Charlotte returned from the front door, she spoke quietly to Klaus,

"Have Frieda fix you something. I've been eating little cakes all afternoon and couldn't face dinner."

Just then another burst of song came out of the room, and Charlotte pulled the heavy drapes of the doorway partially closed as she entered.

Unabashadly peeking in, it was the first time Klaus had ever witnessed what could only be described as a feminine drinking bout. He was really rather shocked, but was also fascinated. It was a spectacle, perhaps on the order of a ballet for elephants. He was certainly glad that his wife was only pretending to be part of it. The pretence seemed to him to be wearing a little thin, but the others were too far gone to notice it. Suddenly, a young brunette came running out, almost bumped into Klaus, and darted away in great embarrassment. She then moved around rapidly until she found a bathroom. It was possible that she had wet herself.

Klaus was waiting in the bedroom when Charlotte came up, kicked off her shoes, and tossed her dress on a chair. Then, unfastening her underclothes without removing them, she collapsed in a chair.

"Wow, I'm glad that's over."

"I've never seen women get that drunk."

"It happens at every country club dance. We just leave before things get to that stage."

"Well, were the results satisfactory?"

"Now, Klaus, don't be superior. It really doesn't mean anything for young women like that to get drunk and silly. It may even do them good. They could do that once a week for years without becoming alcoholics. Their recuperative powers are so great that they can go to bed drunk, wake up with a headache, but take perfectly good care of their husbands and children."

"So the luncheon party didn't accomplish anything?"

"On the contrary, a great deal of progress was made."

Charlotte, making an effort to overcome her own fatigue, sat upright in the soft chair, straightened her slip, and addressed Klaus,

"One of the keys to the situation is Annaliese, the young blonde. She's married to one of the managers at the steel works. She's a real nordic Nazi with a mystical side to her. Since none of the other women are more than lip-service Nazis, she's somewhat suspect. I've been discovering how much."

"I noticed her. It didn't look as if any of the others had reservations about her."

"They do, even when drunk. The main problem is that a young woman with good Party connections can get her husband promoted over his superiors even if he's incompetent. It happens, not only in the public sector, but in private business. Has anyone tried to pressure you into promoting a Nazi yet?"

Klaus smiled,

"It's not quite that bad really. It's not like communist Russia where the party interferes everywhere at all levels. I doubt that a great many incompetents have been promoted for political reasons. But there have undoubtedly been some, evidently enough to give substance to the fears that these people have. Of course, after we retool, I plan to leave the company a legacy of incompetents in high places. The Nazis will find me the most cooperative industrialist they've ever encountered."

"I gather that Annaliese's husband is just such an incompetent, albeit in a different industry. His standing in the Party is said to be excellent. I wouldn't be surprised if it's due to his wife's beauty and her willingness to oblige."

"Would she do that?"

"I'd guess that she'd have to be restrained not to go to bed with a prominent Nazi. The others don't mind that in itself, but they're afraid of so much power and influence in such a young woman. For some, the solution is to make friends with Annaliese to protect themselves and their husbands."

Klaus asked,

"Have you discovered how denunciations work? You can't just go into Party headquarters and say that so-and-so is anti- Nazi can you?"

"It seems seldom to be a formal process. If you're well connected, you mention to the right person that so-and-so is anti-Nazi or has a Jewish grandmother. Then, if he has no Party standing himself, or no powerful friends, he's likely to be beaten up or fired."

"So the accused might never know who denounced him?"

Charlotte laughed and replied,

"They'd hardly be likely to tell him. Can you imagine being beaten up and asking, between kicks to the groin, to whom you owe the honor of this occasion?"

Klaus didn't share Charlotte's laughter, but replied,

"The idea behind these beatings seems to be to frighten working-class people who aren't enthusiastic about the regime. One thing they're trying to stamp out is the kind of ordinary bellyaching you find in any country. I don't think they beat up middle-class people very often."

"The trouble is that no one really knows how much latitude they're allowed and what the penalties might be. In the circumstances, they're quite right to fear Annaliese."

"Does she have any principles at all?"

"Oh yes. For better or worse, she's fairly honest and very much a believer in whatever the Nazis believe in. I don't think that she'd denounce her husband's boss just to make way for her husband."

"No, but we don't know her husband. He might. Or, more likely, they might both eventually come to believe that anyone who stands in their way is really anti-Nazi."

Charlotte stood and came over to Klaus, holding herself together. As she put her arms around him, she continued to speak of Annaliese.

"I'm trying to get Annaliese to feel her oats a bit, and also to heat up the situation generally. Then she might be more ready to go around denouncing people. That should set back the local morale a bit."

"At the very least."

"Incidentally, Janice is very useful. She excites Annaliese. She's going to return to America a total Nazi, much more than I ever was."

Klaus never mentioned Charlotte's flirtation with fascism, and he only nodded as she continued,

"I thought that Hitler was in a position to do great things, and that he might do them. I thought the sinister side might be reduced, or even disappear. As it turns out, it got magnified."

"Janice is less rational and more emotional."

"My mistake wasn't just intellectual. There was also a silly romantic side. But nothing like Janice's. She may be virtually incurable later on."

"We can worry about that later."

Charlotte, now almost naked, giggled as Klaus touched her.

"That feels good. Do it some more."

A little later, she was moved to say,

"Klaus, let's get on the bed."

Afterwards, Charlotte got dressed to go downstairs. As she was putting her shoes on, she stopped suddenly and said,

"I forgot to tell you the important thing. Frau Kaler called me before the party started."

Klaus waited while Charlotte stood, seemingly thinking out the import of the call. She then said,

"She's a nice intelligent woman, incorruptible you'll be glad to hear. She called to make excuses, saying her digestive system just wasn't up to my rich food and drink, and then invited me to tea at her house tomorrow. I accepted gladly, and we talked for some time.

I think that she and her husband know there's something strange going on, but can't figure out quite what. They're also nervous about the Nazis. He's become a Party member, but he likes the Nazis even less than he did before. Besides, it's evidently a bit too late in the day for such a gesture to count for much. The way she spoke, she must have realized that I don't like Nazis. Either she's very sharp or I'm not a good actress."

Klaus replied quickly,

"You're doing beautifully. I haven't met her, but she sounds like her husband. He's the kind of man who picks up any nuance in speech or behavior."

"There's a message which is really from Kaler to you, but it can't be put directly. He's within a few years of retirement age and wants to quit, she didn't say why, but probably before you get him into trouble with the Nazis. But he also likes you, and is willing to stick it out a while. He wonders what the terms of his retirement might then be."

Klaus thought for a moment before replying.

"I'm inclined to say that, if he stays for a year, which would get the re-tooling process to the point where it would be irreversible, the terms would be most generous. His full salary plus a good bonus. Do you think it would be unwise to suggest that the retirement fund could be set up in Zurich?"

"No. I'll say it for you. She even hinted, very indirectly, that they might go abroad. But she's far too sharp to let anyone else know that they intend to leave the country."

"I'll leave it to you to return the message the same way it came."

As they were about to leave the room, Klaus paused to speak.

"You know, it's very odd. I thought I was the only one. Now, apparently, there's Kaler too. Germany should have been able to depend absolutely on men like us. We're both instinctively loyal. I left because my mother wanted to. Kaler is prepared to leave because he senses an unhealthy situation. We're both right, of course. But it doesn't seem to take so very much."

"I've always thought that blind loyalty to anything is a mistake. It's like religion. The fact of being born in a Christian country doesn't make Christianity true, or give one any good reason for believing in it."

Klaus laughed and replied,

"If you remember, that was the one thing we settled before we were married. That neither of us had any use for religion."

"I remember vividly that conversation in the corner of the parlor while our mothers were babbling on. It seemed such a coincidence. After all, almost everyone else claimed to have some sort of religion."

"Yes. It was almost romantic."

After they had finished laughing about their shared moment of romance, Charlotte added,

"I think I'm also agnostic about countries. More than you. You're a new convert to America, and you're like a new convert to a religion."

"Perhaps not as much as that. But it's easy for a disillusioned European to clutch at the straw of America. It's not something one takes for granted."

"I do, of course. And I also grew up being very critical of the narrowness and bigotry of most of the people I knew. Not to mention the idiocy of the politicians. That's how I was able to think that Hitler and the Germans might have a better solution to the perennial social problems."

"His social programs may well be better than the New Deal ones. But they're bound up with so much persecution."

"Sure. That's obvious now. So America is the best hope. Probably the only real one."

"Loyalty to America and rationality happen to coincide. One doesn't have to ask which comes first."

Bill Todd -- Klaus: A Railway Novel
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