by W.E.B. Griffin
26 July 1777
“The necessity of procuring good intelligence is apparent and need not be further urged.”
General and Commander in Chief
The Continental Army
[ ONE ]
Marburg an der Lahn
1905 24 December 2005
It was a picture postcard Christmas Eve.
Snow covered the ground. It had been snowing on and off all day, and it was gently falling now.
The stained glass windows of the ancient Church of Saint Elisabeth glowed faintly from the forest of candles burning inside, and the ancient church itself seemed to glow from the light of the candles in the hands of the faithful who had arrived to worship too late to find room inside and now stood outside.
A black Mercedes-Benz SL600 was stopped in traffic by the crowds on Elisabethstrasse, its wipers throwing snow off its windshield.
The front passenger door opened and a tall, heavy-set, ruddy-faced man in his sixties got out. He looked at the crowds of the faithful, then up at the twin steeples of the church, then shook his head in disgust and impatience, and got back in the car.
“Seven hundred and sixty-nine fucking years, and they’re still waiting for a fucking virgin,” Otto Görner said as much in disgust as awe.
“Excuse me, Herr Görner?” the driver asked more than a little nervously.
Johan Schmidt, the large forty-year-old behind the wheel, was wearing a police-type uniform; he was a supervisor in the security firm that protected the personnel and property of Gossinger Beteiligungsgesellschaft, G.m.b.H. Otto Görner was managing director of the holding company, among whose many corporate assets was the security firm.
Schmidt’s supervisor was in charge of security for what in America would be called the corporate headquarters of Gossinger Beteiligungsgesellschaft, G.m.b.H. in Fulda, another small Hessian city about one hundred kilometers from Marburg an der Lahn. The supervisor had arrived at Schmidt’s home an hour and a half before, and had come right to the point.
“Herr Görner wants to go to Marburg,” he’d announced at Schmidt’s door. “And you’re going to drive him.”
He had then made two gestures, one toward the street, where a security car was parked behind the SL600, and one by putting his thumb to his lips.
Schmidt immediately understood both gestures. He was to drive Herr Görner to Marburg in the SL600 and the reason he was going to do so was because Herr Görner—who usually drove himself in a 6.0-liter V12-engined Jaguar XJ Vanden Plas—had been imbibing spirits. Görner was fond of saying he never got behind the wheel of a car if at any time in the preceding eight hours he had so much as sniffed a cork. The Mercedes was Frau Görner’s car; no one drove Otto Görner’s Jag but Otto Görner.
Görner’s physical appearance was that of a stereotypical Bavarian; he visually seemed to radiate gemütlichkeit. He was in fact a Hessian, and what he really radiated—even when he had not been drinking—was the antithesis of gemütlichkeit. It was said behind his back that only three people in the world were not afraid of him. One was his wife, Helena, who was paradoxically a Bavarian, but looked and dressed like a Berlinerin or maybe a New Yorker. It was hard to imagine Helena Görner in a dirndl, her hair in pigtails, munching on a würstchen.
Frau Gertrud Schröeder, Görner’s secretary, had been known to tell him “no” and to shout back at him when that was necessary in the performance of her duties.
The third person who didn’t hold Görner in fearful awe didn’t have to. Herr Karl Wilhelm von und zu Gossinger was by far the principal stockholder of Gossinger Beteiligungsgesellschaft, G.m.b.H. Görner worked for him, at least theoretically. Gossinger lived in the United States under the polite fiction that he was the Washington, D.C., correspondent of the Tages Zeitung newspaper chain—there were seven scattered over Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, and Hungary—which constituted another holding of Gossinger Beteiligungsgesellschaft, G.m.b.H.
It was commonly believed that the heir to the Gossinger fortune seldom wrote anything but his signature on a corporate check drawn to his credit and instead spent most of his time chasing movie stars, models, and other female prey in the beachside bars of Florida and California and in the après-ski lounges of Colorado and elsewhere.
“I said it’s been seven hundred and sixty-nine fucking years, and they’re still waiting for a fucking virgin,” Görner repeated.
“Yes, sir,” Schmidt said, now sorry he had asked.
“You do know the legend?” Görner challenged.
Schmidt resisted the temptation to say “of course” in the hope that would end the conversation. Instead, afraid that Görner would demand to hear what the legend was, he said, “I’m not sure, Herr Görner.”
“Not sure?” Görner replied scornfully. “You either do, or you don’t.”
“The crooked steeples?” Schmidt asked, taking a chance.
“Steeple, singular,” Görner corrected him, and then went on: “The church was built to honor Elisabeth of Hungary, twelve-hundred seven to twelve-hundred thirty-one. She was a daughter of King Andrew II of Hungary. He married her off at age fourteen to Ludwig IV, one of whose descendants was Mad King Ludwig of Bavaria, who lost his throne because he became involved with an American actress whose name I can’t at the moment recall, possibly because, before this came up, I got into the wassail cup.
“Anyway, Ludwig IV, the presumably sane one, went off somewhere for God and Emperor Frederick II of the Holy Roman Empire. While so nobly employed, he caught a bug of some sort and died.
“Elisabeth, now a widow, interpreted this as a sign from God and thereafter devoted her life and fortune to good works and Holy Mother Church. For reasons I have never had satisfactorily explained, she came here and founded a hospital for the poor, right here behind the church—our destination, you understand?”
“I know where we’re going, Herr Görner.”
To see a dead man, he thought. A murdered man.
So why am I getting this gottverdammt history lesson? Because he’s feeling no pain?
Or because he doesn’t want to think about the real reason we’re here?
“That was before the church was built, you understand,” Görner had gone on. “The church came after she died in 1231. By then she had become a Franciscan nun, and given all her money and property to the church.
“So, they decided to canonize her. Pope Gregory IX did so in 1235, and in the fall of that year, they laid the cornerstone of the church. It took them a couple of years to finish it, and nobody was so impolite as to mention that one of the steeples was crooked.
“But everybody saw it, of course, and a legend sprang up—possibly with a little help from the Vatican—that the steeple would be straightened by God himself just as soon as Saint Elisabeth’s bones were reburied under the altar. That happened in 1249. The steeple didn’t move.
“The legend changed to be that the steeple would be fixed when the first virgin was married in the church.” He paused, then dryly added, “Your choice, Schmidt, either there was a shortage of virgins getting married, or the legend was bologna.”
Schmidt raised an eyebrow but said nothing.
“The steeple was still crooked three hundred years later,” Görner continued, “when Landgrave Phillip of Hesse threw the Romans out of the church and turned it over to the Protestants. That was in 1527, if memory serves, and it usually does.
“He threw the Dominicans out of their monastery on the top of the hill”—Görner turned and pointed over his shoulder—“at about the same time and turned it into a university, which he modestly named after himself. That’s where I went to school.”
“So I have heard, Herr Görner.”
“Enough is enough,” Görner said.
“It could be argued that inasmuch as poor Günther is dead, there is no reason for us to hurry,” Görner said. “But an equally heavy argument is there is no reason we should wait while they stand there with their fucking candles waiting for a fucking virgin. Sound the horn, Schmidt, and drive through them.”
“Herr Görner, are you sure you. . .”
Görner reached for the steering wheel and pressed hard on the horn for what seemed to Schmidt an interminable time.
This earned them looks of shock and indignation from the candle-bearing worshippers, but after a moment, the crowd began to make room and the big Mercedes moved through the gap.
In the block behind the church, at Görner’s direction, Schmidt illegally parked the car before a Parken Verboten! sign at the main entrance to the hospital, between a somewhat battered silver and white Opel Astra police car and an apparently brand new unmarked Astra that bore on its roof a magnet-based police blue light.
[ TWO ]
There were two men sitting on a bench in the corridor of the hospital. One was a stout, totally bald, decently dressed man in his fifties, the other a weasel-faced thirty-something-year-old in a well-worn blue suit that had not received the attention of a dry cleaner in a very long time.
When they saw Görner, they both rose, the older one first.
“Herr Görner?” he said.
Görner nodded and perfunctorily shook their hands.
“Where is he?” Görner said.
“You wish to see the victim, Herr Görner?”
Görner shut off the reply that sprang to his lips, and instead said, “If I may.”
“The ‘mortuary,’ using the term loosely, is down that way,” the older man said. “But I was ordered to have the body moved here from the coroner’s morgue.”
Görner nodded. He had been responsible for the order.
When the security duty officer at the office had called Herr Otto Görner to tell him he had just been informed that Herr Günther Freidler had been found dead “under disturbing circumstances” in his room in the Europäischer Hof in Marburg, the first thing Görner had done was to order that his wife’s car be brought to the house with a driver to take him to Marburg. Next, he had called an acquaintance—not a friend—in the Ministry of the Interior. The interior ministry controlled both the Federal Police and the Bundeskriminalamt, the Federal Investigation Bureau, known by its acronym, BKA. The acquaintance owed Otto Görner several large favors.
Görner had given him—“And yes, Stutmann, I know it’s Christmas Eve”—two “requests”:
One, that Görner wanted a senior officer of the BKA immediately dispatched to Marburg an der Lahn to “assist” the Hessian police in their investigation of the death of Günther Freidler, and, Two, that while that official was on his way, Görner wanted the Hessian police to be told to move the body out of the coroner’s morgue; Saint Elisabeth’s Hospital would be a good place.
“What’s this all about, Otto?”
“I don’t want to talk about it on the phone. Your line is probably tapped.”
There was no blood on either the sheet that the weasel-faced plain clothes policeman pulled from the naked corpse of the late Günther Freidler or on the body itself. There were, however, too many stab wounds to the body to be easily counted, and there was an obscene wound on the face, where the left eye had been cut from the skull.
Someone has worked very hard to clean you up, Günther.
“Merry Christmas,” Otto Görner said, and motioned for the plain clothes policeman to pull the sheet back over the body.
The completely bald police official signaled for the plain clothes policeman to leave the room.
“So, what is the official theory?” Görner asked as soon as the door closed.
“Actually, Herr Görner , we see a case like this every once in a while.”
Görner waited for him to continue.
“When homosexual lovers quarrel, there is often a good deal of passion. And when knives are involved . . .” He shook his bald head and grimaced, then went on: “We’re looking for a ‘good friend’ rather than a male prostitute.”
Görner just looked at him.
“But we are, of course, talking to the male prostitutes,” the police official added.
“You are?” Görner asked.
“Yes, of course, we are. This is murder, Herr Görner—”
“I was asking who you are,” Görner interrupted.
“Polizeirat Lumm, Herr Görner, of the Hessian Landespolizie.”
“Captain, whoever did this to Herr Freidler might well be a deviate, but he was neither a ‘good friend’ of Freidler nor a male whore.”
“How can you know—”
“A senior BKA investigator,” Görner said quickly, shutting him off, “is on his way here to assist you in your investigation. Until he gets here, I strongly suggest that you do whatever you have to do to protect the corpse and the scene of the crime.”
“Polizeidirektor Achter told me about the BKA getting involved, when he told me you would be coming, Herr Görner .”
“Can you tell me what this is all about?”
“Freidler worked for me. He was in Marburg working on a story. There is no question in my mind that he was killed because he had—or was about to have—come upon something that would likely send someone to prison and/or embarrass someone very prominent.”
“Have you a name? Names?”
“As far as I know, Polizeirat Lumm, you are a paradigm of an honest police officer. But on the other hand, I don’t know that, and I never laid eyes on you until tonight, so I’m not going to give you any names.”
“With all respect, Herr Görner, that could be interpreted as refusing to cooperate with a police investigation.”
“Yes, I suppose it could. Are you thinking of arresting me?”
“I didn’t say that, sir.”
“I almost wish you would. If you did, I wouldn’t have to do what I must do next: Go to Günther Freidler’s home on Christmas Eve and tell his widow that her thoroughly decent husband—they have four children, Lumm, two at school here at Phillips, two a little older with families of their own—will not be coming home late on Christmas Eve because he has been murdered by these bastards.”
[ THREE ]
3690 Churchill Lane
1610 24 December 2005
After carefully checking his rearview mirror, John M. “Jack” Britton, a somewhat soberly dressed thirty-two-year-old black man, turned his silver Mazda MX-5 Miata right off Morrell Avenue onto West Crown Avenue, and then almost immediately made another right onto Churchill Lane.
Churchill Lane—lined with clusters of two-story row houses, five to eight houses per cluster—made an almost ninety-degree turn to the left after the second cluster of homes. Britton followed the turn, then pulled the two-door convertible (he had the optional hardtop on it for the winter) to the curb in front of the center cluster. He was now nearly right in front of his home.
Britton got out of the car, looked down the street, and then, seeing nothing, walked around the nose of the Miata, pulled open the passenger door, and accepted an arm-load of packages from his wife, Sandra, a slim, tall, sharp-featured woman who was six days his senior in age.
They had come from a Bring One Present Christmas Party held in a nearby restaurant by and for co-workers. Jack Britton had changed jobs, but he and his wife had been invited anyway. They came home with the two presents they had received in exchange for each of theirs, plus the door prize, an electric mixer for the kitchen which seemed to be made of lead and for which they had no use. On the way home, they had discussed giving it to Sandra’s brother, Elwood, who was getting married.
Knowing that her husband couldn’t unlock the front door with his arms full, Sandra preceded him past the three-foot-high brick wall that was topped with a four-foot-high aluminum rail fence—one that Britton bitterly complained had cost a bundle yet had done absolutely nothing to keep the local dogs for doing their business on his small but meticulously kept lawn.
Sandra was just inside the fence when Jack looked down the street again.
This time he saw what he was afraid he was going to see: A pale green Chrysler Town & Country minivan. It was slowly turning through the ninety-degree bend in Churchill Lane. Then it rapidly accelerated.
“Sandy, get down behind the wall!” Britton ordered.
He rushed to his wife, pushed her off the walkway and down onto the ground behind the wall, then covered her body with his.
“What the hell are you doing?” she demanded half-angrily, half-fearfully.
There came the sound of squealing tires.
Britton reached inside his jacket and pulled a Smith & Wesson Model 29 .44 Magnum revolver from his shoulder holster. He rolled off of his wife and onto his back, bringing up the pistol with both hands and aiming at the top of the wall in case someone came over it.
There then came the sound of automatic weapons fire—Kalashnikovs, he thought, two of them—and of a few ricochets and glass shattering, and the tinkle of ejected cartridge cases bouncing on the macadam pavement of Churchill Lane.
And then squealing tires and a revved up engine.
Britton crawled to where he could look out the gate to the street. He saw the Town & Country turn onto Wessex Lane but knew there wasn’t time for a shot at the minivan. And he realized he couldn’t have fired if there had been time; another cluster of houses was in the line of fire.
He stood up, put the pistol back in the shoulder holster, then went to Sandra and pulled her to her feet.
“What the hell was that, Jack?” she asked, her voice faint.
“Let’s get you in the house,” he said, avoiding the question. “Into the cellar.”
He took her arm and led her up the walk to the door.
“I dropped the goddamn keys,” Sandra said.
He ran back to the fence, drawing the pistol again as he ran, found the keys, and then ran back to his front door.
There were half a dozen neat little holes in the door, and one of the small panes of glass in the door had been shattered.
He got the door unlocked, and propelled Sandra through the living room to the door of the cellar, which he had finished out with a big screen TV, a sectional couch, and a wet bar.
“Honey,” he said, his tone forceful, “stay down there until I tell you. If you want to be useful, make us a drink while I call the cavalry.”
“I don’t think this is funny, Jack, goddamn you!”
“I’ll be right outside. And when the cops get here, I’m going to need a drink.”
He closed the cellar door after she started down the stairs. Then he went quickly to the front door, took up a position where he could safely see out onto the street, and looked. He saw nothing alarming.
He took his cellular telephone from its belt clip and punched 9-1-1.
He didn’t even hear the phone ring a single time before a voice said: “911 Emergency. Operator four-seven-one. What’s your emergency?”
“Assist officer! Shots fired! 3690 Churchill Lane. 3690 Churchill Lane.” He’d repeated the address, making sure the police dispatcher got it correct. “Two or more shooters in a pale green Chrysler Town and Country minivan. They went west bound on Wessex from Churchill. They used automatic weapons, possibly Kalashnikov rifles.”
He broke the connection, and then looked out the window again, this time seeing something he hadn’t noticed before.
The MX-5 had bullet holes in the passenger door. The metal was torn outward, meaning that the bullets had passed through the driver’s door first.
If we had been in the car, they would’ve gotten us.
Goddamn! The car’s not two months old.
When he heard the howl of sirens, he went outside. He looked up and down the street, and then, taking the revolver out of its holster again, walked down to the sidewalk to see what else had happened to the Miata.
The first unit to respond to the call was 811, a rather rough looking Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor patrol car assigned to the Eighth District. The howl of its siren died as it turned onto Churchill Lane, and when Britton saw it coming around the curve, he noticed that the overhead lights were not flashing.
Britton turned his attention back to the Miata. The driver’s side window was shattered and several bullets had penetrated the windshield. The windshield had not shattered, but Britton couldn’t help but think how the holes in it looked amazingly like someone had stuck all over it those cheap bullet hole decals that could be bought at most auto supply shops.
He walked around the front of the car and saw that it had taken hits in the right fender, the right front tire, and the hood.
He smelled gasoline.
Oh, shit! They got the gas tank!
Then he heard a voice bark: “Drop the gun! Drop the gun! Put your hands on the top of your head! Put your hands on the top of your head!”
Britton saw that two cops in a patrol car had arrived.
They were both out of their car, and had their service Glock semi-automatics aimed at him from behind the passenger door and across the hood.
Both looked as if they had graduated from the academy last week.
The order reminded Britton that he was still holding the Smith & Wesson. At his side, to be sure, pointing at the ground. But holding it.
Not smart, Jack. Not smart!
“3-6-9! 3-6-9!” Britton shouted, using the old Philadelphia Police Radio code for Police Officer.
The two very young cops, their Glocks still leveled on him, suddenly looked much older and in charge.
The one behind the driver door repeated the order: “Drop the gun! Drop the gun! Put your hands on the top of your head! Put your hands on the top of your head!”
Britton’s problem was that he did not think he could safely do as ordered—“Drop the gun!”
The Smith & Wesson Model 29 was a double-action model, meaning he could squeeze the trigger to fire a round with the hammer forward or cocked back. The latter required less pressure from the trigger finger.
It was Britton’s belief that one well-aimed shot was more effective than a barrage of shots aimed in the general direction of a miscreant. He also knew that a shot fired in the single-action mode—with the hammer drawn back—was far more likely to strike its intended target than one fired by pulling hard on the trigger with the hammer in the forward—or un-cocked—position. The extra effort required to fire from the un-cocked position tended to disturb one’s aim.
He had, therefore, formed the habit, whenever drawing his weapon with any chance whatever that he might have to pull the trigger, of cocking the hammer. And he had done so just now when he walked out of his front door.
If I drop this sonofabitch, the impact’s liable to release the hammer, which will fire off a round, whereupon these two kids are going to empty their Glocks at me.
“3-6-9!” Britton said again. “I’m Jack Britton. I’m a detective. This is my house. My wife and I are the ones who were—”
“I’m not going to tell you again, you sonofabitch! Drop the gun! Drop the gun!”
“May I lay it on the ground please? The hammer—”
“Drop the fucking gun!”
“Take it easy, fellows,” a new voice said with authority.
Britton saw two more Philly policemen, a captain and a sergeant. He had not seen another car drive up, but now noticed there were four police cars on Churchill Lane. The wail of sirens in the distance announced the imminent arrival of others.
“Hello, Jack,” the captain said.
Britton now recognized him. He had been his sergeant, years ago, when Officer Britton was walking a beat in the Thirty-fifth District.
“If I drop this gun, the hammer’s back, and . . .”
“Holster your weapons,” the captain ordered firmly. “I know him. He’s one of us.”
When the police officers had complied with the order—and not a second before—the captain walked to Britton and squeezed his shoulder in an affectionate gesture that clearly said, Good to see you, pal.
“Jesus, Jack, they shot the car up, didn’t they?”
“It’s not even two months old,” Britton said.
“What the hell happened here, Jack?”
“Sandra and I were at the Rosewood Caterer’s, on Frankford Avenue, at the Northeast Detectives Christmas party. I thought I was being followed—2002, 2003 Chrysler Town and Country, pale green in color. I didn’t get the tag.”
“Tommy,” the captain ordered, “put out a flash on the car. . . .”
“Black males, maybe in Muslim clothing,” Britton furnished, “armed with automatic AKs, last seen heading west on Wessex Lane.
“Yes, sir,” the sergeant said. He grabbed the lapel mike attached to his shirt epaulet, squeezed the push to talk button, and began to relay the flash information to Police Radio.
“Kalashnikovs?” the captain asked, shaking his head. “Fully auto ones?”
Britton nodded. “And they got the gas tank.” He pointed.
The captain muttered an obscenity and then turned to the young policemen.
“Put in a call to the fire department—gasoline spill,” he ordered, and then looked at Britton.
“Well, although I thought for a minute they weren’t following me, they were,” Britton said. “They came around the bend”—he pointed—“just as Sandra and I got inside the fence. I tackled her behind the wall and then all hell broke loose . . . .”
“She all right?”
“She’s in the basement. Shook up, sure, but all right.”
“Why don’t you put that horse pistol away, and we’ll go talk to her?”
“Jesus,” Britton said, embarrassed that he hadn’t already lowered the hammer and put the Smith & Wesson in its holster.
The captain issued orders to first check to see if anyone might have been injured in the area, and then to protect the scene, and finally gestured to Britton to precede him into his house.
Sandra had left the cellar and now was in the living room, sprawled on the couch. There was a squat glass dark with whiskey on the coffee table, and she had one just like it in her hand.
“You remember Captain Donnelly, honey?”
“Yeah, sure. Long time. Merry Christmas.”
“You all right, Sandra?” Donnelly said, the genuine concern of an old friend clear in his tone.
“As well—after being tackled by my husband then having those AALs shoot up our house and our new car—as can be expected under the circumstances.”
“AAL is politically incorrect, Sandra,” Captain Donnelly said, smiling.
“I can say it,” she said, pointing to her skin. “I can say African American Lunatics. I could even say worse, but I’m a lady and I won’t.”
“Take it easy, honey,” Britton said.
“I thought Jack was finished with those crazy niggers,” Sandra said. “Naïve li’l ol’ me.”
Britton leaned over and picked up the whiskey glass.
“Can I offer you one of these?” he said to Donnelly.
“Of course not. I’m a captain, a district commander, and I’m on duty. But on the other hand, it’s Christmas Eve, isn’t it?”
“I’ll get it,” Sandra said, rising gracefully from the couch. “I moved the bottle to the kitchen knowing I would probably have more than one.”
Donnelly looked at Britton.
“Tough little lady,” he said admiringly.
“Yeah. Those bastards! I understand them wanting to whack me, but . . .”
“Jack, let’s get a few things out of the way.”
“I heard you left the department but that’s about all I know. You’re still in law enforcement?”
“I guess you could say that,” Britton said, and took a small leather wallet from his suit jacket and handed it to Donnelly, who opened it, examined it, and handed it back.
“Secret Service, eh?”
“Now, if anyone asks, you can say, ‘The victim identified himself to me by producing the credentials of a Secret Service Special Agent . . .’ ”
“ ‘. . . and authorized to carry firearms,’ ” Donnelly finished the quote. “You guys carry Smith & Wesson .44s?”
“What have they got you doing, Jack?”
“I’m assigned to Homeland Security.”
“That’s what Sandra meant when she said she thought you were through with the AALs?”
Britton nodded, then suddenly realized: “And speaking of Homeland Security, I’m going to have to tell them about this, before they see it on Fox News. Excuse me.”
He took his cellular telephone from its holster and punched an autodial number.
The Consulate of the United States of America
2105 24 December 2005
The counselor for consular affairs of the United States embassy in Vienna, Miss Eleanor Dillworth, was aware that many people—including many, perhaps most, American citizens—were less than thrilled with the services the consular section offered, and with the very consular officials who offered them.
An American citizen, for example, who required consular service—for example, having pages added to a passport; registering the birth of a child; needing what amounted to notary public services—could acquire such services only from eight to eleven-thirty each morning, Monday through Friday—provided of course that that day was neither an American nor an Austrian holiday and of course with the understanding that the said American citizen could not get the passport pages added and make any inquiry of any consular official regarding visas.
Consular officials could not be troubled by being asked about the status of a visa application by anyone—including, for example, but not limited to, an American citizen wondering when his foreign wife was going to get the visa that she not only had applied for but was entitled to under the law.
Miss Dillworth understood that such dissatisfaction spread around the world.
A colleague—one Alexander B. Darby, who was the commercial attaché of the United States embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina—had told her that a well-known American artist living in Buenos Aires was going about loudly saying to anyone who would listen that whenever he went to the embassy there he was made to feel by the consular officials as welcome as a registered sex offender seeking over-night lodging at a Girl Scout camp.
Eleanor and Alex had exchanged horror stories for at least a half-hour when they had run into one another in Washington. They had even come up with an explanation why the foreign service got away with its arrogance and, indeed, incompetence.
It was, they concluded, a question of congressional oversight . . . or wanton lack thereof.
A farmer, for example, who felt that he has been mistreated by a farm agent would immediately get on the phone to his congressman or senator and complain, whereupon the congressman or senator would call the secretary of Agriculture expressing his displeasure and reminding the secretary that the function of his agency was to serve the public, not antagonize it.
Doctors—and maybe especially lawyers—thought nothing, when they felt they were being improperly serviced, of going directly to the surgeon general, or the attorney general, with their complaints. Similarly, bankers would raise hell with the secretary of the Treasury, business men with the secretary of Commerce, und so weiter.
And they got results.
The only people who took a close look at the foreign service were members of congress. They performed this duty by visiting embassies around the world—usually in places like Paris, London, and Tokyo—traveling in either USAF VIP jets or in the first class compartment of a commercial airliner, and accompanied by their wives. On their arrival, they were housed in the best hotels and lavishly entertained, the costs thereof coming from the ambassadors’ “representational allowance” provided by the U.S. Taxpayer. Then they got back on the airplanes and went home, having become “Experts in International Affairs” and bubbling all over with praise for the charming people of the state department, those nobly serving their country on foreign shores.
There were exceptions, of course. Alex Darby couldn’t say enough nice things about the ambassador in Buenos Aires, even though he didn’t seem able to do much about his consular staff enraging American citizens—not to mention the natives—living in Argentina.
But Alex and Eleanor were agreed that the foreign service could be greatly improved if every other diplomat arriving for work in his chauffeur-driven embassy car—with consular diplomatic tags, which permitted them to ignore speed limits and park wherever they wished—were canned, and those dips remaining were seriously counseled to get their act in gear or be canned themselves.
At first glance—or even second—it might’ve appeared that Counselor for Consular Affairs Eleanor Dillworth and Commercial Attaché Alexander B. Darby were disgruntled employees and probably should never had been employed by the Foreign Service in the first place.
The truth here was that neither was a member of the Foreign Service despite the good deal of effort expended to make that seem to be the case. In fact, Dillworth and Darby were the Central Intelligence Agency station chiefs in, respectively, Vienna and Buenos Aires, and the salary checks deposited once a month to their personal banking accounts came from the funds of the Clandestine Services Division of the Central Intelligence Agency, Langley, Virginia.
It was in this latter—which was to say real—role that Eleanor Dillworth sat in her consul general’s office on Parkring, waiting to have a word with a bona fide diplomat, Ronald J. Spearson, who was, as no one at the moment served as ambassador to Austria, the Chargé d’Affaires, a.i. of the American embassy.
“In case this somehow slipped by you, Eleanor, it’s Christmas Eve,” Spearson said when he walked into the office. He was a tall, trim man in his early forties.
“Well, in that case, Merry Christmas, Ronnie.”
Spearson believed that embassy staff should address him as “Mister” and he did not like to be called “Ronnie,” not even by his wife.
He gave her a dirty look.
“I’m in no mood for your sarcasm,” she said. “I know what day this is, and I wouldn’t have asked you to come here unless it was important.”
“I meant no offense, Eleanor,” he said after a moment. “If an apology is in order, consider that it has been offered.”
She did consider that a moment, then nodded.
“Kurt Kuhl and his wife have been murdered,” she said.
“Kurt Kuhl of Kuhlhaus? That Kuhl?”
“About half past six tonight,” she said. “The bodies were found behind the Johann Strauss statue in the Stadtpark.”
She gestured in the direction of a window which overlooked Parkring and the Stadtpark.
“Well, I’m . . .”
“They were garroted,” she went on evenly, “with a metal garrote of the type the Hungarian secret police—the Államvédelmi Hatóság—used in the bad old days.”
“Eleanor, what has this to do with me? With the embassy?”
“As a result of which,” she went on, ignoring the questions, “there will be a new star on that wall in Langley. Two, if I have anything to say. Gertrud Kuhl also is entitled to one.”
Spearson looked at her for a long moment.
“You’re not suggesting, Eleanor, are you, that Kurt Kuhl was one of your—”
“I’m telling you that Kurt Kuhl has been in the clandestine service of the company longer than you’re old.”
“I find that very hard to believe,” Spearson said.
“I thought you might. Nevertheless, you have now been told.”
“My God, he’s an old man!”
“Seventy-five,” she said. “About as old as Billy Waugh.”
“The fellow who bagged Carlos the Jackal. The last time I heard, Billy was running around Afghanistan looking for Osama bin Laden.”
Again he looked at her a long moment before replying.
“If what you say is true . . .”
“I just made this up to give you a little Christmas Eve excitement,” she said sarcastically.
“Then why wasn’t I told of this before?”
“You didn’t have the Need to Know. Now, in my judgment, you do.”
“And the ambassador? Did he know?”
“No. He didn’t have the Need to Know, either.”
“You made that decision, is that what you’re saying?”
“I was given the authority to tell him if I thought it was necessary. Or not to tell him.”
“That violates the Country Team principle.”
“The secretary of State signed onto what the DCI told me.”
“What was Kuhl doing for the CIA?”
“You want a thumbnail or the whole scenario?”
“I think I had better hear everything.”
“Okay. Kuhl was a Hungarian Jew. His family had been in the pastry shop business for a long time, way back before World War I. They saw what was happening and got out of Hungary to the States in 1939. Kurt was then ten years old, the youngest of their children.
“There was already a Kuhlhaus store in New York City and another in Chicago. The family went back to work in that business. When war came, his older brother, Gustav, went into the Army, was promptly recruited by the OSS and was one of the original Jedburghs.”
“The original what?”
“Agents for the Office of Strategic Services trained at Jedburgh, Scotland, to jump into German-occupied Europe. Bill Colby, who I’m sure you remember went on to become DCI in ’73, was one of them. Gustav was captured in France, sent to Sachsenhausen, and executed there just before the Russians arrived.
“In 1946, just as soon as he turned seventeen, Kurt, by then an American citizen, enlisted in the Army. Getting to Europe to see what family assets he could salvage was one reason. Avenging his brother was another.
“He spoke German and Hungarian and Slovak, etcetera. He was assigned here as an interpreter at the Kommandatura—the Allied Control Commission. ‘Four men in a jeep.’ Remember that?”
Spearson shook his head.
“Toward the end of his tour, they found out that Corporal Kuhl had been sneaking in and out of what was then Czechoslovakia and Hungary and East Germany. That was in 1949. He should have been court-martialed, but somebody in the CIA was smart enough to offer him a deal.
“If he was willing to be of service, unspecified, if called upon, he not only would not be court-martialed, but would be allowed to remain in Vienna to salvage what he could of the family business, and he would be helped to do that.
“He took the deal. I don’t know what he did between ’49 and ’56, but he was so helpful during the Hungarian uprising that the agency put him on the payroll, as field officer, clandestine service. He’s been on it ever since.”
“He’s been a spy all this time?”
“Not in the James Bond sense. What he has been doing—and if you think about it a moment, you’ll see how valuable this has been—is identify people the company could turn. He didn’t turn them. He just identified those people he thought could be turned. He became their friend, learned their strengths and weaknesses, and passed it to the company.
“The diplomatic and intelligence services of the old Soviet Union, and its satellites, as well as the Western countries, do—as we do—tend to move their people between assignments in an area. In this case, Eastern Europe. Their dips would be in Warsaw on one assignment, Vienna the next, maybe Rome, and later Budapest, then back to Vienna . . .”
“And we wouldn’t recruit them here, but when they were somewhere else?”
“Precisely. An Austrian passport was arranged for him. That happened to many ex-Hungarians who couldn’t get a Hungarian passport. He became a Viennese, the heir to the Kuhlhaus Pastry shops. It was a perfect cover. When the wall came down, no one raised an eyebrow when Kuhlhauses were opened or reopened—in Prague, Budapest, all over—and no one thought it was in anyway suspicious that Kurt Kuhl moved around Eastern Europe supervising his business.”
“Well, apparently someone did,” Spearson said. “If he was murdered.”
“Nobody ever accused the ÁVH of stupidity. I suppose we should have expected he would get burned. . . . My God, he was doing his job for fifty years. He didn’t think so. I tried to warn him it was just about inevitable.”
“You’ve been in touch with him?”
“About once a week. At the Kuhlhaus store on the Graben. He often took me in the back room for a little café mit schlagobers. And I will go to his funeral. I think it will probably be held in Saint Stephen’s. Over the years, he made a lot of important friends. I will go as an old customer, not as the counselor for consular affairs.”
“What am I supposed to do?”
“I hope nothing. But I thought you should know who he really was, and what he was doing, rather than be surprised when you read it on the front page of the Wiener Tages Zeitung.”
Pilar, Buenos Aires Province, Argentina
1855 24 December 2005
In the opinion of Liam Duffy—a short, muscular, red-haired thirty-nine-year-old—there was a good deal to recommend the Restaurant Oca on a blistering hot Christmas Eve, starting with the fact that it would stay open until seven. Most other restaurants in this country of devout Catholics closed just after lunch to celebrate the night before Christ’s sacred birth.
The food was good, but the basic reason he had suggested to Mónica, his wife, that they take a ride out to Oca in Pilar from their apartment in Barrio Norte was the geese.
Oca was adjacent to a residential country club called The Farm. Just inside the gate to the guarded community of larger than ordinary houses, and immediately behind the restaurant, was a small lake which supported a large gaggle of geese.
The geese had learned to paddle up to the rear of the restaurant and beg for bread scraps. The Duffy kids—there were four, two girls and two boys, ranging in age from two to seven years—never tired of feeding them.
This meant that Liam and Mónica could linger over their dessert and coffee without having to separate the children from sibling disputes. These occurred often, of course, but far more frequently when the kids were excited, as they were by Christmas Eve and when the temperature and humidity were as oppressive as they were now.
Duffy ignored the waiter standing nearby with their check in hand as long as he could, but finally waved him over. Mónica collected the kids as her husband waited for his change.
From here, they would go to Mónica’s parent’s home in Belgrano for the ritual Christmas Eve “tea.” They would have Christmas dinner tomorrow with his parents and four other Duffy males and their families at their apartment in Palermo.
Mónica appeared with the children, holding the hand of the youngest boy and the ear of the elder. The other two children seemed delighted with the arrangement.
Duffy shook hands with the proprietor, whose smile seemed a little strained, then left the restaurant and got in the car. Duffy handed the car-parker a five peso note, instead of the usual two. It was, after all, Christmas Eve.
And he was driving, he thought, a year-old Mercedes-Benz 320 SUV, which suggested that he was affluent and could afford a five peso tip. He wasn’t; the car belonged to the government. But the valet of course had no way of knowing this.
To get on the southbound lane of the Panamericana expressway, it was necessary to pass through a tunnel under the toll road itself. As Duffy came out the far side of the tunnel and prepared to turn left onto the access ramp, an old battered white Ford F-150 pickup truck pulled in front of him, causing Liam Duffy to say certain words, ones Mónica quickly pointed out to him should not be used in the presence of children.
Duffy followed the Ford up the access ramp, where the sonofabitch driving the pickup suddenly slammed on its brakes.
Duffy stopped just in time from ramming him.
And then, as the hair on his neck curled, he looked over his left shoulder.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, not on fucking Christmas Eve!
He jammed the gear shift into low, spun the steering wheel to the right, and floored the accelerator. He rammed the right rear of the Ford. The pickup’s tires screamed as Duffy pushed it out of the way. The SUV—which was why Duffy had chosen it—had full-time four-wheel drive.
Duffy then heard bullets impacting the Mercedes. By the time he reached the top of the access road, he had both offered a prayer for the safety of his family and drawn from under his shirt his semiautomatic pistol, an Argentine-manufactured version of the Colt Model 1911A1 .45 acp.
He held down the horn with the hand holding the pistol as he drove through the traffic on the toll road.
Mónica was screaming again.
“The kids?” he shouted.
She stopped screaming and tried and failed to get in the back seat.
“Mónica, for Christ’s sake!”
“They’re all right,” she reported a moment later. “For God’s sake, slow down!”
Yeah, and let the bastards catch up with us!
He didn’t slow down, but did stop weaving through traffic.
Five kilometers down the toll road, he saw a Policía Federal police car parked at a Shell gasoline station.
He pulled off the highway and skidded to a stop by the car. The policemen inside looked at him more in annoyance than curiosity.
Duffy pushed the button on his door panel that rolled down his window.
“Comandante Duffy, Gendarmería Nacional!” he shouted at the Policía Federal policemen. “We have just been ambushed. Shot at. Look for a battered white Ford 150.”
They took him at his word.
The driver, a young officer, jumped out of the car, drew his pistol and looked up the highway. The passenger, a sergeant, walked to the SUV.
By then Duffy had the microphone of his radio in his hand.
“All gendarmería hearing this. Comandante Duffy has just been ambushed at kilometer 46 on the Panamericana. I want the nearest cars at the Shell station, kilometer 38, southbound. En route, stop all old white Ford 150 pickups and inspect right rear of vehicle for collision damage.”
It will do absolutely no fucking good, Duffy thought. The bastards are long gone.
But nobody’s hurt, and cars are on the way.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, thank you for answering my prayer.
Duffy got out of the car, put the pistol back in the holster in the small of his back under his shirt, then opened the rear door of the Mercedes.
He picked up José, and said, “Why don’t we go in there and get a Coke, and then we’ll go see Abuela?”
His wife, holding the baby, looked at him.
“Well, we’ll have something to talk about when we get to your mother’s, won’t we?” Liam asked.
“Goddamn you, Liam!” Mónica said.
From BLACK OPS— Book
V in the best-selling PRESIDENTIAL AGENT series.
Published January 2009.
©2009 W.E.B. GRIFFIN. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.