Welcome to Berlin, Mr McElhone - EAGLES HUNT WOLVES
OMGUS (Office of Military Government US)
Ed McElhone was tossed the keys to the Dodge T214 by an armed mechanic.
“You sure you want to go it alone, sir? It’s the Goddamn Wild West out there.”
The sergeant wrung an oily cloth around his hands. The stub of a well-chewed cigar jutted out through the stubble. He looked like a beer barrel topped off with a tiny woolen hat.
“We’re all still allies here, Sergeant, thanks,” said McElhone.
“You from Manhattan, sir?”
“West 39th Street, Sergeant,” replied McElhone. “Abattoir Row.”
“Hell’s Kitchen? Well, you’ll feel right at home here, sir.”
The sergeant tossed a Thompson machine gun onto the back seat.
“I always carry a little extra protection, sir. On the house.”
As McElhone started up the engine, a civilian contractor named Queloz climbed in beside him and buckled up. Edward McElhone was O.S.S., dispatched from New York on the orders of Truman. Queloz had been cleared by the OMGUS to return to civilian life after clearing Military Law No.8. A former Nazi, in other words.
“Here are the zones bought up by the Halidane Corporation,” he said.
Queloz opened out a military map and used a battered red crayon to carve out the route.
“I know this one – through two big Soviet roadblocks. No shortcut.”
“Great,” muttered McElhone.
Inside his khaki fatigues he had letters of free movement signed by Eisenhower. Stamped in glorious red were the words CEKPETHO/TOP SECRET – meaning only a Commissar or higher could refuse passage.
“Put this on …” he said.
He tossed Queloz a US army helmet.
“… And say nothing.”
Queloz stared imperiously down his long nose. Like his general demeanour it was elongated, sharp and bitter.
“I’m fluent in Russian, sir.”
“No need for ´sir´ Queloz; everyone calls me Mac.”
The word sounded guttural and coarse. Queloz had supposedly been de-Nazified, but he was still a long way from rehabilitation.
McElhone revved up and drove out of the OMGUS compound. Military trucks lined up alongside jeeps and American cars with fluttering stars and stripes pennants, lined up as if on parade. Two armed sentries waved them on through the reinforced steel gates.
McElhone had been summoned to Washington from Newark, NJ, three days earlier to, of all things, a poker game. President Truman invited him to play a few hands in an ante room of the White House. Sitting around the table were joint chiefs, head of the OSS, Harry Hopkins and a few off-duty bodyguards. After several hours and numerous bottles of bourbon, McElhone and Hopkins were mandated to check out intelligence recently received from Churchill.
“I don’t like Atlee, I don’t trust Atlee,” said Truman. “British intelligence leaks like a sieve these days.”
His blue eyes, magnified by strong lenses, were covered by a green eye shade, giving the president an amphibian appearance. His sleeves were pinned up with cuffs. He looked like a croupier at Halloween. He loved the role of dealer, shouting instructions like a Kansas City barkeep.
“Winston wouldn’t contact me on a whim, but it’s a go-look-see only. Roosevelt liked you, recommended you – I’ve read your file,” he said.
“I worked with FDR and his team in Tehran, that’s all, sir,” said McElhone.
“The file says you did more than that, son.”
McElhone ended up counting his meagre winnings on a rickety non-stop flight to Berlin. Not even growing up in Hell´s Kitchen prepared him for the devastation.
From Berlin Templehof, he was driven to section G-5 USFET, one office away from Eisenhower and the top brass wrestling with a shattered civilian population.
“Food & Agriculture section?”
“They’re waiting for you,” said the uniformed attaché, without looking up from his desk.
Inside was a broad man with a florid bow tie and matching complexion, alongside the funereal Queloz.
“Time is precious, McElhone,” said the man in the bow tie.
His snow-white hair had been pomaded into a complex swirl. Queloz looked like he’d just been dredged from a lake.
“Walt Keyburn is dead. Died on the Brits´ watch at their military HQ. We’re having problems retrieving his body, but there’s another pay grade above us to deal with that.”
He pulled over the shutters and lit a desk lamp.
“Herr Queloz here is a scientist. To be exact, a physicist. Before being cleared for civilian duty here he was part of the Wermacht’s Vengeance Weapon program. He was, briefly, a colleague of Edgar Halidane. Herr Queloz and his family will be transferring Stateside in the next week or so.”
McElhone had read the dossier.
“Halidane’s now up in lights in Washington?”
“Mr Halidane has been procuring zones around Berlin under the aegis of the Quartermaster General. He’s rich, powerful and appointed by a senate committee to oversee the dismantling of Germany’s technical capabilities. It´s probably nothing, but we’ve been asked to assist – without drawing undue attention.”
“Henry Chainbridge?” asked McElhone. A teletyped sheet was clipped to a photograph of Chainbridge.
“You know him?”
“Old MI6, I met him in Tehran in ‘43.”
If Chainbridge was involved something was brewing. Peter de Witte and Eva Molenaar wouldn’t be far behind.
“Did this intelligence come in from another department – Int.7., maybe?”
“So that’s why Truman picked you. Yes.”
McElhone ground the gears. The Dodge growled along. Queloz had an irritating habit of using hand gestures rather than words to indicate directions; any excuse for a stiff-arm salute, thought McElhone.
The Soviet roadblocks waved them through. After an hour they came to a wire-fenced zone. Double tiers of razor wire encompassed a block of buildings. A sign in English, French, Russian and German read Danger! Keep Out!
The buildings had been damaged, but not flattened. They now boasted a crisscross of new scaffolding along their facades.
“You sure this is it?” asked McElhone.
“You worked here?”
“The basement level was refitted. Halidane had a facility here before it was shut down.”
“When was that?”
McElhone hoisted himself out and Queloz followed a foot behind. He stood with his eyes closed simply smelling the air. He spied a flower and picked it up.
“An early spring, Mac, yes?” said Queloz.
“If you say so. I arrived yesterday, Queloz.”
“You can call me Thierry.”
“I´ll stick with Queloz, thanks.”
“As you wish, Mac.”
The sky was an azure blue to the heavens without a cloud in sight. The sunlight glinted on some of the building´s new windows. A roadway leading away from the fences looked recently paved. The razor wire glinted ferociously. McElhone walked along the edge of the wire. He suspected the second row of fencing was electrified. There was no signage.
The site looked abandoned.
“If we’re moving troops and civil servants in, you’d think it’d be an around-the-clock operation?”
“You would, Mac,” said Queloz.
Queloz was staring down at the battered gorse and grass, turning in tight concentric circles. He reminded McElhone of an eager gun dog. McElhone glanced around. There was just the Dodge and a few battered looking buildings. The place was off the beaten track, it looked like an old industrial facility – it was a miracle it hadn’t been levelled by bombing. He’d been a beat cop for twenty years in New York before being transferred to the secret service. To this old detective something didn’t smell right.
It was then he spotted the dogs. Big, slavering, well-fed dogs on the far side of the fence. They congregated close to where Queloz was kicking away. The animals didn’t bark, didn’t make any sound, just stared. They were Belgian Malinois, five of them, tan fur with black muzzles and twitching ears. McElhone went back to the Dodge. He checked his own gun, a Colt, and slung the Thompson over his shoulder.
He turned back. Queloz was gone.
He started to walk toward the clump of grass he had last been standing on. The pack of Malinois skulked along with him. Quleoz’s head appeared through the grass.
“Found it, Mac,” he said.
They descended a long service ladder leading to a concrete tunnel.
“Halidane’s offices were here.”
Despite the sunlight filtering through the hole above the ladder, they whispered like thieves.
McElhone thought of the dogs. Facilities like this had a secret flap that would allow them freedom to roam. All they would need is a command.
“What kind of facility?” he said.
“Classified, but something involving transport – a jump gate.”
“We’re slap bang in the middle of Berlin – what kind of jump gate?”
They came to a large wheel lock door. Even between the two of them, they couldn’t turn it.
“Locked from the inside, Mac.”
“The cement smells fresh, the service ladder isn’t rusty and this door looks freshly minted. Well, it’s a dead end. For now.”
“How could the Reds allow this on their turf?” asked Queloz.
“Pay a guy enough to look away, he will.”
“To look away from what, Mac?”
McElhone looked around. Lines of lights lit the corridor. He looked back at the door. Stamped just above the wheel lock was the Halidane Corp. logo; the world surrounded by lightning bolts.
“No idea, Queloz. Let’s get out of here.”
At the top of the ladder stood five guards shouldering machine guns. All five were struggling with dogs on tight leashes. Just behind them stood a man in black uniform. Black beret, shiny black boots and a machine pistol levelled at McElhone and Queloz.
“You’re trespassing, gentlemen. May I see some identification please?”
His accent was cultured, clipped. English officer class.
McElhone tossed his ID over. The dogs began deep throaty barking. They pitched and jumped, lurching violently against their leashes. They bared their teeth in wicked smiles.
“Welcome to Berlin, Mr McElhone of the O.S.S. You’ve clearly taken a wrong turn.”
He tossed the badge back.
“Clearly,” replied McElhone. “My guide here lied through his teeth when he said he was fluent in Russian. It won’t happen again.”
“I’d suggest you hire a more capable individual, sir,” said the man.
“He’s French, what can I say?”
On cue, Queloz gave a gallic shrug.
“He needed to take a shit, fell down a hole,” said McElhone.
“This is a construction site, sir, there are lots of holes.”
His pencil-thin moustache twitched with a smile. He pursed his lips at an angle.
McElhone figured they could take down two dogs, two men, possibly three –before they’d be ripped apart.
The man whistled a low-pitched tone.
The dogs all went on their bellies and panted happily. Their handlers remained stony-faced and expressionless.
“Do you need to be directed back, sir?” asked the man.
“No thanks, sir, we´ll manage. Keep the home fires burning, eh?”
“We will indeed, sir. Good day.”
For once Queloz dropped the master race act. He was silent on the drive back to the compound. McElhone found the carpool sergeant.
“You were right, sergeant, this place makes Hell’s Kitchen look like a walk in the park. Thanks for the Thompson.
“Keep it, sir. You can never have enough guns in this city.”
As McElhone typed up his report, his mind constantly drifted back to the dogs. He slept uneasily that night. The clear blue sky troubled him for no apparent reason.
The man with the bow tie read through McElhone’s report.
“Could be electrical equipment, a power station?” he said.
“Could be anything. Private security, though not ours or the Russians´– heavily armed,” replied McElhone.
“Halidane is paranoid by nature – Jump Gate?”
“That’s what Queloz said. Big door, wheel lock like a bank vault.”
The man in the bow tie looked up. His nose was covered in burst blood vessels. He was the kind who needed a shot of something to get the day going.
“Bank vault suggests money, valuables?”
“Yes, it does sir. May I ask if we know the whereabouts of Henry Chainbridge?”
“That I do know, McElhone. Switzerland – a conference. He’s bought up the entire floor of a hotel – The Prestige au Lac. Out of his own pocket, thank god; I´m guessing the American taxpayer might object to bankrolling an orgy after sacrificing their kids for their war effort.”
McElhone sensed Chainbridge would know something more.
“Mind if I go over there?”
The man in the bow tie leaned back and his chair groaned under his bulk.
“Son, this is the USA, we can go anywhere now.”
EAGLES HINT WOLVES IS ON SALE NOW