Chapter 1 - North Reich - Robert Conroy

North Reich - Robert Conroy (2012)

Chapter 1

Tom Grant abandoned the now useless Chevrolet after driving it into the bushes. Steam was pouring from under the hood and one of the tires was shredded flat. He hoped the car was out of sight, at least long enough for him to escape his pursuers. He ran the several hundred yards through the woods and tall grasses to the quickly flowing water that separated the United States and Canada. By the time he reached the narrow sandy beach, he was exhausted. He promised to exercise and take better care of himself, assuming, of course, that he survived this unholy night.

Behind him, he heard car doors slam and the sound of angry, anxious voices. He'd hoped that he'd lost them while driving the twisting and turning dirt roads, but obviously he hadn't. The water looked cold, dark, and deep, and the safety of the far shore looked like it was miles away. It wasn't, but he had never been that good a swimmer and the thought of making it that far was terrifying. At least the ice hadn’t formed on the river.

The voices were closer and he made up his mind. He had three choices: surrender and likely disappear forever, try to swim the river and either drown or freeze to death, or swim to possible safety. A desperate and almost impossible swim was better than getting shot or, at best, imprisoned and interrogated by the merciless Gestapo and their local thugs, the Canadian Legion’s Black Shirts. He stripped down to his boxer shorts and stepped into the water, gasping at the cold. It was late fall and the river, never really warm, had cooled down considerably for winter. At least it wasn’t frozen, he thought again. He gritted his teeth and dived in, nearly screaming when the frigid water grabbed his testicles. He could hear the sound of the roaring Niagara waterfall and was glad he was downstream from it and wouldn't have to fight the possibility of being swept over it to certain death. On the other hand, the current was very strong and he might be swept out into Lake Ontario where he would surely drown if he didn’t first die of exposure. He looked across and realized that it didn't matter. The current would place him where it wished.

He began to swim, using an economical pace that he hoped would conserve the strength and body heat he would need to fight the current, the distance, and the cold that was sucking the life out of him. Maybe, just maybe, his pursuers wouldn't see him until he was far enough out.

Again, no such luck. Shouts pointed him out and he heard the sound of guns being fired. He wasn't hit and nothing splashed near him, so the bastards weren't the great shots they always bragged they were. Of course, hitting a bobbing head in the night at a good distance with pistols would be a good trick under any circumstances.

As he plowed through the water, he wondered if his bad left arm would hold up. It'd been a while since the injury, but the wound sometimes kicked in and his arm cramped up. Not today, please.

He heard a faint creaking sound and realized to his dismay that the men chasing him had gotten their hands on a rowboat. At least it didn't have an outboard motor, which was a blessing, but they would still be able to row their boat much faster than he could swim, and they wouldn’t be weakened by nearly freezing to death.

More gunshots and this time something did splash near him. He threw caution to the wind and tried to pick up his pace as his breath came quicker and quicker. It was make it or die. He swallowed water and gagged. He couldn't keep this up much longer. His lungs felt like they were on fire and he knew he was slowing. He was losing feeling in his limbs. He couldn’t last much longer. Something touched him and he realized to his horror that it was a chunk of ice. He heard them yelling. They were closer and gaining rapidly. The shouting stopped and he sensed that they were dropping back. He risked looking behind and saw that the rowboat, with four men in it, was pulling away and leaving him. He turned to his front. He was only a few yards off shore and two policemen were standing there with their guns drawn.

Tom staggered and fell to his knees as his bare feet found the muddy ground. One of the cops snickered as he took unsteady steps towards them. "Kinda gives new meaning to calling someone a wetback, now don't it?"

His partner chuckled but kept the gun leveled at Tom. "He's so cold even his pecker's shrunk and blue. Poor little thing."

Tom tried to adjust himself so he wasn't exposed and promptly vomited some of the water he'd unwillingly swallowed. He took great care not to puke on the cops' shoes.

The first cop took the lead. "Who are you and what are you doing here, and why you didn't cross in from Canada on a bridge like most people do? And don't tell me you went for a moonlight swim and got lost. In your spare time you can tell us why those guys in the boat were trying to kill you."

It was difficult for him to talk and he began to shiver violently. "My name is Thomas Grant and I'm a colonel in the United States Army," he managed to gasp and wandered if his words were intelligible. He was actually a major but decided he'd sound more important with the higher rank.

"Yeah, and I'm the king of England," the first cop chortled. "Hold out your hands."

Tom did as he was told and was quickly handcuffed. "You really claiming to be an American?" the first cop asked. They both seemed blithely unconcerned that Tom might be dying. Tom nodded and again tried to speak. He felt consciousness slipping away. "I'm an American citizen and an officer in the United States Army."

His stomach heaved again, but there was nothing left. He was shivering from the shock of nearly being killed and the cold that was invading his exhausted body. He staggered and nearly collapsed.

The cops' attitude softened slightly as they realized that their catch might just die on them. "We'll see," said the first cop. They half carried and half dragged him to their squad car that was parked on a dirt road behind them. They dumped him in the back seat and covered him with a couple of blankets while they turned the car’s heater on high.

"Let's get your ass warmed up and we'll get this all sorted out. Who knows, maybe you’re even telling the truth."

The police station was a small cement block building located at an intersection a few miles inland from Lake Ontario, and near the village of Youngstown. If the place had a name, Tom never did find out and he really didn't care. He was just too cold and miserable. He thought he was in Niagara County in upper New York, but even that was irrelevant. Nor was he particularly concerned by the stares he received by the two other cops and one middle-aged woman dispatcher as he walked across their office to a holding cell that was blessedly warm and dry. They gave him more blankets and a couple of towels. He was beginning to think he would live.

The dispatcher's name was Sadie and she made him a cup of broth while the chief, a burly middle-aged man named Charley Canfield, made some phone calls. There were no army installations nearby, so Canfield satisfied himself with calls to U.S. Customs and the State Police. He quickly determined that nobody was looking for a six-foot white male in his early thirties, in excellent condition, with short brown hair and brown eyes, along with significant scarring on his left shoulder.

Canfield declined to call the Pentagon with a number that Tom provided on the grounds that his budget was for shit and he couldn't call long distance because he didn't have the money. When Tom said he could call collect, Canfield said he would try, but not until morning when it was more likely that people were awake. Tom reluctantly agreed.

Sadie brought him some baggy sweat pants and a sweat shirt both of which clearly belonged to somebody very large. Despite his exhaustion, it began to occur to Tom that the local cops weren't anywhere near as hostile as they had first been.

When Tom was dry and reasonably warm, Canfield entered the cell and sat on the bunk across from his. "Who were the clowns who were shooting at you?"

"They were Black Shirt thugs from the Canadian Legion. For some reason they thought I didn't belong in Occupied Canada."

Canfield was at least five years older than Tom, probably in his early forties, and Tom's first impression was that Canfield appeared very competent for a small town cop. He was a couple of inches taller than Tom and looked like he could easily handle himself in a fight with a couple of town drunks.

"Next question, Mr. Grant, and don't be pissed if I hold off calling you colonel for the time being, what were you doing in Canada that so thoroughly annoyed the junior Nazis?"

"I'd just as soon not discuss that."

Canfield smiled knowingly. "Okay, so you were doing some spying. Did you find anything interesting?"

"Other than the occupying Nazis don't like people snooping around, no. Tell me, chief; were you in the last war?"

"I spent a few months of my misguided youth in a trench filled with mud, rats, and rotting body parts, so the answer is yes. I'm still in the military. I'm a major in the New York National Guard. Now, how did you hurt your arm and get those nasty scars?"

Tom thought about not answering, but the scars on his body were hard to ignore. "Nothing heroic, chief. It was an automobile accident a year ago at Fort Benning, in Georgia. Some idiot second lieutenant forgot to post road guards while a tank was crossing and my car was squashed by an M-3. Thirty tons of armor will always win out over a jeep. My driver was killed, burned to death. I had a dislocated shoulder and got burned trying to pull him out."

Tom suppressed a shudder. He could still hear the kid screaming while he died in the flames. He explained that the lieutenant in charge of the crossing had been court-martialed for neglect and dishonorably discharged. The army had wanted to give Tom a medical discharge, but there was a war on and it was felt that his skills could still be used. Even mediocre Academy grads were needed, and he'd then been posted to an intelligence section in the Pentagon.

"I got a medal for trying to save the kid, but it wasn't worth it."

"They never are,” Canfield said sympathetically. “I got a Purple Heart and was put in for the Silver Star in the last one. For some reason, I never got it, but what the hell. Maybe I'll get a chance this time."

"Well you might just. Don't be surprised, Chief Canfield, if your unit is activated fairly soon."

The next morning, a call to the Pentagon did confirm that Tom was who he said he was. The officer at the Pentagon said that he was to report in as soon as possible and seemed surprised that he was without clothes, money, and in a far corner of New York state that was so isolated that it didn't have a telegraph office. Tom was informed that if he could make it to Buffalo, money would be wired to him.

Chief Canfield thought the situation was hilarious - serious yes, also but downright funny. "Tell you what I'm going to do, Colonel Tom. You and I are going to my place and I'm going to give you some old clothes I was going to give to the local church. Then I'm going to front you twenty bucks of the county’s money so you can hire one of the locals to drive you to Buffalo. Niagara Falls would have been a little closer, but maybe you army people can't read maps. I would also like the twenty back. I wasn’t joking when I said we were short of money."

Tom assured Canfield he would get his money back if he had to use his own funds. Shortly after lunch, Tom found himself in a pickup truck with a taciturn farmer who had clearly taken a vow of silence, which was fine by Tom. He wanted to collect his thoughts. Two hours later, he was dropped off in Buffalo in front of the Western Union office, across the street from the Greyhound Bus Station. Working with Western Union proved a little difficult since he had no identification and they were understandably loath to give a hundred dollars of the government’s money to a stranger who looked like a derelict. A quick telegram to the Pentagon solved that. Tom got himself a bus ticket to New York City and, on checking the schedule, saw that he had enough time to buy himself some better clothes. He also gave the farmer twenty to pay back Canfield.

After an eternity on a bus that made far too many stops, he made it to New York and the airport that was known as either the New York Municipal Airport or LaGuardia after the current mayor who'd had it built. From there he took a flight on a DC-3 to the new Washington National Airport.

It took him two full days to get from upper New York to Washington, D.C. So much for modern, high speed travel, he thought. Worse, he had used up almost all the money he'd been fronted and barely had enough for cab fare to his apartment. He had the miserable idea that the hundred dollars had been an advance on his pay, rather than a gift from Uncle Sam.

Tom's apartment was outside Fort Meade and close to his offices in the Pentagon. As he walked up the two flights of stairs, his legs began to ache and he realized just how tired he was. A note was pinned to his door. He was ordered to report as soon as possible. Obviously, none of the brass gave a shit about how tired he was. He realized he didn't have a key to his apartment and swore. He was about to head to the manager's office, hoping that the lush of a superintendent was sober enough to remember Tom to let him in, when he realized that the door was slightly ajar. He was about to push it open when something hit him in the back of the head. He fought unconsciousness for a moment, but a second blow finished him.

"Good morning, major. The nurse said you were awake."

Tom blinked. His head hurt like someone was digging in it with a shovel. Worse was the throbbing between his eyes that was nauseating him. The doctor understood and quickly gave him a bucket. Tom emptied the contents of his stomach and then some additional stuff. Finally, he got control and gratefully took a glass of water from the doctor. He didn't have any military rank on him, so Tom presumed the man was a civilian. The world started to spin, so he sagged back on his bed.

"Jesus, what happened to me?"

"My name is Crain, not Jesus, and you got mugged in the hallway of your apartment. You were found by one of your neighbors who called the police and, when they realized you were military, brought you here. They guy who attacked you apparently ran off."

"And where is here?"

"The base clinic at Fort Meade. There are a number of very good hospitals in the area, but it was decided to keep you here where you'd be out of sight and in the warm bosom of the army, at least until someone figures out what happened to you. Apparently a number of people don't think the attack was a simple attempted robbery. Your injuries are painful, but you're an army officer so you have an extremely thick noggin. X-rays did confirm that you don't have a fractured skull and the bruise on the side of your face will clear up in a matter of years."

"Doctor Crain, when was the last time you were told to go screw yourself?"

Crain smiled. "I believe it was my last patient. And a very nice little old nun she was. Now, I want you to eat something, take a few aspirins, and get some sleep. Somebody from General Marshall's staff will take charge of you in a while, but not until I release you."

Tom did as told and woke up a few hours later significantly refreshed. He got up, found his clothes, and a nurse brought him some toast and eggs which he devoured.

He was wiping the grease from his chin when a man wearing civilian clothes came in and identified himself as Captain Art Baldwin of the Fort Meade Provost Marshal's office.

"When you're up to it, major, we'll take you to your apartment so you can check it out, tell us what's missing, and pick up your stuff. General Truscott is now on Marshall's staff and wants you residing here at Meade until we can figure out what happened. And no, we don't think it was just a robbery gone bad."

"Doctor Crain said that already. By the way, I had no idea Truscott was anywhere around," Grant said. He was pleased. Truscott was one of his favorite senior officers.

Major General Lucian Truscott was about fifty years old, a career soldier, and was considered one of those in whom Chief of Staff George C. Marshall had great confidence. The gravelly voiced Texan was noted for training his men beyond hard. A lot of people hated that, but most admitted they'd rather go to war prepared and trained by someone like Truscott. Well trained troops had a much better chance of surviving than those who weren’t. That he was now on General Marshall's staff was intriguing.

An hour later, they were at Tom's apartment. As suspected, the door was broken and Tom's possessions, such as they were, had been strewn about the floor. Furniture had been smashed and even the mattress had been ripped open. Pictures on the wall had been ripped apart. Someone was clearly looking for something and robbery was not a factor.

Baldwin shook his head. "Apparently they thought you were rich and spent a lot of time looking for valuables. Whoever it was didn't know what the army pays."

Grant smiled and thanked the gods for his foresight in not bringing his notes back from Canada with him. Of course, how could he have since he'd swum across damn near naked?

He found a duffel bag and filled it with his clothing, both civilian and military, along with underwear and important things like that. He wasn't coming back. Being assaulted and robbed was a good reason for telling his grouchy landlord to shove it. Baldwin got some paper bags and the two men filled them with more personal possessions, which made Tom realize that he really didn't have much in the way of an existence. He was thirty-five and been married to the army since being admitted to West Point at the age of eighteen. To the surprise of almost everyone, he'd found that he could handle the academics, graduating in the middle of his class, and the physical part of the training had come easily.

After graduation, he'd bounced around a number of boring peace-time garrisons. He'd contemplated resigning, but there was a Great Depression devouring the country, and the army at least provided him with a job. “Three hots and a cot” was the phrase and that worked for officers as well as enlisted men without clear futures in the civilian world. That was followed by the nation's decision to re-institute the draft as war clouds loomed. He'd been promoted to major shortly after Pearl Harbor was attacked. Once, he'd thought it more likely that pigs would fly than that he would achieve field grade rank, but it had happened. Of course, the expansion meant tons more majors, colonels and generals than you could shake a stick at, so he wasn't unique and promotions weren't necessarily based on merit.

His orders were to report to Truscott, so he did as soon as he was able to change into a reasonably un-mussed uniform. As usual, Truscott was blunt.

"Grant, what flaming jackass sent you into Canada on such a fool's errand?"

"Sir, it was General Marshall."

Truscott blinked in momentary confusion. "And a wise choice it was," he finally said with a disarming grin. "But tell me, why you?"

Truscott gestured him to take a seat and Grant relaxed. "There were several reasons, sir. First, watching over Canada is my job here. I review newspapers, radio programs, look at papers sent by diplomats, and anything else that will help us find out what the Nazis are up to. Since we were and still are having trouble getting good info, I decided to nominate myself to take the trip. I do speak a passable version of German, and, second, I have relatives in the Toronto area. That and the fact that I was present when the decision was made kind of tipped things in my favor."

"How did you get around, major?"

"Easily, sir. I got some Canadian money, crossed into Canada at Sarnia, Ontario, bought a used car and just started driving. Getting gas wasn’t a problem. Like here, there are shortages and the prices are high, but there is no rationing. I even used my own name and driver's license. I went from Sarnia to Windsor and east through a number of Canadian cities until I finally got to Toronto, which I made my base. I made a bunch of short trips and looked for a major German presence, which I found, along with evidence of SS or Gestapo activity, which I also found. I also found a strange group called the Canadian Legion. They are a bunch of pro-Nazi thugs who wear black shirts and act like they run the place.

"I tried to stay out of sight, but obviously didn't do a good enough job, which is why I had to swim the river. Those goons would have killed me. I actually saw some of them beat up a guy in broad daylight because he laughed at them and nobody came to the poor guy's help, not even the cops. It's bad, sir, and it's going to get worse."

Truscott leaned back in his swivel chair. "So you spent two months or so traveling around Canada looking for evidence of German military buildup or odd behavior because we really don't know what's happening with our neighbor to the north. God, it’s hell being blind."

Truscott was referring to the fact that the British once had excellent intelligence facilities centered at a place in England called Bletchley Park. When the collapse became imminent, the British, with the help of the U.S., shut down whatever was going on at Bletchley. Equipment and personnel quickly disappeared and resurfaced in a newly constructed camp a few miles south of Washington.

"I think I found a lot of interesting stuff, sir, and I made copious notes."

"Which, I assume, are at the bottom of Lake Ontario. Either that or the Nazis have them."

Now it was Grant's turn to smile, "Hardly, sir. When I realized the goons from the Canadian Legion were on to me, I went to the American consulate in Toronto with a package and gave instructions that the package was to be sent to General Marshall via diplomatic pouch. I don't think even the Nazis are ready to violate something as sacred as mail between diplomats."

"At least not yet," Truscott said with a touch of admiration. "Good thinking. And how's your head? It looks like you're wearing a green and purple golf ball."

"It feels like it, too. For some reason, the blow barely broke the skin and whatever pain I originally felt is receding quickly thanks to a heavy dose of aspirins. I'm ready for duty."

"Good. The package, however, hasn't shown up. It's probably in transit between us and the State Department, but I'm sure it will arrive. In the meantime, what did you find out?"

"Easy answer is that they are up to something and I think it's going to be big. One term I picked up on was North Reich, another was North Storm."

Truscott was puzzled. "I thought the first referred to their occupation of Ontario. The other one I never heard of."

"Neither did I, but now I think they both mean a whole lot more."

Captain Franz Koenig hated wearing civilian clothes. He was a German soldier and proud of that fact. He was part of an elite and magnificent force that had invaded France and devastated the Soviet Union. He would have been part of the army that invaded England but for the annoying fact that the English had, for all intents and purposes, surrendered. It didn't hurt at all that the uniform of a German officer was very dramatic and, under the right circumstances, had often induced young lovely young frauliens to toss off their clothes and joyously climb into bed with him.

But now he wore a cheap and poorly fitting civilian suit and sat in a basement office in the German Embassy in Washington, D. C. It was located in an enormous Victorian building at 1435-41 Massachusetts Avenue NW. The building contained seventy rooms and thirteen bathrooms, along with a number of radios and other apparatus necessary to set up spy operations against the Americans. It had been the German embassy since 1893, the days of Kaiser Wilhelm II.

A German uniform in Washington was as unpopular in America's capital as it had proven to be in parts of Canada where Koenig was an aide to General Hans-Jurgen von Arnim, the commanding officer of all German forces in Canada. It belatedly occurred to him that he should have insisted on meeting at a restaurant, or even a hotel room, since the FBI was sure to be watching the comings and goings at the embassy. Also, much of the espionage work done by the Reich was through apartments and offices rented by dummy corporations in the Washington area and elsewhere in the United States. There was no need to have come to the embassy.

"What happened, Heinie? Who fucked up?"

Captain Heinrich Stahl was a 'cultural attaché' in the German Embassy in Washington, and was, as he liked to joke, about as cultural as a fart in church.

"Blame me if you want, but I'm like you, a soldier and not a thief in the night. I broke into this Major Grant's apartment when the idiots in Canada figured out that he might have mailed his notes to himself. They weren't there, of course and, on leaving, I saw the major himself arriving. I sneaked up on him and hit him with the flat of the pistol I'm not supposed to carry here in Washington. I was going to search him when I heard someone yelling and ran off. I don't think he had anything on him anyhow."

Koenig agreed. "If such a package existed, he probably mailed to somebody else, which is what I would have done. Any package is either sitting on a desk in the Pentagon or is at the bottom of the Niagara River. Christ, those Black Shirt fools in the Canadian Legion make rocks look smart. They almost had Grant several times while he was wandering around Ontario, but almost isn't good enough."

"Want me to try again?"

"No. Whatever he knew he has already told several times over. We don't need to verify his allegations by either hurting him or killing him."

"Fine by me," said Stahl, standing. "I don't like killing people without good reason, unless, of course, they are Russians or Jews." He was a big man, tall and burly. "So, what do we do now, and does anybody really know what the hell is going on? What is North Storm, for instance, and why is it worth trying to kill someone over?"

"I don't know either. Maybe General von Arnim does, but I even have my doubts about that. I suppose they'll tell us when it's time for us to put our lives on the line, just like they’ve always done."

Koenig stood. He was tall himself at just over six feet, but Stahl had him by a couple of inches and a number of pounds. "Tomorrow I return to that paradise up north. Tonight, you and I are going to have a few beers and talk about old times."