New York City – July 29, 1941
The name Filberg was instantly recognized by the personal secretary at Kerr, Chapman & Company when she saw the file at the bottom of the heap of other documents inside her bank manager’s private vault.
Her boss, Mr. Chapman, had sent her there to return the Watson file to its rightful place. He then retreated to the adjacent room, preparing to leave on one of his important, highly confidential corporate meetings elsewhere. She shut the vault, and then watched him leave less than three minutes later through the glass front doors that opened onto Wall Street. Chapman wasn’t expected back until two or so in the afternoon.
Aris Palini closed the door to her boss’s inner glassed-in office, then opened the vault with the proper combination, removed the Filberg material, and crossed to her desk. She dialed zero and gave the operator the Washington DC number she had memorized months before. She stood and waited, drumming her fingers on the desktop. “Mr. Bill, please. It’s important,” she said smoothly to the woman in Washington. She heard a man’s voice in the background.
“May I ask who’s calling?” the woman enquired.
“It’s Aris. Hurry, please.” Aris sat behind her desk, looking through the inside office windows to the other employees busy at their work. From her perfect vantage point, she could also see the street, the cars, the sidewalk, and the pedestrians through the open blinds.
“Just a moment. I will transfer you to his line.”
She heard the receiver click.
“Aris. How are you?”
“Where are you calling from?”
“What is it? Careful what you say.”
“Of course, sir. I found some – ” she stopped and opened the file to a half-dozen blank white pages. “What the...” She sat, horrified. “What’s this?”
“Aris, what’s the matter?”
“Sir, there’s something very strange here. I found a file inside the vault marked Filberg.”
“Filberg? Are you sure?”
“Yes, sir. But inside it . . . are . . . well . . . blank pages.”
“Hold one of them up to the light, and tilt it at an angle.”
She obeyed, moving the paper around. “Yes, there are some impressions on them. Some indentations.” She glanced over to the window. Hells Bells! Her boss had just come through the bank doors! Had he forgotten something? Lucky for her, a bank employee had stopped him. They talked. “Sir, I have to go. He’s coming back,” she said, quickly.
“The cafe. Noon tomorrow.”
“Yes, sir.” She hung up.
Aris would have to move fast to return the Filberg file.
Wesley Hollinger woke with two words stamped on his mind:White House.
Why him? He thought about his upcoming briefing for two grueling hours, until Colonel Bill Donovan arrived and handed over the car keys in the hotel parking lot. It was obvious his boss didn’t want to drive.
“It’s yours. Remember, right side of the road here.”
“Yes sir, colonel,” Hollinger replied, yawning.
“Keep the speed down, Kid. I’ve heard about that MG of yours. This here is government property.”
The two shared a laugh and walked towards the car. Since his involvement with the Rudolf Hess peace flight, Hollinger had been affectionately known in certain American and British fraternities as the Kid. He didn’t mind. In fact, he kind of liked the name.
At ease in his boss’s presence, Hollinger perked up after a good night’s sleep in the comfortable air-conditioned hotel. The day was just starting, a steamy Monday morning in the nation’s capital, thousands of miles away from the real action. What a hectic joyride he had taken on short notice. The President had called him and he jumped. The young man packed a change or two of clothing in London, was slapped a forged Canadian passport, and ordered to board a military aircraft in Prestwick, Scotland, that made stops in Iceland and Labrador, the latter in the midst of an intense rainstorm. At Montreal, a Canadian agent friendly to Donovan cornered Hollinger, rushed him through customs and threw him on a flight to Bolling Air Force Base, Washington, where Donovan intercepted him late last night. London to Washington inside of thirty-six hours must have been some kind of record.
Hollinger, the American cipher analyst on loan to the British MI-6, was back home in the States. The land of two-bits, ten-spots, Jack Benny on the radio, Clark Gable at the movies, and the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Yankees at the ballpark. The biggest difference was the bright lights. No blackout here. No barrage balloons. No rationing of food or gasoline. No taped windows to prevent shattering in an air raid. No tweed suits or deep pockets jingling with funny English currency. There were jobs and money in America. Lots of both. And edible meals. People were busy. The young women he saw already looked as great as the women here did a year ago. They hadn’t lost their bloom, as Langford would say. And the people spoke the English vernacular he knew, not that rhyming London Cockney slang that even many Brits found tough to decipher.
The American situation annoyed Hollinger. Nothing had changed since his boss had sent him on his original mission to England in 1940. His fellow countrymen were oblivious to the frightening state of affairs in Great Britain. What was the matter with them? Sure, supplying England and now Russia had taken Americans out of the Great Depression and into defense plants. But they didn’t want another war so soon in this century, although it didn’t bother them to aid other countries in fighting one a few thousand miles removed from North America, all for the sake of profit. Thank God for Hitler was the latest American slogan. To most Americans, the conflict was more like a million miles away. It was a European war. Let them sort it out.
Hollinger wondered what would make them come to their senses.
It wasn’t all sport for the MI-6 agent codenamed Saturn, the British Embassy trouble-shooter in the Atlantic paradise. It wasn’t just the white beaches, the bubbling surf, the waving palm trees, the beautiful bronze-skinned women, and the casinos at the Atlantic resort that kept him engrossed. Although he did enjoy such pleasures, plus many more fringe benefits previously unimagined in his native England.
At first, he didn’t know how to take the highly irregular order from London. Had they lost their minds? Damn it all to Hell, this was walking headlong into the enemy camp.
He crossed the busy, narrow street to the sidewalk restaurant on the corner, opposite the beach. A breeze gusted off the tranquil blue Atlantic, a crisp odor of salty sea in the air. The sun felt warm, the temperature in the low eighties. Most of the restaurant tables were filled with the typical sad-eyed refugee clientele escaping the Nazis and war in Europe, seeking passage off the continent. Most were Jews with blank looks. They had been there for months, hoping and praying daily for boat or flight arrangements to the havens of either London, or Africa, or New York City.
How ironical Portugal was. The place never ceased to amaze him. Spies from every country went about their daily routines side by side in this the largest of neutral espionage hotbeds. A person in intelligence had to be careful. Such close proximity between individuals of belligerent nations was a tricky affair. At Sintra Field, eighteen miles out of the nearby capital of Lisbon, the ticket offices and hangars of Lufthansa and British Overseas Airways were within a stone’s throw of each other. Germans and Brits, side by side. Weird place, this Portugal. Never dull.
Saturn regarded the shaggy-haired man in the white suit, sitting at one of the tables with his hat tilted back and smoking, under the shade of a wide, white umbrella. Saturn knew him as Hans Schmidt. MI-6 had a file on him. Registered agent A-296. An alleged importer-exporter who smelled of Gestapo from across the street. He was known to have strong Berlin connections. The two had always kept their distance these last many months. Not even so much as a friendly “hello”.
That would soon change.
Schmidt looked away and munched on his last morsel of baked fish, a glass of liquor in his hand. He was Saturn’s age. Early to mid thirties. Aryan. Dirty-blonde. Blue eyes. Fair-skinned, somewhat burnt. Saturn strode by with a steady gait. Their eyes locked for a moment. The Englishman entered the restaurant, slipped the headwaiter a one-pound currency note, and darted for Schmidt’s table. The German casually watched him all the way.
“Mind if I sit down?” Saturn said over the clamor of crystal, cutlery and conversation. The ocean breeze intensified a touch, then died off.
The German stared at the tanned Englishman. “My, my, if it isn’t Kenneth Sims.”
“Is it business?”
Sims paused. “Sort of.”
“Name your commodity. Swiss clocks? Schnapps? Cognac? Or is it lumber you want?”
“Other . . . business. Let’s say, from one warring country to another.”
“Sit down, Herr Sims.’’
“May I have the privilege of ordering something for you? The sherry is quite delightful. The salmon is excellent. Freshly caught.”
Sims pulled up a seat. “No, thank you. I shan’t keep you long.”
“Yes. I might have time for that, at least.”
Schmidt let Sims remove a cigarette from the pack on the table. “Prost, anyway,” he said, tipping back his glass.
“Prost. I say, it’s hot.”
“Ja. So, Herr Sims, what does MI-6 want with me?”
Sims smiled oddly, lighting the smoke. The German knew he was Secret Service. Was that surprising? And Sims knew Schmidt was Gestapo. “I have a message for your Berlin friends,” Sims said. He blew out his first drag.
“My company, you mean?”
“To hell with your company,” Sims spoke in a low tone, looking away at an attractive Jewish woman two tables down. Schmidt noticed her too. “I’m talking about your Gestapo Headquarters. Look, old boy, let’s not pretend. We both know who the other works for.”
“Ach, you Englishmen, such nuisances. All right. Tell me, what’s the message?”
Sims ignored the German’s sarcasm. “There have been some rumors circulating ever since Hess’s little . . . peace escapade to Scotland.”
“Hess,” Schmidt smirked. “The man is crazy, you know. But then you Englishmen have probably found that out.”
Schmidt chuckled. “Of course, he’s crazy. Flying off like that in his plane and landing in Scotland, thinking he could cut a peace deal with the British. Why would Churchill even listen to him?”
“Obviously, our Prime Minister didn’t.”
“Hess’s mind is kaput. He has been crazy for many years.”
“Perhaps. At least that’s what Lord Haw-Haw and the Fuehrer have broadcast to save face. Who believes that, though? Some insiders say Hess was deserting the sinking ship.”
“Hah.” The German laughed, sitting up. “What sinking ship? When are you English going to give up? Churchill is a big bluff. How do you expect to win a war with a drunk leading you?”
Sims stiffened. “And what about your situation back home? I hear there’s a little turmoil in the High Command. You might call it a master plot.”
“Yes. Your boss, Himmler, has aspirations to oust Hitler and become Fuehrer. He has even taken the liberty to create a new title for himself. Fuehrermaster.” Sims caught a sudden twitch to Schmidt’s right cheek.
“You think so, do you?”
“Yes, I daresay. Hess knew when to get out. He was going to get it next. And that’s from an excellent source.”
“So, why tell me all this?”
“Just thought you might like to know, seeing as Himmler is your Berlin boss.” Sims rose from the chair, his throat dry. Now he wished he had the sherry. It might have hit the spot after all.
Schmidt stared. “Going so soon?”
“Yes. I must run along. One other thing.”
“What is that, Herr Sims?”
The Englishman leaned over the table, and stared at the German, void of expression. “We know what Himmler and his henchman are planning to do to the Jews.” He glanced at three Jews in the table next to him. “If we win this war, there’ll be hell to pay. The drunk, as you call him, will see to it. Goodbye, Herr Schmidt. You don’t have to see me out,” Sims said, taking his leave of the German.
Schmidt looked away, eyeing the attractive Jewish woman. The German knew that he and Sims would cross paths again. No doubt about that.
Hollinger flipped his Air Force sunglasses on, then turned the ignition of the shiny, black, 1940 Packard. The engine came to life. Hollinger wore his year-old single-breasted suit, still in fashion in America, although he was seeing more double-breasted attire already today. His white monogrammed shirt was freshly starched. His silk tie was a little on the bright and flowery side. His oxfords were polished, his hair cut and combed. Early that morning he had showered, shaved close, sent his cables to London, then run out and bought a new dark gray fedora to match his medium gray suit. He wanted to make a good impression on Winston Churchill. He had to do his best for the Big Guy from 10 Downing Street.
Hollinger released the clutch and pressed down on the accelerator of the eight-cylinder motor. The car jumped forward. Hollinger was tense and showed it with jerky movements on the steering wheel. For a brief moment, he pictured the English woman he had left behind in war-torn Great Britain. He smiled, thinking of Roberta Langford. Feisty, clever, quick wit, deep-brown eyes, long red hair, smashing dresser, great legs. He had a penchant for women with great legs. But he loved everything else about her too. She was fun. Too bad he still hadn’t hit it off with her. And it seemed so close after his accident in May. He couldn’t figure out what had gone wrong. Maybe she wasn’t his type. He never knew what to expect from her most of the time. At any given moment she could be one of two people – either Robbie the sweetie or Robbie the smart-ass. Maybe he should have given up on her and tried dating other English dames again, like Annie, the MI-6 clerk on the third floor, the short, cute brunette who, according to rumor, was reported to have a Union Jack tattoo on her butt. Now that was patriotism.
“Tired?” Donovan asked, flicking on the car’s air-conditioning.
“No, sir, colonel,” Hollinger replied, changing lanes awkwardly, his eyes fixed to the busy street. Cars and trucks crammed the capital, despite the morning rush having come and gone. “I slept well.”
“That’s good. Nervous?”
Hollinger looked over. “Yep.” His voice cracked. “I mean, yes, sir, I have to admit I am, a little. How should I act?”
“A word to the wise. He’s no different to Churchill. Be yourself. He likes that. But don’t pick your nose or anything.”
“Just kidding. He’s liable to say anything. He’s that way. Off the cuff. You know, there’s not too many consultants your age who get to brief the President on an intelligence or a military matter. But don’t worry, kid. He and I are old friends.”
“We went to law school together.”
“Really, sir? I didn’t know that.”
“And he mixes great martinis.”
“I thought you didn’t drink, sir.”
“I mentioned that for your benefit.”
“Oh, I see. Thank you, sir.” Hollinger concentrated on driving, while the air-conditioner whirred a comfortable beat.
The wide-nosed, round-faced passenger with the greased hair and powerful torso removed the early edition of the Washington Post from his briefcase. His eyes roamed over the day’s news. The Pacific was exploding. The Japanese had placed a freeze on British and American assets. The British and Americans immediately blocked Japanese assets and canceled all oil deals with them, unless they were willing to let up on their Asian conquests, including China. The main sources of Japanese oil supplies were now cut off. Early reports indicated that Tokyo was fuming. Donovan knew this oil embargo was just a way to bide time for America to strengthen her Pacific forces. But was it also giving the Japanese time to prepare for war? In recent meetings, he and the President seemed to think so.
More than twice Hollinger’s age, Colonel William Donovan was an accomplished, resourceful individual. Some colleagues thought him an old fud, somebody who bore a close resemblance to Hollywood comedian W C Fields. Hollinger paid such unfair babble little mind. Few fathomed the dedication of the 58-year-old that some knew as Mr. Bill and others as Wild Bill.
Born to Irish parents in Buffalo, New York, Donovan was brought up near the tough Lake Erie waterfront where he had to fight to survive. Determined to make something of himself, he enrolled at New York’s Columbia University. On campus, he received his law degree and his Wild Bill nickname playing football. He was also a World War I battle hero, receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor. He later jumped in and out of different professions. He was once a successful mob-busting Buffalo District Attorney, then a millionaire Wall Street lawyer with connections, and a Republican candidate for Governor of New York.
During the turbulent years before Adolf Hitler attacked Poland, Donovan had been the eyes and ears for his old friend, Democrat President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The Irishman had conferred with various heads of state and prominent people, obtaining intelligence information that would someday be useful to his country. He took two trips to England in 1940, which gave him the ammunition he needed to model an American intelligence agency after the British. He studied MI-5, the experts in counterespionage on English territory, and the MI-6 Secret Intelligence Service, who specialized in foreign espionage. He discovered that the two departments’ paths crossed on occasion. That was a good sign. That meant cooperation. With Roosevelt’s blessings, Wild Bill began structuring a top-secret federal organization. He recruited individuals. He farmed them out to observe and report. By mid-1941, he was hoping that the work was not in vain. Wesley Hollinger was a product of that system.
Only two weeks earlier the President appointed Colonel Donovan to head a new federal intelligence agency designated “The Office of the Coordinator of Information.” The American spy agency – the COI for short – was officially up and running. Considering the shaky world position, it could not have come any sooner for a handful of Americans and Brits in-the-know.
Closing the newspaper, Donovan threw Hollinger a sideways glance. “Somebody is going to get their war soon.”
“Why do you say that, sir?”
“Because some high-ups want it, that’s why. And they always get what they want.”
“You mean the President and his staff?”
Donovan shook his head. “Nope. Higher than that.”
Hollinger felt uneasy. “Who’s higher than the President?”
“Wesley, you’re still young yet. And idealistic. Certain people, that’s who,” the colonel replied, thinking of the telephone conversation he had that morning with Aris, his former secretary at his Wall Street lawyer’s office. “Roosevelt supporters. People who stand to make a lot of money if we go to war.”
“Thank God for Hitler,” Hollinger mumbled.
“What was that?”
“Nothing, sir.” The light turned red, and Hollinger nearly slammed into the car in front of him. “Oh, shit!”
“Damn it! Watch it, Wesley!”
Hollinger shot a glance at his boss. “Sir, are you telling me that–”
“I’ve said enough. Take a right at the next block.”
Hollinger slowed the Packard down at the light ahead, and turned at the street sign marked Pennsylvania Avenue. He looked ahead. In the distance, he saw it. The White House. He couldn’t believe he was doing this. If only that cheeky redhead were here to see him.
MI-6 Headquarters, London
The secretary finger-tapped on the office door, and peered into the room. “Colonel, the Prime Minister is on the line.”
“Thank you, Margaret.” MI-6 officer Colonel Raymond Lampert quickly lit his pipe and lifted the C-phone receiver. It was not in his best interests to keep Winston Churchill waiting on his Whitehall 4433 private line. “Yes, sir.”
“Let’s go on scramble.”
“Very good, sir.” Lampert punched a white button on the side of the C-phone attached to a two-by-two-foot square box by his feet. “Can you hear me, sir?”
“Yes, I can. You left word for me?” The Prime Minister’s familiar lisp was clipped, anxious for a reply.
“Yes, sir. I did. A cable was forwarded to me just a few minutes ago from the Kid. He made it safe and sound last evening, and will be briefing the President at ten-thirty, Washington time. Any additional cables will be forwarded to your office.”
“There’s a good lot resting on our errand boy. What do you think he’ll say, sir?”
“What we told him to say, I should expect. He’s there for one purpose. Ours.”
“As long as the Big Fish in Washington buys it.”
“If he doesn’t bite, colonel, we’re done for.”
“Yes. But can the Kid do it how we want him to do it?”
“Second thoughts, colonel?”
“Perhaps.” Taking a ballpoint pen, Lampert doodled on his foolscap pad.
“Remember our goal. Stop Hitler. The end justifies the means, colonel.”
“We’ll let the bloke think he’s a hero. He seems gullible enough.”
“In any event, isn’t that what he rather is, sir. A hero?”
“Yes, I suppose he is, now that you mention it.”
Lampert hesitated. “Wesley Hollinger. Whoever would have believed it a few months ago? May the angels in heaven help us. Do you know what he did, sir, before he left?”
“Up to more mischief, was he?”
“He put NO SMOKING signs in his new office.”
“It is his office.”
“Never mind. Did you receive the copy of the report I sent to the President?”
“Yes, sir. About an hour ago.”
“I have an update. We’ve made the arrangements for the Atlantic meeting. It’s on.”
“Already? Good show, sir,” Lampert said, mustering as much enthusiasm as he could.
“Anything else, colonel, while I have you on the line? How’s Operation Decoy coming along?”
“Not a word, as yet.”
“Let me know the minute you hear from your Portugal agent.”
“What about Camp Z?”
“I’ll be out the door in minutes, sir.”
“Fine. Get it over with now.”
“Of course, sir.”
Lampert’s secretary knocked at the door.
“Just a minute, sir,” Lampert said. “Yes, Margaret?”
“Colonel, a sealed envelope has just arrived from the code room.” She showed the package to him.
Lampert waved her over. “Sir,” he said into the C-phone, “I think we just got our answer from Portugal.”