the eighty-eighth key
Avi Rosenthal slipped quietly through the shadows, moving with deliberate slowness from one pool of inky darkness to the next – and while he looked ahead his senses told him to slow down and look in his wake. The same urgent intuition that now informed his every move told him he was being followed – again – as he moved to the meeting place. But by whom?
Rumors were the most valuable currency these days, and Avi traded in them day and night, passing along what he knew or had learned to members of the Danish underground. And though Avi was a physicist and so far from being some kind of secret agent, he had out of necessity learned some of the basic elements of fieldcraft…like:
How to spot a tail on the fly or how to set up a last-minute dead-drop…
Or to use reflections in windows to spot surveillance assets moving in from the rear…
And most important of all, how to evade a tail silently, efficiently, and – if needs be – ruthlessly…
And because Avi Rosenthal had demonstrated more than once that he had mastered all these skills, the underground resistance had taken to using him to convey information to and from various cells around the city, and they soon learned to rely on his own peculiar sources of information to know what the Nazis were planning.
Because, or so it seemed, many Germans working at the University really didn’t care for Hitler and his more extreme objectives, and many of these men and women were working with the University’s own physicists. But now the word coming down was that the Nazi leadership in Berlin was set to abandon the idea of Denmark being a ‘protectorate’ – and stage a full military occupation of the country. It was becoming too dangerous for German troops to assemble or move around within the country or while on their way to Norway – because of recent efforts by the Danish resistance.
Of even more importance, there was mounting evidence that the Germans intended to simply take all of the faculty from the Physics Department to work at a weapons development site within Germany proper, and once Avi had confirmed this rumor had originated from multiple sources within the Danish-German Uranverein, he had signaled that an urgent meeting with the heads of the local underground was needed.
He fell deeper into the shadows and waited several minutes, watching for his followers…because he just knew they were out there…
…because he felt something, a dank warning in the heavy, seaside air…
…over there, down on the water, a reflection that didn’t belong…movement that shouldn’t be there…
He stepped into the light and made his way home, only now he knew he was blown. Whoever was following him was good, and suddenly he felt he needed to run. But for his plan to work he first had to convince Imogen – and her father, Aaron – that it was time to make good their escape to Sweden.
Assuming there was still time.
When his street was just in view he heard two cars racing in his direction; he saw them as they turned up his street and skidded to a stop in front of his house. Troops ran to his door and kicked it down, then more men in leather jackets walked in, and this confused him. Had he been betrayed from within?
He was cut off now and knew it. Exposed as a traitor to the provisional government, he would truly be persona non grata…but worse still, his true place in the government might be exposed, and that would be a disaster.
No, he thought, it was time to disappear. Now. Tonight.
He felt a hand reach out from the darkness – and he tried to resist as a hand slipped over his mouth – then he shook his head as a black hood was pulled down over his head. Worse still, he then felt a burning pinch on his arm – and slowly felt himself falling off a cliff into an impenetrable darkness…as if the world had given way underfoot.
“Well Harry, I think because I have some experience with this kind of stuff.”
“But having him declared dead?” Callahan mused aloud. “What about his wife and kids? How can you keep them from spilling the beans?”
“By not telling them,” Bullitt said, shrugging away the pain he knew it would cause to people he cared deeply about.
“What?” Callahan yelled. “You’ve got to be kidding! How could you…”
“Because their reactions will be critical to selling the story to whoever was behind the attack.” Frank looked at Harry, then to Dell and Stan for support – but only Stan nodded his head. “We’ve got to sell it to them before we can sell it to reporters. We have to assume everything concerning Sam’s family will be watched, and closely, so any fuck-up on the front side will only cause the whole thing to fall apart. After the funeral and any other public appearances we can tell them the truth.”
“What does Sam have to say about all this?” Harry asked, shaking his head slowly as he looked from the floor up to Bullitt.
“It was his idea,” Frank sighed as he watched Callahan brighten. “We ran it by Stacy, too, and she agrees.”
“Okay,” Harry added, suddenly less outraged.
“You’re going to pick her up tonight at SFO, Harry. Here’s the flight information.”
Callahan took the paper and scanned it, then looked at Frank again. “And…? What am I missing?”
“We think they’re going to try and take you out tonight. Right after you pick her up.”
“You think? What the hell does that mean?”
“The patrolman who gave you up at the Perryman scene? We’ve been running a tap on his phone for a few hours. Seems he’s been a very busy boy, too. You’d never know he was one of Briggs’ first recruits, would you…”
“How the hell do you know that?”
“Because Briggs was a compulsive son-of-a-bitch,” Delgetti smirked as he held up a bunch of copied pages. “We found a safe in his office and, well, I’ll be damned if we didn’t find it standing wide open this afternoon. Right, Carl?”
“Right,” Stanton said, grinning. “Wide as a hooker’s crack…”
“So, you’re running taps on all of them? How…?”
“How’d we get a judge to approve so many wiretaps?” Frank replied. “Easy, Harry. All we had to explain to him was that this group is behind the murder of one of their own and, well, presto and alakazam! Our wish was granted…”
“Jesus,” Callahan whispered. “And they plan on taking me out?”
“Yes. You and Stacy.”
“But why? She’s FBI. Won’t that trigger a federal investigation?”
Bullitt shrugged. “It seems they’re counting on that happening, but as for the reason why? Well, so far I have no idea.”
“And I assume you have a plan that doesn’t involve me getting killed?”
“Well no, Harry. We expect you to die in a huge explosion on the 101, just as you cross into the City.”
“Probably around one this morning,” Delgetti added, grinning.
“Swell,” Callahan muttered. “Anything else I should know?”
“Yeah. We think Bressler might be in on it. Or not. So we’re sending him with you, just to see if he tips his hand.”
“Al!?” Harry cried. “No fuckin’ way!”
“Well, we have to be sure,” Frank said.
“Where’re you taking Sam?” he asked.
“You don’t need to know that, Harry.”
Callahan nodded, then looked at his watch. “Where’s Al?”
“Waiting for you at division. You two go get some dinner then head out to the airport. Park in the police lot, right next to a red SFFD van. You got the unit number, Dell?”
“Got that, Harry? The parking lot should be empty at that time of night, but make sure you park on either side of that van. Got that?”
Good. And try not to get killed before you get out there, okay?
Harry shook his head in apparent disgust, then made his way out to the hospital parking lot…just as a swarm of television news crews descended on the hospital’s front entrance. He stopped and looked on as, a minute later, Frank Bullitt came out and announced the death of Captain Sam Bennett.
The Eli Rosenthal Music Company had been selling sheet music from their original location near the university for almost fifty years when, in 1940, German forces moved into Copenhagen, and as the Danish government had negotiated a strict “hands-off” policy regarding Denmark’s Jewish population, the store remained open. And almost defiantly so, because after the first few waves of intimidation left the store in a shambles, Eli’s was a dispirited – if angry – soul. Yet even so, the music store remained open, in no small part because in addition to their normal clientele seeking sheet music, Eli and Saul had managed to secure a steady supply of new phonograph recordings by way of Amsterdam. German officers stationed in Copenhagen were the main market for these rare items, and soon enough the intimidation efforts ceased for good.
And after this new hands-off policy became an established fact, members of the resistance began using the store’s basement as an after-hours assembly point. This necessitated a secret entrance be fashioned under the old brick floor, and that an escape tunnel be constructed that led to a nearby drainage pipe. This outlet fed rainwater into the main harbor…so even before Avi Rosenthal was fully conscious he smelled dank seawater and knew exactly where he was.
So he relaxed…just a little…as the drug wore off. He felt helpful arms hoisting his dead weight into the basement, then another wave of relief as the familiar contours of the basement came into sharp relief. In dimmest candlelight, he could just make out his brother Saul, and was that Aaron Schwarzwald sitting on a packing crate?
He moved his arm and it stiffened. “Why the shot?” he asked Saul.
And Saul looked surprised, but then his brother shrugged.
“What does that mean?”
Saul tried to grasp what had just happened, and what it meant. “I suspect the Gestapo are onto you.”
Avi looked away, tried to read the tone in his brother’s voice before he looked his brother in the eye again. “And who else?”
“As you suspected. Someone in the faculty has betrayed you.”
“So? What do I do now?”
“We identify the traitor and isolate him, then we will move as many as we can to Sweden. The Americans are going to help. This is confirmed.”
“The Rockefeller people?”
“Yes. Bohr’s contacts proved useful after all. And Roosevelt has offered citizenship to anyone who will relocate.”
“What of our efforts in Palestine?”
“Still too many unknowns.”
“I’m going there.”
“Avi…it is too soon. Too dangerous. And the British will prevent this. You know this…”
“Fuck the British. We must return home, Saul. Even you know this much is true.”
Saul nodded. “For you, perhaps, it will become home. Denmark is my home. Father’s too.”
Avi turned to Aaron Schwarzwald: “And you, Aaron?”
“Imogen has decided on Sweden, at least until the war is over. Unless Heisenberg…”
“But what is your choice, Aaron?”
“I will not leave the university. No matter the circumstance. I owe them that much?”
“You owe them your life?” Avi asked incredulously.
“Yes, Avi, I suppose I do. Perhaps you are too young to understand, but yes, I do.”
“Will Imogen leave without you?”
Aaron shook his head. “The Torah forbids this. She will either stay with me or – with her husband.”
All eyes turned to Avi Rosenthal, who now spoke solemnly: “Yes, of course. Then it must be so. Saul, how soon can this be arranged.”
“My, you are a romantic,” Avi’s brother sighed, his heart sinking. “Do you think you might at least ask Imogen if she consents to this madness?”
“Yes, madness. Who else but a madwoman would consent to marry a scrawny little fish like you…?”
“She will marry you, Avi,” Aaron sighed. “But you must ask her first – so that I may give consent. That is the law.”
Saul nodded. “Do as he says, Avi, but she must consent to this, above all else.”
“We’ve got to be quick about it, Saul,” Avi said quietly, looking down at the old brick floor again. “She told me Heisenberg wrote about Leipzig again – and that she must leave here voluntarily. She thinks the implications in his last letter were clear; if she is taken to Germany against her will she will be beyond our grasp forever.”
“The camps we keep hearing about in Poland?” Saul added hesitantly. “The Americans think the latest reports are true. The use of gas, all of it…”
“So why hasn’t Roosevelt said anything?” Aaron cried.
“Churchill,” Saul replied. “The British think the issue might divert Roosevelt’s attention to the eastern front, and leave Britain exposed again. This is of course what Stalin wants, but remember that Churchill is playing for Britain’s survival.”
“Why is it that the British always seem to be behind our pain. First Palestine, and now this…”
“I don’t know, Avi. I really don’t,” Saul shrugged. “But perhaps things are not so simple as they seem.”
“And yet, brother, perhaps they are.”
Aaron spoke again, now with more authority in his voice. “Stop this, both of you. Your fighting will get us nowhere, as it always has. We must focus on the present, and what happens next. Nothing else matters.”
Saul nodded, but his heart was heavy now. He now suspected he knew who had betrayed them all, if only because no one from the resistance had injected Avi with anything. And now that Avi was suspected, he tried not to think about the inevitable: should he kill him? Or should he leave him like a tethered goat, bait for the lions? Yet even so, now his most pressing concern was Imogen.
True enough, when he last met with Werner Heisenberg, the physicist had promised to keep Imogen safe, but there were obvious limits to that pledge. Heisenberg could not betray his true convictions without destroying everything he had done to delay the German effort, and while Werner might be able to protect Imogen if she remained within his immediate sphere of influence, what would become of her if his protection faltered?
No, his options were limited now, and he knew it. If he could not convince her to flee to Sweden, he would have to follow her into Germany.
But he would have to kill his brother first.
(c) 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | thanks for dropping by…
[note: I typically don’t post all a story’s acknowledgements until I’ve finished, if only because I’m not sure how many I’ll need until the work is finalized. Yet with the current circumstances that might not be the best way to proceed, and I’d hate to have this story stop ‘unexpectedly’ without some mention of these sources. Of course, the source material in this case – so far, at least – derives from two Hollywood films: Dirty Harry and Bullitt. The first Harry film was penned by Harry Julian Fink, R.M. Fink, Dean Riesner, John Milius, Terrence Malick, and Jo Heims. Bullitt came primarily from the author of The Thomas Crown Affair, Alan R Trustman, with help from Harry Kleiner, as well Robert L Fish, whose short story Mute Witness formed the basis of Trustman’s screenplay. John Milius penned Magnum Force, and the ‘Briggs’ storyline derives from characters in that screenplay. Most of the other figures in this little romp derive from characters developed in the works cited above, but as always this story is otherwise a work of fiction woven into a pre-existing historical timeline, using the established characters referenced above.]