Where were they?
Egon Bach held the receiver to his ear, damning the endless ringing. Pick up, he grunted. Pick up! Impatiently, he thumbed his spectacles to the bridge of his nose, oblivious to the perspiration fogging each lens. For two hours he'd been calling, dialing the number every five minutes, allowing the phone to ring twelve, fifteen, twenty times before hanging up. The Americans had tracked down Seyss. They had discovered his intention to purchase the Russian arms and transport. An ambush was planned this very evening to capture him. Pick up!
Egon stood in the factory foreman's office on the production floor of Bach Steelworks facility seven in Stuttgart. Hovering beyond the glass partition were two MPs, his constant escorts when venturing outside of Villa Ludwig. With the Amis' blessing, he had come to supervise the initial retooling of the plant. The machinery used for years to turn out armor plate, military tractors, and 88s was being reconfigured to manufacture products destined for a civilian, rather than military, economy. The large gun lathes and milling machines in machine shops twenty and twenty-one that had been used to produce heavy gun tubes would be reset to manufacture steel girders and sewer pipes. Railroad tire shop three, housing twenty-three lathes, a dozen grinders, and two shell banders, would henceforth labor to turn out streetcar wheels instead of high caliber artillery shells.
The businessman in Egon should have been ecstatic. Customers were customers no matter the cut or color of their garment. And the Americans paid cash. But today Egon was less theKonzernschef than the son of his country, and the commotion taking place just then in the southeastern corner of the plant horrified him. An entire company of American engineers were gathered around the behemoth 15,000-ton press, swarming on it like bees to a hive. The press was monumental. The base plate was fifty feet long and forty feet wide. The four stainless steel driving columns were sixty feet high and capable of guiding the stamping plate with a force of some thirty million pounds. The 15,000-ton press was the jewel in the family's crown, so to speak, responsible five years earlier for the creation of theAlfried Geschutz, the largest mobile artillery piece built in the history of mankind.
Egon saw the gun in his mind, as clearly as if examining its blueprints: a polished steel cannon 100 feet in length weighing 250 tons. Nearly three stories high when set atop its own railcar, it looked like a monstrous tank, but in place of a turret was a breech block the size of a locomotive. The majestic gun fired armor-capped artillery shells twelve feet long without the propellant casing, each weighing 16,000 pounds. Everyone knows the crack of a rifle. Imagine, then, the bang when a seven ton shell is fired with enough high explosives to lob it twenty-five miles behind enemy lines! Despite his funk, Egon grinned malevolently at the memory. Apocalypse! It was the sound of the apocalypse!
Egon looked on as mobile crane rolled in, a steel mesh workman's basket dangling from its hook. Two soldiers inside the basket swung an iron cable around the uppermost pinion. A whistle blew and the basket was lowered to the floor. There followed a controlled explosion christened by a puff of gray smoke. The crane rumbled forward, lifting the engineers to the appointed spot where with a thumb's up they signaled that the pinion had been successfully blown.
Step one in the dismantling of the massive press.
Another act in the emasculation of the Reich.
Running a hand over his close-cropped hair, Egon raised himself up and down on his tiptoes, shaking his head. Below in the crowd – among, yet distinctly apart from the American engineers – stood four representatives of the Soviet government, recognizable by their coarse woolen jackets and coarser Slavic features. All were grinning like schoolboys.
Untermenschen, Egon hissed.
Though American engineers were responsible for dismantling the press, the great machine was not destined for Pittsburgh, Detroit, or even Long Beach. Once disassembled, it would be placed on a train carrying it eastward to its new home, somewhere in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The press that had made theAlfried Geschutz would soon be in the employ of Stalin and his greasy comrades.
Unable to bear watching, Egon ripped the glasses from his face and began vigorously cleaning the lenses. Only a year ago, Bach Industries had controlled major industrial facilities in twelve countries: tungsten mines in France; ore in Greece; shipbuilding in Holland; steelworks in the Ukraine. All listed on the books for their acquisition price: one Reichsmark. The rewards of a grateful nation. They were gone now, returned to their former owners. It was a pity, but he could not hold himself to blame for their loss. The rape of Bach Industries from under his very eyes, well, that was another matter altogether.
Sliding on his spectacles, Egon dialed the Heidelberg exchange for the final time. As the phone rang two hundred kilometers to the north, he ran a manicured finger over the buttons of his vest. Pick up, he muttered. Pick up. This was Seyss's doing, he decided. The man was impossible to control. What could he have been thinking venturing onto the black market when his picture was plastered over every square inch of the American zone of occupation? Did the man think himself immortal? It had been a mistake using him after he'd killed Janks and Vlassov. Seyss was too much the loose cannon. Ruthlessly efficient, yes, but also completely unreliable; Egon's best and worst bets rolled into one.
Ten. Eleven. Egon's worry grew with each unanswered ring. God forbid, the Amis succeed in arresting Seyss and his men. Seyss wouldn't say a word, but what about the others? One of them was bound to talk. The Americans would put two and two together: Seyss, the decorated Brandenburger, headed to Berlin dressed as a Russian on the eve of Terminal. An idiot could deduce what he'd planned.Pick up!
After twenty rings, Egon slammed the receiver into its cradle. One of the MPs shot him a concerned glance through the glass partition but Egon waved him off with a broad smile. The smile was a ruse. He was damn near apoplectic with worry. Where were the fools? He had fallbacks set up: another armory in Bremen; one in Hamburg. Friends to spirit Seyss to safety. He must warn them off the mission.
A second muffled explosion drew his attention back to the press. Another bolt had been blown. The crowd of engineers threw out a boastful hoorah. In a day, all that would remain of the press would be a few loose screws and a pool of grease.
Returning to his desk, Egon picked up the phone. To hell with Seyss and Bauer. There was no longer any time to waste. There existed only one man he might still call to avert a disaster. Egon dialed the number and placed the phone gingerly to his ear, preparing himself for the raw and untethered force on the far end of the line. When the party answered, he spoke rapidly, sure to temper his frustration with the proper respect. He could not reach his men, he said. He had no way to warn them. Other measures must be taken. If, that is, the listening party still desired to see the mission to its conclusion.
The man laughed, a resonant chuckle full of enough confidence and bravado to make even Egon relax for a moment. "Naturlich," he said. "I'll do what I can."
And when Egon hung up, he breathed that much easier. His carefully conceived operation might still come off. Yet he could not deceive himself any longer. Seyss could not be trusted. He'd already put the mission in jeopardy once. If, by some miracle, he were to escape tonight, he would do it again. It was his nature. Egon decided then and there to keep an eye on Seyss himself. There remained one meeting that Seyss could not miss. One chance for Egon to intervene.
Just then, a shrill whistle ripped the air. Rushing to the window, Egon grimaced as a steam locomotive was shunted onto the loading track and lumbered across the factory floor, whining to a stop adjacent to the 15,000-ton press. Two flags drooped from atop the engineer's cabin, both red with golden accents.
Egon saw them and shuddered.
The Hammer and Sickle.