Stupid Luck and Happenstance, Thread III

Part 143, Chapter 2576
  • Chapter Two Thousand Five hundred Seventy-Six



    6th August 1976

    Montreal, Canada

    “I couldn’t imagine trying to do this with Allie if she was actually present” Marie Alexandra replied as she worked on a sketch of Alice with a photograph held to the page by the binder clip that was also holding the sketchbook open.

    Beyond the problem of keeping Alice still for more than a few seconds, she would also be taking an active interest in whatever Marie would be doing and wanting to join in. That would make it difficult. The sketch was part of a larger project, a painting that Marie was planning on doing of Henriette and Alice as a gift to Henriette on her upcoming birthday. She had briefly considered venturing out as someone other than herself today, but Marie didn’t have any legends set up who would be keeping in character if they were seen working on a sketch pad. So, she was boring, easily recognizable Marie Alexandra von Mischner-Blackwood today as she was enjoying coffee and a charcuterie-board for tea in the Little Italy neighborhood of Montreal.

    “That is why you had me sitting with a bag of potatoes on my lap in her place?” Henriette asked.

    “Children and animals are impossible to work with” Marie said, “Everyone knows that and Polaroid to the rescue.”

    Marie was tapping the photograph with the blunt end of her pencil to add emphasis, which Henriette found amusing.

    “Are you still unwilling to talk about Sabastian?” Henriette asked, changing the subject, and souring the mood.

    “It is not that I am unwilling, it’s just that I don’t want to upset you by saying the wrong thing” Marie said. How did she begin to describe the fractious nature of the Schultz family to someone who might not be inclined to believe it? Not just because so much of it seemed like exaggeration.

    “How bad could it be?” Henriette asked.

    “It’s not bad, not at all” Marie said, “Just hard to explain.”

    Henriette gave Marie a quizzical look. Telling her about the banner that was hanging in the Naval Hall of the Imperial Military Museum that was the symbol of not just Tilo Schultz but the whole family because it was nearly identical to the one hung in honor of Johan Schultz years earlier by the Luftwaffe. A magpie on a field of vert, with the magpie being a symbol of wisdom, loyalty, and luck, but also of perfidy.

    “You saw how Anna and Gretchen were bickering with each other right up until my grandmother decided to tell them her opinion of them?” Marie asked, “That is typical of them. There is a joke about how the fact that the Schultz family would rather fight with each other is the only thing that is preventing world conquest.”

    “Sabastian doesn’t behave that way” Henriette said.

    “Of course not” Marie said, because he doesn’t have a brother. The closest thing he had to that was Niko, but whenever a Richthofen and a Schultz worked together things got strange.



    Washington D.C.

    The stereotype was that the Canadians were always polite. However, that had sharp limits and getting caught with a truck full of guns and explosives on the wrong side of the border was how you got there. The Brigadier General who Nixon had just spoken on the phone with, the head of the secretive Canadian Counter Terrorism Unit who had been tasked with monitoring the highways into Montreal before and during the Olympics, was anything but polite. Telling Nixon directly that he needed to keep his trash on his side of the line. It seemed that assessment had the full backing of the Canadian Prime Minister.

    The worst part was that Nixon recognized just who was who had been arrested in Canada and not that he would say so, but he was in reluctant agreement with the General. They were the same far-right morons who had been a plague on the United States for decades as either the Klan or whatever they were calling themselves this week. Malcontents who felt that the wrong side had won the Civil War, things had gone wrong just after the American Revolution with that whole freedom and justice for all thing, there was a functional Government at all, and that the United States had not walled itself off from rest of the world. The Olympic Summer Games represented everything about the world that they hated. Their plan had been a multistage bombing followed by shooting at the crowd and emergency personnel as they responded to create the most carnage and chaos. For a bunch of men who despised anyone they regarded as a foreigner, they were not above copying what had been done in other countries. In this case their plan was clearly based on the Berlin East Railway Station bombing committed by the Neo-Jacobins more than a decade earlier.

    It probably would have been a good idea for them to learn what had happened to the Neo-Jacobins. The Canadian Army had been perfectly happy to show them that much. The other thing was that there was a very different approach to Human Rights and Justice north of the border. While there was talk of the Canadians having their own Bill of Rights, that was all it was, talk.

    While Nixon’s legal advisors had told him that there was little danger of the Canadians taking them out and hanging them because Capital Punishment had been de facto abolished in 1962, that seemed rather thin. None of this was helped by Nixon’s first inclination to just let them rot, but this had happened during an election year, and he had a duty to the American people, even the ones who didn’t deserve that sort of consideration.
     
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    Part 143, Chapter 2577
  • Chapter Two Thousand Five Hundred Seventy-Seven



    12th August 1976

    Belfast, Ireland

    Having barely made it through Ohio State on an athletic scholarship and not quite good enough to go pro, Ed O’Neill had attended Law School driven by the horrifying thought of being the sort of sad sack lamenting his life having peaked while still playing ball in College or worse, Highschool, to anyone forced to listen. Seriously, no one on earth wanted to be that guy. He had discovered a real problem was that the career of a Lawyer was both exhausting and boring in equal turns though. Getting recruited by the Bureau had been one of the most welcome turns that his life had taken. They were actively looking for people who would not be hiding the little detail that being a third or fourth generation American didn’t make them any less loyal to the Kaiser and the wrong country. The result was something that Ed had seen in his class at Quantico. Recruits of Irish extraction were sought after, but there had been a large number of Blacks and Hispanics who suddenly had opportunities that would never have been available before. Ed had no idea just how far it would take him from home when he had been assigned to the Legal Attaché at the US Embassy in Dublin.

    Never piss off the Gardai, remember that you have absolutely no authority anywhere in Ireland and that the Irish would remember any perceived insult until the end of time. Those were the rules that Ed had been told as soon as he had landed in Ireland. It was especially tricky for someone in Ed’s position. The Federal Bureau of Investigation was way out of its jurisdiction, so they needed the cooperation of Garda Síochána and the goodwill of people as they investigated cases with American interests involved. That was the reason for the rules and why Ed’s job was so ticklish. It was thought that because he was an Irish mutt from Ohio, Ed would have an easier time than many Americans. As he had already discovered, the truth was quite the opposite really. While maintaining stony silence in the face of Law Enforcement was a long-held tradition in Ireland and Ed had discovered that his name did not make him any friends. There was also the other occupational hazard in the form of the worst sort of scumbag in Dublin, those who were members of what had once been the Irish Republican Army but had turned to organized crime on both sides of the Atlantic, somehow being able to have the best legal representation in the form of Jack Kennedy.

    It had been his tangling with Kennedy that had resulted in Ed getting sent north to Belfast to follow up on some sort of manure that Washington had cooked up. It seemed that Kennedy’s younger brother was a rising star in one of the major Irish political parties and their Justice Ministry had gotten involved. As if Ed needed more proof as to just how far the rot in Dublin went, he didn’t care if saying so was gaining him a reputation as a hothead.

    Belfast though, it was an entirely different beast.

    As they walked up the stairs of the apartment building that was on the sixth floor and had no elevator. Ed recalled the feeling of certain neighborhoods in Cleveland or Baltimore that he had been in where the people, the buildings and even the weather gave you the feeling that you didn’t belong there and would do anything to get rid of you. That was the feel that Ed had of Belfast as he and his partner, Thorley Grayson, who was twenty years older than Ed and through a series of unlikely events had been assigned to Ireland despite being the very picture of the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant Man from Upstate New York. He looked far more like someone who made business deals on a golf course rather than a Senior Special Agent of the FBI, that was both good and bad. Grayson seemed oblivious to the precarious situation that he and Ed had found themselves in. Walking to the end of a narrow hallway, Ed saw the address they were looking for. A steel door hung in a steel frame that was set in concrete. There was no room for a battering ram in the hallway, so nothing short of a cutting torch or explosives would make it through that door.

    Grayson pounded on it with the flat of his knuckles, but where a wood door would seem ready to shake to pieces under that treatment, this only resulted in a dull thudding. A few minutes later there was the sound of several bolts being drawn and the door opened only a crack, which was only as far as the chain allowed, the occupant, a young woman with short dark hair and blue eyes peered out at them. Ed caught a glimpse of a spartan apartment, what would be expected of a University Student, which was what she was.

    “Margret Morgan?” Grayson asked, holding his badge out so she could see it.

    “Please don’t call me that” The woman replied in an annoyed tone that was obvious to Ed even when said with an Irish accent.

    “Whatever you prefer to be called, we just have a few questions” Greyson said, and Ed figured that she was seconds from slamming the door in their face.

    “What do your friends call you?” Ed asked.

    “Anne” The woman replied, not taking her eyes off Greyson. It was obvious that while she didn’t trust either of them, it was Greyson who she regarded as a threat. He could also tell that everyone on this floor of the building was listening in. He didn’t want to think about what would happen if this conversation went badly.

    “Okay, Anne” Ed said, “We understand that you worked at Malone’s Public House last summer, we just want to know about that.”

    “What’s that got to do with anything?” Anne asked.

    “Not much” Ed replied, “There have been questions about the Congressmen who met regularly in the banquet room there.”

    “Oh” Anne said, “We were always told to keep at least an arm’s length from that lot.”

    “Sure” Ed said sarcastically. For whatever reason, Washington wanted them to track down the women who had worked at the Irish themed restaurant in Boston and they all said the same things.

    “Have you ever been to Berlin?” Greyson asked, probably out of impatience with what they had been getting.

    “I wish” Anne replied, “I’ve heard it’s very posh.”

    “Thank you, Miss Morgan” Ed said, “If you could…”

    Ed was cut off by Greyson’s next question. “You understand that you are considered an American citizen, we have no record of you filing an income tax return?” He said, which resulted in the door being slammed and loudly bolted.

    “Good one” Ed said to Greyson.
     
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    Part 143, Chapter 2578
  • Chapter Two Thousand Five Hundred Seventy-Eight



    16th August 1976

    Dublin, Ireland

    “And you thought that I was acting stupid” Greyson said as he dropped a fat envelope on Ed’s desk. “I arranged for Treasury to give us first crack at this.”

    “Isn’t that illegal?” Ed asked, seeing the return address, “And strongarming an orphan is not a good look even if she is in her twenties.”

    “Then I guess it won’t be admissible in Court” Greyson replied. Everything they had seen suggested that Anne Morgan was smart enough to know that

    With a bit of reluctance, Ed opened the envelope and saw the forms that had been filled out with neat penmanship by one Margret Anne Morgan of Belfast, Ireland, age 25, her occupation was Student Teacher. The documents stated plainly that most of Anne’s income was from survivor’s benefits from the Irish Government which funded a very sparce existence. The money she had made working as a waitress in Boston over the summer was more than she normally saw in a year. Most of the year Anne was a starving post-graduate student, with emphasis on the starving part. She had filed this return because the alternative was another summer spent in Belfast with only enough money to keep a roof over her head.

    “There is nothing here” Ed said, “She only made enough to pay taxes when she was working in Boston. She actually has a refund coming to her. That is something that the staff at the US Consulate in Belfast was perfectly happy to tell her.”

    “You don’t get it” Greyson said, “They invented stonewalling and boycotting in this country. Unless you have exactly what they want they will never cooperate. You have a girl who grew up with distant relatives, who now attends a third-tier university and lives in an apartment straight of a Charles Dickens story. Becoming a teacher is probably not something she wants to do but is a regular paycheck. That is the basic idea.”

    “I still don’t get where we fit in” Ed said flatly.

    “Your friend, Jack Kennedy, is up to his eyeballs in the German BND and British MI6, even has Katherine von Mischner herself as a client. Doing defense work for gangsters here in Dublin is something he does because getting labeled a collaborator can get you killed here.” Greyson said, delighted to have an audience. “In Berlin, the GS, their answer to la Casa Nostra, which was founded by Katherine von Mischner’s father, has been working with the IRA factions to box the Russians out of Western Europe. The head of the GS calls himself Birsha Bleier, I assume that it fits his flair for the dramatic. The sick fuck’s real name in Joseph Ratzinger and he was supposedly run out of Bavaria for being a pervert.”

    Ed was getting annoyed by all this. It seemed like random facts about European criminals. “Is there a point to all this?” He asked.

    Greyson smiled and tapped on the papers on Ed’s desk.

    “This is pure fiction” Greyson said removing a piece of paper from his pocket and handing it to Ed. “She doesn’t want to go by Margret because it doesn’t sound like her real name, which is Tatiana. She is actually a bored little rich girl hiding from her mother in Belfast of all places with an identity that holds up to a surprising amount of scrutiny. Working menial jobs to stay in character. Do I need to point out the possibilities? She connects all of this together.”

    Ed looked at the piece of paper in his hand, it was a photograph from a magazine of the same girl he had met in Belfast a few days earlier. Except she was with Sophie Sommers, the Olympic Cyclist who had wowed the world in Montreal just a few weeks ago.

    “What are we supposed to do with this?” Ed asked.

    “Us, nothing” Greyson said, “She isn’t actually working against American interests here in Ireland or in Boston for that matter. Watching her though, that is where we come in.”



    Richthofen Estate, Rural Silesia

    It being the summertime, Mathilda had cast away the uncomfortable school uniform and was wearing the sort of simple homemade dress that she had learned to make at her mother’s side years earlier as a child and the sandals that Opa had acquired for her after she had outgrown her old ones. Her goal was to learn how to make the sandals herself, which seemed like a fun and useful thing to learn. Still, as Mathilda had worked on the new dress it had swiftly become awkward as the cut had needed to be different and the pattern altered accordingly. She was taller than she had been, and there were other considerations… Ilse, who she had asked for help in this matter had just smiled and pointed out that Mathilda was fifteen, it was expected. Then had come the trip to Canada, which had been interesting.

    Now that she was back in the forest on Opa’s estate, it felt like the Holiday was truly starting. Singing to the forest with her dog, a Siberian Husky she had named Freyja at her side was one of the true pleasures of her life. Being joined by Ingrid, who showed an interest in singing and had needed to be taught the words, was a bother at first. As Mathilda did that and Ingrid showed a real interest in harmonizing it became fun. Beyond the words of the songs, Ingrid wanted to know the stories and Mathilda was perfectly happy to tell them.
     
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    Part 143, Chapter 2579
  • Chapter Two Thousand Five Hundred Seventy-Nine



    27th August 1976

    Montreal, Canada

    Just like that, the Summer Holiday was coming to an end. Standing in line to register for the upcoming term had driven that point in like few other things, which is what Marie had spent the morning doing. This was after Marie had spent most of August working on a painting. Not that she was complaining. The painting of Henriette and Alice had been a gift to Henriette on her twentieth birthday, Marie had enjoyed doing, Henriette and her family had loved it. Oddly, the other highlight of the summer had been during the Olympics when she had her entire family come to her at the Blackwood house. It seemed odd because Marie had decided to go to McGill to escape the long shadow cast by her parents.

    It had occurred to Marie that she was also halfway through her time at McGill. Despite the ongoing conflicts with her grandmother, and her occasional moods the time had flown. Two years had passed, and she had two more before the reckoning over what she would do next. The thought of her grandmother reminded Marie that Margot was back to not talking to her. Having to be gracious over having the wrong royals as guests in her house while getting pointedly snubbed by the one she had wanted had been a bit too much. That was hardly Marie’s fault. Her grandmother had gotten exactly what she thought she had wanted, namely the esteem of her peers and she had gotten it, just not in the way she had expected.

    It had been a sunny afternoon and Marie had made the most of it, sitting in the shade of the trees in the back garden and reading a book. Then dark clouds had appeared overhead. Marie had moved indoors just as a thunderstorm had started sheltering in her grandmother’s sunroom, she had watched the flash of the lightening in the distance and sheets of rain that were battering the bay windows.

    “This simply will not do” Marie heard her grandmother saying in the hallway and getting closer. It seemed that the weather was interfering with her plans and there had been some cancellations as there tended to be when that happened.

    “You cannot control the weather” Joséphine “Fifi” Tremblay replied in the proper manner of speaking she used. She was a lifelong friend of her grandmother and had lived next door for decades, so the storm had hardly bothered her. “It is folly to assume otherwise.”

    “I guess” Margot said.

    It was too late for Marie to leave without being seen.

    “How lovely, your granddaughter is already here” Fifi said with a smile, “We need to get caught up after the summer you must have had.”

    It wasn’t an accident that Fifi had not seen Marie in months. Normally when her grandmother had guests for tea, she had made a point in being elsewhere. If Marie had inadvertently been in attendance, her grandmother acted as if she were a bomb that could go off at any second. In the past, Fifi had commented that Marie was such a beautiful young woman with her lovely red hair or talked at length about touring Europe as a girl and how lucky Marie had been to grow up in one of the great Capitals. Those conversations had clearly driven her grandmother up the wall.

    “I didn’t do much over the summer” Marie replied, trying to think of an excuse to leave without being rude.

    “Oh, nonsense” Fifi said, “I heard about how you were a great help with that Romanian girl and that painting you did for the Lanes, of their daughter and granddaughter. When I was visiting the other day Patricia told me all about how you gave that to Henni as a birthday present, it is really quite wonderful.”

    “Thank you” Marie said awkwardly. She could see that all of the blood had drained her grandmother’s face. This was not going to end well.



    Rural Silesia, south of Glatz

    Niko had been expecting an easy holiday on his grandfather’s estate and starting University in Breslau. It seemed that Silesian Cadet Corps had other plans for the last two weeks of the summer. The Landwehr Division maintained by Silesia was conducting readiness drills and they had found themselves sent where they were needed. In the case of Niko it involved getting shoved into a Platoon tasked with guarding the border with Bohemia. Even that sounded far grander than it really was. He had heard that the General commanding the Division had Bas placed on his staff. The advantage of medaling at the Olympics if Niko had to guess.

    Standing on the side of the road, Niko could feel water dripping down his back where there was a hole in the rain poncho he had been issued as the car stopped as signaled. He felt completely absurd doing this.

    “Is there a problem?” The driver asked.

    “You are entering an area where the military is conducting a joint exercise” Niko said, repeating what he had already said a hundred times that day. “Caution is urged because you might encounter armored vehicles or soldiers on the road.”

    “Thank you” The driver said as he rolled up the window and sped off down the road. Showing exactly how much caution he intended to use. Niko could hear Schütze Novak radioing into Headquarters that a civilian car was passing through.

    This was how Niko had spent the last week. There were the others in the Squad he was supposedly leading, but they were mostly playing cards and killing time in various other ways. Everyone did a few hours out on the road working in pairs like this. The food situation was terrible, and the accommodation was worse. Once a day, a truck came, dropped off a day’s worth of rations and they were to make do. The all too familiar erbswurst, oatmeal, and the bread and mystery meat that both came in a can. There were the chocolate bars and the hot & cold drink mixes that were with the ration packs, those weren’t too bad, just petrified. The Squad was sleeping in a cabin that was built when this was the frontier with the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The roof leaked like sieve and Niko thought he could hear the rats moving around in the walls.

    “Some holiday” Niko muttered to himself as he shifted the sling of his rifle so that it wasn’t digging into his shoulder.
     
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    Part 143, Chapter 2580
  • Chapter Two Thousand Five Hundred Eighty



    4th September 1976

    Saint Brenden’s Hospital, Grangegorman, Dublin

    The call from the Legate came on Saturday morning telling Ed that there was a major issue with his partner that needed to be sorted out before it became a major diplomatic issue. He couldn’t get the details, but Thorson Greyson had landed in Saint Brenden’s infamous Secure Unit 3A, apparently after a disturbing incident the day before with the details still nebulous. Though Ed had only been in Ireland a few months, he had heard stories about that place and knew that it was nowhere that anyone wanted to end up.

    “You can release him into my custody” Ed said as they walked down the hospital corridor. “I can have him on the first flight back to the States this morning.”

    “I fear that Mr. Greyson is presently in no state to travel” The Doctor said, “I strongly urge patience in this case.”

    This place gave Ed the creeps. It was as if despair was dripping off the walls and he could feel it on his skin. There was also the smell, it was indescribable. Like the hospital smells that people generally disliked anyway, but here it seemed like a thin veneer over decay and dust.

    “What exactly happened to land Greyson in here?” Ed asked. It was the question that had been bothering him since he had gotten the call.

    “I cannot go into details” The Doctor replied, “I don’t know how you do things in America, but medical privacy is something we take seriously.”

    Ed might have pointed out how was more of an aspirational idea in Ireland instead of reality. Anyone who knew what had happened in this country over the last few decades knew that. Of course, this Doctor could easily be taking a strong position because of that history. Ed knew better than to just take the Doctor’s word for it though. When he had been at Ohio State he had mostly majored in partying, but a Psych 101 Class he had taken as an elective had spent a bit of time on an experiment undertaken at Yale University. It was about how a disturbing percentage of people would automatically defer to someone in a position of authority. In that case it had been someone wearing a white lab coat almost exactly like the one that the Doctor was wearing. Would you torture someone? Even kill if ordered to? Depending on the methodology, around a third of people, but upwards two thirds of people would. That had stuck with Ed throughout his training at Quantico and he was reminded of that now.

    “Yeah, sure” Ed said as they entered a different ward if you could call it that. It didn’t look like any hospital ward that Ed had ever seen, more like a prison with steel doors and concrete walls.

    Opening the slide on one of the doors, the Doctor started cursing under his breath when he looked inside before shouting for help. Ed was left standing there trying to figure out just what was going on.



    Breslau, Silesia

    “Bas is having trouble fitting his head through doorways” Niko said bitterly to his mother who found that incredibly amusing.

    “That won’t last for long” Ilse said as she paused from helping Ingrid with the selection of items in the University Cafeteria. “When life goes back to normal for Sabastian you’ll still be his friend and I figure that he’ll need you to keep him out of trouble.”

    “I guess” Niko replied.

    It was hard for Niko to imagine Ingrid as a six-year-old. When he had described her to Novak he had realized that he still thought of her as a toddler, which she was clearly not. There was also this business of him keeping Bas out of trouble. At Wahlstatt Institute it had often not worked out that way, quite the opposite. With Niko finding himself trying to get both of them out of trouble after one of Bas’ hairbrained schemes or pranks was poised to bring official retribution down on their heads. There had been more than one occasion where Niko had sweated out the final weeks of the school term as the Headmaster was trying to figure out who had done something, dreading what might happen if Bas bragged to the wrong person.

    “It is nice to see you eating better without prompting” Ilse said. This caused Niko to glance at his plate. It was something he had done without thinking, getting fresh vegetables and fruit when he saw that they were available. After two weeks of subsisting on what were essentially survival rations he had just wanted something to eat that wasn’t from a tin or had dates stamped on the packaging revealing that it was older than he was as he had noticed with one of the packages of biscuits. When Niko had started at University he had frequently heard complaints about the food and realized that the other students lacked perspective.

    “Better than what I was eating last week” Niko said without elaborating.

    “They really had you sitting on a road for the two weeks?” Ilse asked.

    That got her a bewildered look from Niko.

    “Your grandfather was keeping tabs on you the entire time you were out there” Ilse said, “Not much need for riding a horse here if I had to guess.”

    “Zwei?” Ingrid asked.

    To Niko’s surprise and a bit of annoyance, his cavalry mount had discovered that his little sister was an easy source of the apple/carrot oat cakes that were used as treats for the horses on his grandfather’s estate. Watching Zwei follow Ingrid around like a puppy was just undignified. That there had already been the large collection of dogs and cats who Ingrid was friends with, the results were often strange to witness. It was part of why Niko’s grandfather had included nearly a full chapter about Ingrid’s antics in his latest book, this one comprised of a lifetime’s worth of stories about the dogs and horses who had been his companions.
     
    Part 143, Chapter 2581
  • Chapter Two Thousand Five Hundred Eighty-One



    8th September 1976

    Belfast, Ireland

    Ed didn’t buy the story that the preliminary investigation had settled on. That Thorson Greyson had suffered some sort of psychiatric break and had landed in Saint Brenden’s. The next morning Greyson had been found dead having hung himself with a pair of shoelaces that he had been left with as the result of negligence by the overstretched staff of that hospital. Everything was cut and dry with nothing else to see. Ed didn’t trust that, not for a second. People were messy. They left paper trails, bragged, got lonely or homesick. It was what made the job of the FBI far easier. People could change their appearance, move to distant places, but they found circles of friends, family, and old habits far more difficult to make a break from. Normally if someone was going to kill themselves they telegraphed it in a thousand different ways and Greyson didn’t have a history of mental illness. Something had happened and it felt to Ed like if the Bureau was trying to bury the matter and he wasn’t inclined to wait for the post-mortem by the Medical Examiner since Greyson’s body had been sent home. The results of the autopsy would probably take several days to come back.

    That was why Ed was back in Belfast watching the building where he had talked with Anne Morgan a couple weeks earlier. He didn’t feel like taking the risks involved in going into the building alone, so he was waiting in the car for Anne, or whatever her name was, to turn up. Greyson had been convinced that she was at the center of a network of multiple intelligence agencies, politicians, and organized crime syndicates. Not as an active player, but as someone who had inadvertently placed herself in a position where it all revolved around her.

    That had sounded unlikely to Ed, and it had been Greyson’s theories that had caused him to be assigned to the Legate in Dublin in the first place and Ed suspected that it was the reason why their superiors had so quickly excepted the craziness angle. Ed wasn’t so sure. What if Greyson had been onto something? Looking into it to see if there was any substance was the least that Ed could do on a day off.

    Looking in the rearview mirror of his car, Ed saw a familiar figure walking up the street. A woman with short dark hair and a slender build, blue jeans and a light jacket which was perfect for a cool early autumn afternoon. Stepping out his car, Ed stepped into her path and instantly saw that while she had nearly identical features, she wasn’t the same woman he had met before.

    “Anne Morgan?” Ed asked.

    “Yes” She replied, “Do I know you?”

    “I guess not” Ed said wondering exactly what was going on here.

    “You’re American, right?” The woman, the actual Anne Morgan, Ed realized, asked with a smile. “I’ve always wanted to go there, but never had the time or money.”

    She was warm and outgoing while the woman he had met before had been cold and guarded. That perfectly described someone who was studying to become a teacher. There was also the business of her saying that she had never been to the United States.



    Britz, Berlin

    Sitting in Ziska’s room with Ziska and Gabbi reading fashion magazines, listening to records, and gossiping might have seemed like something that they had outgrown, but for Sophie it was very welcome after so much had happened. They were also plotting how they might spring Nella and Nan from the Winter Residence so that they could see the show that Gabbi’s band was going to play in a few weeks. They were going to be opening for a British band fronted by a daring woman who totally outrageous. Gabbi said she wished she had that much courage. If they asked permission for Nella and Nan to go to the show then they would be inviting a contingent of the First Foot Guard and that would be a massive wet blanket on the whole thing.

    “Sepp Deisler and his little brother Dieter told me to tell you hello” Gabbi said to Sophie. With a touch of guilt, Sophie realized that she had not thought about Sepp in ages. She had been completely consumed with training for the Olympics that there had been little time for anything else. Gabbi had been the only one of them to go to Hohenzollern Castle this year. Ziska had gone with her family on the sort of once in a lifetime vacation to the Caroline Islands. Of course, Sepp and Didi would be there, they were exactly who that program had been created to serve.

    “Is Sepp doing well?” Sophie asked.

    “As well as he ever is” Gabbi replied, “You know how he is, every silver lining is part of a storm cloud. Dieter was accepted into a gymnasium on the recommendation of his school and Doctor Ott. You remember him?”

    “I guess that looking for fictional Doctors in the Emergency Department pays off” Sophie said, “Didi has always wanted to be Noah Bauer from that television show, probably still does.”

    “Really?” Ziska asked with a disbelieving tone.

    “I can think of worse things” Gabbi replied, “He want’s to help people, plus the actor is kind of hot.”

    “If you are into men old enough to be your father” Ziska said with a laugh only remember too late that was a sore subject for Sophie and Gabbi.
     
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    Part 143, Chapter 2582
  • Chapter Two Thousand Five Hundred Eighty-Two



    16th September 1976

    Richthofen Estate, Rural Silesia

    The seasons were rolling around again with autumn having arrived. For Manfred the Elder, it was comforting to know that the patterns of the forest he had worked his whole life to preserve would continue on regardless of whatever else happened in the world. Unfortunately, he was rather limited these days as his age had caught up with him, as much as he hated to admit it. Short jaunts into the forest in good weather were the best that he could manage and even then Ilse made sure that he was never alone even for a second. Manfred found that he missed the solitude.

    To Manfred’s surprise, his latest book had become a bestseller, the best since The Red Fighter Pilot in 1917. He had grown uncomfortable with that first book soon after it had been published, realizing that he was no longer the brash figure that he had depicted himself as in his own autobiography. There had been a number of other books about subjects like land conservation, military strategy, and hunting, but those had never garnered much interest with the wider public. This latest book was about a far more universal subject, stories about the various animals that had been a part of his life over the years. Mostly dogs and horses, but there had been a few cats and even a monkey at one point. The stories had inadvertently touched upon the lives of his children and grandchildren, so Manfred had already listened to Helene and Albrecht’s opinions about how he had depicted them. Helene didn’t think she had been nearly as willful and stubborn as depicted. Albrecht had been amused by Manfred’s depiction of his experiments which had frequently gone awry. Sonje and Caecilia had mostly complained about how they had not been mentioned enough. Most of all, Manfred had tried to tell the truth about his son Lothar, which was one of Manfred’s greatest regrets. Lothar had tried to measure up to Manfred’s standards and had always come up short and Manfred had been far less than understanding at the time. That had eventually ended in Lothar’s untimely death.

    There were his own grandchildren as well as those he had accepted along with them. Manfred the Younger, Nikolaus, Sabastian, Ina, Katherine’s twins Tatiana & Malcolm, Marie Alexandra, Ingrid. Finally Mathilda, who had caused Manfred to question a lot of things with the beliefs that she had maintained despite how that occasionally put her at odds with the world.

    Many people might have found the manner in which Mathilda was concerned for Manfred disturbing. She wanted him to receive his due when he reached the Feast Hall of the Gods and to do that one needed to die with a weapon in their hand. It made perfect sense from the standpoint of someone with Mathilda’s beliefs. Over the last few years, Mathilda had learned a great deal; concepts like context, symbolism, and allegory had entered her thinking. While she still enjoyed singing to the forest, Manfred couldn’t help but feel that Mathilda had lost a bit of her wild innocence. What hadn’t changed was her belief in endless tides of creation and destruction, birth, and rebirth. The idea of dying with a weapon in your hand wasn’t because the people with those beliefs were warlike, it was symbolic of their actual role within their society. You went to the Gods proving that you had served your community until your dying breath and should be honored for it.

    The other concern that Manfred had was something that he had not realized until after the book had been published. He had depicted Ingrid’s life as being idyllic when the truth was far different and much more complicated. How would Ingrid react when she learned the truth about where she came from? That the two much younger children she played with as a favor for one of the Maids were actually her half-brother and sister? That the Maid in question, Izabella Lis, was her actual birth mother? Or if she never did. When Manfred had first learned about the situation he had wanted to fire Izabella to protect Ingrid but had been overruled by Ilse. Ilse had argued that it would make Izabella completely devoted to her and in the years since, she had proven Ilse correct on many occasions.

    At last there was the news that in a few months there would be a great grandchild coming. There was a bit of annoyance that Manfred the Younger had married Suse Rosa von Knispel, the granddaughter of Generalfeldmarschall von Wolvogle, certifiable madman, and the father of the Panzer Corps. Manfred had always felt that von Wolvogle’s ego to be one of the most monumental in all of history. He had believed in the great man theory, but only so long as that great man had been von Wolvogle himself. Probably more than anyone else, he had done what was necessary to rid the world of the Soviet Union, but in the fullness of time Manfred was starting to question if von Wolvogle had gone far enough. Russia had reemerged as a world power, and they were neck deep in the latest round of the Greco-Turkish mess. It left Manfred feeling old and tired. He had been around long enough to watch how history was repeating itself and despite a lifetime of advancing his family’s social standing and his own person, he was powerless to stop the world from plunging into madness every few generations as it tended to do.
     
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    Part 143, Chapter 2583
  • Chapter Two Thousand Five Hundred Eighty-Three



    4th October 1976

    Mitte, Berlin

    Berlin felt like any other major city Ed had ever been in. It shared the manic energy of New York as well as having the sort of deliberate grandeur of Washington DC. Most of the buildings were Nineteenth Century high rises and more recent construction had been built to resemble it. There were also a number far taller buildings whose architecture reminded Ed of the Art Deco style buildings back home. The Friedrich Wilhelm University of Berlin was a bit unexpected in that it was in several large public buildings right in the heart of the city. Ed was familiar with similar arrangements in New York and Boston, but this would be like locating MIT or NYU on Pennsylvania Avenue down the street from the White House. At least the crush of humanity made moving through the city easy. Ed’s concern when he had arrived at the airport a few hours earlier was that he would stand out like a sore thumb. He swiftly discovered that he had no reason to worry. The trouble was that the Germans were for lack of a better word, German, and seemed like everyone Ed encountered was a stickler for the rules. Crossing the street against the light drew instant condemnation even if there was no traffic for example. It was ironic because Ed’s trip to Berlin was completely unsanctioned and if anyone called his bluff he would be in a world of shit.

    He saw her walking down the other side of the street, after having encountered her doppelganger in Belfast, he could tell it was the other Anne, or Tatiana, or whatever the Hell her actual name was. Fashionable clothes and the way she carried herself all screamed that she was someone who never had to think about money. She was exactly as Greyson had described, a bored rich girl and it had taken some doing to find her even with the photograph of her with the Olympic Cyclist. In the end it had been that much of what Ed already knew was true, just in a different context. She had been careful not to lie during the few minutes he and Greyson had talked to her. When asked if she had even been to Berlin she had said that she wished she could, because it was very posh. She hadn’t tried to deny it, just gave them an answer that was true but left a lot out.

    The truth was much like that.

    Tatiana was a student working towards a Master’s Degree at the University of Berlin Faculty of Humanities while her counterpart was attending Stranmillis University College in Belfast. Anne Morgan was studying to be a Teacher which was clear from her attending Stranmillis, Ed had been unable to tell exactly what Tatiana was studying. It was interesting, but none of that explained Greyson’s interest in them, nor did it explain what had happened to Greyson. The autopsy had revealed that whoever had killed Greyson had put enough lysergic acid into him to put him into orbit. That did explain the reaction that the Doctor had when Ed had first shown up. However, the autopsy had also revealed that someone had worked Greyson over pretty thoroughly shortly before he had died, that included a fractured Hyoid. The thing with the shoelaces had been a clumsy attempt to hide that. The trouble was that the whole thing had become a political mine field with the Irish Government and the assorted groups that the Irish Government should have dealt with ages ago, the Irish Republican Army and the Ulster Paramilitaries. Tatiana/Anne was the only avenue of investigation that Ed could pursue without the Aonad Bleachtaireachta Speisialta of Garda Síochána crawling up his ass.

    As Ed watched, Tatiana stepped into what looked like a café that was full of University students. Ed was hard pressed to think of a place where he would have stood out more, but he had been improvising since he had landed in Berlin. So this would be more of the same.

    Walking in like he owned the place, Ed ordered coffee, black, in the hope that he would be understood, and that Barista wouldn’t mind such a simple order much. He saw that Tatiana was sitting alone in a booth reading a book in a worn red cover without a dust jacket. She only looked slightly annoyed when he slid into the booth opposite her.

    “I guess you got tired of following me around” Tatiana said putting aside her book. It wasn’t a surprise that the Irish accent was gone. It wasn’t a German accent that replaced it though. French? Ed had no idea. Of course, it was nearly impossible to tell exactly what was real with her.

    “This isn’t a game Princess” Ed replied, while she didn’t respond outright Ed could tell she hated being called that.

    “Then go away” Tatiana said.

    “I can” Ed replied, “But then I’ll report that you have entered the United States illegally a time or two.”

    “Good luck proving it” Tatiana said.

    “I won’t need to prove it to make things very difficult for you or your friend in Belfast” Ed said, “The fact that it was her passport that you used will make things far worse for her by the way. Though if you have as much money as I’ve heard I figure that you’ll just throw her to the wolves. After all, people like you never face the consequences, now do you?”

    If looks could kill, Ed knew that there would be a smoking hole where he was sitting. That meant that he had gotten under her skin with that like dig.

    “What do you want?” Tatiana demanded.

    “Answers” Ed replied, “Someone went to a whole lot of trouble to discredit my partner before they killed him.”

    “What are you talking about?” Tatiana said and Ed knew that was a lie. She knew far more than she was saying.
     
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    Part 143, Chapter 1584
  • Chapter Two Thousand Five Hundred Eighty-Four



    5th October 1976

    Tempelhof, Berlin

    Apparently age had done nothing to mellow Kat. Kiki knew that much when she walked past the man who not only had a hangdog expression, but a face seemingly made for it, waiting in the hallway outside Kat’s office sitting on a chair between two men who had the look of former KSK. Kat had a small number who she employed and used whenever she needed a problem solved. Whatever and whoever that might be. Kiki understood the culture of the KSK, retired or not, the Tigress was who they obeyed. Kiki was all too aware of the implications. This was not the first time that Kiki had concluded that Kat had entirely too much power within her domain with little actual accountability. In theory she answered to Freddy, but Kiki couldn’t imagine that he would yank her leash too hard.

    “What is that about?” Kiki asked as she entered Kat’s office.

    “Tatiana came home this summer with some shit stuck to her shoe and she waited until it stank up the house before asking for help” Kat replied with considerable exasperation. “I need to get her out from Asia’s influence before she gets herself killed and I’ve pulled some strings to get Tatiana into the Foreign Office once she finishes with University this spring. I just hope that she doesn’t make this another pointless battle.”

    Kiki’s eye’s darted to the shelves behind Kat’s desk. Hidden among the mementos and curios was something incredibly pedestrian, a rag doll that her Aunt Marcella had made for Tatiana when she had been a baby. Kiki’s daughter Nina had one nearly identical and she understood that Kat wanted more than anything to return it to Tatiana, but that would require healing the rift in their relationship. It was something that had proven elusive.

    “You think that Tatiana would be a good fit for the AA?” Kiki asked.

    “I sincerely hope so” Kat replied, the frustration evident in her voice. “She doesn’t want me to interfere with her life but gets in this sort of trouble.”

    If Kiki had to guess, the problem was that Kat and Tatiana had far more in common than either of them were comfortable with. That had become incredibly apparent when Tatiana was a teenager and had fueled a lot of heated words. Oddly, even the sort of rebellious things that Tatiana had done had been very similar to the sorts of things her mother had done decades earlier.

    “Enough about that” Kat said, “How are my godchildren?”

    Kiki knew that Kat had dozens of godchildren. Kat knew that Kiki happened to be in town and had requested her presence because she wanted to talk about something that didn’t involve Berlin politics or whatever mess was sitting outside her office door at the moment. Talking about Kiki’s children would be a welcome break from that. She was probably doing this to check on Kiki as well but would never say so.

    “They are well” Kiki replied, “Nina doesn’t like getting up in the morning to go to school and Louis has discovered that Arno is the perfect partner in crime.”

    “Puppies and toddlers have a long history of causing huge amounts of trouble” Kat said with a slight smile.

    ----------------------------------------------------------------

    For years Ed had heard jokes about how the Germans did things, that there was little light between their Federal Police and the Army. The BII were the division of the Federal Police who did Counterintelligence and investigated Interstate Crime within Germany. At first, Ed had thought that was who he was dealing with when the door to his hotel room had been kicked in while he had been trying to sleep ahead of his flight back to Ireland.

    As it had turned out that they were not the Police, but apparently former Army turned muscle for the “Tigerin” which sounded incredibly ominous, and they didn’t seem too concerned with civil liberties. They had shoved him into a car driving him out into what seemed like an upper-middle class suburb and dragged him into what looked like a Brownstone. They had then made a point of making Ed wait a considerable amount of time as the Tigerin took several other meetings. Any time Ed asked any questions, his captors told him what he assumed translated to “Shut up” with the tone suggesting that he was pushing his luck.

    Eventually, a woman with dark curly hair and glasses showed up. The powder blue military tunic seemed a bit odd to Ed when he first saw it, until he saw the Rod of Asclepius appeared in several different places and he realized that she was a Military Doctor of some sort. Finally, there was the gold and blue cross she was wearing at her collar and a host of other medals pinned to the breast. Ed knew enough to know that this was like being in the presence of a Medal of Honor recipient back home. After another long stretch of time, the woman left the office, giving Ed no more than a glance as she walked out.

    Eventually, with no obvious signal the two men guarding Ed roughly pulled him to his feet and pushed him into the office. The instant he heard the door slam behind him, he knew that he was in real trouble. The German Government would have been satisfied with throwing him out of the country. They weren’t who he was dealing with though. The risk he had taken in cornering Tatiana was that she would run home to Mom, that was who and what the Tigerin was.

    “Would you care explain yourself Mister O’Neal” The Tigerin said, “Why do you feel the need to pursue my daughter well outside your jurisdiction? For someone you had only known for a few months.”

    “There is the principle” Ed replied.

    “That sounds like something from an American cowboy movie” The Tigerin said.

    Ed smiled at that, but then a framed print on the wall caught his eye, a tigress stalking out of her lair followed by her cubs.

    “I absolutely hate that cowboy bullshit” The Tigerin said angrily.
     
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    Part 143, Chapter 2585
  • Chapter Two Thousand Five Hundred Eighty-Five



    8th October 1976

    Dublin, Ireland

    “You actually got into the office of the Tigress herself?” Was the question that Walt Johnson the Legal Attaché had for Ed as soon as he made it back to the Embassy in Dublin. There had been jokes for ages comparing Walt to the Baseball player he shared a name with. The funny part was that Walt was as far from an athlete as one could possibly be by being short, overweight, and bespectacled. After a long career working in the US Justice Department, getting assigned overseas to the tricky work of managing the Legal Mission in a place like Dublin was a reward of sorts. What surprised Ed was how he seemed to come alive when the subject of Prefect Katherine von Mischner came up.

    Ed had been expecting to receive a formal reprimand at best. Instead there were questions. He had been in the house that had been the source of endless trouble for the CIA’s Berlin Station. There had been attempts of infiltrate that house, but the presence of the Katherine von Mischner’s family had made that difficult. The last time had been when the Tigress had been in Canada to cheer on her foster daughter. They had discovered that the family dog, an extremely territorial terrier mix, going nuts and the Housekeeper grabbing a meat cleaver to see what was going on had resulted in two CIA Agents fleeing into the night. The point of planting listening devices was that the subject wasn’t supposed to know that you had been there.

    Ed was forced to tell the truth. He had found the Tigress to be extremely intimidating like a force of nature. The trip to Berlin had been to interview a suspect and she had sent her goons after him. Ed had been a bit reluctant to admit that the suspect in question had been Tatiana von Mischner-Blackwood who he suspected of fraudulently entering the United States having run across that in a related investigation.

    “You are quite lucky that she didn’t order her goons break your legs” Walt said, “We have run across rumors that she has done that or far worse in the past to those who cross certain lines.”

    “I got the impression that she was pumping me for information” Ed replied.

    “Interesting” Walt said, “Did you find what you were looking for in Berlin?”

    “No” Ed said, “I think that the daughter knows more than she is saying and while Katherine is exactly the sort who might order what happened to Greyson to be carried out, she wanted to know what happened.”

    “Afraid that blame might get shifted on to her” Walt said, relishing every word.

    “What is that to us Sir?” Ed asked.

    “You don’t know, do you?” Walt asked in reply.

    Ed sat there for a long moment wondering what Walt was getting at.

    “The Justice Department and the FBI have had a score to settle with Kat Mischner for a long time” Walt said, “We suspect her of a lot of things that we have never been able to prove and of the things that we know about, that woman has been remarkably capable of slipping the noose.”

    “Just how capable?” Ed asked.

    “J. Edgar Hoover backed by two dozen Agents and an entire Company of Marines were waiting for her after she did a number on a pair of Naval Intelligence Officers” Walt said.

    “Still, what does that have to do with us?” Ed repeated.

    “You weren’t read in on how we keep an eye on that woman and the GS from here, Paris, and Copenhagen” Walt replied, “You were also partnered with Greyson, who couldn’t keep a secret if his life depended on it. Which as it turned out, it did.”

    “Why not in Berlin?” Ed asked.

    “Are you kidding?” Walt replied, “Every time they sweep for bugs in the Berlin Embassy they find bugs on the bugs. If you sneeze in there you’ll have a good portion of the BND and BII telling you gesundheit.”



    Washington D.C.

    It had been expected to be a bruising fight being so close to the election, but the nomination of Charles “Buddy” Holly as the newest Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court after three years on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals had muted much of the opposition. The South, which had been a sore on the side of America since time out of mind, had initially stood as a block in opposition to anyone who Nixon might have nominated. Bud Holly being from Texas and being perfectly capable of speaking like any one of the good ol’ boys had shifted the entire conversation.

    Nixon knew that would victory positioned him well going into the 1976 General Election. A lesser man might be tempted to rest on his laurels, Governor Ford of Michigan had waged a good campaign and had nearly caught up with Nixon a few times. Now that they were entering the final stretch, Nixon knew that it was time for the coup de grâce and it was going to completely blindside the Ford Campaign.

    At that very moment, the one of the largest counterintelligence sweeps ever with the intent to cripple the BND NAA was about to start and the front page of every newspaper in America would have the details splashed across it that Sunday. Nixon had been planning this for months, with Justice and the FBI preparing to sweep up the entire network in one go.

    There was an element of dirty pool involved with Nixon having to save several members of his own party from their own arrogance and stupidity without revealing his own involvement. The Republicans though, they wouldn’t see it coming until they realized too late that some of their own members were compromised seven ways from Sunday. Good luck going into an election with that on the voter’s minds.
     
    Part 143, Chapter 2586
  • Chapter Two Thousand Five Hundred Eighty-Six



    10th October 1976

    Montreal, Canada

    It was said that the geography of Canada was like being chained to a beast. It never felt more like that than during the seemingly eternal election seasons south of the border and Sir Malcolm Blackwood was of the opinion that Richard Nixon just happened to be the worst sort of Politician that United States tended to produce with alarming regularity. The election was no exception. Over the last few days the FBI with the assistance to State and Local Police had scooped up a still unknown number of active Agents from the German BND and an assortment of those believed to have been compromised by their activities. Apparently a number of them had escaped across the border to Canada and Mexico. This had caused a great deal of trouble for the Canadian Government because the US State Department was perfectly happy present them with Fugitive Arrest Warrants if the Agent in question was merely suspected of having crossed into Canada. It was heavy handed and struck Malcolm as being deliberate theater. It also seemed short sighted. When Malcolm had been a newly minted Infantry Sous-lieutenant in Flanders he had seen firsthand how fast the Germans could reconstitute themselves. The FBI might have gotten revenge for how they had been humiliated in the past, but Malcolm thought it was a safe assumption that the replacements for the Agents who had been captured or had fled were already in place.

    The Ford Campaign was caught completely flat-footed. America First, the most prominent of the Isolationist organizations that had endorsed Gerald Ford’s bid for the Presidency had been decimated by this sudden action when it was learned that their leadership was thoroughly compromised. Of course, it was in Germany’s interest to have the United States contained within it’s own borders, that was the interest of damn near everyone on the globe especially in Canada and Mexico.

    “What did you say to the Prime Minister?” Bert asked. They were sitting in the booth of a downtown diner for an unofficial breakfast meeting, Bert being one of the few people who Malcolm could talk freely to.

    “How we intend to take advantage of this latest shit show” Sir Malcolm replied as the bored looking Waitress poured a cup of coffee for him. It was black and smelled burnt, but after a career that had spanned decades in the Army and heading the Special Branch of the RCMP before working directly for the Minister of Defense after his supposed retirement, Malcolm could probably drink battery acid in the place of regular coffee and hardly notice.

    “You think that is possible?” Bert asked.

    Malcolm gave a cynical laugh as he looked at the menu.

    “Tricky Dick is not as clever as he likes to think that he is” Malcolm replied, “The people he is chasing out will be more than happy to give us anything they think we’ll find valuable to get us to look the other way as they pass through Canada. This business with having an October surprise right before an election is going to come back around and bite Nixon in the butt. No one with a working brain believes that all this was just a big happy coincidence, and the Jerry are going to be looking to return the favor.”

    The Waitress circled back around with a note pad and was waiting expectantly for their orders. “The oatmeal” Malcolm said before Bert ordered hash and eggs.

    “On a health kick?” Bert asked.

    “I’ve got my wife and Doctor singing from the same hymnal book these days” Malcolm replied “Margot has a sixth sense about if I’ve been cheating on my diet. So, I do what I need to do to keep the domestic peace.”

    “Easier said than done with Margot” Bert said, and Malcolm didn’t reply. Bert had seen what Margot had done to his wife and daughter. While he didn’t blame Malcolm personally, Bert had felt that Marie’s unknowing intervention in that matter and befriending of Henriette resulting in Margot getting taken down a peg or two was just deserts.

    “Granted” Malcolm said.

    “You have another serious problem to consider” Bert said, “One that stands at five-five, weighs perhaps a hair over a hundred pounds, speaks a dozen languages and can vanish into thin air despite being a very noticeable redhead.”

    “What has Marie done this time?” Malcolm asked.

    “Nothing as far as I know” Bert replied, “It’s just that word is getting around about her talents and with this latest mess down south these things take on a life of their own. See, everyone knows who her mother is.”

    “That should have nothing to do with anything” Malcolm said. He was perfectly aware of what his granddaughter was capable of and why she did some of the things she did. He doubted that Bert would truly understand though. Bert only saw clever tricks and potential while Malcolm understood that it was pathology at play. Marie could become someone else for a few minutes and absolutely sell that to whoever she was dealing with to the extent that she could become almost unrecognizable, but she had told Malcolm that she did it because she didn’t like who she was as a person. It was obvious that she wasn’t suffering from the one of the dissociative personality disorders that had been all the rage the last few years in that she was perfectly aware of what she was doing. Malcolm knew that it was a dangerous game that might draw suspicion upon his granddaughter if anyone who was not inclined to be friendly ever figured it out.

    “I know that” Bert replied, “Marie has been a good friend to Henni and is a lovely girl, I just don’t want to see her getting tarred by the sort of backlash that is coming thanks to what is happening down south as we speak.”
     
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  • Chapter Two Thousand Five Hundred Eighty-Seven



    17th October 1976

    Breslau, Silesia

    University was a huge adjustment for Bas. He recalled how Niko had once told him that he would surprise everyone if he went to University, despite his academic struggles, that was exactly what Bas had done. His father had told him that one word from him and he would be a Leutnant in the Marine Infantry if University didn’t work out, but he had made it rather clear to Bas that it was the preference of both of his parents that higher education be his main concern. Besides that, someone needed to be around to watch Niko’s back. Bas had heard about how Niko had made an enemy or two in Argentina. While Niko innately understood politics and was smarter than him, Niko often didn’t pay too much attention to those who had somehow lost his respect. Unfortunately, that included his Commanding Officer in the 3rd Hussars.

    It had been following that conversation when his father had given him a book that he said Bas could learn a great deal from. It was the biography of a Second Century Roman Charioteer named Gaius Appuleius Diocles who had an astonishingly long career in an extremely dangerous sport and became the wealthiest athlete in all of history in the process. In the end Diocles had simply walked away and vanished from history, though it was believed that he had settled in Northern Italy and lived quietly for the rest of his life.

    Bas had read the book in one sitting over a weekend, unable to put it down as he had read about the dangerous sport, how any distractions or bad luck could easily have fatal consequences. A single man with the reins tied around the waist to a team of four horses in the lightest possible chariot, often being involved in several races in a day. Bas had noticed that Diocles used strategy often letting his competitors eliminate themselves, basically being smart about how he approached each race.

    He had shared his conclusions about what he thought his father wanted him to learn from the book in his latest letter to Henriette. It seemed like the sort of thing that she might be interested in as he had already discovered that she wasn’t particularly impressed by sport, even if she had seemed to enjoy watching him on the field. It was Bas’ hope that Henni might like that he was pursuing intellectual matters, or at least trying to. His worry was that he felt he was a bit hopeless in that regard. There was also the consideration that Henni was a year older than he was, Canadian, and she had Alice, so there was this gulf between them. It had not seemed to matter when he had been in Montreal, but now that they were limited to communicating via letters across the Atlantic it felt huge.

    The last letter from Henriette had been in response to Bas writing about how Niko had been sore with him back in September after Niko had spent two weeks out in the weather subsisting on survival rations while Bas had been a Gofer at Headquarters. Niko had been unaware that Bas would have traded places with him in a heartbeat. Henni had said that Niko would get over it, and by the time the letter had arrived that much had been true, but a lot more had happened in the meantime. Niko had run into Monique Chanson socially. It had turned out that his Uncle Stefan was married to Nizhoni Horst, one of Monique’s cousins meaning that they had run into each other regularly over the last couple months.

    Bas had written about all of that in the letter he had sent off a week earlier and it had crossed paths with Henriette’s latest letter. Lately she had written about attending Dawson College and how she was preparing for the big jump to McGill next year as a transfer student, finally getting her life on track. She mentioned the trips to the Lady’s Athletic Club in Montreal that she was a member of. She and Marie Alexandra made use of the heated indoor pool and it was wonderful, especially during the wintertime. Then Henni wrote about how she worried about Marie. She understood that Marie was painfully shy at times but was concerned that she was also lonely.

    Bas didn’t have an answer for that. There had never been a time when Marie Alexandra had not been around during Bas’ childhood. Either at Aunt Kat’s house or on Opa von Richthofen’s estate and he had always thought of her as much a part of his family as his little sisters. It was the three of them. Marie, Niko, and Bas had all been born within a couple years of each other. Bas wrote all about the games that Marie always involved them in with her playing the role of Robin Hood, Alice Kingsleigh, or any one of dozens of others. It had been fun. That was until an incident that Bas remembered quite well, Marie and Niko having an argument over whether or not she could be one of Musketeers because she was a girl. Marie had been quite certain that Niko was wrong and that the books meant nothing because they were hardly living in Paris in the Seventeenth Century. A couple years later, Marie had taken on Niko in Fencing, beating him soundly in Sabers and Bas suspected that the memory of that argument had been behind the look of satisfaction on her face as she had embarrassed Niko in a sport that he had dominated in.
     
    Part 143, Chapter 2588
  • Chapter Two Thousand Five Hundred Eighty-Eight



    2nd November 1976

    Montreal, Canada

    The evening news was on television when Marie got home, and Richard Nixon was speaking. To absolutely no one’s surprise the election in the United States was a complete blowout that had been called not long after the polls closed on the East Coast and he was thanking the American public for a renewed mandate, to take them all to a bright future with unity and shared prosperity. Marie tried not to show her reaction to the real cynicism that was masked by Nixon’s tone. Her feeling was that the real truth was in the sort of campaign that had been waged. This had been followed by the concession speech by Gerald Ford who had just suffered one of the worst electoral defeats in his nation’s history.

    Then the news shifted to the continued fallout from the string of arrests that had occurred a few weeks earlier in the United States. Marie’s understanding was that someone in her own Government had stepped wrong and allowed Nixon to demonize the whole of Germany in the final days of the election. The prior weekend, The Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live had featured Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase discussing at length that what had happened was a remarkable set of circumstances that had happened totally by coincidence and that there was nothing at all suspicious about the timing, with a wink and a nod. That had been following a sketch which supposedly was at an “America First” meeting where everyone present was speaking with a badly done European accent of some sort.

    The trouble for Marie was that these recent events affected how she lived her own life. Her grandfather had warned her that certain activities would be regarded as extremely suspicious and unless she wanted to cause him a great deal of trouble she would stop. Sir Malcolm wasn’t like her grandmother, Marie cared about what he thought and knew that he wasn’t speaking out of turn. Someone must have told him something and he had taken the time to warn her. Still, Marie felt stuck. She was used to changing her appearance to suit her moods or just for a needed shift in perspective. Marie found that keeping the same appearance all the time was uncomfortable. She had also realized that accidental interview she had given the local News Channel had been a mistake because that had revealed to her grandfather that she did that.

    “Hello Marie” Margot said absently as she noticed Marie watching from the doorway.

    “None of this is exactly news” Marie said as she joined her grandmother on the couch. Sir Malcolm was dozing in his chair, typically what he did after supper most nights.

    “Yes” Margot replied, “But it is still important.”

    With that the news switched to a different story, this one about the attempted military coup that happened in Belarus and the resulting civil war. A helicopter painted green was seen flying low over the city of Minsk as green tracers flew past it in grainy video footage. Marie felt that it was a far more important story than the reelection of Richard Nixon.

    “Robert Lane left a message for you” Margot said as the news mercifully switched to tomorrows weather forecast.

    “Not Henni?” Marie asked.

    “No, just Robert” Margot replied, Marie didn’t know if Margot would have even taken the call if it had been Henriette.

    “Did he say what he wanted?” Marie asked.

    Margot just shrugged.

    Marie’s grandmother had become completely uninterested what Marie was doing in recent weeks. She might have complained, but that was actually an improvement.



    Minsk, Belarus

    Two things had happened over the last few weeks. The first was that Manfred the Younger had finally been promoted to Oberstleutnant after years of being a Public Relations Officer in the 140th Regiment in the 4th Panzer Division. The second was that he had been sent to Belarus to act as a Military Advisor to the Government as they fought the Junta who had attempted to overthrow them just a few weeks earlier.

    This had come at a particularly bad time for Manny because he had Suse Rosa to contend with. Not only did she absolutely hate being pregnant, Suse had made it abundantly clear that if Manny missed the birth of their child he would be served with divorce papers. He knew that she wasn’t bluffing, and it was part of family history how his own mother had reacted when his father had been called away and she had been pregnant with Ina.

    It was Manny’s Uncle Albrecht and Aunt Ilse who had become the biggest help to him during this present situation. Albrecht was basically the King of Silesia these days and he had pointed out that Manny represented what was a cadet branch of the House of Richthofen. So, they had no objections to having Suse come to Breslau. Ilse had been able to get through to Suse that what had happened was beyond their control.

    That was a comfort as Manny looked through his binoculars at the urban fight that was happening in the distance. While the bulk of the Belarusian Army had remained in the barracks when the coup had happened, a substantial portion of them had joined the Junta after the initial putsch had failed. That their numbers had been bolstered by Russian “volunteers” was not a secret. Nor was it a secret that the Army in Ukraine had gone on high alert at the same time this had happened. The situation was far more complicated than it had first appeared.
     
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  • Chapter Two Thousand Five Hundred Eighty-Nine



    6th November 1976

    Whitby, Ontario

    “If you want to prove that you really are as clever and talented as your grandfather says you are, you’ll make your own invitation this weekend” Bert Lane had told Marie Alexandra a few days earlier. “Just tell Mr. Mayne that I sent you when, or should we say if, you get into his office.”

    Then he had given Marie an address located near Toronto on the shore of Lake Ontario that curiously was a blank spot on the map. She recognized that he was trying to entice her with a challenge, one that was several hours out of her way. It was also abundantly clear from the sort of nearby rail infrastructure was a lot more than just empty space because it was exactly what would be necessary if heavy equipment was moved in and out of there. Marie understood that it would be incredibly stupid to go anywhere near such a place and if Bert Lane knew she was coming then so would everyone else. Yet still there she was having taken the train to Toronto the night before and then the bus out to the small suburb of Whitby.

    Marie knew that if she was really expected, then they would be looking for a twenty-year-old woman with long red hair. Regrettably, Marie’s normal appearance was a rarity, a key part of the reason she disliked it so much. That was why she had worn a black wig on the long journey from Montreal. The cold November weather had been that the bulky wool coat she had worn had drawn little notice and it had made her age and physical description difficult to ascertain. She had ditched the coat and wig in Toronto and had switched to the trashy blond look she had used the summer before in Montreal. The idea of that was one that her mother had once told her about. If she couldn’t hide who she was, then she needed to make it work in her favor. That was why she was outside the gates of what was doubtlessly a military installation of some kind shivering in clothes that were for someone far more concerned with their appearance rather than the climate. The only nod to the weather was the thin University of Montreal sweatshirt which didn’t do much beyond providing a bit of misdirection in case this didn’t work and she had to run.

    “I’m looking for that piece of shit Billy Gagnon” Marie said with as much venom as she could muster as soon as she got close to the guard at the gate, she knew of several men in Montreal named William Gagnon so the odds of one being here were extremely high. “I know he works here in all that hush-hush stuff, yeah. Apparently that includes not telling me that he is married.”

    The guard gulped when Marie said that bit about hush-hush, it was just a guess on her part but apparently it was a good one. Still, that didn’t stop him from trying to look down the front of her shirt. Her mother had pointedly warned her since she had reached adolescence that men were stupid that way. There were rumors that her mother had used it as a distraction during the Soviet War, often with a fatal result for those distracted. Marie wasn’t her mother. She didn’t have it in her to shoot people in the head no matter how much they might have it coming. Instead, she used the small device hidden in the sleeve of her sweatshirt and pressed the two needlelike probes into his side.

    The guard froze as thousands of volts of electricity coursed through him. When Marie stepped back, he fell to the ground twitching. It looked exactly like someone having a seizure. “If I could get some help here!” Marie shouted drawing the attention of everyone within earshot.

    “What happened?” One of the other soldiers, this one wearing the stripes of a Sergeant demanded.

    “I was talking to him, and he just fell over” Marie said in a panicked voice. “Twitching and stuff. Is he okay?”

    “About what?”

    “That’s none of your business” Marie said, shifting her tone to being indignant.

    The Sergeant face grew cloudy before he grabbed Marie’s arm and yanked her past the guard post, through the gates and into the installation. “I’ll be the judge of that” He muttered as he dragged Marie across what must be a parade ground and into a musty building. Marie was acutely aware of how she was breaking one of her mother’s most important rules; That most men were bigger and stronger than her, so never, ever let them have the upper hand. Of course, Marie also had been told by her mother that there were times when she needed to break the rules.

    As they passed into what looked like an administrative building, they got more than a few curious looks, before the Sergeant shoved Marie into a room with Bert Lane and an unfamiliar man who was roughly the same age having a discussion. The two men paused to stare at them as the Sergeant snapped to attention.

    “You warned us of an infiltrator” The Sergeant said, “I think she did something to the man on guard duty.”

    “Then you are a fucking idiot” The man with Bert said, with an Irish accent.

    “What Colonel Mayne is trying to say is that her instructions were to get in here” Bert said, “No one said how.”

    “What is this all about?” Marie asked, having had enough as she removed the bleach-blond wig.

    “Welcome to Special Training School Number 103, which also happens to be the home of more than a few secrets” Bert replied, “I was just telling the Colonel about how I dared the daughter of the Tigress of Pankow to test our security.”

    Mayne just laughed and the Sergeant looked at her like if she were a live snake that had just slithered into the room.
     
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  • Chapter Two Thousand Five Hundred Ninety



    8th November 1976

    Tempelhof

    Sophie was rather sick this morning. Even burning up with fevers that alternated with chills, Sophie was still insisting that she would be ready to go to school in a few minutes, something that wasn’t about to happen. If Kat had to guess, this was because Sophie had pushed herself hard for so long. Like a rubber band that was stretched out to its maximum length, something had to give, and it had. In this case, it was Sophie getting knocked flat with influenza.

    As much as Kat hated to admit it, this was a welcome change from what had been consuming her professional life beyond the usual headaches that Berlin caused. A month earlier the American FBI had arrested a number of BND Agents from the central network of the North American Division. According to Asia, the official BND installations in Falkensee and Potsdam had been caught flatfooted. While it was likely that the Americans had just gotten lucky, it was widely suspected that the real reason was far closer to home and no one was taking any chances. Compared with that, domestic concerns were a welcome change.

    “I am not going to argue with you” Kat said, “Most young women don’t mind taking a few days off.”

    “I thought that you said that it was only today” Sophie replied.

    “And even if I allowed you to go to school, they would just send you straight back” Kat said, “As I said, this is not up for argument.”

    Sophie didn’t like hearing that. Regardless of everything she did, she still feared what might happen if she were ever less than perfect. Over the years Kat had gotten used to Sophie’s foibles, it was far easier to work with her rather than trying to convince her that she didn’t need to be so hard on herself. They had this same argument every time Sophie got sick or needed help with anything.

    “I talked to Kiki, and she made a few suggestions” Kat said, “Are you interested in listening.”

    What Kiki had actually said was that this sort of viral infection just needed to run its course. Sophie was in good health, so she would be better next week so long as she took care of herself. Getting her to do that was something that would be difficult. Fortunately, Sophie regarded Kiki as being an authority figure she couldn’t just ignore.

    “Yeah” Sophie replied in a tone that suggested that she wasn’t in the least bit interested. The fact was that even Kat could hear the muck moving around in Sophie’s lungs and she was half deaf. Which meant that Kat would either need to act or else save time by just driving Sophie to the hospital now.

    “Rest, fluids, that is unless you want to get worse” Kat said, “She also said that you are going to feel like you have taken a beating with muscle aches and such.”

    Sophie frowned at that. She would know better than anyone what that would feel like, and it was something she went out of her way to avoid. Still, as much as Sophie wanted to be grown up there was still a part of her that looked to Kat to make things better.

    “Kiki did suggest a medication that might help with that” Kat said, and Sophie hardly needed any additional prompting. A few minutes later she watched as Sophie downed the green syrup that was both sickly sweet and bitter at the same time after Kat got it for her.

    “This is terrible” Sophie said, her disgust evident on her face.

    “I need to make sure that Angelica is ready for school” Kat said, “I’ll be back to check on you in a few minutes.”

    With that, Kat left Sophie in her room and went down to the kitchen. Angelica was eating breakfast while reading the horoscope in the today’s paper. She had gotten into that despite Kat telling her that it was a scam, how vaguely worded paragraphs centered around common themes could apply to anyone regardless of their birthday. Angelica had just shrugged and told Kat that she needed to be more romantic in her outlook. It was in that moment that Kat was reminded of exactly who Angelica’s father was. She also figured that Cosimo would have a few pointed words to say about his teenaged daughter thinking about anything regarding romance.

    “Less of that and more finishing breakfast” Kat said, “The car is leaving in a few minutes.”

    Angelica gave Kat a look, before looking back to the newspaper. While Kat didn’t have time to argue with Angelica, she figured that she should remember this the next time that Angelica needed something from her. Taking care of what she had actually come to do was far easier. Opening the door to the back garden, Sprocket pushed past Kat into the kitchen. Petia usually saw to that he was fed and let out in the morning to take care of his needs. Despite Kat’s longtime Housekeeper’s stern demeanor she had a soft spot for the family pets, Sprocket as well as Cheshire the cat. The other thing was that Sprocket had earned his keep when the family had been in Canada the prior summer when he had chased off two men who had sworn in what Petia had said was American English when Sprocket had gone into a frenzy at the sight of them. Regardless of his other qualities, Sprocket was absolutely fearless for an animal that perhaps weighed six kilograms. He ran ahead of Kat as she walked up the stairs.

    Sophie was sitting on the edge of her bed staring off into space with a dazed expression when Kat entered her room. The medication that Kat had given her contained a decongestant and a painkiller for the symptoms of the flu, but it also had a sleep aid in it which Kat had not mentioned to Sophie. Despite everything else, she had still tried to get ready for school.

    “Let me help you” Kat said as she got Sophie back into bed. Sprocket jumped onto the bed and took his place at her side. After a minute or two, Sophie’s breathing evened out as she fell completely asleep. Kat used her hand to brush Sophie’s hair out of her face and wished that things were different.

    “Keep an eye on her Sprocket” Kat said to Sprocket who wagged his tail at the mention of his name.
     
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  • Chapter Two Thousand Five Hundred Ninety-One



    22nd November 1976

    Wilhelmshaven, Germany

    As SMS K024 Grindwal cruised into the Jade this time it marked the end of the line in more ways than one. After more than a year in the Eastern Mediterranean the Squadron had been ordered back to Wilhelmshaven. The news of the death of Oberbootsmann David Martin months earlier had been a blow to the crew and the sharp action off Anatolia had been followed by months of relative inactivity in Cyprus as they had waited to see what the Greeks would do next. The brief trip to Romania had been a respite from that, but that trip had caused a new set of headaches for Louis Ferdinand Junior as he had agreed to marry Princess Margareta. Then he had received message from Fleet Headquarters in Kiel that the Grindwal had been ordered in for refit in the Bremen shipyards where she had been launched years earlier. Everyone knew the implications of that when Louis had announced that to the crew. The Grindwal would be reconstructed from the keel up and after years at sea she would basically be a new ship. In the meantime most of her crew would be reassigned wherever else their skills were needed by the Fleet or sent for further training in their specialties. The next time the Grindwal put to sea, she would have an entirely different crew under the command of a new Captain.

    For Louis himself, these were going to be the last hours in which he would be the Capitan of a Ship of the German High Seas Fleet looking at himself in the mirror of his small cabin, he was wearing the blue wool dress uniform of the Kaiserliche Marine for the first time in months as opposed to the green shipboard utilities as a practical consideration. As soon as he dismissed the crew to go on Liberty in Wilhelmshaven, his resignation would become official. Tomorrow, the Grindwal would go up the River Weser to the Bremen Shipyards under the command of her current Executive Officer, Oberleutnant zur See Bruno Eglītis. For some reason that felt like a bit of a betrayal to Louis. The Captain of a ship ought to be there until the end. He remembered the Captain of the ML Rose of Inverness years earlier, how the man had refused to leave his stricken ship even after the crew and passengers had been evacuated. Louis had convinced him that no matter how painful it was, he needed to let the Rose go. In his reflection, he saw the George Medal that was second only to the PLM at his throat which he had been awarded by the British Commonwealth for that action. It had recently been joined by a sixth oakleaf on his Merit Cross in Silver for the Grindwal providing direct fire support for a Company of Marines as they had defended a hospital in Finike.

    Opening the door, he saw that Greg Borchardt was waiting for him. As soon as he saw him, Borchardt gave Louis a crisp Naval salute.

    “I would hate for my last action as Captain of this ship to be having you up on charges for Gross Insubordination” Louis said as he returned the salute to the Warrant Officer.

    Borchardt just grinned.

    “Don’t worry Sir” Borchardt replied, “You’re losing a ship, but gaining a Fleet.”

    That was the other detail that far too many people already knew about. One of the things that Michael of Romania had offered Louis to sweeten the deal was an Officer’s Commission in the Romanian Navy appointed to the rank Contra Admiral. The brand-new Cruiser NMS Vlad Dracula as his flagship. The truth was that Louis didn’t really care about any of that. He remembered that perfect day in Odessa when he had climbed that city’s famous stairs with Margareta, that was what he really wanted.



    Montreal, Canada

    If Bert Lane and her grandfather cooked this whole thing up to teach Marie Alexandra a lesson, it had worked. Special Training School Number 103, or simply “Camp X” as the people who lived and trained called it had not been what Marie had bargained for though she had a fairly good idea about what it was before she had gone there. Colonel Blair “Paddy” Mayne had told her all about the history of the place, how it had originally been where they had done Signal Intelligence and Covert Training during the Soviet War. It was also part of a wider network of installations scattered around the Canadian Maritime Provinces, established as part of a contingency by the British Empire in case Western Europe had been overrun by the Soviets. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that Great Britain would have been a precarious situation in that eventually. The location though on the Northern Shore of Lake Ontario suggested that the key concern had not just been Russia. After the war and the world had seen the rise of groups like the Neo-Jacobins and racial violence that had roiled the United States. A new kind of outfit had been created in a collaboration by the Canadian Army and the RCMP Special Branch, the latter being deemed inadequate to the task. Camp X was where that new unit was based.

    Beside all of that, there were those who attended courses at Training School 103 also attended classes at McGill University, mostly in the ROTP as well. Everyone at McGill knew them as the students who paraded around in old-fashioned military uniforms with what Marie’s grandfather had once mentioned were versions of the same Enfield rifle his men had carried in Flanders. There were only a few of them, but they had seen Marie and heard all about what she was capable of, including how she had electrocuted one of their friends when he had gotten too close to her. Catching Marie in disguise had become a game for them, a game she was not in the least bit interested in playing.

    Henriette’s found the whole thing hilarious.
     
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  • Chapter Two Thousand Five Hundred Ninety-Two



    4th December 1976

    Moscow, Russia

    “Silence makes you complicit” Gia said, “If you have a problem with me saying that then there is a far higher authority you will need take it up with as well.”

    “Just who is that supposed to be?” The man on the other end of the phone line, the present Prime Minister of the Duma, asked.

    “I will send a copy of the New Testament of the Bible to your office with the relevant passages highlighted and bookmarked” Gia replied, weary of this entire exchange.

    It wasn’t a surprise that Gia’s reply was met with stony silence.

    The issue at hand was one that had divided her own household with Fyodor up to his eyeballs in recent events in Greece and now Belarus. She never asked him where he went or what he did. It was the deal they had, and she had never broken it. Still, Gia worried about Fyodor. He was a good man, but increasingly she saw him taking on the same sort of haunted look that Kat had taken on at times. What he was being asked to do for the Czar and Russia was growing increasingly difficult to justify. Finally, Gia had been asked her opinion by a Moscow newspaper and she had given it in a wide-ranging interview.

    She had spoken at length about her family. Her adopted daughter Anya having a little boy she had named Ivan after her father, who had died in the last months of the Soviet War. Gia’s son Alexei and his reaction to becoming an Uncle. Also how Alexei was just discovering things like Football, cars, and girls. Spending her summers at her dacha in the Transbaikal how she loved the forest and afternoons spent on the lakeshore. What it was like to return to Moscow, how the city was magical during the winter.

    In the end, Gia had not shied away from stating how she personally detested war and what she saw as the pigheaded causes of it, mostly greed and nationalism. War set ordinary people on the course of damnation just in order to survive and it seemed like those who paid the highest price where never those most deserving. There were never any innocents in Hell, there were always multitudes in war. Gia’s words had caused an instant firestorm, with many in the ruling party in the Duma reacting badly because they had thought that her words were aimed directly at them and splitting public opinion as well.

    The Orthodox Church had come down firmly on Gia’s side, which had come as a bit of a surprise. Her relationship with the Patriarch had grown strained in recent years, with her perspectives on certain issues being entirely too modern despite the enlightened aspirations of Platon III. Still, Paton had said that Gia had spoken both as a Christian and a Mother, and that she had given voice to millions in the process. Gia suspected that it had far more to do with the new Cathedral of Christ the Savior that was being constructed on the site of the old Cathedral that had been demolished by the Soviets. Platon wanted to appeal to the younger, more progressive, urban congregation that potentially existed in Moscow to fill it. He also wasn’t a fan of the Duma for his own reasons.

    To say that this had added more fuel to the fire was an understatement. The worst part was that her cousin had picked this moment to waffle. Gia had never expected much from Mikhail, but it was at moments like these when a firm hand was needed on the tiller that he just had to remind everyone that he wasn’t his father. Symbolic office or not, the Czar had to project authority.

    “I am sorry Alexandra” The Prime Minister said, “I overstepped.”

    The fact that he even said that suggested that he was anything but apologetic. From her battles against public corruption, Gia understood that the man was simply incapable of shame. God knew who else was listening in on this conversation. It was a safe assumption that the Prime Minister was playing to them, and it was a face-saving way out for him.

    “Very well” Gia said, “If we could avoid carrying this public spat further, I would be thankful.”

    The rest of the conversation was just pleasantries as Gia tried her best to escape from the conversation she had never wanted to have in the first place. During that entire conversation Gia’s guest Dusya Vinogradova had a slight smile on her face. She was the latest of the wives and daughters of former enemies who Gia had been collecting as friends since she had moved to Russia. Though in the case of Dusya, she was her own woman. A former Stakhanovite in her youth who had become famous for her talent for operating dozens of automatic looms at once. The end of the Soviet War had seen her left unemployed and blacklisted from the industry she had loved. Her second act as an expert on Textiles at the State University of Moscow, which had brought her into contact with Gia, had come later. She was currently the Headmistress of one of the schools run by the Order Saint Catherine. The hundreds of girls who attended that school needed a good example and Dusya had been the perfect choice.

    “Out with it” Gia said.

    “You really are like oil and water with those who scurried around trying not to be noticed by the Red Czar” Dusya said, “In those days survival was about maintaining silence.”

    “Perhaps that was the problem” Gia said, “It was that silence that allowed a monster like Stalin to thrive.”

    Dusya just shrugged.

    “That was how it was in those days” Dusya said, “Hard to speak up when you are dead.”

    “Stalin and Beria did have me killed just for existing” Gia said, “So, hoping that the wolf goes to someone else’s door gets you nowhere.”

    Dusya gave Gia the look that everyone gave her when she mentioned that part of her life. She really did wish they would stop.
     
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  • Chapter Two Thousand Five Hundred Ninety-Three



    18th December 1976

    Mitte, Berlin

    This time Kiki was in Berlin for a couple different reasons. The first was that her brother had asked her if she wanted to travel to America this summer on a tour after it had been so successful when she had done that years earlier. It would be fun, she could go on the Tonight Show, Johnny Carson would probably be happy to have her back on. Then cross the country, go to county fairs, do a few speaking engagements, and show the ordinary people that German Royals didn’t have fangs and claws. At least that was how Freddy saw it, but Kiki remembered what the last tour had been like. Getting sick in New York, then followed around the country by the FBI. Having Jamison Parker and Ritchie Valenzuela along for the ride had been a lot fun though, especially when they spent a few days in the Wisconsin Dells. She had obligations these days, two small children and a dog, a Surgical career that was finally turning into something she was happy with. Freddy had said that she could take Nina and Louis to Yellowstone or Disneyland without too much trouble.

    There were moments when Kiki thought that her brother desperately needed to get out of the various residences of the Emperor to come up for air. His saying that last part had been one of those moments.

    Of course, she was in Berlin on her annual visit to the Christmas Market at the Alexanderplatz Marketplace. Nella and Nan’s involvement was mostly what would be expected of two teenagers, walking through proceedings with mild disdain only to expect to be fully included in them. Nina was tugging at Kiki’s arm as she wanted to see everything. The various market stalls sold an extraordinary assortment of items that could be found nowhere else. Finally, they came into view of something which Nina could only stare at in awe. Nina had a similar reaction to the tree last year.

    The “tree” at the end of the Central Concourse this year was very different. Last year had been an elaborate Industrial theme constructed by Steel Workers from Essen and had been breathtaking in its execution. This year it was an elaborate wood and glass construction that had been built in a collaboration of the Arts Departments of several of Berlin’s Universities and the Berlin State School of Fine Arts was just as spectacular. Only with a different, more organic sensibility.

    At the center making up much of the trunk was a representation of Berolina, the goddess who was the personification of the City with bears from the State flag making up part of her crown. From there branches spread out, each one representing a District of the City of Berlin, then further branching out into neighborhoods. Included were symbols of the various places and stylized representations of the landmarks in the form if wooden carvings. Small electric trains, cars, and lorries raced among the branches, between the locations on tracks. The whole thing was lit up by bright lights and it slowly rotated, causing the mirrors and prisms inside the installation to constantly shift the light to every color of the rainbow. High atop the tree, a tiger lay with her head atop her paws as she lazily observed the world.

    “It really is wonderful” Kiki said to Nina who was pointing out all the hand-carved wooden animals to her.

    “Elephants” Nina said with a smile.

    “Yes, from the Zoological Garden” Kiki said, and Nina gave her a wide-eyed look. They spent a considerable amount of time as Kiki told Nina about what they were looking at. Eventually, they had needed to get back to shopping for gifts. The promise by Kiki that Nina would finally get a chance to try the spice cakes that Nella had told her all about finally got her moving. They had visited several more of the booths with Kiki buying Nina a knit scarf made from yarn that was the deepest shade of burgundy and small cream-colored stars. It really was perfect for Nina, though she wasn’t interested in finding a matching hat. Instead, Nina wanted one that was blue and white checkers.

    As they found the queue where people were waiting for the promised spice cakes and hot apple cider, people were a bit put out by the presence of Kiki’s bodyguards, until they recognized who she was. Then the reaction shifted to surprise as Ben found them there.

    “I thought that you were busy in Munich this week?” Kiki asked, “Whatever Albrecht has you doing?”

    “He can pester Wim this weekend for all the good it will do him and coming here was more important” Ben said, “After I checked in on Louis, I figured that I ought to catch up with you two here.”

    Kiki had left Louis with Ben’s parents, something that no one involved had any objections to. Ben dropping to touch base with Bernhard and Nadine when he first got to town was a matter of courtesy. There had been enough trouble in the past with Nadine disliking how Kiki had needed to keep a great deal concealed, like her identity.

    “You got to see the tree Poppa!” Nina said tugging on Ben’s arm for a change.

    “Spice cakes and apple cider first Nina” Kiki said, wondering the entire time how any daughter of hers could be so exuberant towards the world.
     
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  • Chapter Two Thousand Five Hundred Ninety-Four



    21st December 1976

    Los Angeles, California

    December in Southern California was always a surreal experience. They were surrounded by the imagery from the classic American Christmas but the whole Norman Rockwell thing had no place in Los Angeles, especially if it was sixty-five and sunny. Watching Frosty the Snowman or Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was like getting messages from another planet. Little Mike had been forced to take his coat off before he had had made it halfway to short term parking. Big Mike had wondered why his son had thought that he would need the heavy wool coat, then remembered that Little Mike had been attending Annapolis which was right on the Atlantic Coast.

    “You don’t worry about locking up the car?” Little Mike asked as Big Mike opened the door of the 1974 Dodge Dart.

    “Why bother when I got Tony for that” Big Mike said as he got into the car and turned the ignition.

    “You have a what?” Little Mike asked.

    As if on cue, Tony sat up and Big Mike handed him the cup of coffee he had gotten while waiting for Little Mike’s airliner to pull up to the gate.

    “You are a Saint” Tony said.

    “This lame ass excuse for humanity sleeping in back seat is Detective Marin” Big Mike said as he backed out of the parking spot.

    “I love you too” Tony replied, “This is Little Mike?”

    “Yeah” Little Mike answered.

    “Why am I not surprised that you’re as big as Big Mike?” Tony asked. That caused both Big Mike and Little Mike to laugh.

    It was something that they had been listening to since Little Mike had caught up to his father in height while he was still in Highschool, what he lacked was his father’s bulk having inherited his lean aspect from his mother. That had been right about the time that Little Mike had gone on a school trip to San Diego where he had toured the USS Arizona which was moored there as a museum ship and that had changed the course of his life. Not that there had not been a few curveballs thrown his way since then. The biggest of which had been the U.S. Navy taking one look at him and asking if furthering his education far beyond merely being a Seaman Apprentice was what he wanted when they offered him a spot at Annapolis if he was interested playing Football there because he was an athlete who could still meet the Navy’s strict height and weight requirements. It was an opportunity that both Big Mike and his wife Clair had told Little Mike he would have to be completely insane to pass up. Clair had also made a few extremely dark promises about what would happen if Little Mike had a sudden attack of stupidity, so he had happily accepted the appointment.

    Taking on the role of Defensive Tackle, the same position he had played in Highschool had been easy enough and Little Mike had swiftly become a star player on the team. He had played in key role in shutting down Army’s Offensive Line in Philadelphia a couple weeks earlier, so the Naval Academy was happy with him. The same couldn’t be said about the rest of the team, so a National Title was out of the question and Little Mike had made if home for the Holidays this year.

    “Where’s Officer Valenzuela?” Little Mike asked.

    “The Department got a little uptight about his tendency to be at the center of whatever trouble was happening at any given moment” Big Mike said as he turned into the traffic flowing out from LAX and into the infamous Los Angeles “Rush Hour” that was more or less constant. “After that plane crash with a nuclear bomb hanging from a tree in the Santa Monaca Mountains they felt it would be a good idea for him to be elsewhere for a while, so he went back to the Army as Warrant Officer in the Special Forces.”

    “A nuclear bomb?” Tony asked, “Is that a fucking joke?”

    “They got me working Homicide out of Central on Graveyard with Tony these days” Big Mike said, ignoring Tony’s question. “Your mother likes it that the action is over before I get there, and the hours are better.”

    “Never a dull moment I guess” Little Mike said looking out at the buildings of Culver City. That explained the presence of his father being there in the early morning hours and the presence of Tony in the back seat. “Shouldn’t the two of you be busy right now?”

    “We just finished with a messy one on 8th and South Union” Big Mike said, “Liquor Store robbery gone bad, owner and perp apparently got each other.”

    “It’s not like either of them are going anywhere” Tony said from the back seat. “We are hoping that the Medical Examiner and the Ballistics Lab will give us a clearer picture.”

    “The worry is that we found signs that there might have been a third gun” Big Mike said, “Which would complicate things. Now I don’t think I need to tell you not to tell your mother about that, or anyone else for that matter.”

    “The State is going to be looking to cook someone” Tony said.

    That was generally how it worked, particularly if someone got in the way of the real religion of Southern California. To interfere with the flow of dollars from low to high was a crime which someone had to answer for.
     
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    Part 144, Chapter 2595
  • Chapter Two Thousand Five Hundred Ninety-Five



    22nd December 1976

    Berlin-Brandenburg International Airport

    Henriette’s mother had encouraged her to take this trip, accompanying Marie as she had flown home for Christmas. She had been extremely reluctant because this was the first time she had been away from Alice for more than a few hours since her daughter had been born. That had gotten Henriette a talk from her mother about what she owed herself. Her mother knew about the large number of letters that she had written to and received from Sabastian and Henriette needed to learn if he was serious. Or if he was another worthless boy who would flee to Michigan the instant things got difficult. While that did leave a question over how much Henriette’s mother knew and why, she was making a lot of sense. Besides that, Alice would be fine with her grandparents for a week.

    Henriette knew she was a long way from home the instant she left the airliner and saw through the bay windows of the terminal that dozens of fighter planes were parked across the runway. Big white and red planes in one line and smaller planes painted bright colors in another.

    “They are based out of this airport” Marie replied when Henriette pointed it out as if it was something that was not out of the ordinary.

    The next shock was when Henriette reached Customs. The Customs Officials and Security Officers looked like they were from the Army and heavily armed by anyone’s standards.

    “Are they supposed to have guns?” Henriette asked as they stood in line.

    “They are Federal Border Police” Marie replied, when Henriette pointed out that one of the officers was standing there with a submachine gun on a sling. “It is expected that they can handle anything that happens here. Because of the latest mess between the Turks and the Greeks there have been some violent incidents at the airports. You didn’t hear about what happened in Hamburg a few days ago?”

    “What happened in Hamburg?” Henriette asked, she had been busy with getting through the last university term and taking care of Alice to pay too much attention to the news. Marie didn’t seem too interested in enlightening her about what Hamburg had to do with what she was seeing now.

    Henriette was quiet as they made their way to the front of the line. She had thought that the Matriarch of the Schultz family was the worst she would have to contend with. Only now it was hitting her that she was stepping into a very different culture. Watching Marie as she spoke with the Customs Officials, speaking with them and how they barely looked at her passport before they stamped it. They knew exactly who she was.

    “Good morning” The Official said in heavily accented English, “Your passport please.”

    He scrutinized the passport for what seemed like an eternity.

    “The purpose of your visit?” The Official asked.

    “Visiting… uhm… tourist…” Henriette replied awkwardly.

    “I see, do you have anything to declare?”

    “No” Henriette replied. Marie had told her to pack light and not to bother bringing anything she didn’t actually need. That made this part extremely easy.

    “Thank you, Fraulein Lane” The Official said before he stamped the passport. Collecting her suitcase, Henriette found Marie waiting for her.

    “What happened to being shy around strangers?” Henriette asked.

    “The Agent who was working the Customs desk wasn’t a stranger” Marie replied, “He worked with my mother when she was with the BII.”

    What was the BII? Henriette thought but didn’t ask. She was very far from everything she had ever known and didn’t want to advertise that fact, not even to Marie.

    Stepping out of the terminal, Henriette followed Marie. It was as cold as it had been in Montreal when they had left what seemed like a thousand years earlier, but the air felt damp as well. There was the expected pickup/drop off area that was a hive of people and cars. It was noticeable that most of the cars were what would be considered compact back in Canada. There were also a large number of microbuses of various kinds playing the role of taxies. As if it was a creature from another era, something predatory that had escaped the asteroid, a massive gleaming black Mercedes Benz touring car pulled up to the sidewalk the rumbling from the engine seemed to vibrate the very air around it. An extremely tough looking man who seemed to be as wide as he was tall got out and said something in a language (Russian?) that Henriette couldn’t understand. Then he opened the back door of the car for them after he put their luggage into the trunk.

    It was with a bit of trepidation that Henriette got in the car with Marie. “Is this a part of the plan?” She asked as the car pulled into traffic.

    “Boris has worked for my mother for the last decade” Marie replied as they got onto a highway and were passing through what looked like working class suburbs. Of course, who else would live this close to the highway and airport, Henriette thought to herself. Some things were universal if she had to guess.

    The City seemed endless as they drove north and then west. Henriette had been told that Berlin was on the scale of New York City, but had not quite understood what that meant. Eventually, the car left the highways and was on surface streets. It was easy to see that this was probably a beautiful place during the summertime with tree shaded streets and they passed what looked like a collection of large public buildings. “The Humboldt Campus of the University of Berlin” was what Marie said when Henriette asked. Finally, the car drove down a muddy, rutted alleyway before coming to a stop. Henriette wasn’t sure what to expect as she followed Marie through a gate into a small backyard where they had a small brown dog barking at them. The house towered over them with other nearly identical houses on either side. When Henriette imagined the place where Marie had grown up, somehow, this was not what she had ever pictured.
     
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