“Ten days ago…”
“Yes. Ten days ago, agents of the Czechoslovak secret police kidnapped Kotacek from his home in Lisbon and spirited him away. The day before yesterday they landed him in Prague and tucked him into a prison cell. In approximately three weeks he will be brought to public trial, charged with collaboration with the enemy, complicity in the murder of several hundred thousand Slovakian Jews and Gypsies, and a variety of more specific war crimes. He will be found guilty on all counts and will be hanged.”
“Good for him.”
“I think not, Tanner. Not good at all, for him or for us.” He leaned forward. “We’ve known of Kotacek’s whereabouts almost from the day he turned up in Lisbon. And we’ve been very careful to leave him alone. From his base in Portugal, Kotacek has been one of the key figures in the global neo-Nazi movement. As you may know, the orientation of Nazism has changed slightly since Hitler’s death. Germans remain at the helm, but the idée fixe has shifted from Aryan supremacy to general white supremacy. Anti-Semitism is still a chief tenet, but anti-Negro and anti-Oriental policies have come to the fore; integration and the Yellow Peril are evidently more potent scapegoats. The movement aims at developing little Nazi parties throughout the world and making power plays in various countries whenever circumstances seem right.
“Kotacek, as I said, is at the hub of all this activity. It’s probably no exaggeration to say that he is the most influential non-German in the contemporary Nazi movement. He has contacts all over the world. He engages in constant correspondence with open and clandestine Nazi leaders. He’s one of the few men anywhere who know just what’s going on among the leaders of the Fourth Reich – which is what they’re apt to call themselves, incidentally – not just in one country, but everywhere.” He paused, raised his glass, set it down. “He has been extremely useful to us.”
“He writes to a man named Ottmar Pedersen, a Dane living in the Bronx. Over the past few years he has passed on a great deal of important information to Pedersen.”
“And Pedersen is your agent?”
“No. Pedersen is a loyal Nazi, a member of Madole’s National Renaissance Party. The man who opens Pedersen’s mail is our agent.”
He got to his feet. “Kotacek knows a great deal more than he has ever told or will ever tell to Pedersen. At one time we considered killing our Golden Goose – making a raid on Kotacek’s home in Lisbon and grabbing off what records we could. This was always rejected. The information is only valuable when our knowledge of it is not known. Sooner or later we would have found a way to gain full access to Kotacek’s files without his knowing it. But it was not urgent, it could wait.”
“His capture changes things considerably. We’d planned on going through his files when he died. He’s an old man and a sick man. He has diabetes and a heart condition and is a cataleptic. He would probably have died within a year or two and that would have given us our opportunity. Now we can’t wait – his death won’t do us any good if he dies on the end of a rope in Prague. More important, we don’t want the Russians to get to his files. I don’t think he’s given them anything yet. I don’t think they know enough to ask for it. But during or after his trial, he may try to barter his information for his life. It would be a bad bargain for him. His files are worth a great deal more than his life.
“There’s more to it than that. This doesn’t entirely concern you, but I’ve never felt that it hurts an agent to know what the hell is going on and why. The Czechs are likely to make a big show out of his trial. They’ll stir up a lot of anti-German feeling at a time when we don’t want too much attention focused upon the policies of our friends in Bonn. Armament policies and such. There’s more, but that’s the essence of it. We want Kotacek out of Czechoslovakia. We want his files.”
There was a long space of silence, with both of us trying not to carry the conversation any further. He finished his drink and I finished mine. He nodded toward the bottle, offering another, and I shook my head, declining. He lit a cigarette. I got to my feet, walked to the window, looked out. He took the bottle and filled his own glass. I turned, walked back to the couch, sat down.
Finally I said, “You want me to go into Czechoslovakia, get him out of jail, and sneak him out of the country.”
“All by myself.”
“That would probably be best.”
“Why? Why not the CIA or someone with manpower?”
“The Boy Scouts,” he said. “No, that’s unjust of me. There are certain operations they handle rather well. But suppose the Agency did handle this one, Tanner. What would you have? You’d have an official agency of the United States government rescuing a little tin Hitler from a country that has every right in the world, legal and moral, to try him and convict him and execute him. If the CIA tried it and blew it – and don’t think they’re not fully capable of doing just that now and then – well, you can imagine the public reaction. Even if they got him out, the story would probably leak. And if it didn’t, if everything went off without a hitch, we’d still be on the outside as far as Kotacek’s files are concerned. He’d no sooner turn them over to us than to the Russians. If we twisted his arm, the information would be close to useless; the men involved would go underground. You see what happens? If we lose, we lose big; if we win, we still lose. No, there’s a better way.”
He put out his cigarette. “Suppose the man who rescues Kotacek is not a CIA man at all. Suppose he’s a member of, say, the Slovak Popular Party and a group of other nationalistic extremist movements. Suppose his presence would be interpreted as an obvious instance of a neo-fascist sympathizer selected by the network of international Naziism to spring Kotacek from the trap. Now do you see how neatly you fit in?”
“I’m hardly a Nazi. And the Slovak Popular Party isn’t fascist. It’s more a cultural organization for the preservation of the language than anything else.”
“True. But a number of its members are Slovak fascists.”
“That sort of charge can be leveled at any group.”
“Precisely. That’s exactly why you’ll be able to operate effectively in this affair. You can enlist the aid of a variety of persons who would have no interest in helping the CIA or the United States government. You can approach Kotacek as a fellow conspirator, an advocate of Slovakian autonomy and, by extension, a natural part of the new international Fourth Reich. He will trust you. He will give you access to his files, and he’ll never know it when you bring their information back to us. If you bring it off, Tanner, you win all the way.”
“And if I don’t?”
His smile had an element of treachery to it. “If you lose,” he said, “then what has happened? A fellow Nazi has tried to rescue Kotacek and has been caught in the attempt. Perhaps he tries to identify himself as a U.S. agent. If he does, the charge is laughed off. Perhaps he is imprisoned. Perhaps he is able to escape. Most likely, he is killed.” He frowned. “Which would be a pity, but not a tragedy. I would lose a most useful agent, but the country would not get a black eye. Can you see how much better you fit the scheme than all of the Central Intelligence Agency?”
There is a special method to be followed in jumping from a moving train, or, presumably, from any other similarly mobile object. One jumps in the direction in which the train is moving, falls with the body bent forward and the legs already in motion, and lands running.
I was quite familiar with this method. I had read of it often enough in books and had seen professional stuntmen display it frequently on the motion picture screen. And so I stood poised on the trestle of the Prague-bound train, waiting for my faithful Nazi comrade to slow it to around a dozen miles an hour, and fully confident that I could dismount from my perch with the agility of John Wayne’s double.
Brakes were applied and hissed in protest. The train slowed. I stepped to the edge of the trestle, crouched, hurled myself off into the night, and wondered, now that it was too late for wondering to do much good, why all those Hollywood stars used doubles. If it was so easy, as easy as falling off a train…
It wasn’t so easy. The ground was there ahead of schedule, and my flailing feet hit it wrong, and my couchant body was improperly balanced, and there was a wide gulf, it seemed, between theory and practice. I stumbled, I bounced, I sprawled. And lay there, quite motionless, while the train picked up speed and hurried on toward Prague.
The damage was not as great as it might have been. I had managed to shred one trouser leg and most of the knee it had contained. The other leg was doubled up awkwardly beneath me, not broken, not sprained, but not in entirely perfect order either. I had bruises on the palms of my hands, an aching shoulder that I seemed to have landed on, and a bump on my forehead about the size of a robin’s egg. On the other hand, I did not have my suitcase, which I had left on the train, or my breath, which I had left somewhere between the trestle and the ground.
I got up tentatively and determined that nothing was broken. I tried walking and found that both legs hurt, but that the one which had been twisted in the fall was worse than the one that had been torn up. I limped around for a while. I was supposed to go to the town of Moll and tell Kurt Pisek that Heinz Neumann had sent me. No. I was supposed to go to the town of Neumann and tell Kurt Heinz that Pisek Moll… No.
I sat down. Everything went around for a few minutes. Before long they would be stopping the train at Tyn. More policemen would board it, and this time they would wait for the real Evan Tanner to stand up. They would spend perhaps half an hour searching the train before it became apparent to them that I had somehow left it. Then they would blow whistles and draw up plans and begin searching for me.
So there was not a great deal of time. But I could not start searching for Moll or Neumann or Pisek until I could clear my head enough to know which was which. I had to make use of what time I had.
I stretched out on my back, placed my arms at my sides, closed my eyes, and remained that way for twenty minutes.
I had not chosen the ostrich’s method of hiding from danger. The play was one I had borrowed from Yoga, a deep relaxation technique which helped replace sleep for me. I lay very still, contracting and elaborately relaxing each muscle group in turn, then doing what I could to turn off my mind, making it as blank as possible. About twenty minutes had passed when I yawned and stretched and sat up again. I couldn’t be sure of the time – my watch was another casualty of the fall – but that particular regimen generally takes somewhere between eighteen and twenty-three minutes.
I felt much better. The pains were still there but they didn’t get in my way as much. More important, my head was working again. I had to go to the town of Pisek, where a man named Kurt Neumann lived. I would tell Neumann that Heinz Moll had sent me. Pisek, if I remembered the map of Czechoslovakia correctly, was a few miles east of the Vltava and about twenty miles up the river from Tyn. I was probably about ten or twelve miles from Tyn myself.