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Magwitch

Magwitch

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Magwitch

Lunghezza:
367 pagine
5 ore
Pubblicato:
Mar 9, 2015
Formato:
Libro

Descrizione

By orders of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the SS American Legion left New York City in the summer, 1940 to evacuate the Crown Princess of Norway, her children and American citizens from the World War II cataclysm overtaking Europe. Mystery surrounded the return voyage. Rather than follow a safer course, the ship headed directly into the North Sea war zone. If the Nazis destroyed the ship, as they warned, with the loss of a thousand American lives, many foresaw the U.S. drawn into the war.

Speculation abounds that if the U.S. entered World War II a year and a half before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, would the war have lasted but a year or dragged on past 1945? How many other servicemen and women could have been lost? How many of us of later generations might never have been born?

In a fictionalized account of this true-life episode, American spy Nathanial Silas plunges into its intrigue and danger in the hunt for intelligence information. Never superhuman but always undaunted, he finds himself challenged by three women. Only they hold the keys to unraveling a wartime puzzle. He uses charm, deceit, and coercion in the effort to foil a deadly Nazi plot behind the mystery of the American Legion’s voyage.

Pubblicato:
Mar 9, 2015
Formato:
Libro

Informazioni sull'autore

Author Roy Gauzza is a Washington, D.C. writer. He has produced articles, manuscripts and papers dealing with the cultural history of the early twentieth century for two decades.

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Magwitch - Roy Gauzza

that.

Chapter 1

Little Red Cottage

Other than the seagulls fluttering around the fjord and screeching to one another, not a sound could be heard; not a person could be seen. No one wanted to be seen on that mild Norwegian morning.

The sun was bright, but a narrow gravel lane through the village curved through the shadows cast by a row of quaint cottages. One cottage was oxblood red, another was dirty yellow, and the next was the color of the seagulls. The small houses decorated the lane as it climbed up a hillside, where a white frame church stood in the sunlight. The church lorded over the majestic fjord below and was nestled at the base of mountains, looming close to the angels.

A shrill squeak drowned out the squawks of seagulls. The sound could have been coming from an exotic bird, chirping three chords, over and over. It grew louder before an old man appeared, riding a rusted bicycle down the lane. The wheels squeaked faster as he peddled past the red cottage.

An old woman stepped out of the doorway of the dirty yellow cottage. Wrapped in a shawl, she wobbled with a satchel tucked under an arm and her head bowed, paying no mind to Lieutenant Magnussen, who was walking by with his hands shoved in his pockets and staring at the ground with each step.

The old woman was too old to care about Magnussen's presence, but she knew him. She knew what he was capable of—the same as most of the other townsfolk, who always seemed to disappear when word spread that he was coming.

Scruffy, Magnussen looked more like a middle-aged man, owing to bags under his eyes. He was only twenty-nine. The fight had been hard in the underground war. It was the only way he could lead his wing of The Résistance since the fall of Norway.

Perplexed, frustrated and angry, he was haunted by the German invasion of his country, about how the victory could have unfolded with such speed and surprise. He had heard rumors about how a woman, a sultry woman, had helped. Magnussen understood she had arrived in Tromso, Norway, to infiltrate the headquarters of the British, using her wiles to take advantage of men.

Doing the bidding of the Nazi intelligence service, she obtained details of British Lieutenant-General Auchinleck’s battle plans against the Germans. She had revealed the vital data to General Eduard Dietl of the German 3d Mountain Division. Then she vanished.

Fortunately, the woman’s duplicity enabled Dietl to claim a surprise victory over the Allies at Narvik during an unprecedented invasion. In the history of world warfare—never had a sea, land and air assault descended on a country, all at once.

In the recent five months, the Nazis never left. They occupied the country’s capital, its villages and countryside and seemed to appear from nowhere. Yet Magnussen’s spirit was not crushed. It was the third day he walked past the row of cottages and the third time the villagers of Odda wanted to cheer him. However, they did not, for the concern that the German forces could roll down the lane at any moment.

Weary, he made his way until he stopped in front of the little red cottage, glancing down the lane and then in the other direction, where it headed to the church. Unlocking the door, he pushed it open.

Framed by the doorway, red and green, hand-woven flowery curtains hung at the windows of a modest parlor. A small, framed photograph of King Haakon, dressed in all his regalia, hung on the baby blue wall. A blue and green, hooked rug lied beneath the huge, black-booted feet of two résistance fighters, who had followed Magnussen everywhere he went for the last months.

The soldiers stood at attention, side by side, as the taller man held a glass jar in his left hand. They saluted as Magnussen strolled into the parlor. He saluted in return, speaking to them in Norwegian.

Good morning, Lieutenant Magnussen, the shorter of the two résistance fighters said. He was a man of about thirty-five who wore a brown undershirt that strained around his barrel chest. To Magnussen, this soldier had the strength to wrestle a polar bear onto its back.

We don’t know if it is a good morning yet, Magnussen grumbled, arching his eyebrows.

No, sir.

But we shall soon know.

Yes, sir.

We shall try again, Magnussen sighed.

Yes, sir.

With no mercy this time. I have no patience this morning. I did not sleep well.

Yes, sir.

You have what we need?

Yes, sir, the tall fighter replied, raising his hand to show a glass vessel dangling from a bent handle. It looked like a canning jar, full of water. He held an eyedropper in his other hand.

Very well, Magnussen said, grimacing while twisting his head to crack his neck. With the two men following, Magnussen walked to a narrow door in the corner of the room. He opened it and descended a narrow staircase to reach the basement of the little red cottage.

Sunlight streamed through two small, high windows, the sparkling clean glass panes framing picturesque views of the fjord in the distance. Crudely-decorated crockery rested on an old oak table with giant claw feet. An oak armchair chair rested under it. In the center of the room, the chair’s mate creaked as Gabriel Chavigny began squirming in it. The old chair sounded as if it would fall apart at any moment.

Gabriel looked even younger than his twenty-six years. A slight man with poker straight hair the color of coal, he had large green eyes that opened even wider as he watched the three men surround him. It seemed he would cry.

His dirty clothes had become tattered over the past days. Head lowered, his face showed the patchy stubble of a week-old beard. Hands and feet tied to the chair, he said nothing. He was gagged.

Magnussen stepped in front of him, his head bowed and his teeth bared as the résistance fighters took positions behind the prisoner.

Good morning, Monsieur Chavigny. I hope you slept well, Magnussen said in broken English.

Gabriel stopped squirming and peered up at him with the distorted face of a man in terror.

Remove the gag, Magnussen commanded, and pointed to Gabriel’s mouth.

The short soldier understood and removed it. Gabriel coughed and choked, clearing his throat. Without the gag, one could finally see just how handsome he was.

We shall talk again this morning, my dear fellow.

I know nothing, Gabriel sighed in English, trying to still his lower lip. "I’ve tried to tell you too many times. I wasn’t given information you want."

You know everything.

"I don’t know! Why you don’t believe me? I know nothing."

"And I told you, you would have one more chance. Today is your one more chance."

Magnussen glanced at the tall résistance fighter and pointed to the container. The man unscrewed its lid and inserted the eyedropper. Slowly, he filled it with sulfuric acid. When the shorter fighter grabbed Gabriel’s hair and pulled his head back, the detainee cried.

No, no, no! I don’t know anything! he screamed, while struggling against the ropes that left his wrists red. The tall résistance fighter held the eyedropper over his left eye.

Again, I ask you. Will you tell us about the plans for the Royal Family? We know they are now in Sweden. What are the Nazi’s plans for them? Magnussen demanded.

If I could give you information, I’d give it to you! But I have no knowledge of their plans!

Lieutenant Magnussen looked toward the soldier, pointed to Gabriel’s hand and nodded. While the other continued to hold Gabriel’s head back, the tall soldier squeezed a drop of acid onto the back of Gabriel’s hand.

He screamed as it sizzled, smoked and burned his skin. Bubbles of blood began to ooze and drip from his hand.

Please, no! he moaned with labored breath. Please! I beg! Please!

The tall fighter looked toward Magnussen. The lieutenant remained stone-faced as he pointed to his own eye. Gabriel sensed what was about to happen. He squirmed in the chair as if he was having a seizure, shutting his eyes, screaming.

"No! No! Please no! I will do anything you want!"

Magnussen waved the soldier off.

You know, Gabriel—the chance to ever again see a lovely woman, a woman reaching her arms out to you, could be taken away in just a second, just one quick second.

If you can wait just a little longer, Gabriel moaned, cracking one eye open. A little longer! I know my sister will... I know! I know she will help! I know she...

It has been too long, Magnussen hissed. "We have heard nothing. Nothing!"

"She just needs more time. She will find out what you want to know! She just needs more time! It may take another day. It may take another week. I don’t know. I can’t know. More time! Please more time!"

"You do not have more time."

Believe me! the young man pleaded. Why would I lie to you now? I swear. I give you my word as a gentleman!

A gentleman?

She just needs more time!

"Both you and I are running out of time," Magnussen grumbled, shaking his head. Gabriel moaned and the crockery on the table rattled as a truck rumbled up the road. Magnussen cocked his head to listen. The truck continued pass the little red cottage.

Headed for the steps up to the parlor, Magnussen called back the order, Gag him again.

The short fighter tied the gag over Gabriel’s mouth before racing up the staircase behind his cohorts.

Back in the parlor, Magnussen went to the window near the front door and peered through a slit in the curtains. Outside, he saw the old woman waddling back to her house.

The Nazi’s have made a first movement for the day. But only the one truck, I think, he surmised.

Lieutenant, do we work on Chavigny anymore this morning? the short fighter asked. He seemed frightened, not only of the Germans, but of Magnussen as well.

I think no more this morning. He knows now what he will face.

Do you think he is telling the truth?

"If you had drops of acid causing you agony, would you not be wanting to tell the truth? This is not a slap in the head. If you were facing the prospect of losing your sight, would you not be wanting to tell what you know?"

The fighter was silent as Magnussen continued.

The sister may be the only key, if she is also working with the Reich and has an interest to save her brother’s life.

How much time will you give him?

That depends on my mood.

Yes, sir.

I will send you word tomorrow when to return here, Magnussen whispered as he cracked open the door and peered outside.

Yes, sir.

A little while after he swung open the door and left the cottage, the résistance fighters followed, leaving Gabriel alone in the basement, crying.

Chapter 2

A Letter Today

Just a short walk around the corner from The Prince of Wales pub was a two story house on Quick Street. No more than twelve feet wide, it blended into the face of one long row of identical houses with brown brick and white stone. Only one house had a dark blue door.

The row sat on the sidewalk, just a few steps from the street, reflecting an elegant simplicity in that London neighborhood. All the colored doors were reminiscent of fanciful carousel horses, as one was black, another light blue and others in green, red, yellow and pink. No one had been bold enough to use orange.

The colors guided the postman, who never bothered with house numbers. He had long ago given up work as a cobbler for steady employment with the Royal Mail. Sporting his blue uniform and smart cap, he lugged his sack over his shoulder every morning.

By 9:15, he arrived at the dark blue door and shoved the post through its mail slot. Tumbling down onto the floor of the front parlor, it never lied there long enough to gather dust, before the floor creaked. An old mahogany table rattled as footsteps, made by tiny feet, approached the door.

Scooping up the post, Mrs. Merriweather sorted it, until a dirty envelope caught her eye. A short, stocky, pink-cheeked woman with grey hair and puffy face, she squinted at the postmark. She walked to the window for more light, trying to read the flourish of handwriting through the thin paper. She held it up to the light. It didn’t help. The words still could not be deciphered. She turned it over to find the envelope well-sealed.

She stood at the window, transfixed, until she heard footsteps coming down the stairs.

Post today, Nicole, she announced.

For me? Nicole asked with a distinctive French accent reminiscent of Gabriel, her vivid green eyes widening in surprise.

It’s a mighty dirty envelope, the older woman noted, handing it to Nicole. Musta come a long ways.

"Merci."

Do hope it’s not bad news, dearie. Never do like bad news by post. Never do.

I’m leaving for the theatre now, Nicole stated, a bit uncomfortable, but I will visit the corner shops on my return. Will you need anything?

Oh, no. I shalln’t need nothing. But thank you for asking.

I should see you this evening, Nicole called back, heading out the door.

Don’t you want to read your letter before you leave, dearie? Mrs. Merriweather insisted, following Nicole. Might be wise. Surely might be wise. I remember, oh, years long ago—me dad wrote me. He needed help. Oh, in such a bad way! He was nearly going to lose the farm, and he wrote me.

"It’s a right beauty, that farm. Some of the best well water you ever tasted, but it really didn’t have any taste. That’s how you know it’s the best. Well, anyway, he was short just fourteen pounds and twelve pence to fend off that tax man, and I sent it to him."

It was every pound and pence I could lay me hands on. But if I didn’t open that letter the minute it was in me hands, he would have lost the farm, which he did anyway. Musta been three years later. I surely do miss that farm. Do indeed.

So now you open letters as quick as they come? Nicole asked politely.

Yes, indeed. Are you certain you don’t want to open yours straight away?

Oh no. I will read this one on my walk.

Well, if you’re sure, Mrs. Merriweather shrugged as Nicole shut the door behind her.

However, Nicole ripped the envelope open just as soon as she stepped into the warm summer morning. Yanking out the letter, she recognized the flourish of handwriting as her brother’s. It was in French.

Plodding along the sidewalk, she read,

Dearest Nicole,

Again, I must ask you. Have you made the contact to locate the information that I so desperately need? You are the only one in a position to learn it. I continue to be held by the forces whose threats against us grow. Their patience is weakening, as am I. It is all now in your hands.

Gabriel.

She sighed and resumed walking. It was the second letter she had received from her brother, pleading and demanding that she take matters into her own hands. Whatever words he could not include in the letter, apparently written under the eyes of his captors, were words she already knew—Gabriel wanted her to contact a woman whose reputation was deadly, though a woman who would be her ally.

The woman shared Nicole’s passion. A contact told Nicole that the woman would possess the valuable information that her brother so desperately required. It was the reason Nicole was in London, the reason she had pleaded with the ballet master, Senor Dempo, at Sadler’s Wells Theatre for a position. After tearful eyes failed to inspire his sympathy, she had flirted with him.

As a dancer in the troupe, she could discreetly gain her ally’s trust, a trust that could not be wrought overnight. Once that trust was earned, she could get the information she needed.

She stuffed the letter back into the envelope, slipped it into her purse and continued to the theater, hanging her head the entire way. The buildings and houses she passed were blurred images, along with the people who dashed along the sidewalk. An automobile nearly clipped her has she crossed Upper Street.

As she opened the door to the theatre, she realized she was late, which would never do. Hurried, she slipped on ballet shoes and scurried toward the stage, passing Jean, standing in the wings.

You better hurry, Jean whispered, pointing toward the stage. The shouting has already started.

Sneaking unnoticed onto the stage, Nicole blended into a cluster of six girls in street clothes. Another was on the floor, looking dazed. Marina stood center stage alone, looking peeved and imperious, tapping her foot. And Senor Dempo was yelling. He was yelling like a man with a flair for dramatics.

With a round head sprouting a few last survivors of grey hair, the portly Argentinean spent too much time eating pasta and strudel, and he wore clothes that were always too tight. His mustache was always poorly-trimmed.

"Get up! Get up now, I tell you!" he yelled at the girl on the floor.

The morning of practice passed slowly. However, in the midst of a fouette, Nicole misstepped twice. Once was unusual, but twice was rare. Senor Dempo spotted the error, as nothing eluded his eyes.

You clumsy girl! he shouted in his nasty way, but that was not so unusual.

By 1:00, all the girls scattered out of the theater for lunch.

Chapter 3

Wiles Ruled This Land

A puff of grey smoke, belched from the 1920s model black Ford, driven by a teenager who was just a baby when it was manufactured. No one noticed.

Everyone was busy trying to get where they wanted to be. Soldiers passed in dark blue and brown uniforms. Housewives raced to the shops, clutching ration cards so dear to their lives, and children who escaped evacuation from the city bustled about Upper Street. All swarmed along the sidewalks, flanked by buildings of dull brick.

A red, double-decker bus, plastered with advertisements for Brylcream and Lucky Strikes, blasted its horn, but that did nothing to clear a path through the crowd. The bus could only lurch through the jam of automobiles as its driver ignored the middle aged man chasing after it.

Oi! Oi! the man screamed, before he nearly collided with Jean.

With too much rouge and too much henna rinse, Jean could have been mistaken for a floozy. Among the plainly made up women in wartime London, she stood out, touting such cosmetic luxury. With the wiggle in her walk, though, she stood out, anyway, in the crush of men and women carrying her, along with Nicole and Marina, down the sidewalk. After the three women passed the Lyons Corner House, where they could have a meal of the best roasted beef, their long walk ended.

After a few steps farther, they entered Islington Garden. Bordered by Upper Street and Islington Green, it was long a shelter for its inhabitants, if only for an interlude from the honk, screeches, calls and shouts. It was a haven of trees and grass.

A perfect triangle of green grass, the locals knew it as a place to meet and trade. They knew it as a place to rest, and that is why the three women ventured there on that hot August afternoon to share their midday meal.

Jean had left her husband, and his name, back in America to spend a month or two to complete her assignment. Six days a week, she monitored the dramas and intrigues at the Sadler’s Wells Theatre—a clumpy pile of brick, except for its elegant façade—on Rosebery Avenue.

And Marina Lee had left many countries. Few knew where she belonged. Most knew she was Russian and noticeably refined. Upon meeting her, many men desired her and sought her as an ornament at soirées or trysts all over Europe. While many fancied her, most were intimidated by her.

The stunning Nicole Chavigny had left France and a home that became rubble in the wake of the tanks and grimy hobnailed boots of Adolph Hitler’s troops. She had arrived three months earlier.

Nicole was a woman most men wanted to bed, especially when she pursed her lips. And she knew it. And she used the pouty look when needed. But she could transform herself from a siren to an ingénue in an instant, leaving those same men proud to take her to meet their mother. Her lashes were thick and dark, drawing attention to her eyes. Eyes—with the translucence of a green bottle. Her dark hair, always parted on the left like the film stars she saw in the Hollywood pictures, fell a little past her shoulders.

The youngest of the three women, she looked to be in her late 20s, with her flawless skin, but she was older. She spoke Italian and German. Her English was at times excellent, but she was unsophisticated in the ways of American slang.

Her voice was soft, sometimes throaty, unsuitable for song, so she used her body—lifting a leg, stretching out an arm and arching her head—to make a living.

She danced with the Paris Opera Ballet, quite a treasured accomplishment in the world of dancers. Not long before arriving in London, she performed during a special fete in the gardens of Versailles. On that warm spring evening, before hundreds, she replaced the lead dancer who sprained an ankle.

Nicole’s performance exposed her soul with perfection. She had basked in the role of a star. Now, while sitting with Jean and Marina on a wooden bench in Islington Garden, she wondered if her opportunities as a dancer were gone forever. Grinding her heel into the gravel of the long, broad walkway—reminding her of one at Versailles—she was left with a wistful memory.

As they finished eating in the shade, Marina picked up a napkin to dab her mouth, smiling as she looked up to the arching trees.

Always, I know there is little better than lunch on a warm afternoon in a garden.

I love the park in the afternoon! Jean added in her characteristic throaty voice. I remember all the times, all the good times, with my first lover when I was seventeen! So many afternoons we spent lying in the grass and getting up to all sorts of things. Oh, if my father had ever found out, I’d probably be married now to the boy!

Eyes becoming misty, she continued.

You never forget the rendezvous with the first lover. All the others that follow are just names.

We should get back to the theatre, Nicole warned, her legs crossed, her heal grinding.

Enjoy the peace while you can, Nicole, Jean comforted.

I can’t enjoy the peace right now, Nicole returned. Too many thoughts spinning and spinning in my head! And I can no longer tolerate Senor Dempo. His voice follows me! There is no shouting here at least. I abhor the shouting.

It was particularly dreadful today. The man is an imbecile! Marina added. He is the best at the choreography, but he is also the best at being an imbecile!

The man is a beast. I think the ballet, here, is not for me! Nicole declared.

I’m glad I’m not a dancer, but don’t you give up. We all know he is a beast, Jean comforted. You must ignore the man. You must not abandon the ballet.

I will tell you a little secret, Marina confided, with her head tilted toward Nicole. Flatter him. He will love that—like all men. You treat him with too much respect and not enough flattery.

I don’t I know if I could do that. He turns my stomach, Nicole groaned.

"Men flatter you, don’t they?"

Yes.

All the time?

Well...

Listen to them, my dear, and learn, Nicole concluded.

"Why do I not have the trouble that Nicole has," Jean wondered aloud, shaking her head.

"We will all have troubles if we sit on this bench very much longer," Nicole reasserted, rising.

Yes, yes. I suppose we must get back to the beast, Marina sighed while rising, but she turned to see Jean was still sitting, staring into the distance.

"Are you coming Jean? They aren’t for you."

I am. I am. I was just wondering about that plenty rugged fellow over there with the wonderful smile, Jean said with her head tilted. She gazed at a soldier in a RAF uniform, laughing with a buddy as they cut through the park.

Jean! Nicole barked.

I’m coming, I’m coming, she grumbled as she grabbed her purse, glancing one last time at a soldier who might not be alive in a week, a month or a year.

Chapter 4

Shadow Dance at Night

A black cat sat dozing on the windowsill. Once the runt of the litter, he had grown as large as

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