“How is it, Reichsfuhrer?”
Ilsa Hauppman’s eyes snapped open as her reverie was broken. She stretched with a yawn, looking around at the familiar surroundings of her library. The walls and shelves of dark, almost black, chestnut and crackling fireplace filled her with a sense of comfort. Just as a middle-class student of this dimension might smile to wake up in a comfortable bedroom, in the knowledge that they were still on holiday, so did the sight of the Fourth Reich’s leader’s innermost sanctum. Her gramophone was still on, the final strains of Siegfried’s Funeral March trumpeting in the silence; on her lap, a dog-eared first edition of Gobineau; on the small table to her right, a glass of Austrian vintage, halfway finished.
In short, bliss.
“Hmm?” She lazily turned to the source of her disturbance. Jormungandr stood rigidly at attention, her hideous reptilian face betraying no emotion.
“The wine you requested; is it to your liking?” A hint of hopefulness in her voice; as always, her sole driving purpose in life was service to her beloved Fuhrer, in all things. Ilsa smiled warmly, if she was at all capable of “warm” sentiment. Such devotion…
“Perfect, my dear,” she assured. Picking up the glass, she took another mouthful, letting the dark aged liquid slowly slide down her throat, savoring the dull burn. Ilsa looked up to see the creature once known as Helena Koch‘s face slightly move. She was unsure if her fanatical lieutenant was still capable of actually smiling. If so, this was as good an indication as any. “Any particular reason as to why you have chosen to wake me?”
“My apologies!” Jormungandr exclaimed without missing a beat. “You did ask me to let you know when live contact with… him was made.”
“Already?” she got up, as if she was expecting her mysterious contact to appear by magic. It had been a week and a half since the mysterious phone calls started. No idea who the caller was, though, as attempts to trace the call had led them fifteen miles due south, to a run-down rat-infested noodle shop in Little Vietnam. No luck getting a voice-match, either; Ilsa hadn’t needed her tech-head to tell her the caller was using an electronic voice box. She saw no reason to be overly concerned with the caller’s identity, though, as the information he (she?) provided was… interesting, to say the least. Most of it was teasing, but hinted at an explanation as to why every cop in Angel Falls had been on her tail just a few months earlier for supposedly busting Jane “American Hero” Smith out of Tartarus*.
It had not been a week since her longtime nemesis’ destruction of the “Iron Chancellor” (along with his cockeyed plans for the 4th Reich), followed by Hauppman’s return to power, than old problems began to reassert themselves. She had re-inherited the mantle of leadership only to find that the AFPD were still hot on the trail of Smith’s “rescuers,” and that she was the prime suspect. Thus, finding the real guilty parties (and being sure to deal with them painfully) was still priority number one.
The search for whoever had framed the Fourth Reich had, needless to say, gone as well as attempts to track their mystery caller. None of their mob contacts had the faintest idea. The caller, however, had been just generous enough to “casually” drop a couple of names, Hector Blanco among them. But what would the psychotic arms dealer want with Smith? As usual, Blanco’s organization was as air-tight as ever; their contact in the Hardliner recently turned up in the mail, looking more like a surrealist sculpture than a woman.
Now, it seemed, answers were due. Real answers.
“This should prove interesting,” Ilsa remarked to herself, taking another sip of wine. She closed Gobineau, making sure to mark her place. “My dear, please show, err…”
“Him,” her reptilian underling hissed, pleased with herself. “I will show him in immediately.”
Jormungandr nodded before marching briskly to the library’s stone-arched doorway, opening it a crack. “Enter,” she commanded, stepping aside. Ilsa watched as a tall, bald man, looking to be in his mid-thirties at oldest, entered and made his way towards her with a hungry expression.
“SS Major Ilsa Hauppman,” he let the words slide off his tongue, as if savoring them, as his eyes savored his host. His accent was difficult to place, but undoubtedly Balkan. “Until now, my only glimpse of view of your beauty was in the pages of Der Sturmer. But now, I see that the photographers did you a grave disservice.”
“I’m afraid I don’t quite follow,” Ilsa frowned, puzzled. She’d stake her entire collection of Wagner that she’d never seen this man before.
His eyes brightened up. “Here, this should make you feel more at ease.” He rolled up his sleeve, raising his hand palm up. Ilsa stared at the tattoo just below his wrist.
“Well, they do say it’s a small world.”
He grinned. “Heil Hitler.”
“You never told me, Captain Lukov, how exactly you survived the fall of Berlin.”
“Please, it’s ‘Georgi.’ I get enough of that rank business back at base. But, to answer your question…” the Nazi terrorist’s guest leaned back in his chair, lighting a cigarette and taking a long drag. “Simple. Simpler than I thought it would be. The Bolshevik scum, once they had finished raping my beloved Bulgaria, and your Germany, realized that they would need professionals like myself, to police their conquest. You should have stayed.” He took another drag, allowing his cigarette to sit in the ash tray. “Plenty of our comrades found work readily available. Research & development, the secret police, even military. Especially scientists,” he nodded knowingly at his host.
“Nein, I don’t think that would have worked out,” Ilsa replied, wrinkling her nose in disgust at the very thought. “I don’t relish the idea.”
Lukov shrugged. “Just as well, I suppose. With your résumé, I’m not sure they would have exactly rolled out the red carpet, dental plan and all.” Ilsa laughed at the attempt at humor.
“Well, you’ve evidently done well for yourself. Not that I’d like to insinuate that your ‘resume’ wasn’t as exciting as my own.”
“No offense taken,” Lukov raised his hands reassuringly. “As far as they knew, I was Waffen SS, foreign division. Nothing easier for me than taking orders like an automaton.” The analogy did not suit the veteran Nazi scientist.
“Watch how you speak about the Army of the Gods, Captain,” Ilsa’s tone and expression hardened.
“Far be it from me to disparage the memory of my—our—comrades!” Lukov blurted apologetically. “I meant that it was the Russians who valued mindless servants who could take orders. But believe me, we were far from mindless.” He retrieved his still-smoldering cigarette from the ashtray and recommenced dragging. Ilsa visibly mellowed at his apology.
“Forgive me, Cap… Georgi. My friend,” she said graciously. “I still get somewhat touchy when I think of what happened after the war.” She got up to pour her guest another glass of wine.
“No apology necessary,” the Bulgarian officer took a sip. “I should have been more mindful. In any case…” he paused to examine the wine, swirling it around the crystal goblet. “They offered me the position, no questions asked. The pay made for a relatively comfortable existence, and the work was insultingly easy.”
“Were there many like you? In their armed forces, I mean,” Ilsa asked, curious of the possibilities.
“That is, ah,” Lukov moved his hand in circles, looking for the proper word. “Complicated. Yes, that’s it. Please, try to understand,” he began sympathetically. “There were many veterans of the Great War from our side serving alongside me under the new management, make no mistake. I wouldn’t say much for their loyalty to our great cause, though.”
“Say no more,” Ilsa replied bitterly. She had heard of such things, in the few years between the War’s end and her escape to Angel Falls: formerly “loyal” Heer officers changing sides at the last minute, in return for their pathetic hides. Intelligence operatives who had kept all sides readily supplied with valuable information in the event of the Reich’s defeat. It was all she could do to prevent the thought from making her physically ill. “Cowards and opportunists,” she growled through gritted teeth. “They gave victory to the untermenschen. I have no use for their cowardice.” Lukov raised his index finger instructively.
“My dear, never, never forget the power of deception.”
“What are you saying?”
“I saw that look in your eye, a moment ago,” Lukov said. “I know what you were thinking. Do not be put off by initial lack of strength in numbers. That can be overcome.”
“Enough leading me on,” Ilsa snapped. She finished her wine, pushing the glass aside and violently standing up. “Are you, or are you not, suggesting what I think you are suggesting?”
“Oh, yes.” The Bulgarian fascist stood up to face his agitated host. “But first, I thought I’d deliver what I promised over the phone.” He began to pace across the office, absent-mindedly surveying the expansive bookshelves. “What if I said I could give you the head of the one who framed you for the Tartarus jailbreak?” Ilsa did a double take, and peered hard at the bald man sitting across from her.
“I don’t suppose you were in any way involved?” That stunt had cost her, and cost her dearly. Her stoolies in the AFPD (what remained) had found themselves forced to go undercover for fear of incrimination. Ilsa was forced to begrudgingly postpone several key operations she herself had painstakingly planned out for the near future, and business partners normally happy to take her money had begun to remove her name from their preferred-clients’ lists (not to mention their cell phones). “I promise you now, If I find that you were…”
“Not guilty,” Lukov interrupted defensively. “Not my unit. The commander never trusted me and my men; he handpicks his own task forces for these sorts of missions. It was his operation, but we had… outside help in planning and logistics.” Ilsa frowned.
“When you called earlier, you mentioned Hector Blanco’s name. He didn’t-“
“He did,” Lukov butted in again, looking smug. “He had his people on the inside, he arranged for transportation and equipment, and he made sure his friends in the AFPD pinned the escapade on you.”
Ilsa poured herself more wine absentmindedly. It didn’t add up. “But why?” she pondered aloud, standing in front of the roaring fireplace as if hoping to divine the answers by gazing into the blaze. “What would someone like Blanco have to gain by ordering your commander to implicate me? There’s always been peace between our organizations; had Blanco really wanted to make trouble for me, that’s what his own lackeys are for.”
“Good question,” Lukov said. “Especially given it took some convincing on the colonel’s part to get Blanco to use his contacts to frame you.” He snorted derisively. “Ilsa, framing you had been the colonel’s idea from the start, not Blanco’s; for him, it was just a favor. As it turns out, Central Command had nothing to do with it either.” Clenching her teeth in frustration, Ilsa sat back down, thinking.
“The more you give me answers, it seems, only more questions seem to be raised.” She reached for the case of cigarettes, lighting one and allowing the nicotine to steady herself.
“What could this colonel of yours possibly have against me, so much so that he would go the extra mile just to see me take the fall for his escapades?”
“Another good question,” Lukov repeated, facetiously. “And one I’m actually not all that sure I have a satisfactory answer for. I know that he defected to the Russians as a refugee in 1936, and that he did some military work…”
“Try to narrow it down, please,” the Nazi replied, letting smoke escape her mouth. “There were many traitors, most of which became involved in the Russian war effort.”
Lukov shook his head slowly. “No, that can’t be all. I distinctly remember hearing about something else…” he narrowed his eyes, racking his brain for the elusive memory. “Wait,” his eyes lit up. He turned from the fire to face his host. “I just remembered now. My source told me that he’d been assigned to work as some kind of illegal operative for either the military intelligence service or the NKVD; I forget which one.” Ilsa’s cigarette dropped from her mouth to fall on the cold flagstone floor. She gazed into her guest’s eyes intensely.
“Which one?” Unnerved, Lukov recoiled from her stare.
“Like I said, I forgot. It might have been a joint operation, or some kind of top-secret third organization. Whichever it was, it’s incontestable; he worked as an illegal operative of the Kremlin.”
“Oh, you know. ‘Black-ops,’ or whatever Americans in this dimension call it: operations that weren’t officially sanctioned by the military or the NKVD. That way, if he was caught, it would be easy to deny knowledge of his existence, pass him off as a lone extremist.”
Lukov’s use of the word ‘extremist’ turned Ilsa’s blood to ice. The one question she knew would settle this matter once and for all was broadcasting through her mind, and yet she struggled to bring herself to ask for fear of the answer.
“Extremist?” She was stalling, and Lukov was beginning to notice.
“That’s how the Kremlin planned to term him, if he was caught,” he explained guardedly, unsure of what to make of her sudden mood shift. “The work they had him doing would be easy to pass off that way. Assassinations, propaganda, robbery, torture, that sort of thing. And as I understand it, it was this service that got him his rank.”
No point holding it off any further. “I need to know,” Ilsa said slowly. “Who.”
Lukov pulled a photograph from his pocket, handing it to his host. “A bit dated, but this should do.” She knew whose face would be on the picture before looking at it, but seeing his face again, after all those years, still was enough to almost floor her. She lit up another cigarette, disappointed that not even the potent Turkish tobacco could lessen the impact.
“We need to get to work. Immediately.”
To be continued…
*Here is a link back to that particular tale:
Most of the heavy lifting on this piece were done by my good friend Nathan, who provided this stunning piece of artwork and by my fellow author
who did the writing. All I did was some editing and throw in some ideas and my
Captain Georgi Lukov and the story belongs to
Ilsa Hauppman, Helena Koch and the Fourth Reich are all my property and creations.
This takes place in