Please accept this gift - can be read during the hall-time show - as a teaser to tempt you to read the full, expurgated story...later.
Except from 'The Jekyll Island Enigma' by Jack Owen
(gift-read between plays)
Konig wrinkled his nose at the acrid smell of burning oil and cordite filtering into the grimy, camouflaged car as it approached Lorient.
“This is worse than my cigar, eh ?” he rubbed sleep from his eyes, peering at shipyards smoldering from another English bombing raid. Dockyard workers ignored the car bumpily edging through their midst. German uniforms and military vehicles were a common sight to battered and bewildered Frenchmen following the country’s defeat in June, 1940.
Konig glanced back toward the other passenger, Gerhardt Muni, perched on the back seat with him. He braced himself when the car swayed to skirt bomb craters which had turned the road into a perilous patchwork of holes.
Muni merely nodded and shrugged, following an established pattern to Konig’s friendly conversational attempts. Muni only voluntarily spoke once during the long drive, to protest when Konig lit up a cigar.
“Is that necessary ?” Muni asked petulantly, winding down his window. The draft disturbed his carefully coifed flaxen hair, depositing dust motes, which he fastidiously flicked off the surface of an immaculately pressed new navy uniform.
“Yes.” Konig said curtly. “When you have spent most of the war under water, breathing in the stench of hot machinery and unwashed bodies, you seize every opportunity to enjoy the little comforts life has to offer.”
Muni coughed delicately into a fresh linen handkerchief extracted, like a magician, from the sleeve of his uniform jacket. “That may be, but put it out,” he ordered.
Konig’s eyes narrowed briefly and a slight tremor flecked his cheek. He drew a deep breath, slowly shaking his head before he exhaled and tapped the single gold stripe on Muni’s arm before glancing down at the two gold rings of command on his own sleeve.
“I suggest you read up on Naval insignia, and rank, if you’re going to wear the uniform,” Konig said softly.
Muni’s mouth opened to reply before he saw Konig’s lopsided smile was not reflected in his dark eyes. Muni clamped his mouth shut and shifted to the far end of the seat. Konig took advantage of the hours of chilled silence to doze, not waking until they reached Lorient.
In the distance Konig saw the mouth of a tunnel leading to the protected submarine pens, beyond the gauntlet of civilian road laborers and dockyard workers.
One of the French workers casually glanced up from his mundane task of sizing cobblestones at the curb-edge, closely observing the car’s occupants when it swept past. He noted their uniforms and rank, turning his head slowly to follow the direction of Konig’s pointed finger.
The submariner was oblivious to the workman’s curiosity.
His attention was riveted by the sight of three sea-going tugs maneuvering a badly shelled half-submerged U-boat, into a fortified basin containing several other battered Boots.
“Mein Gott, look at that!” Konig cried.
“You won’t find what you’re looking for there Captain.”
Muni spoke up from his corner, carefully straightening his double-breasted jacket to fasten the buttons.
“I think I can recognize my own boot, Leutnant, even in that scrapheap. I can’t imagine what dumpkoff left those boots out in the open like sitting ducks for air-attack.”
Konig spun around to face Muni who was busy adjusting his high-peaked cap at a jaunty angle. “You can forget your mission now, I think.”
“I think not Captain. What you are looking for is not there.” Muni responded haughtily, adding smugly, “Admiral Canaris will no doubt be amused at your description of him. He ordered the pens emptied for my mission.”
“That wreck is my boat!” Konig, ignoring the comment, thrust a leather-gloved finger at the submarine being supported, pushed and towed by the tugs.
“Your command is in the bunker, safe beneath 15-feet of reinforced concrete and steel.” Muni curled back his lip in a smiling sneer at the puzzled look on Konig’s face. “You’ll see.”
Konig clenched his fist so tightly his knuckles threatened to burst out of his gloves. Muni represented the power and authority of a man held in high esteem by Der Fuhrer, and Konig obeyed orders. But that did not mean he liked it.
The French workman’s eyes followed the car’s progress until it reached the tunnel entrance, while his hands automatically maintained their mechanical task. Beneath the shabbily dressed, unshaven man, a mind schooled in the minutia of espionage logged the non-incident to memory for his next intelligence report to England, along with the damage caused by the air-raid, and number of trucks entering Lorient’s marine arsenal.
Artificial light emphasized the strained lines etched on Konig’s face when the car entered the tunnel. If the wreckage of U-122 was not his to command, he wondered which of the Type IXD Class boats he had been assigned to.
While his brain engaged in matching captains to supply boats, his eyes narrowed at the sight of the submarine which filled his view. It looked like a steel anachronism from his youth: a dull-gray fat cigar-shaped hull with a plumb bow, canoe-stern, and an open catwalk raised along the length of its upper deck.
Deutschlander, sister-ship to lost Bremen, unloading in New London, Connecticut,1916
“Wh-what in God’s name...?” He muttered.
“Your new command, the late Great War blockade runner Bremen.” Muni indicated with a disdainful hand gesture.
Konig stared, mouth compressed into a thin tight line, at the ghost of the legendary merchant submarine Bremen. He vaguely recalled her reported disappearance with all hands shortly after sailing from Germany in the summer of 1916.
When Konig stepped out of the car the spectral ancient hull solidly blocked his horizon.
He turned to face Muni, dozens of questions poised to pour out in a torrent.
“Not now Captain, please. Your crew and command await.”
Muni waved his hand imperially.
Konig squinted against the lights illuminating the cavernous submarine pens so they were brighter than a sunlit day. The uniformed men assembled along the dock were his own crew. He swallowed hard, bracing his shoulders and stepped forward to greet his First-Lieutenant, Oberleutnant zur See Walter Cremer.
Several hours later, after the formalities and inspection of crew and boat were completed, Konig sat in the small wardroom with his second in command, and Muni. A bottle of schnapps miraculously appeared on the small table, with three squat stainless-steel thumb-sized tumblers.
Konig poured with a steady hand while he directed questions at Muni. “Why was I not warned about this tub? Didn’t think I’d take it, eh ?”
“You would have been shot if you had refused. You knew too much. Danke!” Muni matter of factly answered. He grasped his tumbler, raising it in silent salute and downed its contents in one gulp.
The others followed his lead.
Konig refilled the glasses before firing off his next round of questions. “Where in the world did she come from ?”
He looked about the cramped cabin with its stark furnishings. Pipes and valves jammed overhead and along the inner hull.
“Her maiden voyage through the British blockade was almost her last trip, “Muni said. “When she approached New York harbor on the surface she was spotted by a squadron of American frigates. They refused to accept her as a legitimate Merchant vessel. Bremen’s commander submerged to escape capture, but was depth-charged. He managed to escape by leaving a decoy of oil and personal items - including a lifering with Bremen’s name on it - to fool the Americans.”
Muni spun his tale in a bored, monosyllabic tone to the two submariners straining forward to listen.
“Once Bremen was far enough out in the North Atlantic, off the convoy routes and away from enemy patrols, she re- surfaced and made a run for Spain, a less aggressive ‘neutral’ country. Bremen was presumed lost at sea, and Naval Intelligence used her loss to enlist the sympathy of pro- German factions in America. Protests against the brutal and ‘cowardly’ sinking of the unarmed Merchant submarine proved to be a better propaganda weapon than her survival.” Muni shrugged, holding his tumbler out again.
Konig hesitated before pouring again. “Her survival could have been embarrassing to the High Command, I suppose. So Bremen remained hidden from sight in Spain for two decades and no one said anything ?”
“It took a bit of persuasion, and a lot of palm-oil to keep it quiet.” Muni stroked one hand across the palm of the other.
“And the crew ?” Cremer, the pudgy, older First Officer, asked.
“They had a long holiday in German East Africa patrolling Lake Victoria on an armed steamer. Until a maniac Englishman sunk them with a home-made bomb mounted on the bow of his piddling little boat, the ‘African Queen’. He, and the English slut with him, perished in the explosion.” Muni smiled with satisfaction. His death’s-head insignia signet ring rattled against his tumbler impatiently.
Konig glanced briefly at Cremer, involuntarily shuddering at the fate of the Bremen’s crew, before pouring another round of schnapps.
During the next 48-hours Konig absorbed every facet of the ancient submarine he could. It was a weird experience to tour a boat presumed ‘dead’ for 25 years. He felt as though he had suddenly been given command of a salvaged ‘Titanic’.
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