This story was originally written thirty years ago, when the Cold War was in what we now consider its final stages. At the time, however, it did not seem that way. Distrust always overruled diplomacy. Also, what we now consider the current threat to civilization, religion-driven terrorism, was a rare aberration. Today both of those themes seem thoroughly contemporary.
A third timely theme, a generation’s struggle to overcome the nationalistic excesses of the Second World War, provides the element that ties it all together.
Voices in the Dark
The bracing chill in the air was enough to remind a native that winter had not yet had its final say. Yet the sun’s brilliance and the fact that the cold was no longer oppressive suggested that this was the departing gesture of a spent season.
Chief Inspector Wilhelm Heilemann raised the collar of his overcoat and shivered. All optimism aside, it was simply too cold for this kind of thing. He had been waiting at the edge of the tarmac for hours that seemed like weeks. No amount of last-minute activity or mental review and analysis could make the time pass quicker or make him warmer.
His men, plain-clothes and uniformed, lined both sides of the runway. They guarded every access to the landing strip. They were interspersed at regular, carefully determined intervals along the streets adjacent to the airport. Heilemann had joked repeatedly that the motorcade would pass more disguised policemen than civilians, a fact for which the American press would offer all kinds of arcane explanations.
The essential point was that the Inspector did not want an embarrassing incident. While an assassination attempt was probably out of the question, there was always a chance the radical fringe would do something unexpected and uncivilized. It had only been a few years since someone had emptied a bucket of red paint — “blood” he had called it — on the American ambassador’s car in Brussels. That would not happen here.
The “advance-men” who had come from Washington to review airport security had been crude boors whose casual insults had stung him to the quick.
“Jeez, Heilemann, you expect us to see these teeny badges? When we get off the plane, we won’t know somebody with clearance from some crazy who wants an autograph. What do you think this is? The Middle Ages? We have to know who’s who so we don’t rough up the mayor!”
To keep them happy, he had ordered huge, bright badges. As he glanced around him in these final, frigid moments of waiting, he smiled. The iridescent splotches on every official’s lapel looked like ladies’ favors worn into battle by armored knights. Medieval indeed!
The Soviet agents had been hardly more cooperative or courteous. They had merely informed him that they would be keeping their man secure. Local assistance was fine; but in their minds, it was an unreliable trifle not to be taken seriously.
This friendly invasion by condescending boors and sneaks was being made in the name of “peaceful coexistence”.
After the “advance-men” had come the reporters, a swarm of literate locusts marking out turf and interviewing every living creature in the city.
And now — finally — the two leaders would appear and take the well-lighted stage to wave, smile, and posture.
It was a wonder there were no elephants with tiny flags in their trunks.
A stir in the crowd nearby provided the first indication that a black dot in the blue western sky was the American President’s plane on its final approach.
Heilemann nodded to a subordinate a few yards away, and the man raised a walkie-talkie to pass the alert along the security network. Reporters and cameramen jostled each other as they pressed against the barrier separating them from the red-carpeted access ramp.
The main event of this circus was about to begin.
The Inspector was confident that his planning, medieval or not, would prevent a recurrence of the Brussels incident. A person without clearance could not get close enough to threaten the motorcade or the residence that was its destination.
The show must go on.
* * *
“Where’s the Captain? I’m ready to go!” Eleven-year-old Hans bounded down the stairs toward the front door, his enthusiasm bubbling over.
“Just a minute, young man! Have you brushed your teeth? The lake will still be there when you’ve finished. And don’t forget your coat. It’s still winter, remember?”
“Oh, Mama!” The boy’s intense displeasure was obvious. Why all this concern with details? He had a new ship to sail, and these delays only heightened his eagerness to get to the important things.
“Hansel! You will follow your mother’s instructions, or we will not take one step through that door!”
“Aye, Captain,” came the respectful, suitably chastened reply. A second later, dutiful and methodical steps could be heard on the stairs.
The order had come from a tall, elderly man who had emerged from the drawing room to the right of the stairs’ base. Although his hair was thinning and gray and his features were well lined, he still radiated authority. To his worshipful grandson, he was “the Captain”, a hero of wars and struggles the likes of which no ordinary man might experience. Like Siegfried and Frederick Barbarossa, he had fought great enemies; but unlike the names from myth and legend, he had survived the conflicts. In young Hansel’s eyes, he could do no wrong and was someone to emulate but never equal.
But Paul von Heilemann — the rest of the family had only recently dropped the undemocratic “von” — was something else to his son and daughter-in-law. To them he was an aging anachronism, kept around more from a sense of duty than of love. The family owed the old man lodging and as much comfort as they could reasonably afford in his twilight years. He had supplied similar needs for his children in the difficult post-war years, when their mother was ill and they were too young to work.
He was also a help as a babysitter for Hansel, as long as they kept an eye on what he said and did. He had to be watched, because, sadly, senility often seemed to be gaining the upper hand. In the middle of a conversation — or even a story he himself was telling — his face might go blank, save only for a faint but evident expression of pain. Though he would emerge from this cloud after a moment, he never acknowledged that his concentration had been interrupted.
Wilhelm and Gisela knew what was happening. They would keep him around as an ornament, until Hans was old enough to understand and the old gentleman was too addled to know the difference. Then they would institutionalize him. For the moment, however, he was still lucid most of the time; and the periodic attacks did not resist efforts to bring him back to reality. He was harmless, so they would wait to face the future’s problems until the need arose.
Captain Paul von Heilemann (ret.), former destroyer commander in the Third Reich’s resplendent fleet, was not unaware of his family’s appraisals. But he knew they were wrong, for only he understood his strengths and weaknesses. He loved Hansel more than he had ever loved a child, especially since the war had prevented his experiencing the youth of his own children. The boy’s veneration of him filled a void in his life, but he knew he did not deserve such pleasures.
Embedded in his memories, beyond his ability to forget or suppress, was the reality that he had willingly been a party to murder. He still heard that voice, unbidden but intrusive and confident, as if it spoke for his secret self:
We need national fanaticism. There shall be no tolerance for those who do not wish to serve the Fatherland. . . The Jew will destroy the nation, unless we do our duty.
He had done his duty. In the war he had earned decorations for bravery and meritorious leadership. He could live with what he had done in the cause of national defense. Yet the revelations at the end of the war had raised an unanswerable question in his mind. For what cause had he been fighting? Was it possible he still subconsciously believed in it to this very day? It had all been so logical when he had listened as a young man:
My Leader, I will follow thee just as I would my father and mother.
He had sung the rousing songs and marched in rallies and hated the national enemies with righteous intensity. He knew it was right; God was using the Fatherland to save and purify the world.
Wasn’t there an old Jesuit adage that said, “Let a child run until he’s seven and you will never catch him”? If this were true, his morality was set in his youth, during those early days of deprivation and national suffering. The void had been filled, and his beliefs forged, by the Leader, “whose life gives ours meaning.” Try as he might to forget them, he still found himself repeating the old litanies:
Do not trust a Jew. Above all, the Nation must live. That is the highest morality.
My God, my God! Why have I forsaken You? There is no atonement for the soul that cannot cleanse itself of the evil, of its guilt. There is no escape from the Devil when the Devil is within.
No, Hansel, your Captain is not a hero. Willi and Gisela were just as wrong. Would to God he could escape into senility! If only that could exorcise the evil spirit! His mental lapses were something else, however. They were the moments when some casual comment, scene, or gesture would trigger memories and unleash the enemy within:
I will remake you and the Fatherland from the bottom up. I AM your will. Do not think — FEEL. And follow me to victory.
Paul von Heilemann could intellectually recognize that those statements were irrational. He would readily agree that he had been victimized by fallacies. But he could not extricate himself from the entrenched, inner voice:
I am in you. I AM you.
Being left alone was the only thing worse than risking revival of those images and words in casual conversation. Unless his mind was occupied, it would of itself return to them as if drawn by a magnet. The afternoons he spent with Hansel were the best therapy he could get, in spite of the occasional terrible thoughts they might unleash.
That is why he had bought the model ship. It was one of the new kinds, equipped with battery motor and remote control. With that his grandson could really feel something of what it was like to command a vessel. He let the boy determine which of the public parks would be the site of its maiden voyage. The chosen lake must be big enough to allow the newly christened Sea Star room to maneuver.
“I’m ready, Captain. May we go now, Mama? Please?”
“Button your coat, Hansel. And don’t fall into the lake. You will be careful, won’t you, Papa?”
“Gisela! Gisela! You worry too much! The lad’s going to the park, not Singapore! Which one, my boy? We have to let the authorities here know where we’ll be, so they won’t make your father leave the Americans and Russians and look for us.”
“How about the Konigstrasse Park? That lake is huge! And I’ll bet nobody there will have a ship as nice as this one!”
“Don’t be a show-off, Hansel. Well, what do you say, Papa? Papa?” The vacant look and pained expression had reappeared.
“Oh, -uh, yes. . . fine! Konigstrasse it is, my good man! Let’s go! Don’t worry, Gisela! We’ll be fine!”
She watched them leave, descending the oversized steps to the street, hand-in-hand, joking loudly with each other. “Poor old man,” she thought, “What a shame he faces a future of total forgetfulness.”
She did not know he would have welcomed that kind of deliverance.
* * *
The first bomb exploded two hours after the Soviet General Secretary arrived. A parked automobile went up in flames across the street from, of all places, the city’s police headquarters, when the day’s normal commercial activities were just beginning. Four pedestrians and a motorist whose car had been adjacent to the explosion were killed. Several other passers-by were wounded and lay amid scattered debris as emergency rescue squads administered what help they could.
Since the motorcade route was several miles from the headquarters, Chief Inspector Heilemann was not immediately aware of the carnage. From his vantage point, things had gone smoothly. The two leaders were now ensconced in their ceremonial fortresses and would not emerge until the following morning for their obligatory sight-seeing tours. At least that would permit him a few hours respite. Even the news media would abandon him and seek other prey.
Within moments of the explosion, those dreams were shattered like the store fronts across from police headquarters. News of the bomb broke just after the Soviet leader had concluded his vaguely optimistic opening statement and withdrawn to his private facilities. The reporters found that they had been rescued from the unhappy alternatives of interviewing each other or speculating for the hundredth time on the outcome of the conference. A more sensational option had presented itself; and they raced to the scene in droves, beating the Chief Inspector there by several minutes.
Heilemann emerged from his official car into a maelstrom of shouts and clicks, punctuated by the hums of motorized cameras.
No, he knew nothing as yet. No, no group or individual had taken credit for this outrage. Yes, they would be informed when one did. No, he could not assume that this atrocity was related to the Summit now in progress. Yes, it could have been.
He pushed his way through the crowd and toward the entrance to the station. Of course this mess was the result of that circus! The whole world knew it, but he had to deny the obvious until concrete evidence emerged. He cursed profusely and violently as he entered the building and sought out the reassuring confines of his office. Subordinates followed on his heels, responding to his demand for a briefing. While they were providing details of the incident, the tangible proof Heilemann hoped to find surfaced in dramatic fashion.
A clerk interrupted with an envelope bearing the Chief Inspector’s name above the neatly typed inscription, “Concerning our first attack in the War of Liberation.” It seemed someone in the mob had shoved the letter into a policeman’s hand. The officer had been too involved with crowd control to pay much attention until now.
“The paper’s pretty thoroughly crumpled, and the lab’s not sure if they can determine anything from it.”
Heilemann nodded, dismissing the young man. He wondered whether he should tear it open, and risk destroying evidence, or give it to the lab, and risk losing altogether whatever message was inside. A second glance, however, showed that the envelope was only folded shut; it wasn’t sealed. And the message inside bore the same type face as the brief address.
Either this was a hoax, or the terrorists were incredibly careless. Then again, perhaps they were supremely confident and found disguise unnecessary.
Heilemann read the message aloud:
We, the United Liberation Front, do by this attack declare war on all imperialists. We have chosen your city as our battleground, because the enemy is here.
Capitalists, Zionists, Revisionists. All are aggressors who seek to perpetuate their domination. We declare before God the Almighty and All-Knowing that this evil practice will end.
Our second attack will come at 6:00 P.M., against Zionist oppressors and murderers.
Our third attack will come tomorrow and earn us martyrdom. You will kill us, but you cannot prevent God’s foreordained liberation of the oppressed.
Our fourth attack will come at noon on Wednesday, at which time we will win the war.
We have pronounced God’s judgment. We do not need missiles to deliver His punishment for these crimes. Our missile, guided by the Will of the Almighty, has already found its target.
It ended there, without signature or exhortation. Heilemann scanned the stunned faces that surrounded him. Then he looked at his watch. 6:10 P.M.!
The clerk once again interrupted the meeting, but this time his voice and appearance reflected a greater urgency and confusion.
“Inspector! Another car bomb, near the gate to the Israeli embassy! Reports say this one was more powerful. Many casualties!”
And all Brussels had was a lunatic fringe with its buckets of blood!
* * *
Paul von Heilemann and his grandson knew nothing of the mayhem or the threats attached to it. For the two of them, the pressing business at hand was the maiden voyage of the Sea Star. Hansel’s eagerness to see the toy vessel in action had not prevented him from making a careful survey of the nearby bodies of water that were big enough to meet his exacting demands. His choice, the lake in Konigstrasse Park, was indeed ideal. It was larger than most and not out of walking distance from their home. The shoreline was accessible and ringed with trees. In summer, with their branches in full leaf, it was a beautiful sight. Yet even in these final days of winter, it was impressive. The limbs encircled the lake like cathedral spires, and the open expanse of the park beyond extended for several city blocks.
But the natural beauty could not entirely silence the old man’s inner voice:
Ostracize them! Exorcise them! Excise the cancer from the living body! The Fatherland must be saved!
Konigstrasse Park bordered on what had once been the Jewish quarter, from which many families had been removed, divided, and imprisoned, never to return. The bare branches of the trees seemed to gesture accusingly at the old man. He could almost hear their voices, in counterpoint to the persistent internal one:
“You dare come here, so close to the scene of your crimes? Other children once played here, but thanks to you their play ended. How can we let our greenery celebrate life? You must look upon us stripped and bare, as your victims were!”
“Where shall we launch, Captain?” Young Hansel was at the shoreline trying to determine the best vantage point from which to operate the remote control unit.
His grandfather forced his mind to concentrate on this reality. “Where you’re standing should be just fine. Let’s give the equipment a quick once-over first. Can’t risk any Titanics, can we?”
A casual glance around them revealed that several other families were involved in similar pastimes. There was enough light breeze for sailing vessels to do quite well. Farther to their right, a young man operated what appeared to be another remote-controlled vessel. Perhaps they could compare performances and specifications.
The battery was working well, and the ship’s propellers responded obediently to the signals from the portable control box.
“I wish we had a bottle to christen her,” Hansel sighed, a momentary cloud drifting across his sunny disposition.
“You don’t seriously expect us to let this ship sail without a proper ceremony, do you?” The grandfather removed a small plastic bottle from his pocket. “I’m afraid it’s only a soft drink, but it should serve our purpose. I’ve taken the liberty of scoring the side of the bottle. It should break easily. We won’t have to worry about damaging the hull.”
With that he tapped the bottle against the bow of the toy, while intoning with exaggerated formality, “I christen thee the good ship Sea Star. May God smile on thee and thy hearty crew!” The little ship slid gracefully away from the shore, with Hansel carefully operating the controls.
From deep within, von Heilemann could hear bands playing “Raise High the Banner!” He could see an earlier vessel’s hearty crew, right arms outstretched in salute, laughing and joining in the triumphal chorus.
“Captain, you think of everything!” There was adoration and pride in his grandson’s voice. He acknowledged it with a wistful smile. Needing only occasional advice, the boy maneuvered the tiny craft between the sailboats. There was plenty of space in the open water well out from the shoreline, and there he could better test speed and stability.
“Careful, Hansel, Don’t push her too hard. It’s still a little cold for swimming, and that’s the only way she could be retrieved.”
“Aye, Captain.” He restrained his desire to push the speed to maximum and eased the controls higher gently.
In the deeper water, their only neighbor was the other remotely operated ship, a somewhat larger and bulkier model. Try as he might, von Heilemann was unable to determine exactly what kind of vessel she was supposed to be. The Sea Star was the obvious configuration of a modern destroyer, but the other ship resisted analysis, especially from that distance. She floated sedately, while the Sea Star darted about a few yards away.
As long as they were sharing the middle of the lake, why not get acquainted with the young man at the other control? Besides, the old navy man’s curiosity was getting the best of him; he wanted that design identified.
“Come on. Let’s get to know our neighbor.”
They eased to their right. Hansel’s eyes alternated between his ship and the control unit; he left his grandfather to do the shore navigation for both of them. The pilot of the other ship seemed equally intent on his controls. He made frequent adjustments, entering minute corrections. A lot of hand motion for so little ship response, thought von Heilemann. Of course, that could be his aim — to see how precisely he could keep his station in the water.
“Hello! How does she steer?” With that kind of greeting, he could show a technical interest and get the fellow to open up.
What he got was a look of surprise, or even shock. Obviously, the young man’s concentration had been so intense that he had not noticed their approach. He almost seemed frightened. Seeing them, he retreated quickly along the shore. His momentary glance showed him to be older than von Heilemann had at first thought. Clean shaven and dark-haired, he might have been taken for a teenager; but a closer look at his face revealed, in addition to the shadow of a beard, distinct signs of weathering. Those now-evident lines reflected pain, care, and agitation.
Was it the Semitic features or the look of fear and suffering? Von Heilemann now saw similar faces, cowering before him in terror. He felt the old, instinctive feeling of limitless power; and heard the dreaded voice:
You must be like the bird of prey, and the Nation will rise like the Phoenix from the ashes. Show no pity.
“What’s wrong, Captain?”
“Um? Oh, nothing really. I was hoping we could talk about his ship. I didn’t mean to scare him.”
“Aw, we don’t need him or anybody. We’ve got the Sea Star. We could sink them all, if we wanted to.”
Von Heilemann’s expression hardened. “Young man, you will not say such a thing in my presence again! We share this place with others who have just as much right to it as we do. That toy by itself doesn’t earn you respect. You can’t force people to do anything but fear or resent you. You earn respect by not abusing your power and privileges.”
“Aye, Captain. I’m sorry.” He sounded genuinely chastened.
The old man softened his expression and his tone. “That’s a lesson we all should learn, my boy. Some of us unfortunately never do.”
* * *
The visiting dignitaries responded to their security briefings in remarkably similar ways. Both canceled the local sight-seeing tours scheduled for the day after their arrival. The reason they gave was the pressing nature of impending negotiations. Their dedication, they said, prevented them from devoting precious hours to public relations displays. Both denied that concern for their personal safety influenced the schedule changes. Security was in the capable hands of the local authorities, as reinforced by their own forces in attendance. There were vehement denials that the incidents would affect their approaches to the talks.
An American spokesman distributed a news release in which the President placed the blame for the attacks squarely on the shoulders of the Soviet leadership and its “encouragement of terrorism by overt and covert means.” The blood of the innocent “could not be washed from their cynical hands.”
The Soviet General Secretary released a simultaneous statement blaming American imperialism for “driving oppressed freedom fighters to such regrettable extremes by refusing to acknowledge, much less support, their legitimate demands.”
Both leaders proclaimed their open-minded willingness to put past assumptions behind them and launch a “new era of peace in Soviet-American relations.”
When they met formally the next morning, the better part of the first hour was occupied with posed photo sessions of the two smiling leaders joking cordially and shaking hands repeatedly. Casual comments reaffirmed their mutual commitment to peace and to friendly coexistence. Spokesmen for both sides affirmed that the first closed sessions which ensued were “marked by a frank exchange of ideas” causing both men to be “cautiously optimistic”.
* * *
Chief Inspector Heilemann tried to leave his problems at the office. However, there was no way he could play down the two attacks that had occurred that day. His wife knew him well enough to recognize that he did not think the dangerous situation was behind them. She could tell by his refusal to involve himself in conversation around the dinner table that he was busy analyzing and planning.
The Inspector knew better than to discuss the implications of the United Liberation Front’s manifesto. The terrorists had not overlooked the wire services; they also had received the neatly typed note and, as expected, had given it the widest possible circulation. Local news reports had caused the kind of hysteria Heilemann had hoped to avoid, with the resultant finger-pointing which only served to cloud the situation further.
He could try to calm Gisela’s fears by down-playing the situation, but what about his father and Hans? The neighborhood was in no danger; there were no diplomatic or commercial sites of any consequence in the vicinity. They could go on about their business of playing with the boy’s gadgets.
Of course, Papa von Heilemann had to be handled delicately. At times, the old man seemed to grasp implications and nuances better than anyone in the house. A comment he made after dinner, when no one else was close enough to hear, was a bit of a shock in its command of things the Inspector had intentionally left unstated.
“The explosions are part of a campaign, Willi. They have some larger point to make. I doubt if they have made it yet.”
If only he could trust the old man’s rationality! It would be a blessing to have someone with his old strategic cunning as an informal advisor. But his consistent mental degeneration made that out of the question. All he could expect the old man to do now was keep Hans occupied.
Paul von Heilemann understood the persistence of fanaticism and the dangers it held for those opposing it. Yet there was no way this knowledge could be put to use, no way he could help his son with the terrible burden he carried. He knew Willi no longer shared with him anything deemed complicated, and he understood the reason. His own self-diagnosis was more severe; he did not consider it senility but gradually encroaching madness. He would not refuse any responsibility delegated to him, no matter how apparently minor. In that regard, he would protect Gisela and Hansel to the limit of his remaining abilities.
When the Inspector telephoned that he would not be home for dinner the following night, von Heilemann concluded that another battle in the terrorists’ campaign was imminent. He took it on himself to distract his daughter-in-law and grandson by giving vivid, animated accounts of the Sea Star’s performance. He described how she had maneuvered unchallenged around the center of the lake. Her performance had been exceptional in every respect.
As if to illustrate how beautifully the tiny ship had responded, he contrasted its movements with those of the now-abandoned mystery ship the young man had been controlling their first time out. What he assumed initially to be intentional station-keeping had apparently been poor response to the control unit. The vessel now floated in the middle of the lake, apparently abandoned until the water warmed up in the spring or a boat could be brought in to recover it.
“Our Sea Star sailed rings around it, Mama,” added Hansel. “It’s the best ship that’s ever been built!”
“Well, it certainly was the best in the middle of the lake today! Your son made some new friends too. A number of boys were really thrilled with the ship, and he let them take turns at the controls.”
Gisela beamed at the old man’s testimonial, and von Heilemann smiled with equal pride. The boy had taken to heart his comments about the abuse of power. An adult would not have been so easily corrected.
“It’s getting late, Hansel. You had better get some sleep, if you want to take her out again tomorrow. I’ll try to come up with some tricky exercises to put her through her paces.”
“You will? Oh, Mama, isn’t the Captain wonderful?”
“He certainly is, Hans. Now up to bed!”
“I can’t wait to show Papa what we can do!” With that the boy raced up the stairs, leaving the two adults chuckling below.
Gisela turned to her father-in-law. “He’s right. You are wonderful. Thank you for keeping my mind off whatever Willi is doing.”
Paul’s eyebrows rose in response. “I don’t seem to have been entirely successful! I wish I could do more. Would it help if I told you no one is better trained to handle the situation than Willi? You know him. Under that cynical exterior there’s a sharp, incredibly efficient mind.”
“Yes, I know that. But sometimes it bothers me that he never discusses his job at home.”
“He does that to keep you from worrying about things over which you have no control.”
“Thank you, Papa. You’re very understanding. You really do quiet my fears. Good night.”
With that she ascended the stairs, her worries now at least under control. If only Papa von Heiliemann could stay the way he was just then!
He remained below awhile, with the lights dimmed, thinking about the impact unreasoned fanaticism and other forms of selfishness can have on innocent victims. That was what Willi was fighting. And that was why so many others had given their lives fighting him.
* * *
The second day of high-level negotiations yielded dramatic photographs of the leaders walking together, gesturing persuasively. Unconfirmed rumors of future Summits in Washington and Moscow also surfaced, enhancing the spirit of good will and high expectations that had set the initial tone. Reporters were reminded that no substantive decisions would be announced until the conclusion of the conference’s third and final day.
The tension that had gripped the city since the first car bomb explosion remained at a peak level, refusing to be lulled by the generalities emanating from the talks. As the sun set that second day, authorities had not apprehended the culprits; and failure to show the press and public any kind of substantial progress led to much criticism. Was anything being done to stop the next phase of the bloody timetable?
Chief Inspector Heilemann accepted the responsibility and pressures as graciously as he could. In spite of his distaste for what he considered the news media’s extremes, he directed his officers to be as open with them as the investigation would permit. He himself presided at a raucous news conference in which the questions seemed to imply repeatedly that he and his department were inactive, inept, or both.
There was nothing he could do to discourage the spreading panic. On the other hand, interception of the next assault was at least theoretically possible. He set about meticulously analyzing the terrorists’ original message, line by typed line and letter by letter, to try to determine the next move of the group, now simply labeled the U.L.F.
The second attack had been punctual, and the target clearly indicated in the phrase “Zionist oppressors and murderers.” The only hint given concerning the third was immensely vague. He knew it would occur the evening of the second day, but no one knew when. It could be anytime from dusk to dawn. And there was not so much as an allusion to the target. All it said was that the attackers expected martyrdom.
Heilemann, with a small team of subordinates, studied the note. Now he understood the utility coffee has for Americans; drinking it gave them something to do during exasperatingly fruitless times like these.
Martyrdom. That meant they expected to launch a suicide attack. They would not just walk into a police station; it would have to be a significant location that would underscore their main point about imperialists.
Where would the defenses be so secure that the attackers would expect to lose? There were no military bases nearby. That was precisely why the site had been chosen for the Summit. If the conspirators planned to assault a target outside the immediate area, would they have concentrated their warnings locally? Claiming credit for far-flung incidents usually meant a phone call to someone in London or Paris. Yet this time every warning was concentrated in this vicinity.
So, whatever was coming had to happen here, unfortunately within his jurisdiction. Every line of analysis led to the same frightening conclusion. The Summit Meeting had to be the target.
The American and Soviet security teams concurred, redoubling efforts to protect their charges. The Americans sought clearance to call in and deploy their anti-terrorist units; but this was a tactless request, implying that their European hosts were unprepared or unqualified to handle the crisis. That air of superiority was another affront to national pride. Heilemann and his associates emphasized that they could handle things and would request help if any were needed.
Thanks, but no thanks.
The already tight Soviet security quietly became even more substantial. Firearms seemed to materialize from nowhere to be manned with authority by individuals previously designated secretaries or aides.
The two delegations were housed separately a few miles apart. An evening attack ruled out the site where the negotiations were held; all meetings ended by 4:00 in the afternoon. If the U.L.F. planned a move, it would have to concentrate on one of the residences or launch two strikes in succession. Or perhaps they would split their forces.
How many forces did they have, anyway?
Heilemann shook his head and forced his brain to concentrate on specifics. The only certainty was that security around those two locations would have to be intensified.
Leaving a token law enforcement presence elsewhere in the community, the entire police manpower pool was immediately mustered and deployed around the two houses.
If the note were a trick, this could cost Heilemann his reputation and his job. But fanatics consistently followed their own warped sense of honor and morality. They would sooner kill than commit the sin of lying. On those grounds he was taking the only appropriate action.
By 7:00 P.M., the streets surrounding the residences were swarming with roadblocks and combat-ready troops, waiting for the unknown. Anti-aircraft guns dotted the roofs of nearby buildings.
At 11:30, an unmarked delivery van slowly approached a checkpoint a few hundred yards from the American enclave. Two policemen in flak jackets signaled that the road was closed and waved toward a detour — but the van kept coming, accelerating rapidly. Behind it were five passenger cars, matching its increasing speed.
The police dodged for cover and brought their firepower to bear on the convoy as it smashed into the barricade. Men armed with automatic weapons abandoned the vehicles as they plunged forward, apparently with accelerators locked to the floor. Amid the general chaos of gunfire, the van erupted in a deafening roar. This was augmented by sequential explosions in the other cars.
At his command post behind a barrier closer to the residence, Heilemann could feel the heat and shock waves of the blasts.
The pattern was clear; each vehicle was a bomb on wheels, packed with explosives. He radioed an alert to his men stationed away from the assault site and then hailed an associate overseeing protection for the Soviets. He quickly learned that they too were under attack.
Continuing gunfire forced Heilemann to abandon his radio. He had expected to hear only the sounds of emergency procedures. Car bomb attacks were usually suicide runs carrying their drivers to Paradise in a blaze of glory. Why did he still hear shots?
The exchange lasted for only a few more minutes, but that was long enough to impede those trying to contain the flames ignited by the explosions. They were spreading to buildings nearby, while structures further away were also in jeopardy. Apparently, the attackers had used the gunfire to buy time for maximum destruction. The other assault followed the same scenario and was having the same effect.
Although the security forces remained on alert the rest of the night, there were no other incidents. The firemen struggled mightily to contain the flames, but it was four hours before they had the scene under control. When the casualties were totaled, there were nine policemen and firemen dead; another twenty-one were seriously wounded.
Neither guest house had been affected by the explosions or the ensuing conflagration. Since the security teams of the superpowers confined themselves to the immediate residential perimeter, they were never involved in the violence.
All that remained of the U.L.F. were twenty-five riddled corpses. Photographers, undeterred by the gore, surrounded the bodies, capturing the bloody display on film and videotape from every conceivable angle. They reminded Heilemann of flies circling carcasses.
The Chief Inspector could feel neither triumph nor relief, for the biggest enigma of all still awaited a solution: “Our fourth attack will occur at noon on Wednesday, at which time we will win the war.”
In less than twelve hours something else would happen; and neither he, nor his advisors, nor the superior Americans, nor the cunning Russians knew what to expect or where to look for it. In the waning darkness, he turned again to the note. Time was running out, but the words continued to yield only one clue. And it was neither useful nor encouraging. Each time, his eyes kept returning to the final paragraph: “We have pronounced God’s judgment. We do not need missiles to deliver His punishment for these crimes. Our missile, guided by the Will of the Almighty, has already found its target.”
No wonder hysteria was spreading throughout the city. Everyone knew what missiles were designed to deliver; that was, after all, the major agenda item of the Summit Conference. Weapons technology was easy to secure, and fissionable material had been stolen before. In short, this was nuclear blackmail, without the hope of ransom.
After the night assaults, the two world leaders prudently decided to cut short their negotiations and resume them “at a mutually convenient time in the future”. They prepared no final communiqué, saying only that statements would be issued after their return home. Following a brief “cordial” phone call, the leaders and their entourages repaired to the airport and departed in the pre-dawn hours.
Heilemann wondered if the conspirators had anticipated the premature breakup of the talks. Did it matter to them whether either the Americans or the Soviets were present for the last act of their drama, or did they feel that their point — the inexorable power of their cause — would be clear even from a distance?
Speculation about such matters could wait. Heilemann needed divine inspiration or a stroke of blind luck; he did not care which.
He phoned his wife and told her he would be home that afternoon, once the trouble had blown over. He reassured her that none of the attackers had escaped and that she need not worry about further incidents. He hoped she would believe this, but he had his doubts.
Yes, it would be over this afternoon, provided, of course, that this afternoon came.
* * *
Televised news bulletins and the front page of the morning newspaper carried lurid accounts of the night assaults.
Worry was beginning to take a heavy toll on Gisela, and it took all the persuasiveness Paul von Heilemann could muster to reinforce his son’s reassurances. Of course, it would be all right; at times like these, families must have courage. Within himself he acknowledged his doubts; he knew he was lying to his daughter-in-law. But she would accept him on faith, just as he had believed that voice:
We must be strong and victory will come. Only the weak and the treacherous acknowledge defeat as inevitable.
At least his lies were justifiable, since they promoted calm in the face of unavoidable evil. The old lies were the unavoidable evil.
“Captain, why is Mama crying? Is Papa all right?”
“He’s fine, Hansel. It’s just that those bad men — the ones who broke up the conference — are making him work overtime. He’ll be home later today.”
“At that moment the television in the family room flashed yet another bulletin and repeated for perhaps the thirtieth time a summary of the previous night’s events. Once more the color videotapes rolled.
The old man tried to distract his grandson’s attention from the graphically depicted gore, but it was too late.
“Now, Hansel. You know violence gives you nightmares. You shouldn’t be watching that.”
“But look! It’s the man with the funny ship! You know. . . the one in the lake!”
Von Heilemann stared. That face among the bodies, on the screen for only a moment, did look familiar.
“Gisela! Did we get a newspaper this morning?”
A shouted reply came from several rooms away. “Yes, Papa! But I threw it out! I didn’t want to look at all those pictures!”
“This is important! Where’d you throw it?”
“In the kitchen trash!”
He bolted from his chair and in a few seconds had retrieved a now-garbage-encrusted newspaper from the waste can. He unfolded it carefully and began to study the photos of the U.L.F. attack force. Finally, he found what he sought. The expression was distorted, but it was indeed the young man with the mystery ship. That face had triggered too many memories for him to wipe it from his mind.
He was one of the terrorists! No wonder he had been reluctant to engage in conversation. But why would he be taking the time to play with a toy? Unless. . . .
“Gisela! Come here! Please! Hans, you too!” The urgency in his voice brought them running.
“Gisela, call Willi! I think I know where the bomb is! What time is it?”
“A little after eleven.”
Less than an hour!
“Hansel, tell your father where that abandoned model ship is! Tell him to get a bomb disarming team there RIGHT NOW!”
“But where are you going?” Gisela asked, as she dialed the phone.
“Not enough time! I’ll meet them there!”
Von Heilemann, adrenaline flowing and heart racing, was out the door and down the steps before another question could be asked. He pushed his aging body to its limit, alternating a fast walk, a trot, and a sprint. For once his old naval discipline and physical training was something he might tap in a positive way. He could be there in twenty minutes if he pushed; who knew when the police would arrive? If they delayed or questioned Gisela and Hans too long, they might not make it at all.
He began to run out of breath. He felt light-headed and drenched with sweat, in spite of the chill in the air. Yet he would not allow himself to rest.
You are physically superior. You were born to dominate.
Not to dominate, he answered the demon voice. To serve and sacrifice. And by sacrificing, to atone.
From a distance he saw another pedestrian coming toward him. A business suit. He might know. “Excuse me, sir,” he gasped. “Might you have the time?”
“Why, yes. It’s 11:40. . . Are you all right?”
Apart from a courteous but hasty “Thank you”, he didn’t reply. Instead, he pushed himself to double his pace toward the park and the lake.
There it was, only a few hundred meters away. Now his mind could hear two voices: “If we are not victorious, we will take all civilization down with us.” And then, louder than the persistent, recurring demon, he could hear his grandson: “You can do anything, Captain!”
There were children, entire families around the lake. And there, placid but lethal, the mystery ship floated. He dragged his exhausted, aching body to the water’s edge.
“Bomb! Run! Get away! That boat’s going to explode!”
Those who heard him might have thought him a crank, had not the events of the last few days conditioned them to believe and fear anything. They ran in panic, abandoning the lake to one haunted old man and a tiny floating device of unimaginable destructive power.
No sign of the police. How much time was left? One thing on which all the news reports agreed: The U.L.F. was punctual!
He could not wait. He threw himself into the frigid water. His chest ached. His heart pounded as if it intended to shake itself loose from his breast. Nosebleed. He had expected that when he felt his heart jolt against the cold. No time to think about it now. He pushed himself into a swimming stroke, counting regularly to smooth it out.
The water was getting deeper. It would be over his head when he reached the bomb-ship. No matter; he knew how to tread water. The icy water cut like a knife. He couldn’t pass out now! It reminded him of the North Atlantic, 1942. He had survived then, to fight for the “Master Race”; he would survive now for all of humanity.
About two-thirds of the way there, he blacked out momentarily. His head’s slipping beneath the surface brought him out of it.
“Wash away my sins, Lord. I offer my life. . . .”
He was there. He forced himself to concentrate, regardless of the pain and exhaustion. First, he must tread water and evaluate. It was not a real model — just a facade surrounding a mechanism. And it was anchored by a line that must have been released remotely when it reached that point. The mechanism itself was not visible.
Time was running out, and there was no sign of help. He would have to risk dismantling it while it was anchored. Otherwise, it might float away. He approached it and gripped the tiny bridge and observation deck, tugging slightly. It was a few inches above the waterline, so removal would not flood whatever lay below. He pulled steadily; it slipped off with surprising ease. Light, molded plastic — that was all it was!
Below it lay a confusion of wires and pockets, as well as the face of a digital alarm clock, almost ludicrous in its simplicity. It read “Wednesday; 11:56 A.M.” The small alarm panel to the left of the digital face revealed an arrow pointing to “12:00 Noon”. He delicately slid his hand around the clock’s casing, searching for a wire that would link it to the detonator. The display silently changed to “11:57 A.M.”
A wire! One end disappeared into the back of the clock. The other was wedged into what must be the bomb’s mechanism. Did an electric pulse ignite the detonator, or was it the vibration of the alarm? He wasn’t sure, and was afraid to make a wrong guess.
He decided to separate the wire from the clock. He pulled as gently as a man could, at least a man treading water with muscles in open rebellion. Nothing. It was attached too tightly. He had no knife. Could he bite through it? He would have to reach it first!
He rotated the tiny ship so that the exposed wire was as close to his face as he could make it. He pulled out as much of the length as he could without yanking. Nothing must be jarred! He tilted his head back and kicked hard to raise himself higher in the water. The wire slipped between his teeth. He bit down, first gently and then with the pent-up rage and frustration of his guilt.
It separated. The single strand had become two parts, each with an end that led nowhere.
First, nothing. Then a light buzzing. Then pain and blackness.
* * *
Paul von Heilemann awoke in a hospital bed. A pair of doctors bent over him while a nurse monitored something behind them.
“Now that’s better!” said one of the doctors. “It’s hard to say which was the bigger problem — the coronary or the hypothermia. I’d rather deal with one at a time myself! You know, you people ought to wait for June, if you want to go for a swim!” He looked at the second doctor. “How’s Mr. Obramowitz?”
“Not bad, given his age. That water must have been quite a shock.” He shook his head. “Imagine. He came out of his house when he heard all the ruckus, saw someone flailing in the middle of the lake, and jumped right in. He risked his life. If he hadn’t, this man would have drowned for sure.”
“The technician in the police ambulance said Mr. Obramowitz is one of the old timers who survived the war and the camps. He said he mumbled something about making a promise never to stand by and let someone die if he could do something about it. I guess he meant it.”
“You think we can let this man’s family in?”
“Certainly. He’ll make it now. ”
Within seconds Willi, Gisela, and little Hansel had taken the physicians’ places.
“I suppose you can guess that you did the job since we’re all still alive! You won’t believe this, but the bomb squad couldn’t get through the traffic!” That was Willi’s voice. The old man’s eyes would not focus, but he knew the voice.
The bomb squad couldn’t get through, but Mr. Abramowitz, the camp survivor, did.
Another voice broke in. “I love you, Captain! You saved everybody! That’s the greatest thing you ever did!”
“You hurry up and get well. We want you home.”
In all these unseen voices there was strength and love – a strength and love loud enough finally to silence the demon.
* * *
The statement from Washington blamed the Soviet Union for insincere bargaining at the Summit. It charged that the conference had been nothing more than a public relations stunt devoid of any sincere intent to seek control or abolition of nuclear weapons. Until the Communist leadership was ready to bargain in good faith, it continued, the United States government saw no reason to commit itself to further negotiations. The statement further hinted that the abrupt termination of the last Summit had been the result of Soviet planning, designed to focus the world’s attention on radical terrorists who were critical of American foreign policy. Once more Washington reiterated that, had any Americans died as a result of these criminal assaults, the United States government would have “taken steps to hold those behind the lawlessness responsible for their actions.”
The Soviet response appeared the following day in a Pravda editorial. American allegations that Moscow had not bargained in good faith were deemed “insultingly and patently false.” The First Secretary of the Party, it stated, had made several concrete proposals aimed at “a realistic reduction in armaments”; but these were rejected outright by “an intransigent, militaristic, and imperialistic regime.” As long as Washington adopted such a posture, “world peace remained in jeopardy.” As for the “unfortunate interlude” resulting from the actions of the U.L.F., the editorial asserted that such extreme incidents would no doubt continue, “as long as the Americans persisted along their oppressive path.”
Both administrations voiced the belief that it would be only through the renewal of sincere negotiations that arms could be reduced and a lasting peace established for the good of all mankind.
Questions for Analysis:
1. It has been said that Cold War Summit conferences tended to raise hopes that could never be fulfilled. What is the declared purpose of the meeting in the story, and what barriers can you identify which prevented the achievement of its goal?
2. Paul von Heilemann’s mental stability is obviously affected by his role in the events leading up to and during the Second World War. How would you characterize his attitude toward those years and his own conduct? Compare von Heilemann’s feelings with those of American veterans suffering the depression and alienation labeled “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder”. How are the causes similar, and how are they different?
3. The Chief Inspector is not fond of what he considers the “excesses” of the press. What examples can you cite from the story to support his negative viewpoint? Are the actions of the news media in the story justifiable, in your opinion? If not, how could they have been corrected without seriously impeding the basic values inherent in freedom of the press?
4. Describe the personalities of the terrorists in the story. What kind of person would attempt such a campaign? How do the actions and motives of the U.L.F. compare with those of individuals behind real terrorist incidents?
5. Europeans during the Cold War occasionally showed resentment about what they considered a declining ability to control their own destinies. What examples can you find in the story to s Continue reading