by Silent Draco
1850, 20 Jun 45, near Eisenach [Soviet Zone of Occupation]
“Well. This is rather a dog’s breakfast, eh what?” came dryly in the evening air. “Major Griffin, if you please, not now!” growled the American. “Why, Colonel Sellers, after your time with … staff agencies, you should have some sense of graveyard humour by now. It’s only been six years.” Sellers waved him to silence; the grisly scene before them, and the ashen German ‘civilian’ (bah; I know your thousand-meter stare), called for his attention.
He gently fingered one temple. There wasn’t enough headache powder in theater for this, and he wasn’t going to touch anything stronger than coffee for some time. Maybe not – there went the stomach pains again. Please, no ulcer, … and please, help me Lord, he silently prayed. “Without our French companion, this will be awkward to explain to the joint administrators. Our word and a Kraut against a dead Soviet officer?” Griffin sobered quickly, and his face sagged. “Right. Two powers and one missing referee to sweep the dead fourth party under the carpet. He’s older, survived combat or other duties, but killed like a newly minted leftenant. And how in the name of Heaven do we explain the detachment? Slaughtered!”
“Guards!” called Sellers, “Cut him down – very carefully. We don’t know what happened. Werewolves [partisans] might have boobytrapped him.” Their drivers and guards stared for a moment, then a staff sergeant took charge of the detail. They took the strain on the rope while the line was cut, then lowered the dead Soviet officer to the ground, inches at a time. Sellers and Griffin turned to the German, who was standing still as a statue – if he barked a command, how high would the man jump? Beckoning gently, he politely asked “Komm hier, Mein Herr. Ihren papieren, bitte.” The old man stepped stiffly, and held out a booklet with an additional folded page peeking out. “Danke, sehr gut …at ease,” he added. The man grasped the meaning and relaxed his stance, trying not to shake, turning away from the grisly forms on the ground.
Sellers and Griffin read through the booklet and stapled endorsements. The identity card was valid: Soviet Zone of Occupation, for a civilian named Johannes Schmidt, with a travel permit in Zone and, hmm, authorized exit pass for travel to the American Zone. The picture looked right, but … Schmidt should be 24, not fifty going on headstone! His conscience reminded him: Hey, pal, you had knifework and gunfights, but you didn’t get what he did. “I need to check a few items in your papers, but they appear in order – translate for me, Griffin? Something odd here.” He smiled and nodded; Griffin caught the finger-curl signal and played along.
Colonel Sellers looked at the booklet, carefully. Civilian ID card and record numbers .. all right. Place of birth – Silesia, town near Breslau? Long way to come on foot, but he’d heard some ugly rumors. The next pages took him by surprise. Occupation – truck driver, for farm. Military discharge, dated 04 Apr 45, reasons: debility, excess to needs of service?! They yanked boys into Volkssturm companies, and let a man go? Must be connected – no, he looks and acts way too old. What happened? The folded paper was stiff and rustled unpleasantly. His eyebrows shot way up. Sellers had never seen a movement order like this before. Questions popped up faster than mushrooms after a heavy rain. Definitely connected, how and who?
Clearing his throat, he asked through Griffin, “Feldwebel, er, Herr Schmidt, your papers are in order, but I have questions. How is a transport sergeant discharged from service in the last days, when NCOs are needed badly? And where did you obtain this pass?” He rattled the paper. Schmidt turned even paler, clutched his chest, and muttered gibberish, just before collapsing in a heap. “Get him in the jeep, and bring him around!” Sellers barked. He asked Griffin, “what was that? He muttered something about his grandmother?” Griffin smoothed down his moustache and thought a moment. “No sir, I heard something more peculiar. He was babbling: ‘Grandmother Gray wanted tea to have.’ ‘Get Grandmother’s tea. She is not happy. Not – gentlemanly? – ah, cultured. He’s scared almost to death of someone, that’s obvious. It sounded like code. I wonder … let’s have a go at our erstwhile ally’s pockets and papers, what?”
Griffin carefully but thoroughly rifled the dead officer’s pockets, belt, and boots, coming up with a handful of ration and travel books, identify cards, and pins or badges. “Well, we have one Josip Simirov, Senior Leftenant, infantry, assigned to 14th Guards Division, detached for Occupation Force, commander 585th Security Company. That explains the squad, but the rest? His papers are correct – except the ID card is deliberately forged, with some peculiar notations.”
With his gloved hands, he showed some other items. “I’d wager he’s at least a leftenant colonel, but what department? The cards in the hidden wallet compartment, and the rather unusual badge secured inside the belt, gave me pause.” Sellers stared at both. The other cards were ID for Josip Simirov, senior political officer, and a very permissive travel permit. The badge was NKVD, in subdued colors. His stomach wanted to do a jitterbug. “Rogers! Get the camera. I want pictures of all this, now!” As the specialist began recording all the documents to syncopated flashes, Sellers and Griffin walked aside. “You’ll make it appear that we only found Senior Lieutenant Simirov, for the report, of course?”
Colonel Sellers walked over to the jeep, where Schmidt was coming out of a dead faint. He switched to grammar-school German, and told him “You are not well. We take you to camp, have a doctor. Get you some food and drink. We talk more, at camp.” Schmidt whispered about tea for his Uma, and fell back in a stupor. “One moment sir, before we return,” said Griffin. Warming up the radio in his Rover, he called their base. “This is Greyhound Four, calling Kennel. Must speak with Bugler … Bugler, Greyhound Four. Bit of a dog’s breakfast, location …” he read off coordinates for a site 5km inside the Soviet Zone of Occupation. ”Yes, yes. Spot of bother meeting our fourth for whist, eh what? Our liaison, Senior Leftenant Simirov, had a mishap, apparently. Full report on arrival, need to notify our Sov fellows. Deuced awkward explaining, will miss playing short stop on Thursday … Yes, you may borrow my bat, good for at least six an inning, what? ETA forty minutes. Cheerio.” Griffin signed off, shut down, and quietly said “Open channel, of course.” Sellers nodded once, noting “cricket has a long stop, dear boy. That gives us, hmm, about an hour before the first ‘guests’ descend, wanting answers.” Raising his voice, he called “Sergeant, mount ‘em up!”
To Be Continued!