I have been remiss in not posting extracts from the Issue 10 of Alt Hist. So here’s the first one – “The Thirty-Fourth Man” by Martin Roy Hill. Paul Klee, former cop and OSS spy, now reluctantly serves the SS in a Nazi-occupied America. His latest assignment: Hunt down the Thirty-Fourth Man, a double agent who destroyed a German spy ring. A story inspired by true events. You can purchase a copy of Alt Hist Issue 10 if you want to read the full story.
The Thirty-Fourth Man by Martin Roy Hill
I always got a strange sensation when called to Günter’s office, something between dread and terror. SS Obersturmbannführer Hermann Günter was never an easy man to work for, especially if you hated his guts as much as I did. Günter headed up the German SS in the United States. He’d held that post since America surrendered—as did Britain and Russia—after Kraut atomic bomb missiles vaporized New York, London, and Moscow. It was his job to make the US safe for Nazism, fascism, and other acts of inhumanity. I rapped twice on the door to what had once been J. Edgar Hoover’s office in the old FBI building in DC, and heard Günter’s Teutonic-tinged, “Enter!”
Günter sat behind the decommissioned flattop that served as his desk, silhouetted by the blinding morning sunlight streaming in through the windows like an interrogation spotlight. He didn’t look up from the note pad.
“Herr Hauptmann, you are out of uniform.”
“It’s at the cleaners,” I lied. In fact, it was hanging in my closet collecting dust and, I hoped, providing a smorgasbord for moths.
“It is difficult to believe a uniform you have never worn requires cleaning,” Günter replied without looking up.
“Not true,” I protested. “I wore it to the office Christmas party.”
“There was no office Christmas party,” Günter said, still writing.
“Must’ve been the Halloween party then.”
Günter sighed but still didn’t look up. An arm snaked out, picked up a folder, and tossed it to the far side of the desk.
“Your next assignment,” he said. “You’ve heard of the Duquesne Ring?”
I nodded. “Nazi spies rounded up by the FBI early in ’41.”
Thirty-four German men and women were sent to the US in the late Thirties to spy on a country Germany was still at peace with. One of them was a double agent working for the FBI. For two years, the Bureau watched the spies, feeding them false information through the double agent. In early ’41, the Bureau closed the trap, arresting the thirty-three remaining spies. All were convicted and sent to prison.
“Heroes of the Reich betrayed to what you used to call the FBI,” Günter corrected.
The FBI, now called the National Police, was my real employer. I was seconded to the SS several months earlier, issued the death-head uniform I never wore, and given the rank of Hauptmann, or captain, the same rank I held in the army during the war. Günter told me he had requested me because of my background as a city cop before the war and as an OSS spy in Italy during the war. In truth, he wanted to keep a close eye on me so I didn’t arrest any more Nazi fat cats—German and American—who were making fortunes preying on a defeated America. I had had little say in the matter, but I didn’t mind. This way I could keep an eye on Günter, too.
I opened the file and glanced through its contents. Despite the SS logo on the cover, the contents were in English. That’s because the folder held a classified FBI report from 1941.
“This is the report on the Duquesne arrests,” I said. “What kind of case is this? They all went home to Germany hailed as heroes.”
Günter laid down his pen and looked at me for the first time, his dead, blue eyes hard, and his lips set tight.
“Yes, heroes,” he sneered. “Abwehr scum who failed the Fatherland.”
The Abwehr was Germany’s military intelligence agency, equivalent to America’s OSS. Staffed by professional military officers, the Abwehr’s responsibility was gathering foreign intelligence. Filled with Nazi sycophants, the primary job of the SS was Party security. The two agencies often butted heads—unfortunately, not hard enough to kill each other.
“We are not interested in the thirty-three who went home,” Günter said. “We want the thirty-fourth man.”
William Sebold was the thirty-fourth man. German-born Sebold immigrated to the States in the Thirties and became a naturalized citizen. While visiting his mother in Germany in 1939, the Abwehr strong-armed Sebold into becoming a spy. Unknown to his German handlers, Sebold notified the US Consulate of his recruitment and agreed to become a double agent for the FBI. Through Sebold’s work, the Bureau identified thirty-three members of a spy ring led by Fritz Duquesne, a German veteran of the Great War and another naturalized US citizen. Just days after the Japs attacked Pearl Harbor, the entire ring was in jail, and William Sebold disappeared.
“So you want Sebold,” I said, tossing the folder onto Günter’s pristine desk. It slid across the expanse of desktop like a careening carrier plane. “You don’t need me to find him. You have the entire FBI file right there. Go get him.”
I lit a cigarette and smiled at Günter. He didn’t smile back. Not at all.
“Herr Hauptmann, your flippancy begins to wear thin,” he said.
He removed an engraved gold case from his pocket and lit a cigarette. I wondered if he bought the case or looted it from one of his concentration camp victims.
“William Sebold is a traitor to the Fatherland and is wanted for treason. Your FBI has hidden him and—” He tapped the folder with an extended middle finger and I wondered if that gesture meant same in Germany as it did in the States. “—His whereabouts are not recorded in here.”
“So?” I shrugged.
“So as part of your country’s surrender agreement, your country is required to turn over anyone the Reich considers an enemy of the state or face consequences.”
After the surrender, nearly two dozen members of the US Congress revealed they were, in fact Nazi sympathizers or agents. Those Quislings forced FDR out of the White House and replaced him with a pro-Nazi financier named George Prescott. They also agreed to hand over anyone the Germans considered an annoyance. That included Jews, commies, homosexuals, even old J. Edgar. I didn’t want to contemplate what Günter might consider “consequences.” I already knew how the man’s mind worked.
“Again, why me? You have the entire National Police at your beck and call, including the Bureau agents who brought the Duquesne ring in.”
“Those who involved in the Duquesne affair were questioned,” Günter said.
“They didn’t survive the questioning.”
I leapt to my feet, smashed the butt of my smoke into an ashtray, and leaned across Günter’s desk, my face in front of his. I knew how these Nazi creeps operated, and I knew too well how they interviewed people. During the war, I had too many friends and comrades in the OSS and resistance questioned by the SS. They didn’t survive either.
“You tortured them, you f—?” I bit off the last word. “You killed them and now you want me to do more of your dirty work? Who the hell do you think you are?”
Günter leaned back in his chair, sucked deeply on his cigarette, then exhaled. Through the smoke screen, he studied me with his pale, emotionless eyes.
“How is your stomach doing these days, Herr Hauptman?” he asked.
I stared at him for a long time, not answering, gritting my teeth so hard I may have loosened a filling. I knew what he was getting at. A bucketful of Nazi lead in my gut—at least it felt like a bucketful—cut short my career as a spy in Italy. I almost died. Günter was hinting there could be a repeat of that episode in my life, with a different outcome. As I said, I knew how the man’s mind worked.
I backed off Günter’s desk and slumped back into my seat.
“Just fine,” I lied. “It’s doing just fine.” I fumbled with another cigarette, and lit it. “You still haven’t told me why me? You’ve got hundreds of SS operators here who could find Sebold.”
“As before,” Günter said, waving his cigarette in the air, “your experience as a policeman and a spy make you admirably suited for this task. Plus you’re an American. You can ask questions of your own countrymen without …”
Günter seemed to struggle for the phrase. I gave it to him.
“Without scaring the crap out of them?”
He smiled and shrugged acceptance.
“Fine.” I took a drag on my cigarette. “But a few minutes ago, you ordered me to wear my uniform. It’s not the man who scares the crap out of people, it’s that damn black uniform and its death heads.”
Günter sighed, and closed his eyes.
“Fine,” he said. “Do not wear the uniform.”
I snubbed out my cigarette and picked up the file folder.
“Anything not in here I should know about?”
Günter knew exactly what I meant, and nodded.
“From our questioning, we discovered that Sebold was given a new identity and sent somewhere out west. To a farm to grow wheat. Unfortunately, we didn’t get his new name. But apparently, the location is in a place called Hutchison, Kansas. Do you know it?”
“No,” I said, turning to leave. “But I will.”
END OF FREE EXTRACT
You can read the rest of this story by purchasing a copy Alt Hist Issue 10.
About the Author
Martin Roy Hill is the author of the military mystery thriller, The Killing Depths, the mystery thriller Empty Places, the award-winning DUTY: Suspense and Mystery Stories from the Cold War and Beyond, a collection of new and previously published short stories and EDEN: A Sci-Fi Novella. His latest mystery thriller, The Last Refuge, was published in March 2016.