For a single moment, Brenner Schmidt’s focus was drawn to a myriad of shadows dancing across the forest floor. A soft summer breeze had grabbed a thicket of tall pines and was desperately working to block the light cast by a semi-annual blood moon. As the wind moved through the trees, this fluid interaction of nature transformed a carpet of decaying leaves and pine needles into an 18th-century minuet.
A student of classical music, Schmidt would normally find solace in the grace and beauty of the Brandenburg Forest. On this warm June night, however, he found himself slightly distracted.
Having been knocked to the ground by the butt of a rifle, Brenner was told to put his hands on his head and keep his mouth shut. Unarmed, his every move was dictated by the business end of a Soviet-made bayonet, attached to a fully automatic Kalashnikov rifle, under questionable control by a seventeen-year-old East German soldier. This child killer was so nervous that his spear kept piercing the back of Schmidt’s neck, leaving a dozen small puncture wounds.
A solidly built, forty-five-year-old factory worker, whose past wore on his face like the war-torn rubble-covered streets of East Berlin, Schmidt ignored the pain. He slowly turned his head to look at his young East German captor. The soldier, with two busted teeth and stubble-covered face, gave off an odor that suggested he hadn’t seen the inside of a shower in weeks. He was tall and lanky and wore a uniform that hung on him like a grandmother's oversized living room curtains.
Schmidt spoke softly. “Please, you have to help the girl. You know what they are going to do and then they will kill her.”
The East German soldier was stunned by the bold nature of this peasant. He glanced at Schmidt’s hands and couldn’t help but notice a trail of scars, scabs, and broken fingers that had all healed without medical attention. Schmidt was a man who did not enjoy the comfort of an office job, but toiled every day to piece together enough money so he could eat and pay his bills. The guard knew Schmidt could overpower him with little effort. The Kalashnikov provided some slight comfort.
A woman’s scream caused the soldier to turn and look at his fellow East Germans. He knew what was on the horizon and had no interest in watching a brutal rape take place. He turned away and faced Schmidt. The bayonet now rested upon a cheek.
Several meters away, two members of the East German Secret Police, tore open the blouse of Natalia Rudenko, the young woman with whom Schmidt had entered this heavily forested reserve. A natural beauty, with large brown eyes and long flowing hair, she fell to the ground and defensively rolled her knees tightly to her chest.
Off to the side, watching in approval, and leaning on a black, 1959 Czechoslovakian-made, Tatra 603, Stasi Major Karl Von Hoffman took a long drag on his Soviet cigarette. As the major began to speak, his words tangled with plumes of thick white smoke encircling his perfect Aryan hair, which he occasionally stroked with some odd sexual satisfaction.
Pushing Natalia’s legs as wide as they could go, this wretched mongoloid smiled as he prepared to enter his victim. Sweat slid down his greasy face and landed on her stomach. His filth combined with her blood. The slow-moving mix pooled at her navel. Natalia vomited and attempted to blow it back into the face of this animal. Covered with small particles of Natalia’s stomach contents, the obese pig said, “enjoy this bitch.”
It was now or never. Schmidt grabbed the barrel of the Kalashnikov. The guard loosened his hold. For him, service to his country did not include being a co-conspirator to rape and murder. He looked forward to watching Von Hoffman and the two rapists get what they deserved.
Before Schmidt could get complete control of the weapon, a sudden noise caused the seventeen-year-old soldier to flinch and reacquire the gun. His grip tightened around the trigger. The sound of metal on metal bounced off the thick collection of evergreen and cedar trees, which served as a perfect cover for what the Soviets had hidden deep in this East German countryside.
Major Von Hoffman knew the sound immediately. The rapists froze, resembling mannequins in a Macy’s store window. Even though it had been sixteen years since the war had ended, every soldier recognized the distinct sound that defined the bolt action on a Soviet-made, DShK, 7.62 mm heavy-mounted machine gun.
It would appear, thought Major Von Hoffman, that an unknown interloper had just loaded a very deadly weapon and crashed his marauding band of sexual predators. Von Hoffman was now clearly outgunned.
It turned out that Colonel McDesmond didn’t have the time to vacation in London, Paris, or Rome. Two days after he and the family checked into their hotel, he was ordered to go straight to Potsdam. Seems that the wife of the USMLM Chief of Mission, whom Mac was going to replace, had been carrying on with a KGB officer.
Although BOB was confident nothing of any value was revealed during her trysts, it was enough for the Supreme Allied Commander, General Lauris Norstad, to order General Clarke, Commander of the Berlin Brigade, to switch the leadership at USMLM immediately. This severely cut short Mac’s extended vacation plans.
Three days after landing in Europe, Mac was in his new job.
“Colonel Gerard McDesmond, on behalf of the United States Military Liaison Mission personnel, I would like to welcome you to Potsdam.” Deputy Chief of Mission, Lt. Colonel Tony Cappell encouraged a room full of military and civilian personnel to applaud.
Cappell, a Texan, with a very distinct accent, was forty-two years of age and spoke fluent German and Russian. He was born with a head of bright red hair, which always attracted a little extra attention from the Soviet militia and East German police. Standing at five foot four, and built like a wrestler, Tony enlisted after Pearl Harbor and initially decided to pursue an MOS in the field artillery program with a specialty in linguistics. That all changed, when his twin brother, Tommy, who also sported red hair, went missing during Operation Bodyguard, in early 1944.
Operation Bodyguard was a diversionary campaign designed to lend credibility to the idea that the Allied invasion would take place in Pas De Calais, the Balkans, Southern France and Bulgaria, as opposed to Normandy.
Capt. Tommy Cappell was an Army Counterintelligence Corps member, and had gone behind enemy lines to coordinate with resistance groups in Italy. When he failed to show up for a meeting with his contact, a double agent whose cover was an SS Lieutenant, logic dictated he had been betrayed. Because D-Day was so top secret, a search and rescue team couldn’t be sent to find him. He was never heard from again.
This pushed Tony to get into the fight as soon as possible. With the help of his father, an executive with Aramco Oil Company, he found himself in Europe looking for the son of a bitch that killed his only sibling. Unfortunately, after nine months of fighting his way across France, Tony was wounded, while attacking a Nazi machine gun nest. He killed every Nazi in the bunker but several enemy rounds tore through green fatigues and damn near cut off his left leg. He was out of the fight almost as soon as he entered.
During his recovery, at the Landstuhl Military Hospital, some eighty miles southwest of Frankfurt, Tony received a note from his Commanding Officer, General William Donovan, informing him that he was slated to receive a Purple Heart. Additionally, since the General admired his ballsy nature, he recommended that Tony switch from artillery to Army Intelligence, G-2. Donovan’s note stated that he could use men like Tony in the intelligence game.
Tony never regretted his decision to switch assignments and was glad when he had earned a gig in East Germany. He still had an ax to grind with whoever betrayed his brother, and maybe he could settle the score in Berlin.
“Thanks, Tony. I am happy to report to all of you that I did ask for this assignment. I wasn’t sent here as some form of punishment.” Mac’s comment was met with polite applause accompanied by light laughter.
“I have had the distinct pleasure of working with USMLM in late ’47 and several times during my stay in Moscow as Assistant Army Attache. It goes without saying that I have always held this unit in very high regard. You guys manage to keep the information fresh, up to date, and continually find new ways to get the job done. I hope to expand that over the next few months and would like to meet with each of you to see what can make our job more interesting and less stressful, while still finding new and different ways to provide G-2 and BOB with as much intel as we can muster up. This is a great unit, and as the old saying goes, if it ain’t broke, why fix it. Maybe we can just fine-tune it a little bit.”
His comments were followed by more applause.
“I don’t care for long speeches so I’ll end it here with my first official order. If you are sleeping with a Soviet spy, that stops now. However, if the spy is a real piece of ass, you're gonna have to turn her over to me for further investigation.” The room erupted again in laughter and louder applause.
A voice from the back of the room tossed out a question. Eva Stone, a very attractive African American Master Sergeant, yelled out, “what if it’s a hot male spy we are with?”
Whistles and cat-calls filled the room.
Mac smiled. “If it happens to be with you, Master Sergeant, we’ll promote that lucky bastard to a four-star general, in our damn Army.” The room exploded in resounding applause and a whole lot of whooping and hollering.
Engels didn’t like autopsies.
Normally his work didn’t require him to attend such gruesome events, although, in seven years of law enforcement, he had found himself at half a dozen or so. All were a result of fatal car accidents.
All, that is, except one.
On a cold and snowy evening, three days before Christmas, 1959, Heinz Gruber, an unemployed father of five young children, decided he would bring his spouse, twin daughters, and three boys to the glorious “hinterland” to join the great Vladimir Lenin.
After strangling his wife with a pair of silk stockings, a gift he had given her for their twelfth wedding anniversary, Heinz stabbed the ten-year-old girls, while they slept. The knife was almost longer than they were tall. He then strolled into a makeshift bedroom attached to the rear of their ramshackle house. At one time the room had been used to store firewood. Quietly sobbing, he shot his three boys with a Russian-made Stechkin semi-automatic. It was his most prized souvenir from the war.
As with most familicide cases, it was impossible to understand what would propel a father to kill his entire family. His life experiences were not that unique when compared to the other miserable people living in East Germany.
During the war, Gruber had been taken prisoner by the Russians. While many of his fellow soldiers were shot, he was allowed to live. Turned out he was a damn good mechanic and that talent kept him alive. It also allowed Soviet trucks and machinery to run smoothly and win the war. After the war, he returned to his native East Germany, where he was provided a job, working thirteen hour days, in a communist run factory, serving for the greater glory of Herr Ulbricht. He was mistreated, abused, overworked and underpaid. Like most East Germans, Heinz Gruber had a difficult time putting meals on the table, while watching his GDR leaders becoming obese on an over abundance of food.
One month before Christmas, his world came crashing in. Heinz arrived at work, late and once again, drunk. Apparently, seven warnings was the limit. He was immediately terminated and sent home, where he consumed two bottles of vodka and then decided to play God.
As was his usual habit, Engels had planned to let his squad cut out early, being so close to Christmas. The oncoming midnight shift supervisor often covered for Engels on these annual occasions. With a little better than two hours left in the shift, Engels headed to the station.
Because his preferred route to the station house was closed, due to a traffic accident, Engels decided to take a shortcut through the Mitte district. He turned onto a narrow street known as Thalerstrßae, a rarely traveled thoroughfare, lined with small one and two story row houses. At one time, each of these homes was as colorful and whimsical as could be found in any Hans Christian Anderson novel. But now, the neighborhood was in ruins. Many of these structures had long since faded to grey. Most of the houses lacked electricity or running water. But all provided some type of shelter for the the unhappy and downtrodden East German families who reluctantly occupied them.
One such resident was Fräulein Becker, a single mother of four small children. Widow Becker worked at a factory that manufactured bolts and screws. She earned the equivalence of forty-two cents an hour. However, Walter Ulbricht was kind enough to take twenty-one cents per hour, to cover the cost of her uniform and a daily government supplied lunch. The meal consisted of one piece of bread, decorated with the occasional moldy spot, a tall glass of water, and a piece of bologna that tasted like cardboard. The water, often warm to the touch, always contained microscopic bits of something floating around in a cloud. Either the bread or the water contributed to the constant cramping and never-ending diarrhea that was her daily companion. The actual cost of this culinary delight was three cents, the uniform cost was seven cents. Another fine example of how socialism and communism work for the people.
Around 10 pm, with the kids asleep, Fräulein Becker stepped out of her home and into the front yard. It was time for her pre-bedtime cigarette. As she watched thick snow clouds slide past overhead, she heard what was initially thought to be fireworks. It would turn out to be the distinct sound of gunfire.
Engels happened to be passing by, at the same time, and took notice of the old woman. Something seemed out of sorts and for reasons still unknown, he made the number one mistake that always gets police officers killed. He decided to give a shit about someone other than himself. Engels pulled his Porsche directly in front of where the Gruber family had just been murdered.
Before Mac left the White House, he and the President had a private discussion about Helen and her drinking. The chat wasn’t long, but Kennedy was sincere, and said that he would provide any help if Mac needed it. As he prepared to leave, Kennedy said “Mac, nobody screws with any Irishman from the ole’ Boston neighborhood. Reach out if you need something.”
General Norstad broke Mac’s quiet thought. “General Clarke, we still have a lot of ground to cover, I would like to move onto the final topic with your permission.”
“Mac, thanks for the update. Hell, my mother could run this country more efficiently than those Harvard bastards in D.C. It’s all yours, General.”
Norstad took the floor. “Lenin once said that if he could control Germany, he could conquer Europe. As you gentlemen know, not long after the end of World War II, and thanks to FDR bending to Stalin’s demands, it became apparent that the Soviet end game was just as Lenin called for, to control all of Germany. Early CIA intelligence reports told us that the Soviets were pushing a false narrative that a peaceful solution could only be achieved if we agreed to a unified Germany. Naturally, in order to accomplish this, all Allied forces would have to withdrawn from the entire country. This would include both East and West Berlin. A NATO peacekeeping force would oversee safety and security in the capital city. However, we soon found out that the commies’ were planning to put a puppet government in place and ultimately Germany would be run by the Kremlin. The world would be told that German citizens ‘freely chose’ Communism through fair elections.”
General Norstad accentuated the phrase “freely chose” while using his right and left index fingers to form quotation marks. He continued. “Of course we knew Stalin was full of it, but we didn’t have many credible assets inside either Soviet Union or Germany, to get a pulse on what was actually going on, so it was decided to get some of our own personnel situated in country. That task fell on Frank Wisner’s shoulders.”
Frank Gardiner Wisner was a University of Virginia law school graduate and a rabid anti-communist. Short, muscular and balding he was originally recruited by the State Department. It was soon discovered that his special skill sets were needed elsewhere. He was lured over to the CIA and was put in charge of the Office of Special Projects, which ran all covert and black bag operations in the U.S. and around the globe. Wisner is considered one of the founding fathers of the organization.
Norstad continued. “Wisner received presidential approval, and sent five deep cover assets into East Germany and Moscow. Each operative was under the impression that they were the only agent placed in the country. One of the agents knew the identities of all the others. This one agent, code named Teacher, was the contact for each of the others. All had been thoroughly trained in multiple languages, extensive covert capabilities, survival techniques, hand to hand combat and enemy elimination. Their mission was to become so entrenched within the government, that neither the KGB nor the Stasi could sniff them out. Frank called it Operation Stutzi, a nickname for someone’s kid.”
Murphy raised his hand slightly. “I’m guessing that a very tight circle was privy to this operation, because with all due respect, I have never heard of this prior to today’s meeting.”
Norstad looked at Murph and then over to Clarke who nodded in agreement.
“After Mac found Harry Hopkins in FDR’s White House, and OSS got burned by Duncan Lee, along with the breach at MI6, we had no way to determine how deep the Soviet infiltration was. We had to limit those with knowledge of this operation to as few as possible. The protection of our agents and elimination of any potential leak was our primary concern.”
Mac lit another smoke. “Safe to say that something has gone wrong General?”
Norstad squinted as he inhaled his last long drag on a cigarette. Mac was amazed at how fast the general could kill a butt.
“All agents have gone dark. Teacher has gone off the reservation as well. It’s our guess that someone found out about Stutzi, and has either eliminated everyone or driven them all to the deep.”
Walter Ulbricht summoned Erich Mielke to his office for an emergency meeting. Mielke wasn’t given any advance warning about the topic, although he had a pretty good idea what it was.
The Stasi general felt that his job of running the Ministry for State Security was a tad more difficult and much more time consuming than the duties flowing from the position of First Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party for East Germany. Mielke knew that the Kremlin told Ulbricht what to wear, when to breathe, how to govern and when to act, so he didn’t think Ulbricht’s job was terribly difficult. Consequently, when he had to interrupt his work day for the GDR leader, it really pissed him off.
Like most of these emergency meetings, Mielke wasn’t looking forward to hearing Ulbricht’s whiney noise about some problem that couldn’t be solved without the Kremlin holding his hand. The head of the secret police could never understand how this weakling managed to keep his job year after year.
He arrived early and found Ulbricht sitting at his desk. Hoping to get this over as quickly as possible, he approached and placed his stubby little fingers upon a stack of several weeks worth of Stasi intelligence summaries. Ulbricht ignored his summoned visitor, just as he often did with any of the reports he was given. Mielke cleared his throat and slid his hands into his uniform pockets. He moved loose coins around trying to get Ulbricht’s attention. It wasn’t working. Despite the fact that the head of the secret police possessed unilateral power to seize property, jail citizens, and order random assassinations, Ulbricht managed to make him feel like a kid begging his third grade teacher to use the boys room.
Without looking up, the GDR leader raised a few fingers and motioned for Mielke to sit. The Stasi chief hated being treated like a peasant by this feckless, squeaky voiced kobold leader. He sat, as instructed.
“Who grabbed the American?”
“Any operation that involves kidnapping, either from the East or the West, has to clear my desk. I gave no such order to abduct this woman.” Mielke’s tone was clearly defiant to the unspoken accusation being leveled.
Ulbricht stroked his Lenin-like goatee. “Why would someone shoot a Soviet officer and grab this American Staff Sergeant?” There was no answer to that question. It was rhetorical.
“It may not be connected, but there is a police lieutenant conducting an investigation into missing women. I can see if this might be similar to his case.” Mielke lit an American cigarette and purposely blew the smoke towards his boss. The Stasi general maintained a backdoor relationship with Allen Dulles, head of the CIA, who was more than happy to provide favored American goods. Of course that policy swung both ways.
The fine fragrance wafted over Ulbricht’s desk and broke his attention to the report. Like an old dog seeking the scent of a passing bitch, he lifted his nose to the wind. His glare locked in on Mielke. The GDR leader clenched his jaw, causing the veins in his oddly shaped head to form on the surface of his temples.
“In less than four days, we are undertaking an action that essentially spits in the eye of the West and specifically, the American President. Kennedy can either stand tall and push back, or roll over and let us divide Berlin permanently. This missing American sergeant can only create a very big problem for me and I cannot afford to have General Clarke send the entire Berlin Brigade through my newly built wall in search of one black Sergeant. Putting Operation Rose on hold will not be very well received in the Kremlin. For five years I have been giving that dirt farmer leader endless shit for allowing our people to flee to the West. If I now have to tell him that I need to delay the implementation of this operation, because I cannot control my own country, rest assured my days will be numbered.”
Mielke couldn’t care less if Ulbricht suddenly disappeared. “I don’t think you have to put Operation Rose on hold. Kennedy does not have the balls to order any intrusion into East Berlin nor will he take any other action after the wall is started. Quite the opposite, my contact in the American intelligence industry tells me that Kennedy will be very happy when the wall is up. He will go on American television, tell his fellow capitalists that the East German government has violated some ancient sacred pact, shake his fist and make threats against us. Once he is finished, he will go back to taking his drugs and chasing young girls around the White House swimming pool.”
Of the many pockmarked, bullet riddled, and crumbling structures, which served as a painful and visible reminder that Hitler’s socialist party was responsible for the destruction that saturated Berlin, Haus Vaterland may have been one of the most prolific.
From 1928 to 1943, this six story structure, hailed as the centerpiece of Potsdamer Platz, was one of the most popular social centers in Germany.
Consuming almost an entire city block, its architecture design had been lifted from the ancient mausoleum of Theodoric the Great, sixth century leader of the Ostrogoths.
The main entrance was an impressive rounded facade, with an endless number of windows. This entertainment mecca hosted twelve different themed restaurants, a movie theatre capable of seating 1,900, a sprawling ballroom decorated to resemble the Garden of Eden, and the largest coffee house in Berlin. The entire structure was rumored to hold near 8,000 patrons if it ever reached full capacity.
Haus Vaterland was the social destination for every German citizen. From the lowest paid worker, up to and including the wealthiest of fine German society, people came in droves to eat, watch a show or simply to enjoy the evening.
Of course rounding out the customer base was a healthy collection of prostitutes. From the dawn of time, men of every income class, were always looking for love, or at least momentary sexual happiness.
But sadly, by 1961, the memory of bright lights, which once hung around the building, like oversized Christmas garlands, had long since gone black. Cabaret shows were silent, restaurants empty, movie screens blank and lovers no longer strolled the plaza.
Allied bombers were the first unwelcome wave of destruction that paid a visit in 1945. A punishing and endless shower of almost 70,000 pounds of bombs caused an extensive amount of damage. It seemed as though this lifeline had come to an end.
However, the German people would not let this icon simply fade away. In less than a decade, life would once again return, albeit on a smaller scale. Restaurants had re-opened, nightlife was returning and movie goers found a respite from their war torn lives. The future seemed promising.
That is, until June 1953, when an uprising by East Germans citizens, against Communism, Walter Ulbricht and the GDR, resulted in a massive fire that raced through the famed structure.
Like an overfed goldfish gasping for its last breath and slowly sinking to the bottom of the tank, the once dynamic center of entertainment, would perish, as dancing figurines of intense orange flames and red heat raced through the halls. The last specters of culinary delights and famous German cabaret crooners slowly bled from the wallpaper. A final curtain call would forever seal its fate.
Haus Vaterland would become a haven for rats, roaches and spiders, all living behind boarded up doors and windows, shuttered from the light. The structure would serve no further purpose, until August 19, 1961, the day Khrushchev was to be assassinated.