It’s Always Eleven Eleven

Heil Hitler,” cutting through the air, bringing a chill to the summer night. I knew the voice, the curling insinuating sneer in it; there was no mistaking its owner. But I didn’t need to hear the voice to know it was Hessler. He was the only one that the men posted at the doors of my study would have allowed in.

I turned around snappily; you never let the Schutzstaffel men know that you were afraid. He could have had a pistol at the ready, to send me to Valhalla (or to Hell), but I wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of fear. As it turned out, all he had in his hands was that brown leather briefcase he always carried. I gave a lazy salute and got right to business. “All right, Hessler. What does the stargazer want this time?”

The stargazer, of course, being Karl Ernst Krafft, Hess’ personal astrologer and the Führer’s advisor on mystical affairs. And I? His dogsbody, his factotum. When Krafft managed to convince Herr Hitler that some arcane object or another would be of benefit to the war effort, I was the one dispatched to retrieve it from whatever dank cave or desert pit held it. Sixteen confirmed kills under Richtofen in the last war, a peerless Junker heritage, one of the best fencers in the country, a record of dedicated service to the Reich, and six years’ experience in intelligence, and my reward was to be an errand boy for that tiny, paranoid Dutch doll of a man. My family’s history had left me an accidental knowledge of the supernatural and the paraphysical, and I had turned that legacy to the task of acting as deliveryman for one of the Reich’s most minor lights.

“Herr Krafft will not be sending you on any more missions for a while, Karlheinz,” Hessler breathed. He used my given name as he used his superior rank: as a slap in my face. “He has…fallen out of favor with the Führer.”

I let my surprise show: a foolish mistake. But I was geniunely shocked. Krafft was an incompetent, a self-serving egomaniac, perhaps even a total fraud — but so too were such luminaries as Speer and Goebbels, and they still enjoyed Hitler’s ear. And when a death’s-head of a man like Hessler used the phrase ‘fallen out of favor’, it meant only one thing: the camps, then doom. “Really. What was the final straw? The Spear of Destiny? The loss of the Ark? Or did he simply cast one too many erroneous horoscopes for Rudi’s tastes?”

“Gallows humor becomes you, Karlheinz. Take care lest it suit you too well.” He lit one of his pilfered French cigarettes directly in front of my face, knowing how much I despise the habit. “The truth, as you know, is that the war effort has been going poorly since the Allied invasion of Normandy. Krafft’s trinkets and artifacts have failed utterly, and the discovery of certain documents suggesting that he in fact painted us rosy visions of victory while privately prophesying the destruction of the Reich were the last straw. The Führer feels it is time for a reappraisal of the entire strategy of our paranormal activities.”

Inside, I allowed myself to brighten somewhat. I had faith in the supernatural; I had seen too much in my years to doubt. But I felt that I could be of far greater service at the front, in the field, or even in the air. Perhaps they had finally realized this in Berlin, and were dismantling Krafft’s boondoggle. Perhaps I would be assigned to where I could do more good. “You don’t say. And what does this reappraisal involve for me, Colonel Hessler?”

“The Führer wants some healing crystals. And a, er…a dreamcatcher.”

“I…I beg your pardon?”

Hessler narrowed his eyes. For the first time, I realized that he wasn’t enjoying this any more than I was. His normal gloating tone at sending me on some fool’s errand was entirely absent. “Karlheinz, the Führer has come to believe that…” He paused uncomfortably. “Has come to believe that ‘before we heal the world, we must first heal ourselves’. He is also of the opinion that ‘our dreams may’, erm, ‘may with effort become our reality’. To that end, he wishes for you to acquire some healing energy crystals. And a dreamcatcher.”

“What…I am not confident I know what a dreamcatcher is, Colonel.” I was rather at a loss.

“It’s all contained in the dossier,” he said, spilling the contents of the satchel. I rifled through the gilt-edged briefing papers as Hessler continued; the leader of the Third Reich apparently wished for me to fetch a small wooden contraption laced about with string. It looked like something my seven-year-old son would make at Crafts Camp.

“He would also like a…” Hessler looked at his miniature leater notebook. “A witch ball.”

“A witch ball.”

“It’s a glass ball. You hang it in your window. Apparently the Führer is concerned with, er. With evil spirits coming in through the dog flap.”

I rolled my eyes. “Hessler, you can’t be serious. I have brought Hitler the head of the spear that pierced the side of Christ. I have brought him the mummified hand of Fatima herself. These things look like junk that a Gypsy couldn’t be troubled to sell.”

He glowered sternly at me. “I am serious, Herr Arkane. Deadly serious, in fact.”

“And where am I meant to acquire these…this magical knick-knack shelf?”

“The crystals and the dreamcatcher are native to the American southwest. The witch ball is native to the folk traditions of northern England and Ireland.”

“But…”

“And the Führer suggests you use all speed in gathering them. He says that,” and here he paused again, as if swallowing what he really wanted to say, “he says that ‘time is the gift we give ourselves anew with each passing hour’.”

“Er. Well.” I wondered if I should state the obvious, and eventually concluded that at this juncture it wouldn’t make any difference. “Not to put too fine a point on it, Colonel Hessler, but Great Britain and America are hostile enemy nations. They are unlikely to give me free rein to travel, as did the Middle Eastern and African states.”

“Exactly, Karlheinz. This will be a mission of great danger and delicacy. In fact,” he emphasized, his voice filled with an emotion that I had not before encountered in the man, “you might never return, if you aren’t careful.”

It was clear now. “I see,” I said, and spoke the truth. “I shall leave right away.”

“Herr Arkane,” he said, sounding almost desperate. “You know, I have been to the States, before the war. I could be of some assistance, perhaps, as a guide. Or teaching you how to blend in with the natives.”

“I’m not sure, Hessler,” I said, hissing the name. I finally had him in a corner, and intended to enjoy it. “I tend to work best alone.”

“Please, Karlheinz,” he stammered. “I can’t take it anymore. The wind chimes. The macrobiotic food. The smell of patchouli. The East Indian fellows he meets with in the morning. You’ll not repeat this to anyone, but he contorts himself on these tiny mats, wearing nothing but a loincloth. The Führer is not the most…attractively put together man.”

“All right, Josef,” I said. I decided I’d rather risk his company until we could make our escape than listen to him blub. “I’ll make arrangements immediately.” I cocked an eyebrow. “Is it really that bad?”

“Worse. I’m not even going to tell you about Project Drum Circle.”

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