by Anthony Dobranski
(Just joining this spy thriller set in 1942 Forest Hills? Catch up on Chapters 1-4 here.)
The Sound Section was on the west side of the Bureau campus, near the Bureau’s original quadrangle between Tilden and Van Ness Streets.
Enos would have cut up to Van Ness, recently closed to civilian traffic and a quicker walk out to Connecticut Avenue. Major Farmer instead took the paths between the tall buildings at a slow walk. Enos figured it was his best opportunity to ask about Fort Ritchie.
“Where they’re doing these interrogations, sir, do they need German speakers? Because, I am one.”
Farmer seemed to have been expecting the question.
“Sorry, son. All due respect, they need natives for their kind of work. But I like your gumption. German, huh? You have German family?”
“We’re Norwegian originally,” Enos answered carefully. “I just took to it. I liked the Brothers Grimm stories as a kid, and then music and opera. Most everyone in New Mexico speaks some Spanish, so I wasn’t going to get a European mission with just that. Wasn’t expecting we would go to war with them.”
“Wars are funny things, son. They only look obvious in hindsight. I’m not actually with those guys anyway. Like I said, I came to talk to you.”
“Then who are you with?” Enos asked.
It was an impertinent question to ask an officer, but Farmer let it pass.
“I’m sure they’ll tell me one day,” he said. “Let’s just say, I watch out for dangers to the war effort here at home. Your police report caught my eye.”
“Gosh,” Enos said. He wondered how Army brass got police reports, and decided not to ask.
Outside the security gate, the sidewalk along Connecticut Avenue was too busy for conversation. Men and women office workers, well-dressed shoppers, and mothers with baby carriages strode by, indifferent to all but themselves. Enos still found the city off-putting, especially now with the children all gone back to school.
The Hot Shoppes sat low and wide under a bright orange roof, like a child’s painting of a barn, with a lane around the back marked for curb service. It had just opened for lunch, and the large lot was nearly empty of cars.
Most of the cheery restaurant was bright and well lit, but Major Farmer found a chrome-edged booth in shade. A blue-aproned waitress came, a small thin girl with pinned dark hair.
“Coffee, cream and sugar,” the major said.
“I’ll have a root beer,” Enos said.
The major passed him a menu. “I’m buying, son. Order what you like. Smoke?” He offered a pack of cigarettes, shaking out a couple with a flick of his wrist.
“Not right now, thank you.”
“Not right now?” Farmer smelled one with satisfaction but didn’t light it. “Yet to meet a soldier who won’t take a smoke. Or who doesn’t drink coffee. You’re a Mormon boy, aren’t you? But you don’t let on.” He put the unlit cigarette back in its pack. “Tell you a story. Ten years ago, I was in London, talking with the Japanese.”
“You foolin’?” To Enos, it sounded as dreamy as flying carpets.
“Indeed I was,” Farmer said. “Diplomacy, it’s called. Perhaps we’ll try it again when this war is over. The Japs invited us for a traditional meal. Ever eaten Jap food? Quite fortifying, if you don’t bother yourself about the ingredients overmuch. It comes with a salty soya sauce for dipping. I ate my food slowly, watching how my hosts ate theirs. I happened to see one man waving his food above his soya dish, but not dipping it. I watched him. Each time, he faked it. He didn’t like sauce but didn’t want anyone to know. What’s that about?”
“Not having to explain it,” Enos said.
“That’s right.” Their drinks came. “I’ll have a fried egg sandwich,” the major said. “Just the egg, no spiced meat loaf.”
“The liverwurst sandwich,” Enos said. “Can I get barbecue sauce with that?” The waitress nodded and left.
Farmer poured out a spoonful of sugar and stirred it in his coffee. “Why were you there? Outside the Sanders home, I mean.”
“I like astronomy. On clear Friday nights, I hike up into the park, find a good spot and watch the stars. That night I went to the Ice Palace with some guys first, then left at dark. I walked east past the houses and heard a violin. Somebody at the party played pretty good.”
“You play yourself?”
“Naw. My sister kids me, how the only instrument I play is the shortwave. But I like all kinds of music, and I have a good ear. So, I stopped to listen. That’s how I saw the man. I called out to him and he ran. So I tried to catch him. He swung a shovel at me to slow me down. I ducked it but he jabbed me with it and ran off. He almost got over the fence but I stabbed his leg with a hand rake.” Enos started to pantomime it, but remembered himself. “He kicked me and got over the fence. I think I heard him land but he didn’t make a sound.”
“That impressed you, did it?”
“Sure as heck did, sir.”
The major laughed. “How did he see the shovel in the dark?”
“Sir, I think he knew the ground. I thought it when I was chasing him. I was faster but he stayed ahead.”
“Which means he’s been there by day. Reconnaissance, training, a plan – and a second plan in case of problems. All to look in that window. That’s no Peeping Tom. You noticed that too. So, question is, what did he want?”
“Someone in the house,” Enos said.
“You think he wanted one of the women?”
For a moment Enos smelled Dorothy Sharpe, bending over him to see to his wounds. “A scientist. The old fellow?”
“All three men, actually, but they don’t work together. So that’s my problem. Which one is our fellow curious about?”
“Do you think the man works at the Bureau?”
“No,” Major Farmer said. “I have two reasons not to think that. One, if he could see these people by day, he’d have no need to skulk around their houses.”
“What’s the other?”
The major took a manila folder with newspaper clippings out of his case. “A young Bureau scientist died over the summer,” Farmer said. “Clement Harding. Here’s an article. You know him?”
“Didn’t know him, sir. That happened just after I got here.” Enos glanced at the clippings. “Heard he died of heat stroke, at a big band dance?”
“That’s what most people heard. Really, he was poisoned. He was pretty drunk too, but he was poisoned. Hypodermic needle to the neck. Died in seconds. We didn’t make that public. Poison is a sneaky tool. It can look like a natural cause. In a big public venue, however, you lose that advantage: too much attention. My guess is the murderer had to kill him sooner than he planned to. Which makes him a cool-headed and adaptable fellow, and interested in the Bureau. Sound like anyone?”
Enos nodded. He was a little shaken. A fight was one thing, but he had tangled with a killer and an enemy spy.
Their sandwiches came. The smell of the liverwurst overcame his jitters. While Enos ate, he thought over their exchange. Finally he said, “Sir, that whole thing about the Jap fellow and my not smoking? You already knew from my file that I was a German-speaking Mormon. I’m not a fat-head. What’s going on?”
Farmer smiled. “I just wanted you to see that you have a knack for this kind of work. What’s going on is war, right here on Connecticut Avenue. No bullets, but just as much damage. The Bureau does important work for this war on dozens of projects. Today was nothing especially secret, nothing a man would risk his life for – but if a Nazi spy had been in that room, they would have learned we are now putting mikes in cells, and how we do it, and that would help them. Think about the things made here that see action, the tools and weapons to protect our boys or kill theirs. An enemy would love to stop those or steal them. A Bureau employee was in cahoots with a clever killer, and now someone much like that killer has reappeared. I don’t know if they’re related, but this fellow wants something, and maybe it’s something he didn’t get from Harding. I need more information.”
“I’ll do whatever I can, sir,” Enos said.
“Thank you for volunteering. Saves me the trouble of ordering you. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to send you around the Bureau. Simple assignments, technical work like today. It might even get a little menial. Some of these places are not places we suspect are interesting to a spy. We’re doing that on purpose, in case anyone’s watching you. It’s all right that you don’t know which ones are duds. I need people not to notice you. If they talk to you, be yourself, however you would be. But, stay in the background. I want them to talk around you. Might be anything: an argument, a bad attitude, a guy where he shouldn’t be, someone complaining about losing money on the horses.”
“Maybe a limp from a recent injury?”
“Now you’re thinking, Corporal. You see something, call. If I’m not there, leave the message with whomever you speak with. I want no hot-headedness, no stunts like trampling the Sanders’s Victory Garden. Information only. Can you follow those orders?”
“Good lad. Now when you go back to work, be sure you look appropriately chastised. If they ask what kept you, say you were helping load my car with boxes. Oh, and you’ll need to swing by your locker to put these away.” He handed over a rounded olive-green case with a shoulder strap. “Given that you’re retroactively on a mission, I was able to requisition you replacement gear.”
Enos took out a large pair of 7×50 Army-issue binoculars, factory new. “These are better than my old ones! Thanks, Major.” They were a fine set, with textured sides for gripping and a smooth hinge. He turned the etched eyepieces several times, and felt not a hint of grit. He put them back in the case. “You don’t think someone on the front needs it more?”
“It’s fine, son. Take them and use them.” The waitress brought the check to Major Farmer. “I’m not coming back to the Bureau,” Farmer said. He put a five in the tray and stood. “Finish your shift today. The number’s in the binoculars case. Good luck.”
When Major Farmer was gone, Enos looked around furtively. Among the shopping ladies and secretaries sat tables of soldiers, technicians, even scientists. It was a crowd he had seen dozens of times before.
One of them might be a spy. And now, so was Enos.
NEXT WEEK: A chance meeting on the L2 bus!