Authors: Peter Lovesey
âDidn't you get the message? Cedric Fleming assured me he would tell you.'
âCedric? God! You're â¦'
âDick Garrick. Your lift to Henley.'
âWhat time is it, for God's sake?'
âEleven-thirty. Well, nearer eleven-forty now.'
âBut we're not expected for lunch, are we?'
âExactly. I thought we'd eat on the way.'
âHold on. I'd better come down and let you in.'
She came away from the window, pulled the bathrobe properly on, snatched up a hairbrush and tried to coax her short, blonde hair into something approaching the style that Serge had fashioned the previous Thursday. It was a lost cause without lacquer. She tossed down the brush, opened the curtains in the living room, carried a couple of unwashed plates into the kitchen, and went down the two flights of stairs to open the door.
He had the pale colouring that usually goes with red hair and is liable to break out into crimson blotches in moments of stress. He touched his cap and held out his hand. She extended hers, feeling ridiculous.
âI know you by sight, of course,' he said as they started up the stairs. âNever had a chance to speak. It's all incredibly breathless on the sportsdesk.'
âSo I gather.'
âI was told about this around midnight. I recorded a message on your answerphone this morning, but obviously â¦'
âMm,' said Jane. âI had this down as a morning off.'
told to expect a lift?'
âYes, Cedric promised someone would call. I assumed after lunch.' She pushed open the door of her flat. âGive me twenty minutes. The kitchen's through there if you'd like to make some instant coffee.'
âThanks. I don't drink coffee in any form.'
wouldn't say no.'
He turned gratifyingly red. âOf course.'
Her cup was waiting when, showered, dressed in a white lace blouse and black trouser suit, and as alert as she was capable of being within a half-hour of waking, she rejoined him. âAny idea what this is about?'
âOnly that it has nothing to do with sport.'
âThank God for that,' said Jane. âI spend half my working life knee-deep in mud and horse-droppings.'
She followed his rapid glance around the room, at the stuffed toys on their shelf, the fencing mask, the family snaps of her father, her two sisters and the dogs, the wooden plaque with the arms of Selwyn College, the skis, the print of Charles I on horseback, the Ecology Party poster, the bookshelves and the family tree, and she sensed that if she didn't think of something fast, Dick Garrick would start on his Sherlock Holmes routine.
She gulped a mouthful of the tepid coffee he'd presented her with, and said, âI think we should do something about getting to Henley.'
A worried man arrived at the Berghof, Adolf Hitler's mountain villa at Obersalzberg, on the morning of Sunday 11 May 1941. He was Hauptmann Karlheinz Pintsch, the most trusted adjutant of Rudolf Hess, and he had travelled overnight from Augsburg in Hess's private railway carriage. On arrival at Berchtesgaden station at 7.00 a.m., he had phoned the FÃ¼hrer's adjutant, Albert Bormann, the brother of Martin Bormann, and requested an immediate appointment. Bormann was unimpressed. Everyone who came to the Berghof wanted priority and, as he frequently denied it to Reichsministers, he saw no reason to make an exception of a mere adjutant. He promised nothing except that a car would be sent to collect Pintsch from the station.
The approach to Hitler's private mountain was through a series of checkpoints in a forest thick with SS guards. A nine-mile perimeter fence enclosed other fences, barracks, garages, a hotel and the Berghof itself, an extension of Wagnerian proportions to the simple wooden house Hitler had built from the royalties of
in the 1920s.
Bormann was in the entrance hall when Pintsch arrived and reiterated the urgency of his request. Bormann told him that the FÃ¼hrer's schedule was already full. A day's appointments had been telescoped into three hours to make way for a reception for Admiral Darlan â the representative of the Vichy French, and the real power behind Marshal PÃ©tain. Hitler was looking to the French for a stronger commitment to military collaboration, and he expected to get it that afternoon from Darlan.
The best Pintsch could extract from Bormann was a promise to try to fit him in at some point during the morning. Resignedly, he took his place in the crowded anteroom at the foot of the main staircase. Three hours later, he was still waiting. Among those who had arrived were Dr Fritz Todt, the Minister for Armaments, and Albert Speer, the Inspector General of Buildings. Pintsch, âpale and agitated' as Speer recalled him, asked each of them if he might be permitted to precede them to deliver the letter from Hess. While he was with Todt, a sudden commotion put a stop to conversation. People had sprung to attention and clicked their heels.
Hitler was coming downstairs. He wore a grey uniform without insignia, but the magisterial way he deported himself stamped him unmistakably as the FÃ¼hrer.
Pintsch took a step forward. âMy FÃ¼hrer â'
With a limp hand, Hitler waved him away. âWait your turn. Dr Todt is due to see me next.'
âMy FÃ¼hrer, Dr Todt has graciously consented to my delivering this letter from the
âA letter from Hess?' Hitler took it and strode through the anteroom to the salon.
Pintsch, after a moment's hesitation, followed. He stopped in the doorway, intimidated, as every visitor was, by the proportions and furnishings of the room. Sixty feet ahead was a picture window, reputedly the largest in the world, with a breathtaking view of Berchtesgaden and Salzburg. In front of it was a table made from a twenty-foot slab of red marble, quarried from the Untersberg across the valley. There were tapestries, paintings by Italian and German masters, a cabinet filled with priceless china, a sideboard practically as big as the table, and a bronze bust of Wagner mounted on an ornamental chest.
Hitler was standing at the window, facing the view. He had handed the letter to Air General Bodenschatz, GÃ¶ring's adjutant, to open. Bodenschatz picked up a paper-knife, slit the envelope and took out the several sheets of writing paper.
Hitler took them and began to read:
My FÃ¼hrer, when you receive this letter, I shall be in England. You can imagine that the decision to take this step was not easy for me
The muscles at the back of Hitler's neck tensed.
Pintsch felt his own muscles tauten.
And if, my FÃ¼hrer, this project â which I admit has but very small chance of success â ends in failure and the fates decide against me, this can have no detrimental results
either for you or for Germany; it will always be possible for you to deny all responsibility. Simply say that I was crazy.
Hitler screamed: âan inarticulate, almost animal outcry', as Speer heard it from the anteroom.
Bodenschatz exchanged a nervous glance with Pintsch.
Without turning, Hitler said, âYou had better tell me what has happened.'
âMy FÃ¼hrer â' said Pintsch.
took off from the airport at Augsburg yesterday at 1810 hours. He left me written orders. If he had not returned after four hours, I was to open them and read them. I was instructed to deliver the letter personally to you. I travelled overnight to get here.'
Hitler swung round and snapped at Bodenschatz, âYou hear that, Herr General? Hess has flown to Britain. What does the Luftwaffe have to say about that? Fetch GÃ¶ring at once.'
âMy FÃ¼hrer, he is at home in Nuremberg.'
âGet him here!'
âYes, my FÃ¼hrer!' Bodenschatz snatched up a phone.
Hitler pressed a bell-push.
Albert Bormann, alerted by the scream, came instantly into the room.
âWhere is Reichsminister von Ribbentrop?'
âHe is about to go to lunch with Admiral Darlan, my FÃ¼hrer.'
âGet him out. I want to speak to him.' Hitler shouted across the room to Bodenschatz, âHave you told GÃ¶ring?'
âI am trying to reach him, my FÃ¼hrer.'
âGet Air General Udet as well. Get the whole of the Luftwaffe if necessary! I want to know what's been going on behind my back. And you, Hauptmann Pintsch â¦' Hitler softened his voice to a level that was more menacing than the shouting, ââ¦ you also will join us for lunch.'
Pintsch bowed, clicked his heels and withdrew. When he got outside, he found that the anteroom had been cleared and everyone sent upstairs. Then Martin Bormann, whom he knew well as Hess's deputy, appeared and took him to one side.
âIt's nothing to do with me,' said Bormann. âDon't involve me, will you?'
Lunch at the Berghof was never notably conducive to the digestion. Members of the SS bodyguard in waiters' dress attended on the table. Hitler, a vegetarian teetotaller, frequently harangued his guests about their eating habits. But on this occasion, the food passed from plate to mouth uncommented upon, and practically unnoticed. Grouped around the table in addition to Hitler were his mistress, Eva Braun; Hess's deputy, Martin Bormann; Air General Bodenschatz; Air General Ernst Udet; the Press adviser, Otto Dietrich; one of von Ribbentrop's adjutants, Walther Hewel; Dr Todt; and the unenviable Pintsch.
Hess had put no constraint upon Pintsch about telling what he knew, so when Hitler asked for a full account, he was given it. Pintsch described the preparations: the work on the Messerschmitt; the practice flights; the daily weather reports; the arrangement with the Air Ministry to provide a radio beam; the three unsuccessful missions; and the detailed events leading up to the fateful take-off.
âThis whole business stinks!' said Hitler. âI trusted Hess. I took him for a man of honour. My God, I know him better than any of you. We were prisoners together in Landsberg Castle. I made him my
He gave me a solemn promise not to do any flying. And now this!'
Pintsch cleared his throat.
âWhat is it?'
âAs he explained it to me, my FÃ¼hrer, the promise he gave you was in September 1939.'
âHe said he pledged to do no flying for the period of one year, my FÃ¼hrer. He considered that after September 1940, he was free to fly again.'
Hitler sat back in his chair and rested his chin on his hand, making an effort to remember.
Martin Bormann, silent until this moment, quietly remarked, âMy FÃ¼hrer, last year, you put out an order for the duration of the war banning all Reichsministers from piloting their own planes.'
Hitler snapped his fingers. âCorrect! He defied my order. And others conspired with him. The Luftwaffe. Air General Udet, what do you know of this business?'
âOnly this, my FÃ¼hrer: Herr Hess came to me last autumn and asked to do some flying from Tempelhof.'
âWhat was your answer?'
âI told him I would need to see a permit signed by yourself. He went away and I didn't hear from him again.'
âHe went to Augsburg,' said Hitler, âand he was provided with a Messerschmitt. We shall be looking into that. Well, Herr General, with due allowance for the conditions and the ability of Hess, what is your professional opinion of his chances?'
âOf reaching England, my FÃ¼hrer?'
âScotland, Herr General. He was planning to visit the Duke of Hamilton. That is to say, near Glasgow.'
âGlasgow? That is out of the question, my FÃ¼hrer. Even if he was not shot down by the British, he must have come down in the sea. A flight of that distance in an Me 110 would test the best of our Luftwaffe pilots, with all the advantages of modern training and equipment. How would he land after dark? It's quixotic. I am afraid the
âThat is the opinion of the Luftwaffe?'
âAnyone with a knowledge of flying would agree, my FÃ¼hrer.'
âWe shall see if you are right,' said Hitler, as he took a last sip of mineral water. âYou and I may see this from different points of view, Herr General. You know flying: I know Rudolf Hess.' He turned to Eva Braun. She nodded to indicate that she was ready to leave.
Everyone rose and stood to attention.
Before leaving the room, Hitler spoke briefly to Martin Bormann, who followed him out.
The sense of relief was shortlived. Bormann returned with two officers.
âHauptmann Pintsch, I have to advise you that you are under arrest.'
In its 10.00 p.m. news bulletin on Monday 11 May 1941, Munich Radio broadcast the following statement:
It is officially announced by the National Socialist Party that Party Member Rudolf Hess, who, because he has been suffering from a progressive illness for several years, had been strictly forbidden by the FÃ¼hrer to engage in any further flying activity, was able, contrary to this command, to come into possession of an aircraft again.
On Saturday 10 May at about 6.00 p.m., Rudolf Hess set out on a flight from Augsburg from which he has not so far returned. A letter he left behind unfortunately shows by its distractedness traces of a mental disorder, and it is feared that he was a victim of hallucinations.
The FÃ¼hrer ordered the immediate arrest of the adjutants of Party Member Hess, who alone had any knowledge of the flight, and did nothing either to prevent or report it, in contravention of the FÃ¼hrer's command, of which they were fully aware.
In the circumstances, it must be presumed that Party Member Hess either jumped out of his aircraft or has met with an accident.
At 11.23 p.m. the same evening, the following statement was issued by the Ministry of Information in Great Britain:
Rudolf Hess, the Deputy FÃ¼hrer of Germany and Party Leader of the National Socialist Party, has landed in Scotland in the following circumstances.