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When the light flashed he pushed himself out of the airplane and fell away into the slipstream. He felt it when he hit the end of the tape and it came free; his fist locked on the secondary ripcord to pull the lanyard if the hook-tape failed. But he didn't need it this time: the pilot chute popped open and dragged the harness from his backpack. He knotted his muscles against the tug of the main chute.
Above him the B-18s wheeled ponderously, vomiting jumpers; the abrasive rumble of their engines disturbed the hot dry air. Alex Danilov's silk took the air, billowed and brought him up hard. Then he was swaying, swinging, playing his hands through the shroud lines to spill a little air out of the side of the parachute and center himself over the DZ. Above him the soldiers dangled like marionettes.
Six aircraft and each of them disgorged fourteen chutists: eighty-four men and all of them had to touch down inside the marked 100-yard circle. That was the point of the exercise: precision. Yes sir—it would be twice as easy if we doubled the length of the drop zone but we want to get everybody into the smallest possible target area. In terms of Norway say a forest clearing. We want to be sure nobody gets a pine tree up his ass.
Norway, shit. Alex, the United States Army couldn't mount a successful invasion of Staten Island right now.
He had twenty-eight seconds to hang from the lines between chute-opening and touchdown. Twenty-eight seconds was far too long if there were going to be people on the ground shooting at them. The next step in the training would be to lower the jump altitude. Bring the planes in at fifteen hundred feet, then a thousand, then seven-fifty. It could be done from four hundred but he'd settle for six. But that would rule out any margin for error—no room for a soldier's last-minute clutch in the door, no room for backup chutes. When the training got down to that fine point they'd start to lose trainees but sooner or later it would have to be done; it was only a question of how soon.
Texas beneath him: no vestige of shade anywhere. Beyond the chalk lines a black Ford waited—a wilted corporal standing by, his faded blouse stained by the sweat that sluiced down his chest; moving back and forth slowly in the heat as if to create a breeze on himself.
The ground loomed too fast; the moment of terror came every time. He bent his knees and when he touched down he tipped right over on one shoulder and rolled to absorb the impact. Then he twisted to his feet and gathered in the shroud lines to collapse the distended chute. Around him the squads were hitting ground; Alex Danilov's eyes watched them all, watched their touchdowns and watched the chalk line of the circle. Some of them were so close to it that the wind dragged their chutes over the line after they hit the ground but every one of them had touched down inside the deadlines and it pleased him.
He made a bundle of his silks and carried them toward the perimeter. The corporal made a hand signal and waited for him, plucking the wet blouse away from his chest. The Ford had stars on its fenders: the base commanding general's stars, but the car was empty.
The corporal said, "General Spaight sent me to fetch you back to headquarters, sir."
The Fort Bliss sun whacked ferociously against the rows of weathered clapboard: temporary barracks erected in 1917. Alex went inside and the G-1 nodded to him from behind the officer-of-the-day desk. Alex strode past the flag standard to the post commander's door. When he entered the office his head just missed the top of the doorframe.
An aura of stale cigar hung around the dreary hot room: Spaight didn't smoke but it was that kind of climate, it preserved everything like a sarcophagus.
Spaight was a brigadier; his hair and unkempt eyebrows were pewter grey: he had an easy amiable smile that squinted up the grid of tiny lines on his face. But he looked unnerved. "How was the jump?"
"Good. They're coming along." Alex hooked his cap over the prong of the hat rack.
"They weren't much of a jump team before you took them over."
"I just bark at them. They hate me so they've got to prove they're harder than I am. Nothing new about it—I imagine the Greeks ran their armies the same way."
"Pull up a chair, Alex." Spaight tipped back in his chair and glanced uneasily toward the window where a fly seeking escape kept banging against the screen. Then he tapped a paper on his desk. "I've got War Department orders for you." He looked bleak.CHAPTER 2
SECRET SECRET SECRET FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION U.S. ARMY PERSONNEL REPORT
SUBJECT: Danilov, Alexsander I.
Following report was compiled by: Baltimore, Md., District Office. Bibliography of sources attached. The Bureau expresses its appreciation for the cooperation of BN&I, U.S. Army and U.S. Department of State in making dossiers on subject available.
Subject's vital statistics:
Date and Place of Birth: 27 March 1907, nr. Kiev, Ukraine, Imperial Russian Empire.
Father's name & occupation: Danilov, Ilya V. (1871-1920), officer in Imperial ("White Russian") Army, 1889–1920.
Mother's name (maiden) & occupation if any: Danilova, Anya F., nee Petrovna (1875-1931).
Subject's physical description. (Attach photos). Height: 6 ft. 2 in. Weight: 180 lbs. Hair: Brown. Eyes: Grey. Distinguishing marks: Scars at throat (see photos). Smallpox vaccination, upper left bicep. 3 in. scar on back of right calf 2 in. below knee. Marital status: Single. Citizenship: U.S.A.
Summary of findings: Request for investigation of Subject was forwarded to this office from U.S. Army BuPers on 12 December 1940, pursuant to Subject's pending receipt by special arrangement of temporary commission in U.S. Army. Clearance up to Confidential level was requested. Investigation was concluded 17 January 1941. Clearance denied by U.S. Army G-2. Temporary commission granted (Colonel AUS) for purposes of training U.S. combat troops.
Summary of results of investigation: Subject Danilov is naturalized U.S. citizen. Arrived U.S.A. 1924 as White Russian refugee (age 16). Mother became naturalized U.S. citizen 1929; subject achieved naturalized status on 21st birthday (1928). Attended Culver Military Academy (1924-25), Princeton University (B.S. 1929). Attended Sandhurst military college (G.B.—1930–31. Note: Subject's family resided in England 1929-1934 but retained U.S. citizenship. See Appendix I, Family Affiliations).
Subject's movements 1931-1935 have been subjected to a general trace but the Bureau recommends a more thorough check. Said movements took place outside the United States and such an investigation would be outside the jurisdiction of the Bureau. General summaries from Department of State files are attached (Appendix II, III, IV). During 1931–35 period, Subject's activities have been described broadly as "playboy-oriented" (U.S.D.S. Report, Appendix III) with emphasis on social-set activities on the Continent: gambling, polo, yachting.
In 1935 Subject became associate of his stepbrother, Vassily I. Devenko. (See abstract on Devenko from U.S.D.S. files, Appendix V.) Note: Devenko's private White Russian army has been described as a mercenary force but confidential reports via U.S.D.S. contraindicate such description.
In September 1935 Devenko's White Russian Brigade enlisted in the service of the Chinese Government to combat Communist risings and Japanese aggrandizement in Manchukuo. Subject Danilov accompanied the Brigade as platoon leader, company commander and ultimately (March 1936) Operations Officer on staff of "General" Devenko. Subject's combat record unavailable. Combat record of the Devenko Brigade as a whole has been obtained through sources in the Government of China (Appendix VI) and reports forwarded via the headquarters of Gen. Claire Chennault (Appendix VII). Consensus of reports is that the anti-Communist record of the Devenko Brigade is impeccable.
In May 1936 the Chinese Government attempted to reach a compromise with the Communists. As a result the Devenko Brigade left China (evidently at the insistence of followers of Sun Yat-sen). Complete information is lacking; U.S.D.S. reports surmise that the Brigade was disbanded temporarily (Appendix V). In August 1936 Subject Danilov joined Falangist training cadre after outbreak of Civil War in Spain. Records from U.S.D.S. are incomplete. Subject Danilov appears to have been attached to Franco army with liaison with German Condor Legion, but left this employ within nine weeks and departed Spain to rejoin Vassily I. Devenko when the White Russian Brigade was reassembled in Warsaw.
Subject Danilov served as chief-of-staff to General Devenko from October 1936 to February 1940. From 1936 to 1939 the White Russian Brigade served as a training cadre for the Free Polish Army. In July 1939 political pressure from Moscow caused Warsaw to dismiss the Brigade; it then moved, intact, to Helsinki to train Finnish combat troops. When Soviet Russia invaded Finland in November 1939, the Brigade volunteered for combat duty against the Red Army. It held frontline positions and U.S. Army reports indicate its performance was excellent (Appendix VIII).
Reports on Subject Danilov are more thorough regarding the period of the Russo-Finnish War, mainly because of the presence of American observers on the battle fronts. Dispatches from U.S. Army liaison-observers (see Appendix VIII and cable dispatches from Brigadier General John W. Spaight, military attaché-observer, in Appendix IX) indicate Subject Danilov's performance under fire was exemplary.
In February 1940, during the Russo-Finnish War, General Devenko departed the Brigade on a leave of absence and Subject Danilov assumed temporary command. He remained in command of the unit until the conclusion of the war in March 1940. General Devenko then resumed command. Subject Danilov was wounded in action two days prior to the end of hostilities and was invalided off the duty roster. Subject spent March-May 1940 in Helsinki military hospital, then transferred for convalescence to civilian hospital in Stockholm. In September 1940 Subject Danilov returned to the United States (P. of E. New York City) in order to comply with conditions of naturalized citizenship requiring him to "touch base" on American soil at specified intervals.
On 4 October 1940 Subject Danilov was approached by Brig. Gen. John W. Spaight, U.S. Army, in an attempt to recruit Subject into American training cadre. (Appendix IX indicates the two men had become friendly in Finland.) Brig. Gen. Spaight had been assigned to take command of U.S. Army Paratroop Command Training Center at Fort Bliss, Texas, the appointment to take effect on 1 December 1940. At the same time Brig. Gen. Spaight approached the War Department with a request to make unusual exception to the regulations concerning commissions and promotions. His arguments in favor of granting a special temporary commission to Subject Danilov are recapitulated in Appendix X—principally to the effect that for purposes of training recruits there would be no adequate substitute for recent combat experience of the sort Subject Danilov had undergone.
This request for special instatement led to a requisition by U.S. Army BuPers for a Federal Security Report on Subject Danilov. This District Office's formal report is attached (Appendix XI). In summary it concludes that while certain background details are lacking, making security clearance unfavorable, nevertheless Subject Danilov's military background qualifies him uniquely for the requested assignment and that no indications have come to light which might negate Subject's usefulness as a combat-training instructor for the U.S. Army.
(Note: U.S.D.S. files in Appendix XII indicate State Department ruling on question of citizenship ineligibility. Question was raised because of regulations by which naturalized U.S. citizens may forfeit citizenship as a result of having served in foreign armies. Department was asked to waive this regulation; waiver was refused, but naturalized citizenship was upheld nevertheless on the grounds that the Devenko Brigade was not an army of a foreign government; it was an independent nongovernmental organization leasing its services to various anti-Communist powers. Subject Danilov's brief service in the employ of the Spanish government was not judged to be military service. Subject retains American citizenship.)
Date of this report: 21 January 1941.CHAPTER 3
The fly kept banging against the screen and John Spaight watched it angrily but he didn't stir from his chair. Dust motes hung in the July heat. "You did a hell of a job down here."
Alex said, "You're putting that in the past tense."
"I told you—they've cut orders on you." Spaight dropped his palm flat on the document on his desk. "I've got to ask you something Alex. We've never talked about it before. You spent eight or nine weeks in Spain training soldiers for Franco. Then you just bugged out without a by-your-leave. Why?"
Spaight was a friend but it looked as if he was trying to bait Alex and until he knew why he wasn't going to fall into a trap. "A lot of us on both sides were misguided by our own zeal. Sooner or later you began to realize the Fascists were as bad as the Communists."
"If not worse."
"They weren't any worse. Better equipped. I couldn't see any other difference."
"The point is, Alex, you got fed up and you just bugged out."
He began to see it. "I was a mercenary there. Not a Spanish citizen. If that's what you're getting at."
"Take it easy, Alex. There's a point to all this. Let me put it this way—suppose we find ourselves allied with Russia against Nazi Germany. If we get into this war that's exactly what may happen. Where does that put you, Alex? What do you do then, hating those Red Russians the way you do? You stick it out and follow orders? Or do you bug out again?"
Alex brooded at him. "John I'm a volunteer. I came down here to train soldiers, not to support political alliances. I'm not a spy, I'm a soldier—I do my job and that's all I do. If you're not satisfied with my work then you'd better ask for my resignation."
"I wish it was that cut and dried." Spaight lifted the typed page from the desk and handed it to him.
CJCS LETTER ORDER # 1431: 28 JULY 41.
FROM: CJCS, WDC.
TO: ALEXSANDER I. DANILOV, COL. AUS. 0479863.
VIA: CG FT BLISS TNG CMD.
SUBJECT: RELIEF FROM COMMAND, TRANSFER & REASSIGNMENT.
1. Subject officer is rlvd cmd of 2nd Tng Bn, 1st Spl Tng Rgt, 2 Div 4 Army, Ft Bliss Tex, Effective Immediately.
2. Subject officer is detached from 2 Div 4 Army.
3. Subject officer is reassigned Independent Duty JCS Command, WDC.
4. Subject officer will report to office of G-2 CJCS, WDC (A-X-32-B-21, Ft McNair) not later than 1000 hrs 23 July 41 for further reassignment.
5. Transportation by Ind TDY.
By order of CJCS,
G. D. Buckner, Colonel AUS
For G. C. Marshall, General USA, CJCS.
Alex folded the order along its original creases and slid it into his pocket.
Spaight said, "They're sending in a Canadian to relieve you—veteran of Dunkirk. To teach us how to lose gracefully I suppose."
"They'll do all right," Alex said in a distracted voice.
"Alex, they're taking you out of here. Marshall's G-2—that's the cloak and dagger end. Frankly I'm not sure it's the right place for you. I'm not sure you belong in this army at all under the circumstances. It was all right as long as you were down here—it gave you a chance to heal up, it gave me the best training officer I've ever had. But Washington, the Intelligence branch—that's something else again."
"They didn't consult you about this?"
"It's the first I've heard of it. I tried a phone call to Washington this morning but all I got was a runaround. But I'd have to be an ass if I didn't figure you for one of their Russian desks in the Intelligence office."
"And you want to know if I can be trusted there."
"Alex, it's a hell of a thing to have to—"
"If I can't do the job with absolute loyalty I'll resign."
Spaight gave him a long scrutiny and then the smile-tracks creased around his tired eyes. "Good enough."
Excerpted from The Romanov Succession by Brian Garfield. Copyright © 1974 Brian Garfield. Excerpted by permission of A MysteriousPress.com.
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