Eva Bernhardt was a naive twenty-year-old when the rakish spymaster William Hobbs seduced her into working for the British secret service. Now, a year later, she is a tough and cynical operative stationed in Berlin, her hatred of the Nazis matched only by her distrust of the man who abandoned her to the whims of MI6.
Tasked with discovering Hitler’s plans for invading France, Eva unearths what appears to be a vital piece of information. What she doesn’t realize is that the Germans know she is a spy and are using her to mislead the Allies. It is up to Hobbs to rescue Eva and prevent a military disaster. Standing in his way are her seething resentment and two of the Gestapo’s most sinister agents.
From one astonishing plot twist to the next, A Game of Spies is a riveting story of cloak-and-dagger intrigue in the tradition of Eric Ambler and John le Carré.
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A Game of Spies
By John Altman
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2002 John Altman
All rights reserved.
THE HAVEL RIVER, BERLIN: FEBRUARY 1940
Each time a Berliner moved in her direction, Eva Bernhardt's heart picked up speed in her chest.
An old man with a cane and monocle ... a young man riding a bicycle with a great mane of unruly dark hair billowing out behind ... a middle-aged couple pushing a baby carriage; any of them might have been her contact. But she did not want to attract attention, so she kept her face neutral and her hands folded in her lap. On the bench beside her was a newspaper, Der Stürmer, which she had already read from front to back. It was filled with vitriolic attacks on the Jew devil, the mongrel Russian, and the pygmy Czech. In other words, the usual.
Today, as for the past several months, the park's inhabitants—like most of the inhabitants of Berlin—were eerily calm. They were poised on the edge of a knife blade, Eva thought, waiting to see on which side they would fall. If Hitler dragged them into a war, they would be dragged, for it was too late to turn back. But they were not anxious for war. In a month or two, perhaps, if things went well in the West, they would not remember having not been anxious for war. If things went well in the West, they would be only too happy to forget their hesitations and claim their prize. But if things went poorly, they would remember it differently: as something nobody had wanted, as something they had all been helpless to avoid.
A man was wandering toward the bench.
She stole a glimpse of him. He was somewhere around forty, balding, wearing a black trench coat, walking with a silver-headed cane. She made herself look away as he drew closer.
Then he was moving past, muttering something to himself, trailing a snatch of singsong cadence.
She forced air out between clenched teeth and kept waiting. The wind gave a sudden gust, teasing a strand of auburn hair from beneath her tight-fitting snood. She tucked it back in mechanically. Her hands wanted to keep moving: to rub nervously at the skin beneath her turquoise eyes, or fidget with the tails of her plain cloth coat. She forced them to hold still.
The man with the silver-headed cane paused. He turned, shuffled back toward the bench, and smiled at her.
"Good afternoon," he said.
"Good afternoon," Eva said.
"I wonder if you could direct me to something, young lady. The KaDeWe department store."
Her heart flip-flopped in her chest.
"You'll need to take a taxi," she answered easily. "Have you shopped there before?"
"Not for many years."
"Make a point to visit the seventh floor."
"Walk with me," he said under his breath.
She stood, her heart still pounding urgently, and picked up her newspaper.
For a few moments they strolled without speaking. She sneaked glances at the man beside her as they walked, trying to figure him out. He was a German—a lifelong Berliner, judging from his accent, although of course that was only speculation. What had made this man go to the other side? He had not lived in England, she guessed, as she had. Perhaps he had been seduced by somebody. MI6 had many tactics at their disposal, but seduction, the oldest and simplest, was often the most effective. It had been the tactic, after all, that had worked so successfully on Eva herself.
She soon abandoned this theory. The man did not strike her as that type. He struck her as a family man—she noticed a wedding band on one pale hand—who perhaps had children. He was doing this for the noblest reasons, she decided. He wanted his children to grow up in a world where neighbors did not turn on neighbors. Or perhaps he was a Jew, or a half-Jew, or he was married to a Jew. The possible reasons were legion. Most surprising was that there were not more like this man, more like herself.
After walking for a few dozen yards, the man used his cane to indicate another bench. "Let's sit."
They sat. Eva sent a nervous glance around, looking for Gestapo. She saw none—but that was hardly reassuring. The core of the Gestapo's organization was not stormtroopers, after all, but ordinary citizens: informers, hausfraus, and gossips eager to cultivate favor.
The man was unwrapping a cigar he had taken from his pocket. He put it into his mouth, lit it from a dog-eared matchbook, and puffed on it twice.
"There is a man," he said mildly, "named Klinger. A clerk for OKW, and a veteran of the Great War. Our benefactors believe he has some high-ranking friends at Zossen—fellow veterans who have applied themselves to their careers with more concentration than Klinger himself."
Eva nodded, almost imperceptibly.
"These friends," the man continued, "may possibly have access to details concerning the Wehrmacht's drive to the West."
She nodded again. At some point over the past few months, the Wehrmacht's drive to the West had become a foregone conclusion. Not so long before, things had been different.
Not so long before, it had been easy to believe that Hitler's only real goal had been the absorption of the Germanic territories: Austria, the Sudetenland, and Czechoslovakia. This goal had struck most Germans as logical, even reasonable. Who could have blamed the Nazis for trying to reunify the ancient Germanic tribes, after the Treaty of Versailles had heaped such injury and insult upon them? Who could have blamed them for trying to regain what rightfully had always been theirs?
Beneath this line of reasoning had run an unspoken current. If a larger war was to come, then it would come with the Russians, the Untermenschen, and not with the civilized people to the West. Expansion to the East was where Germany's true destiny lay. Hitler had always made this clear, even when he had been nothing but a failed street artist and a proselytizing convict. He had laid out his plans in plain black and white in the pages of Mein Kampf.
But then those in the West had made it clear that they would stand up to German aggression in Poland, after having not stood up so spectacularly at Munich, and as a result they had drawn Hitler's attention in their own direction. The Führer had conducted some hasty diplomacy, and suddenly everything had changed. The Nazi-Soviet pact had been signed, effectively closing off the East as an option, at least for the time being. Poland had been divided as spoils of war between the new, uneasy allies. And now Hitler's Wehrmacht was focused toward Belgium, Holland, and France—and beyond that, England. The Low Countries would fall easily. Once France had gone, the British would have no choice but to make peace. So now it was only a matter of time.
"Klinger," the balding man went on after a few moments, "is not the most ambitious of men. He likes his vices too much. Until now he's been a loyal, if uninspired, soldier of the Reich. But our benefactors have discovered an interesting fact about Herr Klinger—one that makes them look at him in a slightly different light." The man paused. "It concerns his father."
Two riders on horseback, wearing military regalia, were approaching the bench. The man fell silent until they had passed. Eva's eyes followed the horses longingly. Once she had ridden a great deal herself—long ago, when she had been very young, when the world had seemed filled with simple pleasures.
"The elder Klinger was a professor at the University of Berlin," the man said quietly. "A teacher of the natural sciences. When the Reich Minister of Education began to force the curriculum of Rassenkunde on the faculty, however, Herr Klinger resisted."
His eyes were unfocused, staring into the middle distance. He took the cigar from his lips and exhaled a stream of blue-tinged smoke into the wind.
"He was outspoken with his criticism. One night in 1934, he vanished. He has not been heard from since."
My people, Eva thought darkly.
"Now. Our benefactors have no particular reason to believe that Herr Klinger is anything but faithful to the Reich. The fate of his father, however, leads them to speculate that perhaps he harbors certain ... feelings ... which he has kept to himself."
Eva murmured assent.
"If the man did have such feelings—and if he was acquainted with certain higher-ranking men at Zossen, who would be capable of gleaning hints about Hitler's plans ..."
"I understand," she said.
"Good. But you must tread softly. We do not know just where his loyalties lie."
"As I said: Klinger likes his vices. He can often be found at the bar of the Hotel Adlon after working hours, drinking and looking for women. He also likes his wife. But she exacts a high price for his infidelities. Jewels and furs. Herr Klinger is in rather serious debt. There are, you can see, several possible avenues of approach here."
Eva nodded once more, and began to twist a lock of hair around her index finger.
"You must present him with an opportunity—a chance to remove himself from his financial straits, and at the same time to seek justice for the fate of his father."
"Time is of the essence," the man said. "Our benefactors are watching the weather. When it warms sufficiently, time will be up. We will meet again in one week at this bench. You'll apprise me of your progress then."
They sat for another minute in silence. Then the man stood, creakily. He put the cigar back between his lips. "Klinger is forty-five," he said. "Short. Dark. With a mustache just turning gray. The seventh floor?"
"I highly recommend it."
"Thank you, young lady. There are five hundred marks in the newspaper, to help you along. If Klinger proves valuable, more can be arranged. Auf Wiedersehen."
"Auf Wiedersehen," she said.
She watched as he moved away, haltingly, leaning on the cane. She kept watching until he was out of sight. Then she stood, folding the newspaper under her arm, and strolled slowly away in the other direction.
After a moment, a man sitting on a nearby bench came to his feet. He folded his own newspaper beneath his arm, pulled the brim of his hat lower over his face, gave Eva another moment to gain some distance, and then fell into step behind her.
LAKE WANNSEE, DÜSSELDORF
Hagen could feel another headache coming on.
He reached for the bottle of SS Sanitäts aspirin and twisted off the lid. He was going through the little aspirin bottles quickly these days—too quickly. It would have concerned him, if only he'd had the time to be concerned by such trivialities.
He took two of the pills, added a third, and washed them down with the last cold sip of ersatz coffee in the mug by his hand. He returned the vial to the drawer of his desk and sat still, waiting for the headache to soften a bit before he proceeded to the next bit of unpleasantness on his roster for this altogether unpleasant day.
Around him, the villa was filled with the soft, professional sounds of business progressing as usual. In a room to his left, spies were being trained: he could hear the muted whir of cameras and the intermittent crackling of radio sets. Farther down the hall, a sample interrogation was proceeding in polite, gilded tones.
The villa, a sprawling holiday resort of several dozen rooms, had been built in 1914 but only recently had been taken over by the SS Security Service—Hagen's organization, the SD, or Sicherheitsdienst. Until a few months before, he thought, the sounds in the villa must have been very different indeed, as wealthy Berliners on vacation had slept, dined, played cards, and made love.
But times changed.
These days more than ever, times changed.
After a few minutes, the headache lost its edge, settling in for the duration as a dull thud. Hagen decided he could wait no longer. But the energy required for the task before him, which once would have been available in surfeit, felt beyond his grasp. Over the past few months, for the first time in his life, he had started to feel his age. The problem, no doubt, was a lack of activity. He sat behind this desk day after day, wrangling over minutia and nonsense.
He recognized, however, that he was no longer a young man. And he intended to age gracefully, if that was possible for a soldier such as himself. The time for active involvement in operations had passed. The maneuver in Holland had been his last. His legacy would come in the form of a pupil, a piece of clay to be molded in his image. And he had accepted this fact, as dispiriting as it sometimes seemed.
After a few moments, he exhaled a long, measured breath. He had been working too hard, he thought. He was feeling philosophical, and at his core he was not a philosophical man. A vacation was in order. If he could force himself to relax, things would look brighter.
A vacation. Still more idleness.
His lips pursed. After another moment, he summoned his resolve, shoved his chair back from the desk, straightened his dark tailored suit, and left the office.
He found William Hobbs standing on a balcony outside his room, facing the gray waters of Lake Wannsee and smoking a cigarette.
Hobbs was a large man, well over six feet tall, and fit, with an ex-athlete's build that was just starting to tend toward fat. He had a defeated look about him today, Hagen thought: tired and jaded and weary-eyed, with his sandy-blond hair teased into a rat's nest by the wind.
Hagen joined him by the railing, lighting a cigarette of his own. For several moments, neither man spoke. The water of the lake lapped quietly in the breeze. Finally, Hobbs cleared his throat.
"You've got something to tell me," he said.
He spoke roughly—proud of his humble roots, Hagen thought; eager to identify himself as East End instead of Oxford. Hagen considered suggesting that they move inside, out of the wind, to have their conversation. But Hobbs looked settled in, somehow at home against the gray lifeless background. It would be easier to give the man the news here.
"I've received word from Reichsleiter Himmler," Hagen said. "You're not to be allowed to leave Germany—at least, not for the immediate future."
Hobbs said nothing. His broad shoulders sagged a bit as his eyes continued to scan the lake. The news could not have come as a surprise, of course. By now he must have been expecting it. But it was one thing to expect such news and another to hear it said aloud. Hagen gave the man a minute before continuing.
"In time we may make a different arrangement. But for now you're to remain with us. We'll be finished with the debriefing in another few days; then you'll go to Berlin." He paused. "I'll see to it that you're taken care of there."
Again Hobbs said nothing.
"You have my apologies," Hagen said. "But you must understand, it is out of my hands."
Hobbs took a final, vicious drag from his cigarette and then flicked it off the balcony. "Were you given a reason?" he asked.
"It seems you are considered a security risk."
"Even after my contributions here?"
Now Hobbs turned to face him more fully. A crooked smile played across the man's mouth. There was something self-hating in that smile, something so bitter that it was difficult to look at straight on.
"But surely, Herr Hagen, there's something I could do to change the situation. Give me a moment. I'll think of it."
Hagen knew what the man was driving at. The implication was that they were pulling out on the deal only to increase the strength of their bargaining position. The extension of that implication suggested a desire to insert Hobbs back into England as a double agent, to continue spying for the SD.
Hagen very nearly gave the man an answer: that Himmler and Heydrich did not trust Hobbs that far. Returning him to England as a double agent had been too tempting an opportunity to reject out of hand—they had genuinely hoped that he would impress them with his trustworthiness. But now, after four months of debriefing, Hobbs had done little to impress them. He drank too much and the information he provided was faulty, often contradictory. He was a man with few scruples and no real loyalties. He was also a dangerous man, trained at tradecraft by MI6, the most practiced espionage organization in the world. And so the decision to ship him off to Berlin, where he would be out of harm's way and available for the future, was not a bargaining tactic. It was non-negotiable.
Before he could say this, however, Hobbs rushed on:
"If you've got in mind what I think you've got in mind, then my price just went up."
A faint smile tugged at Hagen's lips. Hobbs the play-actor had said much the same thing, he was remembering, back at the café in Holland.
Excerpted from A Game of Spies by John Altman. Copyright © 2002 John Altman. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This follow-up to Altman's 'Gathering of Spies' does NOT disappoint. In fact, it's even better. Definitely not to be missed if you liked Altman's first book, and even if you never read it. Some of the same characters reappear, but there are lots of new, engaging ones.
A pretty good spy novel. Focuses on World War II and British secret service agents against the Gestapo and military intelligence. The story was good and built to a satisfactory end, but the context was sketchy I thought, or at least I like to learn more historical stuff when I read these things, not just enjoy a thrilling story. Writing is competent but not Le Carre. The book begins with a quote from Ernest May from his book on the defeat of France to the effect that the Allies were better prepared than the Germans for war in 1939 and should have done better initially. That surprises me. The book is, in part, an answer to why they didn't do better, but without the larger historical context I'd like. Also I think MI-6 was called SIS during the war¿a small detail.
It what could be slated as a prequil to his first novel, this book is an excellent read. A bit on the short side, but, still a very entertaining novel. If you have not picked this one up...go and get it!!!
A good book, a catchy story, but after reading Altman's first novel, "A Gathering of Spies," this novel almost seems like a romp, written quickly and with far less twists and credible turns. In fact, at the end, Eva Bernhardt's 'sudden' awareness that the Gestapo had set her up with false information to take back to England feels like an anticlimax. Nevertheless, it is a gripping quick read and worth buying.
The nazi invasion of France is the backdrop for this well written spy thriller. It's a fast and exciting read. The German heroine is particularly appealing .
In 1939, M16 espionage agent William Hobbs seduces naive twenty-year old German Eva Bernhardt to work undercover in Germany spying for the British. After obtaining Eva¿s cooperation, William callously drops her leaving her at the mercies of M16, who believe Eva is the prefect person to drop in Berlin to learn when and where Hitler¿s invasion of France is to begin. The Nazis hope to uncover British moles to use them to transmit misinformation to the Allies. In 1940, Eva hates both the Nazis and the British for their callous misuse of people. She is trying to obtain invasion information from Otto Klinger, a person who might have a grudge against the Nazis. However, the German Secret Service know Eva works for the British and plan to use her as a courier for disinformation to fool their enemies. Hobbs, who arranged a kidnapping of himself in Holland by the Gestapo, realizes the Nazis are using Eva as a pawn. He now knows he loves Eva and will risk his life to insure her safety even as the Nazis pursue him. In his debut tale, A GATHERING OF SPIES, John Altman provided espionage fans with a taut World War II thriller. His second novel, A GAME OF SPIES is even better as readers receive a powerful historical spy tale that never slows down as both sides use people as fodder in a deadly game of trump. Fans of the genre will want to read this superb World War II novel that brings the era alive through the actions and reactions of a powerful ensemble. Harriet Klausner