A watertight packet is discovered by a diver in the waters surrounding Block Island. Unrecovered detritus from the last German U-boat sunk off the coast of Rhode Island, it contains secret codes suggesting that a Nazi spy ring operated in the United States during the darkest days of World War II. If confirmed, it could prove a major embarrassment to the FBI—whose late director, J. Edgar Hoover, once assured the government there were no spies in the country—so the Bureau sends one of its best, Unit Chief Todd Oliver, to Newport to investigate.
A war that ended four decades earlier is not yet over for some in this New England naval town, as Oliver’s mission threatens to destroy the lives and relationships of the guilty and the innocent alike. Suddenly, dark, lingering shadows are everywhere, enveloping respected pillars of the community, the wealthy and powerful in their mansions on “the Avenue,” and respectable, law-abiding citizens who merely wish to forget. Even Oliver himself is not safe, as the agent’s inquiries into secret wartime espionage begin unraveling strong, sacred bonds of love, friendship, and family, tempting the dedicated operative to compromise everything he stands for in the face of a shocking murder that rocks Newport society to its core.
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About the Author
The author died shortly after submitting the manuscript for his final and highly acclaimed work, Quest, which his editors found to be so well written that no changes were made before publication. It was named an alternate selection for the Book of the Month Club. That same year, the New York Times called Sapir “a brilliant professional.”
Read an Excerpt
By Richard Ben Sapir
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1984 Sandown Books, Inc.
All rights reserved.
The dead were dead and the war was supposed to be over. The bodies of the U-boat crew had long ago been retrieved, and with courtesy due a new ally given a little plot of land in nearby Newport, Rhode Island, where a West German vice-consul came every year to pay respects in a brief ceremony that got briefer with the years.
He talked of courage, the tragedy of misbegotten ideals, and hopes for peace. Then he went to one of the good restaurants on the Newport waterfront and took a public tour of the palatial mansions.
It had been the last submarine sunk off the American coast in World War II and for almost four decades no one questioned why it had been so reckless so late in the war, cruising near heavily fortified Narragansett Bay for nearly two weeks, sending out long radio signals, looking to pack up with other U-boats, and then, in an act of pure military futility, sinking a lowly collier bound for Boston while it was still in sight of land.
It was just too much to miss. The coast guard cutters Atherton and Mobley cruised out and nailed it to the sandy bottom of Rhode Island Sound between Block Island and Point Judith.
It was April. Germany surrendered in May, and then, in another spring almost forty years later, a scuba diver looking for lobsters off Block Island, poking around under rocks because they hid during the day, put his glove on something dark. It looked so much like a lobster, black with mottling. He tugged. It came up with a spitting mist of gray sand in the dark green Atlantic waters. It had no claws, and was as long as a forearm and as wide as an oarblade. It did not wriggle or squirm.
When he got it to the surface, he could see the black was hard rubber and the mottling, barnacles. It had been in the water a long time.
He could feel something inside. He could move it around. The rubber was a pouch, but nowhere did it have openings. No seams. A seamless piece of rubber he couldn't tear open with his hands, and couldn't even cut into with his diver's knife, which made only harmless little nicks as he slashed at it.CHAPTER 2
With firm footing on land and a hacksaw in his hand, the diver finally got through a corner of the pouch and saw why he had had so much trouble out in the water. Someone had laced the rubber throughout with wire netting. Inside were two thin books in waxy covers. They chipped easily with a fingernail. The pages were typed. The language was German. There were charts and numbers.
Everyone watching him cut open the pouch said it had to be from the sunken U-boat and therefore belonged in the U.S. Naval Museum at the War College on Route 114 in Newport because that U-boat was part of the Second World War. It was history.
"Like Gettysburg and the French Revolution, you know, ancient," said the diver when he delivered the pouch. He was twenty-two years old.
"Not that ancient," said the curator. He was sixty-two. He had fought in that war. He gave it to the intelligence officer at the War College for identification.
The young officer, an Annapolis graduate who had done sea duty, knew something was wrong immediately. The books themselves made eminent sense for something found near a sunken U-boat. First, the charts did divide the Atlantic coast into grids from Fort Lauderdale to Newfoundland, and secondly, it was the Doenitz code, established as separate from the main German code early in the war by Grossadmiral Karl Doenitz, commander of the U-boats.
But they were not for a ship, especially during a war. No ship would dare carry codes like that, not in a pouch that was laced with wire and sealed almost seamlessly. It had taken a hacksaw to get through it. The young officer could still see the blade serrations in the rubber; the wire ends glistened like silvery periods in a congealed black sauce.
A naval code always had to be where the captain could destroy it if the ship were going down. They were usually in an unlocked safe adjacent to a shredder. To lose a codebook meant compromising the communications of an entire fleet.
It was not for a ship, definitely not one at war. Yet it was a ship's code. And the striking thing about the pouch, the one thing the young officer saw was that there was no way to enter the pouch without hacking into it, wrecking it. Why? What purpose would that serve? Who would it serve?
Someone who absolutely had to know with certainty that no one else had seen its contents first and then put it back to watch him. It was for a spy.
The young officer had studied World War II, and he had a question now for the curator, something that bothered him. He phoned.
"Didn't we get all the spies during World War II? We got them didn't we?"
"During? We got them at the outset. It was one of the great counterespionage feats of history. I think the FBI rounded up over a thousand spies in the first weeks of the war."
"Outset, right? Not at the end."
"Had to be. Not one recorded successful act of espionage or sabotage during the entire war."
"That's what I thought," said the young officer. "But how do we know who we didn't get?"
The pouch was not going back to a museum. He was preparing its transfer to the FBI. That was his first intimation that this season at Newport was not going to be the vacation he had promised his wife, with the sailing, the horse shows, the tennis matches, the formal balls on vast lawns, and the America's Cup. Some of the background information about espionage and U-boats was still classified even though the Navy Department was trying to open up all files older than twenty years. But other facts he could take out of a public library.
Because of Doenitz's U-boats, the war that was supposed to be "over there" had really been over here, although newsreel cameramen and newspapers were not allowed to cover the carnage just off places like Jones Beach in New York, or Myrtle Beach in South Carolina. It would, as one high-level communication said, "devastate the morale of an American public already well shaken by Pearl Harbor."
History books listed Allied tonnage lost so casually that the young officer had to stop to realize that in America's first year of war, friendly tonnage sunk amounted to what was more than double the American battle fleet of today. In June 1942 alone, the Allies lost 144 ships.
From Fort Lauderdale to Casco Bay, it had been a shooting gallery and the classified documents showed the true desperation of those troubled hours.
The Navy was sure the U-boats had to have espionage assistance. Twice the FBI had heavily investigated the Newport area itself.
Still classified were the communiqués from Admiral Ernest J. King, the man now credited with ultimately destroying the U-boats, urging J. Edgar Hoover to redouble his efforts.
Hoover answered with countermemos describing manpower invested; informants and undercover agents infiltrated into so many levels of the Navy and Coast Guard within Newport itself that Hoover had to conclude that it was virtually impossible for any espionage to continue.
A radio monitoring network had been set up between the Navy and the FBI here in Newport, exceeded only by that around Washington. And all that was picked up from the enemy was normal U-boat radio traffic. Desperate pleas came from the British Admiralty to the United States Navy and the FBI to help cauterize the hemorrhaging in the Atlantic. Losses were "unacceptably high," "unreasonably devastating." Decoded messages talked of "far too accurate patterns of" the Doenitz wolf packs, the "unexplained nature of the magnitude of their successes."
Even Dwight D. Eisenhower, commander of Allied forces in the European theater, had added his name to those demanding an end to the "obvious assistance" being provided the Germans in the Atlantic.
Dead men, living memos, and then a living officer from that war came into the sunlit cubicle of the intelligence officer of the War College and stayed like a storm cloud that had to be respected.
His name was Admiral William "Screws" O'Connell, USN, retired. He was senior vice president of North American Technologies, Inc., a major defense contractor, and wore a dark gray suit that looked molded to his body. He had silver white hair, chill blue eyes, and a face weathered by the seas of the world.
He had no official position in the inquiry. That was what the commandant of the Naval War College had said. That meant the commandant was covered. Admiral O'Connell would not put his name to any communications, which meant the admiral was covered.
The young officer could deny the admiral access to classified material, which would have meant he was technically covered. He would also have offended a man who was a friend to the highest brass, and someone who gave out the sorts of jobs the brass liked to retire to.
The first thing the admiral asked for was the pouch. The young officer gave it to him.
The admiral held the pouch for a few moments, a slight tremor in his hands. He looked at the young man, his voice somber.
"We have them now. We always knew they were here." The young officer realized he had just stepped into a war that was not over yet.
The admiral sat down on a chair next to the officer's computer terminal, framed by prints of sailing ships, dreadnoughts, and propeller planes. The admiral talked as though to a partner. He was straightforward. There was no way, in his mind, the U-boats could have been so successful without espionage assistance.
"The Germans had a third-rate navy. Their subs were slow, not even first-rate machinery. Britain and ourselves were first-rank navies and all we could do was bleed and scramble and come on. Bleed and come on, until finally we pounded them out of the ocean."
The young officer nodded. The War College was filled with monuments to the great battles of World War II, Midway, Guadalcanal, the Coral Sea ... all of them in the Pacific. All against the Japanese.
An entire war had been fought in the Atlantic, and except for the British chasing a German surface vessel into a South American port, there was not one battle that came to mind. There wasn't even a great commander at sea. An administrator, five-star Admiral Ernest King, won the battle of the Atlantic by ultimately putting together technological advances with overwhelming coordinated force.
But Admiral O'Connell was not complaining about lost glories. There was something else that was deeper and more searing. He didn't have to tell the young officer about this, but when he did, it became one Navy, from John Paul Jones to the computer terminal of an intelligence officer who was not going to spend a real vacation in Newport that summer.
"We knew they were there when we went out. We knew they knew our speeds, everything," said the admiral. He lowered his eyes into his memory. He was reliving it as a young junior officer. "I was on the Reuben James. They had fancy songs about it. We were sunk by U-boats. It was the beginning, early on, and losing someone was, well, heroic, or something. But it wasn't heroic. You don't know what a torpedo attack is until you live through it. We lost most of our men in that attack from the destroyer Niblack's propellers' cutting up our own people in the water while trying to get the U-boat. We lost people because exploding depth charges drove seawater into their intestines through their goddamn assholes. It was a bloody mess of a war in the Atlantic."
The admiral had gone out again, and was sunk again.
"I don't know how I ever got it up to go out again, son. I don't know where I got it from."
"But you went out."
"We all went out again. We kept going out again. I'm not after revenge, son. It's just wrong that they got away with this, and no one now can tell us they weren't here. You have the pouch."
"Yes we do, sir," said the young officer. He felt good saying that. The admiral was familiar with all the communiqués the lieutenant commander had uncovered. But there was one he was missing.
"I'm sorry," said the junior officer. "I thought I got everything."
"No," said the admiral. "There's no way you could have known about it. The fucking FBI has it, and if you don't know about it, they ain't gonna tell you."
"Can we get it?"
"We got it," said the admiral, and the next day he came in with a photograph of a message. The photograph was glossy and brittle. At first the young officer wondered why they hadn't just photocopied the message and then realized they didn't have photocopying in those days.
"This was hand-delivered," said Admiral O'Connell, "from Winston Churchill to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Hand-delivered."
But the note had no routing on it, no names of a Prime Minister or President. The language was from another age, with a sense of European battlefields and the destiny of mankind weighing in the balance. It had been decoded and routed, but even the original routing was missing. What was left was just two bald decoded paragraphs from a desperate Great Britain.
It is our opinion that you are facing a group of superb judgement, quickness and flexibility, something far superior to anything the Hun has shown us so far in this war.
We conjecture that this group must be the reflection of a single mind, certain of his mission, and with the sound good judgement to effect exactly what he wants and the wisdom to attempt nothing more. Do not look for the strutting fanatic, or paid criminal. You are facing something far more dangerous. The enemy who thinks.
"Can we get a written source for this?" said the junior officer.
"I never could myself, and I don't know why."
"Do we really want to send out something like this for substantiation?" asked the young officer.
"Make 'em shoot it down," said the admiral, and the young officer knew why the older man had gone out again. He knew he was going to win.
CH3 The Second World War came sailing across the desk of Unit Chief Todd Oliver in the form of a memorandum supported by more than two hundred pages of documents, some still classified after more than thirty years. It came from U.S. Naval Intelligence and was directed to the Federal Bureau of Investigation with auxiliary or information copies sent to more than ten other intelligence units from the Central Security Services to the Net Assessments Board. Even the Intelligence Resources Advisory Committee had been informed.
Todd Oliver at thirty-four had not become the youngest GS-14 in the FBI because he missed such things. When the memo had arrived at his carpeted office in the J. Edgar Hoover Building, the first thing he did was calculate who at each of the routed groups would read this document, and what he would think of it.
Then he wondered what his supervisor would think they thought. He already knew what his supervisor thought. The package had come from Cobb with a small yellow hand-written note, probably the most important fact in the whole document. It was not signed, and it was meant to be thrown away. It said: "What is this shit?"
Apparently the memo had been sent to the Newport resident agent, who assumed it was an E-65, the label for espionage, who sent it to the Providence Field Office, which directed 65 work through the crucial eastern corridor; they for some reason did not think it was a valid 65, and sent it on to the Bureau. They did not append an opinion to it, just forwarded it when they got it. No one, no resident agent, field office agent, or Cobb, had established a Bureau position on it.
Todd riffled quickly through the two-hundred-plus pages. He was going to establish a position, but after a cup of coffee and the New York Times. It would be irresponsible for a GS-14 unit chief not to be apprised of the greater world.
This also gave him the delicious chance to read about a fellow graduate of De Paul Law School who was going to jail. He had already been through four years of trials, lost his wife and all his real estate holdings, and then, in a desperate gamble, attempted a drug deal and was caught. The man had previously been earning what must have been a half million dollars a year and gone on vacations whenever he felt tired or bored.
Todd remembered a profile piece on this hot lawyer where the man had boasted that "if a case doesn't excite me I don't do it. I like risk, it's where the cherries are. It's where life is. I also happen to make a lot of money."
Excerpted from Spies by Richard Ben Sapir. Copyright © 1984 Sandown Books, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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