February, 1917. A lone German agent is despatched to Washington to prevent the British delivering a telegram to President Woodrow Wilson – by any means possible. For this is the Zimmermann telegram: it contains a devastating piece of news which is sure to bring the USA into the war on the side of Britain and her allies.
Having fought in the trenches himself, Max Volkman knows that America’s involvement will only prolong the slaughter of innocents and is implacable in his determination to kill the British envoy carrying the telegram. But when his pursuit of the Englishman leads him to the home of American heiress Catherine Fitzgerald, wife to one of Washington’s most powerful politicians, he is presented with a terrible choice: loyalty to his comrades in the trenches or the loss of the one woman he has ever truly loved.
His decision will determine the outcome of the First World War.
|Publisher:||Severn House Publishers|
|Edition description:||First World Publication|
|Product dimensions:||5.30(w) x 8.70(h) x 0.90(d)|
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The German Agent
By J. Sydney Jones
Severn House Publishers LimitedCopyright © 2014 J. Sydney Jones
All rights reserved.
Washington, DC February, 1917
The snow began at about ten that morning. With its coming, Catherine Fitzgerald decided to call it a day. She had intended to take more architectural shots for her Washington album, but with available light low and the snow dampening the lens of her new pocket Kodak camera, there was not much point in continuing. Instead she would go home and work on the enlarger in her dark room.
Thomas had dropped her off, for she had not wanted to be concerned with remembering where she had parked. She had arranged for Thomas to pick her up at one, but she was freezing and not about to wait for the old servant to come retrieve her.
The old 'servant', she thought. As if Thomas had ever been less than part of her family. He had helped to raise her; had dried her tears when a homemade kite had caught in the great elm at her father's Rhode Island estate; had risked his life scaling that tree to fetch it. He was decidedly afraid of heights, and all Catherine could remember of the incident were Thomas's eyes, large and white, peering down at her from the heights of the tree.
As she was thinking these thoughts, she left the wide avenues around the Capitol to stumble into a warren of shanties and shacks in a narrow alley. Smoke came from the chimneys of two of these structures, swirling into the falling snow. They were little more than lean-tos with corrugated metal roofing, stables by the look of them. Perhaps for the few remaining horses that pulled hansom cabs for the tourists. It took her a moment to be able to discern how many separate buildings there were. Her best count made it fifteen such miserable structures, cobbled together against back walls of brick buildings which faced onto much more congenial avenues facing the Capitol.
Then she heard the unmistakable cry of a baby from one of the shacks, the clatter and bang of cooking pans, and a woman's snarling voice: 'Shut up, will you!'
This was followed by another mournful, plaintive cry, and Catherine could not stop herself, she had to go to that crying baby. A slat-board door hung unevenly on the opening to the shed from which the sound had come, and she rapped on this.
There was no answer for a moment, then finally a woman in a greasy blouse and skirt with a baggy cardigan wrapped around her shoulders, a smudge of dirt on her cheek, and hair falling down into her face opened the door.
'What do you want?'
Catherine was taken back for a moment, wondering what indeed she did want. The harsh smell of unwashed bodies and kerosene came from the open door.
'A baby,' she finally stammered. 'I heard a baby crying.'
The woman scowled at her, filling the tiny door so that Catherine was not able to see in back of her into the shack.
'I try to keep him quiet. What's your complaint? Can't sleep in your fancy bed for all the noise of my little one?' She jerked her head toward the brick row house to which her shack was attached.
Catherine's gaze however went behind the woman, for she had now moved enough to allow a view of the interior. In an instant she was able to take in the scene: a dirt floor with here and there straw covering it; a scratched table with two rickety chairs; a simple iron bed in one corner. The baby, strapped into a sort of high chair, stopped its squalling, looking with wide hungry eyes at Catherine.
'Have you gawked long enough?' The woman slammed the door in her face.
'But I want to help you,' Catherine cried out at the closed door, a deep sense of guilt overcoming her. Here she was dressed in furs and boots, a shoulder bag stuffed with cameras and film worth enough money perhaps to rent this woman and her baby a decent lodging for a year, and all she could do was gape at them.
'Please let me help you.'
No answer came from within. She sensed eyes on her suddenly from the waxed windows of other shacks in the alley and felt quite alone and uneasy.
'They're afraid of you, Miss Catherine. They think you've come to evict them.'
Catherine swung around at the sound of the deep voice, and there stood Thomas, a fur-collared wool coat on, galoshes on his feet. He wore no hat.
'Thought I'd come looking for you early,' he said. 'Not the best day for photographing.'
She stomped through the drifting snow, full of a primal anger. 'Intolerable,' she muttered.
He tried to take her arm, but she shook his hand off, following now as he led her out of the back alley toward Pennsylvania Avenue where he had parked the Cadillac nine-seater.
'They call them alley dwellings, Miss Catherine.'
'I know what they call them. I just had never seen one before.'
Thomas chuckled softly. 'Hard to miss. I've heard it said there's over three hundred settlements like that one in Washington.'
Reaching the Cadillac, he opened the back door for her and she allowed herself to be guided in, sitting on a thick blanket Thomas had brought along for her.
He looked down at her as she huddled on the back seat. 'Right here in the nation's capital we've got probably twenty thousand people living like that,' he said, then closed the back door.
She was still fuming; these alley dwellings were a black mark on the nation. After all, this was Washington, DC, the nation's capital.
He climbed into the front seat, sitting stiffly at the wheel, and pushed the electric starter. The engine rumbled to life; she could feel it throbbing through her body.
'Why, that one was luxury itself,' Thomas said, grinning ironically at her in the rear-view mirror. 'For white folks only. Some day you ought to see where the coloreds live.'
He put the car into gear and drove jerkily out into traffic, snow falling thickly onto the front windshield. But Catherine was aware of none of it. All she could see was the little baby strapped to its chair in that shack, and its big eyes pleading with her, begging.
Twenty minutes later her anger and sense of injustice had abated somewhat as they pulled into the long driveway of Poplars on upper Massachusetts Avenue. The drive was covered in snow, as were the grounds. Thomas stopped the car at the front of the old Georgian mansion and Catherine hopped out, anxious to get into a hot bath. She entered into the main hall with its Jugendstil trappings, thought she heard voices from the music room, and quickly poked her head in there. She knew her husband would be working, Sunday or not. But she was not prepared in any way for what she saw.
Seated across from Edward in one of the club chairs by the fire was a tweedy rotund man gesticulating with a black cigar in his right hand, so intent on what he was saying that for a moment he did not notice her entry. Then their visitor flashed her a smile, his eyes twinkling and full of mischief. Catherine was immediately taken back to her youth, to her mother bending over her bed in the nursery, the yeasty smell of champagne on her breath at the goodnight kiss. The same merry eyes.
They made small talk for a time, but it was obvious the men were waiting for her to retire before they continued the discussion begun earlier.
'I have an appointment with a hot bath and my writing desk,' she said, suddenly rising. She had to prepare an announcement for the Post advertising the Belgian refugee relief concert to be held on Tuesday night. Recruiting the famous tenor Ganetti for the recital was part of her 'good works'.
'I leave you two to your conspiracies.'
Neither Fitzgerald nor Adrian Appleby protested over-vigorously. Her uncle watched Catherine depart and then turned to his host. 'You know, Edward, I have come to draw you lot into the war.'
Fitzgerald, a tall and patrician looking man with a shock of prematurely white hair, was not taken back by Appleby's declaration; they had discussed this possibility before. 'That's exactly what I am attempting to do with the book I'm writing. Shake our complacent populace out of their isolationist slumber. But I'm afraid it is still an uphill fight. Out west they are none too eager to fight the "European's war", as they call it.'
Appleby made a steeple with his fingers over his ample belly. 'It may be easier now.'
The old Machiavelli does have something up his sleeve, Fitzgerald decided.
'Go on, Adrian.'
Appleby took out a Moroccan leather cigar case from the vest pocket of the thickly woven and well broken-in tweed suit he was wearing. He extracted another plump black Punch cigar as well as a cigar cutter, trimmed the end meticulously, and then used safety matches from a brass holder on the end table by his chair to light the cigar.
He's taking his good time about it, Fitzgerald thought, watching this methodical operation. Appleby puffed vigorously on the cigar, exhaling a blue cloud of smoke to wreathe around his bald head, then held the cigar out at arm's length to look at it appreciatively.
The dramatic pause, Fitzgerald thought. Adrian taught it to me himself: to unsettle the other party in negotiations. But I am not the other party: this is not a negotiation. We are on the same side in this, or are we?
'I don't have to tell you the obvious, do I, Edward. The awful rapaciousness of the Hun in tiny Belgium and now on the seas with their damnable U-boats. None of that propagandizing, moralizing cant is needed for you.'
'You would be preaching to the converted.'
'Yes.' Another puff, another appreciative glance at the cigar as if he were waiting for it to explode.
'The good war, eh? The honorable war? Well, despite whatever poppycock people spout, the fact is we are fighting for our bloody damn lives in England. The tonnage the Germans have destroyed in the past few months has been monstrous. We lost over a hundred ships in September, 180,000 tons. 300,000 tons in October. 400 in November. We've not even calculated December's or January's yet, and now they have gone hunting unrestricted once again. This is in the strictest confidence, Edward, between friends, but we will not be able to last through the summer at this rate. They will strangle us. We are rationing now; it will all be over by July if we do not get help.'
There was a profound stillness in the room after this declaration. Up to this point, Fitzgerald's pleas for American involvement had been made out of reasoned study and logical calculation. Up to now his concern had been of a somewhat academic nature, not being directly involved in the war himself. Now, however, with Adrian's presence, with Adrian's appeal, this war had become all too real. England will fall by summer if we do not help her; then it will be our turn to fight Germany – alone. It was his worst nightmare.
'Christ!' he finally said.
'Quite.' Appleby sighed once again, suddenly standing and moving toward the fireplace.
Fitzgerald remained seated, watching his old friend as he paced back and forth by the fire. He finally spoke, 'I never thought I would be saying this, Adrian. But what we need is a provocation to awaken America. We need the Germans to be bloody stupid or soon it will be too late for both our countries.'
Appleby suddenly stopped, turning to Fitzgerald. A large smile crossed his lips. 'I was hoping you would say something along those lines, Edward. Fact is, we have proof of exactly such a provocation.'
Before Fitzgerald could respond, Appleby had drawn out a piece of blue paper from the inside pocket of his tweed jacket and handed it to him. 'Read that and see if you do not agree.'
Fitzgerald looked at Appleby for a moment, but his friend nodded at the paper in his hand. It was typewritten and rather brief. Fitzgerald had a strange feeling about this message: he did not want to read it. He knew in his guts that it was Appleby's ace; England's ace, for she had been trying unsuccessfully for the past two years to bring America into the war on her side. He sensed that this would be the casus belli that he and other concerned Americans had so long been looking for. Yet now faced with it, he was fearful. War is a horrible thing, he knew.
But it must be. It has to be. Better to fight the Germans in Europe than in North America.
He began reading:
Berlin to Washington; 19 January, 1917
Most secret for Your Excellency's eyes only and to be handed on to the Imperial Minister in Mexico by a safe route.
We intend to begin on 1 February unrestricted submarine warfare. We shall endeavor in spite of this to keep the USA neutral. In the event of this not succeeding we make Mexico a proposal of alliance on the following terms:
Make war together.
Make peace together.
General financial support and an undertaking on our part that Mexico is to reconquer the lost territory in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. The settlement in detail is left to you.
You will inform the President of Mexico of the above most secretly and add the suggestion that he should on his own initiative invite Japan to immediate adherence and at the same time mediate between Japan and ourselves.
Please call the President's attention to the fact that the unrestricted employment of our submarines now offers the prospect of compelling England in a few months to make peace. Acknowledge receipt.
One phrase stuck in Fitzgerald's mind, echoing menacingly: Make war together. Make peace together.
The bastards, he thought. Germany's foreign minister conniving with Mexico and Japan to go to war against us. His mind raced with questions: how had London secured this telegram? How long had they had it? Was it verifiably authentic?
But all that came out of his dry lips was: 'We've got to get this to President Wilson. This means war.'
'Exactly,' Appleby said. 'I'll drink to that.'
Max Volkman climbed the stairs of a cold and uninviting rooming house in Washington's Foggy Bottom district whose only plus was its privacy.
'It is a sincerely bad time to visit our city,' Herr Meyer, the landlord, said as he puffed up the stairs, his ragged house slippers fraying more with each step. 'Most inclement.'
'Weather doesn't concern me,' Max said.
'Oh, really?' Floorboards creaked as Meyer continued to ascend. 'Have you business here, then?' Meyer did not look back at Max as he spoke.
Max maintained a pointed silence as he climbed, wincing now and again. Stairs bothered his left leg. The doctors had told him the leg would never be one hundred percent again, and he was self-conscious about it: a limp draws attention to a man. He wore a long voluminous blue overcoat to hide it.
'Here we are, then,' Meyer said, panting as they reached the third floor and he opened the door to a room at the top of the hall.
Max came up behind him. Five dollars a day for this, he thought: a single bed by a cracked window; a night table with a kerosene lamp; a small deal table in the middle of the bare plank floor along with one old chair; a washstand next to a wardrobe with a mottled mirror on its door.
'This will do nicely,' Max said.
Five dollars would buy me a room in one of the best hotels in Washington, he thought. But the benefit of Meyer's rooming house was that one need not register, merely pay in advance. There would be no record of one's coming or going here.
Meyer continued to stand in the doorway after Max entered, set the suitcase carefully on the bed and removed his hat. The landlord looked at the case and then at Max as if expecting a tip.
'Thank you, then,' Max said. 'I assume the facilities are ...?'
'That way,' Meyer pointed out the door to the left. 'Water is on the first landing. The heat comes on at five.'
Only now did Max notice how bitterly cold the room was. He saw a small register on the floor between the window and wardrobe and wondered how much heat could come from that.
Meyer still stood in the doorway, and finally Max had to ask for the key and excuse himself to use the toilet. The door closed, Meyer slumped off toward the stairs, disappointed either that he had won no tip or that he had learned nothing of his new guest; Max was not sure which. Reaching the toilet, Max discovered there was no paper, not even shredded squares of newspaper to use. He went back toward the stairs to yell to Meyer, but then saw the door to his room was open. He approached stealthily, careful not to sound any floorboard.
Meyer was in the room, bending over the suitcase, testing the latches to see if they were locked.
'Did you forget something?' Max said.
Meyer lurched at the sound of his voice, turning guiltily, but quickly covered up his discomfort.
'Only to tell you that the hot water begins at five, as well.' He gestured limply with his upraised arms as he spoke; they fanned about like seaweed.
Max approached him casually, a smile on his face. Meyer relaxed when he saw the smile. Max came nose to nose with the man, so close that he could smell beer on his breath.
'I'm glad that you had some reason to be in my room.' Max spoke very slowly and in German now. He wanted no misunderstandings about this.
Meyer smiled wanly as he tried to avoid Max's eyes.
Excerpted from The German Agent by J. Sydney Jones. Copyright © 2014 J. Sydney Jones. Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Limited.
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