The brass compass, p.1

The Brass Compass, page 1


The Brass Compass

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The Brass Compass

  The Brass Compass

  By Ellen Butler

  The Brass Compass Copyright © 2017 by Ellen Butler.

  All Rights Reserved.

  Power to the Pen

  PO Box 1474

  Woodbridge, VA 22195

  Digital ISBN 13: 978-0-9984193-1-2

  Trade Paperback ISBN 13: 978-0-9984193-0-5

  Categories: Fiction, Historical, Thriller & Suspense, Characters/Female Protagonists, Military, German, WWII

  Editing by Blue Otter Editing.

  Cover Art by Jennifer Givner.

  Cover Photograph by Toni Frissell, [Victoria Station, London] 1951, Library of Congress, item 96506374.

  Warning: All Rights Reserved. The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of the copyrighted work is illegal and forbidden without the written permission of the author and publisher; exceptions are made for brief excerpts used in published reviews.

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, corporations, institutions, organizations, events, or locales in this novel are either the product of the authors imagination or, if real, used fictitiously. The resemblance of any character to actual persons (living or dead) is entirely coincidental.



  Germany and Surrounding Countries


  Chapter One | Into the Night

  Chapter Two | Long Cold Road

  Chapter Three | Down the Rabbit Hole

  Chapter Four | City of Light

  Chapter Five | One the Move

  Chapter Six | Franziska

  Chapter Seven | Noah’s Animals

  Chapter Eight | Getting Here

  Chapter Nine | The Naiveté of Youth

  Chapter Ten | Dogfight

  Chapter Eleven | Oskar

  Chapter Twelve | Cat and Mouse

  Chapter Thirteen | Friend or Enemy

  Chapter Fourteen | Interrogation

  Chapter Fifteen | The Enemy

  Chapter Sixteen | Hope

  Chapter Seventeen | Secrets

  Chapter Eighteen | Lost Compass

  Chapter Nineteen | The Lucky Talisman

  Chapter Twenty | Operation Pony Express

  Chapter Twenty-one | The Rescue

  Chapter Twenty-two | Nurse Nightingale

  Chapter Twenty-three | In Need of a Miracle

  Chapter Twenty-four | Return to Paris

  Chapter Twenty-five | Apology

  Chapter Twenty-six | Black Widow

  Chapter Twenty-seven | Ennui

  Chapter Twenty-eight | Buchenwald

  Chapter Twenty-nine | Trouble Ahead

  Chapter Thirty | Solomon

  Chapter Thirty-one | Berchtesgaden

  Chapter Thirty-two | Surrender

  Chapter Thirty-three | Honors


  Guided Reading Group Questions


  About the Author

  An Excerpt from Poplar Place


  To Oscar, a boy with the courage of a lion,

  forced to become a man under the darkest of times.

  To the Women of the OSS. Your bravery saved lives.

  Germany and Surrounding Countries


  Unbeknownst to me, my training started as a child, long before the Nazis came to power, before the war, and before my stay at the prestigious Swiss finishing school, Château Mont-Choisi, in the idyllic town of Lausanne. Had my mother realized the path her machinations put me on, I doubt she would have ever let me out of her sight.

  Chapter One

  Into the Night

  February 1945


  “Was ist sein Name?” What is his name? The SS officer’s backlit shadow loomed over his victim as he yelled into the face of the shrinking man on the third-story balcony. “We know you’ve been passing messages. Tell us, who is your contact?” he continued in German.

  Lenz’s gray-haired head shook like a frightened mouse. With his back to me, I was too far away to hear the mumbled response or the Nazi’s next question. I pulled my dark wool coat tighter and sank deeper into the shadow of the apartment building’s doorway across the street from where my contact underwent interrogation. The pounding of my heart pulsated in my ears, and I held my breath as I strained to listen to the conversation. In front of Lenz’s building stood a black Mercedes-Benz with its running lights aglow, no doubt the vehicle that brought the SS troops. None of the neighboring buildings showed any light, as residents cowered behind locked doors praying the SS wouldn’t come knocking. This was a working-class neighborhood, and everyone knew it was best to keep your mouth shut and not stick your nose in the business of the Schutzstaffel.

  Their presence at Lenz’s home explained why my contact at the bakery was absent from our assignation earlier today. I dreaded to imagine what they had done to Otto for him to give up Lenz’s name ... or worse, mine. Even though I’d never told Otto my name, a description of me could easily lead the SS to their target.

  “Lügner!” Liar!

  I flinched as the officer’s ringing accusation bounced off the brick buildings. A young SS Stormtrooper stepped out onto the balcony and requested his superior look at something in his hand. I should have taken their distraction to slip away into the darkness and run; instead I stayed, anxiously listening, to hear if Lenz would break under the SS grilling and reveal my identity. Clearly, they suspected he was involved in spying and would take him away. They probably also knew he had information to spill and would eventually torture it out of him, which was the only reason he hadn’t been shot on sight. It was only a matter of time before he gave me away. My friends in the French Resistance had been directed to hold out for two days before releasing names to allow the spies to disband and disappear. I wasn’t sure if the German network applied the same rules, so I remained to see if he would break before they took him.

  “Where did you find this?” the officer asked.

  The trooper indicated inside the apartment.

  “Zeig es mir.” Show me. He followed his subordinate through the doorway into the building.

  Lenz turned and braced himself against the balcony. I watched in horror as he climbed atop the railing.

  “Halt!” a bellow from inside rang out.

  Lenz didn’t hesitate, and I averted my eyes, biting down hard on my cold knuckles, as he took his final moments out of the hands of the Nazis. Sounds of shattering glass and buckling metal ripped through the darkness as his body slammed into the SS vehicle. In my periphery, a neighboring blackout curtain shifted.

  “Scheisse!” the SS officer swore as he and his subordinate leaned over the railing to see Lenz’s body sprawled across their car. “Search the apartment. Tear it apart!”

  The moment they crossed the threshold, I sprinted into the night.

  My breath puffed out in small plumes of smoke as I dodged through alleys, in and out of darkened doorways, moving on the balls of my feet. Silently, I cursed the cloudless sky as the moonlight bounced off the cobblestones, its brightness clear enough to land a plane. Unless waiting at midnight at a drop zone for needed supplies, a spy preferred the inky blackness of cloudy skies. Especially when escaping the enemy.

  A few kilometers from Lenz’s apartment, I paused behind the brick rubble of a bombed-out building. My gaze searched the area for any sign of movement. Standing alert, I held my breath, attuning my senses to the nighttime sounds, and listened for the whisper of cloth, the click of a boot heel, or heaven forbid, the cock of a gun. The thundering of my heartbeat slowed, and I balled my fists to stop my shaking hands. All seemed quiet ... for the moment.

  My fingers curled around the tiny film cartridge, filled with information v
ital to the Allied cause, nestled in my coat pocket. Dropping down to one knee, I slipped the heel of my right boot aside and tucked it into the hidden cavity. The coded message I’d planned to pass to Lenz would have to be burned, but I couldn’t take the chance of lighting a fire right now. It would have to wait until morning.

  My body cooled from the run, and I blew into my hands to warm them as I assessed the situation. There was no way I could return to the Nazi’s home. If my absence had yet to be noticed and arouse suspicion, there was still a distinct possibility the SS would be knocking on the Oberst’s door at sunrise demanding admittance. I had to assume, even though Lenz didn’t reveal me, Otto already had, or would be tortured into doing so. Lenz’s suicide did not guarantee my safety. Eventually, the SS, or worse, the Gestapo, would follow up on the slightest possibility that the Oberst housed a spy, especially considering his most recent house guests included the Minister of Armaments and War, Albert Speer, along with half a dozen army officers and a pair of naval captains.

  Even though, due to his injury, the Oberst no longer led troops into battle, he was a brilliant tactician, and his home remained a hot bed of strategic planning. Army leaders had spent hours in his luxurious dining room talking weapons, troop movement tactics, and maneuvers. Though der Führer never deigned to visit, on at least one occasion, the Oberst had been summoned to consult with Hitler’s top military advisors in Berchtesgaden. It was the exact reason why, when the chance for me to imbed myself into his household fell at my feet, I did so without hesitation, despite the high level of risk and against my superior’s strong objections.

  I tilted my head against the rough brick, and my mind flashed back to the fateful day in November 1944 when I’d been returning to my job as a telephone operator in Stuttgart, acquired for me by a special operations executive—an SOE agent. I carried a small net sack of food I’d purchased using my meager ration cards and watched two giggling children skip down the sidewalk ahead of a thin, gray-haired woman. She absentmindedly called for them to slow down, but her attention was focused on a piece of paper in her hand.

  It happened in an instant. The little boy threw the girl’s doll into the street, and with a cry, she ran after it. I saw the car’s driver hadn’t seen the contretemps or the child run into the road. The groceries dropped to the ground as I raced into the street. My fingers snatched the little girl’s hood and I yanked. We stumbled out of harm’s way as the driver swerved to miss us both. That moment of squealing tires, burnt rubber, and boy’s distressed yell was perpetually seared into my mind.

  After the children had been calmed and the agitated driver returned to his car, the distraught housekeeper poured out her sob story, no doubt worried that I would complain of her inattention to her employer. In a babbling monologue, with tears shimmering in her sunken eyes, she told me the two motherless children had been foisted into her charge when their last nanny moved to Frankfurt to take care of a sick parent and injured brother. The household was moving to be with the Oberst, army colonel, in Oberndorf, Germany. I slowly rocked the little girl in my arms while sympathetically nodding as she explained the situation. Finally, she rounded out her story by asking if I knew of anyone willing to leave Stuttgart and take up the position.

  My mind churned at the mention of the colonel and his position in Oberndorf, the home of the Mauser K98k factory, the Wehrmacht’s rifle of choice. The housekeeper’s plea couldn’t have been more perfect. My cover identification characterized me as the eldest of four children, a far cry from the truth. However, I took the initiative to weave a beautiful, nurturing tale about raising my brothers and sister while lovingly comforting pint-sized Klara, as Dagobert, the imp who’d thrown the doll, hid behind Magda’s skirts. Five days later, after a nerve-racking investigation, I moved into the household, along with a newly acquired Minox mini spy camera and instructions for passing information to my contact at the Marktplatz in Oberndorf.

  A rustling sound jerked my attention to the right and sent my heart a-rabbiting. The perpetrator, a tiny four-legged creature, squeaked and darted across the street. A silent breath of laughter puffed out in relief, even as I realized that those few minutes I’d let my guard down could have cost me my life. With renewed determination, I rose and continued my stealthy journey into the night.

  Chapter Two

  Long Cold Road

  I followed one of the less-traveled dirt roads out of Oberndorf that led deeper into the Schwarzwald, Black Forest, and had no manned checkpoints. The lane lay like a ribbon in front of me, bright enough to follow in the moonshine. I quietly padded along a frozen track left behind by the treads of a tank; my body remained tense and ready to jump down into the gully that ran along the side. However, the jolt of fear that drove me through town waned, leaving behind weariness, and it took a grim determination to continue putting one foot in front of the other.

  The breeze bit at me, and I pulled the collar tighter around my neck before jamming my hands deep into the coat pockets, regretting, in my haste to get to Lenz’s, that I left my gloves behind. Magda had presented them to me on Christmas Eve—a generous gift considering the current rationing conditions. Guiltily, I wondered what the SS might do to her and the rest of the staff.

  The harsh February winter still held us in its clutches, which meant there were no comforting chirps of cicadas and crickets, only the wind whistling through the pines, the grate of my soles on frozen road, and the whooshing of my breath to keep me company. I turned a corner and heard the whine of an engine. In an instant, I slid down the gully and hid behind a bush. The vehicle’s headlamps arced around the bend, slicing into the trees on the opposite side, and I crouched lower as the Heer staff car continued down the boulevard. During the moment of brightness, I checked my watch. It wasn’t yet midnight, and I prayed my absence would go unnoticed until morning.

  Hours later, my flagging footsteps tripped over a rise on the uneven roadway, and I fell to my knees, scraping my hands as I landed on the frosty gravel. The bitter dryness burned my arid throat with every inhalation. With what little willpower I had left, I pulled myself up, dragged my weary body into the woods, and found a bower, devoid of snow, to curl up beneath. I pulled dead leaves and pine boughs over me for warmth.

  Just for a few minutes.

  My dreams took me back to an earlier time, when my life lay like a blank canvas of privilege and comfort in front of me.


  Spring 1938

  Wales, Britain

  The trunks had been packed for two days. Returning to my birth country, where I could visit my only living grandmother, settle into a home, and decorate my own bedroom, had me antsy with excitement. Most of all, I looked forward to spending time with my mother, whom I hadn’t seen since the winter holiday break. Of my three roommates, my parents were the last to arrive. A day overdue, they had missed the commencement ceremony. Not a surprise, since my roommates’ families all lived somewhere in Britain, whereas mine were coming from the exotic African nation of Rhodesia, where my father had just finished his assignment as a minister-counselor at the U.S. Embassy. I sat, for the last time, at the scratched and worn wooden desk, now bare of any personal items, cleaning my 35 mm Argus A camera—a Christmas gift from my mother and my most prized possession. Photos of friends, the school’s snow-covered turrets, a broken swing set, the new budding leaves, a bicycle tire, whatever struck my fancy lay in a portfolio at the bottom of my trunk. The school’s art teacher took a great interest in my photography, and her last words to me at the end of the term were of encouragement to continue.

  A soft knock at the open dormitory door had me turning to find the smiling visage of my beautiful mother. Forgetting all my etiquette classes, I threw myself across the room into her outstretched arms, inhaling her rosewater scent. “Mum!”

  “Oh my goodness, look, Edward, my little peanut is all grown up.” Her jade-green eyes, which I’d inherited, raked me up and down.

  As she did so, I noticed the blue dress sh
e wore hung loose on her frame, and the mink coat seemed to overwhelm her slight figure. Her angular cheekbones, a defining feature, seemed even more prominent, making her look gaunt. Mother always maintained a trim figure, but this was beyond slim. I frowned.

  “Hello, my dear, it is good to see you.” My father stepped forward and drew me to him in a stiff hug.

  “You too, Father” I murmured into his shoulder, noticing that he had lost some of his barrel chest.

  “This doesn’t look too bad. Not quite the cold, austere type of place I expected in a British boarding school. It’s actually quite homey and you seem to have fit right in.”

  “I suppose so.” I gave a wan smile. Following a rocky start, the school had been just fine. After all, I’d been adapting to environments all over Western Europe, while my father worked his way up the foreign officer ladder, moving us from consulate to consulate and embassy to embassy. Adapting to a stuffy, upper-crust boarding school had been tricky at first, but once the girls realized I’d seen much more of the world than they, I’d achieved a type of awed respect. Though I would have preferred to have continued my education with hired tutors and remained with my parents, it had been impressed upon me that Africa would be a dangerous place for a young girl, and Mother insisted on ensconcing me safely in this “homey” environment. When it came to my education, Edward, my stepfather, always bowed to my mother’s recommendations.

  “Your mother is correct. You have grown taller. No longer my little girl, you have become quite the young lady.” He eyed me up and down.

  My real father had been killed in a car accident when I wasn’t yet two, turning my mother into a widow before her twenty-third birthday. Still young and beautiful and carrying a pedigree from a wealthy New York family, she remarried before my fourth birthday. Even though he never officially adopted me, Edward had been kind and loving in his own way, and at a young age, at my mother’s behest, I’d taken to addressing him as Father. He and my mother never had children of their own, and by the time I turned seven, he’d started introducing me simply as his daughter rather than “Marie’s daughter.”

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