Chapter Forty-Three

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David glanced at his watch when the last of the thirty bins of potatoes had been emptied. "Five to noon. That's a hundred and fifty bins in ten days. We should slow now. Bring only ten per trip so we don't run out. We're about a third of the way through the crop. Let's load and head toward Titisee."

It was crowded in the cab with the four of them as David drove slowly along the road that wound around the gently rolling hills. "Such wide open vistas here. Point out some of your observations as we pass them, Georg. Describe to us all what you have in mind."

"Pull to the side of the road around the next bend. There's a good lookout where we can sit and wait for the train we saw watering in Blumberg. We'll see it emerge from the tunnel and wind its way around the bends to illustrate my idea."

As they waited at the viewpoint, Georg pointed out the useful features he had identified. He had almost finished when the train emerged from the tunnel and rumbled down around the curve toward the viaduct.

"The tracks descend more steeply after they cross the viaduct. The slope tries to accelerate the trains, but they maintain a steady speed with brakes as they go through the switchback. We'll shortly hear the brakes squeal."

David put his binoculars to his eyes to follow the train across the viaduct and down the increasing grade toward the curve. "I see the brakemen working their cranks, but they're not slowing, just keeping it from increasing."

They watched the train disappear into a tunnel, then come out to complete another switchback

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They watched the train disappear into a tunnel, then come out to complete another switchback. After a third switchback, it entered another tunnel. "That's the spiral one, a circle and a quarter. We'll see it emerge over there." Georg raised his arm.

David turned his eyes back to the viaduct piers. "Access to that curve appears simple with that long strip of trees. Excellent cover."

"I camped in there for three days. There's water, and it's secluded. I thought it a good place from which to both lay the charges and to detonate them."

"Be great if we could identify a munitions train," Franz said. "Have one of them go up in the process."

"I was told in Bern that they're mostly mixed; munitions, rations and other supplies." David pointed across the slopes to the train emerging from the spiral tunnel. "We should be going. We need to meet Herman and Hans."

Hans was waiting for them when they arrived at the gasthaus in Titisee at fourteen fifteen. He shook his head slowly as he rose to greet them, then after they had all sat, he said, "I found his camp. Everything there is undisturbed, no appearance of anything unusual. It looks like he went on a reconnaissance and didn't return. I searched the immediate..."

He was interrupted by the arrival of the frau. After they had ordered beer, he continued, "I searched along the cliff bottoms in the immediate area, thinking he may have fallen. There was no sign of him. I headed across near the crest of the ridge to overlook the canyon. The Ravenna Bridge and the tunnel before it are crawling with guards. I continued along to the Hirschsprungfelsen. There are three tunnels in the tight section of the canyon past the rocks, all with guard posts and patrols."

He ran his hands over his face, then through his hair. "Didn't sleep much the last two nights... Anyway, I searched the escarpments for cracks that would be useful to us and found many places where we could initiate significant rock collapses into the canyon. The canyon walls are predominantly gneiss. On my way back, I searched the bottoms of the crags looking for Herman, still thinking he may have fallen. I spent..." He paused as the beer arrived.

"I spent all day yesterday combing the slopes along the south side of the gorge, crisscrossing all five kilometres of it and one to three hundred metres high. This morning I started on the north side."

"And you saw no sign of him, other than his camp?" David asked.

"Nothing. But he prides himself on his ability to move through an area without disrupting anything. Sure wish he had been more bumbling up there."

They all paused when the frau returned to take their orders, then after she had gone, David said, "For the next few minutes, let's each quietly think what our path might be from here. Remember, there's no such thing as a crazy idea. Some of the seemingly whackiest ones can evolve into brilliance."

Through the ensuing discussion, Greg, Georg and Franz each volunteered to remain with Hans and continue combing the slopes for signs of Herman. In the end, David decided that Greg and Hans would remain to search. "I'll come back on Monday, meet you here in front of the gasthaus at fifteen hundred. Bring your kits and we'll head back to Sonnenhang to regroup and to..."

David was interrupted by the frau bringing their lunch, and once she had left, he continued, "After lunch, Georg, Franz and I will drive through the canyon toward Freiburg, then turn around and drive back through. That'll give us a sense of the targets and a look at the rock walls from their perspective."

"We'll see the potential much better from below," Georg said. "Be able to see the what would cause the most damage if collapsed and to see the paths the rocks will likely take."

While they finished their lunch, Georg reviewed the structural aspects of gneiss that make it susceptible to fracturing and easy to cleave with explosives. "The mica layers are the weak points, and these are easily spread by frost. When exposed to weather, gneiss slowly cracks and exfoliates. The area should be riddled with ready-made placements for our explosives."

Outside at the lorry, they bade God speed to Greg and Hans, then David drove westward past the end of the lake and into the beginning of the Höllental. "Hell Valley. We have a Hell's Gate in the Frazer Canyon in western Canada. It was one of the most difficult portions of building the transcontinental railway thirty years ago."

They climbed the series of sharp switchbacks into the narrowing of the valley at Ravenna and paused at the side of the road to watch a train pulled by three locomotives cross the bridge far above their heads.

They climbed the series of sharp switchbacks into the narrowing of the valley at Ravenna and paused at the side of the road to watch a train pulled by three locomotives cross the bridge far above their heads

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"There's the soldiers' encampment." David nodded his head toward the stream beneath the bridge. "Impossible to approach now, but maybe after we've stopped their traffic farther along the canyon, they'll divert their attention from it and give us a chance." David shook his head. "But that's for later. Let's concentrate on now." 

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