Chapter Sixty-One

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Bern, Switzerland — Thursday 9 December 1915

David and Georg had arrived in Sonnenhang at thirteen fifty, and after a telephone call and a quick chicken sandwich, David packed his satchel and left to drive to Bern.

At seventeen forty-five, he stepped up to the reception desk at the British Embassy, from where he was immediately escorted through the side passage to the Ambassador's office.

Evelyn stood from his desk and walked around to shake David's hand. "Well done, David. Very well done. Henry just left to get more reports." He turned to pick up a stack of papers from his desk. "These are what we've received so far."

"Did we get the viaduct?"

"It's still standing, but you damaged two of the vertical girders in the pier and distorted many of the cross braces. It's been ordered closed until engineers can come in and inspect it. The last report we had was that the fire and continuing explosions make it impossible to approach, and they're looking for ways to fight the fire."

David slumped into a chair and put his hands to his face. "I missed two of the brakemen. Three if I count the one that went by when I was reloading. Got nine, but the three I missed might have made a difference in the speed — in the impact."

"You've closed the line, David. They dare not use the viaduct until it's inspected. You've succeeded."

David rubbed his face, then ran his fingers through his hair as he blew out a series of loud breaths. "How about the other two lines?"

"Buried a train on each. The reports from the Hell Valley are sketchy, but the Black Forest line has had a more talkative person. None of them encrypting, likely thinking they're too remote from the Front to be intercepted."

David smiled as he looked up, then shook himself and quickly rose to his feet. "Sorry, Sir. Improper of me to have sat —"

"Nonsense, David. Sit. Relax. You've had a long day and a lot of tension. Sit. We are ecstatic with your results on this mission. It's far beyond what we had originally conceived."

David sat again in the soft leather chair, but this time, he maintained a more proper posture. "Any estimates on how long it will take them to restore the lines to traffic?"

"Nothing yet. Most of the communications we've intercepted are still in the shock and panic stage. It seems there are no senior staff in any of the locations yet, so not a lot..." Evelyn turned toward the door as Colonel Picot knocked and entered.

David rose as Picot strode across the room with his hand extended. "Superbly done, David."

"Thank you, Sir."

Picot waved the sheath of papers in his hand. "There are still explosions and a raging blaze at the Biesenbach Viaduct, and they have no equipment to fight the fire."

"It would be difficult to move equipment into that area, anyway. No nearby road." David stroked his beard. "They could bring a water car and engine-driven pumps on a train from down the valley. The fire will probably burn itself out before they could put that together, though." He pursed his lips, nodded then smiled. "Anything on searching for us?"

"Not a thing so far. It appears each site thinks the happenings were by accident. We've not yet received any reports from our intercepts from higher up the chain. We've agents intercepting communications at both Freiburg and Donaueschingen and they report a large increase in traffic. They're still working on breaking its encryption."

David glanced at his watch. "Franz and Hans should have arrived at a gasthaus in Basel by now."

"Your decision to have them flee on their own was wise. No sense adding to your own risk."

"It was too far to drive around, anyway, Sir. About a hundred and twenty-five kilometres. The shorter roads were destroyed with the rails. Besides, if we had run into problems or were delayed, they'd be wasting escape time waiting for us."

Picot nodded, then held the papers out toward David. "Read through these. The translations are rather rough, but you'll get a sense of what's happening."

"He can do that in the morning, Henry." The Ambassador looked at the clock on the wall. "It's past six. Let's put this aside until then. I'll call my driver."

"If you don't mind riding in the lorry, Sir, I could drive you. Save the gasoline for other uses."

"A fine idea, we need to discuss your lorry, anyway. We can do that as we go."

"I'll take these back to the message centre, Sir, collect Paul and see you at dinner." Picot gathered the papers and left.

As David drove the Ambassador toward his residence, he asked, "You had mentioned the lorry, Sir?"

"Yes, it has served your purposes well, and it will continue being useful to the team, but as a watch salesman, you need to travel differently. Fine watches and lorries aren't found on the same continuum." He chuckled. "The War Office has ordered you an automobile, and we were expecting it to arrive yesterday, but the train was delayed with the fresh snow in the mountains."

"Snow in the mountains?"

"The Alps. It's coming from Italy. The logistics of getting one across the Channel from England and then through war-ravaged France were complex, and the War Office is against buying anything built in Germany if they can avoid it."

"Yes, as fine a piece of engineering as this lorry is, I thought it strange for them to have chosen it."

"There were few alternatives. Besides, this blends in well with all the others on the roads over there, so it goes unnoticed."

"True. So, the new vehicle? Italian? I'm not familiar with any of their auto industry. Really, I've never thought of them building... Strange, aren't they, preconceptions?"

"It's a Lancia. Their new Theta model. Willy Maugham has one, and he loves it. He'll be at dinner with us this evening. I'm sure he'll tell you all about it."

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