Chapter Forty-Five

45 12 12

Monday, 24 January 1916

David arrived in his office at 0820 on Monday, and he began by reading through the documents and reports in the Air folder. Then he drafted a cable to William, outlining his observations from his trip north and the ideas which had emerged. He leaned back in his chair and read the draft, pencilling corrections and additions as he went, then he added a request for further information on what aerial support there might be.

Satisfied with the text, he copied it to good and took it to the message centre to be encrypted and sent. On his way back, he stopped in the library to read the latest few issues of the German newspapers and Le Figaro. After sorting through the German stack, he asked Charles, "Can you get the newspapers from Mannheim or Ludwigshafen?"

"I'll check with the newsstand in the rail station, Sir. He seems to have the best sources."

"Any you can find in that area; Worms, Heidelberg, Landau, Kaiserslautern, a thirty-mile radius. I want to get a feel for it."

"I'll do that while I'm out for lunch, Sir." He turned and swept his hand past the shelves. "I've never seen the books so neatly organised. If nothing else, Captain Wyndcom is meticulous. Look how he's lined them all up, each one dressed precisely to the edge of the shelf."

David chuckled as he scanned the shelves. "Did he get them all back into their correct places? Or did he simply make them look pretty?"

Charles startled. "I haven't checked." He took four quick strides across to the nearest shelf. "Fucking idiot — pardon my language, Sir. I'm the idiot for not instructing and supervising him."

"No, not at all. Having people assume he's sane and logical seems to be how he has bumbled his way this far into his life."

Charles scanned the book spines. "Looks as if he didn't move them too far. Simply arranged them in order of height. The catalogue numbers are scrambled, but not shifted among shelves — except the foreign language ones. Looks as if he simply filled empty spaces."

"I'll have Miss Hutchins send him back in to sort them by catalogue number. Surely he can organise in numerical order."

"Not my place to ask this, but how did he ever get a commission?"

"Family." David shook his head. "Until a few decades ago, the titled and the landed gentry could purchase an Army commission. After this avenue was abolished, the powerful families found other methods of suasion to gain commissions for their incompetent sons."

"So, we need to play nursemaid to him here to keep him from causing serious damage out there."

David sighed and nodded. "Unfortunately, that's our role." He lifted the bundle of newspapers. "I'll take these to my office to read."

Bienne, Switzerland — Wednesday, 26 January

The tyre chains made a dull rhythmic thump as David drove slowly on hard-packed snow, threading his way between the steep snow banks on his way down the winding Aar Valley from Bern. Within half an hour, he stopped at the side of the road to remove the chains; then he continued through the broad, flat valley beside the lake to Bienne.

Hans stood from his chair and welcomed David as he entered the lobby of Hôtel de la Poste, extending his hand to shake. "I love the overcoat. You'll fit in perfectly with that."

"Thank you. Maria had it made for me as a Christmas gift."

"Wise and thoughtful." Hans felt the suppleness of the leather at the lapel and nodded. Then he motioned toward the dining room, and led the way. Once they were seated, he continued, "I'm pleased you've subdued Wyndcom. What an arse he is."

"I'm sorry you had to endure that."

"It took me but a short time to realise what he is, then I let him continue venting his vitriolic venom as I amused myself conjuring fantasy ways to harness the energy for use against Fritz. I had plenty of practice with attitudes such as his before I left London."

David chuckled. "If only all his actions were so easy to dismiss."

"He's causing more disruption?"

"Nothing serious. I think we have him..." David paused as the waiter approached.

After they had ordered, Hans lifted a folder from his case and opened it on the table. "These are technical drawings, data sheets and setting instructions for the selection of fuses. I thought it would be more plausible if the men represented themselves as independent agents seeking business for client companies."

"That's clever thinking."

Hans picked up a page. "This grid shows the prices for each fuse design, and you can see how the unit price decreases as the volume increases. This is how I approached the British office in Bern. Your young lads can take a more naïve approach, playing inexperienced entrepreneurs searching for munitions plants to approach." He laughed. "There are dozens of small assembly plants scattered throughout the country, dispersed for safety and to employ the local women."

"I like it. It will explain their snooping and enquiring activities." David pointed to the drawings and pages of data. "Don't some of these contain sensitive information?"

"There are no secrets in adjustable fuse design. They're essentially all the same. The value is in the meticulousness of making the pieces and in assembling them. But, more than that; it's the metals. That's one of Germany's major problems; accessing the brass and the spring steel. Britain supplies us with all we need to make their fuses, but with the naval blockade, Germany has lost most of its access."

"So, melting roofs and church bells is for more than only making shell casings."

"Most certainly. But beyond the metal, David; it's the large number of skilled workers required to make the components and assemble them. Most of those skills are now wasted as the artisans serve as soldiers. The German Army raped the country's industrial capabilities with indiscriminate conscription."

"Thinking the war would be quickly over."

"Yes, and that thinking led to many decisions which are now hampering them." They both leaned back as their lunches were served.

As they ate, Hans pointed to his bag on the floor. "I have nine sample fuses, three of each type. Also, I've your watch order for Engelhorn Juweliergeschäft."

"I'm amazed by the wealth in the Mannheim area. Likely many of them are skilled workers in the chemical factories."

"Mannheim is also the home of the Benz works. That's where Karl Benz invented the automobile, and the area has become a centre for the motor vehicle industry. The Daimler factories are just up the valley, and there is a huge lorry works in Gaggenau."

David nodded as he absorbed this. "They're all likely now concentrating on making military vehicles. I need to spend more time up there."

"That's why I've also brought you a fresh supply of watches." Hans tilted his head toward the bag at his feet. "I thought you might see more opportunities." 

Watching FritzWhere stories live. Discover now