Chapter Fifty-One

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David waded through the many short articles about families welcoming their husbands and sons back from their victories at the battle fronts in France. He searched in vain for details, and after a frustrating half hour, he set the paper aside. They've won the war many times over by the tone of the reportage. Their war office needs writers with greater creativity and less repetitiveness. So easy to see through the pattern.

He sat back and sighed. Must be a reason they've been withdrawn from France. Jacob mentioned redeployment, but I dared not ask to where. He glanced at his watch. Maybe the service staff in the dining room. It's already past noon, and I'm starving after that miserly breakfast.

A few minutes later, David was led to a table in a corner of the dining room, and after he had read the menu, he examined the complex masonry of the vaulted ceiling as he waited for service. The staff appeared to be preoccupied with serving a small group of Army officers who had arrived shortly after he had. Seems I've been forgotten.

Finally, a passing waiter noticed him and rushed over with effusive apologies. "I'm terribly sorry Sir. We've missed you in our excitement." He nodded across the room. "We've never had five generals all at once."

David smiled, then shrugged. "I've been entertained by watching the attentive service over there, and it has set me anticipating the same. I've not seen this level in Switzerland."

"You're from Switzerland? I wish I were, rather than being caught up in the games the generals are playing."

"But you're old enough to not be forced to serve in the Army, and you're secure here serving the officers."

"But my sons..." He looked up at the ceiling and shook his head.

David nodded. "I'm sorry."

"Thank you." He pointed to the menu. "The trout is superb and so is the veal."

"I'll have the menu with the trout now, and save the veal for dinner."

"Excellent, Sir. And some wine?"

"What would you recommend?"

"The Liebfrauenmilch Madonna. The vineyards are only a kilometre from here, and the owner, Herr Valckenberg often dines with us."

"A small bottle, though. I have work to do this afternoon."

"We have barrels of it in the cellar; I can bring you a carafe."

David nodded. "Yes, do that, please."

The waiter walked briskly toward the door which David assumed led to the kitchen. That's from where all the staff came bearing food to be served to the officers. Five generals? Why? Why here? He looked across at the table. Good God! With all that glittering gold decoration, they daren't go near the fighting. They'd be dead ducks in a shooting gallery for our snipers.

His waiter returned with a carafe, and after a small amount had been poured into his glass, David picked it up and nosed it. "It has the aromas of a Riesling." He took a sip and savoured it. "And the flavours also, but a bit sweeter than I know."

"You appear to be familiar with wine."

"My family have vineyards in Schaffhausen. One branch had vineyards on the Kaiserstuhl of Baden before the war sent them scurrying back to Switzerland."

"Even more reason you should visit Herr Valckenberg. This wine..." He lifted the carafe and added to David's glass. "The vineyards which produce this have been in his family since the seventeen hundreds."

"A kilometre from here, you said?"

"Yes, the vines surround the Liebfrauenkirch on the north corner of the city alongside the Rhein."

David took another sip and thanked the waiter. Then he tilted his head toward the table of generals. "Any idea of who they are?"

"I can find out; they're staying in the hotel. I'll be back shortly with your Vorspeise."

While he waited, David watched the interaction among the generals, noting four were old men and one was much younger. Looks to be thirty or so. Strange, they've given him the dominant place at the head of the table. He continued casually watching as he sipped his wine.

The waiter returned and set a plate in front of David. "Flammkuchen mit Handkäse und Wildfleisch. The traditional Hessian appetiser has black sausage, but the chef prefers to make his with wild game."

"It looks and smells splendid. Thank you."

Ten minutes later, the waiter returned to clear the appetiser service. He set a folded piece of paper on the table as he picked up David's plate. "My wife works at the registration desk."

"Thank you. Tell the chef the tart was delicious."

David scanned the contents of the note, then refolded it and put it in his pocket. Each one a noble. They're all von this or von that. Members of the entitled families who have brought us this war. He glanced across at the table. And now they're likely planning their next moves. But why gather here? Following tradition? The Diet of Worms?

The arrival of the waiter with a service trolley interrupted David's thoughts, and he watched as his still-sizzling trout was skilfully deboned, set on a plate then garnished with fried potato fingers and a wedge of roast squash. The waiter wished him, "Guten Appetit." Then he wheeled the trolley away.

As he enjoyed his main course, David continued to casually monitor the five generals and ponder the situation. William will be able to take these names and sort out who they are. What their positions are. Link this to other intelligence.

He chuckled to himself as he took another sip of wine. Fast way to blow my cover. Ask a telegraph clerk to send an encrypted cable to England. I have no way to get this information to him until I return to Bern.

As he turned back to savour the last few bites on his plate, he caught activity in his peripheral vision. He looked up to see two officers approach the general's table. They engaged in a brief discussion, looked toward David and nodded. Then they crossed the room toward him.

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