Chapter Fifty-Four

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Ludwigshafen, Germany — Sunday, 30 January 1916

David looked up from his coffee to greet Rick and Manny as they crossed the dining room to join him. "Good morning. From the smiles on your faces, it appears you've had success."

"Successes, Sir. Successes on all fronts." Rick chuckled as he glanced down at his crotch. "I love this way of gathering intelligence."

"And you were careful to maintain your cover?"

"We've nearly depleted our stock. We need a resupply."

David roared a loud laugh, and as he wiped his tears, he said, "That's not the cover I meant." He laughed again. "I'm delighted for you, but I meant, did you raise any suspicions?"

"None we're aware of. They seem starved..." He paused as Ernst and Hans joined them and exchanged greetings, and he was about to continue when Franz and Dolf arrived followed by the waitress.

After further greetings, they ordered breakfast, and as they waited for it, Rick gave a report of their activities. "We saw we'd catch attention if we remained in a group, so we split into pairs. Hans drove with me beside him and the others in the back until we tracked tank cars to our first munitions factory in Oggersheim. The road outside it was teeming with women."

He chuckled. "So many young and pretty ones. They're forced to work in the factories just as the men are forced to join the fighting. Anyway, we continued driving and stopped around the corner to let Franz and Ernst out."

Franz continued the story. "We walked back toward the factory and all the women heading home from their work shift. We stopped the first two pretty ones who smiled back, and told them we were Swiss and looking for the munitions office to sell them technical equipment. As we talked with them, we watched for the signs of interest Maria had told us about."

Ernst jumped in. "I don't know how I've missed the subtle indications all these years, but the both of them postured and preened, especially Ursula —"

"That was for you, but the hots from Frieda were stronger. Anyway, as they led us back toward the factory, I pointed to the time on my watch, and suggested they must be tired from working all day. They could show us the office tomorrow, and we could find a place to sit and relax and talk."

"And then you played the beautiful card." Ernst laughed. "I had to scramble to find a clever way to tell Ursula how beautiful she is."

"We found out they're sisters, and they took us home. Their father is at the Front, and their mother is working the night shift at the factory. Two weeks ago, they began round-the-clock shifts to comply with the order to double production."

David nodded as he absorbed this. "That fits with what I've learned. There is a major build-up happening for a massive attack into Free France from the Metz area."

"We all found a doubling or tripling of production," Rick said. "But also, none of the munitions factories we found are huge. So many of them, though, and all beside rail lines in communities with sufficient women to work in them." He trembled. "God! Some of them are gorgeous. And so horny. They're starving for men. For attention."

"Alright. There is no need to continue locating the factories. We need now to..." David paused as two women came with platters of sliced meats, cheeses and pastries, a basket of bread and a pot of fresh coffee.

After they had left, David continued. "We know about the factories and the increased production. What we must track now is the source of the hydrogen for the Oppau plant. It's most likely natural gas, but we need to know from where it comes."

"That's going to be tough," Rick said. "It feels like the tank cars are full both coming from and going to the plant. The same heavy shaking of the ground as they pass, not like empty cars."

David stared into his coffee for a while as he thought. "Efficient use of resources. They likely ship the ammonia or sulphuric acid out in the tanks which brought in the gas."

"That's what I had thought."

"Alright. You had an easy time tracking tank cars leaving Oppau. Now the challenge is to do it in reverse; a process of elimination at each switch and rail junction. You'll have to follow each line and determine whether it's the source."

"We'd look suspicious with our Swiss plates," Rick said.

"Yes, I had thought that. I can organise hire cars for you with Baden plates. Who besides Hans can drive?

Dolf lifted his hand. "I drove a delivery van in Calgary before I enlisted. I'm sure I still remember how."

David saw no further response. "Right, then. You'll become two teams." He glanced at his watch. "We should finish here and organise for the next phase. I must get back to Bern as quickly as possible to report our findings. Does anyone want to come with me?"

He smiled as he watched six heads shake no. "As I thought. Resupply of protection is readily available in any Apotheke. They are much more open about it here than we are at home.

"They're also more open about fuckin'. They ain't like the Sheil... the women back home."

David shook his head. "No, they're the same, Manny. It's your attitude which has changed, and the response you receive from the women has changed with it."

"All them wasted years."

"But let's get back to our mission. Does it make sense to remain in this place? The hotels and inns all appear to have a ready supply of vacant rooms, so you can base yourselves wherever needed."

"This is good for us." Franz tilted his head toward Ernst. "It's only three kilometres from Oggersheim, and it's near the Oppau plant."

"It's less than an hour's walk to Frankenthal," Hans said.

David laughed. "Let me guess. You've not been sampling the market. You need to be cautious. Remember, you're deep in enemy territory, and you have a mission." He blew out a big breath. "Right. It appears Franz, Ernst and Hans are one team."

He leaned down and lifted an envelope from his satchel. "I don't know how long it will be before I return, so here's an additional forty Marks for each of you. Rick remains in charge, and he'll set up meeting times and places for you."

He stroked his beard as he thought. "Best to meet here each morning for breakfast at 0830. I'll meet you here when I return." He looked at each of the men. "Remember, safety above all, and if you sense anything strange, scurry back to Switzerland. Have I omitted anything?"

Seeing shaking heads in response, he motioned to Hans and Dolf. "Let's go visit Frau Schneider to arrange the hire cars." 

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