Chapter Sixty-Six

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David told Bethia he and Rick were back in Switzerland. Then with a trembling hand, he cradled the receiver to end the call. He turned to stare blankly across the station's concourse, slowly shaking his head.

"They may still be making their way back, Sir."

David nodded as he wiped his cheeks with the back of a hand. "Yeah. Let's look at it that way." His voice squeaked, and he tried to swallow the lump in his throat. "Yeah. We need to carry on."

Rick lifted David's satchel from the shelf in the telephone cabinet and handed it to him. "There's a café across the way. We can sit and have a bite. It's past noon."

David nodded, then followed Rick's lead across the concourse. They remained silent except to order, then when their beers came, Rick said, "We're like family, aren't we?"

"Closer than I remember at home."

Rick nodded. "Same with me. My brothers and I were always competing with each other. That and arguing or fighting."

David stared into his beer. "I never really got to know my sister beyond a child. She was thirteen when I went off to school. Then in the summers, I was too distracted with my climbing to pay her any attention. Now she's married with a child and another on the way."

"Do you have brothers?"

David blew out a big breath. "He died of typhoid fever when he was fifteen."

"Sorry."

"It's behind me now." He stared across the room, washing his face with his hands. "Or I thought it was. I've not looked at it for a long while. We had fought bitterly before he went off to summer camp, and we never had a chance to resolve our differences."

Rick nodded but remained silent.

"That's when I decided to settle issues as they arise, rather than allowing them to escalate." David shook his head. "So, let's get back to here. To now. What do you...?"

David paused as the waiter arrived with their croques. After he had left, he continued. "There is nothing we can do about Franz and Ernst except wait and hope for the best. Nor is there anything for you to do at Sonnenhang for the next while."

"What about the vineyard work?"

"Manny can oversee that. My thought is for you to come to Bern with me and process the paperwork for your commission. Mentor you and teach you the ropes before you go back there."

"What about Georg? Won't he find it strange with me as his superior?"

"He's the one who initiated this. He'll be forty-five in May, and the Army has agreed to release him from service."

"So he'll be leaving?"

"No, remaining with Rachel to assist Bethia — Frau Eberhardt — in running the estate." David chuckled. "When he was assessing you for promotion to Sergeant as his replacement, he saw far greater potential."

Rick nodded. "A lot more to leadership than merely directing people."

"Ideally, there's a constant assessing, training and mentoring. Offering increasing responsibility to allow leadership to develop." David took a bite of his croque and savoured it as he thought. "Who would you see as a corporal to replace you?"

"Dolf." Rick paused as he slowly nodded. "Definitely Dolf."

"Good. That was also my assessment." He nodded to his plate. "Let's finish lunch, then buy tickets to Bern."


Bern, Switzerland

A light snow fell as David and Rick walked from the Bern train station to the Embassy. The guard let them through the side passage from the reception foyer, then David led the way along the hall, unlocked a door and ushered Rick in. "This is where I work when I'm not travelling."

Rick nodded as he slowly surveyed the large office. "Posh." He shook his head. "If this is what Lieutenants get, I can't imagine what Captains and Majors have."

David pointed to the coat tree. "Set your bag down, take off your coat and hang it up. We need to report events to the Ambassador." He led the way to the next door, knocked and stepped in. "Good afternoon, Miss Hutchins. I see his door is closed."

"Welcome back, Colonel Berry. Yes, but he should be only a minute or two."

"This is Friedrich Krüger. He'll be working with me here for the next while. How do we get a pass for him?"

"It's a long process unless we have a security dossier on him, Sir."

"I have his Army files in my office. He's cleared Top Secret."

"A simple procedure, then. Bring me the file and I'll..." She paused as she saw the Ambassador's door open. "Ah! Here he is now."

David turned and watched Wilfred enter Miss Hutchins' office. "Good afternoon, Captain Wyndcom."

"Been off gallivanting again, have you? — Sir?"

"This is Herr Friedrich Krüger, Wilfred. You'll be working for him on a project the next while. I'll give you details after we've made our call on the Ambassador." David looked at Rick, tilted his head toward the door, then led him out of the office.

"Come in, David," the Ambassador replied to the knock. "Welcome back. Another successful trip?"

David introduced Rick, then said, "Two of the men haven't made it back, Sir." He gave an overview of events, then he added details. "That was Tuesday morning. Our hope is they're still making their way back."

The Ambassador steepled his fingers to his mouth as he listened, then when David had finished, he said. "Nothing to do but wait. Do you want to report them missing to the War Office?"

"It's awkward because few know they're here, Sir. It's best I inform William, and he'll direct the information correctly. But I had thought to give them another day or two to make it back. Makes no sense in having to report them safe, and nothing is to be gained or lost by delaying until Monday."

The Ambassador nodded. "True. So, what developments in the scene up there?"

David recounted their locating the gasworks in Pirmasens, the concentration of troops along the central portion of the Rhein, and the upbeat attitude in the streets. "The mood we've sensed makes it appear as if they consider this to be the decisive assault; one which will force France to surrender. Indications are it's to begin on the eleventh, twelfth or thirteenth."

"How have you narrowed it to that?"

"The negotiations of the time and place for the first portion of the watch order. Hans offered half by the fifteenth, but they insisted on the tenth." David stroked his beard as he thought. "They settled on one-third of the order by the tenth, the second third on the twentieth; both deliveries in Metz. The location for final delivery at the end of the month has yet to be determined."

"So, they could begin on the tenth?"

"Knowing Army logistics, Sir, I would think they'd want a day or two in hand to distribute that many." David nodded to Rick. "We must draft and send cables to London. We've only a week."

"Indeed, yes. So, who is this gentleman?"

"Rick has been an increasingly valuable asset to the Sonnenhang team, and I wish to begin the process of granting him a field commission. He'll be working with me here as he learns the ropes."

"Once you've sent your cables, bring him back and join me for tea. I'll see if Henry is available." 

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