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Authors: Harry Turtledove

The Man with the Iron Heart

BOOK: The Man with the Iron Heart
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29
MAY
, 1942—
OUTSKIRTS OF PRAGUE

         

The big green Mercedes convertible bore a number plate of stark simplicity: SS3. The
Reichsprotektor
of Bohemia and Moravia sped from his country estate toward the Castle of Prague. German soldiers in field gray and Czech guards in tobacco brown would salute him when he arrived. Czech President Hacha also had his offices in the castle, but his will was as nothing when set against the
Reichsprotektor
’s. Everyone knew it—including Hacha.

Reinhard Heydrich glanced at his watch. “Step on it, Klein,” he said irritably. “We’re running late.”

“Right, sir,”
Oberscharführer
Johannes Klein answered with a silent sigh. If they were late, the senior noncom knew it wasn’t more than thirty seconds. Heydrich didn’t tolerate tardiness…or much of anything else.

Klein checked his own wrist. Not even half past ten yet. Like a lot of big wheels, Heydrich bitched for the sake of bitching. He might look like the perfect Aryan—tall and lean, blond and handsome. He might be a first-class fencer and pilot and violinist. He had some little old lady in him all the same.

They came to a corner a minute later. “Slow down,” Heydrich said. “The trolley’s pulling up.”

“I see it,
Herr Reichsprotektor.
” Klein sighed out loud this time. You couldn’t win. “I see those worthless layabouts who’ve been hanging around the stop the past couple of days, too. Bums.” To him, all Czechs were bums till proved otherwise.

“They look like men with jobs,” Heydrich said. “That’s a new overcoat the one of them has on.”

“What’s he doing with it?” Klein asked. The Czech fumbled with something in an inside pocket.

He got hold of it and pulled it out: a submachine gun, an ugly, brutally effective British Sten. He aimed it at Heydrich’s chest and pulled the trigger.

However effective Stens usually were, this particular tin Tommy gun jammed. The Czech looked horrified. He jerked at the cocking handle and yelled something inflammatory in his own language.

“Jesus Christ!” Heydrich yelled, and then, “Halt!” He stood up in the passenger side of the car and drew the pistol he wore on his belt. The hammer clicked uselessly—the Luger wasn’t loaded. Heydrich said something that had to be worse than what came out of the Czech’s mouth.

Oberscharführer
Klein had to fight not to piss himself—and not to giggle like a schoolgirl. Nobody’s weapon wanted to work! Was this a fight to the death or a low farce?

Then, perhaps with the instincts he’d picked up flying a 109 on the Eastern Front, Heydrich thought to check six. When he looked behind him, he saw the other Czech who’d been hanging around this corner sneaking up on the car. “Gun it, Hans!” Heydrich shouted.

Klein’s big booted foot mashed down on the accelerator. The Mercedes was heavy, but it leaped ahead as if somebody’d goosed it. The second Czech threw something. A bomb of some sort—it had to be.

It burst a few meters behind the hurtling auto. Heydrich yelped and swore and jerked his left hand. Blood ran down his palm and dripped from his fingers to the Mercedes’ rubber floor mat. He tried to make a fist, then yelped again and thought better of it. Only after Klein flung the car around a couple of corners did the
Reichsprotektor
think to ask, “Are you all right?”

The driver reached up to touch his left ear. His gloved hand came away red. “Just a scratch.” He paused a few seconds. “I think we’ve got away from the stinking bastards.”


Ja…
if more of them aren’t lying in wait for us.” Again, Heydrich needed a moment to add, “You did well.”

“Uh, thanks.” Klein sounded a little shaky. Heydrich supposed he did, too. Anybody who suddenly got dropped into combat was liable to. The driver went on, “How’s your hand? Shall I get you to a hospital?”

Heydrich was already wrapping a handkerchief around the wound. “No, don’t bother. I’ll live,” he said. “Take me on to the Castle. A doctor’ll be on duty there, or we can send for one. And then—” He stopped in grim anticipation.

“Then what, sir?” Klein asked.

“Then we peel this pesthole of a town—this pesthole of a country—to catch the assassins,” Heydrich answered. “We don’t overlook wrongs from Czechs—never, any more than we let Jews get away with anything inside the
Reich.

“We don’t let anybody get away with anything,” Klein said—a good enough rule for the way Germany ruled.

Heydrich nodded. He tried to close his hand again. No luck. It hurt too much. Blood was soaking through the handkerchief. “No. We don’t,” he agreed. “And when somebody tries, we make him pay.”

         

5
FEBRUARY
1943—
BERLIN

         

The Reich was in mourning after the fall of Stalingrad. Taverns, theaters, movie houses—all closed, at the
Führer’s
order. Funereal music played on every radio station. Reinhard Heydrich thought he’d kick in a receiver if he heard
“Ich Hatt’ Ein Kamerad”
one more time.

Oberscharführer
Klein pulled up in front of SS headquarters. “Here you go, sir,” he said.

“Right.” Heydrich got out of the Mercedes convertible. Not a trace of the damage from the assassination attempt remained visible on the car. The Czech repairmen who’d worked on the Mercedes would have answered with their necks if any had.

Guards stiffened to attention as Heydrich approached. In SS
Obergruppenführer
’s uniform, with the SD patch on his lower left sleeve, his slim, athletic figure was one to conjure with. “State your name and business, sir.” The young officer who made the demand knew damn well who—and what—Heydrich was. His voice wouldn’t have wobbled if he hadn’t.

After naming himself, Heydrich paused a moment for effect before continuing, “I am here for an appointment with the
Reichsführer
-SS.”

“Yes, sir,” the youngster said, and his voice wobbled again. If
he’d
had an appointment with Heinrich Himmler, he would have been in more trouble than he could imagine. A parish priest was an honorable part of the Catholic Church, but that didn’t mean he expected to get an audience with the Pope. Gathering himself, the officer told off two of his men to escort Heydrich to Himmler’s office.

Somebody inside headquarters had a radio on. Sure as hell, it was playing
“Ich Hatt’ Ein Kamerad.”
Heydrich fumed. He couldn’t do anything more, not when one of the black-uniformed men walking with him said, “Terrible thing, what happened in the east.”

“Yes,” Heydrich said. “Terrible.” And it was. The whole Sixth Army…gone. Germany was in plenty of trouble in the rest of southern Russia, too. Heydrich was still sick of that goddamn song.

Hastily, the trooper added, “But we’ll lick ’em anyway, won’t we, sir?” You could get in trouble for showing defeatism. In these nervous times, you could get in trouble for almost anything.

More guards stood in front of the door to the
Reichsführer
’s sanctum. Heydrich’s escorts handed him off to them, then went back toward the entrance with every sign of relief. “You’re right on time,
Herr Obergruppenführer,
” one of Himmler’s guards said.

“I should hope so.” Heydrich was affronted. If he was ever late, he made whoever caused the lateness sorry. That he might be late through no fault of anyone else’s never crossed his mind.

The guards brought him into Himmler’s office. At a nod from their chief, they disappeared. “Good day, Reinhard,” Himmler said. “How are you?” He used the familiar pronoun.

“Well enough, sir, thanks. And you?” Heydrich used the formal pronoun. He always had with Himmler, even if they’d worked hand in glove for years. He expected he always would.

It was a funny business. Heydrich knew he could tear Himmler to pieces if he wanted to. Himmler was on the pudgy side. He’d never been very hard physically. The round, almost chinless face behind the pince-nez could have belonged to a chicken farmer or a schoolmaster. To the man who led the outfit that vied with Beria’s NKVD for deadliness? It seemed unlikely.

But it was true. And therein lay the rub. Himmler might not look like anything much. When he spoke, though, people listened. Having listened, they obeyed. If they didn’t, they quickly departed the land of the living. Himmler, the mild-mannered bureaucrat, had even bureaucratized death. And, because he had, he could intimidate an outwardly tougher man like Heydrich.

And Himmler had another hold on the
Reichsprotektor.
There were rumors of Jews in Heydrich’s family tree. Heydrich’s father’s mother’s second husband had been named Süss. He’d even looked Jewish, though he hadn’t been. A private genealogist had confirmed that, and the SS had accepted it. Further back, though, there was an unexplained Birnbaum. If Himmler decided that what had been accepted should be rejected…

A bead of sweat trickled down Heydrich’s back. It seemed to burn like acid. He deliberately slowed his breathing. To his relief, his heart stopped fluttering. He couldn’t let Himmler intimidate him, not today. His mission was too important, not for himself but for the Reich.

The
Reich.
Think of the Reich, not of yourself.
As long as that was his lodestone, he’d be all right. He hoped.

Himmler steepled his fingers. “Well, Reinhard, what brings you up from Prague today?” His voice was fussy and precise, like a schoolmaster’s.

One more deep breath. Forcing his voice to steadiness, Heydrich asked, “
Herr Reichsführer,
what do you think of Germany’s war prospects in the light of recent developments?”

Himmler’s right eyebrow twitched—only a couple of millimeters, but enough to notice. Whatever he might have expected, that wasn’t it. He usually chose his words with care. He seemed especially careful now, answering, “In view of our, ah, misfortune at Stalingrad, this may not be the best time to ask.”

“It isn’t just Stalingrad,
Herr Reichsführer,
” Heydrich said. Himmler’s eyebrow twitched again. He also hadn’t expected Himmler to persist. But the
Reichsprotektor
of Bohemia and Moravia did: “The Russians are taking big bites out of our positions in the east.”

“That will stop. The
Führer
has personally assured me of it,” Himmler said.

“Yes, sir.” Heydrich’s agreement was more devastating than any argument could have been. After letting it hang in the air, he continued, “Our allies aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. Hungary? Romania? Italy?” He snapped his fingers in vast contempt. “The Finns can fight, but there aren’t enough of them.”

“What are you driving at, Reinhard?” Himmler’s tone went silky with danger. “Are you saying the war is lost? Do you dare say that?”

“Yes, sir,” Heydrich repeated. This time, Himmler’s eyebrow didn’t just twitch. It leaped. Heydrich had put his life—not only his career, but his life—in the
Reichsführer
’s hands. Having done so, he explained why: “The east is coming undone. Maybe we can patch it up, but I don’t think so. And even if we can…The English and Americans are going to drive us out of Africa. We can’t supply our troops there—that’s been plain for a long time. And after they do, Sicily’s one short hop away. Italy is one more. Can you tell me I’m wrong?”

“Is the castle in Prague haunted? You talk like a man who’s seen a ghost,” Himmler said.

“I wish it were,
Herr Reichsführer.
I wish I had,” Heydrich said. “Instead, I’ve spent too damned much time looking at maps.” He paused, then added, “The bombing’s getting worse, too, isn’t it?”

“And how do you know that?” Himmler asked quietly.

“Because now we have to talk about it in the papers and on the radio,” Heydrich answered. “We can’t pretend it isn’t happening any more. Everybody knows it is. We’d only look like idiots if we ignored it.”

“Dr. Goebbels is many things. An idiot he is not.” Himmler spoke with a certain regret. The great lords of Party and State were rivals as well as colleagues.

Heydrich nodded. “I know. And so,
Herr Reichsführer,
I ask you again: what do you think of our war prospects?”

The leader of the SS didn’t answer directly. Instead, he said, “We can’t lose this war. We mustn’t. If we do, it will make what we went through in 1918 look like a kiss on the cheek. Bolshevik hordes storming into Germany…” He shuddered at the idea. “And I don’t imagine we could get terms before the enemy crossed our western border, either, the way we did last time.”

“No, sir. I wouldn’t think so,” Heydrich agreed. “And if we are invaded, if we are occupied—what do we do then?”

“I think I’d rather take poison than live to see the day,” Himmler said.

Heydrich looked at—looked through—him. He seldom held a moral advantage over the
Reichsführer
-SS, but he did now. “Sir, wouldn’t it be better to fight? To keep on fighting, I mean? Even if the armed forces get ground down—”

“I don’t believe it. I won’t believe it,” Himmler broke in.

“Devil of a lot of Ivans. Devil of a lot of Americans, too,” Heydrich said. “And the Amis can bomb us, and we can’t bomb them. Too damned many Englishmen with them. And all the Jews in Washington and Moscow and London will want revenge on the
Reich
and the
Führer.
You know what was decided at Wannsee a year ago.”

BOOK: The Man with the Iron Heart
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