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August, 1943: In his short time as a spy with the Office of Strategic Services, young Cletus Frade has faced many unlikely situations, but nothing like his new assignment. Having helped Lieutenant Colonel Wilhelm Frogger escape a Mississippi P.O.W. camp, he must now get the defiant German to turn against his country.
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W. E. B. Griffin is the author of seven bestselling series: The Corps, Brotherhood of War, Badge of Honor, Men at War, Honor Bound, Presidential Agent, and now Clandestine Operations. He lives in Fairhope, Alabama, and Buenos Aires, Argentina.
William E. Butterworth IV has been a writer and editor for major newspapers and magazines for more than twenty-five years, and has worked closely with his father for several years on the editing of the Griffin books. He is the coauthor of several novels in the Badge of Honor, Men at War, Honor Bound, and Presidential Agent series. He lives in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Estancia Casa Chica
Buenos Aires Province, Argentina
0805 11 August 1943
A white two-ton 1940 Ford truck with a refrigerator body followed a white1938 Ford Fordor sedan down the unnumbered macadam road that branchedoff National Route Three to Tandil.
The truck body had a representation of a beef cow’s head painted on it, togetherwith the legend frigorífico morón, and there was a smaller version ofthe corporate insignia on the doors of the car.
They were a common sight in the area, which bordered on the enormousEstancia San Pedro y San Pablo, the patrón of which did not know within fiveor six thousand exactly how many head of cattle grazed his fields. Nor did heknow who operated the estancia’s eight slaughterhouses, of which FrigoríficoMorón had been one of the smallest, until recently, when Frigorífico Morón hadbeen shut down to make room for the runways and hangars of South AmericanAirways.
The car and the truck slowed and turned off the macadam road onto a narrowerroad of crushed stone, then stopped when they came to a sturdy closedgate, above which a sign read Casa Chica.
A sturdy man in his fifties with a full, immaculately trimmed cavalryman’smustache got out of the car and walked toward the gate, holding in his hand akey to the massive padlock that secured the chains in the gate.
He had just twisted the key in the lock when a man on horseback trottedup, holding a rifle vertically, its butt resting on the saddle. Without speakingto him—which the man on horseback correctly interpreted to be a signal ofdisapproval; he knew he should have been at the gate before the man with themustache reached it—the man returned to the Ford. He got in and waitedfor the peon to get off the horse and finish dealing with the chain and swingopen the gate.
When the car and truck had passed through the gate, the peon went to theright post of the gate, pulled a piece of canvas aside, and then knelt beside anArgentine copy of the U.S. Army’s EE-8 field telephone. He gave its crank severalhard turns, then stood up, holding the headset to his ear as he looked upthe steep hill to Casa Chica.
An identical field telephone rang in the comfortable living room of CasaChica, a bungalow sitting near the crest of the hill.
There were five people in the room. A middle-aged balding man wearing asweater over his shirt sat across a desk from a younger man wearing a looselyknit white turtleneck sweater. A Thompson submachine gun hung from theback of the younger man’s chair.
Another rifle-armed peon—this one leaning back in a chair that restedagainst a wall—had been on the edge of dozing off when the telephone rang. Alarge, even massive, dark-skinned woman in her thirties sat on a couch acrossfrom a middle-aged woman in an armchair, who was looking bitterly at themiddle-aged balding man at the desk. When the telephone rang, the largewoman rose with surprising agility from the couch and went to it.
The balding man stopped what he was doing, which was working on an organizationalchart, and looked at the massive woman.
“You just keep on working, Herr Frogger,” the young man said not verypleasantly in German.
“I don’t have all these details in my memory, Major,” Frogger said.
“Try harder,” the young man said coldly.
He was Sergeant Sigfried Stein, U.S. Army, although Herr Wilhelm Froggerand his wife, Else, had been told—and believed—that he was a major.
Until weeks before, Wilhelm Frogger had been the commercial attaché ofthe German Embassy in Buenos Aires. On the fourth of July, he had then appearedat the apartment of Milton Leibermann, a “legal attaché” of the U.S.Embassy, and offered to exchange his knowledge of German Embassy secretsfor sanctuary in Brazil.
Leibermann was de facto the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s man in Argentina.He had no place to hide the German defectors from either the Germansor the Argentine authorities—who, he knew, would be told the Froggershad been kidnapped—nor any means to get the defectors out of Argentina. Sohe had turned them over to someone he thought could do both.
He knew that Don Cletus Frade, patrón of Estancia San Pedro y SanPablo, was in fact a U.S. Marine Corps major and the de facto head of theU.S. Office of Strategic Services in Argentina. He also knew that having anydealings at all with anyone connected with the spies of the OSS had been absolutelyforbidden by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, and for that reasonLeibermann had not reported to the FBI that the Froggers had come to him,or what he had done with them.
Frade was interested in the Froggers because he knew more of the secretactivities of the German Embassy than Frogger thought he could possiblyknow, most importantly about something the Germans called “OperationPhoenix.”
Frogger steadfastly denied any knowledge of Operation Phoenix, whichconvinced Frade he was a liar. It had also become almost immediately apparentthat Frau Else Frogger was an unrepentant National Socialist who not onlyhad decided that defecting had been a mistake but that if they could only getaway from Frade and his gottverdammt Jude—“Major” Stein—all would be forgiven at the German Embassy.
Frade, however, knew enough about the SS officers in the German Embassyto know that before or after the Froggers were returned to Germany to enter aconcentration camp they would be thoroughly interrogated about Leibermannand about Frade’s operation. And the Froggers had seen too much to let thathappen.
Letting them go was not an option.
Frade had no immediate means of getting them even to Brazil without takingunjustifiable risks. So while they were, so to speak, in limbo, he was hidingthem on a small farm that his father had used for romantic interludes in thecountry.
There was a chance that Siggie Stein could break down one of them—orboth—and get them to reveal what they knew about Operation Phoenix. Notmuch of a chance, though, for Stein was a demolitions man turned communications/cryptography expert, not a trained interrogator. Still, on the otherhand, he was a refugee from Nazi Germany, and had some relatives who’d notbeen able to escape and had perished in concentration camps.
The massive Argentine woman, who was known as “The Other Dorotea”—Don Cletus Frade’s Anglo-Argentine wife was Doña Dorotea Mallín de Frade—listened to the telephone and then reported, “It is Suboficial Mayor Rodríguez.”Stein rose from his chair, picking up the Thompson.
“Watch them,” he said to the peon with the rifle, then turned to HerrFrogger and said, “Keep at it,” and then walked out of the room and onto theverandah to wait for Rodríguez.
The incline in front of Casa Chica was very steep, and between the houseand the road and gate, but not visible from either, a landing strip had beencarved out of the hillside. Frade had told Stein his father had used it to flyhis lady love into the house in one of Estancia San Pedro y San Pablo’s fleet ofPiper Cubs.
The car and the truck appeared a moment later, moving slowly in low gear,and turned onto the landing strip. When they stopped, Suboficial Mayor EnricoRodríguez—who had been Cavalry, Ejército Argentino, and had retiredwith the late Coronel Jorge Frade from the Húsares de Pueyrredón, Argentina’smost prestigious cavalry regiment—got out of the car and started toward thehouse, going up the stairs carved into the hillside. He carried a RemingtonModel 11 self-loading twelve-gauge riot shotgun in his hand.
The driver of the refrigerator truck got out from behind the wheel, went tothe rear doors, and pulled them open. A dozen peones, all armed with Mauserrifles, began to pile out of the truck and then to unload from it equipment, includingammunition cans, blankets, food containers, and finally a Browning AutomaticRifle.
Rodríguez put his arm around Stein’s shoulders and pounded his back affectionately,but did not speak.
“What’s going on, Sergeant Major?” Stein asked in Spanish.
Their relationship was delicate. Rodríguez had a long service history and hadheld the senior enlisted rank for ten years of it. He knew that Stein had just beenpromoted to staff sergeant yet had been in the army not even two years.
On the other hand, Don Cletus Frade had made it clear to Rodríguez thatStein was in charge of the Froggers and Casa Chica.
“I have had a telephone call from an old friend,” Enrico Rodríguez said.
“There are two trucks of Mountain Troops on their way here. They have withthem a half-dozen Nazi soldiers—the ones who came off the submarine? Theones with the skulls on their caps?”
Stein nodded his understanding.
“What makes you think they’re coming here?”
“My friend, he is also of the Húsares, heard the Nazi officer tell his men theywere going after traitors to the Führer.”
He mispronounced the title, and without thinking about it, Stein correctedhim and then asked, “How would they know we have the Froggers here?”Rodríguez shrugged.
“We will defend them,” Rodríguez said seriously.
“That’s what those guys are for?” Stein asked, nodding down the stairs towardthe peones now milling around on the landing strip.
“There are twelve, all old Húsares,” Rodríguez said.
“Sergeant Major, with the twelve we have here, that’s two dozen. Againsthow many soldiers on two trucks?”
“Probably forty, forty-two,” Rodríguez said. “What I have been thinking isthat they are coming in such strength thinking we have only the dozen men,and they can make us give them the Froggers without a fight. If they see we areso many, they may decide that there will be a fight, and they know that if thereis a fight against us, there would be many casualties. How would they explainthe deaths of ten or fifteen Mountain Troops so far from their base?”
“Sergeant Major, I think it would be best if there were no confrontation,”Stein said carefully.
“You mean just turn the Froggers over to them?”
“No. I mean get the Froggers out of here, back to someplace on EstanciaSan Pedro y San Pablo.”
“Don Cletus said they were to be kept here in Casa Chica,” Rodríguez said.
“That was before he knew about this,” Stein argued.
After a pause, the old soldier said, “True.”
Stein had to suppress a smile, both at the old soldier and at the Christianscripture that had for some inexplicable reason popped into his Jewish head:Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.Ninety seconds ago, he reminded himself, I was asking myself whether I hadthe balls to shoot both of those goddamn Nazis rather than see them freed, and decidedthat I did.
“You have some place to take them?” Stein pursued.
“I will tell the driver where to take you,” Rodríguez said. “And then latermeet you there.”
“You’re not going to take them?”
“I am going to stay here and see what these bastards are up to,” Rodríguez said.
“And so will I,” Stein said, somewhat astonished to hear himself say it.
Rodríguez was visibly unhappy to hear this.
“Do you have a saying in the U.S. Army that there can only be onecommander?”
“Sergeant Major, I recognize that your experience in matters like these ismuch greater than mine.” Which is practically nonexistent. “I am at your orders.”
“We will send six of the men, plus the driver, with the Froggers,” Rodríguezordered as he assumed command. “You tell The Other Dorotea to prepare theNazis to be moved. Tell her I said I want them tied and blindfolded.”
Stein managed to keep himself from saying, Yes, sir.
“Got it,” he said.
“And while you’re doing that, I will have the Ford car and your vehiclesmoved over there,” he said, pointing to a line of hills that began a quarter of amile the other side of the road. “There’s a dirt road. I want nothing in the housewhen they get here.”
Why? What’s that all about?
“And I will set up my command post there,” Rodríguez said, pointing.
“Just below the military crest of the hill.”
What the hell is “the military crest of the hill”?
“And you have the little German camera Don Cletus brought from Brazil?”
“The Leica,” Stein said. “It’s in the house.”
“We will need photos of everything that happens here to show Don Cletuswhen he returns. You would be useful doing that.”
“I’ll send two men with you down there,” Rodríguez said, pointing to a roofless,windowless old building on the edge of the road about a hundred meters fromthe gate. “I think you will be able to see both the house and the approaches, aswell as the road, from the upper story.” He paused and chuckled. “If there still isa second story. If not, you’ll have to do as best you can from the ground floor.”
While I am trying to take their pictures from the ground floor of a decrepit oldbuilding in the middle of Argentina, I am going to be shot to death by the SS.Jesus Christ!
Thirty minutes later, on the second floor of the old building, Staff SergeantStein sat patiently while one of the two old Húsares with him carefully paintedhis face, his hands, and whatever shiny parts of the Leica Ic camera with a mixtureof dust from the building and axle grease. They took extra care with thecamera so as not to render it useless.
When they had finished that, they draped Stein in a sort of shroud made from burlap potato bags, which covered his head and his body to his ankles.
Then, very carefully, they stuck a great deal of dead leafy vegetable matter intothe burlap shroud.
While he had been undergoing the transformation, the other old Húsar tookapart an Argentine copy of a U.S. Army EE-8 field telephone, disconnected thebells that would ring when another EE-8 was cranked, and then carefully putthe phone back together.
Then he communicated with four other old Húsares, plus SuboficialMayor Enrico Rodríguez, who had apparently stationed themselves in placesStein could not see, although he tried very hard.
And finally, they painted each other’s faces with the axle grease and dustcompound, put on potato sack shrouds, and adorned these with dead leafyvegetation. One of them had a Mauser army rifle with a telescopic sight, andthe other a Thompson submachine gun like Stein’s. They wrapped them withburlap, looked around, and then wrapped Stein’s Thompson in burlap.
Twenty minutes after that, the man who had camouflaged Stein had a conversationover the telephone, which surprised Stein since he had not heard it ring,although he was no more than four feet from it. Then he remembered watchingthe man disconnect the bell.
“Ten minutes, give or take,” the old Húsar said conversationally.
The first vehicle to appear, five or six minutes later, was not the army truckStein expected from the west but a glistening, if olive-drab, Mercedes-Benzconvertible sedan. And it came down the road from the east.
It slowed almost to a stop at the intersection of the road to Casa Chica. Steinsaw that Colonel Juan D. Perón was in the front passenger seat, but did notthink to record this photographically for posterity until after the Mercedes hadsuddenly sped down the road and it was too late to do so.
Both of the old ...
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