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Title: The Fighting Eagle (4/6)
Series: The Eagle Chronicles
Word Count 4880
Summary Steven becomes a double agent in Berlin
Author's Note The section set in Rome was written after I had seen "The Scarlet and the Black" and is based on the real Monsignor O'Flaherty.

Part One.
Part Two.
Part Three.



10 The Fighting Eagle

IV


The following day--April 12, 1943--Steven received a special call from Churchill asking him to come to the Cabinet War Rooms in order to meet a mutual acquaintance. During the ride over, Steven tried to think of who it could be. As he pulled up in front of the building, he noticed there was no sentry. He let himself in and walked down the stairs to the conference room. Winston sat facing the door and another man had his back to it. "Steven, I'm glad you could come. I hope I didn't inconvenience you."

"No, not at all, sir." He was still trying to figure out who the other man was.

"Steven, this is the man to whom you owe your release from prison. Mr. Frank--"

"Mr. Franklin Roosevelt!" Steven went to shake hands with him. He looked worse than he did last year; more tired, weaker.

"How has life treated you this past year, Steven?"

"Fine, sir, except for a Jerry calling card I got in the leg." He turned to Churchill. "May I use your phone, sir? I need to change some plans."

"You can use the one in my office."

"Thank you." Steven went into the office and called Alison. "I can't make it tonight. Something's come up. I'll make it up to you."

"Promise?"

"Cross my heart."

"I'll hold you to it then."

Steven stayed for dinner and they talked well into the evening. He left about 11:30. The streets were empty except for a bobby or two. Steven parked his car and entered his flat. Two men were sitting on the couch.

"Mr. Taylor? I hope you had a nice evening."

"Yeah, fine. Who the hell are you and what are you doing in my flat?"

'Who we are is of no importance, but our mission is. We have been assigned to escort you to Berlin. The Furher is very anxious to meet you."

"I guess you can't keep a man like that waiting, and I have a feeling I have no choice."

"Quite right, Mr. Taylor, or should I say 'Captain'? If you try anything, my friend wouldn't give a second thought to killing you."

"That would defeat the purpose, wouldn't it?"

****************************************************

They arrived in Berlin two days after leaving London. He was pushed out of the car and into a large brick building. Steven was then ushered into a room guarded by two SS privates. The room may have been a study; there were maps of France, England, Germany, Russia, and North Africa on the desk and walls.

The Man himself walked over. "Herr Taylor, may I say what an honor it is to meet you."

"We've met before in Paris. I was one of the journalists allowed to follow you about the city."

"Too bad I could only spend one day there."

"I left the following day in something of a hurry myself. The Gestapo didn't want me around. A couple of friends and I took a few souvenirs before leaving."

"Souvenirs? A small copy of the Eiffel Tower, perhaps?"

"No, more like some Reubens, a Monet or two, a Durher, and some miscellaneous pieces of silver and such."

"So that was you. Where is Dr. Jonteau now?"

"No idea. I left them in Switzerland."

"I would like to express my apologies for your treatment during your journey. I must confess, if I had more time, you would have been spared the pain, but as it is, I need you." He continued as if Steven were a guest, not a prisoner. "May I get you anything? Drink? Smoke?"

"No, thanks. I need to know my jailer's reasons before I drink with him."

"My reason is quite simple: I want you on my side. The Allies have built a hero out of you to boost morale. When the news of your defection reaches the troops....."

"And if I refuse?"

"I will keep you here and send the story anyway."

"How long do I have to decide?"

"Until tonight at dinner. Shall we say 7:00?"

Steven was taken to a room three flights up. There was a bed, desk, night table, and a bureau filled with clothes. "It seems he knows my decision before I do." He sat on the edge of the bed. "I may as well relax before I eat. I've no reason to worry; he's made up my mind for me. Maybe I'll just play along. I might get some useful information."

When Steven went downstairs for dinner, Hitler greeted him. "Herr Taylor, you are early."

"I want to get to know my surroundings. I've also decided to take you up on your offer. Payment was a clincher. What will my pardon get me in years to come? Not much. I'll probably get more money this way than King George does in a year."

"I knew the money would help make up your mind. It is almost time for dinner. Follow me."

The dining room was quite large. At this particular meal was Joseph Goebbels, Henrich Himmler, Wilhelm Canaris, Martin Borman, Joachim von Ribbentrop, and Albert Speer. "Gentlemen, let me introduce to you our new colleague, Herr Steven Taylor, an American of whom you may have heard. I want you all to help him to adjust to our ways and show him around." Some of the men smirked openly while others hid their opinions behind overly warm smiles of welcome. During dinner, Steven was the focal point. How did he feel towards the British? the Americans? the Russians? He tried to answer all questions as if he were a real traitor. After the meal, the questions became more personal. Why did he join the Germans? Did he think the Allies had a chance? Where was he born? What was his childhood like? The questioning went on into early morning. It seemed that even when they weren't interrogating him, they were. As he lay there trying to sleep, he was quite pleased with himself for fooling the Nazis into thinking what they wanted.

The next morning he walked into the dining room and received a few grunts and grumbles of welcome. The only one who made any true greeting was Albert Speer, who invited Steven to join him. "I have something here you might want to read." He gave Steven a paper that was on the table. It was a copy of the London Times with a picture of him on the front page.

"How did you get this?"

"It was sent over through our network." He said no more.

"Ask a stupid question..." He turned his attention to the article.

EAGLE DISAPPEARS!
Steven Taylor, known as the Eagle in criminal and police circles alike, disappeared from his Piccadilly flat last night. He had recently been attending meetings of the Ministry of Defense telling of conditions in occupied France as he has been since his return from there in February. He was last seen driving his car home from Whitehall last night. Neighbors saw him pull into his garage sometime between 11:45 and 12:00. Moments later he was seen leaving the building with two other men. It is believed that the Germans kidnapped him.


"Interesting tale, isn't it?"

"Herr Taylor, there is something else. This is a copy of a letter the Furher wrote to Winston Churchill."

It was short and to the point.
Mr. Churchill,
I have just read the article in the Times of May 13, about Capt. Taylor. I must argue the point of kidnapping. He asked to be taken to Berlin and have it look like a kidnapping. I hate to say it, but your precious Eagle has turned traitor.


"Sounds pretty convincing. With that choice of words there's a strong chance that Churchill will believe it."

"When you finish your breakfast, I'll take you out to see the city."

Speer was talkative during their outing. He spoke of his family and his youth. He also told of the first time he heard Hitler speak. "There was something magnetic about him. It is so hard to describe. It was after that I decided to join the party."

They stayed out practically the whole day. Steven saw many bombed buildings and people living in the ruins. It looked worse than London. "This is what the Allies have done: the Americans during the day and the British at night. It will take a long time to rebuild the city--longer if we lose."

"Thinking it out logically, who do you think will win?"

"The Allies. They have more resources and manpower. That is what one needs to win a war. Let us keep that to ourselves."

"I know what you mean."

*****************************************************

The months passed quickly. Steven's "loyal Nazi" act was going well. He took part in the Abwher and attended meetings of Hitler and his ministers. He was sent on missions, but with accompaniment, just in case. In some instances, he had to witness or perform things he could not prevent. For one such mission, he was awarded the Iron Cross, one of the highest German military honors.

It was in June when he was awarded "freedom"--he no longer needed an escort. His first solo mission was to Moscow to retrieve some important information. He returned to Berlin exhausted and climbed the stairs to his apartment. He fit his key in the lock and practically fell inside. As if nothing else existed, he walked to the bedroom where he promptly collapsed on the bed. Just a quick nap, he thought. They've waited this long for me, a couple more hours won't matter. He felt Sleep reaching out for him and was just about to welcome its embrace when the phone rang. "Damn!"

He picked up the receiver. "Herr Taylor, welcome back to Berlin. Did you get the information?" It was Hitler's aide, Martin Bormann.

"Yes, Martin. I almost didn't." He sat up.

"As soon as you have freshened up, bring the information here. He is most anxious to see you." He hung up.

Steven replaced the receiver. So, Hitler wanted to see him. Something must be up. He stretched and went to the bathroom and looked in the mirror. He ran his fingers over the stubble on his chin. Wouldn't do to go before Hitler looking like this. He shaved, ran a comb through his hair, and brushed his teeth before leaving for his walk to the Reich Chancellery. As he walked along the streets of Berlin, he wondered what his family was doing back in Connecticut, what Alison was doing in London. Of course, they all thought he was a traitor. What else could they think after Hitler sent that letter?

He entered the Chancellery and proceeded to the elevator that would take him to Hitler's office. He was stopped upon getting out of the elevator as he was a civilian. His name seemed to work as a charm and the guard let him pass. As he approached the office, he wondered if Hitler had somehow discovered the truth. Maybe he'd be on his way to the cellars of Prinz Albrechtstrasse to be tortured by the Gestapo. He fought back a shudder.

Steven went through the large doors into the office occupied by Martin Bormann. He handed the sealed envelope of information over to Martin who then knocked on a second set of doors before opening them and announcing Steven. Hitler got up from his desk and walked forward to greet him. "Guten Morgen, Herr Taylor. When did you return from Moscow?"

Steven looked at the clock. "A little over an hour ago, sir."

"Sit down and I will have coffee sent in. Will you see to it, Bormann?"

"Jawhol, mein Furher." Bormann shut the door behind him.

Hitler went back behind the desk and sat down. Steven sat facing him and stifled a yawn. "Did you have any trouble in Moscow?"

"A bit. They almost caught me but I hid in Lubyanka."

Hitler laughed. "You hid in an impregnable prison? That is one of the reasons I want you to go on a special mission."

"I'm flattered, sir, but why me? There should be others with more seniority."

"Yes, but not with your mastery of languages. You also haven't been here long enough to become involved in all their factions. I trust your independent judgment."

Steven's curiosity was piqued. "What exactly is this assignment?"

"A few days ago on July 9, we received word that the Allies successfully invaded Sicily. The rest of Italy cannot be far behind. There also are rumors that Mussolini will be deposed. I want you to go to Rome and get the political feeling of the city."

First Moscow, now Rome. Ever since he got mixed up in the spying game, he was wearing out his traveling case. Rome also meant antiquities worth a pretty bundle. His palms itched at the thought. Maybe he could somehow get word to the Allies of his position. "I would be honored, mein Furher."

"I knew you would accept." He took a sheet of paper out of his top desk drawer and handed it to Steven. It was a letter stating that the bearer, one Steven Taylor, was acting under the personal supervision of Hitler himself.

Steven didn't know what to make of it. Did Hitler really trust him that much, or was it that he felt he couldn't trust the others at all? "I'll leave today." He saluted and walked out of the office.

*******************************************

Two men in high-ranking uniforms observed Steven's departure. The smaller of the two said coldly, "I don't trust him."

"It seems that the Furher has enough trust for the both of you," said the other with a slight smile.

"I don't know how he can trust a man who betrayed the country of his birth. Who knows when he could turn against us?" They walked down the hall. "The Furher is giving him assignments he would normally give our best agents, Wilhelm. What use is your Abwher, then?"

"And your precious SS, Heinrich?" Canaris said. "I'll have agents track him and keep me notified of his actions."

"No matter where?"

"No matter where," answered Canaris. "What about you?"

"He'll be sending his reports to the Furher and I can hear about it from him." Himmler smiled cruelly. "We'll teach Herr Eagle that even though he has the trust of the Furher, he is only one man."

*******************************************

Steven's train went as far as the Italian border where he then had to find his own transport to Rome. He dug out a Swiss passport with his photo bearing the name Luc Renault. It wasn't one of his usual aliases, but he needed something that couldn't be so easily traceable back to him. Once Customs allowed him across into Italy, he asked if there was anyway he could get a ride to Rome. He was directed to try his luck at the supply depot.

He walked over to where a freight train was being loaded with boxes. He stopped beside a man who was directing the others with hand motions. "Mi scusi, signore," he said. "Are you going to Rome?"

The supervisor stopped and looked at him. "What do you want? Do you need us to take something for you?"

"Yes, myself."

"This isn't a passenger train, signor."

"I am aware of that, but I need to get to Rome. I'll help you load, if necessary."

"I don't know...." the man hesitated.

"I don't have much, but I can pay you." Steven knew that money could always make things run smoothly.

"I guess we could let you come along," he said, holding out his hand for the money.

"Thank you," Steven said, shaking the offered hand. "I'll pay you when we reach Rome."

"You are very shrewd, signore. I am Pietro Cellini."

"Luc Renault."

"Well, Signor Renault, you can put your bag in the first car."

"Grazie, Signor Cellini." Steven put his suitcase in the car reserved for the workers and saw they had a small cooler. He opened it and saw some cheese, bread, and wine. Not a bad job, he thought. He then took off his jacket, rolled up his sleeves, and went out to help finish loading.

The train made a few stops on its way to Rome, dropping off supplies at army bases and struggling villages. The final stop before Rome was a POW camp. Steven shuddered inwardly and thanked God that he had escaped that ordeal. While carrying food to the larder, he noticed a priest giving Holy Communion. "They must be important in order to get a priest," he remarked.

A guard overheard him. "That is Monsignor O'Flaherty from the Vatican. He comes about once a month to hear Confession and gave Communion."

Steven looked at the priest and saw a tall man with brown hair, blue eyes, and wearing glasses. Not al all what one expected from someone associated with the Vatican. He was surprised that they would let someone from the outside in as a regular basis until he remembered that the Italians as Catholics wouldn't believe anything wrong of a priest.

Pietro called for him to hurry and Steven joined them at the gate with one last look at the monsignor. Maybe he could enlist his help to get word to the Allies or even access to the Vatican itself. He smiled to himself as he boarded the train.

Upon arriving in Rome, Steven thanked Pietro then headed for the Vicolo del Babuccio and the Trevi Hotel. After signing for his room, Steven left his case and headed for the Piazza di Spagna and the Spanish Steps, a famous gathering place. Somehow, he had to make a connection with the Resistance and this could be the perfect spot. He walked up one side of the steps and looked at people along the way to see if any were doing something slightly resembling resistance.

He stopped and watched as an artist sketched portraits. He looked closer and saw the artist flip between pages almost as if he were trying to hide something. Steven walked up quietly and looked at the paper. It was a caricature of Mussolini and Hitler. He smiled. "E molto buono."

The artist looked up, startled. "What did you say?"

"That's very good. I like the idea of them fighting between themselves while the Allies start taking land back."

The man slammed the sketchbook closed. "If I were you, signore, I would not voice my political opinions out loud."

"No, you just draw them." The man got up and started to walk away. Steven followed him. "Listen, mate, I'm not with the Black Shirts and I'm not a Nazi. I'm just an American trying to find his way home. If you're what I think you are, you can help me."

The artist stopped. "Fine, we'll talk. Sit down over there." He pointed to a balustrade overlooking the piazza. He opened his sketchbook and began to draw.

"What are you doing?"

"Your portrait. It won't look strange this way. We can talk somewhat freely. My name is Paolo Fabrini. Has anyone told you that you have very expressive eyes?"

Steven gave a wry smile. "A few." He knew that Paolo was waiting for a name. "You can call me Luc."

"Is that your name?"

"That's what my passport says. I've got to tell you, Paolo, I've gotten in deeper than I intended. I had been in the Resistance in France until our cell was discovered. A few months later, I was taken to Berlin and forced to join them. It was either that or spend the rest of my limited life in Prinz Albrechtstrasse. Naturally, I went along in the hopes of getting information and eventually escaping. This is the closest I've come."

Paolo could hear the desperation in his voice. "How did you get to Rome?" he asked as he tried to get the mouth right.

"A mission from Hitler himself. Supposedly to get the feel of Rome towards Mussolini since the Allies landed in Sicily. I don't know why he sent me. He said it was because of my knowledge of languages, but I think it's because he doesn't trust the others."

"Okay, Signor Luc, I need to talk with others before I let you know. Meet me here tomorrow at 3:00 and I'll tell you then."

"What about my portrait?"

"Tomorrow." Paolo packed up his charcoal and pad and left.

Steven went down the steps and started back to his hotel. He hadn't gone very far when two men came up on either side of him and steered him into the back seat of a waiting car. One man got in beside him and the other sat up front. He turned to face the man on his left and knew that he was in the hands of the Italian equivalent of the Gestapo.

"Buon giorno, signore," the man said. "Are you enjoying your stay in Rome?"

"I was until now. I know there is a war on, but that is no reason to force a neutral citizen off the streets."

"I know it was not the most convenient of methods, signore."

"Luc Renault." Steven took out his passport and held it out for the man to inspect. "I came here on business that couldn't wait for the war to be over."

"Again, my apologies. The man you were seen speaking with on the Spanish Steps is suspected of being with the Resistance."

"He offered to do my portrait and I said yes. I was not aware that I was doing anything wrong."

"Where is the portrait?"

"The light was fading and he told me to come back tomorrow," Steven improvised.

"Just be careful, Signor Renault. It would not be wise to become involved with him."

"Mille grazie, signore. If he does or says something, how can I get in touch with you?"

"We will find you. Can we take you to your hotel?"

"No, thank you, but if you could drop me close to the Via Nazionale, I would greatly appreciate it."

The man smiled. "No trouble at all." He leaned forward and spoke to the driver. "Did you hear that, Luigi? How far away are we?"

"Not far, signore," Luigi replied.

"Let us drop Signor Renault off."

"Si, signore."

Steven nervously sat back between the two men whose names he didn't know. He knew that the one doing all the talking was the bigwig. The muscle to his right was just that: muscle. Luigi pulled the car over and stopped. The man again apologized for the inconvenience. Steven thanked him and waited for Muscle to open the door. Steven got out, waved, and headed down the Via Nazionale.

****************************************************

The boy cycled through the darkening streets, knowing each twist and turn. He knew how to avoid the Fascists so he wouldn't get caught breaking curfew. He stopped in front of Paolo's building and ran up the steps to his apartment. He knocked in code and waited for the door to open.

Paolo opened it slowly until he saw who it was. "Tonio, come in!" He closed the door behind the boy. "Did you have any trouble?"

"No, I followed him just like you said. He was picked up in a big car near the Piazza Barberini. I followed it to the Via Nazionale and listened to the voices. I think it was Koch."

"Koch? What could he want with him?"

"I don't know, Paolo, maybe they were watching you."

"Could be. Where did he go after that?"

"He walked to the Trevi on the Vicolo del Babuccio."

"Good boy, Tonio. You can sleep here tonight. There's some food in the kitchen." Paolo walked over to a table and opened his sketchbook to Steven's portrait. "Well, signore, you are proving to be most interesting."

************************************************

Admiral Wilhelm Canaris was working late in his office when the phone call came from Rome. "Herr Admiral, this is Karl."

"I realize that. You would be the only one calling from Rome. What do you have to report?"

"I followed him across the border where he took a ride on a supply train. I lost track of him after that. I've checked the hotels, but no one has registered under that name."

"That is not surprising. He is too well known. I heard that he likes to use aliases with the same initials. Try to locate him soon or Reichmarshal Himmler will not let me hear the end of it."

"Jawhol, Herr Admiral." Karl hung up.

Canaris sighed, sat back in his chair, rubbing his temples. Somehow, he knew that Taylor would not be found until he wanted to be. That could only mean trouble.

*****************************************************

The following afternoon after reading papers and listening to cafe gossip, Steven returned to the Spanish Steps and found Paolo in the same spot. He was sketching a small child petting a cat. "Buon giorno, Paolo. I hope there's enough light to finish."

Paolo looked up. "I think so. At least for our purposes. If you could try to get in the same pose."

"Sure." Steven angled himself as best as he could remember and changed with Paolo's corrections. "Do you think you could help me?"

"I've talked it over with some associates and they've agreed that we should do what we can to help."

"After I left you yesterday I was picked up by who I guessed to be Fascist police. They were asking questions about you and warning me not to become involved with you."

"Then I can assume we're being watched at this very moment," said Paolo as he worked on the eyes.

"I'm sure of it," Steven said. "You said you and your 'associates' would be willing to help me. Do you have a radio or some way to communicate with the Allies?" Paolo said nothing. "Of course, you can't come right out and tell me. You have to sound me out and make sure I'm not a spy for the Nazis or Fascists. If you do have me investigated or watched, it may seem that way, but I want to assure you it's just an act."

Paolo finished the portrait and signed it. He tore the sheet out of the sketchbook and gave it to Steven. "Pay me," he whispered.

"Oh, right." Steven reached into his wallet and pulled out two thousand lire notes. "When will I hear from you again?"

"We'll notify you at your hotel. Where are you staying?"

"Ask the kid on the bike. He followed me there." Steven took his portrait and left Paolo stunned.

Upon arriving at his hotel, Steven went to the desk and picked up his key. "Ah, Signor Renault, a man was here earlier asking questions about our new guests. He had a photo of you and I did tell him you were registered. I did not give him your room number as he acted most suspicious."

"Do you know where he was from?"

"He sounded German. Could be he's a Nazi spy." Steven could hear the sneer in his voice.

"Is he here now?"

The clerk looked in the lounge and tried to spot the German. "There, drinking a beer in the corner by the window."

Steven looked at the man in question and could tell by the trademark dark suit that he was Abwher. Someone in Berlin didn't trust him in order to send agents to watch him. At least he had presence of mind to use an alias; otherwise, they would have found him earlier. He turned to the clerk. "If he asks, tell him you haven't seen me. I have to place a long-distance phone call and talk to my superior about some business competition."

"Very good, signore."

Steven took the elevator up to his room, locked the door behind him, picked up the phone and requested an outside line. Once it was given to him, he dialed the number of Hitler's office. Bormann answered. "Martin, is he in? I need to talk to him."

"Yes, he's here. Just a moment."

He waited and soon Hitler came on the line. "Steven, have you discovered anything?"

"Some things, sir. I've found some anti-Mussolini factions and there are rumors that he is going to be asked to resign. The main reason I'm calling is because someone's been asking questions about me and I think he's Abwher."

"I want you to know I had no idea. They must question your loyalty. I will look into it."

"Don't let them know I've caught on and told you. Let them think they have the upper hand. Since this is more or less an intelligence mission, I wouldn't be surprised if Canaris and Himmler are in this together. They may even be waiting to intercept my reports."

"On the 19th, I will be meeting with Mussolini in Feltre. I want you to meet with me there and give your report in person."

"I'll do my best to be there, sir, but one can't depend on public transport nowadays." Steven replaced the receiver and thought on what he'd heard: Hitler was going to be meeting with Mussolini in the north! He could use this information to prove himself to Paolo--if he ever heard from him again. In the meantime, he'd just gather more information through news and gossip.

Part Five.

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