Sitting in the back of a passenger van, Alex Hargreaves reviewed the people in front of her. Each soldier had been hand selected by her, trained by her, and proudly worked at her side for years. Today, they were competent, hardworking, and ready to get this done.
They’d agreed to enter and secure an old family owned salt mine.
According to the journal that Sandy Delgado-Norsen had purchased from an elderly Jewish man, the owner of the mine had sealed it off only moments before the Nazi’s took her to Belzec where she was murdered.
The journal’s author had been an award winning novelist. The original question had been whether or not she’d left her second, and possibly third, novel behind in this mine. The second had been optioned for publication and was said to be done. It had never been found. These novels alone would be worth millions.
The boys, Nash and Teddy, as well as Raz and herself, had researched the situation. They’d discovered that numerous great works of art had disappeared around the same time in this area of the world. While it had always been assumed that the Nazi’s took them, the Nazi’s had left the area in a hurry.
None of these important works of art were found when the Nazi’s retreated.
Not one of these important works of art had been found since that time.
The journal hinted that these works of art might have been hidden in this mine before it was sealed up in the 1940s. Sandy had spent a small fortune making sure that she had the exact and direct property rights to the farm, the mine, and the land that had lain fallow since the Nazis.
The final judicial pronouncement, obtained just a few days ago, was that Sandy owned the land and all that was on it or in it.
They had been so excited to take this trip.
It was the ultimate adventure. They could play Indiana Jones and the lost salt mine or whatever. She’d heard more than one person talk about returning art to the families of the original owners or discovering something cool or simply having the experience of being able to set a few things right.
Now there was this threat of the Nazi nuclear detonator.
When everyone else had gone back to bed, Alex had stayed up reading classified reports about the Nazi nuclear program. Just ahead of Allied forces, the Nazi nuclear scientists moved their uranium cubes, hot water, as well as the reactor to some caverns under the church in the small southern German town of Haigerloch — more than 500 miles south and east of this salt mine. That was February 1945.
In the move, the detonator as well as some of the uranium cubes disappeared. Allied forces formed the Alsos Mission as part of the Manhattan project. The chief objective of the Alsos Mission was to monitor the Nazi’s nuclear program. Allied soldiers found the reactor and heavy water under the church in Haigerloch, Germany. They were able to find and dig up the uranium cubes in a field just outside of town.
Their subterfuge was underway. Bernie, Cliff, and Joseph had already lured a car load of watchers. Patrick would take the next set of them.
It was now time for the military operation to get underway.
Of course, they expected people to watch what they were doing. They were even taking someone from the Polish equities with them. There would be less watchers, which was a good thing in Vince’s mind.
Around him, the team was stretching or checking their supplies and gear. They’d worked together long enough that everyone was familiar with each other’s “get ready” routine. Vince went into the kitchen to make sure the appliances were turned off. The farmhouse’s kitchen was still and quiet.
Matthew met him in the kitchen.
“You ready?” Vince asked.
Matthew nodded. Alex came into the kitchen with them.
“Anything new?” Alex asked.
The men shook their heads in unison. Alex grinned a laugh at the men. They’d been strangers when she’d put this team together. These two, along with Joseph Walter, could now pass as brothers any day of the week.
“Seth said something about scans?” Vince asked.
“He and Raz are looking at the construction of the tunnel,” Alex said. “Seth has contacts — well, basically everywhere. He got in touch with the Army Corps of Engineers. They think it should be safe for us.”
The men looked visibly relieved.
“Baring armaments, of course,” Alex said.
“You mean if someone blows up the tunnel it will blow up?” Matthew asked.
“Precisely,” Alex said with a grin. “Come on. It’s time.”
The men followed her out of the kitchen. The team was waiting for them in the living room.
“Ready?” Matthew looked at Alex.
She gave him a curt nod.
“Let’s do this thing,” Matthew said.
They filed out of the living area and into the back of large van. Vince took the wheel, and Matthew took the passenger seat. They started off to the mine.
Near the side of the room, Patrick Hargreaves was finishing getting dressed. He was specifically going as “The Rich American.” Vince blinked. He hadn’t believed that the earthy General turned powerful Senator could pull off the idle wealth.
At this moment, the man looked every inch the inherited wealth billionaire.
Patrick was taking a contingency of the group to on a “shopping spree.” They were going to look for businesses and property to invest. The enigma that was Zack Jakkman, now, also looked like a billionaire in an expensive suit, shoes, and a shirt that made his eyes look like the sparkling sky. Alex’s Sergeant, Dusty, was dressed as a flunky assistant in a bad fitting cheap suit and tacky shoes. He was sitting in a chair looking worried.
At that moment, Zack’s girlfriend Bestat entered the room. She wore an expensive fur stole, a designer dress, and shoes that cost more than his first car. She seemed to flow across the ancient wood floors to Zack. Vince watched them kiss in hello. Together, four people he knew very well now looked like loathsome billionaires.
Feeling his eyes, Bestat turned to look at Vince. He felt his insides squeeze the way they always did when she looked at him. She gave him a beautiful smile.
“I brought you something,” Bestat said to Vince.
Unable to create language, Vince blinked at her. She flowed in his direction. Under her stole, she pulled out a small box.
“I was in Egypt when my loved called,” Bestat said. “I was able to get you these candies that you like.”
Vince’s eyes embarrassingly welled with tears. He couldn’t imagine a more thoughtful gift. She put her hand on his arm.
“May they heal your hearts most painful wound,” Bestat whispered the words as if they were an incantation.
Vince nodded. She wiped a tear and turned away from him. It was only then that breath and language returned. He was about to say something when Alex jogged over to Bestat. They women hugged in greeting. From under her stole, again, Bestat took out a tin of cookies that she said her and Zack’s child had made for Alex. Not one for formality, Alex opened the tin and groaned with bliss.
As Bestat grinned, the team gathered around for a cookie.
“Sustenance for such an important trip,” Bestat said with a smile.
“Are you ready, my lady?” Patrick asked.
“Of course,” Bestat said.
Patrick held out an elbow, and Bestat took his arm. Patrick nodded to Alex, and their little party flowed out of the house. In all the years of working with him, Vince had never once seen anything penetrate Sergeant Dusty’s capable presence. But at this moment, Dusty was running after them like a flunky.
Vince breathed a sigh of relief when the door closed.
“Where do you think you’re going?” Vince asked Seth O’Malley as Seth came out of his room.
Seth gave Vince a long look. They were standing in the second floor hallway with doors to bedrooms on either side.
“This is a military mission,” Vince said. “Tunnels are tricky. We don’t need a civilian …”
“He was in Cu Chi for two years,” Patrick Hargreaves said as he walked by.
While Seth grinned, Vince blinked through his thoughts. Vince pointed at Seth.
“You trained the Marine’s in Afghanistan,” Vince said.
“I heard about …” Vince squinted after Patrick and then shook his head. “Alex.”
Seth gave him a smile. Vince nodded.
“Sorry,” Vince said. “I meant no offense.”
“None taken,” Seth said, with a grin. “I’m a little taller and older, but I’m still not too big around. My guess is that we will be fine in your tunnel. I have the scans …”
“Did you get them?” Raz asked as he came down the hallway toward them.
Seth held out a stack of papers. Raz looked at the diagrams and scans.
“Did you get the link?” Seth asked.
Raz nodded his thanks to Seth and then went down the hallway.
“How did you …?” Vince asked.
“I do some work in helping find people and remains,” Seth said with a shrug. “In return, I get access to satellite data every once and a while.”
“And a bevy of favors from the top brass,” Alex said, walking down the hallway past them.
Seth grinned at her back.
“She means her,” Vince said.
“She does,” Seth said.
“Nice body armor,” Alex said before she turned the corner.
Vince’s attention turned to what Seth was wearing.
“That is nice,” Vince said. “How did you …?”
“My wife bought it for me,” Seth said with a shrug. “Maresol packed it for me.”
“You don’t pack your own bags,” Vince said.
“I sure don’t,” Seth said. “I might be good in tunnels but the average daily tasks required of an adult are beyond me. Lucky for me, Maresol is damned good at them.”
Seth gave him a quick nod and walked down the hallway. Vince scowled after him for a moment. He’d never met anyone who would so openly admit something like that. He watched Seth’s back as he turned into the living room where everyone was gathering.
He vaguely wondered if Seth would be his dad. Shaking his head at the idea, he went down the hallway to join the rest of the team.
“Do you know the history here?” Bernie asked Joseph.
“I read the assessment Margaret made for this mission,” Joseph said. “It hit the highlights, but I’m sure it’s incomplete. I’d be honored if you told me what you know.”
Bernie stopped walking. He panted a little bit and his face actually flushed.
“Let’s get you into the shade here,” Cliff said.
They made a slow shuffle across the parking lot asphalt to a cement bench near the cemetery’s entrance.
“It’s hard to conceive of now, but prior to the war there were two-hundred-and-thirty-three thousand Jews here in Łodź,” Bernie said. “Tens of thousands of Jews were herded through the Rodogoszcz station, just down the way, on their way to death camps. After the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, the Germans felt they had to exterminate in this ghetto here. When the Soviets arrived on January 19, 1945, there were eight hundred and seventy seven Jews left here. You know how many of those were children?”
Cliff and Joseph shook their heads.
“Twelve,” Bernie said. “One of those was your grandfather.”
“That’s what he always said,” Cliff said, slightly defensively.
“I am not questioning you, son,” Bernie said. “I am telling you. Your grandfather was one of the twelve children liberated January 19, 1945.”
“Oh.” Cliff looked straight ahead. “Twelve?”
“Do you know what happened to the other eleven?” Cliff asked.
“I don’t,” Bernie said. He nodded and pointed to an elderly man walking in their direction. “But he does.”
Joseph hopped to his feet, but Bernie waved him back down to the bench. They watched the man stop to speak to the two men in the sedan who’d been following them. After a moment, the men drove away.
“Unnerving,” Joseph said.
“Business,” Bernie said. “The government cannot afford the international scandal of harassing him for any reason. Even these brand of Nazis are not that stupid.”
“Are they gone?” Cliff asked.
“No,” Bernie said. “We are not that lucky.”
“How did he …?”Joseph asked.
“I invited him here,” Bernie said. “One thing you should know …”
Joseph and Cliff turned to look at Bernie.
“The Soviets came in so hard and fast. The Germans pulled out of Łodźfast. They literally ran for their lives,” Bernie said. “You know what this means?”
Joseph and Cliff shook their heads.
“They left their factories, their paperwork, and these poor remaining souls,” Bernie said. “We learned a lot about the Nazi war machine from the paperwork left right here in Łodź. My friend here has spent his lifetime collecting, studying, and analyzing this information.”
The man was close enough to raise a hand to wave to Bernie.
“We’re in for a real treat,” Bernie said. “An afternoon with a true expert.”
The man approached and Bernie greeted him in Yiddish. Cliff was barely able to keep up with their quick back and forth conversation. Bernie gestured to Cliff and the man’s face changed.
The man knelt down and took Cliff’s hand.
“Welcome home,” the man said. “It will be my pleasure to tell you about your grandfather and his life here. But only if you tell me about his life in America. For my archives, of course.”
“This is your grandfather’s great-uncle on his mother’s side,” Bernie said. “What shall they call you?”
“These days most people call me, ‘Zayde’,” the man said.
“Grandfather,” Cliff translated for Joseph, who nodded.
“Let’s start here,” Zayde said.
Cliff and Joseph rose from the bench. They started into Ewaldstrasse, the Jewish Cemetery on Bracka Street.