|YOU ARE HERE: H. P. OLIVER HOME > FEATURES > NIGHT TRAIN TO FRISCO|
While returning from a routine research assignment aboard Southern Pacific's night train from Los Angeles to San Francisco, rookie OSS agent Daniel Colley comes face to face with a beautiful blonde he believes to be a Nazi agent. But is she? Colley's life and a lot more depend on answering that question correctly.
TRAIN TO FRISCO
Los Angeles--Union Station--October, 1942
My cab turned off Alameda Street onto Union Station's palm-lined drive a few minutes before 6:00 p.m. That left me with more than an hour to kill before my train, the Southern Pacific's San Francisco-bound Coaster, was scheduled to board.
Even though I've made at least a dozen trips to and from Los Angeles since the new depot opened three years ago, stepping into its waiting room still gives me a feeling of adventure. While smaller than other major metropolitan stations, like New York's Grand Central Terminal, L.A.'s Union Station, with its high ceilings, massive wooden seats, and mission-deco architecture, evokes a sense of modern Twentieth Century travel at its finest. It is an exciting place to be.
Union Station Los Angeles, California
As I've come to expect since we entered the war, the terminal was teaming with men in Navy white and Army khaki. Of course I got the usual disapproving stares from the departing men in uniform and the loved ones who came to see them off to war. These days any able-bodied guy like me in civilian clothes made people think "draft dodger." I couldn't really blame them, so I ignored the looks and went about my country's business in the manner chosen for me.
When the Japs attacked Pearl Harbor last December I was a brand new, wet-behind-the-ears FBI agent pushing papers around in the San Francisco Field Office while I waited for my first real assignment. Even though my position as a Federal law enforcement agent earned me a draft deferment, my paper pushing was contributing nothing to the war effort, so I decided to enlist in the Army. With a degree in European languages from Stanford University, I stood a good chance of getting into Officer Candidate School and ultimately doing something positive toward wining the war. After visiting the Army recruitment office to get the lowdown, I was ready to sign up when a guy from the Office of Strategic Services showed up at the FBI Field Office.
FDR created the Office of Strategic Services, now more commonly known as the OSS, by executive order because he felt the need for a central agency to handle the country's war-time intelligence needs. It wasn't that we didn't have any intelligence agencies back then; the problem was we had too many of them. The State Department, The Treasury Department, and the War Department, including the Army and the Navy, all had their own intelligence and code-breaking services. The rub was that all those agencies were competing with each other for their budgets, and they weren't sharing the information they gathered. So Roosevelt decided to establish the OSS as sort of a super spy outfit to serve as a central clearing house for all wartime intelligence. He appointed General William Donovan to build the organization and run it.
To avoid reinventing the wheel, Donovan decided to recruit some of his agents from the existing intelligence services. When J. Edgar Hoover, Director of the FBI, was asked to recommend some of his agents for transfer to the OSS, Hoover did what any self-respecting bureaucrat would do and made a minimally cooperative gesture by offering up a few brand new agents with little or no field experience. And that's how I became OSS Intelligence Agent, Daniel Colley.
|Emblem of the U.S. Office of Strategic Services|
Despite the official-sounding title, I am by no stretch of imagination a spy. The OSS has much more qualified folks off in far corners of the world doing the spying. No, my job is research. I spend my time in dark, musty library basements searching old newspapers, maps, and other documents for tidbits of information that, when compiled with other bits and pieces of information, might make the tough jobs our GIs are doing a little easier. It certainly isn't glamorous, but I'm told the intelligence I gather from such unlikely sources is useful, so I guess I'm making a contribution.
Occasionally, I even get an interesting assignment. For example, I was sent on this trip to Los Angeles for the purpose of interviewing a German immigrant named Klaus Kraus. Herr Kraus was a construction engineer back in Germany. What made him worthy of OSS attention was his work on the designs for Germany's new super highways--the highly propagandized Autobahns that supposedly made possible the high-speed transportation of military equipment and personnel throughout Germany.
What I learned from two days of interviewing Kraus, however, is that the Autobahns' capability for moving men and matèriel is a lot of baloney because the grades over many key sections of the highway are too steep for heavily loaded trucks. The "super highways" apparently aren't as super as the Nazi propagandists would have us believe. Now, with my interviews complete and a valise full of notes, I was heading back to San Francisco.
After standing in line for what seemed an eternity, I got up to the ticket counter and told the woman I had a chair car reservation through to San Francisco on Coast Route train number 69. She looked through her reservation lists and found my name. Then she said, "I don't understand how this reservation was made, but I don't think we can honor it. Military personnel have top priority, and we have a long list of soldiers and sailors who need to be on that train tonight. Perhaps you can go over to the Greyhound bus terminal and . . . ."
Without saying anything to attract attention, I flashed the very official-looking identification card the OSS issued me and stopped her in mid-sentence. She looked closely at my picture and the words OFFICE OF STRATEGIC SERVICES on the card. After consulting another piece of paper she said, "Oh. Yes, sir, Mister Colley, I have your ticket right here. You are in car number 2942. The train will be boarding in thirty minutes on track number four. Have a pleasant trip."
I thanked the ticket agent and headed for a newsstand to buy a San Francisco Chronicle. The news guy didn't have a Chronicle, so I settled for an L.A. Times, a pack of Lucky Strikes in their new white wrapper, and a Hershey bar.
Car number 2942 turned out to be the first coach behind the baggage car. I climbed aboard through the front vestibule and located my assigned seat at the back of the car. I stashed my valise under the seat in front of me and settled in for the eleven hour ride to San Francisco.
By the time the train pulled into Oxnard an hour-and-a-half later, I was already into the local news section of the Times. That was where I found an article that got my attention and then some. The headline said, "German immigrant murdered in home robbery." The story told how Anaheim Police were summoned to the home of Klaus Kraus early this morning and found the owner dead of a gunshot wound. Kraus apparently returned to his home the previous evening and interrupted a burglar in the process of robbing his home. The police call was made by a housekeeper who arrived to find the front door ajar and Kraus' body in the middle of his living room floor. The Times described the dead man as a recent immigrant to the United States and a widower with no immediate family in the area. The basic facts of the story were followed by the usual malarkey about how the police had not yet found the victim's assailant but were following all available leads in an effort to solve the case.
While I couldn't be sure of the exact timing, it looked very much as if Klaus Kraus left my hotel in Los Angeles last night and drove home to his death. We conducted the interviews in my hotel room because Kraus was nervous about German agents he thought were watching him. I went along with his request more to humor the old man than out of any faith I had in his concerns about German spies.
Now his sudden death left me wondering if there might have been some basis for his fears. But why would German agents waste their time on Klaus Kraus? He'd been a construction engineer, not some high-ranking Nazi who was privy to secret war plans and such. Then a question of greater personal importance finally elbowed its way to the front of my mind. If Nazis killed Kraus because they suspected him of giving away their secrets, would they next come looking for the guy they thought he gave them to, namely me?
I took inventory of my fellow travelers aboard coach 2942. It seemed unlikely that Nazi agents would risk masquerading as soldiers or sailors, so I concentrated on civilian passengers. There appeared to be only two other civilians--a pair of young women seated at the front of the car. I also noticed a fellow in a dark blue uniform with the upside-down wings of a British or Canadian pilot who was probably in the U.S. for advanced training. All of the other passengers were sailors, soldiers or Marines.
Knowing full well I probably wouldn't recognize a Nazi spy if I saw one, it still seemed prudent to at least take a stroll through the other cars. I grabbed my valise, and excusing myself as I slid past the Marine gunnery sergeant seated next to me, I headed into the vestibule at the rear of car 2942.
The northbound Coaster was carrying a total of five chair cars in front of the dining car, which was followed by a tavern car and three tourist sleeping cars. These economy class sleepers consist of eight rows of seats on each side of the car. At night, porters convert the seats into sixteen small sleeping compartments accommodating up to thirty-two passengers. In addition, there are bathroom facilities at each end of the coach.
|Southern Pacific Railroad's northbound Coaster|
I patiently threaded my way through the dining car, which was filled to overflowing with hungry GIs, and entered the tavern car. The "bar car," as it is more often called, was nearly as crowded as the dining car, so it took a while to make my way to the first tourist sleeper car.
It was still early enough that only a few of the seats were already converted to sleeping compartments, so I was able to complete my scouting mission without missing many passengers. By the time I turned around at the end of the last sleeper, I had counted a total of thirteen travelers who appeared to be civilians, and the only signs of weapons I saw were the sidearms worn by three Army MPs in the car directly behind 2942.
I returned to the bar car, ordered a Rye Old Fashioned from the Negro bartender, and latched onto a center-facing seat in the middle of the car when the marine who'd been sitting in it wandered off toward the dining car. From there I could keep an eye on my fellow passengers while I pondered my situation.
|Typical modern railroad tavern car|
Was I really in danger of being rubbed out by Nazi spies? I honestly couldn't say. The Kraus murder might be exactly what the cops suspected--a burglary that went bad when the homeowner showed up unexpectedly. It might have been that, but burglars don't usually carry guns; they rely on timing and stealth to ply their trade.
Okay, if it wasn't a burglary gone bad, did anyone else besides Nazi spies have a reason to kill Herr Kraus? Again, I didn't know. He seemed to be comfortably fixed; not rich by any means, but wealthy enough that he could retire in his newly adopted country without any apparent concern for money. And I saw no evidence that Kraus was involved in activities that would create political enemies. From all indications he led a quiet life that generated little interest from those around him which, given the country's current disdain for Germans and Japanese, made good sense.
Did Klaus Kraus actually give me any secret information the Nazis would consider valuable to their enemies? That was a question I could answer, and the answer was no. He told me some general Autobahn engineering details about the highways' inadequacies to facilitate large movements of war materials and troops, but that simply confirmed what we learned from other sources.
Did that preclude the possibility that Herr Kraus was privy to sensitive information he didn't tell me? Again, the answer was no. Nor did the actual content of our interview preclude the possibility the Nazis might think he possessed such information, whether he actually had it or not. If either of those possibilities were a reality, and since Kraus and I were the only ones who knew what he really told me, it wouldn't be unreasonable for the Nazis to think he was a security liability. That, in turn, would make me a liability also, so I had to assume I was in danger.
What could I do about that? I managed to complete the FBI small arms training course without distinguishing myself as a crackerjack marksman, but at least I know how to shoot a pistol. Unfortunately, that particular skill was of little practical value unless one had a pistol to shoot. No one at the OSS, including myself, had any reason to think a guy who spent his time in libraries and newspaper morgues needed to carry a gun.
Would evil Nazi agents actually try to kill someone on a train filled with American soldiers and sailors? That seemed unlikely, so I was probably safe until the train arrived in San Francisco. What then? The Coaster was scheduled to arrive in San Francisco at 6:45 a.m. There would be no one in the OSS San Francisco field office at that hour of the morning, so I couldn't just call in and ask for help.
Could I simply hang around public areas of the SP depot until later in the morning when there would be people in the office? Yes, that would be the thing to do. The field office was usually alive and buzzing by eight, so I would call my boss from the depot and explain my plight. My boss, Alex Johnson, came to the OSS as an experienced agent from the War Department, so he would know how to handle this situation.
Having a plan improved my morale. I lit a Lucky Strike and took a swig of my Rye Old Fashioned. Yes, indeed, all would be right with the world again once Alex Johnson was on the case.
I finished my drink and was thinking about getting another when a commotion swept through the crowd of GIs around me. Still a little on edge, I anxiously looked toward the front of the car for the cause and immediately spotted what aroused the soldiers' and sailors' interest. The two young women from car 2942 were paying a visit to the Tavern Car. It quickly became clear that was all they would be paying as practically every GI in the car joined the competition to buy the new arrivals a drink.
A couple of seats near where I was sitting were cleared for the gals, which gave me an opportunity for a better look at the brave young women who dared to enter a bar car filled with soldiers and sailors. Through a forest of white and khaki uniforms I saw that the woman facing me was a rather stunning blonde in her twenties who wore her long hair in the peek-a-boo style made popular by Veronica Lake. The second gal sat with her back to me, so all I could really tell about her was that she was a redhead in a dark green dress with the sort of padded shoulders that were all the rage among fashion conscious women.
hair style made popular by movie
actress Veronica Lake
As things settled down to a mild roar, I was able to tune into the conversation going around their table. That's when the four years I spent at Stanford University learning to read, write, and speak European languages proved useful in a way I never anticipated.
Even though her colloquial American English was nearly flawless, I began picking out subtle hints of an accent in the blonde's speech patterns. I wasn't sure at first because she hid it well, but the more I heard, the more certain I became that she spoke with a slight accent--a German accent. I guessed she grew up speaking German and at some point learned English as a second language. Given the current state of world affairs, it was hardly surprising that she worked hard at hiding all traces of her first language. Just as anyone who looked Asian was immediately suspected of being Japanese, anyone with a recognizably German accent was quickly tagged as a Nazi.
As the train rolled along toward its next stop in Santa Barbara, I found myself listening with no small amount of amusement at the competition among the servicemen to impress the young women. Each soldier and sailor had his own approach, but the underlying theme was the same; they had a few days' leave before boarding troop transports that would carry them off to war in some far-flung corner of the world, and wouldn't the young women like to spend those last few days sightseeing in San Francisco with them?
It occurred to me that the enemies of our country couldn't do better than pick a couple of pretty young women as spies to learn the movements of our Army and Navy. To be fair, though, I have to give the guys credit for not actually divulging any specific information about when they were leaving or where they were going, but it was clear that they were all headed off to war somewhere.
Eventually it became evident that, while flattered by all the attention, the women had no intention of being talked into any liaisons in San Francisco. Our soldiers and sailors were a game bunch, though, and many of them kept on pitching even as the failure of their mission became increasingly apparent.
As amused as I was by the impromptu floor show, I was also feeling the effects of a long day. Thinking I might get a little shut-eye, I picked up my valise and headed back to car number 2942. The chair cars between the dining car and my coach were quiet, with most of the GIs snoozing. Four marines and a sailor were deeply involved in a penny-ante poker game two cars behind mine. The sailor, who was sitting on his sea bag in the aisle, seemed to be having all the luck, which wasn't improving the morale of the marines.
Approaching the last vestibule before I reached car 2942, I heard a low wolf whistle somewhere behind me. Looking back over my shoulder, I saw what inspired the admiration. Apparently the young blonde had grown weary of the bar car games and was heading back to her seat. She was only a few steps behind me, so I held the sliding vestibule door open for her. Then, ever the gentleman, I turned quickly to open the opposite door and just about poked my eye out with the barrel of a small black pistol that suddenly appeared in the blonde's dainty hand.
There is no denying this turn of events caught me completely by surprise. Her carefully concealed accent had rung a few alarm bells, but my earlier conclusion that I was safe aboard the train left me with my guard down. As a result, I was now alone in a noisy vestibule with a Nazi agent who was armed and very dangerous.
I took an involuntary step backwards and looked at the face behind the pistol. Her eyes were as cold as steel--well, the eye that wasn't hidden by her hairdo was as cold as steel--and she was wearing a no nonsense expression that said I was in big trouble. Her stare never wavered behind the sights of her pistol as she said, "Step back into the corner of the vestibule and have no doubt that I will shoot you dead at the slightest provocation."
I harbored no such doubt as I took a step backward to comply with her instructions. At the same instant I knew what I had to do next. My valise was in my left hand and she held the pistol in her right hand. Without taking my eyes off her face or changing my expression to telegraph the move, I swung the valise up in an arc toward her gun. She caught the movement out of her peripheral vision and began a step backwards, but she was a fraction of a second too late, and the valise smacked into her hand.
The pistol went flying, and the impact of my valise combined with the swaying movement of the train and the stylish heels she wore left her off balance. As the pistol clattered to the steel floor, the blonde's body flew backwards. Her head hit the metal wall behind her with an audible "clunk," and she slumped to the floor like a rag doll.
As all this happened, I was experiencing some balance problems of my own. The weight and centrifugal force of the valise were pulling me forward. My feet got tangled up with her outstretched legs and I followed her down to the vestibule floor. Fortunately, I hit the wall with my shoulder instead of my head and still had the presence of mind to scramble after the pistol. I grabbed it and got myself vertical again, keeping one eye on the blonde the whole time. I needn't have been in such a hurry to get my hands on the pistol because she was out cold.
I dropped the little gun into my jacket pocket and checked her for a pulse. Relieved to feel a strong, steady beat in her right wrist, I quickly checked her purse for additional weapons and found none. My relief that I hadn't killed her was short-lived, though, as the circumstances of my situation sank in. I had a very attractive unconscious blonde at my feet on a train full of soldiers and sailors. It would be easier to convince those GIs that Adolph Hitler was Santa Claus than persuade them this woman was a dangerous Nazi spy.
Then there was her redheaded companion who was undoubtedly also armed and dangerous. While frantically trying to think of a way to handle the situation, I sensed a change in the motion of the train. It was slowing, and glancing through the window in the rear vestibule door, I saw a conductor moving through the car in my direction. He was announcing something to the passengers. I couldn't hear his words, but I guessed we were arriving in Santa Barbara where the train was scheduled to stop long enough to unload a few passengers and take on some new ones.
The stop offered at least a temporary solution to my dilemma. If I could get the blonde off the train without her redheaded accomplice knowing about it, my odds of survival would improve dramatically. The trick would be getting her off the train. I could hardly carry an unconscious woman onto the platform without attracting attention, so I was going to need some help, preferably from the blonde herself.
The conductor stopped to talk with a passenger about halfway through the car, so I still had a little time, but not much. I knelt next to the blonde and shook her shoulders. There was no response, so I slapped her cheek lightly. That got me a flutter of her eyelids. I smacked her a little harder and her eyes popped open.
Holding her pistol where she could see it and trying to sound like Bogart playing a tough guy, I said, "Okay, Blondie, you've got one chance of getting out of this alive, and that's to do exactly what I say." She glared at me and I added, "I'd just as soon shoot you right here and now, but my boss wouldn't like that, so I'll give you one chance at doing this the easy way."
Her glare softened a little, and she said, "What do you want me to do?"
"That's a good girl. First, get on your feet."
As she started gathering herself together, I put my right hand, still holding the pistol, into my jacket pocket. Then I set the valise down and offered her my left hand. She took it, and together we managed to get her back on her feet.
She stood there a little shakily while I picked up my valise and her purse. I was stepping behind her when the conductor appeared in the rear vestibule doorway. From my vantage point, I could see a dark, matted spot on the back of her head. It looked serious, but she was functional, so the visible damage was probably superficial. At worst she might have a mild concussion.
The conductor couldn't see the wound from his vantage point, but it was still clear to him that the woman wasn't feeling well. He said, "Are you all right, Miss?"
She said nothing for a moment, and I was about to answer for her when I heard her say softly, "Yes. It's just a little motion sickness. I will be okay."
The conductor nodded and moved on through the vestibule and into car 2942. I tried not to breathe a big sigh of relief. Instead I said, "Good work, Blondie. Now, when we pull into Santa Barbara in a few minutes, you and I are leaving this train. In the meantime, we'll stay right here."
She nodded almost imperceptibly and swayed unsteadily. I moved closer behind her, and she leaned into me for support.
I was thinking I should be relieved that the blonde was being so cooperative, but I wasn't. This was almost too easy. Was she cooperating because of the concussion or did she know something I didn't?
During the ten or so minutes it took the train to finally pull into the Santa Barbara depot I expected the redhead to walk through the vestibule door at any moment, but the only person we saw was the conductor who showed up again to open the outside vestibule door. He unfolded the steps and offered the blonde his hand as we stepped down to the platform.
There were a few soldiers and sailors waiting to board the train, and of course, an attractive blonde who was obviously unsteady on her feet didn't escape their notice, but they were more interested in boarding the train than in blondes at that moment. Once through the terminal entrance, I turned the blonde to our right and walked down to a window where I could see who else got off the train.
scene at the Southern Pacific's
Luck was still with me. There was no sign of the redhead among the half-dozen sailors who climbed down from the train. A few seconds later they were followed by the British flying officer. I wondered why he was leaving the train in Santa Barbara, and then I remembered Camp Cook Army Air Corp base was just up the coast.
I looked around the depot, trying to decide on my next step. I had successfully captured a Nazi spy, but I had no idea what to do with her. All I had in the way of a plan was to call Alex Johnson for instructions, but I couldn't make that call for nearly twelve hours. I considered turning the blonde over to the local police, but that could get complicated, and I ran the risk of losing her. No, the best thing to do was to hole up someplace safe until I could call my boss.
I was considering spending the night right there in the terminal before I realized it was the first place her Nazi pals would look if they showed up in search of their missing agent. Then I noticed a bright red neon hotel sign through the front windows of the terminal and decided that would be as good a place as any to spend the next twelve hours.
Reprising my tough guy routine, I said, "Okay, Blondie, we're going to stroll out of the terminal and check into that hotel across the street. Behave like a good little girl, and you might just get through this alive."
Outside the terminal, we jaywalked across Montecito Street and entered the Chief Hotel. From the architecture the place looked like it dated back to the 1920s, but its hacienda décor was well maintained, and more importantly, their "vacancy" sign was lit. My blonde companion continued to be on her best behavior throughout the check-in process.
I noticed a bright neon hotel sign through the
When we got to our assigned room on the second floor, she sat on the bed while I locked the door. After taking a look out the window at the street below and seeing no one--redheaded or otherwise--lurking about, I turned to my captive and asked, "How are you feeling?"
I thought I saw a puzzled expression cross her face, but it only lasted a split second before she said, "What's it to you, you Nazi bastard?"
It was my turn to look puzzled. Why was a German spy calling me a Nazi bastard? In that brief moment I had my first inkling that the situation might not be exactly as I had it figured. Still, she pulled a gun on me aboard the train, and whatever she was up to now wasn't going to erase that fact. I said, "That blow on the head must have scrambled your brains, lady. You're the Nazi, not me."
"Okay, buster, if you want to play it that way, fine. But you're wasting your act on me. We've been watching you, and I know exactly what you are."
I sat at the small writing desk on the other side of the room and studied her. Finally, I said, "All right, if you aren't a Nazi agent, who are you?"
She turned slightly on the edge of the bed to face me, an effort that was obviously painful, and said, "As if you didn't know, the name I'm using is Marjorie Moore, and I'm with British intelligence, MI-6 to be specific."
Either she was a damned good actress or something was out whack here. I said, "Can you prove that?"
"You know damned well MI-6 agents don't walk around with credentials in their pockets."
"Lady, the only thing I know is that you stuck a gun in my face back there on the train, and now you claim to be one of the good guys. That doesn't add up."
"I stuck a gun in your face because you kept wandering off where I couldn't keep an eye on you. I concluded you had somehow figured out that I was a British agent, so I decided to take you into custody. That way I could make you stay put until we got to San Francisco where my people were waiting for us."
Talking to the woman was getting me nowhere. She had a convenient answer for every question. Thinking her purse might contain a clue as to her real identity, I walked over and dumped its contents onto the bed. In amongst the expected female accoutrements, I found a one-way Southern Pacific ticket to San Francisco and a wallet with no identification documents, but a little over three-hundred dollars inside. Her purse also contained a passport identifying her as a British citizen named Marjorie Moore. The passport photo looked like the woman sitting on the bed, but none of that meant anything because one would expect a Nazi agent to have authentic-looking credentials.
Being fresh out of ideas, there was nothing more to do until morning when I could call Alex Johnson. In the meantime, I would just have to stay awake and on my toes. That didn't mean, however, I couldn't at least be civil about things. The woman was clearly in pain, so I said, "Miss Moore, I have a bottle of aspirin in my valise. Would you like a couple of them?"
She looked at me for a moment as if deciding whether or not I was going to poison her or slip her a Mickey, and then said, "Yes, Mister Colley, I would."
After swallowing two of the white pills, she lay back on the pillow and closed her eyes. She stayed in that position so long I thought she might be asleep, but she wasn't. Without opening her eyes, Marjorie Moore said, "Mister Colley, I have two questions. Will you answer them?"
"If I can. What are your questions?"
"First, what cover are you using here, and second, what did you hope to gain awhile ago when you accused me of being a Nazi spy?"
Her questions compounded my confusion, but I answered them. "First, I don't have a cover, as you call it. I work for the Office of Strategic Services, and I accused you of being a Nazi spy because that's what you are."
"I see. Mister Colley, an OSS agent working in the U.S. would carry credentials. Do you have credentials?"
"May I see them?"
I couldn't see any reason not to show her my OSS identification, so I pulled the little black case out of my inside coat pocket and flipped it onto the bed. She picked it up and stared at my identification card for a while. Finally she closed the case and handed it back to me, saying, "Mister Colley, you are quite convincing, and that worries me."
"Yes, because if you really are who you say you are, my people have made a serious mistake, which means you and I are in big trouble."
"Then I guess we're in big trouble because I am exactly who I told you I am. What sort of big trouble do you think we're in?"
"Do you remember seeing a fellow in a British flying officer's uniform on the train?"
"Yes, I saw him. He got off here in Santa Barbara."
"That's right. He is our big trouble, because he really is a German agent, and his current assignment is to kill both of us."
"If what you say is true, I can understand why he might want to kill me, but why would he want to kill you, a fellow Nazi?"
Glaring at me, she said, "I swear, you are dumber than dirt! For the last time, I am not a Nazi agent! Will you please get that through your thick skull!"
Glaring back at her, I said, "You'll have to forgive me and my thick skull, but I have difficulty believing you when less than an hour ago you were pointing a gun at me!"
"That was because MI-6 thought you were a German agent and that you killed Klaus Kraus."
"Why would a German agent kill Herr Kraus? And why would MI-6 care about that one way or another?"
Marjorie Moore shook her head slowly in obvious exasperation. "I cannot for the life of me understand why Winston Churchill was so anxious to involve you Yanks in our war. If you are any example, the Americans will surely muck things up even worse than they already are."
When I didn't respond to her insult, she said, "Listen very carefully, and I will try to explain the situation so even you can understand it. Klaus Kraus was working for us--MI-6. Before the war, Germany sent him to the States as a spy to report on highways, airports, harbors, and so on because the Germans knew America would become their enemy before long. Then we broke Kraus's cover and offered him an opportunity to stay out of prison by working for us. We gave him false information to feed to the Germans, and he identified his contacts for us. After he met you in your hotel room, we concluded you were one of his contacts. When he was killed last night under mysterious circumstances, we figured you somehow tumbled to the fact that he was a double agent and killed him."
"Hell, I didn't kill Kraus! I didn't even know he was dead until I saw the article about him in the Los Angeles Times I bought to read on the train."
She cocked her head to one side and said, "You know, I believe you."
"Well, thank you very much! Now kindly explain to me why the guy in the British uniform wants to kill us."
"Like I said, he is a Nazi agent, and the Germans still believe Kraus was working for them. They no doubt concluded that you are a British or American agent and you killed Kraus because you discovered he was a spy. They would also conclude that Kraus told you who his contacts were. An American or British agent would not have killed Kraus if there was anything further to be learned from him. That makes you a risk to their intelligence network here in the states, so you need to be eliminated. Seeing you get off the train with me would have confirmed all that because he knows who I am. Now he's in a position to kill two birds with one stone."
I was having trouble following all the twists and turns in her story. I said, "Let's see if I have this straight. You're telling me the British think I'm a German spy and the Germans think I'm a British or American spy, so you both set out to kill me. Is that right?"
"Yes, that is correct, except I do not want to kill you, I simply want to put you in jail. The fellow in the British uniform, however, definitely wants to kill you. He goes by the name of Willie Watson, and he is very good at killing people. By taking us off the train, you have made it much easier for him to complete his assignment."
"What about your partner, the redhead who was on train with you? Won't she notice you and I are missing and send some help?"
"Partner? The redheaded woman? Heavens, no. She is a nurse on her way to work at a military hospital in San Francisco. I never set eyes on her before we met in the Los Angeles station. I chatted her up so I would have a companion to make me less conspicuous on the train."
Marjorie Moore was very convincing. Everything she said made sense, but in a way I was better off when I firmly believed she was a German agent. Now I had to make a decision. If the guy in the British uniform was really out to kill us, I needed some help, and Marjorie seemed much more at home in the cloak and dagger world than me. The question was, could I trust her? Then another question occurred to me. I said, "Miss Moore, where did you learn to speak English so well?"
She paused only a second before saying, "Oh, that. You have a very good ear. Few people notice my German accent. My parents moved from Austria to England a few years before the Great War. I was born in London, but my mother and father spoke German at home, so that is what I learned to speak. When I got older, I was taught English so I could go to school. That, however, was British English. When MI-6 recruited me, I studied American English so I would fit in here. It was almost like learning an entirely different language."
I nodded and made one more attempt at making sense of my predicament. I was fairly certain of only two things. One, somebody was out to get me, and two, staying alive would require some help. What I didn't know was who wanted me dead. Was it this woman who stuck a gun in my face or was it, as she claimed, the guy in the British uniform? Marjorie Moore's explanation of the situation was convincing because everything she told me seemed to fit, and until something more concrete turned up, her word was really all I had to go on. I said, "Okay, Miss Moore, you've convinced me. How do we get out of this mess alive?"
She looked me straight in the eye and said, "I was hoping you had a plan. After all, this is your country and you are an OSS agent."
"I only do research for the OSS. I don't know beans about this secret agent stuff."
Her expression was clear. Marjorie Moore was exasperated with me again. "Oh, swell! We're up against an experienced German agent and I've got a librarian for a partner. I will take a guess and say the only weapon you're carrying is mine. Am I right?"
I was smarting a little at being called a librarian, but now wasn't the time to indulge in hurt feelings. I nodded.
Still looking exasperated, she said, "Do you know how to use a Beretta?"
"A Beretta. My pistol is an Italian Beretta."
"Well, I've taken an FBI small arms course. . . ."
"And they taught you how to use a Smith and Wesson revolver, right?"
"Yes . . . ."
"That isn't going to help. My Beretta is a thirty-two caliber, single action semi-automatic pistol. It fires nothing like a revolver, and it doesn't have nearly the stopping power of the thirty-eights you learned to shoot."
caliber, single action Beretta
I took her pistol from my coat pocket and examined it. She was right. Other than the fact that it had a trigger and a barrel, I could see very little resemblance between the pistol in my hand and any gun I ever shot before. I didn't even know where the safety was, assuming it had one. I said, "Okay, I'll admit I have no idea how this thing works, but before we go any further on that train of thought, I want to know what we can expect from this guy you say is going to kill us."
"How long have we been here?"
I glanced at my watch and said, "We got off the train a little over an hour ago." She nodded. "Then we are already on borrowed time. He will want to get his job done and leave this small town as quickly as possible. So the first thing we must do is find out where he is. May I use the telephone?"
"I guess so. Who do you plan to call?"
"The front desk." With that, she picked up the handset from the telephone on the nightstand. It was a house phone with no dial, so she clicked the cradle a couple of times. Finally she said, "Front desk?"
After a pause, she continued, "I'm expecting a friend of mine to check in to your hotel tonight and I am wondering if he has arrived. His name is Willard Watson and he's a British flying officer. He'll be in uniform."
This was followed by a longer pause during which she looked at me and nodded. Then she said, "Oh, no, thank you. He's probably resting after his long trip. I will try calling him in the morning. Thank you very much."
Marjorie Moore hung up the telephone and said, "Well, he's here in the hotel. I figured he wouldn't be far away."
"What do you suggest we do about that?"
She thought for a moment, and then said, "One thing is for sure; we cannot stay in this room. Willie can pick that old door lock faster than you can open it with a key. If we stay here, he can pick us off like sitting ducks any time he chooses."
"So where do you suggest we go?"
"Ultimately we have to get out of this town, which means we have to go back to the train station or to the bus depot, wherever that might be. He is probably watching the train station, so I vote for the bus depot. Either way, we will be a lot safer in a public place."
"How do we get out of the hotel without him seeing us?"
"This place probably has a back stairway in addition to the stairs in the lobby, and there is certain to be a rear door to the hotel. He cannot watch both exits, so he is most likely watching the train depot and the street in front of the hotel from his room. I would go down the back stairs and head for the bus depot. Once we are out of the hotel we can ask someone for directions."
"Are you feeling well enough for all that?"
"I think so. The aspirin helped. Besides, how I feel does not matter. We need to go and we need to do it now."
I nodded. "Okay, let's go."
A minute later we were peeking out the room door to be sure the hallway was clear. It seemed to be, but she pushed the door closed again and said, "Now you have to decide whether or not you trust me. My pistol is our only weapon, and I am the one who knows how to use it. Will you give it back to me?"
I expected that question sooner or later, and under the circumstances it was not an unreasonable request. I handed her the small black pistol and said, "I hope I don't regret this."
She smiled and said, "You won't. We are on the same side."
With that, I picked up my valise, and we walked quickly and quietly down the hall toward the rear of the hotel. She was right about the place having a back stairway. We took it down to the first floor and went through a heavy door marked with an exit sign. Outside, we were in a dark alley with no illumination beyond a small bulb over the hotel door.
I figured Santa Barbara's main downtown area--the most likely place to find the bus station--was to our left, so I turned in that direction and immediately felt something hard poke into my back. Marjorie Moore said, "Okay, Mister Colley, this is as far as you go. Drop your valise and face the wall."
In that instant I knew I made a fatal mistake trusting the woman. I had all the evidence I needed to prove she was a German spy, but I let her talk me into ignoring the facts. Even though I was about to pay the ultimate price for my stupidity, all I could think of to say was, "You lied to me."
She laughed at my absurdity and said, "Yes, Mister Colley, I lied to you. That is what spies do. Now drop the valise and move to the wall or I will most certainly blow your spine to bits right here and now."
The last time she held a gun on me I managed to overpower her, and she wasn't about to let that happen again. I released my grip on the valise and turned toward the rear wall of the hotel. She moved the pistol to the back of my head and said, "You Americans are so gullible! We will win this war for the Fatherland in a matter of months. Now say goodbye, Mister Colley. It has been a pleasure knowing you."
I could think of nothing else to say, so I was standing there waiting for my life to be over when a voice with a thick British accent came out of the shadows somewhere behind me. It said, "That's quite enough, Marjorie. Lay your pistol down."
The pressure of the gun barrel left the back of my neck almost immediately, and I dove for the ground. The cracks of two pistol shots sounded almost simultaneously, followed by a moment of deathly silence. Then I heard a groan and felt Marjorie Moore's body land across my legs. I started scrambling away, but the British voice said, "Relax, Mister Colley. The danger has passed."
Slowly, I got back to my feet and turned to look at Marjorie Moore. She was in a heap at my feet with her blonde hair fanned out around her head. The fellow in the British flying officer's uniform came out of the shadows across the alley and scooped up the woman's Beretta from where it had fallen a foot or so from her outstretched hand. The Brit said, "You really ought to choose the company you keep more carefully. Marjorie here was hardly the sort of woman with whom a gentleman ought to be seen.
I looked up from the growing red stain on the front of Marjorie Moore's dress and said, "Thanks for the rescue, but I'm still a bit confused. Who are you?"
He slipped his pistol into the side pocket of his uniform jacket and offered his hand. "Willie Watson, British Intelligence, at your service, Mister Colley."
Shaking the hand he offered, I said, "Miss Moore also claimed to be with British Intelligence and told me you were a Nazi agent. Forgive my reticence, but how do I know you're who you claim to be?"
The fellow grinned and said, "Well, sir, that is an excellent question. Perhaps the best answer is to take note of the fact that you are still alive and free to go on about your business."
"I am? I mean, free to go?"
"Of course you are. In fact, the sooner we both go on about our business the better. I have an automobile at my disposal here, and I plan to resume my trip to San Francisco in it. If you fancy a lift, you are welcome to join me, but that is entirely up to you."
I looked down at Marjorie Moore and said, "What about her?"
"The chaps who provided my automobile also perform . . . ah, shall we say, clean up chores. They will take care of Miss Moore."
Roughly eight hours later Willie Watson pulled to the curb in front of the federal office building that housed San Francisco's branch of the OSS and said, "Here you go, old fellow. Do try to stay out of the clutches of attractive German spies from here on out, won't you?"
I said I would and thanked Willie again for saving my life. As he drove off up Seventh Street, I looked at my watch. It was a few minutes past eight and the office was open, so I went up to the small cubicle assigned to my use and rolled a sheet of paper into my typewriter in preparation for writing my report to Alex Johnson.
Francisco Federal Building at Seventh
It would be a two-part report containing both the information I learned from Klaus Kraus and the account of my misadventures on the way back to San Francisco. I wasn't looking forward to writing the second part, so I tackled it first to get the humiliation over with. Leaning back in my chair, I reviewed Willie Watson's answers to the myriad of questions I asked during the trip up U.S. 101 from Santa Barbara.
According to Watson, Klaus Kraus was exactly who he claimed to be, a construction engineer who retired and moved to the U.S. There was, however, one item on his resume that escaped the notice of both the OSS and the German bureaucrat who approved Kraus's emigration papers. It seems that in addition to working on Autobahn designs, Herr Kraus also helped develop structural improvements to the runways of some top secret heavy bomber bases.
By the time the Nazis discovered the oversight, there was little they could do about it except to keep an eye on Kraus to be sure he didn't spill what he knew to American or British intelligence. They assigned that job to one of their top agents who was already over here posing as a British citizen. That agent was, of course, Marjorie Moore. So when Miss Moore discovered Klaus having clandestine meetings in a hotel with an unknown person, she assumed--correctly, as it turned out--that I was a U.S. intelligence agent.
Willie Watson explained his MI-6 assignment in the U.S. only to the extent that it included keeping a close eye on known Nazi agents working here, including Marjorie Moore. In that role, he observed Miss Moore following Klaus Kraus to our second interview meeting. Since Watson is in this country with the approval of our government and because my assignment was hardly a state secret, he was able to make some phone calls and determine that the OSS did indeed send an agent to interview Kraus. That made Watson the only one in the game who knew all the players and put him in a position to anticipate what was about to happen.
Watson figured Marjorie Moore assumed Kraus told me the locations of the secret bomber bases he worked on, and since she was known to be a ruthless agent who sometimes made decisions in the field beyond her authority, Watson wasn't surprised when he followed Moore that night and witnessed her cold-blooded murder of Kraus. Figuring I and my valise full of interview notes would be her next targets, the MI-6 agent booked a seat to San Francisco on the same train I was taking. Kraus's death was of no concern to Watson, but he had an obligation to do what he could about preventing the murder of an OSS agent.
From my point of view, the sad thing was that, knowing nothing of Kraus's involvement with the bomber bases, I only discussed Autobahn designs with him. Had Marjorie Moore known that, she would have had no reason to kill either Kraus or me.
Watson described the rest of the previous night's adventures as a comedy of errors. When he saw me take Marjorie Moore off the train at Santa Barbara he knew she'd made her move and I'd somehow turned the tables on her. Figuring that was only a temporary situation, however, Watson followed us off the train and made some educated guesses about what the blonde agent would try next. I don't know how he knew I was gullible enough to buy whatever story she might tell me to regain my confidence, but he was right, and I'm damned glad he was.
That afternoon I sat in Alex Johnson's office as he read my report. I was braced for a thorough dressing down over my ineptness, but Alex surprised me. When he finished reading, he held my report up and said, "This SNAFU is a perfect example of why the OSS was created. I found out just this morning that the FBI has a complete dossier on Klaus Kraus, including his involvement with the bomber bases. Unfortunately, that file is one of many Hoover chose not to share with us. If I'd known Kraus's full story, I never would have sent an inexperienced agent to interview him.
"All I can say at this point is thank God MI-6 was on the ball. If their agent hadn't been watching this Moore woman, the OSS would have lost a valuable employee. Even so, we missed an opportunity to learn the details of some Nazi heavy bomber bases, and that's inexcusable."
I said, "I'm sorry about that, sir."
"I am, too, but none of the blame for this fiasco falls on your shoulders. I hold J. Edgar Hoover personally responsible, and I intend to see that Mister Hoover is held accountable." Alex leaned back in his chair and stared at my report on his desk for a moment. Then more to himself than to me, he said, "One day that conniving bastard will go too far, and somebody higher up is going to have the nerve to toss him out on his ear. I only hope I'm around to see it happen."
YOU ENJOYED NIGHT TRAIN TO FRISCO, IT'S A CINCH YOU'LL LIKE H.
P. OLIVER'S NOVELS
CLICK HERE TO SEE WHICH OF HIS BOOKS ARE CURRENTLY AVAILABLE
This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
2012 HPO Productions