He seemed to be
floating several feet above the floor of a medieval torture
chamber, hovering weightless over a scene of Boschian horror.
Below him, damned souls incarnate writhed in agony, screamed in
anguish . . . but there was no sound. As he drifted through the
chamber he could see victims stretched out on racks while dark
demons capered about them, mocking and laughing. Other victims
ran hopelessly about, trailing fire as other devils pursued them,
howling in silent delight.
He floated to the door - Was it by an act of will? He wasn't sure - and it creaked open - sound - there was sound now; from the next room he heard screams. Now he was afraid. Terror like a gnawing rat ripped into his soul, but he could not turn back; invisible hands pulled him into the lower pits of darkness.
Here the demons were of a different breed, more humanlike, clothed in black, their faces pale slashes in the night. Their tools of torment were far more modern than those of the level above: electric sparks crackled around their howling victims, glistening needles filled with evil plunged into writhing forms strapped to stainless-steel gurneys; naked humanity in endless procession stumbled forward to their appointed doom, curling whips and snarling dogs driving them into brightly lit tiled rooms. Iron doors slammed shut. A hissing whisper like the threat-warning of a venomous snake issued from the next room, to be instantly drowned out by gasping hysterical screams. Through a filth-smeared porthole he could see the distorted face one of the damned within, clawing at the glass with bloody fingers, scratching frantically, digging for air, for life, even as its features rotted into yellow corruption. A guard by the door looked up. His open-mouthed leer revealed a red, gaping emptiness.
"Room for one more. . . ."
Floating above the door like a lost soul he screamed in terror and anguish for all that was lost, for the death of all, for himself.
James Martel reached up with a cry, grasping hold of the hand at his shoulder.
"Come on, Martel, wake up."
Reality started to take hold. The man standing over his cot looking down at him with such cool disdain was Special Agent Brubaker. His eyes were red rimmed from too many cigarettes, too much coffee, and too little sleep. He'd obviously been working hard for a long time.
"Sweet dreams, Martel?"
Jim struggled for composure. He had held out against this man and his tag-team partner for weeks, and he felt a stab of shame for breaking, even a little, even in a dream. "Bathroom," Martel whispered, shrugging his interrogator's hand off his shoulder.
Martel stood on shaky legs and half-staggered the ten feet to the bathroom portal. There was no door, and though he had lived for several years on board naval ships the lack of privacy under these circumstances bothered him. Having given his permission, Special Agent Brubaker, who had been with him since Berlin, stood in the middle of the room, watching boredly as Jim relieved himself and then splashed cold water on his face. He looked into the rather large mirror set directly into the wall. His face, illuminated by the harsh glare of a single bare bulb, was drawn and pale. A week's stubble gave him the look of a wandering vagrant rather than that of a lieutenant commander in the United States Navy. His mouth was gummy and foul tasting. He ran his tongue against the back of his teeth and looked back at Brubaker. He longed for the common decency of a toothbrush, but would be damned if he'd ask.
He stepped back out into the room. He wanted to know the time of day, but was damned if he'd ask for that either. Without waiting for the inevitable instruction, Martel turned toward the table at the far side of the room, and was surprised to see a second person on the other side of it, obscured by the glare of the lamp that was aimed at the chair on the near side. Apparently the new interrogator had come in after Martel had collapsed into exhausted sleep.
Then he recognized him.
Grierson nodded. Reaching into the pocket of his double-breasted jacket, he produced a pack of Lucky Strikes and held them out.
Forgetting to hide his eagerness, Jim took the proferred pack, put a cigarette in his mouth and inhaled deeply when Grierson lit it with his Zippo, which was embossed with the emblem of the FBI.
"I just want to run over a few questions with you, Martel."
"Your boys tell you I'm ready to break and it's time to come in and get all the credit?" Jim asked, trying to sound calm and invulnerable, knowing he was doing a poor job of it.
"You know the game, Martel. We don't like doing this."
"I just bet you don't." Jim nodded toward Brubaker. "Too bad the Constitution holds back your thug over there from doing a really good job. I can think of at least one country that he'd love to work for."
Brubaker started to reach angrily over the table to grab Martel but desisted at a peremptory wave from Grierson.
Martel smiled coldly at his frustrated tormentor. The man had stayed at least arguably within the letter of the law at all times, but Martel knew that Brubaker would love to be unleashed.
"You're the expert on the Nazis, Martel," Brubaker said.
"Right. I'm the expert. They'd recruit you in a minute."
Martel's gaze shifted back on Grierson. "You know I'm clean. You've had me down here now a month at least, including this last week of non-stop interrogation. And what have you got to show for it? I'm willing to bet the heat's on to clean this thing up, to pin something on me and get me out of the way. But I'm just not cooperating, am I? And if you can't prove I did it, the leak must have happened back here in the States, and that would mean you guys screwed up."
A glance passed between Grierson and his helper. "We're just doing our job, Martel. Nothing personal. There've been leaks, serious ones, and all the little arrows point to you." Grierson paused for a moment, as if mastering impatience. "Aren't you getting tired of this game, Martel? Why don't you just come clean? Admit what you did and I'll see you get off light." He smoothed his feature into something like friendly neutrality. "Martel -- maybe we've been taking the wrong tack here. Maybe you just overheard something by accident and passed it on without thinking. We could go to bat for you, Martel. There's this place, out in Nevada for people who have heard things they shouldn't have. You could spend the next couple of years there, then be free as a bird. You'd be comfortable, plenty of good food, women even! It's a real nice place, more like a resort than anything else, very pleasant, You could be there in a couple of days, getting fat and tanned. How about it, Martel? Just give us what we need. Medal of Honor winner like you, we could get you that good life easy. After a year or two you'd be free as a bird."
"I didn't do it. And you know it."
"Just a couple more questions, Martel."
Jim sighed and lowered his head.
"On May seventh you met with Wilhelm von Metz and gave him design specifications for the new Midway class carrier, in particular details related to the armored decking and below-the-waterline armor belting."
"We've gone through this a hundred times already, and you know it's a crock. My initial contact report clearly shows I was ordered to do so through Naval Intelligence to justify von Metz's contact with me to his superiors. The information had been compromised here in the States. My guess is through a construction worker." He paused, "You guys must have messed up."
Grierson ignored the dig. "What about the tracking specifications for the Mark 23 acoustical torpedo?"
"Nothing. I've told you that a hundred times!" Martel didn't add that as a matter of fact he had invented and his father had patented the feedback mechanism that made the device practicable.
"The meeting with von Metz on June nineteenth, the fusing systems on the same torpedo?"
"We never met on June nineteenth."
"Are you certain? My records say you did."
"I heard you say it, Martel," Brubaker interjected. "June nineteenth."
"You're wrong -- hell no, your not wrong; you're lying. We never met on June nineteenth, and I never said we met on June nineteenth."
"Cut the crap, Martel."
Suddenly some internal gauge in Martel redlined.
"Maybe you sons of bitches would like to know where I was on March 15th, 1943. I was fifteen thousand feet over Leyte Gulf. A zero slipped onto my six and put three rounds into my engine and one into my seat-back. I flew that aircraft back two hundred miles with seven rivets in my back and the oil pressure dropping every minute. That's what I was doing, you son of a bitch, and it's a gaddamned good thing that the crash boat was there because even if my back hadn't cracked on impact, I'd lost too much blood to climb out of the cockpit. Where were you that day, you slinking stay-at-home bastards?" He glared at Grierson. "Making time with your secretary?" He shifted his burning gaze to Brubaker. "Trying to make a date with Rosie the Riveter so you could trick her into saying the wrong thing in bed and toss her in the slammer? Where were you, you lying shits, while I was out taking bullets for my country?" Martel slumped back in his chair, eying his enemies with wary contempt.
For a moment there was silence. Grierson's face was a study in outrage overlain with amazement. Brubaker was the first to speak. "Nobody's saying you didn't fight Japs pretty good, Martel. But what about your buddies, the Germans? Hell, as far as I'm concerned, you are a German. Are they paying you, Martel, or are you doing it out of pure patriotism?"
This time it was Lieutenant Commander James Manhein Martel who lunged from his chair, and it was a measure ot the effect of six week's sleep deprivation on his figher-pilot reflexes that Brubaker managed to lurch an involuntary step backward before Martel's fist passed throught the space his face had occupied a split second before.
Curiously, Grierson shoved himself between the pair not as a fellow cop, but with the attitude of someone separating arguing peers who had passed over the edge of violence. Martel just stood there panting. Brubaker had the look of a junkyard dog being baited from beyond a fence.
"Enough!" Grierson shouted. "Martel, Bru, ease off, will you?"
"Chief, please let me squeeze him. He'll talk."
"Maybe later, Bru. Not now." Then, speaking low so that Martel couldn't hear, he added, "We aren't authorized." He turned back to Martel, who spoke before Grierson could.
"Know one thing, Grierson. Now or later, if you have one of your thugs lay a hand on me, you better kill me, because by God I'll take it personal, and I won't be down forever. Ever been in combat, Grierson? I've killed thirty men or more." He nodded at Grierson's shoulder holster. "Ever had that thing out in the heat? Ever aim it at anybody for real? Think about it, Grierson. You and your girlfriend there."
Brubaker looked like he was about to explode. Without bothering to look in his direction, Grierson waved him back down again disgustedly. "Martel--"
Jim cut him off. "Not another word. I want a lawyer. Now."
"Think about it, Martel. As long as you haven't been charged we can still handle this administratively. Stay at that country club for a year or two. If we go to court it's twenty-to-life, hard."
"Closing in on your lies, are we?" Brubaker asked with a vicious smile. "You blew it about the nineteenth and now you can't cover it up. You're nothing but a damn traitor."
"Kiss my ass." Martel shifted his gaze back to Grierson. "Charge me or get the hell out."
"Just a couple of more questions, Martel."
"Kiss off." Stubbing out his cigarette he reached over to the pack that was still on the table and fished out another one. He suddenly realized that he didn't have a light and glared at Grierson, who produced his lighter.
"I'll make you a deal, Martel. I won't ask you anything I've asked before, and you answer what I ask. All right?"
Jim started to tell him where to shove his questions, then thought about it. He had nothing to hide, and didn't want to seem as if he did. Hell, he supposed he even wanted them to get to the bottom of this. He just wasn't going to be screwed with anymore.
"Sure. Why not? New questions only. No repeats. You ask, I'll answer. But start using your psywar tricks on me again, and not another word."
"Okay. Deal. You're from North Carolina, aren't you, Martel?"
"Yeah. So what?"
"Ever been to Manhattan?"
"Sure I have."
"Like the place?"
"It's all right."
"Ever talk about Manhattan with any of your friends?"
"You mean Willie?"
"How the hell can I remember that . . . yeah . . . sure, we must have. Most Germans are curious about Hollywood and New York."
Grierson stared at him intently.
"Ever been to Oak Ridge?"
"You heard me."
Jim sat absorbed in thought for a moment. This must have a point, but he couldn't figure it out.
"There's an Oak Ridge at Gettysburg. It's where they built the Peace Monument. Is that what you mean?"
"What about 238th Street in Manhattan, or Apartment U?"
"What the hell are you getting at?"
Grierson remained silent.
"Look, if what you've asked me means something, I haven't got a clue."
"What about the stadium at the University of Chicago?"
"We never played there when I was in the Academy, if that's what you mean."
Grierson took a cigarette from the dwindling pack and lit it. He continued to stare at Martel, his features expressionless.
"Care to discuss any of it?"
"What we've just been talking about."
"Look, it might mean something to you but it sure as hell doesn't mean a damn thing to me. Manhattan. Apartment U or V. You've got another security leak? Somebody blow your codes?"
Grierson stubbed his cigarette out and stood up. He started to pocket his pack of smokes and then pushed them across the table to Martel.
"So is that it?" Jim asked coldly as the agent headed for the door. "You want to hang that on me as well?"
"We'll be in touch, Martel." A guard on the other side opened the door, and the FBI man was gone. The lock snapped shut behind him.
Martel took another pull on his cigarette and looked over at Brubaker.
"I bet you'd love to call in a couple of your friends to help you kick the crap out of me right now."
"Jesus, I hope they decide to go all the way on you," Brubaker replied wistfully.
Suddenly, for no particular reason, Martel's attention fixed on the bathroom mirror. He waved.
"Crap," Grierson snarled as he turned away from the other side of it, stepped past the cameraman and back out into the main corridor. He hated it when prisoners pretended they could see him.
Damn him. He looked back at the camera crew that had been filming the interrogation, wondering why Hoover was going to so much trouble over this. It bothered him that Martel might know something important that the number three - all right, number four - man in the FBI wasn't privy to. And whatever this Manhattan project was, it was surely important.
Grierson stepped out into the early evening chill. The film would be analyzed for any subtle gestures on Martel's part, but Grierson already knew that nothing new would be discovered. That was a problem; the Navy was breathing hard down Hoover's neck on this. Clearly Martel had some friends in high places, and without clear evidence of Martel's guilt, the case would soon be dropped. If that happened, Hoover would focus back in on alleged leaks within FBI counterintelligence and several of the defense plants that Grierson was responsible for.
Even the hint of a screw-up was enough to put someone on Hoover's black list.
Grierson climbed into his car and started back for the ugly confrontation he knew awaited him at FBI headquarters. He was learning to hate James Martel!
Copyright © 1995 by Newt Gingrich & William R. Forstchen