Dramatic historical fiction based on the Manhattan Project to develop the atom bomb in WW2
Manhattan Chapter 1 Part 3
Colonel Sergey Mirov, June 4, 1945. (Two months earlier)
“Are you sure it’s him? It can’t be. Really? Where? You keep him right there and post guards… not just to keep him in, but to keep the Americans out! He’d better be there when I get there, or you’ll face the firing squad. Is that quite clear?”
Soviet Army Colonel Sergey Mirov, still open-mouthed, held the receiver in mid-air for a moment, then placed it on the telephone. He sat straight, stood up, adjusted his uniform across his trim physique, and started throwing orders around a bustling field headquarters of GRU military intelligence. “Get me a flight to Berlin. Summon Rikov and Churkin. If they’re not available, then get me two of our other best German-speaking interrogators. We’re leaving this evening. And this mission is top secret, so don’t ask why we’re going!” As his aide was running for the door, Col. Mirov followed up, jabbing a finger through the smoky air: “And tell them to bring their best tools. This guy may be hard to break.”
Mirov stared at the phone. How could he be so lucky? After weeks of scouring the German countryside and sending agents around the globe following clues, his group had finally found renowned German physicist Otto Brandt hiding right under their noses in Germany. Since before the end of the war a few weeks ago, every intelligence force on earth was desperately trying to capture him. His knowledge of Nazi nuclear research projects absolutely had to stay out of the hands of rival intelligence agencies.
<> <> <> <>
At 8:00 AM the next day, Mirov sat with Rikov, Churkin, and Brandt around the great-room of a posh residence just outside of Berlin that he’d ordered commandeered. Dolls and toy airplanes lay strewn along the walls as if hastily kicked out of the way before he arrived. Mirov had the furniture arranged in the great-room so that the Russians had their backs to a floor-to-ceiling window. Outside was a finely manicured lawn, ringed in precisely trimmed shrubbery and graced by marble statues. Opposite the Russians sat the famous German physicist. Brandt’s lovely view of the estate was of no concern to Col. Mirov—only the fact that the morning sun would blaze into Brandt’s eyes with intimidating glare.
“So, what brings you here today, Herr Brandt?” Col. Mirov said with a laugh, playing the role of the “good cop” to start the interrogation.
Rikov—his great bulk filling out his chair armrest-to-armrest—shifted in his seat and cast a hard frown Mirov’s way. His bushy black eyebrows wagged down and up like agitated caterpillars.
Brandt, avoiding the sun the best he could, caught himself staring at a couple of black leather cases, one to Rikov’s left and the other in front of Churkin. I know what’s in those. His toes scrunched up hard. He looked away, out the window, then to his lap, dizzied by a surge of terror. Had they noticed him staring? Better not show fear; that was how he’d made it through a very similar situation with the British before he escaped from them only two days before.
That getaway had been brilliant, but he’d followed it up with a major blunder. I should’ve known that the GRU Berlin Station Chief would report that he captured me, rather than admit that I just strolled right into his office. That’s why I’m sitting here now. The key to survival was to gain the Russians’ trust—but gradually, not too quickly, or the ploy would be obvious.
Mirov, trained to focus on his target’s every move, word, and voice inflection, had noticed Brandt’s gaze hang momentarily on the black leather cases. He also saw him bite his lip. With a pleasant smile, he turned to Rikov and Churkin: “Please put your bags behind your chairs. We don’t want to intimidate our distinguished guest. He probably has some wild ideas about what’s in those, don’t you think?”
At this, it was all Brandt could do to keep from pissing his pants. The Brits had inflicted pain, but in a way that did not cause lasting damage. What of the Soviets’ nasty reputation for going straight for the damage, and doing it with zeal? It must be true. He’d heard about it so often.
I’ll have to play this pretty much the same as I did with the Brits. His seat-of-his-pants strategy ended up working out quite nicely. By outwitting his British captors and exploiting information about them that they did not know he had, Brandt had actually gotten from them more information than he had given up. Because of his work on the Nazi nuclear project, he had been privy to German intelligence about the Allies’ work in this field. “The Soviets have nothing,” his Nazi superior had informed him, “but the Americans and Brits are collaborating on a massive project. However, Hitler is right when he says the Allies will crumble in bickering amongst themselves,” his boss had continued, gazing up to a striking portrait of the Fuhrer centered on an office wall. “The Brits feel the Americans are highly arrogant. The Americans… well, they hold the British in deep disdain. There’s great animosity between them.”
I guess I did have a bit of luck when the Brits held me, Brandt considered—as he also tried to focus on a rambling statement from Churkin. Brandt’s British interrogator had seemed to absolutely hate the Americans. Playing on this cross-Atlantic rivalry, Brandt, after he had “broken,” held out the carrot that he could boost the Brits rapidly past the Americans and restore their British pride. Arrogance, just as it had been for Germany, would be his captors’ downfall.