The papers in his pocket, however, were different. In the same envelope which had contained his draft notice had been a letter directing him--in lieu of reporting to a recruiting station--to come to this building. They'd included airplane tickets--airplane, not train--and a travel pass giving him a high priority.
He'd reported to the office as soon as he could, was ushered in by a secretary...and had proceeded to sit and wait here for nearly twenty minutes. It had given him plenty of time to stew over the unusual circumstances, and he worried about what the government's possible motivation could be for singling him out. It was true that he had German grandparents, but his parents--and he himself--had been born in America. Could there have been a mistake? Had someone reported him as a spy? Nothing could be further from the truth--he was a patriot--but the war had a strange effect on some people. Look at what had happened to Americans of Japanese descent.
"I do apologize," the owner of the office, Larry Cramer, said, as he bustled in. Bechtold stood up and shook hands.
"That's all right."
"How was your flight?" Cramer said, sitting, so Bechtold did as well.
"It was my first."
"Really? Well, novelty has something going for it, then. Let me tell you: after a few dozen flights, it starts to get old, but my face was plastered to the window the first time I flew." He waved a hand in negation. "Coffee?"
"No, thank you."
"Straight down to business, then. I know you're wondering why you're here, Mr. Bechtold, so let me get right to the point." Cramer stood up, went to the bare wall of the office, and pulled down a map of Europe. He regarded it for a moment, his back to Bechtold; then he turned around. "Mr. Bechtold, we are going to lose the war in Europe."
Bechtold raised his eyebrows. "Is that so? How do you know?"
"I can't explain to you how I know with any kind of economy of words," Cramer said, "but I can guarantee you it's so."
"But aren't we bombing Germany? I read the papers; they say the effort is going well."
"Papers," Cramer said, with a dismissive gesture. "And if the effort were going poorly, do you expect that would be reported honestly? I can show you any number of Japanese publications which crow about decisive victories which nonetheless occur ever-closer to Japan itself. No, the papers aren't any guide, though not for that reason. The air war is indeed going very well for us. At some point there will have to be an invasion, though, and that will go very poorly indeed."
As a professor of history, Bechtold had some idea of what Cramer was talking about. Any effort to defeat Germany would have to start--where? He looked at the map of Europe. Belgium, he decided, or France, would be where the Allied forces invaded occupied Europe. Or perhaps the Netherlands? It would have to be the north coast of Europe, because that was closest to the Allies' only stronghold there, England.
"I can see how an amphibious invasion would cause a lot of casualties," Bechtold said after considering it. "But it has to be done, doesn't it?"
"That's what I'm trying to tell you, Mr. Bechtold. Any invasion attempted by the Allies will fail."
"Why? The Nazi advance can't be invincible."
"That's where you're wrong. And that's why I invited you here."
Bechtold spread his hands helplessly. "Mr. Cramer, I'm an academic, not a soldier. I don't know what you want me for, but I'm not going to be much help to you."
Cramer opened the file on his desk. "Aged 29, former captain of the football team at Yale. You still run a mile or two every day. You don't smoke--not even a pipe, unusual for a university professor--and you speak German fluently, and unaccented. And your membership in Skull and Bones says you can keep a secret." Cramer flipped a page. "But here's where it gets interesting, Mr. Cramer. Besides majoring in history, you took a minor in folklore--an awfully unusual field of study--and rumor has it you even studied the occult."
Bechtold sighed disgustedly. "Mr. Cramer, that rumor dates to my freshman year, when I was tricked into holding a seance by some members of my fraternity."
Cramer flipped another page. "Assisted his priest, Father Timothy, in performing an exorcism."
Bechtold shifted uncomfortably. "How did you find that out? Father Tim swore me to secrecy."
"We have our ways. Mr. Bechtold, we know quite a bit about you--enough that I'm confident you'd be a perfect addition to a team of, eh, troubleshooters that I'm assembling."
"From this point on, I have to caution you that you're required to keep secret anything I tell you. Otherwise--well, it'll be called 'treason' and your life expectancy might be poor."
Now Cramer pulled a file from his desk drawer and began taking pictures out of it, dropping them on the desk for Bechtold's consideration.
A tank track in dirt, and a very, very large dog paw print next to it."What is this? A selection of covers from pulp magazines?"
A corpse in military fatigues, two puncture marks on its neck.
A man in German army uniform firing an odd weapon, a look of shock on his face, a bolt of energy obliterating the target.
Another corpse in an SS uniform--it was hard to tell as the chest was exploded, but it had an inhuman face.
Three men standing next to a dead and impossibly large bat.
"Those are real Army Intelligence photographs. It probably won't surprise you to learn that we have some spies, and so forth, operating inside Europe. I can assure you, none of those photos are fake." He pointed at them in turn. "That's the paw print of a werewolf. That's someone who got eaten by a vampire. That's the Wehrmacht testing a superweapon, some kind of death ray, origin unknown. That--I don't know what that is. And that last one, that's either a giant vampire bat or some other kind of horror."
Cramer let Bechtold take his time with the photos, then collected them and put them back in his desk. "I'm showing you this because I want you to understand what we're dealing with. We've known since before the Nazis invaded Poland that Hitler was a nut on the subject of the occult. He and Himmler sent teams all over the world looking for relics and artifacts. We thought it was just an attempt to construct a mythology to support that 'Aryan Herrenvolk' nonsense, but as our teams operating in Europe have discovered, it's a lot worse than that. What they were doing was an attempt to develop a strategic advantage, something unconventional; and, worse, it looks as if they succeeded." Cramer nodded and sat down again. "Uncountered, it means the Nazis win the war in Europe."
Bechtold considered that. Though he denied it at every opportunity, he had seen things which left him unable to dismiss Cramer's statements out of hand. That seance--he'd contacted spirits then, somehow; the exorcism had cured a man of otherwise intractable insanity. And that was the stuff Cramer knew about--he might not know about, for example, the poltergeist which had terrorized his Aunt Charlotte, until Bechtold (then age 17) had a talk with it.
It almost defied credulity, but only almost...and he knew that if the Nazis had any kind of edge whatsoever, any kind of advantage at all, they'd exploit it to the fullest. And would they be satisfied to conquer Europe, or would they set their sights on America next?
Cramer let him mull it over.
Bechtold knew what that meant: it meant that regardless of whatever objection Bechtold could summon, Cramer would have an answer for it. That's why he could afford to wait for Bechtold to speak.
Bechtold tried anyway. "Spooks and goblins," he said skeptically. "Is that what this is about? Fairy tales, the boogey man?"
"You know more than anyone that there's a kernal of truth in every fairy tale." Cramer's eyes narrowed. "And unless I'm mistaken, when you were seven, there was a very real incident in your hometown involving...," and here he paused to consult the file on his desk again, "der Butzemann, as the local sheriff called him, or der schwartze Mann."
"Look, that was just an old German guy who was a racist. He didn't like negros, and that particular negro was wanted for kidnapping and murder."
"...And had last been arrested in 1896," Cramer said firmly, "yet when they compared his appearnce then to the picture they'd taken in 1896, he appeared not to have aged at all, in twenty-six years! He still looked like he was about thirty years old. And he had red eyes; the sheriff noted that detail in his report."
Bechtold thought something unprintable, then said, "How much do you have on me?"
"I know that you were instrumental in der Butzemann's capture. As in 'the only one who could', for reasons not explained in the report." Cramer nodded. "If you like, we can spend the next several days revisiting all of the...adventures...from your past. Every episode is another reason you are perfect for my team. You've done this kind of work before, on an ad hoc basis; I'm just asking you to do it for your country in time of war against an implacable and very dangerous enemy."
"Who else is on this team of yours?"
"No one you know, I don't think, but they all share at least some of your qualifications. One of them is a Marine, wounded in Guadalcanal but eager to help the war effort any way he can. One's an explosives expert, on loan from DuPont. One's an Indian...well, he's not actually an Indian, but he's an honorary member of the tribe or something--I don't really understand it all that well--and he has some medical skills I think we'll find useful. There's a scientist, a wizard with gizmos and gadgets. All of you are fluent in German, because you're going to have to pass for German citizens while you're in Europe."
"And you'll have papers for us, to that effect."
"I need to think about this, Mr. Cramer."
Cramer nodded. "Take the evening. Have dinner, sleep on it; be back here tomorrow. If you say 'no' I can have you on your way to boot camp the day after. But let me tell you, Mr. Bechtold: if you take my offer, you'll do your country a much greater service than you could ever do as a soldier."
The two men shook hands and parted company for the evening.