The door opened and he climbed in, assisted by a man in an Army uniform. "You just made it, sir," the man said. "Jim Jackson."
"Ah, no wonder we were told to wait for you," Jackson said with a knowing wink. "I expect you're one of General Groves' boys, then, aren't you?"
"Uh...no, not really," Bechtold said, wondering who General Groves was.
"Right you are, sir," Jackson said, helping Bechtold past crates of cargo to the jump seats behind the cockpit, and assisted him in strapping in. "Let me tell the captain we've got all personnel aboard."
By now the engines had started, but Bechtold was close enough to the cockpit that he could hear their conversation over the roar of the massive radial engines.
"Okay, skipper; he's here."
"About time! Did you tell him I was going to leave without him?"
"You shoulda seen him sprint across the airfield, sir. Duddn't look like it was his fault."
"Whatever! Get strapped in. I'm rolling this crate."
"Roger." Jackson strapped in opposite Bechtold and grinned at him. "All we knew was, we had an A-priority passenger bound for Santa Fe, and we had to wait for him. Captain was fit to be tied; he's got a girl in Santa Fe but she likes going to bed early, if you know what I mean."
Bechtold nodded absently. The C-47 was considerably less comfortable than the DC-3s he'd taken to Washington and then to Kansas City. It was the same airframe, the same engines--the planes were built on the same assembly line--but this one didn't have padded seats. They were aluminum, and narrower than the plush airline seats had been.
The plane bounced into the air readily enough, though, and the ride smoothed out. As it climbed, Bechtold fumbled out a flashlight and started reading the files Cramer had given him. Jackson helpfully reached over and switched on the overhead light, and Bechtold put away his flashlight.
"You need anything, sir, just let me know," Jackson said. "Otherwise, I'm gonna sleep." And he went right to sleep, immediately, something Bechtold envied him.
The files were brief dossiers on the people Bechtold would be working with. Cramer had told him in no uncertain terms not to open the files before he'd departed Kansas City; now he understood why--on a civilian airplane, you had no idea who'd you be sitting next to; what if it was a Nazi spy? That was a lot less likely on an Army airplane, especially a cargo flight.
The team was going to be two-headed. In combat matters--which everyone fervently wished would not occur--the team would be led by the ex-Marine, Gunnery Sergeant Arnold Weathers. In all other matters, though, Bechtold would be in charge. Given that Weathers was a non-com, he was likely to defer to Bechtold's judgement, regardless.
The file had a lengthy list of citations and awards that the man had earned in the Pacific, including a Congressional Medal of Honor which was apparently Top Secret. He'd likely still be there if a Japanese mortar round had not blown off his right foot. As it was, the man had gone AWOL from rehabilition, in the hospital, in November of 1943, and had attempted to return to the Pacific theater; when caught, he'd been assigned to drill new recruits. Doctors had recommended another three months of rehabilitation and physical therapy, but Weathers had refused, citing the fact that he was used to his "trick foot" and didn't want to waste any more time on it.
Dietrich "Rick" Kolb was a physicist from California. He'd declined a request from--some words had been blacked out--to work on [more blacked-out words] citing the fact that it was "mere engineering" and he had more important things to work on. Several examples were given, and the most prosaic was the excitation of gases to produce something called "coherent radiation".
Bechtold lacked the information to interpret what that meant.
Stanley "Running Thundercloud" McCormick was the honorary Indian. The file didn't give specifics but it identified him as a "medicine man" belonging to the Navajo, and mentioned that besides being a corpsman he was also a radio technician and fluent in the Navajo language. So far he had spent the war training radio operators.
Mary Carter, from Seattle, was an explosives expert. Besides working in their R&D department, she also had an encyclopedic knowledge of demolitions and had assisted in setting explosives during early work on Hoover Dam.
There was more, but he set the sheaf of files down and sighed.
Bechtold was new to the spy business, but he didn't see how this group could function effectively in enemy territory, not for the purposes of investigating the possible use of the paranormal by the Nazis. They wished to avoid combat, so why a combat expert? Why an explosives expert, if their mission was to be covert? The radioman was obvious--they needed to communicate what they found to the Allies--but why the scientist?
Maybe, he thought, their fluency in German was the main criterion. He couldn't think of any other reason, but surely there were more Americans fluent in German that this? Who were loyal to the United States and who weren't already involved in the war effort? German was one of the major languages of science and commerce in the world, after all.
But given all that, why have a tweedy bachelor professor leading the team, someone who had no experience or training in espionage? There certainly wasn't any time for him to learn; Cramer had said only that they needed to be in Europe and "doing their thing" before the end of May. "Critical" was the word he'd used.
That was a scant six weeks away.
* * *
"Sir! We're here," Jackson said.
Bechtold was surprised that he'd fallen asleep. Well, it had been a busy couple of days, and he hadn't slept well the night before, his mind roiling, thinking about the offer Cramer had made. Now they were touching down--in Santa Fe, he assumed--and once off the plane he headed for the terminal building.
As he approached it, though, a man who had been leaning against it straightened and walked up to him.
"Ah, Dr. Bechtold," he said, in German. "How are you? I'm Arn Weathers."
"Oh, hello," Bechtold said, also in German, shaking hands. The man's appearance matched the photo in his file, though the man in front of him was in mufti rather than uniform.
"How was your flight?"
"Bumpy, but I got a little sleep."
"Good for you! We've got about a twenty-mile drive ahead of us. The head's that way," he said, pointing at the terminal building.
"Thanks, I won't be long."
Soon the two men were in a nondescript 1940 Ford with a government plate. Weathers was driving, and he noticed Bechtold's curious glance.
"This new foot of mine's a beaut," he said. "It's not the wooden one I got at the hospital. Rick Kolb figured out that if you put a spring where the ankle is, you can almost use it like a real foot. So, yeah, I can drive with it. Didn't take long to get used to, either."
"He ought to patent that," Bechtold said.
"I told him the same thing, but he waved it off. Said it's trivial, anyone could think of it, and he's got other things on his mind besides paperwork."
"How long have you been training together?"
"Me and Rick started in February. We added Stan at the beginning of March, and Mary came on--huh, must've been about the 20th or so of March. You were the one we were waiting for."
"School year. Didn't want to yank you out of the university; it'd raise too many questions. But we need you."
Bechtold snorted. "I don't see why."
"Cramer's a dickhead," Weathers said, then stopped himself. "Sorry--old habit. I'm a soldier. But he's kind of dumb about people, see? Or maybe he thinks everyone knows everything about themselves."
"He seemed to know quite a bit about me."
"About all of us. He had us checked out thoroughly. But you're the key, boss. You've got friends on the other side."
For a moment, Bechtold didn't take the man's meaning. "What--no, I don't! I've never even met a Nazi," he sputtered, indignant at the insinuation. "Just because a man speaks fluent German--"
"No, that's not the other side I'm talking about," Weathers said. "The other side of the veil of tears, boss. The spirit world. You've got friends there."
Bechtold continued sputtering helplessly. Weathers' comment had mixed him up; he didn't realize that had been Weathers' intention. Finally, he managed, "I don't even know what you're talking about."
"Uh huh. So, you think anyone could just tell a poltergeist to go away and stop making trouble?" Weathers shook his head. "You asked politely, but it only listened because someone else was there to back you up."
"Damned if I know. Probably literally. But Stan confirmed it, said you've got 'strong medicine' on your side, among the strongest he's seen."
"Somehow that doesn't make me feel better."
Weathers chuckled. "Me, either."