CHAPTER TEN - Don't Blame The Messenger
27th April 1918
Everyone has secrets.
During wartime, secrets are highly valued and are harder to keep. One of the services I offer is the discreet delivery of mail. It is "discreet" because my delivery service is outside the view of government censors. I charge my clients a small fee or trade for some needed goods, but this is more a gesture than anything else.
My real fee is getting access to the secrets.
Few of my clients realize how easy it is to remove a wax seal and replace it. Most of the secrets I find have no real value, random admissions of hopes and fears, but I assume someday a real prize will show up.
That day finally came on my trip to the GHQ in Spa.
The Great War had taken some of the shine away from this beautiful resort town located at the foot of the Ardennes Mountains in Belgium. The Casino had burnt down and many of the larger buildings had been converted into field hospitals. However, it still had its famous mineral springs and a few fine hotels. Combine that with the overwhelming number of young Red Cross nurses resulted in a bustling nightlife.
When Hauptmann Heidemann loaned the C-3 to Wili and Bruno to fly to Spa and visit the Graf and Gräfin, I was already well on my way to the same place on a train transport. I had two mail stops to make, one with Heidemann's wife Elfi and the other with the Gräfin herself.
Wili and Bruno being in Spa at the same time was the source of my good luck but demanded more discretion than usual to avoid being seen by them.
My first stop was Elfi's apartment building.
In the past, Elfi's letters combined passion and patriotism, including photos and postcards of her adventures traveling as a Red Cross nurse.
Lately, as the war drags on, her letters have become dark and disjointed. I hardly recognized her when she opened the door, unkempt hair and dark rings under her eyes. The stuffy flat was scented with the sweet smell of alcohol that reminded me of Stachel's quarters.
Heidemann had seen this change too and it was putting him in a state of panic. With "The Big Push" starting, he couldn't take leave to see her and it was taking a toll on him.
Desperate men take desperate measures, so I am keeping a close eye on him. There is bound to be something here that I can use to my advantage soon.
Next stop was the Graf and Gräfin’s hotel.
I checked in at the front desk and let them know I had a package to hand deliver to the Gräfin and that I would meet her in the garden. The hotel was luxurious, one of the few remaining in town. Kaeti was luxurious as well, with her ivory skin, curvaceous body and icy blue eyes. Half the age of the Graf, she was a volatile mix of wealth, ambition and sexuality.
Wili kept me busy with his letters, long-winded musings of a passionate schoolboy. He was smitten by his dear Auntie and based on her responses, she was more than willing to satisfy his desires. Once Kaeti understood the services I could provide she became a regular customer. Her letters were carefully crafted and circulated to many different men.
It was clear she was working on her exit plan and keeping all her options open.
So that's when fate stepped in.
After making my delivery, I heard Stachel's voice out on the piazza. I ducked behind a hedgerow and saw the Gräfin heading out to the table. Wili introduced Bruno to Kaeti. At the opposite end of the piazza, two Red Cross nurses were sharing a bottle of wine. One of them was Elfi and clearly, this was not the first bottle of the night. Who would have thought that three of my regular clients would all be at the same place at the same time?
The Graf, an accomplished doctor, was dominating the conversation. Even from this distance, it was obvious that Kaeti and Bruno were making a connection. Kaeti's blue eyes were sizzling. Wili, the pouty Prussian, was oblivious to it all.
When Kaeti and Bruno both excused themselves early from dinner it was clear to me what would happen next.
I made my way out of the hotel to the public plaza below. There was a bench next to a fountain with a good view of the hotel. I saw one of the hotel rooms in the penthouse light up and was sure whose room that was. Back in the piazza the Graf and Wili were having a heated debate on some unknown topic. Their heat was mild compared to what I could see going on up above them.
A Bruno and Kaeti affair?
What luck for me! This could well be my ticket out of this god-forsaken war.