The Crooked X - Prelude to War
A Short Story of Hate, Mystery and Intrigue

By Ernest N.Whitenack

"Chapter 1"

Spring, 1934

The birds woke him early with their ceaseless loud mating calls, as they do every morning in the early spring, and forbid further sleep. Scott Wadsworth put on the percolator, cooked ham and eggs and had a relaxed breakfast; a luxury he does without the rest of the year as he squeezes out every last second of sleep before venturing from his bed. The sun shone brightly through eight small windows high in the front wall of his parlor. It had not yet reached the place in the morning sky to shine through the large skylight that provided the most daylight to the renovated old carriage house.

The second son of an esteemed and influential Boston attorney, Wadsworth called Beacon Hill his home, having lived on the hill the greater part of his life.The carriage house was once part of an early Beacon Hill estate that had long since been added to and turned into costly apartments. The front wall, with eight small windows, had been the gate doors to the carriage house. Other than the almost imperceptible entrance door that had been expertly inserted at the right side of the gate doors, it had been preserved for historical purposes through many renovations.

Scott grabbed the first three pipes from the rack above his desk along with the suede drawstring tobacco pouch and dropped them in his briefcase; loaded another pipe, a large full bent apple, from the cedar-lined humidor and dropped it in his jacket pocket; then strode to the front entrance.

It was one of those rare spring mornings in Boston as he navigated the flagstone walkway through the, yet dormant, garden to the high fence and gate that opened onto Walnut Street. The rain of the previous night left the morning sky clear while an unusually warm sun was rapidly drying the cobble stone sidewalk. Wadsworth made the trek from Beacon Hill down Walnut and diagonally across the Common to his office on Charles Street south.

About the time he made Beacon Street he was usually, as he did this morning, fishing his suit pockets for matches to put a fire to a bowl full of Peretti's Royal blend.
As the flame touched the tobacco Scott thought, if Frank Gray were here he would undoubtedly start the argument he always does that Royal Blend isn't worth the cost of the match it takes to light the pipe. A devoted Ehrlich and Levitt & Pierce customer, He insists L&P's Cake Box is the best in the world and continually wants me to change my favorite.

Discarding a second match he noticed the Common was starting to attract more and more vagrants. Five years into the Great Depression and the poor and homeless ranks were growing at an accelerating rate. Scott thought how fortunate he was to have escaped the worst of the crash thanks to his father's far reaching influence and solid advice. Although there was little business entering the door of his law office, he made a point to open most mornings promptly at nine A.M.

The door housing the frosted glass window, emblazoned with Scott Wadsworth, Attorney at Law – Notary Public, stuck as usual when he tried to open it. It wasn't a weather thing like humidity as the door had been sticking since he rented the office. The landlord simply ignored requests to fix the problem stating there was no profit to the building with all the empty offices caused by the depression. He could not afford a carpenter just for a sticking door. The phone was ringing as he struggled to open the door while hoping that a client was on the other end caused him to rush to answer the phone.

"Hey Scott boy, have you seen Abe Müller lately?" came though the receiver and dashed Scott's hopes of a client.

"Good morning Frank. What gets you so excited this early in the day? No I haven't seen Abe for a couple of weeks. I think it was the last time I was in Ehrlich's that I bumped into him and we went and had coffee together."

"Well, no one else has seen him for that long" Frank Gray replied. "His little watch repair shop is locked tight and there is a pile of mail and newspapers on the floor behind the mail slot. People are starting to worry".

"We must look into this", Scott said. "Can you take some time off from the paper?"

"Yes, but not today, Frank replied."We are tight on time for tomorrows paper; how about tomorrow?"

"Yea, OK, meet me at my office at ten tomorrow morning" "In the meantime I'll do some snooping on my own".

Abe Müller immigrated to the United States in 1927 just as the National Socialist Party was getting a solid foothold in Germany. Conditions had become unsettling throughout Germany; Bavaria mostly but the movement was steadily moving to the north. There had already been blood spilled in street skirmishes between the communists and the socialists. Nazi anti-Semitic leaflets and posters were starting to appear. Abe had no family left after the Great War and no ties to hold him to the Father Land.

Der Stürmer, a weekly newspaper devoted primarily to anti-Semitic propaganda and promoting hatred against the Jews had been published since 1923 by Julius Streicher in Nuremberg. Others, Slavic peoples, Czechs, Poles, and Russians were include in the list of those Hitler classified as racially inferior, or the Untermenschen.

The years following WWI had been difficult for all in Germany; little food, fuel or anything else. The Nazi movement played upon the poverty by making impossible promises for the times. Many grabbed hold of these promises with great hope. But all in all it was the upper class that listened, read and initially embraced the ideals of a Nazi socialist state under Hitler. However as time went on, life for the average citizen became easier with an upturn in the economy and a drop in inflation. These changes resulted in a moderate loss of interest in the Nazis.

Hitler assumed the title of supreme leader (Führer) of the Nazi party in 1926 by removing, by persuasion or otherwise, his rivals within the party. At that time Goebbels went to Berlin as district leader or Gauleiter on Hitler's command. His mission was one of publicizing and reorganizing the Nazi Party which heretofore had been, for the most part, ignored. The stock market crash of 1929 and the ensuing worldwide depression again fanned the fires of Nazi promises, lies, and racial hatred.

Abe learned his trade through a seven year apprenticeship in Bitberg under the tutelage of an uncle who passed on shortly after Abe was certified by the Horologists Society of Germany. He inherited the watch repair and clock shop and ran it for several years. Abe found it difficult to abandon the shop yet felt it unadvisable to attempt selling it with racial tensions running high and travel starting to be looked at closely, if not yet restricted.

When the time came, Abe covertly boxed tools and personal items from the shop in shipping crates, made especially for clocks, and shipped them to a cousin in Boston. If asked about the several shipments, he could produce insurance documents and invoices stating the crates contained clocks intended for wholesaling to America. The day he left Germany the shop looked as it always had. Abe left a token watch and clock inventory in place and the light burning in the back room repair section. The light filtered through the curtain that separated the work area from the sales section and emitted just enough light at night to provide a dim view of the sales floor. He also told some customers of his sailing to America to visit clock importers and put a sign on the store door explaining that he would return in a month. That was the last contact he had with any resident of Bitberg, other than the local tobacconist. The tobacconist astutely recognized Abe would need at least a pound of his favorite, a light Danish Virginia Cavendish, to last for a month long trip but tried to talk him into a pound and a half.

Scott hung up from Frank Gray, grabbed the Boston Phone book and looked up the number of the Deutscher Klub in Dorchester while searching for his tobacco pouch. He knew Abe was a member as was Abe's cousin who was instrumental in Abe getting to America. The club was a gathering place for German Americans that allowed them a taste of the culture and customs of the country they had left; as similar clubs do for the large diversity of ethnic backgrounds that make up the Greater Boston area.

The phone at the Deutscher Klub was answered with a German greeting that Scott didn't understand just as he released a large volume of smoke that started his second pipe of the day he called his "thinking" smoke.

He replied "I've been trying to locate my friend Abe Müller and know he is a member there. Have you seen him lately?"

"No, I have not. The last time I saw him was here, plying cards, a couple of weeks ago." "He left early with two men who he introduced as relatives from the old country. He could be showing them around Boston or the suburbs".

"Did Abe tell you their names?"

"No, but they said they would be back and become members of Deutscher Klub"

"Thank you. Now, do you have a phone number for Abe's cousin Günter Müller? He lives close by I believe and has a butcher shop on Tremont Street".

"Ya, right here I have it. Would you both the home and shop numbers like?"

"That would be great sir, and if you see Abe please have him call Scott; he'll know the number."

After recording the phone numbers in his note book, Scott hung up with a gnawing sense that all was not right with Abe. While re-lighting his pipe he remembering that it was lack of family that prompted Abe to leave Germany so readily. So, who were the two men that convinced Abe to leave a poker game and the club?

One week earlier – Chicago:

Abe Müller walked along State Street in a light spring drizzle, flanked on either side by the two men who escorted him from the Deutscher Klub, and was led diagonally across the street toward an unobtrusive three story brick building. The plain door that centered the building held a small sign proclaiming in gold letters, Friends of New Germany. One of Abe's escorts pushed the bell button at the right of the door and the sign slid aside revealing an opening similar to but smaller than a mail slot. Simultaneously, a buzzer sounded far above them. The escort dropped a card in the slot and the door was opened seconds later by a very large man in a black suit. The buttons of his suit, due to his massive chest, strained against their holes for release. The escort retrieved the card the doorman held out from a gnarled hand distorted by broken knuckles and scar tissue, not unlike that of a bare-knuckle boxer.

As they climbed the stairs to the second floor the other escort, whom Abe deemed to be a subordinate to the card carrier, spoke for the first time that day.

"Here you will meet many friends who can be of much help to you. And, in return perhaps you can be of help to them. We will have a good German lunch with a beer I doubt you can get in Boston".

They entered a Bier Halle so similar to the better ones Abe remembered from Germany that his heart jumped and a sad nostalgia swept over him. Brewery logo flags decorated the paneled walls. The long tables, all set and awaiting guests, and flanked by old world carved chairs extended the length of the hall. These were separated by four service isles crossing the width. At the far end was a huge serving bar backed by many barrels housing spigots indicating, by logo graphics, the beer in each.

The trio walked nearer to the serving bar and sat; Abe on one side of the table and his escorts opposite. A waitress appeared dressed traditionally, for a beer hall waitress, in a dirndl and carrying three larges full steins in one hand and Speisekarte (menus) in the other. She placed the menus between them and from the pocket of her apron produced paper coasters for the steins of beer. Abe gasped audibly as he lifted his stein and saw the bold black swastika printed on the paper coaster. Being aware of what he had just done Abe repeated the gasp with the stein closer to his face and stated,

"What a wonderful aroma comes from this beer; and the memories that go with it. I haven't enjoyed such a thing for many years".

"That is just the beginning; Friends of New Germany has much to offer to keep you closer to the Father Land. Let's see what the food is for today".

His escorts gave no indication the gasp was associated with Abe seeing the swastika, but then they never would Abe thought, as he remembered the few encounters he had in Germany with party members.

There had been no talk of politics the first week as his new acquaintances showed him the sights of Chicago and dined each evening in the German section of the city. All conversations centered on the city on Chicago or memories of Germany.

Abe, as his trust in these two men now became questionable, thought to himself that he must be careful. Play along and learn – enjoy what is offered with a smile and a laugh. Do not commit to anything but leave any propositions open-ended. Be safe and get home alive.

Copyright © Ernest N. Whitenack 2011

Ernie Whitenack was born in 1928 in Springfield, Illinois and moved to Massachusetts in the mid 1930's. He is a Korean War veteran, worked as a photographic illustrator for 43 years and is now retired.

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