2 The Packrat

Dr. Gruen the Packrat

What distinguishes a pawnbroker from a Rockefeller or a Carnegie? A junk dealer pushing his barrow of old books and oddments from a Vanderbilt or an Astor, Mellon or a Morgan? A collector of fine Ming china from a packrat and its bits of garish crockery?

Dr. Gruen--not his first, nor his last nom de plume of choice--would never reach the rarefied regions of such aristocratic wheeler-dealers, because he was not only not born to wealth, but never quite developed the knack of attracting it, despite the occasional high value of what he had to offer. There was a certain look about this man, a furtive, too-inquisitive manner perhaps, that struck those who happened to catch him in the light of day--which hardly ever happened, as he did his best work at night, utterly alone--as more than disreputable.

He was self-employed for that reason, the reason being he could, his bodily impression working against him, excite no confidence and trust to land him a paid job of any substance. Not that he cared! He preferred working alone, keeping his own hours, choosing his own subjects of inquiry and trade, whether he lived in Trieste, Stamboul, or Macao (almost always a port city or city of world trade).

Oh, it would be a mistake to put Dr. Gruen down at this point as insignificant and too obscure an entity to matter in the universal scheme of things. His nocturnal activities, rather than isolating him into innocuousity, actually propelled him, at one point in his shady, picaresque career, onto the world’s center stage. He was a petty crook, to be sure, and would always remain a member of that subculture and tribe--but he never actually broke any law, it must be said, as he was just gathering information that certain clients of his had no time to gather themselves. They paid him for the convenience of ringing him up or being sent a packet of materials containing the desired information. Not surprising, he preferred the mails to direct contact.

What kind or kinds of information? It was varied, of course. Clients wanted, say, to keep an eye on lovers or wives or husbands. They could turn to Dr. Gruen, who studied all the society columns, as well as the news, both British and Continental, and even American and South American. He could easily track the quarry by following what went on at hotels, spas, gambling establishments, and so on, and follow him or her from country to country as well, by reserving certain contacts at airlines, railways, and passenger shipping lines.

Calls to these contacts kept him well informed, and the fiscal garnish for his services, when divided all down the line, not only pleased his underlings but kept him in reasonable comfort in a private suite somewhere in London’s East End. To supplement income from this clientele, he dabbled in a little government snoopery as well--not actually spying, it must be said, for he hardly wished to attract the attentions of Britain’s M-2--but the kind of observation that most anyone, anyone with the lust for dusty, old detail work that Dr. Gruen possessed in abundance, could accomplish with regular trips to the British Museum Library and various other repositories of rather gritty, crumbling archives of dated materials. It was amazing at times what he could dig out of the masses of stored data in such places.

He wasn’t circumscribed by preconceived notions of what was valuable to his line of vocation--no, he just happened upon valuable items as he was rummaging about.

What valuable items? For one thing, he found a Roman villa parked underneath the Houses of Commons and Lords, even before the excavations and rebuilding of the entire palace after the destruction of the war. What good was it? He sold the information to the architect, who credited himself with the “discovery” when it came time to excavate. Otherwise, it probably would have been scraped clean with other rubbish, with no notice being taken. How had Dr. Gruen learned of the villa? Well, after considerable rummaging, he knew that most of old London was founded on ancient Roman foundations.

It hardly seem unlikely that there wouldn’t be a Roman temple or villa or baths beneath the proposed reconstruction of the Parliament buildings. He had checked, and, sure enough, there had been a villa and some other Roman-era structures. It cost him nothing to inform the architect, and the architect, for a fee, received his information leading to the site and also what he should expect to find there.

This was harmless enough. M-2 would scarcely view Dr. Gruen’s activity, in this instance, with interest. If they had followed his activities a little more closely and not so cavalierly, they might not have dropped their case on him. The next item he traded for a certain tidy sum was the plumbing layout of certain M-2 facilities, traded to the Soviets. This information was free and legal, to be sure, but the nature of the client in this case would naturally excite the greatest interest, if not genuine alarm.

True, the plumbing information gained by the Soviets did not tip the balance of power much to their side, and the information Dr. Gruen sold the Americans on the plumbing system of the Soviet embassy in London--that too didn’t tip the scales toward Washington, D.C. very much either. Yet it kept things nicely stirred and agitated, and Dr. Gruen liked a muddle, all the better to make it easy to get away if he were being too closely observed.

He gathered and sold a thousand such “trifles,” his private office acting like a magnet and dispersion center. Filings in, filings out--a constant stream. Operating with a number of roving bookies, he could sell information bits over a wider area than he could personally reach with the phone lines, and also elude wiretappers. Sensitive items were traded mostly this way.

Every item traded gained a sum which he and his bookie shared. But if his share did not come, no more information was forthcoming.

But, back to the subject of plumbing. This proved to be the source, the wellspring of Dr. Gruen’s moment of glory. Inadvertently, he left out of the traded portfolio the maintenance files for the years 1919-1943.

He had meant to throw them in as a sweetener and a bonus, but the package was large enough, so he kept them. Putting them aside, he thought nothing more about them for an entire year. But then he went to rummaging again in city maintenance files one afternoon and happened upon some curious facts. He noticed that M-2 had been unusually diligent in cleaning their plumbing, but not all of it, just a certain section, and at considerable expense. That alerted him to something, which was a reminder that certain significant documents had been lost in the M-2 plumbing before, in 1935 and then again in 1938. What documents could they be this time? he had wondered.

A curious Dr. Gruen was not to be denied. He sent forth feelers of various kinds, dug in the city archives for more leads, consulted with his various little friends in the field, and bit by bit, gradually, assembled the elusive facts.

The missing documents, flushed down the M-2 w.c. in question, were important, even very important. They weren’t labeled top secret, they were supposed to be discards, but discards would normally be burnt in the M-2 incinerator under guard. Why had they been flushed, then, if they weren’t sensitive materials?

Since he knew what had happened to them, to find his answer he had to trace the paper trail back to the place of origin. This took all of Dr. Gruen’s ingenuity and painstaking abilities.

He finally uncovered “Garbo,” a creature who was supposed to be residing in and spying out Britain’s railways and troop movements and aerodromes during the war but had actually set himself up rather nicely as a fake Abwehr agent in Portugal. The man was a Basque separatist and a double agent, who had written and offered his services to the British secret service a number of times but been refused, being thought “too strange,” perhaps, by an Anglo-Saxon point of reckoning. This was all information he could gain by an inventory of tips from bartenders, shipping company ticket masters, file clerks at post offices, bellhops, cabbies, and the like “rough trade.”

But what were the documents’ contents? He traced the spy’s movements to the Civil War in Spain,. and then, campaign by campaign, until he found his last battle before deserting the Loyalist army.

What had happened to make this young, brave man desert? Where was it he made the fateful decision? These were items that Dr. Gruen wanted, and he found them after more research.

So this “Senhor Eugenio Averinata” found things in a saint’s cave in the mountains above Guernica, and then absconded with them and went into hiding in Bilbao, from which he later emerged in order to flee to Lisbon, where he set up as a highly paid double agent. How interesting! But what could he have found in a saint’s cave that could possibly interest M-2, even if it was ultimately flushed down the toilet? What would strike them as so absurd they would think him a fool, and dismiss his overture to be an agent of theirs as out of the question?

Dr. Gruen explored the cave and its role in the Basque community, and discovered that St. Roderick hadn’t always been a saint enshrined in gilt and alabaster, he had actually been a living heathen of a Visigothic king, who after his demise only gradually took on saintly meaning in the eyes of the rural Basques after they forgot King Roderick’s wonderful wickedness and attributed to him virtues and compassion that he had certainly not dreamt of in the original.

It was a common practice in these parts for the most exalted saints to be made out such complete reprobates. The process was rather simple, and only took some time to perfect—as a pearl is formed round a particle of gritty, irritating sand in an oyster’s tender flesh and perfected only after time and many secretions from the mindlessly blithe oyster have transformed the sand particle to a wonderful pearl.

So, it was quite possible that a goat had conceived in the cave, producing a sheep instead of a kid, and the miracle had brought sudden notoriety to the forgotten cave and its contents. That is all it would take to get sainthood rolling for Sir Roderick or his likes. Someone then remembered that a notable person had, indeed, died there, and his bones, when found (you could always find old, human bones in a cave if you dug long enough), were installed in a rude, plastered sepulchre.

After that, interest might have waned and Roderick of the Miracle Birth might have been forgotten except that a barren woman went up there, felt a divine presence, and went away to her home and later joyfully conceived a man child. Naturally, hearing of her success, other such unfortunates followed up, and enough found success to make the “saint’s” tomb extremely revered and popular, for by then Roderick the blood-thirsty and corruption-riddled tyrant, the arch slayer of Basques, was all forgotten and nobody would have dared to suggest he had delighted himself in killing the very people who later would elect to make a saint of this particular resident of hell-fire.

This was not the sort of information, however, that supported a Dr. Gruen. And he knew full well M-2 had full justification to give it the flush. But the digging up of the plumbing to retrieve the file--that told him there was something more, something they had to review, or thought they should. What could that something had been? What exactly was “St. Roderick’s secret?”

He might have consulted Senhor Averinata directly, of course, but that wasn’t Dr. Gruen’s professional way of doing business, which was the essence of oblique. Direct consultation could create more problems than it solved. Rejected by M-2, the war ended, Averinata settled down into retirement, remaining in Lisbon at his villa in the suburbs. But Dr. Gruen had other options he preferred to explore first, and if they failed, then and only then would he approach the horse’s mouth.

His options were Socratic. First, he asked the questions. Then he acted on the answers. What was valuable enough for a Basque separatist to offer M-2, information that was valuable enough to warrant their taking him on as an agent? He knew that some genuine information forwarded from Lisbon had been accepted--and bogus information forwarded to Berlin in turn had been accepted too. After all, the Germans, on one occasion, acted on Garbo’s cleverly fabricated report about a British convoy heading for Malta, and even sent a fleet to intercept it, but they had missed the phantom convoy, and the British, finding out about the Nazis’ gaffe, nearly hired Garbo. He had gleaned this from accounts tendered him by various pub bartenders, and though Garbo’s name was never used, he had to be the free lance double agent involved.

But the saint’s secret treasure the agent had pilfered and then used to dangle like a carrot before the noses of the M-2?

Again, Socrates came into play. What could the Brits possibly use that they hadn’t already possessed to make war with the Nazis? It had to be something linked to a superweapon of some kind, but so destructive and powerful any nation possessing it would automatically become the greatest power on earth. What could such a weapon be? How could a derelict, bile-spewing Visigothic king, who reigned over a post-Roman kingdom in decay, come to possess a superweapon that could decide the course of modern warfare?

Surely, the Visigoths gave no sign of possessing such a thing, since they lost most wretchedly in the struggle with Tarik and his North Africans, both sides using pretty much the same type of weaponry for that time. But the tomb--how old was it? Was it always a tomb?

In rummaging amongst the silverfish-populated tomes of the British Museum, Dr. Gruen one day found another piece to the puzzle. He wasn’t looking for it, but there it was, in the writings of Sir Walter Scott. A connection with, of all places, Atlantis!!

Dr. Gruen researched Atlantis, and very soon arrived at a list of possible superweapons. He found it most interesting, beyond doubt. Going down the list, he checked off those that wouldn’t make Britain or America or Russia the world’s greatest power, until he arrived at those that would. One ate the flesh off man and beast, while leaving valuable goods intact. Ah! Not bad! He thought. The Assyrians would have used it extensively. Another destroyed both man and beast, and goods. Which would Britain prefer? The second, of course, since they couldn’t accept the idea of themselves as preferring to spare machinery over human beings, so they might as well eliminate both! The first would seem entirely too fanciful, too ethereal, to a British mentality, which was the soul of pragmatism. Americans, too, would choose the second, being sons of materialistic British culture. Wipe the slate clean, concoct some justifying rationale to make it look militarily expedient to create a tabula rosa out of once thriving cities, then start over! That was the British way, and the American! As for the Russians? They hardly mattered, even if they still had the world’s most powerful land army. With such a weapon as the second doomsday weapon, Britain or America, whichever possessed it, could dictate what happened both on land and sea.

Reflecting at leisure in his East End headquarters, Dr. Gruen considered how the people at M-2 had first discounted the information on the weapon Garbo had sent hoping they would hire him onto the force. Then somebody flushed it down--though for what reason Dr. Gruen could only speculate. The certain thing was that M-2 repented of their oversight, and dug up their own plumbing to retrieve the file (which action certainly alerted Soviet observers, that M-2 was awfully anxious to find something!).

Well, they must have found it. So that meant the British were supreme, supplanting the Americans and the Russians as arbiters of world destiny! But was it so? Dr. Gruen searched the papers daily for any hints of a shift in world policy, that might indicate the world’s deciding geopolitical power had flowed away from Washington, D.C. and the Kremlin in Moscow over to London, and he looked in vain. There was no such sign. The government bureaus grew at the old rate, not with the sudden increases you would expect in a burgeoning power centre. There was no frantic hirings of secretaries and clerks and upper crust who had heard there was a good thing going in government work. No, Britain seemed to be sliding, as before, down into rapid, irreversible decline. Weather was terrible, British agriculture all but non-existent, the balance of trade abysmal, the pound dropping in value by the minute, the lines of credit all exhausted and payments in arrears, the war debts to America fallen due, the unions striking, the coal reserves used up and none being mined by striking miners, the train system paralyzed for lack of coal, people freezing in their homes for lack of fuel--it was Britain, the Sick Old Man of Europe, staggering to certain doom! So what was M-2 so bothered about, that they had dug up their plumbing for a mis

sing file? It couldn’t be very important, yet Dr. Gruen, who had a scent for these things, knew it was, even if all the appearances testified contrarily.

Brilliantly, they’ve decided, at Whitehall, not to play their winning trump card just yet. That has to be the reason. They are waiting a bit, for a better time. After all, the war is still going on over in the Pacific--and who knows when or how that will end? The Brits are just too beastly smart, to let their allies know what they have in hand, something that could finish Japan in two or three puffs! No, they will keep their secret, and probably feed the wrong information to both America and Russia, to keep them going down the wrong track, and then--when least expected--they will spring forth, phoenix-like, from the ashes of their ruined prospects of a world power. That way they won’t risk taking on both armies of the Americans and Russians at once! Cooperate with purely conventional arms, then when Japan is a dead number in the game, spring the superweapon on their former allies!

Dr. Gruen was mostly right, as it turned out. But he missed some things. He couldn’t determine exactly how long Britain, languishing economically and every other way, could wait. He couldn’t have anticipated that Britain would sit on its superweapon for over a decade, while watching the titans of America and Russia dominate the world scene. He had certainly underestimated the long-range planning of which Whitehall was capable, and he thought only in terms of greed and cupidity, not in terms of what was best for Britain and its empire. The British empire, which Churchill wanted to revive, could never be reinstated in the old terms of the 19th and early 20th Century. The world had moved on, and would never accept a another such old-line, starch collared and plume-hatted imperialism. Rather, Whitehall knew there had to be new world order, and if was to be Great Britain at the helm, she had to adjust to the changed society and the changed thinking that had evolved late in the war. What kind of world was envisioned and desired? It wouldn’t be democratic, that was one thing for certain. Oh, on the face of it, it would appear to be so. But it couldn’t be democratic, by the fact no amount of good feeling for union would ever be enough to generate a new world order. National states were just too jealous of their own perogatives and rivalries with other national states. No, the supranational state could not be founded on nationalistic pettifoggery. Union had to be forced on the world, partly by chicanery and partly by some kind of ultimate weapon, whether one the Atlanteans had concocted or one just as lethal.

Possessing the ultimate weapon, it was assumed, was half the pudding. Using it to force a world-wide union into being was the other, more difficult half. Use it too soon, and countries like America and Russia would rise up and fight to the death. What a messy place that would render the globe, with both Russia and America and whatever allies they had wiped out, leveled to ground zero! Would the world even be inhabitable?

So, therefore, timing in the use of the superweapon was absolutely critical. It was best to wait for it, and then only would they strike for world union. Let weather and social chaos weaken the major democracy, America, and the major tyranny, Russia. China, as a relic of the 12th Century, didn’t matter, even if it would always be the most populated nation on earth. Once the glaciers had ruined the economies of postwar America and Russia, it would be time for Britain and her Commonwealth, with agriculture flourishing in her warmer climes, to step forward with the trump card--the nuclear superweapon. Merely waving it, or announcing that she had it, would force the political and cultural union of all states into one world government and society. It wouldn’t have to be used extensively to gain the full value of it.

But where was the packrat in this? He seemed to have gotten himself rendered extraneous, while he actually pushed the whole programme forward quite a few notches by one of his last acts on the international scene: a trade not only pushing him across the Rubiconic line between information and intelligence but involving the discarded weapon that neither Britain nor America at the moment could see any value in possessing.

He sold the flesh-destroyer bomb idea to the marginal power, the Russians, who leaped at it, having an ideological bent for esoteric abstractions inherited from the Founding Fathers, Marx, Lenin, and Engels. A weapon that would emit rays of a kind that would liquidate human flesh and leave all material goods intact? Marvelous! to their thinking. They paid him such a good sum he was able to promptly retire to Burmuda, slip on gleaming white ducks, and bowl with proper Britons on the green until the day his family credentials wore a bit too thin and he had to move on to rather steamy points south and east.

Soon after, a man of his description was found expired in the bathtub of a second-class hotel in Rio de Janeiro, a heart-attack victim. Too much good living at the end had done it, apparently. Police found ham sandwiches, half-eaten as if by rodents, everywhere in the man’s rooms. Wine and champagne bottles, uncapped, with contents tasted or completely imbibed, were just as plentiful. Chocolates, caviar—evidently the deceased had spared himself no indulgence. A plate of ham sandwiches had even fallen into the bath water, as if he had been enjoying them in his last moments.

The doctor performing the autopsy, indeed, found that good reason for the heart failure. The valves of the man’s heart were so destroyed and replaced by thick fat a picture was taken so that it could be studied by medical students as a classical case of degenerative heart disease.

Retro Star Directory and Linking Page

Copyright (c) 2004, Butterfly Productions, All Rights Reserved