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St. Roderick’s Secret

Settling into a twenty-four room villa with a fine view and extensive gardens on the outskirts of Lisbon, Eugenio de Averinata (his Spanish alias), set up shop as a free lance double agent.

He was so certain his client, Germany, would come through for him, he let the best accommodations available to a foreigner without a local bank to certify his financial standing.

To the absentee landlord and his neighbors, he let it be known he was a retired Spanish industrialist, a widower, and a recluse.

Since he paid his rent promptly and never interfered in the local politics, he was left alone, and nobody could enter his domain, in any case, that he did not sanction.

Fierce guard dogs, high walls, several watchmen, and a telescope on the roof, he wasn’t about to be surprised by a sudden guest. Even the village gendarme left after a few minutes when he came to sell raffle tickets to the police bazaar, the cordon of the glaring butler, Eugenio’s cousin Salvador and the savagely snarling canines too much for him.

Maids who ran at the mouth were promptly discharged, and fanatically loyal cousins serving as valet and butler saw to it that cleaning women and maids were never alone in their master’s private quarters of the house. Some doors were always kept locked, even if a maid should grow too curious and seek to find out what the master of the house looked like.

To them he was “El Tygre,” and no one discouraged the title at the villa, so it was always used in referring to him--even though he was, to everyone but his valet and butler, invisible.

With Franco’s armies closing in round Madrid, it was assumed by any talkers in Lisbon who heard of the eccentric Eugenio de Averinata that he must have been a left-wing Republican forced out by the Fascists. Someone else thought by his name he must be Basque, and since the Basque provinces had a great deal of Spain’s industry it was only reasonable to conclude that El Senhor Averinata was a Basque refugee of some means from San Sebastian, Santander, Guernica, or Bilbao.

Always hankering and fomenting independence from Spain, Bilbao in particular was a seething hotbed of sedition and separatist spinter groups that could never agree and work together for the common cause of a free Eskual Herria, as they called their ancient country of the Basques. Postmen thought they knew a bit more.

His letters, and return letters as well, bore German addresses. The secret service in Lisbon, naturally, was interested, and intercepted several on the way out, making copies for further study, then sent the originals on to their destinations.

But they gained nothing from the effort except to find that El Tigre held had some investments in a big cabbage and potato processing combine, A.G. M. Kartolfeln, in East Prussia--a bit surprising for one thought Republican, but, then, where profit-making was concerned, who didn’t cross party lines when need be?

What the secret service did not know is that El Tigre’s correspondence, which was penned by “Garbo” and not “Senhor E. de Averinata,” was mailed directly, by his own hand whenever he went out driving his car during the early hours before down when no one except a few dogs and cats were about.

Even then if he had been seen, he wasn’t visible as El Tigre but as any number of unrecognizable, bogus men and women, for which he dressed the part.

And his car? Before long he had several, which he liked to repaint from black to tan to white to green and back to black again every few months, so that few in the area could have identified the owner by his vehicle’s appearance.

If El Tigre’s efforts were extraordinary and painstaking, they produced success. While working as a volunteer double agent for the British secret service, in his own understanding he was promoting Basque independence, for he judged that Great Britain, after being dragged into war by Nazi Germany, would send armies and liberate Spain first as a landing place for an invasion, and liberation of the Continent necessarily meant the destruction of Franco and all Spanish control of the Basque motherland.

France, which also held Basque lands, would be a prime second place where the British might invade, and when that occurred these “French” Basque would also declare their independence and join with the “Spanish” Basque.

In either case, his work would not be in vain. He couldn’t conceive a liberated Europe, with the Fascist dictator Franco, the blood of Guernica’s massacred children dripping from his hands, allowed to strut about after Shickelgruber and Mussolini had been swept like sheep droppings off the map.

With fascist armies tramping across the whole of Europe, with Great Britain bracing for invasion by the Germans, never had the present looked so dark and the future so bright as he milked the German Abwehr as their agent in Britain. The British secret service wanted nothing to do with him, since he was free lance, but that hardly discouraged him.

Working out of an extensive library and a trove of ancient documents he himself had discovered in a holy cave, he continued sending massive amounts of information on fictional British military installation, ports, and transportation systems, and Germany--trying to make up for years of failing to collect such information-- paid him well to keep the flow going.

His Lisbon postmarks he had previously explained to the Germans by saying his sub-agent took them to Lisbon and mailed them there, thus eluding detection by the British secret service, which could be counted on to monitor all mail addressed to the Continent, and in particular to the Axis Powers.

“Garbo’s” reports of the most astounding inventions in Britain, when he judged it time to begin the series, drew immediate attention from higher and higher officials, until AdmiralCanaris, head of the Abwehr, began showing them directly to Shickelgruber.

Shickelgruber was mightily impressed, in fact, shaken by these evidences of Britiain’s genius, a genius he profoundly respected, even while despising their soft-spined, peace-loving diplomats. He upchucked the apple-tea he had just drunk and had to put on a new shirt.

Soon as this was done, he immediately wanted to know from his chief advisers overseeing the military and industrial sectors whether these superweapons, particularly the one called “Atlas,” the Super-Bomb, could be duplicated in Germany. “Idiots, what is this explosive that can liquidate an entire city like London or Liverpool with one blast, and this energy plant that can produce enough power from a little rock I can hold in my hand to fuel an entire nation? I can’t wait forever for our own superweapons to materialize! Can these things be manufactured here, or are you going to offer me excuses?” Shickelgruber demanded.

“Certainly, German genius is capable of producing such things, if we obtain more specific information, Der Fuehrer,” he was informed by his quaking ministers. Shickelgruber then turned back to his chief of the Abwehr.

That was Canaris’s job, Shickelgruber informed him, without a possiblity of the admiral’s dissent. Canaris smiled urbanely, and replied that he would do all that was necessary to extract the needed specifications, and returned to his office at Abwehr headquarters, where he immediately sent demands along with thousands of good English pounds down through the pipeline to Garbo via his Lisbon agent, Senhor de Averinata.

“I am finished, and that hell hound of a Heydrich will finally get my neck in his filthy hands, if I fail at this,” thought the man that Heydrich, Heinrich Himmler’s appointed chief of the rival SD secret service, in turn called “an old fox.”

Admiral Canaris’s urgent message in hand, El Tygre, though pleased with the windfall of British pounds, was then faced with a problem. He possessed the specifications, but he hardly wanted Shickelgruber’s Huns, his people’s enemies and Franco’s best friends, to have them. The British, on the other hand, refused to take them freely, without a penny’s charge! Since he couldn’t refuse them outright, there was this one option. Give the cabbage-chewing donkeys of the Abwehr just enough information so Germany might begin developing superweapons such as Atlas, then British spies will get wind of it and alert Whitehall and 10 Downing Street, and an alarmed secret service would welcome Garbo with open arms, and the cause of Basque independence was in the bag!

The champion of the Basques, the mastermind called Garbo-Averinata-El Tygre, lay down his pen with a sigh of weariness, lit his gold-crowned British-made Turkish cigarette in a long silver holder, put his feet up on the polished ebony and marble desk and enjoyed the moment of knowing his accomplished work was superb as ever. Cock roosters in the village below his hilltop were crowing.

It was 3 a.m. The letters were done, each supposedly penned by one of a number of subagents Garbo had planted in various secret British laboratories and industries. Typewriters, he loathed. There was no challenge in typing. He also used pens, with a Joseph’s coat palette of inks. The penmanship, diction, and various stylistic mannerisms for the subagents were tailored accordingly to correspond with their respective personalities, and El Tigre had checked it thoroughly and found no hitches--otherwise he would recopy and rephrase any letter until it was perfect.

The series of flawless smoke rings he blew drifted upwards toward a magnificently-gilt framed reproduction of Steiglitz’s classic black and white photo of Gretta Garbo, the one in which she draws her hair back from her face with her hands, exposing ears that look to be a ten year old page boy’s.

Senor Averinata

He would have perferred her as she appeared in a silent film version of Ibsen’s “Doll House,” which was still showing in backwater, provincial movie houses all over Spain, Italy, Roumania, and Turkey. As a young man he had seen her in a silent from Stockholm, “Tragic Death of the Sultan’s Odalesque,” and was smitten to the heart of his Basque being with the sight of her lying on an Ottoman, a huge red jewel of intricate setting on her flawless forehead, smiling into the smoke rings her illicit lover, the Prince of Rhodes, was blowing to her.

Then they had fled the Sultan’s palace of Topkapi when their love was discovered and reported by the Chief Eunuch of the Harem. Terrifying the audiences, Janizzaries that looked like scimitar-wielding Tatars and Cossacks rode thunderously out through the palace gates and invested the Castle of Hannibal down on the coast of Maramara, near Nicopolis.

The lovers perished by throwing themselves from the tower, hand in hand, after a series of last, despairing kisses and pledges of undying love. Never, at showings of any other film, had theaters witnessed such joyous weeping--men, women, and youth and children, all together! It was a pandemonium,with olive pits and wine bottles and pistaschio shells flying at the screen as the audience then attacked the Janizzaries who converged on the dead odalesque and her prince as they lay perfectly arranged on the rocks beside the water, still hand in hand and united forever in death.

He must have seen that tattered, jerking, flyblown film fifty times, going out from Guernica when it stopped playing there and even stealing the money to keep seeing it in neighboring towns and villages. The odd-sounding Swedish in an Ottoman Turkish setting branded itself on his memory, and the dubbed Trichinopoly French was terrible, but that hardly mattered. Garbo’s incomparable beauty, mystery, and love shown triumphantly through. Her white arms of a woman’s deathless love, the changing expressions in her “talking” eyes that mirrored his inmost desires and thoughts perfectly--they needed no translation. The portrait, with the early silent film in mind, always inspired him when he looked at it. For her he knew he would do anything., just as he would do anything for his beloved Eskual Herria. No sacrifice would be too great to attain so ideal a beauty, or so ideal a motherland. With this grand portrait spurring him on, he knew beyond doubt that his Basque genius would prevail against the dark hosts of Fascism and Nazidom--the powers that one day sent bombers and blown up Guernica his native city, surprising the people in the market, catching a whole group of school children and a nun at a time with a single bomb, raising them up high into the air in the explosion, then dismembering and scattering their body parts over the city. He had seen it with his own eyes--some of the children were his brothers and sisters, and the others played with them daily after school. For these crimes against humanity he would make Germany and Franco pay--pay dearly! Having devised the means, in his hands, with his agile wits, the renowned, cunning Abwehr was turned to a most fat, stupid German cow to be milked to the last drop of cream. After he had disposed of Nazi Germany, he would take his money, the good British pounds the Germans paid him, and dispose of the beast of beasts, General Franco. Money slipped in the right pockets could do wonders, he knew. Not Lisbon--it was his preferred place of exile and work, a large but not too large capital where he could join the expatriate community but not afford to set tongues wagging or raise an eyebrow. No, places like Zurich, Budapest, and Constantinople were full of expert assassins for hire. He needn’t go as far as Constantinople, of course. Zurich would do nicely. And if not Zurich, Budapest would surely have what he needed. He need not touch Spain personally. The papers would tell if when he succeeded in ridding his motherland of the Fascist oppressor.

Until then he must deal the Nazis of Germany their death blow, for then Franco would be isolated and vulnerable. As for the Duce, Benito Mussolini, let him stew in his quagmire in Ethiopia. Even if he conquered Haile Selassie’s Stone-Age hodgepodge of an empire, just like his “collection of deserts” in Lybia, it was too primitive to lend him any advantage on the world scene. Without Shickelgruber, he was nothing, a buzzing, little Fascist fly on the dung heaps of the Middle East and Northern Africa.

No, Francisco Franco was the chief enemy of the Basques, and to get at him his vastly more powerful ally, Shickelgruber, must first be utterly destroyed! That was where the British figured in.

Though content to let Franco exist for the time being, importing his oranges and lemons and port and filling Biarritz with wealthy British, it was only a matter of first having to dispose of their chief enemy, Shickelgruber, that prevented them from dealing with the lesser foe, Franco.

Once that was done, they would find serious fault with Franco, whom they could not forgive for having killed many idealistic young Britons come to aid the Republican cause. The British, for all their allegiance to monarchy, loved freedom just as the Basques loved her, and the likes of Franco simply did not fit in with the world order the British envisoned.

Stubbing out his cigarette, the self-appointed double agent glanced at the clock, gathered up the precious letters, stamped them, and then slipped them into an attache case, which he locked. Buzzing the cousin who needed to let him out, he waited until the man came carrying his latest disguise, and after dressing as a Portuguese minor government official, he left the house by way of an enclosed vine-covered walkway that led into the garages. Choosing a car of a color he hadn’t driven lately, he was let out by his cousin. The door closed behind him, and he was soon speeding down the drive and then through the gate, which was electric and operated from the house. The gate also closed behind him.

Later, he returned from mailing his letters, and at a honk the gate was opened and he quickly drove in and up the drive to the garages and entered. His cousin, on duty, took his costume to put back in the secret wardrobe over the garages, and he returned to the house in a robe. Maids were not allowed in until the afternoon, so there was no chance for his coming and going to be seen.

By the afternoon he had retired, of course, to his locked library, where he took a long siesta, then read, played cards with another cousin, drank, smoked, and read the latest newspapers. The maids finished working and sent away, the house was his again, and he went to the big, formal dining room with the chandeliers and French mirrors for dinner, and then more cards and smoking and drinking. By the evening he was working on the next batch of letters, the ideas for which had been coming since the afternoon, if not before. He always liked to be ahead of schedule, and not be caught in arrears.

In his line of business, he had to anticipate everything, but also be flexible to change anything at a moment’s notice. The papers helped immeasurably in this respect.

He could always tell which way the wind was blowing by what wasn’t being said, hardly ever by what was said.

Since he took the leading papers from Spain, Germany, Portugal, Britain, and France, and read them all daily, he made sure he kept himself abreast of international developments. The radio, too, was helpful, and he listened to London, Berlin, and Paris broadcasts regularly.

And then, for a source that was even more reliable than the papers and radio, he had his cousins, who told him what they overhead in the local tavernas they frequented, the ones where expatriates from all over Europe gathered.

Exiled Crimean Russians, Croats, Turks, Greeks, Austrians, Italians, and such congregated at the Nevada Joe’s Bar and Grill in the Imperial Lisbon Hotel, an establishment run by titled owners, a Hungarian “Duke of Transylvania” and his Bulgarian wife, who went by “Countess of Sophia.”

The big, red cowboy boot sign flashing on and off was a local landmark. It wasn’t fashionable, and no rich Americans wanted to be seen there, but it was full of intrigue and rumblings from Europe’s soft underbelly. As for Europe’s upperbelly, the chic Bonny Prince Charlie’s at the Royale Savoy Yacht Club, its sign an all-white lighted yachting cap, drew the genuine bluebloods and aristocrats, not those who fancied themselves upper crust just because they had money.

The elegant crowd there was mostly British and American, with a sprinkle of very wealthy, titled French, Swedes, and Dutch, and a dance band in dinner jackets and accomplished singer performing nightly. No Benny Goodman, but Freddie Fritz Philippe of Salzburg and Antwerp. No Helen Forrest, but Gloria Talbert of Liverpool. But it was the best Lisbon could do for the internationalist clientele. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor, they had dropped in once at Bonny Prince Charlie’s from off their yacht in the river, but no Basque would fit very well, even if he were a millionaire industrialist from Bilbao. There had been a minor scandal when Albania’s exiled King Zog and his troop of over-jeweled, over-furred, and over-perfumed “sisters” were turned away at the door.

But the information to be gathered here, Senhor Averinata knew, would be minimal. He could tell that was the case by reading the society gossip columns, which promoted this silly class of people and the footloose, absurd lives they were living. Truly, the Cowboy Boot, not the Yachting Cap, was the fountain of intelligence for his line of work. He could slip in at Nevada Joe’s and no one would look twice at him, since the very nature of its drifting, expatriate patrons did not encourage recognition.

The whole big picture, then, was this: Germany’s star was ascendant, but the slope of German advance was slippery, indeed. Shickelgruber was, therefore, grasping at any straw, and he needed superweaponry to keep Germany on top—whether from German genius or some other source. Allied forces were rapidly building, and they would soon surpass Nazi military production. New superweapons! They were the key to maintaining the Third Reich’s thousand-year reign! He must have them now! Now!

Senhor Averinata blew another series of huge noose-like smoke rings, not at Garbo’s immortal face but at a raving, spitting lunatic’s that dominated the whole of Europe, whose ugliness should never be given the dignity of an oil potrait, in Averinata’s opinion.

“I will give the Wolf of Berlin the Superweapon he craves,” he mused, though he wasn't so satisfied with "wolf," thinking "dog" better suited the animal in question. “Only it will be thrown down his gullet by British hands!”

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