WOLVES IN THE WATER
7th May 1945.
The inky black water of the Golfe de Saint–Malo heaved gently under a night sky full of white, wispy clouds that were in a hurry to catch up with the escaping light disappearing over the horizon. The seas in these parts could be dangerously rough, but not tonight. Tonight, they were resting.
The floating gulls that peppered the surface of the water like spatters of white paint were resting too, gently rocking and rising with the rhythm of the sea, their beaks and chins tucked in tight and wings pulled back to keep out the cold night air. Sleeping, peacefully. Dreaming of whatever it is that seagulls dream of.
Flying is tiring. Constantly scavenging for food makes for a stressful existence. Normally, the gulls would sleep for a few hours, recharging their batteries, but tonight it was not to be.
A sudden metallic clanking and muffled banging from deep down under the waves frightened them into the night sky, and then, with a cacophony of screeches, they flew swiftly away. The small waves they left behind forgot them instantly and like giant ripples, they continued to roll south.
The noises from the deep grew louder and louder and then, with an angry whoosh of air that turned the water white and frothy, a German U-boat surfaced. 72 hours ago, the Commander-in-Chief of the German Kriegsmarine had sent a telegram from the High Command’s Berlin bunker to the captain of the ‘boat’.
This was his last official order, and he made it as quickly as he could. The Russians and the British were just streets away.
The soft thump of their mortars could be heard everywhere as the Allies rained down their anger on the streets of the capital. Berlin was lost. Forever. Her streets were rubble-strewn tracks and her buildings were flattened. She might rise again one day, but everyone knew that her soul had been ripped out. The Russians were exacting revenge on Germany’s women in the most brutal fashion imaginable.
Berlin’s next generation would not be pure of blood, that was for sure.
The walls of the bunker he was trying to shelter in shuddered under the barrage, and flakes of paint floated down onto the commander’s head like yellow snowflakes. All he wanted to do now was to get out of his uniform, into his disguise, and away from the bunker as soon as possible.
Damn the rest of them, he thought.
He had dictated this final last order to the young signals corporal, and checked to make sure that it had been sent correctly. Twice. Then he disappeared into the sewer system underneath the bunker and was never seen again.
Moments later, a shell exploded in the doorway of the bunker killing the young signals corporal instantly. All that was left of him was a red smear on the wall and part of his headset. The radio he used to send the message had lost its voice now; it could only whine and crackle. The end had come.
It was all over in Berlin, that much was true, but many miles away and many metres under the sea, a message was being translated and deciphered on the last remaining Enigma machine. This one had been fitted with an extra wheel for added security, and as soon as the message was passed to the captain and read by him, the screws of the boat began to turn, and it headed further out to sea and deeper under the waves.
Three days later, the submarine was precisely where it was supposed to be: 1,000 metres south of Jersey, the largest of the Channel Islands, with the small village of Les Creux off the port bow at 21.45hrs. Even though the Nazis had just lost the war, the boat was where it needed to be at exactly the right time. It had a very important passenger onboard. Even though the Reich had been crushed and brushed away like the dirt it was, some things could never be unlearned by the Teutonic brain. The Germans were, and always would be, slaves to their twin gods, ‘Efficiency’ and ‘Discipline’.
Another deep whoosh of air from the starboard side ballast tanks stabilised the boat, and as the last of the seawater flowed down the sides of UX99’s conning tower, the forward hatch popped open. A faint red disc of light appeared. The boat was still rigged for silent running. This was the last and the most secret mission in which UX99 would ever take part. Everyone on board knew it. Their war was over, and they had lost. They were still under orders, though, and still members of the elite Wolf–Kriegsmarine, so no passing British warship would be alerted to their position because of sloppy seamanship or a random light flare at sea. The red light dimmed as someone climbed up the ladder, then moments later the head of Obergefreiter Lindelhoff appeared.
Lindelhoff was a low-ranking yet battle-hardened sailor. He’d heard rather than seen more battles than most sailors or soldiers in the German military over the course of the war. He’d been torpedoed, depth- charged, rammed and bombed by the aircraft of four countries in six of the seven seas - and he was still alive. He sometimes felt this was more by luck than by chance. He sniffed the air and climbed the last few rungs of the ladder, but had anyone been looking at the submarine right at that particular moment, through binoculars from the shore or from the bridge of a ship, they would not have seen the head of a man peering out into the darkness. The head that looked around at the coastline of nearby Jersey was the head of a wolf – a Werewolf to be precise. The German U-boats were called the ‘Sea Wolves’, and most people thought that it was because they hunted the allied fleets and merchant shipping like a wolf pack. The truth was something far stranger, and even more sinister.
Lindelhoff sprang onto the deck. He wore a modified version of a sailor’s uniform. It had been designed by the Fuhrer himself, they said. It had all the normal insignia and was made from the same material as a normal sailor’s uniform, but there were differences to the cut. There were no arms to his shirt, and the dark blue trousers stopped at the knee.
The brown fur of his head and arms rippled as the wind blew in from the north. The deck was cold and wet, and the hard metal plates felt good against the coarse pads of his feet. His claws made a click–clack sound as he loped forward to inflate the little yellow dinghy that he carried under his arm. After he had filled it with air from a pump and the structure was rigid, he lowered it over the side, pulled it across the surface of the water, and positioned it close to the hatch. He had been ordered to prepare the dinghy and then wait. So, he waited.
It was good to be out in the open again, to see the sky and feel the wind. Every submariner loved and hated his boat in equal measure. The ship was their home and protector, but at times it felt more like a long black cell or a floating coffin. It had taken some getting used to, in the beginning; Lindelhoff had felt trapped during his first few months on board. He was restless and angry all of the time. The special urges he felt each day were harder and harder to suppress. At home it was easier; his nocturnal wanderings and servitude to the whims of the lunar calendar had been easier to control and anticipate when he had lived in his small village in the west of Bavaria. Of course, the other villagers knew that there was something a little odd about the Lindelhoff family. They were the strange, quiet folk that lived at the edge of the village. But they were also a family that kept itself to itself.
‘Such good manners, and so clean and tidy,’ said some of the villagers.
‘Always willing to do extra work in the forest and the fields,’ said the rest.
In truth, the village had a pretty good idea about what the Lindelhoff family actually were, and in a strange way they were happy to have them around – almost proud of them. The village was never troubled by large predators, strangers and gypsies chose not to settle anywhere near the village for some reason, and their livestock grew plump and healthy. The village was protected.
Then one day a large black Mercedes car drove into the village. A soldier wearing a strange silver badge on his lapels got out and started going from door to door asking questions. It wasn’t long before he was knocking on the door to the Lindelhoff farm. In a way the family had expected something like this, knowing that one day they might be forced to flee, running for their lives with an angry mob chasing them into the dark of the countryside. But today it transpired they weren’t being chased anywhere. The Lindelhoff boys were being invited to go somewhere special.
An officer in a fine black and grey uniform sat at their table. He drank tea with them all, and explained how men with certain special abilities were being asked to join a secret battalion. Men like the Lindelhoffs. His father had been very suspicious of the big car and the young soldier who knocked on the door at first. But as soon as the officer stepped into the farmhouse he could smell him properly, and knew instantly that the visitor was kin. The two older men had talked at length, and Lindelhoff senior decided that his two sons would go with the officer in the car to a base on the other side of the great forest in the north. It was a huge honour, and the reward for service was great. They would never be hunted again. So, the boys went. They went gladly, and soon realised that there were many more like them. After three months of training the brothers were separated; one went into the parachute regiment, the other to the submarine pens.
Standing on the deck of the boat at that moment, home seemed a long way away. Time had passed so quickly. He had forgotten the smell of the pines, and the intense cold of the winter snow. Soon it would be all over, though. They would submerge beneath the waves and navigate the secret channels to the black docks underneath the island. Once there, they would refit the boat, wait, rest and feed, until they were called for again. He’d heard that the city under the island had grown bigger since their last visit. That there were many ‘special troops’ stationed down there now, guarding the secret weapons.
He looked up at the sky. It would be a long time before he saw it again. His uniform smelt rancid. He had spent far too many weeks in close confinement with the other wolves, and the smell from below made his nose and whiskers twitch. The scent-stories of a 100 of his fellow sailors made him feel nauseous. But at least the crew were still together. He had heard that lots of the ‘wolves’ from other boats had been taken away, to form special death squads. You could always send a werewolf where a tank could not go, and do at least twice as much damage, the generals said, over coffee and pastries in their warm, cosy Berlin offices.
This crew had earned a rest – a really long one, thought Lindelhoff.
They’d fought in Greece, France, Turkey, Montenegro and Russia. They always landed in secret coves and small inlets at the dead of night, then once ashore they loped inland to a predetermined location and butchered the troops stationed there. They’d ripped them apart and set their severed heads on spikes. Berlin had said that it was important that they always send a message to the Allies, so they had printed leaflets that were to be left with the decapitated heads and bodies of the fallen. The message on them read:
‘Hello British Tommy and Russian Ivan. Look into the tormented faces of your friends and comrades. And understand that there are more deadly things to worry about than bullets, gas and bayonets.’
This hadn’t scared the Allies that much though, because they just kept fighting, and ultimately they had won.
The wind flicked some of the white foam from the tips of the waves onto Lindelhoff’s paws. He looked at the dinghy and growled to himself. It had to be seaworthy, of course, and he’d been ordered to make sure that it was bone dry; his passenger didn’t like the water apparently and now it was full of the stuff, so he tipped it over and shook it out. Now, it was mostly dry.
The special passenger would not be grateful for a wet run ashore, thought Lindelhoff, so he made the boat fast against the hatch and got in, placing the small oars in the rowlocks and trying his hardest to keep the little yellow bag of compressed air in position against the side of the hull. The wind was getting up now, and the spray was falling horizontally. He was getting wet and angry, but thankfully he didn’t have long to wait.
The little man in the fine clothes climbed up the hatch ladder, sauntered across the deck, and stepped down into the dinghy. He did it with an ease that surprised Lindelhoff; he’d been expecting to have to fish him out of the water at least once on the way over. The little man didn’t wait to be asked or told how to cast off the ropes; he did it as if he had always done it, nonchalantly and casually, the way a seasoned sailor would do it. Then, he just sat back in the stern, and with a nod of his small head they were off.
Lindelhoff tried as hard as he could to row dry. Every time you rowed an officer ashore the bosun would order this, and if that officer stepped ashore even slightly damp, Fuhrer forbid, you’d be in real trouble, so he tried to propel the dinghy forward as fast as he could without splashing any water into it. Normally it was a 50/50 scenario, and you had to take it on the chin, or snout, that you were going to get a bit wet. Incredibly, the little man stayed completely dry from the moment he stepped into the dinghy until the moment he stepped out onto the beach, despite the spray from the ever-increasing wind, and the occasional missed pull on the oars from Lindelhoff.
The water just seemed to bounce off him, as if he were surrounded by some sort of invisible field and, unnervingly, the little, odd smile never left his little odd face. It took 30 minutes to get to the shore. The current and the wind hadn’t made it an easy task, but werewolves are strong, and Lindelhoff was not panting too hard as he pulled the dinghy ashore. The man stepped out of the dinghy and onto the beach. His highly polished shoes gleamed in the night like smooth, dark, rounded stones. His cream trousers and blue blazer looked just as pristine and sharp as they had when he stepped out of the Gieves and Hawkes changing room 20 years ago. This strange little man, in his Sloane Street ensemble, seemed to be impervious to the elements.
Lindelhoff sniffed again at the wind, and immediately caught the smell of enemy soldiers on the breeze. It was the familiar leather tang of the Sam Brown belt, and the scratchy scent of scrubbed webbing and ammunition pouches that alerted him. He looked at the little man and motioned silently toward the cliff above with a hairy paw.
‘Enemy,’ he growled.
The man just smiled and waved his hand in the air dismissively. The waves continued to roll up the beach and depart with a subdued hiss, and he just carried on wandering around as if he hadn’t a care in the world. The scent of the enemy had departed with the patrol, so Lindelhoff made the dinghy fast to a large rock. There was no pathway up from the beach, no steps cut into the cliff-face, or even a rusty ladder. They were in a cove with no visible exit, a suicidal place to land, but that didn’t seem to bother his passenger. He walked casually across the sand, tapping at a stone here and probing at a strand of seaweed there with his walking cane. After a few minutes of exploration, it looked to Lindelhoff that the small man had grown bored and decided on a position at the base of the cliff to settle in and wait. It was as if he were expecting a set of lift doors, the kind you’d find in a swanky Berlin hotel, to open right there and then, and invite him in.
He wasn’t exactly strange, thought Lindelhoff; there was just something about him that made his hackles twitch.
During the short voyage from Greece, the man had been eager to explore the boat. He’d looked in on engineering and asked questions about the propulsion system that had baffled the chief engineer. He’d wandered into missile loading and suggested targeting improvements that had actually improved the efficiency of the torpedoes. He’d even ventured into the mess room for the officers. The captain had told the crew that their passenger was not to be addressed or bothered; he had the freedom of the ship, and he spoke with the captain’s voice.
After a couple of days at sea, it became obvious that he wasn’t remotely bothered that the entire crew were werewolves or even that the combined fleets of the British Navy and the American Navy seemed to be after them. They endured night after night avoiding depth charges and hearing the whirl and hiss of torpedo screws passing overhead and underneath, but it didn’t worry the strange little man in the slightest. Now, here they were. Their voyage together was over, and good riddance, thought Lindelhoff.
The man turned quickly and faced him. Lindelhoff got the uneasy feeling that the man could read his thoughts.
“You can go,” said the man.
He had the voice of a scalpel; very thin and cold, but it could slice you to pieces, easily and clinically. The hackles on Lindelhoff’s back and neck stood up again. He wasn’t best pleased with his passenger’s attitude, and war or no war, there still had to be respect, whichever rung of the ladder you had your paw on.
“Not even a thank you for rowing you across the sea in the dead of night under the guns and the eyes of the enemy, or a thank you for landing you here at the right time and dry?” snarled Lindelhoff.
“I am truly grateful for your assistance,” said the little dapper man. He didn’t really mean it, of course, and he moved back towards the base of the cliff wall, bringing his walking stick up so that the metal cap at the end of it was pointing directly at the werewolf sailor.
Lindelhoff sensed the danger immediately. His sharp claws came out quickly and he crouched, ready to attack; he bared his teeth, and his powerful haunches tensed. The little man saw that his curt and abrupt manner had offended the werewolf, and he tried to reassure it that it was in no danger.
“Stand down, my friend. I mean you no harm. This walking stick is just a sort of key, it is not a weapon.”
The little man smiled at the werewolf, but Lindelhoff just snarled back. He wasn’t convinced about the stick, and he’d prefer to be safe now and sorry for killing this man later. The man lowered his walking stick, however, and Lindelhoff relaxed.
“I’m leaving you now. Row back to the boat and tell your captain that the package has been delivered. Be well, Lindelhoff, and know this: deep inside this rock is a secret place where all of the occult power of the Nazis has been hidden. I won’t say Heil Hitler! But I will say that this war is not over. We will have our miracle weapons, and our blessed victory, when the secrets of the Black Book are unlocked.”
The little man drew a pattern in the air with his walking stick, smiled, and then casually walked through the solid rock face of the cliff and disappeared.
Lindelhoff looked up at the sky; there was no moon. He untied the dinghy, waded out into the water, and paddled back to the boat. He made good time because the tide was with him now, and it wasn’t long before he clambered on to the deck, climbed down the ladder, and secured the hatch after him. UX99 slipped beneath the black, mirror-like surface of the water and was gone. Later, the birds returned, and went back to sleep on the surface of the water until the sun came up.