DERYK FERGUS WAS DONNING his slightly rumpled wizard’s costume for the evening’s USO show at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard when a tall man in a harlequin costume and mask entered his dressing room. Costumes were a dime a dozen backstage, but few of them came with masks.
“Well . . . what . . . .” Before Fergus could get his thoughts together, the intruder locked the dressing room door and put a finger over his masked lips.
“Anyone else here?” A gravelly whisper disguised the voice.
Fergus shook his head. “Who are you?”
“Your new handler.”
“Word arrived this morning from Germany.”
The news stunned Fergus. The Reich intended to upset the apple cart by forcing a new spymaster on him? What was the sense in that? His hands balled into fists.
“Six years of quality work and now, now . . . .” Fury caused a stammer. “…they want . . . want . . . me to change course?” Angry words sliced through the stale dressing room air. With his sandy blond hair and blue eyes, Fergus felt a core affinity with the master race. But this was stupid. “Why? After all this time?”
The intruder’s tone was urgent. “You’re being given a more important assignment.”
Curiosity won out and Fergus reined in his ire. “More important than troop movements?”
“Far more important and,” the intruder paused dramatically, “something for which the Reich feels you’re uniquely qualified.”
Uniquely qualified! The words brought a self-satisfied flush to his body.
The Nazis had found him through membership in an organization sympathetic to the cause and, in 1937, secretly paid for his Munich vacation. He’d been converted to an ardent believer in Hitler when only sixteen, after hearing a fiery speech about the superiority of the followers of The Führer. It filled a void in his orphaned life to belong, secretly, to the underground German organization.
After two intense weeks of training in Munich, he’d been sent home with instructions to stop overt involvement with German organizations in the U.S. and, instead, to blend in with the patriotism of his neighbors. He’d ducked his head and blended in so well, he’d passed a basic military security check for a confidential clearance when hired to entertain the troops. Of course, hypnotic suggestion helped that along.
His new handler took a seat. “Only you can represent the Reich in these matters, they tell me. They say that only you have the necessary skills.”
To be recognized and appreciated from 6,000 miles away! How exciting! Truth to tell, he was getting a little bored writing reports on minor tidbits overheard at USO shows.
“Give me my new orders fast.” He shoved the pointed wizard’s hat on his head without bothering to comb his hair and yanked out a chair to sit down at the lighted cosmetics table. “I have a show in fifteen minutes.” Fergus started applying the last of the stage makeup.
“The Führer has had his eye on your conjuring skills.” The whispered voice heightened the drama.
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