The Salzburg ConnectionHelen Macinnes
ALSO BY HELEN MacINNES
AND AVAILABLE FROM TITAN BOOKS
Pray for a Brave Heart
Assignment in Brittany
North From Rome
Decision at Delphi
The Venetian Affair
The Salzburg Connection
Print edition ISBN: 9781781163290
E-book edition ISBN: 9781781164433
Published by Titan Books
A division of Titan Publishing Group Ltd
144 Southwark Street, London SE1 0UP
First edition: November 2012
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© 1968, 2012 by the Estate of Helen MacInnes. All rights reserved.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library.
Printed and bound in Great Britain by CPI Group Ltd.
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To Gilbert, always
Table of Contents
About the Author
The lake was cold, black, evil, no more than five hundred yards in length, scarcely two hundred in breadth, a crooked stretch of glassy calm shadowed by the mountainsides that slipped steeply into its dark waters and went plunging down. There were no roads, no marked paths around it; only a few tracks, narrow ribbons, wound crazily along its high sides, sometimes climbing up and around the rough crags, sometimes dropping to the sparse clumps of fir at its water line. The eastern tip of the lake was closed off by a ridge of precipices. The one approach was by its western end. Here, the land eased away into gentler folds, forming a stretch of fine alpine grass strewn with pitted boulders and groups of more firs. This was where the trail, branching up from the rough road that linked villages and farms on the lower hills, ended in a bang and whimper: a view of forbidding grandeur and a rough wooden table with two benches where the summer visitor could eat his hard-boiled eggs and caraway-sprinkled ham sandwiches.
But now it was the beginning of October, and the tourists had gone from this part of Austria. Each July and August, they came pouring through the Salzkammergut, the region of innumerable lakes that stretches eastward from Salzburg towards the towering mountains of Styria. Some were beginning to penetrate this remote section of the Styrian Salzkammergut although the other lakes offered more in ready-made pleasure: boats for hire, swimming pools and picture-pretty inns, petunias in window boxes, waitresses in dirndls, folk music and dancing and general Gemütlichkeit. A few visitors lingered into September. And a few is just too many, thought Richard Bryant as he came over the last rise in the trail and saw the dim outline of the picnic table near the edge of the water. September might have been safe enough; it certainly would have been warmer, made things easier for me. Still, I wanted no risk of even a single tourist camping out with some mad notion to see the sunrise. This is one dawn which I would like to have very much to myself.
So far, there had been nobody following. He had driven through the little village of Unterwald, his lights out, his engine running gently, and had left it as deep in its pre-dawn sleep as when he had entered it. Just beyond the last dark house he met the trail, at an almost right-angled turn, that climbed eastward to the lake. There, he had to put on power to get him up the steep grade past the inn—Waldesruh it was called appropriately, even if it was misspelled: its final e had been lost somewhere in the eighteenth century and never found its way back. And once past Waldesruh’s sloping meadow, he could switch on his parking lights to keep him from sideswiping the dense trees that now edged the narrow way. He had only hoped that the sound of his engine would be smothered enough by the forest of larch and beech through which he was travelling. Half a mile from the lake, he had parked the Volkswagen in a gap between the trees that the foresters had made to get the timber down to Bad Aussee’s lumber mills, drawing the small car under the drooping branches of some tall firs. He had swung his bulging rucksack onto his back and set out on foot. The rest of the trail was safer without a car.
Bryant halted before he reached the meadow, studied it carefully as he regained his breath, eased the heavy load on his back. Yes, he decided as he looked at the deserted picnic table and the dark loneliness of the lake, he had chosen the right time of year—perhaps a little earlier than he had first planned, but safe enough. No tourists. No woodcutters either, once daylight came. For the last month, they had stripped the bark off the trees they had felled in the early summer and left to dry out, but now the last chained load must have been trucked down to the valley; he had seen no signs of prepared timber lying on the forest floor. That was one worry cancelled. Even the logs that were only good for fuel had been already chopped into regular lengths and stacked neatly under roofs of bark; they’d be picked up later, once the piles of wood around the village houses began to thin out. So, no foresters. The climbers also were gone—they were of the summer variety, hoping for good weather; they would do better in this Styrian area to plan their climbing for autumn. The hunting season had started, but two days ago there had been an unexpected break in the crisp sunshine—a break for me too, Bryant thought. Wise hunters would wait another day, until the mists and drizzle lifted from those mountainsides. As for any fisherman, the lake itself eliminated that problem; it was too deep, too dark, had too many mysterious currents. (Trout preferred the other Styrian lakes that were fed by waterfalls and overflowed into small shallow streams with clear, pebbled bottoms. But here the outlets were the same as the water’s source: underground streams, hidden springs, a constant filling and emptying by invisible forces.) And skiers would find no packed snow until December at least. Yes, Bryant decided again, he had chosen the right time of year. And he had chosen the right time of day, too. Dawn was only a hint, night faded slowly, and the sun had some distance to travel, once it rose, before its light overreached the high precipices at the eastern point of the lake. By that time, two hours at most, his job must be finished.
He knew the lie of this land well enough. He had been here in May, again in July, had taken photographs (his trade nowadays: camera studies of alpine scenes which filled
large expensive calendars for Christmas giving), and had examined them over and over again, memorised the blow-ups. Even so, as sure as he was of the terrain, he had decided against the middle of the night and had chosen approaching dawn to make his move. Darkness might hide him from any keen eyes scanning the bare mountainsides edging the north side of the lake, but it could deceive his eyes, too: one false step, a slip, a stumble, and a loose stone would split the silence, perhaps start a small slide of splintered rocks. There was always the danger of that on a steep slope, naked of bushes or trees, such as the one he would have to cross for a short distance before the track would take him down to the water’s edge. So he had decided on the grey hour leading into dawn, when shapes were indistinct, patches of trees seemed dark blots, and only the sharp line of jagged peaks was etched clearly against a softening sky. He could move quickly, surely; reach his objective, do the job, and be back at his Volkswagen just as daybreak was complete.
He shouldered the rucksack once more, set out at the same quick pace, but he left the trail before he reached the open meadow, keeping to the edge of the forest that was now thinning out as it tried to climb the lower slopes of the mountain. From the last group of firs, he could step on to the mountainside, on to the narrow track that wandered eastward for a short distance before it divided and drooped one thin arm down towards the lake, vaguely pointing—so it had seemed from his photographs—to the one patch of green on that naked shoreline. And that was his target: the steep bank where the boulders were held together by the roots of contorted trees, straining to keep the whole mass from slipping into the deep waters. To the casual observer, the mountain’s plunge into the dark lake seemed endless. In fact, there was an outcrop of rock forming a ledge not more than twelve feet below the surface. It was a clever hiding place the Nazis had chosen.
He allowed himself another brief pause at the last group of trees before he stepped on to the track which would lead him over that desert of stone. A very tilted desert, at a good fifty-degree angle. He was too hot, much too hot for the task that lay before him. He laid aside the camera and tripod he carried, slid the heavy rucksack carefully from his back, peeled off his thick wool gloves, pulled off his green loden jacket and bundled it inconspicuously under the low branch of a fir. His motions were quick and neat. He was of medium height, sparely built but strong enough, certainly wiry. His brown hair was grizzled, his complexion ruddy, with high colour in his cheeks where their fine veins had been broken by wind and sun and snow. He could pass for an Austrian—his Salzburg accent was now indistinguishable from the genuine article. Sometimes, he wasn’t sure what he had become. An expatriate Englishman? He disliked that adjective. But he had never returned to England since he had quit his work with British Intelligence in Vienna in 1946. And here he was back on the job, of his own free will, unasked, unpaid, risking everything. A damn fool? Hardly. This was a job he should have done twenty years ago; and it still needed doing.
Besides, he thought as he stood under the cover of the trees while his eyes scanned the bleak mountainside ahead of him, you know more about that lake down there and what it hides than any of the bright boys in London or Washington. And if you tried to approach them now, giving them your information, letting them do the work and face the dangers, they might very well ask you why the devil you hadn’t reported all this in 1946? And that would be hard to explain to men who had never been in Vienna when it was filled with ruins, both of buildings and of people. You could tell them you had been tired of the whole bloody war; it had turned sour—for it kept going on in hidden ways. Now, an ally had become the enemy and the peace was splintering around you. You were tired of informants and their pieces of half-truths and rumours and improbable facts, dredged up to gain money and papers and escape. You were tired of frightened men’s hoarse whispers over sleazy café tables set up in ill-lit, ill-heated cellars where the sickly-sweet smell of death lingered behind their walls. There was one you did listen to; you strung him along, made him sweat a little because he must have been a Nazi, and a member of the SS at that, if his tale were true. (How else could he have talked about this little lake, given it the right name—Finstersee—although few people outside of this Styrian Salzkammergut region had even heard of it; how else could he have known what was buried there?) And when you had heard all of this fantastic story, you had the pleasure of telling him there would be no quid pro quo: you were a civilian now; he was two days too late in coming to you. As for his story, you did nothing about it. And he scarcely had time to take it to the Americans or the Russians or the French. He was found with his neck broken beside a pile of rubble, not far from the café where he had talked so much in the hope of passage money to Argentina.
Time to move, Bryant decided. Nothing had stirred on the dark mountainside or down at the lake, and the peaks on the opposite shore were developing a nice swirl of mist. He hoped it would spread. He picked up the tripod and camera, wondering if he could afford to discard them with the jacket. But no, he thought; if any stray hunter met him, he would need a self-explanatory excuse. Photographers were known to work at strange hours in odd places—it wasn’t the first time he had risen before dawn to capture a sunrise. So camera and tripod went with him, his passport to innocence. He swung the cumbersome rucksack on to his back, stepped on to the open mountainside, walking carefully but confidently. He noted that his heavy grey sweater and grey trousers blended perfectly with the jutting crags around him. He smiled briefly. That wasn’t any lucky accident; it was a necessary precaution.
It might seem ridiculous to expect that the Nazis—after all these years—were still posting guards around here, or that they had possibly installed a man in a nearby village like Unterwald to patrol Finstersee. And yet he had only to remember Lake Toplitz, some three miles to the south, and nothing seemed ridiculous about the patience and determination of a handful of totally committed men. Even as their army was surrendering in north Italy, with Berlin in flames and Hitler dead, a last stand in the Bavarian and Austrian Alps now impossible, they were planning for the future. Top-secret Intelligence files—the hard core of power for any resurgent force—were sealed in watertight chests and lowered into Lake Toplitz. The news of that had come out only years later when Toplitz proved there must be something worth guarding in its deep waters. Two British agents—but they could just as easily have been American or Russian or French—had been left to bleed to death on the crags above Toplitz, their bellies slit wide open.
He averted his eyes from the crags through which the track was leading him, thinking that there was at least one difference between Toplitz and Finstersee: the Intelligence agencies of the big powers hadn’t learned about this little lake; and the Nazis, for that reason, might not be expecting trouble. His chances were fair to good, especially with the mists spreading on the opposite shore. It was going to be a fine morning of clouds and drizzle. He increased his pace on the last few yards of downslope, leaving the track which had decided to start climbing again, and almost slid into the clump of twisted trees at the water’s edge. He sat down thankfully among the rough boulders. Phase one was over.
Not too bad an effort, he conceded as he glanced at his watch. After all, he was reaching forty-six, and that was twenty-two more years than he had carried in 1944 when he had parachuted into the Tyrol and organised his Austrian agents among its mountains. It was surprising, though, how the old tricks came back. Reassuring, too. He chose the flattest part of the rough ground for laying out his equipment, braced his feet against the roots of a tree so that he would not slide into the lake before he was ready, and began unpacking the rucksack. Phase two would not take so long: checking and donning of gear. He had practised constantly in this last week, making sure of the routine, recalling everything he had learned last summer when he had bought his equipment and tested it, over and over again, in the same depths of water he would have to face here. The hidden ledge did exist, some twelve feet under the surface. He had made sure of that, too, last summer, with the help
of Johann. Johann would be in a sour mood when he learned he had been left out of the action, but one man was less conspicuous than two, and why risk two lives when one was more than enough? With that, Bryant pushed his brother-in-law out of his mind—not quite admitting he didn’t trust Johann’s judgment once the chest had been recovered—and concentrated on unpacking and checking.
He laid out the suit—a dry suit it was called, made of thin sheet rubber in contrast to the newer wet suit type of foam-neoprene that fitted the body like a second skin. But the dry suit, hood attached, came in one piece instead of five; it had been simpler to pack, lighter to carry, and with the front opening he had chosen, it was fairly easy to put on and quick to take off. And for his purposes, it was speed at the end of his job that was absolutely imperative—if necessary, once he was out of the water, he could rip the suit off. It should be warm enough over the long wool underwear he was wearing specially: he did not intend to stay more than thirty minutes in that cold lake, the maximum safety time for forty-degree temperature. The summer months must have taken some of the bite out of Finstersee, but he had had to plan for what might be possible, not for what he hoped would be probable.
Next, he drew out the contraption known by the ungainly name of single-hose regulator, one end fitted with a mouthpiece, the other to be screwed into the small valve of his scuba tank. Now the tank itself, a junior model chosen for easy handling but with sufficient compressed air for fully thirty minutes at the depths he would have to work in, was pulled gently from the rucksack. He had decided on this small size of scuba tank (“kid stuff” his instructor in Zürich last summer had called it) because it was considerably lighter to carry and less bulky inside the rucksack. He didn’t need the regular scuba: he wasn’t a sportsman going into deep waters; he was sticking on that ledge, twelve feet below. And he had better, he told himself grimly.