This is one of the stories from W.I.T.C.H. Hunters Forever. I will be posting it in sections. I hope you like it. It takes place between Victory in Europe and the Nuremberg Trials.
Safe Where it Belongs
“Lock, label, and ship out those file cabinets. We’ll go through them and condense the information later,” Major Rafael Jones instructed his team. There were a lot of file cabinets. Each file was a prisoner that had been taken here. A total of fourteen had been rescued when the place fell to the western Allies.
It was called a research facility. It was a war crime. They’d sent Allied prisoners here. They had also sent civilians, and that was something that had been given a name: crimes against humanity.
A young man, just a couple of years out of law school, was with Jones, as the second in rank. He was Lieutenant Paul Smith. He nodded, “We want the commanding officer’s records, most of all. We need direct orders from people higher up. We want to track everything back up the chain of command as high as we can.”
They moved further along the main corridor of the building as they talked. Jones said in a friendly way, “Just like a mob round up. I may not have finished college, but I have some experience with the needs of the prosecution. Let’s see. I think the commanding officer’s office is going to be around here. Look at the upper edge of the wall. There’s wires there. Antennae for wireless reception, and some other lines, too. Trace those to the communications room, that will be right next to the commanding officer’s.”
The young man took that in. “How long have you been a policeman?”
“Since 1930. They were hiring, and I figured I wouldn’t get bored doing it. I was pretty much right about that, but that doesn’t mean I don’t get frustrated, wanting to accomplish more. The best days, you get there before the worst happens.”
“And then, there’s today.” Smith said it with a trace of sadness of his own, as well as understanding. “I understand the survivors have already given statements.”
“For what the statements are worth. I’m not sure the levitating bell that kills people with sound is going to be something to lead with. Especially since they didn’t see it first hand. Still, they’ve given specific actions by their guards that will put those men behind bars.”
He opened a couple of doors. The first was, as he predicted, a communications room, small, with several devices, including one of those Enigma machines, and multiple radios with headsets. There were two stations for workers to take down and send out messages. It was of no particular interest to their investigation, but the next door down was what they were looking for. The commanding officer wouldn’t be going to trial. He was another one who hadn’t wanted to face the consequences of his actions. According to the troops who had secured the facility, they’d had the local coroner or whatever the equivalent was take possession of the body and handle the job of identifying the cause of death-- although the bullet entry wound on his temple was noted. That was appropriate. A verdict of suicide would sound better coming from a local source, and the Allies had enough to keep them busy.
“I’ll bag and tag anything I find with writing, even a shopping list, just in case it’s the key to a code,” remarked Rafael. “If you see film or any kind of recordings, give me a holler. Documentation can come in many forms. Some of these places filmed their atrocities and I imagine that’s all the more likely when they are calling it research.”
Paul looked in some cabinets. Opening the first door, he said, “I have definitely found some pear brandy, and I don’t even know what that tastes like, do you?”
“No, but… if you want to confiscate some of that evidence, we could probably investigate it further after the day’s work is done.” It wouldn’t be the first time a few drinks had helped wash away thoughts about what had happened, not on the battlefield, but in the cold planned destruction of everyone the Nazis deemed unworthy of a place in their Reich.
“Sounds good. And I’ve got some film reels, you were probably right, unless this is a girly movie for troop morale.”
“Either way, we’ll have to have a look. Let’s hope it’s dancing girls.” Rafael finished packing up the paperwork from the officer’s desk. “Hey, what’s that?”
He approached a portrait of Hitler that hung on the wall, just a trifle askew.
“Something for the target range?” suggested Paul.
“I mean, when a picture isn’t straight, sometimes,” Rafael took it off the wall, “There’s a safe behind it.”
“You don’t say,” Paul came over, eyeing it with interest.
“I’ll send a runner to get some tools so we can drill it.”
“No need,” Paul told him. He was rubbing his fingertips together as he said it. “Look, the Smith isn’t just a name. My dad was a locksmith. I used to help out around the shop, and I think I can get this open with what we have on hand.”
“It’s not someone’s hope chest, this is real high security stuff. You can really do it?”
Paul had already removed a screwdriver from his pocket and was unscrewing a metal plate with the name of the safe manufacturer on it. “There’s usually a bypass here that allows us to avoid the combination entirely. Are there any keys in the desk?”
“Ah,” Rafael went back and started looking. “I didn’t notice anything first time around, but there could be something under paperclips or in the box of staples. Good places to hide small things, always handy but never obvious.” “Nothing on one. I have a click on two… two is in a false set. Three is binding, four is binding, nothing on five or six. Let me go back…” The words Paul was saying to guide himself were almost like a song or a meditation, thought Rafael. He was distracted from the search for the key and doubted he needed to find it.
“Six is binding. Six is set. I’ve got something, I’ve lost five. Four is set. Three is moving; it was in a false set. I have it in place now. Two is binding. Two is set. One is set. Back to five and…” Paul turned a bent clip he’d used as a tensioning tool. There was a click and the door sprung open.
Inside the safe was nothing but a fire. Paul gasped and stepped back. “That’s scorching!”
Rafael stared at it. “They must have started the fire, then closed the safe. Without air, it’s been smoldering all this time. That’s why it can still burn. I guess we’ve lost some documents, or maybe some valuables they didn’t want us to get. Either way, we can just let it burn itself out. We don’t want the fire to spread, though.” He had leather gloves and strode forward quickly, closing it.
“That is hot. But at least this should exclude sparks. Anything else you think we should check for here? No sense trying the safe again until the fire is really dead or we have an extinguisher.” Major Jones was the senior officer, but the attorney would be organizing the information for the prosecution and any ideas he had were worth using to focus the collection. Besides, the young prosecutor clearly had some unusual interests of his own, suited for uncovering secrets. They cleared out much of the building, and took photographs of some sites and equipment that couldn’t be taken to the courtroom.
They had no idea there were others nearby with interest in the contents of the complex.
TO BE CONTINUED...