“Some vandal must have been at it,” the mechanic told me as I paid him. “Someone went to work on that engine as if possessed by devils. I had a difficult time with it, believe me.”

He hadn’t done that well, either, I discovered. The engine ran more smoothly but still sounded pretty bad. I wasn’t sure how long I could drive the little thing without having a breakdown. It would only be safe as far as whatever border we crossed first, as you cannot get a car across a frontier without the proper papers. But we would worry about that when the time came. I’d be satisfied if the car got us safely out of Prague.


I picked up Kotacek, stowed his insulin and needle in one of the bridal couple’s suitcases, took the flashlight and revolver along with me, and loaded Kotacek into the back seat of the car. He didn’t like that. He wanted to ride in front with me. I convinced him that he would stand less chance of being spotted if he sort of slouched in the back. He didn’t like it any better, but he put up with it.

Klaus wouldn’t accept any money. He absolutely refused. “The poor old fellow,” he said. “A convincing transference, yes? One would almost believe he is what he thinks himself to be. Do you think there is any possibility of curing him?”

I said I didn’t think so.

“Then you do what you can to make him comfortable. For my part, I am only glad I could be of service. The poor old gentleman!”

I got behind the wheel. “Let’s get out of here,” my cargo grumbled. “The scruffy old Jew makes me sick.”

We got out of there.

The exit route I picked was fairly close to the one I had worked out in Pisek. I drove almost due east at first, straight through Bohemia and Moravia and into Slovakia. The countryside became progressively more pastoral, the towns smaller and more provincial as we went along. He wanted to stop in Slovakia, no doubt expecting to receive a hero’s welcome there. I didn’t bother to tell him that there were blessed few Slovakian Nazis left in Slovakia. Most of them had been fitted with ropes around their necks when the Russians liberated the country in 1945. A few, like Kotacek, had gotten out in time. If he had announced himself in the streets of Bratislava, they would not have given a party for him. They would have found a rope and done the job once and for all.

“You must stop in one of these towns,” he said. “We can get proper food here, good peasant food that sticks to your ribs. And the people know me. They will want to welcome me.”

I kept on driving. “Later,” I would say. Or, “There’s a car following us. I want to make sure he doesn’t get suspicious.” Anything, just so he would shut up and let me drive.

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He was no bargain. I figured to cut south and cross into Hungary around Parkan, then cut across to Budapest. From Prague to Parkan, the roads ranged from bad to worse. The total distance was only something like 250 miles, but I couldn’t figure to average much better than fifty-five miles an hour. Kotacek cut our speed by almost a third. He was the worst traveler I’ve ever met. I was constantly stopping the car so that he could urinate, because he had all the bladder control of a six-week-old puppy. He complained constantly. Time after time he made me stop to buy him a sandwich at a roadside restaurant. He expected to go into an expensive restaurant and sit at a table and gorge himself; when I explained that this was plainly impossible, he sulked and then retaliated by announcing his hunger whenever possible.

And when he wasn’t making me stop the car, when he wasn’t complaining about the roughness of the road or the way I drove or the cramped quarters of the back seat, when he wasn’t doing any of these charming things, then he would talk. Some of his babble was Nazi theory – what the Fourth Reich would do, its present strength, the countries where it was gaining ground, the new faces of the movement. And the plans which would be eventually put into action. First, obviously, the ultimate extermination of world Jewry. But that was only the beginning. Next would come the depopulation of Africa. “Of course the world is crowded, Lieutenant Tanner.” I had been severely demoted this time. “That is only because the strong races have not done their duty in respect to weaker races. The primitive inhabitants were wiped out in America, although it took centuries before their decline rendered them no longer a danger. The Australians moved somewhat faster against the Bushmen. They are dying out quite rapidly, as I understand it. But no progress at all is being made in Africa. On the contrary, the black races there become stronger day by day. But when the world is ours, we will show the world how to clean house. They will be cleaned out, an area at a time. As we level the forest, so shall we liquidate the blacks. Can you visualize the potential of a white Africa? Can you imagine it?”

All of this babble was fairly hard to swallow, but the rest was worse. I didn’t really mind hearing him go on and on about things which I knew were not going to come to pass. It was when he started on past history that he got to me. He enjoyed reminiscing about his days of glory as Minister of Internal Affairs during the war. I didn’t want to hear about it, but that didn’t stop him.

“The ghetto at Bratislav. The way they screamed when we sent them aboard the train. But we did not let them know where they were being sent. A nice ride in the country, we told them. A pleasant trip in the fresh air. Fresh air! The trains went to Auschwitz. First give them showers. Hah, gas! And then the cremations. The Germans were brilliant technicians. They designed these magnificent crematoria on wheels. That is what one does with human garbage. Turn it to ashes and plow it into the ground. So that it shall be as though it never existed.”

It was too much. I turned the wheel, eased the car off the road, braked to a stop. I got a flashlight and turned to face him.

“What are you going to do?”

“You ought to sleep for a while.”

“No! You cannot do it to me. I will not look at it. Major Tanner, you must be sensible. And you must obey orders. Put that toy away. Do you hear me? I order you to put that toy away.”

“It’s not a toy.”

“Captain Tanner-”

I got him again. It didn’t take me as long to find the right frequency this time, and I found out that it didn’t matter if he looked directly at the light or not, just so it got into his field of vision. He fought it and lost. This time a few flecks of spittle appeared in the corners of his mouth, and his eyes glazed, and out he went.

That cut the stops. I didn’t pull over again until we reached the border. I drove a nice steady thirty-five miles an hour – I could no longer get any better from the engine – and I was on the outskirts of Parkan by eleven in the evening.

He was still out when I stopped the car. This was his best fit to date and he showed no signs of coming out of it. And that, I figured, could turn out to be a problem. It was going to be tricky enough getting him across the border when he was conscious. I had a French passport the description of which I matched not at all. Even so I was better off than Kotacek, who had nothing. Awake he would be hard to transport. Asleep he was impossible.

I left him in the car and walked through the little town to a point where I could see the border. It looked well patrolled. The Danube forms the border between Czechoslovakia and Hungary at that point. Further east, there’s no natural boundary. I went back to the car and decided that we had a better chance over open land. I found a road that headed east and followed it until we could see the border fortifications – barbed wire seven feet high, a no-man’s-land ditch about eight feet across, then another stretch of barbed wire, then Hungary.

I parked the car, walked toward the border. That particular stretch did not seem to be very heavily patrolled. I crawled up close to the wire fence and looked in both directions. No one. A sign warned me that the fence was electrified. I turned from it, then realized that it was considerably cheaper to post signs than to electrify a fence. I wished Gershon were handy, with a live cat to bounce off the wire. I went back to the car, got the jack from the trunk, returned to the fence, tossed the jack gingerly against the strands of wire. Sparks leaped all the hell over the place.

Which ended any ideas I might have had about cutting the wire, or climbing over it.

I drove back to Parkan, fully expecting a flat tire now that our jack was hung up on the fence. The tires held out, though, and so did the rest of the car. The border, I decided, was plainly impossible. Alone I might have considered tunneling under it or climbing a tree and diving over it, but with Kotacek along for ballast neither method seemed realistic. We should have to go straight on through. Shortcuts were out. We had to make our play at one of the conventional checkpoints, and the one at Parkan was probably as good as any.

I stopped the car, hauled Kotacek out of the back seat and propped him up behind the wheel. I found an extra can of petrol in the trunk and used it to soak the back seat. I made sure the flashlight was in my pocket but left the revolver by the side of the road. Then I got in on the passenger side next to Kotacek and leaned across him to start the engine. I steered with my left hand and used my left foot on the gas pedal and got us going straight through town and right up to the border station.

There were a handful of cars here waiting to enter Hungary. I started to take my position at the end of the line, then swung the wheel hard right and put the gas pedal on the floor. The car leaped wildly off to the right like a startled tortoise. I twisted the wheel in the opposite direction, almost flipped us over, and then a telephone pole appeared magically in front of us and I took it full speed, dead center.

Chapter 13

I had my hand on the door handle when we hit, and I threw the door open and got out fast. I stood for a moment, faking grogginess, and scratched a match quickly and flipped it at the back seat. Then I dashed around the car, opened the door on the driver’s side, and hauled Kotacek out from behind the wheel. I very nearly missed getting to him in time. His feet were barely clear of the doorway when the gas in the rear seat caught up with the match and started to flame. I hauled him away from the car, bent solicitously over him, looked up to see a mob of officials and curious bystanders charging our way, and turned my attention again to Kotacek as our little stolen car burst into flames and exploded all over the place.

The rest was fairly easy. The border guards had the good grace to assume that I was in severe shock. They made me lie down, covered me with a malodorous brown blanket, and eased small sips of surprisingly good cognac into me. They examined Kotacek and shook their heads, and a gray-haired man carrying a doctor’s black bag hurried through the small crowd, knelt down beside Kotacek, listened to his heart with a stethoscope, and turned to me. In Czech he asked if the poor man had had a bad heart. In Hungarian, I said that my uncle had been ill for many years. Heart, he pantomimed, touching his chest. I touched my own and nodded.

They took us into the customs shed, Kotacek on a stretcher and me walking with the assistance of two heavy-set and sympathetic guards. On the way I said, “Oh, my God, my passport” and started for the car. They restrained me. The car was almost entirely consumed by the fire, they explained. Evidently the gas tank had exploded. If my passport had been in the car, I could forget about it.

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