Piotr and Magic planned the route well as Betty makes her way down deserted country roads which see hardly any traffic. The foothills of the Tatras – beautiful in the summer sunshine – are ahead of them.
As they continue onwards through the morning, they reach the hills and the steep gradients test Betty’s clutch to the limits as as they head over the first range of hills, reminding Taffy of the valleys back at home.
Their route then takes them south west, following the contours as they pass by hilltops and pass through quiet farming villages where there are few signs of Poles, let alone Nazis.
After several hours of slow and steady driving, they enter the town of Rabka – the last small town that they will pass through before getting to the pick up point, which is only 20 miles away now. They enter the town cautiously, nervous in case there may be some checkpoints, but pass into the town without hindrance.
The town is beautiful, an elegant spa town in better times, with elegant larch wood buildings untouched by the war.
As they continue onwards, Piotr’s eyes go misty as they pass by a bar in the main town square.
“We’ve still got a few RM left,” he says hopefully. “And we’re ahead of schedule. Maybe we can have one last drink before we carry on?”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” says Taffy. “We’ve been lucky so far. Why risk getting into trouble now we’re so close?”
“I agree with Taffy,” The Padre chimes in.
“But this will be the last time Haim and I see Poland for a long time – maybe ever,” Piotr whines.
Lodd just hears one word – ‘drink’ and instantly agrees with Piotr’s idea – wanting to drown his sorrows over the loss of Agneta.
The others reluctantly agree – as long as it’s a quick one.
Taffy parks the half-track and they get out, taking a seat in front of the bar. The staff seems very nervous at entertaining the SS, but there’s nothing like the fear of getting shot to ensure that waiting staff give you their full attention, and soon they are relaxing with drinks, admiring the pleasant surroundings.
The party members notice a pretty young girl in her early twenties walking past. She spots the group of SS and immediately comes over. She starts addressing Piotr in German. Most of the party have no clue what the girl is rabbiting on about, but she is certainly agitated about something. She often bursts into tears and seems to be begging Piotr for some assistance. Piotr seems to be very interested in what the girl has to say as he listens intently to her babbling, nodding his head often. Eventually she finishes.
“Bitte geben Sie mir einen Moment, um zu meinem Männern in der Privatwirtschaft, Fräulein sprechen,” Piotr says.
“Ich danke Ihnen sehr, Herr,” the girl says and heads into the bar.
Piotr looks around to make sure that there is no one within earshot.
“What was all that about, cobber?” Bruce asks.
“Very, very interesting,” Piotr replies. “The girl’s name is Lorelei Holdst from Vienna. Her father, Dr. Holdst seems to be the lead scientist on some top secret Nazi project to look into possibilities for regeneration in a base around 20km from here and she is worried because she has received no communication from him for the past week.”
“I told her to tell me all she knows about the project. This is what she told me:”
“In the summer of 1937. a team of hunters journeyed up the Rio Xingu into the Mato Grosso, the south western part of the Amazon rain forest. This was an untamed land that few white men had seen and no one had conquered. The leader of these men, Sturmbannführer Heller Jäger, lead a team of SS and local hunters into the jungle in search of a beast so terrifying that the locals did not name it. It was called simply the Beast, and the Germans had heard of it from the local government. It was purported to be an immortal boar of giant proportions. Jäger roamed for six months on the hunt, setting his team and pursuing the trail. The months took their toll on the team as one after another fell prey to what seemed to be supernatural causes. In the end there was only Jäger and his personal aide, Mallory.”
“In those final weeks, deep in the bush, Mallory proved himself faithful and skilled as a tracker. They discovered the Beast’s lair and tracked it to a ravine overgrown by the jungle. The air was thick with humidity and the scent of death. As they entered the ravine, out of the darkness came the Beast. It hit Mallory in the chest and drove his broken body into the wall. Jäger fired into the creature emptying his gun. The Beast was not slowed one bit even though Mallory gripped it with all his fading strength. Jäger pulled his machete and began hacking at the beast, trying desperately to save his friend. Jäger finally made it through the impossibly tough hide and severed the Beast’s spine. Sadly, it was too late for Mallory.”
“As Jäger buried his friend and aide he realized that the massive Beast was healing. Jäger drove his machete deep into the heart of the Beast. His long journey back to civilization was fraught with danger at every turn. When he made it to Bélem the SS were waiting to take the Beast away. He let them but instead of returning to his life he faded into the jungle and has not been heard of since. The SS transported the Beast to a research station in the Austrian Tirol for study.”
“The SS spent five years studying the Beast and trying to replicate its healing capabilities. Herman Goering himself was head of the project and the scientists involved reported directly to him. In 1940 the Gestapo took command of the operations and drove the research harder, moving the laboratory to here so that they could start using prisoners from the local POW camp as test subjects.”
“Lorelei knows where the secret base is and its rough layout as her father took her there a couple of times. There’s a garrison of 20-25 guards there plus a Panzer. There is also a munitions factory attached.”
“Sounds a bit risky, cobber,” says Bruce, cautious as always. “If she is coming with us, then she’ll soon realize that we’re not really SS. We’ll need to speak English.”
“The location of the lab is pretty much en route to the pick up point so we have no need to come back to town. So what difference does it make if she knows who we are or not? All she wants is us to get her father back. She wouldn’t care if we were from Mars as long as we get him back safely.”
“We’re not going to let her father go back to the Nazis if we find him alive,” says Bob. “His knowledge will be vital to the war effort. We should take him with us.”
The others agree, knowing how important the information could be.
Piotr waves for Lorelei to come back to join them:
“Sehr gut, Fräulein. Wir stimmen Ihnen zu helfen, um Ihren Vater zu finden,” Piotr says.
Lorelei looks so relieved she starts to cry again. She babbles something in German and then runs off.
“She’s going to get her rapier,” Piotr says with a sigh. “Apparently she is a champion fencer.”
Piotr clicks his fingers and pays the bill. By the time they have finished their drinks, Lorelei is back.
They all head back to Betty. Lorelei squeezes into the cab between Piotr and Terry and the half-track heads off.