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For All Nails #133: The Mancunian Candidate

Potsdam, Kingdom of Prussia, German Empire
22 October 1974

Defense Minister Horst Voth lived in an unpretentious two-story house in the
middle-class Berlin suburb of Potsdam.  Interior Minister Hans Steiner had
never had any occasion to go there before, and as far as he knew he still had
no reason to go there.  There was the constitutional crisis, of course, but
constitutional crises had become so commonplace since Chancellor Markstein's
assassination that they hardly rated the word any more.  Constitutional
dust-up, say, or constitutional breu-ha-ha. [1]

The current one had been precipitated by the defection from the governing
coalition of half a dozen members of the Peasants Party over the administration
of agricultural subsidies.  Two weeks of trying to rebuild the Germany
Party-led coalition had failed (due in no small part to Voth's intransigence),
and yesterday Exterior Minister Joshua Merkel had broken with Voth and led some
fifty of his own followers out of the Party and into an alliance with the
Democrats, who were expected to form a new coalition today.

Parking his loke in the street outside, Steiner climbed three steps to the
front door and rang the bell.  The door immediately opened to reveal Voth
dressed informally in a plaid smoking jacket and khaki trousers.  Darting
suspicious glances out towards the street, Voth said, "Hans, I'm glad you could
make it.  Come in, please."

Steiner did so, and followed Voth up a set of carpeted stairs to a room on the
upper floor.  A wooden desk that had seen better days faced out of a window
with a view into the property's back yard.  The walls were lined with
mismatched bookcases, above which hung photographs of airmobiles and warships. 
This was the room, Steiner guessed, from which a thousand defense policies had
been launched.

Voth gestured for Steiner to sit behind the desk.  Steiner did so, while the
Defense Minister remained standing.  Steiner waited patiently for his host to
speak.

"Hans," Voth said, "how long have we known each other?"  Just like that,
Steiner was put on his guard.  Enough men had used the "how long have we known
each other" ploy on him for Steiner to know that something bad was going to
follow.

"Eleven years," Steiner answered simply.  He and Voth had both been elected to
the Imperial Diet at the same time, and had shared the experience of being
freshman back-benchers during Markstein's first full term as Chancellor. [2]

"Eleven years," Voth echoed.  "That's a long time, long enough to get to know a
man very well.  Would you say that you know me well, Hans?"

This, Steiner decided, was going to be a real piss-cutter. [3]  "As well as I
know anyone," he replied, which had the virtue of being true.

"And would you say that I'm given to flights of fantasy?"

That, thought Steiner, was a tough one.  Voth was generally level-headed, but
there were occasional moments of wishful thinking, like Operation Bullseye. 
That particular bout of wishful thinking could easily have led to an atomic war
with the Scandinavians, who had turned out to have a good many more Kramer
bombs than anyone in Germany suspected.  The people of the German Empire,
Steiner felt, owed a profound debt of gratitude to those sailors and airmen who
had quietly sabotaged Bullseye by deliberately failing to locate all the
Scandie subs.  It was a shame you couldn't hand out medals for that sort of
thing.

Still, wishful thinking wasn't quite fantasy, and Voth certainly wasn't given
to flights of it.  Steiner settled for saying "No" with one or two unspoken
qualifiers.

That seemed to satisfy Voth.  "I'm glad to hear you say so, because what I've
got to tell you now will be difficult to credit.  It concerns Herr Grauer." [4]

Ah, here we go, Steiner thought with some satisfaction.  Now we're going to
find out what all this rigamarole [5] is all about.  "What about Herr Grauer?"

"It's well known," Voth began, his voice and gestures those of the university
lecturer he had once been, "that Grauer served in the Air Arm during the Global
War, and that he was captured by the British in 1944 and interned by them for
six years." [6]

Steiner nodded.  Given the Democrats' stated policy goal of reducing military
expenditures, it was essential that they not be seen as weak-willed pacifists. 
Grauer's service record spoke for itself.

"It is less well known," Voth continued, "though well documented, that the
British carried out medical experiments on German prisoners during and after
the war, in flagrant violation of the Paris Accords."  It was less well known,
Steiner knew, because Germany's own violations of the Paris Accords had been
even more flagrant; one more cruel policy initiated by the Madman Bruning, and
by no means the worst.

"What is not at all well known," said Voth, "is that those experiments included
attempts at mesmerism aimed at subverting the prisoners' loyalties and
converting them into unwitting spies for the British.  It was only last year
that documents on the so-called Manchester Project were released to the public
under the Twenty-Five Year Rule."  He leaned forward now, the lecturer quizzing
a student.  "And do you know where Grauer was held prisoner?"

"In Manchester?" Steiner guessed.

"Exactly!" Voth barked, pounding a fist into his hand for emphasis.  "Right in
the very heart of the British mesmerism project, right when it was going on!" 
There was a gleam in Voth's eye that Steiner recognized from four months
earlier, when he had first announced Operation Bullseye.  The Defense Minister
began to pace to and fro across the study.  "Naturally the British haven't
released the names of the prisoners who were subjected to mesmerism.  And if
you study the documents carefully, you see that they never give a termination
date for the project."  He ceased his pacing and turned to fix his gaze on
Steiner.  "That's because the Manchester Project was never terminated!  /That's
because it's still going on!"/

Steiner thought he could see an obvious flaw in Voth's reasoning.  "But, Horst,
if this thing were still going on, the British would never have released those
documents."

"Ach, Hans, that's what's so diabolically clever about all this.  /That's just
what they expect us to think!/  Hide in plain sight, that's what the British
say, and they're doing it now!  Release the documents so that everyone thinks
it's all just ancient history, so that nobody will guess the terrible truth. 
They're fiends, I tell you, fiends!"  Voth was panting now from the exertion of
speaking.

Steiner tried one more time to reason with the Defense Minister.  "Horst, even
if you're right about all this, you have no proof that Grauer was even
mesmerised, much less that he's a British spy.  It's all pure speculation."

"But, Hans, we dare not take the risk!"  Voth was openly pleading now.  "If
there's even a /chance/ that Grauer is under mesmeric influence, he can't be
allowed to gain control of the government.  The consequences for the Empire
would be catastrophic!"

"So what are you proposing that we do?"  Steiner had a pretty good idea of what
Voth would say, but he preferred to hear it spoken out loud.

Voth now stood next to Steiner and placed a hand on his shoulder, much to
Steiner's annoyance.  "Hans, you're the Interior Minister, and I'm the Defense
Minister.  Between us, we control the police and the army.  We can keep the
Democrats from taking over the government, arrest Grauer, get the truth out of
him.  We have to do it, Hans, don't you see?  We can't risk letting the Empire
fall into the hands of a British agent."  Steiner could see that Voth was wound
up tighter than a rubber string on a toy airmobile.

"Horst, you may be right."  Steiner was relieved to see the tension leave
Voth's body.  "The situation is far too critical to leave to chance.  Grab your
coat and hat, we're going to the Interior Ministry."

Steiner followed Voth from the study and down the stairs, then waited while the
Defense Minister dressed himself for the outdoors.  He had an uneasy moment
when Voth paused by the passenger door of his loke and said, "Wouldn't it be
better if I went straight to the Defense Ministry by myself?"

Shaking his head, Steiner said, "We have to coordinate our response, and the
Interior Ministry is the place to do it.  It won't be necessary to call out the
army until after we've rounded up Grauer and his supporters."

Voth nodded and said, "Yes, of course, Hans, good thinking, good thinking." 
The two men got into Steiner's loke.

As he pulled away from the house, Steiner felt sad for his colleague. 
Ordinarily, the Defense Minister would never have fallen for such an obvious
lie.  /Ach, Horst, you and your wishful thinking!/

Notes:

[1]  FANTL etymologists have been unable to determine how this phrase entered
the German language.

[2]  Markstein first became Chancellor in 1962 during the cabinet crisis that
followed detonation of the Kramer Bomb.

[3]  The etymologists aren't sure about this one, either.

[4]  David Grauer is the leader of the German Democratic Party.

[5]  The etymologists think they've traced this one to an 1872 German
translation of Charles Dickens' _The Rascal King_.  For reasons unknown, the
translator, Heinrich Schramm, left "rigamarole" untranslated.

[6]  Even though overt hostilities between the British and the Germans ended in
1946, there was never any peace treaty between the two, or even a formal
armistice.  Consequently, it wasn't until 1950 that the two nations agreed to
exchange their prisoners of war.  They probably wouldn't have agreed then,
except that Governor-General Hogg made receipt of Mason Program aid conditional
on a negotiation of prisoner exchanges.

-- 
Johnny Pez
Newport, Rhode Island
September 2002