For All Nails #36: The Hero of Paris
By Johnny Pez
- Berlin, Kingdom of Prussia, German Empire
- 21 July 1970
For two unholy years, he had performed the unenviable task of trying to control the German Empire's most uncontrollable ally. In the wake of the anti-German disturbances (two years ago he would have called them riots, but he was, to his horror, turning into a diplomat) that had spread across France and, yesterday, into the French-speaking areas of the Empire itself, Gellmann had been called back to Berlin to meet with Chancellor Markstein.
In its way, meeting with Markstein was as nerve-wracking as trying to stare down a Parisian mob. The Chancellor had about him an air of good-fellowship and an avulcular manner that Gellmann had slowly come to realize masked a fundamentally unstable personality. Markstein had never burst into maniacal laughter and come at him with a butcher's knife, but a part of Gellmann's mind was always on the alert against the possibility.
Herr Schroder was an aide of Markstein's who had met Gellmann at the air terminus and was serving as his escort. Like a good subordinate, Schroder had been able to sense that Gellmann was not in the mood for conversation, and the ride passed in silence. The locomobile pulled up in front of the Chancellory, and Schroder accompanied Gellmann up the long series of steps past a knot of journalists, who were calling out his name like so many barking seals. They passed between a pair of uniformed guards at the doors and the barking journalists were left behind.
Gellmann knew the way to the Chancellor's office as well as Schroder did, but he allowed the younger man to guide him, since that was his job after all. The Chancellory dated back to the '30s, and as such represented an external projection of Karl Bruning's megalomaniacal personality. Broad marble stairways swept through vast, opulently decorated spaces. Heroic murals of dubious historical accuracy depicted Charles the Great conquering the Moors, Barbarossa conquering the Turks, Frederick the Great conquering the Austrians, and Chancellor Kettering conquering the French. Walking through the Chancellory, you could tell that even then, ten years before the fact, Bruning was planning to remake the Germanic Confederation into an Empire.
The Chancellory had been designed by Bruning's favorite architect, a Bavarian named Alois Heidler who shared his employer's imperial vision. Entering the Chancellor's office complex, it was made abundantly clear to the visitor that this was the controlling nexus of a great and enduring empire. The office itself was surrounded by a semicircle of interconnecting outer offices, a lense serving to focus the power of the mighty German Chancellor. After Bruning's fall, two of the outer offices had been merged together to form the cabinet room, which explained that room's odd shape (and the need for an equally oddly shaped table within it). It was to this room that Schroder led Gellmann for his meeting with Chancellor Markstein.
When Gellmann and Schroder entered the cabinet room, its only occupant was Joshua Merkel, the Exterior Minister. As Merkel was technically Gellmann's immediate superior, Gellmann gave him a respectful nod and said, "Herr Minister."
Merkel rose from the kidney-shaped table and extended a hand, which Gellmann took. "Herr General, a pleasure," Merkel replied.
"I'll go inform the Chancellor that you're here," said Schroder, as he left the room.
"Herr General, your defense of the Embassy compound in Paris has been the talk of Berlin," said Merkel. "You are the hero of the hour."
Gellmann snorted. "Perhaps Chancellor Markstein will commission a mural of me heroically gunning down Parisian rioters."
"An excellent suggestion, Herr General," said Chancellor Adolph Markstein, looming in the doorway. "I've always thought that the eastern wall of the Chancellory canteen was a little bare. Just the thing to brighten the place up."
Gellmann and Merkel stood up at the table. Gellmann loudly clicked his heels together and gave the Chancellor his sharpest salute, intoning "Hail Germania!" This was a bit of overblown pageantry left over from the Bruning era, and Gellmann knew that Markstein absolutely loathed it.
Wincing visibly, Markstein motioned for Gellmann and Merkel to resume their places. "Eric, I'll tell you what," he said. "I'll agree to forget about the mural if you promise never to use the phrase 'Hail Germania' in my hearing ever again."
"It's a deal," said Gellmann, as Markstein and Schroder joined him at the table.
"All right, Eric," said Markstein cheerfully, "What's this I hear about you wanting to give the sack to poor little Monsieur Lebrun?"
"Adolph, that wretched dwarf has gone completely native," Gellmann said. "The only reason he wasn't sitting atop the embassy wall urging on the rioters was out of fear that he might split the backside of those ridiculously tight silk trousers he likes to wear."
"Do I detect a note of disdain for His Excellency?" said Markstein with his trademark grin. "Come now, Eric, you know these French politicians. They have to make these occasional shows of independence in order to reassure their constituents that they aren't really in our back pockets."
Gellmann refused to be carried along by the Chancellor's relentless effervescence. "It's gone beyond that, Adolph." Opening up his case, Gellmann brought out a reel of audiotape. "After the riot, I had Captain Blucher bring in Lebrun's secretary for questioning. He sang like a canary."
"Ambition should be made of sterner stuff," Markstein remarked.
Merkel, however, had other things on his mind. "You had the secretary to the French Premier arrested?"
"Not arrested," Gellmann corrected, "brought in for questioning. There's a subtle but important legal distinction. Naturally Captain Blucher couldn't arrest the man, since the Captain isn't an officer of the law. He simply asked the man to assist us in our investigation, and the man agreed. And very helpful he proved. I've got a copy of his interview here. He implicates Premier Lebrun quite thoroughly. He was practically directing the riot from the Palace. It's time to cut him loose."
Markstein sighed. "Eric, you know perfectly well that the reason we've put up with Lebrun for as long as we have is because there's really nobody in a position to replace him. All the likely candidates are either too openly hostile to us or too obviously under our thumb."
"In that case," said Gellmann, "we may have no choice but to withdraw from France. It's becoming too difficult to pull the strings from behind the scenes."
Now Chancellor Markstein frowned, and it was not the "thoughtful frown" he used during Question Time in the Imperial Diet. This was the frown of an unpleasant man who was about to do unpleasant things. "Eric, have you heard the news from Nancy? The Lorrainers are in an uproar, and the Austrasians are right on the edge of joining them. If we show any signs of weakness in France, we'll be facing a full scale uprising right here in the Inner Empire. We've got to keep France under control."
"How am I supposed to do that? It's all we can do to keep the lid on as it is, and with Shorty making trouble, it's only going to get worse."
Markstein's grin was back. "You know whose job it is to figure something out, Eric?"
Now it was Gellmann's turn to sigh. "Mine."
"That's right, Eric, yours. You're our man on the spot." With a chuckle, Markstein added, "In more ways that one."
"You're asking me to do the impossible," Gellmann implored.
The Chancellor laughed outright, and Gellmann automatically checked to make sure that there was no butcher's knife in sight. "Nonsense, Eric. Nothing is impossible for the Hero of Paris!"
(Forward to FAN #38: The Candidate.)
(Forward to 22 July 1970: Scion.)
(Return to For All Nails)