The X-Code and the Genie (Chapter 1)

A World War II Novelette of Espionage

Part 1 of the OSS Trilogy

casablanca

 I.

Casablanca, 1942, German Abwehr HQ

 Lt. Bernard E. Stokes of the Special Operations Executive or SOE, was dying of massive internal bleeding from a brutal interrogation session when his captors sat him down at a table in front of his MK III radio set. After a few minutes  Stumbannfuhrer (Major) Hans Gruedell of the Gestapo came into the room smoking a french cigarette. Gruedell was your proto-typical German officer. Slim and tall, around six feet two with sharp, angular features and sandy blonde hair.  After taking a seat across from Stokes, being careful to avoid the blood and vomit, he handed over two pieces of paper to Stokes. The first was his one time pad and signal plan copied from a silk handkerchief the Germans had found sewn into Stokes pants. It contained the times, frequencies and three-letter call signs Stokes used to communicate with his handlers at Baker Street. The second piece of paper was a message the Abwehr wanted Stokes to transmit. The Major offered Stokes a cigarette before lighting up another. Stokes declined. “Lt. Stokes let me be clear on some things before you begin to transmit that message.” The major spoke pristine English with just a hint of Bavarian. “We know your specific teams fist or style in addition to knowing your specific duress signals, so please do not insult us by trying any so-called shenanigans in trying to alert your superiors in London to our presence or I promise you the beating you just received will seem like gentle love-taps. Are we clear?” Stokes looked up at the Major through his one eye that was not swollen shut and nodded in the affirmative. “Wunderbar” the Major replied smiling while looking at his watch.”The next transmission time is at 6:32 precisely, I believe, that gives us right at five minutes, so prepare yourself Lieutenant.” Looking at the message he was about to transmit with his one good eye, several things ran through Stokes’ mind. The first was that his long-held suspicions were now confirmed. The Moroccan SOE circuit definitely had a mole in their ranks. His capture 12 hours ago was not because of bad tradecraft or even bad luck, he had been set up by somebody in their cell. This suspicion was further confirmed by what the Major had just said “We know your specific teams fist and duress signals?” How the hell could they have known that information unless it had been reported to them? The second thing was this message. It was a piece of pure disinformation from start to finish. It stated a high-ranking Abwehr agent would be in Casablanca for a highly secretive meeting three days from now and that this would present a perfect opportunity for a “snatch and grab.” This was nothing but an attempt to lure more SOE agents in for the express purpose of interrogation and torture. Stokes coughed up more blood, this time with small pieces of lung mixed in. He could feel his body wanting to shut down, but he also knew he had to warn London somehow before he died. As he prepared to transmit the message, the Major hovered over him, watching him like a hawk. Stokes suddenly became dizzy and his head flopped down on the table with a loud “Whop!” in a performance that would have made Hollywood proud. The Major panicked and quickly walked out of the room to fetch a Doctor, leaving Stokes alone. Stokes seized this moment. He quickly changed the dial to the emergency frequency and the three-letter call designator and transmitted the following one letter: ” X”. He then changed the frequency and call sign back to the original just as the Major came back in with a beady eyed and bald Nazi Doctor. The Doctor opened a small black bag and removed a syringe and promptly gave Stokes an injection and a curt slap in the face. “That should keep him alert for the next 30 minutes or so, after that he is beyond medical help. If you wanted more use out of him, you should have not let your goons beat the goose shit out of him. Heil Hitler!” The Doctor raised his hand in a quick salute and walked out. Stokes gave a faint smile hearing that, because although he knew he would be dead in the next hour, he also knew he had done his duty despite the enemies best efforts. “For King and Country…” Stokes muttered as he felt the amphetamine injection kick in and he began clicking off the message.

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London, Noresby House, 83 Baker Street (SOE HQ)

 Major Peter Reynolds, The on-duty watch officer, had just poured his second cup of tea when one of the young portly girls who monitor the North African frequencies burst into his office waving two pieces of paper frantically. Upon reading both, Reynolds immediately got up and walked to the watch safe. Slowly Turning the tumbler with the combination, he opened the thick safe door, moved the Loaded Webley Revolver to the side (a safeguard in all SOE safes) and broke out the Duty Officer Emergency Procedures (DOEP) Binder and started going down the Standard Operating Procedure list. “Get on the Phone and Wake Everybody Up.” he snapped to the girl as he walked back to his office looking at the binder.”Everybody sir?” The girl asked with a quizzical look. “If they have a pulse, wake them up” Reynolds replied curtly. Sitting down at his desk he turned to the red divider labelled “X”.

Upon receiving the pre-designated one one letter code “X” on the designated NAC (North African Circuit) trouble frequency (7133.766) and verifying the three letter call sign (XPD). Complete Circuit Penetration and Compromise of Network and Agents must be assumed. The following steps are to be taken with much haste:

  1. Contact NAC’s on following frequency: 7145.894 and three-letter designator:  VBW.
  2. Transmit ONLY the Following Code: X9
  3. Repeat this Transmission in (4 ) minute intervals for precisely One Hour (15 Transmissions Total)
  4. Receipt Code is: H9. Under Duress Receipt Code is: P9.
  5. All Agents Must Be Accounted For within 12 Hours from First Transmission.

Reynolds quickly got up from his chair and yelled for the Chief Radio Operator. A fair-haired and freckled Lt. not barely 21, came running from behind a bank of radio’s. “Follow these instructions verbatim Lieutenant, if you have any problems, come directly to me, understood?” The Major handed the boy the instructions. He could see fear in the Young Boy’s face as he scanned over the papers. “Yes Sir!” the boy replied, trying to look competent. The Major smiled at the boy’s effort. “It will be alright son, just keep focused on the task at hand and Work the Problem” The Boy nodded and ran off to his station. By that afternoon, Reynolds staff had done everything possible to warn all SOE agents in the North African Circuit of the compromise. Reynolds yawned and checked his watch. It was a quarter past 8 in the evening. Reynolds had been up for close to 30 hours straight. He could barely keep his eyes open. He seriously considered collapsing on his small office couch instead of making the 15 minute drive to his home in Epsom when his phone rang. A woman’s voice on the other end politely told him that his presence was requested at #10 Downing Street immediately. A Car had been dispatched and would be picking him up in fifteen minutes. Reynold’s drowsiness instantly disappeared. Arriving at #10 his credentials were verified by the two Armed guards outside. Upon walking in, he was greeted by an attractive young woman who led him down a hall to a heavy-set of mahogany doors. Knocking once, a gruff voice on the other side boomed “Enter!” As Reynolds was led into the room, he was immediately greeted with the smell of  thick cigar smoke and French cognac in the air. Reynold’s noticed there were three men in the room. His boss, The Minister of Economic Warfare and Head of the SOE,  Roundell Palmer, was sitting by a large window in a plush leather chair, a glass of cognac in his hand. Another man, an American, whom Reynolds did not recognize, sat beside Palmer. And in the middle of the room, Sitting on the corner of his desk, a cigar in one hand and a large sifter in the other, was the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. “Come in Major.” Churchill’s said as he got up off his desk. He met Reynolds half-way across the room and shook his hand. “So good to finally meet you.” Churchill said. His handshake was firm but Reynolds noticed his eyes were tired and full or worry. “Thank You Prime Minister.” Reynolds replied. “Can I get you a drink?” Churchill asked, making his way over to a rather large bar set up on the opposite wall. Not wanting to be the odd man out in this crowd of professional drinkers, Reynolds replied “Yes Sir, please, Whiskey and Plain Water will be fine.”  Churchill poured Reynolds drink and freshened up his own. Reynolds walked over to accept it, trying not to make it too obvious he was suspiciously eyeing the man sitting beside his boss. Churchill smiled at Reynolds. “Before we continue, Major Reynolds, I  suppose I should introduce you to our American cousin. This is Colonel William Donovan of the OSS.”

At his introduction, Donovan got up from his chair and shook the Major’s hand. He was a large man with massive hands and an infectious, irish smile. “Major, it’s a pleasure.” Donovan said. Reynolds smiled back. “Thank You Colonel. Alright, now that we have the introductions and pleasantries out-of-the-way, let’s get down to brass tacks.” Churchill said as he motioned for both men to sit down. “Minister Palmer has just briefed me on the recent unfortunate events in Casablanca.”  Churchill said as he took a seat behind his desk. Reynolds immediately went into briefing mode as was his usual custom. “Yes Prime Minister, we have taken all appropriate measures to warn not just Casablanca, but all of our North African Networks of the compromise. And what of the agent who sent the warning, Stokes, was it?” Churchill asked, his eyes dead focused on Reynolds. “We have had no further communications from Lt. Stokes Prime Minister. Unfortunately we fear he has been killed by the Gestapo.” Reynolds replied. “And the message that proceeded the warning? What do you make of it?” Churchill replied. “Well Sir, we obviously have to view it as pure fiction. It is my belief, as I have shared with Minister Palmer in my initial report, that Stokes somehow was able to transmit the warning code “X” before transmitting this message under duress, which would of course render the entire message moot.” Reynolds replied. Minister Palmer leaned forward in his chair. “The Message also confirms our long-held suspicion that we have a mole in the Casablanca cell. The Germans knew of our cell’s specific “fist”, or way of transmitting morse, in addition to knowing the specific duress signals. Those signals are routinely changed, so the only way they could have known is somebody in the network told them.” Churchill sat back in his chair, digesting the information. He drew on his cigar and the tip became a cherry red ember, then he exhaled the blue-gray smoke to form a large cloud that hovered over the four men.. He then nodded his head toward Donovan for him to take the floor. “The Prime Minister has filled me in on all the details of your problems gentleman and I think I may have a solution. The way me and my fellow associates at the OSS see the situation is that you need to do two things here to get things rolling again in Morocco, because shutting down Operations is just not an option with things set to kick off in November with Torch. The first is to flush out this mole in your network. The Second is to strike back at the Gestapo and the German intelligence apparatus for this heinous act. Would you two gents agree with that summary?” Donovan’s eyes twinkled with excitement. Both Palmer and Reynolds nodded in the affirmative. “Great. What I have in mind is an insertion of a three-man team into Casablanca via airdrop. One of mine and two of yours. I have a man specifically geared for this type of work. He trained with the newly formed Army Rangers in Northern Ireland and has been working with the Polish Resistance ever since. His name is Captain Logan Chandler.”

“Colonel, I have no problem with a mission of this type but if I may ask, what do you have in mind for striking back at the Abwehr?” Palmer asked. Donovan shot a glance over at Churchill and smiled. “Me and your Prime Minister have had a very fortunate event fall right into our laps to help you do that very thing. A French Diplomat who is now in exile here in London has a niece who works for the Vichy French Interior Ministry in Casablanca. She is a former lover of my deputy in Bern, Allen Dulles. Through some very hard work on the part of Mr. Dulles, this young woman has turned into a very valuable asset and has been feeding us treasure regarding all German activities in North Africa for two solid months now via coded letters she sends to her uncle here in London once or twice a month.” Donovan took a breath and took a long drink of his whiskey, letting the information sink in with Palmer and Reynolds. “That is some amazing stuff Colonel.” Reynolds remarked, a thin smile on his lips. “Oh, hang on to your hat, because I have not even got to the good stuff yet…” Donovan replied, looking at Churchill again with a cheshire-cat grin. Churchill smiled back and toked on his cigar. “Our French Asset can give us a profile of the Gestapo Major who had Lt. Stokes executed and has provided us with the code name and description of the mole inside the Casablanca network.”  You could have heard a pin drop inside the room at that moment. Palmer and Reynolds looked at each other dumbfounded. “So you see Gentleman, we will be sending this team in with everything, and I do mean everything, they are going to need to get your Casablanca networks up and running again and also put some serious hurt on the huns!” Churchill stood and raised his glass. “I do believe this calls for a toast gentleman.” All three men stood and raised their glasses. “Down with Hitler.” Churchill exclaimed in a loud voice, the tone somber and deep, like one of his great speeches of 1940. The sound of the three men’s voices repeating the phrase echoed loudly in unison and could be heard by everybody at #10 Downing Street that late evening in 1942.

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RAF Tempsford Airfield (SOE/OSS Staging Area) 

Captain Logan Chandler walked into Briefing Hut #2 to find the other two members of his team waiting on him. Chandler was  just over six-foot with a stout frame, nearing two hundred pounds. His Scots-Irish roots gave him his dark hair, eyes and complexion which had him mistaken often for a Frenchman. He wore “sterilized” common green GI fatigues with no name-tape or rank. On his web belt he wore a Government issue 1911 Pistol in a cut-away flap holster and Fairbairn/Sykes OSS Dagger. Both men stood as Chandler approached. The first man was a small and skinny with round wire rim glasses and resembled a book-keeper in fatigues. His locks of reddish hair added to his boyish looks. “Lt. Archie Squires, Communications and Linguist.” Squires saluted as Chandler approached. Chandler returned the salute and shook hands. “How is your German Squires?” Chandler asked. “Mein Deutsch ist sehr gut Sir, es hat einen Hauch von München Akzent Ich habe gesagt worden.” Squires responded with a huge smile. Chandler smiled back. “Very Good Squires! A Munich accent will come in very handy!” The second man was bigger, with blonde hair and light blue eyes full of mischief. “Lt. Peter Blakely, Explosives and Aviation. I can blow anything up and fly anything with wings should the need arise.” Chandler smiled at the remark. “That may come in very handy Lieutenant.” Chandler shook hands with Blakely and asked both men to be seated. Behind Chandler was an enlarged map of French Morocco plus several aerial reconnaissance photos. “This Operation has been named BLACKJACK and is being pressed forward at the very highest levels of Government, so I will not waste your time with bullshit. This is a find and kill mission, pure and simple. You have both been briefed as to the particulars, but I will go over the plan in some broad strokes. Our cover identities and documents have us listed as French laborers from Lyon. I know you both speak French but it would also be prudent to work on your Lyonese accent and also be knowledgeable of the history of Lyon in general. I would not put it past some asshole Vichy Gendarmerie or SS stooge to ask you questions if he feels suspicious.” Chandler picked up a long wooden pointer near the board. “We will be dropped in 20 miles outside Casablanca, where we will then rendezvous with a member of the French Resistance in Morocco. He will then transport us to a safe-house near the town of Settat, here.” Chandler pointed to a small red dot on the map. “Our plan as it stands right now is to stay clear of all SOE network safe-houses. As you all know, the warning signal for total compromise of the network, the X-Code, was transmitted after Lt. Stokes was captured and subsequently executed. HQ received receipt of the code by all agents in country and as of this morning we were notified they had all made it out of Morocco without incident and are en route to England as we speak” Chandler flipped the board over where several black and white head shot pictures were displayed. “OK, so on to identifying this fucking mole. Counter-Intelligence has cleared all five SOE agents working in Morocco and Algeria. The only agent that has not been cleared, is a French asset that was recruited six months ago that goes by the code-name of GENIE.”

“As you can see we have no picture and we obviously cannot wait for the agents to return to England to give us a description. Luckily, we have an ace in the hole. A source that was developed within the Vichy Interior Ministry in Casablanca has told us the mole is indeed a woman, a french national around the age of 25 to 30. Dark Hair, Dark eyes about five foot seven in height. The source also added this woman has had musical training at the Conservatoire International de Musique in Paris, so keep that in mind, it might help in identifying her. As Chandler took a break and got a drink of water, Lt. Blakeley raised his hand. “Captain what of the other target, the Gestapo Major, can the source help us find him too?” Chandler shook his head yes and picked up the pointer. “Yes. Our source has verified that this man, Major Hans Gruedell.” Chandler pointed to a photo on the board. “Was indeed the officer who had Lt. Stokes executed. Apart from that we know he has been attached to the Abwehr operations in North Africa for some time. Hitler as you all know, has severe distrust of his own Intelligence agency, so he keeps his SS and Gestapo goons close by. Concerning Gruedell’s location, we are fairly certain with some help from the local French network that we should be able to locate him. It has also been suggested by Command that if we do get the chance to kill more  than one Gestapo, SS or Abwehr oficer other than just Gruedell, we should be prepared to do so, which is where your explosives come in, Mr, Blakeley.”  Blakeley responded with a loud “Yes Sir!” “As far as our exfil plan, per SOE procedure we have worked up a primary and contingency. Our primary exfil will be a French Freighter named The Tourterelle or The Turtle Dove, she will depart Rabat one week from tomorrow at midnight. Our contingency exfil will be to steal a plane at one of the local airports. I have the name of several contacts in the French network that can help us in finding one. Being there are three of us, I hope you can fly a transport or something with three seats Blakeley. So Gentleman that is the plan in a nutshell. Any more questions?” Both men shook their heads no. “Well then I suggest we all get some rest. We are set to be wheels up in just under 12 hours if the weather holds.” Squires and Blakeley both got up and  shook hands with Chandler and left  for the barracks. Chandler lingered behind. So many thoughts raced through his mind before a mission. Had he thought of everything? Had he prepared adequately? He let out a long sigh and before walking out the door said a quick prayer. “Dear God, please don’t let me screw this one up.”

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To Be Continued…..

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