Part 52 of an original tale that delves into the unexplored realms of the human mind. Hired by her lover to find a raven haired beauty, Benjamin Bering must avoid the local police as well as the agents of a nonexistent government agency who are after him and the woman. There are just two problems. The woman is in a coma and her body has been stolen. (Part 1 can be found HERE.)
The outskirts of the German town of Baden Baden, the summer of 1944:
"My superiors told me that I was chasing a ghost ... an entity with no identity," snarled the smallish man, a rumpled overcoat hanging loosely from his shoulders. Beneath the brim of his hat, his cold eyes were grotesquely magnified through the thick lenses of the horn rimmed glasses resting upon the bridge of a misshapen nose.
"Erick, make sure he is unarmed," he ordered the SS trooper at his side, "and grab his papers."
The soldier produced a Luger from the waistband of the man's pants and then removed the papers from the inside breast pocket of his jacket. From an outer pocket he held aloft a bundle of wires attached to what looked like a telephone operator's headset. He tossed them aside onto the ground. Placing the confiscated gun into his jacket pocket, the Gestapo agent scanned the papers that had been handed to him.
He peered over the papers and addressed his prisoner, "Well, well, Herr Grueber. You are looking healthy for a man who died almost two months ago!" His mouth curled into a sneer which seemed to animate a large scar on the left side of his face as he spoke again, "But you are not Horst Grueber, are you?"
He reached into his pocket and pulled out another set of papers. "You resemble one Josef Schraeder, a shopkeeper in Dresden. Why do you suppose it is that I have Herr Schraeder's papers and you have those of a dead man?" He walked up and placed the barrel of his gun under the man's chin. "Since you are not either of these men, I'm asking myself who you might be, and why you are out here so close to the French border."
He nodded to the soldier who then responded by striking the man across the face with his own pistol. He then kicked the fallen man in the ribs. He stepped back and glared down at the man writhing in pain on the ground. As ordered, the man struggled to his feet and faced his tormentors.
The arrogant little man patted the pocket where he'd placed the gun taken from his prisoner. "I am thinking that when I check the serial numbers on this Luger, it will match the one issued to one of our SS officers. I learned that Colonel Hans Gearhardt was found executed in Dresden and I suspect this Luger was his."
He paced in front of the man and said, "When we are knocking on doors in Dresden, we learn something curious. A shopkeeper did not come home from work and his truck was missing. We later learn that his truck was found in a ravine between the Czech border and Nuremberg, but he is not with the truck. That had me wondering why it was that Herr Schraeder would drive there and not take his papers with him."
He stood nose to nose with his prisoner and offered, "I would ask you, you who looks like Schraeder this question, but you are not Josef Schraeder, are you? I am wondering this when I received a dispatch that another body had been found near Dresden. The report said the man was a Jew and that he had been shot twice, once in the back and once in the chest."
He glared at the captive and orated, "Well I, Dieter Metzger of the SS Gestapo, am not concerned with a dead Jew. Why should I be? But then I get another dispatch, this time from Berlin. Suddenly I am to be interested in the dead Jew. Do you know why? No, of course not, why would you know?"
"I am told that this Jew was an assistant to an important scientist. His name was Walter Rabinowitz and he was registered to be working with a scientist named Ernst Fischer." He trained his eyes on the man, "I don't suppose you would know this man of science? No, that would be too much of a coincidence for a man wandering around outside of Baden Baden. But wait, this scientist, he was born in Baden Baden!"
"While I was on my way here, my orders were to pick you up, take you into protective custody and to escort you back to your shop and your wife. I was instructed to remind you that you must not leave your home, even to cross the street, without your papers."
The prisoner finally spoke, "Then I am not under arrest?"
"Those were my orders before I arrived here. However, I received another dispatch. It seems that Herr Fischer was found dead in the ruins of his lab in Berlin which had burned to the ground. The cause of the fire was under suspicious circumstances."
"I don't see what that has to do with me?" the captive man protested.
"It would not appear so, would it? Hear this. It seems that this scientist was working on the human mind, things like reading the mind and controlling the mind. Of course, I am skeptical of such things. Perhaps you are too?" He was studying the man's face intently.
"I found the rest of the dispatch most disturbing. My agents visited some of the other scientists in Berlin. Well, one of them remembered a discussion he'd had with Fischer. Fischer claimed that he was working on a recent discovery. I think the man must have been insane, because he told the other man that he was able to attach a device to the heads of two men and then transfer the minds of the men into each other's bodies!"
"Preposterous!" yelped the man who was beginning to grow nervous. "Such a thing is impossible!"
"Those would have been my sentiments exactly. But think about it, if such a thing were possible, would it not explain the trail of dead bodies from Berlin to Dresden? Would it not explain how a scientist could possibly think he could escape from Germany undetected?"
The man didn't respond, but stood with a blank stare into space.
"I was not willing to believe men could swap minds. I was not, until Erick removed something from your pocket and tossed it aside." He pointed to the ground and said, "There it is by our feet. Imagine, with that simple looking device, one can swap minds with another. What a glorious gift to present to the Third Reich. I'm sure the Fuhrer will want to thank you personally ... Herr Fischer."
Sitting a in chair from one of the labs, King raised his head which had been buried in his hands during his account of his capture and the confrontation with the Gestapo agent. He looked at me and said, "I had not counted on any of the Gestapo being able to tie everything together. Dieter Metzger proved to be quite resourceful."
I grinned and stated, "Don't forget, you gave him twenty-six months to gather all that information and then put it all together."
He sat back in the chair and seemed to be lost in deep thought. "Yes, I did spend much too much time in Nuremberg. I allowed myself to become comfortable surrounded by new friends. I had also enjoyed a pleasant domestic relationship while I was there." He noticed the stares of interest on our faces and smiled with a hint of embarrassment. "What can I say? My mind might have been ninety-five, but the shopkeeper's body was a healthy and virile thirty-five years old."
"Jesus Christ, Mr. King," O'Day yammered, "It's nice and all that you met a woman, but how in the hell did you get away from that Gestapo creep and his goon?"
The intern David also chimed in, "Yes. What happened next?"
King sat upright in he chair and a smile came to his face as he spoke, "I thought is was all over for me. It was ironic, but it was Metzger himself who would provide me with a means of escape."
In our collective silence a dropped pin could have been heard as King resumed his story.
The Gestapo agent picked up the headset and studied it for a moment. He looked at the SS soldier who accompanied him and said, "Erick, the Furher will reward us handsomely. With this device, we will be able to turn the war back into Germany's favor. We will be national heroes!"
The soldier grinned and replied, "I could have a comfortable desk job somewhere, away from the front lines and the fighting?"
"Of course. You like Frauleins, Erick? You will have to fight them off. Erick Heinrich, you will have your pick of them." The soldier inflated his chest and smiled.
Metzger turned to their prisoner and said, "Herr Fischer, you will demonstrate your device to us. You will show us how it works."
The prisoner looked at the two Lugers aimed at him and nodded in defeat. "Upon which of you should I demonstrate?"
"Do you take me for some kind of fool?" Metzger growled. "Your mind will remain where it is. You will use the device on us," he ordered indicating himself and the trooper.
The trooper became uncomfortable when he asked of his superior, "Is that wise, Herr Metzger? I'm not sure this man can be trusted."
"Nor do I trust him, Erick. That is why I will not allow him to get into our heads. You and I will go through the transformation and he will still be our prisoner and not one of us. Then after we have experienced being in another body, he will then return us to our proper bodies."
"Mister King," Michelle voiced, "I thought you said that once transferred, a mind cannot be returned to its original body."
His mind and thoughts returned to the present, he responded, "That's true. However, fifty-five years ago, I did not know that. That day was the first time it had ever been attempted." He smiled as he looked upon our enlightened faces. "The battery of a motorcycle with a sidecar they had hidden nearby was used to supply the power. They spent only about five minutes in their companions' bodies before ordering me to reverse the process."
Michelle shuddered, "It must have been a horrible sight to watch the effect of their minds being rejected by their own bodies."
King acknowledged her statement with a nod and replied, "I didn't spend too much time observing them being turned into vegetated corpses. I acted immediately hoping that I could perform a transfer with one of them while there was still some semblance of a mind intact."
Stu whistled, "You didn't know what was happening to them. Weren't you afraid the same fate awaited you?"
"I acted out of desperation, Stu. I knew that I stood little chance of getting across the border as a shopkeeper who had been reported missing. But as a Gestapo officer, I knew that the odds would be in my favor."
I moved next to Stu and opined, "It is obvious that you were able to complete a successful mind swap with the Gestapo agent. The motorcycle provided you with transportation and I assume you were successful in crossing the border into France. I'm curious as to how a Gestapo officer would not draw attention to the advancing Allied forces. You would have to make a another mind swap sooner or later."
"Right you are, Mr. Bering," King responded. "Yes, the mind swap was successful, but it was not without its side effects. Once in the body of the Gestapo agent my mind was besieged by not only his thoughts, but also by remnants of the of the soldier's thoughts as well as those of the shopkeeper. I was suffering from massive headaches and was having trouble concentrating." He was reflective for a moment before continuing, "I was able to show some mercy for the two Germans writhing in pain on the ground. After taking them out of their misery, I used the motorcycle to head for the French border."
Stu, having had an epiphanous moment snapped his fingers. "I might be getting ahead of your story, Mr. King, but I remember reading a biography of the King family. Bishop King, your father was a decorated RAF pilot in World War II. He was shot down in a dogfight somewhere over France."
King clapped his hand as if applauding Stu's words. "An astute observation on your part, Mr. Jankowski. It was fate that when I had traveled twenty miles into France that I would see a flaming British Spitfire spiraling out of the sky with the Me-109 which had shot it down following its trail of smoke. It must have spotted the pilot parachuting to safety the same moment I did. I was horrified to see the German pilot fire a couple of rounds at the helpless man as he drifted earthward."
"So you found the pilot alive and swapped minds with him. You then assumed the life of the son of a very wealthy British man and eventually took over his holdings," Stu said. "It must have taken some time and effort to convince the old man that you were in fact his son. I mean, you would've had no knowledge of the son's life prior to the war ... no childhood memories ... no..."
King spoke before Stu could finish his thoughts, "I was spared that ordeal. The pilot had been hit in the leg from the German pilot's gunfire and his chute had been damaged. As a result, he had hit his head when he had landed next to an outcropping of rocks. When I found him he was delirious and was drifting in and out consciousness. I used shreds of his parachute as temporary bandages. It was while I was tending to his wounds that I realized he was suffering from amnesia."
"Well, Mr. King," I said, "It appears we've just about come full circle, haven't we? You were then found and rescued by members of the advancing Allies forces. They found you with no memory, lying next to the body of a dead Gestapo officer."
"Yes, that's the story in a nutshell. I would spend the next several years in relative anonymity while I was being reeducated to all my forgotten life as a member of the King family. When the old man died, I simply appeared on the scene to take over. It wasn't long afterwards that I took advantage of the vast fortune I had inherited and as a result I resurrected my mind research. For obvious reasons, I kept hidden the fact that I was able to transfer minds from one body to another."
Michelle spread her arms and asserted, "That is until Michael and I independently stumbled upon the same type of research. When Michael and I accidentally had our minds transferred, it must have caused you a great deal of concern."
"Yes," he replied, "but because of the nature of the accident. That power surge was no accident, but a deliberate attempt to stop you and your research. You see, I have long suspected that there is another out there who has been conducting the same kind of research. Your mind swap was no accident, it was intended to kill you both!"
(To be continued in part 53, on Friday, 5/29, with When Thoughts Kill.)