Colonel Pajtas and Granville had a history. Granville had been assigned to take Pajtas and his men into custody. Pajtas and his men had treated him with arrogance and disrespect. Granville had to remind them that they were prisoners and had done so with the skill of a surgeon working without anesthesia: Quickly, with minimal amount brutality but left a mark painfully. Granville had thought that had put an end to their cat and mouse game. However, he had been fooled and embarassed when they had reached Augsburg to learn that Pajtas had kept the fact he did not have the keys to the trunk from him. He had taken that omission personally. It had been the recall of that embarrassment thah powered his investigation up to and including recruiting a shave tale from OCS, and flying him halfway around the world, in the remote hope that it might help him find the keys.
Pajtas had been lying to them all along. His denying that he knew where they were was just Pajtas yanking Granville’s chain. Again. Just as in their first meeting the Hungarians were laughing at him and the US Army behind their backs. It made that white hot fire that was burning in Granville’s gut now burn with the intensity of an acetylene torch. He wanted to light Pajtas up.
Granville told me as much. After we had arrived at Augsburg, he had sent Paul and Cookie off to find us billets while we proceeded to Kubala’s office. I got parked in the Major’s outer office while Granville went to meet with his commanding officer. I was not alone. Sitting with me a tall First Lieutenant in a slightly disheveled uniform who had been hustled out of Kubala’s office when Granville entered. He had sat down directly opposite me and after pulling a toothpick from his shirt pocket began to simultaneously pick his teeth and stare at me simultaneously. It was a little unnerving, but I also knew it was a game. The person who spoke first loses. I do not like losing games especially when I don’t know what the consequences of that loss will be. As a consequence, I spent my time inspecting the shine on my shoes (they needed work,) the state of my nails (clean, well clipped) and trying to remember all the verses of Kubla Khan by Coleridge. The first verse was easy:
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round;
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.
It was always the second verse that gave me trouble. I could never remember if it began “But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted” or “A damsel with a dulcimer in a vision once I saw.” I was trying to figure this out when I heard “Worth B.Andrews, Ft. Worth Texas and you are?”
I looked up and saw that he had crossed the room and was standing directly in front of me, with his hand out. I stood up and shook his hand and said “Sam Floessel, I am from Ft. Worth, Texas too.” I think it was my Viennese accent that probably made him look at me with a surprised look so I added “ I just tell people I am from Ft. Worth because that is where I became a citizen” hoping that my little joke would help lighten up the mood.
Unfortunately, it had the opposite effect, Andrews replied “Son, we Texans don’t like to joke about where we are from.” I was about to tell him that I meant no offense when Granville and Kubala walked out of the office. Eyeing up the situation Granville said “Floessel, you are with me” and headed towards the door. When we had reached the outside George said, “I see you that you met Kubala’s lap dog.”
“Yeah, Andrews is Kubala’s pet. Whenever he wants to get something done but doesn’t want to get his hands dirty, he tells Andrews to do it.” Pausing to consider how to phrase his next sentence he then added “Watch out for him. He is a snake, he bites and he and Kubala are into some seriously questionable shit. He will sell you out in a second to protect themselves so the order of the day with them is CYA. Understand.”
I said “Yes, sir.”
He smiled “Enough with the smart-ass shit. Let me tell you what Kubala and I have agreed on how to handle to Pajtas.” He then told me that Kubala had been “supremely pissed” that he had been deceived by the Hungarian and his initial instinct had been to use strong arm techniques to get the whereabouts of the keys from him. But Granville had talked him out of it pointing out that may be counterproductive and just strengthen his resolve. Instead, we were going to play mind games with him. As we spoke Pajtas was being taken to an interrogation room. He would not be told why. He would be left alone there until we interrogated him sometime in the small hours of the morning. It was hoped that the combination of the silent treatment, being alone with his own imagination, and the timing of the interview would help loosen his tongue. In the meantime, we were going to grab some chow and catch a few hours’ sleep so that we could be in top form when it came time to interrogate Pajtas.
Man plans and God laughs. We didn’t interrogate Pajtas in the middle of the night as we had planned. Our original plan to interview him in the middle of the night when Granville said most people are disoriented had been overwritten by our own biological needs. A heavy meal of Army chow and days of sleep deprivation and travel had caught up with us. It was decided if we were to be at our best, a full night’s sleep was in order. As a consequence, our batteries were full loaded when we entered the interrogation room with Pajtas. You could not say the same for him. His eyes had heavy bags underneath them and there was a hollow look about them that I knew all too well from all night study sessions at Syracuse and OCS. And, whether it was my imagination, a projection of how I hoped he felt, or reality, I had a sense that he was fearful of what was about to happen to him.
Granville asked “Good morning, Colonel Pajtas. Do you remember who I am.?”
Pajtas responded contemptuously, in good but heavily accented English “Yes, you are Granville.”
“That is correct. My colleague here is Lt. Floessel. He will be assisting me in our interrogation this morning. You may recall from that our last conversation was in Hungarian but the Lieutenant here does not speak that language but he is originally from Vienna so we are going to give you a choice on whether you would prefer our conversation to be in English or German. Which language would make you feel the most comfortable?”
Pajtas nodded at me and said “German I think. My English is getting better, but with the German I am more fluent.”
Granville switched to German and asked “Do you remember our last conversation? When I asked you about the whereabouts to the keys to the trunk?”
“At the time you told me that you had no knowledge of where the keys might be. That you had handed them over to someone else. Do you remember saying that to me?”
“Do you remember at the time, I told you that if you were lying to me that I would find out and that there would be consequences to you misleading me?”
Pajtas pulled himself up in his chair a little and with his chin jutting out said “Yes. I remember that conversation very well.”
Granville fixed his eyes on Pajtas and said in an utterly flat voice “Why did you lie to me then?”
Pajtas looked as if he had been slapped in the face. “I did not lie to you.”
Granville, looked down at the table, sighed, and looking back up again. “Cut the bullshit. You certainly did. Floessel and I have just had a talk with your associate Captain Gombos, and he tells us that he gave you two of the keys to the trunks. Did he lie to us?”
Pajtas’ s countenance changed from looking insulted to that of being relieved. As if what Granville had just said was of no particular consequence. He replied “ No. the Captain did not lie to you. He did give me two of the keys to the trunk. But I did not lie to you either.”
Granville said nothing knowing that his silence would force Pajtas into providing a fuller explanation. The Colonel continued “When you interrogated me I had no idea of where the keys were. As I told you then I had handed them off to another for safe keeping.”
“Anton Skoda.” I interjected.
“Yes. Anton Skoda. As far as knew when we spoke, he still had the keys. It was not until a few weeks later when they brought Captain Gombos to the camp that I discovered he had retrieved the keys.”
Granville held up his hand “Cut the bullshit. You pulled a fast one on us. You gave Skoda the keys so that you could tell us that you had no idea where they were and at the same time ordered Gombos to retrieve them. It gave you both plausible deniability and at the same made sure the keys would be in the possession of people you know.”
Pajtas shrugged his shoulders but said nothing so Granville continued “But your scheme did not work out as planned. Gombos get caught. Right.”
Pajtas remained silent.
“When you saw him here you demanded he turn over the keys. And he gave them to you. What I want to know, is where are they now?”
Pajtas nodded, as if to acknowledge the facts, and reached under his tunic and pulled out a leather thong which had hanging it from an ornate iron key, identical in design to the one which we had been given by Gombos. He placed them on the table in front of him and slid them across to Granville.
I said, “Where is the other key?”
Pajtas said “This is the only one I have.”
Granville hissed “No more games Colonel. We know Gombos gave you two keys. Where is the other one?”
Pajtas only hesitated for a second before answering “I gave the other key to His Serene Highness Admiral Horthy.”
Minutes later we were making our way towards Major Kubala’s office to update him on the interrogation. I said “George, do you mind if I asked you a question?”
He stopped and said, “Shoot?”
“You know I have absolutely no experience in interrogating people.”
“Well, I thought trying to get the key off this guy was going to be more difficult. After all they had gone through a lot of trouble to keep them hidden….to deceive us about them? Yet when we asked him about the keys, he gave up his lickety split and then told us where we could find the remaining one without any hesitation at all. It just seemed a little too easy.”
Granville nodded and replied, “I was thinking the same thing.”
We had been under the impression when we left Pajtas that retrieving the last key from Horthy would be as simple as having one of the guards retrieve him from where he was being detained at SAIC. We had assumed that he was still here where Granville had interviewed him only a few weeks before. We were wrong. While we had been tracking Anton Skoda, the Yugoslav government had leveled war crimes charges against the Crown Regent. They believed he had approved of and had direct knowledge of what they called the “Novi Sad” massacre. This was an operation where Hungarian troops had rounded up 4000 Serb, Jewish, Romani citizens and murdered them. According to Kubala, Tito had demanded Horthy’s arrest and the Allies were keen to keep him happy due to Yugoslavia’s unique geo-political position. Horthy had been arrested and sent to prison where other high ranking war criminals were being detained. A place in Luxembourg that Kubala called “Ashcan.”
This presented a major problem for us. Ashcan was our most secure interrogation center. It was where the remnants of the Nazi government including Albert Speer, Herman Goring and Karl Donitz to name just a few were being held. Access to the facility and the prisoners were tightly controlled. It was, as Cookie later described it, kept “Tighter than a frog ass.” An expression that I did not quite understand but found amusing and highly descriptive. It meant that for us to get permission to interview Horthy had to come directly from SHAEF and Eisenhower. This took time and for over a week we were left cooling our heels.
This was both a blessing and a curse. I had been on the bounce for more than a month. I was sleep deprived and road weary and to have no place to go and nothing to do but to eat and sleep for a few days seemed pretty much ideal. However, the novelty of three squares and all the sleep I could want soon wore off. While the infantry credo “Walk when you don’t have to run, sit when you don’t have to stand…” had been driven into consciousness in basic that had never been my way. I was always doing something. Hell, I had polished off two years of college in a year while working 20 hours a week. I went looking for Paul in the hopes that he and I go find some mischief to get into, but he was nowhere to be found. From what I could gather he was off having conversations with some of Granville’s associates. Cookie, when I finally found him, had discovered a perpetual poker game that was being held in the NCO’s quarters and could not be shaken from it. As he put it “These boys just want to give me their money and who I am to disappoint them.” As a consequence, for most of those days we spent waiting I spent by myself with little to do but focus on the conversation that Paul and I had in the car on the road to Salzburg.
I had no doubt that he was right when he told me that I was being recruited by Granville for intelligence work. His putting me in charge of Gombos interrogation sealed that for me. The real question was whether or not this was a path I wanted to walk down. On the pro side was there was the glamour and fantasy of this type of work that I had gleaned from reading novels such as “The Thirty Nine Steps,” “Kim” and “The Riddle of the Sands.” But if the past few weeks had taught me nothing at all it was that intelligence work was nothing like novels. It was both tedious and dangerous with a large amount of game play where you were required to outthink the other side. Failure to do so were catastrophic as had been hammered home by the Colonel Skoda’s murder. But I was good at game play and out thinking others. It was a skill I had refined long ago on the streets of Vienna’s 13th district.
It became clear to me that it was not a question of whether I could do this type of work well. I could. The real question was whether I wanted to do it.
I had seen the way that this work compromised things that you held dear. While lying and deception were a part of life, everyone lies, everyone deceives, the consequences were different. When you lied to your parents or did not mention to your girlfriend the woman you were out with the night before, no one was injured or died. But even that did not bother me that much. You cannot make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.
What ate at me was Pichler. The man was a monster. He had dedicated his life and his career to making a gas that could kill millions. He had purposely murdered innocent men and women for the pleasures of others and to curry favors with those who could help him. He was an unrepentant Nazi who saw nothing wrong with their genocidal murders or their philosophy of racial purity. He was not only the most despicable being I had ever met but among the most loathsome creatures to ever walk the planet. Yet, Granville and I had been forced to mollycoddle him because our superiors thought that he had knowledge and skills that would help us achieve our goals. Intellectually, I could understand why this was done. Sacrificing your morals for the greater good was nothing new. Was not that the story of the original covenant when Abraham is willing to slay Isaac for the good of the Jewish people. But Pichler and men liked him had killed my grandmother, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends. How could I be a part of letting him have good life when he robbed them of theirs. Wasn’t that making me as corrupt a human as Pichler. And didn’t people in Intelligence work have to make the same choice all the time.
I was saved from my conundrum when, finally, after nearly a week of waiting we received written permission from Eisenhower himself to go to Ashcan and interview Horthy. I learned later from Cookie that the delay in receiving permission to see the Crown Regent was due to SHAEF’s distrust of Kubala. Apparently, he had become very friendly with Goring during his stay at SAIC, the Field Marshall even giving him one of his Reich Marshall’s batons, and his request for one of his subordinates to visit Ashcan was viewed with suspicion. According to Cookie it required a personal request to Eisenhower from Patch to have permission granted.
Regardless, we were on our way. Well, most of us were. Paul was staying in Augsburg for the time being. He would not be welcome at Ashcan due to his technical status as a citizen of defeated alien and his traveling with us would serve no useful purpose. To be honest, I was wondering why I was going. Certainly, I had outlived my usefulness to the investigation long ago, but Granville insisted and only the sense I could make of it was that he wanted to see whether I would make a good recruit for OSS or CIC.
It is nearly 300 miles to Luxembourg from Augsburg and despite leaving right after reveille we did not arrive at Ashcan until nearly dusk. It was not what I expected. all. I had thought that a facility holding some of the most infamous members of Hitlers government who were to be on trial for war crimes would be an impressive looking prison or at least a lock up like Camp Orr. It was neither of things. Before the war it had been Luxembourg’s most luxurious hotel, The Palace. While the war had not been kind to the hotel, its five-story boomerang shaped edifice still maintained some of its grandeur. Had it not been for the fifteen-foot fence crowned by a double string curl of concertina wire, a secondary electrified fence and four guard towers equipped with machine guns and klieg lights along with a heavily secured guard post and a serious looking contingent of Army MP’s you might have been event tempted to stay there.
When we pulled up to the guard house, Cookie rolled down his window and said to the guard “Hi Sarge, we are here to interview one of the inmates.”
The guard, whose name tag identified him as “Sergeant of the Guard Robert Block” just stared at him and then turned his gaze to Granville and me. After an exceptionally long uncomfortable pause he said in a drawl equal to Cookie’s “To get in here, you need a pass from God.” And, then after a beat added “And then you have to have someone to verify the signature.” Cookie handed over our papers. Sergeant Block took them and retreated into the guard house where we saw making a phone call. After a brief conversation, he hung up the phone and the gate were raised. We entered Ashcan.
We were greeted in the still opulent lobby by the commander of the prison, a precisely dressed officer who, after throwing us a very military salute which we returned, introduced himself as Colonel Burton Andrus. He told us that he had been expecting our arrival and Regent Horthy would be made available to us in the morning. In the meantime, rooms had been set aside for us and we were free to roam about the facility as we liked but with only one caveat. Speaking to any of the prisoners was strictly forbidden. Granville, after thanking him for his hospitality, told him that we had no interest in speaking to any of the prisoners with the exception of Horthy and we would be out of his “hair” as quickly as possible.
I had not completely understood the restriction that Andrus had placed on us. I had thought that like most prisons the detainees would be confined to cells and only let out for meals, exercise and basic functions. That was not how it worked at Ashcan. Prisoners were allowed to move freely throughout the hotel. I was told later that this was by specific design. It was hoped that the prisoners would feel free to interact with each other and perhaps share secrets that they were unwilling to share with their captors all while their conversations were being monitored electronically. However, as we walked through the hotel on the way to our rooms the prisoner’s ability to move freely about the compound had another effect. It made me feel like I was a new exhibit at the zoo. Without exception everyone gave us a cold-eyed stair no doubt wondering what had brought us to this hotel and what it meant to them.
I realized immediately upon entering my room that that despite outward appearances this was no Hotel Sacher. Other than rather overdone wallpaper the room had been completely stripped of its former opulence. Fancy light fixtures had been replaced with bare bulbs. Plush furniture had made way for a folding table and chairs. Instead of plush bed with goose down comforter there was an army cot equipped with a rough drab olive blankets and sheets with all the tenderness of sandpaper. Surveying my surrounding I laughed at my own disappointment. After all, in Vienna I had it far worse. There my cot was in the same room as Mama and Papa. Here at least I had the room to myself.
That night sleep eluded me. This was partly due to my nerves over tomorrow. Would we get the final key, or would it be yet another dead in or Hungarian trick to keep us from the Crown? But my inability to fall asleep laid mainly with the fact that I was locked up here in Ashcan who just weeks before would have done everything in their power to murder men. Men who had murdered so many of those that I loved. Then something occurred to me and I began to laugh. The Nazis were now in Ashcan. They were Ashcan Nazis. We had turned the worst of the worst Nazis into European Jews.
I fell asleep smiling at my pun.
The next morning as we waited for the Hungarian Regent in a hotel room that was identical to mine minus the bed, I tried to share my witticism with Granville. He just nodded perfunctorily as he was clearly already focused on the interrogation. We had spent much of the drive from Augsburg talking about the importance of our conversation with Horthy. Failure here would result in either weeks if not months more investigation to find the last missing key or the destruction of the trunk. Both were undesirable to Granville, who underneath it all, was an extremely ambitious man. Success here meant success for his career after the war. Failure would be a mark on his record that would be hard to erase. For those reasons, he was going to be the primary interrogator this morning. My role, as he put it, was to “keep my mouth shut, listen, and only talk when spoken to.”
Horthy was escorted to the interrogation by Colonel Andrus himself. It was clear from their body language that both men disliked each other. Neither looked at each other and stood as far apart from each other as the confines would allow. Andrus further confirmed his disdain for his captive by his introduction to us. He said “Colonel Granville and Lt. Floessel let me introduce to you the prisoner Miklos Horthy” adroitly omitting Horthy’s military rank and title. This clearly rankled the Regent who flinched with the introduction.
Granville said formally “Your Serene Highness, Miklos Horthy de Nagybanya, Regent of Hungary it is an honor to meet you. Please take a seat.” The greeting clearly irritated Andrus as he bristled. However, it did have the desired effect on Horthy. He stood a little more erect, puffed out his chest, and tilted his chin upward with the introduction. This was exactly what Granville had been hoping for. He believed that a hostile interrogation with the Regent was a bad approach. At best it would delay him telling us where the key was and at worst prevent us from locating at all. However, an interview that stroked Horthy’s ego and provided him with all due deference might unlock the secret of the key.
Horthy settled into a seat opposite Granville and myself and it gave me an opportunity to really look at him for the first time. My first impression was that he reminded me of a former beauty queen whose days of glory lay in the past but they still tried to maintain what once was but would never come again. His suit, which no doubt had been custom made, was now slightly threadbare and hung on him like a sack. The dark eyes, that one point could stare right through you, now were furtive and would not hold your gaze.
Colonel Andrus interrupted my thoughts by saying “Gentleman, please let me know if you need anything” and began to walk towards the door.
Granville turned to Horthy and said solicitously “Your Serene Highness, is there anything that we can get for you?” You could see the look of pleasure grow on the Regent’s face while at the same time you could see Andrus’s back stiffen.
Horthy replied “It would be delightful to have a cup of tea. Perhaps with some honey and lemon?”
Andrus, scowling, replied “I will have someone bring it to you.” And then departed before anything more could be asked of him.
Granville turned to Horthy and began “Regent Horthy…” but was cut off by the Admiral who said “I do not like that man.”
Granville, taken back replied “Whom?”
“Colonel Andrus of course. He treats us like common criminals. This is not what I was led to expect when your Army transferred me here from Augsburg.”
“I am sorry, sir. Where were you told you were going?”
“I was told that I was going to a much nicer facility. The spa at the Palace Hotel in Mondorf, Luxemborg. I was led to believe that this was a reward for me being so cooperative with your government. A recompense if you will. A bit of vacation.”
He paused for a second as a private arrived with our tea. When he had left, he continued. “However, from the moment I arrived that man has been trying to get us under his thumb. His first act was to order my luggage to be searched and everything with which I could have hanged or injured myself.to be removed.”
I glanced at Horthy and noticed something that I had missed in my initial once over. He was wearing not wearing a belt.”
He continued “All my valuables were taken from me, in exchange for receipts. He ordered my valet of 24 years who had never been a soldier and has only served me well to be moved to the prison camp. I tried to protest but he would not listen. Then he escorted me to my “room” which was not fit for a human being. Not only was it small with no facilities of its own but the mattress was not even a proper mattress. It was made of straw. My horses had better bedding.”
Horthy was clearly blowing off steam and Granville was glad to let him as it suited our plan perfectly. He said “Thank you for sharing that with us, your highness. Lieutenant Floessel has taken note of your observations and will see what he can to about moving you to a better room and about having your valet released from the prison camp. Before we begin with my questions, is there anything else we can help you with?”
Horthy thought for a second and asked “Yes. Why am I here. Here there are only Nazis. I am no Nazi. I tried twice to make peace with the Allies and for my trouble Hitler had my son abducted, forced me to sign a worthless abdication and then imprisoned me. Now I am arrested by you. For what reason?”
Granville sighed. We knew this question was coming. It was a difficult question to answer but we also knew it could possibly open the door to finding the key. The Colonel said “My apologies. It was my understanding was that this had been explained to you. I will make sure that those who should have told you are properly disciplined. You are here sir because Marshal Tito and the Yugoslav government have accused you of war crimes in regards to the massacres at Novi Sad.”
Horthy face became flushed, spider veins on his cheeks from years of the good life standing out and said “That is preposterous. Our troops were far too disciplined to do anything like that and even if they did how can I be held responsible for what a few troops did in the fog of war.”
Granville held up his hand and said “Your highness, we understand. General Patch and I had a conversation about this before I left Augsburg. He wanted me to tell you that he knows, and these are the general’s words, the “charges are complete and utter bullshit.” That they are a ploy by the communists to behead the legitimate Hungarian government so they could get their own people in place. He wanted you to know that he and General Eisenhower are doing everything within their power to have the charges dropped.”
Horthy antipathy seem to disparate like a balloon deflating. He nodded and said “General Patch is a fine soldier. He was quite kind to me and my family when we initially detained by the US Army. Please tell him thank you and that I am in his debt.”
“Which brings us to why we are here sir. Perhaps there is a way that you can help us and at the same time help yourself as well.”
“You are no doubt familiar that the Crown of St. Stephen’s and its retinue are in our possession in Augsburg.”
“Yes. Colonel Pajtas told me that he turned the trunk containing those items to you.”
Granville leaned forward in his chair and said “We know you are aware of it sir because Pajtas told us that he informed you and that you approved it. What you may not be aware of sir, is that we know that you arranged the whole transfer. That it was your plan since the beginning.”
“That is an outrageous claim.”
“Sir, we had a lengthy conversation with Anton Skoda. He told us the whole story. About how you arranged to have the Crown and its retinue smuggled out of Hungary should something untoward happen to you and how you had arranged with him and the Americans for the Crowns capture.”
“I can’t understand why Colonel Skoda would tell you such a story.”
“With all due respect sir. Of course, you can. Just like I can understand why you would not want to admit it. How would it be received if the Hungarian people found out that their regent arranged to have the symbol of their nation to be turned over to the United States. It would destroy your legacy.”
Horthy said nothing. He just his crossed his arms and glared at Granville as if he had been greatly insulted.
Granville continued “Here is our problem your highness. While we have the Trunk that contains the Crown, we don’t have the keys to open it. You and your men have managed to keep them away form us. You understand why this is big problem for us?
Horthy’s blank expression gave away nothing of what he was thinking so Granville continued. “We need to open that trunk. We need to verify what we have. What if we keep the trunk only to hand over to your government later only to find that there is something else in the trunk. The US government would be blamed, and we can’t have that.”
“We are left with two options. We could find the “lost” keys and open the trunk easily and allow us to inventory what is inside and ensure its safe keeping. Or we could open the trunk forcibly. We don’t want to do this. We know that the Trunk is a part of the tradition of the Crown and desecrating could be considered an insult to the Hungarian people. But rest assured one way or another we are going to get inside that trunk.”
Horthy responded “That is all very well and good but what does that have to do with me?”
“Because sir, you have one of the keys.”
Horthy began to object but Granville cut him off. “With all due respect, your highness don’ t even bother to deny it. We know you have the key. Pajtas told us he gave it to you before you left SAIC. And if you are even thinking about denying that fact understand that there is a lot riding on your answer. I would hate to have to report to General Patch that you were uncooperative. It might him far less willing to help you with this sticky problem with the Yugoslavs.”
You could have cut the tension in the room with a knife it was so palpable. Had they been bulls, both of them would have had their heads down, snorting, and pawing at the dirt, each waiting for the other to charge. Then Horthy broke. Reaching into his jacket he pulled out an ornate iron key, identical to the others we had collected.
Two days later and we here in the conference room awaiting the appearance of General Patch. Kubala paced while the rest of us inspected the shine on each other’s shoes. After about half hour of waiting, a private entered the conference room and whispered something in the Major’s ear. He nodded and dismissing the private said “It seems that General Patch has been unavoidably detained and has asked we proceed without him.”
He then retrieved the keys, which had been placed on a ring and left on a table adjacent to the trunk and handed them to Granville saying “I think the honor of opening the trunk should be yours as you tracked down the keys.”
As the colonel began the process of unlocking the trunk I look around the room. Everyone in the room had the same look of anticipation on their faces. Each person in there was heavily invested in finding the keys that allowed this moment to happen. Each was eager to see Crown Jewels of Hungary with their own eyes. A privilege not granted by many. All except Pajtas. Instead of anticipation written on his face there was anxiety. I guess I would have felt the same way. He had gone through extraordinary efforts to keep this moment from happening but despite his hard work he failed.
When Granville had opened each of the three locks securing the case and removed the metal bar that spanned the trunks top, he turned to Kubala and said “I think the honor to opening the case belongs to you.” Kubala nodded and approach the case and bending just a little lifted the lid as we all leaned forward to see its content. There was a collective gasp. The trunk was empty.