"There is an English expression, 'a bird in the hand . . .' "
" '. . . is worth two in the bush,' " Himmler finished for him. "I agree. Anything else?"
"I hesitate to criticize Goltz. I recommended him for this mission."
"When next I see him, I will have a private word with him and suggest that it is never a good idea to put so many details in a message."
"I saw that, but decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. He was obviously pleased with himself."
"And I think he wanted you and me to be pleased with him as well."
"Yes. Josef is not overburdened with modesty."
Von Deitzberg laughed dutifully. "I was a little curious about his fulsome praise for von Lutzenberger," he said. "And von Lutzenberger's people."
"Perhaps he really meant it."
"And he knew, of course, that von Lutzenberger would read the message."
"And that Grüner is one of us," Himmler said, smiling. "Do you think our Luther is becoming a politician, Manfred?"
"I think that's a terrible thing to say about an SS officer," von Deitzberg said.
It was Himmler's turn to laugh dutifully.
"What are you going to do about it?" von Deitzberg asked, nodding at the message. "Are you going to tell the Führer?"
"I thought I would solicit your wise counsel, Herr Oberführer."
"I have a tendency to err on the side of caution," von Deitzberg said. "I think I would wait until we have the bird in hand."
"If he hasn't already, von Ribbentrop is about to tell Bormann, knowing full well he will rush to the Führer, that there has been word from Himmler's man that Operation Phoenix will shortly be successful."
Party leader Martin Bormann was second only to Adolf Hitler in the hierarchy of the Nazi party and one of his closest advisers.
"You don't think he would wait until after we get the 'operation completed successfully' message, so he could say, 'Our man'?"
"I think von Ribbentrop would prefer to go to the Führer now, using 'Himmler's man.' Then, if something does go wrong, he could pretend to be shocked and saddened by that man's failure. On the other hand, if it does go well, it will naturally be 'our man.' "
Himmler looked at von Deitzberg for a moment, then continued: "I could, of course, get to the Führer first, either directly, or through Bormann -"
"The Führer's at Wolfsschanze," von Deitzberg interrupted. Wolfsschanze was Hitler's secret command post, near Rastenburg in East Prussia.
"- then through Bormann," Himmler went on. "And take a chance our friend - actually he's your friend, isn't he, Manfred? - is everything he - and you - say he is. Claim him as our man now, taking the chance that he won't fail."
"Were you really soliciting my wise counsel?" von Deitzberg asked.
"Of course. And your wise counsel is that we should wait until we see what actually happens, right?"
"On second thought, what I think I really should do now is call Bormann and tell him that we have just heard from Oberführer von Deitzberg's man in Buenos Aires. That way, if Goltz is successful, I can claim the credit because he is one of my SS, right? And if he fails, it's obviously your fault, von Deitzberg. You recommended him for that job." Himmler smiled warmly at von Deitzberg.
"May I suggest, with all possible respect, Herr Reichsführer-SS," von Deitzberg said, "that is not a very funny joke."
"Joke? What joke?"
He pressed the lever on his intercom, and when Frau Hassler's voice came, told her to get Reichsleiter Bormann on the telephone immediately.
One of the telephones on Himmler's desk buzzed not more than ninety seconds later. Himmler picked it up and said "Heil Hitler" into it, then waited impatiently for whoever was on the line to respond.
Excerpted from Secret Honor, by W. E. B. Griffin. © January 10, 2000 , W. E. B. Griffin used by permission of the publisher. No part of this book can be reproduced without written permission from the publisher
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