The room was grey and functional, with little in it other than a bed with a grey, woollen, blanket and a single rather dejected pillow lying squashed on it. It had a shabby, Spartan, air about it, but would be relatively acceptable as a place to sleep. It was cold, of course, but so was everything at the moment. And at a time of rationing, keeping prisoners of war in comfort was not a top priority.
As cells went, Fleming thought, this one could be a lot more unpleasant. Rudolf Hess might be a prisoner of war, but he was also the second in command in the German government, and that apparently meant he deserved some respect. What Fleming thought he deserved, though, was a kick in the balls.
And those balls were inviting such a kick. The prisoner was lying on his bed, with his legs spread and pointed in the direction of the door through which Fleming had entered. Fleming looked down at the disgusting little man, with his receding hairline and thick eyebrows, and felt nothing but contempt for him.
“Stay civil,” he reminded himself, “but make sure he knows who’s in charge.” After staring silently until the prisoner finally looked up, Fleming spoke.
“You will address me by my proper title.”
“I will address you however I feel, you nasty little shitstain of a man. I’m here to talk about the papers, Prisoner Hess.” So the civility had not lasted particularly well.
“You are not the Duke of Hamilton. I do not talk to underlings. I will only talk to Hamilton.”
“I thought you wanted to negotiate peace?”
“But only with Hamilton?”
“That is correct.”
“Would you mind telling me why?”
“He is like myself. He is a flyer. An aviator. Those of us who have flown, who have seen what the world looks like from a higher plane, have a different perspective on the world from those of you who remain stuck to the ground.”
“So you’re willing to talk, but only to a pilot?”
“Not any pilot. I want Hamilton. Bring me Hamilton, or torture me for the information you want, but stop playing these games.”
Fleming appeared to think for a while. In truth, he had already known that this would be Hess’ attitude – he knew far more about Hess and his plan than the prisoner would ever realise. But he needed to appear ignorant in order to discover the few things he didn’t already know.
Of course, it showed Hess’ mindset that he immediately suspected that he would be tortured. Fleming didn’t know what disgusted him more, the thought of torture or the thought that Hess had such a low opinion of the British. Of course, you’d occasionally have to smack a man around a little, put the boot in where it was needed, but torture? That was what the Nazis did, not the British Empire.
Fleming started to pace around the small room, noting the utter lack of anything to stimulate or enrich the mind. Were he to be cooped up in such a place, he’d find himself going crazy through boredom within a week. He sniffed, and had to suppress a gag reflex at the smell of a room whose single occupant hadn’t washed in days, and hadn’t left the room even to use the lavatory in the same period of time.
And how much worse must Hess be taking this? He was, after all, someone who was used to the trappings of power, and was expecting to be treated like a hero upon reaching Britain. He would, Fleming had no doubt, be breaking very soon. Keep him off guard, don’t let him get the measure of you. Polite, then angry, then polite again.
“Please explain why Hamilton is so important to you. He’s a very busy man – surely another pilot would be acceptable?”
“No, I have spoken to Hamilton in the past, many years ago. He is a man of honour. I trust him. I do not trust your other pilots. They are not honourable.”
Fleming turned toward Hess, eyes blazing with a fury he was only half pretending. This was his chance to see if he could make Hess snap altogether. His face grew red, and he towered over the still-prone prisoner.
“You dare? You dare to claim that Britain’s pilots are not honourable? As if a Nazi could know anything at all about what honour means. You’re lucky I don’t smash your face in right now, you disgusting little wretch.”
Hess cringed. The man was clearly a physical coward, for all his apparent bravery in flying solo to Britain. Someone who could easily be dominated by a more aggressive man. No wonder, Fleming thought, that he had fallen under Hitler’s spell. It was almost as if there was no-one in there, just an empty shell to be filled with whatever a more powerful figure told him.
The man looked like a dog who had been smacked on the muzzle with a newspaper, and whose owner was about to strike a second blow. A cringing, whining, coward. Fleming knew the type, and loathed them.
“Well? Unable to talk without your mighty Führer here? Need his hand up your arse before you can open your mouth, do you?”
But at the mention of the Führer, Hess seemed to change almost into a different man. His spine straightened, and his expression grew more determined.
“Shit,” Fleming thought, “that was exactly the wrong thing to say.”
Hess closed his eyes, and started humming a melody Fleming couldn’t quite place, though it was one he knew he recognised from somewhere. Fleming tried speaking, and made a few feints as if to punch Hess, but the prisoner no longer acknowledged his existence. His mind was elsewhere, and he was no longer interested in communicating.
There was no point, Fleming realised after a few minutes, in even attempting to get the man to say a word. Nothing would open him up right now. In a few days, yes, he’d be willing to talk again, but right now Fleming would have to pursue other avenues of investigation.
He left the room, and the prisoner, whose humming continued until he was out of earshot.
This is an excerpt from my novel, Destroyer. If you like this chapter, please buy the book. It can be bought in hardback from Lulu. The Kindle and paperback editions are available from Amazon (UK) and (US). For non-Kindle ebook versions This Books2Read Universal Link will give you links for your preferred ebook retailer.