The Queen’s House at the Tower of London is one of the most remarkable surviving pieces of British architectural history – a building that was meant for the protection and comfort of the most respected traitors, for their relaxation before their execution. It was created as a very British compromise, much as they wrapped the noose in leather so the hangman didn’t hurt the victim’s poor, delicate neck.
The most recent guest to be held at the Queen’s House was not a traitor as such – or if he was, it was not to Britain, but to his own country. Rudolf Hess had been held there for several days now, in the hope that the pleasant environment might persuade him to open up, and to be more willing to discuss his mission. So far, though, that hadn’t happened – he had been happy to talk about many subjects, but not about why he had come to Britain.
When Ian Fleming entered Hess’…cell hardly seemed the right word any more, though “quarters” also didn’t have the right ring to it…the difference from the cell in which their previous meeting had taken place could not have been greater. Yes, there were still bars on the windows and guards on the door, but the room in which he found Hess was spacious, bright, and airy, with nothing of the stench that had permeated the earlier cell.
Fleming thought that putting Hess in such a place was a mistake, for several reasons, not least of which was that he believed that Hess would see it as a reward for his lack of co-operation. He was surprised, though, to see that in his new surroundings Hess was much friendlier, greeting Fleming with a smile and an extended hand, neither of which were reciprocated.
“I trust your new surroundings are to your taste?”
“An interesting place this, you know? The guards told me it is called the Queen’s House because here is where Anne Boleyn stayed before her marriage to one of your kings. And she stayed here again, just before they chopped her head off. Is that what you plan to do to me, when you have what you need from me? A quick axe through the neck?”
“Guy Fawkes also stayed here.”
“I do not know who he is, I am afraid.”
“A traitor. He was executed, too. He was hanged, drawn, and quartered. That’s when they hang you until you’re almost dead, cut you down, chop off your privates and burn them in front of your eyes, pull out your innards, and then cut you up into four pieces.”
“I see. “
“Do you think that would be appropriate for you?”
“I am no traitor.”
“Hitler says you are.”
“The Führer sometimes has to say things he does not mean. If my mission fails, he has to disown me.”
“Your mission already has failed.”
“We shall see.”
“We have your documents. You are not going to see Hamilton.”
“That may well be the case. Or it may be that you change your mind. I am prepared to take that chance – after all, what other choice do I have? If I talk to you, my mission has definitely failed. If I don’t, well, there may still be a chance for success.”
Fleming smiled. The prisoner was nowhere near as cautious as he thought. He was keeping the purpose of his visit to himself, but was leaking information all the time. Merely by seeing what he was saying and which subjects he was avoiding, it was possible to form an idea of his intentions.
“Oh, there is absolutely no chance of success. You have said that you flew here to negotiate a peace. Yet you refuse to negotiate, and your Führer disowns you. All you have to look forward to, now, for the rest of your life, is prison, and the knowledge that you have failed at the most important task you ever set yourself.”
“Not if the Reich wins.”
“They won’t. We both know it.”
“Well, if the Nazis win, you’ll end up in a concentration camp, instead of a prison, for betraying Hitler. Not much of an improvement, I’d say.”
“I have not betrayed the Führer.”
“He says you have.”
Hess’ face was starting to redden, and his heavy eyebrows, always his most prominent feature, furrowed, instantly ageing him by almost a decade. His voice cracked as he replied. “I have not betrayed the Führer, and he knows this as well as anyone.”
“So you’re calling Hitler a liar, are you?”
Hess’ voice was now noticeably higher than it had been earlier, and he sounded as if his throat was pinched, even though he was clearly attempting to appear calm. “He is no liar. He sometimes has to say things he does not mean. The propaganda, you know?”
“Maybe. Or maybe he means it. Maybe he thinks you’ve failed him. He says you’re to be executed if the Nazis get their hands on you, you know.”
“As I say, he has to say things he does not mean.”
Fleming smiled. “Remember Ernst Röhm? Did he think he had betrayed Hitler? Or did he think he was loyal to the last? Your Führer doesn’t treat his former friends very well.”
At this, Hess’ voice became much louder, and Fleming could see his shoulders straighten, as if readying to attack. “I am nothing like Röhm. That subhuman degenerate was a…no, I shall not even say the word. I have never…never…”
“Really? Not even when you were in prison with your Führer? Surrounded only by other men, spending all day with the man you admire most? All men get urges, you know.”
Hess was by this point trembling with a barely suppressed fury.
“You dare? You dare say these things? Have you no decency?”
Fleming laughed. “You of all people should know better than to talk about decency. What’s decent about the Nazis?”
He waited, but Hess didn’t reply, merely standing in place, trembling, breath coming out of his nose in audible snorts.
“Oh well,” Fleming looked at his watch. “I can’t stand here all day chatting. Some of us have places to be. Do let me know if you decide you want to talk.”
Fleming was almost out of earshot before he heard the scream of rage coming from Hess’ cell. One more visit and Hess would crack, he knew it.
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.