The Doomsday Conspiracy

Chapter Twenty-Two


Bern, Switzerland
Robert had come to a dead end. He had not realized how much he had counted on obtaining Mothershed's list of names. Up in smoke, Robert thought. Literally. The trail was cold now. I should have gotten the list when I was in Mothershed's flat. That will teach me to ... teach. Of course! A thought that had been in the back of his mind suddenly came into focus. Hans Beckerman had said, Affenarsch! All the other passengers were excited about seeing the UFO and those dead creatures in it, but this old man kept complaining about how we had to hurry up to get to Bern because he had to prepare some lecture for the University. It was a long shot, but it was all Robert had.
He rented a car at the Bern airport and headed for the University. He turned off Rathausgasse, the main street of Bern, and drove to Langgass-Strasse, where the University of Bern was located. The University is composed of several buildings, the main one a large four-storey stone building with two wings, and large stone gargoyles adorning the roof. At each end of the courtyard in front of the building are glass skylights over classrooms, and at the rear of the University is a large park overlooking the Aare River.
Robert walked up the front steps of the Administration Building and entered the reception hall. The only information Beckerman had given him was that the passenger was German, and that he was preparing his lecture for Monday.
A student directed him to the Office of the Administration. The woman seated behind the desk was a formidable figure. She had on a severely tailored suit, black-framed spectacles, and she wore her hair in a bun. She looked up as Robert entered her office.
Robert pulled out an identification card. "Interpol. I'm conducting an investigation, and I would appreciate your cooperation, Miss ..."
"Frau. Frau Schreiber. What kind of investigation?"
"I'm looking for a professor."
She frowned. "His name?"
"I don't know."
"You do not know his name?"
"No. He's a visiting professor. He gave a lecture here a few days ago. Montag."
"Many visiting professors come here every day to give lectures. What is his discipline?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"What does he teach?" Her tone was growing impatient. "What subject did he lecture on?"
"I don't know."
She let her exasperation show. "Tut mir leid. I can't help you. And I am too busy for frivolous questions like this ..." She started to turn away.
"Oh, it's not frivolous," Robert assured her. "Es ist sehr dring-end." He leaned forward and said, in a low voice, "I'm going to have to take you into my confidence. The professor we're looking for is involved in a prostitution ring."
Frau Schreiber's mouth made a small "o" of surprise.
"Interpol has been on his trail for months. The current information we have on him is that he is German and that he gave a lecture here on the fifteenth of this month." He straightened up. "If you don't want to help, we can conduct an official investigation of the University. Of course, the publicity ..."
"Nein, nein!" she said. "The University must not be involved in anything like this." She looked worried. "You say he lectured here on - what day?"
"The fifteenth. Monday."
Frau Schreiber rose and walked over to a filing cabinet. She pulled it open and scanned some papers. She extracted several sheets from a folder. "Here we are. There were three guest professors who gave lectures here on the fifteenth."
"The man I want is German."
"These are all German," Frau Schreiber said stiffly. She shuffled the papers in her hand. "One of the lectures was on economics, one on chemistry and one on psychology."
"May I see those?"
Reluctantly, she handed the reports to Robert.
He studied the sheets. Each one had a name written down with a home address and a telephone number.
"I can make a copy of these for you, if you wish."
"No, thank you." He had already memorized the names and numbers. "None of these is the man I'm looking for."
Frau Schreiber gave a sigh of relief. "Well, thank God for that. Prostitution! We would never be involved in such a thing."
"I'm sorry I troubled you for nothing." Robert left and headed for a telephone booth in town.
The first telephone call was to Berlin. "Professor Streubel?"
"This is the Sunshine Tours Bus Company. You left a pair of glasses on our bus last Sunday when you were touring with us in Switzerland and ..."
"I do not know what you are speaking about." He sounded annoyed.
"You were in Switzerland on the fourteenth, were you not, Professor?"
"No. On the fifteenth. To give a lecture at the University of Bern."
"And you did not take our bus tour?"
"I have no time for such foolishness. I'm a busy man." And the professor hung up.
The second call was to Hamburg. "Professor Heinrich?"
"This is Professor Heinrich."
"This is the Sunshine Tours Bus Company. You were in Switzerland on the fourteenth of this month?"
"Why do you wish to know?"
"Because we found a briefcase of yours on one of our buses, Professor, and ..."
"You have the wrong person. I have been on no tour buses."
"You did not take a tour of ours to the Jungfrau?"
"I just told you, no."
"I'm sorry to have bothered you."
The third call was to Munich. "Professor Otto Schmidt?"
"Professor Schmidt, this is the Sunshine Tours Bus Company. We have a pair of your glasses that you left on our bus a few days ago, and ..."
"There must be some mistake."
Robert's heart sank. He had struck out. There was nowhere left to go.
The voice went on. "I have my glasses here. I have not lost them."
Robert's spirits soared. "Are you sure, Professor? You were on the Jungfrau trip on the fourteenth, were you not?"
"Yes, yes, but I told you, I have not lost anything."
"Thank you very much, Professor." Robert replaced the receiver. Jackpot!
Robert dialled another number and within two minutes he was speaking with General Hilliard.
"I have two things to report," Robert said. "The witness in London I told you about?"
"He died in a fire last night."
"Really? Too bad."
"Yes, sir. But I believe I've located another witness. I'll let you know as soon as I check him out."
"I'll wait to hear from you, Commander."
General Hilliard was reporting to Janus.
"Commander Bellamy has located another witness."
"Good. The group is getting restless. Everyone is worried that this story will surface before SDI is operational."
"I'll have more information for you soon."
"I don't want information, I want results."
"Yes, Janus."
Plattenstrasse, in Munich, is a quiet residential street with drab brownstone buildings huddled together as though for protection. Number five was identical to its neighbours. Inside the vestibule was a row of mailboxes. A small card below one of them read "Professor Otto Schmidt". Robert rang the bell.
The apartment door was opened by a tall, thin man with an untidy mop of white hair. He was wearing a tattered sweater and smoking a pipe. Robert wondered whether he had created the image of an archetypical college professor, or whether the image had created him.
"Professor Schmidt?"
"I wonder if I might talk to you a moment. I'm with ..."
"We have already talked," Professor Schmidt said. "You are the man who telephoned me this morning. I am an expert at recognizing voices. Come in."
"Thank you." Robert entered the living room. The walls were crowded from floor to ceiling with bookcases filled with hundreds of volumes. Books were stacked everywhere; on tables, on the floor, on chairs. The sparse furniture in the room seemed to be an afterthought.
"You're not with any Swiss tour bus company, are you?"
"Well, I ..."
"You are American."
"And this visit has nothing to do with my lost glasses that were not lost."
"Well ... no, sir."
"You are interested in the UFO I saw. It was a very upsetting experience. I always believed they might exist, but I never thought I would see one."
"It must have been a terrible shock."
"It was."
"Can you tell me anything about it?"
"It was ... it was almost alive. There was a kind of shimmering light around it. Blue. No, maybe more of a grey. I ... I'm not sure."
He remembered Mandel's description: It kept changing colours. It looked blue ... then green.
"It had broken open, and I could see two bodies inside. Small ... big eyes. They were wearing some kind of silver suit."
"Is there anything you can tell me about your fellow passengers?"
"My fellow passengers on the bus?"
The professor shrugged. "I know nothing of them. They were all strangers. I was concentrating on a lecture I was going to give the next morning, and I paid very little attention to the other passengers."
Robert watched his face, waiting.
"If it will help you any," the professor said, "I can tell you what countries some of them came from. I teach chemistry, but the study of phonetics is my hobby."
"Anything you can remember would be appreciated."
"There was an Italian priest, a Hungarian, an American with a Texan accent, an Englishman, a Russian girl ..."
"Yes. But she was not from Moscow. From her accent, I would say Kiev, or very near there."
Robert waited, but there was only silence. "You didn't hear any of them mention their names or talk about their professions?"
"I'm sorry. I told you, I was thinking about my lecture: it was difficult to concentrate. The Texan and the priest sat together. The Texan never stopped talking. It was very distracting. I don't know how much the priest even understood."
"The priest ..."
"He had a Roman accent."
"Can you tell me anything more about any of them?"
The professor shrugged. "I'm afraid not." He took another puff of his pipe. "I'm sorry I can't be of any help to you."
A sudden thought came to Robert. "You said you're a chemist?"
"I wonder if you would mind taking a look at something, Professor." Robert reached in his pocket and pulled out the piece of metal Beckerman had given him. "Can you tell me what this is?"
Professor Schmidt took the object in his hand, and as he examined it, his expression changed. "Where ... where did you get this?"
"I'm afraid I can't say. Do you know what it is?"
"It appears to be part of a transmitting device."
"Are you sure?"
He turned it over in his hand. "The crystal is dilitheum. It's very rare. See these notches here? They suggest that this fits into a larger unit. The metal itself is ... My God, I've never seen anything like it!" His voice was charged with excitement. "Can you let me have this for a few days? I would like to do some spectrographic studies on it."
"I'm afraid that's impossible," Robert said.
"But ..."
"Sorry." Robert took back the piece of metal.
The professor tried to conceal his disappointment. "Perhaps you can bring it back. Why don't you give me your card? If I think of anything more, I'll call you."
Robert fumbled in his pockets for a moment. "I don't seem to have any of my cards with me."
Professor Schmidt said slowly, "Yes, I thought not."
"Commander Bellamy is on the line."
General Hilliard picked up the telephone. "Yes, Commander?"
"The latest witness's name is Professor Schmidt. He lives at Plat-tenstrasse 5 in Munich."
"Thank you, Commander. I'll notify the German authorities immediately."
Robert was on the verge of saying, "I'm afraid that's the last witness I'll be able to find," but something held him back. He hated to admit failure. And yet, the trail had become cold. A Texan and a priest. The priest was from Rome. Period. Along with a million other priests. And there was no way to identify him. I have a choice, Robert thought. I can give up and go back to Washington, or I can go to Rome and give it one last try ...
Bundesverfassungsschutzamt, the headquarters of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, is located in central Berlin on Neumarkterstrasse. It is a large, grey, nondescript building, indistinguishable from the buildings around it. Inside, on the second floor, in the conference room, the chief of the department, Inspector Otto Joachim, was studying a message. He read it twice, then reached for the red telephone on his desk.
Munich, Germany
The following morning, as Otto Schmidt headed for his chemistry lab, he was thinking about the conversation he had had with the American the evening before. Where could that piece of metal have come from? It was astonishing, beyond anything in his experience. And the American puzzled him. He said he was interested in the passengers on the bus. Why? Because they had all been witnesses to the flying saucer? Were they going to be warned not to talk? If so, why had not the American warned him? There was something strange going on, the professor decided. He entered the laboratory and took off his jacket and hung it up. He put on an apron to keep his clothes from getting soiled and walked over to the table where he had been working for many weeks on a chemical experiment. If this works, he thought, it could mean a Nobel prize. He lifted the beaker of sterile water and started to pour it into a container filled with a yellow liquid. That's strange. I don't remember it being such a bright yellow. The roar of the explosion was tremendous. The laboratory erupted in a gigantic blast, and pieces of glass and human flesh spattered the walls.
Robert missed the news of the professor's death. He was aboard an Alitalia plane, on his way to Rome.