Chapter Three The General Hospital Southampton England, March 2006
James Wilde sat in a wheelchair next to his bed on G Ward, buried
somewhere in the post modernist anonymity of Southampton General Hospital. His once full, upright frame was
shrunk and bent so that his pyjamas hung on him like a tent. His skin, thin as
paper, was sallow and mottled, looking like it had been carelessly applied. A
tube came out from the depths of his dressing gown and led to a morphine drip,
hanging from a stand by the bed. He knew that it would be a couple of days at
most before he won his final victory over the cancer that was eating him alive
by dying himself.
At eighty seven years of age, Wilde had had a full life
and he really couldn't complain. He had had a loving wife and three marvellous
children. But he had outlived them all. And now, of all his six grand-children,
only Hillary had bothered to keep in touch and to look after him in his final
months. Hillary sat with him now, tears on her face, holding his thin hand.
"There now child, don't be upset." Wilde said
gently. "The end comes for all of us and if we are lucky, someone who cares
for us will be with us when we finally go on our Great Journey. I hope that you
will be as blessed as I have been."
"Is it selfish of me to hope that you could have
stayed a little longer?" Hillary said, through her tears.
Wilde smiled. "My dear, I want you to know that I
have left a will with Comptons, my lawyers in Commercial
Avenue. I don't have much money now. My retirement
plans were not as wise as they might have been and I lived far too long for the
capital available. There is the house, of course, and I have left that to you.
I have left some of the nicer pieces of furniture to the other grand children,
mainly to keep them pacified when they find out you will get the bulk of my
"Oh Grand-dad, you know that's not something I have
ever even considered!"
"I know that my dear, but you should know about my
will anyway. Money is important. It may not make you happy, but it can
certainly make you comfortable." Hillary smiled at his little joke.
"There, that's better," said Wilde, patting her hand.
"There's something else I want you to have,"
said Wilde. He reached into the draw of the bedside cupboard and pulled out a
small, plain cardboard box. "You have always dreamed of adventure and you
have often complained that you thought you were born too late. You said that
every part of the world had been explored and every adventure of discovery had
already happened. Well, this may change your mind."
Hillary opened the box and saw in it a little medallion,
wrapped up in a sheet of yellowed notepaper on which were written a latitude
and longitude. Then, as Hillary listened in spellbound fascination, Wilde told
her the story behind the medallion and its wrapping.
"You mean there is two tons of gold, just lying
out there in the desert, and these are the coordinates of where it is...?"
Hillary was incredulous.
"It's almost certainly still there, my dear."
"Why didn't you look for it yourself? Or tell
someone else about it?"
"It was 1954 before I found the medallion again.
Wartime rationing was just coming to an end, but times were still very hard and
there really was not much money around. I had a growing family and certainly
could not spare the cash to go looking for the gold. And you must remember, the
world was a much larger place then. It was long before the days of cheap
package tours to Everywhere and travel was expensive. Egypt was a long way away from our house in Nursling.
"As for telling someone else about it, who would I
tell? Whose gold was it anyway? The gold had come from Germany, but was now sitting in Libya. And where had the Germans got it from? There was a lot of gold
there. It had the capacity to cause a lot of trouble in 1941 and it could still
cause a lot of trouble. Perhaps it was just best to leave it be."
"So, why are you telling me about it now?"
"Call it passing on the responsibility if you like.
I feel that now, at the end of my life, I must tell someone about it. And,
times change. Opportunities which had not been there before, become available
in a different, newer world. I have always thought my original decision to
leave it be was the best, but I am an old man. Younger minds may think
differently. It is a choice you must make."
"Do you know how much all that gold is worth?"
"Oh, I did a little sum a few years ago, just for
amusement. It is worth about thirty million pounds."
Hillary whistled. "Grand-dad - I don't know what to
"Whatever you do, don't thank me. All I have given
you is a story, a little piece of paper and a lot of responsibility. But
whatever else you might have, you do have common-sense. You got that from your
grandmother. Don't hurry to make a decision, the gold is not going anywhere.
"And now dear, I am feeling a little tired. I think
I will sleep a while. Would you just help me to the bed?"
James Wilde died that night, with Hillary holding his
Chapter Four The Churchyard of St Boniface Church, Nursling
It was a much bigger crowd that Hillary had expected. She had not
known that her grandfather had been such a highly respected architect in his
day and that his death had rated obituaries in all the major newspapers.
Her grandfather had been buried in the little churchyard
at St Boniface, the small Norman church in Nursling, as he had always wanted. He had spent many
happy years in Nursling, first with his growing family, then with his wife when
the children had left home. When his wife had been killed in a car crash, the
local community had supported him in his sorrow and helped him to find new
purpose in life. He had never been a particularly religious man, but he enjoyed
attending services at the little church and at the end, this was where he
wanted to stay. It had been a bright spring day and with the daffodils starting
to show their heads amongst the ancient yew trees and lichen covered gravestones, the churchyard was a picture. He would have enjoyed it,
Hillary stood at the church gate, shaking the hand of
all those that came and thanking them. A lot of them were from the village, but
many were old business friends, acquaintances, rivals and customers. One was
different however and he hung back to the end. He was tall, well built with
iron grey hair brushed straight back. He was no longer young in his mid 60's
she guessed but still vital. The two other men with him were much younger, in
their twenties she judged, and very fit. But the older man was obviously in
charge. His overcoat had little green flashes on the collar typical of the
style in Germany.
When everyone had left, he came and introduced himself.
His voice was deep and his English excellent with just a hint of an accent.
"You have my deepest sympathy at this time, my
dear. I can imagine your grandfather meant a lot to you."
"Yes he did," replied Hillary. The stranger's
attempt to come across as the uncle figure put her back up a little, but it had
been a trying week, arranging the funeral and attending to the details of her
grandfather's estate, and she was tired. "May I ask who you are?"
"I am sorry. My name is Zeitle, Erich Zeitle. And
these are my associates, Peter Bruchenbauer and Herman Dint."
Hillary shook hands with them as they introduced
themselves with firm, bonecrushing, German handshakes. Hillary smiled as her
brain absorbed this information. Zeitle... where had she seen that name
recently? Of course! The little medallion her grandfather had given her. It had
the name Hans Zeitle engraved on the back. This would be... his son? What was
he doing here?
"I wondered if you would care to give me a few
minutes of your time," said Erich Zeitle smoothly. "There are some
matters concerning my own family history on which you may be able to shed some
It seemed a reasonable request, but a little warning
bell tinkled insistently in her mind. "It has been a long day," she
started, "And I still have a lot to do here."
"Of course. May I come round and see you tomorrow
when you have a moment to spare?"
The request was too reasonable and she could think of no
excuse to say no. Her lawyer's instinct warned her against seeing any stranger
alone, and certainly not in her own home. "Why don't you come and see me
at my office tomorrow?" she said. "Say two o'clock?" She handed Zeitle her
"Two o'clock it will be." Zeitle replied with a smile. But the smile left
Hillary cold. The mouth had smiled, but not the eyes. They had watched her
throughout like an eagle sizing up its prey.
Hillary was a partner in a practice in Romsey, a small
picturesque market town just a short distance from Nursling. Their clients were
mostly farmers and landowners, but there was an increasing number of rich
entrepreneurs who wanted a house or estate in the country, but not too far from
the conveniences of the large city that Southampton had now become; so Romsey was the perfect location. Hillary looked
after the criminal cases for the practice.
At two o'clock precisely, Erich Zeitle presented himself at the reception desk
downstairs. He was alone and was quickly shown into Hillary's office.
"I am most grateful to you for giving me some of
your time," he began, "especially when you are mourning your
grandfather." Hillary smiled appreciatively, though inside she said,
"Just get on with it, will you?"
"My father was a pilot in the Luftwaffe during
Second World War," Zeitle began. "His plane disappeared while he was
on a mission over the Libyan desert. As a matter of family history, I wanted to learn some of the
details of his disappearance and, if possible find his grave. Unfortunately, I
was brought up in the old East Germany, so it was not possible for me to take the matter any further until
the wall came down in 1989 and I could travel to the West.
"Since then, I have been searching for any information which
might shed light on his disappearance. I have searched through the war archives
here in England to see if there
was any record of him being shot down by the RAF or being captured by Allied forces.
There was nothing. I searched through the Italian archives to see if they had
any record of a German plane being found at about the right time and place. I
found nothing. Finally, I looked through the archives of the Long Range Desert
Group to see if any of their patrols had found my father's aircraft. There, I
found a report that a search was made for an aircraft at much the same time and
place where my father's plane might have crashed. Your grandfather was named as
having found the plane. Unfortunately, I could find no trace of your
grandfather's whereabouts to ask him if he could remember any more details and
did not know if he was even still alive. Then I saw the obituary of your
grandfather in "The Times" newspaper. It described how your grandfather
had served in the Long Range Desert Group, so I knew that your grandfather was
almost certainly the same Captain James Wilde mentioned in the LRDG report. The
obituary also mentioned that the burial service would be yesterday at the
little church in Nursling, so I came to pay my respects and in the hope that
you might be good enough to give me a few moments of your time to help me learn
some of the details of my own father's tragic end.
"I wondered if your grandfather had ever told you
any stories of finding a German Heinkle bomber in January of 1941, which might
shed more light on my father's fate?"
Hillary looked thoughtful, as though she was trying to
remember her grandfather's stories and knew anything that might shed further
light on the fate of Zeitle's father. In fact, she was debating just how much
to tell him. He was obviously on a fishing trip to see how much she knew about
the crashed plane. But was he aware of the cargo the plane had been carrying?
She thought she might push the punt out on a little fishing trip of her own and
see how much Zeitle knew of his father's mission.
"Yes, now you mention it, I seem to recall my
grandfather saying how his truck had become separated from his patrol as they
were returning from their raid on Murzuk, just before a big sand storm. They
heard a plane with engine trouble go overhead and crash nearby. It turned out
to be a German bomber. The pilots were dead when they found them and they were
buried near the plane. I recall him saying that they were buried with full
dignity and prayers were said over them. But the next day, on the way back to Cairo, they were ambushed by an Italian
patrol. My grandfather was badly wounded and was in a coma for some weeks. He
was invalided back to England
six months later. That was effectively the end of his war."
Zeitle had become quite animated as she recounted the
story and was leaning forward in his chair.
"This is most interesting!" he said. "You
obviously have an excellent memory. I wonder if your grandfather mentioned
where he found the plane?"
"Um... " She pretended to ponder and think
about it. "I think he mentioned the Rebiana Sand Sea. Does that mean anything to you?"
"Oh, indeed it does Miss Wilde. He didn't, by
chance, have the position of the aircraft more precisely?"
"No. I am afraid not." Hillary looked Zeitle
straight in the eye. "My grandfather did mention that the plane was
unarmed and appeared to be on a special mission. You wouldn't happen to know
what that mission was, would you?"
Zeitle was suddenly under complete control again. He
returned her level gaze. "No my dear, I am afraid I do not."
Zeitle stood up abruptly and buttoned up his coat.
"I am most grateful for your time and sharing your grandfathers memories
with me. Believe me, it has been a great help." He shook her hand and
quickly left the offices.
Hillary looked out of the window and saw him getting
into a car just outside the practice entrance. It had started to rain and the
evening twilight was premature, so that most cars already had their lights on.
Even so, she could see that the car was being driven by one of the
"associates" she had seen with Zeitle the day before.
Well, that was interesting, mused Hillary. As a lawyer,
she was used to seeing what lay under the surface and picking up on what people
did not say. Zeitle knew more than he was letting on. He knew about the gold
alright. Unfortunately, her own little fishing trip had been a little too
transparent and he was now aware that she also knew about the gold. That was
As she put her coat on to go home that evening, she felt
the little box containing the medallion, wrapped in its piece of paper, still
in her coat pocket where she had put it the night her grandfather had died. She
paused at the door, then went to her office safe and locked it securely inside.
Hillary lived in a small flat on the outskirts of Southampton. From her grandfather's
encouragement, she enjoyed sailing and had a twenty seven foot yacht moored in
the marina near Southampton
docks. It was an expensive hobby and even though she was in a high paying
profession, a small flat was all she could afford on what was left over after
paying for the upkeep and mooring fees for the yacht. She worked hard and when
she was not working, she was either doing maintenance on her wooden yacht or
She was a good looking girl. Tall, slim, athletic and at twenty
seven, she was in the full bloom of womanhood. There had been plenty of men who
had pressed their claim. But, somehow, none of them were quite what she was
looking for. She lived a nine to five life, but that was not what she wanted in
a man. She dreamed of a man with whom life would be an adventure, fresh and exciting! But so far, he hadn't
come by on his white charger to carry her away.
Her commute to and from work was against the usual trend
of the rush hour driving out of the city in the morning and in again in the
evening so even just after five o'clock, her journey home was pretty
straightforward against the ribbon of white headlamps coming at a crawl in the
Hillary parked her little Mazda sports car in the
parking ramp below her flat and quickly made her way up the metal staircase to
her upstairs flat. She unlocked the door as usual and hung up her coat. But
that was strange; wet footprints on the floor. Amongst the decorative items of
a nautical flavour hanging on the wall of her passage was a marlinspike, so she
quietly took that down and gripping it hard, tiptoed into the kitchenette at
the far end of the corridor. The flat was a semi open plan layout and switching
on the lights in the kitchenette also illuminated the sitting room and her
"office", which had become a storage area for sailing gear and bits
of her boat.
There was no-one there. A quick search of her bedroom
under the bed and in the wardrobe also came up empty. At first sight,
everything seemed as it should be and there was none of the usual mess
associated with a robbery. Hillary breathed a sigh of relief and made herself a
cup of tea. But, she reflected, if nothing had been taken, what were those wet
footprints doing in her hallway? No-one else had a key. Now that she looked
around a little closer, she noticed that things were not quite as they should
be. In the kitchen, a draw was slightly open. The pots and pans were not sitting
on the shelves in quite the way she usually left them. Going into the sitting
room, she saw that the books on the bookshelves were not in quite the right
place. The carpet was not quite sitting flat in one corner of the room. In her
office, the computer was on! She had certainly not left it on this morning. The
rest of her office was always a mess of tins of varnish, coils of rope, sails
and other stuff from her boat, with her sou'westers casually slung on top. But
even so, it was subtly altered from how she remembered it.
Nothing appeared to be missing. Someone had come in and
had a thorough look around, then left. This wasn't the usual burglary. All the
keys on the labelled hooks in the kitchenette seemed to be where they should
be.... except the keys to her grandfathers house. There had been two keys to
the front door on the key ring with the little red plastic Watney's beer
barrel. Now, there was only one.
Quickly, Hillary rang Romsey police station and asked to
be put through to Detective Inspector Dyke.
"Sam, its Hillary Wilde."
"Oh! Hello Hillary. I was just about to go home. Is
it urgent or can it wait until tomorrow?"
"Well Sam, if you're quick, you can catch three
burglars inside my grandfather's house. I have just come home and found someone
has been in my flat, snooping around. All that seems to be missing is a key to
grand-dad's front door."
"Right-ho Hillary, we are on our way. Be in touch
with you later."
With that, Sam put the phone down and rushed out to his
car, collecting a couple of uniformed coppers on their break, ("You and
you. With me!") on his way. With Sirens blaring and blue lights flashing,
they soon covered the mile or so to Nursling.
Hillary's father had been a detective in the police and
Sam Dyke had been his partner and close friend. When Hillary's father had been
shot and killed during a bungled armed robbery attempt, Sam Dyke had been
absolutely furious and, totally unarmed, had rushed at the burglars, bringing
the armed burglar down with a flying tackle. The other burglar made to run off
but tripped and fell, knocking himself out on a lamp post. Sam was given a
severe carpeting by his Superintendent for recklessly endangering his own life.
But for an act of "selfless bravery", Sam Dyke was awarded the Police
As Sam Dyke's car skidded to a halt at the end of a
gravel drive, flanked by two large laurel hedges, another squad car came
speeding up and stopped close behind. Running up the drive towards a large
Victorian house, looming out of the dark, Sam just glimpsed a car moving off
down the drive that ran behind the garage at the back of the house.
"Damn!" said Sam to himself. He had forgotten
about the second drive to this house. Sam veered off to try and intercept the
car as it gathered pace down the drive, but it was too far ahead and after a
handbrake turn onto the road, the car disappeared into the dark countryside
ahead. Sam did, however, notice that there were three men in the car two in
the front and one in the back.
"Sorry love," said Sam later, as he sat down
for a cup of tea with Hillary inside the house. "I didn't even get the
licence plate number of the car."
"Not to worry, nothing appears to be missing here
either. Just a few things not quite in their right place, as though they had
done a thorough search. I even found the missing key. It was on the sideboard
in the front hall."
"Well, it's not your standard burglary job, that's
for sure." said Sam. "By the way, how did you know there would be
three of them?"
"How do you mean?"
"On the telephone. You said, 'if you're quick, you
can catch three burglars...' and that is exactly how many there were."
"Oh yes, so I did..." Sam was a down to earth,
level headed cop, thought Hillary. What she needed now was some down to earth,
level headed advice on what to do next. While she had not been physically
threatened, as yet, there was clearly the possibility that Zeitle and his two
associates might return and try to extract any more information she might have
about the gold by more... persuasive, means. She decided to tell Sam Dyke
everything and seek his advice.
Sam had known Hillary all her life and had watched her
grow from a fearless tom boy into a tough minded but very bright young girl.
Hillary's father had died when she was fifteen years old a very
impressionable age and after his death, she had set her mind on joining the
police force. Such a bright and able girl would have made a brilliant copper,
Sam thought, but he knew that a woman's lot is seldom a happy one in the police
force. Hillary's talents would have been wasted in a force that was still very
much a man's world, verging on the blatantly anti-feminist. Sam finally managed
to divert her interest into law rather than policing, and, knowing her father
would have done just the same, was grateful that he had managed to do something
to mitigate the cruel and callous death of his old friend. Now that she was a
lawyer on his own patch and he had watched her at work in the local court, he
admired her incisive mind and cool professionalism.
Sam listened in silence as Hillary brought him up to
date. She told him about her grandfather's incredible story of the thirty
million pounds in gold buried in the Libyan desert, about the little medallion and the coordinates for the gold
written on the slip of paper in which the medallion was wrapped - about
Zeitle's approach at her grandfather's funeral, and her interview with Zeitle
at her office. When Hillary had finished, Sam sat back in his chair and
scratched the back of his head.
"Wow!" he said, trying to get his mind around
such an incredible tale.
"There seems to be little doubt that your friend
Zeitle knows about the gold, and he wants it for himself. I agree with you, I
think that he and his mates have been looking around to find any more information
you or your grandfather had about the whereabouts of the gold. They may well
have even taken a cloned copy of the hard drive on your computer, so they can
study it at leisure later which is why you found it switched on.
"And I think you are right. You were a little too clever for
your own good when you talked to Zeitle in your office and he probably knows
now that you also know about the gold. How much danger that puts you in depends
on how far he is prepared to go to get his hands on the gold. A man could be
prepared to go a long way to get his hands on thirty million quid!
"Unfortunately, I don't have to tell you that as things stand,
we don't have a shred of evidence that would even merit me having a quiet word
with him and warning him off. It would be more than my job's worth."
"What I can do it have a look in the police computer and see
what comes up for the name, 'Erich Zeitle'. Interpol might have something on
him. If we can learn something about him, we can estimate how much of a threat
he is to you.
"Come along and see me at lunch time tomorrow and we will have
another chat. Oh, and why don't you come and spend the night with us? Elsie
would love to see you, and it may not be a good idea for you to be at home
Sam's wife Elsie and Hillary's mother had been great friends when
Hillary had been young. Policemen's wives, able to understand and commiserate
with each other about the demands the job made on their husbands, had much in
common. But when Hillary was eighteen and at Oxford university, studying law, her mother had met and fallen in love
with an Australian cattle rancher. Hillary had stayed when her mother had moved
to Australia to start a new
life. Hillary had hardly seen Sam's wife since then.
Hillary took Sam up on his offer and in the finally, Sam went to bed
as the women chatted away until the small hours, catching up on all the news.
Next day, Hillary had a case in the local court and so it was not
until the following day that she was able to come and see Sam during his lunch
"Hello love," said Sam, munching on a sandwich as Hillary
came into his office. He shifted a pile of case files off the chair in front of
his desk so that Hillary could sit down.
"Have you had lunch? I'll get you some sarnies and a cup of tea
from the canteen."
Hillary realised she was famished and eagerly set about demolishing
the egg sandwiches Sam had produced on his return.
"Well, I ran a check on our pal Erich, and there is nothing on
him on the police computer here in the UK, but it seems he is quite well known to Interpol."
"Is he an international criminal?"
"Not exactly. But to start at the beginning. It was an
understatement to say that his father, Hans Zeitle, was a pilot in the
Luftwaffe. Actually, he was a legendary air ace between the wars and was chief
test pilot for Heinkle and, later, Messerschmitt. The records show Hans Zeitle
was lost on some sort of secret mission in 1941, so that tallies. Why he was
chosen as pilot to fly the gold across the Sahara desert we can only guess. But we know that he was twice winner of a
prestigious air race around the oasis towns of Egypt to the West of the Nile, and so he had street cred when it came to navigating his way
around the desert. He was also the test pilot who helped develop the He 111 plane
he was flying. And, it turns out that he and Herman Gφring were mates before the war. So, when you put all that
together, you can see why he ended up flying a top secret mission across the
sandy sea of the Sahara. What that mission was, we don't know. Interpol can't find
any details about that in the German archives. That does not mean much though
as a lot of the German records were lost in the war, just as records were lost
in the bombing over here.
"Young Erich was born shortly before his father was
lost. The family home was in East Berlin, and so when the wall went up, Erich and his mother found
themselves on the wrong side. Consequently, as Erich himself told you, he grew
up in East Germany.
"He was a bright lad and studied engineering at
university. After that, he went to work for an aircraft engineering company in Dessau.
"When the wall came down again, we find Erich as the
head of the company, which was one of the few to manage the transition from the
communist central market economy to the competitive, dynamic economy of the
West. As a result, he is pretty well padded."
"So, he isn't an international criminal. Is the
business in trouble and needing cash?" asked Hillary.
"No. From what we can gather from filed accounts and
other information, the business is going from strength to strength.
"One interesting thing though. Interpol have uncovered
evidence that Zeitle is a member of the new German Democratic Nationalist party.
In the old West Germany, a lot of effort was made to educate the people on the
atrocities committed in their name. That never happened in East Germany. In
consequence, the people in East Germany lived in a sort of time warp. Not having any living memory
of what it is like to live in a democratic state, there is even now still a lot
of sympathy in that part of the country for the old right wing Nationalism
which had brought Germany good times before the war. On the quiet, it seems
that Zeitle is one of the leading lights if that is the right expression
for the modern day Nazis who have their power base in the old East Germany and are now
trying to gain influence in the new unified Germany."
"Yes, I have read about them in the papers. I am
amazed that this sucker shoot of the old National Socialist party stump is
sprouting again - not just in Germany, but in Austria too it seems.
"You've obviously gone to a lot of effort to dig up
all this information Sam. I can't thank you enough. It looks like Erich Zeitle
and his friends are not going to leave it at that and the will be back, wanting
to find out just how much I know."
"It's been very interesting, love. It makes a change
from digging around the undergrowth for information on the usual toe-rags I
have to deal with. But I think you have Erich and his chums sized up pretty
well. You need to be careful very careful - how you live your life from now
on. I can help you get acquainted with the sort of personal security procedures
that pop stars and the mega-rich seem to need these days. But there is no doubt
it is going to put a crimp on how you live your life from now on."
"Hillary thought for a minute about a future in which her
life revolved about ensuring the immediate zone about her was protected and
secure at all times. Whether she was in her home, at work, or in her car, or
shopping, or on her boat, surveillance and security would have to become second
nature. There would be no going to restaurants, she would never be able to just
go for a walk or do anything spontaneously.
"Her anger and revulsion at having to change and restrict her
whole way of life, because of her possession of a small piece of paper was
sudden and total.
"I am not going to spend the rest of my life looking
over my shoulder Sam. And I am damned if I am going to let these people have
the gold either! I am going to get the gold myself!"
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