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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 estate."
       "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 say"
       "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 hand.

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, thought Hillary
       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 light."
       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 business card.
       "
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 not good.
       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 sailing it.
       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 other direction.
       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 Medal.
       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 alone tonight."
       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 break.
       "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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