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THE MAN IN the dark coat stood in silence. In the darkness his black brimmed hat pulled low and collar arranged high around his neck, they shrouded angular features and ice-cold eyes. Those eyes glinted in a nearby hooded streetlight as they turned to check out a faint sound close by.

Tense but immobile he waited. The sound did not repeat. In the distance, he heard a truck approach. He waited. A searchlight flashed against the close-set buildings and into the narrow alley in which he waited and passed without stopping. The sound faded.

He relaxed and resumed his vigil with a surface thought of disdain for an enemy clearly going through the motions.

Intelligence identified Professor Bergdorf’s location. The man must die tonight. His orders: Kill Burgdorf. Get the plans. Get out of hostile territory. He could do it. He’d already bet his life on it.

He entertained a momentary thought about the link in the chain he represented. A simple act of wartime murder involved countless faceless men and women, each of whose actions within the Allied High Command had brought him to the little town where he must play his part, a part he would play gladly.

Black-gloved hands cupped carefully above his mouth shrouded his watcher’s breath and plumed it safely downward into the neck of his coat to dissipate. It would not produce a telltale cloud in the night chill; Clandestine Operations Manual, Chapter Four.

He stepped from one foot to the other. The motion kept him ready to move in an instant, but to be one with his surroundings he contained all motion within the looseness of his clothing. No local citizen, scurrying home to beat the curfew who might peer into his dark corner would see movement.

The few elite members of his cell knew him only as Red 24. He knew them also by names not their own. In the nature of what they did, they seldom spoke, but when they did, others might hear a comment on his ability to disappear without a sound from within their midst.

They would see him. There would be a distraction. He would be gone. If any humor existed within this macabre group, it would rest on his remarkable talent.

The gabled house across from him held his attention, its roofs and extensions heavy with slate and gray with age. Its diamond shaped leaded glass panes eerily reflected the streetlight. The fitted stone of its walls appeared held together with vines that snaked across its surfaces. No window, save one, gave off a soft light, and he focused on the curtained rectangle.

Quickness, cunning, and an expert twist of the knife would be important later, but patience he needed now. He stood, a waiting statute.

The light in the window went out. Senses heightened, the assassin adjusted his mindset in the blackness.

A door at the end of the building opened slowly. The assassin stopped breathing. The white hair of an elderly man and then his face appeared in the darkness for a long moment. It looked left and right. It searched dark areas. Evidently, the man saw nothing. He came out, locked the door behind him and proceeded onto the narrow laid stone sidewalk. He put his right hand in his coat pocket. In his left hand he held a thin, black leather attaché case. A chain looped loosely from the case and disappeared into the coat’s long sleeve.

Manacled! And the man held a gun. The assassin altered his attack plan.

Burgdorf looked up and down the street and then at his feet for a second as he stepped off the high curb to cross the rough cobblestone.

The assassin used this distraction to pull from his hiding place. He raced forward, soundless, a six-inch blade of razor sharp steel now in his hand. Only feet away, intent on his victim, he didn’t see a spot of oil on the road. His right foot slipped and threw him off balance. A raised cobblestone caught his foot hard, and pain lanced up his leg. His unintended grunt warned the Professor.

Suddenly frightened, Burgdorf spun toward the sound. From his right hand pocket, he yanked out a Luger, swung the gun toward his attacker and fired blindly.

As pain from his ankle exploded into his brain, the assassin desperately twisted to the side. The thunderous report from Burgdorf’s gun reverberated on the walls amidst the tightly packed houses. The bullet whined past his ear.

The assassin regained his balance on his good leg and drove forward, now desperate to prevent a second shot.

As his momentum carried him past, he grabbed the man’s coat collar, and with a violent twist, landed a fist into Bergdorf’s temple. The older man crumpled to the ground. His gun skittered many feet away.

Efficiently, the assassin slit the man’s throat, and then, with no time to search for a key, stomped hard on Bergdorf’s left wrist to break the bones. It took precious seconds to cut through muscle and tendons and to work the sharp American steel past the radius and ulna bones. The man’s hand parted his body and the assassin slipped the metal band from the mangled stump.

Ignoring his shooting pain and with the attaché case in hand, he retrieved the dead man’s gun from the middle of the street and sped away. Landmarks were difficult in the darkness, but the map he’d memorized brought him to the correct alley.

With no time to spare, his eyes still seeing spots from the gun’s flash, he bolted down the narrow cleft between two buildings, trusting that no one had moved a thing since he planned his escape two days before.

Now, with the plans for the new Nazi swept wing bomber in his hands, he became the hunted.

How quickly our positions change, he thought.

The noise of the gunshot brought many awake. The assassin pictured people coming to their darkened windows to look out. The gunshot would soon bring the police and no doubt, the SS. If he could not disappear and return to his side, it would be for nothing.

Recall said he’d reached the fence. He stopped and felt for it. His injured ankle throbbed. There! He touched it. Up and over. Again, he put down pain that arched redly into his brain.

He searched his memory map. Now to go through a park-like area and from there, woods and to the river. A fading quarter moon gave weak light to his surroundings. He did not want light and took advantage of every pool of darkness.

Limping as he ran, but with his imperative clear and his need great, he recalled his first day of training. He’d learned that day that assassins forfeited their lives the day they joined Covert Operations.

“Consider you are dead now,” his trainer said.

The assassin knew. He loved the rush. Them or him. What could be better? A natural killer, he’d found his place in life. Using his consuming hatred for the enemy as his banner, he would hurt the Nazi war machine and keep on hurting it until he met someone faster or smarter.

God, how he loved to gamble!

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