Jack Higgins – Sheba
Jack Higgins – Sheba
In 24 BC the Roman General, Aelius Gallus, tried to conquer Southern Arabia and succeeded only in losing most of his army in the awesome region known as the Empty Quarter, the Rubh al Khali. Amongst the survivors was a Greek adventurer named Alexias, centurion in the Tenth Legion, who walked out of the desert carrying with him a secret of the ancient world as astonishing as King Solomon’s Mines, a secret that was lost for two thousand years. Until…
AS RAIN DRIFTED across Berlin in a great curtain on the final evening of March a black Mercedes limousine moved along Wilhelmstrasse towards the new Reich Chancellery which had only opened in January. Hitler had given them a year to complete the project. His orders had been obeyed with two weeks to spare. Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, Chief of Military Intelligence, the Abwehr, leaned forward and wound down the window so that he could obtain a better view.
He shook his head. ‘Incredible. Do you realize, Hans, that the frontage on Voss-Strasse alone is a quarter of a mile long.’
The young man who sat next to him was his aide, a Luftwaffe captain named Hans Ritter. He had an Iron Cross Second and First Class and was handsome enough until he turned his head and the dreadful burn scar was visible on his right cheek; and there was a walking stick on the floor at his feet, the unfortunate result of his having been shot down by an American volunteer pilot while flying with the German Condor Legion in the Spanish Civil War.
‘With all those pillars, Herr Admiral, the marble, it’s more like some marvel of the ancient world.’
‘Instead of a symbol of the new order?’ Canaris shrugged and wound up the window. ‘Everything passes, Hans, even the Third Reich although our beloved Fiihrer has given us a thousand years.’ He took a cigarette from his case and Ritter gave him a light, as always slightly alarmed at the mocking in the older man’s voice.
‘As you say, Herr Admiral.’
‘Yes, it’s a bizarre thought, isn’t it? One day people could be wandering around what’s left of the Chancellery, tourists, just like they inspect the ruins of the Temple of Luxor in Egypt saying: “I wonder what they were like?'”
Ritter was thoroughly uncomfortable now as the Mercedes drove through the gilded gates into a court of honour and moved towards the steps leading up to the massive entrance. ‘If the Herr Admiral could give me an idea of why we’ve been called.’
‘I haven’t the slightest notion and it’s me he wants to see, not you, Hans. I simply want you on hand if anything unusual turns up.’
‘Shall I wait in the car?’ Ritter asked as they pulled up at the bottom of the steps.
‘No, you can wait in reception. Much more comfortable and you’ll be able to feast on the new art forms of the Third Reich. Vulgar, but sustaining.’
The Kriegsmarine Petty Officer who was his driver ran round to open the door. Canaris got out and waited courteously for Ritter, who had considerably more difficulty. His left leg was false from the knee down, but once on his feet he moved quite well with the aid of his stick and they went up the steps together.
The SS guards were troops of the Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler and wore black dress uniform and full white leather harness. They saluted smartly as Canaris and Ritter passed inside. The hall was truly remarkable with mosaic floor, doors seventeen feet high and great eagles carrying swastikas in their claws. A young Hauptsturm-fuhrer in dress uniform sat at a gold desk, two orderlies standing behind. He jumped to his feet.
‘Herr Admiral. The Fiihrer has asked for you twice.’
‘My dear Hoffer, I didn’t get his summons until half an hour ago,’ Canaris said. ‘Not that that will do me any good. This is my aide, Captain Ritter. Look after him for me.’
‘Of course, Herr Admiral.’ Hoffer nodded to one of the orderlies. ‘Take the Herr Admiral to the Fiihrer’s reception suite.’
The orderly set off at a sharp pace and Canaris went after him. Hoffer came round the desk and said to Ritter, ‘Spain?’