Michael J. Martinez
Books by Michael J. Martinez
Throughout the years, the Central Intelligence Agency and the other organizations within the U.S. Intelligence Community have been dedicated to helping keep this nation safe. That said, CIA in particular has a rather blemished track record when it comes to regime change and various dirty deeds. The events in 1949 Syria you’ll read about here are, for the most part, historically accurate — without the superpowered covert agents, of course. The United States has a long history of covert action and intervention in the Middle East, and the events in Syria described here are perhaps some of the strangest and, in some ways, most egregious. I chose to write about this time and place because it made for a compelling story, first and foremost — but as we think about the ongoing tragedies in Syria today, one can’t help but wonder if we were setting the stage for the events of today back in 1949.
The MAJESTIC-12 series is set in the late 1940s, and as such, the characters have some decidedly un-modern views with regard to race, class, and gender. These views were not included merely for historical accuracy but to recognize how far we’ve come since then — and perhaps highlight how much further we have to go.
Lt. Rudolf Schmidt of the Vienna
But he was pretty certain there was no crime quite like this one.
“I tell you, it is impossible,” said Josef Franz, director of security for the
Schmidt looked around the bank’s main vault, where only Vienna’s wealthiest could afford to keep their valuables — for all the good it did them. Money and valuables were strewn about haphazardly — jewels, bank notes, coins. It looked for all the world like someone had thrown a surprise party in the vault, but used gold and jewelry for confetti.
“Noon and two p.m. We check the vault itself every two hours,” Franz said. He was short and altogether too fat for his position, Schmidt thought. Likely a retired police officer, or even an old Austrian Army veteran who retired before the Nazis came to power. He didn’t look like he could secure a shopping bag, let alone a bank. Perhaps he was smart and had others do his bidding. It didn’t seem likely, though.
“We are searching the guards’ homes, but you say they never left,” Schmidt mused, half to himself. “Top-to-bottom search of the bank building itself, of course. Rooftops. Neighboring buildings. All employees and their vehicles.” He turned to face the director. “This is no way to spend Christmas Eve. Though perhaps it was the best time to try such a thing. Minds are elsewhere.”
“My guards are among the best in all the country,” Franz protested. “And I personally performed the noon check of the vault. All was in order. No one was inside.”
Schmidt walked gingerly around the looted vault as bank employees attempted to sort through the scattered treasures, pairing them with their private security boxes.
Adding to the mystery was the fact that either the thieves had carefully closed all the looted security boxes before leaving, or had somehow gained entry to them without opening the locks.
“Who would go to the trouble to re-lock all the boxes, yet scatter everything around?” Schmidt wondered aloud. “Takes far too much time.”
A different voice answered him. “Perhaps someone who didn’t need a key.”
Schmidt turned to see two smartly dressed people walking toward him with intent. The man was tall and broad, wearing a suit with a severe, American-style cut. He had short-cropped brown hair and a slight smile, and his dark brown eyes looked as though they’d seen quite a lot — not uncommon after the War, of course. The woman with him — a rarity in and of itself — was thin and pale, with intense green eyes and a mouth that seemed like it might never smile at all. A very dark dress suit with a white blouse added to her funereal aura. She walked right past them into the vault, her heels clicking on the concrete floor, while the man stopped and held out his hand.
“Special Agent Stanley Harper, United States Federal Bureau of Investigation,” he said. “We heard this was a crime of… particular interest. We’re helping out the occupation authority with similar incidents.”
Schmidt’s eyebrows rose. “Lieutenant Schmidt, Vienna police. A G-man? You have seen other crimes like this?” he asked as he shook the proffered hand.
The FBI man looked around. “Secure room, locked containers… yes, we have,” he said, his German accent nearly perfect to Schmidt’s ears. “Though not on this scale. Whoever is doing this, it seems they have found a new level of ambition.”
“Where else?” Schmidt asked.
Harper gave an apologetic smile. “Sorry. I really can’t say. Some very interesting places, though. I assume nothing large was taken?”
Schmidt couldn’t help but do a double take. “You are very well informed, Agent Harper. Nothing large is missing. There is a Gustav Klimt here worth millions. Vases and urns and other valuables. Only things that are small, easily palmed; those are the ones missing.”
“Palmed…” the American said, his eyes suddenly lost in thought. He then stooped down to pick up a few coins from the floor, wrapping them completely in his meaty fist. “Huh.”
“You have an idea?” Schmidt asked.
Harper smiled and made a show of dropping all the coins — as if he didn’t want to be accused of taking anything. “Just an idle thought,
Schmidt turned around to see the man’s partner — it was strange; he didn’t know of any police agency who had women investigators — running her hands across the various safe deposit boxes. She finally stopped and turned back to Harper, giving him a nod.
Harper held out a business card. “Once you’re done here, if you wouldn’t mind keeping us informed as you proceed?”
“Of course,” Schmidt said, taking the card. “You do not wish to look any further?”
“When you’ve seen what we’ve seen, you get a lot from one look,” the agent replied. “Thank you for your cooperation.”
The two turned to leave, but Schmidt hurried after them. “Can you at least give me an idea of what I’m looking for?” he asked, almost plaintively. “The diamonds taken here are worth several million marks.”
The woman turned and, to Schmidt’s great surprise, did actually smile. “You wouldn’t believe us if we told you.”
The two FBI agents walked out of the Austrian Postal Savings Bank — a beautiful, marble-clad Modernist ode to money itself — and onto the evening hustle and bustle of Biberstrasse. “Well? What’d you get?” the man who’d called himself Harper said in English, a slight Boston accent breaking through.
“It’s her,” the woman replied, stopping to look up at the bank building itself. “Thick walls, small girl. She didn’t even need to enter the front door. Only question I have is where she put her clothes.”
The bank occupied an entire block in Vienna’s historic core. There were no alleys, no place to really hide. If the bank really was hit between noon and two p.m., like the cops said, their suspect’s M. O. definitely would’ve been noticed.
“She parked,” the man said, looking at the cars lining the block. He quickly walked around the corner and saw that there were several cars angled in, with just a couple feet between the fenders and the building’s facade. “Here,” he said. “She parked here, got ready, and probably just went straight down.”
The woman next to him frowned. “There’s got to be thirty cars here, Frank.”
“Just on this side, too,” he replied. “Let’s get to work, Zip.”
Zipporah Silverman smiled wanly, pulled her coat tight around her, and started walking down the street, running her fingertips idly along the hoods of ...