BERLIN 1916 • by Robert Duffy

No, I don’t want a cigarette.


Everything was going according to plan. I met my contact in a dingy bar in the bowels of a low-class brothel.  A cesspool of thieves and perverts looking to ply their sick fantasies on drug-addled whores. A place my contact was fond of frequenting to indulge his own peculiar passions — information that would have raised a few eyebrows in the German High Command, not to mention the impact it would have had on his unsuspecting wife.  Debauched men like this were almost too easy to compromise. 

I watched as he came down the stairs, his skin flushed, his hair disheveled, clumsily re-buttoning his uniform tunic.  His face fell as soon as he saw me.

I smiled and motioned for him to join me at the bar. 

“What are you doing here?” he hissed.  He glanced around the room nervously. 

“Just confirming everything is in order,” I said, twirling my glass of Pernod and inspecting it for floating lice. You never knew in this place.

“I told you. He’ll be at the staff meeting at 11:00. There is a Teilnahmepflicht.”

My German was good, but not that good. I frowned quizzically.

“Attendance is required.”

“Herr General has been known to disobey orders.” 

The man shrugged, and I was tempted to knock him off his stool.  General von Schlossberg’s atrocities in Belgium were well known, in spite of official German policy prohibiting hostilities against civilians. Unfortunately that policy didn’t extend to reprisals.

Von Schlossberg was a career officer who had lost an eye at Sedan in 1877.  He was famous for his black monocle, an affectation that had earned him the nickname The Prussian Cyclops. He was also a sadist who had ravaged several Belgian villages, but that wasn’t my concern.  He was now head of a military research program that had developed the first practical bulletproof glass.  Allied intelligence was desperate to get their hands on the technology.  Von Schlossberg’s scientists were ensconced in a high-security army base, but we didn’t need them.  All we needed was a sample of the material, and our operatives had learned that the General, fearful of Belgian assassins, had ordered panes of Panzerglas to be installed in the windows of his hotel room during his stay in Berlin.  My mission was to replace one of those panes of bulletproof glass with ordinary glass.  If all went well, the Germans would be none the wiser.  

My contact glowered at me with his dark weasel-like eyes.  The eyes of a traitor.  “He’ll be at the meeting.  His room will be empty.”

I lowered my voice to a growl.  “If it isn’t, my associate will be making a call on your wife.  I believe she’s currently staying with her family in Baden?”

The man’s drawn features grew pale.

“He’ll have interesting information to share.  Even a few choice photographs.  Your wife may even recognize her missing peignoir.  Will the stains come out, do you think?”

This startled him.  “You’re lying.”

I nodded toward the stairs to the second floor.  “You’d be surprised what these degraded creatures will do for money.”  I downed my drink.  “But then, I think you know that already.”


Security at the Hotel Augenklappe was surprisingly lax for a capital city in wartime.  I had little trouble accessing the service entrance disguised as a delivery man.  I found a closet with staff uniforms, and I was soon crossing the main lobby as just another bellhop carrying a room service tray.  Only instead of food, under the plate cover I carried a square pane of ordinary glass, glazier’s tools, and — for good measure — a small Browning pistol, fully loaded. 

I had surprisingly little trouble picking the lock on the General’s room.  As my traitorous contact had promised, the room was empty. 

A large set of bay windows overlooked the street, individual panes separated by ornate wooden muntins. I could see where the panes had been swapped out, the fresh putty standing out in sharp contrast to the original cracked and faded joining material.  This made my job easier.  Fresh putty would be easy to scrape away and replace after I switched the glass. 

I had my supplies laid out on the floor (including the Browning) and was just starting when I heard the sudden hiss of an unsheathed saber behind me.  I turned and saw the imposing figure of General von Schlossberg in full Prussian glory, sword drawn, one piercing blue eye glaring at me in predatory anticipation and, next to it, the infamous black monocle.  Behind him stood two other officers, one holding another man by the scruff of his collar — my weasel-eyed contact from the bar. 

The traitor looked even more miserable than when I saw him last, no doubt with good reason. But I had little time to rue my being double-crossed. I was still on my knees, which put me at a bit of a disadvantage, but it also meant I was within reach of the Browning.  I grabbed the pistol, spun around, and fired point blank at the General’s face. 

I’m an excellent shot, and I’m not bragging when I say I aimed directly for that black monocle and hit it dead center.  It should have driven shards deep into the General’s brain, but I was shocked to see the bullet ricochet off the glass and embed itself in a wall.  It was then I realized this revolutionary glassmaking technology could be applied to more than just hotel windows.

The force of the shot still knocked the General backwards, and he collapsed in a heap. But before I could get off another round, I was set upon by his staff officers who began pummeling me in preparation for what I knew was going to be a very uncomfortable interrogation.  Nothing incapacitates you quite like the kick of a Prussian boot.


So no, I don’t want a cigarette. I’ll pass on the blindfold too.  I just want the bastards to get on with it.

Robert Duffy is currently capping off a 20+ year career as a technical writer and software manager at NASA Ames Research Center. He holds a Masters in Library and Information Science from San Jose State, and a Certificate in Technical and Professional Writing from San Francisco State, and is currently studying creative fiction through Stanford University Continuing Education. He has published verse in Black Wire Literary Magazine and prose in Jotters United. He currently lives with his wife in San Mateo, CA.

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