'Glastonbury' - A Novel by Brian L Porter

A Joe Cutler Mystery/Thriller

An excerpt from 'Cold as Ice', the sequel to 'Glastonbury'.

Joe Cutler and the team from Strata Survey Systems will soon be returning in a new adventure. 'Cold as Ice' is a sweeping tale that sees the action taking place amongst the snow-swept fjords of Norway, the steaming heat of the seeedier side of Istanbul and takes in locations in Germany and Israel as Joe and his specialists begin a race against time and terrosim in an attempt to discover the long-lost hiding place of a chemical formula with the potential to unleash death and destruction across the world. Cutler knows that ther are no prizes for coming second in the race.  the future of mankind is literally at stake!

Prologue

Norway 1943

 

            The Junkers Ju52 lifted off from the airfield just north of Bergen and rose slowly into the half light of the Norwegian dawn. The sound of the Luftwaffe’s ubiquitous transport aircraft scattered the small gathering of gulls that had been slumbering around the airfield perimeter and they rose with the aircraft into a grey-blue sky heavy laden with the threat of snow.

            At the controls Lieutnant Hans Brecht sighed with relief as he felt the aircraft claw it’s way into the air, the sooner he returned to Germany, the better he’d feel. He’d been despatched at short notice to make the pick-up and he was looking forward to picking up where he’d left off in the arms of Lotte, a widow of ample proportions whom he’d been involved with for little more than a fortnight.

At his side Wolfgang Hauser smiled at the pilot. Hauser was an able co-pilot who cared little for the pleasures of the flesh. Young, he was in love with flying. Though originally he’d have been happier flying one of the Luftwaffe’s Stukas or Messerschmitt 109 fighters he’d quickly grown to admire the handling qualities and the sheer stability of the corrugated skinned Ju 52, the T’ante Ju as she was affectionately known by her crews. Obsolescent in appearance from the day she left the drawing board the aircraft was nonetheless an integral and highly functional part of Nazi Germany’s Blitzkrieg operations. Just ask the conquered peoples of Norway, Poland, Crete or Greece.

            As the air sky grew lighter with each passing minute, Hauser began to hum to himself, this was very much a milk run, and the flight was not expected to pose any hazards whatsoever.

            In the rear cabin of the aircraft the single passenger sat muffled against the cold. Wilhelm Brandt was freezing, despite two layers of thick day clothing and a bowed army greatcoat and a thick woollen scarf. He tried to forget about the cold, instead concentrating on the contents of the briefcase that he clutched close to his chest. Brandt was a scientist and was perhaps the worst kind of Nazi. When the party had come to power he had seen his opportunity and had grabbed it with both hands, and with every fibre of his soul. The politics of Hitler and his cronies meant little to Brandt, but he did see the chance to further his own scientific aims, and enhance his personal reputation by making his services readily available to the party hierarchy. He was easily able to ignore and shut from his mind the evil excesses of the leader he so faithfully followed and it wasn’t long before Wilhelm Brandt had risen to a position of respect and importance in the scientific research echelons of Nazi Germany.

            When the Nazis invaded Norway he had been delighted to be put in charge of research at the Bergen development. What he now carried in his briefcase was the culmination of that work, a chance to further his career and bring him to the personal attention of the Fuhrer himself. It had been a chance discovery, an offshoot of the original research project that had presented him with this opportunity, and he knew that if the Fuhrer liked and approved of what he’d discovered, (and there was no reason why he shouldn’t), then the likes of Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin could go hang themselves. The war would be over in a matter of weeks and Germany would be the sole ruling power in the civilized world.

            Below the aircraft the fjords and mountains of Norway swept by unseen by Brandt, and perceived only as mental images by Brecht and Hauser. They knew they were there, but at this height they couldn’t see them. Half-an-hour into the flight Brecht was disturbed by the unmistakeable sound of a mechanical malfunction. He and Hauser looked at each other and nodded in silent agreement. Hauser peered through the starboard cockpit window to see what they both new to be the cause of the trouble. Angry flames were spurting from the starboard engine housing.

            “Damn,” Hauser cursed, and turned to Brecht with a look of impatience rather than worry on his face. “Number one’s a flamer,” he said with professional detachment.

            “Feather it,” Brecht ordered, and Hauser flicked the switch that would shut off the supply of fuel and bring the starboard engine to a standstill.

            Brecht pushed the control column forward and began a gradual descent, the aircraft could fly quite adequately on two engines, but he wanted to reduce the aircraft’s height in case things got worse and he needed to find a place to land.

            “Should be OK Wolfgang,” he said quietly, “The old bird should make it all the way as long as we don’t hit bad weather along the route.”

            The met report from Bergen had given them a fifty-fifty chance of snow, Brecht hoped that the odds would fall in their favour.

            “Better go tell our passenger what’s happened,” he said to Hauser, who unbuckled his harness and began to make his way to the rear cabin of the aircraft.

            Hauser returned five minutes later.

            “Our little Nazi isn’t too happy, he’s threatening to have us sent to a concentration camp if we don’t get him to Berlin safely and on time. He says he’s carrying papers vital to the war effort, and that the Fuhrer himself is waiting to see them” he grinned at Brecht.

            Neither of the pilots had much love for the Nazi’s. They were professional Air Force officers and therefore dedicated to serving their country whoever might wield the political power in Berlin. Like many of their generation they had little choice but to serve Hitler and his generals; to do otherwise would have been akin to making a public declaration of disloyalty and tantamount to exhibiting a death wish in the climate of fear and total submission to the Nazis that existed in the Third Reich. In private however, they could voce their opinions to each other and to their fellow pilots, in public, their arms would be raised in the ramrod stiff Nazi salute along with the most fanatical supporters of the Fuhrer.

            “Well he’ll have to put up with it won’t he?” said Brecht. “We might be a little late arriving in Berlin, and the air’s a little rougher at this lower altitude, but we can’t do anything else, and he’s just going to have to sit it out. Adolf will have to wait.”

            As if in answer to Brecht’s comment the aircraft suddenly lurched as it hit a trough of turbulence. Brecht kept the plane under perfect control but saw that the sky ahead was growing darker by the second. Within minutes the Junkers was flying through a white hell as a violent snowstorm filled the air around them, the arctic white camouflage of the aircraft perfectly blending in with the snow-filled sky.

            There was no let-up in the snowfall as Brecht and Hauser forced the plane to forge ahead, the outside temperature was dropping and ice began to form on the wings, making the controls heavy and sluggish in the pilot’s hands. Visibility fell until the only thing visible through the windscreen was the white curtain of snow that had engulfed them.

            “We need to lose altitude,” said Brecht matter-of-factly.

            “What about the mountains?” asked Hauser.

            “We’ve no choice, if she keeps icing up like this we’ll lose all the control surfaces, and be forced down anyway” Brecht stated bluntly.

            As the aircraft grew heavier by the minute from the weight of the ice that was forming on her wings, the two pilots devoted all their time and attention to keeping the corrugated metal bird in the air. Their passenger was forgotten by the men in the cockpit. They were doing their job to the best of their ability.

            Wilhelm Brandt was shaking. The violent tremors that shook his body were composed from a mixture of the freezing temperatures and the fear that gripped him as the aircraft lurched through the storm. He wanted to get up, walk to the cockpit and order the pilots to fly around the storm, gain or lose height or do whatever they could to make the buffeting and yawing stop, but he couldn’t move. He was rooted to the spot by his fear and he sat miserably clutching his briefcase as yet another shudder shook the Junkers and his stomach lurched as the aircraft dropped a hundred feet in about a second as the turbulence forced her lower and lower.

            He was still sitting shaking and clutching his briefcase with the papers vital to the war effort two minutes later when Brecht and Hauser suddenly saw, through a temporary lull in the ferocity of the storm, the looming and inescapable edifice of the mountain that lay directly in the path of the rugged but ice-laden aircraft.

            The two pilots looked at each other, they both knew the score. Together they pulled back on their respective control columns in an effort to force the nose up but both knew that their efforts were futile and merely a reflexive response to their situation. Neither man said a word as they fought vainly with the ice-affected controls; they had no illusions about their fate.

No-one saw or heard the explosion that rocked the mountainside as the Ju 52 ploughed into the rock face. The sudden burst of flame that accompanied the exploding fuel and the burning fuselage was witnessed only by the birds that huddled on the ledges of the bleak mountainside sheltering from the worst of the storm. The snow served as nature’s fire extinguisher. A few shards of burning metal flew through the air to land with a hiss and a splash and quickly disappeared into the dark waters of the fjord that lay at the foot of the mountain, and in less than two minutes all the flames were gone, silence returned to the mountainside, and the birds returned to their shelters from the storm.

Wilhelm Brandt would never see Berlin, the Fuhrer wouldn’t shake his hand and thank him for helping win the war, and Hans Brecht would never again sample the charms of the delectable widow in Berlin, nor would Hauser ever get the chance to fly that fighter plane he’d dreamed of.

The aircraft had been blown so far off course by the storm that no search could possibly have found her even if the authorities back in Bergen knew she’d hit trouble. Only when the Junkers was reported overdue in Berlin that evening was the alarm raised in Bergen and by then it was too late!

 

Chapter 1 has been omitted from this excerpt

Chapter 2

Istanbul, Turkey (Present day)

 

            Kurt Schroeder made his way through the thronging crowds that seemed to take up every inch of space on the streets of Istanbul. The sights, sounds and aromas of a hot Turkish afternoon filled his mind and assaulted his senses as he pushed his way through a gaggle of chattering youths and strode the last few yards towards the door that marked the entrance to his destination. A red neon sign blinked at him from the white stone wall above the door, and the irony of the name wasn’t lost on Schroeder. Despite it being only three in the afternoon and broad daylight, the sign was illuminated, he thought perhaps it never went off, and announced to all who approached that they were about to enter the Club Paradise.

            From the down-at-heel appearance of the sign, and the building to which it was attached, Schroeder felt that the owner of the establishment might just have decided to deliberately pick what he thought to be the least appropriate name for his place of business. No-one in their right mind could possibly see any semblance of paradise in the outward vista of the drinking den. Perhaps things would be different inside he conjectured.

            He was wrong! It took him a full twenty seconds to allow his eyes to adjust to the murky gloom that met his gaze as he penetrated into the interior of the Paradise Club. A thick pall of heavy smoke hung in a vaporous cloud just below the ceiling, attempting to foil any attempt by the dim row of light bulbs set in ceiling fittings to bring any sense of illumination to the place. Squadrons of fat, well fed flies circled the bulbs, enjoying the heat and readying themselves for an assault on any likely food source that might present itself. The room itself was dirty, scruffy and decidedly threatening in the aura it presented to the visitor, and Schroeder felt that he would rather be almost anywhere else in the world rather then in that cess-pit of a club at that moment in time. The customers, and there weren’t too many at that time of day, were as filthy and as menacing a crowd as he could have imagined, perfectly fitting with the ambience of the Paradise Club.

            His eyes accustomed at last to the gloomy interior, Kurt Schroeder made his way to the bar. A fat, greasy-looking barman with a moustache that hung over his top lip like a rampaging woolly caterpillar rose from his leaning position on the wet, drink-stained wooden surface. He looked menacingly at Schroeder, as though daring him to place an order for a drink. He didn’t speak at all as Schroeder placed one foot on the brass rail that ran along the front of the bar and leaned towards the man, making sure his white suit remained untainted by the filth that had accumulated on the front surfaces of the bar. A raised questioning eyebrow was the nearest Schroeder came to eliciting a response from the man.

            “I’m here to see Mehmet Achmed.”

Schroeder spoke sternly in heavily accented English but there was great authority in his words to the despicable little man.

“Don’t know him,” replied the barman in halting English.

“Then you’d better be prepared to take a swim with the fishes in the Bosporus,” Schroeder responded. “Achmed is expecting me and if you don’t take me straight to him right now you’ll be very sorry indeed, you disgusting little turd.”

With that, he reached inside his well-pressed white suit jacket and extracted the meanest-looking handgun the barman had ever seen, (he’d seen a few), and pointed it across the bar at a point straight between the man’s eyes.

The man flinched at the sight of the weapon and stepped back from the bar as thought that could save him from the trajectory of any bullet that suddenly expended from the chamber of the revolver in Schroeder’s hand.

“Who wants him?” he asked, his voice firm, betraying little of the fear he must have felt at Schroeder’s threat.

“Schroeder, Kurt Schroeder, and be quick little man, or you’ll regret it, that I promise you.”

“Wait here,” said the worm behind the bar, and he shuffled to the end of the bar and came out into the main body of the room. He didn’t look back at Schroeder as he made his way to the back of the bar-room and disappeared through a green panted door that Schroeder assumed led to an office of some kind.

Less than minute later the door opened once more and the barman gestured to Schroeder towards him.

“In there,” he said, pointing through the door as Schroeder reached within a yard of him, at which point the barman quickly scurried off to one side and made his way back across the floor to his position behind the dirty scruffy bar counter.

Kurt Schroeder stepped through the door and closed it behind him. He was in a corridor some twenty feet in length with walls as dirty and grubby as the rest of the Paradise Club, painted in a drab shade of grey, with cobwebs hanging from the ceiling and stains of an indeterminate nature present at varied points along its surface. At the end of the corridor another door blocked his way, smarter in appearance than the rest of the establishment. This one was constructed of the finest oak, highly polished and with immaculately burnished brass door handle and push plate. Schroeder knocked, and without waiting for a reply he pressed down on the handle and marched confidently into the room that lay beyond.

The contrast with the rest of the Paradise Club was startling, and that was an understatement. The room in which Schroeder now found himself was clean, well-lit and beautifully decorated. Lavish Turkish wall-hanging tapestries adorned three of the walls, with the other wall panted a pleasing shade of magnolia. On that wall hung three oil paintings, all of scenes from Turkey’s great past as a colonial power during the time of the Ottomans. On the floor, exquisite carpets lay, covered here and there by a selection of hand-woven Turkish rugs, all of which must have cost their owner a small fortune. The contrast between the exterior veneer of the Paradise Club and this lavish and exquisite inner sanctum could not have been greater. Schroeder realised that the outer shell of the establishment was nothing more than a blind to disguise what really went on within this room, this place from where the man known as Mehmet Achmed controlled one of the largest and most well-financed arms of international terrorism in the modern world. Its existence was known to  only  a few living beings on the planet, and now, Kurt Schroeder had been admitted to this exclusive and very small list of those ‘privileged’ to know of its existence.

The man in question was in fact seated behind a very large and expensive desk that sat in front of the wall containing the paintings. He looked entirely the appropriate owner of the lavishly decorated room in which he sat. Schroeder was impressed by his neatly pressed tailored suit, which he estimated to be on a quality par with his own, and by his well-groomed jet black hair, cut in a short back-and-sides, and his nails had obviously recently undergone a manicure. From a sitting position it was hard to judge the man’s height, but he looked to be tall, almost as tall as Schroeder, and there was no doubting the wealth that exuded from the man who now smiled in greeting at the German, his hand reaching out and upwards from behind his desk, though he didn’t make any move to rise as Schroeder approached.

Kurt Schroeder took the proffered hand and shook it, impressed by the firmness of the grip. His host spoke in near-perfect German, Schroeder was impressed.

“Herr Schroeder, welcome to my humble establishment, you must forgive the behaviour of Ali out there. He does my bidding well and ensures my privacy is not disturbed, but he can be a little brusque at times, particularly with strangers and foreigners. Please sit.”

Schroeder seated himself in the chair indicated by Achmed, a comfortable overstuffed armchair with myriad cushions placed haphazardly all over its surface.

Reverting to his native language he answered his host’s lengthy greeting with a simple,

            “Herr Achmed.”

            “I see you are a man of few words Herr Schroeder. Very well, let us get down to business. You are, or at least you say you are capable of delivering a system of destruction to my people that will make the rest of the world sit up and take notice of us and our demands. Do I speak succinctly enough, and is this correct?”

            “You are correct Herr Achmed, inasmuch as I will soon be able to deliver such a system. It is not yet in my hands, but soon will be.”

            “You will forgive my scepticism Herr Schroeder, but others have made such promises in the past and been unable to deliver. Why should I place my faith and my trust in you when they have failed so visibly to bring me what I seek?”

            “Does the name Wilhelm Brandt mean anything to you” asked the German.

            “Of course. He was a Nazi scientist working on the heavy water project set up by the Germans in Norway during the Second World War. They hoped to produce an atomic bomb, but they were beaten to it by the American’s Manhattan Project at Los Alamos. He was something of a genius, though he disappeared in somewhat mysterious circumstances before the war ended and was never heard from again.”

            “Wilhelm Brandt was in possession of something far more valuable than the secret of the Atom Bomb when he died Herr Achmed, of that I can assure you. What he had with him would make the bomb look like a firecracker by comparison.”

            “How do you know this Herr Schroeder, and what was this devastating weapon that could cause so much destruction, and why has no-one ever heard of it?”

            “The answers are not quite that easy to give to you,” said Schroeder, measuring his words carefully. “Firstly, I know so much about it because my own great grandfather was involved in the project. He died a little while ago and I came into possession of certain papers he had kept from all those years ago. Secondly, the system of which I speak is not a weapon as such, at least not in the conventional sense of the word. They discovered it by accident and Brandt was on his way back to Germany to report on his findings to the Fuehrer himself when the aircraft he was travelling in was lost without trace. Finally, no-one has heard of it until now because my great-grandfather was the only one apart from Brandt who knew the full extent of what their discovery could mean in terms of it’s overall destructive power, and when Brandt disappeared he decided that he would keep the knowledge to himself, such was his horror of what the consequences might be if he revealed the truth. I’m afraid that he was something of a humanitarian, my great-grandfather. He didn’t really appreciate what he and Brandt had discovered, the sheer simplicity and destructive power that they could unleash. If Brandt had made it to Berlin I have no doubt that Germany would have won the war and conquered the world, Herr Achmed, such was the prize that so nearly fell into the hands of Nazi Germany.”

            “And you say you now have the means to deliver this system to me my friend?”

            “I soon will have. My associates are even now searching for the remains of the aircraft in which Brandt met his end. The papers that map out the formula of his system were in a waterproof despatch case when he left Norway in 1943, so should have survived all but a destructive fire when the aircraft was lost.”

            “And how do you know that no such fire took place?”

            “A massive search was launched when the aircraft disappeared. If it had crashed and caught fire there would have been a discovery of some kind of wreckage. No such wreckage was found. I believe that the aircraft crashed into the sea, or into one of the deep Norwegian fjords that it flew across on its way to Germany. My people are tracing the flight plan and getting ready to dive the minute we have an inkling of the aircraft’s whereabouts. We will find the papers Herr Achmed, and I will deliver the formula to you. What you do with it then is your own business. I merely ask that you meet my asking price for the contents of the briefcase.”

            “Ah, yes, the mere matter of ten million US dollars Herr Schroeder. Tell me again, just what is it that is supposed to be of such value to me and my organization? What exactly is the basis of this formula? What is it that carries such destructive power that the world will tremble at the feet of Mehmet Achmed?”

            Kurt Schroeder smiled, a grin spreading across his face as he readied himself to deliver the punch line to his sales pitch.

            “Herr Achmed, I guarantee that you will not be disappointed by what I am offering to you. You will be the only person in the world with such a weapon at your disposal, no-one will be able to stand in your way, and there will be no defence against such a destructive force as you will possess.”

            “Yes, yes of course, Herr Schroeder, but as I said, what is it?” asked the terrorist, impatience rising along with the tone of his voice.

            “Oh yes, of course, the system,” Schroeder smiled again, then leaned back in his chair as he delivered the final shocking part of his narrative, the bottom line of his sales pitch.

            “You see Herr Achmed, the beauty of the system is that it harnesses the power of one of the earth’s elements in such a way that no-one has previously envisaged as being possible. In short Brandt and my great-grandfather discovered by accident that the most deadly force the world has ever seen, against which there can be no defence whatsoever can be created from nothing more than the clever application of a chemical formula to ordinary, everyday water.”

            “Water?” Achmed stormed. “You expect me to pay ten million dollars for the chemical formula for water?”

            “Not for water, Herr Achmed, but for the formula for the chemical that you add to the water. Think of the possibilities. You take a harmless powder into a country with you; it is totally inert, with no dangerous properties whatever. Then, at a given time you add the substance to ordinary common or garden water, and hey presto! You have destruction on a scale hitherto unheard of anywhere on Earth.”

            “Ingenious,” said Achmed, leaning back in his plush leather chair. “Positively ingenious Herr Schroeder. Let us hope that your associates do not take too long to bring their search to a successful conclusion. Now, would you like a drink my friend?”

            Mehmet Achmed reached for the bottle of Raki that sat on the desk near his elbow, and together the two men drank a toast to the success of their mission. For Schroeder this would be purely a financial transaction, but for Achmed, the possession of the Brandt formula would mean so much more. Suddenly, the terrorist was aware that his own destiny might just be calling him to take centre stage at last. His time had come, he was going to leave his mark upon the world, and no-one would ever forget his name.

            Outside, at the bar Ali swatted another fly, the squadron was one short. The others simply flew upward once again and recommenced their circling of the light bulb that hung just above the level of the smoke induced fog that still hovered in the bar-room of the Paradise Club.

   

                                                                                        

'Cold as Ice' will be coming soon. Watch this site for further details!


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