Proof Positiveby Philip Singerman
When his long-lost love and new bride Clara was brutally murdered in an Austrian mountain chateau while they were on their honeymoon, super-sleuth and undercover operative Roland Troy quits chasing criminals and retreats to the back woods of Vermont. But when his old friend and former partner McKenzie Rockett travels from Florida to ask a favor, Troy knows he can't
When his long-lost love and new bride Clara was brutally murdered in an Austrian mountain chateau while they were on their honeymoon, super-sleuth and undercover operative Roland Troy quits chasing criminals and retreats to the back woods of Vermont. But when his old friend and former partner McKenzie Rockett travels from Florida to ask a favor, Troy knows he can't say no to Rockett's request for help in solving one last homicide.
Troy is partnered up with beautiful, ex-model, Angela Becker, a superb undercover cop in her own right. The two of them quickly find that they are on the trail of something far larger and darker than what Troy and Rockett had initially assumed: an on-going international conspiracy that has spanned not only the decades, but generations as well.
This riveting stand-alone sequel to Prancing Tiger (Morrow, 0-688-13049-6), takes the reader from rural Vermont to the swampland of Florida, and into the mountains along the Austrian-Italian border on a hunt for the truth about one girl's past and the history of an entire nation.
At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.
"A solid thriller that, with its high-concept story and larger-than-life villains, should appeal to anyone who is looking for another Boys from Brazil."-Booklist
Read an Excerpt
ITHE PAST—NOVEMBER 1945Solomon Kessler heard the sharp crack of a high-powered rifle and saw a bundled figure come off the ridgeline as though it were trying to fly. He knelt quickly behind a tree and watched the figure tumble partway down the slope toward the river before coming to rest against a fallen log. As the figure tumbled Kessler heard two more shots, less powerful than the first and fired in rapid succession, probably from a pistol, followed by what sounded like a far-off cry, though it could have been the wind. He waited for several minutes behind the tree, his eyes on the ridgeline, straining to see at a distance through the snow. Halfway between the ridgeline and the log he saw something—a scarf perhaps, or a hat—that had come off the tumbling figure and lay on the white slope, rising and falling forlornly in the wind. The echo of the shots was long gone; the wind was now the only sound he heard. As far as he could tell no one from up above was coming after the bundled figure.According to the blazes slashed on the trunks of two trees angling southwest from where he knelt, it was time for Kessler to leave the trail he had been following along the river and begin climbing toward the old hunting lodge where he was to spend the night. His path would take him within yards of the tumbling figure that now lay in a motionless heap. He would have preferred to continue waiting and then follow a different route to the lodge, or better yet, circumvent the lodge altogether, but he had no choice. The light was fading, the snowfall was increasing, and since he could carry nothing that might indicate the direction of his journey, Kessler had no map. If he didn’t reach the lodge by nightfall he would surely freeze to death in the mountains. There was nothing for him to do but begin climbing directly toward the place from which the shots had come.Kessler had been walking since he jumped from the back of a truck early that morning just north of Brenner Pass in the rugged mountains between Austria and Italy. The truck was loaded with crates of chickens, and as he moved south, following the river, the acrid odor of chicken droppings moved with him. The smell didn’t bother him. Neither did the snow that began falling shortly after he paused at noon to eat the sandwich and drink from the flask of tepid coffee the truck driver had given him. After what he had been through in the death camp, after what he had seen, the smell of chicken manure and some bad weather were as insignificant as the occasional feather that worked loose from his clothing and drifted to the ground with the snow.The hunting lodge had been built more than a hundred years earlier in the dense, precipitous woods outside the town of Merano, along a route laid out for him by the underground transport network—the Bricha—that took its name from the Hebrew word meaning escape. He was to spend one night at the lodge. The following morning he would be escorted into Merano where another truck would take him to Genoa. There he would board a freighter bound first for Lisbon and then for Baltimore. In the United States he would begin a new life, assuming something didn’t happen to him before he reached the ship.Solomon Kessler had been captured once, two years earlier on his seventeenth birthday, by an SS squad on patrol outside the small Hungarian town where he was born. The SS officers put him on a train to Auschwitz. In the five months since the Allied soldiers liberated the camp he had gained thirty pounds but he still looked gaunt, his haunted eyes smoldering from dark hollows in his face like a pair of flickering lanterns at the bottom of a well. Though he continued to suffer sporadic pains in his chest and fits of dizziness, the results of malnutrition and numerous beatings, Kessler had made the decision to flee through the underground rather than run the risk of being transported east to Russia. In the pocket of his coat was a 9 mm Luger taken from the body of a German soldier he found in the forest shortly after the liberation. Before beginning his climb, he reached into his pocket and touched the cold metal, wrapping his fingers around the stock and carefully releasing the safety. He was determined not to be captured again.The bundled figure lay face up in the snow. Though the dark hair framing a pale, round face was quite short, he could tell at once by the smooth skin and the delicate hand that rested palm up on the fallen log that it was a woman. She had been shot in the back and was still conscious, but just barely, her life seeping darkly into the snow. Her large eyes were open. As they fixed on him with the crazed, desperate gaze of a wild animal caught in a trap he felt as though he were looking into a mirror.“What happened,” he said, speaking to her in Yiddish. “Who did this?” She opened her mouth to answer but could manage only a hoarse, croaking sound, a weak groan. A small, pinkish bubble appeared between her lips. She groaned again, and died.The face of death was nothing new to him. For more than a year he had been forced to pull gold from the teeth of dead bodies, reaching into the twisted, gaping mouths of the gassed with a pair of pliers specially designed for his job. The work had numbed him, leaving him bereft of almost any emotion, yet as he looked at the young woman in the snow, he shuddered. She had survived as he had only to end up like this, another dead Jew, soon to be a forgotten pile of bones as anonymous as the rest. For what? The few American dollars or British pounds she was carrying? A piece of jewelry she had somehow managed to bring with her? A passport that like his had been forged?He reached down, closed the woman’s eyes, quickly mumbled the Kaddish—the prayer for the dead—and was about to move on when he saw something under her coat she seemed to be clutching with her other hand. He knelt in the snow, hesitated for a few seconds, then opened the coat. A book, spattered with the woman’s blood, lay across her frail chest. He leaned closer and saw that it was an album filled with photographs and that its leather cover was embossed with a circle surrounding two vertical lightning bolts—the seal of the SS. Again he hesitated for several seconds, glancing up at the ridge, listening for something other than the sound of the wind. Hearing nothing, he moved the woman’s tiny cold hand, lifted the album from her chest, and opened it.The cruel, bloated face of SS Blockfuhrer Konrad Stuebbe, frozen in a half-smile, looked back at him. He knew that face well. Stuebbe had walked the platform next to the railroad siding at Birkenau, meeting incoming trains, deciding with a wave of his riding crop who would be sent to a labor detail and who would die at once in the gas chamber. The photograph had caught Stuebbe in mid-stride, the riding crop held aloft, a shaft of light glancing off a raised, polished boot. In the confusion during the liberation of the camp Stuebbe had managed to escape.Solomon Kessler watched snowflakes fall on the photograph of Konrad Stuebbe and on the face of the woman whose name he did not know. She had not been shot for money or jewels or a forged document, but because of this album. Of that he was certain. That was why she had been running when the bullet struck her in the back. Someone had tried to take it from her and she had refused to give it up. But why hadn’t this person come down the slope to retrieve the album? Maybe the two pistol shots were the answer to that question. Maybe the woman had a friend, but if so, where was this friend? It was pointless, Kessler realized, to stand there wondering, for no matter what the answers, he was going to the lodge. He brushed the snow from the snapshot, closed the album, placed it in the inner pocket of his coat, and took one last look at the woman’s face, fixing it in his memory. Then he resumed climbing, ignoring the woolen scarf lying on the slope, now almost covered by newly fallen snow.
“My son killed a stag a short while ago,” the man said. “It’s being dressed at this very moment in the shed outside the kitchen. You may, in fact, have heard the shots.”The man was beetle-browed, short and squat, with long arms and a heavy beard. He looked, Solomon Kessler thought, like an ape. A dangerous ape. He was one of the professional smugglers who ran the lodge. He spoke to Kessler in German.“I heard nothing,” Kessler said, studying the man’s face. “Nothing but the wind.”The two of them were sitting in a tiny room on the second floor of the lodge, Kessler on the narrow bed, the other man on an old wooden chair. The room was thankfully quite cold, allowing Kessler to remain huddled in the coat that he did not want to remove.“Maybe you would like a broiled chop before we leave in the morning,” the man said. “Or do you eat stag?”“I eat whatever is placed in front of me,” Kessler said. “I am not a fussy eater.”“No,” the man said. “I don’t imagine you would be. Not now.”He rose, walked to the door, and turned, his hand on the knob.“They fought a fierce battle less than two kilometers from here,” he said. “The forest is filled with … reminders. Reminders of what took place.”“I saw nothing,” Solomon Kessler said. “The reminders must all be covered by the snow.”The man smiled and nodded. “There is a bathroom at the end of the hallway,” he said. “To the right. Feel free to use it. But do not, under any circumstances, go down to the first floor. Is that understood?”“Yes,” Kessler said.The man nodded again and left the room. Kessler continued sitting on the bed, listening to his footsteps on the rickety wooden stairs across from the tiny bedroom. He knew why he had been warned not to go down to the first floor. The smugglers, owing allegiance to no one, were willing to run anyone or anything across the border if the price were right. They kept Jews on the second floor, Nazis on the first, and contraband in the long shed where supposedly the freshly killed stag was being dressed. For all Kessler knew, Konrad Stuebbe himself could be sleeping in a room below him, or lying dead in the forest with the young woman. It had been made very clear to Kessler that the smugglers would do whatever they deemed necessary to keep their business running smoothly.Late that night, by the light of a tiny kerosene lamp placed on the nightstand next to the bed, Solomon Kessler carefully examined the rest of the album. It was filled with pictures of prisoners in the death camp where he had spent two years, some of whom were from his hometown and had been his friends: Otto Rothberg, the champion table tennis player; Michael Epstein, the mathematics genius who wanted to become an astronomer; Esther Kolodny, who used to sit out in the fields and paint landscapes; Rabbi Likovski, who had been his teacher; his older sister Freda; all of them as dead as the young woman in the forest. Intermingled with these faces were the photographs of the brutal men who had run the camp, among them Helmut Weber, the very young but vicious SS officer in the section where the prisoners’ belongings were stockpiled, an area known as Canada because of that country’s wealth of natural resources. Weber prided himself on his ability to kill a man with a bullwhip. He saw the face of Stefan Butowski, who threw babies into the air and caught them on the end of his bayonet, and Wolfgang Reiger, who had sex with teenage boys and then shot them. He looked again at Konrad Stuebbe, the selector, the man who had separated him forever from his family. There were others, young men not much older than he, every bit as good at dealing out death and torture as their elders.Only two people had been allowed to have cameras in the camp, an SS officer named Walter Kroner, the man in charge of identification, and Rolf Gormann, his assistant. The two of them ran a photo lab next to one of the killing facilities. Undoubtedly they had taken the photographs, but how had the woman in the forest gained possession of the album? Where had she found it? Solomon Kessler studied the faces of the prisoners carefully, but could not find the young woman among them.Finally, when he could no longer keep his eyes open, Kessler closed the album and put it back in the inner pocket of his coat. He extinguished the lamp and lay down on the narrow bed. Still wearing the coat, he pulled the single blanket he had been given up to his chin and listened to the wind howling through the forest, the wind that was covering the dead woman’s body with snow. He felt the Luger, heavy along his right side, and the album, resting against his chest, as it had rested against hers. Silently, in the darkness, he began to cry.
Standing in the doorway of the kitchen on the first floor of the same hunting lodge that was a way station—an anlaufstelle—along his escape route, SS officer Helmut Weber heard the sharp crack of the rifle and knew the woman was dead. Stuebbe was a superb marksman, and in her boots and heavy coat she would have been moving far too slowly through the snow for him to miss. Now it was a simple matter of taking the album from her and destroying it, and the two of them would be safe. Equipped with their new identities they would travel first to Syria and then, when things calmed down a little, to the United States where a legitimate business was already in place, well financed by plunder funneled out of Germany during the past year and a half.Once secure in America, they would wait some more, many years perhaps, but one day he and Stuebbe would return to Austria and retrieve the millions in gold they had buried there. It didn’t matter how long it took. Though only twenty-one, Helmut Weber was a very patient man, and gold lasted forever.It was fortunate that the woman disobeyed the smuggler who ran the lodge and came downstairs looking for something to eat, and that he and Stuebbe had just then stepped into the kitchen. Had she not seen them, had she not screamed out their names and dropped the album in her panic, she would have escaped with it, carrying irrefutable evidence of their complicity in the activities at the camp. It was fortunate too that in her panic the woman scooped up the album and ran from the lodge into the woods rather than back upstairs where it would have been much more difficult to kill her without attracting attention. Stuebbe, skilled at gunning down moving targets from his time in the camp, had instantly grabbed the rifle hanging on the wall above the table and pursued her into the snow.Weber stood in the doorway of the kitchen, listened to the echo of the rifle shot and smiled. Then he heard two more shots, fired in rapid succession, from a smaller weapon, probably a pistol, and his smile vanished. Stuebbe had no pistol. He was carrying only the smuggler’s rifle. Quickly, Weber walked through the kitchen and down the hallway to the bedroom he and Stuebbe were sharing. He closed the bedroom door behind him, sat down in the easy chair next to the window and waited.An hour went by and Stuebbe still had not returned. Weber watched the snow that was falling heavily now on the wooded hillside behind the lodge. He was thinking about going out to look for his companion, weighing that against the danger of walking through a strange forest in the fading light, when the door opened and the smuggler, the man who looked like a partially shaved gorilla, came into the room.“Almost always the guests at this lodge abide by the rules,” he said. “Your friend, however, was one of the few who either didn’t understand them, or chose to ignore them. That was most unfortunate for him. If I were you, I would spend the remainder of the night right here in this room. In the morning someone will come for you. You’ll be making the remainder of your trip alone. Be very careful, Herr Weber. The war is over. You aren’t in charge anymore.”So, Weber thought, after the smuggler left his room, Stuebbe killed the woman, and those who are in charge up here in the mountains, now that the war is over, in turn killed him. So much the better. Stuebbe was a pompous, hot-headed ass who would have caused them both plenty of trouble sooner or later. And anyway, he had had enough of the subservient role the older officer demanded, even now, after the war was over, after they were no longer in charge and their respective rank meant nothing. He was smarter than Stuebbe and considerably more ruthless. He would prosper infinitely more without him, especially since he, Weber, had the map showing the location of the gold and now would not have to share it with anyone. Weber smiled at his sudden good fortune. The young Jewish woman and the smuggler unwittingly conspired to do him a great favor since sooner or later he would have ended up killing Stuebbe himself. As for the album, it was probably lost forever in the forest along with the woman and was not something he planned to worry about.Weber opened the pack that held his belongings and took out the small leather folder containing the papers with his new identity. He opened his passport and studied the photograph of his face. The features were hard, the mouth cruel, the eyes unflinching and devoid of emotion. Unlike the soft, pudgy face of his late companion Stuebbe, there wasn’t an ounce of extra flesh, reflecting the self-discipline of which Weber was very proud.Weber’s gaze focused on the right ear in the photograph, the ear with the top third missing. He was proud of that as well. At the age of twelve he had organized a group of boys his age into a band of thieves. He did this not for the money—Weber’s father was a wealthy Bavarian businessman—but for the thrill, for the excitement he derived from sneaking into homes at night when the occupants were asleep and stealing their belongings. When the gang was caught the local magistrate went easy on Weber because of his father’s position in the community. His father, however, was furious, accusing Weber of disgracing his name. In a moment of rage he grabbed Weber by the hair and cut off part of his ear with a pair of garden shears. He told his son that now he would forever bear the mark of his family’s shame. With blood running down his neck, Weber stood in front of his father, refusing to cry. “I am only ashamed that I was caught,” he said. Then he bent down, picked up the severed piece of ear, put it in his mouth and ate it. A month later Weber left home and traveled by himself to Berlin where he enrolled in a special training center for Nazi youth.Weber looked at the name stamped below the picture in his new passport. Indeed, he thought, Helmut Weber was no longer in charge. From this moment on Helmut Weber no longer existed. He was as dead as his former comrade Konrad Stuebbe. He was now a man named Novac DuCharme with a whole new life ahead of him.Copyright © 2001 by Philip Singerman
Meet the Author
Philip Singerman lives in Longwood, Florida.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews
Proof Positive is a great read! It has romance, action, and adventure spiced with authenticity: Florida psychics, rural Vermont atmosphere, and an incriminating Nazi photo album. The characters grab you from the start as you join them in pursuit of the bad guys. I really loved following the two detectives - beautiful and tough Angela Becker, and her partner Roland Troy, the ex-CIA operative through Singerman's riveting plot. Singerman really does a great job of bringing it all together at the end. I found the conclusion extremely satisfying. It's one of those books you just can't put down. I actually stayed up all night reading it.
Proof positive proved to be a well choregraphed dance of drama and suspense. The reader moves easily amid a vast array of interesting heroes and villains because the author has quite skillfully breathed life into even the lessor among them. Intrigue, a touch of romance, and a glimpse into the darker natures of hatred and greed...wonderfully brought to conclusion! It was a shame it had to end. Encore, please!