Collision of Evilby John J. Le Beau
As evening falls against the majestic backdrop of the Bavarian Alps, Charles Hirter, an American tourist, is savagely murdered. In the peace, quiet and pastoral splendor of this magnificent setting, Charles Hirter draws his last breath. Was Charles simply in the wrong place at the wrong time? Kommissar Franz Waldbaer, the German detective in charge of the case, faces an investigation that yields neither clues nor suspects nor motives. A gruff, go-it alone detective, Waldbaer is dismayed by the arrival of Robert Hirter, the victim's brother, who insists on joining the investigation. But there is more to Robert than meets the eye.As Robert and the Kommissar uncover a nefarious nexus of evil past and evil present, they find themselves probing dark, long-forgotten episodes from the Third Reich in order to identify the present threat.Thrust into a violent world of fanatic passions, malevolent intentions and excruciating urgency, Robert Hirter and Kommissar Waldbaer must race against the clock to stop a sophisticated, covert, and deadly plot.
"Touches the reader on many levels---captivating with plausibility and imagination. Collision of Evil is atmospheric and tense and pushes the envelope to the edge and beyond. Le Beau, a former-CIA operative, knows what he's writing about. A smashing debut from an exciting talent." - - Steve Berry, NYT best-selling author
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Collision of Evil
By John J. Le Beau
Oceanview PublishingCopyright © 2009 John J. Le Beau
All rights reserved.
Charles Hirter felt a surge of freshness after his long morning shower and he studied himself in the mirror as he toweled his thick hair. Although not vain by nature, he concluded that he looked as well as he felt. The long days of backpacking through the mountainous Bavarian countryside had left him taut and tanned and with a reserve of energy that had become depleted prior to this much-anticipated vacation. Had someone been able to inform him that he would be dead before the day was done, his body a wreck of blood, shattered bone, and ripped tissue, Hirter would have branded the person insane as well as tasteless. Dressing quickly into casual clothes, he collected his wallet and room key and took the stairs down to the hotel breakfast room on the ground floor, looking forward to the continental buffet that would constitute his last meal.
He lingered over a cup of strong Tchibo coffee, toyed with the remains of a sunflower seed roll, and leafed idly through the sports section of the International Herald Tribune, grateful for the comfortable familiarity of letters strung together to form his mother tongue. A few minutes later, he continued his vacation ritual by rising from his table and wandering into the broad hotel lobby.
The Hotel Alpenhof was decorated in faux Old Bavarian style, not surprising in view of the hotel's location in the Upper Bavarian Alps a few miles from the Austrian border. In addition to an oversized fireplace, with logs burning day and night, the lobby contained much dark wood, a beamed ceiling, and terra cotta floor replete with handwoven country rugs. The walls were outfitted with early twentieth century romantic oil paintings depicting hunting scenes and rural landscapes. The rustic effect was enhanced by a row of antlers above the front desk and the folkloric Trachten outfits for the staff, male and female. Although some guests might have considered the overall effect too studied, a sort of Disney-does-Germany, Charles found the decorative embrace quite cozy.
A glance out the lobby picture window confirmed that the morning weather was sunny, although rainstorms had been predicted for late afternoon. Charles stretched, smiled at an attractive passing waitress, and decided he had better strike out while the weather held. He returned to his room for his hiking boots, backpack, and map and emerged from the hotel minutes later, rejoicing in the feel of the sun and the alpine landscape.
During the past two days Charles had explored the narrow valley, walking several kilometers a day, returning to his lodgings in the evening. The terrain consisted of grassy mountain meadows called alm by the Germans, interspersed with brooding expanses of dark pine forest, all of it crisscrossed by clear mountain streams, winding down from the summits above in serpentine patterns.
It was the mountains that interested Charles, and he consulted his creased topographical map for a sense of where to strike out. He traced his finger along a prospective route where the ground rose gradually. The map revealed a footpath that would take him through high meadows and eventually into a large stand of woods, which should then fall away to reveal dramatic dolomite peaks. Charles moved his eyes to the alpine massif above and formed an impression of where he was headed. "Okay," he muttered out loud, "up and back by nightfall." He noted he had left his rain poncho back in the room, but the skies were intensely blue with no hint of clouds and he decided to chance it. He cinched his nylon backpack straps tightly about his shoulders and started on his way.
At mid-morning it was warm, but not uncomfortable, in the direct sun; the afternoon promised to be warmer still, but Charles reasoned that he should reach the wooded heights by that time and the temperature would be cooler in the shade. He kept a steady pace, aware that once he had reached the peaks he would have to return as well. He still had another week of vacation ahead of him and intended to enjoy all of it, and had plans to visit nearby Salzburg if the weather turned inclement.
It was true that his vacation had not developed as originally planned. The trip had been the idea of Jeanette, his girlfriend of four years. The two of them had planned the details, sitting on the floor of his Newton, Massachusetts, apartment with glasses of wine and tourist brochures spread out before them. They had purchased two round-trip tickets from Boston to Munich at an excellent price six months in advance. Charles and Jeanette's enthusiasm for the trip had been intense, but in the intervening six months their enthusiasm for one another had waned.
Thinking about it as his boots dug into the rugged path, Charles concluded that there had been no single event that had ended their relationship. It was as if they were both positive magnets; they had come as close to one another as they could but could not bridge some final gap. By degree they had distanced until the time came for them to travel together. It had been Jeannette who had the courage to say that she had decided to forego the trip, using the pretext of needing to spend time with her aging parents. And so, he now found himself exploring the Alps alone.
Charles stopped for a moment to check his bearings. The hotel was out of sight and the path had taken him higher, into rocky meadowland flush with high grass. A herd of cows grazed nearby, noting his presence in their bovine way, but otherwise paying him no heed. Charles unclipped his water bottle and indulged in a long drink while observing that the sky had now darkened. Purple cloud banks were moving in silently, as if hoping to cover the sun by stealth. For a second Charles considered cutting short his trek and returning to the hotel, but he reasoned that the clouds might pass, and he did not want to spend the afternoon sipping beer in the hotel bar. Even if it rained, he concluded, that wouldn't kill him.
By one in the afternoon, it was obvious that the ascent was taking longer than anticipated due to the rough, untraveled route. Although the terrain remained open ground with a scattering of boulders, the grade was steep enough that his calves and ankles ached. More troubling was that the blue skies of morning had now been entirely vanquished and the clouds were of a brooding gun metal hue. Still, Charles thought, there might be a hut up ahead where he could wait out the storm. He moved on.
An hour later the first drops of rain pelted down with force. Within minutes the storm intensified, the water turning to hail, driven by a sudden wind and accompanied by a drop in temperature. "Shit" Charles muttered as he pulled a crumpled Boston Red Sox baseball cap from his backpack. He noted through waves of hail that the meadows gave way to a tree line up ahead, offering a prospect of protection. Breathing in deeply, he broke into a trot, skidding from time to time on the slick grass beneath his feet. He passed through the first row of pine trees and felt the cushioning carpet of needles under his boots. The assault of hail and rain diminished, absorbed by the tangle of branches above him.
It was dark in the woods. The sky, stripped of sun by the storm, and the thick forest filtered away most of the remaining light, and color was reduced to somber greens and browns. Leaning against the bark of a large tree, Charles pulled a Corny energy bar from his jeans and consumed it in slow bites while considering what to do. Before he finished with the snack, the first flash of lightning and the jolting report of thunder nearly threw him to the ground. The blast had struck somewhere very close, and he heard the unmistakable sound of shearing timber. It occurred to him that he was now in exactly the wrong place during a thunderstorm, and he felt a knot tighten in his stomach.
Searching for better shelter, Charles saw an outcropping of gray stone up ahead through the sentinel ranks of the trees. He forced his aching legs into motion and moved toward the rocks, slipped, and fell hard into the pine needles below, the contents of his backpack slamming into his spine. With effort, he raised himself from the dank surface and launched again toward the gray mass in front of him. Three minutes later he was at the outcropping and saw that its rough surface was the exposed base of the massif itself, thrusting up from the earth and forming an alpine peak high above. The stone was slick, rivulets of water cascading down from the torrent.
Another flash seared his eyes, the tear of a thunderclap reverberating off the rock before him. Charles pitched forward, cutting his cheek against the jagged stone. He was aware of his heart pumping heavily in his chest. The sting of the cold water in his eyes blurred his vision, and he grasped at the wall of stone with both hands, edging along it in a crab walk, hoping to find a crevice in its surface affording better shelter. An angry gust of wind stripped off his cap, but he did not try to retrieve it and continued following the stone outcropping like a blind man, his palms starting to bleed as they ran across the sharp, uneven surface.
He was suddenly aware that there was no longer a surface under his hands; the massif sheared away from him at a sharp angle. He moved to follow its contour again, crashing loudly through a maze of brush and fallen branches. A crevice he thought, just as he had hoped. He stumbled over loose slate and fell forward with enough force to drive the air from his lungs. Charles pulled himself up to a kneeling position. It was then that he was aware that it was no longer raining. At least, not raining on him. The sound of the storm was behind him but he was protected from its assault. Glancing up he saw darkness and understood that he had found a cave, as if a hole had been punched into the expanse of dolomite.
As his eyes focused, he was able to make out that his refuge was narrow but appeared deep. He twisted around and saw the forest and the cave entrance a foot or so behind him. He felt the talons of fear loosen their grip and he knew that he was safe from the elements; he could wait out the storm and return to the hotel after it had passed. He pulled the backpack off his shoulders and settled it at his knees, digging at it until he located the small plastic flashlight. Flicking it on, he played the beam of light around him.
He was in a rock arch, the natural ceiling perhaps seven feet above his head. The cave floor consisted of a scattering of pine needles blown in over time from the forest and a surface of pungent earth, its primordial smell filling his nostrils. Edging the light ahead of him he saw that the cave was indeed narrow but deep, disappearing into the distance. He left his backpack where it had dropped and decided to see how far the cave went; he might as well explore his find while the storm raged on. The walls were not uniform, at intervals bulging and receding from his path, but the passage remained sufficiently broad to permit him to navigate its length. He was surprised that after five minutes of walking the cave debouched into a rough chamber perhaps twenty feet across and fifty feet deep. But the pale, steady glare of his flashlight revealed more. At first, he was not certain what he was looking at.
A series of cubic shapes, perfect squares, were stacked across the chamber. Charles finally realized that the forms he was staring at were crates, their wooden planks heavy with dust. On some of the crates Charles could distinguish black stenciled numbers beneath the veneer of grime. What have we here, deep in an alpine fastness, he wondered as he moved forward to investigate, the recent perils of the storm forgotten.
Like a temper tantrum that had spent itself, the mountain thunderstorm hurled down the last of its fury before sputtering into a soft shower, the mass of clouds gradually thinning and drifting off. It was nearly dusk and such vestigial light as there was promised to be fleeting. The pine trees cast long shadows across the grasses and the rich greens of the alpine meadows were rendered richer still, enhanced by the magical, deep golden light of a summer's afternoon in noble decline. Somewhere, far below the craggy dolomite peaks, a cowbell rang as its charge meandered to a rude hut in the valley to spend its night.
Pushing aside the chaos of fallen branches and brush that had concealed the mouth of the cave, Charles emerged from his shelter, breathed deeply of the cold post-storm mountain air, and retraced his path back through the somber stand of pines, the woods alive with the sound of falling drops of water. The scent of spruce was overwhelming and Charles found it pleasant after the stale, claustrophobic air of the cavern. He stopped and noted his surroundings carefully, consulting his map. He would need to come back here to what he had discovered, and did not want to risk losing the location. Satisfied that he could find the cave again, Charles moved ahead, picking his way through the woods in the fading light. After twenty minutes of hiking, he could detect the brighter green of the meadow in the distance. He breathed easier and concluded that even if darkness descended before he reached the hotel, he should have no trouble navigating through the fields with the aid of his flashlight. The worst was behind him.
He continued to walk downward, the incline steep enough to cause him to shift his weight backward to avoid pitching forward. The nocturnal panorama of the valley spread out around him now and the first stars crept into a sky still not entirely surrendered to darkness. He found the path that had lead him from the valley floor and knew that he had simply to follow it down until he arrived at the hotel. Just a matter of one step at a time. A crudely erected timber fence embraced the meadow near the path and he moved to it, leaning his weight against the wood for a moment of rest before continuing on. He slipped off his backpack and indulgently stretched his taut muscles.
The force of the first blow was massive, sufficient to drive him to his knees. The blow caught him hard at the back of the head and he was strangely conscious of a resounding crack as his skull lost integrity. He was in the process of trying to turn and understand what was happening when the second assault caught him full between the shoulder blades, slamming him forward into the fence, the rough wood tearing his cheeks and lips. He felt a sticky tide of warmth cover his back and extend over his ribcage and he knew that it was his own blood. He felt oddly detached but fought to remain conscious and to understand. His limbs were shaking uncontrollably now, but he struggled to push himself up to see his attacker. The third blow ended that attempt with shattering finality, a sharpened edge of metal cleaving through Charles's thick dark hair, ripping scalp tissue and sundering his skull. A mist of blood sprayed from the head wound, a strip of pulsing brain tissue revealed and steaming in the cold alpine air. His final feeling, no longer fully sentient as his mind shut down, was of overwhelming confusion. That he was experiencing his own death he did comprehend, the terror of its breathtaking suddenness combining with an equal amount of wonder as to why it was happening at all.
That a guest had not returned to his lodgings that night was not noted by the hotel staff that, in the European fashion, treated customers with both discretion and distance. The corpse might have gone undiscovered for days given its solitary location, had it not been for the passing of a Bergwacht climber who had decided to check the high meadows to see if lightning strikes from the storm had hit any cows.
Indeed, the man at first thought that Charles's body, seen initially from a distance, was a calf, but wondered at the adjacent blue splash of color from what later was discovered to be a backpack. Proximity having clarified his initial error, the Bergwacht worker vomited into the tall grass near where the body lay. After some minutes of heavy breathing, he pulled a cell phone from his windbreaker and had the operator connect him with the Bavarian police. The police responded with celerity, their four-wheel-drive Mercedes wagon climbing into the meadow twenty minutes later, flashing blue lights dwarfed against the majestic background of the mountains.
Excerpted from Collision of Evil by John J. Le Beau. Copyright © 2009 John J. Le Beau. Excerpted by permission of Oceanview Publishing.
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Meet the Author
John J. Le Beau served as a clandestine operations officer in the Central Intelligence Agency for over twenty-five years. Since January 2006, Dr. Le Beau has served as a Professor of National Security Studies in the College of International SecurityStudies at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies in Garmisch, Germany. [i]Collision of Evil[/i] is his first novel and was nominated as Best First Novel by International Thriller Writers.
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To one who has worked with, but not for, the Central Intelligence Agency and has been fortunate enough to visit Munich and southern Bavaria reading the book would have told me his former profession and where he had spent much time. The imaginative premise of Collision of Evil is self-described by the title. The decades-old evil that was the Third Reich has been fused with the modern evil of suicidal jihadist Muslim radicals. The book's protagonist, Robert Hirter, is awakened at four in the morning by a call from someone with a heavy German accent saying, "We have find your brother Charles who it is sorry for us to say now is dead." When the caller learns that Hirter speaks German, he provides more detail with a clear message. Hirter's brother was murdered. Le Beau effortlessly shifts point of view in telling of Collision of Evil from Hirter to the Bavarian Police Kommisar assigned to the case, Franz Waldbaer to the leader of the jihad group, Mohammed al-Assad. When Hirter arrives at the hotel where his brother had been staying, he is handed a note while checking in. The note is from one August Sedlmeyer who claims to have historical background information that may prove interesting to one investigating the circumstances of the murder. Intrigued, Hirter meets with Sedlmeyer and listens to a lengthy narrative of how a detachment of 50 Waffen SS soldiers from the Liebstandarte Adolf Hitler division had been assembled to escort an unknown, but extremely sensitive cargo, to its hiding place in a mountain cave below Munich, in southern Bavaria. The morning after the secret cargo is hidden; the unit is given a directive to surrender. Hitler is dead. The group is also told to forget their final mission as Waffen SS. The boxes were hidden in a cave just above the high meadow where Hirter's brother was murdered. Le Beau draws the characters of Robert Hirter and Police Kommisar Waldbaer clearly. The tensions and eventual friendship of the two forms a leitmotif for much of the story. Hirter is a CIA operative and, because of problems presented by internal German politics in the law enforcement community, calls upon his Agency for some technical help and backup. The backup comes in the form of Caroline O'Kendall; a lovely woman he'd known at CIA Headquarters in Langley, VA. Just what the Waffen SS hid in the cave at the end of WWII and how it threatens the Oktoberfest in Munich through a militant Islamist group, I'll let Le Beau tell you. He has constructed a vivid tale with believable characters and tense action, set in some of the most beautiful scenery on Earth. An exciting read.
In the Bavarian Alps, American backpacker Charles Hirter is hiking when he is brutally murdered. His is CIA operative brother Robert goes to Bavaria to bring his body home, but also to find his sibling's killer and why. German police detective Kommissar Franz Waldbaer leads the investigation, but no clues surface. Meanwhile Robert employs CIA methods and soon obtains some information on the motive behind his brother's death. A Nazi insists that a dark secret from WWII was hidden in a cave near where Charles' battered corpse was found. Robert makes further inquiries and soon concludes Islamist terrorists have found a weapon of mass destruction they plan to use. Teaming up with the Kommissar, Robert hopes to prevent a tragedy of epic proportions. Although the plot has been overused since 9/11 and thin, COLLISION OF EVIL is an engaging suspense thriller that constructs the plot from the realism of finding unexploded WWII bombs six decades after the hostilities ended. The story line is action-packed but very straightforward especially in light of the American being a CIA operative (should have been an accountant). Still fans will enjoy this solid suspense German police procedural CIA antiterrorist thriller. Harriet Klausner