The Berlin Package: A Thriller320
The Berlin Package: A Thriller320
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Film producer Pero Baltazar thought he was taking a Berlin filming assignment. He needed the work, needed to get back in the saddle after fighting off a life-threatening experience in East Africaal-Shabaab had attacked his crew, intent on a much larger terrorist attack. Suddenly he finds himself under orders from his part-time employers at the State Department and the CIA when he is handed a mysterious package. It’s an assignment he doesn’t want. The problem is, it’s a job contracted by mysterious patrons who are prepared to kill him if he doesn’t deliver.
Peronow in far too deepturns to friends, old and new, to help him unravel the mystery of the package, uncover connections to Nazi concentration camp gold recently sold by the US Treasury, and thwart the exStasi chief, now head of a powerful banking group.
In this fast-paced sequel to Murder on Safari, Pero calls on Mbuno, his friend and East African safari guide, to anticipate the moves of his enemies as if they were animalsdangerous verminwho have kidnapped both the film star and director. Mbuno’s tracking skills may keep them from getting killedprovided Pero can rope in more help and keep the CIA at bay.
Exhilarating and expertly crafted, The Berlin Package is a gripping, page-turning thriller set in postGerman reunification Europe.
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Nonstop to Tegel
Halfway across the frozen Atlantic on a pitch-black night in March is not the time to have an engine backfire and flameout. Being in a two- engine plane didn't make matters more optimistic for film and television producer Pero Baltazar. He knew the Boeing 767 to be a stable, reliable aircraft, and Pero had flown in them to all corners of the globe. But when the left jet engine coughed out, in a sudden plume of forward blue flame at thirty-nine thousand feet in the dead of a winter's night, Pero started wondering if it had been, actually, wise to shave a few hours off the journey to Berlin by taking the only nonstop any airline offered. Delta had revived the nonstop service because someone in the State Department had leaned on them. Who? The seasoned filmmaker's guess was that it was the returning US ambassador sitting in the row ahead of Pero's seat in first class.
Only slightly worried, Pero's gallows' humor kicked in as he thought to himself, When this plane hits the water, first class will take on a completely different meaning — first to arrive, first to perish.
Pero imagined what the two crew members in the cockpit were doing. First, they would have declared an emergency, "Mayday, Mayday," then gotten on with standard emergency procedures, instilled and practiced for hours. The pilot would call out, "Engine restart checklist ... pressure boost, check ..." and so on. Pero knew they were busy doing what they were trained to do. The pilot would have immediately trimmed the ship for maximum glide and efficiency, as he sought a planned alternate landing strip, probably Iceland. So, there was nothing that Pero or any other passenger could do except sit, think, pray, and wonder.
While the left engine out the window on his side of the plane sat dumb and useless, the right engine roared, thankfully, full throttle. The plane had only a slight down angle. This is what safety flight paths were designed for — one engine emergency alternate landing fields they were called. And the pilot would search the appropriate one out, somewhat urgently.
Pero was over six feet, and even in first class, his knees were cramped. Like all long distance flyers, he had this yearning to either stand or stretch out. As he stretched, the woman next to him glanced over to see if he had any other intentions. At fifty-five, he thought he had reached the harmless stage in life, replete with graying temples and abundant laugh lines from days in the sun. Yet, he seemed to get more women making passes at him than he did ten years before. He didn't know if it was what one woman called his intense but friendly eyes that contributed to an image of desire for women, but he still thought that his sufficient age would render him harmless. Yet, the mid-thirties woman sitting next to him took less than an hour after take-off to make her intentions plain. While the in-flight meal was being collected, she deliberately dusted crumbs from her ample bosom. The gentle bobbing from her brushing was accompanied by a sly grin. Pero had smiled politely, trying not to encourage. When the engine sputtered, she leaned across, looking out, and grabbed his hand in mock fear. When he patted it like a father would, saying gently, "There, there dear, don't worry," her hand was withdrawn as if stung. Age, Pero's, had brought her to her senses, as was his intention.
When the port engine did not restart, her mock fear became real. She was now holding her own hands in her lap, twisting a ring on her right hand, anxious, looking around the small two rows of first class. Behind him, Pero could also hear that the other passengers behind them in tourist class were fretting.
As he pulled the emergency card from the seat back in front of him, he wondered why he had not left a day ahead of schedule. Berlin always held an attraction. He could have been there by now. It was partially why he had accepted this menial job. He was to produce a second unit movie crew, filming pick-up scenes around Berlin to match the filming taking place on sound stages under the direction of the first unit crew and real director in Hollywood. Besides, Pero had jumped at the chance to spend time with his longtime professional partner, Heep. His friend, Bill "Heep" Heeper, the elegant Dutchman and master cinematographer, would, he hoped, be in Berlin already, waiting for Pero's arrival. And there was another reason, Pero knew he needed to get back in the saddle, get back to work after traumatic events months before.
Suddenly a sound, a feeling, and his thoughts came back to focus on reality. The passengers on the right side were now gesturing and babbling. The right engine had now also coughed once, twice, and then sputtered out. The plane's ambient mechanical sound died. The plane was now a silent eighty-ton glider. Pero thought again about the crew. The cockpit would have an increased sense of urgency: "Mayday, mayday, Delta one- zero-three, heavy, bound for Berlin, both engines out, attempting Reykjavik airfield in a fifteen degree glide ..." It would be a rough thirty minutes for those pilots.
Thirty minutes, probably not more, he thought, estimating the time for the glide to zero feet and splashdown in the frozen North Atlantic if they could not make Reykjavik.
Pero was frowning and staring absent-mindedly at the emergency card showing lifejacket and raft instructions. His mind was churning — there was something, almost right there, on the edge of his memory.
In seconds, his brain coughed up long-lost trivia, and he took only seconds more to analyze the facts he had remembered. Maybe they could use a hand ...
He had never suffered from copilot's disease — that's the black humor name for a high regard for authority that can get you killed. It started with a British European Airways Trident flight out of London Heathrow in the '70s. There were three full captains in the cockpit, including one traveling in the jump seat just behind the throttles. On takeoff, with engines throttled back for noise abatement, the captain in charge began to have a heart attack. He was frozen with the pain and shock. As the plane leapt further into the air and passed the outer marker of the airport, he should have throttled up. He didn't. The copilot sat there, thinking, "He must know what he's doing." The deadheading captain sitting in the jump seat behind the throttles sat there thinking, "He must know what he's doing." All anyone had to do was push the throttles forward. They had twenty-three seconds to do it. No one did anything. Everyone died. Pero knew that copilot's disease is deadly.
This plane, a longer distance Boeing 767-200ER, had been brought out of retirement — it was in the Herald Tribune article that announced the recommencement of daily nonstop flights. He could see the engine cowling from his window. There was an older, prominent GE logo. That meant she had the GE older engines that operated with a maximum ceiling height of thirty-six thousand feet. Maybe the engines were not broken but had simply exhausted their oxygen intake and had stalled. Like a piston engine, jet engines burn a mixture of fuel — kerosene, jet fuel — and air. As the air gets too thin, the compressor blades inside the engine cannot compress sufficient air to mix with the fuel, and the mixture becomes too rich. Like a choke on a car, the engine will choke out, stall, and backfire. Pero had seen the forward blue flame. It all made sense.
Their flight path was newer than the plane's design, newly planned to allow greater traffic density over the North Atlantic twin-engine safety flight corridor with only so many miles between remote airstrips in case of engine failure. The old flight path had an altitude of thirty-five thousand feet. This newer one mandated thirty-nine thousand feet. The air up here was thinner, much thinner.
Pero rose, inched past his row companion, saying, "Sorry," and walked forward to the galley.
The flight attendant jumped up, "Please sit down sir, right now!"
"Okay, but you must pass this to the flight deck ... "
"They are busy, please take your seat."
He kept his voice low and calm. "Listen, these are old GE turbofans, model CF6-50 or maybe model CF6-80a, they have an operational ceiling of thirty-six thousand feet. Tell them to restart at that altitude. Don't dump fuel. Purge first, cold start procedure ... "
"I'll be sure to tell them ... "
"Listen," he read her nametag, "Paula, your life and mine are at risk here. Tell them exactly what I told you, or we may not have a tomorrow."
"Is there a problem?" A burly man from the tourist section had pushed forward. "Who are you?"
"Pero Baltazar." He looked him square in the face. Pero guessed he was the sky marshal because Paula backed off and let the man take command. Pero also knew he would know his name. It was FAA procedure to tell any onboard security which passenger might have additional authority. With the ambassador on board, they would have checked and rechecked every name, and Pero's would be coded as secret by the State Department and, therefore, trustworthy. There had been an assassination attempt on the ambassador the year before, they would have checked. Or at least Pero hoped they had.
"Okay, bud, you're clear. What gives?"
"I need to help the crew. I may have the answer to our dilemma." He motioned out the window.
The marshal turned to the attendant, "Paula is it? Get them to open the cockpit door. He's got clearance." She looked shocked and picked up the phone.
"Captain, there's a passenger here, okayed by the sky marshal, who has something to tell you."
"Now." Pero said
"Now he says ... yes, captain." She stood back. The door opened an inch. Pero pulled it all the way open and stepped inside. The copilot turned his head and said, "Spill it."
"Sorry to bother you fellows, but I know this plane of old. It's a recently refurbished two hundred series still with the old GE engines, CF6-50 or CF6-80a right?"
The copilot had been working feverishly on documentation. He flipped through the 3-ring binder that held the SOP (standard operating procedures) and specifications of the plane. He nodded "They're CF6-80a's."
"They have an operational max ceiling of around thirty-six thousand feet."
"What, you're kidding ... Captain?"
"Check the damn book, Charlie. If he's right, we may yet save this flight."
He leafed through the binder, near the end, "Right here, damn Captain, he's right, it says here op ceiling max three six zero."
The pilot knew what to do. First the radio, "ReykjavÃk, Delta one-zero-three here. We're descending through flight level three-seven-zero to three-two-zero — clear all traffic." He didn't have to ask them. Once an emergency is declared, if you say "Mayday" even once, the pilot has absolute authority up there.
"Roger Delta one-zero-three, clearing all traffic below."
"Reykjavik, at flight level three-two-zero we will attempt a restart, both engines. Now suspect flight plan conflict operational ceiling capabilities this seven-six-seven dash two hundred ER aircraft and GE CF6-80a power plants."
"Roger Delta one-zero-three. Did we hear right that this is a paper error?"
"Reykjavík, we'll know in a few minutes."
"Roger Delta one-zero-three, traffic below is clear, proceed to flight level three-two-zero."
The pilot put the nose down, began a steeper descent, and said, "If this doesn't work, we'll use the additional speed to regain about half of what we're losing, but it makes a glide to safety unlikely. Hope you're right about this."
The copilot spoke up, "Oh, he's right captain, but can the engines be restarted with the power we have, in this cold?" Pero knew the only power they had now was the auxiliary power unit in the tail still running the plane's systems and ventilation.
"We'll see ... start pre-heating the compressor now. Number two engine only." Number two was the right engine, the one that was last running and, therefore, warmest.
"Compressor heaters on. Approaching three-two-zero ... "
"ReykjavÃk, coming level at three-two-zero. Starting restart starboard engine procedure now."
"Roger Delta one-zero-three, good luck."
With the microphone off, the pilot answered for them all, "Luck has everything to do with it."
Pero watched the two professionals go through the checklist, read gauges, flick switches, and prepare for a cold engine start. The engine caught first time. The pilot increased the power to cruise, not full. They all heard the clapping and cheering in the cabin behind. "Okay, Charlie, now let's see if the other one isn't too damn cold." And they went through the procedure again for the number one engine. It took a little longer, there was an anxious flameout and a second restart, but soon it was running smoothly. Power was back. Passengers were clapping, yelling, cheerful. The copilot patted the throttles, "Atta girl."
The captain wiped his brow and keyed the microphone "ReykjavÃk, Delta one-zero-three here. Emergency over. Both engines running perfectly. Emergency terminated. Thank you for your assistance."
"Roger Delta one-zero-three, we're all really pleased down here."
"Roger, Reykjavík, us too. Please advise other seven-six-sevens up here our problem."
"Roger Delta one-zero-three, it's being done."
"Delta one-zero-three requesting flight plan alteration to continue at three-two-zero to destination Berlin Tegel. Confirm."
"Roger Delta one-zero-three, we confirm, you are clear to proceed existing flight route at flight level three-two-zero to Berlin Tegel airport. Hand over as route plan to next ATC. Safe journey. Out."
"Thank you Reykjavík, Delta one-zero-three out."
The Captain turned in his seat, facing the copilot "You have her, Charlie." Then he turned further and eyeballed Pero, "And you, mister, just who the hell are you?"
With a chuckle Pero responded, "Just a guy with a memory for details — and who would also rather land safely."CHAPTER 2
How'd I Get Here?
As Pero emerged from the flight deck, shutting the door behind him, the sky marshal patted him on the back, and the flight attendant beamed. Pero noticed the closed curtain to tourist class, so presumably no one back there knew he was involved at all. The ambassador had his eyeshades on, and Pero wondered if he had woken during all the clapping. Maybe he thought the passengers were applauding the movie.
First class on the JFK to Tegel run was two rows of four seats. The ambassador was sitting front right, with an empty seat next to him, piled with papers and his briefcase. Behind him was a suited man, short haircut, presumably on the ambassador's staff. Pero smiled at his female row mate who had benefited from the commotion and had moved across the aisle and was holding onto the suited man's forearm with pleading sincerity. Pero felt sure he could see the man tense muscles. The woman smiled. Pero was just happy to have his seat and her old one to himself.
As he sat and buckled in, the flight attendant appeared and offered drinks, anything he would like, "I even have some special Cognac if you would?" Her question faded off.
"Yes, thank you, Paula. By the way ..."
"You were good there, very cool. Nicely done." Paula was visibly thrilled. Here was the man who had saved them all giving her credit. As Pero removed his shoes and slid one knee over the center armrest, Paula hustled off and fetched his Cognac. Pero thanked her and said he would sleep for a while.
"I don't know how you can, I'm just so excited." Pero nodded and holding the snifter, took a sip of amber liquid, closed his eyes, and sighed. Paula knew the good-bye signs and left him alone.
Alone, why am I so damn alone? He thought. He knew the answer. Finishing the Cognac, he put it on the seat next to him on the emergency card he thankfully would not need. Shutting his eyes, his mind drifted toward sleep, passing remembrances along the way.
Months before, he and his documentary crew had thwarted a terrorist attack in Kenya. There were deaths, killings, and incredible bravery. But what stuck with him the most was that the terrorists had threatened to roast a hundred thousand people alive. A hundred thousand people or more in a terrible slum outside of Nairobi ... slums — the concentration camps of the modern age. The horror of that haunted him, reinforcing his fears for all humanity and, at the same time, labeling his weakness — a feeling of never being able to cope alone. He had involved all his friends, okay, yes they had volunteered, but he knew that he was too insignificant to have succeeded alone. Alone, why does that word frighten me?
He opened his eyes and stared at his right arm, already positioned across his chest, under-forearm resting on his heart. Addiena ... On that right under-forearm was tattooed the name of his wife who had died in the Lockerbie disaster. Pero knew his habit of putting her name over his heart was thought of as sweet by his family, but to him it was fierce loyalty to and love for her — so he would not forget. The possibility of forgetting her riddled him with guilt.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Berlin Package"
Copyright © 2016 Peter Riva.
Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Nonstop to Tegel,
Chapter 2 How'd I Get Here?,
Chapter 3 Gedächtniskirche,
Chapter 4 Tempelhof,
Chapter 5 TruVereinsbank,
Chapter 6 Technisches Museum,
Chapter 7 Moscow Express,
Chapter 8 Jura,
Chapter 9 CERN,
Chapter 10 In the Lab,
Chapter 11 Mbuno,
Chapter 12 Saanen,
Chapter 13 Schaffhausen,
Chapter 14 Schönefeld,
Chapter 15 Potsdamer Platz,
Chapter 16 Borchardt,
Chapter 17 U-Bahn Halt: Alt-Tegel,
Chapter 18 Charité Mitte,