The new, fast-paced, WWII-era spy thriller from the author of New York Station
Forty modern masterpieces are found concealed on a neutral ship in international waters sixteen months before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Their provenance is sketchy and their final destination unknown. The Royal Navy suspects the works are “degenerate art” seized by the Nazis and shipped across the Atlantic to create cash for their covert operations. But how to prove it?
There’s only one man for the jobRoy Hawkins. The British Secret Intelligence Service has put their half-American star agent in tough spots before and he’s always come out on top. But this time Hawkins is headed to Mexico, where the vibrant art scene and tight-knit German expatriate community obscure the paintings’ ultimate purpose. As he tracks the art from Veracruz to Mexico City, Hawkins struggles to see the Nazis’ endgame. For the first time, he doesn’t speak the language and he doesn’t know the playersbut he does know how to fight Fascists. Problem is, in the “get along and go along” culture of wartime profiteering, distinguishing between the true believers and the opportunists is no easy task.
Can Hawkins untangle the false leads and double crosses before the Nazis realize their sinister plan?
|Product dimensions:||6.50(w) x 1.50(h) x 9.50(d)|
About the Author
Lawrence Dudley has had a variety of careers. He was the assistant curator of a museum, worked for a radio telescope observatory, and for several years was the lead reviewer and feature writer for the Saratogian newspaper. He has also been a political campaign manager, including races for the New York State Legislature.
Read an Excerpt
Sixteen months before the bombing of Pearl Harbor
It was rather unnerving, the way the wires vibrated. It wasn't merely the loud twanging noise they made. No, you could actually see the wires snapping back and forth in a blur, slightly flexing the canvas around the attachments on the flying boat's big biplane wings, ready to shred the fabric away.
The pilot looked back. If there was danger he didn't seem particularly concerned, and Roy Hawkins didn't give a damn. A single thought occupied his mind: Get there. Now. Before the bastards give up and sail off.
Hawkins smiled, shook his head and clamped his hands over his ears. The pilot, Flying Officer Matthew Finster, grinned back, took a deep breath and shouted over the thunder of the twin engines overhead, even though Hawkins was only on the jump seat at the back of the cabin a yard away. "Now you know why we call it the flying birdcage, sir!"
Hawkins grinned back and shrugged. That was fine, he wasn't about to insult the young pilot's first command, even though he probably was only three or four years younger than Hawkins. But at twenty-five, like Hawkins, you could easily be the "old man" in a unit today, the way the services were all exploding in size.
The deferential "sir" felt strange, but then it was all rather strange anyway. As an undercover agent of the British Secret Intelligence Service, Roy Hawkins was an experienced practitioner of all the espionage black arts: deception, camouflage, insinuating yourself into the unwitting trust of others, frequent betrayal, theft, every form of sabotage from planting fake information to blowing things up, and finally, killing those who trusted you, if — and when — duty called for it, as it occasionally did.
Only this time Hawkins was infiltrating his own country's air force. That's what it felt like. Hawkins had never worn any kind of uniform in his entire life until about five hours ago. Now he was kitted out in the full day uniform of an RAF officer, and a high-ranking one, a group captain. It was quite the promotion. But security was paramount. He could not let on who he really was, other than to a few authorized persons.
Shouldn't be such a big deal, Hawkins thought. But that's the thing, he realized. This lacks the clarity of knowing who I'm fighting, having people around who are enemies. The Nazis, Hitler, are my Polaris, the dark star that keeps me on track, that I navigate by.
When the car dropped me off on the pier at the base in Bermuda, Hawkins recalled, Finster and his crew had leapt to attention, snapping off sharp salutes, holding them for a long awkward moment. Only realized I had to return them when the liaison officer called out a brisk "at ease." I should've done that, he thought. There had been brief introductions, more sir-ing, and odd expressions in the eyes of the men. Surprise. A touch of envy — he's a group captain already? — and possibly a touch of resentment. Also Hawkins was Royal Air Force and they were Royal Canadian Air Force, and there were some inevitable tensions at being under what was in truth another nation's command, however close the Commonwealth was.
Outside the plane's window sky and sea merged into an indistinct blue haze, shadows under the few brilliantly white fluffy clouds the only indication you were right side up. Then a black speck appeared, not an object but a distortion revealing the real line between blue sea and blue sky.
The Supermarine Stranraer of 5 Squadron, RCAF, banked and turned. Out the portside window Hawkins could finally see their destination in the distance — two ships idling a hundred and fifty miles off Bermuda: the corvette HMS Dendrobium and her — and Hawkins's — quarry, the Chilean freighter Santa Lopez. Finster expertly throttled down, lining his flying patrol boat to land right between the two ships.
Now the seriously nerve-racking part: landing on the water, not in the slightly safer confines of a harbor, but in the rough of the open ocean. Finster said he had done it. A few times. Well, maybe once or twice. Back at Coastal Command HQ in Bermuda the CO had antagonistically demanded to know if it was really all that important. "We don't make a habit of this," he'd added. Hawkins had barely heard him. His answer had been a hard and flinty yes, Hawkins's word rushing hard on the CO's, hurriedly cutting him off, without elaboration, in a tone that said don't dare think about asking. Finster quickly volunteered. He was eager to go, do something. They all were.
The ocean rushed up, the smooth felty look opening into a menacing three- to four-foot chop, dusted with slight edges of white. Finster glanced back, then again, now slightly uneasy, but also concerned.
"Aren't you going to take those off, sir?" pointing at Hawkins's sunglasses. "Safety?" Damn, Hawkins thought. That's something else I'm supposed to know. No matter, I'll be off this thing and on the ship in a few minutes. He quickly pocketed the sunglasses, tightening his belt and shoulder harness.
Moments later the keel caught the top of the first wave, suddenly decelerating hard, throwing them painfully forward against the straps, and then bounced up like a ball thrown against a hard floor. It slammed down again, into a trough, jamming them down into the seats, jaws and teeth clacking together, and bounded back up at a jarring angle, the starboard float plowing through the wave, disappearing for a split second, the wingtip nearly touching the water. The plane sailed up in a sickening roller-coaster climb and back down at an angle, snapping their heads side to side from the jolt. Finster expertly throttled one engine, straightening it out, the plane slowing, then evenly catching the top of the next wave, slowing the plane more. A couple more wrenching, vision-blurring, teeth-chattering bounces and the Stranraer settled into the water, the plane climbing only the waves now, water cresting over the bow.
Finster turned and headed for the Dendrobium and its catch. Amazingly enough, it was only a football pitch away. He glanced back at Hawkins, took a deep, relaxed breath and mouthed the words "made it." Hawkins loosened his safety harness, leaned forward and patted Finster on the shoulder. The pilot smiled back. Then Hawkins noticed the starboard window by his shoulder. It now had a long diagonal crack. He pointed it out to Finster, then leaned back.
"Now that we're down, you do understand we don't land these things on the ocean. It's more of a controlled crash."
The HMS Dendrobium already had a boat in the water. Finster let his copilot taxi over, turning back to Hawkins, hesitating. The motors were quiet now.
"Group Captain, sir. If I may —" he hesitated. "Are you Canadian?" Hawkins shook his head. It was a common question. His transatlantic accent — half American, half English — threw people off. Americans assumed he was British and the British took him for a Yank. Now the Canadians thought he was one of them.
"No. English mother, American father."
"Oh, I see." Finster looked confused, then disappointed. "I was hoping for some pointers, you know, to advance. Our RCAF ranks are more limited than yours. But you didn't transfer over?"
"No. Sorry. No advice to give."
If I wasn't in MI6 I'd probably be asking you for pointers, Hawkins thought. Have to start at the beginning, qualify for flight school if I wanted that, like anyone else.
The launch pulled alongside. Hawkins shook hands with Finster and his crew and stepped into the small boat, slipping his sunglasses back on, nodding at the CPO over the noise of the Stranraer's idling engines. The chief snapped off a quick salute. After a hesitant second Hawkins remembered he was supposed to salute back. Hawkins leaned in to the chief 's ear.
"Where's your skipper?"CHAPTER 2
Minutes later Hawkins clambered up the ladder of the Santa Lopez. It was an old steamer, probably dating from one of the Allied shipbuilding programs of the last war. Irregular splotches of rust marring her hull had been carelessly painted over with already bubbling black paint, giving the impression you could easily punch your fist through in a cloud of dust. At the top Lieutenant- Commander Trevor Blake and several of his crew watched as Hawkins quickly reached the deck and barely remembered to salute again. They all had the usual slightly surprised looks. Hawkins counted the three stripes on Blake's sleeve and stuck out his hand.
"Commander, thank you for waiting. Anything since your last report?"
Blake gaped at him a second. "Nothing — I — see here! Are you actually an air force officer?" He scowled and pointed down. "Is that your uniform? Those pants don't fit! And when's the last time you had a haircut?"
Hawkins felt his temper start to rise, then thought, No, no, not now, not him. But he'd half expected it. The uniform was hastily borrowed, the pants were tailored for a much shorter man, the cuffs six inches above his ankles. His hair, always stylishly Left Bank long, now reached his shirt collar and a tad more.
Hawkins ignored Blake's finger, squinting at him in the intense sunlight, casually slipping glasses and hands into his pockets. He looked around the deck a moment at the other men, then nodded his head toward the rail, out of hearing. Blake reluctantly followed.
"Yes. You have probably guessed I am with the SIS — you must keep that strictly confidential."
Blake's face was winding up in an irritably quizzical expression. "Are you a Yank?"
"No. Well, actually, I have dual nationality. I mostly grew up in London. As an undercover SIS officer I mainly travel on my American passport."
"You may not be aware we all have reserve ranks. As a senior agent I am a reserve colonel, captain or group captain. I happened to choose RAF." That was a bluff. The rank was undefined, more theoretical than anything else. Like the coat, it'd been borrowed from the base commander back at Darrell's Island. But he had to live up to it now. It did mean he was two grades higher than a naval lieutenant commander. Just as well, Hawkins thought, have to assert myself here.
Blake looked like he was practically gagging. He was old enough to comfortably be Hawkins's father, yet another reservist with experience in the last war called back to service. Go easy, Hawkins thought. This must be galling.
Hawkins was currently assigned to British Security Coordination in New York, a new umbrella organization set up to fight Nazi espionage and subversion in the Western Hemisphere and stand ready as a fallback headquarters for British Intelligence if Britain fell. Which, for all they knew, could be imminent.
Early that morning his boss, William Stephenson, code-named W, had warned him. Remember to look at it through his eyes. First, an intelligence operation, always irregular. An RAF officer on his ship. And not only are you in charge, you may outrank him. Don't throw your weight around.
Blake's eyes kept flicking back and forth, from Hawkins's face to the four blue stripes of an RAF group captain on his jacket sleeve. That did fit, the base commander and Hawkins were the same size. The pants belonged to a flying officer who was in fact rather short. The naval base had been too far away, on the other end of the island, and they'd been in a hurry so Hawkins was now committed to the RAF.
"How could you possibly have earned that rank by now?"
Earned? Hawkins thought. Fine.
"Four days ago in upstate New York I confiscated — no, that's not the right word — I stole forty million dollars' worth of Swiss bearer bonds from an Abwehr agent."
"Wait — wait. You were where? New York?"
"One hundred and eighty miles north of New York City.
Halfway to Montreal."
Blake looked increasingly stunned. The idea of covering such a distance in so little time seemed to throw him, too.
"Four days ago?"
"Righto. And the bonds. Do you know where they are now?" Blake shook his head. "In the subterranean vault of the First National City Bank of New York in Manhattan. That deposit increased Britain's reserves of foreign exchange on hand by about forty percent. Because of the nature of the assets, they've already been mortgaged for about a hundred million dollars in Yank war material."
"What were they doing?"
Damn, Hawkins thought, that's not going to help, this is going to come off as confrontational. "I can't tell you that. I can say the Germans are bringing more money in to finance their covert operations, possibly substantially more. We want to either stop it from going through or seize what they have. What have you found?"
The HMS Dendrobium passed behind Hawkins, continuously circling and zigzagging around and around the slowly drifting Santa Lopez and the RCAF Stranraer bobbing in the water between them. Blake looked up, distracted, shook his head as if he still hardly believed it all, watching his own ship circle around them.
"Look, we have to get out of here. It's goddamn dangerous sitting dead in the water. In this clear air a U-boat can see the smoke from the stacks twenty or twenty-five miles away. We're sitting ducks. We've ransacked this ship from one end to the other. There's not a suspicious thing on it — a load of French Michelin tires bound for Veracruz and then Valparaiso via Panama. We've gone through the cabins, the engine rooms, the hold, the food lockers, everything — nothing."
"The bunkers?" That really pissed Blake off.
"It's been converted to oil!" He half shouted at Hawkins. Blake started to turn away.
Damn. Dumb, Hawkins thought. Ignorant. I'm losing him. He's too busy worrying about his ship.
"Ah. I see. Skipper, I'm not supposed to do this, it's strictly against orders, we all could be shot, but I know I can trust a man with your years of command experience with this information. We have a hard communications intercept from the same source as those bonds. There's something here."
That instantly settled Blake down. His attention snapped back from his ship.
"Bloody hell." Blake fumbled in his jacket pocket for a worn meerschaum pipe and pouch and started filling it. He sighed heavily, obviously thinking hard, eyes flicking from the Santa Lopez's bridge castle, its derricks to the bow. "Still, I —"CHAPTER 3
"Captain! If you please!"
It was the captain of the Santa Lopez. He'd broken free from the crowd of men held in the bow. A CPO reached for his elbow to haul him back. Blake casually waved the chief away with the now lit pipe.
"Captain, I apologize, but we are going to have to detain you a bit more."
"You have no right. This is piracy."
"I do apologize. This is Group Captain Hawkins of the Royal Air Force — Group Captain Hawkins, Captain Perez." The captain shook Hawkins's hand in a very courtly way, very slightly nodding and bowing. He was a very thin, older man, pushing seventy, with thick white hair peeking from under his white officer's cap and a thin grayish mustache. "The group captain has generously flown out to get this over for you as fast as possible. We're waiting for his clearance."
Smooth, Hawkins thought, also tossing responsibility for a potentially bad international incident onto someone other than the Royal Navy. Institutionally quite smart. He'd probably done this a good bit, in two wars, now. Perez spoke English fairly well, which made sense, the Anglophilic way he was dressed, in a blue blazer, white duck pants and a silk ascot around his neck. He might have been out for a day at Henley, except his shirt collar was rather grimy and black. And group captain. I guess it's official, now, Hawkins thought.
Blake continued, "Captain, are you absolutely sure no unauthorized personnel boarded your ship?"
"No. And what does it matter. We are a neutral ship. You have no right to board us or hold us." Perez paused a long moment, working hard to stay calm and hold his temper. "I assure you there is nothing on my ship. This is piracy."
Blake briskly walked back to his waiting sailors.
"Men, I want you all to think about anything you might have overlooked. This is most serious. We have it on the best authority there's something on this ship, and —"
Hawkins interrupted. "Skipper — what you just said."
"Also Captain Perez. You both said on."
"Of course. It —"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Hungry Blade"
Copyright © 2019 TK.
Excerpted by permission of Blackstone Publishing.
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