Read a Chapter is *NEW* added feature at As the Pages Turn! Here you’ll be able to read the first chapters of books of all genres to see if you like them before you buy them. Today we are featuring the spy fiction, The Proxy Assassin by John Knoerle. Enjoy!
- Paperback: 280 pages
- Publisher: Blue Steel Press (September 1, 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0982090390
- ISBN-13: 978-0982090398
October, 1948. Former OSS agent Hal Schroeder gets invited to Washington D.C. by Frank Wisner, who heads the CIA’s new covert ops division. Hal is whisked off to Wisner’s Maryland shore retreat and introduced to a brace of Romanian royals, including the scarily beautiful Princess Stela Varadja, a direct descendant of Vlad Tepes Draculea.
Then Frank Wisner pops the question. Would Hal consider parachuting into a remote mountain camp to meet with the leader of a group of Romanian anti-Communist guerillas?
“I had already survived two previous suicide missions and a third did not appeal. But I told Frank Wisner I would need a few days to think it over. I had some sightseeing to do.”
As it turns out Hal Schroeder gets to do a lot more sightseeing than he bargained for. A journey that brings the American Spy Trilogy to a surprising, and emotional, conclusion.
The key number to remember when you parachute out of an airplane at an altitude of five hundred feet is two. You have two seconds to do two things. Get your feet down and your cord pulled. That’s it, that’s all you need to know.
I hadn’t jumped since ‘44 so the flyboys thought it would be a good idea for me to take a couple low-altitude warm-ups from a C-45 at Andrews AFB. Shake off the rust after a four year layoff.
Sure. Why not triple my chances of falling five hundred feet in six seconds and smacking the sod at ninety miles an hour? I told them to get stuffed. I’d risk my tender hide only when it mattered. And I’d pack my own damn chute.
I was more of a jerk than I needed to be to those earnest young men who were just about my age but seemed like kids. It wasn’t their fault I had fumbled and stumbled my way into another suicide mission.
The drop zone was located in rural central Romania. Transylvania, an area ringed by the thickly-wooded Carpathian Mountains. Which explained the tiny drop zone which explained the low altitude jump.
The mission wasn’t a complete disaster. I jumped out the joe hole and into the night sky with one big improvement over WW II. It wasn’t a blind drop, I had a group of resistance fighters waiting to greet me.
I executed a perfect two-point landing in a clearing between two mountains. My contact was Captain Sorin Dragomir, a large fortyish man with waves of thick brown hair. His well-upholstered gut and full set of teeth marked him as a man of stature.
That and his tasseled hessians and uniform jacket, buttons bursting, the gold braid above his breast pocket jiggling as he shook my hand. His dozen or so khaki-clad men were smaller and darker-skinned.
A dozen men. Christ. Joe Stalin must be quaking in his boots.
I got on my hotshot new Joan/Eleanor transceiver, rang the radio operator of the C-45 circling overhead and gave him the code for a safe landing. “Chaise lounge.”
“Godspeed.” With any luck the crew would reach their refueling strip in northern Turkey with a couple gallons left in the tank.
It was late, all I wanted was a quick snort and some shuteye. But the Captain made his men stand to attention around a guttering fire as he made a welcoming speech in English about the deep and abiding friendship between our two great nations. An elderly man stood beside him and translated his remarks into rapid-fire Romanian.
I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised to hear that it sounded a lot like Italian. One thing I’d learned in my mission briefing was that, despite the vast expanse of pale and dour Yugoslavs and Hungarians separating them from Italy, Romanians considered themselves charter members of the Roman Empire. Which they were many centuries ago. Funny what people choose to take pride in.
The troops dispersed after the welcoming ceremony. The Captain and I retired to his little fortress at the edge of the clearing. It was a very old building. I had to bend at the waist to clear the doorway. The main room was lit by candles in an iron ceiling wheel. No fire in the fireplace though the night was cold.
Before the front door was closed I caught a glimpse of two of Dragomir’s troops skittering by, headed home. It looked as though they had changed back into civilian clothes, which I took to mean that Captain Dragomir had not secured even this obscure slice of real estate.
The Captain and I seated ourselves at a table made from dark, foot-wide planks. The elderly man, apparently Drago-mir’s valet, went to a rough cupboard and fetched a bottle of twenty-year-old hooch and two crystal tumblers.
“I hate to look a gift horse in the mouth, Captain, but I don’t drink Scotch.”
“It tastes like peat moss.”
The Captain laughed at me. I knew the local drink was plum brandy so I asked for some. Dragomir laughed some more and issued instructions to his man.
We were served a delicious cold supper by candlelight. Three kinds of cheese, smoked ham, crusty bread, cucumbers in sour cream and sliced tomatoes. I should’ve stuck with peat moss, however. The plum brandy tasted like gasoline.
Frank Wisner, my boss, had set Dragomir and his men a task, which I relayed to him. They were to conduct surveillance on a Romanian Army encampment about ten kilometers to the southwest. This was to serve two purposes. To determine if the Captain’s men could follow orders. And to assess the readiness and morale of the Romanian Army in a remote outpost.
The Soviet Army was spread thin throughout Eastern Europe. They had a base outside Bucharest, for instance, but they relied on the Romanian Army to keep order in the hinterlands. And the hinterlands weren’t happy. The puppet government in Bucharest did as Moscow instructed. It collectivized farms and closed churches, which did not go over well with the locals.
Frank Wisner thought the Romanian Army would prove an unreliable ally for the Soviets, doubted they would open fire on their own people if push came to shove. How I was supposed to determine that by examining a remote Romanian outpost through binoculars was left to me.
Once I explained it to him Captain Dragomir agreed to Frank Wisner’s assignment without hesitation. We would march tomorrow evening, zero hundred hours. And how was his old friend Frank coming along in his important new job?
The beeswax candles flickered in the drafty, heavy-timbered little fort. The old man cleared our plates and went away. The Captain poured himself another tumbler as the shadows danced.
“This building dates back to the 17th Century. It was a Swabian hunting lodge.” He pointed to the stag horns mounted over the door, and the blackened hooks in the attic.
“That is where they smoked the meat.”
Meat hooks, ugh. Hitler was fond of meat hooks.
Captain Dragomir was keen to tell me all about his elaborate plan to foment rebellion against Moscow’s puppet regime in Bucharest but I was not, at this late hour, keen to listen to his delusions of grandeur.
That would have been a mistake under normal circum-stances. If you are sent on a risky and expensive mission to gather intelligence you don’t insult your source by saying, “I’m all in, Captain, let’s discuss this tomorrow.” That’s because tomorrow has a way of scampering off down the road while you’re lacing up your shoes.
But, as luck would have it, my bad attitude paid off.
Reprinted with permission from The Proxy Assassin by John Knoerle. © 2012 by Blue Steel Press