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First Chapter Reveal: White Rogue by Dr. David Fett, Stephen Langford and Connie Malcolm

White Rogue banner 7

White Rogue 7Title: White Rogue
Genre: Spy Thriller
Author: Dr. David R. Fett, Stephen Langford & Connie Malcolm
Publisher: CreateSpace
Pages: 254
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1481995510
ISBN-13: 978-1481995511

Purchase at AMAZON

Cold War era biological experiments are resurrected and after Boston experiences a seemingly inexplicable bio-terrorist attack, the Center for Disease Control’s Dr. Davie Richards and Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Paula Mushari once again join forces to uncover who is behind it. An obscure reference to a Dresden project found amid crash site evidence marks them both for execution. Paula and Dave are forced to leave Boston in the middle of the night and head to Washington, D.C.,where they soon find that anyone they contact also becomes the target of assassins. When the daughter of the CDC’s director is taken hostage, Dave and Paula come face to face with an evil that forces them to question the very nature of duty and service to country. With the help of one man, they learn the true meaning of dark operatives while they desperately try to stop another bio-attack from happening.

First Chapter:

There was a chill in the morning air.  A marine layer had moved into the Bay Area of San Francisco, creating a soft mist off in the distance as Anna looked up the street.  Anna Wheat was late to her job at one of the downtown branches of Bank of America.  She so wanted to be on time that she wished she could just jog the rest of the way, but her three-inch heels made that idea more comical than practical.  She had been a teller for the last two years and had been in line for a promotion, but like most things in the last few days, it had stalled.  Anna knew it wasn’t just her bosses were who preoccupied.  It seemed as though everyone in the country was distracted with the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Coworkers chatted about the evening news instead of last weekend’s football games.  Married friends told her of their concerns for their kids. And she too felt on edge from the constant news bulletins that came across the radio and filled the morning and evening TV news reports.  Anna just wanted to concentrate on her work, start her new job, and be preoccupied with something positive.

She knew the bank’s human resources division in Los Angeles was waiting for the paperwork to expedite the change in her employee status from Grade 1 to Grade 3.  Anna had done an amazing job that she jumped a pay grade, something that barely had been achieved in the bank’s history and even more rarely by a woman.  The bank’s manager, John Kiley, often cited Annie’s accomplishments to other employees, saying that hard work made anything possible and they should all reach for the stars.  He was fascinated with the NASA astronauts, and the Space Race with the Soviet Union inspired his language.  He would remind any employee that would listen that Americans didn’t like settling for anything, and setting goals was the surest way to focus a nation’s, or a company’s, energies.  President John F. Kennedy had set a goal for the country back in 1961, he would remind his staffers, and soon after, on May 5th, Alan Shepherd became the first American in space.  The Soviets beat us there, but we were catching up, Mr. Kiley would say.

Mr. Kiley’s cheerleading and holding up Anna’s promotion as an example didn’t go over well with other employees, especially other women.  Anna was very young, attractive, and ambitious.  And while she liked the attention she earned for her work, she hated the unpleasant glances from the other young tellers and the ashen-haired head teller with the droopy eyelids.  Some of the young women would whisper despairingly behind her back, lewd suggestions on how she had moved up the corporate ladder. Anna tried to ignore them and do her job.  She wasn’t going to let them have the satisfaction of knowing they upset her.

That morning, as she walked along the street, Anna passed a newsstand that featured papers emblazoned with warnings about the Cuban Missile Crisis.  There was a palpable fear in the fear in the city and across the country that the missiles placed in Cuba by the Soviet Union and now aimed at the United States would lead to nuclear war, if not by intent, by some accident or miscommunication. Anna’s sister in Virginia was so panicked about it that she packed up her kids and drove across the country to Monterrey, California, in order to live with their mother and father until the crisis ended. Anna’s personality was the opposite of her sister’s. In fact, it was her cool demeanor that made her a perfect fit for the banking world. She always managed to stay calm no matter how upset a customer was.

She passed a TV store as she headed up to California: one of San Francisco’s steeply inclined streets. The brisk morning walks kept her quite fit, but this morning, she didn’t seem to have the same vigor she usually had.  It had been difficult to get out of bed, and she had to skip breakfast because she was running late.  No food, no coffee—that was the problem, Anna thought. She really wanted to push past the fatigue and be on time for work.  She believed punctuality was important, especially if she wanted the men she worked with to take her seriously.

Anna was determined to be the first woman to become bank manager at her branch. She wasn’t like all her high school friends, who also were working, but whose long-term goals were marriage, a house, and kids.  She wanted those things too, but she knew she wanted something more.

Anna looked in at an appliance store window as she passed by, and all the TV screens displayed news coverage of President Kennedy in a press conference. The president looked tired and unusually grim. She had been a Richard Nixon supporter and felt he would have been better at handling such a dangerous confrontation with the Soviet Union. Anna continued walking, reached the top of the street, and had to stop to catch her breath. That’s unusual, she thought, and then noticed her hands trembling. She remembered there was a donut shop near the bank, and she planned to stop in there and get a coffee and something to eat.

She stopped again.  There was something more ominous going on than low blood sugar.  She wiped her forehead. Her breathing was rapid and shallow. She was perspiring. She tried to catch her breath but started coughing up thick, bloody mucous. A passerby showed concern. She held up her hand to signal that she was fine.

Anna straightened up and made her way another half a block to her Bank of America branch.  She reached for the door, but severe vertigo prevented her from grasping the handle. Her legs became wobbly, and she fell in a heap in the doorway.

Mr. Kiley came running out to her. “Anna. Anna. Can you hear me?”

She didn’t answer.

Mr. Kiley asked the other employees who had gathered around to stay with Anna as he rushed back into the bank to phone for an ambulance. Anna just lay on the sidewalk, semiconscious, vision blurred.

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A Conversation with Spy Fiction Author John Knoerle

John Knoerle

Please welcome my special guest, spy fiction author John Knoerle. John is here today to talk about his latest release, The Proxy Assassin. John  began his creative endeavors in the early 70s as a member of the DeLuxe Radio Theatre, a comedy troupe in Santa Barbara. He then moved to LA and did stand-up comedy, opening for the likes of Jay Leno and Robin Williams.

Knoerle wrote the screenplay Quiet Fire, which starred Karen Black, and the stage play The He-Man Woman Hater’s Club, an LA Time’s Critic’s Choice. He also worked as a staff writer for Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion.

Knoerle moved to Chicago in 1996 with his wife Judie. His first novel, “Crystal Meth Cowboys,” was optioned by Fox TV. His second novel, “The Violin Player,” won the Mayhaven Award for Fiction.

John Knoerle’s novel, A Pure Double Cross, was the first volume of a late 40s spy trilogy featuring former OSS agent Hal Schroeder. The second volume, A Despicable Profession, was published in 2010. Knoerle’s latest book,The Proxy Assassin, Book Three of the American Spy Trilogy, has just been released.

Visit his website at www.johnknoerle.com.

It is a pleasure to have him here with us today!

Thanks for this interview, John.  What an illustrious background!  Let’s start at the beginning?  How did you get intoThe Proxy Assassin the entertainment field?

John: I was working at the college radio station at UC Santa Barbara in the early 70s because I was a music nut. One fateful day two members of The Firesign Theater, a very popular and sophisticated comedy troupe, swung by to record promo spots for a gig on campus.

My job was to engineer the session. Firesign’s David Ossman and Phil Proctor improvised three brilliant and hilarious thirty-second spots in no time and left me in Studio B, stunned and amazed.

I didn’t have a clue if I could do what they did, but I sure knew I wanted to give it a try!

Was comedy your passion?

John: It became my passion. And The DeLuxe Radio Theater had good success in Santa Barbara in the 70s. But we were big fish in a small pond.

When I moved to LA to do stand-up, what comics call the room, got a whole lot colder.

Foolishly, I thought that my brilliant material would win them over and I wouldn’t have to stoop to that hackneyed ‘Where are you folks from?’ patter to warm up the crowd.

Lesson learned. Unless you’re well-known, you have to establish a connection with the audience before they will laugh at your jokes.

How’d you go from comedy to writing spy fiction?  Was it something you loved reading?

John: Yes. Though I wrote two novels based on personal experience before I branched out. It took me years of research to become conversant enough in espionage to attempt to fictionalize it.

I’m pretty confident that if you Google ‘former stand-up comics who now write spy fiction’, I’ll be the only hit!

Your first novel, Crystal Meth Cowboys, was optioned for a Fox TV movie.  Tell us about that?

John: Actually it was optioned for a TV series. Crystal Meth Cowboys was my first novel, self-published after years of rejection. A Hollywood writer saw it in a bookstore in LA – the only copy in the joint – and gave it a read.

Then I got an email inquiring about ‘sub-rights’. The writer and I – her name is Jacqui Zambrano – hit it off and wrote an hour-long pilot script that got the ball rolling. We got as close as auditioning actors and scouting locations when somebody upstairs pulled the plug at the last second.

Your latest book, The Proxy Assassin, is the last book of your American Spy Trilogy.  Is it sad to say goodbye to such a fantastic series?

John: Yes.

Can you give us a brief description of each book?

John: Book One, A Pure Double Cross, is Hal Schroeder, former OSS behind-enemy-lines spy, coming home to Ohio in late ’45, bitter and disillusioned after WWII. When the FBI seeks to exploit his undercover skills, he sees a way to make a pile and get the hell out.

Book Two, A Despicable Profession, is Hal’s uh-oh moment when he realizes he may enjoy intrigue and espionage a bit more than he is willing to admit.

Book Three, The Proxy Assassin, is, essentially, Hal’s transition from boy to man.

What’s next for you?

John: Not sure. I take the task of writing fiction very seriously, even if my style is somewhat smartass and throwaway. Making it appear to the reader that you’re not making much of an effort takes a ton of work, trust me.

And the prospect of writing another novel at this point in my life is….exhausting.

Thank you so much for this interview, John.  Do you have anything else you’d like to share with us?

John: Yes, here’s my great words of wisdom: travel! Break your routine. Travel to strange places, the stranger the better. It can help you appreciate what you’ve got and it makes life seem longer and fuller.

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Read-a-Chapter: The Proxy Assassin by John Knoerle

 

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!

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The Proxy Assassin

  • 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.

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Chapter One

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.”

“Roger.”

“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.”

“Why not?”

“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?

“Fine.”

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

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Read-A-Chapter: Police Mystery ‘Heroes & Lovers’ by Wayne Zurl

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 police mystery, Heroes & Lovers, by Wayne Zurl. Enjoy!

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  • Paperback: 264 pages
  • Publisher: Iconic Publishing, LLC (September 11, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0985138890
  • ISBN-13: 978-0985138899

Sam Jenkins might say, “Falling in love is like catching a cold.  It’s infectious and involuntary. Just don’t sneeze on any innocent people.” 

 Getting kidnapped and becoming infatuated with a married policeman never made Knoxville TV reporter Rachel Williamson’s list of things to do before Christmas.  

Helping her friend, Sam Jenkins, the ex-New York detective and now police chief in Prospect, Tennessee, with a fraud investigation sounded exciting and would get her an exclusive story.  

But Sam’s investigation put Rachel in the wrong place at the wrong time and her abduction by a mentally disturbed fan, ruined several days of her life.

When Jenkins learns Rachel has gone missing he mobilizes all personnel at Prospect PD and enlists his friends from the FBI to help find her.

During the early stages of the investigation, Sam develops several promising leads, but as they begin to fizzle, his prime suspect drops off the planet and all the resources of the FBI aren’t helping.

After a lucky break and a little old-fashioned pressure on an informant produce an important clue, the chief leads his team deep into the Smoky Mountains to rescue his friend.  But after Rachel is once again safe at home, he finds their problems are far from over.

 

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Chapter One

The last thing I wanted to do just before Christmas was tangle with a creep like Elrod Swaggerty. Unfortunately, a policeman gets little choice of what or who gets dumped onto his lap. Our motto is, “To protect and serve.” Humbug.

At quarter-to-eleven on Monday morning, December 18th, I heard an angry voice in the reception area.
“Now looka here, missy. I wanna see the head man and I want him now. And y’all need ta lock up that no-account, thievin’ sum-bich! Ya hear me?”

Calling Sergeant Bettye Lambert missy sounded like a bad idea. I decided to intervene so I wouldn’t find an injured hillbilly in the lobby of my police station.

Years of experience has taught me the best thing to do in a situation like that would be walk in on the conversation and do nothing until the tide changed.

I stopped ten feet from Bettye’s desk. The complainant, a local specimen, who looked to be somewhere between forty-five and his mid-fifties, wasn’t alone. A woman around thirty stood in the shadow of the older man. She held a four- or five-year-old girl by the hand. None of the three looked like they bought their clothes in Parisian’s, but they seemed clean and healthy, and were probably in need of legal assistance.

I folded my arms across my chest and began my stoic Chief Pontiac impersonation, trying to look just this side of downright mean.

“Sir, we have every intention of takin’ your complaint and helpin’ you the best we can.” Bettye can usually sooth the nastiest characters with only a few words.

The man stood in front of her desk scowling, hands on hips. His salt-and-pepper hair looked like someone trimmed it with a hedge clipper.

I think Bettye sensed my presence. She turned and looked at me, but said nothing and let me do my thing. I thought my act started well. The man stopped talking and the young woman, who had yet to speak, stared at me with anticipation. I tried to look like Grumpy, the seventh dwarf. The suspense was killing me. I wondered what the others thought.

So, I decided to break the silence. “Good morning. I’m Chief Jenkins and I’d be happy to listen to your complaint—if we can do it like civilized gentlemen.” I nearly growled and he blinked first. “Sergeant, would you do the honors?”

Bettye gave a sigh. “Chief, this is Mr. Bunker and his daughter, Lorene. They’ve had a problem with a local auto repair shop. Mr. Bunker thinks it may be a criminal matter.”

Outside our doors, in the lobby of the Prospect municipal building, the colored lights on a tall Christmas tree twinkled in no particular order. The recessed ceiling lamps had been dimmed a little and the marble halls looked cozy.

“Okay, I’d like to hear about it.” I nodded at the two adults. “Mr. Bunker, Miss Lorene, I’ll try to help if I can. Let’s go into my office and sit down. But first, Lorene, will you introduce me to the young lady here?”

Lorene looked too thin. She wore tight jeans and a hooded sweatshirt. Her mousy brown hair hung straight and below her shoulders. She smiled, looked toward who I thought was her daughter, and spoke in a sing-song, Smoky Mountain accent. “This is Tonya. Tonya, say hello to the po-leece-man.”

Tonya lowered her eyes and remained quiet. I got down on one knee, tilted my head, tried to look friendly—something not always easy for me, and extended my hand.

She looked tiny with long dark hair surrounding a doll-like face. Her red dress, white socks, and Little Lulu shoes seemed like clothing from another age.

“Hello, Miss Tonya. My name is Sam. I think your momma and papaw might have a problem. Would you like me to fix it?”

Little Tonya invoked her right to remain silent. I shrugged and smiled, thinking big girls responded favorably to a smile, why not a little kid. She hugged her mother’s thigh, but finally said, “Yes, sir.”

“Okay, I can do that. But first we need to be friends. Can we shake hands?”

She maintained a death grip on her mom’s leg, but extended her right hand toward mine. I took the little paw between my thumb and forefinger and gave a gentle shake.

“Good. Now we’re buddies,” I said.

Tonya gave me ten percent of a full-size smile. A little progress seemed better than none.

Mr. Bunker and Lorene sat in the two arm chairs in front of my desk. I carried a side chair around front and placed it close to Lorene so Tonya could sit with her mom.

“Now, Mr. Bunker,” I said, “I know you’ve already told the sergeant your story, but can I hear it again?”

Bunker clicked his teeth several times before giving me a concise story. “Lorene had took her Taurus to Smoky Mountain Transmissions fer a check-up. The car’d been actin’ funny and I guessed the bands were a-slippin’. She dropped the car off on Monday, got it back on Wednesday afternoon.”

He paused to shake his head in apparent disgust.

“Had ta give seven-hunnert-fifty dollar. Man said he had ta re-build the transmission.” He stopped again and looked at me.

“Uh-huh,” I said. “I’m guessing there’s something else?”

“Yes, sir, there is. My son, Leroy, he looked at the car. Leroy had took him some classes on auto re-pair in hi-skoo. Leroy says ain’t nobody never even touched that transmission a’tall.”

“Does the car drive better now, Lorene?” I asked.

“Yes, sir, it does.”

Tonya looked at me with big brown eyes while she twisted strands of hair around her fingers. I winked. She smiled.

“Mr. Bunker, what’s your first name?” I asked.

Bunker pulled his head back a few inches, looked at me for a long moment. “Alvin.”

“May I call you Alvin, sir?”

Bunker scowled again looking a little distrustful.

“Shore, I don’ care if ya do.”

“Okay, Alvin, let me tell you what I think. I think seven hundred and fifty dollars is a lot of money. Maybe that’s how much it costs to rebuild a transmission. I don’t know.”

Alvin’s scowl deepened the crevices between his eyebrows.

“If this repairman never worked on the car, like your son thinks, but only topped off the fluid and charged Lorene for an expensive job, that would be a crime.”

Alvin’s face brightened a little.

“If it’s okay with you and Lorene, I’d like our mechanic to take a look at the car. He knows a lot more about transmissions than I ever will. You have the car here now?”

“Yes, sir, we do,” he said.

“Okay. You parked out back?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Our garage is in back of the parking lot. Let’s get your car on a lift and have the mechanic take a look.”

We walked half way to the garage in silence before Alvin Bunker spoke. “They’s a bunch o’ Jenkinses here in Blount County, but you shore don’t sound like you’re from Tennessee.”

“I’m from New York.”

“Our church took us on a bus trip to New York City once,” Lorene said.

“Big place, isn’t it?” I asked.

“Lord have mercy, yes,” she said. “And Biz-zy!”

“You with the po-leece up there?” Alvin asked.

“For twenty years. I worked on Long Island, retired, and moved down here.”

“Lord have mercy. Y’all musta seen a lot.”

 

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I stood under Lorene’s ’92 Ford looking up at about sixty square feet of dirty metal undercarriage.

“A repairman charged the girl seven-hundred-and-fifty dollars to rebuild this transmission,” I said. “You see any evidence that the car’s been worked on?”

Earl Biggins, the Prospect city mechanic, looked up at the car. He turned a bright drop-light this way and that. He turned around in a circle and tilted his head to the right and to the left. He hadn’t responded to my question.

I wanted to grab him by the neck, shake him, and say, “Yes or no, Earl?” But I waited. And then waited some more.

A Dodge dealer’s commercial ended and the country radio station began playing The Devil Came Down to Georgia.

“Sam,” Earl said, “this here car’s what, fourteen, fifteen year old?”

I nodded. “Yeah.”

“Looky here. You drop a tranny, they’s a lota handlin’.”

“Uh-huh,” I said.

“Ain’t no way you don’t git dirty. Ain’t no way you don’t mess up all the road dirt that’s done built up over the years. My opinion, Sam, ain’t no one never messed with this tranny. No sir. Leastwise not from down here.”

“Is there any other way to do a rebuild?”

“Course not.”

Charlie Daniels was still singing as I next spoke.

“She says the car runs better now than before she took it in. What do you figure?” I asked.

“My guess is she was way low on fluid. Shoot, a woman probably don’t never check. Man takes a look, tops it off, sees it takes a sizeable lot and test drives it. Car feels okay—end of story. Cost ya what, ten, twelve dollar in transmission fluid—retail?”

“So we’ve got a scam?” I asked.

“That’s what I said, Sam.”

“I want to leave the car here and get someone to take photos of the undercarriage and transmission,” I said. “Then I’m going to see how many times we can catch this bugger cheating other customers. If you need to use the lift, take the car down. But I can have a county crime scene guy here in half an hour or so. Work for you?”

“Shore does, I ain’t goin’ nowheres.”

“Thanks, buddy. I’ll get back to you.”

I walked back into Earl’s office and gave Alvin and Lorene the bad news. She’d been screwed out of seven-hundred-and-fifty bucks.

“You gonna arrest that hairy-faced bastard, Chief?” Alvin asked.

“Not today, Alvin, but soon. Let’s walk back to the PD and I’ll tell you what I’d like to do. But I need to keep your car here for an hour or so and have a police photographer take pictures of the transmission. You probably don’t want to wait around, so can I get you a ride home after we’re finished speaking. If you need a ride back, I can do that, too.”

“I’d ‘preciate the ride home, but no, sir. I kin drive Lorene back here in m’ truck.”

I explained to Alvin and Lorene how I wanted to set up the owner of Smoky Mountain Transmissions with a few more opportunities of scamming customers out of their money.

Alvin wanted to take the more direct approach of arresting him immediately for cheating Lorene and then circumvent the sometimes inefficient legal system by dragging him behind a police car. While Alvin’s method of corporal punishment sounded innovative, he deferred to my expertise with the criminal justice system to handle the situation with a more liberal approach.

Bettye arranged to have a car take Alvin, Lorene, and little Tonya home and promised to call them as soon as the police photographer finished with the Ford.

Thirty minutes later, my favorite county crime scene guy, Jackie Shuman, knocked on the office door.

“Howdy, Chief, y’all got a job fer me?”

“Have I got a job for you? Yes, an easy one. You won’t even get dirty.”

We walked across the parking lot to where Lorene Bunker’s Taurus sat up high on the lift. Earl pointed to various spots on the transmission where accumulated dirt and gunk would be disturbed if actual work had been done.

Jackie and his trusty Nikon snapped away at the lack of anything to see. I felt like Sherlock Holmes explaining the curious case of the dog barking in the night. The curious thing being the dog didn’t bark at all.

After a dozen photos, we returned to my office.

On the way, Jackie said, “Kinda weird, ain’t it? You wantin’ shots of somethin’ that ain’t there.”

“Welcome to the world of schemes to defraud. I should be calling on you for more before-and-after shots on other vehicles. That work for you?”

“It does. You do git inta some strange stuff, don’t ya?”

“I try to make life interesting.”

“This the kinda thing you did when you was a cop up in New York?”

“All the time.”

“Miss it?”

“Not much.”

We walked a few more yards.

“Well,” he said, sounding like he wanted to make friendly conversation, “we got us another Smoky Mountain Christmas coming up.”

“We do. And don’t eat too much. Don’t want your snazzy uniform getting tight.”

“Don’t I know it? Ever since Thanksgivin’, I’ve been eatin’ like a hawg. Tween cookies from my momma and mamaw, and the dinners my wife’s been makin’, I’m gonna weigh a ton by New Years.”

“Wait till you get older. Sometimes I just have to think food to gain weight.”

He smiled and shook his head. “Well, I’ll be back, but if’n y’all don’t need me, I’ll hit the road an’ see if my real boss wants me. See ya, Sam.”

“Take it easy, kid, and thanks.”

<><><>

“Bettye, my love,” I said, “how about using your gorgeous fingers on that magic computer and find me a name for the owner of Smoky Mountain Transmissions?”

She looked at me over the tops of narrow reading glasses. Her hazel eyes caught the overhead light and sparkled.

“Gorgeous fingers?”

“Sure. I’m trying to woo you into doing a couple of favors so I don’t have to use the computer myself. Pretty suave, huh?”

“Suave? Is that what you call it?”

“Well, what it actually is shouldn’t be said in polite society. When you know who the owner is, run him through this and that and see what else we know about him?”

“I will. Now take yourself back into your own office while I work on this. And Sam, the word you were lookin’ for is bullshit, pardon my French.”

“If I had any feelings, they’d be hurt.”

“Darlin’, it takes more than that to hurt your feelin’s.”

“Why do I always get tied up with smart women?”

She wiggled her fingers to shoo me away.

While Bettye looked for a pedigree on our dishonest mechanic, I needed a plan to catch him in a sting. Nothing earth-shaking or terribly innovative, just recruit a couple of people who he wouldn’t recognize as local cops—people who owned cars not in need of serious transmission repair. I’d get Earl to dummy up a problem, and see if our con man charged for major repairs he never performed.

I pondered over who to charm into being my first operative. I needed someone who looked like they weren’t very savvy about cars. I made a quick phone call.

“Hello,” she answered.

“Hi, sweetie. How’d you like to do me a favor and be part of an exciting police operation?”

“Sammy, I’ve lived with you for almost forty years—I’ve done lots of exciting things.”

“See how lucky you are? I’m going to let you in on the ground floor of the greatest operation ever seen at Prospect PD. Something they can make a TV movie about. I’m thinking about writing the screenplay myself. When a studio buys the idea, I’ll ask Cheryl Ladd to play you. Or would you rather use Lynda Carter? You in or what?”

“Perhaps, love, you should tell me what you want me to do. And am I going to get paid for this?”

“How can you put a price on a genuine po-leece adventure?” I explained the plan to my wife. “Easy, huh?”

“I could be like Charlie’s fourth angel.”

“You’re my only angel, baby. You have anything planned tomorrow morning?”

“I’m all yours, dahling.”

“Good. Plan on being here at 9:30. We’ll have sex in the evidence closet like two real detectives and then you can hit the road.”

“Sam!”

“What? You don’t want to hit the road?”

“I’ll see you tonight.” She sighed.

“See ya later, alligator.”

“God, some of the things you say make you sound so old.” She hung up on me.

A minute later, Bettye walked in and sat down. She no longer knocked, but just took liberties. I needed to tighten up the women in my life.

“The owner of the transmission shop is Elrod Swaggerty,” she said.

“No kidding?”

“Could I make that up? Elrod has not led the life of a good citizen. He’s got three arrests for auto theft, two for possession of stolen property, two possessions of marijuana, and one possession of a weapon.”

“And a partridge in a pear tree,” I added. “How many convictions?”

“Nine arrests, five convictions, and another arrest in North Carolina for reckless driving, but there’s no disposition listed for that.”

“Good work. We’ve got a skell in beautiful downtown Prospect. Some day they’ll write a book about you and me—the dashing police chief and his beautiful blonde sidekick.”

“Oh stop it! Does your wife know you say things like that?”

“She knows I’m hopelessly in love with you, but since you’re already married, I behave myself.”

She shook her head and stood up.

“Kate has the patience of a saint.”

“I’ll check the Police Chief’s Manual, but that sounded almost insubordinate.”

“I’ve learned one thing in the last six months, Sam Jenkins.”

“What?”

“You are impossible.”

“Thanks, reputation is everything.”

“What do you plan on doing’ with Elrod?” she asked.

“Catch him in a sting.”

“Pretty sophisticated for li’l ol’ Prospect.”

“Should be a piece of cake.”

“Why is it when you say, ‘Piece o’ cake,’ like that, I think about loadin’ up the

shotguns?”

Reprinted from Heroes & Lovers by Wayne Zurl. © 2012 by Iconic Publishing.

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Interview with T.H.E. Hill: ‘Voices Under Berlin’

T.H.E. Hill, the author of Voices Under Berlin: The Tale of a Monterey Mary, served with the U.S. Army Security Agency at Field Station Berlin in the mid-1970s, after a tour at Herzo Base in the late 1960s. He is a three-time graduate of the Defense Language Institute (DLIWC) in Monterey, California, the alumni of which are called “Monterey Marys”. The Army taught him to speak Russian, Polish, and Czech; three tours in Germany taught him to speak German, and his wife taught him to speak Dutch. He has been a writer his entire adult life, but now retired from Federal Service, he writes what he wants, instead of the things that others tasked him to write while he was still working.

Q: Thank you for this interview, Tom. Can you tell us what your latest book, Voices Under Berlin: The Tale of a Monterey Mary, is all about?

Tom: You are more than welcome. It is my pleasure to be here.

The novel is ostensibly about the pre-wall Berlin Spy Tunnel that the CIA used to tap Russian telecommunications cables in the mid-1950s. It became famous, when it was discovered by the Soviets, 54 years ago on 21 April 1956. The Time Magazine article (7 May 1956) about the discovery was entitled “BERLIN: Wonderful Tunnel.” In the article the tunnel is described by a German journalist as “the best publicity the U.S. has had in Berlin for a long time.”

You can learn more about the Berlin Spy Tunnel at the on-line Cold War Museum.

The yarn in the novel is told from both ends of the tunnel. One end is the story of the Americans who worked the tunnel. The main character—Kevin—is a “Monterey Mary,” which is Army slang for a Linguist. He is the one who has to transcribe the Russian conversations that are coming off the cable tap. This part of the story is about the fight of the tunnel rats for a sense of purpose against boredom and against the enemy both within and without. Reviewers have compared the novel to Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, Richard Hooker’s M*A*S*H*, and Hans Helmut Kirst’s Zero Eight Fifteen, perhaps better known in America as The Revolt of Gunner Asch.

The other end of the tunnel is the story of the Russians whose telephone calls the Americans are intercepting. Their side of the tale is told in the unnarrated transcripts of their calls. They are the voices under Berlin. This part of the novel has been compared to Henrik Ibsen’s “play for voices,” Peer Gynt, which is usually considered very hard to stage due to its accent on the aural, rather than on the visual. This unusual approach to literature is intended to help the reader understand the ear-centric worldview of the people who had to transcribe the Russians’ conversations. The result is a new type of spy novel, as unique as Berlin herself. It is Cloak-and-dagger with headphones.

I am very pleased with the reception that it has been getting. It has garnered five book awards thus far.

Q: Is this your first novel?  If not, how has writing this novel different from writing your first?

Tom: This is indeed my first novel, so while I cannot compare it to novels that have gone before it, I have three others percolating that I can compare it to.

The first has the working title The Day Before the Wall: Berlin August 1961. This is another “historical” novel, set in 1961 on the day before the Berlin Wall went up. The plot is based on a “legend” that was still being told on mids in Berlin when I was there in the Army in the mid-1970s. My version of the story centers around a young American sergeant in Military Intelligence who has a piece of information that the East Germans are prepared to kill for. He knows that construction of the Berlin Wall will begin at midnight on August the 13th, and that orders have been given to the East German engineer troops tasked with building the wall to pull back if the Americans take aggressive action to stop construction. The Stasi, the East German secret police, are after him, but so are the West-Berlin municipal police and the U.S. Army MPs, because the Stasi have framed him for the murder of his postmistress. It’s August the 12th, and the clock is running almost as fast as my hero. The key question of the novel is: “even if he is lucky enough to make it back across the border, will anybody in the West believe what he has to say and take action on it before it is too late? History says that he either didn’t make it, or they didn’t believe him. I’m not going to spoil the surprise of the ending by telling you now. You’ll have to buy a copy when it’s published to find out. It has turned out rather well, if I do say so myself.

This is a plot driven story, with more of the sex and violence that is traditional for spy novels than Voices Under Berlin.

The second project is entitled Reunification. This one is set in the present day. It is about an American who used to be stationed in Berlin going back to post-wall, reunified Berlin and meeting his old “long-haired dictionary.” The key questions to be explored here are: “Is there an ‘us’ in this reunited German-American couple?”, “Is there an ‘us’ in the reunited eastern and western halves of Berlin?”, and “Is there a place for the ‘USA’ in the reunited Germany?”.

This story has more sex, but no violence. It is character driven.

My third project has the working title of The Listeners at P.O.Box 1142: The Hunt for Nazi Secrets in Virginia. This is a return to the style and layout of Voices Under Berlin. The main character will be another transcriber, and the transcripts will be of the bugs in the cells of high-value Nazi prisoners of war.

During World War II, the USA had an interrogation center for Nazi POWs at Fort Hunt in Virginia. The operation of the center was so secret that it was only known by its post office box number. The history of P.O.Box 1142 has only recently been declassified, and the press immediately seized on the story to make comparisons to the detention center at Guantanamo Bay on Cuba.

This story has some sex, and a little bit of violence. The key issue that it will explore will be—like Voices Under Berlin—the idealism and morality of the linguists running the operation.

Q: How difficult was it writing your book?  Did you ever experience writer’s block and, if so, what did you do?

Tom: I’m one of those authors who sits down in front of a typewriter (these days a computer) and lets the characters tell him what to write. Once I have the first words on paper (these days it’s really on screen), they are normally quite talkative. Some days, however, the characters don’t want to talk to me, which is just another way of saying that, yes, I do get writer’s block. That is why I have three novel projects going at once. When the characters in The Day Before the Wall are mute, I see what the characters in Reunification or in The Listeners at P.O.Box 1142 have to say, but I try to keep them from talking too much so that I can finish The Day Before the Wall.

I’m actually making good progress on all three.

Q: How have your fans embraced your latest novel?  Do you have any funny or unusual experiences to share?

Tom: The response to Voices Under Berlin has been quite positive. It has an average of 4.5 stars for its reviews on Amazon.com, and there is a long, growing list of reviews and comments on the novel’s webSite. The book blogger “Puss Reboots” included it in her top ten list of books reviewed for 2009, and PODBRAM selected it as the “Best Historical Concept” of 2009. It won a Stars & Flags Book Award in 2009 at the Branson, MO, Veterans Week celebration. It was the Military Writers’ Society of America Book of the Month for September. And it won an award at the Hollywood Book Festival.

I think that the most unusual comment that Voices Under Berlin has received is the one from a soldier who is currently fighting the Secret War in the mid-East. In a post on the Military.com Discussion Boards, he said “I thought it was hilarious how some of the SIGINT/linguist jokes and eccentricities have virtually remained unchanged in sixty years . . . I can assure you the same situations are being played out in Iraq and Afghanistan as I type this. :-) I encourage anyone currently in SIGINT to read up on this stuff. It will make you smile a bit knowing that people have been going through the same crap you did as a SIGINTer for the past 60 years!”

Now how is that for a “historical” novel? Actually, it matches up with another comment in an Amazon.com review, which was entitled “Relevant for today, too“, where the reviewer said: “The hero has super language skills, and just as importantly, the requisite deep knowledge of the Soviet military and political system – the sort of person with skills needed to win the Cold War. And come to think of it, it’s what the country needs to win the War on Terror: more dedicated experts, which is what makes the book relevant for today.”

There have been positive comments from civilians too. “Puss Reboots” said: “I thoroughly enjoyed Voices Under Berlin and I feel it holds up to its promise to be akin to M*A*S*H* and Catch-22. It’s one of the funniest books I’ve been sent for review.”

Q: What is your daily writing routine?

Tom: I am a morning person, so I get up early, and get right to work. That’s not always easy, because when my characters start talking to me, they won’t shut up, even at night, and they keep me awake, developing the story. I know, however, that I have to get up, because the characters won’t leave me alone until I get their story committed to paper, well, these days saved as a file.

About elevenish, both I and my characters get hungry, so we take a break, after which I normally walk into campus to do look-ups for any reference material I might need in the university library.

Sometime in the mid-afternoon—depending on how much I have to look up—I head back for home and my computer to fill-in the blanks I left in the manuscript for the look-ups.

After that, I re-read what I’ve produced so far that day, and start on the re-write. I take another break for early supper, and after supper, if my characters still have something to say, I head back to my computer to get it recorded. If not, then I’ll take it easy for the rest of the evening.

Q: When you put the pen or mouse down, what do you do to relax?

Tom: When I push my chair back from the keyboard, I have two things that I like to do to relax.

The first is walk. When we retired, we selected a house within walking distance of the campus of Indiana University. I walk into campus every day, if for nothing else, to pick up a copy of the Indiana Daily Student to see what is happening on campus and what topics are engaging the student mind. Just walking around on campus reminds you of what it was like to be that age, and helps keep you young at heart. It’s a great tonic.

The second is to watch movies. I’m a classic movie buff. We just got through watching The Big Street (1942). It is based on a story by Damon Runyon, the man who also gave us Guys and Dolls (1951). Both of these movies have a character named “Nicely-Nicely Johnson,” played in The Big Street by Eugene Pallette, and in Guys and Dolls by Stubby Kaye. The Big Street stars Lucille Ball in what is undoubtedly her most dramatic role, a major change of pace for those who are only familiar with her work from the I Love Lucy TV series. Lucy was a real femme fatale in the 1940s, before I Love Lucy. The Big Street also stars a very young Henry Fonda, who gives a sterling portrayal of Runyon’s Augustus ‘Little Pinks’ Pinkerton, II, the best busboy in the world, and Lucy’s guardian angel who is hopelessly in love with her character, Gloria Lyons.

Q: What book changed your life?

Tom: Ian Fleming’s Dr. No, which I read at the impressionable age of 17. My family did not have the money to send me to college, and no scholarships were coming my way, but I nevertheless wanted to get out and see the world, so I joined the Army. When you join the Army, you take all these tests to see what you would be good at. My scores on the artificial language test were particularly impressive, so when the Army Security Agency recruiter saw them, he called me aside and said, “I see from your test scores that you can soak up languages like a sponge. Let us teach you one.” That sounded interesting, so I asked what I would be doing. He said, “I can’t tell you. It’s secret.” I was hooked, and it’s all Ian Fleming’s fault. I could see myself as the new James Bond, making parachute drops into denied territory. I signed up for another year to get language school at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California. I never did make a parachute jump. When I got to Monterey, I met people who were so full of intelligence and energy that you could almost see the sparks flying off of them. They introduced me to other books like, Plato, Descartes, Sartre, Freud, Hegel, Marx, Ayn Rand and J.R.R. Tolkien. If I hadn’t read Dr. No when I was 17, I probably never would have read any of the others.

Q: If someone were to write a book on your life, what would the title be?

Tom: Reading is a Prerequisite for Success in This Endeavor

The explanation for this title can be found in Voices Under Berlin. When people would ask Kevin why he knew all the esoteric things that changed his transcripts from just so many random words on six-ply paper into insightful intelligence reports, he would always reply with “reading is a prerequisite for success in this endeavor.” Knowing how to read opens up a world of knowledge to you, and each new language that you learn opens up other, previously unknown worlds to your gaze. Being able to absorb that knowledge and apply it is what reading is all about.

Q: Finish this sentence: “The one thing that I wish people would understand about me is…”

Tom: that no matter how much they think that they know about me, they will never know everything about me.

The reason for that is found in a quote from W.T. Tyler’s Last Train from Berlin (1994). There he says, “You should never accept anything I tell you at face value. Remember it, never forget it. You should never credit anything a professional intelligence officer tells you about an operation or the personalities involved, never. It doesn’t matter whether an operation took place twenty years ago or yesterday, whether an operation is blown, retired, or made to seem officially closed. There’s always someone or something left to protect.”

Thank you for this interview, Tom.  I wish you much success on your latest release, Voices Under Berlin: The Tale of a Monterey Mary!

Tom: You’re very welcome. I am pleased to have been invited to do an interview for As the Pages Turn. And thank you for your good wishes.

You can learn more about T.H.E. Hill and his books at: http://www.VoicesUnderBerlin.com

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