“What follows is a whirlwind of murder, torture, and gunfire. Part Bourne Identity, part Odessa File, and part Boys of Brazil this is a fast-paced, page-turning romp full of international intrigue and nonstop action.”
– The U.S. Review of Books
“…the judges were unanimous in their high opinion of Golden Quest, an outstanding work of fiction…such a wonderful, award winning novel.”
– Premier Book Awards
0800 hrs.Wednesday, 4th July 1990. London, England
Raymond Barton reached out playfully to fondle a breast as Mandy sought to entrap it in the cup of her bra. It was a gesture of levity, an intimacy to break the mood, but the sheer chauvinism, on top of the row they had been having caused her to step back with a hiss. “Don’t touch me!”
“PMS!” He had previously sniffed; rankled at her snippy attitude, but it had been too much. Mandy was furious. Finishing dressing, she stalked from the tiny bathroom, her long black hair flowing behind her like a flourished banner of war. Taunted and tempted by the tight roundness of her buttocks and the swaying of those hips on the high heels, he followed, perversely determined to rejoin battle.
“I think I’ll take that German assignment Willie McIvor offered me!” It was a threat she would not rise to right now, but with the unerring aim of a lover’s ability to hurt, he planted the dart. She stalked on through the flat, grabbing her ridiculously pink plastic raincoat from the peg on the hallway wall. Without a backward look, she closed the door in his face, leaving him looking at generations of thickly accumulated paint. After a moment, he went to the stove and poured himself another cup of tea. He spilled milk from the container over the edge of the cup and tipping the saucer into the sink, left it and walked to the window.
Looking out into the London drizzle from the upstairs window, it seemed the world was as grey as his mood. He didn’t know why they fought so. Sometimes it happened late at night and there would be joint forgiveness, sealed by a tempestuous and sweaty encounter in the tight confines of the miserably small bedroom. At other times, like this, morning fights led to hours of sulky and determined separation until by evening, firm lines had been drawn and it might take days to achieve reconciliation.
He didn’t even remember what the bloody argument was about! Something to do with him: his job, his impecunious ways, and messiness, leaving the lavatory seat up – whatever. The familiar red London double-decker bus arrived below and he saw Mandy step on, never a backward or upward look. Maybe tonight he wouldn’t come home. The tight confines of the place made it an unsuitable battleground for a man to try to deal with the ire of a sullen woman.
He had spent three years in Germany in the British Army Intelligence Corps. It had been mundane analysis and enumeration of Warsaw Pact military formations and equipment, not very esoteric stuff, really, but mildly interesting. He had taken the military commission to help pay his way through university and taking German had given him a leg into the job. His grammar school had been mildly upper crust and his father had been in the Foreign Office, or some such thing, so he had the necessary social background.
What had really been interesting in Germany was Astrid. The blonde, beautiful daughter of an affluent West German surgeon, she and Ray had spent two wonderful years of loving together in Bonn, sharing an apartment. When his army commitment was over and he was sent home, she had been pressured by her parents to break it off and not go back to Britain with him. They had both been devastated but had several passionate reunions when his new civilian job as a reporter had taken him back to Germany.
10th April 1945, Berlin
The streets were filled with rubble. Glass, charred timbers and roof slates littered their route and blackened flakes of debris floated down through the smoke. A fine mist of masonry dust penetrated the cabs of the trucks, tickling the backs of their throats and irritating their sinuses. Frequently there were the accompanying acrid smells of charred debris and the faint whiff of the dead, rotting in their collapsed houses, without rescue and abandoned. Gottlieb also discerned the familiar residual smell of high explosive.
Eventually they stopped and Gottlieb suddenly realized they were at the end of the Unter den Linden. They were drawn up at what had been the Reichsbank, now a mound of stone rubble after taking numerous direct hits by aerial bombs. Mannheimer was at the truck door, banging on it imperiously.
“Get your men up to the red board up there. Start loading the trucks.”
A cluster of men stood atop the rubble near a red board, holding shielded lights. Gottlieb rolled his eyes at the thought these men were trying not to provide an aiming point for the British bombers. Massive fires visible for a hundred kilometers surrounded them and they were worried about their flashlights. Beside the men they found a hole going deep into the bowels of the bank’s vaults. In minutes, a procession of men was staggering under the weight of boxes, sacks and trunks. The bombs were still raining down and Gottlieb reflected how crazy this was, like some Wagnerian operatic Gotterdamerung in real life. At any moment he expected a fur-draped and statuesque Brunhilde to appear through the smoke, brandishing a spear and trilling damnation at the top of her contralto lungs.
For almost an hour the men laboured, stumbling and falling over the uneven debris, hauling loads a fit man might manage but under which the starving prisoners could barely cope. Eventually, Mannheimer came up and ordered everyone back into the trucks.
“We are hauling away gold?” The question burst from Gottlieb, despite his determination to say nothing.
2300 hrs. Thursday 12th July 1990 Vogtland. Frontier minefield
There was a yell from the Israeli leader outside and he began to gesticulate with his arms, telling the pilot to take off. Almost instantly, there was a winking flash from the trees as a concentrated burst of gunfire came at them. Men were hitting the ground behind the banks of earth piled the previous day, cocking and aiming their weapons at an invisible enemy. There was a series of plinking noises on the airframe and one of the Plexiglas side windows starred. The pilot was winding up the revolutions on the engine, the high whine and the accelerating tumult of the whirling rotors blotting out the external noise.
The pilot raised the collective abruptly and the big helicopter lurched from the ground. The two guards forgot their prisoners for the moment and standing, emptied a magazine each at the muzzle flashes amongst the trees. Hot cartridge cases clattered and bounced around the cabin. They were intending to give suppressing fire for their comrades on the ground, but the rapid ascent of the helicopter interrupted their aim. By the time they had inserted new magazines, the pilot had spun their craft, nosed it down severely in transition to level flight and headed west along the frontier clearing.
They were barely abeam the other Two Oh Five when a longer flash reflected back from the trees and almost instantaneously, that helicopter blew up. Hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, it disintegrated. In the initial explosion, the airframe seemed silhouetted, a black shadow partially blocking the growing sun within it. And then it all peeled back in a white-hot spasm and a yellow and orange fireball engulfed the whole area. Blazing jet fuel hosed out in fiery streaks. Molten titanium, at its flash point, rocketed out like a star burst of fireworks. Pieces of metal, men and gold bounced and danced over the ground.
The helicopter skewed sideways and the pilot was screaming something at them. The Israeli was rebounding from the blow, rising from the seat he had fallen into and raising the Uzi. Raymond, realizing Streicher’s intent, tried to get to his feet and block the man but the helicopter suddenly soared, gravity force pinning him into his seat. There was a horrible vibration growing around them and the helicopter was bucking like a wild animal. The lower frequency pitch and yawing flight movements were underscored by a rapid, shuddering vibration and the threnody of the engine. The pilot was still shrieking at them but his words were inaudible against the overwhelming clamour of the rotors.
Something coughed and banged and Raymond felt like he was inside some giant terminally sick animal getting ready to regurgitate him. The Israeli was still trying to raise himself in the forward facing rear seat and Raymond kicked out his leg, catching the man in the only knee he had under him, snapping him back into the seat. Inadvertently, the impact made him pull the trigger and half a dozen rounds from the machine gun zinged through the upper cabin, some ricocheting back around their cringing bodies.
The down wash from the main rotor started directing choking smoke into the open door, adding to their misery. The engine was banging like an old tractor, compressor stalls following one upon the other and the pilot was still yelling. His voice trailed off into a long wail, and Raymond felt the deck tilt again beneath them as the pilot tried to trade forward speed into a hover. Then they hit. Because of the remaining forward speed and flat angle, the helicopter bounced and then slid forward. Propelled forward by the impact, their remaining guard almost crushed Astrid, crashing against the divider between the main cabin and the cockpit, and knocking himself out. The chopper hit again, the series of impacts seeming to go on forever as adrenaline-soaked brains took time passage down to a snail’s pace.
0240 hrs. Wednesday, 18th July 1990. Flamingo Hotel, Jersey City, New Jersey
Dark clouds crept like cloaks across the full silver moon. The extensive lawns of the hotel were alternately darkly shadowed and then stark as the lunar light shone down. The dark patches of trees and shrubs stayed constant in the changing illumination as Astrid crouched beside the trunk of a tree, sheltered from view by shrubs. She was the sentry, armed with a pistol.
The illumination of the lower and upper walkways of the hotel endured, a warm yellow glow, tastefully subdued. As Raymond had laid it out for her, there was only one way to approach their room and that was along the upper balcony. The door numbers were too small to read without strong night glasses, so the rational thought was that the assailant would walk to the door before performing any attempt to kill them. He would need to identify the exact room. The actual killing could be done through the window, either with an automatic weapon for maximum effect, or an explosive device such as a hand grenade. Whether he would break through the door and gun them all down was open to question but would probably attract unwelcome attention. A silenced weapon was almost a guarantee.
The only other factor would be how the killer would approach. A stealthy approach to ensure egress and escape without being seen was an obvious tactic, but sometimes blatant openness would cause the assailant to blend in with the scenery. A person passing another guest carrying a suitcase, or a pizza delivery boy with a package, would attract no untoward attention.
Thus, Wesler could come either way. If he came at all.
Despite the doubt and uncertainty, Astrid had her money laid on the surreptitious approach and had already cocked her weapon, safety off, to avoid alerting him. She glanced at her watch. It was two-forty in the morning and she was beginning to feel the fatigue. Still, the lateness of the hour more or less guaranteed the surreptitious approach, so she kept her guard.
Off to her right, she suddenly heard a vehicle approach. It slowed and began to crawl to a stop. It purred for a moment, the faint light of headlights filtering through the trees. Moments later, calm and dark were restored as it was switched off. The faint sound of a door being carefully closed came to her ears. Most people closed car doors firmly. Only people who do not want to be heard do it so quietly. She keyed the mike on the walkie-talkie they had bought at an electronics store earlier in the day.
“I think we have company.”
“Okay. Be careful.”
Astrid almost cried out as the silhouette of a man suddenly appeared beside a tree only twenty feet away. His dark outline showed clearly in front of the hotel lights. He stood for a moment, surveying the scene before him and then, reaching under his raincoat produced what could only be a machine gun. Without taking his eyes off the hotel, he reached into a pocket and screwed a silencer onto the end of the weapon. Astrid clicked her mike twice, paused, clicked once, and then clicked once again. A single click came back to her. Raymond had acknowledged that he now knew that there was a confirmed attack, one person, and the first option, namely a firearm, was evident.
Astrid shrank back as the man glanced her way, fearful he had heard the tiny speaker against her ear. But he was only checking his surroundings. His head swivelled left and right, scanning the area. Satisfied, he stepped forward unhurriedly across the lawn. The short grass made no sound under his feet and no challenge rang out from nightly strollers. He gained the concrete walk around the hotel building perimeter and followed it to the staircase. The first flight went into a well against the building before turning outwards to the upper balcony. While he was ascending, Astrid sprinted to her right and curved back to the left to gain his trail. By the time she leaned up against the building, she could see his shoes steadily ascending the second flight through the gaps between the open steps.