Welcome to The Bookwormery, I am pleased to be able to share an Extract from Peter Millar’s book, The Germans and Europe, A Personal Frontline History.
1 Berlin A special party in a special pub, the mouse that roared, from obscurity to oblivion, a tale of two cities and an unexpected resurrection happy Birthday
In the summer of 2013 my wife Jackie and I attended a party in a pub in Prenzlauer Berg, one of Berlin’s trendiest and most sought-after residential areas. Just a few decades earlier it had been the most dilapidated district on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall. It had also been our home.
Some 32 years previously, in the late winter of 1980–81, I had arrived in East Berlin as a young and relatively inexperi- enced foreign correspondent for Reuters news agency. When I got married six months later my wife came out to join me, making our ‘choice’ of first marital home improbable enough to feature in her hometown newspaper, the Scun- thorpe Evening Telegraph.
My posting to East Berlin, where I was the only non- German correspondent on the ‘wrong’ side of the Wall, was an accident that changed my life, gave me what amounted to a second family, and an umbilical cord to a city that perhaps more than any other had embodied the 20th century: seduc- tive, scarred, ugly. And utterly magical. Even if the magic had at times been frighteningly black.
The Germans and Europe.indd 6 27/06/2017 11:22
That party in the summer of 2013 was held on 1 August. A century earlier Kaiser Wilhelm II had unveiled a monu- ment to the Battle of the Nations fought in 1813 outside Leipzig. The victory of Prussia, Austria, Sweden and Russia over Napoleon had seen 54,000 killed and another 27,000 wounded in the bloodiest battle in European history to that date. No one had any idea of the catastrophe to occur just one year later, in August 1914.
That same summer a Berlin housemaid called Clara Vahlenstein had a lucky lottery win, and she and her husband Hermann changed their lives forever by buying a pub in the bustling working class district of Prenzlauer Berg, dominated by six-storey Mietkasernen (rental tenements). They initially called it Vahlenstein’s Destille, and sold spirits as well as beer and coffee to the hardworking locals of an inner-city suburb typical of the rapid expansion Berlin had undergone in the late 19th century as it was transformed from a medium-sized northern German provincial city into the capital of a huge new nation. In the end, however, Berlin tradition won out: the pub stood on the corner of Metzer Strasse, named for the siege of Metz, one of the battles in the Franco-Prussian war that had created the new Germany. And as most Berlin pubs stood on corners and were named for them, Clara’s became Metzer Eck.
I first stumbled (literally) into Metzer Eck on a cold night in the early winter of 1981. Despite its label as capital of the Cold War; East Berlin in the early 1980s was something of a slow news city, a dull Soviet fiefdom without even the usual crop of dissidents to be found in most of Moscow’s satrapies. My first story had been, ironically given my Northern Irish upbringing, a football game between Ballymena and a team from Leipzig: Reuters had a broad distribution network. An office in drab East Berlin was rare and something Reuters was determined to hold on to: one day something exciting might just happen. To pad out my salary I was required also to cover events berlin ⋑
7 The Germans and Europe.indd 7 27/06/2017 11:22
in the isolated exclave of West Berlin. It was coming home via Checkpoint Charlie from a chaotic night covering riots in the student, squatter and Turkish immigrant district of Kreuzberg to the relative peace and calm of the totalitarian East, that I first found myself in Metzer Eck. I got out of the U-bahn at Senefelderplatz and, seeing a rare light in the dark- ened streets, ventured in, hoping for a nightcap, or at least a bit of warmth, and maybe – though I doubted it in East Berlin’s cautious, mistrusting society – a bit of conversa- tion. I found both, and a whole lot more: an open back door into the heart of real Berlin, a culture of ordinary, charm- ing, friendly people of all classes – regulars included bakers, builders, musicians and actors – who over generations had hunkered down and taken the shit that history had thrown at them.
The night of that party in the summer of 2013, 32 years after I had first stumbled through the doors, the current landlady of Metzer Eck, Sylvia Falkner, Clara Vahlenstein’s great-grand-daughter-in-law, stood on the steps before a crowd of several hundred and news cameras of unified Ber- lin’s local television channel and declared: ‘We survived two World Wars, the Wall going up and the Wall coming down, and we’re still here!’ In almost any country, at any time, the survival, almost totally unchanged, of one small pub in the hands of the same family for a century is a rare thing; in the circumstances of Berlin, it is almost a miracle. During the Vahlenstein/Falkner family’s tenure Germany’s borders changed more than a dozen times; they had been under the rule of an emperor, a socialist democracy, the Nazi dictatorship, a Soviet-style Communist dictatorship and since 1990 once more a democ- racy. Five currencies had crossed the bar, from the Kaiser’s Reichsmarks to the Rentenmarks invented to rescue the infla- tion-plagued Weimar Republic, to the East German ‘Marks of the German Democratic Republic’, to the D-Mark of post-1990 unified Germany, and eventually euros.
The Germans and Europe.indd 8 27/06/2017 11:22
Two young men called Horst had lost their lives: Syl- via’s husband, conscripted into the East German National People’s Army when I first arrived in Berlin, who tragically succumbed early to cancer shortly after celebrating the fall of the Wall. And his uncle: conscripted into the Hitler Youth in his teens, then taken away by the invading Russians and left to rot of consumption in a repurposed Nazi concentra- tion camp at Sachsenhausen, just north of the city. Berlin and Berliners have lived Europe’s most terrible century close up and personal. Far from all of them deserved it.
Just another Brick in the Wall?
Almost my first introduction to my new home had been a literal overview of Berlin’s real geography thanks to the British army, who in 1981 still nominally controlled one of the three (American, French and British) sectors of West Berlin. Their forces were based near Nazi architect Albert Speer’s Olympic Stadium, since transformed into the national football stadium that hosted the 2006 World Cup final.
An army helicopter took me high above the divided city – taking care never to make the potentially dangerous mistake of crossing into East German airspace. The 1971 Four Power Agreement – signed as a form of normalisation during the détente years – was so complex the Western Allies and Soviets had had problems even defining what they were referring to. Neither side admitted the division was final but neither had the faintest intention of withdrawing its troops. All that had to wait for the events that followed November 1989. Both sides insisted (relatively accurately) that it was not they but the German civilian authorities that ran things. Seen from a bird’s-eye vantage point in early 1981 the grotesque artificial- ity of the Wall and the ‘death strip’ that lined it like a scar on a wound, stood out in the landscape like a crooked con- crete lasso encompassing the western two-thirds of the city.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Peter Millar is an award-winning journalist, author and translator. Born in Co.Down. Ireland, Peter read French and Russian at Oxford, lived in Paris, then Brussels as a reporter for Reuters. In early 1981, at the age of 26, he was sent as correspondent to East Berlin, then to Moscow, where he lived three years, from the death of Brezhnev to the rise of Gorbachev. His career, including the Sunday Times, Sunday Telegraph and European, took him to Warsaw, Prague, Budapest, Bucharest and Belgrade, as well as throughout Germany.
Today I am sharing an extract from Whispers in the Mist by Darcy Coates…but first a little about the book….
Clare and Dorran may still be alive against all odds, but relief is only temporary. Dorran is sick, and rapidly worsening. Clare fears the only way to save him lies in the mysterious Evandale Research Station, supposedly one of the few remaining human refuges. But the station is three days’ journey away, and Clare isn’t certain their small group can endure that long.
Because the danger they’re facing comes not only from the ravenous hollow ones… but from each other.
This terrible new world has left scars, and only some of them are physical. As Clare fights to protect the most precious people in her life, she begins to realize a horrible truth: Not everyone can be saved. And sometimes the worst monsters wear a human smile..
and here is the extract…
Clare clung to her seat as the minibus rocked through the city. Abandoned cars littered the streets like the fallen on a battlefield. A path had been carved through them using brute force, but it was irregular, weaving in sharp angles and often forcing them to rise onto the curb.
Every time the bus jolted over some obstacle, Dorran’s shoulder bumped hers. Clare felt pure elation rush through her. They had gotten out of Helexis Tower and away from the scientist who had created the thanites that destroyed humanity. Dorran was with her. Dorran was safe.
She looked up at him, grinning. He tried to return the expression. Clare’s heart sank.
They might be free, but Dorran hadn’t escaped the tower unscathed. Even though he matched her smile, it was obvious that it took him effort. He braced one hand on the seat ahead to absorb the shocks. The fingers trembled. His skin was ashen, his dark eyes had lost their familiar brightness, and every jostle seemed to drain more of his strength. Black hair, slightly too long, was damp with sweat.
He needs rest. A few days of good food and sleep, and he’ll start to heal. She wanted to believe the idea. She was desperate to. It seemed too cruel to escape the tower—to escape Ezra and his experiment—only to lose Dorran.
She took his free hand and pressed it gently. He threaded his fingers between hers. His thumb grazed over the ring he’d given her.
Hold on a little longer, Dorran. I’ll do whatever it takes to make this right.
Two rows ahead of then, Beth sat in the driver’s seat, navigating the congested roads. It felt like a dream. Clare had clung to hope for her sister longer than any rational part of her could justify. She had travelled across the country only to lose her again. To find Beth by what seemed like pure coincidence was more good luck than Clare dared trust in. But she was there, within touching distance, alive and real.
Clare swallowed, trying to find her voice. “Beth—”
“Not now,” she barked, her eyes fixed on the path ahead as the minibus screeched around a tight bend.
Ten years her senior, Beth had become a surrogate mother to Clare after their father left and their mother passed away. Beth had taken her to school programs, swimming lessons, and camps, and watched her like a hawk the entire time. There had been doctor’s visits over mild
coughs. No swimming in pools unless both Beth and a lifeguard were present. No sleepovers unless Beth empirically trusted the families.
The old Beth, naturally cautious, had never sped in her life. She’d once told Clare,
driving is one of the most dangerous things a person can do, second only to eating undercooked meat.
But the new world had changed Beth. Even with the road choked, she was over the speed limit. The minibus scraped half the cars it passed. She drove aggressively, but efficiently. The chattering screams from the hollow ones pursuing them were already fading.
That wasn’t the only part of Beth that had changed. Her fine, wavy blonde hair had grown out a little since Clare had last seen her, and grazed over her shoulders. Her face looked harder. Leaner. Fresh scars marked her delicate features.
Clare leaned forward to try to see her sister more clearly. If Beth was aware of the scrutiny, she didn’t acknowledge it. They rose onto another curb and clipped a light post, and Clare dropped back into her seat to avoid being rattled any more than she already was.
The scars were fresh. One ran across Beth’s nose, starting near her eye and arcing down onto her cheek. Another mottled patch stood just above her temple. Three small marks showed where something had sliced into her jaw.
They were recent, but already sealed over. Clare knew the thanites would be responsible for that. Airborne, nano-particle-sized machines designed to heal the human body, but gone terribly, horrifically wrong. Like Clare, Beth would have been spared a full dose. She’d had her bunker, an airtight fortress that had saved her from being converted into one of the twisted, mindless creatures during the hours the thanites had been active.
The bunker would have limited Beth’s exposure to the thanites, but not eliminated them entirely. And now the tiny machines were inhabiting her body, healing her injuries. It was one of the reasons Clare had survived so long. Poison, bloodloss, and infection were all being repaired by the same creations that had grown out of control and mutated most of humanity.
Beth wrenched the wheel to navigate a tight angle. Clare hit Dorran’s side, and he hit the window. The bus rose onto one side of wheels, and for a moment, Clare was afraid they were about to tip. Then the bus lurched back down, sending shockwaves through them as it reconnected with the road.
This reckless, energetic Beth was a sharp contrast to the woman Clare knew. Her
wardrobe had changed, too. All black swaddled her from the scarf around her neck to her boots. If she wore a mask, there wouldn’t be a scrap of skin visible. Covering skin was a defence against the hollows, but it still left Clare disconcerted. She’d never seen Beth wear black before. It was as though all of Beth’s soft sides had been sharpened into angles.
Clare supposed it was hard to stay static in the new world. She wondered how much she had changed in the past weeks.
The minibus’s windows had been covered with plyboard. Narrow gaps existed around the boards’ edges. When Clare was close to them, she could see the businesses and vehicles they passed. She caught sight of movement inside many of the cars. Hollows, trapped, pressed their hands against the closed windows and hissed in frustration. Each nightmarish face was only visible for a split second, but the images haunted Clare. Deformed mouths. Missing teeth. Bulging eyes. Sparse hair.
She tried to imagine what their lives would have been like before the stillness. People on their way to their jobs, parents dropping their children off at daycare, an elderly couple driving to an early-morning breakfast date. Those were the monsters that now surrounded them.
Stop. Focus on what’s good. Because there’s a lot of good to be found today.
Dorran was safe. Hurt, but still alive. Clare tightened her hand around his. Against all odds, they had found Beth. Or, rather, Beth had found them. She’d gotten them out of Helexis Tower. And now they were leaving the city. The high-rise buildings were being replaced by homes and wider roads as they entered the outer suburbs. The country wasn’t far off.
The tyres screeched as Beth pulled off the road. It wasn’t the first time she’d taken a shortcut across a parking lot, but this time, she didn’t floor the accelerator. She let the minibus rock to a halt, pulled the handbrake, and jumped out of her driver’s seat.
“What the hell were you doing in the city?” She stood in the aisle, her face made of sharp angles and her eyes doused with fire. Then the expression softened, her jaw unclenching and her eyebrows rising, and she reached towards Clare. “Thank goodness you’re okay.”
Clare crossed to her in two quick steps. Beth’s hug was fierce as she was half cried, half laughed into Clare’s wet hair.
“I didn’t think I’d get to see you again,” Clare managed.
“Neither did I.” Beth leaned back far enough to see Clare’s face and used her fingertips to brush wet hair off her cheek. “You’re not hurt, are you?”
“I’m not, but—”
Clare turned to look at Dorran. He stood a few steps behind them, one hand braced on the back of a chair for support, watching cautiously. He was trying not to look intimidating, Clare knew, but that was hard to avoid when his head grazed the ceiling.
Beth’s eyes fixed on Dorran. The hand on Clare’s shoulder tightened a fraction. “This is the man you’ve been staying with?”
“Yes.” Clare reached towards him. “I’m really glad you get to meet him. Dorran, this is Beth. Beth, Dorran.”
He dipped his head in a respectful nod, his eyes not quite meeting hers and his voice subdued. “A pleasure.”
“Mm.” Beth’s lips pressed into a tight line as her eyes ran over him, from his black hair, to his broad shoulders, across the muddied lab coat he’d borrowed from Ezra, down to the boots. Clare wished she would be more subtle about it.
“He figured out how to repair my car.” Clare spoke too fast as she tried to soften some of Beth’s hostility. “I’d never have gotten this far without him—”
“Outside,” Beth said, abruptly, and tugged on her arm.
“Come on. We’ll talk outside.”
Clare stared at the windshield. Light reflected off the water flowing over the surface. “It’s
“You’re already drenched.” Beth hit a button and the door hissed open, letting the steady
drum of rain inside, along with the faint scent of smoke, oil, and hollows. “Come on. I want to talk in private.”
Clare sent Dorran an apologetic glance as she was dragged out of the bus. He looked conflicted, one hand reaching towards her, and Clare mouthed don’t worry. Then the door creaked closed behind her, sealing him inside the bus.
Beth kept her hold on Clare’s arm as she dragged her away from the vehicle. The rain, vicious in its intensity at Helexis Tower, had reduced to a drizzle in the outer suburbs.
Clare blinked at the space, surprised. Beth had stopped the minibus in the centre of a shopping mall’s parking lot. They were well-lit as gigantic bulbs washed the area with cold white light. Clare didn’t know how the lights could still be running four weeks into the stillness. Even
if the centre had a generator—and she guessed it must have for emergencies—it would need to be refuelled. The area seemed deserted except for their vehicle.
“Beth?” Clare was already wet from the run out of Helexis tower, but the new wash of rain drained another layer of warmth. Her sneakers sank into a puddle two inches deep and she shivered. Beth stopped a dozen paces away from the bus, facing the deserted shopping mall, arms crossed. Clare hunched her shoulders. “Is everything okay?”
Beth dragged her hands over her hair, plastering it back, and then turned towards Clare. “I don’t like the way he looks.”
She’d been expecting wariness towards Dorran. “He’s a good man. He’s kind, and patient, and he saved my life. Multiple times. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I owe him.”
Beth paced across the asphalt, arms folded, expression tense. When she turned back to Clare there was fresh suspicion in her eyes. “He looks sick.”
“He…” She could tell Beth exactly what had happened: about how Dorran had been coerced into becoming part of Ezra’s experiment to destroy the thanites, and how they didn’t know what the consequences might be. But the way Beth was talking about Dorran—like he was an unwanted liability—made Clare swallow the story. She couldn’t afford to give Beth any more reasons to mistrust him. Instead, she opted for a half-truth. “It’s been a weird couple of days. He didn’t sleep last night.”
“Uh-huh.” Beth’s eyes narrowed in the way they did when she was sceptical. Her jaw worked as she stared towards the bus, chewing something over. Then she took a deep breath. “We’ll drop him off with some other survivors then get back on the road.”
“What?” Clare blinked water out of her eyes.
“Don’t worry. I know some groups that would take him in.”
“No.” Clare took a step back, her heart thundering. “We’re not going to abandon him.
We’re a team.”
“He’s a stranger.”
“To you.” She hated how defensive she sounded, but she couldn’t stop. “He’s my best friend.”
Beth’s lips twisted. “Oh, really? After knowing him for, what? A couple of weeks?” “After having to rely on him for my survival, repeatedly, through some of the worst
moments of my life, yeah. And I think I’m a good enough judge of character to say I trust him. Why can’t you believe that?”
“Oh, I don’t know.” Beth’s voice rose, and a harsh note entered it. “Maybe because I can’t even trust you to follow basic instructions.”
It took Clare a second to catch the implication. “Are you angry because I came looking for you?”
“What did I tell you the last time we spoke?” Beth lifted her eyebrows to arrest Clare with one of the sharpest looks she’d ever experienced. “Stay where you are.”
“Your generator died. Was I supposed to just leave you there to suffocate?”
“Yes.” Beth held her hands out to the sides, her open palms catching the rain. “It would have been better than traipsing across the country just to find my bunker was empty. And if that weren’t bad enough… what the hell were you doing in the city? The single most dangerous place in this part of the country.”
Clare was used to her share of lectures from Beth. She’d hated them as a teen, but as she grew older and moved into her own home, she’d learned to see them for what they really were: an expression of love. Beth cared about her, therefore Beth worried about her, therefore Beth lectured her.
But this felt different. There wasn’t any concerned tilt to her sister’s eyes or pleading note in her voice. This Beth, the Beth that had been hardened and sharpened by the still world, was full of fire and wrath. Clare took a half step back.
“We—” Were lost. Became trapped. Ran out of options. None of them sounded good. She swallowed. “We found the tower by pure luck and recognised the address, so we took a chance on it.”
“And how were you planning to get out?” Beth’s piercing blue eyes were relentless. “You ran through the hoard with no weapons. No protection. Not even a mask. If I hadn’t been there, what would you have done to escape the hollows?”
The rain drenched Clare’s skin. Her hair stuck to her face. But, for all the external cold she felt, it was nothing compared to the lump of ice that was forming deep in her stomach.
She’d been desperate to reunite with Beth. She’d taken risks she shouldn’t have just for the hope of finding her. But Beth was furious. And, unlike a normal lecture, she didn’t know how to stop this new anger.
Beth took her silence for the answer it was. “You had no way to get out of that tower, did you? You’re only alive right now because of pure, miserable luck.”
Angry tears were building, and she was grateful that the rain would stop Beth from seeing them.
“I told you all of this so clearly.” Beth’s voice dropped until it was almost inaudible through the rain. “Don’t take risks. People who gamble on the odds eventually lose. And what did you do?”
“Whatever it took to try to find my sister.”
Beth’s face stayed hard for all of a second, then the expression crumpled. She exhaled, head drooping and shoulders bowing. For a moment, they stood together, letting the rain beat on their backs and drip off their chins. Then Beth lifted her head, her expression soft again.
“That was really dumb, Clare.” “Okay.”
“But thank you, anyway.” “Yeah.”
Her sister’s arms wrapped around her again. Beth’s jacket was thick and cold, but her body was warm. She squeezed Clare tightly, swaying with her like she’d used to when Clare was a child.
“I’m happy to have you with me again,” she murmured. “I didn’t think I’d ever get the chance.”
“I missed you, Beth.”
“Mm.” She pulled back, blinking rapidly. “Me too.”
Thunder crackled in the distance. Clare turned to look behind them, towards the minibus.
Its windows were blacked out, but she could imagine Dorran sitting inside, anxious and uncertain, alone in the dark as he waited for them to return. Her heart ached for him. “I’m not letting you kick Dorran out.”
Beth chewed on her lip for a second, then sighed. “He can stay. For now. But, if he wants to split up, we let him go, okay?”
Clare still didn’t like her sister’s tone, but she nodded. It was probably the best concession she could get. And she already knew Dorran would stay.
Beth squinted up at the sky as lightning arced above them. “Rain’s nasty today. Come on.
Let’s get dry. We shouldn’t linger here, anyway. The hollows are growing impatient.”
Wow, what a start…..
Thank you to Amber at Midas PR for the opportunity to be part of this blog tour, for the promotional material s extract from Whispers In The Dark.
Welcome to the Bookwormery and an extract from Son Of Escobar. But first a little about the book…..
THE UNBELIEVABLE TRUE STORY
Rescued as a baby from a fatal shoot out at which his mother dies and his father escapes, adopted by an MI6 agent working out of Colombia, kept in the dark about his true identity until the age of 24, sent to boarding school in the UK to avoid escalating kidnapping attempts, and finally given the location of Escobar’s hidden millions, this is the unbelievable true story of Pablo Escobar’s first born son, Roberto Sendoya Escobar.
In 1965, a secret mission by Colombian Special Forces, led by an MI6 agent to recover a cash hoard from a safe house used by a young Pablo Escobar, culminates in a shoot-out leaving many dead. Escobar and several of his men escape. Only a baby survives the bloody shoot out, Roberto Sendoya Escobar. In a bizarre twist of fate, the MI6 agent takes pity on the child, brings him home and adopts him.
Over the years, Pablo Escobar tries, repeatedly, to kidnap his first born son. Flanked by his trusty bodyguards, the child, unaware of his true identity, is allowed regular meetings with Escobar and it becomes apparent that Roberto’s adopted father and the British government are working covertly with the Escobar in an attempt to control the money laundering and drug trades.
Many years later in England, as Roberto’s adoptive father lies dying in hospital, he hands his son a coded piece of paper which, he says, reveals the secret hiding place of Escobar’s ‘missing millions’. The code is published in this book for the first time.
The most notorious drug lord the world has ever seen, and now the subject of the hugely popular Netflix series Narcos, Pablo Escobar was one of the ten richest men on the planet and controlled 80 per cent of the global cocaine trade before he was shot dead in 1993. Each copy of the book offers readers a chance to crack the code and find Escobar’s hidden millions
And now the
EXTRACT FROM Son Of Escobar…
I had two fathers. The one I called Dad – and loved dearly – was my adoptive father, Patrick Witcomb. I knew him as an English businessman who had made a successful life for his family in Colombia. That was only half the story. It wasn’t until years later that I found out he was also an MI6 agent working undercover for British intelligence. But hearing that still wasn’t my biggest shock.
I learned that my biological father was Pablo Escobar, the most notorious gangster in the history of the world. I had met him only fleetingly, unaware of our connection – or that there were times he was prepared to kill to win me back.
This is the story of how the lives of my two fathers became inextricably intertwined. Good and evil. Light and darkness. This story has it all.
When I was a child I knew nothing of all this. I just thought Patrick – Pat to everyone who
knew him – was a regular dad. There were an awful lot of guns and strangeness going on around our beautiful mansion in Colombia but my dad worked for a firm that printed bank notes for governments and ran an armoured car business and as an employee he was subject to attack from criminal gangs. It was just part of our life, although sometimes it felt like violence followed us around and I was grateful for my round-the-clock armed protection.
There were also a few occasions on which my father took me to a place called Medellín where I met a younger man who took a keen interest in me – this was Escobar. And there was the day I saw huge bags of money being loaded on to a plane. Little did I know of the murky dealings that linked these two powerful figures in Colombia’s turbulent history – and the millions of dollars that passed between them.
Only when I was twenty-four did my father – Pat – sit me down to tell me the true story of my extraordinary life. It was 1989 and by then I had left home and was living in Sotogrande on the Costa Del Sol of Spain, near Gibraltar. Until that day I had always been Phillip Witcomb, although I did know that I was adopted. It hadn’t worried me. I always looked upon Pat and his wife, Joan, as my dad and mum. They had told me I had been born in Colombia, which explained my darker hair and features, but until this point both had said that nothing was known about my real parents and I had always accepted it. Now Pat prepared to turn my world upside down.
‘What we told you wasn’t the whole story,’ Dad said. ‘It’s time you knew the whole truth.’
He revealed I had started life as Roberto Sendoya Escobar. They had adopted me from a Catholic orphanage. My mother was dead and they believed my father had given up any claim for me. It was then that he explained how he had come to cross paths with Pablo Escobar.
Dad had been tasked with setting up the Colombian arm of the banknote printing company De La Rue and, as part of his work, he needed to infiltrate the criminal gangs then gaining a foothold in the country’s fledgling economy and pass back intelligence. Some of this information made its way back to UK secret services, but the main beneficiaries for the elaborate, sophisticated and devastatingly effective operation were their US counterparts in the CIA.
Dad explained that the armoured car division often came under attack and their consignments of newly printed Colombian banknotes would be stolen. After one such robbery, Dad received intelligence to the whereabouts of the missing money. With the backing of his bosses in London and his employers in UK intelligence he mounted a daring and heavily armoured mission to recover the cash.
It was in the course of this most bloody of expeditions that I was discovered as a helpless baby in the gang’s hideout and the link with my biological father, Escobar, was established. At the time Pablo Escobar was a teenager and nothing more than a low-level criminal, but as he rose through the criminal ranks he would go on to be a useful asset for the intelligence services who sought to influence the growing gang networks in Colombia.
It was the 1960s and the cocaine trade was in its infancy. There was no way of predicting the way that its cultivation and supply would become one of the biggest industries in the world – or of
knowing that the secret services would play a key role in allowing the gangs to flourish, creating the cocaine cartels that brought so much misery to so many people.
At the time Pat’s goal was simply to safeguard his company interests and provide intelligence for the services back home. Enter one more figure who would much later become notorious on the world stage. An ambitious Panamanian, then just an officer, named Manuel Noriega, did not only assist Dad on the fateful mission that led him to Escobar but would also go on to help him in his dealings with the criminal gangs. Noriega and Escobar were quite the pair, between them overseeing the rise of narcotic trafficking to a global level.
What had begun as a low-level operation in aid of securely transporting government-issued banknotes exploded into a dangerous game: trying in vain to control drug gangs that nobody could have known would become so big that their resources started to outstrip those of many entire nations. Yet for years, US intelligence’s attitude to the amount of cocaine flooding the USA verged on the relaxed. It was only when the amount of dollars for drugs pouring out of the USA – then the largest economy in the world – reached dangerously high levels, that action was at last taken.
The once primitive criminal gangs had by then morphed into huge drug cartels that made more money than they knew how to spend. By the time that I began to find out the truth of my life, Escobar was fearing his grip on power was slipping and had hidden millions of dollars in secret locations. When Dad told me all of this, and hinted that he knew where some of the money was, it was at first too much to take in.
It was only slowly that this incredible story began to make sense to me.
For years I had been plagued by vague dreams of what I thought were explosions and a woman’s screams. Were these somehow related to real events, to that armed mission that Dad had mounted and that had led to my rescue?
I remembered our trips to Medellín. Suddenly, conversations I’d had with a mysterious man with a magnetic presence took on a new significance. Was this Escobar? My biological father?
Over the course of a number of conversations, I listened intently as Dad slowly revealed hidden details about my life. One part of the story was particularly hard for him to recount – the aspect I was most desperate to hear.
How had he known my biological mother was dead?
In explaining my birth mother’s death, Dad shook me to my core, forcing me to question everything I’d ever thought I knew about myself, my legal guardians and the people who brought me into this world.
That wasn’t all.
Many years later, as he lay dying, my father imparted perhaps his most sensational secret – clues to the location of Escobar’s legendary missing millions.
What follows is based on the information given by my adoptive father, Pat, and blended with my own extensive research. This is at last the true story of my life. All the events are factual, although I have inevitably had to dramatise scenes and conversations as I believe they would have happened.
The story begins on the day that I was discovered by Pat. It was an accidental rescue that set the fates of Patrick Witcomb and Pablo Escobar on a collision course, bonding us together for ever.
Welcome to the Bookwormery and I’m pleased to be taking part in the blog blitz for Warbringer by Aaron Hodges… and to bring you an extract……
Here’s a little about Warbringer and the extract will follow …
Centuries ago, the world fell.
From the ashes rose a terrible new species—the Tangata.
Now they wage war against the kingdoms of man.
And humanity is losing.
Recruited straight from his academy, twenty-year-old Lukys hopes the frontier will make a soldier out of him. But Tangata are massing in the south, and the allied armies are desperate. They will do anything to halt the enemy advance—including sending untrained men and women into battle.
Determined to survive, Lukys seeks aid from the only man who seems to care: Romaine, the last warrior of an extinct kingdom.
Meanwhile, the Queen’s Archivist leads an expedition deep beneath the earth. She seeks to uncover the secrets of the Gods. Their magic has been lost to the ages, yet artifacts remain, objects of power that could turn the tide of the war. But salvation is not all that waits beneath the surface. Something else slumbers in the darkness. Something old. Something evil.
Thank you to Rachel’s Random Resources for the opportunity to take part in this blog tour, for the promotional material and the extract to share.
Aaron Hodges was born in 1989 in the small town of Whakatane, New Zealand. He studied for five years at the University of Auckland, completing a Bachelor’s of Science in Biology and Geography, and a Masters of Environmental Engineering. After working as an environmental consultant for two years, he grew tired of office work and decided to quit his job and explore the world. During his travels he picked up an old draft of a novel he once wrote in High School (titled The Sword of Light) and began to rewrite the story. Six months later he published his first novel, Stormwielder, and hasn’t looked back since.
Lukys sat back on his haunches. Around him, the world was on fire. Winds blew from across the river, catching in the hay below the walls and sending flaming strands swirling through the air. Acrid smoke stung his nostrils as he inhaled, and his throat burned. Terror robbed him of strength.
He drew on what final dredges of courage remained to him. Clasping at his fallen spear, he forced himself up—and found himself staring into the stony eyes of the beast.
It stood just a yard away, close enough that it could have reached out and snapped his neck at any moment. It didn’t. Wrinkles creased its forehead as it watched him. The spear shook in Lukys’s hand as he realised this was his chance.
But even as he tightened his grip on the weapon, the Tangata tensed, its features closing over. A smile twisted its lips, revealing yellowed teeth.
Death, death, death.
Laughter sounded in Lukys’s ears and the beast raised a hand, gesturing him forward.
Screaming, Lukys leapt, spear held at the ready. He knew he could not win, that this was the end, but in that moment he didn’t care. All that mattered was the spear in his hands and the beast.
The tip of his spear flashed out, aimed clumsily for the creature’s stomach. The Tangata was quicker, its hand swiping down, catching his weapon by the haft and snapping it in two with a quick wrench.
Lukys staggered back, half of his now useless weapon still clutched to his chest. The tip of Lukys’s spear clasped in one hand, the Tangata advanced.
A cry escaped Lukys as his boots failed to find purchase in the mud. He crashed to the ground, broken spear tumbling from his fingers. Mouth wide in terror, he looked up, expecting to see death descending upon him.
A warrior stood between Lukys and the Tangata, twin-bladed axe extended towards the beast. The weapon rippled in the firelight as it swept out. The Tangata leapt away, twisting from the path of the blade, but even with its superhuman speed, it could not avoid the blow completely.
A shriek rent the air as the axe sliced the creature’s thigh. Blood pulsed from the wound as it staggered. Lukys was surprised to see it bled red. Despite their distinctly human appearance, surely the monsters could not be the same within?
Pain contorted the Tangata’s face as it faced the axeman. Then a change seemed to come over the creature, a wave of pure rage sweeping away its agony. Its eyes flashed and it rushed forward—now in total silence.
The axeman did not retreat from its fury. He charged with a shout, words lost in the chaos, massive shoulders sending the axe flashing for the Tangata. Somehow, the creature seemed sluggish by comparison. Perhaps the wound had slowed it. Regardless, it realised its mistake too late, and with a sickening thud, the axe slammed into its shoulder, slicing through bone and sinew to bury itself in the beast’s chest.
An awful gurgling came from the Tangata as it struggled to step forward, to reach the enemy that had slain it. But not even these creatures could survive such a blow, and with a sharp whistle of departing air, it slumped to its knees and fell alongside Lukys.
The warrior towered over the beast. His shoulders heaved as blue eyes scanned the ramparts, seeking out signs of fresh danger. Another Tangata lay nearby, its body peppered with arrows and impaled by several spears. In the distance, the sounds of battle were fading, an eerie stillness coming over the night.
The battle was won.
Looking up at the massive axeman, Lukys could hardly believe he was alive. If not for the ferocious warrior, he wouldn’t be. Only now did he notice the man did not wear the familiar red of Flumeer, nor the blue of Perfugia. Instead, his chainmail had been woven through with the deepest green, remnant of the forest.
He hadn’t realised there were any Calafe warriors left. They had passed the refugee camps outside Mildeth, but it was said that the last of their soldiers had refused to leave their land, and had died on the shores of the Illmoor. What did this man fight for now, with his kingdom overcome?
“Need some help?”
Lukys started as the man spoke, dragging him from his thoughts. Seeing the hand the warrior was extending, he took it. His slender fingers were ingulfed by the warrior’s giant mitts and he was yanked to his feet. Lukys stumbled before righting himself, his gaze catching on the body of the Tangata once more. The blood had stopped flowing from the awful wound the man’s axe had left.
It almost killed me.
Before he could stop himself, Lukys was bent in two and retching in the mud.
Gentle laughter came from beside him. “First battle?”
Gasping, Lukys managed a nod.
“You’ll get used to it,” the warrior grunted.
With that, he took a hold of his axe. Placing a boot on the Tangata’s chest, he yanked the weapon free with a sickening squelch, then turned and walked away along the ramparts.
Lukys watched him go, a reply on his lips, though he couldn’t bring himself to say it. The warrior was wrong. He would never get used to this. He would never get the chance.
Pearsol opened the mortuary cooler and pulled out the stainless steel tray supporting the victim. “Lieutenant, meet Jane Doe,” he said sliding the woman’s bloated body under Driscoll’s gaze. “Harbor Patrol fished her out of the muck. I’d say she was a feast for the gulls for a day. Maybe two.”
“What’s that smell? Paint thinner?”
“She was doused in phenol?”
Driscoll’s eyes narrowed.
“The complete autopsy will fill in the blanks, but I’d bet my pension I already know what killed her. The who, and the why, I’ll leave to you.” Pearsol handed the preliminary lab report to Driscoll. It identifies a mixture of substances inside her vascular system.
“Phenol, formaldehyde and Chloride of Zinc?” Driscoll looked perplexed.
“The same Chloride of Zinc they put in dry cell batteries?”
Pearsol nodded. “There’s three more.”
“Myrrh, aloe and cassia,” Driscoll read aloud. “That’s a strange mix.” He glanced at Pearsol, who nodded. “Says here you drained 851 milliliters from her circulatory system. What’s that? About two pints?”
“A body contains five to six quarts of blood. So the rest of this mixture?”
“Still in her.”
Using his finger, Driscoll pushed back a lock of the victim’s hair. “What could you have done to warrant this?” he whispered, eyes on the corpse.
“Right now the unofficial cause of death is phenol poisoning by arterial injection. Familiar with the German word, ‘abgespritzt’, Lieutenant?”
“Abgespritzt was a method of genocide favored by the Nazis in the early 1940s. Hitler’s henchmen delivered instantaneous death by injecting 15 milliliters of phenol directly into the heart.”
“What kind of syringe injects six quarts?”
“More than likely he used a centrifugal pump. And he knew what he was doing.” Pearsol pointed to the side of the victim’s neck, where a semi- translucent latex adhesive covered a two inch stretch of rippled flesh between the carotid artery and the jugular vein. “An extreme method of murder, Lieutenant. He arterially embalmed her.”
“There’s more.” The M.E. produced a transparent evidence bag containing a locket. It was an inch in diameter and featured Saint Vitalis of Gaza; his name etched in a half circle below his likeness. “I found it under her tongue. Someone apparently placed it there before suturing the tongue to the floor of her mouth.”
“What’s that about?” Driscoll wondered aloud.
“Good question. I’m not familiar with that saint. You?”
“She‘s the patron saint of prostitutes.”
“Well, there’s a lead. Oh, and there’s one other bit of information you’re sure to find intriguing. The myrrh, aloe, and cassia injected with the embalming fluid were once embalming solutions on their own. Sort of.”
“They were the purifying fragrances applied to the linens that wrapped the crucified Christ before he was laid in his tomb.”
About the Author:
Thomas O’Callaghan’s work has been translated for publication in Germany, Slovakia, Indonesia, the Czech Republic, China, and Italy. As an internationally acclaimed author, Mr. O’Callaghan is a member of both the Mystery Writers of America and the International Thriller Writers associations. A native of New York City and a graduate of Richmond College, Mr. O’Callaghan resides with his lovely wife, Eileen, a stone’s throw from the Atlantic Ocean in beautiful Belle Harbor, New York.
His debut novel BONE THIEF introduces NYPD Homicide Commander Lieutenant John W. Driscoll. THE SCREAMING ROOM is the second in the John Driscoll series. The third book in the series, NO ONE WILL HEAR YOUR SCREAMS, is now available from WildBlue Press. For more information, please visit https://thomasocallaghan.com
I awoke that Friday morning in a serious sweat, the kind that is not immediately relieved by rising and washing one’s face with cold water. I noted that the clock in the bathroom read 4:38, twenty-two minutes before my designated alarm setting. After staring at the clock for a minute, maybe two, I felt my right radial pulse. The accelerated throbbing confirmed that tachycardia was still my predominant rhythm. I decided to attend to ritualistic morning bathroom chores, make coffee, read the paper, and at least try to pretend that it was a normal Friday morning.
Upon completion of the bathroom routine, as quietly as possible, I punched in the five-digit alarm code and started to leave the bedroom to go downstairs. Unfortunately, even the sound of punching in the numbers was unduly shrill, and it caused Mary Louise, my bride of twenty-four years, to stir.
“It’s not even five yet. Why are you up?”
“Couldn’t sleep. Woke up with the sweats again. Sorry to wake you. I thought I’d go downstairs, make some coffee, and sit outside and think for a while. Okay?”
“Want some company?”
Normally, I would never turn down such an offer. I loved my wife dearly. She was, in fact, my best friend. That particular morning, however, I responded in the negative.
“I don’t want to hurt your feelings, sweetie, but this is just one of those times I need to collect my thoughts. Know what I mean?”
“I do. I’m sorry you’re having to go through all this. It isn’t fair. After all you’ve done for everybody else. I know in my heart it will be all right, just maybe not today. Try not to get too upset. Promise?”
“I’ll do my best.” I leaned down and kissed her warm cheek. She smelled so good, I considered taking off my robe and getting back into bed. I finally chose not to. “Go back to sleep. I’m not leaving until about eight o’clock.”
I left her reluctantly and plodded downstairs barefooted, in my cotton robe, with lights still off, toward coffee heaven. I selected Twin Peaks Blend coffee beans, which we kept in the freezer to avoid staleness, ground them, and began the ten-minute process to achieve as perfect a cup of coffee as I could make. I waited on the back porch in my “spot,” a large white cane rocker. The month of August was a stifling time of year in Houston, even at that hour of the morning. The heat and humidity were almost unbearable during July, August, and early September. I turned on the outdoor ceiling fan that hovered above my chair and hoped it would make the weather more pleasant. It didn’t.
I considered my life that morning. I, Dr. James Robert Brady, who had done my best to be a compassionate and dedicated orthopedic surgeon for the past seventeen years, was being sued for medical malpractice. I was not a neophyte when it came to lawsuits. I had been sued twice before, not an unusual occurrence in a city of four million people, with far too many law school graduates sitting in their quiet offices with nothing to do. The other two suits were quite minor and did not linger but were dismissed rather quickly, meaning over a year-or-two period. The current lawsuit, the cause of my awakening before five with the sweats and intense gastrointestinal distress, had not been dismissed.
I stepped back inside to the relatively cool air, although during August even the air-conditioning system labored heavily. I poured my coffee into a large black mug with a removable top that allowed intermittent filling of the cup but twisted on securely so as not to spill during the drive to work. While I wasn’t yet ready to leave, I used the “to go” cup anyway, being a creature of habit, a trait inherited from my dear departed father, and one which drove even me to distraction on occasion.
I returned to the French door to head back to the humidity and spotted Cat perched on the back doorstep, peering through the lowest windowpane, awaiting her breakfast. I sipped my coffee and prepared her Prime Feast in a disposable dish, probably not recyclable because I am sure it isn’t possible to remove the smell of mixed seafood, no matter what treatment is available at the nearest recycling plant.
Strolling to the door, feast in hand, I greeted the discriminating feline. “Morning, Cat. I have your breakfast.”
No response. Just a simple twitch of the sensitive nose. There was no tail- wagging or jumping on my bare leg to greet me, sure signs that man’s best friend loved you and missed you. Rather, Cat simply did what she did best. She remained aloof and distinctly noncommittal. I bent down, sat her dish on the patterned concrete deck, and stroked her damp fur as she sampled my selection. She did give me a brief look of gratitude, then resumed her nibbling. I returned to my chair and continued to assess my life and its worth.
I was most critical of self that morning, pondering the effects of aging on a once-athletic physique. While Mary Louise considered me to be a handsome specimen, I lamented my shrinkage from six feet plus one inch to slightly less than the “manly” six feet. I continued to disguise my shortening by wearing Western boots, and only on weekends did I allow myself the comfort of high-topped athletic shoes—not that I used them for athletics.
I remembered my previously full head of hair that had slowly thinned, especially at the front, to allow for enlargement of my forehead while a balding spot was created on the crown of my head. My sideburns were a little long and gray and transitioned to brown at an always-increasing distance from the top of my ears. I criticized the extra minute I spent every morning to carefully position my combed-straight-back locks over that bare spot I had grown to hate.
I had begun to study myself each morning before showering to confirm that I indeed resembled Alfalfa of Little Rascals fame, with thin wisps of hair sticking straight up toward the heavens. I then reminded myself of my need to wear bifocals and of my need to start a workout program to slim my waist from its size 38—although I had noticed lately that the cleaners had been shrinking my best jeans.
I tried to take comfort in Mary Louise’s love of what she called my “charming cleft chin” and “captivating smile” but was unsuccessful. I felt old that morning, which, along with words like useless, worthless, out-of-shape, and four-eyed, drove me to an even fouler mood than when I awoke to cold sweats and the dreaded digestive-tract blues.
By six o’clock I was sweating again, that time from drinking an entire pot of coffee and from the oppressive heat that had already risen to a sultry 80 degrees with the humidity at drip level. I threw off my robe and dove into the pool, taking care to avoid a cervical spine injury in the four-foot-deep water. It did cool me off temporarily, so after two laps I simply stood in the healing waters, naturally, in the buff. As I reminisced over the treatment of the patient that had decided to sue me, the back door of the house opened and the Tipster bounded outside. He saw me in the pool and almost dove in with me. Fortunately, I was able to hold him back while I ruffled his shaggy mane and scratched his ears. At least he was glad to see me and acted as though we had been apart for years, not just the six hours since we had bid him good night.
His official title was “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too,” a typical name given by a particular breeder who prized his full-blooded intelligent golden retrievers. But “Tip,” “Tipper,” or “the Tipster,” as Mary Louise intermittently called him, had failed the IQ test for well-bred dogs and was lovingly given to me by that grateful patient, who had many more golden retrievers than insurance dollars.
Tip had been presented to me in the office five months previously at the end of the day as a surprise. The man didn’t ask me if I wanted a dog, but simply showed up at my office with a large, overly friendly seven-month-old golden retriever puppy. I still suspected that Fran and Rae, my faithful office staff, had somehow conspired with my darling wife to bring some new joy into my life. At the time, I was highly skeptical and hoped to rid myself of the constantly-shedding beast who had disrupted our lives. Over the next few months, however, I had grown to love, without restraint, this large, adorable dog, whose only faults were that he was too much a friend to strangers and a poor fetcher of dead birds. Neither flaw bothered me. I didn’t hunt much anymore, and we rarely had anyone to the house that I despised. Besides, considering we had yet to be burglarized, the Tipster’s camaraderie with those stealers of one’s things was an untested character defect.
My mood improved significantly after seeing Tip, and I watched with interest as he bounded over to greet Cat with a friendly good morning. He had attempted to make Cat his new best friend every day since his arrival at our abode but had been miserably unsuccessful. Cat’s reaction to his energetic playfulness was to leap gracefully into the rocking chair next to mine, back herself up as far as possible to the rear of the chair, and wait. When Tip happily padded over to see her and put his whole head onto the seat of the chair, she would strike out at his sensitive nose with one of her front paws, prompting an episode of howling. For five months, this scenario had occurred each and every time the two animals had a backyard encounter. I believed that Cat had become bored with the whole routine and had actually become embarrassed at what seemed to be the retriever’s inability to learn. “Tip? Be careful over there. She scratches your nose every day! It’s so raw, you almost need stitches.”
I obviously had lost my mind. I was talking to the dog as though he understood my every word. Just before pushing his fat head into the seat of the chair to smell the gray bundle of fur, though, he turned his head toward me and perked up his ears. I didn’t know if he had actually understood what I had said or simply had forgotten that I was in the pool, since he had wandered into the bushes to relieve himself before approaching Cat. He stared at me for a moment, seemed to consider what I had said, then pushed his tender, scarred nose toward the she-beast, and . . . I couldn’t believe it! She didn’t hurt him! He licked her fur, and Cat just stood there. I guessed she finally decided that Tip was harmless and just wanted to play. She might have also figured out that a large dog like that could be an impressive ally when trying to ward off neighborhood cats who strayed into her domain looking for a free meal.
And so it was that on that hot, steamy morning in August, my cat and dog became friends. I thought that maybe Mary Louise was right, having told me repeatedly that everything would be okay. Alas, that small, backyard miracle was the only one I witnessed for a while.
About the Author:
John Bishop MD is the author of Act of Deception: A Doc Brady Mystery.
Dr. Bishop has practiced orthopedic surgery in Houston, Texas, for 30 years. His Doc Brady medical thriller series is set in the changing environment of medicine in the 1990s. Drawing on his years of experience as a practicing surgeon, Bishop entertains readers using his unique insights into the medical world with all its challenges, intricacies, and complexities, while at the same time revealing the compassion and dedication of health care professionals. Dr. Bishop and his wife, Joan, reside in the Texas Hill Country. For more information, please visit https://johnbishopauthor.com
Welcome to the blog tour for the marvellous The Beauty Chorus by Kate Lord Brown. I’m excited to share an extract from the book, but first a little about the novel.
New Year’s Eve 1940: Evie Chase, the beautiful debutante daughter of an RAF commander, listens wistfully to the swing music drifting out from the ballroom. With bombs falling nightly in London, she is determined to make a difference to the war effort. Evie joins the ATA – the civilian pilots who ferry fighter planes to bases across war-torn Britain. Two other women wait nervously to join up with her – Stella Grainger, a forlorn young mother from Singapore, and Megan Jones, an idealistic teenager who has never left her Welsh village before. Billeted together in a tiny cottage, Stella, Megan and Evie learn to live and work together as they find romance, confront loss and forge friendships that last a lifetime.
Kate Lord Brown grew up in a wild and beautiful part of Devon. She read Philosophy at Durham and Art History at the Courtauld Institute and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, curating collections for palaces and embassies in Europe and the Middle East. Kate has travelled and lived around the world with her airline pilot husband and gained a MA in creative writing from the Manchester Writing School MMU. She was a finalist in the ITV People’s Author contest 2009, and her international bestseller The Perfume Garden was shortlisted for the UK Romantic Novel of the Year 2014. Kate currently lives in the Middle East with her family, and she was a regional winner in this year’s BBC International Radio Playwriting Competition.
I have four and a half hours to live. I am leaning against the wing of the yellow-bellied Airspeed Oxford, smoking contentedly while the ground crew chaps run their final checks. The freezing rain hisses as it hits the glowing coal of my cigarette, drums softly on the tin roof of the hangar. Call me Johnnie, by the way. Everyone does.
There is no changing fate, but when I look back at my last moments on earth I want to rush through the molecules of my body and shake off my reverie: I want to yell ‘Wake up, you silly bugger, make the most of this! This is the last time you will feel the rain on your face, the ground beneath your feet.’ But I didn’t believe in premonitions and guardian angels so I doubt I would sense anything. Now I know better.
The flight to the RAF base at Kidlington in Oxfordshire should have been simple enough – ninety minutes at most. What I did with my last hours is a mystery. The journey is a government secret still. Maybe I’ll tell you why I died 100 miles off course, maybe I won’t. Why don’t you make up your own mind?
Ten, nine, eight …’ Swing music and laughter from the party drifted out through the open door to Evie. As she walked down the long moonlit driveway to her father’s house, snowflakes caught on her eyelashes. Her footsteps on the frozen gravel fell into time with the big-band tune bubbling into the chill midnight air and she sang under her breath: ‘How High the Moon …’ The Bentleys and Rolls Royces parked along the drive had a light coating of snow on them already, and in spite of her white fur coat she shivered with cold, her feet frozen in her silver eveningshoes.
‘Miss Evelyn!’ The butler stepped forward to catch her mink coat as it slipped from her shoulders. As the staff door swung closed, Evie caught sight of the grey-uniformed chauffeurs smoking and chatting, one with the pink-cheeked housemaid on his knee sipping Guinness. ‘Your father has been asking for you,’ the butler said as she shook the snow from her glossy dark hair.
‘Has he, Ross?’ She smoothed her pale silver satin Schiaparelli gown, and raised her chin defiantly as a cheer went up.
‘1941!’ Leo ‘Lucky’ Chase cried out, one arm raising a glass of champagne, the other clutching Virginia, his latest wife.
‘I’m amazed he even noticed I’d gone.’ Evie nodded her thanks to Ross. She touched up her red lipstick in the hall mirror then twisted her shoulder to adjust the long rope of diamonds that fell from her throat to the deep curved back of the dress. She glanced down at the hem of her gown and noticed for the first time how wet it was from trudging through the snow. ‘In for a penny …’ she murmured.
Instead of going in to the party, Evie walked on across the marble hall. Heads turned as she passed, the silver dress rippling over her curves like mercury. She flung open the terrace windows and slipped off her shoes, swinging them nonchalantly in one hand. She dropped them at the edge of the steaming, heated pool. Leo liked it to be warm all year. A crowd gathered on the terrace as Evie executed a perfect dive, her body streaking underwater like a silver fish before surfacing at the other end. A cheer greeted her as she stepped elegantly up from the pool, squeezing the water from her hair.
‘Evie! You’re bonkers!’ A young officer in uniform planted a kiss on her cheek and draped a blanket around her shoulders. ‘Happy New Year!’
‘Hello, Peter.’ She slipped her arm through his.
‘Come on, let’s get you inside before you catch your death.’
He led her around the packed dance floor to the bar. People smiled indulgently as she passed – you could always count on Evie to make an entrance.
‘Where have you been all night?’
A drunken girl in a pale blue bias-cut gown giggled as Peter handed Evie a brandy.
‘I went to see Mary, Charles’s mother.’
Evie put the glass on the mantelpiece and warmed her toes by the fire. Somehow she managed to make even a blanket look like an elegant wrap.
‘How is she?’ The smile fell from Peter’s face as Evie pursed her lips and shrugged. ‘Jolly decent of you to go out tonight.’
‘I didn’t like to think of her alone. She looked so awfully sad on Boxing Day.’
‘Of all of us, I thought Charlie would make it through,’ Peter said quietly. ‘He was so full of life. I’ll never forget the two of you bombing down that black run in Chamonix. You were determined to beat him.’
Evie shook her head. ‘He was like a brother to me. You never can tell which one of us is going to get bumped off next.’
‘Evie!’ Leo cut through the crowd towards her. He barely cleared five feet, but he was a dynamo of a man and whenever he bore down on her Evie pictured a missile skimming through water. Without her heels their gazes locked, eye to eye. He eyed her wet, clinging dress with exasperation.
She held up a hand. ‘Before you start, I went to see Mary.’
Nonplussed, he thought quickly.‘She’s only in the next village. What took so long?’
‘I ran out of petrol.’
‘Not again! How many times have I told you?’
‘Daddy, I can’t get used to this rationing … I thought I had enough left.’
‘You can’t drive on fumes! Especially not at the speed you drive. Where’s the Aston?’
‘On the verge between here and White Waltham.’ He frowned. ‘I’ll send Cullen in the morning.’ ‘Sorry, Daddy.’ Evie bit her lip.
‘What am I going to do with you?’ As Leo embraced her, Evie saw the scowl on Virginia’s face and raised a triumphant eyebrow. ‘Happy New Year.’ She planted a quick kiss on his cheek before he bustled back into the party. Her father’s cocksure, springing step reminded her of a Jack Russell out on the razzle, up to no good.
‘I don’t know how you do it.’ Peter shook his head.
Evie watched her father in his element, surrounded by friends
and hangers-on, and that old familiar loneliness crept in. ‘Years of practice. So,’ she said briskly, ‘what have I missed?’
‘It’s been marvellous!’ the drunken girl trilled. ‘Lucky always throws the most wonderful parties. Tonight you’d never know there was a war on!’ A young soldier grabbed her hand and pulled her onto the dance floor as the big band struck up ‘In the Mood’.
Evie shook her head. ‘Silly girl.’
‘Come on old thing!’ Peter laughed. ‘You’re only twenty yourself! Have some fun.’
She shook her head. ‘No. I’m tired of …’ She waved her hand. ‘All this. Talking to Mary tonight, I felt I must do something. Even the Countess of Wharncliffe is running a bomb factory, and I heard the Duchess of Norfolk is breeding rabbits.’
‘What do you know about bombs and rabbits?’
‘Nothing, but I could learn.’ Evie frowned.
Peter tilted his head, gently took her in his arms. ‘Don’t be blue. Charlie …’ He sighed. ‘It’s just awful bad luck, but if we let every death get to us, we’ll never win this bloody war. We’ve got to be strong.’ His voice shook slightly. ‘Besides which, this is my last night of freedom, and I at least deserve to have some fun.’
‘I’m sorry, Peter.’ Evie shivered as she pulled the blanket around her. ‘I’d forgotten. When are you leaving?’
‘I have to be at Debden first thing.’
‘When I see all you chaps going off to fly, I wish—’
‘You’re a more natural pilot than I’ll ever be!’ Peter cut in. His gaze settled on a table of men in uniform on the other side of the dance floor. ‘Are you serious?’
‘Doing something useful.’
‘Come on then.’ He took her arm and steered her through the crowd, stopping at the table. ‘Excuse me, sir.’ He leant down to talk to the distinguished-looking grey-haired officer smoking a pipe. ‘Squadron Leader Peter Taylor.’
The officer stood and shook his hand. ‘Pleased to meet you.’ He turned to Evie. ‘And this lovely young lady is Miss Chase, if I am not mistaken?’ He kissed her hand.
‘Evie, this is Captain Eric Bailey.’
‘But you can call me Badger, everyone does.’ He smiled as he smoothed the white streak in his hair. ‘At least behind my back.’
‘Miss Chase is a pilot, sir,’ Peter said.
Bailey eyed her wet dress. ‘Really? I’d have had you down as a sailor.’
‘Most amusing, sir.’
‘How many hours have you got?’ Bailey sucked at his pipe. ‘Oh, not—’ Evie’s eyes opened wide.
‘She’s a very good pilot,’ Peter interrupted. Turning to Evie he said pointedly,
‘Captain Bailey helps run the Air Transport Auxiliary at White Waltham.’ ‘The ferry pilots?’ She held Peter’s gaze. He nodded. ‘What have you flown?’ Bailey folded his arms.
‘Tiger Moths mainly.’ She tried to sound confident. Tiger Moths only, she thought, and a couple of hundred hours at that. ‘Well, Miss Chase, we need good pilots. Why don’t you come over to White Waltham one morning and see what you think?’ ‘Really?’
‘It’s not what you’re used to. But we need all the chaps …’ he corrected himself, ‘and gals we can get our hands on. In fact, we have some new recruits arriving tomorrow. Why don’t you join them, come along for a test flight and see what you think? Ask for Commander Pauline Gower.’ He shook their hands and rejoined his table.
‘Why didn’t Daddy tell me he was going to be here?’ she said to Peter as they
stepped onto the dance floor. Peter laughed as he swung her around to the music. ‘Probably because he knew you’d jump at the chance of signing up.
Please accept my apologies for the late posting…..
Welcome to the blog tour for The Thunder Girls by Melanie Blake.
First, here’s a little about the book and the an extract to follow:
THE THUNDER GIRLS NOVEL
It’s the 1980’s. Chrissie, Roxanne, Carly and Anita are ordinary girls with extraordinary lives. They are better known as eighties pop sensation The Thunder Girls. This girl group is dominating the pop scene, their faces on every magazine cover, millions of fans worldwide, constantly at the top of the charts. Until one of them brings the band’s dream run to an abrupt end. Three of their careers are over – and so is their friendship.
Fast forward thirty years. Their old record label lands a bombshell by asking them to reunite for a series of huge concerts. These would be the gigs of a lifetime with a pay check to match – some need it more than others – and old wounds leave deep scars. A lot has happened since The Thunder Girls were ruling the charts. Addiction, breakdowns, bankruptcy and divorce have led them far from the lives they once lived. If they are to move forward, the past needs to be laid to rest – but there is more to this reunion than meets the eye. Each Thunder Girl is hungry to revive their past success, but what they don’t know is that someone is watching their every move – and is determined to stop them succeeding – in the deadliest way possible.
These four girls have been to hell and back – and some of them are still there.
Carly Hughes stepped from the back of the limousine at the entrance to Shine Records. She was wearing a short kilt and leather jacket. Lacy tights with biker boots; big hair, kooky-looking shades and an oversized designer bag worth thousands.
Every inch the pop star.
Her driver, Dale, threw a protective arm around her as he steered her past thousands of screaming Thunder Girls fans, Carly stopping to scribble her name on the autograph books and tour programmes being thrust at her. Some of the fans were hysterical. A young girl clung to her, sobbing, burying her tear-streaked face in her idol’s new jacket.
Without taking his eyes off her, a handsome lad was snap- ping endless pictures on a battered Instamatic whilst staring at Carly intently. Dale let Carly know it was time to move. She detached herself from the crying girl and escaped into the building.
As they waited for the lift she inspected her jacket. ‘I think I’ve got snot on my sleeve. First time I’ve worn this, as well.’
Dale frowned and handed her a crisp white hanky. She dabbed at the damp leather.
‘I keep telling you not to be so touchy-feely,’ he said. ‘You don’t know where they’ve been.’
‘Harsh, Dale. They’re just kids—’
‘Bunking off school, most of them,’ he grumbled. ‘—hanging about in the cold for hours, hoping for a word.’ ‘You’re way too trusting. They could pull a knife, anything.’
Dale was ex-military. Special Forces. Decorated for bravery. Secretly hoping someone would step out of line one day so he could show what he was made of.
‘They’re our fans, they’d never hurt us.’ Carly gave him a dazzling smile. ‘Anyway, that’s why you’re here.’
He shook his head. ‘That weird one taking pictures . . . I wouldn’t trust him as far as I could throw him – his eyes don’t look right.’
She giggled. ‘Don’t be mean. He’s the Mad Fan – goes everywhere we do, just likes to look at us and take his pics, bless him.’
‘Yeah, well that’s odd as well, the quiet ones are always the worst.’
On the fourth floor of Shine Records, Roxanne Lloyd was in the glass-fronted executive meeting room – the think-tank,
ABOUT MELANIE BLAKE
As one of the UK’s most successful female entrepreneurs, over the years Melanie has had two careers at the top tier of the entertainment industry. Her first 10 years were as a music manager with a roster of award-winning artists who sold over 100 million records and the second decade as one of the UK’s leading acting agents representing some of the most famous faces on British television. The Thunder Girls is inspired by her time in the music business and her second novel which is out in 2021 will be inspired by her years in the world of soap opera and drama. Her own management company, which has covered both genres, has turned over more than 30 million.
With no formal education herself, Melanie is a true champion for working class women who are so often overlooked in our society. The Thunder Girls is a celebration of women from diverse demographics and all the lead characters in the novel are over 40 and working class. As well as having written the book, Melanie has penned The Thunder Girls the play which embarks on a nationwide tour in 2021. Melanie Blake might just be the world’s biggest Jackie Collins fan. She first read Rock Star aged 9, after smuggling the copy out of the library by telling the librarian it was for her mum! Melanie was dazzled by Jackie Collin’s world where women clawed themselves from poverty into glamorous, moneyed lives. In Jackie Collins’ novels, women were bosses and winners who achieved everything they wanted and it was these novels that inspired Melanie to become her own boss and a lady entrepreneur. In 2017 Melanie’s connection with Jackie Collins came full circle, when after Jackie’s sad death she bought five pieces of Jackie’s jewellery at auction – two rings and three necklaces inlayed with morganite, citrines and diamonds – which she wears every day.