You can read here the beginning of my new Berlin thriller, Blood Summit.
The back-cover summary:
Counter-terrorism expert Helen Gale has one job: to protect world leaders at a summit in the Berlin Reichstag.
But terrorists take hostage presidents, prime ministers, one hundred innocent children – and Helen’s journalist husband.
Then the executions start.
Helen’s life implodes. Yet she alone can see the truth. As special forces plan a deadly assault, she must enter the shattered hulk of the Reichstag to stop a bloodbath.
You can find Blood Summit on Amazon as a paperback or, for instant gratification, an e-book. For a sample, read on.
A novel by Robert Pimm
My thanks go to the member of a western intelligence agency who made time between engagements in Kabul to proof-read my references to bombs and ballistics. To Rainer Lingenthal, formerly of the German Interior Ministry, and officials in the German Chancellor’s Office (Kanzleramt) who provided advice on security procedures. To Thomas Volkmann and Elke Kleinwächter-Jarnot for showing me the Reichstag. To the members of the MOD who showed me around their training facilities and let me fire weapons. To a government legal specialist who helped me on state immunity. To Michael Trott of the Forensic Science Service for advice on blood, DNA and the destructive effects of fire. To Albert Borowitz, whose book “Terrorism for Self-Glorification – The Herostratus Syndrome” provides valuable insights on a little-discussed aspect of terrorist motivation. To the authors of the 9/11 Commission Report, whose pages show how governments really work in a crisis.
All the mistakes are mine.
The German Phonetic Alphabet
A – Anton; Ä – Ärger; B – Berta; C – Cäsar; CH – Charlotte; D – Dora; E – Emil; F – Friedrich; G – Gustav; H – Heinrich; I – Ida; J – Julius; K – Kaufmann; L – Ludwig; M – Martha; N – Nordpol; O – Otto; Ö – Ökonom; P – Paula; Q – Quelle; R – Richard; S – Samuel; Sch – Schule; T – Theodor; U – Ulrich; Ü – Übermut; V – Viktor; W – Wilhelm; X – Xanthippe; Y – Ypsilon; Z – Zacharias
“One of the commonest forms of madness is the desire to be noticed.”
– MARK TWAIN
“I was an acute nobody… I was ‘Mr Nobody’ until I killed the biggest Somebody on earth.”
– MARK CHAPMAN, murderer of John Lennon
Two years earlier
There were children playing in the street outside her door. Turkish, Uli Wenger guessed from their dark skin and bright clothes. He walked around them. The first insect Uli ever killed had been a child. Today, he had more important business.
The surface of the door was rough with dirt and spray paint. Sixteen buzzers studded the wall. The target lived on the third floor. Uli pressed the button by her name.
There was a crackle. ‘Yes?’
‘Post,’ Uli said. ‘A package.’
‘OK.’ The door popped open.
The hallway was cool and dark and smelled of damp stone. Two bicycles stood against a wall. Uli climbed the stairs. At the second floor, he took from his shoulder-bag a cardboard carton and a blue and yellow postman’s jacket. Then he trudged up the final flight and rang the bell.
This was the moment. If another door on the landing should open, Uli would walk slowly back down the stairs. He counted the seconds. Patience was everything. She was behind the door. She was looking at him through the spy-hole.
The door opened.
‘Hello, is that – ‘
Uli Wenger barged into the apartment and wrapped his arm around the target’s face, crushing her nose and mouth. He reached for the knife at his belt. He had used it twice today already.
But unlike the men whose throats Uli had cut that morning, the woman did not struggle. She was a head shorter than him, wiry and angular. He never relaxed his grip. Suddenly she was dropping to the floor, a dead weight. He staggered. In that instant, she hooked one leg behind his and threw herself backwards.
Self-defence classes, Uli thought as he fell. It would make no difference. His head smashed into the bare floorboards. The woman landed on top of him. He lashed out instinctively with his free hand. His fist connected with her head, a solid, satisfying blow.
Uli jumped up. Already, the woman was scrambling to her feet, backing away. He edged towards her, fully alert. She would be dead in sixty seconds. Behind her on the wall he saw a poster of a man in a tunic brandishing a sword at an army of skeletons. The image meant nothing to Uli. He held his knife forward, ready to slash her throat. She must not scream. His fall had made too much noise already. The neighbours might be calling the police.
But the woman did not cry out. She lifted her hand to a drop of blood at the corner of her mouth. When she spoke, her voice was filled not with fear, but with anger.
‘What is this? Are you crazy?’
Uli felt a pulse of panic. It was as if she knew his history. His weakness. But that was impossible. Only Mouse had known, and she was dead. He hesitated, gripping the knife more tightly in his hand.
‘Leave me alone!’ An order. But then she made a mistake. ‘Please.’
The spell was broken. Uli stepped forward. She tried to trip him again, but this time he was ready: when she reached out her foot, he grabbed her and threw her down. She gasped as she hit the floor. For a moment, she lay still. It was enough. He fell on her, pressing his left hand over her mouth and slamming the knife into the carotid triangle at the base of her neck. When he jerked the blade free he was rewarded with a torrent of blood. For twenty seconds, he held her. Then he knelt, and cleaned the knife on her shirt.
The woman’s eyes were open.
‘Why?’ she whispered. ‘Why kill me?’
Uli did not know the answer. His employer had named today’s targets without giving a reason. The objective might be to test the efficiency with which Uli could kill. Or it could be something else entirely.
He shrugged. ‘Do you not know?’
Her eyes widened, but she could not speak.
‘I do not know either,’ Uli said. ‘And I do not care.’ He waited a few seconds longer, with his hand on her pulse. Then he rose and left the apartment.
Helen Gale was briefing the ambassador on the Children’s Summit when the first rock hit the window.
‘The Prime Minister flies in at 1500 tomorrow,’ she said. ‘The trouble is, Air Force One is due at 1450. Obviously, the German Federal Chancellor won’t have time to greet the President of the United States at the airport.’
‘Who wants to meet a child in a sandpit?’ the ambassador said.
‘The President’s been called worse things.’
‘Not by the Chancellor. After a speech on US foreign policy. When someone’s left the microphone on.’
‘So now the big story is when they’re going to kiss and make up.’ Helen shook her head. ‘Not literally, more’s the pity.’
‘Any idea who the Germans will send to greet the PM?’
‘No,’ Helen said. ‘The No.10 press office are insisting on a cabinet minister at least.’
‘They insist? Bully for them.’ Sir Leonard Lennox ran his fingers through the white thicket of his hair, making it wilder than ever. ‘And won’t you say three p.m.? We’re not soldiers. Though sometimes I wish we – ‘
‘What the hell is that?’ The ambassador was on his feet.
‘Stay away from the window.’
Now there were two stars in the wall of bandit glass which fronted the street. Helen fought the urge to run and look out. Remember Paris. She didn’t want to be diced alive by flying shards if a bomb went off outside. But the ambassador was already standing there.
‘If they had a bomb they’d not be throwing stones, would they, now?’ The lowland burr was calm. ‘The police are moving in already.’
‘What about the intelligence warnings?’ Helen said. ‘We know G8 targets are under threat.’
‘We can’t bolt for cover each time GCHQ eavesdrops on a seditionist.’ The ambassador shook his head. ‘Come and have a look-see. It’s not every day we’re attacked by a mob.’
Salvos of stones were rattling against the toughened glass. Because the panes were larger at one end of the ambassador’s office than the other, each impact had a different tone, like a monstrous xylophone.
Helen covered the distance to the window in three strides. ‘When the ambassador instructs a lowly first secretary to break the rules, she must obey.’
‘Don’t give me that nonsense, Helen. You don’t know what rules are.’
Thousands of faces stared up at them through the summer rain. JOBS NOT BOMBS, a banner read. GLOBALISATION WITHOUT US. Most of the protesters seemed peaceful. A child on someone’s shoulders carried a placard reading CHILDREN’S SUMMIT: JUST SAY NO. Helen smiled. If you took politics seriously, you’d go mad. Like the people across the street. A dozen masked figures were tearing up the cobblestones and flinging them at the embassy building. At her, Helen Gale. A phalanx of police officers was pushing towards them through the crowd.
How could the stone-throwers be so sure they were right? Helen’s own life held no such certainties. Eight months earlier, she had been unsure whether to move to Berlin. Only Nigel’s refusal to leave London had convinced her she must go to Germany. He had told her to quit her job, stay with him, and start a family.
Helen had longed to throw herself into the arms of the only man she had ever loved. She had also felt an urge to slam the door on the only man who sometimes roused her to hatred. At last, she had come to Berlin, despising Nigel for not understanding her, and despairing at herself for not making him understand. She watched the crowd. Did she belong inside the building looking down? Or out in the street, looking up?
‘How much longer will the glass hold?’ The ambassador might have been asking when the rain would stop.
‘In theory, it’s fine. But I’d hate any demonstrators to be injured by one of their own rocks falling on their heads. I’ll call Dieter Kremp.’
‘The most arrogant man in Berlin? Good luck.’
‘I like confidence in a man, up to a point. But you – ‘ Helen wagged her finger at the ambassador as she gave the mock order ‘ – must get away from the window. I’m telling you in my official capacity as Post Security Officer.’
‘Yes, miss.’ The ambassador raised his considerable eyebrows but did not move. Helen reached for her phone. Before she could dial, the door burst open.
Jason Short, Head of Political Section and Deputy Head of Mission, was Helen’s boss. He was, indeed, limited in stature: in an embassy where first names were standard, he was widely referred to as Mr Short. He was the proud owner of a colossal collection of fitted suits and silk ties and had long, thinning hair, like an ageing rock star. Short was always keen to impress Sir Leonard Lennox, and the Summit would coincide with a decision in London on the appointment of the next British ambassador to Bangkok. This was a job to which Short aspired. Unfortunately for Helen, Jason saw office politics as a zero-sum game in which the best way to look good was to make everyone else look as bad as possible.
He stared at her.
‘What are you doing here? Don’t you know there’s a riot on?’
‘I am aware, yes,’ Helen said.
‘You’re Post Security Officer. You should be talking to the staff, reassuring them.’
‘I’m trying to call Dieter Kremp at the Summit Security Unit.’ Helen held up the phone. ‘If you’ll give me a moment.’
‘Phoning your boyfriend?’
Short was avoiding eye contact, focusing on a point around Helen’s neck. Was he looking at the cornflowers on her cotton dress? Or was he staring at her breasts? She turned to Leonard Lennox.
‘Ambassador, we’re in your way here. Shall I make this call from my office?’
The ambassador shrugged. ‘You’re not in my way. Speed is of the essence.’
At that moment, something happened. Helen’s first impression was of a colossal thunderclap directly above her head. As she winced and started to bring her hands up to her ears, the lights dimmed. There was a click as the computer on the ambassador’s desk flickered and began to re-boot.
The ambassador. Helen whirled round. The toughened windows were intact except for a single tiny hole in the glass. Sir Leonard Lennox turned towards her. There was something wrong with the top of his head. Blood was streaming down so fast she could see it dripping from his chin onto his shirt. He lifted a hand to his forehead. Then, slowly, he fell to his knees.
‘A bomb,’ he said. ‘I think I’m hurt.’
It was not accident but design which made Uli Wenger so hard to see. His disguise was brilliant. Only one person in the crowd could recognise him. She would never tell a soul.
More marchers were appearing. The merciless punctuality made planning easy. Uli was in control. In thirty-six hours, he would hold a knife to the throat of the world. A few hours after that, the world would embrace him as its saviour.
Two minutes to go. Uli turned in his pocket the old D-mark coin Gustav had given him. The big man believed the euro currency had debased the fatherland. Uli was indifferent to Germany and the D-mark, but he’d taken the coin. Gustav and Martha were the most reliable killers in his Chaos Team.
He heard a crack of thunder and rain began to fall. Uli stood at the corner of Unter den Linden and waited. He must have line of sight. The demonstrators filled the road, trudging like a column of ants through the indifferent city. Flanking the procession, a handful of policemen sweltered in rain capes. The protesters carried banners: Uli saw something about unemployment. The US President in a sandpit with a missile in each hand. People hated the Americans because they seemed powerful. But sometimes power bred weakness. It only took one man to change history.
Suddenly a squad of trouble-makers in combat boots, their faces masked, started prising up the fist-sized cobblestones which made Berlin a rioter’s dream. Uli’s eyes narrowed. This was not part of the plan. If the police stepped in, the demonstration might be disrupted. Where was she? He scanned the crowd as the first stones flew towards the British embassy.
There. The trim figure looked out of place in the sullen mob. Her back was straight, her gaze fierce. And she was meant to be invisible. Uli cursed silently. He had thought she could work with him. He had been wrong. If any more proof were needed, this botched surveillance was it. Now to turn a problem into a solution.
The day-bag on the woman’s shoulder was fitted with a pinhole-lens video surveillance camera and two spare batteries weighing six hundred and fifty grams in total. It also contained, Uli knew, a half-litre bottle of Evian water which, when full, had weighed a further five hundred grams. By contrast, the military-grade C4 plastic explosive and radio-controlled detonator sewn into the lining of the bag weighed less than one hundred grams in total. It was a tiny bomb, but more than adequate to do the job. It lay directly against the target’s upper body.
At that moment, the woman saw him. She looked puzzled. Now was the time. It would be better if she were closer to the embassy. But that was a secondary objective. Uli put his other hand in his pocket, closed the contact, and stepped around the corner into Pariser Platz.
The sound of the explosion in the narrow street was immense. A long moment of silence followed. Then the screaming started.
Uli Wenger had just killed two birds with one stone.
Jason Short ran across the ambassador’s office and stood over Leonard Lennox.
‘Are you all right, sir?’
‘Of course he’s not all right,’ Helen said. ‘We must stop the bleeding.’ She grabbed a cloth from under a vase of flowers on a side-table, folded it, and pressed it against the wound.
‘Can you hold that in place?’
The ambassador nodded. ‘Yes.’
Helen dialled a number. ‘Ram? The ambo’s injured. Come quickly.’
‘It wasn’t a big bomb.’ Sir Leonard Lennox spoke slowly. ‘The bandit glass is intact. Maybe a bit of shrapnel hit me.’
A small bomb. She saw at once the ambassador was right. They wouldn’t be standing here if a car bomb had exploded. Yet who would attack a building using a hand-carried bomb in the street outside? It made no sense. And what about the protest?
‘My God,’ she said. ‘The demonstrators!’
‘At least they’ve stopped throwing stones.’ Short smirked.
‘We must evacuate the building,’ Helen said. ‘And call London. Can you phone them?’
Short nodded. ‘Of course.’
Ram Kuresh bustled into the room, a red plastic medical kit in his hand. He looked at the ambassador, then at Short hovering over him.
‘Out of the way, Mr Short,’ he said. ‘This is a job for trained hands.’ The first-aider radiated calm. He turned to the ambassador. ‘You poor thing. Let me look at that.’
The Tannoy crackled into life. ‘This is Eric Taylor, chief security officer. A bomb has exploded outside the embassy. Please leave the building and assemble in the courtyard.’
‘Probably a bomb there too, primed to go off in five minutes.’ The colour had returned to Short’s cheeks. He straightened his silk tie. ‘What does Helen think? Our Post Security Officer? Should we go out?’
Helen breathed deeply. She’d always been fond of Balfour’s dictum that nothing mattered very much and few things mattered at all. But this was different.
‘The courtyard is secure,’ she said. ‘Eric knows best.’ She turned to Ram. ‘What’s happening in the annex?’
‘Our rooms are clear.’ Ram continued to fuss over bandages. ‘A few people stopped to put their papers away, I’m afraid.’ The SIS office, of which he was the only avowedly gay member, was in a self-contained suite of rooms behind an old-fashioned Cambridge door. To ask the spooks to leave their papers out would be like telling the Pope to skip mass.
‘Will the ambassador make it down the stairs?’
‘He will. With luck, it is only a flesh wound, but we must get it checked. And heads bleed like crazy.’
Helen looked at Short, who had not moved. ‘Are you calling London?’
‘Helen. Try to stay calm.’ Short took out a phone and peered at the screen as if trying to recall its purpose. ‘I’m taking care of it.’
Leaving Short to report the bomb made Helen uneasy. But she could not take the job back. She left the room and descended the grand staircase to the exit.
The courtyard of the embassy was a grey granite chasm used as a turning circle for visiting vehicles. Now it was filled with bedraggled embassy staff, clustered around floor wardens in the rain. Helen moved among them, checking everyone was accounted for.
Her phone rang.
‘Helen. Blore here. Are you all OK?’
‘Yes, all good thanks. But wide awake. Did you hear it?’
‘Loud and clear.’ The US embassy, where Blore Harl worked, was around the corner. ‘I guess this confirms the warnings.’ He meant the secret intelligence they had both seen.
‘But a crowded street is a soft target,’ Helen said. ‘No-one’s allowed within half a mile of the Reichstag.’
‘Washington won’t like it.’
‘Let’s hope they cancel the bloody Children’s Summit.’ Helen wiped rain off her face. ‘Do you think it’s even possible to invest more effort for less results?’
‘Said a British embassy spokeswoman.’
‘Don’t get me started.’
‘I guess the Secret Service will decide,’ the American said. ‘Hey, I’ll get out your hair. See you on the security tour tomorrow.’
Helen rang off and moved towards the street. Something was nagging her. What had she been about to do when the bomb went off? Phone Dieter. The thought filled her with foreboding. But she had to call him.
The deputy head of the Summit Security Unit was expecting her.
‘I suppose this means you want even more security for the Reichstag?’ When Dieter Kremp was angry, his German sounded more clipped, more official.
‘I’m fine, Dieter, thanks for asking. No-one seriously injured.’
He ignored her. ‘For months, you and your American friends have been trying to frighten us with warnings about terrorists. Now there is a bomb. You must be happy.’
‘Can you send someone over? The Wilhelmstrasse’s a mess.’
‘Police, medics and a forensic team should all be there. And someone from the SSU. Are they not?’
‘I don’t know. I’m in the embassy.’
‘Who is the embassy contact point?’
Helen thought for a moment. ‘Better be me. Jason likes everything to go through him. But this is important.’
‘Is he still driving you insane?’
‘If he would lay off me, I could ignore him. But he’s obsessed with Bangkok.’
‘I, too am obsessed. Are you free tonight?’
The change of tack caught Helen off guard. ‘No idea. It’s the first time we’ve had a bomb the day before a summit.’ She grinned in the darkness. ‘But I have wine in the fridge.’
‘When will you be home?’
‘God knows. Ten. Maybe eleven.’
‘Sweet dreams.’ Dieter rang off.
Helen saw Eric Taylor looming out of the rain. The locally-engaged ex-squaddie was elderly, with a refreshing indifference to hierarchies. He held up a hand.
‘Hold it, Helen. Where are you going?’
‘The street. People may be injured.’
‘There’s a few down, aye.’ Eric inclined his close-cropped head towards her. ‘All on the other side of the road. Bloody odd way to blow up an embassy.’
Eric bent his head closer still. ‘They can’t get past the security bollards.’
‘I’ve done a first-aid course.’ Helen moved towards the entrance. ‘Maybe I could help.’
‘Do you think it’s safe to go out?’
‘We can’t just watch. Will you open the gate?’
‘What if I won’t?’
‘I’ll climb over the top. It’ll look weird on the evening news.’
‘OK.’ The security officer nodded. ‘But I’m shutting it behind you.’
The front guard desk, with its reinforced concrete pedestal and 35-millimetre bullet-resistant glass, was undamaged. Helen waited as Eric opened the ram-resistant steel gates enough for her to step through, then heard them slam shut behind her.
Outside was bedlam. Officers of the Bundespolizei, the Federal Police, were sealing off the street, submachine guns slung over their shoulders. A host of ambulances, police cars and fire engines had congregated beyond the traffic control bollards. Teams of orange-jacketed paramedics were clustered around the epicentre of the blast. A film crew from Wild TV had penetrated the cordon and was pointing a camera at a victim on a stretcher. A man in the charcoal-grey uniform of the Summit Security Unit stood talking on the phone.
Helen crossed the road towards the TV crew. They were filming a boy no more than five or six years old. She flashed on Nigel’s plea to start a family. The boy’s face was white with shock. A medic was bandaging his leg. Helen crouched down alongside him.
‘My knee hurts,’ the boy said.
‘The doctor will help you.’ She hoped it was true.
‘I am thirsty.’ His voice cracked. ‘Something to drink.’
The film crew seemed oblivious to what the boy was saying. The medic had his hands full of dressings. Helen rose.
‘I’ll fetch water,’ she said. ‘Hold on.’
She ran back to the embassy. Inside, Eric Taylor saw her and opened the gate.
‘Water,’ Helen said. ‘Quickly.’
‘In the back, love.’ The security officer jerked his thumb over his shoulder. ‘Glasses in the top cupboard.’
She had never before seen the kitchenette which led off the security booth. It seemed to take ages to find a glass, fill it with water at the sink, and carry it outside. By the time she stepped back onto the street, two paramedics were lifting the child’s stretcher. Helen moved closer, conscious of the water slopping onto the ground. As they carried the boy away, she heard someone say something about the bollards blocking access to the wounded.
A team of policemen was setting up a plastic awning to keep the rain off the site of the explosion. One of them approached Helen.
‘I saw you come out of the embassy. Please go back inside.’
‘Of course.’ Helen replied in German with an exaggerated English accent. She did not move, but looked up at the ambassador’s office, a pale-blue shard of steel and glass protruding from the sandstone cladding of the embassy. ‘Why do you think they set the bomb off on this side of the street?’
‘No idea,’ the policeman said.
‘But look. The walls of the embassy are solid concrete. What could they hope to achieve?’
‘Maybe they weren’t attacking the embassy,’ the policeman said. ‘Are you going now?’
‘Yes,’ Helen said. ‘I’m going. And thanks for your help. I think you just said something important.’
She turned and crossed the road to the embassy gates.
I hope you liked this excerpt from Blood Summit. As mentioned above, it is available as paperback or e-book on Amazon or, if that does not work for you, let me know and I may be able to send you a Word copy.
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