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The Children of the Valley

JD Ferguson

First published in the United Kingdom on Smashwords in 2017 by J.D.

Copyright © J.D. Ferguson 2016

Smashwords Edition, License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com or your favorite retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organisations, places and events are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

On July 16th 1945, the United States Army conducted the first detonation of a nuclear weapon at the White Sands Proving Ground in the Joranda del Muerta desert in the New Mexico desert. Informally referred to as “The Gadget,” the implosion-design plutonium device was of the same conceptual design as the ‘Fat Man’ bomb that would be dropped over Nagasaki a few weeks later on August 9th. This test at White Sands, the true dawn of the Atomic Age was later recalled by J Robert Oppenheimer, ‘The Father of The Atomic Bomb.’

“We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried. Most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu Scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita; Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty, and to impress him, takes on his multi-armed form and says, “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” I suppose we all thought that, one way or another.”


Mission Control Houston Texas 20th July 1969

On July 20 1969 the Lunar Module Eagle separated from the Command Module Columbia. Command Module Pilot Michael Collins, alone aboard Columbia, inspected the Lunar landing Module Eagle as it pirouetted before him to ensure the craft was not damaged. As the final descent began, Commander Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin found that they were passing landmarks on the surface four seconds early and reported that they were "long"; they would land miles west of their target point.

Designer of the Saturn V rocket, Werner Von Braun, felt the eyes of not just a nation, but of the world upon him. He lit a cigarette and hoped nobody would notice him leaving the control room through the one-way security door. Anyone who needed to answer the call of nature was free to leave the Mission Control room, but if they did, they would be unable to return until such time as the conscientious Mission Director Gene Kranz deemed it ‘safe’ to do so.

Von Braun had seen enough. His Saturn V rocket had done its job, carrying the three man crew from the Florida sunshine to lunar orbit. The final few miles to the surface required the dry precision of applied mathematics coupled with the pioneering spirit of the old West. In the antechamber between Mission Control and the seething pit of the press, Von Braun was pleased to find his mentor, relaxed as always, marvelling at the new-fangled polystyrene cup his coffee had been served in.

“Last minute problems, Werner?” Hans Kammler was more interested in the heat co-efficient of his coffee cup than in the finer points of lunar navigation.

“Eagle is running long. They may miss the landing zone.”

Kammler sucked hard on his own cigarette. “Well, they insisted in putting a civilian research pilot in command. This situation was always on the cards.”

“At least Aldrin is at his shoulder. With luck on our side, we will not be forced to fall back on the contingency scenario.”

“The contingency scenario? You can only imagine what President Nixon said when he was presented with that ‘doomsday option?’

“Surely he is a pragmatist, not like our dear lamented President Kennedy. Nixon will do what is best for the nation.”

“I trust Lovell and Anders out at Area 51 are of the same mind?” Kammler glanced at his watch, knowing that time was running out for Apollo 11.

“By all accounts, Lovell and Anders are true patriots. They know full well what is at stake. Should The Eagle fail to touch down in one piece, they are fully aware that history will remember them as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.”

“No matter how this day ends, Werner, you should be proud.”

“Even though it may end in disaster?”

“Disaster? No, Werner, it will end as a triumph of scientific and technological wonder or as a triumph of state sponsored propaganda; the realisation of Kennedy’s promise to the American people and a victory in the undeclared war with The Soviet Union without a shot being fired. Either way, you and I will be long dead and buried before the next appreciable stride in space exploration is undertaken.”

“But surely, with the moon conquered now in 1969, the inner planets will be the next achievements by 1980 and by the end of the century, who knows what shall be the limit of our new frontier?”

Kammler screwed up his face and dropped the cigarette stub into his coffee cup. “Our technological achievements are at the very limit of our scientific understanding. Until such times as we can unlock the key to new and untapped scientific boundaries, our spirit of exploration will remain shackled by the chains of our lack of vision.”

“But what of our other work? Work that has lain dormant since 1945.”

Kammler grunted. “I am too old to tamper with nature, Werner.”

“Surely the American Government would give anything for the power Die Glocke could unleash?”

“Enough, Werner! The keys to the gates of hell are best left where they are, buried in a forgotten hole in the mountains of Switzerland.”

At that point, the door to mission control opened behind Von Braun and Mission Director Gene Kranz could be heard calling his name from the one way door.

“We will talk no more of such things, old friend. Are we agreed?” Kammler clapped a heavy hand on Von Braun’s back. Von Braun nodded. “Then, shall we go? I believe history is awaiting our presence.”

Switzerland 2014

The cylinders were rotating at an impossible velocity, blurring to a single violet mass, no longer sitting on the plinth, but suspended in the middle of the chamber, creating a spinning whirlpool of infinite dreams, defying logic, defying nature, defying God. A sight of horrifying, terrifying beauty forced all eyes to be drawn to the eye of the storm, to the very heart of darkness.

When the project director cut the power feed to the chamber, the violet eye of the storm quickly divided once more into the two defined cylinder shapes and the humming sound grew louder, before the test chamber returned to silence and the device became once more inanimate – two lead cylinders inside a metal pyramid frame, supported on a firm stone plinth.

Technician Tessa Kirchler watched an episode of NCIS Los Angeles on her laptop before returning to the test chamber. Being a Thursday, it was Marco’s day off, so it fell to her more than capable hands to ensure the cylinders of Xerum 325 were retrieved from the dormant test chamber and returned safely to the security of the temperature controlled storage room on the lower level. Fifteen minutes was what Marco had told her was the safe time-lapse before retrieval of the cylinders, though he normally waited for twenty-five or thirty so as not to attract the wrath of the director. Tessa was aware that the device had never before been run at the high power level of that day’s test, so with nobody else around to impress, she waited until the end credits were rolling on her favourite cop show before she pulled on the protective gloves and goggles and re-entered the solemn silence of the test chamber. After the first few paces, she found she could no longer retain a focus on the cylinders and removed the protective goggles. That didn’t help her vision and she looked up, thinking that someone must have switched off the main chamber lights. An odd tingling in her stomach made her grab at her waist before a surge of hot bile rose up her throat. Tessa’s sense of balance deserted her and she reached out to brace her fall, though in truth she was falling backwards. She needn’t have worried, as eternity broke her fall. The Twenty-two year old physics graduate from Bern was dead before she hit the ground.

Switzerland 1945

The searing pain in Greta’s side was overwhelming. Clutching at the hot mass of blood and material, she tried desperately to get to her feet, but there was no power in her legs and her head was spinning. The detonator was only twenty feet away but the chasm was unbridgeable. She crawled on her knees through the deep, clinging snow, all the time, the sound of the train growing louder in her ears. “Anna, Anna!” it was all she could do to call out her sister’s name. Even through the fog of the sense-numbing pain, Greta was only too aware of that which she could not change. Her sister, her inspiration, Anna, was dead.

Whispered memories echo through the shimmering silence, forgotten hopes and dreams drifting in the endless void of time.

“I no longer remember how old I am. All I know is that my life has spanned many, many years. Were it not for the pain at the centre of my soul, it would be easy to forget that I am still alive at all.

Something is stirring deep in the heart of the mountains. However hard we try to forget the past, bury our guilt at the end of the valley, we cannot hide forever from the truth. Sooner or later everyone must pay for their mistakes, their crimes, their sins. I fear the past may be coming back to haunt us all.”

Yes, yes, I can hear you.

Who said that?

Anna, is that you?


INTERLAKEN December 1944

A fingernail moon, manicured almost to vanishing point, drew the eye upwards to the dark, looming behemoth, eerie in the shadow of mother earth. On the opposite arc of the glorious midnight canopy, mighty Jupiter proudly held court, basking in the solar limelight so denied of earth’s barren companion. Tranquillity Base, still a silent wilderness in the empty shadows of eternity; Armstrong’s footprint, yet to make the giant leap from the dreams of Jules Verne to the decaying celluloid of history. It would be a brief moment in time when Einstein’s theory, Von Braun’s vision and Oppenheimer’s nightmare, converged to alter the destiny of a primitive race striving to hold back the tide of progress.

The awe-inspiring winter sky held a fascination that played with both the heart and the mind. The text book names for the recognised constellations did little to diminish their mystery and splendour; the incomprehensible distances could not be bridged by even the most clinical of human minds. Still, she gazed and wondered, with so many questions that would never be answered; the only truth was the comforting mystery of fate in the ever expanding cosmos.

Greta Bircher pulled the beige, woollen shawl tight around her chest and exhaled a pall of blue-grey smoke into the crystal clear air. In surroundings of such familiar tranquillity, she always found it difficult, if not impossible, to comprehend the unfolding Armageddon on the other side of the mountains. The silent nights on the pastures that enveloped the town offered not the merest hint of the death and destruction beyond the confines of neutrality; the persistent rumours of biblical horrors in the east, while unsettling, surely nothing but the propaganda machine gone mad.

“I thought this was where I would find you.”

Greta’s shoulders tensed at the sound of her elder sister’s voice. “I wish you wouldn’t creep up on me like that.” Instinctively, Greta dropped the cigarette to the ground and crushed the smouldering remnants under the sole of her scuffed leather shoe.

Blonde haired Anna, at twenty-eight was two years older than her raven haired sister. “You know you aren’t fooling anyone. Father smells the smoke from your clothes, despite that cheap French scent you drown yourself in. But, naturally, he is never going to say anything to his darling Greta.”

“Shouldn’t you be entertaining the guests, Anna? Singing those dreadful Cole Porter songs while flashing your cleavage for the dirty old men from the valley?”

Anna shook her head despairingly. “Very funny, dear sister, considering you are the one they all ask for when they are ordering their Jagertee.”

“You and I both know it is mother they really want.”

“Yes, but mother is dead and they need to accept that, as you do.”

“How can I accept that which cannot be true?”

“If you do not, my dear Greta, it will destroy you.” Anna hated the tension that had grown between her and her sister since the sudden death of their beloved mother from a brain haemorrhage six months previously. The glamorous forty-eight year old had been the heartbeat of the Hotel Europe and the sisters’ bickering was doing little to help their heartbroken father’s struggle to maintain the hotel’s place as the premier establishment in Interlaken.

“It’s a beautiful night, don’t you think? You can really appreciate the stars with the new moon just visible.” Greta longed for solitude and the soothing comfort blanket of nicotine.

“Father wants you, Greta.” Anna placed a hand on her sister’s shoulder in a half-hearted echo of their closeness in happier times. “We have guests – important guests.”

Greta sighed deeply. Who could possibly be calling at the hotel at ten minutes to midnight that would cause her father to send for her? “Who could be so important?”

“Soldiers, Greta; German soldiers.”

“Not again?” Greta turned and looked into her sister’s watery blue eyes, the tension all too obvious despite the forced bravado. “Kammler?”

“Guten Abend, Doctor Kammler.”

“Ah, Herr Bircher, I was just admiring this great hunting scene.” Hans Kammler gestured to the Ibex hunting oil painting which hung over the fireplace.

“You enjoy hunting, Doctor Kammler?” The proprietor of the Hotel Europe chose his words with care and fought hard to maintain the well-practiced disposition of the genial but professional host.

“But of course,” Kammler smiled wickedly, removing the peaked cap and tucking it under his left arm. The sight of the Death’s Head cap badge never failed to send a shiver down Bircher’s spine. The SS General was an unwelcome guest. “By the way, I was troubled to learn of the passing of your dear wife.”

Eugen Bircher didn’t look at Kammler but kept staring at the picture hoping the moment would pass.

“So where is the beautiful Fraulein Anna this evening?”

Bircher swallowed hard against the lump in his throat at the mention of his eldest daughter’s name. “I believe she may have retired for the night, Herr Doctor.”

“Such a pity as, of course, she has the voice of an angel, Doctor Bircher.” The German checked the time on his wrist watch rather over theatrically. “You must forgive me arriving at such a late hour, but I admit I will miss her company at dinner.”

“As will I, Herr Doctor.” Bircher gestured towards the dining room door.

“Ah, of course, we must not keep the chef waiting any longer.” Kammler slapped his ample waist and licked his lips in an unintentionally lascivious manner. He nodded in the direction of his silent adjutant, Major Brandt, who took a leather seat in the foyer, where he would await his master’s return like an obedient puppy.

Bircher had been ordered by the Mayor to meet with the Nazi scientist yet again in his hotel and he would obey even if he would readily have had the chef poison him at a spur.

“Thank you, Frauline Bircher.” Kammler nodded politely to Greta after she had topped up his wine glass. She threw him a forced smile in return and retreated to the kitchen.

“She is a true beauty, indeed. Very like her mother, I think.”

Bircher didn’t reply but took a shallow sip from his glass, conscious of the prickly heat under his collar brought on by a somewhat protracted silence.

“The war is lost, Herr Bircher.”

“Really?” Bircher’s look of surprise would have impressed Sam Goldwyn, had the doyen of Hollywood been at the next table.

“Oh, come now. Even in the velvet wrapped cocoon in which you Swiss have spent the last six years, you cannot have failed to be aware of the irresistible march of the Allies since the 6th June?”


“I am glad to find you are not completely ignorant of world events.” Kammler picked a piece of gristle from between his front teeth and cast it to the carpet, before draining the remnants of his second glass of claret. “If only Eisenhower and Montgomery could get their bloody act together, there may be a chance they will take Berlin intact and end the madness with some degree of civility, but I fear their petty bickering will allow Stalin’s subhuman hoards to overrun the Fatherland and bring Dante’s Inferno to bear on the German people.”

Bircher swallowed hard, playing with his own plate of cold meats and cheese.

“The Fuhrer’s thousand year Reich has only a few months at best, before it is swept away by the tide of history and there is still so very much to do.”

“I must confess, Dr Kammler, but I find myself at a loss to see how a humble hotelier such as me can …..”

“Oh, come now, Herr Bircher. You should not be so modest. Do not think we are ungrateful for the assistance you have given us with the storage of all those paintings and, how should I put it, more precious items.”

“Naturally, Dr Kammler, if you have more merchandise to deposit, I am sure I can talk to the Mayor and arrangements can be made as before.”

Kammler held up his hand. “I fear a few million dollars of Jewish gold is going to be of little use.”

Bircher was unable to disguise his growing feeling of intrigue.

“I was hoping to tap into your contacts in the world of construction.”

“Construction? I am not sure I follow you, Dr Kammler.”

“My dear Bircher. I am involved in many important scientific projects; projects that must not fall into the hands of the Communists; projects that must not die with the fall of Germany. Your brother, I believe, was responsible for the construction of the Sphinx Observatory?”

“At Junfraujoch? Yes, Bircher and Raeber AG was the primary contractor on that project.” Bircher affirmed with some pride.

“That was a truly remarkable feat of engineering, if I may say so; to carry out such a project at over eleven and a half thousand feet above sea level.”

“Yes, it is certainly something we Swiss can take great pride in.”

“I couldn’t agree more.” Kammler helped himself to another generous glass of the velvety, red wine. “Likewise, I am sure you would agree it offers an opportunity to become much more than a place of astronomical research. Such an isolated location could provide the perfect location for sensitive research.”

“Sensitive, Dr Kammler?”

“The kind of research best carried out away from the public gaze.”

“And from that of the authorities also?” Bircher was beginning to realise where Kammler was going with the conversation.

“Now you are beginning to comprehend the nature of my visit.” Kammler took a Havana cigar from a silver holder, without offering one to his host and expertly clipped the end before taking two matches to light the tightly rolled tobacco leaves.

“What I am looking for is an underground laboratory and plentiful storage for equipment and supplies.”

Bircher cleared his throat and held up a hand. “I must ask you, Dr Kammler to clarify if the project of which you talk would be civilian or military?”

Kammler grinned though his teeth while sucking hard on the cigar. “Civilian, of course; after all, we military men will very soon be seeking alternative employment within the civilian sector.”

Bircher was always particular to choose his words with great care when conversing with the Nazi General, but after Kammler’s assertion that Hitler’s Reich was on the verge of defeat, he felt emboldened to push the arrogant General. “Does this have anything to do with your friend Von Braun’s rocket program?”

Kammler raised an eyebrow but he in truth admired the fact the Swiss hotelier was not easily bowed in his presence. “That traitor would hand over years of work to the highest bidder in a flash. The only reason he is still alive is that he is without doubt a genius in his field.” He rolled his tongue against the inside his cheek at the thought of a problem that still needed to be dealt with. “No, this has nothing to do with rocket development.”

“The atomic bomb, perhaps?”

“My dear Bircher, you are allowing your imagination to run away with you.”

“I read the newspapers, Herr Doctor. There are rumours the Americans already have a viable weapon.”

Kammler swept his hand in the air as if swatting a fly. “Atomic bomb, atomic bomb; in theory, a very effective weapon, but nothing a hundred fully laden bombers cannot already deploy in a single raid. No, the research my people are involved in will change the world. It will catapult science hundreds of year into the future overnight, but only if we can be allowed to continue with our work unmolested. If this work was to fall into the hands of Comrade Stalin, he would have the ability to wipe out the rest of humanity at the stroke of a pen and don’t doubt for one moment, he would not hesitate to do it. Yes, many in the free world believe the German’s are the aggressor, the evil plague on the world but they will very soon come to realise that we are all that stands between Stalin and global domination. When the Fuhrer is gone, who will stand up to the red peril? Perhaps it will be the great President Roosevelt, with his Jewish plague, or maybe that buffoon, Churchill?”


Daniel Lieberman would do anything for a quiet life. If something was too much trouble, he preferred to ignore it in the hope it would simply go away. Of course, it never did. It, whatever it was, would eat away at his soul and consequentially deny him the peace he so craved.

“You would have made a fine Jew,” his father Jakob used to taunt with his usual cheeky grin. “What a pity I married that pious, Papish old hag in the corner.”

“I heard that, Jakob Lieberman.” Daniel’s mother shook her head in a show of mock disgust and continued with the arduous task of pressing her husband’s suit. As Judaism is passed down the maternal line, Daniel was, whether his father liked it or not, a dyed in the wool Catholic. Sixty year old Lieberman did not mind that his only son did not share his religion, especially in such dark times, when more than ever the world had become a cold house for the children of Abraham.

“The hour is late, Daniel”, Marie-Therese Lieberman drooped the crisply creased trousers over the wooden rail by the stove.

“I just want to finish this chapter, if that’s OK Mother?” Daniel looked up from the kitchen table where he was reading by the light of a flickering oil lamp.

“More childish rubbish, I suppose?”

“The Thirty-Nine Steps,” Daniel flashed her a glimpse of the dog-eared dust cover.

“Hmmph!” she grunted. “Your time would be better served reading the classics. In that way, you might learn something about the world.”

Jakob clapped his son on the back and winked conspiratorially. “Now my dear wife, it is a way for him to escape into a world of adventure, away from the tedium of life in the mountains.”

“Adventure is it? Just think yourself fortunate that Switzerland has been spared from this awful war, or you would have all the adventure you want.”

The conversation was interrupted by a rap at the front door. “Who can that be at this time of the night?” Jakob scrutinized his silver plated pocket-watch, squinting through steel rimmed pince-nez.

“I’ll go,” Daniel slipped a leather book marker between the pages of John Buchan’s thriller, content that Hannay’s fate could wait until tomorrow.

The man standing on the doorstep was only a couple of years older than Daniel but to a casual observer the close cropped hair and neatly trimmed beard added another decade. “Daniel, we need to talk, now,” he spoke in a low yet insistent tone.

“Who is it?” Marie-Therese called out from the kitchen.

“It’s Karl!” Daniel shouted over his shoulder.

“Tell him to go away.” Marie-Therese was suspicious of Daniel’s friends, forever dragging her son off at odd times of the day and night, to do what, she did not know. If they were going to the local tavern she would have understood but she rarely smelled alcohol on her son’s breath.

“I’m going for a walk, Mother. I shan’t be long.” Daniel grabbed his coat from the wooden stand and closed the front door behind him.

Karl Manheim led the way down the cinder path to the road which ran from the hamlet of Bonigen back along the edge of Lake Brienz to Interlaken. He offered a cigarette to Daniel which was accepted enthusiastically.

“So, what’s on your mind, Karl?”

Manheim scoured the length of the darkened road in both directions. All was as it should be. All was silent. “Kammler is back.”

“The Nazi General?” Daniel felt his pulse quicken.

Karl put a finger to his lips to reinforce the need for discretion.


“The Hotel Europe.”

“How do you know?”

“Anna arrived home from work about half an hour ago.”

“What is he doing here this time I wonder? Looking for a home for more of his precious art treasures?”

“Who knows?” Karl drew hard on his cigarette “Anna’s father is a bloody fool, Daniel.”

“He’s not a Nazi sympathiser, though, surely?”

“I don’t believe so, but that bastard Schneider, our high and mighty Mayor, is most definitely an honorary member of SS.”

“What are you going to do?”

“We need to know exactly what he is up to. By all accounts, the war is going badly for the Germans. Perhaps they have concluded that the time is now right for the invasion of Switzerland.”

“But Hitler knows that is practically a strategic impossibility. It is the terrain of this land that has kept us safe up until now.”

Manheim snorted. “Don’t believe everything you read, my friend. Trust me; it is very much a strategic possibility.”

A solitary point of light caught Daniel’s eye and he looked out across the vast, inky wilderness of Lake Brienz. A film of newly formed ice reached several yards from the shore out into the water, yet, at least one foolhardy fisherman, most likely driven by the cruel wartime economics, had decided to risk the treacherous waters in order to provide for his family.

“I envy you, Karl.” Daniel threw his half-smoked cigarette on the ground. “You have a beautiful wife and a wonderful, precious son. What do I have?”

“You will have everything I have and more, but all in good time.”

“I wish I had your faith.”

“And therein lies your problem, Daniel. You need to have more faith in yourself.”

“Not all this again?” Daniel sighed.

“Greta likes you. I can see it. Anna can see it too.”

“She has a funny way of showing it.”

“Ah, she is still young Daniel and you know these girls do not make it easy for us men. You need to be persistent. Prove to her that you are prepared to fall to the ground and kiss her feet.”


“If that is what it takes, then yes.”

“She can’t even look me in the eye.”

“That, my young friend, is because she is so intimidated by your stunning good looks.” Karl took hold of Daniel’s chin and blew him a kiss. For his part, Daniel looked like he was chewing on the sharp end of a wasp.

“Daniel, my mother thinks you are the most handsome man in the Bernese Oberland. Hell, even Anna is forever telling me how lucky I am that she did not choose you over me.”

Karl also noticed the lamp on the lonely fishing boat, now nearing the edge of the lake over by Manlichen. “Anyway, you had better get back home to the Holy Mother.”

“Karl.” Daniel raised an eyebrow at mention of the nickname his friends had for his mother.

“Tomorrow you and I should go hunting together. How does that sound?”

Again Daniel’s eye was drawn by the light on the fishing boat, all of a sudden extinguished. The fisherman was off home to bed and Daniel must do likewise. “Good night, Karl.”

“I will see in the morning about nine o’clock?” With that, Karl turned back towards Bonigen.

“Good night,” Daniel reiterated and trudged back for home.

Old Otto Pelletier, a fisherman from Brienz at the far end of the lake would not miss his boat until morning. Major Bauman and his team of six handpicked commandos moved with silence and stealth, leaving the beached craft and made their way like ghosts to the cover of the tree line. The die had been cast.

“How is the Jew?” Anna was still awake when her husband returned from his meeting by the banks of Lake Brienz.

“He’s not a Jew.” Karl Manheim sat on the edge of the bed and unbuttoned his shirt.

Anna snorted. “He will not last five minutes when the Nazis come, never mind that St. Christopher’s medal he wears round his neck.”

Karl made no reply as he knew Anna was right.

“That is why we will fight if we have to, for Daniel and for our precious child.” Anna’s blue eyes softened when she looked over in the direction of the carved wooden cot, where their son, Heinrich, slept soundly.

“Perhaps we should kill Kammler now and be done with it,” Karl spoke with little conviction as he climbed beneath the sheets into the welcoming heat of his beautiful wife’s arms.

“No, Karl,” she kissed him on the lips. “We need to find out what he is doing here again. Killing one man won’t prevent an invasion.”

“But it could start a war. I know the lesson from history my darling. Sarajevo 1914; the shot heard round the world.” Karl struggled to make his words coherent with Anna’s persistent tongue forcefully parting his lips. The hour lying alone in bed waiting his return from the Lieberman’s house had allowed her fears for the future to play on her mind to the point where she was determined to make every day count; every moment in Karl’s strong arms count. Only then would she be able to switch off properly and get to sleep.


Edinburgh March 2014

“So why didn’t you sleep with her?” Kate Alexander was brushing her long blonde hair as she walked into the room. Her tall, well-toned frame owed much to her youth as Britain’s top Alpine ski racer, a legacy she had always tried to live up to, whether in the gym, the pool or walking in her beloved Cairngorms. A black eye pencil and tasteful red lipstick was all required to accentuate her dramatic beauty and defy the reality of her fifty-one years.

“Excuse me?” Even after twenty-six years of marriage her husband never failed to be stirred by the presence of the beautiful chef-owner of Edinburgh’s leading restaurant, Kate’s Chateau.

“Well, you’ve been carrying a flame for that woman for the past thirty years and yet you just walked away? I mean nobody would have had to know.”

“Kate, come on, for God’s sake.” John had returned two weeks earlier from Sarajevo, where Claudine Leffray, Chief Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) had been brutally murdered in her hotel room in Sarajevo, while there with John on a failed attempt to have Serbian war criminal Mavro Vladic handed over by the Bosnian authorities so he could stand trial in the UN war crimes court. John’s trip to the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina had been complicated further by a chance reunion with Angela Hofmeister, a former Swiss skier and now television presenter who he had met in the same city during the Winter Olympics of 1984 when she was competing in the downhill event and he was there with friends on a trip that was planned to support Kate on her attempt to win a slalom gold for Britain. Kate, however, blew out her knee at the final race prior to the Winter Olympics and had to watch her Sarajevo dreams melt from her bed with her leg in plaster. John and Angela had embarked on a passionate relationship, resulting in their engagement a year later. Soon after though, everything foundered on the rock of jealousy and regret when a mistake combined with a misunderstanding robbed them both of a future together that was filled with promise and fuelled by love.

Kate persisted. “I’m serious. The way you’ve left things, it’s still the itch that hasn’t been scratched.”

“You know I would never be unfaithful to you.”

“I know that, but one has to ask the question is that because you love me so much or because you are scared of what I would do to you if you ever were unfaithful?”

John swallowed hard, picking his next words with extra care, but before he was able to conjure up a suitable reply, Kate’s stony expression cracked and melted into a chuckle.

“I’m only teasing. Christ, you don’t have to clam up when I try to poke a bit of fun at you. God knows, she was an attractive girl so I’m sure she’s probably still worth looking at it. If you ask me, I would say you missed an opportunity there darling.” She ruffled his hair and kissed him on the forehead. “I know I’m the only woman for you.” She walked through to the kitchen, wiggling her hips playfully. “God knows you’d be lost without me.”

John wasn’t watching after her and so didn’t notice when she grabbed the door frame for support when a split second sensation of falling came over her. It was such a fleeting experience, by the time Kate reached the kettle, she wasn’t sure if it had even happened. Had she nearly fainted? It was not the first time she had been ambushed by such an episode and each time it was over in a flash; no pain, no feeling at all, except for a brief lack of sensation, of nothingness.

“Coffee?” she called out, filling the kettle.

“Yes, please,” John replied. He was trying to concentrate on the Super Rugby match between the Natal Sharks and Queensland Reds; the cream of Southern Hemisphere club rugby. He had only recently begun to take an interest since he hoped to gain an understanding of why the home nations consistently failed to be a match for Australia, South Africa and the mighty All Blacks. It wasn’t long before his mind wandered from the high energy competition and back to his hotel room in Sarajevo; Angela crying in his arms.

I’ve been such a fool.”

No, you haven’t,” John said, stroking her hair.

Seeing you again after all these years has taken me by surprise. I have been so low these past few months. My self-esteem has been non-existent. You make me feel important. You make me feel special in the way you look at me, in the way you talk to me. You must think I am so pathetic?”

Angela,” he took her face in his hands. “I think you are an extraordinary woman. I cannot begin to understand what you have been through.”

What I have been through? My skiing career can be summed up as promise unfulfilled. My marriage is a disaster and the only good thing in my life, Maria, isn’t even my real daughter. Hell, I don’t know, but that’s not really the life I envisaged when I was growing up.”

Angela, you really are putting a negative slant on things. Let me see; you were a World Champion ski racer, a successful television presenter and a brave, strong woman who rescued a child from the hell of Bosnia. Granted, you did marry Erich Stahl, but nobody’s perfect.”

Oh John, Kate is such a lucky woman.”

Don’t tell her that.”

I’m serious; you have a way of making problems seem not so bad. You have a diluting personality.”

I’ve never heard that one before, but I like it.” He wiped a tear from her cheek. “Don’t let life get on top of you, Angela. You have so much to give.”

“You haven’t touched your coffee,” Kate nudged him in the ribs.

“Sorry, I was miles away.” He reached for the mug that was no longer steaming.

“Are you thinking about Vladic again?”

“He murdered Claudine Leffray, Kate and he is not going to get away with it; not this time.”

“OK, so he gets away with the slaughter of hundreds of innocent civilians, but the moment he kills a senior UN figure, he’s for the high jump? That perspective does not hold up well to close scrutiny, you know?”

John blew out his cheeks. “I know how it sounds when put like that, but in many ways it will be easier to hang Claudine’s assassination round his neck than would be the slaughter that took place in the Bosnian civil war.”

“Especially since most of his victims were Moslem?” Kate raised an eyebrow, enjoying the effect her insistent probing was having on John’s normal calm air of authority. Teasing was for children and as such, below Kate’s horizon of habit. Badgering her husband with an air of hostility purely for amusement was, for her, purely a release mechanism. While having the potential to spoil a good evening in, it reinforced her status as keeper of the flame of morality within the four walls of the Alexander household.

Kate laughed to release him from the spell that gripped his windpipe. “Bloody hell, John, how do you expect to face up to a hardened war criminal if you crumble every time I say boo to you?”

“Nobody else has the effect on me that you do.”

“And what effect would that be?” She got up and sat astride his thighs.

“I’m putty in your hands, aren’t I?”

“Just you remember your place.” She kissed him with a passion that took him by surprise.


The Hague, the Netherlands 2014

Scheveningen jail is a temporary holding bay for some of the world’s most notorious war crimes suspects. Situated in the picturesque seaside town of the same name, it was part of an old wartime prison where Dutch resistance fighters were imprisoned by the Nazis.

It was here that the former Bosnian Serb General, Milan Kostalic, had been a resident since the final days of 2011. Spending most of his time reading English language newspapers – the London Times and the Washington Post being his choice for essential daily consumption – Kostalic’s contact with other prisoners was restricted to the pursuit of such banalities as playing chess and passing comment on the weather or the food served up in the communal canteen. Any discussions on potentially sensitive subjects such as politics were actively discouraged by the prison authorities.

It had taken over a year for Kostalic to grow to accept his incarceration and now, three years later, he had to admit he found the relatively luxurious surroundings made it difficult to dispute the facility’s tag as the Hague Hilton. Occupying 56E at the far end of the building from Kostalic’s cell, the political leader of the Bosnian Serbs during the war between 1992 and 1995, Radovan Karadic, was another high profile resident at Scheveningen. He and General Kostalic would pass each other in the corridors but with their cells on different wings, they had little or no time to engage in meaningful discussion.

Judges during the early phases of Kostalic’s trial rejected arguments for dropping the most serious charges of genocide. The eleven main charges against Kostalic, including genocide as well as crimes against humanity, dated back to the darkest days of the Bosnian civil war of 1992 -1995. Most specifically, he was accused of the massacre of more than seven thousand Bosniak men and boys at Srebrenica; Europe’s worst atrocity since the aftermath of World War II. He was also charged in connection with the forty-four month siege of Sarajevo during which more than ten thousand people died.

His co-accused, named in many of the charge papers, was the still at large Butcher of Bijeljina, Mavro Vladic. Vladic, a regional military enforcer, shared Kostalic’s dream of an ethnically pure Serbian state carved from the territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina and viewed himself in the tradition of the romantic, epic Serb patriots who had fought for centuries to liberate the Serb nation from foreign domination and exploitation.

Kostalic’s defence counsel had secured his client access to an unlisted cell phone, with which he was able to have regular contact with his family and various associates back home in Serbia.

A two day old copy of the London Times lay open at the second page where a photograph of the attractive, middle aged French woman headed the report of her murder in a Sarajevo hotel room.

“That bitch Leffray got exactly what she deserved,” Kostalic hissed down the phone. “It is because of her that I have had my freedom taken from me. It is only right and proper that in return she should have her life taken from her. Though I have to say, it may have been better to have arranged some sort of accident. Stabbed to death in her room at your hotel? For this they will track you down to the ends of the earth, but I suppose my butcher has to live up to his name. Where are you now?”

“I cannot say, General.”

“Of course not,” Kostalic rubbed his chin, irked by the patch of stubble missed by his electric shaver. Bladed razors, no matter how blunt, were strictly forbidden for inmates of Scheveningen. “I have a friend in a safe country, someone who would be prepared to offer you sanctuary, if you are interested.”

“I am listening.”

“My friend knows a lot about you.”

“He reads the newspapers.”

“I mean he knows a lot about you and your family history.”

“I am not sure I understand General.”

“Did you know that your grandmother has been receiving money every month since 1951 from an organisation by the name of Stille Hilfe?”

“What is that? It sounds German.”

“German it is indeed. It leads me to ask the question as to why the grandmother of one of my most capable military commanders has been financed for the past sixty years from a Nazi slush fund. Tell me, what do you know of your grandmother’s experiences during the Second World War?”

“I know she fought bravely with the great Marshall Tito’s partisans and was wounded I think, though I confess she did not like to talk about the war.”

“Your grandmother was for a time a prisoner, a slave worker at a secret German weapons facility known as Mittlewerk. Many thousands perished there from disease, exhaustion or were murdered by the guards. Your grandmother, on the other hand survived.”

“She is a very strong woman.”

“Undoubtedly she is. How else could she have escaped?”


“She made it back to her family several months before the Mittlewerk facility was abandoned in the face of the advancing Red Army. Quite a journey even for a strong young woman trapped in enemy territory.” Kostalic paused, all the time trying to gauge Vladic’s level of interest in what he was recounting. “Your own mother’s birth certificate would appear to place the time of her conception during her period of incarceration.”

“What are you saying, General? That my grandmother was raped by one of the guards?”

“Or by a fellow prisoner? That may be true, but one has to ask the question as to just who would have had the means to help her escape and then the position and the power to make sure she and that child would be financially secure for the rest of their lives?”

“This Nazi fund you spoke of?”

“Set up by the daughter of Himmler, a lady by the name of Gudrun Burwitz. You would be surprised by the names of the many people of influence who are contributors to her organisation. Even I was surprised but that can keep for another time. The majority of donations in the early years came from South America and the United States. No real surprise, as South America was the destination of choice for many of the Nazis who escaped the hangman at Nuremberg and the USA was were the allies spirited away all the top scientists under Operation Paperclip.”

“I am still at a loss, General.”

“The main contributor to the American funding was for many years a man called Hans Kammler. A General in the SS, Kammler was also the commandant of Mittlewerk.”

“And you think the reason he paid money to this Nazi group was to support my grandmother?”

“Exactly, it is the only logical conclusion.”

“It sounds like a Hollywood movie plot to me.”

“You can judge for yourself. My friend who I am putting you in touch with is married to Kammler’s granddaughter; his official granddaughter. She runs a scientific research laboratory high in the mountains of the Swiss Alps. This place just happens to be the location of a rumoured Nazi weapons research site from the dying months of the war.”

“In neutral Switzerland, that does not seem very likely.”

“Not if taken at face value, but this period in the history of that particular region of Switzerland is shrouded in mystery. What is publically known is there was a train crash in early 1945 which resulted in the deaths of many people, mostly schoolchildren. The people of the area do not like to talk about the events of that night, but clearly there is more to the history of this place than cheese and cowbells.”

Vladic was not one to be stirred by anything beyond his two golden rules of power and money, yet something in General Kostalic’s story intrigued him; appealed to the young man who had left home to fight for the cause of the greater Serbia with only the naive courage of youth and the treasured memento given him by his grandmother on the morning of his departure to join the then Colonel Kostalic’s just crusade against the enemy within; the true followers of the prophet from the East. “I am yours to command, General Kostalic.”

“I will get the details to you through the usual channel.”

Djakovica, Bosnia-Herzegovina 2014

Now eighty-nine years old, Irina Ivanovic was confined to bed, having suffered a series of minor strokes in her mid-eighties, though none of those events had succeeded in dulling her mind.

“I have not seen you in such a long time, my dear grandson,” She attempted a smile. “When you left for war back in ninety-two, it broke your poor mother’s heart. When they said all those terrible things about you, it killed her. My poor Betja, she never understood that what you did, you did for her, for me and for all us true Serbs. You are a true patriot, my darling Mavro.” She reached out a bony, trembling hand and held it suspended until he took it in his own. “I am proud of you for being a man who is not afraid to stand up for what he believes in. I know your grandfather would have been very proud of you.”

“You are not referring to grandpa Ivica, are you?” He held the Nazi dagger in his free hand and let the overhead light catch the gleaming blade.

Her eyes followed the movement of the steel. “What you are holding in your hand was my passport to freedom; my way out of a fate of bondage and certain death.” Her eyes met Vladic’s once more. “The weak perished by the thousand; starved, raped, murdered or simply lay down and succumbed. I was strong, Mavro. I was strong and I survived.”

“Who gave you this dagger?”

“The only one who could.”

“So it was him? It was Kammler?”

“To me he was just another Nazi officer. He told me his name was Hans.”

“Why you, grandmother? Why did he help you escape? Why did he give you this?” He knew the answer but wanted he hear her say it; need to hear her say it.

“I was carrying his child.”

“I am sure it would have been simpler for him just to have you killed.”

“Much simpler.”

“Then why?”

She sighed. “Even in the darkest of hearts, there is still a flickering flame of little light that burns strongly; that refuses to be extinguished.” She closed her eyes. “I am tired Mavro. It drains my little energy to talk of these things. Let me sleep now.”


Interlaken July 2014

Desolation isolation, a hollow smile born of false elation. Bipolar hints at two extremes when all she really feels is nothing. Is she on the verge of a breakdown or wallowing helplessly in the morass of the lonely aftermath of the crash? The heroine of the ski slopes; the fearless army officer; the glamorous TV presenter and the battered wife, relentlessly haunted by the ghosts of the past.

Angela’s ribcage ached sweetly as she drew the smoke deep into her lungs, her legs tingling with each dreamy exhalation. The comfort of knowing she was slowly killing herself.

A few people who self-harm may go on to commit suicide - generally this is not what they intend to do. In fact self-harm can be seen as the 'opposite' of suicide as it is often a way of coping with life rather than of giving up on it.

Self-harm is often also referred to by other names such as deliberate self-harm, attempted suicide, para-suicide, self-mutilation and self-injury. Talking or reading about self-harm can sometimes become confusing because researchers and health professionals often use these terms to mean different things. A research article or report will usually define exactly how it is using any specialised terms.

It wasn’t made of steel, some sort of aluminium composite perhaps, but in the right hands could no doubt have been employed as a lethal weapon. Embossed with a single word “China” the implement was one of those double-headed hammers the chefs on television use to beat the hell out of chicken breasts or sirloin steaks to tenderise the meat. She looked long and hard at the rough face with its array of fifty-six symmetrically distributed little pyramids of pain but decided as usual that it would never look accidental and without any further hesitation brought the smooth face down hard on the pale flesh which rested on the polished granite work surface. After a second blow, she realised that she was not using sufficient force and a stronger swing of the hammer saw the third blow cause her to wince and bite her lip. That would do for the moment. She pulled the sleeve back down and fastened the cuff of the red silk shirt with the eighteen carat gold cufflink.

The vermillion thundercloud spilled across the mountain, shutting out the sunlight as if a scythe had been taken to the idyll of another July evening. The pine trees above the village were swallowed up first before the large water droplets began leaving half inch wide patches of dark on the hot tarmac. The storm would freshen up the suffocating air but initially the oppressive atmosphere was choking and only reinforced her feeling of isolation.

Although it was a little before six, Angela had managed to drink a half bottle of vodka during the three quarters of an hour since returning from her daily walk by the lake and she now had just over an hour to wallow in the numbness of her pain and the pain of her numbness before Maria came through the front door and she had relinquished any expectations that she could play the smiling mother role yet again. That shattered illusion of maternal led domesticity no longer disappointed Angela’s daughter, now a woman in her own right, who was becoming accustomed to assuming the role of ‘mother’, while Angela continued her slide into a wasteful existence of regret and self-pity. Thankfully she didn’t have to hide her cigarette habit at home, although Maria had now noticed her Marlboro consumption had risen from ten a day to nearer forty; at least she didn’t have to worry about the smell of smoke in the house and using the empty Diet Coke tins as ash-trays was a simple way of hiding many excess butts.

It had been clear to Maria for months that her mother was battling depression, albeit successfully enough for the outside world not to notice. The catalyst for the breakdown had been the shattering, violent assault inflicted on Angela by her husband, the local Chief of Police Erich Stahl. The subsequent reunion with her one time fiancé John Alexander, bridging a gap of almost thirty years, had merely poured fuel on the fire. The untimely reminder of a brief but happy period in her life had only hammered home the sense of disappointment that tormented Angela through her late forties. Growing up, Maria was astounded by Angela’s capacity and thirst for knowledge. When not at work for the Swiss television network, Angela devoured books like they were going out of fashion; novels, mostly prize winning literary fiction or historical epics alternated with biographies or the memoirs of her journalistic heroes. Sunday afternoons were spent trawling the multi-supplemented weekly newspapers from London and New York. If there was any time to spare, Angela, dismissive of reality television and the crass misery of cheap soap operas, would channel hop between National Geographic and various history channels, in eternal fascination of a new perspective on Hitler, Stalin or the Kennedy assassination.

Now, Maria couldn’t remember the last time she saw her mother with a book or newspaper in her hand. The television was never switched on unless by Maria. So far as Maria could see her mother had abandoned every aspect of her life that had once given her pleasure or fulfilment. She had ceased to live and was now simply existing; living the same day over and over again in the hope that somewhere around the corner was what?

"Mum, would it really make you happy if he left his family for you? What would you do? I mean you're too old to have children. You could go and visit the grave together, I suppose; try not to run into your husband.” Maria knew she was being unfair but she hated seeing her mother like this and would see it as a minor victory if she could at least make Angela angry. As had become her habitual response to difficult situations, Angela gazed into the distance and pulled hard on the day’s forty-second cigarette.

"I need to get to work," Maria sighed. "Friday; I am on night shift."

"With Peter?"

Maria was surprised that Angela had registered the fact she even had a boyfriend. "Yes Mum, with Peter."

Maria paused. Waiting for Angela to tell her to be careful or warn her of the dangers of mixing work with relationships but there was nothing forthcoming. Whether from her sullen mood or the admission that she was not exactly an expert on relationships, Maria couldn't tell, so she simply planted a light kiss on Angela's forehead and went to her room to change.

INTERLAKEN December 1944

The Lady of Winter stalked the frozen pastures and the forests of pine, petrified by relentless ice, her crystalline breath exhaling unforgiving renewal, cleansing both land and soul of the corruptions of appetite and pleasure. Beneath the breathless blue of the eternal ocean, human weakness could be forgiven for permitting a little self-indulgence in fragile certainties and a future far from the hopes and dreams that struggled in the shadows just beyond the horizon.

Look up to the night sky and you will see a myriad of familiar, comforting patterns. Constellations, an otherwise pointless word of scientific complication we are all introduced to at the earliest possible age. The infinite cosmos of infinite stars, yet our dark ceiling is characterised by a mere handful of works of art which far surpass the works of Da Vinci, Constable or Dali. The Sistine Chapel will eventually crumble under the march of Mohammed’s anti-crusaders and the Louvre will fall victim to mid twenty-first century economic depression, yet the mighty hunter will prevail and The Plough will continue to point the way to the Pole Star, giving order to chaos and guiding the hand of the post-industrial engineers, who will have only the fruit of the land as salvation once the promised nirvana of cyberspace has evaporated in the latent, slowly decaying gamma rays of 9-47.

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