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Publisher Author Planet Press
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“A TRIUMPH ACROSS THE BOARD" Kirkus Reviews. Lt. Art Sutton and his war-weary Special Forces team parachute into Nazi Germany in 1945 to destroy targets behind enemy lines. What they don't know: during the jump they have somehow warped through time. They land in deeply forested Germany--in 2011. They start blowing things up. The young soldiers feel like heroes; the present-day German police believe they're terrorists; US forensics don't know WHAT to think. Filled with action, historically accurate detail, and even romance, this complex tale keeps you riveted through every twist.
“The separation between past, present, and future is only an illusion, although a persistent one.” Albert Einstein
Lt. Arthur Sutton hit the ground like a sack of corn dropped from a silo. Breathless and disoriented, he lay on the cold earth and watched lightning vein the sky. He whispered a prayer of thankfulness to be alive. The jump had been the most harrowing he had experienced, like being sucked into a Kansas twister, pummeled by shrieking winds. He seemed to have fallen for miles with his senses numbed, even though he knew that the low altitude drop could only have taken seconds.
Now I know what Dorothy felt like. Except I‘m somewhere a lot more dangerous than Munchkinland.
Dizziness hit him and he sat with his head between his knees. Wind billowed his parachute, jerking him backwards. Stark fear galvanized him. He climbed unsteadily to his feet, collapsing the canopy and fumbling for its harness coupling.
Thunder clapped as the storm moved east into Czechoslovakia. A dog howled in the distance. Sutton stiffened, remembering Grandma's tales about dogs howling when spirits walked. He unclipped his Thompson submachine gun and slung it over a shoulder then wadded the parachute into a ball and tucked it under his arm. Sutton revolved slowly on his heel, pushing his senses to overcome the muzziness. He wondered where his men were. In such conditions, it would be a miracle if they had landed in their drop zone.
A breeze brushed his face, bringing with it the tang of cow dung. Cattle lowed, their bells tinkling. He heard another sound in the mist, the faint jangle of military equipment. Sutton flung himself flat, wet grass tickling his nostrils. More noises, muttering voices. Then the sharp click-clack of a tin cricket. Repeated. Sutton felt for the tin cricket taped to the stock of his Thompson and answered the recognition signal. Four figures materialized from the darkness.
"Here!" Sutton thrust himself up. A face pushed close to his.
"Lieutenant?" asked Roth.
''Yeah.” Sutton squinted at the four figures. "Who's missing?"
"Sarnoff. He was behind you in the stick, so he should be nearby."
Sutton expelled a breath and peered at the luminous dial of his wristwatch.
"23:08. Let's find those supply canisters before we start hunting for Sarnoff." He swung around, pointing. "You men landed up there, so the supplies should be back that way. Okay, line abreast. Move out." They felt their way across the pasture. Sutton halted the men to check his compass, then swung the line on a tangent. Seconds later they found the first supply canister. Sitting astride it was a helmeted figure. The man jerked up his head as Roth snapped his toy cricket. A mouthful of white teeth shone in the blackened face.
"Why didn't you answer the signal?" Roth hissed. "You're lucky we didn't cut your throat!"
"Shit, Sarge," Sarnoff replied groggily, "ever since I jumped I've felt like I was concussed by a near miss from an eighty-eight. Head's spinning, ears ringing like crazy."
"Cut the chatter," Sutton ordered, wondering why Sarnoff had experienced the same strange symptoms that he had. The thought was quelled by the activity of lugging the metal cylinder into the pine forest bordering the field. Roth took three men to sweep the pasture for the second canister. Sutton and Holcombe unfolded their shovels and dug a shallow trench beneath a tall evergreen that could serve as a landmark. They dragged the cylinder into the hole. Holcombe held a GI elbowed flashlight while Sutton unbuckled the straps securing the lid, revealing packets of food, explosives, medical supplies, and pre-loaded clips of.45 caliber ammunition.
Sutton finished packing C3 plastic explosives and detonators into backpacks as Roth and the others trudged into the clearing. They lowered the other heavy canister into the trench. "Okay, cover the supplies." Sutton checked his watch. "Just be sure we can find 'em again when we need to." He led Roth aside. They crouched as Sutton took a waterproof packet of maps from his jacket. He spread a map across the ground and laid his compass on it.
"If we landed on target we should be here" - Sutton's finger stabbed a tiny rectangle labeled DZ - "four miles south-southeast of Kötzting." He aligned the compass along the drop zone mark, using the ruler to measure the distance to a red square marked with a numeral one. "The panzer depot should be a mile and a half due south."
Sutton glanced up as the four other men appeared from the darkness.
"Any questions?" he asked as he refolded the map.
"What if we landed in the wrong place?" Roth said.
''Then we figure out where we are and choose the next closest target with an “A” rating. There are supposed to be thirty targets within a ten-mile radius."
Roth grunted, intent on screwing a silencer onto the barrel of a Walther P-38 pistol. Sutton set off through the pine trees, the other men following with Roth bringing up the rear. Tension had robbed Sutton of sleep for the past two nights, but at that moment, tramping through the German forest, he had never felt more alert, so much a warrior. Adrenaline fired his blood, burning off the last traces of dizziness from the parachute jump, heightening his senses so sight, sound, and smell took on new dimensions. A fantasy flashed across his mind: a Movietone newsreel of himself standing at attention as President Truman - another fellow Missourian - looped the Medal of Honor over his head and Elaine watched, eyes shining, smiling the way she would when he returned to Lee's Summit and swept her into his arms again. His chest swelled, and for a moment he forgot his fear. The men skidded and clutched at branches as the dank pine forest sloped downwards. Then the trees ended. Sutton ran down an embankment and onto a narrow road. He glanced left and right as his team hurried across to him.
"Looks like we hit the right place," Roth whispered. "This road was on the map."
"We'll know for sure in a minute." Sutton trotted up the road.
He halted after a few hundred yards. The others bunched around him, squinting at a Bavarian religious shrine marking a crossroads. Christ's pink-painted toes peeked from a bouquet of wilted flowers. Sutton pointed to a nearby post with yellow signs sprouting from its side: Kötzting 8 km, Arnbruck 17 km, Cham 39 km. "Guess those flyboys really know their stuff." Sutton's voice betrayed his relief. "Dropped us right on the button. The panzer depot is just a quarter mile up that road." He thrust an arm towards a field stretching away into the darkness. "We'll cut across there. I want everyone crawling the moment we see the compound. Move it."
They started across the field at a lumbering run. Soil balled on Sutton's boots, hampering his progress. The field ended and they struggled up a knoll crowded with spruce trees. Sutton reached the crest first, flinging himself to the ground. "Down!" he rasped.
Fifty yards away, across a denuded firing zone, a ten-foot steel mesh fence ran diagonally. Triple-strand barbed wire jutted from the barrier's top, lit at hundred-yard intervals by arc lamps. Beyond the fence loomed the shadowy outlines of buildings, some showing light at their windows. "Haven't the Krauts heard of blackouts?" Sarnoff muttered. "Shit, with them lights this place is a sitting duck for bombers.” Sutton had his binoculars out, a frown creasing his forehead.
"Those intel officers said there'd be a strict blackout here," he whispered. “This is going to be a bitch to get into without any cover."
Sutton traversed the cleared ground in front of them, checking for the humps of mines before raising the binoculars to the military buildings beyond the wire. A sentry appeared, patrolling at the farthest reaches of his vision, a dark figure in a distinctive Wehrmacht helmet, the barrel of his rifle a line above his shoulder.
"You think that ground is mined?" asked Roth.
"Looks okay. Can't see any humps. The bright boys in Scotland seem to have been right about that at least."
The sweep of Sutton's field glasses stopped at the camp's main gate, a white concrete blockhouse dividing the access road, with black and white striped barrier poles on either side. An empty flagpole was planted in front of the building with a large sign beside it. Sutton strained to read the sign's black letters, managing, at that distance, to only pick out the enlarged words at the top.
"Hőhenbogen Kaserne," he said, lowering the binoculars.
"Maintenance depot for the Eleventh Panzer Division,” added Roth.
"We still goin' in?" asked Sarnoff.
"You bet." Sutton pointed. "The darkest part of the fence is dead center between those lights. We'll go through the wire there."
He glanced around the grim faces, then began divesting himself of webbing belts and equipment. The others did likewise, retaining only their weapons. Sutton slipped a pair of wire cutters into a pocket and checked his watch while Roth distributed explosives from a canvas backpack. "Only seven minutes past midnight, so we're doing great." He wondered if the others could hear his pounding heart. "Okay, you guys know the drill." He settled his helmet on his head and began slithering on his belly towards the fence. He felt naked under the arc lamps, cursing the blinding brightness that prevented him from seeing the sentry patrol path that ran along the perimeter fence.
He dragged the wire cutters from his pocket and opened the tungsten steel clippers to bite the first wire strand. Roth was beside him, his own cutters snipping a neat line up the mesh. They finished together. Roth pulled out the rectangular piece of cut wire and laid it aside. Sutton hugged his submachine gun to his chest, rolled onto his back, and poked his head into the narrow opening, shoulder blades undulating to wriggle his body inside.
Roth clasped his arm, strong fingers restraining him. Sutton froze, ears and eyes straining. Boots crunched on gravel, approaching from the right.
Roth gripped Sutton's jacket to drag him from the aperture in the fence. As Sutton cleared the wire, he rolled onto his belly. Roth's helmet tapped against his, the elongated barrel of the sergeant's silenced pistol inches from Sutton's face.
"I will take care of him," Roth whispered.
"Only if he sees the hole," hissed Sutton. "You can't risk a shot from this position."
The footsteps came closer, scuffing the gravel. Sutton pressed into the ground, trying, as the commando instructors had taught him, to imagine himself part of the landscape. Roth lay so close that the hot air from his lungs warmed Sutton's face. Sutton allowed only his eyes to move, flicking between the tread of the sentry's boots to Roth's pistol. He noticed the sergeant's hand trembling. Boots less than two yards away. The sentry trudged nearer, steps erratic, scattering gravel chips. A pebble clinked against Sutton's steel helmet.
The sentry was almost in front of them now, tan boots and camouflage trousers in sharp detail, face shadowed by the Nazi helmet's rim. The boots dragged again, then halted directly in front of the hole cut through the fence. Sutton saw Roth’s hand steady as he took aim at the sentry’s head. They heard the click of what sounded like a lighter. The pungent odor of cigarette smoke filled the air. Sutton thought it seemed impossible that the sentry would risk possible intruders seeing the red glow of his cigarette, but then the entire camp was supposed to be under blackout.
The sentry suddenly began speaking. Roth’s tightening trigger finger froze. He and Sutton glanced at each other in disbelief as they heard the man softly recite what sounded like an incoherent poem in fractured English while shuffling in a strange dance routine:
Yo, I'm runnin' through these ho's like Drano
I got that devilish flow, rock 'n' roll, no halo
We party rock, yeah, that's the crew that I'm reppin'
On the rise to the top, no lead in our zeppelin, hey
The sentry made some whooshing noises, nodded his head, then threw the butt of his cigarette to the ground and mashed it with his boot. He yawned, seemed to adjust something on his ears under the helmet, then bobbed away.
Sutton realized that he had been holding his breath. He expelled it as the tread of the sentry's boots faded. There was no time to consider the man's odd behavior now. He slithered back up to the opening in the wire and propelled himself through, rising without breaking motion into a crouching run that brought him to the deep shadows under the wall of a building. The Rangers behind him hurled themselves against the wall at five-second intervals.
Sutton visualized the panzer depot's layout from among the two dozen target plans he had memorized over the past weeks. Followed by the others, he sidled to the end of the building and peered around the comer. The terrain was like the plan said it would be: an unlighted alley running past vehicle maintenance sheds until it ended at a parking lot for repaired vehicles at the far end. Sutton darted from the sheltering wall. The vehicle park was surrounded by a rusted mesh fence - an unnecessary precaution, as the huge double gate yawned wide, one side crumpled as if a careless driver had collided with it. The repaired vehicles were segregated into columns of tanks, trucks and personnel carriers. Lampposts cast ineffectual pools of light at wide intervals, illuminating olive drab paint, white stars, and the large, stenciled letters US ARMY.
Sutton skidded to a halt, wondering if his eyes were deceiving him. He heard the gasping breaths of the other men as they slid against the wall beside him.
"What is it?" Roth asked. He saw the vehicles. So did the other four men.
"Holy shit!" someone hissed.
"Silence!" Roth snapped. He moved closer to Sutton.
"What gives, Lieutenant? These are all American vehicles."
"Don't know," Sutton said. "The briefing officers said nothing about this."
He studied the ranks of machines, bafflement growing. He pointed at a row of tanks, their cannon barrels raised like a lancer's salute.
''Never seen tanks like those before. They can't be ours, or British for that matter."
Roth grunted an assent. "They look more like German King Tigers – the Panzerkampfwagen Six. Must be a new type that our intelligence doesn't know about yet." Roth thrust his jaw towards the parking area. "Most of the other vehicles are unknown to me also. But why are they all painted to look like Americans?"
Something nagged at Sutton's mind, a memory of an article in Stars and Stripes, a story given substance by conversations with men who had served in the Battle of the Bulge five months earlier. "It's a Kraut trick. Armored columns painted to look like they're Americans. They used that trick at the Bulge last Christmas. Really fooled our guys. Even had English-speaking Krauts in our uniforms."
"I'll be damned," Sarnoff muttered. "I remember hearing about that from a guy who was at Bastogne. Dirty motherfuckers!"
"Our fighter pilots will sure think twice before attacking 'em," Sutton added. "Let's make sure they never get out of here! Rendezvous where we left our gear in fifteen minutes.”
They separated at the vehicle park gate, each man intent on his assigned task and the few minutes allotted him. Sutton ran down a lane between a row of tanks and a mixed column of self-propelled guns and armored personnel carriers.
Choosing a tank at random, he knelt beneath the engine carapace at its rear. He took a sausage-shaped piece of plastic explosive from his shoulder bag, stuck it to the armor plating and affixed a pencil detonator. He snatched up the bag of explosives and raced to another vehicle.
Sutton attached the last of his twelve explosive charges to the treads of a self-propelled howitzer, then feverishly checked his watch. Three minutes to the rendezvous. He reached the damaged gate at the same time as Roth and a private named Kemp. They trotted back down the alley, hugging the walls until they reached the barracks. Roth halted, delving into his shoulder bag.
"One last gift for the Nazis." He pressed an explosive charge against the brick wall over his head.
The three other Rangers were waiting for them on the knoll overlooking the camp, buckled into their web harness. Despite the extreme tension, Sutton sensed a feeling of professional satisfaction behind the blackened masks of their faces.
''Nice work, guys," he said.
"Will we hit the Nightfighter base next?" Roth asked.
"It's the next closest target." Sutton squinted at his watch. The time was 00:31 on the morning of April 22. "Wouldn't want the Luftwaffe to feel neglected, would we?"
Sutton felt a surge of pride as he watched his men fall into line. Maybe the Welsh instructor had been wrong -- perhaps their chances of returning alive were better than he'd said.
The Rangers set off at a ground-eating trot led by Sutton. After a few minutes he recalled the strange poem of the Germany sentry.
He slowed, allowing the other men to pass him until he could walk beside Roth. "What was up with that sentry?" he asked in a low voice so the others wouldn't hear. "With the guy’s mumbo-jumbo?"
Roth didn't look at him.
“Einen Wahnsinnige – a madman!” he replied derisively. “The Nazis must be so short of recruits that they are emptying the asylums!” He grunted as he shifted his heavy pack. "If I was his sergeant, I would have him shot for smoking on duty. Of course, he’ll be shot tomorrow anyway after they receive our gifts."
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Timothy Ashby worked in Washington, D.C. as a counter-terrorism consultant to the U.S. State Department, and a senior official at the U.S. Commerce Department. He held two Top Secret security clearances and worked with a number of colorful characters, including members of the U.S. military’s Joint Special Operations Command.