Collision of Lies

John J. Le Beau

The trick, long known by every German Kommissar, including the brooding and easily exasperated Franz Waldbaer, was to determine what party had committed a crime and why—silent intuition and cold logic playing as big a role as visceral reason and rules of evidence.  That is the logical surmise at the core of my novels Collision of Evil and its most recent counterpart, Collision of Lies.  The sanctity of the establishment of right-versus-wrong and of suspicion guiding the assembly of clues come as naturally to me as a familiar tune by Mozart comes to the sometimes intricate, complicated German mind.

I can recall how on one occasion, huddled over a beer glass in a dimly lit bar full of noisy, laughing winter tourists, when a German police officer, eyes so sharp that they could draw blood, bitterly lamented the decline of the German judicial system.  What so worried and confused him was the profound and disturbing lack of moral courage displayed by the lords of law – Germany, you see, has no trial by jury.  It seemed to the officer, and I am sure to others of his generation who are not police officers, that the German judges merely shrug at the perpetrators of blatantly immoral deeds, essentially slapping them on the wrist and giving them the equivalent of a free pass.  What are the wages of casual murder, performed cold-blooded and smiling?  Seven or eight years in prison, give or take a few years.  Phrases such as, “there are two victims here,” have become commonplace mantras, endlessly repeated, a salve to the unrepentant. 

In this manner, society has evolved since the end of the war.  While it may be general practice for individuals to punt on the subject, Franz Waldbaer refuses to punt.

The question remains—who is Waldbaer, really?  When I first envisioned Waldbaer, first dreamed him up, I felt a sensation of familiarity.  Perhaps the creation of all characters in crime novels is like this, or perhaps only some; it is an interesting question.  I tried to imagine what a German, in this case a Bavarian, detective would be like.  I imagined that he may have drifted past middle-age without knowing it, surprised and suddenly irritated to find that a lack of fitness and caution regarding lifestyle and habits were taking their inevitable toll.  On the one hand, he ignores the quiet entreaties of aging; on the other hand he is overly sensitive to every inexplicable physical discomfort and passing complaint, such as weight gain and the unsettling cracking of joints.  He is overweight, having grown too big to button his Loden jacket, but ascribes this fact to an obscure shrinkage from the dry cleaner.  To this extent, he is an entirely self-absorbed Bavarian.

Such is the silent composition of Kommissar Franz Waldbaer, the heroic protagonist and the unshakeable, uncompromising moralist of the Collision novels.  But what rampant malignancies let loose in the world does the Kommissar solve?  The books are, of course, international thrillers, opening the doors wide to acres of adventure and action.  Each plot of the Collision series is meant to be realistic and contrived to entertain the reader with ornate and involved storylines.  Collision of Evil deals with a chemical weapons conspiracy in Europe, involving an al Qaeda cell—a plot that I must admit still, in reality, worries me.

Possessing only a few facts from the case, Waldbaer teams up with a CIA officer motivated primarily by a thirst for revenge, something Waldbaer inherently understands.  In Collision of Lies, a sophisticated covert network of international conspirators uses their predatory skills to cover their scheming tracks.  In real terms, I believe that the topics covered in these books are the developments that keep policymakers up at night, as George Tenet has said.  The novels investigate and analyze potential threats found in the real world today.  As a nod toward the newspapers will advise, we live in a world of conspiracies. Perhaps it has always been so.  Thus begins the process whereby Kommissar Waldbaer attempts to uncover and discern the conspiracy, strives to comprehend deceit, and its twin apparition, the collision of lies.  He is invariably assisted in this endeavor by his shadow, the primordial suspicious instincts of the professional detective.

Franz Waldbaer, the eternally suspicious, easily antagonized and provoked protagonist, is relentlessly the positive force in the Collision series, even when forced to cut corners with the law.  Waldbaer’s conflicts with the law, while pursuing the public’s best interest, is a leitmotif that I will continue to include in the plots, inviting the reader to consider the struggle from the protagonist’s perspective. A third Waldbaer novel, its working title Lion Rampant: Collision of Centuries, deals with the relatively uninvestigated subject of biological threats extant in national laboratories and the modern resurgence of past afflictions thought extinct.  As well as being an addictive and explosively fun piece of writing, Waldbaer (and, it is to be hoped, the reader) will have excessive reasons for concern.  Smug assurances of who is in control of national research activities often neglect to account for the malignantly minded among men, creating a perfect storm for Franz Waldbaer. At least, that’s the logic of the plot. It should be enormous fun to research and to write, as well as to read. 

                                    An exclusive excerpt from John J. Le Beau's Collision of Lies, available everywhere now.

     Darkness ruled, its celestial domain unchallenged, casting the sea below into an obscure tapestry of undulating ebony. The sovereign night blanketed the maritime world and merged, far below the surface, with a perpetually lightless void, perfect in its blackness.
     The rhythmic sound of waves accosting the solid metal hull of the ship mingled with the subdued, deep hum of powerful diesel engines, creating a baritone polyphony. The sound drifted out from the vessel but was quickly muted in the vastness of the ocean. The night sky was entirely cloudless and even the shimmering black expanse of the sea was humbled beneath an endless canopy of stars. A brief burst of light and motion interrupted the nocturnal tableaux as a comet displayed its fleeting, exhibitionist trace across the indigo darkness, and was gone.
    Closer to earth, a breeze eased over the rolling water and swept at the thick hair of the solitary figure standing on deck, his frame concealed behind a corrugated metal container at the rear of the vessel. In a brief motion, the man glanced over his shoulder to confirm that he was alone. Satisfied, he huddled a degree deeper into his dark wool watch coat and retrieved a rectangular object from a capacious flapped pocket. He held the object in front of his chest with one hand and pushed a large red plastic button on its surface with the other. Instantly, a row of three small lights blinked awake at the top of the device, orange at first, but turning bright green in a few seconds. The man nodded to himself and pushed down on a silver oval at the center of the device, aware that this engaged the transmit mechanism.
    As unseen as a soul, a burst of enciphered text launched from the electronic tool and raced silently upward toward an orbiting communications satellite far above the Atlantic, invisible in the distant heavens. The burst transmission completed in seconds, its owner again placed a finger atop the red button, causing its tiny lamps to flicker briefly and return to electronic sleep. 
    “I thought so,” a voice from behind the man spat in guttural German, a trace of grim self-satisfaction in its tone. 
    Before he could turn, the man holding the electronic device felt a probing point of pressure against his coat, followed an instant later by the unmistakable sensation of a long, sharp object penetrating the fabric and then his stomach. A bass cry of panic erupted from his throat, but a beefy hand slammed over his mouth, splitting his lip and silencing him. Wide-eyed and trembling, the man felt the hard object withdraw swiftly from his punctured intestines, trailing blood, fluids and pain in its wake, only to be slammed into him again, and then again.
    “You stupid, stinking bastard”, the assailant hissed as he drove the long screwdriver into his victim a fourth and then a fifth time. The man’s straining, jerking resistance ebbed away with each blow, replaced in under one minute by the passive, heavy slackness of death. The transmission device was released and fell heavily to the deck as the victims muscles relaxed involuntarily and his dead hands opened.
    The man holding the blood-slicked screwdriver in a firm grip was squat and powerfully broad, and he hitched an arm solidly around the corpse to prevent it from falling. Breathing deeply with the exertion, and taking one halting step at a time, he moved his cargo of dead weight toward the rust-streaked metal rail above the ship’s propellers. With a disciplined surge of movement he flung the murder implement into the heaving water and then eased the wide-eyed, blood-seeping cadaver over the side, head first. Gravity was his ally and accomplished the rest. The lifeless form fell through the darkness into the effervescent turbulence below and, in an instant, vanished from the visible world.
    Expelling a long breath, the attacker watched the motion of the waves for a moment and noted the uninterrupted progress of the vessel on its course. He surveyed the immediate scene and, with a grunt, retired below deck, returning moments later with a large bucket of water. He splashed the water along the spot where the murder had transpired, flushing tendrils of blood over the side. Stooping, he retrieved the communications device from where it had fallen on the burgundy-painted metal deck and studied it, turning the object in his hands. His brow furrowed. There were no visible markings on the instrument, nothing indicating its purpose or place of manufacture. Of course not, he thought. His survey of the device completed, he tossed it over the side as well. There was now no remaining trace of the violence that had transpired mere minutes ago.
    The man turned his gaze toward the sweep of the stars in their courses, stretching away into infinity. He observed them clinically, without emotion, unmoved by any sense of wonder. He thought only of what would happen next.
     The disappearance of his victim would not be noticed until morning, he knew. With the absence of a crewman discovered, the ship would be bound to follow established regulations and conduct a cursory sweep of the area. No trace of the vanished would be found, of course. By the time the search commenced, the body would have been shared and ingested by a variety of aquatic denizens. 
      Following standard maritime procedures for a man overboard situation following the search maneuvers, the ship would radio its next port of call and report the incident. There would be a formal investigation once the vessel docked, but it would be pro forma. In instances of this sort, the governing presumption was that there had been an accident, or possibly a suicide.
   There was nothing to hint at foul play. With a nod of satisfaction, the man pulled his jacket tightly around his muscular frame and trudged off to the warm cabin that awaited him, his gait accommodating the familiar roll of the ship.

    Now a mile in the ship’s wake, the corpse, weighed down by its heavy wool coat and laced leather working boots, sank slowly into the silent black depths, arms plaintively outstretched. A large fish hit the left hand tentatively, and then again with more purpose, tearing away a minute piece of soft flesh near the thumb. As the body continued its unanimated descent, a democracy of other fish followed, large and small, making further incursions on the corporeal integrity of the recently deceased. Eventually, a cluster of tiger sharks moved in, scattering the lesser finned diners before them. Their dull eyes surveyed the carcass with primordial purpose to ensure that it represented no danger. Moments later, the man who ten minutes previously had stood aboard the ship was ripped by serrated rows of slashing teeth into several uneven pieces and devoured in voracious gulps, until nothing remotely human remained.

John J. Le Beau (Ph.D) is a professor at the George C. Marshall Center for Security Studies, in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.  He is a retired senior operations officer of the CIA’s Clandestine Service.