For those who have read my historical horror novel DEAD OF WINTER, my publisher Samhain Horror has been so kind to release my WWII supernatural thriller, SHADOWS IN THE MIST, which first released back in 2006 and topped number one on Amazon’s Mystery/Thriller Bestsellers List, beating out DaVinci Code. SHADOWS IN THE MIST will be available through all major booksellers September 4th, 2012. I’m providing the first three chapters here to give you a sneak peek into the story that has been called “Band of Brothers meets DaVinci Code.” Enjoy!
“Combining Masonic history, mysticism, and Nordic rune-lore, Moreland’s tale of a world at war is equal parts horror story and spine-jangling thriller. An adventure not to be missed!”
—James Rollins, New York Times bestselling author of
Map of Bones and Black Order
“A rocket-paced mystery about occult-obsessed Nazis. Classic good vs. evil action in this page turner!”
—Joseph P. Farrell, author of Reich of the Black Sun
“With Shadows in the Mist, Brian Moreland weaves together the best elements of military, supernatural, and religious conspiracy genres, staking out a new territory all his own.”
—T.L. Hines, author of Waking Lazarus
About the Book
The truth will not stay buried.
During World War II, Germany’s Hürtgen Forest was a killing field. But there was something worse than the enemy in the mist. An ancient power was waiting to prey upon those who opposed the Third Reich.
Jack Chambers survived the war, but even after all these years, he still has nightmares about Hürtgen—and the unholy horrors he battled there. Now he is determined to reveal the truth behind his platoon’s massacre and entrusts the task to his grandson, Sean. But Sean’s quest sets him in a deadly race against those who wish to bury the truth forever—and those who plan to use it to unleash hell on Earth.
“Brian Moreland writes a blend of survival horror and occult mystery that I find impossible to resist. His writing is clean, precise, and, best of all, compulsively readable. I know, when I’ve got one of his books in my hands, that I’m going to be lost to the world for hours on end. He’s just that good.”
—Joe McKinney, author of Dead City and Flesh Eaters
“Brian Moreland has created a great horror novel … Shadows in the Mist is probably one of the best books I’ve read this year.”
—Horror Bob, The Horror Review
“Grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go.”
—Chris Mooney, author of Deviant Ways and The Missing
occult n (1923) : matters regarded as involving the action or influence of supernatural or supernormal powers or some secret knowledge of them
—Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary
Cult of the Black Order
During the 1930s and 1940s, the Nazis cultivated a fascination with the occult and mind control. Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, leader of the SS military, appointed several known occultists into his inner circle. One such occultist was writer and Runologist Karl Maria Wiligut. Together Himmler and Wiligut created esoteric rituals for the SS ceremonies, designed the death’s head ring bearing the skull and crossbones and turned the Wewelsburg castle in Westphalia, Germany, into a Nazi Camelot.
Studies in the occult fueled a secret obsession. In 1935, Himmler formally established an occult research division, the Ahnenerbe–SS. With over fifty departments devoted to scientific studies, teams of Nazi scientists crusaded across India, Tibet, China, South America and Nordic countries such as Iceland to locate archeological proof of the Nazis’ bizarre historical fantasy—that they were true descendants of mythical supermen known as the Aryan race.
The SS occultists, known as the Black Order, shared Hitler’s vision of the Thousand Year Reich—the Nazi plan to cleanse the planet of every race not considered of “pure” German blood. Believing they were destined to become the Aryan master race, the Nazis murdered millions of Jews, Gypsies, Freemasons and Bolsheviks, igniting the flame that would spread without control and build into the Second World War.
SS Headquarters, Wewelsburg Castle
The castle doors creaked open for the angel of death.
Two Nazi guards yanked the leashes of their snarling Dobermans and stepped back. “Guten Abend, mein Herr.”
Keeping a wary eye on the dogs, Manfred von Streicher entered the castle gripping a briefcase handcuffed to his wrist. The heavy doors shut behind him, sending a cascade of otherworldly echoes resounding through the stone fortress. Von Streicher shuddered.
No turning back now.
He marched alone through the grand hall of Teutonic knights. Armored sentries wielding swords and iron spears loomed on pedestals on either side. Von Streicher hastened past them, his boots clumping across the stones. His hand, bearing the death’s head ring, tightened around the briefcase handle. The handcuffs chafed his wrist. The stiff collar of his black tunic constricted his throat. Taking controlled breaths, he wound through the serpentine corridors. The shadowy reaches of the castle moaned as if disturbed by his presence.
This is madness, Manfred. For God’s sake, turn back! Destroy the research.
And what? Defy the Reich? Himmler will have me skinned alive!
Von Streicher stopped before a set of colossal double doors. Voices murmured on the other side, and then laughter erupted. They’re in a cheerful mood tonight. Hate to spoil a good party. Von Streicher slicked back a few wind-blown hairs and opened the doors.
The laughter stopped. Goblets and silverware clinked on the round table. A dozen black-clad officers fixed their Aryan eyes upon the messenger in the doorway.
Von Streicher raised his arm. “Heil Hitler!”
Seated at the far side of the round table, Himmler scowled and checked his watch. “SS–Hauptsturmführer Von Streicher, you’ve missed three courses.”
“My deepest apologies, Reichsführer. My plane was delayed in Norway. A storm—”
Himmler waved his hand dismissively. “Show us the designs.”
“Right away, mein Herr.” Von Streicher set the briefcase on the table, pulled a tiny key out of his gums, and opened the case. “My expedition in Iceland has led us to a breakthrough discovery.” Von Streicher removed a stack of photographs and a dossier.
Reichsleiter Alfred Rosenberg grinned from across the table. “What is it this time, Von Streicher, more Nordic cave paintings?” Chuckles circulated among the men.
Von Streicher passed around photos. “Actually, Herr Rosenberg, I combined your research with mine.” The photos were received with perplexed expressions all around.
A smile spread on Himmler’s face. “You actually got this to function?”
“Our testing has proven successful on one prototype.” Von Streicher took the thirteenth seat at the round table, where a plate of cold lamb shanks and a goblet of red wine awaited him. He slid the plate to one side and gulped the wine.
Reichsleiter Rosenberg, holding a photo, released a nervous laugh. “But this is merely a thing of legend.”
Von Streicher smiled. “Like the world tree, Yggsdrasil, legends derive from an acorn of truth. My team discovered the acorn. Now with the powers of Odin, we can produce the tree.”
Himmler said, “Not just a tree, gentlemen, an entire forest. We begin mass production immediately.”
Von Streicher choked on his wine. “With all due respect, mein Reichsführer, we are still in the early stages. My team needs more time—”
“No more research. We’ve got weeks before Allies and Soviets hit our borders. We must strike now with a blitzkrieg that will shake the planet.” Himmler handed a map to Von Streicher. “Don’t bother to unpack, Manfred. You will be overseeing the entire operation at our new base camp.” On the map a red box indicated an area near the border of Germany and Belgium.
“The Hürtgen Forest?”
Heinrich Himmler grinned and raised his goblet. “Once we engage these weapons into the war, no army will withstand the might of the reich. Heil Hitler!”
The Black Order raised their goblets. “Heil Hitler!”
Von Streicher held aloft his toast with a shaky hand. He glanced down at the map…from the ice fields of heaven to the forests of the Green Hell.
The angel of death is coming. And I’m bringing my demons with me.
The Hürtgen Forest, Germany
Gray fog drifted across the rain-drenched battle zone, clashing with black tendrils rising from the smoldering village. Gunshots cracked. Bullets buzzed past Lieutenant Jack Chambers’ ears like swarms of angry hornets.
“This way!” he screamed at his platoon. “Move, move, move!” Chambers charged forward through the smoke and drizzle. Ducking behind the ruins of a brick building, he waved his men over.
“Krauts!” shouted one soldier.
“Take cover!” Chambers aimed his Thompson submachine gun over the chest-high wall.
A dozen armed German silhouettes emerged from the buildings.
A metal storm strafed his platoon, chopping down several men. The ones who made it filled in around Chambers. “Base fire, everybody! Stay sharp!”
Sergeant Mahoney barked orders down the line. “You heard the man. Hit ’em with everything!”
The platoon fired over the chest-high wall. Several shadows fell backward, but more emerged to take their place. The enemy closed within fifty yards. A tank shell blasted a nearby wall. Dust drifted over the platoon, filling Chambers’ mouth with grit. His men fired madly at the fog.
Chambers hovered behind the wall, his back flat against the cold flagstones. Metal hornets chipped the stones above his helmet.
Corporal Goldstein, pressing a Red Cross helmet to his head, crawled to Chambers. “Got a plan, sir?”
“Round up the wounded. We’re moving out.”
Goldstein ran hunkered along the brick wall. Chambers studied the miasma behind them. Which way now, Jack? Think. He glanced at his platoon. Battered and bloodied teenagers looked to him as their savior. Bullets whizzed over the wall. One GI dropped dead, a red hole punched in his forehead. Chambers peered into the kid’s glazed eyes. Blue as a spring sky.
Chambers squeezed his lids shut to the haunting memory of those vacant eyes.
Artillery shells shrieked through the village. A building one street over exploded in a spray of rubble. Sergeant Mahoney screamed, “They’re closing in!”
Chambers snapped out of his trance. “Grenades!” Yanking the pin with his teeth, he lobbed a metal pineapple over the wall. “Take cover.” Metal fragments popped against the bricks. “Let’s roll, boys. Move, move, move.” Chambers led the pack between mounds of rubble. Ahead black pines of the Hürtgen Forest stabbed upward through the fog.
Artillery screeched. To their rear, a gas station disintegrated in a fiery whoooosh! Flailing bodies catapulted through the air, screaming. Blasts of scorching heat knocked Lieutenant Chambers flat on his stomach. A heavy weight crashed on top of him.
Gasping, he wiped mud and pine needles from his face. Rain drenched the blaze around him. He tried to move, but a dead soldier pinned his torso and legs. Beside him lay another dead GI, his charred face staring with one drooping eye. Chambers scanned the clearing and saw only smoldering bodies. “Mahoney…Buck…”
Jesus, they’re all dead!
The ground quaked beneath the metallic roar of tank tracks.
A torched GI ran past, waving fiery arms. He screamed like a punished child before being cut down by the ra-tat-tat-tat of submachine-gun fire.
The earth spun like a mad carnival ride. Chambers sat dazed as the drizzle formed rings in the mud puddles. I’ve failed them. More casualties for Lieutenant Grim Reaper.
Silhouettes charged through the mist machine-gunning the fallen bodies. The GIs flopped, their dead limbs and torsos animated by the onslaught of metal slugs. Bullets kicked up the mud around Chambers. Jesus! Grabbing his Tommy gun, he belly-crawled through the bodies. Strafing bullets snaked along the ground in hot pursuit. He rolled behind a tree, bark and fir branches snapping. Heaving, he waited for the ra-tat-tat-tat to end. Then he ran pell-mell through the forest, crashing through walls of sharp pine needles. The sounds of the battle zone echoed farther and farther behind.
Chambers stumbled and fell to one knee, leaning on his rifle for support. Icy rain drenched his face. Lightning jagged across the roiling black sky. He sat back against a tree, snorting a wet sigh of relief. The Hürtgen Forest was a dripping green cavern, soundless except for the occasional distant gunshot. The impenetrable gray fog ruled the trees. His hands trembled. They’re all dead. Just me now. A mixture of sobs and insane laughter erupted from his belly. He shook his head.
Reaper. Reaper. Reaper.
Chambers glanced around at the shadowy trees.
You boys better hope you don’t get Lieutenant Reaper’s platoon. You get Grim, you’re good as dead, chum. Good as dead.
“No, this wasn’t my fault.”
Chambers’ mind reeled. Guilt twisted his guts. You gonna let those men die in vain, Chambers? It was the voice of Captain Murdock. I didn’t train you to be a quitter. You got a mission to fulfill. Now get your ass up. Chambers’ face hardened. He glared up at the bruised sky. An endless storm cloud flashed and swirled overhead. “What now? Huh! What the hell do you want me to do now!”
Distant screams echoed in the woods. “Lieutenant!”
Chambers felt a surge in his chest. “Men!” He searched the haze, trying to place the shouts.
To Chambers’ right, the sound of running feet and snapping branches echoed just beyond the trees. Another sound filled the forest. Growls—rabid and doglike.
Chambers raced over the hill and followed a winding creek littered with fallen logs and slippery rocks. Freezing water filled his boots as he sloshed against the knee-high current.
Splashing sounds from around the curve just behind him. The growling grew louder.
Chambers sprinted faster. Climbing an incline, he followed a trail to a spiked wrought-iron fence covered in ivy. Beyond it stood a graveyard. He opened the gate and jogged between crosses and tombstones.
The tempest wailed through the Hürtgen like a raging thing, whipping the conifers from side to side, scattering broken branches across the cemetery. Rain angled like silver streamers in a gusty wind.
At the top of the hill a jagged roof and bell tower jousted upward above the fir trees. Lightning shattered the sky, illuminating a Gothic church with shattered windows and bricks pocked with war wounds. His soldiers cried out from somewhere near the church. “Lieutenant!”
Chambers scanned the tombstones and crypts that dotted the hillside all the way up to the church. “Mahoney! Buck! Goldstein!”
“Over here!” Chambers sloshed between tombstones.
Several voices cried out with gasping wet gurgles, “Grim Reaperrrr…”
He froze. “Where are you?”
“Down here, Lieutenant Reaperrrrr,” a voice bubbled up from the mud.
Something pushed against the sole of his boot. Chambers jumped back. The damp soil parted. A face with pale eyes floated to the surface. Membraned eyes. Like a gray winter sky. Muddy fingers clawed outward. Another hand sprouted from the earth and gripped his calf from behind.
“What the…” He kicked it loose, stumbling backward into a garden of groping hands.
“Chambers…” Skeletal beings draped in rotted military uniforms dug themselves from the graves. “Grim Reaperrrr…” They crawled toward him, bony hands outstretched.
“You belong with ussss…”
Chambers lurched backward, slipping. They tugged at his legs, pulling him thigh deep into a grave. He gripped a tombstone for support, clawing like hell to break loose. The dead engulfed him, pulling him deeper into the soil till the mud rose over his hips, stomach, chest. His hands grasped a cross. He struggled against the death current.
Shadows charged from the mist. Bullets kicked up the ground. The pale hands released Chambers and sank back into the soil.
German jackboots surrounded his half-buried body. Heart pounding, he looked up at a unit of shadow soldiers. Lightning lit up the fog beyond them. Darkness cloaked their faces.
A stout soldier kneeled down, studying Chambers with eyes as cold and black as the deepest arctic waters. He looked back at his German platoon. The black-helmeted heads nodded. With a metallic hiss the stout Nazi drew a sword and drove the blade through Chambers’ heart…
Jack Chambers woke drenched in sweat.
He jolted up, searching his bedroom. The vestiges of his nightmare still moved around him, the past and present fused together. Jack clung to the bedsheets.
Outside the wind whispered, Grim Reaperrrr.
The dead sank back into their graves, bubbling down into the mud. Shadows of the German enemy retreated into the gloom of the past. The mist dissipated.
Just another nightmare, Jack. At eighty-three, you’re finally ready for the loony bin.
A sharp pain pierced his left arm, flaring like a chain of fire up his shoulder and across the left half of his chest. Jack doubled over, groaning, struggling for air. “Eva…”
His wife turned on the lamp. “What is it, Jack?”
Colonel Jack Chambers held a fist against his chest. “Call 911…my heart…”
War brings out the best in men and the worst in men.
Several decades have passed since World War II,
and I’m still trying to decide what it brought out in me.
—Colonel Jack Chambers, War Diary
Sean Chambers ran from his rental car to the front porch of Nana and Grandpa’s home. He rang the doorbell. Goldie, his grandparents’ golden retriever, was the first to greet him, barking at one of the foyer windows.
Inspecting the sun-baked yard and withered flower beds, Sean wiped sweat from his forehead. The merciless sun hovered at high noon, and the sweltering heat pasted his shirt to his back. He rang the doorbell a second time.
The front door opened, and his grandmother put a palm to her chest. “Sean, oh thank heavens, you made it.”
“Hey, Nana.” As he hugged her and kissed her cheek, Goldie circled their legs, barking. Sean peered into the den. “I came fast as I could. How’s Grandpa?”
Nana swatted at two flies buzzing around the doorway. “Recovering a bit slowly, I’m afraid. Nurse Ruby says he’s stable, but you know your grandfather. He’s a stubborn mule, that one. Bloody refuses to stay in bed.”
“So he’s awake then?”
Nana nodded, wrinkles deepening around youthful eyes. “Oh, yes, he’s been tinkering in the war room all morning. Come in out of that heat, love. I was just making some lemonade.”
Sean grabbed his suitcase, welcoming the rush of cool air. He followed Nana through the large den decorated with Texas flags, antique furniture and mounted deer antlers hanging over a flagstone fireplace. Nana’s watercolors of windmills, longhorns and armadillos donned the walls. Passing a well-equipped kitchen that smelled of fruit and herbs, Nana led Sean into a back study.
She tapped on the door. “Love, you have a visitor.”
Jack Chambers wheeled around, a paintbrush in one hand and a miniature soldier in the other. The army colonel’s once muscular frame had withered. But despite his gaunt face, Chambers’ green eyes were still full of spark. “How do, Sean?”
Forcing a smile, Sean walked into the study and shook his grandfather’s frail hand. “How are you doing, Grandpa?”
“Well, I’ve got a zipper on my chest and my golf game’s going straight down the toilet. Other than that life’s a peach.”
A golf cart drove past the back lawn, drawing his attention.
Sean took a seat across from his grandfather’s wheelchair. “Think you’ll get your game back?”
“Hey, I may be on the back nine, but I can still swing a club.” Chambers chuckled. “So how are Meg and the kids?”
“Fine. They’ll be here this weekend.”
“Good, can’t wait to see how Danny and Katie have grown. What’s it been, two years?”
Sean looked down. “Yeah.”
“Well, that’s too long. Nana and I aren’t getting any younger.”
Sean fidgeted. Even in a wheelchair, his grandfather’s steely gaze made him feel five years old. “I know. We’ve been busy with the move and all…but we’re stationed in New Mexico for a while, so we’ll be able to visit more.”
Sean stared around the room. The study’s walls were hung with framed World War II propaganda posters, black-and-white photos of soldiers, medals and patches and a gun cabinet displaying rifles and pistols from several wars. He walked to a large glass frame that encased two Bronze Stars, three Silver Stars, a Legion of Merit, Croix-de-Guerre, an American Campaign Medal and seven Purple Hearts. “Are these from World War II?”
“Nah, mostly from Korea and Vietnam. I’m planning on taking those down.”
“Just ready for a change.” Chambers wheeled himself over to his hobby table by the bay window. He picked up a miniature soldier and, grabbing a tiny brush, painted a red cross on the helmet. Behind him stretched a long table that resembled an aerial view of a forest made of model trees, rocks, hills, plastic streams and small villages composed of rubble. The forest was filled with hundreds of soldiers, along with tanks, trucks and artillery. Some soldiers had been meticulously painted army green, others Wehrmacht gray.
“Is that one of the battles you fought?”
Chambers remained silent, positioning hand-painted soldiers in the model forest.
“Sorry, sir, it’s none of my business.”
“No, it’s time you knew, Sean. This represents Germany’s Hürtgen Forest. Bloodiest battle I ever fought. Worse than Korea, Nam. We called these woods the Meat Grinder because they chewed up soldiers by the thousands. Rained every day, and the fog was so thick we could never see the enemy.” He pointed to a long chain of small white pyramids bordering the forest and fields. “These were the Dragon’s Teeth that formed the Siegfried Line separating Belgium from Germany. At first our tanks couldn’t get through, so our infantry fought the first wave in the worst hand-to-hand combat I ever saw.”
“Amazing you got out in one piece.”
“My platoon wasn’t so lucky. Sean, lock the door. I’ve got a special favor to ask.”
Chambers wheeled his chair over to a desk. He pushed the desk with all his might, his bald head flushing with the effort. The desk budged a couple of inches. He grunted with frustration.
Sean rushed to his aid. “Here, let me.” The boards squeaked as Sean shoved the desk three feet down the wall, revealing a square cutout in the wood floor.
Chambers removed the square panel. “Pull out that box.”
Sean reached into the hole. He pushed his hands through cobwebs and pulled out a dusty metal box. He looked at his grandfather quizzically.
Chambers wiped his brow, breathing heavily. “The combination is seven, nine, seven.”
Sean thumbed the combination and lifted the lid. Inside was a German map and a black diary bound with a leather cord.
Chambers looked at his grandson, his eyes now dark and cloudy. “The map shows where my platoon was buried in Germany. The diary explains what really happened to them. Deliver these to General Briggs at the U.S. Army base in Heidelberg.”
Chambers handed Sean a plane ticket.
“Germany? I don’t understand.”
“General Briggs owes me a favor.” Chambers grabbed his grandson’s wrist. “This is urgent. I’m putting a lot of trust in you, son. Just deliver the diary and map to General Briggs.”
Sean stared down at the diary and ticket. “All right, sir. I’ll do it.”
Six hours into the flight to Frankfurt, Sean Chambers sat in the first-class section, sipping a Sprite and staring down at the fold-down tray. Before him were the mysterious relics from Grandpa’s past—a war diary and a laminated map of Germany. Sean ran his fingers over the diary’s worn edges, the scent of old leather tempting him to explore the bound stories within.
He pushed the diary away. “It’s none of my business.”
Sean put on headphones and closed his eyes. Maybe Mozart could lull him to sleep. His fingers traced the leather cord that wrapped around the diary. They started to unravel the cord, then stopped. Exhaling, he yanked off the headphones and stared at the diary, rubbing his chin.
Sean unfolded the laminated map. An X indicated a region in western Germany near the Belgian border. On the back of the map, Grandpa had scribbled Catholic church graveyard beside an address in Richelskaul.
What could Grandpa have written to warrant a sudden trip to Germany?
Sean lifted the diary, and a black-and-white photograph slid partway out. He pulled out the photo, which showed a platoon of seven haggard soldiers. A few wore helmets. Some had smiles. One man held a cigarette clamped between his lips. Another had his arm around a buddy. A grinning, gap-toothed soldier lay lengthwise across the arms of the front soldiers, who held him up. Lieutenant Jack Chambers stood at one end of the group, his expression stoic. He was a handsome man in his day, with light brown hair and emerald green eyes. Compared to some of his compatriots, Jack looked medium built, with a slim, yet muscular six-foot frame. Even so, his piercing gaze demanded respect and admiration. Written on the backside of the photo was The Lucky Seven.
Sean put back the platoon photo and stared at the darkening sky outside his window. His mind retraced the details of how he would explain all this to General Briggs. What do I have to report really? All Grandpa did was give me a diary and a map with a list of gravesites. But what does it all mean?
Sean’s fingers took on a will of their own as they unraveled the leather cord. He opened the diary. The pages were stiff and yellow, like an aged newspaper. Water stains blotched the edges and speckled his grandfather’s handwritten words. Sean read a passage.
Nearly a month now we’ve been fighting in this godforsaken forest. The Green Hell. The Meat Grinder. I hate the very sight of it. Endless fir trees. Brutal terrain. Steep hills and rugged cliffs border Germany like a great wall. My platoon and I have been reconning day and night, trying to map out enemy positions.
Sean flipped the weathered pages, feeling guilty as he scanned the secret life his grandfather had always refused to talk about. What’s this? Toward the middle of the book, the words changed from English to Hebrew. Sean knew his family tree was laced with Christian and Jewish lineage. His parents had elected to teach a hybrid of both faiths and let Sean decide for himself. Although he was still searching for the right path, he was well versed in biblical history and, as a young boy, had learned to read Hebrew. But it didn’t make translating Grandpa’s diary any easier. The letters were Hebrew, but the text was completely undecipherable.
Interspersed amid the handwriting were crude drawings: a stylized cross, the Star of David, and a complex drawing of interconnected circles. Burning with curiosity, Sean flipped to the back of the book. He encountered a drawing of skeletal figures standing in a graveyard just as a hand tapped him on the shoulder. Sean jerked. An elderly man with a trimmed white beard stood in the aisle. “Excuse me, young man. I was wondering if I could have this aisle seat?” He pointed to it with a mahogany cane. “The man next to me is snoring like a buzz saw.”
Sean put away the diary and map.
Behind the thick bifocals, the elderly man’s light brown eyes squinted as he smiled. “Ah, thank you. I am growing far too old for such long flights.” He took several seconds to sit down, groaning with every movement. “My back’s not what it used to be.” He adjusted the knitted yarmulke on his head and pushed his glasses up the bump of his nose.
The plane hit a patch of turbulence, shaking the cabin from side to side.
“Oy! I wish they’d get past this mess.” The man buzzed a flight attendant. “Stacey, pardon me, but could I trouble you for another Bloody Mary?”
“No trouble at all, rabbi.” The blonde smiled at Sean. “How about you, flyboy?”
“How about some ice cream, then? I’ve got Oreo cookie.”
She winked at Sean. “Well, if you need anything at all, flyboy, just buzz me.”
The rabbi watched the flight attendant saunter down the aisle. “I think she was flirting with you. Must be your uniform.”
“Suppose so.” Sean slipped on his headphones, pretending to watch the in-flight movie.
The rabbi nudged his elbow. “Ah, if I was your age, Sean, I’d ask her to dinner.”
Sean held up his hand, wiggling the finger with the golden band.
“Yes, yes, same here.” The rabbi pulled out his wallet and showed a photo of a smiling elderly woman. “Just celebrated our fifty-seventh. Six kids, fourteen grandkids—”
“Wait, how do you know my name?”
“I heard the flight attendant say it.”
“No, she didn’t.”
“Oh, how clumsy of me.” The old man blushed. “I’d make a poor spy.” He offered his weathered hand. “I’m Rabbi Jacob Goldstein. Ring a bell?”
Sean kept his arms crossed.
The rabbi shook his head. “That son of a gun. Well, it’s good to know your grandfather can keep at least one secret.”
Sean glared as the old rabbi leaned forward on his cane.
“I served with your grandfather’s unit during World War II. He and I have stayed in contact. I know about the diary. Read it yet?”
“I’m not at liberty to discuss it.” Sean latched the briefcase and shoved it under the seat.
Goldstein looked down, his hands folded over the brass handle of his cane. “I was there.” Behind the bifocals, Goldstein’s magnified brown eyes glazed over. “Over fifty years ago, Jack and I witnessed an unspeakable horror. We made a pact to take our secret to the grave. When he told me he wrote the whole incident in his diary, I, well…” He pursed his lips. “Sean, you can’t let the army have that diary.”
Sean looked out the window.
The old man sighed. “How can I make you understand?”
“There is more to that diary than just a few missing soldiers. Do you believe in the supernatural, Sean? Do you believe there is a spiritual presence here on earth?”
Sean pinched his eyebrows together. “What are you driving at, Rabbi?”
Goldstein looked down at his aging hands. “What is buried should stay buried. Just hand the diary over to me. I’ll handle it from here. Tell your grandfather you took care of it. And we can all go on with our happy lives.”
Sean drew his feet tight against the briefcase.
Goldstein clamped his jaw and looked at the seat in front of him, brooding, then turned back, his pupils dilated. “Your grandfather is not thinking straight. If you turn in that diary to General Briggs…it will summon a military investigation. Do you know what that will mean to your family? You love Meg, do you not? Danny and Katie? Why risk it?” He looked away, his cheeks trembling.
A rash of goosebumps sprouted on Sean’s arms. “You leave my family out of this.”
Goldstein’s craggy face turned red. “I’m trying to protect your family.”
Sean looked the white-bearded man square in the eyes. “Rabbi, it’s time you returned to your seat.”
“You’re Jack Chambers’ grandson, all right.” He stood. “I just pray that between now and the time we land you will come to your senses and reconsider.”
The flight attendant returned with Goldstein’s drink. “Here you go, Rabbi.”
Goldstein stormed down the aisle. The flight attendant looked at Sean, befuddled. Seething, he stared out the window, dwelling on the pitch night sky.