My first novel. Written as a paean to a love affair with alternative history (also influenced by Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series long ago), two protagonists discover clues that WWII had originally turned out much differently in another time period, but in a way that sets humanity on an even more precarious path. A horrific choice had to be made; the linchpin being a general in the fledgling Luftwaffe, resulting in several atrocities including the Holocaust. One protagonist takes a one-way trip back in time while the other remains in the present, and two different stories unravel. This manuscript had several requests for readings from literary agents and ultimately was represented for a few years but unfortunately never found a publisher (hey, it happens). Someday, I plan to revisit it and try again.
In this sample, I tried to pick a chapter with a good mix of scene, characters and dialogue. Here our two main characters (Cheryl and Max, both Americans) are traveling with a couple of Cheryl’s friends (Francois and Jacques, both French). They’re running from the law in France, having been associated with several murders they did not commit, and have recently crossed the border into Germany. Knowing that Interpol is now looking for them, they’ve stopped at an Autobahn rest stop where Cheryl uses scissors and a razor in a poor attempt to alter their appearances. They’ve also just captured a mysterious figure who's been following them. What I like about this chapter is just when they’re about to be pulled over by the German Autobahnpolizei, Max uses his limited German and the unconscious Mossad agent to evade capture via the universal language of soccer. The lesson: rivalries are the same everywhere.
“Come on, brother. Sleep time is over. Réveiller. Réveiller.” Francois straddled the man’s chest and lightly slapped him on both cheeks, causing his head to roll from one side to the next. A large bump was forming on his left temple.
Cheryl stared down at the man lying on the van floor. “Good grief, Francois. Did you have to hit him that hard? You could have given him a concussion.”
“He is fine. But he needs to wake. I have some questions.”
“And I need for you to hold still, or you may lose an ear.” She was shearing handfuls of unruly hair from his scalp. She glared at the cheap scissors purchased at the rest stop commissary. I don’t need these, she thought. What I need is a chainsaw.
Jacques reached over and clamped the man’s nostrils shut with his fingers. A few seconds later the man started to cough and twisted his head from side to side. The thrashing was accompanied by a weak command. “Va-t’en. Va-t’en.”
“He speaks French at least,” Francois said. The stranger began to relax again, drifting off to sleep. “Oh no,” Francois ordered, and he grabbed the man at the forehead and shook vigorously. “Réveiller!”
The man opened his eyes and saw Francois. He began to struggle. “Allez vous faire foutre!” Realizing he was pinned, he finally stopped and stared back at the other faces looking down at him.
Cheryl pointed to the man’s forehead. Her expression was serious, but sympathetic. “Comment ça va?”
The man nodded feebly. “Ça va.”
“Do you speak English?”
The man nodded again.
“Who are you?”
“Why are you following us?”
“Why’s Flavio having you follow us?”
“I do not know anyone named Flavio. I am supposed to follow you. That is all.”
“How long have you been doing this?”
“Since the inn. At Vallon Pont d’Arc.” The man closed his eyes, wincing from the growing knot on his head. “Understand this—someone else is also looking for you. I don’t know who. But they are serious. You are in danger.”
“How do you know?” Francois asked.
The man opened his eyes and looked at him. “Because people like me do not get assigned for anything less.”
Francois, Jacques, and Cheryl silently looked from one to another. Then the side door rolled opened and Max bounded into the seat next to Jacques, pulling the door shut behind him.
“I finished going through his car. Our friend has some interesting baggage.” Max began pulling out items from a duffel bag. “Passport.” He handed the small blue book to Cheryl.
She flipped it open. “Uriel Metzer. From Tel Aviv, Israel.” She snapped it shut and handed it to Jacques, then turned to look at the man on the floor. “Nice to meet you, Uriel. You probably know us already, but I’ll make introductions anyway. I’m Cheryl. The man sitting on you is Francois. That’s Jacques in the seat. And that’s Max next to him.”
“Hi, Uriel,” the others said, like a class welcoming a new student.
Max chuckled and went back to the duffel bag. “You know, this would be really cool if he wasn’t stalking us. Night-vision binoculars. Ten-point-three megapixel camera. Separate telephoto lens. I know some freelance photographers who’d drool over this.”
Max reached back into the bag. “But that’s not all, Bob,” he said in an exaggerated game-show host voice. He carefully brought up a dark, angular handgun with a bent wire stock folded against it. “This was packed in his bag. And this was under the front seat.” In his other hand Max held up a smaller, serious-looking handgun.
Francois nodded. “That one. With the folded stock. Micro-Uzi. Automatic, short range. Good for scaring people. The other, a compact Walther. Very dependable.” Francois shifted his attention to the man pinned beneath him. “Both guns also favored by military and secret service groups. You are Israeli. Isayeret? Mossad?”
The man looked away, saying nothing.
“Je m’en branle. We will get nothing out of this bastard.” Francois looked to Max. “Pack everything. We will take it all, including those guns. Was there anything else?”
“Some clothes, minor stuff. Cell phone. Also a plastic bottle with some orange pills in it. It was wedged in the front passenger seat.”
“Orange pills?” Cheryl turned to the man. “Uriel, what are they? Do you need them?”
He shook his head slowly, suddenly looking very tired. “Amphetamines. For staying awake. That is all.”
Cheryl turned to Francois. “Do you think we really need those guns? We’ve already got one. I don’t want any more trouble than we’re already in.”
“Ma chère, if that detective Ascone was telling the truth and those two police officers were murdered, the bullets may match one of these guns. And we can prove our innocence.”
The strange man looked to Francois. “The two officers from the church in Vacheresse?”
Francois snorted. “I suppose you know nothing about it. They were found shot in the head. And the police think we did it.”
“I watched you put them in the trunk of the car,” the man said. “Then I followed you. Somebody else killed those men.” He closed his eyes. “Whatever your secret, it is serious. And deadly.”
The others all looked to one another in silence.
The Autobahn police seemed to be circulating like angry bees every kilometer. Speeding, searching, sniffing for a scent. A patrol car spotted the blue Peugot with French rental plates heading northeast and began to follow. The two officers noticed three occupants. All men. The radio call had mentioned four suspects. Three men and a woman. They decided to investigate.
The police car sped up until it was even with the car, effectively blocking both lanes as the two officers studied the interior. The driver was male, his hair in a crewcut. Next to him was an olive-skinned man, fast asleep. He wore a red, black, and yellow knit skullcap with the logo of the German national soccer team, Deutschland Weltmeister, pulled down low on his forehead. And in the back was a large bald man, with a clean-shaven face like a giant baby. He was leaning against the door, his arms folded, seemingly asleep.
The female officer on the passenger side leaned up to the glass. She then turned toward her partner and shook her head. A conversation ensued, and her partner pointed to the trunk of the car. The female officer nodded, then began lowering her window.
The Peugot driver lowered his window. Before the female officer could say anything, the Peugot driver began to shout—the word Frankreich over and over again, with the driver bobbing his head and pumping his right hand. He then swatted the sleeping man next to him, hitting him in the chest so that the man jerked, then fell back into unconsciousness. He pointed toward the skullcap with the soccer team logo and motioned a thumbs-down sign.
The male driver of the police car grinned and leaned across. His Bist du verrückt? was parried with a Verzieh dich!, and soon other good-natured taunts were being thrown back and forth between the cars.
The large man in the back began to smile. He knew the universal language of soccer had no borders, only allegiances. The driver of the blue Peugot waved the flat of his hand in mock disgust as now both officers were chanting Deutschland in a syncopated rhythm. The police car finally sped up, with the female officer wiggling her fingers out the window as they accelerated away.
Max looked into the rearview mirror. He met Francois’ eyes and they shared a silent look of relief. The man called Uriel hadn’t woken up. And Jacques and Cheryl were still safe in the trunk. The two men also shared a look of understanding.
They’re looking for us now.
(Patrick Stuart; sample from novel, 1310 words)