Authors: Steve Berry
Tags: #Thrillers, #Men's Adventure, #Action & Adventure, #Fiction
Also by Steve Berry
The Amber Room
The Romanov Prophecy
The Third Secret
The Templar Legacy
The Alexandria Link
The Venetian Betrayal
The Charlemagne Pursuit
The Paris Vendetta
The Emperor’s Tomb
“The Balkan Escape”
The Devil’s Gold
is a work of fiction. Names, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
A Ballantine Books eBook Original
Copyright © 2011 by Steve Berry
The Jefferson Key
copyright © 2011 by Steve Berry
All rights reserved. Used Under Authorization.
Published in the United States by Ballantine Books, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
and colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.
This book contains an excerpt from the forthcoming book
The Jefferson Key
. This excerpt has been set for this edition only and may not reflect the final content of the forthcoming edition.
Cover design: Marc Cohen/Scott Biel
Jonathan Wyatt decided to wait before killing his target.
He’d followed Christopher Combs all across Chile, from one isolated village to the next, up into the mountains and back to the capital, wondering what the lying SOB was doing. To avoid exposure he’d stayed loose, well back from Combs, not making contact with any of the people his adversary had visited. Now his target was safely ensconced in an executive suite at the Ritz-Carlton—five hundred U.S. dollars a night, which raised a whole host of questions considering Combs’ government salary—the reservation confirmed for the next ten days. To add a further insult, Combs was currently lying in the hotel’s spa having the kinks in his fifty-eight-year-old back worked out.
That’s what he’d told himself for the past eight years.
But it was hard.
Wyatt had been known within the intelligence community as a man of few words. He spoke sparingly, on purpose, which many times forced others to talk too much. Silence was an acquired art he’d mastered, and he knew what they’d called him behind his back.
But he hadn’t cared.
And it mattered no longer.
His twenty-year career as an intelligence operative had ended eight years ago.
Thanks to Christopher Combs and Cotton Malone.
The latter brought the charges against him, which the former had assured would be quashed, calling the administrative hearing a mere formality. Two men had died in a bad situation. Malone blamed him for the deaths, calling them unnecessary and sacrificial. He’d resented both allegations. He and Malone had found themselves trapped, under fire, with three agents nearby who could help. He was the senior in charge so he made the call to bring them in, but Malone had objected. So he’d coldcocked Malone with the butt of his revolver and ordered them in anyway.
Malone filed an indictment.
And he hated him for it.
The glory boy of the Magellan Billet and Stephanie Nelle, its director. He’d heard the tales of commendations Malone refused, and how he could do little to no wrong. Ex-navy commander. Lawyer. Pilot. You name it, Malone could do it.
He’d even made a convincing witness against him.
And the admin board—empowered apparently to second-guess people in the field—heard the testimony of Malone and three others, then ruled that he had indeed acted recklessly.
He was summarily fired with a loss of all benefits.
Chris Combs had been his immediate supervisor. An assistant director soon to be, as Combs had privately boasted, a director. To be sure, Wyatt had verified that Combs was definitely next in line for promotion. He’d worked under Combs for five years, his own successes surely helping to fuel the other’s rise. Combs had repeatedly expressed his gratitude and told him that he’d need an assistant director. Twenty years of experience certainly qualified Wyatt. Moving up had always been in the back of his mind.
So the message had been clear.
We rise together.
But at the admin hearing, instead of backing him up, Combs sold him out, testifying that, in his opinion, a finding of recklessness was warranted.
Combs garnered his directorship.
Wyatt had been pink-slipped, spending the past eight years working contract jobs for various intelligence agencies in need of his experience but not his liability. They paid great, but were no substitute.
He wanted his career back. But that was gone.
Seemed that was all he had left.
And he’d been patient. Watching Combs. Waiting for the right moment.
Combs had taken two weeks’ leave and flown alone to Chile. Doing something outside the agency.
What exactly? He actually wanted to know.
So while Combs enjoyed himself at the Ritz-Carlton, and before he killed the bastard, he decided to find out.
He slowed the rental car as he drove into Turingia. The tiny Chilean hamlet’s claim to fame was a popular thermal spring. Placards announced that asthma, bronchitis, digestive disorders, even dry skin could be cured—all of course for a price.
He navigated around a busy central plaza.
An ocher-colored church rose at one end, flanked by an arcade of shops, the quaintness stained only by gangly electric-wire poles. A residential section, west of town, looked more like the English countryside with timbered houses, angled roofs, and flowery trees. He knew about the old woman because a few days ago he’d followed Combs to her house. She lived amid a stand of tall araucaria, their puffy pine boughs stretching toward the sky. The house was a two-story structure longing for paint, its gabled tin roof thick with rust. Two horses grazed within an enclosure. He eased the car down a bumpy lane and parked near a fence trellised with morning glories.
The front door was answered by a birdlike woman with burnished gray-gold hair. Forked veins lined her spindly arms, and liver spots dotted her wrists. She appeared to be pushing seventy, but there was a spry look in her hazel eyes. When he introduced himself her eyebrows rose in apparent amusement and she threw him a smile that featured teeth like a jack-o’-lantern.
She invited him inside, her English laced with German. He sat on a settee upholstered in pink velveteen, while she reclined in an oversized chair draped with a flowered slipcover.
He learned her name was Isabel.
“And what is it you want?” she asked him.
“You had a visitor a few days ago.”
“Oh, yes. He was a lively one.”
“What did he want?”
She studied him with a calculating gaze, a tremor rocking her right eye. Her breaths came in low wheezes. Only the tick of a clock disturbed the tranquility.
“The same as you, apparently,” she said. “You seem like a lively one, too.”
She was playing him. Okay. He could do the same. “Have you lived here a long time?”
“All my life. But my family is from Heidelberg. My parents came here after the war. My father erected this house. Built with one-third heart, one-third hands, one-third understanding.”
He smiled, trying to place her at ease.
“An old German wisdom,” she noted.
“Was your father a solider?”
“Heavens, no. He worked for the postal service. He felt that Germany would never be the same after the war, so he left. I daresay he was right.”
He decided to return to what he wanted to know. “What did Mr. Combs want with you?”
“He showed me two photographs, a man and a woman, and wanted to know if I knew the faces. I told him they once lived near Lago Todos los Santos, at the Argentina border.”
“Why were those pictures so important to him?”
The corners of her eyebrows turned down. “Why is his business yours?”
He decided honesty might work best. “He and I have a debt to settle.”
“I can see that. You try hard to conceal your thoughts, but in your face, your eyes, your meaning is clear. The Brown Eminence was the same.”
He did not understand.
“In France, centuries ago,” she said, “there was the Red Eminence. Cardinal Richelieu, the king’s chief minister. Richelieu’s assistant, Father Joseph, was known as the Gray Eminence. Like his superior, he was a shadowy figure, both adept at managing power. Red and gray referred to their robes.” She paused. “Brown was the color of Nazi uniforms. Martin Bormann was the Brown Eminence.”
He thought about what he knew of Martin Bormann. Which wasn’t much. Hitler’s private secretary. The gatekeeper to the Führer. Second most powerful man in the Third Reich.
“The man in the photograph Herr Combs showed me. He was the Brown Eminence, though by then he called himself Luis.”
“And the woman?”
“She called herself Rikka, though she was Hitler’s widow.”
That name he knew. Eva Braun. She married Hitler in April 1945, shortly before they both committed suicide in the Führerbunker.
“What are you saying?”
Her watery eyes conveyed a look of annoyance. “Herr Combs was not as surprised as you.”
“What did he say about your information?”
“Did he cheat you?”
This old woman was good. A simple question, out of the blue, intended to elicit an emotional response.
“He’s a liar.”
“I thought the same. He lied to me. But he wanted to know where the two in his photos had lived. His questions actually surprised me. There was a time when men searched for the Brown Eminence. No one cared about the widow, all thought she was dead. Few even knew her face or name. But him. That one many wanted. He was a quetrupillán.”
He did not recognize the term and asked what it meant.
“A local Chilean word,” she said. “Mute devil. A bit like yourself.”
He ignored her jab. “What happened to Bormann and Braun?”
“They eventually went to live where no one could find them.”
He realized that, decades ago, the world had been a different place. No satellites, television, global newspapers, or Internet. Hiding was much simpler, and many war criminals were successful at fading away.
Especially two people most of the world thought dead.
“Where did they go?”
She did not answer him.
“Did you ever speak of this before Combs’ visit?”
“No one has ever asked these questions. Why would anyone? I am an old woman living quietly. Who would even know I exist?”
“Then you must ask yourself. How was I found?”
He had no idea.
“You do not believe me?” she asked. “I see it in your eyes. You come to my home and ask these questions. I have answered honestly, yet you do not believe.”
What he believed mattered not. “What did Combs say to your answers?”
“He wanted corroboration. As I can see you do, too.” She slowly hinged herself up to her feet. “I’ll show you, as I did him.”
The day of Combs’ appearance Wyatt had waited down the highway, in the woods, where he could watch the driveway. Combs had stayed a little over an hour, then had driven back to Santiago. Wyatt had no idea what had happened during the visit.
Isabel shuffled toward the door. “Strange, though.”
He fixed his eyes on her as she stopped.
“You don’t look like a Nazi hunter.”
“But you are a hunter. That much I do know.”
He followed Isabel outside into a barn where farm equipment sat rusting in darkened shadows. Daws had chewed holes through the roof, and swallow nests occupied the crossbeams. From a rotting pile of cordwood a big gray cat greeted them with a long meow.
She shuffled toward an enclosure at the far end. A dirty dress hung from her spare frame like a coat on a nail, and rope-soled sandals covered her feet. She eased open a wooden door while old hinges screamed their resistance. Within a space about eight feet square, three trunks were stacked.
“Those have been here for decades,” she said.
He stepped inside. A mouse scurried away at his approach.
She smiled. “Evi loves the mice.”
He reached for the top trunk and opened the lid.
Dust cascaded off.
Inside lay an assortment of belongings. On top were clothes—a double-breasted windbreaker jacket, a pair of trench boots, and a swastika armband.
“I thought he was a civil servant,” Wyatt said as he continued to sift through the trunk.
“You could not expect to rise in the government unless you were a party member.”
He lifted out a heart-shaped silver gorget upon which was affixed a gilded eight-point sunburst. Farther down he came across a bandolier and some ragged gauntlets.
Then it dawned on him. “Your father was SS?”
He was beginning to dislike her tone.
He noticed a stack of mildewed coupons bound together with a piece of brittle string. He studied the top coupon. Two sig-runes were imprinted in the left-hand corner beside the words
, beneath which was the ominous designation
. At the lower right was the notation