Book 2 in the Jack Turner Suspense Series
How was it that just being in a certain place could give you the creeps? Jack Turner never understood it.
He wasn’t superstitious. He was a rational, level-headed guy with a fairly disciplined mind. Nevertheless, he was on his way to check out a lakeside cabin after selling another perfectly good cabin on the same lake less than three miles away.
Just one reason.
The other cabin gave him the creeps.
They’d start the moment Jack would drive onto the property and intensify by degrees the closer he got to the front door. Once inside, the tension would become almost unbearable. Jack hadn’t even been there when the murder was committed. The first time he had actually been inside the cabin, everything had been cleaned up. But he had seen the crime scene photos and video. And Sergeant Joe Boyd, the officer in charge of the case, had explained what happened. In detail.
Jack could see it all in his mind; imagine the entire scenario as it unfolded that crazy day and night almost one year ago. He could see where the body lay, a single gunshot wound to the chest. The dead stare in the eyes. He could feel the fear the victim must have felt in the moments before the fatal shot. Hed known the same fear when the same killer had come after him.
As bad as it was, some good had come out of the tragedy. Jack had inherited the dead man’s condominium and his cabin on Lake Sampson.
The cabin that gave him the creeps.
After a few months, Jack had been able to sell it to a trio of fishermen who could care less about its history. He decided to use the money to buy another one. There were hundreds of them in the hills and lakes around Culpepper.
“Turn right in one-quarter mile. Your destination is on the right.” The GPS lady’s voice interrupted Jack’s thoughts.
He looked at the screen then at the row of trees on his right, expecting an opening to appear. It did. A moment later, she stated the obvious, and he turned right. She failed to mention it was a dirt road. Jack hated dirt roads. He wasn’t driving a pickup but a BMW sedan. The car vibrated through the first fifty yards until the road began to smooth out. It stayed smooth until he passed a dirt road on the left. He kept driving till he reached a clearing. The cabin was on the right, a beautiful unobstructed view of the lake on the left.
As he did, his phone rang. It was Rachel. “Hey, Rach. What a nice surprise.”
“Well, I had a few minutes before my next class. Thought I’d take a chance and see if I could reach you.” Rachel Cook was attending Culpepper University. Once again as a student. She’d worked there a few years after getting her bachelor’s as a professor’s assistant but was now studying for her Master’s.
“I’m glad you did,” Jack said. “I actually just pulled up at the cabin a few seconds ago.”
“How is it?”
“Haven’t gone in yet, but the outside’s nice. Definitely bigger than the other one. Doesn’t look like anyone has lived here in a while.” He stepped onto a porch that wrapped around the front and side. “No evidence of a woman’s touch.”
“Why do you say that?”
“No wind chimes or little gnomes. No potted plants or flowers.” Something caught his eye about twenty yards away. He stepped off the porch. “Wow, I like this.”
“What? What is it?”
“I’m seeing you and me about two months from now when the evenings cool down, sitting here on these two adirondack chairs facing the water. A fire pit right in front of them. Two cups of hot chocolate.”
“I like the sound of that, but will you still be out there two months from now? I thought you were only leasing the cabin for a month.”
“You’re right. I am. But if this little getaway goes smoothly, and if the cabin looks this nice on the inside, I might just buy it. The owner really wants to sell, but he was open to the idea leasing it to me for a month, to see if I like it.”
“It’s going to be hard not seeing you for a month,” she said.
“Who said anything about not seeing each other?”
“I thought you were on this retreat with strict orders to get your doctoral dissertation hammered out.”
“Not the whole thing, just the main outline. Maybe the first few chapters. I’ll need some peace and quiet for that. But that’s why I came out here. To get away from all the hassles at the school, not you.”
“I’m glad. So when should I come out?”
“How about tonight? Give me a couple hours to get set up.”
“No, not tonight. That’s too soon. That’ll get you started off on the wrong foot. You really need to get this dissertation going. Last week, you went on and on about how much pressure the school’s putting on you to get it started. Your publisher, too.”
When the school had offered Jack his old Professor’s slot, it was with the understanding that Jack would finish his doctorate. He’d completed half the course work two years ago before coming to Culpepper, then completed the second year of classes this past year…while teaching three of Thornton’s classes. But he hadn’t any time to work on his doctoral dissertation. “You’re right. Okay, I’ll behave. But seriously, I didn’t set up this retreat to take a break from you. You are not a distraction. Well, maybe you are. But a good one.”
“So, have you figured out what the dissertation is going to be about?”
“I’ve narrowed it down to three things. My goal in the first few days is to get it down to one.”
“Well let’s make that our goal then. I’ll come out when you finalize your topic. What three things are you wrestling with?”
“They’re all World War II related.” Jack’s first two published books were about World War II. That’s what his publisher wanted for his next book, too. “One idea contrasts the success we had rebuilding Japan and Germany after the war compared to the total failure of trying to rebuild Iraq. Another explores why German technology was so much more advanced than ours, and why none of it helped them win the war.”
“Those sound promising. What’s the third one?”
“It’s a little different and, oddly enough, the one I’m leaning toward. It’s about Dresden.”
“Dresden? Okay…why? The other two make some sense to me. What could you say in a dissertation about Dresden?”
“See? Your reaction proves it. It’s a fairly obscure topic. That could be a plus. A way to help it stand out in a crowd. You probably haven’t heard hardly anything about Dresden, have you?”
“Maybe a little. I think we bombed it or something during the war, right?”
“We more than bombed it. We literally burned it to the ground, killed tens of thousands of civilians in the process. Ever heard of Kurt Vonnegut?”
“I think we read one of his books in a class.”
“Probably Slaughterhouse Five?” Jack said.
“Well, he wrote that partly about Dresden. He was there during the fire-bombing as a POW, witnessed all the horrors that occurred after. But hardly anyone’s ever heard anything about it. It’s almost a forgotten chapter of the war’s history. To me, it’s one of the most intriguing and tragic stories to ever come out of World War II.”
“Well, I’m sure you’ll make the whole thing come alive. Anyway, I better get going. Call me again, soon.”
February 13th, 1945
Some say life is not measured by the multitude of our days, but by the most significant moments in our experience. Whether good or bad. For Luther Hausen, there was only ever one moment that mattered. One day by which all other days were measured. And it wasn’t a good day. It was beyond bad. The very definition of horror.
The day began late in the afternoon as Luther walked with his big brother Ernst along the Augustus-Brucke, a wide bridge that crossed the river Elbe. Luther was eight years old, Ernst twelve. They were on their way to the beautiful Altmarktto meet their sister, Eva, who worked in a bakery there. Eva was twenty-eight. Luther thought she was very pretty. Having Eva was like having two mothers. She always treated him well. Ernst was just alright as big brothers go. At the moment, he was pulling too hard on Luther’s arm.
“We don’t have time to stop and watch the boats.” Ernst didn’t look back as he spoke.
“I wasn’t looking at the boats. I just wanted to rest a minute. I’m running out of breath.”
“We can’t rest either, Luther, or we’ll be late. Mother said we must be on time to meet Eva. She doesn’t know we’re coming, remember? If she leaves before we get there we’ll never find her in this crowd.”
“Would you let go? You’re hurting my arm.”
“I’m sorry,” Ernst said. “But you see these crowds. Do you know what would happen if we got separated? I’d never find you. One of these strangers would walk off with you and then—”
“Why would they do that?” Luther said.
“Never mind. Just keep up.” Ernst looked back, gave him a quick smile. They were almost completely across the bridge now.
Luther looked ahead toward the Altmarkt, the beautiful big buildings on either side of Schlossstrasse. Just to the right was the big Catholic cathedral, the Hofkirche. Luther had never seen the inside. Mother said Protestants weren’t allowed. Beyond that was Hausmannsturm, the Palace Tower.
Eva was so lucky to work in the town center. It was such an exciting place. The Altmarkt was often crowded, but today there seemed to be more people than ever. And they all looked so poor. “Who are all these people, Ernst? Where have they come from?”
“They are called refugees. I don’t know where they’re from. From all over, I suppose.”
“Why are they here?”
“Because they have nowhere else to go. Their towns have been destroyed by bombs or else taken over by the Russians. They come here because Dresden is the only safe place to go. They know the bombers never come here.”
“Will they live here forever now…in the streets?”
“No. Someday our mighty Luftwaffe will rid the skies of all these Allied planes. And the Wehrmacht will drive the Russians back to wherever they came from. Then all these people can return to their homes.”
“Stupid boy!” A harsh voice came from out of nowhere.
Luther and Ernst turned to face an older boy leaning against a brick building. His face and clothes were dirty, his coat sleeve torn. Trash gathered at his feet. “What did you say?” Ernst said.
Luther suddenly felt afraid. The boy stood straight. He was bigger than Ernst.
“I said you are a stupid boy. The mighty Luftwaffe, did you say? The Luftwaffe is gone. The Brits and American bombers do as they please now with no one to stop them. The war is lost.”
“You’re wrong!” Ernst shouted. “What kind of German talks this way?”
“I’m not wrong. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. The Allies bombed my city and not a single Luftwaffe plane rose to meet them. Then the Red Army came and chased us away. Soon we’ll all be speaking Russian. That is, if they don’t kill us first. You wait and see.”
“You are a traitor to The Reich,” Ernst yelled.
Luther was angry, too. This boy shouldn’t say such things about The Fatherland.
“What do you know?” The older boy stepped closer to Ernst. “I see the way you look at me, like I’m some kind of street rat. Back home, before the bombers and Russians came, we had a large house¾with lots of servants. People like your mother probably did our laundry.”
That was it. Luther didn’t even think, he just walked up and kicked the boy in the shin.
“Ow! You little¾” The boy grabbed Luther’s shirt.
Ernst didn’t hesitate. He punched the boy hard in the stomach. The boy doubled over. Ernst grabbed Luther’s arm. “Run Luther¾now.” They took off. Luther heard a loud thump. Ernst groaned but kept running.
“Come back here, cowards,” the boy yelled. “Go ahead then, run away. But remember what I said…you’ll be on the streets next.”
After running a full block, they slowed down. “What was that thumping sound, Ernst?” They started walking normally.
“He punched me in the back.”
“Are you all right?”
“I’ll be fine.”
“Thanks for saving me.”
“He had it coming. You just got to him first.” Ernst rubbed his head and smiled. “We showed him, didn’t we?”
“We sure did,” Luther said. “He shouldn’t have said those things about Mother. Or The Fatherland.”
“There’s Eva’s store up ahead,” Ernst said. “Don’t tell her about this, she’ll just get upset and tell Mother.”
They walked a few moments in silence, weaving through the crowd. Ernst gripped Luther’s arm again. “Ernst, do you think what that boy said is true? Could the bombers come here next?”
“No, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He’s just bitter from living on the street too long. Has our town ever been bombed, in all the years since the war started?”
Luther shook his head no. They’d often heard air raid sirens go off, but nothing ever happened.
“And it never will,” Ernst said. “I heard an old man say we have some kind of deal with the British. They have an historic town in England, called Oxford. It has all kinds of architectural landmarks like us. The deal is, our planes don’t bomb Oxford, and their planes won’t bomb Dresden.”
“What did that boy mean about the Russians coming soon? The Russians are bad, aren’t they?”
“Very bad. But they can’t come here, either. The Wermacht will make sure of that. Herr Goebels said so on the radio. We have nothing to worry about.”
Luther felt much better. “Ernst, how much longer before we win the war? Father has been gone so long.” If it wasn’t for the picture over the fireplace, Luther wasn’t sure he’d remember what their father looked like.
“It can’t be that much longer,” Ernst said. He didn’t look at Luther as he said this.
He never looked at Luther when he spoke of their father.
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