A Berlin thriller, “Blood Summit” is set around a terrorist siege of the Reichstag in Berlin. I wrote it from my Foreign Office experience.
Welcome to the opening chapters of my Berlin thriller, Blood Summit.
I wrote Blood Summit from my personal experience in the Foreign Office, after years of working on real terrorist incidents and with real intelligence agencies. This included a lengthy period in the counter-terrorism department of the Foreign Office. I have exercised with special forces and fired live rounds at their training facilities. This is the real thing.
What if the leaders of the eight most powerful countries in the world were taken hostage by terrorists, who then started executing them live on-line in a facility designed to be impregnable?
What if you knew how to stop the slaughter, but no-one would listen to you and those you loved were amongst the hostages?
Praise for Blood Summit – a Berlin thriller
“Hugely entertaining” – thriller writer John Connolly.
“Utterly gripping: I devoured it” – Edmund de Waal, author of “The Hare with Amber Eyes”
“Blood Summit is a cracker. Pimm has hit the ground running” – Matthew Parris.
You can find Blood Summit on Amazon as a paperback or, for instant download, an e-book. For a sample, read on.
BLOOD SUMMIT – A BERLIN THRILLER
Two years earlier
Children played in the street outside her door. Turkish, Uli Wenger guessed from their dark skin and bright clothes. He walked around them. The first insect Uli ever killed had been a child. Today, he had more important business.
Dirt and spray paint decorated the surface of the door. Sixteen buzzers studded the wall. The target lived on the third floor. Uli pressed the button by her name.
The intercom crackled. ‘Yes?’
‘Post,’ Uli said. ‘A package.’
‘OK.’ The door popped open.
Cool dark air, and a smell of damp stone, streamed from the hallway to meet him. Two bicycles stood against a wall. Uli climbed the stairs. At the second floor, he took from his shoulder-bag a cardboard carton and a blue and yellow postman’s jacket. He trudged up the final flight and rang the bell.
This was the moment. If another door on the landing opened, Uli would walk back down the stairs. He counted the seconds. She stood behind the door. She looked at him through the spy-hole.
The door opened.
‘Hello, is that – ’
Uli Wenger barged into the apartment and wrapped his arm around the target’s face, crushing her nose and mouth. He reached for the knife at his belt. He had used it twice today already.
But unlike the men whose throats Uli had cut that morning, the woman did not struggle. She stood a head shorter than him, wiry and angular. He never relaxed his grip. Suddenly she dropped to the floor, a dead weight. He staggered. In that instant, she hooked one leg behind his and threw herself backwards.
Self-defence classes, Uli thought as he fell. It would make no difference. His head smashed into the bare floorboards. The woman landed on top of him. He lashed out with his free hand. His fist connected with her head, a solid, satisfying blow.
Uli jumped up. The woman scrambled to her feet and backed away. He edged towards her, senses alert. She would be dead in sixty seconds. Behind her, on a poster on the wall, a man in a tunic brandished a sword at an army of skeletons. The image meant nothing to Uli. He held his knife forward, ready to slash her throat. She must not scream. His fall had made too much noise already. The neighbours might be calling the police.
But the woman did not cry out. She lifted her hand to a drop of blood at the corner of her mouth. When she spoke, not fear but anger filled her voice.
‘What is this? Are you crazy?’
Panic pulsed through Uli. Could she know his history? His weakness? But that was impossible. Only Mouse had known, and she was dead. He hesitated, gripping the knife in his hand.
‘Leave me alone!’ An order. But then she made a mistake. ‘Please.’
The spell broke. Uli stepped forward. She tried to trip him again, but this time he was ready: when she reached out her foot, he grabbed her and threw her down. She gasped as she hit the floor. He fell on her, pressing his hand over her mouth and slamming the knife into the carotid triangle at the base of her neck. When he jerked the blade free, a torrent of blood rewarded him. For twenty seconds, he held her. Then he knelt, and cleaned the knife on her shirt.
The woman blinked.
‘Why?’ she whispered. ‘Why kill me?’
Uli did not know the answer. His employer had named today’s targets without giving a reason. The objective might be to test the efficiency with which Uli killed – or something else.
He shrugged. ‘Do you not know?’
Her eyes widened, but she could not speak.
‘I do not know either,’ Uli said. ‘And I do not care.’ He waited a few seconds longer, with his hand on her pulse. Then he rose and left the apartment.
Helen Gale was briefing the ambassador on the Children’s Summit when the first rock hit the window.
‘The Prime Minister flies in at 1500 tomorrow,’ she said. ‘The trouble is, Air Force One is due at 1450. Obviously, the German Federal Chancellor won’t have time to greet the President of the United States at the airport.’
‘Who wants to meet a child in a sandpit?’ the ambassador said.
‘The President’s been called worse things.’
‘Not by the Chancellor. After a speech on US foreign policy. When someone’s left the microphone on.’
‘So now the big story is when they’ll kiss and make up.’ Helen shook her head. ‘Not literally, more’s the pity.’
‘Any idea who the Germans will send to greet the PM?’
‘No,’ Helen said. ‘The No.10 press office insist on a cabinet minister at least.’
‘They insist? Bully for them.’ Sir Leonard Lennox ran his fingers through the white thicket of his hair, making it wilder than ever. ‘And won’t you say three p.m.? We’re not soldiers. Though sometimes I wish we – ’
‘What the hell is that?’ The ambassador jumped up.
‘Stay away from the window.’
Two stars punctuated the wall of bandit glass fronting the street. Helen fought the urge to run and look out. Remember Paris. She didn’t want to be diced alive by flying shards if a bomb went off outside. But the ambassador already stood there.
‘If they had a bomb they’d not be throwing stones, would they?’ The lowland burr was calm. ‘The police are moving in already.’
‘What about the intelligence warnings?’ Helen said. ‘We know G8 targets are under threat.’
‘We can’t bolt for cover each time GCHQ eavesdrops on a seditionist.’ The ambassador shook his head. ‘Come and have a look-see. It’s not every day we’re attacked by a mob.’
Salvos of stones rattled against the toughened glass. Because the panes grew in size from one end of the ambassador’s office to the other, each impact had a different tone, like a monstrous xylophone.
Helen covered the distance to the window in three strides. ‘When the ambassador instructs a lowly first secretary to break the rules, she must obey.’
‘Don’t give me that nonsense, Helen. You don’t know what rules are.’
Thousands of faces stared up at them through the summer rain. JOBS NOT BOMBS, a banner read. GLOBALISATION WITHOUT US. Most of the protesters seemed peaceful. A child on someone’s shoulders carried a placard reading CHILDREN’S SUMMIT: JUST SAY NO. Helen smiled. If you took politics seriously, you’d go mad. Like the people across the street. Dozens of masked figures tore up the cobblestones and flung them at the embassy building. At her, Helen Gale. A phalanx of police officers pushed towards them through the crowd.
How could the stone-throwers be so sure they were right? Helen’s own life held no such certainties. Eight months earlier, she had been unsure whether to move to Berlin. Only Nigel’s refusal to leave London had convinced her she must go to Germany. He had told her to quit her job, stay with him, and start a family.
Helen had longed to throw herself into the arms of the only man she had ever loved. She had also wanted to slam the door on the only man who sometimes roused her to hatred. At last, she had come to Berlin, despising Nigel for not understanding her, and despairing at herself for not making him understand. The crowd streamed past below. Did she belong inside the building looking down? Or out in the street, looking up?
‘How much longer will the glass hold?’ The ambassador might have been asking when the rain would stop.
‘In theory, it’s fine. But I’d hate any demonstrators to be injured by one of their own rocks falling on their heads. I’ll call Dieter Kremp.’
‘The most arrogant man in Berlin? Good luck.’
‘I like confidence in a man, up to a point. But you – ‘ Helen wagged her finger at the ambassador as she gave the mock order ‘ – must get away from the window. I’m telling you in my official capacity as Post Security Officer.’
‘Yes, miss.’ The ambassador raised his considerable eyebrows but did not move. As Helen reached for her phone, the door burst open.
Jason Short, Head of Political Section and Deputy Head of Mission, was Helen’s boss. His stature was, indeed, limited: in an embassy where everyone used first names, most people called him Mr Short. He owned a colossal collection of fitted suits and silk ties and had long, thinning hair, like an ageing rock star. Short always yearned to impress Sir Leonard Lennox. The Summit would coincide with a decision in London on the appointment of the next British ambassador to Bangkok – a job to which Short aspired. Unfortunately for Helen, Jason saw office politics as a zero-sum game where the best way to look good was to make everyone else look as bad as possible.
He stared at her.
‘What are you doing here? Don’t you know there’s a riot on?’
‘I am aware, yes,’ Helen said.
‘You’re Post Security Officer. You should be talking to the staff, reassuring them.’
‘I’m trying to call Dieter Kremp at the Summit Security Unit.’ Helen held up the phone. ‘If you’ll give me a moment.’
‘Phoning your boyfriend?’
Short avoided eye contact, focusing on a point around Helen’s neck. Was he looking at the cornflowers on her cotton dress? Or staring at her breasts? She turned to Leonard Lennox.
‘Ambassador, we’re in your way here. Shall I make this call from my office?’
The ambassador shrugged. ‘You’re not in my way. Speed is of the essence.’
Something happened, like a colossal thunderclap above Helen’s head. She winced and brought her hands up to her ears. The lights dimmed. The computer on the ambassador’s desk clicked, flickered and began to re-boot.
The ambassador. Helen whirled round. Only a single tiny aperture interrupted the span of the toughened windows. Sir Leonard Lennox turned towards her. The top of his head had changed. Blood streamed down, dripping from his chin onto his shirt. He lifted a hand to his forehead and fell to his knees.
‘A bomb,’ he said. ‘I think I’m hurt.’
Not accident but design made Uli Wenger invisible. He wore the best disguise in Berlin. Only one person in the crowd could recognise him. She would never tell a soul.
More marchers appeared. The merciless punctuality made planning easy. Uli was in control. In thirty-six hours, he would hold a knife to the throat of the world. A few hours after that, the world would embrace him as its saviour.
Two minutes to go. Uli turned in his pocket the old D-mark coin Gustav had given him. The big man believed the euro currency had debased the fatherland. Uli cared nothing about Germany and the D-mark, but he had taken the coin. Gustav and Martha were the most reliable killers in his Chaos Team.
Thunder exploded above him. Rain filled the air. Uli stood at the corner of Unter den Linden and waited. He must have line of sight. The demonstrators filled the road, trudging like a column of ants through the indifferent city. Flanking the procession, police officers sweltered in rain capes. The protesters carried banners. Something about unemployment. The US President in a sandpit with a missile in each hand. People hated the Americans because they seemed powerful. But sometimes power bred weakness. It only took one man to change history.
A squad of trouble-makers in combat boots, their faces masked, started prising up the fist-sized cobblestones that made Berlin a rioter’s dream. Uli’s eyes narrowed. This was not part of the plan. If the police stepped in, they would disrupt the demonstration. Where was she? He scanned the crowd as the first stones flew towards the British embassy.
There. The trim figure looked out of place in the sullen mob. Her back was straight, her gaze fierce. And she was meant to be invisible. Uli cursed silently. He had chosen her to work with him. He had been wrong. If he needed any more proof, this botched surveillance was it. Now to turn a problem into a solution.
The day-bag on the woman’s shoulder was fitted with a pinhole-lens video surveillance camera and two spare batteries weighing six hundred and fifty grams in total. It also contained, Uli knew, a half-litre bottle of Evian water that, when full, had weighed a further five hundred grams. By contrast, the military-grade C4 plastic explosive and radio-controlled detonator sewn into the lining of the bag weighed less than one hundred grams in total. It was a tiny bomb, but more than adequate to do the job. It lay against the target’s upper body.
The woman saw him. She looked puzzled. Uli put his other hand in his pocket. It would be better if she were closer to the embassy. But that was a secondary objective. He closed the contact and stepped around the corner into Pariser Platz.
The roar of the explosion in the narrow street was immense. A long moment of silence followed. Then the screaming started.
Uli Wenger had killed two birds with one stone.
Jason Short ran across the ambassador’s office and stood over Leonard Lennox.
‘Are you all right, sir?’
‘Of course he’s not all right,’ Helen said. ‘We must stop the bleeding.’ She grabbed a cloth from under a vase of flowers on a side-table, folded it, and pressed it against the wound.
‘Can you hold that in place?’
The ambassador nodded. ‘Yes.’
Helen dialled a number. ‘Ram? The ambo’s injured. Come.’
‘It wasn’t a big bomb,’ Sir Leonard Lennox said. ‘The bandit glass is intact. Maybe a bit of shrapnel hit me.’
A small bomb. The ambassador had a point. They wouldn’t be standing here if a car bomb had exploded. Yet who would attack a building with a hand-carried bomb in the street outside? It made no sense. And what about the protest?
‘My God,’ she said. ‘The demonstrators!’
‘At least they’ve stopped throwing stones.’ Short smirked.
‘We must evacuate the building,’ Helen said. ‘And call London.’
‘I’ll phone,’ Short said.
Ram Kuresh bustled into the room, a red plastic medical kit in his hand. He looked at the ambassador.
‘Out of the way, Mr Short,’ he said. ‘This is a job for trained hands.’ The first-aider radiated calm. He turned to the Leonard Lennox. ‘You poor thing. Let me look at that.’
The Tannoy crackled into life. ‘This is Eric Taylor, chief security officer. A bomb has exploded outside the embassy. Please leave the building and assemble in the courtyard.’
‘Probably a bomb there too, primed to go off in five minutes.’ Colour returned to Short’s cheeks. He straightened his silk tie. ‘What does Helen think? Our Post Security Officer? Should we go out?’
Helen paused a beat. She’d always been fond of Balfour’s dictum that nothing mattered very much and few things mattered at all. But this was different.
‘The courtyard is secure,’ she said. ‘Eric knows best.’ She turned to Ram. ‘What’s happening in the annex?’
‘Our rooms are clear.’ Ram continued to fuss over bandages. ‘A few people stopped to put their papers away, I’m afraid.’ The SIS office, of which he was the only avowedly gay member, was in a self-contained suite of rooms behind an old-fashioned Cambridge door. To ask the spooks to leave their papers out would be like telling the Pope to skip mass.
‘Will the ambassador make it down the stairs?’
‘He will. With luck, it is only a flesh wound, but we must get it checked. Heads bleed like crazy.’
Helen looked at Short, who had not moved. ‘Are you calling London?’
‘Helen. Try to stay calm.’ Short took out a phone and peered at the screen as if trying to recall its purpose. ‘I’m taking care of it.’
Leaving Short to report the bomb made Helen uneasy. She left the room and descended the grand staircase to the exit.
The courtyard of the embassy formed a grey granite chasm used as a turning circle for visiting vehicles. Bedraggled embassy staff filled the space, clustering around floor wardens in the rain. Helen moved among them, checking everyone was accounted for.
Her phone rang.
‘Helen. Blore here. Are you all OK?’
‘Yes, all good thanks. But wide awake. Did you hear it?’
‘Loud and clear.’ The US embassy, where Blore Harl worked, stood around the corner. ‘I guess this confirms the warnings.’ He meant the secret intelligence they had both seen.
‘But a crowded street is a soft target,’ Helen said. ‘No-one’s allowed within half a mile of the Reichstag.’
‘Washington won’t like it.’
‘Let’s hope they cancel the bloody Children’s Summit.’ Helen wiped rain off her face. ‘Do you think it’s even possible to invest more effort for less results?’
‘Said a British embassy spokeswoman.’
‘Don’t get me started.’
‘I guess the Secret Service will decide,’ the American said. ‘Hey, I’ll get out your hair. See you on the security tour tomorrow.’
Helen rang off and moved towards the street. Something nagged her. What had she been about to do when the bomb went off? Phone Dieter. The thought filled her with foreboding. But she had to call him.
The deputy head of the Summit Security Unit was expecting her.
‘I suppose this means you want even more security for the Reichstag?’ When Dieter Kremp grew angry, his German became more clipped, more official.
‘I’m fine, Dieter, thanks for asking. No-one seriously injured.’
‘For months, you and your American friends have tried to frighten us with warnings about terrorists. Now there is a bomb. You must be happy.’
‘Can you send someone over? The Wilhelmstrasse’s a mess.’
‘Police, medics and a forensic team should all be there. And someone from the SSU. Are they not?’
‘I don’t know. I’m in the embassy.’
‘Who is the embassy contact point?’
Helen paused. ‘Better be me. Jason likes everything to go through him. But this is important.’
‘Is he still driving you insane?’
‘If he would lay off me, I could ignore him. But he’s obsessed with Bangkok.’
‘I, too am obsessed. Are you free tonight?’
The change of tack caught Helen off guard. ‘No idea. It’s the first time we’ve had a bomb the day before a summit.’ She grinned in the darkness. ‘But I have wine in the fridge.’
‘When will you be home?’
‘God knows. Ten. Maybe eleven.’
‘Sweet dreams.’ Dieter rang off.
Eric Taylor loomed out of the rain. The locally-engaged ex-squaddie was elderly, with a refreshing indifference to hierarchies. He held up a hand.
‘Hold it, Helen. Where are you going?’
‘The street. People may be injured.’
‘There’s a few down, aye.’ Eric inclined his close-cropped head towards her. ‘All on the other side of the road. Bloody odd way to blow up an embassy.’
Eric bent his head closer still. ‘They can’t get past the security bollards.’
‘I’ve done a first-aid course. I could help.’
‘Do you think it’s safe to go out?’
‘We can’t just watch. Will you open the gate?’
‘What if I won’t?’
‘I’ll climb over the top. It’ll look weird on the evening news.’
‘OK.’ The security officer nodded. ‘But I’m shutting it behind you.’
The bomb had not harmed the front guard desk, with its reinforced concrete pedestal and 35-millimetre bullet-resistant glass. Helen waited as Eric opened the ram-resistant steel gates enough for her to slip through. The barrier slammed shut behind her.
Outside, bedlam reigned. Officers of the Bundespolizei, the Federal Police, sealed off the street, submachine guns slung over their shoulders. A host of ambulances, police cars and fire engines had congregated beyond the traffic control bollards. Teams of orange-jacketed paramedics clustered around the epicentre of the blast. A film crew from Wild TV had penetrated the cordon to film a victim. A man in the charcoal-grey uniform of the Summit Security Unit stood talking on the phone.
Helen crossed the road towards the TV crew. A boy no more than five or six years old lay silent on the ground. The boy’s face was white with shock. A medic bandaged his leg. Helen crouched down alongside him.
‘My knee hurts,’ the boy said.
‘The doctor will help you.’
‘I am thirsty.’ His voice cracked. ‘Something to drink.’
The film crew seemed oblivious to what the boy was saying. The medic had his hands full of dressings. Helen rose.
‘I’ll fetch water,’ she said. ‘Hold on.’
She ran back to the embassy. Inside, Eric Taylor saw her and opened the gate.
‘Water,’ Helen said. ‘Quickly.’
‘In the back, love.’ The security officer jerked his thumb over his shoulder. ‘Glasses in the top cupboard.’
She had never before seen the kitchenette that led off the security booth. It seemed to take ages to find a glass, fill it with water at the sink, and carry it outside. As she stepped back onto the street, two paramedics lifted the child on a stretcher. Helen ran closer, the water slopping onto the ground. As they carried the boy away, a woman said something about the bollards blocking access to the wounded.
Police officers stretched a plastic awning to keep the rain off the site of the explosion. One of them approached Helen.
‘I saw you come out of the embassy. Please go back inside.’
‘Of course.’ Helen replied in German with an exaggerated English accent. She did not move, but looked up at the ambassador’s office, a pale-blue shard of steel and glass protruding from the sandstone cladding of the embassy. ‘Why do you think they set the bomb off on this side of the street?’
‘No idea,’ the policeman said.
‘But look. The walls of the embassy are solid concrete. What could they achieve?’
‘Maybe they weren’t attacking the embassy,’ the policeman said. ‘Go inside.’
‘Yes,’ Helen said. ‘I’m going. And thanks for your help. I think you said something important.’
She turned and crossed the road to the embassy gates.
As he ran towards the Summit Security Unit command bunker, Dieter Kremp was reminded with a jolt how much he hated the logo for the Children’s Summit. A Berlin bear on its back, for Christ’s sake, balancing a cute kid on each of its sharp-clawed paws. The bear grinned playfully – hungrily, more like – as it performed this unnatural act.
Dieter scowled. The politicians claimed that the package of economic reforms the Summit would agree was so revolutionary it would transform the lives not only of today’s children but of their children, too. So they had invited a hundred kids from across the world to attend the opening ceremony. Dieter didn’t care about that. But he hated the fact that one of the two-metre-high bears-with-children had been stuck to the steel plates that formed the perimeter of the Safety Zone. It made him curse each time he entered the Bunker: a mess on the metal, like bird-shit on a Porsche.
He placed his eye to the retina scanner and the door slid open, releasing a chill blast of air. The stupid logo, Dieter could tolerate. Helen Gale was harder. Half the time he wanted to kill the blonde Englishwoman. The rest of the time he wanted to screw her. Either way, she drove him crazy.
Only one officer sat in the Bunker.
Katia Vonhof was monitoring the main security console. With her unkempt mane of black, shoulder-length hair and gaunt features, Katia barely registered with Dieter as a woman. But she possessed a legendary understanding of computers and video surveillance technology. Where did Johann find these people?
Yet again, Dieter was filled with admiration for the charismatic boss of the Summit Security Unit. Outside the counter-terrorism community, few knew the name of Johann Frost. When he had first been appointed, senior figures in the police and military had questioned whether someone raised in what had been East Germany would have the qualities and connections for such a vital mission. Johann had confounded them all by filling the SSU with the best counter-terrorism specialists the country had to offer.
It had been Johann’s idea to extend the trawl for the twenty-four members of the new Summit Security Unit beyond GSG 9, the elite anti-terrorist squad in which both he and Dieter had been trained. The SSU chief had spent months travelling around Germany, selecting recruits from regional police forces, army formations, and even the Ministry of the Interior. Bringing to bear extraordinary leadership, he had melded the disparate elements of the unit into a team the equal of anything in Europe or beyond. In exchange training, members of the SSU nominated by Johann had held their own with the best the US Delta Force and the British SAS had to offer. Two of them, the brothers Lukas and Philipp Klein from Mainz, had finished top in the sniping competition at Fort Bragg. Dieter looked at Katia Vonhof. If there had been a surveillance technology event in North Carolina she would have won it blindfold.
‘Who is at the British Embassy?’ he asked her.
‘Johann has gone there.’ The young SSU officer continued to scan the bank of monitors.
‘He went himself?’
Dieter sat down at one of the desks that ringed the room and keyed in his code. No-one had a dedicated terminal in the Bunker, any more than they had a single script to follow in the event of an emergency. Flexibility was the key. Flexibility, and vision. It had been Johann Frost’s vision to train a cadre so small and expert as to deliver omnipresent, yet invisible security. Once the delegations entered the Safety Zone, the only armed forces on the ground would be the SSU team.
Almost. The trouble had started there. Within hours of the German government circulating the security concept for the Children’s Summit, the US Secret Service had stated that they must assign their own armed agents to protect the President inside the Reichstag or the President would not attend. End of discussion.
Dieter called it an insult to Germany; to the Summit Security Unit; to Johann Frost. But the Federal Chancellor had rolled right over. It was more important that the President attended the Summit than that Johann, the man responsible for security, ran his own show. Both Johann and Dieter had tendered their resignations. But when Interior Minister Tilo Pollex had called personally to ask them to stay on, the leader and deputy leader of the SSU had swallowed their pride.
Once they had got their way with the Secret Service agents, the Americans had begun to push everyone around. The next battleground had been the Threat Assessment Committee.
There, Dieter had first met Helen Gale.
Threat assessment formed part of the planning for all international gatherings. The idea was to pool intelligence of possible dangers from terrorism and civil disturbance and assess the implications for security. It was meant to be a routine round of meetings and paperwork. Johann had delegated the job to Dieter without hesitating. But the Committee had been a nightmare.
The British alone had sent two representatives each from the Secret Intelligence Service and the Security Service, plus a bluff policeman with rolled-up sleeves from Scotland Yard’s counter-terrorist unit who’d looked as if he would happily kill with his bare hands any terrorists he came across. This herd of experts had been corralled by the sixth member of the delegation: a freckled blonde in a short skirt from the British embassy in Berlin. Dieter had assumed Helen Gale to be someone’s secretary. Only later had he realised the magnitude of his mistake.
The French, Russian, Italian, Canadian and Japanese had delegations as bloated as the British team. But the Americans had sent three times as many: CIA, FBI, NSA, Department of Homeland Security, Secret Service – the list seemed endless. Maybe terror groups measured their success not in how many people they killed, but in how many experts wasted their days labouring on the futile treadmill that counter-terrorism had become. By that measure, the terrorists had already won.
Dieter’s telephone rang.
‘Johann here. Anything new on the embassy bombing? I am there.’
Dieter glanced at his monitor. ‘No-one has claimed it.’
‘Call me if they do. I am talking to the forensic people: if we can ID the bomb, we can ID the bomb-maker. Can you send back-up?’
‘Only Katia is here.’
‘What about Petra? She should be finished at the US embassy by now.’
‘I haven’t seen her.’ Dieter checked the duty log. Johann was right, as usual. SSU officer Petra Bleibtreu had been running through sniper positions with the Secret Service. But her meeting had been due to finish an hour ago.
‘Maybe the Americans wanted more information,’ Johann said.
‘They do not ask for much, the Amis.’
Johann grunted. ‘Especially not the Secret Service. A pleasure to work with.’
‘How does it look in the Wilhelmstrasse?’ Dieter said. ‘The British say they have casualties.’
‘I cannot move for ambulances.’
‘Good. Will you update the Interior Ministry?’
‘Sounds bureaucratic. You do it.’ Johann rang off.
Dieter returned to his computer screen. Reuters reported that the police had rounded up a selection of prominent Islamists. As if the bombers would be sitting around at home. At least the Berlin cops could act without consulting the Threat Assessment Committee.
If the size of the Committee seemed cumbersome, the meetings were disfunctional. The first few sessions had adopted a table-round format, each delegation vying to show that it knew more about the threats facing the Summit than anyone else. But it soon became clear that when it came to compiling blood-curdling intelligence, the Anglo-Saxons played in a league of their own.
Everyone knew that Washington and London devoted a grotesque proportion of their gross national product to amassing secrets. Some information came from actual human beings. But most came from electronic eavesdropping: by the National Security Agency on the part of the US, and by the Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ, on behalf of the British. Dieter had never heard anything like it. By the time he had sat through the first recitation of the threats the CIA and SIS believed hung over the Summit, he found it hard to imagine that a single aggrieved individual, much less any terrorist group, had been left off the list.
Dieter Kremp and the Summit Security Unit found themselves engulfed in a tidal wave of advice on how to do their job. If one security airlock controlled access to the Reichstag, they needed two; if two, four. If SSU officers planned to wear body armour, had they considered the latest Kevlar products? And had the German authorities considered adding a second ring of barriers around the Reichstag to deter suicide bombers? At the third meeting of the committee, Dieter announced straight-faced that Berlin had decided to retrofit the city’s entire fleet of police BMW saloons with Chobham composite armour at a cost of one million euro per vehicle. Only one person had smiled at his joke. Helen Gale.
The British diplomat’s intellect and unpredictability made her formidable. At some meetings she barely spoke, but doodled on a pad or gazed at her laptop as if she didn’t give a damn what the meeting decided. Other times, she would raise some intercepted phone call by terrorist group X, and ask how Dieter proposed to respond. That was always it. How he proposed to respond.
Whatever the threat, you could be sure Dieter was hearing of it for the first time. And you could be certain that the entire 20-strong CIA contingent would speak right out in support of Helen Gale. The British and Americans would refuse to accept any response that didn’t increase security for the Summit. It became a joke in Berlin: if they added any more fortifications, the entire Reichstag would sink into the sandy soil.
Until three months ago, Dieter Kremp had viewed Helen Gale as more of a threat to the Summit’s success than any possible combination of terrorists.
Then Paris had happened. Helen Gale’s spook pals had let their distinguished Foreign Secretary step into a car outside their Paris embassy; allowed the ambassador, a security man and a driver to get in with him; surrounded the vehicle with diplomats; and covered their ears as four kilograms of what the French called le plastique ripped seven people to pieces. Thirty more had been hospitalised, many of them hit by flying debris. These were the experts telling the SSU how to run the Summit.
It would be too much to say that when the Threat Assessment Committee met the day after Paris, Helen Gale had been transformed. But for the first time, Dieter had seen her self-possession slip to reveal a hint of – what? Loneliness? Loss? Whatever it was, that glimpse of vulnerability had triggered in him a rush of desire. Might a dazzling, Cambridge-educated diplomat be within reach of the son of a metal-worker from the Ruhr?
Dieter Kremp always made decisions quickly. After the meeting, he had taken Helen Gale to one side and asked her out for a drink. He had been surprised when she had accepted; and astonished when, after a meal, a club and countless cocktails, she invited him back to her flat in the Voxstrasse. That night she had seemed desperate to have him. Maybe the bomb in Paris had shaken her; she had been willing to do anything that first night. Almost anything. In private, she turned passionate yet controlled; serious, but with flashes of deadpan humour; wild, yet determined to set the rules. Dieter had never before met a woman he could not dominate. Well, he had time. The British embassy in Berlin had been blown up, the day before the Summit
That was a tragedy. But for Dieter Kremp, it was an opportunity. Would Helen Gale feel vulnerable tonight? It would be wrong to let a chance like this go by.
What to do next
I hope you enjoyed this excerpt from Blood Summit – a Berlin thriller. If you did, you can buy it as paperback or e-book on Amazon – see my dedicated page or, if you live in Vienna, at Shakespeare & Co. in the Sterngasse. If none of these work for you, let me know and I may be able to send you a Word copy.
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