A mad Nazi plot gives Cassidy a chance to save his estranged wife - or lose her forever.
As the dust settles on World War II, detective Lew Cassidy’s wife has come back from the dead. A German figure skater with a film-star face, she had returned to her home country when the war began to care for her ailing father; Cassidy later heard she died during an Allied bombing raid. But in the weeks after the German surrender, the US Army finds her in Bavaria, stricken with amnesia and married to Manfred Muller, an SS swashbuckler at the top of the army’s most-wanted list.
In the war’s last days, Muller escaped Germany with a historic golden minotaur sculpture, planning to sell the statue and use the proceeds to establish a Nazi underground in the United States. When Muller disappears in the wilds of Maine, the army gives Cassidy a chance to serve his country. To catch the Nazi, he’ll use his wife as bait, and hope he doesn’t lose her a second time.
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Kiss Me Twice
A Lew Cassidy Novel of Suspense (Book Two)
By Thomas Maxwell
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1988 Thomas Maxwell
All rights reserved.
Lew Cassidy's wife was back from the dead and the idea of seeing her was scaring hell out of him.
He had driven north to Westchester in his 1940 Ford convertible with the top down and the sun putting a final September crisp on his tan. His bad leg was giving him trouble so he knew it was going to rain. He was out of town, out of patience, and just about out of luck. But he'd followed the summons to the vast estate hoping that maybe it was all going to work out, maybe it was going to be okay. He'd driven for another mile once he'd passed through the high iron gates and he wondered if any visitor ever got lucky in a place like this. It seemed unlikely.
Cassidy waited by himself in the unfamiliar room, a rich man's library, smelling of leather bindings and club chairs and generations of cigar smoke. He'd been shown in by a young Army officer who called him sir and said they'd been expecting him. Colonel MacMurdo would be with him in just a moment. Fifteen minutes had passed and he'd had a look at the massed bookcases, thousands of volumes, the empty fireplace, the bowls of flowers, the neatly arranged accessories on the immaculate desktop, the portrait over the mantelpiece of a long dead robber baron who'd once owned a railroad as well as this house, the rolling acreage of the estate.
The oppressive September heat was getting him down and the hour-long drive from Washington Square had given him too much time to think about all the craziness. Through the years of playing football, college and pro, he'd never felt so much on edge. He went to the mullioned casements and wound one set wide open. The breeze wasn't much and what there was was heavy, wet, and hot. A couple of wasps darted in the bright shafts of sunlight an arm's length away.
Cassidy took a deep breath, felt sweat running down his back, fusing him to his shirt beneath the seersucker jacket. He looked out across the stone terrace, past the heavy balustrade with its enormous cement urns. The flowers had packed it in, dry stalks bent haphazardly, like old bones. Somebody hadn't been attending to the watering.
The lawn sloped away in gently layered terraces to a massive stand of weeping willows shimmering green and gold like priceless wall hangings. The sky above and beyond them was smudged with low purple clouds, full of impending rain. You could feel it coming. You prayed it would hurry.
Lew Cassidy was still contemplating the skyline when he caught a flicker of movement at the corner of his vision and when he looked she was there. She was standing alone, wearing a sundress that showed her arms and shoulders and a broad-brimmed straw hat with a band that was a bright blur, that turned into a ribbon and dangled softly on her tanned back. She was turned away from him, watching the same dark clouds, but he didn't have to see her face. He knew. Then she turned slowly, her profile the same.
He hadn't seen her in nearly six years.
She'd been killed in the bombing of Cologne back in 1942.
And she'd come back from the dead, as if she'd risen from the ashes of the Third Reich, somehow immortal.
Lew Cassidy's late wife. A stranger now.
He met her at the winter Olympic Games in 1936. The football season had ended and his father, Paul Cassidy, the movie producer, had put him on the payroll as a talent scout and they'd gone to Europe with the idea of finding a French leading man to bring back to Los Angeles to play the lead in an escape-from-Devil's-Island picture. They couldn't land the actor as it turned out and Adolphe Menjou finally signed to do the role and then the picture fell through because two others just like it beat them to the theaters. But it was no big tragedy, Paul Cassidy said, because Menjou was a horse's patoot and, anyway, if they'd signed the frog they might never have gone on to Germany and found Karin Richter and then all their lives would have been different and what the hell, the last thing the world needed was Menjou escaping from Devil's Island. Dying on Devil's Island, maybe, but escaping, no.
They were staying in the swanky resort town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen where the games were held, enjoying the excitement and getting a firsthand look at the Nazis people were beginning to talk about back in the States. The Germans seemed to think this Hitler character was the answer to their problems which, God knew, had been pretty all-encompassing. There were posters of the mustachioed face with the burning eyes everywhere you looked. The Charlie Chaplin mustache didn't seem funny once you were standing in a crowd of blond, pink-cheeked German athletes who weren't laughing. He seemed to have the country revved up and out of the dumps and everyone in Garmisch was having a hell of a fine time.
The Führer was said to have high hopes for the young skater, Karin Richter, who was nineteen and, the Germans kept saying, a threat to dethrone the twenty-four-year-old Norwegian girl, Sonja Henie, who'd won gold medals at Saint Moritz in 1928 and at Lake Placid in '32. In the end Karin Richter skated well and captivated the crowds with her youth and determination and beauty, but she didn't win a medal, let alone dethrone Henie, who won again.
The first time Lew Cassidy saw Karin Richter he was having breakfast in the hotel dining room and she was skating on the rink outside, just beyond the long windows where he sat. He watched her move like a snow queen emerging from the morning mist and fog, gliding across the ice, the skirt molded to her thighs, her face held high, eyes fixed on some distant point. Her concentration was almost palpable, like a protective coating. He couldn't take his eyes off her.
Paul Cassidy thought maybe he was on to something when Lew dragged him out to the rink to watch the gorgeous girl working on her figure eights in the fog. Paul Cassidy liked to insist that he was the first one in Hollywood who thought of making Sonja Henie a movie star. He'd come up a brick shy of a load in the money department but, then, that was show business for you. If you were in the movie end of things, giving up on a good idea never even crossed your mind. If somebody else came up with the same idea, then it meant you did, indeed, have a good idea—unless it had anything to do with Adolphe Menjou and Devil's Island.
Karin Richter was certainly a good enough skater to build a lightweight movie career around and, to be frank, Paul had never seen her as Lady Macbeth or Desdemona. He was, however, looking past strictly icebound pictures, past her legs, which were unusually long for a skater, past that cute little fanny. Paul was looking at her face. He might not know a damn thing about skating but he sure as the devil knew about movies. He knew it was the face that mattered. The face did all the heavy work in the movies and one look told him that Karin Richter had the face, all right.
Cheekbones higher than Mont Blanc, a nose just short of unapproachable, level eyebrows over solemn, oddly pale brown eyes, dark brown hair cut short with a kind of triangular wedge at the nape of her neck. Her upper lip was thin, the lower full, hinting at a pout. Lew said he couldn't get her face out of his mind. Paul knew exactly what he meant.
Lew dropped like a stone into those brown eyes. He followed her back to Cologne after the games, met her austere scientist father and faintly dismayed mother, and convinced her to marry him. They came back to the States together, Lew and Karin and Paul. There was some traipsing back and forth to Germany. Paul had to convince Herr Doktor Josef Goebbels, Hitler's propaganda genius in Berlin, that it was useful to have a beautiful German girl starring in American movies. When Lew and Karin were married up at Lake Placid in January of 1938, Goebbels sent them all the roses in town. Karin said the gesture proved that the Nazis had no taste, no sense of restraint. She found the Nazis intolerably vulgar and common, from their manners to their obsessive attention to their uniforms to their torchlight rallies. "They are trying to manufacture a myth," she said, "and they are so hopelessly small. They have the meanness of unworthy people who quite rightly have never gotten anywhere on merits of their own." She once told Lew, referring to the air ace of the Great War, Hermann Göring, "The only one I ever liked was Fat Hermann. He bounced me on his knee once when I won a children's skating competition. He pinned the medal on my blouse. It must have been 1927.... I was ten. He wasn't so fat then." That was the only good thing he'd ever heard her say about the Nazis.
By the autumn of 1939 she'd made three movies: Murder Goes Skating with George Brent and James Gleason, Murder on Ice with Tom Tully, and Bless Your Heart, a Christmas story in which she only skated once while playing a young nun at an orphanage. Dick Foran had been the priest. Then she'd found out that her father was very ill. It sounded like cancer. It sounded like he needed his daughter. His wife, her mother, had died a year before.
Hitler was lopping off chunks of Europe, but a lot of people were saying that now he had the Lebensraum he'd been yelling about for years. The sooner Karin went home for a visit, the better. And the sooner she'd be back in New York.
She sailed one bright and chilly fall day from Pier 42 on the Hudson, the American Export Line bound for Lisbon where she'd catch a Lufthansa flight for Berlin, then on to the family home in Cologne.
There was only one problem once she got there.
They wouldn't let her leave.
Her father needed her to nurse him while he kept working in the special laboratories the Reich had built for him and, maybe, she would have the time to make a movie or two for the German audience. She'd be staying for a while. And when the time stretched on Lew said he was coming to get her. She wrote him begging him not to do anything rash. She pleaded with him to stay in New York. She said that there were old family friends who had become Nazi sympathizers: not monsters, she wrote, just friends of the family, people she'd known and trusted all her life. They assured her that there were no plans for a wider war, that it was all over, that peace in Europe was at hand.
The only thing she had to worry about, they told her, was an impetuous American husband who didn't understand the way things stood in Germany. Keep him back home, these old friends of the family said, and the time will fly and you'll be together again. But if he came barging into Germany making a fuss, well, they couldn't be responsible for the consequences. They clucked and shook their heads and peered through their monocles. They were full of good advice.
So Lew didn't go.
He waited and played football and read the papers and watched the Nazis club Europe damned near to death. He watched the Blitzkrieg and Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain and eventually not even Karin's letters were getting through. And World War II finally murdered her in 1942 when the largest bombing assault in history turned the city of Cologne to smoking rubble. She and her father, who'd clung to life so steadfastly, were reported dead.
He watched her strolling slowly, her hands clasped behind her, the full skirt catching a breeze and billowing like a sail, her head down, the long slope of her neck with the ribbon blowing. The breeze worked its way up across the terrace and he felt it on his face. The coming rain smelled earthy and fresh.
He remembered the first of June 1942, the way he'd learned that she was dead. The huge headline—a three-decker—had spread the width of theTimes, proclaiming the end of the city of Cologne. A thousand bombers—Lancasters and Halifaxes, Stirlings and Manchesters—had unloaded bombs for ninety minutes, one every six seconds, and had left seven-eighths of Cologne, a city the size of Boston, a flaming inferno....
Berlin radio had called it a "terror attack" and had listed the prominent scientist and his movie-actress and Olympic-skater daughter among the dead.
And now, more than three years later, he stood in a stranger's library watching her strolling on an unfamiliar lawn, as if he were still locked in one of the dreams of her that had come so often through the years since her death. So many nights she'd come alive only to disappear into the shadows when morning came and there was another day to be faced. Lew Cassidy had fallen in love with another woman in those strange years since he'd said good-bye to Karin on Pier 42, but she was dead, too. He knew that she, Cindy, would stay dead because he'd watched her die, had held her dead body in his arms. But Karin was something else....
The news that Karin was alive came by way of his father, who served as a major in a documentary film unit and had gone to France shortly after the D-Day landings. As the war in Europe ended, Paul Cassidy had been seconded to the team collecting the looted art treasures that were turning up all over the German landscape. In the course of preparing a filmed record of the discoveries he was summoned for an interview with an OSS man, Colonel Sam MacMurdo, who informed him that his daughter-in-law had been found alive and, more or less, well. MacMurdo said it was a complicated story he was only just beginning to piece together himself but the upshot was simply that the young lady, who was now twenty-eight, was in a position to do a great service for her country. He referred, of course, to the United States of America. He didn't go into detail since the whole business was very hush-hush at the moment but the idea was to get her back to the States and reunited with her husband, Paul's son Lew. MacMurdo needed Paul's help.
Paul couldn't see any particular problem with Lew, though it was bound to come as a shock, a wife coming back from the grave.
"Well, Major Cassidy," MacMurdo said, puffing his pipe and running a huge hand through his dark blond, curly hair, "there is a problem or two. Hell, the truth is, this is one very delicate matter. She got the merde bombed out of her in Cologne, pardon my French, and most of her memory went with it. Now three years have gone by, she's had the best medical care the Reich could offer, and physically she's okay. Absolutely okay." He sounded like a man trying to reassure himself. "But she does have this memory problem.... The girl has some pieces missing." MacMurdo seemed lost in thought, staring into the bowl of his pipe. They were sitting in an old Luftwaffe hangar that had become a kind of vast museum warehouse. Paintings were being catalogued, photographed, inspected by experts from Paris, London, and New York, then carefully crated for storage. On the wall behind MacMurdo hung a framed photograph of Reichsmarshal Göring that no one had bothered to remove. Painted on the wall next to Göring was the depiction of the ubiquitous big-nosed chap peering over the fence, his legend carefully inscribed below. KILROY WAS HERE.
Paul Cassidy waited, thinking about Karin and what she'd had to endure in the six years since he'd seen her. The war had proven that people were, among other things, almost infinitely resilient.
"And, too," MacMurdo said at last, "there's the question of Herr Moller." He sucked the pipe but it had gone out.
"I don't know the name," Paul Cassidy said. It was hot and still in the tiny office in the corner of the hangar.
"No reason why you should, none at all. That's what I'm here to tell you. Somewhere along the way, after the bombing of Cologne, your daughter-in-law picked up another husband."
"Give me another crack at that one—"
"She has another husband, Major. That's the problem insofar as your son goes. Husband Number Two is a man named Moller." He smiled sympathetically at Paul Cassidy. "So, you can see, the plot thickens, Major."
Paul Cassidy hadn't known quite what to say.
Two weeks later he was back in New York telling Lew that he had good news and bad news.
Now, in late September, Lew had been told that she was back and they wanted to brief him. It was still terribly hush-hush and he wasn't sure who they were or what the great service was that Karin could do or how he fit into what everybody had been calling the big picture ever since there'd been a war to talk about. He didn't give a damn about the big picture. He wanted to get the whole story about his wife and get it straight. That was a plenty big enough picture for the moment.
Excerpted from Kiss Me Twice by Thomas Maxwell. Copyright © 1988 Thomas Maxwell. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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