Monday, June 13, 2022

The Berlin Connection is up for pre-order on Amazon!

I'm excited to announce that the third book in the Nathan Grant thriller series, The Berlin Connection, is now available for pre-order on Amazon!  I love what my designer for this series,, has done with the cover:

This episode finds Nathan settling down to a quiet life in the south of France.  We all know that won't last, though, right? When an old Army Ranger buddy shows up to visit, it sets off a chain of events that uncovers yet another vast conspiracy, and only Nathan Grant can uncover it.  This book is now set for release on November 18th.  To check out the first chapter, read on!


The Berlin Connection - Chapter One

The sweet scent of sawdust filled the air as Nathan Grant stood at his lathe, wearing safety goggles and leather gloves while he carefully set a 4X4 block of maple into place on the spindle and then flipped the switch. The machine whirred to life, spinning the block in motion as it carved down the last of four table legs for his latest creation. Nathan had long thought of starting his own wooden furniture business, but this piece was for himself. Instead of scouting locations for a workshop in Alexandria, Virginia, as he planned, he’d had a change of heart. After a brief foray as a hired gun for the CIA, he decided to dial things back and check himself out of the madness that was modern life in this day and age. He was fortunate that the value of his Arlington condo had skyrocketed over the previous few years. It meant that when he sold it, he was able to take the proceeds and plow them into a very quaint fixer-upper in the charming little village of Aureille in the south of France, complete with a wooden shed that was perfect for a workshop.

For the previous six months, Nathan had put nearly every waking moment into making his new home habitable. That meant renting a small apartment nearby while he worked with the help of a local contractor to replace the roof and all of the windows, re-stucco the walls and install new wood floors. He had all-new kitchen cabinets, sink and appliances installed as well, along with a shower and toilet in the master bedroom suite. This was a lightning pace for this part of the world, but it helped that Nathan was doing the bulk of the work himself. It also helped that he was willing to pay his contractor in cash, at twenty percent above the going rate. He’d closed the deal in January. By mid-June he’d moved in, buying a new couch and a pair of chairs for the living room, along with a new mattress for the bed that the old owners left behind. He was also using their warped kitchen table and chairs as a temporary measure. Now it was all about fine-tuning the details. The house still needed a fresh coat of paint, inside and out. Wallpaper in the second bedroom needed stripping. He planned to install a new bathroom sink and tear out the fireplace to update it with a new one. For the time being, however, he wanted to begin filling the place with some of his own hand-crafted furniture. Nothing would make the place feel like home more than that. Eventually, Nathan still hoped to make a business out of it, selling his pieces to local homeowners, or more likely British ex-pats in Provence, renovating homes of their own. Nathan unclamped his table leg from the spindle and held it up to take a look, brushing off some extra sawdust and blowing on it before turning the leg around in his hands, examining it from all angles. Next, he held it up beside one of the finished legs to compare. Perfect. Once he’d completed this kitchen table, he planned to build a coffee table for the living room and then a bureau for the bedroom. Lastly would be a sideboard buffet with a mahogany finish for the dining room. Not only would these pieces add a quiet sophistication to his home, but they would also act as samples of his work. Nathan set the finished leg down and lifted a piece of sandpaper to smooth off any rough edges on this last and final leg. His mind was lost deep into the flow of his work when a ping from his cell phone on a nearby work bench brought him back to the present moment. He placed the leg and sandpaper down onto the bench, wiped his hands on a rag, and checked the phone. It was a text from an old Army Ranger buddy, Lieutenant Colonel Martin Grau.

Stopped for gas in Arles. ETA your place thirty minutes.

Nathan typed out a response. Perfect. See you soon. He hit send and then slid the phone into a pocket and left the workshop, closing and locking the door on his way out. Thirty minutes gave him just enough time to change out of his work clothes and take a quick shower.

It was shortly before seven on a pleasant July evening when Nathan heard the sound of car tires making their way up his gravel drive. He walked out his front door to see a compact white Ford pulling up with Lieutenant Colonel Grau behind the wheel. The car stopped in front of Nathan’s garage door and Grau shut off the engine and stepped out.

Good evening, Lieutenant Colonel,” said Nathan. “Welcome.”

Come on, you son-of-a-bitch, it’s Martin and you know it!” Grau stepped close and wrapped in a bear hug. The man was tall and sturdy. He kept himself in shape, even after retiring from the Army two years earlier. After nearly squeezing the air out of Nathan, he stepped back and took a look around. “Nice spread you got here.”

I like it.”

I never would have pictured you, retiring to a quiet life in the country.”

Who not? I’m a country boy at heart. You know that.”

So you say. After the life you’ve led, I’d have thought you might need a little more excitement.”

This works fine for me, and anyway, who says I’m retired?”

That’s right. Furniture, isn’t it?”

Nathan nodded and then cocked his head to one side. Come on, let me show you around.” He took Grau inside and gave him the full tour, which didn’t take long, then showed him the workshop and finally the five acres of fruit trees out back. “I’ve got apples, pears, cherries… Even a couple of plum trees here.” Nathan reached up and picked a plum, wiped it on his shirt and handed it across. “Go ahead, give it a try. We’re just about at peak season on these.”

Grau took a bite and nodded in appreciation as a bit of juice ran down his chin. “Not bad. You planning to pick these, or just let them go to waste?”

I’ve got a local co-op coming by to pick them tomorrow. You got here just in time.”

This does seem like a pretty sweet life, I’ll give you that.”

Let’s go into town and grab some dinner. I’ve got reservations at a great little bistro. You can tell me what brings you to this part of the world.”

Sounds good, my man.” Grau patted Nathan on the back. “It’s good to see you.”

You, too. I haven’t had a lot of visitors here. It will be nice to catch up. We can walk if you don’t mind stretching your legs. It’s not far.”

Perfect, show me the way.”

The two men headed up the drive, turning to the right when they reached the road. Years had passed since Nathan spent time with any of his former brothers in arms. He and Lieutenant Colonel Grau served together in the 3rd Battalion of the 75th Ranger Regiment. When they met, Grau was a First Lieutenant with a few years of seniority on Nathan and leading a platoon. Nathan was fresh out of Ranger School and joining the regiment as a Second Lieutenant. He’d looked up to Grau from the start, gaining much wisdom from a man who had already served one tour in Afghanistan that included some hair-raising tales of derring-do. Eventually, Nathan spent six years in the service and then bowed out with the rank of Captain before shifting to the CIA. Grau was career Army, sticking around until he’d had his 20 years in and then separating in part to save his faltering marriage. It hadn’t worked. He soon found that his wife preferred him to be overseas and out of sight. With Grau hanging around home all the time, they divorced within six months. Now he was single and retired at the age of forty-three.

What brings you to Provence?” Nathan asked as they strolled down a lane bordered by carefully trimmed hedges. They stepped aside as a Citroen moved past. “Having a little vacation?”

Something like that.”

I hope you can hit the Riviera while you’re here. It’s the perfect time of year for it, if you don’t mind the crowds.” They continued on and around a bend, where the village came into view for the first time, with its red-tile roofs and cobblestone streets tucked up against a rocky escarpment.

I’m not much of a beach guy, to tell you the truth, but this is damn nice country out here, I’ll tell ya.”

I can’t say that I disagree. The place tends to grow on you.”

What do the locals think about some Yankee carpetbagger come to invade their little town?”

I think they’re getting used to the idea. They haven’t run me out yet, anyway.”

It’s damn scenic, that’s for sure. Don’t you get a little bored, though? Tell me the truth. Seems like a nice fantasy on the face of it, but I’d be climbing the walls after two weeks. A guy with our kind’a background? We need some action, just to keep our sanity. Am I right, or am I right?”

Nathan laughed lightly. “You’re not altogether wrong, I’ll give you that. A man can’t spend his entire life pumped up on adrenaline, though, you know? There comes a point where you need to dial things back.”

I hear you. Like they say about the pilots, right?”

What’s that?”

There’s old ones, and there’s bold ones, but no old bold ones.”

This time Nathan chuckled a little louder. “Something like that.” They entered the village and wound through the narrow alleys until they reached a center square, with a church on one side and a quaint little restaurant called Francine’s Bistro on the other, whose outdoor tables stretched out beneath an awning. In the center of the square, a small group of children kicked a ball around while a few adults sat watching them from the church stairs. Nathan and his guest took a seat in the restaurant.

Monsieur Grant, good evening to you!” A server handed them each a menu.

Good evening, Pierre. Why don’t you start us off with a couple of Stella’s?” Nathan looked to Grau. “That sound all right?”

You know me, I’ll never say no to a beer.”

Nathan tossed his menu on the table. He already knew it by heart. As for the Lieutenant Colonel, he struggled with the French for a while before giving up and letting Nathan order for them both. He opted for a classic. It was hard to go wrong with Coq au Vin, the delectable chicken stew in a wine and brandy sauce, along with a bottle of Pinot Noir. Nobody did it better than Francine’s. As a starter, they opted for Gougères, the cheese puffs made with gruyère that went perfectly with their beer.

For most of the dinner, they talked about old times, and some of the hair-raising situations they’d faced on the battlefield. Grau told Nathan what he knew about some of the other men they’d served with, including promotions, retirements, and more than a few deaths. To Nathan, that was a seminal period in his life, and he was deeply proud of his service, but he wasn’t one to dwell on the past. The same could not be said for Lieutenant Colonel Grau. Without the structure and the sense of belonging that he found in the Army, Grau seemed a little lost. Reminiscing provided him with some obvious measure of joy, but Nathan sensed a sadness underneath. “What are you up to, now?” he tried to steer the conversation to the present as he dipped a piece of bread into the last of his stew and washed it down with a sip of wine. “Just bouncing around France, or are you here for a reason?”

For the first time since the Lieutenant Colonel arrived that evening, a shadow of anxiety came across his face. “To tell you the truth, I’m on my way to Berlin, but I thought I’d stop and see you along the way, you know, to check in and see how you’re doing.”

I appreciate that. I’m doing just fine. What’s going on in Berlin?”

Now that is something I wanted to talk to you about,” Grau placed both hands on the table and sat up straight.

Nathan drank another sip of wine. He wasn’t so sure he liked where this conversation was headed. It seemed that the real reason for Grau’s visit was about to be revealed, and that it involved him wanting something that Nathan was unlikely to provide, whatever it happened to be.

I’ve decided that I’m really not cut out for this retirement thing after all. The boredom is just killing me, day by day. I don’t know how you can stand it.”

Are you asking for advice?”

No.” Grau sat back in his seat. “I’m asking you to join me.”

Nathan knew from the get-go that his answer was no, but he couldn’t deny his curiosity. Part of him wanted to know what his old friend was up to, even as another part felt it was better to leave well enough alone.

I’m starting my own business,” Grau went on. “Security contracting. I thought maybe you’d like to come on board. The money is good, or at least it will be when I get things ramped up.”

I see. How far along are you with this plan?”

I’m making good progress. The potential is enormous. The world these days is a scary place. People will pay very well for protection.”

You want me to be a mercenary.”

You make that sound like a bad thing.”

Come on, Grau. I’ll put my life on the line for my country any day of the week. For the almighty dollar? No thanks. Count me out.”

Grau seemed almost relieved by Nathan’s answer. “All right, my man. I can respect that. I had to ask. I hope you won’t hold that against me.”

Of course not. Tell me, though, you’ve got your first gig lined up? Is that what Berlin is all about?”

Well, you could say so. This one is more of an international detective kind of thing. Follow the money. I’m not at liberty to say any more about it at this stage, if you ain’t gonna be part of the team. I will say that it’s a start.”

All right, then, let’s celebrate that. What do you say about some apple cake and a cognac?”

These French, man, they know how to live.”

There’s a reason so many Brits retire here.”

I still don’t see you sticking it out. Six months from now, you’ll be begging me for a job, you’ll see.”

And then you can say I told you so.” Nathan flagged down the server and put in their dessert order. When the cognac arrived, he raised a glass in the air. “What’s the name of this new company of yours, anyway?”

I was thinking Grau and Grant, but I guess that’s out.”

Grant and Grau has a nicer ring to it.”

Just say the word, buddy!”

Nathan held up one hand as he shook his head. “No, no, you do your thing. I’m happy here.”

All right, well if you’re going to leave me hanging, how about Bridgewater Consulting? Connecting the world. What do you think?”

Not too bad.” They tapped their glasses. Nathan saw two men he didn’t recognize enter the square, take a quick look around, and walk across to Francine’s. “To Bridgewater Consulting,” he said and then took a drink as the two newcomers sat at a table on the opposite side of the patio. Two strangers in and of themselves shouldn’t have put Nathan on guard, but these two raised a few red flags. For one thing, these were guys who spent a lot of time in the gym. They weren’t the type to sit behind a desk somewhere. In their mid-30s, they were too old to be a couple of college grads backpacking around Europe. They also seemed a little out of place in their tailored suits and the way they looked around, seeming to take in everything but Nathan and his guest. One man wore his dress shirt unbuttoned enough to show a gleaming gold necklace. The other had hair shaved tight on the sides, with a greased-back pompadour on top. They’d arrived as the dinner hour was winding down. Pierre would not be keen on serving them at this time, not for a full meal anyway. Nathan couldn’t help but wonder what these two were doing in a village like Aureille. “They usually finish with cheese around here, but I’m not sure you’re ready for that,” he said to Grau, whose back was to the newcomers.

Cheese? What kind of a dessert is that?”

“Exactly. Fortunately, Francine makes a terrific apple cake.” Nathan watched as Pierre approached the two men, waving a finger in the hair.

“Non, non, nous sommes fermés. We are closed,” Pierre said.

“We would like coffee,” said the man with the gold necklace. “Nothing more.” He spoke English with a thick German accent.

“Cake,” said the other man. “Chocolate cake.”

Pierre scowled for a moment but then replied. “Bien sur. Of course.” He moved away, stopping by Nathan’s table to clear the dishes.

“Two apple cakes for us, Pierre,” said Nathan before looking to Grau. “Coffee?”

“Sure, I’ll have a coffee. It’ll keep me awake on the drive back.”

“I told you, you’re welcome to stay over. I know the place is a work in progress.”

“I’d love to stay, I really would, but duty calls.”

“What duty is that?”

“I told you, I fly to Berlin first thing in the morning.”

“All right, let’s make that two coffees, would you Pierre?”

“Oui, deux gâteaux aux pommes et deux café.”

“Merci beaucoup.”

When Pierre had gone, Nathan couldn’t help but put two-and-two together. Grau was heading to Germany to see a client. Two shady characters with German accents appeared to be stalking them here in the restaurant. Coincidence? Or was Nathan letting paranoia get the best of him? Plenty of German tourists made their way to Provence, after all, though these two didn’t look anything like tourists. If they did have ill intentions, Nathan couldn’t show concern. He had to stay calm and avoid tipping them off. That meant under no circumstances could he mention them to Grau. Instead, he’d have to carry on having a pleasant dessert with a friend and only then make a break for it, when they were well out of sight. Nathan didn’t make a habit of carrying a weapon around this picturesque little village, and why would he? Now, however, he wondered if Grau could say the same.

Pierre brought the cakes and coffee, and served the two other men as well. The last of the couples and families in the restaurant slowly cleared out until it was only the two pairs of men left. “Well, buddy, I better get going,” said Grau. “It’s been a real pleasure. If you change your mind, we could always go with Grau and Grant.”

“Grant and Grau.”

Grau laughed. “You decide to join me, we’ll talk.”

“I wish you the best in your endeavor, I really do. I hope it’s a great success.”

“Thanks, Grant. That means a lot.”

When Pierre came by, Nathan picked up the tab and he and Grau stood to go. “Thank you, Pierre!”

“My pleasure, Monsieur Grant. I hope to see you soon.”

“I’m sure you will. Take care of yourself.” As Nathan and his friend headed off across the square, he took a last look at the two men, who paid them no attention. That didn’t put his mind at ease. When they reached the far side of the square, they headed up the main road out of the village. “We’re taking the scenic route. Follow me, double time.” Nathan hurried left, down a dark alley.

“This ain’t too scenic at night, buddy, what’s up?” Grau trailed after as they wound right, then left again.

“I’m assuming you didn’t make those two guys in the restaurant.”

“What guys?”

“Germans, snappy dressers, awful taste in hair and jewelry?”

“I saw them, sure. So?”

Nathan looked back over his shoulder. As far as he could tell they weren’t being followed. “It’s probably nothing. Maybe I’m just paranoid.”

“Sometimes paranoid can help keep a man alive, but there’s got to be a whole lot of Germans visiting a nice little village in Provence. Ain’t I right?”

“Come on, we’ll cut across the fields just in case.”

“Lead the way.”

When they came to a gate, Nathan unlatched it and let them through. They continued across a fallow field in the dark, with a quarter moon lighting their way. Nathan said no more and neither did Grau. They were both in combat mode now, stealthy and quiet with all senses on alert. “You carrying?” Nathan whispered as they drew near the house.

“Glove box, in my car.”

“No good.” Nathan didn’t want anybody to hear the chirp of an alarm, or see the dome light come on. “Come with me.”

They entered the back door of Nathan’s house and crept through with the lights off until they came to his gun safe, where he used his phone to illuminate the dial.

“You always this careful when you go out to dinner?” said Grau.

“Only when I have guests in town.” Nathan opened the safe.

“To tell you the truth, you’re starting to worry me just a little bit. You sure you’re all right, buddy?”

“Humor me.”

“Whatever you say.”

Inside the safe, Nathan had two guns. One was a hunting rifle he’d obtained in France legally, after gaining residency and then applying for the proper permit and waiting for what seemed an eternity. This was a Weatherby Vanguard .30-06 SPRG. The other gun was a pistol, in this case a SIG Sauer 9mm that he’d lifted off a dead arms smuggler the last time he was mixed up in something unfortunate. He lifted the pistol and handed it to Grau, followed by two magazines. Nathan took out the rifle and ammo for himself.

“Sure, you get the rifle. Don’t forget, I outrank you,” said Grau.

“Not in my house, you don’t.”

“Fair enough. What’s the plan, boss?”

“We find a quiet place to hide outside in the dark and see if any uninvited visitors show up.”

“After you, Captain.”

Before Nathan exited the house, he closed the front curtains in the living room and then switched on a lamp, to make it look like they were home. Then, he moved just as quietly out the rear door and led Grau around the side of the house and back toward the front. There was still no sign of the Germans, but that didn’t put Nathan’s mind at ease. On the right-hand side facing away from the house, a hedge ran from a garage and out along the gravel drive, where Grau’s car was parked. To the left was an open space with some fruit trees surrounding Nathan’s workshop shed. He and Grau moved around the shed and then positioned themselves prone on the ground in a dark patch, shaded from the moonlight by the shadow of a tree. And now they would wait. It didn’t take long before they heard a car approaching slowly down the road, lights off. Nathan saw it come into view as it moved past the hedge and slowed further, with the occupants taking a nice long look at the house. “Still worried about me, Colonel?” Nathan whispered.

“No. Now I’m starting to worry about us both.”

Nathan trained his rifle on the tinted driver’s side window as he waited to see what would happen next. The rear window on the same side began sliding down. Nathan didn’t see an occupant. Instead, he saw the business end of a military rifle poke out, with a grenade launcher attached. “Holy hell!” he said nearly out loud just before the occupant fired a burst of rounds at his house from a distance of 20 meters, shattering the front window. Next came a grenade, hurtling through the frame and into his living room before rocking them with an explosion that tore through all of the new coats of paint he’d only just applied, and the crown molding, the wood floors and the new couch he’d only just ordered. Nathan was pissed now.

“Damn, these guys mean business,” Grau seemed shocked by the whole episode.

Nathan wanted to see his target before he fired back, so he waited. “They’ll want to make sure they finished the job,” he whispered, as orange flames flickered from somewhere inside his house. Sure enough, both doors on the left side of the car opened and the two men from the restaurant popped out. The man with the awful haircut was in back, with what appeared to be an M16. The driver, with the gold necklace, held a pistol. Together they rushed toward the house, guns aloft. Nathan and Grau waited until the men were passing by at 5 meters away, oblivious to their fatal miscalculation. The retired Army Rangers opened fire, mowing down the assassins in a hail of lead. The men continued a few more steps on sheer momentum before dropping to the ground with a thud like sacks of potatoes. “Check them!” Nathan said to Grau, before hurrying to the house. He had to put that fire out. Around the side of the house was a garden hose, and in the dark he was able to turn it on and then drag the nozzle around and through the broken window, where he was able to hose down the burning debris, including books, and shelves, and a section of his brand new couch. When he was satisfied that the fire was out, he threw the hose back out through the window and returned to Grau, who stood over the two men.

“They’re dead,” he said.

“Anything in their pockets?” Nathan asked.

“Two wallets, cash, no IDs.”

“Let’s check the car.” Nathan moved to the vehicle at the end of the drive and went through the glove box and the center console. Nothing.

“I’m sorry, Colonel, but the time for being cagey is over. You need to tell me what the hell this is all about.”

“Yeah. Right,” Grau answered, but the whole episode seemed to have left him in some mild state of shock. He was used to combat, they both were, but he wasn’t used to being hunted down by assassins.

“Come on, Colonel, you’re going to have to get yourself together.”

“They can’t be after me. No, they can’t be. It must be you! They’re after you, Nathan, not me! No way!”

Nathan had to admit, it wasn’t entirely out of the question. He’d made plenty of enemies in his day, both with the CIA and afterward. Any number of former adversaries might be out for a little payback, to cut short his idyllic little retirement in the south of France.

“I can’t get tied up in this thing,” Grau went on. “I’ve got my client to think about, Grant, I need to be in Berlin!” Grau began to pace anxiously. He held out the pistol, handle first. “Take this, I want nothing to do with it.”

Nathan took the pistol. Whatever this was all about, it was a mess. Nathan had two dead bodies in his front yard, the guns that killed them in his hands, and his newly-remodeled living room was destroyed. One of his neighbors would be calling the municipal police right about now, if they hadn’t already. It was only a matter of time before the first officers arrived and the explaining would have to begin. “What if it was you, Grau?” said Nathan. “Who is your client? You owe me that much.”

“It’s a nothing job. Just something to start with, you know? To put on the resume. Pro bono.”

“Then you won’t mind telling me.”

“She’s like a one-woman show. A non-profit. Nothing.”

“Who is she?”

“Hannah, just a girl named Hannah. A nobody, I’m telling you. Look, Grant, I don’t have time for this. These guys were after you, not me. You’re going to have to clean up the mess. I need to go.”

“Fine. Go.” Nathan was peeved, even while he couldn’t entirely blame Grau for wanting to bug out. The thing was, even if Nathan spun this as self-defense against two very motivated intruders, how was he going to explain why there were two different types of rounds in the bodies of the deceased? And the fact that they were armed with military weapons? Besides all of that, he didn’t have a permit for the SIG Sauer at all. This was going to be a huge mess, and in the end there was still the question of who these guys were actually after.

“Sorry, buddy. Thanks for dinner.”

“Yeah. Right.” Nathan watched Grau walk to his rental car, parked a short distance away.

The Colonel climbed in behind the wheel, shut the door, and rolled the window down. “I’m sorry, man. I just… this is not what I was expecting.”

Nathan didn’t respond, but that alone spoke volumes. A fierce anger swelled in his chest. Grau was his comrade in arms, a fellow Ranger. He owed Nathan more clarity than this. They should have been in it together. Instead, Nathan was being abandoned with the whole thing in his lap. At this point, he couldn’t even look at Grau any longer. He just wanted him gone already. Nathan turned and walked toward his house. When he reached his front door, he heard Grau call after him.

“Hey, Grant!”

Nathan turned to look back.

“I’m sorry, man. I really am.”

“If you leave now, don’t come back. Ever.”

“Take care, buddy.” Grau reached forward and hit the starter button in his rental car. The last Nathan saw of him, Lieutenant Colonel Martin Grau was sitting upright in the driver’s seat with his eyes on the rear view mirror. Next came a massive explosion as the car was enveloped in a blinding fireball and lifted off the ground. The concussive blast knocked Nathan backwards off his feet and through his front door, his eardrums nearly bursting. His first reaction was to scramble left, behind the wall. He rose to his knees but stayed low, rocking back and forth as his ears rang and he saw the yellow light of flames reflected off the back wall of his living room. He’d been through this before. It was the same way they’d killed his wife, two years earlier. Now he was having flashbacks as he struggled to process what was happening. He realized one thing, above all else. It wasn’t Nathan they’d been after, it was Grau.


Thanks for reading this sample of The Berlin Connection!  I hope you've enjoyed it.  I'm still hard at work on this one, but if you'd like to be among the very first to read the completed book, feel free to head on over to Amazon to pre-order your copy now.  Take care!

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