New Excerpt: The Kaiser’s Web by Steve Berry

In New York Times bestseller Steve Berry’s latest Cotton Malone adventure, The Kaiser's Web, a secret dossier from a World War II-era Soviet spy comes to light containing information that, if proven true, would not only rewrite history—it could impact Germany's upcoming national elections and forever alter the political landscape of Europe.

Read on for a new excerpt or scroll down to listen to an audiobook excerpt of The Kaiser's Web right now!

Prologue

State of Bavaria, Germany  

Saturday, June 8  

10:40 a.m.

Danny Daniels liked the freedom of not being president of the United States. Make no mistake, he’d loved being president. And for eight years he’d performed the job to the best of his ability. But he really cherished his life as it was now. Able to move about. Go where he wanted. When he wanted.

He’d refused any after-office Secret Service protection, which was his right, spinning it by saying he wanted to save taxpayers the money. But the truth was he liked not having babysitters. If somebody wanted to hurt him, then have at it. He was anything but helpless, and ex-presidents had never been much of a threat to anyone.

Sure, he was recognized.

It went with the territory.

Whenever it happened, as his mother taught him, he was gracious and accommodating. But here, deep in southern Bavaria, on a rainy, late-spring Saturday morning, the chances of that happening were slim. And besides, he’d been out of office for six months. Practically an eternity in politics. Now he was the junior senator from the great state of Tennessee.  Here to help a friend.

Why?

Because that’s what friends did for one another.

He’d easily located the police station in Partenkirchen. The mountain town intertwined with Garmisch so closely that it was difficult to tell where one municipality ended and the other began. The granite edifice sat within sight of the old Olympic ice stadium built, he knew, in 1936 when Germany last had hosted the Winter Games. Beyond, in the distance, evergreen Alpine slopes, laced with ski runs, no longer carried much snow.

He’d come to speak with a  woman being held on direct orders from the chancellor of Germany. Her birth name was Hanna Cress. Yesterday, a Europol inquiry revealed that she was a Belarusian citizen with no criminal history.  They’d also been able to learn from online records that she owned an apartment in an upscale Minsk building, drove a C-Class Mercedes, and had traveled out of Belarus fourteen times in the past year, all with no obvious means of employment.

Apparently no one had schooled her in the art of discretion. Something big was happening.

He could feel it.

Important enough that his old friend, the German chancellor herself, had personally asked for his assistance.

Which he’d liked. It was good to be needed.

He found Hanna Cress in a small interrogation room adorned with no windows, bright lights, and a gritty tile floor. She was sitting at a  table nursing a cigarette, the air thick with blue smoke that burned his eyes. He’d come into the room alone and closed the door, requesting that no one either observe or record the conversation, per the instructions of the chancellor.

“Why am I being held?” she said matter-of-factly in good English. 

“Somebody thought this would be a  great place for you and me to get acquainted.” He wasn’t  going to let her get the better of him.

She exhaled another cloud of smoke. “Why send American president to talk to me? This  doesn’t concern you.”

He shrugged and sat, laying a manila envelope on the table. So much for not being recognized.

“I’m not president anymore. Just a guy.”

She laughed. “Like saying gold just a metal.”

Good point.

“I came to Germany to deliver envelope,” she said, pointing. “Not be arrested. Now an American president wants to talk?”

“Looks like it’s your special day. I’m here helping out a friend. Marie Eisenhuth.”

“The revered chancellor of Germany. Oma herself.”

He smiled at the nickname. Grandmother. Of the nation. A reference surely to both her age and the long time Eisenhuth had served as chancellor. No term limits existed in Germany. You stayed as long as the people wanted you. He actually liked that system.

She savored another deep drag of her cigarette, then stubbed out the butt in an ashtray. “You came to talk. We talk. Then maybe you let me go.”

This woman had appeared yesterday in Garmisch for a rendezvous that had been arranged through a series of emails to the chancellor’s office from a man named Gerhard Schüb. The idea had been to facilitate a transfer of documents from Schüb, with Cress as the messenger. Which happened. Hence, the envelope. Then Cress had been taken into custody. Why? Good question, one that his old friend the chancellor had not fully answered. But who was he to argue with methodology. He was just glad to be in the mix.

“Who is Gerhard Schüb?” he asked.

She smiled, and the expression accented a bruise on the right side of her face. The stain marred what were otherwise striking features. Her skin was a milky white, and the features of her mouth and nose made her attractive in a stark kind of way, though her blue eyes were misty and distant.

“He is man trying to help,” she said.

Not an answer. “I’ll ask again. Who is Gerhard Schüb?”

“A man who knows great deal.” She motioned to the envelope. “And he is sharing some of what he knows.”

“Why  doesn’t he come forward himself?”

“He does not want to be found. Not even for Oma.” She paused. “Or ex-presidents. He send me.” She stared at him hard. “You  don’t understand any of this, do you?”

Through the insult he caught the unspoken message.  

There is more here than you know.

“There are people and things, from past, that still have meaning today,” she said. “ Great meaning, in fact. As German chancellor will find out—if she pursues this matter. Tell Oma to be diligent.”

“Toward what?”

“Victory.”

An odd answer, but he let it pass. He lifted the envelope. “Inside here is a sheet with numbers on it. They look like GPS coordinates. Are they?”

She nodded. “It is a place, I am told, you need to visit.”

“Why?”

She shrugged. “How would I know? I just messenger.”

“You didn’t bother to mention any of this yesterday.”

“Never got chance. Before arrested and hit in face.”

Which explained the bruise.

“I read the other papers in the envelope,” he said. “They talk of things that have been over for a long time. World War Two. Hitler. Nazis.”

She laughed, short and shallow. “Amazing how history can have meaning. Pay attention, Ex-President, you might learn things.”

He could see she was going to be difficult.

But he specialized in difficult. “Is Gerhard Schüb my instructor?” 

“Herr Schüb is only trying to help.”

“To what end?”

She smiled. “To find truth. What  else?”

She reached for the pack of cigarettes. He decided another smoke might loosen her tongue so he allowed her the privilege. She quickly lit up, and two deep drags seemed to relax her.

He needed to know more.

Especially about the origins of the documents in the envelope. 

Her eyes changed first. A forlorn, pensive gaze replaced by sudden fear, then pain, then desperation. The muscles in her face tightened and contorted in a look that signaled agony. Her fingers released their grip on the cigarette. Hands reached for her throat. Her tongue sprang from her mouth and she gagged, trying to suck air. Spittle foamed, then seeped from her lips.

He came to his feet and tried to help. She grabbed his jacket with both hands, her eyes wide with terror.

“Kai . . .  ser.”

She strangled one last breath, then her head fell to one side as the muscles in her neck surrendered. Her grip relaxed and she slumped over in the chair. On the waft of her last exhale came a tinge of bitter almond.

A smell he recognized.

Cyanide.

He stared at the pack of cigarettes on the table, the butt still burning on the floor.

What the hell?

And what did she mean by—

Kaiser.

 

Copyright © 2021 by Steve Berry.


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