Excerpt: Hunt for Nazis with Supernatural Aspirations Takes Chilling Turn in Next RICHTER'S WAR Book
Sci-Fi Thriller Series Follows Hardboiled Detective Geno Richter in WWII Los Angeles
RICHTER’S WAR: Case of the Ghostly Séance is my third paranormal thriller to feature L.A.’s hardboiled, World War II-era private detective Geno Richter. It takes a deep dive into the most supernatural aspirations of the Reich while widening the circle of characters around Geno.
Trusted by the War Department to hunt down nefarious Nazi agents, spies, and saboteurs, Geno has seen how the supernatural can loom over the City of Angels when he takes on these foes. In Case of the Ghostly Séance, he’s once again entangled in wartime mystery and suspense, hunting down Nazis, and confronting otherworldly forces.
He is also in the heart of wartime Los Angeles. As with Case of the Lady Crow and Case of the Japanese Alien, this installment of Richter’s War is full of L.A.’s history and historical places.
In Case of the Ghostly Séance, the architectural centerpiece is the Los Angeles Central Library, which opened in 1926 and is not far from L.A.’s Union Station and the famous Biltmore Hotel, both featured in Case of the Lady Crow. When Geno speaks of the library as a “temple of doom,” he is giving voice to very real sentiments about the building expressed by yesteryear’s Angelinos.
Today, these places are landmarks in a sprawling city. In Richter’s time, they were relatively new, promising, and distinctive conduits of L.A.’s youthful vitality.
It is no wonder they lined the trenches of Geno Richter’s unique war.
I hope you enjoy the excerpt and I look forward to publishing the book later this year.
Excerpt from RICHTER’S WAR: Case of the Ghostly Séance:
I turned up the collar of my wool trench coat and straightened my fedora after a chilly gust jostled it to one side. In Los Angeles, winter happens anytime the temperature drops below 60 degrees. Although born to German parents, I’m a native Angelino, so this mid-October evening was out-and-out frigid. It was no more than 45 degrees, overcast, and breezy.
Abbott and Costello’s radio show was on tonight, but I missed it because of some strange antics at the Los Angeles Central Library in downtown. A professor from New York City, Emile Durak, was in town. He was known to be an anthropologist by day and suspected Nazi sympathizer by night. He was seen spending a lot of time at the library, especially after hours.
My boss at the War Department, Dexter Jamison, thought Durak might be using the library for covert meetings with Nazi agents. Within just shy of two years since the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, I’d seen enough kraut infiltrators to last me a lifetime. They crawled out from under just about every rock in the city once the war started. It was hard to keep track of them all.
I was on foot, alone, and tucked behind a pillar at the corner of a building next door to the library. Durak went to dinner, then I saw him return to the library a couple hours later and enter through a door that faces 5th Avenue.
After about ten minutes, I walked over to the door. It was locked, so I took a few steps back and looked up at the building. It looked like an ancient Babylonian temple. A stocky tower, topped with a pyramid, rose from the center of the squat, blocky structure. In a city enamored with the Spanish Colonial style, the library’s architecture was unique. If you squinted at it just right, you could almost see Hammurabi himself walking the grounds.
When the Central Library opened in 1926, I was still in high school. Like everyone else, I heard odd rumors about it. Maybe the sphynx sculptures inside or the many inscriptions and mosaics—all topped off by a pyramid—concocted an unsettling air about the place, especially since the original architect died without warning prior to its opening. Add in collections of ancient manuscripts and Latin quotations chiseled into the outside walls, and presto, you’ve got yourself a foreboding temple of doom.
Not that I believed any of that.
I strolled around the building and checked a few more doors. All were locked, so I went back to the pillar and tucked myself behind it again. I pulled a turkey sandwich out of my coat pocket, unwrapped half and put the rest back in my pocket. I took a bite, and while chewing, got that funny feeling I was being watched. I leaned against the pillar and took a small bite of my sandwich. While I looked around, I pulled my Colt .45 handgun from its shoulder holster inside my suit.
A row of tall Italian cypress trees swayed in the wind, then bowed as a strong gust blew past. I pressed down on my hat and squinted as dust blasted my face and eyes. The wind died down, then I heard a faint rumble. It sounded like thunder.
I walked to the next pillar, waited, then walked to the next one and stood behind it. I could see the library off to my right, and to my left, the gardens in front of it. That’s when I saw who was watching me. I looked around and didn’t see anyone else there. He was alone and making no bones about the fact he had me in his sights.
Slapping my leg, I whistled and said, “Here boy. Come on. Come here.” I showed him what was left of my turkey sandwich and he trotted right over.
The dog looked like a light-brown fox terrier and was not much bigger than my shoe. I crouched down and gave him some turkey, then noticed he was shivering. I picked him up. He was wet and didn’t have a collar.
Just as he licked my cheek, I saw bright flashes in the library’s top row of windows. A second latter, there was another faint rumble, so I figured the flashes were reflections of nearby lightning. You could’ve fooled me, but I’d swear the pyramid at the top of the library was glowing.
I would’ve paid more attention to something strange like that, except someone came running out of the library just then. Judging from the screams, the person was a woman. She sounded terrified, so I packed the dog into one trench coat pocket and the .45 into the other, then ran toward her.
Had she not slipped on the wet sidewalk we would have collided. As I helped her up, I said, “Are you alright?” I glanced behind her. No one seemed to be chasing her. “I heard you screaming.”
At first, she clung to my coat, but then pushed me away and said a string of things in French, I believe. None of it sounded like, “Thank you,” or “Yes, I’m in grave danger.” I don’t speak French, but I do know when I’m being scolded. She was about my height, which put her a couple inches shy of six feet, and had a face like a woman in one of those Renaissance paintings, like she was well fed. Her pale skin was as smooth as silk.
“Sprechen Sie Deutsch?” I asked. She gasped, took a few steps back, and glared at me. “Okay, didn’t mean to offend. Looky here, lady—”
“You are with them!” she said in English, then took a few more steps away from me. She turned to go but came face to face with Emile Durak and one of those Nazi goons I always seem to run into. They crept out of the darkness like hungry cockroaches.
Durak, whose long, black cape fluttered like a torn sail, towered over the goon and, in fact, me and the dame too. He spoke in French to the woman first, and next in German to the goon, who then ushered the woman toward the library. From my coat pocket, I heard a modest growl.
“Sir, we were quite distressed about our lady friend,” Durak said, sounding like a phony baloney, “and are grateful you helped her before she might hurt herself.”
The fella had to be a full foot taller than me. “I don’t know,” I said, craning my neck to look him square in the eyes, “she seems like the type who can take care of herself. I just have to wonder why she came running and screaming out of the library.”
I glanced at Durak head to toe. His right hand was holding the lapel of his double-breasted suit, while his left hand clasped the top of a fashionable cane with a rounded brass handle.
“Couldn’t help but notice,” I said, pausing, “that’s where you came from, Professor Durak.”
Durak didn’t move. He just stood there, silent, like one of the library’s statues.
The dog in my pocket chimed in. He growled and popped his head out, then began to bark and snarl. I hushed him, then tried to tuck the dog back down into my pocket. He squirmed away and jumped onto the sidewalk, then scurried into the darkness.
Durak poked his cane at the dog as he ran past, then pointed it at my face. “I am in no mood to be trifled with, Mister..?”
Not the first time I’ve been asked to introduce myself. “Joe,” I said, “Joe Blow.”
Just then, Durak snapped his fingers, and two Nazi cockroaches grabbed me from behind. Next thing I knew, the sidewalk was rubbing like sandpaper on my cheek, and I had a knee on my neck. In the tussle, my left arm and hand remained free long enough for me to grab the Colt out of my pocket and fire it upward, past my head, toward what I hoped was the goon with his knee on my neck.
It worked. He screamed and tumbled away, then ran toward 5th Avenue. I saw Durak flee too as I pushed myself up onto my knees, just in time for the other thug to give me a firm kick in the gut, which knocked a bit of turkey sandwich into my gullet.
I keeled over, coughing, gagging, and gasping for air. I rolled onto my side and pointed my gun expecting to see the barrel of a Luger pistol pointing back at me, but there was just darkness. I took a breath and looked around.
No one. This party was over.
I hopped into my car just as the skies let loose with a lightning flash and clap of thunder. The drive back to my apartment up near Pico and Union wasn’t long, but heavy rain slowed me down and I could’ve sworn I was followed. I noticed a distinct pair of headlights in my rearview mirror--one light was dimmer than the other. About halfway home, I took a detour and that seemed to do the trick. If the car was tailing me, then it wasn’t any longer.
Even the weather improved, at least until I parked my car. From around the corner and up the front steps of my apartment, I ran through a downpour and spiraling winds. Across the street, my neighbor, Kenji, struggled a moment to close the front door of his restaurant. Then it was my turn to wrestle the wind and my apartment building’s front door. After latching it, I headed up the staircase to my second-floor flat.
Once inside, I peeled off my trench coat, and tossed it and my fedora onto the sofa, then called Jamison.
“Dex,” I said, “something is definitely up with Durak.”
“I was afraid of that.” Jamison coughed several times and sounded congested.
“What do you need?”
“First, for you to blow your nose—”
“Some back up. Can you spare Walt Welles or one of your other boys? Durak isn’t alone.”
“Welles is on another assignment…” Jamison paused to sneeze and to blow his schnozz. “But I do have someone new who can help.”
“A tenderfoot probably won’t be a good fit. Is he—”
My jaw didn’t drop when he said this, but my eyebrows set a new altitude record. As they descended, I realized I’d never known Jamison to be the conventional sort.
“You there, Geno?”
“Yeah, Dex, I’m here.”
“Her name is Anna Torres. She’s a Marine Corps nurse. She was stationed in the Solomons but was injured. War Department assigned her to me because she’s from San Diego and is still able to work.”
“Looky here, Dex, I have no problem working with a woman, but if this assignment is meant to get her out of your hair and into mine, count me out.”
“I would never.” Jamison laughed, then coughed. “Headquarters says she’ll make a crackerjack gumshoe.”
As I sighed, rain pelted the windows and the lights in my apartment flickered.
“Okay,” I said. “I’d talk all night but I think we are about to lose power from the storm. Have her meet me at Kenji’s restaurant tomorrow, half past eleven.”
“Sounds fine, but what storm are—”
The phone went dead. I clicked it a few times but didn’t get a connection, so I hung it up. The wind howled like an alley cat in heat and the lights flickered again, then went out. I fumbled my way to the bedroom and lifted the window blinds to look outside. My street was dark, but I could see the lights were in the distance along Venice Boulevard and toward downtown.
A sudden, bright flash startled me and I winced, expecting to hear the crash of thunder. Instead, there was silence and the appearance of two lights across the street. Headlights! One was dimmer than the other. The car raced away. I pressed my face against the window in a desperate attempt to see any details before it passed from view.
As clear as day, a woman appeared in front of me, the dame from the library. Well, it was only her plump, Renaissance face, and she looked horrified. I stumbled back from the window and drew my gun. My hands felt like ice. I fluttered my eyes and inched toward the window. Peering out, I didn’t see any sign of the lady or the car with the buggy headlight.
The lights along the street and in my apartment flickered on. As my shock wore off, I grabbed my hat and coat, then wandered back outside. Everything was still and the sky above was clear. Not a cloud or horrified dame in sight.
Strolling back to my apartment, I tucked my hands into my coat and that’s when I noticed there was a card in my left pocket. I didn’t remember it being there earlier, so I pulled it out. It was a standard index card with writing on both sides. I didn’t understand what the batches of short lines with triangles meant. Those were written on one side of the card. The triangles looked like little arrowheads.
But I did understand the words on the other side of the card. They were written in English and said, “Help me!”
Trailer for Sci-Fi Thriller RICHTER'S WAR: