Michael Haskins

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Consummate Traitor by Bonnie Toews

If you're a fan of WWII spy novels, check out my fellow writer Bonnie Toews' newest. 

The Consummate Traitor by Bonnie Toews

A World War II spy novel brings together two women whose destinies cross unlikely paths, yet that fateful moment commits them to a mission that exposes a secret England wants buried forever. 
Monday, April 26th, 1937 

Distant droning roiled across the mountaintops. The engine’s thrum blended with the faint babbling that echoed skyward from the small town tucked in the foothills of the valley below her.

Lee Talbot had chosen this escarpment for its magnificent view of Guernica in northern Spain. Drawing flushed out her helpless rage and horrible memories of the civil war in Madrid.

She held out her sketch at arm’s length and studied it. Everything dissolved as she focused on each line and curve, and squinted. Something was missing. She looked up. Her gaze settled on the highest peak stabbing the sky above the Pyrenees mountains. Ah. A very important detail. She settled the sketch back on her fold-out easel and, with her charcoal pencil, short-stroked puffs of white snow capping the brow of the ancient Mont San Miguel.

There, that’s better. Her attention shifted.
Even this far up the mountainside, she could make out the dim buzz of townspeople bartering over produce and crafts. When she arose at dawn, she had listened from the window of her hotel room to the clip-clop of horses’ hooves over the cobblestone streets and watched farmers from the surrounding hillsides haul their loaded carts to the market square just in front of her hotel. There, they set up stalls. Now, their far-off nattering combined with the surrounding meadow sounds of sheep bleating and birds chirping washed over her like healing springs. She felt safe, for the first time in months.

Wafts of smoke drifted windward from the chimneys of cottages dappling the countryside. She sniffed and imagined bread baking inside their brick ovens. Her stomach gurgled. The thought of fresh bread smothered in creamy butter reminded her she had forgotten to eat. Where’s Quinn? He had promised to bring lunch. She glanced at her wristwatch. Four-thirty. Time to return to the hotel.

Again she examined her sketch before she scribbled on the lower right-hand corner: Monday, April 26, 1937. GUERNICA. 

A deep-throated roar sprang from behind her. Startled, Lee jumped to her feet and spun around. She knew that sound. A twin-engine aircraft. Cupping both hands over her eyes, she strained to see against the sun’s glare in search of the intruder.

Vibrating air whipped from above, pinning her feet to the ground. She raised and pressed the palms of her hands upward against the slipstream. Her neck arched backward and her gaze froze on the underbelly of a twin-engine bomber. For a split second, the German Dornier Do 17 hung as if suspended overhead, engines whistling in her ears, before it swept screaming down the valley and veered onto a south-to-north track barely above the trees. The plane cast the shadow of an eerie cross rippling over the Rio Mundaca, which wound along the valley floor toward Guernica and the town’s streets rising from the river’s shore.
The bomber banked and then circled back, its nose aimed at her heart in a game of chicken between the pilot and Lee on the outcrop. She stood mesmerized. At the last moment, she ducked as the Dornier rocketed over her head towards the towering peaks behind her. She turned in time to watch it vanish.
Lee gasped, dumbfounded. Had she imagined it? Did she see darts pinned in racks under the bomber’s wings? Only this morning Quinn had told her about an incendiary bomb the Nazis had developed. It could produce massive fires wherever it landed, but he had no idea what the new bomb looked like. Could the cone-shaped canisters the Dornier carried under its wings be test incendiaries?     
The thought chilled her. Maybe the pilot was looking for a place to drop them because the Nazis were forbidden to test such weapons on German soil. Though the Treaty of Versailles banned Germany from ever arming again after World War I, Hitler now manufactured the most advanced weapons in the world. Who would care about his testing bombs in a civil war the League of Nations ignored? 
But this was Basque country. As yet, the Basques had not joined the Republican government to quell the Fascists even though the Republicans had finally granted them home rule. There was no reason the German Luftwaffe should be flying over Guernica.
Lee had to find a phone and report long distance about her sighting to Collier’s Weekly, Ohio’s Springfield-based magazine that specialized in investigative journalism. This time she would scoop Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn, whose co-authored features stateside were attracting “freedom” lovers, Marxists and anarchists to join the International Brigade in their support of the Republicans in Spain. But it was George Orwell who made her life miserable. He not only filed stories from the front line, he also joined in the fighting against Franco’s Nationalist uprising. How could she beat that kind of real-life writing? It dwarfed her sideline observations in her weekly column. Sighting the German bomber now gave her a chance to show her editor that she was as good an investigator as his star war correspondents.
Lee folded the legs of her easel, jammed it, her sketchpad and charcoal pencil into her shoulder bag, flung its straps over her head and looped the bag behind her back, out of the way. As she scrambled down the steep slope, she tripped and sprawled on all fours. Cursing, she pulled her skirt under herself and slid down the rest of the way to her bicycle waiting by the roadside. No sooner had she yanked the bike upright than she heard the warning rumble again.
She checked the sky behind her. There, the same bomber slipped over the southern ridge further west. Her eyes followed its route. It took the same northern heading above the Mundaca River, but higher. Maybe four thousand feet. Fear knotted her stomach. Something dreadful was about to happen. 
Lee ran the bike down the road before mounting it and pedaled off. At the S-turn, she misjudged the sharp angle and almost lost her balance. The bike skidded on the rim of the front wheel before she righted it. For a split second, it wobbled. She regained control and carried on cycling downhill, dangerously careening from side to side at breakneck speed.
Her mind raced in sync with her pedaling. She had met Quinn Bergin in Madrid and immediately liked him, because, unlike most newsmen who continually made passes, he didn’t. Instead, he invited her to join him on a trip to Guernica to study the Basques. She would never have gone alone because her Spanish was too awkward, and the Basques didn’t speak English. So Quinn acted as her Spanish translator. According to him, in Spain’s Civil War, if the rebel Fascists under Francesco Franco were to defeat the Madrid government, they had to beat the Basques first. The question for him was: How vulnerable were they to attack?
 This morning, anticipating war strategies was her last concern. When Quinn selected the spot where she could enjoy the best view of the valley for her sketching, she thought he might join her for a picnic and suggested he bring back a boxed lunch from the hotel. He agreed but never returned. What held him up? Where was he? She pedaled faster.
POP! Pop-Pop! The sounds echoed up the hillside like fire crackers exploding one after the other, while green fluorescent flares splintered upward from the valley below. Recklessly jamming on her brakes, Lee locked the wheels and nearly flew over the handlebars.  Pop! Pop-pop pop! The strange eruptions continued. She jumped off her bike, using her feet like drags to bring it to a standstill.
In horror, she gazed downward from the roadside at the fires smothering Guernica’s heart. The market! Her fingers squeezed the handlebars, while the steeple bells of the Santa Maria church rang like banshees pitching their strident warnings over the pass.

As a journalist, Bonnie Toews has covered significant events such as the Rwandan genocide in 1994. Her eyewitness view contributes to the plight of children in war as a recurring theme through her novels. With hundreds of published articles and five business press awards in her portfolio, Bonnie currently advocates for better care and treatment of Canada’s wounded warriors and is a member of the Canadian Veterans Advocacy, Military Writers Society of America, American Authors Association and American Christian Fiction Writers. THE CONSUMMATE TRAITOR is her first novel in a trilogy about treason.

1 comment:

Kelly Robinson said...

I like a good spy novel now and then. I'll keep this in mind.

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