A Look Inside The Book The Romanian Connection

A Look Inside The Book The Romanian Connection

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PROLOGUE

Mendl, Romania
March 5, 1995

Woerner Willenbacher, a West German Intelligence Agent, peered through his monoscope at what appeared to be an aviation control tower located in the middle of an ammunition depot. The tower was unusual because a dark plume of smoke was rising out of the top of it and it was not located near any runway for aircraft. Although Woerner was accustomed to seeing soldiers with binoculars in wooden, guard shacks at the corners of Romanian ammu-nition depots, this depot lacked both perimeter guards and guard shacks.

Looking outside from behind the tower’s one-sided see-through glass window, Romanian Army Sergeant Stefan Enesco smiled as he focused the lens of his huge, tripod-mounted, Russian PNB-2 binoculars to obtain a better image of Woerner. Sergeant Enesco picked up his transmitter and spoke softly into it, “Our vacation is 178 degrees south of me or about 60 degree southeast of you.” His voice traveled instantly downwards through a wire in a hollow post of the tower, 180 meters horizontally underground to the depot’s barb-wired fence, 350 meters through the underbrush out- side the depot, and then up a tree to a sniper’s nest where Private Matei Patina was calmly smoking a cigarette. Sergeant Enesco and Private Patina were the day-shift members of a six-man sniper squad responsible for control-ling human pests observing the ammunition depot. For each sniper, the equivalent of ten American dollars a month, free slop-food, and the wooden planks of a sniper’s nest’s floor to sleep on wasn’t much, but it was better than selling trinkets to foreigners on the streets of Bucharest. Besides, Enesco and Patina usually got a bonus for each of their kills. The current intruder provided them an opportunity for a good vacation.

Private Patina crushed his cigarette into a small, tin ashtray, raised the butt of his Russian Dragunov Sniper Rifle, and swung it around on its tripod. He fixed the cross threads of its scope on the chest of the green-clad intruder, knowing that the rifle’s bullet would land a little high. The intruder, 275 meters away, was an easy target. Private Patina pressed his shoulder against the butt of his rifle and prepared to squeeze its trigger.

A large deer fly landed on Woerner’s nose. Slapping it, he jerked his head out of the sniper’s view. Private Patina quickly tried to reposition the scope on his target, but his target had disappeared.

Woerner had moved to a new observation point under the drooping branches of a huge fir tree. The branches blocked his view of the aviation control tower but still provided him a clear view of the entire ground in the ammunition depot. Between the barbwire, he could see four men with a crane, unloading a cone-like object from a cargo truck. He focused his binoculars, and the hazy picture of the men and the truck transformed itself into clear images of four gray-uniformed Romanian soldiers carefully lowering a SS-25 Soviet warhead onto a metal pallet behind an East German, military cargo truck. To the right of the truck, five Soviet, wheeled, missile launchers were lined up next to each other. Each launcher had a Scaleboard missile on it. Woerner extended his radio transmitter’s black antenna through the fir tree’s branches and sent a coded message about the missile equipment’s NATO designations to his point of contact in the nearby city of Brasov. His point man decoded the message as: “5 SS12B/-9P120 +?SS25” – five Scaleboard B Missiles, five 9P120 wheeled, launching vehicles, and a questionable number of SS-25 nuclear warheads.

Woerner stepped out from under the branches of his protective canopy to get a better view of the missiles. For an unknown reason, he looked up into the tree-line, searching for somebody who might be looking back at him. In the past, Woerner had seen fluorescent green tracer bullets in the night float through the darkness toward him and suddenly streak over his head. But this was different. There were no tracer bullets. In the broad daylight of the afternoon, Woerner saw a black streak coming toward him, but he didn’t have time to respond as the bullet pierced his forehead and gave him the most terrible but briefest headache he had ever experienced in his life. When the bullet exited the rear of his scalp, it scattered his brain matter onto the brown, pine needles covering the ground.

“Vacation time,” Private Patina yelled with delight. Sergeant Enesco whispered into the microphone, “Quiet. Go to the body and secure our belongings. I hope our catch has a lot of money for us. You can have his binoculars. I’ll take his watch.”

Chapter 1

March 10, 1995

Jack W. Hollingsworth drove north on Route 9, following the Hudson River into the Catskills Mountains of New York, retracing the route his wife had most likely taken after she had left JFK International Airport two days before. He tried to imagine how her trip ended up getting her killed. According to the county coroner, she was intoxicated at the time of her death. Her cold corpse, which had been retrieved from a creek, had a blood alcohol level of 0.24 percent, three times the legal limit for alcohol intoxication. Jack asked himself how she could have been drunk when she had just driven 150 miles from New York City. Perhaps she had stopped at an airport lounge or at a tavern, but this was unlikely considering that the only alcohol she had ever drunk was wine at Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.

Jack stopped at every restaurant and other business establishment along the highway, showing people his wife’s picture, but nobody recognized her. Finally he reached the accident scene, stopped his car, and got out of it. Jack thought how convenient it was that she had swerved off the road, crossed a boat ramp, and driven her car into Roelift Creek. How convenient it was that this point of the road didn’t have a fence or a guardrail. It were as if the hazardous conditions of automobile, alcohol, and an unguarded boat ramp had combined to preordain her death.

Jack stopped at the edge of the ramp and looked down into the creek which had taken his wife’s life. Through the clearness of its water, he saw white and brown round stones lying on the creek bed. For a moment, he saw the image of his wife’s face in the water, looking back at him. According to the coroner, the creek was only five feet deep, but its almost freezing water was cold enough to make anybody go quickly into shock. Given Cynthia’s blood alcohol content, she didn’t have a chance. Jack looked down into the clear, frigid water and tried to imagine how she had felt, sitting in her auto-mobile, feeling the cold water seeping through its windows onto her legs, feeling the water slowly drawing her life away from her. The clear, lifeless water, the snow-covered shore-line, the desolate skeletons of trees, and the cold March wind blowing against Jack’s face reinforced the fact that his wife was gone forever.

Jack asked himself, Why here? Why not at the dangerous curve at Deathman’s Bend or at the bottom of the icy hill near the town of Rhinecliff?

Jack got back in his car and started driving home to Stuyvesant Falls. Up ahead was the Holy Grail, an old, wooden tavern with several motorcycles in front of it. It was an unlikely place to be looking for clues, but Jack decided it was a good place to drink a beer.

When he stepped into the tavern, he almost tripped because its floor was more than a foot below the bottom of its entrance door. Looking through the dim, smoke-filled room,

Jack saw several motorcyclists playing pool and drinking beer at the back of the room. In front of them stood four empty wooden tables. A huge man, wearing a black, leather vest, which didn’t hide his hairy chest or his protruding belly, stood behind the bar, cleaning glasses.

“Can I help ya, buddy?” the man yelled.

Jack said, “I’ll take a Miller draft.”

The man handed him a glass of beer and Jack gave him two dollars.

“What else do you want?” the man asked.

Jack pulled out a picture of his wife and showed it to him. “Have you seen her before?”

“Yeah, I have. What’s it worth?”

Jack pulled a fifty-dollar bill out of his pocket and said, “You give me the right information and this will be a start.”

Placing the money in his vest pocket, the man said, “She was here Tuesday afternoon.”

“Are you sure?” Jack asked.

“Listen, Mister, I’m sure. She was a classy lady, well dressed. We don’t have her kind in here everyday.”

Jack suddenly got excited. “What can you tell me about her? How was she dressed? Was anybody with her?”

“For another fifty dollars I can tell you everything I know and even help you to get more info,” the man answered.

Jack handed the man another fifty-dollar bill, and the man continued talking, “She was wearing a light blue dress and high heels. She was also wearing earrings. She was with a man who didn’t belong here either. He had a white shirt and a dark suit and tie. Normally bikers pick a fight with a man wearing a tie around here, but they left him alone. He sure was a ugly son-of-a-bitch. He looked like a big wrestler with a deep scar in his cheek. He was probably packin’ one too.”

“What this guy look like?” Jack asked.

“As I said, ugly. He was about six-feet-two and husky. I mean 220 pounds and no fat. He had black or dark brown hair. It’s hard to tell down here.”

“How old?” Jack prodded.

“Ah, thirty-five, maybe forty.”

“About what time were they here and what were they doing?”

“About two o’clock. I served them lunch right over there at the third table. They both ate steak and fries. The man had a beer and she had a cup of coffee.”

“Did they drink anything else? Was she drunk?”

“No way, I would have remembered. She was a real fine lady worth watchin’.”

“May I take a look at your ladies room?” Jack asked.

“Go ‘head. There ain’t no women there now.”

Jack went to the ladies room and carefully inspected it. There was no clue that his wife had ever been there. He then went back to the bar room and inspected the third table and its chairs with a small flashlight. Once again there was nothing unusual other than some graffiti on the table and bubble gum stuck under it.

“You know what they drove away in?” Jack asked.

“No. The last time I saw them they walked out the door about two-thirty.”

“You don’t remember anything about what they talked about, do you?”

“I’m sorry I don’t. I could use another fifty. As I said, she was worth watchin’. What she’s to you anyway?”

“My wife,” Jack answered.

“Well, if I had a woman like that, I’d try to find her too.”

Jack handed the bartender his business card and said, “If you find out anything else about her or that ugly son-of-a-bitch, you call me. I’ll make it worth your while.”

“I’ll do that,” the bartender said.

Once outside, Jack looked around the parking lot. The only unusual thing he found was a cold, half-smoked cigarette bearing the inscription “GAULOISES Blondes.” Who had disposed of this French cigarette in the parking lot?

Jack had a lot of other questions. Who was the strange man who had accompanied his wife? How did Cynthia get so much alcohol in her blood? The coroner, using his wife’s rectal temperature and the temperature of the creek water, had estimated that she had died at three-thirty in the after-noon. What did she do from the time she had left the Holy Grail Tavern until the time of her death an hour later? Why had she driven south instead of north to Stuyvesant Falls and home? What was she doing driving north a mile south of the Holy Grail when she drove off the road to her death?

Continuing his journey home, Jack drove through Cheviot, Hudson, and Stockport. He stopped at the gas stations, drug- stores, bars, and restaurants in all three towns, but failed to obtain any additional information. The last five miles to Stuyvesant Falls were lonely ones, filled with memories of his wife. Originally Jack had doubts about leaving his daughters Judy and Julie with his sister the day after his wife’s autopsy. His sister asked him if the mental shock of his wife’s death was forcing him to go on a witch hunt. The scant information he had gotten at the bikers’ tavern, however, had made his witch hunt worthwhile, reinforcing the importance of prompt investigative actions while the crime trail was still fresh. Jack had learned from his years of intelligence gathering never to accept any event as being coincidental. In a few days he would summarize his findings in a brief letter to the Hudson County District Attorney. For now though, he intended to pick up his children and drive them home. He intended to help his two daughters cope with the dreadful death of his wife as best as possible.

The mortician’s assistant was proud of his efforts to present Mrs. Hollingsworth as a beautiful corpse. The chilling effect of the water had preserved her well. After the assistant sewed Mrs. Hollingsworth’s teeth together, he used a thin line of glue to join her luscious lips. He covered her blue lips with a thick, rose-colored lipstick. He then carefully brushed her brown hair backwards, stopping for a second to look at a lump on top of her head, which impeded his brush. Carefully separating the hairs, he found what looked like a little, black butterfly pasted to her scalp. Upon closer inspection, he discovered that it was a Balkan Cross less than three-quarters of an inch in circumference. He pried the cross out of her skull with a small spatula. The assistant looked at the cross, which had a small screw on the back of it, and then at the clear fluid oozing from the small hole in Mrs. Hollings-worth’s head. Acting frantically, he screwed the cross back in place as quickly as possible and then dabbed the surrounding hair with a wet cloth. This is horrible, he thought, I’ve already shampooed her. Five minutes later, he recovered from his mistake. The tint of the rouge he brushed on her cheeks was just perfect. Mrs. Hollingsworth was more beautiful than ever.

The next day, a beautiful, gleaming, copper burial casket reflected the dark silhouettes of the people mourning the death of Mrs. Cynthia Hollingsworth. Lying within the closed casket, ready to be lowered in the ground, Cynthia was finally hidden from the view of the loved ones and spectators who had come to give her their last gestures of respect. Jack would always remember her as the beautiful and gracious political science student he had met at New York City College in 1976. She had helped him in so many ways, teaching him that it was possible even to trust people involved in politics. Over the years she had become even more beautiful as the lines in her face testified to her contract of eternal trust. When Jack had heard the words at his marriage ceremony, “until death do us part,” he considered them insignificant. His marriage vows were meant to go beyond the grave. How his heart was wrenched by the sight of the casket being lowered into the burial trench, separating him from the one he had wanted to love forever. Jack looked at Judy, his sixteen year-old daughter, and saw tears running down her cheeks. He felt his hand being repeatedly squeezed by Julie, his five-year old daughter. Julie and Judy were Jack’s primary reasons to keep on living.

When he looked down at Julie, she cried out, “When’s Mommy coming home?”

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