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Gentle Lightning

 

 

(Third and Final Book in the Rolling Thunder Trilogy)

After the crushing defeat of his army in the Ardennes in December 1944, Adolf Hitler desperately wanted a secret weapon that would turn the tide and secure a last-minute victory for the Third Reich. He dreamed of a weapon so deadly it would kill the Allies by the hundreds of thousands. Although Hitler continued to speak of victory, many of his field co

“Gentle Lightning”

(Third and Final Book in the Rolling Thunder Trilogy)

After the crushing defeat of his army in the Ardennes in December 1944, Adolf Hitler desperately wanted a secret weapon that would turn the tide and secure a last-minute victory for the Third Reich. He dreamed of a weapon so deadly it would kill the Allies by the hundreds of thousands. Although Hitler continued to speak of victory, many of his field commanders knew victory had been lost when the Allies landed on the beaches of Normandy. 

 

On a cold, dismal day in the first week of February 1945, Hitler ordered his driver to take him to an ultra-secret underground facility an hour’s drive south of Berlin. Despite treacherous road conditions and the very real possibility of being attacked by either the Americans or Russians, Hitler arrived unharmed and was immediately escorted inside to address the scientists who worked in the chemical laboratory.

 

The scientists were shocked by his appearance. The Fuhrer was bent over, disheveled and shuffled his feet like an old man. In the last months, his hands began to shake and twitch uncontrollably making it almost impossible to use them to do even the smallest task.  They also noted that his speech was slurred and at times incoherent.  But somehow, he was able to collect himself and tell the scientist why he had come. 

 

What he said was blunt and to the point; he ordered them to develop a deadly toxin that could be used effectively against the advancing enemies. He wanted a toxin that killed by the thousands and hundreds of thousands. And he wanted it NOW! The weakened leader of the Third Reich pointed his finger at them and shouted in a high shrill voice that if they didn’t produce such a poison he would personally give the order to have them shot.

 

For the next weeks, the scientists worked around the clock with little sleep and food. They knew the Fuhrer’s threat was real and their lives hung in the balance.  Hour after exhausting hour, they mixed chemicals in varying proportions hoping to produce a toxin that would satisfy Hitler. Late one night, a scientist in a fit of desperation mixed three lesser toxins together and went to catch an hour of precious sleep. When he returned, he made the remarkable discovery that the toxins seemed to have bonded perfectly and might be what the man in Berlin wanted.  But being a true scientist, he knew he would have to test it to be sure.

 

He called the German army sergeant on duty and told him to bring five “test specimens” to the courtyard outside the laboratory.  The sergeant took one look outside and decided he didn’t want to walk three hundred meters in blinding snow to round up some vermin-ridden “test specimens”. In less than a friendly voice, he told the scientist if he wanted specimens he could bloody well go get them himself.  Three minutes later, the enraged scientist burst into the guard shack and stood nose to nose with the startled sergeant.

 

“So you want to stay warm, do you? I am positive the Fuhrer can find a place to suit you!” He picked up the phone and ordered the Army operator to connect him with the Fuhrer’s adjutant in Berlin.  It only took the overweight sergeant two seconds to grab his overcoat and run to the make-shift prisoner shed in the woods.

 

The putrid smell oozing from inside the shed hit his nostrils and he fought back the bile rushing up his throat. He wrapped his scarf tightly around his face, but he could not keep the sickening odor from choking him. Somehow, he forced himself to grab five “specimens”. The scientist took one look at the skeletons that once were robust Russian soldiers and asked the sergeant if this was all he could find. 

 

The scientist made the prisoners sit on the frozen ground while he prepared the toxin for testing. He donned protective clothing and very carefully dropped a tiny drop in a bucket of water. Then he gave each prisoner a spoonful of the concoction and checked his stopwatch. He counted off two minutes and to his profound disappointment the five human guinea pigs sat seemingly unaffected by the toxin. 

 

In a cruel act of desperation, he kicked one of the emaciated Russians in the head and watched him crumple to the ground. When he drew back to kick the next man, the wretched creature gasped and died. Within thirty seconds all of the men were dead. 

 

He ordered, “Sergeant, bring me ten more!” 

 

The ten hollow-eyed prisoners made no protest when the soldier pushed them to the ground nor when the scientist dropped a tiny speck of liquid into their mouths. He watched his stopwatch and at two minutes and thirty seconds the prisoners lay lifeless on the ground like so much cut wheat.  

 

He ran back into the lab and excitingly described what he had witnessed in his journal. “The test specimens died with no outward show of discomfort such as convulsions or external bleeding. By all appearances it was a peaceful transition from life to death. An autopsy will reveal the effects on internal organs.” An exhaustive examination of several of the cadavers revealed the amazing truth-the toxin caused the heart muscles to collapse and kill the victim.  

 

The proud scientist evaluated the properties of his toxin and decided to name it Sanft Blitz or Gentle Lightning, because it struck like lightning but resulted in a death that he described as “somewhat gentle”. 

 

He hurriedly wrote a dispatch and put it in a sealed envelope with the words, “For the Fuhrer’s eyes only!” on the outside. A special currier with military escort carried the dispatch to Hitler’s headquarters. When he entered the facility, he refused to give the dispatch to anyone but the Fuhrer himself. A stubborn colonel threatened to have the currier executed if he didn’t leave immediately and take his stupid dispatch with him. When the brave young soldier told the colonel and everyone else in the room he brought news of a secret weapon ordered by the Fuhrer he was rushed into the leader’s office.

 

Those who were present when the Fuhrer read of the incredible discovery, reported he immediately broke into the victory dance photographers loved to capture on film.  The jubilant Austrian dictated a message to the scientist and sent it back by the same currier.  Unfortunately, the currier and his military escort ran headlong into a company of Russian infantry in the forest and were killed. The captain of the Russian troops found Hitler’s dispatch and sent a translated copy  to his general. Within hours three companies of soldiers were ordered to find the scientist and the toxin he invented.   

 

Meanwhile, the scientists in the underground laboratory knew the Russians were coming and were in a panic. Their panic became wholesale when the German soldiers who guarded them slipped away in the night leaving them defenseless.

 

Over the next hours, the scientists did the same. The scientist who invented Sanft Blitz remained to the end. He wrote the formula for the toxin on waterproof paper and sealed it in a metal tube. Then he set the laboratory on fire and ran into the shadows of the deep forest with the metal tube hidden in his clothing.

 

Early the next morning, Russians soldiers saw the smoke rising from the burning facility and in less than an hour, a mounted patrol of Red Army troops came to a screeching halt in what remained of the laboratory compound. Despite their efforts, nothing of value could be salvaged from the fire. But late in the day, a soldier moved a smothering pile of papers with his bayonet and found a document that escaped the intense flames of the fire. When the unit’s military intelligence officer studied the document he correctly determined it to be of no military value and threw it to the ground. But when he saw hand writing on the back of the document, he decided it was worth another look. 

 

Evidently, one of the scientists scribbled the words on the paper and in the panic forgot it was there. “This day I purely by accident made the incredible discovery of the world’s most deadly toxin. I have chosen to give it the name Gentle Lightning. My discovery will win the war for my Fuhrer and the Third Reich.”

 

Forgetting all he learned about secrecy, the author of the message carefully printed his name and address. A translated copy of the note would make its way to the desk of Josef Stalin in Moscow and laid alongside Hitler’s dispatch to the scientist who discovered the toxin called Gentle Lightning.  Stalin called his generals into his office and ordered them to find the scientist and get the formula. When one of the generals asked if it was to become a priority for his army, Stalin marched to the general and slapped his face with such fury, blood splattered on the officers standing next to him. The terrified generals understood it correctly; Stalin’s order was to take priority over everything else.

 

The inventor of the toxin crept through the cold dark forest and arrived at his destination a day later; an old barn on his grandfather’s small farm far from the nearest town. The grandparents had long since died and the farm left to rot and collapse. But the stone barn remained seemingly unchanged by the passing of so many years. He went inside the barn and found what he was looking for—a stone in the shape of a heart. He and his cousins played in the barn during their summers at the farm and would hide things in the open space behind the stone. 

 

He carefully removed the stone and put the tube with the formula for Gentle Lightning inside. When he replaced the stone, it was impossible to tell it had been moved or held something behind it. Satisfied that his mission to safeguard his discovery was successful, he slept for twelve uninterrupted hours. When he awoke, a terrible thought shook him; what if I die and no one knows of my discovery? I will never be recognized as a great scientist! In the cold of that barn he considered his options and decided to tell someone about what he had done. 

 

But something else happened to the scientist in the old barn; for some unexplained reason he came to the realization that what he invented must never be used against his fellow man. His change of ethical reality was frightening and liberating at the same time and he wept.

 

A new mission grew out of his dramatic change of soul and mind. Yes, he would tell someone, but who? He wracked his brain and found the perfect person-his young nephew, the son of his sister. Being careful to only travel at night in the dark of the forest, he found his way to the small home the young lad shared with his older brother. 

 

Finally, he arrived at the house and knocked quietly on the door. When the boy opened the door, and saw his uncle he was more than a little surprised. Without as much as a handshake the uncle pulled the boy into the kitchen and told him he had made something terrible and begged him to destroy it if he died or was killed. The lad took the map his uncle pressed into his hands and his uncle left as quickly as he came. The simple map gave no clue to what the “something” was, but it was clearly written that the “something” was to be destroyed.  That very night the uncle was struck and killed by a German army staff car careening down a narrow road alongside a river.  The two drunk officers dragged his body to the edge of the road and tossed it into the river below. No one ever found the body. 

 

Neither did the nephew know of his uncle’s death. He learned that Russian soldiers burst into his uncle’s village house and tore it apart. The soldiers found an old woman on the property and demanded her to tell them where the scientist hid something he called Gentle Lighting. She cried that she knew nothing of what they asked but they continued their interrogation throughout the night. The soldiers, tired and frustrated by the old woman refusal to help decided it was time to leave. But before they left, one of the soldiers smashed her skull with the butt of his rifle.

 

A few months after the end of the war, the nephew heard rumors of a secret document uncovered in Berlin that described a super deadly toxin developed by one of Hitler’s scientists in an underground facility south of Berlin.  The document only gave the initials of the scientist, J.M.H. and the name of his village.  But the scientist and the formula for the toxin had vanished into thin air. It didn’t take the nephew long to arrive at the correct conclusion that his uncle, whose initials matched those in the document, was the scientist who invented the toxin. That meant the map his uncle pressed into his hand on that night would lead to the location where the formula was hidden.  

 

The nephew never used the map because he and his older brother immigrated to America six months later.

 

 

New Jersey

USA

Present Day 

 

The family gathered outside the old man’s room and spoke in hushed voices.  They knew the man was dying and comforted themselves with the fact he had lived a long full life. When he was a teenager he and his older brother left Germany and came to America. The brothers worked hard and built a thriving business that provided for their wives and children. The older brother died six years earlier and now it was the old man’s time to pass from this world.

 

The family doctor checked his vitals and knew his death was imminent. “Can I get you anything?” the doctor asked.

 

His patient tried to lift his head off his pillow but was unable to muster enough strength to accomplish the movement. He motioned for the doctor to bend closer and he whispered, “Tell my son to come here.”

 

A brief light flickered in the old man’s eyes when his only son sat by his bed and took his hand. “My son, I know that soon I will close my eyes for the last time in my life. That’s why I need to tell you a story, a very important story.”

 

The son sat spellbound as his father spoke of life in his native Germany during the war. He fought back tears when he told him about the day his parents were killed in an Allied air raid leaving him and his older brother to fend for themselves.  

 

The dying man closed his eyes and his son thought he had fallen asleep. But he garnered enough strength to finish the story he had to tell him. He told him about the night his scientist uncle visited him and gave him the map. 

 

“Papa, what is so important about the map?” his son asked.

 

“Near the end of the war, my uncle discovered a formula to make a terrible poison. He told me to use the map to find the formula and destroy it; but I failed to do as he asked.”

 

Again, he closed his eyes and appeared to slumber. 

 

“Papa, please finish the story!” The son nudged his father’s hand and he struggled to open his eyes.

 

“Bring me that box.” He pointed to a small wooden box on a shelf in the closet.

 

“Open the box and you will find the map inside a leather pouch.” The old man’s breathing became even more labored.

 

“Karl, promise me you will go to Germany and find what my uncle hid so many years ago. Then I want you to destroy it.”

 

Before the son could respond the father closed his eyes and died.

 

He sat motionless in the chair beside his father’s bed, holding the worn leather pouch he had been given only moments ago. Although the pouch with its contents weighted only a few ounces, to the young man it seemed to weigh a ton. But the weight on his shoulders was even greater. 

 

It was at that moment, Karl, had a vision, or as he would describe years later, an epiphany, that would change his life forever. 

 

He spoke in a whisper to his unhearing father, “Yes, Papa, I will go to Germany to find what your uncle created. But I cannot promise to destroy it. I have another plan.”

 

  

Germany

Present Time

 

No one paid attention to the old man sitting at a table in the back of the crowded beer hall on the outskirts of Munich.  The owner had seen him a few times over the past week, but knew nothing about him. He always arrived around seven in the evening, drank a few beers and left around nine. The old man never spoke to anyone, choosing to drink by himself at the table in the back. The owner, a man not much younger than his older client, had been observing customers for more years than he cared to count, and he knew there was more to the man than what met the eye. And being a very astute observer of people, he would bet a week’s pay that the man in his former life was a Nazi or at least a supporter of the Nazis and their leader, Adolf Hitler. The little-known fact that he himself had pledged to serve the Fuhrer, helped him pick out a kindred-spirit among his customers.

 

He was correct on both counts; he used to be a Nazi and dedicated supporter of Hitler. But in the years after the war, he came to see that Hitler and his henchmen destroyed Germany. In fact, he knew things he wished he didn’t; dark secrets that haunted him day and night.  He had never revealed his secrets to anyone until that Friday evening in the smoky beer hall in Munich.

 

On that evening, he drank his normal two beers and kept drinking. Soon, it was obvious to those around him he was drunk. It became even more obvious when he began to talk loudly to the people at the next table.

 

“I am a bad man; a very bad man and I’ve seen many bad things! Oh, you don’t believe me? You think I’m just an old man who loves to drink beer. But, you are wrong! I was a scientist! Yes, I was a scientist and was there when it happened!” 

 

He tried to stand but fell back into his seat. Someone at the table called out to him. “Old man, tell us what happened years before any of us were born!”

 

“Oh, I can’t tell you! But it was something that could have changed everything for Germany. No, I can’t tell you what it was, but I can tell you what we called it.”

 

This time he was able to wobble to the table bend close and whisper it loud enough for everyone to hear.

 

“It was called Gentle Lightning!” He stumbled back to his table and passed out. 

 

 A day later, the police found his body floating in the river.

 

In the city of Kassel, in the German state of Hesse, an elderly man left his downtown apartment and headed for the local park. Although the man was well advanced in years, he stood straight and walked like a man many years younger. Today he was on a mission. A writer from America had contacted him and asked if he could interview him about his career as a scientist. 

 

The two men sat on a park bench for more than three hours. The writer was skilled in getting people to tell him their secrets and the old scientist told him his. During the war he worked with a number of other scientists in a secret laboratory under the orders of Hitler himself. He told them to develop a powerful toxin he could use against the Allies and gain him the victory he desperately wanted. It was a happy day when one of his colleagues created the formula. It was everything Hitler wanted and more. The deadly toxin was named Gentle Lightning.

 

That night, the elderly scientist was taking a bath when he suffered a heart attack and died. Despite the protests of family, no autopsy was performed to confirm the cause of death. His physician of many years told police his patient had the heart of a forty-year old man and knew his death was not the result of a heart attack. No investigation into his death was ever initiated by the police.

 

Argentina

Present Day

 

Across the Atlantic in Argentina, another old man sat at a table in his house. The man left Germany and came to Argentina within weeks after the end of the war in Europe. On the table in front of him was a stack of handwritten notes, the beginnings of a memoir. He devoted countless hours to writing what he would leave behind after his death. Although many of his neighbors suspected he had been involved somehow in Hitler’s Germany, no one had ever asked him to confirm it. That changed when a new woman who spoke with a German accent moved in the neighborhood. According to neighbors, the young woman quickly befriended the lonely old man. She was the one who encouraged him to write his memoirs and offered to edit them.

 

Day after day, the two sat at the table writing and rewriting until it was perfect. The attractive woman cast a spell and he told her things he had never told anyone else. 

 

Now as he sat staring at the paper, he made the fateful decision to write the secret he had kept bottled inside for decades. In one paragraph he told everything he knew about a toxin a fellow scientist in his laboratory had discovered by accident. The toxin could have ended the war with the Allies and Germany would have survived to rule as the Master Race. The toxin was given the name Gentle Lightning.

 

The young woman paid her normal visit at dinner time to work on his notes but according to an eye-witness, left in a hurry only thirty minutes later.  A delivery man opened the garage the next morning and found the old German hanging from a water pipe near the ceiling. One of the detectives sent to investigate noted that there was no chair, bench, or ladder from which the man could have jumped to hang himself. So how did an old man lift himself five feet to put a rope around the water pipe and then commit suicide? The detective’s superior ordered him to forget the matter and write it off as a cut-and-dried case of suicide.

 

CIA Headquarters

Washington, DC 

 

Chad Purcell, the Assistant Director of Anti-Terrorism, read Interpol’s detailed reports of the three incidents and highlighted with a yellow under-liner some very interesting similarities.

 

• Three old German men in their late eighties

• All three had worked for Hitler as scientists

• They all worked in the same laboratory

• All of the men told of a secret toxin called Gentle Lightning

• Within hours they died of mysterious causes

 

Purcell reread the reports and wrote in pencil, “International terrorism? At this point it is hard to tell. Will watch for further developments.”

 

He also drew a circle around the words, “Gentle Lightning”. 

 

He had no way of knowing that soon his life would be consumed by the two words he circled.

mmanders knew victory had been lost when the Allies landed on the beaches of Normandy. 

 

On a cold, dismal day in the first week of February 1945, Hitler ordered his driver to take him to an ultra-secret underground facility an hour’s drive south of Berlin. Despite treacherous road conditions and the very real possibility of being attacked by either the Americans or Russians, Hitler arrived unharmed and was immediately escorted inside to address the scientists who worked in the chemical laboratory.

 

The scientists were shocked by his appearance. The Fuhrer was bent over, disheveled and shuffled his feet like an old man. In the last months, his hands began to shake and twitch uncontrollably making it almost impossible to use them to do even the smallest task.  They also noted that his speech was slurred and at times incoherent.  But somehow, he was able to collect himself and tell the scientist why he had come. 

 

What he said was blunt and to the point; he ordered them to develop a deadly toxin that could be used effectively against the advancing enemies. He wanted a toxin that killed by the thousands and hundreds of thousands. And he wanted it NOW! The weakened leader of the Third Reich pointed his finger at them and shouted in a high shrill voice that if they didn’t produce such a poison he would personally give the order to have them shot.

 

For the next weeks, the scientists worked around the clock with little sleep and food. They knew the Fuhrer’s threat was real and their lives hung in the balance.  Hour after exhausting hour, they mixed chemicals in varying proportions hoping to produce a toxin that would satisfy Hitler. Late one night, a scientist in a fit of desperation mixed three lesser toxins together and went to catch an hour of precious sleep. When he returned, he made the remarkable discovery that the toxins seemed to have bonded perfectly and might be what the man in Berlin wanted.  But being a true scientist, he knew he would have to test it to be sure.

 

He called the German army sergeant on duty and told him to bring five “test specimens” to the courtyard outside the laboratory.  The sergeant took one look outside and decided he didn’t want to walk three hundred meters in blinding snow to round up some vermin-ridden “test specimens”. In less than a friendly voice, he told the scientist if he wanted specimens he could bloody well go get them himself.  Three minutes later, the enraged scientist burst into the guard shack and stood nose to nose with the startled sergeant.

 

“So you want to stay warm, do you? I am positive the Fuhrer can find a place to suit you!” He picked up the phone and ordered the Army operator to connect him with the Fuhrer’s adjutant in Berlin.  It only took the overweight sergeant two seconds to grab his overcoat and run to the make-shift prisoner shed in the woods.

 

The putrid smell oozing from inside the shed hit his nostrils and he fought back the bile rushing up his throat. He wrapped his scarf tightly around his face, but he could not keep the sickening odor from choking him. Somehow, he forced himself to grab five “specimens”. The scientist took one look at the skeletons that once were robust Russian soldiers and asked the sergeant if this was all he could find. 

 

The scientist made the prisoners sit on the frozen ground while he prepared the toxin for testing. He donned protective clothing and very carefully dropped a tiny drop in a bucket of water. Then he gave each prisoner a spoonful of the concoction and checked his stopwatch. He counted off two minutes and to his profound disappointment the five human guinea pigs sat seemingly unaffected by the toxin. 

 

In a cruel act of desperation, he kicked one of the emaciated Russians in the head and watched him crumple to the ground. When he drew back to kick the next man, the wretched creature gasped and died. Within thirty seconds all of the men were dead. 

 

He ordered, “Sergeant, bring me ten more!” 

 

The ten hollow-eyed prisoners made no protest when the soldier pushed them to the ground nor when the scientist dropped a tiny speck of liquid into their mouths. He watched his stopwatch and at two minutes and thirty seconds the prisoners lay lifeless on the ground like so much cut wheat.  

 

He ran back into the lab and excitingly described what he had witnessed in his journal. “The test specimens died with no outward show of discomfort such as convulsions or external bleeding. By all appearances it was a peaceful transition from life to death. An autopsy will reveal the effects on internal organs.” An exhaustive examination of several of the cadavers revealed the amazing truth-the toxin caused the heart muscles to collapse and kill the victim.  

 

The proud scientist evaluated the properties of his toxin and decided to name it Sanft Blitz or Gentle Lightning, because it struck like lightning but resulted in a death that he described as “somewhat gentle”. 

 

He hurriedly wrote a dispatch and put it in a sealed envelope with the words, “For the Fuhrer’s eyes only!” on the outside. A special currier with military escort carried the dispatch to Hitler’s headquarters. When he entered the facility, he refused to give the dispatch to anyone but the Fuhrer himself. A stubborn colonel threatened to have the currier executed if he didn’t leave immediately and take his stupid dispatch with him. When the brave young soldier told the colonel and everyone else in the room he brought news of a secret weapon ordered by the Furher he was rushed into the leader’s office.

 

Those who were present when the Fuhrer read of the incredible discovery, reported he immediately broke into the victory dance photographers loved to capture on film.  The jubilant Austrian dictated a message to the scientist and sent it back by the same currier.  Unfortunately, the currier and his military escort ran headlong into a company of Russian infantry in the forest and were killed. The captain of the Russian troops found Hitler’s dispatch and sent a translated copy  to his general. Within hours three companies of soldiers were ordered to find the scientist and the toxin he invented.   

 

Meanwhile, the scientists in the underground laboratory knew the Russians were coming and were in a panic. Their panic became wholesale when the German soldiers who guarded them slipped away in the night leaving them defenseless.

 

Over the next hours, the scientists did the same. The scientist who invented Sanft Blitz remained to the end. He wrote the formula for the toxin on waterproof paper and sealed it in a metal tube. Then he set the laboratory on fire and ran into the shadows of the deep forest with the metal tube hidden in his clothing.

 

Early the next morning, Russians soldiers saw the smoke rising from the burning facility and in less than an hour, a mounted patrol of Red Army troops came to a screeching halt in what remained of the laboratory compound. Despite their efforts, nothing of value could be salvaged from the fire. But late in the day, a soldier moved a smothering pile of papers with his bayonet and found a document that escaped the intense flames of the fire. When the unit’s military intelligence officer studied the document he correctly determined it to be of no military value and threw it to the ground. But when he saw hand writing on the back of the document, he decided it was worth another look. 

 

Evidently, one of the scientists scribbled the words on the paper and in the panic forgot it was there. “This day I purely by accident made the incredible discovery of the world’s most deadly toxin. I have chosen to give it the name Gentle Lightning. My discovery will win the war for my Fuhrer and the Third Reich.”

 

Forgetting all he learned about secrecy, the author of the message carefully printed his name and address. A translated copy of the note would make its way to the desk of Josef Stalin in Moscow and laid alongside Hitler’s dispatch to the scientist who discovered the toxin called Gentle Lightning.  Stalin called his generals into his office and ordered them to find the scientist and get the formula. When one of the generals asked if it was to become a priority for his army, Stalin marched to the general and slapped his face with such fury, blood splattered on the officers standing next to him. The terrified generals understood it correctly; Stalin’s order was to take priority over everything else.

 

The inventor of the toxin crept through the cold dark forest and arrived at his destination a day later; an old barn on his grandfather’s small farm far from the nearest town. The grandparents had long since died and the farm left to rot and collapse. But the stone barn remained seemingly unchanged by the passing of so many years. He went inside the barn and found what he was looking for—a stone in the shape of a heart. He and his cousins played in the barn during their summers at the farm and would hide things in the open space behind the stone. 

 

He carefully removed the stone and put the tube with the formula for Gentle Lightning inside. When he replaced the stone, it was impossible to tell it had been moved or held something behind it. Satisfied that his mission to safeguard his discovery was successful, he slept for twelve uninterrupted hours. When he awoke, a terrible thought shook him; what if I die and no one knows of my discovery? I will never be recognized as a great scientist! In the cold of that barn he considered his options and decided to tell someone about what he had done. 

 

But something else happened to the scientist in the old barn; for some unexplained reason he came to the realization that what he invented must never be used against his fellow man. His change of ethical reality was frightening and liberating at the same time and he wept.

 

A new mission grew out of his dramatic change of soul and mind. Yes, he would tell someone, but who? He wracked his brain and found the perfect person-his young nephew, the son of his sister. Being careful to only travel at night in the dark of the forest, he found his way to the small home the young lad shared with his older brother. 

 

Finally, he arrived at the house and knocked quietly on the door. When the boy opened the door, and saw his uncle he was more than a little surprised. Without as much as a handshake the uncle pulled the boy into the kitchen and told him he had made something terrible and begged him to destroy it if he died or was killed. The lad took the map his uncle pressed into his hands and his uncle left as quickly as he came. The simple map gave no clue to what the “something” was, but it was clearly written that the “something” was to be destroyed.  That very night the uncle was struck and killed by a German army staff car careening down a narrow road alongside a river.  The two drunk officers dragged his body to the edge of the road and tossed it into the river below. No one ever found the body. 

 

Neither did the nephew know of his uncle’s death. He learned that Russian soldiers burst into his uncle’s village house and tore it apart. The soldiers found an old woman on the property and demanded her to tell them where the scientist hid something he called Gentle Lighting. She cried that she knew nothing of what they asked but they continued their interrogation throughout the night. The soldiers, tired and frustrated by the old woman refusal to help decided it was time to leave. But before they left, one of the soldiers smashed her skull with the butt of his rifle.

 

A few months after the end of the war, the nephew heard rumors of a secret document uncovered in Berlin that described a super deadly toxin developed by one of Hitler’s scientists in an underground facility south of Berlin.  The document only gave the initials of the scientist, J.M.H. and the name of his village.  But the scientist and the formula for the toxin had vanished into thin air. It didn’t take the nephew long to arrive at the correct conclusion that his uncle, whose initials matched those in the document, was the scientist who invented the toxin. That meant the map his uncle pressed into his hand on that night would lead to the location where the formula was hidden.  

 

The nephew never used the map because he and his older brother immigrated to America six months later.

 

 

New Jersey

USA

Present Day 

 

The family gathered outside the old man’s room and spoke in hushed voices.  They knew the man was dying and comforted themselves with the fact he had lived a long full life. When he was a teenager he and his older brother left Germany and came to America. The brothers worked hard and built a thriving business that provided for their wives and children. The older brother died six years earlier and now it was the old man’s time to pass from this world.

 

The family doctor checked his vitals and knew his death was imminent. “Can I get you anything?” the doctor asked.

 

His patient tried to lift his head off his pillow but was unable to muster enough strength to accomplish the movement. He motioned for the doctor to bend closer and he whispered, “Tell my son to come here.”

 

A brief light flickered in the old man’s eyes when his only son sat by his bed and took his hand. “My son, I know that soon I will close my eyes for the last time in my life. That’s why I need to tell you a story, a very important story.”

 

The son sat spellbound as his father spoke of life in his native Germany during the war. He fought back tears when he told him about the day his parents were killed in an Allied air raid leaving him and his older brother to fend for themselves.  

 

The dying man closed his eyes and his son thought he had fallen asleep. But he garnered enough strength to finish the story he had to tell him. He told him about the night his scientist uncle visited him and gave him the map. 

 

“Papa, what is so important about the map?” his son asked.

 

“Near the end of the war, my uncle discovered a formula to make a terrible poison. He told me to use the map to find the formula and destroy it; but I failed to do as he asked.”

 

Again, he closed his eyes and appeared to slumber. 

 

“Papa, please finish the story!” The son nudged his father’s hand and he struggled to open his eyes.

 

“Bring me that box.” He pointed to a small wooden box on a shelf in the closet.

 

“Open the box and you will find the map inside a leather pouch.” The old man’s breathing became even more labored.

 

“Karl, promise me you will go to Germany and find what my uncle hid so many years ago. Then I want you to destroy it.”

 

Before the son could respond the father closed his eyes and died.

 

He sat motionless in the chair beside his father’s bed, holding the worn leather pouch he had been given only moments ago. Although the pouch with its contents weighted only a few ounces, to the young man it seemed to weigh a ton. But the weight on his shoulders was even greater. 

 

It was at that moment, Karl, had a vision, or as he would describe years later, an epiphany, that would change his life forever. 

 

He spoke in a whisper to his unhearing father, “Yes, Papa, I will go to Germany to find what your uncle created. But I cannot promise to destroy it. I have another plan.”

 

  

Germany

Present Time

 

No one paid attention to the old man sitting at a table in the back of the crowded beer hall on the outskirts of Munich.  The owner had seen him a few times over the past week, but knew nothing about him. He always arrived around seven in the evening, drank a few beers and left around nine. The old man never spoke to anyone, choosing to drink by himself at the table in the back. The owner, a man not much younger than his older client, had been observing customers for more years than he cared to count, and he knew there was more to the man than what met the eye. And being a very astute observer of people, he would bet a week’s pay that the man in his former life was a Nazi or at least a supporter of the Nazis and their leader, Adolf Hitler. The little-known fact that he himself had pledged to serve the Fuhrer, helped him pick out a kindred-spirit among his customers.

 

He was correct on both counts; he used to be a Nazi and dedicated supporter of Hitler. But in the years after the war, he came to see that Hitler and his henchmen destroyed Germany. In fact, he knew things he wished he didn’t; dark secrets that haunted him day and night.  He had never revealed his secrets to anyone until that Friday evening in the smoky beer hall in Munich.

 

On that evening, he drank his normal two beers and kept drinking. Soon, it was obvious to those around him he was drunk. It became even more obvious when he began to talk loudly to the people at the next table.

 

“I am a bad man; a very bad man and I’ve seen many bad things! Oh, you don’t believe me? You think I’m just an old man who loves to drink beer. But, you are wrong! I was a scientist! Yes, I was a scientist and was there when it happened!” 

 

He tried to stand but fell back into his seat. Someone at the table called out to him. “Old man, tell us what happened years before any of us were born!”

 

“Oh, I can’t tell you! But it was something that could have changed everything for Germany. No, I can’t tell you what it was, but I can tell you what we called it.”

 

This time he was able to wobble to the table bend close and whisper it loud enough for everyone to hear.

 

“It was called Gentle Lightning!” He stumbled back to his table and passed out. 

 

 A day later, the police found his body floating in the river.

 

In the city of Kassel, in the German state of Hesse, an elderly man left his downtown apartment and headed for the local park. Although the man was well advanced in years, he stood straight and walked like a man many years younger. Today he was on a mission. A writer from America had contacted him and asked if he could interview him about his career as a scientist. 

 

The two men sat on a park bench for more than three hours. The writer was skilled in getting people to tell him their secrets and the old scientist told him his. During the war he worked with a number of other scientists in a secret laboratory under the orders of Hitler himself. He told them to develop a powerful toxin he could use against the Allies and gain him the victory he desperately wanted. It was a happy day when one of his colleagues created the formula. It was everything Hitler wanted and more. The deadly toxin was named Gentle Lightning.

 

That night, the elderly scientist was taking a bath when he suffered a heart attack and died. Despite the protests of family, no autopsy was performed to confirm the cause of death. His physician of many years told police his patient had the heart of a forty-year old man and knew his death was not the result of a heart attack. No investigation into his death was ever initiated by the police.

 

Argentina

Present Day

 

Across the Atlantic in Argentina, another old man sat at a table in his house. The man left Germany and came to Argentina within weeks after the end of the war in Europe. On the table in front of him was a stack of handwritten notes, the beginnings of a memoir. He devoted countless hours to writing what he would leave behind after his death. Although many of his neighbors suspected he had been involved somehow in Hitler’s Germany, no one had ever asked him to confirm it. That changed when a new woman who spoke with a German accent moved in the neighborhood. According to neighbors, the young woman quickly befriended the lonely old man. She was the one who encouraged him to write his memoirs and offered to edit them.

 

Day after day, the two sat at the table writing and rewriting until it was perfect. The attractive woman cast a spell and he told her things he had never told anyone else. 

 

Now as he sat staring at the paper, he made the fateful decision to write the secret he had kept bottled inside for decades. In one paragraph he told everything he knew about a toxin a fellow scientist in his laboratory had discovered by accident. The toxin could have ended the war with the Allies and Germany would have survived to rule as the Master Race. The toxin was given the name Gentle Lightning.

 

The young woman paid her normal visit at dinner time to work on his notes but according to an eye-witness, left in a hurry only thirty minutes later.  A delivery man opened the garage the next morning and found the old German hanging from a water pipe near the ceiling. One of the detectives sent to investigate noted that there was no chair, bench, or ladder from which the man could have jumped to hang himself. So how did an old man lift himself five feet to put a rope around the water pipe and then commit suicide? The detective’s superior ordered him to forget the matter and write it off as a cut-and-dried case of suicide.

 

CIA Headquarters

Washington, DC 

 

Chad Purcell, the Assistant Director of Anti-Terrorism, read Interpol’s detailed reports of the three incidents and highlighted with a yellow under-liner some very interesting similarities.

 

• Three old German men in their late eighties

• All three had worked for Hitler as scientists

• They all worked in the same laboratory

• All of the men told of a secret toxin called Gentle Lightning

• Within hours they died of mysterious causes

 

Purcell reread the reports and wrote in pencil, “International terrorism? At this point it is hard to tell. Will watch for further developments.”

 

He also drew a circle around the words, “Gentle Lightning”. 

 

He had no way of knowing that soon his life would be consumed by the two words he circled.

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