Andrew Gross Bonus Chapter: The Saboteur

This is an exclusive bonus chapter from The Saboteur by Andrew Gross, which you won't find anywhere else. The Saboteur details the heroics of a group of unlikely Norwegian soldiers tasked with covertly disrupting the Nazi's attempts to build an atomic bomb. The Norwegians weren't the Allies' first choice, but after the failed British mission you'll read about below, it became clear that they were our last hope. The Saboteur by Andrew Gross is available August 22, 2017.

February, 1943. Both the Allies and the Nazis are closing in on attempts to construct the decisive weapon of the war.

Kurt Nordstrum, an engineer in Oslo, puts his life aside to take up arms against the Germans as part of the Norwegian resistance. After the loss of his fiancée, his outfit whittled to shreds, he commandeers a coastal steamer and escapes to England to transmit secret evidence of the Nazis’s progress towards an atomic bomb at an isolated factory in Norway. There, he joins a team of dedicated Norwegians in training in the Scottish Highlands for a mission to disrupt the Nazis’ plans before they advance any further.

Parachuted onto the most unforgiving terrain in Europe, braving the fiercest of mountain storms, Nordstrum and his team attempt the most daring raid of the war, targeting the heavily-guarded factory built on a shelf of rock thought to be impregnable, a mission even they know they likely will not survive. Months later, Nordstrum is called upon again to do the impossible, opposed by both elite Nazi soldiers and a long-standing enemy who is now a local collaborator―one man against overwhelming odds, with the fate of the war in the balance, but the choice to act means putting the one person he has a chance to love in peril.

The Saboteur Bonus Chapter

Huddled knee to knee in the narrow fuselage of the wind-rattled Horsa glider, First Sergeant James Winshall of the Royal Highland Miners felt a hole in his stomach, unlike anything he had felt in his twenty-one years.

Not so different, he thought, from when he swam for Leeds in the hundred meter breast stroke. League’s honors, he received. If he wasn’t here, in the uniform of the 1st Engineers, he’d be training—for the Olympics, his coach said. Though there were no Olympics any longer. He remembered that league race well. Willoughby, a third year from Lancashire, had been undefeated. His times were known to be strong. James remembered how his stomach felt as he stood on the blocks, looking over at this red-headed phenom, lean and flexible, a picture of confidence. The feeling stayed with him right up until the crack of the gun. 

Until the very moment he hit the water and…

The intense rattling of the Horsa glider born by an RAF Halifax, twelve thousand feet over the North Sea, suddenly brought his mind back.

He was here. Not at Leeds. There was no race. Yates, one of his fellow sappers, was crammed in tightly next to him. Strong as an ox, Yates, but in this moment, white as a ghost. Even the stoutest of men could lose it at the thought that only a hundred foot metal cord was all that kept you from diving into a cold, watery grave.

“C’mon, mate,” James nudged Yates, meant not so much to sturdy him as to let him know he was feeling the very same thing. “We’ll be back before you know it.”

The glider shook like a baby’s rattle in a giant’s hand.

The actual mission would be a relief after this.

The glider shuddered again—a few of the men “Ooohed,” anxiously, reaching to the handle bar to hold on. Thirty six of them. In two gliders. All volunteers. The best the Army had. 

Of course he had no idea what it was he had raised his hand to be a part of. Only that it involved snow and in enemy territory, and was very, very important to the war. He knew about a plant, and some sort of chemical that was made there, heavy water, it was called. And the electrolysis chambers that synthesized it and that had to be destroyed. Who wouldn’t have raised his hand? They were boys ripping for a fight, anything they could do to pay the Gerries back for what they’d done to London… Of course, getting there could be a bit of a rough ride, they were told.

They didn’t lie to them there.

“Captain, mind if I step outside and take a piss,”  Fenn, always the jokester, called from down the line.

This time Greer obliged. “Be my guest,” the captain said back, “just make sure it’s downwind, please. And hold onto the line so we don’t have to pull you in.”

“Yes, sir, you first, sir.” A few, nervous laughs. Then wind lashed against the glider again, tossing them out of their benches. The turbulence made Jim’s stomach tighten.

“You can expect a bit of a rough landing,” the training colonel promised. Then it would be a four hour trek in the dark, over some of the most challenging terrain in Europe, they were told, or so the Norwegians they’d met in training all said as if with pride. James was to be one of three to man the outside doors while the explosive teams went inside. He was charged not to let anyone by until the charges were set. “I don’t care if it’s a fucking panzer division,” the commander ordered. “You hold them off.” 

That was, if, after they silenced the initial guard team there, anyone still alive.

They heard explosions outside. The glider shook. Above them, through the small window, they could see bright white flashes going off in the sky.

“Just a little flak,” the Lieutenant cautioned. From anti-aircraft batteries on the coast. They were told to expect a welcome. “We’re passing over the coast now. Hang on tight, lads. And welcome to Norway.”

The plane wove through the flak. It seemed as if every screw in its siding was about to blow their winches and they’d be hurled into the black, freezing night. James shut his eyes and tried to block the noise out of his mind. They felt the concussive waves of the anti-aircraft flak exploding all around them. The captain bellowed, “Hang tight, boys.”

Finally the ride smoothed out again. The noise abated. Jim’s stomach settled. He leaned to Yates. “It won’t be long now.”

Under his ski suit, Jim reached inside his uniform top and rubbed his thumb over the amulet he wore around his neck. It was from Louisa, with a picture and a lock of her, honey-colored hair. It always worked to calm his nerves in these moments, to think of her. She always told him he was the bravest man she knew—and that—

“Approaching the disengaging point, lads.” One of the pilots called back. “Get ready. Only a few minutes now…”

Outside, as if on command, the weather picked up. They bounced through a large cloud. As the craft shuddered, no one said a word. As they descended, the wind battered against them. One of the pilots called back, “Change of weather, I’m afraid. Visibility’s not what we were hoping for. We’re five miles out. We’re ready to disengage from the tow.”

Jim felt his stomach knot.

“One minute now… We’ve locked on the Eureka signal.”

A few faces brightened. So this was it… What they trained for. You pray you’ll be all right. You pray you’ll do your job. You pray that it’s not your time when the shooting starts. That you will make it home, see your girl again.  

You pray there aren’t a hundred Germans down there waiting for you as you climb out of the plane, and—

Ready now! Disengaging.”

Jim felt a jolt, a precipitous freefall in his gut, the towing chord being disconnected from the Halifax. 

Now they were flying on their own. 

He heard the bomber’s engines roar as, above them, the tow plane arced away. Then it turned eerily quiet. Only the wind, shaking them like a child’s toy. Beating against the sides. The glider bounced as it dropped in free flight, thrown about by the wind. James prayed this was how it was supposed to be, all this rattling. It felt like it was going hundreds of miles per hour. “Do well,” he exhorted himself, and closed his eyes, whatever your encounter. It’s just a race. Focus on the far wall. Keep your form,” he steeled himself, awaiting impact. 

“Coming in. Just a few seconds now…”  one of the glider pilots yelled back. 

Above them there was a bright, yellow flash in the sky followed by a tremendous explosion. What was that? Everyone looked up in horror. Their Halifax, it must’ve crashed into a mountain or been shot down. What else could it be?  They all looked on in fright.

Poor bastards…

Then, from one of their own pilots, “We’re coming in hard, lads. Brace!

They felt a massive bump, the belly of the glider colliding with hard, rocky earth. What happened to the frozen lake? The glider rolled over onto its left wing, which was ripped away from the fuselage like twisting an arm off a doll, hurling everyone out of their seats. The craft continued to scrape against the ground. Cold air rushed in.  There were lots of screaming and shouts. Frozen ice and earth ripping the fuselage of the plane in two. Then everyone was tumbling, what was left of it rolling over, terror all around. Others were thrown onto James, whose left leg twisted violently in the crash. And then his arm. It seemed everyone was just a jumble of parts thrown akimbo. 

At last it came to rest.

At first, there was only silence. Those who had managed to escape death making sure that, miraculously, they were still alive. Then a few whimpers and moans. When James came to his senses, his left leg was twisted at a frightful angle. His right shoulder was limp. There was blood all over his white parka. He put his hand up and it was sticky red from a gash in his head. The soldier next to him wasn’t moving at all. “Yates? Yates?” James shook him. “Are you okay?” No reply. Jim could see the two pilots in the front. They were both clearly dead on impact, the nose of the plane crushed in. Jim twisted his way free of the maze of bodies and out onto the snow. He rolled onto his back. A few others crawled out, stunned, bleeding. Any Germans in the area would have surely seen the explosion. Certainly the tow plane above them. They may be on them soon. 

“Grace, Winshall,” he heard someone call with labored breaths. Captain Greer.  “Are you alive?” 

“I don’t know about Grace, but yes, sir, it’s Winshall,” Jim said back. “I’m alive.”

“I am too,” Grace, the radioman, said weakly.

“Form a defensive position, quick. Grace, is the radio operable? Contact the Grouse team.”

“I’ll do my best, sir,” the radioman replied.

James grabbed a Sten and crawled out to the perimeter, barely able to feel his legs. Behind him, the wreck of twisted metal and fire continued to burn. He heard Grace’s voice. “Grouse, Freshman One, here. We’ve crashed. Grouse, can you read me…” He kept saying it over and over. If they could get assistance, maybe they could somehow get out of here. 

Finally, Grace stopped sending. “Nothing, sir. I’m afraid it’s dead. I can’t get a signal.”

Suddenly James heard the rumble of engines. The roar of vehicles coming up, trucks, half tracks. Bright lights went on, blinding them. And then shouting. German. James stared into the glare of the headlights. Should he shoot? It was clear they were surrounded. At least five or six of their ranks were dead. The rest, in no condition to resist. Their mission was over. Maybe Freshman Two had better luck. Maybe there was still a chance they could get to the target. But for them, it was over. What else could they do?

Staring into the lights, Jim lay his gun down on the frozen earth and put up his hands as he heard German shouted all around. 

Then the shouting stopped and the headlights erupted into flashing yellow burst and James was thinking, yes. it would surely be a long, long way back to Leeds now. 

Two hours later they were driven in half tracks to Gestapo headquarters in the town of Eggesund, about fifteen miles away. At least, those who had made it that far; a couple more died along the way. They all were told to go inside. The walls lined with portraits of Hitler and Goebbels with Nazi banners. Those who could sit slumped in chairs; others, like James, were propped against a wall. Or in stretchers.

There were only twelve of them left now.

One by one, they were taken into an adjoining room for interrogation. Occasionally, howls of pain could be heard through the walls. They’d been trained for this, how to resist, if the situation arose, but nothing trained you for a rifle jammed into your broken leg or open gashes.

So James talked. He eventually divulged why they were there. What the objective was. Vemork. He didn’t know any more. He wept with shame when he finally gave into the pain, then wept even more when they informed him that the other glider had crashed as well—the tow plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire and plunged into the sea. All his friends were dead. And the mission, everything they trained so laboriously for, had failed. Whatever weapon the Nazi’s were developing that would be unleashed by this “heavy water,” it would not be set back now. 

They wept for London, which they knew would be in danger now.

“Who were you to meet on the ground? Who has the codes by which you communicate back to London?” they kept asking. He didn’t know the answer to either. So what was the point of resisting any more?

One by one each of them staggered back out and retook their places on the floor. James saw it all in their faces. Just like his face.

They’d all talked.

“No shame, boys,” Captain Greer said consolingly, patting Grace, the radioman, on the shoulder as he sobbed into his sleeve. What a shattered mess their once-fine brigade had become.

It had been long odds from the start, James could see now. What they had all volunteered for so enthusiastically. Setting a glider onto an icy, mountain lake. It had never been done before. How precise it all looked on paper or in a briefing room. Still, he would have liked to see what would have happened if they’d actually reached the target. They were a good team, and well-trained. They would have done their jobs. But now…

“What will happen to us?”  Grace asked, his fear showing.

“We’re British soldiers. They’ll put us in a camp,’ the captain said. “They may rough us up a little before, but they have no choice.”

A POW camp. For the rest of the war… James had wanted to make such a difference. His left leg was a mess; badly broken for sure. He’d never swim again; not like he had. And Louisa… He pulled out the small locket underneath his shirt. Would she even know—who knew when word would get out?— that he was okay? He was never able to even let her know about the mission. Would she be wondering soon why she hadn’t heard from him? And Mom and Dad. They’d be worried sick. Would they all think him dead? Two gliders went down on a mission carrying soldiers from the 1st Infantry… That was all they would say.

The door opened. An officer in a black uniform stepped in with three others. He’d been in the room when James had been questioned. He had blondish features and kind of a bony face. But he seemed human. He’d told his men to stop when the pain grew too intense to stand. “Please get up. You’re all going to be transferred now. Those who need medical attention will be attended to.”

“Where are we going?” Captain Greer asked.

“To Oslo. And then, who knows where? It’s all out of my hands. You’ll all be well taken care of. So please, get up. There’s a truck waiting. The war is over for you. You are guests of the German Army now.”

Guests of the German army… Not a phrase any of them cared to hear.

One by one, they all got to their feet, the more fit lending a hand to those who were ailing. 

“This way, please…” The officer waved them to the door. 

They trudged outside. It led to a kind of courtyard. Hobbled, some limping; some had to lean on a mate’s arm. Some pressed a cloth to their open cuts or burns. It was still dark, though a halo of light glowed in the sky. There was a truck waiting for them there, which was reassuring.

“I hope it’s not cold,” Grace said, rubbing his palms together. “Where ever they’re taking us. It’s freezing.”

“Well, it won’t be like Folkstone in August,” James replied, “that you can be sure.”

“Look up there,” someone pointed to the sky. “The fucking, northern lights.”

“Yes, look!” They all gazed upwards. “There!”

James nudged Grace. “You know in a million years I never thought that I’d be seeing—”

The heavy tarp covering the back of the truck was pulled back. Instead of an empty cargo bay to climb into, two German soldiers crouched behind a machine gun. One pulled back the bolt.

“My God, they’re going to shoot us,” James uttered, his jaw slack, as the muzzle of the gun erupted in rapid, yellow bursts. 

 

Copyright © 2017 Andrew Gross.

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Andrew Gross is the New York Times and internationally bestselling author of several novels, including No Way BackEverything to Lose, and One Mile Under. He is also coauthor of five #1 New York Times bestsellers with James Patterson, including Judge & Jury and Lifeguard. His books have been translated into over 25 languages. He lives in Westchester County, New York, with his wife, Lynn. They have three children.

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