Tue
Aug 15 2017 9:00am

Andrew Gross Excerpt: The Saboteur

Andrew Gross

The Saboteur by Andrew Gross portrays a hero who must weigh duty against his heart in order to single-handedly end the one threat that could alter the course of World War II (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.

1

March 1942

The old, creaking ferry steamed across the sun-dappled mountain lake. The Telemark Sun was a serviceable ship, built in 1915, coal-fired, and at around 490 tons, it could still make the thirty-kilometer jaunt across Lake Tinnsjo from Tinnoset to Mael in just under an hour and a half. It held about sixty passengers that day, as well as two empty railway wagons in the bow, heading back to the Norsk Hydro plant at Vemork after loading their cargo onto the train to Oslo at the railway depot across the lake.

Kurt Nordstrum had taken the boat across the lake a hundred times, but not in the two years since the Germans had occupied his country.

He had grown up in this region, known as the Telemark, in southeastern Norway—a place of lush, green valleys in summer and endless expanses of snow and ice in winter—between the town of Rjukan and the tiny hamlet of Vigne at the western edge of Lake Mosvatn. Like most Northmen, Nordstrum had learned to ski these mountains before he even rode a bike. He grew up hunting and fishing, in the way boys in other places kicked footballs around. To this day, the network of huts and cabins that dotted the Hardanger vidda were as familiar to him as were the lines on his own hands. His father still lived in Rjukan, though Nordstrum dared not visit him now. At least, not directly. Nordstrum was known to be one of those who had escaped to the hills and continued the fight against the Nazis. It was common knowledge that the Nasjonal Samling police kept an eye on the family members of known resistance fighters in the hope of tracking them down. The Hirden of the NS party were everywhere, as feared in their tactics as the Gestapo. Followers of the puppet dictator Vidkun Quisling, they had forsaken their country and king to do the Nazis’ bidding. It had been two years since Nordstrum had seen his father, and it was unlikely he would see him on this trip.

On the aft deck, dressed in workman’s clothes and carrying a satchel of carpentry tools, but with a Browning .45 in his belt, Nordstrum sat back as the boat came within sight of the familiar mountains of his youth ringing the Tinnsjo. It felt good to be back in his valley. He let his face soak up the sun. He hadn’t seen much of the sun lately. Since April 1940, when he’d left the university in his second year of engineering school to make his way up to Narvik and join the British trying to blockade the Nazi invaders, the blue skies of Norway had seemed under a perpetual leaden cloud. At first they’d managed to hold them off. The Germans focused their blitzkrieg on the cities. First Trondheim, then Bergen and Oslo fell in a week. Then the king took flight, first to Nybergsund, and then on to Elverum, near the Swedish border, and people knelt in the street and wept. Nordstrum had seen his share of fighting—in Honefoss and Klekko and the Gudbrandsdalen valley. A year ago in Tonneson he hooked up with what was left of a militia unit—a small group of men in tattered uniforms who would not give up. “Here,” they said, and put a Krag in his hand with only thirty rounds of ammunition. “That’s all you get, I’m afraid,” the captain said apologetically. “Better make them count.” Boys, that was all they were, with rifles and Molotov cocktails to make them men, and down to a single cannon taken out of mothballs from the last war. No one knew how to wage a fight. Still, they’d left their mark on the bastards. They blew up bridges, disrupted supply lines and motorcades, ambushed a couple of high-ranking SS officers; they’d put an end to a few Quisling traitors as well. At Haugsbygda, the fighting became close in. Knives and bayonets when the bullets ran out. Until they were no longer going up against soldiers and machine guns, but tanks and artillery and nose-diving fighters unloading bombs. Fifty-millimeter shells rained in from a mile away and blew their trenches into the sky.

“You’re a sergeant,” they told him. Mainly because Nordstrum, who’d grown up a hunter, could shoot with the best. And because he’d seen his share of bloodshed. He was tall and well built, with a high forehead and short, light hair, and a kind of purposefulness in his gray, deep-set eyes that from his youth people seemed willing to follow. His looks had hardened now. Two years of watching limbs blown in the air and a man next to you dropped by one to the forehead had made him appear ten years older.

But somehow, he was still alive. His ranks had long since splintered; most of his friends were dead. Now it was simply do whatever he could do. The king had made it to London. Nordstrum had heard they were forming some kind of Free Norwegian Army there. England … Maybe in ’40, it might have been possible to find your way there—250 kilometers across the vidda through blistering storms to Sweden and then hop a neutral ship. Today, it might as well be China. He’d made the trek to Sweden once, after fleeing Narvik, but, finding little support there, came back to resume the fight. And even if you made it all the way to England, and weren’t sunk to the bottom of the North Sea or handed back over by the Swedish police to the wrong people, yes, you could join up. And then what…? Sit the war out and train. The Free Norwegian Army … He had to admit, it had a nice ring. He knew there’d be a new front one day, the real one. In time, the Allies would invade. With its endless jagged coastline that in all of Europe was the hardest to defend, Norway actually made good military sense. And Nordstrum’s only remaining hope was to stick around long enough to be a part of it. To take his country back. In the distance, through the glare of the sun off the water, he spotted the port of Mael. He’d left Rjukan for the university some six years ago, still a boy. He wasn’t sure what he had come back as.

“Take a look.” Nordstrum elbowed his friend, Jens, a fellow fighter who was from the region as well, pointing toward the ring of familiar mountains. “Like an old friend, no?”

“An old friend if we were actually coming back to live,” Jens replied. “Now it’s more like some beautiful woman that you can’t have, who’s teasing us.”

He’d known Jens from their days in school. He was from Rauland, just to the north. Their fathers had been friends. As school kids they played football against each other; hunted and skinned deer together. Skied the same mountains.

“You sound like an old man,” Nordstrum said reprovingly. “You’re twenty-five. Enjoy the view.”

“Well, two years of war will do that to you.” Though through it all, Jens had somehow maintained his boyish looks. “I look forward to one day coming back here with no one shooting after me and—”

“Jens.” Nordstrum cut his friend off in mid-sentence. “Look over there.” This time, he indicated an officer in full gray Hirden uniform who had stepped out on deck like some preening rooster, as if the ribbons on his chest came from battlefield valor instead of from some political appointment. The Quislings were in control now, National Socialists who took over after the king had fled, and who happily had become the Nazis’ puppets. Traitors, collaborators, they stayed at home, spying on their townsfolk, making secret arrests, spouting propaganda on the radio, while all the brave ones fought in the mountains and died. Enough of Nordstrum’s friends had been put up against a wall and shot on information squeezed from informants by the Quisling police to make his stomach tighten in a knot at the sight of the traitor.

The officer sauntered toward them. He had a pinched-in face like an owl and beady, self-important eyes under his peaked officer’s cap, his chest puffed out by his meaningless rank. National Unity party, it was called. Unity in hell. Nordstrum would have gladly spit at his feet as he went by, if his journey here didn’t have some real importance attached to it.

“I see him,” said Jens. The Hird had a pistol in his belt, but they had a Bren at the bottom of their tool bag, and the will to use it. They’d taken care of many such traitors over the past year. “Just give me the word.”

“Why do you need my word?” Nordstrum said under his breath, nodding pleasantly to the officer as he approached. “Good day to you, sir.”

“Good day to you. Heil Hitler.” The Quisling raised his hand and nodded back.

Jens, who looked like he barely shaved, but had killed as many Germans as Nordstrum, merely shrugged as the man strode by. “Because you’re the sergeant.”

Sergeant … Nordstrum laughed to himself. Anyway, their outfit was now dispersed. His rank was meaningless, though Jens never failed to bring it up every chance he could. “Because we promised to meet up with Einar,” Nordstrum said. “There’s a reason, if we’re looking for one.” He held back his friend’s arm.

“You’re right, that is a reason,” Jens acknowledged with a sigh of disappointment. “Though not much of one.” They followed the Quisling as he made his way down the deck. “There’ll be other times.”

Einar Skinnarland had gotten word to Nordstrum in the mountains near Lillehammer that he needed to see him on a matter of the highest urgency. He couldn’t tell Nordstrum just what it was, but Nordstrum’s friend was not one to trifle with when he claimed something was urgent. Nordstrum had known him from youth as well, and they both had gone on to engineering school in Oslo, though Einar, two years older, had graduated before the war and now had a good job on the Mosvatn Dam, as well as a wife and son. Please come, the message read, so Nordstrum did. No questions asked. At considerable risk. They were to meet at a café on the wharf in Mael on the east end of the Tinnsjo, near where the ferry docked.

From there he and Jens had no idea where they would head. Likely search for some unit up in the mountains to join up with. He had some names to contact. One had to be very careful today about what one did. The Nazis had adopted a forty-to-one policy for all acts of sabotage, rounding up and shooting forty innocent townsfolk for every German killed. Protecting the home folk was vital to Nordstrum, as to all true Norwegians. What else were they fighting for? What did it really matter if it was forty soldiers killed in an effort to retake their country or forty innocents lined up against a wall and shot? Forty dead was forty dead. Nordstrum had seen this policy carried out firsthand, and still carried around the pain in his heart. He didn’t want to be the cause of it to others. It didn’t put them out of business; it only changed the rules a bit. And it made him loathe the bastards even more. They just had to be careful about what they did.

Farther down the deck, the Quisling came up to a young woman with a child by her side. She had dark hair and a swarthy complexion, and hid her eyes as the officer went by, which was like milk to a cat to these weasels.

“May I see your papers, please?” The officer stopped at her, putting out his hand.

“Sir?”

“Your papers,” the Hird said again, his fingers beckoning impatiently.

Frightened, the woman held the child with one arm while she fumbled through her bag with the other, finally producing her ID card.

“Kominic…” The Quisling looked at the picture on it and then back at her. “What kind of a name is that? Gypsy? Jewish?”

“It is Slav,” the woman declared in Norwegian. “But you can see, I’m from Oslo. I’m just taking my son to his father, who’s been working in Rauland.”

“Your Norwegian is quite good, madame,” the Quisling said. “But it is clear you are not of Norwegian blood. So what is it then?”

“It should be good, sir, I’ve lived in Norway my whole life,” she replied, an edge of nerves in her voice. “I’m as Norwegian as you, I swear.”

“Yes, ell, we will have to verify this when we get to Mael.” The Quisling looked again at her ID card. “Do not disembark until you see me, madame. Otherwise I have no choice but to turn you and your child over to the authorities there.”

Fear sprng up in her eyes. Her boy, sensing his mother’s agitation, began to whimper. “Please, sir, we’re not meaning anyone harm. I only beg you to—”

“Your child appears sick, madame. Perhaps you should keep him separate from the other passengers.”

“He’s fine. You’re just scaring him, that’s all.”

“If you have nothing to hide, then there is nothing to be afraid of, I assure you.” The Hird handed her back the card. “We are only interested that the law is followed and all Jews and non-purebloods must be registered as such with the state. Now, I insist you take your son and wait for me inside. We’ll settle this little matter in Mael.”

Clearly upset, the woman struggled to pick up her belongings, and, grabbing her son’s hand, led him to the third-class seating. A nearby man got up and helped her gather her things. But it was hard not to notice the agitation that had taken over her face. Her papers were likely correct. She could be a Jew or a Gypsy. Nordstrum had heard they’d begun to round up those people and send them to places like Grini, a guarded camp outside Oslo, and some of them shipped even farther to places in Europe, to who knows where? Maybe she was fleeing into the mountains with her son to hide. Maybe she had someone there to take them in. Whatever, they were no bother to anyone. Nordstrum looked toward the shoreline. They were about three-quarters through the crossing. Another half hour or so to go. The tiny ferry stop at Mael, tucked underneath the mountains, was now visible in the distance off the port side.

“Fucker.” Jens gritted his teeth in disgust. “Using his power to terrorize an innocent woman.” He looked toward Nordstrum with a kind of conspiratorial gleam in his eye, a silent communication they both instantly understood. Are you up for it?

And Nordstrum, angered by the Quisling as well, looked back with resignation, as if unable to stop what would happen next. “Why not? Let’s go.”

Jens grinned. “Now you’re talking.”

Nordstrum stood up. He got the officer’s attention with a wave, motioning the man toward him.

He and Jens stepped back toward the stern, where there were no passengers around.

The Hird came up to him. “Yes?”

“You were asking about that woman?” Nordstrum said. “I know her. If you want, I can fill you in.”

“There are rewards for good citizens as yourselves.” The Quisling’s eyes grew bright, likely thinking of the favor he would receive for uncovering and turning in an escaped Gypsy or Jew.

“Over here, then.” Nordstrum motioned him to the railing, Jens a step behind. “Not everyone feels the same way. I don’t want anyone to hear.”

The breeze whipped off the lake, sharp and chilling. Most passengers were either inside having a coffee or lining the deck amidships in the sun. One couple was having a cigarette on the second deck by the rear smokestack, the gusting wind flapping their hair.

“We’re workmen. We’ve seen her in Oslo, as she says.” Nordstrum leaned close.

The Quisling sidled up to him. “Go on…”

The two on the second deck had now turned and were pointing toward the mountains. Nordstrum caught Jens’s eye, and then leaned close to the Quisling. “Well, you see, it’s like this…”

From behind, Jens lifted the officer in the air. There was barely time for him to realize what was happening. “What the hell—”

“Here’s your reward,” Nordstrum said, seizing the man’s legs. “Enjoy your swim.”

They carried him to the rail, the Hird kicking against them now with a shout that was muffled by the whipping wind, and then hoisted him, his arms cycling frantically and his face twisted in shock and fear, over the side and into the icy lake.

The Quisling’s scream was drowned out by the heavily churning engines as the Telemark Sun, chugging at ten knots per hour, pulled farther away.

“Heil Hitler to you, as well!” Jens called after him, extending his arm.

There was barely a noise as he hit the water.

But someone must have seen him from the decks. Suddenly there were shouts. “Man overboard! Someone in the water!”

On the top deck, people ran to the railing, pointing. The alarm began to sound, a big booming whorl, whorl. Passengers rushed out to see what was happening.

The frigid March waters were probably no more than thirty-five or -six degrees, Nordstrum figured, and, coupled with the weight of the Quisling’s now water-sodden coat dragging the struggling man down, even the strongest of swimmers wouldn’t last more than a couple of minutes before he succumbed.

People were shouting now, gesturing toward the water. “Save him!” Two of the crew ran to the stern, one of them holding a life preserver and untying a coil of rope. Bravely, he climbed onto the rail, readying himself to throw it. “Hold on!” he called to the drowning man. But it was pointless to hurl it now; they were too far away.

The boat’s engines slowed as the ship slowly came about. People streamed to the lower deck, passengers and crew, pointing toward the water as the Quisling struggled and flailed, the weight of his jacket and medals dragging him under.

“Someone do something!” a woman yelled. “Help him!”

“It’s the Quisling,” another said.

“Oh. Let the bastard swim then.”

One member of the crew gamely removed his jacket, about to dive in. Nordstrum held the man back. “Let him be.”

“Let him be, sir?” The crewman looked aghast. “The man’s drowning.”

“He’s not drowning.” Nordstrum shrugged. “He’s swimming.” And when the puzzled seaman looked back in confusion, Nordstrum told him again, “Just let him be.”

In the minutes it took for the ferry to make a sweeping turn and come around, the Quisling had disappeared. All that was left was his gray, billed officer’s cap, bobbing on the surface.

A woman crossed herself. “He’s gone.”

The captain, a gray-bearded man in a thick sweater, finally made his way down from the bridge. “What the hell’s happened here?”

Nordstrum shrugged and met the seaman’s gaze. “He wanted to take a swim. Who were we to hold him back?”

“Take a swim…?” The captain glared accusingly. “There’ll be hell to pay when we make land.”

“He was a fucking Quisling,” Nordstrum said. “Any problem with it?”

People huddled around, on the main deck and on the deck above, staring.

The captain’s eyes slowly drifted to the place in the water where the officer’s body had gone down. Then he looked back at Nordstrum and spat into the lake. “No problem at all.”

No one uttered a sound.

“Full speed ahead,” he shouted up to the bridge. “We’ve got a schedule to maintain."

***

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 Back, Everything 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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