The One Man: New Excerpt
By Andrew Gross
Bursting with compelling characters and tense storylines, The One Man by New York Times-bestseller Andrew Gross is a deeply affecting, unputdownable series of twists and turns through a landscape at times horrifyingly familiar but still completely new and compelling.
Poland. 1944. Alfred Mendl and his family are brought on a crowded train to a Nazi concentration camp after being caught trying to flee Paris with forged papers. His family is torn away from him on arrival, his life’s work burned before his eyes. To the guards, he is just another prisoner, but in fact Mendl—a renowned physicist—holds knowledge that only two people in the world possess. And the other is already at work for the Nazi war machine.
Four thousand miles away, in Washington, DC, Intelligence lieutenant Nathan Blum routinely decodes messages from occupied Poland. Having escaped the Krakow ghetto as a teenager after the Nazis executed his family, Nathan longs to do more for his new country in the war. But never did he expect the proposal he receives from “Wild” Bill Donovan, head of the OSS: to sneak into the most guarded place on earth, a living hell, on a mission to find and escape with one man, the one man the Allies believe can ensure them victory in the war.
The barking of the dogs was closing in on them, not far behind now.
The two men clawed through the dense Polish forest at night, clinging to the banks of the Vistula, only miles from Slovakia. Their withered bodies cried out from exhaustion, on the edge of giving out. The clothing they wore was tattered and filthy; their ill-fitting clogs, useless in the thick woods, had long been tossed aside, and they stank, more like hunted animals than men.
But now the chase was finally over.
“Sie sind hier!” they heard the shouts in German behind them. This way!
For three days and nights they had buried themselves in the woodpiles outside the camp’s perimeter wire. Camouflaging their scents from the dogs with a mixture of tobacco and kerosene. Hearing the guards’ bootsteps go past, only inches away from being discovered and dragged back to the kind of death no man could easily contemplate, even in there.
Then, the third night, they clawed their way out under the cover of darkness. They traveled only at night, stealing whatever scraps of food they could find on the farms they came upon. Turnips. Raw potatoes. Squash. Which they gnawed at like starving animals. Whatever it was, it was better than the rancid swill they’d been kept barely alive on these past two years. They threw up, their bodies unaccustomed to anything solid. Yesterday, Alfred had turned his ankle and now tried to carry on with a disabling limp.
But someone had spotted them. Only a couple of hundred yards behind, they heard the dogs, the shouts in German, growing louder.
“Hier entlang!” Over here!
“Alfred, come on, quick!” the younger one exhorted his friend. “We have to keep going.”
“I can’t. I can’t.” Suddenly the limping man tripped and tumbled down the embankment, his feet bloody and raw. He just sat there on the edge of exhaustion. “I’m done.” They heard the shouts again, this time even closer. “What’s the use? It’s over.” The resignation in his voice confirmed what they both knew in their hearts: that it was lost. That they were beaten. They had come all this way but now had only minutes before their pursuers would be upon them.
“Alfred, we have to keep moving,” his friend urged him on. He ran down the slope and tried to lift his fellow escapee, who even in his weakened condition felt like a dead weight.
“Rudolf, I can’t. It’s no use.” The injured man just sat there, spent. “You go on. Here—” He handed his friend the pouch he’d been carrying. The proof they needed to get out. Columns of names. Dates. Maps. Incontrovertible proof of the unspeakable crimes the world needed to see. “Go! I’ll tell them I left you hours ago. You’ll have some time.”
“No.” Rudolf lifted him up. “Did you not vow not to die back there in that hell, just to let yourself die here…?”
He saw it in his friend’s eyes. What he’d seen in hundreds of other sets of eyes back at the camp, when they’d given up for good. A thousand.
Sometimes death is just simpler than continuing to fight.
Alfred lay there, breathing heavily, almost smiling. “Now go.”
From the woods, only yards away, they heard a click. The sound of a rifle being cocked.
It’s over, they both realized at once. They’d been found. Their hearts leaped up with fear.
Out of the darkness, two men stepped forward. Both dressed in civilian garb, with rifles, their faces gritty and smeared with soot. It was clear they weren’t soldiers. Maybe just local farmers. Maybe the very ones who had turned them in.
“Resistance?” Rudolf asked, a last ember of hope flickering in his eyes.
For a second, the two said nothing. One merely cocked his gun. Then the larger one, bearded, in a rumpled hunting cap, nodded.
“Then help us, please!” Rudolf pleaded in Polish. “We’re from the camp.”
“The camp?” The man looked at their striped uniforms without understanding.
“Look!” Rudolf held out his arms. He showed them the numbers burned into them. “Auschwitz.”
The barking of the dogs was almost on them now. Only meters away. The man in the cap glanced toward the sound and nodded. “Take your friend. Follow me.”
Copyright © 2016 Andrew Gross.