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The Eagle's Claw won first prize for Norway's best entertainment novel in 1995.
THE EAGLE’S CLAW
a thriller by
Singh & Normann
9.- 10. of november 1938
Hitlerjugend Hans Wilhelm Rummenigge pressed his back against the wall. His unit had orders to keep regular travelers out of the station-area. Inside huge freight cars were waiting for something.
Hans Wilhelm could still hear the noises from the city streets. He had seen the synagogue burst into flames and heard people screaming like something he’d never heard before. He clung to his orders like a lifesaver.
The other boys were pale, but none of their faces mirrored the horror Hans Wilhelm was feeling. He stared at the freight cars. Inside SS-soldiers sprinkled something that looked like white sand. The sign read «Auschwitz». Poland, he was sure of it. The SS-soldiers was forming two rows, creating a narrow corridor leading to the platform.
Hans Wilhelm could hear a small group of Hamburg-citizens screaming to the SS that they were murdering innocent women and children. It was enough with half a unit SS-soldiers to keep the crowd under control.
The huge doors suddenly opened and a group of people came in. He could see they were Jews. They all carried the yellow star on their overcoats. They were herded towards the freight cars and brutally lifted onboard. The loudspeakers cracked.
«Keep going. There is no danger. Stay calm».
The monotone voice thundered through the hall. The soldiers kept on cramming people into the cars. They were few, barely enough for one car. The Jews had already been deported several times. Hans Wilhelm knew they were being sent to working-camps. After all, wasn’t it better for them to live in working-camps than to exist outside this society? He believed what he had been told.
This was the first time he had witnessed just how the Jews were being deported. He let the people slip by him until his eyes fell on a familiar face. Jacob Brüller. Hans Wilhelm took a step forward and called his name. Jacob turned and looked at him, but he didn’t seem to see him. It dawned on him that Jacob only saw the uniform. Jacob who was almost family.
They had practically grown up together. Their families were friends. Had been friends. Until Hans Wilhelm's father became fascinated by Hitler’s speeches. Suddenly Hans Wilhelm wasn’t allowed to speak to Jacob anymore. Not that it mattered, he had seen Jacob almost every day. He had brought the family food and he had talked to Jacob despite his father. It didn’t make any sense that Jacob was to blame for his fathers unemployment. It wasn’t Jacob’s fault.
Rottenführer Bergh pulled his arm.
«What are you doing? Shouting at the Jews, are you mad? Do you want to shame us in front of the SS? There’ll be hell to pay for this, Rummenigge».
«Where are they going?»
Hans Wilhelm wanted to know. Bergh squinted at him. He pressed his face against Hans Wilhelm’s and said slowly, emphasizing every word.
«They will disappear. Just as our beloved Führer promised. It’s only fitting for this scum».
Hans Wilhelm, 11 years old and a Hitlerjugend since he was 10, watched Jacob’s back disappear into the freight car together with his sisters and his mother. Berg’s gloating face haunted him and he knew that the work-camps were a lie. He just knew. Something terrible was waiting for Jacob and there was nothing he could do about it. He clenched his fists in despair.
I’ll never forget you, Jacob, he swore to himself. Then you’ll never be gone.
Gilbert Kilgrennan lit his pipe for the third time and paced the long hospital-corridor again. He detested hospitals. They reminded him of Death, lurking in shady corners. Made him feel like an old man. He sat down and grabbed an old newspaper.
A nurse in a shining white uniform approached him. On her head she wore what looked like a cookie-jar filled with laces. Gil wondered curiously how she managed to keep it from falling off.
Her voice was as neat as her uniform. Gil tightened his grip on the pipe. He nodded stiffly.
«The doctor wants to do a cesarean, sir», she said briskly.
Gil hands turned sweaty.
«Is there something wrong? Is Molly…?»
He couldn’t get himself to finish the sentence. The nurse looked cold and compassionate at the same time.
«No, there is nothing wrong, sir. It’s just that the baby is to large. The doctor feels a cesarean is the safest way to handle the situation, sir. It’s quite common».
The relief was like a stomach-cramp. He signed the form she gave him. He could hardly recognize his own signature and realized his hands were shaking. The nurse disappeared as quickly as she had arrived.
Gil sat down again. He was surprised at himself. Molly’s baby had been a mystery to him all through the pregnancy. When Molly told him she was pregnant, he got furious. He wanted to kill the bastard. Then he wanted to protect her. But at no point had he been scared. Somehow this was his child too, his last chance to get a son. The father was out of the picture for good.
He sat there for the longest time before the nurse stopped in front of him again. Gil looked nervously at her. Her eyes were calm, a touch of warmth. Everything was under control.
«Your daughter has just given birth to a healthy boy and…».
Kilgrennan beamed. After hours of waiting, the last one in hell, finally he had a son. Gil corrected himself with a wry smile. A grandson, the difference was insignificant. The boy was a Kilgrennan! The nurse said something else but he didn’t listen so she had to repeat it.
«And a girl, sir», she said triumphantly.
The smoke stuck in Gil’s throat and threatened to choke him. Twins!
«Now listen here, nobody said anything about twins! For weeks we have been told that everything was ship-shape. The heartbeat, the position, the growth of one baby. One baby!»
He underlined the last words in case she didn’t understand him. He threw in a hard look as well. She looked back at him unimpressed.
«It’s not always possible to know these things in advance, sir. In some cases of twin-births you can only hear one heartbeat. It’s not unusual, sir».
Gil didn’t really care. A boy. He liked that, a boy in the family. It more than made of for the his secret disappointment of getting only a daughter.
«How is Molly?», he asked anxiously.
The nurse was leading him down the corridor and answered over her shoulder.
«She is still sedated. She’ll wake up in a few hours».
«Was it really necessary to perform a cesarean?»
«Your daughter isn’t very… How shall I put it? Not very big, sir. It wasn’t safe the normal way».
Exceptionally well put. Gil grinned. If she had seen the father she wouldn’t have been surprised. The nurse stopped abruptly in front of a large glass-window.
Inside were rows of tiny babycots on small wheels. The nurse nodded at the attending nurse and then disappeared for the last time.
The new nurse produced a bundle, than another. One had a blond tuft of hair, the other a shining red.
They looked extremely ugly in his eyes. He found comfort in the memory that Molly had looked just as bad at first. It would pass. He studied the small faces. It was impossible for him to tell which was which. He had to ask for help. The blond one was the boy, the red one the girl. It amused him to see the Kilgrennan hair on Molly’s twins. To bad it was the wrong child.
He couldn’t judge whether they looked like Molly or the father. He hoped they would turn out like Molly. Just to imagine that man’s features on his grandson made his bloodpressure rise. Molly had decided for Lucas if it was a boy. She had more difficulties deciding on a name for a girl. Perhaps he could make a suggestion or two.
He turned to sit by his daughter’s bedside when she woke up. It was best to tell her the news himself.
The bridge was shining like a newly made penny. Stefan Adrian looked around him with pleasure in his eyes. It was sheer delight to come onboard one of the new destroyers. They were first class. An old friend had been given command of the new ship and Adrian envied him. What he wouldn’t do to be the captain of one of these beauties!
The destroyer carried the best equipment Germany could provide and the best-trained crew possible. In peacetime there was no finer job. He joined the crowd of old navy-friends.
Later in the evening the possibility of war was discussed. Nobody advocated war but Hitler was praised for building ships like these. Germany’s fleet was becoming the pride of the nation. Soon they would match the British fleet, their greatest rival at sea.
Adrian’s friend leaned over after a few drinks too many and snickered.
«To bad Hitler has a fascination for paradeships like this while Dönitz is practically on his knees, begging him for U-boats».
«Do you think Dönitz is right?»
Adrian’s friend swung his arms and tripped a bottle.
«Of course he’s right. The British will torpedo these babies to hell but they’ll never see a fleet of U-boats. We’ll take them out before they can spell ‘navy’».
One of the junior-officers came running in, disturbing the party with his halfway hysteria.
«The synagogue is burning. They are breaking windows all over the place. SS is loading up Jews at the station for deportation».
He looked scared and someone handed him a drink.
Stefan looked around. He saw a few shocked faces, a few satisfied. Mostly they were indifferent, nursing their drinks, talking about other things.
He walked out on to the deck and stood there, watching the city. He could see flames coloring the sky like a sunrise. He thought of his mates. They mirror my Germany, he thought. The Führer promised us a new Germany and we certainly got it. I wonder who will win. Those who feel shame or the shameless?