Enjoy this exclusive excerpt from Dark Full of Enemies. In this passage, Marine Captain Joe McKay, commander of a sabotage mission to Occupied Norway, has just arrived in the local resistance leader's hideout.
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The Petersen house stood on the water at the near end of the town, a sturdy two-story building like a chalet or cabin, but of more comfortable proportions. Two or three outbuildings stood in the snowy yard, and a wharf big enough for the sixty-footer reached out to them across the water. No other boats nodded at the dock—it was their own. The Petersens, McKay decided, were well-off.
He also noticed, a minute or so before they docked, that no lights burned. The house stood dark on the shore.
They had almost reached the dock when one man appeared on it. Petersen came on deck for the first time in hours and waved to him. They said nothing as the boat slowed and sidled toward the dock. Petersen threw the man a line and Jørgen brought the Hardråde to a perfect stop beside the pier, not even bumping the dock until their own wake pushed them softly against it.
McKay waited in the door of the cabin. Someone doused the cabin light and he and the team stood ready, all gear strapped on and ready for hauling. He watched Petersen.
The man on the dock did not tie them off but belayed the rope around the top of a piling and leaned back on the line. He looked around once and jerked his head at Petersen. Petersen stepped up onto the dock and waved McKay forward.
McKay swung through the cabin door at a trot, skip-stepped to the top of the gunwale and in another bound leapt onto the wharf. Petersen had already stridden off toward the dark house. McKay gave his men a hand up onto the pier and then a shove after Petersen. As soon as Ollila, the last in line, left the boat and trotted for the house, McKay dashed ahead of the team to catch up with Petersen. He looked around, listened. They moved quietly despite their eighty or more pounds of equipment, crates, and cans. They had packed carefully.
He caught up with Petersen as the Norwegian rounded the house. He fell in beside him but said nothing. Talk could wait.
The house, McKay could now see, was set back into the swell of a hill. The rest of Grettisstad stood above them, two hundred or more yards off and partly hidden by another fold of the earth. He looked for other houses along the waterfront and saw a few dark shapes on the water farther up the fjord and, like the town, partly hidden by the terrain and a few small trees. The Petersens had privacy.
The hill behind the house came up almost to the second story, where there was a door and a small wooden stoop. Beside the stoop, a long stack of firewood, leaning against a chest-high fence set a few feet from the house, stretched the whole length of the back wall. In the gap between the house and the fence—a railing, McKay realized—a staircase led down into the earth.
Just then the church bells of Grettisstad pealed out of the darkness and silence. McKay started at the noise and looked uphill. Across the snowy knoll the bright church spire stood, still and steady in the streetlight glow above the roofs of the village. The bells rang loud, uncannily loud after the long silences of the trip in from the submarine.
McKay risked a whisper to Petersen. “What is that?”
Petersen said nothing, but led them down the stairs behind the firewood. McKay, with another glance at the church spire, followed.
At the bottom of the stairs, Petersen let them through a heavy door into a dark room full of cold, damp air. McKay sensed stone walls even before Petersen turned on the lights.
“Cozy,” Stallings said as he filed in.
McKay did not like it. They stood in a rock-walled cellar perhaps twelve feet by fifteen feet wide. The effective space was even smaller—empty wineracks lined the room. A card table with folding legs leaned in one corner. There were no chairs or beds, but McKay did see rolled straw pallets on the racks in another corner. And he was unconcerned with comfort, anyway. What bothered him were the lack of windows and the single exit, a door at the foot of a stairwell, a door narrow enough for one man to block, especially a man as large as Petersen, who stooped in the doorframe now, already drawing the door shut behind him.
McKay grabbed the door. “We need to talk.”
“Later,” Petersen said. He tested the door, gave it a little pull. McKay did not let go.
“We need to talk. I have to see the dam at least once, for planning.”
“I say again, impossible.”
McKay said nothing. He held firmly to the door.
Petersen said, “I have to report to Narvik, if you recall.”
“They know the speed of our boats. They reported our time and position. If I am late, they will guess I detoured and want to know why.”
“All right. When you get back, then.”
Petersen, still gripping the door, looked at him for the first time since landing. He said, “Yes.” McKay let go of the door and Petersen pulled it almost shut, then stopped and leaned back into the room. He jerked his head back, toward the church, where the bells still rang. “Happy Christmas,” he said, and shut the door.
They stood still and silent for a moment, none of them looking at each other.
“Well, the hell with this,” Stallings said.
Alone now, they checked their gear. McKay checked his own before doublechecking his men’s, starting with weapons and going through everything. He wanted to make sure nothing had been lost, broken, or destroyed in the transfers along the way. They spent time inspecting the radio and its individual parts. If they could not destroy the dam, McKay wanted at least to deliver a serviceable radio to the Norwegians. When they had finished, they checked everything again, and then McKay set them into the long haul of loading magazines.
Ollila—with his bolt-action Mauser—excepted, each of them carried ten magazines for their submachine guns—300 rounds per man, every one loaded by hand. McKay had not had them load the magazines before departing, a precautionary measure. The larger a magazine, the more tension the spring sustained when fully loaded, and the more likely to break and jam the weapon. The submachine gun the Germans carried had a 32-round magazine but they seldom loaded it to capacity precisely to prevent jams. And the likelihood of a jam increased the longer the full magazines sat unused, the springs bracing uselessly against the stack of bullets above them. McKay had seen weapons jam in combat and, with the odds already so heavily against them as a four-man team in enemy territory, he would not have malfunction against them, too.
Now, though, he felt they had reason to load. He did not want to be caught here of all places. He tried not to think of the effect of three submachine guns in such a tiny place, or of how they might escape if they managed to shoot their way out and up the stairs—the firewood could provide good cover, but a single man on the stoop above could kill every one of them with plunging fire. He focused on the task as a step toward assaulting the dam.
They pulled out the card table and set it up. Without chairs the table proved nearly useless, so McKay had them fold the legs back up and they rested the table on their packs. They sat Indian style on the floor, one of their ammo crates open in the middle of them like a platter at Sunday dinner. Or Christmas dinner.
The holiday had snuck up on McKay. He had thought of it a few times since returning to England, and he had even heard—without noticing—the Coventry Carol on the wireless in the pub the night he decked the Aussie, but since then he had been… distracted. He owed his family a card and a letter. Perhaps even Sally. He felt an old longing reawaken in him like new pain in an old wound and scoffed and shook his head. He would take care of it when they returned.
He watched the team for a moment. Every filled magazine went into a stack beside the crate on the table, where they each dipped in a hand as needed and brought out smaller cardboard boxes marked pistol ball caliber .45. Ollila had pitched in and sat thumbing the squabby rounds along with them. Graves worked quickly, nattering to himself from time to time. Stallings worked slowest, almost absentmindedly. He seemed to have trouble seating the rounds in the slot at the top of the magazine, and even tried to put a few rounds in backwards before stopping himself and turning the bullet over, laboriously, with fingers from both hands, and snapping into place with the others.
Stallings looked up and saw McKay watching him. He looked as if he had been caught stealing. McKay said nothing.
Stallings managed a grin and held up his box of pistol ammo.
“First time since I’ve been in the Army I’ve got to open presents on Christmas.”
McKay laughed despite himself. Graves snickered. “Bloody right.”
Ollila looked at Stallings, at McKay, and then returned to his work. He looked doubtful. McKay would have to talk to Ollila, soon.
“Don’t guess we can get some eggnog or something here?” Stallings said.
“You can drink when we get back to England,” McKay said.
“Toss that stuff,” Graves said. “Give me a tot of rum, or whiskey. Don’t see the point in hiding your alcohol.”
Stallings grinned and looked at McKay. “That’s always been my philosophy,” he said.
It had been nearly Christmas and time for a trip home when Stallings had finally gotten kicked out of Clemson.
It was that car of his. Stallings drove an old Ford. He had put his skills—his talents—to use in modifying the engine. Their trips between Clemson and Rabun County, Stallings’s home in North Carolina, or any other mountainous place on the winding and dangerous highways, had frightened Keener more than their mountain climbing, and had probably been more dangerous.
McKay had had inklings of what Stallings got up to on his weekends, those rare weekends when he and Keener did not plan something or when Stallings was determined to cause trouble. He would disappear at the first opportunity after classes and drill on Friday and reappear, disheveled and hungover if not still drunk, in the early hours of Monday morning. His car would have new dents at the corners, some new knock or rattle in the engine, and mud up to the windows. McKay and their friends, with varying degrees of patience, would get him sobered up. It was easier in winter—they would make a trip down the hill to the Seneca River and throw him in. Sobered and dressed in time for drill, Stallings would survive another week, rebuild the engine when he should have been studying, and disappear again. Repeat.
McKay always resisted losing his patience and his temper and always failed. Once upon finding Stallings leaning halfway into the engine of the Ford after missing class, he had shouted, sworn, and said, “Grove, if you put half the ingenuity into class as you did into that damn car, you’d be captain of cadets.”
Stallings just raised himself out of the car, grinned, and tipped his cap.
They had a week left of the fall semester, senior year, when the real captain of the corps of cadets came for them. Specifically, for McKay. He had just returned from dinner in town with Sally and lay down to read in his barracks room. He left the book—Robinson Crusoe—open on his bunk. It was weeks, after Christmas and into the new year, before he resumed the story.
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Excerpted from chapter seven of Dark Full of Enemies, by Jordan M. Poss. Copyright 2017, Jordan Poss.