“Worm in Apple” is the next instalment of Battalion 202 by Jonathan Doering: “For all I know, you’re dirty as well.” Christopher felt his chest flare. “Alright then, if you don’t believe me, shoot me.” A worm enters an apple. It is seeking food, shelter. It is only acting on its nature. But sooner or later the apple will turn rotten. Everything will explode. There is a traitor in Pontefract Auxiliary Unit. A traitor who places his own survival and success in the new Nazi state ahead of everything – even the lives of his comrades….
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Free Extract from Battalion 202: Worm in the Apple by Jonathan Doering
Author’s Note: Battalion 202 is the story of Christopher Greenwood, a young man recruited into an Auxiliary Unit (AU)—an armed resistance “stay behind” team tasked with fighting a successful Nazi invasion. The episode “Into the Darkness” related Greenwood’s orders to assassinate the most senior local police officer, Chief Superintendent Frederickson, to prevent the Nazis from forcing him to reveal intelligence on the local resistance network. “Worm in the Apple” now follows Christopher and his AU colleagues through the initial days of the Occupation…
Christopher Greenwood stands trembling, staring at the slumped body of a man on a couch. The standard lamp casts a yellow light onto the man’s face; the rest of the room is in shadow. He is in his late fifties, but looks older: his hair is more white than grey, and he has red splotches on his cheeks and neck. His skin has a raw, boiled look, but the loosened tie and the softened stare make him look vulnerable, a sacrifice ready for the knife. There is a neat, dark hole on his right temple, with a red explosion on the cushion by his left temple, where the bullet has exited from his head, bringing blood and brain with it. His lips start to work, first jerkily, then more smoothly, muttering: “Had a good innings.”
Now his dead gaze sharpens and he turns to look into the boy’s face, his lips twisting into a sneer, taunting him over the blare of the music in the background:
“Go on! Shoot me!”
Greenwood raises his rifle, feeling the butt against his shoulder. The man’s gaze becomes more sympathetic and he speaks on, the voice changing now, becoming younger, barely audible over the music. The music’s thrumming is palpable in Greenwood’s temples, a buzzing that increases to such a pitch that he cannot focus on anything else …
“Chris? Are you alright?”
Tommy’s voice bursts in over the gramophone music, and Christopher Greenwood realises that he has been experiencing a flashback to half an hour before, and the operation that they carried out this evening. Then his mind is filled with the splashes of red, and he runs to the edge of the field they are in, knocking earth up in little clouds as he falls to his knees and vomits once more. There is little left to be thrown up from his guts, this time; he retches helplessly, forcing up saliva and black bile, wondering what will happen if he continues in this way. After a second he feels a nudge at his elbow, and sees a canteen of water being proffered by Tommy. He takes it, rinses his mouth and drinks a sip.
“Thanks. I’m better now.” His voice isn’t convincing. There is an exasperated sigh, then the older man kicks earth over the tiny pool of sick.
“Christopher, you need to pull yourself together now. We can’t leave clues all over the place. The Nazis’ll track us. And you need to prepare yourself for when we meet up with the others.”
Greenwood looks far off, into himself, into his memory. He sees the corpse of Chief Superintendent Frederickson, crumpled on his couch. Once again, Tommy’s instruction is in his ear: “Now take the revolver and shoot him in the head.” Once again he sees the sightless eyes, the slack mouth, the hand lying palm upwards. He feels the trigger of the revolver tightening under his finger, hears the spring squeak as he aims the weapon at the dead man’s head.
He shudders slightly, then takes a breath, becomes aware of the earth under his feet, the cold air cutting his lungs.
The Eve of the fall of Britain, October 1940, Pontefract AU’s Operational Base….
Cosmin was on guard when they arrived. Strode, Adamson and Fisher were waiting inside the OB.
“Welcome back, you two. Report, please.” Strode opened a notebook and uncapped his pen.
Tommy straightened slightly, “As ordered, we entered and secured Chief Superintendent Frederickson’s house. We were expected. After a short interview, Christopher shot him once through the chest and twice through the head. We took some extra provisions from the house and returned here.”
The three of them looked from Tommy to Greenwood. Even Fisher now seemed to show something like respect in the way he watched the youngest member of the AU. Adamson rose and turned to the stove, slowly stirring a cooking pot.
Fisher held his jacket in his lap, and with precise movements sewed a small tear in the sleeve. Snipping the thread, he placed it and the needle in a sewing box before returning his gaze to Chris’s face. Strode motioned with his pen. “I’ll make brief notes.”
Tommy shifted, “No names, though.”
“That goes without saying—as I would have thought would be the proviso that we don’t help ourselves to the property of the public. We’re not looters.”
Tommy reddened. “We hardly looted. I saw that there were some provisions that could be used, and he had made it clear that he didn’t hold any grudges, so I didn’t think he’d mind.”
“That sounds charitable of him.”
“The poor bastard was about to die, wasn’t he? It wasn’t like he was going to take any of it with him.”
Strode eyelids flickered. “Alright, you’ve made your point, Thompson. Now Greenwood, could you please take us through what happened, in your own words?”
Again, Greenwood’s stomach clenched, a hand gripping his innards. They had discussed what he should say, even briefly rehearsed it, although Tommy had said he should do it off the cuff, make it seem more spontaneous. As he drew breath he realised that he only had one chance to convince them. He swallowed on a dry throat.
Look them in the eye. Focus on Strode. He’s Patrol Leader.
“We got there. He was expecting us. He’d been drinking. He told us about how his wife had died and how he’d been destroying files so the Germans wouldn’t get them. Then he turned the music up louder and I shot him in the chest. Then I used his revolver to shoot him in the head. I shot him twice.” He heard his voice slurring slightly.
Strode traced a few words into the ledger. “Why the revolver? Where did that come from?”
“He had it out on the table.”
“But he didn’t threaten you with it?”
“No. It was out on the table, as if…”
“As if what?”
“As if he would have done it himself if we hadn’t arrived.”
“Why two shots to the head?”
“I—don’t know. Got carried away, I think,” he fixed the solicitor’s gaze. “Is there something wrong with that?”
“No, it just seems a little extreme….”
“Extreme? Extreme? You sent me to kill a police officer tonight. So I did it and I feel bad about it. I threw up I felt so bloody bad…”
“That’s enough, Greenwood.”
As quickly as it had burst in his chest, the hot anger withered like autumn leaves. He felt cold and ashamed again. “I’m sorry, Mr. Strode.”
The solicitor smiled politely. “That’s quite alright, young man. You’ve been through a lot. We know that. Believe me, I understand the… tension you’re feeling right now.” His face clouded for an instant. “But you have proved yourself and you have performed an invaluable job for the AU. Absolutely invaluable. Well done.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Do you think you could manage some rum?”
Greenwood looked from Strode to Adamson, on to Fisher, then finally to Tommy, who was staring at him as closely as the others.
They believe me. I’ve done it.
“Thank you, Mr. Strode, but I’m not sure.”
“He was sick, Mr. Strode,” Tommy put in.
Adamson turned and stirred some stew that was sitting on the stove, ladling it into bowls and passing them round the table. “That’ll be the shock. Here, try some of this.”
The stew was warm and filling, and as he ate, Greenwood felt the clenched fist in his guts ease a little, but then he remembered Tommy’s words as they returned to the OB.
“You’ll need to watch your P’s and Q’s from now on, Chris. You can’t be caught off-guard. Don’t drink too much. Don’t get too cosy with any of them. And don’t unburden yourself to anyone but me. Got that?”
His spoon scraped the bottom of the bowl. Adamson pointed. “More?”
The farmer filled Greenwood’s bowl again, setting it down and taking his place beside the scribbling solicitor and watchful farm hand. Fisher cleared his throat and spoke.
“We had a firework display and a half at the railway line.”
Greenwood forced a smile and ate more stew. Does he want to impress me?
“We laid out a load of charges along the line. Take ‘em a while to fix all that.”
Tommy pushed his empty bowl away with no second helping and brought out a tobacco pouch. Strode finished writing his entry, closed his ledger and looked at Greenwood again but said nothing. Suddenly Adamson spoke.
“I killed a bloke at the Somme.”
Are they all going to confess their killings now?
“Did you? Who was he?”
Adamson’s eyes grew glassy. Then he blinked and refocused on Greenwood. “Don’t know. Didn’t ask his name.”
There was a murmur of laughter around the table, not unkind, but Christopher felt as if he had said something gauche. Fisher cut a piece of farmhouse cob and passed it across the table to him. Adamson said, “Enjoy it, there’s not much.”
Greenwood took the bread and dipped it into his bowl. To fill the silence, he asked, “How did you feel?”
“Feel? How did I feel?” Adamson looked at him blankly. The bottom fell out of Greenwood’s stomach. Should I know how he felt? Then Adamson’s eyes acquired that glassy stare once more and he seemed to stare far off over the young man’s shoulder:
“To be honest, I don’t think I felt very much.”
There was a pause. Strode cleared his throat.
“Have you finished, Greenwood? Good. We’d like you and Fisher to relieve Cosmin.”
END OF FREE EXTRACT
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