Excerpt of Hornet Flight by Ken Follett
(Page 5 of 12)
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A voice from the projectionist's booth replied, "My pleasure, sir."
As they passed through the building, two men fell in behind them: Inspector Thompson from Scotland Yard, and Churchill's private bodyguard. They emerged on the parade ground, passed a team operating a barrage balloon, and went through a gate in the barbed-wire fence to the street. London was blacked out, but a crescent moon gave enough light for them to find their way.
They walked side by side a few yards along Horse Guards Parade to Number One, Storey's Gate. A bomb had damaged the rear of Number Ten, Downing Street, the traditional residence of the Prime Minister, so Churchill was living at the nearby annex over the Cabinet War Rooms. The entrance was protected by a bombproof wall. The barrel of a machine gun poked through a hole in the wall.
Digby said, "Good night, sir."
"It can't go on," said Churchill. "At this rate, Bomber Command will be finished by Christmas. I need to know who or what Freya is."
"I'll find out."
"Do so with the utmost dispatch."
"Good night," said the Prime Minister, and he went inside.
On the last day of May 1941, a strange vehicle was seen on the streets of Morlunde, a city on the west coast of Denmark.
It was a Danish-made Nimbus motorcycle with a sidecar. That in itself was an unusual sight, because there was no petrol for anyone except doctors and the police and, of course, the German troops occupying the country. But this Nimbus had been modified. The four-cylinder petrol engine had been replaced by a steam engine taken from a scrapped river launch. The seat had been removed from the sidecar to make room for a boiler, firebox, and chimney stack. The substitute engine was low in power, and the bike had a top speed of about twenty-two miles per hour. Instead of the customary roar of a motorcycle exhaust, there was only the gentle hiss of steam. The eerie quiet and the slow pace gave the vehicle a stately air.
In the saddle was Harald Olufsen, a tall youth of eighteen, with clear skin and fair hair brushed back from a high forehead. He looked like a Viking in a school blazer. He had saved for a year to buy the Nimbus, which had cost him six hundred crowns--then, the day after he got it, the Germans had imposed the petrol restrictions.
Harald had been furious. What right did they have? But he had been brought up to act rather than complain.
It had taken him another year to modify the bike, working on school holidays, fitting it in with revision for his university entrance exams. Today, home from his boarding school for the Whitsun break, he had spent the morning memorizing physics equations and the afternoon attaching a sprocket from a rusted lawn mower to the back wheel. Now, with the motorcycle working perfectly, he was heading for a bar where he hoped to hear some jazz and perhaps even meet some girls.
He loved jazz. After physics, it was the most interesting thing that had ever happened to him. The American musicians were the best, of course, but even their Danish imitators were worth listening to. You could sometimes hear good jazz in Morlunde, perhaps because it was an international port, visited by sailors from all over the world.
But when Harald drove up outside the Club Hot, in the heart of the dockside district, its door was closed and its windows shuttered.
He was mystified. It was eight o'clock on a Saturday evening, and this was one of the most popular spots in town. It should be swinging.
As he sat staring at the silent building, a passer-by stopped and looked at his vehicle. "What's that contraption?"
"A Nimbus with a steam engine. Do you know anything about this club?"
Reprinted from Hornet's Flight by Ken Follett by permission of Dutton, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © 2002, Ken Follett. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.