Friday, March 7, 2014
Honor and Innocence: Against the Tides of War by Glen Hierlmeier (excerpt and GIVEAWAY)
Honor and Innocence: Against the Tides of War, a historical romance novel by Glen Hierlmeier, will be released in March 2014. This book takes the reader through the devastation left by World War II across the European and Asian continents following its main character Hank Fischer, who was drafted to the American Army in 1945 shortly after his high school graduation.
During his service, Hank befriends a German prisoner-of-war, Max, who tells Hank of his twin sister, Roberta, also in captivity. An unlikely romance buds between her and Hank, leaving Hank conflicted between his allegiance to the American Army and his love for Roberta. Hank decides to break out Max and Roberta, and together they make a desperate flight through war-torn Germany where they witness first-hand the destruction post-war Europe has endured. Leaving Max behind in Switzerland, they make their way to the port city of Trieste, where they board a ship and depart to the seas, dealing with pirates, facing adversity, making new friends, and desperately seeking a safe refuge in a place where their love can flourish.
Follow Hank and Roberta on their intense and captivating journey from country to country as they seek refuge. Read as they make their way through bombed-out cities filled with dead bodies, giving a rare glimpse into the tragic consequences of war, as they remain together bound by love.
“Hank, this is what I want you to do.” Captain Stein stepped closer and looked Hank squarely in the eyes with a very serious look, as if to say, this is damn important to me, so listen carefully and do what I tell you to do. He had Hank’s attention anyway with everything he revealed without Hank making any effort to find out for himself. All this information was just ‘falling into his lap’.
“Yes, sir. What can I do?” Hank was anxious to know what Stein had in mind for him to do.
“I want you to meet with the girl, Roberta. Get to know her first; don’t get in too much of a hurry. We don’t want to spook her into keeping her mouth shut. Use your friendship with Max to get her confidence; she’ll want to know everything about him. Use that to find out what you can about how much she knew or Max knew about what Schoellkopf was doing. Find out who he was talking with and meeting with. They should know who was coming to the house. She probably knows what they did with the records from his office. We need everything, every scrap. Get any clue you might be able to schmooze out of her that could help us find the bastards who are still on the loose out there.”
Hank was dumbfounded---speechless---couldn’t contain his angst. He felt the heat rising on his skin and knew he was turning a bright red. He felt like he had unexpectedly been caught in a devious plot---couldn’t run forward or backward---couldn’t do anything to get out of the plight thrust upon him.
“What’s the matter, Hank, you look like you just saw a ghost?”
“Ah, ahhh, nothing, sir. Ah…I…ah, just never imagined I would be doing this kind of thing. You caught me off guard. All I ever wanted was to be a farmer. I never in a million years thought I would be chasing criminals in Germany. I don’t know the first thing about this kind of work.”
“You’ll do fine, Hank. I saw how you befriended Max and that makes you uniquely prepared to meet with his sister; his twin sister no less. You’re just looking for information. Get to know her; gain her trust. You are a good man, Hank, just be yourself. At any rate, none of us chose to be where we are now, but we have to do what we have to do, and this is what our country wants us to do right now. I know how much you love America, and I know you’ll get this job done for all of us. Now, pull yourself together, man, and get to work. Go see her right now.”
Hank silently chaffed at the sound of being called a “good man”, which he certainly wasn’t feeling at the moment. He was trapped in his own plot, thinking, Why in the hell did I ever agree to meet with Oliver and Max. Now look at the fix I’m in. I should have let well enough alone and never seen them again. Gain her trust? What about Max’s trust? Hank felt dirty and didn’t see his way out of his mess, so he did the only thing he could think to do in the moment.
“Ok, if that’s what you think I should do, then that’s what I’ll do.”
“Those are my orders, Corporal.”
The ride out to the Displaced Persons Camp, the DPC, wasn’t nearly as long as Hank would have liked. He needed time to think, but within minutes, the Army Jeep pulled up in front of the impoundment surrounded by a tall wire fence with barbed wire strung along the top. He showed his identification papers and they drove into the compound. Max had a sick feeling in his stomach and his hope that something would happen to keep his meeting with Roberta from happening was fading fast. He had no alternative but to see his job through. He felt like he was losing his integrity---felt ashamed.
The detained SS Officers and those related to them were being held apart from the displaced persons, the officers in one row of former Army barracks and the women and children in separate barracks, divided by another wire fence. His meeting with Roberta had been arranged in a small building nearby that was formerly used as an office for the commander of the former German Army facility.
The guard escorted Hank into the building where Roberta was waiting in a small interrogation room in the rear.
“I’ll lock the door behind you. Knock when you are finished.” The guard instructed as Max entered the room.
Roberta sat on a straight backed wooden chair at a small table in the center of the room. The late morning sun streaked through the barred window at the rear casting its golden glow across the floor and onto the black prison gown she wore, forming the image of the bars from the window. It struck Hank as a very sad scene. He saw Roberta as a victim caught up in an evil situation. Hank was more excited than he even imagined he would be---his breathing elevated and everything around him seemed to disappear except the vision of Roberta seated with her head down, eyes fixed blankly on the table. He was still uncertain how he would begin, and awkwardly pulled his chair out and sat down without speaking, quietly looking at her as she sat still with her head hanging down---sadly, he thought. The sight of her and the sadness evoked a flow of empathy in him. He decided to sit quietly without speaking and wait for her.
Roberta didn’t move. Hank was struck by how small she was, much smaller than Max, but with the same dark brown hair, almost black. Her skin was silky smooth and her hands were so tiny and looked so innocent. Hank realized he hadn’t looked at a woman seriously, really looked at a woman since he left Wisconsin. It had been four months. He was enjoying their silence.
After what seemed to Hank a very long time, Roberta slowly raised her head, revealing the dampness of tears on her cheeks; she had been crying for a very long time. Then she raised her sad silver-blue-green eyes to meet his. He was startled at how beautiful she was and her look seemed to penetrate right through him as if she could see all the way to his heart. He was momentarily mesmerized; the golden glow of the sun seemed to shimmer, and his heart beat faster---he had not expected this. It took a few moments before he realized they had not spoken. He felt awkward.
“Hello, my name is Hank.”
“Do you know who I am?” She quietly intoned just those few words, but they were music in his ears, like the wind blowing gently through the pines atop the bluffs at home. They beckoned him, made him feel warm.
“Then you know why I am here?’
“Yes, I do.”
“Are you going to help me?”
“Well, I don’t know?” Hank was taken aback. He didn’t expect her to ask for his help, but deep inside he knew that’s what he wanted to do. It was his natural instinct to help. He had no idea what she had been told of his visit. “What do you think I can help you with?”
“They broke into my home and took me away. I have not done anything wrong. I am innocent. I had no idea what my father was doing in the SS. I only know that he is a very generous and kind man who is fair and just. Why have you imprisoned me?” Roberta spoke pitifully from her broken heart. It was obvious she was suffering greatly in her circumstances. “Are you here to interrogate me too? Like the others? Do you want to force me to say things that are not true? Should I tell you lies so you will leave me alone? They told me my father is dead, that he killed himself that he didn’t really care about me. How could they be so cruel? Why? Why? Why?” Roberta began sobbing uncontrollably, and Hank felt the full emotional burden of her pain, reacting how he would to any person in need; he reached his arm around her shoulders and comforted her.
“It’s OK. It’s OK. I understand. Go ahead and cry. I don’t mind. There, there.” Hank was drawn to her as if by a spiritual force, not a magical or religious experience, but a feeling he understood her and felt her pain intensely.
It was several minutes before Roberta could compose herself. Hank withdrew his arm somewhat reluctantly. She felt really good to him.
“No, Roberta, I am not here to interrogate you. I’m not going to badger you, threaten you, or abuse you in any way. I am very sorry about your father. I’m sure he was a very good man and he loved you very much. I need to get to know you better so I can understand how I can help you. There is nothing I would like better than for you to be able to get out of here and go home. This war has been miserable for all of us.”
“Home? Home? I have no home. My home in Munich was given to the Nazi’s. The British have taken my home here in Hamburg. My mother is dead, now they tell me my father is dead, and my brother was taken prisoner by you Americans and I don’t know if he is alive or dead! I have nothing, nothing, and no one!”
Hank was startled. It was enough that Roberta began sobbing again, but he was surprised to learn she had not accepted that her father was dead, and she didn’t know about Max either. Hank felt an incredible sadness for her, but he thought better of telling her that Max was alive and he knew where Max was, and that Max was looking for her. These were things he could use at the right time to get Roberta to cooperate and maybe even to forge a friendship. He would need time to decide how to proceed, and just when to tell her these things. He needed to get out of there for the time being and come back prepared the next day. At that moment his head and his heart were at odds with each other. He needed time to get his emotions sorted out, and didn’t know for sure what he wanted for himself. The words his father spoke to him the last night they were together rang in his ears… sometimes your special moments will grab you unexpectedly. No matter how they come, you have to be ready. Hank wondered if this was such a moment. His heart seemed to be immersed in ecstasy, but his head was pulling him back---trying to discern the wisdom of his father’s words. The moment and its illumination necessarily had to pass, but the conviction it etched in his heart would remain forever.
Hank knew Captain Stein would be anxious to hear how his meeting went, so he was prepared with a very positive report, telling the Captain that it went very well; he had established a great rapport and formed the beginning of a friendship that surely would yield good results. It would just take more time. He didn’t want to push too hard. Stein thought that was great, just what he had thought would be the best approach himself. He knew it would take a little time.
Sleep never really came for Hank that night. Every time he dozed off he saw Roberta looking at him with those big beautiful eyes, hair flowing in the breeze and a smile on her lips that melted his heart. He tossed and turned, dozed off again, and was awakened time and again by his vision of Roberta. His visions were interrupted with his confusion about what or when to talk with Roberta about her father and Max—then, of course, there was Max, and Oliver, who were anxious to hear from him about Roberta the next evening. Hank was in a mess.
Toward the early morning, he gave up trying to sleep. He lay in his bunk wrestling his anxiety about how he would approach Roberta to get information that would satisfy Stein. He was in a quandary over forces pulling him in opposing directions. He didn’t believe Roberta was guilty of doing anything to support the Nazi’s and he didn’t think she knew anything about what her father was doing, but he was under pressure to come up with clues. The opposing force was more compelling--- he thought he might be in love for the very first time. Whatever he chose to do, he would follow his heart.
The first thing the next morning, he left for the prison camp, arriving early. He asked for Roberta to be summoned and sat nervously at the table for what seemed a very long time. His heart leaped when he heard footsteps on the wooden floor and rose to face the door, not sure if she would be happy to see him again, but hoping she would. She stood just inside the door with her head tilted toward the floor until the guard closed the door behind her and slid the lock in place with a heavy clunk.
When she raised her head Hank captured the image he would remember all his life. Roberta’s eyes sparkled in a way he had never seen eyes sparkle, the smile on her lips stretched wide, she lighted up the room like sunshine, and she vanquished any reservation that remained. She really was happy to see him! And, she was so beautiful. He was in love. He had the sensation of having no weight, all the concerns of his life evaporated, nothing else mattered.
His first impulse was to rush toward her, wrap her in his arms and caress her, but he hesitated, thinking it may not be what he hoped. At that first movement, Roberta leaped forward into his arms. He felt the brush of her hair and the exquisite softness of her cheek on his as her arms stretched up to squeeze his neck and he leaned to fold her into his arms. The warmth of her body pressed firmly against him brought a surge of emotion he didn’t know could be so strong. He longed to kiss her lips, but held her tightly, her head pressed against his neck and shoulder, and felt her body gently throbbing as her warm tears of joy wet his neck and cheek. It had been so long since he felt such intimacy.
“Roberta, you feel the same way I do don’t you? “Oh, Hank, It has been so long since anyone cared how I feel; so long since I have felt anyone so sensitive, who cared about me. I thought I would never feel this way about anyone! I feel like we have known each other a very long time, well, since forever.”
“I feel the same way!” Hank was giddy, as excited as a young high school boy at his first prom with the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. Then he realized there was something he had to tell her that he must say right away.
“Roberta, I have good news for you?”
Roberta stood back and looked up at Hank with a look Hank understood. She wanted good news, she was desperate for good news. She couldn’t speak, her expression said, tell me…tell me, now!
“Max is alive!”
Hank caught Roberta as her legs buckled under her, falling into his arms as she wept with joy. Once again she was comforted in his arms. Hank felt good. He was able to make her happy.
She quickly composed herself. “Where is he?” Is he here, in Germany? Has he been wounded? Is he well?”
“Whoa, whoa, little one. Yes, he is here in Hamburg and he is perfectly fine. He was captured by our American troops in France and has been in a prison camp in America, but now he is here in Hamburg, safe and sound.”
“Here in Hamburg?! When can I see him? Can he come here?”
“Those are good questions, but the answers are not easy. Of course, he cannot come here to see you, or he would be arrested just like you. And, of course, you cannot go to see him. But I have an idea that may have to suffice as the best we can do for now.”
“What is it? Tell me!”
“I will continue to meet with you as we have been meeting. I can carry messages for both of you, but they will have to be verbal only. I don’t want to risk anything written. I know you want to see him and hold him, but we cannot do that now. But, I have an idea. I will arrange for Max to come near here at a distance and you can see each other across the field. Look out that window. You see there is a woods there? I will have Max come to the woods so you can see him and he can see you. I know it isn’t what you would like, but for now it may be the best I can do.”
“Anything, anything. I’m so happy to know he is alive. Thank you, thank you, my darling!”
Her words startled him. My darling, he pondered the thought. He had never heard those words from anyone but his mother. They felt good, really good, and he was delighted to see her happy.
About the Author:
We Had to Live: We Had No Choice..., and Thoughts From Yesterday: Moments to Remember.
A Kindle version is available to one lucky commenter who leaves a valid e-mail address and a comment on your favorite historical period to read about.