Chapter 1: The Correspondent

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As I mentioned I'm currently working on the next book featuring the characters introduced in The Undesirables. Here is a sample first chapter of a sequel, The Provocateurs:

CHAPTER 1: The Correspondent

The Iron Cross was, perhaps, the Wehrmacht's most revered symbol. The emblem dated all the way back to the middle-ages, when it was worn by Teutonic Knights fighting pagans in the name of Christianity. It was not the more recent and menacing Nazi swastika. But neither was it the simple wooden symbol of Christ's suffering.

It was black, representing God's iron will. The Son may have preached turning the other cheek, Jesus Christ may have counseled against warfare and violence, but His father was a more vengeful God. Teutonic Knights believed they were instruments of that vengeance during the middle-ages, and the German Army still believed they were doing God's work in the summer of 1942.

That's when a titanic iron cross hung over the Russian city of Stalingrad. It was made of smoke, smoke generated by the roaring fires of that burning city.

Jillian had seen cities burn before. She'd been in London during the blitz. She'd met Ernie Pyle there and his reports were what made her decide to change her career and become a war correspondent. But when London burned its smoke rose in a great pillar.

It didn't form a cross.

Russians could see the titanic emblem from hundreds of miles away. Trains and trucks were rushing soldiers to the eastern bank of the river Volga, where they were to take ferries across and into Stalingrad's inferno. The Russian soldiers were told by their leaders that they were destined to finally stop the Germans at Stalingrad.

But the sight of that cross staining the sky had to be as demoralizing to them as it was to Jillian. God had chosen sides, it seemed, and unfortunately He had chosen Germany.

Jillian had to admit it made a sort of morbid sense. Officially, after all, the Russians were communists and atheists. Didn't it stand to reason that God would hate atheists?

A shiver went down Jillian's spine and she felt like throwing up. She, herself, was Jewish. She didn't consider herself a "good" Jew; she didn't regularly practice her religion. But it was still, fundamentally, a part of her.

She was a member of the first tribe chosen by God. But was God so fickle that he had now chosen the Germans? She knew that couldn't be true, but the smoke hanging over that German city was a Christian and German symbol, not a Jewish one. It was no Star of David.

It was clearly a cross, a black cross, the iron cross.

Jillian should have been writing about the bombing. Audiences back home wanted to read about how courageously the Russians were defending their city. Americans wanted to believe that the Germans could be stopped.

But Jillian couldn't write that, because she couldn't believe it herself. The iron cross told her otherwise. Stalingrad, like every other Russian city, was doomed.

So Jillian gave up. She stopped staring at her typewriter and shoved the whole machine, loaded paper and all, into her duffle bag. Then she stood up and pushed her way into line.

"Where are you going?" The question came from Stepan, Jillian's babysitter. Stalin and his Politburo didn't trust foreign journalists, so they assigned "advisors" to watch over them. Really they were there to make sure Jillian didn't write anything that would embarrass the Communist Party.

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