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From 'Shadows of Karl Wulf' due out June 2018

On the 25th July 1943 Helmut Shultz went to work as usual at a cheese factory in his hometown of Hamburg. He was a pacifist, although he kept this to himself, and wanted nothing to do with Adolf Hitler or the war which raged around him. He was a hard-working and God-fearing man, happily married to beautiful Emilia for a little over two years and had two small children; smiley and angelic Sophia, the apple of his eye; the epitome daddy’s girl who would turn two the following week, and little baby Leon, only seven months old but already an animated bundle of bubbly joy. Helmut’s entire existence centred on his loved ones, not much else mattered to him although he was unselfish and always there to help others if needed. Helmut finished work at 6pm and hurried home to the welcoming arms of his family. Emilia and Helmut kept to a happy routine. First, the family had a meal together sat around the kitchen table, delicious with Sophia’s giggles and Leon’s messy protests from within the restraint of his high-chair. When the meal was over Helmut put the children to bed, reading softly to Sophia about Rapunzel until she drifted into the serene realm of childhood dreams.

After drawing all the curtains to comply with the black-out, Helmut settled onto the sofa with his wife, listening to music on the radio inside a candle-lit cocoon of cosy togetherness. They went to bed at 10pm and he kissed her beautiful face before he fell asleep; she smiled back with love-filled contentment. It was around 2am when a droning hum woke him up, far away like a swarm of bees; but it quickly got louder and louder and he soon recognised the ominous droll of a bombing raid. He shook Emilia awake then got up and gathered the children ready to take his family to the bomb shelter.

Fifteen thousand feet above them, the urgent goggle-shielded eyes of Sam Adkins piloted his Halifax bomber through the night sky, carefully avoiding the slalom of anti-aircraft flak that flashed around them. He was sat next to his navigator Nobby Clark, talking to each other from the radios within their leather oxygen masks, when Nobby pin-pointed their target (a church spire) and Sam gave the order to open the bomb doors. Moments later two thousand pounds of high explosive fell from the belly of the aircraft and the night-camouflaged city below began to throb with blasts of destruction and bloom with angry blazes. The bomber crew remained calm because their safety was foremost. You cannot suffer the shock of combat if you can’t see it; when you’re shielded within the fuselage of an aircraft fifteen thousand feet above the bedlam of chaos you’ve caused and cannot witness the inglorious death and suffering of those writhing in agony and engulfed by flames. In the smog of lost souls, fifteen hundred denizens of Hamburg died that night and Sam’s mind was focused on safely flying back to England, oblivious to the infernos fuelled by the charcoal from the bones of so many innocent children. So often in war, no one’s in the wrong nor is anyone in the right.

Just as Helmut and his family were leaving their house, Leon snuggled to his mother’s chest sucking assurance from her breast and Sophia bouncing excitedly around her father’s feet, the bomb landed nearby. Emilia and her baby were killed instantly, crushed under a fallen wall like a bug underfoot. Sophia died an hour later, her father’s tears flooding her turbulent innocence while she cried farewell to a short life from the cradle of his plaintive arms. That very same day Helmut, numb from grief, travelled to Berlin and enlisted in the Gestapo. He would take revenge on the murderous British and Americans. Just like the vibrant heart of Hamburg, they had bombed the blissful soul from his life.