“Okay, here’s mine. Or somebody’s”


April 30, 1945. Austrian Alps

“The Führer is dead.”

Dr. Kurt Heisenberg felt his heart stop. The words pierced his skull like an executioner’s needle. He pressed the phone receiver closer to his ear, hoping he had misunderstood. “I am sorry, Reichsminister Speer, would you repeat that?”

“Dead, Herr Doktor.”

A sheet of frigid rigor seemed to wrap around Heisenberg, colder than the ice and snow just outside the heavily fortified concrete bunker. No doubt he would have felt warmer standing in the glacial temperatures beyond the bunker’s blast-proof doors than he did here, at this moment. The Reichsminister’s words went way beyond causing a delay of Heisenberg’s prized Uranium Projekt. It meant its sudden termination. Without the ironclad authority of Adolph Hitler and his command to drop the weapon on the heart of the British Empire, there would be no debilitating strike against the Allies, no unconditional surrenders, no new world, no Aryan fulfillment. The demise of the Führer was a death sentence for the Projekt.

With a voice that sounded like air seeping from a deflating balloon, Heisenberg said, “What must I do?”

“You are ordered to execute emergency directive Mitternacht immediately,” Speer said. “Is that understood?”

Heisenberg nodded but then realized he must also verbally acknowledge the command. He pushed the choking words from his mouth. “Yes.”

“You’ve done well, Herr Doktor. All of Germany thanks you.” After a long pause, Speer said, “Good luck.”

Heisenberg gently placed the receiver in its cradle as if doing so might soften the blow inflicted by the Minister of Armaments. He felt like a bear emerging from a long hibernation only to find that winter was far from over. The Mitternacht or Midnight Directive meant only one thing: the Uranium Projekt was dead, and must be buried. Speers’ words were the equivalent of nailing the coffin shut. All that was left was to throw the dirt onto the casket. And that was what he must now do.

Okay. We know Hitler is dead. And we know that Herr Doctor (Or Mr. Doctor Kurt Heisenberg) is really bummed out about it. He wanted badly to screw up some unknown stuff or other. That in itself is hard to imagine, but okay this guy is bad–perhaps diabolical even. Seething badness, even though we don’t know anything about him, that isn’t truly bad because only Hitler would have allowed him to beear terrible fruit, and now he’s screwed I tell you. I mean this guy liked Hitler, which in the realm of things not to do if you are a good guy is 29 on a list of 30. And he talked to Albert Speer, who made him say, “he got it.” Speer would soon be off to Spandau to write books on toilet paper and smuggle them out, but I suppose this guy is off to do something truly horrible terrible monstrous.

Do I want to keep reading to see what Dr. Kurt Heisenberg is going to threaten to screw up? Do you want to know who will step up to smack his ass? I guess I’d keep reading for a few more paragraphs before I placed it on my”When-hell-freezes-over pile.

12 thoughts on ““Okay, here’s mine. Or somebody’s”

  1. I do like that this starts with a disturbance (see my Kill Zone post tomorrow). Excellent choice.

    I would, however, take out that big fourth paragraph. Let the explanations come later. Keep us right in the tense phone call. We don’t have to know all the info up front. That’s a common error in opening pages. Readers will wait to be informed if the immediate scene has something going on. It even creates a bit of a mystery, which is always a good thing. Just read the page without that paragraph, and it moves a whole lot better.

    Also, one writing tip. When you put in two or more descriptions of the same thing back to back, it almost always dilutes the effect. Instead, choose the best one and cut the other. So:

    Dr. Kurt Heisenberg felt his heart stop. The words pierced his skull like an executioner’s needle.

    The latter is the more vivid, IMO, so I’d lose the first one.

  2. I think this one is pretty good. It’s a bit overwritten and I’d recommend cutting some of the clutter. Less backstory to speed things up.

    But the setting and the premise are intriguing. I think readers would turn the page to see what happens next.

  3. I confess that I’m inclined to over-think sometimes, but this entry touched on one of my pet peeves.

    In this piece, we’re eavesdropping on a conversation that’s happening in German, but the reason we can understand it is because it’s written in English. I’m fine with that, but if we’re channeling the language in translation, then why have occasional German words in German? Why “projekt” instead of “project?” Why “Herr Doktor” instead of “doctor?” The honorific, “Herr” really has no English translation when used with a professional title, so why have it at all?

    Even “Fuhrer” is problematic because it means “leader,” but I give that one a pass for the sake of clarity. The rest of it is sort of annoying.

    Or maybe I’m thinking too hard.


  4. I really like the title, and in general, I’d keep reading this one. Regarding the German versus English usage issue, I was just reading The Boys From Brazil, and I notice it always indicates when there’s a switch from English to German, and vice versa.

    Maybe, rather than explaining the character’s thoughts that the uranium project is dead, it would be more dramatic to have that info come out as action–perhaps a subordinate could come up to the main character, and the information comes out in the dialogue.

    It sounds like an interesting story overall.

  5. I guess if Hitler had a soft, cuddly human side they sure stopped talking about it around 1935 or so. At least here we know someone loved him and would miss him.

    Seriously, I agree with John, foreign language is tough. Just establish this is a philosophical pal of Hitler’s and leave it at that. The fact that Albert Speer is talking to him screams NAZI since Speer wasn’t big on calling the Brits or the Americans with orders. If I were the author, I’d read “Garden of Beasts” by Jeffery Deaver, which is, I believe, the best WWII novels of all time, maybe since the dawn of time. Jeffery handles this beautifully.

  6. I was intrigued by the set up – and the tension of the phone call is great. I agree we can leave explanations for later and as for the German, only the use of ‘projekt’ was a little grating. I could deal with the rest. I think with a bit of work this could be a pretty good start to a book.

  7. There’s the seed of a great opening here- I love the first line. You know immediately what time period it is, and that the speaker is probably a Nazi.
    But I think it’s a bit overwritten. The very first simile, “pierced his skull like an executioner’s needle,” stopped me. I spent a minute contemplating where an executioner’s needle would be inserted. That got me thinking that lethal injection was probably not common during this time period.
    And just like that, I was already taken out of the scene.

    I’m a big believer in less is more. Unless a metaphor or simile is absolutely necessary, I tend to avoid them. And this opening is laden with them, from deflating balloons to caskets to hibernating bears. That’s a lot to consume on page one. I’m also not sure what “frigid rigor” is meant to convey, but that also took away from the flow for me. And nodding into a phone is weak. Simply have him reply, “Yes.”

    That being said, I think there’s a great premise here. I’d be curious to find out what happens next. But if the opening paragraphs are too labored, if I can see the hand of the author on them, it detracts from what’s actually happening on the page.
    I actually don’t mind the German, since the “Uranium Projekt” is probably what the narrator knows it as.
    Also, be careful not to overuse, “felt.” You could just say, “Dr Kurt Heisenberg’s heart stopped.” As a reader, we’re aware that it didn’t actually stop, you’re simply conveying his shock at what he’s hearing.

  8. One other note: this reminds me a lot of some of James Rollins’ work. You might consider reading the opening pages of a few of his books (all available on Amazon at “look inside this book” to see how he sets the stage.

  9. The Germans used lethal injections in the rear of the skull above the spine, in the spine, the open mouth was a favorite. They injected acids, gasoline, drugs–whatever was cheap. In France they liked using the convenient Guillotines, and strapped the “corpse to be” on their backs looking up at the blade. They seem to have loved drama.

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