We're delighted to present an extract from The Hunt for David Berman, the debut YA novel by Claire Mulligan.
It is 1940 and Britain is at war with Germany. Robert has been evacuated from London to his grandparents' farm in Scotland. While exploring the rugged coastline, he finds a boy living in the caves. The boy is called David and he is a Kindertransport child. David had to leave his mother and grandmother behind in Berlin, and has now run away from his cruel foster family nearby. Meanwhile, at the Gestapo Headquarters in Berlin, it is discovered that an Enigma codebook has been hidden in David's suitcase. A Nazi secret agent in the UK is instructed to find David, retrieve the codebook and kill the boy...
'How was your day, son?' Grandad was sitting at the kitchen table with the big brown teapot in front of him.
'It was all right, I suppose.' Robert pulled off his shoes and slid his feet into his Wellington boots.
‘Do you fancy a wee cuppa, freshly brewed?’ Grandad was reaching for a cup for him.
‘No thanks, Grandad. Is it all right if I go down to the beach for a bit instead? There’s something there I want to look at.’ Robert paused a little, unsure what to say next. ‘Er, something Dad told me about.’
‘How curious!’ Grandad chuckled. ‘Aye, of course you can. For a little while anyway. Don’t forget to come back up in time for tea or yer grandmother will be on the war path. And better wear a coat and all.’
‘All right, all right,’ Robert grumbled as he pulled on his winter coat, and then, before Grandad could make any other suggestions or remind him about his jobs, he dashed out of the kitchen and ran all the way down to the beach.
Grandad was right about one thing – it was cold. The wind that was tearing in from the sea had whipped the greenish waves into white-topped crests. He walked in the direction of the cave and as he got nearer to it he heard a shout and saw a small figure off in the distance. The figure waved as it got closer to Robert.
‘Hello again!’ David puffed as he ran up to Robert.
Robert was glad to see him. ‘Sorry I didn’t get to see you yesterday. I was busy with my grandad and when I did get down to the cave you weren’t here, so I went home.’ He paused to wipe his damp nose with his sleeve. ‘What you got there?’
David was carrying an old tin bucket which sloshed water over the top of it. ‘I was fishing,’ he said with a grin, ‘in the rock pools!’
‘Did you get anything?’ Robert pulled eagerly at the bucket in David’s hands. ‘What did you get? Cor blimey! Looks like blennies and a dogfish. Mind their teeth, give you an awful nip, they can!’
‘I’m hungry,’ said David. ‘Let’s go,’ and they headed back to the cave.
‘You’re going to eat these?’ Robert looked doubtfully at the small fish swimming in the bucket.
David grinned and said, ‘Course! Come on!’
David pulled some pieces of dry kindling wood down from a pile he had hidden along the ledge and within a short time there was a small fire crackling at the entrance to the cave. Robert quickly warmed up as he sat in front of the dancing flames. He took off his coat and settled himself against a small rock and watched as David expertly knocked each fish on its head with a large stone. The boy then took a penknife from his shorts pocket and he gutted and cleaned each little fish within minutes. Next, David skewered them onto a stick of wood and held it over the flames, turning the fish over and over so they cooked evenly.
Robert watched silently as David sat hunkered by the fire, turning the fish until at last he thought they were ready to eat.
‘Hold that, will you?’ he said and, handing the stick to Robert, he pulled himself up onto the ledge and disappeared along to his cave room. A moment or two later David appeared with a plate and a mug and a tin can. He went outside the cave entrance and came back with the can full of fresh water filled from a small stream which trickled down the hillside. He set the can carefully into the embers on the edge of the fire and then reached into each of his shorts pockets and produced two eggs for boiling.
‘Cor,’ said Robert, greatly impressed, ‘what a feast! How d’ya know how to do all this?’
David shrugged a little. And then, poking at the fire with his stick, he said quietly, ‘I was in the Boy Scouts. Back home.’
There was a long pause where neither of them spoke. The fire crackled and spat a little as the wind picked up. Out at sea a lone gannet sat bobbing up and down on the dark waves.
Robert watched the bird for a minute and then asked, ‘Where’s that then, where’s your home?’ He lazily flicked his stick in and out of the fire’s flames creating little flashes of sparks that fizzled red and orange.
David said nothing but rocked back on his legs, not looking at Robert. Then, finally, he answered, ‘Germany.’
‘Germany!’ Robert jumped as though he had been slapped. ‘What the … what do you mean Germany? Are you German? How can you be German!’ He felt a sick lurch in his tummy. ‘Are you … a … a spy?’ He could hardly get the words to come out of his mouth.
Ginnie, who came in to help Grandma with the laundry once a week, was forever telling stories that she’d heard above in Inchbrakie village about spies who were already here under their very noses and sure didn’t they take down all the signposts on all the roads so spies couldn’t find their way around easily. Grandma had tutted impatiently and told her to stop all the tittle-tattle and get on with the job, but Ginnie had said a little gloomily, ‘You can’t trust anyone these days.’
Without waiting for David’s answer, Robert stood up and backed warily away from both the campfire and David.
A flash of panic crossed David’s face. ‘No! No, I’m not a spy! Nothing like that!’ he said. His face had blanched to a greyish white and he stammered, ‘I … I was given the chance to leave … My mother made me leave. I am here by myself … Honestly, Robert, I promise you, I’m not a spy!’
‘Liar! I don’t believe you!’ shouted Robert and suddenly it was all too much. His friend, his only friend, was German!
The Hunt for David Berman is published by The Moth