THE FIRST DAY
Sunday, May 28, 1944
One minute before the explosion, the square at Sainte-Cecile was at peace. The evening was warm, and a layer of still air covered the town like a blanket. The church bell tolled a lazy beat, calling worshipers to the service with little enthusiasm. To Felicity Clairet it sounded like a countdown.
The square was dominated by the seventeenth-century chateau. A small version of Versailles, it had a grand projecting front entrance, and wings on both sides that turned right angles and tailed off rearwards. There was a basement and two main floors topped by a tall roof with arched dormer windows.
Felicity, who was always called Flick, loved France. She enjoyed its graceful buildings, its mild weather, its leisurely lunches, its cultured people. She liked French paintings, French literature, and stylish French clothes. Visitors often found the French people unfriendly, but Flick had been speaking the language since she was six years old, and no one could tell she was a foreigner.
It angered her that the France she loved no longer existed. There was not enough food for leisurely lunches, the paintings had all been stolen by the Nazis, and only the whores had pretty clothes. Like most women, Flick was wearing a shapeless dress whose colors had long ago been washed to dullness. Her heart's desire was that the real France would come back. It might return soon, if she and people like her did what they were supposed to.
She might not live to see it-indeed, she might not survive the next few minutes. She was no fatalist; she wanted to live. There were a hundred things she planned to do after the war: finish her doctorate, have a baby, see New York, own a sports car, drink champagne on the beach at Cannes. But if she was about to die, she was glad to be spending her last few moments in a sunlit square, looking at a beautiful old house, with the lilting sounds of the French language soft in her ears.
The chateau had been built as a home for the local aristocracy, but the last Comte de Sainte-Cecile had lost his head on the guillotine in 1793. The ornamental gardens had long ago been turned into vineyards, for this was wine country, the heart of the Champagne district. The building now housed an important telephone exchange, sited here because the government minister responsible had been born in Sainte-Cecile.
When the Germans came they enlarged the exchange to provide connections between the French system and the new cable route to Germany. They also sited a Gestapo regional headquarters in the building, with offices on the upper floors and cells in the basement.
Four weeks ago the chateau had been bombed by the Allies. Such precision bombing was new. The heavy four-engined Lancasters and Flying Fortresses that roared high over Europe every night were inaccurate-they sometimes missed an entire city-but the latest generation of fighter-bombers, the Lightnings and Thunderbolts, could sneak in by day and hit a small target, a bridge or a railway station. Much of the west wing of the chateau was now a heap of irregular seventeenth-century red bricks and square white stones.
But the air raid had failed. Repairs were made quickly, and the phone service had been disrupted only as long as it took the Germans to install replacement switchboards. All the automatic telephone equipment and the vital amplifiers for the long-distance lines were in the basement which had escaped serious damage.
That was why Flick was here.
The chateau was on the north side of the square, surrounded by a high wall of stone pillars and iron railings, guarded by uniformed sentries. To the east was a small medieval church, its ancient wooden doors wide open to the summer air and the arriving congregation. Opposite the church, on the west side of the square, was the town hall, run by an ultraconservative mayor who had few disagreements with the occupying Nazi rulers. The south side was a row of shops and a bar called Cafe des Sports. Flick sat outside the bar, waiting for the church bell to stop. On the table in front of her was a glass of the local white wine, thin and light. She had not drunk any.
She was a British officer with the rank of major. Officially, she belonged to the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry, the all-female service that was inevitably called the FANYs. But that was a cover story. In fact, she worked for a secret organization, the Special Operations Executive, responsible for sabotage behind enemy lines. At twenty-eight, she was one of the most senior agents. 'This was not the first time she had felt herself close to death. She had learned to live with the threat, and manage her fear, but all the same she felt the touch of a cold hand on her heart when she looked at the steel helmets and powerful rifles of the chateau guards.
Three years ago, her greatest ambition had been to become a professor of French literature in a British university, teaching students to enjoy the vigor of Hugo, the wit of Flaubert, the passion of Zola. She had been working in the War Office, translating French documents, when she had been summoned to a mysterious interview in a hotel room and asked if she was willing to do something dangerous.
She had said yes without thinking much. There was a war on, and all the boys she had been at Oxford with were risking their lives every day, so why shouldn't she do the same? Two days after Christmas 1941 she had started her SOE training.
Six months later she was a courier, carrying messages from SOE headquarters, at 64 Baker Street in London, to Resistance groups in occupied France, in the days when wireless sets were scarce and trained operators even fewer. She would parachute in, move around with her false identity papers, contact the Resistance, give them their orders, and note their replies, complaints, and requests for guns and ammunition. For the return journey she would rendezvous with a pickup plane, usually a three-seater Westland Lysander, small enough to land on six hundred yards of grass.
From courier work she had graduated to organizing sabotage. Most SOE agents were officers, the theory being that their "men" were the local Resistance. In practice, the Resistance were not under military discipline, and an agent had to win their cooperation by being tough, knowledgeable, and authoritative.
The work was dangerous. Six men and three women had finished the training course with Flick, and she was the only one still operating two years later. Two were known to be dead: one shot by the Milice, the hated French security police, and the second killed when his parachute failed to open. The other six had been captured, interrogated, and tortured, and had then disappeared into prison camps in Germany. Flick had survived because she was ruthless, she had quick reactions, and she was careful about security to the point of paranoia.
Beside her sat her husband, Michel, leader of the Resistance circuit codenamed Bollinger, which was based in the cathedral city of Reims, ten miles from here. Although about to risk his life, Michel was sitting back in his chair, his right ankle resting on his left knee, holding a tall glass of pale, watery wartime beer. His careless grin had won her heart when she was a student at the Sorbonne, writing a thesis on Moliere's ethics that she had abandoned at the outbreak of war. He had been a disheveled young philosophy lecturer with a legion of adoring students.
He was still the sexiest man she had ever met. He was tall, and he dressed with careless elegance in rumpled suits and faded blue shirts. His hair was always a little too long. He had a come-to-bed voice and an intense blue-eyed gaze that made a girl feel she was the only woman in the world.
This mission had given Flick a welcome chance to spend a few days with her husband, but it had not been a happy time. They had not quarreled, exactly, but Michel's affection had seemed halfhearted, as if he were going through the motions. She had felt hurt. Her instinct told her he was interested in someone else. He was only thirty-five, and his unkempt charm still worked on young women. It did not help that since their wedding they had been apart more than together, because of the war. And there were plenty of willing French girls, she thought sourly, in the Resistance and out of it.
She still loved him. Not in the same way: she no longer worshiped him as she had on their honeymoon, no longer yearned to devote her life to making him happy. The morning mists of romantic love had lifted, and in the clear daylight of married life she could see that he was vain, self-absorbed, and unreliable. But when he chose to focus his attention on her, he could still make her feel unique and beautiful and cherished.
His charm worked on men, too, and he was a great leader, courageous and charismatic. He and Flick had figured out the battle plan together. They would attack the chateau in two places, dividing the defenders, then regroup inside to form a single force that would penetrate the basement, find the main equipment room, and blow it up.
They had a floor plan of the building supplied by Antoinette Dupert, supervisor of the group of local women who cleaned the chateau every evening. She was also Michel's aunt. The cleaners started work at seven o'clock, the same time as vespers, and Flick could see some of them now, presenting their special passes to the guard at the wrought-iron gate. Antoinette's sketch showed the entrance to the basement but no further details, for it was a restricted area, open to Germans only, and cleaned by soldiers.
Michel's attack plan was based on reports from MI6, the British intelligence service, which said the chateau was guarded by a Waffen SS detachment working in three shifts, each of twelve men. The Gestapo personnel in the building were not fighting troops, and most would not even be armed. The Bollinger circuit had been able to muster fifteen fighters for the attack, and they were now deployed, either among the worshipers in the church, or posing as Sunday idlers around the square, concealing their weapons under their clothing or in satchels and duffel bags. If MI6 was right, the Resistance would outnumber the guards.
But a worry nagged at Flick's brain and made her heart heavy with apprehension. When she had told Antoinette of MI6's estimate, Antoinette had frowned and said, "It seems to me there are more." Antoinette was no fool-she had been secretary to Joseph Laperriere, the head of a champagne house, until the occupation reduced his profits and his wife became his secretary and she might be right.
Michel had been unable to resolve the contradiction between the MI6 estimate and Antoinette's guess. He lived in Reims, and neither he nor any of his group was familiar with Sainte-Cecile. There had been no time for further reconnaissance. If the Resistance were outnumbered, Flick thought with dread, they were not likely to prevail against disciplined German troops.
She looked around the square, picking out the people she knew, apparently innocent strollers who were in fact waiting to kill or be killed. Outside the haberdashery, studying a bolt of dull green cloth in the window, stood Genevieve, a tall girl of twenty with a Sten gun under her light summer coat. The Sten was a submachine gun much favored by the Resistance because it could be broken into three parts and carried in a small bag. Genevieve might well be the girl Michel had his eye on, but all the same Flick felt a shudder of horror at the thought that she might be mowed down by gunfire in a few seconds' time. Crossing the cobbled square, heading for the church, was Bertrand, even younger at seventeen, a blond boy with an eager face and a. 45-caliber Colt automatic hidden in a folded newspaper under his arm. The Allies had dropped thousands of Colts by parachute. Flick had at first forbidden Bertrand from the team because of his age, but he had pleaded to be included, and she had needed every available man, so she had given in. She hoped his youthful bravado would survive once the shooting started. Loitering on the church porch, apparently finishing his cigarette before going in, was Albert, whose wife had given birth to their first child this morning, a girl. Albert had an extra reason to stay alive today. He carried a cloth bag that looked full of potatoes, but they were No. 36 Mark I Mills hand grenades.
The scene in the square looked normal but for one element. Beside the church was parked an enormous, powerful sports car. It was a French-built Hispano Suiza type 68 with a V12 aeroengine, one of the fastest cars in the world. It had a tall, arrogant-looking silver radiator topped by the flying-stork mascot, and it was painted sky blue.
It had arrived half an hour ago. The driver, a handsome man of about forty, was wearing an elegant civilian suit, but he had to be a German officer-no one else would have the nerve to flaunt such a car. His companion, a tall, striking redhead in a green silk dress and high-heeled suede shoes, was too perfectly chic to be anything but French. The man had set up a camera on a tripod and was taking photographs of the chateau. The woman wore a defiant look, as if she knew that the shabby townspeople who stared at her on their way to church were calling her whore in their minds.
A few minutes ago, the man had scared Flick by asking her to take a picture of him and his lady friend against the background of the chateau. He had spoken courteously, with an engaging smile, and only the trace of a German accent. The distraction at a crucial moment was absolutely maddening, but Flick had felt it might have caused trouble to refuse, especially as she was pretending to be a local resident who had nothing better to do than lounge around at a pavement cafe. So she had responded as most French people would have in the circumstances: she had put on an expression of cold indifference and complied with the German's request.
It had been a farcically frightening moment: the British secret agent standing behind the camera; the German officer and his tart smiling at her, and the church bell tolling the seconds until the explosion. Then the officer had thanked her and offered to buy her a drink. She had refused very firmly: no French girl could drink with a German unless she was prepared to be called a whore. He had nodded understandingly, and she had returned to her husband.
The officer was obviously off-duty and did not appear to be armed, so he presented no danger, but all the same he bothered Flick. She puzzled over this feeling in the last few seconds of calm and finally realized that she did not really believe he was a tourist. There was a watchful alertness in his manner that was not appropriate for soaking up the beauty of old architecture. His woman might be exactly what she seemed, but he was something else.
Before Flick could figure out what, the bell ceased to toll.
Michel drained his glass, then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
Flick and Michel stood up. Trying to look casual, they strolled to the cafe entrance and stood in the doorway, inconspicuously taking cover.
Dieter Franck had noticed the girl at the cafe table the moment he drove into the square. He always noticed beautiful women. This one struck him as a tiny bundle of sex appeal. She was a pale blonde with light green eyes, and she probably had German blood-it was not unusual here in the northeast of France, so close to the border. Her small, slim body was wrapped in a dress like a sack, but she had added a bright yellow scarf of cheap cotton, with a flair for style that he thought enchantingly French. When he spoke to her, he had observed the initial flash of fear usual in a French person on being approached by one of the German occupiers; but then, immediately afterwards, he had seen on her pretty face a look of ill-concealed defiance that had piqued his interest.
She was with an attractive man who was not very interested in her-probably her husband. Dieter had asked her to take a photo only because he wanted to talk to her. He had a wife and two pretty children in Cologne, and he shared his Paris apartment with Stephane, but that would not stop him making a play for another girl. Beautiful women were like the gorgeous French impressionist paintings he collected: having one did not stop you wanting another.
French women were the most beautiful in the world. But everything French was beautiful: their bridges, their boulevards, their furniture, even their china tableware. Dieter loved Paris nightclubs, champagne, foie gras, and warm baguette. He enjoyed buying shirts and ties at Charvet, the legendary chemisier opposite the Ritz hotel. He could happily have lived in Paris forever.
He did not know where he had acquired such tastes. His father was a professor of music-the one art form of which the Germans, not the French, were the undisputed masters. But to Dieter, the dry academic life his father led seemed unbearably dull, and he had horrified his parents by becoming a policeman, one of the first university graduates in Germany so to do. By 1939, he was head of the criminal intelligence department of the Cologne police. In May 1940, when General Heinz Gudenan's panzer tanks crossed the river Meuse at Sedan and swept triumphantly through France to the English Channel in a week, Dieter impulsively applied for a commission in the army. Because of his police experience, he was given an intelligence posting immediately. He spoke fluent French and adequate English, so he was put to work interrogating captured prisoners. He had a talent for the work, and it gave him profound satisfaction to extract information that could help his side win battles. In North Africa his results had been noticed by Rommel himself.
He was always willing to use torture when necessary, but he liked to persuade people by subtler means. That was how he had got Stephanie. Poised, sensual, and shrewd, she had been the owner of a Paris store selling ladies' hats that were devastatingly chic and obscenely expensive. But she had a Jewish grandmother. She had lost the store and spent six months in a French prison, and she had been on her way to a camp in Germany when Dieter rescued her.
He could have raped her. She had certainly expected that. No one would have raised a protest, let alone punished him. But instead, he had fed her, given her new clothes, installed her in the spare bedroom in his apartment, and treated her with gentle affection until one evening, after a dinner of foie de veau and a bottle of La Tache, he had seduced her deliciously on the couch in front of a blazing coal fire.
Today, though, she was part of his camouflage. He was working with Rommel again. Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, the "Desert Fox," was now Commander of Army Group B, defending northern France. German intelligence expected an Allied invasion this summer. Rommel did not have enough men to guard the hundreds of miles of vulnerable coastline, so he had adopted a daring strategy of flexible response: his battalions were miles inland, ready to be swiftly deployed wherever needed.
The British knew this-they had intelligence, too. Their counterplan was to slow Rommel's response by disrupting his communications. Night and day, British and American bombers pounded roads and railways, bridges and tunnels, stations and marshaling yards. And the Resistance blew up power stations and factories, derailed trains, cut telephone lines, and sent teenage girls to pour grit into the oil reservoirs of trucks and tanks.
Dieter's brief was to identify key communications targets and assess the ability of the Resistance to attack them. In the last few months, from his base in Paris, he had ranged all over northern France, barking at sleepy sentries and putting the fear of God into lazy captains, tightening up security at railway signal boxes, train sheds, vehicle parks, and airfield control towers. Today he was paying a surprise visit to a telephone exchange of enormous strategic importance. Through this building passed all telephone traffic from the High Command in Berlin to German forces in northern France. That included teleprinter messages, the means by which most orders were sent nowadays. If the exchange was destroyed, German communications would be crippled.
The Allies obviously knew that and had tried to bomb the place, with limited success. It was the perfect candidate for a Resistance attack. Yet security was infuriatingly lax, by Dieter's standards. That was probably due to the influence of the Gestapo, who had a post in the same building. The Geheime Staatspolizei was the state security service, and men were often promoted by reason of loyalty to Hitler and enthusiasm for Fascism rather than because of their brains or ability. Dieter had been here for half an hour, taking photographs, his anger mounting as the men responsible for guarding the place continued to ignore him.
However, as the church bell stopped ringing, a Gestapo officer in major's uniform came strutting through the tall iron gates of the chateau and headed straight for Dieter. In bad French he shouted, "Give me that camera!"
Dieter turned away, pretending not to hear.
"It is forbidden to take photographs of the chateau, imbecile!" the man yelled. "Can't you see this is a military installation?"
Dieter turned to him and replied quietly in German, "You took a damn long time to notice me."
The man was taken aback. People in civilian clothing were usually frightened of the Gestapo. "What are you talking about?" he said less aggressively.
Dieter checked his watch. "I've been here for thirty-two minutes. I could have taken a dozen photographs and driven away long ago. Are you in charge of security?"
"Who are you?"
"Major Dieter Franck, from Field Marshal Rommel's personal staff."
"Franck!" said the man. "I remember you."
Dieter looked harder at him. "My God," he said as recognition dawned. "Willi Weber."
"Sturmbannfuhrer Weber, at your service." Like most senior Gestapo men, Weber held an SS rank, which he felt was more prestigious than his ordinary police rank.
"Well, I'm damned," Dieter said. No wonder security was slack.
Weber and Dieter had been young policemen together in Cologne in the twenties. Dieter had been a high flyer, Weber a failure. Weber resented Dieter's success and attributed it to his privileged background. (Dieter's background was not extraordinarily privileged, but it seemed so to Weber, the son of a stevedore.)
In the end, Weber had been fired. The details began to come back to Dieter: there had been a road accident, a crowd had gathered, Weber had panicked and fired his weapon, and a rubbernecking bystander had been killed.
Dieter had not seen the man for fifteen years, but he could guess the course of Weber's career: he had joined the Nazi party, become a volunteer organizer, applied for a job with the Gestapo citing his police training, and risen swiftly in that community of embittered second-raters.
Weber said, "What are you doing here?"
"Checking your security, on behalf of the Field Marshal."
Weber bristled. "Our security is good."
"Good enough for a sausage factory. Look around you." Dieter waved a hand, indicating the town square. "What if these people belonged to the Resistance? They could pick off your guards in a few seconds." He pointed to a tall girl wearing a light summer coat over her dress. "What if she had a gun under her coat? What if.."
This was not just a fantasy he was weaving to illustrate a point, he realized. His unconscious mind had seen the people in the square deploying in battle formation. The tiny blonde and her husband had taken cover in the bar. The two men in the church doorway had moved behind pillars. The tall girl in the summer coat, who had been staring into a shop window until a moment ago, was now standing in the shadow of Dieter's car. As Dieter looked, her coat flapped open, and to his astonishment he saw that his imagination had been prophetic: under the coat she had a submachine gun with a skeleton-frame butt, exactly the type favored by the Resistance. "My God!" he said.
He reached inside his suit jacket and remembered he was not carrying a gun.
Where was Stephanie? He looked around, momentarily shocked into a state close to panic, but she was standing behind him, waiting patiently for him to finish his conversation with Weber. "Get down!" he yelled.
Then there was a bang.
Flick was in the doorway of the Cafe des Sports, behind Michel, standing on tiptoe to look over his shoulder. She was alert, her heart pounding, her muscles tensed for action, but in her brain the blood flowed like ice water, and she watched and calculated with cool detachment.
There were eight guards in sight: two at the gate checking passes, two just inside the gate, two patrolling the grounds behind the iron railings, and two at the top of the short flight of steps leading to the chateau's grand doorway. But Michel's main force would bypass the gate.
The long north side of the church building formed part of the wall surrounding the chateau's grounds. The north transept jutted a few feet into the parking lot that had once been part of the ornamental garden. In the days of the ancien regime, the comte had had his own personal entrance to the church, a little door in the transept wall. The doorway had been boarded up and plastered over more than a hundred years ago, and had remained that way until today.
An hour ago, a retired quarryman called Gaston had entered the empty church and carefully placed four half-pound sticks of yellow plastic explosive at the foot of the blocked doorway. He had inserted detonators, connected them together so that they would all go off at the same instant, and added a five-second fuse ignited by a thumb plunger. Then he had smeared everything with ash from his kitchen fire to make it inconspicuous and moved an old wooden bench in front of the doorway for additional concealment. Satisfied with his handiwork, he had knelt down to pray.
When the church bell had stopped ringing a few seconds ago, Gaston had got up from his pew, walked a few paces from the nave into the transept, depressed the plunger, and ducked quickly back around the corner. The blast must have shaken centuries of dust from the Gothic arches. But the transept was not occupied during services, so no one would have been injured.
After the boom of the explosion, there was a long moment of silence in the square. Everyone froze: the guards at the chateau gate, the sentries patrolling the fence, the Gestapo major, and the well-dressed German with the glamorous mistress. Flick, taut with apprehension, looked across the square and through the iron railings into the grounds. In the parking lot was a relic of the seventeenth-century garden, a stone fountain with three mossy cherubs sporting where jets of water had once flowed. Around the dry marble bowl were parked a truck, an armored car, a Mercedes sedan painted the gray-green of the German army, and two black Citroens of the Traction Avant type favored by the Gestapo in France. A soldier was filling the tank of one of the Citroens, using a gas pump that stood incongruously in front of a tall chateau window. For a few seconds, nothing moved. Flick waited, holding her breath.
Among the congregation in the church were ten armed men. The priest, who was not a sympathizer and therefore had no warning, must have been pleased that so many people had shown up for the evening service, which was not normally very popular. He might have wondered why some of them wore topcoats, despite the warm weather, but after four years of austerity lots of people wore odd clothes, and a man might wear a raincoat to church because he had no jacket. By now, Flick hoped, the priest understood it all. At this moment, the ten would be leaping from their seats, pulling out their guns, and rushing through the brand-new hole in the wall.
At last they came into view around the end of the church. Flick's heart leaped with pride and fear when she saw them, a motley army in old caps and worn-out shoes, running across the parking lot toward the grand entrance of the chateau, feet pounding the dusty soil, clutching their assorted weapons-pistols, revolvers, rifles, and one submachine gun. They had not yet begun firing them, for they were trying to get as close as possible to the building before the shooting started.
Michel saw them at the same time. He made a noise between a grunt and a sigh, and Flick knew he felt the same mixture of pride at their bravery and fear for their lives. Now was the moment to distract the guards. Michel raised his rifle, a Lee-Enfield No. 4 Mark I, the kind the Resistance called a Canadian Rifle, because many of them were made in Canada. He drew a bead, took up the slack of the two-stage trigger, then fired. He worked the bolt action with a practiced movement so that the weapon was immediately ready to be fired again.
The crash of the rifle ended the moment of shocked silence in the square. At the gate, one of the guards cried out and fell, and Flick felt a savage moment of satisfaction: there was one less man to shoot at her comrades. Michel's shot was the signal for everyone else to open fire. On the church porch, young Bertrand squeezed off two shots that sounded like firecrackers. He was too far from the guards for accuracy with a pistol, and he did not hit anyone. Beside him, Albert pulled the ring of a grenade and hurled it high over the railing, to land inside the grounds, where it exploded in the vineyard, uselessly scattering vegetation in the air. Flick wanted to yell angrily at them, "Don't fire for the sake of the noise, you'll just reveal your position!" But only the best and most highly trained troops could exercise restraint once the shooting started. From behind the parked sports car, Genevieve opened up, and the deafening rattle of her Sten gun filled Flick's ears. Her shooting was more effective, and another guard fell.
At last the Germans began to act. The guards took cover behind the stone pillars, or lay flat, and brought their rifles to bear. The Gestapo major fumbled his pistol out of its holster. The redhead turned and ran, but her sexy shoes slipped on the cobblestones, and she fell. Her man lay on top of her, protecting her with his body, and Flick decided she had been right to suppose he was a soldier, for a civilian would not know that it was safer to lie down than to run.
The sentries opened fire. Almost immediately, Albert was hit. Flick saw him stagger and clutch his throat. A hand grenade he had been about to throw dropped from his grasp. Then a second round hit him, this time in the forehead. He fell like a stone, and Flick thought with sudden grief of the baby girl born this morning who now had no father. Beside Albert, Bertrand saw the turtle shell grenade roll across the age-worn stone step of the church porch. He hurled himself through the doorway as the grenade exploded. Flick waited for him to reappear, but he did not, and she thought with anguished uncertainty that he could be dead, wounded, or just stunned.
In the parking lot, the team from the church stopped running, turned on the remaining six sentries, and opened up. The four guards near the gate were caught in a crossfire, between those inside the grounds and those outside in the square, and they were wiped out in seconds, leaving only the two on the chateau steps. Michel's plan was working, Flick thought with a surge of hope.
But the enemy troops inside the building had now had time to seize their weapons and rush to the doors and windows, and they began to shoot, changing the odds again. Everything depended on how many of them there were.
For a few moments the bullets poured like rain, and Flick stopped counting. Then she realized with dismay that there were many more guns in the chateau than she had expected. Fire seemed to be coming from at least twelve doors and windows. The men from the church, who should by now be inside the building, retreated to take cover behind the vehicles in the parking lot. Antoinette had been right, and MI6 wrong, about the number of troops stationed here. Twelve was the MI6 estimate, yet the Resistance had downed six for certain and there were at least fourteen still firing.
Flick cursed passionately. In a fight like this, the Resistance could win only by sudden, overwhelming violence. If they did not crush the enemy right away, they were in trouble. As the seconds ticked by, army training and discipline began to tell. In the end, regular troops would always prevail in a drawn-out conflict.
On the upper floor of the chateau, a tall seventeenth-century window was smashed open, and a machine gun began to fire. Because of its high position, it caused horrible carnage among the Resistance in the parking lot. Flick was sickened as, one after another, the men there fell and lay bleeding beside the dry fountain, until there were only two or three still shooting.
It was all over, Flick realized in despair. They were outnumbered and they had failed. The sour taste of defeat rose in her throat.
Michel had been shooting at the machine-gun position. "We can't take out that machine gunner from the ground!" he said. He looked around the square, his gaze flying to the tops of the buildings, the bell tower of the church, and the upper floor of the town hall. "If I could get into the mayor's office, I'd have a clear shot."
"Wait." Flick's mouth was dry. She could not stop him risking his life, much as she wanted to. But she could improve the odds. She yelled at the top of her voice, "Genevieve!"
Genevieve turned to look at her.
Genevieve nodded vigorously, then dashed out from behind the sports car, spraying bullets at the chateau windows.
"Thanks," Michel said to Flick. Then he broke cover and sprinted across the square, heading for the town hall.
Genevieve ran on, heading for the church porch. Her fire distracted the men in the chateau, giving Michel a chance of crossing the square unscathed. But then there was a flash on Flick's left. She glanced that way and saw the Gestapo major, flattened against the wall of the town hall, aiming his pistol at Michel.
It was hard to hit a moving target with a handgun at anything but close range-but the major might be lucky, Flick thought fearfully. She was under orders to observe and report back, and not to join the fighting under any circumstances, but now she thought: To hell with that. In her shoulder bag she carried her personal weapon, a Browning nine-millimeter automatic, which she preferred to the SOE standard Colt because it had thirteen rounds in the clip instead of seven, and because she could load it with the same nine-millimeter Parabellum rounds used in the Sten submachine gun. She snatched it out of the bag. She released the safety catch, cocked the hammer, extended her arm, and fired two hasty shots at the major.
She missed him, but her bullets chipped fragments of stone from the wall near his face, and he ducked.
Michel ran on.
The major recovered quickly and raised his weapon again.
As Michel approached his destination, he also came closer to the major, shortening the range. Michel fired his rifle in the major's direction, but the shot went wild, and the major kept his head and fired back. This time, Michel went down, and Flick let out a yell of fear.
Michel hit the ground, tried to get up, and collapsed. Flick calmed herself and thought fast. Michel was still alive. Genevieve had reached the church porch, and her submachine gun fire continued to draw the attention of the enemy inside the chateau. Flick had a chance of rescuing Michel. It was against her orders, but no orders could make her leave her husband bleeding on the ground. Besides, if she left him there, he would be captured and interrogated. As leader of the Bollinger circuit, Michel knew every name, every address, every code word. His capture would be a catastrophe.
There was no choice.
She shot at the major again. Again she missed, but she pulled the trigger repeatedly, and the steady fire forced the man to retreat along the wall, looking for cover.
She ran out of the bar into the square. From the corner of her eye she saw the owner of the sports car, still protecting his mistress from gunfire by lying on top of her. Flick had forgotten him, she realized with sudden fear. Was he armed? If so, he could shoot her easily. But no bullets came.
She reached the supine Michel and went down on one knee. She turned toward the town hall and fired two wild shots to keep the major busy. Then she looked at her husband.
To her relief she saw that his eyes were open and he was breathing. He seemed to be bleeding from his left buttock. Her fear receded a little. "You got a bullet in your bum," she said in English.
He replied in French, "It hurts like hell."
She turned again to the town hall. The major had retreated twenty meters and crossed the narrow street to a shop doorway. This time Flick took a few seconds to aim carefully. She squeezed off four shots. The shop window exploded in a storm of glass, and the major staggered back and fell to the ground.
Flick spoke to Michel in French. "Try to get up," she said. He rolled over, groaning in pain, and got to one knee, but he could not move his injured leg. "Come on," she said harshly. "If you stay here, you'll be killed." She grabbed him by the front of his shirt and heaved him upright with a mighty effort. He stood on his good leg, but he could not bear his own weight, and leaned heavily against her. She realized that he was not going to be able to walk, and she groaned in despair.
She glanced over to the side of the town hall. The major was getting up. He had blood on his face, but he did not seem badly injured. She guessed that he had been cut superficially by flying glass but might still be capable of shooting.
There was only one thing for it: she would have to pick Michel up and carry him to safety.
She bent in front of him, grasped him around the thighs, and eased him on to her shoulder in the classic fireman's lift. He was tall but thin-most French people were thin, these days. All the same, she thought she would collapse under his weight. She staggered, and felt dizzy for a second, but she stayed upright.
After a moment, she took a step forward.
She lumbered across the cobblestones. She thought the major was shooting at her, but she could not be sure as there was so much gunfire from the chateau, from Genevieve, and from the Resistance fighters still alive in the parking lot. The fear that a bullet might hit her at any second gave her strength, and she broke into a lurching run. She made for the road leading out of the square to the south, the nearest exit. She passed the German lying on top of the redhead, and for a startled moment she met his eye and saw an expression of surprise and wry admiration. Then she crashed into a cafe table, sending it flying, and she almost fell, but managed to right herself and run on. A bullet hit the window of the bar, and she saw a cobweb of fracture lines craze the glass. A moment later, she was around the corner and out of the major's line of sight. Alive, she thought gratefully; both of us-for a few more minutes, at least.
Until now she had not thought where to go once she was clear of the battlefield. Two getaway vehicles were waiting a couple of streets away, but she could not carry Michel that far. However, Antoinette Dupert lived on this street, just a few steps farther. Antoinette was not in the Resistance, but she was sympathetic enough to have provided Michel with a plan of the chateau. And Michel was her nephew, so she surely would not turn him away.
Anyway, Flick had no alternative.
Antoinette had a ground-floor apartment in a building with a courtyard. Flick came to the open gateway, a few yards along the street from the square, and staggered under the archway. She pushed open a door and lowered Michel to the tiles.
She hammered on Antoinette's door, panting with effort. She heard a frightened voice say, "What is it?" Antoinette had been scared by the gunfire and did not want to open the door.
Breathlessly, Flick said, "Quickly, quickly!" She tried to keep her voice low. Some of the neighbors might be Nazi sympathizers.
The door did not open, but Antoinette's voice came nearer. "Who's there?"
Flick instinctively avoided speaking a name aloud. She replied, "Your nephew is wounded."
The door opened. Antoinette was a straight-backed woman of fifty wearing a cotton dress that had once been chic and was now faded but crisply pressed. She was pale with fear. "Michel!" she said. She knelt beside him. "Is it serious?"
"It hurts, but I'm not dying," Michel said through clenched teeth.
"You poor thing." She brushed his hair off his sweaty forehead with a gesture like a caress.
Flick said impatiently, "Let's get him inside."
She took Michel's arms and Antoinette lifted him by the knees. He grunted with pain. Together they carried him into the living room and put him down on a faded velvet sofa.
"Take care of him while I fetch the car," Flick said. She ran back into the street.
The gunfire was dying down. She did not have long. She raced along the street and turned two corners.
Outside a closed bakery, two vehicles were parked with their engines running: one a rusty Renault, the other a van with a faded sign on the side that had once read Blanchisserie Bisset-Bisset's Laundry. The van was borrowed from the father of Bertrand, who was able to get fuel because he washed sheets for hotels used by the Germans. The Renault had been stolen this morning in Chalons, and Michel had changed its license plates. Flick decided to take the car, leaving the van for any survivors who might get away from the carnage in the chateau grounds.
She spoke briefly to the driver of the van. "Wait here for five minutes, then leave." She ran to the car, jumped into the passenger seat, and said, "Let's go, quickly!"
At the wheel of the Renault was Gilberte, a nineteen-year-old girl with long dark hair, pretty but stupid. Flick did not know why she was in the Resistance-she was not the usual type. Instead of pulling away, Gilberte said, "Where to?"
"I'll direct you-for the love of Christ, move!"
Gilberte put the car in gear and drove off.
"Left, then right," Flick said.
In the two minutes of inaction that followed, the full realization of her failure hit her. Most of the Bollinger circuit was wiped out. Albert and others had died. Genevieve, Bertrand, and any others who survived would probably be tortured.
And it was all for nothing. The telephone exchange was undamaged, and German communications were intact. Flick felt worthless. She tried to think what she had done wrong. Had it been a mistake to try a frontal attack on a guarded military installation? Not necessarily-the plan might have worked but for the inaccurate intelligence supplied by MI6. However, it would have been safer, she now thought, to get inside the building by some clandestine means. That would have given the Resistance a better chance of getting to the crucial equipment.
Gilberte pulled up at the courtyard entrance. "Turn the car around," Flick said, and jumped out.
Michel was lying facedown on Antoinette's sofa, trousers pulled down, looking undignified. Antoinette knelt beside him, holding a bloodstained towel, a pair of glasses perched on her nose, peering at his backside. "The bleeding has slowed, but the bullet is still in there," she said.
On the floor beside the sofa was her handbag. She had emptied the contents onto a small table, presumably while hurriedly searching for her spectacles. Flick's eye was caught by a sheet of paper, typed on and stamped, with a small photograph of Antoinette pasted to it, the whole thing in a little cardboard folder. It was the pass that permitted her to enter the chateau. In that moment, Flick had the glimmer of an idea.
"I've got a car outside," Flick said.
Antoinette continued to study the wound. "He shouldn't be moved."
"If he stays here, the Boche will kill him." Flick casually picked up Antoinette's pass. As she did so she asked Michel, "How do you feel?"
"I might be able to walk now," he said. "The pain is easing."
Flick slipped the pass into her shoulder bag. Antoinette did not notice. Flick said to her, "Help me get him up."
The two women raised Michel to his feet. Antoinette pulled up his blue canvas trousers and fastened his worn leather belt.
"Stay inside," Flick said to Antoinette. "I don't want anyone to see you with us." She had not yet begun to work out her idea, but she already knew it would be blighted if any suspicion were to fall on Antoinette and her cleaners.
Michel put his arm around Flick's shoulders and leaned heavily on her. She took his weight, and he hobbled out of the building into the street. By the time they reached the car, he was white with pain. Gilberte stared through the window at them, looking terrified. Flick hissed at her, "Get out and open the fucking door, dimwit!" Gilberte leaped out of the car and threw open the rear door. With her help, Flick bundled Michel onto the backseat.
The two women jumped in the front "Let's get out of here," said Flick.
Dieter was dismayed and appalled. As the shooting began to peter out, and his heartbeat returned to normal, he started to reflect on what he had seen. He had not thought the Resistance capable of such a well-planned and carefully executed attack. From everything he had learned in the last few months, he believed their raids were normally hit-and-run affairs. But this had been his first sight of them in action. They had been bristling with guns and obviously not short of ammunition-unlike the German army! Worst of all, they had been courageous. Dieter had been impressed by the rifleman who had dashed across the square, by the girl with the Sten gun who had given him covering fire, and most of all by the little blonde who had picked up the wounded rifleman and had carried him-a man six inches taller than she-out of the square to safety. Such people could not fail to be a profound threat to the occupying military force. These were not like the criminals Dieter had dealt with as a cop in Cologne before the war. Criminals were stupid, lazy, cowardly, and brutish. These French Resistance people were fighters.
But their defeat gave him a rare opportunity.
When he was sure the shooting had stopped, he got to his feet and helped Stephanie up. Her cheeks were flushed, and she was breathing hard. She held his hands and looked into his face. "You protected me," she said. Tears came to her eyes. "You made yourself a shield for me."
He brushed dirt from her hip. He was surprised by his own gallantry. The action had been instinctive. When he thought about it, he was not at all sure he would really be willing to give his life to save Stephanie. He tried to pass over it lightly. "No harm should come to this perfect body," he said.
She began to cry.
He took her hand and led her across the square to the gates. "Let's go inside," he said. "You can sit down for a while." They entered the grounds. Dieter saw a hole in the wall of the church. That explained how the main force had got inside.
The Waffen-SS troops had come out of the building and were disarming the attackers. Dieter looked keenly at the Resistance fighters. Most were dead, but some were only wounded, and one or two appeared to have surrendered unhurt. There should be several for him to interrogate.
Until now, his work had been defensive. The most he had been able to do was fortify key installations against the Resistance by beefing up security. The occasional prisoner had yielded little information. But having several prisoners, all from one large and evidently well-organized circuit, was a different matter. This might be his chance of going on the attack, he thought eagerly.
He shouted at a sergeant, "You-get a doctor for these prisoners. I want to interrogate them. Don't let any die."
Although Dieter was not in uniform, the sergeant assumed from his manner that he was a superior officer, and said, "Very good, sir."
Dieter took Stephanie up the steps and through the stately doorway into the wide hall. It was a breathtaking sight: a pink marble floor, tall windows with elaborate curtains, walls with Etniscan motifs in plaster picked out in dusty shades of pink and green, and a ceiling painted with fading cherubs. Once, Dieter assumed, the room had been filled with gorgeous furniture: pier tables under high mirrors, sideboards encrusted with ormolu, dainty chairs with gilded legs, oil paintings, huge vases, little marble statuettes. All that was gone now, of course. Instead there were rows of switchboards, each with its chair, and a snake's nest of cables on the floor.
The telephone operators seemed to have fled into the grounds at the rear but, now that the shooting had stopped, a few of them were standing at the glazed doors, still wearing their headsets and breast microphones, wondering if it was safe to come back inside. Dieter sat Stephanie at one of the switchboards, then beckoned a middle-aged woman telephonist. "Madame," he said in a polite but commanding voice. He spoke French. "Please bring a cup of hot coffee for this lady."
The woman came forward, shooting a look of hatred at Stephanie. "Very good, monsieur."
"And some cognac. She's had a shock."
"We have no cognac."
They had cognac, but she did not want to give it to the mistress of a German. Dieter did not argue the point. "Just coffee, then, but be quick, or there will be trouble."
He patted Stephanie's shoulder and left her. He passed through double doors into the east wing. The chateau was laid out as a series of reception rooms, one leading into the next on the Versailles pattern, he found. The rooms were full of switchboards, but these had a more permanent look, the cables bundled into neatly made wooden trunking that disappeared through the floor into the cellar beneath. Dieter guessed the hall looked messy only because it had been brought into service as an emergency measure after the west wing had been bombed. Some of the windows were permanently blacked out, no doubt as an air-raid precaution, but others had heavy curtains drawn open, and Dieter supposed the women did not like to work in permanent night.
At the end of the east wing was a stairwell. Dieter went down. At the foot of the staircase he passed through a steel door. A small desk and a chair stood just inside, and Dieter assumed a guard normally sat there. The man on duty had presumably left his post to join in the fighting. Dieter entered unchallenged and made a mental note of a security breach.
This was a different environment from that of the grand principal floors. Designed as kitchens, storage, and accommodation for the dozens of staff who would have serviced this house three hundred years ago, it had low ceilings, bare walls, and floors of stone, or even, in some rooms, beaten earth. Dieter walked along a broad corridor. Every door was clearly labeled in neat German sign writing, but Dieter looked inside anyway. On his left, at the front of the building, was the complex equipment of a major telephone exchange: a generator, enormous batteries, and rooms full of tangled cables. On his right, toward the back of the house, were the Gestapo's facilities: a photo lab, a large wireless listening room for eavesdropping on the Resistance, and prison cells with peepholes in the doors. The basement had been bomb proofed: all windows were blocked, the walls were sandbagged, and the ceilings had been reinforced with steel girders and poured concrete. Obviously that was to prevent Allied bombers from putting the phone system out of action.
At the end of the corridor was a door marked Interrogation Center. He went inside. The first room had bare white walls, bright lights, and the standard furniture of a simple interview room: a cheap table, hard chairs, and an ashtray. Dieter went through to the next room. Here the lights were less bright and the walls bare brick. There was a bloodstained pillar with hooks for tying people up; an umbrella stand holding a selection of wooden clubs and steel bars; a hospital operating table with a head clamp and straps for the wrists and ankles; an electric shock machine; and a locked cabinet that probably contained drugs and hypodermic syringes. It was a torture chamber. Dieter had been in many similar, but still they sickened him. He had to remind himself that intelligence gathered in places such as this helped save the lives of decent young German soldiers so that they could eventually go home to their wives and children instead of dying on battlefields. All the same, the place gave him the creeps.
There was a noise behind him, startling him. He spun around. When he saw what was in the doorway he took a frightened step back. "Christ!" he said. He was looking at a squat figure, its face thrown into shadow by the strong light from the next room. "Who are you?" he said, and he could hear the fear in his own voice.
The figure stepped into the light and turned into a man in the uniform shirt of a Gestapo sergeant. He was short and pudgy, with a fleshy face and ash-blond hair cropped so short that he looked bald. "What are you doing here?" he said in a Frankfurt accent.
Dieter recovered his composure. The torture chamber had unnerved him, but he regained his habitual tone of authority and said, "I am Major Franck. Your name?"
The sergeant became deferential at once. "Becker, sir, at your service."
"Get the prisoners down here as soon as possible, Becker," said Dieter. "Those who can walk should be brought immediately, the others when they have been seen by a doctor."
"Very good, Major."
Becker went away. Dieter returned to the interview room and sat in the hard chair. He wondered how much information he would get out of the prisoners. Their knowledge might be limited to their own town. If his luck was bad, and their security good, each individual might know only a little about what went on in their own circuit. On the other hand, there was no such thing as perfect security. A few individuals inevitably amassed a wide knowledge of their own and other Resistance circuits. His dream was that one circuit might lead him to another in a chain, and he might be able to inflict enormous damage on the Resistance in the weeks remaining before the Allied invasion.
He heard footsteps in the corridor and looked out. The prisoners were being brought in. The first was the woman who had concealed a Sten gun beneath her coat.
Dieter was pleased. It was so useful to have a woman among the prisoners. Under interrogation, women could be as tough as men, but often the way to make a man talk was to beat a woman in front of him. This one was tall and sexy, which was all the better. She seemed to be uninjured. Dieter held up a hand to the soldier escorting her and spoke to the woman in French. "What is your name?" he said in a friendly tone.
She looked at him with haughty eyes. "Why should I tell you?"
He shrugged. This level of opposition was easy to overcome. He used an answer that had served him well a hundred times. "Your relatives may inquire whether you are in custody. If we know your name, we may tell them."
"I am Genevieve Delys."
"A beautiful name for a beautiful woman." He waved her on.
Next came a man in his sixties, bleeding from a head injury and limping too. Dieter said, "You're a little old for this sort of thing, aren't you?"
The man looked proud. "I set the charges," he said defiantly.
"Just remember one thing, Gaston," Dieter said in a kindly voice. "The pain lasts as long as you choose. When you decide to end it, it will stop."
Fear came into the man's eyes as he contemplated what faced him.
Dieter nodded, satisfied. "Carry on."
A youngster was next, no more than seventeen, Dieter guessed, a good-looking boy who was absolutely terrified. "Name?"
He hesitated, seeming dazed by shock. After thinking, he said, "Bertrand Bisset."
"Good evening, Bertrand," Dieter said pleasantly. "Welcome to Hell."
The boy looked as if he had been slapped.
Dieter pushed him on.
Willi Weber appeared, with Becker pacing behind him like a dangerous dog on a chain. "How did you get in here?" Weber said rudely to Dieter.
"I walked in," Dieter said. "Your security stinks."
"Ridiculous! You've just seen us beat off a major attack!"
"By a dozen men and some girls!"
"We defeated them, that's all that counts."
"Think about it, Willi," Dieter said reasonably. "They were able to assemble close by, quite unnoticed by you, then force their way into the grounds and kill at least six good German soldiers. I suspect the only reason you defeated them was that they had underestimated the numbers against them. And I entered this basement unchallenged because the guard had left his post."
"He's a brave German, he wanted to join the fighting."
"God give me strength," Dieter said in despair. "A soldier in battle doesn't leave his post to join the fighting, he follows orders!"
"I don't need a lecture from you on military discipline."
Dieter gave up, for now. "And I have no desire to give one."
"What do you want?"
"I'm going to interview the prisoners."
"That's the Gestapo's job."
"Don't be idiotic. Field Marshal Rommel has asked me, not the Gestapo, to limit the capacity of the Resistance to damage his communications in the event of an invasion. These prisoners can give me priceless information. I intend to question them."
"Not while they're in my custody," Weber said stubbornly. "I shall interrogate them myself and send the results to the Field Marshal."
"The Allies are probably going to invade this summer-isn't it time to stop fighting turf wars?"
"It is never time to abandon efficient organization."
Dieter could have screamed. In desperation, he swallowed his pride and tried for a compromise. "Let's interrogate them together."
Weber smiled, sensing victory "Absolutely not."
"This means I'll have to go over your head."
"If you can."
"Of course I can. All you will achieve is a delay."
"So you say."
"You damned fool," Dieter said savagely. "God preserve the fatherland from patriots such as you." He turned on his heel and stalked out.
Gilberte and Flick left the town of Sainte-Cecile behind, heading for the city of Reims on a country back road. Gilberte drove as fast as she could along the narrow lane. Flick's eyes apprehensively raked the road ahead. It rose and fell over low hills and wound through vineyards as it made its leisurely way from village to village. Their progress was slowed by many crossroads, but the number of junctions made it impossible for the Gestapo to block every route away from Sainte-Cecile. All the same, Flick gnawed her lip, worrying about the chance of being stopped at random by a patrol. She could not explain away a man in the backseat bleeding from a bullet wound.
Thinking ahead, she realized she could not take Michel to his home. After France surrendered in 1940, and Michel was demobilized, he had not returned to his lectureship at the Sorbonne but had come back to his hometown, to be deputy head of a high school, and-his real motive-to organize a Resistance circuit. He had moved into the home of his late parents, a charming town house near the cathedral. But, Flick decided, he could not go there now. It was known to too many people. Although Resistance members often did not know one another's addresses-for the sake of security, they revealed them only if necessary for a delivery or rendezvous-Michel was leader, and most people knew where he lived.
Back in Sainte-Cecile, some of the team must have been taken alive. Before long they would be under interrogation. Unlike British agents, the French Resistance did not carry suicide pills. The only reliable rule of interrogation was that everybody would talk in the long run. Sometimes the Gestapo ran out of patience, and sometimes they killed their subjects by over enthusiasm but, if they were careful and determined, they could make the strongest personality betray his or her dearest comrades. No one could bear agony forever.
So Flick had to treat Michel's house as known to the enemy. Where could she take him instead?
"How is he?" said Gilberte anxiously.
Flick glanced into the backseat. His eyes were closed, but he was breathing normally. He had fallen into a sleep, the best thing for him. She looked at him fondly. He needed someone to take care of him, at least for a day or two. She turned to Gilberte. Young and single, she was probably still with her parents. "Where do you live?" Flick asked her.
"On the outskirts of town, on the Route de Cernay."
"On your own?"
For some reason, Gilberte looked scared. "Yes, of course on my own."
"A house, an apartment, a bedsitting room?"
"An apartment, two rooms."
"We'll go there."
"Why not? Are you scared?"
She looked injured. "No, not scared."
"I don't trust the neighbors."
"Is there a back entrance?"
Reluctantly, Gilberte said, "Yes, an alley that runs along the side of a little factory."
"It sounds ideal."
"Okay, you're right, we should go to my place. I just… You surprised me, that's all."
Flick was scheduled to return to London tonight. She was to rendezvous with a plane in a meadow outside the village of Chatelle, five miles north of Reims. She wondered if the plane would make it. Navigating by the stars, it was extraordinarily difficult to find a specific field near a small village. Pilots often went astray-in fact, it was a miracle they ever arrived where they were supposed to. She looked at the weather. A clear sky was darkening to the deep blue of evening. There would be moonlight, provided the weather held.
If not tonight, then tomorrow, she thought, as always.
Her mind went to the comrades she had left behind. Was young Bertrand dead or alive? What about Genevieve? They might be better off dead. Alive, they faced the agony of torture. Flick's heart seemed to convulse with grief as she thought again that she had led them to defeat. Bertrand had a crush on her, she guessed. He was young enough to feel guilty about secretly loving the wife of his commander. She wished she had ordered him to stay at home. It would have made no difference to the outcome, and he would have remained a bright, likable youth for a little longer, instead of a corpse, or worse.
No one could succeed every time, and war meant that when leaders failed, people died. It was a hard fact, but still she cast about for consolation. She longed for a way to make sure their suffering was not in vain. Perhaps she could build on their sacrifice and get some kind of victory out of it after all.
She thought about the pass she had stolen from Antoinette and the possibility of getting into the chateau clandestinely. A team could enter disguised as civilian employees. She swiftly dismissed the idea of having them pose as telephone operators: it was a skilled job that took time to learn. But anyone could use a broom.
Would the Germans notice if the cleaners were strangers? They probably paid no attention to the women who mopped the floor. What about the French telephonists-would they give the game away? it might be a risk worth taking.
SOE had a remarkable forgery department that could copy any kind of document, sometimes even making their own paper to match the original, in a couple of days. They could soon produce counterfeits of Antoinette's pass.
Flick suffered a guilty pang at having stolen it. At this moment, Antoinette might be looking for it frantically, searching under the couch and in all her pockets, going out into the courtyard with a flashlight. When she told the Gestapo she had lost it, she would be in trouble. But in the end they would just give her a replacement. And this way she was not guilty of helping the Resistance. If interrogated, she could steadfastly maintain that she had mislaid it, for she believed that to be the truth. Besides, Flick thought grimly, if she had asked permission to borrow the thing, Antoinette might have said no.
Of course, there was one major snag with this plan. All the cleaners were women. The Resistance team that went in disguised as cleaners would have to be all-female.
But then, Flick thought, why not?
They were entering the suburbs of Reims. It was dark when Gilberte pulled up near a low industrial building surrounded by a high wire fence. She killed the engine. Flick spoke sharply to Michel. "Wake up! We have to get you indoors." He groaned. "We must be quick," she added. "We're breaking the curfew."
The two women got him out of the car. Gilberte pointed to the narrow alley that led along the back of the factory. Michel put his arms over their shoulders, and they helped him along the alley. Gilberte opened a door in a wall that led to the backyard of a small apartment building. They crossed the yard and went in through a back door.
It was a block of cheap flats with five floors and no lift. Unfortunately, Gilberte's rooms were on the attic floor. Flick showed her how to make a carrying chair. Crossing their arms, they linked hands under Michel's thighs and took his weight. He put an arm around the shoulders of each woman to steady himself. That way they carried him up four flights. Luckily, they met no one on the stairs.
They were blowing hard by the time they reached Gilberte's door. They stood Michel on his feet and he managed to limp inside, where he collapsed into an armchair.
Flick looked around. It was a girl's place, pretty and neat "and clean. More importantly, it was not overlooked. That was the advantage of the top floor: no one could see in. Michel should be safe.
Gilberte fussed about Michel, trying to make him comfortable with cushions, wiping his face gently with a towel, offering him aspirins. She was tender but impractical, as Antoinette had been. Michel had that effect on women, though not on Flick-which was partly why he had fallen for her: he could not resist a challenge. "You need a doctor," Flick said brusquely. "What about Claude Bouler? He used to help us, but last time I spoke to him, he didn't want to know me. I thought he was going to run away, he was so nervous."
"He's become scared since he got married," Michel replied. "But he'll come for me."
Flick nodded. Lots of people would make exceptions for Michel. "Gilberte, go and fetch Dr. Bouler."
"I'd rather stay with Michel."
Flick groaned inwardly. Someone like Gilberte was no good for anything but carrying messages, yet she could make difficulties about that. "Please do as I ask," Flick said firmly. "I need time alone with Michel before I return to London."
"What about the curfew?"
"If you're stopped, say you're fetching a doctor. It's an accepted excuse. They may accompany you to Claude's house to make sure you're telling the truth. But they won't come here."
Gilberte looked troubled, but she pulled on a cardigan and went out.
Flick sat on the arm of Michel's chair and kissed him. "That was a catastrophe," she said.
"I know." He grunted with disgust. "So much for MI6. There must have been double the number of men they told us."
"I'll never trust those clowns again."
"We lost Albert. I'll have to tell his wife."
"I'm going back tonight. I'll get London to send you another radio operator."
"You'll have to find out who else is dead, and who's alive."
"If I can." He sighed.
She held his hand. "How are you feeling?"
"Foolish. It's an undignified place for a bullet wound."
"A little giddy."
"You need something to drink. I wonder what she has."
"Scotch would be nice." Flick's friends in London had taught Michel to like whisky, before the war.
"That's a little strong." The kitchen was in a corner of the living room. Flick opened a cupboard. To her surprise, she saw a bottle of Dewar's White Label. Agents from Britain often brought whisky with them, for their own use or for their comrades-in-arms, but it seemed an unlikely drink for a French girl. There was also an opened bottle of red wine, much more suitable for a wounded man. She poured half a glass and topped it up with water from the tap. Michel drank greedily: loss of blood had made him thirsty. He emptied the glass, then leaned back and closed his eyes.
Flick would have liked some of the scotch, but it seemed unkind to deny it to Michel, then drink it herself. Besides, she still needed her wits about her. She would have a drink when she was back on British soil.
She looked around the room. There were a couple of sentimental pictures on the wall, a stack of old fashion magazines, no books. She poked her nose into the bedroom. Michel said sharply, "Where are you going?"
"Just looking around."
"Don't you think it's a little rude, when she's not here?"
Flick shrugged. "Not really. Anyway, I need the bathroom."
"It's outside. Down the stairs and along the corridor to the end. If I remember rightly."
She followed his instructions. While she was in the bathroom she realized that something was bothering her, something about Gilberte's apartment. She thought hard. She never ignored her instincts: they had saved her life more than once. When she returned, she said to Michel, "Something's wrong here. What is it?"
He shrugged, looking uncomfortable. "I don't know."
"You seem edgy."
"Perhaps it's because I've just been wounded in a gunfight."
"No, it's not that. It's the apartment." It had something to do with Gilberte's unease, something to do with Michel's knowing where the bathroom was, something to do with the whisky. She went into the bedroom, exploring. This time Michel did not reprove her. She looked around. On the bedside table stood a photograph of a man with Gilberte's big eyes and black eyebrows, perhaps her father. There was a doll on the counterpane. In the corner was a washbasin with a mirrored cabinet over. Flick opened the cabinet door. Inside was a man's razor, bowl, and shaving brush. Gilberte was not so innocent: some man stayed overnight often enough to leave his shaving tackle here.
Flick looked more closely. The razor and brush were a set, with polished bone handles. She recognized them. She had given the set to Michel for his thirty-second birthday.
So that was it.
She was so shocked that for a moment she could not move.
She had suspected him of being interested in someone else, but she had not imagined it had gone this far. Yet here was the proof, in front of her eyes.
Shock turned to hurt. How could he cuddle up to another woman when Flick was lying in bed alone in London? She turned and looked at the bed. They had done it right here, in this room. It was unbearable.
Then she became angry. She had been loyal and faithful, she had borne the loneliness-but he had not. He had cheated. She was so furious she felt she would explode.
She strode into the other room and stood in front of him. "You bastard," she said in English. "You lousy rotten bastard."
Michel replied in the same language. "Don't angry yourself at me."
He knew that she found his fractured English endearing, but it was not going to work this time. She switched to French. "How could you betray me for a nineteen-year-old nitwit?"
"It doesn't mean anything, she's just a pretty girl."
"Do you think that makes it better?" Flick knew she had originally attracted Michel's attention, back in the days when she was a student and he a lecturer, by challenging him in class-French students were deferential by comparison with their English counterparts, and on top of that Flick was by nature disrespectful of authority. If someone similar had seduced Michel-perhaps Genevieve, a woman who would have been his equal-she could have borne it better. It was more hurtful that he had chosen Gilberte, a girl with nothing on her mind more interesting than nail polish.
"I was lonely," Michel said pathetically.
"Spare me the sob story. You weren't lonely-you were weak, dishonest, and faithless."
"Flick, my darling, let's not quarrel. Half our friends have just been killed. You're going back to England. We could both die soon. Don't go away angry."
"How can I not be angry? I'm leaving you in the arms of your floozie!"
"She's not a floozie-"
"Skip the technicalities. I'm your wife, but you're sharing her bed."
Michel moved in his chair and winced with pain; then he fixed Flick with his intense blue eyes."I plead guilty," he said "I'm a louse. But I'm a louse who loves you, and I'm just asking you to forgive me, this once, in case I never see you again."
It was hard to resist. Flick weighed five years of marriage against a fling with a popsie and gave in. She moved a step toward him. He put his arms around her legs and pressed his face into the worn cotton of her dress. She stroked his hair. "All right," she said. "All right."
"I'm so sorry," he said. "I feel awful. You're the most wonderful woman I ever met, or even heard of. I won't do it any more, I promise."
The door opened, and Gilberte came in with Claude. Flick gave a guilty start and released Michel's head from her embrace. Then she felt stupid. He was her husband, not Gilberte's. Why should she feel guilty about hugging him, even in Gilberte's apartment? She was angry with herself.
Gilberte looked shocked to see her lover embracing his wife here, but she swiftly recovered her composure, and her face assumed a frozen expression of indifference.
Claude, a handsome young doctor, followed her in, looking anxious.
Flick went to Claude and kissed him on both cheeks. "Thank you for coming," she said. "We're truly grateful."
Claude looked at Michel. "How do you feel, old buddy?"
"I've got a bullet in my arse."
"Then I'd better take it out." He lost his worried air and became briskly professional. Turning to Flick, he said, "Put some towels on the bed to soak up the blood, then get his trousers off and lay him facedown. I'll wash my hands."
Gilberte put old magazines on her bed and towels over the paper while Flick got Michel up and helped him hobble to the bed. As he lay down, she could not help wondering how many other times he had lain here.
Claude inserted a metal instrument into the wound and felt around for the slug. Michel cried out with pain.
"I'm sorry, old friend," Claude said solicitously.
Flick almost took pleasure in the sight of Michel in agony on the bed where he had formerly cried out with guilty pleasure. She hoped he would always remember Gilberte's bedroom this way.
Michel said, "Just get it over with."
Flick's vengeful feeling passed quickly, and she felt sorry for Michel. She moved the pillow closer to his face, saying, "Bite on this, it will help."
Michel stuffed the pillow into his mouth.
Claude probed again, and this time got the bullet out. Blood flowed freely for a few seconds, then slowed, and Claude put a dressing on.
"Keep as still as you can for a few days," he advised Michel. That meant Michel would have to stay at Gilberte's place. However, he would be too sore for sex, Flick thought with grim satisfaction.
"Thank you, Claude," she said.
"Glad to be able to help."
"I have another request."
Claude looked scared. "What?"
"I'm meeting a plane at a quarter to midnight. I need you to drive me to Chatelle."
"Why can't Gilberte take you, in the car she used to come to my place?"
"Because of the curfew. But we'll be safe with you, you're a doctor."
"Why would I have two people with me?"
"Three. We need Michel to hold a torch." There was an unvarying procedure for pickups: four Resistance people held flashlights in the shape of a giant letter "L," indicating the direction of the wind and where the plane should come down. The small battery-operated torches needed to be directed at the aircraft to make sure the pilot saw them. They could simply be placed in position on the ground, but that was less sure, and if the pilot did not see what he expected he might suspect a trap and decide not to land. It was better to have four people if at all possible.
Claude said, "How would I explain you all to the police? A doctor on emergency call doesn't travel with three people in his car."
"We'll think of some story."
"It's too dangerous!"
"It will take only a few minutes, at this time of night."
"Marie-Jeanne will kill me. She says I have to think of the children."
"You don't have any."
Flick nodded. That would explain why he had become so jumpy.
Michel rolled over and sat upright. He reached out and grasped Claude's arm. "Claude, I'm begging you, this is really important. Do it for me, will you?"
It was hard to say no to Michel. Claude sighed. "When?"
Flick looked at her watch. It was almost eleven. "Now."
Claude looked at Michel. "His wound may reopen."
"I know," Flick said. "Let it bleed."
The village of Chatelle consisted of a few buildings clustered around a crossroads: three farmhouses, a strip of laborers' cottages, and a bakery that served the surrounding farms and hamlets. Flick stood in a cow pasture a mile from the crossroads, holding in her hand a flashlight about the size of a pack of cigarettes.
She had been on a weeklong course, run by the pilots of 161 Squadron, to train her for the task of guiding an aircraft in. This location fitted the specifications they had given her. The field was almost a kilometer long-a Lysander needed six hundred meters to land and take off. The ground beneath her feet was firm, and there was no slope. A nearby pond was clearly visible from the air in the moonlight, providing a useful landmark for pilots.
Michel and Gilberte stood upwind of Flick in a straight line, also holding flashlights, and Claude stood a few yards to one side of Gilberte, making a flare path in the shape of an upside-down "L" to guide the pilot. In remote areas, bonfires could be used instead of electric lights, but here, close to a village, it was too dangerous to leave the telltale burn mark on the ground.
The four people formed what the agents called a reception committee. Flick's were always silent and disciplined, but less-well-organized groups sometimes turned the landing into a party, with groups of men shouting jokes and smoking cigarettes, and spectators from nearby villages turning up to watch. This was dangerous. If the pilot suspected that the landing had been betrayed to the Germans, and thought the Gestapo might be lying in wait, he had to react quickly. The instructions to reception committees warned that anyone approaching the plane from the wrong angle was liable to be shot by the pilot. This had never actually happened, but on one occasion a spectator had been run over by a Hudson bomber and killed.
Waiting for the plane was always hell. If it did not arrive, Flick would face another twenty-four hours of unremitting tension and danger before the next opportunity. But an agent never knew whether a plane would show up. This was not because the RAF was unreliable. Rather, as the pilots of 161 Squadron had explained to Flick, the task of navigating a plane by moonlight across hundreds of miles of country was monumentally difficult. The pilot used dead reckoning-calculating his position by direction, speed, and elapsed time-and tried to verify the result by landmarks such as rivers, towns, railway lines, and forests. The problem with dead reckoning was that it was impossible to make an exact adjustment for the drift caused by wind. And the trouble with landmarks was that one river looked very much like another by moon-light. Getting to roughly the right area was difficult enough, but these pilots had to find an individual field.
If there was a cloud hiding the moon it was impossible, and the plane would not even take off.
However, this was a fine night, and Flick was hopeful. Sure enough, a couple of minutes before midnight, she heard the unmistakable sound of a single-engined plane, faint at first, then rapidly growing louder, like a burst of applause, and she felt a home going thrill. She began to flash her light in the Morse letter "X." If she flashed the wrong letter, the pilot would suspect a trap and go away without landing.
The plane circled once, then came down steeply. It touched down on Flick's right, braked, turned between Michel and Claude, taxied back to Flick, and turned into the wind again, completing a long oval and finishing up ready for takeoff.
The aircraft was a Westland Lysander, a small, high-winged monoplane, painted matte black. It was flown by a crew of one. It had two seats for passengers, but Flick had known a "Lizzie" to carry four, one on the floor and one on the parcel shelf.
The pilot did not stop the engine. His aim was to remain on the ground no more than a few seconds.
Flick wanted to hug Michel and wish him well, but she also wanted to slap his face and tell him to keep his hands off other women. Perhaps it was just as well that she had no time for either.
With a brief wave, Flick scrambled up the metal ladder, threw open the hatch, and climbed aboard.
The pilot glanced behind, and Flick gave him the thumbs-up. The little plane jerked forward and picked up speed, then rose into the air and climbed steeply.
Flick could see one or two lights in the village: country people were careless about the blackout. When Flick had flown in, perilously late at four in the morning, she had been able to see from the air the red glare of the baker's oven, and driving through the village she had smelled the new bread, the essence of France.
The plane banked to turn, and Flick saw the moonlit faces of Michel, Gilberte, and Claude as three white smears on the black background of the pasture. As the plane leveled and headed for England, she realized with a sudden surge of grief that she might never see them again.
THE SECOND DAY
Monday, May 29, 1944
Dieter Franck drove through the night in the big Hispano-Suiza, accompanied by his young assistant, Lieutenant Hans Hesse. The car was ten years old, but its massive eleven-liter engine was tireless. Yesterday evening, Dieter had found a neat row of bullet holes stitched in the generous curve of its offside fender, a souvenir of the skirmish in the square at Sainte-Cecile, but there was no mechanical damage, and he felt the holes added to the car's glamour, like a dueling scar on the cheek of a Prussian officer.
Lieutenant Hesse masked the headlights to drive through the blacked-out streets of Paris, then removed the covers when they got on the road to Normandy. They took turns at the wheel, two hours each, though Hesse, who adored the car and hero-worshiped its owner, would gladly have driven the whole way.
Half asleep in the passenger seat, mesmerized by the country roads unwinding in the headlights, Dieter tried to picture his future. Would the Allies reconquer France, driving the occupying forces out? The thought of Germany defeated was dismal. Perhaps there would be some kind of peace settlement, with Germany surrendering France and Poland but keeping Austria and Czechoslovakia. That seemed not much better. He found it hard to imagine everyday life back in Cologne, with his wife and family, after the excitement and sensual indulgence of Paris and Stephanie. The only happy ending, for Dieter and for Germany, would be for Rommel's army to push the invaders back into the sea.
Before dawn on a damp morning Hesse drove into the small medieval village of La Roche-Guyon, on the Seine river between Paris and Rouen. He stopped at the roadblock at the edge of the village, but they were expected, and were quickly waved on. They went past silent, shuttered houses to another checkpoint at the gates of the ancient castle. At last they parked in the great cobbled courtyard. Dieter left Hesse with the car and went into the building.
The German commander in chief [West] was Field Marshal Gerd von Runstedt, a reliable senior general from the old officer class. Under him, charged with the defense of the French coast, was Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. The castle of La Roche-Guyon was Rommel's headquarters.
Dieter Franck felt an affinity with Rommel. Both were the sons of teachers-Rommel's father had been a headmaster-and consequently both had felt the icy breath of German military snobbery from such men as von Runstedt. But otherwise they were very different. Dieter was a sybarite, enjoying all the cultural and sensual pleasures France had to offer. Rommel was an obsessive worker who did not smoke or drink and often forgot to eat. He had married the only girlfriend he had ever had, and he wrote to her three times a day.
In the hall, Dieter met Rommel's aide-de-camp, Major Walter Goedel, a cold personality with a formidable brain. Dieter respected him but could never like him. They had spoken on the phone late last night. Dieter had outlined the problem he was having with the Gestapo and said he wanted to see Rommel as soon as possible. "Be here at four a.m.," Goedel had said. Rommel was always at his desk by four o'clock in the morning.
Now Dieter wondered if he had done the right thing. Rommel might say, "How dare you bother me with trivial details?" Dieter thought not. Commanders liked to feel they were on top of the details. Rommel would almost certainly give Dieter the support he was asking for. But you could never be sure, especially when the commander was under strain.
Goedel nodded a curt greeting and said, "He wants to see you right now. Come this way."
As they walked along the hallway, Dieter said, "What do you hear from Italy?"
"Nothing but bad news," Goedel said. "We're withdrawing from Arce."
Dieter gave a resigned nod. The Germans were fighting fiercely, but they had been depressingly unable to halt the northward advance of the enemy.
A moment later Dieter entered Rommels office. It was a grand room on the ground floor. Dieter noticed with envy a priceless seventeenth-century Gobelin tapestry on one wall. There was little furniture but for a few chairs and a huge antique desk that looked, to Dieter, as if it might be the same age as the tapestry. On the desk stood a single lamp. Behind the desk sat a small man with receding sandy hair.
Goedel said, "Major Franck is here, Field Marshal."
Dieter waited nervously. Rommel continued reading for a few seconds, then made a mark on the sheet of paper. He might have been a bank manager reviewing the accounts of his more important customers-until he looked up. Dieter had seen the face before, but it never failed to make him feel threatened. It was a boxer's face, with a flat nose and a broad chin and close-set eyes, and it was suffused with the naked aggression that had made Rommel a legendary commander. Dieter recalled the story of Rommel's first military engagement, during the First World War. Leading an advance guard of three men, Rommel had come upon a group of twenty French troops. Instead of retreating and calling for reinforcements, Rommel had opened fire and dashed at the enemy. He had been lucky to survive-but Dieter recalled Napoleon's dictum: "Send me lucky generals." Since then, Rommel had always favored the sudden bold assault over the cautious planned advance. In that he was the polar opposite of his desert opponent, Montgomery, whose philosophy was never to attack until you were certain of victory.
"Sit down, Franck," said Rommel briskly. "What's on your mind?"
Dieter had rehearsed this. "On your instructions, I've been visiting key installations that might be vulnerable to attack by the Resistance and upgrading their security."
"I've also been trying to assess the potential of the Resistance to inflict serious damage. Can they really hamper our response to an invasion?"
"And your conclusion?"
"The situation is worse than we imagined."
Rommel grunted with distaste, as if an unpleasant suspicion had been confirmed. "Reasons?"
Rommel was not going to bite his head off. Dieter relaxed a little. He recounted yesterday's attack at Sainte-Cecile: the imaginative planning, the plentiful weaponry, and most of all the bravery of the fighters. The only detail he left out was the beauty of the blonde girl.
Rommel stood up and walked across to the tapestry. He stared at it, but Dieter was sure he did not see it. "I was afraid of this," Rommel said. He spoke quietly, almost to himself "I can beat off an invasion, even with the few troops I have, if only I can remain mobile and flexible-but if my communications fail, I'm lost."
Goedel nodded agreement.
Dieter said, "I believe we can turn the attack on the telephone exchange into an opportunity."
Rommel turned to him with a wry smile. "By God, I wish all my officers were like you. Go on, how will you do this?"
Dieter began to feel the meeting was going his way. "If I can interrogate the captured prisoners, they may lead me to other groups. With luck, we might inflict a lot of damage on the Resistance before the invasion."
Rommel looked skeptical. "That sounds like bragging." Dieter's heart sank. Then Rommel went on. "If anyone else said it, I might send him packing. But I remember your work in the desert. You got men to tell you things they hardly realized they knew."
Dieter was pleased. Seizing his advantage, he said, "Unfortunately, the Gestapo is refusing me access to the prisoners."
"They are such imbeciles."
"I need you to intervene."
"Of course." Rommel looked at Goedel. "Call avenue Foch." The Gestapo's French headquarters was at 84 avenue Foch in Paris. "Tell them that Major Franck will interrogate the prisoners today, or their next phone call will come from Berchtesgaden." He was referring to Hitler's Bavarian fortress. Rommel never hesitated to use the Field Marshal's privilege of direct access to Hitler.
"Very good," said Goedel.
Rommel walked around his seventeenth-century desk and sat down again. "Keep me informed, please, Franck," he said, and returned his attention to his papers.
Dieter and Goedel left the room.
Goedel walked Dieter to the main door of the castle.
Outside, it was still dark.
Flick landed at RAF Tempsford, an airstrip fifty miles north of London, near the village of Sandy in Bedfordshire. She would have known, just from the cool, damp taste of the night air in her mouth, that she was back in England. She loved France, but this was home.
Walking across the airfield, she remembered coming back from holidays as a child. Her mother would always say the same thing as the house came into view: "It's nice to go away, but it's nice to come home." The things her mother said came back to her at the oddest moments.
A young woman in the uniform of a FANY corporal was waiting with a powerful Jaguar to drive her to London. "This is luxurious," Flick said as she settled into the leather seat.
"I'm to take you directly to Orchard Court," the driver said. "They're waiting to debrief you."
Flick rubbed her eyes. "Christ," she said feelingly. "Do they think we don't need sleep?"
The driver did not respond to that. Instead she said, "I hope the mission went well, Major."
"It was a snafu."
"I beg pardon?"
"Snafu," Flick repeated. "It's an acronym. It stands for Situation Normal All Fucked Up."
The woman fell silent. Flick guessed she was embarrassed. It was nice, she thought ruefully, that there were still girls to whom the language of the barracks was shocking.
Dawn broke as the fast car sped through the Hertfordshire villages of Stevenage and Knebworth. Flick looked out at the modest houses with vegetables growing in the front gardens, the country post offices where grumpy postmistresses resentfully doled out penny stamps, and the assorted pubs with their warm beer and battered pianos, and she felt profoundly grateful that the Nazis had not got this far.
The feeling made her all the more determined to return to France. She wanted another chance to attack the chateau. She pictured the people she had left behind at Sainte-Cecile: Albert, young Bertrand, beautiful Genevieve, and the others dead or captured. She thought of their families, distraught with worry or stunned by grief. She resolved that their sacrifice should not have been fruitless.
She would have to start right away. It was a good thing she was to be debriefed immediately: she would have a chance to propose her new plan today. The men who ran SOE would be wary at first, for no one had ever sent an all-female team on such a mission. There were all sorts of snags. But there were always snags.
By the time they reached the north London suburbs it was full daylight, and the special people of the early morning were out and about: postmen and milkmen making their deliveries, train drivers and bus conductors walking to work. The signs of war were everywhere: a poster warning against waste, a notice in a butcher's window saying No Meat Today, a woman driving a rubbish cart, a whole row of small houses bombed into rubble. But no one here would stop Flick, and demand to see her papers, and put her in a cell, and torture her for information, then send her in a cattle truck to a camp where she would starve. She felt the high-voltage tension of living undercover drain slowly out of her, and she slumped in the car seat and closed her eyes.
She woke up when the car turned into Baker Street. It went past No. 64: agents were kept out of the headquarters building so that they could not reveal its Secrets under interrogation. Indeed, many agents did not know its address. The car turned into Portman Square and stopped outside Orchard Court, an apartment building. The driver sprang out to hold the door open.
Flick went inside and made her way to SOE's flat. Her spirits lifted when she saw Percy Thwaite. A balding man of fifty with a toothbrush mustache, he was paternally fond of Flick. He wore civilian clothing, and neither of them saluted, for SOE was impatient of military formalities.
"I can tell by your face that it went badly," Percy said.
His sympathetic tone of voice was too much for Flick to bear. The tragedy of what had happened overwhelmed her suddenly, and she burst into tears. Percy put his arms around her and patted her back. She buried her face in his old tweed jacket. "All right," he said. "I know you did your best."
"Oh, God, I'm sorry to be such a girl."
"I wish all my men were such girls," Percy said with a catch in his voice.
She detached herself from his embrace and wiped her eyes with her sleeve. "Take no notice."
He turned away and blew his nose into a big handkerchief "Tea or whisky?" he said.
"Tea, I think." She looked around. The room was full of shabby furniture, hastily installed in 1940 and never replaced: a cheap desk, a worn rug, mismatched chairs. She sank into a sagging armchair. "I'll fall asleep if I have booze."
She watched Percy as he made tea. He could be tough as well as compassionate. Much decorated in the First World War, he had become a rabble-rousing labor organizer in the twenties, and was a veteran of the 1936 Battle of Cable Street, when Cockneys attacked Fascists who were trying to march through a Jewish neighborhood in London's East End. He would ask searching questions about her plan, but he would be open minded.
He handed her a mug of tea with milk and sugar.
"There's a meeting later this morning," he said. "I have to get a briefing note to the boss by nine o'clock. Hence the hurry."
She sipped the sweet tea and felt a pleasant jolt of energy. She told him what had happened in the square at Sainte-Cecile. He sat at the desk and made notes with a sharp pencil. "I should have called it off," she finished. "Based on Antoinette's misgivings about the intelligence, I should have postponed the raid and sent you a radio message saying we were outnumbered."
Percy shook his head sadly. "This is no time for postponements. The invasion can't be more than a few days away. If you had consulted us, I doubt it would have made any difference. What could we do? We couldn't send you more men. I think we would have ordered you to go ahead regardless. It had to be tried. The telephone exchange is too important."
"Well, that's some consolation." Flick was glad she did not have to believe Albert had died because she had made a tactical error. But that would not bring him back.
"And Michel is all right?" Percy said.
"Mortified, but recovering." When SOE had recruited Flick, she had not told them her husband was in the Resistance. If they had known, they might have steered her toward different work. But she had not really known it herself, though she had guessed. In May 1940 she had been in England, visiting her mother, and Michel had been in the army, like most able-bodied young Frenchmen, so the fall of France had left them stranded in different countries. By the time she returned as a secret agent, and learned for certain what role her husband was playing, too much training had been invested in her, and she was already too useful to SOE, for her to be fired on account of hypothetical emotional distractions.
"Everyone hates a bullet in the backside," Percy mused. "People think you must have been running away." He stood up. "Well, you'd better go home and get some sleep."
"Not yet," Flick said. "First I want to know what we're going to do next."
"I'm going to write this report-" "No I mean about the telephone exchange. If it's so important, we have to knock it out."
He sat down again and looked at her shrewdly. "What have you got in mind?"
She took Antoinette's pass out of her bag and threw it on his desk. "Here's a better way to get inside. That's used by the cleaners who go in every night at seven o'clock."
Percy picked up the pass and scrutinized it. "Clever girl," he said with something like admiration in his voice. "Go on."
"I want to go back."
A look of pain passed briefly over Percy's face, and Flick knew he was dreading her risking her life again. But he said nothing.
"This time I'll take a full team with me," she went on. "Each of them will have a pass like that. We'll substitute for the cleaners in order to get into the chateau."
"I take it the cleaners are women?"
"Yes. I'd need an all-female team."
He nodded. "Not many people around here will object to that-you girls have proved yourselves. But where would you find the women? Virtually all our trained people are over there already."
"Get approval for my plan, and I'll find the women. I'll take SOE rejects, people who failed the training course, anybody. We must have a file of people who have dropped out for one reason or another."
"Yes-because they were physically unfit, or couldn't keep their mouths shut, or enjoyed violence too much, or lost their nerve in parachute training and refused to jump out of the plane."
"It doesn't matter if they're second-raters," Flick argued earnestly. "I can deal with that." At the back of her mind, a voice said Can you, really? But she ignored it.
"If the invasion fails, we've lost Europe. We won't try again for years. This is the turning point, we have to throw everything at the enemy."
"You couldn't use French women who are already there, Resistance fighters?"
Flick had already considered and rejected that idea. "If I had a few weeks, I might put together a team from women in half a dozen different Resistance circuits, but it would take too long to find them and get them to Reims."
"It might still be possible."
"And then we have to have a forged pass with a photo for each woman. That's hard to arrange over there. Here, we can do it in a day or two."
"It's not that easy." Percy held Antoinette's pass up to the light of a naked bulb hanging from the ceiling. "But you're right, our people do work miracles in that department." He put it down. "All right. It has to be SOE rejects, then."
Flick felt a surge of triumph. He was going for it. Percy went on, "But assuming you can find enough French-speaking girls, will it work? What about the German guards? Don't they know the cleaners?"
"It's probably not the same women every night-they must have days off. And men never notice who cleans up after them."
"I'm not sure. Soldiers are generally sex-hungry youngsters who pay great attention to all the women with whom they come into contact. I imagine the men in this chateau flirt with the younger ones, at least."
"I watched these women entering the chateau last night. and I didn't see any signs of flirting."
"Still, you can't be sure the men won't notice the appearance of a completely strange crew."
"I can't be certain, but I'm confident enough to take the chance."
"All right, what about the French people inside? The telephone operators are local women, aren't they?"
"Some are local, but most are brought in from Reims by bus."
"Not every French person likes the Resistance, we both know that. There are some who approve of the Nazis' ideas. God knows, there were plenty of fools in Britain who thought Hitler offered the kind of strong modernizing government we all needed-although you don't hear much from those people nowadays."
Flick shook her head. Percy had not been to occupied France. "The French have had four years of Nazi rule, remember. Everyone over there is hoping desperately for the invasion. The switchboard girls will keep mum."
"Even though the RAF bombed them?"
Flick shrugged. "There may be a few hostile ones, but the majority will keep them under control."
"Once again, I think it's a chance worth taking."
"You still don't know how heavily guarded that basement entrance is."
"That didn't stop us trying yesterday."
"Yesterday you had fifteen Resistance fighters, some of them seasoned. Next time, you'll have a handful of dropouts and rejects."
Flick played her trump card. "Listen, all kinds of things could go wrong, but so what? The operation is low-cost, and we're risking the lives of people who aren't contributing to the war effort anyway. What have we got to lose?"
"I was coming to that. Look, I like this plan. I'm going to put it up to the boss. But I think he will reject it, for a reason we haven't yet discussed."
"No one but you could lead this team. But the trip you've just returned from should be your last. You know too much. You've been going in and out for two years. You've had contact with most of the Resistance circuits in northern France. We can't send you back. If you were captured, you could give them all away."
"I know," Flick said grimly. "That's why I carry a suicide pill."
General Sir Bernard Montgomery commander of the 21st Army Group, which was about to invade France, had set up improvised headquarters in west London, at a school whose pupils had been evacuated to safer accommodation in the countryside. By coincidence, it was the school Monty himself had attended as a boy. Meetings were held in the model room, and everyone sat on the schoolboys' hard wooden benches-generals and politicians and, on one famous occasion, the King himself.
The Brits thought this was cute. Paul Chancellor from Boston, Massachusetts, thought it was bullshit. What would it have cost them to bring in a few chairs? He liked the British, by and large, but not when they were showing off how eccentric they were.
Paul was on Monty's personal staff. A lot of people thought this was because his father was a general, but that was an unfair assumption. Paul was comfortable with senior officers, partly because of his father, partly because before the war the U.S. Army had been the biggest customer for his business, which was making educational gramophone records, language courses mainly. He liked the military virtues of obedience, punctuality, and precision, but he could think for himself, too, and Monty had come to rely on him more and more.
His area of responsibility was intelligence. He was an organizer. He made sure the reports Monty needed were on his desk when he wanted them, chased those that came late, set up meetings with key people, and made supplementary inquiries on the boss's behalf.
He did have experience of clandestine work. He had been with the Office of Strategic Services, the American secret agency, and had served under cover in France and French-speaking North Africa. (As a child he had lived in Paris, where Pa was military attache at the U.S. Embassy.) Paul had been wounded six months ago in a shoot-out with the Gestapo in Marseilles. One bullet had taken off most of his left ear but harmed nothing other than his looks. The other smashed his right kneecap, which would never be the same again, and that was the real reason he had a desk job.
The work was easy, by comparison with living on the run in occupied territory, but never dull. They were planning Operation Overlord, the invasion that would end the war. Paul was one of a few hundred people in the world who knew the date, although many more could guess. In fact, there were three possible dates, based on the tides, the currents, the moon, and the hours of daylight. The invasion needed a late-rising moon, so that the army's initial movements would be shrouded in darkness, but there would be moonlight later, when the first paratroopers jumped from their planes and gliders. A low tide at dawn was necessary to expose the obstacles Rommel had scattered on the beaches. And another low tide before nightfall was needed for the landing of follow-up forces. These requirements left only a narrow window: the fleet could sail next Monday, June 5, or on the following Tuesday or Wednesday. The final decision would be made at the last minute, depending on the weather, by the Allied Supreme Commander, General Eisenhower.
Three years ago, Paul would have been desperately scheming for a place in the invasion force. He would have been itching for action and embarrassed at being a stay-at-home. Now he was older and wiser. For one thing, he had paid his dues: in high school he had captained the side that won the Massachusetts championship, but he would never again kick a ball with his right foot. More importantly, he knew that his organizational talents could do more to win the war than his ability to shoot straight.
He was thrilled to be part of the team that was planning the greatest invasion of all time. With the thrill came anxiety, of course. Battles never went according to plan (although it was a weakness of Monty's to pretend that his did). Paul knew that any error he made-a slip of the pen, a detail overlooked, a piece of intelligence not double-checked-could kill Allied troops. Despite the huge size of the invasion force, the battle could still go either way, and the smallest of mistakes could tip the balance.
Today at ten a.m. Paul had scheduled fifteen minutes on the French Resistance. It was Monty's idea. He was nothing if not a detail man. The way to win battles, he believed, was to refrain from fighting until all preparations were in place.
At five to ten, Simon Fortescue came into the model room. He was one of the senior men at MI6, the secret intelligence department. A tall man in a pin-striped suit, he had a smoothly authoritative manner, but Paul doubted if he knew much about clandestine work in the real world. He was followed by John Graves, a nervous-looking civil servant from the Ministry of Economic Warfare, the government department that oversaw SOE. Graves wore the Whitehall uniform of black jacket and striped gray pants. Paul frowned. He had not invited Graves. "Mr. Graves!" he said sharply. "I didn't know you had been asked to join us."
"I'll explain in a second," Graves said, and he sat down on a schoolboy bench, looking flustered, and opened his briefcase.
Paul was irritated. Monty hated surprises. But Paul could not throw Graves out of the room.
A moment later, Monty walked in. He was a small man with a pointed nose and receding hair. His face was deeply lined either side of his close-clipped mustache. He was fifty-six, but looked older. Paul liked him.
Monty was so meticulous that some people became impatient with him and called him an old woman. Paul believed that Monty's fussiness saved men's lives.
With Monty was an American Paul did not know. Monty introduced him as General Pickford. "Where's the chap from SOE?" Monty snapped, looking at Paul.
Graves answered, "I'm afraid he was summoned by the Prime Minister, and sends his profound apologies. I hope I'll be able to help.."
"I doubt it," Monty said crisply.
Paul groaned inwardly. It was a snafu, and he would be blamed. But there was something else going on here. The Brits were playing some game he did not know about. He watched them carefully, looking for clues.
Simon Fortescue said smoothly, "I'm sure I can fill in the gaps."
Monty looked angry. He had promised General Pickford a briefing, and the key person was absent. But he did not waste time on recriminations. "In the coming battle," he said without further ado, "the most dangerous moments will be the first." It was unusual for him to speak of dangerous moments, Paul thought. His way was to talk as if everything would go like clockwork. "We will be hanging by our fingertips from a cliff edge for a day." Or two days, Paul said to himself, or a week, or more. "This will be the enemy's best opportunity. He has only to stamp on our fingers with the heel of his jackboot."
So easy, Paul thought. Overlord was the largest military operation in human history: thousands of boats, hundreds of thousands of men, millions of dollars, tens of millions of bullets. The future of the world depended on the outcome. Yet this vast force could be repelled so easily, if things went wrong in the first few hours.
"Anything we can do to slow the enemy's response will be of crucial importance," Monty finished, and he looked at Graves.
"Well, F Section of SOE has more than a hundred agents in France-in fact, virtually all our people are over there," Graves began. "And under them, of course, are thousands of French Resistance fighters. Over the last few weeks we have dropped them many hundreds of tons of guns, ammunition, and explosives."
It was a bureaucrat's answer, Paul thought; it said everything and nothing. Graves would have gone on, but Monty interrupted with the key question: "How effective will they be?"
The civil servant hesitated, and Fortescue jumped in. "My expectations are modest," he said. "The performance of SOE is nothing if not uneven."
There was a subtext here, Paul knew. The old-time professional spies at MI6 hated the newcomers of SOE with their swashbuckling style. When the Resistance struck at German installations they stirred up Gestapo investigations which then sometimes caught MI6's people. Paul took SOE's side: striking at the enemy was the whole point of war.
Was that the game here? A bureaucratic spat between MI6 and SOE?
"Any particular reason for your pessimism?" Monty asked Fortescue.
"Take last night's fiasco," Fortescue replied promptly. "A Resistance group under an SOE commander attacked a telephone exchange near Reims."
General Pickford spoke for the first time. "I thought it was our policy not to attack telephone exchanges- we're going to need them ourselves if the invasion is successful."
"You're quite right," Monty said. "But Sainte-Cecile has been made an exception. It's an access node for the new cable route to Germany. Most of the telephone and telex traffic between the High Command in Berlin and German forces in France passes through that building. Knocking it out wouldn't do us much harm-we won't be calling Germany-but would wreak havoc with the enemy's communications."
Pickford said, "They'll switch to wireless communication."
"Exactly," said Monty. "Then we'll be able to read their signals."
Fortescue put in. "Thanks to our code breakers at Bletchley."
Paul knew, though not many other people did, that British intelligence had cracked the codes used by the Germans and therefore could read much of the enemy's radio traffic. MI6 was proud of this, although in truth they deserved little credit: the work had been done not by intelligence staff but by an irregular group of mathematicians and crossword-puzzle enthusiasts, many of whom would have been arrested if they had entered an MI6 office in normal times. Sir Stewart Menzies, the foxhunting head of MI6, hated intellectuals, communists, and homosexuals, but Alan Turing, the mathematical genius who led the code breakers, was all three.
However, Pickford was right: if the Germans could not use the phone lines, they would have to use radio, and then the Allies would know what they were saying. Destroying the telephone exchange at Sainte-Cecile would give the Allies a crucial advantage.
But the mission had gone wrong. "Who was in charge?" Monty asked.
Graves said, "I haven't seen a full report-"
"I can tell you," Fortescue interjected. "Major Clairet." He paused. "A girl."
Paul had heard of Felicity Clairet. She was something of a legend among the small group who knew the secret of the Allies' clandestine war. She had survived under cover in France longer than anyone. Her code name was Leopardess, and people said she moved around the streets of occupied France with the silent footsteps of a dangerous cat. They also said she was a pretty girl with a heart of stone. She had killed more than once.
"And what happened?" Monty said.
"Poor planning, an inexperienced commander, and a lack of discipline among the men all played their part," Fortescue replied. "The building was not heavily guarded, but the Germans there are trained troops, and they simply wiped out the Resistance force."
Monty looked angry. Pickford said, "Looks like we shouldn't rely too heavily on the French Resistance to disrupt Rommel's supply lines."
Fortescue nodded. "Bombing is the more reliable means to that end."
"I'm not sure that's quite fair," Graves protested feebly. "Bomber Command has its successes and failures, too. And SOE is a good deal cheaper."
"We're not here to be fair to people, for God's sake," Monty growled. "We just want to win the war." He stood up. "I think we've heard enough," he said to General Pickford.
Graves said, "But what shall we do about the telephone exchange? SOE has come up with a new plan-"
"Good God," Fortescue interrupted. "We don't want another balls-up, do we?"
"Bomb it," said Monty.
"We've tried that," Graves said. "They hit the building, but the damage was not sufficient to put the telephone exchange out of action for longer than a few hours."
"Then bomb it again," said Monty, and he walked out.
Graves threw a look of petulant fury at the man from MI6. "Really, Fortescue," he said. "I mean to say.. really."
Fortescue did not respond.
They all left the room. In the hallway outside, two people were waiting: a man of about fifty in a tweed jacket, and a short blonde woman wearing a worn blue cardigan over a faded cotton dress. Standing in front of a display of sporting trophies, they looked almost like a head teacher chatting to a schoolgirl, except that the girl wore a bright yellow scarf tied with a touch of style that looked, to Paul, distinctly French. Fortescue hurried past them, but Graves stopped. "They turned you down," he said. "They're going to bomb it again."
Paul guessed that the woman was the Leopardess, and he looked at her with interest. She was small and slim, with curly blonde hair cut short, and-Paul noticed-rather lovely green eyes. He would not have called her pretty: her face was too grown-up for that. The initial schoolgirl impression was fleeting. There was an aggressive look to her straight nose and chisel-shaped chin. And there was something sexy about her, something that made Paul think about the slight body under the shabby dress.
She reacted with indignation to Grave's statement. "There's no point in bombing the place from the air, the basement is reinforced. For God's sake, why did they make that decision?"
"Perhaps you should ask this gentleman," Graves said, turning to Paul. "Major Chancellor, meet Major Clairet and Colonel Thwaite."
Paul was annoyed at being put in the position of defending someone else's decision. Caught off guard, he replied with undiplomatic frankness, "I don't see that there's much to explain," he said brusquely. "You screwed up and you're not being given a second chance."
The woman glared up at him-she was a foot shorter than he-and spoke angrily. "Screwed up?" she said. "What the hell do you mean by that?"
Paul felt himself flush. "Maybe General Montgomery was misinformed, but wasn't this the first time you had commanded an action of this kind, Major?"
"Is that what you've been told? That it was my lack of experience?"
She was beautiful, he saw now. Anger made her eyes wide and her cheeks pink. But she was being very rude, so he decided to give it to her with both barrels. "That and poor planning-"
"There was nothing wrong with the damn plan!"
"-and the fact that trained troops were defending the place against an undisciplined force."
"You arrogant pig!"
Paul took an involuntary step back. He had never been spoken to this way by a woman. She may be five feet nothing, he thought, but I bet she scares the damn Nazis. Looking at her furious face, he realized that she was most angry with herself "You think it's your fault," he said. "No one gets this mad about other people's mistakes."
It was her turn to be taken aback. Her mouth dropped open, and she was speechless.
Colonel Thwaite spoke for the first time. "Calm down, Flick, for God's sake," he said. Turning to Paul, he went on, "Let me guess-this account was given to you by Simon Fortescue of MI6, was it not?"
"That's correct," Paul said stiffly.
"Did he mention that the attack plan was based on intelligence supplied by his organization?"
"I don't believe he did."
"I thought not," said Thwaite. "Thank you, Major, I don't need to trouble you any further."
Paul did not feel the conversation was really over, but he had been dismissed by a senior officer, and he had no choice but to walk away.
He had obviously got caught in the crossfire of a turf war between MI6 and SOE. He felt most angry with Fortescue, who had used the meeting to score points. Had Monty made the right decision in choosing to bomb the telephone exchange rather than let SOE have another go at it? Paul was not sure.
As he turned into his own office he glanced back. Major Clairet was still arguing with Colonel Thwaite, her voice low but her face animated, expressing outrage with large gestures. She stood like a man, hand on hip, leaning forward, making her point with a belligerent forefinger, but all the same there was something enchanting about her. Paul wondered what it would be like to hold her in his arms and run his hands over her lithe body. Although she's tough, he thought, she's all woman.
But was she right? Was bombing futile?
He decided to ask some more questions.
The vast, sooty bulk of the cathedral loomed over the center of Reims like a divine reproach. Dieter Franck's sky-blue Hispano-Suiza pulled up at midday outside the Hotel Frankfort, taken over by the German occupiers. Dieter got out and glanced up at the stubby twin towers of the great church. The original medieval design had featured elegant pointed spires, which had never been built for lack of money. So mundane obstacles frustrated the holiest of aspirations.
Dieter told Lieutenant Hesse to drive to the chateau at Sainte-Cecile and make sure the Gestapo were ready to cooperate. He did not want to risk being repulsed a second time by Major Weber. Hesse drove off, and Dieter went up to the suite where he had left Stephanie last night.
She got up from her chair as he walked in. He drank in the welcome sight. Her red hair fell on bare shoulders, and she wore a chestnut silk negligee and high-heeled slippers. He kissed her hungrily and ran his hands over her slim body, grateful for the gift of her beauty.
"How nice that you're so pleased to see me," she said with a smile. They spoke French together, as always.
Dieter inhaled the scent of her. "Well, you smell better than Hans Hesse, especially when he's been up all night."
She brushed his hair back with a soft hand. "You always make fun. But you wouldn't have protected Hans with your own body."
"True." He sighed and let her go. "Christ, I'm tired."
"Come to bed."
He shook his head. "I have to interrogate the prisoners. Hesse's coming back for me in an hour." He slumped on the couch.
"I'll get you something to eat." She pressed the bell, and a minute later an elderly French waiter tapped at the door. Stephanie knew Dieter well enough to order for him. She asked for a plate of ham with warm rolls and potato salad. "Some wine?" she asked him.
"No-it'll send me to sleep."
"A pot of coffee, then," she told the waiter. When the man had gone, she sat on the couch beside Dieter and took his hand. "Did everything go according to plan?"
"Yes. Rommel was quite complimentary to me." He frowned anxiously. "I just hope I can live up to the promises I made him."
"I'm sure you will." She did not ask for details. She knew he would tell her as much as he wanted to and no more.
He looked fondly at her, wondering whether to say what was on his mind. It might spoil the pleasant atmosphere-but it needed to be said. He sighed again. "If the invasion is successful, and the Allies win back France, it will be the end for you and me. You know that."
She winced, as if at a sudden pain, and let go of his hand. "Do I?"
He knew that her husband had been killed early in the war, and they had had no children. "Do you have any family at all?" he asked her.
"My parents died years ago. I have a sister in Montreal."
"Maybe we should be thinking about how to send you over there."
She shook her head. "No."
She would not meet his eye. "I just wish the war would be over," she muttered.
"No, you don't."
She showed a rare flash of irritation. "Of course I do."
"How uncharacteristically conventional of you," he said with a hint of scorn.
"You can't possibly think war is a good thing!"
"You and I would not be together, were it not for the war."
"But what about all the suffering?"
"I'm an existentialist. War enables people to be what they really are: the sadists become torturers, the psychopaths make brave front-line troops, the bullies and the victims alike have scope to play their roles to the hilt, and the whores are always busy."
She looked angry. "That tells me pretty clearly what part I play."
He stroked her soft cheek and touched her lips with the tip of his finger. "You're a courtesan-and very good at it."
She moved her head away. "You don't mean any of this. You're improvising on a tune, the way you do when you sit at the piano."
He smiled and nodded: he could play a little jazz, much to his father's dismay. The analogy was apt. He was trying out ideas, rather than expressing a firm conviction. "Perhaps you're right."
Her anger evaporated, and she looked sad. "Did you mean the part about us separating, if the Germans leave France?"
He put his arm around her shoulders and pulled her to him. She relaxed and laid her head on his chest. He kissed the top of her head and stroked her hair. "It's not going to happen," he said.
"Are you certain?"
"I guarantee it."
It was the second time today he had made a promise he might not be able to keep.
The waiter returned with his lunch, and the spell was broken. Dieter was almost too tired to be hungry, but he ate a few mouthfuls and drank all the coffee. Afterwards he washed and shaved, and then he felt better. As he was buttoning a clean uniform shirt, Lieutenant Hesse tapped at the door. Dieter kissed Stephanie and went out.
The car was diverted around a blocked street: there had been another bombing raid overnight, and a whole row of houses near the railway station had been destroyed. They got out of town and headed for Sainte-Cecile.
Dieter had told Rommel that the interrogation of the prisoners might enable him to cripple the Resistance before the invasion-but Rommel, like any military commander, took a maybe for a promise and would now expect results. Unfortunately, there was nothing guaranteed about an interrogation. Clever prisoners told lies that were impossible to check. Some found ingenious ways to kill themselves before the torture became unbearable. If security was really tight in their particular Resistance circuit, each would know only the minimum about the others, and have little information of value. Worst of all, they might have been fed false information by the perfidious Allies, so that when they finally broke under torture, what they said was part of a deception plan.
Dieter began to put himself in the mood. He needed to be completely hard-hearted and calculating. He must not allow himself to be touched by the physical and mental suffering he was about to inflict on human beings. All that mattered was whether it worked. He closed his eyes and felt a profound calm settle over him, a familiar bone-deep chill that he sometimes thought must be like the cold of death itself.
The car pulled into the grounds of the chateau. Workmen were repairing the smashed glass in the windows and filling the holes made by grenades. In the ornate hall, the telephonists murmured into their microphones in a perpetual undertone. Dieter marched through the perfectly proportioned rooms of the east wing, with Hans Hesse in tow. They went down the stairs to the fortified basement. The sentry at the door saluted and made no attempt to detain Dieter, who was in uniform. He found the door marked Interrogation Center and went in.
In the outer room, Willi Weber sat at the table. Dieter barked, "Heil Hitler!" and saluted, forcing Weber to stand. Then Dieter pulled out a chair, sat down, and said, "Please be seated, Major."
Weber was furious at being invited to sit in his own headquarters, but he had no choice.
Dieter said, "How many prisoners do we have?"
Dieter was disappointed. "So few?"
"We killed eight of the enemy in the skirmish. Two more died of their wounds overnight."
Dieter grunted with dismay. He had ordered that the wounded be kept alive. But there was no point now in questioning Weber about their treatment.
Weber went on, "I believe two escaped-"
"Yes," Dieter said. "The woman in the square, and the man she carried away."
"Exactly. So, from a total of fifteen attackers, we have three prisoners."
"Where are they?"
Weber looked shifty. "Two are in the cells."
Dieter narrowed his eyes. "And the third?"
Weber inclined his head toward the inner room. "The third is under interrogation at this moment."
Dieter got up, apprehensive, and opened the door. The hunched figure of Sergeant Becker stood just inside the room, holding in his hand a wooden club like a large policeman's truncheon. He was sweating and breathing hard, as if he had been taking vigorous exercise. He was staring at a prisoner who was tied to a post.
Dieter looked at the prisoner, and his fears were confirmed. Despite his self-imposed calm, he grimaced with revulsion. The prisoner was the young woman, Genevieve, who had carried a Sten gun under her coat. She was naked, tied to the pillar by a rope that passed under her arms and supported her slumped weight. Her face was so swollen that she could not have opened her eyes. Blood from her mouth covered her chin and most of her chest. Her body was discolored with angry bruises. One arm hung at an odd angle, apparently dislocated at the shoulder. Her pubic hair was matted with blood.
Dieter said to Becker, "What has she told you?"
Becker looked embarrassed. "Nothing."
Dieter nodded, suppressing his rage. It was as he had expected.
He went close to the woman. "Genevieve, listen to me," he said in French.
She showed no sign of having heard.
"Would you like to rest now?" he tried.
There was no response.
He turned around. Weber was standing in the doorway, looking defiant. Dieter, coldly furious, said, "You were expressly told that I would conduct the interrogation."
"We were ordered to give you access," Weber replied with smug pedantry. "We were not prohibited from questioning the prisoners ourselves."
"And are you satisfied with the results you have achieved?"
Weber did not answer.
Dieter said, "What about the other two?"
"We have not yet begun their interrogation."
"Thank God for that." Dieter was nonetheless dismayed. He had expected half a dozen subjects, not two. "Take me to them."
Weber nodded at Becker, who put down his club and led the way out of the room. In the bright lights of the corridor, Dieter could see the bloodstains on Becker's uniform. The sergeant stopped at a door with a judas peephole. Dieter slid back the panel and looked inside.
It was a bare room with a dirt floor. The only item of furniture was a bucket in the corner. Two men sat on the ground, not talking, staring into space. Dieter studied them carefully. He had seen both yesterday. The older one was Gaston, who had set the charges. He had a large piece of sticking-plaster covering a scalp wound that looked superficial. The other was very young, about seventeen, and Dieter recalled that his name was Bertrand. He had no visible injuries, but Dieter, recalling the skirmish, thought he might have been stunned by the explosion of a hand grenade.
Dieter watched them for a while, taking time to think. He had to do this right. He could not afford to waste another captive: these two were the only assets left. The kid would be scared, he foresaw, but might withstand a lot of pain. The other was too old for serious torture-he might die before he cracked-but he would be softhearted. Dieter began to see a strategy for interrogating them.
He closed the judas and returned to the interview room. Becker followed, reminding him again of a stupid but dangerous dog. Dieter said, "Sergeant Becker, untie the woman and put her in the cell with the other two."
Weber protested, "A woman in a man's cell?"
Dieter stared at him incredulously. "Do you think she will feel the indignity?"
Becker went into the torture chamber and reemerged carrying the broken body of Genevieve. Dieter said, "Make sure the old man gets a good look at her, then bring him here."
Becker went out.
Dieter decided he would prefer to get rid of Weber. However, he knew that if he gave a direct order, Weber would resist. So he said, "I think you should remain here to witness the interrogation. You could learn a lot from my techniques."
As Dieter had expected, Weber did the opposite. "I don't think so," he said. "Becker can keep me informed." Dieter faked an indignant expression, and Weber went out.
Dieter caught the eye of Lieutenant Hesse, who had quietly taken a seat in the corner. Hesse understood how Dieter had manipulated Weber and was looking admiringly at Dieter. Dieter shrugged. "Sometimes it's too easy," he said.
Becker returned with Gaston. The older man was pale. No doubt he had been badly shocked by the sight of Genevieve. Dieter said in German, "Please have a seat. Do you like to smoke?"
Gaston looked blank.
That established that he did not understand German, which was worth knowing.
Dieter motioned him to a seat and offered him cigarettes and matches. Gaston took a cigarette and lit it with shaking hands.
Some prisoners broke at this stage, before torture, just from fear of what would happen. Dieter hoped that might be the case today. He had shown Gaston the alternatives: on one hand, the dreadful sight of Genevieve; on the other, cigarettes and kindness.
Now he spoke in French, using a friendly tone. "I'm going to ask you some questions."
"I don't know anything," Gaston said.
"Oh, I think you do," Dieter said. "You're in your sixties, and you've probably lived in or around Reims all your life." Gaston did not deny this. Dieter went on: "I realize that the members of a Resistance cell use code names and give one another the minimum of personal information, as a security precaution." Gaston involuntarily gave a slight nod of agreement. "But you've known most of these people for decades. A man may call himself Elephant or Priest or Aubergine when the Resistance meet, but you know his face, and you recognize him as Jean-Pierre the postman, who lives in the rue du Parc and surreptitiously visits the widow Martineau on Tuesdays when his wife thinks he is playing bowls."
Gaston looked away, unwilling to meet Dieter's eye, confirming that Dieter was right.
Dieter went on, "I want you to understand that you are in control of everything that happens here. Pain, or the relief of pain; the sentence of death, or reprieve; all depend on your choices." He saw with satisfaction that Gaston looked even more terrified. "You will answer my questions," he went on. "Everyone does, in the end. The only imponderable is how soon."
This was the moment when a man might break down, but Gaston did not. "I can't tell you anything," he said in a near-whisper. He was scared, but he still had some courage left, and he was not going to give up without a fight.
Dieter shrugged. It was to be the hard way, then. He spoke to Becker in German. "Go back to the cell. Make the boy strip naked. Bring him here and tie him to the pillar in the next room."
"Very good, Major," Becker said eagerly.
Dieter turned back to Gaston. "You're going to tell me the names and code names of all the men and women who were with you yesterday, and any others in your Resistance circuit." Gaston shook his head, but Dieter ignored that. "I want to know the address of every member, and of every house used by members of the circuit."
Gaston drew hard on his cigarette and stared at the glowing end.
In fact, these were not the most important questions. Dieter's main aim was to get information that would lead him to other Resistance circuits. But he did not want Gaston to know that.
A moment later, Becker returned with Bertrand. Gaston stared openmouthed as the naked boy was marched through the interview room into the chamber beyond.
Dieter stood up. He said to Hesse, "Keep an eye on this old man." Then he followed Becker into the torture chamber.
He was careful to leave the door a little ajar so that Gaston could hear everything.
Becker tied Bertrand to the pillar. Before Dieter could intervene, Becker punched Bertrand in the stomach. It was a powerful blow from a strong man, and it made a sickening thud. The young man groaned and writhed in agony.
"No, no, no," Dieter said. As he had expected, Becker's approach was completely unscientific. A strong young man could withstand being punched almost indefinitely. "First, you blindfold him." He produced a large cotton bandana from his pocket and tied it over Bertrand's eyes. "This way, every blow comes as a dreadful shock, and every moment between blows is an agony of anticipation."
Becker picked up his wooden club. Dieter nodded, and Becker swung the club, hitting the side of the victim's head with a loud crack of solid wood on skin and bone. Bertrand cried out in pain and fear.
"No, no," Dieter said again. "Never hit the head. You may dislocate the jaw, preventing the subject from speaking. Worse, you may damage the brain, then nothing he says will be of any value." He took the wooden club from Becker and replaced it in the umbrella stand. From the selection of weapons there he chose a steel crowbar and handed it to Becker.
"Now, remember, the object is to inflict unbearable agony without endangering the subject's life or his ability to tell us what we need to know. Avoid vital organs. Concentrate on the bony parts: ankles, shins, kneecaps, fingers, elbows, shoulders, ribs."
A crafty look came over Becker's face. He walked around the pillar, then, taking careful aim, struck hard at Bertrand's elbow with the steel bar. The boy gave a scream of real agony, a sound Dieter recognized.
Becker looked pleased. God forgive me, Dieter thought, for teaching this brute how to inflict pain more efficiently.
On Dieter's orders, Becker struck at Bertrand's bony shoulder, then his hand, then his ankle. Dieter made Becker pause between blows, allowing just enough time for the pain to ease slightly and for the subject to begin to dread the next stroke.
Bertrand began to appeal for mercy. "No more, please," he implored, hysterical with pain and fear. Becker raised the crowbar, but Dieter stopped him. He wanted the begging to go on. "Please don't hit me again," Bertrand cried. "Please, please."
Dieter said to Becker, "It is often a good idea to break a leg early in the interview. The pain is quite excruciating, especially when the broken bone is struck again." He selected a sledgehammer from the umbrella stand. "Just below the knee," he said, handing it to Becker. "As hard as you can."
Becker took careful aim and swung mightily. The crack as the shin broke was loud enough to hear. Bertrand screamed and fainted. Becker picked up a bucket of water that stood in a corner and threw the water in Bertrand's face. The young man came to and screamed again.
Eventually, the screams subsided to heartrending groans. "What do you want?" Bertrand implored. "Please, tell me what you want from me!" Dieter did not ask him any questions. Instead, he handed the steel crowbar to Becker and pointed to the broken leg where a jagged white edge of bone stuck through the flesh. Becker struck the leg at that point. Bertrand screamed and passed out again.
Dieter thought that might be enough.
He went into the next room. Gaston sat where Dieter had left him, but he was a different man. He was bent over in his chair, face in his hands, crying with great sobs, moaning and praying to God. Dieter knelt in front of him and prized his hands away from his wet face. Gaston looked at him through tears. Dieter said softly, "Only you can make it stop."
"Please, stop it, please," Gaston moaned.
"Will you answer my questions?"
There was a pause. Bertrand screamed again. "Yes!" Gaston yelled. "Yes, yes, I'll tell you everything, if you just stop!"
Dieter raised his voice. "Sergeant Becker!"
"No more for now."
"Yes, Major." Becker sounded disappointed.
Dieter reverted to French. "Now, Gaston, let's begin with the leader of the circuit. Name and code name. Who is he?"
Gaston hesitated. Dieter looked toward the open door of the torture chamber. Gaston quickly said, "Michel Clairet. Code name Monet."
It was the breakthrough. The first name was the hardest. The rest would follow effortlessly. Concealing his satisfaction, Dieter gave Gaston a cigarette and held a match. "Where does he live?"
"In Reims." Gaston blew out smoke and his shaking began to subside. He gave an address near the cathedral.
Dieter nodded to Lieutenant Hesse, who took out a notebook and began to record Gaston's responses. Patiently, Dieter took Gaston through each member of the attack team. In a few cases Gaston knew only the code names, and there were two men he claimed never to have seen before Sunday. Dieter believed him. There had been two getaway drivers waiting a short distance away, Gaston said: a young woman called Gilberte and a man codenamed Marechal. There were others in the group, which was known as the Bollinger circuit.
Dieter asked about relationships between Resistance members. Were there any love affairs? Were any of them homosexual? Was anyone sleeping with someone else's wife?
Although the torture had stopped, Bertrand continued to groan and sometimes scream with the agony of his wounds, and now Gaston said, "Is he going to be looked after?"
"Please, get a doctor for him."
"Very well… when we have finished our talk."
Gaston told Dieter that Michel and Gilberte were lovers, even though Michel was married to Flick, the blond girl in the square.
So far, Gaston had been talking about a circuit that was mostly destroyed, so his information had been mainly of academic interest. Now Dieter moved on to more important questions. "When Allied agents come to this district, how do they make contact?"
No one was supposed to know how that was handled, Gaston said. There was a cut-out. However, he knew part of the story. The agents were met by a woman code-named Bourgeoise. Gaston did not know where she met them, but she took them to her home; then she passed them on to Michel.
No one had ever met Bourgeoise, not even Michel.
Dieter was disappointed that Gaston knew so little about the woman. But that was the idea of a cut-out.
"Do you know where she lives?"
Gaston nodded. "One of the agents gave it away. She has a house in the rue du Bois. Number eleven."
Dieter tried not to look jubilant. This was a key fact. The enemy would probably send more agents in an attempt to rebuild the Bollinger circuit. Dieter might be able to catch them at the safe house.
"And when they leave?"
They were picked up by plane in a field codenamed Champ de Pierre, actually a pasture near the village of Chatelle, Gaston revealed. There was an alternative landing field, codenamed Champ d'Or, but he did not know where it was.
Dieter asked Gaston about liaison with London. Who had ordered the attack on the telephone exchange? Gaston explained that Flick-Major Clairet-was the circuit's commanding officer, and she had brought orders from London. Dieter was intrigued. A woman in command. But he had seen her courage under fire. She would make a good leader.
In the next room, Bertrand began to pray aloud for death to come. "Please," Gaston said. "A doctor."
"Just tell me about Major Clairet." Dieter said. "Then I'll get someone to give Bertrand an injection."
"She is a very important person," Gaston said, eager now to give Dieter information that would satisfy him. "They say she has survived longer than anyone else undercover. She has been all over northern France."
Dieter was spellbound. "She has contact with different circuits?"
"So I believe."
That was unusual-and it meant she could be a fountain of information about the French Resistance. Dieter said, "She got away yesterday after the skirmish. Where do you think she went?"
"Back to London, I'm sure," Gaston said. "To report on the raid."
Dieter cursed silently. He wanted her in France, where he could catch her and interrogate her. If he got his hands on her, he could destroy half the French Resistance-as he had promised Rommel. But she was out of reach.
He stood up. "That's all for now," he said. "Hans, get a doctor for the prisoners. I don't want any of them to die today-they may have more to tell us. Then type up your notes and bring them to me in the morning."
"Very good, Major."
"Make a copy for Major Weber-but don't give it to him until I say so."
"I'll drive myself back to the hotel." Dieter went out.
The headache began as he stepped into the open air. Rubbing his forehead with his hand, he made his way to the car and drove out of the village, heading for Reims. The afternoon sun seemed to reflect off the road surface straight into his eyes. These migraines often struck him after an interrogation. In an hour he would be blind and helpless. He had to get back to the hotel before the attack reached its peak. Reluctant to brake, he sounded his horn constantly. Vineyard workers making their slow way home scattered out of his path. Horses reared and a cart was driven into the ditch. His eyes watered with the pain, and he felt nauseous.
He reached the town without crashing the car. He managed to steer into the center. Outside the Hotel Frankfort, he did not so much park the car as abandon it. Staggering inside, he made his way to the suite.
Stephanie knew immediately what had happened. While he stripped off his uniform tunic and shirt, she got the field medical kit out of her suitcase and filled a syringe with the morphine mixture. Dieter fell on the bed, and she plunged the needle into his arm. Almost immediately, the pain eased. Stephanie lay down beside him, stroking his face with gentle fingertips.
A few moments later, Dieter was unconscious.
Flick's home was a bedsitter in a big old house in Bayswater. Her room was in the attic: if a bomb came through the roof it would land on her bed. She spent little time there, not for fear of bombs but because real life went on elsewhere-in France, at SOE headquarters, or at one of SOE's training centers around the country. There was little of her in the room: a photo of Michel playing a guitar, a shelf of Flaubert and Moliere in French, a watercolor of Nice she had painted at the age of fifteen. The small chest had three drawers of clothing and one of guns and ammunition.
Feeling weary and depressed, she undressed and lay down on the bed, looking through a copy of Parade magazine. Berlin had been bombed by a force of 1,500 planes last Wednesday, she read. It was hard to imagine. She tried to picture what it must have been like for the ordinary Germans living there, and all she could think of was a medieval painting of Hell, with naked people being burned alive in a hail of fire. She turned the page and read a silly story about second-rate "V-cigarettes" being passed off as Woodbines.
Her mind kept returning to yesterday's failure. She reran the battle in her mind, imagining a dozen decisions she might have made differently, leading to victory instead of defeat. As well as losing the battle, she feared she might be losing her husband, and she wondered if there was a link. Inadequate as a leader, inadequate as a wife, perhaps there was some flaw deep in her character.
Now that her alternative plan had been rejected, there was no prospect of redeeming herself. All those brave people had died for nothing.
Eventually she drifted into an uneasy sleep. She was awakened by someone banging on the door and calling, "Flick! Telephone!" The voice belonged to one of the girls in the flat below.
The clock on Flick's bookshelf said six. "Who is it?" she called.
"He just said the office."
"I'm coming." She pulled on a dressing gown. Unsure whether it was six in the morning or evening, she glanced out of her little window. The sun was setting over the elegant terraces of Ladbroke Grove. She ran downstairs to the phone in the hall.
Percy Thwaite's voice said, "Sorry to wake you."
"That's all right." She was always glad to hear Percy's voice on the other end of the phone. She had become very fond of him, even though he constantly sent her into danger. Running agents was a heartbreaking job, and some senior officers anaesthetized themselves by adopting a hard-hearted attitude toward the death or capture of their people, but Percy never did that. He felt every loss as a bereavement. Consequently, Flick knew he would never take an unnecessary risk with her. She trusted him.
"Can you come to Orchard Court?"
She wondered if the authorities had reconsidered her new plan for taking out the telephone exchange, and her heart leaped with hope. "Has Monty changed his mind?"
"I'm afraid not. But I need you to brief someone."
She bit her lip, suppressing her disappointment. "I'll be there in a few minutes."
She dressed quickly and took the Underground to Baker Street. Percy was waiting for her in the flat in Portman Square. "I've found a radio operator. No experience, but he's done the training. I'm sending him to Reims tomorrow."
Flick glanced reflexively at the window, to check the weather, as agents always did when a flight was mentioned. Percy's curtains were drawn, for security, but anyway she knew the weather was fine. "Reims? Why?"
"We've heard nothing from Michel today. I need to know how much of the Bollinger circuit is left."
Flick nodded. Pierre, the radio operator, had been in the attack squad. Presumably he was captured or dead. Michel might have been able to locate Pierre's radio transceiver, but he had not been trained to operate it, and he certainly did not know the codes. "But what's the point?"
"We've sent them tons of explosives and ammunition in the last few months. I want them to light some fires. The telephone exchange is the most important target, but it's not the only one. Even if there's no one left but Michel and a couple of others, they can blow up railway lines, cut telephone wires, and shoot sentries-it all helps. But I can't direct them if I have no communication."
Flick shrugged. To her, the chateau was the only target that mattered. Everything else was chicken feed. But what the hell. "I'll brief him, of course."
Percy gave her a hard look. He hesitated, then said, "How was Michel-apart from his bullet wound?"
"Fine." Flick was silent for a moment. Percy stared at her. She could not deceive him, he knew her too well. At last she sighed and said, "There's a girl."
"I was afraid of that."
"I don't know whether there's anything left of my marriage," she said bitterly.
"It would help if I could tell myself that I'd made a sacrifice for a purpose, struck a magnificent blow for our side, made the invasion more likely to succeed."
"You've done more than most, over the last two years."
"But there's no second prize in a war, is there?"
She stood up. She was grateful for Percy's fond sympathy, but it was making her maudlin. "I'd better brief the new radioman."
"Code name Helicopter. He's waiting in the study. Not the sharpest knife in the box, I'm afraid, but a brave lad."
This seemed sloppy to Flick. "If he's not too bright, why send him? He might endanger others."
"As you said earlier-this is our big chance. If the invasion fails, we've lost Europe. We've got to throw everything we have at the enemy now, because we won't get another chance."
Flick nodded grimly. He had turned her own argument against her. But he was right. The only difference was that the lives being endangered, in this case, included Michel's. "Okay," she said. "I'd better get on with it."
"He's eager to see you."
She frowned. "Eager? Why?"
Percy gave a wry smile. "Go and find out for yourself."
Flick left the drawing room of the apartment, where Percy had his desk, and went along the corridor. His secretary was typing in the kitchen, and she directed Flick to another room.
Flick paused outside the door. This is how it is, she told herself: you pick yourself up and carry on working, hoping you will eventually forget.
She entered the study, a small room with a square table and a few mismatched chairs. Helicopter was a fair-skinned boy of about twenty-two, wearing a tweed suit in a checked pattern of mustard, orange, and green. You could tell he was English from a distance of a mile. Fortunately, before he got on the plane he would be kitted out in clothing that would look inconspicuous in a French town. SOE employed French tailors and dressmakers who sewed Continental-style clothes for agents (then spent hours making the clothes look worn and shabby so that they would not attract attention by their newness). There was nothing they could do about Helicopter's pink complexion and red-blond hair, except hope that the Gestapo would think he must have some German blood.
Flick introduced herself, and he said, "Yes, we've met before, actually."
"I'm sorry, I don't remember."
"You were at Oxford with my brother, Charles."
"Charlie Standish-of course!" Flick remembered another fair boy in tweeds, taller and slimmer than Helicopter, but probably no cleverer-he had not taken a degree. Charlie spoke fluent French, she recalled-something they had had in common.
"You came to our house in Gloucestershire once, actually."
Flick recalled a weekend in a country house in the thirties, and a family with an amiable English father and a chic French mother. Charlie had had a kid brother, Brian, an awkward adolescent in knee shorts, very excited about his new camera. She had talked to him a bit, and he had developed a little crush on her. "So how is Charlie? I haven't seen him since we graduated."
"He's dead, actually." Brian looked suddenly grief-stricken. "Died in forty-one. Killed in the b-b-bloody desert, actually."
Flick was afraid he would cry. She took his hand in both of hers and said, "Brian, I'm so terribly sorry."
"Jolly nice of you." He swallowed hard. With an effort he brightened. "I've seen you since then, just once. You gave a lecture to my SOE training group. I didn't get a chance to speak to you afterwards."
"I hope my talk was useful."
"You spoke about traitors within the Resistance and what to do about them. 'It's quite simple,' you said. 'You put the barrel of your pistol to the back of the bastard's head and pull the trigger twice.' Scared us all to death, actually."
He was looking at her with something like hero-worship in his eyes, and she began to see what Percy had been hinting at. It looked as if Brian still had a crush on her. She moved away from him, sat at the other side of the table, and said, "Well, we'd better begin. You know you're going to make contact with a Resistance circuit that has been largely wiped out."
"Yes, I'm to find out how much of it is left and what it is still capable of doing, if anything."
"It's likely that some members were captured during the skirmish yesterday and are under Gestapo interrogation as we speak. So you'll have to be especially careful. Your contact in Reims is a woman codenamed Bourgeoise. Every day at three in the afternoon she goes to the crypt of the cathedral to pray. She's generally the only person there but, in case there are others, she'll be wearing odd shoes, one black and one brown."
"Easy enough to remember."
"You say to her, 'Pray for me.' She replies, 'I pray for peace.' That's the code."
He repeated the words.
"She'll take you to her house, then put you in touch with the head of the Bollinger circuit, whose code name is Monet." She was talking about her husband, but Brian did not need to know that. "Don't mention the address or real name of Bourgeoise to other members of the circuit when you meet them, please: for security reasons, it's better they don't know." Flick herself had recruited Bourgeoise and set up the cut-out. Even Michel had not met the woman.
"Is there anything you want to ask me?"
"I'm sure there are a hundred things, but I can't think of any."
She stood up and came around the table to shake his hand. "Well, good luck."
He kept hold of her hand. "I never forgot that weekend you came to our house," he said. "I expect I was a frightful bore, but you were very kind to me."
She smiled and said lightly, "You were a nice kid."
"I fell in love with you, actually."
She wanted to jerk her hand out of his and walk away, but he might die tomorrow, and she could not bring herself to be so cruel. "I'm flattered," she said, trying to maintain an amiably bantering tone.
It was no good: he was in earnest. "I was wondering… would you… just for luck, give me a kiss?"
She hesitated. Oh, hell, she thought. She stood on tiptoe and kissed him lightly on the lips. She let the kiss linger for a second, then broke away. He looked transfixed by joy. She patted his cheek softly with her hand. "Stay alive, Brian," she said. Then she went out.
She returned to Percy's room. He had a pile of books and a scatter of photographs on his desk. "All done?" he said.
She nodded. "But he's not perfect secret agent material, Percy."
Percy shrugged. "He's brave, he speaks French like a Parisian, and he can shoot straight."
"Two years ago you would have sent him back to the army."
"True. Now I'm going to send him off to Sandy." At a large country house in the village of Sandy, near the Tempsford airstrip, Brian would be dressed in French-style clothes and given the forged papers he needed to pass through Gestapo checkpoints and buy food. Percy got up and went to the door. "While I'm seeing him off, have a look at that rogues' gallery, will you?" He pointed to the photos on the desk. "Those are all the pictures MI6 has of German officers. If the man you saw in the square at Sainte-Cecile should happen to be among them, I'd be interested to know his name." He went out.
Flick picked up one of the books. It was a graduation yearbook from a military academy, showing postage stamp-sized photos of a couple of hundred fresh-faced young men. There were a dozen or more similar books, and several hundred loose photos.
She did not want to spend all night looking at mug shots, but perhaps she could narrow it down. The man in the square had seemed about forty. He would have graduated at the age of twenty-two, roughly, so the year must have been about 1926. None of the books was that old.
She turned her attention to the loose photographs. As she flicked through, she recalled all she could of the man. He was quite tall and well dressed, but that would not show in a photo. He had thick dark hair, she thought, and although he was clean-shaven, he looked as if he could grow a heavy beard. She remembered dark eyes, clearly marked eyebrows, a straight nose, a square chin… quite the matinee idol, in fact.
The loose photos had been taken in all sorts of different situations. Some were news pictures, showing officers shaking hands with Hitler, inspecting troops, or looking at tanks and airplanes. A few seemed to have been snapped by spies. These were the most candid shots, taken in crowds, from cars, or through windows, showing the officers shopping, talking to children, hailing a taxi, lighting a pipe.
She scanned the photos as fast as she could, tossing them to one side. She hesitated over each dark-haired man. None was as handsome as the one she recalled from the square. She passed over a photo of a man in police uniform, then went back to it. The uniform had at first put her off, but on careful study she thought this was him.
She turned the photograph over. Pasted to the back was a typewritten sheet. She read:
Franck, Dieter Wolfgang, sometimes "Frankie"; born Cologne 3 June 1904; educ. Humboldt University of Berlin Koln Police Academy; mar. 1930 Waltraud Loewe, 1 son 1 dtr; Superintendent, Criminal Investigation Department, Cologne police, to 1940; Major, Intelligence Section, Afrika Korps, to?
A star of Rommel's intelligence staff this officer is said to be a skilled interrogator and a ruthless torturer.
Flick shuddered to think she had been so near to such a dangerous man. An experienced police detective who had turned his skills to military intelligence was a frightening enemy. The fact that he had a family in Cologne did not prevent his having a mistress in France, it seemed.
Percy returned, and she handed him the picture. "This is the man."
"Dieter Franck!" said Percy. "We know of him. How interesting. From what you overheard of his conversation in the square, Rommel seems to have given him some kind of counter-Resistance job." He made a note on his pad. "I'd better let MI6 know, as they loaned us their photos."
There was a tap at the door, and Percy's secretary looked in. "There's someone to see you, Colonel Thwaite." The girl looked coquettish. The fatherly Percy never inspired that sort of behavior in secretaries, so Flick guessed the visitor must be an attractive man. "An American," the girl added. That might explain it, Flick thought. Americans were the height of glamour, to secretaries at least.
"How did he find this place?" Percy said. Orchard Court was supposed to be a secret address.
"He went to number sixty-four Baker Street, and they sent him here."
"They shouldn't do that. He must be very persuasive. Who is he?"
Percy looked at Flick. She did not know anyone called Chancellor. Then she remembered the arrogant major who had been so rude to her this morning at Monty's headquarters. "Oh, God, him," she said in disgust. "What does he want?"
"Send him in," said Percy.
Paul Chancellor came in. He walked with a limp that Flick had not noticed this morning. It probably got worse as the day wore on. He had a pleasant American face, with a big nose and a jutting chin. Any chance he might have had of being handsome was spoiled by his left ear, or what remained of it, which was the lower one-third, mostly lobe. Flick assumed he had been wounded in action.
Chancellor saluted and said, "Good evening, Colonel. Good evening, Major."
Percy said, "We don't do a lot of saluting at SOE, Chancellor. Please sit down. What brings you here?"
Chancellor took a chair and removed his uniform cap. "I'm glad I caught you both," he said. "I've spent most of the day thinking about this morning's conversation." He gave a self-effacing grin. "Part of the time, I have to confess, I was composing wittily crushing remarks I could have made if only I had thought of them in time."
Flick could not help smiling. She had done the same. Chancellor went on. "You hinted, Colonel Thwaite, that MI6 might not have told the whole truth about the attack on the telephone exchange, and that played on my mind. The fact that Major Clairet here was so rude to me did not necessarily mean she was lying about the facts."
Flick had been halfway to forgiving him, but now she bridled. "Rude? Me?"
Percy said, "Shut up, Flick."
She closed her mouth.
"So I sent for your report, Colonel. Of course the request came from Monty's office, not me personally, so it was brought to our headquarters by a FANY motorcyclist in double-quick time."
He was a no-nonsense type who knew how to pull the levers of the military machine, Flick thought. He might be an arrogant pig, but he would make a useful ally.
"When I read it, I realized the main reason for defeat was wrong intelligence."
"Supplied by MI6!" Flick said indignantly.
"Yes, I noticed that," Chancellor said with mild sarcasm. "Obviously, MI6 was covering up its own incompetence. I'm not a career soldier myself, but my father is, so I'm familiar with the tricks of military bureaucrats."
"Oh," said Percy thoughtfully. "Are you the son of General Chancellor?"
"MI6 would never have gotten away with it if your boss had been at the meeting this morning to tell SOE's side of the story. It seemed too much of a coincidence that he had been called away at the last minute."
Percy looked dubious. "He was summoned by the Prime Minister. I don't see how MI6 could have arranged that."
"The meeting was not attended by Churchill. A Downing Street aide took the chair. And it had been arranged at the instigation of MI6."
"Well, I'm damned," Flick said angrily. "They're such snakes!"
Percy said, "I wish they were as clever about gathering intelligence as they are about deceiving their colleagues."
Chancellor said, "I also looked in detail at your plan, Major Clairet, for taking the chateau by stealth, with a team disguised as cleaners. It's risky, of course, but it could work."
Did that mean it would be reconsidered? Flick hardly dared to ask.
Percy gave Chancellor a level look. "So what are you going to do about all this?"
"By chance, I had dinner with my father tonight. I told him the whole story and asked him what a general's aide should do in these circumstances. We were at the Savoy."
"What did he say?" Flick asked impatiently. She did not care which restaurant they had gone to.
"That I should go to Monty and tell him we had made a mistake." He grimaced. "Not easy with any general. They never like to revisit decisions. But sometimes it has to be done."
"And will you?" Flick said hopefully.
"I already have."
THE THIRD DAY
Tuesday, May 30, 1944
Flick left London at dawn, driving a Vincent Comet motorcycle with a powerful 500cc engine. The roads were deserted. Gas was severely rationed, and drivers could be jailed for making "unnecessary" journeys. She drove very fast. It was dangerous but exciting. The thrill was worth the risk.
She felt the same about the mission, scared but eager. She had stayed up late last night with Percy and Paul, drinking tea and planning. There must be six women in the team, they had decided, as it was the unvarying number of cleaners on a shift. One had to be an explosives expert; another, a telephone engineer, to decide exactly where the charges should be placed to ensure the exchange was crippled. She wanted one good marksman and two tough soldiers. With herself, that would make six.
She had one day to find them. The team would need a minimum of two days' training-they had to learn to parachute, if nothing else. That would take up Wednesday and Thursday. They would be dropped near Reims on Friday night, and enter the chateau on Saturday evening or Sunday. That left one spare day as a margin for error.
She crossed the river at London Bridge. Her motorbike roared through the bomb-ravaged wharves and tenements of Bermondsey and Rotherhithe; then she took the Old Kent Road, traditional route of pilgrims, toward Canterbury. As she left the suburbs behind, she opened the throttle and gave the bike its head. For a while she let the wind blow the worries out of her hair.
It was not yet six o'clock when she reached Somersholme, the country house of the barons of Colefield. The baron himself, William, was in Italy, fighting his way toward Rome with the Eighth Army, Flick knew. His sister, the Honorable Diana Colefield, was the only member of the family living here now. The vast house, with its dozens of bedrooms for houseguests and their servants, was being used as a convalescent home for wounded soldiers.
Flick slowed the bike to walking speed and drove up the avenue of hundred-year-old lime trees, gazing at the great pile of pink granite ahead, with its bays, balconies, gables, and roofs, acres of windows and scores of chimneys. She parked on the gravel forecourt next to an ambulance and a scatter of jeeps.
In the hall, nurses bustled about with cups of tea. The soldiers might be here to convalesce, but they still had to be wakened at daybreak. Flick asked for Mrs. Riley, the housekeeper, and was directed to the basement. She found her staring worriedly at the furnace in the company of two men in overalls.
"Hello, Ma," said Flick.
Her mother hugged her hard. She was even shorter than her daughter and just as thin, but like Flick she was stronger than she looked. The hug squeezed the breath out of Flick. Gasping and laughing, she extricated herself "Ma, you'll crush me!"
"I never know if you're alive until I see you," her mother said. In her voice there was still a trace of the Irish accent: she had left Cork with her parents forty-five years ago.
"What's the matter with the furnace?"
"It was never designed to produce so much hot water. These nurses are mad for cleanliness, they force the poor soldiers to bathe every day. Come to my kitchen and I'll make you some breakfast."
Flick was in a hurry, but she told herself she had time for her mother. Anyway, she had to eat. She followed Ma up the stairs and into the servants' quarters.
Flick had grown up in this house. She had played in the servants' hall, run wild in the woods, attended the village school a mile away, and returned here from boarding school and university for the vacations. She had been extraordinarily privileged. Most women in her mother's position were forced to give up their jobs when they had a child. Ma had been allowed to stay, partly because the old baron had been somewhat unconventional, but mainly because she was such a good housekeeper that he had dreaded losing her. Flick's father had been butler, but he had died when she was six years old. Every February, Flick and her ma had accompanied the family to their villa in Nice, which was where Flick had learned French.
The old baron, father of William and Diana, had been fond of Flick and had encouraged her to study, even paying her school fees. He had been very proud when she had won a scholarship to Oxford University. When he died, soon after the start of the war, Flick had been as heartbroken as if he had been her real father.
The family now occupied only a small corner of the house. The old butler's pantry had become the kitchen. Flick's mother put the kettle on. "Just a piece of toast will be fine, Ma," said Flick.
Her mother ignored her and started frying bacon. "Well, I can see you're all right," she said. "How is that handsome husband?"
"Michel's alive," Flick said. She sat at the kitchen table. The smell of bacon made her mouth water.
"Alive, is he? But not well, evidently. Wounded?"
"He got a bullet in his bum. It won't kill him."
"You've seen him, then."
Flick laughed. "Ma, stop it! I'm not supposed to say."
"Of course not. Is he keeping his hands off other women? If that's not a military secret."
Flick never ceased to be startled by the accuracy of her mother's intuition. It was quite eerie. "I hope he is."
"Hmm. Anyone in particular that you hope he's keeping his hands off?"
Flick did not answer the question directly. "Have you noticed, Ma, that men sometimes don't seem to realize when a girl is really stupid?"
Ma made a disgusted noise. "So that's the way of it. She's pretty, I suppose."
"Have you had it out with him?"
"Yes. He promised to stop."
"He might keep his promise-if you're not away too long."
Ma looked crestfallen. "So you're going back."
"I can't say."
"Have you not done enough?"
"We haven't won the war yet, so no, I suppose I haven't."
Ma put a plate of bacon and eggs in front of Flick. It probably represented a week's rations. But Flick suppressed the protest that came to her lips. Better to accept the gift gracefully. Besides, she was suddenly ravenous. "Thanks, Ma," she said. "You spoil me."
Her mother smiled, satisfied, and Flick tucked in hungrily. As she ate, she reflected wryly that Ma had effortlessly got out of her everything she wanted to know, despite Flick's attempts to avoid answering questions. "You should work for military intelligence," she said through a mouthful of fried egg. "They could use you as an interrogator. You've made me tell you everything."
"I'm your mother, I've a right to know."
It didn't much matter. Ma would not repeat any of it.
She sipped a cup of tea as she watched Flick eat. "You've got to win the war all on your own, of course," she said with fond sarcasm. "You were that way from a child-independent to a fault."
"I don't know why. I was always looked after. When you were busy there were half a dozen housemaids doting on me."
"I think I encouraged you to be self-sufficient because you didn't have a father. Whenever you wanted me to do something for you, like fix a bicycle chain, or sew on a button, I used to say, 'Try it yourself, and if you can't manage I'll help you.' Nine times out of ten I heard no more about it."
Flick finished the bacon and wiped her plate with a slice of bread. "A lot of the time, Mark used to help me." Mark was Flick's brother, a year older.
Her mother's face froze. "Is that right," she said.
Flick suppressed a sigh. Ma had quarreled with Mark two years ago. He worked in the theater as a stage manager, and lived with an actor called Steve. Ma had long known that Mark was "not the marrying kind," as she put it. But in a burst of excessive honesty Mark had been foolish enough to tell Ma that he loved Steve, and they were like husband and wife. She had been mortally offended and had not spoken to her son since.
Flick said, "Mark loves you, Ma."
"Does he, now."
"I wish you'd see him."
"No doubt." Ma picked up Flick's empty plate and washed it in the sink.
Flick shook her head in exasperation. "You're a bit stubborn, Ma."
"I daresay that's where you get it from, then."
Flick had to smile. She had often been accused of stubbornness. "Mulish" was Percy's word. She made an effort to be conciliatory. "Well, I suppose you can't help the way you feel. Anyway, I'm not going to argue with you, especially after such a wonderful breakfast." All the same, it was her ambition to get the two of them to make up.
But not today. She stood up.
Ma smiled. "It's lovely to see you. I worry about you."
"I've got another reason for coming. I need to talk to Diana."
"I hope you're not thinking of taking her to France with you."
"Ma, hush! Who said anything about going to France?"
"I suppose it's because she's so handy with a gun."
"I can't say."
"She'll get you killed! She doesn't know what discipline is, why should she? She wasn't brought up that way. Not her fault, of course. But you'd be a fool to rely on her."
"Yes, I know," Flick said impatiently. She had made a decision and she was not going to review it with Ma.
"She's had several war jobs, and been sacked from every one."
"I know." But Diana was a crack shot, and Flick did not have time to be fussy. She had to take what she could get. Her main worry was that Diana might refuse. No one could be forced to do undercover work. It was strictly for volunteers. "Where is Diana now, do you know?"
"I believe she's in the woods," Ma said. "She went out early, after rabbits."
"Of course." Diana loved all the blood sports: foxhunting, deerstalking, hare coursing, grouse shooting, even fishing. If there was nothing else to do, she would shoot rabbits.
"Just follow the sound of gunfire."
Flick kissed her mother's cheek. "Thanks for breakfast." She went to the door.
"And don't get on the wrong side of her gun," Ma called after her.
Flick left by the staff door, crossed the kitchen garden, and entered the woods at the rear of the house. The trees were bright with new leaves, and the nettles grew waist-high. Flick tramped through the undergrowth in her heavy motorcycle boots and leather trousers. The best way to attract Diana, she thought, would be by issuing a challenge.
When she had gone a quarter of a mile into the woods, she heard the report of a shotgun. She stopped, listened, and shouted, "Diana!" There was no reply.
She walked toward the sound, calling out every minute or so. Eventually she heard, "Over here, you noisy idiot, whoever you are!"
"Coming, just put down the gun."
She came upon Diana in a clearing, sitting on the ground with her back against an oak tree, smoking a cigarette. A shotgun lay across her knees, broken open for reloading, and there were half a dozen dead rabbits beside her. "Oh, it's you!" she said. "You scared all the game away."
"They'll come back tomorrow." Flick studied her childhood companion. Diana was pretty in a boyish way, with dark hair cut short and freckles across her nose. She wore a shooting jacket and corduroy trousers. "How are you, Diana?"
"Bored. Frustrated. Depressed. Otherwise fine."
Flick sat on the grass beside her. This might be easier than she had thought. "What's the matter?"
"I'm rotting away in the English countryside while my brother's conquering Italy."
"How is William?"
"He's all right, he's part of the war effort, but no one will give me a proper job."
"I might be able to help you there."
"You're in the FANYs." Diana drew on her cigarette and blew out smoke. "Darling, I can't be a chauffeuse."
Flick nodded. Diana was too grand to do the menial war work that most women were offered. "Well, I'm here to propose something more interesting."
"You might not like it. It's very difficult, and dangerous." Diana looked skeptical. "What does it involve, driving in the blackout?"
"I can't tell you much about it, because it's secret."
"Flick, darling, don't tell me you're involved in cloak-and-dagger stuff."
"I didn't get promoted to major by driving generals to meetings."
Diana looked hard at her. "Do you mean this?"
"Good Lord." Against her will, Diana was impressed.
Flick had to get her positive agreement to volunteer. "So-are you willing to do something very dangerous? I mean it, you really are quite likely to get killed."
Diana looked excited rather than discouraged. "Of course I'm willing. William's risking his life, why shouldn't I?"
"You mean it?"
"I'm very serious."
Flick concealed her relief. She had recruited her first team member.
Diana was so keen that Flick decided to press her advantage. "There's a condition, and you may find it worse than the danger."
"You're two years older than I, and all our lives you've been my social superior. You're the baron's daughter, and I'm the housekeeper's brat. Nothing wrong with that, and I'm not complaining. Ma would say that's how it should be."
"Yes, dear, so what's your point?"
"I'm in charge of the operation. You'll have to defer to me."
Diana shrugged. "That's fine."
"It will be a problem," Flick insisted. "You'll find it strange. But I'll be hard on you until you get used to it. This is a warning."
"We don't bother too much about the formalities in my department, so you won't need to call me sir, or ma'am. But we do enforce military discipline, especially once an operation has begun. If you forget that, my anger will be the least of your worries. Disobeying orders can get you killed in my line of work."
"Darling, how dramatic! But of course I understand."
Flick was not at all sure Diana did understand, but she had done her best. She took a scratch pad from her blouse and wrote down an address in Hampshire. "Pack a case for three days. This is where you need to go. You get the train from Waterloo to Brockenhurst."
Diana looked at the address. "Why, this is Lord Montague's estate."
"Most of it is occupied by my department now."
"What is your department?"
"The Inter Services Research Bureau," Flick said, using the usual cover name.
"I trust it's more exciting than it sounds."
"You can bet on that."
"When do I start?"
"You need to get there today." Flick got to her feet. "Your training starts at dawn tomorrow."
"I'll come back to the house with you and start packing." Diana stood up. "Tell me something?"
"If I can."
Diana fiddled with her shotgun, seeming embarrassed. When she looked at Flick, her face showed an expression of frankness for the first time. "Why me?" she said. "You must know I've been turned down by everyone."
Flick nodded. "I'll be blunt." She looked at the bloodstained rabbit corpses on the ground, then lifted her gaze to Diana's pretty face. "You're a killer," she said. "And that's what I need."
Dieter slept until ten. He woke with a headache from the morphine, but otherwise he felt good: excited, optimistic, confident. Yesterday's bloody interrogation had given him a hot lead. The woman codenamed Bourgeolse, with her house in the rue du Bois, could be his way into the heart of the French Resistance.
Or it might go nowhere.
He drank a liter of water and took three aspirins to get rid of the morphine hangover; then he picked up the phone.
First he called Lieutenant Hesse, who was staying in a less grand room at the same hotel. "Good morning, Hans, did you sleep well?"
"Yes, thank you, Major. Sir, I went to the town hall to check out the address in the rue du Bois."
"Good lad," Dieter said. "What did you find out?"
"The house is owned and occupied by one person, a Mademoiselle Jeanne Lemas."
"But there may be other people staying there."
"I also drove past, just to have a look, and the place seemed quiet."
"Be ready to leave, with my car, in an hour."
"And, Hans-well done for using your initiative."
"Thank you, sir."
Dieter hung up. He wondered what Mademoiselle Lemas was like. Gaston said no one in the Bollinger circuit had ever met her, and Dieter believed him: the house was a security cut-out. Incoming agents knew nothing more than where to contact the woman: if caught, they could not reveal any information about the Resistance. At least, that was the theory. There was no such thing as perfect security.
Presumably Mademoiselle Lemas was unmarried. She could be a young woman who had inherited the house from her parents, a middle-aged spinster looking for a husband, or an old maid. It might help to take a woman with him, he decided.
He returned to the bedroom. Stephanie had brushed her abundant red hair and was sitting up in bed, with her breasts showing over the top of the sheet. She really knew how to look tempting. But he resisted the impulse to get back into bed. "Would you do something for me?" he said.
"I would do anything for you."
"Anything?" He sat on the bed and touched her bare shoulder. "Would you watch me with another woman?"
"Of course," she said. "I would lick her nipples while you made love to her."
"You would, I know." He laughed with pleasure. He had had mistresses before, but none like her. "It's not that, though. I want you to come with me while I arrest a woman in the Resistance."
Her face showed no emotion. "Very well," she said calmly.
He was tempted to press her for a reaction, to ask her how she felt about this, and was she sure she was happy about it, but he decided to take her consent at face value. "Thank you," he said, and he returned to the living room.
Mademoiselle Lemas might be alone but, on the other hand, the house could be crawling with Allied agents, all armed to the teeth. He needed some backup. He consulted his notebook and gave the hotel operator Rommel's number in La Roche-Guyon.
When the Germans had first occupied the country, the French telephone system had been swamped. Since then, the Germans had improved the equipment, adding thousands of kilometers of cable and installing automatic exchanges. The system was still overloaded, but it was better than it had been.
He asked for Rommel's aide Major Goedel. A moment later he heard the familiar cold, precise voice:
"This is Dieter Franck," he said. "How are you, Walter?"
"Busy," Goedel said crisply. "What is it?"
"I'm making rapid progress here. I don't want to give details, because I'm speaking on a hotel phone, but I'm about to arrest at least one spy, perhaps several. I thought the Field Marshal might like to know that."
"I shall tell him."
"But I could use some assistance. I'm doing all this with one lieutenant. I'm so desperate, I'm using my French girlfriend to help me."
"That seems unwise."
"Oh, she's trustworthy. But she won't be much use against trained terrorists. Can you get me half a dozen good men?"
"Use the Gestapo-that's what they're for."
"They're unreliable. You know they're cooperating with us only reluctantly. I need people I can rely on."
"It's out of the question," Goedel said.
"Look, Walter, you know how important Rommel feels this is-he's given me the job of making sure the Resistance can't hamper our mobility."
"Yes. But the Field Marshal expects you to do it without depriving him of combat troops."
"I'm not sure I can."
"For God's sake, man!" Goedel raised his voice. "We're trying to defend the entire Atlantic coastline with a handful of soldiers, and you're surrounded by able-bodied men who have nothing better to do than track down scared old Jews hiding in barns. Get on with the job and don't pester me!" There was a click as the phone was hung up.
Dieter was startled. It was uncharacteristic for Goedel to blow his top. No doubt they were all tense about the threat of invasion. But the upshot was clear. Dieter had to do this on his own.
With a sigh, he jiggled the rest and placed a call to the chateau at Sainte-Cecile.
He reached Willi Weber. "I'm going to raid a Resistance house," he said. "I may need some of your heavyweights. Will you send four men and a car to the Hotel Frankfort? Or do I need to speak to Rommel again?"
The threat was unnecessary. Weber was keen to have his men along on the operation. That way, the Gestapo could claim the credit for any success. He promised a car in half an hour.
Dieter was worried about working with the Gestapo. He could not control them. But he had no choice.
While shaving, he turned on the radio, which was tuned to a German station. He learned that the first-ever tank battle in the Pacific theater had developed yesterday on the island of Biak. The occupying Japanese had driven the invading American 162d Infantry back to their beachhead. Push them into the sea, Dieter thought.
He dressed in a dark gray worsted suit, a fine cotton shirt with pale gray stripes, and a black tie with small white dots. The dots were woven into the fabric rather than printed on it, a detail that gave him pleasure. He thought for a moment, then removed the jacket and strapped on a shoulder holster. He took his Walther P38 automatic pistol from the bureau and slid it into the holster, then put his jacket back on.
He sat down with a cup of coffee and watched Stephanie dressing. The French made the most beautiful underwear in the world, he thought as she stepped into silk cami-knickers the color of clotted cream. He loved to see her pull on her stockings, smoothing the silk over her thighs. "Why did the old masters not paint this moment?" he said.
"Because Renaissance women didn't have sheer silk stockings," said Stephanie.
When she was ready, they left.
Hans Hesse was waiting outside with Dieter's Hispano-Suiza. The young man gazed at Stephanie with awestruck admiration. To him, she was infinitely desirable and at the same time untouchable. He made Dieter think of a poor woman staring into Cartier's shop window.
Behind Dieter's car was a black Citroen Traction Avant containing four Gestapo men in plain clothes. Major Weber had decided to come himself, Dieter saw: he sat in the front passenger seat of the Citroen, wearing a green tweed suit that made him look like a farmer on his way to church. "Follow me," Dieter told him. "When we get there, please stay in your car until I call you."
Weber said, "Where the hell did you get a car like that?"
"It was a bribe from a Jew," Dieter said. "I helped him escape to America."
Weber grunted in disbelief, but in fact the story was true.
Bravado was the best attitude to take with men such as Weber. If Dieter had tried to keep Stephanie hidden away, Weber would immediately have suspected that she was Jewish and might have started an investigation. But because Dieter flaunted her, the thought never crossed Weber's mind.
Hans took the wheel, and they headed for the rue du Bois.
Reims was a substantial country town with a population of more than 100,000, but there were few motor vehicles on the streets. Cars were used only by those on official business: the police, doctors, firemen, and, of course, the Germans. The citizens went about by bicycle or on foot. Petrol was available for deliveries of food and other essential supplies, but many goods were transported by horse-drawn cart. Champagne was the main industry here. Dieter loved champagne in all its forms: the nutty older vintages, the fresh, light, nonvintage cuvees, the refined blanc de blancs, the demi-sec dessert varieties, even the playful pink beloved of Paris courtesans.
The rue du Bois was a pleasant tree-lined street on the outskirts of town. Hans pulled up outside a tall house at the end of a row, with a little courtyard to one side. This was the home of Mademoiselle Lemas. Would Dieter be able to break her spirit? Women were more difficult than men. They cried and screamed, but held out longer. He had sometimes failed with a woman, though never with a man. If this one defeated him, his investigation was dead.
"Come if I wave to you," he said to Stephanie as he got out of the car. Weber's Citroen drew up behind, but the Gestapo men stayed in the car, as instructed.
Dieter glanced into the courtyard beside the house. There was a garage. Beyond that, he saw a small garden with clipped hedges, rectangular flower beds, and a raked gravel path. The owner had a tidy mind.
Beside the front door was an old-fashioned red-and-yellow rope. He pulled it and heard from inside the metallic ring of a mechanical bell.
The woman who opened the door was about sixty. She had white hair tied up at the back with a tortoiseshell clasp. She wore a blue dress with a pattern of small white flowers. Over it she had a crisp white apron. "Good morning, monsieur," she said politely.
Dieter smiled. She was an irreproachably genteel provincial lady. Already he had thought of a way to torture her. His spirits lifted with hope.
He said, "Good morning… Mademoiselle Lemas?"
She took in his suit, noticed the car at the curb, and perhaps heard the trace of a German accent, and fear came into her eyes. There was a tremor in her voice as she said, "How may I help you?"
"Are you alone, Mademoiselle?" He watched her face carefully.
"Yes," she said. "Quite alone."
She was telling the truth. He was sure. A woman such as this could not lie without betraying herself with her eyes.
He turned and beckoned Stephanie. "My colleague will join us." He was not going to need Weber's men. "I have some questions to ask you."
"Questions? About what?"
"May I come in?"
The front parlor was furnished with dark wood, highly polished. There was a piano under a dust cover and an engraving of Reims cathedral on the wall. The mantelpiece bore a selection of ornaments: a spun-glass swan, a china flower girl, a transparent globe containing a model of the palace at Versailles, and three wooden camels.
Dieter sat on a plush upholstered couch. Stephanie sat beside him, and Mademoiselle Lemas took an upright chair opposite. She was plump, Dieter observed. Not many French people were plump after four years of occupation. Food was her vice.
On a low table was a cigarette box and a heavy lighter. Dieter flipped the lid and saw that the box was full. "Please feel free to smoke," he said.
She looked mildly offended: women of her generation did not use tobacco. "I don't smoke."
"Then who are these for?"
She touched her chin, a sign of dishonesty. "Visitors."
"And what kind of visitors do you get?"
"Friends… neighbors…" She looked uncomfortable.
"And British spies."
"That is absurd."
Dieter gave her his most charming smile. "You are obviously a respectable lady who has become mixed up in criminal activities from misguided motives," he said in a tone of friendly candor. "I'm not going to toy with you, and I hope you will not be so foolish as to lie to me."
"I shall tell you nothing," she said.
Dieter feigned disappointment, but he was pleased to be making such rapid progress. She had already abandoned the pretense that she did not know what he was talking about. That was as good as a confession. "I'm going to ask you some questions," he said. "If you don't answer them, I shall ask you again at Gestapo headquarters."
She gave him a defiant look.
He said. "Where do you meet the British agents?"
She said nothing.
"How do they recognize you?"
Her eyes met his in a steady gaze. She was no longer flustered, but resigned. A brave woman, he thought. She would be a challenge.
"What is the password?"
She did not answer.
"Who do you pass the agents on to? How do you contact the Resistance? Who is in charge of it?"
Dieter stood up. "Come with me, please."
"Very well," she said staunchly. "Perhaps you will permit me to put on my hat."
"Of course." He nodded to Stephanie. "Go with Mademoiselle, please. Make sure she does not use the telephone or write anything down." He did not want her to leave any kind of message.
He waited in the hall. When they returned, Mademoiselle Lemas had taken off her apron and wore a light coat and a cloche hat that had gone out of fashion long before the outbreak of war. She carried a sturdy tan leather handbag. As the three of them were heading for the front door, Mademoiselle Lemas said, "Oh! I forgot my key."
"You don't need it," Dieter said.
"The door locks itself," she said. "I need a key to get back in."
Dieter looked her in the eye. "Don't you understand?" he said. "You've been sheltering British terrorists in your house, you have been caught, and you are in the hands of the Gestapo." He shook his head in an expression of sorrow that was not entirely fake. "Whatever happens, Mademoiselle, you're never coming home again."
She realized the full horror of what was happening to her. Her face turned white, and she staggered. She steadied herself by grabbing the edge of a kidney-shaped table. A Chinese vase containing a spray of dried grasses wobbled dangerously but did not fall. Then Mademoiselle Lemas recovered her poise. She straightened up and let go of the table. She gave him that defiant look again, then walked out of her house with her head held high.
Dieter asked Stephanie to take the front passenger seat, while he sat in the back of the car with the prisoner. As Hans drove them to Sainte-Cecile, Dieter made polite conversation. "Were you born in Reims, Mademoiselle?"
"Yes. My father was choirmaster at the cathedral."
A religious background. This was good news for the plan that was forming in Dieter's mind. "Is he retired?"
"He died five years ago, after a long illness."
"And your mother?"
"Died when I was quite young."
"So, I imagine you nursed your father through his illness?"
"For twenty years."
"Au." That explained why she was single. She had spent her life caring for an invalid father. "And he left you the house."
"Small reward, some might think, for a life of dedicated service," Dieter said sympathetically.
She gave him a haughty look. "One does not do such things for reward."
"Indeed not." He did not mind the implied rebuke. It would help his plan if she could convince herself that she was somehow Dieter's superior, morally and socially. "Do you have brothers and sisters?"
Dieter saw the picture vividly. The agents she sheltered, all young men and women, must have been like her children. She had fed them, done their laundry, talked to them, and probably kept an eye on the relationships between the sexes, making sure there was no immorality, at least not under her roof.
And now she would die for it.
But first, he hoped, she would tell him everything.
The Gestapo Citroen followed Dieter's car to Sainte-Cecile. When they had parked in the grounds of the chateau, Dieter spoke to Weber. "I'm going to take her upstairs and put her in an office," he said.
"Why? There are cells in the basement."
Dieter led the prisoner up the stairs to the Gestapo offices. Dieter looked into all the rooms and picked the busiest, a combination typing pool and post room. It was occupied by young men and women in smart shirts and ties. Leaving Mademoiselle Lemas in the corridor, he closed the door and clapped his hands for attention. In a quiet voice he said, "I'm going to bring a French woman in here. She is a prisoner, but I want you all to be friendly and polite to her, is that understood? Treat her as a guest. It's important that she feels respected."
He brought her in, sat her at a table and, with a murmured apology, handcuffed her ankle to the table leg. He left Stephanie with her and took Hesse outside. "Go to the canteen and ask them to prepare lunch on a tray. Soup, a main course, a little wine, a bottle of mineral water, and plenty of coffee. Bring cutlery, glasses, a napkin. Make it look nice."
The lieutenant grinned admiringly. He had no idea what his boss was up to, but he felt sure it would be something clever.
A few minutes later he returned with a tray. Dieter took it from him and carried it into the office. He set it in front of Mademoiselle Lemas. "Please," he said. "It's lunchtime."
"I couldn't eat anything, thank you."
"Perhaps just a little soup." He poured wine into her glass.
She added water to the wine and sipped it, then tried a mouthful of soup.
"How is it?"
"Very good," she admitted.
"French food is so refined. We Germans cannot imitate it." Dieter talked nonsense to her, trying to relax her, and she drank most of the soup. He poured her a glass of water.
Major Weber came in and stared incredulously at the tray in front of the prisoner. Speaking German, he said, "Are we now rewarding people for harboring terrorists?"
Dieter said, "Mademoiselle is a lady. We must treat her correctly."
"God in heaven," Weber said, and he turned on his heel.
She refused the main course but drank all the coffee. Dieter was pleased. Everything was going according to plan. When she had finished, he asked her all the questions again. "Where do you meet the Allied agents? How do they recognize you? What is the password?" She looked worried, but she still refused to answer.
He looked sadly at her. "I am very sorry that you refuse to cooperate with me, after I have treated you kindly."
She looked somewhat bewildered. "I appreciate your kindness, but I cannot tell you anything."
Stephanie, sitting beside Dieter, also looked puzzled. He guessed that she was thinking: Did you really imagine that a nice meal would be sufficient to make this woman talk?
"Very well," he said. He stood up as if to go.
"And now, Monsieur," said Mademoiselle Lemas. She looked embarrassed. "I must ask to… ah… visit the ladies' powder room."
In a harsh voice, Dieter said, "You want to go to the toilet?"
She reddened. "In a word, yes."
"I'm sorry, Mademoiselle," Dieter said. "That will not be possible."
The last thing Monty had said to Paul Chancellor, late on Monday night, had been, "If you only do one thing in this war, make sure that telephone exchange is destroyed."
Paul had woken this morning with those words echoing in his mind. It was a simple instruction. If he could fulfill it, he would have helped win the war. If he failed, men would die-and he might spend the rest of his life reflecting that he had helped lose the war.
He went to Baker Street early, but Percy Thwaite was already there, sitting in his office, puffing his pipe and staring at six boxes of files. He seemed a typical military duffer, with his check jacket and toothbrush mustache. He looked at Paul with mild hostility. "I don't know why Monty's put you in charge of this operation," he said. "I don't mind that you're only a major, and I'm a colonel-that's all stuff and nonsense. But you've never run a clandestine operation, whereas I've been doing it for three years. Does it make sense to you?"
"Yes," Paul said briskly. "When you want to make absolutely sure that a job gets done, you give it to someone you trust. Monty trusts me."
"But not me."
"He doesn't know you."
"I see," Percy said grumpily.
Paul needed Percy's cooperation, so he decided to mollify him. Looking around the office, he saw a framed photograph of a young man in lieutenant's uniform and an older woman in a big hat. The boy could have been Percy thirty years ago. "Your son?" Paul guessed.
Percy softened immediately. "David's out in Cairo," he said. "We had some bad moments during the desert war, especially after Rommel reached Tobruk, but now, of course, he's well out of the line of fire, and I must say I'm glad."
The woman was dark-haired and dark-eyed, with a strong face, handsome rather than pretty. "And Mrs. Thwaite?"
"Rosa Mann. She became famous as a suffragette, in the twenties, and she's always used her maiden name."
"Campaigner for votes for women."
Percy liked formidable women, Paul concluded; that was why he was fond of Flick. "You know, you're right about my shortcomings," he said candidly. "I have been at the sharp end of clandestine operations, but this will be my first time as an organizer. So I'll be very grateful for your help."
Percy nodded. "I begin to see why you have a reputation for getting things done," he said with a hint of a smile. "But if you'll hear a word of advice.."
"Be guided by Flick. No one else has spent as much time under cover and survived. Her knowledge and experience are matchless. I may be in charge of her in theory, but what I do is give her the support she needs. I would never try to tell her what to do."
Paul hesitated. He had been given command by Monty, and he was not about to hand it over on anyone's advice. "I'll bear that in mind," he said.
Percy seemed satisfied. He gestured to the files. "Shall we get started?"
"What are these?"
"Records of people who were considered by us as possible agents, then rejected for some reason."
Paul took off his jacket and rolled back his cuffs.
They spent the morning going through the files together. Some of the candidates had not even been interviewed; others had been rejected after they had been seen; and many had failed some part of the SOE training course-baffled by codes, hopeless with guns, or frightened to the point of hysteria when asked to jump out of a plane with a parachute. They were mostly in their early twenties, and they had only one other thing in common: they all spoke a foreign language with native fluency.
There were a lot of files, but few suitable candidates. By the time Percy and Paul had eliminated all the men, and the women whose language was something other than French, they were left with only three names.
Paul was disheartened. They had run into a major obstacle when they had hardly begun. "Four is the minimum number we need, even assuming that Flick recruits the woman she has gone to see this morning."
"And none of these is either an explosives expert or a telephone engineer!"
Percy was more optimistic. "They weren't when SOE interviewed them, but they might be now. Women have learned to do all sorts of things."
"Well, let's find out."
It took a while to track the three down. A further disappointment was that one was dead. The other two were in London. Ruby Romain, unfortunately, was in His Majesty's Prison for Women at Holloway, three miles north of Baker Street, awaiting trial for murder. And Maude Valentine, whose file said simply "psychologically unsuitable," was a driver with the FANYs.
"Down to two!" Paul said despondently.
"It's not the numbers but the quality that bothers me," Percy said.
"We knew from the start we'd be looking at rejects." Percy's tone became angry. "But we can't risk Flick's life with people like these!"
Percy was desperate to protect Flick, Paul realized. The older man had been willing to hand over control of the operation but was not able to give up his role as Flick's guardian angel.
Their argument was interrupted by a phone call. It was Simon Fortescue, the pinstriped spook from MI6 who had blamed SOE for the failure at Sainte-Cecile.
"What can I do for you?" Paul said guardedly. Fortescue was not a man to trust.
"I think I may be able to do something for you," Fortescue said. "I know you're going ahead with Major Clairet's plan."
"Who told you?" Paul asked suspiciously. It was supposed to be a secret.
"Let's not go into that. I naturally wish you success with your mission, even though I was against it, and I'd like to help."
Paul was angry that the mission was being talked about, but there was no point in pursuing that. "Do you know a female telephone engineer who speaks perfect French?" he asked.
"Not quite. But there's someone you should see. Her name is Lady Denise Bowyer. Terribly nice girl, her father was the Marquess of Inverlocky."
Paul was not interested in her pedigree. "How did she learn French?"
"Brought up by her French stepmother, Lord Inverlocky's second wife. She's ever so keen to do her bit."
Paul was suspicious of Fortescue, but he was desperate for suitable recruits. "Where do I find her?"
"She's with the RAF at Hendon." The word "Hen-don" meant nothing to Paul, but Fortescue explained. "It's an airfield in the north London suburbs."
"Let me know how she gets on." Fortescue hung up. Paul explained the call to Percy, who said, "Fortescue wants a spy in our camp."
"We can't afford to turn her down for that reason."
They saw Maude Valentine first. Percy arranged for them to meet her at the Fenchurch Hotel, around the corner from SOE headquarters. Strangers were never brought to number sixty-four, he explained. "If we reject her, she may guess that she's been considered for secret work, but she won't know the name of the organization that interviewed her nor where its office is, so even if she blabs she can't do much harm."
"What's your mother's maiden name?"
Paul was mildly startled and had to think for a moment. "Thomas. She was Edith Thomas."
"So, you'll be Major Thomas and I'll be Colonel Cox. No point in giving our real names."
Percy was not such a duffer, Paul reflected.
He met Maude in the hotel lobby. She piqued his interest right away. She was a pretty girl with a flirtatious manner. Her uniform blouse was tight across the chest, and she wore her cap at a jaunty angle. Paul spoke to her in French. "My colleague is waiting in a private room."
She gave him an arch look and replied in the same language. "I don't usually go to hotel rooms with strange men," she said pertly. "But in your case, Major, I'll make an exception."
He blushed. "It's a meeting room, with a table and so on, not a bedroom."
"Oh, well, that's all right, then," she said, mocking him. He decided to change the subject. He had noticed that she spoke with a south of France accent, so he said, "Where are you from?"
"I was born in Marseilles."
"And what do you do in the FANYs?"
"I drive Monty."
"Do you?" Paul was not supposed to give any information about himself, but he could not help saying, "I worked for Monty for a while, but I don't recall seeing you."
"Oh, it's not always Monty. I drive all the top generals."
"Ah. Well, come this way, please."
He took her to the room and poured her a cup of tea.
Maude was enjoying the attention, Paul realized. While Percy asked questions, he studied the girl. She was petite, though not as tiny as Flick, and she was cute: she had a rosebud mouth accentuated with red lipstick, and there was a beauty spot-which might even have been fake-on one cheek. Her dark hair was wavy.
"My family came to London when I was ten years old," she said. "My papa is a chef."
"And where does he work?"
"He's the head pastry cook at Claridge's Hotel."
Maude's file was on the table, and Percy discreetly moved it an inch closer to Paul. Paul's eye was caught by the slight movement, and his eye fell on a note made when Maude was first interviewed. Father: Armand Valentin, 39, kitchen porter at Claridge's, he read.
When they had finished, they asked her to wait outside. "She lives in a fantasy world," Percy said as soon as she was outside the door. "She's promoted her father to chef, and changed her name to Valentine."
Paul nodded agreement. "In the lobby, she told me she was Monty's driver-which I know she's not."
"No doubt that was why she was rejected before."
Paul thought Percy was getting ready to reject Maude. "But now we can't afford to be so particular," he said.
Percy looked at him in surprise. "She'd be a menace on an undercover operation!"
Paul made a helpless gesture. "We don't have any choice."
"This is mad!"
Percy was half in love with Flick, Paul decided, but, being older and married, he expressed his love in a paternal, protective way. Paul liked him better for that, but realized at the same time that he would have to fight Percy's caution if he was going to get this job done. "Listen," he said. "We shouldn't eliminate Maude. Flick can make up her own mind when she meets her."
"I suppose you're right," Percy said reluctantly. "And the ability to invent stories can be useful under interrogation."
"All right. Let's get her on board." Paul called her back in. "I'd like you to be part of a team I'm setting up," he told her. "How would you feel about taking on something dangerous?"
"Would we be going to Paris?" Maude said eagerly.
It was an odd response. Paul hesitated, then said, "Why do you ask?"
"I'd love to go to Paris. I've never been. They say it's the most beautiful city in the world."
"Wherever you go, you won't have time for sightseeing," Percy said, letting his irritation show.
Maude did not seem to notice. "Shame," she said. "I'd still like to go, though."
"How do you feel about the danger?" Paul persisted. "That's all right," Maude said airily. "I'm not scared." Well, you should be, Paul thought, but he kept his mouth shut.
They drove north from Baker Street and passed through a working-class neighborhood that had suffered heavily from the bombing. In every street at least one house was a blackened shell or a pile of rubble.
Paul was to meet Flick outside the prison and they would interview Ruby Romain together. Percy would go on to Hendon to see Lady Denise Bowyer.
Percy, at the wheel, confidently wound his way through the grimy streets. Paul said, "You know London well."
"I was born in this neighborhood," Percy replied.
Paul was intrigued. He knew it was unusual for a boy from a poor family to rise as high as colonel in the British army. "What did your father do for a living?"
"Sold coal off the back of a horse-drawn cart."
"He had his own business?"
"No, he worked for a coal merchant."
"Did you go to school around here?"
Percy smiled. He knew he was being probed, but he did not seem to mind. "The local vicar helped me get a scholarship to a good school. That was where I lost my London accent."
"Not willingly. I'll tell you something. Before the war, when I was involved in politics, people would sometimes say to me, 'How can you be a socialist, with an accent like that?' I explained that I was flogged in school for dropping my aitches. That silenced one or two smug bastards."
Percy stopped the car on a tree-lined street. Paul looked out and saw a fantasy castle, with battlements and turrets and a high tower. "This is a jail?"
Percy made a gesture of helplessness. "Victorian architecture."
Flick was waiting at the entrance. She wore her FANY uniform: a four-pocket tunic, a divided skirt, and a little cap with a turned-up brim. The leather belt that was tightly cinched around her small waist emphasized her diminutive figure, and her fair curls spilled out from under the cap. For a moment she took Paul's breath away. "She's such a pretty girl," he said.
"She's married," Percy remarked crisply.
I'm being warned off, Paul thought with amusement. "To whom?"
Percy hesitated, then said, "You need to know this, I think. Michel is in the French Resistance. He's the leader of the Bollinger circuit."
"Ah. Thanks." Paul got out of the car and Percy drove on.
He wondered if Flick would be angry that he and Percy had turned up so few prospects from the files. He had met her only twice, and on both occasions she had yelled at him. However, she seemed cheerful, and when he told her about Maude, she said, "So we have three team members, including me. That means we're halfway there, and it's only two pip emma."
Paul nodded. That was one way of looking at it. He was worried, but there was nothing to be gained by saying so.
The entrance to Holloway was a medieval lodge with arrow slit windows. "Why didn't they go the whole way and build a portcullis and a drawbridge?" said Paul. They passed through the lodge into a courtyard, where a few women in dark dresses were cultivating vegetables. Every patch of waste ground in London was planted with vegetables.
The prison loomed up in front of them. The entrance was guarded by stone monsters, massive winged griffins holding keys and shackles in their claws. The main gate-house was flanked by four-story buildings, each story represented by a long row of narrow, pointed windows. "What a place!" said Paul.
"This is where the suffragettes went on hunger strike," Flick told him. "Percy's wife was force-fed in here."
They went in. The air smelled of strong bleach, as if the authorities hoped that disinfectant would kill the bacteria of crime. Paul and Flick were shown to the office of Miss Lindleigh, a barrel-shaped assistant governor with a hard, fat face. "I don't know why you wish to see Romain," she said. 'With a note of resentment she added, "Apparently I'm not to be told."
A scornful look came over Flick's face, and Paul could see that she was about to say something derisory, so he hastily intervened. "I apologize for the secrecy," he said with his most charming smile. "We're just following orders."
"I suppose we all have to do that," said Miss Lindleigh, somewhat mollified. "Anyway, I must warn you that Romain is a violent prisoner."
"I understand she's a killer."
"Yes. She should be hanged, but the courts are too soft nowadays."
"They sure are," said Paul, although he did not really think so.
"She was in here originally for drunkenness; then she killed another prisoner in a fight in the exercise yard, so now she's awaiting trial for murder."
"A tough customer," Flick said with interest.
"Yes, Major. She may seem reasonable at first, but don't be fooled. She's easily riled and loses her temper faster than you can say knife."
"And deadly when she does," Paul said.
"You've got the picture."
"We're short of time," Flick said impatiently. "I'd like to see her now."
Paul added hastily, "If that's convenient to you, Miss Lindleigh."
"Very well." The assistant governor led them out. The hard floors and bare walls made the place echo like a cathedral, and there was a constant background accompaniment of distant shouts, slamming doors, and the clang of boots on iron catwalks. They went via narrow corridors and steep stairs to an interview room.
Ruby Romain was already there. She had nut-brown skin, straight dark hair, and fierce black eyes. However, she was not the traditional gypsy beauty: her nose was hooked and her chin curved up, giving her the look of a gnome.
Miss Lindleigh left them with a warder in the next room watching through a glazed door. Flick, Paul, and the prisoner sat around a cheap table with a dirty ashtray on it. Paul had brought a pack of Lucky Strikes. He put them on the table and said in French, "Help yourselF" Ruby took two, putting one in her mouth and the other behind her ear.
Paul asked a few routine questions to break the ice. She replied clearly and politely but with a strong accent. "My parents are traveling folk," she said. "When I was a girl, we went around France with a funfair. My father had a rifle range and my mother sold hot pancakes with chocolate sauce."
"How did you come to England?"
"When I was fourteen, I fell in love with an English sailor I met in Calais. His name was Freddy. We got married-I lied about my age, of course-and came to London. He was killed two years ago, his ship was sunk by a U-boat in the Atlantic." She shivered. "A cold grave. Poor Freddy."
Flick was not interested in the family history. "Tell us why you're in here," she said.
"I got myself a little brazier and sold pancakes in the street. But the police kept harassing me. One night, I'd had some cognac-a weakness of mine, I admit-and anyway, I got into a dispute." She switched to cockney-accented English. "The copper told me to fuck off out of it, and I gave him a mouthful of abuse. He shoved me and I knocked him down."
Paul looked at her with a touch of amusement. She was no more than average height, and wiry, but she had big hands and muscular legs. He could imagine her flattening a London policeman.
Flick asked, "What happened next?"
"His two mates came around the corner, and I was a bit slow to leave, on account of the brandy, so they gave me a kicking and took me down the nick." Seeing Paul's frown of incomprehension, she added: "The police station, that is. Anyway, the first copper was ashamed to do me for assault, didn't want to admit he'd been floored by a girl, so I got fourteen days for drunk and disorderly."
"And then you got into another fight."
She gave Flick an appraising look. "I don't know if I can explain to someone of your sort what it's like in here. Half the girls are mad, and they've all got weapons. You can file the edge of a spoon to make a blade, or sharpen the end of a bit of wire for a stiletto, or twist threads together for a garotte. And the warders never intervene in a fight between convicts. They like to watch us tear each other apart. That's why so many of the inmates have scars."
Paul was shocked. He had never had contact with people in jail. The picture painted by Ruby was horrifying. Perhaps she was exaggerating, but she seemed quietly sincere. She did not appear to care whether she was believed or not but recited the facts in the dry, unhurried manner of someone who is not greatly interested but has nothing better to do.
Flick said, "What happened with the woman you killed?"
"She stole something of mine."
"A cake of soap."
My God, thought Paul. She killed her for a piece of soap.
Flick said, "What did you do?"
"I took it back."
"She went for me. She had a chair leg that she'd made into a club with a bit of plumber's lead fixed to the business end. She hit me over the head with it. I thought she was going to kill me. But I had a knife. I'd found a long, pointed sliver of glass, like a shard from a broken window pane, and I wrapped the broad end in a length of worn-out bicycle tire for a handle. I stuck it in her throat. So she didn't get to hit me a second time."
Flick suppressed a shudder and said, "It sounds like self-defense."
"No. You've got to prove you couldn't possibly have run away. And I'd premeditated the murder by making a knife out of a piece of glass."
Paul stood up. "Wait here with the guard for a moment, please," he said to Ruby. "We'll just step outside."
Ruby smiled at him, and for the first time she looked not quite pretty but pleasant. "You're so polite," she said appreciatively.
In the corridor, Paul said, "What a dreadful story!"
"Remember, everyone in here says they're innocent," Flick said guardedly.
"All the same, I think she might be more sinned against than sinning."
"I doubt it. I think she's a killer."
"So we reject her."
"On the contrary," said Flick. "She's exactly what I want."
They went back into the room. Flick said to Ruby, "If you could get out of here, would you be willing to do dangerous war work?"
She responded with another question. "Would we be going to France?"
Flick raised her eyebrows. "What leads you to ask that?"
"You spoke French to me at the start. I assume you were checking if I speak the language."
"Well, I can't tell you much about the job."
"I bet it involves sabotage behind enemy lines."
Paul was startled: Ruby was very quick on the uptake. Seeing his surprise, Ruby went on, "Look, at first I thought you might want me to do a bit of translation for you, but there's nothing dangerous about that. So we must be going to France. And what would the British Army do there except blow up bridges and railway lines?"
Paul said nothing, but he was impressed by her powers of deduction.
Ruby frowned. "What I can't figure out is why it's an all-woman team."
Flick's eyes widened. "What makes you think that?"
"If you could use men, why would you be talking to me? You must be desperate. It can't be that easy to get a murderess out of jail, even for vital war work. So what's special about me? I'm tough, but there must be hundreds of tough men who speak perfect French and would be gung-ho for a bit of cloak-and-dagger stuff. The only reason for picking me rather than one of them is that I'm female. Perhaps women are less likely to be questioned by the Gestapo… is that it?"
"I can't say," Flick said.
"Well, if you want me, I'll do it. Can I have another one of those cigarettes?"
"Sure," said Paul.
Flick said, "You do understand that the job is dangerous."
"Yeah," said Ruby, lighting a Lucky Strike. "But not as dangerous as being in this fucking prison."
They returned to the assistant governor's office after leaving Ruby. "I need your help, Miss Lindleigh," Paul said, once again flattering her. "Tell me what you would need in order to be able to release Ruby Romain."
"Release her! But she's a murderer! Why would she be released?"
"I'm afraid I can't tell you. But I can assure you that if you knew where she was going, you wouldn't think she'd had a lucky escape-quite the contrary."
"I see," she said, not entirely mollified.
"I must have her out of here tonight," Paul went on. "But I don't want to put you in any kind of awkward position. That's why I need to know exactly what authorization you require." What he really wanted was to make sure she would have no excuse to be obstructive.
"I can't release her under any circumstances," said Miss Lindleigh. "She has been remanded here by a magistrate's court, so only the court can free her."
Paul was patient. "And what do you think that would require?"
"She would have to be taken, in police custody, before a magistrate. The public prosecutor, or his representative, would have to tell the magistrate that all charges against Romain had been dropped. Then the magistrate would be obliged to say she was free to go."
Paul frowned, looking ahead for snags. "She would have to sign her army joining-up papers before seeing the magistrate, so that she would be under military discipline as soon as the court released her… otherwise she might just walk away."
Miss Lindleigh was still incredulous. "Why would they drop the charges?"
"This prosecutor is a government official?"
"Then it won't be a problem." Paul stood up. "I will be back here later this evening, with a magistrate, someone from the prosecutor's department, and an army driver to take Ruby to… her next port of call. Can you foresee any snags?"
Miss Lindleigh shook her head. "I follow orders, Major, just as you do."
They took their leave. When they got outside, Paul stopped and looked back. "I've never been to a prison before," he said. "I don't know what I expected, but it wasn't something out of a fairy tale."
He was making an inconsequential remark about the building, but Flick looked sour. "Several women have been hanged here," she said. "Not much of a fairy tale."
He wondered why she was grumpy. "I guess you identify with the prisoners," he said. Suddenly he realized why. "It's because you might end up in a jail in France."
She looked taken aback. "I think you're right," she said. "I didn't know why I hated that place so much, but that's it."
She might be hanged, too, he realized, but he kept that thought to himself.
They walked away, heading for the nearest Tube station. Flick was thoughtful. "You're very perceptive," she said. "You understood how to keep Miss Lindleigh on our side. I would have made an enemy of her."
"No point in that."
"Exactly. And you turned Ruby from a tigress into a pussycat."
"I wouldn't want a woman like that to dislike me."
Flick laughed. "Then you told me something that I hadn't figured out about myself."
Paul was pleased that he had impressed her, but he was already looking ahead to the next problem. "By midnight, we should have half a team at the training center in Hampshire."
"We call it the Finishing School," Flick said. "Yes:
Diana Colefield, Maude Valentine, and Ruby Romain." Paul nodded grimly. "An undisciplined aristocrat, a pretty flirt who can't tell fantasy from reality, and a murdering gypsy with a short temper." When he thought of the possibility that Flick could be hanged by the Gestapo, he felt as worried as Percy about the caliber of the recruits.
"Beggars can't be choosers," Flick said cheerfully. Her sour mood had vanished.
"But we still don't have an explosives expert or a telephone engineer."
Flick glanced at her wrist. "It's still only four pip emma. And maybe the RAF has taught Denise Bowyer how to blow up a telephone exchange."
Paul grinned. Flick's optimism was irresistible.
They reached the station and caught a train. They could not talk about the mission because there were other passengers within earshot. Paul said, "I learned a little about Percy this morning. We drove through the neighborhood where he was brought up."
"He's adopted the manners and even the accent of the British upper class, but don't be fooled. Under that old tweed jacket beats the heart of a real street brawler."
"He told me he was flogged at school for speaking with a low-class accent."
"He was a scholarship boy. They generally have a hard time in swanky British schools. I know, I was a scholarship girl."
"Did you have to change your accent?"
"No. I grew up in an earl's household. I always spoke like this."
Paul guessed that was why Flick and Percy got on so well: they were both lower-class people who had climbed the social ladder. Unlike Americans, the British thought there was nothing wrong with class prejudice. Yet they were shocked at Southerners who told them Negroes were inferior. "I think Percy's very fond of you," Paul said.
"I love him like a father."
The sentiment seemed genuine, Paul thought, but she was also firmly setting him straight about her relationship with Percy.
Flick had arranged to meet Percy back at Orchard Court. When they arrived, there was a car outside the building. Paul recognized the driver, one of Monty's entourage. "Sir, there's someone in the car waiting for you," the man said.
The back door opened and out stepped Paul's younger sister, Caroline. He grinned with delight. "Well, I'll be damned!" he said. She stepped into his arms and he hugged her. "What are you doing in London?"
"I can't say, but I have a couple of hours off, and I persuaded Monty's office to lend me a car to come and see you. Want to buy me a drink?"
"I don't have a minute to spare," he said. "Not even for you. But you can drive me to Whitehall. I have to find a man called a public prosecutor."
"Then I'll take you there, and we'll catch up in the car."
"Of course," he said. "Let's go!"
Flick turned at the building door and saw a pretty girl wearing the uniform of an American lieutenant step out of the car and throw her arms around Paul. She noted the delighted smile on his face and the force of his hug. This was obviously his wife, girlfriend, or fiance, probably making an unexpected visit to London. She must be with the U.S. forces in Britain, preparing for the invasion. Paul jumped into her car.
Flick went into Orchard Court, feeling a little sad. Paul had a girl, they were nuts about one another, and they had been granted a surprise meeting. Flick wished Michel could show up just like that, out of the blue. But he was lying wounded on a couch in Reims with a shameless nineteen-year-old beauty nursing him.
Percy was already back from Hendon. She found him making tea. "How was your RAF girl?" she asked.
"Lady Denise Bowyer-she's on her way to the Finishing School," he said.
"Wonderful! Now we have four!"
"But I'm worried. She's a braggart. She boasted about the work she's doing in the Air Force, told me all sorts of details she should have kept quiet about. You'll have to see what you think of her in training."
"I don't suppose she knows anything about telephone exchanges."
"Not a thing. Nor explosives. Tea?"
He handed her a cup and sat behind the cheap old desk. "Where's Paul?"
"Gone to find the public prosecutor. He's hoping to get Ruby Romain out of jail this evening."
Percy gave her a quizzical glance. "Do you like him?"
"More than I did initially."
Flick smiled. "He charmed the socks off the old battleaxe running the prison."
"How was Ruby Romain?"
"Terrifying. She slit the throat of another inmate in a quarrel over a bar of soap."
"Jesus." Percy shook his head in incredulity. "What the hell kind of a team are we putting together, Flick?"
"Dangerous. Which is what it's supposed to be. That's not the problem. Besides, the way things are going, we may have the luxury of eliminating the least satisfactory one or two during training. My worry is that we don't have the experts we need. There's no point taking a team of tough girls into France, then destroying the wrong cables."
Percy drained his teacup and began to fill his pipe. "I know a woman explosives expert who speaks French."
Flick was surprised. "But this is great! Why didn't you say so before?"
"When I first thought of her, I dismissed her out of hand. She's not at all suitable. But I hadn't realized how desperate we'd be."
"How is she unsuitable?"
"She's about forty. SOE rarely uses anyone so old, especially on a parachute mission." He struck a match.
Age was not going to be an obstacle at this stage, Flick thought. Excited, she said, "Will she volunteer?"
"I should think there's a good chance, especially if I ask her."
"How did she become an explosives expert?"
Percy looked embarrassed. Still holding the burning match, he said, "She's a safebreaker. I met her years ago, when I was doing political work in the East End." The match burned down, and he struck another.
"Percy, I had no idea your past was so raffish. Where is she now?"
Percy looked at his watch. "It's six o'clock. At this time of the evening, she'll be in the private bar of the Mucky Duck."
"Then get that damn pipe alight and let's go there now."
In the car, Flick said, "How do you know she's a safebreaker?"
Percy shrugged. "Everyone knows."
"Everyone? Even the police?"
"Yes. In the East End, police and villains grow up together, go to the same schools, live in the same streets. They all know one another."
"But if they know who the criminals are, why don't they put them in jail? I suppose they can't prove anything."
"This is the way it works," Percy said. "When they need a conviction, they arrest someone who is in that line of business. If it's a burglary, they arrest a burglar. It doesn't matter whether he was responsible for that particular crime, because they can always manufacture a case: suborn witnesses, counterfeit confessions, manufacture forensic evidence. Of course, they sometimes make mistakes, and jail innocent people, and they often use the system to pay off personal grudges, and so on; but nothing in life is perfect, is it?"
"So you're saying the whole rigmarole of courts and juries is a farce?"
"A highly successful, long-running farce that provides lucrative employment for otherwise useless citizens who act the parts of detectives, solicitors, banisters, and judges."
"Has your friend the safebreaker been to jail?"
"No. You can escape prosecution if you're willing to pay hefty bribes, and you're careful to cultivate warm friendships with detectives. Let's say you live in the same street as Detective-Inspector Callahan's dear old mum. You drop in once a week, ask her if she needs any shopping done, look at photos of her grandchildren makes it hard for D.I. Callahan to put you in jail."
Flick thought of the story Ruby had told a few hours ago. For some people, life in London was almost as bad as being under the Gestapo. Could things really be so different from what she had imagined? "I can't tell if you're serious," she said to Percy. "I don't know what to believe."
"Oh, I'm serious," he said with a smile. "But I don't expect you to believe me."
They were in Stepney, not far from the docks. The bomb damage here was the worst Flick had seen. Whole streets were flattened. Percy turned into a narrow cul-de-sac and parked outside a pub.
"Mucky Duck" was a humorous sobriquet: the pub was called The White Swan. The private bar was not private, but was so called to distinguish it from the public bar, where there was sawdust on the floor and the beer was a penny a pint cheaper. Flick found herself thinking about explaining these idiosyncrasies to Paul. He would be amused.
Geraldine Knight sat on a stool at the end of the bar, looking as if she might own the place. She had vivid blonde hair and heavy makeup, expertly applied. Her plump figure had the apparent firmness that could only have come from a corset. The cigarette burning in the ashtray bore a ring of bright lipstick around the end. It was hard to imagine anyone who looked less like a secret agent, Flick thought despondently.
"Percy Thwaite, as I live and breathe!" the woman said. She sounded like a Cockney who had been to elocution lessons. "What are you doing slumming around here, you bloody old communist?" She was obviously delighted to see him.
"Hello, Jelly, meet my friend Flick," Percy said.
"Pleased to know you, I'm sure," she said, shaking Flick's hand.
"Jelly?" Flick inquired.
"No one knows where I got that nickname."
"Oh," said Flick. "Jelly Knight, gelignite."
Jelly ignored that. "I'll have a gin-and-It, Percy, while you're buying."
Flick spoke to her in French. "Do you live in this part of London?"
"Since I was ten," she replied, speaking French with a North American accent. "I was born in Quebec."
That was not so good, Flick thought. Germans might not notice the accent, but the French certainly would. Jelly would have to pose as a Canadian-born French citizen. It was a perfectly plausible history, but just unusual enough to attract curiosity. Damn. "But you consider yourself British."
"English, not British," said Jelly with arch indignation. She switched back to the English language. "I'm Church of England, I vote Conservative, and I dislike foreigners, heathens, and republicans." With a glance at Percy, she added, "Present company excepted, of course."
Percy said, "You ought to live in Yorkshire, on a hill farm, someplace where they haven't seen a foreigner since the Vikings came. I don't know how you can bear to live in London, surrounded by Russian Bolsheviks, German Jews, Irish Catholics, and nonconformist Welshmen building little chapels all over the place like moles disfiguring the lawn."
"London's not what it was, Perce."
"Not what it was when you were a foreigner?"
This was obviously a familiar old argument. Flick interrupted it impatiently. "I'm very glad to hear that you're so patriotic, Jelly."
"And why would you be interested in such a thing, may I ask?"
"Because there's something you could do for your country."
Percy put in, "I told Flick about your… expertise, Jelly."
She looked at her vermilion fingernails. "Discretion, Percy, please. Discretion is the better part of valor, it says in the Bible."
Flick said, "I expect you know that there have been some fascinating recent developments in the field. Plastic explosives, I mean."
"I try to keep up to date," Jelly said with airy modesty. Her expression changed, and she looked shrewdly at Flick. "This is something to do with the war, isn't it?"
"Count me in. I'll do anything for England."
"You'll be away for a few days."
"You might not come back."
"What the hell does that mean?"
"It will be very dangerous," Flick said quietly. Jelly looked dismayed. "Oh." She swallowed. "Well, that makes no difference," she said unconvincingly.
"Are you sure?"
Jelly looked thoughtful, as if she were calculating. "You want me to blow something up."
Flick nodded silently.
"It's not overseas, is it?"
Jelly paled beneath her makeup. "Oh, my gordon. You want me to go to France, don't you?"
Flick said nothing.
"Behind enemy lines! God's truth, I'm too bloody old for that sort of thing. I'm…" She hesitated. "I'm thirty-seven."
She was about five years older than that, Flick thought, but she said, "Well, we're almost the same age, I'm nearly thirty. We're not too old for a bit of adventure, are we?"
"Speak for yourself-dear."
Flick's heart sank. Jelly was not going to agree. The whole scheme had been misconceived, she decided. It was never going to be possible to find women who could do these jobs and speak perfect French. The plan had been doomed from the start. She turned away from Jelly. She felt like crying.
Percy said, "Jelly, we're asking you to do a job that's really crucial for the war effort."
"Pull the other leg, Perce, it's got bells on," she said, but her mockery was halfhearted, and she looked solemn.
He shook his head. "No exaggeration. It could make a difference to whether we win or lose."
She stared at him, saying nothing. Conflict twisted her face into a grimace of indecision.
Percy said, "And you're the only person in the country who can do it."
"Get off," she said skeptically.
"You're a female safebreaker who speaks French-how many others do you think there are? I'll tell you: none."
"You mean this, don't you."
"I was never more serious in my life."
"Bloody hell, Perce." Jelly fell silent. She did not speak for a long moment. Flick held her breath. At last Jelly said, "All right, you bastard, I'll do it."
Flick was so pleased she kissed her.
Percy said, "God bless you, Jelly."
Jelly said, "When do we start?"
"Now," said Percy. "If you'll finish up that gin, I'll take you home to pack a case; then I'll drive you to the training center."
"I told you it was important."
She swallowed the remains of her drink. "All right, I'm ready."
She slid her ample bottom off the bar stool, and Flick thought: I wonder how she'll manage with a parachute.
They left the pub. Percy said to Flick, "You'll be all right going back on the Tube?"
"Then we'll see you tomorrow at the Finishing School."
"I'll be there," said Flick, and they parted company.
She headed for the nearest station, feeling jubilant. It was a mild summer evening, and the East End was alive: a group of dirty-faced boys played cricket with a stick and a bald tennis ball; a tired man in soiled work clothes headed home for a late tea; a uniformed soldier, on leave with a packet of cigarettes and a few shillings in his pocket, strode along the pavement with a jaunty air, as if all the world's pleasures were his for the taking; three pretty girls in sleeveless dresses and straw hats giggled at the soldier. The fate of all these people would be decided in the next few days, Flick thought somberly.
On the train to Bayswater, her spirits fell again. She still did not have the most crucial member of the team. Without a telephone engineer, Jelly might place the explosives in the wrong location. They would still do damage but, if the damage could be repaired in a day or two, the enormous effort and risk of life would have been wasted.
When she returned to her bedsitting room, she found her brother Mark waiting there. She hugged and kissed him. "What a nice surprise!" she said.
"I've got a night off, so I thought I'd take you for a drink," he said.
"Giving his lago to the troops in Lyme Regis. We both work for ENSA most of the time, now." ENSA was the Entertainments National Service Association, which organized shows for the armed forces. "Where shall we go?"
Flick was tired, and her first inclination was to turn him down. Then she remembered that she was going to France on Friday, and this could be the last time she ever saw her brother. "How about the West End," she said.
"We'll go to a nightclub."
They left the house and walked arm-in-arm along the street. Flick said, "I saw Ma this morning."
"How is she?"
"All right, but she hasn't softened her attitude to you and Steve, I'm sorry to say."
"I didn't expect it. How did you happen to see her?"
"I went down to Somersholme. It would take too long to explain why."
"Something hush-hush, I suppose."
She smiled acknowledgment, then sighed as she remembered her problem."I don't suppose you happen to know a female telephone engineer who speaks French, do you?"
He stopped. "Well," he said, "sort of."
Mademoiselle Lemas was in agony. She sat rigid on the hard upright chair behind the little table, her face frozen into a mask of self-control. She did not dare to move. She still wore her cloche hat and clutched her sturdy leather handbag on her lap. Her fat little hands squeezed the handle of the bag rhythmically. Her fingers bore no rings; in fact she wore only one piece of jewelry, a small silver cross on a chain.
Around her, late-working clerks and secretaries in their well-pressed uniforms carried on typing and filing. Following Dieter's instructions, they smiled politely when they caught her eye, and every now and again one of the girls would speak a word to her, offering her water or coffee.
Dieter sat watching her, with Lieutenant Hesse on one side of him and Stephanie on the other. Hans Hesse was the best type of sturdy, unflappable working-class German. He looked on stoically: he had seen many tortures. Stephanie was more excitable, but she was exercising self-control. She looked unhappy, but said nothing: her aim in life was to please Dieter.
Mademoiselle Lemas's pain was not just physical, Dieter knew. Even worse than her bursting bladder was the tenor of soiling herself in a room full of polite, well-dressed people going about their normal business. For a respectable elderly lady, that was the worst of nightmares. He admired her fortitude and wondered if she would break, and tell him everything, or hold out.
A young corporal clicked his heels beside Dieter and said, "Pardon me, Major, I have been sent to ask you to step into Major Weber's office."
Dieter considered sending a reply saying If you want to talk to me, come and see me, but he decided there was nothing to be gained by being combative before it was strictly necessary. Weber might even become a little more cooperative if he was allowed to score a few points. "Very well." He turned to Hesse. "Hans, you know what to ask her if she breaks."
"In case she doesn't… Stephanie, would you go to the Cafe des Sports and get me a bottle of beer and a glass, please?"
"Of course." She seemed grateful for a reason to leave the room.
Dieter followed the corporal to Willi Weber's office. It was a grand room at the front of the chateau, with three tall windows overlooking the square. Dieter gazed out at the sun setting over the town. The slanting light picked out the curved arches and buttresses of the medieval church. He saw Stephanie crossing the square in her high heels, walking like a racehorse, dainty and powerful at the same time.
Soldiers were at work in the square, erecting three stout wooden pillars in a neat row. Dieter frowned. "A firing squad?"
"For the three terrorists who survived Sunday's skirmish," Weber answered. "I understand you have finished interrogating them."
Dieter nodded. "They have told me all they know."
"They will be shot in public as a warning to others who may think of joining the Resistance."
"Good idea," Dieter said. "However, though Gaston is fit, both Bertrand and Genevieve are seriously injured-I'll be surprised if they can walk."
"Then they will be carried to their fate. But I did not summon you to discuss them. My superiors in Paris have been asking me what further progress has been made."
"And what did you tell them, Willi?"
"That after forty-eight hours of investigation you have arrested one old woman who may or may not have sheltered Allied agents in her house, and who has so far told us nothing."
"And what would you wish to tell them?" Weber banged his desk theatrically. "That we have broken the back of the French Resistance!"
"That may take longer than forty-eight hours."
"Why don't you torture this old cow?"
"I am torturing her."
"By refusing to let her go to the toilet! What kind of torture is that?"
"In this case, the most effective one, I believe."
"You think you know best. You always were arrogant. But this is the new Germany, Major. You are no longer assumed to have superior judgment just because you are the son of a professor."
"Don't be ridiculous."
"Do you really think you would have become the youngest-ever head of the Cologne criminal intelligence department if your father had not been an important man in the university?"
"I had to pass the same exams as everyone else."
"How strange that other people, just as capable as you, never seemed to do quite so well."
Was that the fantasy Weber told himself? "For God's sake, Willi, you can't believe the entire Cologne police force conspired to give me better marks than you because my father was professor of music-it's risible!"
"Such things were commonplace in the old days." Dieter sighed. Weber was half right. Patronage and nepotism had existed in Germany. But that was not why Willi had failed to win promotion. The truth was that he was stupid. He would never get on anywhere except in an organization where fanaticism was more important than ability.
Dieter had had enough of this stupid talk. "Don't worry about Mademoiselle Lemas," he said. "She'll talk soon." He went to the door. "And we will break the back of the French Resistance, too. Just wait a little longer."
He returned to the main office. Mademoiselle Lemas was now making low moaning noises. Weber had made Dieter impatient, and he decided to speed up the process. When Stephanie returned, he put the glass on the table, opened the bottle, and poured the beer slowly in front of the prisoner. Tears of pain squeezed from her eyes and rolled down her plump cheeks. Dieter took a long drink of beer and put the glass down. "Your agony is almost over, Mademoiselle," he said. "Relief is at hand. In a few moments you will answer my questions; then you will find ease."
She closed her eyes.
"Where do you meet the British agents?" He paused. "How do you recognize one another?" She said nothing. "What is the password?"
He waited a moment, then said, "Have the answers ready, in the forefront of your mind, and make sure they are clear, so that when the time comes, you can tell me quickly, without hesitation or explanations; then you can seek rapid release from your pain."
He took the key to the handcuffs from his pocket. "Hans, hold her wrist firmly." He bent down and unlocked the cuffs that fastened her ankle to the table leg. He took her by the arm. "Come with us, Stephanie," he said. "We're going to the ladies' toilet."
They left the room, Stephanie leading the way, Dieter and Hans holding the prisoner, who hobbled along with difficulty, bent at the waist, biting her lip. They went to the end of the corridor and stopped at a door marked Damen. Mademoiselle Lemas groaned loudly when she saw it.
Dieter said to Stephanie, "Open the door."
She did so. It was a clean, white-tiled room, with a washbasin, a towel on a rail, and a row of cubicles. "Now," said Dieter. "The pain is about to end."
"Please," she whispered. "Let me go."
"Where do you meet the British agents?"
Mademoiselle Lemas began to cry.
Dieter said gently, "Where do you meet these people?"
"In the cathedral," she sobbed. "In the crypt. Please let me go!"
Dieter breathed a long sigh of satisfaction. She had broken. "When do you meet them?"
"Three o'clock any afternoon, I go every day."
"And how do you recognize one another?"
"I wear odd shoes, black and brown, now can I go?"
"One more question. What is the password?"
"'Pray for me.'"
She tried to move forward, but Dieter held her tightly, and Hans did the same. "Pray for me," Dieter repeated. "Is that what you say, or what the agent says?"
"The agent-oh, I beg you!"
"And your reply?"
"I pray for peace,' that's my reply."
"Thank you," Dieter said, and released her.
She rushed inside.
Dieter nodded at Stephanie, who followed her in and closed the door.
He could not conceal his satisfaction. "There, Hans, we make progress."
Hans, too, was pleased. "The cathedral crypt, three p.m. any day, black and brown shoes, 'Pray for me,' and the response 'I pray for peace.' Very good!"
"When they come out, put the prisoner in a cell and turn her over to the Gestapo. They'll arrange for her to disappear into a camp somewhere."
Hans nodded. "It seems harsh, sir. Her being an elderly lady, I mean."
"It does-until you think of the German soldiers and French civilians killed by the terrorists she sheltered. Then it seems hardly punishment enough."
"That does throw a different light on it, yes, sir."
"You see how one thing leads to another," Dieter said reflectively. "Gaston gives us a house, the house gives us Mademoiselle Lemas, she gives us the crypt, and the crypt will give us… who knows?" He began to think about the best way to exploit the new information.
The challenge was to capture agents without letting London know. If the thing was handled right, the Allies would send more people along the same route, wasting vast resources. It had been done in Holland: more than fifty expensively trained saboteurs had parachuted straight into the arms of the Germans.
Ideally, the next agent sent by London would go to the crypt of the cathedral and find Mademoiselle Lemas waiting there. She would take the agent home, and he would send a wireless message to London saying all was well. Then, when he was out of the house, Dieter could get hold of his code books. After that, Dieter could arrest the agent but continue to send messages to London in his name-and read the replies. In effect, he would be running a Resistance circuit that was entirely fictional. It was a thrilling prospect.
Willi Weber walked by. "Well, Major, has the prisoner talked?"
"Not a moment too soon. Did she say anything useful?"
"You may tell your superiors that she has revealed the location of her rendezvous and the passwords used. We can pick up any further agents as they arrive."
Weber looked interested despite his hostility. "And where is the rendezvous?"
Dieter hesitated. He would have preferred not to tell Weber anything. But it was difficult to refuse without giving offense, and he needed the man's help. He had to tell him. "The cathedral crypt, afternoons at three."
"I shall inform Paris." Weber walked on.
Dieter resumed thinking about his next step. The house in the rue du Bois was a cut-out. No one in the Bollinger circuit had met Mademoiselle Lemas. Agents coming in from London did not know what she looked like-hence the need for recognition signals and passwords. If he could get someone to impersonate her… but who?
Stephanie came out of the ladies' toilet with Mademoiselle Lemas.
She could do it.
She was much younger than Mademoiselle Lemas, and looked completely different, but the agents would not know that. She was obviously French. All she had to do was take care of the agent for a day or so.
He took Stephanie's arm. "Hans will deal with the prisoner now. Come, let me buy you a glass of champagne."
He walked her out of the chateau. In the square, the soldiers had done their work, and the three stakes threw long shadows in the evening light. A handful of local people stood silent and watchful outside the church door.
Dieter and Stephanie went into the cafe. Dieter ordered a bottle of champagne. "Thank you for helping me today," he said. "I appreciate it."
"I love you," she said. "And you love me, I know, even though you never say it."
"But how do you feel about what we did today? You're French, and you have that grandmother whose race we mustn't speak of, and as far as I know you're not a Fascist."
She shook her head violently. "I no longer believe in nationality, or race, or politics," she said passionately. "When I was arrested by the Gestapo, no French people helped me. No Jews helped me. No socialists or liberals or communists either. And I was so cold in that prison." Her face changed. Her lips lost the sexy half smile she wore most of the time, and the glint of teasing invitation went from her eyes. She was looking at another scene in another time. She crossed her arms and shivered, although it was a warm summer evening. "Not just cold on the outside, not just the skin. I felt cold in my heart and my bowels and my bones. I felt I would never be warm again, I would just go cold to my grave." She was silent for a long moment, her face drawn and pale, and Dieter felt at that instant that war was a terrible thing. Then she said, "I'll never forget the fire in your apartment. A coal fire. I had forgotten what it was like to feel that blazing warmth. It made me human again." She came out of her trance. "You saved me. You gave me food and wine. You bought me clothes." She smiled her old smile, the one that said You can, if you dare. "And you loved me, in front of that coal fire."
He held her hand. "It wasn't difficult."
"You keep me safe, in a world where almost no one is safe. So now I believe only in you."
"If you really mean that."
"There's something else you could do for me."
"I want you to impersonate Mademoiselle Lemas."
She raised one perfectly plucked eyebrow.
"Pretend to be her. Go to the cathedral crypt every afternoon at three o'clock, wearing one black shoe and one brown. When someone approaches you and says, 'Pray for me,' reply, 'I pray for peace.' Take the person to the house in the rue du Bois. Then call me."
"It sounds simple."
The champagne arrived, and he poured two glasses. He decided to level with her. "It should be simple. But there is a slight risk. If the agent has met Mademoiselle Lemas before, he will know you're an impostor. Then you could be in danger. Will you take that chance?"
"Is it important to you?"
"It's important for the war."
"I don't care about the war."
"It's important to me, too."
"Then I'll do it."
He raised his glass. "Thank you," he said.
They clinked glasses and drank.
Outside, in the square, there was a volley of gunfire.
Dieter looked through the window. He saw three bodies tied to the wooden pillars, slumped in death; a row of soldiers lowering their rifles; and a crowd of citizens looking on, silent and still.
Wartime austerity had made little real difference to Soho, the red-light district in the heart of London's West End. The same groups of young men staggered through the streets, drunk on beer, though most of them were in uniform. The same painted girls in tight dresses strolled along the pavements, eyeing potential customers. The illuminated signs outside clubs and bars were switched off, because of the blackout, but all the establishments were open.
Mark and Flick arrived at the Criss-Cross Club at ten o'clock in the evening. The manager, a young man wearing a dinner jacket with a red bow tie, greeted Mark like a friend. Flick's spirits were high. Mark knew a female telephone engineer. Flick was about to meet her, and she felt optimistic. Mark had not said much about her, except that her name was Greta, like the film star. When Flick tried to question him, he just said, "You have to see her for yourself."
As Mark paid the entrance fee and exchanged commonplaces with the manager, Flick saw an alteration come over him. He grew more extrovert, his voice took on a lilt, and his gestures became theatrical. Flick wondered if her brother had another persona that he put on after dark.
They went down a flight of stairs to a basement. The place was dimly lit and smoky. Flick could see a five-piece band on a low stage, a small dance floor, a scatter of tables, and a number of booths around the dark perimeter of the room. She had wondered if it would be a men-only club, the kind of place that catered to chaps like Mark who were "not the marrying kind." Although the patrons were mostly male, there was a good sprinkling of girls, some of them very glamorously dressed.
A waiter said, "Hello, Markie," and put a hand on Mark's shoulder, but gave Flick a hostile glare.
"Robbie, meet my sister," Mark said. "Her name's Felicity, but we've always called her Flick."
The waiter's attitude changed, and he gave Flick a friendly smile. "Very nice to meet you." He showed them to a table.
Flick guessed that Robbie had suspected she might be a girlfriend, and had resented her for persuading Mark to change sides, as it were. Then he had warmed to her when he learned she was Mark's sister.
Mark smiled up at Robbie and said, "How's Kit?"
"Oh, all right, I suppose," Robbie said with the hint of a flounce.
"You've had a row, haven't you?"
Mark was being charming. He was almost flirting. This was a side of him Flick had never seen. In fact, she thought, it might be the real Mark. The other persona, his discreet daytime self, was probably the pretense.
"When have we not had a row?" Robbie said.
"He doesn't appreciate you," Mark said with exaggerated melancholy, touching Robbie's hand.
"You're right, bless you. Something to drink?"
Flick ordered scotch and Mark asked for a martini.
Flick did not know much about men such as these. She had been introduced to Mark's friend, Steve, and had visited the flat they shared, but had never met any of their friends. Although she was madly curious about their world, it seemed prurient to ask questions.
She didn't even know what they called themselves. All the words she knew were more or less unpleasant: queer, homo, fairy, nancy-boy. "Mark," she said. "What do you call men who, you know, prefer men?"
He grinned. "Musical, darling," he said, waving his hand in a feminine gesture.
I must remember that, Flick thought. Now I can say to Mark, "Is he musical?" She had learned the first word of their secret code.
A tall blonde in a red cocktail dress came swishing onto the stage to a burst of applause. "This is Greta," said Mark. "She's a telephone engineer by day."
Greta began to sing "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out." She had a powerful, bluesy voice, but Flick noticed immediately that she had a German accent. Shouting into Mark's ear over the sound of the band, she said, "I thought you said she was French."
"She speaks French," he corrected. "But she's German."
Flick was bitterly disappointed. This was no good. Greta would have just as much of a German accent when she spoke French.
The audience loved Greta, clapping each number enthusiastically, cheering and whistling when she accompanied the music with bump-and-grind movements. But Flick could not relax and enjoy the show. She was too worried. She still did not have her telephone engineer, and she had wasted the latter half of the evening coming here on a wild-goose chase.
But what was she going to do? She wondered how long it would take her to pick up the rudiments of telephone engineering herself. She had no difficulty with technical things. She had built a radio at school. Anyway, she needed to know only enough to destroy the equipment effectively. Could she do a two-day course, maybe with some people from the General Post Office?
The trouble was, nobody could be quite sure what kind of equipment the saboteurs would find when they entered the chateau. It could be French or German or a mixture, possibly even including imported American machinery-the U.S.A. was far ahead of France in phone technology. There were many kinds of equipment, and the chateau served several different functions. It had a manual exchange, an automatic exchange, a tandem exchange for connecting other exchanges to one another, and an amplification station for the all-important new trunk route to Germany. But only an experienced engineer could be confident of recognizing whatever he saw when he walked in.
There were engineers in France, of course, and she might find a woman-if she had time. It was not a promising idea, but she thought it through. SOE could send a message to every Resistance circuit. If there was a woman who could fit the bill, it would take her a day or two to get to Reims, which was all right. But the plan was so uncertain. Was there a woman telephone engineer in the French Resistance? If not, Flick would waste two days to learn that the mission was doomed.
No, she needed something more sure. She thought again about Greta. She could not pass for French. The Gestapo might not notice her accent, since they spoke French the same way, but the French police would. Did she have to pretend to be French? There were plenty of German women in France: officers' wives, young women in the armed services, drivers and typists and wireless operators. Flick began to feel excited again. Why not? Greta could pose as an army secretary. No, that could cause problems-an officer might start giving her orders. It would be safer for her to pose as a civilian. She could be the young wife of an officer, living with her husband in Paris-no, Vichy, it was farther away. There would have to be a story about why Greta was traveling with a group of French women. Perhaps one of the team could pose as her French maid.
What about when they entered the chateau? Flick was pretty sure there were no German women working as cleaners in France. How could Greta evade suspicion? Once again, Germans probably would not notice her accent, but French people would. Could she avoid speaking to any French people? Pretend she had laryngitis?
She might be able to get away with it for a few minutes, Flick thought.
It was not exactly watertight, but it was better than any other option.
Greta finished her act with a hilariously suggestive blues song called "Kitchen Man," full of double-entendres. The audience loved the line: "When I eat his doughnuts, all I leave is the hole." She left the stage to gales of applause. Mark got up, saying, "We can talk to her in her dressing room."
Flick followed him through a door beside the stage, down a smelly concrete corridor, into a dingy area crammed with cardboard boxes of beer and gin. It was like the cellar of a run-down pub. They came to a door that had a pink paper cutout star fixed to it with thumb- tacks. Mark knocked and opened it without waiting for a reply.
The tiny room had a dressing table, a mirror surrounded by bright makeup lights, a stool, and a movie poster showing Greta Garbo in Two-Faced Woman. An elaborate blonde wig rested on a stand shaped like a head. The red dress Greta had worn on stage hung from a hook on the wall. Sitting on the stool in front of the mirror, Flick saw, to her utter astonishment, was a young man with a hairy chest.
It was Greta, no question. The face was heavily made up, with vivid lipstick and false eyelashes, plucked eyebrows, and a layer of makeup hiding the shadow of a dark beard. The hair was cut brutally short, no doubt to accommodate the wig. The false bosom was presumably fixed inside the dress, but Greta still wore a half-slip, stockings, and red high-heeled shoes.
Flick rounded on Mark. "You didn't tell me!" she accused.
He laughed delightedly. "Flick, meet Gerhard," he said. "He loves it when people don't realize."
Flick saw that Gerhard was looking pleased. Of course he would be happy that she had taken him for a real woman. It was a tribute to his art. She did not need to worry that she had insulted him.
But he was a man. And she needed a woman telephone engineer.
Flick was painfully disappointed. Greta would have been the last piece in the jigsaw, the woman who made the team complete. Now the mission was in doubt again.
She was angry with Mark. "This was so mean of you!" she said. "I thought you'd solved my problem, but you were just playing a joke."
"It's not a joke," Mark said indignantly. "If you need a woman, take Greta."
"I couldn't," Flick said. It was a ridiculous idea.
Or was it? Greta had convinced her. She could probably do the same to the Gestapo. If they arrested her and stripped her they would learn the truth, but if they got to that stage it was generally all over anyway.
She thought of the hierarchy at SOE, and Simon Fortescue at MI6. "The top brass would never agree to it."
"Don't tell them," Mark suggested.
"Not tell them!" Flick was at first shocked, then intrigued by that idea. If Greta was to fool the Gestapo, she ought also to be able to deceive everyone at SOE.
"Why not?" said Mark.
"Why not?" Flick repeated.
Gerhard said, "Mark, sweetie, what is all this about?" His German accent was stronger in speech than in song.
"I don't really know," Mark told him. "My sister is involved in something hush-hush."
"I'll explain," Flick said. "But first, tell me about yourself. How did you come to London?"
"Well, sweetheart, where shall I begin?" Gerhard lit a cigarette. "I'm from Hamburg. Twelve years ago, when I was a boy of sixteen, and an apprentice telephone engineer, it was a wonderful town, bars and nightclubs full of sailors making the most of their shore leave. I had the best time. And when I was eighteen I met the love of my life. His name was Manfred."
Tears came to Gerhard's eyes, and Mark held his hand. Gerhard sniffed, in a very unladylike fashion, and carried on. "I've always adored women's clothes, lacy underwear and high heels, hats and handbags. I love the swish of a full skirt. But I did it so crudely in those days. I really didn't even know how to put on eyeliner. Manfred taught me everything. He wasn't a cross-dresser himself, you know." A fond look came over Gerhard's face. "He was extremely masculine, in fact. He worked in the docks, as a stevedore. But he loved me in drag, and he taught me how to do it right."
"Why did you leave?"
"They took Manfred away. The bloody fucking Nazis, sweetheart. We had five years together, but one night they came for him, and I never saw him again. He's probably dead, I think prison would kill him, but I don't know anything for sure." Tears dissolved his mascara and ran down his powdered cheeks in black streaks. "He could still be alive in one of their bloody flicking camps, you know."
His grief was infectious, and Flick found herself fighting back tears. What got into people that made them persecute one another? she asked herself. What made the Nazis torment harmless eccentrics like Gerhard?
"So I came to London," Gerhard said. "My father was English. He was a sailor from Liverpool who got off his ship in Hamburg and fell in love with a pretty German girl and married her. He died when I was two, so I never really knew him, but he gave me my surname, which is O'Reilly, and I always had dual nationality. It still cost me all my savings to get a passport, in 1939. As things turned out, I was just in time. Happily, there's always work for a telephone engineer in any city. So here I am, the toast of London, the deviant diva."
"It's a sad story," Flick said. "I'm very sorry."
"Thank you, sweetheart. But the world is full of sad stories these days, isn't it? Why are you interested in mine?"
"I need a female telephone engineer."
"What on earth for?"
"I can't tell you much. As Mark said, it's hush-hush. One thing I can say is that the job is very dangerous. You might get killed."
"How absolutely chilling! But you can imagine that I'm not very good at rough stuff. They said I was psychologically unsuited to service in the army, and quite bloody rightly. Half the squaddies would have wanted to beat me up and the other half would have been sneaking into bed with me at night."
"I've got all the tough soldiers I need. What I want from you is your expertise."
"Would it mean a chance to hurt those bloody flicking Nazis?"
"Absolutely. If we succeed, it will do a very great deal of damage indeed to the Hitler regime."
"Then, sweetheart, I'm your girl."
Flick smiled. My God, she thought; I've done it.
THE FOURTH DAY
Wednesday, May 31, 1944
In the middle of the night, the roads of southern England were thronged with traffic. Great convoys of army trucks rumbled along every highway, roaring through the darkened towns, heading for the coast. Bemused villagers stood at their bedroom windows, staring in incredulity at the endless stream of traffic that was stealing their sleep.
"My God," said Greta. "There really is going to be an invasion."
She and Flick had left London shortly after midnight in a borrowed car, a big white Lincoln Continental that Flick loved to drive. Greta wore one of her less eye-popping outfits, a simple black dress with a brunette wig. She would not be Gerhard again until the mission was over.
Flick hoped Greta was as expert as Mark had claimed. She worked for the General Post Office as an engineer, so presumably she knew what she was talking about. But Flick had not been able to test her. Now, as they crawled along behind a tank transporter, Flick explained the mission, anxiously hoping the conversation would not reveal gaps in Greta's knowledge. "The chateau contains a new automatic exchange put in by the Germans to handle all the extra telephone and teleprinter traffic between Berlin and the occupying forces."
At first Greta was skeptical about the plan. "But, sweetheart, even if we succeed, what's to stop the Germans just rerouting calls around the network?"
"Volume of traffic. The system is overloaded. The army command center called 'Zeppelin' outside Berlin handles one hundred twenty thousand long-distance calls and twenty thousand telex messages a day. There will be more when we invade France. But much of the French system still consists of manual exchanges. Now imagine that the main automatic exchange is out of service and all those calls have to be made the old-fashioned way, by hello girls, taking ten times as long. Ninety percent of them will never get through."
"The military could prohibit civilian calls."
"That won't make much difference. Civilian traffic is only a tiny fraction anyway."
"All right." Greta was thoughtful. "Well, we could destroy the common equipment racks."
"What do they do?"
"Provide the tones and ringing voltages and so on for automatic calls. And the register translators, they transform the dialed area code into a routing instruction."
"Would that make the whole exchange unworkable?"
"No. And the damage could be repaired. You need to knock out the manual exchange, the automatic exchange, the long-distance amplifiers, the telex exchange, and the telex amplifiers-which are probably all in different rooms."
"Remember, we can't carry a great quantity of explosives with us-only what six women could hide in their everyday bags."
"That's a problem."
Michel had been through all this with Arnaud, a member of the Bollinger circuit who worked for the French PTF-Postes, Telegraphes, Telephones-but Flick had not queried the details, and Arnaud was dead, killed in the raid. "There must be some equipment common to all the systems."
"Yes, there is-the MDF."
"The Main Distribution Frame. Two sets of terminals on large racks. All the cables from outside come to one side of the frame; all the cables from the exchange come to the other; and they're connected by jumper links."
"Where would that be?"
"In a room next to the cable chamber. Ideally, you'd want a fire hot enough to melt the copper in the cables."
"How long would it take to reconnect the cables?"
"A couple of days."
"Are you sure? When the cables in my street were severed by a bomb, one old Post Office engineer had us reconnected in a few hours."
"Street repairs are simple, just a matter of connecting broken ends together, red to red and blue to blue. But an MDF has hundreds of cross-connections. Two days is conservative, and that assumes the repairmen have the record cards."
"They show how the cables are connected. They're normally kept in a cabinet in the MDF room. If we burn them, too, it will take weeks of trial and error to figure out the connections."
Flick now recalled Michel saying the Resistance had someone in the PTT who was ready to destroy the duplicate records kept at headquarters. "This is sounding good. Now, listen. In the morning, when I explain our mission to the others, I'm going to tell them something completely different, a cover story."
"So that our mission won't be jeopardized if one of us is captured and interrogated."
"Oh." Greta found this a sobering thought. "How dreadful."
"You're the only one who knows the true story, so keep it to yourself for now."
"Don't worry. Us queers are used to keeping secrets." Flick was startled by her choice of words, but made no comment.
The Finishing School was located on the grounds of one of England's grandest stately homes. Beaulieu, pronounced Bewly, was a sprawling estate in the New Forest near the south coast. The main residence, Palace House, was the home of Lord Montagu. Hidden away in the surrounding woods were numerous large country houses in extensive grounds of their own. Most of these had been vacated early in the war: younger owners had gone on active service, and older ones generally had the means to flee to safer locations. Twelve of the houses had been requisitioned by SOE and were used for training agents in security, wireless operation, map reading, and dirtier skills such as burglary, sabotage, forgery, and silent killing.
They reached the place at three o'clock in the morning. Flick drove down a rough track and crossed a cattle grid before pulling up in front of a large house. Coming here always felt like entering a fantasy world, one where deception and violence were talked of as commonplace. The house had an appropriate air of unreality. Although it had about twenty bedrooms, it was built in the style of a cottage-an architectural affectation that had been popular in the years before the First World War. It looked quaint in the moonlight, with its chimneys and dormer windows, hipped roofs and tile-hung bays. It was like an illustration in a children's novel, a big rambling house where you could play hide-and-seek all day.
The place was silent. The rest of the team was here, Flick knew, but they would be asleep. She was familiar with the house and found two vacant rooms on the attic floor. She and Greta went gratefully to bed. Flick lay awake for a while, wondering how she would ever weld this bunch of misfits into a fighting unit, but she soon fell asleep.
She got up again at six. From her window she could see the estuary of the Solent. The water looked like mercury in the gray morning light. She boiled a kettle for shaving and took it to Greta's room. Then she roused the others.
Percy and Paul were first to arrive in the big kitchen at the back of the house, Percy demanding tea and Paul coffee. Flick told them to make it themselves. She had not joined SOE to wait on men.
"I make tea for you sometimes," Percy said indignantly.
"You do it with an air of noblesse oblige," she replied. "Like a duke holding a door for a housemaid."
Paul laughed. "You guys," he said. "You crack me up." An army cook arrived at half past six, and before long they were sitting around the big table eating fried eggs and thick rashers of bacon. Food was not rationed for secret agents: they needed to build up their reserves. Once they went into action, they might have to go for days without proper nourishment.
The girls came down one by one. Flick was startled by her first sight of Maude Valentine: neither Percy nor Paul had said how pretty she was. She appeared immaculately dressed and scented, her rosebud mouth accentuated by bright lipstick, looking as if she were off to lunch at the Savoy. She sat next to Paul and said with a suggestive air, "Sleep well, Major?"
Flick was relieved to see the dark pirate face of Ruby Romain. She would not have been surprised to learn that Ruby had run off in the night, never to be seen again. Of course, Ruby could then be rearrested for the murder. She had not been pardoned: rather, the charges had been dropped. They could always be picked up again. That ought to keep Ruby from disappearing, but she was as tough as a boot, and she might have decided to take the chance.
Jelly Knight looked her age, this early in the morning. She sat beside Percy and gave him a fond smile. "I suppose you slept like a top," she said.
"Clear conscience," he replied.
She laughed. "You haven't got a bloody conscience." The cook offered her a plate of bacon and eggs, but she made a face. "No, thank you, dear," she said. "I've got to watch my figure." Her breakfast was a cup of tea and several cigarettes.
When Greta came through the door, Flick held her breath.
She wore a pretty cotton dress with a small false bosom. A pink cardigan softened her shoulder line and a chiffon scarf concealed her masculine throat. She wore the short dark wig. Her face was heavily powdered, but she had used only a little lipstick and eye makeup. By contrast with her sassy on-stage personality, today she was playing the part of a rather plain young woman who was perhaps a little embarrassed about being so tall. Flick introduced her and watched the reactions of the other women. This was the first test of Greta's impersonation.
They all smiled pleasantly, showing no sign that they saw anything wrong, and Flick breathed easier.
Along with Maude, the other woman Flick had not met before was Lady Denise Bowyer. Percy had interviewed her at Hendon and had recruited her despite signs that she was indiscreet. She turned out to be a plain girl with a lot of dark hair and a defiant air. Although she was the daughter of a marquess, she lacked the easy self-confidence typical of upper-class girls. Flick felt a little sorry for her, but Denise was too charmless to be likable.
This is my team, Flick thought: one flirt, one murderess, one safebreaker, one female impersonator, and one awkward aristocrat. There was someone missing, she realized: the other aristocrat. Diana had not appeared. And it was now half past seven.
Flick said to Percy, "You did tell Diana that reveille was at six?"
"I told everyone."
"And I banged on her door at a quarter past." Flick stood up. "I'd better check on her. Bedroom Ten, right?"
She went upstairs and knocked at Diana's door. There was no response, so she went in. The room looked as if a bomb had hit it-a suitcase open on the rumpled bed, pillows on the floor, knickers on the dressing table-but Flick knew this was normal. Diana had always been surrounded by people whose job it was to tidy up after her. Flick's mother had been one of those people. No, Diana had simply gone off somewhere. She was going to have to realize that her time was no longer her own, Flick thought with irritation.
"She's disappeared," she told the others. "We'll start without her." She stood at the head of the table. "We have two days' training in front of us. Then, on Friday night, we parachute into France. We're an all-female team because it is much easier for women to move around occupied France-the Gestapo are less suspicious. Our mission is to blow up a railway tunnel near the village of Marles, not far from Reims, on the main railway line between Frankfurt and Paris."
Flick glanced at Greta, who knew the story was false. She sat quietly buttering toast and did not meet Flick's eye.
"The agent's course is normally three months," Flick went on. "But this tunnel has to be destroyed by Monday night. In two days, we hope to give you some basic security rules, teach you how to parachute, do some weapons training, and show you how to kill people without making a noise."
Maude looked pale despite her makeup. "Kill people?" she said. "Surely you don't expect girls to do that?"
Jelly gave a grunt of disgust. "There is a bloody war on, you know."
Diana came in from the garden with bits of vegetation clinging to her corduroy trousers. "I've been for a tramp in the woods," she said enthusiastically. "Marvelous. And look what the greenhouse man gave me." She took a handful of ripe tomatoes from her pocket and rolled them onto the kitchen table.
Flick said, "Sit down, Diana, you're late for the briefing."
"I'm sorry, darling, have I missed your lovely talk?"
"You're in the military now," Flick said with exasperation. "When you're told to be in the kitchen by seven, it's not a suggestion."
"You're not going to get all headmistressy with me, are you?"
"Sit down and shut up."
"Frightfully sorry, darling."
Flick raised her voice. "Diana, when I say shut up, you don't say 'Frightfully sorry' to me, and you don't call me darling, ever. Just shut up."
Diana sat down in silence, but she looked mutinous. Oh, hell, Flick thought, I didn't handle that very well.
The kitchen door opened with a bang and a small, muscular man of about forty came in. He had sergeant's chevrons on his uniform shirt. "Good morning, girls!" he said heartily.
Flick said, "This is Sergeant Bill Griffiths, one of the instructors." She did not like Bill. An army PT instructor, he showed an unpleasant relish in physical combat and never seemed sorry enough when he hurt someone. She had noticed that he was worse with women. "We're just about ready for you, Sergeant, so why don't you begin?" She moved aside and leaned against the wall.
"Your wish is my command," he said unnecessarily. He took her place at the head of the table. "Landing with a parachute," he began, "is like jumping off a wall fourteen feet high. The ceiling of this kitchen is a bit less than that, so it's like leaping into the garden from upstairs."
Flick heard Jelly say quietly, "Oh, my gordon."
"You cannot come down on your feet and stay upright," Bill continued. "If you try to land in a standing position, you will break your legs. The only safe way is to fall. So the first thing we're going to teach you is how to fall. If anyone wishes to keep their clothing clean, please go into the boot room just there and put on overalls. If you will assemble outside in three minutes, we will begin."
While the women were changing, Paul took his leave. "We need a parachute training flight tomorrow, and they're going to tell me there are no planes available," he said to Flick. "I'm going to London to kick ass. I'll be back tonight." Flick wondered if he was going to see his girl as well.
In the garden were an old pine table, an ugly mahogany wardrobe from the Victorian era, and a stepladder fourteen feet high. Jelly was dismayed. "You're not going to make us jump off the top of that bloody wardrobe, are you?" she said to Flick.
"Not before we show you how," she said. "You'll be surprised how easy it is."
Jelly looked at Percy. "You bugger," she said. "What have you let me in for?"
When they were all ready, Bill said, "First we're going to learn to fall from zero height. There are three ways: forwards, backwards, and sideways."
He demonstrated each method, dropping to the ground effortlessly and springing up again with a gymnast's agility. "You must keep your legs together." He looked arch and added, "As all young ladies should." No one laughed. "Do not throw out your arms to break your fall, but keep them at your sides. Do not worry about hurting yourself. If you break an arm it will hurt a hell of a lot worse."
As Flick expected, the younger girls had no difficulty:
Diana, Maude, Ruby, and Denise were all able to fall like athletes as soon as they were shown how. Ruby, having done it once from the standing position, lost patience with the exercise. She climbed to the top of the stepladder. "Not yet!" Bill shouted at her, but he was too late. She jumped off the top and landed perfectly. Then she walked off, sat under a tree, and lit a cigarette. I think she's going to give me trouble, Flick thought.
Flick was more worried about Jelly. She was a key member of the team, the only one who knew about explosives. But she had lost her girlish suppleness some years ago. Parachuting was going to be difficult for her. However, she was game. Falling from the standing position, she hit the ground with a grunt and cursed as she got up, but she was ready to try again.
To Flick's surprise, the worst student was Greta. "I can't do this," she said to Flick. "I told you I'm no good at rough stuff."
It was the first time Greta had spoken more than a couple of words, and Jelly frowned and muttered, "Funny accent."
"Let me help you," Bill said to Greta. "Stand still. Just relax." He took her by the shoulders. Then, with a sudden strong motion, he threw her to the ground. She landed heavily and gave a gasp of pain. She struggled to her feet and, to Flick's dismay, she began to cry. "For God's sake," Bill said disgustedly. "What kind of people are they sending us?"
Flick glared at him. She did not want to lose her telephone engineer through Bill's brutishness. "Just go easy," she snapped at him.
He was unrepentant. "The Gestapo are a lot worse than me!"
Flick would have to mend the damage herself. She took Greta by the hand. "We'll do a little special training on our own." They went around the house to another part of the garden.
"I'm sorry," Greta said. "I just hate that little man."
"I know. Now, let's do this together. Kneel down." They knelt facing one another and held hands. "Just do what I do." Flick leaned slowly sideways. Greta mirrored her action. Together, they fell to the ground, still holding hands. "There," Flick said. "That was all right, wasn't it?"
Greta smiled. "Why can't he be like you?"
Flick shrugged. "Men," she said with a grin. "Now, are you ready to try faffing from a standing position? We'll do it the same way, holding hands."
She took Greta through all the exercises Bill was doing with the others. Greta quickly gained confidence. They returned to the group. The others were jumping off the table. Greta joined in and landed perfectly, and they gave her a round of applause.
They progressed to jumping from the top of the wardrobe, then finally the stepladder. When Jelly jumped off the ladder, rolled perfectly, and stood upright, Flick hugged her. "I'm proud of you," she said. "Well done."
Bill looked disgusted. He turned to Percy. "What the hell kind of army is it when you get a hug for doing what you're bloody well told?"
"Get used to it, Bill," said Percy.
At the tall house in the rue du Bois, Dieter carried Stephanie's suitcase up the stairs and into Mademoiselle Lemas's bedroom. He looked at the tightly made single bed, the old-fashioned walnut chest of drawers, and the prayer stool with the rosary on its lectern. "It's not going to be easy to pretend this is your house," he said anxiously, putting the case on the bed.
"I'll say I've inherited it from a maiden aunt, and I've been too lazy to fix it up to my taste," she said.
"Clever. All the same, you'll need to mess it up a little."
She opened the case, took out a black negligee, and draped it carelessly over the prayer stool.
"Better already," Dieter said. "What will you do if the phone rings?"
Stephanie thought for a minute. When she spoke, her voice was lower, and her high-class Paris accent had been replaced by the tones of provincial gentility. "Hello, yes, this is Mademoiselle Lemas, who is calling, please?"
"Very good," said Dieter. The impersonation might not fool a close friend or relative, but a casual caller would notice nothing wrong, especially with the distortion of a telephone line.
They explored the house. There were four more bedrooms, each ready to receive a guest, the beds made up, a clean towel on each washstand. In the kitchen, where there should have been a selection of small saucepans and a one-cup coffee pot, they found large casserole dishes and a sack of rice that would have fed Mademoiselle Lemas for a year. The wine in the cellar was cheap viii ordinaire, but there was half a case of good scotch whisky. The garage at the side of the house contained a little prewar Simca Cinq, the French version of the Fiat the Italians called the Topolino. It was in good condition with a tank full of petrol. He cranked the starting handle, and the engine turned over immediately. There was no way the authorities would have allowed Mademoiselle Lemas to buy scarce petrol and spare parts for a car to take her shopping. The vehicle must have been fueled and maintained by the Resistance. He wondered what cover story she had used to explain her ability to drive around. Perhaps she pretended to be a midwife. "The old cow was well organized," Dieter remarked.
Stephane made lunch. They had shopped on the way. There was no meat or fish in the shops, but they had bought some mushrooms and a lettuce, and a loaf of pain noir, the bread the French bakers made with the poor flour and bran, which was all they could get. Stephanie prepared a salad, and used the mushrooms to make a risotto, and they found some cheese in the larder to finish off. With crumbs on the dining room table and dirty pans in the kitchen sink, the house began to look more lived in.
"The war must have been the best thing that ever happened to her," Dieter said as they drank coffee.
"How can you say that? She's on her way to a prison camp."
"Think of the life she led before. A woman alone, no husband, no family, her parents dead. Then into her life come all these young people, brave boys and girls on daredevil missions. They probably tell her all about their loves and their fears. She hides them in her house, gives them whisky and cigarettes, and sends them on their way, wishing them luck. It was probably the most exciting time of her life. I bet she's never been so happy."
"Perhaps she would have preferred a peaceful life, shopping for hats with a woman friend, arranging the flowers for the cathedral, going to Paris once a year for a concert."
"Nobody really prefers a peaceful life." Dieter glanced out of the dining room window. "Damn!" A young woman was coming up the path, pushing a bicycle with a large basket over its front wheel. "Who the hell is this?"
Stephanie stared at the approaching visitor. "What shall I do?"
Dieter did not answer for a moment. The intruder was a plain, fit-looking girl in muddy trousers and a work shirt with big sweat patches under the armpits. She did not ring the doorbell but pushed her bicycle into the courtyard. He was dismayed. Was his charade to be exposed so soon? "She's coming to the back door. She must be a friend or relation. You'll just have to improvise. Go and meet her, I'll stay here and listen."
They heard the kitchen door open and close, and the girl called out in French, "Good morning, it's me."
Stephanie went into the kitchen. Dieter stood by the dining room door. He could hear everything clearly. The girl's startled voice said, "Who are you?"
"I'm Stephanie, the niece of Mademoiselle Lemas."
The visitor did not bother to conceal her suspicion."I didn't know she had a niece."
"She didn't tell me about you, either." Dieter heard the note of amiable amusement in Stephanie's voice, and realized she was being charming. "Would you like to sit down? What's in that basket?"
"Some provisions. I'm Marie. I live in the country. I'm able to get extra food and I bring some for… for Mademoiselle."
"Ah," said Stephanie. "For her… guests." There was a rustling sound, and Dieter guessed Stephanie was looking through the paper-wrapped food in the basket. "This is wonderful! Eggs… pork… strawberries.."
This explained how Mademoiselle Lemas managed to remain plump, Dieter thought.
"You know, then," said Marie.
"I know about Auntie's secret life, yes." Hearing her say "Auntie," Dieter realized that neither he nor Stephanie had ever asked Mademoiselle Lemans's first name. The pretense would be over if Marie found out that Stephanie did not even know the name of her "aunt."
"Where is she?"
"She went to Aix. Do you remember Charles Menton, who used to be dean at the cathedral?"
"No, I don't."
"Perhaps you're too young. He was the best friend of Auntie's father, until he retired and went to live in Provence." Stephane was improvising brilliantly, Dieter thought with admiration. She had cool nerves and she was imaginative. "He has suffered a heart attack, and she has gone to nurse him. She asked me to take care of any guests while she's away."
"When will she come back?"
"Charles is not expected to live long. On the other hand, the war may be over soon."
"She didn't tell anyone about this Charles."
"She told me."
It looked as if Stephanie might get away with it, Dieter thought. If she could keep this up a little longer, Marie would go away convinced. She would report what had happened, to someone or other, but Stephanie's story was plausible, and exactly the kind of thing that happened in Resistance movements. It was not like the army: someone like Mademoiselle Lemas could easily make a unilateral decision to leave her post and put someone else in charge. It drove Resistance leaders mad, but there was nothing they could do: all their troops were volunteers.
He began to feel hopeful.
"Where are you from?" said Marie.
"I live in Paris."
"Does your aunt Valerie have any other nieces hidden away?"
So, Dieter thought, Mademoiselle Lemas's name is Valerie.
"I don't think so-none that I know."
"You're a liar."
Marie's tone had changed. Something had gone wrong. Dieter sighed and drew the automatic pistol from beneath his jacket.
Stephanie said, "What on earth are you talking about?"
"You're lying. You don't even know her name. It's not Valerie, it's Jeanne."
Dieter thumbed the safety lever on the left of the slide up to the fire position.
Stephanie carried on gamely. "I always call her Auntie. You're being very rude."
Marie said scornfully, "I knew from the start. Jeanne would never trust someone like you, with your high heels and perfume."
Dieter stepped into the kitchen. "What a shame, Marie," he said. "If you had been more trusting, or less clever, you might have got away. As it is, you're under arrest."
Marie looked at Stephanie and said, "You're a Gestapo whore."
It was a wounding gibe, and Stephanie blushed. Dieter was so infuriated that he almost pistol-whipped Marie. "You'll regret that remark when you're in the hands of the Gestapo," he said coldly. "There's a man called Sergeant Becker who is going to question you. When you're screaming and bleeding and begging for mercy, remember that careless insult."
Marie looked poised to flee. Dieter almost hoped she would. Then he could shoot her and the problem would be solved. But she did not run. After a long moment, her shoulders slumped and she began to cry.
Her tears did not move him. "Lie facedown on the floor with your hands behind your back."
He put away the gun. "I think I saw a rope in the cellar," he said to Stephanie.
"I'll get it."
She returned with a length of washing line. Dieter tied Marie's hands and feet. "I'll have to take her to Sainte-Cecile," he said. "We can't have her here in case a British agent comes in today." He looked at his watch. It was two o'clock. He had time to take her to the chateau and be back by three. "You'll have to go to the crypt on your own," he told Stephanie. "Use the little car in the garage. I'll be in the cathedral, though you may not see me." He kissed her. Almost like a husband going to the office, he thought with grim amusement. He picked Marie up and slung her over his shoulder. "I'll have to hurry," he said, and went to the back door.
He stepped outside, then turned back. "Hide the bicycle."
"Don't worry," Stephanie replied.
He carried the bound girl through the courtyard and into the street. He opened the trunk of his car and put her inside. Had it not been for the "whore" comment, he would have put her on the backseat.
He slammed the lid and looked around. He saw no one, but there were always watchers in a street such as this, peering through their shutters. They would have seen Mademoiselle Lemas being taken away yesterday and would have remarked the big sky-blue car. As soon as he drove away, they would be talking about the man who had put a girl into the trunk of his car. In normal times, they would have called the police, but no one in occupied territory would talk to the police unless they had to, especially where the Gestapo might be involved.
The key question for Dieter was: Would the Resistance hear of the arrest of Mademoiselle Lemas? Reims was a city, not a village. People were arrested every day: thieves, murderers, smugglers, black marketeers, communists, Jews. There was a good chance that no report of the events in the rue du Bois would reach the ears of Michel Clairet.
But there was no guarantee.
Dieter got into the car and headed for Sainte-Cecile.
The team had got through the morning's instruction reasonably well, to Flick's relief. Everyone had learned the falling technique, which was the hardest part of parachuting. The map-reading session had been less successful. Ruby had never been to school and could barely read. A map was like a page of Chinese to her. Maude was baffled by directions such as north-northeast, and fluttered her eyelids prettily at the instructor. Denise, despite her expensive education, proved completely incapable of understanding coordinates. If the group got split up in France, Flick thought worriedly, she would not be able to rely on them finding their own way.
In the afternoon they moved on to the rough stuff. The weapons instructor was Captain Jim Cardwell, a character quite different from Bill Griffiths. Jim was an easygoing man with a craggy face and a thick black mustache. He grinned amiably when the girls discovered how difficult it was to hit a tree at six paces with a. 45-caliber Colt automatic pistol.
Ruby was comfortable with an automatic in her hand and could shoot accurately: Flick suspected she had used handguns before. Ruby was even more comfortable when Jim put his arms around her to show her how to hold the Lee-Enfield "Canadian" rifle. He murmured something in her ear, and she smiled up at him with a wicked gleam in her black eyes. She had been in a women's prison for three months, Flick reflected: no doubt she was enjoying being touched by a man.
Jelly, too, handled the firearms with relaxed familiarity. But Diana was the star of the session. Using the rifle, she hit the center of the target with every shot, emptying the magazine of both its five-round clips in a steady burst of deadly fire. "Very good!" Jim said in surprise. "You can have my job."
Diana looked triumphantly at Flick. "There are some things you're not best at," she said.
What the heck did I do to deserve that? Flick asked herself. Was Diana thinking of their schooldays, when Flick had always done so much better? Did that childhood rivalry still rankle?
Greta was the only failure. Once again, she was more feminine than the real women. She put her hands over her ears, jumped nervously at every bang, and closed her eyes in terror as she pulled the trigger. Jim worked with her patiently, giving her earplugs to muffle the noise, holding her hand to teach her how to squeeze the trigger gently, but it was no good: she was too skittish ever to be a good shot. "I'm just not cut out for this kind of thing!" she said in despair.
Jelly said, "Then what the hell are you doing here?"
Flick interposed quickly. "Greta's an engineer. She's going to tell you where to place the charges."
"Why do we need a German engineer?"
"I'm English," Greta said. "My father was born in Liverpool."
Jelly snorted skeptically. "If that's a Liverpool accent, I'm the Duchess of Devonshire."
"Save your aggression for the next session," Flick said. "We're about to do hand-to-hand combat." This bickering bothered her. She needed them to trust one another.
They returned to the garden of the house, where Bill Griffiths was waiting. He had changed into shorts and tennis shoes, and was doing push-ups on the grass with his shirt off. When he stood up, Flick got the feeling he wanted them to admire his physique.
Bill liked to teach self-defense by giving the student a weapon and saying, "Attack me." Then he would demonstrate how an unarmed man could repel an attacker. It was a dramatic and memorable lesson. Bill was sometimes unnecessarily violent but, Flick always thought, the agents might as well get used to that.
Today he had a selection of weapons laid out on the old pine table: a wicked-looking knife that he claimed was SS equipment, a Walther P38 automatic pistol of the kind Flick had seen German officers carrying, a French policeman's truncheon, a length of black-and- yellow electrical cord that he called a garotte, and a beer bottle with the neck snapped to leave a rough circle of sharp glass.
He put his shirt back on for the training session. "How to escape from a man who is pointing a gun at you," he began. He picked up the Walther, thumbed the safety catch up to the firing position, and handed the gun to Maude. She pointed it at him. "Sooner or later, your captor is going to want you to go somewhere." He turned and put his hands in the air. "Chances are, he'll follow close behind you, poking the gun in your back." He walked around in a wide circle, with Maude behind. "Now, Maude, I want you to pull the trigger the moment you think I'm trying to escape." He quickened his pace slightly, forcing Maude to step out a little faster to keep up with him, and as she did so he moved sideways and back. He caught her right wrist under his arm and hit her hand with a sharp, downward-chopping motion. She cried out and dropped the gun.
"This is where you can make a bad mistake," he said as Maude rubbed her wrist. "Do not run away at this point. Otherwise your Kraut copper will just pick up his gun and shoot you in the back. What you have to do is…" He picked up the Walther, pointed it at Maude, and pulled the trigger. There was a bang. Maude screamed, and so did Greta. "This gun is loaded with blanks, of course," Bill said.
Sometimes Flick wished Bill would not be quite so dramatic in his demonstrations.
"We'll practice all these techniques on one another in a few minutes," he went on. He picked up the electrical cord and turned to Greta. "Put that around my neck. When I give the word, pull it as tight as you can." He handed her the cord. "Your Gestapo man, or your traitorous collaborationist French gendarme, could kill you with the cord, but he can't hold your weight with it. All right, Greta, strangle me." Greta hesitated, then pulled the cord tight. It dug into Bill's muscular neck. He kicked out forward with both feet and fell to the ground, landing on his back. Greta lost her grip on the cord.
"Unfortunately," Bill said, "this leaves you lying on the ground with your enemy standing over you, which is an unfavorable situation." He got up. "We'll do it again. But this time, before I drop to the ground, I'm going to take hold of my captor by one wrist." They resumed the position, and Greta pulled the cord tight. Bill grabbed her wrist, fell to the ground, pulling her forward and down. As she fell on top of him, he bent one leg and kneed her viciously in the stomach.
She rolled off him and curled up, gasping for breath and retching. Flick said, "For Christ's sake, Bill, that's a bit rough!"
He looked pleased. "The Gestapo are a lot worse than me," he said.
She went to Greta and helped her up. "I'm sorry," she said.
"He's a bloody fucking Nazi," Greta gasped.
Flick helped Greta into the house and sat her down in the kitchen. The cook, who was peeling potatoes for lunch, offered her a cup of tea, and Greta accepted gratefully.
When Flick returned to the garden, Bill had picked his next victim, Ruby, and handed her the policeman's truncheon. There was a cunning look on Ruby's face, and Flick thought: If I were Bill I'd be careful with her.
Flick had seen Bill demonstrate this technique before. When Ruby raised her right hand to hit him with the truncheon, Bill was going to grab her arm, turn, and throw her over his shoulder. She would land flat on her back with a painful thump.
"Right, gypsy girl," Bill said. "Hit me with the truncheon, as hard as you like."
Ruby lifted her arm, and Bill moved toward her, but the action did not follow the usual pattern. When Bill reached for Ruby's arm, it was not there. The truncheon fell to the ground. Ruby moved close to Bill and brought her knee up hard into his groin. He gave a sharp cry of pain. She grabbed his shirtfront, pulled him toward her sharply, and butted his nose. Then, with her sturdy black laced shoe, she kicked his shin, and he fell to the ground, blood pouring from his nose.
"You bitch, you weren't supposed to do that!" he yelled.
"The Gestapo are a lot worse than me," said Ruby.
It was a minute before three when Dieter parked outside the Hotel Frankfort. He hurried across the cobbled square to the cathedral under the stony gaze of the carved angels in the buttresses. It was almost too much to hope that an Allied agent would show up at the rendezvous the first day. On the other hand, if the invasion really were imminent, the Allies would be throwing in every last asset.
He saw Mademoiselle Lemas's Simca Cinq parked to one side of the square, which meant that Stephanie was already here. He was relieved to have arrived in time. If anything should go wrong, he would not want her to have to deal with it alone.
He passed through the great west door into the cool gloom of the interior. He looked for Hans Hesse and saw him sitting in the back row of pews. They nodded briefly to one another but did not speak.
Right away Dieter felt like a violator. The business he was engaged upon should not take place in this atmosphere. He was not very devout-less so than the average German, he thought-but he was certainly no unbeliever. He felt uncomfortable catching spies in a place that had been a holy sanctuary for hundreds of years.
He shook off the feeling as superstitious.
He crossed to the north side of the building and walked up the long north aisle, his footsteps ringing on the stone floor. When he reached the transept, he saw the gate, railing, and steps leading down to the crypt, which was below the high altar. Stephanie was down there, he assumed, wearing one black shoe and one brown. From here he could see in both directions: back the way he had come the length of the north aisle, and forward around the curved ambulatory at the other end of the building. He knelt down and folded his hands in prayer.
He said, "O Lord, forgive me for the suffering I inflict on my prisoners. You know I'm trying my best to do my duty. And forgive me for my sin with Stephanie. I know it's wrong, but You made her so lovely that I can't resist the temptation. Watch over my dear Waltraud, and help her to care for Rudi and little Mausi, and protect them from the bombs of the RAF. And be with Field Marshal Rommel when the invasion comes, and give him the power to push the Allied invaders back into the sea. It's a short prayer to have so much in it, but You know that I have a lot to do right now. Amen."
He looked around. There was no service going on, but a handful of people were scattered around the pews in the side chapels, praying or just sitting quietly in the sacred stillness. A few tourists walked around the aisles, talking in hushed voices about the medieval architecture, bending their necks to peer up into the vastness of the vaulting.
If an Allied agent showed up today, Dieter planned simply to watch and make sure nothing went wrong. Ideally he would not have to do anything. Stephanie would talk to the agent, exchange passwords, and take him home to the rue du Bois.
After that, his plans were vaguer. Somehow, the agent would lead him to others. At some point, there would be a breakthrough: an unwise person would be found to have a written list of names and addresses; a wireless set and a code book would fall into Dieter's hands; or he would capture someone like Flick Clairet, who would, under torture, betray half the French Resistance.
He checked his watch. It was five past three. Probably no one would come today. He looked up. To his horror, he saw Will Weber.
What the hell was he doing here?
Weber was in plain clothes, wearing his green tweed suit. With him was a younger Gestapo man in a check jacket. They were coming from the east end of the church, walking around the ambulatory toward Dieter, though they had not seen him. They drew level with the crypt door and stopped.
Dieter cursed under his breath. This could ruin everything. He almost hoped that no British agent would come today.
Looking along the north aisle, he saw a young man carrying a small suitcase. Dieter narrowed his eyes: most of the people in the church were older. The man was wearing a shabby blue suit of French cut, but he looked like a Viking, with red hair, blue eyes, and pale pink skin. It was a very English combination, but could also be German. At first glance, the young man might be an officer in mufti, seeing the sights or even intending to pray.
However, his behavior gave him away. He walked purposefully along the aisle, neither looking at the pillars like a tourist nor taking a seat like a worshiper. Dieter's heart beat faster. An agent on the first day! And the bag he carried was almost certainly a suitcase radio. That meant he had a code book, too. This was more than Dieter had dared to hope for.
But Weber was here to mess everything up.
The agent passed Dieter and slowed his walk, obviously looking for the crypt.
Weber saw the man, gave him a hard look, then turned and pretended to study the fluting on a column.
Maybe it was going to be all right, Dieter thought. Weber had done a stupid thing in coming here, but perhaps he was just planning to observe. Surely he was not such an imbecile as to interfere? He could ruin a unique opportunity.
The agent found the crypt gate and disappeared down the stone steps.
Weber looked across the north transept and gave a nod. Following his gaze, Dieter saw two more Gestapo men lurking beneath the organ loft. That was a bad sign. Weber did not need four men just to observe. Dieter wondered if he had time to speak to Weber, get him to call his men off. But Weber would argue, and there would be a row, and then- As it turned out, there was no time. Almost immediately, Stephanie came up from the crypt with the agent right behind her.
When she reached the top of the steps she saw Weber. A look of shock came over her face. She was disoriented by his unexpected presence, as if she had walked on stage and found herself in the wrong play. She stumbled, and the young agent caught her elbow and steadied her. She recovered her composure with characteristic speed and gave him a grateful smile. Well done, my girl, Dieter thought.
Then Weber stepped forward.
"No!" Dieter said involuntarily. No one heard him.
Weber took the agent by the arm and said something. Dieter's heart sank as he realized Weber was making an arrest. Stephanie backed away from the little tableau, looking bewildered.
Dieter got up and walked quickly toward the group. He could only think that Weber had decided to grab the glory by capturing an agent. It was insane but possible.
Before Dieter got close, the agent shook off Weber's hand and bolted.
Weber's young companion in the check jacket reacted fast. He took two big strides after the agent, flung himself forward in a flying tackle, and threw his arms around the agent's knees. The agent stumbled, but he was moving strongly, and the Gestapo man could not hold him. The agent recovered his balance, straightened up, and ran on, still clutching his suitcase.
The sudden running steps, and the grunts made by both men, sounded loud in the hushed cathedral, and everyone looked. The agent ran toward Dieter. Dieter saw what was going to happen and groaned. The second pair of Gestapo men stepped out of the north transept. The agent saw them and seemed to guess what they were, for he swerved left, but he was too late. One of the men stuck out a foot and tripped him. He fell headlong, his chunky body hitting the stone floor with a thwack. The suitcase went flying. Both Gestapo men jumped on him. Weber came running up, looking pleased.
"Shit," Dieter said aloud, forgetting where he was. The mad fools were ruining everything.
Maybe he could still save the situation.
He reached into his jacket, drew his Walther P38, thumbed the safety catch, and pointed it at the Gestapo men who were holding the agent down. Speaking French, he yelled at the top of his voice, "Get off him now, or I shoot!"
Weber said, "Major, I-"
Dieter fired into the air. The report of the pistol crashed around the cathedral vaults, drowning Weber's giveaway words. "Silence!" Dieter shouted in German. Weber looked scared and shut up.
Dieter poked the nose of the pistol hard into the face of one of the Gestapo men. Reverting to French, he screamed, "Off! Off! Get off him!"
With terrified faces the two men stood up and backed away.
Dieter looked at Stephanie. Calling her by Mademoiselle Lemas's name, he shouted, "Jeanne! Go! Get away!" Stephanie began to run. She circled widely around the Gestapo men and dashed for the west door.
The agent was scrambling to his feet. "Go with her! Go with her!" Dieter shouted at him, pointing. The man grabbed his suitcase and ran, vaulting over the backs of the wooden choir stalls and haring down the middle of the nave.
Weber and his three associates looked bemused. "Lie facedown!" Dieter ordered them. As they obeyed, he backed away, still threatening them with the gun. Then he turned and ran after Stephanie and the agent.
As the other two fled through the doorway, Dieter stopped and spoke to Hans, who stood near the back of the church, looking stolid. "Talk to those damn fools," Dieter said breathlessly. "Explain what we're doing and make sure they don't follow us." He holstered the pistol and ran outside.
The engine of the Simca was turning over. Dieter pushed the agent into the cramped backseat and got into the front passenger seat. Stephanie stamped on the pedal and the little car shot out of the square like a champagne cork.
As they raced along the street, Dieter turned and looked through the back window. "No one following," he said. "Slow down. We don't want to get stopped by a gendarme."
The agent said in French, "I'm Helicopter. What the hell happened in there?"
Dieter realized that "Helicopter" must be a code name. He recalled that Gaston had told him Mademoiselle Lemas's code name. "This is Bourgeoise," he said, indicating Stephane. "And I'm Charenton," he improvised, thinking for some reason of the prison where the Marquis de Sade had been incarcerated. "Bourgeoise has become suspicious, in the last few days, that the cathedral rendezvous might be watched, so she asked me to come with her. I'm not part of the Bollinger circuit-Bourgeoise is a cut-out."
"Yes, I understand that."
"Anyway, we now know the Gestapo had set a trap, and it's just fortunate that she had asked me to be there as backup for her."
"You were brilliant!" Helicopter said enthusiastically. "God, I was so scared, I thought I'd blown it on my first day."
You have, Dieter thought silently.
It seemed to Dieter that he might have saved the situation. Helicopter now firmly believed that Dieter was a member of the Resistance. Helicopter's French sounded perfect, but obviously he was not quite good enough to identify Dieter's slight accent. Was there anything else that might cause him to be suspicious, perhaps later when he thought things over? Dieter had stood up and said "No!" right at the start of the rumpus, but a plain "No" did not mean much, and anyway he did not think anyone had heard him. Willi Weber had shouted "Major" in German at Dieter, and Dieter had fired his weapon to drown out any further indiscretion. Had Helicopter heard that one word, did he know what it meant, and would he remember it later and puzzle over it? No, Dieter decided. If Helicopter had understood the word, he would have assumed Weber was addressing one of the other Gestapo men: they were all in plain clothes so could be any rank.
Helicopter would now trust Dieter in all things, being convinced Dieter had snatched him from the clutches of the Gestapo.
Others might not be quite so easy to fool. The existence of a new Resistance member codenamed Charenton and recruited by Mademoiselle Lemas would have to be plausibly explained, both to London and to the leader of the Bollinger circuit, Michel Clairet. Both might ask questions and run checks. Dieter would just have to deal with them in due course. It was not possible to anticipate everything.
He allowed himself a moment of triumph. He was one step closer to his goal of crippling the Resistance in northern France. He had pulled it off despite the stupidity of the Gestapo. And it had been exhilarating.
The challenge now was to make maximum use of Helicopter's trust. The agent must continue to operate, believing himself unsuspected. That way he could lead Dieter to more agents, perhaps dozens more. But it was a subtle trick to pull off.
They arrived at the rue du Bois and Stephanie drove into Mademoiselle Lemas's garage. They entered the house by the back door and sat in the kitchen. Stephanie got a bottle of scotch from the cellar and poured them all a drink.
Dieter was desperately anxious to confirm that Helicopter had a radio. He said, "You'd better send a message to London right away."
"I'm supposed to broadcast at eight p.m. and receive at eleven."
Dieter made a mental note. "But you need to tell them as soon as possible that the cathedral rendezvous is compromised. We don't want them to send any more men there. And there could be someone else on his way tonight."
"Oh, my God, yes," the young man said. "I'll use the emergency frequency."
"You can set up your wireless right here in the kitchen."
Helicopter lifted the heavy case onto the table and opened it.
Dieter hid a sigh of profound satisfaction. There it was.
The interior of the case was divided into four: two side compartments and, in the middle, one front and one back. Dieter could see immediately that the rear middle compartment contained the transmitter, with the Morse key in the lower right-hand corner, and the front middle was the receiver, with a socket for headphone connections. The right-side compartment was the power supply. The function of the left-side compartment became clear when the agent lifted the lid to reveal a selection of accessories and spare parts: a power lead, adaptors, aerial wire, connection cables, a headset, spare tubes, fuses, and a screwdriver.
It was a neat, compact set, Dieter thought admiringly; the kind of thing the Germans would have made, not at all what he would expect from the untidy British.
He already knew Helicopter's times for transmission and reception. Now he had to learn the frequencies used and-most important-the code.
Helicopter plugged a lead into the power socket. Dieter said, "I thought it was battery-operated."
"Battery or mains power. I believe the Gestapo's favorite trick, when they're trying to locate the source of an illicit radio transmission, is to switch off the town's electricity block by block until the broadcast is cut off."
"Well, with this set, if you lose the house current, you just have to reverse this plug, and it switches to battery operation."
"Very good." Dieter would pass that on to the Gestapo, in case they did not already know.
Helicopter plugged the power lead into an electrical outlet, then took the aerial wire and asked Stephanie to drape it over a tall cupboard. Dieter looked in the kitchen drawers and found a pencil and a scratch pad that Mademoiselle Lemas had probably used to make shopping lists. "You can use this to encode your message," he said helpfully.
"First I'd better figure out what to say." Helicopter scratched his head, then began to write in English:
ARRIVED OK STOP CRYPT RENDEZVOUS UNSAFE STOP NABBED BY GESTAPO BUT GOT AWAY OVER
"I suppose that's it for now," he said.
Dieter said, "We should give them a new rendezvous for future incomers. Say the Cafe de La Gare next to the railway station."
Helicopter wrote it down.
He took from the case a silk handkerchief printed with a complex table showing letters in pairs. He also took out a pad of a dozen or so sheets of paper printed with five-letter nonsense words. Dieter recognized the makings of a one-time-pad encryption system. It was unbreakable-unless you had the pad.
Over the words of his message, Helicopter wrote the five-letter groups from the pad; then he used the letters he had written to select transpositions from the silk handkerchief. Over the first five letters of ARRIVED he had written the first group from his one-time pad, which was BGKRU. The first letter, B, told him which column to use from the grid on the silk handkerchief. At the top of column B were the letters Ae. That told him to replace the A of ARRIVED with the letter e.
The code could not be broken in the usual way, because the next A would be represented not by E but by some other letter. In fact, any letter could stand for any other letter, and the only way to decrypt the message was by using the pad with the five-letter groups. Even if the code breakers could get hold of a coded message and its plain-language original, they could not use them to read another message, because the next message would be encoded with a different sheet from the pad-which was why it was called a "one-time" pad. Each sheet was used once, then burned.
When he had encrypted his message, Helicopter flicked the on/off switch and turned a knob marked in English "Crystal Selector." Looking carefully, Dieter saw that the dial bore three faint markings in yellow wax crayon. Helicopter had mistrusted his memory and had marked his broadcast positions. The crystal he was using would be reserved for emergencies. Of the other two, one would be for transmission and the other for reception.
Finally he tuned in, and Dieter saw that the frequency dial was also marked with yellow crayon.
Before sending his message, he checked in with the receiving station by sending: HLCP DXDX QTC1 QRK? K
Dieter frowned, figuring. The first group had to be the call sign "Helicopter." The next one, "DXDX," was a mystery. The number one at the end of "QTC1" suggested that this group meant something like: "I have one message to send you." The question mark at the end of "QRK?" made him think this asked if he was being received loud and clear. "K" meant "Over," he knew. That left the mysterious "DXDX."
He tried a guess. "Don't forget your security tag," he said.
"I haven't," Helicopter said.
That must be "DXDX," Dieter concluded.
Helicopter turned to "receive" and they all heard the Morse reply: HLCP QRK QRV K
Once again, the first group was Helicopter's call sign. The second group, "QRK," had appeared in the original message. Without the question mark, it presumably meant "I am receiving you loud and clear." He was not sure about "QRV," but he guessed it must mean "Go ahead."
As Helicopter tapped out his message in Morse, Dieter watched, feeling elated. This was the spy catcher's dream: he had an agent in his hands and the agent did not know he had been captured.
When the message was sent, Helicopter shut down the radio quickly. Because the Gestapo used radio direction-finding equipment to track down spies, it was dangerous to operate a set for more than a few minutes.
In England, the message had to be transcribed, decoded, and passed to Helicopter's controller, who might have to consult with others before replying; all of which could take several hours, so Helicopter would wait until the appointed hour for a response.
Now Dieter had to separate him from the wireless set and, more importantly, from his coding materials. "I presume you want to contact the Bollinger circuit now," he said.
"Yes. London needs to know how much of it is left."
"We'll put you in touch with Monet, that's the code name of the leader." He looked at his wristwatch and suffered a moment of sheer panic: it was a standard issue German Army officer's watch, and if Helicopter recognized it the game would be up. Trying to keep the tremor out of his voice, Dieter said, "We've got time, I'll drive you to his house."
"Is it far?" Helicopter said eagerly.
"Center of town."
Monet, whose real name was Michel Clairet, would not be at home. He was no longer using the house; Dieter had checked. The neighbors claimed to have no idea where he was. Dieter was not surprised. Monet had guessed that his name and address would be given away by one of his comrades under interrogation, and he had gone into hiding.
Helicopter began to close up the radio. Dieter said, "Does that battery need recharging from time to time?"
"Yes-in fact they tell us to plug it in at every opportunity, so that it's always fully charged."
"So why don't you leave it where it is for now? We can come back for it later, by which time it will be charged. If anyone should come in the meantime, Bourgeoise can hide it away in a few seconds."
"Then let's go." Dieter led the way to the garage and backed the Simca Cinq out. Then he said, "Wait here a minute, I have to tell Bourgeoise something."
He went back into the house. Stephanie was in the kitchen, staring at the suitcase radio on the kitchen table. Dieter took the one-time pad and the silk handkerchief from the accessories compartment. "How long will it take you to copy these?" he said.
She made a face. "All those gibberish letters? At least an hour."
"Do it as fast as you can, but don't make any mistakes. I'll keep him out for an hour and a half."
He returned to the car and drove Helicopter into the city center.
Michel Clairet's home was a small, elegant town house near the cathedral. Dieter waited in the car while Helicopter went to the door. After a few minutes, the agent came back and said, "No answer."
"You can try again in the morning," Dieter said. "Meanwhile, I know a bar used by the Resistance." He knew no such thing. "Let's go there and see if I recognize anyone."
He parked near the station and picked a bar at random. The two of them sat drinking watery beer for an hour, then returned to the rue du Bois.
When they entered the kitchen, Stephanie gave Dieter a slight nod. He took it to mean she had succeeded in copying everything. "Now," Dieter said to Helicopter, "you'd probably like a bath, having spent a night in the open. And you certainly should shave. I'll show you your room, and Bourgeoise will run your bath."
"How kind you are."
Dieter put him in an attic room, the one farthest from the bathroom. As soon as he heard the man splashing in the bath, he went into the room and searched his clothes. Helicopter had a change of underwear and socks, all bearing the labels of French shops. In his jacket pockets were French cigarettes and matches, a handkerchief with a French label, and a wallet. In the wallet was a lot of cash-half a million francs, enough to buy a luxury car, if there had been any new cars for sale. The identity papers seemed impeccable, though they had to be forgeries.
There was also a photograph.
Dieter stared at it in surprise. It showed Flick Clairet. There was no mistake. It was the woman he had seen in the square at Sainte-Cecile. Finding it was a wonderful piece of luck for Dieter-and a disaster for her.
She was wearing a swimsuit that revealed muscular legs and suntanned arms. Beneath the costume she had neat breasts, a small waist, and delightfully rounded hips. There was a glimmer of moisture, either water or perspiration, at her throat, and she was looking into the camera with a faint smile. Behind her and slightly out of focus, two young men in bathing trunks seemed about to dive into a river. The picture had obviously been taken at an innocent swimming party. But her semi nakedness, the wetness at her throat, and the slight smile combined to make a picture that seemed sexually charged. Had it not been for the boys in the background, she might have been about to take the swimsuit off and reveal her body to the person behind the camera. That was how a woman smiled at her man when she wanted him to make love to her, Dieter thought. He could see why a young fellow would treasure the photo.
Agents were not supposed to carry photos with them into enemy territory-for very good reasons. Helicopter's passion for Flick Clairet might destroy her, and much of the French Resistance too.
Dieter slipped the photo into his pocket and left the room. All in all, he thought, he had done a very good day's work.
Paul Chancellor spent the day fighting the military bureaucracy-persuading, threatening, pleading, cajoling, and as a last resort using the name of Monty-and, in the end, he got a plane for the team's parachute training tomorrow.
When he caught the train back to Hampshire, he found he was eager to see Flick again. He liked her a lot. She was smart, tough, and a pleasure to look at. He wished to hell she was single.
On the train he read the war news in the paper. The long lull on the eastern front had been broken, yesterday, by a surprisingly powerful German attack in Rumania. The continuing resilience of the Germans was formidable. They were in retreat everywhere, but they kept fighting back.
The train was delayed, and he missed six o'clock dinner at the Finishing School. After dinner there was always another lecture; then at nine the students were free to relax for an hour or so before bed. Paul found most of the team gathered in the drawing room of the house, which had a bookcase, a cupboard full of games, a wireless set, and a half-size billiards table. He sat on the sofa beside Flick and said quietly, "How did it go today?"
"Better than we had a right to expect," she said. "But everything is so compressed. I don't know how much they're going to remember when they're in the field."
"I guess anything is better than nothing."
Percy Thwaite and Jelly were playing poker for pennies. Jelly was a real character, Paul thought. How could a professional safebreaker consider herself a respectable English lady? "How was Jelly?" he asked Flick.
"Not bad. She has more difficulty than the others with the physical training but, my goodness, she just grit her teeth and got on with it, and in the end she did everything the youngsters did." Flick paused and frowned.
Paul said, "What?"
"Her hostility to Greta is a problem."
"It's not surprising that an Englishwoman should hate Germans."
"It's illogical, though-Greta has suffered more from the Nazis than Jelly has."
"Jelly doesn't know that."
"She knows that Greta's prepared to fight against the Nazis."
"People aren't logical about these things."
"Too bloody right."
Greta herself was talking to Denise. Or rather, Paul thought, Denise was talking and Greta was listening. "My stepbrother, Lord Foules, pilots fighter-bombers," he heard her say in her half-swallowed aristocratic accent. "He's been training to fly support missions for the invasion troops."
Paul frowned. "Did you hear that?" he asked Flick.
"Yes. Either she's making it up, or she's being dangerously indiscreet."
He studied Denise. She was a rawboned girl who always looked as if she had just been insulted. He did not think she was fantasizing. "She doesn't seem the imaginative type," he said.
"I agree. I think she's giving away real secrets."
"I'd better arrange a little test tomorrow."
Paul wanted to get Flick to himself so that they could talk more freely. "Let's take a stroll around the garden," he said.
They stepped outside. The air was warm and there was an hour of daylight left. The house had a large garden with several acres of lawn dotted with trees. Maude and Diana were sitting on a bench under a copper beech. Maude had flirted with Paul at first, but he had given her no encouragement, and she seemed to have given up. Now she was listening avidly to something Diana was saying, looking into Diana's face with an attitude almost of adoration. "I wonder what Diana's saying?" Paul said. "She's got Maude fascinated."
"Maude likes to hear about the places she's been," Flick said. "The fashion shows, the balls, the ocean liners."
Paul recalled that Maude had surprised him by asking whether the mission would take them to Paris. "Maybe she wanted to go to America with me," he said.
"I noticed her making a play for you," Flick said. "She's pretty."
"Not my type, though."
"Candidly? She's not smart enough."
"Good," Flick said. "I'm glad."
He raised an eyebrow at her. "Why?"
"I would have thought less of you otherwise."
He thought this was a little condescending. "I'm glad to have your approval," he said.
"Don't be ironic," she reprimanded him. "I was paying you a compliment."
He grinned. He could not help liking her, even when she was being high-handed. "Then I'll quit while I'm ahead," he said.
They passed close to the two women, and heard Diana say, "So the contessa said, 'Keep your painted claws off my husband,' then poured a glass of champagne over Jennifer's head, whereupon Jennifer pulled the contessa's hair-and it came off in her hand, because it was a wig!"
Maude laughed. "I wish I'd been there!"
Paul said to Flick, "They all seem to be making friends."
"I'm pleased. I need them to work as a team."
The garden merged gradually with the forest, and they found themselves walking through woodland. It was only half light under the canopy of leaves. "Why is it called the New Forest?" Paul said. "It looks old."
"Do you still expect English names to be logical?"
He laughed. "I guess I don't."
They walked in silence for a while. Paul felt quite romantic. He wanted to kiss her, but she was wearing a wedding ring.
"When I was four years old, I met the King," Flick said.
"The present king?"
"No, his father, George V. He came to Somersholme. I was kept out of his way, of course, but he wandered into the kitchen garden on Sunday morning and saw me. He said, 'Good morning, little girl, are you ready for church?' He was a small man, but he had a booming voice."
"What did you say?"
"I said, 'Who are you?' He replied, 'I'm the King.' And then, according to family legend, I said, 'You can't be, you're not big enough.' Fortunately, he laughed."
"Even as a child, you had no respect for authority."
"So it seems."
Paul heard a low moan. Frowning, he looked toward the sound and saw Ruby Romam with Jim Cardwell, the firearms instructor. Ruby had her back to a tree and Jim was embracing her. They were kissing passionately. Ruby moaned again.
They were not just embracing, Paul realized, and he felt both embarrassed and aroused. Jim's hands were busy inside Ruby's blouse. Her skirt was up around her waist. Paul could see all of one brown leg and a thick patch of dark hair at her groin. The other leg was raised and bent at the knee, and Ruby's foot rested high on Jim's hip. The movement they were making together was unmistakable.
Paul looked at Flick. She had seen the same thing. She stared for a moment, her expression showing shock and something else. Then she turned quickly away. Paul followed suit, and they went back the way they had come, walking as quietly as they could.
When they were out of earshot, he said, "I'm terribly sorry about that."
"Not your fault," she said.
"Still, I'm sorry I led you that way."
"I really don't mind. I've never seen anyone… doing that. It was rather sweet."
"Sweet?" It was not the word he would have chosen. "You know, you're kind of unpredictable."
"Have you only just noticed?"
"Don't be ironic, I was paying you a compliment," he said, repeating her own words.
She laughed. "Then I'll quit while I'm ahead."
They emerged from the woods. Daylight was fading fast, and the blackout curtains were drawn in the house. Maude and Diana had gone from their seat under the copper beech. "Let's sit here for a minute," Paul said. He was in no hurry to go inside.
Flick complied without speaking.
He sat sideways, looking at her. She bore his scrutiny without comment, but she was thoughtful. He took her hand and stroked her fingers. She looked at him, her face unreadable, but she did not pull away her hand. He said, "I know I shouldn't, but I really want to kiss you." She made no reply but continued to look at him with that enigmatic expression, half amused and half sad. He took silence for assent, and kissed her.
Her mouth was soft and moist. He closed his eyes, concentrating on the sensation. To his surprise, her lips parted, and he felt the tip of her tongue. He opened his mouth.
He put his arms around her and pulled her to him, but she slipped out of his embrace and stood up. "Enough," she said. She turned away and walked toward the house.
He watched her go in the fading light. Her small, neat body suddenly seemed the most desirable thing in the world.
When she had disappeared inside, he followed. In the drawing room, Diana sat alone, smoking a cigarette, looking thoughtful. On impulse, Paul sat close to her and said, "You've known Flick since you were kids."
Diana smiled with surprising warmth. "She's adorable, isn't she?"
Paul did not want to give away too much of what was in his heart. "I like her a lot, and I wish I knew more about her."
"She always yearned for adventure," Diana said. "She loved those long trips we made to France every February. We would spend a night in Paris, then take the Blue Train all the way to Nice. One winter, my father decided to go to Morocco. I think it was the best time of Flick's life. She learned a few words of Arabic and talked to the merchants in the souks. We used to read the memoirs of those doughty Victorian lady explorers who traveled the Middle East dressed as men."
"She got on well with your father?"
"Better than I did."
"What's her husband like?"
"All Flick's men are slightly exotic. At Oxford, her best friend was a Nepalese boy, Rajendra, which caused great consternation in the senior common room at St. Hilda's, I can tell you, although I'm not sure she ever, you know, misbehaved with him. A boy called Charlie Standish was desperately in love with her, but he was just too boring for her. She fell for Michel because he's charming and foreign and clever, which is what she likes."
"Exotic," Paul repeated.
Diana laughed. "Don't worry, you'll do. You're American, you've only got one and a half ears, and you're as smart as a whip. You're in with a chance, at least."
Paul stood up. The conversation was taking an uncomfortably intimate turn. "I'll take that as a compliment," he said with a smile. "Goodnight."
On his way upstairs, he passed Flick's room. There was a light under the door.
He put on his pajamas and got into bed, but he lay awake. He was too excited and happy to sleep. He relived the kiss again and again. He wished he and Flick could be like Ruby and Jim, and give in to their desires shamelessly. Why not? he thought. Why the hell not?
The house fell quiet.
A few minutes after midnight, Paul got up. He went along the corridor to Flick's room. He tapped gently on the door and stepped inside.
"Hello," she said quietly.
She lay on her back in the single bed, her head propped up on two pillows. The curtains were drawn back, and moonlight came in at the small window. He could see, quite clearly, the straight line of her nose and the chisel chin that he had once thought not to be pretty. Now they seemed angelic.
He knelt by the bed.
"The answer is no," she said.
He took her hand and kissed her palm. "Please," he said.
He leaned over her to kiss her, but she turned her head away.
"Just a kiss?" he said.
"If I kiss you, I'll be lost."
That pleased him. It told him she was feeling the same way he did. He kissed her hair, then her forehead and her cheek, but she kept her face averted. He kissed her shoulder through the cotton of her nightdress, then brushed his lips over her breast. "You want to," he said.
"Out," she commanded.
"Don't say that."
She turned to him. He bent his face to kiss her, but she put a finger on his lips as if to hush him. "Go," she said. "I mean it."
He looked at her lovely face in the moonlight. Her expression was set with determination. Although he hardly knew her, he understood that her will could not be overridden. Reluctantly, he stood up.
He gave it one more try. "Look, let's-"
"No more talk. Go."
He turned away and left the room.
THE FIFTH DAY
Thursday, June 1, 1944
Dieter slept a few hours at the Hotel Frankfort and got up at two a.m. He was alone: Stephanie was at the house in the rue du Bois with the British agent Helicopter. Some time this morning, Helicopter would go in search of the head of the Bollinger circuit, and Dieter had to follow him. He knew Helicopter would start at Michel Clairet's house, so he had decided to put a surveillance team there by first light.
He drove to Sainte-Cecile in the early hours, winding through the moonlit vineyards in his big car, and parked in front of the chateau. He went first to the photo lab in the basement. There was no one in the darkroom, but his prints were there, pegged on a line to dry like laundry. He had asked for two copies of Helicopter's picture of Flick Clairet. He took them off the line and studied one, remembering the way she had run through gunfire to rescue her husband. He tried to see some of that steely nerve in the carefree expression of the pretty girl in the swimsuit, but there was no sign of it. No doubt it had come with war.
He pocketed the negative and picked up the original photo, which would have to be returned surreptitiously to Helicopter. He found an envelope and a sheet of plain paper, thought for a moment, and wrote:
While Helicopter is shaving, please put this in his inside jacket pocket, so that it will look as if it slipped out of his wallet. Thank you.
He put the note and the picture in the envelope, sealed it, and wrote: "Mlle. Lemas" on the front. He would drop it off later.
He passed the cells and looked through a judas at Marie, the girl who had surprised him yesterday by showing up at the house in the rue du Bois with food for Mademoiselle Lemas's "guests." She lay on a bloodstained sheet, staring at the wall with a wide-eyed gaze of horror, emitting a constant low moan like a piece of machinery that was broken but not switched off.
Dieter had interrogated Marie last night. She had had no useful information. She had claimed she knew no one in the Resistance, only Mademoiselle Lemas. Dieter had been inclined to believe her, but he had let Sergeant Becker torture her just in case. However, she had not changed her story, and he now felt confident that her disappearance would not alert the Resistance to the impostor in the rue du Bois.
He suffered a moment of depression as he stared at the wrecked body. He remembered her coming up the path yesterday with her bicycle, a picture of vigorous health. She had been a happy girl, albeit foolish. She had made a simple mistake, and now her life was coming to a ghastly end. She deserved her fate, of course; she had helped terrorists. All the same, it was horrible to contemplate.
He put her out of his mind and went up the stairs. On the ground floor, the night shift telephonists were at their switchboards. Above that, on what had once been a floor of impossibly grand bedrooms, were the Gestapo offices.
Dieter had not seen Weber since the fiasco in the cathedral and assumed the man was licking his wounds somewhere. However, he had spoken to Weber's deputy and asked for four Gestapo men to be here in plain clothes at three a.m. ready for a day's surveillance. Dieter had also ordered Lieutenant Hesse to be here. Now he pulled aside a blackout blind and looked out. Moonlight illuminated the parking lot, and he could see Hans walking across the yard, but there was no sign of anyone else.
He went to Weber's office and was surprised to find him there alone, behind his desk, pretending to work on some papers by the light of a green-shaded lamp. "Where are the men I asked for?" Dieter said.
Weber stood up. "You pulled a gun on me yesterday," he said. "What the devil do you mean by threatening an officer?"
Dieter had not expected this. Weber was being aggressive about an incident in which he had made a fool of himself Was it possible that he did not understand what a dreadful mistake he had made? "It was your own damn fault, you idiot," Dieter said in exasperation. "I didn't want that man arrested."
"You can be court-martialed for what you did."
Dieter was about to ridicule the idea; then he stopped himself. It was true, he realized. He had simply done what was necessary to rescue the situation; but it was not impossible, in the bureaucratic Third Reich, for an officer to be arraigned for using his initiative. His heart sank, and he had to feign confidence. "Go ahead, report me, I think I can justify myself in front of a tribunal."
"You actually fired your gun!"
Dieter could not resist saying, "I suppose that's something you haven't often witnessed, in your military career."
Weber flushed. He had never seen action. "Guns should be used against the enemy, not fellow officers."
"I fired into the air. I'm sorry if I frightened you. You were in the process of ruining a first-class counterintelligence coup. Don't you think a military court would take that into account? What orders were you following? You were the one who showed lack of discipline."
"I arrested a British terrorist spy."
"And what's the point of that? He's just one. They have plenty more. But, left to go free, he will lead us to others-perhaps many others. Your insubordination would have destroyed that chance. Fortunately for you, I saved you from a ghastly error."
Weber looked sly. "Certain people in authority would find it highly suspicious that you're so keen to free an Allied agent."
Dieter sighed. "Don't be stupid. I'm not some wretched Jewish shopkeeper, to be frightened by the threat of malicious gossip. You can't pretend I'm a traitor, no one will believe you. Now, where are my men?"
"The spy must be arrested immediately."
"No, he mustn't, and if you try I'll shoot you. Where are the men?"
"I refuse to assign much-needed men to such an irresponsible task."
Dieter stared at him. He had not thought Weber brave enough or foolish enough to do this. "What do you imagine will happen to you when the Field Marshal hears about this?"
Weber looked scared but defiant. "I am not in the army," he said. "This is the Gestapo."
Unfortunately, he was right, Dieter thought despondently. It was all very well for Walter Goedel to order Dieter to use Gestapo personnel instead of taking much-needed fighting troops from the coast, but the Gestapo were not obliged to take orders from Dieter. The name of Rommel had frightened Weber for a while, but the effect had worn off.
And now Dieter was left with no staff, but Lieutenant Hesse. Could he and Hans manage the shadowing of Helicopter without assistance? It would be difficult, but there was no alternative.
He tried one more threat. "Are you sure you're willing to bear the consequences of this refusal, Willi? You're going to get into the most dreadful trouble."
"On the contrary, I think it is you who are in trouble." Dieter shook his head in despair. There was no more to be said. He had already spent too much time arguing with this idiot. He went out.
He met Hans in the hall and explained the situation. They went to the back of the chateau, where the engineering section was housed in the former servants' quarters. Last night Hans had arranged to borrow a PTT van and a moped, the kind of motorized bicycle whose small engine was started by pedaling.
Dieter wondered whether Weber might have found out about the vehicles and ordered the engineers not to lend them. He hoped not: dawn was due in half an hour, and he did not have time for more arguments. But there was no trouble. Dieter and Hans put on overalls and drove away, with the moped in the back of the van.
They went to Reims and drove along the rue du Bois. They parked around the corner and Hans walked back, in the faint light of dawn, and put the envelope containing the photo of Flick into the letter box. Helicopter's bedroom was at the back, so there was no serious risk that he might see Hans, and recognize him later.
The sun was rising when they arrived outside Michel Clairet's house in the center of town. Hans parked a hundred meters down the road and opened a PTT manhole. He pretended to be working while watching the house. It was a busy street with numerous parked vehicles, so the van was not conspicuous.
Dieter stayed in the van, keeping out of sight, brooding over the row with Weber. The man was stupid, but he had a point. Dieter was taking a dangerous risk. Helicopter could give him the slip and disappear. Then Dieter would have lost the thread. The safe and easy course would be to torture Helicopter. But though letting him go was risky, it promised rich rewards. If things went right, Helicopter could be solid gold. When Dieter thought of the triumph that hung just beyond his grasp, he lusted for it with a passion that made his pulse race.
On the other hand, if things went wrong, Weber would make the most of it. He would tell everyone how he had opposed Dieter's risky plan. But Dieter would not allow himself to worry about such bureaucratic point-scoring. Men such as Weber, who played those games, were the most contemptible people on earth.
The town came slowly to life. First to appear were the women walking to the bakery opposite Michel's house. The shop was closed, but they stood patiently outside, waiting and talking. Bread was rationed, but Dieter guessed it sometimes ran out anyway, so dutiful housewives shopped early to make sure they got their share. When eventually the doors opened, they all tried to get in at once-unlike German housewives, who would have formed an orderly queue, Dieter thought with a feeling of superiority. When he saw them come out with their loaves, he wished he had eaten some breakfast.
After that, the working men appeared in their boots and berets, each carrying a bag or cheap fiber case containing his lunch. The children were just beginning to set out for school when Helicopter appeared, pedaling the bicycle that had belonged to Marie. Dieter sat upright. In the bicycle's basket was a rectangular object covered with a rag: the suitcase radio, Dieter guessed.
Hans put his head up out of the manhole and watched.
Helicopter went to Michel's door and knocked. There was no reply, of course. He stood on the step for a while, then looked in at the windows, then walked up and down the street looking for a back entrance. There was none, Dieter knew.
Dieter had suggested to Helicopter what to do next. "Go to the bar along the street, Chez Regis. Order coffee and rolls, and wait." Dieter's hope was that the Resistance might be watching Michel's house, alert for an emissary from London. He did not expect full-time surveillance, but perhaps a sympathetic neighbor might have agreed to keep an eye on the place. Helicopter's evident guilelessness would reassure such a watcher. Anyone could tell, just by the way he walked around, that he was not a Gestapo man or an agent of the Milice, the French security police. Dieter felt sure that somehow the Resistance would be alerted, and before too long someone would show up and speak to Helicopter-and that person might lead Dieter to the heart of the Resistance.
A minute later Helicopter did as Dieter had suggested. He wheeled his bicycle along the street to the bar and sat at a pavement table, apparently enjoying the sunshine. He got a cup of coffee. It had to be ersatz, made with roasted grain, but he drank it with apparent relish.
After twenty minutes or so he got another coffee and a newspaper from inside. He began to read the paper thoroughly. He had a patient air, as if he was prepared to wait all day. That was good.
The morning wore on. Dieter began to wonder whether this was going to work. Maybe the Bollinger circuit had been so decimated by the slaughter at Sainte-Cecile that it was no longer operational, and there was no one left to perform even the most essential tasks. It would be a profound disappointment if Helicopter did not lead him to other terrorists. And it would please Weber no end.
The time approached when Helicopter would have to order lunch to justify continuing to use the table. A waiter came out and spoke to him, then brought him a pastis. That, too, would be ersatz, made with a synthetic substitute for aniseed, but all the same Dieter licked his lips: he would have liked a drink.
Another customer sat down at the table next to Helicopter's. There were five tables, and it would have been natural to take one farther away. Dieter's hopes rose. The newcomer was a long-limbed man in his thirties. He wore a blue chambray shirt and navy canvas trousers, but to Dieter's intuition he did not have the air of a workingman. He was something else, perhaps an artist who affected a proletarian look. He sat back in his chair and crossed his legs, resting his right ankle on his left knee, and the pose struck Dieter as familiar. Had he seen this man before?
The waiter came out and the customer ordered something. For a minute or so nothing happened. Was the man covertly studying Helicopter? Or just waiting for his drink? The waiter brought a glass of pale beer on a tray. The man took a long pull and wiped his mouth with a satisfied air. Dieter began to think gloomily that he was just a man with a thirst. But at the same time he felt he had seen that mouth-wiping gesture before.
Then the newcomer spoke to Helicopter.
Dieter tensed. Could this be what he had been waiting for?
They exchanged a few casual words. Even at this distance, Dieter sensed that the newcomer had an engaging personality: Helicopter was smiling and talking with enthusiasm. After a few moments, Helicopter pointed to Michel's house, and Dieter guessed he was asking where the owner might be found. The other man gave a typical French shrug, and Dieter could imagine him saying, "Me, I don't know." But Helicopter seemed to persist.
The newcomer drained his beer glass, and Dieter had a flash of recollection. He suddenly knew exactly who this man was, and the realization so startled him that he jumped in his seat. He had seen the man in the square at Sainte-Cecile, at another cafe table, sitting with Flick Clairet, just before the skirmish-for this was her husband, Michel himself.
"Yes!" Dieter said, and he thumped the dashboard with his fist in satisfaction. His strategy had been proved right-Helicopter had led him to the heart of the local Resistance.
But he had not been expecting this degree of success. He had thought a messenger might come, and the messenger might take Helicopter-and Dieter-to Michel. Now Dieter had a dilemma. Michel was a very big prize. Should Dieter arrest him right away? Or follow him, in the hope of catching even bigger fish?
Hans replaced the manhole cover and got into the van. "Contact, sir?"
Dieter did not know what to do next-arrest Michel, or follow him?
Michel stood up, and Helicopter did the same.
Dieter decided to follow them.
"What shall I do?" Hans said anxiously.
"Get out the bike, quick."
Hans opened the back doors of the van and took out the moped.
The two men put money on the cafe tables and moved away. Dieter saw that Michel walked with a limp, and recalled that he had taken a bullet during the skirmish.
He said to Hans, "You follow them, I'll follow you." He started the engine of the van.
Hans climbed on the moped and started pedaling, which fired the engine. He drove slowly along the street, keeping a hundred meters behind his quarry. Dieter followed Hans.
Michel and Helicopter turned a corner. Following a minute later, Dieter saw that they had stopped to look in a shop window. It was a pharmacy. They were not shopping for medicines, of course: this was a precaution against surveillance. As Dieter drove by, they turned and headed back the way they had come. They would be watching for a vehicle that made a U-turn, so Dieter could not pursue them. However, he saw Hans pull behind a truck and turn back, remaining on the far side of the street but keeping the two men in sight.
Dieter went around the block and caught up with them again. Michel and Helicopter were approaching the railway station, with Hans still following.
Dieter asked himself whether they knew they were being followed. The trick at the pharmacy might indicate that they were suspicious. He did not think they had noticed the PTT van, for he had been out of their sight most of the time, but they could have spotted the moped. Most likely, Dieter thought, the reversal of direction was a precaution taken routinely by Michel, who was presumably an experienced undercover operator.
The two men crossed the gardens in front of the station. There were no flowers in the beds, but a few trees were blossoming in defiance of the war. The station was a solidly classical building with pilasters and pediments, heavyweight and over decorated, no doubt like the nineteenth-century businessmen who had built it.
What would Dieter do if Michel and Helicopter caught a train? It was too risky for Dieter to get on the same train. Helicopter would certainly recognize him, and it was even possible that Michel might remember him from the square at Sainte-Cecile. No, Hans would have to board the train, and Dieter would follow by road.
They entered the station through one of three classical arches. Hans left his moped and followed them inside. Dieter pulled up and did the same. If the two men went to the booking office, he would tell Hans to stand behind them in the queue and buy a ticket to the same destination.
They were not at the ticket window. Dieter entered the station just in time to see Hans go down a flight of steps to the tunnel beneath the lines that connected the platforms. Perhaps Michel had bought tickets in advance, Dieter thought. That was not a problem. Hans would just get on the train without a ticket.
On either side of the tunnel, steps led up to the platforms. Dieter followed Hans past all the platform entrances. Sensing danger, he quickened his pace as he mounted the stairs to the station's rear entrance. He caught up with Hans and they emerged together into the rue de Courcelles.
Several of the buildings had been bombed recently, but cars were parked on those stretches of the road that were clear of rubble. Dieter scanned the street, fear leaping in his chest. A hundred meters away, Michel and Helicopter were jumping into a black car. Dieter and Hans would never catch them. Dieter put his hand on his gun, but the range was too great for a pistol. The car pulled away. It was a black Renault Monaquatre, one of the commonest cars in France. Dieter could not read its license plate. It tore off along the street and turned a corner.
Dieter cursed. It was a simple ploy but infallible. By entering the tunnel, they had forced their pursuers to abandon their vehicles; then they had a car waiting at the other side, enabling them to escape. They might not even have detected their shadows: like the change of direction outside the pharmacy, the tunnel trick had probably been a routine precaution.
Dieter sank into gloom. He had gambled and lost. Weber would be overjoyed.
"What do we do now?" said Hans.
"Go back to Sainte-Cecile."
They returned to the van, put the moped in the back, and drove to headquarters.
Dieter had just one ray of hope. He knew Helicopter's times for radio contact, and the frequencies assigned to him. That information might yet be used to recapture him. The Gestapo had a sophisticated system, developed and refined throughout the war, for detecting illicit broadcasts and following them to their source. Many Allied agents had been captured that way. As British training improved, so the wireless operators had adopted better security precautions, always broadcasting from a different location, never staying on air longer than fifteen minutes; but careless ones could still be caught.
Would the British suspect that Helicopter had been found out? Helicopter would by now be giving Michel a full account of his adventures. Michel would question him closely about the arrest in the cathedral and subsequent escape. He would be particularly interested in the newcomer codenamed Charenton. However, he would have no reason to suspect that Mademoiselle Lemas was not who she claimed to be. Michel had never met her, so he would not be alerted even if Helicopter happened to mention that she was an attractive young redhead rather than a middle-aged spinster. And Helicopter had no idea that his one-time pad and his silk handkerchief had been meticulously copied out by Stephanie, or that his frequencies had been noted-from the yellow wax crayon marks on the dials-by Dieter.
Perhaps, Dieter began to think, all was not yet lost.
When they got back to the chateau, Dieter ran into Weber in the hallway. Weber looked hard at him and said, "Have you lost him?"
Jackals can smell blood, Dieter thought. "Yes," he admitted. It was beneath his dignity to lie to Weber.
"Ha!" Weber was triumphant. "You should leave such work to the experts."
"Very well, then I shall," Dieter said. Weber looked surprised. Dieter went on, "He's due to broadcast to England at eight o'clock tonight. Here's your chance to prove your expertise. Show how good you are. Track him down."
The fisherman's rest was a big pub that stood on the estuary shore like a fort, with chimneys for gun turrets and smoked-glass windows instead of observation slits. A fading sign in its front garden warned customers to stay off the beach, which had been mined back in 1940 in anticipation of a German invasion.
Since SOE had moved into the neighborhood, the pub had been busy every night; its lights blazing behind the blackout curtains, its piano loud, its bars crowded and spilling over into the garden on warm summer evenings. The singing was raucous, the drinking was heavy, and the canoodling was kept only just within the bounds of decency. An atmosphere of abandon prevailed, for everyone knew that some of the youngsters who were laughing uproariously at the bar tonight would embark tomorrow on missions from which they might never return.
Flick and Paul took their team to the pub at the end of their two-day training course. The girls dressed up for the outing. Maude was prettier than ever in a pink summer frock. Ruby would never be pretty, but she looked sultry in a black cocktail dress she had borrowed from somewhere. Lady Denise had on an oyster-colored silk dress that looked as if it had cost a fortune, though it did nothing for her bony figure. Greta wore one of her stage outfits, a cocktail dress and red shoes. Even Diana was wearing a smart skirt instead of her usual country corduroys and, to Flick's astonishment, had put on a smear of lipstick.
The team had been given the code name Jackdaws. They were going to parachute in near Reims, and Flick remembered the legend of the Jackdaw of Reims, the bird that stole the bishop's ring. "The monks couldn't figure out who had taken it, so the bishop cursed the unknown thief." she explained to Paul as they both sipped scotch, hers with water and his on the rocks. "Next thing they knew, the jackdaw appeared all bedraggled, and they realized he was suffering from the effects of the curse, and must be the culprit. I learned the whole thing at school:
The day was gone
The night came on
The monks and the friars they searched till dawn When the sacristan saw
On crumpled claw
Come limping a poor little lame jackdaw No longer gay
As on yesterday
His feathers all seemed to be turned the wrong way
His pinions drooped, he could hardly stand
His head was as bald as the palm of your hand His eye so dim
So wasted each limb
That, heedless of grammar, they all cried: "That's him!"
"Sure enough, they found the ring in his nest."
Paul nodded, smiling. Flick knew he would have nodded and smiled in exactly the same way if she had been speaking Icelandic. He did not care what she said, he just wanted to watch her. She did not have vast experience, but she could tell when a man was in love, and Paul was in love with her.
She had got through the day on autopilot. Last night's kisses had shocked and thrilled her. She told herself that she did not want to have an illicit affair, she wanted to win back the love of her faithless husband. But Paul's passion had upended her priorities. She asked herself angrily why she should stand in line for Michel's affections when a man such as Paul was ready to throw himself at her feet. She had very nearly let him into her bed-in fact, she wished he had been less of a gentleman, for if he had ignored her refusal, and climbed between the sheets, she might have given in.
At other moments she was ashamed that she had even kissed him. It was frightfully common: all over England, girls were forgetting about husbands and boyfriends on the front line and falling in love with visiting American servicemen. Was she as bad as those empty-headed shop assistants who went to bed with their Yanks just because they talked like movie stars?
Worst of all, her feelings for Paul threatened to distract her from the job. She held in her hands the lives of six people, plus a crucial element in the invasion plan, and she really did not need to be thinking about whether his eyes were hazel or green. He was no matinee idol anyway, with his big chin and his shot-off ear, although there was a certain charm to his face-"What are you thinking?" he said.
She realized she must have been staring at him.
"Wondering whether we can pull this off." she lied.
"We can, with a little luck."
"I've been lucky so far."
Maude sat herself next to Paul. "Speaking of luck," she said, batting her eyelashes, "can I have one of your cigarettes?"
"Help yourself." He pushed the Lucky Strike pack along the table.
She put a cigarette between her lips and he lit it. Flick glanced across to the bar and caught an irritated look from Diana. Maude and Diana had become great friends, and Diana had never been good at sharing. So why was Maude flirting with Paul? To annoy Diana, perhaps. It was a good thing Paul was not coming to France,
Flick thought: he could not help being a disruptive influence in a group of young women.
She looked around the room. Jelly and Percy were playing a gambling game called Spoof, which involved guessing how many coins the other player held in a closed fist. Percy was buying round after round of drinks. This was deliberate. Flick needed to know what the Jackdaws were like under the influence of booze. If any of them became rowdy, indiscreet, or aggressive, she would have to take precautions once they were in the field. She was most worried about Denise, who even now was sitting in a corner talking animatedly to a man in captain's uniform.
Ruby was drinking steadily, too, but Flick trusted her. She was a curious mixture: she could barely read or write, and had been hopeless in classes on map reading and encryption, but nevertheless she was the brightest and most intuitive of the group. Ruby gave Greta a hard look now and again, and she may have guessed that Greta was a man, but to her credit she had said nothing.
Ruby was sitting at the bar with Jim Cardwell, the firearms instructor, talking to the barmaid but at the same time discreetly stroking the inside of Jim's thigh with a small brown hand. They were having a whirlwind romance. They kept disappearing. During the morning coffee break, the half-hour rest period after lunch, the afternoon tea time, or at any opportunity, they would sneak off for a few minutes. Jim looked as if he had jumped out of a plane and had not yet opened his parachute.
His face wore a permanent expression of bemused delight. Ruby was no beauty, with her hooked nose and turned-up chin, but she was obviously a sex bomb, and Jim was reeling from the explosion. Flick almost felt jealous. Not that Jim was her type-all the men she had ever fallen for were intellectuals, or at least very bright-but she envied Ruby's lustful happiness.
Greta was leaning on the piano with some pink cocktail in her hand, talking to three men who looked to be local residents rather than Finishing School types. It seemed they had got over the shock of her German accent-no doubt she had told the story of her Liverpudlian father-and now she held them enthralled with tales about Hamburg nightclubs. Flick could see they had no suspicions about Greta's gender: they were treating her like an exotic but attractive woman, buying her drinks and lighting her cigarettes and laughing in a pleased way when she touched them.
As Flick watched, one of the men sat at the piano, played some chords, and looked up at Greta expectantly. The bar went quiet, and Greta launched into "Kitchen Man":
How that boy can open clams
No one else can touch my hams
The audience quickly realized that every line was a sexual innuendo, and the laughter was uproarious. When Greta finished, she kissed the pianist on the lips, and he looked thrilled.
Maude left Paul and returned to Diana at the bar. The captain who had been talking to Denise now came over and said to Paul, "She told me everything, sir."
Flick nodded, disappointed but not surprised.
Paul asked him, "What did she say?"
"That she's going in tomorrow night to blow up a railway tunnel at Marles, near Reims."
It was the cover story, but Denise thought it was the truth, and she had revealed it to a stranger. Flick was furious.
"Thank you," Paul said.
"I'm sorry." The captain shrugged.
Flick said, "Better to find out now than later."
"Do you want to tell her, sir, or shall I deal with it?"
"I'll talk to her first," Paul replied. "Just wait outside for her, if you wouldn't mind."
The captain left the pub, and Paul beckoned Denise.
"He left suddenly," Denise said. "Rather bad behavior, I thought." She obviously felt slighted. "He's an explosives instructor."
"No, he's not," Paul said. "He's a policeman."
"What do you mean?" Denise was mystified. "He's wearing a captain's uniform and he told me-"
"He told you lies," Paul said. "His job is to catch people who blab to strangers. And he caught you."
Denise's jaw dropped; then she recovered her composure and became indignant. "So it was a trick? You tried to trap me?"
"I succeeded, unfortunately," Paul said. "You told him everything."
Realizing she was found out, Denise tried to make light of it. "What's my punishment? A hundred lines and no playtime?"
Flick wanted to slap her face. Denise's boasting could have endangered the lives of the whole team.
Paul said coldly, "There's no punishment, as such."
"Oh. Thank you so much."
"But you're off the team. You won't be coming with us. You'll be leaving tonight, with the captain."
"I shall feel rather foolish going back to my old job at Hendon."
Paul shook his head. "He's not taking you to Hendon."
"You know too much. You can't be allowed to walk around free."
Denise began to look worried. "What are you going to do to me?"
"You'll be posted to some place where you can't do any damage. I believe it's usually an isolated base in Scotland, where their main function is to file regimental accounts."
"That's as bad as prison!"
Paul reflected for a moment, then nodded. "Almost."
"For how long?" Denise said in dismay.
"Who knows? Until the war is over, probably."
"You absolute rotter," Denise said furiously. "I wish I'd never met you."
"You may leave now," said Paul. "And be grateful I caught you. Otherwise it might have been the Gestapo."
Denise stalked out.
Paul said, "I hope that wasn't unnecessarily cruel."
Flick did not think so. The silly cow deserved a lot worse. However, she wanted to make a good impression on Paul, so she said, "No point in crushing her. Some people just aren't suited to this work. It's not her fault."
Paul smiled. "You're a rotten liar," he said. "You think I was too easy on her, don't you?"
"I think crucifixion would be too easy on her," Flick said angrily, but Paul laughed, and his humor softened her wrath until she had to smile. "I can't pull the wool over your eyes, can I?"
"I hope not." He became serious again. "It's fortunate that we had one team member more than we really needed. We could afford to lose Denise."
"But now we're down to the bare minimum." Flick stood up wearily. "We'd better get the rest to bed. This will be their last decent night's sleep for a while."
Paul looked around the room. "I don't see Diana and Maude."
"They must have stepped out for a breath of air. I'll find them if you'll round up the rest." Paul nodded agreement, and Flick went outside.
There was no sign of the two girls. She paused for a moment to look at the evening light glowing on the calm water of the estuary. Then she walked around the side of the pub to the parking lot. A tan-colored army Austin was pulling away, and Flick glimpsed Denise in the back, crying.
There was no sign of Diana or Maude. Frowning, puzzled, Flick crossed the tarmac and went to the back of the pub. She came to a yard with old barrels and stacked crates. Across the yard was a small outbuilding with a wooden door that stood open. She went in.
At first she could see nothing in the gloom, but she knew she was not alone, for she could hear breathing. Instinct told her to remain silent and still. Her eyes adjusted to the dim light. She was in a tool shed, with neat rows of wrenches and shovels on hooks, and a big lawn mower in the middle of the floor. Diana and Maude were in a far corner.
Maude was leaning against the wall and Diana was kissing her. Flick's jaw dropped. Diana's blouse was undone, revealing a large, severely practical brassiere. Maude's pink gingham skirt was rucked up around her waist. As the picture became clearer, she saw that Diana's hand was thrust down the front of Maude's panties.
Flick stood there for a moment, frozen with shock. Maude saw her and met her eye. "Have you had a good look?" she said saucily. "Or do you want to take a photo?"
Diana jumped, snatching her hand away and stepping back from Maude. She turned around, and a look of horror came over her face. "Oh, my God," she said. She pulled the front of her blouse together with one hand and covered her mouth with the other in a gesture of shame.
Flick stammered: "I-I-I just came to say we're leaving." Then she turned around and stumbled out.
Wireless operators were not quite invisible. They lived in a spirit world where their ghostly shapes could be dimly seen. Peering into the gloom, searching for them, were the men of the Gestapo's radio detection team, housed in a cavernous, darkened hall in Paris. Dieter had visited the place. Three hundred round oscilloscope screens flickered with a greenish light. Radio broadcasts appeared as vertical lines on the monitors, the position of the line showing the frequency of the transmission, the height indicating the strength of the signal. The screens were tended, day and night, by silent, watchful operators, who made him think of angels observing the sins of humankind.
The operators knew the regular stations, either German-controlled or foreign-based, and were able to spot a rogue instantly. As soon as this happened, the operator would pick up a telephone at his desk and call three tracking stations: two in southern Germany, at Augsburg and Nuremberg, and one in Brittany, at Brest. He would give them the frequency of the rogue broadcast. The tracking stations were equipped with goniometers, apparatus for measuring angles, and each could say within seconds which direction the broadcast was coming from. They would send this information back to Paris, where the operator would draw three lines on a huge wall map. The lines intersected where the suspect radio was located. The operator then telephoned the Gestapo office nearest to the location. The local Gestapo had cars waiting in readiness, equipped with their own detection apparatus.
Dieter was now sitting in such a car, a long black Citroen parked on the outskirts of Reims. With him were three Gestapo men experienced in wireless detection. Tonight the help of the Paris center was not required:
Dieter already knew the frequency Helicopter would use, and he assumed Helicopter would broadcast from somewhere in the city (because it was too difficult for a wireless operator to lose himself in the countryside). The car's receiver was tuned to Helicopter's frequency. It measured the strength, as well as the direction, of the broadcast, and Dieter would know he was getting nearer to the transmitter when the needle rose on the dial.
In addition, the Gestapo man sitting next to Dieter wore a receiver and an aerial concealed beneath his raincoat. On his wrist was a meter like a watch that showed the strength of the signal. When the search narrowed down to a particular street, city block, or building, the walker would take over.
The Gestapo man in the front seat held on his lap a sledgehammer, for breaking doors down.
Dieter had been hunting once. He did not much like country pursuits, preferring the more refined pleasures of city life, but he was a good shot. Now he was reminded of that, as he waited for Helicopter to begin sending his coded report home to England. This was like lying in the hide in the early dawn, tense with anticipation, impatient for the deer to start moving, savoring the thrill of anticipation.
The Resistance were not deer but foxes, Dieter thought, skulking in their holes, coming out to cause carnage in the chicken house, then going to earth again. He was mortified to have lost Helicopter. He was so keen to recapture the man that he hardly minded having to rely on the help of Willi Weber. He just wanted to kill the fox.
The driver immediately turned west, and the signal began to strengthen. "Got you," Dieter breathed.
But five minutes had elapsed.
The car raced west, and the signal strengthened, as Helicopter continued to tap on the Morse key of his suitcase radio in his hiding place-a bathroom, an attic, a warehouse-somewhere in the northwest of the city. Back at the chateau of Sainte-Cecile, a German radio operator had tuned to the same frequency and was taking down the coded message. It was also being registered on a wire recorder. Later, Dieter would decrypt it, using the one-time pad copied by Stephanie. But the message was not as important as the messenger.
They entered a neighborhood of large old houses, mostly decrepit and subdivided into small apartments and bed sitting rooms for students and nurses. The signal grew louder, then suddenly began to fade. "Overshoot, overshoot!" said the Gestapo man in the front passenger seat. The driver reversed the car, then braked.
Ten minutes had passed.
Dieter and the three Gestapo men sprang out. The one with the portable detection unit under his raincoat walked rapidly along the pavement, consulting his wrist dial constantly, and the others.
It was a fine summer evening. The car was parked at the northern end of the city. Reims was a small town, and Dieter reckoned a car could drive from one side to the other in less than ten minutes.
He checked his watch: one minute past eight. Helicopter was late coming on air. Perhaps he would not broadcast tonight… but that was unlikely. Today Helicopter had met up with Michel. As soon as possible, he would want to report his success to his superiors, and tell them just how much was left of the Bollinger circuit.
Michel had phoned the house in the rue du Bois two hours ago. Dieter had been there. It was a tense moment. Stephanie had answered, in her imitation of Mademoiselle Lemas's voice. Michel had given his code name, and asked whether "Bourgeoise" remembered him-a question that reassured Stephanie, because it indicated that Michel did not know Mademoiselle Lemas very well and therefore would not realize this was an impersonator.
He had asked her about her new recruit, codenamed Charenton. "He's my cousin," Stephanie had said gruffly. "I've known him since we were children, I would trust him with my life." Michel had told her she had no right to recruit people without at least discussing it with him, but he had appeared to believe her story, and Dieter had kissed Stephanie and told her she was a good enough actor to join the Comedie Francaise.
All the same, Helicopter would know that the Gestapo would be listening and trying to find him. That was a risk he had to run: if he sent no messages home he was of no use. He would stay on air only for the minimum length of time. If he had a lot of information to send, he would break it into two or more messages and send them from different locations. Dieter's only hope was that he would be tempted to stay on the air just a little too long.
The minutes ticked by. There was silence in the car. The men smoked nervously. Then, at five past eight, the receiver beeped.
By prearrangement, the driver set off immediately, driving south.
The signal grew stronger, but slowly, making Dieter worry that they were not heading directly for the source.
Sure enough, as they passed the cathedral in the center of town, the needle fell back.
In the passenger seat, a Gestapo man talked into a short-wave radio. He was consulting with someone in a radio-detection truck a mile away. After a moment he said, "Northwest quarter." followed. He went a hundred meters, then suddenly turned back. He stopped and pointed to a house. "That one," he said. "But the transmission has ended."
Dieter noticed that there were no curtains in the windows. The Resistance liked to use derelict houses for their transmissions.
The Gestapo man carrying the sledgehammer broke the door down with two blows. They all rushed in.
The floors were bare and the place had a musty smell. Dieter threw open a door and looked into an empty room.
Dieter opened the door of the back room. He crossed the vacant room in three strides and looked into an abandoned kitchen.
He ran up the stairs. On the next floor was a window overlooking a long back garden. Dieter glanced out-and saw Helicopter and Michel running across the grass. Michel was limping, Helicopter was carrying his little suitcase. Dieter swore. They must have escaped through a back door as the Gestapo were breaking down the front. Dieter turned and yelled, "Back garden!" The Gestapo men ran and he followed.
As he reached the garden, he saw Michel and Helicopter scrambling over the back fence into the grounds of another house. He joined in the chase, but the fugitives had a long lead. With the three Gestapo men, he climbed the fence and ran through the second garden.
They reached the next street just in time to see a black Renault Monaquatre disappearing around the corner.
"Hell," Dieter said. For the second time in a day, Helicopter had slipped through his grasp.
When they got back to the house, Flick made cocoa for the team. It was not regular practice for officers to make cocoa for their troops, but in Flick's opinion that only showed how little the army knew about leadership.
Paul stood in the kitchen watching her as she waited for the kettle to boil. She felt his eyes on her like a caress. She knew what he was going to say, and she had prepared her reply. It would have been easy to fall in love with Paul, but she was not going to betray the husband who was risking his life fighting the Nazis in occupied France.
However, his question surprised her. "What will you do after the war?"
"I'm looking forward to being bored," she said.
He laughed. "You've had enough excitement."
"Too much." She thought for a moment. "I still want to be a teacher. I'd like to share my love of French culture with young people. Educate them about French literature and painting, and also about less highbrow things like cooking and fashion."
"So you'll become a don?"
"Finish my doctorate, get a job at a university, be condescended to by narrow-minded old male professors. Maybe write a guide book to France, or even a cookbook."
"Sounds tame, after this."
"It's important, though. The more young people know about foreigners, the less likely they are to be as stupid as we were, and go to war with their neighbors."
"I wonder if that's right."
"What about you? What's your plan for after the war?"
"Oh, mine is real simple. I want to marry you and take you to Paris for a honeymoon. Then we'll settle down and have children."
She stared at him. "Were you thinking of asking my consent?" she said indignantly.
He was quite solemn. "I haven't thought of anything else for days."
"I already have a husband."
"But you don't love him."
"You have no right to say that!"
"I know, but I can't help it."
"Why did I used to think you were a smooth talker?"
"Usually I am. That kettle's boiling."
She took the kettle off the hob and poured boiling water over the cocoa mixture in a big stoneware jug. "Put some mugs on a tray," she told Paul. "A little housework might cure you of dreams of domesticity."
He complied. "You can't put me off by being bossy," he said. "I kind of like it."
She added milk and sugar to the cocoa and poured it into the mugs he had laid out. "In that case, carry that tray into the living room."
"Right away, boss."
When they entered the living room they found Jelly and Greta having a row, standing face to face in the middle of the room while the others looked on, half amused and half horrified.
Jelly was saying, "You weren't using it!"
"I was resting my feet on it," Greta replied.
"There aren't enough chairs." Jelly was holding a small stuffed pouffe, and Flick guessed she had snatched it away from Greta rudely.
Flick said, "Ladies, please!"
They ignored her. Greta said, "You only had to ask, sweetheart."
"I don't have to ask permission from foreigners in my own country."
"I'm not a foreigner, you fat bitch."
"Oh!" Jelly was so stung by the insult that she reached out and pulled Greta's hair. Greta's brunette wig came off in her hand.
With her head of close-cropped dark hair exposed, Greta suddenly looked unmistakably like a man. Percy and Paul were in on the secret, and Ruby had guessed, but Maude and Diana were shocked rigid. Diana said, "Good God!" and Maude gave a little scream of fright.
Jelly was the first to recover her wits. "A pervert!" she said triumphantly. "Oh, my gordon, it's a foreign pervert!"
Greta was in tears. "You bloody fucking Nazi," she sobbed.
"I bet she's a spy!" Jelly said.
Flick said, "Shut up, Jelly. She's not a spy. I knew she was a man."
"So did Paul. So did Percy."
Jelly looked at Percy, who nodded solemnly.
Greta turned to leave, but Flick caught her arm. "Don't go," she said. "Please. Sit down."
Greta sat down.
"Jelly, give me the damn wig."
Jelly handed it to Flick.
Flick stood in front of Greta and put the wig back on. Ruby, quickly understanding what Flick was trying to do, lifted the mirror from over the mantelpiece and held it in front of Greta, who studied her reflection while she adjusted the wig and blotted her tears with a handkerchief.
"Now listen to me, all of you," said Flick. "Greta is an engineer, and we can't accomplish our mission without an engineer. We have a much better chance of survival in occupied territory as an all-woman team. The upshot is, we need Greta and we need her to be a woman. So get used to it."
Jelly gave a contemptuous grunt.
"There's something else I ought to explain," Flick said. She looked hard at Jelly. "You may have noticed that Denise is no longer with us. A little test was set for her tonight, and she failed it. She's off the team. Unfortunately, she's learned some secrets in the last two days, and she can't be allowed to return to her old posting. So she's gone to a remote base in Scotland, where she'll stay, probably for the rest of the war, with no leave."
Jelly said, "You can't do that!"
"Of course I can, you idiot," Flick said impatiently. "There's a war on, remember? And what I've done to Denise, I'll do to anyone who has to be fired from this team."
"I never even joined the army!" Jelly protested.
"Yes, you did. You were commissioned as an officer, yesterday, after tea. You all were. And you're getting officer's pay, although you haven't seen any yet. That means you're under military discipline. And you all know too much."
"So we're prisoners?" Diana said.
"You're in the army," Flick said. "It's much the same thing. So drink your cocoa and go to bed."
They drifted off one by one until only Diana was left. Flick had been expecting this. Seeing the two women in a sexual clinch had been a real shock. She recalled that at school some of the girls had developed crushes on one another, sending loving notes, holding hands, and sometimes even kissing; but as far as she knew it had not gone any further. At some point she and Diana had practiced French kissing on one another, so that they would know what to do when they got boyfriends, and now Flick guessed those kisses had meant more to Diana than they had to her. But she had never known a grown woman who desired other women. Theoretically, she was aware that they existed, the female equivalents of her brother Mark and of Greta, but she had never really imagined them… well, feeling each other up in a garden shed.
Did it matter? Not in everyday life. Mark and his kind were happy, or at least they were when people left them alone. But would Diana's relationship with Maude affect the mission? Not necessarily. Flick herself worked with her husband in the Resistance, after all. This was not quite the same, admittedly. A passionate new romance might prove a distraction.
Flick could try to keep the two lovers separate-but that might make Diana even more insubordinate. And the affair could just as easily be an inspiration. Flick had been trying desperately to get the women to work together as a team, and this might help. She had decided to leave well enough alone. But Diana wanted to talk.
"It's not what it seems, really it isn't," Diana said without preamble. "Christ, you've got to believe me. It was just a stupid thing, a joke-"
"Would you like more cocoa?" Flick said. "I think there's some left in the jug."
Diana stared at her, nonplussed. After a moment she said, "How can you talk about cocoa?"
"I just want you to calm down and realize that the world is not going to come to an end simply because you kissed Maude. You kissed me, once-remember?"
"I knew you'd bring that up. But that was just kid stuff. With Maude, it wasn't just a kiss." Diana sat down. Her proud face crumpled and she began to cry. "You know it was more than that, you could see, oh, God, the things I did. What on earth did you think?"
Flick chose her words carefully. "I thought the two of you looked very sweet."
"Sweet?" Diana was incredulous. "You weren't disgusted?"
"Certainly not. Maude is a pretty girl, and you appear to have fallen in love with her."
"That's exactly what happened."
"So stop being ashamed."
"How can I not be ashamed? I'm queer!"
"I wouldn't look at it that way if I were you. You ought to be discreet, to avoid offending narrow-minded people such as Jelly, but there's no need for shame."
"Will I always be like this?"
Flick considered. The answer was probably yes, but she did not want to be brutal. "Look," she said, "I think some people, like Maude, just love to be loved, and they can be made happy by a man or a woman." In truth, Maude was shallow, selfish, and tarty, but Flick suppressed that thought firmly. "Others are more inflexible," she went on. "You should keep an open mind."
"I suppose that's the end of the mission for me and Maude."
"It most certainly is not."
"You'll still take us?"
"I still need you. And I don't see why this should make any difference."
Diana took out a handkerchief and blew her nose. Flick got up and went to the window, giving her time to recover her composure. After a minute, Diana spoke in a calmer voice. "You're frightfully kind," she said with a touch of her old hauteur.
"Go to bed," Flick said.
Diana got up obediently.
"And if I were you.."
"I'd go to bed with Maude."
Diana looked shocked.
Flick shrugged. "It may be your last chance," she said. "Thank you," Diana whispered. She stepped toward Flick and spread her arms, as if to hug her; then she stopped. "You may not want me to kiss you," she said.
"Don't be silly," Flick said, and embraced her.
"Goodnight," said Diana. She left the room.
Flick turned and looked out at the garden. The moon was three-quarters full. In a few days' time it would be full, and the Allies would invade France. A wind was disturbing the new leaves in the forest: the weather was going to change. She hoped there would not be a storm in the English Channel. The entire invasion plan could be ruined by the capricious British climate. She guessed a lot of people were praying for good weather.
She ought to get some sleep. She left the room and climbed the stairs. She thought of what she had said to Diana: I'd go to bed with Maude. It may be your last chance. She hesitated outside Paul's door. It was different for Diana-she was single. Flick was married.
But it might be her last chance.
She knocked at the door and stepped inside.
Sunk in gloom, Dieter returned to the chateau at Sainte-Cecile in the Citroen with the radio detection team. He went to the wireless listening room in the bomb proofed basement. Willi Weber was there, looking angry. The one consolation from tonight's fiasco, Dieter thought, was that Weber was not able to crow that he had succeeded where Dieter had failed. But Dieter could have put up with all the triumphalism Weber could muster in return for having Helicopter in the torture chamber.
"You have the message he sent?" Dieter asked.
Weber handed him a carbon copy of the typed message. "It has already been sent to the cryptanalysis office in Berlin."
Dieter looked at the meaningless strings of letters. "They won't be able to decode it. He's using a one-time pad." He folded the sheet and slipped it into his pocket.
"What can you do with it?" Weber said.
"I have a copy of his code book," Dieter said. It was a petty victory, but he felt better.
Weber swallowed. "The message may tell us where he is."
"Yes. He's scheduled to receive a reply at eleven p.m." He looked at his watch. It was a few minutes before eleven. "Let's record that, and I will decrypt the two together."
Weber left. Dieter waited in the windowless room. On the dot of eleven, a receiver tuned to Helicopter's listening frequency began to chatter with the long-and-short beeps of Morse. An operator wrote the letters down while at the same time a wire recorder ran. When the chattering stopped, the operator pulled a typewriter toward him and typed out what he had on his notepad. He gave Dieter a carbon copy.
The two messages could be everything or nothing, Dieter thought as he got behind the wheel of his own car. The moon was bright as he followed the twisting road through the vineyards to Reims and parked in the rue du Bois. It was good weather for an invasion.
Stephanie was waiting for him in the kitchen of Mademoiselle Lemas's house. He put the coded messages on the table and took out the copies Stephanie had made of the pad and the silk handkerchief. He rubbed his eyes and began to decode the first message, the one Helicopter had sent, writing the decrypt on the scratch pad Mademoiselle Lemas had used to make her shopping lists.
Stephanie brewed a pot of coffee. She looked over his shoulder for a while, asked a couple of questions, then took the second message and began to decode it herself.
Dieter's decrypt gave a concise account of the incident at the cathedral, naming Dieter as Charenton and saying he had been recruited by Bourgeoise (Mademoiselle Lemas) because she was worried about the security of the rendezvous. It said Monet (Michel) had taken the unusual step of phoning Bourgeoise to confirm that Charenton was trustworthy, and he was satisfied.
It listed the code names of those members of the Bollinger circuit who had not fallen in the battle last Sunday and were still active. There were only four.
It was useful, but it did not tell him where to find the spies.
He drank a cup of coffee while he waited for Stephanie to finish. She handed him a sheet of paper covered with her flamboyant handwriting.
When he read it, he could hardly believe his luck. It said: PREPARE RECEIVE GROUP OF SIX NUMBER PARACHUTISTS CODENAMED JACKDAWS LEADER LEOPARDESS ARRIVING ELEVEN PIP EMMA FRIDAY SECOND JUNE CHAMP DE PIERRE.
"My God," he whispered.
Champ de Pierre was a code name, but Dieter knew what it meant, for Gaston had told him during the very first interrogation. It was a drop zone in a pasture outside Chatelle, a small village five miles from Reims. Dieter now knew exactly where Helicopter and Michel would be tomorrow night, and could pick them up.
He could also capture six more Allied agents as they parachuted to earth.
And one of them was "Leopardess": Flick Clairet, the woman who knew more than anyone else about the French Resistance, the woman who, under torture, would give him the information he needed to break the back of the Resistance-just in time to stop them aiding the invasion force.
"Jesus Christ Almighty," Dieter said. "What a break."
THE SIXTH DAY
Friday, June 2, 1944
PAUL AND FLICK were talking.
They lay side by side on his bed. The lights were off, but the moon shone through the window. He was naked, as he had been when she entered the room. He always slept naked. He wore pajamas only to walk along the corridor to the bathroom.
He had been asleep when she came in, but he had wakened fast and leaped out of bed, his unconscious mind assuming that a clandestine visit in the night must mean the Gestapo. He had had his hands around her throat before he realized who it was.
He was astonished, thrilled, and grateful. He had closed the door, then kissed her, standing there, for a long time. He was unprepared, and it felt like a dream. He was afraid he might wake up.
She had caressed him, feeling his shoulders and his back and his chest. Her hands were soft but her touch was firm, exploring. "You have a lot of hair," she had whispered.
"Like an ape."
"But not as handsome," she teased.
He looked at her lips, delighting in the way they moved when she spoke, thinking that in a moment he would touch them with his own, and it would be lovely. He smiled. "Let's lie down."
They lay on the bed, facing one another, but she did not take off any clothes, not even her shoes. He found it strangely exciting to be naked with a woman who was fully dressed. He enjoyed it so much that he was in no hurry to move to the next base. He wanted this moment to last forever.
"Tell me something," she said in a lazy, sensual voice.
"Anything. I feel I don't know you."
What was this? He had never had a girl behave like this. She came to his room in the night, she lay on his bed but kept her clothes on; then she questioned him. "Is that why you came?" he said lightly, watching her face. "To interrogate me?"
She laughed softly. "Don't worry, I want to make love to you, but not in a hurry. Tell me about your first lover."
He stroked her cheek with light fingertips, tracing the curve of her jaw. He did not know what she wanted, where she was going. She had thrown him off balance. "Can we touch while we talk?"
He kissed her lips. "And kiss, too?"
"Then I think we should talk for just a little while, maybe a year or two."
"What was her name?"
Flick was not as confident as she pretended to be, he decided. In fact she was nervous, and that was the reason for the questions. If it made her comfortable, he would answer. "Her name was Linda. We were terribly young-I'm embarrassed at how young we were. The first time I kissed her, she was twelve, and I was fourteen, can you imagine?"
"Of course I can." She giggled, and for an instant she was a girl again. "I used to kiss boys when I was twelve."
"We always had to pretend we were going out with a bunch of friends, and usually we started the evening that way, but pretty soon we would peel off from the crowd and go to a movie or something. We did that for a couple of years before we had real sex."
"Where was this, in America?"
"Paris. My father was military attache at the embassy. Linda's parents owned a hotel that catered specially for American visitors. We used to run with a whole crowd of expatriate kids."
"Where did you make love?"
"In the hotel. We had it easy. There were always empty rooms."
"What was it like the first time? Did you use any, you know, precautions?"
"She stole one of her father's rubbers."
Flick's fingertips traced a course down his belly. He closed his eyes. She said, "Who put it on?"
"She did. It was very exciting. I nearly came right then. And if you're not careful.."
She moved her hand to his hip. "I'd like to have known you when you were sixteen."
He opened his eyes. He no longer wanted to make this moment last forever. In fact, he found he was in a great hurry to move on. "Would you…" His mouth was dry, and he swallowed. "Would you like to take off some clothes?"
"Yes. But speaking of precautions.."
"In my billfold. On the bedside table."
"Good." She sat upright and unlaced her shoes, throwing them on the floor. She stood up and unbuttoned her blouse. She was tense, he could see, so he said, "Take your time we have all night."
It was a couple of years since Paul had watched a woman undress. He had been living on a diet of pinups, and they always wore elaborate confections of silk and lace, corsets and garter belts and transparent negligees. Flick was wearing a loose cotton chemise, not a brassiere, and he guessed that the small, neat breasts he could see tantalizingly outlined beneath it did not need support. She dropped her skirt. Her panties were plain white cotton with frills around the legs. Her body was tiny but muscular. She looked like a schoolgirl getting changed for hockey practice, but he found that more exciting than a pinup.
She lay down again. "Is that better?" she said.
He stroked her hip, feeling the warm skin, then the soft cotton, then skin again. She was not yet ready, he could tell. He forced himself to be patient and let her set the pace. "You haven't told me about your first time," he said.
To his surprise, she blushed. "It wasn't as nice as yours."
"In what way?"
"It was a horrible place, a dusty storeroom."
He felt indignant. What kind of idiot could take a girl as special as Flick and submit her to a furtive quickie in a cupboard? "How old were you?"
He had expected her to say seventeen. "Jeepers. At that age you deserve a comfortable bed."
"That wasn't it, though."
She was relaxing again, Paul could tell. He encouraged her to talk some more. "So what was wrong?"
"Probably that I didn't really want to do it. I was talked into it."
"Didn't you love the guy?"
"Yes, I did. But I wasn't ready."
"What was his name?"
"I don't want to tell you."
Paul guessed it was her husband, Michel, and decided not to question her any more. He kissed her and said, "May I touch your breasts?"
"You can touch anything you like."
No one had ever said that to him. He found her openness startling and exciting. He began to explore her body. In his experience, most women closed their eyes at this point, but she kept hers open, studying his face with a mixture of desire and curiosity that inflamed him more. It was as if by watching him she was exploring him, instead of the other way around. His hands discovered the pert shape of her breasts, and his fingertips got to know her shy nipples, learning what they liked. He took off her panties. She had curly hair the color of honey, lots of it, and under the hair, on the left side, a birthmark like a splash of tea. He bent his head and kissed her there, his lips feeling the crisp brush of her hair, his tongue tasting her moisture.
He sensed her yielding to pleasure. Her nervousness vanished. Her arms and legs spread out in a star shape, slack, abandoned, but her hips strained toward him eagerly. He explored the folds of her sex with slow delight. Her movements became more urgent.
She pushed his head away. Her face was flushed and she was breathing hard. She reached across to the bedside table, opened his billfold, and found the rubbers, three of them in a small paper packet. She ripped the pack with fumbling fingers, took one out, and put it on him. Then she straddled him as he lay on his back. She bent to kiss him, and said into his ear, "Oh, boy, you feel so good inside me." Then she sat upright and began to move.
"Take off your chemise," he said.
She pulled it over her head.
He watched her above him, her lovely face drawn into an expression of fierce concentration, her pretty breasts moving delightfully. He felt like the luckiest man in the world. He wanted this to go on forever: no dawn, no tomorrow, no plane, no parachute, no war.
In all of life, he thought, there was nothing better than love.
WHEN IT WAS over, Flick's first thought was: What will I say to Michel?
She did not feel unhappy. She was full of love and desire for Paul. In a short time she had come to feel more intimate with him than she ever had with Michel. She wanted to make love to him every day for the rest of her life. That was the trouble. Her marriage was over. And she would have to tell Michel as soon as she saw him. She could not pretend, even for a few minutes, to feel the same about him.
Michel was the only man she had been intimate with before Paul. She would have told Paul that, but she felt disloyal talking about Michel. It seemed more of a betrayal than simple adultery. One day she would tell Paul he was only her second lover, and she might say he was her best, but she would never talk to him about how sex was with Michel.
However, it was not just sex that was different with Paul, it was herself. She had never asked Michel, the way she had questioned Paul, about his early sexual experiences. She had never said to him You can touch anything you like. She had never put a rubber on him, or climbed on top of him to make love, or told him he felt good inside her.
When she had lain down on the bed beside Paul, another personality had seemed to come out of her, just as a transformation had come over Mark when he walked into the Criss-Cross Club. She suddenly felt she could say anything she liked, do anything that took her fancy, be herself without worrying what would be thought of her.
It had never been like that with Michel. Beginning as his student, wanting to impress him, she had never really got on an even footing with him. She had continued to seek his approval, something he had never done with her. In bed, she tried to please him, not herself.
After a while, Paul said, "What are you thinking?"
"About my marriage," she said.
"What about it?"
She wondered how much to confess. He had said, earlier in the evening, that he wanted to marry her, but that was before she came to his bedroom. Men never married girls who slept with them first, according to female folklore. It was not always true, Flick knew from her own experience with Michel. But all the same she decided to tell Paul half the truth. "That it's over."
"A drastic decision."
She raised herself on her elbow and looked at him. "Does that bother you?"
"On the contrary. I hope it means we might see each other again."
"Do you mean that?"
He put his arms around her. "I'm scared to tell you how much I mean it."
"Of frightening you off. I said a foolish thing earlier."
"About marrying me and having children?"
"I meant it, but I said it in an arrogant way."
"That's okay," she said. "When people are perfectly polite, it usually means they don't really care. A little awkwardness is more sincere."
"I guess you're right. I never thought of that."
She stroked his face. She could see the bristles of his beard, and she realized the dawn light was strengthening. She forced herself not to look at her watch: she did not want to keep checking how much time they had left.
She ran her hand over his face, mapping his features with her fingertips: the bushy eyebrows, the deep eye sockets, the big nose, the shot-off ear, the sensual lips, the lantern jaw. "Do you have hot water?" she said suddenly.
"Yes, it's a swanky room. There's a basin in the corner."
She got up.
He said, "What are you doing?"
"Stay there." She padded across the floor in her bare feet, feeling his eyes on her naked body, wishing she were not quite so broad across the hips. On a shelf over the sink was a mug containing toothpaste and a wooden toothbrush that she recognized as French. Next to the glass were a safety razor, a brush, and a bowl of shaving soap. She ran the hot tap, dipped the shaving brush in it, and worked up a lather in his soap bowl.
"Come on," he said. "What is this?"
"I'm going to shave you."
She covered his face with lather, then got his safety razor and filled the tooth mug with hot water. She straddled him the way she had when they made love and shaved his face with careful, tender strokes.
"How did you learn to do this?" he asked.
"Don't speak," she said. "I watched my mother do it for my father, many times. Dad was a drunk, and toward the end he couldn't hold the razor steady, so Ma had to shave him every day. Lift your chin."
He did so obediently, and she shaved the sensitive skin of his throat. When she had finished she soaked a flannel in hot water and wiped his face with it, then patted him dry with a clean towel. "I should put on some face cream, but I bet you're too masculine to use it."
"It never occurred to me that I should."
"Do you remember what you were doing to me just before I reached for your wallet?"
"Did you wonder why I didn't let you go on longer?"
"I thought you were impatient for… intercourse."
"No, your bristles were scratching my thighs, right where the skin is most tender."
"Oh, I'm sorry."
"Well, you can make it up to me."
He frowned. "How?"
She groaned with mock frustration. "Come on, Einstein. Now that your bristles have gone.."
"Oh-I see! Is that why you shaved me? Yes, of course it is. You want me to.."
She lay on her back, smiling, and parted her legs. "Is this enough of a hint?"
He laughed. "I guess it is," he said, and he bent over her.
She closed her eyes.
The old ballroom was in the bombed west wing of the chateau at Sainte-Cecile. The room was only partly damaged: one end was a pile of debris, square stones and carved pediments and chunks of painted wall in a dusty heap, but the other remained intact. The effect was picturesque, Dieter thought, with the morning sun shining through a great hole in the ceiling onto a row of broken pillars, like a Victorian painting of classical ruins.
Dieter had decided to hold his briefing in the ballroom. The alternative was to meet in Weber's office, and Dieter did not want to give the men the impression that Will was in charge. There was a small dais, presumably intended for the orchestra, on which he had placed a blackboard. The men had brought chairs from other parts of the building and had placed them in front of the dais in four neat rows of five-very German, Dieter thought with a secret smile; French men would have scattered the chairs any which way. Weber, who had assembled the team, sat on the dais facing the men, to emphasize that he was one of the commanders, not subordinate to Dieter.
The presence of two commanders, equal in rank and hostile to one another, was the greatest threat to the operation, Dieter thought.
On the blackboard he had chalked a neat map of the village of Chatelle. It consisted of three large houses- presumably farms or wineries-plus six cottages and a bakery. The buildings were clustered around a cross-roads, with vineyards to the north, west, and south, and to the east a large cow pasture, a kilometer long, bordered by a broad pond. Dieter guessed that the field was used for grazing because the ground was too wet for grapes.
"The parachutists will aim to land in the pasture," Dieter said. "It must be a regular landing-and-takeoff field: it's level, plenty big enough for a Lysander, and long enough even for a Hudson. The pond next to it would be a useful landmark, visible from the air. There is a cowshed at the southern end of the field where the reception committee probably take shelter while they are waiting for the plane."
He paused. "The most important thing for everyone here to remember is that we want these parachutists to land. We must avoid any action that might betray our presence to the reception committee or the pilot. We have to be silent and invisible. If the plane turns around and returns home with the agents on board, we will have lost a golden opportunity. One of the parachutists is a woman who can give us information on most of the Resistance circuits in northern France-if only we can get our hands on her."
Weber spoke, mainly to remind them that he was here. "Allow me to underline what Major Franck has said. Take no risks! Do nothing ostentatious! Stick to the plan!"
"Thank you, Major," Dieter said. "Lieutenant Hesse has divided you into two-man teams, designated A through L. Each building on the map is marked with a team letter. We will arrive at the village at twenty hundred hours. Very swiftly, we will enter every building. All the residents will be brought to the largest of the three big houses, known as La Maison Grandin, and held there until it is all over."
One of the men raised a hand. Weber barked, "Schuller! You may speak."
"Sir, what if the Resistance people call at a house? They will find it empty and they may become suspicious."
Dieter nodded. "Good question. But I don't think they will. My guess is the reception committee are strangers here. They don't usually have agents parachute in near where sympathizers live-it's an unnecessary security risk. I'm betting they arrive after dark and go straight to the cowshed without bothering the villagers."
Weber spoke again. "This would be normal Resistance procedure," he said with the air of a doctor giving a diagnosis.
"La Maison Grandin will be our headquarters," Dieter continued. "Major Weber will be in command there." This was his scheme for keeping Weber away from the real action. "The prisoners will be locked away in some convenient place, ideally a cellar. They must be kept quiet, so that we can hear the vehicle in which the reception committee arrive, and later the plane."
Weber said, "Any prisoner who persistently makes noise may be shot."
Dieter continued, "As soon as the villagers have been incarcerated, teams A, B, C, and D will take up concealed positions on the roads leading into the village. If any vehicles or personnel enter the village, you will report by shortwave radio, but you will do nothing more. At this point, you will not prevent people entering the village, and you will not do anything that might betray your presence." Looking around the room, Dieter wondered pessimistically whether the Gestapo men had brains enough to follow these orders.
"The enemy needs transport for six parachutists plus the reception committee, so they will arrive in a truck or bus, or possibly several cars. I believe they will enter the pasture by this gate-the ground is quite dry at this time of year, so there is no danger of cars becoming bogged down-and park between the gate and the cowshed, just here." He pointed to the spot on the map.
"Teams E, F, G, and H will be in this cluster of trees beside the pond, each equipped with a large battery searchlight. Teams I and J will remain at La Maison Grandin to guard the prisoners and maintain the command post with Major Weber." Dieter did not want Weber at the scene of the arrest. "Teams K and L will be with me, behind this hedge near the cowshed." Hans had found out which of the men were the best shots and assigned them to work with Dieter.
"I will be in radio contact with all teams and will be in command in the pasture. When we hear the plane- we do nothing! When we see the parachutists-we do nothing! We will watch the parachutists land and wait for the reception committee to round them up and assemble them near where the vehicles are parked." Dieter raised his voice, mainly for the benefit of Weber. "Not until this process has been completed will we arrest anyone!" The men would not jump the gun unless a skittish officer told them to.
"When we are ready, I will give the signal. From this moment on, until the order to stand down is given, teams A, B, C, and D will arrest anyone attempting to enter or leave the village. Teams E, F, G, and H will switch on their searchlights and turn them on the enemy. Teams K and L will approach them with me and arrest them. No one is to fire on the enemy-is that clear?"
Schuller, obviously the thinker among the group, raised his hand again. "What if they fire on us?"
"Do not return their fire. These people are useless to us dead! Lie flat and keep the lights trained on them. Only teams E and F are permitted to use their weapons, and they have orders to shoot to wound. We want to interrogate these parachutists, not kill them."
The phone in the room rang, and Hans Hesse picked it up. "It's for you," he said to Dieter. "Rommel's headquarters."
The timing was lucky, Dieter thought as he took the phone. He had called Walter Goedel at La Roche-Guyon earlier and had left a message asking Goedel to call back. Now he said, "Walter, my friend, how is the Field Marshal?"
"Fine, what do you want?" said Goedel, abrupt as ever.
"I thought the Field Marshal might like to know that we expect to carry off a small coup tonight-the arrest of a group of saboteurs as they arrive." Dieter hesitated to give details over the phone, but this was a German military line, and the risk that the Resistance might be listening was very small. And it was crucial to get Goedel's support for the operation. "My information is that one of them could tell us a great deal about several Resistance circuits."
"Excellent," said Goedel. "As it happens, I am calling you from Paris. How long would it take me to drive to Reims-two hours?"
"Then I will join you on the raid."
Dieter was delighted. "By all means," he said, "if that is what the Field Marshal would like. Meet us at the chateau of Sainte-Cecile not later than nineteen hundred." He looked at Weber, who had gone slightly pale.
"Very good." Goedel hung up.
Dieter handed the phone back to Hesse. "Field Marshal Rommel's personal aide, Major Goedel, will be joining us tonight," he said triumphantly. "Yet another reason for us to make sure that everything is done with impeccable efficiency." He smiled around the room, bringing his gaze to rest finally on Weber. "Aren't we fortunate?"
All morning the Jackdaws drove north in a small bus. It was a slow journey through leafy woods and fields of green wheat, zigzagging from one sleepy market town to the next, circling London to the west. The countryside seemed oblivious of the war or indeed of the twentieth century, and Flick hoped it would long remain so. As they wound their way through medieval Winchester, she thought of Reims, another cathedral city, with uniformed Nazis strutting on the streets and the Gestapo everywhere in their black cars, and she gave a short prayer of thanks that they had stopped at the English Channel. She sat next to Paul and watched-the countryside for a while; then-having been awake all night making love-she fell into a blissful sleep with her head on his shoulder.
At two in the afternoon they reached the village of Sandy in Bedfordshire. The bus went down a winding country road, turned onto an unpaved lane through a wood, and arrived at a large mansion called Tempsford House. Flick had been here before: it was the assembly point for the nearby Tempsford Airfield. The mood of tranquility left her. Despite the eighteenth-century elegance of the place, to her it symbolized the unbearable tension of the hours immediately before a flight into enemy territory.
They were too late for lunch, but they got tea and sandwiches in the dining room. Flick drank her tea but felt too anxious to eat. However, the others tucked in heartily. Afterwards they were shown to their rooms.
A little later the women met in the library. The room looked more like the wardrobe of a film studio. There were racks of coats and dresses, boxes of hats and shoes, cardboard cartons labeled Culottes, Chaussettes, and Mouchoirs and a trestle table in the middle of the room with several sewing machines.
In charge of the operation was Madame Guillemin, a slim woman of about fifty in a shirtwaist dress with a chic little matching jacket. She had spectacles on the end of her nose and a measuring tape around her neck, and she spoke to them in perfect French with a Parisian accent. "As you know, French clothes are distinctively different from British clothes. I won't say they are more stylish, but, you know, they are… more stylish." She gave a French shrug, and the girls laughed.
It was not just a question of style, Flick thought somberly: French jackets were normally about ten inches longer than British, and there were numerous differences of detail, any of which could be the fatal clue that betrayed an agent. So all the clothes here had been bought in France, exchanged with refugees for new British clothes, or faithfully copied from French originals, then worn for a while so that they would not look new.
"Now it is summer so we have cotton dresses, light wool suits, and shower proof coats." She waved a hand at two young women sitting at sewing machines. "My assistants will make alterations if the clothes don't fit quite perfectly."
Flick said, "We need clothes that are fairly expensive, but well worn. I want us to look like respectable women in case we're questioned by the Gestapo." When they needed to pose as cleaners, they could quickly downgrade their appearance by taking off their hats, gloves, and belts.
Madame Guillemin began with Ruby. She looked hard at her for a minute, then picked from the rack a navy dress and a tan raincoat. "Try those. It's a man's coat, but in France today no one can afford to be particular." She pointed across the room. "You can change behind that screen if you wish, and for the very shy there is a little anteroom behind the desk. We think the owner of the house used to lock himself in there to read dirty books." They laughed again, all but Flick, who had heard Madame Guillemin's jokes before.
The seamstress looked hard at Greta, then moved on, saying, "I'll come back to you." She picked outfits for Jelly, Diana, and Maude, and they all went behind the screen. Then she turned to Flick and said in a low voice, "Is this a joke?"
"Why do you say that?"
She turned to Greta. "You're a man."
Flick gave a grunt of frustration and turned away. The seamstress had seen through Greta's disguise in seconds. It was a bad omen.
Madame added, "You might fool a lot of people, but not me. I can tell."
Greta said, "How?"
Madame Guillemin shrugged. "The proportions are all wrong-your shoulders are too broad, your hips too narrow, your legs too muscular, your hands too big-it's obvious to an expert."
Flick said irritably, "She has to be a woman, for this mission, so please dress her as best you can."
"Of course-but for God's sake, try not to let her be seen by a dressmaker."
"No problem. The Gestapo don't employ many of those." Flick's confidence was faked. She did not want Madame Guillemin to know how worried she was.
The seamstress looked again at Greta. "I'll give you a contrasting skirt and blouse, to reduce your height, and a three-quarter-length coat." She selected clothes and handed them to Greta.
Greta looked at them with disapproval. Her taste ran to more glamorous outfits. However, she did not complain. "I'm going to be shy and lock myself in the anteroom," she said.
Finally Madame gave Flick an apple-green dress with a matching coat. "The color shows off your eyes," she said. "As long as you're not ostentatious, why shouldn't you look pretty? It may help you charm your way out of trouble."
The dress was loose and looked like a tent on Flick, but she put on a leather belt to give it a waist. "You are so chic, just like a French girl," said Madame Guillemin. Flick did not tell her that the main purpose of the belt was to hold a gun.
They all put on their new clothes and paraded around the room, preening and giggling. Madame Guillemin had chosen well, and they liked what they had been given, but some of the garments needed adjusting. "While we are making alterations you can choose some accessories," Madame said.
They rapidly lost their inhibitions, and downed around in their underwear, trying on hats and shoes, scarves and bags. They had momentarily forgotten the dangers ahead, Flick thought, and were taking simple pleasure in their new outfits.
Greta came out of the anteroom looking surprisingly glamorous. Flick studied her with interest. She had turned up the collar of the plain white blouse so that it looked stylish and wore the shapeless coat draped over her shoulders cloak-style. Madame Guillemin raised an eyebrow but made no comment.
Flick's dress had to be shortened. While that was being done she studied the coat. Working undercover had given her a sharp eye for detail, and she anxiously checked the stitching, the lining, the buttons, and the pockets to make sure they were in the normal French style. She found no fault. The label in the collar said "Galeries Lafayette."
Flick showed Madame Guillemin her lapel knife. It was only three inches long, with a thin blade, but it was wickedly sharp. It had a small handle and no hilt. It came in a slim leather sheath pierced with holes for thread. "I want you to sew this to the coat under the lapel," Flick said.
Madame Guiflemin nodded. "I can do this."
She gave them each a little pile of underwear, two of everything, all with the labels of French shops. With unerring accuracy she had picked not just the right size but the preferred style of each woman: corsets for Jelly, pretty lacy slips for Maude, navy knickers and boned brassieres for Diana, simple chemises and panties for Ruby and Flick. "The handkerchiefs bear the laundry marks of different blanchisseries in Reims," said Madame Guillemin with a touch of pride.
Finally she produced an assortment of bags: a canvas duffel, a gladstone bag, a rucksack, and a selection of cheap fiber suitcases in different colors and sizes. Each woman got one. Inside she found a toothbrush, toothpaste, face powder, shoe polish, cigarettes and matches-all French brands. Even though they were going in only for a short time, Flick had insisted on the full kit for each of them.
"Remember," Flick said, "you may not take with you anything that you have not been given this afternoon. Your life depends on that."
The giggling stopped as they remembered the danger they would face in a few hours.
Flick said, "All right, everybody, please go back to your rooms and change into your French outfits, including underwear. Then we'll meet downstairs for dinner."
In the main drawing room of the house a bar had been set up. When Flick walked in, it was occupied by a dozen or so men, some in RAF uniform, all of them-Flick knew from previous visits-clestined to make clandestine flights over France. A blackboard bore the names or code names of those who would leave tonight, together with the times they needed to depart from the house. Flick read:
Capt. Jenkins Lieut. Ramsey-20:05
Mr. Blister, Paradox, Saxophone-22:05
She looked at her watch. It was six-thirty. Two hours to go.
She sat at the bar and looked around, wondering which of them would come back and which would die in the field. Some were terribly young, smoking and telling jokes, looking as if they had no cares. The older ones looked hardened, and savored their whisky and gin in the grim knowledge it might be their last. She thought about their parents, their wives or girlfriends, their babies and children. Tonight's work would leave some of them with a grief that would never entirely go away.
Her somber reflections were interrupted by a sight that astonished her. Simon Fortescue, the slippery bureaucrat from MI6, walked into the bar in a pinstriped suit-accompanied by Denise Bowyer.
Flick's jaw dropped.
"Felicity, I'm so glad I caught you," said Simon. Without waiting for an invitation he pulled up a stool for Denise. "Gin and tonic, please, barman. What would you like, Lady Denise?"
"A martini, very dry."
"And for you, Felicity?"
Flick did not answer the question. "She's supposed to be in Scotland!" she said.
"Look, there seems to have been some misunderstanding. Denise has told me all about this policeman fellow-"
"No misunderstanding," Flick said abruptly. "Denise failed the course. That's all there is to it."
Denise made a disgusted sound.
Fortescue said, "I really don't see how a perfectly intelligent girl from a good family could fail-"
"She's a blabbermouth."
"She can't keep her damn mouth shut. She's not trustworthy. She shouldn't be walking around free!"
Denise said, "You insolent cat."
Fortescue controlled his temper with an effort and lowered his voice. "Look, her brother is the Marquess of Inverlocky, who's very close to the Prime Minister. Inverlocky himself asked me to make sure Denise got a chance to do her bit. So, you see, it would be dreadfully tactless to turn her down."
Flick raised her voice. "Let me get this straight." One or two of the men nearby looked up. "As a favor to your upper-class friend, you're asking me to take someone untrustworthy on a dangerous mission behind enemy lines. Is that it?"
As she was speaking, Percy and Paul walked in. Percy glared at Fortescue with undisguised malevolence. Paul said, "Did I hear right?"
Fortescue said, "I've brought Denise with me because it would be, frankly, an embarrassment to the government if she were left behind-"
"And a danger to me if she were to come!" Flick interrupted. "You're wasting your breath. She's off the team."
"Look, I don't want to have to pull rank-"
"What rank?" said Flick.
"I resigned from the Guards as a colonel-"
"-and I'm the civil service equivalent of a brigadier."
"Don't be ridiculous," Flick said. "You're not even in the army."
"I'm ordering you to take Denise with you."
"Then I'll have to consider my response," said Flick.
"That's better. I'm sure you won't regret it."
"All right, here is my response. Fuck off."
Fortescue went red. He had probably never been told to flick off by a girl. He was uncharacteristically speechless.
"Well!" said Denise. "We've certainly found out what type of person we're dealing with."
Paul said, "You're dealing with me." He turned to Fortescue. "I'm in command of this operation, and I won't have Denise on the team at any price. If you want to argue, call Monty."
"Well said, my boy," Percy added.
Fortescue found his voice at last. He wagged a finger at Flick. "The time will come, Mrs. Clairet, when you will regret saying that to me." He got off his stool. "I'm sorry about this, Lady Denise, but I think we've done all we can here."
"Stupid prat," Percy muttered.
"Let's have dinner," said Flick.
The others were already in the dining room, waiting. As the Jackdaws began their last meal in England, Percy gave each of them an expensive gift: silver cigarette cases for the smokers, gold powder compacts for the others. "They have French hallmarks, so you can take them with you," he said. The women were pleased, but he brought their mood back down with his next remark. "They have a purpose, too. They are items that can easily be pawned for emergency funds if you get into real trouble."
The food was plentiful, a banquet by wartime standards, and the Jackdaws tucked in with relish. Flick did not feel very hungry, but she forced herself to eat a big steak, knowing it was more meat than she would get in a week in France.
When they finished supper, it was time to go to the airfield. They returned to their rooms to pick up their French bags, then boarded the bus. It took them along another country lane and across a railway line, then approached what looked like a cluster of farm buildings at the edge of a large, flat field. A sign said Gibraltar Farm, but Flick knew that this was RAF Tempsford, and the barns were heavily disguised Nissen huts.
They went into what looked like a cowshed and found a uniformed RAF officer standing guard over steel racks of equipment. Before they were given their gear, each of them was searched. A box of British matches was found in Maude's suitcase; Diana had in her pocket a half-completed crossword torn from the Daily Mirror, which she swore she had intended to leave on the plane; and Jelly, the inveterate gambler, had a pack of playing cards with "Made in Binningham" printed on every one.
Paul distributed their identity cards, ration cards, and clothing coupons. Each woman was given a hundred thousand French francs, mostly in grubby thousand-franc notes. It was the equivalent of five hundred pounds, enough to buy two Ford cars.
They also got weapons,. 45-caliber Colt automatic pistols and sharp double-bladed Commando knives. Flick declined both. She took her personal gun, a Browning nine-millimeter automatic. Around her waist she wore the leather belt, into which she could push the pistol or, at a pinch, the submachine gun. She also took her lapel knife instead of the Commando knife. The Commando knife was longer and deadlier, but more cumbersome. The great advantage of the lapel knife was that when the agent was asked to produce papers, she could innocently reach toward an inside pocket, then at the last moment pull the knife.
In addition there was a Lee-Enfield rifle for Diana and a Sten Mark II submachine gun with silencer for Flick.
The plastic explosive Jelly would need was distributed evenly among the six women so that even if one or two bags were lost there would still be enough to do the job.
Maude said, "It might blow me up!"
Jelly explained that it was extraordinarily safe. "I knew a bloke who thought it was chocolate and ate some," she said. "Mind you," she added, "it didn't half give him the runs."
They were offered the usual round Mills grenades with the conventional turtle shell finish, but Flick insisted on general-purpose grenades in square cans, because they could also be used as explosive charges.
Each woman got a fountain pen with a hollow cap containing a suicide pill.
There was a compulsory visit to the bathroom before putting on the flying suit. It had a pistol pocket so that the agent could defend herself immediately on landing, if necessary. With the suit, they donned helmet and goggles and finally shrugged into the parachute harness.
Paul asked Flick to step outside for a moment. He had held back the all-important special passes that would enable the women to enter the chateau as cleaners. If a Jackdaw were to be captured by the Gestapo, this pass would betray the true purpose of the mission. For safety, he gave all the passes to Flick, to be distributed at the last minute.
Then he kissed her. She kissed him back with desperate passion, clutching his body to hers, shamelessly thrusting her tongue into his mouth until she had to gasp for breath.
"Don't get killed," he said into her ear.
They were interrupted by a discreet cough. Flick smelled Percy's pipe. She broke the clinch.
Percy said to Paul, "The pilot is waiting for a word with you."
Paul nodded and moved away.
"Make sure he understands that Flick is the officer in command," Percy called after him.
"Sure," Paul replied.
Percy looked grim, and Flick had a bad feeling. "What's wrong?" she said.
He took a sheet of paper from his jacket pocket and handed it to her. "A motorcycle courier from London brought this from SOE headquarters just before we left the house. It came in from Brian Standish last night." He sucked anxiously on his pipe and blew out clouds of smoke.
Flick looked at the sheet of paper in the evening sunlight. It was a decrypt. Its contents hit her like a punch in the stomach. She looked up, dismayed. "Brian has been in the hands of the Gestapo!"
"Only for a few seconds."
"So this claims."
"Any reason to think otherwise?"
"Ah, fuck it," she said loudly. A passing airman looked up sharply, surprised to hear a woman's voice utter such words. Flick crumpled the paper and threw it on the ground.
Percy bent down, picked it up, and smoothed out the creases. "Let's try to stay calm and think clearly."
Flick took a deep breath. "We have a rule," she said insistently. "Any agent who is captured by the enemy, whatever the circumstances, must immediately be returned to London for debriefing."
"Then you'll have no wireless operator."
"I can manage without one. And what about this Charenton?"
"I suppose it's natural that Mademoiselle Lemas might have recruited someone to help her."
"All recruits are supposed to be vetted by London."
"You know that rule has never been followed."
"At a minimum they should be approved by the local commander."
"Well, he has been now-Michel is satisfied that Charenton is trustworthy. And Charenton saved Brian from the Gestapo. That whole scene in the cathedral can't have been deliberately staged, can it?"
"Perhaps it never took place at all, and this message comes straight from Gestapo headquarters."
"But it has all the right security codes. Anyway, they wouldn't invent a story about his being captured and then released. They'd know that would arouse our suspicions. They would just say he had arrived safely."
"You're right, but still I don't like it."
"No, nor do I," he said, surprising her. "But I don't know what to do."
She sighed. "We have to take the risk. There's no time for precautions. If we don't disable the telephone exchange in the next three days it will be too late. We have to go anyway."
Percy nodded. Flick saw that there were tears in his eyes. He put his pipe in his mouth and took it out again. "Good girl," he said, his voice reduced to a whisper. "Good girl."
THE SEVENTH DAY
Saturday, June 3, 1944
SOE HAD NO planes of its own. It had to borrow them from the RAF, which was like pulling teeth. In 1941, the air force had reluctantly handed over two Lysanders, too slow and heavy for their intended role in battlefield support but ideal for clandestine landings in enemy territory. Later, under pressure from Churchill, two squadrons of obsolete bombers were assigned to SOE, although the head of Bomber Command, Arthur Hams, never stopped scheming to get them back. By the spring of 1944, when dozens of agents were flown into France in preparation for the invasion, SOE had the use of thirty-six aircraft.
The plane the Jackdaws boarded was an American-made twin-engined Hudson light bomber, manufactured in 1939 and since made obsolete by the four-engined Lancaster heavy bomber. A Hudson came with two machine guns in the nose, and the RAF added a rear turret with two more. At the back of the passenger cabin was a slide like a water chute, down which the parachutists would glide into space. There were no seats inside, and the six women and their dispatcher lay down on the metal floor. They were cold and uncomfortable and scared, but Jelly got a fit of the giggles, which cheered them all up.
They shared the cabin with a dozen metal containers, each as tall as a man and equipped with a parachute harness, all containing-Flick presumed-guns and ammunition to enable some other Resistance circuit to run interference behind German lines during the invasion.
After dropping the Jackdaws at Chatelle, the Hudson would fly on to another destination before turning around and heading back to Tempsford.
Takeoff had been delayed by a faulty altimeter, which had to be replaced, so it was one o'clock in the morning when they left the English coastline behind. Over the Channel, the pilot dropped the plane to a few hundred feet above the sea, trying to hide below the level of enemy radar, and Flick silently hoped they would not be shot at by ships of the Royal Navy, but he soon climbed again to eight thousand feet to cross the fortified French coastline. He stayed high to traverse the "Atlantic Wall," the heavily defended coastal strip, then descended again to three hundred feet, to make navigation less difficult.
The navigator was constantly busy with his maps, calculating the plane's position by dead reckoning and trying to confirm it by landmarks. The moon was waxing, and only three days from full, so large towns were easily visible, despite the blackout. However, they generally had antiaircraft batteries, so had to be avoided, as did army camps and military sites, for the same reason. Rivers and lakes were the most useful terrain features, especially when the moon was reflected off the water. Forests showed as dark patches, and the unexpected absence of one was a sure sign that the flight had gone astray. The gleam of railway lines, the glow of a steam engine's fire, and the headlights of the occasional blackout-breaking car were all helpful.
All the way, Flick brooded over the news about Brian Standish and the newcomer Charenton. The story was probably true. The Gestapo had learned about the cathedral crypt rendezvous from one of the prisoners they had taken last Sunday at the chateau, and they had set a trap, which Brian had walked into, but he had escaped, with help from Mademoiselle Lemas's new recruit. It was all perfectly possible. However, Flick hated plausible explanations. She felt safe only when events followed standard procedure and no explanations were required.
As they approached the Champagne region, another navigation aid came into play. It was a recent invention known as Eurekal Rebecca. A radio beacon broadcast a call sign from a secret location somewhere in Reims. The crew of the Hudson did not know exactly where it was, but Flick did, for Michel had placed it in the tower of the cathedral. This was the Eureka half. On the plane was Rebecca, a radio receiver, shoehorned into the cabin next to the navigator. They were about fifty miles north of Reims when the navigator picked up the signal from the Eureka in the cathedral.
The intention of the inventors was that the Eureka should be in the landing field with the reception committee, but this was impracticable. The equipment weighed more than a hundred pounds, it was too bulky to be transported discreetly, and it could not be explained away to even the most gullible Gestapo officer at a checkpoint. Michel and other Resistance leaders were willing to place a Eureka in a permanent position, but refused to carry them around.
So the navigator had to revert to traditional methods to find Chatelle. However, he was lucky in having Flick beside him, someone who had landed there on several occasions and could recognize the place from the air. In the event, they passed about a mile to the east of the village, but Flick spotted the pond and redirected the pilot.
They circled around and flew over the cow pasture at three hundred feet. Flick could see the flare path, four weak, flickering lights in an L shape, with the light at the toe of the L flashing the prearranged code. The pilot climbed toward six hundred feet, the ideal altitude for a parachute drop: any higher, and the wind could blow the parachutists away from the dropping zone; much lower, and the chute might not have time to open fully before the agent hit the ground.
"Ready when you are," said the pilot.
"I'm not ready," Flick said.
"What's the matter?"
"Something's wrong." Flick's instincts were sounding alarm bells. It was not just her worries about Brian Standish and Charenton. There was something else. She pointed west, to the village. "Look, no lights."
"That surprises you? There's a blackout. And it's after three o'clock in the morning."
Flick shook her head. "This is the countryside, they're careless about the blackout. And there's always someone up: a mother with a new baby, an insomniac, a student cramming for finals. I've never seen it completely dark."
"If you really feel there's something wrong, we should get out of here fast," the pilot said nervously.
Something else was bothering her. She tried to scratch her head and found her helmet in the way. The thought evaded her.
What should she do? She could hardly abort the mission just because the villagers of Chatelle were obeying the blackout rules for once.
The plane overflew the field and banked to turn. The pilot said anxiously, "Remember, each time we over fly increases the risk. Everyone in that village can hear our engines, and one of them might call the police."
"Exactly!" she said. "We must have awakened the entire place. Yet no one has switched on a light!"
"I don't know, country folk can be very incurious. They like to keep themselves to themselves, as they always say."
"Nonsense. They're as nosy as anyone. This is peculiar."
The pilot looked more and more worried, but he continued circling.
Suddenly it came to her. "The baker should have lit his oven. You can normally see the glow from the air."
"Could he be closed today?"
"What day is it? Saturday. A baker might close on a Monday or a Tuesday but never on a Saturday. What's happened? This is like a ghost town!"
"Then let's get out of here."
It was as if someone had rounded up the villagers, including the baker, and locked them in a barn-which was probably what the Gestapo would have done if they were lying in wait for her.
She could not abort the mission. It was too important. But every instinct told her not to parachute into Chatelle. "A risk is a risk," she said.
The pilot was losing patience. "So what do you want to do?"
Suddenly she remembered the containers of supplies in the passenger cabin. "What's your next destination?"
"I'm not supposed to tell you."
"Not usually, no. But now I really need to know."
"It's a field north of Chartres."
That meant the Vestryman circuit. "I know them," Flick said with mounting excitement. This could be the solution. "You could drop us with the containers. There will be a reception committee waiting, they can take care of us. We could be in Paris this afternoon, Reims by tomorrow morning."
He reached for the joystick. "Is that what you want to do?"
"Is it possible?"
"I can drop you there, no problem. The tactical decision is yours. You're in command of the mission-that was made very clear to me."
Flick considered, worrying. Her suspicions might be unfounded, in which case she would need to get a message to Michel via Brian's radio, saying that although her landing had been aborted, she was still on her way. But in case Brian's radio was in Gestapo hands, she would have to give the minimum of information. However, that was feasible. She could write a brief radio signal for the pilot to take back to Percy: Brian would have it in a couple of hours.
She would also have to change the arrangements for picking up the Jackdaws after the mission. At present, a Hudson was scheduled to land at Chatelle at two a.m. on Sunday, and if the Jackdaws were not there, to return the following night at the same time. If Chatelle had been betrayed to the Gestapo and could no longer be used, she would have to divert the Hudson to another landing field at Laroque, to the west of Reims, code-named Champ d'Or. The mission would take an extra day, because they would have to travel from Chartres to Reims, so the pickup flight would have to come down at two a.m. on Monday, with a fall-back on Tuesday at the same hour.
She weighed consequences. Diverting to Chartres meant the loss of a day. But landing at Chatelle could mean the entire mission failed and all the Jackdaws ended up in Gestapo torture chambers. It was no contest. "Go to Chartres," she said to the pilot.
As the aircraft banked and turned, Flick went back to the cabin. The Jackdaws all looked expectantly at her. "There's been a change of plan," she said.
Dieter lay beneath a hedge and watched, bewildered, while the British plane circled over the cow pasture.
Why the delay? The pilot had made two passes over the landing site. The flare path, such as it was, was in place. Had the reception leader flashed the wrong code? Had the Gestapo men done something to arouse suspicion? It was maddening. Felicity Clairet was a few yards away from him. If he fired his pistol at the plane, a lucky shot might hit her.
Then the plane banked, turned, and roared away to the south.
Dieter was mortified. Flick Clairet had evaded him-in front of Walter Goedel, Will Weber, and twenty Gestapo men.
For a moment, he buried his face in his hands.
What had gone wrong? There could be a dozen reasons. As the drone of the plane's engines receded, Dieter could hear shouts of indignation in French. The Resistance seemed as perplexed as he was. His best guess was that Flick, an experienced team leader, had smelled a rat and aborted the jump.
Walter Goedel, lying in the dirt beside him, said, "What are you going to do now?"
Dieter considered briefly. There were four Resistance people here: Michel the leader, still limping from his bullet wound; Helicopter, the British radio operator; a Frenchman Dieter did not recognize, and a young woman. What should he do with them? His strategy of letting Helicopter run free had been a good one in theory, but it had now led to two humiliating reverses, and he did not have the nerve to continue it. He had to get something out of tonight's fiasco. He was going to have to revert to traditional methods of interrogation and hope to salvage the operation-and his reputation.
He brought the mouthpiece of the shortwave radio to his lips. "All units, this is Major Franck," he said softly. "Action, I repeat, action." Then he got to his feet and drew his automatic pistol.
The searchlights concealed in the trees blazed into life. The four terrorists in the middle of the field were mercilessly lit up, looking suddenly bewildered and vulnerable. Dieter called out in French, "You are surrounded! Raise your hands!"
Beside him, Goedel drew his Luger. The four Gestapo men with Dieter aimed their rifles at the legs of the Resistance people. There was a moment of uncertainty: Would the Resistance open fire? If they did, they would be mowed down. With luck, they might be only wounded. But Dieter had not had much luck tonight. And if these four were killed, he would be left empty-handed.
Dieter stepped forward, moving into the light, and the four riflemen moved with him. "Twenty guns are aimed at you," he shouted. "Do not draw your weapons."
One of them started to run.
Dieter swore. He saw a flash of red hair in the lights: it was Helicopter, stupid boy, heading across the field like a charging bull. "Shoot him," Dieter said quietly. All four riflemen took careful aim and fired. The shots crashed out in the silent meadow. Helicopter ran another two paces, then fell to the ground.
Dieter looked at the other three, waiting. Slowly, they raised their hands in the air.
Dieter spoke into the shortwave radio. "All teams in the pasture, move in and secure the prisoners." He put away his pistol.
He walked over to where Helicopter lay. The body was still. The Gestapo riflemen had shot at his legs, but it was hard to hit a moving target in the dark, and one of them had aimed too high, putting a bullet through his neck, severing his spinal cord, or his jugular vein, or both. Dieter knelt beside him and felt for a pulse, but there was none. "You weren't the cleverest agent I've ever met, but you were a brave boy," he said quietly. "God rest your soul." He closed the eyes.
He looked over the other three as they were disarmed and fettered. Michel would resist interrogation well: Dieter had seen him in action, and he had courage. His weakness was probably vanity. He was handsome, and a womanizer. The way to torture him would be in front of a mirror: break his nose, knock out his teeth, scar his cheeks, make him understand that with every minute that he continued to resist, he was getting irreversibly uglier.
The other man had the air of a professional, perhaps a lawyer. A Gestapo man searched him and showed Dieter a pass that permitted Dr. Claude Bouler to be out after curfew. Dieter assumed it was a forgery, but when they searched the Resistance cars they found a genuine doctor's bag, full of instruments and drugs. Under arrest he looked pale but composed: he, too, would be a difficult subject.
The girl was the most promising. She was about nineteen, and pretty, with long dark hair and big eyes, but she had a vacant look. Her papers showed that she was Gilberte Duval. Dieter knew from his interrogation of Gaston that Gilberte was the lover of Michel and the rival of Flick. Handled correctly, she might prove easy to turn.
The German vehicles were brought from the barn at La Maison Grandin. The prisoners went in a truck with the Gestapo men. Dieter gave orders that they should be kept in separate cells and prevented from communicating with one another.
He and Goedel were driven back to Sainte-Cecile in Weber's Mercedes. "What a damned farce," Weber said scornfully. "A complete waste of time and manpower."
"Not quite," said Dieter. "We have taken four subversive agents out of circulation-which is, after all, what the Gestapo is supposed to do-and, even better, three of them are still alive for interrogation."
Goedel said, "What do you hope to get from them?"
"The dead man, Helicopter, was a wireless operator," Dieter explained. "I have a copy of his code book. Unfortunately, he did not have his set with him. If we can find the set, we can impersonate Helicopter."
"Surely you can use any radio transmitter, so long as you know the frequency assigned to him?"
Dieter shook his head. "Every transmitter sounds different to the experienced ear. And these little suitcase radios are particularly distinctive. All nonessential circuits are omitted, to minimize the size, and the result is poor tone quality. If we had one exactly like his, captured from another agent, it might be similar enough to take the risk."
"We may have one somewhere."
"If we do, it will be in Berlin. It's easier to find Helicopter's."
"How will you do that?"
"The girl will tell me where it is."
For the rest of the journey, Dieter brooded over his interrogation strategy. He could torture the girl in front of the men, but they might resist that. More promising would be to torture the men in front of the girl. But there might be an easier way.
A plan was forming in his mind when they passed the public library in the center of Reims. He had noticed the building before. It was a little jewel, an art deco design in tan stone, standing in a small garden. "Would you mind stopping the car for a moment, please, Major Weber?" he said.
Weber muttered an order to his driver.
"Do you have any tools in the trunk?"
"I have no idea," said Weber. "What is this about?"
The driver said, "Of course, Major, we have the regulation tool kit."
"Is there a good-sized hammer?"
"Yes." The driver jumped out.
"This won't take a moment," Dieter said. He got out of the car.
The driver handed him a long-handled hammer with a chunky steel head. Dieter walked past a bust of Andrew Carnegie up to the library. The place was closed and dark, of course. The glass doors were protected by an elaborate wrought-iron grille. He walked around to the side of the building and found a basement entrance with a plain wood door marked Archives Municipales.
Dieter swung at the door with the hammer, hitting the lock. It broke after four blows. He went inside, turning on the lights. He ran up a narrow staircase to the main floor and crossed the lobby to the fiction section. There he located the letter F for Flaubert and picked out a copy of the book he was looking for, Madame Bovary. It was not particularly lucky: that was the one book that must be available in every library in the country.
He turned to nine and located the passage he was thinking about. He had remembered it accurately. It would serve his purpose very well.
He returned to the car. Goedel was looking amused. Weber said incredulously, "You needed something to read?"
"Sometimes I find it difficult to get to sleep," Dieter replied.
Goedel laughed. He took the book from Dieter and read its title. "A classic of world literature," he said. "All the same, I imagine that's the first time someone broke down the library door to borrow it."
They drove on to Sainte-Cecile. By the time they reached the chateau, Dieter's plan was fully formed.
He ordered Lieutenant Hesse to prepare Michel by stripping him naked and tying him to a chair in the torture chamber. "Show him the instrument used for pulling out fingernails," he said. "Leave it on the table in front of him." While that was being done, he got a pen, a bottle of ink, and a pad of letter paper from the offices on the upper floor. Walter Goedel ensconced himself in a corner of the torture chamber to watch. Dieter studied Michel for a few moments. The Resistance leader was a tall man, with attractive wrinkles around his eyes. He had a kind of bad-boy look that women liked. Now he was scared but determined. He was thinking grimly about how to hold out as long as possible against torture, Dieter guessed.
Dieter put the pen, ink, and paper on the table next to the fingernail pliers, to show that they were alternatives. "Untie his hands," he said.
Hesse complied. Michel's face showed enormous relief combined with a fear that this might not be real.
Dieter explained to Walter Goedel, "Before questioning the prisoners, I will take samples of their handwriting."
Dieter nodded, watching Michel, who seemed to have understood the brief exchange in German. He looked hopeful.
Dieter took Madame Bovary from his pocket, opened it, and put it down on the table. "Copy out chapter nine," he said to Michel in French.
Michel hesitated. It seemed a harmless request. He suspected a trick, Dieter could tell, but he could not see what it was. Dieter waited. The Resistance were told to do everything they could to put off the moment when torture began. Michel was bound to see this as a means of postponement. It was unlikely to be harmless, but it had to be better than having his fingernails pulled out. "Very well," he said after a long pause. He began writing.
Dieter watched him. His handwriting was large and flamboyant. Two pages of the printed book took up six sheets of the letter paper. When Michel turned the page, Dieter stopped him. He told Hans to return Michel to his cell and bring Gilberte.
Goedel looked over what Michel had written, and shook his head bemusedly. "I can't figure out what you're up to," he said. He handed the sheets back and returned to his chair.
Dieter tore one of the pages very carefully to leave only certain words.
Gilberte came in looking terrified but defiant. She said, "I won't tell you anything. I will never betray my friends. Besides, I don't know anything. All I do is drive cars."
Dieter told her to sit down and offered her coffee. "The real thing," he said as he handed her a cup. French people could get only ersatz coffee.
She sipped it and thanked him.
Dieter studied her. She was quite beautiful, with long dark hair and dark eyes, although there was something bovine about her expression. "You're a lovely woman, Gilberte," he said. "I don't believe you are a murderer at heart."
"No, I'm not!" she said gratefully.
"A woman does things for love, doesn't she?"
She looked at him with surprise. "You understand."
"I know all about you. You are in love with Michel."
She bowed her head without replying.
"A married man, of course. This is regrettable. But you love him. And that's why you help the Resistance. Out of love, not hate."
"Am I right?" he said. "You must answer."
She whispered, "Yes."
"But you have been misguided, my dear."
"I know I've done wrong-"
"You misunderstand me. You've been misguided, not just in breaking the law but in loving Michel."
She looked at him in puzzlement. "I know he's married, but-"
"I'm afraid he doesn't really love you."
"But he does!"
"No. He loves his wife. Felicity Clairet, known as Flick. An Englishwoman-not chic, not very beautiful, some years older than you-but he loves her."
Tears came to her eyes, and she said, "I don't believe you."
"He writes to her, you know. I imagine he gets the couriers to take his messages back to England. He sends her love letters, saying how much he misses her. They're rather poetic, in an old-fashioned way. I've read some."
"It's not possible."
"He was carrying one when we arrested all of you. He tried to destroy it, just now, but we managed to save a few scraps." Dieter took from his pocket the sheet he had torn and handed it to her. "Isn't that his handwriting?"
"And is it a love letter… or what?"
Gilberte read it slowly, moving her lips:
I think of you constantly. The memory of you drives me to despair. Ah! Forgive me! I will leave you! Farewell! I will go far away, so far that you will never hear of me again; and yet-today-I know not what force impelled me toward you. For one doesn't struggle against heaven; one cannot resist the smile of angels; one is carried away by that which is beautiful, charming, adorable.
She threw down the paper with a sob.
"I'm sorry to be the one to tell you," Dieter said gently. He took the white linen handkerchief from the breast pocket of his suit and handed it to her. She buried her face in it.
It was time to turn the conversation imperceptibly toward interrogation. "I suppose Michel has been living with you since Flick left."
"Longer than that," she said indignantly. "For six months, every night except when she was in town."
"In your house?"
"I have an apartment. Very small. But it was enough for two… two people who loved each other." She continued to cry.
Dieter strove to maintain a light conversational tone as he obliquely approached the topic he was really interested in. "Wasn't it difficult to have Helicopter living with you as well, in a small place?"
"He's not living there. He only came today."
"But you must have wondered where he was going to stay."
"No. Michel found him a place, an empty room over the old bookshop in the rue Moliere."
Walter Goedel suddenly shifted in his chair: he had realized where this was heading. Dieter carefully ignored him, and casually asked Gilberte, "Didn't he leave his stuff at your place when you went to Chatelle to meet the plane?"
"No, he took it to the room."
Dieter asked the key question. "Including his little suitcase?"
"Ah." Dieter had what he wanted. Helicopter's radio set was in a room over the bookshop in the rue Moliere. "I've finished with this stupid cow," he said to Hans in German. "Thru her over to Becker."
Dieter's own car, the blue Hispano-Suiza, was parked in front of the chateau. With Walter Goedel beside him and Hans Hesse in the backseat, he drove fast through the villages to Reims and quickly found the bookshop in the rue Moliere.
They broke down the door and climbed a bare wooden staircase to the room over the shop. It was unfurnished but for a palliasse covered with a rough blanket. On the floor beside the rough bed stood a bottle of whisky, a bag containing toiletries, and the small suitcase.
Dieter opened it to show Goedel the radio. "With this," Dieter said triumphantly, "I can become Helicopter."
On the way back to Sainte-Cecile, they discussed what message to send. "First, Helicopter would want to know why the parachutists did not drop," Dieter said. "So he will ask, 'What happened?' Do you agree?"
"And he would be angry," Goedel said.
"So he will say, 'What the blazes happened?' perhaps." Goedel shook his head. "I studied in England before the war. That phrase, 'What the blazes,' is too polite. It's a coy euphemism for 'What the hell.' A young man in the military would never use it."
"Maybe he should say, 'What the flick?' instead."
"Too coarse," Goedel objected. "He knows the message may be decoded by a female."
"Your English is better than mine, you choose."
"I think he would say, 'What the devil happened?' It expresses his anger, and it's a masculine curse that would not offend most women."
"Okay. Then he wants to know what he should do next, so he will ask for further orders. What would he say?"
"Probably, 'Send instructions.' English people dislike the word 'order,' they think it's not refined."
"All right. And we'll ask for a quick response, because Helicopter would be impatient, and so are we."
They reached the chateau and went to the wireless listening room in the basement. A middle-aged operator called Joachim plugged the set in and tuned it to Helicopter's emergency frequency while Dieter scribbled the agreed message:
WHAT THE DEVIL HAPPENED? SEND INSTRUCTIONS. REPLY IMMEDIATELY.
Dieter forced himself to control his impatience and carefully show Joachim how to encode the message, including the security tags.
Goedel said, "Won't they know it's not Helicopter at the machine? Can't they recognize the individual 'fist' of the sender, like handwriting?"
"Yes," Joachim said. "But I've listened to this chap sending a couple of times, and I can imitate him. It's a bit like mimicking someone's accent, talking like a Frankfurt man, say."
Goedel was skeptical. "You can do a perfect impersonation after hearing him twice?"
"Not perfect, no. But agents are often under pressure when they broadcast, in some hiding place and worried about us catching up with them, so small variations will be put down to strain." He began to tap out the letters.
Dieter reckoned they had a wait of at least an hour. At the British listening station, the message had to be decrypted, then passed to Helicopter's controller, who was surely in bed. The controller might get the message by phone and compose a reply on the spot, but even then the reply had to be encrypted and transmitted, then decrypted by Joachim.
Dieter and Goedel went to the kitchen on the ground floor, where they found a mess corporal starting work on breakfast, and got him to give them sausages and coffee. Goedel was impatient to get back to Rommel's headquarters, but he wanted to stay and see how this turned out.
It was daylight when a young woman in SS uniform came to tell them that the reply had come in and Joachim had almost finished typing it.
They hurried downstairs. Weber was already there, with his usual knack of showing up where the action was. Joachim handed the typed message to him and carbon copies to Dieter and Goedel.
JACKDAWS ABORTED DROP BUT HAVE LANDED ELSEWHERE AWAIT CONTACT FROM LEOPARDESS
Weber said grumpily, "This does not tell us much."
Goedel agreed. "What a disappointment."
"You're both wrong!" Dieter said jubilantly. "Leopardess is in France-and I have a picture of her!" He pulled the photos of Flick Clairet from his pocket with a flourish and handed one to Weber. "Get a printer out of bed and have a thousand copies made. I want to see that picture all over Reims within the next twelve hours. Hans, get my car filled up with petrol."
"Where are you going?" said Goedel.
"To Paris, with the other photograph, to do the same thing there. I've got her now!"
THE PARACHUTE DROP went smoothly. The containers were pushed out first so that there was no possibility of one landing on the head of a parachutist; then the Jackdaws took turns sitting on the top of the slide and, when tapped on the shoulder by the dispatcher, slithering down the chute and out into space.
Flick went last. As she fell, the Hudson turned north and disappeared into the night. She wished the crew luck. It was almost dawn: because of the night's delays, they would have to fly the last part of their journey in dangerous daylight.
Flick landed perfectly, with her knees bent and her arms tucked into her sides as she fell to the ground. She lay still for a moment. French soil, she thought with a shiver of fear; enemy territory. Now she was a criminal, a terrorist, a spy. If she was caught, she would be executed.
She put the thought out of her mind and stood up. A few yards away, a donkey stared at her in the moonlight, then bent its head to graze. She could see three containers nearby. Farther away, scattered across the field, were half a dozen Resistance people, working in pairs, picking up the bulky containers and carrying them away.
She struggled out of her parachute harness, helmet, and flying suit. While she was doing so, a young man ran up to her and said in breathless French, "We weren't expecting any personnel, just supplies!"
"A change of plan," she said. "Don't worry about it. Is Anton with you?" Anton was the code name of the leader of the Vestryman circuit.
"Tell him Leopardess is here."
"Ah-you are Leopardess?" He was impressed.
"I'm Chevalier. I'm so pleased to meet you."
She glanced up at the sky. It was turning from black to gray. "Find Anton as quickly as you can, please, Chevalier. Tell him we have six people who need transport. There's no time to spare."
"Very good." He hurried away.
She folded her parachute into a neat bundle, then set out to find the other Jackdaws. Greta had landed in a tree, and had bruised herself crashing through the upper branches, but had come to rest without serious injury, and had been able to slip out of her harness and climb down to the ground. The others had all come down safely on the grass. "I'm very proud of myself," said Jelly, "but I wouldn't do it again for a million pounds."
Flick noted that the Resistance people were carrying the containers to the southern end of the field, and she took the Jackdaws in that direction. There she found a builder's van, a horse and cart, and an old Lincoln limousine with the hood removed and some kind of steam motor powering it. She was not surprised: gas was available only for essential business, and French people tried all kinds of ingenious ways to run their cars.
The Resistance men had loaded the cart with containers and were now hiding them under empty vegetable boxes. More containers were going into the back of the builder's van. Directing the operation was Anton, a thin man of forty in a greasy cap and a short blue workman's jacket, with a yellow French cigarette stuck to his lip. He stared in astonishment. "Six women?" he said. "Is this a sewing circle?"
Jokes about women were best ignored, Flick had found. She spoke solemnly to him. "This is the most important operation I've ever run, and I need your help."
"We have to catch a train to Paris."
"I can get you to Chartres." He glanced at the sky, calculating the time until daylight, then pointed across the field to a farmhouse, dimly visible. "You can hide in a barn for now. When we have disposed of these containers, we'll come back for you."
"Not good enough," Flick said firmly. "We have to get going."
"The first train to Paris leaves at ten. I can get you there by then."
"Nonsense. No one knows when the trains will run." It was true. The combination of Allied bombing, Resistance sabotage, and deliberate mistakes by anti-Nazi railway workers had wrecked all schedules, and the only thing to do was go to the station and wait until a train came. But it was best to get there early. "Put the containers in the barn and take us now."
"Impossible," he said. "I have to stash the supplies before daylight."
The men stopped work to listen to the argument.
Flick sighed. The guns and ammunition in the containers were the most important thing in the world to Anton. They were the source of his power and prestige. She said, "This is more important, believe me."
"Anton, listen to me. If you don't do this for me, I promise you, you will never again receive a single container from England. You know I can do this, don't you?"
There was a pause. Anton did not want to back down in front of his men. However, if the supply of arms dried up, the men would go elsewhere. This was the only leverage British officers had over the French Resistance.
But it worked. He glared at her. Slowly, he removed the stub of the cigarette from his mouth, pinched out the end, and threw it away. "Very well," he said. "Get in the van."
The women helped unload the containers, then clambered in. The floor was filthy with cement dust, mud, and oil, but they found some scraps of sacking and used them to keep the worst of the dirt off their clothes as they sat on the floor. Anton closed the door on them.
Chevalier got into the driving seat. "So, ladies," he said in English. "Off we go!"
Flick replied coldly in French. "No jokes, please, and no English."
He drove off.
Having flown five hundred miles on the metal floor of a bomber, the Jackdaws now drove twenty miles in the back of a builder's van. Surprisingly it was Jelly-the oldest, the fattest, and the least fit of the six-who was most stoical, joking about the discomfort and laughing at herself when the van took a sharp bend and she rolled over helplessly.
But when the sun came up, and the van entered the small city of Chartres, their mood became somber again. Maude said, "I can't believe I'm doing this," and Diana squeezed her hand.
Flick was planning ahead. "From now on, we split up into pairs," she said. The teams had been decided back at the Finishing School. Flick had put Diana with Maude, for otherwise Diana would make a fuss Flick paired herself with Ruby, because she wanted to be able to discuss problems with someone, and Ruby was the cleverest Jackdaw. Unfortunately, that left Greta with Jelly. "I still don't see why I have to go with the foreigner," Jelly said.
"This isn't a tea party," Flick said, irritated. "You don't get to sit by your best friend. It's a military operation and you do what you're told."
Jelly shut up.
"We'll have to modify our cover stories, to explain the train trip," Flick went on. "Any ideas?"
Greta said, "I'm the wife of Major Remmer, a German officer working in Paris, traveling with my French maid. I was to be visiting the cathedral at Reims. Now, I suppose, I could be returning from a visit to the cathedral at Chartres."
"Good enough. Diana?"
"Maude and I are secretaries working for the electric company in Reims. We've been to Chartres because… Maude has lost contact with her fiance, and we thought he might be here. But he isn't."
Flick nodded, satisfied. There were thousands of French women searching for missing relatives, especially young men, who might have been injured by bombing, arrested by the Gestapo, sent to labor camps in Germany, or recruited by the Resistance.
She said, "And I'm the widow of a stockbroker who was killed in 1940. I went to Chartres to fetch my orphaned cousin and bring her to live with me in Reims."
One of the great advantages women had as secret agents was that they could move around the country without attracting suspicion. By contrast, a man found outside the area where he worked would automatically be assumed to be in the Resistance, especially if he was young.
Flick spoke to the driver, Chevalier. "Look for a quiet spot to let us out." The sight of six respectably dressed women getting out of the back of a builder's van would be somewhat remarkable, even in occupied France, where people used any means of transport they could get. "We can find the station on our own."
A couple of minutes later he stopped the van and reversed into a turn, then jumped out and opened the back door. The Jackdaws got out and found themselves in a narrow cobbled alley with high houses on either side. Through a gap between roofs she glimpsed part of the cathedral. Flick reminded them of the plan. "Go to the station, buy one-way tickets to Paris, and get the first train. Each pair will pretend not to know the others, but we'll try to sit close together on the train. We regroup in Paris: you have the address." They were going to a flophouse called Hotel de la Chapdile, where the proprietress, though not actually in the Resistance, could be relied upon not to ask questions. If they arrived in time, they would go on to Reims immediately; if not, they could stay overnight at the flophouse. Flick was not pleased to be going to Paris-it was crawling with Gestapo men and their collaborators, the "Kollabos"-but there was no way around it by train.
Only Flick and Greta knew the real mission of the Jackdaws. The others still thought they were going to blow up a railway tunnel.
"Diana and Maude first, off you go, quick! Jelly and Greta next, more slowly." They went off, looking scared. Chevalier shook their hands, wished them luck, and drove away, heading back to the field to fetch the rest of the containers. Flick and Ruby walked out of the alley.
The first few steps in a French town were always the worst, Flick felt that everyone she saw must know who she was, as if she had a sign on her back saying British Agent! Shoot Her Down! But people walked by as if she were nobody special, and after she had safely passed a gendarme and a couple of German officers her pulse began to return to normal.
She still felt very strange. All her life she had been respectable, and she had been taught to regard policemen as her friends. "I hate being on the wrong side of the law," she murmured to Ruby in French. "As if I've done something wicked."
Ruby gave a low laugh. "I'm used to it," she said. "The police have always been my enemies."
Flick remembered with a start that Ruby had been in jail for murder last Tuesday. It seemed a long four days.
They reached the cathedral, at the top of the hill, and Flick felt a thrill at the sight of it, the summit of French medieval culture, a church like none other. She suffered a sharp pang of regret for the peaceful times when she might have spent a couple of hours looking around the cathedral.
They walked down the hill to the station, a modern stone building the same color as the cathedral. They entered a square lobby in tan marble. There was a queue at the ticket window. That was good: it meant local people were optimistic that there would be a train soon. Greta and Jelly were in the queue, but there was no sign of Diana and Maude, who must already be on the platform.
They stood in line in front of an anti-Resistance poster showing a thug with a gun and Stalin behind him. It read: THEY MURDER! WRAPPED IN THE FOLDS OF OUR FLAG
That's supposed to be me, Flick thought.
They bought their tickets without incident. On the way to the platform they had to pass a Gestapo checkpoint, and Flick's pulse beat faster. Greta and Jelly were ahead of them in line. This would be their first encounter with the enemy. Flick prayed they would be able to keep their nerve. Diana and Maude must have already passed through.
Greta spoke to the Gestapo men in German. Flick could clearly hear her giving her cover story. "I know a Major Remmer," said one of the men, a sergeant. "Is he an engineer?"
"No, he's in Intelligence," Greta replied. She seemed remarkably calm, and Flick reflected that pretending to be something she was not must be second nature to her.
"You must like cathedrals," he said conversationally. "There's nothing else to see in this dump."
He turned to Jelly's papers and began to speak French, "You travel everywhere with Frau Remmer?"
"Yes, she's very kind to me," Jelly replied. Flick heard the tremor in her voice and knew that she was terrified.
The sergeant said, "Did you see the bishop's palace? That's quite a sight."
Greta replied in French. "We did-very impressive." The sergeant was looking at Jelly, waiting for her response. She looked dumbstruck for a moment; then she said, "The bishop's wife was very gracious."
Flick's heart sank into her boots. Jelly could speak perfect French, but she knew nothing about any foreign country. She did not realize that it was only in the Church of England that bishops could have wives. France was Catholic, and priests were celibate. Jelly had given herself away at the first check.
What would happen now? Flick's Sten gun, with the skeleton butt and the silencer, was in her suitcase, disassembled into three parts, but she had her personal Browning automatic in the worn leather shoulder bag she carried. Now she discreetly unzipped the bag for quick access to her gun, and she saw Ruby put her right hand in her raincoat pocket, where her pistol was.
"Wife?" the sergeant said to Jelly. "What wife?"
Jelly just looked nonplussed.
"You are French?" he said.
Greta stepped in quickly. "Not his wife, his housekeeper," she said in French. It was a plausible explanation: in that language, a wife was une femme and a housekeeper was une femme de menage.
Jelly realized she had made a mistake, and said, "Yes, of course, his housekeeper, I meant to say."
Flick held her breath.
The sergeant hesitated for a moment longer, then shrugged and handed back their papers. "I hope you won't have to wait too long for a train," he said, reverting to German.
Greta and Jelly walked on, and Flick allowed herself to breathe again.
When she and Ruby got to the head of the line, they were about to hand over their papers when two uniformed French gendarmes jumped the queue. They paused at the checkpoint and gave the Germans a sketchy salute but did not offer their papers. The sergeant nodded and said, "Go ahead."
If I were running security here, Flick thought, I'd tighten up on that point. Anyone could pretend to be a cop. But the Germans were overly deferential to people in uniform: that was part of the reason they had let their country be taken over by psychopaths.
Then it was her turn to tell her story to the Gestapo. "You're cousins?" the sergeant said, looking from her to Ruby and back again.
"Not much resemblance, is there?" Flick said with a cheerful air she did not feel. There was none at all: Flick had blonde hair, green eyes and fair skin, whereas Ruby had dark hair and black eyes.
"She looks like a gypsy," he said rudely.
Flick pretended to be indignant. "Well, she's not." By way of explanation for Ruby's coloring, she added, "Her mother, my uncle's wife, came from Naples."
He shrugged and addressed Ruby. "How did your parents die?"
"In a train derailed by saboteurs," she said.
"My sympathies, young lady. Those people are animals." He handed the papers back.
"Thank you, sir," said Ruby. Flick just nodded. They walked on.
It had not been an easy checkpoint. I hope they're not all like that, Flick thought; my heart won't stand it.
Diana and Maude had gone to the bar. Flick looked through the window and saw they were drinking champagne. She felt cross. SOE's thousand-franc notes were not for that purpose. Besides, Diana should realize she needed her wits about her at every second. But there was nothing Flick could do about it now.
Greta and Jelly were sitting on a bench. Jelly looked chastened, no doubt because her life had just been saved by someone she thought of as a foreign pervert. Flick wondered whether her attitude would improve now.
She and Ruby found another bench some distance away, and sat down to wait.
Over the next few hours more and more people crowded onto the platform. There were men in suits who looked as if they might be lawyers or local government officials with business in Paris, some relatively well-dressed French women, and a scattering of Germans in uniform. The Jackdaws, having money and forged ration books, were able to get pain noir and ersatz coffee from the bar.
It was eleven o'clock when a train pulled in. The coaches were full, and not many people got off, so Flick and Ruby had to stand. Greta and Jelly did, too, but Diana and Maude managed to get seats in a six-person compartment with two middle-aged women and the two gendarmes.
The gendarmes worried Flick. She managed to squeeze into a place right outside the compartment, from where she could look through the glass and keep an eye on them. Fortunately, the combination of a restless night and the champagne they had drunk at the station put Diana and Maude to sleep as soon as the train pulled out of the station.
They chugged slowly through woods and rolling fields. An hour later the two French women got off the train, and Flick and Ruby quickly slid into the vacated seats. However, Flick regretted the decision almost immediately. The gendarmes, both in their twenties, immediately struck up a conversation, delighted to have some girls to talk to during the long journey.
Their names were Christian and Jean-Marie. Both appeared to be in their twenties. Christian was handsome, with curly black hair and brown eyes; Jean-Marie had a shrewd, foxy face with a fair mustache. Christian, the talkative one, was in the middle seat, and Ruby sat next to him. Flick was on the opposite banquette, with Maude beside her, slumped the other way with her head on Diana's shoulder.
The gendarmes were traveling to Paris to pick up a prisoner, they said. It was nothing to do with the war: he was a local man who had murdered his wife and stepson, then fled to Paris, where he had been caught by the flics the city police, and had confessed. It was their job to bring him back to Chartres to stand trial. Christian reached into his tunic pocket and pulled out the handcuffs they would put on him, as if to prove to Flick that he was not boasting.
In the next hour Flick learned everything there was to know about Christian. She was expected to reciprocate, so she had to elaborate her cover story far beyond the basic facts she had figured out beforehand. It strained her imagination, but she told herself this was good practice for a more hostile interrogation.
They passed Versailles and crawled through bomb-ravaged train yards at St. Quentin. Maude woke up. She remembered to speak French, but she forgot that she was not supposed to know Flick, so she said, "Hello, where are we, do you know?"
The gendarmes looked puzzled. Flick had told them she and Ruby had no connection with the two sleeping girls, yet Maude had addressed Flick like a friend. Flick kept her nerve. Smiling, she said, "You don't know me. I think you have mistaken me for your friend on the other side. You're still half asleep."
Maude gave her a don't-be-so-stupid frown, then caught the eye of Christian. In a pantomime of comprehension she registered surprise, put her hand over her mouth in horror, then said unconvincingly, "Of course, you're quite right, excuse me."
Christian was not a suspicious man, however, and he smiled at Maude and said, "You've been asleep for two hours. We're on the outskirts of Paris. But, as you can see, the train is not moving."
Maude gave him the benefit of her most dazzling smile. "When do you think we will arrive?"
"There, Mademoiselle, you ask too much of me. I am merely human. Only God can tell the future."
Maude laughed as if he had said something deliciously witty, and Flick relaxed.
Then Diana woke up and said loudly, in English, "Good God, my head hurts, what bloody time is it?"
A moment later she saw the gendarmes and realized instantly what she had done-but it was too late.
"She spoke English!" said Christian.
Flick saw Ruby reach for her gun.
"You're British!" he said to Diana. He looked at Maude. "You too!" As his gaze went around the compartment he realized the truth. "All of you!"
Flick reached across and grabbed Ruby's wrist as her gun was halfway out of her raincoat pocket.
Christian saw the gesture, looked down at what Ruby had in her hand, and said, "And armed!" His astonishment would have been comical if they had not been in danger of their lives.
Diana said, "Oh, Christ, that's torn it."
The train jerked and moved forward.
Christian lowered his voice. "You're all agents of the Allies!"
Flick waited on tenterhooks to see what he would do. If he drew his gun, Ruby would shoot him. Then they would all have to jump from the train. With luck, they might disappear into the slums beside the railway tracks before the Gestapo was alerted. The train picked up speed. She wondered whether they should jump now, before they were moving too fast.
Several frozen seconds passed. Then Christian smiled. "Good luck!" he said, lowering his voice to a whisper. "Your secret is safe with us!"
They were sympathizers-thank God. Flick slumped with relief. "Thank you," she said.
Christian said, "When will the invasion come?"
He was naive to think that someone who really knew such a secret would reveal it so casually, but to keep him motivated she said, "Any day now. Maybe Tuesday."
"Truly? This is wonderful. Long live France!"
Flick said, "I'm so glad you are on our side."
"I have always been against the Germans." Christian puffed himself up a little. "In my job, I have been able to render some useful services to the Resistance, in a discreet way." He tapped the side of his nose.
Flick did not believe him for a second. No doubt he was against the Germans: most French people were, after four years of scarce food, old clothes, and curfews. But if he really had worked with the Resistance he would not have told anyone-on the contrary, he would have been terrified of people finding out.
However, that did not matter. The important thing was that he could see which way the wind was blowing, and he was not going to turn Allied agents over to the Gestapo a few days before the invasion. There was too strong a chance he would end up being punished for it.
The train slowed down, and Flick saw that they were coming into the Gare d'Orsay station. She stood up. Christian kissed her hand and said with a tremor in his voice, "You are a brave woman. Good luck!"
She left the carriage first. As she stepped onto the platform, she saw a workman pasting up a poster. Something struck her as familiar. She looked more closely at the poster, and her heart stopped.
It was a picture of her.
She had never seen it before, and she had no recollection of ever having had her photograph taken in a swimsuit. The background was cloudy, as if it had been painted over, so there were no clues there. The poster gave her name, plus one of her old aliases, Francoise Boule, and said she was a murderess.
The workman was just finishing his task. He picked up his bucket of paste and a stack of posters and moved on.
Flick realized her picture must be all over Paris.
This was a terrible blow. She stood frozen on the platform. She was so frightened she wanted to throw up. Then she got hold of herself.
Her first problem was how to get out of the Gare d'Orsay. She looked along the platform and saw a checkpoint at the ticket barrier. She had to assume the Gestapo officers manning it had seen the picture.
How could she get past them? She could not talk her way through. If they recognized her, they would arrest her, and no tall tale would convince German officers to do otherwise. Could the Jackdaws shoot their way out of this? They might kill the men at the checkpoint, but there would be others all over the station, plus French police who would probably shoot first and ask questions later. It was too risky.
There was a way out, she realized. She could hand over command of the operation to one of the others-Ruby, probably-then let them pass through the checkpoint ahead of her, and finally give herself up. That way, the mission would not be doomed.
She turned around. Ruby, Diana, and Maude had got off the train. Christian and Jean-Marie were about to follow. Then Flick remembered the handcuffs Christian had in his pocket, and a wild scheme occurred to her.
She pushed Christian back into the carriage and climbed in after him.
He was not sure if this was some kind of joke, and he smiled anxiously. "What's the matter?"
"Look," she said. "There's a poster of me on the wall."
Both the gendarmes looked out. Christian turned pale. Jean-Marie said, "My God, you really are spies!"
"You have to save me," she said.
Christian said, "How can we? The Gestapo-"
"I must get through the checkpoint."
"But they will arrest you."
"Not if I've already been arrested."
"What do you mean?"