A Common Enemy- Episode Eleven

Previous Episodes: Prologue | 1. Company | 2. What Next? | 3. The Man Next To You | 4. I Will Kill You | 5. D-Day | 6. Premonition | 7. Dante’s Inferno | 8. Julienne | 9. Suspended Animation | 10. Survival

Episode Eleven – Questions

9.30 A.M., 8th July 1944

The Resistance Safe House, Sarceaux, France.

James was getting fed up of his situation. He didn’t like doing nothing. He had taken after his father that way. But he had no choice. His Franco-German captor couple were thorough. They made him stay as much as possible in the kitchen and the living room. And if it weren’t for him being kept captive in these two rooms, he was answering nature’s calls outside- all the time monitored thoroughly by either Klaus or Julienne.

He had searched the room for any kind of sharp object against which he could try to cut the tape holding his hands together. There seemed to be none. He had tried the door handle out of desperation but unsurprisingly, that was of no avail. So, resigned to his temporary fate as a captive prisoner, he tried to think about what to do next when Julienne walked in- scissors in hand.

“Didn’t think I was going to be free so soon.” he quipped.

“Oh honey,” Julienne replied, “don’t get your hopes up. You’re staying put where you are. This is for me.”

Keeping the scissors on the table, she rummaged through the various cabinets in the kitchen one by one looking for something. The something, James found out three empty cabinets later, was a small, hand-held mirror.

Placing the mirror gently on the table in front of her, she proceeded to cut her hair with a professional ease, letting the remains of a once resplendent bunch fall to their deaths in the sink. James stared at her keenly. She didn’t fail to notice.

“A woman likes to dress up when she goes out, Américain” she said, a slight smile creeping up into her face.

“I didn’t say a thing.” He said defensively.

“You didn’t need to.” She said, turning back to look at him momentarily before resuming her hair-cutting endeavour.

“It’s just that easy for you, isn’t it?” James said, after a long pause.

“What’s just that easy?” she said, simultaneously trying to concentrate on a particularly uneven patch at the back of her head.

“Changing identity.”

“It’s called being a spy. Look it up.” Julienne responded.

“That’s not what I meant.” James said.

“Then what did you mean, Américain?” she asked, her eyes still fixated on the troublesome patch of hair. She was having some serious problems with that part of her head. She’d always had that issue- ever since she was a teenager.

James stayed silent. He didn’t want to say it. He had a conjecture in mind- and part of him wanted to slap that conjecture right at her face. But for some reason, he didn’t. He didn’t know why but despite his better senses, he didn’t say a word.

“Finally!” she exclaimed as she felt the back of her head with both hands and was satisfied that everything was more or less even on that part of her head. The tough part of the assignment out of the way, she continued to rip through the rest of the overgrown field with ruthless disregard. To James, she managed to be both out of and in control of what she was doing.

Ten minutes later, when she was done, she took a quick glance at herself in the mirror and then turned to face James.

“How do I look?” she said.

She did look pretty; he had to admit to himself after looking at her from head to toe. And this was despite her clothes being worse than they were a few days ago, somewhat dirty, dusty and worn out. Probably prettier than before, he thought to himself. But he wasn’t going to say that out loud. Not in a million years.

Merci, Américain!” she said, a tad exuberantly.

“Again, I didn’t say a thing.” James said, shrugging his shoulders.

She leaned in a little bit, just enough to make him feel her hot breath on his forehead. Another wide smile breaking out on her face, she said, “Again, you didn’t need to.”

Winking at him, she was gone from the room within a second- just like that.

*****

January 1967.

Dr. Claude Morstein’s Clinic, New York City.

They had been conversing for a while now. The tall receptionist had even popped in once to tell the doctor that he had a couple of patients waiting- and losing their patience. When James offered to leave and come back another day, Klaus decided to refuse James’ offer. Instead, he shifted all of his appointments to another day and cleared the afternoon.

A lot of topics were touched upon by the two men. Klaus spoke about how he stayed in London till the war ended- under close supervision of British intelligence. When was finally allowed to go back to what had then become West Germany in 1950, he found a totally different country- one that wanted to move on and welcome a new age in it’s history- eager to forget the trauma of the past. Finding himself on the crossroads between the past and the future, Klaus saw in West Germany the perfect chance to build a new life. Hence, out went Klaus Morstein and in came Claude Morstein. It was not much of a change by itself but combined with a new clinical practice in the hitherto unvisited city of Munich and a host of other factors, nobody suspected of his past.

Munich, like many German cities in both East and West Germany, wanted to rebuild itself into a modern society. From the ruins of Wehrmacht garrisons and barbed wire sprung the many bars, cafes and theatres that dotted the architecture of the city. Post-war, make-shift housing dominated the Munich skyline and people found refuge from their morbid lives in simple things like music, movies and sports. Of course, neither Bayern Munich nor 1860 Munich fared particularly well initially but soon, they would start to get better.

Klaus stayed in Munich for the good part of the last sixteen years- building a home, a family and a life there. But after the death of his daughter nearly two years ago, he and his wife decided that Munich held too many painful memories. Packing their bags, they moved across the Atlantic to New York City in the latter half of 1966.

James, for his part, told about how he was reassigned divisions following a debrief. They thought of discharging him from the Army but his knowledge of German made him invaluable, especially since the war was surely going to hit the German heartland. Now with the 82nd Airborne Division, he told Klaus about the terrible things he saw during his fights through the Netherlands, the Ardennes Forest during the Battle of the Bulge, and finally during their run inside Germany. James and the rest of his division ended the war at Ludwigslust, a town near the Elbe river, where under General Omar Bradley, they accepted the surrender of Lieutenant General Kurt Von Tippelskirch and his army of a hundred thousand men.

Post the war, James stayed on in Berlin as part of occupation duty before finally returning home in December 1945, just in time for Christmas. Soon after, James left the Army and continued his studies at Syracuse- a time he remembered was punctuated by frequent episodes of post-traumatic stress disorder. He would often lay wide awake at night, the naked bodies of the Jews in concentration camps- heaps upon heaps of men, women and children on top of one another-, the bloodied corpses of ally and enemy and the deathly, final stares of his comrades all morphing into a gory, vivid, visual masterpiece. Frequently, he would think about suicide- just to get rid of these thoughts once and for all. And one time, he nearly followed through on his ideation, being one weak moment away from pulling the trigger of his Glock pistol.

Many sessions of psychiatric consults passed by before James became a man who could ingrain himself into society again. After finishing his oft-interrupted study of history from Syracuse, he returned home to Miami to live a normal life again. It was initially difficult but a job as a school teacher, coupled with frequent visits to see University of Miami football games helped him get on his feet. Al Carapella particularly caught his eye- he was the first All-American the program had produced.

Over time, he met his wife- a fellow school teacher who had moved to Miami from Tennessee- and eventually got married to her, settling down in the suburbs of Miami. They had two children- a boy and a girl.

The conversation went into other topics- funny anecdotes from the war, reminiscence of the years lost in the oblivion of larger historical perspective and so on. But there was one topic they consciously avoided, for neither was sure how to bring it up- until the moment when not talking about it would have been a sin of its own.

“How’s Jules?” James asked, following a brief period of quiet.

In the distance, New York City made her usual sounds- those of hustle and bustle and of a city too busy to look after itself. But to Klaus, everything fell silent and the world was still the second James finished asking that question. He could have been in the middle of a tornado and it wouldn’t have mattered.

He shook his ever so slightly before saying, “I don’t know. I haven’t seen her since the war.”

“Neither have I,” James said, before adding, “When’s the last time you saw her?”

“The day we were separated and the three of us went our own ways- that was the last I ever saw of her.”

The three of us went our own ways. James repeated in his mind. It was an interesting choice of words.

They stayed silent as New York City slowly came back to life in their minds. The noise of car engines grew louder, the shouts of angry, irritated Americans drifted slowly into the room, and the characteristic urban stench made it’s presence felt.

“I’m sorry.” Klaus finally whispered.

James sighed, his face reflecting a man tortured. “It was a long time ago.”

*****

Noon, 8th July 1944

Sarceaux, France.

Sarceaux was a sleepy town. That was the opinion that Julienne formed as she walked down its streets. It was a small place, which meant that it was probably a place that would be a nightmare for strangers- they could easily be recognised. She had taken as much care as she could to make sure that she was as disguised as possible. A bright red lipstick, hair going only up to the nape of her neck, a large pair of sunglasses she always kept in her handbag and a slight, yet distinctive limp later, she was satisfied that she was someone else.

So far, she hadn’t seen a lot of movement from the inhabitants of Sarceaux. There was one grocery shop which was open, and its owner didn’t seem like the kind of person who would want to get involved in complicated matters like France’s independence. She had met a couple of characters since then, one of whom was vaguely interested in her while the other eyed her suspiciously- having never seen her before.

As she turned a corner on one of the narrower streets of the town, she found a cycle apparently unattended to. It was a good sign, she thought to herself as she walked closer to it. She found the chains loose and lying about. It was definitely a good sign.

Being married to a German intelligence officer and being a part of the Resistance had its perks. And one of them was that she knew most of the codes and secret indicators that the Resistance networks in and around St. Lȏ used. A cycle with broken chains was one of them.

As she stared at the cycle, she saw a man walk towards her out of the peripheries of her eyes. Instinctively, she reached for her handbag which was hung over her right shoulder and clutched it tightly. Approaching her was a man, clad in blue jeans, a formerly white shirt and a hat which was torn in places.

He came close to her, stood for a few seconds eyeing her from head to toe, and then spoke, “You’re looking to buy the cycle?”

“It seems a little costly.” She replied, still staring at the cycle and clutching her bag tightly.

“Can’t be too costly for a woman like you.” He replied.

“Appearances can deceive,” she said, before adding, “I want to speak to the owner of the cycle.”

His face showed a brief second of alarm before reverting to its original form “The owner’s busy.”

“He’ll be expecting me.”

“Who, shall I say, called for him?”

“Tell him Joanne Guerney is here to see him.”

At the mention of Joanne Guerney- one of the many code names for a female Resistance worker-, the man swiftly turned and started to walk back up the sloping path he had, only a few minutes earlier, trodden down along to meet Julienne. Hands behind his back, he walked. And a few steps behind, Julienne followed.

*****

12.30 P.M., 8th July 1944

The Resistance Safe House, Sarceaux, France.

“What if she doesn’t come back?” James pondered aloud while Klaus paced the room slowly.

“What do you mean?” he asked, looking down at the floor intently, as if it was trying to tell him something.

“What if she’s made out and she’s taken hostage? They might do that to draw us out.”

“Then we give them what they want. We get drawn out.”

“What?” James exclaimed.

“We try to get her out or all three of us die trying- which is the likelier of the two outcomes. So you better hope she comes back out of this alive.”

They relapsed into silence again. To him, war had so far been nothing like he had expected it to be. He was supposed to be knifing Germans and having partial deafness thanks to all the gunfire he was supposed to be a part of. Instead, it was one long deafening silence punctuated by the occasional conversation- which usually arose from an inherent desire to prevent the permanence of insanity in his mind.

“Tell me, James, where are you from?” Klaus asked.

“Miami.” James replied.

“I hear it’s a nice place.”

“I guess it is.”

“This is Miami, Florida right?”

“How many other cities do you know that are named Miami?” James shot back.

“None. But it’s always good to confirm.”

“Is there a point to your questions?” James asked.

“Well, I just think that since we’re going to be working together, we might as well get to know each other.”

“That’s a fair point.” James conceded.

“So, what did you do before the war?”

“I was a history student.”

“I’m guessing you’re going to have a lot more to study after this.” Klaus remarked, smiling. He waited for some kind of response from the American but got none.

“You can ask me some questions too, you know.”

“I don’t feel like it.”

“Alright then. Let’s just wait for Julienne.”

James’ mind gravitated to her when Klaus mentioned her name. Did she really not know what he had meant when he spoke of changing identities? Somehow, it didn’t make sense to him. She was a smart woman. She had to have known what he meant. Yet, she acted like she didn’t know and didn’t care about whatever it is he spoke of.

Maybe her mind was pre-occupied. After all, she did have a big day ahead of her. He thought to himself. It seemed like a weak explanation. But at least it was some kind of explanation. For now, he could appease himself with that.

*****

1.10 P.M., 8th July 1944

Sarceaux, France.

Rome! That’s what it reminded me of! Julienne thought in her mind as she thought back to the cobblestone path that led her to this dilapidated house and tried to remember where she had seen that image. They had been walking for a very long time now. He had taken her through nearly the entire town.

She had never actually been to Rome. She had only heard of it over the years from her uncle, who would regale her with stories of the city’s ancient beauty, it’s antique churches and of course, the winding, narrow yet beautiful cobblestone paths that had survived many a scourge. In her mind, she had built her own version of Rome, which she hoped to someday correct with visuals from the actual Rome.

As she entered the house, she was struck by the darkness of the environment she was stepping into. The weather outside was dull and overcast but nothing prepared her for the squalor she saw inside. There was a solitary table inside with a lamp hanging above it. There were no windows to connect anybody inside to the outside world. The room reeked with the smell of urine and faeces mixed in an unsavoury combination. In the far corner, she could make out the silhouette of a rat scurrying away from the limelight, presumably into a hole it had built for itself.

Telling her to wait, the man who accompanied her went through another door on the other end of the room. When he had disappeared through the door, she opened her bag and inside it, her hands clasped her gun tightly. She always thought it was better to be safe than sorry.

He emerged less than half a minute later with another man behind him. The second gentleman was stocky, and bald with a French beard. At best, he was at least forty years old. He was clad in dirty street clothes with an ill-fitting waistcoat and equally out of place leather boots.

“Max,” he began, without showing any inclination to sitting down, “tells me you want to be part of our movement.”

“I am already a part of the Resistance.” She interrupted.

The two men exchanged looks and looked inquiringly at Julienne for further explanation.

“I’m from St. Lȏ.” She said.

“You were with the Resistance there?”

“With the Francs Tireurs et Partisans, yes.” She said.

“I didn’t know the Communists hired women. That’s an improvement!” he said jeeringly.

“So I take it you’re Gaullists?” she asked, unimpressed so far with the people she was dealing with.

“No. We’re neither Communists nor Gaullists, woman. We’re the maquisards.”

Julienne had heard of them. They took their name from the Corsican-Italian word maquis. They were usually the mainstay of the rural side of France’s Resistance movement- at least in parts where the Communists and the FTP still hadn’t penetrated. They were ill-organised, untrained and often ran solely on the enthusiasm of its members more than anything else. The prevailing opinion among many people well within the military establishments on either side and even within the Communist arm of the Resistance was that these people wouldn’t last for long in sustained combat.

“My name,” he went on, “is Capitaine Arnaud Grieson. Who are you?”

“I’m Julienne Beaurechard.” She replied, staring Arnaud straight in the eye as she said it.

Grieson’s face turned white when he heard the name. He recognised it from the radio broadcasts over the last one or two days.

“You’re…” he began.

“Yes. And I have the proof in here if you want it.” She tapped her handbag gently, “but I’m here to ask you a far more important favour. I need to get to Paris or to Spain with the German and the American and I need you to help me get that done.”

“You’re kidding me?” he asked, incredulously.

“No,” She said, cold as ice, “and I need to get it done by tomorrow afternoon.”

“Tomorrow afternoon!” he exclaimed. Grieson wasn’t having a hard time processing everything.

Slowly, she took out the gun her bag and brought it into full view of the old man. She didn’t intend to use it. But having a gun coupled with a drop-dead, stone-cold voice was a good way to gain control of the room. She had done it many a time before and it had never failed her. And she was confident it wouldn’t fail her now, especially that she had a reputation as a Gestapo-escapee.

“I’m not asking, Capitaine. I’m telling you I need it done by tomorrow afternoon.”

*****

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