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 | 11. Questions | 12. Hearsay
Episode Thirteen – In Dependence
4.30 P.M., 9th July 1944
1 Km Outside Sarceaux, France on the way to Paris.
“So we’re going to Paris?” Klaus asked when they were out of the town limits.
“Not exactly.” Julienne replied, content not to expand on it.
Klaus waited for a while, thinking an explanation was forthcoming. When after a few seconds, he realised she was just going to keep driving without saying anything, he asked “Care to expound on that?”
“It was a decision taken at the meeting.” She said.
“And my question is how did you come to that decision?”
“The lesser you know the better.”
Klaus seemed thoughtful after that response. In order to divert his mind off the topic, James- sitting in the back seat and enjoying the warm breeze of French countryside- asked, “What happened to the other car? I distinctly remember the other ride being particularly uncomfortable.”
“I took it outside town limits on our first day here and let it run down a small slope into a pond.” Klaus answered without emotion or recognition of James’ attempted humour and then turned his attention to Julienne, “You said you would tell us what happened on the way.”
“I will. Now’s not the right time.” She replied.
“Well, we’re on our way aren’t we?” Klaus asked, his voice raising it’s decibel level by a few notches.
“Look, I’m a little nervous right now alright? All you need to know is this. We’re going to a place called Dreux, where we will contact a Resistance agent and he or she will help us get into Paris.”
“Great. Another stop.” James mumbled to himself.
“What?” Julienne asked
“Nothing. Good plan.” He responded sarcastically. He didn’t like the fact that they were stopping so often and consequently leaving themselves exposed to the talons of the Gestapo.
“Well, good or bad, it’s the only thing we have right now.” Julienne looked around nervously into the vast, open countryside as she said it. There seemed to be nobody in sight but Julienne had learnt long ago that nothing in war was what it seemed.
“Don’t be afraid. Just keep driving. Nobody’s onto us as of now.” James reassured Julienne as he watched her nervously take glances in every which direction whenever she could. He had been watching the massive expanse of greenery with a keen eye ever since they rigged the vehicle and stole it from one of Sarceaux’s more bourgeois owners- who was conveniently out of town for the weekend.
“The more eyes on the scene, the better.” She responded.
“You just keep driving and looking at the road ahead. The Red Baron and I will keep a lookout.”
Klaus looked back at James perplexed. “Why the Red Baron?”
“He’s the only famous German I know who isn’t called Adolf Hitler.” James shrugged.
“Whatever. Just keep watching.” Klaus smirked.
Americans and their stupid logic. The German thought as he turned back to face the front. In this entire hullabaloo, he hadn’t really had the time to appreciate French countryside. But now that all he had to do was watch out for any enemy movement – which wasn’t all that difficult considering any movement in an otherwise stationary and picturesque surrounding was going to be conspicuous – he was able to admire the finer details of rural France. As the Renault car whirred along the road at a comfortable speed of thirty kilometres an hour, Klaus allowed himself to close his eyes for a moment and took a deep breath- the scent of some flower clouding his senses. The sun was well on its way down to light up another part of the earth and in its casual lighting lay the lazy fields, extending from horizon to horizon. A few grey clouds interrupted the giant blue carpet laid out above them, threatening to dampen the ground beneath. In the distance, Klaus saw a couple of houses- white exteriors and red roofs with a small stable nearby.
“Why are we stopping in whatever that place is called anyway?” James asked, breaking into the silence that had briefly enveloped the group.
“We need to disguise ourselves further.” Julienne replied, her voice much calmer now that they were well beyond Sarceaux.
“If someone recognised us in Sarceaux,” she went on, “there’s a good chance someone will recognise us in Paris. And it will, in all probability, be a German. The city has nearly fifty thousand Germans living in it.”
James whistled his disbelief out.
“Fifty thousand?” Klaus asked, a little taken aback himself.
“Fifty thousand.” Julienne confirmed.
“I guess the slogan really does work.” Klaus remarked.
“What slogan?” James asked.
“Ah yes. I recognise that.” Julienne said.
“Everybody does.” James chimed in.
“There’s something about Paris.” Klaus said, “Something enigmatic. Something that draws everyone to it but nobody really knows why. At least I don’t.”
“It’s the history and the romance, I tell you.” James said, “There are a few cities like that- Paris and Rome especially.”
“I think it’s the history more than the romance.” Klaus said, “I mean, think about it. The buildings, the monuments, the art and so much more. Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, Madonna Of The Rocks, Van Gogh, Monet, Manet, The Versailles Palace, The Arc De Triomphe- the significance that these things have is unbelievable to say the least. For starters, Napoleon ruled all of Europe from that very city. Can you imagine that?”
“I don’t know. I think it’s the best setting for romance you can get. The Eiffel Tower and the Seine alone are enough to make the most cold-hearted man warm up to someone. And the fact that Frenchwomen are pretty as all hell makes it so much better.” He addressed the last part directly to the back of Julienne’s head.
Klaus didn’t miss it. He chuckled and looked at Julienne to see if she had some kind of a reaction. All he saw was a wide smile and rolling eyes.
7.00 P.M., 9th July 1944
Militärbefehlshaber Frankreich (The German Military High Command in France)
Hotel Majestic, Avenue Kleber, Paris, France.
“Have the papers been processed yet?” Streichel asked a clerk working furiously on his typewriter.
Seeing his superior officer, the clerk immediately stood up, in rigid attention and said, “No, Oberleutnant. But it will be done within the hour.”
“Good. Make sure it’s done fast. We need to get these papers to Frontstalag 122 before midnight. Otherwise it will be a pain dealing with the officers there.” Frontstalag 122 was the German codename for Camp Royallieu at Compiègne. It was from here that most Jews from Paris and her surroundings – a term Streichel used very loosely when describing the reach of this place – were deported to the various extermination camps in Auschwitz, Dachau, Ravensbrück and Buchenwald.
“Yes sir.” The clerk said, saluting Streichel and then getting back to typing furiously.
There’d been a lot of disagreement regarding the treatment of Jews ever since Reinhard Heydrich had spoken about gassing. Streichel’s superior and the man in charge of Paris, General Carl-Heinrich Von Stülpnagel didn’t agree with the way the Jews were being dealt with by the Nazi regime- even though he did agree that they needed to be gone. Streichel, however, disagreed with Heydrich for a different reason than Stülpnagel. He thought that while the Jews were a disgrace to humanity in general, they did have one quality that made them valuable. They were mercenaries. Give them food, money, shelter and clothing and they would fight for whoever gave it to them- that was Streichel’s thought process anyway. He thought that able-bodied men from the Jewish community should be given rewards- as minimal as they may be- for either fighting in the Army or for running the German war industry. The others who couldn’t help Germany in any way – they deserved to die. But, as in any army in the world, Streichel was subject to a hierarchy and hierarchy dictated that Jews needed to be sent to extermination camps. So Streichel sent them to extermination camps.
Just then, Streichel’s Aide-De-Camp, Unteroffizier Ernst Geigen walked in, approaching Streichel. Seeing Geigen, who was not a day older than twenty two, always made him feel old. “What is it, Ernst?” Streichel asked.
Geigen gave him the customary salute and then said, “There’s a phone call for you from the SS. Obersturmbahnführer Heinz is on the line.”
“I’ll be there in a minute.” Streichel said, at which point Geigen saluted again, turned and returned back to his desk.
Taking a deep breath, Streichel walked briskly back into his office and picked up the phone, hoping for some good news.
“Obersturmbahführer Heinz. I hope you have good news for me.” Streichel said, his voice a shade louder than he wanted it to be.
“I have both good and bad news Oberleutnant.” Heinz said, with hardly any emotion.
“What do you mean?” Streichel’s voice grew dark. He didn’t like the sound of what Heinz was telling him.
“Well, sir, the Trio got away from Sarceaux before we could get our men into the town to track them. There was a mix-up between the SS and the Gestapo in Argentan and it resulted in the delay. By the time we got there at eighteen hundred twenty hours, they were gone.”
“However,” Heinz continued before Streichel could interrupt, “we do know which vehicle they have taken. It’s a white Renault that belonged to one of the residents of Sarceaux who is at this point, on vacation in Marseille. We’ve already got the registration number and begun work on tracking down the vehicle. We should have something for you by tomorrow.”
His initial anger somewhat appeased by the second piece of information he got, Streichel said, “Alright. But if you screw up again, I swear to God I will ruin you. Is that clear?”
At the other end of the telephone, he heard a fairly diminutive voice say, “Yes, Oberleutnant.”
With one final instruction to find them as fast as they could, Streichel hung up. This is why I wanted the agents to report directly to me, he thought. Earlier that day, upon hearing his demand to have two SS officers track down the Trio and report to him directly on their progress, he got a call from the Army High Command in Berlin saying that while he was in charge of the mission, the officers would report to Heinz who would in turn report to the Wehrmacht officer. This was, according to the instructions he received, to minimise his exposure to the enemy. The unknown caller, who identified himself as only working for Field Marshall Gunther Von Kluge, then hung up saying “This is a direct order from Berlin and you are expected to obey it to the letter, Oberleutnant.”
So, in effect, while he was the nominal head of the operations, the actual control of the mission would be in the hands of the SS. Streichel was all for co-operation between the various branches of the German Armed Forces but he hated being too dependent on the SS for his work to be done. If they failed, he would be forced to take the blame.
He had already thought of a plan, though. The SS would falter one more time. It was inevitable. No mission was ever perfect and no mission had only one screw-up. And when they did falter, he would assume direct control and go on the ground himself if needed. As the officer in charge, he would then have the pretext and the authority to do that. This was the big break he had been craving for ever since he had been posted in Paris and he was not going to let this pass away and get thrown in the dirt by some incompetent SS jackasses.
7.30 P.M., 9th July 1944
An abandoned house in the outskirts of Dreux, France.
They had reached Dreux nearly two hours ago. And yet, there was no sign of the person who was supposed to meet them at the house. The police presence there, like in many small towns in France was little to nothing. On their way in, they saw a rotund Wehrmacht officer sleeping in his outpost. He stirred a little when he heard the Renault go past him but didn’t even bother to open his eyes to check.
James, like Klaus a few feet away from him, was losing his patience. “Is this person even coming?”
“Just keep waiting. They’ll show up.” Julienne responded. She was sitting on a stool next to the window, keeping an eye on the road leading up to the house.
“You know, now would be a good time to work on disguising yourself.” Klaus said to Julienne.
“We’ve got all night for that. We aren’t leaving for Paris tonight. The curfew begins at nine there.”
“Tell us about the meeting.” James said suddenly, remembering that she had promised to do it.
Julienne turned to look at him and Klaus alternatively before saying, “Alright. I guess now’s a good time to talk about it.”
She turned, adjusted herself on her stool, took one last glance outside the window and started speaking again.
“So, there were four people at the meeting. The two maquisards from yesterday- Max and whatever the other guy’s name is, myself and a new guy called Juan Ramirez.”
“Juan Ramirez? He’s Spanish?” Klaus interrupted
“Yeah. He fought for the Republicans in the Civil War and escaped to France once Seville fell to Franco’s forces. You wouldn’t know he is Spanish from the way he speaks French though. There’s not even a hint of a Spanish accent.”
“If it wasn’t for the war, we’d be the poster group for international co-operation. Spaniards, Germans, French and Americans. We’re missing only an Italian and a Jap.” James remarked.
“You shouldn’t have trouble finding Italians. Italy is all but gone, what with Rome being captured by the Americans and the Brits. The Japanese might be a little harder to find though.” Julienne said.
“Okay, can we get back to the point?” Klaus asked, irritated.
“Right,” Julienne said, “So anyway, there’s four of us there. And Juan is from the FTP and he’s our eyes outside. We had a long discussion and a lot of arguments but the gist of it is that Paris is the best place to go.”
“He says that France is a mess down south. The Germans are leaving a lot of the smaller towns to mobilise and fight the Americans in Normandy. But that is creating a power gap that the Milice and the Resistance networks- especially the Maquis- are fighting to gain control of. Betrayal is the order of the day and one cannot say who is who simply by looking at people. Lot of people change sides every day and a lot more pretend to be one side when they are in fact, the other. The simple reason for all this is that they want as many enemies to go. And I’m not talking about people fighting for their country. A lot of them want to use this prevailing situation to settle personal scores.”
“The matter is complicated further by the fact that the German troops are moving towards Normandy- meaning we will be recognised at some point and it’s too high a risk to take. Furthermore, the Resistance is focussing on blowing up railroads, setting up booby traps for the Germans on roads and cutting down telephone lines. Travelling and communication consequently becomes difficult once we’re deeper into France and it becomes unreliable because you could be talking to the Milice or going into a Milice-controlled village without knowing it.”
“And finally, crossing the Pyrenees is going to be a pain, according to him, simply because of the geography of it and the threat of Germans detecting us before we cross into Spain. Nancy Wake took three tries before she crossed from Spain into France.”
“Who’s Nancy Wake?” James asked.
“She’s this Australian woman who commands most of the maquisards in southern France. They’ve been instrumental in disrupting the Germans.”
“How’ve you not heard of her? I’ve heard of her.” Klaus told James, to which the latter just shrugged his shoulders.
“Anyway,” Julienne said, redirecting attention back to herself, “Paris is not a great option considering it is the hub of German control in France but it’s the better of the two evils. Plus the Resistance is better developed there so getting to Normandy may be made easier.”
“Walking into a German death-trap versus walking into a group of murderous, self-loathing Frenchmen- I’ve got to say we’ve done well for ourselves so far.” James said, trying to find dark humour in their current plight. Unfortunately, neither of the other two appreciated it.
Suddenly, following a few moments of silence, Julienne became alert and said, “We’ve got something.”
James and Klaus got up from where they were seated and instantly took a look outside even as their hands clasped the guns they were handed as part of their baggage in Sarceaux.
“Who is it?” Klaus asked.
“It’s a postman. Or at least a guy dressed like one.” Julienne responded.
“Stand behind and keep your gun within reach. We’ll handle it.” James said.
James moved forward and indicated that he would be the one opening the door. He signalled Klaus to stand behind the door as it opened, not revealing himself and made sure Julienne was a safe distance away. There was one sharp knock on the door moments later, a pause and then two more followed.
James still clasped the gun tightly with one hand as he opened the door just enough with the other. The man in front of him was a youngster- probably in his early twenties. He didn’t look at James directly once the door opened. Instead, he just extended a telegram and kept down a bag he had been carrying. The American took the telegram without any hesitation and pushed the bag into the room with his legs. Without saying a word, the postman turned back and walked down the road.
Closing the door behind him, James ripped apart the envelope and began reading the contents of the telegram- surprisingly written in English- out loud.
“Get to Paris tomorrow Stop your house two blocks from GDL Stop Keys In Bakery Stop Germans not aware of your location now but no time left Stop Further instructions there Stop”
“What is the GDL?” James asked, even as he saw Klaus rummaging through the new bag and picking up what looked like a few official-looking papers, an assortment of clothes and some extra cartridges for their guns.
“The Gare De Lyon railway station.” Julienne said as she walked into the kitchen. A minute later, she came back with a lighter and asked for James to hand the note. For some reason, they all watched quietly as the fire slowly ate away at the note on the floor, turning it into ash.
Once it was done, James spoke up.
“So much for the help the Resistance was going to give us getting into Paris. They spoke about what happens in Paris and not how we get there. Now all we have to do is to figure out a way to get three most wanted suspects into Paris without the Germans finding out. Isn’t it?”
“Yeah.” Julienne said thoughtfully. Her mind was already going at full speed trying to figure out a solution. Klaus, it seemed, was too busy going through the clothing and the ammunition to care for what was happening.
Some time passed before Klaus finally broke the silence and said, “I think I have a way.”
“What is it?”
“Okay, it’s going to sound crazy when I say it but if we play our cards right, we may be able to pull this off.”
“Oh just say it already.” James said, a tad irritated.
Klaus shot him a darting glance before continuing again, this time in a slow, steady voice, “We can use the Wehrmacht themselves to get into Paris.”