A Common Enemy- Episode Sixteen

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 | 13. In Dependence | 14. Nach Paris | 15. Poker

Episode Sixteen – Plans

6.00 PM, 10th July 1944

The Resistance Safe House, Paris, France.

James woke up slightly groggy- his sleep had been cut short by the sound of a German soldier shouting in the street below. He tried to turn and look around him but a sharp pang in his back made him wince. Sleeping on the couch was never comfortable, whether it was a Parisian couch or a Puerto Rican couch. The pain did have the effect of waking him up though- a sudden course of steroids bursting through his veins.

Sitting up briskly, he took a look around. When he had arrived that morning, he was far too tired to take in his surroundings. The house was well-furnished. At least, it was as well furnished as one could expect during the war. There was a couch – the one he slept on – along with two cushioned chairs that came together as a set. Beneath them was a carpet covering an oft-painted over wooden flooring. Opposite to him was a set of shelves. Most of them were empty but James assumed books occupied most of them before the war.

The living room was small- the couch was barely two feet away from the window and the curtains covering it but it was sufficient enough to sustain three people. To his right, high above on the wall was a solitary lamp which gave the room just enough light to make do.

James looked around quickly for some water- his throat was parched. Seeing that there was none in the living room, he walked quickly into the kitchen which was separated from the former by a narrow, short passageway. He tried a few taps to see if any had running water but there wasn’t any luck. He opened a few of the other cupboards but there wasn’t anything there- let alone water. Frustrated, he slammed the last cupboard a little harder than he wanted to.

Julienne rushed in and stopped abruptly when she saw James. “What happened?”

“Do you have some water?” James was positively rasping like a chain smoker.

“It’s in the other room- with Klaus.” She pointed at a small bedroom in the far end of the passageway.

James walked over there while Julienne followed. Klaus was face-down on the single-person bed, still deep in his slumber.

Taking a few gulps of some much needed water, James just closed his eyes and enjoyed the moment as the liquid made it’s way through to his stomach. He turned around to see if Julienne was there and when she wasn’t, he called out her name. She responded by saying she was in the living room.

He walked in there to find her occupying his sleeping place, lying down on it with her legs stretched out and eyes closed. Somehow, she looked serene, even in the midst of chaos. Her cheekbones stood out perfectly in the dim room- he had never noticed them before. Hearing him walk near her and take a seat at one of the two chairs, she opened her eyes and followed him.

“Did you get any sleep?” he asked.

“Yeah I did. I didn’t sleep for long though. I think I’ve reached that point of fatigue where even trying to fall asleep seems like too much work.”

“Yeah I know the feeling.” He smiled.

“You’ve been out for a long while now.” Julienne said.

“Yeah,” James replied, taking a deep breath, “nearly twelve hours by the looks of it. It’s been a while since I slept this long.”

They stayed silent for some time- Julienne because she wanted the quiet and James because he was trying to recollect the morning’s events in Paris. After passing the checkpoint and entering the city proper, the Wehrmacht truck dropped them near the Louvre Museum. From there, they decided to walk the short distance to the Gare De Lyon along the Rue De Rivoli. As mentioned in the letter, the keys to the studio-apartment like place were in a small bakery near the railway station. It was not that hard to find the bakery considering it was the only one visible anywhere close to the station.

The man in charge of the store recognised Julienne – a disconcerting fact for James – as soon as he saw her and acted like he was a long-lost relative of hers. Klaus hadn’t come along with the two of them. He was a little further behind the two. The apartment was a little further away from the station- another half an hour walk, to be precise. When they finally did reach the apartment, James was too tired to do anything other than sleep but did manage to keep himself awake and thoroughly comb the house for any bugs or traps the Germans may have set. When he was satisfied that the safe house was indeed safe, he crashed onto the couch.

“You should sleep.” James said, breaking the quiet.

“I know I should. I just can’t seem to be able to.” She replied- her eyes still closed.

“You’re halfway there- eyes closed, tired voice, the whole deal.”

She just smiled. He was probably right now that she thought about it. She felt too tired to respond to him.

“You’ve never told me about your parents, you know.” Julienne said. She was trying to sleep but part of her wanted to keep talking to James- at least for some more time. Maybe if she stressed herself out enough by talking, she may just fall asleep suddenly.

“What about them?”

“Well, I’ve told you about my father. You never told me about your parents.”

“Alright,” James conceded, “fair enough. My mother’s name is Janet. She’s from Kansas and she’s a housewife. My dad’s name is Ronald Kirby and he’s also from Kansas but as a family we’ve always lived in Miami because of dad’s job. And I have two siblings- a brother, Mark, and a sister, Stacy.”

“That’s all you’re going to give me?”

“Look I don’t have any strange stories, if that’s what you’re looking for.” James shrugged his shoulders as he said it.

She looked at him in disbelief and he regretted his words as soon as he said it. “Is that what you think it is? My father’s death is ‘a strange story’ to you, is it?” She was sitting up straight and looking at him- her eyes glaring right through him.

“That’s not what I meant…” James began to protest.

“Oh shut up!”

“Look, that’s not…”

“Do you mind? I need to sleep.” She said, sternly but without raising her voice.

Realising that there was no point in trying to pacify her, James left the room and went to the room that Klaus was sleeping in and sat on the floor. He’d give her a sufficient amount of time before he would attempt to talk to her again. In his pre-occupation, he didn’t notice that Klaus as awake and looking at him with half-open eyes, his face still firmly planted on the bed.

“Trouble in paradise?”

James raised an eyebrow and cocked his head to one side, as if to say ‘What else did you think?’

*****

8.15 P.M., 10th July 1944

Militärbefehlshaber Frankreich (The German Military High Command in France)

Hotel Majestic, Avenue Kleber, Paris, France.

Streichel was tired. It had been a long work day and he wanted nothing more than to go back home and finish the rest of the bottle of fine Bordeaux wine that he had gotten from one of his junior officers. In front of him were a set of files randomly kept on the table. He took a sweeping look at them.

There was one with a list of orders of the day- including tomorrow’s order of the day that had yet to be signed-, a list of officers serving in the different Arondissements of Paris, one with a list of prisoners and different prisons they were in and finally, there was one with all the checkpoint arrivals and departures from Paris that day from 6 AM to 6 PM.

He stared at that file for a while. Earlier that afternoon, an idea had come to his head. In fact, it actually stemmed from something that he had said to the Heinz that morning. If the trio had indeed taken a Wehrmacht uniform, it was obvious they were doing it to avoid detection. And why would they need to do that unless they were entering a city with a strong Wehrmacht presence?

Of course, it didn’t mean that Paris was the city that they had chosen but going by the general direction of their travel from St. Lȏ to Dreux, with a stop at Sarceaux, it looked like they were headed towards Paris. Of course, there was the off chance that he was wrong and they were using it as a diversionary tactic before they headed south. But somehow, the more he thought about it, the less likely it seemed.

Picking up the file, he started going through the document. It didn’t take long before he found something unusual. At about 7.05 AM, there was a data log that registered a Wehrmacht soldier accompanying two civilians in a military truck that had entered the city somewhere near the river Seine. It wasn’t unusual for people to be offered a ride to Paris by Wehrmacht soldiers. Many a soldier had done it, but what stood out for him with this one is the timing of the entry. Coming on the heels of the discovery of the abandoned Renault made this look all the more suspicious. It would certainly fit the time frame of any possible escape from Dreux and subsequent entry into Paris. He also remembered that early mornings were often the time when people didn’t have a lot of scrutiny from the guards, simply because most vehicles arriving at the time belonged to the Nazi Reich in one way or another. Civilian vehicles often came later in the day.

He noted down the name of the driver of the vehicle and made a mental note to summon him the next morning. He also continued to scan the rest of the list. There were four other entries throughout the day that could also have been the Trio but the only way they would have arrived late into the city is if they had a pit-stop somewhere else. One couldn’t rule that out but it made it a little less likely. He made it a point to note all of their details regardless.

In all this, the only thing he was uncomfortable with was the fact that there was an American. He was a complete unknown. All Streichel knew about him was that he was an Army man and he was American. He had no idea about his physical appearance, his capabilities as a soldier, his weaknesses, his strengths, nothing. As long as he didn’t have the full picture, Streichel knew he was walking on quicksand.

A yawn finally overcame his defences and let itself out. Checking the time, Streichel locked his desk drawers and put his gun back into his holster. It was time for some wine. The Trio could wait.

*****

10.30 PM, 10th July 1944

The Resistance Safe House, Paris, France.

“So, what do we do now?” Klaus finally asked when they finished eating their slices of bread.

“She’s got to answer that.” James said.

Julienne didn’t look at him, instead choosing to look at the floor beneath her as she sat on the chair. In fact, throughout their rather sombre dinner affair, Julienne didn’t make eye contact with James, choosing instead to concentrate on the food. Occasionally, she would look up at Klaus and respond to him when she wanted to but there was nothing on this side of the aisle for James.

“Well, you can think of something.” Klaus said.

“I can try.” James said. But he neglected to add the part that he wasn’t very hopeful of any viable solution coming from him.

“The Resistance in Paris,” Julienne suddenly spoke up, “is well developed- far better compared to any other city in France. I can make contact tomorrow. Getting to the Allied lines may be a little more complicated than that. And it’ll be more your work than mine.”

James and Klaus looked at each other. They knew that it was going to be more work from their side but they didn’t know how to go about it. They would have to come up with a plan that could work itself around the many obstacles in the way. But that could take care of itself another day. More important than their work was the fact that they needed to get out of Paris before the Germans figure out that they are holed up inside the French capital. And for that, they needed the help of the Resistance.

“And how do you plan to contact them?” Klaus asked

“You remember when we were back at Remy Fache’s house, when we contacted a person who could take us into their house? I know where she lives in Paris. We could start from there.”

“Alright. Let’s take it from there then. I and James will see what we can do about getting us past German and Allied lines.”

Their brief discussion clearly concluded, Julienne got up and walked towards the bedroom. James followed her in while Klaus left the two and decided to stay in the living room. Closing the door behind him, James began immediately, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said what I did.”

She stayed silent.

“I know it was insensitive of me. I’m sorry.”

She stayed silent for some more time, and both of them stood in the room, not knowing what to say. Finally, because the silence was getting overwhelming, and because she was a lot calmer now than she had been before, she said “It’s alright, I guess. Maybe I overreacted.”

“No, you didn’t. Your dad died and I made it seem trivial- it isn’t right.”

“Forget about it.”

Again, there was a period of silence during which time Julienne sat on the bed, arms folded across her chest and face staring straight ahead. James felt compelled to say something but for some reason, he couldn’t seem to land on an appropriate topic. So, when time only seemed to increase the strangeness of the situation further, James left the room, leaving Julienne to her thoughts.

*****

12.30 AM, 11th July 1944

The Resistance Safe House, Paris, France.

Julienne had still not come out of the bedroom. Both Klaus and James had, unknown to each other, assumed that she’d slept. War is boring, Klaus thought. Of course, if one was to ask soldiers at the front, they would want the war that Klaus was having – long hours of doing nothing punctuated by some small action. But anything in excess was not nice and part of Klaus missed the gunfire he had last seen near Neuville. More importantly, he was not saving any lives but his own.

“War educates the senses, calls into action the will, perfects the physical constitution, brings men into such swift and close collision in critical moments that man measures man.” James whispered in a quiet voice into the seemingly endless abyss of darkness enveloped around the two of them.

Klaus looked at him questioningly. James was able to see only his eyes but he made more than enough meaning out of it.

“That was Ralph Waldo Emerson.”

“I’ve heard of him.” Klaus replied, shutting his eyes again.

“It was a speech he gave in Boston, back in 1838- a lecture, more accurately.”

“It must have been one hell of a speech.”

“He idealises war so much.” James remarked.

“Bet he’s never fought in one.” Klaus replied and James chuckled in agreement.

“It’s nothing like that is it?” Klaus asked, more as a rhetoric than anything else.

“No kidding,” James paused and then asked, “Where were you before this?”

“Before what?”

“Before this. Before France, I mean.”

“I was in Italy- fought in Sicily and generally in the southern parts of the country.”

“Anzio?”

“No. I wasn’t at Anzio. Why do you ask?”

James took a deep breath and stared distantly into the black space he was enveloped by. “Mark died there.”

“I’m sorry. Who?”

“Mark. He was my brother. Private Mark Kirby.”

“I didn’t know you had a brother.”

“Well, I don’t anymore.”

“I’m sorry.”

James hadn’t really spoken about his brother to anybody in a long time. But something compelled him to do so tonight. He wasn’t very sure what it was. But he felt like he needed to let it out. It had been weighing him down a lot recently.

“He was a good kid. He was born two years after me. He was very competitive in anything he did. I hated that and loved that about him at the same time. He hated losing. Whatever he did, he wanted to be the best at it.”

“I remember this one time. We were at a bar, somewhere in Orlando, playing darts. Obviously, we’re both drunk as all hell and in the travesty of a game that followed, I won.”

“Now, Mark’s so pissed he takes a bottle of the finest whisky the bar has to offer. Like, he actually buys a goddamn bottle that cost him like half his salary at the point!”

James laughed as he recalled the strangeness of what Mark did that night. Klaus managed a smile although he was sure James couldn’t see his face.

“He’s unsteady but somehow manages to walk over to the bar to collect the bottle. He takes it and then throws the bottle at the cabinet behind the bartender. He breaks like half the bottles there and there’s liquor spilling all over the place. And there’s silence. Everybody’s stunned at the sight of a guy breaking like a thousand or two thousand dollars’ worth of alcohol bottles.”

“Calmly, this guy uses the silence and walks out the door. And then, everybody turns to me like ‘What the fuck do you have for a brother?’ Now, I didn’t have the money to pay the bar. So I tell the bartender- who’s livid by now- to wait and walk off outside to see my brother. I know he’s outside because he hates walking and I have the car keys.”

“Outside, I see him waiting by the car. So I go up to him and without a word being said, we quickly get into the car and start driving- as fast as we could. Obviously, the bartender didn’t trust us so he and his henchmen start chasing us. And believe it or not, they chased us for about ten miles before they realised they couldn’t get to us. And the best part was that as soon as we hit the road, Mark passed out. And I mean, passed out! The guy who started this whole chased-down-by-a-bartender-with-a-street-gang thing is having sweet dreams next to me while I fight for our lives. So I get pissed off and I douse his sorry ass with water while I’m driving. Waking up, he has a bad headache, vomits all over the car including over himself and me, and has no clue why we’re driving at a whopping hundred miles an hour on a freeway being chased by goons.”

James laughed as he recalled every moment of the night- the shrill, cold air, the abuses being hurled at them from behind, the irritation he felt when Mark was asleep in the passenger seat, the confusion that followed when he got woken up, the pain when his head hit the dash board. Slowly, he settled into a melancholic smile.

“That was the last road trip we ever went on together- just the two of us. That was it. I went and joined basic training a few months later. We were supposed to be assigned together but there was an incident somewhere with two brothers where both of them were killed in the same battle. So, after that, the Army decided that in order to increase the chances of survival, siblings would be in different units. He became a Ranger and I went to the Airborne. And we haven’t seen each other since.”

He paused before adding, “And now I know I’ll never see him again.”

“I’m sorry.” Klaus whispered.

James exhaled loudly. He wanted to say something but his throat was choked. Until the last ten seconds, it hadn’t hit him that he was never going to see his brother again.

He was never going to play baseball with him again.

He was never going to get drunk with him again.

He was never going to be able to tell his brother how awful his choice in women was.

He realised then, that from that moment onwards, there was never going to be another road trip with just the two brothers again.

He realised then that not only was he not going to see his brother, he was never going to have a Mark Raymond Kirby in his life ever again.

*****

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