A Common Enemy – Episode Seventeen

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 | 16. Plans

Episode Seventeen – Instincts

9.30 A.M., 10th July 1944

Militärbefehlshaber Frankreich (The German Military High Command in France)

Hotel Majestic, Avenue Kleber, Paris, France.

Thomas Streichel paced about the room. The driver of the morning vehicle, which he suspected was the one the Trio used to get into Paris, was seated in one of the chairs. Along with him was the other Wehrmacht soldier who was in the vehicle and who had personally checked the travelling party.

“You’re absolutely sure there were two Germans?” Streichel asked again.

“Positive, sir. One was the soldier and the other was his brother.” The driver replied

“What was the name the soldier gave?”

“Adolf Freitner.”

“Ernst!” Streichel called out to his aide. Not a second later, the room’s door burst open and Ernst Geigen walked in.

“Check up on the name ‘Adolf Freitner’, will you?”

Ernst nodded and then abruptly turned around and exited.

“What about anything else? Did you notice anything suspicious?”

“The brother. His German, I couldn’t recognise the accent- it was strange, somehow.” This time it was the other soldier who spoke.

“Did it have an American accent?” Streichel’s curiosity was piqued.

“I don’t know. It seemed more like the accent of someone from Dortmund or somewhere there but I still have my doubts about it.”

“What about the lady? She say anything?”

“No. She didn’t understand anything. She was French.”

“Alright, move to the office at the end of the end of the corridor. We have a sketch artist there. Describe all three of them to the best of your memory so we can get their pictures out.”

“Yes, sir.” They both replied in unison and stood up. Saluting Streichel, they left the room. It was not much to go on, but the Trio had just made the first mistake. The name, Adolf Freitner, if it was a stolen identity could easily be found out.

Before they left the room, Streichel suddenly remembered something, “Where did you say you dropped them?”

“Near the Louvre.” The driver clarified.

“Alright, go on with your work.”

*****

10.00 AM, 11th July 1944

The Resistance Safe House, Paris, France.

“What’s the plan?” James asked.

“We need to act fast. Paris is a whole different ballgame compared to anything else in France.” Julienne said.

“There’s a lot of people in Paris alone as compared to the rest of France. That’s a double edged sword. On the one hand, more people means there’s less chance of us being found. On the other, more people means more Germans and we have to be extra careful about what we do, when we do it and where we do it. We’re slam bang in the middle of the lion’s den now.”

“Today, I will go to that resistance worker’s house and try to do a few things. The first thing is to secure us three different identities. If the Germans are even half-smart, they would have run the name Adolf Freitner and figured out that it was a fake.”

“Not to mention,” Klaus interjected, “they would have gotten the driver and the other soldier to describe how we look and that way, they would have a sketch of us circulating in the city by nightfall.”

“Exactly.” James seconded Klaus.

“So, we need new identities and new looks.” Klaus said

“I’m not sure how much newer I can look. I’ve done as much as I could.” Julienne remarked, running her hand through her new, hastily done haircut.

“The Wehrmacht cover isn’t going to work anymore so we need to ditch the uniform and Mr. Freitner’s papers.” James said, not really listening to what Julienne had said. His mind was racing through the various steps that needed to be taken with military precision. And opposite to him, Klaus was doing the same thing.

“Alright, Jules,” James turned to face her and for the first time, Julienne saw in his face the military man, “when you go to the Resistance agent, you need to get us new identities and somehow change your look yourself. And make sure our new identities have nothing to do with the Wehrmacht. It would be awesome if you could get us two identities of German civilians in Paris. That’ll work beautifully for us.”

“Alright.” Julienne found herself a little in awe of the two soldiers- she wasn’t exactly sure why.

“As for us, what do we do?” James faced Klaus and was met with an equally piercing stare.

Exhaling loudly, Klaus said, “One of us needs to recon this place. We need to have an escape route in case this apartment gets made out. We also need to know how many guards are nearby and what sort of weapons they have. Anything I missed out?”

“I think it’ll be faster if both of us do it.” James said.

“No. You do the recon. I have to go out and see if I can get an idea of how things are going at the front and any other intelligence I can gather on what the Germans are up to as far we are concerned.”

“Okay. I can maybe try to do the recon now but it’s going to be a pretty quick recon because I don’t want to be out in the open for a long time.” James said. Klaus wasn’t convinced entirely that it was the best course of action but he agreed t it nevertheless.

“When do we leave?” Julienne asked

“We can’t leave this house until you get us new identities and we change the way we look. The Germans are bound to have our pictures out sooner or later.” James responded and Klaus nodded in agreement.

“So, it all depends on how I do. No pressure at all, right?” Julienne said, sarcastically.

“This is not a joke, Jules. This is serious. We’re screwed if you can’t do your job.” James said sternly.

“I’ll get it done.” She said, with a superficial steely-eyed, ice-cold resolve that she hoped would cover up for her fears inside. Paris was, like she had said earlier, a whole different ballgame.

*****

1.00 PM, 11th July 1944

The Resistance Safe House, Paris, France.

Julienne was now occupying the bedroom that Klaus had slept in the previous night- although she was sitting up wide awake. James noticed this from the hallway and entered the room, sensing that she was more nervous about what she was going to do than she let on.

“Hey.” He said, directing her attention towards himself. She smiled in response.

“Is this your first time in Paris?” James asked.

“No, I’ve been here before. Quite a few times, actually.”

“So you know the place pretty well?”

“I guess.” She replied quietly.

There was a brief pause before he said, “Hey. You’ll be fine. You’re going to do good today.”

“I wish I felt the same way.” Julienne confessed.

“I know it’s scary- but think about it. It’s not really that bad. You’re only meeting a Resistance agent – it’s not too out of the ordinary.”

“That’s not what I am worried about.”

“Then what is it?” James was not a psychiatrist but he did know the right question to ask sometimes. It wasn’t rocket science.

“What if they spot me on the streets and arrest me? I’m sure as hell not going to be free after that and,” she was tearing, “I don’t want to die, James. I don’t.”

Almost on reflex, James hugged her, burying her head into his chest. Gently, he held her close to him by his left hand while his right ran through her hair. She was still sobbing and although it wasn’t uncontrolled, he could feel it inching that way.

“Alright, look at me.” He tried to tell her in as soothing a voice as possible. When she didn’t look up, he repeated it a second time. This time, she obeyed.

He kissed her gently on her forehead and stared deep into her eyes. Somewhere in the depths of those monochromic, serene eyes was present a simple girl from St. Lȏ and for a few brief moments, he could see her.

“It’s going to be okay.”

“How do you know that?” she whispered.

“I don’t know. I just believe that it’s going to be. And you should too. That’s what got you,” he paused as she separated herself from him, wiping her tears in the process, “so far too. None of us can predict the future. But we can only believe that it will be better than before.”

“Yeah” She said, clearing her throat.

They stayed silent for some time. She kept looking down and he just held her hand, hoping that it would make her feel better.

“Thanks,” She muttered after a while, “I’m not quite sure what happened there. I don’t usually do that.”

“It’s alright,” James said, “You better get ready by the way. You’re going to need as much disguise as possible so that the police don’t recognise you.”

“Yeah. That’s going to take some work.”

With that, she got up and left the room, leaving James to his thoughts. Different people reacted differently to the possibility of death. James knew that. Julienne was able to keep it together so far because of multiple reasons- the main one being the fact that the threat was always kept at arm’s length. Here, the threat was much closer to home. There were Germans everywhere and one wrong move could result in a horrible consequence that nobody wanted to think about.

James thought back to the first time he had felt anything close to what Jules was feeling at that point. It was, as it was for most soldiers, before his first mission, on the flight. He felt queasy and uncomfortable throughout the journey and was even nauseous for a little while. But he did know that once the action started, he forgot all about it.

Maybe the same thing will happen to her, He thought, once she hits the streets of Paris, her instincts will kick in.

They’d better kick in. The more sceptical half of his brain responded.

*****

1.30 P.M., 11th July 1944

Militärbefehlshaber Frankreich (The German Military High Command in France)

Hotel Majestic, Avenue Kleber, Paris, France.

A little excitedly, Streichel grabbed the three sheets of paper from the sketch artist. He stared at each of them for a solid minute. Their faces were nothing out of the ordinary and the way they were operating, there was nothing to suggest that they wouldn’t change their faces. But it was a shot worth taking.

Moreover, his discovery earlier in the day that Adolf Freitner was indeed a German soldier whose identity they had stolen only confirmed his theories that they were in Paris, having arrived with the early morning truck. The real Adolf Freitner, poor chap, did not even survive the first year of his duty in France, having been killed by Resistance groups near Argentan when his convoy was ambushed. And of course, Streichel was not surprised to find that Freitner did not have any brothers- only a sister who was living happily with her family in Cologne.

“You are absolutely sure this is them?” he questioned the driver and the soldier with him.

“Yes, sir.” They replied in unision.

“Alright. Get out of my office.”

Saluting Streichel, the two of them left the office to Ernst Geigen and his commander. Handing the sheets to Geigen, Streichel leaned forward and enunciated each word of his next sentence like his life depended upon it.

“Send this to every SS, Gestapo and Wehrmacht office and garrison in the city. I want these bastards found. They’ve been on the run for far too long.”

*****

5.00 P.M., 11th July 1944

Rue De Rivoli, Paris.

So far, the whole thing had gone off without a hitch and Julienne could feel her heartbeat racing- partly out of fear that she may be discovered when she was so close to the finish line and partly because she was so close to the finish line.

As she continually walked past the milling crowd, being careful to keep an even pace so that she was not particularly noticeable as the “lady who walked too fast”, she thought back about all the information she had received over the last few hours. The woman she met with was suspicious initially but did buy her explanation that Remy Fache had died during the bombing of St. Lȏ. After listening to her story about the three of them, she turned a more sympathetic face towards her situation. Julienne did get the hint, however, of some lingering suspicion.

The woman said that certain arrangements would need to be made but getting three new fake identities was not going to be an issue, but it would need to be done carefully and it would need to be discreet. The increased German surveillance on Parisian civilians following the invasion of Normandy was the major factor in such prudence, she said. It would at least take a day- maybe two, if everything went right- to procure the new identities.

Till then, according to the woman- who, Julienne now realised never gave her name – the three of them would have to stay put in the house they were lodged in. If it took beyond two days, they were to leave the house and find another place to crash in.

Her thoughts were interrupted by a sharp hit on her right shoulder- the shoulder on which she had hung her handbag. Just about managing to prevent it from falling down, she quickly looked up and found herself staring at a middle aged man. He was thin- one of the many victims of wartime rationing- and had a beard that covered the entirety of his lower face.

Pardonnez-moi, Mademoiselle” he said.

She just looked back and smiled at him before facing forward and trying to hurry up on her way- she didn’t want anybody to remember her face. She continued walking, and this time she didn’t care for the fact that she was walking faster than usual- maybe even fast enough to attract attention. Behind her, she could feel the man continuing to look at her and there was something unusual about him.

Or was she imagining it? She couldn’t really tell and as of this moment, she didn’t really care. She could think about it later.

*****

6.30 P.M., 11th July 1944

Militärbefehlshaber Frankreich (The German Military High Command in France)

Hotel Majestic, Avenue Kleber, Paris, France.

Ernst Geigen was having a busy day so far but he didn’t care. As soon as he heard the piece of news that he was about to give to his commanding officer, he dropped everything on hand – including the receiver of a fairly expensive telephone and ran.

He was too busy thinking about what he would do when he got inside that he didn’t realise he had already passed Streichel’s office in the Hotel Majestic. Doubling back, he took a few deep breaths to calm himself as he walked towards the door. When he reached it, he took one more deep breath with a kind of finality attached to it and then knocked on the door. From inside, he heard Streichel tell him to come in.

Oberleutenant, you’re going to want to hear this.” Geigen said, as soon as he entered the room- realising then that he was still a fair bit out of breath. He made a mental note to eat fewer pretzels from next time and have an evening walk as part of his daily routine.

“Catch your breath first Ernst.” Streichel said, not missing the obvious physical discomfort Geigen was in.

“This is more important than that, sir.”

“What can be more be important than oxygen, Ernst?”

“Metaphorically speaking, a lot of things sir.”

“Okay,” Streichel smiled, “what metaphor are you speaking of now?”

“We might have our first hit. One of our SS offices got a call from a French citizen about a woman who looked just like Julienne.”

Streichel’s eyes widened. “Tell me more.” He commanded.

“Well, it was made from a public telephone and the man didn’t leave any name, so we don’t know who gave it. But he said that a woman who was walking down the Rue de Rivoli looked like Julienne- she had some differences and he only got a look at her face for about three seconds but he is very confident that it is her, going by the images we circulated in the afternoon newspapers.”

“Rue De Rivoli?” Streichel said, more to himself than to Geigen. Consulting a map of Paris, he located the street and then immediately asked a follow-up question.

“Where did the driver say he dropped the three of them?”

“According to our files, he says he dropped the three of them at the Louvre Museum.”

“The Rue De Rivoli and the Louvre are right next to each other.” Streichel was practically whispering to himself at this point.

“What are you thinking?” Geigen asked, half-curious.

Streichel pondered for some more time, his gaze fixated upon a particular spot on the table. Suddenly, he burst into action, rapidly covering the distance between himself and Geigen. When he was close enough that Geigen could feel the authority which Streichel exuded, he stood and stared straight into Geigen’s eyes.

In a low tone, the ruthless commander who had held off the British in Tobruk came back to life.

“Get me Freidrich Heinz from the SS on the phone now. We may have a lead on the three of them and I don’t want to waste any more time. It could still be nothing but I’d rather be sure.”

“Are you sure you want to go in with the SS, sir? It could alert the Trio if they are somewhere else- word does get around among the Resistance in Paris.” Geigen had gotten the drift of what Streichel was planning.

“It could also catch them unawares if they’re within the area. It’s a risk we have to take, Ernst.”

Geigen hesitated just a tad and Streichel noticed.

“Ernst, I didn’t get out of Tobruk by playing it safe. I trusted myself, my men and most of all, I trusted my instincts then. And I trust them now.”

*****

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