A Common Enemy – Episode Eighteen

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 | 17. Instincts

Episode Eighteen – Dark Clouds

7.30 P.M., 11th July 1944 

The Headquarters of the Sicherheitsdienst (The Counter-intelligence division of the SS)  

84 Avenue Foch, Paris, France.

“Are you kidding me? For the first time in weeks, we have a solid lead and you are hesitating to act? You are something else!” Streichel was livid.

Friedrich Heinz didn’t like that Streichel came into his office and was shouting like he owned the place. This was his office. Nobody came and spoke to him like that. Not even Thomas Streichel, hero of the Reich.

“I wouldn’t call a telephone call from an unknown man on the streets of Paris a solid lead!”

“He was sure it was Julienne!”

“Is he one of your agents? No. Is he a German civilian, at least? No. How the hell do I know I can trust him?”

“You don’t! Neither do I! But we have to give it a chance because it’s the only thing we have got!”

“You are asking me to risk the lives of my men based on what it could be? Tell me, with all due respect, Oberleutnant, would you do that with your men?”

“I would,” Streichel was emphatic, “and you know what? I did. Surrender was the better option in Tobruk. And I didn’t take it. We fought for what could be- and take a wild guess as to what happened.”

“Don’t bring up Tobruk, Oberleutnant. Paris is not Tobruk and these are not your men. They are my men and they listen to me.”

“This operation is mine!” Streichel thundered at Heinz, leaning over the table- bringing his face closer to Heinz as he did.

Unfazed, Heinz reiterated calmly, “And these are my men, Oberleutnant. You want to send them into danger- for all we know, it could be an ambush set up by the Resistance- you’re going to have to force my hand somehow.”

Streichel stayed quiet. Heinz took the opportunity to make another point- keeping his voice steady but firm. He wanted to shout but he was aware of the fact that he would not fare well if he went up against a war hero who outranked him- even if in another branch of the military.

“You also don’t have an idea of exactly where they are. All you know is that they were dropped near the Louvre and she was spotted at the Rue de Rivoli. For all you know, it could be coincidence.”

“I highly doubt it.” Streichel was calmer now on the outside but Heinz knew he could be provoked quite easily.

“Okay, supposing they are in the area?”

“Well, we set up a five kilometre radius from the Louvre and start combing through the buildings, one by one.”

“It’s going to take a lot of work- and a lot of men and a lot of risk. It’s essentially a lot of things that can go wrong bottled into one operation.”

“Oh come on!” Streichel was incensed again, “You’re not going to raid the Allied headquarters. It’s a bunch of apartment buildings with civilians!”

“Some of them could be Resistance. We’ll take them down, sure. But we’re risking casualty on our side too, not to mention we could alert them and give them time to escape. Like I said, give me more information and I can give you my men. We’re walking on water as of now.”

Quiet descended again in the brightly lit room once again. Streichel turned away from Heinz and faced the door, his back turned to the SS officer.

“Why can’t the Wehrmacht handle this?” Heinz asked, genuinely curious as to why the Army couldn’t do it themselves.

“The priority is Normandy and the Eastern front for us. The Bolsheviks are especially killing us with a particular vengeance. This takes a backseat to that. They just make sure we’ve got enough men in the cities to prevent an uprising. That’s it. Moreover, the SS is trained for shit like this. We’re trained to fight on the front.”

“It’s a simple search-and-clear op. A policeman with a gun and half-decent brains could do that. That last excuse is bullshit and with all due respect, sir, you know that just as well as I do.”

Streichel turned back to face Heinz, who was curiously sitting with a backdrop of the Nazi swastika being carried by a proud eagle. It seemed to project an image of power- remind visitors of who the man in charge was.

Obersturmbahnführer Heinz, it seems we have reached an impasse.” Streichel declared plainly.

“It seems we have, Oberleutnant.

“I’ll talk to the High Command and see what can be done.”

Getting up from his chair, Heinz gave him the customary Nazi salute. Streichel responded in kind and didn’t say anything more. His mind, however, was miles ahead from the present. He hadn’t forgotten that he could take direct control of the operation anytime the SS screwed up. And he planned to make use of that opportunity now. If Heinz was not willing to give his men up that easily, he was going to go over his head and take them from the SS officer.

*****

9.00 PM, 11th July 1944

The Resistance Safe House, Paris, France.

The three of them were seated at nearly perfect one hundred and twenty degree angles to each other- more by accident than by design. For about two hours after Julienne had returned from the meeting, she had painstakingly described every detail of it to James and Klaus. Since then, they had been going over various possibilities and various plans that they were each coming up with on what exactly to do next.

“You know, I still can’t believe the Nazis are letting you celebrate Bastille Day. That’s like the symbol for liberation.” James said. He had already said that about three times prior and he was still unable to fathom why the Germans would do such a thing.

“So, July fourteenth on the Champs-Elysées, there is going to be a huge parade of people.” Julienne said.

“That’s not much cause for hope. There’s also going to be a lot of eyes watching the parade. Who’s the planned security for this?” Klaus asked

“Apparently, it’s the German Army and the French police.”

“That’s not good.”

“Not necessarily. There’ve been rumours of discontent within the French police. Everybody in Paris can sense an Allied victory. They are a little less inclined to support the Germans than they were a month ago.”

“You’re basically looking for good people within the police system- they are few and far between.”

“That’s probably true. They’re still under German rule and they’re bound to be loyal to them at least till help is nearby.” James said.

“Alright, so here’s what I think we should do,” Julienne said, “we’ll get our new identities tomorrow or day after. That’s step one.”

“Exactly. Then we lay low till the Bastille Day celebrations. On the day,” James said, “we go to the Champs-Elysées. From there we split. You told the Resistance people about our idea right?”

“Of course I did. And they’re on board- they say it can be done.”

“At the end of it, we meet here at nightfall.” James said.

“What if I don’t make it or you guys don’t make it?” Klaus asked

“Then it means the person who didn’t make it has been compromised. Whoever is left needs to find another way out.” James replied

An uncomfortable silence descended upon the room. It was a difficult proposition to imagine for all three of them. Without Julienne, both Klaus and James knew they couldn’t get by in France. And Julienne knew that without James and Klaus, it was only a matter of time before she was caught by the Germans. Moreover, Klaus knew that any American troops he met alone would most probably shoot him without James- especially if they were patrol units who couldn’t take prisoners. And James knew getting past the German lines needed Klaus- he knew the way the German war machinery worked. Unknown to them, they had become a team – together bigger than the sum of its individual parts

“Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.” James said almost in a whisper.

*****

8.30 A.M., 12th July 1944

Militärbefehlshaber Frankreich (The German Military High Command in France)

Hotel Majestic, Avenue Kleber, Paris, France.

It was a quiet morning by normal standards. Lying on Streichel’s table were reports of all shapes, sizes and contents. On top of the list was one emblazoned with the stamp saying “Top Secret”, detailing the daily situational reports from Normandy. They arrived twice daily- once at eight in the morning and once at eight in the night. Outside the weather was warm- perfect July weather, in fact. Paris, to him, seemed particularly cheery. Maybe it had something to do with the Bastille Day celebrations coming in two days time. Maybe it didn’t. He couldn’t be sure but he didn’t care enough to spend too much time worrying about it.

The telephone rang suddenly- its sharp rings directing his attentions away from the sun and the bright, sparkly blue Parisian sky. He waited for three rings before picking up the call.

Oberleutnant Streichel.” He announced politely into the receiver.

Oberleutnant, this is Obersturmbahnführer Heinz of the SS. I have some news for you.”

“Have you changed your mind about the whole thing?” Streichel was yet to type the letter to the Military High Command in Berlin and part of him was hoping he wouldn’t have to go to those lengths to get the men from the SS to do as he said.

Heinz paused for a brief second before saying, “Unfortunately no sir. But I do have a proposition for you which could eventually result in useful action from our side.”

“I’m listening.” Streichel was genuinely interested.

“There’s an asset we have been cultivating for some time within the Resistance. He’s been one of our best informants so far and in the one and a half years he has served us, he has helped us in innumerable ways.”

“Alright, so what do you suggest we do with him?”

“This morning, he contacted his handler- a lower ranking SS officer but the information was so important, the handler reached out to me directly.”

“What do you have?” Streichel could barely control his heart rate- he was really hoping for a big break.

“The Bastille Day parade at the Champs-Elysées day after tomorrow, the Resistance is planning something and it is in connection with the Trio.”

Streichel was a tad disappointed but he was still happy overall- this piece of information was far better than what he had gotten so far.

“Any idea what it is?”

“He has yet to piece together the whole thing but he says we will know when it is done.”

“Alright. That’s good stuff. What are you saying now, in light of this?”

“I say we have SS men-those who can speak French- in the crowd as plainclothes people and a few SS men outside- along with the Wehrmacht who are supposed to be there. A fairly routine search and arrest should do it.”

“Alright, we’ll keep that in mind and work the logistics out later. I have a meeting I have to get to. Is that okay?”

“Absolutely, Oberleutnant.”

“Thank you, Obersturmbahnführer.”

*****

11.00 A.M., 12th July 1944

The Resistance Safe House, Paris, France.

Julienne took a glance outside through the small opening present between the curtains that were drawn up enough to let in a sliver of sunlight.

“You need to stop doing that.” Klaus said

“I’m just looking to see if we’re going to get any visitors.” She replied

“If they were that obvious, they wouldn’t be very good at their job.”

“He’s got a point.” James agreed.

Reluctantly, she returned back to her seat. They’d been sitting quietly for most of the morning. Each of them got some much needed rest the previous night. And once they had all gotten up, none of them wanted to send ripples through the calm silence that wrapped around them. Hence, conversation was kept to a bare minimum.

James felt that his mind was giving up on him. Normally quite hyperactive, his brain seemed to be in a lull today. He felt like he had been forced to drink a barrel of beer and was suffering from a hangover minus the headache. In his head, he was barely putting together sentences beyond five words and sometimes, even these didn’t make sense. The only other time he had felt this was when he was forced to conduct three missions in three days in Belgium a few months back- thanks to a major unforced error from his military bosses.

“Is it just me or is the silence getting on both of your nerves too?” Julienne asked.

“I feel dead. Talking would help, I think.” James said.

Klaus stayed silent, oblivious to the conversation taking place around him. Both James and Julienne noticed this. James snapped his fingers once and Klaus dropped back into the present from wherever he was in an instant.

“What are you thinking?” Julienne asked.

“Nothing. What happened?” Klaus replied, clearing his throat.

“You’re a terrible liar.” James said.

“Fair enough,” Klaus chuckled and then paused for a moment before continuing, “I was just thinking about what happens after this.”

“After what?” Julienne asked

“The war. I mean,” Klaus said, “he has a life in America he can get back to. You’ll figure something out here, I’m assuming. I have no idea what I’ll do. I don’t have a family- I’m sure of that. Most of my friends are likely to be dead by the time the war ends. And in all likelihood, most of Germany, including Leipzig is going to be in ruins- unless somehow the Russians and the Americans both screw up by massive proportions. My future, just like my country’s, is one of ruins and I have no idea where I am going to begin or how I’m going to begin. It’s not a prospect I’m really looking forward to.”

“You know what I wanted to do after the war?” Julienne began and when there was an expectant silence from both Klaus and James, “I wanted to stay in St. Lȏ, open a small café and run it for the rest of my life.”

“I thought maybe I’ll meet a nice guy at some point in time,” she went on, “and we’d settle down in life together. I even saw kids in my life- a boy and a girl.”

“But,” she sighed, “As you both probably figured out, none of that is going to happen. I look back at myself and wonder how I could’ve been so naive. And sometimes I wonder if Julienne of the past would even recognise the woman she had become.”

“Come to think of it, the very notion that I could ever go back to St. Lȏ without facing consequences for collaborating is ridiculous.”

“It might not be as bad as you think.” James said.

“The French are a romantic people, Américain. Everything emotional is everything French. They won’t understand my point of view. Hell, they won’t even listen to it. To them, even if I buy a pack of cigarettes for a German soldier, I am a collaborator. And let’s face it, I did far more than just buy a pack of cigarettes.”

“What about you? You ever have any plans?” Klaus asked James.

James exhaled loudly. He had thought about what he would do after the war a few times since he left American shores for the war in Europe. And if he was being truthful to himself, he didn’t come up with any answer that he found convincing. There was one thing he did know for sure though.

“I want a quiet life – probably back in Miami. I just want some time – actually I want a long time – away from all this noise, you know what I mean?” he addressed the question to Klaus, who nodded in understanding.

“And I want to visit my brother.” He added, his voice reducing itself automatically to a whisper. He had tried many a time to imagine how it would be- seeing his brother’s name on a tombstone. Maybe it would make it easier when he actually had to do it- as doubtful as he was of that possibility.

“Visit your brother?” Julienne was lost now.

“She doesn’t know?” Klaus asked James- a question to which the latter just shook his head in response.

As succinctly and as delicately as possible, Klaus explained the fact that James’ brother had died earlier that year fighting in Italy.

“I’m so sorry.” She whispered, looking intently at James- who continued to stare down at the floor. In response, James looked up for a brief second and managed a nod and a smile.

“To answer your question,” James said, “I don’t have a life in America to get back to. I had a life before the war and God willing, I will have one after the war. But it sure as hell won’t be the same one that I left behind. And right now, I sure as hell don’t have any plans as to what that life will look like- except that it will be quiet and peaceful. I will make sure of it. I’ve seen enough death and destruction for one lifetime.”

*****

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