A Common Enemy – Episode Nineteen

Sorry about the delay. I’ve been a little busy with internship in Paediatrics and couple that with a massive writer’s block, you have a few inactive weeks. Again, sorry about that.

-Seshadhri

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 | 18. Dark Clouds

Episode Nineteen – The Calm

7.00 P.M., 12th July 1944
The Resistance Safe House, Paris, France.

The sudden knock on the door caught everybody off-guard. Instantly, the three of them exchanged glances and checked to see that their guns were within reach. As they had agreed upon earlier, Julienne immediately retreated without noise into the kitchen. The kitchen window was near a drain pipe which they needed to climb down, for the fastest route out of the apartment. James slowly went to the door while Klaus covered him from behind.

Turning the knob gently, James opened the door with a sudden jerk, immediately pointing his gun ahead of him. To his surprise, he found nobody. Signalling Klaus to follow him, he ventured a little outside the door. When he was sure that there was nobody nearby, he retreated with cat-like stealth. As he did, his eyes caught sight of a brown envelope left on top of the penultimate step of the staircase that led to his floor. Making sure once more that nobody was around; he quickly picked up the envelope and retreated back into the room.

Closing the door behind him, James called Julienne back from the kitchen. Once she was in the vicinity, James handed her the envelope. She took it hesitantly and shot him a quizzical look.

“We don’t know the local code.” James explained. It was a short explanation but it sufficed in the current situation – all three understood what it meant. If the Resistance was using any code, which they likely were, Julienne knew it better than the other two.

Inside the envelope was a small, neatly cut rectangular paper, which Julienne immediately recognised as the inside covering of a matchbox, cut neatly on one side.

“That was extensive packaging for something that small.” Klaus commented, with a wry smile on his face. James chuckled.

Removing the paper out of the envelope, Julienne scrutinised it. After about two seconds, she said in an emotionless voice, “It’s one of the more standard codes that the Resistance uses- also one of the easier ones to decode. Thank goodness it didn’t fall into the wrong hands.”

“What does it say?” James asked

“Give me a minute.”

James acquiesced and took a figurative step back – staying silent as Julienne worked her way through the code. Klaus was also happy to do the same.

Although she had asked for a minute, she took barely twenty seconds to figure out what the message said.

“There’s a dead drop.”

“Where?” James asked

“The second platform at the Gare Du Nord.”

“It’s a good place for a dead drop,” Klaus opined, “what with it being a crowded place and all.”

“What time is it?” James asked.

“Nine in the morning. They’ve given us only a two minute window. If we don’t get the package by that time, they will close the window.”

“Close the window meaning?”

“They take the package away and we have to arrange another dead drop somehow. The assumption in those cases is that one of the two parties involved in the dead drop has been compromised.” Julienne explained.

“Where exactly on the second platform? That’s still not a pinpoint location.” Klaus said, pointing out another problem.

“The ladies room.” Julienne said.

“Alright. Where is that on the second platform?”

“It’s near the middle. It’s a good place to do a dead drop.”

“Why is that?”

“There’s lots of moving people near the area- not much time to remember faces or anything- unless one does something colossally stupid to attract attention.”

*****

7.30 P.M., 11th July 1944

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

84 Avenue Foch, Paris, France.

Friedrich Heinz assessed the man in front of him. The first things that drew his attention were his eyes- they were cold, steely-eyed, devoid of emotion. It was stereotypical- almost to the point of humour. He was clean shaven, his cheekbones cut at sharp angles. Except for a slightly visible carotid pulse on either side of his neck, there was nothing to suggest to Heinz that Lars Rothweiler was not a robot.

“Lars Rothweiler.” Heinz said, picking up the file that was compiled about the man standing in front of him.

“Yes sir.” Rothweiler responded.

“You have served the SS well,” Heinz said, “Very well, indeed.”

“I only do my duties sir.”

Even his responses seemed mechanical to Heinz. Nevertheless, despite the endless fun that teasing stereotypical soldiers promised, Heinz decided he couldn’t bother exploring if Rothweiler had a deeper personality.

“Do you know why you have been called here?”

“I do not, sir.” He responded.

“You’ll be meeting shortly with Oberleutnant Thomas Streichel from the Wehrmacht. Do you know who that is?”

“Only by reputation, sir.”

“That’s enough to know about him. Now, Oberleutnant Streichel will talk to you more about this but what I can tell you is this. The mission that you and the five others in your team are about to engage in, is a highly classified and yet a highly important mission. You will report directly to Oberleutnant Streichel- which obviously, means that he is the man in charge of your operation and this is an operation that is being jointly conducted by the Army and the SS.”

“Actually,” Heinz corrected himself, “it’s an operation conducted by the SS but under the command of the Army.”

Rothweiler was about to say something when Streichel walked in. Instantaneously, Rothweiler and Heinz stopped and saluted, which Streichel acknowledged with a nod of his head.

“Has he been briefed?”

“Not yet, sir. I was getting to it just now.” Heinz replied.

“Alright, we’ll do it now then,” he turned to face Rothweiler, “have you heard of Julienne Beaurechard and Klaus Morstein?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good. Now, here’s the deal. The Army and the SS are running an operation to take them down. And you,” Heinz emphasised it, “are going to be the one executing it- along with your men.”

“I’m honoured, sir.”

“Thank you. Now, here’s what you need to know so far.”

*****

8.50 A.M, 13th July 1944

The Gare Du Nord Railway Station, Paris, France.

Julienne walked at a brisk pace to reach the station on time. She’d always heard that the Gare Du Nord was somehow congested at all times during the day but this was the first time she had experienced it for herself – and she didn’t like it at all. She looked behind herself one more time before she crossed the entrance into the station. James had insisted on following her to make sure she wasn’t being tailed by the Germans but she had firmly denied his request. The Resistance expected her to come alone and she needed them to trust her. Assured that nobody was behind her, she continued to walk past the milling crowd.

The first thing that struck Julienne as she made her way into the station proper was the enormity of it. It’s one thing to read about it and see it in pictures but another entirely to experience it. It made her feel tiny and insignificant – qualities that she treasured today more than any other. She bumped into a few people as she walked, making her slightly nervous. But since it was no more than the usual brushes of textile, neither she nor the person whom she brushed against made too much of it at any point. People had better things to do than notice a random person whose arm grazed theirs.

As she walked towards the second platform, she made observations mentally. One game she’d always been particularly fond of since her early childhood was trying to guess a person’s occupation by just looking at them. It made her feel like Irene Adler – who she’d always thought of as the female Sherlock Holmes. In her estimation, Irene was just as smart and just as capable as Sherlock. How else was it possible that Sherlock was bested by her in The Scandal in Bohemia?

Through her meandering eyes, she saw a blacksmith, a cobbler, a nicotine-addict – probably a factory worker- and a man who worked at a printing house before her eyes settled on a German. They always stood out in any crowd but more so in the generally unremarkable environment of common men and women. Perhaps as a consequence of this, Julienne thought they always had a frown on their faces – not too discernible but one that crept to the surface every time a Frenchman happened to come too close to them.

Without even realising it, she had reached the second platform. Lulling with its engines silent beside it was a train to Berlin. She didn’t pay too much attention to it. Her mind was now focused on the job at hand. She immediately looked for the ladies room. It was some distance away from where she was right now but there was no question she would make it on time. She proceeded ahead towards it – all the while keeping an eye on German guards. They were everywhere and in substantial number. Not that Julienne was planning on doing anything foolhardy. It might be easier to get away with things like that at smaller stations like when Pierre Georges and three others shot Alfons Moser – the first German soldier ever killed in Paris by the Resistance, but getting away with it at the Gare Du Nord was impossible.

She scanned her immediate neighbours to find a group she could fit into easily, without standing out. To her right and a little in front, she found a group of ladies who wore attire similar to hers. Quickening her pace, she joined them – bringing up the rear end of the group. It also helped her that the general line of their walk would be close to the ladies room, making it easier for her to slip out.

They walked at an even pace. Although it was slightly slower than what Julienne would have liked, it was still enough for her to make it to the dead drop on time. Moreover, going in a group helped her stand out less. As she neared her destination, she could her felt heart rising up her throat – each of its throbs feeling like a small dagger trying to penetrate her layers of skin, eager to get out. Unaware of it until then, she wiped off a small stream of perspiration from near her left eye. She wasn’t feeling nervous mentally – she had done this too many times before for that – but apparently her physical self was.

The ladies room arrived and she slipped as subtly as she could from her travelling party and entered. The stench hit her before anything else. She could smell the toilets before she saw them. Inside were a lot of people crammed into a small space. None of them spoke to each other, everybody eager to get out as soon as possible. She looked around for anybody who might be suspicious of what she was up to. A quick scan of the people reassured her but it was only a glance, so she ensured that she was still careful about what she was doing. She stood before a mirror and a wash basin, only to realise that the basin was leaking and she had stepped in some water on the floor.

Merde!” she muttered under her breath. An old woman next to her heard her and smiled sympathetically at her, saying nothing. She smiled back and shrugged – although she was mentally cursing herself for making herself memorable to an old woman.

She looked at herself for a brief moment and paused. She hadn’t eaten or slept much in the last few days. Two slight dark circles around her eyes and cheekbones that were beginning to become more prominent than usual gave testimony to that. She quickly grabbed a watch from her bag and checked the time.

Eight fifty-eight.

She had two minutes to kill. She always thought “killing time” was an interesting expression that the English language had. She remembered a conversation she once had with Rudy about this once. He had dismissed the notion that doing nothing was hard. She, on the other hand, disagreed. She told him that time was like a man dying a slow death. One knows that it is passing but it just happens so gradually that it borders on the feeling of being still – almost in limbo. They never got to agreeing on that one, now that she thought about it.

She wondered what happened to Rudy. There was no question that the Nazis had gotten to him – they probably got to him the very same night she had bailed on the Gestapo with James and Klaus. It lingered in her mind as to what he thought of her now. As fast as it appeared, it vanished from her mind – she didn’t know why. It was like her subconscious wanted to avoid talking about it. It did leave some ripples in the water though – her conscious mind still wanted to look inside for answers. Her inner self just wouldn’t let it.

You are here on a job. Do it. A voice sounded from the depths of her mind. She had no doubt which part of her it was coming, and it disconcerted her. Was this who she was now- a conniving, suspicious woman to whom everything had a danger sign attached to it?

Again, her subconscious spoke.

Shut up.

Do your job.

Focus.

Just then, a woman came and stood next to her, placing her handbag next to hers. “You’ve been standing over here a long time, love. Are you okay?”

“I’m good – I’m just a little unwell. I think it’s the dinner from last night.”

“If you want to hurl, use the third one. It’s cleaner than the others.”

“I’m good. Thank you.” Julienne smiled at the woman. She was dressed in a simple knee-length skirt and had a sweater on. Her face was quite unremarkable. She had freckles almost all over her cheeks – that was probably the only remarkable thing that set her apart from a small percentage of the populace in Paris. If she was the person doing the dead drop, she was perfect. Although if that were the case, perfect wasn’t the appropriate adjective for this particular dead drop – one which the dropper spoke quite openly to the receiver.

Julienne checked her watch again.

Nine.

“You know what? I think you’re right,” Julienne held her mouth and faked holding her vomit back, “I think I will need to use the washroom.”

“Take care.” The other woman responded without emotion, still deeply engrossed in removing something from her eyes.

*****

January 1967.

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

“I don’t know how we got out of Paris, to be completely honest with you.” Klaus said, when the subject came to the city.

“That’s true.”

“I’ve visited the city once, after the war. And the moment I stepped out of the airport, it felt like I was reconnecting with a part of me. Do you understand?”

James nodded and gave a slight smile.

“What about you? Did you ever go back there?”

“Not since we left it, no.”

“Do you want to go back there?”

James thought about this for some time. He wasn’t sure how he felt about going back to Paris. It held too many memories for him – both good and bad. His wife had always wanted to go to Paris during the summer but didn’t press him for it because even he wasn’t sure he was ready for it. Of course, she only knew part of the reason why he wouldn’t want to go sightseeing near the Eiffel – the war.

Only three people including him knew the whole reason. And two of them were in the room that winter morning in New York City.

*****

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