PLEASE READ THIS DISCLAIMER: This story is set during World War II, and it depicts an action that many women suffered during war. There is a very short rape scene at the beginning that is used to set up the rest of the story. The scene is not glorified, nor used as shock value, but to isolate and shift a character's behavior. I apologize if this offends anyone, and that is not my intention. If this bothers you, then please do not read this story.

Other than that no disclaimers are required for use as the character and plot are my own. This story does depict a relationship between women, and may not be suited for children under 18 or illegal in your given area. Please use your own judgment. Comments, questions or suggestion may be sent to me at Pallas3@yahoo.com*

NOTE TO READERS:  Thank you for keeping with me over the time it's taken to post this. I try and write whenever I get time, and I appreciate all of you who have written me notes encouraging me to post more often.  Believe it or not, it's helped. Send me mail!

 


Mercy that Sadness Brings
by
Pallas


Part IX: The Sowers



The woman in the dress shop had scared her, and Jackie found herself hurrying away from the shop as quickly as possible, her eyes darting back and forth in search of any sign of the Germans. With great thumps, her heart pounded almost uncontrollably, making her feel slightly queasy.

'Sophie!' her mind screamed, causing Jackie's head to jerk up in alarm. She couldn't risk leaving the girl alone for another moment, and she knew with each second that passed their one chance for safety was rapidly dwindling. They had to find Anastasie.

She stopped dead, a terrifying thought digging in her brain. The blonde Gestapo agent -- had she traced them to St-Lo? If so, then Jackie knew the blanket arrests of all suspects was her handy work. It was just too convenient that the Germans, on the day they arrive in St-Lo, suddenly arrest people they'd probably watched for months. It might mean that the one man who was capable of helping them might be gone. And even if they could find Anastasie, it might not be safe to stay with him.

That left Jackie with precious few options, and she even suspected that the blonde Gestapo agent had probably given their descriptions to every soldier or German sympathizer in St-Lo. As her footsteps rapidly lead her back to Sophie's hiding place, she knew that taking the girl with her to search for Anastasie might get them both caught.

The entrance to the alley seemed as quiet as she'd left, but her heart jumped to her throat as she edged down the wall towards the girl's hiding place. Could it be quiet because the Gestapo had already come and gone? 'Oh, please let her be here,' she kept praying, trying to keep her steps quiet but her body tensed for anything.

"Sophie?" she hissed, drawing closer, her hands moving the box that covered the shallow doorway. She almost dropped to her knees when the spot she'd left Sophie was empty. "Sophie?!" she hissed again, spinning around and searching for another hiding place. From behind her she heard a small rustle and she turned towards the noise. It ceased, and Jackie was about to dismiss it as a rat when she saw a glint of strawberry blonde hair from behind a garbage can. It didn't move, and Jackie edged towards it. 'Please let her be alive,' she thought, her hand reaching out to push back a packing crate.

The girl was sitting with her knees pulled to her chest and wedged between two other crates. Her face was dropped into the safety of her knees, and she didn't appear to have heard Jackie's approach.

"Sophie?" she said again, dropping next to the girl and gently touching her hair. "It's me," she whispered, stroking Sophie's hair.

It took a long breathless second before Sophie's head lifted, and as soon as recognition filled her eyes, Jackie found Sophie's body forced into in her arms. The girl's body shook, and she tightened her hold. "I'm sorry," she breathed into Sophie's hair.

"I was so scared," Sophie answered. "I didn't think you were coming back."

"I promised, didn't I?"

Sophie pulled back and stared at her. "I know. But when I saw you," she said, reaching up to touch Jackie's felt Fedora hat, and Jackie understood.

"I'm sorry," she repeated.

"It's alright," Sophie said, forgiving Jackie with more than her words.

"Well, this time you're coming with me," Jackie said, her brow furrowing slightly as she once again tried to justify the risk.

Without warning, Sophie's hand lifted and her finger traced the small wrinkle that formed above Jackie's eyes. The American didn't move, but instead closed her eyes and let Sophie's touch roam over her face. Her contentment at Sophie's touch seemed to flow through her until Jackie was almost able to forget the war and her duty and their peril. Almost.

With a great effort she lifted her hand to stop Sophie's exploration before it became too hard to do so. Her eyes opened, and she forced a smile on her face to counteract the pain she saw flash across Sophie's face. "Not now," she whispered, bringing Sophie's hand to her lips and kissing it.

"Then when?" Sophie asked.

"I don't know," she answered honestly. "Maybe when this is all over." 'If you still want me,' she wanted to add, but didn't.

The response didn't seem to satisfy Sophie, and Jackie saw a visible shift in the girl's countenance. "I take it you didn't find your contact," she said, almost forcing the words out, her eyes seeking the safety of the ground.

"No," Jackie said, letting her heart grow cold again. "Things have changed."

"So?"

"It'll be safer if we look for Anastasie together."

Sophie nodded, but Jackie knew she didn't understand.

"I got you some clothes," she said quickly, desperate to see some feeling return to Sophie's eyes. If she really thought about it, Jackie would have been alarmed to realize how her own emotions had become dependent upon the moods of Sophie. In the past she'd always felt so self sufficient, and within a matter of a few days she'd become reliant upon gaining pleasure from pleasing Sophie.

"Thank you," Sophie said, quietly.

"Here," Jackie said, reaching behind her for the brown paper wrapped bundle. "I hope they fit."

Sophie climbed to her feet, leaving Jackie instantly shivering from the cold that Sophie's absence her left. She watched silently as the girl ripped open the package. A smile spread across the girl's face, and Jackie almost felt like she just given her a dozen roses. The feeling made her swallow hard.

"Wow!" Sophie said, pulling out the pants and blouse. She looked up, an evil glint in her eye. "How'd you know I'm not a dress kinda person?"

Jackie beamed a smile back. "Just a guess," she said, relief washing over her. "And you'll be warmer in pants." She stood, unable to wash the smile from her face.

"Thank you," Sophie said, her eyes lifting to meet Jackie's, and the American could see something in those green eyes that made her mouth go dry and she fought to regain control. She knew they needed to think proactively, but at that moment all she wanted to do was reach out and pull - - -

She closed her eyes and forced herself to concentrate. Her body took a step back, and she could almost feel her spirit being torn from the warmth of Sophie. "You need to change and we need to move out of here," she said, her voice shaking slightly.

"Jackie?" Sophie said, her voice probing in a way that made Jackie's heart quiver. She felt captured in the girl's gaze which seemed to be calling her forward into territory she shouldn't venture willingly, even though at that moment Jackie wanted to be no where else. "I'll change," Sophie said, her words breaking the crackle between them, and Jackie turned her eyes to the brick wall behind Sophie.

"The woman I got the clothes from said the Germans are arresting suspects," she announced, her eyes still glued to the wall. With a deep breath, she vocalized her worse fear. "Our contact could have been taken." Her gaze slipped back to Sophie.

"What do we do if he has been?" Sophie asked, her eyes instantly filling with the terror and weariness that Jackie had become accustomed to seeing. She didn't try and stop herself from stepping closer and cupping Sophie's face with her palm.

"We'll figure something out."

"I know you will," Sophie said. "I'm just tired of being afraid."

Jackie nodded in understanding. "Change," she said, softly, turning her back to give the girl some privacy.
After Sophie had changed into the gray slacks and white blouse she held up her khaki clothes. "What do I do with these?"

"Give me the sweater," Jackie said, folding it over her arm. "It might come in handy later." She took the torn pants and threw them behind the crates. "C'mon." she said, pulling awkwardly at her unfamiliar male clothes. "We need to act like we're a couple," she said, suddenly feeling very self conscious of her attire.

"You don't look like a man," Sophie said, reaching up to adjust her tie. Her fingers lingered against her chest and her head bowed. Jackie found herself intently studying the girl and wondering what was running through her head. Her hand disappeared from her chest and Sophie's head lifted, giving Jackie a weak smile. "But I can pretend if you can."
"Let's hope no one looks at us that closely." She was finding it amazing how easily Sophie could change her mood.

"Thank you for coming back," Sophie said, as they approached the mouth of the alley.

"I promised I would."

"And you always keep your promises," Sophie stated. "I'm beginning to understand that."

Their expulsion onto the street prohibited Jackie from responding, and she quickly adopted a more serious and masculine demeanor. "Gimme your hand," she said, moving slightly to the left and waiting for the now familiar feel of the girl's hand in hers. She let her blue eyes drift from one side of the street to the next trying to anticipate everything.
The sound of a shrill train whistle brought Sophie's body closer, and as much as she hated to, she had to put a little space between them. "You've got to act like nothing's wrong," she whispered. "Walk and act casual."

"I don't know if I can," Sophie said. "I'm terrified."

"We're not that far from the shop that can contact Anastasie. You've got to hold on until then. Let just hope - - -" Her voice trailed off and her steps faltered. A Waffen-SS soldier had just exited from a shop ahead. Her mind spun in a panic. The soldier started to turn in their direction, and Jackie pushed Sophie into a shallow doorway and pressed her body tightly against the girl's. She saw the confusion on Sophie's face, but with no time to explain she lowered her mouth to Sophie's and kissed her.

She half expected Sophie to push her off, but she felt the young writer responding with a passion that made Jackie forget to listen for the soldier's passing. Sophie's lips melted into hers, and she felt small hands slide under her jacket and across her back. Her own arms pulled Sophie closer desperate to feel her body against her own. Sophie's lips tasted sweeter than anything she'd ever known, and she tried to devour them with a need that made her legs weak. She felt light headed and euphoric, and only barely heard the voice near her ear.

"Get a room before her husband finds you," he said, in German, and Jackie froze, careful enough to not pull back. She felt Sophie go rigid, but she kept her lips against the girl long enough to hear the soldier's steps move off.

"Let's go," she whispered, her cheek pressed against Sophie's.

Grabbing the younger woman's hand she pulled her back into the street and kept their pace casual but fast. They made good time. Sophie kept in step with her and Jackie gave her hand a squeeze of encouragement. Following her instincts alone, she led them through the narrow city streets. She knew they were looking for a less trafficked street of shops towards the Southern border. Only one street looked to fit that requirement, and she led them down the rutted road, hoping to find a dry good shop.

The street lacked the hustle and bustle of the other market streets, and they moved slowly past storefronts that had been abandoned or boarded up. There was a distinctly eerie feeling about the area, and without the comfort and security of other pedestrians, Jackie felt very exposed and vulnerable. Her eyes darted with caution to every opening, and her body jerked involuntarily at every sound. Her nervousness must have translated to Sophie because the girl's body edged closer.

Their steps slowed as Jackie strained to feel any danger. The street had more than a deserted feeling, it felt violated. As her eyes began to notice abnormalities, the hairs on the back of her neck prickled and stood at attention.

"What's wrong?" Sophie whispered, her voice tight and drawn.

"This doesn't feel right," she replied, turning them closer to the brick wall of a nearby building. "It's almost too quiet." Her head turned to study both ends of the street. "We're the only people on the street. No cars, either."

"That store down there still looks open," Sophie said, her eyes locking on the only store that still had crates and goods outside and a shadow of an open door. "It could be a dry good store."

Jackie swallowed hard. "I don't know what to do," she confessed, looking down into the trusting green gaze of Sophie.
"We don't have to find this Anastasie, do we?" Sophie asked, her hand grabbing for Jackie's arm. "Why don't we just leave St-Lo?"

"And go where?"

"I don't know, but we've gotten this far."

Jackie closed her eyes. "No, Sophie. We need help. I don't know enough about the countryside to keep us hidden." She looked down again, and lifted her finger to brush Sophie's cheek. "I won't let you get caught."

"Jackie - - -" Sophie began, but a finger over her lips stopped her.

"I need you to hide again while I go check it out. Stay here," she told Sophie, moving the girl back into the shadows of a doorway. "If I don't come back then you need to leave this area quickly. Act normal. Don't run, but - - -" she took a deep breath. "Promise me that you'll leave."

"Please come back," Sophie said, grabbing hold of Jackie's hand.

Jackie smiled to reassure the younger woman. "Stay here."

Turning her back she contemplate the store. Crossing the street to get a better vantage she found herself slipping into a quick gait that hinted at purpose. She hoped it would be enough to avoid suspicion should someone other than the store owner be in the building. The closer she got the more alarmed she grew. Shattered glass littered the walkway in front of the store and many of the crates had been toppled, spilling nails and screws into the street. The door was open, and Jackie could just make out a shadowy figure moving inside.

Looking back at Sophie she nodded before approaching the store. She could feel her gun against her back, and her fingers itched to have it in her hand. This didn't feel good, and if something happened, she only hoped Sophie would keep her promise and flee.

Turning around one last time, she motioned with her head for the girl to move back into the protection of the door way. The younger woman understood, and Jackie wiped her sweating palms against her legs before stepping towards the door. For all she knew the figure inside was a German, and her only thought as she neared the door was to protect Sophie - - - even if that meant giving herself up. Standing just to the side of the door she took a deep breath and forced her feet forward.

The interior of the shop was dark, and Jackie had a hard time seeing. The figure moved from deep in the shop.

"We're closed," a woman's voice said.

"I need to . . ." she thought quickly. "I need some food."

"I said we're closed." The voice was closer now and it sounded vaguely familiar. "Please go."

Jackie took another step inside, her eyes adjusting to the light. "I have money," she said. "I can pay whatever - - -"

"Dear God!" the woman cried, rushing forward. "Jacqueline?"

Jackie looked into the woman's stressed face. "Louise?"

"Sssshhhh," the woman hissed. "You must call me Violette."

"I didn't think you were scheduled - - -" she shut her mouth, knowing it would be stupid to talk about missions. Louise Szabo was one of the women Jackie had trained with in England, and one of the few she respected. Besides being a crack shot she was also half French which gave her a distinct advantage over other operatives. The last time they'd talked, the French spy wasn't going into France until after the invasion. "I guess plans changed," she said.

Violette nodded. "Come, Jacqueline. Follow me."

Jackie gestured towards the door. "I'm not alone," she said. "And we need help."

"Don't we all," Violette said, and Jackie noticed the way her eyes seemed to look through her.

"Violette?"

The French spy's eyes focused. "Get your friend and come to the back room."

Jackie nodded, and turned back to the door. She cautiously surveyed the street. The same empty, eerie feeling clung to the area, and with her body silhouetted in the door frame she motioned to Sophie. The girl emerged from the doorway and crossed the street. Jackie watched her movement with gut twisting anxiety.

"C'mon," she said, taking Sophie's hand and pulling her into the store.

"What's going on?" Sophie asked. "I was getting worried."

Jackie shook her head. "I'm not sure, but I found someone who may be able to help us." She shut the door to the shop and turned the closed sign around. "Follow me," she said, leading Sophie by the hand.

A single, dangling light bulb spilled a pale yellow light across the plank floor of the back room. Violette was sitting in the shadow, just out of the reach of the light, the tip of her cigarette glowing and her hand swirling a jelly jar glass of red wine.

"So who is this?" she asked, leaning forward her brown eyes sliding up and down Sophie in appraisal. "She's rather pretty."

Jackie nodded. "Her name is Sophie."

Violette raised and eyebrow and shrugged as if she really didn't care if that was the girl's real name or not. "There's wine there," she said, gesturing to a large jug of red liquid sitting on a small table. "Help yourself."

"And who are you?" Sophie asked, dropping Jackie's hand.

"An old friend of Jacqueline's," Violette replied. "You may call me Violette." The woman smiled. "I can't tell you what Jacqueline calls me."

"Is there any food?" Jackie asked, ignoring the jab in Violette's words.

The French spy waved her cigarette around the half empty room, her eyes still locked on Sophie. "If you can find it, it's yours." She took a drag, her expelled smoke dancing in the halo of the light. "It's not like the present owners will need it anymore."

Jackie motioned for Sophie to start looking while she settled herself into an old wooden chair. "What happened, Lou - - Violette?"

"What does it look like?"

"We heard the Gestapo were arresting suspects, but I'd hope to find Anastasie before - -" her voice trailed off.

"I was to meet him tonight," Violette said with a sigh. "Now - - I don't know."

"Then there's a chance of finding him?" Jackie asked.

"Jacqueline," Violette said. "I never thought you stupid, so please don't change my mind now." Jackie's eyes flashed quickly, but Violette kept talking. "My contacts here at the store knew Anastasie," she continued. "They were going to introduce us tonight."

"For what?" Jackie asked, aware that it was not approved protocol to discuss missions, but then again it seemed both missions had gone awry.

"Anastasie was to connect me with a resistance group near Villers-Bocage. From there I would get further instructions." She fell silent, her hand moving the cigarette back and forth from her lips in a mechanical fashion.

"And what happened today?" Sophie asked, dropping a few tins of sardines and a can of biscuits on the table.

Slowly, Violette refocused. "It happened so quickly. The SS moved block by block pulling people into the center of the street. Gabrielle and Hector, the store owners, were taken from the store." She lifted her glass of wine and took a long swallow. "Hector tired to run, probably to warn others, and a soldier shot him dead less than five paces from Gabrielle. It was horrible."

"And what about you?" Jackie asked, a hint of suspicion rising in her gut. "You witnessed it all, but you escaped."

"I had the right papers," she said, lifting her glass. "Here's to fuckingly perfect documents of the SOE."

It didn't ring right to Jackie, but she filed it away for later use. "So what now?"

"Now? I'm going to have another drink." She reached out and refilled her glass, her body slamming back into the chair with a sigh. "And you, Jacqueline. What brings you here? I believe you were slotted to be a Wham-Bam operative."

Despite her suspicions, she found herself smiling at Violette's comment. A wham-bam operative was term they'd coined for a spy who got dropped for a quickie mission and then extracted. They called it a quick affair. "It got complicated," she replied, motioning Sophie into a seat and pushing a tin of sardines towards her. "The mission fell apart and we had to run."

"And what of your escape route?"

"My original route wasn't an option."

"And Anastasie? Do you have plans to meet him?"

Jackie hesitated, a half chewed stale biscuit unmoving in her mouth. The hairs on the back of her neck tingled, and she motioned for a glass of wine to stall. Violette splashed a healthy dose of wine into a dusty glass and handed it to Jackie. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Sophie lean forward, her mouth open, and without thinking she dropped her hand to Sophie's thigh and squeezed her into silence. The younger woman leaned back in her chair, her small hand covering Jackie's.

"I'd hoped to find Anastasie here," she replied.

Violette nodded solemnly. "So you have no idea where he is?"

Jackie didn't know exactly why Violette was asking. It may be true that she was to meet Anastasie tonight, or it could be a lie. Her blue eyes tried to perceive the truth in Violette Szabo, but she didn't have enough information. "No," she said. "We don't know how to find him."

"So what now, Jacqueline? What plans for you and your little friend?"

The American thought quickly. She didn't trust Violette enough to give their true route, so she had to devise another. "I have another contact in Caen who will evac us by boat from Luc-sur-Mer." The lie just fell from her lips, but she couldn't miss the small glint in Violette's dark eyes.

"And who is your contact in Caen?" Violette asked, and then held up her hand. "No, don't tell me. It's best that way."

"Yes it is," Jackie replied.

The French spy poured another glass of wine and placed it in front of Sophie. "Drink," she ordered.

"To what?" Sophie asked.

"A free France?" Violette asked, and then laughed. "Or new friends and very strange bedfellows?"

"Sure," Sophie replied, lifting her glass and taking a swallow, her face twisting up at the acidic taste. "Ugh!"

Jackie managed to keep the smile from her face and just calmly sipped the cheap table wine. Violette wasn't as kind. "Not to your liking, no?" she asked, leaning forward until her round breasts grazed the table. Her eyes swept to Jackie and she smiled. "From her looks, I'd have thought cheap table wine would be appealing." Her eyes flicked back and forth between Jackie and Sophie. "However she does appear to have developed more expensive tastes?"

"Meaning what?" Sophie asked.

Violette ignored her question and focused tightly on Jackie. "Ms. Jacqueline is an heiress, my dear. A spoiled, rich American."

"Knock it off," Jackie said. "This isn't productive."

Violette shrugged and poured some more wine into her glass. "It's about as productive as I want to be right now."

A strained silence descended upon the small group and Jackie couldn't help noticing how Sophie continued to eat but never moved her eyes from Violette. For her part the French spy didn't return the glare, but kept a quizzical grin on her face as she concentrated on her wine. Finally the French woman placed her glass on the table and lit another cigarette.

"So," she said, expelling the word with a lungful of smoke. "When do we leave?"

"Leave?" Jackie asked.

"I'm coming with you," Violette announced.

"I don't think that's - -"

"It's a perfectly good idea," Violette said, her voice becoming hard and commanding. "Villers-Bocage is on the way to Caen. If Anastasie can't get me there, then you damn well can."

"Violette," Jackie began, not sure how to say no.

"We're allies, aren't we Jacqueline? England and America. You and me. Wasn't that what we toasted not so long ago?"

The night and the toast rushed back at her, and she found herself nodding.

A broad smile spread across Violette's face. "How wonderful!" she cried. "Working with Jacqueline." Her eyes moved to Sophie. "Again," she added, quickly showing her stained teeth.

Jackie nodded, trying to ignore the nagging feeling that was spreading in her stomach. A quick glance at Sophie found the girl staring at the table, her shoulders rising and falling with quick breaths. The arch of the younger woman's neck strained, and she longed to place her hand there. Instead she forced her eyes to Violette.

"Okay, Violette," she said, stressing her name. "You're with us, but I'm in charge."

"Wouldn't have it any other way, dear."

"Then let's ransack this place for anything useful. Food, flashlights, medical supplies - - - bring whatever you find in here, and I'll go over it."

"Sounds good to me," Violette said.

"I think we'll be safe until dark, but as soon as it is, we leave."


They worked very quickly and alone. Sophie took over the hunt for food, and between what she found in the store and in the small apartment upstairs, they had enough for several days. She placed the hoard of potatoes, apples, bread, cheese and more sardines on the small table, pleased when she saw Jackie's nod of approval.

It felt strange to crave the American's approval and notice, but Sophie was beginning to understand how much she needed it. It scared her a little, too. Her attraction to Jackie had gone from self serving to self sacrificing and she knew she'd do whatever she needed to stay with her.

In a unique way she never questioned that Jackie was a woman. Caron had somehow managed to show her that didn't matter, although she surmised that issue might be a problem with Jackie. Of course that hadn't stopped the American from touching her, but still, Sophie sensed a reserve in the woman, and she didn't know how it would all end.

Jackie and the French spy had each disappeared in their own directions to search for supplies, and Sophie had contented herself with giving the racks in the small store room a very thorough search for more food and useful supplies. To her surprise she came across a working flashlight and a few dark brown coats which would help keep them warm. These she carried back to the small table and was about to begin anew when Violette sauntered into the room.

"I found candles," the French spy said, dropping several small tea light candles on the table.

"Great," Sophie replied, barely acknowledging the items.

There was something about this woman that Sophie didn't like. She obviously had a history with Jackie, but Sophie couldn't put her finger on the full nature of it. The fact that the woman was a fellow countrymen only cut her so much slack, and Sophie didn't know why Jackie had allowed the woman to join them. An ugly jab of jealousy poked at her, and Sophie found herself unable to even look at the woman without wanting to question her.

"So where is Jacqueline?" Violette asked.

"Jackie," Sophie stressed the name. "Is in the cellar."

"She's always going down somewhere," Violette said, with a smirk.

"Just how well do you know her?" Sophie asked, her hands settling on her hips.

The French woman laughed. "Quite well, my pet."

"How well?" Sophie stepped closer.

"You'd like to know, no?" Violette quipped back.

"Yes, I would."

"Know what?" Jackie said, entering the small room, a large box held to her chest.

"Nothing," Sophie said, stepping forward to help her with the box. "What'd you find?"

Jackie shrugged. "I'm not sure any of it works, but it looks to be old weapons of some sort."

Violette peaked inside the box. "Rifles from the Great War," she said, pulling a rusted bayonet from the side. "I can't believe they kept them."

"It's in bad shape," Jackie said, withdrawing a wooden stock. "Probably worthless."

"Probably," Violette said, dropping the bayonet back in the box. "Find anything else?"

"There's some other stuff I need brought up."

"I'll help you," Sophie said, anxious to be away from the French spy.

"It's not much," Jackie said. "I'll do it, if you can try and find something to carry all this in."

"Let me do that," Violette said. "You and - - " she looked at Sophie. "Whatever your name is," she smiled. "You two go down on the cellar and I'll find a bag."

Sophie saw the way Jackie's eyes seemed to smolder when she looked at the French woman, and Sophie found a lump rising in her throat. It was painfully obvious that Jackie had feelings for this woman, and to Sophie that realization hurt.

"C'mon," Jackie said. "I'll get the heavier stuff."

Sophie nodded, her face blank, and she hesitated a moment before following Jackie from the room. The American waited for her just outside the door and pointed her down a long hall that lead to another storage area.

"I imagine this room would be packed to the rafters with goods if there wasn't a war on," the American commented, stepping past her and gesturing at the set of steps hidden in the floor. "It looks darker than it is," she said. "I'll go first."

Sophie couldn't bring herself to respond to this banter, and with a heavy step she descended into the dark cellar. A small window at ground level bathed the cellar with a dusty light only bright enough to make out Jackie's silhouette. To Sophie it seemed very appropriate as she realized a dusty haze was truly all she knew of the American.

"Are you okay?" Jackie voice startled her and she jumped. The older woman's hand grasped her upper arm, and Sophie want to both lean into and away from the touch. She turned away.

"I'm fine," she said, her voice tight and in control. "Where's the stuff you need?"

"Here," Jackie said. She stepped closer, and Sophie could feel the heat generated between them. She had to force herself to step back, and she heard Jackie sigh.

"Jacqueline?" the French spy called from above. "I've found a bag."

"We'll be right up," Jackie called back.

"If you're having more fun then I'll come down there," Violette cried.

Sophie heard Jackie sigh again before the American swooped down and picked up one of the boxes at their feet. "Just wait there," she called up to Violette. "We're coming."

"I bet you are," Violette called back, her voice ringing with laughter.

'I'm going to kill her,' Sophie thought.

"C'mon," Jackie said, holding the box out. "Carry this one, it's lighter."

Sophie grabbed the box and started to move past Jackie to the stairs, but the American's hand across her stomach stopped her. "I wanted to talk with you," she whispered in her ear. "But all I can say now is to ask you to trust me."

"Talk to me about what?" Sophie whispered back. "Trust you with what?"

Jackie's head twisted to look up the stairs, the French spy's shadow falling down the steps. "Please," she whispered, her fingers grazing across Sophie's cheek. "Just trust me."

"It's awfully quiet down there," Violette called.

"Coming," Jackie said, lifting the other box and motioning Sophie up the stairs.



A knock at the door woke the Gestapo agent, and in a haze she sat up trying desperately to remember where she was and exactly what she was there for. In painfully slow movements the memories came back to her, and she felt a scowl fall across her brow.

"Enter," she said, throwing her one leg off the bed and then carefully moving the wounded leg to follow. She fixed a haughty expression on her face that she was later to regret.

An older woman, her gray streaked hair pulled tightly into a bun, entered the room. Her posture was severe, the shoulders thrust back proudly to display her Waffen-SS uniform. Despite her bony frame, she had an impressive bosom, and her breasts jutted out like two Egyptian pyramids, calling attention to an impressive array of ribbons and decorations. Caron even spied the Fur Treue Dienfte medal which was only given for faithful service to the Nazi party prior to the war. Slowly, Caron's pale eyes drifted to the hardened face of the woman, and as the woman's cold black eyes captured her, Caron knew she was in trouble.

"May I help you?" she asked, her voice as cool as ever despite the almost unknown rumble of fear that shook her stomach.

"I doubt it," the woman replied, pushing the door closed behind her, and looking around the room with distaste.

"Then what do you want?"

"Information will be given to you on a need to know basis."

Caron thrust her chin out defiantly, her gray eyes staring hard at the older woman. "Well," she began. "I need to know what you are doing in my room and," she smiled sweetly. "Who in the hell do you think you are?"

"Both excellent questions," the woman replied, sitting herself on the shabby couch that faced the bed. "These rooms aren't very nice, are they?" she asked.

"I've seen better," Caron replied, her eyes still waiting for an answer.

The woman nodded. "Yes, I know you have."

"What do you want?"

"Retribution," the woman said, tugging at her jacket before crossing her legs.

"Against whom?" Caron asked,

A feral grin lifted one corner of the woman's thing, grayish lips. "You," she said simply, and Caron felt an icy jolt crash against her body.

"I'm afraid I don't understand," Caron said, her hand clenching and releasing nervously.

"You have upset my plans," the woman responded. "I can't have that."

"Again, I don't understand."

The woman uncrossed her legs and stood up, her hand brushing at invisible wrinkles on her black skirt. Her movement across the room was almost reptilian, and Caron found herself leaning away from the woman's hand as it reached up and dragged a fingernail under her chin. "I'm sure you don't," she said, her fingernail lifting Caron's face until the Gestapo agent was forced to look the woman in her cold black eyes. "Did it ever occur to you that there might have been bigger things at work besides your two fugitives?"

Caron just stared back, painfully aware of the power this woman exuded .

"Answer me?" the woman rasped, digging her nail into the tender flesh under Caron's chin.

"I was unaware of your presence," Caron replied, trying to lean away from the woman's nail. "I'm sorry if my operation has upset anything."

The woman's hand closed around her jaw and squeezed hard. Caron winced, and strained against the iron grasp as the woman's black eyes drew closer. "You are going to be more than sorry, Fraulein Rundstedt. Believe me," she whispered, her breath blasting across Caron's face.

"I don't know who you are, but I've had about enough of it," Caron said, digging deeply to find the strength to grab the woman's arm and pull it away.

The woman laughed, her arm tense and like wrought iron in Caron's grasp. "I've heard you have quite a spirit." Her smile faded. "Be careful it doesn't get you killed."

"Are you threatening me?" Caron said, dropping the older woman's arm.

"Warning you is a more accurate description, Caron."

"You may address me by my rank," Caron replied, her eyes scanning for any indication of the woman's rank. "How may I address you?"

The woman smiled, revealing an eye-tooth that was growing black with decay. "My dear, your pitiful rank doesn't intimidate me like it does others, And I will call you whatever pleases me." The woman stepped back, the sick black smile still on her face, and her dark, soulless eyes seemed to see through her.

Caron's skin felt cold under the scrutiny, and she sensed the prudence in keeping her tongue. All she could do was drop her gaze in a silent subservience that made her teeth clench.

"So what do I do with you?" the older woman asked, reclaiming her seat on the ragged sofa. "I hear you are quite fond of having people shot for disobedience. How does that make you feel?"

Caron didn't reply.

"I'm sure it bolstered your insecure nature into feeling a sense of misplaced power."

"You can't bully me," Caron said, surprised that she couldn't lift her eyes from the faded green carpet.

"But my dear, isn't that what you do best?"

"You seem to know a lot about me."

Caron sensed rather than saw the woman shrug. "It's always wise to learn as much as possible about pesky problems, don't you agree?"

The Gestapo agent's head lifted at this statement and she met the woman's eyes with ease. "Yes," she said. "I do." Her eyes narrowed. "Which is why I feel so unbalanced with you."

"Then I've done my job right."

"So I'm a job to you?"

The woman shook her head. "No, you're a problem."

Caron lifted her finger to stop the woman's speech. "And let me guess, you always solve your problems." The words had a strange ring to them and she vaguely remember uttering the same phrase.

"Absolutely."

Caron wished her damn leg didn't hurt so badly because she was sick of feeling weak with this woman. She needed to try and establish a dominance or at the very least an equality with her, and sitting on the bed wasn't doing it. Her hand trembled slightly as she reached for her cigarettes and withdrew a long stick. Her lighter was a little out of her grasp and her long fingers strained to pull it closer.

"Here," the woman said, tossing a solid gold lighter with two platinum SS lightening slashes on the side.
Caron lifted the lighter from the bed, instant recognition ringing in her mind. She looked over at the woman. "Is it?"

The woman smiled. "Given to me by the Reichsfuhrer himself." She gestured for Caron to use it, and the blonde Gestapo agent's head dipped to light her cigarette. "Himmler and I are old friends."

"I saw your faithful service ribbon," Caron said, her heart pounding in her ears and making her feel slightly dizzy.

"Heinrich has quite an interest in this region," she said, folding her arms over her chest. "He personally sent me to St-Lo in order to infiltrate the resistance and report on their connections and coordination with the British SOE and the American OSS."

Caron remained silent, her cigarette moving back and forth from her lips. The realization that she'd blindly stumbled into a top level SS operation was just beginning to hit home. In the back of her mind she wondered if she'd live to see tomorrow.

"Your careless actions may have destroyed what took me nearly a year to build."

Apologizing at this stage seemed pointless, Caron realized. This woman had all the power and for the first time ever Caron knew her position wouldn't be enough to save her. "So are you going to kill me?" she asked, forcing her voice to keep a touch of disinterest even though every fiber of her being was screaming for life.

"Right to the point," the woman said. "Your dossier said that about you." The woman stood and smoothed out her black skirt again. "Death would be a justifiable punishment for you." Caron nodded, unable to fault the woman for a decision she'd made hundreds of times. "However," the woman said. "You might prove more useful alive."

"How?"

"Your fugitives are of little importance to the Fatherland. The American spy would be a fine prize, but the French girl would serve little purpose except as an example to other would-be Resistance members."

"You'd kill her?" Caron asked, completely unable to keep the fear from her voice.

The woman noticed and turned her black eyes slowly on Caron. "Yes," she said, her eyes narrowing to discern any reaction. "Something nasty and public."

Caron clenched her jaw, her back teeth grinding to control the wave of feelings that washed over her. "And me?" she rasped.

The woman remained silent, her eyes still probing her. Finally her face broke and she took a step closer. "You work for me now," she said.

"In what capacity?" Caron asked, only slightly aware that she'd been granted life, at least for a few more hours.

The woman thought for a moment. "Your roughshod actions today toppled a very fragile Resistance organization. I've put in place a double agent named Anastasie. He's been filtering top secret information to the British for months and they have accepted him totally."

"Interesting," was all Caron could think of to say. "But I can't see how my plans could have upset that."

The woman's eyes narrowed momentarily. "You impertinent bitch." She took a step closer. "Of course you can't see how anything you'd do would carry consequences. You've never been held accountable for anything."

Caron lifted her chin. "I've always acted in the interest of the Fatherland."

The woman laughed, her voice shrill and hollow. "If you thought I'd truly believe that, Caron, then I have grossly misjudged you." She shrugged and reclaimed her gold lighter. "Which means our business is concluded."

The Gestapo agent sat up quickly, her instinct for survival overriding her careless tongue. "Wait," she said. "I'm sorry."

The pale woman looked back. "I don't think so," she said, tugging on her tunic. "But we will deal with that later." Her head dipped. "Now, if I may continue with my information?"

"Please," Caron said, leaning back but not feeling comfortable.

"My plan was to finally have paid off tonight."

"How?"

"Anastasie was to be introduced to one of London's premier agents, Violette Szabo. Tonight," she added with emphasis.

"And she's special because?"

"Ms. Szabo has access to information that could save the Fatherland from its imminent defeat."

"The invasion?" Caron said, the total weight of her blunder almost crushing her.

The woman's head nodded. "Yes. The Allied invasion."

Caron began thinking quickly. "Could she have been picked up in the arrest?" It was a desperate gesture, but all she had at the moment.

"Of course not," the woman replied. "She wasn't on the list you told that idiot Captain to follow."

"But your contacts were," Caron said simply. Her head lifted, and with great effort she made eye contact with the vile woman. "And what am I to do?" she asked, the feeling of subservience unfamiliar.

"Whatever I tell you." Her face became very serious.

"And what are you telling me?"

"Continue to pursue your fugitives, Caron. I believe you'll find them, and they will find Violette Szabo." She walked to the door and turned.

"That's it?" Her head twisted in suspicion. "What do you really want me to do?"

"Fix this mess," she said, quietly. "I need Ms. Szabo in Villers-Bocage by tomorrow night. She was expecting to be there anyway, so I suspect she'll use your fugitives to get her there."

"The American spy hasn't done anything expected," Caron stated.

The woman nodded. "That's because you were in charge."

Caron felt her ego bristle, but she forced it back down. "And if she reaches this Villers-Bocage?"

"Then my plan is to either turn Ms. Szabo or kill her."

"Turn her?"

The woman smiled. "I believe Violette Szabo will become a most willing agent for the Fatherland. Her assistance will be invaluable in stopping the Allied forces that are planning on hindering our thousand year Reich."

"Why?" Caron asked, aware of the woman's smugness.

"Because she has a daughter I'm sure she'd love to see again."

"You have her daughter?" The Gestapo agent wasn't sure if she felt admiration or revulsion for such a tactic.

The woman shrugged. "That is information you don't need to know."

Caron nodded, knowing the answer wasn't necessary for her part. She looked up as a sudden fear crossed her mind. "Do I have limitations on my authority?"

The woman smiled, and withdrew an envelope from inside her jacket. This she dropped onto the table near the door. "Read that and see." She opened the door. "Don't stray too much, my dear, or I will kill you." She smiled. "You're not all that valuable."

"How do I reach you?"

"You don't. When I need you, I'll find you."

Caron shook her head. "Do you at least have a name?"

The woman thought for a moment. "Lillian Rolfe," she said, with a crooked smile that told Caron it wasn't her real name and all but useless to her. "Heil, Hitler," she said before slipping out the door.



Violette Szabo sat silently smoking, her eyes watching a dozing Jackie but seemingly unaware that Sophie was intently watching her. The writer's eyes were narrowed like a perturbed cat, but the rest of her face was passionless. It would have taken someone with a great deal of personal knowledge to recognize the murderous thoughts running through Sophie's mind as she sat watching the French spy.

"I'm going to get some air," Violette said, stabbing her cigarette out and turning around.

Sophie dropped her head onto her arms and pretend to sleep. The woman's chair scratched against the ground and Sophie listened to the dull clack of her shoes as she exited the room. She lifted her head and immediately moved her gaze to the sleeping American.

It was almost inconceivable how much it hurt to know that Jackie had feelings for this Violette. Sophie had managed to convince herself that they were destined to meet, and that Jackie would save her from war and suffering and most of all from herself. Now looking at the smooth pale skin relaxed in sleep, Sophie began to wonder if Jackie was playing a similar game with her. In all the time she thought herself in charge of Jackie, maybe it was reverse. As a wave of nauseous swept over her she lowered her head again and tried to not cry.

"Jacqueline," Violette said, and Sophie lifted her head to see the French spy gently smoothing Jackie's hair before shaking her shoulder. "It's almost dark."

"I'm awake," Jackie said.

'Of course you are,' Sophie thought. 'You've been wanting her to touch you.'

"We should be getting ready to go," Violette said, turning towards Sophie. "Your little friend is awake already." She smiled. "Or perhaps she didn't sleep. No?"

Sophie got to her feet and made a great pretense of brushing dust off her legs. She glared at Jackie the whole time, hoping her gaze held all the fire she felt in her heart. "I slept fine," she said, pulling her arms over her chest. "Just like an innocent baby." Jackie stared back, her face empty and her eyes confused. Sophie shrugged. "I need a bathroom," she said, and fled the room before the tears forced themselves out.

"So what's wrong with her?" Violette asked, but Jackie's attention was firmly fixed on the door Sophie had run through. A battle was raging in her to either follow and see what was wrong or to stay and possibly avoid being hurt by Sophie's rebuff. She slowly turned her eyes back to Violette.

She'd never noticed how old the French woman actually looked. She peered closer, her eyes searching out every flaw and she decided that Violette didn't look old, she looked bitter and angry. Jackie swallowed. That was a dangerous combination.

"Did the store owners have a car?" she asked, trying to keep herself focused on their escape.

Violette shrugged. "There's a truck parked out back, but I don't know who it belongs to." She reached for another glass of wine, and Jackie fought the urge to knock the glass from her hand.

"I'm going to take a look," she said, walking to the store room door. "Tell Sophie to gather our things. We're leaving within the hour."

"Absolutely, Jacqueline," she heard, as she walked out into the darkening store.

The store felt eerie in the deepening darkness. The crates stacked up against the walls cast great shadows across the bare plank floors. Her body felt infused with nervous energy, and she leaned against the counter to regain control.

Things weren't right. She felt that deep inside, and her head turned in Violette's direction and she knew why. Her friend had changed since their intensive training in England. Or maybe she had been deceived in Violette's true nature. Jackie couldn't be sure, but at that moment she knew she couldn't trust the French spy.

Her story didn't ring true, Jackie decided. Violette was not scheduled to drop into France until after the invasion. The woman had been an intricate part of the pre-planning of the invasion. London couldn't risk losing her, Jackie knew. And Anastasie? Jackie knew for a fact that he was a new operative, and his job function was merely to acquire high level information on German activities in France. It wasn't, as Violette suggested, to introduce operative to various resistance groups. The fact that Violette was searching for Anastasie was troubling.

Her steps lead her to the counter where she began to riffle through papers and drawers for anything to confirm or deny Violette's story. She read and discarded receipts and invoices until her fingers closed around a stack of old photographs. These she went through quickly, her eyes searching for anything that looked familiar. Most of the pictures were taken in the store and showed a middle aged man and woman smiling at various improvements. Jackie's brow furrowed.

"That's Hector and Gabrielle," Violette's voice said, over her shoulder.

Jackie dropped the pictures, and continued searching. "I was looking for keys," she said.

"Look over your head," Violette said, reaching by Jackie and pulling a set of keys from a hook.

Jackie turned, her body coming much too close to Violette, but the French spy didn't move backwards. Instead she seemed to inch closer, so close that Jackie could smell the sour wine on her breath, and looking down she realized if she breathed too deeply her breasts would probably brush against Violette's dark blue blouse.

"Here are the keys, Jacqueline," she said, lifting her hand and running the dangling keys up Jackie's coat jacket.

"Jackie?" Sophie's voice both cut the tension and made Jackie's heart plunge to her stomach. She looked up to see the young writer staring at her with injured green eyes.

"Sophie," Jackie began, stepping away from Violette's clutch. "Sophie - - - wait."

"Let her go," Violette said, and Jackie could almost feel the woman's satisfied smile. "She's hardly worth the effort."

"And what would you know?" Jackie asked, turning on the French woman. "Did you set that up?" she accused.

Violette's eyes flashed momentarily before the cool exterior regained control. She jingled the keys. "I'm going to see if these start the truck," she said, moving swiftly past Jackie.

"You do that," Jackie replied, watching the woman's retreat while trying to decide whether to grab Sophie and run out the front door, leaving Violette to fend for herself. Clutching her hand to her side she shook her head and instead went to find Sophie.

She found the girl sitting on a wobbly wooden bench at the very end of the store room. Her legs were pulled tightly against her chest and she didn't appear to hear or care about Jackie's approach.

The American stood for a moment trying to find the right words to ease the betrayal and pain from Sophie's young face. With no words coming to mind she stepped forward and gently touched her face. Sophie pulled away from her touch, and blinked unseeingly across the room.

"It wasn't what it looked like," she said, taking a seat next to Sophie. The girl remained silent, so Jackie fought to find more words. "I'm sorry," she said. "I know it doesn't mean anything right now, but I want you to know that what you saw wasn't anything." She shook her head. "I don't know what Violette is trying to do, but - - -"

"It's alright," Sophie said. "I was wrong to think we had anything."

That statement stung and Jackie felt her face fall. She knew her mouth opened to respond but no words came forth. She sat there in a confused silence, half of her wondering why she felt so hurt and the other half wondering exactly what she wanted from Sophie. She found no answers. Sophie sat there staring at nothing, but Jackie could see her jaw working in frustration. She raised a finger and let it fall down the girl's face. "Sophie?"

Sophie turned, and gave Jackie a weak smile. "Don't look so hurt, Jackie," she said. "We'll get through this and then we'll go our separate ways."

"Is that what you want?" Jackie forced herself to speak.

Sophie shrugged, and Jackie thought she saw either pain or regret in her green eyes. "It's probably what is best."

"But is it what you want?" Jackie asked again, aware that her voice was ragged with emotion. She sighed when Sophie looked away.

"I want this to be over," she said, standing but keeping her back to Jackie.

Jackie felt her hand lift as her heart cried out for her to reach out to Sophie, but she let it fall back against her leg with a dull thud. She took a deep breath and tried to compose herself. She didn't know where to go from here, and she didn't know why Sophie's rebuff hurt so badly. After all, they barely knew each other, right?

'Right,' she thought, climbing to her feet. 'If that's what she wants, then so be it.' She took a step away and spoke over her shoulder to Sophie. "Let's get ready to go. The sooner we start the quicker you'll be rid of me."

Sophie's back straightened at her words, and her head lifted. "Fine," she said, her voice slightly off key. "I'll be right there."

"Fine," Jackie said, walking off quickly.




Caron sat quietly after the woman identified as Lillian Rolfe left the room. A light sweat had broken out on her forehead and she wiped at it with a trembling hand. Fear. For perhaps the first time in her life Caron felt total fear.
This Lillian Rolfe held a power that Caron knew could destroy her in a second. Her uncle, her attitude and her wits would not be able to save her. If Lillian Rolfe wanted her gone, she'd disappear. That made Caron think.

Her own agenda had always dominated her actions, and her allegiance to the Nazi party was circumstantial at best. She believed in the power the party gave her, that was all. The fear she saw in a person's eyes when she identified herself usually made a tingle of unique pleasure run through her. Did Lillian Rolfe feel that same special tingle?

"Bitch," Caron said, grabbing her crutches and pulling herself to her feet. "Fucking power hungry bitch."
She hobbled around the room, her pace growing furious as her thoughts returned to the threats Lillian Rolfe threw at her. How dare she try and force her, Caron Von Rundstedt, into doing her dirty work! Tracking down Sophie like a dog so she could kill her as an example to other Resistance members.

"I won't do it," she announced, grabbing for the phone, ready to tell Lillian Rolfe where she could go. "I won't allow Sophie to be treated that way!"

And then her rationality started talking. She'd blundered into something that flooded her own agenda, and unfortunately Sophie Frenay had blundered into it with her. As much as it enraged her to admit it, Caron had very little control in the situation. If Lillian Rolfe and Germany wanted Sophie dead, then Caron couldn't do much to stop it.

"Poor Sophie," Caron said, turning towards the bed and letting her mind conjure up a picture of Sophie laying in her bed, her green eyes wanting so badly to trust Caron. "Well, that was her mistake."

She dropped the phone back into its cradle and lowered herself into the chair next to it. Her mind was busy making plans, and a smile spread across her face. She was so absorbed in her thoughts that she didn't hear the knock at her door, and she jumped when a hand touched her shoulder.

"I'm sorry, Oberfuhrer," the captain said. "I tried knocking."

Caron blinked several times trying to think up a suitable response to the man's gross abuse, but in the end she merely nodded. "Report, please," she asked.

"I believe we've found them."

Caron felt her entire face lift at the news and her heart fluttered nervously in her chest. "Where?" she said, jamming her crutches to the floor and pulling herself up. "Where?!" she demanded, slapping away the captain's hands when he tried to help her instead of answering.

"We believe they are in St-Lo, at least."

"You said you found them," Caron said, her eyes narrowing at the captain's backpedaling.

"We found someone who saw a woman fitting the description of the American spy."

"Who?"

"A dress shop owner."

"How did you find her?"

"The door to door questioning," the captain answered. "She was evasive with one of my men. She was arrested and brought to me."

"And where is this woman?"

"Downstairs, Fraulein Oberfuhrer."

"Now, you bring her to me," Caron growled.




Jackie needed to put as much space as possible between herself and Sophie, and more out of distance than need she found herself leaving the building in search of Violette. She found the French spy sitting in the cab of an old pickup truck.

"Does it start?" Jackie asked, trying desperately to focus on anything but Sophie.

In response Violette turned the key and the engine choked itself alive. A smile spread across Jackie's face and her she laid her hand against the engine satisfied with the vibrations. With a vehicle they might make it Caen tonight. The engine fell still under her hand.

"You can wipe that look of pleasure from your face, Jacqueline," Violette said, exiting the cab. "There's probably not enough petrol to drive down the block."

Jackie moved around and leaned into the cab her eyes searching for the fuel gage. The needle was deep against the E and she cursed under her breath. "Is there any way to get some more gas?" she called over her shoulder to Violette.

"We could ask the Germans," Violette quipped back. "They're the only ones with petrol these days."

"What about siphoning it from other cars?"

"Be my guest, but is it worth the risk?"

Jackie stood back and looked around. "What about that drum?" she said, pointing towards a large metal container at the rear of the truck. Violette shrugged and continued to lean against the hood. Jackie approached the drum, smiling when she picked up the telltale scent of gasoline. Her hands grabbed for the edges and she gave the barrel a shake hearing the slosh of liquid inside. "Help me with this," she said to Violette.

"It's probably no good."

"What do we have to lose?"

"Fine," Violette said, coming forward to help roll the drum closer to the back of the truck. "But we'd be better walking."

"Slower and more obvious."

"The Germans own the roads, Jacqueline. How long before we're stopped and checked?" She wiped her hands on her dark skirt. "And I don't remember you having papers."

"It's my decision," Jackie said, digging her fingers under the cap and pulling it off. "I need something," she looked around. "A gas can or a hose to siphon it into the truck's tank." Violette leaned against the truck and shrugged again. Jackie rolled her eyes. "For Christ's sake, will you help look?" she gripped, stalking off towards the store.

Her gut felt like a group of goats was stamping around inside and she pushed her hand tightly to her stomach not sure if it was the impending flight from St-Lo or Sophie that made her feel like throwing up. Pulling open the back door to the store she lifted her eyes to see Sophie standing there, and she knew it wasn't leaving St-Lo that made her feel weak.

Her reaction was pure defensiveness and she knew it, but she couldn't stop herself from hardening her face and squaring her shoulders. But she also knew it was almost impossible to hide the pain in her eyes, and so she made as little eye contact with Sophie as she could.

"I need to find a gas can or a long hose," she told her, turning quickly so her back faced Sophie.

"Jackie - - -"

"Have you seen one?" Jackie asked, trying to ignore the hit to her heart when Sophie called her name.

"No," Sophie responded.

"Um," Jackie's thoughts stumbled as she tried to fight the urge to turn and demand to know why Sophie didn't want her. Her heart needed to know how Sophie couldn't feel what it did. Instead she walked quickly into the main store and began digging in boxes, almost forgetting what it was she was looking for. She heard Sophie follow her, and out of the corner of her eye she saw the girl picking through another box.

"Here's a hose," Sophie said, pulling a three foot length of black hose from the box. "Will it work?"

Jackie's hands reached for the hose. "I'll go try," she said, keeping her eyes on the floor. "Will you keep looking for an alternative if I can't make this work?"

"Sure," Sophie said, and Jackie thought she heard resignation in the girl's voice.

Jackie found Violette in the same spot she left her. The French spy was smoking, her ashes falling dangerously close to the open lid of the fuel drum. Jackie covered the distance in two steps and grabbed the cigarette from the woman's hand and tossed it to the ground.

"Damn it," she said, putting her nose a mere inch from Violette's. "Are you completely insane?"

"I see you found a hose," Violette responded, moving to the left and sliding away from Jackie's anger. "See, you didn't need me after all."

Jackie thrust one end of the hose into the fuel drum and put the other end close to her mouth. "Go help Sophie with our things," she ordered. "We're leaving as soon as I finish."

"Oui, mon Capitain," Violette said, giving Jackie a sloppy salute. "Where is your little friend?"

"Inside," Jackie said, unscrewing the cap on the truck's tank. She watched as Violette walked away and absently wondered how long she could put up with the woman. With a shake of her head she put the hose in her mouth and began sucking, her tongue waiting for the first bitter taste of gas. She was starting to feel light headed, but one last suck brought the gas to her mouth and she spat it out while jamming the hose in the tank.

There was no telling how far they'd get with a few gallons of gas, but Jackie reasoned it was a lot farther and faster than they'd get on foot. She only hoped there was no road blocks or check points outside of St-Lo. She tipped the fuel drum forward to get every drop she could into the tank before the hose sputtered.

The door opened and Sophie exited carrying the brown coats and a box of food. Jackie took the supplies and began stacking them in the back of the truck. Violette managed to carry the jug of wine and another smaller box of candles and flashlights before climbing into the cab and waiting.

"Is that it?" Jackie asked.

"There's one more box inside," Sophie said.

"Can you get it while I tie this stuff down?"

Sophie nodded and ran back into the building while Jackie began looping a rope around the boxes.



"
Your name?" Caron asked, stuffing a bite of bloodied steak into her mouth.

"Madame Bisset," the woman replied, her eyes locked on the steak.

"Do you know why you are here?" Caron asked, leaning back from her meal to fully observe the woman.

"Because I sold clothes to the tall woman and didn't inform the authorities of my suspicions."

Caron remained silent for a minute, somewhat stunned by the woman's honesty. "You're hungry?" The woman nodded, and Caron addressed the captain. "Bring her a steak," she ordered, motioning the woman to sit opposite her as the captain left the room.

"Thank you," Madame Bisset said, taking a seat.

Caron inclined her head slightly in response. "I don't imagine you've had many steaks lately?"

"No, Mademoiselle. My daughter and I have often gone hungry."

"That's a pity. And how old is you daughter?"

The woman smiled. "She's nine."

"And her father?"

"He's not in the picture," she said, with a shrug. "He left for Paris before Berthe was born."

Caron nodded with overt sympathy. "It's hard raising a child alone."

"Yes, and this war doesn't make it any easier."

The captain returned with a covered plate which he placed in front of the woman. Caron could almost see her salivating before the lid was lifted and the steam and scent of the meat hit her face. A part of her actually felt sorry for the woman, but that pity would not interfere with acquiring information about Sophie and the American bitch.
She let the woman consume a few bites before re-establishing her dominance. "So did the American give you money for the clothes?"

The woman's eyes widened as she instantly remembered, and she coughed slightly, lifting the napkin to cover her full mouth. Caron allowed her a moment to gather herself, and she felt slightly anxious to see if this woman would continue with honesty or if she'd condemn herself with a lie.

"Yes," the woman replied, laying her fork next to her plate. "She seemed very nice."

"And what did she buy?" Caron asked, lifting her glass of burgundy wine and sipping it carefully, her eyes appraising Madame Bisset over the rim. "Please describe it as best you can."

"It was a nice blouse and a pair of gray slacks."

"Size?"

"They weren't for her," the woman replied quickly. "Or so she said."

"Was there someone else with her?"

"Not that I saw, but the clothes would have fit a much small woman."

Caron nodded, trying to picture Sophie in a pair of gray pants and a white shirt. "Tell me about the American, please." She gestured for the woman to continue eating even though she desperately wanted to know about the American spy.

"I can't tell you much, Mademoiselle. She bought some clothes and left."

"Why were you suspicious?"

The woman blinked. "She made an error in her speech."

"So her French is flawed?"

Madame Bisset dipped her head. "Her French isn't as good as yours, Mademoiselle."

"Call me Caron," she said, narrowing her eyes. "Is your steak alright?"

"It's wonderful, Caron," the woman said, her tongue trying out the name that not many uttered and lived. Of course she didn't know that, and Caron could see her becoming more comfortable.

"Describe the American to me."

Madame Bisset appeared to think for a moment. "I suppose she could be described as beautiful," she began. "Her eyes were stunning, and she smiled once."

Caron didn't like this description and she felt herself becoming impatient. "Tell me something else," she said, waving the captain to clear their plates even though her guest wasn't done. It pleased her to see the woman's face fall when her half eaten steak was removed.

"I don't know what else you want," she said. "The woman spent less than five minutes in my store. She purchased the outfit I described and some of my husband's old clothes and left."

Caron narrowed her eyes at the woman, her patience fully exhausted. "You're no further use to me," she announced, moving her eyes to the captain. "Detain her," she ordered.

The captain moved forward, his hand on the woman's chair, but the woman reached out and grabbed Caron's arm. "Please, Mademoiselle. I answered you questions. Let me return to my daughter. She'll be scared."

Caron's head cocked sideways as she contemplated the woman's statement. Somewhere in the recesses of her mind she remembered being scared as a child and wanting her mother. She'd overcome that weakness, and so would this girl. "Remove her, Captain."

Now the woman began to grow hysterical and Caron longed to be rid of her. She pushed the chair back and grabbed for her crutches. She was hauling herself to her feet when the woman turned and cried one last time to her.

"I know where they are," she cried, as the captain was forcing her from the room.

The Gestapo agent dropped back into the chair, her crutches falling to the floor with a crash. Her head turned slowly towards the woman. "Captain," she said, quietly. "Bring her back."

Madame Bisset pulled away from the captain's grasp and fell on her knees before Caron. Her drawn face looked up with such hope that Caron instantly despised her. Without a thought her hand reached out and closed around the woman's throat and she pulled her forward.

"Listen to me," she whispered, her words crashing against the woman's face. "You'd better know where they are, or you will not leave this hotel alive." She released her hold and the woman fell back. "Now speak."

"The dry good store," Madame Bisset gasped, her hand cradling her bruised throat. "Try the dry good store on the Rue de la Fontaine. I've heard that it's a safe house or something for the Resistance."

Caron's eyes found the captain and she raised her eyebrow in question. "We raided the store this morning. On your orders," he added. "Two suspects were arrested. One, a male, was killed trying to escape."

"And the other?"

"Being held."

"And the store?"

The captain shook his head and shrugged. "Empty, I suppose."

The Gestapo agents eyes glided back to Madame Bisset. "Take her away," she ordered. "And fetch my car and driver."

"What shall I do with her?" the captain asked.

"Release her if I find the fugitives," she smiled at the woman. "Or kill her if they aren't there."

This time she completely ignored the woman's cries as the captain pulled her from her room. She'd climbed to her feet and was trying to find her leather coat and gloves. Her heart was pounding and her palms felt sweaty against the crutch support. A goofy smile creased her face.

"Sophie," she whispered, hobbling towards the door. "My Sophie." Her hand grabbed for Lillian Rolfe's letter and stuffed it unread into her pocket before leaving the room.


Continued in Part X ...

Thanks for reading.  If you have any questions or comments, please email me at Pallas3@yahoo.com

Sorry for the long dealy in posting. The curse of the holidays and starting a new job. I'm hoping to post the next section soon, and the story will conclude in Part XI. (or looks that way?)


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