DISCLAIMERS: All previous disclaimers apply. Please read them if you haven't already. Comments can be sent to Pallas3@yahoo.com. Thanks for reading.

Mercy That Sadness Brings

by Pallas

Part IV: Make This Pledge

(poster link: http://www.openstore.com/posters/pledge.jpg )

A clap of thunder roused Jackie from her studies, and she looked up to see another flash of lightening dance across the early morning sky. The house had taken on a deadly chill and she shivered as the first drops of rain splashed against the roof. Shaking her head she leaned back over her maps and notes, her brow creased in concentration and her fingers tracing lines back and forth, occasionally making another mark in her notes. In the last hour she’d put together an attack plan that she hoped Frenay and the other Maquis would approve.

Her gear had included the latest intelligence on the area, and as Jackie withdrew it from the lining of a coat she couldn’t help seeing that the information had been provided by her old OSS post. This had committed her even further to her plan because she wasn’t going back to the OSS a failure.

All intelligence pointed to the midnight guard change at the Chateau. The third shift guards were significantly less in number, and Jackie even suspected that because of the fear the Chateau inspired around the countryside that they had become complacent in their duties. That was an edge she planned on pressing as much as possible. Of course she knew that even the most passive German guard would be more than a match for her Maquis group. There would be casualties.

"That can’t be helped," she said, making a few final notes on her map. "Winning requires sacrifices, and I intend on winning this battle."

She’d managed to put Frenay’s sister out of her mind while planning the attack, but now as she began folding up her things she couldn’t stop herself from thinking about her. Her eyes were again drawn to the picture of Sophie and her brother, and Jackie found herself holding the picture, her mind lost in thought. The girl was beautiful, and Jackie’s finger ran over her black and white face. She wondered what she must look like now. Had the war changed the sweetness that shone in her eyes, or had she managed to keep her hope alive in the face of everything.

"It doesn’t matter," she said, pushing the picture away. "You’re probably dead or will be shortly. All that matters to me is getting your brother to commit to attacking the Chateau in your name." She looked one last time at Sophie. "I wish I could save you, but I know I can’t, and I won’t get drawn into thinking I can."

**********

The rain was coming down steadily as Jackie pulled open the front door and stood on the porch. In the eastern sky a dull streak of light was beginning to rise, and yet from looking at the thick clouds overhead there wouldn’t be much of a dawn that day. She stepped back inside to gather her things and make one last look around the room. She couldn’t leave anything that might disturb the scene. The Germans would eventually come looking for their missing men, and Jackie planned on making sure they never suspected her presence.

Her options were limited. Frenay had left her isolated at his sister’s house, and at that moment it might prove to be the most dangerous place in Normandy. The fact that the place wasn’t already crawling with Germans proved to Jackie that their was something bigger at work here.

"And what the hell is it?" she said, giving the dead soldiers a last look. "What can’t I see here?"

With a shrug of her shoulders she headed for the front door again. There was an old rusted car parked by the side of the house, but it looked like it hadn’t been used in years. Petrol rationing had caused most citizens to mothball their cars. Even if it did run, Jackie didn’t know where to go. It was better to stay put and wait for Frenay to come find her.

"Unless the Germans find me first," she said, holding the backpack over her head and running towards a decrepit old barn.

At first the door refused to open, but Jackie pulled with all her strength and the rusted hinges finally gave way. The inside stank of rotten, wet hay and old manure, but it was the only place Jackie thought she’d be safe. Her eyes ran over the interior, a hidden place to sleep her only need. Without further thought she pulled the barn door closed and climbed into the hay loft. The old boards creaked under her weight, but the further back she crawled the safer she felt. She found a relatively dry spot near the wall and settled down, her jacket pulled tight against her chest and old straw covering her feet. Her backpack served as a lumpy pillow, but it didn’t matter. A thunderclap rumbled overhead, and with the even patter of rain, Jackie allowed herself to be lulled into much needed sleep.

"Wake up, you damn American spy!" A blow accompanied the harshness, and Jackie doubled over in pain. "Get up so I can kill you!"

Jackie looked up and into the barrel of a pistol, the hand that held it steady and calm. Out of instinct she raised her hands into plain view as she tried to think of a plan to buy her some time.

"You’ve got a hell of a lot of explaining to do," Francois said, shoving the pistol closer to her head. "Where is Sophie?"

"Calm down, Frankie," Jackie said, trying to resist the anger rising in her.

"I should shoot you right now ... Give the damn Boche a convenient scapegoat for that massacre in the house ... Where is Sophie?"

"Where is Henry?" Jackie said, slowly moving herself into a sitting position.

"You’re not in charge now, are you Miss Spy? I am. I’m calling the shots." He cocked the gun and pointed it at her head. "And I say we shoot you."

"Jacqueline!" Henri’s voice boomed from below them. "Where are you? Jack!"

Francois kept the gun leveled on her, and both adversaries just stared at each other. Finally the Frenchman lowered the gun. "I found her, Henri. We’re up here."

"Then bring her to me!" Henri cried, and Jackie could hear the anger and fear in his voice.

"Let’s go," Francois said, motioning her towards the ladder.

As she climbed across she couldn’t stop herself from wishing that a floor board would crack and Francois would fall. Each time she met the distasteful Frenchman she liked him less and less, and part of her had to wonder if he would have killed her had Frenay not intervened.

There was no color in Henri Frenay’s face as Jackie turned away from the loft ladder. His woolen cap was twisted in his hands, and his soft green eyes were scared. Her first instinct was to touch the man and give him some comfort, but she stopped herself. She had to be a leader, and leaders couldn’t show compassion. They could only show strength.

"I found the house that way, Henry," she began. "I didn’t know how to contact you."

"That’s a crock of shit," Francois said, thrusting himself between her and Henri. "What did you do in there and where is Sophie?"

"Francois ... I’ll handle this. Jack ..."

"I’m sorry, Henry. I don’t know, and ..." she took a deep breath. "I can’t divert from my mission to find out."

"What?" Francois said, pushing at her shoulder. "Are you mad? Do you really think we’d cooperate now? For all we know you arranged that whole mess in there and killed Henri’s sister."

"I don’t want to believe you had anything to do with it, Jack, but I have to know what happened. You have to tell me what you know."

"I’m not answering to either of you. We have a mission to accomplish."

Henri shook his head violently. "No! I have a sister to find."

"You are one cold bitch," Francois said, his lip raised in a sneer so his scraggly beard twisted. "Tell us what you did with Sophie, or I’ll shoot you where you stand."

"Drop the cowboy act, Frankie," Jackie said, forcing a bravado she could barely feel. The situation was getting tight and she needed to enlist Frenay’s help ... not alienate him. Francois wasn’t helping. Her blue eyes drilled into the dirty Frenchman. "I thought you might already know what happened to Henri’s sister."

"You are mad," Francois replied, but he took a step away from her.

"Am I? You seemed pretty anxious to get out of here last night. Was I supposed to walk into an ambush? And you damn well know I didn’t have anything to do with that mess."

"I don’t know what you’re talking about. We had ... the boxes ... the German patrols ..."

"That excuse got you off last night, but things changed. Henry wanted to go into the house ... but you were adamant about that not happening."

"I’ve explained why. I don’t have to say anything else."

"I think you do. Those soldiers were killed by another German .. and I’d bet my life that Sophie was taken. I’d also bet that Frankie set the whole thing up."

"That’s a crock and you know it!" Francois cried. "I’d sooner fall on a grenade than give Sophie to the Germans."

"Maybe ... but would you betray Henry, cause that’s what I bet this is all about."

"And you arrived at that conclusion after how much field experience, Miss Spy? You’re way off track ... and you know it."

"Am I? Then why do you look so nervous?"

"Enough," Henri said, stepping between them. "Bickering and accusing will get us nowhere. Sophie is missing ... and I don’t care about any Allied mission ... I’m going to find her."

"I appreciate your loss, Henry ... but we’ve got to focus on what matters most."

"That’s getting Sophie back," Francois said, placing a hand on the smaller Frenchman’s shoulder. "I’m with Henri on that. You and your damn plan can swim back to England."

Jackie drew in a deep breath and clenched her hand. "Wait outside, Frankie," she ordered, and masked her anger when the swarthy Frenchman bristled. She merely shifted her eyes to Henri and held his gaze.

"I don’t listen to you ..."

"Wait outside, Francois," Henri said quietly. Francois shot her a dangerous glare but turned quickly and walked away.

Jackie waited until the barn door closed before leading Henri out of ear shot. "I don’t trust him," she began. "He rubs me the wrong way."

"And I bet he could say the same thing about you ... and he has better cause."

"Meaning what?"

"Open your eyes, Miss Jacqueline. It’s easy to see that this is your first mission. You’re scared and unsure of yourself. And you’re asking us all to trust you ... maybe to our deaths."

Jackie turned away. "This may be my first mission, but make no doubt that I am confident of victory. And I will pledge my life to you and your men."

"And to my sister?" Henri turned her around. "She’s part of me and my fight. Will you pledge your life to her?"

Jackie shook her head and lifted her hands in defeat. "To what end?"

"She’s all I have left in the world. I’ll do anything to keep her safe."

"Then why did you let her write? You know the Germans have captured or killed all anti-propaganda writers, don’t you?"

"And because she writes, you think she deserved to be ..." He held out his hands to her.

"I don’t know what you want me to do, Henry. I have a mission to accomplish ..."

"What would you do if it was someone you loved?" he asked, his voice barely under control.

"Try to find a compromise, and accept the sacrifice if it can’t be reached."

"How clinical."

"And what’s your solution? Rush into some German patrol and kill them all? That’ll help." She shook her head. "You can’t think clearly right now, Henry. Let me." She placed a hand on his shoulder. "I may not be as experienced as you in the field, but I’m a great analyst. I can find a solution."

"I don’t want to find a solution ... I want to find Sophie."

"Call your men together, and we’ll see if we can’t do that."

Henri held up a finger and pointed it at her. "I’m warning you, Jack, I’ll do it only s to find Sophie ... not for some US/Brit mission. Understand?"

Jackie lifted her hands and dropped them. "I can’t promise that, Henry. You know that. I think I’ve found a way to succeed at our mission and find your sister."

"The mission doesn’t matter. Only Sophie."

"Then have your men use pitchforks and clubs, Henry, cause you’ve been outfitted and supplied by people who expect results."

"Francois was right," Henri said, shaking his head sadly. "You are a cold bitch."

"Believe what you need to, Henry. I will try and find your sister, but only if you help me."

"Fine. If that’s the way it has to be, but I’m out after this. France be damned. I won’t lose everyone I love to this war." He turned on his heel and walked to the door. "Francois will take you to a safe house in the village. We’ll meet there."

"And are we sure this house hasn’t been raided by Germans?" She regretted the words once they left her mouth, but Henri just shrugged and left the barn.

"Just great, Jackie," she admonished. "I’m scoring big on my goal of winning friends and influencing people. Maybe I can run into Hitler later."

**********

A monstrous thunderclap jolted Sophie awake, and she sat up. All her senses were disoriented, and it took a long moment for her to fully remember the elegant room and what it all meant. The fear crept back into her breast and she scanned the room for her clothes, a desperate need to flee overpowering her reason.

The blonde Gestapo agent was nowhere to be seen, and Sophie took this as her only opportunity to escape her. It didn’t matter to her that she had no plan. It didn’t matter that the Chateau was heavily guarded and she stood little chance of making it out of the house. All that mattered was getting away from Caron and back to Henri.

Her entire body ached, and even the slightest movement brought tears to her eyes, but she couldn’t focus on the pain now. Now was when she needed strength. She threw back the covers and forced her legs over the edge of the bed. With a supreme effort she put weight on her legs and she almost fell back against the mattress with a scream. She covered her mouth with her hand and grimacing she used the nightstand for support and stood under her own weight. The pain between her legs throbbed, and she gave a muffled cry against her hand. Taking small steps she moved towards the end of the bed, her fingers reaching and grasping for the wooden bed pole.

The room was immaculate, and Sophie could find no shred of her clothing or any other garment that might conceal Caron’s silky nightgown. Out of desperation she began pulling at the bed sheet thinking it would at least cover her nakedness and perhaps she could escape without notice.

She was tugging at the bed sheet when a knock at the door made her stop. Her heart leapt to her throat as she pictured Caron standing on the other side of the door, and her eyes darted around the room trying to find a place to hide. Without a second knock the double door swung open and a gaunt grayish woman entered the room.

She was dressed in traditional black and white livery, the pristine lace apron hanging loosely around her boyish hips. The outfit easily identified her as a member of the Chateau staff. Her dark hair seemed to compete with her black eyes, and when she looked at her Sophie felt a chill pass through her body.

"Good morning, Mademoiselle," she said with a weak smile and quick curtsy.

"Who are you?" Sophie asked, her fingernails digging into the bed pole and her legs buckling from the pain.

The maid moved forward. "You need help, Mademoiselle. Allow me."

Sophie allowed the maid to help her sit on the bed, and her body shivered. "Thank you," she whispered.

"You’re freezing," the maid said, pulling the blanket from the bed over her shoulders. "I’ve brought you some good strong tea. I’ll get it, if you like."

"Tea?" Sophie questioned, her mouth already tasting the delicious beverage. "I haven’t had tea since ..." She shrugged. "I can’t remember."

"The Oberfuher thought you’d like tea, and told me to bring it as soon as you awoke." She turned back towards the door and wheeled in a sterling silver cart. Sophie’s eyes grew large at the ostentatious silver tea service, and she watched silently as the maid poured out the dark liquid. She nodded eagerly for both the milk and sugar.

The cup felt warm in her hands and the fragrance tickled her nose. She gave the maid a smile of gratitude and took her first sip. As the milky liquid filled her mouth she closed her eyes in pleasure. When she opened them the maid was regarding her, a slight smile twisting her pale lips.

"Would you care for more tea?" she asked lifting the pot and pouring more into Sophie’s cup. "The Oberfuher ordered me to see to your every comfort."

"Where is she?" Sophie took another glorious sip of her tea, her pains and plans of escape momentarily forgotten in this pure delight.

"It’s best if you don’t inquire too deeply into the Oberfuher’s business, Mademoiselle. If you understand."

Sophie nodded. "May I have some clothes? I feel uncomfortable in this nightgown."

The maid shook her head. "I have none to give you, Mademoiselle. I believe the Oberfuher will deal with that request personally."

"So, I am her prisoner?"

"I can’t answer that. I’m just a maid and trying to do my job. I’d like to help you, Sophie, but I ... the Germans ... Paris ... my son ... " the maid looked away for a long second, and Sophie thought she saw the woman’s hands trembling. "I can help you with your needs, Mademoiselle, but that’s all."

Sophie nodded in disappointment, but she understood. Many of the French had been so terrorized by the Germans that they had lost the ability to fight. She didn’t blame the maid, but instead felt a kinship with the woman in her suffering. "I’m sorry for your loss," she said.

The maid wrinkled her brow, her black eyes boring into her. Finally her face relaxed and she gave Sophie a small sad smile. "Thank you."

Sophie held the tea cup out to the maid. "If you can only help me with my needs," she said looking around the room. "Then perhaps you will show me to the bathroom."

The maid smiled and nodded eagerly. "It’s through that door," she said, her cold hands sliding around Sophie’s waist, helping her stand. "Let me help."

The pain assaulted her with every slow step she took, and it seemed to take forever to cross the large room and reach the bathroom door. The maid assisted her into the black and white tiled room and stood silently by while Sophie settled herself on the toilet. Sophie closed her eyes and howled in agony as she urinated.

The maid shook her head and without a word began running a bath in a tub larger than anything Sophie had every seen. "You poor dear," she said, testing the water temperature with her finger. "I’ll get some Epsom salts. That’ll help with the swelling and pain, I think."

Sophie nodded, not sure if she had the strength to wipe, and found herself just content to lean against the wall and await the maid’s return. It didn’t take long, and after the temperature had again been tested and a liberal dose of salts added, the maid helped her to stand and remover her nightgown. Sophie noticed the way the woman averted her gaze, and looking down she saw for the first time the bright purple bruises and angry red gashes on her stomach and legs.

"Here now, let me help you in," the maid said, leading her to the edge of the tub. "It’ll sting for a minute, but then you’ll feel better."

"I hurt," Sophie said, her voice barely above a whisper. Her body swayed, and she fell against the maid, her head swimming slightly.

"I know, my dear. Everything will be better in time, but right now you have to be strong and let those who can help you do so. Come, dear. Into the tub," the maid said, holding her tightly.

She clung to the woman as she braved the pain and stepped into the tub. Anticipating pain she bit on her lip and lowered herself into the warm water. As the bath slowly enveloped her she let out a long, satisfying breath. The water touched all of her pain, and yet it was more like a warm caress than anything, and Sophie found herself leaning back against the tub wall in contentment.

Her head felt light, and as the water swished around her she had the strangest feeling that she was floating on a cloud. Her body suspended far above the ground, and her pain forgotten. A wide smile graced her young face.

"I bet that feels good. I knew it would." The maid’s hands brushed her hair. "Would you like me to wash you hair?"

Sophie nodded, her mind already enjoying the sensation of strong fingers massaging her scalp. Her eyes closed as the first cup of warm water was poured over her head. It felt divine.

"We all know what happened to you," the maid said, letting the water run down Sophie’s long hair. "None of us like those German bastards, and them SS goons are worse. What they did to you was ... may God spite them forever!"

Sophie couldn’t think of anything to say.

"I’m sure you know some of the staff is working with the Resistance. They pass out information and such when they can. These stupid Germans talk about their great plans right in front of us, like we weren’t even there."

"I know, my brother ..." Sophie began, but then thought better of it and shut her mouth.

"I know about your brother, Sophie, and about your newspaper. We’re all very proud of you both. Your dear departed father would’ve been proud."

"You knew my father?"

"No, lamb, but he was well thought of ... all of us know that. And his children are great heroes for France."

"They killed my older brother Edgar," Sophie said, the memory of her brother being shot with ten other villagers forcing itself into her head. "He hadn’t done anything ... He was a simple farmer." She drew a long breath. "My father died shortly after."

"Sssssh, Sophie. There, there."

"Henri and I ... after his death, we decided to take a stand. To not be victims. And now ..." she lifted her hand from the water. "Look at me."

"Quiet, girl," the maid ordered. "Things’ll work out. You’ll see."

"They were looking for Henri." Sophie twisted her head to look at the maid, but her vision seemed fuzzy. "I don’t even know if he’s safe."

"You suffered for your brother, Sophie. But he’s still safe."

"Thank God," Sophie said, feeling tremendous relief flood her and she relaxed back into the water.

"You need to warn him." It sounded more like a command than a suggestion.

"I don’t know how. I’m a prisoner of that Gestapo agent, and I have no way to contact him."

The maid’s fingers dug deeper into her scalp almost to the point of hurting. "But if you did have a way to pass a message to him ... would you know how to reach him?"

"I don’t feel very good," Sophie said, suddenly aware how light her body felt. The colors of the bathroom shifted and changed before her eyes, and she lifted a hand from the water, but found she couldn’t tell how many fingers she had, and to her it look like way to many.

"I could get a message to Henri," the maid whispered in her ear, the sound of her voice tickling and making Sophie giggle. "You only have to tell me where to find him."

"And what would I say?" she said, blinking hard to try and focus her eyes.

"Tell him where you are, Sophie. He’ll come rescue you."

"You think he would? But what about Caron? I think she likes me."

"Where does Henri hide out, Sophie? Is it at a house ... or somewhere else? Tell me."

Sophie shrugged. "Dunno where he is. Thought you said you could get a message to him, huh?"

"I want to get a message to him, Sophie. But you have to tell me where he is."

"There are so many places. Needle in a haystack, I think. A flower in a field. A cloud in a gray sky." She giggled.

"Quit talking gibberish. Where is your brother?"

"I’ll be seeing you in all the old familiar places," Sophie began singing, her voice terribly off-key. "That this heart of mine embraces all day ... Owww," she cried. "That hurt."

"Sorry," the maid said, untangling her hands from Sophie’s hair. "You were telling me where I could find your brother."

"I don’t know," she said, rubbing her sore scalp. "He comes to me when he can. That’s all I know." She tried to turn her head, but everything was spinning on her. "I feel weird."

"You’re fine. Here, doesn’t this feel good?" The maid’s thumbs dug into the base of her skull, massaging until Sophie moaned.

"I don’t feel the pain anymore," she said, leaning back into the fingers.

"That’s good." The maid lifted a cup of water and poured it carefully over Sophie’s head. "Time to wash the soap out." She poured another cup. "So you have no idea where your brother hides?"

"Have you heard the latest swing music from America? It’s fantastic. I’ve heard they dance to it." She tilted her head and wiped at a stream of soap bubbles that trailed down her cheek. "I miss dancing. Henri and I used to practice all the time. We found this old cave that we made into a fort and we’d spend hours there. Henri taught me to dance, you know."

"Really?" the maid said, pouring a full cup of water directly over Sophie’s face causing the girl to cough. "Sorry."

"I don’t think you are," Sophie said, trying to sit up and away from the maid.

The maid’s hand closed around her shoulder like a vice and she was pulled back against the tub. "You need to relax. I’m going to go and see about your breakfast, Mademoiselle. Will you be alright in here?"

Sophie giggled, the euphoria and disorientation taking a firm hold of her. "Oh me? Sure. Someone always saves me, it seems."

"We’ll see," the maid retorted and left the room.

Sophie heard the door close, and she smiled. It had felt nice to have her hair washed. Her mother used to do that before she died. She tried to remember what the maid had wanted, but all she could think of was songs. She gave into the feeling and began singing. "He was a famous trumpet player from down Chicago way ... He had a groovy sound that no one else could play ..."

"God I hate that song!" Caron said, tossing aside Sophie’s pillow which she’d been holding in her lap. "How could you let her sing?"

"How much of that drug did you give her, Caron?" the maid asked, smoothing out her hair and walking towards the Gestapo agent.

"A couple of tablespoons. Why?"

From behind the bathroom door Sophie’s voice raised in the chorus of "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy," and the maid raised her eyebrow.

"Don’t give me that look, Dagmar. Chances are she would have seen through your disguise if I hadn’t drugged her."

"Why do you always have to belittle me?"

Caron waved her hand and stood up, her black wool trousers falling perfectly over her long, slim legs. "Tell me what you found out?"

"Next to nothing," Dagmar said, shaking her head. "Either she know nothing or ..."

"She marked you as a spy and chose to tell you nothing." A smile lifted Caron’s face. "She’s so smart. My little peasant writer."

"She’s drugged outta her mind, Caron. I highly doubt that she knew I was trying to extract information."

"Then tell me where Frenay and his men hide?" The blonde German looked out the window at the dark, rainy morning.

"Why this girl?" Dagmar asked.

"Because I’m not about to traipse around this god forsaken countryside poking my nose into every filthy hovel trying to find him." She shrugged. "And I have to succeed."

"Ahhhh," Dagmar said. "This is about North Africa, isn’t it?"

Caron spun around. "I told you not to talk about that. If you can’t keep your mouth shut then get the hell out of my sight."

"You know you can trust me, Caron. We’ve been through too much together. We’re partners."

Caron laughed. "Sure, Dagmar. You and me ... partners." She turned back to the window. "Now tell me what she said."

"I kept asking her where Frenay was, but I don’t think she knows."

"I didn’t think she did," Caron replied, reaching for her cigarette case.

"Then why did you ... Have you seen her body?" Dagmar asked, placing a hand on her hip. "For God’s sake, Caron, did you have to have her raped?"

"Should I have sent her flowers and asked her to tea?" Caron shot back, wagging a long finger at the maid. "Sophie is the key to my game."

"Always a game with you, isn’t it?"

"One has to find amusement where one can, you know."

"But this was brutal ... even for you."

Caron shrugged. "They weren’t supposed to rape her. That idiotic lieutenant. I thought he looked too zealous." She lit her cigarette and exhaled a long stream of smoke.

"I still think you could’ve found another way. You killed five German soldiers."

"So sue me, Dagmar. I’ve killed lots of German soldiers. They die the same as everyone else."

"Heil, Caron," Dagmar said, giving her a mock salute, and shaking her head.

"Yeah, heil me," she echoed with a twisted smile. "I’ll crack the resistance, Dagmar. And little Sophie will deliver my glory to me." Caron looked at her accomplice. "Is your cover still intact with the staff?"

"Of course. As far as they know I’ve fled Paris and I’m sympathetic to the cause. Don’t know if they trust me, but I’m not suspected."

"Fine. Then use one of the known Resistance informers to send out some word on my little songbird. Make sure Frenay knows his sister is here ... with me. That should get him knocking on my door."

"And after ... What are you going to do with her then?"

Caron shrugged and inhaled more smoke. "I don’t know yet," she replied with a cat-like smile. "I might keep her for awhile. She is very sweet, don’t you think?"

"You can always have me, Caron."

"I’ve had you, Dagmar. I don’t buy day old bread, dear." Caron smiled. "Now, time to visit my little savior."

"You really think this is going to keep Berlin from punishing you for Africa?" Dagmar shook her head. "You really screwed up big there."

"Last warning, Dagmar." Caron shrugged. "I don’t care if it saves me or not. Life is overrated. I just like to give and make misery wherever I go."

"You know you need help."

"Go do something maidly. I no longer need or desire your presence."

Dagmar gathered the cart and pushed it towards the door. "She’s not right for you, Caron. Don’t make the mistake of becoming attached to her."

Caron waved her hand in dismissal and watched with dispassionate eyes as the maid exited the room. She put out her cigarette and straightened her outfit before walking to the bathroom door. She rolled her eyes as Sophie’s voice echoed another round of some patriotic Allied song. "That’s gotta change," she said before entering the room.

 

**********

Jackie sat quietly at the back of the small room while Henri spoke to the gathered men. The French was rough and full of expletives that often made the American raise her eyebrow, but Henri kept control of the discussion. ‘If it can be called a discussion,’ Jackie thought, nervously twisting her watch around her wrist.

Francois and Henri had dropped her off at a faceless house in the village and then disappeared. Neither man had spoken to her, and she didn’t know if Henri would keep his promise and assemble the local Maquis. All Jackie could tell was that her mission stood on the brink of disaster and failure.

The safehouse she’d been left at was empty except for an old blind woman who ambled about in silence. She lead Jackie to a small room at the back of the house and closed her in. The room had no window, and was furnished with only a metal frame bed.

Her body felt tight with unspent energy and fear, and for the next hour she paced back and forth like a caged animal. Finally a small ray of rationality broke through and she decided to make the best of her time. The mission profile she’d designed need local intelligence to finish, and she knew she’d be unable to gather that information without the help of Frenay. That left her with only one other option, and after pulling off her boots she slid under the thin blanket and forced herself to sleep.

A knock on the door brought her awake a few hours later, and she opened the door to a tray of weak soup, thick bread and strong wine. Jackie devoured the meal with passion.

"At least this ordeal hasn’t affected your appetite," Henri said, stepping into the room as Jackie swallowed the last sip of wine.

"When you haven’t eaten in over 24 hours, ordeals don’t seem to matter much," she replied, biting her lip when she saw the shadow pass over Frenay’s face.

"There are many in France who haven’t eaten in days, and then barely enough to stop the shooting hunger pains. And still they fight." His green eyes tore at her like he wished he could erase her from his sight. "You spoiled Americans will never really understand what it means to live through a war! Losing everything and everyone you love."

Jackie’s mouth opened to argue, but she stopped. Frenay wasn’t her enemy, and right now he wasn’t himself. She had to keep reminding herself of that. "When are we meeting your men?" she asked, wiping bread crumbs from her leg.

"Soon," he replied, stepping into the room and closing the door. "I thought you might want to share this perfect plan with me first."

Jackie’s blue eyes narrowed for a second before she shook her head. "Sorry, Henry."

"Then what am I supposed to tell them?"

Jackie opened her mouth to speak, but Frenay held up a hand. "No. I won’t tell them to trust you," he said, running a hand through his dirty blonde hair. "They won’t. Not without me believing in what you're selling."

"My plan will succeed, but only if it remains a secret."

"And you don't trust me? If that’s true, then why don’t you just leave?"

"Fine," Jackie said, pulling at her backpack. "But the main details are to remain between us until the attack. No one is to know." She looked up. "Especially your friend Frankie. Understand?"

The Frenchman nodded, and Jackie moved over to let him sit on the bed. For the next half hour she took him through all the details of the plan. She showed him the intelligence data, maps and her notes until he began to comprehend the full scale. Finally he sat back and regarded her.

"It’s a good plan, Jack. Really good."

"Thanks."

"But what makes you think we’ll find my sister while setting explosives?"

"Well ..."

"Or what makes you think she’s even in the Chateau?"

"Then you tell me where she might be?" She pointed at the map. "This is our first, best and only chance of finding her, Henry."

The Frenchman gave her a slight smile. "We’ll see."

"Meaning?"

"I’ve been doing some fact gathering while you’ve been sleeping."

"And?"

"I’m confident that we’ll know if Sophie is in the Chateau very soon."

"And if she is there?" Jackie could feel herself holding her breath.

"Then we go ahead with your plan. If she’s not, then me and my men will look elsewhere."

"And my plan?"

"I’m sure your superiors will commend you on your analytical skills."

"She’s there, Henry. I’d bet my life on it."

Frenay stood up. "Unless you’re willing to fight for her life then don’t bother betting." He opened the door. "C’mon. The men should all be gathered by now."

He’d lead her out of the house and down a back alley. His posture was alert but complacent. His woolen cap was pulled down low and his shoulders hunched as he hurried along the dirt alley. Jackie attempted to adopt his pose, but her heart was pounding too much. Here she was in broad daylight ... a spy moving right under the German’s noses towards a secret meeting.

"Quit smiling and get inside," Henri rasped, pushing her through a metal door and into a dark room.

Inside about fifteen men were gathered in an empty brick warehouse. The sun filtered through a row of windows near the roof, but she could barely make out the men’s features.

"Sit here and be quiet," Henri said, pointing at a flat of red bricks.

"But ..."

"You’ll get your turn to speak, Jack." He turned to look at her. "Only if we know Sophie is there."

Jackie nodded.

"Where is Francois?" Henri asked the room.

"He’ll be here shortly," a man replied near the front of the room. "He said he was checking with Marie for you."

"Good," Henri said, moving to the center of the room. Jackie watched how all the men focused on him. "I’m sure most of you have heard about my Sophie." Many in the room grumbled and nodded. "I put Jacques out near the house this morning, but as of about an hour ago no German had showed up to investigate." Jackie raised an eyebrow in interest. "I’ve come to the conclusion that my sister was taken to get to me ..."

"Those bastards!" a man near Jackie cried, and several other men joined in with the denouncement of the Germans. Frenay held up his hand to quiet the room.

"I think we’re all very aware of the German character. The question now becomes what we, as Maquis, plan on doing ..."

"We’ve got to get her back," someone yelled. "Sophie’s one of us!"

Frenay smiled and let his gaze fall on Jackie. She knew this was just how he wanted the meeting to go, and he probably had no intention of following her plan against the Chateau. Frenay’s smile widened.

"I’m sure you all noticed the newest member of our group. Her codename is Jack Rabbit. She’s an American."

"She’s a woman, you mean," a man said, and everyone laughed.

"Yes, she’s that, too. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t deserve ..."

As Frenay was speaking the door opened and Francois entered the room. His eyes seemed to search her out and without provocation Jackie found herself once again locked in a battle of wills with the swarthy Frenchman. Francois looked away only after one of the Maquis threw an arm around his shoulder and lead him towards Frenay.

"What’s the news, Francois?" Frenay asked, his verdant eyes moving between Francois and Jackie.

"It’s not good, mi capitain. Your sister is being held at the Chateau."

Frenay nodded. "In the basement interrogation rooms, I assume."

"No, Henri. She’s being held in the rooms of a female Gestapo agent."

Jackie pulled herself to the edge of the bricks, the hairs on the back of her neck tingling. This was very interesting.

"The Gestapo?" Henri repeated. "That explains why there has been no investigation."

"The Gestapo is after you, Henri," one of the Maquis said, stepping forward and blocking Jackie’s view. "This could be bad for us all."

"Enough, LaRoux. We can’t lose sight of our objective now. I’ve got to get my sister back, and I need help." Jackie stood and walked closer, impressed at how Frenay made eye contact with everyone in the room. "This isn’t a mission to free France ... but to me it’s just as important. I can’t order you to join, but I can ask you as a friend to help."

"Of course, Henri," Francois said. "You can count on us."

Frenay shook his head. "I know, but every man present must decide to join me on his own."

"Are you saying we’re going after Sophie ... at the ... Chateau?" Jackie heard the fear in the man’s voice.

"Yes, Jean, that’s exactly what I mean."

"But the Chateau ... Henri ... we’ll all be killed."

"Not necessarily," Jackie said, stepping forward.

"Ah, Miss Spy wants to play with the big boys."

"Quiet, Francois," Henri said. "Let her speak."

"Seems to be all she does is talk." Francois looked around the room. "Now is the time for action!"

"That’s what I’ve been sent here for."

"Yes, Allied Intelligence sends us a worthless woman to lead us to our deaths."

"I’ve got better training than you do," Jackie said, immediately regretting that she’d just distanced herself from the rest of the men. She smiled quickly. "I’m here to help." She looked to Frenay. "I’ve got a plan to get Sophie back."

"And we should trust you?"

"Shut up, Francois," the man identified as LaRoux said. "Let’s hear what she has to say."

"It’s not going to be easy," Jackie began. "The Chateau is indeed formidable, but if we all cooperate then we can save Henry’s sister and cripple the Germans in Upper Normandy."

"And how do you suggest this?" Francois asked, his arms crossed over his chest and his eyes mocking her.

Jackie looked at him. Part of her wanted to just drop the whole mission and leave and the other part wanted to reach out and slap the smirk from his face. Instead she gave him her sweetest smile. "The plan has been set and Henry has been informed. There is some last minute intelligence I need, but everything will work out. I promise."

"How reassuring, and what will you tell the families of these men when you get them killed ... Or is your plan without risk?"

"Frankie, you and I are about to come to blows. I suggest that you let your comrades decide for themselves."

"And what have you given us to make a decision?" one of the men asked. "Tell us what you plan."

Frenay stepped forward. "Jack Rabbit and I have gone over all the details. I’ve promised to keep things secret until the last moment, but I give you all my word as your leader ... it’s a good plan."

"If we’re attacking the Chateau ... how do you plan on dealing with the increased German patrols?"

"Let’s do the intelligence recon ... then we’ll talk."

"Henri, I don’t like this," Francois said.

"You haven’t liked much of anything, Frankie. I wonder if you’re just cautious or if you’re a coward."

The room grumbled, and Jackie suddenly felt more isolated than before. Francois stood taller and puffed his chest out at her. "I’m no coward, you American bitch. I’ve been fighting for a Free France while you’ve been off attending tea parties. Why don’t you face reality ... you’re not wanted here. We can handle our own problems, and we’ll get Sophie back without your harebrained plans."

Several of the men nodded their heads in agreement, and Jackie could feel them closing ranks and shutting her out. She tossed her head, her black hair flying around her and tried to think of some response that would recapture her place and not alienate her further. Frenay stepped forward and pulled her towards him.

"Enough. I’m still the leader here, and Jack is now a member of our unit. She fights with us, and I won’t listen to anyone saying anything else."

"But, Henri ..."

"No buts, Alphonse ..." Frenay looked around the room. "Now, you’ve all heard what we’re planning. It’s dangerous. You could get hurt or killed. I can’t order you to come with us ... that you must decide alone."

"You’re all fighting for a free country," Jackie said. "Trust me to help you. What you want ... I want." She looked at Frenay. "And that includes fighting to rescue one of you." She raised her arm. "For France ... For Sophie!"

Frenay’s arm lifted next to hers and he echoed her yell. In an instant most of the room followed their lead, and Jackie felt the men unite with her. In her heart Jackie felt like a traitor. She’d heard about soldiers throwing caution to the wind in the pursuit of a lost comrade, but it wasn’t something she could believe in. In her heart Jackie knew what she was doing was only for her mission. That made her feel dirty. She looked up into the colorless gaze of Francois and she knew he knew.

**********

Sophie didn’t hear the bathroom door open. Everything felt just wonderful. The pain was gone from her body, and her mind felt at peace for the first time since the Germans had invaded. Her head was filled with songs that made her feel good, and she found herself jumping from one lyric to another until she broke into giggles. She slapped at the cooling water, the feeling of euphoria overwhelming her.

"What’s so funny?" Caron asked, her long fingers running down Sophie’s wet hair.

"Oh!" Sophie said, twisting around. "Hello." She smiled broadly. "How are you?"

"I’m fine," Caron said, suppressing a grin. "Looks like someone’s feeling better."

Sophie waved at the air, tiny water droplets flying at the German. "Me?" She blew air out between her lips. "Nah. But this bath feels great. You should try it."

Caron laughed. "Oh, my precious little Sophie. How much I’m going to love having you around." The German leaned over, taking the soap from the tray and pushed Sophie forward. "Let me do your back," she said, her fingers trailing down Sophie’s spine.

"I feel so strange," she said, lifting her hand to her head.

"It’s probably the drugs in your tea." Caron applied soap to a washcloth and began rubbing small circles. "I’m surprised you didn’t taste them."

"Humm," Sophie murmured, letting her head loll forward against her chest. "That feels ..." She brought her head up. "What drugs?"

Caron’s fingers traced down her spine, the nails bringing goose bumps to her skin. "The idiotic doctor gave them to me." She brought her fingers up. "Something about pain, or nauseousness, or ... I quit listening. He’s really so boring."

"Why didn’t you tell me? Are you trying to ..." her voice trailed off.

"You French always think the worse, don’t you?" Caron said, roughly splashing water against Sophie’s skin. "Do you think I did it for this charming scene?"

"I don’t know," Sophie mumbled.

"Awww, how absolutely pathetic," Caron said, her face frozen in a sneer. "Confused, are we? Frightened?" Caron’s hand ran up Sophie’s arm. "Excited, is what I’d say."

Sophie looked up unable to think of any response.

"You should be thanking me, you know. Thanking me in any way I ask." Caron stood up and walked to the mirror. "I saved your miserable little life," she said, pulling it open and extracting a bottle of aspirin. "God, you filthy French give me a headache. Always one fiasco after another." She poured out two tiny tablets and grabbed for the glass on the sink. "All we wanted was the Rhineland back, but no ... we got the rest of you to boot. How’s that for rotten luck?" She filled the glass and swallowed the aspirin.

Sophie watched this, her knees pulled tightly to her chest and her feeling of euphoria gone. The German’s shoulder twitched, and Sophie bit on her lip, expecting the worse. Caron stood motionless, her gray eyes staring blankly into the mirror. The bath water was cold and she shivered, afraid of standing and drawing anymore attention to herself. Her life was at the mercy of the Gestapo agent's whims.

Caron smoothed out her hair and turned, a bright smile crinkling her face. "Oh! You poor dear," she chirped. "Let’s get you out of there. Can’t let my little ward turn into a nasty prune, can I?" She lifted a large white towel from the rack and held it open. "C’mon, into the towel so I can dry you off."

Sophie knew better than to refuse. She stood slowly, and using the side of the tub to help her, stepped into the towel. Caron’s arms closed around her, and she was pulled tightly against the Gestapo agent.

"Mmmm, you smell much better. No more stinking soldier smell. You’re all flowers and springtime now."

Sophie nodded, and tried to step back, Caron’s hold pulling her closer. Sophie didn’t dare look into her face. Her heart beat faster, and she lowered her head. Finally Caron released her hold, and Sophie moved away.

"You know the way you fight me ... I’m starting to wonder if you like me or if you just want something from me."

"What could I want?" Sophie asked, pulling the towel tighter.

Caron shrugged. "Your freedom. Money. Passports. Your brother. All those things we talked about last night."

Sophie’s head lifted and she swallowed hard. "You promised me," she whispered.

Caron smiled. "Yes, my sweet. I did."

"Tell me I can trust you." Caron continued to smile, and Sophie stepped closer. "Caron, please ... tell me that I can trust you."

Caron narrowed the distance between them even further until the silk of her blouse brushed against Sophie’s arm. The German lifted a hand and ran her fingers down Sophie’s cheek. "You’re so innocent," she whispered. "So trusting."

"Caron," Sophie said, clasping her own hand over the blonde’s and holding it against her face. "You said we were friends ... because of what we shared ... because of my kissing you ... You said ..."

Caron’s other finger covered Sophie’s lips. "Ssshhh, little one," she said, leaning forward until her breath spread across Sophie’s cheek. "You need to learn how to relax."

The Gestapo agent didn’t move any closer, her position held as if time had stopped. Finally, Sophie tilted her head up until her lips just brushed against Caron’s. The German only invited more contact, and Sophie felt herself leaning forward as the kiss deepened. Sophie wasn’t sure if she dropped the towel or if it just fell, but she certainly felt the soft silk of Caron’s blouse pressing against her bare breasts. The German’s arms closed around her, and for the first time ever she felt herself being held by a woman. Without thinking she leaned further into the embrace, allowing Caron’s lips to consume her.

Sophie wasn't sure how long it lasted, but suddenly Caron released her hold and stepped back. Sophie just stood there, unsure of why she'd just done what she'd done, and scared of the light in the German's eyes.

"That's much better, my sweet," Caron said, lifting her hand and running a finger down Sophie's cheek. "I think when this is all over we'll have a bright future."

"But Caron," Sophie whispered. "My brother. The passports."

Caron smiled. "Everything will be taken care of, love. You must trust Caron." The Gestapo agent stepped closer. "If you just do your part," she raised an eyebrow and smiled. "And you're doing a good job so far. Then everything will work out."

Sophie just nodded, her body shivering in the cold.

Without a word Caron bent down and lifted the discarded towel from the floor. Sophie held out her hand for the towel, but the German shook her head and leaning forward wrapped it around Sophie's body, her long fingers dancing down Sophie's back.

"Very nice," she whispered in Sophie's ear. "It's such a shame I have to go."

"Go where?"

Caron stepped back, her face cold and distant. "Don't ever question me, Sophie."

"I'm sorry."

Caron shrugged. "I can't refuse you, you know," she said, giggling slightly. "I do have to go, little one, but I will return to you as soon as I can."

Sophie pulled the towel tighter, and forced herself to look away from the German's hypnotic eyes. "May I have some clothes?" she asked. "Mine are gone."

The Gestapo agent laughed. "Because they were rags."

"I can't wear a towel all day."

"My sweet, you don't have to wear anything for me."

Sophie swallowed hard.

"I'll send the maid up to help you choose some clothes from my closet. Take anything you like."

"Thank you," Sophie said, smiling.

Caron stepped closer. "We're going to have to work on your display of thanks," she said, slinking her hand behind Sophie's neck and pulling her mouth to hers.

This time Sophie let her body take over and do what was expected, but her mind didn't go fuzzy on her. This time she knew that giving herself to the German was what she needed to do. It was her survival. With that thought she lifted her own hand to Caron's neck and forced her mouth tighter against hers own.

tbc

 


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