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
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.
SPECIAL THANKS: Just a note to thank those readers who have been kind enough to correct my horrible German. Sorry I didn't get it right the first time!
Mercy that Sadness Brings
(the poster to the right is an actual poster issued during WWII. Great poster!)
Jackie had watched the girl
climb down the hill with a mixed expression on her face. To be sure she was angry at her
for what she'd done, and she was having a hard time justifying it. But there was a part of
her that regreted their parting.
Caron's mood was fould when
she returned to the Chateau, and everyone scurried to avoid her wrath. Her leg was
throbbing and Caron knew she had to see that incompetent doctor. It wasn't a happy
thought, and as a soldier carried her to the top of the stairs, she fought with the urge
to just wash, dress and continue her search. But when the man put her down and she almost
fell, she knew she had no choice.
The doctor had been ordered to her room, but Caron swore the man kept her waiting on purpose. It was almost an hour before he popped his saggy turtle skin head around her bedroom door.
"Don't stand there," Caron said, waving him into the room. "Get in here and fix my leg. It's killing me."
The doctor mumbled something under his breath that sound to Caron like 'not soon enough,' but she let it pass. Her leg was in too much pain to make mischief right now. She did, however, file the comment away for later use.
The doctor crossed to her, his face squinting up in disgust when he saw the large blood stain on the carpet next to her. Caron's hand was dangling over the drying blood, turning lazy circles with her wrist, and her eyes concentrating on the doctor's shiver.
"Is it yours?" the doctor said, his eyes locked on the blood.
"My subordinate," she said coldly. In fact she'd given Dagmar's death little thought. Her body had been gone by the time she returned to her room, and all that remained of her long time companion was the dark stain. It seemed appropriate.
"Are you going to fix my leg or stare at that?" she asked, pointing.
The doctor dropped his bag and pulled a chair up. While waiting for the doctor, Caron had taken the opportunity to clean up. She had desperately wanted her pants off as the dried blood was chaffing her thigh. The bandage surrounding her leg was stained with both blood and a greenish puss, and with a holding a deep breath Caron had forced herself to remove the tight wrapping. There was no way she could remove her pants in the conventional way, and so ripped them from her leg, stuffing a towel in her mouth to muffle her screams. She should have closed her eyes instead because she almost cried when she saw her leg.
Her knee was swollen almost beyond recognition. A deep bluish line was beginning to move up her leg, and she ran her finger halfway up her thigh tracing its movement. The entry point was the most infected, and Caron felt her stomach turn and her vision blur. 'This isn't good,' she thought.
She had to try and clean it, and for the first time in a long time she'd been forced to run her own bath and get herself into and out of the tub. By the time she'd finished the water was turning a dirty brown from the blood that had washed off, and Caron didn't feel refreshed. She felt tired and spent, and very alone.
Pulling a heavy cotton robe around her nakedness and wrapping a long towel around her knee she'd hobbled out of the bathroom to await the doctor.
The man now poked at her leg with his long dry fingers, and she fought to not cry out with each prod he gave her. He opened his bag and removed a scalpel. At this Caron leaned forward in alarm.
"You have no choice, Fraulein Oberfurher," he said, giving her a shrug. "Your wound is already very infected, and if I don't remove the bullet, I'll be removing your leg in a few days."
"And you plan on doing it here?" she said, her arm sweeping the room.
"I'm a trained field surgeon," he replied. "I've done this before."
Caron flung herself back against the chair. "And what am I supposed to do? Just sit her and let you slice into me?"
"I have morphine."
Caron gestured impatiently. "Then give me some."
The doctor place the scalpel back in his bag and removed a needle and a bottle. He stabbed the needle into this and pulled down a golden tinged liquid into the glass receptacle. Tapping his finger against the glass he squirted a stream into the air before jabbing the needle into her leg. Caron winced, her pain turning to anger when she saw the flash of pleasure that crossed the doctor's face.
"Get it done quickly," she said. "I have things to ?" her head became fuzzy.
"Just relax and let the drug work."
As much as she fought to stay alert, the morphine dulled her vision and her feelings and she watched with detached apathy as the gruesome little doctor poured some alcohol over her leg and the knife. She barely flinched as the blade dug deep into her wound but the site of her blood pouring out disturbed her and she forced her rapidly blurring gaze to the window. With a great effort she moved her thoughts from her leg to the other pain that was eating at her. Her hand moved without will to cover her aching heart, and with the peasant girl in her mind she passed out.
Sophie has wandered down the
ravine, her thoughts as chaotic as her footsteps and after what seemed like an hour she
found herself turning around and making her way back up the ravine. Apparently she hadn't
traveled as far as she thought for it didn't take her long to spot the tilted tree leaning
against the cave and she stood stock still at the bottom.
There was a good chance the American might already have left and she was now stranded with absolutely no options. The only clear thought that Sophie could latch onto was the realization that her one chance for getting out of this hell that had become her life was with the American. She didn't have to trust her, or even like her, but she had to at least make her think she did.
Looking up the hill she strained to see some sign of life in the cave, but all she could discern was the chatter of birds overhead. Her brow furrowed and she leaned against a tree to think.
It was hard to go back to the American with her apologies. Yes, taking her gun was wrong. Sophie knew that. She knew that while she was doing it, and no matter how hard she tried to explain it, she couldn't. Fear is a powerful motivator, and right now it was the only feeling she knew.
There was no way she could go back to her house and her life. That life didn't exist anymore. Her parents and both her brothers were dead. That made her the last Frenay, and Sophie resolved to not end up the same way. If that meant using whomever crossed her path, then that was what she was going to do. Not this American or even Caron were going to control her again.
Caron had been her best option when she'd left the cave earlier. It seemed an easy decision to go back to the German. There seemed to be something that was pulling her back. Something that was unfinished, or unspoken or unrealized. Sophie didn't know what that was, but it was a strong feeling. Strong enough to make Sophie almost send herself back into the hands of the Germans. Strong enough to even make her want to betray the American spy.
But then she found herself incapable of climbing out of the ravine and going back to Caron. And so there she stood. Alone. Confused. Desperate.
With a sigh she started to crawl up the hill, her hands grabbing for tree branches to help her up the steep back. When she finally reached the small hole she bent down to peer inside. The American was lying on her side, her knees pulled up tight and her head pillowed on her arm. Sophie felt a tremendous surge of relief.
Trying to be as quiet as possible she crawled under the lowest branch and settled herself against the opposite wall. She pulled her knees up to her chest and laid her chin on her forearm, her eyes absorbing the American.
The dark haired woman was sleeping soundly, her chest raising and falling in a strong rhythm. The peace that had settled on her smooth face angered Sophie. No one she knew slept that soundly. This woman knew nothing about what she and her fellow countrymen had suffered at the hands of the Germans. She didn't know about the hunger, the oppression, the deaths --
Sophie's eyes softened. And yet she was here. She was risking herself for others. 'Wasn't that something I always admired?' she thought. 'I used to do it. So did Henri.' She looked away. 'So can I hate her for what's happened?' Her green eyes snapped back to the spy, but there was little feeling in them. 'She's an end to my means,' she thought with uneasy satisfaction. 'I'll do whatever is necessary to get away from here. After that I'll start again. I'll find out who I am.'
She lowered her head to her arms and closed her eyes, her mind trying to draw strength from her commitment. She looked up again. Despite the dirt that scuffed the American's face, she was beautiful. 'Like all Americans, I suppose.' She looked closer, wondering if the woman would respond to what she had planned. Caron made it seem natural, and to a part of Sophie it was, but would this Jacqueline Bradford fall?
Sophie looked away, disgusted with herself for what she was planning. It would be just like being back with Caron. 'No,' she thought. 'I'm in charge this time. It's my game.'
Jackie opened her eyes as a
honey dusk was beginning to filter through the ravine, each fading ray heralding the
approaching darkness. With a groan she sat up, her back and legs hurting from the
uncomfortable position. She reached her arms up and twisted her back to give it a good
crack. It was on the opposite turn that she first saw the girl.
She couldn't explain why she felt relieved to see her lying there, but she felt as if a weight had been lifted from her shoulders. There was no resentment in her as she silently watched the young woman sleep. Instead she felt an unfamiliar need to protect her. There was still a hint of innocence that hung around her face, and Jackie silently vowed to do everything she could to keep that innocence for her.
With regret her eyes drifted to the expanding darkness, and she forced herself to reconsider her plans. With Sophie back that make some difference. She wouldn't be able to move as fast, but maybe they had an alternative. But until that option presented itself she was going to push the young woman hard to get them where they could be safe.
With a decisive nod of her head she turned back and crawled over to the sleeping Sophie. With a gentle hand she shook the girl by the shoulder, her hand lingering long enough to see the girl's eyes open.
"C'mon," she said. "It's almost dark."
Sophie nodded, and Jackie moved back while the girl sat up. Jackie was very aware of the young woman's feelings about being touched, and she resolved to giving her the space she needed.
"Are you still mad at me?" Sophie asked, her voice sounding more like a child than an adult.
Jackie shook her head. "No. I'm sorry if I --" she looked over her shoulder. "I'm sorry."
Sophie's brow furrowed. "Why would you apologize to me? It was me who caused this. I should never had taken your ?"
"Why don't we just drop it and try and start over," Jackie interjected, not wanting to be reminded of the whole gun incident.
"No," Sophie said, crawling closer. "I have to apologize. It was wrong of me. You've done nothing but help me, and I've treated you horribly. I'm sorry."
Jackie turned to look at her, and half hoped her mouth wasn't hanging open in surprise. She'd never expected the young woman to ever say anything like that. "It's okay," she finally said.
A thick silence descended on them, and Jackie was about to push the tree aside and start the descent to the ravine bottom when Sophie's hand on her shoulder stopped her.
"Jackie," Sophie said. "I want you to know that trusting someone isn't very easy for me right now, but I want to trust you. Just don't," she stopped. "I mean, I just want this to all be over."
Jackie nodded. "I'm doing my best, Sophie."
"Can I ask something?"
"Can we try and find something to eat? I'm starving."
Almost on cue Jackie's own stomach rumble, and she placed a hand over the noise with a smile. "I think that would be a good idea."
"Do you have any idea what we're going to do?"
"I've got a few plans," she said. "We'll have to see how things go."
The girl nodded. "Whatever you think best."
Jackie turned. "I'll need some input from you. You know the area and probably the people."
Sophie shook her head. "Not really. Since the war started most people have become very closed."
"But could you make an educated guess on where to go?"
The girl shrugged. "I guess."
"That's all I need to know." Jackie looked out and pushed the tree aside. "C'mon."
They crawled down the ravine, Jackie moving slightly in front of Sophie to prevent the girl from falling. She seemed so small next to her, Jackie realized, waiting at the bottom for Sophie to take the last steps.
"How far did you travel down the ravine?" she asked, pointing in the direction Sophie had left earlier.
The girl shrugged. "I'm not sure," she said. "I really wasn't paying attention."
Jackie opened her mouth to dispute that and tell the girl that no one could just not notice how far they'd walked, but instead she started moving. "Well let's find out," she said. "At least it'll give us cover until it gets dark enough to move in the open."
The growing darkness and the uneven terrain made it difficult for them to move quickly, and she was surprised when the young woman moved closer and took her hand. She turned her head, but the girl just looked ahead.
"I don't' want to fall," she explained.
Jackie accepted the contact, and in a strange way it made her feel better. More secure even. The two walked on in silence.
The ravine continued for about an hour before it started to narrow and Jackie realized it was time to move into open ground. It was dark enough that it would be harder for them to be seen, but crawling up the last part of the ravine, Jackie was disappointed to see there was no moon on the rise. She looked around, confused and unsure what direction to move.
The young woman followed her sight, and Jackie felt her step closer. "It'll be okay," she whispered. "We'll be okay." Her head turned. "Right?"
The American heard the desperation in the girl's voice, and she found herself nodding. "Sure. We're just going to stick to the plan and keep moving." She glanced at the last place she'd seen sunlight in the sky. "At least it helps me figure out our direction," she said, gesturing at the horizon.
"We keep moving South," she said, pointing in the direction.
The ravine had dumped them out on a narrow path between a field and a forest. Jackie's heart skipped a beat when she imagined they might have looped back on the Chateau's property. Sophie must have thought the same thing, for she began pulling Jackie towards the field.
The alfalfa field was about knee high, and their legs made swishing sounds as they waded through it . A deep farm smell filed Jackie's lungs and she inhaled as much as she could. Sophie must have noticed for she felt the girl's eyes on her.
"You couldn't possibly like this smell, could you?" she asked.
Jackie shrugged. "It's the best smell in the world to me."
She thought for a moment. "It smells clean. Innocent. Safe."
The girl gave a short laugh. "You don't have any idea how far from the truth that is, do you?"
"Right now I do."
"Then why are you trying to pretend?"
It was a strange, but honest question, and it caused Jackie to stop walking. "I dunno," she said. "Maybe I want to be safe and innocent again."
Sophie took a step closer, her body a mere inch away and Jackie could smell the dust from the cave clinging to the smaller woman's hair. "So do I," Sophie whispered, leaning slightly forward. Jackie looked down into her face and the two
just stared at each other for a long moment.
A rumble from Jackie's stomach broke the trance and with an embarrassed smile she stood back. "Guess we need to find something to eat," she said, trying to shake off the chill that had run through her body.
"No argument from me," Sophie said, with a sly smile.
"Too bad we're not cows," Jackie announced, grabbing at a hand of the alfalfa. "We could stuff ourselves."
"Yeah, but it's a tended field, which means there's probably a farm house nearby." She turned to look around her.
"There," Jackie said, pointing at a pinpoint of white light in the distance. "Think it's a house?"
Sophie put her hand over her own rumbling stomach. "I'm praying it is."
"Then let's go," Jackie said, suddenly feeling better. "I bet we can make it in about twenty minutes."
The two moved across the field with increased energy, the small dot of white light guiding them like a Wiseman to the baby Jesus. Neither woman broke the silence, and for her part Jackie was concentrating on a lavish meal of roast turkey and mashed potatoes. She could taste it so badly that her mouth began to salivate, which only served to acerbate her hunger.
The light was indeed a small farm house, and Jackie out of prudence moved them in a wide arch, approaching from the side that would least be watched. From the vantage point of a long rusted tractor she surveyed the stage. A figure passed in front of the light, casting a blurred shadow on the window, but it wasn't good enough for Jackie to determine anything but the owner was home.
"What do you think?" she whispered to her companion.
"I have no idea," Sophie answered. "They could be friendly or they could be traitors."
"Aren't most people in this part friendly with the Maquis?"
"In private," Sophie said, standing closer to Jackie than was required. "It's much easier to support someone when it's not your neck on the line. Henri was always saying that more people needed to contribute to the effort. Too many ?"
"But should we risk it?" Jackie said, cutting off what was looking to be a family story.
The girl drew in a deep breath. "I can't guarantee anything," she replied.
"Then you wait here." She removed the gun from her waistband and popped the clip, quickly counting her bullets before slamming it back into the handle and cocking it.
"What are you doing?" Sophie whispered, her voice harsh and angry.
"Going to check things out."
"Are you going to kill them?"
"Not if I don't have to."
The girl shook her head. "You wait here. I'll go."
"It's too dangerous."
The girl spun around, anger on her face and her voice tight and raspy. "Don't you start telling me what I can and can't do, you got that?"
Jackie just stared blankly back.
"I'm sick to death of people telling me things. My brother did it. Caron did it, and now you're doing it! So just stop."
"Lower your voice," Jackie gasped, her hand trying to pull the girl behind the rusty tractor. "You're going to get us ?"
Just then the door opened and a rotund, middle aged woman stuck her head out. "Who's there?" she cried the light behind her spilling onto the dark ground.
Jackie reached up and grabbed for Sophie, but the girl stepped away.
"Just me, Madame," she said, walking out from behind the tractor.
"And who are you?" the woman said, her hand pulling a heavy cast iron frying pan from behind her back. "Answer me or be gone, girl!"
"I --" Sophie said, looking behind her and motioning for Jackie to stand. "I mean, we, need help. We haven't eaten in days."
"There's precious little to go around, and not my fault," the woman said. "I don't want any trouble, you hear me."
"Please, just give us a little something to eat."
"And who's that with you?" the woman said, peering into the darkness. "Can't see anything."
"Sophie," Jackie said. "Let's just move on. She doesn't want to help."
"I didn't say that," the woman replied. "I just don't want any trouble. I have a son to think about, you know."
"Please help us, Madame. Then we'll be on our way. We won't give you any trouble."
"There's a lot of ways to give trouble, girl. Remember that."
"Aw, for Christ's sake, are you going to help us or riddle us to death?" Jackie said in English, knowing the woman probably wouldn't understand.
But she at least understood the tone, and pulling herself taller she stepped a little further into her house. "Your friend has a short temper," she said, addressing Sophie.
"I'm sorry," Sophie said.
"Don't apologize for me," Jackie said, leaning against a rusted bumper, and still angry over Sophie's disobedience.
"Excuse me," Sophie said to the old woman before turned and stalking over to Jackie. "Now you listen to me," she grabbed Jackie's arm and hissed in her ear. "I'm starving, and this looks to be the only farm house for kilometers. If you ruin my chance of eating, I will kill you."
"Fine," Jackie said, pulling her arm away. "But she's being difficult."
"She could be killed for helping us, as you well know." Sophie stood back. "Now apologize."
Jackie looked away for a second and then back at the small woman who stood like a bulldog in front of her. "I'm sorry," she said.
"No," Sophie said, pointing at the old woman. "Not to me. To her."
"Fine," Jackie said again, and pushing herself off the tractor crossed the yard and stood as close to the old woman as was prudent. "Madame, I apologize for my outburst. I am very tired and very hungry. I would deeply appreciate your help."
The woman appeared to think for a moment before stepping aside. "Then you'd better come inside before you're caught."
Jackie held back to let Sophie enter first. The woman liked her better.
"C'mon," Sophie said, stopping at the top of the stoop and waiting.
The American shuffled her feet in the dirt and climbed the two steep cement steps and entered the house. It looked like most farm houses. Good sturdy furniture and no frills. The wood floor was scuffed from years of wear and tear, and the house had a comfortable, lived in feeling.
"I don't have much to eat," the woman said over her shoulder. "None of us do," she added.
"We don't need much," Sophie answered quickly.
"Well, you won't get much," the woman said, grabbing two bowls from an open faced cupboard. "But it's as good as I have."
"What's your name?" Sophie asked, and Jackie made a face. 'We don't need to go and get all friendly with her,' she thought. 'Just eat and leave.'
"Helene," the woman answered. "But everyone calls me Mere."
"We're grateful for whatever you can spare," Jackie said, stepping forward before Sophie could give their names. "You are very kind."
Helene's eyes locked on Jackie and looked her up and down. "I think my son has some clothes that will fit you." She smiled when Jackie's eyes opened in surprise. "You didn't expect me to be completely dense, did you dear?"
"Thank you," Jackie stammered, which earned her a gentle prod in her ribs from Sophie, and looking down she couldn't miss the self satisfied look on the girl's face.
"Now, eat." Helene thrust a bowl of thin potato soup at Jackie and disappeared into the back room.
Jackie's stomach growled at the prospect of food, and she leaned against the cabinet to slurp it hungrily down. She noticed that Sophie didn't even bother with the spoon and just lifted the bowl to her lips. Jackie decided that was a much more efficient way to fill her stomach and she copied the girl. It didn't take them long to empty their bowls. Looking down they saw that Helene had left two small glasses of fresh milk, and both women grabbed the milk with a smile.
For the first time ever, Jackie saw a genuine smile on Sophie's face and it was being directed at her. Gone was the exhaustion and the pain, and her green eyes seemed to shine with a light that Jackie didn't know existed. Her own smile faltered in the face of this new woman who stood before her.
"What's wrong," Sophie asked, her face returning to the tired girl Jackie had come to know.
"Nothing," Jackie said, lifting her glass. "Here's to food." They both drank. Jackie shrugged. "Thanks for making me apologize."
Sophie rewarded her with a small smile. "You're welcome," she said, stepping closer and lifting her hand. Her finger gently touched Jackie's face, tracing its way across her upper lip, and moving away as quickly as it had come. "Milk moustache," Sophie said, wiping her finger on Jackie's shoulder.
Jackie looked down at the girl, suddenly aware that she also had a tinge of milk on her upper lift, and she had to force herself to not lift her hand and repeat the gesture. There was something very unsettling in Sophie's touch, and Jackie was very relieved when the old woman returned.
"Here," she said, thrusting a pair of brown trousers and a white shirt at her. "You're tall enough to pass for a man," she held up a brown cap. "But it'll look better if you put your hair in a hat."
"Thanks," Jackie said, taking the clothes.
"You take those black spy clothes with you, you hear? I don't want any trace that you were here."
"Do you have anything I could wear?" Sophie asked, pulling at Caron's khaki sweater.
"I'm sorry, lamb, but my son's too tall for you, and I'm too big." She smiled. "Besides, that sweater will keep you warm tonight."
"We'd better be going," Jackie said, stuffing the clothes into a knapsack the woman had laid on the counter. "Thank you, Madame."
"Just make sure no one knows you were here, alright?"
"I promise," Sophie answered.
"My son and I are good people, and all we want are the Germans gone."
"Us, too," Sophie said.
"C'mon," Jackie said, shouldering the knapsack. "Thank you for your kindness," she said to Helene. "I can't tell you what it means."
"No more words, just go and be far away from here as soon as possible." She grabbed a small loaf of bread, and an empty wine bottle. "Here," she said. "Fill this with water from the well, and the bread will at least keep you going."
Jackie took the food and nodded her thanks. Sophie, who Jackie was discovering could be very demonstrative, walked forward and gave the woman a hug. The woman hugged her back.
"I don't know what type of trouble you two are in," the woman said, walking them to the door. "But you've got to take care of each other."
"Thanks again," Jackie said, stepping back into the night, but the woman held Sophie back and began whispering to her in tones that Jackie couldn't hear. She stood there with a quizzical look while the woman gave Sophie another hug and sent her down the steps to Jackie.
After filling the wine bottle with water, they began to walk down the dirt road, and no matter how hard she tried Jackie couldn't keep herself from asking. "So, what did she tell you?"
It was too dark to see Sophie shrug, but Jackie felt it. "Just that we should head towards Montebourg where her brother, Franz, works at the train depot. She said he'd help us."
"And why didn't she tell me that?"
"I don't know," Sophie said, the tone of her voice bristling. "Maybe she didn't like you."
"What else did she tell you?" Jackie felt as if someone else had just asked the question and she knew Sophie would shut down on her. It was becoming a routine.
"Nothing," Sophie responded. "Don't you think we'd be safer if we got off the road?"
"No," Jackie snapped, and then took a deep breath. "When the ditch ends, we'll head into the field."
Sophie looked overhead. "Do you know how to navigate us by the stars?"
Jackie also looked up. "Not really. I know a little bit, but mostly I steer us by the moon."
Sophie slowed down. "There's no moon tonight, Jackie."
"So cross your fingers, I guess."
Caron awoke in a dark room.
Her head was groggy and she couldn't lift it from the pillow. She moaned.
"Can I get you something, Fraulein?" a voice said from the darkness.
A light was switched on, and a woman moved across the room. "The doctor told me to wait with you."
"My head hurts," Caron said, and with a great effort she lifted her hand to her head.
"Let me get you some water."
"Who are you?"
"No one of importance, Oberfurher. Just a simple Frenchwoman." She offered Caron some water.
"Somehow I don't believe that," Caron said, taking the water. "What do you really want?"
The woman shook her head. "Nothing."
Caron looked her up and down. She was pretty in a sort of boyish way. She had a very lean body and no hips to speak of. Her eyes were a listless brown that burned with hunger. If Caron had cared, she would have been interested to find out exactly what the girl was hungry for and how much it would take to have her, but she didn't.
She tossed the covers back. "Help me get dressed."
"That's not a good idea, Oberfurher. The doctor said you were to rest."
"The doctor is an incompetent freak," Caron said, looking down at her leg. "God dammit," she yelled. "What did he do?"
Her knee was bandaged like a large beehive, and Caron knew she couldn't walk with it like that. Against her better judgment she tried to move her leg over the bed and was rewarded with a pain that made her scream. She threw her body back against the pillows and whimpered.
"Here," the woman said. "The doctor left morphine."
Caron opened her eyes to find the woman filling a syringe with shaking hands. Her eyes became hard granite points. "You touch me with that and you'll beg me for a quick death," she hissed. "Bring me that idiot doctor. Now!" she finished with a scream that sent the girl running from the room.
Her body trembled with pain, and she fought to gain control of it. She'd been hurt worse before, she tried to tell herself. What made this little bullet wound worse? She focused on the clock by her bed, her eyes following the clicking second hand and trying to still her heart to follow the beat. She took in deep breaths, and tried to empty her mind. 6:30:10. 6:30:11. 6:30:12. 6:30:she's running from me. 6:30:15. 6:30:Sophie.
The doctor entered her room without knocking and stood over her with a sick grin. "So I hear you're refusing the pain killer?"
"I have work to do."
"Work that's more important than your leg?" the doctor asked. "Cause if you force it, Oberfurher, you may well lose it."
"I thought you fixed it."
"I removed the bullet, but it shattered some of your bone. That needs time to heal without being jostled all over. There is a risk of infection."
"Then put my knee in a cast, and clean it with alcohol." She pulled herself up on her elbows. "I don't want to hear a bunch of medical mumbo jumbo. I have things to do."
"Fraulein," the doctor said in that tone doctors get when they feel their patients are being unreasonable. Caron heard it and she glared him into silence.
"I out rank you," she said. "Not to mention I have the power to make your life miserable. Now do what I want."
The doctor turned his turtle-like head back and forth as if debating the order. "I'll splint it, but I have to go get some things," he finally said. "I'll be back momentarily."
"Time is not something I have in excess," Caron cautioned as the doctor left the room.
She collapsed back against the pillow and stared at the ceiling. She'd never felt so helpless in her life. "And alone," she said out loud. She closed her eyes and tried to concentrate on the gnawing pain in her stomach. To Caron it was the strongest feeling she'd had in years, and it scared her. She wanted to be rid of it, and she knew that only Sophie could do that.
When the doctor returned, he quickly applied a splint to her leg which prohibited her moving her knee. She had to sit still while his vile hands caressed her leg, and she gripped the chair with white knuckles. That boyish girl had returned and stood a prudent distances from her. Caron regarded her with a hostile eye while the doctor washed his hands.
"I must caution you, Fraulein Oberfurher, this is not the best way to heal your leg."
"Like I told you much earlier, Herr Doctor, I don't have a lot of confidence in your ministrations." She lifted her eyes from the cast. "However, I do thank you for your efforts on my behalf."
The doctors head popped forward slightly and he babbled. "Well -- I mean --"
"Just go," she ordered. "I'll call for you if I need you." The doctor saluted her and turned to leave. The girl moved to follow the doctor from the room, but Caron raised her hand. "You," she commanded. "Stay."
The girl froze and slowly turned around. "Yes, Oberfurher."
Caron pointed at a door. "Go to my closet and find me something to wear." The girl nodded and moved off. "And don't bring a skirt," she called after her.
A half hour later she was dressed in a pair of black slacks with the leg slit open to accommodate the splint and a heavy black sweater. The girl had no skill with hair, and in the end she just pulled her long tresses into a ponytail. The tightness of the splint had numbed the pain in her knee somewhat and if she didn't think about it she might be able to get through the night.
"Call my driver," she ordered the girl. "And find those crutches I had earlier."
The girl went off to do her bidding without question, and for a brief second Caron thought she might be worth training. But hopefully she'd have Sophie to fill that position.
"No," she said out loud, surprising herself. "I'd never treat Sophie like a servant."
The girl returned, and Caron wished her gone. Instead she accepted her help out of the room and to her car. From there she didn't give her a second look as she was transferred to the arms of her driver.
'Did you do what I ordered?" she asked him, as he helped her into the back seat.
"Jawohl," he replied.
"After returning this morning, on your orders, I sent out two units of Waffen SS. One headed north to cover everything between Valognes and the English Channel. The other headed south to pass the word to every farm house and town as far as St. Lo, that helping two women would result in arrest."
"And you gave them the description?" Caron asked, sliding across the back seat so she could keep her leg elevated on the seat next to her.
"Yes, Oberfurher. The descriptions of the Maquis writer and the American spy were given to each man."
"And?" Caron asked, pulling a soft wool blanket over her legs.
"I do not understand?"
"What have you heard?"
"Oh," the Sergeant said. "No one has seen them."
"That means they were hiding all day."
"Have the men returned to barracks?"
"Yes, at dark. Per your orders."
Caron pulled her arms tight over her chest and thought for a moment. "Sergeant, have a detachment follow us in a truck."
"I believe they are eating, Oberfurher," the Sergeant replied, and then pulled himself upright with a crisp salute. "Jawohl, Fraulein Oberfurher."
"And bring me something to eat," she called after him, grabbing for the map the Sergeant had left in the back seat. Opening this she let her fingers run over the Upper Normandy region.
Most of the town names were unfamiliar to her and yet she could see them in her mind's eyes. She imagined one street towns with a local tavern, bakery and other boring shops. The people would all look the same in their drab country clothes and hard faces. "Farmers, wives and peasants," she said, trying to guess if Sophie would fit in amongst them. She knew of her peasant roots, but Caron felt she could be so much more.
"And the tall, dark American?" Caron said, gazing out the window. "What about you? I can't see you fitting in with these French worms. And in your dark clothes ---" she smiled. "I believe you are my weak link."
Her driver returned and thrust a small basket of food followed by a thermos into the back seat. Caron took it and waited for him to assume his position behind the wheel.
"Well?" she asked, peeking into the basket and finding a few sandwiches.
"The men are being loaded," he responded. "But may I ask what you intend to do with them?"
"No," Caron said, grabbing a sandwich and biting into it.
It was hard to navigate the
field in the darkness. They had to move slow to avoid falling in the row ruts, and after a
while they seemed to develop a pattern of holding onto each other. At first Jackie had
grabbed Sophie each time she stumbled, and after one stumble the girl hadn't let go of her
arm. When they finally passed into a more level field Sophie's hand slid easily into
Jackie's and they walked on silently.
To her surprise Sophie hadn't complained once, and Jackie used the flatter ground to pick up the pace, even getting Sophie to jog for about a half mile. They'd seen a few farm houses, but without debate they decided to keep to themselves.
In the distance a few lights glittered, and Jackie watched them grow closer with both a feeling of trepidation and anxiety. From the direction they were heading there were only two possible explanation for the lights. They had either lucked out and the lights were Montebourg, or the lights were Quinville.
"It's gotta be Montebourg," Sophie said. "It looks like it."
"And what do we do if it's not?"
Sophie stopped, her hand falling from Jackie's. "I don't know. Do you?"
"I guess we don't go into town."
"It's late," Sophie said. "What if everyone's asleep?"
"Do you want to risk it?"
"I just want to get as far away from here as possible, and I think the train is the only way we're going to do that."
Jackie nodded in agreement. "But what if we don't know which train we're on? There's a greater risk we'll be caught if we are unlucky enough to get on the wrong one."
Sophie shook her head. "More risk than a small farming village?" She looked Jackie up and down. "No offense, but you stand out like a sore thumb."
"I'll change," she said, lifting the knapsack which held her change of clothes.
Sophie shook her head again. "You'll never be able to pass as a man."
"You don't walk or act like a man."
"And who's going to notice that?"
"Someone looking for us."
"So are you saying you want to try for the train?"
Sophie took a deep breath and stepped closer, the fabric of her khaki sweater brushing against Jackie's hand. "I'm saying, I want to do what's best for us," she looked up.
The American looked down, desperately wishing she could see the expression in Sophie's eyes, but it was too dark. She felt her presence, so close to her, and she furrowed her brows before looking up. "I don't know, Sophie," she breathed, unaware that it had come out more as a question than a statement.
"What do you feel?" Sophie said, her voice so close she felt her warm breath pass through the fabric of her shirt, and Jackie shivered.
"I don't know what you mean?" she said, swallowing.
"Where should we go?" Sophie asked. "What do you feel is the best place?"
"Oh!" Jackie said, too quickly, stepping back. "Um," she ran a hand over her face. "Let me think."
"I think we should give the town a shot," Sophie said. "It's gotta be close to midnight. We can find someplace to hide and catch the next train heading south."
"And what if that town is Quinville and there's no train?" Jackie asked, not sure why her heart was still pounding so hard.
"Then we head for Montebourg," Sophie responded as if it was the simplest of actions.
"Okay. I agree," Jackie said. "But only because I can't think of anything better."
Sophie's hand slid back into Jackie's. "You can't give any credit, can you?" she asked, tugging Jackie forward.
They walked towards the lights, each step taking them closer to either danger or --- 'who am I kidding?' Jackie thought. 'It's danger.' Next to her the girl walked with perfect calm, and Jackie couldn't help wondering what had happened to effect this change. 'Maybe it's just survival,' she thought. 'People do strange things when they are trying to survive. Which was maybe why ---' she turned her head.
"Why are you holding my hand?" she asked.
The grip on her hand loosened, and if Jackie hadn't held on the connection would have been broken. "Do you want me to quit?" her small voice asked. "I will if you want."
Jackie was silent for a moment. "I'm just not used to it."
"Then why don't you pull back?"
"I don't know. I usually do."
Sophie didn't respond, and Jackie felt very stupid for even bringing it up. She didn't even realize her pace had slowed until suddenly Sophie was standing in front of her. In the darkness she couldn't make out her features, and without her will she stepped closer. Sophie didn't move away, and Jackie lifted her hand, holding her fingers just above Sophie's cheek. She took in a deep breath of night air and lowered her hand without touching Sophie. "I don't want you to quit," she said softly, side stepping Sophie and starting to walk again.
It didn't take the girl long to catch up, and Jackie felt herself smile as the small, warm hand was slipped into hers and she gave it a squeeze. They walked on in silence, although Jackie's silence was far more tortured than she suspected Sophie's was. 'Dear God,' she thought. 'What is happening to me?'
The constant rumble of the
shifting diesel engine behind her was giving Caron a screaming headache. She didn't know
exactly why she needed them, but with her leg in as much pain as it was, she knew she'd be
very little use in apprehending her treasure and killing her thief. That's where those
idiotic soldiers would come in handy. Plus, in her current tempestuous mood it felt better
to have them around. At least she had some power left in her life.
"Where are we?" she demanded, flipping on a flashlight and staring at her map.
"Approaching Quinville," her driver responded.
She located the town on the map. "And what makes this hell hole special?"
"They support the German cause."
Caron laughed. "So we've beaten them into submission?" The driver didn't answer, and Caron continued to look at the map. "Is there anything else about this dump that I should be concerned about?"
"I don't know what you mean?"
"Resistance activities, railroads, docks, a good local vineyard."
"As far as I know Quinville is of little importance. The population is small and afraid. There is no railroad and the docks have long since been closed."
"So is it your opinion that no one would harbor my fugitives?"
The drive turned slightly in his seat. "I don't know that. But what point would be served by them going to a town such as this?"
"Fine," Caron said, dropping the map into her lap. "Then take me to the place where you would run."
"Oberfurher?" the driver said, his voice suddenly afraid.
"That's right, Sergeant. It's time to find out if you were born under a lucky star."
From the glow of the
flashlight she could see the man swallow hard. As a small road to the west came up, he
slowed the car and turned.
Sophie crouched by an old
stone wall near the mouth of Montebourg while Jackie struggled with her civilian clothes.
Everything looked quiet in the small town, but Jackie knew appearances could be deceiving.
From where they stood they could see the quaint train depot at the opposite end of the
town, and it had been Jackie's idea that they move a little to the South and try and jump
a freight train as it passed through.
"No," Sophie had said, pulling Jackie down behind the wall. "That old woman's brother, Franz, works at the train depot. She said he'd help us get on the right train."
"I say it's too dangerous. We don't know this guy, and it could turn out badly."
"I say we give Franz a try. His sister promised me that he'd help. But if we can't find him, then we go with your plan."
Jackie hadn't liked the tone of authority in Sophie's voice, but she couldn't argue with the compromise. She looked up and over the wall. The little town was quiet. Nothing was moving. If they kept to the shadows they could cross to the station in a matter of minutes.
"Okay," she conceded. "We look for this Franz, and if he's not around we follow the tracks South." She started to lift the knapsack again, but Sophie's hand on her shoulder stopped her movement.
"You've got to change," she said, her hand not moving and the heat from it almost burning Jackie's skin underneath.
"Why?" Jackie asked, the muscles in her shoulder jumping slightly. "The dark clothes will help hide me."
"Just change. I can't stand the black." Her hand dropped. "Please," she asked, turning away.
Without another word Jackie pulled out the civilian clothes the old woman had given her and tugged off her black sweater. When she withdrew her head she noticed Sophie's eyes on her, but they turned quickly, and stared off into the motionless town. She pulled out the white shirt layed it aside. It was a little wrinkled, but not bad enough to cause much notice. 'Except I'll stand out like a beacon in the night if we don't make that train,' she thought.
Next Jackie unlaced her combat boots and slid them from her feet before removing all the money and the extra ammunition clip and stuffing them in her shoes. It would have been easier to stand up and change her pants, but she felt safer doing it on the ground.
The wet grass slid against her lower back as she scooted her black pants off her hips and kicked them away. Sophie had crawled over and without a word handed her the shapeless brown pants. She stuffed her feet into the legs and arching her back pulled them up. With a hope and a prayer she buttoned them, surprised that they weren't that big. Jackie was about to grab her shoes when Sophie's hand began moving down her leg. The touch was light, but it covered almost all of her leg. "Not bad," she said easily, obviously unaware that Jackie's breathing had suddenly stopped. "I think they'll be a little short," her finger touched Jackie's ankle and then disappeared. "But it's a lot better than the black spy clothes."
It took Jackie a moment to remember to breathe again, and when she did she found she couldn't think of a single thing to say. She quickly pulled the shirt on and fumbled with the buttons. She couldn't look up at Sophie, and despite the cool night air she could feel the beads of sweat on her forehead. After buttoning her shirt she sat there, hoping her confusion didn't show on her face. Finally she looked up at the girl. She knew Sophie's gaze had never left her, and when she made eye contact she found herself unable to break away.
"Here's your hat," Sophie said, handing over the brown hat, and suddenly moving away.
"Thanks," Jackie mumbled, taking the hat and quickly stuffing her dark hair under it, certain it bulged with the weight of her hair. Her eyes had never left Sophie, but the girl had turned away, and Jackie found herself staring at her back.
"So, how do we do this?" Sophie asked, looking over the wall and down the main street.
Shaking her head to rid it of the strange thoughts that plagued her, Jackie crawled to her knees and studied the street with the girl. "I think we'd be better off moving towards the station on that street," she said, pointing to a parallel street a block up. "It looks to be more residential, and the chances of us being seen are fewer, I think."
"Okay," Sophie said. "You ready?"
"Just let me get my boots on."
"I'll wait for you at the end of the wall."
Jackie watched the girl moved off at a crouch, and once again she found herself questioning everything that had happened. Her leg still tingled where Sophie had touched her, and Jackie let her finger move down the girl's trail. She didn't understand why.
"C'mon," Sophie whispered.
With a fierce determination to forget everything that was running through her head, Jackie quickly shoved her feet into her combat boots and laced them up. Stuffing her black pants into the knapsack and tying the black sweater around her waist she crouched next to the wall and began moving towards Sophie.
In the distance she saw a spot of light that seemed to bounce. Without thinking her feet picked up speed and she narrowed the distance between herself and Sophie as the light drew closer and she could hear the distinct sound of a diesel engine.
As she approached Sophie stood up, a smile on her face. Jackie dropped the knapsack and lunged, her arms closing around Sophie's weight and throwing her to the ground. As if anticipating the girl's cries, her hand quickly found Sophie's mouth and she hissed for her to be quiet. The girl stopped moving, and Jackie wiggled to pull them behind the cover of the wall as the engine slowed and stopped.
This is Montebourg?"
Caron asked, poking her head out of the door and surveying the small town. "No wonder
Paris is so overcrowded."
"What are your orders, Fraulein Oberfurher?" the Sergeant asked, standing at ramrod attention.
Caron's head danced back and forth as she thought of and dismissed one plan after another. Finally she shrugged. "Have the men wake everyone in the town and question them." The Sergeant waited, and Caron smiled. At least he was beginning to anticipate her. "Then I want the train depot guarded and every train that leaves searched car by car."
"That will delay the schedules," the Sergeant warned.
"Then they should do it quickly." Caron cautioned, very aware that she didn't have the authority to hinder the Reich's train schedules for two insignificant fugitives. "But I want it done."
"Then go," Caron said, giving the man a dismissive wave. "I want reports every ten minutes."
Jackie listened, quickly translating the German, her heart sinking with each word. "Shit," she mumbled.
"It's Caron," Sophie whispered, her body becoming rigid in Jackie's arms. "She's found me."
"Sssssshhhh," Jackie hissed. "It'll be okay." She looked down to find the girl's green eyes staring at her in horrified terror. Without thinking she leaned down and kissed her cheek. "I promise, Sophie. We'll be okay," she said against her ear. "I won't let her have you."
Sophie didn't move, but the fear in her eyes lessened. "Then what are we going to do?"
Jackie rolled sideways so she no longer pinned Sophie's weight. The stone wall pressed roughly into her back, and she adjusted her position, accidentally bringing her long body closer to the girl. She felt the touch everywhere, and swallowing hard she tried to justify the need she was beginning to feel. 'In case she decided to do something rash and stupid,' she told herself. "Let me think a second," she said outloud, trying to remember what she was supposed to think about.
"Sergeant," Caron cried out into the night and Jackie froze. "Sergeant, why don't I see lights coming on all over this pathetic town?"
Jackie tightened her body, forcing herself to concentrate. The town was obviously off limits. She let her pale eyes search around her. That left heading back out across the field they'd just crossed or --- She looked over at Sophie. The girl's head was twisted to look at the top of the wall, and Jackie knew it was that Gestapo agent she expected to pop over any second. The fear made her body rigid, and Jackie knew with that fear the girl wouldn't be able to handle much. At least not until they'd put some distance between themselves and the Gestapo agent. Her hand lifted of its own accord and settled against Sophie's chest.
"Can you stick with me?" she asked in a hushed tone, amazed at where her hand ended up.
Sophie nodded, her green eyes almost begging her to help, and her hand settling over Jackie's with a squeeze.
"Okay," Jackie said, removing her hand with regret and pointing along the wall they'd just traveled. "Crawl in front of me. When I tap your ankle I want you to move out into the field. But stay low. Very low."
"Won't the soldiers be everywhere?"
"I'm hoping they are too concerned with checking the town and won't get to the surrounding area for awhile."
Sophie squinted up her face as if she were trying to decide what to do. Finally she rolled over and began crawling along the wall like a clumsy toddler. With a sense of caution, Jackie studied the girl's departure, making sure her back couldn't be seen over the wall. When she was satisfied she adopted a low posture and began moving after the girl.
They crawled for about two hundred yards, and Jackie let Sophie keep going while she peeked over the wall to survey the Germans. Immediately, her eyes sought out the Gestapo agent, who leaned against the car, her leg splinted and bandaged. Jackie smiled. Despite the darkness she could tell the woman wore a scowl as she waited.
"Serves you right, you Nazi bitch," Jackie whispered.
As if the German heard her words the blonde head turned down the wall and Jackie fell quickly, her breath held. Part of her wanted to look over again, but a smarter part made her turn and move off after Sophie.
Another hundred yards down the wall she tapped Sophie against her ankle and pointed her out towards the field. She could see a small building a couple hundred yards out, and from there she could decide which direction to move. The building was most likely a shed of some sort and unlikely to draw the German's attention.
"Head for the building," she whispered to Sophie, showing the girl how to crouch and run.
Jackie reached the building first, and held her hand out the grab Sophie and pull her behind the safety of shed wall. An old smell of gas and grease hung to the wood, and with her back held against the neglected and weathered wood she peered around the edge. The path they'd taken was deserted and no flashlight or warning whistles sounded. So far they'd made it without being detected.
She turned around to check on Sophie. As soon as she turned the girl threw her arms around her and pulled her close.
"It's okay," Jackie mumbled, hesitant to hold the girl and not sure why.
Sophie squeezed her tightly, and Jackie could feel the girl's chest contract and expand with rapid, fear filled breaths. Leaning her head down she could smell her hair and the mixed scents of shampoo and dust, and without thinking she laid her head against the soft blonde hair, feeling it slid against her cheek.
Doubts and confusions raged in her, but Jackie silenced them all and wrapped her arms around the girl. Just as her arms were getting used to the smaller woman's frame, Sophie pushed away from her with the same aggression Jackie had seen the previous evening.
"Please don't touch me," Sophie whispered, turning away.
Jackie was about to remind the girl that she was the one who did the touching, but quickly knew it wouldn't lead anywhere, and in some strange way Jackie was beginning to understand. "I'm sorry," she said.
The girl turned back and looked up at her. Her mouth opened and her eyes questioned. The moment held for a long second before Sophie looked away. "Thank you," she said.
Sophie looked so sad and scared that Jackie's hand could almost feel itself trying to sooth her, but she kept it motionless at her side. "Alright," she said, shaking the thoughts and feelings out of her head. "What do we do now?"
"I'm scared," Sophie whispered. "I don't want her to find me."
Jackie took a step closer. "Promise me something?"
Sophie looked a little confused. "What?"
"When we get out of this. Promise me you'll tell me what happened to you."
"Why would you want to know?" Sophie asked. "Or care?"
Jackie's face lifted in a crooked half smile. "I just do," she said, answering both questions. "Is it a promise?"
Sophie nodded her head. "If you get us out of this."
Strangely Jackie felt like she had a renewed purpose and she was suddenly thinking clearer. "Okay. This is my plan. Tell me if you don't like it."
The night was getting colder
and yet Caron's mood was getting hotter. They'd been in the town for almost an hour and
yet none of the stupid French had seen anything of Sophie and the American bitch.
"Or they won't say," she said, repeating the same thought over and over. "Sergeant!"
"What is the status?" she squinted her eyes up and ground her teeth, knowing his report would be the same as ten minutes before.
"No sign of the fugitives. Three fourths of the town has been searched."
"Fine," she choked out. "Help me into the car."
Once settled in the backseat she slammed the door and pulled the wool blanket over her throbbing knee. "Take me to the train station."
"But it's been searched, Oberfurher."
"Please, Sargeant, do me a favor and question my orders just one more time."
Without a further word the Sergeant slid behind the wheel and drove her the short distance to the train station. Caron waited for him to open the door and help her out. She looked around the deserted station and didn't have a clue what she wanted to do now. Something in her gut told her this was the right place. It was almost as if she could feel Sophie here.
The tracks were empty, and there was only one station attendant on duty. He sat in a little room near the tracks, and Caron noticed the large SS soldier standing at attention near his door.
"Find me a chair and bring that little peon to me," she said, pointing at the old man.
The Sergeant called to the soldier to bring the attendant and he rushed to bring a chair to her. Caron had just situated herself when the old man came hobbling towards her. He had a clubfoot that caused him to limp slightly, and Caron hated his inferiority.
"That's not French."
"I was born in Germany."
"And you chose to live here?"
"My father moved when I was a small child." The man shuffled back and forth either to take the weight off his foot or because he was nervous.
"So are you French or German?" Caron asked, well aware that her question was weighted and dangerous. She smiled in anticipation, her white teeth showing like fangs.
The man dipped his head slightly. "What would you like to know?"
"You've seen the French girl and the American woman, haven't you?" Caron phrased it like a statement, but the old man quickly shook his head.
"No, Fraulein. They never arrived."
The hair on the back of Caron's neck shot up and she swallowed quickly. "Explain."
"I had a call that they were coming."
"If I could, I was to help them get on a train."
"Who told you?"
"I didn't recognize the voice," the man lied, his eyes shifting away from her.
Caron let the lie pass. "When were they to arrive?"
The man shook his head. "I was only told they were coming tonight."
"But you never saw them?"
"When did you expect they would arrive?"
"I don't know."
"Then from where were they coming?"
The man shook his head, obviously aware that answering the question would incriminate whomever had called him. "I don't know, Oberfurher."
"Come now, Franz. Don't insult my intelligence with another lie." She smile sweetly. "Now, tell me where the girl and the American were coming from."
"About 6-10 kilometers West of here."
Caron nodded. "How were they traveling?"
"I believe on foot. I don't know anything else."
"Fine," Caron said, studying her nails. "Damn," she said.
"What, Oberfurher?" Franz asked, his voice trembling.
"I broke a nail," she said, showing the offensive nail to the man who breathed a sigh of relief. "Sergeant, shoot him."
"No, Oberfurher," the man pleaded. "I told you all I know. Please! I have a family."
Caron had already dismissed the man from her world and continued to check her nails. Her body jumped when a gunshot echoed throughout the station and when she looked down the attendant's body lay sprawled on the floor, a large pool of blood already forming around his head.
"You moron!" Caron said, turning hot eyes on the Sergeant.
"But you ordered me ?"
"Not here! Take him away." She touched her ear. "I think I've gone deaf!"
"I'm sorry, Fraulein Oberfurher."
"And look at the mess," she said, moving her feet away from the oozing blood. "Clean it up."
"Jawohl, Oberfurher," the Sergeant said, pointing at the SS soldier to get on it.
Caron struggled to her feet to escape the stench of death that was rising from the man. She maneuvered her crutches towards a wooden bench that stood near the track. The Sergeant was at her shoulder, and Caron suspected he was in fear for his own life. She drew in a deep breath and tried to formulate a plan.
"Do we have anyone who could pass for a train attendant?"
"No old men, Oberfurher."
Caron shook her head in exasperation. "Anyone who would fool the girl and the American?"
"I believe one man, Private Dieter Bulow, could act the part."
"Then have him change into whatever clothes a station attendant wears and report to me."
"One more thing," Caron said. "I want the search expanded to include the surrounding countryside."
She lowered herself onto the bench, fighting hard to keep the pain inside her. It wasn't just her knee that hurt, but the length to which Sophie was going to hide from her. Her leg was a nuisance and she vowed to make the American bitch suffer whenever she found her. And Sophie -- She looked out into the darkness and took in a deep breath of oiled air. She didn't know what she planned on doing to Sophie. What she couldn't figure out was why the run. "Wasn't I good to her?" she asked. "Of course I was."
Once Jackie was fairly sure
they couldn't be seen she pushed Sophie into a run. The girl did her best to keep up, and
when she heard Sophie's breathing becoming labored she slowed them to a fast walk. It was
too dark to plan where they were going, and she hoped they were moving parallel to the
train tracks. Behind them the lights of the town grew smaller, and Jackie breathed a sigh
"I didn't think we were going to make it," Sophie said, her breathing still a little heavy.
"You kept your cool," Jackie said, unable to hide a smile of pride.
"Not really. When I heard her voice ---." She stopped speaking.
It was on the tip of her tongue to ask Sophie to tell her, but she decided not to push it. She'd promised to tell her, and for the moment that had to be enough. Although the curiosity was gnawing at her, making her feel slightly sick each time she thought about the horrors Sophie must have gone through. 'Probably torture and brutality,' she thought, knowing full well the Gestapo had very inventive ways of getting the information they desired. What Jackie couldn't figure was why Sophie. Other than her link to Henri Frenay Sophie doubted she knew much. Henri didn't strike her as the type of person to blab his business, and his protectiveness over Sophie lead her to believe that he would have gone to great lengths to keep her from knowing everything. 'Except,' Jackie thought. 'He let her write.'
"How did you become a writer?" Jackie asked, a little to make conversation and more because she found herself needing to know everything about Sophie.
At this question the girl seemed to perk up and she graced Jackie was a dazzling smile that almost eclipsed her response. "I've always been one," she said. "My me mere said I began writing stories when I was little. And I guess I just continued to write." She smiled again. "It's what makes me happy."
"What type of stories did you write as a child?"
Sophie chuckled. "Nothing great. Stuff about rabbits and dogs. I remember one story about these sheep my papa owned. They just wandered about the field all day eating grass and I thought they might have a secret world where they talked and did thing, but only pretended to eat grass."
"I created a sheep society." She gave a small laugh of embarrassment. "It wasn't very good."
"I bet it was. It sounds very interesting."
"It was really a childish rambling."
"And now? Do you still write?"
"Didn't Henri tell you about my paper?"
"He mentioned it." Jackie contemplated the next question. "Sophie, why? Didn't you know the risk?"
"Henri kept telling me to quit. He said it was too dangerous. But in the end it wasn't me who got killed, was it?"
Jackie heard anger in her voice and she desperately tried to think of something to change the subject.
"My paper helped as much as Henri did. Because of what I did a lot of people thought twice about giving into the Germans." She began walking faster. "I wanted to go to Paris and write --- but Henri wouldn't let me! Said I'd be killed or captured." She looked back at Jackie. "But I'm still here, aren't I? Didn't I survive?"
"He was out there acting all big and brave by blowing stuff up. Henri wasn't like that. He was never meant to be a soldier, but they forced that on him. But me. I'm a writer. It was what I was meant to do, and he always made me feel secondary. Tolerated. Simplistic. It was what I was meant to do. - - - It wasn't what he was meant to do."
"Sophie ?" Jackie said again.
"Why was what I did less important?" She stopped as if she needed an answer.
"It wasn't," Jackie replied quickly. "Writers like you ?" Jackie searched for words. "They've always helped. If nothing else you countered the German's propaganda. You gave the people the truth. And that's something that is beyond measure."
Sophie opened her mouth to say something else, but she closed it and walked several feet in silence. Finally she stopped and turned. "Do you really think so?" She held up her hand to prevent Jackie from answering. "I mean, really. Don't just tell me something you think I want to hear."
"I've never done that." She stepped closer. "I honestly think that what you did is far more important than what I do or what your brother did."
Sophie's eye twitched at the past tense usage for her brother and she looked away. "Then why am I still alive?" she asked quietly. "And why is he ---" her voice trailed off.
Jackie saw a tear well up in the smaller woman's eye and as it rolled down her cheek she longed to reach out and comfort her, but she didn't move. The silence extended between them, and Jackie couldn't think of anything to say. Sophie wiped at her eye and turned back in the direction they were moving. She broke into a run, and with a sigh of regret Jackie rushed to catch up.
Sophie ran faster than Jackie had ever seen, and she knew it was the anger that fueled her speed. But she also knew the strength would desert her quicker because of it. Therefore she had to figure something out fast. They couldn't just keep running.
"C'mon," she said, turning Sophie more towards the tracks. "Let's head over here."
With her arms pumping and her face becoming flushed, Sophie followed. Jackie got a good five minute run out of the girl before she stopped cold, leaning her hands on her knees and huffing like a spent race horse. Without thinking Jackie came up next to her and patted her back.
"It burns," she gasped, her breath visible in the cool air.
"It's okay. Breathe deep. You did a heck of a run, Sophie." She unshouldered the knapsack and handed her the wine bottle full of water. "Drink a little of this."
"Thanks," Sophie said, grabbing the bottle and taking a big gulp.
Jackie walked forward a little bit, her nose picking up the faint trace of track oil in the night air. They were very close to the rail tracks. But what now?
Looking over her shoulder the girl was still hunched over and she could see her breath reflected in the light. "The light?" she said, spinning quickly.
Behind her she caught the early haze of an approaching light and she froze. Sophie was about five paces from her and totally oblivious of the light. "Crap," she said, turning and scanning the area for any sign of cover. There was none that she could see, and the grass they were in wasn't tall enough to conceal them.
She ran towards Sophie and roughly grabbed her arm. "We've got to move," she said, pulling the girl towards the tracks.
"I can't," Sophie wailed, dropping the wine bottle and grabbing her aching sides.
"Move," Jackie commanded. "The tracks are our only chance. We've got to get to the other side!"
"Why?" Sophie asked, still unaware of the light.
Jackie didn't answer, she was too busy trying to gage how much time they had before whoever had that light could see them. Sophie must have followed her sight because she felt the girl stop resisting her and move forward faster than Jackie could have pulled her.
She had no idea how far the train tracks were and she prayed like a saint that they weren't far. When they crashed into the rocky embankment of the raised track she didn't even notice the tears in her hands. She was too anxious to scramble up and across to the hidden side of the track. At the top she stopped to help pull Sophie up, and almost pushed her down the other side. Without a thought she jumped, landing on her side and sliding down most of the hill.
Darkness engulfed them, but Jackie knew it was a false sense of security. They needed to get out of that area and quick.
"I'm scared," Sophie hissed, her body pressed close to Jackie. "Who are they?"
"I couldn't wait to find out," Jackie responded, resisting the urge to climb up the tracks and look. "C'mon, we've got to move."
Sophie didn't resist, and quietly and quickly followed Jackie away from the train tracks. Jackie had no idea where she was heading. The train was still her best bet for putting some real distance between them and the Gestapo. Walking across the damn countryside was like trying to count the sand of the Sahara. But she didn't know when the next train was scheduled to come through Montebourg.
The crunch of their shoes against the ground led Jackie to believe they were crossing an old hay field. Each step seemed to echo and expand in the night air, and Jackie knew it would be totally possible for whomever had that light to hear them. They needed to find a place to hide and wait. Providing the light wasn't being wielded by a German soldier who was ordered to search everything. If so, it was only a matter of time before they crossed to the other side of the tracks and began moving across the field.
She looked behind her, but doubling back towards Montebourg probably wasn't a good idea. Unless -- She pulled Sophie closer.
"What was that guy's name who was supposed to help us get on a train?"
"Franz," Sophie replied, and then grabbed Jackie's arm. "Why? You're not taking us back there, are you?"
"I don't see anywhere for us to hide, Sophie, and if they are expanding their search then that means they're done with Montebourg."
"What about St. Mere-Eglise?" Sophie asked, pointing towards the tracks. "It's the next town, and it's maybe an hour away."
"And where do you think they'll look next?"
"But if she's on her way to Mere-Eglise now, then she'll be gone by the time we get there."
"Do you want to risk that?"
"I don't want to risk going back to Montebourg." Her hand tightened around Jackie's arm. "Please, Jackie."
The American looked behind her and then let her eyes search the surrounding darkness. From what she could see there was not a thing to hide in or behind.
"We have to move fast," she said, as if thinking out loud. "You'd have to push yourself harder than you ever have."
"I can do it," Sophie responded, her hand sliding off Jackie's arm.
"Let's swing out about fifty yards and follow the tracks."
Sophie nodded, and followed as Jackie lead them farther from the tracks.
A shrill whistle made them both jump, and Jackie instinctively grabbed Sophie's hand and pulled her into a run. Over her shoulder she could see a light dancing above them and a whistle kept sounding.
Jackie pulled harder, trying to outrun the light, but she could see her shadow on the ground in front of her.
"Halt," a voice sounded behind them, followed by a gunshot.
Without thinking Jackie released her hold on Sophie and pushed the girl forward. Once she'd made sure Sophie kept running, she pulled her gun from her belt and aimed at the light. A flash and then a crack told her the man had fired, but she couldn't think any further. She pumped off two rounds, and kept aim as the light exploded plunging her again into darkness.
"Help!" the man's voice cried into the darkness, and Jackie quickly shoved her gun into her belt and took off running after Sophie.
"Sophie!" she cried, into the darkness. "Answer me!" She listened. "Sophie!"
"Here," she finally heard the girl say, and she moved her run a little to the right.
"I'm here," she said, closer now. "Jackie, here!"
The American was almost on top or her before she saw. Sophie was huddled against a telegraph pole, her hand held out to stop Jackie.
"What's wrong?" Jackie said, falling to her knees next to the girl. "Are you hurt?"
"Yes," Sophie said, and Jackie noticed that she was holding her arm.
"Where?" Jackie asked, touching Sophie's hand and feeling the warm stickiness of blood. "What happened?"
"I think I've been shot," Sophie whispered, her head leaning back against the pole.
"Move your hand," Jackie ordered. "Let me see."
Sophie removed her hand, and even in the darkness Jackie could see that all the color had drained from the girl's face. Jackie's fingers probed around the blood, but couldn't find any entry wound.
"I can't see very well," she said, dropping her bag to the ground. "But I think the bullet only grazed you."
"It hurts," Sophie said, closing her eyes.
"I'm sure it does," Jackie said, pulling her black pants from the bag and straining to rip a part of the leg off. "But you're not going to die."
"Are they still following us?" Sophie said, wincing when Jackie tied the cloth around her arm and pulled tightly.
"I bet they are. Which is why we have to get moving."
"What about the soldier with the light?"
"I shot him," Jackie said, matter of a factly. "But we both know there are more."
Sophie began to climb to her feet. "I'm okay," she said, wincing when her arm moved. "I can keep going."
Jackie looked down at the younger woman, and she felt a tremendous anger build in her for the bastard who had been stupid enough to fire on them. She knew Sophie wouldn't be able to run very fast with her arm, and she knew with only two clips of ammunition it wouldn't be much of a shoot out.
Behind them a light blared down, and Jackie stood, pulling her gun from her waistband and turning slowly. The light was brighter than she'd expected, and she was forced to shield her eyes against the glare. It was then that she heard the tell-tale clickity-clack of wheels against the track and the shrill of the train whistle that she began to believe it.
"C'mon," she said, grabbing for Sophie's hand and pulling her behind her.
She kept them running parallel to the tracks, but closing the distance. With the steep embankment it was going to be rough, but they could make it.
"Leave me," Sophie said. "I'm not going to make it."
"Yes you are," Jackie said, determined to get them both on that train. "C'mon, the ground seems to be lifting, so we might have a more level approach." She looked behind them. The engine was almost upon them, and Jackie fought to keep them close enough to the tracks, but out of the direct light. Almost in slow motion the train engine moved past, and Jackie cut them in tight to the right, bringing them close to the cars.
She hadn't let go of Sophie's arm, and the girl was doing her best to keep up. Looking over her shoulder she searched for an open cargo door. With a smile she saw a door ajar two cars back.
"That's it," Jackie yelled, dropping Sophie's arm. "I'm going to pull it open, but you've got to grab on and pull yourself in."
"I'll try," Sophie said.
For a split second Jackie slowed her gait to bring her along side the door. The train was beginning to pick up speed, so they only had one shot at this. Her hand grabbed for the handle, and tugged. The door stuck and then gave way, crashing back against the frame, and a cacophony of squawks and feathers flew out at her. She swatted them away, and motioned Sophie towards the handle.
Luckily it was the girl's good arm that grabbed for the side rail, and Jackie found her hands on Sophie's back, pushing her into the car. With her hand on the girl's ass she gave one last good shove and Sophie landed inside the car with a cry. Jackie didn't have time to worry about that. She'd lost precious seconds. The train was almost outpacing her, and she was growing tired. Her hand lunged for the rail but missed, and it lurched out of her grasp. She gave a burst of speed and tried again, but she couldn't catch it. The door was beginning to move past her.
She was about to stop running when Sophie's hand shot out of the car and Jackie made one last effort, grabbing the warm flesh and pulling herself closer. There was no way she could reach the hand rail, but she might be able to boost herself in with Sophie's help. She used her other arm to grab the door, and nodding to Sophie she gave one last burst of speed and jumped.
Her feet were suddenly without ground, and her stomach was pressed into the cold iron of the box car, and she had no leverage to pull herself in. She just lay there for a second catching her breath, and she would have ridden that way all the way to Paris if Sophie hadn't grabbed onto her back pack and began pulling. Knowing the girl didn't have the strength to pull her in alone, Jackie began to squirm until she could get a knee up and behind the wall. Using this she pulled herself into the car and collapsed on her back.
She didn't move until she felt Sophie's body moving against hers. The girl had laid down next to her, and with her good hand grabbed Jackie's and just held it. Jackie lifted her head to look down, but she did nothing to untangle their fingers, and she let the gentle motion of the train lull her into a sleep.
The sleek, black Mercedes'
tires ground to a halt in the middle of a field where several soldiers were standing
around. Caron beat her driver to the door and was pulling herself out of the car before
the dust had settled behind her.
"Where are they?" she demanded, hobbling over to the men, who quickly stood at attention. "Don't salute me," she said icily. "Who is in command?"
"I am the senior officer," a young, still pimply faced lieutenant said stepping forward.
Caron noticed a half filled wine bottle in the man's hand, and her eyes traveled up his dark uniform slowly. "Report," she breathed.
"Two of the men on patrol startled someone," he began. "They heard them start running, but lost them in the darkness."
"And that?" she said, pointing at the bottle.
"One of the men stumbled on it. It appears to be fresh water." He held the bottle out, and Caron's gloved hand snatched it.
"Tell me the rest."
"Knowing their suspects couldn't have gotten far the men split up to cover more distance. Private Klinghoffer came across two women on the other side of the track. He ordered them to halt and fired a warning shot. When they didn't stop he fired at them. That's when he was shot himself."
"And where is this Private?"
"He died of his wounds."
"Pity," Caron said. "But what of the two women?"
"They didn't disappear," Caron said, gripping the handle of her crutch with anger. She'd cleared the train out of Montebourg less than five minutes before the Sergeant told her of the warning whistles south of the town.
"What are you orders, Oberfurher?"
"Return to barracks," she ordered, turning on her crutches. "Sergeant," she called, hurrying back to her car. "Where was that train stopping next?"
"It makes no stops before St-Lo, Fraulein Oberfurher. Then it turns to Rennes."
"Then you'd better hope you get me to St-Lo before the train arrives." She turned back to the lieutenant. "I want you to call ahead to St-Lo, Lieutenant. I want a detachment of Waffen-SS waiting at the train station when I arrive."
The lieutenant gave her a crisp salute before she lowered herself into the car.
Return to The Bard's Corner