Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Papillon Concret (Part 3)

Only months ago he was a radio engineer in the safety of America's heartland.  Joe Harrison wanted more, needed to see action.  When a lunch hour announcement is broadcast over the Camp Crowder loudspeaker, his ears pricked.

"Attention. Qualified radio operators interested in volunteering for immediate overseas assignment, report to ... "

He's already out of his chair, beans and bacon left uneaten. Despite the requirements for a European language, a willingness to qualify as a parachutist and the likelihood of a dangerous assignment - he volunteers. Within weeks, Joe finds himself on the Queen Mary headed for the Firth, then a train to Henley and eventually thundering across the channel on a B-17CS Flying Fortress, fully loaded and ready to bomb the shit out of Brest.

Six Parachutes open in the dark and six petrified men fall like flotsam onto the white sands of Surlac Sur Mer. Their joints jarred and packs heavy. Each gathers their belongings as Harrison checks the radio strapped tightly to his back. It is intact.  The plane that brought them however, is not. As his eyes lift to the starlit horizon he can see its shell, floating like a broken bird and leaving a trail of obvious smoke. He's overwhelmed by a feeling of desertion and defeat as the flac continues to blight the night sky. Everything's halted even before it begins. Had he time, he'd take a moment for his pilot and engineer but they're now feeling no pain and he has five men to keep safe.

Dawn is breaking and the noise of flac subsided. It's quiet. Too quiet save the relaxing rumble of the breakers. The beach is beautiful.  A long white stretch of sand with rolling surf, edged by pine trees and punctuated with well-trodden forest walks. Once the precinct for trufflers, wild boar and woodsmen, it's now deserted and deathly quiet. Not even birdsong to pierce the deafening silence. God knows where they are, these bruised companions and a radio. But they're not alone, there are voices emanating from the pine trees and they're not speaking English nor are they French.

He gesticulates to the others to lie prone as they commando crawl to where the sand meets the forest. They're ill-equipped for fighting. Two of them having been issued Enfields, the rest outdated Webleys but each has a knife. They crouch in silence save the beating of their hearts.  Harrison peers above the tidal culvert and sees a posse of uniforms.

The Germans look exhausted and are taking a brief respite around a small pine cone fire. Their jackets unbuttoned, heads divested of helmets and weapons at rest against the trunk of a tree. The glances between the RAF men silent but understood. Brest may not have come to fruition but they're here to fight and now's their chance. Wilson, Dryden and Schuster crawl to the right. Harrison and Barber to the left. The sixth, Dominic Bringelly is left to provide cover from the protection of the culvert. At 17 years of age, it's a tall order for the youngster but they're operating on wits and there's no time for fear.

Each man takes a man. It's furious and bloody as dappled light bounces from glinting blades. Four men slice swiftly into each unprotected throat.  A grizzly struggle ensues between Barber and two large protagonists. His knife hurled over his head, Barber is restrained and brutally beaten before comrades come to the rescue and dispatch his burly handlers. Dominic can't fire, the melee's too confusing and his weapon unreliable. He's about to fire into the seething mess before realising there's no need. Seven Germans are dead. Barber is badly wounded and being tended by the others.

"Fuck where's the eighth," the kid thinks to himself. Cowering just feet in front of Dom, a Nazi boy on his belly. The two men's eyes meet. The German trembling as he stares terrified into the barrel of Dom's Enfield. He's the same age. Fresh, young and frightened. Bringelly's hands are shaking and the shooter clearly incapable of making his mark even at this close range. 

"Don't kill me!" the German pleads, his voice soft and barely broken. "Please, don't kill me. I can help. I know people who can help."

Dominic pulls back the trigger but the shakes are incorrigible and won't desist. The German unbuttons his top pocket and Dominic fires. The incendiary barely skimming the soldier's shoulder pings a small patch of the course fabric of his uniform into the air. The quivering Nazi begins to cry and quickly offers the paper.

"Here, take it. A safe house." 

Dom has no idea what the kid's saying but snatches the note.

"Don't kill me. I won't talk,"
 the boy pleads.

In a moment of madness, Dom waves him away. There's been enough killing for one day. The semi-uniformed soldier runs for his life and disappears into the trees.

"Bringelly what the fuck are you doing?" Harrison's furious. "He's a fucking Nazi and you let him go?" He's tempted to pistol whip the boy for his idiocy but they're a team. They need each other and Dom's waving the paper so close to Harrison's face he can feel the breeze it creates.
"Jesus Dom. You're such a cherry." He snatches the paper. Nothing on it but an address. Mdme Lenze, Domaine de Chevalier,  chemin Mignoy, 33850 Loegnan."

The feet are not those of soldiers. The men are not in uniform but carry weapons. They're cautious and raise their guns as they detect prone bodies attempting to hide.
"Bonjour RAF!" shouts one. "You from that plane shot down last night?"

The English is broken but clearly the accent of a Frenchman. Harrison is the first to rise bearing his sidearm in his right hand, held benign between palm and thumb. Defying the dictum 'death before capture', he's hopeful this encounter will be friendly. They're exposed, unsupported and need shelter before he can activate his radio and ask for assistance.

The second man is inspecting the corpses splayed in grotesque forms around a fading fire.

"You did this Monsieurs? A small victory for us I think and you helped preserve our ammunition." He chuckles in the direction of the corpses and kicks one of the bodies with a muddied boot. "Merde . . .Cochon Nazi!" he curses, then spits.

What have you there my friend," inquires one of the Frenchmen.

"An address. Supposedly a safe house, could be a trap. It was given to us by a German." 

Harrison hands over the flimsy parchment.

The Frenchman lights a cigarette and lets it hang precariously from his bottom lip as he reads the note, "Ah la Papillon Concret. Yes this is a safe place but not without it's problems. You want to go there?"

Six men eye each other and the two Frenchmen. It's not like they have a choice. They're grounded, exposed and need somewhere to radio for help, just to let someone know they're alive. Reluctant nods agree to be guided by the two Resistance fighters.

"Keep your weapons, you might need them," smiles their new saviour, "My name is Pierre-Louis Cazabon. You can call me Caz. My friend over there is Claude Luc. We can take you there but it's a long walk." He hurls a half filled canteen of water and Harrison clasps it to his chest. Harrison feels calmer. Not being asked to divest themselves of protection gives him confidence that they are among friends, or at the very least allies.

"We'll follow the estuary." the Frenchman instructs. There's fresh water on the way you can fill it there. Luc! Grab the Krouts' weapons, they won't be needing them in Hell."

Claude Luc picks up the guns leaning against the pine and hurls one at each allied soldier before strapping as much ammunition as he can across his chest

"These are your girlfriends now English. Treat them nice!" He raises a belt of ammunition to lips and licks them lasciviously. "See?"

Harrison nods appreciation. 
Pierre leads the way with Claude-Luc bringing up the rear and pushing a now supported and rib-sore Barber to keep up. "We need to hurry Monsieurs. These woods are crawling with Krauts."

Barber's putting on a brave face but he can taste the iron in his mouth, the blood clotting in his throat feel the tightness in his chest that constricts every breath. There are more than his ribs at stake here and he's feeling weaker by the minute.


  1. I know the French are terribly polite and formal but
    wonder if full names were so freely given out by the resistance in the way Cazabon does?


    "Luc! Grab the Krouts'..."

    "You did this Monsieur's? ..."

  2. I am impressed you write military men in combat. Very intimidating territory!

  3. I'm liking this.

    One point of confusion for me about Harrison. Camp Crowder, American heartland... These imply he's in the US Army Signal Corps. I'm not clear on the jump to RAF...

  4. B-17CS? No such designation.

    Good, but the transitions still leave a lot to be desired.

  5. And I really hate that the next part isn't linked. :P