Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Papillon Concret (Part 4)


Wolf Greave is a reluctant soldier. He'd barely completed school before he was conscripted, but he's perceptive, intelligent and sensitive. He'd found his latter school days flawed as he was encouraged to regard those of colour and alternate race, imperfect. Those not of the Party, traitorous. Those not eager to enter the fray, cowards. He didn't understand when his Aunt's Jewish husband mysteriously disappeared. Eugen Rosenweig just ceased to be and was never spoken of again. Wolfe was too young to care, too indoctrinated to know. 

He'd joined the Jungvolk under duress and to avoid being singled out.  Entry into the Hitler Youth was automatic and never questioned. He'd benefited greatly from the fitness regime and is lithe and strong.  His intimidating good looks making him a poster boy for conscripts. Angular jaw, white blond hair and eyes of blue. At just 16 he was drafted and found himself marching into Paris during the occupation.
 
He'd been stationed at the Hotel Majestic headquarters in Paris, when conscripted to form a human chain around the Velodrome by French police. Those who wore the yellow star were trucked in as early 4am and didn't cease for four days in July. The midday sun began to sear and the stench was unbearable.  He remembers the constriction of his uniform and sweat trickling down his collar when a young woman with a crooked and seductive smile left the scent of Chanel in the air and the touch of passion in his heart. It was a moment. Brief but not forgotten.

***

He's just a boy on patrol in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Sent into Bordeaux, into the fray from the relative safety of Paris for letting a woman come too close. Letting her see, Jews being herded before transportation. The memory of that smile and her brief touch fading as quickly as the comfort he'd felt being part of the victorious occupation.

"Wolfe!" he's brought out of his daydream as he's poked in the back with a rifle. "Where are the others." Another German scouting party assembles at his side.

"We became separated," he lies. "I heard a shot but couldn't find them."

The small patrol spreads through the trees, calling the names of seven dead men.



***

Barber's coughing up blood and slowing the posse down. The liquid and gurgling wheeze a dead giveaway that he's punctured a lung and with every step the offending rib is shortening his life.
 
"He needs to rest," Harrison pleads with Pierre.

The day has reached its full zenith and the heat has been unbearable, only slight relief provided by the now setting sun.  The Frenchmen reluctantly agree. Walking in the forest at night provides cover but it's difficult to navigate and they dare not use light or fire. They slip from the relative security of the forest into farmland. Careful to slink along the hedgerows, they need water and food.  Barber needs medical attention but the Chateau is a day away. Harrison and Claude-Luc provide eyes as Pierre approaches a farmhouse. They're friendlies but better to be safe and ensure they haven't had 'visitors.' A wave from Pierre after what seems like an eternity of waiting in the open, and the band moves forward. Bent at the waist, Barber's grimacing with pain and holding back any sound. He's bleeding from the mouth.

Once inside, they're welcomed. Lights out with the exception of a candle burning away from the window. The elderly couple have fear in their eyes but sympathy for the travelers.

"They can't stay," whispers the old man to Pierre, "We've had three patrols knock on our door over the past week and this morning. Something about a plane shot down in the estuary and some dead men in the forest. They left us alone but they're persistent."

Pierre nods agreement, "That's fine Jean, we just need somewhere to rest. We'll be gone by daybreak." He nods towards a collapsing Barber, "He needs his ribs binding and we have no supplies. We weren't prepared for these guys, just found them. They want to go to Loegnan. There's a safe house there. Someone who can get them out."

Jean knows the house. He's ferried a number of allies and locals into the protection of the Chateau tunnels and has met Mdme Papillon Concret. The city woman with country manners and the tenacity to hoard escapees beneath recovering Nazis. "She's a brave woman," he acknowledges.

They're given cold duck sandwiches and canteens filled alternately with water and red wine. They share the night with cows in a dry barn and sleep a fitful sleep. When they wake. Barber is cold and lying in a pool of his own making.

"Leave him to me," urges Jean as they re-pack their bags and shoulder their supplies. "Go, hurry along, it's a perilous day for you my friends."

The Frenchmen kiss as Frenchmen do, and exchange hearty thumps on the back before hastening to the treeline. Behind them an old man puts a bullet into a dead man head and chest. That ought to satisfy the Germans that they're on the same side. Just as well, firearm still in hand, he turns as he hears encroaching motor of a Zundapp K750 and the familiar face of a former visitor riding in its sidecar.

***

Monique has entrenched herself in co-operation with the invaders. The Chateau now converted into a recovery unit, she's assisted by three other nurses, all part of the Resistance and hiding their disdain for their charges behind white aprons and consolatory smiles. The men are tended, fed, cared for and sent back as fodder for a seemingly never ending war. The close proximity of the Chateau to the airfield making it a convenient location for their purpose but a hive of activity that often she can do without.

Still, within the tunnels of the Chateau she harbours resistance fighters, a radio room, airmen waiting to be liberated, waifs and strays with nowhere else to go. It's risky business but her instinct had been right. People see what they want to see and with hands as deft as any magician, she's managed to pull it off.  


One of the main tunnels emerges across the vineyards and a manhole near a thicket provides cover for entry and clandestine radio transmissions. Being essentially a hospital, she can use ambulance or hearse to transport through border lines, secreting her charges in hidden compartments. For some, the ones who speak French, she simply secures new papers and they move from house to house until they reach their destination.

With the help of Renault, she's been introduced to officials of the town halls of St Pol and Auxi and arranges for a ready supply of false identification and food coupons. Monique now fully embedded in the resistance of la Tern, is a valuable resource. All the time nursing Nazis above and secreted allies below. She wasn't expecting the visit.

5 comments:

  1. enjoying the pace and build up.

    typos

    Barber needs a medical attention...

    With he help of Renault,

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  2. Ah, the chateau is ostensibly a Nazi hospital. Clever.

    Edit: Wolf/Wolfe

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  3. nice cast of characters. In need of serious editing-but i'm sure you know.

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  4. This is contradictory: "The day has reached its full zenith and the heat has been unbearable, only slight relief provided by the now setting sun."

    Poor Barber...

    ReplyDelete