Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Papillon Concret (Part 6)


They've been stationary for 15 minutes and the claustrophobic conditions are making them sweat. Harrison and Schuster beneath the secret compartment under the gurney. Dryden and Wilson head to toe beneath the medical chest, fit tightly like a pair of stilettos in a shoe box. One grimacing as cramp takes hold of his calf and the wound between his forefinger and thumb begins to bleed. Bringelly is feigning fever and being tended on the gurney by a woman in a nurse's uniform, his face covered with a surgical mask. The ambulance doors open with a crack and she turns to face an inspecting Checkpoint Guard.
 
"Please, I think this man has diphtheria. It's highly contagious," she warns the young soldier.

He takes a step back and covers his mouth with his hand.



"Madam Lenze?" His face clearly a blend of surprise and delight.

She's about to be recognised for the second time in as many days, "Who wants to know?"

"It's me, Wolfe. Remember me from Paris?"



"Ah the Velodrome, yes, yes I do."

She sees the benefit in recognition, hoping to charm the young man into leaving them be, and rises from her position near the gurney, disembarking from the vehicle. 

"You're a long way from Paris?" She brushes the shoulder and lapels of his jacket with her hands. "Is there a problem? I need to get this fellow to the hospital in Bayonne they have a diphtheria unit there. We have no such thing in Bordeaux."



While they engage in polite conversation she watches warily as another uniform rounds the back end of the ambulance and begins prodding and poking it's interior.

"What's in here?" barks the inspector and taps the wooden seat with his Gewehr 41.  

Wolfe looks past her shoulder at the shivering man lying on the gurney. The sweat emanating from the man genuine. The fear he feels emulating fever and making him tremble.  The inspecting soldier unaware of a slowly drawn weapon beneath the grey wool blanket. This time Bringelly means business. The others hear the tap on their secret hiding place and the muffled conversation. Cramped as they are, their handguns are at the ready.



"Just blankets, an oxygen tank, medical equipment," she retorts.



"Open it!"

 He bellows, "Quickly!"

She looks sideways at Wolfe, "Is that really necessary. We have a long trip ahead, this man is very ill." 


Wolfe flicks his head at the other soldier, "Sir, I know this woman. She's a friendly."

Wolfe wants to wave her on across the checkpoint  but the other is his senior and paying him no attention. "I think you'd better open it," he pleads. "Once done, you can go through."



Her eyes now wide, she's terrified she's giving something away as she sees Bringelly's arm move beneath the cover. Her normally cool expression evapourated.

Unwilling to wait, the offending soldier smashes the lock with the butt of his rifle and it springs open.  In an instant an arm rises from the gurney and a bullet connects with the back of the Nazi's neck, covering the two prone men in the box with blood spatter as they spring to life.  Three others alerted by the fracas run to the back of the ambulance to be met with fire before they can engage their weapons. Bringelly's on his feet. Harrison and Dryden have freed themselves as the patientless gurney darts from the back of the vehicle and bounces empty and careless along the sloping road.
 Wolfe now has a firm hold on the woman he once admired, and a gun to her temple as the slaughter concludes.

Distracted by the fleeing gurney, he hasn't noticed the man behind him. He hears a hammer cock as Harrison's hand gun presses into the nape of his neck.  The moment is ludicrous. Everything stops. Four blood spattered allies staring from the back of an ambulance. Four dead Germans and a Mexican standoff between two men - a terrified woman in between.

"Drop the gun!" Harrison commands.  The German retains his posture, gun firmly planted against Monique's temple.

"Leave the woman!" Wolfe retorts, as she hears the click of a pistol.

"Leave!" she yells. "I'll be fine, Harrison just go!"



He knows it's their only chance. It'll be only moments before the watchtower behind the checkpoint realises what's happened and summons help. Already he can hear the slow pulse of motorbikes. The ambulance lurches forward, wheels spinning in the gravel.


"Go Harrison, get out of here!" she screams, Wolfe's barrel still in place.
 

Harrison's hesitation halts and he runs taking hold of the swinging rear doors of a speeding ambulance as they race through the checkpoint barrier, splintering the boom and disappearing into the distance.

The young soldier lowers his weapon. "I'm sorry," he says, shamefacedly, "they won't make the mountains. You should be grateful. I saved your life."

He's confused and has no intention of turning her in, but the motor bikes are upon them. He's the sole survivor yet again surrounded by dead comrades and a single captive. He has a lot of explaining to do.

***


He had wondered about her and their brief encounter in a limestone tunnel. Her bravery in staying behind. What had become of her? He'd written to thank her once he returned and one of the nurses at the Chateau was kind enough to reply. The young soldier had been court martialled for aiding and abetting their escape. The last she'd heard, he'd been re posted to the Russian Front. Monique was arrested and sent to Ravensbrück  for two years. Her friend wasn't sure whether she survived. Even Lenze's wealth hadn't been able to prevent her incarceration and he'd died shortly after her arrest, a broken man.

In front of the stone, Harrison contemplates his past and thumbs a tiny shard of white paper. He could write a book about their connection with shady protectors, the trains they cowered in from Bayonne to the border. The unknown faces with no names that secreted them into Spain.  The anxious moments when they thought the jig was up. The horrendous walk along the Comete line to San Sebastion. He could write volumes about those who assisted and fed them on their journey, how Wilson's wound became infected and they'd buried him beneath a pyre of Pyrenean granite.  He could write a book about her and what might have been.

Then a message of all things. Via his Grandson on Facebook, a child that bore his name received a prompt from one of her family members looking for a friend from long ago. A woman named Lalchere, tracing the ancestry of a grandmother she barely knew.  A need to make a connection.

She was writing her Grandmother's story and wanted to piece together the puzzle. A random message turned into contact and long discourses via Skype between a French Woman and an old radio operator. Harrison discovered that Monique had survived six months in the camp before liberation and returned to France. She lived out her years on the very point where six young men had plumetted so long ago. Raising the progeny of a clandestine and hurried moment in a limestone cave. She'd died peacefully sitting in a deck chair watching the breakers and gazing westward, the sun on her bare arms and face.

Harrison tenderly fingers the worn piece of paper, kisses the address and smiles. He lets the breeze whisk the shard into the ether and touches the stone butterfly on her headstone one last time.  

"Merci boucoup, mon Papillon. Merci. Now you wear wings of another kind."

8 comments:

  1. Well written...love your final words.

    Such a lofty undertaking: six parts! I feel productive if I can manage a few paragraphs once a week.

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  2. You romantic you, pass me a tissue, sniff,

    Poor Wolfe always in the wrong spot at the wrong time, can't help feeling sorry for him.


    Typo "he hasn't noticed the the man behind him."

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  3. Ahhh, Facebook :). I loved the ending. Always love a happy ending. Nice take on the butterfly!

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  4. Excellent, Baino. It's such a bittersweet ending, but it satisfies.

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  5. cool. had to reread the last bit to get the whole gist. For sure this is worth a major rewrite, and maybe a new beginning that would link the top to the bottom.

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  6. What an interesting ride. I like the summing up ending to bring it into the present.

    She's a friendly? Is that like She's a'walkin'?

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  7. Good story, but it needs a lot of expansion. It's too short, too quick, and while the development starts out effective, it gets shrifted en masse the rest of the tale.

    That stated, tons of potential here, and you can easily expand it (and should) to at least twice its current length.

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