For many years I’ve wanted to write a WWII Resistance thriller. It seems that I’m gradually working up to it. The recent short story win with ‘Codename Gaby’ is my second story of that period of heroism and betrayal. My first was published in the Coastal Press in 2007 and was inspired by the fact that in France old soldiers are afforded respect and gratitude by the populace.
HAMMER AND HONEY
Smart and imposing in their blue uniforms, two traffic policemen stood on the small concrete island in the centre of the congested Paris crossroads. Suddenly, the elderly gendarme saluted an old man who shambled past on the western boulevard’s pavement. The old man didn’t acknowledge the mark of respect. Perhaps he hadn’t noticed.
‘Emile,’ the younger gendarme asked, ‘why did you salute that old guy? Was he an ex-Commissioner of Police?’
‘No he wasn’t, Henri. But he deserves my respect, nevertheless. In fact, all Paris should salute Monsieur Meline. In France, we honour our old war heroes while across La Manche their government and youth mug them...’
This was Emile Girard’s last day of duty and young Henri was his replacement. Emile was due to attend his retirement party later that evening at Le Chat restaurant. ‘I don’t ask it lightly, Henri, but make sure you salute whenever you see Monsieur Meline.’
Puzzled, Henri removed his kepi and scratched his head. ‘Naturally. I only wish you wouldn’t be so mysterious.’
Pursing his thick lips, Emile blew his whistle at a frantically gesticulating Citroen driver and peremptorily stopped the traffic, oblivious of the accompanying screech of brakes and inevitable chorus of honking horns. He signed for a bent grey-haired little old lady to cross the street and while she did so he said over his shoulder, ‘Tonight, Henri, at my party, I’ll tell you all about the old man.’
Shoulders stooped with the weight of years and memories, Pierre Meline stopped at the wrought-iron gate entrance to the small park and glanced briefly at the noisy traffic and the aged gendarme blowing his whistle. Good old Emile, he thought, I’m going to miss him.
Slowly, his aching bones obviously causing him much discomfort, Pierre walked through the gate, the new flowers affirming rebirth in the bright and shimmering sunshine.
Ah, Paris in Spring! His spirits soared, if only briefly.
Lowering himself onto an empty wooden bench, Pierre pulled out an orange from the pocket of his careworn jacket and expertly opened a penknife and expertly peeled the fruit.
Memories peeled back, too, of a time when he had been a strong young man...
‘This is Miel,’ said the underground network’s leader.
Miel was her code-name, the only name they would ever know her by, which had been bestowed upon her by some wag in Baker Street in recognition of her fluent and honeyed rendering of the French language.
Pierre Meline just stared.
Apparently, she was half-French and half-English and, apart from the fact that she had been landed by Lysander earlier this evening, that was all they knew about her.
He thought that her diluted French blood still showed in her deportment and those high aristocratic cheekbones. Her ancestors obviously fled the guillotine by crossing La Manche and settling there in England. But he could forgive her even that historic betrayal as long as he could gaze on her short curling auburn hair and intelligent glinting hazel eyes that didn’t seem to miss much.
Introductions consisted of code-names only. Pierre was Marteau.
Lucy Hardy’s eyes met Marteau’s and her legs suddenly went very weak. He was as short as her yet carried himself so well he appeared taller. Cheeks and chin were covered in what appeared to be perpetual stubble which gave him a down-cast appearance, which would doubtless help him to melt into any crowd, which was all to the good, considering Le Marteau – the hammer – was the French Resistance’s most deadly assassin. He was very proficient, ensuring that his victims all appeared to die in accidents, thus avoiding recriminations against the local populace. Yet his dark brown eyes were gentle, belying his deadly calling. She saw pain and compassion there and her heart fluttered. She had never before experienced such a strong and instant attraction to a man.
Mentally shaking herself, Lucy stepped forward and shook hands with Marteau and the four other men.
As a member of the Special Operations Executive, she’d been sent to form two elite explosives teams to destroy railway bridges and transport in preparation for the invasion, though Colonel Buckmaster obviously wasn’t saying when the Allied invasion would happen. It might be this April, 1943 or much later. Probably much later, she thought. But the sabotage teams needed to be trained and in place and ready to go whenever they were called upon. That was her job.
Lucy had no illusions about her chances of survival. Several other women – usually wireless operators – hadn’t returned to Baker Street. But she was undeterred and more determined than ever to ‘do her bit’ against the evil menace that threatened to thrust Europe back into the Dark Ages when fear alone ruled.
Over the next few months Lucy trained two teams of men in the art of blowing up things. She had learned her skills well in the highlands of Scotland a mere eleven months earlier. Then, it had seemed unreal. Now, she was in earnest. Lives were at stake. Every day she had to be vigilant. There were passwords to be used and lookouts to be posted and contacts to be trusted.
Betrayal was their biggest fear and cost lives. Brave people of so many underground networks had been informed on; then the Gestapo had dragged them away to Avenue Foch or some other dark basement where they suffered for their country, their ideals and their friends. Baker Street experts told every agent not to talk for at least forty-eight hours, as this would give the rest of the network time to get away. Fine, in theory... Betrayal was inevitable under those dark, lonely and sinister circumstances. After all, those who resisted were not super-human – just flesh and blood.
Time and again Lucy found herself being drawn to Marteau in their clandestine meetings in barns and under bridges. She felt sure that he was attracted to her too. But there was a war to fight and this was no time to go falling in love. She had a job to do.
These sensible arguments ran through her head each night that she lay restive in bed after she had returned from a meeting with Marteau. She knew that personal involvement could seriously affect the stability of their network. She must act responsibly. Certain emotions had to be held in check. She almost weakened during one unguarded moment as Marteau had whispered, ‘When this is all over, cheri, I would like to take you to my apartment – the view is magnificent.’
‘I would like that too,’ she had replied levelly though she felt her heart hammering.
‘You honour all my countrymen by fighting with us,’ he had said, kissing the back of her hand. Then he had slid away into the enveloping darkness.
Clearly, he would not take advantage of her. He respected her too much. In fact, Lucy had earned the respect of all of the Frenchmen she trained. On two terrible nights she had been out on raids and risked her life to bring back injured men – well, boys, really. Neither was more than nineteen, she knew. But that was not unusual. Even schoolchildren helped the Resistance. And everyone feared the reprisals. It was no wonder that there was treachery from time to time.
The woman was returning from a secret rendezvous, a parcel of fresh meat under her arm, when Lucy stepped out from concealment, the leaves of the bush rustling. ‘Have you been somewhere interesting, Adele?’ Lucy asked.
‘I might have,’ snapped Adele, gazing haughtily down her nose. ‘What is it to you, courtisane?’
Adele wasn’t the only woman in the area who believed that Lucy slept with all the men she trained and fought alongside. Lucy bit her lip, ignoring the insult, and stepped forward. Her mouth was dry. She didn’t like doing what she must do, but she had suspected Adele for weeks now. The presence of the black-market meat clinched it. The best trade for food was either money or information – and Adele didn’t have any money – and sex was rarely a good bartering tool. There could be no doubt, anyway, as she had seen Adele meeting with the SS officer.
When she had finished, Lucy wasn’t proud of herself. But it was necessary to silence the woman in order to safeguard the others. She didn’t linger, either, because she knew that Marteau was meeting the leader of another network and they were scheduled to move out five British airmen tonight. And Adele had known that too...
Her heart lurching with fear all the way, Lucy hurriedly pedalled to the secret cache behind the abandoned house. Here, she unearthed a bren-gun and shoved the weapon into the wicker basket on the front of her bicycle and covered it with a towel.
Praying she would be in time, she cycled towards the meeting-place.
Through the dark night Lucy pedalled across two fields and even carried the bicycle as she had to wade over a babbling brook.
Then, as clouds scudded away to reveal the full moon eerily lighting the treetops of the nearby forest, she wept with relief when she realised that she was almost there and she was going to be in time.
At that moment, motoring up the road a few yards below her was a convoy of two Wehrmacht personnel carriers and a staff car with Gestapo, army and SS officers.
Breathless now, her hands clammy with fear, Lucy grabbed the weapon and shoved her bike behind a bush. Hurriedly treading over dead branches and leaves, she moved forward and leaned against the trunk of a tree that overlooked the bend in the road. She was short of breath and her heart pounded against her ribcage. She braced herself.
Weapon safety off. Now all she had to do was pull the trigger. Simple, really. This was the first time that she had fired on real people. Do it! She told herself. For the others!
The bren’s stock kicked against her and the first fusillade went wild, smashing into trees to the left of the convoy, but she held steady and lowered her aim, peppering the wind-screens of the now swerving vehicles. The two personnel carriers crashed into roadside trees and the staff car slewed to the right and was abruptly upturned in a ditch.
As the troops jumped down from the rear of the personnel carriers and the officers hid behind their car, Lucy melted into the forest. She was quite satisfied. The gunshots would have been heard by Marteau and the others at their meeting-place. Now they would get away and be safe to fight the enemy another day.
The intensive search lasted all night.
Lucy was captured at dawn.
‘I don’t want to remember that time, Pierre,’ Lucy now said, sitting beside him in the park.
‘No, cheri, I can understand that.’ He glanced sideways at the bent grey-haired little old lady and handed her a segment of orange. She took it without comment. ‘I survived. That is what matters.’
She popped the segment into her mouth and smiled. ‘You know, it was years before I took for granted the wonderful taste of fresh fruit.’
‘Yes, me too.’ He nodded. ‘I heard about you. Even Ravensbruck could not quench your spirit.’
She had actually escaped from a bombed transport train en route to Ravensbruck and managed to find her way back to Britain. His underground cell was finally overrun but he got away to Spain. After the war she took a while to recover and by then the world had moved on. Indeed, they believed that the other was dead. Neither knew their real name so there was no possibility of organising any kind of trace; besides, there was still much secrecy after the war. She fell in love and married, but sadly their union was never blessed with children. Her dear husband had died five years past. She had nobody else. Then by chance a few weeks ago she had read about Pierre – her Marteau – being awarded yet another medal by his grateful country. Only then did she know that he too had survived.
‘We are old now, Pierre. We only have our memories – and our aching bones!’
‘No, cheri, we have something much greater. We have French blood in our veins.’ He looked askance at her and hunched his Gallic shoulders. ‘Well, half in your case, but it is dominant, no? And we have the honour to have fought in the French Underground Resistance.’
She smiled fleetingly and gazed into eyes that were now a lighter brown yet they still made her legs feel weak. ‘Honour, Pierre, in this day and age?’
He stood up a little unsteadily and bowed towards her, offering his hand. ‘But of course, Miel. May I have the honour of escorting you to my apartment? The view is still magnificent.’
She took his hand and got to her feet. ‘I had thought that you would never ask, Marteau.’
Arm in arm, they walked out of the park.
Emile the gendarme finally handed over to his replacement. As he reached the pavement he abruptly stopped and stared at the old man and woman who were leaving the park, strolling arm in arm. Paris, he thought, you still weave your magic, non?
If magazine length had allowed, I'd probably have used less exposition and addressed the point of view towards the end, but essentially this tale has to be omniscient POV to work. N