Casino stood with his weight on one leg, his other knee bent casually, with the ball held loosely in his right hand, just like he’d seen Red Ruffing do it in the newsreels. He would’ve been working on a wad of chewing tobacco, too, if it wasn't so disgusting. About forty feet in front of him, Goniff flailed the bat around several times, as if warming up, then held it straight up in the air and leaned over, wiggling his skinny butt out behind him, in a pretty good imitation of a cartoon baseball player. Probably the only baseball player the limey had ever seen.
Casino wound up and hurled the ball with as much power as he could, and just enough spin to make it curve to the right.
Goniff leapt back out of the path of the speeding ball, and it slapped into Chief’s catcher’s mitt.
“Hey, watch it, mate! You tryin’ to hit me?”
“Nah, I ain’t tryin’ to hit you. That was a curve ball. I was throwing a strike.”
“Damn straight it was a strike. You was tryin’ to strike me.”
Leaning leisurely against the fence behind Chief, his nose in a magazine, Actor was supposedly playing umpire. “It was a ball,” he pronounced absently, without even looking up.
“Yeah, a ball that was gonna strike me."
Chief straightened out of his catcher’s crouch and lobbed the ball back to Casino. “Ain’t no use, dad. He ain’t never gonna get it.”
Goniff slammed the bat to the ground, sending up a cloud of dust. “If you ain’t gonna play fair, I’m callin’ it quits. It’s a stupid game anyway.”
“You’re suppose to swing at the ball, dummy, not dodge it,” Casino tried to explain.
“I’d rather take a swing at you…”
“Gentlemen, please…” Actor pushed away from the wall. “This is suppose to be a friendly game.”
“Friendly my arse. He tried to bean me.” Goniff stomped off across the field, muttering under his breath.
Actor shrugged and shook his head. “Oh well, it was a nice try, boys, but he’s right. It is a silly game.” And he sauntered off after Goniff, back toward the mansion.
That was a pretty good curve ball, Casino thought as he watched the two foreigners retreat toward dinner. Joe DiMaggio probably couldn’t have hit it. He tossed the baseball back to Chief in a slow arc, and the Indian caught it easily. “Ya know, I think I’ll try out for the Yankees when the war’s over. They could always use another good pitcher.”
Chief just chuckled and picked up the bat from where Goniff had thrown it. He lofted the ball lightly into the air and swung hard, sending it sailing into the distance.
“Hey, outta the park! Maybe you should try out, too.”
But Chief wasn’t listening. He was staring off in the direction the ball had disappeared, toward the road leading out through the big iron gates. Casino turned to see what he was looking at -- a jeep heading out, with the Warden at the wheel.
“That’s the fourth time this week," Casino muttered. "And he don’t come back till morning. Wonder what he’s up to.”
Chief picked up the empty flour sack that had been doubling as home plate and slung it over his shoulder. “Ain’t none of our business.”
There was only one thing that made sense to Casino. “I bet he’s got a dame in town.”
“Well ain’t ya curious? I mean, the man’s dedicated to the cause and all, but he ain't no monk. Up for a little field trip?”
The barest smile lifted the corners of Chief’s mouth. “What’ve ya got in mind?”
With a grin, Casino slapped Chief on the arm. "I think it’s time we practiced some of our car boostin’ and trackin’ skills.”
gg gg gg gg gg gg
It was always ridiculously easy to “borrow” one of the sedans. They’d been careful over the months not to do it often enough to force Garrison to take drastic measures. He kept the keys locked up in his office, but he certainly must’ve realized that was not an obstacle when they really wanted to go somewhere without permission. As Chief slipped the key into the ignition, he spared a moment to appreciate all the small ways the Lieutenant demonstrated his growing trust in them. And the small things they did to hold onto that trust. One of them was not pulling stupid stunts like this, but sometimes you just needed to break loose. As long as a mission wasn’t compromised and no one got hurt, what was the harm?
On the assumption that Garrison was headed into London, Chief guided the big Packard along the familiar narrow back roads through the English countryside, eventually catching sight of the jeep just as it was turning onto a main road entering the denser suburbs. He then had to be more careful to stay out of sight as he tailed Garrison through the more heavily travelled streets, making strategic moves to stay several cars behind. Or turning onto parallel streets, then picking up the jeep again several blocks along. But it was soon clear exactly where the Lieutenant was going. It was a route they knew well, straight to the well-fortified military compound that was Intelligence Headquarters.
Chief pulled to the curb around the corner from the entrance gate and cut the engine. They watched as Garrison stopped at the guard station and presented his credentials.
“This can’t be where he’s been comin’,” Casino griped. “Maybe he’s got a sweetheart on the inside…”
“Yeah, and they do it under a desk in the code room.”
Casino snorted in frustration. “Well maybe they just meet up here…”
Garrison took his wallet back from the guard, but instead of driving through the opened gate, he pulled to the side and got out. Dodging traffic as he trotted across the busy street, he headed straight for them. Casino slumped into his seat as if he could disappear. Chief considered high-tailing it out of there, but it was too late. They’d been made. He lowered his window, wondering where he’d made his mistake.
Garrison leaned down, his arms resting on the driver’s side window frame. “Have you gentlemen satisfied your curiosity?”
“We were just concerned about you, ya know…” Casino stuttered
“Where’d you spot us?” Chief wanted to know.
“To your credit, not until you made that last turn. You came back in too close behind me.”
Casino punched him on the arm. “See, I told ya…”
“Have neither of you heard of gas rationing?”
Casino made another attempt at explaining. “We just thought…”
“I know what you thought. I should be so lucky.” Garrison sighed and straightened. “Well, now that you’re here, you might as well stay. Follow me inside. I’ll leave the jeep with the motor pool, and you can drive me back to the mansion in the morning.”
gg gg gg gg gg gg
How many times had they sat in this conference room, wasting more than an hour waiting for Major Richards to see fit to join them? The Major seemed to have some kind of grudging admiration for their talents, Chief thought, but he was still an officer, and liked to use every trick at his command to prove he was in charge. It was a comfortable enough place to kill time, though, with large cushioned chairs around the dark oak table. Churchill and the King scowled at each other from their respective portraits on opposing walls. There were even muffins and coffee on the credenza, left over from some earlier meeting. The muffins were too stale to eat, but the coffee was still warm.
“So that’s all it is? You’ve been comin’ in here almost every night this week just to wait for a message from some agent in France?”
“Not just ‘some agent’, Casino. The Snow Goose.”
Casino snorted a laugh. “The Snow Goose? Who makes up these code names, anyway?”
“He’s been on a deep cover assignment inside the SS for two years. Last week he sent out a message saying he has something big, and he wants out.” Garrison looked at his watch for the third time, then got up and paced to the credenza, refilling his coffee cup. “We’ve been waiting for his go-ahead.”
Chief didn’t see the problem. “Why don’t we just go get him?”
“We don’t know where he is. Or even who he is.”
Casino sounded skeptical. “Whadda ya mean you don’t know who he is? Somebody’s gotta know who he is.”
“Somebody with a higher pay grade than mine. Or Major Richards’.” Garrison turned and leaned back against the credenza, taking a sip of his coffee. “His mission has been so top-secret that only the most senior officers know who he is.”
When the door pushed open, Garrison set his cup down and straightened.
Major Richards paused and frowned at them before closing the door behind him. “Aren’t the two of you supposed to be confined when you’re not on a mission?”
“Time off for good behavior.” Garrison gave them a sideways frown before turning back to Richards. “It won’t happen again, sir. Any news yet?”
“Yes, late this morning. We’ve just finished decoding it.” Richards took the chair at the head of the table and motioned Garrison back to his seat next to Casino, sliding a sheet of paper across the table to him. “You’ll go to Paris and wait for contact at this drop point. Snow Goose will have more details for you at that time. Your assignment is to set up a route out, make the extraction, and provide protection along the way. We’re putting together the credentials you’ll need, and I’ll have them to you before you leave. Get the rest of your team here, and bring them up to speed. Captain Jenkins will be ready to take you out of Portsmouth tomorrow at 0600.”
As Garrison studied the scribbled notes, his eyes narrowed. “There’s not much here, sir. There’s no more you can tell us about the Snow Goose?”
“You know everything I know, Lieutenant. But I hope you understand the critical importance of the information he may have.”
“Yes, sir. Of course.”
With a curt nod, Richards stood and tugged the wrinkles out of his jacket. “I trust you and your men will do your usual capable, efficient job. Good luck, gentlemen.” He was out the door before Garrison could say another word.
“Paris, huh?” Casino crushed out his cigarette in the dregs of his coffee. “Well at least it’ll be entertaining.”
gg gg gg gg gg gg
Garrison tightened the knot in his tie and checked his appearance in the mirror over the dresser. The light gray three-piece suit had become a little loose on him over the months, but he could still pass as a respectable business man. A quick comb through his hair tamed the cow lick, and he was ready for breakfast.
His stomach grumbled at the thought of Madame Chaumont’s biscuits and eggs. Somehow the frail little bird of a woman was able to work around the rationing and shortages of wartime Paris and serve her boarding house guests a half-decent meal to start their day. Whenever he had the opportunity to use her services, he paid her well. She had proven herself to be loyal to de Gaulle and the Free French government in exile, but the extra incentive never hurt. This time her only other guest was an elderly widower, so he, Chief, and Casino were able to share two connected rooms, each with comfortable beds and windows opening onto the narrow street below. The Sorbonne district had survived most of the damage that had devastated the rest of Paris, but it was not the colorful, exuberant community he remembered from his visit here with his mother in ’27. Back then its vibrance had awakened in him a dream of being a student here, studying under Europe’s most talented historians and mathematicians. But his life, and the world, had taken an entirely different path.
They’d flipped to see who got the single room, and knowing Casino’s penchant for cheating, Garrison had been surprised when he won. Although he never knocked before entering their quarters back at the mansion, he somehow felt it was appropriate now. In response to his quiet rap on the connecting door, Casino called, “C’mon in. We’re decent.”
As Garrison entered, he closed the door behind him. “I seriously doubt that.”
Casino shrugged into his jacket. “Well at least we’re dressed.”
His safecracker also wore a good business suit, although he had yet to put on a tie. Chief almost never wore a tie, but the white turtle-neck under his blue blazer was suitable attire for the day’s activities.
“Same routine?” the Indian asked from where he lay fully dressed, stretched out on his bed, his arms folded behind his head.
“Same routine,” he confirmed.
“We’ve been here for five days now and still no contact.” Casino whipped a red tie from the back of the desk chair and threw it around his neck. “Are ya sure you ain’t missed something somewhere?”
Garrison had asked himself the same question numerous times, but always came to the same conclusion. “I’m sure. I called Actor last night. He and Goniff have the escape route set up between here and Tours, and then to the coast. So at least we’re ready whenever we get the signal.”
Chief swung his feet to the floor and sat up, that almost-smile touching the corners of his mouth. “They’re at Madame Jacquard’s, ain’t they?”
“Yeah, they are.” Simone Jacquard, the Maquis’ secret weapon against the German officer corps, Garrison mused. Her bordello operation had collected more valuable information than any of his other networks, and her blackmarket business single-handedly kept the Resistance around Tours in cash and weapons. Her enticing curves and come-hither smile often occupied his dreams, too, but he had a feeling she was a dangerous woman to be involved with, no matter what side you were fighting on. “Let’s just keep our minds on the task at hand, alright?”
Breakfast was tasty and adequate, if not totally filling. Their fellow boarder, Monsieur Lanier, had been especially chatty this morning, attempting to draw out both Casino and Chief, and Garrison had to remind him that his companions spoke no French. He tried to keep his own responses to M. Lanier’s curiosity brief but polite. The paranoid intelligence agent in him wondered if there was a clandestine purpose to all of these questions, and he determined to be more cautious about what they said and did within earshot of the old man.
It was a sunny, breezy morning, and after breakfast, the three block walk to the tobacco shop cleared his head and gave him a new sense of hope. The brief instructions that the Snow Goose had given directed them to this particular shop every morning to buy a copy of Paris-Soir. After that first morning, the shop’s proprietor always greeted him with a friendly smile and had his paper waiting for him. He’d pay with a bill and received change in return. When they’d return to their rooms, he’d carefully inspect both the paper and the coins for any hint of a hidden message, and every day he’d been disappointed. On the walk this morning, he’d decided to give it another week before he contacted London for further instructions. While the Snow Goose was an invaluable asset, they couldn’t afford to wait indefinitely.
As had become their habit, Chief stood silently by the shop's front door pretending to inspect the trinkets displayed there, and carefully eyed anyone else who entered. Casino headed for the rack of magazines on the far right wall to browse the pictures in the latest edition of La Vie Parisienne. As Garrison approached the counter, the proprietor greeted him with a particularly wide grin, and handed a colorful rectangular wooden box across the counter to him along with his paper. “Monsieur, les cigares que vous avez commandés sont arrivés.”
Finally. Contact. He returned the smile. “Merci, Claude. Je vais me régaler de ceux-ci.”
gg gg gg gg gg gg
Although every nerve in his body wanted to rush back to the boarding house, he’d forced himself into a leisurely stroll. As soon as Chief had the bedroom door closed behind them, he’d ripped the seal off of the box and emptied the cigars out onto his bed. The pungent fragrance of tobacco filled the room.
Casino picked one up, read the label, and sniffed it. “Hey, these are real Cuban stogies. You know what these're worth on the black market?”
But Garrison’s first concern was the box. He turned it in his hands, inspecting every seam and edge of the labels glued to the wood. To his touch, there seemed to be an extra thickness to the lining in the bottom of the box and on the underside of the lid. Carefully he peeled away the paper from the lid. Concealed beneath it were two additional pieces of paper -- theater tickets. Specifically, tickets to a program of Wagner by the Munich Philharmonic that evening at the Théâtre Nicolas Dalayrac. He recognized the address as being a few miles west.
Setting those aside, he delicately pulled the lining from the bottom of the box. He unfolded the thin sheet concealed there and stared at the columns of random tiny letters and numbers hand-printed in bold black ink. Code. It might take him a while to work it out, because he carried the key in his head, but there was something else odd about all of this that itched at the back of his mind, something he couldn’t quite pull into his consciousness. He didn’t have time to worry about it now. He reached for the pen in his inside pocket and grabbed the closest piece of paper at hand, his copy of Paris-Soi. Taking a seat at the desk, he began the tedious process of decoding.
“Hey, can I smoke one of these?” Casino asked.
Garrison didn’t look up from his work. “No.”
“Can I sell ‘em?”
“No!” He turned in his chair to face them. "We’ll need a German staff car. Think you two can handle that?”
Chief picked up the tickets from where Garrison had dropped them on the bed. “So we’re goin’ to a show? Like a movie?”
“A symphony concert.”
Chief and Casino groaned in unison.
“Don’t worry. Chief, you won’t be going in, and Casino, you'll probably like Wagner. It's loud. Now get out of here.”
gg gg gg gg gg gg
There might have been a curfew for ordinary Parisians, but not for the Nazi elite disembarking from their staff cars in front of the Théâtre Nicolas Dalayrac. The marquee proclaiming a rousing evening of good German music illuminated the sidewalk where a crowd mingled -- Nazi officers in their best dress uniforms, and a smattering of diplomats in black tie and tails, all with women on their arms who could have just walked off the pages of the latest fashion magazines.
Garrison gave himself a mental pat on the back for the foresight to bring along their own uniforms, just for this eventuality. He was acutely aware that his Wehrmacht Major’s uniform wasn’t decorated with quite as much brass as the real Germans, but it would do. He was also acutely aware that his “date” for the evening was in his own Italian Lieutenant’s uniform instead of a form-fitting sequined gown.
The shiny blue Daimler-Benz in front of them pulled away from the curb, and Chief eased their car forward to the front of the theater. Just as the liveried valet was opening the passenger-side door, Garrison leaned across the back of the seat and whispered to Chief, “Park as close as you can and be ready to leave in a hurry.”
Chief silently nodded his understanding.
Garrison climbed from the back seat after Casino and generously tipped the valet. As he followed his Brooklyn-raised, street-hardened safe cracker through the assembled crowd toward the theater entrance, he marveled at how easily Casino was now able to slip convincingly into the con, smiling and nodding to the women he passed, flirting with them and complimenting them in his near-perfect Italian. When they were sufficiently out of hearing range inside the quiet lobby, he came up behind Casino and whispered, “Don’t overdo it, Romeo.”
Casino grinned, admiring a particularly well-built young woman accompanying a General who could have been her grandfather. “Just warmin’ to the game, Warden.”
As Paris theaters went, the Théâtre Nicolas Dalayrac was small, new, and decidedly Art Nouveau, all soft, graceful lines with orchid, iris and dragonfly motifs in colorful mosaics that were echoed in the curve of the stairway railings and the embossed brass double doors leading into the auditorium. The elegant, flowing symmetry was shattered by the garish red and black Nazi banners draped down every wall.
Ushers pushed open the auditorium doors, and Garrison could hear the orchestra warming up as the crowd began to make its way into the lobby. As the throng meandered casually past them, Garrison scanned the faces, wondering which of these dignified officers could be a traitor. The lobby slowly emptied again as the crush of theater-goers moved toward their seats. It was time they got seated, too. Garrison pulled the tickets from his jacket pocket, checked the seat numbers, and handed one to Casino.
At the peel of laughter that accompanied the stragglers coming in from the street, he looked up. That’s when the world stopped turning, when time screeched to a halt and suddenly reversed, leaving him disoriented, in another place, a different universe.
Madeline Linder walked through the theater’s revolving door, dressed in a stunning low-cut dark pink gown with a mink stole casually draped over her bare shoulders. Her glistening chestnut hair was long now, and pinned up in an elaborate braided twist at the back of her neck. The delicate gold pendant that hung on a chain between her firm, high breasts flashed in the harsh light. Her smile was exactly the same as the day he’d last seen her...how long ago? Three years? And yet she looked older, more slender, a mature woman instead of a dowdy girlish clerk. Now she was on the arm of a tall, teutonic SS officer.
Her laughter bubbled up again at something her companion said. As they moved toward the auditorium doors, her shining eyes scanned the lobby and slid right over him, without a hint of recognition, as if he didn’t exist. Momentarily he questioned his sanity —maybe it wasn’t really Maddy. What could she be doing in occupied Paris? But it most decidedly was her, and now it all made sense, that niggling tickle at the back of his mind. The small, bold handwriting in the cigar box message and the code name, Snow Goose.
“Warden?” Casino’s concerned whisper snapped him back to the here and now. “Somethin’ wrong?”
He mentally shook off the clouds of unsettling memory. “No. Let’s go find our seats.”
The usher guided them down the aisle, and Garrison motioned Casino into the row first. Theirs were the first seats, and knowing that the seat numbers identified them to the Snow Goose, Garrison wanted to be on the aisle.
Wagner wasn’t one of his favorite composers, but he usually enjoyed “Die Walküre”. Tonight he didn't hear a note. Maddy Linder and her SS friend were sitting three rows ahead, directly in front of them. He watched her every move as she fidgeted to get comfortable, slid the fur stole from her shoulders, studied her program, whispered to her companion….
gg gg gg gg gg gg
As he watched the stream of giggling girls wander into his classroom, he was reminded again that this was not what he’d envisioned doing with his West Point education. He would rather be attached to an infantry division instead of an OSS training camp, but he had to be patient. He’d just completed a full year of intensive commando training here, and his First Lieutenant's bars were still shiny. The war in Europe was escalating, and he knew it would only be a matter of time before the U.S. was forced to join the fight. Meanwhile, he’d continue to teach conversational German to the female clerks training as translators for the Signal Corps. If the Army thought that was the best use of his talents, he’d give it his all. His first class had just graduated, and they’d been a disappointment. While they might be able to successfully find the ladies restroom or order a meal in German, he doubted they’d be much use as military translators. He vowed that this class would be different.
The group fell silent and took their seats, cautiously watching him.
He switched to English. “A show of hands, please. How many of you already know some German?”
Three hands went up. This was going to be a long session. He started with the girl sitting alone on the very back row, the one in the plain mouse-brown dress with the straight, short auburn hair that looked like she’d cut it herself. Although she’d raised her hand in answer to his question, she continued to stare down at her desk. “Sie auf der hinteren Reihe. Was ist Ihr Name, bitte?”
When she looked up at him, her bright golden eyes flashed a challenge, and it transformed her face. She straightened in her chair, the mouse of a girl-child totally transformed. In perfect unaccented German, she replied, “Mein Name ist Madeline Linder. Wie heißen Sie, Professor?”
After class, as the others filed out of the room, she came up to his desk and waited for him to look up before she spoke. “I really didn’t mean to show off,” she apologized.
“No, it’s alright.” He set his pen down and studied her. “Apparently you’re wasting your time with this class. It’s strictly for beginners.”
“It’s a requirement if I want to join the Signal Corps,” she shrugged. “I’m told there are no exceptions.”
“I could speak to the training officer for you…”
“Thanks, Lieutenant, but I think I’ll stick it out.” Her smile lit the room. “It seems like it’s going to be an interesting class.”
He looked at his watch. He had two hours until his next class. “Would you like to get some coffee?”
gg gg gg gg gg gg
It must’ve been somewhere near the end of the first act when Maddy leaned over to whisper something in her companion’s ear, then left her seat and headed up the aisle. Garrison forced himself not to stare, and once again she didn't acknowledge him. His worst fear was confirmed when she unobtrusively dropped something into his lap. A wadded up piece of paper. He unfolded it, but there wasn’t enough light to read it. He didn’t dare follow her out into the lobby, so he slipped the paper into his pocket, hoping that the upcoming intermission wouldn't be too late to find out what she wanted.
When the lights rose, the audience began leaving to look for some mid-concert refreshment. Garrison tapped Casino on the shoulder, and they joined the crowd in the aisle, heading for the lobby. Once he found a quiet corner, he reexamined the note. It was written in the same small, bold hand, in the same code as the message from the cigar box. Garrison struggled to focus, to quickly pull to mind the complicated key to the code, but it was a simple message that didn’t take long to translate.
2nd intermission - east alley
Casino had remained silent while he studied the note, but finally couldn’t hold it in any longer. “You know her, don’t you?”
“Yeah, I know her.”
“I mean, you REALLY KNOW her. And she’s the Snow Goose?”
Garrison wadded the note back into a tight ball and shoved it into his pocket. “Apparently. I’ll explain later. We make our move at the next intermission.”
gg gg gg gg gg gg
If he thought the first act had been long, the second act was interminable. Only Casino’s fidgeting next to him kept Garrison focused on the mission, away from the past. This time, after the conductor finally took his bow, and the lights came up, Garrison left his seat ahead of Maddy and her friend, pulling Casino with him, and they made their way through the lobby and out onto the street.
Just a few parking spaces up the block, Chief stood alert next to the car. As Garrison lit a cigarette, he caught Chief’s eye and nodded toward the alley that disappeared into the darkness on the east side of the theater. When he casually started making his way in that direction, Casino sauntered after him. Not many of the concert goers had come outside into the chilly night air, so they easily slipped into the alley’s shadows unnoticed.
The theater’s east wall was solid brick, broken only by three large windows about six feet off the ground, spaced a good 20 feet apart. On the other side of the alley, a collection of garbage cans and a pile of broken up wooden crates surrounded an entrance to the neighboring building. They took a position behind the crates, out of sight of the street.
“What’re we waiting for?” Casino muttered.
“I wish I knew.” He heard the rumble of their car’s engine as Chief pulled up to the alley’s entrance. Garrison hoped they didn’t have to wait long. The idling car would soon look suspicious. He released a thankful sigh of relief when Chief backed into the alley and cut the engine. Someone had trained that boy well.
They’d only had to endure the stench of the garbage cans for several minutes before the middle window pushed open, creaking loudly. When he looked toward the sound, there was Maddy, sitting on the sill, her bare feet dangling, the narrow skirt of her long pink gown hiked up around her hips. When she scooted forward, ready to jump, Garrison rushed to catch her. She dropped straight down, and he caught her around the waist, breaking her fall.
Those glittering eyes stared up at him as he held her, felt her warmth, breathed in her fragrance. The gold pendant around her neck glinted even in the dim light of the alley. He’d forgotten how tall she was — almost as tall as he was. The corner of her mouth twitched down into that quirky lopsided frown as she searched his face. She finally broke the spell. “I thought you were in North Africa.”
“I thought you were in Northern Virginia.”
“Uh…Warden,” Casino interrupted. “We gotta go.”
Garrison pulled himself away from Maddy’s intense gaze and took her by the hand, pulling her toward the car. Chief started the engine as Casino climbed into the passenger seat. He helped Maddy into the back and got in after her. “Turn onto Rue St. Martin and head north,” he told Chief.
“No.” Maddy leaned forward, touching Chief on the shoulder. “There’s a checkpoint near the barracks just across the river on St. Martin. Take Rue St. Denis instead.”
Chief glanced back at him. “Warden?”
Maybe he should have thought about it more, but he didn’t hesitate. “Do it.”
As Chief pulled the car out onto the street and turned left, Casino spoke up. “North? I thought Tours was southwest.”
“It is. We’ll ditch the uniforms and switch cars outside the city, then circle back.”
“Ah, I get it. A diversion.”
“You catch on quick, Casino.” Garrison leaned back, unbuttoning his uniform jacket and the tight collar of his shirt. A trickle of sweat slid down the side of his face, and he wiped it away with his shirt cuff. The silence was suffocating. There was so much he needed to say, so many questions he needed to ask, all crowding into his head at once.
Maddy was the one who spoke first. “So...Tours?”
“We’re meeting the rest of my team there. They’ve set up an escape route to the Bay of Biscay. The British Navy will have a sub waiting.”
Turning in his seat, Casino extended his hand. “I’m Casino, by the way. He’s Chief.”
Chief nodded to her in the rear view mirror, then turned his attention back to the dark road ahead of the shuttered headlights.
She grinned and shook Casino’s hand. “Pleased to meet you both. I’m Madeline.” Then she turned the smile on him. “And you’re Warden? Interesting code names.”
“More like nicknames.”
“Can we call you Snowy for short?” Casino chuckled.
“Maddy is fine.”
“Let’s save the niceties for later,” Garrison told them. “Right now we have to get out of Paris.”
gg gg gg gg gg gg
It took another hour of concentrating on the maps and directing Chief through the outskirts of the city before they arrived at the abandoned warehouse complex where Actor had left them another car and enough gas to make it to Tours. The last time they’d used this safe house, he and Chief had just rescued Jeanette DuPres from a Nazi jail. They’d hidden here to rest and tend her wounds before continuing their hunt for a book that contained a critical coded message. Though they’d succeeded in retrieving the book, and the mission was a success, it had not ended the way Chief would have wanted it to. If those memories were on Chief’s mind now, he kept them to himself.
Chief pulled the car up next to a crumbling cinderblock building near the railroad tracks. He and Casino jumped out, unloaded their supply duffles from the trunk, and disappeared inside. Garrison circled the car to open Maddy’s door, but she’d already climbed out.
“We’ll rest here tonight and head for Tours in the morning,” he explained as she let him open the building’s heavy metal door for her.
The guys were already in the back room with their duffles, sorting through the street clothes they’d brought with them. Casino had stripped out of his uniform and was in the process of pulling on a pair work pants. He almost blushed when he looked up to find them in the doorway. He straightened and buttoned his fly, thinking fast. “If we’d known you was a dame... Uh, she could probably fit in something of mine, Warden.”
“Good idea.” Garrison walked over and picked out a dark blue shirt and wool trousers from among Casino’s clothes, and held them out to Maddy. “Why don’t you guys give her the room."
“Oh, yeah, sure.” Casino snatched up a shirt for himself and pushed past Garrison, headed for the door. With a small smile, Chief silently followed.
“You’ll have to excuse them.” He grabbed his own duffle and slung it over his shoulder. She grinned at him. It was good to see her smile again. “We’re still working on some of the socialization issues.”
He left her to change and joined Chief and Casino in the front room as he yanked off his own uniform jacket and unbuttoned his shirt.
Chief was already changed and leaning against the window sill, watching the street through the edge of the blackout shade. Casino was tucking in his shirt tail. “You wanna tell us what’s up with her?”
“We, ah…dated for a while. Years ago.”
“Dated, huh?” Casino smirked. “Is that what you call it?”
“Look, if you think that’s going to affect this mission, you’re wrong.” Garrison threw his uniform into the pile Chief and Casino had made on the floor, and quickly slipped into his work shirt. “Our job is to get her safely back to England, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Casino was skeptical. The shake of his head gave that away. But Chief just studied him with those dark eyes, as unreadable as ever, and rolled the match stick from one corner of his mouth to the other.
“As soon as she’s changed, Chief, you take the staff car and the clothes back up to the main road and lose them. Far enough away that they don’t draw attention to this place.”
The Indian let the shade drop and pushed away from the window. “I know what I’m doin’.”
“Just get it done and get back here.”
The door to the back room opened, and Maddy joined them in the front office. She’d taken down her elaborate braid and was repining her hair more tightly at the back of her head. The old, worn shirt hung from her shoulders and the trousers hid her curves, but otherwise Casino’s clothes fit her tall frame. She threw the long pink gown onto the pile of uniforms. “Too bad. It’s a Balenciaga.”
Casino looked up at her and grinned appreciatively. “You sure look better in those duds than I do.”
“Casino, do a perimeter sweep, then take the first watch. We’ll leave for Tours as soon as curfew’s lifted in the morning.”
“Yes sir, Lieutenant.” Casino snapped off a smart salute, and without another word, he and Chief gathered up the pile of clothing and headed out the door.
“An interesting pair,” Maddy remarked after they’d gone.
“You don’t know the half of it.”
She shifted nervously, staring at the floor. “Look, Craig, I know there’s a lot...”
“Tomorrow’s going to be a long day,” he interrupted her. He still wasn’t ready for this conversation. “There’s a cot in the back. Go get some sleep. There’ll be time for all that when you’re safe.”
She gave him a wan smile and an imitation of Casino’s salute. “Yes sir, Lieutenant.” She turned and headed for the back room, closing the door behind her.
He needed to stay focused on the mission, distracted from the uncomfortable memories. Digging into his duffle, he found his gun cleaning kit. He pulled his side arm from its holster and took a seat at the desk. The simple, routine task would let him think. But he still felt the heat of her presence.
gg gg gg gg gg gg
Even though the day was hot and humid for late March, and it threatened rain, he had a rare weekend leave, and neither of them wanted to waste it. The little meadow she took him to was on the Quantico Bay near where it widened out of the narrow creek. Looking across the water, he guessed it was a good half mile to the eastern shore, and they’d followed a deer track at least that far down from the road where he’d parked the car, through the newly greening woodland. It was just as quiet and secluded as Maddy had promised it would be.
He knew his superiors would not look favorably on his consorting with one of his students, but it had only taken that first long afternoon over coffee for him to stop thinking of her as a student. She should have been teaching the class.
They’d been seeing each other for several weeks now. They’d shared meals and a couple of movies, museums, long walks and even longer talks. She liked Picasso and Vermeer, shared his admiration for Beethoven and Benny Goodman, and had just finished reading Finnegan’s Wake . He’d tried to wade through it just so he could discuss it with her, but couldn’t get past page 10. When he'd return to his barracks after an evening with her, he’d lay sleepless on his bunk well into the night, anxious to see her again, his mind tumbling with her provocative ideas and her impulsive sense of humor. But now, as he unfurled the big, colorful quilt out in the tall grass up the bank from the bay, he realized this was the first time they’d had the chance to be totally alone together.
The picnic she’d packed was a feast of fried chicken, potato salad, cheese, fresh strawberries and delicate little chocolate-covered cakes. And they’d managed to finish most of the bottle of sweet white wine she’d been saving for a special occasion. During the soft, slow hours of the afternoon, they’d talked of everything and nothing. The unusually warm weather, the impending baseball season, his life on base, her over-protective roommate. The war in Europe had not come up. Here in this green glade, in quiet conversation with this beautiful, intelligent woman, he could almost imagine the distant war was just a vague nightmare he’d eventually wake up from.
The gray afternoon was turning grayer as the sun sank into the trees behind them. Darkness would come quickly to their refuge, and this perfect day would end. He took another sip of the wine and let the flavor linger on his tongue, watching her as she stooped to rinse off the plates in the shallow water on the rocky beach, the skirt of her light cotton dress gathered up into her lap to keep it dry. He had come to know well the lines and planes of her face, her high cheek bones and wide-set eyes, and every freckle across her small, straight nose. But she’d always kept her figure hidden under loose, colorless clothing. Today she’d chosen to dress for the heat, and her sleeveless gingham dress revealed a narrow waist, lean, muscular legs, and strong arms. She’d even managed to add some curl to her straight, unevenly cropped hair, although it was drooping in the humidity. He could feel the heat doing a job on him, too, the sweat trickling down his side and making his shirt stick to his back.
She rose as effortlessly as a ballerina, turned and carried the dripping plates back up to where he sat on the quilt. “Is there anymore of that?” She indicated the bottle leaning against his leg.
“For you there is.” He uncorked the bottle and reached for her cup, pouring in the remains of the wine. “Lost all of its chill, though.”
She sat cross-legged next to him on the quilt and took the cup, downing most of the warm liquid in one swallow before packing the plates back into the picnic hamper. In the distance, the raucous trumpeting of a flock of geese disrupted the solitude.
“I love coming here in the spring and fall, just to hear that sound.” She turned her gaze toward the bay, where a cloud of white snow geese was gliding in for a landing near the far shore, after a day of foraging in nearby fields. “They’re on their way north to their breeding grounds. I always imagine them being a bit horny by now and anxious to get on with it.”
“They do sound a little agitated.”
She smiled at him. “Wouldn’t you be after a long winter of celibacy?”
He wasn’t sure how to respond to that, so he just let it hang there in the damp air.
She turned her musings back to the flock of geese settling onto the water. “In the fall, when they head back south, I imagine the excitement of all the youngsters making that momentous flight for the first time. What an adventure it must be.”
He studied her profile as she stared out across the water, lost somewhere far away in her wild goose fantasy. Despite their long talks, he knew very little about her personally. She’d told him she was raised in a small Minnesota German-speaking community by parents who’d emigrated after the Great War, and she’d come to Washington, DC after high school to find work. He knew from her OSS file that she was a year younger than him, and she also spoke fluent French. Other than that, she was a puzzle, a mystery he was looking forward to solving.
She suddenly snapped back to the present, wiping the sweat from her upper lip with the hem of her dress. “The water’s really nice. Cool but not too cold.”
“Thinking of taking a dip?”
For a long moment, she squinted back out at the bay, hazy in the humid air of the late afternoon, dark clouds lowering in from the west. Then she turned and grinned at him. “Why not?”
He’d been joking, but apparently she wasn’t. Before he could say another word, she was on her feet and headed back for the beach, unbuttoning the front of her dress as she went. She shrugged it from her shoulders, let it drop to the ground, and clad only in lacy pink bra and panties, she dashed out into the water and dove under.
A little stunned, he wasn’t sure whether he was going to have to rescue her or reprimand her. He pushed to his feet and trotted down to the water’s edge just as she surfaced 20 feet out, pushing the wet hair out of her eyes. “Come on in,” she taunted.
He hesitated, watching her tread water.
“Come on, silly! Who needs a swim suit!”
If she didn’t, he certainly didn’t. It took him only seconds to kick off his boots and socks and strip down to his briefs, then he dove in and swam after her. She laughed out loud, the joyous, uninhibited sound he’d come to love, and with long, powerful strokes, she swam for the far shore. He caught up with her before she’d gotten far, and it only bothered him slightly that she’d probably let him. He submerged, grabbed her by the ankle and yanked her under, then immediately released her to let her resurface. When he came up for air, she retaliated, splashing a barrage of water in his face.
A loud boom, followed by the long rolling of distant thunder put an end to the game. In the west, the grey clouds were turning an angry black, and a stiff wind hissed through the trees.
“We should get back.” He didn’t want this day to end, but maybe they could continue it somewhere other than swimming in a thunder storm.
“No,” she pouted. “I’m not done yet.”
“Come on. Your quilt will get soaked.”
He started swimming back toward the beach, and he heard her splashing after him. When he reached chest-deep water, he stood and turned to make sure she was still following.
When she reached him, she stood too, the water just barely reaching the bottom edge of her bra. Another roll of thunder echoed out of the west. She leaned into him, the lace of her bra scratching his chest. Her warm golden eyes searched his face, her mouth turned down in a lopsided frown.
It was probably the wine. Or her warm, wet body pressed against him. Or how she bit her lower lip to keep it from trembling. He cupped her face in his hands and tasted her lips, tentative at first, until she responded, her tongue eagerly searching for his. She tasted of wine and strawberries, smelled of sweat and river water. The wind brushed across their shoulders and she shivered, pulling back from the kiss. But her eyes didn't leave his as she reached down and slipped her hands beneath the waistband of his briefs. He sucked in a gasp at her firm caress.
Her frown softened into a smile as she slid his briefs down his hips.
“Are you sure...?”
“Craig Garrison, I have never been more sure of anything in my entire life."
He stepped out of the tangle of wet fabric, then eased her panties down her sleek legs. She kicked them away and deftly slipped out of her bra, letting it also fall into the water. Her firm breast fit perfectly in his hand, and he stroked his thumb across the erect nipple. At her soft gasp, he slipped his other hand to the back of her neck and again covered her mouth with his, his own arousal gone too far now to turn back.
Lifting her dripping from the water, her arms encircling his neck, he carried her up the bank to where the quilt lay hidden in the high grass. Kneeling, he laid her in the center. She pulled him down to her, gently guiding him, and as she opened herself to him, he savored the salty silken skin of her breasts and her slender neck, then the deep sweetness of her mouth. Thunder rumbled across the river, and heavy wet drops pelted his back as he lost himself without regret to her hunger and her heat.
gg gg gg gg gg gg
After filling Maddy in on the details of their plan to get her out of France, there was nothing else to talk about. While Chief had concentrated on the road, Casino had evidently found the silence in the car annoying and had made several vain attempts to wheedle more information out of him.
“So, where do you two know each other from?”
“It was a long time ago,” Garrison told him.
“Like when you were kids, or what?”
“It’s not important.”
“Yeah, I know, but I was just asking…”
“Focus, Casino. The mission’s not over yet.”
“But it’s just that…”
“Okay. Sorry. Just thought I’d make polite conversation.” He finally shut up and turned his attention back to watching the road.
As the countryside sped past the window, the questions swarmed through Garrison’s head just as fast, but now was not the time or place to start that conversation. His men had become his friends, like brothers to him, as much as he could allow that to happen in his role as their commander. He’d trusted them with his life and his career many times over, and he would continue to do that. But the small corner of his life that had been Maddy Linder was still sacred and private, still too newly raw. He wasn’t going to expose it here, with Chief and Casino in the front seat. The last couple of hours of the drive to Tours were quiet and mercifully uneventful.
Until they got within two miles of the city. The traffic got heavier. Much of it was bicycles and push carts, but it still clogged the narrow road and slowed to a crawl. It couldn’t all just be volume. Something up ahead, around the next curve, was causing the back up, and he didn’t like the implications of that. As an old man passed them pushing a bicycle in the opposite direction, he rolled down his window and called to him. “Ce qui se passe là-haut?”
“Les ignorants Boche arrêtent la circulation,” The man spit onto the pavement. “Ils recherchent quelqu’un.”
Garrison thanked him and rolled the window back up. “This isn’t going to work. There’s a road block ahead. And they're probably looking for us."
“But we have papers,” Casino pointed out.
“We do, but she doesn’t.”
“I thought we brought along an extra ID for…” He could almost see the light bulb snap on over Casino’s head. “Oh, I get it.”
Garrison looked over at Maddy sitting next to him, with her copper-colored hair gathered up under a ragged cap and her curves hidden under a baggy shirt. “I don't care what you wear, you’re never going to pass for a…” He pulled the ID papers from his shirt pocket and glanced at them. “…a Jean-Christophe.”
They’d come to a stop, now hemmed in by a delivery truck in front and another car right on their rear bumper. There was no way Chief was going to be able to maneuver out of the line of vehicles and turn around without attracting unwanted attention.
Chief caught his eye in the rear view mirror. “So what now, Warden?”
The only plan he could think of was risky, but he had no other options. He pulled his map of Tours from where it was tucked inside his jacket and handed it across the back of the seat to Chief. “We have to make this fast, before we’re in sight of the check point. Chief, take Maddy and head for Madame Jacquard’s on foot. We’ll meet you there. Casino, you drive.”
"Why don't we all just take off, and leave the car here?" Casino probably wasn't particularly happy about having to face armed Krauts.
"A car abandoned here would raise too many alarms. And we may need it later."
As the truck in front of them inched forward, Chief climbed from the driver’s seat, and opened the rear door for Maddy. Casino scooted over behind the wheel, and Garrison got out to move to the front seat. He hesitated, looking over the top of the car at his scout. “Chief -- take care of her.”
“I’m not new at this, Craig,” Maddy protested.
No, he realized she probably wasn’t. He didn’t know what kind of life she’d gotten herself mixed up in, but she was his mission. He didn’t have time to argue with her. “Neither is Chief. Just do what he says, and we’ll meet you at the safe house.”
He appreciated the reassurance in Chief’s small smile and brief nod as he took her hand and led her away, up a narrow side street. Garrison wanted to watch until they were completely out of sight, but the truck ahead of them eased forward again. He climbed into the front seat. “Let’s get moving.”
gg gg gg gg gg gg
She was trying to hide it, but she was limping. And it was slowing them down. They’d been winding through the narrow lanes of Tours for an hour. It was probably time to take a break.
“You okay?” Chief asked as she caught up to him.
“Yeah. How much farther to the safe house?”
“Maybe another hour.”
“Okay, but I need to take care of this before it gets any worse. Your buddy’s boots are rubbing the hell out of my heels.”
Chief glanced up and down the street for a safe place to hold up. At the end of the block, a steeple rose above the roof tops. “Can you make it to the church?”
“Yeah, I’m good.”
“Want me to carry you?”
She scowled at him, then hobbled up the street. “No, silly. I’m not an invalid.”
The heavy oak door opened into a dark, cool vestibule. In front of them, the double doors to the sanctuary were propped open, welcoming all who sought solace and refuge. The smell of incense and candle wax took Chief back to his days at the Indian school and all the times he’d spent in that chapel trying to be repentant for his sins. But for most people these days there were more immediate needs than praying for salvation, so the only sinner repenting today was an old woman in the front pew. At the sound of their footsteps on the marble floor, she turned to see who had interrupted her devotions. She quickly finished her prayers, then rose and left, hurrying past them without a glance. They had the sanctuary to themselves.
Maddy sank onto a back pew and pulled off her left boot and sock. The blister on the back of her heel was raw and bleeding. She swore under her breath as she yanked off the other boot and sock. If possible, the blister on that heel was even worse.
Sitting there chewing on her lower lip, trying to figure out how to fix this, she looked a lot like the Warden when he was devising a plan. Chief tugged out the tail of his cotton shirt, and using his blade to rip into the fabric, he tore a strip off the bottom. “Scoot over.”
Her brows knit together questioningly as she slid over, giving him room to sit. He lifted her left leg onto his lap and began wrapping the strip of cloth around her foot and ankle, like he'd bind a sprain, but not as tight. He just needed to cushion the open wound, not immobilize her ankle.
“Very clever,” she smiled.
“Tear off a piece of your shirt tail,” he told her as he finished tying the makeshift bandage.
She took his offered blade and did as he asked. He felt her watching him as he began winding the length of cloth around her other foot.
“How long have you been with the Lieutenant?” she finally asked.
“What were you locked up for?”
That brought him up short. “He told you?”
“No, he didn’t. But back at training camp, we heard rumors about a unit like yours in the works. You’re definitely not soldiers, and then you called him ‘Warden’. It just made sense.”
He went back to tying the bandage. “So now you’re wonderin’ what kinda mess you got yourself into, huh?”
“All I’ve seen so far are competence, bravery and loyalty. I’d say that’s a pretty good mess to be in.” She flexed her foot to test the binding, then swung her feet to the floor and reached for her boots and socks. “Do you like Craig…Lieutenant Garrison?”
“He’s alright. Better than a real screw.”
She beamed a bright smile at him. “Somehow I think you’re not telling me the whole truth.”
“Don’t matter. The Warden’s the Warden.” She seemed to be in a talking mood. Casino hadn’t been able to drag anything out of Garrison, but Chief wondered if Maddy might give anything up. It really wasn’t any of his business, but he was curious. “You known him long?” he ventured.
“He taught German to Signal Corps clerks back before the war. I took one of his classes.”
“He give you an A?”
“You might say that.”
He almost chuckled. The Warden definitely was not a monk. “How’d you end up being undercover with the SS? That don’t seem to be the kind of work they give to clerks.”
“They asked for volunteers. I speak fluent German and French. It kind of snowballed from there.”
“And that SS officer you were with at the theater?” He saw the curtain come down over her face and knew he’d hit a nerve.
She gingerly pulled on one boot and then the other. “That’s a long story. For another time. We should get moving.”
gg gg gg gg gg gg
Chief had been to Tours before. He knew the general location of Madame Jacquard’s big Victorian whorehouse, but if he didn’t come across a landmark he recognized soon, he still had Garrison’s map to refer to. As they got close to the older residential section of the city, the homes and shops got larger and more affluent. It wasn't much farther.
They rounded a corner onto a market street busy with vendors hawking their wares from stands adorned with colorful bunting and streamers. On a low bandstand in the center of the block, a brass band was playing some kind of march, giving the whole scene a country fair feel, a sharp contrast to the drab, crumbling areas of the city they’d been traveling through. The vendors didn’t have much to sell, but for the gathered shoppers, it seemed to be enough just to be out here in the fresh air and bright sunshine, among neighbors, tapping a toe to the music — an escape from the reality of an occupied city.
Chief stayed close behind Maddy as she led the way through the crowd, past booths selling flowers, over-ripe fruit, handmade jewelry, and useless souvenirs. When she suddenly stopped, he almost bumped into the back of her. Then he saw what had stopped her. Coming toward them was a Kraut patrol — three armed soldiers stopping everyone in their path, asking for papers. Chief snapped the blade into his hand, and he grabbed her arm, pulling her back the way they’d come.
She yanked free. “Too late. I think they’ve seen us.”
“No, they ain’t.”
She turned on him and pressed her hands to his shoulders, pushing him back onto the bench in front of a shop window. “Sit here and look dumb,” she hissed.
“Just follow my lead. And keep the knife handy.”
She didn’t give him time to argue. She swiped off the ratty cap she’d been wearing and pulled a pin from her hair, letting a wisp fall across her face. As the soldiers approached, she intercepted them, immediately changing from the strong, confident woman he’d been traveling with into a sweet, flirty peasant girl. She was as skilled at this con game thing as Actor was, a talent he'd always found fascinating and vaguely disturbing -- left you wondering exactly who you could trust. He knew what she was trying to do, but he didn’t like it. It was too risky.
Maddy spoke to them in French, but when they protested, she switched to what sounded like broken German. She gestured dismissively toward him, and they glanced in his direction, laughing. With some effort, he ignored that. When she pulled the rest of the pins out of her hair and let it cascade around her shoulders, the soldiers were no longer concerned with him sitting there on the bench.
The conversation lasted longer than Chief was comfortable with. They’d surrounded her, and though she’d tried to break out of the circle a couple of times, the Krauts were having too much fun. He might have been able to pick up a few words of what she was saying, but she had her back to him, and the band was too loud. He was trying to figure out how to get her free without killing somebody when she finally backed away, nodding apologies. When the soldiers continued on down the street, stopping people, demanding ID, she came to join him on the bench. They sat in silence until the Krauts were out of sight.
“That was close,” she finally whispered.
“That was stupid,” he spit.
“But it worked.”
That was beside the point. He pulled her to her feet. “Let’s get outta here.”
gg gg gg gg gg gg
When Garrison flipped his wrist over to check his watch again, Actor looked up from his paper. “They will get here. It is a good eight or nine mile hike from where you said you left them.”
Simone Jacquard took the coffee pot from the stove and leaned over to refill his cup, the front of her colorfully flowered silk robe gaping open slightly. “Sois patient, mon ami. They probably did not take a direct route.”
He knew they were both right. He sighed and leaned back in the kitchen chair, sipping carefully at the hot liquid. The room was spacious and fragrant with the sweet odors of whatever the chef Remy had baked that morning. Bright sunlight beamed in through lace-curtained windows, and the coffee was the real thing. But the three cups he’d already had — and the waiting — were working on his nerves.
“So you had no idea she was working undercover for the OSS?” Actor was just making conversation to keep him distracted, Garrison realized, but he welcomed it.
“No idea at all. The last time I saw her, she was training to be a Signal Corps translator. They must’ve recruited her after I left.”
“That is an interesting code name — Snow Goose.”
Garrison smiled. He knew why she’d chosen it…
The morning his departure orders had come through, an icy hand had gripped his stomach, leaving him queasy. By the time he’d picked up Maddy after his last class that afternoon, it was still with him. As they had done many times before over the summer, they took their picnic lunch to their private glade on the banks of the Quantico Bay, but this afternoon he had to force himself to swallow even a few bites of his sandwich. He’d made love to her for what he knew was the last time, slowly and deliberately, the heat of their bodies warding off the chill in the October air.
Now, as they sat silently against the base of the ancient oak with the quilt wrapped around them, he hugged her against him and watched the flock of geese wheeling in for a landing out on the bay. If possible they were even noisier on their trek south for the winter than they had been that hot day back in March.
She kissed him lightly on the shoulder. “What’s wrong?”
He had tried hard not to let it show, but he was always amazed at how perceptive she was. She’d seen it in his lack of appetite and probably felt it in the tension of their lovemaking. He finally said it out loud. “I’m leaving.”
He felt her sigh against his shoulder. “When?”
He could only nod.
“New York first. From there, I don’t know. Rumor has it North Africa.”
“I don’t understand. The U.S. hasn’t declared war on anyone. What are we doing there?”
She could ask all the questions she wanted, but it didn’t change the reality. He sat up straighter and hugged her tighter. “I don’t know that either. I guess I’ll find out.”
Long, silent moments passed as he stroked the smooth skin of her arm. Even the geese went quiet as the flock settled onto the water and the sun sank below the trees. He really didn’t want their last hours together to turn morbid. Leaning across her, he picked up his jacket from where it was draped over the picnic basket. He pulled out the little black velvet box that was tucked in his inside pocket and presented it to her.
Her eyes went wide in surprise. Or fear. “Craig…”
He suddenly realized what she was probably thinking. If he’d ever given any kind of thought to serious commitment, he’d quickly dismissed it, and they'd never talked about it. The world was going crazy, and his role in it was too uncertain. And he didn’t want to change anything about what they already had, for fear of ruining it all. He quickly flipped the box open to reveal the pendant on its gold chain gleaming against the dark velvet — a gold charm of a goose in flight, its wings spread. The mother-of-pearl inlay turned it into a snow goose. He’d seen it in the jewelry store window right after that first incredible day in this glade, and immediately turned over what remained of his paycheck to buy it for her. “This was suppose to be a Christmas present.”
She beamed as she lifted it from the box. “It’s beautiful!”
He took it from her, and reaching behind her neck, fastened it in place. “There. That’s perfect.”
Her thank you kiss was long and deep, and ended with her beneath him again on the quilt.
The sudden knock on the door snapped him back to Madame Jacquard’s kitchen, and he was on his feet, the gun instantly in his hand as if it had a mind of its own. But the distinct cadence was familiar. With a sigh of relief, he nodded in answer to Simone’s questioning look, sliding the sidearm back into its holster.
When Simone opened the back kitchen door, Maddy was the first one through, limping to the nearest chair. After a quick glance up and down the alley, Chief closed the door behind them.
Simone rushed to Maddy’s side. “Oh, mon cher, you poor thing. You are hurt.”
“Not really,” Maddy huffed, pulling off her boots and socks. “It’s just these godforsaken shoes.”
“Any trouble?” Garrison asked.
Chief gave a brief shake of his head, but Garrison knew that look. There was more to the story. “Simone, would you mind taking Maddy upstairs and helping her with those blisters?”
“Come, Maddy.” Simone took her arm to lead her from the kitchen. “You will probably want to bathe and get into some decent clothes, too.”
When they'd gone, Garrison turned back to Chief. “What happened? Did you get lost?”
“Couldn’t find another car. You heard about gas rationing, right?” Chief deadpanned.
Chief shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “Ran into a Kraut patrol. I coulda got us outta there clean, but she decided she had to talk to ‘em.”
“I dunno what she said, but they let us go.”
Garrison ran a hand through his hair. She certainly hadn’t lost any of her recklessness. “Okay. At least you’re both safe. There’s food downstairs in the hideaway. Go get something to eat before Goniff and Casino finish it all.”
Chief left through the kitchen door, and Actor stood to leave, too. “We should go over the plans for tomorrow before it gets too late.”
“We will. But first I’m going to finish my coffee, and then have a talk with our Snow Goose.”
gg gg gg gg gg gg
He waited a good 45 minutes, finishing his fourth cup of coffee, then a fifth, before heading up the broad main staircase to the second floor. He’d tried to tell himself he was just giving Maddy time to bathe and change, but he’d really needed the time to figure out exactly what he wanted to say to her.
As he rounded the bannister at the top of the stairs, he met Simone coming down the hall in the other direction, carrying her aid kit and the blood-stained strips of cloth that had bound Maddy’s blisters. She laid a slender, manicured hand on his arm. “I gave her Marie’s room at the end. She’s exhausted, Lieutenant. Let her rest.”
He patted her hand. “Thank you, Simone.”
At the ornate oak door at the end of the hall, he took a deep breath and knocked lightly. “Maddy, it’s me.”
There was a pause before she answered. “Come on in.”
Freshly bathed, she sat on the oversized canopy bed, dressed in one of Simone’s colorful silk robes, her bandaged feet resting on a foot stool. Her smile looked sad. “Did you ever make it to North Africa?”
“You never wrote.”
“You never answered.”
She huffed a laugh as she stood. “Leave it to the U.S. Post Office….”
She approached him, her golden eyes staring into his soul. “You don’t know how good it is to see you again. I thought you were dead.”
Her long, wet hair left damp spots on the silk where it hung on her shoulders. She smelled of Simone’s lavender soap, so different from that first time on the banks of the bay. The snow goose charm dangled enticingly around her neck.
“You still have it.” He gently lifted the charm, the brief touch of his fingertips against her skin zinging little sparks along every nerve.
“Of course I still have it.” She closed her hand over his, and when she leaned into him and gently kissed the corner of his mouth, he let her. When she pressed her mouth to his and her arms encircled his neck, every sense in him responded without his consent. For one long, uncontrollable moment, he held on to her, let himself get lost in her warmth, the rest of the world blurring…
Until some sliver of discipline screamed at him, ‘She is your mission!’
He pulled back, taking her arms from around his neck. “Maddy…”
She stepped away, hugging the robe more tightly around herself. “You’re right. I’m sorry. It’s just that…”
“We’ll have time later…” He had to regain control, find his balance, so he asked the one question he most needed the answer to. “How did you end up in France? With the Nazis?”
“A very long story,” she sighed. “The OSS asked for volunteers, I had the qualifications, you were gone…”
“And the officer you were with last night? Is he your source?”
“Frederick. Yes.” She avoided his eyes, twisting the ring on her left hand — a ring that had not been there before. She held up her hand, displaying the gold band with the sparkling diamond. “And my husband.”
“I see….” Something hard sank in his gut. “So if he didn’t know you were a spy before, he does now.”
“Look, Craig, it’s really complicated…”
“It’s alright. There’ll be time for debriefing later, too." That hard knot in his gut forced him to concentrate on the task at hand. "Right now we need to go over the plans for getting to the coast tomorrow. My team is set up in quarters in the basement…”
She returned to the bed and started rearranging the pile of her discarded clothes. “I’m really beat. If you don’t mind, could I just skip that? Simone said I could stay up here tonight. Whatever you and the guys decide, I’ll follow your lead.”
The hard knot in his stomach flared into frustration. “The way you followed Chief’s lead this afternoon? I thought I told you to do as he said.”
She turned on him, a cold steel in her glare that he didn’t recall ever seeing before. “I’m sure Chief knows what he’s doing, but those soldiers saw us and were about to single us out. We couldn’t have gotten away quietly. They needed to be distracted.”
“What did you tell them?”
“That Chief was my shell-shocked little brother. And that if they’d leave him alone, I’d come back and meet them later.”
He had to smile at that. No wonder she’d been such a valuable agent.
As hard as it was, he turned away from her, back to the door. “Be ready to leave by 0600. I’ll fill you in then.”
“Good night, Craig.” She let a smile replace the steeliness as she came to close the door behind him. “It really is good to see you again.”
gg gg gg gg gg gg
Actor had the disturbing sensation that they’d overlooked some small but significant detail. After Garrison had come back from Maddy’s room upstairs, they had all gathered in the largest of the three bedrooms in their concealed hideaway in Madame Jacquard’s basement, and gone over the plans for the next morning. He and Goniff had spent the last week carefully laying out the route, securing the necessary supplies, and making sure every contact was alert and ready. Everything was set, and all the details had been reviewed from every angle. Still, something was keeping him awake. He tried to ignore it, but he’d learned to trust his instincts, even when he didn’t fully understand them.
Chief seemed to be asleep in the other bed. Actor knew he would probably disturb the Indian no matter what he did, but he refrained from turning on the light anyway. He felt around in the dark on his bedside table until he found his pipe and tobacco pouch. Slipping them into his pocket, he eased out of the room, closing the door quietly behind him. Not wanting to awaken any of the others, asleep in the other two bedrooms, he just as quietly slipped out through the concealed door, tiptoed along the basement corridor, then up the steps into the kitchen.
It was a soft, warm night, and the large front porch that ran across the front of the well-kept Victorian mansion called to him. He had seriously considered paying a visit to Simone upstairs, but she was probably sound asleep, too. So he went out to the porch and chose the rocking chair next to the parlor window. He filled his pipe with his favorite blend, and striking a match, he pulled the flame through the fragrant tobacco. Now he could think more clearly.
Although it may not have been obvious to the others, Actor knew Garrison was distracted. Perhaps that was what was keeping him awake — the thought that their commander, the one they relied on to keep the mission on course and all of the contingencies covered — didn't have his mind totally in the game. Actor recognized all the signs. The Lieutenant was obviously in love with Madeline Linder, and Actor could certainly understand why. Underneath Casino’s ragged work clothes, she was definitely everything a man could want in a woman — beautiful, intelligent, mysterious. After years of wondering what had become of her, it must’ve been a jolt for the Warden to discover she was the target of the mission.
He hadn't realized the parlor window behind him was open until he heard the soft clicking of the telephone being dialed. He looked at his watch — it was 12:15 a.m. An odd time for Simone to be making a phone call. He stopped rocking and listened.
The voice wasn’t Simone’s, and the language wasn’t French. It was Maddy’s throaty whisper speaking German to whoever was on the other end of the line. Her tone sounded urgent, and she was definitely trying to be quiet. As hard as he tried, he could only understand the occasional word, and they didn’t make any sense. After only a couple of minutes, she hung up and left. He gave her time to get out of earshot before he went inside and back down to their hideaway.
gg gg gg gg gg gg
Garrison had only been dozing when Actor had slipped into his room and told him what he’d just overheard upstairs in the parlor. There must be some other explanation than what first came to mind, and he had to find out what it was now, not in the morning.
He knocked on her door. “Maddy, we have to talk.”
When he got no response, he knocked louder. “Maddy, open up. Now.”
“It’s not locked.”
When he pushed the door open, he found her fully dressed in the clothes she’d been wearing the day before. The jacket was lying on the bed. “Going somewhere?” he asked.
“I wanted to be ready on a moment’s notice, just in case we…”
“Who were you talking to on the phone?”
She missed a beat — just the barest hesitation. “Frederick. I had to let him know I was alright.”
“So the Krauts know where you are. And why.”
“No. Just Frederick. I told you it was complicated.”
His frustration was quickly flaring into anger. “Why don’t you uncomplicate it for me.”
She took a deep breath. “He’s my source, but he’s a willing one. He’s not a Nazi, Craig. He wants to see Hitler defeated. We’re in this together.”
He couldn’t tell if she was lying. There was nothing in her eyes, in her body language, nothing in her expression, to give him a hint. She was a total blank. He had to keep her close. “You’re coming downstairs with me.”
“You don’t trust me?”
“Maddy, I don’t know you.” He held out a hand and snapped his fingers. “Your weapons?”
“What makes you think…”
“Your weapons. Now.”
She huffed a frustrated sigh. “You’ve been playing this game too long.” But from her waist band at the small of her back she pulled out a Luger and handed it to him.
He stuck it in his own waist band and held out his hand again.
She shrugged and pulled the Derringer from her pants pocket, handing it over, too.
“And the knife.”
She unbuckled the sheath strapped to her ankle beneath her pants leg and handed it over. The blade he pulled out was a simple but lethally sharp Hitler Youth Leader dagger. He shoved it back into the sheath and slipped that under his belt, too, then picked up her jacket from the bed, hefting it and patting the pockets for additional hidden weaponry, but he found none.
“Satisfied?” she spit.
He took her firmly by the arm and pushed her toward to door. “Let’s go.”
When they reached the hideaway in the basement, he gave her his room and made sure she was settled in. When he closed the door behind him, everyone was in the hall staring at him.
Casino was leaning in his bedroom doorway. “So the Snow Goose’s gettin’ a little too independent for your taste, Warden?”
“We have to be out of here early. She needs to be ready when we are.”
“Yeah, sure…” Casino rolled his eyes and turned back for his bed.
“Actor, Goniff, you go on back to bed, too. Chief…” He put his hand on Chief’s shoulder and pulled him aside. “Take up watch in the outer hallway. She doesn’t leave, got it?
“Sure thing, Warden.”
gg gg gg gg gg gg
The hallway was dimly lit by the light leaking in under the kitchen door at the top of the basement steps, and Chief’s eyes adjusted quickly. He pulled an old wooden chair over to the far side of a tall bookcase near the base of the stairs, where he could sit unseen by anyone leaving their hideaway, and settled his rifle across his lap.
He knew Garrison would probably have one of the others relieve him before dawn, but he’d never had any trouble staying alert on watch. And he was wide awake tonight. Maybe it was all the good, strong coffee he’d had. Or maybe it was what he sensed swirling around the Warden. An uneasiness. A tension he’d never felt before. It was a persistent buzz setting his nerves on edge.
He judged he’d been sitting in the hard chair for a little over an hour when he heard the soft click of the hideaway door opening. Couldn’t be someone coming to relieve him already. He held his breath, listening. The door swished closed, and soft foot falls headed in his direction.
He waited until she was almost to the bookcase before standing to confront her, his rifle held low but trained at her chest. “Somewhere else you need to be?”
She recovered quickly from her surprise and shrugged, casually hooking her thumbs under her belt. “I left something up in my room.”
Damn, she could lie with the best of them. “It ain’t goin’ no place.”
“But I need…”
“The Warden says you stay put.”
Something switched off behind her eyes, and her voice lowered a notch. “You won’t shoot me.”
“I wouldn’t put money on that.”
Her arm swung up so fast it was a blur, and her steady hand held a small pistol, the bore aimed between his eyes. “Get out of my way, Chief. I really don’t want to hurt you.”
“Then it looks like we got a standoff.”
gg gg gg gg gg gg
After Goniff and Casino had returned to their room, and Chief had headed to the outer hallway, Garrison stretched out on the bed that Chief had vacated and closed his eyes. Actor, in the other bed, seemed to have fallen asleep almost immediately. As hard as his thoughts and memories tried to keep him awake, his body demanded sleep, and he gratefully let it pull him under…until some soft almost-sound caught his ear. He wasn’t sure if he’d imagined it. When it happened again, it snapped him out of the murkiness between dreams and reality, and he distinctly heard the door to the outside hallway snick shut. Shit. It was what he’d been afraid of. It was why he’d set Chief on guard.
Out of habit, he slid his hand gun from its holster on the bedside table and left the room. Some corner of his mind heard Actor get up and follow him.
Pulling slowly on the outside door allowed it to open silently, without disturbing the scene playing out in the hallway — Maddy, with her back to him, in a stalemate with Chief, their weapons trained on each other, cocked and ready. Garrison knew Chief saw him, even though his hard stare never wavered from the woman who held a gun on him.
Startled, she spun on him, swinging her gun toward him. His instincts reacted to the threat. His shot hit her in the thigh. With a grunt, she crumpled to the floor.
Somewhere deep inside him, something snapped, and his universe shrank to a bubble that enclosed only him and the girl lying bleeding on the floor. With his heart pounding like it was going to erupt from his chest, he was immediately at her side, clamping his hand over the gaping hole he’d just put in her leg.
Actor materialized next to him. The conman pulled his hand away from the wound and carefully assessed the damage. “Let’s get her back to her bed.” As the conman effortlessly lifted Maddy into his arms, he looked up at Chief. “I am sure Simone heard the shot. Go make sure she does not panic.”
Without hesitation, the Indian turned and bounded up the basement steps, two at a time.
Maddy winced as Actor laid her on the brightly flowered coverlet of her bed. The others gathered at the doorway. “What the hell’s goin’ on?” Casino wanted to know.
Garrison couldn’t answer. He didn't have an answer. He forced himself to stand back and watch as Actor worked silently and efficiently, and thanked the gods, not for the first time, for all of the conman’s unexpected talents — not just his knowledge of medicine, which had saved the life of each of them at least once — but also for his ability to stay calm and take charge, no matter what kind of chaos was exploding around him.
Finally, Actor closed up the medical kit and gave Maddy a reassuring pat on the shoulder. “It doesn’t look bad. I’ve cleaned it, and the bleeding has stopped. Once we get you back to England, the doctors can stitch it up properly.”
She’d sat stoically through the entire process, and now she smiled wanly up at him. “Thank you.”
As Actor moved passed him toward the door, he gave Garrison a quizzical frown, but he left the question unasked. Instead, he herded Casino and Goniff out ahead of him and closed the door behind him.
His heart had stopped pounding, and the adrenalin had abated, leaving him with an odd mixture of relief and unease. What do you say to someone you’ve just shot? ‘Sorry’ didn’t seem appropriate. What he needed were answers.
He sat next to her on the edge of the bed. “Three guns? Really?”
“A girl can never be too well armed.”
“Where’d you have it hidden?”
She batted her eyelashes at him. “I’ll never tell.”
Putting the joking aside, he frowned at her. “Where did you think you were going?”
Her eyes dropped to her hands in her lap. “Home. I need to go home.”
“After your debriefing back in London, I’m sure they’ll let you return to the States…”
“No. Home. Berlin is my home.”
He had to let that sink in. She’d been undercover for a long time, and she was married to an SS officer. She’d made the fatal mistake of getting too close.
“You know I can’t let you leave,” he gently told her. “You know too much. You’ve seen too much.”
She rubbed at the bandage on her leg as she glanced around the nicely furnished secret room. “You do have a slick operation here. It’s done a lot of damage to the Reich over the last year or so.”
That made him smile. “We do our best.”
She answered it with a wry smile of her own. “So they actually carried out the plan to enlist convicts as commandos. It sounded so far-fetched, we all thought it was just a rumor. But you have a remarkable team, Craig. They’d do anything for you.”
“They have their moments.”
She went silent, staring at her hands, twisting her wedding ring around her finger. Finally she whispered, “It’s so hard playing both sides.”
He didn’t like how that sounded. “What do you mean?”
“Frederick is my husband and my source for the information I’ve been sending out. But he’s also my handler, the one who gives me my assignments. My real mission…” Her voice caught in her throat. Through gritted teeth, she continued. “My real mission is you. Your team. The damned commandos who’ve been making life so difficult on the European front lately.”
“I don’t understand.” But he was afraid he did understand, too well. He needed her to say it wasn’t true.
“I was to lure you here, then take you out. Capture you if I could, kill you all if I couldn’t. And I would have done it, too, and gladly. Then YOU showed up.”
He remembered the long conversations they’d had during those carefree summer months, and her provocative ideas about philosophy, democracy, capitalism…just about anything. No matter what they’d discussed, she’d always seemed to enjoy playing devil’s advocate, questioning everything he believed in. Back then it had been just a mind game, an academic exercise, stimulating conversation. Had he really been that blindly in love?
She continued to avoid his eyes, continued to worry at her wedding ring. “So you see my dilemma.”
He wanted to make this right for her. Although things might seem impossible now, the war wouldn’t last forever. “Look, once this whole mess is over, I’m sure there will be some kind of prisoner exchange, and you can return to Berlin then.”
“You really don’t understand, do you? I can’t go to England with you.”
“The war can’t last much longer…”
“I’ve heard the stories, about how the OSS treats captured spies.” She stopped playing with her ring and raised her hand to her face, as if to wipe away the single tear that slid down her cheek. He almost missed the tiny white pill she slipped into her mouth.
“No!” Panic seized him. “Maddy, no…” Too late, he grabbed for her hand, tried to pry her mouth open, but she caught his wrist with an amazingly strong grip. She’d already swallowed the pill whole.
“Actor!” He meant to scream it. He hoped he’d screamed it.
Still gripping his wrist, she placed his hand over the pendant hanging around her neck and closed his fingers around it. “Take it. Maybe it will make a difference. But I can’t go with you.” She stiffened, fighting off a violent spasm. “I know too much.”
Her bright eyes searched his soul, the way they always had. And then the brightness dimmed. And disappeared.
This couldn’t be happening — he still didn’t understand. Desperate, he tried to lift her upright, then felt Actor at his side. “We have to do something…make her throw up….”
Actor placed two fingers against her neck, where her pulse should be. After a moment, he carefully closed the lids over her unseeing eyes. He straightened and laid his hand on Garrison’s shoulder. “I’m sorry, Warden…”
gg gg gg gg gg gg
When they’d first commandeered this estate as headquarters for the unit, Garrison had thought this pond might be a good place for some amphibious training and swimming endurance. Back then, he had no idea if any of his men even knew how to swim, but if they didn’t, they’d need to learn. It turned out that the pond was far too shallow and clogged with waterlilies to be of much use, and he’d never found a reason to come back here. He wasn’t sure how he’d ended up here this morning, a good half mile from the house, sitting on the stone bench, watching the mist float across the still water. Although they’d gotten in well after midnight last night, he was still wide awake at reveille, needing to move, to clear his head, to reorient himself to the realities at hand. When he’d looked up from his walk and pulled himself out of the memories, the pond was in front of him.
The previous couple of days had blurred into some kind of surreal nightmare. He remembered sitting on the edge of the bed, holding Maddy’s lifeless body against him for a long time, until at some point he’d felt Actor’s firm hand squeeze his shoulder. Actor had lifted her gently from him, and with Simone’s help, they’d wrapped her in a couple of faded quilts, until she looked like a butterfly in a cocoon. Then they’d all driven with him to the little church where Chief had bound her bleeding feet the day before. It had been dark and empty in the early hours of the morning, and they’d placed her on the steps below the altar. He remembered that the others had wordlessly retreated, leaving him standing there alone for long minutes. He felt like he should say something, commending her to her Maker, but all he could picture was her laughing at him for his sentimentality. He finally forced himself to turn and walk away, taking some comfort in the thought that the priest would find her and know better than him what to do. She’d made her decision, and he’d have to find a way to accept it.
As he sat here now on the hard bench, he could feel the presence of her necklace in his pocket. He pulled it out and unwrapped it from the little package of thin tissue paper, the pieces falling into the palm of his hand. When had he actually taken it from around her neck? He couldn't remember exactly. But because she’d said it might “make a difference”, he’d taken the time to examine it while they were on the sub, headed for home. The first thing he’d noticed was that the mother-of-pearl inlay had been replaced with frosted glass. He used his pocket knife to pry off the largest piece and found the microfilm squeezed into the cavity beneath. He’d turned the film over to the cryptologists at headquarters. It was up to someone else now to determine whether the information it contained was truth or deception. He’d done his job and was more than ready to leave it behind.
Actor would never be as stealthy as Chief, and Garrison heard him coming down the path long before he joined him on the bench. He’d thought he wanted to be alone, but now that Actor was here, he welcomed the companionship.
Actor took a moment to relight his pipe before asking softly, “Are you alright?”
“I will be.”
“Major Richards will be here shortly for the debriefing.”
Garrison looked at his watch. It was later than he realized. But it wouldn’t kill Richards to be the one to sit and wait for a while. Finally he said, “She hid the pill in her wedding ring. Under the diamond.”
Actor took a couple of thoughtful puffs. “She died for what she believed was right. I do not know if I would have that kind of courage.”
Garrison wasn’t sure he’d call it courage. To him, suicide had always seemed to be the coward’s way out. It would have taken courage for her to face her questioners. But he had to admit that if he were faced with the same situation — the possibility of being forced to betray everything he held dear — he really didn’t know what he’d do. He always carried the cyanide pill he was issued, but he tried not to think about what might drive him to use it.
He drew in a deep breath of the fresh morning air and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “She made the one mistake you can never be prepared for, no matter how much training you’ve had. She got emotionally involved.”
“The heart often has a mind of its own, beyond our control.” Actor paused, as if carefully considering his next words. “Did you love her?”
He glanced sideways at his second-in-command. Actor rarely asked such personal questions. But he answered anyway. “I thought I did once. But that was a lifetime ago. Turns out I never really knew her.”
Actor stood and gave Garrison a fatherly pat on the shoulder. “It is my sincere belief that one never truly knows any woman. We are wasting time and energy even trying.” He turned and headed back up the path toward the mansion. “I will tell Major Richards you are temporarily detained.”
He listened to Actor’s footsteps retreat back up the path and watched the sun start to burn the mist off of the pond. The pieces of the necklace were pricking his palm, and he uncurled his fingers from around them — the worthless shards of frosted glass, the hollowed out figure of a goose in flight, and the thin braided chain. He remembered it winking at him like some kind of omen from the window of the jewelry store that spring afternoon, and how much he’d paid for it. But he hadn’t thought twice about it then. She’d been worth every penny.
And he recalled that last afternoon when he’d finally given it to her — the look of horror in her eyes when she’d seen the box and thought he was proposing. Maybe he should have known then. Maybe he should have recognized his own reluctance to make a commitment. Maybe it hadn’t been just the uncertainty of war.
He closed the bits of glass and metal in his fist and hurled them out into the pond. They hit the surface of the water with little, inconsequential plops, barely sending out ripples. It was time to go back to the mansion and his team. He had a debriefing to get to and a war to win.