So, since I've spent the last month talking Heroes and Villains and how it pertains to fiction, it felt like a good time to break out some more of the story I've been working on. You can check out the first excerpt here.
Europe. Spring, 1944.
As World War 2 rages on in the months leading up to D-Day, behind enemy lines, Allied agents in networks all across France are working to gather intelligence and harrow Hitler's efforts at every turn. But there is a traitor in their midst. Unbeknownst to Allied command in London, Prosper, the Paris circuit of the French Resistance, has been blown, and if the leak isn't plugged it could spell the end for the entire Resistance effort and the war.
Tasked by Vera Atkins herself, Nancy Wake must parachute into the heart of Nazi-occupied France to face this threat, with the help of Violette Szabo, Virginia Hill, Pearl Witherington, and Christine Granville.
'Fatales' is a legend of the female agents of the Special Operations Executive (SOE). The unsung heroes whose efforts undercover and behind the lines helped to bring an end to one of the greatest conflicts in human history.
The story is fictional. The women in it were anything but.
Paris. A city of lights shrouded in darkness.
She heard the siren the moment they were out on the roof. Just her luck. An air raid in the middle of a prison escape. She looked at the other two. No need to be stealthy now. With a nod she took off across the top of the building.
The November chill stung her lungs as she ran. The autumn night had given the rooftops just enough damp to make them perilous. She nearly lost her footing as she made her way across, but she went as quickly as she could. There was worse peril behind.
They’ll be lining everyone up by now, she thought. Doing a headcount. How long before they found they were short by three? Maybe the guards would be cautious. Maybe they’d count again just to be sure. But, no, she knew. They weren’t that lucky.
They were coming up to the edge of the block. They clambered up the uneven roof from 82 to 80. She had memorized this place, this street in particular, before she had been arrested, before they had caught up with her. She had walked Avenue Foch at least once a week before they had begun hanging posters. A precaution that, at the time, she had almost ridiculed herself for, but which now might just spell their escape.
80 lay underneath their feet. There was a small gap and then number 78. It was only an alley that led to the square in the middle of the block. Ten, perhaps twelve feet wide. It wasn’t much of a gap, if you ignored the fact that you were six stories up. She could jump it. Not enough to make the other roof, but there were balconies all the way down the side of the building. She could catch one, scurry along the side, and climb down into the street. She might make it ahead of the patrols.
But, no, she reminded herself. She had Starr and Faye with her. Starr might be able to make it, but Faye was in his forties. He’d hit the ground if he were even fool enough to try.
It should have been only her. It was the wisest choice, by far. She was the youngest, the smallest. One was easier to escape than three. But if one of them had escaped there would have been no hope for the other two. And Starr had contacts, or so he claimed. She had no one. There was no one left. If only the skylight hadn’t given her so much trouble. Starr and Faye should’ve gone on without her. They could have taken separate paths. But would it have mattered with the air raid siren? The guards would’ve noticed them gone in any case.
With jumping the gap out the question, she made her way to the edge of the building, the corner where the street met the alley six stories below. She searched the image in her head. From street level she thought she remembered, and, yes, there it was: a drainpipe. She signaled the men to follow her lead and make it quick as she gripped the pipe and fearlessly swung her legs over the side into the night air. She shimmied down with all speed, counting down the floors as she went, unafraid of the height or the ice-cold pipe in her bare hands. She reminded herself who was behind them.
They’d be looking by now. Who was missing?
A wrought iron fence ran against the building. She could sense the ornamental spikes in the darkness as she neared the ground floor. It looked like this would still come down to a jump. With a quick breath, she swung her body out and pushed away from the building, landing in the alley on her hands and knees. It was rough but survivable.
She looked up and saw Starr a floor up and Faye above him. She waited, crouched in the darkness. She thought about running. She couldn’t be blamed. There was no time to waste, and they were taking much longer than she had. But they had waited for her, so she waited for them.
Starr must have seen her alight as he took a similar motion when he got just above the first floor, landing in the alley next to her, though somewhat less gracefully. Faye soon followed. She heard the landing in the dark and knew he hadn’t hit it right. He rolled onto his side immediately and let out a groan. He clutched at his leg.
Immediately, she and Starr grabbed Leon and hoisted him up. They had to move. It was night, but they were still wearing their prison garb, and, stepping out from 84 Avenue Foch, they were beyond conspicuous. No sooner did they step out into the avenue, in fact, but they heard the alarm. No time. They crossed the avenue.
She went to her mental map. Paris. The streets she had walked everyday until she could find them blindfolded. Her old flat wasn’t too far from here, but, no, they knew it. They had arrested her there. The Bois de Boulogne was west of them just down the avenue. Trees, water, but that’s the first place they’d look. If they wanted to hide, the streets of Paris were their best option. The Arc de Trioumphe was east, but Place de l’Etoile wasn’t any better a hiding spot. It didn’t see the crowds these days as it once had, nowhere to hide in the bustle and too much a landmark not to be watched.
She guided them south, down the small roads and back alleys, through the maze that is Paris. Her Paris, her city, her maze. Faye was beginning to limp a little quicker but still needed the two of them on either side. She could feel their pursuers behind, closing in. She expected to hear the whistle of a patrol any moment. This was their city and they would search every street. But what choice did she have? Only to keep moving and try and stay ahead. But move where?
Prosper had been arrested. So had Teacher. Chaplain had only been brought in last week. Perhaps Gilbert was still out. But where she could only guess. There was no one. She had been it, and they got her.
“We’re buggered, Khan,” Starr spoke breaking through her thoughts as they hobbled along.
“Come on,” she replied more as a reflex than anything. “Just a bit further.” A lie, and they both knew it, but she had to keep spirits up, didn’t she? Didn’t someone?
“Faye’s useless,” he snapped back. Even Leon nodded at that.
“We’re not leaving him behind.”
“Go on,” Faye whispered, wincing with every step as they continued on.
“Leave him with me,” Starr added. “We’ll make our way. You go on.”
“I can’t-“ she began.
“You’re the only one, Noor,” he cut her off as he halted them at a crossroads. “Listen, we’ll go that way.” He pointed down a side street. “You find your way.”
“None of that, now.” He shook his head. “You know what’s at stake.”
She did. They, all three of them, did. Leon and John both gave her the same look and nod. Utter desperation but, behind it, the stubborn will to try. She returned it. Then they spun away and hobbled off into the night. A half breath later, she was off in the opposite direction.
Still the question of where faced her.
She had heard of a safe house, on Rue de Babylone, but the cold and damp was beginning to settle into her bones. The Sicherheitsdienst had been interrogating her for a month. When she wasn’t being questioned they put her in that box. Her muscles ached. Her scars burned. Rue de Babylone was on the other side of Seine. The SD was at her heels, and the Gestapo, the gendarmes, and every other bloody Nazi in Paris were in front of her. She’d never make it. Even if she could, she realized she had never been to the safe house, she couldn’t even remember the number, if she had ever known it. And would they know her?
Still she ran through the cold, November streets of Paris.
There was no escape, no freedom, no hope. Save one. Not so much a hope as an option. A way to make sure some good came of this night, even if it wasn’t her freedom. It shouldn’t be far either. She had made the walk from her flat, taking different paths each time, but she knew the destination in her mind. A street up from her place on Rue de la Faisanderie and three streets over. She ran on, her destination before her.
She counted her steps, each one taking her farther from and closer to danger. She heard a siren behind her. She wondered for a moment if they had caught Starr and Faye, but she didn’t stop or look back. It shouldn’t be too far. She remembered it was just in sight of… Yes.
She rounded the corner into a circle, streets branching out like spokes in every direction, and just there in front of her: the Jewel of Paris. The Tower stood before her. Cold and gray in the night, yet proud. She couldn’t help but pause at the sight, if only for a breath; time was of the essence.
She ran quickly along the circle. The city was dark, nearly deserted. A bit of luck as she certainly stood out in the attire of a prisoner. If her running around at this hour wasn’t suspicious enough. She couldn’t think about that, though; there wasn’t a moment to spare.
She found the post box right where it always was. Unassuming, like every other post box on every other block, which was the idea. A perfect dead drop location. It had been a while, but Noor had left and received messages from contacts here before. She thought it was just possible that maybe the Bosch didn’t know about this spot. And if there were any contacts left, maybe they would check it. It was a long maybe, but it was all she had.
Only now did it occur to her she had nothing to write on or with. She looked around, hoping against sense that perhaps someone had dropped a scrap of paper, that maybe an enveloped had carelessly missed the slot or hadn’t fallen all the way in. But why should her luck hold out tonight.
The sirens were getting closer. There were more of them, all around. They would be on her any second.
She checked the box again. She noticed the flap on the front to keep out the rain and got an idea. A glance nearby turned up a small stone, a broken-off piece of cobblestone perhaps. It was sharp. She lifted the flap and, using an edge off the stone, began to carve. It was slow and her fingers fumbled, numb from the night. This could be useless, of course. No one might ever think to look here. There might be no one left to look. But she had to try, and hope.
With the final letter cut into the metal, she gave her work a last glance before dropping the flap. She took off running again. They couldn’t find her close. She had to give it the best chance, if the message was going to get to anyone at all.
She ran towards the Tower. She wondered, for a moment, if she could outrun them, but she knew she couldn't. She’d never make it across the river. The bridges would be watched and, this time of year, the water would be a death sentence. Neverthless she ran. Maybe John and Leon made it out. Maybe the Bosch had caught her trail and missed them. She doubted it, but it didn’t much matter.
This might be her last breath of fresh air. It was cold, but it was free. And it was Paris. She had first seen it when she was six. her Paris She nearly smiled at the thought that Suresnes was behind her. Maybe the old house was still there. The city had been beautiful then. Before the war. It had been a city of lights. Of dreams and music. She recalled the Conservatory, Mademoiselle Boulanger. She had helped Khan’s family make it out when it all came down. Noor had heard she eventually made it to New York. What would she think to know her student had made it back to Paris, as a spy no less?
The car screeched to a halt in front of her, ripping Noor from her reverie. She darted to the side, down the first alley she could find. She ran in hopeless adrenaline. And what little luck had kept her out this long finally ran out. The alley dead-ended.
“Halt!” came the cry behind her. “Nicht bewegen!”
She stopped, out of breath. Her running was over. She raised her arms. She knew what was coming. A German soldier, grease gun trained on her, rounded in front. She turned slowly to the others behind.
“Auf deinen Knien!” one of them shouted, motioning with his gun. She dropped slowly to her knees. They closed in.
Noor Inayat Khan breathed the free, Paris air one more time before the man behind her brought the butt of his gun against her head, and she saw the city no more.