What can I say? One good turn deserves another. I don't know if it's all the prep I'm doing for NaNoWriMo, but I've definitely got story on the brain, which means I can't help but want to give you more of "Fatales". It also means I'm so deep in prep writing that I don't want to blog, but, hey, more fiction for you.
So, here you go, Part 3. Let me know what you think.
Baker’s Street. Where the fire is lit.
People believe that wars are fought in fields, on sea and sky. They are. But soldiers aren’t the only ones who fight them.
People believe that wars are won with charges, flags planted and despots overthrown. They aren’t. They are won with secrets and lies, and the men at the top aren’t the only ones who keep them.
There were many places scattered across London and the Isles that the Special Operations Executive called home. The nature of the work required it. There was a headquarters, but, due to the very nature of the work, few agents ever saw it. And whether by craft, cunning, or cruel irony, it sat a stone’s throw from the home of history’s greatest detective. A man who also did not exist.
Vera found Maurice in his office. She let herself in. He gave a slight nod to her as he sat reviewing documents at his desk. She busied herself replacing the files he had already reviewed with the new ones she was carrying. After a minute, he looked up from his desk to find her still standing there.
“Something the matter, Vera?” he asked in that friendly tone of his.
She replied by placing a file she had tucked under her arm directly in front of him. He opened it. Inside was a single slip of paper. He read it.
“What is this?” he asked, a moment later.
“A message from Jacques,” she answered. “He managed to pass it on as he was making his way out.”
“How did this get to us?”
“Via a courier in Arnhem.”
“How did we get it out of Arnhem?” His face always had that quizzical look about it, even when he was serious. There were times it grated on Vera.
“I called in a favor with N-Section,” she replied.
“You?” His face looked surprised now, genuinely. “I don’t recall requisitioning that.”
“It had to be quick,” she said, matter of factly. “I took the liberty.”
“One of theirs brought it out?” he said with a gesture to the wall, encompassing N-section and possibly the Netherlands with it.
“No, one of ours.” Vera, on the other hand, had spent a lifetime developing a very severe look. An indispensable tool for women working with men.
Maurice gave her another quizzical look.
“I sent Hall,” she replied.
“Hall?” he exclaimed, his eyebrows rising to the ceiling. “She only just got back. How did you convince her to do that?”
“I never had to convince Virginia to do anything,” she said, her voice flat, though layered with contempt. “And neither did you.”
“This again?” he sighed and placed the file down. “It was hard enough to get her out the first time. The situation has become far more dangerous.”
“It wasn’t exactly a picnic before.”
“I was only thinking of her safety, Vera.”
She managed to maintain her composure, another habit she had honed since she began working for Colonel Buckmaster. Inside, however, she was throwing the word back in his face. This was war. “Safety” did not belong in their vocabulary.
“She was our best, Maurice,” she replied, icily this time. “And she was more than willing.”
“I don’t disagree with either point,” he said, his voice taking on that parental tone of his, which vied with the quizzical look as to which could agitate her more. “I saw she was taken care of, didn’t I?”
“Spain was a waste of her talents,” Vera pointed out. “A desk even more so.”
“What would you have me do?” he asked, throwing his hands up exasperatedly, as if there were some pleasant, domestic argument.
“As she asked,” Vera replied.
“That’s not possible.” He shook his head.
“The Americans don’t seem to think so,” and she let it hang, heavily, in the air between them.
“Well, that is their business.”
“Yes, and now so is Virginia.”
He tapped his fingers busily on the table. Then, with a sigh and a shake of his head, he let the matter drop, not unlike a father with an impudent child. Vera knew the maneuver, it was one of Buckmaster’s usual, and it never ceased to infuriate her. She countered by letting him find her still standing there when he looked up. With a slight nod, she indicated the message that brought her in. He seemed to suddenly remember it.
He closed the file, much to Vera’s astonishment.
“What’s to be done about that?” she asked.
“About what?” he replied, matter-of-factly himself. “A hasty note sent through back channels to get to us? I don’t see there’s anything to do about it.”
“Maurice-“ she started.
“Colonel, Vera,” he corrected. “Civilian or not, this is a military office.”
“Colonel,” she intoned. “If that message is even slightly accurate-“
“I spoke with Gilbert only last week,” he stopped her. “He says all’s well.”
“We’ve already lost most of Prosper,” she replied. “What part of ‘all’s well’ does that reside in?”
“He says Madeleine is fine.”
“How can we trust the word of a single man?”
“It’s not as if he’s a stranger,” Buckmaster replied with a huff.
“It doesn’t matter that he’s a friend-“ Vera could feel her voice rising, despite herself, or very much because of herself.
“And who is Tania?” he asked, holding up the message. “How do we know her?”
Vera breathed, wrapping herself in composure again. “She’s Jacques’ fiancée.”
“Well, this is the first I’ve heard of her. You want me to take the word of a stranger over one of our best?” he said, and he turned his head to the side and in that way of his, added, “Now who doesn’t understand the game?”
He let the note drop, closing the file over it, as if that would make the whole, inconvenient affair go away. It would, of course. Buckmaster was the head of F-section. Vera, for all the “additional duties” she had gained, was still his secretary, with all the implications and restrictions that title came with when it wore a skirt. She could only stand there and take it, and though she knew it would do no good, for her own sake she had to add.
“It at least deserves some investigation.”
Buckmaster sat back in his chair, folding his hands. For a moment he seemed angry, then disappointed, and then he was the exasperated parent again. He slid the file back to her.
“Fog of war, Vera,” he said, all understanding, all sympathy. “Not everything that comes through is one hundred percent. You know that. So Jacques here, fleeing the country, leaves his fiancée, the woman he loves behind. He hears that she’s in danger. Naturally, he’s concerned. Of course, he sends word, urgently.” And he smiled as if it were all very romantic. “You want us to verify? We did. Gilbert said nothing of it, and he would if he knew. That’s enough for me.” And he let it hang, unspoken, that it should be enough for her.
And that was that. In his opinion, which was the one that counted in F-Section. There was nothing more to discuss. Vera picked up the file and turned to let herself out, without another word. Only something caught her eye as she picked up the file off his desk. The name tag on one of the other files Buckmaster had been reviewing.
Maurice was again surprised to find his secretary still there, in his office, when she laid a finger down on the file in front of him. He looked up at her, quizzical.
“You’re sending her in?” she asked quietly.
“Yes,” he replied in a tone that he was sure conveyed how surprised he was to have his judgment questioned, again. “She passed all her training, with flying colors. I know you had your reservations, Vera-“
“Yes,” she interrupted. “I still do. Did you see the code phrase she selected? The one about-?”
“Yes, yes,” he butted in before she could finish it. “She’s wild but effective, and I believe,” and that he emphasized. “She will be a good fit. She’s going to be our coordinator in Auvergne.”
“That’s Hector’s area,” she added.
“Yes, but the east section could use some shoring up.” He caught Vera staring at the picture clipped to the file. “Weren’t you just telling me we should take advantage of whatever asset we can?”
Vera looked up from the desk. They locked gazes for a minute. At last, she lifted her finger off the file and stood back.
“If you say so,” she replied, flat voice, composed, compliant, and he seemed pleased at this. She let herself out. Buckmaster made some pleasant comment for her to have a good day as he turned back to the files before him. She made no reply, only a quick glance over her shoulder just before she shut the door behind her. She thought back to the stare she had given him a moment ago.
Vera Atkins wondered, in that moment, if he could see the wheels turning behind her eyes.