Authors: T. Davis Bunn
Â© 1994 by T. Davis Bunn
Published by Bethany House Publishers
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Ebook edition created 2012
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file at the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
This story is entirely a creation of the author's imagination. No parallel between any persons, living or dead, is intended.
Cover by Joe Nordstrom
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Major Pierre Servais, commander of the French garrison at Badenburg, wore a face that frowned from forehead to collar. At the sound of Jake's jeep, Pierre turned from his inspection of work on the refugee camp's sentry towers, walked over, and said, “First we worry because the ground is hard as iron. Now the thaw arrives and we find ourselves working in quicksand.”
Lieutenant Colonel Jake Burnes, commander of the U.S. military base at Karlsruhe, watched the team of sweating soldiers struggle to steady a crosspiece while working in mud up to midthigh. “Maybe you ought to wait for the ground to dry out.”
“I can't. The entire area has become treacherous. My sentries can no longer even stand, much less walk the perimeter. We must have these elevated positions.” Pierre inspected his friend. “From your expression, I take it you could not convince her to stay.”
“I didn't even see her,” Jake replied. “She left Berlin the day before I arrived. General's orders.”
“I am very sorry for you.” Pierre reached over and patted his friend's shoulder. “She was posted back to America?”
“Six months,” Jake said, her letter burning through his jacket pocket to sear his chest. “On the road almost the whole time. I can't even go see her because I don't know where she'll be. The whole business is classified. A great opportunity, she called it.” He resisted the urge to pound the steering wheel. Again. “What does she call our relationship? A burden?”
“Sally must trust you very much,” Pierre said solemnly.
“Or just not care one way or the other.”
“That is not so, and you know it,” Pierre countered. “What will you do?”
“I still have close to a month's leave. Almost wish I didn't now.”
“Perhaps you would like to go home?”
“That's what the leave is supposed to be for. But there's not much for me to go home to, remember? My folks are both gone, and my brother didn't make it back from Normandy.”
“I meant home with me,” Pierre replied.
Jake showed a spark of interest. “To France?”
“That is where home was the last time I looked,” Pierre said. “I have received another letter from my mother. She says that I have let the memories block my return for too long.”
“You mean about your brother?” Pierre's twin had fought with the Resistance and had died in the war's final months.
“Among other things,” Pierre said, his frown deepening. “Come. I need to check the other team's progress.”
Jake sprang from his jeep and fell into step alongside his friend. He searched his memory and recalled references to a woman named Jasmyn who had betrayed Pierre during the war by taking up with a Nazi officer. Jake smiled grimly. He and Pierre made quite a pair.
Their way took them along the internment camp's outer fence. The open fields that had formerly bordered the Badenburg main base had been restructured as a holding center for paperless refugees.
Throughout the fierce winter of 1945â46, central Europe had remained awash in a human flood. Most refugees carried little or no identification, beyond perhaps the tattooed identity numbers of the concentration camp victims. Others were stragglers from farther east, uprooted by the invading of Stalinist forces and flung helter-skelter westward. Few families were intact. Husbands sought wives, wives children, children parents. Mornings in the camp were scarred by the wails rising from the Red Cross center when the daily reports confirmed that those being sought were no more.
Such camps were seas of humanity encircled by barbed wire. There was never enough room, or food or medicine,
or news from the lands now suffering under Stalin's mighty fist. By midwinter, the number of homeless refugees in the American sector of the former Third Reich had risen to more than two million. The French sector had been similarly inundated.
The spring thaw had reduced the sentries' path to a muddy bog. Jake and Pierre stayed on the grassy verge and picked their way carefully as they skirted the camp. Jake resisted the urge to return the never-ending stares from behind the fence.
As they rounded the corner, a cry from somewhere inside the camp made Jake wince. No matter how often he heard the sound, he could not become hardened to the tragedy of another refugee's loss of hope. He steeled himself and continued onward until he realized that Pierre was no longer at his side.
Jake turned around to find his friend staring at the fence with a gaze of hollow agony.
Again there was the cry, and this time Jake heard it as a name. “Patrique!” Pierre recoiled as though taking a blow to the heart.
Jake spotted a girl struggling through the dense lines of bearded men and kerchiefed women waiting for food. The people were reluctant to let her through, both because of their obvious hunger and because a step in the wrong direction meant moving off the boardwalk and stepping into the mud. She ignored their complaints and curses, shoving and wriggling and fighting toward the fence. “Patrique!”
Pierre moved toward the fence, did not notice where he stepped, and sank to his knees in the bog.
The girl extricated herself from the final line, and promptly slipped and fell headlong into the mire. She scarcely seemed to notice. Even before the fall was complete, she was battling to right herself. Her feet spun for a hold in the slick mud. The front of her dress was encrusted. Dirt streaked her dark hair and painted one emaciated cheek. Finally she recovered her footing and flung herself at the fence. She thrust her face
and one hand through the wire and screamed in a broken voice, “Patrique!”
A sentry called out a warning and started forward. Pierre barked out a command in French, but did not seem to have the strength to free himself from the bog. Jake walked over and offered a hand. “What's going on?”
Pierre accepted the help without really seeing. He mumbled something in French, his eyes fastened on the screaming girl.
“Try that in English, buddy,” Jake told him.
Pierre swung around, seemed to have trouble remembering who Jake was. Then he said in a benumbed voice, “Patrique was my brother.”
Jake sat in the corner of what once had been Colonel Beecham's office but now belonged to Pierre Servais. The former American base at Badenburg was presently a central French garrison, with Pierre as acting commandant. Pierre sat behind his desk, his hands shaking so hard he could scarcely bring the cup to his lips. Jake watched him listen to the girl's story, hoping that Pierre would begin to recover from the shock of having heard the young girl call out his dead brother's name. But if anything, Pierre was becoming continually more distraught. The young French major winced at the girl's voice. His own questions were hoarse and hesitant.
The girl was barely able to speak around her tears. It was hard to tell her age because she suffered from the refugees' most common ailmentâdesperate hunger. The skin of her face was like dry parchment, stretched tightly over bones of birdlike fragility. Her brown eyes watched a strange and dangerous world from dark-lined cavities. Yet her whole being burned with an intensity that belied her frailty. Jake imagined that given a chance to recover, she would emerge as a raven-haired beauty.
, Jake decided, listening to her continue the halting discourse with Pierre. Maybe a year older. She spoke German with the lilting tone he had come to recognize as the result of speaking Yiddish at home. Neither her sadness nor the urgency of her words could obscure her voice's musical quality.
Her name was Lilliana Goss, she told them. She was half Jewish, half German. It was her mother who taught her Yiddish. Although she had been raised in a Christian home, her mother had insisted on keeping her Jewish heritage alive. Her father, a former university professor, had managed to bribe their way out of Germany when the Nazi sweeps intensified.
“My father was in contact with the Resistance across the border in France,” she told Pierre. “That is what saved us. We were taken to Marseille, and from there to Morocco. We met Patrique, your brother, in Marrakesh. My father began working with him, processing the incoming refugees, arranging for false papers, keeping on the lookout for spies and turncoats.
“My father's health started to fail. I began helping out more and more with Patrique's operations. I became a local messenger for the group and helped to forge documents. I had nothing else to do with my time, and I enjoyed the feeling of being useful. One night, a few months before Morocco was liberatedâ”
“When exactly,” Pierre grated.
She thought a moment. “The first week in April,” she replied with confidence. “I remember because my birthday had been only a few days before.”
The news visibly shook Pierre. “Go on.”
“I was working alone in our offices, they were hidden under the eaves of the Red Cross building, when Patrique rushed in. He startled me, because he had been called away in March. Nobody knew where he was. There had been all sorts of rumors floating around about how he had been captured or killed, but I had refused to believe them.”
Pierre was taking the story very hard. The longer Lilliana continued, the more he seemed to shrink inside himself. Jake watched him, recalled the day news had come of his own brother's death on the Normandy beaches, and ached for his friend.
“Patrique was furious to find me there. I did not understand his anger, because I had feared the worst and was overjoyed to see him alive. He said that a messenger was to have met him that night but had not arrived at the meeting point. Patrique had waited three hours, then risked going to the offices, where he found me. Since I knew nothing about a
messenger, Patrique was forced to assume that the French conspirators had captured him.”
Pierre roused himself enough to rasp out, “You mean the Nazis.”
Lilliana responded with an adamant shake of her dark locks. “He said the French. I asked the same thing. He
it was the French, which made him extremely distressed. But he refused to explain. He said the less I knew the better. Then he asked me if I would take on a dangerous assignment. He hated to use me, but there was no one else, and he had to leave that very night. He knew the forces were hard on his trail. I adored your brother and would have done anything for him. He asked me to take a message to his friends in Marseille. He said a boat was waiting for his messenger in the Tangiers harbor. I was to go there, take the boat, deliver the message, and return immediately.”