The Second World War: PART 5 - Adelise Gèroux - Paris (1945)
When Adelise Gèroux finished packing her life into a single brown suitcase she walked out onto her third-floor balcony to take in the evening air.
She lit a cheap cigarette and leant her bare elbows against the metal railing. She peered over. Her boarding house permitted her a fine view of the quiet park across la rue. She had always felt a sheepish affection for the place although she never went inside. It was from this vantage point that she truly realised, came to terms perhaps, with the fact that she was leaving this place, her home of nearly five years, for good.
Le Jardin Vert, or green garden as it is in English, doesn’t benefit without the music that’s prevalent in a French pronunciation. It was certainly an interesting little place despite its certainly uninteresting name. A stone’s throw away from the metro and deemed by many to be one of the most romantic spots in all of Paris. Rumour had it that it inspired a setting in Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. Adelise promised herself she would read it one day and hadn’t. From the focal point of the place which was a single lamppost, the silhouette of la Tour Eiffel could be made out against the much lighter backdrop of night sky off out to the west.
The park was secluded. There was a ten-foot high wall of concrete that ran the entire length of street on the farthest side. Parallel to it, and closest to Adelise’s boarding house, was an iron railing with a black gate uniting the enclosure with the pavement. When Adelise finished drinking the place in for the last time she stubbed out her filter tip in next door’s plant pot. She regretted it at once, they were good neighbours, plucked it out and tossed it into the street. She ducked back inside, leaving the door partly open, and shuffled into the ensuite bathroom. She examined herself in the dirty mirror.
Mademoiselle Gèroux was glowing at twenty-eight in a way she hadn’t as a small girl. She stood around five-feet-four and possessed the perfect figure to a man. She had long silky eyelashes, tall cheekbones that reminded the keen observer of the pronounced fairness of her skin. She was indeed a redhead but of the more darker variety. With greenish blue eyes and almost squared lips, she looked dangerous too. She wasn’t slim and it suited her. Her complexion was quite flawless and the application of her makeup was meticulous in detail. To put it bluntly, she was truly a catch.
The man who caught her as it were, a burly Englishman, was fast asleep in the bedroom, unaware of the revelation that had taken place earlier that afternoon. Adelise was to escape to neutral Spain that night. She hadn’t finalised the details and she cracked a smile to the woman in the mirror. It was one of those deep smiles that has a lot of pain behind it, a mustered smile if you will, and she deposited an envelope marked “Roger” behind the cold tap of the wash basin.
There had been steady rain for a week and, with the Nazis breaking down doors, the street was plunged into darkness. La rue had become film noir in the strictest sense of the word. The rain hadn’t stopped but had slackened. It tapped rhythmically on the pavement and patted Adelise’s beret. She closed the door. The keys echoed on the marble when they fell through the letterbox. The floor pinged the sound from wall to wall, to and fro, and was eventually lost somewhere up the stairs. She let the flap close and made it into the street for the exact time of quarter-past two. She stopped, glancing to her right. There was a set of pushbikes that were left unchained on the street corner but beyond them there wasn’t much else but darkness. Northside of the park, her immediate left, there was a black Mercedes.
She set off. Her tattered suitcase rocked comfortably in her right hand. Clutched in her left was a 418 Beretta fitted with a Brausch silencer. The safety was off. There was still a chill and she let the gun fall to the bottom of her coat pocket. She knelt, placing the case beside her on the ground and pulled the belt on her trench coat even more taut. Adelise tilted the rim of her beret lower, straightened up and padded over to the edge of the road glancing sideways. She produced a half-empty pack of cigarettes and slipped through the gap between a lamppost and a bin. There was a clunk as they found the bottom. She marched across the road in a diagonal stream and passed the car. She stopped beneath a street lamp and turned her face up to what was once her bedroom. Laying naked inside was the escaped British airman she had mistakenly fallen in love with. He was the reason behind her sudden departure. She shook off her own pangs of regret and walked on.
Her wedges knocked with every step she took. Suddenly, a shadow appeared. An outstretched coat arm, something clenched in the fist could be made out. Adelise backed into the iron railings, clawing for her weapon. Her suitcase bounced on contact: flinging hosiery out and into the street. Quick fingers wrapped around the butt of her handgun only to knock it deeper into the pocket. In a last-ditch attempt, the index finger hooked the Brausch silencer and tugged it upwards before dropping it again. The silhouetted arm arched emptied the remaining drops from a bottle into an open mouth. A beat later, the drunk emerged from the gate and paused, patting himself down, ignorant of the discarded clothes and cowering woman. He cursed himself and staggered on past her. Adelise straightened up. Relief spread across her face with the droplets of rainwater from up above. Stopping at some dirty stockings, the drunk looked around confused, sighting the young woman.
‘Pardon mademoiselle... might - might I trouble you for a match?’ he asked in broken French.
The question seemed innocent enough. The drunkard, bearing a four o’clock shadow, was in his forties. She’d seen him around the café a few times and he drank too much Pernod. She told him she had a lighter and he waded over to her: a grateful expression drawn over his face. You see, everything is overplayed with drunks. They exhume carefulness in everything, the opening and closing of doors for instance. It becomes a task, when intoxicated, to exhume sobriety and certainly one that is done with a little too much thought. Slamming the door only gives the game away. The man approaching her, however, had accepted his drunkenness. This man was free to enjoy a life without disappointment. This was displayed in his mannerisms. The drooping lips bore a toothy smile and an eager hand extended for the lighter, not a careful or embarrassed one.
There was a cough. Two more followed in quick succession. Now there was no wind. Her breath whistled through the gap in her teeth. His drooping lips thinned into a sneer. There was no trace of alcohol on his breath – only the scent of strong tobacco. She inclined her head and saw the black sausage pressed into her stomach. The butt of the gun protruding. She backed away and into the railing. Adelise slipped onto her backside. She went for her coat pocket with both hands. The drunk backed away. She twisted with a sickening crack. She pulled herself up the rail like a vine. The process was slow and painful to watch. With laboured breaths, she hissed at the man between breaks. She leaped across the cobbles and stopped, swaying for a moment. Tears appeared in the corner of her eyes. She clutched her stomach and choked the tears back and crumpled into a sprawling heap below. Her outstretched legs gave a twitch on the pavement and then nothing.
The twin headlamps of the Mercedes flickered on. Three men in hats and coats sat cramped inside. The doors opened and they climbed stiffly out. Otto Krause produced his own cigarette lighter and puffed longingly on the Russian admixture watching his men carry her back to the vehicle. They laid her across the backseat. Her head propped up carefully on a bundle of their uniforms.