Through War & Adversity - Chapter 2
By J. A. Stapleton
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When Adelise Gèroux finished packing her life into a single tattered suitcase she walked out onto the third-floor balcony of her boarding house to take in the evening air.
To her surprise, the packing didn’t take long: skirts, trousers, cardigans, a few personal effects and the sort. But upon deciding which gun to carry on her person, she went with her favourite – a High Standard HDM semi-automatic. It would be a tight fit, but it was powerful. She stashed another gun, the 418 Beretta – a pocket pistol, in the lining of her suitcase. She used tape to secure it and when she was confident it wouldn’t fall out on inspection, she closed the case and took it out onto the landing. It was icily silent; her movements hadn’t caused anyone to inspect. She left it against the wall and went back into her apartment, opening the curtains onto the balcony.
There wasn’t anything homely outside and was quite bare. There was, however, an overflowing ashtray, which was perched on the wall. Punctually at five o’clock, she would go out onto the balcony and watch the sunrise in the West, as though emanating from the gunmetal surface of the Seine. From here she could see out over the other quaint little buildings that were typical to the Latin Quarter. Few lights twinkled on the horizon that early morning. It was two o’clock and the whole city was fast asleep. She leaned her elbows against the metal railing and smoked a Gauloise. The Germans had taken the night off from smashing down doors it seemed – a brief hiatus from their usual activities.
The apartment permitted her a fine view of the area despite being relatively cheap, she could see some of the city’s treasures from her home. But down below, one of the best-kept secrets in all of Paris, was a quiet park across the street from her. Though she had never been inside, she’d always felt a sheepish affection for the place. And it was from this vantage point that she truly realised, came to terms with perhaps, that she was leaving Paris, her home of five years, for indefinitely.
The park was known as Le Jardin Vert, or green garden in English and like most French names, it doesn’t benefit without the music that’s prevalent in its original language. It was an interesting little place despite its certainly uninteresting name; and a stone’s throw away from the metro, too. The older generation in the area used to say it was the most romantic spot in all of Paris and Adelise used to agree with them. According to word of mouth, it had inspired a setting in Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel, Les Misérables. Adelise promised herself to read it but had never got around to doing so, like so many other things one promises to do but doesn’t get around to.
Standing by the park’s only lamppost, one of few Adelise was aware of that still required a lamplighter to start it, one could make out the silhouette of the Eiffel Tower. The monument stood against the much lighter backdrop of western sky and the park itself was quite secluded. A ten-foot-high wall of concrete ran the entire length of it on the street on the farthest side. Running parallel, on the side closest to Adelise’s boarding house, was a railing. A wrought iron gate met with the pavement and allowed people to pass freely, but it was locked shut at night. That evening, however, she noticed that it wasn’t. Somebody who worked for the city had clearly forgotten to do their rounds that night.
When she finished drinking the place in and the fumes of her last cigarette and stubbed her filter tip out in next door’s plant pot. She regretted it at once, they were good neighbours, aside from their constantly yapping dog, but she tossed it into the road. She went back inside, leaving the door ajar, the curtains to, before moving through her bedroom into the ensuite bathroom.
Mademoiselle Gèroux was glowing at twenty-eight in a way that she hadn’t as a little girl. Adelise was young and very brave. Those who knew her weren’t aware that she was a resourceful officer with La Résistance. It was a closely guarded secret, though she didn’t keep many friends. She stood around five-feet-four with long silky lashes and high cheekbones that exaggerated the fairness of her skin. She was of the more darker variety of redhead, with dreamy greenish-blue eyes and almost squared lips. She looked exceptionally dangerous. Her complexion was quite flawless also, the application of her makeup (though used sparingly) was meticulous in detail. She wasn’t slim, and it suited her.
Meanwhile, fast asleep in her bed, unaware of that afternoon’s revelation, was a burly Englishman. Adelise planned to flee to neutral Spain that night, though she hadn’t finalised the details of her escape she was confident that she could get away.
Adelise examined herself in the bathroom mirror. She smiled at the woman staring back at her in it. The smile was one of those deep smiles with a lot of pain behind it, a mustered smile if you will. She buttoned up her beige trench coat and took her favourite dark green beret and an envelope out from one of the pockets. It was addressed to him, Roger and she left it behind the wash basin’s cold tap.
After a week of steady rainfall and the Germans shooting the last remaining Jews in the fifth arrondissement in their homes, also cutting power lines in the area, the street was plunged into darkness.
The new curfew was in effect from nine o’clock in the evening until five in the morning. If anyone was caught outside after hours they would be arrested and carted away by the Gestapo. The done thing for most people, was often to stay in the bar you drank in (if they hadn’t left in time) until the morning sun came. Then, a little tired, they went about their day. Five o’clock in the morning, when the curfew was lifted, was really the only time to see the city for what it was. At seven, the streets would be flooded with motorists, commuters heading into and out of the city. After then, one couldn’t enjoy the stunning architecture or the tree-lined boulevards. Well, not until the curfew and that was a little too risky even for the most avid tourist. That’s why those sorts of places, Adelise had thought, places like Pierre’s café on the corner thrived with business under Nazi occupation, the Parisians hadn’t forgotten their ancestral roots as borderline alcoholics.
When Adelise went out, the rain had slackened somewhat, tapping rhythmically on the steps leading down from the boarding house. She closed the door after her, dropped her keys through the letterbox and into the marble corridor. The sound of them pinged from wall to wall, heading somewhere up the stairs and she cursed.
She was in the street for quarter-past-two exactly – the real midnight hour – and on schedule for what little she would do next. She descended the steps quickly, carefully, and stopped to see if she’d been spotted. It was icily silent. On the street corner was a rack of unchained bicycles, anything else beyond them she couldn’t make out. To her left was a parked black Mercedes. She took comfort in the open silence and set off across the road.
Her wedges clacked with every step she took, her tattered suitcase rocking comfortably. The footfalls weren’t loud enough to cause attention. Clutched in her free hand was the HDM semi-automatic, it had an in-built silencer with the safety catch off. She placed her suitcase on the ground and put her gun in the pocket of her trench coat. Adjusting the buckle on it, she pulled her beret down over her face and slipped between a street-sign and a bin. Taking out her packet of Gauloises, she examined the yellow box which had the odd cartoon of a little man smoking cheerily, fumez les it read in the right-hand corner. That would be the last time she ever smoked one and she deposited the half-empty cigarette packet inside with a clunk, taking some personal pride in her new ambition.
The air was quite still and the street silent. When five o’clock came, the silence would be broken and the place would return to life. She passed the Mercedes quickly, thinking that there was someone asleep on the back seat. The windows were tinted, and she put the thought out of her head, stop overreacting, and stopped a little further along – standing under a glowing street lamp. Looking up to what was once her appartement – to the escaped British pilot – to the man she’d mistakenly fallen in love with – the reason behind her sudden departure.
She imagined him tossing and turning like he always did in his sleep, it made her smile. She hoped that one day he’d forgive her for leaving him.
Behind her was a footstep and she spun sharply on the spot. A man in the shadows, coming out of the park. They’ve caught me! The shadow was holding something in its hand, raising it. Adelise opened her mouth to scream but in that moment of pure terror, nothing came out. She fell against the railings, dropping down onto one knee, going for her gun. It would momentarily confuse her assailant.
The suitcase hit the pavement hard and bounced, flinging her linen into a puddle in the road. It fell with a dull thud. She felt the cool metal surface of the HDM against her fingertips but knocked it deeper into her pocket. Her eyes refused to leave the stranger and, struggling with the gun’s combined weight of the silencer, she dropped it again.
Why didn’t you carry the 418? It only has a small bark, why didn’t you pack it? But it was too late now.
When the shadow emerged through the gate, coming into the lamp’s light, she gritted her teeth and prepared for the worst. She imagined the gun’s flashing muzzle, a series of cracks, startled pigeons soaring overheard from somewhere nearby.
But it was a man, swigging from a bottle of something, and really quite drunk. So drunk, he was completely ignorant of her, the young woman sitting on the floor cursing aloud.
He continued past her and she got up and to her feet, trembling. The man moved slowly down the pavement, going over to the Mercedes and taking out a set of car keys. There was a moment and he stopped, seeing skin-coloured brassiere underneath his foot. Adelise heard him mutter to himself in French and he swivelled around. Upon seeing her, he nearly died of fright himself. The suddenness of his movement made her jump too. Then, after taking a moment to compose himself, he laughed. He looked back down at the brassiere and picked it up, walking it over to her.
‘Pardon mademoiselle,’ he said, apologetically.
‘Might – might I trouble you for a match?’ the man slurred, taking out a packet of cigarettes she wasn’t quite familiar with. He slit it open with his thumb nail and tapped out one and offered it to her. Adelise shook her head and she detected a sense of recognition in his eyes.
Yes! She recognised him all right! He lurked around the café on the weekdays. He never went inside though, she figured he couldn’t afford to drink in there, or perhaps he’d pissed Pierre off. Yes, that was more like it. He always wore a scruffy overcoat, the one he was wearing now. He’s fine, she said to herself. She took pity on him – the man was in his forties and always alone. He ought to have a wife and child or something.
The sound of her pulse still pumped in her ears when she took out her cigarette lighter. He waded over to her and looked very grateful.
With drunks, she thought, everything they do is far too careful, overplayed. Take the opening and closing of doors for instance. When inebriated, the drunk makes it a task to feign sobriety. Things that one does sober aren’t thought twice about, impoliteness or slamming the door behind you for instance, but drunks pay a little too much mind to them. Then, overthinking themselves, they slam the proverbial door and give the whole game away.
The man standing before her knew he was drunk and didn’t try his best in hiding it. He wasn’t embarrassed about the way he looked nor did he look like he really cared. He looked comfortable in himself and the mess he had now become. He took the cigarette lighter from her, she noticed his hands shake while trying to spark the wheel river.
She took a step closer to help him, but he managed it himself. He muttered his thanks, his apologies for startling her and passed the dirty brassiere back. She went to take it, but he didn’t let go, her eyes met his and she saw that the man was smiling. There was no trace of alcohol on his breath. Adelise opened her mouth again to scream.
He lifted a gun and there was a short cough. What was left of her scream whistled through her teeth and her jaw slackened. Two more shots followed it in quick succession. The man sneered at her, monstrously. His eyes lit up. There was a glint in them and glimpsed a black cylinder, a silencer pressed against her stomach, at the end of it was a German Walther PPK, sitting comfortably in his hand as it ejected another bullet casing.
She pushed herself away, slumping over sideways into the railing. Adelise dove into her pocket with both hands, going for the gun. He fired another shot and her hands came back with nothing. Her legs were dragged out from under her, she fell over onto her bottom.
The gunman went to move over to the girl to deliver the final shot, but he decided against it. He didn’t want to get any blood on him.
With long, laboured breaths, she seized the rail with both hands and used it to try and pull herself up. The process was slow and arduous for him watch. He felt like some sort of voyeur and averted his attentions.
A few moments later she was on her feet and she didn’t hesitate, bounding across the pavement and into the cobbled road. Her wedge was caught in one and she stopped. Swaying for a moment, looking up into the sky and the rain that pitter-pattered in small drops on her face, to her apartment and the wonderful man inside it, but she knew it was too late for her. Choking back tears, she felt her stomach, running her hands over it and crumpled into a shapeless heap on the floor. An outstretched leg gave a final kick against the curb and lay completely still.
The killer, Otto Krause, had finished his cigarette by then and he tossed the end down a drain.
The Mercedes’ dual headlamps flickered on and three men in hats and coats climbed stiffly out. One of them held a potato sack in his hands.
Krause used her lighter to ignite another Russian cigarette and he puffed on it longingly. Turning it over between his his thumb and forefinger he read the words ‘AVEC AMOUR, R.’ It made him smile and he dropped the lighter into his pocket as a keepsake.
Behind him his men manhandled the body, forcing the sack over her head and down to her ankles. They half-carried, half-dragged it over to the trunk. The suspension gave a little when they slumped her inside.
With a squeal of tyres up ahead, another tinted Mercedes turned down the road and drew alongside them. More men in hats and coats appeared and helped the others.
Krause unscrewed the Brausch silencer and holstered his gun, a Walther P08. He made sure to flick the safety down before doing so. The man was more interested in the third-floor balcony where she came from than the actual disposal of the body itself. He figured they’d dump her on la Rive Gauche, the southernmost bank of the Seine, or bury her in a shallow grave in a church somewhere.
Such immaterial was beyond his own concerns. What’s hidden in the girl’s apartment, he thought.
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lucid account of what-may
lucid account of what-may-have been. well done.
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