Five, North of Paris, 4/10/45
“How’s your German?” Fleming asked in German, as they walked towards the security gate.
“I get by,” Jack replied in kind. He retrieved the counterfeit papers Fleming provided from his pocket, and handed it to the guard who approached him.
“What is your business?” the guard asked.
“Do you need me to read the instructions to you?” Jack asked, pushing his chest into the guard.
The guard sighed, and stared at the typed note. “Prisoner? For interrogation?”
“Will we have a problem? Because I can speak with your Leutnant. He sounds like the kind of man who appreciates his subordinates wasting his time on nonsense.”
The guard handed the papers back. “I must have him processed. Then you can interrogate him.”
“Nein. I do not have time for processing. The Resistance will notice soon that he is missing. If we do not find them and arrest them, these rats will scurry back into the shadows. You may send your Leutnant to me, if you believe he will need to hear it directly.”
“No,” he said. He waved for an NCO to come to him. “Take this man to the interrogation cell. Give him whatever he needs.”
Jack and Fleming followed him through the gate, past a flagpole in the central courtyard flying the Nazi flag, and into the nearest building. He led them down several hallways, and finally unlocked a room. The table was covered in dust. “Will you need anything else?” he asked.
“Assistance with the interrogation,” Jack replied, “if you wouldn’t mind.”
“No, sir,” the NCO said. “I am eager to assist a-” Jack seized him by the collar and pushed him against the wall, holding him there with his forearm across the NCO’s throat. He kicked and flailed, before going limp. Fleming took the Mauser out of the NCO’s holster as Jack let him slide to the floor.
“That’s the first part out of the way,” Fleming said, and slipped a ring of keys off the guard’s belt. Jack dragged him across the floor, to the table, and used the guard’s own shackles to secure him against it. “If our intelligence is correct, then the barracks opposite this one is where most of the prisoners are housed. I’m likely to be a liability, out in the open; aren’t many dark-skinned Nazis roaming about. So I’d propose I stay here, and rouse some trouble. I’ve had more than my share of experience working as a saboteur. Unless you think you’ll need me to take the barracks…”
“No,” Jack said. “But you should bide your time.” Jack checked his watch. “Start your distraction at 2:37. I’ll be ready for it, then.”
“And how distracting would you prefer for me to be?”
“The flagpole is in the middle of the damned courtyard. I’m going to need the biggest distraction you can think of.”
Fleming smiled to himself. “I’ll see what I can accomplish.”
Jack locked the door to the interrogation room, then grabbed Fleming by the arm. “I’ll escort you through the building, so you can get the lay of it, first. Probably best if I don’t stroll right across the courtyard without you, after making so much noise about needing to debrief you myself.”
“I’m not going to turn down the cover,” Fleming said. “Though I’m keeping the sidearm.”
“Fair enough. Just keep it out of sight, or it’ll blow our cover no matter how roughly I treat you.” Fleming stashed it inside his jacket.
They walked together past a stairwell, then some administrative offices, and an officers’ lounge. “This is where we part ways,” Fleming said.
“Godspeed,” Jack said, and let go of his arm. “It’s been a pleasure.”
“Maybe that would sound more convincing if you hadn’t said it in German,” Fleming said, smiled, and walked back the way they came.
Jack looked through the windowed door, to be sure the lounge was clear, then walked past it to a door into the courtyard. The barracks formed an L shape, surrounding the administrative buildings on two sides. That put Jack close to the main rear entrance to those barracks. The door was locked, but the lock was distinctive enough it only took Jack two keys to find its mate on the guard’s ring. He locked the door behind himself, and nearly knocked over an old man inside.
“They don’t usually come in through the rear,” he said in French, eyeing Jack suspiciously.
“Pardon my French, but I’m not one of them. I’m no Nazi.”
“Then you have a very strange fashion sense, my friend,” he replied with a twinkle of amusement in his eye.
“I’m here, with the Resistance. We plan to take the camp.”
“There are only a few hundred here,” the old man snapped. “Most have already been shipped out, by train.”
“That’s the next step,” Jack said. “But to get there, we need to take this camp quietly. That means, most importantly, preventing reinforcements and keeping prisoners safe. Do you know where their radio room is?”
“Across the way,” an older woman said in somewhat broken English. “I heard distorted screaming, orders, in German.”
Jack wondered if Fleming knew already, if that was where he headed when they parted. Either way, he wasn’t going to be able to safeguard the prisoners, and raise the flag, and blockade the radio room. He was going to have to trust that Fleming would find the radio room and deal with it. “What about guards?” Jack asked.
“Most rooms have one armed guard,” the old man started again. “There is one rover, who-” They all froze, at the sound of keys in the interior door. “Hide,” he told Jack, and dove into his bunk.
“Nobody scream,” Jack said as he ran at top speed towards the door, at the last second flattening himself quietly against the wall as the door creaked open.
“How are you, mein little sheep?” the roving guard asked, jangling his keys as he closed the door. “Docile and fluffy?” he said, the hint of a laugh in his voice. Jack wrapped his big arms around the guard’s head, one hand covering his mouth and nose, with the other gaining purchase on the back of his head. At the last moment, the guard realized what was about to happen, and he screamed through his eyes and mouth, but the latter couldn’t break through Jack’s grip. He twisted, fast and hard, so when the guard fell onto his chest he was still looking up at the ceiling.
One of the women gasped, loud enough that it set off noise in the next room.
That room’s guard came to the door and yelled, “What’s the noise for?”
“Nothing,” Jack called back. “Stubbed mein schnitzel.”
“You know I can’t ignore that much noise,” the other guard said, then, “Why is this door unlocked?”
Jack hit him with a bladed hand in the throat, then covered the guard’s hand at his holster with his own. Gasping for air, the guard attempted to stumble backward, but Jack used his holster to pull the man towards him. When he fell forward, Jack rammed his bicep into the man’s throat. He tumbled to the ground, gasping, his breaths wet and broken.
“What is wrong with him?” a small boy asked.
“Crushed larynx,” Jack said.
“May I attend him?” the older woman from before asked.
“If you like. He’ll die without it. But take his weapons, first, and someone watches him.”
The old man who first spoke to Jack extended a shaking hand. “I’m Mordecai, and I’m sorry I did not believe you before. The Nazis play games with us sometimes, pretend to let us escape. And when we get into the courtyard, they beat us, they shoot us. To them it is a sport.”
“They keep score,” a younger woman added.
“Everyone stay here,” Jack said. “Barricade the back door, be prepared to fight at this one. Anybody comes through other than me, you attack them, en masse. Fists and knives, if you can accomplish it. Guns only as a last resort; gunfire will bring more.”
Jack worked his way through the rest of the rooms, fifteen in total, in each dispatching the guards quietly, then giving their weapons to the prisoners. When he was done, he checked his watch. He had seven minutes before Fleming’s distraction.
The front entrance into the barracks faced the courtyard, the guard at the gate and the guard towers in either corner. It was too exposed as an exit, so he instructed the prisoners to pile up their bunks in front of the door, then started back towards the rear. The armed prisoners he divided in thirds, a third he sent to the front, a third to the back. The rest he told to move their bunks to block the windows, and be prepared for Nazis to try to break in that way.
At the back, he disassembled their barrier, then gave Mordecai his gun. “I have to raise this,” he said, removing the American flag from his bag. “That’s how reinforcements will know they can take the camp. This will likely make them realize that the prisoners are free. You have to hold them off until the American troops can arrive.”
“Raise a flag?” Mordecai asked. “I’m more use out there, with the flag, than in here with a gun. Somebody help me get into one of those uniforms,” he said.
Jack nervously eyed his watch. Any second now, Fleming’s diversion was going to hit. Only nothing happened.
Had Fleming been caught? That didn’t seem likely, because if he had, they would have scoured the rest of the base for him. But if he was stuck someplace, waiting for a patrol to pass, that could account for the timing.
“I look like a kilo of potatoes in a 2 kilo sack,” Mordecai said, sauntering up wearing a Nazi uniform several sizes too big, holding it up at the crotch so it didn’t drag on the ground.
“You’re sure about this?” Jack.
“You give me cover from that cannon, and I’ll get the flag up,” he said.
“Fire!” they heard the Nazis scream from the courtyard. “The administrative buildings are on fire!”
“That’s our distraction,” Jack said, and opened the door. He turned as he shut it. “Barricade this behind us.”
“It’s a beautiful day for a walk,” Mordecai said.
Jack had noticed the two guard towers on his way in. They were each near the corners of the front gate, spread enough apart to make it all but impossible to approach both stealthily. “Wait until I’ve taken the first tower to lower the flag,” Jack said. “That you can probably get away with. But once you pull out the Stars and Stripes, the game’ll be up. That you’ll need to do fast, and dirty.”
“My specialty,” Mordecai said with a mischievous grin. “Just ask my wife.” His smile suddenly faded.
“You’ll see her again,” Jack said, and slapped him on the back, before walking away from him. Jack worked his way to the ladder leading up to the guard tower. Most of the Nazis were consumed with the burning buildings, to the point where no one noticed Jack until he reached the top of the ladder.
“Who are you?” the first of two guards asked.
“Out of breath,” Jack said, elongating the words as he wheezed, punctuating it with a cough. “I was in the building when it caught. The Leutnant ordered you two to help with the fire, while I recover here.”
“No,” the second said, looking up from his rifle scope. “You are that intelligence officer. You shouldn’t be-”
Jack grabbed the first guard by the shoulder and threw him off the tower. He screamed as he fell, before abruptly stopping when he hit the ground. The remaining guard tried to bring around his rifle, but Jack was too fast, and smashed him in the nose with his pistol. Jack pulled off his helmet, and hit him several more times with the pistol’s grip, before the man slumped against the guard tower wall.
The guard at the gate was screaming, roused by the falling guard. Jack thought he could make out them calling for a medic. Jack watched him stride off through a rifle’s scope, past Mordecai. Mordecai panicked, and started pulling down the Nazi flag. That got the gate guard’s attention anew, and he reached for his pistol. Jack exhaled, curled his finger around the rifle’s trigger, and squeezed.
The guard’s shoulder exploded in a mist of blood, and Mordecai covered the flag with his body. Jack trained the rifle on the opposite guard tower, but there were no openings facing him. They had been deliberately designed to protect even from each other. Jack slung the rifle from its shoulder strap, and slid down the ladder. With each step he cursed himself a little more for not realizing how exposed Mordecai was. Finally, about a third of the way towards the flagpole, Jack got an angle into the further tower, and dropped to one knee.
The guard was prone, rifle trained. It was a race, and the guard had a head start. Jack forced the rifle steady, settled the crosshairs over him-
The guard fired first, and Jack squeezed his trigger.
An instant later he was running towards Mordecai, who was teetering, blood flowing from a wound in his chest and onto the flag in his hand.
Gunfire stopped Jack in his tracks. The second guard in the tower was firing at him. Jack raised his rifle, sighted him in, and fired. The guard toppled out of the tower silently, before smashing on the cobbles below like a dropped pumpkin.
Jack glanced around, to be sure there were no more gunners headed towards them, then started back towards Mordecai. He had the flag attached to the rope, and was pulling it up. His hands were slicked with blood, and he was waving in the wind nearly as much as the flag.
Jack put his hands over Mordecai’s, and they continued to raise it together. When the flag reached the top of the pole, Jack tied it off.
Without the rope to hold him up, Mordecai collapsed onto the ground. Jack tore the Nazi flag into strips, and used them for a makeshift bandage. “How bad?” Mordecai asked.
“If you were a younger man, and I were a skilled surgeon, and you were already on my operating table…”
“Feh,” he said, with a shrug. “My wife was a goy. When they first brought us here, she’d tell me, every day, if we ever got separated, she’d see me again, if not in this life then in the next. She died here, standing up to those bullies. I couldn’t save her… but at least I finally got to make her proud. And maybe… maybe I will I get to see my wife again, like you said.”
“Is there, anything you want me to do?” Jack asked.
“Punch Hitler’s goddamned head off,” he said, coughing, “and tell him it was from Esther.” Jack heard the sound of armor moving down the road; he’d been at this long enough to know it was Allied armor, not German.
The speakers at the camp whined, before a voice came over them. “This is Resistance radio,” Fleming said. “If you’re a Nazi, know that your defenses are compromised, American armor is knocking on your front door, and your only shot at surviving the day is to surrender yourselves to that strapping chap in your courtyard. And do be polite about it, because he may well be looking for any excuse to tear your limbs off. This is Resistance radio, signing off. And Jack, I’m afraid our schedule is more rigorous than originally assumed. A train departed here not an hour before our arrival. If my figures are correct, you may be able to catch them by plane, depending on your skill at hitting something with a parachute.”