Jackdaws CHAPTER 2

DIETER FRANCK HAD noticed the girl at the cafeable the moment he drove into the square.

He always noticed beautiful women.

This one struck him as a tiny bundle of sex appeal.

She was a pale blonde with light green eyes, and she probably had German blood-it was not unusual here in the northeast of France, so close to the border.

Her small, slim body was wrapped in a dress like a sack, but she had added a bright yellow scarf of cheap cotton, with a flair for style that he thought enchantingly French.

When he spoke to her, he had observed the initial flash of fear usual in a French person on being approached by one of the German occupiers; but then, immediately afterwards, he had seen on her pretty face a look of ill-concealed defiance that had piqued his interest.

She was with an attractive man who was not very interested in her-probably her husband.

Dieter had asked her to take a photo only because he wanted to talk to her.

He had a wife and two pretty children in Cologne, and he shared his Paris apartment with Stephane, but that would not stop him making a play for another girl.

Beautiful women were like the gorgeous French impressionist paintings he collected: having one did not stop you wanting another.

French women were the most beautiful in the world.

But everything French was beautiful: their bridges, their boulevards, their furniture, even their china tableware.

Dieter loved Paris nightclubs, champagne, foie gras, and warm baguette& He enjoyed buying shirts and ties at Charvet, the legendary chemisier opposite the Ritz hotel.

He could happily have lived in Paris forever.

He did not know where he had acquired such tastes.

His father was a professor of music-the one art form of which the Germans, not the French, were the undisputed masters.

But to Dieter, the dry academic life his father led seemed unbearably dull, and he had horrified his parents by becoming a policeman, one of the first university graduates in Germany so to do.

By 1939, he was head of the criminal intelligence department of the Cologne police.

In May 1940, when General Heinz Gudenan's panzer tanks crossed the river Meuse at Sedan and swept triumphantly through France to the English Channel in a week, Dieter impulsively applied for a commission in the army.

Because of his police experience, he was given an intelligence posting immediately.

He spoke fluent French and adequate English, so he was put to work interrogating captured prisoners.

He had a talent for the work, and it gave him profound satisfaction to extract information that could help his side win battles.

In North Africa his results had been noticed by Rommel himself.

He was always willing to use torture when necessary, but he liked to persuade people by subtler means.

That was how he had got Stephanie.

Poised, sensual, and shrewd, she had been the owner of a Paris store selling ladies' hats that were devastatingly chic and obscenely expensive.

But she had a Jewish grandmother.

She had lost the store and spent six months in a French prison, and she had been on her way to a camp in Germany when Dieter rescued her.

He could have raped her.

She had certainly expected that.

No one would have raised a protest, let alone punished him.

But instead, he had fed her, given her new clothes, installed her in the spare bedroom in his apartment, and treated her with gentle affection until one evening, after a dinner of foie de veau and a bottle of La Tache, he had seduced her deliciously on the couch in front of a blazing coal fire.

Today, though, she was part of his camouflage.

He was working with Rommel again.

Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, the "Desert Fox," was now Commander of Army Group B, defending northern France.

German intelligence expected an Allied invasion this summer.

Rommel did not have enough men to guard the hundreds of miles of vulnerable coastline, so he had adopted a daring strategy of flexible response: his battalions were miles inland, ready to be swiftly deployed wherever needed.

The British knew this-they had intelligence, too.

Their counterplan was to slow Rommel's response by disrupting his communications.

Night and day, British and American bombers pounded roads and railways, bridges and tunnels, stations and marshaling yards.

And the Resistance blew up power stations and factories, derailed trains, cut telephone lines, and sent teenage girls to pour grit into the oil reservoirs of trucks and tanks.

Dieter's brief was to identify key communications targets and assess the ability of the Resistance to attack them.

In the last few months, from his base in Paris, he had ranged all over northern France, barking at sleepy sentries and putting the fear of God into lazy captains, tightening up security at railway signal boxes, train sheds, vehicle parks, and airfield control towers.

Today he was paying a surprise visit to a telephone exchange of enormous strategic importance.

Through this building passed all telephone traffic from the High Command in Berlin to German forces in northern France.

That included teleprinter messages, the means by which most orders were sent nowadays.

If the exchange was destroyed, German communications would be crippled.

The Allies obviously knew that and had tried to bomb the place, with limited success.

It was the perfect candidate for a Resistance attack.

Yet security was infuriatingly lax, by Dieter's standards.

That was probably due to the influence of the Gestapo, who had a post in the same building.

The Geheime Staatspolizei was the state security service, and men were often promoted by reason of loyalty to Hitler and enthusiasm for Fascism rather than because of their brains or ability.

Dieter had been here for half an hour, taking photographs, his anger mounting as the men responsible for guarding the place continued to ignore him.

However, as the church bell stopped ringing, a Gestapo officer in major's uniform came strutting through the tall iron gates of the chateau and headed straight for Dieter.

In bad French he shouted, "Give me that camera!" Dieter turned away, pretending not to hear.

"It is forbidden to take photographs of the chateau, imbecile!" the man yelled.

"Can't you see this is a military installation?" Dieter turned to him and replied quietly in German, "You took a damn long time to notice me." The man was taken aback.

People in civilian clothing were usually frightened of the Gestapo.

"What are you talking about?" he said less aggressively.

Dieter checked his watch.

"I've been here for thirty-two minutes.

I could have taken a dozen photographs and driven away long ago.

Are you in charge of security?" "Who are you?" "Major Dieter Franck, from Field Marshal Rommel's personal staff." "Franck!" said the man.

"I remember you." Dieter looked harder at him.

"My God," he said as recognition dawned.

"Willi Weber." "Sturmbannfuhrer Weber, at your service." Like most senior Gestapo men, Weber held an SS rank, which he felt was more prestigious than his ordinary police rank.

"Well, I'm damned," Dieter said.

No wonder security was slack.

Weber and Dieter had been young policemen together in Cologne in the twenties.

Dieter had been a high flyer, Weber a failure.

Weber resented Dieter's success and attributed it to his privileged background.

(Dieter's background was not extraordinarily privileged, but it seemed so to Weber, the son of a stevedore.) In the end, Weber had been fired.

The details began to come back to Dieter: there had been a road accident, a crowd had gathered, Weber had panicked and fired his weapon, and a rubbernecking bystander had been killed.

Dieter had not seen the man for fifteen years, but he could guess the course of Weber's career: he had joined the Nazi party, become a volunteer organizer, applied for a job with the Gestapo citing his police training, and risen swiftly in that community of embittered second- raters.

Weber said, "What are you doing here?" "Checking your security, on behalf of the Field Marshal." Weber bristled.

"Our security is good." "Good enough for a sausage factory.

Look around you." Dieter waved a hand, indicating the town square.

"What if these people belonged to the Resistance? They could pick off your guards in a few seconds." He pointed to a tall girl wearing a light summer coat over her dress.

"What if she had a gun under her coat? What if.


He stopped.

This was not just a fantasy he was weaving to illustrate a point, he realized.

His unconscious mind had seen the people in the square deploying in battle formation.

The tiny blonde and her husband had taken cover in the bar.

The two men in the church doorway had moved behind pillars.

The tall girl in the summer coat, who had been staring into a shop window until a moment ago, was now standing in the shadow of Dieter's car.

As Dieter looked, her coat flapped open, and to his astonishment he saw that his imagination had been prophetic: under the coat she had a submachine gun with a skeleton-frame butt, exactly the type favored by the Resistance.

"My God!" he said.

He reached inside his suit jacket and remembered he was not carrying a gun.

Where was Stephanie? He looked around, momentarily shocked into a state close to panic, but she was standing behind him, waiting patiently for him to finish his conversation with Weber.

"Get down!" he yelled.

Then there was a bang.

Prev page Next page