The town of Fresnes, located just thirty minutes outside Paris, was a very beautiful town, where ancient stone churches mingled with cars and powerlines. The German occupation had turned it on its head, however, and even after two years of occupation, the citizens were weary of the soldiers who were stationed there. Heinrich Krüger, who’d been there since the beginning of the occupation, sometimes found it strange how everyone still looked at his Gestapo uniform in fear; even the people who worked at the boulangerie where he got his breakfast every morning (damn pain au chocolate; it would be the death of him someday, he was sure of it) would stare at him in fear every time he came in.
Of course, when days like that one came along, he began to understand it more: who wouldn’t be afraid of someone that could have them killed with just a flick of their wrist?
The day was chilly, with a bright blue sky dotted with only a few clouds and a slight breeze that made the red, orange, and yellow leaves dance and sing in the trees. Nooses were hanging from the ceiling of Fresnes Prison’s execution chamber, with old, wooden stools beneath them. On the other side of the room stood members of the Abwehr and Gestapo, all of whom, like himself, had worked on bringing down the Carté Organization, a resistance network that had operated in Paris. It had almost been three months since they’d first begun to arrest the agents involved with them, and only now were they seeing the demise of the last few members of the network.
As they waited for the prisoners to be brought in, Bergfaulk, an overweight Abwehr agent he’d had the displeasure of working with, walked up to him. He couldn’t help but notice the powdered sugar smeared across his lips, likely from the countless beignets he’d shoved into his mouth like some sort of human assembly line.
“I thought that you were squeamish,” he said. Of course, he did. Most of the people he worked with thought he was that way, mostly because he didn’t normally attend executions; he always thought it was more important to do his job - tracking down spies, keeping order in the prison, arresting Jews - than it was to watch prisoners die. That day, however, was the exception. He’d worked three months on bringing down this network, and he thought that it might be a little more rewarding to see this job through to the end this time than to just receive a pat on the back for what he’d accomplished.
“No, I’m not squeamish,” Krüger said. “I prefer to do my job rather than watch men die for doing theirs. I’m sorry if that offends your primitive tastes.”
Before Bergfaulk could respond, the prisoners - four men and one woman - were marched in. It was obvious that their months in prison had taken a toll on them. Where they once walked with a quiet confidence in their steps and their heads held high, they now walked with hunched shoulders and their heads down, waiting for another boot to kick them, another hand to slap them, or another butt of a gun to hit them. The men’s faces had become prickly from beards forming, the woman’s hair had turned into a greasy mess and her face was covered in tear streaked grime; the people that were brought into the room were not the same ones that entered the prison three months earlier.
After each prisoner was helped onto a stool and a noose was placed around their necks, their names, crimes, and sentences were read out loud; however, Krüger didn’t listen to most of them. If he hadn’t been there for their arrests, he’d been there for their interrogations. As the names were read out, he remembered where each of them had been arrested: a back alley behind a butcher’s shop for one, the steps of a cathedral with a priest and a few church goers acting as concerned onlookers for another; however, he remembered the woman’s arrest the clearest. She’d managed to avoid arrest the longest of any member of the network, long enough that they almost gave up all hope of finding her. Krüger had finally gotten a tip on where she was, though, and had tracked her down to a train station, where she was about to get on the afternoon train to Bordeaux. When she’d seen him, she’d frozen up in terror and actually passed out on the platform; if he hadn’t caught her as she fell, she would’ve smacked her head on the concrete platform. It seemed that he’d saved her from one fate just for her to meet a different one.
Once their sentences had been read out, they were carried out: one by one, the stools that held the enemy agents up were kicked out from under them. There was an ugly snap as the ropes snapped taut, and they began squirming, desperately trying to fight against the ropes that were slowly killing them. Nobody spoke as they choked; nobody, except for one man.
“You did an excellent job on the Carté Organization.” It was Karl Bömelburg, the head of the Gestapo in France.
Krüger could feel pride swelling up inside him. Before that moment, he’d assumed that someone as important as Herr Bömelburg wouldn’t even recognize the existance of someone as unimportant as him; knowing that his work was appreciated by the French head of the Gestapo was very gratifying.
“Thank you, sir,” Krüger said quietly as he watched the agents as they were hanged. Most of their faces were red as wine, now, and some of them had even started to turn blue. “I must say, I quite enjoyed it. I hope that I’ll have the opportunity to do it again.”
“That can be arranged.” That was when Krüger turned to look at him, confused. Had they found another network so soon after they’d destroyed one?
“I’m ordering you to be transferred to Paris,” Bömelburg said. “I think that you can be of more use to us there.”
Krüger tried to keep his jaw from hitting the floor in pleasant shock. Ever since he’d arrived in France, he’d wanted a station in Paris. That was where all the important work in the country was done. Now that it seemed to actually be happening… well, it was a little overwhelming.
“When should I leave, sir?” Krüger asked. One by one, the agents stopped moving as they succumbed to death.
“After this business is done, you’re to pack up your things and get on the noon train to Paris,” Bömelburg said. “I’ll have one of my men there to meet you when you get there.”
“Yes, sir.” the rest of the execution passed by in relative silence. One by one, the agents began to die, their corpses gently twisting on the ropes that killed them and their heads slumped to the sides at grotesque angles. Just as she was the last one to be captured, the woman was the last to stop moving, but not without mouthing a silent prayer for the souls of her and her fallen friends. Her eyes remained open unlike theirs; those dead brown eyes stared at them all as her corpse hung there. Such wasted beauty.
After the agents stopped twitching, all the men began filing out, congratulating each other on a job well done. Krüger, however, stayed behind. He waited until everyone else was gone, then inspected each of the corpses. They were all dead, that was for sure; their skin had taken on a white, pasty pallor, and their chests didn’t move an inch. He found himself lingering at the woman’s body the longest, though. Her dirty face was streaked with lines coming down from her eyes, ones that had a slight sheen to them. It took him a few moments for him to realize what they meant.
She’d been crying.
Evelyn looked up from her twiddling thumbs. At around noon, a car arrived at the safe house, driven by an older woman with short brown hair by the name of Yvonne Rudelatt. She’d driven Evelyn, Gilbert, and Gene out of the woods and into Entrepôt, a neighborhood north of Paris’ city center, where a resistance member by the name of Louis Cartier lived. Though his small house was already cramped with he, his wife and his five children, he’d been happy to take them in for the time being; from the second Gene was carried through his front door, he seemed to be able to tell that his skills as a doctor were needed.
“I-I think he landed wrong,” she said. “He walked on it for a little while after that, and he hasn’t been able to put any weight on it, since.”
Louis nodded as he pulled a stool up to the old, red couch Gene was laying on, with his pant leg rolled up to reveal his swollen, discolored leg. Louis was a little older, with salt and pepper hair, brown eyes, and olive skin. He had a kind, caring disposition and a warm face, qualities that reminded Evelyn of her father.
“It must have been some landing,” Louis said as he sat down. He began to gently touch the swollen area on Gene’s leg. “On a scale of one to ten, how much does this hurt?”
Gene began wincing. “Eight. It’s an eight.” Louis nodded, then looked back at Evelyn, Gilbert, and Yvonne.
“I think he may have broken his leg,” he announced. “He won’t be able to put much weight on his leg for the next month.” Gilbert cursed.
“How much work will he be able to do?” Yvonne asked as Louis dug through his medical bag.
“For now, I would say that his work needs to be limited to intelligence gathering,” Louis said as he pulled out a bandage. He began to wrap up Gene’s leg. “Once his leg starts healing up, he’ll be able to do a little more.” Louis instructed his wife, Denise, to grab some crutches from the garage.
“Am I going to need a cast?” Gene asked.
“Eventually, yes,” Louis said. “Your leg is a little too swollen, right now. You two will be staying here for a few days, until the swelling has gone down enough that we can put you into a cast.” Gene groaned, looking up at the ceiling.“I hate casts,” he said miserably. “Teach me to serve my country.”