May 8, 1944
Ardennes Forest, May 3, 1944
Lt. Willow Rosenberg was soaking wet and decidedly peeved. She'd waited at the checkpoint well past the appointed time, and her contact was nowhere to be found. Her green eyes peered up from under her mostly worthless wide brimmed fedora, taking in the angry gray storm clouds roiling in the sky above. "Oh, France, lovely this time of year," she muttered to herself, as the rain poured down mercilessly upon her. She heard a light rustling of leaves in the trees directly ahead, but couldn't see more than a few feet ahead of her due to the pouring rain. She immediately touched the handle of her trusty Walther PPK (silencer attached) hiding deep within an interior pocket of her trench coat, comforted by the feel of the heavy cold steel that had saved her life on more than one occasion.
A tall man emerged from the thicket, as Rosenberg crouched behind a fallen tree and waited for the signal. She grimly acknowledged to herself that if she didn't hear the signal in the next ten seconds, the man would die here in the forest with a 9mm bullet lodged in his brain. As Rosenberg silently removed the gun from her pocket, the man finally whistled. Two short bursts, and the Lieutenant sighed heavily, not even realizing she was holding her breath. She whistled back as she stood, pocketing the Walther.
"Mademoiselle... Lieutenant Rosenberg?" Willow nodded. "That's me."
"My name is Thierry. I am sent to help you, which you already know. Please, we must hurry. A group of German soldiers have entered the town. We must keep off the road, and get you to safety."
Willow nodded in assent. "Lead the way."
The two did not speak for the next forty minutes. Willow followed Thierry through the forest, careful to remain as quiet as possible. She knew that Thierry must have been a part of the French Resistance, operating secretly since the German army overran the country more than four years ago. Were it not for these operatives, many of whom were plain country folk spurred to action by Nazi aggression, Allied agents like herself would have a much harder time moving about the countryside and crossing the border into Germany undetected.
"We are close, Ms. Rosenberg. Just through the clearing up ahead. Please, stay here and I will make sure our way is safe." Willow crouched down and waited while Thierry walked a few yards ahead. Moments later, he returned, visibly agitated. "Mon Dieu! Germans are at the house. We must take cover."
Willow silently moved forward. "I need to assess the situation." Thierry nodded and followed. She moved forward toward the clearing, Thierry by her side, and took in the scene at the farmhouse several hundred feet ahead. Four German soldiers milled about in front, engaged in conversation and smoking hand-rolled cigarettes.
"Es sollte ein Hotel in der Nähe geben."
"Seien Sie kein Idiot. Wir bleiben hier."
"Looks like our friends don't plan on leaving. Four out front, more inside I'm sure," she whispered. "What now?"
Thierry turned to her. "We have a problem."
Willow simply nodded to him, "I can see that." Meanwhile, her mind was in overdrive. A problem, she thought. I knew the French were an understated people, but seriously. I hate Nazis. I hate Nazis, so I come to France, an entire country overrun with Hitler's finest. But that's just the coming attractions to real picture, because in less than 24 hours I'm supposed to be in good old Deutschland herself, a fly in a wasps nest, a mouse in an alleyfull a cats, a little Jewish girl in a land taken over by monsters with a pathological hatred of everything I am and I could just take out those guys right now, just me and Walt, four easy shots before they even knew what happened and who am I kidding? Dumb Rosenberg, really dumb. Keep your emotions in check. Think... think. Maybe a simple glamour spell... or not. Don't know how many of them there are. Then there's the possibility of completely screwing that up and getting us killed. The day I'd be worried about screwing up a glamour spell... well, it's not every day you find your self in a situation like this. It's not like I'm trying to put one over on Xander during a poker game. Those are real fucking Nazis. And this is just the beginning.
"Thierry, we can't just stay here. I'm, uh, a little pressed for time."
"Oui. I can only hope Herbert managed to escape before the Germans got here. He had maps for you, and an envelope with information from your command. If he escaped, we must hope to find him in the forest close by, or..."
"Or I'll have to find a way to get word to the OSS that I'm flying blind. Who is the contact in Aachen? It still is Aachen, right?"
"I do not have that information Lieutenant."
Willow sighed heavily. This just keeps getting better and better.
"Frau Lichtermann?" Silence. "Frau Lichtermann?" Abruptly the woman's head turned away from the gaping mouth of a window set into the castle wall to face the soldier standing only a few feet behind her, framed by a massive arched stone doorway. She said nothing, making the soldier even more uncomfortable in her presence. She worked hard on little details like this - forced silences, piercing stares whenever she could muster the appropriate ire - anything to keep them off balance in her presence. Still, she did not speak or move toward the man. She simply raised her eyebrow and waited. He nervously cleared his throat. "Frau Lichtermann, Doctor Eckhardt requests your presence in his office at once." She nodded only slightly, and the soldier bowed uncomfortably and backed out of the room. Once he left, she sighed heavily and turned her gaze back toward the snow-covered hills below.
Of course he wants me, she thought to herself. Goddess forbid I spend more than an hour in peace, away from that slug of a man. She shuddered to herself, daring to think for only one nauseating moment what Eckhardt's real motivations were. She wasn't stupid. Most of these racial purists who fancied themselves Aryan supermen could only dream of creating a mini race of Uberkinder with her, the prototypical blonde haired blue eyed Aryan woman, who in reality and completely unbeknownst to them was Scotch-Irish and at least one-sixteenth Native American Cherokee.
Agent Tara Maclay turned away from the window and made her way out of the tastefully appointed lounge, down a labyrinthine maze of ancient stone corridors lined with torches that never seemed to go out. She arrived before a set of massive oak doors, guarded on either side by Eckhardt's personal guard. The one on the right nodded wordlessly to her, and rapped on the door behind him three times. He waited a moment, and called "Frau Lichtermann" as he opened the door. As she entered, she noticed Eckhardt dwarfed behind his ornate and richly carved mahogany desk, peering intently at an open and very worn leather file, documents and photographs spread out before him.
"I missed you at lunch today, Helene." She knew he'd ask. He always noticed her presence, or lack of. "My apologies, Doctor Eckhardt. I did not feel well." Eckhardt finally looked up as he pushed his small coke-bottle thick glasses back up the short slope of his tiny pug nose. His black eyes raked over her body, starting at her shapely legs and up the tight fitting SS uniform, pausing briefly at her ample breasts, and finally resting at eye level. He sighed heavily, speaking seemingly to himself. "Deitrich. Please Helene, call me Deitrich." She nodded as he continued to speak, returning his attention to the file before him. "Anyway, I am sorry to hear you were not feeling well. I trust you will join me for dinner." It was not a question.
Before she could speak, a short man in a white lab coat hurriedly entered the room, visibly agitated. She noticed immediately his coat was covered in blood, and something else... something sticky.
"Herr Doctor, the lab, T4, it was conscious briefly but completely out of control. I didn't know..."
"SILENCE," Eckhardt shouted. He cleared his throat and smiled, a smile that conveyed not an ounce of friendliness or good humour. Now his voice was gentle, almost kind. "Is he... alive, Herr Deters?"
Without another word Eckhardt nodded, and silently lifted a Luger he'd purveyed seemingly from nowhere. He almost absently fired the pistol toward the little man without even taking aim. A single shot shattered the brief silence as Tara jumped, forcing back the instant need to vomit brought on by the rush of adrenaline, and the sight of the man's brains splattered on the oak door behind where he stood only moments ago. She willed herself to remain calm while a guard took a few tentative steps into the room. "Clean that up," Eckhardt snapped at him. He turned to Tara and smiled again. "I'll see you at dinner then." She nodded and left the room, fighting back the ever-increasing revulsion at this sickening hell she was trapped in, with no escape in sight.
As she made her way quickly through the corridors to her room, she tried taking calming breaths. Only a few short months ago, watching a man's brains being blown apart in before her eyes would have destroyed Tara Maclay, a simple Midwestern farm girl who wouldn't even euthanize a sick horse. For this Tara Maclay, Army Lieutenant and OSS operative posing as Schutzstaffel specialist Helene Lichtermann, PhD., it was all in a day's work. She wondered to herself how much longer she would be able to stand it.
Willow and Thierry stayed in their position for another ten minutes, listening to the soldiers with the hope of getting some clue as to why they were there. After ten minutes of idle chit chat and no movement whatsoever inside the house, they decided to move. Willow knew that she and Thierry couldn't risk an encounter with the German soldiers. They doubled back through the woods where they could cross the road far enough away from the farmhouse so they wouldn't be seen. There was a real possibility that Herbert had been captured, and an even slimmer chance that Willow's cover was already blown. Still, the latter was doubtful. She knew that army cryptographers wouldn't make it easy for the enemy to decipher the documents, but still, she could not risk getting caught.
Thierry explained to her that a friend of his, a resistance sympathizer, lived a few short miles away. With any luck, his house and the surrounding area would be free of Germans. The plan was to obtain a car, disguises, papers, and head to Bastogne where Willow could take advantage of plentiful resistance resources and re-establish contact with the OSS.
They trekked through the wooded area cautiously, Thierry leading the way. The further behind they left the farmhouse, the more relaxed Willow became. For the first time, she'd noticed that it had stopped raining. Wow, she thought to herself. France really is beautiful this time of year.
"HALT! Hände auf!
Startled out of her reverie, Willow turned to see several German soldiers beginning to surround them. Thierry pulled out a revolver as she screamed "Thierry NO!" but it was too late. A short burst from a Stg 44 cut him down as she instinctively reached for her own weapon, but a voice from behind her stopped her cold.
"I would not do that if I were you, Lieutenant."