A convoy of Wehrmacht motorcycles and staff cars, flanked front and rear by Halftracks, entered Bastogne at twilight on 4 May, 1944. There had only been one brief stop in a small hamlet near the France/Belgium border, then several hours of driving through the Belgian countryside toward Germany. A redheaded woman sat in the back seat of a Kübelwagen, sandwiched tightly between two German soldiers who hulked over her and stared silently ahead. She couldn't see too well beyond either one of them to take in the surrounding countryside. She feared that they might be heading straight on into Germany, but much to her surprise and relief they stopped in the very town where she was originally headed. Now, she only needed to figure out how to escape from her captors and find the resistance fighters Thierry had spoken of.
The convoy made its way through the narrow cobblestone streets of the town, past ruins of buildings and small groups of soldiers, some Waffen-SS, and some Heer or regular army. It was much like a ghost town; other than military personnel, signs of civilian life were fleeting. She thought grimly to herself that the vast majority of Bastogne's civilian male population must have been either dead, in hiding, or absorbed into the German military after the annexation of Belgium.
The convoy finally stopped before a majestic building in the town center and Willow was prodded out of the car with the business end of a Stg 44 at her back. Her two escorts led her into a smaller building to the left of the larger one, where she was led up two flights of stairs and down a long hallway. Every so often she passed an open door where soldiers were huddled around tables, studying maps, eating, or playing cards. They proceeded through a series of doors and mazelike connected rooms, until finally she was shoved into a small windowless gray room that contained a single chair. She watched as her captors shut the door, effectively blotting out any light or sound from the hallway outside the room. Now the only source of light came from a dim, flickering bulb hanging from a wire through a small hole in the ceiling.
Willow methodically took stock of her surroundings. A room with one door. No windows. No fireplace. No closet. One American girl, dressed in plain dark olive green slacks and shirt. No gun, as she'd been relieved of her gun back in France, and her coat once they'd arrived here. Now all she had to work with was several hairpins, a leather belt, shoelaces, and a small Swiss army knife hidden in a well hollowed out of the sole of her left boot.
Clearly there was no way she'd be able to overpower so many men. It was imperative that she make it out of there without raising alarms, else half the German army would be after her in a heartbeat. Night had just fallen, so darkness would give her cover. She guessed they'd only put one guard at the door, since she hardly appeared to be a threat. But then again, she didn't know how much they knew about her, other than that she was an American Army Lieutenant caught skulking about the French countryside with an armed Frenchman who was now dead. She stood quietly by the door for a moment and listened. Other than voices in the distance, it was quiet.
After a few minutes of waiting, she tapped lightly on the door. "Hallo? Kann ich bitte etwas Wasser haben?" she whispered through the door. She stepped back, and waited for the door to open. It was a simple request - she'd only asked for some water. If they obliged her, she could get a look outside the door to size up her captors - how many, how big, how old, rank, SS or regular army... any details to help her formulate a plan. After several minutes, the door opened and a matronly woman entered the room holding a tray with several glasses of beer and water, and a plate with bread and cheese slices. Before she could reach Willow, the soldier standing near the doorway grabbed her arm. "Nein! Nur Wasser!" She nodded to the soldier, and tentatively stepped toward Willow. As he spoke, Willow noticed that he was a younger and smaller version of the men who escorted her into the building. He was also only an SS Shütze, or Private. Removing only the glass of water from her tray, she handed it to Willow with her head bowed. She looked up quickly and gave Willow a fleeting smile, and quickly left the room. The guard shut the door.
Willow placed the water on the table. There was something about that woman.... but she couldn't think about that right now. She was right - there was only one guard at the door. The beginnings of a plan began to grow in her mind.
She moved away from the door sat in the lone chair, and quickly untied her left boot. She reached into it, carefully pulling back the rubber insole and removing the knife. She then pocketed it, and put her boot back on. She looked up at the light hanging from its cord, grabbed it, and gave it a gentle tug. To her surprise, there was plenty of give. She quietly pulled the cord as far out as it would go, and walked with it over to the door. It reached with a few inches to spare. She unscrewed the bulb and, in total darkness, removed the socket assembly from its housing and put it aside. She closed her eyes in the darkness, as if it would somehow allow her "see" better with her hands. She worked slowly and deliberately. Being careful not to touch the wires together, she used the knife to remove several inches of the protective rubber insulation from the two wires. She then wrapped one wire around the doorknob, and wrapped the other around a pin she'd culled from her hair, and placed it hanging only millimeters from the inside of the knob. Once the knob was turned, the metal hairpin with the second wire wrapped around it would come in contact with the metal knob, completing the circuit. For good measure, she took the glass of water and poured it out on the hardwood floor just inside the doorway.
She tapped lightly on the door again, took a few steps back, and stood in the darkness and waited.
Tara sat in the darkness of her room, quietly contemplating her next move. She'd never imagined she'd be in Wewelsburg Castle, the SS headquarters itself, so soon. It had almost seemed serendipitous that she'd been sent here only two weeks after beginning her tenure at Eckhardt's Institute of Racial Studies in Berlin. At the time she'd had no idea how deeply the doctor's feelings, if that's what you could call them, had run for her. She thought if she could only bring herself to fake interest in him, she might just be able to gain his trust. But she also knew that the misanthropic doctor had a pathological distrust of humankind, and she didn't see how it'd be any different with her. Besides, pulling off the whole sociopathic, cold-blooded Nazi intellectual elitist was one thing; appearing to have the slightest romantic interest in one of them, one who happened to be a toad-like, socially retarded, half blind monstrosity, well that was just asking the impossible. She'd just have to find another way.
Lately the doctor had taken to writing her little notes and having them delivered by one of his guards. Most of the time they were thinly veiled orders; lunch at noon, tea at 4. Sometimes he would want to see the latest draft of her thesis on Darwinism and Aryan Supremacy. Those were the most palatable conversations they'd have, usually over a meal, or tea. A few times she tried to steer the conversation toward the work he was doing within the Castle, but he never answered. He'd simply change the subject.
Now she pondered his latest note. Party dignitaries would be in attendance tomorrow evening for a special meeting, including many high-level officials within the Reich. There would be a tour of the facilities, followed by the evening meal, and lastly a closed meeting. The note said nothing of her attendance at the meeting, only the dinner. From what she guessed, it seemed that Eckhardt expected her to be some sort of hostess for the affair. This is just great, she thought to herself. I should be in that meeting, only Richard the Third has me serving dinner like I'm his wife. Ugh. Somehow she would have to get the attention of someone in the party, someone higher up than Eckhardt. Someone who would listen to her theories, and recognize that she deserved to be playing a more important role within the Reich. It seemed to be her only way out.
She rose from her chair and turned on the small table lamp at her bedside, which cast an eerie reddish glow in her chambers. It was a glow that could be seen throughout most of the castle. Above the lamp and to the left, centered over her bed, hung a sizeable red flag, in the center of which was a black swastika inside a white circle. Such flags adorned the entire castle, along with portraits of Hitler and Himmler, and of course SS flags, insignias, iron crosses, and other various symbols Himmler used to enhance the mythos of the SS. As she sat on her bed, Tara couldn't help but think it all quite brilliant. So many young men, the best the German military could offer, were chosen for service in the SS. Once chosen, they were indoctrinated into quasi-religious mystic ideology that promised a new heroic Germany where present day soldiers modeled the Aryan Teutonic Knights of old. But there was more to Himmler's methods than simply using mythology and symbolism to motivate young soldiers. It was the madness of his vision that proved simultaneously fascinating and terrifying to her. The idea of raising the dead, for one thing. She had also heard rumors about the "Spear of Destiny," said to be the very spear used to pierce the side of Christ by a Roman soldier, as he hung dead on the cross. It was said that the spear was imbued with mystical powers, and whoever wielded it would have the power to conquer the world. Preposterous, she thought, stifling a yawn. I have been around these people way too long. Deciding she'd had enough for one day, she removed her uniform and donned a flannel nightgown. She slipped under the heavy blankets, and fell immediately asleep.
Her sleep was fitful. Her dreamscape was dark and roiling, as she was besieged by images ancient wars and clashing swords, of the dying and the undead, innocents perishing at the hands of evil, light engulfed by night. She dreamt of dark cloaked figures performing mysterious rituals in strange languages, on a far away and rocky, snow-covered island surrounded by dangerous seas. When she awoke the following morning, she felt stifled by a sense of dread that weighed down her heart and mind. She felt exhausted.
She spent the day almost in a daze. She kept to her room, working at her small desk, reading and writing more of the outrageous and unsubstantiated theories of Aryan purity and superiority. When she first began her "work," she would often make herself laugh with the absurdity of it all, and wondered how she managed to get through presentations of her theories to others without breaking down in laughter or in tears. Often she thought of the prisoners who labored outside the castle walls, who were trucked in early in the morning, and worked without a break until nightfall. The prisoners in striped black and white clothing that hung like rags off of their gaunt bodies. And the yellow star pinned to their chests, emblazoned with a single word. Juden. She allowed herself to think of these horrors only when she had to, to keep herself focused on her mission - to end this madness once and for all.
A light tapping on her door brought her out of her reverie. "Frau Lichtermann?" It was a guard, probably one of Eckhardt's men with another note, she thought to herself. She rose and opened the door. The guard nodded as he handed her the note, then turned on his heel and disappeared down the hallway. She sighed, opened it, and read:
Immediately her alabaster skin turned red with ire, as she crumpled up the note and threw it across the room. When the hell have I ever not been attentive to my appearance?! she thought angrily. Pompous ass! She took several deep breaths to center herself, then moved to the bed and flopped down with a long sigh. Goddess help me, she thought. Just help me through this. Help me do my duty, help my country. She wished that she had just a simple candle, or incense, anything to help her pray to the Goddess for a blessing. She thought of her altar at home, her athame and spellbooks, and knew it was too much of a risk to have anything like that here. As she continued to take deep breaths to find her center, she chanted to herself: I am peaceful, I am strong / though this dark seems so long / day must follow every night / darkness overtaken by light / I am always safe from harm / the Goddess holds me in her arms. A few minutes later, she opened her eyes and noticed the clock on her dresser. 4:15pm. It was time to get ready.
She made it to the Great Hall at exactly 4:58. She wore her dress uniform, and had her hair up in a tight bun. Not a hair was out of place. As she arrived, Eckhardt once again allowed himself the pleasure of raking his eyes over her body. She noticed with some surprise that he was dressed in a very nicely fitted and probably very expensive suit, which was a change from his everyday lab coat. She noted that rather than looking like a rat in a lab coat, he looked more like... a rat in an expensive suit. This thought amused her to no end and caused her to smile widely at him, which of course gave him a great sense of personal satisfaction.
Only moments later the entourage of dignitaries arrived, led by none other than Reichsführer Himmler himself. Tara stayed back as the men made each other's acquaintances, preferring to wait until Eckhardt called her forward for introductions. It was a sizeable group, and each man had a woman on his arm. Now she understood what her purpose was. She was to entertain the female guests while the men discussed matters of state. Before she could spend even a moment being disgusted at that particular turn of events, Eckhardt materialized at her side, holding her right arm. "Reichsführer Himmler," he said, "allow me to introduce my esteemed and lovely colleague Dr. Helene Lichtermann." She offered her hand and Himmler took it, bowing slightly. "A pleasure," he stated. He gently pulled the woman on his arm forward toward Tara. She was slightly taller than Tara, wearing her blonde hair in a stylish coif, and entirely too much makeup. Her skin was pale, which offset her dark red lipstick and black mascara. The woman looked at Tara, and an almost strange sense of familiarity struck both women at the same time. The woman held out her hand, and inhaled sharply when Tara took it, her mouth frozen in an "O." Then Himmler smiled at his companion, and turned back to Tara. "Dr. Lichtermann, allow me to introduce... a friend, Anyanka Weitzel. Anya, may I introduce Dr. Helene Lichtermann."