Book II of the World War Two Series
Fiction: war/adventure/historical romance
Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Holland, Belgium and Norway have fallen to the Nazis. In Paris, the government quails before Hitler and France prepares, confusedly, to be next. Two citizens, at least, are determined to not give in — a rich physics undergraduate who works on atomic fission, and her working-class chauffeur who is falling in love with her. Each in their own way fights back, with some touching, some disastrous, results. In stark contrast to France’s predicament at the beginning of the war, interludes follow an American GI on his way to Paris in the wake of the D-Day invasion, almost five years later.
Invasion of France Facts
In September 1939, Hitler invaded Poland. The British and French had agreed to come to Poland’s aid if this happened, and so were now at war with Germany. The woefully small and underequipped British Expeditionary Force was sent to France at the end of September, and after battle commenced was driven back to the coast, forcing their evacuation back to Britain. After this, France was on its own. The Maginot Line, a line of concrete fortifications constructed along France’s borders with Germany, was thought to be sufficient to oppose invasion. Early in 1940, German forces largely bypassed it and took France in a matter of days.
Sample chapter: © David Andrew Westwood 2012, all rights reserved. No part of this text may be reproduced without written permission from the author.
21. November 1939
“I’ll provide the van and follow behind, and you,” Tournaud pointed at Christophe, “will use the Traction Avant to stop the army truck.”
Christophe resented being told what to do, treated like a mere cog in the wheel of the operation like some street kid. But Tournaud knew the military, having been an NCO before being cashiered for theft—or so it was being said, anyway—and so he was a natural to plan and execute stealing arms. He knew what to look for, he knew how the army worked, and he could find out, he told them, the best place to pull it off. And besides, he was older.
What if he were a plant, a stooge? It was hard to believe, with the man’s fierce demeanor, that he could be pretending such contempt of the authorities, but it was always possible. Yet Christophe knew he could not back out now without losing face, and without worrying the others that he knew too much. No, better to just go ahead and be very, very careful.
They discussed the operation far into the night, sitting smoking in the old bus. The minute Christophe had succeeded in stopping the arms truck Rémy would threaten the drivers. He would have a pistol, as would his helper Yves Boutin. Tournaud would be following the arms shipment with a stolen truck, into which all the guns would be placed, and which would be dumped somewhere after unloading. Rameau and Moussard, two other teenagers who had expressed adequate horror at their government’s acquiescence and wanted in, would be loaders and unloaders. If they performed well, perhaps they would move up in what Tourneau was beginning to call ‘the organization.’
“So,” Christophe began, wanting to reassert himself before the group, “It all hinges on finding out when and where. And, of course, finding the van and two revolvers.”
Tournaud looked at him with his coal-ember eyes. “Oh, I have the guns, you can be sure. And the ammunition. All I have to do is keep an eye on their movements and I’ll know when another shipment leaves. You’ll be hearing from me, and it will be a last-minute thing. You must all,” he swept his eyes around the group, “be ready at a moment’s notice.”
Everyone nodded, gravely. Christophe wondered if they would all come through, or if one of them would screw up. The odds were that someone would. Still, the project had its own impetus now, and had passed the indefinable point from being a half-assed piece of bragging floated over a few beers to an inevitable series of events. There was no backing out without appearing a coward or a stool-pigeon.
They dispersed into the night, leaving the lockup one at a time.
· · ·
Almost two weeks went by, and Christophe was beginning to hope that the whole mad scheme had been forgotten. Poland was part German, part Russian now, and apparently Hitler had his sights on the low countries. Russia had reached the Mannerheim Line, and was at war with Finland. A certain frenetic quality pervaded Paris lately, a feeling of helplessness, along with a continuation of the ‘die for Danzig?’ indifference that angered him.
But what business was it of his what the Nazis did? He had his job as chauffeur, which paid him well, for a brilliant scientist that also happened to be good-looking. Was it any business of his? Perhaps he, too, should try to ignore it all and hope the Nazis went away, satisfied with what they had already gained.
And yet, the Nazis were more than some belligerent gang that could be kept in check by a powerful army. They represented an entire approach to humanity, a new order that cared nothing about life, freedom, or basic dignity. Theirs was a regime, it was said, that had been killing off the crippled, the old, and races they did not care to share the earth with. What’s more, they represented a political movement that spanned borders, that was coming head-to-head against democracy on one hand, and communism on the other. It professed a third path, that of bullying and intimidation, against everything civilization had striven for over the centuries. Their jackbooted feet were taking the biggest goose step backward in human history.
When word came, of course, it was at the worst possible time. Christophe had just gone to bed, tired and tipsy after one too many beers with Rémy, when a stone clattered against his window. It was Yves Boutin, standing alone on the cobblestones and looking alarmed.
“It’s on!” he hissed.
“Now! Get dressed!”
Christophe yawned and tied his shoes. He was sure his father would hear him drive away, forcing him to explain his midnight disappearance. Well, he would think of something. When he pulled the car out of the garage and closed the doors, Yves climbed in on the passenger side and directed him to an isolated crossroads twenty minutes out of town.
Here, he parked and turned out his lights, but kept his engine running, and removed his license plates with a screwdriver he’d brought along for the purpose. Nearby were Raoul Tournaud in an unmarked light truck, freshly stolen, and Rémy on his motorcycle. Yves joined him on its pillion seat.
“They should be passing within fifteen minutes,” Tournaud said, pointing, “heading north. As soon as they pass, Christophe drives and overtakes them, making them stop. Rémy and Yves, make sure you stay with Christophe, and as soon as the truck stops you threaten the drivers, one on each side. Understand? Take away their own guns as soon as you can. You two have to stay watching them the whole time. The rest of us will be in the truck behind, ready to transfer the guns and ammo. All right?”
‘All right’ was not the phrase Christophe would have used, since he felt anything but. His mouth was dry, his heart was hammering, and his stomach felt queasy. But events had overtaken him, just as he was now supposed to overtake this army truck, and it was too late to do anything else.
“Put on your masks.”
Everyone tied a scarf across the lower part of their faces, and got ready.
As predicted, a small olive truck, of a type used by the military, sped by after a few long minutes. Christophe pulled out after it, flooring the gas pedal. Rémy and Yves, on a motorcycle, roared out just after him and stayed just a few yards behind. In his mirror he could see Tournaud’s van lumbering out too.
The army truck was not traveling at an especially high speed, and Christophe’s Citroën rapidly overtook it. Once past, he wrenched the wheel over and pulled in sharply, leaning on the horn, forcing the driver to slam on his brakes. The motorcycle riders swerved over, jumped off and parted to stand on each side of the truck’s cab, waving their revolvers and shouting. Christophe watched, the truck’s headlights almost blinding him, waiting to see what would transpire. Rémy got into a yelling match with the driver, and he raised his pistol, fired, and the windshield of the army truck shattered into a million shards that momentarily glinted like snow in the headlights’ beams.
This seemed to do the trick, because the two soldiers stumbled down to the road, the driver nursing his bleeding face, his companion waving his hands in the air, eyes wide with fear. Rémy and Yves took away their guns and herded the men to the side of the road.
Tournaud’s van, meanwhile, had stopped, turned, and backed up to the army truck, the two young men leaping out to transfer the arms.
“Turn all the lights out!” yelled Tournaud. “It’s like a carnival!”
Christophe wondered for one moment if perhaps they had been fooled, set up, and the back of the truck would hold a machine gun primed to tear them to shreds, but it was not so. In its usual sloppy fashion, the French army had entrusted an entire truckful of guns to just two men.
Long and heavy wooden boxes were transferred in efficient haste, but even so the operation seemed to take forever. Time had slowed down since the adrenaline-charged chase, and now they were at their most vulnerable, almost motionless by the side of the road for anyone to see. What if the army truck had some kind of escort? What if they were connected by radio to their base, which was even now listening to everything? Surely someone living nearby had heard his horn and the shot and reported it. It seemed at this moment that they had not considered anything when they made this lunatic plan. Would they never finish?
At long last, Tournaud whistled and waved them all off, and they sped back the way they had come. Christophe was to follow, now, and they drove through the still-dark city to Rémy’s father’s lockup under the Ménilmontant viaduct. Christophe parked two hundred meters beyond, replaced his plates and walked back. Rémy had parked his noisy motorcycle somewhere else, too. Inside, the bus had been manhandled to one side, and the truck was squeezed in tight beside it.
Christophe entered to find a frenzy of self-congratulatory handshaking. “Well done!” Tournaud was saying, “A perfect operation.”
“Not perfect,” Rémy corrected him. “The driver—I almost blinded him with that shot in the windshield. His face was covered with blood.”
“It was his own fault for not getting down sooner. He’ll be fine in a day or two. Now as for the guns and the truck, tomorrow night–”
“Tomorrow?” Rémy interrupted. “They can’t stay here until then! Are you crazy? Tonight! We have to move them now!”
“There isn’t time tonight. It’s almost dawn. We can’t take that chance.”
“But you’d take the chance of my father getting caught with all this on his property!”
“It can’t be helped. Keep him away today—hide the key if you have to—and tomorrow night we’ll dispose of the stuff.”
Rémy subsided onto the old bus’s step. “No one must talk,” he said. “Nothing, you hear?”
Everyone assured him that the cache would be kept secret, and one at a time they dispersed into the twilight.
Christophe drove back to the garage, with just enough time to wash the dust from the Citroën and the sweat from himself before he had to leave for Deauvenoy and Françoise. He had broken the law. And broken it in a big way. He felt exhausted and exhilarated at the same time. Perhaps, though, he would never again be able to relax.
· · ·
Françoise noticed. “Are you all right, Christophe?” she asked in concern, as he drove her down the hill toward the main road to Paris.
“Comme ci, comme ca. Car problems this morning,” he lied. “Wouldn’t start. Had to have the mechanic look at it. She’s fine now, though.”
“I hope it is in good condition for a long drive. I got my instructions yesterday. We have another trip on Saturday. D’accord? A weekend is all right?”
He nodded. “D’accord. I will be ready. And so will the car.”
· · ·
That evening, Christophe’s father cornered him in the garage. “Are you driving your doctor in the middle of the night now?”
“Uh, no dad...”
“Then what were you up to last night?”
“Oh, I couldn’t sleep, so–”
His father grabbed his lapel. “Don’t bullshit me, boy. This is your father you’re talking to, not one of your dim little friends. You expect me to believe you just went for a little joyride at two in the morning?”
“Dad, I can’t–”
Christophe sighed. “My friends and I … we’re preparing for the Germans. We think they’re going to invade again, and we want to do something about it.”
“Do what about it?”
“Uh … the less you know the better.”
Alphonse Mellie looked at his son for a moment, considering. “That’s up to you, son. Maybe it’s a good thing. But you’re using my property, involving me. I have a right to know what you’re using my car for. If anyone sees you, they’ll come to me.”
“Sit down, son.”
Christophe sat on a stool, toying with a wrench.
His father ran his hands along the Citroën’s fender. “I served in the last three years of the Great War. I was at Verdun, but I was one of the lucky ones. I just fixed the trucks and motorcycles. But I saw the unlucky ones. Hundreds and hundreds of them. Every day. Destroyed by the war, either crippled inside or outside or both. I became crippled too. When I came home your mother didn’t recognize the man she’d been engaged to, but she married me anyway. And eventually I came around.”
He looked at Christophe. “So what are you and your friends planning?”
“To fight back.”
“You have guns?”
“Where are they?”
“Hidden. Not here.”
His father was silent for a long time. Eventually he stood and brushed off his trousers as if to shake off crumbs. “I’m not a religious man, Chris, you know that. But I hope to God you know what you’re doing. A lot of us won’t survive this. I’ve had my life—it doesn’t matter for me. But you—you haven’t had yours yet.”
Unused to such long speeches, he turned to the window and looked out at the cobblestones gleaming under the streetlight. “Your mother said you were a brave kid. When you fell down and hurt yourself you would always refuse to cry.”