Ginette

By Lois Overton
Aka Foxhole Filly

Sgt. Saunders's head sagged forward onto the back of the chair that sat in the middle of the ballroom of the once-proud chateau. Dragged into the room, his hands bound tightly behind his back, the Germans had slammed him onto the velvet seat, forcing him to straddle it, and then they had tied his ankles to the legs of the chair. Reaching into a scabbard at his belt, a short, balding officer had pulled a large knife, inscribed in German across the shiny steel blade, and he had sliced the back of Saunders's shirt from the collar to the tail and then laid open the undershirt. A Kraut private had then grasped the two pieces of cloth and forced the remains of the shirts down until they hung at the American's elbows. But that had been some time ago...before the sergeant's tormentor had warmed to the task.

A shaft of sunlight made its way through a crack between the heavy velvet panels that covered the towering windows.  It played on a crystal chandelier that hung from the carved, gold trimmed ceiling, sending a sparkling rainbow onto the distant wall. As the sergeant watched the dancing hues, the whip bit into the flesh on his back again. A glob of blood splashed onto his pants leg, hitting a perfect bull's-eye where blood seeped through a ragged bullet hole.

 If it hadn't been for the pain, Saunders might have actually laughed at the absurdity of his situation.   There he sat in this magnificent room where in the past the likes of Bach or Beethoven might have shared a new work with the cream of French society.  Now it was 1944, and there was no music. Only the sound of the groans the soldier sought to stifle and the snap of the whip. His head pounded and pain coursed through his body in waves.  Struggling to ignore the sting of the hard strap as it slashed across his sweaty, bare back, he concentrated on working on the thin strips that bound his wrists tightly. He opened and closed his fingers to restore the circulation in them.  Then he tried to put pressure on the knots, perhaps to stretch the leather enough to wriggle a hand out. Another lash, and no matter how hard he tried to hold it in, a deep groan escaped.

"You will tell us what we need to know," a heavily accented German voice behind him sneered. "Hans here is excellent at making people tell things they do not wish to tell. Of course it would be easier if you told us now."  The captain swiped a gloved finger across the sergeant's tender back, and the American winced. The officer ran the finger across Saunders's face, leaving a streak of blood to mix with the sweat. The German's lips curled into a twisted smile. "When Hans starts to draw blood, he can be an animal.  It is sometimes almost impossible to stop him. You understand my meaning?"

"Go to hell," Saunders rasped.

The captain reached down and grabbed the American's hair and pulled his head back. Saunders's jaw clenched as he struggled not to pass out, though he considered for a moment that being unconscious might be the easiest thing under the circumstances.  His tormentor moved to within inches of Saunders's face. "I am a German SS officer.  I am in hell already."  A small string of spit stretched from the man's upper lip to his lower lip, and Saunders watched it as it vibrated with each of the German's words.

A heavy door at the far end of the room creaked open, and Saunders heard the echo of footsteps crossing the smooth marble floor. Looking out the corner of his eyes, he could barely make out two people approaching.  The larger was a man in the uniform of a Nazi officer. A wool coat hung on his shoulders. The other was a woman. She was dressed in a red silk dress that clung to her curvaceous figure.  A scarlet coat hung over her arm. Her high heels clicked on the brilliantly polished floor as she walked purposefully beside the officer, her arm wrapped around his.

The captain grasped Saunders by the throat, his fingers squeezing.  The American struggled not to make any sound that would be seen as a sign of weakness, but it was almost getting beyond his endurance as he wheezed with each breath.

"You are not paying attention, Sergeant," the German hissed.

"Enough!" the approaching officer called. "If you kill him, he isn't any good to us.  We need information, not a dead body."  The room echoed with the slap of his gloves in his hand. "We couldn't have that, my dear, could we?"  The woman shrugged. She showed no more interest in the health of the American sergeant than she might if she were offered a second cup of coffee.

"Very well, Colonel Woehrman."  The captain shoved Saunders's head forward roughly and delivered a fierce blow to the American's face before he backed off.  The sergeant's chin rested limply on his chest.  A small stream of blood trickled from his nose and dripped onto his wet chest.
 
The German officer whispered something to the woman, and she laughed heartily.  It was a deep, organic sound that the American might have found appealing under other circumstances.  She cocked her head and said something low to the officer, nodding back toward the American from time to time. For a moment, he seemed to be considering her words. He shot her a half-smile and chuckled to himself. Finally, the officer nodded toward the sergeant.

The woman walked up to Saunders, her hips swaying sweetly with each step. Something in her demeanor let him know that she was not someone to be trifled with.  She put her hand on Saunders's shoulder.  He flinched at her touch. She was close enough that he could smell her perfume.  Anything that good must be expensive, he thought. Her perfume blended with the odor of sweat and blood.  She put her face close to his. Her breath smelled of cigarettes and peppermint. "Ma cherie," she whispered in a voice that had a heavy French accent. "Why do you not tell them what they want to know?" She raised her arched eyebrows and nodded toward the door. "Then you will go home with me, and we will have fun. Just tell them. Non?"

Saunders's jaw clenched. "Do you know what they call women like you?"

The woman reared back and slapped him hard, her hand leaving its imprint on his cheek and almost knocking him off the chair. Then she took his hair in her hand and drew his head back roughly. He strained to breathe.  She drew close, hovering over him, her long blonde hair brushing his cheek.  Then suddenly she crushed his swollen, bleeding lips with her scarlet painted ones.  It was not a kiss for play, but a passionate one.  The sergeant tried to pull his head away or deflect her, but the beatings and the pain of the wound in his thigh had weakened him, leaving him helpless. After what seemed a lifetime, she pulled back and looked at him.  Her cheek was moist with his sweat. "I am worth having. You will never know what you are missing. It could be good."  She drew closer as if to kiss him again.  Her lips were against his cheek and then his ear.  "Take heart," she said quietly, and she pulled back. Then, without warning, she slapped him hard again and let his head drop back onto his chest. The taste of blood was in his mouth.

The woman slipped back over to the colonel.  She laid one arm over his shoulder, and the other went around his waist.  She reached her body up and whispered something to him.  She pulled back and watched him a moment, her head tipped as she waited for a reaction.  He seemed to be considering.  The woman spoke to him again, but Saunders could understand nothing.  The woman nodded toward Saunders.  Looking back, she continued her conversation.  Finally, the Colonel shook his head in resignation and smiled at her.

Colonel Woehrman kissed her lightly and chucked her chin.  He spoke to the officer, whose knuckles whitened as he balled his hands into tight fists. Saunders couldn't see his face, but the tension in his hands said that he could kill. Finally, the officer signaled to the other German soldier and stepped back. The private knelt and untied the bands that locked the American's ankles against the chair legs.  The German rose and shoved a hand under Saunders's armpit and pulled him roughly from the seat.

The colonel and the woman moved to the far end of the room and disappeared through a gold trimmed frosted glass door. The German captain pulled a revolver and placed it in Saunders's back, pushing him in the same direction.  The private fell in behind Saunders and prodded him repeatedly with the tip of the Schmeisser he carried.  The American limped badly, but the German kept him moving out the door and down a long corridor.  Reaching a short flight of stairs, the German pushed Saunders, and unable to catch his fall with his hands still tied behind him, the American's wounded leg gave way. He crashed down the steps, landing on the polished marble of the entryway.  Wasting no time, the private hauled Saunders to his feet and shoved him out the heavy door that the officer held open.

Saunders's shivered as his sweaty body cooled in the light breeze. The captain poked and prodded the American's tender back, forcing him to the rear of the shiny black vehicle parked under the portico. With a wave of his pistol, the Kraut signaled Saunders to climb into the trunk. Saunders raised his good leg and began working his way into the trunk, but an impatient shove from the Kraut caused him to pitch roughly into the compartment.  The captain slammed down the lid, leaving Saunders miserable, cold, and hurting in the small, dark space.

The Colonel and the woman were already settled in the front seat of the car. The captain came around to tell them that the prisoner was locked in the trunk.  Giving a quick Seig Heil to his superior, he stepped back on the driveway as the car roared off, flinging gravel behind the tires.

The captain took off his cap and slapped it across his dusty pant leg.  "Schwein!" he hissed.

*     *     *     *     *     *

The air inside the small compartment was incredibly stuffy. But at least it was growing warmer. Or maybe his body was just reacting to the pain and fear he felt.  The smell of sweat and blood and fumes from the automobile assaulted him, and he was seized with nausea. His stomach continued to lurch until he thought that his insides were dry.

His legs were drawn up into his chest. He sought to stretch out a bit, but in the confined space, there was little room to obtain relief.  So he concentrated on moving his foot and ankle muscles.  Then he tried the same with his hands, but they had gone numb long before.  There was nothing for him to do but lie there and take it, jouncing on his sore back, arms totally without feeling, and the continuous throbbing from the wound on his upper thigh.  Eventually, he faded into blessed unconsciousness.

 

*     *     *     *     *     *

Saunders walked down a long hall.  The walls were covered with brocade...red brocade.  Overhead, a bulb hung from a cord, and a person was standing underneath it, face in the shadows.  It was a small figure, maybe a woman.  She lifted a hand and swiped a match across the wall.  The match burst into flames, and she lit a cigarette that she held between ruby lips.  Saunders walked toward her.  She reached behind her and pulled a GI issue Colt from the waistband of her skirt.  Swinging the weapon to the front, she fired a single shot at Saunders, the noise reverberating in the narrow space. The bullet hit him dead center in the heart.  He fell against the shabby red brocaded wall, his shoulder hitting hard as she fired again. This shot hit him in the stomach, and he groaned loudly.

Somewhere in the back of Saunders's fitful sleep, he was awakened by a loud noise nearby...like the sound of gunfire. And then another pop. The auto swerved to the right, and the brakes squealed loudly. Saunders body was thrown against the rear wall of the trunk. The vehicle came to an instant, hard stop, and the sergeant's body, arms still tied behind him, lurched back toward the lid opening.  His head crashed against metal; then everything was still.

Seconds went by, or was it minutes?  There in his dark prison, with his head still swimming, he had no way of measuring time. The car seemed to sink and rise, and then sink again. He heard noises that he was unable to make out. Something was happening, and in his present situation, it didn't portend anything good for him. He heard footsteps crunching on gravel as someone approached.  There was a metallic twisting and scraping.  Finally, the lid of the trunk flew open and the space was filled with light.  Saunders squinted, but all he could see was the shadow of someone standing in a backlit halo.

"One moment," the woman said, her voice soft and deep.  The sun glinted off a knife in her hand.  As the blade moved toward him, Saunders summoned the last of his reserves and swung his foot forward, crashing it into her side.  The woman sprawled forward, her stomach landing hard against the edge of the trunk and her mouth slamming into the fender.  The knife clattered into the trunk beside the American, but he was unable to retrieve it even if he had the strength.

"Damn you!" she shouted in that same deep, accented voice, placing her red-polished fingertips against the swelling lip.  "Look what you did!"  She licked a small deposit of blood from her lower lip. She pulled a German pistol from the pocket of her jacket and held it to his cheek.  "You will be good now, non? Yes, you have many questions. But this is not the time or the place. Answers later. The danger is great."

Saunders stared at her, weighing his chances against the Luger.  He watched her as she felt around the debris in the trunk and located the knife.  Pushing his face into the floor of the trunk with the tip of the pistol, she cut his hands free. Then she backed off and held the gun on the sergeant.

"Get out," she said quietly, waving the gun.

The sergeant slowly let his taut, stiff shoulder muscles relax.  His arms flopped uselessly to his side. He tried stretching his legs, but they didn't work either.  "I don't think I can get out without help.  I've been tied too long."

She sighed and considered her options. Finally, she moved over to him and placed the gun against his head again.  Putting her free arm under his armpit, she helped him to a sitting position.  Then she lifted his legs one at a time and swung them over the edge of the trunk.  Grunting, she helped him rise from the compartment.  For a moment, his legs shivered, but then gradually he steadied himself.

The woman motioned him around the side of the car.  After a few steps, Saunders stopped and leaned back against the fender, taking the weight off his injured thigh. He looked beyond her to the front of the car.  The hood was crumpled against a large tree; steam hissed from the radiator. The woman moved past him and opened the front passenger seat door. Keeping an eye on him, she leaned into the vehicle and gathered several objects, stuffing them into a small gold purse with a long strap.  She put her arm and head through the purse strap and settled it against her hip.  Then after arranging something on the seat in front of her, the woman moved to a small bush just behind Saunders and fished a jug from the thicket. Carrying it back to the car, she sloshed liquid around the front seat. The woman backed out of the automobile and tossed the empty jug into the trunk. "I know that you don't trust me, but I am all you have.  We must move quickly. If the boche find the car, they will look for me. If they find me...they find you. Do you understand the danger we are in?"

Saunders nodded and shivered. He wrapped his arms across his chest, the remains of his tattered shirt still hanging from his arms. The woman noted the gooseflesh on his arms and chest. "You are cold," she said simply, but made no move to offer comfort. She pulled the pistol from her pocket again and waved it toward the road to the west.  "Come."

Saunders pushed his weary body off the car and took a few shaky steps down the gravel lane.  When the woman stopped him, he looked over to the wrecked car.  Through the open door, he could clearly see the figure of the German colonel, sprawled against the driver's door, his head against the side window.  His mouth was open, and blood streamed from what appeared to be a large hole in his forehead.  A dark-haired woman sat beside the officer, her body nestled up against his, her skirt hitched up on her thighs and her legs akimbo in an unnatural way. Blood covered her chest.

The blonde woman stuck a match, tossing it into the car. Gasoline-fed flames sprung up, and within moments, the vehicle was an inferno.  Without speaking, she signaled him to move off down the road.

About 50 yards down the lane, she directed him to veer off into the bushes.  Saunders pushed the heavy brush aside and stumbled through it, with the woman following close behind.  By the time they had worked their way what the American estimated to be a mile, he began to wonder just how much farther he would be able to go as exhaustion began creeping into his body. When the woman finally stopped him, he spread his legs and grabbed hold of a tree to steady himself, while she moved over to an area of heavy brambles and scrub trees.  Within a few moments, she had cleared an opening and directed him to enter what appeared to be a cave.  He leaned down and crawled into the darkness on hands and knees, followed by the woman.

The ground sloped down gradually, and when he felt it even out, he heard the flick of a lighter behind him.  In the dim light, he could see that the room they were in was tall enough to stand upright. That is if he weren't too weak to even try standing. While the woman moved around him, he remained on all fours, his head hanging between his shoulders.  She lit a lamp that hung from a beam across the ceiling, and the darkness gave way to light.

The woman helped the sergeant over to a small group of crates along one wall.  He stretched out his throbbing leg and tried leaning back against the wall for support, but his back was too tender, and so he rested his weight against a pair of crates stacked beside him. The woman moved a large rock and pulled a tired-looking rucksack from the hollow space beneath it.  She dragged it over to a crate near Saunders and sat down.  Paying the soldier no attention, she pulled on the zipper and rummaged through the pack's contents.

She removed a rolled up woolen shirt from the bag and tossed it to Saunders.  "Here.  Put this on before you freeze to death."

The soldier unbuttoned the cuffs of the torn shirt and let the remnant drop.  He pulled the clean one over his shoulders, wincing as the cloth slipped across the swollen welts on his back. Gingerly, he buttoned it up the front, but when he examined the bruised and chafed stripes where his wrists had been bound, he opted for rolling the cuffs. In spite of the discomfort of wearing it, the shirt warmed him.

The woman pulled other things from the rucksack.  She slipped off her shoes and examined them.  The thin heels were thick with dirt and bits of plant matter. "I paid a fortune for these," she groaned, carelessly tossing them into the corner of the cave.  She brushed a hand over her feet, and pulled on a pair of cotton socks. After laying out a shirt, a pair of dark trousers, and a few articles of underwear, she rose.  "Turn your head, Sergeant. I do not wish to embarrass you.  Nor do I wish to have to shoot you."  She patted the Luger in her pocket.

Saunders turned away, and the woman began stripping off the silk dress and silk underwear. The sergeant cleared his throat. "You said you would explain. I think I'd like some answers. Who are you?"

"You are entitled to that much. I am not what you think, Sergeant.  I am with the maquis. I work in the way I can best help my countrymen.  I deal in information. I would not have slept with that pig Woehrman otherwise.  I would not!" she repeated with conviction.

"It's not my duty to judge you or what you do." Saunders hitched his back up straight and relieved the pressure of the cloth on the lashings. "You have a name?"

"Ginette."

"What happened back there, Ginette?"

"It is quite simple, really.  Some time ago, I learned that Woehrman's superiors in the SS were questioning his relationship with me.  I decided it was only a matter of time before I was found out.  So I make a plan." The American heard the sound of a zipper.  "I am decent now.  I guess I won't have to kill you after all," Ginette said quietly.

Saunders turned toward her, and she smiled at him as she buckled her belt. Dropping back onto the crate beside him, She swiped off the glistening lip color with the back of her hand. Then she began peeling off red-painted fingernails, dropping them into the dirt one by one as they came off.  "I hate these.  A necessary part of the costume.  I had decided to make my...how you say it...getaway? I could not very well move about the forest in these.  She lifted up the silky clothing and tossed it into the corner with the shoes. I stored supplies for the day when I would need them. I would drive to the right spot, eliminate Woehrman, and disappear into the woods. My friends in the maquis left the body of a woman and fuel to make the car burn."

After Ginette pulled back her long blonde hair and tied it with a rubber band, she found a sturdy pair of leather shoes in one of the crates and began loosening the laces.

"Who was the woman in the car?"

"She is no one.  A collaborateur.  As a matter of fact, it was she who would be my downfall. She had a large mouth and the ear of an SS officer. A fatal combination...for someone." Ginette finished tying the laces of the brown boots and opened the crate beside Saunders, pulling out two large bottles of water and several tins of German rations. When she handed one of the bottles to Saunders, he drank greedily. She took a drink herself, and then she knelt before the sergeant.

"And how did I get involved in all this?" Saunders said quietly.

Picking up the knife, she slit the cloth of his pants to allow her a better view of the wound.  It had bled a great deal, but it was dry now.  She reached into the rucksack and removed a small box filled with bandages and medicines. Opening a packet of what appeared to be sulfa, she sprinkled it over the wound and wrapped it with a dressing.

"We were on our way from Koblenz to Woehrman's lodging at Rheinbach when he received word that Captain Schmidt was questioning an American prisoner.  Woehrman knew that Schmidt does not waste his time if he does not think there is something to be gained. Tell me, Sergeant...was there something to be gained?"

Saunders said nothing.  He winced as she made the last tie in the dressing and gave it an extra, hard tug.

"You still do not trust me completely.  That is understandable." She handed him a tin of cheese and bade him eat.  "You will need strength. We have far to go."  Ginette opened her tin and smelled it. Then shrugging, she began eating with her fingers. " I had planned everything for today. But when I saw you, I decided I would try to take you with me.  I did not want to see you die in the hands of Schmidt.  He is evil.  So I suggested Woehrman take you with us. I convinced him that if he were the one to break you, he would also be the one with the credit. Not Schmidt. It was easy. Woehrman was vain. I am sorry about hitting you. Did it hurt?"

The American sucked a bit of cheese from his finger.  "What do you think?"

"I do my job well. What can I say?" She shrugged and ate a bit of hard biscuit. "I took a chance on you, too, Sergeant. You could have been boche.  Maybe a test of my loyalty. I am glad you are not. Or maybe you are not what you seem." Ginette thought a moment. "Who won the World Series in 1938?"

Saunders shook his head.  "I haven't the faintest idea."

"That is good.  I do not know either."  Stuffing the medical kit, water bottles, and the last of the food back into the pack, she moved over to the side of the cave a few feet away, dropped to her knees, and began digging in the dirt. She pulled out a Schmeisser wrapped in a sheet of oilcloth, and a small bag containing several magazines.

"You know how to use that?" Saunders asked.

"Good enough."

"Here" Saunders held out his hand. For a moment, Ginette considered what he was asking, the amount of trust he was requiring of her.  She looked deep into his eyes and decided.  She handed him the weapon. And then she handed him a magazine.  He rammed it into place. "If you'll help me up, we can go."  On his feet again, he breathed heavily to control the pain in his thigh. And when the pain began to ease a bit, he moved forward, Schmeisser in hand.  Ginette slung the pack onto her back and followed him as they crawled into the fading light of the day.  "I hope you know where you're going."

The woman nodded. She pulled a woolen cap from her pocket and set off into the forest.

*     *     *     *     *     *

By the time Saunders and Ginette reached the outskirts of the small town, full darkness had fallen. The village was quiet. No light shone from behind the heavy curtains that the citizens were required to pull at night. They moved to a doorway that allowed them a view of the main street. From the dark recess, they observed two figures making their way unsteadily down the street, falling against each other and talking loudly. They said their goodbyes, and one of the figures disappeared into the door of a small building. The other figure headed off down the dark road toward a group of shadowy outlying buildings.

When the street was quiet, Saunders and Ginette moved into the town, keeping close to the walls of the buildings.  At the town square, a man, singing at the top of his lungs, stumbled out of a doorway behind which other voices and music could be heard. The man came their way, and Ginette pulled the cap down to hide her face in the shadows. She stumbled along beside Saunders, elbowing him as she laughed deeply.  The sergeant had no trouble walking like a drunken man.  His thigh was throbbing badly, and each step had grown excruciating.

The drunken man stopped them and spoke in French. Ginette reached into the pocket of her coat and pulled out a cigarette, shaking one out for him.  The man spoke again, and Ginette looked up at Saunders, her head tipped to keep her face in shadows. Saunders felt Ginette's hand on his, and then a cold, metal object was slipped into his grasp.  He lifted the lighter and lit the man's cigarette.  The man said something in French, and Ginette mumbled a response. Saunders grunted.

The man hiccupped and took a drag from the cigarette, the red light of the fire glowing brightly for a moment. "Merci," he belched and weaved his way down the street.

Ginette's trembling hand slipped into Saunders's.  Wordlessly, she pulled him along.  They entered a door four down from the tavern.  It opened into an entryway lit only by a single bare bulb fixed crookedly to the wall, and Ginette led him up a long flight of stairs.  Saunders climbed the steep steps slowly, his strength waning.  At the top, she pulled a key from her pocket and opened the door. Saunders leaned against the wall of the room as the woman closed the door and lit a lamp. She hurried to Saunders's side and helped him to a small settee, where he dropped onto the cushion.  "You are shivering."  She placed a cool hand on his warm forehead. "I will find you a blanket."  She turned and disappeared through a door. Saunders lay his head back on settee, and his eyelids closed almost immediately.

By the time Ginette returned, she found the sergeant sound asleep.  She placed the blanket over him. Then she knelt and untied his worn boots, stowing them underneath the couch. Finally, she dropped into an overstuffed chair.  Slipping off her own shoes, she drew her legs underneath her and leaned deep into the cushions. At last, she allowed herself to succumb to the exhaustion that she had been holding at bay all day.

*      *     *     *     *     *

At the crowing of a cock in the distance, Saunders opened his swollen eyes and wished he hadn't.  His head pounded. Little by little, he moved his aching muscles.  It was as if every inch of his body were screaming in pain. In spite of the dimness with the curtains drawn, he could make out details of the place. It was a dingy, but tidy room.  There was little furniture.  Ginette sat curled up in a large chair that faced him, her hands jammed down between her thighs and her head against the back of the chair at an uncomfortable looking angle. To the left, a door.  It was shut, but somehow he thought he remembered Ginette having gone through that door the night before.  Feeling the soft blanket beneath his fingers, he figured that the other room was a bedroom. Just beyond the door, there was an old wooden cupboard loaded with bright dishes.  The far wall was lined with a sink and a wood-burning stove.  A dented metal table with two wooden side chairs sat in the center of the space between. On the right side of the room, a collection of rods and other fishing equipment was piled in the corner. A man lives here, Saunders surmised. Her husband maybe?

The room had grown uncomfortably warm, and the sergeant pushed the blanket aside.  He was sweating heavily, and he was unbelievably thirsty.  He spied backpack containing the water bottles on the floor where Ginette had dropped them. He leaned forward to collect the pack, but collapsed back with a groan as his vision swam.

Ginette jumped at the sound, instantly awake.  She found the sergeant lying back with one forearm across his face. She moved over next to him on the settee.  "I do not need to ask how you are feeling." She felt his forehead.  He seemed feverish.  Retrieving the water bottles, she offered him one, and he drank greedily.  She drank from the other.  Having satisfied his thirst for the moment, Saunders returned the bottle to her, and she put it on the floor.  Ginette gingerly untied the bandage that covered his thigh.  The puckered hole was red and hot looking.  Its swelling told her that he needed help.  She had planned for everything in her escape except for having a wounded, beaten man on her hands.  She had intentionally made many contacts in the village so that she would not stand out when the time came, but she was not sure whether she could trust the village doctor or not.  She couldn't take a chance. Whatever happened to the soldier depended solely on her.  There were no choices.

"Sergeant, I need to get you to the bed.  Can you help me?"

He nodded weakly.  Ginette put her arm around his back, and he recoiled at her touch on his tender skin.  Without apology, she pulled him to a sitting position.  Then she wrapped his arm around her neck and heaved him up.

"Hey," Saunders said through clenched teeth, "you're stronger than you look."

"You have no idea, Sergeant, what I can do when I have to."

"I bet," he grunted.

Step by slow step, she helped him walk into the adjoining room.  Steadying him with one arm around his waist, she flung back the covers on the bed with the other, and he collapsed onto it.  Scooping up his feet, she straightened the soldier and arranged feather pillows under his head. She unzipped his pants and pulled them off, tossing them on the floor. After disappearing a few moments, she reappeared with a small tray that she set on the table beside the bed. She worked a thick, white towel under his bare, bleeding thigh. Turning to the tray, she arranged the items on it...a bowl of water and bar of soap, the metal lighter, a small knife, and the medical kit from the rucksack.  Opening the medical kit, she removed a dressing, packets of sulfa, and one of the small syrettes.

Ginette sat on the edge of the bed. "Sergeant, I am not a doctor. But I cannot have you dying on me.  The bullet must come out. It is what I must do."

Saunders nodded wordlessly.

Rising, Ginette pulled the dark curtains aside and light flooded the room. Returning to the bed, she was surprised by the soldier's paleness. It occurred to her that he might be too weak to survive no matter what she did. Her efforts might be in vain. She shook that thought from her mind. It was faith that had gotten her through the last two years, and she wasn't giving up now. "Sergeant, the walls are thin...you can make no sound. Do you understand?"

He nodded again.

The woman wet and soaped the rag, and she gently cleaned the wound.  Saunders flinched at her ministrations, but he was silent. When done, she injected the soldier with one of the syrettes. His body began to relax shortly, and he appeared to be struggling to keep his eyes open.  Heating the knife in the flame of the lighter, Ginette placed her hand on the soldier's thigh to steady it. "I am sorry, Sergeant."  She opened Saunders's thigh with the blade and probed for the metal. The soldier clenched his jaw and buried his head in the pillows, struggling against the pain in spite of the drug she had given him. He grabbed the metal bars at the head of the bed, and his muscles tensed. A few moments later, he lapsed into unconsciousness.  Ginette stopped a moment to wipe her face with her forearm. Then she began to probe until the tip of the knife touched the bullet. At last, she worked the metal from the leg and applied sulfa and a dressing. Only then did she finally allow her hands to give in to the shaking that she had been fighting.  And she wept.

When the tears had been cried out, Ginette wiped her eyes and returned to the soldier, who was still out cold. She unbuttoned his shirt and worked it off his body. She rewet the cloth and washed his bruised face.  Then she wiped down his chest where the blood from the beating had dried. She cleaned down his arms and the abrasions that encircled his wrists. Careful to protect the wounded thigh, she rolled him onto his stomach to wash the welts on his back, sprinkling sulfa on the worst of them.

Finally, Ginette rolled Saunders onto his back again. She pulled the covers lose from the bed and covered him, tucking them around his chin and down each side. Crawling over him, she collapsed on the other side of the bed and lay shaking. Things weren't turning out as she had planned, and she felt so alone. She cried herself to sleep.

*     *     *     *     *     *

Saunders slowly opened his eyes. The pain in his leg was incredible, and his back was on fire. For a moment, he wasn't sure where he was or why he hurt so.  Then he remembered.  His hand fell across the woman beside him on the bed. She was shivering.  Moving gingerly, he rolled up on his elbow and drew the blanket over her. Then he fell back into the soft sheets and slept heavily.

*     *      *     *     *     *

The next time Saunders awoke, he lay alone in the bed.  The curtains were drawn again, and nothing could be heard except the tick tick of the clock in the outer room. He called Ginette's name quietly, but there was no response.  He threw back the blankets.  The room was cold...or he was hot? His blond hair was plastered to his moist forehead.  He hauled himself out of the bed and wrapped himself in the blanket.  Shuffling to the doorway of the bedroom, he called her name again. Ginette wasn't there. The rucksack was on the floor, its contents spilled out. He dropped onto a chair at the table.  He was hurting, and his stomach rumbled with hunger.

He had just decided to investigate the cupboard for food when Ginette swept in from the door to the hall, wearing a frayed chenille bathrobe and with a towel wrapped around her head. "I see you are awake. You should not be on that leg. You should rest."  She put a hand to his head. "You have a fever."

Saunders sat hunched over the table and pulled the blanket more tightly around his body. Ginette watched him. "You are hungry."

"What I'd really like is..." he looked around the room, "...is a bathroom."

Ginette smiled.  She led him into the bedroom and introduced him to the ceramic pot in the corner. "This is not the USA. We are peasants. There is one bathroom down the hall.  We take turns.  But of course it would not be good for you to be seen in the hall."  She nodded toward it.  "I will empty it when you are done."

The woman went back in the other room, and a while later, Saunders limped back to the table.  "Is that coffee I smell?  I'd kill for a decent cup of coffee. I'd kill for a bad cup."

Ginette turned to the small wood-burning stove and lifted a dented black enamel coffee pot from the stove.  "It is as you wish." She pulled a chipped mug from the cupboard and filled it with the dark liquid. "You have need of milk?"

"Black is fine."  He took the cup gratefully.  "It's good.  Thanks."

The cupboard provided a plate with a slab of cheese and a small loaf of crusty bread. She placed it before him along with a knife.  After pouring herself coffee, she sat down across from him and cut off a chunk of cheese. He took it gratefully and then another.  "I see your husband likes to fish."

"Mais non.  I do not have a husband.  Why do you...?" Ginette glanced over at the fishing equipment. "Ahh. My brother lives here." Chuckling to herself, she pulled the towel off her head.  Instead of the expected blonde, her hair was now a rich red.  She ran her fingers through the long curls. "They will not look for red hair. They will look for yellow hair. This is how my hair is from birth. Woehrman had a desire for light hair.  So I had light hair.  It is good to be me again."  There was apology in her voice for the first time.

Ginette retreated into the bedroom, and by the time Saunders had finished his coffee and polished off several more chunks of bread and the cheese, she returned.  Her long hair was gone. She fingered the short strands that fell in wisps across her forehead and at her neck. "It feels strange."

Saunders smiled at her. "I like it.  Looks like it'll be easy to take care of."

"Thank you for that." The woman sat back down at the table and nibbled on a piece of cheese.

"You know," Saunders said quietly, "I haven't thanked you yet for saving my life. Twice. You took a big chance."

"It is nothing.  I could not leave you to die at the hands of that animal."

"Tell me how to say your name again."

The woman smiled.  "Ginette.  It is Ginette."

Saunders hobbled over to the coffee pot and refilled his cup, struggling to retain the blanket around him. He offered her another cup, but she shook her head. Then he limped his way back to the table and fell into the chair.  "I had a girlfriend when I was twelve. Her name was Jeanette. She was eleven. Somehow I like the way it sounds when you say it better."  He repeated her name.

"You were 12, and you had a girlfriend?"

The sergeant nodded. "I kissed her and gave her my favorite cloudie." Ginette looked at him in confusion. "A marble." Saunders shot an imaginary marble with a flick of his thumb.

Ginette thought a moment. "Ah, oui!" She laughed.

"I like it when you laugh." He remembered how her voice sounded when she had put her arms around the German. Somehow, it was different.  She was at ease now.  Comfortable.

"You have been up long enough for now.  It is time for you to go back to bed. My brother will be here tomorrow.  There is nothing to do until then but rest...get your strength back."

He rose wearily. She moved beside him and put her arm around his waist to steady him. Slowly, they worked their way back toward the bed.  Almost there, Saunders's injured leg suddenly gave way, and he collapsed against her.  His face landed in the nape of her neck and he could smell the cologne that he remembered from the chateau. She dipped slightly and got herself underneath to support him until he could gain his footing. His body was against hers.  Finally, he managed to straighten himself.

"Sorry."

"Don't be. It was nice."  She smiled up at him.

He bent down and kissed her gently.  She returned the kiss with fervor. For several minutes, they stood there, embracing. Ginette moved her body against him, and Saunders slipped his hand between them and loosened the tie on her bathrobe. Then he worked his hand inside, finding her naked breast. She groaned at his touch and moved against him, pushing the blanket from his shoulders and letting it fall. He slipped the robe from her shoulders. They worked their way to the bed, and the sergeant sat back on the edge, Ginette by his side. Careful of his raw, beaten flesh, she leaned back and pulled him toward her. They reached for each other with the fervor born of pain and fear. It was over too soon, so they began anew, exploring each other's bodies slowly this time. When they had spent themselves, they fell asleep in each other's arms.

*    *    *     *     *     *

Saunders awoke the next morning.  Ginette still lay curled against him with her head resting on his arm. The woman moaned softly and rolled over, one arm against his chest and the other on her hip.  He pulled the blanket down revealing her body.  He brushed her cheeks with his fingertips. Without waking, she flicked his hand away.  He tickled her lips, and she groaned.  Then he drew his fingertip down her throat, between her breasts, and down her abdomen. She muttered something in French and slapped at his hand. Shifting her body, her head nestled against him, her legs intertwined with his. Her hand was wedged between them, and he felt her breath on his skin. Her eyes opened dreamily, and her fingers worked their way through the thick hair on his chest.

Ginette looked up at Saunders. He ran his fingers through her newly shorn hair, and supporting her head at the back of the neck, he leaned down and kissed her. But, she stopped him and pulled back. "I want you to know, I am not a whore. I did what I had to do. You kill because you have to. I do not fight with guns. I fight in the way of the maquis. They tell me my body is a weapon, and the information I learn is helping my countrymen. But I am not a whore." Her eyes filled with tears. "Last night was different. It was not duty. It was because I wanted you."

Saunders pulled her face against him, and shushed her as she cried, holding her close, skin to skin, but with no attempt to have sex.  He could only imagine how it must have been for her. How frightening...what shame she must have felt. At last, she ceased her mourning for what had been lost, and she pulled his face to hers and kissed him. Then she reached out for him.
 

*     *      *     *     *     *

The next morning, Ginette stretched languorously and watched the soldier who slept at her side.  He looked tired, and she noticed that the sheets beneath his back were spotted with blood. As soon as he woke, she decided, she would tell him that they must be more careful of his back. She snorted.  Something told her that trying to control this man was like trying to stop a blitzkrieg. The bed creaked as she eased herself out from between the covers. Saunders didn't stir. Good. He needed his rest.  She tiptoed across the cold floor and slipped into a plain skirt and blouse, threw on a heavy sweater, and hurried out the door.

Ginette filled her canvas bag with bread, butter, cheese, and two eggs. Then she stopped at a small shop and bought a pair of men's wool work pants and a jacket. She had the merchant wrap them in plain paper tied with twine, explaining that they were a present for her brother. The merchant told her that Maurice was sure to like the gift. He sent her on her way with a wave, asking her to tell her brother to stop by and say hello sometime. Ginette promised to do so. Then she hurried back to the apartment.

By the time she returned, Saunders was sitting at the table again, his body wrapped in the blanket.  She handed him the package.  "Here, Maurice.  Monsieur Leconte says to stop and talk with him soon."

"Maurice?"  Saunders opened the package and gratefully withdrew the clothes.

"Remember...I told you this is my brother's apartment. Monsier Leconte thinks I bought the clothes for Maurice. I visited here many times. To Woehrman, I was Sophie, but to the village, I am known as Ginette.  I move about freely, and no one suspects what I do. It was Maurice who helped me. He put the supplies in the cave and arranged the woman's body.  As soon as he returns, we will get you safe.  He will help."

"I don't suppose he'd know where my....uh...my underwear got off to?"

"Got off to?  I don't understand."  Ginette thought a moment. "Oh, you make a joke. I think you will find what you want under the bed.  I don't know how it got there."

"I wonder." Saunders smiled as he shuffled off to the bedroom.

Ginette fixed breakfast while Saunders explored the apartment. Next to the door, he discovered a crate of books, their covers worn and the pages dog-eared. They were in French. The woman watched him as she cracked the eggs into a bowl.  "Maurice loved to read.  He was a teacher before the war.  At La Sorbonne. It was not safe to be a teacher in boshe-controlled territory, so he came here to the country. Now he is with the maquis. He no longer reads.  But someday he will read again. And he will teach."

They ate in silence, and then spent the afternoon talking about Paris before the war. Ginette told him about a bistro called the Café Rouge. A small place that was owned by the family of a friend. The beer was dark and the food plentiful. She didn't talk of her time with Woehrman.  And from Saunders's perspective, there seemed to be no point in it. She was right.  Each fighter in the war used whatever weapon he or she had. Ginette was just one more wounded soldier.

Late in the afternoon, Ginette was adjusting the chains on the cuckoo clock, when the door suddenly opened, and a tall, redheaded man strode in. Though he was dressed in a heavy sheepskin jacket, he was ruddy-cheeked and red-nosed from the cold. At first, the man didn't see Saunders on the settee. Ginette ran into his arms, and the man lifted her off the ground in a bear hug as he swung her around giddily.  She cried at seeing him.  Then the man spotted Saunders. The man put her down and questioned her in French. He was agitated, but as she spoke quietly to him, he calmed.  Ginette took the man's hand and drew him over to Saunders.

"This is Maurice. My dear brother."  Her face was radiant.

Saunders rose with effort and smiled at him, his hand extended.  The stranger took his hand, shaking it vigorously. "My sister says you were being tortured by Captain Schmidt. You are lucky to be alive."

"Thanks to Ginette.  She saved my life."

Ginette rested her hand on the sergeant's arm. "I could not leave him with the SS, could I?"  Maurice eyed the two of them; then he nodded and smiled knowingly.

Saunders lowered himself back onto the settee gingerly, keeping his bad leg out in front of him.

"Ginette tells me you are wounded. You will need help. This was not planned for. It will be hard, but we have ways.  Tomorrow morning."

"Oui, Maurice.  Demain."  She kissed his cheeks, and he left quickly.  Ginette turned back to Saunders, her face aglow.  "And that is my Maurice. If he makes the arrangements, they will be done well. You will see."  She looked toward the other room, and her expression became more serious.

"What's wrong?  You look unhappy.  What did he say?"

"Nothing.  Nothing.  I just was wondering...what will happen to us after tomorrow.  I mean...."

"Come'ere you."  Saunders took her hand and pulled her to him. He kissed her hungrily.

"But tomorrow...." she protested.

"Let tomorrow take care of itself. The way the war is, we may not have tomorrow. But we're here tonight."

Saunders took Ginette back to bed, and he held her and caressed her for hours. Wrapped tightly in his arms, she spoke quietly. "I will not see you again.  I know."

"Ginette, nothing could keep me away from you. You don't have to worry."

"When we get back to American lines, you may not feel the same. You won't need Ginette."

"I will need Ginette. Did you think that this was just about sex?"

"But I...."

Saunders put his fingers to her lips. She kissed his fingers.  And they made sweet, slow love through the long night.

*     *      *     *     *     *

An hour before daylight broke on the horizon, Maurice fetched Ginette and the soldier. He led them to a field at the edge of town where a horse and wagon stood in the harvested furrows. The horse's breath formed a cloud around its head in the chill morning air. The Frenchman spoke to his sister, and she led Saunders to the side of the wagon.  She got down on her knees, and Maurice helped Saunders to the ground.  Then Ginette and Saunders crawled under the wagon.

From the outside, the wagon looked like any other, but a pair of narrow shelves had been affixed underneath. Enclosed on three sides, they were open in the center, facing each other. They were just high enough for someone to lie flat on each one. Saunders worked his way onto the platform of one box, his back scraping painfully across the boards. Ginette lifted his injured leg into place.  Then she climbed into the other box.

Maurice slipped underneath. He flicked a cigarette lighter, and it burst into light. Maurice's face appeared in the space between their prone bodies. "My friend Emile will drive you.  He is old, and the boshe will not suspect him. Be safe and happy. He spoke to Ginette in French, and though Saunders didn't understand the words, he understood their meaning. Maurice handed her a German Schmeisser.  She stuffed it behind her back, next to the wall. He kissed her cheeks quickly, and then he shoved a pistol and two clips into the American's hand. "Bonne chance, Sergeant. Take care of my sister." The flame was extinguished, and they heard the scraping as he moved out from under the wagon.

It was totally dark in their cocoons. Saunders and Ginette couldn't see each other, but the sergeant could hear her breathing hard. "Since childhood, I have not liked little places." Her voice shook.  Saunders reached over to where she lay and felt for her. He found her hand and held it as the wagon began its slow journey. Over their heads, they could hear the resonant base tones of Emile singing at the top of his voice as if he hadn't a care in the world.

*     *      *     *     *     *

Hour after hour, the wagon lumbered along at an excruciatingly slow pace.  The jostling had the nerves in Saunders leg firing. Ginette felt as if she must be black and blue on the backside, so she could imagine the shape the soldier must be in.  With the full light of day, they could see each other, and that helped tremendously. Ginette brought out cheese and wine and handed it over to Saunders. In the narrow space, the only way to drink was to tip the bottle sideways.  Between the angle and the jostling, Saunders wore as much of the red liquid as he drank. He handed the bottle back to Ginette and smiled as she was soon dripping in wine.  They held hands across the short space between them, and they whispered ever so quietly. Saunders wanted more, but when they were safe behind American lines, there would be time.

As the sun began to slant in the west, Emile announced that they were but a few kilometers from the American lines. Their excitement was short-lived, as Emile whistled sharply and hissed a warning that Germans were on the road. A troop transport. He whispered to them that he counted six and the driver. The truck screeched to a halt in front of the wagon. The Germans were yelling loudly at Emile, words that Saunders couldn't understand.  Ginette was engrossed, trying to make out what they were saying.  The horse panicked at the uproar, whinnying and neighing loudly, and Saunders could feel the wagon jolt as the horse moved around.

"The boches are trying to take the wagon. They want it to transport ammunition to the front. Their ammo dump is one half a kilometer in the other direction."  She listened again. "Emile has told them that he must get home.  His wife is alone. They told him he must leave the wagon."  She turned her head to hear. "He pleads with them. He cannot feed his family if they take his wagon. He says he has a big family. Daughters to feed. He was not blessed with sons to do the work. He must have the horse and wagon."  Silence from Ginette. "The boches are not listening."

There was a soft scraping as she slid off her shelf and landed on the road below her. In the waning light, he saw her pull out the Schmeisser Maurice had given her. She knelt in the space between the shelves and faced Saunders. "I must make...how do you say...a diversion. I will lead the boches away, and then Emile can take the wagon." Her deep voice trembled slightly. "Maybe I will get lucky and kill all the boches before they know what has happened."

"Ginette, no." Saunders said, holding her arm. "It's too dangerous. Give me the gun.  Let me go. I'm the soldier."

"With your leg, you would not get ten meters. And I am a soldier, too. Remember? But now I have a weapon to fight with. Let me do what I must."

Saunders squeezed her arm tighter. "I'm not letting you go. We'll surrender if necessary."

The noise of the Germans grew louder.  Ginette knew that if Emile protested too much, the boches might end the argument the easy way.  "There is no surrender for us. Not now. They would find out who we are."  She pulled her arm free and rummaged in a pocket.  She pulled out a small syrette, and before Saunders knew what had happened, she jabbed it into his leg. "Go to sleep, my love.  If you do not hear from me, I will meet you one month to the day after the war ends. The Café Rouge.  Paris."  She kissed him quickly, deeply, then ducked out of sight.

Saunders tried to work his way off the shelf, but his body, cramped in the space all day, would not respond. A few moments later, he heard Schmeisser fire on the left side of the wagon.  It sounded as if it were moving away. He heard commotion among the Krauts and a strangled cry. The horse neighed wildly, and the wagon bucked with the animal's frantic movements. A Schmeisser sounded from the front of the wagon, and he heard the pounding of feet on the hard road. On his left, just on the other side of the board that hid him from the Krauts, he heard more firing and a heavy thud.  Then it sounded as if a row of shots skipped across the side boards of the wagon.  The gunfire moved off to the left, and then he heard Emile's urgent voice calling to the horse.  The wagon lurched, and within minutes, it had disappeared around a bend in the road, out of sight of the Germans. And still the horse kept up its thundering pace long after the last of the shots behind them had died away.

*     *      *     *     *     *

It was getting late. The soldier crushed another spent cigarette in the ashtry, now heaped with butts.  Lifting the glass, he swirled the last of the beer and downed it quickly. He set the glass back on the table, looked around the café once more, scanning the unfamiliar faces a final time, and pulled his cap across the table toward him.

"You look lonely," a voice behind him said. The soldier turned and looked up at a petite brunette.  She cocked her head. "May I join you?" Without waiting for an answer, she pulled out the wooden chair and dropped into it.

"Actually, I was just leaving."

"Ah, Sergeant, you were waiting for someone. A woman perhaps?" She signaled the bar for a drink, and the bartender nodded.  "I know him." She returned her attention to the sergeant. "We were in the Maquis together.  My name is Lyne. Lyne Gauthier." She held out a hand.

"I'm glad to meet you, Lyne," Saunders rose and shook her hand. "But as I said, I was just leaving."

"She is not coming, Sergeant."  She eyed him; then she turned to take the drink from a young woman who had appeared at the table. She handed the woman a few coins. "Merci."

Lyne held the glass in a toast. "To old friends who are no more."  She downed the liquor.  "The war was not kind to everyone."

Saunders dropped back into the chair silently.

The woman rapped her empty glass on the table and a refill immediately appeared.  "Sergeant, the one you seek is not coming."

Saunders leaned back and eyed her.  "And just who is it you think I'm waiting for."

"Ginette."  She gulped down the second drink, wiping the corners of her mouth with the back of her rough hand.

He leaned his elbows on the table and drew close to her.  "What do you know about Ginette?"

"Like I said, I was with the maquis. We found Ginette.  She had been hurt. She had escaped from the boches, leaving an American behind.  A sergeant.  She was helping him return to his lines."  Lyne rapped on the table with the glass, but Saunders put his hand over hers and shook his head at the bartender.

"What happened? She died?"

"Non, Monsieur. In time, she was better.  We fought together.  She was a strong fighter.  But one day, we were not so lucky.  The boches had made a terrible trap. For a long time we thought that we might actually win the fight." Lyne ran her finger around the rim of the glass. "We were wrong. I was beside Ginette when a grenade exploded. Her body blocked mine.  I received only this."  She pulled at the collar of the high-necked blouse, revealing a thick mass of scars just below her neck and disappearing down her chest.  Ginette was not so lucky."

Saunders sat unmoving. He watched her closely, assessing her words.  As he looked into her eyes, he knew that she told the truth. His body slumped back in the chair. Finally, with a nod to Lyne, he picked up his cap and rose.  He reached into his pants pocket. Pulling out a green marble, he placed it on the table and headed toward the door. He turned, and she thought he might say something. Stony-faced, he adjusted his tie and rolled his shoulders as if trying to settle his uniform on his body, and he walked out the door.

Lyne sat a moment; then she rose and moved to the rear of the café.  Pulling out a chair, she sank down into it.  "So...it is done."   She reached over and dragged a glass across the table, downing what was left in it.  "I don't feel good about it."

The other woman at the table nodded. She sat with her back to the wall, and she could see the table where the sergeant had sat. She tipped a bottle of wine into the glass, refilling it. Pulling the front of the heavy veil out a few inches, and she pushed the wine glass beneath the heavy lace, and then leaned back and downed the liquid.  Afterward, she set the glass on the table and straightened the veil.  "He looked well. He is strong and healthy.  That is good."  She sat a moment.  "And he came," she added quietly.

 Lyne placed the marble on the table; it rolled toward the edge. "He left this. Does it mean something?" The woman grabbed it, clasping it tightly in her fist. "You should have told him," Lyne said sadly. "He would have understood."

"Understood what?  That my face is scarred and hideous?  And when he put his hands on me in the night...what will he feel?  My breast?" Her hand instinctively grasped the heavy sweater that fell flat across her chest where soft curves should have been. "How would he feel then?"

Lyne stared into the empty glass then shoved it back toward the other woman.

"Help me up." The woman stretched out her arm.

Lyne helped her friend rise. "And what about the baby? Will you never tell him about the baby?"

"What baby?" the woman whispered, her voice deep and throaty.  "There is nothing to tell. The baby died with Ginette.  I am weary now."

Lyne held her friend's arm as the woman made her way slowly from the café, her body rocking heavily with each step. They stopped in the street, and the woman held her good hand, palm up, smiling. "Ah.  It has stopped raining.  It is a good day."  She opened her hand and looked at the small glass ball she still clutched. Beneath the dark veil, Lyne could make out the shadow of a crooked smile.  Stuffing the marble into her pocket, the woman threaded her arm through that of her friend, and the two disappeared into the busy crowd.