Heisenberg’s Pirates

Author’s Note: When I was a teen, I read somewhere that somebody actually did notify the German High Command that the allied landings would happen at Normandy, not Calais, as they thought. This warning was ignored, and D-Day happened, signalling the beginning of the end for Germany. Here’s my fanciful take on why it was ignored …


“And this message goes out to all our good friends in occupied France. Place the chair in the closet. I repeat, place the chair in the closet.”

“That’s us,” Lucienne snapped. “Let’s go!”

Molin shot awake and to his feet. Lucienne switched off the radio and checked the mysterious canvas duffle bag she always wore over her left shoulder. The secret black box lay within. The other seven Maquisards began singing under their breath while checking weapons and supplies. Molin, weaponless, hissed at them to hush, but Lucienne grinned.

“Let the boys have their fun. We’ve been waiting nearly a month for this.”

“Yes, my lady,” he said, cracking a slight smile. She threw him a look of playful annoyance, short black hair rustling her cheeks while turning and heading for the door. Everybody’s eyes followed. She must know they would all die for her.

The wooden barn door opened with a creak into a cloudy night tinged with faint moonlight. Everybody had flashlights, the bulbs covered with red fabric to dull the light from the enemy. Warm air scented with plum trees brushed his face. He almost felt like a kid catching fireflies, except these days they were out hunting Germans.

Throwing a look over his shoulder, he saw the farmer and his wife watching them through the window of their small house, a lonely gas lantern between them. Molin waved good-bye, knowing he would probably never see them again. He prayed for their continued safety, especially against the vile Milice, the Vichy police who were becoming more and more vicious against the Resistance and anyone who helped them.

They sneaked through a line of trees and crossed the access road into a field. Lucienne and her contact had previously mapped the route to their target, a town two miles away. All roads leading to it lay sprinkled with checkpoints.

Everybody walked quick and proud and excited to finally be on a mission again. Lucienne strode in the lead, Molin beside her, itching for his old Sten gun. He had been forced to abandon it after a German raid on their old hideout, and Lucienne insisted it not be replaced. He had protested, but then, their missions were different from those of other Maquis fighters. Different, and far stranger. Four months ago he never would have dreamed of missions like this, never mind being led by such a beautiful agent.

He had spotted her first, a yellow parachute hovering in the cold, winter night sky, heading straight for a tree. A harsh English curse revealed his ally to be a woman, and he watched, bemused, as her parachute slammed into the bare branches. Before he could rescue her she did the job herself, taking a knife and cutting her straps. She dropped fifteen feet, landing hard in the snow, and to Molin she was like an angel.

Little did he know then how this woman, code-named Lucienne, would completely change his life and the direction of his miserable little band of freedom fighters.

“Molin?”

He cocked his head.

“Promise me you won’t play the hero tonight.” Sadness played in her voice, a facet he still wasn’t used to seeing in her.

“I will protect you to the death.”

“I protect you more than you protect me. Please, promise me you will do exactly as I say.”

“I always do. We all do.”

She nodded, but the sadness did not leave her. She touched her duffel bag, her face turning to stone, becoming again the tough, fiercely confident warrior he knew and loved.

He thought back to a few nights ago, before they had narrowly escaped from their latest safe house. Lucienne usually slept in the same room as her fellow soldiers, always unabashedly sloughing off her combat fatigues and changing into a frilly pink nightgown — as if to prove she was still feminine. But this time she had requested her own room, explaining the vital importance of their new mission, and the planning and concentration involved.

It was the only time Molin had spied on her. The old house had cracks in the walls, and from an adjoining room he could see into hers. He never meant to, he respected her deeply, but he had heard a sob from within. Lucienne never sobbed. Only laughed heartedly, growled orders, or whispered instructions.

He saw her there on the floor, sitting cross-legged on her sleeping bag in her nightie, fiddling with the black box she always kept with her. The box looked like some sort of transmitter, chock full of radio dials and displays. She slowly twisted a dial, looked at the box, and furiously scrawled on a map with her pencil. Frustrated, she slammed her fist to her knee, wiped her eyes, and twisted the dial again, taking a ruler and drawing more lines. Deep in thought, hair askew, she jotted down equations, plotted more points, looked at her work, and began sobbing again.

“Too probable!” she muttered. “Too god damn probable!”

The sadness she couldn’t conceal from him looked to be the residual frustration he had witnessed those few nights past. However, the plan looked solid. They would sneak to the target, do the deed, and flee into the night to the next safe house, where their radio operator waited. He missed blowing up trains, but somehow these strange missions of hers seemed far more devious, for reasons he could never understand.

Frenay, his oldest and most loyal friend, erupted in grizzled laughter, shaking his thoughts.

“Does the black box tell you Molin will play the hero?”

Lucienne shot him a stare so ice cold he choked on his laugh. She turned back to Molin.

“Just be careful, dear.”

He blushed. Though she called all her men “dear” at one time or another, the concern in her voice cracked his heart. He resolved to make her proud.

“I will.”

Twenty minutes later, the field ended with a road. The lights of a German checkpoint glowed in the distance. He heard no engines of approaching vehicles. Everybody turned off their flashlights. Molin heard the faint rushing water of the Seine.

“Quickly!”

They scuttled across the road and into some brush on the other side. The faint outlines of houses appeared a few yards away. They had reached the small town. No lights shone through any window or from any streetlamp, an enforcement of the total blackout against the increasing vitality of Allied bombers. The darkness only helped them.

In absolute silence, they crept from house to house, climbing the street like mountaineers. Faint light peeked from one corner, originating from a German post. They passed the box without much difficulty, timing things right when the young, nervous guard scanned the street opposite them. Molin heard Frenay giggle under his breath.

They reached a juncture in the street, and Lucienne motioned everyone to hide within the nearest building. It was a café, and they ducked under the tables. A cloud must have moved, for strong white moonlight suddenly soaked the air, so bright he could make out the street signs Boulevard Victor Hugo and Rue Alexandre Dumas. A large building sat atop a small hill on the corner, possibly a school. He almost believed it, if not for three Germans casually smoking cigarettes by the entrance, menacing guns strapped over their shoulders.

Clouds obscured the moon, and Lucienne wordlessly gave the signal. One by one, each ran across the street to Rue Alexandre Dumas, away from the Germans. A high concrete wall lined this side of the street, nearly covered with ivy. It almost looked pretty. No lights glowed from beyond the walls, and they ran along it in darkness.

A few minutes later, without warning, a small metal door suddenly appeared in the wall. Molin would have missed it if Lucienne hadn’t stopped him. She gripped the doorknob and tugged. Locked. She motioned to a young and agile man named Lien, weaponless but for a mean set of lock picks.

Molin turned on his flashlight and pointed at the lock, and Lien leapt to the door and got to work. Everybody else nervously looked around, realizing how exposed they would be if the clouds again parted.

“Voila,” he whispered, and the door opened. Molin squeezed through first, his body shaking. Everything would be blown if German guards happened to stroll by at just this moment. Success or failure, they would flee into the large forest north of town.

A small campfire crackled fifty yards ahead. Two Germans sat playing cards. A field lay to the left, ending with a massive concrete structure vanishing into the night. To the right sat a quaint villa surrounded by neatly trimmed bushes and flowers. Their target. The Germans sat in front of the door they had to go through.

“A few well placed knife thrusts to the throat?” Frenay hissed, his tough, ex-French regular spirit begging to fight.

Lucienne shook her head. “The Germans must not think we’ve been here. In four and a half minutes, the door will be free. . . . Well, in all probability it will be.”

One by one, everybody crossed from the entranceway to the side of the villa, barely ten feet from the Germans. Molin’s hands ached to take them out. A simple bullet to each of their heads, and that would be it. But Lucienne forbade it, and he had no weapon save a pocketknife. The four and a half minutes dragged.

Finally, one of the soldiers threw his hand of cards down in disgust, and the second laughed in triumph, gathering a pile of coins. The first snorted and marched off to a clump of bushes. The second lit a cigarette and stood up, stretching. Taking his gun, he walked away from the door.

Lucienne shot her hand up, and Lien leapt to the door, quickly checking it. Unlocked. He opened it half way and vanished inside. Five more rushed in, then Frenay and Molin. Lucienne, last, quietly closed the door behind her. Very little firelight shone through the thick drapes. Three people turned on their flashlights and kept them pointed to the rich hardwood floor. Though nobody knew exactly whose house they were in, he suspected it was probably some German officer London had an interest in.

The room itself was sparsely furnished, with a large overcoat hanging on a rack, some overstuffed chairs, a single sofa, and a table. Paintings adorned the wall, though the faint light did not reveal the subject matter, and nobody was careless enough to actually shine a light to the walls to check.

“He’s sleeping upstairs,” Lucienne whispered. “But our target is straight ahead.”

“We could just kill him and save ourselves the bother,” Frenay growled, knowing he would be denied. Everybody long knew their missions were never about assassinations, explosions and other mayhem, but Frenay seemed to always offer a more conventional solution, as if reminding himself he was still a soldier. It probably served a purpose similar to Lucienne’s feminine nightgowns.

He was of course denied, and she ordered all but three members to stay by the door as lookouts. Molin, Lien and Frenay stepped towards their target, a closed door at the back of the room.

The door gave a light squeak when opening, and everybody collectively held their breaths. After ten seconds, they filed into the room. Flashlights revealed an office with a desk full of papers, a leather chair and some bookshelves. Strangely, he couldn’t find a single swastika adorning the walls, though many of the papers were stamped with the detestable insignia.

Lucienne stepped into the office like a priestess. With a delicate reverence, she pulled the black box from her bag and placed it in her left arm. She turned it on, and the gauges lit up. Molin, a foot taller, poked his flashlight over her shoulder as a guide. He watched, entranced, as she fiddled with the knobs. The red needles on the gauges trembled and swayed.

“Okay, time to work,” she whispered.

The Maquisards nodded, and Lien strode to the closet. He opened the small door. Frenay grabbed the large leather chair and rolled it away from the desk. He placed it in the closet. Lucienne studied the swaying needles.

“No, still probable. A little to the left.”

Carefully, Frenay rolled the chair deeper inside the closet.

“Still probable . . . a little more.”

Molin stopped looking at the meaningless gauges. He could never figure out what was good and what was bad. The needles swung in completely random patterns.

Lucienne gently touched a knob and turned it to the right.

“Still probable . . . wait! Back an inch . . . there! Yes, higher improbability . . .”

Molin’s flashlight wavered slightly as he listened to her voice, a slight coo, a sultry voice belonging in the bedroom.

“More . . . more . . . right there! High improbability . . . very high. Okay, perfect! Don’t touch it. Be careful.”

Slowly, Frenay stepped back and out of the closet. Molin stared intently at the box. The quivering needles still meant nothing to him. Like every other mission they had been on together, he felt disappointed for not being able to understand what she did. Perhaps she could teach him, and they could work together. She could study the box, and he would plot coordinates on a map.

Frenay closed the closet door like covering a sarcophagus. Lucienne turned off the box and slid it back into her pouch.

“We’re done,” she whispered. “Out.”

Everybody stepped from the room and closed the door, then ducked as a spotlight shone through the curtains. The other Maquisards had their backs to the wall.

“How do we get out?”

“Two and a half minutes,” she whispered. “The guard will change.”

Frenay cracked the drapes, the outside firelight igniting his face. Molin looked at all of them, gathering a snapshot in his head. He had been through so much with his comrades, and wondered how many other resistance fighters still fought with their long-time friends. He was proud of them all.

Sure enough, two and half minutes later, he heard a new set of voices. Frenay opened the door a crack, looked outside, and swung it open half way. He motioned everybody out.

The two Germans were nearby, talking and laughing with their replacements. Everybody scurried around the side of the villa and crossed back to the wall. The secret door sat only fifteen feet away. They had made it!

One by one, each man slipped through the secret exit, Molin and Lucienne last. He smiled as she faced him.

“It’s not over yet, Molin, but yes, we did good.” She gave him a kiss on the forehead, and his legs trembled.

“Now go.”

A loud cry shook the night.

Halt!

A searchlight blasted into the doorway, bathing Lucienne in a horrible, cold white light. She stood there, stunned. Ice clogged Molin’s veins.

“Your hands up!” the German growled in broken French. His guttural voice shattered the icy paralysis gripping Molin’s body, and with a yell he burst forward, grabbing Lucienne and knocking her to the ground. She rolled expertly beneath him and through the wall, and he covered her as bullets pounded into the night air. Nothing could reach her, he wouldn’t let it, his mysterious English girl could not be hurt. She bounded to her feet and grabbed his hand, and together they rushed through the door. Frenay immediately slammed it shut, and together they all ran up the street.

A vicious thrill of euphoria ran through his body as they emerged into the dark, empty center of town. The moon again showed itself, suffusing the square with a ghostly glow. They fled to the opposite side as an army truck roared from between two buildings. The Germans were too far away. Lucienne would be safe.

Shouts and gunfire weaved against stone walls as they raced through a narrow cobblestone alley. The blessed forest lay straight ahead. Panting heavily, he ran the last few steps, and collapsed. Lucienne shouted a cry and ran back to grab his arm. Frenay knelt at his other side.

Confused, Molin couldn’t understand why his legs wouldn’t move.

Forcing himself up, he tried to run again, but fell back to the ground. They carried him the last few steps to the forest, and everybody else scattered and disappeared. A few wild flashlights searched for them, but no Germans entered the woods.

Branches whipped into his face, and Molin floated, a dull ache turning into a weakness that seized his entire body. He could no longer hold his neck, and finally his arms gave out. He collapsed to the ground. Lucienne’s face hovered over him.

“Molin, can you hear me?”

“Yes . . . my lady,” he whispered, each syllable costing him a heavy breath of effort.

“You’ve been shot.”

“You knew,” he whispered. “You knew I would die.”

Her eyes widened, and she nodded sadly.

“Yes, my dear. I tried everything, but the probability always came up high. I’m sorry, Molin. I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t worry.” He wanted to caress her cheek, but his arm wouldn’t move. Instead, he grinned at her in reassurance, his words sluggish as everything began to fade.

“You were wrong, you know. . . . I can protect you.”

###

Gerd awoke in a sour mood. He had hoped a good night’s sleep would lift his sense of bleakness, but to no avail. He still lived here, in this villa that had given him such joy in better days. Now it suffocated him almost as much as the foul breath of Berlin over his shoulder. At least the day shined warm through his bedroom drapes. A good morning for a walk. Maybe that would clear his head.

A sharp knock resounded on his door, and he groaned.

Feldmarschall!” called a voice. That would be Blumentritt, his chief of staff. “Sorry, to wake you, but I have terrible news!”

“Do you ever have any good news?” he mumbled to himself. He looked over at the clock on the wall. 9:30 in the god damn morning. What was the meaning of this?

“Herr General!”

“Oh, come in!”

The heavy oak door swung inward. Flustered, Blumentritt’s round, pie-bald head peeked through the door.

“What?” Gerd snapped. “The Allies better have landed!” It would certainly make sense. The weather reports called for calm, sunny weather, perfect conditions for a crossing. He prayed the game was finally on; any more of these tense and terrible months would certainly drive him back to the hospital at Bad Tölz.

“No, Herr General,” Blumentritt replied. “Nothing to report. But members of the Resistance tried to break into the compound last night!”

“WHAT?” Gerd sat up in bed. “When? How could this have happened?”

“Last night, sometime after midnight. There was a skirmish at the secret entrance to the villa.”

“Why wasn’t I immediately notified?”

“It wasn’t deemed an emergency. The staff and a few guards checked the area, but found no bombs. Nothing was missing. Whatever the terrorists were up to, they failed. A guard shot one of them, and some soldiers were dispatched to chase them. They all fled into the forest.”

Shaken, Gerd’s stomach tightened. They knew. Not many citizens knew he resided here, but somebody must have realized this was no ordinary military installation.

Or perhaps it was a random attack. If they never got past the wall, then everything was okay. He would certainly hate to move back to the cesspool that was Paris.

He cleared his throat. “I want a full report of this attack. If they know about this installation, word would certainly creep back to the Allies. And fill in the door.”

“Yes, Herr General!”

Gerd said nothing more, so Blumentritt snapped his boots, gave the old, outlawed Prussian salute, and left, closing the door behind him.

Slowly, Gerd stared around the room, blinking at his familiar surroundings. Should he go back to sleep? No, he was completely awake now. What day was it? His son, Hans, was due for a visit. Perhaps he and Blumentritt could have tea near the Seine.

He limped to the washroom, his arthritis flaring up again. While washing and shaving, Gerd looked through the mirror. A weary old man stared back at him. Thinning hair, deep bags under his sagging eyes, musty folds around his cheeks leading to a stark, cracked mouth. When had he grown so old? The years away from his wife, Bila, perhaps. That was the price to be paid for protecting the Fatherland, no matter who was in charge. Well then, straighten up, old man, and do your duty! No failed little raid from desperate terrorists should weaken your resolve.

It took twenty minutes before he began to dress, choosing his comfortable old colonel attire over his field marshal uniform. He straightened his collar, dug out some dirt from a button, and sighed. Still no invasion. Another dreary day, a day with no action. He grabbed his treasured Interimstab on the way out, rubbing the polished surface with his thumb to try and calm his nerves.

Downstairs, a few of his staff members saluted him, and Gerd replied with a half-hearted wave of his baton. He limped towards his study, unable to stifle a yawn, and met his chief of staff near the door. Blumentritt looked grim, holding some papers in his hand.

“Just in from OKW,” he whispered.

Gerd looked at the papers as if they were writhing vipers. He wrinkled his nose.

“What does that crazy little Bohemian Corporal want now? Another damned trip to Bavaria to sign some oath of loyalty?”

“No, Herr General. Hitler wants a report on the increased bombing of Normandy.”

“Again? It’s the same everywhere! Tell him the danger has probably passed. The invasion would have happened already.”

“He rejected your latest request for additional forces, and has asked why you have not increased the alert status.”

Doing so would cause more unrest in France, as the railways would be devoted to transferring German supplies rather than food for France. Gerd waved it away.

“And finally, Rommel has requested a few days leave.”

The little cub had looked exhausted during their latest tour of the Atlantic Wall. Perhaps it could be given, if things indeed looked better.

“Have you given any thought to Rommel’s words?”

“That Normandy is the actual target?” In fact, he had. It was a possibility. The increased bombings, targeting bridges and railways, did lend itself to a certain pattern.

“Maybe.”

He opened the door to his office. Morning sunlight flooded the room, dust motes sparkling in the rays. The sunshine did nothing to revive his spirits, and he groaned at the mess of papers and maps on his desk. Unfinished writings, OKW’s never-ending status queries, troop deployment reports. All miserable. He turned and grabbed the papers from his chief of staff.

“I’ll write the recommendation. For once, Rommel may be right.”

“He does present some persuasive arguments.”

Rubbing his forehead, Gerd nodded. “It’s a gamble. If he’s wrong, we won’t have the maneuverability to reach Calais. I don’t know.”

“Would you like someone to fetch you some tea?”

“Yes. Thank you, Günther.”

With a nod Blumentritt left, closing the door behind him.

What to do, what to do? He had no direct control over his forces, thanks to the Führer’s directive that both Army Group B and G be answerable only to him. It got to the point he couldn’t even go for a piss without asking for permission from Berlin. And Rommel’s constant badgering to move the tanks from Amiens to the coast wouldn’t let up. Now this daring attack last night. Really, what was the point to waking up in the morning?

However, Hitler had always respected his decisions, and he was waiting for the answer: should the panzer divisions’ focus be shifted from Calais to Normandy? Was Rommel correct in his assumptions?

Yes, perhaps he was. At least, after all these numbing months of waiting, some troop movements would help, and–

Where the hell was his chair?

Wide-eyed, Gerd stared at the empty spot by his desk. Flabbergasted, he looked around the room. Nothing. He stepped forward, and the ache in his thigh flared so bad he nearly fell, grabbing onto the desk at the last minute before falling. Breathing heavily, he limped to the closet, anger boiling his vision. As if there wasn’t enough troubles! Snapping open the closet door, he grabbed his walking cane.

“WHERE’S MY CHAIR?” he bellowed.

The phone rang, and he jumped at the harsh piercing tone. He crossed to his desk and ripped it off the hook.

“What?”

Silence mixed with static shushed into his ear.

“Who is this?”

“Generalfeldmarschall von Rundstedt?”

“Yes.” It didn’t sound like anyone from Berlin, nor from Rommel’s staff. Who else had a direct connection?

“I’m . . . I couldn’t think of who else to contact. I have evidence that the Allies will be landing in Normandy.”

“What? Name yourself!”

“In early June, about a week from now. I saw their ships. Thousands of them on the south coast. There will be a French poem recited on the BBC the night before the invasion. It’s to let the Resistance know. This poem –”

Another pain flared from his thigh, and Gerd hissed, dropping the phone. The handle plunged off the side of the desk, taking the phone with it. It landed in the trash can with a sharp clang.

“God dammit, where’s my chair?” he shouted, circling towards the door. The pain had never been this bad. He had to sit down!

Two junior staff members burst through the door.

“My chair! Somebody stole it.”

The officers looked at each other, then back at Gerd.

“Maybe . . . maybe the maids moved it.”

“I don’t care. Find it!”

One left, and the other stayed and joined him, looking around his office.

“It’s not in the room, you fool! I checked.”

Leaning heavily on his cane, he waited for the pain to pass. He was way too old for this. Maybe a walk would help. He hadn’t been taking them ever since he got back from the coast.

“It’s here in the closet, Herr General!”

“What? I checked.”

The officer rolled out his large, leather-upholstered chair from the closet. Gerd relaxed, a laugh of relief escaping his lips.

“Thank you, young man.” The officer helped him into it, and he sat back, sighing, finally resting his old Prussian bones. The pain in his thigh immediately lessened.

“Your tea, Herr General.” An aide carefully deposited a steaming cup on a rare empty area of his desk.

“Excellent. Much better.”

The first officer saw the telephone in the trash can and pried it out, gently placing it on the desk and checking the receiver.

“The phone’s not working. I will get you a replacement.”

Gerd looked at it in curiosity. Somebody had phoned not two minutes previous. Who had it been?

“Anything else, Herr General?”

“I’m fine. I’ll take my breakfast later. I have a report to finish.”

“Very good.” With that, both officers left, one cradling his broken phone, and closed the door.

Was it too early for some cognac? Yes. But the day was definitely looking brighter. Comfortable and relaxed, Gerd von Rundstedt, Commander-in-Chief of occupied France, lit a cigarette and studied his map.

If he placed all his forces on the coast at Normandy, they would be vulnerable to naval bombardment. They would have difficulty reaching other areas of France. No, he would recommend to Hitler to keep things as they were. The panzers would remain near Paris. From there, they could easily cover the entire coastline.

Rommel was wrong. How silly. Some time off would do him some good. Where was that document? Ah! He took the piece of paper and a pen and authorized Rommel’s vacation leave, beginning on June 5th. Nothing would be happening that week.

He studied the map again, noting the marks he had made throughout the last few months. FUSAG loomed large in south-eastern England. Heck, General Patton, the celebrated American warrior, was stationed there, greedily eyeing France from across the channel. It was all so clear.

They would invade the Pas de Calais. That was the Allies’ true target.

The probability was just too great.

 


One Response to “Heisenberg’s Pirates”

  1. Mel Says:

    OMG too cool!

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