booksandstories.com

September 2003 Review

Web Page Progress

The UK site, readstoriesonline.com is now up to date after it's platform upgrade. I have also removed the sound effects from the book buttons. For the moment the chat/forum facility remains on this site only, but that will also probably go next month leaving both the UK and US sites more or less identical.

As I said last month my payment system has gone through a slight change. The payment pages supplied by WorldPay have been altered. If there are any problems please email me. Another slight change is in the counter on the List Page. It's now from another free counter site, this time called QCounters.com. I like counters, they give the site a bit of history.

Letters

I have received another email from Mandy, the first for a while:

Hey DG,

Long time no see, huh? Well, I've finally had time to get to the website and see what's new. The latest installment of “A Fine Woman” was great but....... did you have to leave me hanging at the end? Can't wait till next month!

I also checked out the music to accompany “The Friendly Ambassador” and I think you're right on about “Love is a Battlefield.” I love that song!!!

Well, get back to your writing, because I want to find out what happens to all the characters I've gotten to know.

See ya later,

Mandy

It has been a long time since I heard from you, Mandy. I was begining to wonder if Humbolt had carried you off somewhere. And I am glad to hear from you again. You may be interested to know that I have modified a few chapters in “The Friendly Ambassador” these are chapters 3, 8, 12, 22, 23, 27 and 28. As for “A Fine Woman”, its a serial, I'm supposed to leave you hanging!

I'm glad you like the music page for “The Friendly Ambassador”. I'm only sorry I can't provide the music itself, but there are reasons (the terms ‘royalties, pirate, take me away officer’ come to mind). “Love is a Battlefield” is almost perfect for the Androktones, the female clones in the story. Since I originally heard the song and saw the video I have always considered it to be an anthem for female sexuality and independance. What do you think? And what do you think of the other music pages?

Mandy told me that she isn't famed for her patience, but I suppose we are all like that when it comes to something that is serialised. How many of you out there have read the entire book of “The Lord Of The Rings” even though the last part has yet to hit the cinemas? Shame on you. If you haven't already read it as a child or teenager what were you doing? Don't answer that. Anyway I prefer “The Hobbit”.

Writing Progress

The changes to “The Friendly Ambassador” outlined above are a reflection of how close it is to completion. I have been putting in slightly better descriptions of Atlantis and other mythical items, and I have also made some additional continuity changes required to fit in with the ending. Its at this point that I begin to think about changing the odd line or description that I find to be not quite how I like it. I have been going over some chapters and some descriptions and events with this in mind, but generally I have left things alone. Occasionally I might find a mistake I missed during writing, or I might change a word or two. But the main thing I have been doing is to add the points I need as a result of getting to the end of the story. It is often only now, when I have made those final decisions that I have been putting off, that I finally know exactly whats required and where. So it won't be too long before I'm finished. And then its the next one.

Why can't I get paid to do this?

One problem for me, but not for you, is the size of the story and the fact that I am limited to files less than 1MB in size on my server. So far I have split it into three files, two of which are already up on the List Page. The third and final file is already over 1MB. It means I will either have to do a reshuffle on the second file, or I will have to split the story into four files. Regardless of which option I choose, watch out for a change sometime during the month.

As I mentioned last month, “The Heroic Englishman” will be appearing as a short story. I originally wrote seven chapters, and these will be glued together into four or five installments. I'm unsure whether to put them up right after “A Fine Woman” or to finish “The Curfew” first. It would probably be best to finish both the current serials and then move on to “The Heroic Englishman,” so that's what I will probably do.

This month “A Fine Woman: Part IV” is the Short Story Serial. “A Fine Woman: Part III” has been added to the List Page. “The Curfew: Part IV” will follow next month.

September's Short Story: A Fine Woman: Part IV

1948

The sandwiches had been finished and only the tea remained from their small repast. Sister Anna-Marie had removed the plates, and Sister Marie-Therese still held her last cup of tea.

“Did Obersturmführer Meir catch her in Germany?”

Captain Taylor glanced down at his empty cup. “No. Helga was on route to France with Jacob, eight children and three adults when it happened. She didn’t even know until she had delivered them to André and was on her way back. The SS seized the entire Burbeck Estate while she was away. Because of his familiarity with her, and because he volunteered for the job, Obersturmführer Meir was put in charge of hunting her down. It was almost too easy. Helga was loud and bossy on her travels, and she never hid her movements, so her route was well known to the Gestapo by then. While her father was alive their hands had been tied. Now they could act. So before she even knew her father was dead, Meir was waiting for her at Grasse. Fortunately a friend warned her.”

1944

Antibes was filled with noise and confusion. German trucks and half-tracks sped along the road from the main garrison at Fort Carré and crowds of people milled about on the side shaking their fists and jeering at them. They were no longer scared.

André fought his way through the crowds. He needed transport. He had to get to Juan-les-Pins before Helga left her Château to return to Germany with Jacob. All around him the people shouted and pushed forward, and it took ages for André to finally work his way through them and reach the house where Monique opened the door. Stephane was inside. He was as surprised to see André as Monique was scared.

“André? Why come here in the day? Are you insane?”

“Not insane, but in a hurry!” André replied. “We have to go up to the Château at Juan-les-Pins and warn the Countess!”

Stephane wasn’t impressed. “But the Americans are here! We should wait for them!”

“No! I have spoken with London! Her father was implicated in Hitler’s assassination plot! He has been shot, Stephane! And she will be next! The SS are no fools! We must hurry! Get a car!”

Stephane paused only for a moment and then turned to the young girl who had looked on fearfully as they argued. “Monique! Go to the tabac and tell your papa what we do! Tell him I have taken his Renault! Go now!”

“Yes, Stephane! You will find my Jacob?”

“Yes! Now hurry!”

Monique grabbed her coat and left by the front door. As soon as she was gone Stephane led André to the back door.

“The car is in a garage a short distance away! But the roads will be full now that the bosh are pulling out! And they won’t want to stop and ask any questions should they find two men in a car barring their path! We should go by bicycle and keep off the roads!”

André shook his head. “It will take too long! If Helga leaves before we get there it will be too late! Once she’s on that train, she is a dead woman!”

-o-

Leutnant Spiegal opened the door of the staff car. “Please hurry, Countess. The train will not wait, and Oberst Riner will not be able to help you if you remain behind once we depart.”

Helga hurried from the entrance to the Château. She was wearing a white full-length linen coat over a yellow summer dress. Elegant high-heeled shoes completed the ensemble. She was leading Tirpitz and Bismark on their leads and both dogs barked excitedly.

“I understand, Leutnant. And I am grateful, believe me, if somewhat surprised by your sudden arrival. But I have no wish to be trapped in France surrounded by coarse Americans and revengeful French peasants.”

As she got in the car, Jacob stuffed their luggage into the open boot. Leutnant Spiegal waited until Jacob had closed the boot, run round the car and jumped in beside Helga before he closed the door. In an instant he had opened the front door and jumped in beside the driver, and a moment later the car turned and sped away, heading for the station.

Tirpitz and Bismark jammed their noses out of each partly open window in the doors. And Helga smiled at Jacob and squeezed his hand. Then she looked forward and spoke to Spiegal.

“Leutnant, does the Oberst risk his career by giving us his aid?”

Spiegal hardly glanced back at her as the car sped along the narrow roads. “No, Countess. You are a German national. It is only natural that you should receive our help. But the timing could be better. The Americans have landed in force at Agay to the west of here. Another assault is under way at San Raphael. It is clear that it is a full invasion. Oberst Riner has received orders to send all our forces west to prevent the Americans breaking out. With the garrison depleted and the Americans so close there are bound to be attacks from the French Underground. It is best that you are well away from here, Countess.”

Jacob had continued to look at Helga as the Leutnant had explained events. Helga now turned to him again and smiled.

“Then as soon as we are aboard the train, the better.”

-o-

André was frantic. “Missed her! Missed her!” he shouted to Stephane as he ran out of the Château. He jumped back in the car and Stephane got back in the drivers seat. He started the engine and waited.

“What now, André?”

André sat in the car staring ahead with his mind whirling. “The Concierge said she was picked up by a German staff car. Riner probably sent it. He must think he is doing her a favour.”

“They could have taken her into the country and shot her,” Stephane suggested.

“No. She’s a Countess smuggling Jews. The SS will want her. If the news had reached here they would have sent a car, not Riner. He will have taken her to the station.”

“Then we are too late. The train will be gone before we get there.”

André turned to look at him. “Then we must get ahead of it. Drive to Mougins.”

“Vallauris is nearer.”

“Yes, and the train will stop there first. That’s when we will overtake it. Go!”

Stephane sighed as he put the car into gear. “We should be blowing up Germans, not racing trains.”

The tyres on the old Renault kicked up the gravel as it accelerated away.

-o-

Obersturmführer Meir stood on the station platform at Grasse. He had taken off his gloves and was waiting patiently. Next to him the train from Juan-les-Pins slowly pulled in and stopped. On the station approach a truck was parked. It was filled with German soldiers whose uniform bore the insignia of the SS.

Meir smiled. It would be a nice surprise to see the Countess again. And of course, there was her ‘travelling companion.’ He could be dispensed with right away, on the platform, in fact, and those wretched dogs. But the Countess Burbeck would need to be interviewed. There were things she knew that were of interest. And when she had answered his questions she would be taken back to Germany. He would enjoy seeing her shot. But not as much as he would enjoy seeing her broken.

The locomotive hissed and breathed steam and smoke as it sat waiting for the signal to pull out. All the passengers climbed on board while others alighted. One of those who climbed down from the train was the Scharführer. He hurried towards Meir and clicked his heels and saluted when he reached him.

“She is not on the train, Obersturmführer! The Guard said that he saw her board at Juan-les-Pins and he checked her ticket at Vallauris, but did not see her after that!”

“What is the first stop after Vallauris?”

“Mougins, Obersturmführer!”

Meir nodded. “Let the train go.”

As the Scharführer hurried back to the Guard, Meir walked to the station telegraph office. He replaced his gloves as he walked along.

It seemed that his reunion with the Countess would have to be delayed. Either she was very fortunate, or she had been warned. That just made his need to question her all the more important.

Two men wearing leather coats waited inside the telegraph office. The telegrapher sat at his desk between them. He was sweating. Meir took off his hat as he closed the door behind him.

“She got off at Mougins. Contact our people at Cannes. Have them cut all the roads south and east of the station. I will meet them with my men. It seems that we must search for our quarry.”

-o-

The old Renault hurtled down the road from Mougins to Antibes. There were six occupants: Two dogs, three men and one woman.

Jacob sat in the backseat next to Helga with Bismark on his lap. Tirpitz sat on the floor, his tongue hanging out as he panted. Jacob was scared but also relieved, and with André and Stephane in the car with them, he felt safe. At least they were going in the right direction now.

The knowledge that the Americans were close and that they had been travelling away from them had worried Jacob. He didn’t like the idea of going back to Germany. But when Leutnant Spiegal had turned up so unexpectedly there was no way Helga could have argued with him. Jacob even wondered if she wanted to. The way she had almost dismissed André’s fears when he also arrived so unexpectedly in their compartment on the train made him wonder again. But the Frenchman’s bluntly spoken news about her father had obviously upset Helga. She had gone with him without a word and she still hadn’t spoken. She also hadn’t cried.

In the front of the car, André held onto his seat as the Renault swerved around another bend. “Can’t you go any faster?” he said to Stephane.

“My foot is to the floor, André!”

André smacked the dash in front of him. “We have to get back to Antibes before the train gets in at Grasse! They have radios you know!”

The car swerved around another bend and a German half-track parked across the road suddenly came into view.

Stephane wrenched on the steering wheel. “Jesus!”

As the Renault plunged off the road, men in uniform ran forward firing their MP40 machine-guns. Bullets peppered the trees and the back of the car, and one of the tyres blew.

Jacob was bounced around as the car careered over the uneven ground. Bismark was thrown from his lap and both dogs barked and yelped. Stephane kept the car going for as long as he could, but a ditch brought it to a final halt.

André threw open the door. “Everyone out! Run, Countess! Stephane! Get the guns!”

Stephane was already running around to the boot. He opened it and flung aside the bags and blanket inside until he reached the British machine-guns hidden underneath. There were only two. He gave one to André.

Jacob had climbed out of the car and fell to the ground. Bismark and Tirpitz bounded out and milled around him, barking incessantly. Helga fell out the other door only for André to pull her roughly to her feet.

“I said run!”

“You run!” she snapped back at him, wrenching herself free and re-arranging her coat. “I have nothing to fear! I am German!” she said proudly.

André stepped closer to her again. “If they catch you, they will make you tell them about us! About Stephane, Monique, about all the people who have helped you! And there is Jacob! Now run, or I will shoot you myself!”

There were shouts in the air from somewhere near to the road. And they could hear the engine of the half-track burst into life. Stephane leaned against a tree and shouted over his shoulder.

“They’re coming, André!”

Helga turned away from André. “Tirpitz! Bismark! Heel! Follow!” She ran forward with her dogs. “Jacob! Keep up, boy!”

Jacob paused to look at André. André nodded. “We’ll delay them and catch up with you! Don’t worry! We don't intend to die now that the Americans are here! Go!”

Stephane fired his machine-gun. There were shouts and an instant response that scattered bark from the tree. Jacob turned and ran with tears in his eyes. He chased after Helga, the sound of gunfire ringing in his ears. Then there was an explosion.

Stephane and André ran as the Renault burned. They dodged around the trees, pausing to fire back at the soldiers who advanced carefully and methodically.

-o-

Obersturmführer Meir climbed out of the truck as the Scharführer shouted to the men in the back.

“Rouse! Rouse!”

The men began to pile out of the truck and run for the trees. The truck was parked on the edge of the road, and among the trees nearby was a half-track. Two men lay on the ground with their backs against the tracks, bandages marking their wounds. Another three were laid out at the back of the vehicle. Meir hardly glanced at the bodies as he followed his men at a sedate walking pace. While he walked, they ran ahead, the Scharführer leading them forward at a trot.

Meir soon came upon the smoking wreck of a car. There he found another Officer waiting for him. He saluted as Meir approached.

“They are somewhere in these woods, Obersturmführer! They will not get far!”

“You have suffered losses, Untersturmführer?”

“They caused us a brief surprise, no more!”

“But they have delayed you?”

“They will not delay us for long! We know where they are!”

There was a distant bark. Meir smiled as he put on his gloves. He pulled his pistol from its holster. “Lead the way, Untersturmführer.”

-o-

It was suicidal, stupid, but it was his idea. Helga wanted none of it, but André had merely nodded and Stephane had dragged her away. Then André had snatched the leads of Tirpitz and Bismark from him and had run away with them. Jacob had just stood there in shock. The dogs had started barking straight away.

It was his idea. It should have been him. He didn’t care if they caught him. If that meant that Helga got away, then he would have been content. It wasn’t supposed to be André.

A shout from Stephane stirred him from his stupor.

“André! Come on!”

Jacob looked back and forth, confused by the mistaken identity. Then he realised that Stephane meant him, and he turned and ran.

-o-

André was never comfortable with Helga’s dogs. They were German, he was French, and somehow they knew it. As a result neither dog needed encouragement to make a noise. They barked and yelped and wagged their tails as they pulled him along. Every so often they tried to turn and go in another direction. André knew they wanted to find the Countess, but he also knew that the noise they made drew everyone towards him.

-o-

Helga was furious. “How dare you let him do that!” she screamed as Stephane half dragged her and half carried her through the woods. She struggled and kicked at him and one of her shoes flew off. “Let me go, you French oaf!”

Stephane came to a halt and let go of Helga. She stepped back, hopped, and then stood before him with an arrogant and aloof expression on her face despite her lost shoe. She was about to make a scathing comment when Stephane punched her in the jaw. She instantly relaxed and fell forward and Stephane threw her over his shoulder.

“Now we can move faster!” he said as he turned and saw Jacob. He was suddenly surprised. “You? Where’s André?”

“He took the dogs,” Jacob told him lamely.

Stephane swore. “Just what I need! A German woman and a boy!”

With Helga over his shoulder and his machine-gun clutched in the other hand, Stephane made off at a trot.

“Keep up! Or the bosh will get you!” he called to Jacob.

Jacob chased after him.

-o-

Meir listened to the dogs barking. This was too easy. The Countess may have been a woman but she was not stupid. And her control over her dogs was far more proficient than she would have him believe.

“Untersturmführer! Get me a map! Where are we? Where is the road?”

The Officer ran towards him and pulled a map from his breast pocket. Meir took it and unfolded it against a tree. The Untersturmführer instantly pointed.

“We are here! The road, here!”

“Then we have been travelling in this direction,” Meir remarked. “It leads nowhere!” He suddenly turned away, handing the map back to the Untersturmführer. “Continue with your men, Untersturmführer! But have the Scharführer meet me here with half a dozen men! While you go north, we will go south!”

The Untersturmführer clicked his heels and nodded his head. “Yes, Obersturmführer!”

-o-

André knew that the game would be up soon. He could hear the soldiers nearby. They were close and they were running. The dogs barked louder and more often, they could smell the men that chased them. It was time for a change.

André pulled the two dogs to a halt, and kneeling down he drew them close to him. They wagged their tails excitedly, snuffling at him.

“Now Tirpitz, Bismark! Find your Mistress! Find the Countess!” He unclipped their leads and released them. “Go!”

Bismark and Tirpitz leapt forward and bounded away. He could still hear them barking as he ran.

-o-

The Scharführer ran towards Meir holding something in his hand. Meir took the shoe the Scharführer offered to him. He then took off one of his gloves and put his hand inside the shoe. It was still warm. He smiled and dropped it on the ground.

“Gather the men, Scharführer! After them!”

The Scharführer saluted. “Yes, Obersturmführer!”

Meir put his glove back on. “It seems that your dogs have distracted me once again, Countess,” he muttered to himself. “But this time you will not escape me. This time the game will be over.”

-o-

There was confusion in the woods. Men shouted and dogs barked. The sound of gunfire filled the air only to be answered by more shouts. The Untersturmführer shouted louder than anyone else.

“Ceasefire! Ceasefire! You’re shooting at one another!”

“They are among us, Untersturmführer!” one of the soldiers shouted back.

“Where? Show me!”

In answer came another bark from close by.

“There!”

Machine-guns opened up again as a black dog bounded through the trees. The bullets smacked into the trees just behind it.

“Hold your fire!” the Untersturmführer shouted. “It’s only the dogs!”

-o-

André suddenly loved those dogs. They were causing havoc. In a few minutes the Germans had become strung out, their line broken. They shot at everything. He had slipped through them easily. At least three of them had been hit by gunfire, and he hadn’t needed to fire a shot.

-o-

Jacob heard the twig break at the same time as Stephane. Despite the sound of distant gunfire, shouting and barking dogs, it had been quite clear. It had also been very close. They both stopped and looked back. There was nothing but stillness behind them. The sun shone through the leaves and branches and cast shadows. But the scattered trees of the woods soon blotted out the view.

Stephane lowered Helga to the ground. “Jacob!” he hissed. “Come here and wake her up!”

Jacob hurried to his side and began to shake Helga. “Countess! Countess! Wake up, Countess!” She stirred and murmured, but didn’t wake.

Stephane held his machine-gun at the ready and inched forward, staring back through the trees. They had only just covered that ground. They should have been safe, miles away. But carrying Helga delayed him. And those who chased them only carried their guns. Then he saw them, an Officer and Sergeant and some men.

Stephane fired immediately. One of the men fell and the rest dived for cover. An instant later and they were returning fire. Stephane ducked as the bullets tore the wood from the trees around him.

Helga awoke at the sound of the shooting. She looked up at Jacob in surprise. “What are you doing here?” she asked. Then she winced and rubbed her jaw.

“André took Bismark and Tirpitz,” he replied. Then Stephane ran up to them and dragged them both forward.

“Run! The bosh comes for you!”

Bullets peppered the trees as the three of them ran. But they had hardly gone far when Helga grabbed Jacob and pulled him almost to a halt. She leaned on him and hopped on one foot as she reached down and threw off her last shoe. A moment later and they were off again. Stephane had crouched down by a tree, he squeezed off another burst from his machine-gun as Helga and Jacob ran passed him. Then he turned and chased after them.

1948

“I suppose now would be a good time to explain how I got involved in this.”

Sister Marie-Therese smiled and nodded. “It would be appropriate, Captain.”

She had called for more tea and Captain Taylor had gratefully drunk another cup as he carried on with his story. Now he shifted his position on the chair once more.

“Well, I landed at Green Beach with the 2nd Battalion of the 141st Infantry on the 15th August, 1944. The whole of the 36th Division was involved in the invasion of Southern France. We had been training at Salerno in Italy during July…”

Captain Taylor paused as he saw Sister Marie-Therese raise her hand.

“Green Beach?” she asked in a gentle voice.

He smiled. “Sorry. It was a little further west from Agay. Near Cape Drammont?”

“I see. Carry on.”

“We landed at eight o’ clock in the morning. A couple of hours later and we had managed to secure the beachhead and were already pushing north through Agay. Our role was to secure the Cannes-Fréjus highway and make sure that the Germans couldn’t press home any attack over the mountain passes from Italy in the east. That allowed the 142nd and 143rd to head north and west.

“Anyway, on the 17th August we met up with elements of the French Underground on the coast at Théoule-sur-Mer. It had been a pre-arranged meeting to discuss the plans that had been made before the invasion. But the meeting didn’t go as intended. Monique’s father was there. He had come straight from Antibes after the telegrapher at Grasse had contacted him. The telegrapher was part of the Underground and he spoke German. It was fortunate that Meir didn’t know that. Monique’s father knew exactly who the Germans were after when he heard their plan to block the roads south of Mougins. But it wasn’t Helga he was worried about. André was quite high up in their organisation, and the French were worried in case he was captured. With the Germans pulling out they feared that there would be reprisals. André was also fully aware of the support the Underground had arranged to give us during the invasion. He knew the plans. So it was important to them and to us that we got him back.

“At first I didn’t want to get involved. I had my own targets and objectives, and I pointed out that as things were going it wouldn’t matter about reprisals because the Germans wouldn’t be around. But the fact that André knew our plans was a problem. I asked if the French could handle it themselves, and they said that they couldn’t spare any men in a rescue attempt as most of them were already committed to hitting planned targets in support of the invasion, so there weren’t enough to spare to go head to head with a truck load of Waffen-SS.”

Captain Taylor sighed. “It was then that I asked a stupid question. I asked what André was doing north of Vallauris right in the middle of the invasion. It wasn’t just bad timing; it was downright foolish. There was nothing there, no target and no reason for him to be there. That was when they told me all about Helga. And I mean all about Helga: The camps, the smuggling, her father, the spying, her code name, and why the SS wanted her.

“Saving one German woman and a Belgian boy wasn’t on our list of objectives. And it meant getting passed Cannes. But a few of the GI’s in my troop were Jewish, and once they heard about the camps and what was going on in them, and about what Helga had been doing, why André had gone after her, and why the SS were hunting her, well, there was just no way that we weren’t going to go.”

End of Part IV.

Copyright © D. G. Richards 2003

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