Standing tentatively against the fast water, Ethan lathered up quickly.
Adrienne watched him through the reeds, wondering what motivated this
magnificent American to voluntarily risk his life for France. For that
reason alone she wanted his friendship. It was obvious he had a fine
sense of humor, refreshing compared to the string of moody Frenchmen
she had been involved with over the years. Intrigued by the contrast of
white soap on his black skin, she watched him raise each arm to wash
underneath, then bend over to run his soapy hands down each leg. Yes,
she might enjoy knowing a man that was so pleasant to look at, with whom she could talk without fretting over
the psychological impact of every word.
Ethan reluctantly lowered himself in the water to rinse off. “What am I going to wear?” he called out, splashing
cold water on his chest.
“Toss that soap so I can get your clothes washed.” It landed near her knees.
“I can’t wear wet clothes.”
“They won’t take long to dry in the sun.” She reached for his shirt. “Has this ever been washed?” she asked,
holding it up between two fingers.
“Don’t remember,” he huffed.
She noticed the pocket he had sewn inside and then took out its contents. There were a few fake identification
papers, the small map, some currency and a photograph. It was the aerial shot of the crash site Francois had
“Too bad we can’t see the plane in this picture,” she said, studying the photo.
“There’s a few landmarks. Should be no problem identifying the area when we get there.”
She nodded, noting a few rock formations and clearings that would be easy to identify. She weighted the
papers with a stone and then looked at him.
He could see her through the reeds. “I’m cold.”
“At least your teeth aren’t still chattering.”
“What am I supposed to wear while my clothes are drying?”
“Either stay where you are or get out and sit in the sun. Just quit complaining.”
He sat down where he stood in the river while she soaped his shirt and rubbed it on a stone.
“What happened to your revolver?” she called out over the noisy water.
“Dropped it when I got shot.”
She squeezed out the shirt and started on the britches. “Lost mine, too. One of them was chasing me. I threw
it at him when I ran out of bullets. Caught the bastard right in the face. That’s how I got away.”
“Too bad we weren’t able to wipe ‘um out.”
“They’ll get theirs one day,” she said, scrubbing the pants. She looked at him. “You going to sit in that cold
water until these are dry?”
Ethan was chilled to the bone. He dreading coming out of the river. Not that he was overly modest around
women, this one’s eyes would be all over him. The shriveling effect of cold water occurred to him. Gay or
otherwise, if he had to present himself naked, he would prefer doing so with as much glory as possible,
especially when being scrutinized by an unusually vocal Parisian female.
He stood and glanced down. Just as he thought—a small bird peeking timidly from its nest. Resigned, he
stepped toward the bank, then hurried across the clearing where he took a position behind a bush, wondering
how long it would take the warm air to dry his clothes; and more importantly, return him to his normal state of
“Why don’t you just stand behind that bush until your clothes are dry?” she said, amused by his modesty.
“Thought I might.”
“Americans! I swear. I’m surprised you don’t put britches on your pet gold fish.” She looked over her
shoulder. “You know, I saw pictures of some of your distant cousins in National Geographic one time. They
were walking around naked, kind of like you are right now. Seemed more at ease with it though.” She reached
up and rubbed her chin. “Let’s see ... what was different about the Africans in those pictures? Ah, yes, I
remember. Those men were ... uh, they were ...”
“Don’t strain your vocabulary, Adrienne. I know what you’re trying to say.”
“Must be an American trait.”
“You’re having all kinds of fun with this, aren’t you?”
“We should have some fun, don’t you think? Otherwise we’d go insane around all of this insanity.” She finished
washing his under shorts and tossed them his way. “Those can dry while you’re wearing them.”
“Adrienne, why are you involved?” he said, stepping into the shorts. “I know you have the temperament for this
kind of work, but I’m curious. Why did you join the Resistance?”
She stared across the river for a moment. He watched her light mood transform into an unsettled darkness.
When she looked back at him, there was bitterness in her eyes.
“The Germans murdered my mother,” she said soberly. “What they’ve done to France is reason enough to fight
them. What they did to my mother left me no choice.”
She sat back on her calves, staring absently, obviously reflecting on an unpleasant memory. “I wasn’t there
that day. My little brother was. A knock came on the door. Plainclothes Gestapo. He asked if she was
Madame Follet. Yes, Mother said. He raised a pistol and shot her in the face. Simply shot her, then turned
and walked away. My little brother was across the room on the sofa. He watched his own mother’s murder.
Half of her face was blown away.”
“My God!” said Ethan. He stepped out from behind the bush and walked toward a tree and sat down. Leaning
back against it, he folded his arms around his knees. “Why’d they do it?”
“Oh, it’s quite simple, Ethan,” Adrienne said bitterly. “She committed the ultimate crime. She was helping the
three or four Jewish families in the neighborhood. A prostitute lived down the hall from my mother. That
wretched woman found out what she was doing and turned her in. Just to curry favor from those fucking
Germans, that whore turned her in.”
Ethan stared at the ground for a long while. Adrienne rinsed out the rest of his clothes and hung them on a low
limb to dry, then went over to sit next to him.
“So then you joined the Resistance,” he said.
“Right after I killed the whore. I shot her in the face, then stripped off her clothes and hung her from a tree in the
middle of the square. A half dozen people watched me paint Collaborator across her belly.” She closed her
eyes and took a deep breath. “God, it helped some, but there’s so many of them. They betray France. They
betray their neighbors, even their own fathers and sons. I’ll never understand it.” She looked at him with a
gleam of vengeance in her eyes. “We know who they are and where they live. After we deal with the Germans,
heaven help the traitors who survive this war. It won’t be over until every one of them is dead.”
“You plan to go on killing after the war is over?”
“As many of them as I can.”
Ethan looked back down at the ground, put-off by her feelings of revenge. “No you won’t, Adrienne,” he said,
looking back up. Though it was obvious her hatred had eaten away at her soul, he knew she would have to find
a way to heal. “When the war ends, you won’t kill anyone ever again. You aren’t like them. We do what we do
now for a cause. We have to fight the Nazis any way we can, but we’re not barbarians. Let the tribunals take
care of the collaborators and war criminals. That’s how civilized people deal with these things—with justice, not
There was a tear in the corner of her eye. “Tribunals? Let those cowards spend a year in jail and go free? You
don’t know what’s in my heart or what I have to do.”
“Yes, I understand. Your heart’s been poisoned, but you’ll leave these feelings behind. Like everything else we’
re going through these days, it’ll all be stored away as a bad memory. It’s already on my list of things to do
before I leave France, to hear you promise to abandon your desire for revenge.”
Somehow she felt small sitting next to him, and safe. It may have been just a twinge, but he made her feel a
much needed sense of relief. Buried for what seemed like a lifetime, she longed to feel the normal emotions of
a woman, to feel protected in an hour of need. It had been so long that she had let down her guard, she felt
weary, truly and deeply weary. But on this she could not dwell, for these were the morsels of self-pity that
weakened the strongest mind. There was too much to do—the long and relentless struggle of ridding France of
She looked down at Ethan’s leg, reminded of what lie before them.
“That needs tending.”
He had forgotten his wound. The frigid water had numbed it and Adrienne’s story had distracted him. He
looked at the leg and then back at her. “What are you going to do?”
She reached for the bottle of alcohol and put it on the ground between her legs, then unbuttoned the lower part
of her shirt. Bound around her ribs with a belt, a knife rested in a leather sheath against her belly. His eyes
shifted from her belly to her breasts. Not fully obscured by the partially open shirt, they were full and heavy,
dropping slightly under their own weight, the nipples large and more brown than pink. The image triggered
Ethan’s curiosity. Why things like this, why such close proximity to a remarkable woman didn’t arouse him, he
never understood, when most men would find themselves in the throes of some very pleasant body chemistry.
Ethan returned his attention to matters at hand.
Adrienne tore a strip from the cotton blouse she had bought. She soaked it with alcohol and then drew the
knife. “There’s a pocket of infection near the wound. It needs to drain. A small incision should do it. Can you
“What! What do you mean, small incision?”
“You know what I mean. I asked if you can handle it.”
He took a deep breath, steeling himself to the anticipated pain. “Get it over with.”
His legs came together when she glanced between them.
“Still feeling a little modest, are you?”
“Maybe I’m the product of a good moral upbringing. Have you thought of that?”
“Never mind. That’s probably an American concept.”
Adrienne ran the soaked cloth down the full length of the blade. She glanced at him, keenly aware of being
involved in a job with a man she found uncommonly attractive. Most men would have already made a move on
her, and she wondered if Ethan might be scheming to do so. She could have gotten her knife out without
undoing the buttons, but it had been a good opportunity to get his reaction. She felt his eyes dwell on her chest,
but detected no change in his demeanor. Must be related to the moral upbringing he mentioned. If her opened
blouse didn’t prompt a reaction, what would? She had never experienced being overly challenged in seducing
a man, nor had her casual nuances ever failed to bring about their desired effect. She looked into his dark
eyes and he produced a pained and apprehensive smile. Shifting her attention, she poured a bit alcohol on the
He winced. The incision was small, the blade so sharp he had hardly felt it, but the feverish pain radiating up
his leg from the sting of alcohol was more than evident. He looked at the knife in her hand, wondering if she
intended to use it again, turning his head to avoid seeing whatever she might do next. He felt pressure from her
thumbs and assumed something was being squeezed out of the wound. Then she poured a little more alcohol
over the incision before ripping the blouse into long strips.
“Are you a religious man, Ethan?”
“Why? Should I be praying you don’t accidentally cut my foot off?”
“I know what I’m doing here. Quit grumbling and answer my question.”
“Religious? Not exactly. I believe in God, but I’m not what you’d call religious.”
“Slept with many women?”
He looked at her, caught off guard with her forwardness. “Isn’t that a little personal?” he asked. Though he
believed she would not have reservations about working with a gay man, he wanted to know her better before
stating his sexuality.
“Modest about that too, huh?” She looked him over. “I bet you have, handsome as you are. Living in Paris. A
fine conquest for any woman intrigued by something different.”
“Different? You mean black?”
“Well, that, and ...” she lifted his hand and drew her fingers over the back of it. “Look at you. My God. You have
beautiful skin and a perfect body.” She looked into his eyes and smiled. “A good mind, too.”
Another quick sharp pain caught his attention. He glanced at his leg and quickly looked away. A trickle of
blood trailed down toward his ankle. “Why don’t we just focus on fixing the leg right now?”
“The wound isn’t that bad,” she said as she began to wrap his lower leg. “Just slightly infected. I still think you
need two days rest before we look for the crash site.”
Ethan looked up into the sky. “Looks like it might rain soon. It’ll be miserable out here.”
“That little farmhouse and barn we passed before we got here. Did it look abandoned to you?”
“Couldn’t tell. Didn’t see any sign of life, though.”
She looked wistfully out over the fast water churling its way south, and then her eyes lifted and scanned the
gathering clouds. “It’s nice here, but if it’s going to rain we’d be more comfortable in that barn.”
Ethan considered the idea for a moment. The prospect of finding himself cornered in a barn loomed in his
mind, but the alternative of sitting like wet rats in the forest appealed even less. It was an easy decision.
Nor was Adrienne anxious to sleep in the rain. “This is isolated country. Even if someone lives there, they’re
not likely to be Nazi sympathizers. Farmers are notorious German haters.”
“So we get shot as burglars instead of partisans,” he said with irony.
“Let’s chance it,” she said, tying off the bandage. “We can rest here until nightfall.” Adrienne returned the
alcohol to the tote and then moved up next to him. Resting her hands on her lap, she yawned. “It’s warm today,
don’t you think?” She yawned again, then tilted her head and rested it on his shoulder. “I’m tired, Ethan, so
He looked again at the sky. The threat of rain was perhaps a few hours away. He tilted his head, resting it atop
her soft dark hair. The warm air lay comfortably on his skin. Adjusting his weight against the tree, he thought
about his rule of avoiding a personal interest in the partisans he worked with. This time seemed different. He
liked her. She was fearless and determined and smart. He liked all of that. She had even managed to put him
at ease with his involuntary nudity, as if they were comrades taking such things in stride. He released a small
sigh. It felt good having her next to him, resting in the shade on a warm day, soothed by the sound of the
flowing river, the gentle flutter of leaves overhead. He felt the tension melting from his body with this rare
reprieve from the unending trials of war. Within moments they were sound asleep.
The dark of night shrouded the forest by the time they got back to the secluded farm. They stood within the tree
line for a long while, observing the house. There was light from a kerosene lamp inside, the shadows of
movement from time to time.
“Hard to say how many are in there,” said Ethan, his voice low.
“Too small for a large family.”
“You were right about that barn—sure looks cozy.” His clothes were already damp from the mist.
“There’s smoke coming from the chimney,” she said, pulling her collar up closer to her ears. “Think of it, Ethan.
A glass of wine, a warm dry fire.”
“I’ll settle for the barn.”
“Let’s check it out. There must be a good place to sleep in there.”
“You have a plan if they come out?” Ethan asked.
“I think we’ll be safe. They won’t come out this time of night, especially in this weather.” She looked back at
the barn. “Sure could use one good night’s sleep.”
“What about dogs?” he said with a hushed tone.
“Do you worry about everything?”
“Sometimes. Mostly when I’m trespassing.”
“Can you run on that leg?”
“If a big dog is after me, yeah.”
“Okay,” she said. “Follow me. You watch the house and I’ll keep an eye on the barn.”
They crept out of the trees and on toward the barn, covering some fifty yards before reaching it. A gaping hole
came into view high on the west side of the barn, what looked like the result of a mortar round. The ancient
stonewall bore the insult well, for a lesser building might have collapsed. They came to a shuttered window.
Ethan unlatched it and it yawed open on weathered hinges, a creaking in the night. They looked inside, their
nostrils assaulted by the smell of damp hay and manure. They saw vague silhouettes of a few antiquated farm
implements, some milk canisters, a pile of feed sacks full of grain, and a cow standing in a stall.
“Looks like a loft up there,” said Adrienne, leaning in a little.
Placing his hands on her shoulders, he leaned in from behind her and looked over her head. “Yeah. Looks
good to me. Even if the farmer shows up, it’s not likely he’ll go up there.”
Ethan helped Adrienne crawl over the windowsill. She squinted, trying to make out the interior. He crawled in
behind her. The cow shuffled in its stall, then went back to the business of chewing hay. Ethan stepped across
the straw-strewn floor to the other end of the barn and cracked the double doors for another look at the house.
All was quiet. He lifted an old kerosene lamp off of a peg next to the door.
“I’m going to risk lighting this so we can see a little better. Afterwards, I’ll go over and see it’s visible from the
He struck a match and turned the wick as low as it would go. The small glow allowed them to make out the
trappings inside the barn. After slipping through the double doors, he ventured quickly across the barnyard and
crept up next to a window. Sagging lace curtains obscured his view. He couldn’t see anyone inside.
Back inside the barn, he noticed Adrienne had found the way to the loft, a makeshift ladder, no more than a
few short boards nailed to a support post that led up to a square opening in the overhead floor. They would be
safe there, for one night at least.
“Couldn’t see inside the house.”
“Is this light visible from over there?”
She looked up at the loft. “You ready to go up?”
“Think I’ll take a leak first.”
Outside, Ethan stopped under an oak tree, watching the house all the while. He unbuttoned his fly, hoping this
would be it for night. The low clouds had not yet delivered their promise of heavy rain, but the clammy mist was
miserable nevertheless. The pain in his leg had subsided, a good sign. Maybe it was healing properly. One
day’s rest should be enough before they set out for the crash site.
A few steps back inside the barn, Ethan stopped in his tracks.
Adrienne stood a few yards away, rigid, her back against a pole, a look of horror on her face. When her eyes
shifted, Ethan followed her terrified gaze. He froze, instantly alarmed. His eyes fixed on a German soldier
nervously aiming a Luger.
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