Micheline threw the still-smoldering Gauloises cigarette to the ground and crushed it with the high heel of her black leather boot. Then she marched across the darkened Paris street and grabbed the man she’d never seen before by the lapels, throwing him back against the stained brick wall of the station.
“Kiss me!” she ordered in English, whispering tersely.
The airman, his crew cut a dead giveaway despite his French civilian clothing and chapeau, stood motionless, too surprised to move as Micheline reached up and pulled him toward her, pressing her open mouth against his. His musty scent was mixed with a hint of tobacco. The streetlight cast a yellow pool on the pavement around them, illuminating their embrace. Micheline felt the man’s body responding against her own. The navy beret which covered her red curls tilted off-center, threatening to fall to the ground.
A second later, Micheline broke away and brought her mouth close to his ear. “If you hope to live, follow me.” Without another word, she started away down the Rue des Récollets. She sensed the one-two beat as he hesitated, followed by the rapid pattern of his footsteps against the icy pavement. She strained hard to make sure she did not hear anyone else following them but did not dare to look back.
Micheline slowed, allowing the airman to catch up. When he reached her, she moved closer, linking her arm in his and tilting her head toward his shoulder. Anyone watching would have thought them just a smitten couple.
Micheline had spotted the airman a few minutes earlier, standing on the pavement outside the Gare de l’Est, a half kilometer from the intended rendezvous spot, looking out of place. It was always that way with the Brits, scared and barely out of school. The passeur, a girl from Brittany called Renee, was supposed to escort the airman. Her instructions had been simple: deliver the soldier to the Hotel Oud-Antwerpen, where a local contact would take him and hide him for the night. But Renee had never shown. Something must have gone wrong and she’d panicked and fled, leaving the airman alone.
Another ten minutes outside the station and the police would have picked him up. There was already a gendarme at the corner, watching the solider too steadily. That might have been what spooked Renee. Micheline, who was in Paris on an unrelated errand but was aware of the planned pickup, had seen the stranded airman by the station and knew she had to intervene. But Micheline had no way to lead him away on the open street without attracting attention. So she had resorted to The Embrace.
It was not the first time she had feigned passion in the service of the network. The Sapphire Line, as it was now called, had formed almost immediately after the war started. They had a singular purpose: ferrying downed British airmen from the Dutch or German borders across Belgium and occupied France to freedom. This was the hardest part of the journey, getting the airmen across Paris from Gare de l‘Est where they arrived to Gare d’Austerlitz where they would set out for points south. It was a few days across France to the Pyrenees, with only a brief stop or two for rest. When the line worked, it was brilliant. But when it failed, catastrophe. There were no second chances.
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