In the middle of WWII, OSS agent Erin Forster must fulfill a special assignment in Nazi-occupied Paris: find a German soldier known to be part of a group of officers in the German army trying to end the war. Operating as a neutral Swiss journalist, she sets about her quest even as she aids French partisans in guiding American airmen to safe havens.
Born in Germany, but educated in America, Alexander von Eisen returned to his native land for a visit only to be forced into the German army. As a courier for a group the Nazis would view as treasonous, he is deeply suspicious of the journalist and seeks to expose her.
From D-Day to the Battle of the Bulge, from Paris to Berlin, Erin and Alex encounter the bombs and bullets of war and witness firsthand the plight of people caught up in events beyond their control.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.00(d)|
Read an Excerpt
In Enemy Hands
By Wilma Counts
Abbott PressCopyright © 2013 Wilma Counts
All rights reserved.
On the long flight to Switzerland, Erin Forster—OSS code name Robin—reviewed her cover story, anxious lest she forget something minor and betray herself and others.
She was Ilsa Finster, journalist. Her German parents emigrated to Switzerland after The Great War; they had a farm where they produced wonderful cheese. Ilsa had six brothers, one sister, and numerous cousins. She had studied journalism at universities in Zurich, Strasbourg, and the United States. The new identity closely paralleled her own reality by design: she would be less likely to slip up that way. The Forsters had emigrated through Switzerland—en route to America. The six brothers, including three in the United States Army, and one sister were real, too. So were the cousins, some German, some American. Even her educational credentials carried more than a grain of truth.
"Cousin Helmut" would greet her at the Zurich airport with yellow roses. He would identify her by a bright red beret over her brown hair. That much would be easy enough, she thought.
She closed her eyes and allowed her mind to drift. As usual, she focused on David and what might have been. David. He of the laughing brown eyes. David, with whom she had intended to spend the rest of a very settled life. David, dead after being wounded in North Africa. He, too, had been a journalism major, whose college career—then his life—was cut short by the war. Their dream had been to own a small town newspaper and practice all that was best about professional journalism. Now— No! that way madness lies, she admonished herself. She turned back to the assignment. I'm scared, David. Really scared. But I must do something. Something important. Something worthy.
The full magnitude of what that might be was still a mystery to Erin. Two days ago she and other agents who would work in Nazi-occupied France had reported to the Washington office of General Donovan, head of the Office of Strategic Services.
"Your overall mission is to aid the French resistance. They're doing a great job," the general informed them, "but sometimes their eagerness to get rid of la peste brune—the brown plague, as they call the Germans—leads them to jump the gun. One of your tasks will be to try to keep that from happening."
They nodded and waited.
Donovan continued. "It can be a bit complicated. De Gaulle wants to be sure he will lead a post-war France. Our Soviet Allies are just as determined that their communist friends do so. The Reds want a foothold in western Europe. We'd prefer they not get it."
"Sir, while we concentrate on winning a war against the Nazis, the French and the Russians worry about politics after the war? Is that not the proverbial cart before the horse?" Snow White asked. With long black hair and a pale complexion, the agent was aptly code-named for a Disney heroine.
Donovan nodded. "I'm sure General Eisenhower shares that view. He has his hands full with squabbling generals. Imagine trying to control the egos of Britain's Montgomery, our own Georgie Patton, and the inimitable Charles de Gaulle!"
The new agents smiled in response and Donovan resumed the business at hand. "You're part of a special operation, code-named Hermes." Messenger of the gods, Erin thought. Donovan went on. "Most of you leave tomorrow for England. Further briefings in London will explain your particular missions, then you will parachute into France. Others will enter from the South."
Often during training at the OSS Farm, Erin had felt a sense of eager anticipation. Here in Donovan's office, apprehension nudged the eagerness.
As if he were a mind reader, Donovan added, "I don't have to tell you you're on your own out there. If you're caught ... well, I remind you again: spies are not accorded the niceties of the Geneva Convention that uniformed soldiers get."
Condor, also a new agent, but never intimidated by the presence of high-ranking personnel, seemed impelled to add his two cents' worth. "So—you ladies try not to screw up the works." In the weeks Erin had known him, Condor had always made any word to or about women an epithet.
She glanced around in mock wonder and addressed herself ostensibly to Snow White. "Sometimes I feel I've been transported into the scenes of a bad movie where you can't tell the good guys from the bad guys."
Snow White gave a tight little smile and nodded her agreement.
Gathering papers and consigning them to an attaché case, Donovan seemed not to have heard this by-play, but then he said, "Welcome to the company. War is never cut and dried—in causes—or participants. Or results. We do the best we can with what we have, We depend on hope and luck, and try to keep one step ahead of the bad guys—whoever they may be."
"Yes, sir," the new agents chorused.
He stood, and the others followed suit as he came around his desk. He gave each a firm handshake. "You'll probably never receive accolades for your work, but know this: the government of the United States appreciates what you are doing. Go with God, all of you."
* * *
In Zurich, "Cousin Helmut" met her, handed her the bouquet, and kissed her on each cheek. An amiable young man of medium height, with brown hair and gray eyes, he had a well-scrubbed look and wore a conservative blue suit. As they waited for her luggage, they exchanged pleasantries in German about the "family" (all fine), the weather (iffy), and her flight (long, but uneventful). Outside, Helmut stowed her luggage in a French Citroen sedan with diplomatic plates. After several hours in the closed atmosphere of the plane, Erin happily breathed in crisp, cold air. Helmut held the passenger door for her, then got behind the wheel. He spoke to her now in American English.
"It's about two hundred kilometers to Bern, so feel free to have a nap, Ilsa, if you are so inclined. My name is Kenneth, by the way—Ken, if you please. I'm to settle you in a hotel in Bern. Around noon tomorrow I'll take you to meet Mr. Dulles."
Despite glorious scenery and her own nervous apprehension, Erin dozed during the drive.
The next day a light snow was falling when Ken arrived to take her to the promised meeting.
"We'll take a rather circuitous route," he announced. "Have to be sure we aren't followed."
Having negotiated the twists of several narrow streets, he finally said, "I think we're clear." He maneuvered another corner and parked along a solid wall of narrow buildings. Over one doorway hung a metal sign in the shape of a wine glass; simple cut-out letters announced it to be a gasthaus.
Inside, sturdy wooden tables, chairs with elaborate hand-carved backs and antique farm tools on whitewashed walls added to the décor of a plain room with heavy beams. Garlands of pine branches suggested the approaching Christmas season. A huge fireplace offered welcoming warmth. Several customers chatted quietly, but the room was not crowded.
"Herr Schmidt?" Ken addressed a rotund little man in a white apron.
The waiter, holding a tray of drinks, nodded toward the back. Ken and Erin stepped through an arched doorway hung with strings of beads into a smaller room decorated and furnished much as the front one was. At a corner table sat a man in his late forties or early fifties. He was dressed in black denims, a pull-over sweater, and a brown leather jacket. A pair of goggles lay on the table. Was this Allen Dulles, chief operative of the OSS on the European continent? He rose as Erin entered.
"Ah, Fraulein Finster, I presume," he said quietly.
"Ilsa Finster, Allen Dulles." Ken's tone was equally quiet as his eyes surveyed the room.
"It's okay," Dulles said. "That door leads to an alley and it's locked."
Ken held a chair for Erin, then helped her shrug out of her coat. He asked Dulles, "How'd you get here, sir? I didn't see your car."
Dulles grinned. "On the back of a motorcycle behind one of our off-duty marines. A wild driver! I'll go back with you."
"Fine. I'll wait out front to ensure no one's overly interested in what's going on back here."
"Tell the waiter we'd like a bottle of Riesling and three glasses, please," Dulles ordered.
Three glasses? Erin wondered, but Dulles was already getting down to business. He pulled a small black leather folder from inside his jacket. The waiter arrived to deliver and pour the wine.
When he had gone, Dulles took a paper from the folder and examined it. "General Donovan outlined the Hermes mission, I think."
"Your own primary mission is extremely important. Critical."
"More than others?" She raised an eyebrow.
Dulles smiled. "OSS sometimes operates in hyperbole. But, yes. We believe some highly placed German officers might be willing to negotiate a settlement to the war."
"Negotiate? News reports from Washington and London insist on 'unconditional surrender.' No negotiating. Isn't that so?"
"It is. Roosevelt and Churchill tend to talk in hyperbole, too. However, both are practical men—and politicians to the core. They'll negotiate—to save lives."
Erin nodded. "But what about the third member of the triumvirate? Stalin is not likely to agree."
"At the moment, he's too dependent on our aid not to agree—reluctantly or not."
"And this will affect me how?"
"If the information is true—and I concede we don't know for certain it is—the officers involved are very high in the Wehrmacht. According to our intelligence, they are fed up with the Nazis and the way that former corporal, Hitler, is conducting this war. However, they are extremely cautious."
"Yes. We've just learned—from what we are sure is a reliable source—that they sent a courier to Paris to work with foreign contacts and serve as a go-between for these officers."
"Obviously German. Military? Or civilian? I'm to contact him, is that it?"
"Possibly. He is German and he is military. We know that much. And we should like to contact him. But we don't know—my source doesn't know—who the devil he is."
"Oh. Then finding him should be easy—akin to finding a needle in a haystack," Erin said with false brightness.
Dulles nodded and drank from his glass. "Something like that, though we can reduce the size of the haystack a little. This man was transferred to Paris fairly recently—and given the nature of his ... uh ... secondary assignment, he is probably a captain or above."
"'Fairly recently' means what?"
"Within the last few months."
"I don't suppose we have a list of such transfers?" she asked, her tone facetious.
He smiled and shook his head. "We're working on it."
"We think he may speak Spanish or Portuguese and he may be associated with the office of the military governor of Paris, General Hans von Boineburg-Lengsfeld. But we're not sure."
"If I should find him?"
"Notify London with the message 'Jabberwock lives.'"
"Jabberwock lives. And then?"
"Await instructions. But do not—I repeat—do not discuss this assignment, this man's existence with anyone. No one. We must protect his identity at all costs. He could be our link to an early end to the war."
She was impressed with the gravity of the assignment, but she was somewhat disappointed. All those lessons in explosives and hand-to-hand combat.... She leaned back in her chair and clasped her hands on the table, then said in a matter-of-fact tone, "Well, I guess that's why they issued us cyanide tablets."
Dulles shrugged, took several other items from his folder, and handed them to Erin. "The documents you will need to get into Nazi-occupied France. A Swiss passport, identification cards, visa, ration book, and so on. Please examine them carefully for any errors or inconsistencies."
"Yes, now. If we must have any of them redone ..." His voice trailed off.
She studied them one by one, afraid she might overlook something. They were forgeries, extremely well done. They even looked well used. She sipped sparingly of the wine. "They seem to be in excellent order."
"They have to be. French officials will make a great show of scrutinizing your papers," Dulles warned. "They must keep up a pretence of sovereignty. The real danger comes from the Krauts. They are very meticulous about who and what comes and goes in 'their' territory."
She studied the documents closely, but found nothing amiss. Still, she was quiet.
"Is there something wrong?" he asked.
"N-no." How should she broach what was on her mind?
"Seems to be something," he pressed.
"Hm. Well. It's just—I thought I would have a more active role to play in France. You know—sabotage—that sort of thing."
"Bombing bridges and tearing up train tracks?"
She felt blood rushing to her face as she admitted, "Well, yes." From him, those ideas sounded naïve now.
"You've read too many novels or seen too many movies," he said, then took the sting out of these words by chuckling. "I told Donovan that library at the Farm was too heavy on shoot 'em up, blow 'em up stuff." His tone sobered. "This war may very well be won with bombs and brawn and bullets, but it will be shortened only with the use of brains and intelligence."
She was chagrinned. "Yes, sir."
"You were specifically chosen for this job because Donovan thinks you have both. Also, you speak both German and French—and you've a background in journalism."
As she groped for something else to say, a middle-aged man in a dark blue business suit with narrow light gray stripes approached through the beaded doorway. He had dark hair and a mustache that put Erin in mind of photos of Hitler. His smile, though, was warm and inclusive as he greeted Dulles. The third glass.
Dulles stood to return the man's greeting. "Ah, Herr Mueller. Right on time. Ilsa Finster, may I present Karl Mueller?"
Mueller pulled out a chair, leaned over to give Erin a firm handshake, and said quietly, "I take it this is my new employee."
"Karl is editor and publisher of Der Berner Spiegel," Dulles explained as both men sat down.
"The Bern Mirror. I know your paper, Herr Mueller," Erin said. "I like what you do."
"Thank you," Mueller said. "We hope it will grow beyond a mere weekly after the war. I have seen samples of your work, Miss Finster. I think we can accommodate you Americans." He addressed this last comment to Dulles.
"Excellent," Dulles replied. "It is vital that Miss Finster have real stories to file and that they occasionally, at least, be printed. The Germans are bound to check on a detail like that."
"I am pleased to help," Mueller responded. "We Swiss are officially neutral, of course, but I daresay few of my countrymen will be disappointed to see the Nazis defeated."
"Good." Dulles rose. "Well, Miss Finster, I leave you in Karl's capable hands. He will brief you on details and see you back to your hotel. It's best you not be seen with me. You will be given final instructions in a few days. Meanwhile, learn the ropes of a Swiss newspaper." He glanced at Mueller who nodded his agreement.
Erin leaned forward to extend her hand. "Thank you, Mr. Dulles," she said politely, but she felt overwhelmed by the assignment Dulles had given her. Well, it was something important, wasn't it? As Dulles left, she settled back in her chair. Herr Mueller outlined her duties for his newspaper. She would report on life in Paris under the German occupation.
"Nothing too political, mind you," Mueller cautioned. "Nothing to get you expelled from the country."
"Human interest stuff—ordinary people coping with war," she suggested.
"Exactly. Mr. Dulles requested you spend a few days in our office and plant here so that you have first-hand knowledge of your new employer. You must be an authentic journalist in Paris. For your own sake, of course, but things could be a bit sticky here, too, were you seen in another light."
A few days later, Ken dropped in at the newspaper office to take "Miss Finster" to lunch and give her her final instructions, train tickets, and railroad schedules. He also instructed her on contacts in Paris and necessary passwords.
"A woman named Berta will arrive at your hotel in the morning to see you to the station. She will inspect your luggage and clothing to double-check that nothing will give you away."
"Like what?" Erin challenged.
He shrugged. "Anything. An American coin, wrong clothing labels, a New York subway ticket. You don't smoke, so we needn't worry that anyone might find traces of American tobacco in your pockets or your handbag."
Erin resented his condescending attitude, but she went home that evening and double-checked every single item she would take into occupied France. Even her underwear was authentic. Most of her wardrobe had come from European refugees whose luggage had been "lost" on arrival in New York—there should be little problem with her clothing.
Excerpted from In Enemy Hands by Wilma Counts. Copyright © 2013 by Wilma Counts. Excerpted by permission of Abbott Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.