August 23, 1917
I’m stationed in a town called Kortrijk in Belgium. Soon after destroying the German phone exchange hut in Nivelle, I received word that it was too dangerous for me to stay there considering what I had done with Magda. The Germans were all over the site trying to establish what had happened. The sentry we’d drugged had come under intense interrogation. There was a price to be paid for letting him live.
Within only a few days of arriving in Kortrijk, I found myself embroiled in yet another dangerous mission. My orders were to meet with a Flemish soldier I will call ‘Berg’ and aid him in whatever he had planned. Those were odd instructions, and I was not given much more information than that. Once again, I had to implicitly trust my superiors.
We met in the back of a food store where Berg had been living for the last year, sharing weak coffee while seated at a lopsided table. He’d been wounded in the trenches and was slowly recovering. A stoutly built man of about thirty, he had curly black hair and quick, darting eyes. A thick black moustache overwhelmed his upper lip.
“I am surprised they sent me a woman,” he said, starting our conversation in French. His dark eyes showed no contempt, only puzzlement.
“Nevertheless,” I returned, “Here I am.”
“This will be very dirty work, Mademoiselle Lafleur.”
“I can assure you, I’ve gotten my hands dirty before. I can do it again.”
“This will be more than just your hands.” Berg said. He drank back the last of his coffee, unable to prevent a look of dislike from crossing his face. “Foul stuff,” he said. “Alas, beggars like us can not be choosers.” Dropping the empty mug on the table he, continued, “In any case, here it is. We have an opportunity to destroy the main supply warehouse.”
I raised my eyebrows and ducked my chin. “I’ve seen it from a distance. It’s heavily guarded. Do you have a team in place?”
“Non, Mademoiselle.” Berg’s quick eyes blinked rapidly and darted around the room for a moment as if he was concerned that someone might be watching. He lowered his voice. “There aren’t enough of us to form a team, but that is the beauty of this plan. It will require only us two.”
I urged him to continue with my eyes, keeping my doubts to myself.
Berg read my uneasiness. “I know what you are thinking,” he said. “How can we avoid the guards who are stationed all around outside? How can we break the locks? I understand your skepticism. But let me start at the beginning. I spent several months in the hospital not far from here, and while I was there I met a local soldier named Henk Peeters who had been severely injured from a bomb blast. He told me about an entrance to a very old paved sewer system under the city, long unused but still largely intact.”
I inclined my head, my curiosity engaged. “Go on.”
“In medieval towns like Kortrijk, an open sewer ran through the middle of main street, which was funnelled to the fields and then to the river. Monsieur Peeters believed such a system from the long, forgotten past of this town remains. Over time, these sewer systems were turned into underground paved and semi-paved tunnels as the cities grew over on top of them. I thought to myself, if this is true, it is very likely that one of the branches of this sewer system goes directly through the main part of the old town district.”
“Where the supply dump warehouse is.”
“Have you already explored the passages?” I asked.
“To some extent, yes. Peeters had plans to make use of the secret passages to destroy anything the Germans built, but the poor man succumbed to his wounds in the hospital. As far as I know, he never had a chance to tell anyone else of his secret. As soon as I was able to walk without the use of cane, I started exploring the entrance to the tunnels.”
“And the Germans have never discovered this entrance?” I found this rather unfathomable.
Berg laughed dryly. “Apparently not, since they built a supply hut on top of it. Most supply huts like this have only a dirt floor, but this one was built on a wooden elevated foundation to keep out the rats and to keep it from flooding. That supply hut is under used and not well guarded. I’ve slipped in under the structure without being noticed several times with ease.”
“Have you confirmed that that one of the passages leads to the dump?” I asked. The prospect of blowing up one of the Bosche’s main supply dumps was intriguing to say the least. It would postpone and possibly even cancel many German operations in a hundred kilometre diameter, and quite likely save Belgium lives.
“Not yet,” he said, his eyes regarding me with sudden, intense focus. “But I have done some calculations. The supply dump is almost exactly on and a half kilometers from the entrance in a straight eastern direction.”
“I can see this is not hard to calculate walking above ground,” I said, “but underground…?”
“That,” he said as a slow smile grew across his face, “Is where you come in.”