March 24, 1918
I sat across from Captain Smithwick near a window overlooking the zone piétonne below. It is an area of Paris that only allows foot traffic, which is one of the reasons I chose it as a place to meet. It would be quieter and more private.
Though thinner and with more wrinkles around his eyes, Captain Smithwick looked much the same as last time I saw him. I on the other hand, did not. And now that I was back in Paris, I was careful to keep speak entirely in French. There were rumours of double agents, and my new disguise as had to be solid. One never knew who could be listening.
“Your new look is rather transformative,” Captain Smithwick said in broken French. He looked at me intently as he blew on a spoonful of hot onion soup. “I almost didn’t recognize you.”
“Then it’s doing the job,” I replied, trying to keep irritation out of my voice. Captain Smithwick had the unique talent of resting on my nerves, an irritation that started after that disastrous mission in Mons, and for which he has yet to accept responsibility.
“Are you well?” he asked, ignoring the bite in my voice. “Was your time in London a refreshment?”
England during rationing was hardly a holiday, but I nodded. “It was fine. But I am resolved to throw myself back into the missions.” I was raised in politely society, so I felt compelled to ask after his well-being in return. Casting a glance out the window, I asked, “And you? How have you… “
My heart stopped, blood drumming in my ears. Just beyond, on the otherwise of the pedestrian walk way was Daniel. My daniel.
Without thinking, I pushed my chair away from the table, but before I could get to my feet, Captain Smithwick grabbed my wrist and held me down.
He’d seen Daniel too.
“Let. Me. Go.” I said this in English. Captain Smithwick’s response was to grip my wrist more tightly. The pain of it, brought me to my senses.
“It’s been years,” I whimpered.
“I know.” Captain Smithwick relaxed his grip, but didn’t let go. The fire I felt in my chest must’ve reached my eyes as my superior clearly wasn’t trusting me. As a show of faith, I let my weight slump in my chair, relenting. My free hand grasped at the window as I followed Daniel’s form, slimmer now, as we all were, his arm in a sling. He was with a companion, a fellow on crutches, which was why they travelled so slowly. And why I had precious minutes to watch as my love slowly walked away.
Captain Smithwick released my wrist, offered a stiff smile to the people casting annoyed glances our way. Too them we looked like a couple having a spat.
“Eat your soup,” he said.
I swallowed. Whatever appetite I’d arrived with had fled, but I’d been hungry enough to know that one never wasted an opportunity to eat. I sipped my soup, tepid now, as tears ran down my cheeks.
“You have cut and dyed your hair,” Captain Smithwick said, stating the obvious. “You’re supposed to be in northern France working as a switchboard operator. If he saw you, everyone on the street, including his fellow soldiers, would’ve been part of the compromised security of our covert operations in occupied Europe. He would’ve asked questions and demanded answers.”
“Did you know he was here?”
Captain Smithwick stared at his soup.
“Keep your voice down!” Leaning over the table he stiffly whispered, “You know the eyes and ears of the Bosch are everywhere. Even here in Paris. We’ve already discovered a dozen double agents just in this city alone in the last six months.”
Pinching my eyes shut, I wiped the wet off my cheeks with the back of my hand. As much as I hated Captain Smithwick in that moment, he was right. If I ran after Daniel now, looking like this in public, it was easy to imagine the Bosch would hear about it and seek to track me down. My last mission saw to that. They could even target Daniel in retribution. It was just too risky.
Damn this bloody war!
Captain Smithwick tried another tactic. “At least you know now that he is alive and doing well.”
This was indeed something. “But why have I not gotten any letters from him for months now? Why hadn’t I heard about his injury?”
“I… we thought it best to keep the letters from you this last little while.”
“He was starting to ask you very pertinent questions about what you were doing, where you were, if he could come to see you while on leave.”
“You read our letters?”
“That is protocol with someone who has done as many missions as you have. It’s for you own protection and the protection of the agency.”
“How dare you! You could have trusted me to answer discreetly.”
Captain Smithwick let out a long breath. “What if I can arrange for you two to meet? Just for a short while, and very covertly. Consider it an olive branch.”
My voice cracked. ’When?”
“Of course, you’d have to dye your hair back to red for that.”
Dying my hair was the least I could do. I’d jump off a bridge if it meant I could spend ten minutes alone with Daniel. “When?” I asked again.
“It would have to be somewhere discreet, and of course, and you can never tell him of your clandestine operations. For God’s sake, he can’t suspect anything!”
I glared at him fiercely. I swear I wanted to kill him with my bare hands in that moment.
“When?” My voice was a whisper, but it carried menace such as I never would have thought could come out of my mouth.
Captain Smithwick actually looked taken aback. He lifted his spoon, pretending to blow on it and said, “Soon.”