For those who are not yet familiar with Trudy Parr,
check out the woman in the red raincoat here
London July 30, 1945, 22:20
The clip of her quick pace down the unlit corridor could be heard from far away. The sound was the happy result of her hanging up her RAF uniform, and donning civilian clothes. Though she remained an RAF officer, Natalie Falls’ work with the Special Operations Executive meant that her practical military shoes were in her closet. It was now the heels of her stylish non-combatant pumps that announced her approach along the darkened halls.
In her hand was the usual attaché case, filled with the day’s communications and briefing notes. Outside, the sirens sounded, and spotlights scanned the sky. She stopped at the office of Vera Atkins, SOE – F Section, and knocked.
“Come,” came a voice from within. “Quickly, don’t let out the light.”
Blackout curtains allowed Vera Atkins to have a dimly lit office.
“The war’s nearly bloody over,” said Falls. “Patton’s mopping up. Why are we still having these damn drills?”
“It only seems over,” Atkins said, straightening her desk. “The Soviets still have an air force.”
“True, I suppose. And millions of starving peasants to throw at us.”
“Besides,” Atkins said, “sirens keep us on the home-front focused. Take a seat.”
“I brought this for you.” Falls placed the heavy attaché case on the floor, and sat.
“Speaking of the end,” said Atkins, “what will you be doing now, provided we truly do have peace.”
“Secret Intelligence Service, I imagine. They’ve asked me on.”
“Really? You don’t plan to marry some RAF hero, and move to a little cottage in Scotland, so you can watch each other become fat, toothless and alcoholic over the course of the next forty years?”
“Definitely not, and that’s very cynical of you. Besides, what good’s a hero without a war?”
“Yes,” said Atkins, “and I think, from reports, that you’re more impressed by the young ladies serving cocoa in the canteen. Does SIS know of your tastes?”
“If you do, they do.”
“I, for one, will be sorry when it’s over,” Atkins said, lifting the lid of a teapot and peeking in. “The war has been good to us—women I mean. Take you, for example; you’d just made Flight Lieutenant when you came to Orchard Court. Now look where you are. I wonder if I shouldn’t salute you.”
“That’s not what I’m here to discuss, Vera.”
“Most women doing war work now will be returning to children’s runny noses and scrubbing floors,” Atkins said, trying to envision a postwar England.
“Shall we change the subject?” said Falls.
“It’s Soho and Dillinger,” Natalie Falls said. “Parr and Dench. There are plans to evacuate all of our agents from France, but not them. As their handler, I’d like to know why. And I’d like to know why no one bothered to discuss the matter with me.”
“We need them there, for a little while longer.”
“They deserve to be brought home,” Falls said.
“There are always little details to attend to when war ends, Natalie.”
“Will they be spying on France for us now? What if they’re caught? Spies are executed, even in peacetime.”
“Yes,” said Atkins, “that would be ironic, after their having survived until now.”
“Please take this seriously,” Falls said.
“The lives of spies are always in danger, Natalie.”
“Truth be known, the two of their lives have always been in greater jeopardy than the rest, and their chances of survival have never been more than middling. Even before they came to us, they were just throwaways. It’s why they excel at what they do. They measure success differently than regular people, good people. They measure it by what and how much they can steal, and the amount of mayhem they can cause.”
“That’s how we measured their success, too.”
“But for them, it’s nearly a mania,” Atkins said. “Especially for Soho, that Trudy Parr woman. Face it my dear, there will be no place for them now that the war is ending. Can you see them living normally back in Canada, some little town called Vancouver? And they’ll be no good in intelligence services, either. They lack the necessary sophistication.”
“I disagree,” said Falls.
“Don’t let their accomplishments in Paris fool you. They’re not heroes. They’re merely thieves and murderers, verging on psychopathy.
“Once again,” Falls said, “you’ve described most of the spies in service of the Empire.”
“These two don’t deserve to be removed from the chaos they’ve helped to create and have thrived in for the last five years, just because you pity them. You could bring them home tomorrow, and they wouldn’t thank you for it. Especially Soho. Her profile,” here Atkins took a file out of her inbox and placed it on her desktop. “It suggests that, for her, murder passes for intimacy. Her psychological assessments says as much. She’s a psychotic, and too dangerous to evacuate. She was useful to us when we needed her, but we never imagined she’d survive ‘til now. We have a mission in mind that will delete her as a problem, but something more important first.”
“You’re wrong, Vera. Her performance has been stellar, Dillinger’s too. What they’ve done for the war effort has taken an enormous amount of discipline, acumen and courage. I understand that Trudy Parr’s condition may be deteriorating, but if it is, it’s due to the stress of her uniquely barbaric mission. She’s done it for England and the Allies, Vera. Please don’t forget that.”
“You’re a romantic.”
“What do you intend to do with them?”
“Continue to make them useful, for the time being.”
“And what is the important mission you’ll send her on, before you delete her?”
“A fellow named Frank Becker, code name Chicago.”
Falls was surprised. “He’s an American,” she said.
“Yes, but he’s in Paris, bargaining with Soviet spies. He somehow knows about something called the Manhattan Project. It’s believed that he’s obtained specifications for the so called Shadow Makers, through some sleight of hand.”
“What are Shadow Makers? I don’t know what those are.”
“You’re not supposed to know. You’ve only just been cleared. The yanks call them Fat Man and Little Boy. They’re a new kind of weapon. The equivalent 21 kilotons of TNT in a single bomb, dropped from on high. One will destroy an entire city, on its own, if they work.”
“What are they going to do with them? I don’t imagine they’re museum pieces.”
“Japan. They won’t quit, and no one has the stomach for another invasion by sea.”
“Why don’t the Americans take care of Becker themselves?”
“They may. That’s part of the stunt we’ve had assigned to us. There are two teams going in. Ours is already there. Theirs may be, too. Both of our countries have residue agents in Paris.”
“Soho and Dillinger will be informed of the assignment in seven days, by BBC Radio code, the usual thing. Until then, they have other things to attend to.”
“I don’t like the term residue agent, Vera.”
“It’ll be a feather in the cap of whichever country gets him first. We need that feather in our cap, Natalie. And the Americans need to be humbled. All of this noise regarding George Patton and his 3rd Army is quite out of control.”
“How long have you known about Becker?”
“So, all of this comes down to you wanting to get him before the Americans, even if the war ends tomorrow. That’s really why you’re keeping Soho and Dillinger there. You know they’ll win that race. I don’t think you believe a single word of what you just said about them.”
Vera Atkins placed Trudy Parr’s file back into her inbox.
“Not every word of it,” she said, “but many of them. There are people above me, Natalie. They must be kept contented. The use of extra judicial killing is coming to an end, officially. And killing an American is definitely off of our compass, officially. This may be our last grand escapade of the war.”
“Won’t stopping a double agent from selling the Soviets plans to a weapon that powerful make the two of them worthy of retrieval?”
“Soho and Dillinger are formally considered irredeemable by SOE,” Atkins said. Then, with a broad smile, she lifted and peeked under the base of her desk lamp. “I see no reason to stray from that point of view.”
With a tug, she pulled a listening device out from beneath the lamp, and held it up by its broken wires for Natalie Falls to see. Then lifting the lid of the teapot, she dropped it in, where it made a wet plopping sound.
“Oh dear!” she said, looking into the teapot. “What have I done? Clumsy me!”
Falls looked astonished.
“Oh well,” Atkins said, shrugging, and reclining in her chair.
“They bug your office?” said Falls.
“Not anymore.” Atkins placed a hand on her teapot. “That was the last one, for now. And don’t be naïve.”
Now Falls was embarrassed.
“Let’s talk more freely,” Atkins said.
“I’m starting to lose track of what’s happening here,” said Falls.
“I regret having to be the one to tell you this in such an unambiguous way, Natalie, but you must understand that no matter how well they’ve performed in the field, and no matter how well they perform this last assignment, SOE will never knowingly allow Soho or Dillinger to return alive.”
“I know this sort of thing happens,” Falls said, “usually for very good reasons. But now that we’re talking more freely, why?”
“The answer remains the same. It’s been determined that their assimilation back into civilian life would be too difficult. Especially in light of what they’ve done for us, and Soho’s failing mental condition. They’re too clever, too difficult to contain. Soho is too unstable, and Dench too devoted to her. They are therefore considered at risk to divulge classified information, not intentionally, of course, but under many predictable and unpredictable forms of duress. They’re not alone. Some have already been dispatched for similar reasons, as operations wind down; identities erased, paper trails torched, names forgotten.”
“Why are you divulging this to me, in such detail?”
“I don’t know, Natalie,” Vera Atkins said. She picked up a pencil, and studied it. “Maybe it’s because I’m overworked, and in my state of fatigued, I just let it slip out. Bad luck, too, because as their handler, you might try to intervene on their behalf—mightn’t you?”
“I might,” Natalie Falls said, after an uncertain moment.
Atkins opened her desk drawer, and pulled something out.
Then she said, “You might even arrange for a Group 2 submarine called the HMS Ultra to arrive at a certain location, at a certain time, indicated in documents contained in a certain envelope. Once there, Ultra could, perhaps, pick them up and take them to a safe harbour, where they may be provided with false identities, passports and enough currency to get them back to Canada, or to wherever else they might like to go.”
Vera Atkins slid an envelope across her desktop.
“As a high level Intelligence Officer,” Atkins said, “you could arrange and authorise this sort of thing. No need for paperwork in light of the confusion that will shortly ensue. Naturally, you’ll properly dispose of the contents of this once you’re done. I know nothing, of course.”
“Of course,” said Falls, taking the envelope.
“And now,” said Vera Atkins, pulling open a side drawer, “I have a lovely tin of pâté and a box of these dreadful American Ritz Crackers. I may even be able to locate some tinned peaches. Shall we have a nosh?”
“Yes,” said Natalie Falls, “that would be very nice.”
Paris, same night, 02:55
“Keep your eyes open,” Crispin Dench whispered, as he fixed a silencer onto the muzzle of a .38 automatic.
He and Trudy Parr stood on the landing between the second and third floors, in the dimly lit stairway of a hotel on rue Hérold. They had agreed that that night’s kill would be Dench’s. The assigned target was SS-Obersturmbannführer Ritt Gerst, of the 33rd Waffen SS Grenadier Division. Gerst was normally accompanied by an armed aide, Obersturmführer Wolfric Hueber. This night, however, Gerst was visiting his mistress, alone.
Dench climbed the stairs silently, and turned down the hall to room 3E. There, he put his ear to the door and listened. There was soft talking, languages shifting from German to French and back again. Dench tried the door knob. Locked.
Meanwhile, Trudy Parr stood perfectly still on the landing, surrounded by faces staring out from dark corners, the too many ghosts of her victims that followed her everywhere. She held safe within her the memory of each of them, each private final breath, each last evidence of thought. She remembered each name, and how each life had ended, by the gun, blade, poison or other means. She loved them all, and wished to remain with them forever.
There came a sound from below. Someone beginning to climb the stairs. She backed away from the light, to stand amongst her departed.
In the hallway above, Dench stood at the apartment door and considered the possibilities, of which there were too few. Picking the lock was risky and would take too long, and though the desk clerk had provided the room number, he refused to offer a key. So, Dench stepped back and kicked the door in, the peace of 3:00 a.m. making it sound like thunder.
On the landing, Trudy Parr heard the footsteps cease momentarily as the door went crashing in, then begin again, rapidly now and in earnest. As the footfalls came closer, she stepped out of the shadow.
In 3E, Dench found Obersturmbannführer Gerst in bed with a girl no older than twelve years, his mistress. Gerst began to struggle, encumbered by bedsheets, for the nightstand where he had placed his Luger. As Dench waited, and watched, he thought of how tired he was of war, of his and his partner’s faultless precision in their orbit of chaos. And now, this privileged fool in his bed with a child, scrambling for the only thing that might save him.
Back on the landing, Gerst’s aide, the trim blond Obersturmführer Hueber, had come face to face with Trudy Parr. He held a bag of groceries and wine in one hand, and his sidearm in the other, but was startled to see this woman standing there, with her disturbing violet eyes and serene demeanor.
“Bonsoir, monsieur,” she gently said
The razor she drew from her garter made a curious metallic sound as it snapped opened. Then she swiftly slashed Hueber’s throat, severing the carotid artery. Out of habit, she was careful to step back in order to avoid the resulting spray of blood. It was a calmly executed series of graceful movements. Hueber dropped his Luger, and she kicked it away. His eyes were wide, and he held his hands to his throat, as though that might save his life. As he stood there dying, Trudy Parr reached out and softly stroked his cheek. She spoke in English this time, and tenderly said, “Bye-bye, baby.”
In 3E, Dench stood with Gerst in his sights as the man fought to pull his weapon from its holster. Dench believed that giving the SS officer a chance at defending himself was the least he could do. But clearly Gerst wasn’t used to working under pressure.
“Oh, c’mon,” Dench said, and waited a moment longer. The girl had by now fallen out of bed and lay flat, facedown, on the floor. “…fucking master race…,” Dench said, finally, and squeezed the trigger.
The first bullet struck Gerst in the head, spraying grey matter on the wall behind him. Then Dench strolled up and shot him in the heart.
“Get dressed,” he said to the girl, in his best street Parisian.
Taking a billfold from Gerst’s tunic, he pocketed the officer’s ID. Then he walked round the bed to the girl, and gave her the money it contained. Far more than she’d ever seen in one place before.
“Get out, as fast as you can,” he told her. “Exit through the kitchen.”
When he returned to the landing, Trudy Parr was crouching next to Hueber’s body. She looked at the dead young man with her strange, adoring eyes. Crispin Dench had seen this before, and had stopped worrying about it. Though Trudy’s methods had become bizarre, her work remained otherwise flawless.
“He died like a darling little soldier,” she said, his blood pooling as she ran her fingers through his hair.
”Swell,” Dench said. “Now, let’s get the hell outta here.”