Authors: Fiona Brand
The very best of friends.
Thank you to Jenny Haddon, a former bank
regulator, for her invaluable advice about the world
of international banking; Pauline Autet, for help
with the French language;
Claire Russell of the Kerikeri Medical Centre,
for help with the medical details;
Robyn Kingston, for lending me two wonderful
books about spies and codes;
and Tim and Simon Walker, for supplying
ballistics and WWII military information.
Thank you also to Miranda Stecyk for her
professionalism and help with this trilogy.
Â Â Â
he drone of a Liberator B-24 bomber broke the silence of the forested hills and valleys that flowed like a dark blanket to the Langres Plateau. The plane dipped below ragged clouds that partially obscured the light of a full moon. Below, bonfires pinpointed the drop zone and a light flashed from the edge of the thick pine forest.
Morse code for “zero.” The agreed signal.
The engine note deepened as the American aircraft banked and turned to make its drop. A pale shape bloomed against the night sky, growing larger as it floated to earth.
Icy air burned Marc Cavanaugh's lungs as he
stripped a leather glove from his right hand. Unfastening a flap pocket, he extracted a magazine for the Sten submachine gun that was slung across his chest and slotted it into place.
Fingers already numbed by the cold, he jerked on the parachute cords, steering himself toward the flashing pinpoint of light. He studied the thick swath of forest from which the signal had originated, the stretch of open country belowâa plowed field bare of crops. As he lost altitude, detail rushed at him: a tree, wind-blasted and skeletal; a rock wall snaking across ground plowed into neat furrows; the glitter of frost.
Shadows flowed across the field. Jacques de Vallois's menâhe hoped.
Marc jerked on the cords, slowing and controlling his descent then braced for landing. Seconds later, he unlatched the harness and shrugged out of the straps. Stepping away from the distracting brightness of the chute, he dropped into a crouch, the Sten pointed in the direction of a flickering shadow to his right.
Benis soient les doux
Blessed are the meek
Cavanaugh let the muzzle of the gun drop, but only fractionally. “
Car ils hÃ©riteront de la terre
For they shall inherit the earth
White teeth flashed and metal gleamed as de Vallois lowered a Schmeisser MP40. “At your service.”
A brief handshake later, de Vallois barked orders at his men. A former attachÃ© of de Gaulle, de Vallois was formidably skilled in clandestine operations. One of the architects of the French Resistance, he had worked tirelessly refining their systems and training recruits. It was unlikely that his efforts would be fully recognized during his lifetime, but de Vallois's determination was unshaken. He lived for
, and he would die for her.
De Vallois said something in rapid French. With economical movements, two of his men gathered up the chute, which glowed with a ghostly incandescence. Within minutes the field was clear, the bonfires doused.
De Vallois jerked his head. “
Seconds later they were beneath the cover of the pines.
The parachute was buried in a hole that had been previously dug and the disturbed ground
was covered over with a thick scattering of pine needles. As high a price as the silk would command in Lyon or Dijon, the risk of being searched while transporting the parachute was too high and de Vallois's men too valuable to risk. With the recent incarceration and execution of key Resistance figures, Himmler's SS and the Geheime Staats Polizeiâthe Gestapoâwere actively hunting insurgents and traitors against the Nazi Regime.
Half an hour later, they walked free of the trees and stepped onto a stony track. De Vallois checked his watch, then signaled them off the road.
Lights swept across the bare fields. An armored truck rumbled past.
Long minutes passed. De Vallois grunted. “Come. That is the last patrol of the night. Even the SS have to sleep.”
Marc stepped up onto the road. The cloud cover had broken up, leaving the night even colder and very clear. Moonlight illuminated the barren fields and a stark avenue of pines.
Jacques grinned at the exposure. “Don't worryâmy information is exact. My people understand that many lives are at stake.”
A truck, its headlights doused, cruised out of a side road and halted beside them. Jacques opened the passenger door and gestured for Marc to climb in. “The only thing I can't guard against is a traitor.”
Shreveport, Louisiana, 1981
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ae Fischer flicked on her bedside lamp and shook her husband's shoulder, the pressure urgent.
Ben's eyes flipped open, instantly alert. “She's sleepwalking again.”
“Damn.” He thrust out of bed in time to see his seven-year-old daughter, Sara, dressed in pink flannel pajamas, her long, dark braid trailing down her spine, drift past his bedroom door. He walked out onto the landing as she came to a halt alongside the landing rail, staring fixedly at something only she could see.
Since the phenomenon had started several months ago, they had blocked off the stairs with the wooden gate they had used for her when she was tiny. There was no danger of her falling down the stairs, but he lived in fear that she would either climb the gate or fall over the landing rail. The drop to the hardwood floor below was a good twelve feet. At the very least, she would break bones.
She unlocked an invisible door, stepped “inside” and knelt down. He watched, resisting the urge to shake her awake or simply scoop her up and carry her back to bed.
Their family doctor had warned them against waking her suddenly. Apparently the shock could be dangerous. A specialist, Dr. Dolinski, had seconded the opinion. Ben wasn't certain what
meant, exactly, but he had assumed Dolinski was talking about physical shock, maybe even a seizure of some kind.
Mae seemed to have even less understanding of her daughter's condition than Ben did. At times, she was actively frightened by Sara's episodes which was why, confused as he was by what was happening to his daughter, he had taken over dealing with the situation.
Soft lamplight poured from the bedroom as he crouched down beside her. The blank expression on her face and the intensity of her gaze sent a shaft of fear through him. “Sara, honey, you can wake up now. It's only a dream.”
Talk softly, and keep talking. Bring her back slow, that had been Dolinski's advice. Don't do anything that might jolt her out of that state.
His heart squeezed tight as he watched her repeat actions he had seen her do a number of times. Her movements were smooth and precise as she reached into some invisible cupboard, pulled out an invisible book and leafed through to a page. When she was finished, she replaced the book, locked the cabinet, pushed to her feet, walked a few steps, then appeared to close another door and lock it. She placed the “keys” she had used on what he had decided was an imaginary shelf, a part of the landscape she had created on the landing that must be, to her, as solid and real as the walls and rooms of this house.
She paused and stared in the direction of her room, a sharp, adult expression on her face. For a split second he had the unnerving impression that he was looking at someone else, not his
daughter. The notion made him go cold inside as she drifted back in the direction of her room.
But crazy as her actions seemed, he didn't think Sara was suffering from a personality disorder. He recognized what she was doing, and she repeated the same actions over and over again.
His theory, developed over months of observation, was even crazier than Dolinski's. To most peopleâciviliansâwhat was happening to Sara was simply weird, but to Ben, an ex-Naval officer, the actions formed a familiar pattern. Sara's symptoms pointed to a particular diagnosis that shouldn't have affected a seven-year-old child.
His father had suffered battle fatigue after the Second World War, and Ben himself had seen and heard about enough cases firsthand. For the past few months he had done extensive research on the effects of posttraumatic stress syndrome. He had talked to old soldiers and visited veteran's hospitals. It wasn't unusual for soldiers to relive battles in their dreams, night after night, going over and over the same incident, as if the scene had been burned so deeply into their minds that they couldn't forget or move past it.
He'd had his own share of posttraumatic stress
syndrome after the Gulf War. Sleepwalking was rare, but there were documented cases.
He shadowed Sara as she made an invisible turn, his attention sharpening. This was something new.
He watched as she shrugged into an invisible coat and wound what seemed to be a scarf around her throat. Her head came up and the remote expression on her face turned to terror.
He frowned. “Sara?”
She looked directly at him, her gaze once more sharply adult, but he had the distinct impression that she didn't register him; she was looking at another face.
She spoke clearly and precisely. The content and the language she usedâGermanâchilled him. A name registered: Stein.
He watched as she unwound the invisible scarf. “Who is Stein?”
Her face went blank, and for a moment he thought she wasn't going to answer. The technique of trying to enter into the dream, to defuse the grip it held on his daughter, had so far proved spectacularly unsuccessful. It seemed that when she dreamed she was literally locked into another
world and, short of physically intervening by shaking her awake, he couldn't reach her.
She fixed him with an eerie gaze. “Stein?” she said in a coldly accented voice that shook him to the core. “
Geheime Staats Polizei
All the fine hairs at the back of his neck lifted. Sara was his daughter; he loved her fiercely, and yet, in that moment she was not, by any stretch of the imagination, his cute, lovable little girl.
“Stein's dead,” he said softly. “You don't have to worry about him anymore. The war's over. We won.”
He kept talking, relating what his own father had told him about the Second World War, emphasizing several times that the Allies had won. It had hurt, it still hurt, but they were okay now. They would never let the mistakes that had led to the horror of the Second World War be repeated.
He didn't know if what he was saying was penetrating the world she was locked into, or if he was making any sense, because talking to Sara as if she had actually
there didn't make any kind of sense. But if even a fragment got through, it could help.
She blinked, and the terrible tension left her face. She stared at him, the dream Sara abruptly
, with him, her gaze incisive. For the first time, he had the impression that he was finally making headway, even if this uncanny “grownup” Sara still shook him.
Dolinski had mentioned the possibility of multiple personalities, but Ben had never been prepared to believe that. His daughter was tall for her age, already strong willed and with a sharp intelligence. Today, she had spent most of the afternoon down at the swimming hole with her cousin, Steve, and the Bayard kid who had moved in next door. Sara had been calling the shots, and that was typical. She had a natural knack for organization and command. To him, the “sleep” personality was recognizably Sara.
“Did you hear what she
“Not now, Mae,” Ben said calmly, his gaze still locked on Sara's, but the high pitch of Mae's voice had shattered the fragile bridge he'd built. He had been so closeâ
Sara blinked at him, in an instant shifting from eerily self-possessed to sleepy and bewildered. “Did I walk again?”
The fear in her eyes tugged at his heart. He scooped her up, walked to her room and placed
her in her bed. “Just a little, but it's okay. I got you, honey. It's over now.”
Sara's gaze clung to his as he tucked her in, taking her through the comforting bedtime routine, even though it was after midnight. He didn't know how much of the experiences she retained. Before tonight he would have said none, but now he wasn't so sure. Something had changed in that moment he had made contact with her inner world. He had thought about the contact as a bridge. If that was the case, then he had finally made a start at crossing it and maybe neutralizing whatever it was that was upsetting her.
â” She frowned. “I said that, didn't I? When I was sleepwalking.”
“It doesn't matter, honey. It was just a dream.” He gripped her hand and gently squeezed it. “This is what matters, this is real.”
But he was beginning to think they had a bigger problem than Dolinski had outlined in his reports. He was no longer certain the therapy sessions were helping. Building a bridge to the core of the stress that created the behavior was all very well, but he would prefer that Sara forgot whatever it was that was upsetting her.
Ben sat on the edge of the bed, keeping a
watch on his daughter to make sure it
over. Within minutes her eyelids drooped and she sank into an exhausted sleep.
Mae had gone back to bed. He should follow her, but even if he climbed between the sheets, he didn't know if he could sleep.
Sara was a highly intelligent, creative child. After extensive physical and mental testing, Dolinski was convinced she was suffering from some kind of mental stress that had been brought on by an event that had made a shocking and indelible impression. Perhaps a graphic scene witnessed on television at a time when she was feeling especially vulnerable, or even in real life. Unable to cope with what she had seen, her mind had sublimated the event and the sleepwalking occurred when fragments kept surfacing in dreams.
According to Dolinski, dreams were a “safe” level to process unpalatable information, or create an acceptable context for an event, so the mind could absorb the information and move on. In his opinion, as upsetting as Sara's symptoms were, they would fade with time. Young children were mentally tougher than most people gave them credit forâthey bounced back when adults
crumbled. He could see no reason why Sara should be the exception to the rule.
Ben had been happy to go along with Dolinski's optimism. His explanations had seemed logical and scientific, and they had been backed by several impressive diplomas on his office wall. Now he was forced to revise that opinion.
He was no authority on mental disordersâor, for that matter, psychic phenomena. But over the past few months, he had read exhaustively on both subjects. As difficult to understand as many of the mental conditions were, at least they seemed to have identifiable causes and were researched and presented in a logical, scientific manner. Most of the material in books on psychic phenomena had been presented with a distinct lack of methodology or any kind of scientific or logical grounding.
As open as he had tried to keep his mind, he'd had difficulty buying into theories that seemed as wild and crackpot as some of the psychic conditions described. But a certain category of “cases” had uncannily mirrored what was happening to Sara.
He hadn't mentioned the concept to Mae.
Getting his head around the idea that Sara could have lived a previous life, and that the memories of that life were filtering into this one, made
feel like a crackpot. But for her sake, he had to open his mind to possibilities that he would normally dismiss.
First fact: she was seven years old and she could speak French and Germanâtwo languages in which she had received no formal instruction. Ben knew a smattering of both of those languages from his time in the Navy, enough to conduct some basic conversation. But even allowing for the fact that Sara could have picked up a little of either language from other kids at school, she shouldn't be capable of the sophisticated syntax she had used while sleepwalking. And if she could speak a small amount of French and German, why hadn't they ever heard her doing so while she was awake?
Secondly, any normal American kid mentioning Germany's historic secret police would have used the popular term
they had known about it at all, not the full name,
Geheime Staats Polizei
Thirdly, when Sara was sleepwalking, Ben had the distinct impression that she was not a child. Her actions were smooth, controlled and precise, the expression on her face chillingly adult.
In his mind, those three facts added up to the kind of proof no one would believeâcertainly not Dolinski.
Ben was convinced his seven-year-old daughter wasn't mentally unstable and that she hadn't witnessed a shocking event either at home or at school. However, he did believe she
suffering from posttraumatic stress syndromeâ but from another place, and another time.
Specifically, occupied France in the Second World War.
Her eyes flipped open, disconcerting him. “I don't want to be like this, Daddy.”
He let out a breath he hadn't been aware he was holding. Her voice was normal, her expression that of a child. The sharp, incipient Sara who had lifted all the hairs at his nape and upset Mae wasn't in evidence. “Then don't be, honey. Just tell yourself, âI'm Sara Fischer, I'm seven years old, and the only place I have ever lived is Shreveport, Louisiana.' Repeat it after me, then when you go back to sleep it'll be true.”
“What if it isn't?”
have to make it happenâinside your head. Remember what Dr. Dolinski said? Whenever
you're frightened, just tell yourself not to have the dreams.”
“I like the way you say it better. I'll do that.”
The crispness of her decision was disconcertingly close to her sleepwalking voice. “Do you ever remember any of the dreams?”
She turned her head on the pillow, and he realized she was checking to make sure Mae wasn't in the room or lurking at the door. “Sometimes.”
His chest tightened. This was the first time she had admitted that she remembered anything, and the reason was obvious. Mae's reaction, and probably the visits to Dolinski, had frightened her. “What are you doing when you kneel down and reach into the cupboard?”
“Getting the book. I have to get words, but only one word at a time.”