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Excerpt from Jackdaws by Ken Follett, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Jackdaws

by Ken Follett

Jackdaws
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  • First Published:
    Dec 2001, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    Dec 2006, 416 pages

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She still loved him. Not in the same way: she no longer worshiped him as she had on their honeymoon, no longer yearned to devote her life to making him happy. The morning mists of romantic love had lifted, and in the clear daylight of married life she could see that he was vain, self-absorbed, and unreliable. But when he chose to focus his attention on her, he could still make her feel unique and beautiful and cherished.

His charm worked on men, too, and he was a great leader, courageous and charismatic. He and Flick had figured out the battle plan together. They would attack the château in two places, dividing the defenders, then regroup inside to form a single force that would penetrate the basement, find the main equipment room, and blow it up.

They had a floor plan of the building supplied by Antoinette Dupert, supervisor of the group of local women who cleaned the château every evening. She was also Michel's aunt. The cleaners started work at seven o'clock, the same time as vespers, and Flick could see some of them now, presenting their special passes to the guard at the wrought-iron gate. Antoinette's sketch showed the entrance to the basement but no further details, for it was a restricted area, open to Germans only, and cleaned by soldiers.

Michel's attack plan was based on reports from MI6, the British intelligence service, which said the château was guarded by a Waffen SS detachment working in three shifts, each of twelve men. The Gestapo personnel in the building were not fighting troops, and most would not even be armed. The Bollinger circuit had been able to muster fifteen fighters for the attack, and they were now deployed, either among the worshipers in the church, or posing as Sunday idlers around the square, concealing their weapons under their clothing or in satchels and duffel bags. If MI6 was right, the Resistance would outnumber the guards.

But a worry nagged at Flick's brain and made her heart heavy with apprehension. When she had told Antoinette of MI6's estimate, Antoinette had frowned and said, "It seems to me there are more." Antoinette was no fool---she had been secretary to Joseph Laperrière, the head of a champagne house, until the occupation reduced his profits and his wife became his secretary---and she might be right.

Michel had been unable to resolve the contradiction between the MI6 estimate and Antoinette's guess. He lived in Reims, and neither he nor any of his group was familiar with Sainte-Cècile. There had been no time for further reconnaissance. If the Resistance were outnumbered, Flick thought with dread, they were not likely to prevail against disciplined German troops.

She looked around the square, picking out the people she knew, apparently innocent strollers who were in fact waiting to kill or be killed. Outside the haberdashery, studying a bolt of dull green cloth in the window, stood Geneviève, a tall girl of twenty with a Sten gun under her light summer coat. The Sten was a submachine gun much favored by the Resistance because it could be broken into three parts and carried in a small bag. Geneviève might well be the girl Michel had his eye on, but all the same Flick felt a shudder of horror at the thought that she might be mowed down by gunfire in a few seconds' time. Crossing the cobbled square, heading for the church, was Bertrand, even younger at seventeen, a blond boy with an eager face and a .45 caliber Colt automatic hidden in a folded newspaper under his arm. The Allies had dropped thousands of Colts by parachute. Flick had at first forbidden Bertrand from the team because of his age, but he had pleaded to be included, and she had needed every available man, so she had given in. She hoped his youthful bravado would survive once the shooting started. Loitering on the church porch, apparently finishing his cigarette before going in, was Albert, whose wife had given birth to their first child this morning, a girl. Albert had an extra reason to stay alive today. He carried a cloth bag that looked full of potatoes, but they were No.36 Mark I Mills hand grenades.

Reprinted from Jackdaws by Ken Follett by permission of Dutton, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © 2001 by Ken Follett. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced without permission.

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