The scene in the square looked normal but for one element. Beside the church was parked an enormous, powerful sports car. It was a French-built Hispano-Suiza type 68-bis, with a V12 aeroengine, one of the fastest cars in the world. It had a tall, arrogant-looking silver radiator topped by the flying-stork mascot, and it was painted sky blue.
It had arrived half an hour ago. The driver, a handsome man of about forty, was wearing an elegant civilian suit, but he had to be a German officer---no one else would have the nerve to flaunt such a car. His companion, a tall, striking redhead in a green silk dress and high-heeled suede shoes, was too perfectly chic to be anything but French. The man had set up a camera on a tripod and was taking photographs of the château. The woman wore a defiant look, as if she knew that the shabby townspeople who stared at her on their way to church were calling her whore in their minds.
A few minutes ago, the man had scared Flick by asking her to take a picture of him and his lady friend against the background of the château. He had spoken courteously, with an engaging smile, and only the trace of a German accent. The distraction at a crucial moment was absolutely maddening, but Flick had felt it might have caused trouble to refuse, especially as she was pretending to be a local resident who had nothing better to do than lounge around at a pavement café. So she had responded as most French people would have in the circumstances: she had put on an expression of cold indifference and complied with the German's request.
It had been a farcically frightening moment: the British secret agent standing behind the camera; the German officer and his tart smiling at her, and the church bell tolling the seconds until the explosion. Then the officer had thanked her and offered to buy her a drink. She had refused very firmly: no French girl could drink with a German unless she was prepared to be called a whore. He had nodded understandingly, and she had returned to her husband.
The officer was obviously off-duty and did not appear to be armed, so he presented no danger, but all the same he bothered Flick. She puzzled over this feeling in the last few seconds of calm and finally realized that she did not really believe he was a tourist. There was a watchful alertness in his manner that was not appropriate for soaking up the beauty of old architecture. His woman might be exactly what she seemed, but he was something else.
Before Flick could figure out what, the bell ceased to toll.
Michel drained his glass, then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
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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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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