1947. The war is over, but Juliet Barnard is hiding a secret. While her family believed she was helping the war effort from the safety of England, in truth Juliet was a trained wireless operator, dropped behind enemy lines in Paris to spy on the Germans. But the mission went critically wrong when Juliet was caught and imprisoned in a mansion in Paris’s Avenue Foch. Now she can’t – or won’t – relive the horrors that occurred there, and the people she betrayed . . .
The last thing Juliet wants is to return to France, but when ex-SAS officer Mac begs Juliet to help him find his sister, another British agent who is still missing, she can’t refuse. And in retracing her past, Juliet begins to realise that in wartime, the greatest enemy isn’t always the one that you’re expecting to fight.
‘I don’t remember.’ Or rather, she didn’t want to remember, which was not the same thing. Juliet was quite content to leave gaps unfilled, stones unturned, honour unstained. Thanks most awfully.
Guilt. Corrosive, soul-destroying guilt. That’s why she’d agreed to this. An ex-special forces officer and his lab-coated minion probing her brain for details about a Nazi war criminal and his hapless victim. If she could help the Nazi hunter find Colonel Strasser and bring him to justice, if she could prove what had happened to Denise… But nothing could redress the wrong she’d done.
The hypocrisy of the situation nagged like a string of bully beef between the upper molars. If only her supposedly secret war work had been kept out of the papers, she might have lived a lesser lie. A sort of drab median between heroism and cowardice. Did her bit like everyone else. Nothing spectacular. Life goes on.
But her photograph had been splashed across the papers, headlines blaring, the sensational details of her courage and survival as an agent behind enemy lines in occupied France breathlessly recounted. So there was no hope for it, was there?
Dimly, she was aware of Felix, sitting on a bench against the wall, waiting for her to speak, his dark eyes brimful of compassion. That only made it ten times harder to lie.
At least the good doctor had patience and delicacy, if not the tact to situate this interrogation in a room that didn’t look like a prison cell. Hour upon hour of gentle questioning had elicited very little of use, however. She suspected that by now the SAS man burned to beat the truth out of her like dust from a Turkish carpet. A big man with a bad temper. No. She was safer with Dr Leichhardt. But she’d better give them something soon or the SAS man might try it his way.
She was Juliet Barnard, late of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force and, more secretly, of the British Special Operations Executive. That much, they knew. Since that article in the Telegraph, everyone in Britain knew.
The SOE had sent agents parachuting behind enemy lines to wreak havoc on the Nazis. They blew up bridges, destroyed or stole weapons supplies, derailed trains, co-ordinated resistance fighters and rebels, and gleaned intelligence, relaying information back to Britain via wireless transmissions from portable transceivers. The organisation operated out of Baker Street in London, in offices marked ‘Inter-Service Research Bureau’.
The SOE was so secret that even parliament didn’t know about it. Guerrilla warfare was a sneaking kind of strategy frowned upon by most upstanding British men. And if the public had known Churchill had sent women into the field, there would have been an uproar.
Now it seemed that the Baker Street Irregulars, as Churchill dubbed them, had flung secrecy and discretion to the winds in a flurry of self-justification, leaving her with undeserved notoriety. At least by helping Captain Steve McIntyre she avoided the lecture tour of France they’d planned for her – a blatant public relations exercise. Even now, Juliet shuddered at the thought.
She watched the thin man in the white coat with his sparse, mousey hair and delicate spectacles as he set up the recording machine once more. At a glance, he was unprepossessing. But there was a pink-and-white, scrubbed-up kindliness to him that made her well-disposed toward him, if not toward the ginger yet inexorable way he sought to lead her through the worst months of her life.
‘Let’s go even farther back,’ he suggested. ‘To the time before you left for France. What stands out to you? What do you remember?’
Well, now. She could string this part out for days, if need be. How long might she prevaricate before they’d come to the part of her story she would never tell? They weren’t to know it, but her interests and theirs were not aligned.
So. Time to be more forthcoming. But there is greater danger in lies than in silence, as any operative knew. Juliet rather doubted she was clever enough to carry out her plan. She needed to select appropriately attractive details, arrange and present them like cut flowers in a vase. Leave a few thorns on for verisimilitude. But the way the gaze of that special forces officer drilled through her made her insides tumble. She wanted very much to smoke, but didn’t dare highlight how badly her hands were shaking.
Anyone in her situation would be distressed, she told herself. But something about the SAS man made her want to appear unruffled. He was different, she realised. He treated her as an equal, a fellow combatant, not a delicate flower. Ordinarily, she would appreciate that. Now it only made her deception more difficult.
The doctor repeated his question to her. ‘What happened before France?’
‘All right,’ she said slowly. ‘Yes, of course. I’ll tell you about my training, shall I?’
‘We’re all ears.’ Harsh-tongued and sarcastic, Captain McIntyre leaned back in his chair and folded his arms.
She met the burly Scot’s eyes with a long, cool look. He wasn’t a man to be distracted by frills and fancywork. He’d be satisfied with nothing less than the unembroidered truth. If she gave him what he wanted, would he overlook the glaring omissions in her story? He wasn’t here to condemn her, after all.
Juliet drew a long, steady breath and began.