Copyright: 11/2020

Fan-Fiction based on TV Show Combat! Copyright Selmur Production, Inc., ABC, Image Productions etc. Disclaimer: Combat! and its characters do not belong to me, this WWII story is a piece of fan-fiction and I am not being compensated in any tangible way for this story.


Catalyst

"Marie, I will be in my office for a while," Dr. Marchant said to his daughter. "I have a few things to do before the liberators arrive. I shouldn't be long, but I do not wish to be disturbed." Breakfast was over, the table cleared and the kitchen cleaned up. The house was ready for any visitors. The day before, when the last of the boche had cleared out, Papa had put their name on a list kept by the village administrators. That list, carefully guarded, held the names of homeowners willing to quarter soldiers for a few days before the troops moved ahead.

Marie smiled at her father and nodded. She knew what that little phrase meant. Papa had some mysterious business to complete. Used to it by now, she still wondered what he did when he shut himself away in those back rooms. She had things to do as well. She'd keep an ear open for anyone ringing the bell that announced a patient.

Fortunately, that bell rang upstairs as well as on the main floor so she could work away on her project up there and still hear. She was working on a gift for Oncle Henri, a painting of the old family farm, the one he still lived on. It was rendered in a style reminiscent of Paul Gauguin, all glorious colors and shapes. Well, at least the shapes. Paints and pigments were a bit hard to come by in occupied France, so her palette was a bit more subdued.

She was anxious for the troops to come. Once the Americans arrived, she thought things would be better in the village for her father. Rumors were flying around about Papa. She ignored them as best she could, but she worried. Liberation couldn't come soon enough for her. She was tired of living under the overly watchful eyes of some villagers. And the boche's rules. Even if her father ignored the former and didn't seem to mind the latter. Mind too much, she corrected herself.

Papa was a physician and took care of the boche troops in the area as well as everyone else. He often reminded her it was a sacred duty, spelled out in the physician's oath. The one that stretched back to the days of the ancient Greeks and Hippocrates. One day when she railed at him for allowing the boche in their home, he reminded her that he had sworn an oath when he first became a physician. An oath of ethics. That oath or some version of it had been sworn by generations of physicians and healers. That long history stretched back to antiquity. He even gave her a translation of what was one of the first oaths. The first few words read, "I swear by Apollo, healer." He informed her that regardless of what country a physician claimed, what his personal feelings might be, they were all bound to these sacred oaths to those that needed their help.

After that she kept her feelings mostly to herself. The bitterness against the boche slowly drained away but the sadness remained. Christophe had been killed in the war a few years ago. The old pain resurfaced but she forced it down. She would not forget Christophe but she needed to shake off his shadow and start living for a future. With the Germans gone, life could get back to normal, or a semblance of normal. Then perhaps she might find someone new and start her own life again. It was past time. This cursed war.

She thought a bit ruefully, she was in her early 20s and past the age of marriage according to some of the gossip. Bah. She'd already been married, and she certainly didn't need a man to look after. She already had two, even if they were her father and uncle. And she didn't buy that nonsense that women needed to have a man to keep her safe or, um, warm. She just might emigrate to Tahiti like Gauguin and immerse herself in a tropical world, far from a cold and battered Europe. Papa could just find himself a housekeeper, she snorted.

That thought of Papa brought her back to reality. She worried about what people thought of him tending to the boche. A lot of the townsfolk didn't understand a physician's duty and accused him of being too sympathetic, to the point of collaboration. And Jean-Claude was at the forefront of spreading such malicious words. Yeah. The tropics and no Jean-Claude. That sounded good.

She glanced back at Papa. Still waiting for her to go upstairs before he went to his rooms. "Alright, Papa. I'm going, I'm going." Marie gave his arm a little squeeze and patted his cheek fondly, then headed up the stairs. She had plenty to do up in her rooms, too. "See you in a bit."

XXX

Marie safely upstairs working away in her room on something, Dr. Marchant went into a small suite of rooms at the rear of his home. These rooms served as both office and his consulting rooms. He closed and locked the door. He hoped nobody required his services as a physician for the next half-hour or so. He needed privacy and no interruptions to tend to certain matters.

He opened the doors of a time-worn armoire that dominated the back wall of a room at the very end of the suite. More than once, the doctor had wished it weren't quite so inconveniently centered on that wall but it would never move. That armoire was there for the "duration" as it were. The thing had endured for at least a century, the doctor knew. Some papers dating back to the 1820s were shellacked onto the interior of the armoire. The thing had managed to survive through some turbulent times and was still giving good service.

A previous owner of the house first set it in place, then made sure it would remain there. Right there, as long as the house itself remained. The massive piece of furniture, hard up against a wall, was anchored tightly to it with bolts. Not only did the bolts secure it to plaster and lath, but to the masonry walls on the exterior of the building.

It was sturdy, practical, and immobile, as his younger self discovered a few decades ago. Rather than destroy the armoire, as that would have been the only way to remove it, he had repurposed it to serve as a storage cabinet. That decision was serendipitous. When he first stocked it with linens, instruments, tinctures, antiseptic solutions, ointments, and other tools of his trade, he discovered the secret that the cabinet protected. When a certain shelf was lifted up, a portion of the back of the armoire came up with the shelf, revealing a large deep cavity hollowed into the building's wall.

He wasn't the first one to appreciate or employ this hiding place. Within its depths, he found a small cache of sous, sols, francs, livres, and assorted coinage from other European countries. There were a couple of small bags filled with gold coins, no longer used for currency but probably held only for their intrinsic value. He'd even found coins minted during the reign of Louis XVI, before the Revolution had forcibly abolished the old Bourbon monarchy. He'd never spent those treasures but tucked them back into the hole. Then like the previous owners, he used that space for his own purposes. Over the decades he stored a myriad of things, valuable, whimsical, mundane. Papers, journals, gifts, currency, and most recently, a clandestine radio, had found their way in and out of that space.

After double-checking the door to the room and a look out the window to make sure there was no one walking down the street to his house, he cleared off the shelf and the space below. He carefully lifted it away to expose the hole. Secreted deep within that space was evidence of a double life, a life that had become increasingly dangerous as the invasion of France proceeded. He extracted notes and a coin, a relic of the long-past Roman empire.

A perfect token, he thought. The coin had been chosen for its symbolic meaning as much as anything. The coin bore a likeness of Carausius, a junior emperor who reigned over Roman Britain and North Gaul. He hoped he would not share the same fate as this upstart emperor, assassination. He would present this coin to an officer in the soon-to-be-arriving American army. It would vouch for his status as an agent of the Allies. The notes were a record of both intelligence gathering and the bits of allied information he was to pass back to the boche commanders. He could only hope that those bits were nothing but a subterfuge, cold trails with just enough truth to keep him from getting into trouble with the Germans.

With the written records and his physical "password" out of the space, he sat back on his haunches. Mon Dieu, it had been a tense few years. Spying and playing at double-agent was scary work and he was glad to be done with it. He pushed off with his hands and creaked up to his knees, then feet. Fifty-something was too old for being a spy, he thought. Certainly not the dashing young man that the word "l'espion" conjured up.

He hid the coin in a special pocket in his trousers. Only a careful search would ever find it. The notes he tucked into an inside vest pocket. It made him nervous to have that information on his person. In the wrong hands it could be misinterpreted as collaboration. He would rather burn the papers. His last instructions from his handler, however, had been to keep everything and present all as a package to the Allies.

Along with the notes he would give to the Allies, he kept a private journal of his activities. That remained hidden within the armoire's cache of secrets. Maybe after the war, he'd write it all up, for Marie, if no one else. Rumors had swirled around him; she'd heard plenty of them and had asked. He assured her there was no basis to them. She chose to believe him and kept her own counsel. That journal was proof he remained a loyal Frenchman.

He didn't know why, but he felt his time was short. He shuddered as if a door to a dank cold place had been opened and a chill wind issued forth. Just nerves and anticipation. Ever the protective and realistic father, he left a will with his lawyer, and a "open upon my death" letter to Marie, with a close friend who lived in another town. That letter explained his actions over the past few years and described how to get into the armoire and the secret cache.

This was liberation day for the village, he thought. The Americans had been seen yesterday only a few kilometers away and the last of the boche had moved out then as well. He quickly replaced the shelf, put back the items he had removed to gain access to the armoire's secret, then closed and locked the antique cabinet.

XXX

He unlocked the door to his offices and went back into the parlor to sit in his favorite chair. He busied himself with pipe and a book, pretending calm he did not feel. Marie could not suspect anything was wrong. He thought living under the boche was nerve-wracking, but this was every bit as bad. Until his role as an undercover agent for the Allies was revealed, he feared retribution from a local band of partisans, led by a former suitor of Marie.

Her status as the only child of the relatively wealthy doctor made her the romantic target of many men, both her age and older. As the war dragged on, the young men began to disappear sometimes to Germany as slave labor or to join the Free French forces if they could find a way to escape France. That left the older men, like Jean-Claude, free to try and win Marie. But she would have none of them, the doctor thought, and who could blame her. No one could measure up to Christophe. He knew, though, had they been married long enough, she would learn that Christophe, like every other man, put his pants on one leg at a time. He relaxed in the chair, pipe and book forgotten, thinking about Marie and her Christophe.

Marie, young and beautiful, was a war widow, but only her father and uncle knew she had been married. To the rest of the village she was still "Mademoiselle Marchant." Christophe, her husband, had been a sergeant in the French army. He came from Martinique, far away in the Caribbean, and had no relatives here in France. Marie and Christophe met in Calais and after a whirlwind romance, they decided to marry. He had wanted to get to know this man better before they wed, but Marie, headstrong as always, was determined. "There's a war on, Papa!" she'd said. She would have married him with or without his blessing. At least, Christophe had asked him for his permission. With his blessing and best wishes for a happy life together, they married.

The young couple had only a few days together before the war tore them apart. They planned to marry in the summer of 1940 when Christophe had a month's leave scheduled, but the invasion of Belgium made mincemeat of those plans. They wed in mid-May 1940, amid the chaos of the German invasion.

She'd travelled to just behind the front lines. Christophe's commanding officer gave him a 72-hour pass. A quick exchange of vows and signatures on the marriage certificate and it was done. The rest of that precious leave they spent together, enjoying the time they had and hoping for a future that was not to be. When she returned to the village, she chose not to reveal her marriage to anyone. Unless she had become pregnant, no one needed to know. Her father and uncle supported that decision. It was her life and her and Christophe's business how and when they let the world know of their marriage.

Christophe died less than a month later on the beaches of Dunkerque. His squad was one of the French units that covered the retreat of the British army. Routed and demoralized, the English ignominiously fled France and left thousands of French soldiers behind. Many of those Frenchmen died as they bought time for the evacuation of British and other Allied forces.

The doctor heard stories that French soldiers had been forcibly refused passage to England in favor of British men. He could understand the logic, but still. No rumor that. The stories were backed up by his underground contacts as well as the Germans. By the time the English started evacuating other Allied soldiers, Christophe was dead. Now, four years later, Marchant felt his work was a way to prosecute the war and avenge Christophe's death. Hopefully, Marie would come to see that. Marie remained bitter and suspicious of the Allies, although she was no supporter of the boche.

Marchant shook himself out of his fugue. This would not do. He picked up the book but could not focus on the page. Ah, Marie. He worried for her future, and his, if he were being honest with himself.

XXX

Dr. Marchant was always careful not to let her in on any of his doings. She already had suffered enough of a loss without him adding to that burden. She looked after him and his brother, Henri, also a widower. Henri remained on the old family farm just outside the next village. Marie went there often, usually staying a few days at a time to help around the farm. Marchant tried to time his contacts with the boche for those absences, but he wasn't always in control when the boche visited him or when he met them at a local café or was called to their garrison headquarters.

Occasionally, he passed on information about some allied movements but that could be explained. That information had been given to him by his handlers; it was right here in his notes. Most of it was accurate, though somewhat garbled, outdated, or hard to check. There was just enough truth in the details he provided that the Germans viewed him as reliable and even trustworthy. Now, the Americans were practically on his doorstep. And the local partisans were eagerly rooting out and meting out rough justice to those they considered collaborators before the liberators came to town. He had heard enough gossip to know that sometimes the partisans were just settling personal scores. It didn't take much to be accused, He only had to stay safe a few more hours, then his role in helping the allies could be revealed.

XXX

Unable to focus on his book and finding the pipe he had at the ready unsatisfactory, Marchant walked over to his pipe stand and selected his favorite one. It felt good in his hand and somehow seemed to make the tobacco smell and taste better. An illusion, he knew, but nonetheless that was the way it was. And he needed something familiar and comforting on this tense morning.

As the doctor stuffed his pipe and lit it, he idly thought back over the past several years as France suffered under the boots of the boche. And his actions during the Occupation. The doctor sighed. After the Germans conquered France, he was as bitter as any other loyal Frenchman towards the invaders. He served in the Great War for his beloved France as a doctor in the army. He'd treated many Germans during that war. It was not only his duty as a military doctor to treat everyone without prejudice, but his obligation to his oath as a physician. He really didn't mind, injured or sick men were all the same, regardless of the uniforms they wore or the language they spoke. Fortunately for those soldiers, Dr. Marchant spoke and wrote several different languages fluently including many romance languages, German dialects, and English. That facility had come in handy during the Occupation.

Often called upon to translate between some of his neighbors and the boche, he'd treated everyone fairly. He worked hard to keep the fractious Frenchmen and the occupiers from coming to blows. The first commander of the local boche garrison noticed the doctor had an ability to smooth rough waters. He made Marchant an offer. Treat his men for minor ailments and aches and he would get favored treatment. It would benefit the garrison. They wouldn't have to send their sick men away for treatment, and the garrison would always maintain nearly full strength. The commander would not waste precious petrol or vehicles transporting soldiers for minor medical issues. In return the doctor would have any medical supplies he used replaced. But the real bonus for the doctor: extra petrol and food. What the doctor chose to do with those additional rations was up to him. After considerable hesitancy, Marchant decided the deal was worth it. He was first a doctor, after all.

Each successive commander renewed that agreement with Marchant, though it remained rather informal. With the exception of reimbursement for medical supplies, the other benefits would not ever be recorded in any ledger, anywhere. At least that was the agreement. Of course, the doctor couldn't know that for sure, although he did know that visits to him had to be recorded in some diary. Because the Germans were not for nothing known as methodical, practically obsessive, in recording the minutiae of a day's events. Both the Wehrmacht and the doctor agreed that no one would tell the SS. If an SS soldier ever darkened his door, he was quick to treat them and send them on their way without the least thought of reimbursement.

That working relationship was noted by some in the Underground. These were not the maquis or the resistance, but usually spies recruited and trained by British intelligence. His position was an asset that British intelligence wanted to utilize. Being convivial by nature, he had always struck up conversations with his patients while tending to their hurts. It distracted them from whatever ailed them and helped put them at ease. Perhaps he could steer the idle chat to learn more about boche strengths and weaknesses, someone in the Underground thought. The payoff for the doctor would be intangible, but he would be serving France. An agent, posing as a consumptive Swiss, first made the doctor's acquaintance in late 1941. Over the course of several visits to the doctor, the agent finally recruited Marchant to work for British intelligence. It would be risky; British agents were not noted for their longevity once recruited.

The German soldiers were not immune to his pleasant demeanor. His was the rare friendly face. His concern for his patients was real and the Germans sensed it. That made it easy for homesick soldiers to confide a variety of things to him. He learned about unfaithful girlfriends, new children that a soldier might never see, bombing raids that had killed families back home, or the general upsets that were happening as Germany began to lose in the Soviet Union, in Africa, then in Italy. Now the invasion of France itself. Though his concern was real, the doctor never lost sight of the fact that he was a Frenchman and they, the Germans, were the enemy.

Along with personal information, soldiers often talked about their units, their commanders, the constantly changing and contradictory orders. Even the officers talked. He passed information about the Germans to his Allied contacts. The contacts had changed over the years, sometimes French, sometimes British, occasionally some other nationality. He just hoped the intelligence was worth the risk.

As the war to liberate the Continent began, requests for information from his Allied handlers increased. He began to ask the troops, especially younger officers and men, to stay and have a glass of wine and chat. He learned that younger, less experienced soldiers were more likely to let slip some operational details. Occasionally, if he saw a lone soldier or two in a café, he would invite them to sit at his table and share a bite. It never ceased to amaze him how much information was unconsciously revealed over just a few bites of food or a glass of wine.

Now the boche were gone. There might be some incriminating evidence in those reams of paper that had been filed away in the depths of the local headquarters. Some of the previous commanders were diligent about saving every scrap of paper. He hoped, that as the Germans pulled back, the HQ staff was equally thorough in destroying the files. The doctor thought it made no sense for all that paper to be transported back towards Berlin. Not when there were more important things to move back, like men, matériel, and munitions.

Liberation day was here for both his village and for him. The Americans should arrive soon, if the rumor mill was correct. He and Marie would go down to greet them. He would turn over all his notes and information to the Allies. Then he could go back to just being a doctor again, no more spying and passing on secrets.

XXX

A knock on the door. He laid his pipe aside, rose and answered the door. "Jean-Claude?" "What can I do for you?"

"Ah, Dr. Marchant." Jean-Claude pushed his way into the doctor's home, followed by several men. They roughly grabbed him.

"What is the meaning of this?" the doctor demanded.

"You are a collaborator! We've been watching you for months. Always after some boche come visiting, there is action in the area." Jean-Claude declared. "Now, you will tell us more."

Dr. Marchant shrugged the men off and stated, "I am working for the Allies, the Americans. I swear."

"I don't think so. We have proof!" One of the partisans held up some papers that had the Nazi eagle letterhead. "Your name is mentioned here, and here." Not one of the partisans could read German but seeing Marchant's name in that document was proof enough that the doctor had been a collaborator.

Dr. Marchant looked at the documents. It was nothing more than a monthly report on who he had treated and the supplies he had used.

"That is just a report on the men I treated. Everyone in the village knows I tended to the soldiers on occasion. And," he pointedly reminded the men, "every one of you has benefited from this arrangement. You know I pass out the extra ration coupons and I've even shared some of my petrol coupons with you."

He went on. He might as well lay out the truth for all the good it would do him. "Even you, Jean-Claude, asked for some of those coupons to help out your family. And I gave them to you. Did you give them to your mother? From what I know and what she told me, the answer would be no." "Disrespectful. Dishonest."

The group paused and looked at Jean-Claude. He was livid at the doctor for spilling that little morsel. He was even more determined to get back at the Marchant girl through her father. Jean-Claude blustered on. "That's just a sop for your guilty conscience, Marchant. And what I did with those coupons is none of your business." Then to deflect any other criticism coming at him. "That's enough. You can tell your side in a few minutes, Marchant." "Come on, now. Let's go." With that, Jean-Claude and one of his sycophants each grabbed one of the doctor's arms and shoved him to the door and across the threshold into the street.

"No!" "Marie! Get help!" The doctor protested as he was dragged out of the house.

Marie heard the commotion downstairs. She peeked out of her room to see the group surround her father and take him from the house. Jean-Claude, a man she thoroughly detested, was in the group. He was relentless in his pursuit of her. She thought quickly; perhaps if she finally said "Yes" that would stop whatever it was from happening. But no, their final meeting had been acrimonious.

Since then Jean-Claude had been spreading rumors about Papa being a collaborator. Every chance he got, he planted seeds of distrust, and made it a point to follow her father around. Every meeting with the boche brought fresh accusations against her father. Plus, Jean-Claude surrounded himself with some of the less savory citizens of the village when he created a partisan group. True, there were loyal Frenchmen in that cell, but most were the small-time ruffians that every little village seemed to have. Their first loyalty was to Jean-Claude, not France.

The group escorted the doctor down the street and into a vacant building for a trial. It was nothing more than a kangaroo court, with the partisan group serving as the law. Police, judge, and jury. Everyone, the doctor included, already knew that whatever he said, the verdict was a foregone conclusion. Dr. Marchant had a couple of supporters among the partisans but whatever they said was discounted by the others. There was plenty of hearsay evidence against him and except for those documents, nothing that connected him to the Germans.

Dr. Marchant refused to grovel or beg for his life. He knew nothing he could say or show them would change their minds. Plus, he did not want to show the group his notes. That would not help his case, and that information was for the Allies alone. He knew it was hopeless. Found guilty, he was condemned to die. The partisans wanted to make an example of him, so rather than killing him inside, he was dragged out to the street to be murdered.

His daughter had followed the group to the building. She slipped in only to hear her father condemned by this group of men. She tried to protest, but a couple of men roughly grabbed her and removed her. Her father told her to be brave, to be strong. Just get to Oncle Henri and stay safe.

"Go! Go while you can, Marie. Save yourself. Live for the future. Live for me." Her father's words echoed in her ears as the partisans parted the two Marchants.

Dr. Marchant, surrounded by the partisans, walked down the street towards an alleyway. He hoped he might see a friend. Someone who might ask where they were going, why weren't they going to the big fountain in the town square to help welcome the Americans.

The doctor saw no one. He resigned himself to his fate and murmured prayers under his breath. He caught an occasional glimpse of his daughter as she ghosted along a street that paralleled the narrow alley that he was forced down. Finally, Jean-Claude stopped.

XXX

This would be it, Marie thought. She knew the place where they intended to murder her father. Now, she could hurry for help. Find a gendarme or perhaps some soldiers to follow her. Someone who could halt this travesty of justice. She heard the crowds welcoming the Americans. The village square was alive with joy. She headed there as quickly as she could. She rounded the corner and surveyed the scene. Raucous celebrations, men and women in clinches of victory. Battle-worn soldiers relaxing and enjoying the moment. Probably thinking of some rewards that were best saved for private times. There weren't as many soldiers as she had hoped for. She wasn't sure if there were enough to stop her father's execution. Who knew if they spoke French? She only had French and German. Well, she would figure out a way to make herself understood.

She stepped into the swirl of activity and celebration. Not one villager she stopped would help her, though everyone had asked her father for his help many times. Nearly every soldier had his mind on the rewards to come. Surely there had to be someone not completely taken up in the moment of elation. Then she spotted him. A blond soldier standing at the far end of the square, watching and enjoying the scene in front of him. There was something different about him. He was not relaxed, she thought. Though there was a smile on his face, that watchful gaze was serious and alert. Moreover, he looked capable of dealing with any manner of situations. She got him in her sights and made a beeline for him, plowing through the crowd, intent on her mission.

Though instantly attentive, he couldn't understand her. She tugged his jacket, trying to get him to come with her. The man motioned to a hawk-faced soldier near him, calling "Caje." At least this Caje person understood French and spoke it fluently. A torrent of words poured out of her as she continued to try to uproot them from their positions on the wall. Both men looked as if they could be fearsome in battle. She'd need that quality. They were trying to calm her down. She'd be calm later, now was not the time. Forget that policy, that stupid policy. The blond soldier held her loosely just trying to get her to slow down, she figured. She needed action, not more soothing words. And she was running out of time.

Dr. Marchant knew this would be where he would meet those Muses with the scissors, where his life string would be cut. He felt no panic, just immense sadness that he would never see his lovely Marie again, or meet his not-yet-conceived grandchildren, should God bless his daughter in that way. He looked for Marie. He could not see her. Good. She would not witness his execution.

He looked at this little piece of his village with fresh eyes. The place was familiar, he walked near here nearly every day, yet it looked strange. No faces peered out between drawn curtains, no children ran or played in the street, no one was out at all. It was a good a place as any for a murder, he thought. He asked if he could have one final pipe. "Non!" was Jean-Claude's answer. A cigarette only.

In the closing minutes of his life, it seemed as if every little detail was crystal clear. He savored every second, every tiny sensation, every little bit of life. A small bird twittered and fussed in a nearby tree, dogs barked, villagers loudly welcomed the Americans. He heard voices struggling to sing the American anthem but no one seemed to know how it went. Instead the townsfolk launched into a joyful rendition of La Marseillaise. A perfect rousing battle cry to freedom that would accompany him to the next world. The sky could not have been a more vivid blue, the breeze blew just enough to rustle the leaves in the trees.

Marchant noted his hands did not shake as he smoked his final cigarette. He came to the end of it, dropped it, and carefully stomped it out. He straightened his clothing and stood tall. He stared straight ahead and thought only of Marie and his long-dead beloved wife, Nanette. He felt the searing pain as the bullet plowed into his chest and pierced his heart. Noise, sight, and feeling faded away as he crumpled to the cobblestones.

The single shot stopped not just the doctor's heart but the celebration in the square. Instantly, the civilians' moods changed to fear. Had the boche returned? Marie froze in the moment. She knew that shot was not fired by a boche, but by one of the partisans.

Mon Dieu! She bolted from the two soldiers who had been trying to understand her and ran back across the square towards the alley. The blond grabbed helmet and gun and ran quickly after her, followed by his men. She could only hope Papa was still alive. Then she saw him lying on the street, face up, eyes closed. She ran to his side and knelt down, clutching at his bloodstained clothes. She only had eyes for Papa, and for the quiet man with the red cross on his arm. She stared hopefully, then when he shook his head, she was swept into a gulf of black despair. Papa had gone, moved beyond her, into that other world. But. Then she stood to face the town, to face the murderers.

Later, no one could ever quite figure out how that still figure lying in the dust on a cobblestoned street in France could have caused such a reaction. One that not only impacted his village but reached into Germany and even far across the ocean to America.

XXX


A/N. From a chemist's POV, it was just impossible to ignore a character whose role was to be the dead guy. A textbook example of a catalyst. His death and the reactions to it certainly set off some unforeseen results.


A/N: One of the souvenirs my father brought back after service in the ETO were some old coins, yes, even a couple of battered old French coins with Louis XVI's visage on it. I have to say his was not the most handsome profile I've ever seen. Old Roman Empire-era coins turn up now and again. My son had a history teacher that had a stash of these coins, tiny and probably worth a plugged nickel but if a student would clean the coin up, it was theirs to keep. So of course, I featured these little items in my story.