“Bones of Spring” (WIP) Chapter 52 – Lapin Maquisard

Washington D.C.




At first, Kat wasn’t sure if she was being followed. There were more black-suited men in D.C. than anyone could reasonably track, and she still wasn’t sure if her original interceptors were federal agents or some species of military. As the winter months drew in, she did her best to focus on her thesis, completing it in time for an early defence arranged by her advisor. Kearns had noticed her downturn in mood since Irina’s departure, but she couldn’t tell him that her increasing sense of anxiety and wish to complete her education was down to an even more depressing state of affairs. She didn’t want him to think she was crazy. 

The men in her class now resolutely ignored her, though Mike had the grace to at least meet her eyes when they passed each other leaving their advisor’s office. She’d collapsed him in the middle like a piñata, but he didn’t seem to be taking it personally. She therefore felt it safe in discounting him and every other human except Professor Kearns for the time being.

After a few weeks she had, as Irina put it, caught surveillance. The Russian had taught her how to use windows and mirrors to assess whether she was being followed, how to mark vehicles and remember license plates. Then she realized they weren’t exactly bothering to hide themselves. It wasn’t as though she led an exciting, clandestine life that might whet the appetite of such overtrained hounds. She almost started to feel sorry for the men who had drawn this detail.

That was until they made her late for the closing lecture of the semester by parking in the bus zone just as it was rolling towards the stop, sending it past. It was deliberate, and deliberately irritating. Determined not to get there past the hour, she limped towards the main thoroughfare to get a taxi. The street was icy, and she knew better to rush, but she resented it all the same.

She was ten minutes late by the time she arrived at campus, and needed another five minutes to get up the stairs to the hall. It was busy with auditing students who were visiting from foreign nations, and her usually deserted back row contained several interlopers. She made her way down the row and found her seat as quietly as she could near a powerfully built young man in a dark cardigan she’d never seen before. From what she could see from the corner her eye showed he had a shock of dark hair, and did not immediately resemble any other graduate student in the department, so she assumed he was also foreign.

Still ruffled from her interrupted routine, it took Kat a little time to give Kearns her entire focus, but soon she was in the lull of his arguments, following along in the wake of his brilliant, interconnected comprehension. She made several notes, toying with the idea of adding one more chapter to her thesis, though she knew he’d argue against it. At the end of the lecture, he was approached by several of the foreign students, so she decided not to try and press him about her ideas just yet. Instead, she considered where she might go for an early dinner, and if perhaps she could talk her annoying little federal shadows to drive her so that she didn’t have to bus in the increasingly bad weather. 

“You dropped this,” came a shockingly familiar voice. Kat felt her face turn red hot as she turned.

It was Miles Fisher. He’d let go some of the style and polish of his previous pinstriped incarnation for a drowsy regatta style, his curly hair now falling over his forehead, his eyes shining over a barely-contained grin. Without the tailoring and the sinister locale, he’d simply disappeared into his surroundings like a collegiate chameleon. He held out the little notebook that she was quite certain had not fallen, but had been pilfered directly from her satchel.   

“What do you want?” she hissed as she snatched it back, very seriously considering giving him a kick behind the knees in hopes of seeing him fall down every one of the lecture hall steps.

“Crepes,” he said, then flashed that thousand-watt grin. “How long has it been since you had really good crepes, Miss Bergmann?”

As she sat in the back of the featureless black car, Kat wasn’t entirely sure of reality. In contrast to her previous experience of being incarcerated alone, she was now accompanied by Miles Fisher in the fictional role of willing companion. In his pea coat and sweater he had the vague look of a fisherman, if a fisherman had several hundred dollars to spend on his wardrobe. His immaculate calm and good natured attitude unnerved her far more than his slightly officious interrogation room manner had.

She had the sense that he was in costume, performing a role, and rather charmed with the novelty of it. It took effort to restrain herself from reaching through his pleasantness in order to throttle him, and she spent the short trip with her hands pressed between her knees. Periodically she glanced at him, but he was affecting to be more interested in the passing city centre. 

The car pulled to a stop in a no-parking zone in front of a Greek-revival style facade. The name overhanging the front door was a simple Renaud’s in red neon. Fisher opened the car door for her, but she ignored his hand as she navigated the snow backed up to the curb. She wasn’t going to lower herself to the indignity of allowing him to touch her, and she knew by the firming of his smile that he understood it. 

As she gained the sidewalk and found purchase for her cane, she was deeply tempted to simply walk off and find a cab, to turn her back on his presumptuous enterprise, his gentlemanly attempt to interpose himself in her life. She could not precisely name the emotion that turned her from that course, because she didn’t want to admit that she was curious. Now that he was holding the restaurant door open for her, the smell of frying garlic and butter seemed to bring back something familiar and comforting. She and her friends had held such things dear when they’d had little to cook but rabbit and the occasional pigeon. 

She would have given anything to see them just then. She almost wished to see Jerome, poor stupid Jerome, who might be alive if he’d learned to be more sanguine about their doomed affair. The sound of French being spoken inside the palatial, brightly lit restaurant made the nostalgia twist inside her like a knife. Already spotted by the host, she could not gracefully extricate herself. A slender man with the accent of a provincial gave an obsequious little half-bow, raising his eyes to Fisher. 

“Monsieur Fisher. We have a table for you in the mezzanine.” 

“The floor, please, Marcel,” Fisher said, in what was to Kat’s trained ear, flawless French.

She was astonished, not because it was such an unusual ability, but because his clipped New England vowels didn’t seem quite capable of containing a foreign language. She was caught off by this enough to only realize the consideration he’d requested on her behalf once she was seated. She glanced over her shoulder and noticed that the steps that led up to the upper split level were not inconsiderable, but it didn’t make her feel much better about this charade.

It was not precisely a fancy restaurant, not so much that his casual-if-quality attire would be remarked on, but there were a lot of besuited, serious looking people around. She watched him over the edge of her menu, her initial temptation now receding back into quiet fury. He, however, seemed very interested in the day’s offerings, and when their waiter approached, Fisher ordered what seemed like half of them. 

This too he executed with perfect French. So perfect that she would have taken him for a native speaker if she hadn’t already known him to be American. Then the thought struck her that perhaps it was an error to believe that he was American at all. Back in room B-4 he’d been so glib on the topic of the establishment’s prejudices that she’d completely assumed they were his too. 

“Mademoiselle?” the waiter inquired, and she blinked, realizing she’d left him hovering there. 

“Rabbit stew, but tell the chef to use half watered wine. Burn the rosemary.”

The waiter, a man a little older than herself, did not question her order. Briefly, he met her eye, and gave her the slightest of nods, and went to deliver their order. She felt Miles Fisher watching her, his hands folded to one side of his face as he leaned forward on his elbows. He’d caught something in that exchange, but she wanted to see if he would let on.

“That’s not on the menu,” he said finally, his eyes bright.

“No,” she agreed, pleased to have struck back at his expectations. It was a nice change. 

By any measure of cuisine what they brought her was nearly inedible, but to her nose, it smelled perfect. A skinny coney braised in watered wine, its bones still attached to its meaty legs, and smelling of rosemary that had been left in the fire under the pot. She allowed herself to fully ignore Fisher as she partook, her mind going back to the frozen Alsace winter, and the single large tin bowl they’d passed around a shivering huddle. 

Fisher sawed through his artfully prepared duck, but was clearly fascinated by her quiet, dignified indulgence. Out of the corner of her eye she noticed a rail thin man in a pristine black double breasted coat conferring with their waiter beside the pass. At once, he was approaching them, and she noticed a bottle of something that looked very dusty under one arm.

“Mademoiselle,” he said in a rough Provence accent. “Is your dish correct?”

“Yes, thank you, it’s perfect,” she complimented him. She knew his kind, could see him laid out in a foxhole shielding the guns from the weather. 

“Very good. Please accept this, I brought it with me from my cellars in Brussels when I came here.”

He refused all attempts to wave him off, much to Fisher’s bemusement. Kat blushed when the man bent over her hand, and gave her a little comradely squeeze on the shoulder before returning to his business. 

Fisher held a hand out to the bottle, silently asking permission to examine it. He looked over the label and let out a low whistle before meeting her eyes. “I didn’t know you and Renaud were friends.”

“I’ve never met him before in my life,” she said, picking clean the last bone. “But he knows how to make Lapin Maquisard.”

Fisher laughed, then twisted the bottle. “Should we…?”

“You may as well,” she said warily, not wanting to think of the insult of a refusal.

Fisher nodded his chin to the waiting sommelier, who was along promptly with the appropriate glasses for the vintage. They sat in silence as he uncorked it, pouring two fragrant glasses of thin red wine for each of them. 

“Drink it swiftly,” he advised. “Before the air kills it.” 

They obliged him. The flavour was unlike any wine she had tried, lightly sour-sweet, with a citrus crispness that lingered. It was so potent she felt a little light headed from the first sip, and was, she thought with trepidation, nearly in danger of enjoying herself. 

That half glass was all they were destined to enjoy, as the sommelier explained that a pre-1920 vintage of this kind, once exposed to the air, could only last so long before it turned to vinegar. He thanked them, as though they had done him the service, and went back to his post. 

“So,” she said, considering the vinegar in her glass. “Where were you during the war?”

“Paris,” he said, dabbing his mouth with his napkin in what indeed appeared to her to be a Parisian manner. “Sometimes I worked on the front, but I did most of my operations within Vichy.” 

She was unsurprised, and unimpressed, giving him a cold smile so that he would not mistake her feelings. Far from being ruffled by her chilliness, he watched her in avid fascination, as though for all the world he could not witness something more enjoyable. 

“You haven’t asked me any questions,” she observed as she accepted a cigarette and a light from their attentive waiter. “I suppose you already know everything about me from… who did you say shared my name with you?”

“It’s not a stretch, Miss Bergmann,” he said with a smile. “But as there are more spies drinking their pay in this restaurant than in the Rezidentura and the J. Edgar Hoover building combined, let’s keep names out of it.”

“How long ago?” Kat demanded in a low voice, no longer amused. 

“I got the memo December 1944,” he said, lighting a cigarette of his own. “But if you’re asking what I know about you, how long that timeline extends, I only have whatever you conveyed yourself to our mutual friend.”

E. Max, she thought again. She couldn’t be angry with him. He’d owned his espionage activity to her without hesitation. He’d helped her every step of the way, secured her visa, and ensured her personal safety. He was what a wartime spy ought to be, she thought viciously. Not this pampered Washingtonian frat pledge with his comfortable Vichy diplomatic tour and penchant for expensive roast duck prepared by braver men. 

She didn’t look up from the cherry end of her cigarette for a full minute, not wanting to be met with the reality that this young man had in any way steered her future, that he had tracked her and monitored her, or that she owed anything to him. What really bothered her, even frightened her, was the prospect of him asking for her help on a matter she dearly wished to forget, especially when the first man to do so had failed utterly to protect her from the danger. 

“I don’t want to help you,” she said quietly. “I don’t want to be involved. You won’t even tell me what you want.”

“Have you—”

“I’ve thought about it, Mr. Fisher,” she said coldly. 

“Tell me what you think of the crepes,” he said as their waiter returned with several thin, rolled pastries. 

Without thinking, Kat laid a hand over her knife. She felt a sudden, but calm urge to put it through Fisher’s palm. She longed for the simplicity of a backwoods shack and an unrepentant captive, someone she could use as an example to make this man understand that his unwillingness to relinquish whimsical ideas about her would result in some fresh ones about keeping his guts inside his belly.   

He clearly sensed this, but his smile did not falter. “You’re really thinking about sticking that in me, aren’t you?”

She gave a little shrug, trying to resist the urge to let her vision tunnel, to let that murderous focus take over from her common sense. Still, she could feel the rage threatening inside her like a long-overdue volcanic eruption. 

“Put it in this instead,” he said, pushing forward the plate of delicately prepared and rolled crepe, with melting brie and candied pear oozing from it. “You really need to relax.”

It was this word, relax, that sent heat surging up her throat. 

“You’ve been following me around me for years,” she snarled. “You’ve been interesting yourself in my business, my history, everything about me. You have me detained by a couple of federal thugs, brought to some secret location while you force me to listen to you tell me nothing at all about what you supposedly want from me. You have me followed every day thereafter. You hijack my evening for a second time, and now I’m supposed to be grateful for your fucking company?”

He stared at her, one eyebrow raised, and she realized that the crowded dining hall had lost some of its chatter. People were looking at her, and from the curious, slightly apprehensive expression on their faces, she realized that she had not been speaking English, or French. She had been speaking German.

Without thinking, she got to her feet, seized her cane and made her way out of the restaurant as fast as she could manage without falling. Her humiliation was at once overtaken by deep irritation. Except with Irina, she’d hardly spoken a word of German since her arrival in America and now she’d blown herself sky high. Her native tongue immediately would be identifiable to these people, French and American. All of them were familiar with the ugly sound of her homeland. 

She kept her eyes down as she made her way into the alley, hoping she could find a taxi somewhere on the other end. She knew it was likely that very few people had taken notice, but she could imagine them looking at her like she might hurt them. She felt, in every sense, like an unexploded shell ready to go off, ready to shred her surroundings with indiscriminate rage. 

“You need to get a grip,” Fisher’s voice said. She closed her eyes, not wanting to see him, or his clean-cut ivy league face, his understanding smile. 

“Leave me alone. I just want to go home.”

His expression was no longer playful. “Back to Germany?”

“Germany is not home,” she snapped, but now her voice was shaking. She hated him profoundly for bringing this uncertainty on her, for raising ghosts she didn’t even know the names of, sending them to haunt her.

“I understand,” he said, and he said this in pitch-perfect German. “It’s not home for me either.”

She swallowed, forcing back the after-flavour of that bitter stew, and that lovely gulp of wine. She wondered if she could turn the tables on him, gather her culinary partisan brethren and convince them to make him go away. But now that he was looking at her in this circumspect way, his face a slack, serious mask, she didn’t know if she felt more or less threatened by him. 

He picked his way over the dirty snow towards her, hands in his pockets, until he was precisely twelve inches away from her. “I don’t like speaking it,” he continued. “Not for the same reason as you. Not for fear of these people. They’re not afraid of Germans, or of you. They see your foot and assume—”

“That I’m harmless?” Kat snapped, the edges of her vision going dark as she gripped her cane tightly. “Is that what they think when they see your cock?”

This paused him more than she’d expected. He narrowed his eyes at her, as though trying to discern some deeper meaning beneath the vulgarity. 

“My cock isn’t as distinctive as you might think in this country.”

It was the way he said it, in this country, as though she’d offered him one half of an equation, and he’d just solved for a missing variable. The last of his friendly aspect vanished entirely, and he was looking at her now as though she was a purchase he regretted, and would be returning as soon as possible.

He stepped away, intending to return to the restaurant. “I’ll call you a cab.” 

“Wait,” she said, not sure what she meant by it. She’d injured him somehow, but it wasn’t in the manner she’d intended. 

Miles Fisher halted, turned and frowned at her. He returned, stopping just short. He was close to her, but his hands remained out of his pockets, resting at his sides. Empty and gloveless in this chill winter evening, as though demonstrating to her that he was unarmed, that he would not attempt to put his hands near her.

She almost wished he would, because she wasn’t sure at this moment if any of this was really happening, and thought a slap might have provided some clarity. It was his reaction, the way his shoulders had squared, his jaw had hardened and all playfulness disappeared from his expression. Kat understood the language of fear well enough to know that his dialect was not local. One distinct possibility occurred to her, and she felt an intense spike of embarrassment and anger driving into her belly.

“You’re not American,” she said, keeping her eyes on his lapels. 

“I am in the ways that matter,” he said in that flawless New England drawl. “Just like you.”

“I’m not — “ she swallowed. She didn’t know what she was. She had no country. She didn’t believe in country, or so she’d thought, until she recalled the looks of confusion from their fellow diners. She could imagine them loathing her, this enemy alien, and it hurt. 

He sighed, and offered his arm. “Let’s take a walk. Just to the Mall. There’s a cabstand.”  

For a moment she didn’t know what to do, and then recalled the prescribed form. She was angry, but not so angry that she couldn’t accept the courtesy. She hesitated for a moment, then tucked her cane under her arm and took his elbow and allowed him to support her as she limped along next to him. He waited until they were across the street before resuming, or rather, beginning their conversation. 

She sat down, not bothering to be ladylike as she tucked her good leg under her and let her game one stretch out. She gave her foot a few painful rotations, but the scar tissue was too tight for a full extension, it never did much good at relieving the pain when it was this cold. He watched her do this, but she was too rattled to feel embarrassed by his scrutiny. 

I should have gone to Florida.

“I’m not supposed to be telling you any of this,” he said, nothing playful in his tone as he gazed out at the Washington Monument.  “Though few people really care outside of select intelligence circles.”

“But you think I should care.” 

He looked at her, sober and focused. “I belong to a branch of U.S. Army Intelligence that processes former enemy combatants. That’s the marquee, anyway. The department nominally discovers, tracks and captures rogue Gestapo and SS, but it’s more complicated than that.”

She felt a little click inside her mental clockwork as this piece fit into place, enabling her mind to race ahead, to jump to the obvious conclusions. She forced herself to be still, and met his eyes.“Complicated how?”

He looked back out over the Mall, his breath pluming in the dropping temperature. “Some of the men we capture are deemed useful to the U.S. interests in some way. Some of them are ready to sell out their old friends. Some of them have value to other intelligence agencies, and pass out of our hands.”

“What does that have to do with Frühlingsmorgen?” The came out of her mouth almost a whisper, wrapped in the shroud of her misted breath like a dread curse. “The file you showed me…”

He looked at her now with a frown, not one of displeasure or anger, but one that looked deeply troubled and concerned. For an instant, she could sense a desire in him to move closer, to reach out and translate whatever impression he’d been carrying with him for these past years into some kind of real connection. But he appeared to understand that if he tried to comfort her, she’d fight. She’d run. She couldn’t tolerate being the victim of his empathy while he was keeping his own insight hidden from her. 

“We don’t know the origin of the file, only that it was part of an intelligence proffer made to us after the war. I was made aware of Frühlingsmorgen prior to that, in spring of 1944. I was part of the interrogation detail at our facility when a detainee from the SS clerical division was assigned to me. He was, as I said, tasked with handling special prisoners, distributing them to various labour or extermination camps.”

“Special prisoners? Like political prisoners?”

He gave her a smile, but this time it was bitter. “Political prisoners, inconvenient family members, and mouthy young women who dare to reject being espoused to SS officers against their wishes.” 

For a moment, she was too shocked to speak. Her ankle began to throb, but she resisted the urge to reach down and massage it. She swallowed hard, telling her heart to be still. The others, she thought. The ones Adrian Wehnert had wished her to observe. She’d always assumed they’d been happily wed to the young eligible officers that had been offered to them. She had no reason to believe otherwise and no time to wonder.

“And this man told you about Frühlingsmorgen.”

“He told me what he knew of it, what he was paid to do, how he manipulated the records,” he grimaced now. “You weren’t the only woman who tried to escape, but you’re the one who showed them they didn’t need to actually marry suitably wealthy Aryan girls to profit from them — just breed with them, and if they resisted marriage or forced reproduction, declare them to be antisocial criminals and seize their assets. That’s where my source made his money — taking pretty Miss Katerina Bergmann, turning her into Katerina Berkowitz, and disappearing her and her considerable fortune by hiding it behind a much greater theft.” 

“But if it happened years ago,” she protested, struggling to find the application. “Why would the Americans care now? Aren’t there all kinds of organizations…” She wanted to name some human rights investigatory bodies, but couldn’t think of any. She was still too nonplussed. 

“Two reasons,” Fisher said calmly. “Right now, the political atmosphere is still motivating my department to bring in prosecutable Nazis.”

“Right now,” Kat repeated. “You mean before the Soviets find them and put them on trial first.”

“That, yes,” he agreed. “And because we believe that some of these men are still alive, and are sitting on assets in the tens, possibly hundreds of millions as a result of this scheme.”

She sighed, almost laughed. “The Americans want that money? Surely they have enough.” 

“The Americans don’t want the Soviets to have that money,” Fisher corrected, and now he grinned. “You know the Abwehr did not play well with the SS, and they lost the contest. They were on to something with Frühlingsmorgen, and probably a lot more we’ve only got a whiff of.”

“You think there were more rogue SS programs? That there was overlap?” Kat pressed, but he clammed up on the subject, his eyes narrowing in way that made her feel like he was teasing her.

“That’s all I’m giving you,” he said. “But yes, the bigger the haul the better. My superiors particularly want those pre-Ribbentrop officers who’d already started picking out curtains for their dachas. They know where the deepest bodies are buried.”

She took a deep breath. “If I agreed to be part of this, what would I do?”

“I won’t lie. This is a small operation and it’s not as well resourced as it used to be, but I have a great deal of lateral discretion. Part of the work involves seizing assets and repurposing them. That’s what they expect.”

“What would I be doing, Fisher?” she pressed. “In plain English, please.”

“You’d help,” he said simply, almost apologetically. “I really can’t tell you more. You’ve said no too many times for me to feel comfortable involving you any further. But I owed you an explanation.”

She went quiet. It was too much to take in, too much to understand about herself, about the reason for the infirmity forced on her, about the other faceless women she had never met or seen whom she might have helped save. Did Adrian Wehnert know the full extent of the program? Did he track its monstrous evolution after her escape, or had no one but the SS clerk who had faked their names and disguised their assets remembered them?

She looked at Fisher now, really looked hard at him. Trying to place him in this bizarre comedy. He’d implied he was from Germany but there was something so innate about his Americanness that it put her completely off the scent. She envied it, in her own way, but it also confused her. He could not be more than a few years older than her. It was too much unaccounted history.

“When did you leave Germany?” she tried, but knew the forced innocence in her tone gave her away at once. She was never really good at that kind of thing. 

“It’s cold,” he said, something reproachful in his tone. “Let’s get a cab. I’ll drop you off.”