Bones of Spring (WIP). Chapter 54 – The Melrose Hotel

Kat fell asleep repeating the phone number in her mind, but when she woke up six hours later she could only recall the six digits tattooed into Fisher’s skin. The crumpled paper card was still on the dresser. Once she’d made up her mind, she picked out some clothes, dug out her old makeup bag, and went into her little bathroom to clean up. 

The female voice over the phone told her a car would be picking her up in the evening, so she decided to go get a cup of coffee and a croissant while she tried to puzzle out how she felt about these last moments of her own. It was difficult to imagine how her routine might change, but she suspected it wouldn’t be routine at all. The more she let herself think on it, the more she felt an acute pleasure at knowing there was still prey out there for her. Some of them doubtless remembered her, the pretty girl they’d packed off still stained with the blood of their commander. She wondered what they would make of her now. The prospect of coming out of retirement was increasingly more attractive the longer she pondered what it might mean for her.

Evening came on quickly, but it was less oppressively cold than it had been the night before. She went back to her room just long enough to retrieve a blazer with squared shoulders, and her suede boots. They were soft, and looked good under her calf-length skirt, even if they hurt her. Everything she wore on her damaged foot hurt her, but she was damned if she was going to hide under a dowdy calico dress for this meeting. She tied her blonde hair back in a red bow, and looked at herself in the mirror. It was a slight shock to see Le Chaton the Maquisard, looking back at her. She gave herself a quick tight smile, and went out to the waiting car. 

The Melrose Hotel wasn’t the most aesthetic to look at from the outside, but it was chic enough inside. The black Cadillac dropped her off at the front doors. The driver, a very southern Black man, had been frugal with his speech after his initial “good evening, miss,” but now he turned over his shoulder to speak to her. 

“They’re waiting for you in the bar. May I assist you in any way?”

“I’m fine,” she said, trying to keep her tone light. She had to remind herself he wasn’t trying to mollycoddle her.

She waited for him to come around and open the door for her, and decided to accept his hand. As he helped her out, she tried to get a read on him, but his face was a mask of friendly passivity. Army, she thought. Marine Corps perhaps. There was always an overly studied politeness about a Marine when he was in civil society. She too found it difficult to stop her mouth from cursing, to keep her eyes from constantly scanning horizons. Or maybe he was just a nice guy. Already she was trying to see around corners.

She made her way inside. The bar was easy enough to find by its muted jazz quartet, and was done up in very modern pale colours with pops of green and red. At the far end, there were high booths with deep tables, where Miles Fisher and a very tall woman in a black bateau-necklined dress were waiting for her. Both of them rose as she approached, and she suddenly felt the cheapness of her clothes. Fisher was wearing an expensive looking bomber jacket and a dark red scarf draped over his neck, making him look a little like a fashionable flying ace from the previous war. 

The woman, high cheek boned face framed by a neat auburn bob, extended a manicured hand to Kat. She shook it, feeling a little off kilter as she tried to assess her host, and coming up with more hard angles, wide shoulders and plucked eyebrows than quite fitted her usual picture of a woman. 

“Kat, this is Colonel Cecille Jones, she has supreme command of our little division.” 

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Miss Bergmann,” the woman said in a low, distinctive southern drawl that made Kat think of Greek revival architecture and old money. “Please do sit down.”

Kat sat as requested, while Colonel Jones resumed her seat on Fisher’s side of the table, making up the traditional interrogative configuration. Fisher flagged down a waiter, and glanced at Kat. 

“Gin and tonic, please,” she said. “Make it a double.” 

The waiter also took Jones’ order for single malt. Fisher abstained, and was now watching her with a tight focus. Kat guessed he was waiting to see if she would offer some kind of protest, or question the identity of the person he’d just introduced as a US Army colonel. 

“Cigarette?” Jones opened a silver cigarette case and offered her one. Kat accepted it, and bent over the flame from the matching silver lighter. 


While Fisher was monitoring her with uncomfortable intensity, Colonel Jones herself seemed perfectly unruffled. Kat liked the spare, sophisticated way she drew a cigarette from a gold case, tapped it on the marble table top, positioned it on her painted lip, and lit it. 

Her graceful, slack-wristed gestures reminded her of Parisian women she’d known, the ones who could flick their hand dismissively to cover all manner of irrelevancies, or bring it across your face and bloody your nose with just as much panache. Looking at her, Kat decided Cecille Jones could probably also break her neck without too much trouble, and made a note of it.

“As Mr. Fisher has no doubt been explaining to you, we’ve been looking into your service and your qualifications for some time now. Mr. Fisher is convinced you would make a highly productive addition to our team. I trust his opinion, which makes it good enough for me. I must ask you directly… what would be your reasons for joining?”

“Don’t,” Fisher advised. “Try to get it right by saying what you think we want to hear.”

Kat glared at him, and might have kicked him under the table if he’d been across from her instead of Jones.

“I’ve had time to consider it.” She met Jones’ eyes. “The honest truth is I’m bored out of my skull, my talents are being underused, and I’m not finished with the men who raped and crippled me. What you’re doing will hurt them. I want to be involved. Is that reason enough for you, Colonel Jones?”

Jones gave a sphinx-like smile, and looked to Fisher. “I would say so. What do you say, Mr. Fisher? That tally with your researches?”

Fisher bent to open a briefcase at his feet, and brought out a sheaf of papers. “You’ll want to review these, Miss Bergmann. “

She did, taking her time to understand what was mostly repetitions and variations on threats of prosecution and jail for disclosing classified material. There was a waiver involved that permitted the government to lie to her relatives, which was of course immaterial, but still made her smile. There was an injunction not to fraternize — that was the word, fraternize — and to disclose any “romantic conflicts of interest”. This also made her smile. 

She glanced up at Colonel Jones, but her face was difficult to read. Fisher was looking pointedly at his folded hands as she continued to leaf through the document. At the end of it, she signed everything, and pushed it back towards him. He checked it quickly, squared off the stack and put it back in the briefcase. “I’m going to run this back to HQ. I’ll be back shortly.”

Fisher slid out of the booth, and spared one quick look at Kat before taking his leave. It wasn’t a happy look, nor a sad one. Nervous apprehension, perhaps. It confused her. He was getting what he wanted, but he’d lost some of the sang froid he’d maintained so well during the previous evening’s performance. Colonel Jones watched him go, taking a long drag on her cigarette before stubbing it out in the crystal ashtray. 

“I think you know this is not a traditional work environment,” she said in her low, modulated voice. “We don’t really do tradition. But we do get results.” 

“I’m coming to understand that.”

“It doesn’t trouble you?” 

“I don’t really have traditions either,” Kat admitted. “I don’t know that I ever did.”

“Most of my stateside officers are Jews,” Jones said with extreme casualness as she tapped out another cigarette, using that exquisitely painted mouth to crop the filter end directly from the case. “Did Miles explain to you what we do?”

“Only in the broadest terms,” she said, feeling a little guilty. She wasn’t really sure if what he’d shared with her had been a lot or a little, or whether it violated the terms of the contract she’d just signed. 

“Most of our intelligence gathering happens in one place, located here in the D.C. area. We like Jews for that work because they usually have the languages we need, and often the temperament.”

Kat frowned, putting that together with what Fisher had told her the previous evening. “But if your detainees… You use Jews to interrogate them?

Jones smiled, exhaling smoke. “Well, our “guests” don’t know the ethnicity of their “hosts”. Someone like Miles Fisher knows how to get those men on side, and he sees things that you or I might miss. Prejudices, pieces of information. Gaps and connections. Some interrogators have a fidget they use to distract the subject, but all Miles has to do is roll up his sleeves to make his German sounds like the jolly old Wehrmacht.” Jones tapped the inside of her own wrist “You understand?”

Kat nodded, then felt for a second like she’d missed a step on her way down stairs. Jones was watching her with a frosty smile, waiting for her to open her mouth and let slip that she’d seen the tattoo on Fisher’s chest. She wondered if that counted as fraternizing, but she wasn’t about to pursue it. 

Jones offered her another cigarette, and she accepted it, but she couldn’t quite hide the trembling in her hand, so she didn’t try. As she bent for the lighter, she realized that she was in the presence of a master. She didn’t think Cecille Jones was a persona, only that she understood the value of comportment, and a nice hotel lounge, and a very shiny cigarette case. 

“He keeps me informed about his state of mind,” she said, leaning back against the seat. “I wouldn’t call myself his confessor, because I don’t always need or even want all the details, but this kind of work only happens when there’s trust between an agent and his handler. Am I making sense to you?”

“It makes sense,” Kat said, sucking down a third of the cigarette in one go. She felt hideously uncomfortable all of a sudden, like a butterfly being pinned alive to a board. 

“I know you struggle with trust,” Jones said calmly. “I know you concealed from me just now that Mr. Fisher showed you the identification tattoo on his chest, because he related the bulk of what passed between you last night on the ride over here.”

Kat said nothing, not trusting herself to speak, unsure of why Jones had waited until after she’d signed the paperwork to put the spotlight on her. She felt conspicuous and confused, and she didn’t know what the colonel wanted her to say. She waited. The other woman observed her. Her eyes were quite blue, Kat noticed, dark as lapis and just as inscrutable. 

“I’m pleased that you didn’t give away his confidence,” Jones said finally. “Even if it’s a detail you could safely assume I know. But that secretiveness needs to serve. Mr. Fisher will be your direct superior officer, and I expect you to give him your complete trust.” 

Kat sucked in breath, but immediately stopped herself from replying. She wasn’t sure what words she intended to speak, whether it was to point out that his “research” had made her feel hunted and vulnerable, or putting that aside, that he was simply annoying and cocky, and that she resented being the target of his charm offensive. 

Then she wondered if the reason for her irritation was that he had shown her his deepest wound, and demonstrated that he had survived it with his sense of humour intact. She was beginning to suspect she hadn’t survived her own, and hated him for knowing it.

“Will I be doing that kind of work?” she asked. “Interrogating enemy prisoners?”

“No,” Jones said, and now she did offer a smile. “No, my dear, I don’t think that is in your wheelhouse. Miles provided you with some context last night. It’s our intention, after some training, to send both of you abroad, in the guise of a vacationing couple.”

“Back to Europe?” Kat kept her voice low, the part about posing as a couple mostly bypassing her. A ripple of queasy apprehension passed through her, and suddenly this slightly over-conceived hotel lounge seemed like the coziest, most welcoming place she’d ever been. 

“It will be dangerous,” Jones continued. “You will be searching for some very dangerous, very desperate people. And while you will be trained in intelligence gathering and spycraft, you have one very specific role. I want your full attention, Katerina.”

“I’m listening.”

“The information we’ve collected will never be more ripe for exploitation than it is now,” Jones said quietly, though Kat caught every word. “Miles Fisher is the most versed in that information, and he knows which cast members are still missing. Your primary job is to protect him. With deadly force if needed.”

“Oh,” Kat sat back against the cushy seat back, looking down at her hands.

“Can you do that?” Jones pressed. “Now is the moment to tell me.”

“Yes, of course, I mean…” she leaned in again. “Is he incapable of protecting himself?” 

“Not at all. But four eyes are better than two, and he elects to avoid violence as much as he can. He served Army Intelligence in France for two years without firing a shot, often on very dangerous covert missions. You have many qualities that will aid him in this operation, but to be blunt, Miss Bergmann, I think your chief strength is your ability to take cold blooded, fatal decisions when necessary.”

“Is that his opinion?” she whispered, feeling a sinking sensation in her chest. Fisher must have known or suspected about Jerome Masson. It wasn’t an insight she wanted him to have.

“No,” Jones said shortly. “He thinks you’ve got potential beyond my evaluation. He may be correct, that’s for him to decide.”

Kat looked up, realized that Fisher had just entered the lobby with a suitcase in hand. The driver, Sutton, was at his elbow, his gaze directed at his mistress. She rose. 

“I don’t want you to tell him what I’ve told you. He’ll be able to work and sleep better if he doesn’t know about your real assignment.”

“I understand.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Kat said, keeping her voice low, her eyes on the two men. “I’m sure.”

Jones glanced over at them, nodding to Fisher. He evidently took this as permission to approach. Jones turned her eyes on Kat one last time. 

“I would also ask that you take care not to damage him, if at all possible.”

Jones turned away, pausing to greet Fisher only briefly on her way out, then left with the driver. Fisher resumed his seat, plonking the suitcase down next to them. Her suitcase, she realized with mounting fury. 

“Did you break into my apartment?”

“That’s not an apartment, it’s a hole,” Fisher said. “And your landlady let me in after I told her I was your brother, and a few other tedious little lies. That just proves how insecure it is, so we’re temporarily moving you to our suite here. I’ll have the rest of your things collected tomorrow. Oh, and you should put this on. Under the table, please. ”

He slid a sealed mailing envelope over to her. She felt the round hard shape of its contents, and glowered at him. Of course, Colonel Jones had just informed her of this particular pretence, but she hadn’t expected she would be forced into it so quickly. 

“Your left,” he reminded her. “We’re Americans. Or at least, I’m an American and you’re my—”

“Say “war bride” and you will be eating this ring, Miles Fisher,” she growled as she worked it on to her left finger. 

“There should be an engagement ring in there too,” he said, ducking his head. “As we’re newlyweds. Let’s see them.”

Deeply annoyed, she slapped her hand on the marble table like she was hitting at blackjack. He bent over to examine it. The slender bands were of pale gold, the modern engagement ring featuring three stones set almost flush to the metal — a diamond, flanked by two rubies. She’d looted enough German and Vichy mansions to know the stones were genuine. 

“For your birthday. July is ruby, isn’t it?” he gave her a grin made for punching. “Oh, do lighten up, Mrs. Fisher.”

He winced as she pressed the boot heel of her good foot into his toe. “I just turned my entire life upside down for you,” she hissed. “Give me one fucking moment to catch my breath.”

He sat back, his face a little pink, and folded his hands. “You turned your life upside down for the United States of America, Kat. None of those papers you signed said anything about me.”

She waited for him to opine that it hadn’t been much of a life, either, but it seemed he was marshalling himself into a more circumspect character, so she let it go. Instead, she took a deep, steadying breath, and recalled the mission Jones had tasked her with. She tried to imagine how she would react if a rogue Nazi walked into this chi-chi hotel lounge with a submachine gun and began shooting at them. It was a difficult exercise, and she gave up after a few moments.

“There’s something I want to show you,” he said, his demeanour shifting to a more thoughtful tone. “But not here.”

She considered razzing him about what part of his anatomy that might be, anything to make him uncomfortable, but something about his earnestness stilled her. She accepted his hand, tucked her cane under her arm, allowing herself to press close to him as he took up the suitcase and walked them to the elevator.