Love and LoyaltyA Story by E.A. Hiatt
Zara and Louis are both spies who have played a marvellous game of cat and mouse. But has Zara finally caught the upperhand? And what will the outcome of their interferrence be?
Zara’s dark eyes scanned the smoky bar, watching the jazz players at one end. She brushed a stray curl of jet black hair from her shrewd, delicately formed face, casually alert for any new customers. One bracelet-laden arm rested on the bar’s smooth wood, a cigarette balanced between two fingers. She was bored. She hated this part, the waiting.
After another several minutes, she caught a sound on the wind. The sound of a rowdy group of men heading over for drinks. She strained her ears; was it English? Yes! That was English they were speaking! She came to this conclusion just as they banged in the door, trooping over to swarm the bars and tables, their heavy combat boots thumping against the floor. A smirk cross her face-prey sighted. She turned to face the wall behind the bar, drawing her arm up lazily to draw from her cigarette and gaze languidly at the shelves of amber fluid-the picture of beautiful apathy.
As the men filed in around her, she flicked her sharp eyes across their green chests, searching for a sign. A…a captain. There. She looked up and met the man’s cool green eyes from across several shorn heads and gave him a slight nod, keeping her expression disinterested. Then she turned back and drew on her cigarette for a long moment before ordering herself another martini. Sure enough, as the bartender set it down, she felt a solid presence beside her and a voice said, “I’ll pay for that.”
Zara turned to see the captain sit down on the barstool beside her. She looked him up and down before replying.
“You have the money to do that?” she asked in English, putting on her very best French accent.
“No,” the man replied calmly, glancing away. Ah, the English. So ignorant in flirting! It made her job much easier.
“I should pay for your drink, if we were being fair,” she drawled, tapping the end of her cigarette on an ashtray.
“A gentleman never lets a lady pay for her own drinks,” the captain replied.
“Ooh, a chivalrous one, aren’t you?” She blew a cloud of smoke out into the dark room. “There aren’t a lot of those left, are there?”
“If you’re looking for chivalrous men, I would say you are in the wrong place,” the captain said.
“Are we not allies now?” Zara pointed out, raising a thin black eyebrow. The captain gave a short laugh. “Not a very nice thing to say about your ally.”
“That will never make us friends! We have been at odds for centuries!” he said. Zara stared him down for a long moment before chuckling.
“Ah…I suppose France and England will never be friends.” She finished her cigarette and put it out in the ashtray. “But does that mean we can’t be friends?” The captain flushed a bit and shook his head. “So what’s your name, soldier boy?” Her voice had a sultry, slightly raspy feel to it.
“Allen,” he said. “Alfred Kensington. Fifty fourth brigade. And yourself?”
“Zara,” she said. “Zara Capet.”
“An unusual name…but very lovely,” Allen told her.
“Thank you,” Zara said, nodding and sipping from her martini. “My grandmother was a gypsy and she named me.”
They sat and talked for a long time. The sun was well beneath the skyline when Zara took the captain’s hand and pulled him off his stool.
“Dance with me,” she said. She had insisted on buying him a drink-she chose the headiest thing there, in small dose. He was certainly a bit tipsy, because he didn’t fight too hard to get away from her. The pianist at the far end was playing something slow, so Zara and Allen had to dance close together. She stepped in and laid her head on his should, sighing softly. She felt him stiffen under her touch.
“I’m so tired of this war,” she murmured.
“A-are you waiting for someone to come home?” Allen stammered.
“No,” she responded. “My family lives far off in the south. I have no man.”
“Oh…” His hand moved to rest firmly on her lower back.
“War is lonely for women,” she went on. “We’re all waiting, always waiting…Why can’t we fight too? If our men are fighting and dying for nothing, we should be able to do something…to stop it.”
“War will always be,” Allen said. “It is in our nature. The Central Powers cannot be allowed to expand their empires.”
“Fah, the Central Powers,” Zara grumbled. “Everyone is fighting because they are scared of fighting.” Allen paused in their dance and looked down at her.
“You are quiet the cynic,” he said. She stared at him before quirking a slight smile and shaking her head.
“I prefer to think of it as realism.”
“I’m sure that’s what they all say…”
Needless to say, Zara got what she wanted by the end of the evening.
Around eleven, she lay on her belly on the hotel bed, gazing over at Allen. Her black curls were loosed to tumble to her shoulders, her soft curves hidden only by the blankets pulled up to her waist.
“So where have you come from?” she asked, lighting up another cigarette. Allen lay on the bed beside her, sheets up to his chest, staring at the ceiling.
“Lille, on the North front,” he said. “We were in the trenches there.” Zara gazed sympathetically at him.
“They say war is hell,” she said softly. “Is that true?” It was almost blasphemous-to suggest that war was anything other than glory and victory. But Zara was nothing if not bold. Allen was silent a long time.
“War…is hell,” he said at last. “But it is a hell we must endure.” Zara made a sound of disbelief in her throat and took a drag from her cigarette, casting a glance across the bed to the lights of Paris sparkling beneath the inky night sky. They were silent for a time before Zara spoke again.
“Where are you headed next?” Allen shook his head.
“I can’t tell you that, Zara.”
“Because little old me is such a threat to your army,” she teased, moving over to lay with her head on Allen’s shoulder. He tensed a bit beneath her touch, but let her. “I’ll be lonely when you’ve gone.”
“No you won’t,” Allen said, trying to sound more certain than he did. “Women like you are never lonely for long.”
“Women like me? That smarts, Allen! I’ve never been untrue to anyone,” she responded. “I might just do some fool thing like wait for you, you know.” She heaved a troubled sigh and went quiet, blowing clouds of smoke into the hotel room’s stale air.
“Strasbourg,” Allen said. “With any luck, Stuttgart.”
“So far away,” Zara complained. “When do you have to go?”
“Soon,” Allen murmured, pressing his face into her lush black locks. “We officially depart March 5th.”
“And you’ll lead your whole company to victory,” Zara sighed, a slight question in her voice.
“No, not me,” Allen spoke before he could temper his tongue. Uneasily, he wondered if this wasn’t exactly the kind of situation they had been warned about…
“But who, if not the utmost in bravery the British army has to offer?” Zara asked with exaggerated incredulity. Allen chuckled softly, almost daring to put his arm around her. Almost.
“General Rottingham, dear Zara. He will bring his forces to combine with mine and launch the attack on the Germans in Strasbourg.” A slight smile-hidden from Allen-crossed Zara’s face.
“I’m sure you’ll do wonderfully,” she said sleepily, leaning across Allen to the bedside table where she put out her cigarette before snuggling into the sheets. “A wonderful victory for the Allies…”
“Indeed…” Allen shut off the light and darkness swept over the room. Zara lay absolutely still for what felt like an indefinite amount of time. At last she rolled over, dislodging Allen from her person. When he didn’t wake, she slid out of bed and dressed with care. Then she walked to the other side of the room and riffled through Allen’s things until she found what she was searching for-old telegrams. She smirked broadly to herself and tucked them into a hidden pocket in her slim dress. She slipped on her long necklace and looked down at Allen’s sleeping form. And then she spoke. And when she did, the French accent was evanesced, replaced with one far more natural to her…
“Danke, Herr Kensington,” she whispered. “You’ve done me some good service, ja? Perhaps we’ll meet again…I would relish that day. And you English say girls cannot fight!”
With that, she turned sharply on her heel and strode from the room, a clear destination in mind. On her way out of the hotel, she checked the time. 12:35. Damn, Allen went out like a light!
Paris was a close-knit city; she found the office in no time and dropped off the telegrams, along with the information that fool Allen had given her.
“Well done, Zara,” rasped the coordinator, nodding. “The Kaiser is most proud of you.”
“I do my job well,” she replied smoothly, flashing a predatory smile. That was all; she was dismissed. Free to wander where she would, she made for one of her favorite gin joints in Paris; one she knew would still be buzzing at this late hour.
When she arrived, she went and got herself a ginger ale, having had her fill of alcohol from earlier and stood by the wall, watching the bustle with a quiet look of triumph. She was let alone for quite some time, before a voice intruded on her public solitude.
“I don’t like that look, Zara,” said a low voice. Zara almost jumped, but kept her head and turned to gaze coolly at the man leaning against the wall beside her, his piercing blue-in such contrast with his chocolate curls- eyes fixed on hers. “You’ve been up to something, non? And succeeding too, no doubt…”
“Louis,” she greeted him, taking a sip from her glass and looking off. “What does it matter to you?”
“Tsk, tsk, Zara…you’ve hardly forgotten where we stand, have you?” He raised an eyebrow.
“Never, Louis,” she replied calmly. “I enjoy dangerous games…of what worth is life when there isn’t risk?”
“Rien. So come dance with me,” Louis said, taking her glass from her and grasping her hand. Their eyes battle for a moment before Zara smiled with cloying sweetness, and nodded assent. Louis left the glass on a table as they passed and pulled Zara into a simple waltz. They gaze at each other like a pair of panthers waiting to strike. “Tell me now…which brigade have you sabotaged this time?”
Zara just gave him a close-lipped smile, shaking her head ever so slightly. “Loose lips sink ships, dear Louis, or haven’t you heard?”
“All too often, my Zara,” Louis replied, turning her in quick circles, one hand resting easily on her waist. They might have been longtime lovers for all the comfort they appeared to have with one another. “And you are the reason those warnings exist.”
“You flatter me, darling,” Zara drawled, feigning a shy girl’s blush. “Do not downplay your own achievements as well…”
“For my own,” Louis said with a shrug.
“Can we truly say there is a right and a wrong in this war?”
“Bluntly candid as always, ma cherie,” Louis said, twirling her about.
“It’s one of my many skills.”
“Ironic, given your occupation,” Louis fired off. “One would think that would be something of a disadvantage.”
“Au contraire, my short-sighted friend!” Zara trilled. “My truthfulness is what makes my prey trust me!”
“So cunning and sly, dear Zara…What, pray tell, will you do when this war is over?” The song turned to a slow number and Louis held Zara closer. She contemplated her answer for so long it seemed she might not answer at all. At last, in another fit of candidacy, she laid her head on Louis’ shoulder and said, “I’m not entirely sure.”
They fell into a strangely comfortable silence as they waltzed until at last Louis spoke, his words extra soft in the slowly emptying club.
“Do you ever tire of this game, Zara?” Again, she waited several minutes to respond.
“Like you wouldn’t believe,” she said at length. Louis rested his chin lightly on top of her head.
“Then why do you continue to do it?” he asked, tightening his grip around her.
“Why do you?” She was beginning to feel uncomfortable with this-she was letting her guard down far too much. But Louis’ words awoke a painful weariness in her and she couldn’t bring herself to pull away.
“Sometimes I feel like we’re just living in a dream,” Zara went on. “Nothing seems entirely real…It’s like something out of a storybook…I want to feel something,” she said softly.
“It could be heaven or it could be hell,” Louis commented. He put two fingers beneath her chin and lifted her face to look up at him. “I know how you feel, Zara.” For a long time they just looked at each other, as if trying to think of a way to breach the insurmountable wall between them. “Did I tell you I learned something new?” he asked with forced lightness.
“Oh?” Zara raised an eyebrow. Louis leaned in to whisper in her ear.
“Ihren französischen Akzent hat sich stark verbessert.” Zara suppressed a smiled and whispered back.
“Any particular reason you’re referring to me in third person?” Louis drew back to look at her with that casually flirting French smile.
“Because you, mon amour, are an enigma.” Their eyes met again and it was as though something had visibly snapped. They both jerked towards each other and their lips met passionately.
“You know there’s a war on, right?” Zara gasped when they broke for air.
“Damn the war!” Louis declared. There was another tense moment. “Or don’t you feel the same way?”
“They can all go to hell and we’ll meet them there,” Zara announced.
So Zara bought out another hotel room and threw caution to the wind. And it was gloriously wrong and yet right, but Zara didn’t concern herself with morals for the time being. She let them beat out their warnings in the back of her mind while she did as she pleased.
“How long, Zara?” Louis mumbled, half asleep. “How many months-Dieu, it feels like years!- have we toyed with fire? Why tonight? Why tonight have we decided to jump into the flames?”
“Because I’m tired of playing,” Zara said. “If we’re going to get burned, it should be worth it.”
“I’m leaving soon,” Louis commented idly.
“I’ll be lonely when you’re gone.”
“No you won’t,” Louis laughed. “You’ll snare some other poor fool with those charms of yours and forget me entirely.”
“Probably true to the first part…” Zara admitted.
“And the latter?” Louis prompted.
“I can’t forget my sweetest enemy.”
Louis nodded with a bleary smile that made Zara’s heart jump and she allowed him to hold onto her while he fell asleep. But once more, Zara lay tense and alert while her male companion drifted off into dreamland. Thoughts turned over rapidly in her mind, adding to the whirlwind of a rising storm. But amongst all the tumult in her mind, there was one truth that resonated-Orders are orders.
With a heavy heart, she disentangled herself from Louis, intent on reaching her boot, which held a small pistol. As she made to rise from the bed, something grasped her wrist.
“Going to make off now, Zara?” Louis demanded. Perhaps it was instinct, perhaps it was fear that drove Zara’s next movement. Before Louis could speak again, she grabbed her pillow and clamped it down over his face. He began to struggle beneath her; the longer she held it there, forcing him into the mattress, the more panicked his thrashing began. He almost threw her off-she almost let him-but duty resounded in her heart and she pushed down harder, feeling sick as Louis’ movements grew steadily weaker and eventually stopped altogether.
Removing the pillow, Zara looked down onto Louis’ relaxed face. He could be sleeping…She noticed the way his hair curled softly over his forehead, the unusual length of his eyelashes, the handsome line of his jaw…She swooped down and kissed his lips before covering him with the pillow. She buried her face in it and wept.
When she had wept for a decent enough amount of time, Zara forced herself to get up and put on the rest of her clothes. She straightened the room and arranged the sheets around Louis. No one would suspect anything. As she turned to go, she paused in the doorway and glanced back at Louis’ still form.
“Es tut mir leid, Louis,” she said quietly. “I’m sorry. Maybe in a different time, a different place…I truly wished you had escaped me.”
With that, she departed and was able to report to the German spy network that Louis Pontmercy had been dispatched at last. That French spy would bother them no longer. But for Zara, the joy of spying, of deceit and treachery was gone. Louis had been her ultimate rival and with his departure, the game had lost its dangerous and attractive element. She wondered for the first time, how many had died because of her. Not at her hands, but as a direct result of her actions. She thought briefly of Allen. Somewhere in England, his widow and children wept because of a trap she had woven for him. Louis, she knew, had no family. He was something like her-alone. The difference was he had made the mistake of trusting her. It was the first time he had slipped up and he had paid the price.
Nonetheless, she kept up her work, however dispassionate, until the end of the war. When it was done, she retreated back to Germany for a time, but found the energy of the Nazi party and its growing number of advocates draining. She returned to France where she took up work at a bookshop in Reims. When WWII broke out, she fled to the South, for fear the Germans would ask her to resume spying. She learned fluent French and eventually settled into the community of her town. None of her friends and neighbors ever knew she had once spied for Germany or that she had loved a French spy. These were things she carried with her to her dying day and she was okay with that. Louis would have admired her secret-keeping skill.
© 2012 E.A. Hiatt
Added on March 6, 2012
Last Updated on March 6, 2012
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