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  • 1 Year Later...

    Burn ‘Em Out

    Paris, France

    Agent Peter McCain

    August 22nd, 1944


    Over a year after his departure from the United States, Peter had spent his time in France training resistance fighters to sabotage Nazi supply lines into the country. The Allies had secured entry into mainland Europe, and they were quickly approaching the French capital. The fighting would soon be over here, and Peter would be thrust into an entirely different side of the war, behind enemy lines.


    Harvey Yena successfully infiltrated Group 935 last May, initiating the first phase of Operation Firebrand. Though communication with Yena was sporadic and limited, he had updated the OSS on Doctor Richtofen’s status. Just a little over a week after Yena had joined Group 935, he attended a rally with Doctor Richtofen as a speaker. His ambitions were alarming, but even more troubling was an attempt on Richtofen’s life during the rally by an unknown assailant. No one in Group 935 was sure who tried to eliminate the Doctor, but it was certainly not the OSS. Yena continued to observe and report on Richtofen, discovering a great deal of paranoia in him. The OSS ordered that Yena attempt to form a closer bond with Richtofen, and perhaps garner his support to turn on the rest of Group 935. With any luck, he will cooperate.


    The streets of Paris were eerily quiet, a far cry from Peter’s own home town. After the bombings and firefights in the street the previous days, the Germans were now preparing for the upcoming Allied advance. Those not involved in the conflict stayed out of sight, the only life populating the open streets being stray cats and curious turtle-doves. Nearly every business on every street had broken windows, smashed doors, or bullet-holes in their walls, the occupants nowhere to be seen. It hardly looked like an ongoing warzone; But, looks can be deceiving.


    Peter came to a stop under a sign reading “Cafe Le Petit,” turning to face the entrance, a door with faded paint and a single hole punctured in the center. Plastered on the nearby alleyway walls were posters decrying the German invaders, rallying readers to the cause of the French Resistance.


    Peter dusted off his civilian button-down shirt, preparing himself to enter the bistro. He was unarmed, but he had a compact handgun strapped to his ankle underneath the leggings of his pants. Even so, he had been trained to be vigilant and ready for any potential conflict.


    He pushed open the door, painting a tiny section of the dimly-lit room with sunlight. Seated at the bar at the other side of the room was an older gentleman in a beret and blue suit who turned around to see Peter, before returning to his drink. Peter shut the door, passing several men playing cards at a nearby table who had stopped to gawk at him. He took a seat to the right of the older man drinking from a bottle. Peter waved the bartender away as he approached, turning his gaze to the older man’s face, marked by a thick, brown mustache above his lips. He matched the description of the man he was looking for.


    Peter leaned in, whispering, “Union.


    The man turned to face Peter with a look of confusion. Peter repeated again under his breath, “Union.” He did not change his expression.


    Out of the corner of his vision, Peter could see a similarly aged man with a rugged face, beret, and thick brown mustache, but with an expression of befuddlement as he leaned forwards into Peter’s view.


    Realizing his mistake, Peter smiled, nodding to the confused man as he muttered, “Je suis désolé…


    Peter promptly rose to his feet, finding a seat near the man he actually intended to meet, the British Captain Thackwaite.


    Feeling a hint of humiliation, Peter did not look the Captain in the eyes, muttering, “Union…


    The Captain shook his head, wrapping his arm around Peter as he guided him to the door, casually. As soon as they passed out of the door and into the streets, Thackwaite chastised the young Agent, “You nearly ruined this whole operation before it had even started.”


    Peter replied, “To be fair, I hadn’t seen any pictures of you, just a description. You two looked pretty-”


    “Word of advice, lad, act with a little more discretion next time, aye? Get to know yer surroundings before you do anything stupid.”


    “Yes, sir.”


    “Good. Now, did ya run into any Jerries on the way here?”


    “None. This place is like a ghost town.”


    “On this side of the city. But I can assure you, they’re out there.”


    Thackwaite led the way down the street, passing a few blocks before stopping near an alleyway. He inspected his surroundings to be sure they were not being watched before advancing into the alley. Near the end, he knocked on a grey door twice, waiting a moment, before knocking four more times in quick succession. The door came open, and Thackwaite nodded to Peter to enter and shut the door behind him.


    The room appeared to be some kind of warehouse, the walls covered with stacks of wooden boxes and tools, with only a single window tinted with a layer of dust allowing any light into the room. Resting nearby a lone crate were two members of the French Resistance that Peter had trained personally in prior months. Looking over a map of the city was the 25-year old artist turned soldier Marque Foucault, and to his right was Silvie Segouin, a 19-year old student eager to push the Germans out of her city of birth.


    As Peter approached, Silvie rolled her eyes and muttered, “Merde ...”


    Peter chuckled, “What, aren’t you happy to see me?”


    Silvie replied calmly, “I would not say ‘happy’, but I am relieved to see a familiar face.”


    Marque Foucault nodded, “As am I, sir.”


    “Please, you guys can just call me Peter. I think you’ve earned it.”


    Captain Thackwaite stepped between the trio, pointing to the map, “If we’re done exchanging pleasantries, yer on a tight schedule, Agent McCain. Foucault, have you two sorted yer route to the rendezvous point?”


    Foucault replied with haste, “Oui , Captain. Sylvie and I have passed through the catacombs many times over the past year. We know the fastest, and most importantly, safest route to the meeting location. There, Peter will meet with the informant and return safely with the acquired information.”


    Thackwaite approved, “Outstanding. I shan't need to remind our Agent here of the importance of this mission. But for the rest of ya: failure is not an option.”


    Sylvie interjected, “What is it that Peter is securing, exactly? How will it help in liberating Paris?”


    “This mission is bigger ‘an Paris, madam. It could keep this war from dragging on for years to come. The contents of what Agent McCain is recovering are not a concern of yours.”


    Sylvie seemed dissatisfied with the answer, but said nothing as she twirled a strand of her curly hair with her fingers.


    Peter assured the Captain, “We’ll get it done, Captain. I think we’re all ready.”


    Thackwaite nodded, “I will leave you to it then. Remember, if you get lost or caught, there is nae much we can do. Keep yer wits about you, and use discretion.”


    Peter gave a nod back, saying nothing as he was reminded of their first encounter.


    Thackwaite chuckled, opening the door leading into the alley, saying “Good luck, we’re counting on you,” as he left.


    Marque and Sylvie looked to Peter expectantly, awaiting his orders.


    Peter said aloud, “Let’s gear up and get moving, then. The informant won’t stick around for long.”


    The two fighters nodded, Marque removing and folding up the map on the crate as Sylvie removed the top. She sorted through its contents, passing a German Walther pistol to Marque before removing an MP-40 from the box. Peter prepared to accept the submachine gun as Sylvie held it in her arms, ensuring the weapon was loaded.


    Peter inquired, “Are you sure you can handle that, Sylvie?”


    Sylvie met eyes with Peter, rolling hers as she set the weapon aside, “I am more than sure, Peter. For you… I have a Gewehr 43. I am sure you can handle this one, no?”


    She passed the semi-automatic rifle to Peter as she placed several cartridges of its ammunition into her pockets. Peter graciously accepted the weapon, noting, “Yeah, I think I can.”


    Sylvie smiled, “Then we understand each other.”


    Peter approached the door, peering down the alley at either side, before motioning his allies to follow, “We’re moving out.”



    The air was still and cold within the stone tunnels beneath Paris. With no natural light to speak of, Sylvie held a flashlight provided by the OSS, guiding the trio down a set of cracked stone steps deeper into the catacombs. Along the grey walls were works of art painted by citizens who had explored the tunnels. Marque Foucault took time to admire the works, running his hand along a depiction of Saint Genevieve.


    “Such beautiful work… When the Germans are gone, I will finally have time to appreciate it.”


    Sylvie turned back to Marque, “You will not if Hitler burns the city.”


    “Surely they would have done so already if that was their plan?”


    “They need time to steal every last valuable from us first… but we will remove their occupation before they can raze the city, right, Peter?”


    Peter replied from the rear of the group, “Actually, Marque may be right. From what I have heard, Choltitz has been defying Hitler’s direct orders by leaving your monuments standing this long. He may be planning to surrender.”


    Sylvie said, “Perhaps he will. But they do not deserve a peaceful surrender after what they have done to our people.”


    Peter sighed, “Come on, Sylvie, revenge won’t do anything but cause more pain. You shouldn’t be saying things like that… you’re so young.”


    Sylvie stopped, pointing the flashlight in Peter’s eyes, “Peter, I am not a child. You cannot speak to me like I am one. I have lived for years in this occupation, and I will die fighting for our freedom. Does that sound like the resolve of a child?”


    Marque placed his hands out, trying to calm her, “We need to stay quiet, our voice can carry quite a distance down here.”


    Sylvie shook her head, facing forwards again, “Sorry, Marque.”


    Peter kept quiet, feeling guilty for provoking Sylvie under such stressful conditions. He peered ahead, past the light, as the group approached a corner. 


    As they came around, the trio entered a large, hexagonal room. Water dripped down through cracks in the ceiling, pooling at the floor beneath them. Around the edges of the entire cavern were rows upon rows of human skulls, their color faded and form crushed under the weight of the ceiling above. Assorted bones separated the skulls, forming a large portion of the walls in the tunnel. Around them were two other possible directions to take, both with a similar assortment of ancient human remains lining the interior.


    Sylvie turned the light to Marque’s map as Peter crouched down to look over it as well. Sylvie ran her finger along a curved path towards a location marked with an X, where the informant would be meeting with him. “We will head left, followed by another left, continuing until we reach another chamber like this one.”


    Peter scanned the map, noticing a shorter path straight ahead to the X. “Why not head straight there? Wouldn’t we get there faster?”


    Sylvie shook her head, “The path straight this way is very dangerous. The walls there could cave in at the slightest provocation. It also passes right under a German fortification in the middle of the city, and there could be patrols searching the tunnels.”


    Marque nodded, “She’s right, taking the long way will be safer. Will you have time to reach the informant?”


    Peter pulled back his sleeve to view his watch, noting the time of 12:25 PM. “We’ll have time. We just need to keep at the pace we’re going.”



    We’re approaching the intersection… ” Marque whispered from the center of the pack.


    Sylvie dimmed the flashlight, allowing Peter to pass in front of her. Peter crouch-walked through the dark tunnel slowly, keeping balanced with his hand along the wall. Just a few feet ahead was the chamber where the informant should be waiting. He waited a moment, listening for any sign of them. There was only the sound of occasional dripping water from the cracked ceiling.


    Placing his hands around his lips to throw his voice, he called out into the chamber, “Union… “


    For a moment, there was nothing but silence. A voice then cut back through the darkness, “... Jack.”


    Peter stepped backwards into Sylvie’s view, motioning her to intensify the light and step into the chamber. As the trio stepped inside and scanned the room with light, a sitting young man with black hair came into view, resting against a closed tomb and holding a satchel in his arms. He wore a worker’s uniform with a Group 935 insignia stitched on his breast pocket. He appeared both relieved and frightened as he rose to his feet to shake Peter’s hand.


    “You must be Pablo.” Peter took the informant’s dry hand, before motioning Sylvie and Marque to watch the surrounding exits during the exchange.


    With a Mexican accent, Pablo responded, “It is a pleasure to finally meet you, Agent McCain. I wasn’t sure you’d find your way through these catacombs.”


    Peter nodded, “I had some help.” He pointed to the satchel, “Is that the information I came for?”


    Pablo opened the satchel, removing several laminated documents, “Indeed it is. There are copies of staff directories, shipping manifests, and pictures from inside several Group 935 and Division 9 facilities. This was all I could manage to acquire… I fear they are catching on to what I am doing.”


    “Stay strong. This war can’t go on for much longer.”


    “We can only hope… “ Pablo pointed to the documents as he passed them to Peter, “One last thing, I heard it after I had gathered this intelligence: Doctor Maxis is set to make a presentation on the… undead army to high-ranking Nazi brass, perhaps even Hitler himself. I could not gather a date nor a location, but this proves that the project has continued to make progress. The direction of this war lies within the outcome of this presentation… ”


    “I will let the OSS know as soon as I’m out of here. Those Group 935 bastards are gonna destroy the world before they take it over… ”


    “Not if we have anything to say about it, amigo.


    Peter gave him a friendly pat on the shoulder, “Good luck out there, Pablo.”


    Pablo closed the satchel, turning on his own flashlight, “Best of luck to you on your mission, Peter. I hope to see you again one day.”




    Peter placed the documents in a manila folder, before moving the folder back into his inner shirt pocket as Pablo trekked into the long, dark abyss ahead.


    Marque turned back from his position near the way they had come in, “Are we ready to leave, Peter?”


    “I’ve got everything. Sylvie, you can take point again. I’ll follow behind, and Marque, you follow from the rear.”


    Peter handed Sylvie the flashlight as she placed the MP-40’s strap around herself. They embarked back the long route they had come from.



    Peter had begun to think of home to take his mind away from the staring skulls adorning the walls. He thought of Mary, whom he had not seen face-to-face in over a year, only able to send her letters in his freetime. The possibility that he could lose his life and leave her fatherless chilled Peter’s spine. Who would teach her responsibility? How would she learn how to be tough? How could she grow up without him?


    Peter thought of Sylvie, a young, innocent girl thrust into a war created by adults for reasons she does not understand. Yet, she chooses to fight the good fight to protect herself and her people. She reminded Peter of… Mary. Both are naturally strong, always trying to protect others from bullies. They’re both smart, clever girls that are mature for their age. Maybe Mary will be alright, no matter what happens to Peter.


    He whispered, trying to grab Sylvie’s attention, “Sylvie… I’m sorry for treating you like a child… Here and during your training.”


    “Sorry? That’s a first from you.”


    “Yeah, well… I know it hurts to be talked down to. You just remind me so much of my daughter.”


    “How old is she?”


    “It’s not the age… She’s real smart, like you. But she keeps getting in trouble at her school because she tries to fight bullies picking on her friends. I keep telling her she shouldn’t be doing that or she’s going to get hurt, but she knows it’s the right thing to do.”


    Marque spoke up, “Is this a good time for this, Peter?”


    Peter looked back, “What, have you got somewhere to be?”


    Marque shrugged.


    Sylvie sighed, “Well, I am not your daughter.”


    Peter continued, “That’s right, and I accept the fact you’re old enough and capable enough to protect yourself.”


    The group stayed silent, continuing their pace through the tunnels under Sylvie’s direction. Finally, they reached the first intersection they had arrived at inside the catacombs, meaning the exit was through a straight passage that would take around twenty-five minutes to travel. As Sylvie prepared to take a step in this direction, she halted the trio, whispering, “ Listen…


    From the passage they initially arrived through, the sound of boots scraping against stone and Germans speaking could be heard. Listening intently, Peter could make out some of the words, “General Choltitz ... französischer Hund ... ihnen ausbrennen … ” 


    Peter motioned for the trio to turn back. They quietly paced until the voices could no longer be heard. Peter’s heart racing, he whispered to the trio, “They said something about Choltitz… I, I think they said they were going to burn something.


    Marque shook his head as Sylvie proclaimed, “I knew this…


    Peter asked Marque, “Is there an alternative way out of here?


    Marque looked over the map, “Not one that does not lead us behind enemy lines.


    Then we need to draw those soldiers out of there… That’s the only feasible way out.


    Marque asked, “How many do you think there are?


    Too many for the three of us to handle with the weapons we’ve got. We just need them out of the way so we can run for it.


    Sylvie said demandingly, “We can’t let them leave the tunnels! They said they would burn the city.


    Peter replied, “They’ll run into Resistance forces before they get too far.


    And if they do not?


    I want to save the city as much as you do, Sylvie, but we are not equipped to deal with a direct fight against who-knows-how-many Germans.


    Sylvie pointed to Peter’s shirt where the documents were being safely kept, “For all we know, they could be on their way to capture Captain Thackwaite. If this exchange of yours is bigger than this war, then we must prevent the Germans from ever leaving the catacombs. We must act.


    Peter mulled over the thought for a moment, motioning Marque to hand over the map of the tunnels. He motioned his finger over the straight line to the exit where the Germans were heading, passing into the intersection the three of them were kneeling just before. They had taken the long route to reach Pablo because the shorter, direct route was considered dangerous.


    Peter looked between the two Resistance fighters, asking, “When you say dangerous… How dangerous is this section of the catacombs?


    Marque replied, “Parts of the ceiling are known to crumple and fall… scaffolding put in place long ago to hold it up is beginning to fall apart.


    Sylvie added, “We never go through there because even slightly grazing the old scaffolding could cause a collapse. It’s very easy to make that mistake in the darkness.


    Peter asked, sarcastically, “Easy enough for, oh, maybe a dozen Germans?” 


    Sylvie said, “They were lucky to have passed through alive the first time.


    Marque asked Peter, “What if we could force a collapse as they passed through?


    Peter thought it over, “That could work, but we don’t have any trip-wire or explosives.


    Sylvie glanced back into the passage ahead, before reaching into her pocket, and removing a German hand grenade.


    Peter flinched back, “When were you going to tell me you had that, Sylvie?!


    Sylvie smiled, “When you realized I could handle using one.


    Peter shook his head, “So you can toss one of those pretty far? You’re not going to want to be in the passage when it goes off.


    Sylvie frowned, “Of course I can! You’re the one who showed me how to do it!


    Peter scoffed, “Yeah, but, neither of us are exactly Babe Ruth, so…


    I can handle it.


    Peter looked over the map again, reviewing the plan in his mind. “Alright, I believe you.


    Marque inquired, “So, who will draw their attention?


    Peter responded immediately, “I will. You two will head the long way back in the direction of the meeting spot and wait at the end of this fucked-up tunnel of yours. How long should that take?


    Marque pondered for a moment, “Uh… around five minutes.


    Peter continued, “Alright, then I’ll wait here for five minutes, then charge towards them making a whole bunch of noise. I’ll draw them into that tunnel, and when I find you, start firing your weapons back where I came from to keep them inside the passage. Then, toss the grenade, and we’ll run like Hell the long way back.


    Marque and Sylvie looked at each other before nodding in compliance with Peter’s plan.


    Good. One last thing… just in case something goes wrong in there…” Peter removed the mission documents from his shirt, handing them to Sylvie, Hold on to those, and get them to the OSS any way you can. Oh, and uh, don’t read them.


    Sylvie handed Peter the flashlight, as he handed her a lighter from his shirt pocket to light their path ahead, “I’ll want that back, by the way.


    As Peter prepared to depart, he offered his Gewehr to Marque, before removing the small sidearm he kept at his ankle, and loading the weapon. “I actually don’t think I’ll be able to handle the rifle… I’ll need to be quick.


    Sylvie smiled, igniting the lighter and placing the documents safely on her person.


    Peter waved to them as he turned away, “Vive le Résistance.


    Marque corrected him, “It’s actually Vive la Résistance.


    Peter nodded and winked, “Gratzi!” He paced away around the corridor and into the open chamber, out of the light of the French fighters.


    Marque leaned over to Sylvie, asking, “Does he know that is-


    Sylvie interrupted, “He knows.



    Briskly, without any discretion, Peter jogged through the tunnel with his handgun in one hand and the flashlight in the other. The sound of his boots meeting the stone floor again and again echoed between the art-covered walls. He began to hear the Germans chattering again.


    Peter maintained his pace, his light bathing the interior of the tunnel as he advanced forward. He could now see the Germans’ own lights up ahead, bobbing up and down as they marched towards the exit. As he prepared himself to turn around as soon as he was spotted, he came to a sudden halt as his light illuminated a German soldier dressed in full army uniform with a massive tank strapped to his back, in his hands a flamethrower. The soldier seemed just as shocked as Peter, unsure what to do as he called out to his rear, “Hier ist jemand!


    Peter quickly turned tail and ran with all his energy back towards the chamber. With the five minutes of waiting for the Germans to advance, there was quite a distance left for Peter to run back, but he was motivated out of fear of being shot or burned alive. The German troops thankfully were slow to regroup and hindered by their heavy equipment, but that did not assure Peter of his total safety.


    He ran for several minutes, finally reaching the chamber and taking a moment to breathe. He paused to allow the Germans to catch up and notice where he was headed: Into the unstable tunnel.


    The lights of the Germans came into view, prompting Peter to flash his light back at them and charge head-first into the unknown. He slowed his pace, now crouched inside the tiny, cramped tunnel, taking note of the wooden scaffolds made of rotting wood barely holding together. Making a decent pace, he began to speed up slightly. The flashlight was flung from his hand as he tripped on a section of uneven ground, and his chest impacted a rock resting in the path, knocking the wind from his lungs.


    Bewegen Sie sich eins nach dem anderen!


    Peter lifted himself up, retrieving the flashlight and catching a glimpse of a small, flickering red light in the distance. Finally, he had reached the chamber at the end of the tunnel, where Sylvie and Marque were waiting safely.


    Marque called out, “Peter!”


    Peter halted, falling to his knees and nearly vomiting from the long run. He looked back into the tunnel where the German lights were bobbing up and down, searching desperately for him. He could see at least six through the darkness.


    Sylvie raised her MP-40, and Marque his Gewehr, pointing them into the tunnel ahead as they braced against opposite walls.


    Peter waited for the opportune moment, before signaling for them to fire into the shaft. Shots rained out in an arc from Sylvie’s weapon as a German cried out in pain. They began to yell indiscriminately in the dark, before one began to fire back with single shots. They whizzed by, pinging off skulls embedded in the walls within the chamber.


    As Sylvie’s ammunition ran dry, Marque began to fire his rifle into the hallway, further agitating the Germans inside. Peter turned to Sylvie with the light, nodding his head to signal her to initiate the final phase of the plan.


    She lowered her weapon, taking the grenade in her hand and preparing to pull the pin. The room suddenly lit up in an orange flame as the flamethrower’s spray shot forth from the German squad’s position, the flames reaching just a few feet away from Peter, and he could feel the intense heat as it scorched the rock floor ahead.


    “Throw it now, Sylvie!”


    Sylvie underhandedly tossed the grenade past the burst of flame, rolling out of sight behind the flamethrower.


    Peter grabbed Marque by the collar, guiding him and Sylvie down the corridor to their side where they dove for cover. The tight, cramped catacombs amplified the sound of the explosion, dulling Peter’s sense of hearing for an entire minute. Looking back, flames shot out from the tunnel, lighting up the entire area. Sylvie grabbed him by the shoulder, pulling him to his feet, and guiding the group through the tunnel as Peter recovered from the shock. With any luck, the Germans were all killed in the explosion or trapped beneath rubble.



    Peter took a moment to lie down on the concrete sidewalk of the Parisian streets, appreciating the natural sunlight and clean air he had taken for granted.


    “You’ll be needing these.” Sylvie placed the lighter in Peter’s pocket, and laid the mission intel flat on his stomach.


    Peter inhaled the open air, before releasing it and sitting straight up, “Yeah, I suppose I will.”


    Marque was smiling as he offered his hand to Peter, “I didn’t hear anyone following us… I think we were successful.”


    Peter grunted as he regained his balance, now able to stand tall, “Yep. Now, let’s get out of these streets.” He brandished his pistol, directing the others to follow closely.


    The trio paced quickly, walking beside several empty shops on the street before arriving at the corner. Peter peered around, surprised by the sight of an American tank and truck surrounded by dozens of US soldiers and French Resistance. In the middle of the group was Captain Thackwaite, puffing on a cigar.


    Peter looked back to his allies, “Lower your weapons and raise your hands.”


    Doing as told, they passed into view of the Americans, who quickly raised their weapons at the sight of intruders. As Thackwaite caught sight of them, he called out, “Jumpy Yanks, stand down! They’re ours!”


    Thackwaite approached them, cigar still in his teeth, “Was yer mission successful?”


    “Yes, sir.” Peter removed the documents Pablo acquired, handing them to the Captain.


    “Well done, lad. Yer needed for a debrief, and er, yer handler wants a talk with ya on the radio.”


    “I’ll get right on that, sir.”


    Peter turned to the two freedom fighters who had fought by his side, offering final, parting words, “I’m proud of the both of you for what you did today. By the look of things, the fight here is all but won.”


    Sylvie nodded, “Paris may soon be liberated, but the war is not over yet. We’ll fight until the world is free from the Fascists.”


    Marque agreed, “Thank you, Peter, for everything. When there is peace, I hope we will see you again, someday.”


    “I hope so too, Marque.” Peter looked back to Captain Thackwaite, standing near the portable radio. As he prepared to walk away, he turned once more to Sylvie and Marque, saluting, “Vive la France!


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