Etienne limped across the street, grateful for the bite of Paris’ winter wind gnawing on his bones. He could pass off his shivering to the weather, instead of the contents of his coat pocket if questioned by the approaching figures. They always had questions. Luckily for Etienne, they never asked the right ones. Still, he gripped his pipe tighter.
“Eh, Etienne,” Klaus said, waving a swastika-banded arm at him. “Did you bring us what I asked for?”
“Oui, monsieur,” Etienne said. He handed him the food laden backpack that Klaus’ requested, along with the documents it was his job to deliver.
One of Klaus’s comrades scoffed as he took it. “A lame courier?”
“What do you expect? All the healthy men in Paris are working at the factories for us,” Klaus said, drawing laughter from his comrades. “Besides, Etienne has proven himself loyal, haven’t you?”
Etienne thought of Gustav in his Armée de l'Air uniform before answering, “Oui monsieur.”
“Here,” Klaus said, handing Etienne a small package. “Some tobacco for that pipe of yours, for loyal service.”
Etienne took it, thanking him before heading to his apartment a block away.
He had just reached the door, when Jeanette approached him. “Etienne, do you have chicory to spare?”
Etienne nodded, and spoke the code words. “Of course, as long as you don’t mind a bit of barley in it.”
She followed him in. As soon as the door was closed, Etienne pulled out his pipe, unscrewing it to reveal a hidden compartment and pulled out a small map, which Jeanette tucked into her thick socks. She took a small portion of chicory as well before she left.
Etienne hobbled to his bathroom mirror and stared. He’d have given anything to be the hero his brother was instead of this. He pulled out the tobacco Klaus gifted him and flushed it down the toilet.
Song Choice: Don't Give Up by Peter Gabriel featuring Kate Bush
This flash fiction was inspired by the prompt given at Imaginary Gardens for Real Toads: Inside the Ink. Magaly asked us to create a short story or poem based around a quote from the last book we had read. My book was Hope in the Dark, by Rebecca Solnit. This story really could be said to be inspired by all of chapter eleven, On the Indirectness of Direct Action. But if I had to choose a line that encapsulated that chapter for me, it would be, "I don't know if the Evergreen kids have become great activists or died in a car crash on their way home, but I know that for them I was a leopard prompting a word or two of the poem of their own lives, as Bob was for me."
A couple of notes about France during World War II: As you might imagine, food rationing was pretty severe, with the German soldiers commandeering a lot of food for themselves. It was not uncommon for French citizens to be forced into labor to suit German purposes. Instead of coffee, people made do with chicory blended with toasted barely. Oh and in case you were wondering if pipes with secret compartments were a real thing, they absolutely were.