Hannah waited in the darker shadows of a line of bushes with the two men she had come to know as friends. Eagle and Fox were protecting her, as they had done since she’d arrived in Germany with Gerda a few weeks ago. She was waiting to go back to England. They were expecting a small aircraft to land shortly, in the dead of night, at great risk to the pilot and crew and to everyone waiting on the ground. They knew German patrols might be anywhere, and the noise of the aircraft engine would attract them like wasps to a pot of honey.
Hannah’s heart beat wildly. Every sound was amplified, adding to her sense of fear and impending danger. She could hear Gerda and her husband talking quietly a few yards away. She envied her friend. Gerda hadn’t found her happy ever after. A happy ending could not be achieved in war time, but Gerda had found her happy-for-now. She would be returning to England with her husband and daughter. She hadn’t seen either of them for the last two years.
Hannah’s friend had been forced to flee Germany, with her cousin and father, before Hitler’s henchmen could transport her and her baby daughter to the labour camps. Jacob had stayed behind to protect their child. He hid her with friends, deep in the Bavarian countryside, and continued his work to undermine Hitler’s regime. As a British national, Jacob had some degree of immunity, until war was declared. Now he was in as much peril as his wife if he should be caught on German soil, but that hadn’t stopped him from doing everything he could to save lives and interrupt the smooth flow of traffic to the camps.
Gerda was fortunate to have found her husband and child alive and well. They planned to spend some time together in England, if the flight could manage to leave Germany unscathed. Hannah knew Jacob would soon return to continue his work against Hitler’s regime. She wished she might be allowed to return with him.
Hannah wanted to help with the rescue efforts but Eagle and Fox had persuaded her to go back. Against all her arguments to stay, they pointed out that she would be in constant danger of being discovered. She told them she didn’t care. What did she have to live for? Her only remaining relative was probably in a labour camp or dead. She hadn’t heard from her beloved father for many months.
Her lover was dead. He was killed by a German bomb in Sheffield before Christmas. She didn’t have a body to bury or a grave to visit. All that was found of Sebastian was his wallet. Hannah had only one thing left to live for as far as she could see. She wanted to help her fellow Jews.
Gerda had pointed out that their work in England was important. The organisations they belonged to, were helping to resettle the rescued refugees, but Hannah didn‘t feel she was doing enough. Jews were still being persecuted all over Europe. She wanted to be involved with the rescue attempts. She wanted to fight back. She wanted revenge on the monsters responsible for such harsh treatment of her family and friends.
She didn’t want to return to the country that was not her home. She had no home. Born in Russia, she had fled many countries with her parents to avoid persecution. By the time she was old enough to understand what being a Jew really meant, she had already lost her mother and decided to stand up for her people in any way she could.
After this recent brief adventure in Germany, she had reluctantly allowed her friends to persuade her to return to England, on the condition they would try to find what happened to her father. He had been helping to procure false papers for Jews hiding in and around Salzburg. If he’d been captured, he would surely be killed. If he’d gone into hiding, he would be in grave danger. Fox and Eagle had promised they would find him, or try to discover what had happened to him.
Little Sasha, Gerda’s four-year-old daughter, uttered a muffled sound of excitement. The aircraft engine could be heard in the distance. It was flying low and was fast approaching the long meadow where they waited.
Eagle lifted his rifle, pointing it at the nearby trees. She peered into the darkness, with all her senses alert for signs of danger. Fox grabbed her shoulder and urged her to run.
“Come, little sparrow. We ‘av to ‘urry. We should be in position when ze aircraft lands.”
Hannah saw the dark shape of the plane touch down and bounce along the uneven ground. The engines roared alarmingly as the small craft slowed. If there were any German patrols nearby, they would soon be hurrying to the meadow.
Fox left her with Eagle, a few yards from the moving aircraft, and went to greet a newly arrived agent. The radio operator jumped from the door as the aircraft slowed. The man had brought new equipment with him. Hannah watched as he turned to catch a box that was thrown to him from inside the plane. Fox slapped the man on the back and quickly embraced him. Something about the way the tall man moved felt familiar to her. She felt her heart quicken but told herself not to be stupid. Sebastian was dead. It couldn’t be him. Still, she couldn’t take her eyes off the agent.
Fox climbed aboard the moving plane and the agent sprinted toward her and Eagle. Hannah caught her breath and gasped. It couldn’t be. It was impossible. The agent hurried over the meadow and stopped a few feet away from her.
“You’re alive!” Hannah could barely get the words out. Her throat felt dry and her vision became blurred with tears of emotion. “How?” she uttered. “You were killed!”
“I escaped. When I saw what happened to Grace, I had to take the message to London as soon as possible. Sheffield wasn’t safe. I didn’t know how to get in touch with you or with Grace’s people.”
“But they found your wallet!” Hannah still could not believe she was looking at the familiar face of her lover.
“Someone stole my wallet in the mayhem of the raid. I didn’t realise it was gone until I was halfway to London.”
“You really are alive?” Hannah reached to touch the man she thought she’d lost. The feel of him was almost more than she could bear. “Oh, Sebastian.”
They embraced, and when Hannah felt his arms close around her, she realised she could never let this man go again.
“Was that Grace I saw just now?” Sebastian asked and looked to the aircraft. “She’s dead! How can she be here?”
“Yes, my love. Your eyes are not deceiving you. She survived the bomb too. Just like you!”
Hannah could hear her friends urging her to move.
“Quickly, you ‘ave to board now.” Fox jumped from the plane and urged Gerda and her family forward.
“Hannah?” Gerda turned a questioning face to her friend. She obviously understood what was happening. She could see who the man was. “Sebastian! What? How?”
“No time for explanations, get on the plane, now. You have to get out of here quickly,” Sebastian urged Hannah to board the plane. “Go with Grace!”
“No, I’m staying.” Hannah shouted above the noise of the engine. “I’m trained! I can help you.”
Jacob took Gerda’s hand and pulled her to the open door. Hannah watched as hands reached down to help her friend climb aboard the light aircraft.
She turned quickly to the man by her side. “I thought I’d lost you!” Hannah clung to Sebastian’s arm. “I won’t let you go now! You can’t ask me to leave you.”
“You must! I want to know you are safe, Hannah!”
“I am staying with you, and nothing you can say will change my mind.”
Jacob lifted his daughter through the open door, into his wife’s arms, and then climbed into the aircraft. He turned, holding out a hand; waiting to help Hannah.
Hannah watched as Gerda touched her husband’s arm. She read her lips and caught fragments of what her friend was saying. “I don’t think she’ll be joining us.” Grace smiled at Hannah from the aircraft doorway.
“Last call for boarding,” the crewmember yelled to the group on the ground.
“I’m staying!” Hannah called and waved. “Good luck, Gerda.”
She saw her friend lift her arm and knew Gerda would understand. The cabin door was closed, and the small aircraft began to bump along the grassy meadow, gaining speed. Hannah felt a wave of emotion as the wheels left the ground. She’d only known Gerda a short time, but they had formed a close friendship. She would miss her.
“Urry, we ‘av to go!” Eagle waved his rifle in the air and urged them on. “Back to the truck.”
“This way.” Hannah grabbed Sebastian’s hand, pulling him along. She felt his strong grasp and still couldn’t understand why he was here. She thought she’d lost him, and here he was, alive and strong and by her side. She had so many questions, but they would have to wait. For now, she had to concentrate on keeping safe. She was staying in Germany. She’d achieved her greatest desire, and to have her lover by her side was an unexpected but welcome bonus.
Hannah ran through the trees, ducking to avoid low branches, dragging Sebastian along with her. They followed the two Frenchmen who were dashing headlong through the forest. The truck was hidden a good distance from the meadow but they soon reached the place. Eagle and Fox began to pull away the camouflage of braches.
“Get in!” Eagle gestured with his rifle. “Quickly!”
“Where are we going?” Hannah asked.
“Back to Frau Meyer, for now.”
“But we can’t!” Hannah gasped. “It isn’t safe for me to go back to Saarbrucken.”
“We ‘av no choice, ‘Annah. You were not meant to be wiz us.” Fox shrugged. “Ursula is expecting a new agent. We ‘av to take Sebastian to ‘er. She will be surprised to see ‘im.”
“As I was!” Hannah grinned at Sebastian in the darkness. “She’ll be so happy to see you, my love.” She touched his face tenderly. “She thought you were dead too.”
“You know Ursula Meyer?” Sebastian seemed puzzled.
“Get in the back. Quickly!” Eagle pushed Hannah to the truck. “We don’t ‘av time for romance and reminiscences. Save it for the bedroom!”
“Come, Hannah.” Sebastian helped her into the back of the truck and quickly climbed in after her.
Fox and Eagle jumped into the cab. The engine started with a splutter and they were soon bumping along the forest track.
A round of bullets tore through the canvas covering of the truck and shattered any illusion of a safe get away. Sebastian threw Hannah to the wooden floor and covered her with his body.
The truck bounced and shuddered as the French partisan steered it through the trees at speed. Hannah clung to Sebastian in the rear of the stolen German army vehicle, feeling every bone-shaking judder as the wheels lurched over fallen logs, rocks and into depressions on the forest floor.
The noise of the screaming engine did nothing to mask the sound of gunshot, or the whistling of bullets ripping through the canvas canopy above them and pinging off the metal sides.
She prayed the German patrol were on foot and didn’t have motorised transport to give chase. They would soon be out of range, if the truck didn’t break down or crash.
“Stay down!” Sebastian warned, holding her close as they bounced around, with his arms wrapped protectively around her head.
They slid together and banged against the metal side support as the truck slewed alarmingly to the right. Within seconds, they were sliding to the other side as the driver steered them in a zigzag motion to avoid the stream of bullets from behind.
Hannah couldn’t speak. Her throat was paralysed with fear and she clung to her lover with an overwhelming feeling of desperation. She hadn’t seen him in more than two years. She thought he’d been killed by a German bomb less than two months ago, and yet, here he was. She was in his arms. He felt solid and real, but they could be shot or captured at any moment. Questions tumbled through her mind but she realised she might never get to ask him what had happened. They had to escape their pursuers first.
A burst of bullets ripped through the canvas inches from her shoulder and she screamed.
“Are you hit?” Sebastian’s breath was hot on her cheek. “Tell me you’re not hurt.”
Hannah couldn’t answer immediately. She was busy checking her body for pain. Eventually she nodded. “That was close.”