After keeping the SOE agents in a shed on the Martin farm for a day until the partisans could establish whether the parachute drop had been noticed, Network N were given a more official welcome on the evening of the 12th, when they were invited into the farmhouse to have dinner. Present were Jacques Martin, leader of the partisan cell, and fellow partisans Helena (Jacques’ wife) and Bertin Beliac, who the partisans had explained had been a French soldier who had been wounded fighting the Germans and was now working as a farmhand for them to hide out. Also present was Louis Valoir, the accountant for the Decharette mine, who the Martins assured the Network was a friend of the partisan cause.
The main order of business to discuss over dinner was how the SOE agents could establish cover identities in the town. It was suggested that they space out their entries into society a few days apart, so that anyone trying to trace their movements later on wouldn’t necessarily connect their arrivals. Since some form of employment history would be useful, and since none of the SOE members really came across as farmhands, Valoir said he would be able to arrange for the men to be employed in some capacity at the mine – Douglas as an onsite medic, Emile as a foreman.
For their part, the SOE agents had obtained falsified documentation to create the implication that they had spent the pre-war years out in French Guiana – a colony which had retained nominal loyalty to the Vichy government, but which was distant enough (and disorganised enough, due to widespread pro-Free French sentiment) that the Vichy authorities wouldn’t be too suspicious if the colonial authorities couldn’t confirm the details on the papers. Helena suggested that Patricia might masquerade as the mother of one of the men; Jacques smoothly suggested that perhaps “older sister” might be more credible, earning a hard stare from Helena. Eventually it was decided that Patricia would pretend to be Douglas’ wife, a role she enthusiastically embraced.
It was decided that Helena and Douglas would enter the town first and find lodgings, and Emile would follow two weeks later. Whilst the details were being ironed out, Leon Ferrand – the partisan second-in-command – arrived at the front door and had a brief, whispered conversation with Jacques Martin before he left; Emile was able to follow what was said and noted to his interest that Ferrand was impatiently trying to get a request for supplies to the SOE members for items he thought were needed in the next drop. Martin was firm that now wasn’t the time and sent Ferrand away.
Over coffee, the group listened to the BBC World Service (then reporting Hitler’s denunciation of Hess), and talked to Jacques about various partisans and townsfolk.
- Leon Ferrand, who had swung by earlier, had been a student in Paris before the war. He lived with his uncle Falon Ferrand, but Falon was not considered to be suitable recruitment material for the resistance – as the town drunk he was just too unreliable.
- Albert and Pierre Toulon were father and son, and operated the local vineyard. Albert was a solid, dependable sort but not much of a firebrand; Pierre was much more of an idealist and firebrand, and had been a student buddy of Leon Ferrand before the war.
- Giscard Bressan was a black market contact of Jacques, who he suggested it would be best if he dealt primarily with – though a partisan, he wasn’t considered as trustworthy as the others.
- Alain Leclerche is the local mayor and a figure of contempt for the partisans, due to his snivelling compliance with more or less everything the Germans ask of him. In particular, he is known to meet regularly with Oberstleutnant Rupert Klier, the commander of the German forces in the occupied sector on the opposite side of the dividing line from Saint-Cerneuf (off north of the woods).
- On being asked about his opinions of the Decharette family, Louis said that Raimond Decharette was a respectable local dignitary who had carried on the work of his father (who in reopening the copper mine had revitalised the town) but who had stepped away from the day-to-day running of the business, especially after he had a “funny turn” following the death of his wife. Louis was full of praise for Claude Decharette, who as administrator was the main decision-maker at the mine these days and who was also no friend of the fascists. (Douglas noted that Louis came alive when talking about Claude to such an extent that one could imagine that there was something between them.)
- Nobody had anything nice to say about M. Arnel, the owner of the local hotel, who is apparently widely detested in the town.
Meanwhile, Patricia attempted to give Helena a palm-reading – flustering her enough to drop a hint that her marriage to Jacques was a sham on some level.
The next day, Douglas went to the mine to get his new employment set up. As Valoir (doing a credible job pretending to have never met Douglas before) filled out the forms, Claude Decharette happened to pop in. Claude was happy to employ Douglas but warned him that he would not be able to pay him as much as a mine doctor would usually be able to expect, since the Germans appropriated more or less all of the ore the mine produced for the war effort and paid a fraction of the market cost. Watching Louis and Claude’s interactions, Douglas began to suspect that whatever infatuation there was between them was mutual.
Meanwhile, Patricia spent an eventful day in town. On discovering at the town hall that the local cafe’s owner was renting out an empty house next door to the cafe, Patricia went along to make enquiries. Emilie, the waitress at the cafe, told her that the two-bedroom cottage was a little small and musty, and didn’t have electricity, but they could arrange to get power supplied in a couple of weeks and the rent was cheap. Telegrams to the owner (who was currently holidaying in Marseilles) soon put all the arrangements in place; as Patricia was sitting outside the cafe, waiting on one of the owner’s responses, the local gendarme Henri Jourdan swung by, prompting Emilie to dash indoors; having heard during yesterday’s gossip session that Jourdan was mooning after Emilie, Patricia engaged him in conversation and, by suggesting that her feminine intuition told her that Emilie shared Jourdan’s feelings, managed to gain his confidence. He arranged to come and visit Douglas and Patricia once they were established in the house to discuss the matter further with her.
As Emile passed the time in the Martins’ shed, Leon Ferrand happened to stop by to speak with him about his supply list; he handed over what was a fairly complete list of supplies for a bombing campaign. Emile agreed to pass this on to the SOE. When the agents made radio contact with HQ, they were congratulated on their successful drop and told that another one would be incoming on the next Full Moon (June 9th). In the intervening time before Emile made his debut in town, Jourdan visited Patricia and Douglas to discuss his romantic problems. Patricia’s mystic act, and in particular his comparison of Jourdan and Emilie to Anthony and Cleopatra, seemed to impress Jourdan, who (following the past-life analogy) suggested that he’d handed his Cleopatra over to Caesar; specifically, he confessed that Emilie was having a relationship with a local SS man – namely, a certain Walther Prill, who despite his paramilitary membership seemed to spend more time on archaeology than the usual work of the occupation.
When Douglas came into town he found that there weren’t any entirely empty residences left; his choices were either to stay in the hotel or to rent a spare room. Planning on renting Douglas and Patricia’s spare room in the long run, he decided to check into the hotel first, not least because Malo had stayed at the hotel himself. He quickly learned why M. Arnel was so despised – he was a rude, workshy man who gave every impression of resenting any effort his clientele asked him to go to, and fished for tips upfront. Arnel’s bookkeeping was sloppy enough that whilst he could confirm that Malo had indeed stayed there with a quick glance through the guest ledger, he couldn’t get the room number and dates of Malo’s stay. What he did manage to do was have a quick conversation with Falon Ferrand – a perennial presence at the hotel bar, apparently because Arnel was the only person in town who’d serve him alcohol – which soon turned to a rambling monologue on Falon’s part about paths and the wood and people staying at the hotel being marked men before Falon lost consciousness in a booze-induced haze.