After working out a cover story involving the three of them going on a day trip to Cahors to visit the cinema there, only to be caught out by nightfall and unable to return home due to the curfew, the SOE agents returned to town on the morning of the 10th and spent the next few days working on patching up their cover. Fortunately, due to Patricia having already charmed local gendarme Henri Jourdan, she was able to mostly deflect the authorities’ attention.
The next substantial incident highlights the divisions within the partisan cell. Leon Ferrand, the de facto second in command of the cell, called for a meeting to discuss how best to use the supplies from the airdrop. The meeting eventually took place in the cider cellar at the Toulons’ orchard. Present were Albert Toulon and his son Pierre, Leon Ferrand, cell leader Jacques Martin and his wife Helena Martin, Giscard Bressan (the partisans’ main contact with the black market), and SOE agents Belson, Douglas, and Emile.
Ferrand proposed that the partisans immediately produce explosives and use them to bring down the Decharette copper mine, reasoning that as the primary facility of interest to the Germans they would lose interest in the town if it were destroyed – the meagre copper it produced would make the expense of excavating the mine if it caved in scarcely worth it, but at the same time was still supplying the German war effort, and since “seismic activity” had already been reported it should be trivially easy to make it look like an earthquake.
Emile and Douglas both had objections to this logic. For Emile’s part, he realised that what Ferrand was proposing in terms of disguising the use of explosives was simply not going to be possible – a plan which would only seem viable to someone without much demolition experience. (For one thing, experienced miners would recognise the smell of explosives in the wake of the blast.) Douglas raised the more basic objection that such an act of sabotage would be more likely to bring down additional German attention on the town, rather than convincing them to go away – and even if the explosion could be contrived at a time when no miner would be endangered, suspicion would surely fall on Louis Valoir and other friends of the partisans working at the mine. Douglas and Emile were also presumably mindful of SOE’s plans for the ANTIQUARIAN network as a safe harbour to drop agents and material.
Jacques Martin tended to agree. Whilst he supported the idea of setting up an explosives lab (indeed, the Martins would offer one of their sheds to contain it), he had envisioned using the partisans’ contacts to distribute explosives to other partisan cells – so their handiwork could be used against higher-priority targets across France. Helena agreed with Martin, perhaps swayed by the idea that attacking the mine could hurt her brother Louis. Pierre Toulon strongly agreed with Ferrand – the pair tended to see eye to eye on most issues, having been firm friends at university in Paris – but Pierre’s father Albert counselled caution. Giscard, for his part, didn’t contribute to the argument either way, perhaps seeing more profit in appearing neutral. With a clear majority of the cell siding against him, Leon reluctantly agreed that the explosives were not to be used against the mine, for the sake of keeping order within the cell.
The other issue discussed at the meeting was Belson’s mission – to infiltrate the occupied region of France with the camera dropped by SOE (now repaired by Emile) and document the current state of the docks at Bordeaux, to establish whether any remnants of the French fleet were still stationed there. It was proposed that the partisans themselves could arrange to do that – Albert suggested that they should at least try to smuggle a camera into the occupied zone, whose presence in luggage could at least be explained away if the camera weren’t discovered in a truly suspicious context, before trying to smuggle explosives, which would be intrinsically suspicious if found.
Douglas tried to reassure Leon and Pierre that even such apparently passive activities were still useful to the war effort; Pierre’s temper became frayed and he snapped that the partisan cell was becoming a mere tool of British intelligence. Stunned silence ensued, and it seemed that the emotional tension would snap into an all-out row when suddenly another “sonic attack” took place – the cider-bottles rattling in their racks and the occupants of the basement departing in a rapid and orderly fashion.
During the evacuation Douglas and Emile both noticed two things. Firstly, whilst most of the partisans were simply leaving in an orderly fashion, Helena crossed herself, suggesting greater piety (or superstition) than most of the others possessed. At the same time, Albert and Pierre both made the same unusual hand gesture – a subtle gesture, which Douglas and Emile wouldn’t have paid any heed to had only one of them done it, but as they both performed the same gesture it seemed undoubtedly deliberate. In the aftermath, most of the partisans seemed to be trying to brush over and forget the incident – a not unusual coping mechanism for an incident without apparent rational explanation – but the Toulons seemed to be worried about it, but equally rebuffed any attempt to discuss it. Douglas and Emile began to suspect that the Toulons might be members of the local cult.
The pair then radioed the SOE to give details of the aircraft crash, and contacted N to appraise him of the investigation so far. N suggested that if there really were an age-old cult in the region, their activities would have left some mark on the historical record, and it might be an idea to start hitting the books. The priority was still to find Malo; dealing with the cult one way or another would depend on assessing whether their activities would help to restore Europe to the pre-war status quo or not. He also pointed out that although Mademoiselle Decharette had been seen entering the forest, they hadn’t seen anyone else accompanying her, which made him suspect that the cult had an inner circle directing it from within the forest and an outer circle meeting somewhere else, with Reni as a link between the two. N also made a curious prediction: that the party would receive game-changing news during Church on Sunday 22nd, and that on that day they had best be prepared to put across the impression of being good citizens of Vichy France…