Penn Margaux bootlegged liquor, smuggled weapons, and proclaimed to be a spy from Orleans—but for what it was worth, he wasn’t on the Gestapo’s side. I’ve known him for as long as I’ve been working with SOE and he had always managed to obtain information for me when no one else could or hand me a passport at the last minute. I had even bought ingredients off him that I needed for some spells.
I would usually reach him through La Dame Rouge—the Red Lady, Jasmine Léon. She had become a wildly popular entertainer at the Éclat nightclub after moving to Paris. While some of the locals believed that the Gestapo didn’t shut down the club due to the threat of an utter uprising (they adored the Red Lady), the truth was that Éclat served as a useful tool for the enemy in the constant game of espionage. The danger lay in the presence of Gestapo agents, both uniformed and plainclothes. They knew half the spies in there and have blackmailed some into working for them or betraying employers when it suited their interests.
I once knew a spy from Madrid who claimed he was sent to gauge how things were going in France. Though Spain claimed neutrality, the Gestapo didn’t like General Franco sticking his nose where it didn’t belong, and so as the spy left Éclat one night, two agents followed him to a woman’s house—his French sweetheart. The problem was that the spy had a wife back in Spain. They used this information against him and forced him to spy on the Spanish government and even other spies who came into Éclat. I guess he couldn’t take it any longer because one day his Gestapo handlers found him hanging from his necktie in his hotel room.
This taught me to keep a low profile and carefully craft a persona that blended in easily with the many young women who patronized the club. This also reminded me to remain aware of the fact that people still watched me just like the others at the club, which meant that I would have to be careful when leaving, and I certainly wouldn’t leave with a man. But as foolish and single-minded as many men were, I’ve seen several leave with women from the club without a thought.
When evening fell I hailed a taxi to take me down to Éclat. Well, I had to stand near the chapel and flag one down. I kept brushing off my dress and feeling like something was crawling down my back. I swore that I’d find a workable invisibility potion so that I could just go straight to Renée’s front door instead of through that creepy underground tunnel. I felt I needed the cab because it would’ve been awkward to approach the club on foot, and nothing screamed I’m a Spy Who Doesn’t Belong Here like pulling up on a foldable bike and trying to get into a swanky Parisian nightclub.
I wore a slinky purple gown and a black sequined wrap—and of course, my Agate stone ring, which I never took off. Renée had to beg me to wear full eye makeup but I must admit that I liked the rouge on my cheeks and lips, and my hairstyle. I looked damned good if I did say so myself. I checked my makeup in a compact mirror one last time before tossing it into my purse and instructing the bloated taxi driver to halt.
“If you leave that club alone tonight,” he said facing me, “out of compassion I will take you home with me.”
“Go to hell.” I threw him a few francs and slipped out. Maybe I looked a little too good.
I strutted toward the entrance like I was a Hollywood starlet, making sure to give the doormen a wink and a smile. They readily admitted me and I came in just as Jasmine began singing Blue Moon up on stage. People swayed to the music, oblivious to the haziness created by cigarette smoke. The scent of perfume wafted toward me and I narrowed my eyes as I silently critiqued or approved of some of the ladies’ choice in shoes.
I acknowledged a group of handsome guys at one of the tables with a smile, but kept it moving since most of them were spies. I could taste the essences of silverware, gold jewelry, and even guns. There were about twenty tables in there, and those closest to the stage were reserved for Jasmine’s most ardent admirers and paramours—or those pretending to be.
I nearly stumbled when I saw him sitting at one of those tables. At first I pretended not to see him, but then my gaze met his and I headed straight toward him like a moth to a flame. I probably shouldn’t have made a move to join him, but sitting in that area made it easier to keep an eye on who entered the club; besides, it looked like both of us had business with Jasmine tonight.
“Fancy seeing you here, Emelie.”
“It’s good to see you again, Drake.” His real name was Kenneth Aspen. He knew mine as well. We had obtained illegal copies of one another’s files after we first met, which wasn’t quite your typical romantic gesture.
“How long are you in Paris?” He pulled out a seat for me next to his and gently brushed his thumb against my cheek. I forced myself not to smile.
“I’m here long enough to enjoy the scenery.” I clapped along with the audience and gazed at Jasmine as she finished her ballad. She came down and stopped at a nearby table where an enthusiastic man with a thick mustache greeted her with flowers.
“The Boss sent me to take a look at some cars.” He took his seat and offered me some of his pochouse. I couldn’t refuse the stewed fish as it smelled delectable, having been cooked in red wine and flavored with a savory spice.
“Then I’m glad your Boss sent you.” I grabbed a knife and fork and dug in.
By “Boss,” he meant the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the American counterpart to SOE, and by “looking at cars,” he meant sabotaging factories that produced machinery and weapons for the Nazis. I thought I heard him say that I looked beautiful, but I was already on my feet welcoming Jasmine into my arms. We planted kisses on one another’s cheeks and gave each other a tight hug. As befitting her stage name, she wore a red rose in her hair and a scarlet dress.
“Well, look who’s in town!” She accepted a cigarette from a waiter passing by and asked for a lighter. Apparently both Ken and I had messages to slip her (conveniently hidden within our cigarette lighters) because we eagerly asked for her to keep them as gifts. She wiggled her way between us, lighting her cigarette with her own lighter and giving a rich, sultry laugh.
“I’ve missed you, Emelie…you too, Blondie.” She patted Ken’s cheek. I glanced toward the front entrance to see who entered and left before facing them again.
“By the way Jasmine, there’s another gift waiting for you in your dressing room.” He gave her a knowing look. It was probably the stipend OSS paid her for her services.
“Is it five thousand, like I asked?” She blew out a thin stream of smoke, her deep-set eyes watching Ken like a hawk.
“Would you mind telling me why you needed an extra two?”
“Things are getting tough around here.” She shifted toward me and lazily eyed the band that had started up a tune.
Ken leaned in. “I know about your side operation. For goodness’ sake, Jasmine, don’t get yourself killed.”
Not satisfied with just being an informant, she also took it upon herself to hide and smuggle stranded Ally soldiers across the border, Maquis resistance leaders with bounties on their heads, and Jews who’ve fled the slaughter in Czechoslovakia…anyone who needed it. I had always been meaning to ask her how she did it and who helped her.
She rolled her eyes and faced me. “How are you, Emelie?”
“I’m doing well, and I love being in Paris. Do you miss New York?” She acknowledged my code phrase referencing Paris, which meant that the city would be ripe with action within the next week or so, and that the Maquisards should be on alert. This time Ken watched the door.
“I’ll tell you what, I don’t miss performing in New York.” She faced Ken and I turned to watch the front. “Tell that to your Boss. Tell him as long as I can’t walk through the front door of a New York club that I’m performing in, then he can kiss my black ass and keep paying me my five grand.”
“Jasmine…” Ken began blustering.
“I know, I know—times are changing.” She fell back into her earlier jolly mood, welcoming the glasses of cocktails another waiter had brought over. “But I just love that Eleanor Roosevelt. Remember that incident a couple of years ago where she left that women’s organization and told them off because they were talking about being whites-only? Ha! We need more people like her!”
“Yes we do.” My cocktail glass chimed with hers in a toast and I drank.
I always hated when people told me not aspire to certain things because I was a woman. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be told this simply because of my skin color. One of the many things I’ve learned is when you’re holed up in a safe house with someone who doesn’t look like you or speak the same language, but who’s ready to break bread with you and even fight by your side, or when you’re alone in a foreign land and feel lost because you could barely communicate but by chance you run into someone who looked different but grew up in the same city as you and could talk with you for hours, you quickly realized that there were a lot more important things to gripe about, and at the end of the day people were just people—blood, sweat and tears, heart and soul.
“Jasmine,” Ken said, gazing at the front entrance, “get your things and go lock yourself in your dressing room. Emelie, I think our covers are blown.”
I looked toward the front and saw four Gestapo agents heading through. Ken covertly drew his pistol as Jasmine hid the cigarette lighters beneath her flowers and rose from her seat; she wasted no time in leaving the lounge.
The music died and people shied away or headed toward the exit. For a moment, I had hoped that the Gestapo were after someone else, but sure enough they came straight toward Ken and me. I felt the presence of other wizards as easily as I could detect metals, and despite the fact that the agents all wore black gabardine jackets with swastika armbands, I knew one or more of them were warlocks in disguise.
I turned back toward the table and immediately retrieved my golden knife from my purse and began carving the alchemical symbol for the sun on the table’s smooth surface. It was a simple circle with a dot in the middle, and since it dominated gold, any spells I performed would be amplified. I then carved next to it the zodiac sign for Libra, which would set off my Sublimation spell, which turned solids into gas. I charged the symbols with magical energy until they glowed and held off the effects until I was ready.
I looked at Ken. “Remember that crime lord in Cairo?”
“You mean the sadistic wacko who wanted to sell a ship-load of grenades up here to the Nazis? Yes, vaguely.”
I had to steady my hands from shaking. “And do you remember when he and his goons confronted us in that bar one night?”
In one smooth move he jumped away from the table and took a shot at one of the Gestapo agents. All remaining employees and patrons had finally broken into an open panic and evacuated the building. Two of the Gestapo officers shot back at him as he dove behind the bar for cover, while the other two agents—the warlocks—came after me. I used more of my energy to create an invisible shield with my Agate stone ring, which helped deflect bullets.
The hairs on the back of my neck stood when I saw the warlocks approaching with searing red daggers. I had seen less fortunate wizards hit with those, and as soon as it touched a person’s flesh, the skin would tear and fold, and blood would sizzle and spill forth. Though my stomach churned and all I could hear was the distant sound of gunfire, I reassured myself with the fact that at least these two warlocks weren’t Black Wolves.
With a swift move of his arm, the warlock on the right sent a red-hot dagger flying toward me as he charged. I dodged the blazing weapon by dropping to the floor and then grabbing hold of him. I flipped him over and made him land on the other side of me with a thud. I quickly rolled in the direction of my table where I had carved my symbol. The other warlock flung another fiery dagger toward me and I released the Sublimation spell, letting the flames mingle with the gas accumulated in order to create an explosion. The building shook as I dashed away to avoid the blast, and I took cover behind the bar where Ken had been. One of the Gestapo agents that had engaged Ken lay dead by a doorway that led to an emergency hall exit. I could hear a physical fight ensuing in the hallway.
I began coughing from the smoke that filled the room from the fire and knew that I had to leave the lounge if I wanted to keep breathing. On hands and knees, I peaked around the corner of the bar and saw only one of the warlocks still standing. The bastard had been waiting for me and spun a pestilential black mist that flew straight toward me. I didn’t jerk back quickly enough to completely escape it and grunted in pain when my eyes burned. My vision blurred and darkened to black—I had been blinded.
In a panic I rushed toward the doorway, tripping over the dead agent’s body and bracing my fall with my hands. I crawled in the direction where I remembered the door to be and heard the warlock’s footsteps and heavy breathing. I stiffened and timed the swing of my leg just in time to kick him. I didn’t know where my stiletto landed, but the kick stunned him and I got back onto my feet and rushed through the doorway and staggered down the hallway.
Believe it or not, I began to worry. I wondered why the warlock hadn’t blasted me with another spell since I was vulnerable and running blind. When the obvious answer dawned on me, I started running even faster. I cursed when I stubbed my toe against a utility box against the wall in the hallway and nearly lost my balance. The warlock caught up to me and I swung my knife and drove the blade into him. He cried out in pain and struck me; I hit the wall with a smack and tried to pry his forearm away from my neck.
I quickly froze when I felt the blade of my golden knife sweep across my cheek. I could hear his harsh breathing and felt the heat of his breath near my neck. I squirmed when he made a cut across my shoulder with the knife.
“God, no…” My voice grew hoarse and I was sick to my stomach. With revulsion I felt his mouth on my wound, lapping up the blood flow.
A single gunshot reverberated throughout the hallway and I jolted. I felt the pull of his body as we both slid down and hit the floor.
“Isabella! What happened?” I heard footsteps and knew that it was Ken who rushed to my side. I heard a rustling of clothes and felt his jacket being wrapped around me as he helped me to my feet.
“Ken…” My darkened sight seemed to spin in gray and red colors all about me. I tried to speak but my throat burned with every syllable uttered.
“That’s a nasty cut you have. We need to get you patched up quick to stop the bleeding.”
“What is it?” He held me with a firm grip and pulled me along down the hallway.
“Cut his head off.”
People in the normal world called them vampires. To wizards, they were a nasty bunch of warlocks called Cruenti. Blood Magic was one of the most powerful forms of magic, and Cruenti fed off of other wizards. They drank wizards’ blood to cast spells, enhance their own powers…and to regenerate from gunshot wounds.
“Hurry up and do it before we both die.”
I imagined that he must’ve looked at me as if I had gone crazy, but he didn’t bother to argue. I gripped the extra pistol he pressed into my hand and was about to tell him that I couldn’t see anything, but decided to say nothing so as to not delay him. I heard him go over to what sounded like the utility box and he opened it, probably grabbing an axe, and stalked toward the Cruenti.
I heard his nervous breaths, and then a pause. “He’s dead.”
Suddenly I heard Ken shout in disgust and shock, and the Cruenti roared as repeated thuds filled the hallway. I visualized the sickening tearing of flesh and crushing of bone, and forced myself to speak when I heard Ken’s attack cease.
“Did you get him?”
He breathed heavily and the axe clattered against the floor down the other end of the hall. “Yeah…I got him.”
“Do you see my knife?”
“Erm…do you still want it?”
“Please? I’d get it myself but he blinded me with a spell.” I heard him make a low grunt and grab my knife, and then he walked back toward me in quick strides. My legs grew weak and my head throbbed and grew feverish. I sank to my knees and pressed my hand against the wall for support.
“Let’s get out of here and get you healed.” Though his voice shook, his hold on me remained firm. Under any other circumstances I would’ve refused to let him carry me, but my legs felt like rubber and I could barely stay conscious.
“Got a first aid kit in your car?” I hissed through clenched teeth as the cool evening air stung my exposed wound. I heard sirens blare and fire trucks pull up toward the front of the club.
“Yeah, but baby…you’re going to need a lot more than that.”
“Renée Apolline…my jade powder.”
“I’ll get you there.”
“Thank you.” I shut my eyes and leaned into him as I closed out the spinning gray and red colors. I hoped that the jade powder would completely restore my sight.
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