Thank you for continuing to read GAMES AT DEAUVILLE. I'm glad you're enjoying it.
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For someone who thought a stag hunt was as exciting as shooting fish in a barrel, Barry was certainly alert and full of himself at first light.
The damned lad was dressed in a flaming flannel shirt as if he were prepared for the murkiest corner of the arctic tundra. He had me awake and dressed before the sun could actually be seen over the tops of the trees beyond the château. He absolutely refused to be still while I tried to pull myself together.
We joined d'Orléans and his major in the kitchen as the sun's orb touched the tops of the trees outside. Fortunately, Reynaud's cook was up and about in her kitchen and nothing would do her but that each of us had a mug of her coffee and hot buttered croissants in the gun room before we began the hunt.
The caffeine infusion woke me enough that I understood why Barry had brought my coat with his. I was even able to speak with each of my companions and seem conscious. I was almost awake when the four of us stepped out into the bone-chilling cold of a Normandy December morning to join the estate manager.
The four of us chatted amiably as we trudged through hardened snow behind the Reynaud's farm manager. Major Urnazy laid out his plans for a Corsican holiday in excruciating detail and d'Orléans found a number of questions about Eliza to ask. Barry was silent and lagged several paces behind the rest of our party during our trek. I tried to ignore him and the suspicions he'd voiced during the night.
Snow crunched under our boots and Major Urnazy had got into deepening details of just how friendly the barmaids were on that island that gave the world Napoleon Bonaparte, the first megalomaniac of modern times.
As my breath continued to freeze just past my nose, I had arrived at the similarities between the German Führer and that first French emperor. I could only hope that England would again do its duty and save the world. I had nearly walked into d'Orléans before I realised that our party had come to a halt.
The manager pulled a watch from his trousers and took in the time. He glanced to the woods to our right and nodded. Far in the distance, a shot was fired, followed by several more. Barry looked around nervously.
"My men from the farm, gentlemen," the manager said and smiled at Barry. "They start the deer towards us. We have three - perhaps five - minutes before they are here." He glanced back to the woods. "There, we take our positions behind the hedgerow. The deer will not see us as they enter this clearing and you will have clean shots."
To distant shouts and occasional shots, Barry and I followed the three Frenchmen to the hedges that began at edge of the woods. D'Orléans cocked his gun and raised it to his shoulder, aiming vaguely towards the far reach of the clearing; I did the same.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw that Barry was turned away from the rest of us, peering into the woods behind us. Urnazy moved towards him, stepping between the American and myself. I turned my attention back to the small clearing now laid out before us.
If the manager's men had succeeded in rousting a herd of deer with their shots and shouts, the stag would hit the clearing first, leading his hinds to safety. We would have to be alert and ready. I brought my rifle to my shoulder and sighted along it in the direction from which the herd would come.
Seconds passed and, in the silence that covered us like a fog, they seemed minutes stretching into hours. I watched the edge of the clearing, garnering my senses and concentrating them on the most probably spot that the deer would break from.
At a distance, I heard a rifle bolt pulled back to pull a shell in its chamber and I wondered which of my companions had forgotten to cock his gun. Any noise at this point could turn the deer herd away from the clearing.
"M'Lord-" Barry began and groaned. I heard the report of a rifle as I turned to see what he wanted. His eyes were wide as mine met them. His face began to screw up as pain spread over him.
It didn't make sense.
I saw the hole in the upper right chest of his coat. I realised that red was spreading across his coat. I heard another rifle bolt being pulled back. I accepted that the red I saw spreading across his coat was blood then.
Adrenaline began to rush through me. Only a moment had passed since Barry had been hit but it felt like hours. The world moved in slow-motioned and I with it.
I grabbed Barry, dropping my rifle as I reached for him, and pulled him down. An angry buzz sounded near my ear. I was being shot at!
"Get down!" I yelled to the others as I covered Barry with my own body.
There was a soft thud from where Urnazy knelt, but I didn't dare raise my head to look.
"Mon Dieu!" d'Orléans cried.
Two rifles fired just beyond me as I held Barry to me. Bolts quickly pulled back and they were fired again. The manager began to shout a stream of French invectives interspersed with calls for help.
"It hurts, Robbie," Barry groaned beneath me.
"Where?" I asked, my mouth at his ear.
"My shoulder - it's all wet too. How did it get wet, Robbie?" His voice sounded weak in the now continuous gunfire around us.
Pelletier continued to stare at the body of his countryman as Gisele rose to a squat. Bent, Schmidt started to make his way further back into the woods.
"Are you joining us?" she asked as she turned to follow her subordinate.
Pelletier looked back at her and, shaking his head as if to clear it, stood up straight. He had watched as Major Urnazy's head disintegrated before his eyes. "Why did the Obersturmführer kill the major?" he asked her.
She smiled at him as she passed him. "As you said yesterday, my friend, he was the only one of us who would not have lost his head if we're caught." She nodded to where Schmidt had stopped to wait for them. "Will you join us? Or do you prefer to stay here until they find you?"
Pelletier took a step towards her. Surprise spread quickly across his face. Gisele smiled as she heard the report of rifle fire from the clearing and ducked lower. Pelletier looked from her to the ground as his body began to crumble, the surprised look still on his face. "Your countrymen have done their duty, pig," she said to him as his knees hit the snow. "Now, we won't have to kill you."
He fell forward.
Gisele continued to smile down at him as she aimed her rifle at his head and fired.
"Hurry," Stefan Schmidt called to her. "They know where we are. We have to get away now."
She started after Schmidt, zigzagging her path to lessen her risk of being hit by the same rifle fire that had taken the Frenchman down.
Men were shouting around us. I raised my head slightly and saw that d'Orléans and the farm manager were crouched looking up into the woods with rifles at the ready. Between them and myself, Urnazy sprawled belly down in the snow, his head hidden from my view. It took a moment for me to realise that the snow above his shoulders for several feet was stained red.
"Are you all right?" d'Orléans asked and my gaze left the major to return to him. He was watching me closely, worry written across his face.
"And Barry?" he asked.
Oh God! I was smothering him. I pushed off of him and looked down.
His eyes were closed and his face looked peaceful. I almost had time to relax. Then, his coat caught my attention.
The right side of his jacket, from his shoulder to below his ribs, was red.
"Barry?" He didn't respond. "Don't die!" I choked. I sank my weight on my knees and reached for his wrist. There was a pulse. It felt regular – normal. I relaxed a fraction.
"He's wounded, d'Orléans," I said, unable to pull my gaze from Barry's blooded coat. "He's still alive, though." I looked up, meeting the Frenchman's gaze as he duck-walked towards us.
"Several of the manager's men are strapping together a gurney," he said and glanced over his shoulder at Urnazy's body. "It was to be used to carry his body back to the château, but Barry will need it more."
"He'll need a doctor," I mumbled.
His hand closed over my wrist. "My Lord Petersholme, the youngest of the labourers was already sent to call for one-" He jerked his head towards the body behind him. "Before we knew that he was dead - or that Barry was wounded."
He knelt before me and released my hand. He began to unbutton Barry's coat. Moments later, he was lifting Barry's shirt to look at his chest. "Bién," he muttered as he took in the wound. "It appears to be a clean shot, Robert, my friend. Your young man will live."
I forced myself to concentrate on what he was saying about Barry, pulling myself out of the shock that had descended over me to hold me in its grip. "How do you know that?" I demanded.
"Look! The blood does not spurt from the wound," he answered without looking at me. "No artery was damaged. And, see." He lifted the shirt higher. "There is not a large exit wound, yes?"
I saw what he was saying. The shot had struck Barry in the back just below his collarbone and it's trajectory had been at only a slight angle. It had missed his ribs. It had missed the artery that fed blood to his arm. Most important, it had missed his heart. I realised that I had been holding my breath. I took a large gulp of air and instantly choked on the icy air as it entered my lungs.
"One of them is dead up here!" a farmhand yelled from within the woods as I succumbed to a coughing spell. "We've killed one of the murderers!"
* * *
"Hurry, Gräfin!" Schmidt called back to her. "It's not much further to the car."
Behind him, Gisele huffed loudly as she doggedly followed after her subordinate into the frozen woods. Branches slapped at her face and pulled at her clothes. She was growing tireder with each step that she took. She was angry at herself.
She had missed that damned queer Englishman. She'd had a perfect shot; the back of his head had filled her sight, the crosshairs centred just above his damned neck. He should be dead – his brains splattered across the snow of the clearing.
At least, the Frenchmen were no longer alive to tell Berlin how she'd fouled up the mission. Only Stefan Schmidt could do that. If he dared.
It would only take a careless comment about his superior officer made at a bar, however. Like any man beating on his chest and telling the most outrageous lies to prove that he was a real man to the other men with him. Only, they would be about her. His superior officer. The one woman in a command position anywhere in the Waffen-SS.
She would never see a promotion. She would be relegated to sorting files and reading about other units making the Reich secure for the Party.
She knew that would be her fate - if Obersturmführer Stefan Schmidt was still alive when she returned to Berlin. She squinted to see him ahead of her. Of course, he could be found out by the English, with him made to be the assassin. They would kill him quietly, unlike the French who'd probably try him publicly before they guillotined him.
She smiled as she imagined him standing before the contraption and coming to attention. And shouting "sieg heil" before they put his head into the hole that would hold him in position for the blade.
He was such an innocent. He had proved to be so good in bed too. It was going to be a pity to lose him. She hoped that his death could be made fast and painless - he deserved that. She needed to rest. Surely, a few minutes to catch her breath would be safe.
Schmidt crested a hill and watched her as he waited for her to catch up. "We're almost to the car now, Gräfin," he told her as she pulled one foot out of snow and placed it resolutely in front of her. She was only a metre away from him now. "Just past the top of the next hill and we'll have reached the car."
He grinned and took off through the snow towards the bottom of the hill. She hissed and, beginning to follow him, turned her thoughts to how she could turn him over to the English without him knowing what was happening - and without her involvement in it reaching Berlin.
It would have to happen in Brussels. If she attempted to alert the English before they reached the Belgian capital it would be too obvious that she was up to something. And, on her own orders, she had a driver from the embassy to contend with in addition to Stefan.
She pushed through the bare branches ahead of her, following Schmidt's footsteps in the snow.
"Ah, Gräfin, you are here finally," her subordinate greet her as she broke through the last of the undergrowth, his voice mildly mocking. She looked up to see him smiling at her as he opened the door of a car for her. Aryan perfection or not, she hated him then.
She slipped into the car far enough for him to close the door but not enough for him to think that he could sit on the seat with her.
Schmidt walked around the boot and got in beside the driver. "To the Normandie," he told the man.
Gisele looked up then, surprise showing in her face. The car pulled out onto the road and started towards Deauville. "I thought-" she began.
Schmidt turned back to her, his face an innocent boy's. "I need to eliminate the English Baron, Gräfin - for our mission to be complete."
"He does not know me, nor do the farmhands," he said, cutting her off. "He'll be confused by the death of his lover and the Frenchmen. I'll be able to get close enough to get him."
She studied the youth facing her for several moments, her mind racing. Without realising it, Obersturmführer Stefan Schmidt had given her the time with which to set up his removal.
The château would be closely guarded now that they had made their move in the woods. And Petersholme would be more closely guarded - probably by Englishmen in addition to French security. Still, Stefan had proved himself to be a true marksman back there in the woods. It was possible that he would succeed in killing the Englishman.
And he would still be in France, near the scene of their attempt on Petersholme's life. It would not be difficult to contact the English embassy and alert them to Schmidt's presence.
Yes, Stefan Schmidt would be going back to Berlin all right. In a coffin. And, definitely, not on the same train she herself took.
She wondered if she should have him in her bed this afternoon. It would be his one last time to perform as a man before he died. It was a pity that his body wouldn't receive a hero's welcome. She couldn't imagine anyone who had caused an international uproar as he was going to do being seen as anything but a pariah in official Berlin.
As they pulled into the drive of the hotel, she decided that Stefan Schmidt did deserve the warm reception that she could give him. "Attend me in my room at 1300, Stefan," she told him as the driver pulled to a stop in front of the Normandie. "We'll need to make plans for your mission."
She slipped across the seat and opened the door before he could open his door. She stepped out of the car and climbed the steps to the lobby alone, smiling at the generosity she had decided to show her subordinate on his last day on earth.
Inside, she turned towards the dining room. Her smile grew as she waited to be seated. She would feast first in Stefan Schmidt's honour like the gods of old had honoured the brave men about to fall in battle. Then, she would make herself ready for him. Once his plans were made, she would call the English so they could set up their ambush.
* * *
I had followed the makeshift gurney carrying Barry back to the house. A young farmhand had run out to tell us that the gendarmerie were already at the château and that le Minister's personal doctor was on his way from Deauville to attend to Barry and should meet us at the house when we arrived. He had also mumbled something to d'Orléans about more Englishmen having arrived - but my attention was on Barry's face and its slack-jawed appearance.
Consciously, I knew that d'Orléans was most probably right about Barry's condition. But knowing and believing were proving to be two entirely different things. If ever I'd had any doubts, I now knew that I loved the American. Without reservations. And I was afraid that he was going to die, regardless of what France's uncrowned Crown Prince had said.
There were so many things and places that I wanted to share with him. There was my whole life that I wanted to hand him to do with as he would.
My own insecurities had held him at bay for the entire summer just past - when we could have been sharing ourselves with each other. He had been there, waiting patiently; and it still had taken me almost five months to understand that I loved him and finally come to him.
Since September, however, there was this damned situation with Germany. The more I became aware of it, the more it held me by the bollocks. And the less time I had available to give myself to Barry.
That was going to change. I would find time for him. He would know that I was his, as much as I knew that he was mine. I had a lifetime of love to shower on him. He had to live!
D'Orléans' hand on my arm pulled me from my thoughts as two farmhands carried Barry into the house. We stood together until we were alone. I waited for him to speak, even as part of me followed Barry. "I am so sorry, Robert," he said finally in a choked voice, unable to meet my gaze.
I was looking at him, even as my mind stayed with Barry. I forced myself to see him. "It wasn't your fault, Philippe," I told him. "I suspect they were trying to get me."
"They were, Robert. But it was my duty to protect you." He looked down at his hands. "I failed and a nice man has paid for my failure to do so."
"You said it was a clean shot, a flesh wound," I groaned, a wall of fear crashing down around me to imprison me.
"It was," he said hurriedly. "Barry will recover, my friend. But I have failed France herself."
I blinked. "How?" I asked.
"Your Admiralty has sent your pilot to be your guard now, Robert. And a man from your Embassy - from your MI-5 I suspect. They're inside now, probably ensuring that Barry is taken care of and that Elizabeth is well."
I racked my brain for a moment, trying to remember the sub-lieutenant's name. "Pettigrew is here?"
"Yes." He chuckled weakly. "Rousted out of bed and sent racing here from his appearance."
"He's unshaven and still smells of cheap perfume," he said, allowing a smile to cover his face. "It is truly a sad day when an Englishman must be pulled from his paramour's bed and, unwashed, go out to save a countryman in France. I hope that he had time to pay the lady for her favours before he had to leave."
I laughed. Despite Barry lying inside the house with a wound meant for me, despite Major Urnazy dead because of me, I laughed. At the droll humour that had been in what Philippe had said.
"Please inform the sub-lieutenant when you see him, Robert, that I'll personally stand outside your door with revolver drawn in order to guard you with my life while he makes himself presentable - assuming that he had time to bring a change of clothes."
I laughed again. And, almost immediately, stopped. "Elizabeth?" I asked.
He nodded. "I had the labourer ensure that she was safe before he returned to us in the woods. She's inside, Robert, probably holding Barry's hand. She's very fond of him, you know." He studied me until I began to feel uncomfortable. "Almost as fond of him as you are, my friend."
I didn't flinch. "You know?"
D'Orléans shrugged. "But, of course. It is very obvious, your feelings for each other."
"Robert, this is the twentieth century. I am also an enlightened man. It is not for me, but it harms no-one and..." He smiled. "And it appears that you are both happy - so, where is my right to judge that you should not be lovers?"
"Robert, I have something important to ask of you, my friend."
I met his gaze and swallowed the lump that had so suddenly appeared in my throat. "And it is?" I forced myself to ask.
"I have not spoken to Elizabeth about this yet but..." He looked out at the snow-covered gardens behind me. "If she agrees, may I have her hand in marriage?"
I blinked. I almost laughed. Instead, I pretended to cough until I had myself again in control. I had expected anything but this.
"Are you sure, Philippe?"
He nodded. "Absolutment, Robert!"
"Your parents?" I asked.
"They will be surprised. Perhaps maman has some Spanish or Italian Princess in mind – but they will accept when they are sure that I know my own mind."
"She's not Catholic, you know."
"Our children would have to be, of course – at least nominally. But religion is not a serious obstacle for me."
"May I speak with her before I give you my answer?"
"Certainment! I would not have it any other way, Robert."
I smiled. "The two of you do make a lovely couple."
He chuckled, his eyes twinkling. "Almost as lovely as you and Barry do."
Barry had regained consciousness when I entered our apartment. I suspected ammonia from the lingering odour. A middle-aged man was filling a syringe from a vial, and Eliza was holding the hand attached to Barry's good arm.
"Robbie!" Barry mumbled and smiled weakly when he saw me.
"Damn!" I groaned dramatically. "You did survive after all."
"You better believe I did," he answered, managing for a moment to sound alive. "And don't you even dare try to imply that you had something to do with this."
The middle-aged man turned and bowed slightly to me. "Monsieur le Baron, your travel companion will recover. I have dressed his wounds with sulfa to lessen infection." He looked to the syringe in his hand. "I give him morphine now to ease his pain and help him sleep."
He moved closer to Barry and held his wrist. My gaze moved upward to meet Barry's as the doctor gave him the sedative. "I love you," he mouthed without making a sound.
The doctor stood back and deposited the spent needle in his bag. "If there is any problem, Monsieur le Baron, I will come at once. The staff knows my number."
"Thank you, Doctor," I said and stepped to Barry's side.
I took his hand and squeezed hard as I stared at the bulky dressing on his shoulder. He squeezed back but with considerably less pressure. Moments later, his grip loosened. I looked over to see that his eyes had closed and his lips parted.
I eased my hand from his and it came away easily.
"He's asleep, Robbie," Elizabeth said and smiled across the bed at me.