The air was thick and gray. Glasses clinked and hushed voices spoke in rapid French in the corners of the bar.
At the back, against the wall, sat a man with a leather bag on the bench beside him. He sipped on his beer and alternated with drags on his cigarette. The other customers seemed wary of him. L'Anglais. The Englishman. He did not care. He liked the privacy. No other had taken a seat within two tables of the Englishman, and that was good. In the circumstances, the space was priceless.
Crushing out the cigarette, a Zippo lid let out the signature sound and the Englishman lit another without a pause. He checked a watch and stared hard at the door. Willing it to open. It did.
A timid little man entered. He gulped as he moved low and slow toward L'Anglais under the watchful eye of the other patrons.
The Englishman thought harsh words to himself as he stared hard at the little man.
'You need to act casual, you idiot. Not like a scared rat.'
Finally the Frenchman reached the table, but he did not sit down. The Englishman grew impatient. He kicked the wooden chair across from him so that it slid out from the table.
The Frenchman almost died of fright. But the Englishman motioned to the chair with his eyes and hissed, 'Sit.' The Frenchman did so, and then spoke in a cautious whisper.
'Bonjour,' he said, 'I am-'
'Je n'aime pas,' the Englishman interrupted. 'I don't care. I don't need your name. We are not friends. This is not a social meeting.'
'Oui,' said the Frenchman. Like a scolded child.
'Just say what I need to hear,' the Englishman said in perfect French.
'Je chie dans le petit-déjeuner du Troisieme Reich,' the Frenchman said. Then, leaning close, whispered, 'Vive la Résistance.'
The Englishman smiled, the pass-phrase had been his own invention. And it amused him to hear it. 'Bien,' said l'Anglais. He lifted the leather satchel and pushed it over to the Frenchman. 'I think we are done here.'
The Frenchman unclasped the bag and looked inside at the contents. He nodded to himself and closed it again. Then met eyes with the Englishman.
'Go away now,' the Englishman said. He raised his beer glass, 'Vive la Résistance.'
At those words the doors to the tavern once again opened, crashing into the walls. Everyone turned in silence to look. L'Anglais cursed under his breath in English.
Three military officials moved in from under the heavy rain. They wore thick leather trenchcoats. The man in the lead wore an officer's hat. The two either side of him wore helmets and carried automatic weapons.
As they strode across the wooden boards, the French customers in the nooks of the tavern tried to make themselves invisible. But it was already clear from the purpose of their march; they were not routinely checking papers.
Their heavy boots thumped the boards in even rhythm. It seemed they took forever to cross the smoky room and yet they were behind the cowering Frenchman in no time at all.
'Your papers,' the officer said in French. His cold eyes drilled into the Englishman. He only stared back at them without a word, his right hand resting on the table with the cigarette. The other in his lap.
The Frenchman began to mutter, and the officer slapped him around the head.
'Go. Before we arrest you. We don't need you any more.'
The Frenchman scurried away like the rat he was, leaving the leather satchel on the table. As he passed the armed guards, he said, 'Heil Hitler.'
Rage overcame the Englishman. The officer once again demanded identification. This time in English.
His right hand put the cigarette to his lips with no words. The left came up from his lap and thumped on the table in front of him.
The muzzle of the pistol spoke only once before the automatic fire answered.