NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR 2/19/17: This story is now in the process of being rewritten! After going back and re-reading it, I decided the version currently posted needed a lot of work, so I have decided to revamp the entire story. Expect more detail, more of Donny's POV, brand new scenes, and, possibly, new chapters! The chapter below is one of the new, revised ones, just so you can get a feel for the new, revised story, but the rest of the chapters are still being worked on! I hope you enjoy the revised prologue, and I hope very much that you will return to read the story when it is finished being re-done!
Hello, and thank you for taking the time to read this story!
Before we begin, I would like to take this time to give a few warnings. There will be a lot of foul language and violence in this story, just as there is in the movie. You will also see the occasional use of derogatory terms, and if anyone feels offence over this, I apologize in advance. There will also be some adult themes, though nothing explicit.
I hope very much that you all enjoy the story! If you like it, feel free to leave feedback! Happy reading!
Disclaimer: I do not own anything having to do with Inglourious Basterds. I only own the OCs.
Klara Bathurst sighed wearily and rubbed the back of her hand across her forehead. She was in the process of cleaning up the dishes from dinner, so the soapy water clinging to her hand left a trail of cool wetness on her forehead, but she made no attempt to wipe it away. The coolness was refreshing and a welcome respite for her hot and tired body. She closed her eyes and took a second to stretch her neck left and right, sighing again as some of the tension residing there lessened, then opened her eyes again and set to finishing her task.
It wasn't easy taking care of a family, especially so considering she was doing so all by herself. These days, Klara often found herself thinking about her mother, God rest her soul, and how hard the woman had worked to take care of their family growing up. She would wake up early to get breakfast on the table before they woke, would spend the days running here, there, and everywhere to make sure that Klara, her older brother Kurt, and their father had everything that they needed. Every night she would slave over dinner, and every night she would make sure the kitchen was spotless afterward. Even then, her duties were not yet finished. After that was finished, she would see to any last chores she had not completed, then make sure Klara and her brother had bathed and gotten in bed so they could get a good night of sleep before school. Then, and only then, would she finally be able to relax.
Klara's mother had worked herself to the bone to see to the needs of their family, and had often been so tired by the end of the day that she could hardly keep her eyes open. And right now, as Klara finished washing the last dish and set it into the strainer to dry, she empathized with her dear mother. It was not easy taking caring of a family. The family she cared after was not her own, but it was still just as much work taking care of them, and just as stressful having so many people who depended solely on her for survival. Her mother had warned her of this, of course, had told her that she would understand how much work it would be once she had a family of her own. But Klara had been young and naïve then, and had not taken that warning as seriously as she should have. If she had, then perhaps she would have been better prepared for the duties she'd taken on for the past year.
Klara shut off the water and dried her hands on a towel, before turning to the wine she had opened earlier and pouring herself a hearty glass. Klara set the bottle down on the counter again, then took her wine into the living room, where she eased onto her couch and propped her feet up on the coffee table, feeling her body relax as she took a long gulp of her drink.
Her eyes turned over to the bookshelf on the left side of the room, which was filled with numerous books about a wide variety of topics. It looked perfectly innocent, like any normal bookshelf that one would have in their home. Only it wasn't perfectly innocent. Behind that bookshelf was a small, secret room that hardly anybody knew of. A room that might've been used for storage, or possibly even neglected altogether, had it been any other person living in this home.
But she, Klara Bathurst, was the one living here, and she had a very well-kept secret. For a year now, ever since she had come to live in Paris, Klara had been helping Jewish refugees escape the horrors of present day Europe. And currently residing behind that bookshelf was a family of five people, each of them scared and unsure what lay ahead in their future, but depending on Klara to be the one to get them to safety, to help them start a new life where they could live freely and not have to spend every day fearing that it may be their last.
She had gotten involved in this purely by chance. She had only been living in Paris for a few weeks and been walking back to her home after enjoying a few glasses of wine at one of the more popular taverns in town when she had seen something that had caught her attention. A tall man had been loitering outside an old, run down bar, and had their eyes not met when she had been walking by, she might not have noticed him at all. But Klara and this man had seen one another, and the moment their eyes had locked, she had just known that there was something going on. Call it gut instinct or woman's intuition – whatever it was, it had told her that there was more to than this man that what met the eye…
Klara walked along the cobblestone road, humming one of her favorite songs under her breath as she relished in the feel of the cool, night breeze against her face. It was dark out, perhaps a little too dark for a woman to be out walking around by herself, but Klara was unconcerned with this. The part of town she lived in never saw any excitement and the streets were very quiet tonight, which left her feeling at ease as she walked along by herself. She was not too far from her home, either – she would be back in the warmth and comfort of her own bed soon enough and doubted anything would happen to change that any time soon.
She continued along, her heels clacking loudly against the pavement as she walked, her eyes scanning her surroundings with mild interest. The peacefulness of the night was such a stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of daytime. She liked how quiet it was, how peaceful everything seemed. At night, it felt like an entirely new city.
Suddenly, her eyes landed on something that made her pause. A tall man who looked to be in his thirties was standing by what looked like a tavern that had not been used in several years. He was leaning against the wall, smoking a cigarette and looking as though he was merely enjoying a moment of quiet. But the way his eyes were watching her was what made her pause. There was not a threatening aura to him, nor did she think he was considering doing her any sort of harm – he was simply staring at her with this calculating look on his face, as if waiting to see what she would do, waiting to see whether or not she would come to talk to him.
Their eyes met for only a few seconds, but that was all it took for her to know that he was most certainly up to something. There was a nagging feeling in her gut, something that told her all was not as innocent as it seemed. Not knowing what else to do – but knowing that she didn't want to do anything that might put her in danger - Klara put on a façade and smiled politely, which earned her a nod of acknowledgement in return. Klara then continued on. She could feel his eyes on her back as she walked, and though she kept her posture calm and composed, she was acutely aware of everything going on behind her.
She didn't know what prompted her to do it, but once she was certain she was out of his line of sight, she quickly ducked into an alley and hid, wanting to wait and see what the man did. There was just something in her that needed to know what he was doing, needed to know what was going on.
Her heart thumped against her chest with anticipation as she waited in the dark, and for several long, torturous minutes, nothing happened. But then, finally, she heard the sound of footsteps coming down the path she'd just walked. She chanced a peek around the corner, and when she saw that it was man from the tavern coming her way, she quickly ducked back and sunk into the shadows to avoid detection. Holding her breath, Klara watched as he walked past her hiding spot, his eyes alert as he scanned his surroundings. He was not alone, though. Much to her surprise, she realized that he'd been joined by three individuals – a man, a woman, and what looked like a teenaged girl. All three were dressed in dark, slightly disheveled clothing, held small bags of what were probably their possessions, and looked absolutely terrified as they followed closely behind the tall man.
"It is alright," she heard the man whisper to them reassuringly in German as they passed by. "It isn't much farther now. Just keep moving. You will soon be on your way to safety."
"Thank you," the man said adamantly. "Thank you for what you are doing for my family. You have saved our lives, sir. We will forever be in your debt."
They shared a few more words, but they were far enough away now to where Klara could not make out what was being said. She didn't need to hear more, though, because right then and there, Klara knew. She didn't know how she was so sure, but she just was. Those people were Jewish, and the man she had seen was leading them to safety, perhaps even trying to get them out of Europe. It was the only explanation that made any sense.
Once they were far enough away, Klara crept to the end of the alley and peered out into the street, watching them go in complete and utter fascination. She strongly considered following them, just to see where they went, but eventually decided against it. If this man was trying to help this family escape, she did not want to do anything that might distract him from his mission, nor anything that might put the family in any more danger than they already were. So, instead, Klara stayed where she was, watching from a distance as the quartet stealthily made their way down the street. Once they were finally out of sight, she left her hiding place and continued home, unable to think of anything but what she had just seen the entire way.
Klara had thought of nothing else in the days that followed that incident. She had found herself constantly thinking about that family, wondering if they had managed to get to safety and hoping with everything in her that they had made it out of Europe alright. She had also found herself thinking about that man – a Frenchman she would later learn was named Remy – and wondering just how many people he had helped, and how many more he would help. Before long, Klara began visiting that rundown bar more frequently, finding reasons to go near it just so she could see if the man she had seen would return. She felt drawn to it, felt magnetized. It was if a seed had been planted in her head, and the more it grew, the harder it was to ignore the desire that had started to take hold of her. For the longer time went on, the more she began to understand just what needed to be done.
Now, when Klara had left Germany, it had been for a very good reason. Three years previous, only months after her twenty-third birthday, her parents had died in a tragic car accident. It had been hard for both her and for her brother, for they had loved their parents very much. But the loss of their parents had done something to her brother, had changed him. Kurt had claimed that their death had made him realize that he needed to do more with his life, that it had given him a new purpose. Within months, he had joined the SS, throwing himself completely into the regime. How the death of their parents had made him decide it was a good idea to begin killing and torturing innocent people was beyond her comprehension, but Klara had not been able to talk him out of it. And in the years that followed, she had watched helplessly as he climbed his way through the ranks, until he managed to earn himself both a considerable amount of fame, as well as the coveted position of right hand man to the one and only Standartenführer Hans Landa.
Klara hated what her brother was doing, hated what the entire Nazi regime was doing. It horrified her to see what had been happening since Hitler had come into power, but there was simply nothing she could do to stop what was happening. She had wanted nothing to do with the SS, but because of her relation to Kurt, she had found herself constantly surrounded by the scum she hated so much. He had dragged her from Nazi party to Nazi party, trying hard to integrate her into his society, working even harder to try to find a 'respectable' Nazi husband for her. Life in Germany had been complete and utter hell, which was why she finally found a reason to get out. She simply could not stand to be around Kurt or the SS anymore. She had had to escape, had to find a way to leave it all behind.
Klara had decided to come to Paris, where she and Kurt still had two elderly relatives living. She made up a story about them reaching out to her with need for assistance around the house, saying that they were simply too old and too weak to care for themselves anymore. Though Kurt hadn't been thrilled with her decision to leave Germany, he had bought the lie she had fed to him and given her permission to move to Paris, even buying the house she currently lived in and making sure it was fully furnished for her. He had promised to come and visit her a frequently as possible, but his work with Landa kept him busy and made sure he stayed away for long periods of time, to which she had no complaints – she was in no rush to see her brother any time soon. And even though France was still occupied by Nazis, the fact that there were no longer SS soldiers and Nazi officers parading around her house on a regular basis seemed more than a fair trade for the much quieter life on the outskirts of Paris. She had known there would be no escaping the Nazis completely, but at least she was out of Germany.
She had honestly had no clue what she was going to do once she came to Paris, and until she had seen Remy outside that bar, she had still been trying to figure out what to do with her life. But once she had seen Remy, once she had figured out what he was doing, she felt as though she had finally been shown her path. She could no longer stand idly by and watch as people were murdered, as innocent men, women, and children were tortured and treated in the most inhumane ways imaginable. Clara had decided that she wanted to join Remy. She wanted to help, and she would help, come hell or high water.
So Klara had staked out that bar, returning to the area night after night to look for the man she had seen, just biding her time until he showed up again. It had taken some time, but one night, when she just happened to be in the right place at the right time, he finally showed. Not knowing what she would really say, but knowing she had to talk to him while she had the chance, she had waited until he had gone into the bar and then followed him, taking him quite by surprise with her sudden appearance. Klara had boldly announced that she knew what he was doing and had demanded that he allow her to help, informing him that she would not take 'no' for an answer and that she would only continue to show up time and time again.
To say that Remy had been surprised would be an understatement. He had come to check on a few refugees that he had been hiding in the attic, and according to what he'd said much later on, the last thing he had expected that night was to find himself confronted by a 'stubborn, demanding, head-strong German woman'. He had thought her insane and laughed her off at first, but upon realizing how dead serious she was, he had finally sat down with her and had a very long discussion about it. Remy, upon learning who she was and who she was related to, had at first regarded her with slight suspicion, but had seemed more at ease after she assured him that she despised everything her brother stood for and was determined to save anyone she could from their horrible ways. They talked for what felt like hours, and though he had not outright said he would let her join him when it came time to part ways, he had assured her that he would talk it over with the partner he worked with and that he would meet with her again in a week's time with an answer.
The next week, Klara had gone back to the bar, where she had met Remy and his partner, a man named Dieter. The two informed her that they had thought long and hard about it, and had finally decided to give her a chance to work with them. After all, it seemed the perfect cover for their operation – nobody would ever suspect the young, attractive German woman with Nazi relations to be helping Jewish refugees. They would allow her to help with the next group of refugees that came their way, and if all went well, they would bring her on permanently. They had laid out a plan for her, told her everything she was meant to do, then sent her on her way.
Klara would never forget that first family she had taken into her home. There had been a mother and her two young daughters, all of whom had been scared out of their wits that they would get caught, but beyond grateful to her for putting herself at risk by helping them. They had stayed with her for two weeks, until Dieter was available to come out and pick them up. When the time had come to move them, Klara had been more nervous than she'd ever been in the whole of her life, but, thankfully, everything had gone exactly to plan. She had led the family to the forest next to the highway, where they had met with Dieter. After an emotional round of goodbyes, the refugees had piled into Dieter's truck and were whisked away to the shore, where they would be on the first boat out of Europe to start a new life elsewhere. Klara had been working with Remy and Dieter ever since.
Helping that family had left her with a sense of pride that she never felt before. To know that she had helped innocent people escape a horrible fate was the most exhilarating feeling in the world, made her feel as if she actually made a difference in this frightening, unstable world. And with each family she had helped since, that feeling only continued to grow. That was why she didn't care how exhausting it was to care for so many people. That was why it didn't matter to her how dangerous all this was, or why it didn't matter to her that she was putting her life on the line each time she took someone into her home – as far as she was concerned, helping the Jewish refugees escape the horrors being inflicting on their people made all the danger and the risk worth it. And she would continue to help them as long as she was needed.
Klara finished off her wine and settled further into the couch, letting her eyes slide closed as she relaxed. When she heard the distinct sound of footsteps on her front porch only moments later, however, her eyes popped open again and she sat a little straighter. As three knocks sounded on the solid wood of her front door, she set down her empty wine glass and quickly got to her feet, feeling her heart rate increase with trepidation. It never failed to scare her whenever a visitor called on her unexpectedly – she was always living with the constant fear that someone would find out what she was doing and come to arrest her for it.
Klara glanced toward the bookshelf to make sure it was in place, then went to the door as more knocks echoed through the house. Sucking in a calming breath, she unlocked the door and then opened it a crack to see who was on the other side. When her eyes landed on a familiar face, she immediately relaxed and opened the door wider.
"Hello, Emmanuelle," she greeted in French, smiling as her previous anxiety melted away. "I did not know that you were coming by this evening."
The woman staring back at her just shrugged in response, offering only a ghost of a smile. Klara knew at once that something was wrong with her. "Have I caught you at an inconvenient time?" she asked, glancing into Klara's house questioningly.
"No," Klara said, shaking her head. She then stepped aside and motioned for her to come inside. "Come in," she urged.
The younger blonde stepped in and glanced around while Klara shut the door and locked it again. "Forgive me for the unexpected visit," she said, turning back to Klara. "I just…needed a friend to speak to," she revealed, sighing heavily.
Klara frowned with concern. "Is everything alright?"
"It has not been a good day," her friend said in response, running her fingers through her long hair to smooth it out. "I dreamt of my family last night, and now I cannot stop thinking about what happened that day. I keep seeing them, keep hearing the gun shots, keep hearing that bastard's voice in my head!" she hissed spitefully, her features morphing to anger now. "I am filled with hatred today," she continued, turning her gaze elsewhere and glaring at nothing in particular. "I want them to pay, Klara. I went all of them dead."
Klara frowned deeper and moved to place gentle hands on her friend's shoulders. "Shosanna," she said firmly, using the woman's real name. Shosanna looked back to her, her brows still furrowed together and her lips turned down in a furious frown. "The time will come when the Nazis will get exactly what is coming to them. And when that day comes, you will dance on their graves," Klara reminded her. "But my friend, you must be patient until then."
"I know," Shosanna said with a sigh. "But some days, my patience wears thin."
"I understand," Klara said, nodding. A beat of silence passed between them, before Klara patted Shosanna's shoulders and then released her, motioning toward her kitchen. "Come. You look as though you could use a drink. Let me pour you a glass of wine," she offered.
Shosanna nodded in acceptance, then, together, they went into the kitchen.
Klara had known Emmanuelle Mimieux for eight months now, having met her when she began attending showings at the woman's cinema. They were not far apart in age and shared similar interests, which had made it easy for them to form a comfortable friendship in the months that followed. However, she had met Shosanna, the real identity of her friend, only a few months previous.
It had been purely accidental, the way that both of their secrets had come to light. Shosanna had been helping Klara move in a few pieces of furniture when an unexpected inhabitant, a very young Jewish girl that Klara had been housing at the time, had come walking out of the kitchen, much to the surprise of them both. They had both froze where they stood, Klara looking at the girl with fear while Shosanna had stared at the girl in shock. Since Shosanna knew very well that Klara had no children of her own, it hadn't taken long for her to put two and two together – when the girl, terrified, had quickly run for the bookshelf and disappeared into the secret room, that had all but confirmed it. When Shosanna had turned that shocked look on Klara, Klara had immediately tried to come up with a decent excuse for everything, fearful that Shosanna would tell the local authorities what she was doing. But it was as Klara was trying to stutter out her false explanation that Shosanna finally came out with her own secret – her real name was Shosanna Dreyfus, and she was a Jewish refugee. She was the lone survivor of her family, who had been ruthlessly slaughtered right before her very eyes, and she had come to Paris to live in secret, changing her name in the process and living a quiet life to escape detection.
Their friendship had been different since then. They understood each other on a deeper level, and their bond had grown exponentially stronger. Shosanna was now Klara's closest friend, and the only person on the outside who knew what Klara was really doing. Klara had to admit that it was comforting to know that she had someone to confide in now, someone to lean on when times were tough, someone who truly understood. And she knew Shosanna felt the same toward her.
Shosanna leaned against the island countertop in the middle of the kitchen while Klara poured her a glass of wine. "Thank you," she said when Klara handed her the wine. Shosanna took a large gulp, then glanced pointedly toward the many dishes drying in the strainer next to the sink. "That is a lot of dishes for one woman," she pointed out, effectively changing the subject. "How many this time?"
"Five," Klara answered tiredly. "It has not been easy," she admitted, retrieving another glass and pouring herself some more wine. "It is a lot of work, looking after that many people."
"How long have they been here?" Shosanna asked curiously, taking another drink.
"Nearly a month now," Klara revealed.
Shosanna raised her brows in surprise. "A month? That is longer than usual, is it not?"
Klara nodded in confirmation. "There was a close call with the last refugees we helped," she explained. "We had to be a little more cautious this time, make sure there would be no issues." Shosanna nodded her understanding. "This is my last night with the family, though," Klara continued. "I will see them out of the city tonight," she said, before drinking her wine.
"Where do you take them?" Shosanna asked her, catching Klara a bit by surprise. Though Shosanna knew good and well what she did, she had never pried for information about the arrangement between Klara and her two comrades because Klara had asked her not to, feeling that the less she knew, the safer she was. The fact that she was asking now had caught her a bit off guard, which Shosanna seemed to realize. "You can tell me," she said reassuringly. "You know that your secrets are safe with me."
Klara hesitated, then finally answered. "I take them to the woods," she answered, making sure not to go into too much detail. "I have a contact that comes with a truck to pick them up, then he takes them to the shore. They are usually on a boat and on their way to another country by the next morning."
"Do you know where they go from there?" Shosanna asked.
"I wish I did, but no," Klara said with a sigh. "I do not know where any of the refugees I have helped end up. But I do know that wherever they go, they are out of the reach of Nazis. For me, that is enough," she added with a smile.
Shosanna nodded, then stared at Klara for a long, contemplative second. Finally, she set her wine down and gave Klara a very serious look. "Do you need help tonight, Klara?" she offered, making Klara's brows raise. "I could help you guide them to the woods," she added with determination.
Klara was touched by the offer, but quickly shook her head. "No. I would not dare to put you in that kind of danger," she said, leaving no room for argument. "You have been through enough already, my friend. I could never ask you to put your life at risk."
"You are not asking – I am offering," Shosanna corrected her pointedly. When Klara just pressed her lips together with uncertainty, Shosanna reached out to place a hand on her arm. "You have been a good friend to me. One of the only true friends I have ever had in my life," she said earnestly. "You are putting your own life on the line so that you can give my people a better future. You need only say the word and I will help you."
Klara placed hand over Shosanna's and gave it a squeeze. "Thank you, my friend, but the answer is still no," she said, her tone gentle, but firm at the same time.
Shosanna seemed disappointed, but finally nodded in acceptance. With that, she released Klara and grabbed her wine, finishing it in a few large gulps. Then she set the empty glass down and straightened up. "I should go. You have a busy night ahead of you. I should let you prepare," she said.
"You do not have to go," Klara told her.
Shosanna just shook her head. "It will be curfew soon anyway," she said.
Klara glanced at the clock and saw that it was already past eight. Ever since the Nazis had taken over Paris some five years previous, the entire city had been put on a curfew. The entire city went dark at nine – save for the bars and taverns that Nazis liked to frequent – and nobody was allowed to be outdoors again until five in the morning. Anyone who was caught usually suffered severe consequences.
Klara nodded. "Very well. I will walk you to the door, then."
The two women left the kitchen, walking in silence side by side. When they reached the door, they both paused and turned toward each other. Shosanna glanced at the bookshelf keeping the refugees concealed from sight, then turned her eyes back to Klara. "I ask only that you be careful, my friend," she said. "It is dangerous to be outside after curfew. If you feel, for even a moment, that the streets are not safe…turn back. Do not put yourself, nor the family, at risk."
Klara smiled at her reassuringly. "Do not worry, Shosanna. I know what I am doing," she told her, hoping it would ease her friend's worries. Shosanna didn't look very comforted by the words, but she nodded anyway. "Now I must ask you to stay strong," she said, raising her brows. "I know it is hard, going about everyday life while others suffer at the hands of the Nazis. But the regime will fall someday. Just give it time. You will have your revenge when you are meant to."
Shosanna sucked in a deep breath, then nodded. Klara smiled, then pulled the blonde in for a quick hug, which she returned. When they parted ways a few second later, Klara patted her on the back before unlocking the door and opening it. "Sleep well tonight, my friend," she said. "I will see you soon."
"You had better," Shosanna said with a hint of a threatening tone. Klara laughed a bit, then watched as Shosanna stepped out onto the porch. "Good luck," she said quietly, turning back to Klara. "And good night."
"Good night…Emmanuelle," Klara said in return, using the woman's fake name now that they were outside where others could hear them.
Shosanna gave one last nod, then headed down the porch steps and stepped onto the sidewalk. She turned back to wave one last time, then started off down the road, heading in the direction her theater was in. Klara stood in the doorway, watching her friend go, before finally stepping back inside to begin preparing for the night ahead.
Klara peeked around the corner of the alley way, holding a hand up to the five people trailing behind her as she surveyed the surroundings. It was just after midnight now, and only the sparse streetlights of the neighborhood offered light to them as they wove through the quiet streets of Paris. She looked left first, before then looking right. When she was satisfied that the coast was clear, she motioned for the family to follow her and crept out into the street, glancing back to make sure that everyone was accounted for. It was always nerve-wracking when it came time to move the refugees, but it had to be done – there was nothing they could do now but be as stealthy as possible and hope that the cover of darkness, as well as the dark clothes they had all donned, would be enough to shield them from any unfriendly eyes. Klara was carrying a pistol with her, as she always did whenever she ventured out like this, but she had never had to use it before and sincerely hoped she wouldn't have to tonight.
They crept along the dark sidewalks for the next five minutes, stopping to duck out of sight every now and again whenever Klara thought she saw something even remotely suspicious. The plan, as it always was, was to head toward the forest next to the highway and then disappear into the woods. From there, they would go to the same clearing that Klara always took the refugees to, where Dieter would – or at least, should – be waiting for them. There wasn't too much further to go now. If all went according to plan, they would be at the clearing in about ten minutes.
Klara glanced back at the mother of the family, who was right behind her, and dropped back so that they were walking side by side. "It is not far now," she whispered in her native German tongue, keeping her voice down, just in case. "Once we are at the clearing, we will meet with a man named Dieter. He has a truck large enough to fit you all, and will take you to the shore. You will be on a boat and out of France by the morning."
The woman smiled at her gratefully, and reaching out to clasp her hand tightly within her own. "Thank you," she said earnestly, her fingers clutching Klara's tightly as she nodded her head. "Thank you for everything you have done. It is people like you that give us hope for a brighter future for Germany."
Klara nodded, squeezed the woman's hand in return, then released her and motioned for her to quiet down again as they continued on. Klara knew how eager this family was to get to safety – they had been on the run for the past two years, after fleeing from their home in Poland. It was honestly a miracle that they had survived in hiding for as long as they had, and Klara was happy that they were so close to their salvation. She was also proud to have been part of their journey to freedom.
Once the highway was in sight, they veered off the road and cut through a few yards, making sure to keep extra quiet as they passed by houses with darkened windows. They then went over a small ditch and crossed into the forest, where they began the short trek toward the clearing. They relaxed a little now that they were better concealed within the dark trees, but they did not drop their guard completely. The air around surrounding their group was still tense, still cautious as they went along as quietly as possible. Klara led the way, while the mother walked directly behind her, both of their eyes alert and constantly darting all around as they ambled along. The children made up the middle of the group, all huddled close together and holding hands, while the father brought up the rear of the company and kept glancing backward, to make sure nobody was following them.
After what probably seemed like ages to the family behind her, they reached the clearing. As she squinted her eyes against the dark, Klara could make out the outline of a truck on the far side of the clearing, but she did not lead the family directly to it. Instead, Klara held up her hand to bring them to a halt, then reached into the pocket of her jacket to retrieve the small flashlight she'd brought. Even though she was certain it was Dieter waiting for them in the clearing, there was still protocol to follow, a system that they had put together and always stuck to, no matter what.
Klara raised the flashlight so that it was level with her shoulder, then clicked it on and off three times. For one second, there was darkness. Then, some twenty yards ahead, a light clicked on before turning back off. This was the exact signal she had been hoping for.
Klara relaxed and put the flashlight back in her pocket. "We are clear. Follow me," she whispered, before leading her companions straight ahead into the darkness.
As they crossed the clearing, the truck became more and more visible within the darkness. There were several sounds of relief made when the headlights clicked on and a man stepped into view. He was of average height but very stocky build, with short, brown hair, hazel eyes, and dimples that appeared in his cheeks whenever he smiled. It was Dieter, and as he came around to stand in front of the truck, he watched them approach with a friendly smile on his handsome face.
"Klara, always a pleasure to see you make it in one piece," Dieter joked lightheartedly, his German words echoing off the trees around them. His eyes turned to the family, before his brows rose a tick. "Five this time?" he asked with a hint of surprise.
"I cannot turn people away just because they come in larger numbers," Klara said with a shrug. Then she smiled and walked up to Dieter, pulling him in for a brief hug. "I am happy to see you, friend," she said, patting his back before releasing him. "I trust your ride in was uneventful?"
Dieter waved a hand dismissively. "It was fine. Rather on the boring side, to be honest," he reassured her.
Like Klara, Dieter had also been born and raised in Germany. And also like Klara, he had wanted nothing to with the Nazis or that psychopath Hitler. When his father, an officer in the SS, had become so wrapped up in the violence taking place in Germany that his family began to fear for their lives, Dieter and his two younger sisters decided to flee and moved to France to seek safer shelter. He had met Remy not long after, and the two had been working together to help Jewish refugees flee the clutches of the SS for nearly four years now. As far as Klara knew, Dieter's sisters were living peacefully in the countryside somewhere. None of them had been in contact with their father for a very long time.
Klara patted Dieter's shoulder, then turned back to the family she'd been taking care of. It was always bittersweet, sending them off. There was always a part of her that missed the people she took in, for she felt bonded to each and every refugee who came to her home. But she knew they could not stay with her forever, and even though she was sad to see them go, she was happy that they were leaving for a much better life.
"Dieter will take care of you from here. There is nothing to fear. You are in very good hands with him," she told them with a smile and nod. Klara looked at each person, then inclined her head. "My thoughts and prayers will be with you all. I wish you the best of luck."
Without warning, the mother and her three young sons all came toward her at the same time and bombarded her with hugs, making Klara smile sadly and tear up a bit. While Klara took a long moment to hug the mother and each other children goodbye, the father went to Dieter and earnestly shook his hand, sharing a few quick, German words with him and expressing over and over again how thankful he was for what they were doing for him and his family.
"We should get going," Dieter finally said to break up the goodbyes. "We have a long way to go before sunrise."
Klara nodded, then finally led the mother and her children to the truck. She stood by and held the door open while they all climbed inside, then smiled and quickly hugged the father when he came up to her. "Good luck," she told him, before ushering him into the truck with his family.
Once they were all settled, Klara shut the door and walked around to the driver's side, where Dieter had already opened the door and was getting settled in the driver's seat. "Be prepared for a bumpy ride," Dieter warned the family with a small smile. "We are taking the back roads to the shore." Dieter then he closed the door, before flashing a smile at Klara through the open window. "If you need to speak with me, you know how to reach me," he reminded her.
Klara nodded and crossed her arms over her chest. "Be careful out there."
Dieter laughed shortly. "I always am." He then saluted her. "Until next time, my friend."
"Until next time," she said in return.
Klara stepped back away from the truck as Dieter put the keys in the ignition and started the engine with a loud roar. She cringed at the volume of the sound and glanced around, but there was nobody around to hear the rumble of the loud vehicle. Her eyes turned back to the truck as Dieter put it in drive and made a small circle around the clearing, before heading back for the dirt path he had taken to get into the clearing in the first place. Once the truck was driving away, Dieter stuck a hand out of the window and waved goodbye. Klara raised her own hand in response, smiling to herself as she watched the truck slowly grow smaller and smaller into the distance. It was only when the red taillights in the back finally disappeared from sight completely that Klara turned to leave.
She began making her way back out of the forest, walking at a leisurely, relaxed pace now that she was alone. It wasn't often that she found herself enjoying moment of true, undiluted happiness, but right then, in that exact moment, she was happy. Another family was safe, and she had helped to make it so. Her brother was out there somewhere taking lives of innocent people and destroying futures…but she, Klara Bathurst, was doing what she could to give those lives and gives those futures back. Would she ever be recognized for what she was doing? Would she ever be given awards for it? No, probably not. But that didn't matter, because that wasn't why she was doing this. She was helping because it was the right thing to do. She was helping because it was her calling, and because it made her happier than any silly award or moment of recognition ever would.
Once she broke through the trees she paused to breathe in the crisp air, closing her eyes and just taking a moment to soak it all in. She didn't know when the next round of refugees would be pointed in her direction, but she would be there, waiting patiently for them to arrive. Whether it was next week, next month, or even next year, she would always been there. Because as long as people needed help, Klara was going to offer it to them.
A large and genuine smile stretched across her face as she finally opened her eyes again and resumed the trek home. Yes, leaving her home country and starting over in France had been risky and it had been difficult, but it was without a doubt the best decision she'd ever made. What she was doing could land her in prison for treason, could very well even mean death. But Klara knew that if given the opportunity, she would have made the same decision to help the refugees over and over and over again, no matter what. She was doing exactly what she was meant to be doing, and she wouldn't change that for anything.