“Sir,” the army officer at the far end of the table interjected. “I, too, find Miss Trigg a most unlikely choice. With her background…” Heads nodded around the table, their skeptical looks accompanied by a few murmurs. Eleanor could feel them studying her, wondering about her loyalties. Not one of us, the men’s expressions seemed to say, and not to be trusted. For all that she did for SOE, they still regarded her as an enemy. Alien, foreign. It was not for lack of trying. She had worked to fit in, to mute all traces of her accent. And she had applied for British citizenship. Her naturalization application had been denied once, on grounds that even the Director, for all of his power and clearances, had not been able to ascertain. She had resubmitted it a second time a few months earlier with a note of recommendation from him, hoping this might make the difference. Thus far, she had not received a response.
Eleanor cleared her throat, prepared to withdraw from consideration. But the Director spoke first. “Eleanor, set up your office,” he ordered. “Begin recruiting and training the girls with all due haste.” He raised his hand, foreclosing further discussion.
“Yes, sir.” She kept her head up, unwilling to look away from the eyes now trained upon her.
After the meeting, Eleanor waited until the others had left before approaching the Director. “Sir, I hardly think…”
“Nonsense, Trigg. We all know you are the man for the job, if you’ll pardon the expression. Even the military chaps, though they may not want to admit it or quite understand why.”
“But sir, even if that is true, I’m an outsider. I don’t have the clout.”
“You’re an outsider, and that is just one of the things that makes you perfect for the position.” He lowered his voice. “I’m tired of it all getting mired by politics. You won’t let personal loyalties or other concerns affect your judgment.” She nodded, knowing that was true. She had no husband or children, no outside distractions. The mission was the only thing that mattered—and always had been.
“Are you sure I can’t go?” she asked, already knowing the answer. Though flattered that he wanted her to run the women’s operation, it would still be a distant second-best to actually deploying as one of the agents in the field.
“Without the paperwork, you couldn’t possibly.” He was right, of course. In London, she might be able to hide her background. But to get papers to send her over, especially now, while her citizenship application was pending, was another matter entirely. “Anyway, this is much more important. You’re the head of a department now. We need you to recruit the girls. Train them. It has to be someone they trust.”
“Me?” Eleanor knew the other women who worked at SOE saw her as cold and distant, not the type they would invite to lunch or tea, much less confide in.
“Eleanor,” the Director continued, his voice low and stern, eyes piercing. “Few of us are finding ourselves where we expected at the start of the war.”
That, she reflected, was more true than he possibly could have known. She thought about what he was asking. A chance to take the helm, to try and fix all of the mistakes that she’d been forced to watch from the sidelines these many months, powerless to do anything. Though one step short of actual deployment, this would be an opportunity to do so much more.
“We need you to figure out where the girls belong and get them there,” the Director continued on, as though it had all been settled and she’d said yes. Inwardly, Eleanor felt conflicted. The prospect of taking this on was appealing. At the same time, she saw the enormity of the task splayed before her on the table like a deck of cards. The men already faced so much, and while in her heart she knew that the women were the answer, getting them ready would be Herculean. It was too much, the kind of involvement—and exposure—that she could hardly afford.
Then she looked up at the photos on the wall of fallen SOE agents, young men who had given everything for the war. She imagined the German security intelligence, the Sicherheitsdienst, at their French headquarters on the Avenue Foch in Paris. The SD was headed by the infamous Sturmbannführer Hans Krueger, a former concentration camp commandant who Eleanor knew from the files to be as cunning as he was cruel. There were reports of his using the children of locals to coerce confessions, of hanging prisoners alive from meat hooks to withdraw information before leaving them there to die. He was undoubtedly planning the downfall of more agents even as they spoke.
Eleanor knew then that she had no choice but to take on the task. “Fine. I’ll need complete control,” she added. It was always important to go first when setting the terms.
“You shall have it.”
“And I report only to you.” Special sectors would, in other circumstances, report through one of the Director’s deputies. Eleanor peered out of the corner of her eye at Michaels, who lingered in the hallway. He and the other men would not be happy about her having the Director’s ear, even more so than she already had. “To you,” she repeated for emphasis, letting her words sink in.
“No bureaucratic meddling,” the Director promised. “You report only to me.” She could hear then the desperation in his voice, how very much he needed her to make this work.
Don’t forget to join me back here on 6thFebruary to read my review and for more information on the TLC tour see here.
The Lost Girls of Paris will be available in ebook and paperback format and links to Amazon can be found below.