L’Agent Double

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BLURB: As a war like no one has even seen rages throughout Europe in 1914, a young nurse, a female aviator, and an infamous dancer are recruited as spies. But when each is accused of being a double agent, they must prove their faithfulness or be sentenced to death.

 

Opening Chapter:

M’Greet

June 1914

 

“Have you heard the latest?” M’greet’s maid, Anna, asked as she secured a custom-made headpiece onto her mistress’s head.

“What now?” M’greet readjusted the gold headdress to better reflect her olive skin tone.

“They are saying that the Mr. K from the newspaper article is none other than the Crown Prince himself.”

M’greet smiled at herself in the mirror. “Is that so? I think they’re referring to Lieutenant Kiepert. Just the other day he and I ran into the editor of the Berliner Tageblatt during our walk in the Tiergarten.” Her smile faded. “But let them wonder.” For the last few weeks, the papers had been filled with speculation about why the famed Mata Hari had returned to Germany, sometimes bordering on derision about her running out of money.

She leaned forward and ran her fingers over the dark circles under her eyes. “Astruc says that he might be able to negotiate a longer engagement in the fall if tonight’s performance goes well.”

“It will,” Anna assured her as she fastened M’greet’s heavy gold necklace around her neck.

The metal felt cold against M’greet’s sweaty skin. She hadn’t performed in months, and guessed the perspiration derived from her nervousness. Tonight was to be the largest performance she’d booked in years: the Metropol could seat 1108 people, and the tickets had sold out days ago. The building was less than a decade old, and even the dressing room’s geometric wallpaper and curved furniture reflected the Art Nouveau style the theater was famous for.

“I had to have this costume refitted.” M’greet pulled at the sheer yellow fabric covering her midsection. When she had first began dancing, she had worn jeweled bralettes and long, sheer skirts that sat low on the hips. But her body had become much more matronly in middle age and even M’greet knew that she could no longer get away with the scandalous outfits of her youth. She added a cumbersome earring to each ear and an arm band before someone knocked on the door.

“Fraulein Mata Hari, are you ready?” a man’s voice called urgently in German.

Anna shot her mistress an encouraging smile. “Your devoted admirers await.”

M’greet stretched out her arms and rotated her wrists, glancing with appreciation in the mirror. She still had it. She grabbed an armful of translucent scarves and draped them over her arms and head before opening the door. “All set,” she said to the awaiting attendant.

 

M’greet waited behind a filmy curtain while the music began: low, mournful drumming accompanied by a woman’s shrill tone singing in a foreign language. As the curtain rose, she hoisted her arms above her head and stuck her hips out in the manner she had seen the women do when she lived in Java. She had no formal dance training, but it didn’t matter. People came to see Mata Hari for the spectacle, not because she was an exceptionally wonderful dancer. M’greet pulled the scarf off her head and undulated her hips in time with the music. She pinched her fingers together and moved her arms as if she were a graceful bird about to take flight. The drums heightened in intensity and her gyrations become even more exaggerated. As the music came to a dramatic stop, she released the scarves covering her body to reveal her yellow dress in full.

She was accustomed to hearing astonished murmurs from the audience following her final act—she’d once proclaimed that her success rose with every veil she threw off. Tonight, however, the Berlin audience seemed to be buzzing with protest.

As the curtain fell and M’greet began to pick up the pieces of her discarded costume, she assured herself that the Berliners’ vocalizations were in response to being disappointed at seeing her more covered. Or maybe she was just being paranoid and had imagined all the ruckus.

 

“Fabulous!” her agent, Gabriel Astruc, exclaimed when he burst into her dressing room a few minutes later.

M’greet held a powder puff to her cheek. “Did you finalize a contract for the fall?”

“I did,” Astruc sat in the only other chair, which seemed too tiny to support his large frame. “They are giving us 48,000 marks.”

M’greet nodded approvingly.

“That should tide you over for a while, no?” Astruc asked.

She placed the puff in the gold-lined powder case. “For now. But the creditors are relentless. Thankfully Lieutenant Kieper has gifted me a few francs.”

“As a loan?” Astruc winked. “It is said you have become mistress to the Kronprinz.”

She rolled her eyes. “You of all people must know to never mind such rumors. I may be well familiar with men in high position, but have not yet made the acquaintance of the Kaiser’s son.”

Astruc rose. “Someday you two will meet, and even the heir of the German Empire will be unable to resist the charms of the exotic Mata Hari.”

M’greet unsnapped the cap of her lipstick. “We shall see, won’t we?”

 

Now that the fall performances had been secured, M’greet decided to upgrade her hotel to the lavish Hotel Adlon. As she entered the lobby, with its sparkling chandeliers dangling from intricately carved ceilings and exotic potted palms scattered among velvet-cushioned chairs, she nodded to herself. This was the type of hotel a world-renown dancer should be found in. She booked an apartment complete with a private bathroom featuring running water and electric Tiffany lamps.

The Adlon was known not only for its famous patrons, but for the privacy it provided for them. She was therefore startled the next morning when someone banged on the door to her suite.

“Yes?” Anna asked as she opened it.

“Are you Mata Hari?” a gruff voice inquired.

M’greet threw on silky robe over her nightgown before she went to the door. “You must be looking for me.”

The man in the doorway looked to be about 40, with a receding hairline and a bushy mustache that curled upward from both sides of his mouth.  “I am Herr Griebel of the Berlin police.”

M’greet ignored Anna’s stricken look as she motioned for her to move aside. “Please come in.” She gestured toward a chair at the little serving table. “Shall I order up some tea?”

“That won’t be necessary,” Griebel replied as he sat. “I am here to inform you that a spectator of your performance last night has lodged a complaint.”

“A complaint? Against me?” M’greet repeated as she took a seat in the chair across from him. She mouthed, “tea,” at Anna, who was still standing near the door. Anna nodded and then left the room.

“Indeed,” Griebel touched his mustache.  “A complaint of indecency.”

“Ah,” M’greet nodded. “You are part of the Sittenpolizei.” They were a department charged with enforcing the Kaiser’s so-called laws of morality. M’greet had been visited a few times in the past by such men, but nothing had ever come of it. She flashed Griebel a seductive smile. “Surely your department has no issue with sacred dances?”

“Ah,” Griebel fidgeted with the collar of his uniform, clearly uncomfortable.

Mirroring his movements, M’greet fingered the neckline of her low-cut gown. “After all, there are more important issues going on in the world than my little dance.”

“Such as?” Griebel asked.

The door opened and Anna discreetly placed a tea set on the crisp white tablecloth.  She gave her mistress a worried look but M’greet waved her off before pouring Griebel a cup of tea. “Well, I’m sure you heard about that poor man that was shot in the Balkans in June.”

“Of course—it’s been in all of the papers. The ‘poor man,’ as you call him, was Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Austria should not stand down when the heir to their thrown was shot by militant Serbs.”

M’greet took a sip of tea. “Are you saying they should go to war?”

“They should. And Germany, as Austria’s ally, ought to accompany them.”

“Over one man? You cannot be serious.”

“Those Serbs need to be taught a lesson, once and for all.” Upon seeing the pout on M’greet’s face, Griebel waved his hand. “But you shouldn’t worry your pretty little head over talk of politics.”

M’greet pursed her lips. “You’re right. It’s not something that a woman like me should be discussing.”

“No.” Griebel set down his tea cup and pulled something out of his pocket. “As I was saying when I first came in about the complaint—”

“As I was saying…” M’greet faked a yawn, stretching her arms out while sticking out her bosom. The stocky, balding Griebel was not nearly as handsome as some of the men she’d met over the years, but M’greet knew that she needed to become better acquainted with him in order to get the charges dropped. Besides, she’d always had a weakness for men in uniform. “My dances are adopted from Hindu religious dances and should not be misconstrued as immoral.” She placed a hand over Griebel’s thick fingers, causing the paper to fall to the floor. “I think, if the two of us put our heads together, we can definitely find a mutual agreement.”

Griebel pulled his hand away to wipe his forehead with a handkerchief. “I don’t know if that’s possible.”

M’greet got up from her chair to spread herself on the bed, displaying her body to its advantage as a chef would his best dish.

“Perhaps we could work out an arrangement that would benefit us both,” Griebel agreed as he walked over to her.

Griebel’s mustache tickled M’greet’s face, but she forced herself to think about other things as he kissed her. Her thoughts at such moments often traveled to her daughter, Non, but today she focused on the other night’s performance. M’greet always did what it took to survive, and right now she needed the money that her contract with the Berlin Metropol would provide, and nothing could get in the way of that.

 

M’greet was glad to count Herr Griebel as her new lover as the tension between the advocates of the Kaiser—who wanted to “finish with the Serbs quickly”— and the pacifists determined to keep Germany out of war heightened throughout Berlin at the end of July.  Although Griebel was on the side of the war-mongers, M’greet felt secure traveling on his arm every night on their way to Berlin’s most popular venues.

It was in the back room at one such establishment, the Borchardt, that she met some of Griebel’s cronies. They had gathered to talk about the recent developments—Austria-Hungary had officially declared war on Serbia. M’greet knew her place was to look pretty and say nothing, but at the same time she couldn’t help but listen to what they were discussing.

“I’ve heard that Russia has mobilized her troops,” a heavyset, balding man stated. M’greet recalled that his name was Müller.

“Ah,” Griebel sat back in the plush leather booth. “That’s the rub, now isn’t it?”

Herr Vogel, who seemed to be Griebel’s closest compatriot, shook his head. “I’d hoped Russia would stay out of it.” He flicked ash from his cigar into a nearby tray. “After all, the Kaiser and the Tsar are cousins.”

“No,” Müller replied. “Those Serbs went crying to Mother Russia, and she responded.” He nodded to himself. “Now it’s only a matter of time before we jump in to protect Austria.”

As if on cue, the sound of breaking glass was heard.

M’greet ended her silence. “What was that?”

Griebel put a protective hand on her arm. “I’m not sure.” He used his other arm to flag down a passing waiter. “What is going on?”

The young man looked panic-stricken. “There is a demonstration on the streets. Someone threw a brick through the front window and our owner is asking all of the patrons to leave.”

“Has war broken out?” M’greet inquired of Griebel as she pulled her arm away. His grip had left white marks.

“I’m not sure.” He picked up M’greet’s fur shawl and headed toward the main room of the restaurant. Pandemonium reigned as Berlin’s elite rushed toward the doors. Discarded feathers from fashionable ladies’ hats and boas floated through the air and littered the ground before stamping feet stirred them up again. M’greet wished she hadn’t shaken off Griebel’s arm as now she was being shoved this way and that. Someone trampled over her dress and she heard the sound of ripping lace.

She nearly tripped before a strong hand landed on her elbow. “This way,” the young waiter told her. He led her through the kitchen and out the back door, where Griebel’s Benz was waiting. Griebel appeared a few minutes later and the driver told him that there was a massive protest outside the Kaiser’s palace.

“Let’s go there,” Griebel instructed.

“No.” M’greet wrapped the fur shawl around her shoulders. “Take me home first.”

“Don’t you want to find out what’s happening?” Griebel demanded, waving his hand as a people thronged the streets. “This could be the beginnings of a war like no one has ever seen.”

“No” M’greet repeated. It seemed to her that the Great Powers of Europe: Germany, Russia, France, and possibly England, were entering into a scrap that they had no business getting involved with. “I don’t care about any war and I’ve had enough tonight. I want to go home.”

Griebel gave her a strange look but motioned for the driver to do as she said.

They were forced to drive slowly through the streets, as they had become jammed with motor cars, horse carts, and people rushing about on foot. M’greet caught what the crowd was chanting as they marched past. She repeated the words aloud: “Deutschland über alles.”

“Germany over all,” Griebel supplied.

 

The war came quickly. Germany first officially declared war on Russia to the east and two days later did the same to France in the west. In Berlin, so-called bank riots occurred as people rushed to the banks and emptied their savings accounts, trading paper money for gold and silver coins. Prices for food and other necessities soared as people stocked up on goods while they could still afford them.

Worried about her own fate, M’greet placed several calls to her agent, Astruc, wanting to know if the war meant her fall performances would be cancelled. After leaving many messages, she finally got word that Astruc had left town, presumably with the money the Metropol had paid her in advance.

She decided to brave the confusion at the bank in order to withdraw what little funds she had left.

“I’m sorry,” the teller informed her when she finally made it to the counter. “It looks as though your account has been blocked.”

“How can you say that?” M’greet demanded. “There should be plenty of money in my account.” The plenty part might not have been true, but there was no way it was empty.

“The address you gave when you opened the account was in Paris. We cannot give funds to any foreigner at this time.”

M’greet put both fists on the counter. “I wish to speak with your manager.”

The teller gestured behind her. M’greet glanced back to see a long line of people, their exhausted, bewildered faces beginning to glower. “I’m sorry Fraulein, I can do nothing more.”

She opened her mouth, about to let him have the worst of her fury, but a man in a police uniform appeared beside her. “A foreigner you say?” He pulled M’greet out of the bank line, and roughly turned her to face him. “What are you, a Russian?”

M’greet knew her dark hair and coloring was not typical of someone with Dutch heritage, but this was a new accusation. “I am no such thing.”

“Russian, for sure,” a man standing in line agreed.

“Her address was in France,” the teller called before accepting a bank card from the next person.

“Well, Miss Russian Francophile, you are coming with me.” For the second time in a week, a strange man put his hand on M’greet’s elbow and led her away.

 

M’greet fumed all the way to the police station. She’d had enough of Berlin: due to this infernal war, she was now void of funds and it looked as though her engagements were to be cancelled. She figured her best course of action would be to return to Paris and use her connections to try to get some work there.

When they arrived at the police station, M’greet immediately asked for Herr Griebel. He appeared a few minutes later, seemingly amused to see her. “You’ve been arrested under suspicion of being a troublesome alien.”

M’greet waved off that comment with a brush of her hand. “We both know that’s ridiculous. Can you secure my release as soon as possible? I must get back to Paris before my possessions there are seized.”

Griebel’s amused smile faded as his lip curled into a sneer. “You cannot travel to an enemy country in the middle of a war.”

“Why not?”

The sneer deepened. “Because…” His narrowed eyes suddenly softened. “Come with me. There is someone I want you to meet.” He led her to an office that occupied the end of a narrow hallway and knocked on the closed door labeled, Traugott von Jagow, Berliner Polizei.

“Come in,” a voice growled.

Griebel entered and immediately saluted.

The man behind the desk had a thin face and heavy mustache which dropped downward. “What is it, Herr Griebel? You must know I am extremely busy.” He dipped a pen in ink and began writing.

“Indeed, sir, but I wanted you to meet the acclaimed Mata Hari.”

Von Jagow stopped scribbling and looked up. His eyes traveled downward from the feather atop M’greet’s hat, stopping at her chest. “Wasn’t there a morality complaint filed against you?”

M’greet stepped forward, but before she could protest, Griebel cleared his throat. “We are here because she wants to return to Paris.”

Von Jagow gave a loud “harrumph,” and then continued his writing. “You are not the first person to ask such a question, but we can’t let anyone cross the border into enemy territory at this time. People would think you were a spy.” He abruptly stopped writing and set his pen down. “A courtesan with known powers to seduce powerful men…” he shot a meaningful at Griebel, who stared at the floor. “And a long-term resident of Paris with admittedly low morals.” He finally met M’greet’s eyes. “We could use a woman like you. I’m forming a network of agents who can provide us information about the goings-on in France.”

M’greet tried to keep the horror from showing on her face. Was this man asking her to be a spy for Germany? “No, sir,” she replied. “As I told Herr Griebel, I have no interest in the war. I just want to get back to Paris.”

Von Jagow crossed his arms and sat back. “And I can help you with that, provided that you agree to work for me.”

She shook her head and spoke in a soft voice. “Thank you, sir, but it seems I’ll have to find my way back on my own.”

“Very well, then.” Von Jagow picked up his pen again. “Good luck.” His voice implied that he wished her just the opposite.