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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.
Prologue October 15, 1917
The nun on duty woke her just before dawn. She blinked the sleep out of her eyes to see a crowd of men, including her accusers and her lawyer, standing just outside the iron bars of her cell. The only one who spoke was the chief of the Military Police, to inform her the time of her execution had come. The men then turned and walked away, leaving only the nun and the prison doctor, who kept his eyes on the dirty, straw-strewn floor as she dressed.
She chose the best outfit she had left, a bulky dove-gray skirt and jacket and scuffed ankle boots. She wound her unwashed hair in a bun and then tied the worn silk ribbons of her hat under her chin before asking the doctor, “Do I have time to write goodbyes to my loved ones?”
He nodded and she hastily penned three farewell letters. She handed them to the doctor with shaking hands before lifting a dust-covered velvet cloak from a nail on the wall. “I am ready.”
Seemingly out of nowhere, her lawyer reappeared. “This way,” he told her as he grasped her arm.
Prison rats scurried out their way as he led her down the hall. She breathed in a heavy breath when they were outside. It had been months since she’d seen the light of day, however faint it was now.
Four black cars were waiting in the prison courtyard. A few men scattered about the lawn lifted their freezing hands to bring their cameras to life, the bulbs brightening the dim morning as her lawyer bundled her into the first car.
They drove in silence. It was unseasonably cold and the chill sent icy fingers down her spine. She stopped herself from shivering, wishing that she could experience one more warm summer day. But there would be no more warmth, no more appeals, nothing left after these last few hours.
She knew that her fate awaited her at Caponniére, the old fort just outside of Vincennes where the cavalry trained. Upon arrival, her lawyer helped her out of the car, his gnarled hands digging into her arm.
It’s harder for him than it is for me. She brushed the thought away, wanting to focus on nothing but the fresh air and the way the autumn leaves of the trees next to the parade ground changed color as the sun rose. Her lawyer removed his arm from her shoulders as two Zouave escorts appeared on either side of her. Her self-imposed blinders finally dropped as she took in the twelve soldiers with guns and, several meters away, the wooden stake placed in front of a brick wall. So that the mis-aimed bullets don’t hit anything else.
A priest approached and offered her a blindfold.
“No thank you.” Her voice, which had not been used on a daily basis for months, was barely a whisper.
The priest glanced over at her lawyer, who nodded. The blindfold disappeared under his robes.
She spoke the same words to one of the escorts as he held up a rope, this time also shaking her head. She refused to be bound to the stake. He acquiesced, and walked away.
She stood as straight as she could, free of any ties, while the military chief read the following words aloud:
By decree of the Third Council of War, the woman who appears before us now has been condemned to death for espionage.
He then gave an order, and the soldiers came to attention. At the command, “En joue!” they hoisted their guns to rest on their shoulders. The chief raised his sword.
She took a deep breath and then lifted her chin, willing herself to die just like that: head held high, showing no fear. She watched as the chief lowered his sword and shouted “Feu!”
And then everything went black.
A Zouave private approached the body. He’d only been enlisted for a few weeks and had been invited to the firing squad by his commander, who told him that men of all ranks should know the pleasure of shooting a German spy.
“By blue, that lady knew how to die,” another Zouave commented.
“Who was she?” the private asked. He’d been taught that everything in war was black and white: the Germans were evil, the Allies pure. But he was surprised at how gray everything was that morning: from the misty fog, to the woman’s cloak and dress, and even the ashen shade of her lifeless face.
The other Zouave shrugged. “All I know is what they told me. They say she acted as a double agent and provided Germany with intelligence about our troops.” He drew his revolver and bent down to place the muzzle against the woman’s left temple.
“But is it necessary to kill her—a helpless woman?” the private asked.
The Zouave cocked his gun for the coup de grâce. “If women act as men would in war and commit heinous crimes, they should be prepared to be punished as men.” And he pulled the trigger, sending a final bullet into the woman’s brain.