A Mystic’s daughter flees Moscow on the eve of the Great War.
A French soldier lies wounded on the Western Front.
A German officer veers between loyalty and integrity.
An English courtesan reclines on a sea of books.
Each will make a journey that changes history.
The constellations will force the Mystic’s daughter to make an impossible choice. To remain at her harp as the shadow of war looms again – or join the top-secret Special Operations Executive (SOE). Babouli to her Sufi father, ‘Madeleine’ to the Gestapo, a lone mission to Occupied Paris promises to be the most hazardous of World War Two.
Inspired by real events, CODENAME: MADELEINE is the most unexpected spy story ever told. It teems with tigers, zeppelins, elephants, U-boats, angels, assassins, chessmen, cyanide, beetles, butterflies and Rumi. Revolving between Paris, London, Prague, India and Latin America, CODENAME: MADELEINE is a kaleidoscope of love, war, music, betrayal, poetry and resistance.
Occupied Paris, 1943
Noor’s pace quickened. The battered suitcase concealing her Mark II radio transmitter was heavy. Caught with a hidden transmitter receiver, she would be taken for immediate interrogation at Gestapo headquarters. Even the reinforced walls in the basement of 84 Avenue Foch could not shut out the screams. In extremis there was Plan C. Hidden in the button of her dress above her belt was a white pill stamped on both sides with red letters.
DANGER! KCN Scientific compound: Cyanide. The words of her handler had a reassuring echo. It will take about twelve seconds. On her lapel was a silver bird studded with jewel eyes – ruby, like the letters on the cyanide pill. She was the last radio transmitter left in Paris. Her predecessor, Denis Rake, had made an emergency stage exit. Any longer and he would have been sitting, arms clamped to a chair, in 84 Avenue Foch.
Noor exited Le Colisée on the Champs-Elysées, suitcase in hand. The café was approved by London. The coat attendant knew the password. Nothing about the two male contacts she left sitting at the corner table had aroused Noor’s suspicion. Their French was convincing, if hard to place. One, perhaps, took more than a passing interest in the reddish tint of her hair, though most was concealed under her cloche hat.
As she walked north along the Champs-Elysées, she noticed a man engrossed in a copy of Le Monde fold his newspaper. Another, on the opposite side of the Champs-Elysées, put on a pair of sunglasses. Nothing out of place on a warm October day, even in wartime. Despite the weeping blister on her heel, a strange euphoria came over Noor as she walked. London would be extracting her within twenty-four hours. She had succeeded, where others failed, in eluding the Gestapo. Gestapo units had been scouring the city for weeks like a plague of black beetles in search of a wireless operator who would vanish, like the tap of Morse code, into the ether.
She knew she was London’s only remaining eyes in Paris. She had refused orders to leave once before. Now even Georges Morel and the extreme fighters of the Paris Resistance said it was too dangerous to stay a minute longer.
Noor noticed splashes of colour returning to the drained Renoir of occupied Paris. The burgundy of a woman’s beret. The purple of a bougainvillaea entwined around the entrance of a florist. The pink of a ribbon around a box of pâtisseries. The weather was still balmy. She felt as if she were back at the Sorbonne, carrying her harp instead of a Mark II transmitter. The following afternoon she and her radio would be clambering aboard a Lysander sent by the phantom RAF squadron used to extract agents. Her inner harp strings, so long taut to the point of snapping, were beginning to release.
She cut through Rue Marbeuf. On the wall of a kiosk, she saw a reward for 200,000 francs for information in connection with the disappearance of a Gestapo officer last seen in the 5eme Arrondissement. Her heart quickened. That day she had jumped through Morel’s attic window when she heard the pounding on the porte d’entrée. As she walked, she felt a presence. The ruby eyes on her lapel glowed a deeper red. The man she had seen folding his copy of Le Monde was matching her pace. The man in sunglasses was visible in the reflections of the shop windows. Was it her imagination? She recalled the last Morse transmission from London. Be extra careful.
When a shadow crossed her heart, Noor would think always of her father’s words. In times of strife, Bābouli, always find and follow your breath. She focused on her lungs and initiated adhyam pranayama – upper chest breath. She felt her pulse steady. As she breathed, the same conflict stirred in the ventricles of her heart. Could she extinguish the divine light of life? Next to the transmitter was her treasured book: The Wisdom of Rumi. Her father, Inayat, had underlined one of the Sufi master’s sayings: ‘With life as short as a half-taken breath, plant nothing but love.’
She reminded herself that if she was caught and taken to 84 Avenue Foch, the Gestapo, in their black leather trench coats, would be planting nothing but hate. There was a saying among SOE agents. If you are taken for interrogation, smile while you still have teeth. Her mind spun. What could she use? Her .38 calibre pistol was in the safe house. The curriculum of Special Training School No. 5 also included unarmed combat. Even the peaceable mind of a mystic’s daughter had one mantra driven home like a sledgehammer. Everything is a weapon.
She could feel the softness of her cloche, so familiar it felt like part of her head. Hats were an obvious precaution. This one had a feature unknown to anyone except the F-Section technician who devised the fast-acting toxin for the tip of the hatpin. It was lodged three inches above her right ear. Noor moved the suitcase to her left hand. The footsteps behind her quickened. She could feel the brachial nerve in her right forearm twitch.
The gentle hand of a Sufi harpist was ready to sting like a scorpion.
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