She had charged down the ice run, refusing to slow down, and eventually was flung off her sled at one of the bends, cartwheeling into the snow. Truly, love at first sight. And I thought, how can it be? How can I feel like this about a man? And then as you walked away.
I know, I had to. I felt the same as you did and I simply had to let you know. You had to go down the Cresta Run, even though you knew only men were allowed. I still feel bad about her. They were a pair, Chessi and Saffy: one a sweet, sensible German girl, the other a barely tamed child of Africa, newly arrived in England after being brought up in the Kenyan highlands.
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At Christmas, when Saffron was on vacation from Oxford University, staying with relatives in Scotland, Chessi had written to her. The letter explained that she would be in St. Moritz for the New Year, hosting a chalet party at which she expected the man she loved would propose to her. Saffron had dashed across Europe as much because she wanted to be with her friend and share her joy as for the thrill of the Cresta Run.
She had no idea that the love of her life would be waiting for her, still less that he would be the man Chessi expected to marry. You would have been made for Chessi. The happiness stayed with them for the rest of the afternoon. They stopped in front of the Eiffel Tower to have their picture taken by one of the photographers who plied their trade there. Afterwards, pleasantly drowsy from the champagne cocktail that had preceded her meal and the bottle of Cheval Blanc that had accompanied the duck, Saffron had rested her head against Gerhard and teased him affectionately. Gerhard nodded, frowning with exaggerated thoughtfulness.
You should get some rest. They went back to their suite, paying no attention to its elegant cream, beige and gold decorations.
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There would be time enough in the morning to snuggle on one of the silk-upholstered sofas, or enjoy the view. Saffron kicked off her shoes, yanked her dress over her head and threw it to the ground without the slightest concern for its delicate chiffon fabric. She unhooked her bra and stepped out of her French knickers, laughing as she gave them one last flick with her toes and sent them flying towards Gerhard, a missile of white satin.
She kept her stockings on, knowing how her man loved the contrast of colour and feel. She threw herself onto the bed and then arranged herself artfully, sitting with her back resting on the pillows propped up against the headboard, brazen and unashamed as she turned her eyes towards Gerhard. He was unbuttoning his shirt with maddening deliberation, one button at a time, gradually revealing his chest, lightly furred with golden hair.
Then she could see the ridges of muscle on his stomach. Gerhard looked at her, enjoying her gaze. He paused, his eyes examining every inch of her, and she felt the heat rising within her, the melting beginning. His smile broadened. He knew what he was doing to her. But she could see as he undid his belt and opened the top button of his trousers that she was having an equally potent effect on him.
He took his trousers off. And then he was on her, and in her, and she felt completed by him, as though they were two halves of one single organism. Her moans turned to screams and she gave herself over, body and soul, to the man she loved, as he gave himself to her. Saffron felt an icy shock. She wrapped her arms around him, as if she could force him to stay with her.
He wants it back.
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What difference does it make to us? The British and French have always backed down. No, not him. It will be complicated and take forever for our messages to get through. But they will, I promise. He spent the last war on the front line; how could he possibly be in any danger spending this one in Switzerland? But Solomons was a Jew and Konrad von Meerbach was a fanatical Nazi, whose passion for Adolf Hitler and all his works far outweighed any considerations of loyalty, or decency.
He relieved Solomons of his duties, without notice or compensation. Gerhard, however, was cut from a different cloth to his brother. Ashamed of the way that such a loyal retainer and friend had been treated, he had persuaded Konrad to give him five thousand Reichsmarks from the family trust by claiming that he wanted to buy a Mercedes sports car. Instead, he had given the money to Isidore Solomons, and, in so doing, enabled an entire family to escape to safety in Switzerland.
Within a day of first meeting Gerhard, Saffron had travelled with him to Zurich to meet Solomons. Saffron understood then that here was someone who knew the difference between right and wrong, and who was willing to act on that knowledge, whatever the consequences. It made her certain in her heart and mind alike: she had chosen the right man to love. I swear. They made love again. She managed not to cry until the train had left the station.
But then the floodgates opened as the awful truth became impos-sible to wish away any longer. Her love for Gerhard von Meerbach had only just begun. But she might never see him again. She might yearn for a time when they could be with one another and build a life together in peace. She might tell herself that their love would survive and their dreams would come true, and try with all her heart to believe it. But then another voice inside her asked: What chance is there of that?
In less than five months, in the early hours of Friday, 1 September , Hitler unleashed the forces of Nazi Germany against Poland. Two days later, Great Britain declared war on Germany. And slaughter, suffering and horror exploded across the world. Another April in another country, on an early spring evening in Saffron Courtney was wearing baggy black serge overalls that hid her figure.
She leaned over the railway track and pressed the three-pound block of explosives into the hollow between the base and top rail.
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The block, comprised of six eight-ounce cartridges of Nobel , was as malleable as putty, so that Saffron could squeeze it snugly up against the metal. The night air was filled with the strong smell of almonds, the odour emanating from the nitro-glycerine-based explosives. She pushed in a length of detonating cord, onto which a one-ounce gun-cotton primer had been inserted.
Once she was satisfied with its placement, she took a roll of three-quarter-inch adhesive khaki tape from her knapsack, tore a strip off with her teeth and wound it over the plastic explosive and around the track. She sat back on her haunches and looked up and down the track.
Then she glanced at each side of the deep cutting. Saffron satisfied herself that she was not being observed. For a couple of seconds she took in the peaceful, limpid beauty of a northern evening sky, its soft blue streaked with clouds in oyster colours of grey, pearl and palest pink. She breathed in air laced with the soft scent of the gorse, whose brave yellow flowers were blooming through the last patches of winter snow, and the salt and seaweed tang of the sea. The next item out of her knapsack was a metal button that was a little under two inches in diameter.
This fitted over the rail so that the button stood proud on top of it.
That alerted engine drivers to hazards up ahead, or, when conditions were foggy, let them know that they were nearing a station and should begin to slow down. No railway worker or train crewman would be surprised to see that button on the track, and it would take a close inspection before they noticed that Saffron had fixed a short length of detonating cord between the button and the block of plastic explosive. When the next train passed over the Fog-Signal Switch, the detonator would initiate the chain of detonating cord, guncotton primer and main charge.
And all hell would break loose.
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The train was carrying five hundred men of the Waffen SS and it was due in less than ten minutes. If the charge went off, it would derail the train and either kill or injure many of the men on board. More importantly, it would wreck the track and block the cutting. The close confines and precipitous granite walls that hemmed everything in would add to the time and effort required to clear and repair the track, and this would severely hamper German lines of communications.
Not yet, at any rate.