While 1943 had been a terrible year for most of her friends, Monique realized how very fortunate she herself had been. [see Monique pic] The German invaders had not closed the theater in Paris where she had been appearing for many years as one of the country's leading young actresses. If 28 could still be considered young for an actress. True, she no longer found work in films, since she was not willing to volunteer for the propaganda films that the Germans were forcing her countrymen to produce. And, fortunately, she hadn't been asked to appear in any.
She preferred live theater anyway, even if the money was not as good. Not as good then. Much worse now.
The Germans had left this theater pretty much untouched, although its owners were careful not to stage anything that might be considered controversial or anti-German in any way. But three days ago, Monique's personal dresser, Pierre Lemond, had disappeared without notice, which was not like the reliable Pierre. This concerned Monique greatly, not merely because she considered Pierre a friend and was concerned for his safety -- the stories about what happened to people who disappeared were extremely horrible -- but because, for the last two months, Monique had been acting as an intermediary for the French resistance, and the person to whom she passed on the coded messages that she received was ... Pierre.
Monique herself did not know the code, could not, and would never if she could, read the notes, and did not even know who was passing them to her. She only knew that she had been instructed to go every fourth day -- so it was never the same days of the week -- for a morning walk in the park, stop at the women's restroom, and check to see if a note had been taped to the back of the toilet tank. About two of every three times that she had checked one had, about 10 in all so far over the two months. If one had, then she was instructed to give the note to Pierre before the evening's performance. What Pierre did with the note or its information she did not know. They never talked about it. The first time she had even said that she had something for him, he made a motion with a finger that she should not speak and looked toward the pocket in his coat, making clear that she should just put it in his pocket. And that is what she had done each later time. Without a word.
Monique had volunteered to do this because she needed to do something for her countrymen who had been so devastated by the German takeover, even if she herself had not been. And it did not seem too risky. But now Pierre was gone. Captured? An SS agent? Just some unfortunate unrelated accident? She had no idea. But she tried to keep the same routine. She had even gone for her walk that morning. But she hadn't checked for a note. She wouldn't have known what to do with it if one had been left. And she certainly wasn't going to keep it in her possession. She was nervous enough having each one for the few hours that she did before giving them to Pierre.
Monique heard the taxi arrive outside her apartment. Before the invasion, the theater had sent a limousine. But business was not like before, so now it was a taxi and she was grateful for that, even if it was written into her contract that the theater was supposed to send a limousine. Sometimes she recognized the driver as one who had taken her before. Sometimes not.
She slipped her white dress over her bra and panties -- no one, not even a well-known actress, wore nylons anymore -- and looked in the full-length mirror that was now a definite luxury. She saw her still thin body that had helped her begin her career almost 10 years earlier as a runway model. Models needed to be thin so that buyers stared at the clothes and not the model's body. Not that there was anything wrong with her body -- even if men didn't find her "voluptuous," like several other French actresses, she bet they still noticed her body.
Her wardrobe for the performance was at the theater, where she would change, so she needn't look perfect. Although she had been forced to dress herself the last three days. Since Pierre's "departure."
Monique descended the two flights to the street below, her heels announcing to anyone within hearing that it was a woman walking down the stairs. She didn't recognize the driver, who held the back door open for her, tipping his cap as she slipped onto the back seat.
The drive had taken 15 minutes before the invasion, but now, even with less traffic, it took 25 since they had to wait in line at each checkpoint. Monique settled in and closed her eyes. Although the performances were routine in a way, after all these years, she always wanted to be fully rested to give her best to the paying audience. That was the least that she could do in these troubled times.
She wasn't sure for how long she dozed -- it seemed like more than 15 minutes, though -- but, when she awoke, she was surprised that they hadn't yet reached the theater. She looked out the window and didn't recognize where they were. The driver answered her question before she asked.
"I was instructed to bring you to police headquarters before the performance. I was told that the commandant wanted to ask you a few questions about one of the persons who worked at the theater. It didn't sound like it would take long."
Monique's heart sank, but she tried not to react, not knowing if the driver might actually work for the SS. One never knew these days. That was one of the ways the Germans maintained control. So the commandant wanted to ask her questions. Not an underling, but the commandant. That did not sound good. "If I'm going to make the performance, I really haven't much time," she said as calmly as she could. But, of course, she knew, the real performance that awaited her would be soon at hand.
The driver turned into a long driveway, and was signaled through by the guards at the barrier. Too fast, Monique thought. They were expecting us.
I must assume that they captured Pierre, she thought, and that he told them what he knew. Or that Pierre was working for the SS all the time. Either way, I have to assume that they know.
Monique knew the instructions given to all members of the resistance. "If you are captured, you must assume that you will never leave the interrogation room alive. Give up on yourself, and do whatever is necessary to take one or more of them down also. By casting suspicion on their own. Or in whatever other way appears to you at the time. But only by giving up on yourself will you be in any position to help the cause. Focus on the cause, not yourself."
Monique, however, was not yet ready to give up on herself. Maybe she was fearing more than she need fear. After all, she was imagining the worst case. Perhaps they just wanted to know if she knew where Pierre was. She took a deep breath.
The car stopped outside a stone building at the rear of what the SS had turned into a police complex. It looked like the building had been partially destroyed by German bombing -- there were now many of these outside the city -- and showed no signs of occupancy. But two soldiers immediately appeared, one on each side, as soon as the car stopped.
"Good afternoon, Fraulein Montagne. Thank you for coming." One of the soldiers opened the back door for her.
Thank me for coming, Monique thought. As if I had a choice. But she responded with a forced smile as she exited the cab. "You have all treated me very well during the past years. I am happy to help the commandant in any way that I can."
With one soldier on each side -- she tried to notice if they were gripping her elbows too tightly, but could not decide -- she walked -- or was she being marched? -- into the building. She was led down a flight of stone steps, and then a dimly lit corridor to a door that they reached about the same time that Monique realized what this underground passage reminded her of ... and she noticeably shuddered.
When they entered the room, and the two soldiers closed the door behind them, Monique couldn't be sure if she was right. Lights shining brightly in the front part of the room made it impossible for her to see more than ten feet into it. The soldiers walked Monique about halfway through the visible portion of the room, and then moved back to stand one at each side of the door. Standing guard, she thought.
About five feet in front of her, behind a long desk, sat two men dressed in high ranking SS uniforms. The one on the left spoke first.
"Fraulein Montagne. It is nice to see you in person. I am Commandant Lieb and this is Colonel Heinz. I have admired your work on the screen." His voice was smooth, almost friendly.
"Thank you, sir."
"Monique Montagne. What a wonderful name for an actress. Is it your birth name?"
Monique wondered if he was actually interested in this, or whether he was beginning her questioning.
"My given name, sir. Yes, I like it. And you may call me Monique." She decided to risk speaking further. "But sir, if I may be so bold, while I am most pleased to assist you in any way that I can, I have a performance this evening, and will not make it unless I leave shortly. And I would hate to disappoint my audience."
"Ahh, yes, Fraulein," Lieb responded, ignoring her invitation of informality. "I understand. But you have, what do they call it in the theater, oh, yes, an understudy?"
"Yes, sir, but the audience pays to see me."
"Oh, but I am sure that they will understand, even appreciate, if you are away helping your country. In fact, we can announce that at the theater so the audience will know the reason for your absence ... should you not make it back in time. But perhaps you will not be detained too long and still make your performance."
Great relief, thought Monique. If there is a chance that I won't be detained too long, then ...
"Do you know a man named Pierre Lemond?"
Right to the point. "Yes, sir, I do. He is my dresser. At least until about three nights ago."
"Yes, we know. And he works for the terrorists?"
She had prepared for this question. To the Germans, of course, those fighting for freedom with the resistance were nothing more than terrorists. But, however the Commandant chose to word the question, she knew she couldn't just say yes or no. Either answer was likely to create extreme trouble for her. Yes, and she would be asked why she didn't turn him in. No, and she might be saying something inconsistent with information that Pierre or others had already provided. Or, worse, she might be asked how she could know that he was not working for the resistance unless she herself was. Monique did not hesitate in her response.
"Sir, I do not know for a fact that he was or was not. But lately my suspicions have started to build. Not yet to the point of so advising you -- you are so busy that I do not want to take a chance on wasting your time -- but moving in that direction."
"I see. Yes. Well, we are now certain that he was working for the terrorists, passing on coded information about our military plans."
Monique said nothing, waiting to hear more, but noting that Lieb referred to Pierre's action in the past tense. "He has identified someone as his source for information. Do you know who he has identified?"
Monique was certain that the others in the room could see her body shaking. "No, sir," she said, as strongly and clearly as her fear allowed.
"He has identified you, Fraulein. What do you have to say about that?"
"Pierre is my friend, and I have wished him to be more than my friend. I have passed him love notes, but nothing more." Monique feared that perhaps someone else in the acting company had seen her place a note in Pierre's pocket.
"Interesting." Lieb paused. "You have passed him notes?"
"Love notes, sir."
"Fraulein Montagne. It seems that we will need to ask you more questions under appropriate conditions."
"But why?" "Appropriate conditions" sounded very ominous.
"Fraulein, from this point forward, we must consider this a formal interrogation. That means that we will ask the questions and you will answer and nothing else. Do you understand these rules?"
"But I have told you the truth. I am cooperating with you. Why ..."
One of the guards quickly walked up to Monique, and, without a word, punched her hard in the stomach. Monique immediately tried to double over in pain, but the soldier pulled her back upright by her hair.
"Fraulein, you need to listen," Lieb offered, his formerly friendly voice now cold, as Monique gasped, trying to regain her breath. "Whether you are Monique Montagne or a nameless member of the terrorists, you do not speak under formal questioning except to answer what we ask. Now, do you understand?"
"Yes." Still recovering, it was difficult to get even this one word out.
The lights shining in her direction strengthened until Monique could no longer see either Lieb or Heinz seated at the table in front of her. But she could still hear Lieb's voice clearly.
"Fraulein, appropriate questioning requires you to remove your dress and your shoes. If you answer our questions fully and honestly, you will be allowed to keep your undergarments and the rest of your clothes will be restored to you."
"But I ..." Monique immediately stopped herself, recognizing what was likely to happen if she continued. She glanced around her. She could barely see the outlines of the guards behind her. She suddenly felt very alone and helpless, and knew that this was exactly how "formal questioning" under "appropriate conditions" was designed to make the subject of interrogation feel.
Knowing she had no choice, she slid the straps of her dress off her shoulders, allowed it to fall to the ground, and then stepped out of her shoes.
"Now clasp your hands behind your neck," ordered Heinz.
Slowly, Monique obeyed. The movement forced her chest out. She imagined the men were enjoying her situation.
"Why did you mention passing Pierre notes? No one had said anything about notes or passing notes."
Monique immediately realized her foolish error that had led to Lieb's decision for "formal interrogation." And she began also to understand that, even if there was a chance that she would leave this room alive, she had better begin to take to heart the resistance's advise to its captured members. Give up on yourself, but find a way to help the cause.
"You were asking me about Pierre. I was trying to tell you what I knew about him. I was in love with him."
"A famous actress in love with a dresser? Hmm. Well, Pierre told us something different about those notes. In fact, he gave one to us. I didn't see the word love in it. Were all the notes that you sent him love notes?" Lieb's voice clearly rose when he said "love."
"I think all were, yes."
One of the guards now again approached behind her, and Monique winced, remembering the blow just a moment ago and expecting another. Instead, though, using a small knife from his pocket, he silently cut the straps of her bra until it fell to the floor. He then moved to where he could enjoy the sight of her now bare breasts with the soldiers seated at the table, before returning to his position by the door. Monique resisted the urge to cover herself with her hands, keeping her hands clasped behind her head as ordered, her body's shaking now increased as her fear grew. A fear that her exposed breasts would not let her hide.
"That is for not telling us the truth. And it will get much worse if you continue to lie to us. Much worse. So let that be your last lie, and let me ask again: Were all the notes that you sent to Pierre love notes?" The same deprecating tone on the word "love."
Still not certain that Lieb actually had one of her notes, Monique knew that she still had to resist, that a further admission would likely ensure her doom. "I think so, sir," she offered hesitatingly. "There were many, but I think so, sir."
The same guard returned to stand facing her, his body between hers and the table. With his boot he pushed the inside of her right leg, and she moved it out until her feet were shoulder width apart. The guard stepped back, and then kicked the toe of his boot up hard between her legs. Monique grunted loudly from the blow, her eyes glazed from the pain. Her hands dropped from behind her head to fall limply at her sides, her knees buckled toward him, and her body began to sink as the room spun around her. But before she reached the ground, the other guard, who had moved unnoticed behind her, caught her under her arms just as the guard in front reached down and pulled up her ankles. As Monique lost consciousness, the two guards carried here away from the lighted portion of the room, past the table and SS officers, to the unknown that awaited her behind them.
The guards stopped a few feet from the far wall of what was a very large room that suddenly became dim when the main spotlight under which Monique had been questioned was turned off, leaving illumination only from small lamps spaced every 10 feet or so along the walls.
While the guard holding her under her arms waited, the other released her legs and reached up to two manacles hanging by chains that ran through a ring in the ceiling to a winch. After manacling Monique's wrists, the same guard moved to the winch and turned it slowly. As the chain returned to the attached wheel, Monique's arms were raised until they stretched over her head. The second guard then released his grip on her arms, leaving her standing with her head slumped against her chest and only her toes touching the floor.
Lieb and Heinz moved away from the table to the side of the rack near Monique's hanging figure, and leaned against its side. Lieb gave a slight nod in the guards' direction.
The first guard again took out his knife. He cut one side of Monique's panties, then the other, and pulled the thin material from between her legs, leaving her completely naked. The other guard walked to the winch and, with one quick turn, raised Monique further.
Another loud grunt issued from her throat, she tried to raise her head for a second, but it then fell back to her chest as her body began to sway slightly, now free of the ground.
"The pain in her shoulders will increase quickly. She will be rejoining us soon," offered the guard in Lieb's direction.
The four men watched Monique's naked, stretched body silently for the few minutes it took before her moans increased and she forced herself to raise her head. She looked first at them, then up at her manacles wrists, then down to confirm what she feared -- that the last threads of her clothing had been removed.
When she looked back at Lieb, her face was twisted in pain. "Please, sir. Please. My shoulders. Please."
"We need the truth from you, Fraulein, yet you resist giving it to us. Is this one of your love notes?" Lieb walked to her and held in her face what she immediately recognized from the outer envelope was the last note that she had passed to Pierre. She knew that it was pointless to deny it. She knew ... that it really was time to give up on herself and do whatever she could for the cause. Hanging by her wrists naked in the SS dungeon with four SS soldiers surrounding her, with no chance of rescue or escape, she laughed wryly at the thought that there might really be anything that she could do to help the cause.
"Yes, sir. It is mine." Monique answered through the pain in her shoulders. "Please, sir. Please." She struggled just to get the words out.
"Good. Now we are making progress. And who did you give this note to?"
"To Pierre, sir. About three days ago. Please, sir."
"Is this a love note?"
"No, sir. Please."
"You think that because you have been forced by the facts shown to you to answer three questions honestly that I should relieve the pain in your shoulders?" Lieb seemed to be smiling at her.
"Please, sir." Monique's body was now covered with a thin layer of sweat.
"Very well," was Lieb's curt reply. "You heard the woman's request. Relieve the pain in her shoulders." Lieb looked at the two guards.
Monique hoped that they would move toward the winch and lower her feet to the ground. But the guards both moved in the other direction, to the far wall, and picked up ... Monique recognized what it was. A long triangular cross-section of wood with one of the edges turned upward, framed by two supporting triangles of wood to hold it in place. A wooden horse. She looked back to the smiling Lieb.
"Trust me, Fraulein. This will relieve the pain in your shoulders, just as you asked."
Monique pulled helplessly at her chained wrists. "No. No. Please. I've cooperated."
"But I am doing exactly as you asked."
The guards moved the device in place, forcing one of Monique's legs on each side. The first guard then moved to the winch, and released the catch. Monique's body fell down hard onto the upright edge now protruding between her legs. Her scream was louder than any before, as she felt it strike her most sensitive flesh and dig deep. It seemed to her that it would split her in two until it divided her whole body. As she screamed, the guards manacled her ankles, and then ran a chain from one to the other below the horse, tightening it to ensure that she remained in place. The depth of the horizontal wood along her thighs made certain that she would not fall to either side.
"There. Now hasn't that eased the pain in your shoulders, Fraulein?" The guards released her wrists from the chain in the ceiling to prevent her from trying to pull herself up to relieve her situation. They quickly re-chained her wrists behind her back.
Monique was still screaming when the Commandant continued. "Now we get to the interesting part. Since it seems clear that you didn't write the notes, who gave them to you?"
Monique felt helpless. If she told the truth -- that she didn't know who gave them to her, that they were just left in the women's restroom in the park -- they wouldn't believe her. They would just continue to torture her for the information that she didn't have.
But if she lied and gave a name, just to try to end her pain, then another resistance member would soon face her same hopeless situation.
"You do not wish to answer." Lieb's voice had a tinge of surprise ... and impatience. One of the guards lifted Monique by her elbows the slight distance that her chained ankles allowed and then dropped her. The pain rose beyond even the level to which her mind had tried to adjust. But her throat was now so raw that she could scream no louder and soon her screams began to grow raspier.
"Your contact, Fraulein."
Through the haze of pain, Monique formed her response. "I have two contacts," she screamed.
"And their names?"
"One is named Greta. The other is named Helga." Monique had thought to offer two of the most common German women's names that she could think of.
Lieb looked quizzically at her. "These are German names."
"Yes, sir. My contacts are inside the SS."
Lieb rose. This made some sense to him. Who else would know their military plans but someone on the inside? "And what are their last names?"
"Please, sir. The pain."
"Their last names."
Now a common last name, she thought, and perhaps there will be such a person in the SS. "I don't know exactly." Best to be a bit vague, she thought. This will cover more possibilities. "It is something like Greta Snyder or Schneider. Something like that. It was only said to me, never shown in writing." A good response, Monique thought.
"And the other. This Helga?"
"Again, it was something like Koch."
Heinz immediately rose and left the room.
"And how did these persons pass the notes to you?"
"After performances." Monique could only get a few words out at a time before gasping for another breath. "I usually had protection ... from the crowds at the back door.... If it were one of these officers providing the protection ... they would sometimes give me a note." Monique was beginning to think that, despite her helplessness, she might actually be able to help the cause, just as she had been instructed, now that she accepted the hopelessness of her situation.
Heinz returned after a few minutes and whispered in Lieb's ear. Lieb nodded and then glanced to the guards and nodded.
The guards moved toward Monique, unchained her ankles, and pulled her off the wood, now bloodied from her ordeal. They then carried her to the closest wall, sat her down with her legs extended in front of her, manacled her ankles to small hooks in the floor, and chained her wrists over her head. Not the most comfortable position, but far better than any position she had been in during the last ... Monique had no idea how long she had been in the room. Her head slumped onto her chest. She needed time to recover, to try to regain her strength. To help the cause.
After 20 minutes a young blonde woman of about 25 entered, dressed smartly in her SS uniform -- shirt, pants, jacket, boots. She snapped to attention when she saw her superior officers, whose eyes were immediately on this woman with a figure at least a bit more substantial than the thin French woman on whom they had been working. "Greta Schuler reporting, sir."
This time it was Heinz who began. "Corporal, do you know why you have been summoned here?"
"No, sir. Perhaps for reassignment from my supply unit, but I do not know."
"Corporal, this woman here," Heinz nodded in Monique's direction, "has accused you of passing military secrets to the terrorists."
Greta jolted. "No, sir. Never. That is a lie. Who is this woman who accuses me?"
"Given these accusations, you can understand that we need to question you formally. You are familiar with formal interrogation?"
"Yes, but as I told you, I don't know this woman. I am not guilty of this awful charge."
Lieb intervened. "Corporal, formal questioning means that you say nothing except to answer our questions."
"But you must know ..."
From her corner, hearing the commotion, Monique lifted her head just in time to see that formal questioning meant that all subjects -- whether French resistance or SS soldiers -- were treated alike. The same guard who had worked over Monique immediately approached the protesting Greta and punched her hard in the stomach, forcing Greta to double over just as Monique had -- had it been hours? -- earlier. But this time he followed the blow with one to the back of her neck, sending the woman sprawling face down to the ground. Monique allowed her head to slump back to her chest. Inside, she allowed herself a brief smile.
"An SS soldier who disobeys the rules of formal interrogation?" The two guards pulled her back to her feet and then released their grip on her. Greta immediately doubled over again, clutching her stomach, but remained on her feet.
"But this is preposterous," she protested, unable to control her wrath at the accusation and her fear at what it might mean. The guard's next blow was hard across her mouth, knocking her out cold. She landed hard on the floor. The guard looked at Heinz, who nodded in a direction away from the chained Monique.
The two guards dragged Greta's limp body in the indicated direction, where a horizontal bar about four feet high had been secured by two vertical poles.
Under the bar were stocks. The guards pulled Greta's arms behind her back, and then over the bar until the bar rested under her armpits. They bent her knees back, and secured her booted ankles in the stocks. Finally, they manacled her wrists to her ankles so that the immobile Greta was facing Lieb and Heinz, who had moved to stand within 10 feet of her. A bucket of water revived Greta to face her interrogation. [see Greta pic]
"You are so foolish, Corporal Schuler," Heinz began. "Only our questioning will reveal if you are a traitor. But your actions have already told us that you are not a very well trained SS member." Greta stared at him and opened her mouth, but then remembered and said nothing.
"Since you are not in position to honor the conditions for formal questioning on your own, the guards will assist you."
One of the guards approached, grabbed the sides of Greta's jacket, pulled it open, buttons flying. Next her shirt, with the same result. Under it, Greta was wearing a shapeless black bra. The guard turned to Heinz, who nodded. The guard turned back to Greta, pulled out his knife, and cut the bra between the cups, setting her breasts free from the material and into the view of the soldiers. Their belief that this one was indeed more "voluptuous" than that skinny French woman was immediately confirmed. The guard then proceeded to cut away the jacket, shirt and bra until Greta was naked from the waist up, left wearing only her boots and pants and whatever she might be wearing under them. Greta, terrified, started to weep.
"Do you know the actress Monique Montagne? She is your accuser. That is she there," Heinz nodded in Monique's direction, "not that you would recognize her in her present condition."
Greta hesitated, wanting to be sure that it was time to answer the question. "I have seen her in films, sir. That is all."
Heinz walked slowly over to Monique, and lifted her head to force her to stare directly at Greta. "Is this one of your contacts?" Monique nodded.
"No. She lies," Greta screamed.
"Now why would she lie? Look at her. She resisted telling us the names of her contacts until we tortured them out of her. And she named you. And now she identifies you."
"I am not a traitor. I am a loyal member of the SS. Please. Ask my commanding officer. Ask anyone. Please. I am wrongly accused."
This time Lieb himself moved toward Greta until his face was close to hers. "I guess we will have to use other methods to get the truth from you."
The guards now rolled a small cart close to the weeping Greta. There was no mistaking what the two alligator clamps that were attached to wires ending in the box sitting on top of the cart were for. Greta stopped weeping. And screamed.
The guard quickly attached the clamps to Greta's nipples. Heinz moved to the box holding the generator. Without a word, he turned the knob halfway. Now Greta's screams drowned out all other sounds in the room. Her chest arched outward as far as the wood allowed. And her legs moved apart, the only direction allowed to them. Heinz left the knob in its position for a full 10 seconds before returning it. Greta's body fell back and collapsed, her body glistening in sweat, her chest heaving to gulp in all the air that it could.
"I understand," said Heinz, "that that feels like a knife cutting you from the inside out. Is that right? Is that how it feels?"
Greta prayed that he was not really asking her a question that she was expected to answer, since she was not capable of responding while she tried to regain her breath and strength.
"Now, Corporal Schuler. How often did you go to Fraulein Montagne's theater after her performances?"
Greta groaned. She knew that no answer to a question phrased in this manner would prevent Heinz from turning that knob again. "Never," she finally gasped. "Check my work records. Never."
This time, Heinz turned the knob three-quarters of the way. Greta began to scream even before his hand had moved toward it, and her screams quickly turned to a mixture of inhuman jabbering and pleas that made it seem that her throat was going to leap out of our mouth.
Again, Heinz waited 10 seconds before returning the knob. The muscles in Greta's chest again strained for precious air. Otherwise, her head fell to her chest and bounced along with her body in time to the frantic rhythm of her breathing.
Lieb approached, and lifted Greta's head by her hair. She struggled to open her eyes, to try to use them to plead for mercy, which her voice could not yet do again. But she knew that she was wasting the effort. He threw her head back down to her chest and turned away. "Move to the next stage," he told the guards.
Greta felt one of the guards begin to cut away and remove her pants and panties, while the other tied her knees to the vertical poles that held between them the horizontal bar by which her body hung. With her legs now spread, and wearing nothing but her boots, Greta finally gathered the strength to speak again.
She knew that she had been ordered not to speak, but what more could they do to her that they were not already doing, she thought.
"You know that I am innocent of what I am charged." She was surprised how softly she said this, unable to offer any louder protest.
"I don't think so, Corporal. But really, does it matter? Even if you are innocent of the charge, you are guilty of being a poor soldier. Both are treasonous offenses. But I do think that you are guilty of what you are charged, as well. We will soon find out."
Heinz attached two more wires to the generator and Greta had no doubt where these were going. "We're not always original, Corporal, but we are effective." Heinz moved away after clipping the wires to her labia.
"Corporal Schuler, do you admit that you passed on secret information to Monique Montagne to be passed on to the terrorists?"
Monique was now staring in Greta's direction, thrilled and horrified and amazed at what was happening. She had made groundless accusations against an SS soldier who might have a common name and the SS had gone out and found a soldier with a similar name and was now interrogating her brutally. And Monique hadn't even said Schuler, the name she now heard. She had said Snyder or Schneider. And based just on that, they had brought in this innocent -- well, to the extent any SS soldier was innocent -- Greta Schuler for questioning, and now she appeared ready to confess to the story that Monique had made up. The resistance was right. Even a helpless captive can do good, she thought, if she just continues to think under severe torture.
It was then that the door again opened, and another SS soldier entered.
In her focus on Greta Schuler, Monique had almost forgotten that she had given the SS a second name. "Sergeant Helga Koch reporting, sir," the woman snapped as she entered. All eyes quickly moved to her, temporary relieving Corporal Schuler of the terror that she had been about to face. And all their eyes remained on her. Helga Koch was statuesque. Six feet tall. Solidly built. Stern countenance. Short blond hair. [see Helga pic] Dressed exactly as Greta had been, in standard-issue SS uniform with leather boots.
"Welcome, Sergeant Koch. Do you know why you were summoned?"
Helga's eyes glanced quickly around the room, spotting first Greta, then Monique. "Well, since my interrogation unit has had such success lately, and you seem to have two subjects here, I assume you want my assistance in loosening their tongues, which I can do either figuratively ... or literally."
Helga walked over to the hanging figure of Greta. "A traitorous SS soldier, I imagine," noticing Greta's boots. Helga checked the clamps. "This is a good way." Helga checked Greta's pulse. "No need to stop. She can take much more."
Lieb looked at Heinz, but neither interrupted Helga's movement or advice, as Helga next strode to Monique, lifted her slumped head by the hair, and stared into her half opened eyes for a long moment, then quizzically looked back at Lieb. "The actress?" Lieb nodded. "Guess I won't be seeing her in any new cinema then, will I?" Helga laughed, dropped Monique's head back to her chest, and walked back to the Commandant.
"I assume," she continued, "that this one," nodding toward Monique, "turned in that one."
"Sergeant Koch, you are correct. Fraulein Montagne has accused Corporal Schuler of assisting her in passing military secrets to the terrorists."
"That was not difficult to surmise." Helga was matter of fact, not boastful.
"She has also accused you."
Helga stopped and stared at Lieb, then at Monique, and then back at Lieb. "So I have been summoned for formal interrogation?" she asked.
Helga looked down for a second, took a deep breath, and then walked to the front of the room, under the bright light where Monique had previously stood, near the Commandant's desk. The other men followed.
When Helga reached the spot, she unbuttoned her jacket, removed it and dropped it on the floor. Her boots, blouse and pants quickly followed, leaving her in her bra and panties. She bent down, gathered her clothes in a pile, and handed them to one of the guards, whose eyes were fixed on her body.
She returned to the same spot, reached around to unclasp her bra, pulled it off and tossed it to the guard. She then moved her feet shoulder length apart, clasped the fingers of her hands together, and placed them behind her head, further accentuating her already startling bust line. "I am ready."
"Removal of the bra was not required under rules of formal interrogation," Lieb offered.
"No?" Helga replied. "Have you not always found a pretense to require its removal during interrogation? I have. So let's save the time."
It took the flustered Lieb a few moments to stop staring at Helga's breasts and gather the presence to begin the questioning. "What is your position in the SS?"
"Officer in charge of interrogation for the outer east wing."
"Have you ever seen this woman?" Lieb gestured toward Monique.
Lieb looked a bit startled at the answer. "How often have you seen her?"
"Really?" Again, puzzlement. "Under what circumstances?"
"On the movie theater screen."
Lieb now realized that this Helga Koch answered a question exactly as it was asked, even though they both knew that it was not meant to be answered so literally. This soldier was not like that other sniffling one.
"Have you ever seen her before in person?" Lieb stressed the last two words.
"You are aware that she has accused you of assisting her to pass military secrets to the resistance?"
"Now that you have told me that, yes, sir, I am."
"Have you assisted her?"
"Do you have any idea then why she would accuse you?"
"Why do you think she accused you, Sergeant?"
"Permission requested to speak freely, sir."
"Thank you, sir." Helga relaxed a bit, but kept her hands clasped behind her head, and took a deep breath, appreciated greatly by the soldiers in the room.
"I have interrogated many terrorists over the last six months. In doing so, I have learned that, like many covert operations, their leaders do not tell any member more than that member needs to know. This woman here, the actress, did she know who she was giving her information to?"
"She did," Lieb responded. "Her contact revealed her name to us, and she has given us his name as well, confirming the accuracy of our information."
Helga allowed herself a small smile. "As I thought. Since she knows to whom she gave her information, it is doubtful that she knows who gave it to her. Otherwise, capture of a mere messenger could compromise many levels of their operation."
Lieb listened intently, surprised at all that she grasped so quickly. "So you are saying that she does not know where she received the information. How can that be?"
"She receives it from a place, rather than from a person. She does not know who leaves it there. Simple enough." Helga paused to gather Lieb's reaction before continuing. "Since she doesn't know who gave it to her, she has no answer to your question. She knows you will not accept that she does not know. After all, you must do whatever is necessary to get all information from her. So, with no answer, she faces torture. Instead, then, she gives you a name. Or two names. And as long as she is going to give you false information, why not give you the names of SS soldiers, to cause disruption among us. Suspicion. Distrust. All of which may make us turn on ourselves and weaken ourselves. And who should she accuse? Why not someone like me, who has no doubt tortured many of her friends?"
"And how would you respond to this attempt?" Heinz asked.
"I would investigate it. Bring in the persons identified by her and accused by her. As you have done. After all, who knows how she picked those persons. Maybe she did hear something about them. You cannot be too safe. You must follow another basic SS rule: All in whom absolute trust does not exist must prove their innocence. What benefits the fatherland must always be preferred to any rights of an individual."
Lieb looked at Heinz, then back to Helga. "Sergeant, you have confirmed our absolute trust in you." He nodded to her pile of clothes. Helga walked over to them and began to dress.
"I want this situation resolved. I place you in charge of it. Don't bother me with details. I place no limitations on you as to how you may achieve the results that you determine are most beneficial to the fatherland. Just report to me when you are finished."
Lieb and Heinz rose together and walked to the door.
Both looked back -- likely for no reason other than to stare one more time at Helga, who seemed to have finished dressing without bothering to put back on her bra -- and left the room.
Helga walked slowly over to Monique, lifted her chin and again looked into her eyes, which now opened. "Guess the tables are turned now, aren't they? I admire your effort, though." Monique stared weakly back at her.
"I had it right about you, didn't I? You don't know anything else." Helga did not require an answer or an admission from Monique. Just from looking in her eyes she knew that she was right.
Helga rose and moved to Greta, lifting her chin as she had Monique's. "And you are a greater disappointment than even the actress, aren't you?" Greta too stared blankly back at Helga. "An SS soldier who is innocent of the charges against her, yet now finds herself in this position, must surely have handled herself poorly under interrogation. Maybe you just looked or acted guilty. Or, worse, scared. Senior officers don't like that. It means that can't trust you when they need you."
Greta started to cry. "But then you know I'm innocent."
"Doesn't matter, Corporal. We can't have soldiers we can't rely on. I'm sorry."
"Get me a reporter. You know the drill," Helga instructed one guard, who immediately left the room.
Then, to the other, "You stay and help me."
Helga moved toward Greta and removed the clamps that had connected her to so much pain. But before Greta could enjoy much relief -- both from the bite of the clamps and the fear of more electrical pain -- Helga began to wrap a long thin rope in a figure 8 pattern around Greta's breasts.
"Since you can't help me with information, since you don't have any, I'll just have to get you to help in a different way." When Helga finished, she instructed the guard to run the other end of the rope along the ceiling's pulley system to the middle of the room.
"Will a weight of hundred or so pounds lift you off the ground?" Helga wondered aloud.
Helga freed Greta from the stocks and her prior bonds, leaving only her wrists tied behind her back and the rope looped tightly around her breasts. Helga then pulled the other end of the rope down until Greta was forced into a standing position.
Helga instructed the guard to unchain Monique and carry her to the center of the room. When she was in place, Helga fashioned the free end of the rope into a noose and quickly slipped it over Monique's head, checking to make certain that the rope was now taut as it ran from Greta's breasts through the pulley along the ceiling down to Monique's neck. The two women were now standing, wrists tied behind their backs, one end of the rope around Greta's breasts and the other around Monique's neck. Although there was slack in the rope in the middle, between the pulleys, Greta and Monique were both pulled tight, toes stretching to reach the floor.
Monique was resolved to her fate. She had given up hope for herself, as the resistance had instructed, and followed its instruction to cause as much damage to the SS as she could. At first, she seemed to have succeeded, but now she realized that all she had done was help the SS locate and destroy one of its weak soldiers.
As her toes pressed on the floor, she realized that there seemed to be some give in it. Although the noose prevented her from turning her head down, she lowered her eyes and saw the break in the floor running perpendicular to her body, from somewhere behind her up to at least three feet in front of her. Monique's heart raced as she realized that she was already positioned on the gallows. And, as she turned to her left, she could make out the lever that controlled the trap floor on which she was standing. Helga and the guard, so far at least, were both standing between Monique and Greta, away from it.
Greta seemed even more terrified than Monique, perhaps because she was less resigned to her fate. After all, while Greta may have been a poor soldier, she was not guilty of treason, as was Monique.
"All right," Helga announced, looking first at Greta and then at Monique. "We must conclude these proceedings now, since -- while neither of you will have much to worry about when they are through -- I will still have much to do when we are finished here."
Monique took a deep breath, but nothing more. Greta, however, starting wriggling frantically in a hopeless effort to free herself, her throat rasping her final pleas, not realizing, or caring, that her struggles only tightened the ropes further around her breasts.
Helga ignored her and approached Monique, as the guard move to the lever on her left side. "After tomorrow, you will no longer be remembered as a famous actress, or even in any way that you might think. But you will be remembered. I can assure you of that. And you will also forever be linked with that innocent one that you brought down with you." Helga glanced toward Greta, who was still trying to plead her case to Helga's deaf ears, her face contorted in a terror approaching insanity. "But of course you know by now that her loss will not serve your cause as you had hoped."
"Good bye my beautiful French actress." Helga pointed at the guard standing by the lever. He pulled it hard toward him. The floor below Monique immediately opened wide and her body descended, quickly for several feet as the rope lost the slack between its pulleys, then a jolt when the rope met the resistance from Greta's weight, before dropping Monique still farther. By this time, Helga had turned to look at Greta, whose body was yanked upward by the force of Monique's descending body until Greta was hanging by her breasts at least two feet off the ground. There, the hanging weights of the two victims balanced, and both started to swing. One victim alive, screaming hoarsely and trying to kick and twist to relieve the unbearable pressure on her body. The other victim, needing no further relief, was beyond pain, her neck already broken.
As both bodies bounced from Greta's frantic and helpless efforts to ease her pain, Helga walked over to a drawer in the table near the front of the room, and removed a 9 mm Luger. The magazine was fully loaded. Eight shots. She would not need them all.
Helga moved to 10 feet in front of Greta. She doubted that Greta even knew that she was there or saw what she intended to do. Helga lifted the pistol to shoulder height, held her arm straight out, and fired. The sound of the shot mixed with what were now little more than gurgles coming from Greta's throat. It hit her just above her pubic bone and her body leaped unnaturally.
Helga paused just a few seconds and fired a second shot. This one hit Greta an inch to the left of her navel. And then a third shot, in the middle of her stomach, just below the ribs. Finally, a fourth shot between her breasts. The gurgling stopped.
Helga walked to Greta's swinging body. She put her fingers against Greta's neck. There was no pulse.
She moved the barrel of the gun between Greta's legs and pointed it upward, but then hesitated, lowered the gun, and put it into her pocket. "No. That is a punishment for soldiers who betray their country, and you were not a traitor. You have paid more than an adequate price already for being a poor soldier."
Leaving the two hanging figures, which now hung straight down, Helga walked to the table near the front of the room, sat down, and began formulating her report in her mind. After 10 minutes, the second guard returned with two blindfolded men. One carried a note pad and pencil, the other a camera.
After closing the door, the guard removed the men's blindfolds. As their eyes adjusted to the light, they found themselves staring at the statuesque Helga, who allowed them a few moments before beginning.
"Gentlemen. We have just uncovered this safe house used by the terrorists, and you are now standing in its underground dungeon. You were blindfolded to prevent you from learning its location, because your knowing or reporting its location might interfere with our continuing efforts to destroy the terrorists. I am sure that you understand."
"However," she continued, "you may report what happened here earlier today." Helga led the men to the hanging bodies at the back of the room, but allowed them no closer than 10 feet. One began writing, the other snapping pictures. Helga made no effort to stop them.
"We learned this morning that the terrorists had uncovered the identity of one of our country's most valuable agents, the French actress Monique Montagne. That is she on the right. Fraulein Montagne had infiltrated one of the terrorist's Paris units about six months ago."
"This morning, we believe, four of the terrorists followed Fraulein Montagne to her rendezvous with her SS contact, Corporal Greta Schuler. She is the one there on the left. They overpowered them, and brought them here for interrogation and torture. We believe that both Fraulein Montagne and Corporal Schuler bravely refused to provide the terrorists with any information that they demanded. You can see the results."
Helga directed her attention to the photographer. "I have allowed you to photograph their bodies from this distance, and you may use them to show the world how the French terrorists engage in the most heinous forms of torture. You may also take close-ups of their faces. But no close-ups of their nakedness. These two valuable German agents deserve -- and I demand on their behalf -- your respect."
The photographer moved close, first to Monique, since she was the famous one, snapping pictures. Then he moved over to Greta. He had seen death before. But not like this.
"Print the story. Show the pictures. And let the world know all about these brave women who gave their lives to our fatherland ... and the despicable acts that they suffered at the brutal hands of these cowardly French terrorists."
Helga allowed them a few more minutes before instructing the guard again to blindfold them and return them to their news headquarters. She then sent the other guard to get assistance to dispose of the two "brave and loyal women."
Finally alone, Helga picked up the phone on the table and instructed the operator to connect her with Commandant Lieb's assistant. "This is Sergeant Koch. I am prepared to issue my report to the Commandant."
After a brief pause, she heard his voice on the line and began. "Commandant, I have just discovered a most horrible situation in a dungeon located under a terrorist safe house. Two hanging bodies, one the actress Monique Montagne, who had been working for the SS. The other a brave SS officer."
There was a moment of silence on the other end. "A terrible tragedy," he then replied. "Does the press know about this?"
"Yes. They have been here and just now left. There will be a story with pictures tomorrow."
"I think these loyal subjects of the fatherland deserve a state funeral. Arrange it. And prepare a speech about their heroism," Lieb offered. "After all, given the secret nature of their work, there is no one else who can talk about it." Lieb hung up the phone.
A state funeral, Helga thought. A nice touch. "I'm going to enjoy working with this Commandant Lieb," she said softly to herself.