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Undercover at Chanel

Jeanne spotted him as she crossed the rue de la Paix on the way to her rendez-vous. It was unmistakably him. He had changed a little, silver strands above his ears, but his tall frame was upright albeit with a hint of a limp, and she still wanted to run her fingers through his hair. 

She almost stumbled with the shock but knew she couldn’t risk being found, especially here and even more so by him. 

She dropped her head and moved swiftly up the rue des Capucines towards her hotel. Checking regularly over her shoulder. He did not appear to be following. Was he still a spy? She could not afford to find out. 

Safely back in her small hotel room, she removed her two-feathered hat and regretted her impulse that morning to wear it. It was stunning, she knew it, but she did not need to be noticed these days. The mask was less noticeable at the moment due to the dreadful pollution lingering over Paris as France prepared for the war that they had tried so hard to avoid. 

Jeanne lay down on the feather bed and was grateful for its comfort. She began remembering other beds, far less comfortable but oh, what memories. They were a good team, each covering for the other. No one suspected anything as they were so much in love and living their idyll. They had managed to spend several weeks sailing on the Black Sea and through the Bosporus. It was he, who’d bought her the feathers and the mask at the market in Istanbul.  

They’d managed to stay hidden from the authorities, as one can on a boat, and were able to organise several meetings as planned with the Black Hand in a final effort to stop their dastardly plan. But discussions broke down. He had given so much to stop the Serbian group from assassinating the Archduke. In the end, the terrorist group, for no other word could describe them, had tortured him. No man could have given more, except of course the Archduke. 

Still on the boat, she had escaped through the Sea of Marmara helped by the British Embassy in Istanbul. All their efforts had been in vain and now Franz Ferdinand was dead.

She had thought he was dead too, for how could he have survived the torture? And now he had reappeared in Paris, six months later. She couldn’t be blamed for it, but she’d been forced to move on and make her own way, or whatever it was that she was doing. She had taken a job at a new girl’s place in the rue Cambon: a modiste called Gabrielle Chanel. The young couturier didn’t think much of the great feathers and adornments of current Paris fashion and her simpler styles were fast taking off with the younger crowd. 

Jeanne remained lying on the bed and pondered her alternatives. She had dreamt of him ceaselessly since they’d taken pried her from his bleeding battered body in Istanbul. She had left her heart there with him and had spent the previous months trying desperately to make herself live again – not just the half life of her dual existence, hidden, hiding, finding. 

He had not appeared to be in disguise, walking so openly in the street like that. How could this be? He was supposed to be dead! Or at least that is what they had let her believe. Was he looking for her? Had he managed to clear his name after the failed plot to thwart the Archduke’s murder? If so, why hadn’t she been called in too and released from her duties carrying out their dirty undercover work? After all, they were sent to work together in Turkey. She had to find out but he mustn’t ever know about her current mission as he would reject her out of hand. It was so beneath either of their ideals but she had had no choice.

A knock at the door. It was him. He entered, picked up her hat and mask and said “Come. I will explain”. 

Janet Stewart Goatly is leading a life of leisure after many years in the Paris commercial world. Hobbies include nicking furniture found in the street and tarting it up.  Golf and Pilates help run away fast from trouble.