Lyon. January 1944.
Kim Maxwell paused on the edge of the pavement and suppressed a thrill of recognition as she saw the place she had been ordered to report to. The windows of the building on the opposite side of the road proclaimed it to be the Bistro Le Renard Rouge. The Red Fox! Of course! And she had no doubt about the identity of the chef-patron. Every nerve in her body urged her to run across the street, throw open the door and walk in, but instead she strolled a little further down the road, her eyes taking in all the other people in the vicinity. It was this circumspection that had kept her alive and free for three months in enemy occupied territory and she was not about to abandon it now.
There was a parked car a few yards from the bistro, with a man and a woman sitting in it. A little further on, a man was drinking beer and smoking a cigarette at a pavement cafe, though on this winter evening it seemed a trifle cool to sit outside. A woman pushing a pram passed her and walked on, men carrying brief cases headed in the opposite direction, on the way home from work. Some of them had come from the station, had been on the same train as her, but none of them had found some pretext to linger nearby while she was standing still. Kim went on down the street, took a left turn and stopped in a doorway that hid her from anyone following behind. No one passed her and when she peered out there was no sign of anyone pausing to tie a shoelace or study an advertisement. She waited a little longer, then walked back towards the bistro. The man outside the cafe was just greeting a woman he had apparently been waiting for. He paid his bill and they walked off arm in arm. The couple in the car were now studying the menu in the window of the bistro and seemed to be having an argument. The man shrugged and turned away and the woman followed. They got back into the car and drove away.
As sure, now, as she could be that she had not been followed and the bistro was was not being watched, Kim walked up to the door and seemed to be studying the menu in her turn. In fact, she was looking beyond it to the interior and what she saw was not, at first sight, encouraging. The room was set out with tables covered in pristine white cloths and decked with candles and small vases of flowers. So far, so good and no more than she would have expected. It was the clientele that gave her pause. Almost all the tables were taken and more than half of them were occupied by German officers. But after the initial shock Kim realised this was just what she should expect. The menu should have given her a clue, including as it did ingredients unobtainable for most people in that time of strict rationing. And then, there was the talent of the chef. If anyone, in this gastronomically critical city, could produce food to tickle the palates of the occupiers, it was the patron of the Red Fox.
She pushed open the door and was greeted by a blast of warm air scented with the smoke of Gaullois cigarettes and rich food. An attractive young woman in a dark dress and a white apron approached her.
‘Does madame have a booking?’
‘No, I’m sorry. I’ve only just arrived in Lyon. But I should very much like a table, if you can fit me in.’
‘For yourself, or will someone be joining you?’
‘In that case, I am sure we can find you a place.’