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Kit Under Fire, A Wartime Story, 1942

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Kit looked down over the fields on Northern France, knowing that her chance to jump was gradually slipping away. She had felt so brave in training, even making low jumps to practice form, but something about being over occupied enemy territory made the actual jump more terrifying than she thought it would be. 

Click clack. Click clack Click clack. Somewhere in the back of her mind she remembered that train. She remembered what it was to jump on the moving train with Will. She remembered how brave she felt that day after she boarded the train. How independent she felt. She gathered all that courage feeling, she checked her back to make sure all her gear and her parachute were adjusted, and she jumped. It was only on the way down that her brain flashed on how that last adventure had ended, with her arrest, ending her up in a jail cell. She didn’t hope to recreate that part of the adventure. The pulled her cord, and was floating to the ground. 

****

It was 1939, and Kit was 25 when the Cincinnati Register sent her to London to start covering their war effort. In fact, Kit had begged to go. She had never so much as been out of the country, much less over seas. And it had all stared out fairly easily. She’d settled into a small flat in London, the only irritating bit was the quiet little five year old girl of the Bennett’s on the first floor, who was always sitting on the stairs when Kit rushed down them, always carrying too many things, always rushing too fast, and always nearly tripping over the child on the way down. 

But this was the chance of her lifetime. She, a woman, had her chance to be a real life war reporter. Her parents actually let her go. Her mother tried to get Stirling to go with her, saying that it was improper for a young woman to travel alone to another country, as if Stirling could have protected her from anything. He was no longer the 76 pound weakling she knew as a child, but he wasn’t exactly bold. And war reporting needed bold. London needed bold. Kit was bold. Plus, he really should stay in Cincinnati with Nellie and the baby. 

Every day she jumped on a double decker bus, going on the top side for comfort, and found her way to the front of the bus. She liked the feeling of being on the top, like she was the driver. She knew that was immature, which was why she never mentioned this habit to anyone. She sat down, and watched the sights of London pass her by. 

Kit lived a fairly uneventful journalist’s life until one night in 1942. On her way home late one night, she climbed to the top of the bus, despite there being almost no one on the bus. She sat down in her preferred seat, and closed her eyes for a moment. Things were really starting to look scary on the world state. Kit wished she could be reporting from the front lines, but knew that no girl reporter would ever be sent into danger like that. Girl reporter indeed. She was 25. People had been calling her a girl reporter since she was 10 and got her first payed position at a newspaper. She felt that at least the slang for what she was could have been lady reporter. She didn’t feel like a girl. She was too tired to feel like a girl. 

She was shaken from her thoughts by the feeling of someone’s eyes on her. That’s all she could describe. She certainly didn’t hear or feel anyone sit down next to her, but when she opened her eyes, there she was, sitting right next to her and staring at her. 

She was older than Kit, perhaps by ten or so years. She had long wavy dark brown hair, olive skin, and small features, other than her eyes. Her eyes looked like that of a film star’s. Actually, Kit felt she might have seen her in a film once, long ago. But that was silly. The woman looked away, but Kit was confused by the fact that the bus was virtually empty, and the woman had chosen to sit next to her. 

“It’s amusing to sit at the front of the top of the bus, isn’t? Feels sort of like you’re the one driving it.” The woman broke the silence. It was odd that she was speaking the thoughts that Kit herself had refused to voice so many times, but it was more odd that she did it in an American accent. New York, Kit thought. This all seemed just a bit suspicious, but Kit smiled pleasantly, replying, “I’ve always thought that.” 

They sat in silence for a little longer, until the woman said, “Kit Kiteridge, how would you like to work for our government?” 

***

Her name was Rebecca Schaffer. She was raised Rebecca Rubin in New York City, where she had begun acting in silent films. She had followed the film industry out to California and had starred in some of the silent films Kit had seen as a small child, back before her father’s car dealership failed, when she could afford to see movies any time her family wanted. The transition to talkies hadn’t gone so well for Rebecca. She had been raised to over-do physicality, and she just didn’t make the adjustment in style quickly enough. So, like most actors from the silent era, she was without a job. But unlike most actors from the silent era, she spoke Russian. Her family still spoke both Russian and Yiddish around her as a child, so even though no one taught it to her either language, she had a mind for languages and picked both up. This was on her biography, filed with the film studios, and she hoped it would get her film work. But what it really did was get her recruited by the government. 

She was trained as a spy, and even sent on missions to Russia, gathering intelligence without getting caught, using her gender as a shield against discovery. And now, the newly formed Office of Strategic Services, the OSS, had sent her to London to work with new recruits who would be going across enemy lines themselves. Her husband was also a spy. Rebecca had scouted Kit due to some of the stories she had filed with her paper back home, but partially just knew she was the right woman for the job due to some sort of kinship to her that she couldn’t explain. Kit had barely even taken a moment to think over the dangers of the job. She knew it was the right job for her. 

***

And that took her to being supported only by a parachute over a field in France. Kit went through the training, luckily having studied French in High School, and learned geography, survival skills, and how to gather intel beyond her skills as a reporter. Her mission was to meet up with a contact from BCRA, the Bureau Central de Renseignements et d’Action, their Central Bureau of Intelligence and Operations. She was to drop down, meet up with her contact, get an envelope from him, and return to the rendezvous spot, all within 2 hours. Many agents had done similar missions in the past. But this was Kit’s first time in the field over enemy lines. 

She landed, and quickly ditched her parachute underneath a bush. She smoothed her clothes, and found her way to the road, beginning to walk as if she were just a simple farm girl headed into town. She kept repeating to herself the code words over and over as she walked. She was supposed to look for a white house just outside of the next town that had a picture of a cat scratched onto the fence of it. It reminded Kit of those hobo codes that she learned about when she was a child. She kept walking, her heart beating a bit faster than she would prefer. She longed for the crate box scooter she had when she was a child. The road was dusty and dry, and she was thirsty. After a half hour’s walk, she came to the house. She found a chalk outline of a chat, a cat, on a fence post outside of the walk. She knew she had found the right house. 

She went up the walk, and knocked on the door. She stood there, reminding herself of the code phrase. The door opened. “Je suis venu pour les carottes,” said Kit. I have come for the carrots. A line innocuous enough, if she had chosen the wrong house or the wrong person was at the door. But a request specific enough that her contact would know it was she. 

J'ai perdu les carottes. Voulez-vous une pomme ou un biscuit?” the woman replied. I have lost the carrots. Would you like an apple or a cookie? 

Kit replied, “le cookie s'il vous plaît.” The cookie please. The woman motioned her in. 

“Please to be coming in. You need water? I will bring you water.” The woman rushed to a pitcher and poured Kit a glass of slightly cloudy water. Kit accepted it gratefully. 

“Merci,” Kit said, taking a large gulp. “il fait très chaud.”

The woman looked embarrassed. “It is no refrigeration.” 

Kit was confused for a moment, and then realized the mistake. “Oh, no, not the water. Not the eau. The weather. Le temps. Le temps are hot. Chaud.” She blushed. Perhaps her french needed more work. The woman smiled at her, also blushing, and went into the other room. 

“Perhaps we get to business,” she said. Kit had one horrible moment where her life flashed before her eyes. Maybe this wasn’t the right woman. Maybe she had messed up her mission. Perhaps she would never see America again. But the woman came out with an envelope. She put it firmly into Kit’s hand. “No open this. Bring back to safety. Okay?” 

“Bien,” said Kit. “Okay.” 

“Now you go. Be safe,” said the woman. And Kit left. She had only half an hour to get to the contact with the boat and get herself safely back. 

 

***

Kit left with a basket of carrots over the package, since it made more sense to keep the continuity of the cover than anything else. She carried it with her to the dock, knowing that her basket of carrots would reveal herself to her next contact. Everything had been so successful up to this point. She was meant to stand by the dock until someone called out to her, asking her if she needed a boat, saying that he had a rabbit named Nutmeg that would enjoy her carrots. And that’s what happened the moment she got to the dock. She had another fear moment, wondering if this was the right man, or just a horrible coincidence, but when the man winked at her, she knew that she was either with the right man, or making the worst decision of her life when she told him that she did need a ride, and that his rabbit would certainly enjoy the sweet carrots at the bottom of the basket. 

She safely boarded his boat, and they were a small distance from the dock when she saw German soldiers show up. Her heart sunk. She had been so close. The ship was to take her to a smaller island off the coast, where the plane would be waiting to retrieve her. And if these soliders made them return, she would be discovered. Should she toss the package over? But if she did that, all her hard work would be lost, and she would never be trusted to do a mission again! 

“Don’t worry nice lady, I will get us away,” the contact said. And that’s the last thing Kit remembered other than a large blast. 

***

She awoke in a hospital bed. She immediately panicked, shouting out wondering out where she was: “Où suis-je! Où suis-je!” When no one replied, looking like they didn’t understand her, her heart sank. “Wo bin ich?” she asked in German, her voice full of dread. 

“Don’t worry, Kit. You’re in England.” She sighed with relief to the sound of an American voice, looking over her bed. “But don’t get up. You took some buckshot to the side of your head. You’re fine. It’s a good thing those soldiers were just given shotguns with pellets. The package was received and you’re going to be fine. But how about you don’t get up for a while?” The doctor looked nice, with dark brown hair and a nice smile. “I’m Dr. McIntire. You’re a brave girl, to be going into France all by yourself. Looking at you makes me miss my own little girl, back in America.” 

“How old is she?” asked Kit, laying back into the hospital cot. 

“She’s just 10, said Dr. McIntire. “But she seems to already be the type to get herself into all sorts of adventures. Were you like that as a child? Always learning lessons and saving the day?” 

Kit smiled. “Always. But I think now there will be changes for all of us.”