In the closing days of World War II, Pascale, a translator in the U.S. Women's Army Corps, impulsively rescues a Polish refugee. The refugee is wary as a wolf and, as Pascale instinctively knows, is a woman in disguise beneath her men's clothes.
Bound by a troubled spiritual kinship, both make promises they are determined to keep despite the chaos of war. Separated, they search for each other across war-torn Europe, hindered, helped, and manipulated by those they encounter —
Lucia, an Army nurse devoted to her own pleasure
Nell, a famous war correspondent with a subversive agenda
Sibylle, a French prostitute and former Nazi collaborator
Corinne, a blueblooded WAC officer with her own reasons for bending military rules —
until the two are brought together again, only to find themselves facing a final test of courage.
He looked at her outstretched hand.
Pascale gestured. "Przyjdź!"
His eyes lit up; he started across the platform. The train began to roll and he quickened. The train was faster. Pascale braced herself on the hand rail and leaned out. He ran full tilt for her, greatcoat streaming behind him. Pascale's hand touched his, gripped his sleeve. His fist closed around the hand rail and he heaved himself on board, was on the step gasping, pressed against her for a second as he slipped, regained his footing, and now Pascale did know. The train shot free of the platform.
As it gathered speed, the bombed town rushing past them, Pascale found that she was holding onto the refugee's lapel like a police officer to a tramp. "Come inside," she told her in Polish.
The refugee stumbled up the steps. Pascale closed the outside door, the refugee's breath rasping in the quiet, and took her to the compartment. The woman looked around as if at a palace.
"Sit by the window," Pascale said, careful to keep her word endings masculine until she saw how the woman played her masquerade.
The refugee sat and wrapped her greatcoat around herself, trying to be even smaller and less significant than she was. Pascale settled opposite and, knowing that the others would be returning soon, said urgently, "I don't know how long you'll be able to stay on this train. You'll almost certainly be put off at the next stop. Are you Polish or Russian? Were you a soldier for the Soviets? It's important."
"No," said the refugee. "I am Polish only."
"That's good." Pascale was relieved. "If you were Russian I'd be required to detain you. Are you trying to get back to Poland?"
The young woman gave her a wintry smile. "Poland? Where is that? All that is east is Communist territory."
"Where are you hoping to go?"
"West. Belgium, France, anywhere that is not here." The woman studied Pascale's uniform. "You are an American soldier?"
"Yes, but I don't fight. I'm a translator in the Women's Army Corps."
"Your Polish is very good."
"Thank you. I also speak German, French, some Russian, and a little Yiddish." A shadow across the woman's face made Pascale ask, "Are you Jewish?" and again, in German, "Sind Sie Jüdin?"
The refugee did not react. "No," and in bad German, "That why I being alive."
They said no more bleak landscape sped by.
"What is your name?" Pascale asked her at last.
"Witold. Witold Rukowicz."
"Is that your real name?" Pascale asked. It was a man's name and could not be.
"It is what I am called."
That was how she was playing her game. Very well. "This is an American army train, Mr. Rukowicz. I haven't the authority to keep you on board, but I'll get you as far west as I can before they take you off. From there, you should try to find a DP—a displaced persons—camp."
"Displaced person? That is what I am now?" Witold shook her head. "I will not go to a camp. They will send me back."
"Not everyone is returned."
Witold looked mulish. Pascale knew that look, had seen it through the past months on hundreds of people whose desires were being crushed by the policies of governments. She remembered the Russians who had served as slave labor under the Germans, how they had screamed and begged for death as they were herded into trucks for the Red Army exchange points. Her face must have reflected her thoughts, for Witold said, "I know you are trying to help me."
"These few minutes might be all I can give. The others, my unit, will probably call my lieutenant and have you dealt with."
"You will intercede with him for me?"
"She. Lieutenant Bergman. We're all women."
"Women." Witold's expression was closed. "Perhaps they will be kind."
"They are kind, but they must obey."
"Everyone obeys something." Witold smiled a small, tight smile and looked out the window."