My first boss, the manager of the Wilmington Shipbuilding Company, once said to me, ‘Louise, you ain’t like most women. You know how to keep your mouth shut.’ I did, too. I didn’t remind him that the last three employees he’d fired for talking too much about their jobs were men. My reticence was noticed by a government recruiter and I found myself on a train headed north to Washington DC not long after Pearl Harbor.
Now I live at ‘Two Trees’, a boarding house near Dupont Circle and take a bus every morning to OSS, the Office of Strategic Services, America’s spy agency, where I work for the Morale Operations Branch. I help plan ‘black’ propaganda campaigns against Nazi Germany. One day I might be writing a fake news script for an underground radio station, and the next organizing an airdrop of pamphlets spreading rumors of food shortages on the German front.
I am amazed by my new life. I’m becoming what my landlady calls ‘a modern girl.’ A year ago I was a penniless young widow, forced to move home after my young husband died of pneumonia and work at my family’s fish camp. My parents threw me at every single man in town in hopes I’d remarry so a new husband would take me off their hands. Now I have my own paycheck, a Woodies’ charge account and a pint of Gordon water stashed in my dresser drawer. I have a lover, too. Can’t believe I used that word! If the pastor of my Baptist Church at home knew, he’d call me a ‘fallen woman’ from the pulpit. Joe is a Czech refugee who works undercover to help Jewish refugees escape from Europe. I don’t even care that he’s not marriage material because I’ve learned I can take care of myself.
My life isn’t all swing music and cocktails. I have to get along with my landlady, Phoebe Holcombe, and my fellow boarders. Milt Jr, Phoebe’s son, recently came home from the Pacific without his left arm. He drinks. A lot. Ada has the bedroom next to mine. She’s a clarinetist in a hotel band who will go out on the town with anyone who has a few bucks in his pocket. Half the time she doesn’t remember their names. Henry shares the attic with Milt. Unlike the rest of us he hates President Roosevelt, and we have to listen to him tell us so every morning after he reads the Times-Herald. Then there’s Dellaphine, our colored cook, and her daughter Madeline, who works for Social Security. Let’s just say they don’t agree about much. Dellaphine thinks Madeline is asterperious and Madeline believes her mother is old-fashioned beyond all repair.
Sometimes I feel like just a cog in the enormous machine that is the US government at war, but my job is important. Today Miss Alice Osborne, my boss, and I will be planning a trip to Fort Meade in Maryland. There we’ll be interviewing German prisoners of war. We’ll recruit some of them to return to Italy, where they were captured after the Allies landed at Salerno, to scatter the propaganda material we’ve prepared behind the German lines. We’ll take another colleague, Merle Ellison, with us. An artist turned forger, he also speaks German, even if it is with a Texas accent. Complicating our job, we’ve learned that two of the German prisoners of war vanished overboard from the ship bringing them from Europe, and no one is sure how or why.
Sometimes I feel like all I do is keep secrets. Mine. OSS’s. Milt’s. Ada’s. Joe’s. But then, I know how to keep my mouth shut.
Louise’s Chance is the fifth book in the “Louise Pearlie” mystery series, published by Severn House Publishers, January 2016.
About Louise’s Chance
1940s, Washington DC. Government girl Louise gets her big chance, when she is tasked with recruiting German POWs for a secret mission inside Nazi Germany
Government girl Louise Pearlie has a new job inside the OSS – the Office of Strategic Services: recruiting German prisoners-of-war for a secret mission inside Nazi Germany. It’s a big chance for her, and Louise hopes she can finally escape her filing and typing duties. With the job comes two new colleagues: Alice Osborne, a propaganda expert, and Merle Ellison, a forger from Texas who just happens to speak fluent German.
But when the three arrive at Fort Meade camp, to interview the first German POWs to arrive there, their mission is beset by complications. Only one of the prisoners speaks English, the army officer in charge of the camp is an alcoholic and two prisoners disappeared on the ship bringing the Germans to the states. Were their deaths suicide? Officially, yes. But Louise can’t help but have her doubts . . .
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Meet the author
Sarah Shaber is an award-winning mystery author from North Carolina. Her historical mystery series, published by Severn House, begins with LOUISE’S WAR (2010). It features Louise Pearlie, a young widow working for the Office of Strategic Services in Washington, DC, during World War II. Sequels are Louise’s Gamble, Louise’s Dilemma, Louise’s Blunder and Louise’s Chance. An earlier series, the Professor Simon Shaw murder mysteries, are available as ebooks. She’s also the author of a stand-alone horror novel, Blood Test, and editor of Tar Heel Dead, a collection of short stories by North Carolina mystery writers.