It was months since he'd been taken prisoner by the militia. Lucien hadn't been denounced by a neighbor envious of his “award for an act of bravery,” as was often the case. He had been outrageously betrayed by his own family. His own daughter had informed on him and gotten him sent to the prison for renegades. Every week, they took him to a sham doctor who questioned him without respite for a whole hour. He wanted to know everything about Lucien. His childhood, his passions, his life with the Resistance. But Lucien said nothing. He would've never betrayed his brothers in arms. He was even planning his escape. The plan was perfect.
That Tuesday in July, at 12:45 pm, Lucien had managed to make a call from the telephone box in his prison corridor. The person he spoke to seemed to have some difficulty understanding him. Yet, within the team, they were all supposed to be totally up to speed with the regular changes in the code. Lucien had to repeat his orders several times, which had almost gotten him spotted. Then he had returned to his cell, and pretended to be totally absorbed in reading an old romantic novel.
At 1:13 pm, the noise of an engine woke Lucien from the doze that had crept up on him. He scanned the road from his window and saw a strangely dressed young man park his moped outside the building. A red moped. Wasn't there anything less flashy? But Lucien still managed a sly smile as he watched the man discreetly leave the key in the ignition.
At 1:14 pm, Lucien left his cell to take advantage of the authorized daily stroll. He mixed with the other prisoners and sat nonchalantly on a bench, near the moped. His heart was beating wildly, but he made sure not to let it show.
At 1:18 pm, when he was sure that his guards were fully occupied questioning the young man, Lucien didn't hesitate. He stood up quickly and got on the moped. He started it up and the tires squealed on the gravel as the machine took off.
At 1:30 pm, Lucien was speeding along a country road. He was basking in the caress of the wind and the smell of petrol around him. He took some time to get used to the vibrations of the moped and to get in control, and then, satisfied, he decided to take off in the direction of the mountains, towards the hideout. He'd reach it in a little over an hour, if he managed to get through the village without any problems.
At 2:03 pm, the moped showed signs of fatigue. Lucien slowed, too, as he approached the village. The militia would surely be out looking for him on the surrounding roads, rarely used since traffic within the small town had been reorganized. Lucien was going to be more cunning. He had made sure to dress as well as he could and chose to cross through the village discreetly. He took notice of all the yield signs and drove carefully.
At 2:12 pm, as he was passing the last stores in the village, Lucien heard a voice call out to him. Someone had recognized him! The butcher, no doubt; he used to deal with him regularly in the old days. The man had always been friendly towards him, but Lucien couldn't take the risk of falling into a trap. The militia might have already warned his informers. So without turning around, he yanked roughly at the controls of his vehicle, which spat out a puff of black smoke before speeding off down the road.
At 2:15 pm, a cow was convinced that the grass was better in the meadow on the other side of the road. Lucien swerved spectacularly, just missing the animal, and ended up in the middle of a pasture. The moped breathed its last breath. As the grass had softened his fall, Lucien soon recovered his spirits. His skid marks were clearly visible though, and he hoped that the trampling of the herd would soon hide them. But he couldn't abandon the machine, which would soon be spotted. So with some effort, he got the moped back on its two wheels and pushed it to the end of the meadow, to the edge of the neighboring wood.
At 2:20 pm, Lucien took a little dirt path, which cut through the forest and led to the hideout, a group of former farm buildings smelling sweetly of wood and newly cut grass. As if to remind himself of it, Lucien breathed in great gulps of the pure air. Despite the injuries he had just suffered, he was happy. He was free. The moped suddenly seemed only a light burden.
At 2:35 pm, Lucien reached a clearing, where he recognized the Stross farm. This family of farmers would definitely have helped him by giving him clean clothes and a piece of smoked ham (anything other than the awful prison soup!), because they hated the militia. Old Mr. Stross had been deported at the beginning of the war and the sons had joined the Resistance. But Lucien didn't want to get them in trouble. If the militia found out, that might be the end of the entire family.
At 2:48 pm, Lucien reached the hideout at last, utterly exhausted. The place had been very poorly maintained. The walls of the building were so overgrown with ivy that he couldn't even see through the windows, and the old stone steps were covered in a thick layer of dust. He put the moped in the barn and painfully climbed the steps leading to the garden. He was delighted to find the old plum tree sagging under the weight of its fruit. Lucien picked a few and, exhausted, lay down under the tree to recover his strength while waiting for the others to bring him his false identity. Suddenly, when he opened his eyes, he was surrounded by men in uniform...
At 4:00 pm, the police brought Lucien back to the door of the Mimosas Retirement Home and the pizza delivery boy, still shocked at what had happened to him, was able to take back his moped, although now in a pitiful state. But it didn’t matter. Lucien had a new escape plan. And this one was flawless.
Translated by Wendy Cross