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Authors: J. Robert Janes

Carnival

BOOK: Carnival
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Carnival

A St-Cyr and Kohler Mystery

J. Robert Janes

Contents

Acknowledgments

Author’s Note

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

Historical Note

This is for Jean-Louis St-Cyr of the Sûreté Nationale
and Hermann Kohler of the Gestapo,
creatures of the imagination, lives of their own.

Acknowledgments

Each of the novels in the St-Cyr & Kohler series incorporates a few words and brief passages of French or German. Dr. Dennis Essar of Brock University very kindly assisted with the French, as did the artist Pierrette Laroche, while Professor Schutz, of Germanic and Slavic Studies at Brock, helped with the German, and in this novel, the Alsatian. Should there be any errors­, however, they are my own and for these I apologize.

Author's Note

Carnival
is a work of fiction in which actual places and times are used but altered as appropriate. As with the other St-Cyr & Kohler novels, the names of real persons may occasionally appear for historical authenticity, though all are deceased and the story makes of them what it demands. I do not condone what happened during these times, I abhor it. But during the Occupation of France the everyday crimes of murder, arson and the like continued to be committed, and I merely ask by whom and how were they solved?

Carnival
: illusion masks reality, forgetfulness is engendered, truth hidden.

1

For some time now the train had been stopped in a cutting to the west of Belfort, in the Vosges Mountains and still in France. Crammed in on the hard wooden bench of wartime, Kohler ached for a cigarette.
Mein Gott
, had it been an hour of silence already? All lights, no matter how tiny and scarce tobacco was, had been forbidden. Louis, he knew, longed to sigh and drolly say,
C'est une attaque aérienne, mesdames et messieurs
, but soon they'd cross the frontier into Alsace, now the Greater Third Reich, soon Louis would have to be constantly reminded that speaking French in public was
verboten
.

It didn't bear thinking about, their being sent on this investigation, this ‘
Karneval.
' With the heat, the overcoats and the crowding, misery was compounded but
ach
, no one complained in a coach full of Waffen-SS—a
Sonderkommando
, a ‘special' commando. One simply did as ordered.

‘
Raus, Alles
.' Get out, all of you, croaked the sergeant-conductor. The snow, a metre or more deep in places, was pristine under a full moon and not a cloud up there, just stars like you'd never seen, except for the low and throaty drone of aircraft. The RAF at 9.05 p.m. Berlin Time, 7 February 1943, one hour of daylight saving time in winter, two in summer!

In single file everyone headed up into the adjacent woods to the smell of spruce trees and their enclosing darkness. ‘
Merde
, this is idiocy,' swore Louis. ‘We're not the target. We're in just as much, if not far more danger out here than in that damned train. Thirty degrees of frost and my shoes … I've no overboots!'

There had been no time to beg stores for replacements and receive the uncaring shrug of the scarcities. From Vichy to Paris, the train had taken over nine hours, instead of four. From Paris, they had had to take the southernmost route, changing to a secondary line at Dijon, due exactly to the threat of what was steadily drawing close.

Clear under the moon, the train huddled between shoulders of bare rock and walls of freshly ploughed drift. Two locomotives, one of them a booster for the grades the Vosges offered, had coal tenders and good stuff too. Little of it seen in Paris and other cities and towns in France since the late autumn of 1940, except for the chosen, the collabos and BOFs, the butter, eggs and cheese racketeers, the big shots too, the
Bonzen
and
Oberbonzen
, the ‘Gold Pheasants' back home in the Reich because of all the medals and braid they wore.

A flatbed with mounted 20mm Oerliken anti-aircraft gun and MG42 machine guns, courtesy of the Luftwaffe, was operated by them, but they, too, had been ordered to vacate their posts. Treasonable behaviour to the diehards, but best not to attract unnecessary attention by raising up a stream of flak. Valuable cargo on board. Artwork, oil paintings, Old Masters, coins, antique furniture, carpets and porcelains.
Liebe Zeit
, the stuff that had been pouring out of France.

Behind the guns were the first-class coaches, behind these, two seconds, one third-, and a fourth-, all vacated, all with their passengers fighting their way up into the forest. Crazy, really. Louis was absolutely right.

A baggage truck and then two goods trucks followed, and lastly a closed, sealed truck bearing the large, crudely painted white letters
N und N
, and the chalked words:
KEIN ESSEN, KEIN AUSGANG
. No food, no exit. No going out.

Kohler knew Louis would be watching that final railway truck. As the sound of the aircraft grew, the bombers began­ to pass before the moon. First came the pathfinders, then the others. Closing the gap between himself and his partner, he tugged at a sleeve. The aircraft, having begun their descent for the run-in, were probably at an altitude of 4,000 metres. There'd be a 1,000- or 2,000-kilogram bomb in each, and at least 5,000 kilograms of incendiaries, since it was a night raid and a little light would be appreciated just as it had been and still was over London and other British cities­ and towns, and that, too, was really crazy. Elsewhere, too, especially in Russia, Poland having been flattened in September­ of '39.

No clamouring for escape came from inside the
N-und-N
truck. Not a sound, but how could anyone treat another human being like that? ‘Where the hell are they taking them, Louis, since we're going in the same direction?'

The
Nacht-und-Nebel Erlass
people, those taken by the Night and Fog Decree. ‘Are they all dead, Hermann? Have they frozen?' came the whisper.

‘
Ach
, they're listening, just as we are.'

Hermann didn't like it any more than he did, thought St-Cyr. They had both been in the Great War, on opposite sides, had had enough of the insanity and had intuitively understood this when they'd first met in September 1940 and had begun to work together. Two detectives, one from each side and fighting common crime, but known, too, for their steadfast honesty in an age of officially sanctioned crime on a horrendous scale.

‘Stuttgart,' called out someone. ‘Lancasters.'

Louis nodded toward the truck and softly confided, ‘There's a loose board up near the roof. One of them is pushing it while peering skyward. He's letting them know what's up.'

‘Us too,' breathed Kohler sadly, but the
N und N
unfortunate­—mostly these were
résistants
, suspected or otherwise, and their clandestine wireless operators and female couriers—didn't add, as many now dared to hope, that someday Herr Hitler was going to get his.

After another twenty minutes, in which the frost made the needles of the spruce as stiff as barbed wire, they filed slowly back into the train, each alone with their thoughts, Louis and himself with the telex they had received from Gestapo Boemelburg in Paris:
Karneval. Kolmar. Contact Kommandant Rasche. Hangings. Apparent suicides. Stalag XIV J Arbeitslager 13 Elsass
.

Suicides, muttered St-Cyr to himself, turning to stare bleakly at the blue-washed window as the coach began to move. Hermann had been a prisoner of war in France from 17 July 1916 until well after the Armistice of 11 November 1918 and had fought in Alsace in the winter of '14–'15 under brutal conditions. He'd been transferred to a bomb disposal unit—some impulsive act of insubordination yet to be confided—and had, after his little sojourn with the trip-to-heaven boys, commanded a battery of field guns at Verdun, early in 1916. ‘Big stuff,' he would always apologetically say, for this partner of his had been repeatedly subjected to it and, yes, God
did
do things like that. He'd been taken prisoner during one of the battles for the Somme and had learned to speak and write French while a POW but couldn't have known that in twenty-­two years he'd have a partner to watch over and that his facility­ with the language had been what had brought them together. ‘Destiny. Pure chance too,' he'd say with a snort, but chance so often meant everything these days and the irony­ was that they really did get on. Small arguments—mere differences of opinion.
Bien sûr
, the Bavarians were a stubborn lot and God must have dug deeply into the top hat to produce one of its stubbornest, but nothing serious even though Hermann­ was a Gestapo and had been tarred with that brush. ‘Assimilated,' he'd say. ‘Conscripted without a chance to refuse,' but could Boemelburg, his boss, have assigned­ them to this
Karneval
simply because Hermann would not only know the terrain, but that of a POW camp, or had there been that other reason?

Hated and reviled by many in the Paris SS and Gestapo, and those elsewhere in France, for always pointing the finger of truth where it belonged, were they now to be ‘taught' a final lesson?

These days the blackout's constant exposure to that wash of laundry blueing over the glass made one despair of its presence ever ending. Hermann's reflection was, of course, too blurred for detail. In spite of the scar the SS had given the left side of his face from eye to chin with a rawhide whip—the matter of a small murder that had turned sour because of this partnership's penchant for pointing that finger—he still attracted the ladies as an orchard does bees, and rogue that he was, Hermann usually encouraged them. ‘
Ach
, how else are we to find out what's up?' he'd say. ‘You should take better notice of how your partner works.'

‘A carnival,' St-Cyr softly breathed and, finding a thumbprint-sized hole where some delinquent had scraped away the blueing, let the heat of a thumb melt its covering of frost and fog.

‘Louis, Frau Oberkircher was just telling me about a textile factory in Colmar. Poles, Russians, and a handful of French. Lazy, all of them, and worthless. It seems our
Arbeitslager
13
manufactures rayon and Kommandant Rasche was one of my old bosses.'

Ah,
mon Dieu, mon Dieu
. ‘In the Great War?'

‘Where else?'

A ‘hot box', an overheated axle bearing, emptied the train at Belfort. Having flipped up the box's lid that had been hurriedly closed by a railwayman, Kohler gingerly plucked at the packing of chopped rag waste, and using the man's glove, let some of it fall to the sooty snow. ‘A two-hour delay?' he asked the
cheminot
.

The lantern was lifted. The jacket of the
bleu-de-travail
, the ubiquitous blue coveralls, was open, the gut, once that of a barrel. ‘Four,' came the Occupation's vegetable-rooted grunt.

Merde alors
, panicked Henri-Claude Ouelette, this ‘Kripo from Paris-Central,' this
Kriminalpolizei
, had shaken off the glove and was now rubbing some of the packing slowly between a thumb and middle finger, the perfume of burnt engine oil all too evident.

Sweating, was he? thought Kohler.
Ah,
bon
,
mon ami
, now get ready for the surprise of surprises. ‘Then see what you can do, eh, but first empty that box and drop everything into the station's stove.'

‘But … but the shortages, monsieur …'

‘Idiot, don't argue. Just do it.'

So much of France's rolling stock had been requisitioned by the Reich, scrapyard relics like this coach and the trucks and engines had been pressed back into service and were always causing trouble. Maybe, just maybe the
Bahnschutzpolizei
stationmaster, the SS Obersturmführer or anyone else in authority wouldn't think beyond that to take a closer look.

Silicon carbide had been added to the oil-soaked rag waste. It hadn't taken him a split second to feel the sharpness. Probably done in Besançon or in L'Isle. Fortunately the bearing hadn't melted and the train been derailed or set alight. Someone had wanted to stop them and free the
N und Ns
but hadn't counted on its stopping where it had last night, thus cooling the bearing and giving it a lease on life. Of course they hadn't considered that the prisoners might well have been killed. Miraculously, too, Louis and himself had avoided being caught up in the derailment or shoot-out, but had been awarded yet another delay.

The
restaurant de la gare
and its buffet were closed until 7.00 a.m., 5.00 the old time, the station overcrowded. Coughs here, sneezes there. Kids, old people, mothers without their husbands, babes greedily at the breast or wailing their little hearts out, Wehrmacht boys, too, returning to the front from the eager­ arms of
les filles de joie de Paris
and dog-tired, naturally. Military police, the Felgendarmen, were on the lookout for deserters­ coming through from the Reich. Gestapo plainclothes were vigilant too, and God help those unfortunate enough to be caught.

‘The Army's mobile soup kitchen is serving hot coffee,' hazarded Claudette Oberkircher.

‘Coffee … ?' blurted Hermann, his mind still elsewhere.

‘It's not for everyone,' she said. ‘Only for our dear boys in uniform, but perhaps if … ' She left the thought hanging like laundry in winter.

‘Use your charm, Hermann,' quipped St-Cyr. Guiding her through to a far corner, he set her two suitcases and their small grip down. Evasively this infernal chatterbox Hermann had instantly struck up a conversation with, this Hausfrau ‘from home' who had
squeezed
the French half of the partnership against the ice-cold side of the carriage as if getting back at the enemy, emptily returned his gaze, her dark brown eyes misting as she said to herself, Sûreté—he knew it, always did, but would she now confess to knowing how to speak French, thinking as she must, since she had been deliberately led to believe it, that he knew no
Deutsch
? Or would she use Alsatian whose dialect was neither totally of the one or the other but that ardent distillation of the centuries of changing hands while demanding independence?

She would choose silence, Claudette told herself. These days people didn't do what she had done in that coach—talked incessantly to a perfect stranger, a Gestapo detective at that. Even those who knew each other seldom spoke, and then only in whispers.

He took out his pipe and tobacco pouch, this
Oberdetektiv
from the Sûreté Nationale with the terrible bruise and stitches above the left eye. He looked ruefully at the contents of the pouch, found his
Kippe
tin, his
mégot
tin with its collection of cigarette butts picked up here and there like everyone else and, opening it, explored the contents with a doubtful finger.

‘Your … ' he began, struggling to find the word for
suitcases
, ‘are … ' He couldn't even find the words for ‘not heavy.'

But one must be careful these days. ‘I carry little,' she said in
Deutsch
. ‘The one suitcase is all but empty; the other has but a few clothes and two newspapers bearing the notices of my brother-in-law's death.'

BOOK: Carnival
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