Authors: J. Robert Janes
Open Road Integrated Media Ebook
To my artist friends,
without whom life would be such a bore.
The past, though broken, is mirrored in the present, and when turned, the fragments are either flung apart to make their patterns or tumble into place as time collapses.
is a work of fiction. Though I have used actual places and times, I have treated these as I saw fit, changing some as appropriate. Occasionally the name of a real person is also used for historical authenticity, but all are deceased and I have made of them what the story demands. I do not condone what happened during these times. Indeed, I abhor it. But during the Occupation of France the everyday crimes of murder and arson continued to be committed, and I merely ask, By whom and how were they solved?
The wind was bitter, the night like ink. Ruefully St-Cyr mopped his stinging eyes.
Ah Mon Dieu
, he ached like hell â eighteen hours on the train from Paris. Eighteen instead of four! With Hermann bitching for the past twenty and the cause of the delays â¦ well, the Boches and their wretched controls, of course, but then some flywheel in the fledgeling Resistance had placed a pocket-bomb on one of the tracks. A minor derailment outside Lyon. A few more hours â¦
Hermann gave a savage grunt. â
, Louis, before I get a hernia!'
They were pushing their taxi uphill. They â two officers of the law! One a Chief Inspector of the SÃ»retÃ© Nationale; the other â¦ well, one from the Gestapo with the rank of a HaupsturmfÃ¼hrer. Merely an Inspector, but those guys, they had their chiefs elsewhere. Ah yes. In Paris where it was comfortable. And those chiefs did the ordering these days. Never mind that one was absolutely exhausted from a case and had only just escaped from death with a left hand that was stitched across the back and sore as hell! Never mind that Christmas was only
days away and that one had not had the benefit of a holiday or a day off in years. Never mind that the wife and little son had only recently been tragically killed or that someone new had miraculously come along to soothe an aching heart. Never mind â¦
A sharp stone caused St-Cyr to cry out in pain as he went down. The
, a converted hearse someone had left outside Chalons-sur-Marne during the invasion of June 1940, began to roll backwards.
!' shouted Kohler, straining.
âA moment, my old one. A moment.'
Nom de J
but things were getting off to a bad start! Another murder. Provence this time â Friday 18 December 1942, to be exact! Somewhere up in the hills behind Cagnes-sur-Mer, half-way to the other side of the moon!
âShe is just ahead,' shouted their driver, the voice one of encouragement, the accent harsh. âShot as I have told you, Inspectors, with â¦'
,' grumbled Kohler, âa crossbow.'
âAn antique,' went on their driver. âRight in the heart, messieurs. Right where the virgin sings best on her wedding night. It went through to lodge in the spine, from sixty metres, no more. The hard, solid thunk! She was trying to pull that thing out of her as she fell. The hooks, they are most certainly barbed and have bent her fractured spine.'
An expert, eh? Angrily St-Cyr threw his shoulder against the rear of the hearse and together, he and Hermann managed to roll it up on to a level spot, a hairpin bend in the road perhaps. It was far too dark to tell.
Hermann jammed a boulder behind the left wheel and impatiently ordered him to do the same.
âDon't get fussy,' swore St-Cyr. âMe, I hope you do obtain the hernia, my friend, since it will give your latest little pigeon a much needed recuperation and will leave me in peace!'
âTo get on with the detective work?' snorted Kohler derisively, as if the French were useless at such things. âJesus, Louis, what's with this wind?'
âNothing. It is just the mistral. It comes and goes. It blows steadily for days, then instantly is gone, so,' he paused, âwhy don't we stop discussing the weather and get on with the investigation, eh? Me, I would really like to spend Christmas with Gabrielle in a warm bed.'
âHow's the knee?'
âA bitch. That stone â¦'
âThe left knee?'
âOf course. Always it is the left side that receives the injury. Blood is now presumably ruining my new trousers that have already been ruined by that last investigation!'
âThen try not to limp too much. It won't look good to these mountain people.'
These peasants â St-Cyr knew that was what Hermann meant. He was impressed, for not only had the Bavarian correctly assessed their character, he had also couched his words in most acceptable terms so that their driver would take note and pride in what the Gestapo's detective had said. These mountain people â¦
âLouis, what about a fag? I seem to have lost mine.'
âOr run out! Try lighting one in this wind, eh? Besides, I have only my pipe and a small ration left.'
âCheapskate. I'll remember next time you run out of fuel for that thing in your pocket.'
The Lebel or the pipe? wondered St-Cyr but was too tired to ask. Always there was this problem of the gun, always the need to ask for the permission to shoot or carry, even in situations too dangerous to mention.
! Why had God seen fit to dump all this on him?
Hermann was a big man, big in the shoulders, a giant with sagging jowls, a storm-trooper's jaw, brutal nose and sad pouches under faded pale blue eyes that so often saw things but seldom let on.
One with the heart and mind of a small-time hustler who both cushioned the Gestapo's blows and kept his little Frog out of trouble. Well, sometimes. âForgive me,' said St-Cyr, allowing a touch of servility to enter his voice since their driver was still within earshot. âHere, Inspector. Please accept my tobacco-pouch and pipe. If I were you, I would not try to roll the cigarette in this wind, no matter how desperate the craving.'
Kohler grunted, âPiss off!' and they both followed the lantern which, as their driver had now left the road, began to jig and toss itself above the slabby grey rocks and boulders. Immediately there were stunted clumps of sage and mountain thyme, of juniper too, and goat droppings, and though the wind was far too strong to let their individual aromas perfume the air, it carried the mingled pungency of the hills as St-Cyr remembered it.
Though he had to walk with care, still he let himself dwell momentarily on the little farm he had always wanted, the quiet brook with its life-giving spring that would be so absolutely necessary during the long summer droughts. To retire in peace from all the slime, to till the soil and milk the goats â¦ What soil? his other self demanded, only to hear, Ah, never mind. Mere trifles. Pah! No more crime, no more agonizing over charred little children or girls that have been savagely murdered and then raped.
No more of the Nazis. No more of Hermann? he asked. Hermann was, of course, a former Munich and Berlin detective, a damned good cop when he wanted to be but a bad Nazi, a lousy Gestapo â Kohler had no use for or interest in the Third Reich's garbage except when it was prudent or necessary to the investigation. No beatings, no torturing â nothing like that. No, they were still free of that sort of thing, thank God. Just ordinary murder, ordinary robbery, extortion and forgery â¦ so many things.
And these days, all solved at gunfire pace because that was the way the Germans wanted them solved. With Hermann it was always blitzkrieg, blitzkrieg, not just because that was his nature, but because it had to be.
She was lying on her side among the rocks, the knees pulled up a little, the left arm bent and tucked under the body, that hand still clutching the wooden shaft of the iron-tipped bolt that had struck her.
A quiet lady, a woman of some substance â well-dressed in a worsted grey-blue suit of pre-war make. Good, stout walking shoes. Pre-war again. Woollen stockings â a cameo at the tightly buttoned throat of a ruffled white blouse whose lace collar the wind constantly attended. The hair not grey, not tinted either but the faded memory of a once beautiful ash blonde. âYoung at â¦' he began.
âAt about your age, Louis. Fifty-two or -three and well preserved. Just where the hell are her coat, hat and gloves? She must have been freezing!'
âA good question, my old one,' said St-Cyr, not taking his eyes off the body to glance for answers at their driver. âThe braided hairdo, Hermann. The crisscrossing into a diadem. That is not common here.'
âSwiss?' asked the Bavarian. âOr Austrian?'
âOr French â¦ perhaps Alsatian, eh?' he taunted, seeing as the Nazis had taken what they had thought was theirs: Alsace-Lorraine. But what was it about the corpse that made him feel uneasy? That crushed bit of thyme where someone's shoe had been carelessly placed? That small, burned circle on the downwind side of a limestone slab grey-green with moss, the butt of a small cigar carelessly lying amid the stones?
With difficulty, St-Cyr tore his gaze from her and, pushing the lantern aside, looked steadily up at the stars to smell the wind and hear it rub the earth like sandpaper!
Had it all been deliberate again? The choosing of Hermann and himself to solve what should have been a local affair? Were the SS still out to burn them for matters past? Vouvray perhaps, or the carousel, eh? Or both?
Beyond the stars, God mocked and begged his little detective to climb up there to have a look down at himself poised lonely on this windswept hillside with Hermann as his Gestapo watcher and yet another body.
Fate and God had a way of doing things like that and, as if that were not enough, had provided a hearse as accompaniment!
Sobered by the thought, he was all business when he sought their driver, part Italian, part Greek, Roman, Saracen and Visigoth or Vandal. A tough little man with a wide, bony brow and cheeks that had been hammered out of these mountains and were grizzled with at least four days of whiskers, the scruffy brown moustache speckled with grey and half-frozen spittle, soup or snot. Small rimless glasses and a brown-eyed shiftiness no priest would have admired. âSo, monsieur, the details please. Who found the body, when was it found, who ordered the canvas to cover and then uncover her, and who told you to wait for us at the station?'
DÃ©dou Fratani shrugged as he drew on the cigarette that miraculously clung to his lower lip even when he was facing into the wind.
âPlease do not press me, monsieur,' said St-Cyr. âMy partner, here, really is from the Gestapo.'
âI am,' said Kohler, removing the man's fag and flicking it aside. âDon't piss in your trousers. If you have to take the wiener out, fire it downwind. We don't want to get her wet.'
âMe, I have already relieved myself, monsieur, while you and â¦ and that “partner” of yours were pushing my
âYour hearse,' breathed Kohler.
âYou bastard!' swore St-Cyr, remopping his eyes and mouth, then spitting on the handkerchief to give himself a good wash.
âThe hill, messieurs,' began Fratani. âIt is very steep. I did not wish for you to pause on my account. I â¦' He looked away because the one from the Gestapo was grinning and had the cruellest of scars down the middle of his left cheek! âI â¦ The bladder, it is weak. The guns â¦ I was at Sedan in 1914 and â¦ and again in 1940. That is how I have come by the hearse, monsieur. It â¦ it was sitting at the side of the road. The driver, the undertaker, he had no more use for it. He â¦'
Kohler tucked the man's frayed tie under the tattered sweater and brushed the lapels of the stovepipe jacket. âSure you were there in fourteen and in forty, eh? And me, my fine, I have heard it all before, so give.'
Kohler â¦ Kohler of the Kripo, the smallest and most insignificant of the Gestapo's many sections, the ones who were supposed to investigate ordinary crimes. Subordinate and attached to Section IV for convenience.
âI'm waiting,' breathed Kohler.
âAnd so am I,' said the one called St-Cyr, the one who was much shorter than his friend. Chubby and round of face, but with that broad, bland brow of the determined cop! The thick, wide moustache that was there in defiance of reality and grown perhaps long before the German FÃ¼hrer ever came to power. The hair on the head untidily long for a Parisian and blown about by the wind since he had lost his fedora somewhere and would no doubt insist on finding it.