The place reeked of cigarettes, beer and racket. It was New Year’s Eve 1940 and there were drunken Germans everywhere.
The Huns had rolled into Paris the prior June and helped themselves to everything; including Harry’s New York Bar. Harry’d closed-up shop and left. So, they needed a barkeep. I wasn’t Harry. But I WAS a barkeep. That led to an offer I couldn’t refuse.
The Heinies were persuasive. It was either manage the place... “Or else.” People who didn’t cooperate were beginning to disappear; and, frankly, it was no skin off my nose. So I’d sit there nightly, in my worn-out tux, hair slicked back and a cigarette hanging off my lip, making the Krauts feel at home.
It wasn’t THAT odd for an American to be working in occupied Paris in 1940. I’d been there since 1919, and the U.S. didn’t get into the War until Pearl Harbor, which was the following winter.
I’d come over when I was sixteen. It wasn’t to do the Grand Tour. I’d lied about my age and enlisted. I was full of naïve patriotism back then. I loved being a soldier; until Chateau-Thierry. That’s when the Third Division got its baptism of fire. It’s also where the Third got its nickname, “The Rock of the Marne.” I suppose it’s also where I got my hyper-cynical, world-weary attitude; it’s a con-game and we’re all marks.
After the War, it was a matter of, “How ya gonna keep ‘em down on the farm after they’ve seen Paree?” They’d shipped us back to New York after it ended. But, I’d seen Paree and, I knew that was where I wanted to live. I had my discharge bonus and the City of Lights was cheap back then. So, I was on the next ship back to Le Havre.
I found a place in the 5th Arronddisement; known as the Latin Quarter. Living under the Paris eaves was cold in winter and hot in summer. But frankly, it was a hell of a lot better than my former residence, which was a trench. People might even call my flat romantic; if going down four flights of stairs to use the back-yard shitter is your idea of quaint.
There was a big Peace Conference at Versailles. The spill-over from that, generated hustle-and-bustle. Plus, the French never need an excuse to party. So, Paris was hopping day and night, and would be that way for the next twenty years. Throughout all that time, yours-truly served the drinks and wiped down the bar.
I hooked on as the night bartender at The Dingo. It was from nine PM to sunrise; all for fourteen francs a week plus tips. The Dingo American Bar and Restaurant was a favorite joint for the Lost Generation. It was the place where Hemingway met Scott Fitzgerald. It was also the place where Papa met Lady Duff Twysden. The less said about that encounter, the better. He DID put her in a novel though, changed her name to Lady Brett Ashley. That character was a real slut.
The Hemingway I knew, was a real asshole. He was forever bullying people, particularly Fitzgerald. To me; his macho man act was just a cover-up for the fact that he was a closet queer. But, Papa liked the ladies too. At various times, he paraded two wives and a dozen mistresses past me.
I didn’t begin life running a bar. The family had a farm in one of those all-German enclaves in Wisconsin. I don’t remember whether my first language was English, or German. But, it was the reason why picking up new languages was so easy for me. Being fluent like that ultimately had an impact.
There were too many mouths to feed and I was the youngest. So, when I was nine my folks shipped me to my uncle Fritz. He worked the ore docks in Superior, loading the lake freighters. They didn’t have child labor laws back then. So, I spent almost eight years as a loader’s assistant, and then as a loader.
That amounted to shoveling the taconite pellets back on the conveyers, as they filled the holds on those huge ships. Half your young life spent lifting shovels full of iron ore will build impressive arms and shoulders. People started calling me “King,” once the movie came-out. They were referring to the gorilla, not my regal bearing. I’m five-ten and about 240 pounds; and there isn’t any fat on me.
The first wave of American ex-pats arrived in the early 1920s. By nineteen-twenty-five, well-known artists were showing up nightly; Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Dos Passos, Picasso. Isadora Duncan even had an apartment across the street.
She was one voracious lady. I didn’t blame her. With a body like that, it would be selfish to NOT share it. The only woman who rivaled Isadora, for sheer volume, was Nancy Cunard. Her daddy owned the shipping line. She must have fucked the entire lost generation, including Gertrude Stein.
That era seemed like it was a million years ago.
Everything changed in the 1930s. Germany’s economic problems helped our friends across the Rhine get back in touch with their former bad selves. I’m not smart enough to know what started the fight. But I DO know that by 1939, the Germans and French had picked up where they’d left-off in 1918.
The French leadership was incredibly incompetent, even by French standards. So, by June of the following year, long grey waves of Boche were marching under the Arc de ‘Triomphe and down the Champs-Élysées. It was far too easy for them.
I slept through the occupation of the City. I usually got to bed around six in the morning. But I had worked late. Too many people were drowning their sorrows or calming their nerves. So, I snored through the German arrival.
It was business as usual the following day. The French had declared Paris “open.” So, it missed out on the destruction that every other major European city experienced. A bunch of the occupants, especially the rich ones, left town in a panic. But, most of them returned a month later, and Paris was back to its usual one-and-a-half-million residents.
Then things kind-of settled into an odd new form of normal. It was easy to pretend that the guys in the field grey uniforms, and all the military traffic, were part of the scenery. And, life went on like it had before the Heinies showed up.
There was rationing of course, and the French got the short end of THAT stick. But, needless to say; most days the black markets were in full swing. And, you could still get a perfectly cooked chop and a good bottle of Beaujolais at one of the great restaurants; if you were the right customer.
The Huns had imposed a nine PM curfew, which most Parisians totally ignored. We still worked ten-hour shifts at The Dingo. I had just relieved a Brit named Jimmie, when a couple of German officers walked into the bar.
One was in field-grey, meaning Wehrmacht. His name was Rommel. We all know where Rommel ended up. But he was just a junior Division commander back then. The other guy was in an all-black uniform. He was a piece of shit named Lishka.
Lishka was a member of an outfit called the “Schutzstaffel.” The SS is infamous now. But at the time, I just thought he was a National Socialist clown, in a bizarre uniform. His underpants probably had swastikas on them.
Somebody must have tipped them off. Because, they both walked right up to me and sat down. Rommel did the talking. He spoke decent English. But I spoke better German. That sealed my fate.
Believe me - we civilians were eager to stay in the good graces of the Germans back then. I was just an American, ex-pat barkeep; not a military, or political thinker. I wasn’t French. It was none of my business who ran the City. All I knew was that the Huns were in charge and I wanted to stay on their good side.
Parisians were trying to keep their lives from being too badly interrupted. I know that sounds incredibly short-sighted and selfish, now. But, society had been way-too civilized up to that point. NONE of us could imagine how dark the heart of man could really be.
The Germans I had met up to that point were the spearhead; professional soldiers with plenty of military discipline. The other crap; the atrocities and the deportations of the Jews, didn’t start until the Nazi scum arrived.
Rommel said, “Do you know Harry’s New York Bar?”
I said, “Of course. Everybody knows that place. It’s the top joint in town.”
The other guy said scornfully, “The owner fled the Country.”
I didn’t like his attitude. I said, “If you haven’t read the newspapers your reputation precedes you. He’s a Scot, and you two are at war.”
I got a sneer back. Rommel put his hand on the other guy’s arm to shut him up and said, “The Reich has appropriated several places in Paris. They are reserved solely for its soldiers. Harry’s is one of them. Now, we need an experienced person to manage it.”
Then he paused, fixed me with a meaningful stare, and said balefully, “You are going to have that honor my friend.”
I looked at the SS guy. He was daring me to say, “no.”
In reality, I had always wanted my own bar. I knew I could make a go of it. I just never thought that I would get the chance. So, instead of turning them down, I told them that their offer sounded like a fantastic opportunity.
Don’t you DARE judge me. You weren’t in my shoes then, and I didn’t have the benefit of your 20-20 hindsight. The Germans controlled the press, and everybody thought they were going to win the war. England stood alone and the Huns were bombing the shit out of them.
As a result, the attitude in Paris in 1940 was, “Go along, to get along.” Of course, some of the French were still full of patriotic fervor and a few resistance groups had sprouted up. Their own countrymen mockingly called them the “refus absurd.” That means “absurd refusal.”
So, it was New Year’s Eve 1940 and I was wearing a monkey suit and sitting on my regular perch. It was a stool next to the actual piano where Gershwin composed “An American in Paris.” But, the pianist wasn’t Gershwin. He was a black guy from Norcross, Georgia, named Tyler P. Boggs.
Boggsy had come over with the 369th, nicknamed the “Harlem Hellfighters,” and discovered that the French were a heck of a lot less racist than the white folks down south; which really wasn’t saying much. So, like a bunch of his fellow soldiers-of-color, and luminaries like Josephine Baker, he decided to stay. Boggsy was a wizard with the ivories and a big draw at Harry’s. He was also my best friend.
He was a flashy dresser and he loved the ladies. He was like me in that respect. Working the Paris bar trade gave us access to everything from royals to hookers. So, there was an endlessly movable feast of beauty and availability. Each night brought a new encounter and I never lacked for bed partners. Boggsy doubled my score. He could seduce anybody with a song.
Harry’s attracted the Wehrmacht types; not the Waffen SS, or the freaks from the Gestapo, and the Sicherheitsdienst. So, things were usually convivial. That’s why I was surprised when there was a shriek, the sound of breaking glass and a loud slap. That was followed by an angry roar and a much harder blow.
I had heard the same slap, in many different venues, but never the retaliation. It meant it was time for me to saunter over and take a look. I slid off my stool muttering to Boggsy, “I’ll be right back. Keep it light.” And he began to spin out a slow jazz tune that was pure North Georgia honey.
The trouble centered in the only collection of black uniforms in the joint. I loathed the SS, even back then. They were low-life trash. So, I got a good grip on my temper before I approached the scene. I didn’t want to start my new year by strangling a member of the Master Race.
When I arrived, I found a young Untersturmfuhrer being held back by a couple of older Obersharfuhrers. In military terms, that meant that a shave-tail Second Looey was being restrained by two sergeants. But of course, those black shirted fuckers needed appropriately Aryan titles.
The woman was lying in a heap on the floor, not moving. I thought about ripping the bastard’s head off and shitting down his neck. I could have done that, no doubt. But I knew that those guys had their own code and they didn’t cotton to outsiders. Even their Wehrmacht compadres were wary of them. And, I wasn’t prepared to take on the whole SS.
This was going to require some old-fashioned bartender tact.
I noticed that all three dickheads were from the Second SS Panzer, Das Reich. Their commander was a regular at Harry’s. He liked the American hotdogs. There’s no accounting for the taste of members of the German General Staff.
I put on my haughtiest and most disapproving face and said in perfect German, “I shall have to report this to Herr Obergruppenfuhrer Hausser. He demands that I inform him if his people disobey his orders.”
The sergeants looked horrified. Hausser might, in actuality, skin them for public acts of brutality. Those kinds of things stirred up the natives. The Germans didn’t want an uprising in France, when England was still a viable threat. That was the reason why they had set up Petain and his Vichy regime.
I said with condescension in my voice, “I might be inclined to forget this, if you leave immediately.” I gestured to the drunken piece-of-shit hanging between the two enlisted men, adding, “And I never want to see him again.” I made a mental note that, that fucker would have a fatal accident. I’d been in Paris long enough, and the Seine keeps a lot of secrets.
The two Germans actually clicked their heels and said, “Danke!!!” and hoisted their drunken comrade out the door by his armpits.
I turned to the girl. The punch had put her out-cold, even before she hit the floor. I worked the ore docks and I had dealt some one-punch knockouts. It’s the only benefit of being built like a silver-back gorilla. So, I had experience with the situation.
She was sprawled on her side, exactly as she had landed; with her friends twittering around her. I squatted down and pried her mouth open. Sometimes they swallow their tongue. That semi-woke her up. She began to stir. I could see the purple bruise starting to form on the side of her jaw. But it didn’t look broken.
I called to one of the waiters, “Brandy!” It was obviously for medicinal purposes. So, he brought the drink in a glass not a snifter. She was still just coming around. I raised her into a sitting position. She opened her eyes and looked at me. I expected hysterics. What I saw instead was wild anger.
She launched a slap at me. I didn’t even blink. I have a 22-inch neck. It makes shirts rather hard to find. But I can take a punch. The tactile difference between the forest of bristles on my cheeks, and the SS boy’s baby face, must have told her that she had hit the wrong person.
She looked shocked. I said, “Relax little lady. I’m not him.” But I was thinking to myself, “What kind of broad would take a swing at the guy who had just knocked her out.”
I held the brandy to her lips and said, “Here, drink this. I want to make sure there’s no permanent damage.” I knew she would have serious symptoms for a week. We just called it a “headache.” Now, they call it a “concussion”.
She sipped the aromatic liquor and shook her head like a dog drying himself off. Then she took another deep sip. The color was coming back into her cheeks and her eyes were better focused. Eight months in the trenches and a lifetime of fistfights makes you expert in head injuries. I held a hand up to each eye. Her pupils reacted normally.
I scooped her up in my arms. She weighed nothing. She struggled a bit. I said, “Take it easy doll. I’m just carrying you to my office. There’s a couch there. You can lie down until you’re ready to go home. Your friends can wait with you.” She relaxed.
The back-office at Harry’s is small, but comfortable. Most of the time I slept there, on the old overstuffed couch. The two women followed me. They were clichés. One was a tall and willowy blond. The other was short, dark and voluptuous.
The girl in my arms was the average French woman. She had a dense mop of dark brown hair. Her face was heart shaped with huge gorgeous eyes. Her figure was neat and tidy, very slim. She was wearing a silk blouse with a black skirt, high heeled pumps and a string of pearls.
I put her down on the couch, stepped over to the sink and ran some warm water into a washcloth. When I returned she was lying with her long legs crossed over each other, one arm shielding her eyes. The single bare bulb caused a lot of glare.
I delicately moved her arm out of the way and put the washcloth over her eyes. I said, “The light will bother you for a while. You can go home once it stops hurting.”
She said, “Merci.” It was the first thing I had heard her say. She had a deep husky voice that was pure sex.
I turned to her friends and said, “Tell me what happened.”
The blonde, who appeared to be the best-friend, said, “The three of us were talking together when that awful man came up behind Bernadette and grabbed her by the breasts.”
The blond saw the look on my face. She knew how the French viewed women who partied with the Germans. She said emphatically, “We are good girls. We do not allow such liberties.”
She added, “Bernadette dropped her wine, turned and slapped the man hard. He punched her in return. It was callous. The two soldiers who were with the man grabbed him and pulled him away. That was when you appeared.”
I said the obvious, “If you are such good girls, what are you doing in a bar full of German soldiers?”
The dark voluptuous one said, “The Germans have all of the things we miss in life. We never do anything but flirt with them. What’s wrong with that?”
There was a lot wrong with it. First, even being seen with a German carried the stink of collaboration. More relevantly. These were all young and pretty girls. I knew the people who drank at Harry’s. And I was certain that a few of them were not above rape; at least, if the answer was “no.”
It was hard to believe that adult women could be so naïve. But, letting-go of old attitudes is always problematic, especially in a time of war. That is even truer if the former reality was a lot more pleasant than the current one.
The world that we lived in, had lost all concept of civility and the Germans ruled the roost. So, it was reasonable that these girls would try to keep some semblance of their old way-of-life, by cozying up to Hun soldiers. In a lot of respects, I was doing the same thing.
You need to experience the altered reality of conquest to truly understand the situation. We no longer controlled our daily life, and an alien culture did. I said, “I’m not judging you; honest. Everybody has to do whatever’s necessary to survive the occupation.”
Then I turned to the tall blonde and said, “Why don’t you help your friend home? I think she’ll be alright. Keep an eye on her tonight. Don’t let her sleep too much. There might be damage we can’t see.” Just then, a bunch of brash Teutonic voices shouted, “Frohes neues Jahr!!?”
Midnight of a new year always gives me pause. That was especially true for the year 1941. If I’d known, what was going to follow. I might have packed my bags for Kenosha.
Bernadette showed up at the bar in the first week of March.
I was having a smoke upstairs. Boggsy was finishing his breakfast coffee and Pernod. It was the usual shitty weather, with cold drizzle that is characteristic of Paris in late winter. I hadn’t seen any of the three girls since New Year’s Eve. I wondered what she wanted.
The jovial atmosphere at Harry’s had soured considerably. We knew from the BBC that Goering’s boys had gotten a bloody nose from the RAF, and the anticipated invasion of England had been put on hold. Now, the Army seemed to be funneling troops back east toward Russia. The eastward movement made the mood a lot less carefree. The Russians were even more ruthless and brutal than the Germans.
Plus, the clientele had changed. At first, the patrons were Wehrmacht. Now, every form of National Socialist scum hung out at Harry’s; Himmler’s pet psychos, and suchlike homicidal ilk, showed up nightly.
Bernadette stood in the doorway, shaking off her umbrella and looking around. She wore a stylish rain coat with yellow rubber boots, as protection against the puddles, and she radiated the sensuality of all Parisian women.
I was starting to rise when she spotted me. She came bustling over. Boggsy, ever the gentleman, and opportunist, stood and helped her into a chair next to HIM. He said in his deep Georgia drawl, “Have a seat little lady. Is there something that King can get you from the bar?”
I had to smile. My absence would put my friend in the catbird seat, when it came to romance. Boggsy never missed a chance. She dimpled at him prettily and said, “Non, Monsieur, I came to see if Monsieur King would be willing to help me.”
That was good news. I had not gotten a chance to evaluate Bernadette. Now that she was sitting across from me; I could see that she was one tasty little morsel indeed.
The first time we met, I had estimated her age as late-teens, or early-twenties. I think that was because she was so slim. Looking at her in a grey Paris morning I could tell that estimate was off by at least a decade.
The person sitting opposite me was a well-put-together and dynamic young woman, with a fresh beauty that didn’t require cosmetic help. I knew the young Dorothy Parker, and Bernadette could have been her twin.
She was short, perhaps five two; with thick curly brown hair framing a winsome heart-shaped face. But her eyes and mouth were her glory. Her eyes were absolutely stunning. They reflected her feelings and her passion, and they were mesmerizing. They were shades of blue, depending on her mood. At times, I’ve seen them range from bright blue to almost violet
Her wide sensual mouth had full sculptured lips. Those lips conveyed merriment, heart stopping eroticism and the au-fait view of a true Belle-du-Monde.
I also noted the last remains of a faded yellowish bruise on the left side of her jaw. She saw me looking at it and said dismissively, “It is nothing. But it reminds me how strong and clever you are. Perhaps you can help me again.”
I gazed into those highly intelligent, blue eyes. They were looking at me from under her thick mop of curly brown hair, and I would have done just about anything for her. I said, “What’s the problem doll?”
She got the pleased look that every attractive woman gets when she knows that she’s enticed some poor helpless male into doing her bidding and said, “Aurore and her entire family have disappeared.”
What??!! That made no sense. I said, “I don’t understand. Walk me through this from the beginning?”
Both Boggsy and I leaned forward conspiratorially, as Bernadette told us about her two friends.
Aurore was the short voluptuous one. She and Mirabel, who was the blond, were Bernadette’s best pals. They had grown up together in the 16th Arrondissement, near the Bois de Boulogne. That area of the City has broad avenues and stately buildings. Obviously, the girls all came from big money.
The three of them were inseparable. Mirabel was the cool beauty, the one the boys chased. Aurore was the sex pot, who could get any man she wanted. Bernadette was the charismatic, witty one, the center of attention in any group.
They went through school and university together and cut a swath through the male population of Paris. All three women were twenty-nine-years-old and scions of French aristocracy. But, the only thing they really wanted was to have some fun, attract a loving husband and raise kids.
That is, until the Germans showed up.
The girls’ world transformed overnight; just like it did for the rest of us. The most devastating change was the Vichy regime’s “Statut des Juifs.” That law eliminated the civil rights of every Jew in occupied France. Aurore’s family was Jewish. Her father, who was a professor at the Sorbonne, was immediately removed from his position.
Money wasn’t the issue. There was plenty of family wealth. But the implications of that Statute were so chilling that Aurore’s parents decided to find a less overtly hostile place to live.
Aurore’s family’s decision to emigrate nearly killed the other two women. Aurore was like a sister to both. They loved their friend. But they could all see that it was not wise for a Jew to remain in France.
Boggsy gave her a sympathetic smile. He was really very sweet underneath the bebopping Harlem jazz-man front. He said, “Not so good for a black man either. I’m a U.S. citizen. So, I’m safe, for the time being. But I would be in deep shit if we ever went to war with the Germans.”
Bernadette told us that Aurore’s father had heard about a shadow network. Those people would smuggle Jewish families out of France, to England; for a price of course.
The word of mouth was that England was the only place a Jew could be truly safe. The trip cost twenty-thousand francs, which was an unimaginable fortune. But then again, the Bloch family could afford it.
Bernadette said, “Mirabel and I were with Aurore at the time of departure. It was in the darkness before dawn. We wept but we promised to see each other again. Her family, took only their finest possessions, whatever they could pack in a small truck. It was pitiful.”
I said, “A truck? Where did they get the ration tickets for gasoline?” The Germans strictly rationed gas.
Bernadette looked puzzled, like she hadn’t thought of that before, and said, “I don’t know. Until last year a truck would have been nothing unusual. I was so emotional that it didn’t cross my mind.”
I said, “Okay, so why do you think anything has happened to your friend?”
She said, “We agreed to correspond, and I have heard nothing from her.”
I gave her a skeptical look and said, “If you haven’t noticed, there’s a war going on and the mail isn’t exactly reliable.”
She looked exasperated and said, “Aurore would never leave us wondering about her. She loves us both. She would have sent dozens of letters by now. But, we also sent telegrams to every Jewish community along the proposed route, all the way to Normandy.”
I looked puzzled and she quickly added, “That was their destination. It was where they were going to meet the boat that was going to take them across the channel.”
Then she got a worried look on her face and said, “Nobody even knew they were coming.”
Bernadette sighed and slumped back in her chair, displaying a dandy set of tits. Okay, I’m a hound. She said in a despairing voice, “They just dropped off the face of the earth and I’m beside-myself with worry.”
She turned a hopeful face toward me and said, “So can you PLEASE help me. Our families have money. We can afford to pay you.”
It wasn’t a matter of money. I had dealt with this beautiful little thing twice, and I admired her spirit. But, it was her lovely face and shapely little body that actually made up my mind. She was gorgeous and I’m a sucker for good-looking woman. So, I said, “When do we start?”
We had several obvious barriers. Not the least of which, was the fact that I was supposed to be managing Harry’s. So, it might be hazardous to my long-term health; if the Germans discovered that I had gone off on a knight-errant quest, because a gorgeous little doll had waggled her ass at me.
Boggsy solved that for us. He did his patented deep chuckle, the one that makes all the girls swoon, and said, “Sheeeit man, I can watch this place and still play the hottest piano in Paris. It’ll get to meet more ladies, without you hoggin’ things. I never thought you did much around here anyhow.” Then he sat there grinning like a big teddy bear. Boggsy was really a very kind and generous man.
Okay – one down and an infinite number of problems to go.
The most pressing concern was that neither Bernadette, nor I had any official standing. So, we couldn’t investigate this like the police. Worse, as Vichy began to get a grip on the Country, the French Police were starting to look a lot like the Gestapo.
There was nothing wrong with poking around in dark corners. I had friends in low-places. That is one of the advantages of being a bartender. But the biggest challenge was the fact that there was a war going on. So, freedom of movement was restricted.
You couldn’t just book a train to Honfleur. The Germans had appropriated most of them for their own troops, anyhow. And since the British knew the Germans were on those trains, it was equal odds you would get shot up by a guy in a Spitfire.
Finally, and perhaps most important, was the fact that we had no place to begin the investigation. Smuggling anybody out of the Country, let alone Jews, would get you sent to one of the German’s new “camps.” So, the stakes were high, and secrecy was paramount.
The obvious place to start was with the person who had arranged things for the Blochs. So, the next day Bernadette and I went to visit the parents of the other beauty, Mirabel. Their place was off the Boulevard Montmorency with stunning views of the Bois de Boulogne.
The Metro ran sporadically. But, now that gasoline was rationed it was the only way to get around the City. There were very few autos on the streets and nothing, but horse drawn taxis. So, the Metro cars were packed tight enough that it was hard to breath.
Bernadette and I were shoved in like cattle. We were standing so intimately, front-to-front, that I thought I was going to have to propose marriage. I was far too aware of her hard, little body with its pair of perky tits. I looked down at her, just to gauge how uncomfortable our proximity was making her, and she gave me a secret smile.
Mirabel’s dad was some sort of Director at Peugeot. Be that as it may, he obviously also had a lot of inherited wealth. The parents greeted Bernadette like somebody who had been the daughter’s best friend since infant school. They were obviously birds-of-a-feather. At least, when it came to social class.
Me? Not so much.
I didn’t blame them. My sad bloodhound face, my permanent five o’clock shadow and my thick, slicked-back black hair doesn’t inspire trust. They probably thought I was there to rob the place.
I haven’t hurt anybody since my days in the Army. But, Mirabel’s parents didn’t know that. They just looked at me and thought “Gorilla!!”
I tried my most disarming smile, which I think the Bienville family read as menacing; because the parents both took a step back. Mirabel had seen me in action at Harry’s, and she knew that I didn’t bite. She graciously introduced me to her parents.
Pierre was tall and aesthetic. Milane was still a beauty at age fifty-seven. I could see where Mirabel got her looks. Her parents were examples of the aristocratic inter-breeding that afflicts the French. There must have been legions of Comtes and Ducs hanging off both their family trees.
Mirabel’s folks rather warily offered us seats in the alcove of one of the sunny eighteen-foot high windows, which overlooked the park. You almost wouldn’t guess a war was going on. The chairs were exquisite Louis Quinze and I wasn’t sure they would hold me. I sat very gingerly. I could feel the legs quiver, but nothing embarrassing happened.
I hunched forward, to appear less intimidating, and said, “As you all know, Aurore Bloch and her entire family have gone missing. I have offered to help Bernadette find them. I don’t suspect anything worse than a breakdown in communications. But I promised her I would get to the bottom of this.”
Pierre and Milane were looking friendlier, like they had decided that I wouldn’t run off with the family silverware. While, Mirabel gave me a look that was pure sex. I was thinking to myself, “I wonder if she likes bad boys?”
I looked at Bernadette and she was glaring at her friend like she wanted to burn her at the stake.
Pierre said, “We are grateful for your assistance. But, how can we help you?”
I said, “We need a place to start, the beginning of a thread; so-to-speak. Do you have any idea who runs this shadow network; the ones who arranged the Bloch family’s escape? A name would be very helpful.”
Pierre looked at Milane and they both gave a Gallic shrug. It was so eloquent I began to wonder why we had wasted our time. Then Pierre said, “Perhaps you should try Amos Weisfeld at the university. He is a friend of ours and he is acquainted with every Jewish person in the City. Maybe he can help. His office is in the Pantheon-Sorbonne.
I had the same up-close-and-personal experience with Bernadette on the short ride back to the Sorbonne in the 5th. Except this time her hard, little buns were shoved against my difficult to disguise interest. Was she occasionally pushing back against me? Or, was that just the swaying of the car?
We got off at the Cluny-La Sorbonne stop and walked up the Rue Saint-Jacques to the main university building. The Bienvilles had said that Weisfeld was still allowed an office there, even though he was no longer a member of the faculty. He was THAT distinguished.
We asked for directions from the people sitting around the Pantheon courtyard. I let Bernadette do the talking. She was prettier and a whole lot less scary.
Bernadette was beginning to work her way under my skin. She was a flawless example of the ideal French beauty; immaculate, slim figure with long shapely legs and a little round butt. But it was her face that was so spellbinding.
Her features were exquisitely proportioned; with huge, widely spaced, riveting eyes, a classic rounded French nose, wide mouth and erotic, expressive lips; set over a neat, little, pointed chin.
Her facial features were exceptional. However, it was her wealth of hair that set her apart. Her hair was dark brown, so thick that it was impossible to manage, or style. With her diminutive size, it made her look like the cutest, little curly haired moppet on the entire playground.
That impression lasted, until you looked into her eyes. The sheer intelligence and sexuality that radiated from them was daunting. It reflected an intensity of spirit and personal strength of character that made this vibrant little woman seem indomitable.
I watched as she chattered with the students. She was wearing a grey sweater that showcased her round, full, faultlessly shaped tits and a little silk scarf tied around her neck, bandit style. She had on a short, for that era, cream-colored, pleated skirt, knee socks and a pair of brown, saddle-shoes. She has proportionally longer thighs than the average woman, and they looked gorgeous.
She did a final exchange with the group and walked back toward me. She saw that I was watching her, and her stride went from chipper to sensual. She grabbed my arm and said, “Follow me.” We walked into the main entrance and then turned up a confusing array of halls. I got the sense that the wing that housed the Faculty of Theology hadn’t changed since the place was founded, in the Eleventh Century.
We eventually arrived in front of a door to an out-of-the-way office, Bernadette knocked and a voice from inside said, “Come.” Besides being smart, Bernadette has a way with strangers that I totally lack. So, I let her go in on her own. I had no idea what she would find in there. But, I was pretty sure I would scare the bejabbers out of the occupant.
Bernadette was in the office long enough that I got curious. So, I peeked in the door. She was engaged in an intense conversation with a wizened old Jewish man. How did I know he was Jewish? Well, the yarmulke was a start. But the main tip-off was the yellow Star of David that was sewed on the front of his old-fashioned formal cut-away coat.
That was something the Germans had instituted late in the Fall of 1940 and it made no sense to most of us. The Jews had generally been valuable and productive citizens so why single them out?
Well, we all know the answer to that question; now. But it would be four more years before the true meaning of the Holocaust was apparent. Like I said, no normal person could conceive of Nazi bestiality unless they had seen it with their own eyes.
Bernadette excitedly waved me in. I would more-or-less fill the office, so I just leaned in the door and offered my hand to the occupant. Professor Weisfeld was well into his eighties. But, he was an intellectual dynamo. I could see it in his astute brown eyes.
Bernadette said, “The Professor thinks he knows who to contact. It’s a gentile named Robert. He lives in the Quartier Pigalle, below Sacre-Coeur.” If Robert lived in that rabbit warren he was a seedy character indeed.
I said, “Do you have an address?”
The old man said, “Non, but I understand that he will find you if you ask around the shops.”
Pigalle had the, well-deserved, nickname of “Pig Alley.” Somebody as beautiful as Bernadette would stand out like a thoroughbred in a herd of donkeys there. But, nobody in their right mind would mess with me. And if they DID, like I said, the Seine keeps a lot of secrets.
So, we hopped back on the Metro and rode it over to the Place Pigalle stop. Because we were headed to an area where the denizens rarely rode the Metro, the car was a little less crowded, and we actually had room to stand separately. It didn’t matter. Bernadette was still plastered against me back to front.
I put my hand lightly on her shoulder. She gave a heavy sigh and leaned her head back against my chest. It was an astonishingly intimate gesture. I could smell the fresh lavender of her hair and her hard, little body was surprisingly warm against mine. The implications were unmistakable.
This was an unexpected development. Bernadette was clearly a member of the French aristocracy. It seemed incredible that a woman like her would find a ruffian like me attractive. But it was becoming increasingly apparent that she was interested in me, as more than just hired muscle.
I had no idea where this would lead. But the Beauty and the Beast analogy was blatantly obvious. Except, this time there was no handsome prince underneath and the Beauty was the one who was noble. I was just a beast.
The area where we were headed contained the sort of places that I frequented; cheap bistros and whorehouses. It was an area of petty crime and thievery. The Moulin Rouge was in that neighborhood.