Authors: Alan Furst
Tags: #Fiction, #Thrillers, #Espionage, #Historical
The detective turned, rested his arm on the top of the seat, and looked him over. He was an old man, heavy, with a head of thick, white hair and deep lines carved in his face. He had a big nose with a dent near the bridge and very pale blue eyes, wore an ancient black suit beneath his overcoat, a loose wool muffler, and a weather-beaten hat with the brim snapped down in front.
“No. The rue Rondelet.”
Casson looked out the window as the car drove off. In May of 1940, recalled to military service, assigned to a
he’d seen the streets of eastern Paris through the windshield of a truck.
Different than the back of a taxi,
he’d thought then. Now, the same streets, from the window of a police car.
Blood will tell.
It was a deep Gallic conviction, especially among women over forty. Casson’s father had been a rogue, and his mother had been employed full-time as the wife of a rogue: long-suffering, humiliated by unpaid butchers, terrified of the phone. But, often enough, his father’s shield. Casson
had more than once been spared by creditors who could not bear to hurt “his poor wife.” Wealth had always been just around the corner; shares in Venezuelan lead mines, a scheme to import herring from Peru, a powder that kept lettuce from spoiling, tonics, treasure maps, mechanical pens. And, late in life, one honorable and very productive venture—a wool brokerage—which he’d been done out of by men he called “licensed thieves who work in paneled offices.”
The rue Rondelet was a little street in a factory district with a small
poste de police.
Not the kind of place Parisian detectives usually worked. “Go back to the préfecture,” the detective told his driver. “If anyone asks, tell them I’ll be in later.” The
touched the visor of his cap with two fingers and drove off. Inside the station, a desk sergeant wearing a knitted green sweater under his uniform jacket greeted the detective like an old friend.
Upstairs, a small office used for interrogation—two chairs, a desk scarred with cigarette burns, tall windows opaque with dirt, a floor of narrow boards. The station backed up to a schoolyard, it was recess, and Casson could hear the kids, playing tag and yelling. The detective leaned on his elbows and read the dossier, now and then shaking his head.
“Casson, Casson,” he said at last, with a sigh in his voice. Casson flinched despite himself. The detective seemed not to notice. He turned the pages slowly, sometimes puzzling over the cramped handwriting. Suddenly he looked up and said, “You’re not going to insist on this Marin business, are you?”
Grâce à Dieu—
I already fought with my wife this morning.”
“Will you turn me over to the Germans?”
“Worse than that, Casson, worse than that.”
The detective read further. “Here’s your concierge,” he said. “Kindly old Madame Fitou, in 1933. Hmm. Secret doings, something buried in the cellar.”
“That’s what it says here. Imagine, a man like you, a cat murderer.”
“It’s madness, monsieur.”
“So, you deny it! Seems there was quite a ring operating back then. In league with the neighborhood baker, I see. And the priest.”
“She really said such things?”
“And more. You don’t believe, I hope, that these women can actually live on what the tenants pay them?” He read on for a time, turning pages of handwritten paragraphs. “1937. Some considerable entertaining. Angélique, Françoise, Madame de Levallier.” He squared the stack of pages with his palms and closed the folder.
“What will happen to me?” Casson said.
The detective shook his head
“When I started to look for you, it gave me an excuse to see a movie or two. I must tell you that your policemen are a disgrace. Venal, brutal, and, worst of all, stupid. And when they shoot they don’t hit anything.”
“It’s just the movies.”
The detective leaned forward in his chair and spoke quietly. “Tell me, Casson, why did you come back to France?”
The detective nodded. “Not patriotism?”
The detective smiled—somebody had told the truth! He glanced at his watch, went to a window, took the brass handles and shoved it up a few inches. “The morning concert. Come and listen, Casson. It’s the latest thing from Vichy—a hymn to Pétain.”
Casson went to the window. Down in the schoolyard, the children—eight- and nine-year-olds—were lined up in rows. Facing them, a music teacher, conducting with a stern finger: “And one, and two, and . . .” They sang with high voices, an angels’ choir.
All the children who love you
and hold your years dear
to your supreme call
have answered smartly, “Here!”
Marshal, here are we
before you, O savior of France.
We your little buddies swear
to follow where you advance.
For France is Pétain,
and Pétain is France.
They began the next song, the detective closed the window, then went to the door and started to open it, giving Casson a nod of the head that meant
“Well, Casson,” he said, “perhaps you’re in luck. You may not have found patriotism, but it appears, God save us all, to have found you.”
The struggle against Germany must not be looked upon as an ordinary war. It is not merely a fight between two armies. In order to engage the enemy there must be bands of partisans and saboteurs working underground everywhere, blowing bridges, destroying roads, telephones and telegraphs, and setting fire to depots and forests. In territories occupied by the enemy, conditions must be made so impossible that he cannot hold out; those helping him will be punished and executed.
Stalin’s Order of June 22, 1941
PARIS. 22 SEPTEMBER, 1941.
Ivanic came out of the Saint-Michel Métro in the early evening, turned right at the first street, then right again to the little
they’d told him to look for, and the small door with the ironwork frame. He had the key in his hand but it still took a long time. He had to try it this way and that way, had to stand there and jiggle the thing until the lock decided to open. It was dark inside, he could just make out a stairway. He climbed one flight to a door at the head of the stairs, found a second key left on the molding that let him into a tiny room that seemed to be used as an office. Down below, in the restaurant Agadir, he could hear people talking and laughing, and throbbing oud music played on a wind-up Victrola.
There was a swivel chair at the desk but he didn’t sit down. He paced the office, checking his watch. Noisy outside, the rue de la Huchette, a North African souk around the steps of the church of Saint Séverin. It smelled like the old streets in Marseilles, he thought, sheep liver grilled on hot coals, burnt cumin, and the damp air that hung over the river
Not so bad, he thought—the crowds, jostling and busy, the dark-eyed women. He wasn’t in a hurry to try the food, but that was him. Food wasn’t something he liked. He’d done his prison time east of the Oder: in Lodz—for pamphlets, in Esztergom—just because, and then, worst of all, the Lukishki, in Vilna. Abduction. The Lithuanian police had been waiting for them. Two years of that. And it could have been forever, but in August ’39 the Hitler-Stalin Pact was signed and the NKVD came into the city and let Ivanic and his friends out of jail. Two years of that had done something to his appetite. He wondered if maybe it was the lentil mash they’d fed him in prison. Or maybe not. Maybe it was the work he did. He looked at his watch again, where were they? He was in his late twenties, tall and pale, with sleepy eyes. He’d grown up in Salonika but he wasn’t Greek, he came from farther up the Balkans. It was a long story.
In Vilna, he’d decided that he wasn’t going to prison again. But the people he worked for wouldn’t let him carry a weapon in Paris. Only for work. That scared Ivanic—even with the finest passports and
and all the other paper the Germans thought up, things could go wrong. He heard somebody coming up the stairs and hoped it was the man he was supposed to meet and not the Sûreté, or the Gestapo.
A key turned in the lock, Ivanic backed against the wall. The door opened slowly. “Hello? Ivanic?” Heavily accented French.
“Are you Serra?”
They shook hands, both of them wary. Serra had dark hair, tousled and cut short, was perhaps in his thirties but he seemed much older than that. Ivanic knew he’d been a miner in Asturias—thus a specialist in dynamite—then, during the Spanish war, an operative for the Republican secret service. He had escaped over the Pyrenees, one of the last to get through after the fall of Barcelona in 1939, was arrested at the border, and spent the next year staring at an incomprehensible world through French barbed wire.
Serra had a little bag of tobacco. They tore strips off a page of
and smoked while they waited.
“Have you seen him?” Ivanic asked.
“Yes, I watched him. For a few days.”
“What is he like?”
“An athlete, perhaps. He stands very straight.”
“They all do.”
“Most of them.” Serra paused a moment. “Were you in Spain?”
“I thought perhaps I’d seen you.”
“No. I wasn’t there.”
8:20 P.M. The phone in the office rang three times and stopped. Ivanic looked at his watch. Thirty seconds later it rang again. Ivanic raised the receiver from the cradle and put it back down. Another five minutes and they heard somebody coming up the stairs.
The man who stepped into the office was called Weiss. He had black and gray hair, combed back from the forehead, and wore a dark overcoat with the collar turned up. The world’s plainest man, Ivanic thought. A salesman? Teacher? Editor of a technical journal, something esoteric and difficult? Perhaps he’d once done something like that. Or maybe it was simply that Weiss became what other people thought he was. In a smoky Berlin union hall, he was a labor official. Later on, a Milanese intellectual, or a Dutch civil servant. Ivanic had once been on the edge of a conversation where a senior Comintern operative had said, “Of course Weiss is Hungarian—like all spies.”
He said hello to them, put his scuffed leather briefcase on the desk, unbuckled the straps, and hunted around inside. “
Johannes Luecks,” he said. He handed Ivanic a photograph, a clandestine shot taken from a first-floor window, slightly blurred, the blacks and whites faded to gray. The officer, a captain, had his head turned toward the camera. He was hatless, fair-haired, in Wehrmacht uniform. “He commands a company of combat engineers,” Weiss said. “Joined the army in ’32, from Bremerhaven. Here is a list. Where he goes and what he does.”
Ivanic passed the photo to Serra and took the sheet of paper from Weiss. A twenty-four-hour schedule with daily headings. At the top of the page, an address. “The rue St.-Roch,” Ivanic said.
“Yes, only the best. He’s billeted with a French family.”
“St.-Roch. It runs off St.-Honoré?”
“Busy at lunchtime.”
“Yes, a commercial neighborhood, but quiet in the evening.”
“Home around six-thirty.”
“Yes. A pipe, a comfortable chair, a newspaper.”
“A pleasant life.”
“It is. The family is completely intimidated—they wait on him hand and foot.”
Serra shook his head. Handed the photograph back to Weiss and took the schedule from Ivanic.
“When do you want it done?” Ivanic asked.
“Up to you,” Weiss said. “But as soon as possible. The Wehrmacht is just outside Moscow. They are burning the villages around Mogilev, taking the men away for slave labor. The local officials are simply shot. The way we make them pay for that is
action, behind the lines, which means anywhere from Mogilev to Brittany.”
Luecks,” Ivanic said, “is he anyone special?”
“No,” Weiss said. “And that’s the point we want to make. He’s a German, that’s all, and that’s enough.”
They killed him the following Thursday. At four in the afternoon they met in a greenhouse in the Jardin des Plantes, where the weapons were buried beneath the gravel. 7.65 pistols, fine automatics from J. P. Sauer und Sohn in the town of Suhl, normally issued only to Luftwaffe officers. They rode bicycles with crowds of homebound workers in a light rain across the Seine, then along the avenues to St.-Honoré. On the rue St.-Roch they waited until almost seven, when
Luecks was dropped off by a Wehrmacht staff car, shoulders hunched as he hurried through the rain toward his doorway, carrying a paper-wrapped
by its pink ribbon.
They followed him into the lobby. He didn’t like it—two men in caps with their jacket collars up. He turned to glare at them and they took the automatic pistols out and fired three or four times each. The shots were thunderous in the small space, echoing off the marble walls. Luecks was knocked backward. He tumbled to the lobby floor and tried to roll toward the door. The two men shot him again and he lay still, a cloud of blue smoke hanging in the air, the echoes ringing away to silence.
They heard the whine of a motor and looked up, saw the elevator cables moving in the small cage. The car stopped in the lobby. A well-dressed woman stared out at them, at the German officer on the floor. She reached out and pressed a button, the elevator went back up.
PARIS. 2 OCTOBER .
It continued to rain. Jean Casson sat in the parlor of a small apartment in Neuilly, reading a newspaper—COWARDLY TERRORIST ATTACK IN THE RUE ST.-ROCH—for the second time. On the eastern front, retreating Russian divisions had been forced to blow up the Dnieper dam, the pride of Soviet engineering in the 1930s. Casson reread the movie section, the sports, the obituaries.
“Stay here and wait,” the detective had told him. He slept on a narrow bed in a spare room, took silent meals with Monsieur and Madame Kerner, an Alsatian couple in their sixties. He had been saved, for what or why he did not know. The people who had found him hadn’t yet let him in on their plans but he had no doubt they would get around to it. Meanwhile, there was bread to eat, and soup, and long, silent evenings.