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Authors: Alan Furst

Tags: #Fiction, #Thrillers, #Espionage, #Historical

Red Gold (9 page)

BOOK: Red Gold
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A hand grenade. Szapera held it tight in his left hand. In his belt was the revolver. He’d given Leon the automatic—none of them was exactly sure how it worked, and Leon, just turned sixteen, with glasses much thicker than Eva’s, probably couldn’t hit anything anyhow.

Eva had negotiated the garage by backing straight out, blocking traffic in both lanes. Ignoring the furious honking, she made several moves until at last she got the car headed north. She should probably drive with a cushion, Szapera thought, she could barely see over the steering wheel.

“Can you manage?” he said.

“Don’t make me nervous.” She shifted from first to third. The car rattled and jerked, then ran smoothly.

Just outside the town of Aubervilliers, Eva pulled off the road and waited. Kohn was holding a pocket watch. “7:22,” he said. Szapera had a school friend—a redhead who looked more Irish than Jewish—who worked as a clerk at one of the offices of the Banque de France in Paris. Twice a week, an armored car left the bank with bundles of occupation money, which it took to a Wehrmacht office at an army barracks near Aubervilliers. Szapera had ridden his bicycle out there, observed the armored car going through the gates, and established the time of delivery. He went out again a week later to make sure he had it right. Stalin had robbed banks in Baku to finance underground work, Szapera meant to follow his example. He had proposed the idea to Weiss, who resisted at first, then, in early October, changed his mind.

They waited. Kohn kept looking at his watch. It was quiet in the car, even the crazy Leon shut up for a change. Szapera felt it would be better if they talked, but his mind was blank. He was breathing hard, the hand grenade clutched in his fist.

7:31. 7:34. “They’re late,” Kohn said.

Just then the armored car rumbled past. A van, steel plates bordered by double lines of bolt heads. A very old van, Szapera guessed, box-shaped, tall and unwieldy, like one of those odd-looking machines in newsreels of the 1914 war.

“Let’s go,” Szapera said.

Eva pulled out into traffic, the truck driver she’d cut off thrust his arm out the window and shook his fist.

“You go to hell,” Leon sputtered.

Eva’s face was white. There were two cars between the Talbot and the armored van. A long minute ticked by. Heavy woods on both sides, then the road narrowed for a tiny village. “Now,” Szapera said.

Eva waited—for a car coming toward them in the other lane, followed by two women riding bicycles—then swung out to pass. She oversteered; a wall loomed up in front of them, Leon and Kohn shouted warnings. She managed to get straightened out, then pushed the gas pedal to the floor. The Talbot roared with power, sped past the intervening cars, ran alongside the van. Szapera looked up, the driver turned to see who was next to him. For a moment, they stared at each other.

“Cut him off,” Szapera said.

Eva hesitated
—the
car—
then stepped on the gas and threw the wheel over to the right. But the van driver saw it coming and accelerated, so they didn’t cut in front of the van, they hit it. Just behind the driver’s door, a loud bang of metal on metal then, surprisingly, the two vehicles, tires shrieking, spun around together and slammed into the front of a building.

Side by side, the Talbot and the van faced out into the road. Szapera looked down at his lap, he was covered with broken glass. Carefully he reached over and tried his door. Jammed. Next to him, Eva was holding her head. He had to get out, the plan was to run to the passenger side of the van, threaten the guard with a pistol while Kohn kept the driver at bay, and force them to open the door. In the newspapers, armored car robberies were described in just this way. But the rest of the plan would have to be changed, he realized. They wouldn’t be driving off with the money. Through a hole in the front window he could see steam pouring from beneath the Talbot’s hood.

He turned around, the door on Leon’s side was open. He climbed over the seat, and stumbled into the road. A bicycle lay on its side, a sack had split, spilling onions. A few feet away, Leon was pointing his automatic at the van and pulling the trigger.

In the front seat of the van the Wehrmacht driver looked dazed. Szapera drew the revolver from his belt, pointed it at the driver, and shouted for him to open the door. The man didn’t move. Szapera pulled the trigger, nothing happened. He released the safety and fired again, this time the glass in front of the driver’s face turned to frost and Szapera couldn’t see anything. He suddenly remembered the hand grenade, realized he didn’t have it.

The escort car that had been trailing the armored van finally managed to wind its way through the stalled traffic and skidded to a stop about fifty feet away. A Wehrmacht sergeant rolled down the passenger window, rested a machine pistol on the door frame, aimed carefully, then fired a long burst. A bullet went through Kohn and hit Szapera in the lower back, knocking him on his face. From there, he saw Eva stagger out of the car, revolver in hand. A second burst, the gun flew away, Eva fell in the road.

Szapera started to crawl toward the van—he would kill the guard, start the motor, and ram the escort. Then he saw Leon, running at the escort car with the hand grenade. Szapera heard shots, Leon almost fell, but regained his balance. There was blood on his neck and he clapped his free hand over it as he ran, staying low, in a kind of comic crouch. The dirt in front of him sprayed up as the gun fired. He jerked backward once, then sprinted to the car and jumped through the open window. An instant later, a yellow flash, the doors buckled out and black smoke poured from both sides of the car. A Wehrmacht officer appeared, walking slowly, like a man hypnotized. Five, six steps. He stopped, sat down carefully in the road, and toppled over.

Szapera managed to get to his feet. His back was wet. He reached around, saw blood on his hand. He went to Eva, who was lying facedown, and carefully rolled her over. Her eyes were wide open and she was dead. He stared at her, could not look away.

The sound of approaching sirens startled him. He looked around for Kohn, but he had disappeared. He started running. A man in a suit jumped out of the back of the van and started chasing him. Szapera shot at him, he turned around and ran the other way.

Away from the road.
He saw an alley, followed it to the end, and emerged on a village street. To his left, a sign: BOUCHERIE CHEVA-LINE, and a gold horse’s head. Szapera lurched into the shop. He was out of breath, chest heaving. The butcher ran out from behind the counter with a long, thin knife in his hand. He was a big man and bright red, Szapera could see that he was trembling. “What do you want?” He was shouting, clearly terrified. He had heard the crash and the gunfire, now the sirens were closing in.

“Help me,” Szapera said. He fell sideways against the counter, then slid to the floor.

The butcher cursed, threw the knife on the cutting block, wiped his hand on his spattered apron. He grabbed Szapera under the arms and dragged him toward the door.

A woman at the cashier desk cried out, “Put him in the back!”

“No,” the butcher yelled. “Not in the shop.”

“Then upstairs.”

“Ach,” the butcher said, infuriated. He took Szapera around the waist and heaved him onto his shoulder. Outside, a woman screamed, somebody ran past. They turned into a doorway, went up a staircase. The stairs seemed endless; four flights, five. The butcher wheezed as he tried to breathe, the rasping louder and louder as he climbed. At last they entered an attic—darkness, furniture, dust, and cobwebs. The butcher was gasping. He stopped, pressed a hand to his heart. “
Salaud,
” he growled. “You’ll kill me with this prank.”

He looked around, found an old armoire, set Szapera down inside it, then closed the doors. “Now be
quiet,
” he hissed. Szapera heard him leave, the whole room shook as he ran off. A door slammed. Then it was silent, and very dark. Szapera shut his eyes. He saw a spinning circle of golden dots, then nothing.

AUTUMN
RAINS

What has become of the adventures of the heart?
Killed by the dark adventures of existence.

ERICH MARIA REMARQUE

PARIS. 4 NOVEMBER .

At dawn, a few snowflakes drifted past the window of the Hotel Benoit. In the park across the street, piles of wet leaves had mounded up against the trunks of the chestnut trees. Casson stared out at the gray sky, no point in going to bed now. On the table by the bed a Remarque novel, a battered copy he’d bought at a
bouqiniste’
s stall by the river. He had been reading for most of the night—late summer in Paris, war on the way, a doomed love affair.

He got dressed, hating the clothes he put on every day.
Life without money,
he thought, shuddering at the cold, damp shirt against his skin. Out in the street it was busy, a sharp wind moving people along. He trotted down the Métro steps, waited on the platform, and worked his way into a crowded car. Silent, nobody talked, just the rumble echoing off the tiled walls.

He got off in a nondescript district in the 15th. Just outside the exit, an arrest in progress. The Gestapo at work, he suspected. The men in suits, standing to one side, were Germans. They watched as French policemen led a line of men and women out of an apartment house, a long chain encircled their waists and they wore handcuffs. The Gestapo men were silent; speculative, watchful. It wasn’t quite so easy as it used to be, being German in Paris.

He found the building and pressed the outside buzzer but the concierge didn’t come. He had to wait for somebody to leave, then held the door, went inside, walked up three flights, and rang a doorbell.

“Casson! My God, of all the world.”

“Hello, Charne,” he said. They shook hands, then embraced. Charne was fat as an old bear, with long white hair that hung down the sides of his face like wings, and, as always, a cigarette with an inch of ash between his yellowed fingers. “Come in, come in,” he said.

They sat in the kitchen, by a little coal-burning stove. Charne had worked for him on three pictures. He was one of the best makeup people in Paris, steady and sure. “Are you doing anything?” Casson asked.

Charne shrugged. “A little. Now and then. Just to stay alive, you know.”

“You look well.”

“You also. I don’t hear your name, lately, I thought, maybe . . .”

“I’m—well, I don’t walk past police stations.”

From Charne, a laugh that ended in a cough. “Who does?”

“Actually,” Casson said, “it’s a little worse than that.”

Charne nodded, he understood.

“I need, I need to be out in the city. I need a disguise.”

“Ah-ha,
la barbe!
” The beard. Charne made a face and winked, the comic conspirator.

Casson laughed. “I know, but it’s serious.”

“Forgive me, Casson, but the idea of you in a wig, well.” He smiled at the idea. “That’s not the way, believe me. From time to time I used to have, what would you say, a private client. Once, even, a bank robber. A Belgian, or so he said. And what I said to him I’ll say to you: it’s done with small touches, as many as you can manage.”

Casson nodded.

“Come to the window.”

Charne studied his face in the light, turned it sideways, then back. “All right, then,” he said. “Grow a mustache, just a plain one will do. No muttonchops, no goatee. Some hair under the nose, to the edges of your lips, and if it comes in gray, so much the better. You can add a touch of color if it doesn’t. Go to the
pharmacie,
they’ll have something you can use. Then, let your hair grow, change the part, put it over on the other side. Wear a dark shirt, with a dark tie—you’d be surprised what that does, it changes your place in life, and that changes the way you look.”

He went into another room, rummaged around in bureau drawers, brought back a pair of eyeglasses with dark frames, and put them on Casson. “There. Just grow a little mustache and you’ll look like your poor cousin from Lyons.”

Casson stared at himself in the bathroom mirror. He brushed his hair back the other way. Now, he thought, he was beginning to look like somebody who looked like Jean Casson. Charne came over and stood in the doorway.

“Well?”

“I think it works.”

“Of course, we can do more. I had a look around back there— you can be Madame de Pompadour by dinnertime, if you like.”

“Powdered wig?”

Charne raised his hands
—of
course.
“Even a beauty mark on your boob.”

“I’ve always wanted that.”

“We’ll rent you a little dog.”

“Don’t tempt me,” Casson said.

“There is one thing you had better be prepared for.”

“What’s that?”

“You’ll run into somebody, barely an acquaintance, it never fails. ‘Hello, Casson. You look like you’ve lost weight.’ But, even so, you’re better off keeping it simple. Stuff your cheeks with cotton wadding and it’ll wind up in the soup.”

Back in the kitchen, Charne poured two little glasses of Calvados, precious stuff. “For old times,” he said. “I liked working on your pictures, Casson. You knew what was what.”


Santé,
” Casson said.


Santé.

Casson drank the Calvados and was silent for a moment. “Do you ever hear anything of Citrine?” he said.

Charne thought a moment. “Somebody mentioned her,” he said. “But I don’t remember who it was.”

“I just wondered,” Casson said.

They talked for a while, old times, studios and directors, how it was before the war. Finally Casson stood to go. “Thank you for the eyeglasses,” he said.

“Oh, don’t mention it. Maybe sometime we’ll work on a picture.”

“Sometime,” Casson said.

It rained the first week in November. The streets were dark and he felt safe, invisible, head down like all the world, moving quickly, just one more shadow in the twilight. He found Fougère, from the electricians’ union, at a small office out in Sarcelles, in the Red Belt to the north and east of the city. But there was nothing for him there. They talked for a few minutes, Casson probed for an opening that he was never offered. Fougère had no reason to trust him and they both knew it. “It seems,” Casson said, “that only the FTP is fighting the Germans.”

BOOK: Red Gold
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