I am walking home in a cold dark night that follows a frigid winter of snowy, hopeless, dark nights. I am hurrying to arrive before the midnight curfew. It has been a little over eight months since the Germans marched in, and I am used to the curfew and restrictions, the bullying and the bureaucracy, the heavy, ominous feeling of being about to do something egregious for which I will be caught and cruelly punished. After a few moments, I grow aware of footsteps keeping pace with mine, like an acoustic shadow. I can feel a presence, a mind, a few minds, at my back. I am being followed.
I walk into La Coupole, to the bar. It is crowded with Germans, some in uniform, many not; they sit at tables with members of French society who are willing to socialize with them, and they stand around the bar, offering cigarettes and wine to French women. There is a band playing Beethoven, Wagner, and Bach.
“May I buy you champagne, Mademoiselle?” asks a young officer in very bad French. He is tall and broad-shouldered and blond of course, wearing the uniform of the Schutzstaffel.
“No, she is leaving,” says another soldier, tall and as slim as an adolescent. It is young Fritz, the guard from Knochen’s office, which is now at rue des Saussaies. Fritz is accompanied by another boyish German.
The first soldier chides him cheerfully in German, but Fritz shakes his head. He takes my arm, positioning himself between me and the back of the restaurant, blocking a specific line of sight. “He is here,” Fritz whispers into my ear. He angles his shoulder down, and I peer over it to see Knochen at a table with several conservative members of the French upper crust. They are jolly and well lubricated.
A strangled sound escapes me of its own volition.
Fritz jostles me ahead of him and out the door. His friend follows us and calls to him. Fritz leaves me and goes to speak to the other boy, leaning close, nearlycheek to cheek, and patting his shoulder. The other boy frowns but returns to the restaurant. Fritz rejoins me, and his young face is completely bland and unexpressive, like a doll’s ceramic head.
“Why is he here, just to amuse himself?” I ask breathlessly.
“No.He has a deeper motivation, as always. There is endless politicking about who will police Paris, the army or the Party,” Fritz tells me. “He has come up with a strategy whereby he frequents the Parisian salons and socializes with receptive members of the French elite. He is cultured you know, so they like him. He insinuates himself into their lives as a means of gaining information and control. He hopes to rise above the other would-be police chiefs that way.”
“I’m glad he didn’t see me.”
Fritz nods. “Are you going home? Shall I walk you there? It’s close to curfew, but no one will hassle you if you’re with me.”
“Thank you.” I don’t tell him that I was being followed. “You’ve been kind to me, Fritz. I am grateful.”
“I would hate for my sister to meet someone like Knochen,” he says, his baby face souring, as if he had sucked something tart and spoiled.
“Where is your sister?” I tilt my head in the direction of my street.
He nods and his face clears. “She is in our hometown, Amberg. In Bavaria. We have a small farm, and she helps our mother work it. I did, too, until I joined the army.”
“Your father isn’t around?”
“Died ten years ago. He was injured at Verdun and was never good afterward.” Fritz shrugs.
“He would have hated this, after his service to the Fatherland, what Hitler has done to Germany,” he confides in a low voice. He looks around to make sure we are alone on the street. It is an executable offense to speak aloud what he does. But he is heard only by the posters urging the French to volunteer for work in Germany.
“There must be many Germans who feel that way,” I answer, just as softly. I gesture for us to walk up rue du Montparnasse….
“They tell us to feel no pity for Jews. They tell us to feel no human mercy,” Fritz says in a voice of quiet anger. “I think such commands are inhuman. My father was the gentlest man I ever met. He showed pity and mercy for everyone, even for animals on our farm. He once nursed one of our horses for three days without sleeping through a bad bout of colic. When the depression took everything from everyone, he gave food to people who needed it. He used to read to me about Saint Francis who told us to follow in the footsteps of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our Lord showed mercy to tax collectors, prostitutes, and Samaritans. As He was tortured and crucified, He said, ‘Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.’ If we’re supposed to be like Him, doesn’t that mean we’re supposed to show mercy to everyone, too?”
I stop and slowly turn to face Fritz. “Yes. Jesus of Nazareth embodied mercy.”
“So why do the clergy watch Jews being led away, and say, ‘There go the Christ killers’?” Fritz bursts out, louder than he anticipated. He cranes his head around again, making sure we are alone. “They know, everyone knows, what is being done to Jews! And it will only get worse.”
Traci L. Slatton is a graduate of Yale and Columbia, and the award-winning, internationally published
author of books of fiction, poetry, and non-fiction. She is also the founder of Parvati Press, an independent press which was recently recognized by the IRS as a
501(c ) (3) not-for-profit corporation.
She lives in Manhattan and her love for Renaissance Italy inspired her historical novel IMMORTAL, which was published around the world and achieved bestseller status in Italy, Russia, and Brazil. BROKEN tells the sensual, heart-rending story of a fallen angel in occupied Paris from 1939-1942. Her novel THE BOTTICELLI AFFAIR is a contemporary romp through the art history byways of vampire lore. Her novelFALLEN is the first of the acclaimed romantic After Series set during the end times. Its sequel COLD LIGHT and Book 3 FAR SHORE further the dystopian tale. The quirky, bittersweet sci fi love story THE LOVE OF MY (OTHER) LIFE seeks to answer the question: What worlds would you move for your soulmate?
DANCING IN THE TABERNACLE is her first book of poetry; PIERCING TIME & SPACE is a non-fiction look at the meeting of science and spirit. THE ART OF LIFE is a photo-essay of sculpture history and philosophy written with her husband Sabin Howard, whose work is also showcased.