Actually, the prospect of the
thought-diffusing pain that Bertrand was promising was not unwelcome. He didn’t want to continue thinking -- about
anything or anyone. At least that was
one good thing about the battlefield -- there wasn’t too much time on his hands
for idle thought.
From the kitchen, Claire Marie listened but did not hear any
complaints from the American as Uncle took him through some exercises in the
parlor, explaining all the while the importance of maintaining dexterity and
limberness. She knew from personal
experience how painful this type of thing could be, and remembered hearing the
same lectures from Uncle as she sat sweating from the exertion of moves she
once took for granted. Of course, she
never had the comfort of a considerable amount of wine and brandy to numb the pain…
She heard the men finish up and then go outside. Paul had asked Uncle earlier for a tour of
the compound so he could get a little better lay of the area around the
house. It was a sensible idea, Claire
Marie knew, but maybe not optimal at this time of night.
The thought of some fresh air to clear her own head, though,
was appealing. She didn’t relish the
idea of going up to bed and taking a chance on spoiling a wonderful evening by
having to talk about Rolf when Paul came back in. If she waited a bit longer, perhaps Paul would be asleep by the
time she went upstairs.
As she finished wiping the table -- Louisa would be incensed
enough to find out how much food and wine they had consumed this evening; she
didn’t need to come home to mess in her kitchen -- Claire Marie listened for
their return. When she heard the front
door open and close, she sighed in relief.
Bertrand called softly, “Good
night, sweet girl” from down the hallway.
Claire Marie took the water pitchers from the kitchen and slipped out
the back door into the wet chill of the autumn night.
Out in the darkness, on a fallen timber near the remains of
the barn, Caje sat and enjoyed a second cigarette from the pack of Lucky
Strikes that Bertrand had produced from a treasured store left behind by the
Americans. Caje had wanted a few
moments outside to clear his head since it wouldn’t do to find additional
places to hide from the Krauts if he were too wooly-headed this evening to
It was more than that, though, and Caje knew it. He wanted to wait until Claire Marie was
asleep before he went up to the loft they shared. He didn’t want her to again try to offer an explanation of what
he had witnessed this afternoon.
Whatever it was, he could not imagine it not spoiling the first
comfortable, almost home-like evening he had experienced since Theo’s death.
Caje ground the remains of his cigarette out almost
angrily. He still could not understand
why Theo was gone and he was still here.
It was from Theo, indirectly, that he had gained the
nickname “Caje,” and it had stuck.
Before that, he had been Paul Alexander Armand LeMay, the only child of
Armand and Angelina LeMay, who had been separated since Paul was nine. His father, Armand, was a very astute and
successful New Orleans business man who had pulled himself up from the
impoverishment into which his old and revered Creole family had fallen. By the time Paul was nearly 10, Armand had
already amassed a small fortune in the oil business in the swamps of Louisiana,
and was starting to expand into east Texas, as well as diverging into real
estate in New Orleans and Charleston, where a number of relatives lived.
Paul’s early childhood had been spent in the heart of New
Orleans, in a decaying antebellum city house set amidst the small, walled
gardens once so popular. The garden had
a front lawn with an iron fountain that never worked but that caught and held
rainwater and was a source of hours of amusement for the small boy. With his mother and Missy during the long
hot days of childhood -- his father worked ‘round the clock and arrived home
for dinner often after the little boy had gone to bed -- Paul had been
Armand, however, was not.
He had gotten to where he was by hard work, as well as some dubious
dealings, yet together they were not enough, in his mind, to return the family
to the social status to which it belonged.
So when Paul was nine, Armand paid a princely sum to the Church to have
his marriage to the beautiful Angelina annulled, and he married Therese Gould. He had married Angelina when they were both
very young and he believed that her Cajun origins would not matter. But as they grew older and his ambitions
grew greater, he came increasingly to believe that all his efforts to return
the family to its former status were thwarted by Angelina, rather than any
personal defects of his own.
Cajuns in Louisiana were starting to be singled out by the
government for their lack of integration in the rest of white American culture,
and various programs were instituted to eliminate the French-originated
dialogue they spoke among themselves.
The old Creole families around New Orleans began to separate themselves
from their Cajun neighbors, ignoring the recent past and the cultural bonding
that had taken place since the Civil War.
Instead, they clung tighter to their “pure” French origins, and started
reviving some of the social separateness that had been their standard before
the war. Angelina’s low class accent,
lack of traceable ancestry and, perhaps, her original vocation -- though they
had tried to keep that a secret -- embarrassed Armand in his ascent back up the
However, he was rather fond of the boy, and had ambitions,
and was determined to raise and educate him as a gentleman, even if Therese
produced additional heirs. Therefore,
young Paul was sent in the fall of 1930 from the comfortable, old house that
had been home to a strict Catholic boarding school in Charleston that prided
itself on both its continuous emphasis on classical French education and
discretion. His childhood was virtually
over, and the mother who had rocked him to sleep with the sweet lullabies she
had grown up with deep in the bayous neither visited nor wrote. It was as if she had never existed, and no
satisfactory explanation was offered.
After a while, Paul stopped asking his father about her, since Armand at
first offered improbable placations, then later answered gruffly, “I told you.”
He also stopped asking the household help, who turned away sadly from the small
It was a difficult period for Paul, but to those on the
outside, it did not appear to last long.
At school, he was initially teased and bullied -- because of his muddled
accent, because he cried quietly in the night, because he was small, and
because he was soon at the top of his class.
But he was a well-muscled boy and good at most sports, and after he
bloodied the noses of several bullies, he gained a reputation for having a
quick temper and doling out swift and effective retaliation that earned him a
wide berth and a measure of respect. By
the time he returned to New Orleans for the Christmas holidays with his new,
unattractive but well-connected stepmother and his father, he had grown two
inches and lost all traces of the Cajun accent he had inherited from his
mother. Missy, who remained with the
family despite her personal grief over the loss of a mistress who had treated
her more as a friend than an employee -- very unlike the new lady of the house
-- also grieved over the loss of the child she had known. But Armand was delighted, and appeared to
have no qualms about proudly presenting the son of the woman he no longer
acknowledged as his wife to the social connections he valued so highly.
After finishing boarding school in Charleston, Paul went on
to prep school in Quebec, where he earned the reputation of being an all around
reliable young man. A natural skier,
good scholar, and relatively popular student -- despite being too self contained
to make close friends -- he was often the recipient of last minute invitations
to fill in at holidays and other adventurous outings.
Returning home, though, was invariably difficult. The truth was that his place in the house
remained ambiguous, despite Therese’s inability to produce the socially correct
male heir that Armand desired. The
addition of a half sister did ease the visits somewhat, as Paul was fond of the
small, pretty, young girl. But he felt
sorry for her being brought up in the house with the cold Therese once Missy
left. And Armand’s embarrassing pride
and superficial interest were overwhelming.
It was not all terrible, though. Word spread around the correct circles that the LeMay boy,
despite the distinct disadvantage of his birth, was not only good looking and
possessed the correct accent that any true Creole mother desired, but was also
perfectly presentable given the fact that Armand seemed determined, in light of
the situation, to make him his heir.
Therefore, if anyone needed a spare date? The invitations started piling up as soon as he arrived home for
term breaks. Debutante balls, Magnolia
balls, sweet sixteen balls -- parties where the family names read off like a
“who’s who” of Southern French-descended culture. Boarding and prep school had stood him in good stead, and he was
able to smile, be attentive, and dance until the wee hours, generally
acquitting himself to everyone’s satisfaction.
He, himself, took some small satisfaction in conquering a few
of the well-chaperoned maidens.
But it all seemed like play-acting. He was who he was, with no illusions to his
background or breeding. Occasionally,
he returned to school early, or left Armand’s home before the term break ended,
in order to slip away to the swamps of Louisiana without his father’s
knowledge. With the help of Missy, with
whom he had maintained a sporadic correspondence -- her writing skills were
minimal -- he had located Angelina.
She lived near her family on Lake Ponchetrain, not far from
the Cane River. When he visited her,
various uncles and cousins -- whose relationships to Paul were always rather
obscure to him -- helped him develop a love of the wild, gloomy swamps and
forests of his mother’s people. His
innate survival skills blossomed in the primeval land of his forefathers, and
he learned to canoe, to hunt, and to find his way through the bracken and
shifting earth of the region. Here he
was accepted without reservation, despite his inappropriate clothes, his upper
class French, and his education.
However, the time he spent with his mother was always
somewhat stilted, though he could sense Angelina’s absolute love for the son
she had had to give up. It was a
subject they had not broached directly, since Paul’s natural reticence seemed
to have come from his mother’s side, and neither at first had wanted to take a
chance on destroying their budding relationship. But when Paul tired of the occasional whispers he heard during
the whirl of New Orleans social activities and he could no longer ignore the
sotto voice comments of Therese -- who barely hid her disapproval of Armand’s
continuing close relationship with his son -- he finally asked Angelina about
herself. When his mother did not try to
deny her son’s embarrassed probes, nor did she apologize, Paul fled back to
college without even undertaking his scheduled visit to Armand.
He lasted only another week at the university, feeling that
he could not face his classmates when his mother’s secret might somehow have
even traveled across the border to Canada.
He ran off to a seminary nearby, run by a
Jesuit priest from New Orleans who had befriended him during his first year in
Quebec, and remained among the priests for one month, contemplating joining the
order. That is, until his Uncle Bere
made his first direct intercession in Paul’s life.
It was Bere who both saved him from his misguided attempt to
lose himself in the seminary and then, a year later, from the dissolute life he
spun into upon his forced return to college.
Paul had not been in contact with his father in over twelve months,
since the disastrous visit to his mother, and was taking minimal courses toward
the completion of his degree, spending most of his time on the ski slopes,
scraping class fees and room and board together from intermittent work as a ski
instructor. He would accept neither
letters nor money from Armand.
Bere showed up unexpected at the boarding house, sitting
quietly on Paul’s bed in the semi-gloom of the boy’s room, unseen at first as
Paul stumbled in tipsy from an afternoon spent in one of the local
establishments with a mixed group of acquaintances from the college and a
nearby resort. Paul, after his initial
surprise over seeing Bere, was struck as he always was by the total contrast between
his uncle and his father.
Whereas Paul’s father remained trim, nearly austere, as he
grew older -- emphasizing his patrician good looks -- Bere gave in to his love
of good food and wine, and it showed.
His easy-going demeanor endeared him to all, but his business acumen was
not on a par with that of his younger brother.
Luckily, Bere had married into one of the oldest and wealthiest of
Charleston families, and still treasured his small, bright wife after nearly
thirty years of wedlock. At this point
in his life, having overcome his early impoverishment, survived the Great War,
and married his best friend, his only regret was that their one son, five years
younger than Paul, continued to create problems due to his dissolute ways and
drinking. Perhaps as a result of this,
he was greatly saddened by the estrangement between his brother and his only
nephew, and he decided to intervene before the damage became irreparable to
Bere offered him a job - or rather informed Paul that he
would be taking it. The employment
involved managing one of Bere’s new oil concerns in East Texas, and it would be
rough since the site, like many in East Texas in the early forties, was a
rollicking anarchy. A large number of
Louisiana’s Cajuns had migrated to East Texas, both because of their
familiarity with the work -- the bayous had been producing oil since the turn
of the century -- and to escape the governmental persecution of their
culture. With their long hours, their
unfamiliarity with the terrain, and their separation from their families, the
men were living in a community whose social fabric had broken down, leaving
towns and settlements that resembled the Wild West of old -- but where the
cowboys often punctuated their sentences with bayou patois.
Paul accepted his Uncle’s offer without comment. He cared for the old gentleman and still
remembered fondly the weekend leaves in Charleston that he had spent being
pampered and fussed over by Bere and Annabelle. And the emptiness of his existence was a concern of his own. It was one thing to punish Armand for, well,
for everything, but he really had no desire to lose himself in the
process. Besides, Paul found the idea
of Armand being daily tortured by his son’s very proximity to everything he had
tried to disavow rather amusing.
So he moved to a small drilling camp near Port Arthur, Texas
in the summer of ‘41. The heat was a
startling contrast to the climate of Quebec, and the bordellos and roughnecks
were starkly opposite the rarified spires and students of the university
town. His initial adjustment was
hampered not only by his position as an assistant to the tough site supervisor,
but also by his name. Unfortunately,
his father’s well known turbulent relationship with Governor Long, along with
Armand’s service on several advisory boards of the Standard Oil Company,
brought the LeMay name and fortune into prominence. The connection was inescapable.
After six months, Paul had decided that no matter how hard he
worked and how much satisfaction he gained from it, his success would never
make up for the sense of belonging he felt he lacked. He was neither Creole, nor Cajun, nor “American”. The men of the town saw him as the boss’s
nephew and, because of his father, one of the gentry with nothing in common
with the majority of Louisiana ex-pats.
The few managers of the place, largely Creoles or whites themselves,
knew through the rumor mill of his estranged relationship with his parents and
some variation on the reason why.
Therefore, they, like their linesmen, kept him at arms length. Until that fateful day in October, when he
He was out on one of the new rigs to watch what the crew
hoped was the final push through to a large reserve. Once the drilling had started, it had been nearly continuous for
forty eight hours, and the men were getting tired. Someone, and it was never ascertained in the aftermath who,
forgot to apply the hourly lubricant to the gear housing. Running full throttle in the heat, which
continued to push 95 degrees due to a late westerly front, the drill’s gears
swelled dangerously as friction continued to build between them. In a millisecond, the men’s excitement over
the potential breakthrough to a new supply of oil turned to horror as one of
the gears jammed and caused a lightening fast reaction in the drill that ended
with one of its connecting chains snapping loose due the sudden halt of its
driving machinery. The six inch wide,
free swinging chain -- extended to twice its normal length after the break --
decapitated two men standing near the shaft.
A third dove to the grimy floor of the housing. Without thinking, Paul grabbed one of the
nearby four by sixes left over from the construction of the platform and lunged
it forward, nearly tripping because of its weight and his haste. The chain wrapped itself momentarily around
the wood before snapping the timber in two like a toothpick.
Paul felt a searing pain in his side and toppled to the
floor. The man who had been trapped,
observing the slowed momentum of the runaway chain, seized the opportunity to
slide himself off the edge of the platform and drag Paul to safety with
him. Immediately they were surrounded
by the crew who had watched the scene unfold.
Paul was rushed in his own car to the camp medical building, conscious,
but in shock. There, the six inch gash
in his side was stitched and his broken ribs bound, and he was placed in one of
three sickbeds to allow the ribs to begin to set.
That night, despite the painkillers given by the on site
doctor, he experienced the first of the horrible nightmares that would continue
to plague him for the rest of his life.
The crewmen’s heads, rolling away from their bodies, danced through
senseless dreams over and over again until he awoke late in the morning,
covered in a cold sweat.
“Cher, I thought you would never wake. Makes for the bad night, huh?”
The young man who he had rescued was sitting next to him,
smoking a cigarette and drinking chicory coffee. Paul had seen him around the camp and knew him by name, though he
had never had occasion to interact directly with him. However, from that day forward Theo Gautier adopted Paul, forcing
him out to the local saloons as soon as he was able to stand and bear the pain
of his grinding ribs.
Theo prefaced his initial introductions of Paul to his
friends and coworkers as, “Cher, this is the man who saved my life,” as though
no one in the camp or those nearby had ever seen or heard of Paul Alexander
Armand LeMay. He forestalled anyone’s
objections to the presence of the owner’s nephew, a Creole, one of the
“bosses,” by his own sheer force of will, and soon the two were a constant duo,
creating a swath of broken hearts through the eligible -- and some ineligible
-- women in the region and participating in a whirl of social activities that
Paul had no knowledge of before meeting Theo.
Paul enjoyed Theo’s company, not just for the break in the
loneliness he had experienced since leaving Quebec, but also because the young
Cajun had a dry sense of humor, an incredible capacity to enjoy the moment,
and, surprisingly, a very astute business mind. Theo enjoyed hanging around Paul since, even in the crude camp
environment, he unwittingly opened up a whole new world to the backwoods Cajun. Paul subscribed to the New York papers and
magazines, liked fine wines, and, when drinking, would occasionally regale Theo
with stories of balls, college, and a whole other way of life of which Theo had
only dreamed. Theo also found it
incredibly amusing that the quiet Paul had a quick and hot temper which could
be triggered in certain ways that Theo quickly learned, so that he could bait
his friend whenever he was bored.
With the gathering storm clouds of war in Europe, production
quotas at the camps were pushed higher and higher. Within a year, Theo was camp crew leader and Paul an influential
manager, and the business became one of the most profitable concerns in Bere’s
East Texas operation.
One of the few sources of friction in the two friends’ business
and social relationship reared its head after the men attended a raucous fais
do-do over in Port Arthur one Friday night.
Theo, who had been exceptionally well behaved following his promotion,
had had more than his usual quota of liquor, and was frustrated by his lack of
success with several young ladies.
Dragging a protesting Paul outside -- Paul having been enjoying a waltz
with a shy wallflower he had asked to dance out of sympathy, but who proved to
be an exceptional dancer -- Theo announced that they were going to go where
girls knew what men needed and there was not une cage aux chiens. He was
fifteen yards down the street before he noticed that his friend was not
Theo had been through this several times already with Paul,
who had made it clear that he did not engage in that sort of activity, though
he never elucidated on the reason why.
This time, however, Theo was spoiling for a fight. He had been argumentative and anxious the
entire day, to the point that Paul had almost stayed behind at the camp to
catch up on the books. At the last
minute, however, Theo had wheedled him into driving them the two hours into
Theo turned and walked slowly back toward Paul. “Cher, you’ll hang out with us, but not go
to a Cajun bordello, eh? With your
high-class accent, your fine Creole family in New Orleans, and your
too-good-for-us airs. Go on back to
camp and be alone. See if I care.” Abruptly, he turned to walk away again and
glanced over his shoulder to deliver a final slurred salvo. “If I were as high and mighty as you, I
would do something with that fine education and not waste it here with us
Cajuns -- I would be anywhere but here, Cher!”
Paul quickly strode the few feet between them and spun the
larger man around. “You know why I
won’t go with you.” He was breathing
deeply, and Theo, usually more sensitive to his friend’s temperament, did not
heed the warning signs.
“Ah, it’s not like it’s your mother…”
He did not finish the sentence as Paul’s fist connected with
his mouth, sending him sprawling despite their nearly thirty pound weight
“Don’t you ever mention my mother again.”
Theo wiped the blood from his mouth with his
shirtsleeve. His ears were still ringing
from the blow, but he felt more sober and looked up ruefully at his
friend. He spoke softly.
“If you want to be ashamed of something, don’t let it be
Paul started at his mother’s name.
“Cher, everyone knows your mother. Not,” he added hastily as Paul’s eyes glittered, “in the way you
think. The bayous are small in many
ways. If you want to be ashamed of
something, be ashamed of what we are doing here…”
“What do you mean?”
Paul grabbed Theo’s arm, both to help him up and to keep him from
turning away and not explaining his remark. Then he used it for support as Theo
explained what everyone around the camp had been shielding him from for the
past several months.
The series of upgrades and then shutdowns as the crews
waited for parts and machinery had all been ordered by his father. Rumors were flying that Armand LeMay and
several of his Standard Oil cronies were making a killing from profiteering,
both by selling “drip,” or black market crude, and by helping the OPA to hike
up the prices it set via an organized slowdown in production.
“But this is not my father’s concern,” Paul protested. “It’s my uncle’s!”
“Open your eyes, LeMay!
Your uncle acts only as a front for your father. Read the papers -- the editorials from the
home papers you use for starting fires.
If you want to be ashamed of something, be ashamed of someone who uses
people. He used your mother, he uses
your uncle, he uses us...”
Theo straightened, shook his head to clear it, and his eyes
softened as he looked at his friend of two years. “Cher, I’m sorry. This is not about you; it’s about me. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life in
a dusty, dirty camp, a place not fit to bring a real woman and petites to. I also don’t want to be involved in your
father’s dirty business because, despite being a rough, uneducated Cajun, I do
know what is right and what is wrong.”
Theo shrugged his shoulders and gave Paul an apologetic
look. “I’m leaving. I signed up at the recruiting office
Paul was still trying to absorb the information Theo had
shared, but drew up at his friend’s last statement. “What do you mean? I
thought we had talked about this. Our
work is considered vital to the war effort.
If we stay here, we can make our fortune….” His voice trailed off.
“You can pretend you aren’t hiding here all you want,
Cher. But I don’t want to play some
game with my life. I have a fortune and
name to make, not to hide from. And I
do not want to make it here.”
“You think you’ll make it as cannon fodder in the Army?”
“I think, Paul Alexander Armand LeMay, that the Army will
recognize the innate talents of simple Theo Gautier, and that I will be made a
general by the end of the year.”
Theo saw that Paul was not yet ready to lighten up, so he tried
again. “I think, Cher, that I do not
know what is out there, or what I might be.
I listen to you talk about classes you took, or what some of your
classmates’ fathers did, and I’ve never even heard of such things. I’m twenty four years old, and I don’t even
know everything that I could be. I will
never get to college, never have the opportunities that you take for granted --
have thrown away, even! Maybe, if I
leave here,” he gestured vaguely at the darkened street illuminated only by the
light that spilled from the dancehall, “if I see more of what is out
“Theo, it’s only a matter of time until we enter the war and
business will be better. What good will
it do you if you end up killed? You --
we -- could have it all here. We don’t
need to work for my uncle; people know us.
We can take some of the others and go anywhere we want. We don’t have to stay here.”
Theo looked away.
“It’s all the same -- here or there.
This is no way to live. It’s not
what I want. I had no choice.” He paused, then continued, “We all signed up
together, yesterday, while you were at the management meeting.”
“What do you mean ‘we?’”
“Matt, Pierre, Buck, the whole team. All except Austin -- he’s got those three
children over in Ascension Parish.”
“When were you going to tell me?”
“Tonight, Cher. And
I just did…though it was not how I intended.”
Paul continued toward the car, blending into the shadows
without breaking stride.
Theo continued feebly, “I’m sorry….”
There was no response.
Paul did not see him again until a week later, as Theo and
the gang were waiting at the bus stop.
Paul had been assiduously avoiding everyone. It was not as though he had created the home he so craved here,
but he had gone a long way toward filling the void that he had lived with for
the past fourteen years. He looked
over and saw that the group had their few belongings rolled up in a rag tag
assortment of duffels, and knew they were headed to Corpus Christi to be sworn in. He started to drive by, but then stopped the
car and leaned out the window.
“Hey, cannon fodder -- keep your head on.”
Theo grinned. “It’ll
be hard without you around. Where you
“Dunno. Just quit.”
Shaking his head in wonder, Theo replied, “Ah, you’re not going
to find it if you don’t start looking.”
“Looking for what?”
anything. You spend all your time
running away from your life.”
“Looks to me like you’re the one running.”
Theo looked into Paul’s eyes, certain that this was the last
time he would be seeing his friend.
“The difference is, I am looking for something.”
One year later, Paul sat with his unit in England. Rumors were flying through the Quonset huts
and bets were being made and lost about the exact date of the company’s
departure for France. Everyone knew the
mission; no one knew the time.
Paul had received a chiding letter the day before from Uncle
Bere, and he remembered how Bere had supported his decision to enlist, only
asking that Paul try to make some overtures toward both Armand and Angelina
before he left. Despite the hurt that
he knew it would cause his uncle, Paul had ignored that advice and went
straight from Charleston to training.
It had been tougher than he ever imagined -- the heat, the
endless days, and, even worse, being forced to live so close to so many people,
a situation that robbed him of the solitude he valued so much. But, on the other hand, it also left him
with little time to think or brood, and his standing among his fellow recruits
rose daily. The years in the rough
oilfields had given him a toughness that many of them lacked, and he would have
probably been given a field promotion to sergeant if it were not for his
aloofness and the slight accent that occasionally made it difficult for others
to understand him out in the field.
But he didn’t care.
He had no illusions that the Army would provide what he was looking
for. All he knew was that it gave him
the opportunity to find out what sort of man he could be outside the shadow of
his family. No one in his unit here in
England knew the LeMays, or even much about Louisiana, as was apparent by their
blank stares when he tersely answered their questions about his accent. And the sergeant seemed okay -- too busy
carousing with a fellow NCO to pay much attention to whether the men were
bonding as a group. Paul chalked it up
to the fact that Saunders was a battle-hardened veteran, having survived the
invasion of Italy and endured the loss of most of the men from his first
unit. He probably didn’t care to get
too close, and Paul couldn’t blame him.
Having free time on his hands now, Paul decided to go ahead
and leave early to pick up his uniforms from the sweet old widow living on the
outskirts of the town in which the company was garrisoned. A walk on such a beautiful, sunny May
morning would help him think through a response to Bere’s letter. There were many locals who performed similar
services for the Yankees plopped down in their midst, but Paul preferred going
to the widow’s home, even though it was a bit more of a hike. She was French and had wound up in England
after marrying a British soldier she had met during the last war. Her pleasure at having someone to converse
with her in her native language caused her to take extra good care of him --
especially since he reminded her of the son she had lost at Dunkirk, leaving
her alone in the cold, wet country.
He arrived at her house just after eight. The widow often encouraged him to sit at her
table as she bustled about, chattering to him in French, not expecting an
answer, but simply enjoying his company and his occasional polite grunt or
nod. He, in turn, found these visits
reminiscent of the long-ago afternoons he’d spent in the kitchen with Missy,
and he always departed in a better frame of mind than when he arrived. So he knocked on the door, looking forward
to her smile and a pleasant diversion.
Mrs. Paron greeted him warmly and asked him to come in. She had tea steeping and he knew she would
offer him a cup. He wasn’t particularly
fond of the beverage, but it was part of their little routine. Mrs. Paron prattled on about not having any
butter to make proper brioche, and the other deprivations that cause her to not
be able to feed a boy in the manner that she would like, until three soldiers
arrived, startling them both.
It was apparent that the newcomers had not yet been to bed
from their previous night’s carousing and were all more than a bit drunk. Looking a little frightened at their loud and
obnoxious behavior, the widow quickly hurried about gathering their shirts and
pants from the washroom behind the kitchen.
Hesitantly, she explained to them, as she had to Paul, that their
undergarments were not quite yet dry, and that they would have to come back
later in the day or take them still damp.
The seeming leader of the group, a fat ruddy fellow with a
distinctive New England accent, looked nonplussed at having to make the hike
back out. He started to get
threatening, and then spied Paul walking toward the door, quietly, but with
“Hey, why don’t you tell me what unit you’re with,” Paul
said, “and I’ll drop your clothes by later on, after I come back to get my
own. You all look like you’ve had a lot
of fun; why ruin it now over some shorts, and with a sweet lady?”
The widow looked up gratefully at Paul and then expectantly
at the soldiers.
They hesitated, until a small, ferret-faced man behind the
heavyset soldier said, “Hey, what have we got here? Another Frenchie? Maybe
Frenchies do their old ladies and that’s why the broad’s a little too busy to
finish the laundry for some good ol’ ‘merican soldiers who’ve come to save
her.” He grinned at his inebriated
companions. “And maybe that’s why the
Frenchies lost the war in the first place, huh?”
The concept amused his buddies and they began expounding on
The widow, at first dismayed that they did not appear to be
leaving and then angry when she understood their implications, started to
respond, but Paul held up a hand to silence her. He didn’t want to make the situation any worse, and these fellows
were spoiling for a fight. But when one
of the men tried to cross the threshold into the cottage, he shoved him back,
his own quick temper getting the better of him.
The situation seemed destined to escalate into serious
violence until the cottage’s old gardener suddenly appeared and diffused
it. Though nearly an octogenarian, he
used his pitchfork to persuade the drunken men to back out of the front
garden. The widow tossed their laundry
over the stone fence into the dirt road with instructions to take it elsewhere
from now one. As the GIs hurled a few
more unintelligible epithets in her direction, they stumbled off down the road and
disappeared into the otherwise bucolic countryside.
Paul remained another few minutes at the cottage to make
sure that the widow was not too put out by the morning’s events, but it was
soon apparent that the gardener was using his heroic actions to gain the
opening he had been looking for with the venerable Mrs. Paron, and this was an
attack Paul felt the widow could handle by herself. He slipped out with his neatly tied bundle of laundry and headed
back toward town.
He had just entered the outskirts of Sheffield, still quiet
in the early morning hours, and glanced down at his watch, when something hard
smashed into the back of his neck.
Dropping to the ground, he lay there stunned as two of the three goons
he’d encountered at the widow’s house slid a knife under the string holding his
parcel together and started pulling out pieces of laundry. The third man put his boot on Paul’s back,
pinning him down on the dirt lane.
Paul groaned, both in pain and because he had been stupid
not to anticipate the situation. Truly,
he hadn’t thought there would be any retaliation for what had happened at the
widow’s house since he’d assumed the men would go somewhere and sleep off their
hangovers. But now he was at their
mercy, and this was not how he had planned to spend the day.
His NCOs and a third man suddenly rounded the corner of a
“Hey, what’s going on here?” Hanley demanded in his most
“None of your business,” stated one of Paul’s attackers,
irritated, until he and his companions looked up and caught sight of Hanley’s
and Saunders’ stripes. Then he added
lamely, “We thought he was…a Frenchman.”
Hanley raised his eyebrows.
Saunders walked over and assisted Paul to his feet.
“Yeah. We thought….”
“Soldier, I don’t know what you were thinking, but this is
one of our men. And, as you should know
before your sorry ass is shipped over the channel, the French ARE our allies.”
“I don’t know what is going on here, and I don’t want to,”
Hanley continued as one of the men started to speak. “All I know is that I don’t want to see your faces again. Make yourselves scarce—and stay that way
The three ran off down the street as Paul stared ruefully at
his belongings strewn across the road.
“That fancy accent will get you every time, Cher.”
Paul turned, stunned by the familiar voice, his ruined
laundry and aching neck forgotten. “I
thought they had standards for this man’s army!”
“That’s what I thought when I signed up, but now that I see that they
let anyone in, I’m going to have to reconsider my enlistment.”
Hanley and Saunders stood by listening to the exchange, but
not understanding a word of the rapid fire French and bayou patois.
Saunders interrupted after a moment. “I take it you know each other?”
Theo switched to English, aware that they had been excluding
the NCOs. “Sorry, Sergeant. All us Cajuns know each other. Paul and I, we go way back.”
“You don’t sound like you’re from the same place,” Saunders
replied. He had been curious about the
quiet, dark-haired private, but it wasn’t in his nature to ask too many
Theo flashed a disarming smile. “You Americans don’t all sound alike to us, either, Cher…er, Sergeant.”
“Well, whatever, help him clean up this mess, and then you,
LeMay, take your buddy to the barracks.
Hanley and I have other things to do.”
Saunders and Hanley sauntered back the way they came, happy to
be relieved of their charge and leaving Theo and Paul alone in the street.
Over the next several hours, the reunited friends filled
each other in on what had occurred in the past six months. Theo’s unit had suffered a debilitating
round of dysentery while training in the moors of Scotland. “Guess growing up in the bayou left me
immune…” Orphaned from his platoon, he
had just been assigned to Paul’s. He
expressed shock, somewhat feigned but somewhat genuine, at finding his former
companion an enlisted man like himself.
“I figured for sure that, if you ever joined the Army, your
father would get you some safe officer’s commission.”
Paul shook his head.
“It’s so predictable. He
tried. Some big-wig military friend of
his pushed through a request for me to go into OTC since, after I left Bere’s
camp, I was subject to the draft.”
“So why didn’t you take it?
Still throwing away every opportunity that comes your way?”
Paul rolled his eyes over his schooner of beer. He preferred wine, but the pubs in the
village were not well stocked and he and Theo were lucky to find even beer on a
Sunday afternoon. “How many times do I
have to tell you before you get it through your thick head -- I don’t want
anything handed to me! I want to do
things on my own.”
“Cher, no one does things on their own. Me, I am using Uncle Sam’s dime to get out
of the bayou -- to find out what I can be.
You, you’re using it to punish someone or something.”
Several days later, Saunders accepted at face value Theo’s
“We don’t know anything about that, Sarge,” and LeMay’s blank stare when he
questioned them regarding the assault by several unknown men one night on the
three soldiers who had attacked Private LeMay.
However, the sergeant did look at the quiet private in a new light and
made a note to watch him and his friend.
They were not hard to watch. Over the next several weeks, they were as inseparable as they had
been in Texas. Theo was the life of the
party, and everyone in their unit and the others stationed nearby learned to
yell “Laissez le bon temps rouler!”
in the pubs at his and Paul’s entrance.
Theo was known by name by everyone within a week, but the quieter Paul
LeMay was just one of those “crazy Cajuns,” which was soon shortened to “Caje.” Theo would grin at him, that wry, sardonic
grin, at first when Paul started to respond to the nickname. But one day he commented that while Paul’s
woods savvy and tracking skills may have come from his Cajun side, the
quickness with knife and temper that was displayed during several bar room
brawls was pure New Orleans Creole, and he shook his head with disapproval.
They trained hard and played hard, knowing that without
warning, everything would change soon.
And so it did.
Caje took another draw on his cigarette. Theo was dead, he was wounded and stuck
behind enemy lines, and he didn’t know where his father’s watch or Theo’s beret
were. Hell, he didn’t even know where
Theo had gotten it. Up in Scotland, he
guessed, during training. Paul had kept
it as sort of a talisman and a remembrance, like the watch.
But now there was Claire Marie. Paul could almost hear Theo’s voice…
“Cher, you would throw away every opportunity!”
The recurring dreams of torn and dismembered bodies that had
first started plaguing him after the accident in Texas had become more frequent
and more intense since Theo’s death in June.
But there was another dream that he sometimes had, one that now seemed
suddenly poignant: that one day, he
would come to a house, to people he had never seen, and he would know
instantly, utterly, that he belonged, as though he were finding a missing limb
of which he had never been aware. He
had set the dream firmly aside, over and over again when it unexpectedly crept
into his musings during lulls at work or at war. But tonight, common sense had fled out the window and had been
replaced by an unexpected sense of fulfillment.
It was peculiar because these ideas had never been thoughts
to fill him with much pleasure.
The woman at the table in his dreams had never had a
face. Over the years, every woman in
his relationships had, without their knowledge and sometimes without his
conscious thought, been placed in this illusory tableau, each failing to
fit. The Creole debutantes, spoiled and
often vacuous, never seemed right. Nor
did the women of the camp -- a few older and more interesting than the
debutantes, but all too rough and too needy of what they thought he could
He had noticed that when Claire Marie had come back
downstairs tonight, her hair was unpinned again and flowing in silvery sheets
across her shoulders and back. And her
face was slightly flushed, perhaps with the wine, but maybe, he thought, with
the excitement of connection that he had felt…
She was turning to carry the water back into the house. “Claire Marie!” His voice floated across the evening air, surprising himself and
the woman. She turned, looking around
in the darkness for a moment before spotting the glowing end of his cigarette. She set down the water pitchers and walked
slowly across the yard.
Caje nodded to a spot next to him. Claire Marie awkwardly sat down, her precarious balance made more
so by the tilt of the beam. Caje put
out a hand to steady her, and this time she took it. Neither one let go, nor did they look at each other.
“Cigarette?” he asked out of politeness and to fill the
void, not expecting her to accept. She
released his hand, though, and reached over for the pack next to him.
She put a cigarette in her mouth and leaned toward him so he
could light it, but his movements were hampered by the bandage on his shoulder
and his fatigue after doing the stretches Bertrand had forced upon him. So she took the lighter out of his hand and
lit the cigarette herself with one fluid motion.
“Mmmm…” she said, taking a deep drag on it and exhaling into
“What is so funny?”
“I just didn’t have you pictured as a smoker.”
She sat quietly for a moment, enjoying her cigarette, before
responding, “Are you shocked?” When
Paul didn’t answer, she continued, “I noticed your reaction to what Bertrand
said about my mother.”
Caje looked her in the eyes for the first time. The moonlight was bright enough for her to
make out his slight smile. “My reaction
was not what you think.”
She looked at him expectantly and took another puff on her
cigarette. She debated about following
up with the obvious question, but did not feel like encountering his
considerable defenses again. So she
“My mother, Angelina,” he emphasized the name, “was
There, it was out.
Except for that one, horrible argument three years ago, he had never
acknowledged it out loud.
For a moment, the night remained silent, and Caje wondered
if it had been a mistake to share his secret.
Then Claire Marie spoke quickly and softly.
“That is a horrible thing to say. I never said that about my mother, and I never will.” She looked at him fiercely, her small chin
tilted up and her eyes flashing. “And I
won’t say some silly things about her doing it because she had to, or she made
terrible choices, or any of that, because I don’t know. All I know is that she loved me very
much. I never apologize for her…and
she never asked me to.”
She waited for his walls to come up again. The impassive face, the eyes that reflected
only what they saw and gave away nothing about what was going on behind them.
Instead, he nodded.
“Tell me about her.”
It was more a command than a request, but the tone was
apologetic. A formal apology, for
anything, she decided, would never come out of this one. What the hell, she thought. It was a cool night, his body was warm next
to hers, and the cigarette was a nearly forgotten pleasure.
“She was Russian…at least that’s what she said. It is hard to know; she spoke many
languages. She always claimed we were
from some offshoot Russian nobility, that her parents fled the Bolsheviks, but
died soon after reaching Paris.” She
shrugged. “Russian nobility -- people
claiming it -- they were…are…everywhere in Paris. Her Russian was good -- there were always many…Russians…in and
out of the apartment.” She grinned a
little wickedly. “There were others,
too. Writers, painters,
courtesans. Mother really created quite
the salon. Parties…as a child I thought
it was fun…staying up too late, sneaking a sip of champagne from someone’s
glass. Our apartment was in a fabulous
location, near the Moulin. At night, there
was the sound of voices and all the hustle and bustle, followed by very quiet
mornings, and then afternoons where a feeling of excitement began to build
toward another evening…”
“You sound as though you loved it.” It was a question.
“Yes. I loved the odors, the lights, the sounds -- the
stimulation. And I loved her. She was so beautiful, and made everyone,
even the street cleaners, feel special.
And it was genuine -- everyone just wanted to be around her -- men and
She paused and ground out her cigarette on the beam. Caje offered her another one, but she motioned
“Oh, yes, everyone loved her. They loved to hear her sing.
She had stopped performing after I was born, but she would still do
little impromptu vignettes during parties.
She was in constant demand.”
“You chose a different path.”
“It wasn’t as though I had much choice. She was so beautiful, so alive. Everyone knew when she entered a room. She was such a presence.”
Caje lit another cigarette.
“You are beautiful, Claire Marie.”
She leaned into him, both for warmth and in appreciation,
but laughed. “That is sweet. But I have always felt like a pale shadow, a
water color next to an oil.”
He started to protest, but she interrupted him. “Oh, I’ve never minded. I never even wanted what she had, or wanted
to be what she was, and I don’t think she wanted that either. That’s why when Timone came along…well, it
seemed so perfect.”
“Yes. By that point,
Bertrand had become Mother’s constant companion, and he was basically taking
care of us. She was starting to not feel
well, and he had first come as a doctor, sent by a friend. Like everyone, he fell under her spell. As I mentioned before, Timone was his nephew
-- his dead brother’s son -- and someone who I had met before at several
“You fell in love?”
He recognized the senseless jealousy creeping in, but held his tone
“I did…though I think Timone was in love with the whole
scene and probably with my mother. I
was young, and my friendship with him stopped my mother from worrying about
what would happen to me…though with as kind as Bertrand is, she really didn’t
have to fret.” She stopped and was
quiet. “So, what about you?”
He ignored her question.
“But your marriage was good, yours and Timone’s?”
“What is a good marriage?
Did we each get what we needed?
Yes, sort of. We provided what
each needed at that moment, so it worked.”
“That doesn’t sound so idyllic.”
She looked away, and her tone was very soft. So soft, that Paul thought he had misheard
“What?” he asked.
“Timone was not interested in me, not as a woman anyway,”
she explained. “He wanted so
desperately to be a famous writer, and I gave him entrée into the whole
‘artistic world’, through my mother, who had so many connections. We ran in all the chic circles, and in the
social sphere of his parents, I -- given my background -- provided an air of,
well, I guess I was risqué…different.
It made me feel exciting, for once.”
She paused. “I was very young.”
He didn’t try to analyze his feelings. He just wanted her to keep talking, to
continue that rapport he had felt with her since he had awakened and focused on
her face two days ago.
“Tell me about Rolf.”
“I thought you didn’t want to know.”
“I don’t. So tell
“He is Timone’s cousin though marriage. Elise’s sister’s son. And I believe the boy had a crush on Timone
while Rolf was finishing his medical studies at the Sorbonne.” She shook her head. “Poor thing, he’s always been a loner. I really think he thought that uniform would
make him belong. And now he spends all
his time being afraid.”
This is not what he expected, not at all. But he knew she spoke the truth.
“What does he want?
What did he want, then, today from you?”
“The same as Timone -- entrée into another world. The Reich is not very open to different
people, you know. And he thinks his
wife may suspect -- about him. She
would be very surprised, pleasantly I think, if he had a mistress. But,” she added hastily, “he also wants to
take care of us. He loved Timone very
Caje ground out his third cigarette and put his arm around
Claire Marie’s slight shoulders. When
she did not draw away, he pulled her closer to him. They sat in companionable silence. It had turned into an evening of exchanges, of openings in the
dark, each feeling safe both because of the things in their backgrounds they
shared and the knowledge that their paths -- for many reasons --might never
There was none of that awkwardness of ‘what’s next.’ Only a moment of solace and harmony, in a cacophony
of displacement, separations, and death.
“Should we go upstairs?
It’s starting to rain.”
Caje helped Claire Marie to stand, and they crossed the yard
and entered the small house.
Saunders stepped aside to allow two men to pass. One wore a relatively clean U.S. Army
uniform, the other, the rough peasant clothes typical of the area. Both were conversing rapidly in French. After they moved by, he stepped into
Hanley’s temporary HQ.
The platoon had been held back a day, allowing the men to
rest, while artillery tried to soften up the German lines. Despite the noise, everyone slept. But even after the long -- by recent terms
-- rest, Saunders could sense the edginess of his squad. He knew what the issue was. They all did. Everyone just avoided saying anything. And the two new fellows found the silence disconcerting.
Saunders actually looked forward to some action. Anything Hanley had in store had to be
better than what was going on -- or not going on -- back at the old schoolhouse
where the squad was now billeted.
“Lieutenant, you wanted to see me?”
Hanley held up his hand, asking for one more moment to
rummage through the papers on his desk.
Then he said, “Yeah, Saunders.
Come over here.” He gestured at
a spot beside him and opened the map he had just located.
“Artillery has pushed the Krauts back here.” He thrust his finger down in the middle of
the paper. “S2 believes that several
enemy units are converging over here.”
He slid his finger to the left and continued, “They have an escape route
over this bridge in Santenay. Once they
cross, it will be difficult to prevent them from moving north and joining up
with these units over here.” They both
squinted at the map, trying to read the small, smeared type.
“Anyway, what I need you to do is to try to get a feel for
whether they really are there, and how many have been concentrated near
Santenay. See if they have moved across
the bridge yet. Stay low, don’t
engage. Leave at 0600 and be back in
twenty four hours.”
Saunders continued studying the map. After a moment, his attention was diverted
from the mission, and he picked up the map in order to see it better.
“Don’t even think about it.” The lieutenant pushed the map down and looked Saunders in the
“It would be just a couple of miles out of our way.”
“And across the main road we believe the Krauts are using to
pull into Santenay.”
“Kirby was there -- he may know of some back ways.”
“We both know Kirby’s sense of direction is…lacking. I’ve given you just enough time to get there
and back. We don’t have any longer for
Saunders was silent.
Then something occurred to him.
“What about the Maquis in the area?
If they know where he is, maybe we could arrange some type of rendezvous.”
Hanley considered for a moment how much he should tell the
sergeant. 1st squad was one
of the finest, and he knew the men were reeling from the loss of their
scout. Hell, he liked Caje, too. He had come ashore with him on D-Day just
like Saunders, and had also watched him become a soldier with considerable
promise -- if there was such a thing.
He also liked Saunders.
Their friendship extended back to England, back to before the invasion,
back to before they had to decide how much they could tell each other.
“Yes…sir. See you in
thirty six.” Saunders started out the
“Wait. I don’t want
you to do anything stupid.”
Saunders paused without turning.
“Listen, S2 believes the Maquis in that area are
compromised. There is going to be a
drop tonight to try and ascertain to what extent.”
“And you’re telling me this because…”
“Because if the
drop isn’t compromised, and if they
decide that we can continue communications in the area, I’ve asked them…”
Saunders looked back at Hanley expectantly.
“I’ve asked them to inquire about soldiers being held by the
Maquis or by the Krauts in the area.
Then, maybe…when we move forward…”
It was a lot of ‘ifs,’ even if it was the best the
lieutenant had been able to do.
Saunders’ face betrayed his skepticism.
Hanley felt himself growing tired and a little angry. Saunders had no idea of how hard it was to
get through the right channels to ask for favors like these. “I’ll let you know when you get back. Dismissed.”
Saunders turned away.
“Probably too late by then.” He
walked out into the night.
Hanley added sotto voice, “Probably too late now.”
It was difficult undoing the button of the rough woolen
shirt, but he took his time getting it open, taking in Claire Marie with his
eyes as he did so. Her own clothes
already undone, Claire Marie moved over to help him get the shirt over his
bandaged shoulder, and their skin touched, warm and soft. He held her close to him, drinking in her
scent. She in turn, wrapped her arms
around his chest, careful to avoid his shoulder. They said nothing, as they moved toward his bed.
The bed was narrow.
She let him lay down and began tenderly kissing each of the scars on his
chest and arms. Her hair fell over her
face and followed each kiss with a silken absolution. When their mouths met, it was gentle and exploring, but not
tentative. Without asking himself why,
Caje realized he had never before cared so much if it was right. He brushed her hair away from her face.
“It is alright. I
want to know.” Her kissing was becoming
“Want to know what?”
A sudden noise broke them apart. They looked over.
Bridgette lay on the floor.
Claire Marie pushed herself away as Bridgette began to cry,
“Mamma!” and she strode across the room purposefully, without looking
back. Caje watched her cradle the
child, murmuring soothingly as she struggled to put Bridgette back in the
bed. But the girl would not be comforted
and, after a moment, Claire Marie -- with a quick, despairing look back towards
Caje -- slid into the covers next to her.
Caje took a deep breath and reached over the side of the bed
to grab his shirt. With a quiet oath,
he realized that he could not get it without straining his already tender
wound. He decided to forget it, but
could not rest. With a deep sigh, he
ignored his throbbing shoulder, got up, and moved over toward the window. He opened it a crack, though the effort was
more than he had anticipated, as it had not been done in awhile. Caje pulled the precious pack of cigarettes
from his pants pocket, deciding that despite the limited quantity, it was
By the time he finished smoking, the even, harmonized breathing
coming from Bridgette’s bed confirmed to him what his body already knew. He closed the window. It was time to sleep.
Caje slept well. He
was surprised when he woke at how good he felt. Chalking it up to the food and the wine meeting the needs of body
and soul, he stretched slowly and guardedly, then rolled over to see if Claire
Marie and Bridgette were awake. They
were not, and he was thankful. He sat up,
put on and laced up his boots, and then looked around for the shirt he had thrown
on the floor last night. Finding it, he
picked it up to take it downstairs, not yet ready to struggle into it.
Before he left the room, he moved quietly over to the bed
where Claire Marie and Bridgette were sleeping. During the night, the blanket had slipped from Claire Marie’s
shoulders, and her partially opened blouse exposed one shoulder. She was painfully thin, but as lovely, he
decided, in the daylight as had been promised in the moonlight.
He looked with regret at his own arms and chest, and the
scars that covered them. Among the men
in his company, he hadn’t thought of them, except when the wounds that left the
marks had affected his performance. But
to a civilian, the scars must appear rather, well, macabre.
Still, Claire Marie’s acknowledgement of each and every one
last night had been strangely beautiful and stirred up feelings within him that
lingered. He reached over and pulled
the blanket back over her. She did not
move, but a small pair of eyes looked at him suspiciously before Bridgette
snuggled deeper into her mother’s arms, silently declaring ownership. He ceded victory and backed away.
Caje wanted a smoke, but decided to try to ration the
precious pack. Coffee, or some
approximation of it, would do. Finally
going down the steps, he entered the kitchen to find Bertrand was already
there, humming to himself as he threw some wood into the ancient stove. At first, Caje wasn’t sure the old man
wasn’t aware that he had company, but Bertrand soon spoke without stopping what
he was doing.
“She is a wonderful girl, no? Lovely in her own way.
Sweet and kind. But nothing like
He let his statement hang in the air for a moment while he
filled a teapot with water. Caje
remembered that Claire Marie had been bringing in the water when he had called
to her last night. Clearly Bertrand had
finished the task this morning, and must have put two and two together.
So now he would hear about taking advantage of his host’s
hospitality and his niece -- or whatever she was, Caje thought. He wasn’t going to try to deny what had
nearly happened last night, but he wasn’t sure what Bertrand would expect of
him this morning. Should he apologize? Offer an explanation? Promise that nothing else would happen
between him and Claire Marie? Caje knew
that if he got off with nothing but a lecture, he was lucky. He was dependent on this family’s largess
for at least another couple of days.
He slipped the shirt over his head, suddenly keenly aware of
how he must appear. It was still difficult
to raise his arm in the right position to get the sleeve over the bandage. Bertrand noticed his struggling and motioned
to a chair.
“Let me change the dressing on that shoulder and see what
damage we did last night with our exercises.”
Caje at first thought the double entendre was unintentional,
but moving toward the indicated chair, he noticed the twinkle in the old man’s
eyes. Now he was confused. But he kept his face impassive as Bertrand
moved in front of him and pulled back the shirt to examine the dressing.
Bertrand clucked to himself as he worked. “Very good, very
good. No new bleeding, and looks like
some good, healthy tissue there. May
give you some problems later on -- muscle damage like that always will. That’s why it will be important for you to
keep doing those exercises I showed you last night. Now, do you want some coffee?
Boches, of course -- but we take what we can get around here, eh?”
Again, Caje thought he saw a wicked look in the old man’s eyes,
but he dismissed it as impossible.
Surely, Bertrand wouldn’t be saying…
Bertrand continued, “You know, determination and passion can
be very similar things -- at least in their outcomes. I saw the determination in you out in the barn. True passion -- a lust for life, if you will
-- can do things for you that determination cannot.” He placed a cup of coffee from the kettle on the stove in front
Now Caje had no doubt about the real subject of this
morning’s one-sided conversation. He took
a drink, glad to have something to occupy his hands. He felt uncomfortable and was unsure how to handle the
situation. Falling back on his
propensity for silence, he wondered where this discourse was going and hoped
for an interruption of some sort.
“Claire Marie, she also has determination,” Bertrand went
on. “I recognized that in her even as a
young girl and saw it as she studied art.
Passion, though, she has lacked, or perhaps has just been afraid of,
given, maybe, her mother. Or perhaps
Caje started at this, and Bertrand noticed.
“Oh, I know all about it.
She thinks I still have delusions about my nephew, but I know. And I know about Bridgette. But, as I was saying, it is in those quiet
ones, eh, that when passion is awakened, it can truly create something
beautiful.” Bertrand was standing and
gesturing so animatedly that the precious coffee from time to time sloshed out
of his cup.
“Take my Louisa -- an uptight English nanny. That is why I hired her for Claire
Marie. Such a little jewel, though…I am
sure she also, buried deep within her, has the passion I’m talking about. Digging for it has been so…so engrossing
while we are stuck in this dreary wasteland."
Startled, Caje now spilled some of his own coffee.
Bertrand appeared not to notice. “Claire Marie also needs to taste passion, to know that it
exists. She cannot live just for me, or
Louisa, or the child. And for you,
passion may make a difference out there.
Perhaps you have it; I do not know.
But somehow I suspect you are still looking.”
Caje stole a look at the door leading into the hallway, both
wishing for and dreading Claire Marie’s appearance. He was curious about Bertrand’s reference to Bridgette, but not
enough to ask a question and, so, prolong this conversation.
“What I am trying to say, and listen to me well, young man,
is this: Live and love and never look
back. Allow passion to bring you…and
the one you love…to life!”
He looked knowingly at Caje, seeming to wait for a
response. When none was forthcoming,
Bertrand sighed and added, “There is more to surviving war, my friend, than
simply living through it.” With that
declaration, he bestowed on Caje a slightly sad but benevolent smile, and then
looked at the bread left over from the night before. “Would you like some toast?
This bread is fit only for the fire now, but it is all that we
have.” He spotted what was left of the
tin of jam and his eyes lit up. “Of
course, something sweet added to it would make it palatable.”
Caje decided he needed some air. “Thank you,” he began buttoning his shirt, using his left hand,
“but I think I’ll have mine after I go outside and take another look at that
barn, in the daylight.” Getting the
final button through its buttonhole was proving difficult, and Caje looked down
to finish the job just as he heard Claire Marie’s distinctive tread sounding on
the staircase and Bridgette’s voice as she prattled on about something.
Caje had wanted a moment to collect his thoughts after this
morning’s unexpected onslaught of advice -- warning? But it didn’t appear he was going to get it without looking like
he was trying to avoid Claire Marie. So
he remained in his seat and hoped his eyes didn’t give away his uncertainty
about how to act in her presence.
She looked fresh and vibrant to him. She had slipped on the same dress he
remembered from their very first encounter.
Her hair was down and brushed into a shiny aureole that framed her thin
face and then curled around her shoulders.
Her eyes danced when they caught his, without reproach or
recrimination. And she smiled a full
bright smile that let Caje know that there would be no awkwardness this
morning. After putting Bridgette down
so the girl could toddle over to the table, Claire Marie went over and bussed
her uncle on the cheek.
“Good morning! I
can’t believe you made coffee all on your own!” She sniffed the air in an exaggerated show of appreciation. “I’m afraid that I have lost my tolerance
for wine -- I could have slept all day.
But, of course, someone wouldn’t let me.” Looking over at Bridgette with a smile, which the child matched,
she continued, “Here, Uncle, shoo out the way.
My cooking skills may be minimal, but when it comes to making toast, I
do believe they exceed yours.”
Bertrand moved toward the table and drew himself up a
chair. Bridgette, settled in her own
chair with her doll tucked behind her, studiously made patterns on the table
with a finger she kept wetting in her mouth.
Caje again felt completely at home in this tranquil domesticity and
reveled in the sense of belonging that was a balm to his soul. He drank it in with his coffee as his eyes
followed Claire Marie bustling about the kitchen.
It was a beautiful morning.
The room was still chilly due to the night’s autumn temperatures, but
the bright sunlight streaming through the kitchen’s windows promised a clear,
warm day. The type of day that armies
would be on the march, squads would be on patrols and, if he was on point, he would
be extra cautious…
“Will Louisa be back today, Uncle?”
Claire Marie’s question startled Caje out of his reverie.
“I don’t know,” Bertrand answered. “I was thinking that I would go check on Elise…see what is going
on over there.”
Bertrand turned back to Caje and explained, “The Boches are
now headquartered in my wife’s house.
It is rather large, and they mostly stay in their own wing. The house is on the outskirts of the
village. This was the farm manager’s
house. When we came here from
Paris…well, I did not want to impose on Elise.”
“How long will you be gone?”
“I’m not sure. It
depends. And I was thinking...” he
paused, looking at Caje and then at Claire Marie, to ensure he had their
attention, “that I would take Bridgette with me. It would do Elise some good to see the child.” He leaned back in his chair, beaming with
delight at his own idea, and waited for their reactions.
Claire Marie looked dismayed and then turned back toward the
stove to wipe up crumbs. “I was going
to give her a bath. She’s been covered
in jam several times over, and it looks like a nice, warm day to drag out the
tub. Besides, does Elise even know
who’s there anymore?”
His voice projecting mild annoyance, Bertrand replied, “Of
course she knows who’s there. Guileau
makes it out worse than it is…makes it sound as though she’s…she’s ready to be
moved to a sanitarium.”
The old man looked at Caje and tried to clarify the
situation. “Elise’s mind…wanders
occasionally. She has always been
delicate -- not like Claire Marie. I
think “befuddled” might be a better layman’s term. In medical circles, there are a variety of different names for
it, none of which I am sure you would have a reason to know. It has progressed over the past several
years, though she can often have long periods of lucidity. I recognized it soon after we were married
and moved her to Paris with me. I think
the noise and hustle and bustle were too much for her, so she returned to her
parents’ residence here. That was
nearly twenty years ago. She has been
happy, here, among the people she grew up with and in her family home.”
“I still don’t think you need to be taking Bridgette by
yourself,” Claire Marie said, wiping Bridgette’s face a little harder than
necessary with a damp cloth.
Bridgette squirmed away and went behind Caje’s chair, her
eyes defying her mother to finish the job.
He picked her up and nestled her on his lap.
“Claire Marie, I am a doctor. I believe I am perfectly capable of keeping the child alive for
the next several hours.”
“I still don’t like her being around all the Boches.”
“Rolf should be there.
There will be no problems. How
about if I agree to have her back this afternoon, early, still in time for that
bath? You can wash the Boches off her.”
Claire Marie stared at her uncle in disbelief.
Seeing her expression, Bertrand suddenly looked abashed and
spluttered, “Forgive an old man, my dear.
I was just trying to…give you…”
He stopped speaking and looked so dejected that Claire Marie
came over and placed an arm around his shoulder.
“It is okay, I think we all know what you were trying to
do. You are such a dear. Just bring my baby back safe to me,
please. And see when Louisa will be
Bertrand rose to his feet, returned her hug, and mumbled
something about getting his kit together.
Caje watched all this with Bridgette still on his lap, playing with the
buttons on his shirt. He was touched by
the obvious love between the members of this makeshift family, but also curious
about the child. He bounced her gently
on his knee, and she looked up at him with her large clear eyes.
“Why are you looking at Bridgette like that?” Claire Marie
Caje hesitated, then replied, “I just found out in my last
letter from home that my sister is going to be having a child. I’ve never been around many…”
“Well, surely you were around her.”
“Actually, no. We’re
seven years apart and, as I mentioned last night, I went away to school.”
“She still must be awfully young.”
“Yes, she is. But she, like everyone else these days,
wanted to marry her soldier before he shipped out. I don't even know him,
so I wonder what my niece or nephew will look like.”
Bertrand reappeared and announced that he was ready to
leave. Bridgette was reluctant to be taken
from her mother, but when Bertrand promised that Louisa would be waiting at the
end of their walk with a treat, she hopped up happily, bumping her head into
The direct blow caused enough pain to take his breath away,
but Caje tried to hide it. Bertrand
heard the sharp intake of breath, saw the soldier pale, and started toward him.
Caje waved him off.
“It’s nothing. Go ahead. I’m all right.” He took a deep breath and willed himself to sit up straight. “Let me ask you a question, though -- do you
know how or where to get me a gun?”
Bertrand and Claire Marie suddenly looked concerned, and
Caje hastily added, “Before I leave, I’d like to show Claire Marie how to use
one. She should know how to load and
aim a weapon so she can defend herself and Bridgette during those times when
they’re here by themselves.”
Bertrand thought about it for a moment, then nodded. “Yes, I should have taught her already. Come, let me show you…”
Caje followed Bertrand into the small downstairs bedroom,
furnished only with a simple bed and an armoire. The bed, like the one Caje occupied upstairs, was fine, but the
windows were covered with the same type of cheery, red-checked curtains that
hung in the kitchen.
Bertrand reached under the bed’s mattress and pulled out a
pistol that Caje guessed had been the old man’s sidearm in the last war. It was well taken care of and had recently
been cleaned. Bertrand reached under
the mattress again and pulled out some ammunition, and he counted out enough
bullets to load the gun. Then after
shoving the rest of the ammunition back under the mattress, he handed the
weapon to Caje and watched him check it over before the younger man tucked it
in the back of his pants.
The two men returned to the kitchen and, after a flurry of
activity to get them ready, Bertrand set off with Bridgette. Claire Marie and Caje were finally alone.
They were silent for several moments, and then both began to
speak at once.
“I thought you should learn…”
“I think you should know…”
Caje nodded toward Claire Marie.
“Bridgette is not Timone’s.”
Caje did not say anything, did not react at all.
Claire Marie stumbled on, “I don’t know whose she is…it was
Caje bit his lip and thought for a moment. He recognized that his reaction could easily
destroy the tenuous connection he had made with this intriguing woman over the
past forty eight hours. And while there
was little or no future for them, he wanted to preserve this extraordinary
time. Claire Marie’s comment made sense
anyway -- it explained Bernard’s earlier comment about Bridgette.
The silence broadened, and Caje realized that he was staring
down at his hands. He looked up quickly
and took in Claire Marie’s small, open face.
Sorry for his hesitation, he pulled out the gun.
“Well, whatever happened, that’s why you should know how to
use this. If another situation arises,
you’ll be able to protect yourself. A
gun is a tool that will let you live.
Use it if you have to and don’t look back.”
She looked so vulnerable to him that he could no longer hold
himself back, and he leaned forward and kissed her, his lips gentle on hers,
her breath sweet in his mouth. She put
her arms around him and felt the cold metal of the gun. When she drew away, he hesitated.
“Do you want to do this?”
“I’m not sure what I want to do.”
“That’s okay. Let’s
take it slowly.”
“We may not have the time.”
“I think your uncle has given us enough time.”
“Are we talking about the same thing?”
“What are you talking about, Claire Marie? I’ll be leaving soon -- I want you to be
“I will be alright; I’ve always been fine taking care of
“I know, but…” He
paused and glanced at the gun in his hand before looking up into her
questioning eyes. “You know, a wise man
once told me there’s more to surviving this war than staying alive.”
“And are you taking his advice?”
“I’m thinking about it…”
“My uncle is a wise man.”
He laughed. “Well,
experienced anyway, it seems. Why don’t
we work first, and then see what happens next?”
He pressed the gun into her palm, noting the contrast
between the sizes of their hands as he wrapped his around hers. Then he looked over her shoulder and began
teaching her how to sight down the barrel, and how to load and unload the
Claire Marie, in turn, noted the strange contrast between
the cold metal of the gun and the warmth of Paul’s hands gently cupping
hers. It was both disturbing and
sensual. After several tries, and one
frustrating jamming, she turned and asked, “Shouldn’t we be doing this
She laughed and drew away from him, giving him a playful
smack on the cheek. “Can’t you get your
mind on what we are doing?”
“I thought I had it on what we were doing, M’selle,” he
assured her solemnly, but his eyes belied the words. “It is you who seem to be…hey, where are you going?”
“I was going to see how many of these bullets we have.”
“You know where they are?
You knew your uncle had this?”
“Of course; it is a small house.”
“Why didn’t you tell me yesterday?”
“I thought perhaps Uncle had his gun with him. I know that he takes it when he goes out
occasionally with the Resistance.”
“Does he go out with them often?”
“Not lately. The Boches
have been too…overwhelming, I think, lately.”
“Well, Bertrand already showed me his ammunition and there
are a dozen rounds left. Stay here; I
want you to practice some more with what we’ve already got.”
Claire Marie almost made a comment, but then decided to
change the subject. “What do you think
“I don’t know. I
only met him for a few minutes, and his appearance is…a bit of a
distraction. Why do you ask?”
“Well, I told you Uncle goes out with the Résistance
occasionally. With Guileau. But for some reason, I just don’t trust
“Why not?” Caje took
her hand and led her into the parlor, pulling her down on the divan next to
him. He decided the lesson could wait.
Claire Marie seemed very insightful; at least he divined that from her
portrait of him. If there was some
issue between her and Guileau, he wanted to know what it was. His safety -- and more importantly, the
safety of this family, given Bertrand’s involvement with the Resistance --
could be compromised.
She laid her head on his left shoulder, the gun resting
between them. “He is Elise’s son.”
“Guileau. By one of
her father’s groomsmen. Before Uncle
Caje groaned. “I
need a scorecard,” he muttered in English.
“Never mind. It’s
not important. Just an American
expression. So he and Rolf and your
husband were -- are -- all cousins?”
“Yes, sort of…I guess.
Elise and Rolf’s mothers are sisters.
In fact, I think Rolf’s father arranged for him to be sent here in the
hopes that Elise’s holdings would all be given to him -- instead of Elise’s
illegitimate son, Guileau -- under the Reich’s ‘new order.’ I wouldn’t be surprised if Rolf arranged to
have the Boches headquartered in Elise’s house so he could eventually claim
“What does any of this have to do with trusting
Guileau?” Caje did not think Claire
Marie would be telling him this just to fill the time -- there were other
things to be done.
She picked up his hand and studied it for a moment, then turned
it over and began absently drawing circles on his palm with her finger. “I believe that Guileau is well aware that
since Elise and Uncle did not have any children, she could give everything to
him -- as her only child.”
Caje considered this for a moment. “Then if he perceived Rolf as a threat to his inheritance,
wouldn’t his participation in the Resistance make sense?” He pulled his hand away and smiled at her. “Stop that if you want me to concentrate.”
“Sorry.” She leaned
her head back against his shoulder and sighed.
“You’re right. If he’s not
participating in the Resistance because of pure ideological reasons -- which
somehow I doubt -- then, yes, it would still make sense from a personal gain
“But what? If his
motives make sense, what are you unsure of?”
“But…but…I don’t know.
Before the war he was considered strange -- an outcast. But now, he seems to revel in the power the
war has brought him. The power and the
“A fortunate, or unfortunate, thing about war is that many
men find what they are made of, Claire Marie,” Caje said softly.
“I just feel that Guileau sees Rolf as a threat if the
Boches win, and he may see Uncle as a threat if the Allies win. Yet, we have all become bound together and
dependent as we never were before the war.”
“Well, they do say that war makes strange bedfellows.” Caje knew the stale observation was
inadequate before it was out of his mouth.
“I know, I know,” Claire Marie said with some
impatience. “But it is as if we are all
playing a game, and I do not know who is making the rules.”
“It all seems to be working, though, for you and the
“Oh,” Claire Marie broke in hastily, “do not get me
wrong. I do believe in the Resistance
and doing what we can. It’s just…with
Bridgette…and what happened to Timone…I… ”
“What did happen to your husband?”
Claire Marie was silent.
Caje put his left arm tentatively around her shoulders. When she didn’t resist, he reached up to run
his fingers through the ends of her hair.
It felt cool and silky.
“Timone had been late at yet another one of his
‘meetings.’ Have you heard of Le Musee d Homme?”
Paul shook his head.
“Well, it’s not important.
Just the name of one of the many resistance groups in Paris that became
active soon after the occupation. It
created and distributed a lot of materials.
You know, pamphlets on how to do civil disobedience, how to disrupt
German this or that, how to preserve true
French culture. Timone wrote some of
these and was really enthralled by the whole thing -- thought it validated his
experience as a writer. He viewed
himself as perhaps a…a…Turgenev or some such thing.”
She pulled away from him, needing to draw into herself to
continue. “I spent the evening with
Uncle and Louisa at their home. I was
so tired of being alone…”
Paul denoted just the slightest note of bitterness in her
otherwise flat voice.
“When I returned to our apartment, they were waiting outside. I guess someone had tipped them off that
Timone would be returning from a meeting.”
“A group of Boches soldiers. Gestapo I guess. I can’t
Caje felt a sudden sick sensation in the pit of his
stomach. The Krauts had attacked Claire
Marie. He didn’t want to hear
this. Enough already. Enough emotion, enough pain, enough hurt. He searched desperately for the cold,
unemotional veil he drew about himself during battle, but without physical
action, he couldn’t seem to conjure it up.
Afraid to hear what she would say next, he quickly asked, “What happened
“He had stopped off at a ‘friend’s’ house.” Claire Marie’s voice dropped to a near
whisper. “He didn’t arrive home until
later, the next day, but they -- the Boches -- got their warning across. After I found out I was pregnant, he
couldn’t deal with the fact that they
had done what he had never been able to do…the one thing that may have bound us
together. Anyway, he signed his next
essay. He knew it would not be
“He gave them his name?” Caje asked automatically, trying to
push the conversation beyond this revelation.
“That is exactly what he did. The pamphlet wasn’t even out a day when they showed up and took
him away. He got the fleeting glory he
was looking for. Everyone in Paris
talked about what happened -- how brave he was, how bold...”
“How do you know he’s dead?
Maybe he’s just being held somewhere.”
“Rolf’s father found out for us. Uncle had Elise ask for us…it took several months…” Her voice trailed off, but Caje’s thoughts
“Wouldn’t he have a vested interest in declaring your
husband dead? Rolf’s father? If he’s trying to move in on…”
Someone was approaching the house.
He pulled Claire Marie up and toward the window with him,
then dropped her hand and pushed aside the curtain to peer outside, the gun
poised in his left hand. He couldn’t
see anything, but he knew he wasn’t wrong.
Someone was out there…
“Paul?” Claire Marie whispered, frightened by his
actions. He was so calm, so cold…so
different. She thought back to the
juxtaposition of the gun and his hands just minutes ago…
Caje thought quickly.
Krauts would come directly to the door…unless they knew there was an
American in here. And if they knew he
was here, it would be better for Claire Marie to be someplace else.
“Go upstairs and stay there.” He spoke in a tone that brooked no opposition. “Stay there unless I call you. And take this…”
He handed her the gun, but she tried to give it back.
He grabbed her shoulders and looked into her face. “Claire Marie, trust me. Go!”
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her move into the
hallway, pause at the staircase, and then run upstairs to get out of sight.
Caje was sure there was someone outside. He could feel it. He no longer questioned his intuitions -- just like no one in the
squad did. He wished the other guys
were here now. He didn’t know what he
was up against and, as Kirby always liked to point out, you could never have
As he moved from room to room, window to window, looking for
whatever – whoever -- was out there, he wondered if he should have given Claire
Marie the gun. Then again, he couldn’t
have it if Krauts were here to take him; he couldn’t endanger Claire Marie by
Maybe he should try to get away. But how could he leave her behind, in possible danger? He could take her with him, he knew, but
she’d never leave the farm without her child.
He looked out the kitchen windows and could still see
nothing. Prudence dictated that he
should stay where he was, but his tendency to act on emotion got the better of
him -- Claire Marie’s safety was involved.
Arming himself once again with the bread knife, he took a deep breath
and hoped his luck held out. He
couldn’t help himself -- he went out the back door.
Claire Marie tried to look out the window to see what was
going on. It was jammed, and she could
not get it open. She strained to force it
up, and a button popped from her blouse with the effort. Still, the window did not move. Maybe she should hide under the bed, she
thought, but she had to know what was happening to Paul.
Or to whoever was out there…
The change in Paul had been almost as frightening to her as
whatever triggered the response in him.
She had noticed the same thing happen when her Uncle and Guileau had
shown up unexpected yesterday, but quickly dismissed it in light of all that had
transpired. Now, though, she recalled
her initial reaction two days ago to Paul’s apparent powers of observation --
he would use it to destroy -- and she shuddered, feeling what she could only
categorize as a premonition.
The heavyset man squatted near the front corner of the
house, looking out over the compound, a bloody package in his hand. Although he knew the Boches had left several
days ago, he had approached Bertrand’s house with caution. The normal person-to-person village
communications had been disrupted during this recent onslaught of fighting,
making it impossible to find out if any Germans had returned to the farm. But he needed to find Bertrand, to tell him
about the plans for the evening. And he
owed the doctor for treating his wife’s gallstones again last week.
The question was, where was the man?
He had heard voices speaking inside the house a few moments
ago, and he recognized the girl’s, Bertrand’s niece. But the other one didn’t sound familiar. He had looked around for a vehicle but, not
seeing one, guessed that whoever was in the house with her wasn’t the German
doctor she spent so much time with.
Trying to peek in several of the windows, he had considered
his options, but thinking on his feet was not his best trait. Now he wondered if he should just continue
searching elsewhere for Bertrand. He
didn’t want to leave the message with the girl. And he didn’t relish the idea of meeting the strange man. Still, he should probably leave the
meat…although the girl would then wonder why he came all the way out here…
He did not sense anyone’s presence behind him until it was
too late and an arm was tight around his neck, the tip of a knife pricking the
underside of his chin.
“What are you doing here?”
Jacques Boulanger’s pale eyes bulged in fear behind his
thick spectacles as he tried to turn his head, hoping to see who had him. He could think of nothing to do except to
hold up the package.
After a moment, the arm moved from around his neck and a
voice commanded, “Turn around.”
Quaking, afraid that any sudden movement would cause him to
loose the tenuous control he had on his bladder, Boulanger turned and looked
into two of the coldest eyes he had ever seen.
He felt a need to say something quickly, anything, to lessen the
intensity of that stare. So he stammered,
“I am Jacques Boulanger. I was looking
for Bertrand. I am the butcher.” He thrust the package forward, to validate
The man in front of him glanced at the bloody parcel, but he
didn’t lower his knife or soften his gaze.
“Why didn’t you knock at the door?”
Boulanger, his face red, his lips tremulous, now wished that
he had done that very thing. Terrified,
he answered, “I didn’t think anyone was home.
Then I heard voices, but I did not recognize who was here…”
The stranger sized him up, then spoke in a tone that made it
clear he didn’t consider the butcher much of a threat. “You do not know Claire Marie?”
“Why, yes,” Boulanger spluttered with a sudden measure of
defiance. “Everyone knows her.”
His momentary boldness left him, though, when the other man
seemed to grow colder, more dangerous again.
“If you know her, why did you not come to the door?”
“I was looking for Bertrand,” Boulanger repeated, sounding
meek once more. “I wanted to give him
this roast since he helped my wife last week.”
Receiving no response, he added, “I have a message for him
“And you didn’t want to leave it with Claire Marie?”
Boulanger felt that he should answer the question with
care. “As I said, I did not know who
was with her.”
The two men looked at one another in silence, Boulanger
sensing that the stranger understood what was being implied. Whoever he was, he wasn’t the girl’s husband
-- everyone knew that Bertrand’s nephew was dead. And why wouldn’t he be another one like the Boche doctor, a
‘friend’ she liked to…entertain?
As if reading Boulanger’s mind, the stranger said smoothly,
“I am a friend of the family’s,” he put an emphasis on the last word, “…from
He lowered the knife a little, and Boulanger sighed in relief. Apparently, he was out of immediate
danger. But he knew the man was lying
about where he was from. Not only was
he wearing overly large clothes and what appeared to be a bulky bandage wrapped
around his right shoulder, but since when did Parisians -- collaborators or
Maquis -- start skulking around filthy farmyards? For food, yes, but this was a long way from Paris…
The stranger, noting Boulanger measuring him, smiled
tightly, a smile that did not reach his eyes. “Why don't you come inside
and leave your package? I am sure
Claire Marie can find some paper for you to leave your message on.”
Boulanger sensed it was more an order than a request, and he
stepped toward the door, hoping that his legs would carry him over the
“Claire Marie,” the stranger called when they entered the
house. “Come down, please. It is a patient of your uncle’s.”
He nodded toward the divan, and Boulanger sat, still holding
the bloody package. When Claire Marie
came down the stairs from the bedroom, Boulanger glanced up.
Just as I thought, he snorted to himself. The girl didn’t venture into town much, but
everyone knew about her. And here she
was, her hair tousled, her face flushed, and the top of her blouse opened low
enough to reveal a glimpse of her cleavage.
Well, she could smile at him all she wanted, but he wasn’t going to be
taken in by her charms…
“Msr. Boulanger, what a surprise! Is your wife okay?”
The butcher pursed his fleshy lips and replied, “Yes,
Mademoiselle. Thanks to your
uncle. Where is he today?”
“He went over to see Elise.
She has not been doing well lately.
You have met…” she paused and looked over at Paul, who shook his head,
For some reason Paul frowned at this, and she lifted her
shoulders in a silent question.
It wasn’t lost on Boulanger, who sneered, “Yes.”
Silence fell over the room, and Claire Marie became
uncomfortable. She looked again at Paul
for direction, but now he seemed preoccupied, playing with the knife in his
hand. Deciding she was on her own, she
said to Boulanger, “Why don’t I get you a glass of water after your long trip
and take that…”
“It is a hind roast.
From one of Langer’s pigs.”
“How wonderful! Why
don’t I take that to the kitchen.
Louisa will know just what to do with it.”
“I do not need your water.
I have to get back to town.”
Caje did not look up, but spoke quietly from the other side
of the room. “I thought you had a
message for Bertrand.”
“I prefer to leave it with him -- personally.”
“Not even on some paper?”
The old butcher was adamant as he leaned forward to place
the package on the floor with exaggerated deliberation. “No.”
Then he stood, but he didn’t go anywhere.
Caje realized Boulanger was waiting for permission to leave
and said, “Go on,” as he tilted his head toward the door. “I will tell Bertrand that you were
Boulanger hurried to the door, but just before he reached it
Caje moved forward and casually placed his left arm across the opening,
blocking it. He waited for the shorter
man’s scared, darting eyes to meet his and then queried in a soft, measured
voice, “We don’t need to mention my presence to anyone, do we?”
Flustered, Jacques Boulanger looked at his feet and suddenly
noticed the other man’s boots. Understanding
dawned on him, and he raised his eyes.
Looking defiant once more, he shook his head.
Caje glanced down to see what had caused this change in
demeanor, and he frowned. But quickly
raising his head, he asked in a friendly, conversational tone, “Your wife, you
love her, eh?”
Boulanger started at the unexpected question. “Wh…why do you ask?”
Caje didn’t say anything, but rubbed the knife against his
pants and then stepped aside and signaled Boulanger to leave with the point of
the blade. The old man stumbled out the
door as quickly as his pudgy legs could carry him. He rushed across the farmyard without looking back.
Caje watched him disappear down the road, then became aware
of the silence behind him. He turned
and looked at Claire Marie who stood unmoved from her place near the hallway to
the kitchen. She had been staring at
him as he watched the ironically named butcher.
“Why did you ask him that?” she said.
“If he loved his wife.”
Caje smiled a tired smile, but his eyes lit up with
amusement. “Because, Claire Marie, the
imagination can often be…more self-limiting than anything else.”
Claire Marie said nothing, her thoughts unfathomable to
him. But he decided that what had just
transpired had caused her to pull away, to look at him in a new light. He had seen the look before, among the men
with whom he fought. He had become used
to it. But it was not the way he wanted
her to look at him.
“Claire Marie…do they have children?”
Her eyes widened.
“Because…that frightens me.”
Claire Marie’s clear laughter filled the room, diffusing the
tension. Caje winked at her and went
over and grabbed the butcher’s porcine compensation. When he straightened up, Claire Marie gasped.
“There is blood!”
Caje stared at the package.
It looked the same as it did before.
He looked back up at Claire Marie, not understanding. She noted his confusion and came over,
taking the package from him and putting it back on the floor. She pushed him unresisting onto the sofa.
“What is it?”
“Your shoulder is bleeding again. Turn around a little, let me look at it. Hmm…not too bad, but I should probably
change the bandage. Why don’t you wait
right here and let me take this…this offal to the kitchen and get something to
clean you up?”
She retrieved the hind roast again and disappeared down the
hallway, leaving Caje to look at his shoulder.
The front of the wound looked alright, but it was impossible to twist
around and see the back. It was
definitely healing though, he could tell.
And it did not hurt -- much -- unless there was direct pressure on it.
He did, however, feel that overwhelming tiredness of the
past several days weighing down on the very edges of his mind, and he knew he
still wasn’t up to long periods of physical exertion. Maybe he’d been a little overly optimistic in his initial
assessment of the time it would take him to recover enough to get back to his
lines. But it couldn’t be more than
another two days, maximum. There was
too much going on in this little house for him to stay much longer.
After a few moments, he heard the back door open. Curious as to just what Claire Marie was up
to, he decided to disregard her orders and see what was happening in the
kitchen. When he entered the small
room, she was not there, but he could see her through the window, out by the
well, buckets in hand. Looking around
for something to do, he spotted Bridgette’s small doll still in her chair from
Caje looked away from Saunders and Hanley and back at the
floor of the jail cell. It had been the
doll that had first attracted him to the painting in the window. He had only seen one of Claire Marie’s oils
during their brief time together, so at first hadn’t paid the artwork much
attention. But when he looked closer,
he recognized Bridgette’s toy and…
“And?” Sarge prompted, trying to help him out. Just like Kirby and McCall had been trying
to help him a few hours before.
“And…never mind, Sarge.
I just saw one of her paintings last night. That’s all.”
Sarge recognized Caje’s withdrawal when the soldier
finished, “I was just drunk.”
Hanley became impatient.
“Caje…you’ve got to do better than this. I’m not even sure if I can get you out of here as it is.” He had a myriad of things to do that came
with his newly assumed position. And he
wanted to get them done in time to attend a little soiree that was being put
together for him and several of the other new captains.
“That’s it, Captain.
“Okay, then I’ll just go down and see how they want to
handle this. You may be in here a few
days, and you’ll be lucky if that’s all.
You might have to pay for that damage you did.” With that, Hanley left.
Saunders and Caje were alone in the cell, neither saying a
word. It was something that had never
been uncomfortable before now. They had
spent a lot of time together in companionable silence, both recognizing in the
other no need for idle chit chat. But
something like this had never hung between them before.
Caje could tell that the sarge felt he had let him down,
that he had shattered the unspoken understanding they had based on his
unvarying sense of responsibility and the sarge’s unwavering loyalty. Shit, he thought, now he had even lost this
For his part, Saunders decided there was nothing more he
could do for the soldier in front of him.
Caje’s flat, unemotional monologue had not made much sense. He knew that Caje was trying to tell him
something, but without more insight…
Well, he had given Caje every chance he knew how. If the Cajun wanted to shut down, that was
the end of it. He would respect the
man’s privacy, like he always had, and if that meant that this trusted soldier
-- a friend -- would sit in this stinking hole for three days, then so be
Caje said nothing as Saunders stood to go. The sergeant moved toward the door but
turned back before heading out. “If
Caje started to reply in the negative, but stopped and
focused on something behind Saunders.
The sergeant turned around and saw Hanley had returned and brought
someone with him.
“Caje, this man owns the shop you busted up,” the captain
announced. “From what the guy at the
front desk said -- and the best we can make out -- he’s not going to press
charges. But he did want to talk to
Caje and Saunders looked at the man Hanley thrust
forward. He was small, petite even, and
his features delicate. Looking quite
nonplussed at Hanley’s handling of him, he pointedly straightened his expensive
but worn jacket.
His name was Vilmont Pineau, and he looked at the two men in
front of him, trying to decide to whom to address his message. Clearly, it must be the one with the
bandages, he thought. The police had
told him the perpetrator had been injured.
Pineau wrinkled his nose in disgust, deciding the soldier definitely
needed cleaning up.
In English so heavily accented that his hearers thought he
sounded like a caricature of a Frenchman, he spluttered, “You!” and took a step
toward Caje. “You should stay in here
for what you did to my display. It is a
total mess!” He moved his hands in
quick, small gestures that reminded the soldiers of a spastic music
conductor. “It is not just the
cost. Do you know how many weeks it will
take to find someone to replace that front glass? And the blood…the cleanup…I have to do it all myself now!” He wrung his small hands, then raised his
voice. “Even the Boches…”
That was enough for Hanley.
The little man was insistent back at the guard desk that he see the
perpetrator of “theez ‘orribal crime,” and now he had. But there was no reason to waste time
standing here listening to anything else about last night. Besides, Saunders looked like he wanted to
leave, too. It was time to end this.
“Okay, that’s enough.
Drop the charges or don’t,” Hanley looked Caje in the eyes and continued
with pointed emphasis, “I don’t care.
But we don’t have to listen to this.
C’mon, why don’t you go back and get to cleaning up that mess?” He pulled the strange man with him as he
started to leave.
“I will not press the charges. But I have been asked to give him…” Pineau dramatically pointed
to Caje with his unencumbered hand, “this.”
He reached into his pocket.
Saunders casually stepped between Caje and the Frenchman,
ready to act. One never knew…
Pineau pulled out a small scrap of paper. Saunders reached for it. Pineau pulled it back in toward himself and
shook Hanley off his arm.
“No, it is only for that
one. I am going to drop the
charges. One of my …er, clients…has
said that she will give me a painting I had there on consignment if this man
comes to her house. It will cover the
Caje was across the room in a flash. “You know where she is?”
He grabbed the little man by the lapels of his jacket. Vilmont screamed for the guards, his English
deserting him. Saunders and Hanley both
stepped in -- Saunders pulling Caje back and Hanley trying to silence the
I said.” Hanley resisted the urge to
backhand Pineau. “Give us -- him --
whatever you have there and get out.”
Pineau handed the small slip of paper to Caje. “Espèce
d’enculé,” he muttered.
Caje looked down at the scribbled address. He did not recognize the handwriting. “Who gave you this?” He did not even realize that he spoke in
Pineau, who was brushing imagined dirt off his jacket,
looked up, surprised. Most of these
Americans could barely speak their own language, much less la lingua Franca, he
thought. But he answered, “It is none
of your business.” After all, even if
this soldier spoke French, he was clearly still a
savage after what he had done to the shop.
Saunders could tell that Caje was having a difficult time
maintaining control, but he didn’t understand what was going on between the
soldier and the annoying man. “English
please.” It was an order, not a
The little man huffed at the tone, but said smugly to Caje,
“It is not who you think, American. I
have not seen her. You can go or not
go, I do not care. Either way I will be
compensated for what you have done.”
With that, summoning all the dignity he had left after his handling by
Hanley, Pineau pranced out of the cell, his footsteps speeding up as his exit
down the hall was followed by catcalls from some of the other detainees.
“Well, Caje, it looks like you will get out of here sooner
than we thought. Saunders, I’ll go see
about getting him released.”
Caje did not look up from the scrap of paper as Hanley
“What have you got there?”
“I don’t know, Sarge,” Caje muttered. The handwriting, to his disappointment, did
not match that of the letter folded carefully in his pocket. Though against regulations, it had never
left him since it caught up to him over six months ago. Nearly illegible at the time of receipt, it
was worn almost to the point of disintegration. He was even afraid to unfold it now, but he had the fragmented
contents -- and the handwriting -- memorized.
Hanley poked his head back in the cell. “C’mon.
Saunders helped Caje get his jacket over his bandaged
arm. The three of them walked down the
hall in silence. After Caje’s knife and
wallet were returned, they stepped out into the bright mid morning sun. Caje squinted for a minute, his eyes
adjusting to the daylight, then he turned without a word to Hanley and Saunders
and started down the street.
“Hold it right there, soldier! Where do you think you’re going?”
Caje pulled up at the voice. He hadn’t been thinking, just acting on his emotions again. He turned back around to answer
Saunders. But he didn’t know how to
Hanley answered for him.
“He’s not going anywhere. Not
without you, Saunders. You wanted him
out. He’s released on your
recognizance. Caje, you can consider
yourself on parole for the next seventy two hours. You are to go nowhere without being accompanied by Saunders.”
“Lieutenant…Captain…you must be kidding.” Saunders pushed his cap back on his
head. This was not what he needed or
wanted -- to be designated Caje’s official babysitter.
“No, Saunders, I’m not kidding. That’s the only way I could get him out. Otherwise, he’d have to wait until they get
all the paperwork cleared up.” Hanley
clapped Saunders on the back, then without a word to Caje, he headed down the
The two men stood in the morning sun. The street bustled around them with people
and vehicles. From some little café
nearby there was the smell of coffee and pastries. Patrons, civilian and GI, sat at small tables crowded into a
postage stamp size portion of sidewalk defined by small pots of geraniums.
“Shit,” Saunders muttered.
He looked at Caje. “C’mon, let’s
get back to barracks. You need sleep
and to have Doc take a look at that arm.”
Caje just stood there, wearing the same impassive expression
Saunders was used to. But it did not
extend to his eyes. They flashed with
excitement and, to Saunders’ surprise, a small amount of pleading.
“Uh, uh,” Saunders replied to the unasked question. “You’re not going anywhere. Hanley stuck me with you,” he smiled at the
irony of being unhappily stuck with Caje now when all through the war he’d been
glad to be ‘stuck’ with the guy, “and I can’t trust you right now.” His smile vanished. Tilting his head, he said, “Let’s go.”
Caje still did not move.
He stood there in the middle of Paris, on a small side street shadowed
by the hulking former ministry building now housing the Military Police. He felt the morning breeze on his face,
already warm, promising another unusually hot day. He took in the curious glances of a few passers-by and of
It was a critical moment.
Somehow, he knew that he would never forget his impression of this
place, this time. Like only a few other
times during the war -- Theo’s death, his first close combat kill, Billy’s
death, his last glimpse of Claire Marie -- it would remain fresh and vivid,
every detail to be easily recalled until he took his last breath.
“Sarge…I have to talk to you. I have to explain.”
“I thought you already did that.”
“I didn’t tell you everything…”