Chapter 1: 1938
Paris. December 1938. Inside the well-chandeliered lobby of the Hotel
Crillon, the quiet settled in. A man stood in somber black tie and black
suit behind the concierge desk and let his eyes—always
watchful—meander around the sumptuous room, empty of guests. They were
all at the German embassy for a celebratory reception. The entire hotel
was reserved for a German delegation from Berlin accompanying Foreign
Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop on his state visit.
The German foreign minister, a former champagne salesman, was taking a
personal victory lap for the Munich Pact concluded two months before by
the German chancellor, Adolph Hitler. The pact dismembered
Czechoslovakia, destroying France’s alliance with the countries of
eastern Europe. The goal of the alliance had been to box in Germany from
the east. Ribbentrop had contributed nothing to the negotiation. Hitler
had singlehandedly achieved the humiliation of the prime ministers of
Great Britain and France. The foreign minister’s superfluous trip was
at the führer’s indulgence.
Tonight, the junketing German delegation was at the embassy reception
following a similar gala the night before at the Quai d’Orsay, home of
the French foreign ministry. Tonight, the society of Paris—Tout
Paris—was at the embassy—except various Jews and subversives not
invited. The French guests were to remember the champagne as dreadful.
Earlier that day the man at the concierge desk, a French
counterespionage agent, had stood at the outer edge of a small crowd and
watched the German foreign minister, dressed in his black Nazi uniform
with the silver trim, place a wreath at the eternal flame to France’s
Unknown Soldier. The ceremony was held at the Arc de Triomphe under the
gaze of Maréchal de France Henri Pétain. The agent had been struck by
the Nazi swastika on the black peaked cap. The black Nazi uniform was a
startling contrast to the life-giving ideals of the French Republic
symbolized by the Arc and its bas-relief sculptures celebrating past
sacrifices by the French for a better future for all. A small, sullen
crowd of French watched the ceremony. Insulting of course. But then that
had been the object of the entire trip. The German führer had been
amused to set loose his foreign minister’s endless vanity on the
The French agent looked around the vacant lobby. Soon the Germans would
return from the reception, and there would be work to do later in the
night. Surreptitious work. Another operative was hidden in a room with
concealed cameras next to the suite where a ranking Gestapo diplomat was
staying. Two boys from the back alleys of Montmartre were already in the
suite. A family-photo night, thought the agent, a somewhat distasteful
task in his job as a French counterespionage agent, but often necessary.
The most sordid of weaknesses had the greatest leverage.
Across the room the man looked at the attractive blond woman in the
dark-blue suit and chaste high-necked white blouse. She was in her late
twenties and another operative. Her specialty was getting important men
to say unguarded things during her slow-moving, carefully crafted
seductions. She was fluent in German. While her fingers and lips removed
barriers of prudence, her whisperings encouraged torrents of words to
pour forth from unguarded thoughts deep in the minds of men who saw
themselves strutting on the parade grounds of their self-importance.
Germany in 1938 was like that. The woman knew what the fires of sexual
passion did to men. She had learned the art while in her teens up in
Montmartre with a succession of voluble French ministers, corruptible
men from the revolving door ministries of the never-ending parade of
cabinets that rose and fell during the Third Republic.
The man, known in the small elite bureau as l’inspecteur, walked
across the room and spoke to the woman. “They’ll soon be here. Our
man is well concealed.”
She looked at the clock on the wall and said thoughtfully, “I have a
rendezvous in about an hour. At the other end of the hotel.”
“High up in the foreign ministry?” the intelligence agent asked.
“No, Hervé. They know nothing at the Wilhelmstrasse,” she said
dismissively, mentioning the name of the headquarters of the German
L’inspecteur took this in. His boss, le chef, had said Cosette knew
the true power structure at the top of the Reich like the back of her
hand, where the real influence was, and more importantly what it
liked—deep down amid its darkest desires. And le chef had a nose for
“The Reich chancellery.”
“Close to the top?”
“I’ll see you later.”
The agent walked back to concierge station. He always had to contain a
strangling sense of physical jealousy whenever Cosette left for an
assignation. He was more than a secret admirer. He wondered if someday
somewhere…possibly with her. He hoped it didn’t cloud his
professional judgment since distance is the first prerequisite of
objectivity. He knew all that. Nevertheless, she was under his skin…
The doors opened and a rush of formally attired gentlemen in warm top
coats, accompanied by women in lush evening dresses flowing out below
the hems of thick fur coats, swept into the lobby chattering away in
German. The agent’s eyes were drawn to the slender blonde in the white
silk evening gown and matching white fur coat, the famous German
correspondent and newsreel personality Elke von Koler. This morning, he
had watched her carefully film the laying of the wreath at the Arc de
Triomphe, her still photographers and newsreel cameramen capturing the
event for worldwide distribution. She was rumored to be close to Joseph
Goebbels, the powerful German propaganda minister. He presumed the man
with her was her husband, Gerhard von Koler, a high legal official in
the foreign ministry. But where Koler was a transparent and glittering
star, tonight’s film agenda centered on the unseemly doings by a
certain member from the German secret service operating in Paris under
Hervé watched as Cosette slipped away from the reception desk and
mingled with the crowd of Germans. She took up station behind one
gentleman in a dinner jacket, noticeable for its lack of medals, and
followed him and several others into one of the elevators. She was
smooth. Experienced. She had picked out the jewel with the sparkling
inside knowledge from among the flock of strutting peacocks.
His eyes swept the remainder of the crowd, and he saw the German
diplomat who was the target of tonight’s surveillance heading for
another elevator. The bureau had run into him during its surveillance of
certain officials with the German embassy and their interactions with
the archbishopric of Paris. Initially, the bureau thought it was
monitoring a simple influence-buying scheme, but it had then found
itself on the trail of a sordid sex scandal. L’inspecteur sighed at
the memory and went into the inner office to catch some sleep.
Hours later, around dawn, l’inspecteur was awoken in the concierge
office by a coworker, and he came out to take another shift. He looked
across the room and saw the blond woman speaking with some other people
at reception. She was back. She looked across the room, caught his eye,
and made the slightest of nods. She started walking toward the doors; he
came up and whispered to her. “Good information?” he asked.
“Yes. They’ll take the rest of Czechoslovakia in the early spring,
and then some sort of diplomatic initiative in the east to isolate
Poland over the summer. Then an ultimatum on Danzig. These are new
developments,” she said, paused, and then continued, “of old
Hervé noticed a hesitancy in Cosette’s manner. “Anything else?”
She lifted her eyes upward. “There’s something creepy here. The
Germans…their security…I don’t know.”
A warning signal went off in his mind, and he mumbled, “I’ll check
“Be careful,” she said.
He was struck by her concern. She turned and departed. He watched her
go, those long legs moving her toward the door, the hips swaying ever so
gently. Always understated, he thought. To devastating effect.
L’inspecteur returned to the concierge station and gazed out over the
empty lobby. He looked at his watch; he’d meet Etienne upstairs in a
maid’s station in half an hour and get the film.
A few moments later, a French policeman, a flic, came through the front
doors and walked up to the desk, his dark cape damp with snowflakes, his
kepi completing the distinctive profile. “I believe you’re the agent
I am supposed to inform?”
“Around back, monsieur. You better follow me.” The policeman turned
and started walking for the door. L’inspecteur followed. Outside they
walked to the far side of the hotel and then down a small alleyway
toward the rear behind the service areas.
“Here,” said the policeman pointing down to a body near the trash
cans. He lifted the body on its side to show the bloodstain on the chest
and stomach. A knife wound up under the ribcage. Then he lowered the
body back down the way he found it.
L’inspecteur looked around the crime scene but suspected there was
nothing to be found. He said to the policeman, “Take the body to the
police morgue. Let’s keep this quiet. No one in authority will want to
disturb the state visit. Write your report. I’ll go tell le chef.”
L’inspecteur walked back to the hotel lobby. Cosette had been one
floor down. She had sensed the intrigue. With the Germans, the game was
now deadly. He would not forget. Etienne had been his friend.
Chapter 2: 1940
May 15, 1940, New York. Jacques Dubois sat in his cramped office at the
Anglo-French Purchasing Commission in Rockefeller Center as a secretary
walked in and handed him a telegram. He opened it and read:
LONDON. SURPRISING GERMAN BREAKTHROUGH IN ARDENNES REGION IS SPLITTING
THE BRITISH AND NORTHERN FRENCH ARMIES AWAY FROM MAIN FRENCH ARMY. BE
PREPARED TO REROUTE WAR MATERIALS TO BRITISH PORTS. MONNET.
Jean Monnet was the French head of the commission and was shuttling
between Paris and London coordinating the delivery of munitions to the
two allied countries. He set the telegram aside and reached for a second
message that had also just been delivered by messenger. He opened it and
Jacques. Anne is sending me to cover the Wilkie campaign and feed gossip
and tidbits back to her from the campaign trail. See you in New York
third week of June. Love, Jacqueline.
Jacqueline Smith was his latest girlfriend, an American with a French
mother and American father, just the opposite of his own cover story,
which was a French father and an American mother. Anne worked as a
researcher for renowned world-affairs columnist Anne Hare on the mighty
New York Times Tribune. The redoubtable Miss Hare had asked Jacqueline
in her job interview how many languages she spoke and Jacqueline had
replied French, some German, and of course English. Miss Hare replied
that was three more than the other applicants she had interviewed that
morning and she got the job. Jacques laughed at the recollection.
Jacques sympathized with Jacqueline’s inner belief that the coming war
and America’s potential involvement would catapult her into the ranks
of foreign correspondents, her deeply held dream since working on the
campus paper at Wellesley.
For himself, Jacques was just hoping that the coming war would
eventually catapult him out of the dreary business of shepherding
purchasing orders across the now-mobilizing American war economy. He
would look forward to seeing Jacqueline in June. Spending a night with
her was always a blazingly intense journey through youthful passion. To
think of losing those American girlhood inhibitions while going to
school in Boston! Maybe there was more to those Harvard guys than he
thought. He smiled to himself.
Beirut, French Syria
May 17, 1940. The message from the prime minister recalling the general
to Paris arrived in Beirut in French Syria in the morning. No reason for
the recall was given. News reports about the German offensive in Belgium
and northern France were ominous, but vague. The massive German armor,
parachute, and infantry assault had begun the week before on May 10.
Heeding the message from Paris, the general and his aide left for the
The general assumed that the French supreme commander had not been
keeping him fully and accurately informed. The two generals were bitter
rivals. Over the past week, the unwarranted optimism in the supreme
commander’s official reports forwarded to the general from Paris had
contrasted with the dark tidings of the daily news reports in the papers
and the ominous communiqués echoing out from the wireless.
Arriving near Paris, the bomber aircraft in which the two officers were
riding set down on the runway. Suddenly, the undercarriage collapsed,
and the plane spun around in an impromptu crash landing, sparks flying
amid the screech of twisting metal. Possibly an ill omen. The general
and his aide, shaken but undeterred, managed to pry and worm their way
out through the wrecked fuselage. A waiting car sped them to the Hôtel
Matignon, the seat of the French prime minister and head of government.
The limousine was waved through the entrance gates and into the
courtyard; the general alighted from the rear seat into the courtyard
before twenty newsreel cameras.
The cameras saw a small, wiry man in his early seventies with high
cheekbones and deep-set eyes that were never melancholy. Nervous energy
seemed to vibrate off him. He bounded up the steps three at a time.
Inside an usher guided him through thronging officials and army officers
crowding the corridor to the office of the prime minister. The general
was shown into the prime minister’s office.
“General Weygand, I’m relieved that you are here,” said the prime
minister, Paul Reynaud. The prime minister was a small bantam rooster of
a man, known to be peppery and quick. Now he was a nervous man caught up
in a whirlpool of events as the French military situation collapsed by
the hour under the relentless pounding of the German military offensive,
an offensive of such power as to shock and stun the French army from top
to bottom. The civilian government was taken aback by the rush of
events, shaken by a growing lack of confidence in generals who could not
master the crisis.
The prime minister had recalled Weygand from Beirut, heeding the famous
dictum of Marshal Foch, the architect of the victory in 1918 over
Germany. On his deathbed, the marshal had gasped, “If France should be
in danger, call Weygand.” Weygand had been Foch’s chief of staff in
those momentous months of 1918 when Germany was ground down and
defeated. Reynaud acted on the famous dictum.
Excerpted from "Divided Loyalties" by Paul A. Myers. Copyright © 2018 by Paul A. Myers. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.