Kindle Edition-Free From 1/31-2/4
Kindle Edition-Free From 1/31-2/4
French North Africa 1941 – President Roosevelt dispatches American diplomats to Algiers under direction of his personal representative Robert Murphy on a secret mission to prepare North Africa as a future base for American action against Nazi Germany.
In Algiers, a lonely wife works as a secretary for an important French general while her husband serves as a Vichy diplomat in Nazi Germany. She is asked to help a young American diplomat. A slinky German foreign correspondent charms her way into the top social circles of Algiers. A perverse Nazi diplomat ...
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 now-cowed French.
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 foreign ministry.
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 these things.
“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 diplomatic cover.
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 fears.”
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 in later.”
“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 read:
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 aerodrome.
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.
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Paul A. Myers has written eight novels, six of them historical. His most recent novel "Divided Loyalties" is the first in a series "Fighting France" covering France in the Second World War. Previously, he wrote five novels set in Paris and Vienna between the years 1928 and 1938 that are intrigue-filled political romances. He has two satirical novels dealing with the Greek bond crises of 2012 and 2015 and a maritime history about the Spanish discovery of California. During his career, Myers has worked all over the ranch. He grew up in Southern California and graduated with a degree in economics from UC Santa Barbara, worked in a shipyard, and served as a clerk in the Operations Section G-3 at Headquarters, 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam. From the military he went to work as an accountant at a minicomputer company in Cupertino, California, rising to senior manager and serving as vice chair of an important product strategy committee in the tumultuous early 1980s. From computers he went to chief finance officer of a diagnostic medical imaging company. He left "tech" in the late 1980s and went into public accounting in California's Inland Empire region. He held US Coast Guard licenses as a limited tonnage master and mate and served on sail training schooners in Southern California and as a weekend sail instructor--which led to his first book, a history of the Spanish discovery of California. Myers lives with his wife in Corona del Mar, California and he and his wife are frequent travelers to Europe, particularly France, which sparked his interest in writing historical fiction centered on France, with a foray to Vienna.