Authors: Graham Adams
Tags: #Mystery, #Suspense, #Thriller, #Europe, #France
There was so much going through Louis’s head as he weaved his way through the streets of Saltsburg, looking for a road sign with Metz on it. The white bonnet of the SL350 Mercedes sports seemed to go on forever in front of him. Finally he was heading for the open country of Alsace. It was very tempting to turn the dull whine of the powerful machine into a roar, which a slight dip of his right foot on the accelerator would easily provide.
He made some mental plans as he cruised along, like telling his great aunt that she had a new step sister-in-law, and that Moshe’s brother, his own great granddad, did not fall victim to the Holocaust.
He also thought of the fraught relationship that he had with Harold when he had left the showroom in Southampton, but with the help of Ethan, a new and better understanding with his boss could arise.
Then there was Esther, the thought of her gave him a warm feeling, and a longing to get back to Southampton as soon as he could. He reminded himself of what he had said to Leah and Ethan, that someday he would bring his new wife back to see them again. In some ways he could not believe that he had said such a thing about someone he had only just met, but in the same vein, the feelings that he had for this beautiful dark girl just could not be ignored.
He passed the sign for Saverne and desperately wanted to stop and find the farm where his great grandfather had sheltered, and ultimately fathered Leah, but the urge to go on was stronger. He took a mental note though; to make that pilgrimage the next time he came to visit his newly discovered family.
Driving the sports car onto the ferry at Calais certainly caused a stir with the other passengers. With such a rare and expensive car, it was delightful to act as the mysterious stranger. Then he was off the ferry and heading down the coast road, every moment getting closer to home. With an early start from the ‘Wedding Cake’ mansion, he calculated he would be at the Shirley bungalow before eight.
Tired but also excited he got out of the car in Aunt Ruth’s drive with virtually no back ache, as the driving position on the Mercedes was perfect. Ruth gave him the biggest hug and whispered that someone wanted to see him, and did he want to go and see her now? Louis nodded and asked her where Esther lived. It was in fact just a short walking distance, but he slid into the driver’s seat and glided the car around the corner. He looked for number twenty eight, which was a Victorian detached villa, as most of the houses were in the street. They had no drive so he pulled up outside and sounded the horn. Esther came running out of the front door in her slippers, he was out of the car and she threw herself in his arms as if they were a married couple, and he swung her round a couple of times, and noticed her grandmother looking out of the window though the thick net curtains.
He loved the way she ran around to the passenger seat and jumped in. She surprisingly kissed him long and hard. ‘I’ve missed you Louis, I really have. I think I love you!’ He kissed her again, but saw other curtains quivering in other windows.
‘I think that you ought to get back in the house, Esther. You know what the old folk are like.’ He smiled at her. ‘Honestly, you are the reason I came back. When can I see you? I want tell you all about what happened.’
She squeezed his hand and told him to come back the next day, and jokingly he said that it wouldn’t be with that car. She just giggled and ran back to the house. As he drove back to the bungalow, his blood pressure was up.
Suddenly, he felt tired when he took his coat off. Ruth had made him a smoked salmon sandwich which he ate, and then he rushed to the bathroom for a long relaxing bath. His head should have been full of the adventures that he had had, but it wasn’t, just one thing; what Esther had said to him. Was she joking about love? Perhaps she was just a bit young, but he just could not get her out of his mind. He wanted her, he ached for her, how did she have that power over him so easily? Maybe that was just the thing he wanted to hear, yet still he stayed amazed and shocked at the same time.
‘Aunt Ruth just before I go to bed I want to ask you something. Are you trying to arrange something between me and Esther?’ Louis asked his favourite aunt.
‘Well, yes I am Louis, you need someone and although she is young, she is very grown up for her age, and she’s gone through a lot as well as you have. To us it’s a real match, are you unhappy, my little boychick?’
‘Would it surprise you my darling auntie that we are in love, and I can’t believe it.’
Ruth gave him a knowing smile. ‘Now go to bed and sweet dreams, don’t forget its back to work tomorrow.’
The next morning, Louis parked the massive sports car right in front of the huge showroom window to create the biggest impact, and it did. Just about all the garage staff filed out onto the forecourt. Even the office girl came to admire the sleek machine. He looked past the crowd to see Harold walking slowly towards him with a broad grin.
‘I knew you would do it my boy, even if you had a little help from someone.’ The garage owner laughed loudly. ‘Now boys and girls, back to work, and you Louis, come into the office. The young man passed him the keys and the file back.
‘I didn’t spend much Harold.’ He said
‘I know, Louis. I have spoken several times to Ethan, you certainly made a hit there, dear boy.’ He put his arm around his shoulder. ‘Come into my office I’ve got something to tell you.’
Before Harold could say anything Louis told him about his relationship with Ethan and his wife, and the big man was listening with his mouth open, he had had no idea about it at all. He had however told the payroll department to double his pay in that week’s wages as a bonus. And he promoted him to Assistant Manager with a pay rise to go with it.
Esther was just eighteen when Louis married her. Unbeknown to everyone she was already pregnant with their daughter Leah May. He had told Esther that if the baby was a girl, he wanted his daughter to be named after his Great Aunt who lived in Strasbourg.
Only two months before their wedding there was a very sad event, his Aunt Ruth passed away in her sleep and Louis made another visit to the graveside of Moshe, now back together again with his beloved wife.
At the reading of the will, Louis was the sole beneficiary, and it was Ruth’s wish that he and Esther live at the bungalow so that she could watch over them. Thankfully Esther was happy about that request, especially how Ruth had played such a big part in bringing her and her beloved Louis together.
The proudest moment for Louis was to have his father return the favour and be the witness for him at his wedding, and to see Henry’s young son André and wife Collette, it just made his day. He couldn’t help himself at the end of the ceremony. He whispered to his father that Esther was pregnant, and to tell Collette when they were at home in Provence.
In Ethel’s house after the ceremony she welcomed Louis’s father, asking them to stay the night which they accepted. It was Louis’s opportunity to tell the fantastic story about the lost relatives he had found a year before, when he went to Strasbourg. His Aunt Leah had given him Lewi’s letter, which being in Hebrew, he couldn’t read, but Ethel obliged for them. At the end of the reading there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
‘What about the paintings Louis?’ His father asked.
‘I’m glad you asked that dad. If you have any ideas, will you write to me, and then I might try and see if I can recover them. As you can guess, I’m a bit busy at the moment.’ He raised an eyebrow at his father across the room, and Henry nodded knowingly. ‘I feel however, that justice should be done for Lewi.’ They all nodded in agreement.
‘Will this put you in danger, Louis?’ Esther looked into his eyes as she asked. But Louis did not reply, but changed the subject, asking his father about the latest wine harvest prospects, hoping that she might just forget about that question.
Baby Leah was two years old when, all of a sudden, Louis felt the loss of his Aunt Ruth; somehow it hit him like a stone. That particular evening, arriving home from work, he just went straight to bed, he didn’t want Esther to see how upset he was. Esther followed him to their bedroom and looked at him as he lay on the bed in the foetal position looking so forlorn. She knew deep down it was not a good idea to ask anything at that moment. She was a little scared of what his reaction might be, not forgetting that she had a small child downstairs, so she quietly left him alone, packed Leah into a pushchair and quickly ran to her Gran’s in the next street for some advice.
Ethel did give her grandchild some advice. She told her to leave the child with her and get back to the house. God would give her the wisdom to know what to do when she got there. ‘Just pray for wisdom child, it will come!’ Ethel shouted, as Esther ran back to her house. Steadily she walked along the passageway and as she opened the bedroom door, he had not moved from the position that he was in when she left with Leah. She then got on top of the bed and lay alongside him in the same position and pulled him close to her. The word that came to her was ‘patience’, so she just lay there for a good half an hour saying nothing.
‘Sorry, darling, that I have been such a pain to you, but my mind does not seem to be at rest.’ He went on to tell her that when his Aunt Ruth had died, there was so much going on that he hadn’t had time to grieve for her. Also the visit to Saltsburg and the heartbreaking story of his great granddad during the war still was unfinished and unresolved, and he just did not know how to deal with it.
Esther hugged him tighter, in some ways pleased that it was not her that was causing him so much pain. ‘Can you tell me what you would like to do to help make things a little better for you? I want to help you Louis I love you so much and so does Leah.’
‘I don’t want those horrible people to get away with the hurt and pain that they caused Lewi, I really want to do something about it, but I don’t know what I can do. Do you understand me?’ He turned his head towards her, and she could see the hurt in his face, she reached up and kissed it gently.
‘You want to do something and you feel that we are tying you down, is that it Louis?’
‘Yes, in some way it is.’ He answered.
She stiffened with the pain of his answer, not expecting it to be so clear. It felt like a stab in her heart. Then the wisdom came back that she had prayed for. ‘Why don’t we all go to Strasbourg and see Ethan and Leah? Harold owes you some time off, and I think it would do us good to meet some of your relatives. And you did promise to do that to them didn’t you?’
He jumped off the bed, and pulled her towards him, smiling. ‘That is exactly what I want to do; I’ll get on to Harold tomorrow, the sooner the better. Oh, and we need to get you and Leah a passport. By the way where is she?’ For the first time for a while, Louis looked excited about something.
‘She’s at my Gran’s.’ Esther said. ‘I’ll go and fetch her. Your dinner is in the oven. Oh I nearly forgot there’s a letter on the mantelpiece with a French stamp on it.’
As his wife went to fetch his daughter, he read the letter from his father. They had been shopping in the village and bumped into a Dutch couple on holiday. They were on a wine tasting holiday and so Henry had invited them to his vineyard and to stay overnight with them. Through conversation, Henry had mentioned the lost items from Louis’s great granddad and they mentioned that there was a museum in Amsterdam that could help. Apparently the museum had successfully repatriated a great deal of art stolen by the Nazis, back to the Jewish owners and their families. They also had a large number of unclaimed artefacts, untraced, and had obtained lists that the Nazis had made cross-referencing the stolen items to the original named owners.
This new knowledge fuelled his excitement about going to see Ethan and Leah. He would try to get at least two weeks off, in the hope that when he got to Strasbourg and showed the letter to Ethan, he might help him to get further in his new crusade. Louis thought that he may not say too much to Esther about Amsterdam just yet. Instead he decided to wait for the right moment.
Louis explained truthfully to Harold the reason that he wanted his holiday and was surprised when his boss stood up and gave him a bear hug. ‘You know that I’m so proud of you Louis my boy as if you were my own son. This noble thing you are doing is for all of us Jews.’ Harold did no more than pick up the telephone and ring Ethan, and after he had answered, passed the receiver to Louis and walked out of his office and closed the door allowing privacy for the young man.
Louis told Ethan about the letter that he had received from his father, and Ethan was amazed at the information. Louis then asked if Leah was at home, and he passed the call over to her immediately. Leah was in tears and suggested that they go to Amsterdam, all of them including her namesake. She said that as soon as Louis could give her the date that they were travelling, she would arrange everything her end. Louis promised to keep in touch and rang off.