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Authors: Aleksandr Voinov

Nightingale (17 page)

BOOK: Nightingale
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“If he’s a communist, it’s possible he was reported, or one of his already-caught communist friends turned him in to save his own hide.” Heinrich came around the desk and stood behind Yves, placing both hands on Yves’s shoulders. He wasn’t wearing gloves. “You wouldn’t believe the amount of informers sending in poison pen letters. I sometimes feel sorry for those who have to read all that sordidness.”

“I don’t.” Yves hung his head.

“No, maybe not.” Heinrich gently kneaded Yves’s shoulders, but they were tight and it hurt even as Yves tried to relax. “I can ask around, but I can’t look too interested in your friend’s fate. Relations between us and the SS can be delicate.”

“Are they trying to . . . find your weakness?”

Heinrich’s hands stopped moving. “I’m a high-ranking officer of the Wehrmacht. Von Grimmstein would be only too happy to present my scalp to Himmler if I were to commit a crime that allowed him to collect it.” He patted Yves’s shoulder. “At present, I’m in no position to fear any such thing.”

Yves turned around and looked up into Heinrich’s face. The unspoken thing, the connection they had, the habit and inclination they shared. None of that was in Heinrich’s eyes or face. Heinrich truly wasn’t afraid, merely careful, looking every inch the correct, well-disciplined and seasoned warrior. “Of course.”

“Also, von Grimmstein is sniffing around staff at the embassy. They are seen as much, much too lenient and in love with the good life in Paris.”

“Too much in love with the French?”

Heinrich walked back to his side of the desk. “It’s no secret that Abetz’s wife is French. And many officers have French mistresses they’re quite fond of. That might be part of it.” He gathered up his folder. “I’ll show you out on the way to my meeting.”

“I’m sorry to put you in that position. You must be busy.”

“If he’s a friend of the family, I will look into it, but I cannot make any promises. I wouldn’t want to disappoint you.”

“If money helps . . .”

Heinrich shook his head. “Unlikely, though Gestapo are not beyond temptation. I’ll make enquiries. You, on the other hand, shouldn’t be seen as interested. If they have him, it’s likely he’s in the rue de Saussaies or at Avenue Foch, but do not confront them or try to speak to anyone there. Under no circumstances.” He opened the door for Yves.

On the other side, the aide stood from his place at the typewriter and opened the other door for them. “Willi, have the letters ready to be signed when I come back,” von Starck said on the way out.

Jawohl, Herr

Heinrich guided Yves down the corridor all the way back to entrance. “I assume you’ll sing at the gala?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Good.” Heinrich smiled. “Leave everything else to me.”

Yves was halfway back home when he realized what he’d seen on Heinrich’s desk: a framed photo of a well-dressed, attractive woman and a much younger man in Wehrmacht uniform, who had Heinrich’s poise, but her more refined features. To her other side, a young girl, a teenager, with neatly braided hair, who greatly resembled her mother.

Chapter 23


Yves met Édith outside the Café de Flore. The message she’d left him at the Palace had seemed both urgent and non-committal, and he was expecting the worst by the time he arrived. Inside, she got up and left the café after saying a hasty goodbye to her friends. She was still closing her coat when she stepped out. They embraced very briefly, and Yves noticed a passerby turn to stare at them before hurrying onward.

They had that effect on people still. In Édith’s mannish dress, it was hard to tell which genders they belonged to, though Yves hoped that he wasn’t as easily mistaken for a girl. After that furtive embrace, Édith grabbed him by the arm and led him along the road.

“How have you been?” Yves asked.

“Worried.” Édith lengthened her stride.

“What’s wrong?”

“Not out here.” Édith hurried along, nearly breaking into a run. She took a turn, and then another, glanced over her shoulder and then dashed toward the entrance of one of the cellar bars in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. She knocked on the door in a rhythm that seemed deliberate, and the door opened quickly and they were almost pulled in, the door slamming behind them.

The bar was cool and dank, cavernous in a way that had lent the jazz fans their more-or-less ironic nickname Troglodytes. But there was no
or musician in the bar. Instead, the three other people looked like students, and Yves recognized two of them vaguely. And of course, he remembered Améry—who sat at the table, looking decidedly rough. Édith made a small surprised sound beside him, and Yves squeezed her arm.

Améry waved them over to sit at the table. “Thank you for coming. And for joining us.” His words were a little slurred, no doubt thanks to the split lip and swollen jaw. The side of his face was bruised, too, and his nose looked bigger than Yves remembered it. Moreover, Améry was not wearing his glasses, so his squint might have been from pain or short-sightedness.

“Your sister told me she’d asked you for help.”

Yves nodded. “She was worried you had a run-in with . . .” he resisted the instinct to look around. There was no way the Gestapo was hiding around here. They were not actually ghosts.

Améry briefly lifted his hand, baring a flash of roughened skin around his wrists. “You could say I did.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I just wanted to let you all know what happened. They were asking me about an attack on a German soldier cinema and somebody they suspected of having masterminded it.” Améry leaned forward, though apparently the movement pained him. More bruises under the pullover? “It was none of us. Nobody I knew. I don’t know how they got to me, but I think that person—whoever he was—knew me enough to give up my name.”

“Did you tell them about us?” Édith asked, her voice edged with fear and anger.

“I wouldn’t have called you here if I had.” Améry gave a weak smile. “I told them nothing. Nothing useful. No names. I think they were growing tired of me after a couple days. They kept threatening me with prison and adding me to the list of hostages, and I had no doubt that they would. But then they released me. Just drove me back to where I was arrested and threw me out of the car. No explanation.”

“Of course not,” Édith spat.

Améry looked at Yves. “I think you might have saved my life. They had no other reason to spare me.” He patted Yves’s hand. “Thank you.”

Yves’s throat tightened. “I don’t know. I asked a German I know for help. He’s a fan.” He needed to keep himself from explaining exactly why Heinrich would help—the more he explained, the more suspicious it would appear.

Améry nodded curtly. “I still don’t expect to stick around for very long. If anything, we need to increase our activities so we bring all of this to an end more quickly. With them on the run in the Soviet Union and beaten in North Africa, their days are numbered. We need to do everything we can to stand by our comrades, wherever they may fight.” Again, his gaze rested on Yves. “Is there anything else you can do for us? Forged papers? Guns?”

Yves almost started out of his chair. “I can’t get involved in this.”

The little group looked at him with a mixture of pity and revulsion. Considering Édith, her brother had to be a disappointment, but still, Yves would be damned if he got mixed up in Communist plots to kill Germans out in the open. It was one thing to help somebody who was marked for execution, and another entirely to become party to murder. “I won’t tell anybody about you, of course. I know Édith is . . . I know what she’s involved in, but I can’t.”

“So you’re all right with being a prisoner in your own country?” Améry’s question seemed more puzzled than accusatory, as if that possibility had never occurred to him.

“Of course not.”

“Then what? You’ll just accept it, regardless?”

Yves felt something akin to panic settling in his chest, making it hard to breathe. Édith pulled at his sleeve to get him to sit down again, but he kept standing. “I think they might still be watching me. I had . . . I met one of the SS officers. He said he’d keep an eye on me. I don’t understand exactly what he wants of me, but I know he has some kind of plan . . .”

“Are you an informer, Yves?”

“No. Of course not. It’s just . . .” He stuffed his hands in his pockets to keep them from shaking. “People are watching me. I can’t just mingle and try to get away. I’m attracting far too much attention already. If they suspect me—”

“It’s all right.” Améry seemed eerily calm, as if none of this had come as the slightest surprise. Maybe he was still shaken by his own ordeal, maybe he was just that cold-blooded. Yves couldn’t begin to guess. “If there’s anything you learn or can get your hands on that we can use, will you tell your sister?”

Yves glanced down at Édith, not sure at all what she expected of him. He wished he’d had but half of her conviction—in anything. But he didn’t. Maurice was right—all he cared about was his music and the thoughts in his own head. He wasn’t a
, he wasn’t a communist, and he was most definitely not a fascist. He was just stuck somewhere in the middle with nowhere to go.

“Well, she is my sister.” He took a step backward. “I should go. I have songs to learn.”

Améry nodded to his comrades, which seemed to keep them from protesting or trying to stop him, but it didn’t soften the disdain in their eyes.


* * *


Conversely, when Yves stepped onstage at the German embassy, none of them seemed to bear him any ill will. This could as well have been the Palace—many, many German uniforms, sumptuous surroundings, and an orchestra to accompany him. Waiters were clearing away used glasses, plates and cutlery while Yves began warming up, too aware that most of the audience probably didn’t speak enough French for him to even try and be witty. So he focused his attention for a moment on Dr. Abetz’s replacement, Rudolf Schleier, and his guests. Yves bantered in that direction, peppering the introduction with a few German sentences, which made the audience visibly perk up. Now, all eyes were on him. Just at that point, he quieted, paused, took a deep breath, and launched into his first song. It was always like flinging himself off a cliff and hoping that by some miracle he wouldn’t shatter into a million sharp pieces, like a shell detonated into a rain of death.

And then, indeed by a miracle, he found his center and fell into that blissful state of control, of abandon, of simply following the complete confidence and enjoyment in what he was doing. In that state, no thought existed that his voice might break or that he might cough or that he might not hit a note or forget a line of text. It was like running when he’d forgotten there was a chance to stumble and fall.

In this state, he could have sung the whole night. He did four songs and then stalled, trying to remember where he was in his bracket. It all had gone in a blur of excitement, simply passed through him, and he felt like a spiritual medium coming back to her senses after speaking in tongues. The orchestra, no doubt sensing he’d lost his place, struck up the next song, and he continued as if the interruption had never happened.

Four more songs, all new material he had just begun singing at the Palace. As far as he could tell, they were well received, although the audience had gotten used to him now and didn’t seem particularly mesmerized. He closed with
Little Kisses
, and everything changed again. The room fell silent, all eyes returned to him with a frisson of excitement, like recognition of a friend in a crowd.

When the song finished, there was deafening silence. From the embassy staff to the Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine, officers and every single functionary and guest in the room, nobody seemed to even breathe. Yves held them in his hand for that long moment, then bowed, and applause drowned out everything else.

Shouts of “bravo” rang out, and he bowed again, then made his way to the stage exit. There, however, the master of ceremonies stood in his way, making frantic shooing motions with both hands, grimacing for emphasis. Yves laughed and turned back toward the middle of the stage.

The applause roared again, and he took another bow.

Encore une fois
!” and “
!” demands mixed in with the bravos.

Yves took the microphone. “Which one?”

“The last one!” somebody shouted from the side.

Yves cleared his throat. “Certainly.” He nodded to the orchestra, and sang
Little Kisses
again. It certainly wasn’t a hardship. He loved the song, and it reminded him of Falk and that very strange first night. A little delicious secret that could always doom him. But feelings were feelings. And this song was all feeling. He couldn’t be cynical or detached while singing it.

On the first few notes, his audience again fell silent, most of them standing and facing him, apparently in incoherent wonder. Yves stared off into the distance and poured everything he had into the song.

On the last line, his voice nearly cracked with emotion, and he surreptitiously wiped over his eyes. After the last syllable had left him, he bowed again and took the applause as graciously as he could, bowed in all directions, and made for the stage exit.

But the master of ceremonies stood there, waving frantically for him to turn back, and, sure enough, the audience was demanding the same song again. Yves froze, but then the master of ceremonies stepped out and pushed him back into the middle of the stage. A few chuckles came from the audience, as though it was a comedy routine.

“Where to so urgently,
Lacroix?” A German functionary called out from the audience. “Do you have a nice lady waiting?”

Yves took the microphone again and playfully chided the German with a wagging finger. He placed it against his lips and winked. “You seem to like this one.” He nodded to their shouts of confirmation. “So how could I refuse?” He signaled to the orchestra and sang the song again, convinced they’d tire of the game eventually.

Indeed, three times seemed just enough. Afterward, he did manage to leave the stage. He was supposed to sing at the Palace, so he’d need to rush now that he was running late. It all still seemed under control until a German in a tuxedo caught up with him. “
Lacroix—that was quite extraordinary.”

Yves nodded curtly. “Thank you very much. I’m sorry—I really need to get to my car. I’m expected elsewhere.”

“Of course. Please, my card.” The man dug in his pockets and handed him a card. “Please, be on your way,
. I will call upon you later.”

“Thank you. I’m sorry.” Yves rushed toward the door, glad that Heinrich had arranged for the car to pick him up right after the performance. He’d otherwise never have made it in time.

BOOK: Nightingale
6.2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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