Read Nightingale Online

Authors: Aleksandr Voinov

Nightingale (20 page)

BOOK: Nightingale
10.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

He was about to leave when the door behind him opened. “Come in.” Somebody dragged him in bodily, waving urgently. Yves recognized him as having worked behind the bar when he’d spoken to Améry.

“You’re that singer. What the hell are you doing out after curfew?”

“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t urgent. I need to find Améry Lemaire.”

The bar man scoffed. “I figured it was urgent.”

“Do you know where he lives?”

The man—likely the proprietor—walked back to the bar and fished a map from under the counter. “It’s a bit of a walk.”

Yves blew out a breath of relief. “Thank you.”

His nerves were still taut, but at least now he had some hope. Of course, it was tenuous and based on the expectation that Améry might, indeed, have the papers ready and just hadn’t yet had a chance to let Yves know. Yves concentrated on that glimmer of faith.

He left the bar and heard the man lock up behind him. Metal against metal sounded angry and final, and Yves couldn’t fault him. In his stead, he’d have washed his hands of any late night visitors on strange business, too. To his credit, the man didn’t ask any questions. Yves felt they had a silent understanding of the kind of business Yves was involved in since he knew Améry, and the bar man tacitly agreed with it. It was all the help Yves needed from him.

Améry lived in an attractive house not too far away. Yves encountered only one more patrol, and this time he was tense, but no longer scared witless when he ducked into a dark alleyway. So far, things had worked out.

He pushed the gate open. Somewhere close, a dog barked.

He hesitated. A spark of red light in the darkness. Smell of tobacco. Real tobacco.

Yves’s mouth went dry; his heart began to race again. Nothing else. No cars. No other traces.

Run,
he told himself.
You have no good reason to be here. And if they interrogate you, you will tell them everything.

Rooted to the spot, Yves tried to calm that overpowering sense of dread. He expected every moment for a hand to grab him from behind, expected to see von Grimmstein appear before him like an evil spirit.

He must have waited for an hour. It certainly felt like it.

The tobacco smell lingered only as a memory, and the little dot of red had been swallowed by the darkness long ago.

He forced himself to move. And even though he’d expected the worst, he still hadn’t prepared for the front door to be open a crack. He pushed the door open wider, stepped inside, and closed the door behind himself, standing breathless in the dark before he looked for the light switch.

When the room lit up, Yves was struck by how normal the entrance looked, with its undisturbed umbrella stand and a potted fern in the corner. No sound. Whoever had been here had long gone.

Just one detail struck him. Feathers. Small, white down feathers had settled on the stairs.

He climbed the stairs, crossed the landing. A lot more of the feathers. Goose down.

He pushed one of the doors open wider, switched on the light, and peered into the room. The bed had been ripped apart, the mattress cut open, the covers torn. All drawers had been ripped from the furniture and emptied on the floor.

Seeing all the papers—photos scattered among old-fashioned women’s underwear—scattered around the room, Yves’s horror deepened. He turned around.

And heard the door below close.

He froze, expected hobnailed boots to come trampling up, but whoever moved downstairs did so quietly. Yves stepped to the bannister, thought he saw a shadow move. This might be his last chance to get a lead on Améry, so he called out, “Hello?”

“Who’s there?”

“Améry?”

Now the steps were audible. Améry rushed up the stairs, looking pale. “What are you doing here?”

“Somebody at the bar told me where you live.”

“Anybody upstairs?”

“No. They did search the place. It’s a mess.”

Améry leaned heavily against the wall, then slowly sank down against it. “They must have been here for me. Oh God.”

Yves crouched next to him. “I’m sorry.”

Améry sat blankly for a while, looking exhausted, then jumped to his feet. “Édith. We have to make sure she’s all right.”

“What happened? Do you think . . . they caught wind of what you were doing?” Yves’s stomach flip-flopped.

“Let’s go.”

Chapter 28

 

Yves had no doubt that whenever he would remember this day, the most terrifying thing of all would be scattered bed feathers. Édith lived with her landlady, but old Mme Royer was missing, too, her bed ripped apart, just like Édith’s. In the salon, two chairs faced each other without a table in the middle. A small pile of cigarette butts sat on the carpet, the smell of smoke lingering in the air.

Around it, chaos. Books flung from shelves, drawers torn out and their contents spilled. To Yves, numb with horror, it looked less like wanton destruction than a fundamental disrespect to anybody who lived here. A slap to the face.

“That answers that question.” Améry picked up a book and placed it on a shelf. “The others live too far away to check on them. I’d rather not run into the arms of a patrol.”

Yves looked around. “Yes. We should leave.”

They sneaked out of the house like thieves. What a world where Frenchmen had to creep around in Paris while Germans rampaged with impunity at all hours of the night. “Do you have anywhere to go?”

“No,” Améry breathed. “I’d have to cross the city, and that’s out of the question.”

“Then follow me.”

Yves barely managed to find his way, his mind preoccupied with Édith’s whereabouts. He was tempted to run into a patrol on purpose on the chance that they might take him where they’d taken Édith, but he couldn’t know with absolute confidence that these were even the same kinds of Germans.

Yves let Améry into his flat and locked the door behind them. The lock wouldn’t hold anybody back for long, and there was no other way out, but the process of turning it allowed him to gather what remained of his nerves.

“Come.”

It was dark, but as he lit the candles, he could see Falk’s coat was still there. A quick look into the bedroom confirmed Falk had gone to sleep, and he didn’t stir when Yves checked on him. He closed the door.

“You can sleep on the couch tonight.”

Améry sat down heavily. “Thank you.”

Yves fetched him a woolen blanket and an extra pillow, then sat down in the chair opposite from Améry. “Any idea what happened?”

“I think they’ve captured everybody. The whole group.” Améry rubbed over his face. “They’ll be looking for me.”

“Can I help?”

“I can probably get out of the city, but I’ll need money.” Améry looked at him, met his gaze. “I’m sorry about the papers. I can’t risk going to any of my contacts. I need to vanish as quickly as possible.”

“I understand.”

“What about that German deserter?”

“He’ll understand too. Maybe I’ll find a different solution.”

“You know, it’s not long now. We’re almost ready to shoot them where they stand. There will be a national uprising, and there’s no way they’ll put us back into chains. We’ll make a better France. I know we will.”

Yves nodded, his mouth dry. So far, the Allied landing hadn’t happened. And by the time it did, it might be too late for Édith. The only people who could help her now were Germans—Heinrich, maybe. And all the little signs of disobedience, of fighting back—the acts of sabotage, the outright murder, the attacks on places where Germans gathered, the fliers and newspapers with defiant headlines—none of that would make a difference against tanks and machine guns.

“It’ll happen.”

Yves shook himself out of his stupor. “I have money.” He went over to his desk and pulled a bundle of franc notes from one of the hidden drawers. “What are you going to do?”

“Join the
maquis
in the country.” Améry huffed with incredulous amusement at the pile of money, but took it, ran it through his fingers, and then stowed it away in his coat. “Thanks for this. It will make a difference.”

The Germans painted the
maquisards
as robbers, terrorists, and Jews on the run, which— considering where the Germans stood—made them an attractive option, especially when you were already in conflict with the law. If you believed the illegal newspapers, they were freedom fighters on par with Jeanne d‘Arc. Yves didn’t dare to guess where they truly stood.

Améry kicked off his shoes and stretched out on the couch. “I’ll be gone early tomorrow.”

 

* * *

 

“Yves, you look dreadful.” Heinrich stretched out an arm and motioned toward the chair in front of his desk. “Are you feeling ill?”

Yves didn’t obey immediately. Of course, in Heinrich’s office he couldn’t dream of any gesture of affection that Heinrich wouldn’t have offered any other “friend,” but standing meant he at least felt a little less helpless. “No, I’m healthy.”

Heinrich stepped closer and touched Yves on the arm. “How can I help?”

“They have my sister.” Yves nearly choked on the words.

“Who?”

“Gestapo.”

Heinrich’s eyebrows rose. “Are you sure?”

“I don’t know anybody else who abducts French citizens in the middle of the night.”

“Ah, you’d be surprised.” Heinrich patted Yves’s arm then pulled his hand back and stepped to the side. “There have been unscrupulous elements, some of which claimed they were working with what we shall refer to as ‘German authorities.’ Come, sit down. Can my aide make you a coffee?”

“No, thank you. I feel quite nauseous.” Now Yves sat down, and Heinrich pulled a spare chair over to sit close to him, facing him. “I haven’t slept much.”

“Tell me what happened.”

“I went to meet my sister and her friends at the bar they frequent. I missed curfew, but,” Yves shrugged, “my mother hadn’t heard from her and wanted to make sure she was well. She wasn’t in her flat either, so I went to find her closest friend. He told me Gestapo had just taken his aunt and uncle, but he wasn’t home at the time, so they didn’t get him.”

“Would that be the same young man who was in trouble a short while ago?”

“Yes. Améry Lemaire.”

“I see.” Heinrich pursed his lips thoughtfully. “How far can you trust this Améry?”

“I . . . I guess I can.” Yves felt the hair on his neck rise. “He has no love for Gestapo, though, after they beat him up.”

Hands clasped at his back, Heinrich walked toward the window, then almost absentmindedly, righted the birdcage. The canary hopped from one perch to the next.

“What is your sister involved in?”

“I don’t know the details. I know she’s helping to write a kind of newspaper.”

“An illegal one, I assume?”

“It’s a pitiful little rag. I can’t imagine it causing too much interest.”

Heinrich craned his neck and gave him a long glance. “Again—you would be surprised. This whole apparatus,” he unclasped his hands and briefly lifted and circled them to indicate the whole of the building, “runs on quotas, which are reported to and tracked in Berlin. Number of volunteers, number of sabotage acts, number of hostages. I’d be surprised if Gestapo didn’t have quotas as well.” He turned back to the window. “Of course, quotas mean that every notion of delicacy is crushed under the wheels of the big machine that we’ve created. There’s no time or appreciation of quality, just quantity. That is the modern age.”

Yves now wished he’d taken the offer of coffee. Not to drink but to have something to hold in his hands. He kept them folded in his lap. “Apart from my mother, she’s the only family I have.”

“Are you the older brother?”

“No. We’re twins. She was born first.” Yves rubbed his face. Compared to the nightmare of being unable to sleep, tossing and turning, simply waiting for the night to be over, this was better, if only on account of the light, and the presence of a friend he could talk to. Falk had been deep asleep, and both Améry and Falk were gone when Yves finally woke up from maybe an hour’s worth of sleep. He felt fifty years older than he was, his body tender as if bruises were forming just under his skin.

“At the very least, I can find out where she is.” Heinrich turned back from the window. “And depending on that, I can ensure that she will find assistance.”

“You don’t think you can get her released?”

“I did mention quotas, Yves. I might only be able to get her moved from prison to labor service. Once there and under such authorities, I can pull strings locally. I’ve found this a better method than trying to go head-to-head with the likes of von Grimmstein and Knochen.”

“But labor service—”

“Bluntly, I’ll have more influence on Saukel than Knochen. Getting a laborer moved is different from getting a criminal or hostage released.”

“Oh God.” Yves hung his head. “And if she’s—I mean, if they can’t prove she was involved in illegal activities . . .”

“Quotas, Yves. They frankly don’t care.”

“Can you let me know where she is?”

“That should be doable. I can have her moved to a place where friends will keep an eye on her.” He came closer again and leaned against his desk, arms crossed in front of him. “Try to get some rest. I’ll call the driver to get you home more quickly.”

Yves swallowed, tried to calm the thoughts running in his head, though he couldn’t have formulated what they were about. Merely a sense of frantic activity just outside his reach. “I need to go see Maurice first.”

“It can’t wait until tonight?”

Prompted by this friendly question, the whole matter of Falk and getting him out of the country almost slipped from Yves’s lips. He bit down on it before it could escape. “I was hoping maybe he has an idea.”

“Go, get some sleep. You’re exhausted.” Heinrich waited for him to stand and guided him to the door. Beyond, his aide stood up straight. “Could you get the driver for
Monsieur
Lacroix?”

“At once,
Herr Oberst
.”

Heinrich turned to Yves one last time and gave him a friendly smile. “Leave this with me. I’ll be honored to help.”

BOOK: Nightingale
10.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

El palacio de la medianoche by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Voyage into Violence by Frances and Richard Lockridge
Den of Thieves by David Chandler
A Second Helping of Murder by Christine Wenger
Cleaning Up by Paul Connor-Kearns
The Soldiers of Fear by Dean Wesley Smith, Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Riding Curves by Christa Wick