Read Nightingale Online

Authors: Aleksandr Voinov

Nightingale (6 page)

BOOK: Nightingale
2.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Chapter 11

 

“I should really be going home.” No sooner had he said this when Maurice’s heavy arm fell down on his shoulders. They’d both left the Palace through the back door into the dark alley that ran alongside the irregular buildings in the center of Montmartre. There was an autumnal chill in the air, and Yves thought he could smell the dank of the river, although that was impossible at this distance.

“Don’t be a fool.” Maurice pulled him against his side like Yves was a small boy. “You had the audience in stitches! You can’t just hole up in your dusty old flat after such a triumph. Mark my words, you might forget the world, but the world will remember you!”

Now, that sounded like a threat, and judging by Maurice’s mischievous expression, he knew it very well. “What have you planned for me?”

“We’re going to Eduard’s.” This brokered no resistance or protest, although Yves shuddered inwardly. Of all the meeting places for their kind, Eduard’s was probably the most subtle, but that meant nothing at all.

“And what if we’re arrested?”

“They won’t,” Maurice promised and all but dressed Yves into his coat. “The owner has paid off the Germans.”

“And if they do?”

“Then I know somebody who can get us out.” Maurice hit him between the shoulder blades in a punch that might have been meant gentle, but Yves suspected it was punishment for kicking up a fuss.

“And who’s that?”

“You, my boy. Being such a close friend of such an eminent person.” Maurice winked at him.

Yves pulled his head deeper into his collar and trudged along. Maurice was right, but he didn’t have to like it. Yet, going home after the show wouldn’t have helped with the residual thrill in his veins.

Performing terrified him and humbled him, and he was always glad when it was over. But from the distance of maybe an hour, he was also proud. When a show went well, there was nothing quite like it, as if he could also get dressed and pretend to be—if only for a little while—somebody who relished the attention. Of course, he’d be unable to conjure this up if it wasn’t hidden somewhere inside.

And maybe Heinrich actually would protect him. On this wave of self-conscious euphoria, he walked beside Maurice. It wasn’t far, or he would have lost his nerve, his confidence, like the applause, eventually dying away.

They entered the bar, tucked away in a corner of the quartier, and even at this late in the evening, immediately there were more friends and acquaintances—and probably more than one former lover of Maurice’s—who greeted and welcomed them. Magnanimously, Maurice ordered drinks for everybody, waving hands and shouting over the commotion.

Yves settled comfortably in the far corner of the bar, one eye always on the door, the other on Maurice, who’d found a new, more grateful audience. Yves was forgotten, leaving him to the question how many in this crowd he should know, how many were friends,
friends
,
or simply useful. Yet, he envied Maurice his easy bonhomie and how generously he shared his talents.

He drew stolen glances, a few careful nods, and just as one man was sliding off a stool at the bar, the door opened, and several heads turned.

Yves’s pulse shot up into his throat. Harfner. The tall blond figure was unmistakable, though he wore civilian clothes under a woolen coat that gave nothing of his rank or role away despite its quality and newness. Even the haircut didn’t betray him; it was merely overly neat and tidy, not necessarily military or even German. Nevertheless, Harfner’s appearance seemed to disturb a few people. A couple glasses were lowered, a hand tucked papers away in a breast pocket, two men slid surreptitiously apart.

Harfner was looking for something, or somebody, and Yves wondered whether he even knew what kind of place he’d walked into. This was not a bar to meet after duty with a beautiful French mistress. Women were few in attendance, and those that were had extra parts under their skirts that the German likely didn’t know how to deal with. Yves leaned back into the protection of the alcove, but he watched Harfner’s careful progress to the bar, an animal in new territory, waiting to be spooked by something.

Maurice turned his head and saw him approach, lifted an eyebrow, and one of his companions must have made a coarse joke because Maurice laughed, then narrowed his eyes in malicious speculation.

The tricks Maurice could play on Harfner were many, and Yves felt the worry up to his temples. He should not get involved in a battle of wits in which Harfner was clearly unarmed, but Maurice didn’t think anything ill of “fooling a fool,” as he’d put it. Just as Maurice was slowly redirecting the full weight of his attention, Yves stood and moved over to distract him.

He nudged his way through the crowd, and when he finally ended up face-to-face with Maurice, he felt somebody grab his shoulder. Yves freed himself with a forceful shrug, and now the group stood silent around him.

“Looks like he belongs to you,” Maurice said in a playfully cruel tone.

Yves froze, then turned. Damn. Harfner. Seeing those blue eyes trained on him from so close was part shock and part thrill. More importantly, though, he needed to get the man out of here. He grabbed Harfner by the arm to drag him outside, pushed the door open with one hand, and was amazed that the large German just followed.

Outside, two policemen were heading toward the bar, so Yves let go of Harfner, who looked a lot less perplexed than he should. “Follow me,” he said and walked, naturally, he hoped, down the road and then turned left. The policemen kept going along the main road, and Harfner glanced after them.

“This was . . . not wise of you,” Yves said slowly and carefully.

Harfner frowned and pushed his hands into his coat.

“I don’t think that was the right place for you.” Again, slowly, as if to a child.

“It’s not?” Harfner asked.

“No. No, it’s not.” Explaining why was just too risky. “No other Germans, for one. You need to stay with other Germans.”

“Why?”

“It’s dangerous for you.”

Harfner smiled as if he’d paid him a compliment. Did Harfner think he felt like some kind of guardian angel after getting him to a hospital just a few months ago? He must have, because where was the German arrogance, the dismissive words about minding his own business, that a conqueror certainly didn’t need any help from the conquered?

“They can tell?”

Once you open your mouth they can.
Yves nodded, “Yes.”

Harfner stood there, looking strangely content with the situation, like he was having a chat and a smoke with a friend just outside his own door. It was endearing enough that Yves thought he’d like that—pretending this good-looking man was a mere stranger seeking to melt into the chaos and color and sublime madness that was Paris—just one of many souls seeking the omphalos of culture and beauty. But he wasn’t. “You should go back home.”

“To Germany?”

“No.”
Yes.
“Wherever you sleep. The military barracks.” He pulled a cigarette from his pack and lit it, turning against the wind, but mostly against Harfner, as if the man could extinguish the little flame. He snapped the lighter shut and wasn’t surprised when the man just stood there, watching him. He flicked his wrist to look at the time and realized he’d be late for curfew. He would never make it back to his flat, and he’d known that, but maybe hoped to stay over at Maurice’s villa. Now, burdened with Harfner, that idea was much less compelling. “I’ll be late for, what did you call it?
Sperrstunde
?”

Harfner smiled at him again, likely amused at his pronunciation. “What will you do?”

“Find a bar that is open all night.”

“I can take you home.”

No.
No. Yves shook his head and laughed, had to take the cigarette from his mouth. It wasn’t actually funny, and his laughter died when he saw Harfner watching him. Something in his chest jumped, and suspicion crept up his neck.

“I better get going,” he said and tapped Harfner briefly on the arm. Solid, immovable muscle. Yves peered up into the man’s eyes, worried about what he’d see. Concern wasn’t what he’d expected, but it was similarly hard to bear. That tension in his chest coiled tight.

“Go, be safe,” he said to Harfner. Voices clattered in the street, loud and boisterous. He recognized Maurice—even he couldn’t ignore curfew. A way out—thank God. He rushed toward the exit of the narrow street. Before he turned the corner, he saw the German standing there, silent, intent, and not in the least deterred.

What are you looking for
, he wondered, then turned and picked up speed. Maurice laughed at him, a few steps away from tipsy toward drunk. Thoughtfulness and worry never lasted in Maurice’s company, and tonight, at least, he couldn’t have been more grateful for it.

Chapter 12

 

In an uncommon show of mercy, Maurice entered his bedroom with a cup of tea, but no food. The clap of the heavy-paneled wooden door was too loud, though, and Yves groaned. His mouth tasted like champagne that had gone sour.

“Fetching shade of green,” Maurice mocked and put the tea on the nightstand, sitting down on Yves’s bed.

Yves had stayed in the villa often during their brief closer acquaintance, but very rarely in a guest bed. He swallowed against the wash of nausea and reached for the cup. Anything to cleanse the taste away. He remembered a bottle of champagne, and quite possibly some port and a whiskey Maurice simply
had
had to show him.

“How are you feeling?”

“I’m a fool for drinking whatever you pour me.” Yves pushed himself up against the headboard before he accepted the fine china cup.

Maurice grinned and rubbed his belly. “You’re just ill-equipped to deal with occasional foolishness. Not enough meat on you, but a heart large enough for the entire German army.”

Yves very nearly sputtered. “That’s not funny.”

“No, it’s rather not.” Maurice crossed his legs and slung his folded hands around the raised knee, like an overweight, nasty-minded chorus girl in a brocade robe. “Who is your new beau?”

Yves swallowed the last sip of tea, trying to decide if there was a way to get out of bed and dressed without having to answer the question. “He’s not my beau.”

“Ah, come on. The way he looked at you, there’s more to it than that. I’m convinced he’s been in the Palace, too, ogling you.”

“They all do that. It’s what being an entertainer is all about.” Yves set down the cup and pushed the duvet back. He only faintly remembered putting on the pajamas last night, but now he was glad he’d gone through the trouble of all that. “It is how I earn my keep.”

Maurice arched a devastating eyebrow, probably on the verge of telling him that he sometimes earned his keep—or a place on the bill—in other ways, too. “But you knew him.”

“Not in the biblical sense.” Yves began gathering his clothes and pulled the shirt out from between Maurice’s back and the chair. Maurice barely broke his posture to accommodate him.

“You’re evading my question.”

“There is nothing to know. He’s . . . I guess an admirer. Germans like music, too. I’ve heard I have a bit of talent and something like a voice, so why shouldn’t I have admirers?” Though it was still bewildering that this attraction lasted after the applause’s echo had faded. That insistence to touch what lay beyond the words, beyond the silly ditties, behind the stage persona, spooked him. Once he stepped offstage, he had nothing more to give, so what did Harfner want?

Maurice
tsk
ed. “You know how I can tell you’re lying? You get defensive.”

“I’m not . . .” Yves balled his clothes up in front of his chest. “The man barely speaks a lick of French. He gawks at me, he follows me around, but what am I supposed to do? It’s not illegal, and he’s not threatening. He’s a soldier on leave for all I know. Let him do whatever he wants before they send him off to fight. God knows that life can be short.”

Maurice regarded him, then laughed. “You get more defensive by the second. And why not? He’s a pretty boy.”

He’s way too Aryan for me,
Yves was about to snap back, but that wasn’t true. Outside the uniform, the conceit could work. If not for Harfner’s abominable French. “Well, who of us sounds more interested?”

Maurice grinned sharply. “Whatever you do, make sure your oberst doesn’t hear of it. Officers don’t like to share with common soldiers.”

“They are doing fine with France,” Yves snapped back, aware too late that he shouldn’t have responded with any heat to throw Maurice off the scent. In truth, Harfner
was
too interested in him. “I already have more
fridolins
in my life than I can deal with.”

Maurice laughed at the droll nickname. “You still need to learn to make the best of the situation. The alternatives as presented are truly wretched: leave France, or leave your pride.”

“It’s not just my pride. It’s my life. My city. My audience.” Yves rubbed his face. “I was considering going south.”

“You will never get a pass. The authorities likely know that the oberst has an interest to keep you in the city.”

That made him a prisoner. Would Heinrich really, truly, keep him in Paris against his will? The thought had never occurred. Now his mind couldn’t help but touch that thought, like a tongue kept worrying a sore tooth.

“Take heart, Yves. It could be worse. You could be a Jew.”

He didn’t want to think about that. Jews hadn’t had it easy here to begin with. The newspapers, even before German censorship, printed frothing diatribes against the Third Republic and Léon Blum, blaming France’s defeat at the hands of the
boche
on the Jewish “infestation.” It led quite logically to France growing strong again at the cost of turning into a second Germany. But who could truly want that?

“Where did Charles go?”

Maurice sucked in a deep breath. “He went south.”

Marseilles, possibly, to sail for Africa or London or America. Or, if that route was blocked, to Spain, crossing through to Portugal and then boarding a ship to reach what remained of the free world. Yves shook his head. He’d thought about it, too, had heard stories of families packing their lives into a suitcase and escaping in the first dreadful months of occupation. But fewer people left now, as Paris found an uneasy, if shameful, peace with herself.

Yves was unsure of what to say—seeing Maurice hurting wasn’t as satisfying as he’d thought it might be. He felt petty for bringing up the matter at all. “Heinrich said he wasn’t aware of Charles being on any of the lists. He’s not in Drancy or any of the other . . . places.”

Maurice waved him off. “Refresh yourself, my boy. I’ll be in the library.”

Yves took the hot bath he’d been craving since after yesterday’s performance, and the lavender-scented bath salts helped clear his head. Maurice was a most generous host. He opened his doors easily, and often enough seemed to forget that being a host was a temporary matter and guests were eventually supposed to leave.

He toweled himself and dragged one of Maurice’s combs through his hair, which already began to curl again, not even relaxed momentarily by the hot water. Maybe he should take straightening irons to the mess, but he liked to entertain the thought that it complemented his stage personality. He hated it, though, when Heinrich grabbed his hair and dug his fingers in.

For want of an alternative, he dressed in his stage tuxedo, remembering with fondness—though nothing else—when he’d had his own room in this house and a wardrobe for clothes. Wearing the tuxedo—as inappropriate as it was, considering the time of day—gave him a sense of independence, although he knew very well that he still relied on Maurice for the vast majority of his income.

On the way down to the library, he heard voices from one of the drawing rooms. Maurice and another man. He drew closer, surprised that Maurice hadn’t introduced him to
his
new beau, then paused when he heard what they were talking about.

“These papers should get you across the demarcation line,” Maurice said, half gruffly.

“The ink isn’t still wet, is it?” Yves couldn’t place it—the French was too clean to immediately point a finger to the country of origin.

“Best printer in Paris. If you look at the ration book, it’s clearly been used.”

“Thoughtful.”

“On your way then. I have a guest in the house. Avoid the patrols; they might snatch you off the streets and press you into labor for Germany.”

A dry cough of a laugh. “Not with a broken arm, they won’t.”

Yves frowned and pushed the door open. Both men fell silent and turned their heads. The stranger was a bony man with a meticulously kept moustache. His dark eyes flared, and he reached for a pistol holster on his belt. The motion looked clumsy, thanks to the right arm being in a sling.

“No, he’s a friend,” Maurice said, seemingly to both of them.

The stranger cast a measuring glance across Yves, then withdrew toward the fireplace to sulk decoratively and wait for Maurice to explain.

“Tomasz, I strongly suggest you’ll be on your way now. I trust Yves, but the situation is still not without danger.”

Tomasz scowled and gave his position up again. He strode to Maurice and clapped him on the shoulder. “Thank you for everything you’ve done. I—we—will not forget.”

Maurice shooed him away. “Leave.”

The man looked like he was about to add something, but then cast a wary glance at Yves and turned on his heel. Seconds later, Yves heard him rush down the stairs. He shook his head. “What are you doing?”

Maurice shrugged at him. “Who can resist cheekbones like that?”

“You’re mad.” Yves rubbed his face. “Do I even want to know?”

“That depends entirely on you,” Maurice said coolly, reaching for the cut crystal carafe half-filled with port wine—Yves’s foe from yesterday. He poured the dark liquid into a glass, offered with a lift of his eyebrows, but Yves’s stomach roiled at the thought.

“A friend asked me to help him. I happen to know a forger . . .”

“Oh my God.” Now he really wished Maurice weren’t explaining himself. As in love with bureaucratic correctness as the Germans were, they were unlikely to forgive any tinkering. Von Grimmstein’s face flashed in front of his eyes, like a nightmare.

“So I’m making sure he can return to England to continue the fight with the rest of the Royal Air Force.”

“A pilot? Like those who’ve been bombing our fleet and killing thousands? The reason we’re blacking out? The same people who keep us in fear in terror every night?”

“He’s Polish, Yves. Talk to him about fear.”

True. His was a nightmare that didn’t end. What had Heinrich said?
Originally an SS enforcer, first into the fray and enjoying himself rather splendidly, considering what I’ve heard about him and his time in Poland.

“What . . . did he say?”

Maurice shook his head. “He didn’t speak much at all. He wasn’t high up enough to bail out. Instead brought down the plane somehow, broke his arm, and escaped an attempt to arrest him, killing a number of Germans. In other words, if they catch him, he’s dead.”

Yves frowned. “Does he have everything he needs?”

“I’ve sent him to another friend.” Maurice poured himself more port.

“If they catch him . . .” The whole madness came crashing down on him. “He knows who you are. What if he talks?”

Maurice swirled the wine in his glass like cognac. “Then I’ll have to rely on my German friends to warn me in time to get away.”

“But the Palace . . .” Yves shook his head, realizing how selfish it had to sound, but he couldn’t imagine the Palace without Maurice. What if the Gestapo nabbed them all? What if they all had to run because Maurice had been too kind to a stranger? The truth was, he resisted that prospect, the very idea of it. He wanted everything to stay the way it was—indestructible Maurice, scandalous and loud and happy, even—especially—at the expense of others. Risking that on behalf of this man—and technically an enemy—was too much. “So that’s where I come in? To warn you?”

Maurice smiled. “I may require a favor in the future. Not that I intend to get caught. Or waste much of my time with such frivolities as helping the enemy of the Germans. They do spend freely, after all.”

Ah, duplicitous Maurice. He was, as usual, playing both sides. And here Yves had thought for a moment that Maurice’s morals had become rather more rigid than he was used to. The world shifted back onto its normal axis.

BOOK: Nightingale
2.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Erasing Memory by Scott Thornley
Double Bind by Michaela, Kathryn
Retief and the Rascals by Keith Laumer
The Secret Ingredient by Nina Harrington
The Chronicles of Koa: Netherworld by K. N. Lee, Ann Wicker
Dead Sleep by Greg Iles
The Miles by Robert Lennon
The Rapture by Liz Jensen
The Red Abbey Chronicles by Maria Turtschaninoff