Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Papillon Concret (Part 2)


The invasion is swift. The majority of the population choosing to accept their fate rather than fight it. Commercially, it's not a detrimental move for Martilli; A neutral Swiss in an occupied territory running an international business. Whilst his inclinations support the allies, the Nazis see him as useful and little changes. His product is in demand and he manages to successfully juggle business without irking his progenitors. As long as his parties included a goodly amount of Generals and his fleet of vehicles are available to ferry them from point to point, he remains fairly untouched and free to travel across borders on 'business.' Monique however, is less compliant and despite social acceptance, is struggling with remaining passive.

It's while driving through the city with Lenze by Napoleon's tomb, windows down to let in the air, that they hear the hum. There's a fracas in the normally quiet neighborhood as buses block the narrow streets and an unusually high presence of Gendarmes usher people hurriedly across the street into the Velodrome. They drive closer to inspect.  Monique's glance of concern not lost on Lenze who's ever aware of their precarious position in Paris. The hum becomes a roar; thousands of voices within its walls and the smell! What was that smell? It's perimeter is necklaced by swastika'd arms even though it's the Gendarmes practicing crowd control and barking orders.  The ring of soldiers are there more to keep good people away than to hide the contents within.

"Lenze wait, that's not normal. There's something going on in there,"



"Monique leave well enough alone. It's none of our business,"

She opens the door of the slowly moving car and rushes towards the line, "Monique!" Lenze shouts after her, powerless to stop his wife he leans across and pulls the protruding car door shut before urging the vehicle through the crowd and finding somewhere to park. "Crazy woman," he mutters beneath his breath.

The soldiers are unperturbed by the well-dressed woman, whose rush has now calmed to a walk as she rounds the perimeter to a quieter side of the Velodrome. One even tipping his hat and wishing her a nice day.   A young soldier tries to stop her.

"Madame, please . . no civilians."

She's devious and curls that lop-sided smile and fingers the flap pocket of his uniform. 

"Oh come on. I'm just curious, just one peek?"

He's barely out of nappies and looks like a fish out of water.  The blush of red on pale cheeks a stark contrast to his piercing blue eyes and striking blond hair. He says nothing but stares at his boots as she sidles past him, her hand gliding down the sleeve of his tunic. He lets her through.



Peering through one of the rear exits of the Velodrome. She's horrified at what she sees.  Tens of thousands of people most donning the yellow star; milling, frightened, wiping sweat from the heat, cradling crying children, asking Gendarmes what's to become of them. This is the war most of her kind never see and it's a watershed moment in her comfortable life.



"You!" She's startled by the aggression in the voice and quickly corrects the horrific expression on her face.

"Who me?" she says as she turns to face them and forces a smile. The young soldier who let her through is being tugged by the ear and slapped hard by a superior officer before the older man turns his gruffness on her.

Lenze can see the confrontation from the distance but his attempts to reach her are thwarted by the crowd. He's treading water trying to reach her.

"Something wrong Monsieur?" She knows he's a Lieutenant but won't dignify his rank.
The chastising officer is wearing the uniform of the Gestapo and she can barely make his features beneath his peak.

"Madame you are not permitted here. This operation is between the Gendarmes and the Jews. Your name?"

She's smart enough not to become embroiled in what's going on and calms down. "I'm sorry," she says, "I was just  . . ."

He has a notebook and a pencil and asks for her papers when Lenze finally bursts through the crowd shouting, "Monique! Monique . . "

The German turns, "You know this man?

"Of course, she replies. He's my husband."

"Mr Martilli," the Gestapo officer greets him with a smile. The two men clearly recognising each other.

"Forgive me. I was just explaining to your wife that this is a police operation and no place for her to be visiting . . ."


Lenze coils his arm into hers, "Come on darling. He's right, this is none of our business."  He ignores "Hail Hitler" at their retreat but offers a concessional wave of goodwill with his back towards the German.

She feels a pang of empathy for the shamed soldier,  now massaging a reddened cheek - a mind to be poisoned before it's barely developed. She mouth's 'Thank you' as she passes.


Five days later and the Velodrome is empty, the d'hiver complete. It's contents spirited away as if they had never existed. Five days later, a reluctant young soldier, still with the memory of that lop-sided smile is sent south to Bordeaux. Five days later, Monique realises that what she has witnessed has changed her life, set her desire to join the Resistance in concrete.
***

To anyone else, they look like lovers in a cafe but their conversation is of the utmost seriousness. She'd received a note requesting a meeting and told to be careful that she's not followed. Intrigued, she steals away.


"Thank you for meeting me. I am Gilbert Renault. I heard that you witnessed the events at the Velodrome and were challenged by the Gestapo?"

She knows who he is and she knows that he's of interest to the Germans

"Of course Monsieur, you're becoming a thorn in the side of our new visitors. What can I do for you?

"You have influence Madame. You have means, connections and a rather unique chateau in a very strategic position..."

Monique is curious as to how he knows about the Chateau. It's been boarded up for over 12 months. But, she's in the presence of  Gilbert Renault and the adrenalin is surging through her veins.  She's heard of him due to an enquiring mind and a need to resist. He gives her a potted history while she sips her coffee.  Under DeGaulle's exiled direction he's been asked to establish a network of operatives to undermine the war and help preparations for liberation. His mandate includes assisting allied soldiers stranded in the south to escape via Spain and Gibraltar and he's on a recruitment drive. She's his number one candidate.

He begins his pitch, "People in Paris don't seem to care, we see old ladies doing their knitting in the Jardins du Luxembourg as they have for centuries. We see our women flirting with these blond invaders, our whores making money from them. We see a café on the Champs-Elysées patronised by well-dressed Parisians enjoying their aperitifs. We see young people bathing in the Seine. We see fashionable ladies in elaborate hats at the races in Longchamp yet all the time, they sit idle while there are mass deportations of Jews, Moroccans, Italians.  They are also oblivious to the plight of allies stranded here with no means of escape and the power of the Resistance causing havoc wherever possible."

She's aware of the air of normality around her while life for others is very different. 

Renault continues, "Sure, the streets are devoid of cars except for those belonging to the Germans and the likes of your husband and there are German men and women in uniform popping up here and there, drinking coffee, entering the métro, playing in brass bands, paying their respects to the Unknown Soldier at the Arc de Triomphe. We are coping as best we can but se débrouiller, it's not enough!  Down south we have small farm holdings harbouring fugitives. Simple men and women acting as couriers and taking part in destructive espionage - putting their own lives on the line.  I need your Chateau, I need a safe house."

That night at dinner the normality is shattered as she makes an announcement

"Lenze, I have to leave Paris," the comment startles her husband. His business is thriving here, their life as comfortable as can be expected under the circumstances. Why would she want to leave?



"I need to become involved in something, help somehow. I can't sit idly by and watch this going on.  The house in Bordeaux is empty we could use it for a greater good."

He knows she's right. He has no sympathy for the invaders and no desire to be seen as complicit in their crimes despite them being good for business, but he can't leave Paris it would arouse suspicion. His fraternising with the 'right' people would do more good than harm in these uncertain times. Sending his wife to assist in the country however would barely be noticed. Many sent their relatives south. He faces a lonely choice but knows that once she's made up her mind, she's resolute and determined. It saddens him that they will be apart but he understands.


"You go. But be careful. This isn't a game Monique."

She outlines her plan in whispers.  The Chateau now more of an investment and country retreat was once built on a limestone quarry. Beneath its foundation lies a maze of tunnels and caverns perfect for fermenting, although no barrels have resided there for centuries. The floorboards have covered a long forgotten secret. She could convert the house into a rehabilitation home for wounded Germans, provide shelter and a means of escape for the persecuted - right under the noses of their captors. She can't do it alone but she has Renault and his network. She has financial resources, the will and the way. The finer details can wait for her arrival but for now, she wraps arms around Lenze and nuzzles into his neck. She's about to join the resistance, put herself and others at risk and still, she couldn't be happier.



6 comments:

  1. You're making me want to go and brush up on my history of the Vichy collaboration. Did you have Nancy Wake in mind for the character of Monique?


    little typo: "She's knows who he is..."

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  2. Ah, better and better.

    I'm wondering where you're going with the chateau. The Nazis took over so many of those for their own billeting (not to mention pillaging) during the occupation.

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  3. incredible set up. i can see the research you've put into this

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  4. Still good, but some of the transitions are abrupt. A lot of her "internalizations" are realized in dialog... more actual internal description concerning her decisions would help this along.

    Punctuation has taken a dive in this chapter... :P

    Stand-alone lines of dialog should end in full-stops. You've got two in a row with commas. WTF?

    ...

    Watch your apostrophes.

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