Saturday, October 29, 2011

Cathartic Hurling

"You should..."

 I hate that. Should what? Not feel, not fall, behave, conform, be normal?  Put up with your domineering control, your invasion of my personal space, your disregard for all that's decent. I'm out of control after a life of doing what I 'should'.

You're not shielded by that glass you know, it's no two-way mirror, you're visible, transparent. I see you. I hear you. Your hypocrisy. Your shallow life, your poor advice, your misguided loyalty, your selfishness. You just want me to be as miserable as you. I hurl pebbles at your morality, your judgement, your anal retentiveness, you're false accusations and attempts make me conform disappear.

One to wake you up. Two to get your attention. Three to make you alert. Four to exert a reaction. Five to make you get off the couch. Six to rile you up. Seven to really piss you off.  Eight to make you shout. Nine to make you reach for the gun, the baseball bat, whatever defensive tool you think you need. Ten to make you open the front door.  Eleven because it's loud. Twelve because I have more in my hand. Thirteen because you'll get superstitious and duck. Fourteen because that's how old you behave. Fifteen because . . shit, because it's a nice round number divisible by five and three. Sixteen because I wish I was. Fuck it, have the remaining handful . . 20 to shatter your facade, expose your narkiness, shit you to tears, bruise your two faces.

So good to see this world is alive with all its failings and fallacies - personified by you. Two-faced, uncommunicative bastard and your progeny of selfish brats. Your silence as vehement as your outrageous over-vocalisation and emotional bullying. Tonight I'm high and not taking any of your shit. You're an idiot, a moron, a thorn in my side, selfishness personified. Empathy murdered. Enjoy your leather sofas and wide screen TV. Revel in your designer accoutrements and flash cars. A dick in a dickie suit is still a dick. Can't wait to see you crumble like so much windscreen glass. 

Try as you might to hurl the pebbles back, I am not made of glass.  I'm Teflon.  I'd rather my own company than suffer yours.  It's all good. Pretending you don't exist.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Going Under


"Are you hot?"
Stupid question really. Does a brick sink?

It’s melting. They’re melting; into the couch, into each other. The air’s oppressive and the humidity high, despite being almost midnight. The lazy waft of a ceiling fan not enough to cool their glistening skin, or to dry the emerging sweat on their foreheads.

"Coming for a swim?" Her question is unanswered.

Nicola loves to swim at night. Nothing but the massage of tepid liquid and the flicker of moonlight in the safety of a limpid pool. All quiet save the crickets and the occasional night bird. The fragrance of jasmine loping over the fence permeating the night air with the sweet scent of summer. The darkness of salt water embracing her, buoying her.  It’s soothing, euphoric, cooling and calming, and leads to imaginings of his touch. How she imagines his touch -  gentle, scintillating, arousing. Like listening to Brahms before bedtime.  She heard once that drowning was a wonderful way to die. She'd drown in his arms if he'd let her.

Nicola and Ian have been friends for a long time. Intimate friends in every way except physical. Sharing their secrets, woes, joys, loves and hates. They've laughed with each other, cried with each other, fallen out with each other, fallen asleep with each other. She's criticised his choice of partners. He's told her she needs to relax and get laid. But they always end up together, if only metaphorically, joined at the hip. He lives too far away for anything more. That's the problem. The tyranny of distance means infrequent visits. It's an unusual bond. Yet they remain comfortable as an easy chair, happy in each other's company without having ever taken it further.

He’s massaging her feet.  He’s only here for a short time and she wants to pack everything she can into his day, into her day, she's exhausted. He just has a few short weeks in her company and she's trying to keep him entertained. It's not necessary to pander to him.  He’s just as happy mooching about the house, rumbling the dog, making fun of her unruly hair and clumsy ways in the kitchen. He's just happy to be there.

She’s lying prone on a two-seater couch. Head leaning back over the arm. Her hair cascading down its side. He stares at her exposed neck and decolletage and daydreams while she relaxes; her eyes half shut and staring at the rotation of the fan. Her legs are limp and warm in his lap, as his musician’s hands play her toes like some finely tuned instrument. 


Secretly she doesn’t want him to let his grip loosen. She never has, but he's never made a move. It’s a rare thing for him to touch her beyond the odd welcome hug or the rescuing hand that pulls her across a busy street; helps her manage a steep incline or occasionally rubs her shoulders.  

Secretly he wants to touch her more intimately but he's worried she'll get the wrong idea. He loves her but he's not 'in love' with her. At least he doesn't think so. Then he hasn't been in love so how can he tell? But there's no profit in it. No benefit to either of them to get down and dirty. Still, she has a wonderful neck and broad beautiful shoulders and a regal demeanour that charms him. The urge to slide a hand from her ankle along the inside length of tanned legs is hard to quell.

This is one dip he's reluctant to take, and his response is lazy as the air is heavy. He doesn't want to unhinge her from his grasp but she's giving him that 'it's time' look and he knows he must. 


"Yes. I suppose so...in a minute.” His hand does slide along her inner thigh and she smiles as she becomes lost in the sensation, finally.
***
She's ready, wearing nothing more than a sarong. He's waist-wrapped with a beach towel. Their discretion before the skinny dip maintained only as an attempt at faux modesty. They've seen each other naked in the past during their brief travels. They'd shared beds and bathrooms but this time she was sweeter, slimmer, tanned and looked sexy, apart from the sallowness around her eyes. Yes, she is beautiful.

"C'mon . . " she urges, and takes his hand, "Don't be shy. You promised..."

They venture beyond the pool gate and he dives in with a quiet splash. The warm water streams across his skin and the freedom of an unclothed and well-toned body feels liberating. As he emerges and shakes his hair, water beads on his boyish and hairless torso. He is lovely, youthful, even when wringing wet. She's already divested the sarong and is descending the shallow-end steps.  He submerges again and swims between her legs brushing her thighs and more with wet tresses before coming up and around her. His front to her back as arms finally embrace, and hands clasp gently across her breasts, then slide from dry to wet as they glide into the water, across her belly and down between her thighs.  He kisses her neck as she turns, and her mouth presses against his.  He sits on the bottom step, chest deep in the dappled dark water and she straddles him slowly.  It is heaven. Exactly as she'd planned it. For him, a bittersweet surprise as the merging of liquids bring them both to orgasm. Their pleasure muffled. Little is heard, nothing is said, as water laps at the skimmer box. Now lovers, they hold position for what seems like hours, until she breaks away. They swim silently together. Beyond where her feet can touch the bottom and she smiles.

"I've always loved you," she whispers as he takes her in his arms.

His feet still firmly planted on pebblecrete.  Tears are barely discernible against a glistening face but he is crying. He places firm hands upon her shoulders. He kisses her, slow and long. He doesn't want to let her go. He feels her body relinquish and give in to the pressure as she sinks without struggle.
***
Peter Farmer can't sleep. The sheets around him are damp with sweat and his erection's making him hope that his neighbour's taking a midnight dip. He hears the lapping of the flap on the skimmer box and stands aside the curtains, peering lasciviously through the window and down to the pool of the house next door. Hand wrapped and applying pressure where it pleases him most.

He's often watched her swim at night.  Watched her drop the sarong on the steps and seen the line of her shoulders, the arch of her back and the curve of her buttocks. She's curvy, shapely. The face isn't much but she's got a body he'd like to penetrate, and often. Pity she'd fallen out with him after his wife left.

He's watched her since he moved into Culvert Close. A quiet cul de sac with their houses adjacent at the end of the street.  He watched her get out of her car and ogled her legs as she reached for the garage door. He watched her hang washing on the line in the flimsiest of covers. He'd even become brave on a couple of occasions and ventured into her yard before she got that yap trap of a dog. Watched her bathe, watched her cook...she was titillating, exciting and roused something in him that riled him up, an anger and a passion. Anger that she'd never fancy a man like him. Passion as he obsessed about being with her.

She was a friendly neighbour once and brought him a 'welcome basket'. They'd shared cofee and chat. He'd only tried to be nice when he attempted to kiss her. Well perhaps his hands were where they shouldn't be and he'd rushed in a little too quick. But it had pissed her off and she'd told him in no uncertain terms that she wasn't interested, when the palm of her hand connected and stung the side of his face. Still, he'd like to fuck her.

She doesn't seem to know that he can see her from the second bedroom. See her body glide through the black liquid.  He sees it, lusts after it as the beads of water cascade over her shoulders and straighten normally wavy hair - as she breast-strokes silently from one end of the pool to the other. He sees it all and imagines her a mermaid in the dark. Usually singing just for him.

But tonight, he's getting an eyeful and it's more than he bargained for.  Just as he's about to jack off watching the lovers perform on the steps, his erection softens. He watches her sink into oblivion. The menacing hands of someone he's seen with her on rare occasions, are holding her down.  A violent act or erotic play?  He's getting stiff again and repairs to the bathroom to finish what he started.

***
"You have to be kidding!" Ian's question is rhetorical and he's hoping that he didn't hear it through the sobs.

"I'm not...I'm deadly serious." Nicky replies, "I can't stand it any more. I can't stand the pain, the ostracism, not having you here to help me deal with it. You're my best friend. I need you."

He takes his responsibility as her friend very seriously but this is an impossible ask, and he's vacillating between hanging up, exploding in anger, or just biting the bullet and booking a ticket to go see her.

"Well top yourself then! I don't care!" his voice is mean and he's about to hit the kill switch.

"Don't you hang up on me!" The sobs have subsided and she's now pleading through puffy eyes.

Eyes that were so beautiful, so brown, now reddened and sad. He doesn't have the heart to hang up and his sudden twang of compassion is tearing at his very fibre.  He's not normally persuaded by emotion.

"Nicky, you're 35 years old. You can't just give up. There are medications, pain relief, sometimes miracles happen. You're still fit. Perhaps it'll never take hold." He's lying to her for the first time.

She would never ask him to do this if it wasn't real. He's feeling pain in his own chest now but it's not a disease causing it.

"Don't do anything, I'll be on the next flight." He doesn't hear the 'thank you darling' before he hangs up and begins to heave.

They talk about it. Wildly, madly, then softly and sadly. Over three weeks of constant discussion.

"I know someone who drowned." Her tone matter-of-fact, "someone who was brought to the surface and resuscitated...he told me it hurt for a few minutes then...the pain goes away.  Ian, I'm in pain. All the time. How much worse can it get? I trust you. Help me. Will you do it?"

Of course he would. He's rarely been able to say no. His own life was falling to shit anyway. He'd never told her how he felt about her. He'd never become the man he wanted to be. He'd never achieved the things he wanted to achieve. Life had lost its purpose, its meaning. If he got away with it, he'd disappear. She'd given him money. He knew places he could go. If he didn't. Tough shit. Not much to live for without her anyway.

They didn't plan when. Just how and why.

***
He releases his gentle touch from her shoulders as she rises, smiling. The water sheering gently from her hair and face. Her mouth still tasting of his salt she kisses him again on the mouth. 

"God why didn't we do this years ago?" She asks.

He has no idea because it's perfect. 


"C'mon." He trails her tenderly by the hand into the shallows and exits the pool via the steps. He loves the look of her as she ascends looking more like a Bond babe than a dying lover. He holds up her sarong and wraps it tenderly around her, kisses her cheek and whispers. 

"Now you've got something to live for yeh?" 

Nicola nods and smiles. "Don't leave me."

"I'll be back in a couple of months," he promises and her heart soars.


The night is spent in his sweet embrace. She feels a little better as she drops him at the terminal. She kisses him goodbye without moving from the driver's seat. She's not up for seeing him off and drives away as soon as he slams the trunk. He waves and smiles and she catches what she hopes is not the last glimpse of him in her rear view mirror.  He disappears through the sliding doors.


***
Nicola once again wears the sarong out to the pool and slips silently into its cool embrace. Closes her eyes, hands on her own body this time re-living the events of last night. She swims, head above water, body buoyant and remembers his touch. She rolls on her back and stares at the Milky Way, one constellation they can both see at night.  The water's embrace reminds her of his. She's lost in the moment until a rough hand clasps tight around her mouth. Another firmly around her waist, immobilising her while the water tries to rush in through her nostrils.  She's swirled like a maelstrom to face her attacker. Eyes wide she recognises the face of the man she once slapped. She struggles to breathe and kicks the body forcing itself into her.  As he infiltrates, the water seeps in through his fingers. She can't breath. Drowning is not gentle. His fist comes down hard on the side of her head. Pain releases and she sinks.

***
The Church's "Under the Milky Way Tonight" plays softly in the background. A condemned man's request.  He's strapped to a gurney in a small chamber although the restraints are unnecessary. A large glass window to his left, and glossy green painted walls on three sides with the exception of one where there's a small locked door.  He's already been prepped with an intravenous line in each arm and can barely feel the saline solution coursing through his veins. He's quiet.  Resigned.

Prison Officer Markus Schwartz is the short-straw man who's been charged with the execution.  He whispers to the Chaplain, standing beside him, along with  a couple of other guards and a waiting physician.

"I've never seen anyone so calm. Usually we have to restrain them or sedate them just to get them in here."

The Chaplain raises his eyebrows with a supercilious expression.  It's the first time he's witnessed such a thing and has no idea what to expect, but Ian's laconic smile does come as a surprise.

"No remorse in that one...." he chirps, Bible in hand.

The smugness in the Chaplain's voice a testament to his conviction that this man is a cold blooded killer about to be redeemed. There's little more 'cleansing' than death and forgiveness of the Divine. The apparent irony in the willingness to break a holy commandment doesn't faze him, not at all.

Ian Carter, the man on the gurney with a soporific smile, had not confessed. Nor had he denied. He'd remained silent after his arrest. An eyewitness account and a voracious prosecutor winning over 12 men and women true, in a State with little tolerance for sexual predators who murder.

The same eye witness who's now peering through the chamber glass with a self-satisfied smirk.  The same eye witness just aching to see an innocent man die. The one clever enough to leave his 'seed' dying in the chlorine instead of inside his victim. The one who'd reported the floating body of his next door neighbour. The one who'd punished her infidelity to him, and incriminated the love of her life.

The bitch deserved everything for rejecting his advances. And this bastard? Well he's getting his right now. He just wishes that Carter was distressed. Its annoying watching the serenity on the face of a man about to die. Half the fun is the 'look'. The way they plead and scream in the face of their own demise. His wife had it, a plethora of undiscovered young victims had it, Nicola had it. He desperately wants Carter to have it.

Schwartz presses another button as the green vial empties and a small river of sodium thiopental  syrups its way through the line. 

Ian swears he feels the brush of her lips against his, and the warmth of her hands on his chest. He smells the sweet Jasmine so reminiscent of that heady summer night and lolls into a catatonic state. He can see her standing there. Naked and smiling. Water glistening on her golden skin. She's beckoning him to swim. She's almost with him, and finally the tyranny of distance is usurped.

Posted for The Tenth Daughter of Memory "Harmony of Liquid, Melody of Light"


Monday, October 17, 2011

Sails After Sunset


White sails beyond sunset turn to pink. The harmony of light upon her face and melody within, lapped lovingly by liquid dark as ink. I love this city.

 
 Sydney Opera House during the Vivid Festival - July 2011

Posted for The Tenth Daughter of Memory "The Harmony of Liquid, Melody of Light"

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Remembering Renders Hope


A footfall, a slight propulsion forward, she leans into it allowing him to lead her. Or was the hand of hope, flat palmed and pulling her gently but forcefully into taking that first step towards him. She walks, reluctantly until his hand takes hers and his arms enfold her.

It was wonderful, brief, magical - a moment shared, parallel paths twisting into a double helix. Fingers locked, lips engaged, bodies entwined, skin against skin sweat on sweat, the erotic exchange of fluids and the fragrance of the sea . . salty, sticky, sweet, intimate, tactile - he tasted amazing.

A heart retains what a mind tries impossibly to throw asunder. Subliminal is the memory like a dream. Was it even real? A brain remembers it reluctantly and a swollen cerebellum inflates it with undue importance. A clitoris remembers it, still pink and flush and waits, wanting the next wave of reverberating pleasure. Hands remember it, soft and probing, smoothing and exploring. Seduction's sweet tentacles in her hair as she took his salt inside her mouth. Tongues remember it. Moist and dancing in unison with the undulating rhythm of their hips.

A stomach in knots, eyes flooded with tears, a chest tight with sobs remembers every single detail and laments the loss.  Remembering is wonderful, forgetting impossible, but with time, will and resignation . . she pushes it back to where it belongs. Experience, history, the past and moves forward, she just needs a little shove.  "You'll live" he said - she feels like dying.

Lifts leaden feet to lighten a heavy heart. Make a move. Stop standing still, locked in a moment vaporised by separation.  But what a moment.  Forgetting will set her free. Remembering renders hope.

A footfall, a slight propulsion forward. She leans into it allowing the momentum to pull her or is it the tender force of his palm on her back pushing her away. She walks from him reluctantly, faux light and freedom on her face, sad liberation in her heart.

"I'll live" ....she whispers. so quietly he doesn't hear, "I will always love. Just time to let go."

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Papillon Concret (Part 6)


They've been stationary for 15 minutes and the claustrophobic conditions are making them sweat. Harrison and Schuster beneath the secret compartment under the gurney. Dryden and Wilson head to toe beneath the medical chest, fit tightly like a pair of stilettos in a shoe box. One grimacing as cramp takes hold of his calf and the wound between his forefinger and thumb begins to bleed. Bringelly is feigning fever and being tended on the gurney by a woman in a nurse's uniform, his face covered with a surgical mask. The ambulance doors open with a crack and she turns to face an inspecting Checkpoint Guard.
 
"Please, I think this man has diphtheria. It's highly contagious," she warns the young soldier.

He takes a step back and covers his mouth with his hand.



"Madam Lenze?" His face clearly a blend of surprise and delight.

She's about to be recognised for the second time in as many days, "Who wants to know?"

"It's me, Wolfe. Remember me from Paris?"



"Ah the Velodrome, yes, yes I do."

She sees the benefit in recognition, hoping to charm the young man into leaving them be, and rises from her position near the gurney, disembarking from the vehicle. 

"You're a long way from Paris?" She brushes the shoulder and lapels of his jacket with her hands. "Is there a problem? I need to get this fellow to the hospital in Bayonne they have a diphtheria unit there. We have no such thing in Bordeaux."



While they engage in polite conversation she watches warily as another uniform rounds the back end of the ambulance and begins prodding and poking it's interior.

"What's in here?" barks the inspector and taps the wooden seat with his Gewehr 41.  

Wolfe looks past her shoulder at the shivering man lying on the gurney. The sweat emanating from the man genuine. The fear he feels emulating fever and making him tremble.  The inspecting soldier unaware of a slowly drawn weapon beneath the grey wool blanket. This time Bringelly means business. The others hear the tap on their secret hiding place and the muffled conversation. Cramped as they are, their handguns are at the ready.



"Just blankets, an oxygen tank, medical equipment," she retorts.



"Open it!"

 He bellows, "Quickly!"

She looks sideways at Wolfe, "Is that really necessary. We have a long trip ahead, this man is very ill." 


Wolfe flicks his head at the other soldier, "Sir, I know this woman. She's a friendly."

Wolfe wants to wave her on across the checkpoint  but the other is his senior and paying him no attention. "I think you'd better open it," he pleads. "Once done, you can go through."



Her eyes now wide, she's terrified she's giving something away as she sees Bringelly's arm move beneath the cover. Her normally cool expression evapourated.

Unwilling to wait, the offending soldier smashes the lock with the butt of his rifle and it springs open.  In an instant an arm rises from the gurney and a bullet connects with the back of the Nazi's neck, covering the two prone men in the box with blood spatter as they spring to life.  Three others alerted by the fracas run to the back of the ambulance to be met with fire before they can engage their weapons. Bringelly's on his feet. Harrison and Dryden have freed themselves as the patientless gurney darts from the back of the vehicle and bounces empty and careless along the sloping road.
 Wolfe now has a firm hold on the woman he once admired, and a gun to her temple as the slaughter concludes.

Distracted by the fleeing gurney, he hasn't noticed the man behind him. He hears a hammer cock as Harrison's hand gun presses into the nape of his neck.  The moment is ludicrous. Everything stops. Four blood spattered allies staring from the back of an ambulance. Four dead Germans and a Mexican standoff between two men - a terrified woman in between.

"Drop the gun!" Harrison commands.  The German retains his posture, gun firmly planted against Monique's temple.

"Leave the woman!" Wolfe retorts, as she hears the click of a pistol.

"Leave!" she yells. "I'll be fine, Harrison just go!"



He knows it's their only chance. It'll be only moments before the watchtower behind the checkpoint realises what's happened and summons help. Already he can hear the slow pulse of motorbikes. The ambulance lurches forward, wheels spinning in the gravel.


"Go Harrison, get out of here!" she screams, Wolfe's barrel still in place.
 

Harrison's hesitation halts and he runs taking hold of the swinging rear doors of a speeding ambulance as they race through the checkpoint barrier, splintering the boom and disappearing into the distance.

The young soldier lowers his weapon. "I'm sorry," he says, shamefacedly, "they won't make the mountains. You should be grateful. I saved your life."

He's confused and has no intention of turning her in, but the motor bikes are upon them. He's the sole survivor yet again surrounded by dead comrades and a single captive. He has a lot of explaining to do.

***


He had wondered about her and their brief encounter in a limestone tunnel. Her bravery in staying behind. What had become of her? He'd written to thank her once he returned and one of the nurses at the Chateau was kind enough to reply. The young soldier had been court martialled for aiding and abetting their escape. The last she'd heard, he'd been re posted to the Russian Front. Monique was arrested and sent to Ravensbrück  for two years. Her friend wasn't sure whether she survived. Even Lenze's wealth hadn't been able to prevent her incarceration and he'd died shortly after her arrest, a broken man.

In front of the stone, Harrison contemplates his past and thumbs a tiny shard of white paper. He could write a book about their connection with shady protectors, the trains they cowered in from Bayonne to the border. The unknown faces with no names that secreted them into Spain.  The anxious moments when they thought the jig was up. The horrendous walk along the Comete line to San Sebastion. He could write volumes about those who assisted and fed them on their journey, how Wilson's wound became infected and they'd buried him beneath a pyre of Pyrenean granite.  He could write a book about her and what might have been.

Then a message of all things. Via his Grandson on Facebook, a child that bore his name received a prompt from one of her family members looking for a friend from long ago. A woman named Lalchere, tracing the ancestry of a grandmother she barely knew.  A need to make a connection.

She was writing her Grandmother's story and wanted to piece together the puzzle. A random message turned into contact and long discourses via Skype between a French Woman and an old radio operator. Harrison discovered that Monique had survived six months in the camp before liberation and returned to France. She lived out her years on the very point where six young men had plumetted so long ago. Raising the progeny of a clandestine and hurried moment in a limestone cave. She'd died peacefully sitting in a deck chair watching the breakers and gazing westward, the sun on her bare arms and face.

Harrison tenderly fingers the worn piece of paper, kisses the address and smiles. He lets the breeze whisk the shard into the ether and touches the stone butterfly on her headstone one last time.  

"Merci boucoup, mon Papillon. Merci. Now you wear wings of another kind."

Papillon Concret (Part 5)


"Madam Lenze?" 

He's not alone and he is imposing as he forces his way into her office. Behind him six helmeted men, fully armed fall neatly into line. She can barely see his face beneath the Gestapo cap.
 
"Yes," she replies. Her heart is racing but her head is cool. "Please, take a seat.” She gesticulates to the large chair in front of her meagre desk. He introduces himself as Ulrecht Kruger.

"Madame? Do you recognise me?" He asks, and removes his hat to reveal piercing blue eyes and good Aryan looks but a mean snarl. This is a man who enjoys his work.

She looks intently cocking her head from side to side pretending not to remember the day that changed her life.

"I don't think so Monsieur, should I?"

He was a little disappointed but reminded her of the Velodrome. "I was the officer who moved you on from the Velodrome. I am acquainted with your husband?"


She might have been more willing to confess if it wasn't for the snarl on his lips and the company of six soldiers, armed to the teeth and hell bent on finding something, anything. She feigns ignorance and said she'd never been to the Velodrome, he must be mistaken. He knew he was not. In fact he knew more about her than she realised. His unit had been alerted that she was working with the Resistance.  The Gestapo aware of a thorn in their side as her activity was monitored, but they'd never been able to prove her involvement. They'd code named her Schmetterling. The irony, had she known, would not escape her since her resistance friends already referred to her as  Concrete Butterfly.

"We have been made aware of radio transmissions emanating from this property. Transmissions notifying of strategic posts. Whilst this will  not prevent us from becoming victorious, it is an annoyance we can do without. Have you any idea who might be responsible?"

He's trying to remain official but is mesmerised by her calm, her curves and wants to release the brown waves from their pinned up prison. He misses his wife.


"We have a radio here," she admits. "It's how I keep in touch with the air base. They radio through when they're sending wounded for rehabilitation."


He removes his greatcoat and sits on the chair in front of her desk. "Madame, the transmissions are not from within these walls, but from the vineyards." He's perplexed because no buildings exist between the vines yet Morse code is punctuating the airwaves.

"I can't explain that," she calmly responds. Hoping to hell that he isn't aware of the cellars.  "There is I believe a resistance movement active here but I have no time for that. I'm kept busy returning your men to their posts, as you can see."
 She points through the open door into a light-filled sitting room lined with bandaged men playing cards, drinking coffee, each wishing he's never deemed fit enough to fight again.

He turns unmoved and waves off the six storm-troopers behind him. They cock their weapons and scatter noisily as they begin to search the building.


"Surely you don't expect to find anything, here of all places?" she asks, "There are only German repatriation patients in the Chateau. You think anyone other than a German would care to be seen here? I might be a woman," she smooths her apron and nonchalantly flicks imaginary specs from it's surface, "but Lieutenant, I am not stupid."


Below the floorboards they can hear the resonance of boots. Not the delicate footsteps of staff or the shuffling of the injured. Running feet and slamming doors make them wince as a huddle of five men slide further down the limestone tunnel, extinguishing the small flame that provides them with an inkling of light.

"Shit! Gestapo," Harrison whispers. "There can't be many of them." He's attuned to the running and slamming and trying to work out whether they can be overwhelmed. This isn't the first cramped space they've found themselves in, but he's resolved, it won't be there last.

They lean tight against the limestone walls, weapons drawn and a drizzle of perspiration oozing from their temples.  They're so close to leaving.  Everything's prepared. To be discovered now. . . 



Directly above, a bayonet taps the wooden floor. All six men elevate their hands flat against the boards to remove the hollowness of any sound that might betray a cavern beneath. The bayonet pierces between two floorboards and slices the gap between Wilson's thumb and forefinger. Bringelly is rapid in muffling the man's anguish and places a youthful hand tightly across his mouth. Satisfied that there is nobody beneath the boards, the boots retreat.
 It seems like hours before she opens the hatch door and brings them food.

"That was a close call boys." She smiles as they take the calico bag of baguettes and ham. "They'll be back. They're suspicious about the radio transmissions," she cautions.


While the others devour their meal, she pulls Harrison into an alcove. They've been there too long and she needs to see them on their way. It won't be long before more of them return and commit to a more thorough search. She needs to empty the tunnels and lay low for a while.  

"Have you managed to make contact?"
 she asks.

Harrison nods. "There'll be a truck waiting in San Sebastian if we can get over the mountains by next Friday."


"That's only six days . . you must leave. Tomorrow."
 The urgency in her voice bittersweet.


He doesn't want to hear any more and kisses her hard to prevent speech. She surprises herself and allows it, responds to it. Permits his hands to massage the inside of her thighs as she's taken by a strange excitement knowing his crew are just around the corner. Risk as an aphrodisiac? This is a new turn as he slides into her. He holds the kiss to muffle her moans and for a short, passionate moment the two become one. Before disengaging he gives her a look. Appreciative, frightened, longing and it makes her sigh.  She brushes down her uniform and buttons her shirt, smooths her now dishevelled hair back into its austere position while he buttons his trousers and proffers her a wink.

"Tomorrow then," he turns blowing her a kiss and she ascends the flimsy staircase exiting through the concealed door in the floor. He doesn't see her tears.

Papillon Concret (Part 4)


Wolf Greave is a reluctant soldier. He'd barely completed school before he was conscripted, but he's perceptive, intelligent and sensitive. He'd found his latter school days flawed as he was encouraged to regard those of colour and alternate race, imperfect. Those not of the Party, traitorous. Those not eager to enter the fray, cowards. He didn't understand when his Aunt's Jewish husband mysteriously disappeared. Eugen Rosenweig just ceased to be and was never spoken of again. Wolfe was too young to care, too indoctrinated to know. 

He'd joined the Jungvolk under duress and to avoid being singled out.  Entry into the Hitler Youth was automatic and never questioned. He'd benefited greatly from the fitness regime and is lithe and strong.  His intimidating good looks making him a poster boy for conscripts. Angular jaw, white blond hair and eyes of blue. At just 16 he was drafted and found himself marching into Paris during the occupation.
 
He'd been stationed at the Hotel Majestic headquarters in Paris, when conscripted to form a human chain around the Velodrome by French police. Those who wore the yellow star were trucked in as early 4am and didn't cease for four days in July. The midday sun began to sear and the stench was unbearable.  He remembers the constriction of his uniform and sweat trickling down his collar when a young woman with a crooked and seductive smile left the scent of Chanel in the air and the touch of passion in his heart. It was a moment. Brief but not forgotten.

***

He's just a boy on patrol in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Sent into Bordeaux, into the fray from the relative safety of Paris for letting a woman come too close. Letting her see, Jews being herded before transportation. The memory of that smile and her brief touch fading as quickly as the comfort he'd felt being part of the victorious occupation.

"Wolfe!" he's brought out of his daydream as he's poked in the back with a rifle. "Where are the others." Another German scouting party assembles at his side.

"We became separated," he lies. "I heard a shot but couldn't find them."

The small patrol spreads through the trees, calling the names of seven dead men.



***

Barber's coughing up blood and slowing the posse down. The liquid and gurgling wheeze a dead giveaway that he's punctured a lung and with every step the offending rib is shortening his life.
 
"He needs to rest," Harrison pleads with Pierre.

The day has reached its full zenith and the heat has been unbearable, only slight relief provided by the now setting sun.  The Frenchmen reluctantly agree. Walking in the forest at night provides cover but it's difficult to navigate and they dare not use light or fire. They slip from the relative security of the forest into farmland. Careful to slink along the hedgerows, they need water and food.  Barber needs medical attention but the Chateau is a day away. Harrison and Claude-Luc provide eyes as Pierre approaches a farmhouse. They're friendlies but better to be safe and ensure they haven't had 'visitors.' A wave from Pierre after what seems like an eternity of waiting in the open, and the band moves forward. Bent at the waist, Barber's grimacing with pain and holding back any sound. He's bleeding from the mouth.

Once inside, they're welcomed. Lights out with the exception of a candle burning away from the window. The elderly couple have fear in their eyes but sympathy for the travelers.

"They can't stay," whispers the old man to Pierre, "We've had three patrols knock on our door over the past week and this morning. Something about a plane shot down in the estuary and some dead men in the forest. They left us alone but they're persistent."

Pierre nods agreement, "That's fine Jean, we just need somewhere to rest. We'll be gone by daybreak." He nods towards a collapsing Barber, "He needs his ribs binding and we have no supplies. We weren't prepared for these guys, just found them. They want to go to Loegnan. There's a safe house there. Someone who can get them out."

Jean knows the house. He's ferried a number of allies and locals into the protection of the Chateau tunnels and has met Mdme Papillon Concret. The city woman with country manners and the tenacity to hoard escapees beneath recovering Nazis. "She's a brave woman," he acknowledges.

They're given cold duck sandwiches and canteens filled alternately with water and red wine. They share the night with cows in a dry barn and sleep a fitful sleep. When they wake. Barber is cold and lying in a pool of his own making.

"Leave him to me," urges Jean as they re-pack their bags and shoulder their supplies. "Go, hurry along, it's a perilous day for you my friends."

The Frenchmen kiss as Frenchmen do, and exchange hearty thumps on the back before hastening to the treeline. Behind them an old man puts a bullet into a dead man head and chest. That ought to satisfy the Germans that they're on the same side. Just as well, firearm still in hand, he turns as he hears encroaching motor of a Zundapp K750 and the familiar face of a former visitor riding in its sidecar.

***

Monique has entrenched herself in co-operation with the invaders. The Chateau now converted into a recovery unit, she's assisted by three other nurses, all part of the Resistance and hiding their disdain for their charges behind white aprons and consolatory smiles. The men are tended, fed, cared for and sent back as fodder for a seemingly never ending war. The close proximity of the Chateau to the airfield making it a convenient location for their purpose but a hive of activity that often she can do without.

Still, within the tunnels of the Chateau she harbours resistance fighters, a radio room, airmen waiting to be liberated, waifs and strays with nowhere else to go. It's risky business but her instinct had been right. People see what they want to see and with hands as deft as any magician, she's managed to pull it off.  


One of the main tunnels emerges across the vineyards and a manhole near a thicket provides cover for entry and clandestine radio transmissions. Being essentially a hospital, she can use ambulance or hearse to transport through border lines, secreting her charges in hidden compartments. For some, the ones who speak French, she simply secures new papers and they move from house to house until they reach their destination.

With the help of Renault, she's been introduced to officials of the town halls of St Pol and Auxi and arranges for a ready supply of false identification and food coupons. Monique now fully embedded in the resistance of la Tern, is a valuable resource. All the time nursing Nazis above and secreted allies below. She wasn't expecting the visit.

Papillon Concret (Part 3)


Only months ago he was a radio engineer in the safety of America's heartland.  Joe Harrison wanted more, needed to see action.  When a lunch hour announcement is broadcast over the Camp Crowder loudspeaker, his ears pricked.



"Attention. Qualified radio operators interested in volunteering for immediate overseas assignment, report to ... "


He's already out of his chair, beans and bacon left uneaten. Despite the requirements for a European language, a willingness to qualify as a parachutist and the likelihood of a dangerous assignment - he volunteers. Within weeks, Joe finds himself on the Queen Mary headed for the Firth, then a train to Henley and eventually thundering across the channel on a B-17CS Flying Fortress, fully loaded and ready to bomb the shit out of Brest.

Six Parachutes open in the dark and six petrified men fall like flotsam onto the white sands of Surlac Sur Mer. Their joints jarred and packs heavy. Each gathers their belongings as Harrison checks the radio strapped tightly to his back. It is intact.  The plane that brought them however, is not. As his eyes lift to the starlit horizon he can see its shell, floating like a broken bird and leaving a trail of obvious smoke. He's overwhelmed by a feeling of desertion and defeat as the flac continues to blight the night sky. Everything's halted even before it begins. Had he time, he'd take a moment for his pilot and engineer but they're now feeling no pain and he has five men to keep safe.

Dawn is breaking and the noise of flac subsided. It's quiet. Too quiet save the relaxing rumble of the breakers. The beach is beautiful.  A long white stretch of sand with rolling surf, edged by pine trees and punctuated with well-trodden forest walks. Once the precinct for trufflers, wild boar and woodsmen, it's now deserted and deathly quiet. Not even birdsong to pierce the deafening silence. God knows where they are, these bruised companions and a radio. But they're not alone, there are voices emanating from the pine trees and they're not speaking English nor are they French.


He gesticulates to the others to lie prone as they commando crawl to where the sand meets the forest. They're ill-equipped for fighting. Two of them having been issued Enfields, the rest outdated Webleys but each has a knife. They crouch in silence save the beating of their hearts.  Harrison peers above the tidal culvert and sees a posse of uniforms.

The Germans look exhausted and are taking a brief respite around a small pine cone fire. Their jackets unbuttoned, heads divested of helmets and weapons at rest against the trunk of a tree. The glances between the RAF men silent but understood. Brest may not have come to fruition but they're here to fight and now's their chance. Wilson, Dryden and Schuster crawl to the right. Harrison and Barber to the left. The sixth, Dominic Bringelly is left to provide cover from the protection of the culvert. At 17 years of age, it's a tall order for the youngster but they're operating on wits and there's no time for fear.

Each man takes a man. It's furious and bloody as dappled light bounces from glinting blades. Four men slice swiftly into each unprotected throat.  A grizzly struggle ensues between Barber and two large protagonists. His knife hurled over his head, Barber is restrained and brutally beaten before comrades come to the rescue and dispatch his burly handlers. Dominic can't fire, the melee's too confusing and his weapon unreliable. He's about to fire into the seething mess before realising there's no need. Seven Germans are dead. Barber is badly wounded and being tended by the others.

"Fuck where's the eighth," the kid thinks to himself. Cowering just feet in front of Dom, a Nazi boy on his belly. The two men's eyes meet. The German trembling as he stares terrified into the barrel of Dom's Enfield. He's the same age. Fresh, young and frightened. Bringelly's hands are shaking and the shooter clearly incapable of making his mark even at this close range. 


"Don't kill me!" the German pleads, his voice soft and barely broken. "Please, don't kill me. I can help. I know people who can help."


Dominic pulls back the trigger but the shakes are incorrigible and won't desist. The German unbuttons his top pocket and Dominic fires. The incendiary barely skimming the soldier's shoulder pings a small patch of the course fabric of his uniform into the air. The quivering Nazi begins to cry and quickly offers the paper.



"Here, take it. A safe house." 

Dom has no idea what the kid's saying but snatches the note.

"Don't kill me. I won't talk,"
 the boy pleads.

In a moment of madness, Dom waves him away. There's been enough killing for one day. The semi-uniformed soldier runs for his life and disappears into the trees.



"Bringelly what the fuck are you doing?" Harrison's furious. "He's a fucking Nazi and you let him go?" He's tempted to pistol whip the boy for his idiocy but they're a team. They need each other and Dom's waving the paper so close to Harrison's face he can feel the breeze it creates.
"Jesus Dom. You're such a cherry." He snatches the paper. Nothing on it but an address. Mdme Lenze, Domaine de Chevalier,  chemin Mignoy, 33850 Loegnan."


The feet are not those of soldiers. The men are not in uniform but carry weapons. They're cautious and raise their guns as they detect prone bodies attempting to hide.
"Bonjour RAF!" shouts one. "You from that plane shot down last night?"



The English is broken but clearly the accent of a Frenchman. Harrison is the first to rise bearing his sidearm in his right hand, held benign between palm and thumb. Defying the dictum 'death before capture', he's hopeful this encounter will be friendly. They're exposed, unsupported and need shelter before he can activate his radio and ask for assistance.

The second man is inspecting the corpses splayed in grotesque forms around a fading fire.



"You did this Monsieurs? A small victory for us I think and you helped preserve our ammunition." He chuckles in the direction of the corpses and kicks one of the bodies with a muddied boot. "Merde . . .Cochon Nazi!" he curses, then spits.


What have you there my friend," inquires one of the Frenchmen.


"An address. Supposedly a safe house, could be a trap. It was given to us by a German." 

Harrison hands over the flimsy parchment.

The Frenchman lights a cigarette and lets it hang precariously from his bottom lip as he reads the note, "Ah la Papillon Concret. Yes this is a safe place but not without it's problems. You want to go there?"


Six men eye each other and the two Frenchmen. It's not like they have a choice. They're grounded, exposed and need somewhere to radio for help, just to let someone know they're alive. Reluctant nods agree to be guided by the two Resistance fighters.

"Keep your weapons, you might need them," smiles their new saviour, "My name is Pierre-Louis Cazabon. You can call me Caz. My friend over there is Claude Luc. We can take you there but it's a long walk." He hurls a half filled canteen of water and Harrison clasps it to his chest. Harrison feels calmer. Not being asked to divest themselves of protection gives him confidence that they are among friends, or at the very least allies.

"We'll follow the estuary." the Frenchman instructs. There's fresh water on the way you can fill it there. Luc! Grab the Krouts' weapons, they won't be needing them in Hell."

Claude Luc picks up the guns leaning against the pine and hurls one at each allied soldier before strapping as much ammunition as he can across his chest

"These are your girlfriends now English. Treat them nice!" He raises a belt of ammunition to lips and licks them lasciviously. "See?"

Harrison nods appreciation. 
Pierre leads the way with Claude-Luc bringing up the rear and pushing a now supported and rib-sore Barber to keep up. "We need to hurry Monsieurs. These woods are crawling with Krauts."


Barber's putting on a brave face but he can taste the iron in his mouth, the blood clotting in his throat feel the tightness in his chest that constricts every breath. There are more than his ribs at stake here and he's feeling weaker by the minute.



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.



Papillon Concret (Part 1)

Too old to walk this path once again, he's accompanied by his grandson as he stands before a modest stone in the Alpine cemetery in Thones, Haute Savoie. Engraved at its centre is a thing of beauty in the last stages of its life. He wishes he'd seen her once again before she metamorphosised.

Memories come flooding back and he catches his breath in reminiscence of an old ambulance crowded, not with casualties but five men, hidden, remaining silent.  The driver speaking in muffled tones to the checkpoint guards.  They've been stationary for 15 minutes and the claustrophobic conditions are making them sweat. The odour of desperation almost overpowering the sweet scent of freedom.  Two men, lying so close to each other beneath the secret compartment under the gurney that they can feel each other's heartbeats. Another two, head-to-toe beneath the medical chest fit tightly like a pair of stilettos in a shoe box. One grimacing as cramp takes hold of his calf and the wound between his forefinger and thumb begins to bleed. He's unable to relieve the knotted muscle pain and suffers silently for fear of being discovered. A fifth, feigning fever is tended on the gurney by a woman in a nurse's uniform. If they make it, this will be the last barrier to escape. But for now, five are perilously close to capture and subsequent execution. Their saviour? A petite woman, naturally beautiful, athletic, irreverent - the delicacy of a butterfly and strength of a street-fighter. 
 ***
"There's a reception on Friday," his secretary sits, arms neatly folded on the small chair opposite his desk.  A  crisp white blouse collar raised slightly at the back, and one front button too many undone. She thinks this gives her an air of sophistication and a Sophia Lauren seductiveness, when in fact it makes her look a little frigid and taut. He's not paying any attention anyway, distracted by the loss of something seemingly important. He's flicking through his papers, eyes darting sideways and under the desk. He bends beneath it still seated, and rifles through the waste paper basket beneath ignoring and unmoved at the glimpse of shapely crossed legs in a slightly-too-short skirt and delves into the waste paper.

"Ah got 'em" He rises above the desktop with a victorious grin, "Glasses!" and waves the gold rimmed eyepiece victoriously, "Thought I'd lost 'em. Now, reception you say?

"Yes sir. To welcome the new Ambassador and his family? Friday night at the Ritz, black tie. Shall I RSVP on your behalf?"

Lenze Martilli strokes his chin. Again distracted as fingers test the stubble that's accumulated by the end of the day. He's a tall man, even sitting in his leather chair he's imposing and fits his senior Directorship at Martilli and Lowe. He's run the company for 8 years now and seen it grow from strength to strength. He's a captain of industry, an international figure. Young for such a position and handsome, wealthy. Yet no woman seems to have captured his imagination or his heart and he remains high on the eligible bachelor list. It's time he did think about such things, and Yvette sitting in front of him is ever hopeful that she might fulfill some fantasy by becoming more than his personal assistant, but he's just not interested. She's even wondered at times whether he's a homosexual but not as much as she's wondered what it would be like to live in his beautiful home, share his beautiful life, travel as his beautiful wife. She may as well dream on. She's just not his type.

Monique Lalchere is his type although he doesn't yet know it. The only daughter of a religiously dogmatic mother and a quietly diplomatic father, she's inherited her mother's fervor and tenacity and her father's patience and political correctness without compromising the independent confidence that can be attributed to her personality alone. She's educated, strong and willful but knows when to keep her mouth shut.  Her mother's fanaticism has only pushed her away from any form of faith except that in herself. Unusual for a woman of her tender years to have such confidence.

She's elegant at 5'8, slim-waisted yet shapely.  Soft brunette waves cascade over her shoulders accentuating her already beguiling curves. A slightly diagonal smile breaks slowly upon every introduction and brown eyes so deep they tear into the soul. The bronzed colour of her complexion betrays her preference for the outdoors. She loves to swim, to hike, cycle . . anything that takes her from the privileged world of diplomacy and parties - politics and intrigue. She trained as a nurse after finishing school and although she had time for her patients, the hierarchy of women she found unbearable. She dabbled in journalism but struggled to attain the worthy stories. Women being relegated to coverage of the local fair, fashion and other banal points of interest. Now she's here, still with her family, embracing a new country on the brink of war and dressing for a reception filled with stuffed shirts and table manners. She'd rather be naked and eating with her fingers.

She's noticed immediately by Martilli despite his being surrounded by a bevy of beauties. Whether it's the stand-out emerald satin gown and its plunging neckline enhanced by pearls, or the cascading hair he doesn't know. Could even be the crooked smile. She's not the most glamorous woman here but she's the only one he sees as she's introduced and shakes hands with dignitaries, military representatives and politicians, all others in the room fade into oblivion.

"Mr Martilli,"  Ambassador Lalchere made the introductions, "This is Monique, my daughter."

Lenze took her hand and swept the back of it with a kiss, stared deeply, his blue into brown and that was it.  He'd never believed in love at first sight, she'd never believed in marriage but a whirlwind romance and six weeks later she's wearing pearls again as she walks down the aisle and marries her billionaire. She's emerged from the cocoon and she couldn't be happier.