|IN A LONELY PLACE (I’M DEBATING A NEW TITLE. ANY SUGGESTIONS WELCOME)
Paris. Late October, 1944. Two months after its Liberation from the Germans, Paris still suffers shortages of electric power, heat, gasoline, medical supplies and food. However, a thriving black market eases the pain for those who can pay. The city is also undergoing a murder wave of sorts as Frenchmen settle scores with Frenchmen who collaborated with the Nazis. Other than that, it’s still the City of Light for many American servicemen who flock to the city on leave and the staff of General W.H. Lee, the boss of logistics. Between soldiers on leave, headquarters staff, rear echelon support troops, civilians and deserters, as many as two hundred thousand Americans are in Paris at any one time that fall.
Harry Cooper and Ray Pallis are Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID) agents (given the rank of Lieutenant) charged with policing serious crimes by Americans in Paris. The Military Police handle drunks and traffic.
Chapter 1 finds the two sent to the Rue de Bievre, a small Left Bank street near the Seine, to investigate the murder of PFC William (Willie) Wimberly, a black soldier. Various theories are tossed around. The dead man smells drunk and is dressed to enjoy a night on the town. “I hope he had a good time,” Ray says to close the chapter.
In Chapter 2 Harry questions Wimberly’s friend, Henry Seabridge, about their activities on the night of the murder. The two soldiers, along with French student Emma Dorleac and her friend Joseph Epstein, an American reporter, spent the night dancing and drinking in Montmartre clubs (Pig Alley to GIs). They returned because Epstein was supposed to meet Daniel Langlois, a French student who shares the apartment with Emma, at one.
Seabridge says that Wimberly went out about that time to retrieve Emma’s handkerchief from his jeep. He heard Wimberly call out hello to someone and then a gunshot. He saw three men chasing a wounded Wimberly. When he goes out to try and stop them, the three shoot at him before killing Wimberly. While Seabridge tells his story a mini-riot breaks out as MPs canvassing the apartments beat-up a French citizen. Brunet calms the crowd. Finally, as the Rue de Bievre is quiet once more, Harry spots a man in a doorway taking notes. The man runs off when Harry approaches.
Chapter 3 finds Harry discussing Wimberly’s shooting with a medic then questioning Emma Dorleac about her roommate, Daniel Langlois. She says Langlois has a new girlfriend, a Maria Montoya, who lives in Montmartre. Inspector Brunet suggests a meal (it’s about 3 am) and they head for Les Halles but make a stop at Epstein’s hotel. They find no Epstein, but Harry meets Susan Kitchen, a St. Louis (MO) reporter who will become an important character.
Other characters in the first three chapters are Military Police (MP) Lieutenant Walker (his real first name is Robert E. Lee Walker), a bigoted southerner, who we’ll meet again, and Inspector Lewis Brunet of the French murder police, who plays a major role in the novel.
Chapter 4 tells us more about Harry, how he became a DA’s investigator, and why he’s a bit dissatisfied with his life. The chapter revolves around office fighting between Ray and his old partner, and a conference with Captain Edler, boss of the Paris CID. Edler sends Harry and Ray to Wimberly’s base.
In Chapter 5, Harry questions several black soldiers who served with Wimberly and Sergeant Forchetti, who neither Harry nor Ray likes. While he learns little of value from his questioning, Harry does obtain a document that will be of prime importance to his case, although he doesn’t know it at the time.
What he finds is that Wimberly was part of a convoy delivering six truckloads of confiscated weapons to a warehouse in Vaudherland, a town north of Paris, for the French Government. There, Sergeant Forchetti says, Wimberly met a Frenchmen he knew (Daniel Langlois) and the two chatted. Did Wimberly see something he wasn’t supposed to see? Harry wonders.
Chapter 6 is short and to the point. Captain Edler takes Harry and Ray off the case. He’s confident Inspector Brunet can solve it. We’re here to solve crimes involving American soldiers, he says. Needless to say, a good cop like Harry is pissed off. Taking a good detective off a case is like telling him he’s incompetent. As a sop, Edler assigns Harry to liaison with Brunet. To apologize for the MPs beating a French citizen, Joe Epstein will write a story for Combat about the CID’s work, which we’ll see in Chapter 8.
Harry’s first decision in Chapter 7 is to resolve to work the case in his spare time. He walks up to the Café Flore and simply by accident sees Joe Epstein. He tails Epstein to the Rue de Bievre where Epstein is meeting Emma Dorleac to go to the theater. Is Harry jealous? You better believe it. To make himself feel better, he roams the Boul Mich and gets caught up in the spirit of the crowd, especially the Za-Zous, a French version of Zoot Suiters. He goes to a Za-Zou party and home with a Za-zou girl named Juliette.
In Chapter 8 Epstein gives Harry a short course in French politics. Epstein believes Communists killed Wimberly. He’s working on a story of a possible coup by Communists against De Gaulle’s Provisional Government. Harry tells him of Wimberly meeting Langlois in Vaudherland and Epstein says it may be important; he’ll look into it. He also tells Harry Inspector Brunet is a Communist and not to be trusted. He invites Harry to dinner.
Chapter 9 finds Harry questioning Emma Dorleac at her job. He realizes he’s done a shitty job of it and realizes a kid hanging around her and escaping is the Daniel Langlois no one has been able to find. However, he does succeed in making a dinner date with her.
Chapter 10 finds Harry asking impertinent questions of Inspector Brunet.
During Chapter 11, Harry goes to Belleville for dinner with Epstein and his mistress, a Mademoiselle Sagnier. However, no one is home when he calls and he stops by the local café for a coffee to wait. Here he runs into Susan Kitchen and they chat for a while. He meets Tom Elliot, an older man who says he’s a family friend of Susan. Later, finding still no Epstein, he heads back to his hotel to change for his date.
Of course Chapter 12 is kind of mushy as Harry is very attracted to Emma Dorleac. They dine, dance, and chat about Langlois and Epstein. They neck for a while and finally end up at a Spanish Café, the Café Catalan, where they listen to Camus and Emma has a private discussion with Ramon de Toledo (a man with a wicked scar and a bad attitude toward Americans) and his friends, a Spanish couple. Does she like him, Harry wonders, or is he playing the sap, a replacement for Joe Epstein, who we know from Susan Kitchen, is returning to the front…
Chapter 13 brings bad luck for all. Harry arrives at work the next morning after his evening with Emma to find a note from Epstein telling him his theory of Wimberly’s death resulting from seeing what he wasn’t supposed to see is true. But before he can do anything else, he receives a call saying the French cops have found a dead man in Belleville’s Parc de Butte Chaumont. Meanwhile, Ray regales him with a tale of his evening, featuring a ridiculous bar brawl, a woman, and rocking a baby to sleep.
The dead man is Epstein, shot and left on a merry-go-round. Brunet blames a robbery gang operating in Belleville. Harry is not so sure. The two go to question a Ludivine Sagnier, Epstein’s mistress. She says although they spent the day together, the last time she saw Epstein, he was walking in the park with Daniel Langlois.
Since Brunet is quick to blame Langlois for the murder (a romantic squabble is his theory), Harry smells a frame up.
Chapter 14 finds Harry putting the lie to Brunet’s theory. First, the forensic evidence suggests three people murdered Epstein. And one apparently wore a navy pea coat. Harry finds further support from the café owner who saw Langlois go in the park with Epstein but leave almost immediately. And later, he saw three men (or perhaps two men and a woman) go in the park.
Chapter 15 begins with Harry trying to discover a motive for the murder. He believes it has something to do with the story that Epstein was writing about a possible coup against the provisional government by dissident Communists (for details see Chapter 8). Just as Wimberly might have seen something that he wasn’t supposed to see, Harry thinks Epstein might have also seen or discovered something he wasn’t supposed to know while he was asking questions. However, since Langlois was Epstein’s source—Epstein says Langlois is in touch with the coup plotters—does this give Langlois a motive for Epstein’s murder?
Harry wants to question one more person, Susan Kitchen, before calling it a day. She knows Epstein well (we learn in Chapter 11) and more importantly, her parents lived in France and she has lived part time in France since the 1930s.
As Chapter 16 opens Harry and Ray find Tom Elliot, the old family friend of Susan’s, knocking on her door. No answer, but Elliot has a key to Susan’s house and they find she’s been murdered and her office ransacked. Soon Elliot admits Susan was an OSS agent and so is he. They exchange information.
For his part, Harry tells Elliot what he knows about Epstein and his murder. Once Elliot discovers how much Harry knows, He admits Daniel Langlois has been reporting to Epstein about a possible coup. He passes along the possibility that Ramon Caseres (alias the Ramon de Toledo we met in Chapter 12) is the murderer. Their conversation is interrupted by the arrival of George Grimm, another OSS agent who says Langlois told him Ramon was suspicious of Epstein.
Elliot convinces Harry not to report the murder for a day while he and Grimm sanitize Susan’s office so the French cops don’t see OSS documents.
Of course, Ray is upset; he believes they might get in serious trouble. Harry soothes him. Who’s going to tell? Who else knows about her murder? Only the killer or killers. In Chapter 17 the two proceed to Emma’s where to Harry’s surprise, she is entertaining Ramon Caseres.
Harry displays his skills as he mentions casually that he has been talking to Susan Kitchen. Of course, although Ramon tries to hide his surprise, Harry is astute enough to see Ramon’s reaction, and knows he’s right; Ramon and his gang are the killers. Ramon leaves for work and Harry tells Emma about Ramon. She can’t believe it. She’s off to another engagement and acts very friendly, hoping Harry will come see her for another date. Is she for real?
Although the conversation had been in French, even Ray noted Ramon’s reaction. “That spic is trouble,” he says. Harry tells him Ramon is the killer. Now they just need proof. But Harry is most concerned about Emma Dorleac. Can he trust her? Is she more than she appears to be?
Chapter 18 finds Captain Edler threatening to pull Harry off the case. Brunet has accused Harry of asking ‘impertinent’ questions about the Wimberly case and dancing and dining with Emma Dorleac. Brunet accuses Harry of conducting an independent investigation of the Wimberly case. Harry defends himself and reports that Epstein told him that Brunet, a Communist, may have his own agenda. Captain Edler, a serious anti-communist and America Firster in the thirties is pacified. Harry will stay on the Epstein murder case.
However, there is a price to be paid. Edler wants Harry and Ray to go back to Parc de Buttes Chaumont after dark and question the homeless who sleep in the park and who might have seen Epstein or his killers. Harry knows this is a waste of time, after all Edler is an administrator and has never been a cop, and he knows the killers, but for the moment cooperation with him is the better part of valor. Waiting for tomorrow when he can ‘discover’ Susan’s body, he goes back to his desk to type up a memo of his independent investigation.
Chapter 19 finds Harry and Brunet making nice. Brunet says he has a lead to the location of Ramon and perhaps will have him in custody as soon as tomorrow.
During a search of the Park in Chapter 20, Harry and Ray turn up an old homeless man who’s wearing Epstein’s boots. The old man saw two men and a woman throw away the boots about the same time Epstein was murdered. Evidence. They detain the old man.
Ray drives Harry back to his hotel in Chapter 21. The waiter at Harry’s café warns him of a man with a wicked scar looking for him. Ramon Caseres. At Harry’s hotel, he finds signs that Ramon has been there waiting to kill him. Luckily, Ray was with him and Ramon ran off, not wanting to fight two men. Harry goes to Ray’s hotel to sleep.
In Chapter 22 Captain Edler agrees to find Harry a new hotel. After delaying a bit, Harry ‘discovers’ Susan Kitchen’s body at her ‘sanitized’ home. After a little investigating, the two go to Maria Montoya’s home in Montmartre in search of Ramon or Langlois. Harry thinks that if he’d done this several days ago some people might still be alive. Montoya denies all knowledge. However, they stake out her home, and after a bit, see a girl who appears to be Emma Dorleac, sneak away. They pursue her, but of course they lose her in Montmartre.
Disaster seems to strike in Chapter 23 as apparently Tom Elliot has revealed to Captain Edler that Harry failed to report Susan’s death when he found the body. Edler believes Harry is in cahoots with the OSS and is very angry. However, he has been overruled for the moment as Elliot wants Harry to accompany OSS agents to arrest Ramon.
Chapters 24-26 tell the story of the raid on the plotter’s warehouse in Vaudherland where they are passing out guns. Lots of shooting, the plotters killed, and Ray shoots a woman who is one of Ramon’s cohorts. Another of Ramon’s gang is killed by the French soldiers. However, Langlois and Ramon escape. We learn several things:
One of the men reveals to Brunet that Langlois is one of the leaders and not just a source for Epstein’s story.
Grimm tells Harry that a woman revealed the secret of the warehouse to Brunet.
Grimm says Langlois escaped only because he came out the wrong door.
Chapters 27-29 set up the conclusion of the novel. To begin, Harry confronts Emma about her lies. She confesses. She admits she’s still in love with Langlois. However, she did not call Brunet and reveal the plotters rendezvous at the Vaudherland warehouse. “Why would I tell Brunet,” she says, since Brunet out to kill Langlois. Harry says if you want Langlois to live, you have to help me. She agrees and says she will meet Harry that night for dinner and reveal where Langlois and Ramon Casares are hiding.
For good reasons, Harry doesn’t trust her, and he and Ray tail her to Les Halles, the central market. Unfortunately, they lose her behind a bar.
Discouraged, they stop for breakfast at a café. There, they encounter George Grimm, who perhaps has been following them. Grimm says they don’t know what they’re doing and they should butt out.
Harry is not put off by Grimm, but Ray has had enough. He doesn’t want to risk his CID job any more. He says if Harry wants to go further in the investigation, he’ll have to find a new partner.
To top it off, Harry meets Inspector Brunet and they have a long conversation while watching workman replace a painting in the Louvre. Their conversation is well worth rereading:
BRUNET BEGINS: “I must tell you of a strange thing that happened to me. It is true I work for my party. I believed Langlois was one of the coup leaders. But when Langlois told me about the meeting in Vaudherland—”
Emma had told me the truth; she didn’t tell Brunet. “Langlois told you?”
“Yes.” The Inspector seemed amused that I was surprised.
“I was told a woman told you.”
He waved his hat as if I was crazy. “I think you have been deceived, Lieutenant… To my story. I did not know whether or not to believe Langlois, why would he reveal such a secret? Could this be some sort of trap? But when I questioned my leaders, I was told that Langlois was working for the Party to eliminate a poisonous faction and I should trust his warning. And when my work to eliminate the faction was done, I was told by my leaders not to bother him again. Certainly, I will obey. And yet I am confused. My police superiors demand I arrest Langlois and Ramon Caseres for the murders. They give much attention to American feelings. ”
“It seems you have a serious problem, Inspector.”
A bit of anger flashed across his face, as if I was enjoying his confusion.
“I’m sorry,” I added quickly. “But I’m confused also, Inspector. Why did the Party leaders tell you to leave him alone?”
“They said he was doing more valuable work for the Party.” He shrugged. “They would not tell me more. The leaders do not always reveal secrets of the Central Committee.”
Brunet invites him to dinner. “…We have much to discuss, you and I. We must decide how to act. My police superiors are too much concerned with the feelings of the Americans. I think they do not trust me. And I will speak with my Party leaders. Lieutenant, what will you do when your superiors also order you also to stay away from the two?”
“They already have,” I said.
In Chapter 30 Harry learns the meaning of this. Elliot has prevailed upon Captain Edler’s superiors to send Harry to the front lines to retrieve Henry Seabridge, who witnessed the first shooting by Ramon. Elliot has concocted a silly scheme to jail Ramon while allowing Langlois to remain free and serve the OSS.
Harry has reconciled himself to the scheme when their conference in interrupted by a call from Brunet. Another American body has been found in Monmartre.
The dead man of course is George Grimm, Elliot’s assistant, who apparently was shot when he met Daniel Langlois to explain Elliot’s scheme. Chapter 31 records the investigation.
In Chapter 32 Brunet, Harry, Ray, and Lieutenant Walker raid the house where the fugitives have been hiding. They learn from a neighbor the four have fled. Brunet suspects they may be heading for a café whose proprietor has made a good living smuggling food and people in and out of Paris during the German Occupation. Brunet goes off to find a phone.
AND THAT’S WHERE TONIGHT’S CONCLUSION BEGINS.
CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO (CONTINUED)
We debated going back to the house. Ray suggested we could eat the cake left by the conspirators. I think he was kidding. But only a few moments passed before I saw Brunet’s chubby figure running up the steps, his overcoat flying out like wings, beaming with pleasure.
Phoning the metro station at Lamarck-Caulaincourt, Brunet had found the right man. A Communist shop steward who worked with the cleaning crew on Metro Line Twelve, told Brunet he’d seen four people that matched Brunet’s description coming in when he was leaving a café on the Rue Lepic on his way to work. He knew Langlois from the party. He recognized Ramon by his scar. He said one girl was French and very attractive, the other Spanish and not so attractive. He said they appeared agitated and in a hurry to talk to the café owner.
He added that the café’s proprietor had made a good living smuggling food into the city during the Occupation and the Communist local had used his contacts to move Resistance fighters in and out of the city.
“It all fits,” I said when Brunet finished. “They’re trying to get out of the City.”
“Is the steward reliable?”
Brunet looked at me as if I was dumb. “During the Occupation, the Party instructed him to work in a machine shop manufacturing aiming devices for the Boche panzers. No doubt many Boches later wondered why the aiming devices he made did not operate correctly. He is an absolute hero.”
“He sabotaged them. All right. Let’s go.”
Brunet sent a man to retrieve his police from the house. Walker whistled up the MPs.
“Let’s go,” I said, clapping my hands.
The Inspector smiled at my enthusiasm as the French cops climbed in the van.
“I want to get this done before the OSS people show up,” I said. “They already know what happened.”
“I see,” he said, more serious. “Certainly you are right.”
“I’ll ride with you.” We climbed in the van. Ray and Lieutenant Walker jumped in the jeep with the MPs and followed the van.
The driver crept down the narrow lane, passing the Au Lapin Agile and up a hill toward a large cemetery. At the end of the cemetery the cobblestone lane bent to the right. A few yards of bumping along and we dead ended at a wider street: the Rue Caulaincourt. A Metro entrance sandwiched between parallel staircases sat directly across the street. A man in a blue work suit stood on the sidewalk in front of the station, smoking a cigarette, ignoring the riders hurrying to make the last Metro. He saw the police van and crossed the street. Brunet jumped out and the two conferred for a moment. The man spoke with his hands while Brunet listened. We waited.
“Excellent,” Brunet said when he returned. “He telephoned the café. They are still there. The proprietor has agreed to take them out of the city but they must wait until he closes. We can still catch them. Drive. Use the Avenue Junot…”
The Avenue Junot, a broad peaceful street with large single houses surrounded by trees and shrubbery, led us around a curve and downhill until we passed a narrow lane of cottages. Just past the lane of cottages, Brunet stopped the van.
“We will walk from here,” he said, “so they do not know we are coming.”
Brunet and his three cops, Walker and his two MPs, and Ray and I made quite a procession as we walked down a flight of stairs onto the Rue Lepic, yet another narrow cobblestone street dominated by five and six story apartment houses. Brunet led us along the street, which ran downhill around a lefthand curve until we came to a small corner. Brunet stopped the procession. A block ahead, he said, was the café we wanted. Far down the street a lone pedestrian strolled home. A few lights burned in the apartments above us and I wondered what anyone looking out their window might think if they saw nine armed men standing under a streetlight.
The café lights were blurred by the fog but I could see it ran around a corner of two streets with its opening on the Rue Lepic. Outdoor tables and chairs were stacked under its awning. Street lights burned on both sides of the corner.
Brunet called to hug the buildings single file, Brunet and I in the lead. Ray and Walker right behind then the French cops and the MPs. Cautiously, we all moved forward step by step until we were across the side street from the café. We paused and huddled in front of a market, wiping our faces dry. A streetlight lit our corner well enough to see our shadows in the market’s glass. The sky was a narrow sliver above the apartments. No one seemed to be watching from the buildings.
Cattycornered across the way was a large school. Judging from the number of shops and bistros, the Rue Lepic seemed to be heading into a shopping district, but just past our corner the street bent sharply left again and I couldn’t see any more of it.
Brunet studied the café. Now that we were close, I could see that only an alcove of the café closed in by an interior wall faced the side street. The majority of the café ran along the Rue Lepic. In the alcove, two men played chess in a window seat, several other tables were empty. Peeking around the corner I could see that just past the last tall window, a wall had been stuccoed closed and there was a blank door in the center of it where another business once stood.
Brunet grabbed my arm and whispered, “Let you and I walk across the street as two drunks. It is a well lighted café and they will not be able to see more than shadows of us in the windows.”
When I thought about it, the idea sounded silly. Brunet and I, the least likely shooters on our team, were going to go up against men with guns while Ray and Walker, the best shooters, waited behind. Even so, I didn’t want to wait; I wanted to arrest the four before the OSS could interfere.
“All right,” I whispered to Brunet. A hand grasped my shoulder. I could feel Ray’s breath on my neck. I told him what we were going to do.
“Cover us,” I whispered.
“Be careful, Harry.”
“Be very careful,” Walker called softly.
We did our best to appear drunk as we crossed the side street. I even managed to stumble on the cobblestones when Brunet caught my arm to stop me. I realized he intended to look inside before entering. From the curb, we could hear classical music playing inside the café. There were advertisements and Art Deco decorations on the glass but other than that the big windows gave us a clear view of the bright café.
It was an old fashioned café with cream colored walls darkened by smoke, oak columns and beams, photographs on the wall and bright red and white checked table clothes. A large stove with a pile of wood beside it blocked part of the café. A few tables around the stove were occupied by single men. Opposite the stove, a man stood behind the bar polishing the coffee machine. At last I saw Emma, head down, both hands gripping a cup, looking half asleep at a table almost hidden by the stove.
The Inspector did not look happy. We looked at each other for a moment; we hadn’t planned on finding Emma alone.
“I do not see the men,” Brunet whispered.
Despite all I’d learned during the night, I tried to cheer myself up; somehow I still hoped Emma was not part of Langlois’ plan, not connected to Ramon’s killing spree, that there was a reasonable explanation for why she was in this café by herself.
“Maybe they’ve already gone and left her behind,” I whispered.
“That is not likely.”
I took a step forward. “Well?”
“We must go in,” Brunet agreed. “Perhaps she can tell us more.”
Even with Ramon nowhere in sight, he took out his gun, a thirty-eight, and waited for me to pull my forty-five. He held up a hand to signal the rest of our team to wait, and then opened the door.
We walked in the cafe, acting as naturally as it’s possible to act carrying a forty-five. Brunet stopped by the bar as if to order a drink. I scanned the room quickly then my eyes stayed on Emma who did not seem to notice our arrival. The man behind the bar took one look at Brunet and recognized him as a policeman.
“Good evening Inspector, a café?” he said in a loud voice.
The barkeep’s warning roused Emma. She looked up and placed two hands on the table ready to flee. I hurried right across the room toward her, angling through the tables and shoving away a man who reached out for me in a drunken stupor. Her eyes went to the gun in my hand, her mouth opened and she looked like she wanted to scream. I noted two cups and saucers on the table. Maria Montoya? We’d forgotten her.
“Harry, what are you doing here? You must go away…”
“Where are they?”
A sudden movement from behind the bar caught my eye. Turning back, I noticed a half-open door behind the bar we hadn’t been able to see from outside. The door flew all the way open and Ramon Casares charged into the cafe carrying a small pistol, a twenty-two, I thought. He saw Brunet and without hesitating fired two shots at him. The shots sounded like the pop of a cap pistol but Brunet gave a little cry and went down, knocking aside a table and lay still. Ramon rushed to the prone inspector and raised a hand to shield his face as he planned to give the inspector a final shot in the head.
The barkeep reached under the bar and came out with a gun in his hand.
“There is another,” he shouted to Ramon, pointing at me.
Ramon whirled, saw me standing by Emma, and raised his pistol away from Brunet.
I reached out and pulled Emma down on the floor with one hand, diving after her. She was so light, and I was so charged with adrenalin I didn’t even feel her weight. I heard two shots as we hit the floor. Immediately above me, dust spurted from two holes in the wall.
Clutching Emma in one arm, I pulled the table down in front of us with the other, dragging her behind it. An edge of the falling wood hit my face and I felt a sharp pain and blood spurt from my nose. Cups and saucers rained down, breaking on the floor and the tablecloth dropped on top of us. A third shot hit the table right in front of me. The wood absorbed the bullet.
Emma was punching and kicking my face to free herself, yelling for me to get off. Struggling to free myself from the tablecloth, blinded, my forty-five was right in front of my face. I wiggled around and managed to fire two shots in the general direction of Ramon and the barkeep and almost deafened myself. I heard someone scream; I must have hit him, I thought, for when I finally tossed the tablecloth off of me, Ramon was nowhere in sight.
I saw the barkeep’s legs sticking out on the floor, heard him weeping and cursing in pain, saw blood on the bottles behind the bar. But where was Ramon? I knew in an instant when his black hair and eyes appeared above the bar.
Ramon had ducked behind the bar to reload. His head appeared above the wood and zinc, eyes searching the tables, thinking we had moved, and after just a moment he found us. A hand holding the pistol rose over the bar slowly, taking careful aim with the small caliber weapon.
Emma climbed up my body and locked her arms around my neck, pinning my forty-five and yelling for Daniel to run away. Without taking my eyes from Ramon, I fought to free the forty-five from under her. I had one good chance otherwise I was going to die in Emma’s arms while she screamed for her lover.
To my horror, Ramon was smiling as he aimed at me. I could look right down the tiny barrel of his pistol pointing straight at me.
All at once, I heard a crash, a thunderous roar, and saw Ramon’s smiling face explode into a cloud of red mist, bone and brain matter. The bullet went right through Ramon’s head and slammed into the wooden bar, sending splinters in the air.
I wanted to cheer; the door to the café was wobbling on its hinges; Ray was in the doorway holding his forty-five in two hands. Without hesitating, he fired two more shots at Ramon, who had yet to fall. The reports from Ray’s forty-five brought fire from its barrel and the explosions echoed in the room. Blood spurted from Ramon’s chest like raindrops bouncing on a sidewalk. The heavy slugs drove Ramon into the bar as surely as if someone had shoved him. The ancient glass and wood shattered, bottles broke, but deafened by the shots, I didn’t even hear it explode.
Ramon bounced off the wooden frame and lay still.
“Daniel!” Emma screamed right into my ear.
Ray paused to check Ramon’s body. Walker came inside right behind Ray, and went to the barkeep, who lay beside Ramon, holding a shattered arm. Walker kicked the guns away and they skidded across the floor. He threw a bar towel over the man’s arm.
Lowering his gun, grinning, Ray saw me struggling with Emma, called my name, shoving tables and chairs away to get to me. I heard heavy steps from behind the stove where stairs led down to restrooms and a pay phone. The stocky figure of Maria Montoya appeared on the stairs; she was carrying another small pistol.
Intent on reaching me, Ray didn’t notice her.
Exasperated, I cocked my fist and threw a six-inch punch at Emma to free myself from her grasp. I felt her nose give way beneath my fist. She screamed in pain, covered her face, blood running between her fingers. I pulled free my forty-five and started to rise. The stove was in my way, I had no clean shot at Maria.
“Look out,” I screamed at Ray. “Gun.”
Ray whirled, and seeing a woman, hesitated before swinging his weapon toward her.
For an instant Maria Montoya and Ray were framed in my eyes like a photo of two gunfighters from the old west, pistols drawn and pointed.
Both fired together.
Big as he was, Ray fell back when Maria Montoya’s shot slammed into him, snapping his head back and knocking off his hat. He fell back into a bunch of chairs. His round took out one of the tall windows. By this time I was on my feet with my forty-five but I was too late. Maria swung her pistol my way.
“Yes,” she cried.
“Daniel. Help me,” Emma cried.
For the second time in only seconds I was looking straight down the barrel of a gun aimed by someone who wanted to kill me. I was too off balance to shift to either side.
“No…” I cried, trying to raise my gun before she could fire.
Two explosions followed while I was still raising my gun. In front of my eyes, Maria Montoya vanished as surely as someone had pushed her out of the way. I saw Lieutenant Walker in a correct two-handed stance, eyes locked on the falling figure. His gun barked two more times before Walker hustled across the room, kicking her gun aside as he leaned over Maria Montoya to make sure she was dead.
Suddenly, yet another young man dashed into the room from the office door. How many more are there, I thought. He yelled something about stopping but I was on my feet and ready. His arm moved and I thought he was going for a gun. I didn’t think or hesitate; I turned my gun toward the figure and fired twice, gripping the heavy forty-five tightly and aiming as if my life depended on it. He was already falling and blood was in the air when I added two more shots to be sure.
When I looked at whom I’d shot, I recognized Daniel Langlois. Except for the moans and cries of the barkeep, who’d been hit when I shot at Ramon, at last it was still in the café. The barkeep kicked Ramon’s body off his, holding the towel to his shattered arm, and rolled on the floor, weeping. The air was thick with the smell of gunfire. All together probably less than a minute had passed since Brunet and I had walked inside the café but it felt like hours. The French cops and the MPs stood at the doorway, taking in the spectacle.
Ray’s forty-five rested on the ground, smoke drifting from the barrel. The other patrons had ducked behind tables and now that it was quiet were starting to peek out. Walker covered them with his pistol and yelled for them to stay where they were. However, the chess players had hardly moved, studying the carnage from their seats in the alcove as if annoyed at such rude behavior. The room was filling with MPs and French cops as I moved toward Ray. So as not to get shot by jittery French cops or Americans MPs, I put my forty-five away.
The bullet had hit Ray in the arm, cutting a groove in the cloth and skin; blood flowed like a faucet over his raincoat. But he was alive and alert. I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry: Ray sat up and flexed his arm as if he could stop the blood that way.
“Lay still, Ray, I’ll get an ambulance.”
“Fucking A, Harry. I’ve never been shot before. It hurts.” He stared at the bleeding cut as if it belonged to someone else. He blinked. “You’re bleeding. Your face.”
I felt something damp on my lips; I rolled my tongue and tasted blood. I hadn’t even noticed it before. I heard Walker order his MPs to watch the other patrons. “If anyone pulls a gun, shoot them.”
Standing up, I found Walker next to me. He took one look at Ray, shook his head and bared his teeth in a smile. “Are you all right, Lieutenant? You’re bleeding.”
“I’m fine. Get the medics for Ray,” I said to the MPs.
Walker threw a bar towel at me. I wrapped it around Ray’s arm. “Hold that over the wound. Don’t move.”
“I’m not going anywhere. Get me a beer. Where’s my hat?”
I met Walker’s eyes. He reached down and picked up Ray’s fedora, brushed floor dust and dirt from it and placed it on Ray’s head. A few feet away, where he lay on the floor, Inspector Brunet moaned.
I heard another noise—like a child crying in the night—Emma.
She was lying on top of Daniel Langlois, cradling his head against her, weeping.
“What have you done, Harry?” she screamed through her tears, stroking Langlois’ back as if she could revive him. “You must help him. He is alive.”
I looked all around Langlois but didn’t see a gun.
Emma was wrong. Langlois was simply a pile of dead humanity. Another kid, who should have had better things to do with his life, just like Grimm. I looked down at him. At a fast glance it appeared every one of my shots had hit him. No human could survive four hits from a forty-five.
Maybe it was Emma’s hands, maybe it was my imagination, but he looked at me and I thought he smiled, a wisp of a smile, but a smile nonetheless. Then I saw the light go out of his eyes.
“I’m sorry,” I said to Emma. I don’t think she even heard me; her face was pressed to his chest as if she could bring him back to life. I left her there
In front of the bar, two French cops nursed Brunet, helping him to sit up. They peeled off his coat and shirt to reveal a small neat hole in his heaving chest. His skin looked very white against the dark suit and coat. One cop supported him while the other pushed a handkerchief into the wound. Blubber had stopped the twenty-two slug before it could do any serious damage.
He looked up at me and smiled. “It pays to be a fat man. It is over. Arrest her.” He said to the French cops standing around him.
Two burly French cops seized Emma, roughly tugging her off Langlois’ body as she clung to the bloody corpse. They cursed at the blood on her dress that splashed on them as they marched her out the door. She went out kicking and screaming. I noted that her half-high heels were fine.
“Murderers. He had no gun,” she yelled to anyone.
I didn’t interfere.
While the MPs and French cops were busy, without any warning, yet another man appeared at the office door. Seeing the movement, Walker whirled and pulled his forty-five at the same time, drawing down at a smallish man in a white shirt and black pants. The MPs followed suit. Facing three guns, the man threw his hands in the air.
“Do not shoot. Please, do not shoot me. I am not armed.” One look at the three bodies and he suddenly bent over, vomiting all over his door. Walker signaled an MP to grab him. The MP kept his distance watching the man heave and groan.
Walker handed me a handkerchief for my nose and watched me wipe my nose clean. I tossed the cloth on the floor. The survivors, Ray, Inspector Brunet, and the barkeep, were all tending to their wounds. Ray was even standing up searching the bar for something to drink. He found an unbroken wine bottle and sat down at a table.
“Wait til I tell Helen about this.”
I wanted to laugh, at Ray, and at the simple pleasure of still being alive.
The MP collared the proprietor by the neck, pushing him forward leading him to the bar. The proprietor surveyed the chaos of his café, Ramon’s brains and blood all over his bar, tables and chairs in disarray, broken cups and saucers.
“You have ruined my café,” he cried to anyone who would listen.
I started to tell him to get fucked and couldn’t remember the French word for fuck
“Shut the fuck up,” I said in English, reaching for my forty-five.
The man saw the gun and scrambled free of the MP and ran back to his office.
“Get that fucker,” Walker ordered.
“Let’s get some clean air,” I said to Walker and we went outside.
I stood on the sidewalk taking deep breaths. Some blood still flowed from my nose and I felt it trickle into my mouth. Next to me, Walker had a faraway look in his eye; I assumed he was trying to decide how to write up this debacle and how to explain his presence at it on his night off. But he was watching a car coming toward us.
A Thirty-nine Chevy.
“Here’s trouble,” he said.
The car stopped and before his driver could open his door, Elliot jumped out and scurried inside the cafe. It took him only a moment to survey the carnage and count the dead and he was back outside.
“What have you done?” he yelled at me.
I walked away. “Stay the fuck away from me.”
He reached out and grabbed me by the side, squeezing my ribs.
I shoved his hand away. It felt like I was swatting a fly. “Let go of me.”
“Arrest that man,” Elliot cried out to Walker.
Walker paid no attention; Elliot followed me into the Rue Lepic. In the apartments lights had appeared and citizens stood in the doorways. I could hear the two-tune siren of an ambulance coming near.
“Come back here,” Elliot shouted, grabbing at me again. “We’ve been working on this since the Liberation. You’ve destroyed all our work. You stupid fool.”
I thought of Ray, who had almost been killed; I thought of Langlois, who had, and I thought of Emma.
I whirled around and without another thought threw a right-handed punch. I got my shoulder into it and splattered his nose across his face with a jolt I felt all the way up my arm and down my back. I’m sure Elliot was unconscious before he hit the street.
Suddenly Ray was beside me, holding me in one big arm, shaking me back to duty.
“Jesus Harry, what’s you do.”
“I think I hit him,” I said.
Ray stared at Elliot’s driver, a man I didn’t know. “You got something to say, fellow?”
“Not a word, sir.”
Walker looked down at Elliot’s still form. “He must have slipped on the cobblestones…”
“You shouldn’t have hit him, Harry,” Edler said, shaking his head. “I can understand your anger but that doesn’t excuse it…”
“I know, sir. I understand. I’ve never done anything like that before.”
“Maybe you should take some time off.”
“I’m fine, sir, it won’t happen again.”
He gave me the up and down carefully as if any injuries might show.
“I’ve read Lieutenant Walker’s report on the firefight. But we both know his report is nonsense. There’s going to be questions asked about it.”
“I should apologize to Elliot.”
“I don’t know if he’ll listen.”
I shrugged. “What does he want me to do?”
“I honestly don’t know, Harry. He seems to want nothing to do with you.”
“Tell the truth, I don’t want anything to do with him.”
Edler nodded in agreement. “I think that’s wise, Harry. I’ve spent hours speaking with him. He blames me for all that’s gone wrong.”
“Why should they blame you, sir?”
“Elliot claimed I was to blame because I hadn’t reined you in before it went so far. I received several long lectures on the importance of their work to the Postwar world and how you had interfered with their work and I let you do it.”
Edler stared at me as if I’d said something stupid. “You have no reason to be sorry. I’m in charge of this office. It’s my responsibility. I made the decisions I made and I’ll stand by them.”
Where was all this going? I asked myself. I wanted to ask where was all his responsibility when he was willing to allow Elliot to send me to Germany.
“Elliot believes we don’t see the big picture.”
“What is the big picture, sir?”
“I don’t know. Apparently, he believes we take too narrow a view. All we care about is criminal activities. He wondered if I was the right man for this job He even reminded me that I’d been a member of America First before the war…”
America First had been an important organization before the war with groups all over the country, calling for us to stay out of European affairs. They held rallies against the draft and the lend-lease program. The organization died with Pearl Harbor.
“Yes sir. We had quite a few chapters of America First at our local grange halls.”
I remembered stopping by an America First meeting with Helsman. A singer compared the potential deaths of American soldiers in a war we didn’t need to the slaughter of hogs. The song, and one look at the dual portraits of Charles Lindbergh and Adolf Hitler and the swastikas many members wore, was enough for Helsman.
“I told him I was also a veteran of the American Expeditionary Force during the First War,” Captain Edler continued. “I’d seen combat. I’d lost two of my best friends in the Argonne Forest. I’d seen too many young men die for a meaningless peace and I’d rather it didn’t happen again. He said we may not have a choice. I said that remains to be seen.”
“It must have been an interesting conversation,” I said carefully.
“It was, Harry. Believe me. He called you a boy scout, by the way.”
I managed to smile. “It’s not the worst thing anyone’s ever said about me.”
“I should say not. I was a boy scout myself…He wants me to fire you. If you like to fight so much, I should send you up to the replacement depot for a combat unit.” He added matter of fact.
“What did you say?” I asked, even more carefully.
“I told them you were my best detective. I couldn’t afford to lose you. I told him I make hiring and firing decisions for Paris CID.”
He sat back, satisfied. I told him off, his attitude said.
“Thank you, sir.” I wanted to stand up and salute.
He shrugged. “Of course, he might go over my head, and try and get both of us fired. Just like he went over my head to get approval for that ridiculous mission to the front. But I don’t think he will. If he does, he’ll have to explain too many things to too many people. Mr. Elliot is only one small part of the OSS.”
I tried not to grin at Edler’s unintentional slur.
“These Eastern Intellectuals with their British mannerisms and accents dragged us into this war and if we’re not alert, they’re going to drag us into yet another war when we win this one.”
“I hope not.” I waited while Edler went through the ritual with his pipe.
“The girl saved you, Harry,” he said when the pipe was glowing.
“Yes. You should thank her.”
After a long hard session with both French and American interrogators, Emma revealed an insidious Communist plot, Captain Edler said. Although the idea of staging a coup was only innocent talk, the Party bosses feared some of the younger men might act on their talk. Once their attempt to seize power during the Liberation failed, the Party Leaders wanted no part of a coup.
As part of a deal to allow Thorez, the Party boss, to return to France from his exile in the Soviet Union, Stalin himself ordered the Communists to give up their arms and join DeGaulle’s government. Stalin wanted no trouble in France that might upset the Allied war effort.
Epstein would have been happy to know he’d been right about the coup and the OSS memo had been wrong, I thought. The French Party took its orders from Moscow.
Daniel Langlois was well known and trusted by the younger men who’d fought in the Resistance. The Party leaders instructed Daniel to meet with the conspirators and reveal their discussions both to them and to his friend, the American reporter, Joseph Epstein.
As the leaders hoped, Epstein disclosed the discussions to Susan Kitchen and the OSS, enabling Elliot to write his memo warning of a coup. Epstein also introduced Langlois to George Grimm as a contact. Next, the party leaders told Langlois to reveal the arms cache at the Vaudherland warehouse in time for Brunet to raid the warehouse. Giving up a few guns and ammunition cemented Langlois’ position with the OSS.
Now the Party had a window into the American spy network through Langlois.
“Elliot believed he was using Langlois, but the Party was using him,” Captain Edler said, allowing himself a little laugh.
“What did Elliot say?”
“He didn’t believe it. He said the girl was lying. Of course, he’d have to say that.”
“What were they going to do?”
Captain Edler’s shrug was almost as eloquent as a Frenchman’s. Who knew where it might have gone or what might have happened if Brunet and I had not stopped it.
“You thought you were catching a murderer, but you were really saving your country and our forces from a possible disaster…” The Captain smiled. “Just don’t expect a medal for your accomplishments.”
They let Emma out of jail the next day and I was waiting for her on the plaza in front of Notre Dame. Still wearing the same blood-stained dress she’d worn the night of the gunfight, she looked as hungry and exhausted as any of the homeless or poor who wandered the streets. A sour look on her face revealed the tired housewife she’d become when life took away her youth and beauty.
“Emma,” I said, as she approached me.
I wanted to tell her I was sorry for shooting her unarmed lover.
She knew I was there but she didn’t even turn her head. Looking closer I saw her eyes were still full of anger.
I reached out to her but she paid no attention to me, walking right past me and into the plaza. She drew the attention of the tourists and soldiers seeing the sights, but she didn’t look right or left, only forward to see where she was going. I started to follow her as she walked onto the Seine Bridge.
“Emma,” I called again, hoping she’d turn at the last minute, like in the movies.
She never even slowed down. I stopped before I could run onto the bridge, watching her figure grow small until she was on the Left Bank and lost in the crowd.
I felt someone beside me. Brunet.
“She intends to join the Party. To carry on Daniel Langlois’ work.”
“My police superiors have given me a commendation. My Party leaders have decided to expel me from the Party.”
“What will you do?”
He delivered another of his eloquent shrugs.
I walked back upstairs to my office and sat at my desk feeling old and not much use to anyone.