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My captors have allowed me some pencil and paper; small favor, in light of my forthcoming execution. I suppose it can do little harm to record the particulars of my imminent journey to the afterlife, and perhaps it offers me a way to get my mind off of things that a dying man should never be permitted to think about -- troubling, jealous fantasies, these mental pictures of the many lives imaginable only a few hours ago; Jungian feelings of patriotic regret and guilt; and the misplaced notions of romantic injustice -- all of them goods that only the living carry enough currency to purchase. At the very least, it will irritate the ignorant Gestapo guard outside my cell, and focus my remaining physical strength.
They take immense pleasure in torturing one of their own.
I am half of a German (my anonymous French mother be damned), and I have been what I wanted to be -- the best German agent in the war, a person who influenced the course of great events and brushed shoulders with those on the road to immortality; a spy, the very best. Someone just like my father. I take no small pleasure in my successes, and I know my significance, and my place in the big picture.
I say I know it, and I also say it doesn't matter now. Death brings priorities into focus, and most of my secrets are in danger of going to the grave where, perhaps, many of them are better left to themselves. For me, it doesn't make any difference. For those outside, it means everything.
In the time I have remaining, if I write things down exactly as they occurred and manage somehow to smuggle it out, perhaps I can still change the final chapter for all of the potentialvictims that even at this late hour remain entwined in my troubled tangles. Maybe there are even one or two of them still capable of changing things for me; or, maybe I should say, who have already have changed things for me. I think about these people constantly in the waning hours, and the cryptic messages we fought over that changed so many lives. I'm writing these notes for them, because a spy's and a nation's fate should never hang in the balance of so thin a thread as that one seemingly insignificant message onto which I stumbled. The guards would kill me now without any hesitation if I breathed a single word of it. I'm writing this partially so that someone will carry that word to its intended recipient. It's also possible I've been deluding myself, and I was the primary intended recipient all along, in which case I can carry my duty no further than to die without breathing a word of it to the enemy.
More than likely, though, what I'm really doing in this filthy cell is looking for a way to pretend that I will still be alive twenty-four hours from now. I am all too well aware of the gritty details in my future: the current form of execution (firing squad), the indictment (treason), and the real crime (betrayal). There will be no mention of the true issues involved: love (between a man and woman), honor (to a country), and knowledge (of God, the real enemy of the Fuhrer, and the fly bait that could cost one very important Nazi his neck, even yet).
Whatever the case, it can't do any harm, since too much thinking never killed anyone -- you simply can't execute a man who has already stopped dreaming of what he could have been. I've become the rich man's Catholic Jesus, selling cheap salvation to myself. My father, I'm sure, thought better thoughts before he met his fate years ago in a similar situation. I suppose he is the root cause of all of this, too, if you're a convert of Freud, as I was for a while, or want some other brand of simplified explanation. Whatever the case, I won't live long enough to throw this on my own son.
In fact, I'll never have a son.
The truly amazing discovery, however, is that I've been defeated. I've reached the first crisis in my life that my wits will actually not be enough to get me out of. All the split-second decisions I've taken as a gift to me -- one of them has betrayed me. I still can't believe it. I wish to hell that I knew which one of the thousands of them it was I've made recently that is responsible for landing me here. I can't pin it down. A spy does not get nine lives, and the funny thing is, I'm happy about that.
For once, I can't save myself. How ironic. How beautiful. How sublime. I wonder who can save me, and a smile comes to my face.
These thoughts gush out of me like rain. The many reasons I became a spy in the foremost intelligence service in the world are coming back on me like crazed snakes. Suddenly I do care about things I've never even thought about, such as clouds, the fresh smell of bread, or having a real family of my own. I hurt because of the war. And there are other related issues I care about which are much too complicated to explain in a few words. Only by understanding that cryptic message can you understand me. Only by understanding the girl. Only by understanding him.
It's too late now, anyway. I'm about to go. I can refuse to die, and give speeches about bravado, but it's only a cruel trick of the mind when you get right down to it. At least we Germans don't use something as terrible or idiotic as the guillotine. We're entirely more civilized about it. I can hear the men down the hall laughing softly and telling jokes in German. It's soothing and damning. I know what they are talking about: when I am to be shot in the morning, and what I've had the gall to do.
All I can do is sit and wonder what it feels like to take a slug in the brain.
"This is quite a resume you have put together here for someone only nineteen years old." Gunther Reeder, Deputy Gauleiter of Nazi-occupied Paris, attempted to study the papers carefully, but his eagle eyes steadily shifted over me, as if my physical appearance was more important than my background as a newly trained Abwehr counterintelligence specialist.
"My stepbrother is only eighteen," I replied; "in the army; a landser. And my real father was only eighteen when he began--"
"Yes, of course, I know all about your infamous father... ... better that we leave him out of this. I'm dealing with you, and age is relative. You'll learn to not chatter away like some French peasant woman unless I ask you a question, do you understand? Talking too much is a death wish. Especially in this business!"
I remained unabashed and arrogant. I already knew I was the best agent he had ever been presented with. This had been my quest for the last three or four years -- maybe more, dating back to when I first learned the truth about why I was growing up in a rotting state orphanage instead of a normal home, and at a time when even the wealthy didn't have enough to eat.
I looked at him critically, studying him the way I had been trained to study my "marks." My first and only lasting impressions of Reeder were extraordinarily complex. He seemed old line Prussian, constantly driven by some hidden ambition; physically imposing, with a steel upper body and a demeanor almost menacing; stumbling, but dangerously intelligent; influential, perhaps beyond even his own sense of sound judgment; and good looking, in the loosest and lowest sense of the phrase. These were not necessarily a list of undesirable traits for a former Wehrmacht Colonel turned occupying Nazi politician (as I had been told he was), but I was unable to see inside him beyond these obsequious surface contours.
At the time, I didn't really give a damn about him anyway, or anyone else in occupied Paris. Part of me joined the Abwehr to kill my father's murderers, and part of me just so I wouldn't have some nose-in-the-air officer down my back all the time. It was also a deliciously seductive game, and I've always loved games -- particularly those where I can prove my independence of everyone. For me, the 'genius child who could have been' according to my stepfather, becoming a spy delivered a lot of revenge and satisfaction in ways not easily explained.
"I've received the finest instruction since leaving the university," I said, my eyes purposely refusing to lose contact with his. This was an early test of wills I would win. "There are no gaps."
He dismissed me with a wave. "The finest schooling the Abwehr can offer teaches you nothing of use to me. How is your French?"
I pointed at the resume. "I grew up near Baden-Baden. We received fine instruction in native--"
"No, no!" he said, throwing the papers down in flurry. "You're missing the point, Montbarie! For god's sake, I'm not interested in what's in your resume, or who your father was, and I don't care where you went to school!"
"My name is Moselle, Herr Deputy Gauleiter," I corrected. "Geoffrey Moselle."
"Your name is now Alexis Montbarie, and you'd better use it until you receive orders otherwise! Do you understand? You are behind enemy lines now! I wonder exactly what kind of training you did complete? Did they teach you any discipline there? Do you know what it means to obey an order? Did they teach you any respect? Don't even answer that! I can see your attitude already... It's a good thing you didn't join the landser. Now share with me something pertinent; something really useful -- say, for example, which is the quickest, most efficient method of killing a man, according to your 'training?' "
I opened my mouth to reply, but nothing came forth on the first attempt. He had leapt from a mundane topic to one with implications. Since my arrival in Paris by special military flight -- a vibrating, lumbering JU-52, which the crew reassured me was the safest transport in service (even though over one-thousand of them had been shot down in the last year) -- I had been treated like a delicate work of smuggled art, never exposed to direct sunlight or even the barest elements; allowed no intercourse with real human beings except for one or two faceless, mostly lock-jawed Luftwaffe officers. I was still rather in an irritable fog, a little blind, and I was not yet completely what I was supposed to be -- a highly trained, ruthless German spy, ready to move into action against the underground resistance.
But I would never admit that, of course. It made me a little irascible, which was not a good way to be with an ex-Wehrmacht Colonel. The question shouldn't have caught me off guard.
How do you physically kill a man? My hero stepbrother, Jans, received all the physical blessings in abundance -- strength, courage, and a rock-solid will to survive -- and he would be the better one to ask. He was a decorated killing machine on the eastern front. He had actually killed other living human beings, on purpose, with a reason. I had only contemplated it; stared it straight in the imaginary face. I was more the intellectual, my stepfather always said, a little bit undersized and wiry; the amateur philosopher. The Abwehr suited me better.
In the espionage business, I learned, one could kill with an ideological coolness; a certain raison d'entree that the Americans might call flair; a kind of aloofness that we Germans find attractive in our idealized warriors. That was why I had entered the espionage branch of the army. I wanted to know top secret things. I wanted to succeed solely by my wits. I wanted to feel power over my life -- and others' lives, too.
I also wanted to exorcise my father, who was a celebrated German agent for the Kaiser in the Great War. The French had cut his life short, and thus forced on me a rough, if not miserable childhood, which didn't end until the age of sixteen when my wealthy stepfather adopted me. By then, my basic nature was set. No extended University degree for me. No job at the filthy-rich family bank. Just a little adventure, and maybe some violence, all in the name of revenge and lost youth. Hitler and the war came along at just the right time for me.
"Well?" Reeder prompted, irritating me further. I hesitated on purpose in a protracted show of defiance.
Killing... Initially, my stepfather had said that killing would be more the job of the Wehrmacht and people like Jans, not special operatives or spies. But I knew better, and learned better. I now was master of seventeen ways to kill a human being with my bare hands, including one that needed only a thumb. I knew exactly which methods I was saving for the truly deserving French patriot who might accidentally remind me of what happened to my father. I was ready, I was sure, to kill.
Reeder jumped up, pulling the breeches of his gray military pants down tightly, muttering to himself. "Go on, Montbarie, tell me how -- if you even remember..."
I had hesitated only for a moment or two, but Reeder had pounced on it. I hated him and I hadn't even known him ten minutes. "I would approach him from behind and snap his neck, Mein Herr." I tried to inflect brutality into my voice.
He jerked his head and grunted, as if mimicking the very action, then moved behind his black metal desk to sit back down.
"Your first job against the resistance will be to kill a man."
He stated it so matter-of-factly that for a moment I acted like I didn't even hear him. Only for a second or two.
I was not so naive as Gunther Reeder might suppose. Jans had told me about fighting the Russians -- stories of mutilation and torture far worse than murder: deadly 50mm machine gun nests; frantic charges into frozen clumps of larch and underbrush; stories I almost couldn't believe. We all had been trained to kill within the high barbed wire walls of the counter-intelligence school in Augsburg, where the drill instructors doused you with ice-water in the middle of the night and made you pick up human feces with your bare hands -- all to teach you the importance of being able to do anything to complete a mission, even kill a man. It was a simple, accepted fact in German service -- all services. Killing was necessary. I knew that. I looked forward to it.
Reeder was still waiting for me to react -- or not react.
"I'm ready, Herr Deputy Gauleiter," I said, keeping my voice granite steady. "I will do it, and anything else necessary."
He smiled, a vague, watery expression. "We shall see, Montbarie. We shall see exactly what you will do."
"Heil Hitler!" I practically screamed.
"Yes," Reeder said, squinting curiously. "But of course."
Copyright © 1998 by Jack K. Trammell
Posted June 26, 2010
This book is great! It is interesting, suspenseful, romantic (but not overly so), and dramatic. A good read if you like novels that take place in other times and places. The beginning is slightly slow, but once you get into it (which doesn't take long), it is hard to put down because you are wondering exactly which side everyone is on...
The main character is a German spy stationed in Paris, who is assigned to deal with the French Resistance effort. I probably would not have bought this if I had realized it was from the perspective of a German in WWII, but I am very glad that I did.
The story is great, but I noticed the ebook seemed to have many technical/grammatical errors.
Posted August 29, 2000
This book was written with careful attention to historical detail. If you have any interest in the complicated French national experience in World War II, or simply enjoy a good tale of espionage with a romantic twist, you might find this novel worth reading.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.