Love and intrigue come together against the backdrop of World War II and the struggles of the French Resistance in this international bestselling military thriller from Clare Francis
Three lives, caught in the turbulence of World War II, converge one fateful night on the same beach. David Freymann, a German-Jewish scientist, has made a discovery that could free war-torn Europe, but Nazi spies and soldiers threaten world peace at every turn. Julie Lescaux, a young English mother, has moved to France and become perilously involved in the French Resistance. And Paul Vasson, a retired-pimp-turned-Nazi-collaborator, thrives in battle.
Spanning a decade of war and three countries, Night Sky is the debut novel that made yachtswoman Clare Francis an international bestselling author overnight.
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By Clare Francis
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1983 Clare Francis
All rights reserved.
He was in a tiny dark cupboard, the door locked, the air foul and hot. Outside he could hear voices, sometimes loud and coarse, sometimes low and secretive. He tried to call out but he could make no sound. His body would not move, though nothing held it down. At some point he must have wet the bed, for the sheet underneath him was damp. His stomach heaved and without warning a thick trail of vomit streamed out, covering the pillow, clogging his hair. He was desperate to clean up the mess, but there was no water, no cloth, so he tried to mop it up with a corner of the sheet, wretched with the knowledge that this too was a mistake.
He lay back on the bed, shivering despite the heat. Tears of misery rolled down his cheeks and he cried a single "Maman!" Then he remembered that he was not allowed to call out, that he must stay silent. The loneliness enveloped him; he wanted to close his eyes and sleep forever.
There were voices again now: his mother's, steady and light, and a man's, low and furtive. The voices droned on, then rose to a higher pitch. There was a scream, then silence. Suddenly he was in a room and he saw his mother lying motionless on a bed. She was held down by the man, her arms twisted behind her, unable to move. She was looking up at the man, her lips open, her teeth bared. She did not cry out; instead she smiled. His mother and the man moved in a strange way he did not understand. Then the picture faded.
He was in the cupboard again, unable to breathe, suffocating with the heat. He could hear voices still, but they were more distant now. The despair pressed in on him, crushing and hopeless. But this time he did not cry: he was learning how not to cry. He felt as if he had been alone all his life.
Paul Vasson woke with a start. For an instant he couldn't remember where he was. Then he recognized the familiar outlines of the shabby room and, exhaling slowly, sank back onto the pillow. The voices from the dream murmured on. He listened and realized that they were floating up from the street outside. One, with a thick provençal accent, he recognized as that of the old concierge next door. He tried to sleep again, but it was no use. He had been dozing fitfully for less than half an hour and now he was wide awake.
He sat up and swung his legs to the floor. His mouth felt dry, his stomach unsteady. It was the fear. And worse than he'd imagined: stabbing, cold, dragging him down. The nightmare hadn't helped either. The dream was always the same: the small room, the locked door, the suffocating heat. And such detail — so vivid. He remembered the shame of discovery and how, when his mother opened the door, he had wept even before she struck him. Later she had washed and dressed him in clean clothes and then — then she had given him a brief kiss on top of the head.
Or had that one startling kiss happened some other time?
He got up suddenly and, groping for the shutters, let in a small shaft of warm afternoon sunlight. He never let in too much light: it showed up the shabby furniture and the peeling paintwork.
He wondered what the time was — probably about four. Still too early to go out. He picked up La Dépêche du Midi from the floor and flopped back onto the bed. The headlines didn't interest him: half a million unemployed; France protesting against something called the Anglo-German Naval Treaty; increasing numbers of Jewish refugees arriving in France from Germany.
He skipped to the sports page but couldn't concentrate and threw the newspaper back onto the floor.
God, he was nervous.
He stood up abruptly and walked naked across the room. Taking a clean towel from the dresser, he wrapped it around his waist and poured some water into a tin bowl that stood on the only table. He splashed his face and looked into the small mirror above. Usually he avoided mirrors, they made him uneasy, but today he wanted to be sure he looked normal, ordinary. The thin face stared back at him, the eyes small and dark. And frightened. Mustn't show the fear. Dear Lord.
Picking up a razor, he scraped at the soft stubble that sprouted unevenly on his chin. After a while he dropped his hand and, staring into the mirror, swore quietly. His skin, always sallow, had developed a yellow-gray tinge. He shivered and felt his stomach twist with griping pain. He realized with disgust that he must get to the toilet and quickly.
He hurried out of the room and made for a door at the far side of the landing. He went in and almost retched. A foul stench rose from the pan and he saw that it was blocked. There was another toilet two floors down, but there wasn't enough time. He crouched miserably on the seat, muttering, "Dear Mother of God!"
The spasms faded at last and, his bowels empty, Vasson got to his feet and stepped quickly onto the landing, gasping for fresh air. The house was quiet. Faint street sounds drifted up the stairwell and the murmur of snores floated across the landing. Most of the women were asleep or out, though some might have customers. No one had seen him.
He went back into his room and was sure of one thing — he would go ahead with what had to be done. There was no going back, no giving up, not if he was to get out of this terrible place.
And he had to get out.
It wasn't just the filth and the disgusting women, it was the humiliation. The Patron had put him in charge of this house on purpose, just to humiliate him, he was certain of that. Any cheap mac in the quartier could have done the job. The women were old, worn out and pathetic, their only customers drunks or perverts. He loathed the sight of them. The job was an insult.
At first Vasson had thought that the job was a testing ground, that after a short time the Patron would ask him into the Business himself. But after six months he realized the move would never come. The Patron was purposely excluding him from the real action, purposely keeping him here in this hole. Treating him like rubbish. A very stupid man.
He dressed carefully, choosing old but freshly ironed cotton trousers and a cool white shirt. He hesitated over the choice of shoes: his old ones were badly worn, the new ones hidden in their box tantalizingly smart. They were two-tone black and white in softest Moroccan leather and very expensive. But too risky, he finally decided. The most junior of house-minders did not have the money for things like that.
He leaned down and unlocked the bottom drawer of the old commode. He went through the contents carefully: new suit in pale blue linen, white silk shirt, tie, cotton socks, and a wallet, including identity card, driving license and seven thousand francs in large notes. He was particularly pleased with the suit: it had been a real bargain. At first Goldrich, the tailor, had pressed him for the full price but Vasson had soon worn him down. Belonging to an organization did have one advantage: people didn't argue with you. Anyway, Goldrich was a Jew and Jews could always afford to reduce their prices.
The identity papers had taken a lot of finding. But, as Vasson kept reminding himself, they were almost untraceable and therefore worth every bit of the effort. He had gone to Lyons, a tedious two-hour train journey. But the farther from Marseilles the better. Even if worse came to the worst and they thought of checking up, Lyons was an unlikely place to go for documents. Anyway, they wouldn't find anything: Vasson had avoided going to the local dealer — even if one existed, which he doubted. Instead he had watched outside the Collège des Sciences Physiques in the Rue de la Trinité until, after two long days, he had finally seen a student who bore a resemblance to himself. The youth's height and coloring were right and Vasson judged his age to be about twenty-one or twenty-two. Vasson himself was twenty-three, but he never thought of himself as young. He had never felt young, even when he was a child.
He had followed the youth back to a tall ugly house on the edge of town and seen a light come on in a top left-hand window. Vasson had been sick at the thought of what he might have to do next: he loathed the idea of physical violence. But there was little possibility of the student leaving his wallet and identity card lying around in the daytime. Vasson would have to take them while the boy slept, although the risk of discovery — and of having to defend himself — was appalling.
As it was, the whole thing had been ridiculously easy. The side door of the house had been open and, astonishingly, the student's door too. Vasson's heart had hammered so loudly that the tête de con must surely hear, but no, he slept on and it had taken only minutes for Vasson to find the wallet lying casually on a side table. He had crept out, sick with excitement, and vomited in the alleyway beside the house.
The wallet contained an identity card in the name of Jean-Marie Biolet, aged twenty-two, resident of 17, Rue Madeleine in the town of St. Etienne. Vasson had been disappointed in the photograph: the likeness was not as good as he'd hoped. But a change of hairstyle and some glasses would hide the differences. The driving license was a real bonus, though, and more than made up for the photograph.
Vasson was immensely pleased with the result of his three-day excursion. He could easily have bought an identity card on the Marseilles market, but that would have been stupid: once the pressure was on, someone, somewhere, would have talked. As it was, the card in the name of Jean-Marie Biolet could never be linked to Vasson. The knowledge gave him deep satisfaction. The identity would mean a complete break with the past. After today Paul Vasson, born in the Old Quarter of Marseilles, would cease to exist. The thought gave him a curious thrill.
Vasson examined the last item in the drawer: a leather money belt. The remaining two hundred thousand francs should fit into the neat pouches, but he couldn't be sure until he actually got hold of the money. He'd asked for large notes, as large as possible, but they would still take up a lot of space. He would have to worry about that when the time came.
Vasson locked the drawer again, picked up his toilet kit and put it into a valise with his raincoat and felt hat. He would leave the rest of his possessions; they would be no loss, no loss at all.
His eye caught a magazine cutting pinned to the wall above the bed and he took it down. It was an advertisement showing a stylized drawing of a car. Vasson examined it closely as he had a hundred times before. It was a D8SS Delage. The most beautiful, perfect thing in the world.
He had often imagined what it must be like to drive such a thing, to feel it around his body: the leather seats, the throb of the 4-liter engine accelerating to over 160 kilometers an hour, and the shiny newness of the long, smooth body, as sleek as a cat's.
He folded the cutting and put it in his wallet. Soon — by tonight — he would have enough money to buy a D8SS. The thought made him sick with excitement and he almost giggled.
The air was very still, the cooling wind that sometimes wafted up from the harbor had died away and the atmosphere in the room was stifling. It was still a bit early to meet Jojo, but Vasson had to leave, to get going before he started thinking too much. Thinking was all right when he was making plans: he liked planning. But it was no good now — he kept thinking about what might go wrong.
Anyway, it was too late.
And then he remembered with a jolt that it really was too late.
He ran quickly down the stairs and out into the cobbled street, blinking at the harsh afternoon light. The Old Quarter was crowded and he had to push his way through knots of people meandering along the hot narrow alleys. A couple of Arabs walked toward him, their arms around each other, and Vasson cursed as he was forced to step around them. One of the Arabs laughed and brushed his lips across the other's bearded cheek. Barefooted children were playing in the doorways while their mothers hung washing between the tall crumbling houses and leaned over the latticed balconies, shouting at one another.
Vasson regarded the scene with distaste: it had not changed since he had been a child here twenty years before. The people lived like pigs, squashed together. They had no will to change, no drive to escape. They were happy to exist like this all their wretched lives.
A child came pelting out of a doorway, shouting with laughter, and ran straight at Vasson so that he almost tripped. He swore loudly. The child swerved quickly away, scampering down an alleyway, its feet flying. Vasson watched it angrily, half-determined to chase it. Suddenly the small figure lurched and fell forward onto the cobblestones, its limbs sprawled.
Vasson was glad; it served the little devil right. The child did not move. Vasson wandered up the alley and looked down at it. He prodded its ribs with his foot. The child slowly lifted its head and turned toward him, its bleeding face crumpled with misery. Vasson stood and watched. The child lowered its head and began to cry noisily.
There was something despairing about the sobbing shoulders. Tentatively Vasson reached down and touched the child. The child seemed not to notice. He grasped the small body and lifted it to its feet, holding it at arm's length. It was a strange sensation, to be holding a child. He patted the child's cheek. "All right?"
The child did not answer but continued to cry. Vasson went on one knee and, very slowly, pulled the child toward him, putting an arm round the narrow shoulders. He felt the child stiffen. "Don't you touch me, you bastard!" The small face, so close to his, was ugly with contempt. Vasson got hastily to his feet and choked back his anger. The child ran off, screaming obscenities.
Vasson strode furiously back into the street. The stupid child had tricked him, made a fool of him. Children were no different from anyone else; they were out to get you, like the rest.
He turned onto the quay and hurried along the harbor, but went past the street where Jojo lived. Only when he felt calmer did he go back and walk up to Jojo's. He was still half an hour early. He paused, wondering whether to wait or go straight up to the apartment.
It was the thought of Jojo's woman that made him hesitate.
She was a bitch, first class. She made Vasson feel uneasy. She was crafty, clever, like a cat, and when she wanted to she could make people feel small — especially men who didn't go for her. Not that there were many of those. She was beautiful in a flashy, grotesquely physical sort of way and men made fools of themselves over her. Vasson always went out of his way to avoid her.
Also, she was a whore.
For several minutes Vasson waited, full of indecision, angry that he should be nervous with the wretched woman.
But he made up his mind and strode into the building, thinking: Christ, what the hell am I worrying about?
Today Jojo's woman was going to be the very least of his problems.
Solange lay on the bed and drew heavily on her cigarette. Her hands were shaking. She wasn't surprised: she'd never been so angry in her life. Her temper was, she knew, appalling. But it wasn't her fault, it was just the way she was made. It was the mixed blood or something. She liked to think she had some of the gentle qualities of her Cambodian mother, but her father seemed to come out in her every time. He had been half-French, half-Martinican, and his favorite sport was fighting. He'd died in a bar brawl.
Jojo had finally gone too far. She loved him most of the time but at other times she could kill him. This afternoon was one of the times when she could positively strangle him. Why, oh why couldn't he get going and actually do something? All he did was talk — and even then he backtracked.
There were sounds from the tiny kitchen and she guessed that Jojo was making some of his beloved black treacly coffee. She considered whether to go in and have it out with him again but she knew it would end the same way as before, with her throwing something. Just half an hour ago it had been an ashtray — the shards were still lying on the floor — but as usual Jojo had ignored her.
Excerpted from Night Sky by Clare Francis. Copyright © 1983 Clare Francis. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsPART ONE 1935–1939,
PART TWO 1940–1941,
PART THREE 1942–February 1943,
PART FOUR March 1943,
PART FIVE May 1943–June 1945,
About the Author,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Almost 600 pages. Moves along nicely though.
This was a wonderful book, why doesn't Barnes and Noble have this available for the nook?
Name: Bloodmoon Gender: female Looks: she is a black with a hint of reddish-brown in the sunlight, she has piercing blue eyes sh eis fluffy but not too fluffy she is muscular not too muscular About: her parwnts died as a pup and she doesnt really know much about it other than she has been on her own. Mate: none Crush: non e Pups: none