The Paris Architect: A Novel (28 page)

“A government official who has a very severe crush on me.”

“That can be quite handy. A lover who has influence.”

“It is indeed; he’s opened a few doors for me.”

“What’s he like? Handsome? Tall? Good in bed?”

“Yes, all of those things,” Adele said testily. “One of the best lovers I’ve ever had. Did you see the new sketches?”

Bette wasn’t about to let Adele change the subject so quickly.

“Married, I suppose.”

“Yes, if you must know, Miss Snoop. Now what about André?”

“André will be finished tomorrow for sure. He promised me. So how long have you known him?”

“Only a brief time,” said Adele as she took another sip of wine.

“Now would that be the French government or the German government?”

Adele gave Bette an icy stare. “French.”

Bette was no patriot, but she had a real feeling of revulsion for Adele at this moment. The French viewed any woman who slept with a German as a slut. Bette had seen firsthand how the French would treat a woman who got too friendly with the Germans. She’d seen a girl in a café laughing and joking with a Wehrmacht officer. When the German left, a complete stranger came up to the girl’s table and slapped her across the face without saying a word. It was thought that no girl from a respectable family would ever bed down with a German.

Adele was a rare exception, someone educated and well off jumping into the sack with the enemy. And she wasn’t just sleeping with a German, but with a Gestapo officer. It was like fucking Satan himself. Adele wouldn’t be so stupid as to reveal that she was having an affair with a Gestapo officer. That would be suicidal. She smiled when she imagined what Adele would look like with a shaved head. There had been occasional reprisals throughout France against women who consorted with Germans. Last fall, some men went into a café, beat up a German officer, and shaved the head of the girl he was with. No one would sell her a wig, and she was so ashamed that she had to hide out until her hair grew back. Adele was incredibly vain, even for an ex-model, so getting her beautiful blond hair sheared off like a sheep would be worse than death. Adele was playing with fire, and she knew it.

It was now clear to Bette how Adele was able to get all the fabric she wanted during a textile shortage. Adele must have thought she’d picked the winning side, but the Germans hadn’t been doing too well lately. They weren’t the supermen everyone thought they were. In private, people were talking about Liberation.

Bette was about to launch another attack when Lucien Bernard appeared behind Adele. He started stroking her blond hair, and Adele swung around in her seat to face him.

“Lucien, my darling. Where have you been? You haven’t called me in ages.”

“I tried calling you many times,” said Lucien. From the feeble tone of his reply, Bette knew he hadn’t been trying very hard.

Adele looked up at Lucien and took hold of his hand. “Lucien, do you remember Bette? My right—and left hand.”

“Of course. We met one evening outside Le Chat Roux…and I saw you at the fashion show,” said Lucien as he sat in the chair next to Adele.

Bette did remember Lucien. He had definitely made an impression on her. But he belonged to her boss and therefore was off limits.

“So good to see you again, Monsieur Bernard.”

“Lucien, tell me about all your new work,” said Adele. “When we last spoke, you were designing an armaments plant or something out in Chatou, wasn’t it?”

“In Chaville, my love. Now I’m doing another for Monsieur Manet.”

“How exciting,” feigned Adele.

Lucien smiled at Bette, who saw that he was having a hard time keeping focused on Adele. She realized that he didn’t come to the fashion show to see the latest in floppy hats, and that pleased her.

“My Lucien is one of the most talented architects in France,” Adele said. “Even more than that boring old fool Le Corbusier. That chicken shit ran off to Spain, or was it Switzerland? And besides, he’s such an ugly man.”

“But a very talented ugly man, Adele. When the world thought of French architecture in the ’20s and ’30s, it was always the work of Le Corbusier they admired.”

“Yes, but he’s still ugly, with those atrocious round black glasses. Is that supposed to make him look intellectual or something?”

“Adele, let’s take a spin this afternoon for lunch out to the country. I know of an inn that is most hospitable. What do you say, my darling?”

“Lucien, you’re a sweetheart, but my work calls this afternoon. Let’s do it another time, shall we?”

“I can cover for you this afternoon, Adele, my sweet. It’ll be no problem. It’s just the fitting of those two black velvet outfits,” said Bette. “You lovebirds can get away for a while. It sounds terribly romantic.”

Adele glared at Bette for what seemed like a full minute. Bette responded with an amused look.

“That’s quite kind of you, my darling, but I must oversee those fittings,” Adele said. “They have to be absolutely perfect for next week’s show. You know what a perfectionist I am.”

Bette also knew that Adele never went to oversee a fitting, always forcing her to deal with it. This afternoon, Bette knew, Adele would be busy with a Gestapo officer fitting something inside her.

“Yes, I know you do love things that
come
in black.”

Adele ignored the comment and looked over at Lucien and patted his hand.

“I’ve got a wonderful idea!” she said. “Why don’t you take my Bette for a jaunt in the country? She’d love to breathe some fresh air. She’s always cooped up in Paris. Aren’t you, dear?”

So Adele was giving her some leftovers. But that was okay. Lucien seemed very promising material. And the look on his face said he was quite pleased by this turn of events.

“What time should I be ready? I live at 3 rue Payenne,” asked Bette.

“Two o’clock?”

44

Lucien watched Bette as she slept next to him. She was an extraordinarily beautiful woman, and it felt like an honor to have made love to her. They had spent a wonderful afternoon together, dining and enjoying each other’s company. It was taken for granted that they would wind up in bed together by the early evening. Lucien had been hopelessly inexperienced when he’d first slept with women in his student days. Some of the crueler girls hadn’t been shy about telling him either. But with practice he’d improved. There had been a series of affairs of varying lengths before he married Celeste, then seven years of exclusive nondescript sex with her until the past three years’ fireworks with Adele. He found it tremendously exciting to have a mistress; it felt very grown-up and cosmopolitan. The secret trysts added electricity to his boring life.

But Bette was a far more passionate lover than her boss, far more aggressive. For the first time in his life, sex was more exciting than getting a new commission.

Lucien propped the pillow against the headboard and lit a cigarette. He surveyed the hotel room. The bright white walls with the dark walnut wainscoting and stone fireplace gave it a homey feeling. When the time had come for sex, Lucien hadn’t been able to go back to his flat because Pierre was there. He couldn’t tell the boy to get lost for the afternoon. He’d thought they’d be going to Bette’s, but she’d told him they couldn’t go to her place because she had relatives from out of town staying with her, so they’d just gotten a room at the inn where they had dined. He reached over and stroked her beautiful auburn hair, and she began to stir. Bette yawned and opened her eyes. When she saw Lucien, she smiled sleepily.

“We seem to be off on the right foot,” she whispered, as she caressed Lucien’s cheek.

“Indeed we are, mademoiselle.”

“I think you definitely have possibilities.”

Lucien was quite pleased at that turn of phrase and laughed. He snuggled up next to Bette, totally intoxicated by her smell and the warmth of her body. Meeting Bette was a lucky break. Maybe a love interest would take his mind off his problems, which were like a sword of Damocles hanging by a thread above his head, ready to drop at any second. Maybe making love a few times a week would alleviate the strain.

“Well, I’m glad I’m a potential lover,” said Lucien.

“Potential? You
are
my lover, my sweet. What are you doing Thursday night?”

“I can clear my busy schedule for you. Your place?” asked Lucien hopefully.

“No, how about your place?”

“Can’t,” Lucien replied quickly.

“And why’s that?”

Lucien became tongue-tied and couldn’t think quickly enough to dream up an excuse. Pierre was always in the flat in the evening. In fact, Lucien didn’t like the boy going anywhere besides the office during the day for fear of being picked up by the Germans. He was more scared of arrest for Pierre than himself now. Countless Parisians had disappeared, quietly vanishing into thin air without a word, never to be seen again. He wanted to get into the sack with Bette as often as he could, but not if it meant casting out Pierre.

“Ah…relatives visiting. Just like you.”

“From where?” asked Bette.

“From Nantes. My Uncle Emile. My mother’s brother. A fine man.”

“I see. So where should we meet?”

“How about the Café l’Hiver? You know it?” asked Lucien, running his hand through her hair.

“It’s a charming place. But what about afterward? All through supper, we’ll be thinking of making love to each other, so where shall we go?”

“Mmm…well, there’s the Hotel Gagnol on the avenue Parmentier. It’s very comfortable and quite convenient,” said Lucien.

“You’ve been there before. With the remarkable Adele, I bet.”

“Yes, we went there one time when we were so excited we couldn’t wait to get to Adele’s flat.”

“Ah, those were the days. You’re not sorry to lose the great Adele?”

“Our days together were bound to come to an end. I’ve become an item on the menu she got tired of. How about you, my love? Are you ready for a second serving?”

“It’s almost seven, and I’ve got to get back,” Bette said. “My relatives will be wondering what happened to me.” She bounded out of the bed and headed for the pile of clothes on the floor.

Lucien was mesmerized by the sight of her body. Incredibly long, beautiful legs, a tiny waist. Instead of being flat-chested like so many Paris fashion models, Bette had a wonderful pair of full breasts. She caught him admiring her body.

“Not too bad for an old woman of thirty-one, eh?”

“Not too shabby at all. Are you sure you won’t have some dessert?” asked Lucien as he pulled away the sheet to show Bette he was ready to go.

“That’s very tempting, but I can’t be late,” said Bette as she put on her brassiere, exciting Lucien even more.

“You’re forcing me to take a cold shower before I leave, you know that, don’t you?”

45

“What happens to all these Jews once they get to Drancy, Uncle?” asked Alain as he watched his neighbor Monsieur Valery being dragged by his hair from the apartment house entry into a black Citroën. He was followed by his wife and two children, who were being pushed along by two Gestapo officers in plainclothes. The car sped off, and Alain turned to face his uncle, who was enjoying a cigarette. They had been viewing the whole scene from the rear seat of his personal Gestapo staff car.

Uncle Hermann took a long drag of his cigarette, then smiled at Alain.

“After a short stay at Drancy, they’re sent on a wonderful holiday in Poland. Plenty of fresh air and exercise.”

“They say they’re never seen again. None come back to Paris.”

“That’s because they enjoy it there so much. They don’t want to come back.”

“Germans seem to hate Jews even more than the French. Why is that, Uncle?”

“Because we Germans know they’re the scourge of the world. Vermin that have to be destroyed before they destroy our civilization.”

“Don’t the French also think that?”

“The French authorities sit on their asses when it comes to rounding up Jews, especially French-born Jews. They tip them off, and they’re gone by the time we get to them. But not Monsieur Valery. He was quite surprised when we knocked on his door. You did a splendid job, my boy. He
was
a Jew. You can always tell that heeb look. Valery paid a load of money for false papers and baptismal certificates for his kids, but it didn’t do him any good in the end. Schlegal will be quite impressed with his capture.”

“I’m glad to help, Uncle. You’ve been most kind to me and my family. You can call on me at any time.”

“I certainly will. Anyone you suspect, you let me know.”

“I’ve got a couple people in mind,” muttered Alain, who started to get out of the car.

“Before you go, I have a little surprise for you. Monsieur Valery won’t be needing his Renault on his holiday in the East. He’ll be taking the train, so I thought you might want to have it. A good-looking young fellow like you can impress many a mademoiselle with a beautiful car,” said Hermann. He jangled a set of car keys in front of Alain’s face.

Alain’s eyes lit up, and he immediately snatched the keys from his uncle’s black-gloved hand. No more begging to borrow his cousin’s car.

“You’re too generous, Uncle. No one in Paris has a car anymore.”

“And you’ll be needing petrol, so here’s a ration card. Don’t waste it; petrol is scarce.”

“Don’t you worry, Uncle, I’ll be quite careful. Where is it parked?”

“It’s the dark green one, right next to the corner. See?”

Alain couldn’t contain himself and was out the door. On the sidewalk, he called out, “Tell Colonel Schlegal that he can count on me.”

“I’ll wait to relay that information. Schlegal is in a foul mood, and I don’t want to go near him for a few days.”

Out of courtesy, Alain feigned interest. “Why’s that?”

“Oh, he lost some Jew out in a cottage near Epinay.”

“Where?”

“Epinay, about five miles north of Paris. This Jew was hiding out there. Schlegal was convinced that he was concealed in some secret hiding space within the walls of the house, so he had our men tear the place apart, stick by stick. But he couldn’t find him. Then he burned the whole goddamned house down, but no Jew. It turned out that he’d been hiding under a big fake floor drain in the kitchen in the basement. There was this tunnel that led from it into a garden. That’s how he escaped. Schlegal went crazy.”

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