Paris, November 1940
The City of Light had gone dark.
Ever since the Nazis had invaded, then seized control of France six months earlier, the world’s greatest city had become forlorn and desolate. The quais along the Seine were deserted. The Arc de Triomphe, the .marks that once lit up the night sky—were now gloomy, abandoned. Above the Eiffel Tower, where once the French tricolor rippled, a Nazi swastika flag waved.
Paris was quiet. There were hardly any cars on the street anymore, or taxis. Most of the grand hotels had been taken over by the Nazis. Gone was the revelry, the laughter of evening strollers, carousers. Gone, too, were .line during the first days of the German incursion.
Most people stayed in at night, intimidated by their .posed on them, the green-uniformed Wehrmacht .diers who patrolled the streets with their swinging bayonets, their revolvers. A once-proud city had sunk into despair, famine, fear.
.est thoroughfare in Paris, lined with handsome white stone facades, seemed windswept and bleak.
With a single exception.
One hôtel particulier, a private mansion, glittered with light. Faint music could be heard from within: a .cited voices, carefree laughter. This was an island of glittering privilege, all the more radiant for its gloomy background.
The Hôtel de Châtelet was the magnificent residence of the Comte Maurice Léon Philippe du Châtelet and his wife, the legendary and gracious hostess Marie-Hélène. The Comte du Châtelet was an industrialist of .tionist Vichy government. Most of all, though, he was known for his parties, which helped sustain tout Paris through the dark days of the occupation.
An invitation to a party at the Hôtel de Châtelet was an object of social envy—sought after, anticipated for weeks. Especially these days, with all the rationing and food shortages, when it was just about impossible to get real coffee or butter or cheese, when only the very well ..tunity to eat one’s fill. Here, inside this gracious home, there was not a hint that one lived in a city of brutal deprivation.
The party was already in full swing by the time one .servant.
The guest was a remarkably handsome young man, in his late twenties, with a full head of black hair, large brown eyes that seemed to twinkle with mischief, an .letic build. As he handed his topcoat to the maître d’hôtel, the butler, he nodded, smiled, and said, “Bonsoir, merci beaucoup.”
He was called Daniel Eigen. He had been living in Paris off and on for the last year or so, and he was a regular on the party circuit, where everyone knew him as a wealthy Argentine and an extremely eligible bachelor.
“Ah, Daniel, my love,” crooned Marie-Hélène du Châtelet, the hostess, as Eigen entered the crowded ballroom. The orchestra was playing a new song, which he recognized as “How High the Moon.” Madame du Châtelet had spotted him from halfway across the room and had made her way over to him with the sort of exuberance she normally reserved for the very rich .sor, say, or the German Military Governor of Paris. The hostess, a handsome woman in her early fifties, wearing a black Balenciaga gown that revealed the cleft of her ample bosom, was clearly besotted with her young guest.
Daniel Eigen kissed both her cheeks, and she drew him near for a moment, speaking in French in a low, confiding voice. “I’m so glad you could make it, my dear. I was afraid you might not show up.”
“And miss a party at Hôtel de Châtelet?” Eigen said. “Do you think I’ve taken leave of my senses?” From behind his back he produced a small box, wrapped in gilt paper. “For you, Madame. The last ounce in all of France.”
The hostess beamed as she took the box, greedily tore off the paper, and pulled out the square crystal flask of Guerlain perfume. She gasped. “But . . . but Vol de Nuit can’t be bought anywhere!”
“You’re quite right,” Eigen said with a smile. “It can’t be bought.”
“Daniel! You’re too sweet, too thoughtful. How did you know it’s my favorite?”
He shrugged modestly. “I have my own intelligence network.”
Madame du Châtelet frowned, wagged a reproving finger. “And after all you did to procure the Dom Pérignon for us. Really, you’re too generous. Anyway, I’m delighted you’re here—handsome young men like you are as rare as hens’ teeth these days, my love. You’ll have to pardon some of my female guests if they swoon. .ered her voice again. “Yvonne Printemps is here with Pierre Fresnay, but she seems to be on the prowl again, so watch out.” She was referring to the famous musical-comedy star. “And Coco Chanel is with her new lover, that German fellow she lives with at the Ritz. She’s on a .dious.”
Eigen accepted a flute of champagne from the silver tray borne by a servant. He glanced around the immense ballroom, with its floor of ancient parquet from a grand château, the walls of white-and-gold paneling covered .matic ceiling that had been painted by the same artist who later undertook the ceilings at Versailles.
But it was not the decor he was interested in so ..ties: the singer Edith Piaf, who made twenty thousand .valier; and all sorts of famous cinema stars who were now working for the German-owned film company .zis approved of. The usual assortment of writers, painters, and musicians, who never missed one of these rare opportunities to eat and drink their fill. And the usual French and German bankers, and industrialists who .gime.
Finally, there were the Nazi officers, so prominent on the social circuit these days. All were in their dress .taches like the Führer himself. The German Military Governor, General Otto von Stülpnagel. The German ambassador to France, Otto Abetz, and the young Frenchwoman he’d married. The Kommandant von Gross-Paris, .burg, who, with his close-cropped hair and Prussian manner, was known as the Bronze Rock.
..vors for most of them. The Nazi masters of France didn’t just tolerate the so-called black market; they needed it like everyone else. How else could they get cold cream or face powder for their wives or lovers? Where else could they find a decent bottle of Armagnac? Even the new German rulers of France suffered from the wartime privations.
.ways in demand.
.nized the diamond-encrusted fingers of a former lover, Agnès Vieillard. Although he felt a spasm of dread, he turned around, his face lit up in a smile. He had not seen the woman in months.
Agnès was a petite, attractive woman with blazing .man, a munitions dealer and racehorse owner. Daniel had met the lovely, if oversexed, Agnès at the races, at Longchamp, where she had a private box. Her husband .ment. She’d introduced herself to the handsome, wealthy Argentine as a “war widow.” Their affair, passionate if brief, lasted until her husband returned to Paris.
“Agnès, ma cherie! Where have you been?”
“Where have I been? I haven’t seen you since that evening at Maxim’s.” She swayed, ever so slightly, in time to the orchestra’s jazzy rendition of “Imagination.”
“Ah, I remember it well,” said Daniel, who barely remembered. “I’ve been terribly busy—my apologies.”
“Busy? You don’t have a job, Daniel,” she scolded.
“Well, my father always said I should find a useful occupation. Now that the whole of France is occupied, I say that gets me off the hook.”
She shook her head, scowled in an attempt to conceal her involuntary smile. She leaned close. “Didier’s in Vichy again. And this party is altogether too full of Boches. Why don’t we escape, head over to the Jockey Club? Maxim’s is too full of Fritzes these days.” She whispered: according to posters on the Métro, anyone who called the Germans “Boches” would be shot. The Germans were hypersensitive to French ridicule.
“Oh, I don’t mind the Germans,” Daniel said in an attempt to change the subject. “They’re excellent customers.”
“The soldiers—what do you call them, the haricots verts? They’re such brutes! So ill-mannered. They’re always coming up to women on the street and just grabbing them.”
“You have to pity them a bit,” said Eigen. “The poor German soldier feels he’s conquered the world, but he can’t catch the eye of a French girl. It’s so unfair.”
“But how to get rid of them—?”
“Just tell them you’re Jewish, mon chou. That’ll send them away. Or stare at their big feet—that always embarrasses them.”
Now she couldn’t help smiling. “But the way they goose-step down the Champs-Élysées!”
“You think goose-stepping is easy?” said Daniel. “Try it yourself someday—you’ll end up on your derriere.” He glanced around the room furtively, looking for an escape.
“Why, just the other day I saw Göring getting out of his car on the rue de la Paix. Carrying that silly field marshal’s baton—I swear, he must sleep with it! He went into Cartier’s, and the manager told me later he bought an eight-million-franc necklace for his wife.” She poked Daniel’s starched white shirt with her index finger. “Notice he buys French fashion for his wife, not German. The Boches are always railing against our decadence, but they adore it here.”
“Well, nothing but the best for Herr Meier.”
“Herr Meier? What do you mean? Göring’s not a Jew.”
“You know what he said: ‘If ever a bomb falls on Berlin, my name won’t be Hermann Göring; you can call me Meier.’ ”
Agnès laughed. “Keep your voice down, Daniel,” she stage-whispered.
Eigen touched her waist. “There’s a gentleman here I have to see, doucette, so if you’ll excuse me . . .”
“You mean there’s another lady who’s caught your eye,” Agnès said reprovingly, smiling in an exaggerated moue.
“No, no,” chuckled Eigen. “I’m afraid it really is business.”
“Well, Daniel, my love, the least you can do is get me some real coffee. I can’t stand all that ersatz stuff— chicory, roasted acorns! Would you, sweetheart?”
“Of course,” he said. “As soon as I possibly can. I’m expecting a shipment in a couple of days.”
But as soon as he turned away from Agnès, he was accosted by a stern male voice. “Herr Eigen!”
Right behind him stood a small cluster of German officers, at the center of which was a tall, regal-looking SS Standartenführer, a colonel, his hair brushed back in a pompadour, wearing tortoiseshell glasses and a small mustache in slavish imitation of his Führer. Standartenführer Jürgen Wegman had been most useful in getting Eigen a service public license, allowing him to operate one of the very few private vehicles allowed on the streets of Paris. Transportation was a huge problem these days. Since only doctors, firemen, and for some reason leading actors and actresses were allowed to drive their own cars, the Métro was ridiculously overcrowded, and half the stations were closed anyway. There was no petrol to be had, and no taxicabs.
“Herr Eigen, those Upmanns—they were stale.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, Herr Standartenführer Wegman. Have you been keeping them in a humidor, as I told you?”
“I have no humidor—”
“Then I’ll have to get you one,” Eigen said.
One of his colleagues, a portly, round-faced SS Gruppenführer, a brigadier general named Johannes Koller, sniggered softly. He had been showing his comrades an assortment of sepia-toned French postcards. He quickly put them away in the breast pocket of his tunic, but not before Eigen saw them: they were old-fashioned lewd photographs of a statuesque woman wearing only stockings and garter belt and striking a variety of lascivious poses.
“Please. They were stale when you gave them to me. I don’t think they were even from Cuba.”
“They were from Cuba, Herr Kommandant. Rolled on the thigh of a young Cuban virgin. Here, have one of these, with my compliments.” The young man reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a velvet pouch containing several cellophane-wrapped cigars. “Romeo y Julietas. I hear they’re Churchill’s favorites.” He handed one to the German with a wink.
A waiter approached with a silver tray of canapés. “Pâté de foie gras, gentlemen?”
Koller snatched two in one swift movement. Daniel took one.
“Not for me,” Wegman announced sanctimoniously to the waiter and the men around him. “I no longer eat meat.”
“Not easy to come by these days, eh?” said Eigen.
“That’s not it at all,” said Wegman. “As a man ages, he must become a grass-eating creature, you know.”
“Yes, your Führer is a vegetarian, isn’t he?” Eigen said.
“Quite right,” Wegman said proudly.
“Though sometimes he swallows up whole countries,” Eigen added in a level tone.
The SS man glowered. “You seem to be able to turn up everything and anything, Herr Eigen. Perhaps you can do something about the paper shortage here in Paris.”
“Yes, it must drive you bureaucrats mad. What is there to push anymore?”
“Everything is of inferior quality these days,” said Gruppenführer Koller. “This afternoon, I had to go through an entire sheet of postage stamps before I found one that would stick to the envelope.”
“Are you fellows still using the stamp with Hitler’s head on it?”
“Yes, of course,” Koller said impatiently.
“Perhaps you’re licking the wrong side, hein?” Eigen said with a wink.
The SS Gruppenführer flushed with embarrassment and cleared his throat awkwardly, but before he could think of a reply, Eigen went on: “You’re entirely right, of course. The French simply aren’t up to the standards of German production.”
“Spoken as a true German,” said Wegman approvingly. “Even if your mother was Spanish.”
“Daniel,” came a contralto voice. He turned, relieved at the chance to break free from the Nazi officers.
It was a large woman in her fifties wearing a gaudy, flouncy floral dress that made her look a little like a dancing circus elephant. Madame Fontenoy wore her unnaturally black hair, run through with a white skunk stripe, up in a bouffant. She had enormous gold earrings that Daniel recognized as louis d’or, the antique gold coin, twenty-two karats each. They pulled at her earlobes. She was the wife of a Vichy diplomat, herself a prominent hostess. “Pardon me,” she said to the Germans. “I must steal young Daniel away.”
Madame Fontenoy’s arm was around a slender young girl of around twenty in an off-the-shoulder black evening gown, a raven-haired beauty with luminous gray-green eyes.
“Daniel,” said Madame Fontenoy, “I want you to meet Geneviève du Châtelet, our hostess’s lovely daughter. I was astonished to hear she hadn’t met you—she must be the only single woman in Paris you don’t know. Geneviève, this is Daniel Eigen.”
The girl extended her delicate long-fingered hand, a brief warning look flashing in her eyes. It was a look meant only for Daniel.
Daniel took her hand. “A pleasure to make your acquaintance,” he said with a bow of his head. As he clasped the young beauty’s hand, his forefinger gently scratched her palm, tacitly acknowledging her signal.
“Mr. Eigen is from Buenos Aires,” the dowager explained to the young woman, “but he has a flat on the Left Bank.”
“Oh, have you been in Paris long?” asked Geneviève du Châtelet without interest, her gaze steady.
“Long enough,” said Eigen.
“Long enough to know his way around,” said Madame Fontenoy, her eyebrows arched.
“I see,” Geneviève du Châtelet said dubiously.
Excerpted from The Tristan Betrayal by Robert Ludlum.
Copyright © 2003 by Myn Pyn LLC.
Published in October 2003 by St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.